In just one season, there’s a sense of hope with what Masai Ujiri has created with this Raptors team moving forward. Hope that the Raptors have not had since Chris Bosh last lead the team to the playoffs six seasons ago.
Going into 2014-15, the team has set some pretty high expectations as it looks to improve from its unexpected 48-34 record from last season. Or more specifically, the even more impressive 42-22 record after trading away Rudy Gay that seemed to defy all odds.
To be honest, I still have my doubts as to whether or not keeping the status quo for another year is a good idea. Improvement may happen, but I’m not sure than we’re going to see the same type of team post-Rudy trade that many are expecting this upcoming season by keeping the main pieces intact.
One cannot forget about just how bad the conference was last year due to injuries to key players as well as more teams than usual that were blatantly tanking.
Additionally, all of this was happening while the Raptors squad remained relatively healthy and had several players looking to cash in with new contracts. Who knows if they still have that same drive and determination to get the job done this season. But I’d like to be proven wrong about this team once again.
The problem is that the conference as a whole has gotten better and wins will undoubtedly be harder to come by this time around. One reason for that being several other teams within the Eastern Conference have gone out and made some improvements this summer.
The Bulls for example, were just as good of a team post All-Star break as the Raptors and have added Pau Gasol and a supposedly healthy and explosive Derrick Rose. Then there are the Cavs who have lured back LeBron James and followed that up with a trade for Kevin Love. As well as other playoff teams who have either made some moves or simply have key players coming back from injury which should help them improve.
This team is not a contender yet, nor do they have the player needed to take them to that next level. Standing pat is fine for the time being, but there’s still a lot of work to be done to not only solidify its spot in the top of the conference, but also to take that next step to contending.
So, where does this leave the Raptors?
Well, my win prediction for the Raptors currently stands at 49 wins; a slight improvement record wise, but not so much from the post-Rudy numbers. Which, also base on my predictions for all 30 teams would put them once again at 3rd in the conference behind the Cavaliers and Bulls. The playoff matchup for them at sixth would be the Hawks, which is certainly a good matchup to make it past the first round.
I think it’s realistic to say that the Raptors this time around could make it to the second round of the playoffs. They were in fact, one basket away from advancing to the second round against an opponent full of playoff veterans. Now with playoff experience under their belt, and obviously, matchup depending, it’s possible that the Raptors see the second round for the first time since the Vince Carter days.
Maybe we are expecting too much from the team that struck lightning in a bottle last season ranging from an inevitable trade to players playing for their next contracts.
While it’s tough to pinpoint where exactly this team is within the Conference ranks given a small one year sample size, one thing is for certain. Expectations are rising for this team very rapidly. Playoffs are not only just a goal this season; they have also become the benchmark.
For the first time in a long time, the Raptors head into a season with more than just playoff aspirations.
Projected Record: 49-33
Playoffs: 3rd seed and second round loss to the Bulls (2).