Alert followers of the Raptors may need skilled a second of comfortable déjà vu this week in the event that they caught the related clip of Kyrie Irving, the Brooklyn Nets lightning rod, persevering with his obvious quest to repeatedly diminish the NBA’s core product within the wake of one other loss.
“These are warm-up video games for the large performances that are available late April,” Irving mentioned, talking of the league’s common season. “Simply must take pleasure in it and smile at the way you lose, and have the ability to choose your self again up.”
Ah, sure, smile by way of the losses as when you’re lollygagging by way of a layup line. For a league that costs veritable fortunes for the tickets and TV rights to those so-called warm-up video games, it wasn’t precisely a brand new advertising slogan within the making.
For Raptors followers, thoughts you, it might have been seen as a smile-inducing reminder of extra affluent instances. It was just a few years in the past that Kawhi Leonard, throughout his solely season as a Raptor, equally known as into query the complete level of the six-month lead-up to the post-season.
“There’s 82 video games, and for me these are simply practices,” Leonard mentioned. “And playoffs is when it’s time to lace them up.”
A lot to the chagrin of the NBA, there’s loads of reality in these sentiments from each Irving and Leonard. However right here’s the factor: It’s a distinctly situational reality. Once you’re taking part in for a shoo-in playoff crew with championship hopes, as Irving is and Leonard was in 2018-19 in Toronto, it’s simple sufficient to take a look at the common season as a sweat-breaking prelude to the actual competitors.
Once you’re a borderline play-in crew mulling over the professionals and cons of a pre-deadline sell-off adopted by a late-season tank job — and that’s basically the place the Raptors discovered themselves heading into Thursday night time’s sport in Minnesota — you’re accustomed to no such outlook. For the Raptors, the video games that stay earlier than the Feb. 9 commerce deadline are removed from warm-ups or practices. They determine to be this crew’s final determined stabs at what’s changing into an more and more unlikely turnaround.
If one of the best groups are navigating the common season on cruise management, the Raptors are working with the pedal to the proverbial steel. Pascal Siakam went into Thursday main the league in nightly workload, averaging 37.5 minutes per sport. O.G. Anunoby and Fred VanVleet ranked fourth and sixth, respectively. The Raptors, just a few seasons after their kid-glove therapy of Leonard helped popularize load administration, at the moment are asking their finest gamers for load maximization.
Nonetheless, as a lot as VanVleet is struggling by way of a troublesome season, the terrific performances from Siakam and Anunoby could possibly be seen as an anecdotal case in opposition to the now-standard league protocol of pacing excessive performers with pre-emptive relaxation, scarce follow time and thoroughly managed minutes. The Raptors, on high of taking part in their finest gamers greater than just about each different crew within the league, have practised much more ceaselessly than they ever did in additional affluent instances below head coach Nick Nurse. And but — contact wooden, heading into Thursday — they hadn’t but been hit by an unusually crippling rash of accidents.
Which was the purpose of a Twitter beef from former NBA coach Stan Van Gundy the opposite day. Van Gundy made the purpose that within the Nineteen Nineties, NBA groups practised “extra typically and tougher,” performed a schedule that featured extra back-to-back units and have been staffed by a modest contingent of player-performance specialists, often a coach and a power and conditioning coach.
“Groups now have large medical (and) ‘efficiency’ staffs and worth relaxation over follow. But accidents and video games missed are manner up,” Van Gundy continued in his tweet. “One thing’s not working!”
Now, some hilarity ensued after Van Gundy mistook a co-signing of his tweet by Nets ahead Kevin Durant. Durant tweeted two phrases in reply: “Stan spittin’” — quick for “spittin’ information.” In different phrases, Ok.D. agreed. Van Gundy, unwise to the slang and assuming Durant was disagreeing, assured Durant in an ensuing tweet he wasn’t criticizing gamers, merely declaring what he sees as a league blindly following a normal of participant deployment that, a minimum of anecdotally, doesn’t appear to be producing fascinating outcomes.
As Van Gundy instructed the “Dan Le Batard Present” on Thursday: “Even with all of the load administration … precise harm, and other people being out with accidents, is manner up. So in some unspecified time in the future, when do you say, ‘Hey. This isn’t actually working. Possibly this idea we’ve isn’t proper, or a minimum of not proper for everyone’ … All people ought to a minimum of have the curiosity to say, ‘Are we doing this proper?’ And I don’t see groups doing that. I simply see that throughout the league it’s accepted that the much less we do, the much less we demand of gamers, the higher it’s. Properly, then why are we having extra accidents?”
It’s a fantastic query. However for the Raptors, it’s a big-picture concern finest saved for groups with the luxurious of utilizing the common season as a runway to larger issues.
Sitting 5 video games below .500 heading into Thursday night time — a half-game out of the ultimate play-in spot — the Raptors gained’t be able to tempo themselves until they shift into tank mode and start to invent causes to relaxation their finest gamers, a little bit of self-sabotage they carried out throughout their Tampa residency a few seasons again to enhance their draft lottery odds. Removed from the Raptors complaining concerning the state of the league, it’s voices across the league poking on the state of the Raptors.
“One thing wants to alter, as a result of they’re manner too gifted to be struggling the best way they’ve been struggling all through the season,” C.J. McCollum, the New Orleans Pelicans guard, was saying on his podcast this week. “They received too many good items, they received too many guys who should not solely impactful and high quality NBA gamers on that crew, however that might be impactful and high quality gamers on different groups, and possibly have bigger roles relying on who they determined to maneuver.”
Protected to say it didn’t sit properly in Toronto that McCollum, additionally president of the NBA gamers’ affiliation, went on to talk of “rumblings” about sure Raptors “not being comfortable,” whereas hypothesizing that “one thing’s going to occur” with Toronto’s roster earlier than the commerce deadline. Exactly what’s anybody’s guess.
Right here’s what’s for certain: Between from time to time, the Raptors gained’t be treating regular-season video games like some prolonged gown rehearsal for the post-season. As a crew on the play-in bubble, load administration is now solely a reminiscence of higher instances. Relying in your outlook, it’s both a luxurious — or, in Van Gundy’s view, an inanity — they’ll now not afford.
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