The Toronto Raptors are caught in a tug of war between playing for the present and paving the way for future success.
This season was supposed to be a lost season of sorts where Toronto played for ping pong balls in the NBA’s draft lottery while Dwane Casey was going to be given the chance to show he could groom young players while establishing a defensive culture.
When Rudy Gay was traded to the Sacramento Kings and the Raptors actually started winning games it flipped the script.
Most NBA franchise would view a trip to the playoffs and a chance to win their division as a great thing,however, with Toronto not having the kind of players which have the potential for showing long-term sustainability when it comes to building a winning franchise, Masai Ujiri and Casey now find themselves in a tough position.
The reality is Toronto’s roster is currently bare of players that would – or could – start for a franchise playing in the NBA Finals.
What makes things tricky for Casey and Ujiri is fans and the local media are now clamoring for a trip to the playoffs but it might be wise to let Lowry walk this summer and package some of their young assets this summer for different pieces or draft picks.
This was highlighted by Ujiri refusing the temptation to make any major moves this past Thursday to bolster the roster for a playoffs push.
Instead, Ujiri hinted that some bigger moves could happen could this summer.
“It’s always a tedious time because you’re trying to see what makes sense for your team,” Ujiri explained to the media on Thursday. “(We need to balance) what makes sense on our side for our team now and the future. That played a part into kind of the little thing we did and I think a lot of the stuff we saw are things that maybe we can do in the summer. So why change it here a little bit now and obstruct (progress)?”
Ujiri also added that, “Some of the deals that were coming about we felt that if we (still) needed to make those moves we could pull them off in the summer.”
Clearly there were some interesting moves that were presented to Ujiri that nearly tempted him to pull the trigger.
It’s also clear that despite giving some young players the rest of the season to show what they can do there are a lot of chess pieces on Toronto’s roster that could easily be moved this summer.
Hearing Ujiri talk on Thursday there was a clear sense of wanderlust about what he could fetch in return via trades for some of the players currently on the roster and how he can spend money this summer on free agents.
In the meantime, Casey is stuck between continuing to help younger players grow while being thrown into the pressure cooker of making a push for the playoffs.
“It’s very difficult because Jonas (Valanciunas) and Terrence (Ross) are two second year players that are growing every game and they make a ton of mistakes,” Casey admitted to me. “You have to live with it just because they are growing and they are a big part of our future and our core. At the same time we are trying to win.”
The tension between winning games and helping players grow has formed the quagmire that Casey and Ujiri find themselves trying not to sink in.
While the team may still make push for home court in the first round and might even win a series, it’s far from certain that the current core group of players will be back again next season.
Fans might be resistant to that idea of the roster undergoing more reshaping, but it is probably in the best long-term interest of the franchise to see some bold moves this summer in restructuring the roster.