The Toronto Raptors are not a good basketball team.
An over simplistic statement, perhaps, but after Chris Bosh uttered as much following Toronto's last meeting against the same Atlanta Hawks that thrashed them last night, little of substance has occurred to change that interpretation. The question becomes, then, what is there to do about it? To that end I've got some bad news for you, Raptors fans, because the answer to that question is simply 'nothing.'
Again, maybe that's an over simplification of a much more complex answer, but the crux of the issue is that right now all the Raptors can do is stay the course and hope that things turn around because just about every other option has been exercised to little or not effect. It's never the route that a contemporary sports fan wants to hear about, the savvy modern Internet dweller that spends his or her idle time drumming him or herself into a tizzy on message boards, but a 'let it be' approach may be the most reasonable and realistic course of action this team has left.
The primary reason for that is that at the heart of the issues plaguing this current iteration of Toronto's basketball franchise is chemistry – or lack thereof. This is a group of virtual strangers who spend a lot of time on the court playing up to that description. Turnovers are a constant theme, poor defensive communication is a nightly staple and a lack of consistency and flow mar just about every effort this team musters up. This group does not have the connective tissue to stand up to anyone but the weakest of teams and the only solution to that problem is time.
The problem with that strategy is that it presupposes that if and when the chemistry arrives this team has the complimentary talent reserves to make a dent in the Eastern Conference. Preach all one wants about whether or not they believe the team has said talent, the only way to prove it is ultimately to leave the lure in the water and until something (big or small) takes a bite. If the talent is there, then Bryan Colangelo and (to a lesser extent) Jay Triano will be vindicated for preaching the virtues of this roster and the patience required to make it work. If the talent isn't there then another long summer of soul searching will befall this club and its beleaguered fan base.
With few exceptions it has been the slow and steady approach that has landed most of the NBA's top teams in the upper echelon. Cleveland, Los Angeles, Orlando, Atlanta, Denver and Utah were all teams that saw their current success take its form in years of lottery trips and first-round exits. The cores that make up those franchises were assembled amidst at least a couple of seasons of disappointment (a yardstick that measures differently for different cities) and support player trial-and-error, and it would appear that Toronto is at least in the midst of just such a transition.
In fact, part of the problem with the Raptors historically has been that very lack of patience involved in putting a team together. In the years since 1999, the last time Toronto was on a multi-year upward trend, the Raptors roster has been aggressively made and re-made countless times to feature a never-ending carousel of new players. A vocal and (let's face it) cynical fan base, combined with an equally vocal and cynical media machine (myself included), has made it very difficult for management to hold firm to a single plan of attack for any meaningful amount of time. To be fair, part of the reason Colangelo was so aggressively sought out and lauded upon his arrival is that he is a man known to have a level of patience that sits perfectly in line with the constituency he was hired to cater to. As such the Bosh and Villanueva Raptors made way for the Bosh and T.J. Ford Raptors which made way for the Bosh, Calderon and O'Neal Raptors which have now made way for the Bosh, Calderon, Bargnani, Turkoglu Raptors, with the always real possibility that next year Bosh could be removed from the equation and another new core group will be let loose on the court. It's been a frenetic and fractured construction job for the Raptors and to watch the current team is to see a team that plays in exactly that manner: frenetic and fractured.
For those begging for changes, though, even beyond what may nor may not be 'right' for the organization, change would be very difficult to turn into success at this point. Trading Jermaine O'Neal for Shawn Marion a year ago, which brought a player to Toronto that fit that roster perfectly, still took well over a month to begin reaping the rewards from, and by then the season was more or less over for the Raptors. By that same logic, trading a core piece of this current Raptors squad would be unlikely the yield instant results. If the team could even find a reasonable trade for underperformers like Calderon or (prohibitive salary aside) Turkoglu, it would be a whole process of starting anew with regards to how best to run this team around the new player and vice versa. If the team were to simply try moving a bench piece, like Antoine Wright or Amir Johnson, the odds of them receiving anything more than a marginal rotation player in return is slim since that is exactly what they would be sending out, and that wouldn't do much to affect the fortunes of this team.
Then, of course, comes the inevitable chorus of those wanting the head of Jay Triano, but as has been said before, so long as the team is still paying Sam Mitchell they aren't going to bring on yet another new coach while having to pay two former coaches at the same time. This is doubly true if someone thinks that the Raptors could even afford to look in the direction of Byron Scott or Lawrence Frank. Seriously, it isn't going to happen anytime soon so put it out of your minds.
This may all come off like some sort of capitulation, but it's not. This is, as best as I can see it, an acceptance of what real options the Toronto Raptors have at this moment. There isn't some magic lamp waiting for them behind yet another bold move, there is only the hope that time together breeds a greater sense of familiarity and that that in turn breeds a greater degree of winning. That's not a foolish or outlandishly optimistic viewpoint to take; it's simply the current state of affairs. Bryan Colangelo made his bold moves last summer, once again reshaping his roster and permanently instituting his choice for head coach, and he and the organization have no cards left to play as a result. If losing in excess continues through the New Year, then trading Chris Bosh and capitulating the season becomes a possibility, but I believe that Colangelo would much rather play that game in the sign-and-trade arena next summer rather than in the buyers market of February's trade deadline. That isn't to say that he absolutely won't make any move before then, it just means that any move made shouldn't be looked upon as anything more than a re-arranging of the furniture because the change that matters has to come from inside the locker room.
So there it is fans, and I'm sure many of you will sound off on this with ire. All anyone wants to hear about anymore are trade scenarios or coaching candidates, but that would simply be nothing more than patronizing one's readership. The only thing that this team hasn't tried in their attempts to turn things around has been patience, and at this point that is the only meaningful option left. It could be said that a fan wouldn't be blamed for jumping ship after watching some of the team's efforts in the last weeks, but that comes down to a personal choice. How anyone reacts to their team struggling, in fact, is a deeply personal choice. You can rant and rail, exhausting your collective will admonishing a club that, to be fair, deserves its fair share of admonishment, or you could grit your teeth and try and bare the losing while hoping that brighter days are on the horizon. Whatever your choice be sure you're married to it because by the looks of things the losing doesn't appear to be ebbing anytime in the near future since, after all, the Toronto Raptors are not a good basketball team.