The Toronto Raptors’ season came to an unfortunate end Monday night with a loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers, a disappointing finish after the team dominated the Eastern Conference and came into the playoffs as the top seed in the conference.
It’s a familiar refrain: regular-season success followed by playoff disappointment. This season’s finish stings more than usual, because many believed this was the year that the Raptors would finally take down the Cavs and make an appearance in the Finals. Alas, they didn’t even put up a fight in the second round despite having home court advantage, ultimately being swept at the hands of Lebron James; Lebron’s stat-line over the short four-game series was better than the combined performance of the Raptors’ two stars, DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry.
The sweep marks a new low for the Raptors. This was their year… until it wasn’t; they played awesome basketball for the first 82 games and carried it into the first round of the playoffs. But, just like they always do, they caked their pants when Lebron James came along. And following Monday’s loss, for the first time, we’ve heard loud calls from fans and pundits for the front office to bust up the whole roster and start over.
Why not? This team has proven that it can’t do anything special. Regular season success is fun, but legends are made in the postseason. These Raptors don’t have a hope of making any real playoff progress, not with Lebron in the East and surging teams in Philadelphia and Boston. Maybe it makes sense to blow things up and try to build a better team.
Calling for that now feels good, especially after yet another frustrating end, after another lost season. But it doesn’t make much sense.
This Raptors team is fun to watch. And they’re good! It can be hard to realize that when their most recent games were less than stellar. But there’s a reason the Raptors raced out to a great start to the season and kept it going all the way into April. Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan are a fierce backcourt combo and Serge Ibaka and Jonas Valanciunas are both great talents inside. There aren’t a ton of teams in the league with that kind of talent. Let that talent go elsewhere and start anew just because the team couldn’t overcome the greatest player of all time is short-sighted.
Where would the Raptors go from there? Unless they traded away or released all the aforementioned players, they’d have too much talent to totally tank and would probably end up in the playoff mix in the Eastern Conference. They’d be too good to land a decent draft pick but not good enough to make a postseason run. And actually tanking—going full Sam Hinkie on the league with some long-term vision—would be unpalatable to a fanbase that has become accustomed to watching their team secure one of the top seeds.
Either way, it doesn’t make sense for the Raptors to bust up their roster, even if that’s what angry fans want in the moment. Just watch: if management actually decides to blow things up, the fans demanding radical change now will be the same ones complaining about how crappy their team is in six months time. I’m confident that the folks running Toronto’s front office are level-headed enough to resist the emotional calls for action being thrown around right now. Come October, when the 2018 season kicks off, you’ll see a Raptors team that looks remarkably similar to the one that took the floor on Game 4 Monday night.
Contact Andrew Ziperski at ajzip ‘at’ stanford.edu