Oh, oh. Now what?
The Raptors seem to have hit some kind of stride — they’ve played far more better games than bad ones in the last couple of weeks — and now the question becomes this:
Is it real?
And what will that mean for Masai Ujiri and Bobby Webster in the four weeks leading up to the NBA trade deadline on Feb. 9 and the second half of the regular season that begins with the nightcap to the Charlotte doubleheader on Thursday night.
It’s not an easy question to answer and people around the organization — as always — can’t get a definite read on what the vice-chairman and the general manager might have up their sleeves.
The last fortnight notwithstanding, the holes in the roster still exist. Not enough consistent shooting, a backup group that runs hot and cold every other week, it seems. Key pieces who have, for the moment, plateaued.
So, what to do?
If there’s one thing obvious about Ujiri and Webster it’s that they do not overreact; they’ve been around far too long, seen far too many seasons, lived far too many ups and downs to get all antsy and make panic deals.
Sure, they get irked when the losses mount and there’s no doubt within the organization that they’re disappointed with where the team is right now but that hasn’t moved them to be too, too active in trade talks.
Conversely, they see the same flaws everyone does: Depth, shooting and stagnated growth that all but ruined the first half of the season.
Being five games below .500 and out of even a spot in the play-in tournament is, and should be, unacceptable.
The players know it, the coaches know it, management knows it.
“What’s behind this is behind us, we got to look to the future and, hopefully, our best basketball is in front of us,” Fred VanVleet said this week. “Put something together and nobody will remember what the first half of the season looked like.”
They will remember, of course. But as they do, Ujiri and Webster are keeping things close to the vest. Executives around the league remain uncertain where the Raptors feel they are.
The word from on high before the season began was that, at the very least, there needed to be some playoff success or else substantial change could be coming. Whether the failings of the first half have hastened that is the great unknown.
It may be best to play out the season with the cast they have to deepen the trade pool. Get another 30 or 40 games with this group to take a longer look at it.
It’s not been in the nature of Ujiri and Webster to make huge deadline deals just to shake things up.
A shakeup may be needed — and if the Raptors go on another extended losing streak before the deadline all bets are off — but it may not be possible in the middle of a season.
Ujiri is much more comfortable operating in the summer and giving whatever team he’s assembled an off-season and training camp to figure it out.
The disappointment of this year is real, don’t doubt it. But the belief in this group that existed when the season began exists in most circles today. Where Ujiri and Webster fit in that circle is a secret they aren’t sharing.
They’re looking for deals — they look for deals every single season because that’s the job — but they are, above all, prudent,
A couple of wins won’t get them sitting back fat and happy; a few losses didn’t mean it was time to ransack the roster.
There are financial considerations, sure. VanVleet may be a free agent and remains extension eligible until the summer. His continued employment in Toronto won’t come cheap. Gary Trent Jr. might be looking at a $120-million summer payday and that might be too much for the Raptors to consider, or stomach. But trading either now isn’t going to bring back talent of equal financial value and selling for 50 cents on the dollar doesn’t seem prudent.
The coming second half of the season could be very interesting if this recent play is a trend and not an aberration.
But what’s going to be more fascinating is how the front office feels about the recent upswing. There’s intrigue between now and Feb. 9 when the bosses are going to earn their keep.
What’s fact? What’s fiction? What do they believe.
Oh, oh. Now what?
Gamble didn’t pay off
Conversations with the team’s top thinkers about Otto Porter Jr. before training camp began went something like this:
Us: “Good signing if he can stay healthy, right?”
Them: “A gamble but if we can get what Golden State got — 23 minutes a game for 63 games — it’s more than worth it.”
And sometimes you gamble and lose.
It’s a tough break that Porter’s done for the season — no one likes to see a guy lose basically a year out of his career — but it doesn’t change how management approaches the last half of the season.
The expectation — if they don’t do a 1-for-2 trade before the deadline — is that they’ll fill the 15th roster spot with 10-day guys until the buyout period arrives and decide then where they are.
Porter? He got a player option worth about $6.3 million next season and it’s inconceivable he won’t exercise it. But, it’ll also be cap ballast on summer trade talks, too.
The Oklahoma City Thunder made Canadian basketball history Tuesday in Miami.
They had three Canadian starters on the same team in the same game for the first time: Hamilton’s Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Montreal’s Lu Dort and Rexdale’s Eugene Omoruyi.
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