Is a Playoff Return the Only Way Toronto Raptors' Season Can Be a Success?

James BorbathContributor ISeptember 20, 2012

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 20:  Dwane Casey of the Toronto Raptors reacts as he coaches against the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden on March 20, 2012 in New York City.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Chris Chambers/Getty Images)
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The word "playoffs" is being used in reference to the Toronto Raptors a lot these days. Honestly, the buzz from fans and media has me almost wanting to bust off in a Jim Mora playoffs rant. The Toronto Raptors do not have to make the NBA playoffs for this season to be considered a success.

It creates an expectation that may not be realistic for a team that is still fairly young. Is it the only way this Raptors' season can be considered a success? In pro sports, the playoffs are usually considered the measuring stick for success, but the Raptors can still be a success without heading back to the postseason this year.

People are being very optimistic about the Raptors' chances. Perhaps that is the fault of Bryan Colangelo and his past success when he first arrived in Toronto. He took the Raptors and made a massive turnaround, with a ton of offseason changes that won the team’s only division title in history.

The Atlantic Division has changed a lot from back in 2006-07. The major change was the next season, with Boston making the moves that created their “Big Three” with Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce. They became the class of the division. Since that time, the rest of the division has gotten stronger while the Raptors have taken steps backward until fairly recently.

The Knicks have Carmelo Anthony along with a formidable cast. Philadelphia went out and got Doug Collins out of the broadcast booth to coach on their sidelines. They now have given him a major piece to build around in Andrew Bynum. The Brooklyn Nets' gamble paid off, as they were able to re-sign Deron Williams and he now has Joe Johnson and an impressive cast around him.

What was once called the “The Titanic Division” by many fans and media is no longer that. This makes the climb back for the Raptors this time around a greater challenge. Yes, the Raptors are improved, and there's no question they should be better. But to hang a “playoffs or bust” tag on this team is not fair or logical.

If the Toronto Raptors show improvement and signs that they are still heading in the right direction, that should be more than enough for this franchise at this point. The Raptors have even tempered expectations, changing from making the postseason to contending for the playoffs. What the Raptors need to do is play meaningful games in late March and April.

If the Raptors are doing that, this season will be a success and a building block to brighter days ahead. 

If Jonas Valancuinas is showing the promise people expect right away by the end of the season, that is a positive. If Kyle Lowry is fully established as the starting point guard, that is a positive. If we see DeMar DeRozan and Ed Davis have bounce-back seasons, that is a positive. If Terrence Ross shows promise and Quincy Acy shows the ability to be a role player, those are positives, too.

If this team can maintain and improve on its defensive agenda, that is a large positive as well. If a young team gains playoff experience, that is never a bad thing. It is not the end of the world if they don’t this year. 

It also is not a true sign a corner has been turned. Want an example? The Charlotte Bobcats made the postseason not that long ago. It didn’t exactly become a jumping-off point to success for them, did it?

The Raptors' goal should be to be a contender in the Eastern Conference and ultimately an NBA Champion. The fact of whether they become first-round fodder for the Heat or Celtics is not going to impact on that goal one way or the other.  Ideally, it would be nice to see the Raptors make the postseason again—it is not a requirement for this season to be considered a success.

It is a combination of a lot of things building toward a greater goal at the end of the day. Raptors fans have seen this team make the postseason before.

If they have to wait another year to have a team that is more capable of making some noise in the playoffs, that should be acceptable to people—as long as they are seeing the improvement that is required for them to be that type of team in the future.