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Can the Raptors Tank Next Season?

Ujiri Leiweke webAll it took was a rumor that the Pistons, an organization desperately targeting every remote possibility to improve a team in disarray, were interested in Rudy Gay and the Raptors Tank Nation was out in full force. Brian Windhorst ESPN.com says the Pistons coveted Gay last season and have offered the Raptors couple of expiring contracts for the small forward.

“The Pistons have offered the Raptors the expiring contracts of Rodney Stuckey and Charlie Villanueva in an attempt to acquire Gay, league sources.”

MLSE President and CEO Tim Leiweke has given President and General Manager, Basketball Operations Masai Ujiri carte blanche to blow this roster up if that is what he believes is best for the Raptors long term. However, we have yet to hear Ujiri say that is part of his plans.

Now if the rumor had included a couple of unprotected Detroit first round draft picks, it would have carried a lot more weight, but Pistons President Joe Dumars has been rumored to be going after everyone from Josh Smith to Andre Iguodala to Rajon Rondo. He has over $20 million in salary cap space to use and he is searching for someone to take it. Dumars is trying anything and everything to get better. Sadly he traded his 2014 first round draft pick to Charlotte for Corey Maggette. (What?!)

It makes complete sense that Dumars would be interested in Gay. Why Ujiri would be interested in Stuckey and Villanueva without the sweetener of at least a 2014 first round draft pick (and probably a lot more) isn’t so clear. The suggestion of tanking to get better only really works if you end up with a future asset that can help make you better.

Toronto has another and potentially bigger problem with the concept of tanking next season. Outside of a 4 win and 19 loss start to the 2012-2013 season, the Raptors were better than a .500 club the rest of the way. That included 23 games before they acquired Rudy Gay with Bargnani either on the shelf or playing very ineffectively. This roster just isn’t bad enough to tank for a top draft pick.

When the Raptors returned from that disastrous five game western road trip in early December having won just once in their past 12 games, there was a frustrated and mad Amir Johnson sitting in the Raptors locker room saying this was going to stop. Johnson grew up during that losing streak and played with an intensity and purpose that he hadn’t shown before. Bargnani was injured didn’t play again until February and the big addition to the roster for the home stand was the return of journeyman Alan Anderson from injury. The Raptors won five of their next six games and went 12-11 before Rudy Gay was acquired.

The only key players missing from that better than .500 team in December and January are Jose Calderon and Ed Davis. The Raptors had been trying to trade Calderon for two years and had brought in Kyle Lowry to replace him. Davis was loved by the fans, but he plays smaller than his size, isn’t a good defender and couldn’t even beat out Darrell Arthur for minutes after he was traded to Memphis.

The really bad part about the proposed Detroit trade from a tanking standpoint is Rodney Stuckey is a very skilled combo guard who would make a solid backup behind Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. It’s not unusual for players like Stuckey on an expiring contract to have an inspired season. Faith in Villanueva taking advantage of a second (third?) chance seems less likely, but last time he was on expiring deal he put up 16.7 points and 6.7 rebounds in 26.9 minutes for Milwaukee. No one has ever said a team can get their players to tank a season.

The middle part of the Eastern Conference is in disarray. Where Atlanta ends up is a mystery, likewise with the Bucks. Boston has just dumped three of their best players. Philadelphia is in full blown tank mode. Cleveland is better, but very young and inexperienced and it’s very hard to have faith in what Washington and Detroit are going to do. The Raptors without Rudy Gay could still find themselves winning over 30 games next season and that kind of record is not going to land them any kind of a shot at a top draft pick in 2014. No one said tanking was easy.

Stephen Brotherston has covered the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Center since 2009. A member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association, Stephen is the editor and publisher of Pro Bball Report.

4 thoughts on “Can the Raptors Tank Next Season?

