Toronto bit the bullet and went big at the deadline by deciding to trade for Gay. The hope being that his versatility on both offense and defense would help the Raptors finally start to win some games. If things went really well, making a push for a playoff spot wasn't out of the question, either.
As great as that all was, an immediate red flag was raised when the trade went through.
Anybody can look at the surface of this team and see that Toronto already has a player with similarities to Gay.
That player being DeRozan.
DeRozan is only two inches shorter and has an offensive style of play that resembles Gay's. Both players are unbelievably athletic and seem to be able to get up and down the court with a rare sense of fluidity. Neither player is an exceptional three-point shooter, but they excel at working off the dribble and getting into their mid-range game.
Gay tends to do more on defense as he can guard multiple positions, and it's not rare to see a mix of blocks and steals on his stat sheet. DeRozan doesn't quite have the defensive ability to do the same things as Gay, but that doesn't do much to detract from the obvious: These guys are close to being the same player.
With that being said, can the Raptors win with both of these players at the helm or will they need to move one of them in order for true progress to be made?
The brief answer is that Toronto can (and I believe will) win with these two as their premier players. The extensive answer is one that needs to be broken down with a little more detail.
Let's start off with personnel.
No NBA team will be successful without a good power forward or center.
In this context, successful means that the franchise is competing for a championship. And please don't think that talking about an NBA title is too big of a reach. That's everyone's ultimate goal isn't it? If so, then we should be speaking on that kind of scale.
Both the power forward and center positions provide the meat of every organization. Defensively, a good big man will control the paint and rebound with consistency. Offensively, an above average center will provide help on the offensive glass as well as make the opponent's defense contract so that everyone on the perimeter has more space to catch-and-shoot.
The value of a solid big can't be talked about enough, yet there seems to be a serious discrepancy between NBA frontcourts and backcourts.
This is no different with the Raptors.
Getting rid of Ed Davis as part of the trade for Gay meant that Toronto was letting go of their only truly promising power forward. That effect will be felt until they find someone talented enough to fill the void—something that is always easier to said than done.
That's not to say that the Raptors don't have players with potential. Jonas Valanciunas is putting up a respectable 7.0 points, 5.6 rebounds and 1.1 blocks in only 21.2 minutes per game, so there's clearly some hope among the organization. The other beautiful aspect is that he's only a 20-year-old rookie.
He has plenty of time to grow as a player.
The bad part is that the Raptors don't necessarily have the time to wait for him to grow into a good player. Toronto needs to win as quickly as possible—his potential timetable seems like it might be too far away.
This leaves the squad turning toward one of three options: free agency, trades or the NBA draft.
They'll need to choose a direction and attempt to make a move that will bring in a player that can go down low and control the paint. This guy doesn't have to be a franchise changer, but he needs to be able to make a difference on the court.
The second and most pressing concern is that they need to figure out if Dwane Casey is the right man for the Toronto Raptors' head coaching position.
On one hand, Casey has made defense a priority as his team moves forward—clearly something that should help the Raptors win more games. On the other hand, he's proven that his young players won't get playing time simply because of their youth—something that has the potential to backfire and stall a team's growth.
Valanciunas is one of the younger players struggling to get minutes, but another one happens to be a player waiting in DeRozan's shadow.
Terrence Ross has struggled to get consistent playing time under Casey and it could be one of the reasons for Ross' lack of production. The frustrating part is that it's hard to specifically pinpoint the exact reasons—16.3 minutes per game is hardly enough to make an accurate evaluation of someone.
Casey hasn't had the most talent to work with, but people will tend to have a hard time forgetting about his mistakes when it comes to messing with rotations and minute delegation.
Toronto needs to decide if Casey is truly who they want and go all-in with whatever their choice is.
Now, take a breather and notice something about everything you've just read.
DeRozan and Gay weren't really mentioned in regard to the moves that Toronto must make. The reason for this is that they fill two of the crucial positional needs for the Raptors.
No changes need to be made when it involves those two. They will grow as a tandem and play at a high level as their number of games together grows.
Toronto will need to make other moves if they want to be successful. (There's that word again.)
If they end up making the right choices with those decisions then there's no reason that the Raptors won't win with DeRozan and Gay.
They'll probably end up winning big too.
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