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Extinct in Toronto
What Can The Raptors Actually Do Now?

On a night where Ovechkin and the Capitals their playoff demons, the Sixers hung on for one more game and Nashville staved off elimination, the Toronto Raptors saw the same end to another season. Cleveland improved their record against Toronto to 12-2 SU in the last three seasons and have now put Toronto in the most precarious position they’ve seen in ages. Now, looking back, it’s ironic that Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom was the title sponsor of that series.

There are dark times for a Toronto franchise that has been slowly building to this exact season, only to suffer a brutal result.

And do you know why they weren’t ready? It’s because Dwane Casey spent the whole season ensuring that the Raptors had a great bench; a deadly second unit he would unleash to turn the tide in the playoffs. In theory that all works, and it’s probably what buoyed the health of Toronto throughout the year, but those minutes took away from grooming the playoff rotation you intend to use.

There shouldn’t have been any concern about grooming a second unit. A lot was made about how deadly this group was, and the emergence of Fred VanVleet is a definitive feather in the cap of this team. But Indiana, Miami, Milwaukee and Washington didn’t have seven players on the bench ready to roll. They had three. The wheel isn’t broken and the Raptors tried to re-invent it.

I don’t mind the attempt at innovation, but it was also short sighted. One of the most crucial players the Raptors have in their lineup is Jonas Valanciunas, but he routinely ceded minutes to Jakob Poeltl, who was so not-ready for the playoffs that it was embarrassing. Having the right personnel is one thing, and I like Poeltl as a prospect but will forever compare him to Indiana’s Domantas Sabonis, whom was selected afterwards and looked totally fine in a fist fight with the Cavaliers.

It’s easy for Toronto’s second line to dominate the regular season because no other team has a backup unit worth writing home about. The time invested certainly didn’t develop them in to an impactful element of the playoffs, and there shouldn’t be any credit given for what they did against a Wizards team that barely made the playoffs.

What Toronto has now is a wealth of riches that they don’t know what to do with so let’s try and figure out what to do with this confusing roster.

Lowry has an albatross of a contract given that he can’t play defence and hasn’t shown up for three straight playoffs. He is owed $31.0M and $33.3MM in the next two seasons and that’s a lot to pay for a point man that has a limited ceiling.

One of my favorite trade destinations would be to try and suss out the next Oladipo even though I know that the Indiana superstar is a total outlier. The only player that fits that description in my eyes is Buddy Hield. Sacramento has an open payroll for 2017-18 but may not have the assets to make the trade work entirely since they’re starting from scratch.

I’m not going to try and figure out trade destinations for Kyle Lowry in this space but the point is that the franchise is obviously high on the undrafted VanVleet and Delon Wright. It’s time to give up on Lowry.

As the team’s only All-Star, DeRozan seems to have the most obvious appeal in a trade especially given his output versus salary. But Toronto can’t risk shipping out their only true star for cents on the dollar. They have to try and build around him for better or worse.

The team sort of fell in love with Powell during last year, until Delon Wright and OG Anunoby showed up and did everything they thought he’d be able to. Powell is a nothing on the roster and doesn’t appear to be getting better on a team that has valued depth above almost everything else.

And he is case in point of why Toronto falls in love with their own players in a bad way. They paid Powell $42 million over four years with so many flankers in the wings that could’ve supplanted him. There was no need to do that. And now they’re locked in to a player that they don’t even use, and nobody else would want.

Dumping Powell would be part of the team trimming all the fat that they need to. They’re in an ultimately strange position where they have two stars, some great role players and guys in the wings like Siakam, VanVleet, Poeltl and Anunoby. They either have to make room for those guys, or decide to blow it up and invest in them as the future of the franchise.

Despite being one of the best markets in the league, no tier-one free agent goes to Toronto.

It’s the easiest thing to do. Casey look completely outgunned in the playoffs from a tactical standpoint, and his choice to invest so much of the team’s regular season in to the second unit was fine by most standards but it didn’t help the squad in the playoffs. This isn’t about scapegoating Casey, it’s more so that he’s been at the helm for too long. Eventually the messaging wears thin and the team needs someone else who can fire up the squad and give them a fresh lens to look through.

That doesn’t mean that they should go after a guy like Van Gundy. It means more so that they need a cultural shift, and that begins with altering the leadership. Maybe they need to make big moves to “send a message”. Maybe they just need a new mentality at the top of the food chain. Casey has had his shot and missed. It’s unfair to use LeBron as an excuse given that the Raptors have faced him three times straight and been squashed all three times. They’re 2-12 SU against an opponent that hasn’t changed all that much. Where’s the adjustment? Where’s their damn dignity?

The worst part about this for Toronto is that it doesn’t matter if Cleveland loses LeBron this summer. They’ll still have to contend with Boston’s returning duo of Hayward and Irving, along with a surging Sixers team. Indiana will also have all sorts of gusto.

It’s time to jettison the architect of this two-tier system that Toronto employed in an effort to find a point of difference. Casey’s been phenomenal in rebuilding Toronto in to a contender, but he’s also the reason that nobody in the league takes them seriously.

If they hope to acquire any worthwhile free agents, or restructure a winning culture, Casey’s got to go.

Until something massive happens, there’s no reason to take Toronto seriously. Even their own fans aren’t going to fall for their dog and pony show anymore. It’s time for the Raptors as we know them to become a thing of the past, just like their namesake.

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