It’s time for the Toronto Raptors to ask themselves some tough questions.
The playoffs are often a time for reflection when it comes to NBA teams. You work all season to get yourself into a position to experience postseason success. Once you get there, you can assess where you are as a franchise, what your needs are, and what direction you should go moving forward. For the Toronto Raptors, a playoff trend has developed.
It is a trend that should force them to take a long look in the mirror and adjust their approach.
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The Raptors have one of the youngest teams in the league. However their core is very much in a win-now mode. Kyle Lowry is 31 years old, while DeMar DeRozan and Serge Ibaka are very much in their primes.
While the supporting cast is very young, they don’t have a future star prospect on their roster. So any evaluation of this team’s ceiling has to come down to how good their three core players are.
If the contract situations for Lowry and Ibaka were different, running this roster back next year would be an easy decision. The addition of Ibaka didn’t cost the Raptors much in long-term assets, yet helped transform their defense.
Unfortunately the core hasn’t had much time to play together as a result of surgery on Lowry’s shooting hand. But with that unknown lingering over the team, the Raptors are still forced to make a long-term decision about this roster this summer.
But Lowry and Ibaka aren’t the only contract decisions facing this team. P.J. Tucker and Patrick Patterson, two of the team’s most important reserves, are also set to enter free agency.
Without signing any of the key four free agents, the Raptors would still have a payroll of around $79,626,624.
With Lowry and Ibaka both reportedly desiring max contracts, those two alone could push the payroll close to $140 million. With the salary cap projected at $101 million next season, the Raptors would likely need to gut a fair portion of their roster just to retain their key free agents.
And that roster is struggling to get by the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round.
The Raptors are in a rather precarious position in the playoffs. They currently are fighting to get by a team that likely represents the future of the Eastern Conference. The Bucks have a phenomenal young core, highlighted by a blossoming superstar in Giannis Antetokounmpo.
They even are finding ways to win despite missing their third-best player in Jabari Parker and with Khris Middleton not at 100 percent following hamstring surgery.
If the Raptors do get by the Bucks, they will take on the current standard-bearer of the Eastern Conference in the Cleveland Cavaliers. With the Cavs’ big three younger than Toronto’s trio of Lowry, DeRozan and Ibaka, it’s fair to ask if the Raptors even have a window to contend.
Even if they wait out the Cavs, their future doesn’t look brighter than that of the Bucks.
This is now the fourth year that the Raptors have disappointed in the playoffs. While they made the Eastern Conference Finals last year, they struggled to get by the Indiana Pacers as well as a decimated Miami Heat roster.
They got two wins in the conference finals, but were embarrassed in their four losses. This has caused many to question how good this roster truly is.
The underachieving in playoffs will likely cause the front office to face some tough questions this summer, from the roster questions caused by free agency to the coaching of Dwane Casey. There’s no obvious answers, but it’s unlikely that the team will stick with the status quo.