A 48-hour span between Thursday and Saturday demonstrated once again, all too well, the NBA world the Toronto Raptors
From the high of DeMar DeRozan's buzzer-beating game-winner
in Orlando to the low of Kyrie Irving's cold-as-ice three-point winner
for Cleveland, another old NBA adage was proven yet again: You can beat bad teams with good players, but teams with great players can beat anybody on any given night.
And so once again in 2012-13, the Raptors hover somewhere north or south of mediocrity, nowhere near as bad as their 4-19 start, nowhere near as good as the 10-3 run which followed it.
The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. When the Raptors acquired Kyle Lowry from Houston for Gary Forbes and a first-round pick (top-3 protected this year, top-2 next year) after losing out on Steve Nash last summer, there was concern about how Jose Calderon would adjust before ultimately being traded. Nobody anticipated -- Bryan Colangelo included -- that Calderon would be the better point guard for this team at the midway point of the season, with Lowry coming off the bench among whispers he's won no endorsements from his new teammates.
Such is sports, however. Give longest-serving Raptor Calderon credit for withstanding his umpteenth challenge at the point in his eight-year history with the club.
Yet with Lowry now on the trading block as a possible alternative to Calderon's exit (although the Memphis Grizzlies would prefer the Spaniard in exchange for the wing player Toronto appears to covet so greatly, Rudy Gay), it begs another question about the Raptors franchise.
Why are they always chasing their tail?
Trading Lowry at this point, regardless of his shortcomings, signals another fail for Colangelo. Even the prospect of acquiring Gay for a package that would include Ed Davis seems to almost reek of the same middling commitment to mediocrity.
I mean, let's just guess what transpires in the next three months: The Raptors hang around the 8th-10th place zone in the East, perhaps make things interesting in terms of chasing a playoff spot with the Celtics lacking catalyst Rajon Rondo
, yet ultimately come up short, finishing ninth, a few games out of the post-season.
Toronto will almost surely lose its first-rounder from the Lowry trade, which certainly isn't the end of the world. This isn't a deep draft, after all. Not like next year's. And therein lies the bad omen.Once-in-a-generation player
Because the Raptors likely aren't "bad enough" this year to keep their top-3 pick, they will watch somebody else draft Brampton, Ont., native Anthony Bennett, the UNLV freshman forward who has shot up this year's draft rankings by averaging 18.4 points and 8.6 boards a game going into Tuesday. But that's life. Bennett is great, but he's something of a tweener and not a once-in-a-generation player.
Andrew Wiggins is.
Andrew Wiggins is the real deal.
Andrew Wiggins's nickname at Huntington Prep in West Virginia is "Canada's LeBron."
That's his nickname because the Vaughan, Ont., native is the highest-rated high school prospect since James. I don't need to get into him more -- die-hard fans know who he is, and the rest of Canada that isn't paying attention will fly from the woodwork to the bandwagon in a year and a half anyways (it's worth noting that Wiggins and his Huntington team are playing at McMaster University in Hamilton on Feb. 17).
And that's the point. I'm not endorsing that the Raptors tank for Wiggins in 2014, but it's something that must be considered as a very serious option.
Like I said, this is a franchise that's always chasing its tail. This is a franchise that somewhat unfairly has a reputation for being unable to keep star players (unfair because Vince Carter and Chris Bosh both voluntarily signed second contracts with the franchise before checking out in their own ways).
But perception is reality. In a hockey culture on steroids, where the din around the equally inept Maple Leafs is well past the high end of Bruno's note-meter here
(go to the 2:12 mark), the Raptors are always fighting for relevance. It's something they've only truly enjoyed with Carter, and to a lesser extent Bosh.
So, in theory, what better way to hit the reset button and shut the haters up than to land the Canadian kid who may well become the best basketball player in the world?Cavs rolled dice to get LeBron
Yet there are questions about whether the board at Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment even knows who Wiggins is (although Bell CEO George Cope, the man thought to be Brian Burke's backbreaker, is six-foot-seven and a former university basketball player). And there is the even more frightening question of whether Colangelo is so desperate to get a contract extension past this season that he's willing to further mortgage the future in order to keep his job in order to contend for eighth place.
The Wiggins comparison to LeBron also ties into where the Raptors are now and where the Cleveland Cavaliers were in 2001-02. Not unlike Toronto today, Cleveland then was a mediocre team with a few good parts (think Jonas Valanciunas and Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Jose Calderon or Kyle Lowry and Andre Miller).
Sixty kilometres south in Akron, Ohio, James was posing for the cover of Sports Illustrated as a junior in high school. The Cavaliers decided to roll the dice and go all in on LeBron. They traded away Miller for Darius Miles, and famously for Raptors fans, dealt veteran Lamond Murray to Toronto for Yogi Stewart and a draft pick that would become Jared Dudley.
The Cavs purposely went into 2002-03 too young, a by-design gong show of rookies Carlos Boozer and Dajuan Wagner and fellow youngster Ricky Davis. The result was a 17-65 record, tied for worst in the NBA. It was a gamble because there was no guarantee they would land the No. 1 pick until the lottery smiled on them. Yet they were smart enough to recognize that it was a very good draft, and they took a chance at landing the hometown kid.
Again, I'm not definitively saying the Raptors should now follow in their footsteps. Yes, there's no guarantee Wiggins will become a superstar -- although it's widely believed among scouts and observers that disaster is the only thing that can prevent that. Yes, the conspiracy theorists will tell you future commissioner Adam Silver will ensure the Canadian team doesn't get the Canadian superstar. Yet was little ol' Cleveland really the type of market the NBA wanted an icon in either?
If the Raptors want Wiggins, and by extension to instantly rebrand the franchise, this is what they must do. Tank. It is inconceivable that they would be able to acquire him in any other way -- whichever team drafts him will not trade him. Sure, they can wait for his rookie contract to expire and go after him four years later in free agency. But there are no guarantees he'd sign. Just as there are no guarantees he'd stay in Toronto if they drafted him, a la LeBron.
No guarantees, like life. But like life, sometimes you have to gamble. And when 19 years of results don't amount to much, maybe it's time to gamble.
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