It's hard to imagine that any point in the Raptors' season could be worse than the string of double-digit blowouts that precipitated the firing of Sam Mitchell and defined the early days of Jay Triano's tenure, but the team certainly is trying to make it happen before the year is out.
Today the story of the Raptors is about the series of double-digit leads that are given-up on the way to mounting home losses combined with the increasingly ineffective and indifferent personnel, headlined by All-Star Chris Bosh. Tonight's drubbing at the hands of the Dallas Maverick's sent a chorus of boos cascading down upon the home team that began in the third quarter and continued throughout the remainder of the team's futile effort to get back into the game.
The procession of perimeter jumpers and yet another double-digit rebounding differential simply served to draw further ire from the assembled masses at their last home game before Christmas... 'Merry Christmas, Raptors fans, we're rebuilding!'
There is no other fair way to assess the situation. It may only be December, but the team is swiftly regressing each game as GM Bryan Colangelo's patchwork roster continues to get exploited for their lack of hustle and talent while making a meaningful trade looks increasingly difficult as the team's assets continue to devalue themselves on a game-by-game basis.
While having cornerstones like Chris Bosh, Jose Calderon and Jermaine O'Neal will no doubt speed-up the process of rebuilding this roster for a nimble GM like Colangleo, the faith entrusted in him by Toronto's fans has grown weak and for the first time since his term with the Raptors began in 2006 his reputation of excellence is no longer satiating the crowd. He needs to take a good long look at his roster and he needs to find a way to take it apart and piece it back together again because what he's assembled to this point simply has not worked.
The team is notoriously soft, they are too willing to settle for outside jump shots and their interest in fighting for wins seems to have dissipated beyond repair. They have too few dependable scorers, their depth is thin-to-non-existent and the one player that was supposed to provide promise for the future (Andrea Bargnani) has quietly slumped back into the hole he dug for himself last season.
It's hard to say at this point where it all went wrong. The over-reliance on inexperienced NBAers, mostly from the European leagues, was bound to catch up with the team eventually. No organization can depend so heavily on so many players that need to learn how to play NBA basketball all at once while also competing for wins against opposing teams that already know perfectly well how to play NBA basketball.
Allowing such heavy redundancy on the roster at the power forward position is also no doubt a cause. While Chris Bosh is going to log heavy minutes at the position every night, the team still went out and grabbed Bargnani in the draft and then committed to Jermaine O'Neal and his monstrous contract while allowing depth on the wings at at the point guard position to evaporate.
While O'Neal has acquitted himself admirably at centre (in fact, he's probably been the team's hardest worker out on the court each game), Bargnani has struggled with consistency at centre and small forward in the last two years and looks as far away as ever from reaching his highly-touted potential.
However, perhaps more than anything, an exodus of talent has set this team up for their hardest climb to the Playoffs in three years. Colangelo's time with the team has been marked as much by the players that he's let out of town as the players he's brought in.
Eventually, when enough Carlos Delfino's, Morris Peterson's and Rasho Nesterovic's are lost and not replaced it takes a toll on the talent base of an NBA team. Trying to skate by with Anthony Parker, Jason Kapono, Joey Graham and Jamario Moon as your wing rotation was a dicey proposition from the outset, and their up-and-down play after nearly two months proves why.
Ditto having no dependable back-up for point guard Jose Calderon and having no veteran presence in reserve in the front court (save for the recently-signed Jake Voskuhl). At some point, sooner or later, that kind of talent-deprivation is going to catch up with you, and for the Raptors it was sooner.
So what now? It's hard to say. This team needs to start working harder for wins so that Colangelo can get a sense of what this team actually needs to eke out the wins they're giving up. No move is going to be made for the sake of making a move, and the team is going to have to demonstrate for him - with their play - what they need to bolster their attack.
In the meantime, Triano has to find a way to coax some life out of his team. Even if Colangelo can manage to do the unlikely and pull off a meaningful in-season trade with the parts he has available to him, no trade is going to cure the malaise that's gripped this roster.
The team doesn't have a string of easy games to use to right the ship until the end of March and beginning of April, so either they find a way to get up off of the mat and position themselves for a late-season run at that time, or else they risk ending up back in the lottery - their brief resurgence nothing more than a blip on the NBA radar.