Under The Bleachers: Raptors Have Deadline Decisions To Make

Above: Toronto Raptors guard Kyle Lowry shoots against the Milwaukee Bucks during the first half of an NBA game in Milwaukee on January 19, 2015

The Toronto Raptors are going to win the Atlantic Division, which means they’re going to host a first-round playoff match-up later this year. Sounds good, right?

If the season ended today, “The Drakes” would be the No. 4 seed and facing LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the opening round. Doesn’t sound so good anymore, right?

After a blistering start, the Raptors are sputtering, posting a 3-7 record over their last 10 games heading into tonight’s game against the woeful Philadelphia 76ers. Though they should look like world champions against the D-League team Sam Hinckie has assembled in “The City of Brotherly Love” tonight, the real measure of where this team stands comes at home on Sunday when they welcome the surging Detroit Pistons to town.

The Pistons are the polar opposites of the Raptors this season, struggling early before literally paying Josh Smith to go play somewhere else and rattling off a 7-3 mark over their last 10, which includes a win in Toronto less than two weeks ago.

With the NBA Trade Deadline fast approaching (February 19 is the day), GM Masai Ujiri has to decide if winning the division and hosting a dangerous playoff series is good enough this season because as currently assembled, the Raptors aren’t built to win more than one round.

Toronto has too many guys that are willing to settle for jumpshots and not enough muscle inside to make a real difference.

While All-Star point guard Kyle Lowry is a bulldog, he’s more of a drive-and-stop shooter than a guy that is going to the hole and drawing fouls; the same goes for DeMar DeRozan, who has gone 29/70 since returning to the lineup. Lou Williams has cooled off, Greivis Vasquez is streaky as can be and Terrence Ross appears to be allergic to using his athleticism to get to the rim unless he’s on a fast break.

Jonas Valanciunas has yet to develop into a reliable offensive threat inside and the other bigs either prefer to face up (Amir Johnson, Patrick Patterson) or are nothing more than big bodies with fouls to give (Tyler Hansbrough, Chuck Hayes).

Here’s the thing: the Raptors have the ability to make some moves if they’re so inclined, it’s just a question of whether Ujiri will pull the trigger or not.

Amir Johnson is a free agent after the season and is a favourite of advanced metrics fanatics around the league. They’ve got the extra first-round pick they swindled from the New York Knicks in the Andrea Bargnani trade. They’ve got a young wing in Ross that has underwhelmed, but still has upside.

A combination of those players and picks could potentially net the Raptors the type of player they need to improve their chances of advancing in the playoffs, but the problem is that the right fit doesn’t appear to be available at this time.

Could they land Brook Lopez from last year’s first round opponents Brooklyn? Probably, given that the Nets are in sell mode and almost gave the Stanford alum away for $0.35 on the dollar two weeks ago, but for a seven-foot center, he’s not a very good rebounder (7.3 per for his career) and carries a massive player option next year that he’s sure to exercise.

Denver locked up Kenneth Faried – a player Ujiri drafted – at the start of the season and veteran angry human being David West would probably welcome a move out of rebuilding Indiana, but he signed a new three-year deal prior to this season as well; he’s also 34-years-old.

Miles Plumlee would be an upgrade over Hansbrough or Hayes, but isn’t a big enough difference maker on either end to have any real impact on a playoff series.

Thaddeus Young is intriguing – he’s still just 26, averaged career-bests last year in Philly and should be on the move from Minnesota before the deadline – but (a) is he worth a player and a pick and (b) does adding him to the starting lineup at power forward make the Raptors more likely to beat the likes of Atlanta, Chicago, Washington or Cleveland?

The next month isn’t as much about whether they win or lose, but whether they make a move or not. It’s not a question of if they’re going to win the division and make the playoffs, but rather if GM Masai Uriji is willing to make a move that gives this team a better chance to advance this year or opts to stand pat and see what he can do in the offseason?

Tags: NBA, Toronto, Toronto Raptors

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