The Toronto Raptors might’ve been the only team in the Atlantic division to miss out on the postseason, but that didn’t necessarily mean that a playoff team like the Boston Celtics were in for a very fun month of May, as they had a matchup with the mighty Brooklyn Nets to look forward too.
Jayson Tatum basically had to do everything, as the Celtics were playing without Jaylen Brown, Kemba Walker, and Robert Williams at the end of this series. However, even with those players healthy, that likely wouldn’t have turned the tide much against the mighty Nets and their trio of superstars.
The Celtics lost to old friend Kyrie Irving in five games, which was made extra painful by the fact they were gifted their young core thanks to an incredibly lopsided trade with these same Nets. Brooklyn, Philadelphia, and the Toronto Raptors all built their best teams on aggressively going after stars, a philosophy Boston appears to be actively trying to ignore.
The message is clear as day. If a superstar becomes available, and the Raptors have the means to acquire them, pull the trigger rather than adhering to the Danny Ainge method of hoarding draft picks.
Masai Ujiri has adhered to this philosophy before, but whoever is making the decisions next year must not lose sight of this fact, lest they end up stuck in neutral like Boston. With Ainge having resigned and Brad Stevens leaving the bench, that proves this philosophy has been a complete failure.
The Toronto Raptors must be more proactive than the Celtics.
While Boston can be a bit less manic than Toronto in the trade market due to their history being a free agent draw, Ainge critically mismanaged this team. How many times were potential trade targets “considered” by Boston? On the flip-side of that coin, Ujiri wasn’t even going to let an icon like DeMar DeRozan stand in the way of Kawhi Leonard.
Having draft picks is fantastic, and Ainge’s failures could be attributed to plain old poor drafting in addition to a passive demeanor, but the Raptors quite simply aren’t going to compete with Brooklyn or Philadelphia with this current group of players. To stay ahead of the Celtics and New York Knicks, the Raptors must take an active role in landing another star.
While Tatum and Brown at least give Boston a defined floor, the floor for Toronto could be at the bottom of the NBA ocean. Unfortunately, Canada remains unattractive for free agents, and unless whomever they take at No. 7 proves to be a franchise-changer, the Raptors may watch the rest of the division leave them in the dust.
The Raptors are in the toughest, tightest division in the game. Someone has to be the bottom-feeder, and Toronto taking a laid-back approach to the trade market could help blunt whatever progress they are trying to make. Even if they draft and develop well, they could struggle to win playoff games without that hypothetical superstar Boston refused to trade for.
Boston should be viewed as a cautionary tale of what will happen if the Raptors don’t surround their young core with that one game-changer who makes a difference in the playoffs.