  1. Huegez

    Moving Gay without moving DeRozan and Lowry makes no sense. If you’re going to tank you need to go all in. I’m a firm believer that tanking is the best option, however you have to do it right. As mentioned in the article, you need young assets along with expiring contracts. No shock that Pistons are after Gay, Gay’s contract doesn’t look so bad when you look at the one that was just pulled off the table by the Kings for Iguodala and the Pistons were interested in Iguodala (and all the other crazy contracts that free agents have been offered, suddenly DeRozan’s contract doesn’t look so bad).

    With as many as 7 teams tanking and 4 or 5 legitimate top-end prospects in the draft, 2 or 3 teams might miss out. If the Raps are one of the teams that misses out things could get ugly. Could be another 5 year re-build and Raps fans could find themselves envious of the Bobcats at the end of this. Gotta go all in on tanking, even still, it’s a risky proposition. I guess that is why Ujiri gets the big bucks. Be careful what you wish for Raps fans, if Ujiri tanks and it backfires on him and Raps finish with 7th worst record, it’ll be a 10 year drought before there is a NBA playoff game in the ACC.

    1. Stephen Brotherstonsbrotherston Post author

      And moving DeRozan &/or Lowry without getting really good 1st round draft picks back wouldn’t make much sense either if tanking. Even Gay has to bring back a 2014 1st rounder or why bother.

      Unfortunately – Dumars doesn’t have a 1st to trade – go out to 2017 at the moment because of the restrictions on the trade of his 2014 pick to Charlotte

      Jazz are a good team to talk to – something has to happen there

      1. Huegez

        Do you think Uljiri is actually planning on tanking this season? If so, I could see the Raps Sending Gay/Fields for Charlie V, Stuckey, Brandon Knight (or KCP) and a future 1st round pick (or remove Future 1st and include both KCP and Knight).

        The next move would be to move Lowry, Dallas is a decent destination for him. If Dallas gets a top free agent to play alongside Dirk, Lowry would be a nice cheap alternative at PG for a year for them. I would assume a 2014 Dallas 1st Rounder would be available and get an expiring contract as well (Could VC come back to TO!). There would need to be some Salary Cap Gymnastics to make it all work, but seems reasonable given what they are trying to do there.

        The Final move is DeRozan. I think the Jazz are a good destination for him. They are in need of a SG as I don’t believe Burks is a long-term solution for them if they plan on competing in the West. I’m not sure you can get any 2014 1st round picks from Utah that aren’t lottery protected, however a trade for Marvin Williams, and one of either Burks, Gobert or Burke (I can’t imagine them letting go of Burke though) and a 2014 Lottery Protected 1st Rounder (with Lottery protection removed in 2015) might get the job done.

        I think that would inject some potential youth into the roster that you could allow to play solid minutes next year to see if you have anything. Still a pretty risky move though. I also think that if people think you are tanking, the value of each player drops, so you would have to pull the trigger on the deals around the same time.

        If Ujiri decides to keep the core of the roster together to compete this year, do you think it’s possible that the Raps could work a sign and trade for Paul Milsap or Al Jefferson (more likely Milsap). Clearly Utah doesn’t need all those bigs but needs a SG. I’m assuming Milsap would sign a contract similar to DeRozan, therefore a sign and trade might work. This could open up minutes at SG for Ross/Fields (assuming Fields figures out how to shoot again) or bring in more of a defensive specialist in free agency with MLE to play SG.

        Thoughts????

        1. David

          I agree with Utah however would ask for Marvin Williams and Favors. They can have Derozen and filler to make the numbers work and I would even be enticed to give up the 2016 first rounder we just got from the Knicks if required. This will free up another 9.5 million for next year and your frontcourt is set. If the season starts heading south trade Gay then. Having Favors/Val/Amir at least sets you up nice at the 4/5 position for next year. You will still having picks and financial flexibility but won’t be starting from scratch. You will have a foundation to build on. I think for what Raptors fans pay to see their team full blown tanking would go over well considering what we have endured already. Go Raps!

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