FRIDAY APRIL 28, 2017
 
Blog EGOS & ICONS
RAPTORS CAN'T GET IT RIGHT
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Maybe you can still look at the short-term future of the Toronto Raptors and see a silver lining. If so, I salute your sense of optimism. Personally, I'm finding it increasingly hard to ignore the dark clouds of mediocrity that always seems to be hovering overhead.

When will they be moving on? Possibly not for a while. There's still a chance the winds of change are about to sweep through the basketball division at Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, but I doubt it. More likely, general manager Bryan Colangelo and head coach Dwane Casey will remain in their jobs next season, despite speculation that one or both could be replaced.

In the face of that insecurity, coach and GM tied themselves together at their season-ending post-mortem this week, working hard to dispel any suggestion that they can't coexist, and working even harder to assure everyone that better days are most definitely ahead.

Colangelo also made clear that another empty spring was unacceptable, saying the expectation of a playoff berth rests "squarely on my shoulders." He might have to tailor a suit to make those shoulders more broad: the Raptors just finished a franchise-worst (yes, even for them) fifth straight year out of the postseason. Toronto is tied with Washington for the league's longest drought, with only Minnesota and Sacramento suffering more. The Raptors have won just one playoff series in 18 seasons, and none in two appearances under Colangelo's watch.

As they stand, even if these damnable dinosaurs do manage to make the playoffs next year, it's hard to imagine them as anything more than a bad card dealt from the bottom of the seeding deck, destined to depart with another early flameout against a stronger opponent. Can you see the Raptors as Eastern Conference finalists? Come on!

But Colangelo actually had the temerity to herald a "two-year window" for this team. Window to what? The sixth seed? Without some major upgrades, this team's window is about the size of a porthole. On the Titanic. It's got a great view of the icebergs, but not much else.

But if you're determined to imagine the view from a stateroom and see the silver-lining side of things, it's all about the starting five. Only together for around 30 games this season, the lineup of Rudy Gay, DeMar DeRozan, Kyle Lowry, Amir Johnson and Jonas Valanciunas is seen as the foundation for a brighter future. And, as Sportsnet.ca pointed out this week, that group ranked fifth in the NBA in points per minute. In fact, they were the only non-playoff team among the top 10 (league-best Miami managed to make the list twice).

Still, even with those guys together from Day 1, the Raptors don't inspire much confidence. Gay is the best they've got, but he's not elite. Could some kind of vision correction get him over the hump? DeRozan, his contract already guaranteed, remains stuck on a statistical plateau. Valanciunas, like fellow rookie Terrence Ross, is still exceedingly raw. They'd arguably be better off with the point guard they traded, the pass-first Jose Calderon, than the one they kept. And off in the background, lurking in the shadows by the bench, Andrea Bargnani is as much of an enigmatic millstone as he ever was.

The Raptors may be moving on an upward plane, but it feels like an incline you could walk forever without getting winded. If they ever want fans to catch their breath, things are going to have to get kicked up a whole lot. And right now, it's hard to see that happening.

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