We're still on our NBA journey. The playoffs have begun, and sixteen teams vie for the Larry O'Brien Trophy. Fifteen teams will join the other fourteen non-playoff teams as those who did not win the championship. If a team did not win the title, then that means adjustments must be made in order to best position themselves to win next year. Here at TSFJ, we are going to present ways each franchise can fix themselves. We will have a safe way and an extreme way to do this. Sometimes, relationships just need repair. Other times, a breakup in some form is necessary. We continue with the ninth team eliminated from the postseason, the Toronto Raptors.
This was supposed to be the year. It was time for a new empire to rise in the Eastern Conference, and an entire country was behind the Toronto Raptors. In the offseason, after being swept by Cleveland, Toronto revamped their offensive philosophy. Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan both improved their games, with DeRozan adding three-point shooting to his personal arsenal. There was finally some doubt in NBA spreads and general basketball conscience alike as to if LeBron could beat the Raptors this time.
It was supposed to be their time. Finally.
Except it wasn't — it isn't. The best year in the franchise history of the Toronto Raptors — the best year in the NBA that Canadian basketball has had since the Association expanded over two decades ago — yielded a familiar result: a loss to LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. While there shouldn't be any shame in losing to the best player ever, I can understand if there is a sentiment of deflation as hope has been snatched by one man from Akron. Sometimes, the righteous path is yours; and sometimes you are the obstacle overcome on someone else's path.
There are positives to take from this season. As I stated, Toronto improved tremendously. The Raptors went from really good to great, catching and overtaking Boston for the number one seed in the conference after the Celtics had an incredible start to the season. They turned a deficit in February into finishing four games ahead of Boston in three regular season.
Their time was supposed to be now. As Cleveland struggled with chemistry, Boston struggled with injury and Philadelphia struggled with youth, the feeling was Toronto had rightful claim to the conference crown, having outlasted LeBron's reign and birthright to the Finals this decade.
Life is cruel at times. Even with the improvements we make and the work we put in towards truly becoming our best selves — recognizing our limitations and acknowledging our ability to correct them — we do not receive the things our hearts desire. We are not entitled to anything, even as we've been quality people. The most we can do is understand our desires are just that, and if we continue to improve our situations, we will have what we desire. The Toronto Raptors are good. But if this season has taught them anything, it should be that not even the best regular season in franchise history coupled with instability in the current kingdom does not make the path to the championship guaranteed. Sometimes, one is the broom. And for three straight years, the Raptors are the dust.
How do they fix it?
Because I waited so long after Toronto's elimination to write this piece, I'm able to include Dwane Casey's sudden firing. It's really hard to make up when the franchise let go of the man responsible for the change in on-court philosophy. Casey did everything right. He looked to improve the team and didn't stubbornly stick to methods that kept the Raptors closer to mediocre.
However, recall the core promise of this series of posts: if a team didn't win the championship, then that team isn't good enough to win it. This definitely applies to the Raptors. Changes had to be made. Just because Casey's firing was surprising does not mean it cannot be a part of the formula that yields a potential title for the Raptors in the future.
They have their All-Star backcourt of Lowry and DeRozan signed through at least next season, so the next head coach will not have a thin roster to deal with. It does seem that updates need to be made at their forward positions. Pascal Sikham and rookie OG Anunoby are very solid players. Their development is paramount, because as the NBA gets more versatile, athletic wing players are more necessary.
Honestly, I don't have much to suggest to Toronto. They made all the right changes. It seemed the right switches were pressed alongside the timing of other teams having their struggles. They just lost to LeBron... again. There is no shame in that.
Is it possible for LeBron James to change conferences? Toronto should start with wishing mightily for that to happen. Aside from that, there is only one option left for the Raptors to try.
Blow it all up.
The Raptors are in the same position the Oklahoma City Thunder were in a few years ago. The Spurs had a stranglehold on the conference. And though they beat the Spurs in the playoffs, it did not result in a sustained conference takeover. So OKC looked to let age be their tool to usurp San Antonio. Unfortunately, the Golden State Warriors rose to greatness and surpassed the Thunder, causing the team to move to send three of its four Olympians to each corner of the basketball realm.
Toronto is at this crossroads. Maybe it is time to part with one of its stars to reconfigure the team. Together, they have not reached the Finals. Yes, I understand that one man is a huge reason for that. But a goal is a goal. And if obstacles cannot be destroyed, then there must be change. The team can't switch conferences, but it can switch players. That hard decision to implode and rebuild might be the right one. They've already started with letting go of Casey. This is something that can't be halfway done.
I don't have the perfect formula to change the Raptors from LeBron's doormat to champion in one year, but something must change. Happy NBA, folks.
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