The Toronto Raptors' experience in Wednesday's NBA draft lottery pretty much summed up their experience during the 2011-12 season: "Not altogether a loss and not altogether a victory," was the apt description provided by general manager Bryan Colangelo after the Raptors didn't move up or down from the eighth selection in next month's draft.
The Raptors will select eighth, after yet another lottery that continued an uncanny knack commissioner David Stern has of seeing needy franchises get an extra lifeline. In this case, it was the New Orleans Hornets – a team run by the league for most of the year until it was rescued just six weeks ago by NFL Saints owner Tom Benson – cashing in on a 13.7-per-cent chance to move from fourth up to the first pick overall. Funny how that happens, eh?
Going into the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season, most observers would have said that point guard was the Raptors' immediate need. Yet halfway through the season it became apparent that a healthy Jose Calderon could fit into head coach Dwane Casey's system to a degree that made the thought of him returning for one more year palatable, providing there was an heir apparent in place. In fact, as the season wore on it became clearer that depth at shooting guard and a small forward ought to be at least pressing.
The website Hoopshype.com has the Raptors paired with Duke's Austin Rivers, son of Boston Celtics head coach Doc Rivers and a player who is viewed as a combo guard after being found wanting at the point in college. That seems a little too easy, no? ESPN has the Raptors linked with Syracuse shooting guard Dion Waiters, while Draftexpress.com has Connecticut shooting guard Jeremy Lamb going to the Raptors behind another player said to interest Toronto, small forward Harrison Barnes of North Carolina.
There are Raptors fans who believe the team did itself a disservice by not tanking and increasing their odds of a better pick. Leaving aside the moral implications of that approach – tough to talk "culture change" without executing it – the truth is it was wholly unrealistic to expect a team led by a once-fired coach trying to rebuild his reputation with players looking for another pay-day and expect them to blow a few games just for yucks. The Raptors, in other words, didn't have players good enough or comfortable enough to tank. In fact, what the Raptors need more than anything is more talent across the board. It's just the degree of need that varies.
This is very clearly Casey's team, more so in some ways than it is Colangelo's team. Andrea Bargnani can play for Casey. DeMar DeRozan can if he continues to show a willingness to engage in the nasty areas where offensive genius is rewarded. Ed Davis, with more muscle, is a ball magnet – maybe not enough to be a starter, but enough to come off the bench. And don't forget Jonas Valanciunas, the Lithuanian big man and last year's top pick who is said to be on the verge of a buy-out. The rest of what the Raptors have is, frankly, disposable. So Colangelo was right on Wednesday to say all options are open: about $12-million (U.S.) in cap space, an amnesty clause, and with three picks in the draft, a willingness to put together a trade package. Colangelo is open to drafting for positional need, but will also consider taking the proverbial best player available.
"We feel with a player at eight, we can add to our building process, or package it with something else to create a trade asset," Colangelo said.
And that's how it should be. This club wasn't one or two picks away going into Wednesday night. It certainly wasn't coming out of Wednesday night.