Conventional wisdom states that in sports there is no such thing as a sure thing. With every new season comes a clean slate and a new beginning. Past records, accomplishments and failures mean little—anything can happen and everything is possible.
That being the case, it is "possible" that the Toronto Raptors will shock everyone and be a competitive team this season. It is also "possible" that the people wearing tin foil hats are right this time, and the world actually will end in 2012.
When evaluating the Raptors chances this year, one might be inclined to give the Mayans better odds.
With all due respect to a certain Italian seven-footer, in a star driven league, the Raptors still don't have one. They finished with a dismal 22-60 (.268 win percentage) record last season. They were 17th in league in points per game (at 99.1), and 26th in league after giving up 105.4 points per contest.
The Raptors might not have gotten any worse over the extended offseason, but they certainly didn't get any better either.
The problem is that their fellow basement-dwelling opponents from last year have gotten better. Simply put, there is no reason to believe that the low-hanging fruit—which is how the Raps earned many of their 22 wins last season—is hanging quite as low this season. On the other hand, we already know what to expect from the Raptors this season because they are basically the same team as last season.
This is likely by design. The Raptors had an eye on the bloated 2012 draft, and last year's 5th overall pick Jonas Valanciunas is playing out his contract in Europe this season. However, that doesn't change the fact that, while their opponents added new pieces for the upcoming season, the Raptors simply changed some spare parts.
The Dinos basically lost Reggie Evans, Sonny Weems, Julian Wright, and Joey Dorsey during the offseason. They added Rasual Butler, Gary Forbes, Aaron Gray and Jamaal Magloire. Aside from a small improvement off the bench on the defensive side, these moves are basically a wash.
Their opponents' stock has risen while theirs has remained stagnant. Add a new coach into the equation and it's not hard to see how the Raptors could easily take an even bigger step backwards from last season.
There is little doubt that the Raptors are going to be a bad team in 2011-12—but how bad could this team potentially be?
Could they be historically bad? After going 22-60 (.268 win percentage) last season—the third-worst record in franchise history—it's not too far before you start talking about milestones.
The worst single-season record in franchise history was in 1997-98 when the team went 16-66 (.195 win percentage). With a lockout shortened 66 game season, that win total is sure to be challenged. In order to eclipse that mark in terms of winning percentage, the Raptors would have to go 12-44 (.182 win percentage) this season. This seems well within the realm of possibility.
The worst record in NBA history belongs to the 1973 Philadelphia 76ers at 9-73 (.110 win percentage). That's the all-time benchmark. Time, changes in the game, and a lockout-shortened season, all make a comparison to the "Nine and 73ers" a bit difficult. In order to match this mark, the Raptors would have to end up with a 9-57 (.136 win percentage).
Due to the 66 game schedule, a 9-57 record would also be "good" enough to trump the most recent team to make a serious run at being the worst team ever. The 2009-10 New Jersey Nets lost their first 18 games on their way to a 12-70 (.146 win percentage) record.
The then-Vancouver Grizzlies went 8-42 (.160 win percentage) during the lockout-shortened 1998-99 season. Those eight wins marks the lowest win total in a single season in NBA history after 1948.
There are no expectations or illusions surrounding this Raptors team. Everyone knows they are going to lose a lot of games on their way to next summer's draft. Hopefully—for the team and for their fans—that journey won't end in the "Hall of Shame."