Raptors Wrap-Up: Darko Days

Like most of us, the Toronto Raptors have gone through a lot since January. The new year brought new faces and new dynamics to the team that some fans weren’t ready for, and the team continues to change with each game. Oh, who am I kidding—it’s basketball, and right now, the Raptors are nothing to romanticize. 

It’s been a while since the last Raptors Wrap-Up, and so much—yet so little—has happened with the team. The Raptors are still outside of a playoff spot, hovering around four games back of the Play-In Tournament’s 10th seed. Normally, seeing your team outside a postseason position is disheartening, but fans (and secretly, team executives) should be hoping to see them drop even further in the standings. This sentiment becomes increasingly true when you remember that the Raptors will lose their 2024 first-round pick to the Spurs if they are not within the top six draft spots. I think they can get it done, and by it, I mean a last-place finish. 

Things only got worse when star player Scottie Barnes suffered a fracture to his hand that required surgery and will have him missing the rest of the season. 

The Raptors only bolstered their chances of a basement-level finish when, on trade deadline day, they traded away Dennis Schroder and Thad Young to the Nets for Spencer Dinwiddie and then proceeded to waive Dinwiddie the same day. To put that all together for you, they traded an excellent guard in Schroder and a decent depth defender in Young for essentially nothing. Yes, when put like that, it sounds terrible, but this is what’s needed to ensure a few more losses and a low finish.

Before this deal, the Raptors opened their trade deadline by trading Kira Lewis Jr., Otto Porter Jr., and a 2024 first-round pick for Canadian Centre Kelly Olynyk, and young guard Ochai Agbaji from the Jazz. Some people were upset about this move because why would the Raptors, who are rebuilding, send away a first-round draft pick? The 2024 draft is expected to lack talent, and they traded the worst of their three first-rounders in this deal. The Raptors also gained valuable leadership in Olynyk, who grew up in Toronto and has regularly starred for team Canada’s basketball team. Agbaji is the most interesting player in this move. He was drafted 14th overall in 2022 and has shown some glimpses of potential throughout his short career. Altogether, the Raptors did what they needed to do at the deadline by clearing cap space and getting worse. 

If anyone were to ask me about the 2023-2024 Raptors, the one thing that I would be proud to tell them about is the energy around the team. I just wrote for two-thirds of this article about how bad the Raptors are—because they are that bad—but the players have remained positive through it all. They don’t dwell on their losses but learn from their performances. A big part of this is because of head coach Darko Rajaković, who has completely turned around the squad’s synergy and atmosphere. Recently, the Raptors finally got their first three-game win streak of the season, meaning Rajaković will have to deliver on his promise of taking the team out for dinner. 

I couldn’t write about the Raptors’ recent play without talking about Gradey Dick. Dick has seen more minutes since Schroder’s departure, and he has found his groove late into the season. He has been phenomenal from the three-point line, shooting a team-high 51 per cent from deep since the February 8 trade deadline. 

Suppose you put everything into perspective, though they aren’t performing well. In that case, the Raptors have a roster with the potential to perform well when they fully develop. For now, the vibes are high and the wins are low, but at the end of the day, we should be grateful we still have a month left of Raptors basketball to watch.

Raptors Wrap-Up Columnist (Volume 50) — Justyn is in his final year at UTM studying CCIT, with minors in Professional Writing & Communication and Computer Science. Sports is his passion and he loves to keep in touch with nearly every single one. Justyn’s always watching sports games, managing his fantasy teams, and listening to music in the music room. You can connect with him on Instagram or LinkedIn.


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