Tanking Isn’t Ujiri’s Only Option This Season

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Right now the big debate surrounding the Toronto Raptors is if Masai Ujiri needs to trade away any remaining assets – like Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan and Amir Johnson – in order for the Raptors to sink to the bottom of the NBA standings so that they have a strong chance of securing a marquee talent in the NBA Draft this June.

Sorry, but with the way the team is playing combined with Toronto likely not getting good value for any of those three players via dumping them through bad trades, the Raptors are better off making a run for the Atlantic Division title this season and seeing if this current core can win an opening round series.

Before fans of the team blow up the comments section of this article, hear me out.

Ujiri was known for building a team in Denver that won 57 games last season after he traded away Carmelo Anthony. Much like what is currently happening in Toronto, Ujiri was able to build a team where the sum of its parts was better than having one star play dominate the ball.

Now, whether that formula is sustainable for the long-term is debatable, but right now it’s working in Toronto and it has fans buzzing. That buzz about the team finally having a chance to find themselves in the playoffs alone is worth staying the course and not giving away Lowry or Johnson for pennies on the dollar.

The dream of getting a first round pick for Lowry is gone as there aren’t any teams in great of need to bend to Toronto’s lofty demands of a first round draft pick.

And trading away Johnson when he has arguably been the MVP of the team for the past two seasons and is under contract until the end of next season on a relatively cheap deal? Forget about it.

Fans will moan about missing out on Andrew Wiggins, Julius Randle or Jabari Parker, but by making the playoffs the team isn’t locked out of getting a high draft pick. How? Toronto can do what Orlando did when they acquired Penny Hardaway for a bunch of draft picks. Toronto has set themselves up nicely for the future with multiple first round draft picks the next few seasons and a ton of cap room combined with trade exemptions.

If a team like the Denver Nuggets end up with two picks in the top five, or, even in the top ten, it’s likely Toronto will be able to sway them to trade one of those picks for future picks, cap room and a young player like DeRozan. You can be assured Denver would at last be willing to listen to offers form Toronto for one of their first round picks this June.

By staying the course this season and not giving away young, cheap talent, Toronto may find themselves in a much better position this July when it comes to luring free agents. When Lowry, Pattrick Patterson, and a slew of other players become free agents – and the team doesn’t pick up the option for John Salmons next season – the team will have a shade over $40 million committed to salaries and nearly $18 million in cap space, a young core in Jonas Valanciunas, Terrence Ross and DeRozan, and they could be coming off a season where they had home court in the first round and actually won a playoff series for the first time since Vince Carter called the Air Canada Centre home.

By accumulating draft picks, cap space and talented young players, Toronto positions themselves to make a move like the Houston Rockets did to acquire James Harden or Orlando did back in the day to acquire Hardaway.

Heck, Toronto could even acquire a veteran player this summer relatively cheap by cashing in on their cap space. Right now the Chicago Bulls are looking at dealing Luol Deng for Andrew Bynum for cap relief while the Los Angeles Lakers are looking to move Pau Gasol for cap relief as well.

This summer there will be a plethora of elite veteran players available to teams that can provide teams with much-needed cap relief.

Besides, Jim Boeheim, one of college basketballs elite coaches and a player who has coached elite talent in the college game and at the international level for the United States in the Olympics, feels the 2014 NBA Draft doesn’t have the kind of elite franchise talent like a LeBron James or Tim Duncan.

Hang in there, Raptors fans. Tanking isn’t the only way for Toronto to become one of the elite franchises in the NBA.

Making a push for the playoffs this season could be in the best interest for the franchise in the short and long-term.

About the Author

Ryan McNeill Ryan McNeill has appeared on NBA XL, ESPN Radio, The Fan 590, The Score, TSN Radio and The Home Stretch. He has covered the NBA with media credentials since the 2007-08 season.

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