Since their championship run in 2019, the Raptors have been doomed with seasons of mediocracy. In 2020, they were seemingly on their way to a deep playoff run, but all momentum was lost after Covid-19 delayed the season. In 2021, the Raptors spent the season in Tampa Bay, where federal pandemic restrictions deemed them ineligible to host games in their home city of Toronto. That same year, some hope was gained after the team drafted Scottie Barnes with the fourth overall pick. Barnes later went on to earn the title of 2021/22 Rookie of the Year and led the Raptors to an unexpected playoff appearance.
The Raptors in their current season look unlikely to succeed. Fred VanVleet and Gary Trent Jr., two of the team’s core players, will be up for new contracts at the end of the season, which puts Raptors President of Basketball Operations Masai Ujiri and General Manager Bobby Webster under a lot of pressure from fans.
Going into the 2023 NBA trade deadline, the Raptors were 10th in the Eastern Conference and narrowly owned a spot in the play-in tournament. But the team’s inconsistencies and some poor individual performances by a few starters have left fans and management in a tough spot heading into the trade deadline. Their situation between “contenders” and “lottery pick hopefuls” left the fanbase divided between embracing a rebuild or hoping for a retool.
Since the week of February 5, 2023, it’s rumoured that O.G. Anunoby, another core player, is unhappy with his role in Toronto. One league executive hinted that Anunoby would be “the best available player at the deadline.” Rumours also surrounded VanVleet, who fans hoped would be traded for assets rather than walking for nothing in free agency.
Despite high expectations for the deadline, Ujiri and Webster ended the day with mediocre results and an unclear direction for the future. At 12:51 AM on Thursday, February 9, 2023, they sent Canadian player Khem Birch two future second-round picks and a protected 2024 first-round pick to the Spurs in return for Jakob Poeltl, a quality centre on both ends of the court. The early trade left Raptors fans falsely excited, as this exchange was the only move that the team made.
The addition of Poeltl fulfills the team’s dire need for a centre, but it doesn’t push the roster close to contention, nor does it offer any hope of success in the future. The truth is, there’ll be a vacancy for the guard position in the offseason when Trent Jr. or VanVleet leave due to salary restraints, and with Toronto’s lacklustre track record when it comes to free agency, it looks like the Raptors could be headed toward another season of mediocracy.
They say the worst place to be in sports is in the middle: too good to draft high, but too bad to make a deep playoff run. After the trade deadline, the Raptors appear to remain in this dreadful limbo. With the team’s success in mind, the only solution now seems to be a major roster reconstruction. The Raptor’s rest-of-season performance should be decisive, or else fans will be waiting until the offseason to gain some hope.