Skip to main content
Complete Olympic Games coverage at your fingertips
Your inside track on the Olympic Games
Enjoy unlimited digital access
$1.99
per week for 24 weeks
Complete Olympic Games coverage at your fingertips
Your inside track onthe Olympics Games
$1.99
per week
for 24 weeks
// //

Toronto Raptors head coach Nick Nurse talks to his team in a huddle during the fourth quarter against the Detroit Pistons at Little Caesars Arena on Mar 17, 2021.

Raj Mehta/USA TODAY Sports via Reuters

In the midst of what is now a nine-game losing streak and a lost season, let’s tally up the things the Toronto Raptors have managed to do right.

They have their excuses in order. Everything from ‘I miss home’ (though I doubt a single Raptor in history has ever thought of Canada as ‘home’) to ‘the pandemic ate my rhythm’. Have you heard the one about the refs? Because they love that one.

Their surrender has been unconditional. None of this don’t-take-me-out-coach, I-can-do-it stuff from these guys. Everyone on this team is working for the weekend. That gives team president Masai Ujiri a free swinging hand once it comes to the axe.

Story continues below advertisement

Most important, they got the nose of the plane pointed vertical while there were still parachutes on board. If you’re the Raptors management, there is still a way to turn this dog of a season into a mitigated success by Thursday’s trade deadline.

It’s headed that way in a hurry, as the team begins throwing off the he-said, he-said stories that typify truly dysfunctional franchises. On Tuesday, it was a report – denied by the team – that star Pascal Siakam was fined US$50,000 for screaming at head coach Nick Nurse.

A rock solid rule of the NBA rumour mill – where there is smoke, there will be more smoke, and then more smoke, until someone gets frustrated enough to light an actual fire.

These would seem propitious circumstances for that old favourite of the flailing organization – dynamite the support columns and spend the summer sifting through the wreckage.

But first the Raptors must ask themselves – are we tanking for a bit or are we starting from scratch? Because one choice may lead unavoidably into the other.

Another thing the Raptors have done well is be bad. When they are bad, they are ambitiously terrible. On Monday, they played the worst team in the NBA. Maybe the worst team in the known universe.

The Houston Rockets had lost 20 straight. They are so far underwater, they’d started growing gills.

Story continues below advertisement

The Raptors didn’t just lose to that sad sack Houston team. They were annihilated by them.

Granted, the bench is short and a few of the guys aren’t exactly shipshape, but there is pride to consider. Surely, Toronto could have showed up just this one night, and then gone back to sleep for a while. That might’ve given management a reason to keep the band together.

The Raptors either couldn’t do that, didn’t want to do that, or some combination of the two. They gave up. And like that press box legend, Maya Angelou, used to say – when a team shows you who they are, believe them.

The current Raptors are not as bad as they were on Monday, but they are nowhere close to good. They lack some fundamental quality that packages individual talent and transforms it into aggregate quality.

For a lot of observers, that’s a new phenomenon.

If it seems like a long time since the Raptors won their championship, it’s been an age since they were bad. In the interim, fair-weather fans became zealots and non-fans became more-than-casual observers. The dark age that was this team pre-2013 has been largely forgotten. When you think of what defines this team now, you think of Kyle Lowry and Ujiri, sure. But mostly what you think of is competence.

Story continues below advertisement

The Raptors had become one of those teams that never slips below a better-than-adequate performance level. Good enough for a couple of playoff rounds and at least the hope of more year after year.

If Ujiri has made a mistake since arriving in Toronto in 2013, it’s this – he made running an NBA team look easy.

Like, how hard has it been for him, really? You just sign a few guys everyone else has given up on and they are, like, amazing. Then you draft players no one else wants and they are amazing, too. Then you convince one of the most talented and mercurial pros in all of sport to take a flyer on your competent little club. And then you win a title no one gave you a chance in hell of winning.

See? Simple.

Now you go back and repeat the formula. Let the old guys hitch their own ride to the glue factory, and give the young guys all the money you used to pay the old guys. Easy peasy, lemon squeezy.

Except the young guys aren’t as good as the old guys. At least, not yet. And you know that new batch of players you got that no one else wanted? Yeah, bad news. There was a reason no one wanted them.

Story continues below advertisement

And now you can’t afford all your new guys, or the one remaining old guy, and why would you want to because they are playing like they just met each other on the bus ride over to the arena?

That leaves the Raptors with 72 hours or so to decide which team they are – the old, competent one or a new, incompetent version. This season’s results would strongly point to the latter.

If that’s the case, there is only one good choice – you start over. You trade Norman Powell and Kyle Lowry for whatever you can get. You dive as deep as you can get in the final 30 games and hope for some draft lottery magic. You accept that it’s going to take a season or four before you have returned to your former level of competence.

But however sensible it may sound, that way lies dissolution. Ujiri’s contract is up July 1st. Does he strike as you sort of guy who wants to start from scratch with a team he’s already resurrected from the dead once? Even Lazarus didn’t get a do-over.

If Ujiri goes, this golden era of Raptors basketball goes with him. It may have gone already.

Either way – trade everyone or stand fast – the Raptors are no longer one of the NBA’s haves. They are a scrabbling have-not.

Story continues below advertisement

They aren’t even comers. They’re too well-known and well-paid for that. They are the team that seemed to have it together, but didn’t. They are stuck somewhere between pretty good and really bad.

In the NBA, that may be the most dangerous position for any franchise to find itself in.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow the author of this article:

Follow topics related to this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

UPDATED: Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies