It is hard at this point in a lost season to find the motivation to put it all on the floor. There doesn’t seem to be anything important to play for, other than pride and individual stats, but the Toronto Raptors would be wise to finish the year as strong as they possibly can.
Another loss in Charlotte on Wednesday night is not the kind of effort that is going to instill any faith in this franchise going forward. Despite recent losses there are still a number of talented young players on this team that need to prove to the fan base in Toronto that there is something about this team worth holding onto going into, what could be, a very tumultuous offseason.
There are a number of reasons to finish this season as strong as possible.
Fight for your fan base
The franchise owes it to the fans to provide a glimmer of hope. Season ticket holders are mulling over their renewal options right now and fans are trying to figure out whether this team, one that has missed the postseason for five straight years, is worthy of the expense. A late season surge and impressive play from the young Raptors core could help provide the glimmer of hope the franchise is going to need to pedal tickets to buyers in the offseason. A strong finish will also help to convince fans that this team really is a playoff team if given a full year of Rudy Gay.
If nothing else, a strong end to the year will provide the paying public with a reason to come down the ACC and get their money’s worth between now and the end of the season.
Fight for your spot
The Raptor roster for next year is not anywhere near set and the Raptor players need to establish themselves as part of the core heading into what will very surely be an interesting off-season. Nobody is a slam dunk to return next year outside of (maybe) Jonas Valanciunas.
DeMar DeRozan, Amir Johnson, Rudy Gay, Kyle Lowry, all of whom seemed like integral pieces coming into the season are tradeable assets that could be moved depending on what direction the franchise decides to take moving forward. It is imperative this group show their worth.
However, most of those players constitute what Bryan Colangelo feels will shape the core of the team going forward, but all have contracts that are very moveable if the right offer presents itself.
Fight for vindication
A strong finish, perhaps reaching as high as ninth in the conference won’t only prove this team is worthy of playoff predictions heading into next year, it will also ensure that Toronto will not lose a high first round draft pick. The higher the Raptors finish, the less likely it is that OKC receives a high draft choice in the pick they own from Toronto as a result of the Kyle Lowry trade. A lottery victory or mid-first round pick for OKC would provide Tyler Seguin level embarrassment for the Raptors. They need to finish as high as possible to make sure the lost draft choice is one that doesn’t hurt the franchise or provide embarrassment for their front office.
Fight for the Future
The word finally came down from the mouth of Dwane Casey himself, that the Raptors intend to play Jonas Valanciunas and Terrence Ross more now that the playoff push is over. With the youngsters getting a longer look it is important to tout the future of the franchise.
Valanciunas is a player that excites the fan base. He is beginning to show more confidence and skill in his increased playing time. On Wednesday in Charlotte he looked solid inside bringing down 7 rebounds and pouring in 18 points on 54% shooting. There is legitimate hope for his future in Toronto and now is a great time to play into that.
Let the fans know this is a team on the rise and that there is a franchise player to get behind. It worked in the early days of Vince Carter and Chris Bosh and it should work now.
Fight for your employers
Whether the Raptors know it or not, they are still fighting for the future employment of both Dwane Casey and Bryan Colangelo.
Colangelo doesn’t have a contract next season and has missed the playoffs for five straight years. His job is in danger unless he can sell the fan base and the MLSE board that Rudy Gay gives this team a legit shot at the playoffs next season.
Casey has one year left in his contract, but hasn’t led the Raptors to the playoffs and his substitution pattern has been bizarre at times this season. He’s also recently taken issues with the use of analytics by the team after a recent Grantland feature by Zach Lowe brought light to the issue. Though, according to Holly MacKenzie, the team denies there is any friction, but it is still very possible Casey is playing out his last days here in Toronto.
With a few more wins and strong play from the rookies, Casey could be given another shot at the end of the season depending on what happens with Colangelo. If the players want the current coaching staff to stick around, they need to pile on some wins.
The Raptors need to show the organization, its fans and the front office exactly what is in place here for next season and prove that there is reason to believe the Raptors playoff drought is on its way to being over.
Otherwise this summer could once again be filled with change and rebuilding. Something that will not sit well with an increasingly impatient fan base.