There are those in the highest ranks of Raptors management who thought it would take 20 games or about a month of the season to figure out exactly what the team was, what it needed and how the pieces fit together. fit together. Then they could start figuring out what, specifically, to do.
Good luck with that.
Not only have injuries, illnesses and absences ruined the short term, but they are also screwing up longer-term plans.
It is impossible today to fully determine who can bear what responsibility and where the cracks in the foundation are. This makes it difficult for Bobby Webster and Masai Ujiri to begin the often lengthy process of working out which trades will rise when they need them.
It’s come up in a few private conversations over the past few days: they just don’t know enough to take informed action.
The 20-game mark is generally accepted in the league because the time a team takes stock and the end of November begins the unofficial start of the commercial season.
The Raptors don’t really know what to do.
Take, for example, the case of Gary Trent Jr., who is Toronto’s greatest business asset. He has a manageable contract, around $17 million a year that he can take out of this off-season to get a bigger, longer-term contract. Bird rights would be attached to him if he was dealt with – leaving the team that gets him the chance to re-sign him regardless of the salary cap, and that has real value these days.
But what is it?
There are those in the organization who think he’s best suited as an attacking energizer off the bench – a role I couldn’t accept more suits him better – and Nick Nurse has come under fire for him this week.
“We’re going to give him his shots and his points, but we want him to be a disruptor (defensively),” Nurse said. “He kinda suits us if he does that, and if he doesn’t, he doesn’t suit us.”
Now the extenuating circumstances are that Trent has been injured and sick and hasn’t had the teammates around him that allow him to thrive. He had three interceptions Wednesday against the Nets.
This is all real and a direct impact of the absences that have obsessed the team since opening night. But if the Raptors were considering changing the roster or moving Trent into a package for a bigger, stronger, more experienced version of himself, there’s no evidence to suggest that would be a wise or foolhardy move.
Although injuries have been troubling, the Raptors are 9-9 and certainly aren’t short of anything in the confused Eastern Conference behind Boston and Milwaukee.
No, the biggest problem that happened in the first quarter of the season was that he didn’t give the front office anything to adequately base their decisions on and that’s what frustrates them the most.
Iron Man (sort of)
Staying with the wave of injuries and this severe flu virus that has been decimating the Raptors for weeks, there is this point.
The only player to appear in all 18 games for the Raptors is OG Anunoby and not sure many would have seen that coming given his history.
The highest levels of the organization have always maintained that the 25-year-old could really be a special player, especially defensively if he could stay on the pitch.
They were right.
He’s been among the best defensemen in the league so far — he’d be in the conversation for Defensive Player of the Year if that conversation happened today — and his offensive game is evolving well.
In a season of disappointment and disruption, the coaching staff and management are privately delighted with his play and his late-night availability.
Talking to a front office guy who’s been in the league about as long as I have been about the state of the organizations.
It was mostly a discussion of how often or how few teams have full practices or even shootouts these days. They are too often maintained, or even canceled, at the whim of the players.
If vets don’t want to get up too early on the road or don’t want to have full practices on holidays, that’s usually what happens.
“Inmates run the asylum,” he said.
Thad Young’s appreciation grows.
He played his 1,100th NBA game on Wednesday against Brooklyn (the only other active players to have more are LeBron James, Andre Iguodala and Chris Paul) and Young was later asked about the milestone.
I wasn’t there in person to hear that answer, but I certainly would have nodded in agreement if I had been.
“There’s no memory for me of being a pro, it’s just who I am as a player, it’s who I am as a man,” he said. “Regardless of the situation happening or not, I only know one thing and that is to work. Put your head down and keep grinding, keep working and keep making sure that I’m doing the things the Toronto Raptors brought me here to do: to help these young guys keep moving forward and improving as that group.
“But, also, when it’s time for me to intervene. . . doing the job to the best of my abilities and while I’m doing my job being able to show them that this is how we should play basketball, this is how the game is played.
Cards and letters
Let them come. We’ll be setting up Sunday’s Ye Olde Mailbag the next day or so and those are just the right questions for you to ask.
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