I don’t mean their regular fan night. What I’m talking about is taking tanking to a whole new level. Actually let a fan play in the game. Hold a contest and have the winner start against the New Jersey Nets on Thursday. Hell, have a team comprised completely of Raptor fans and pretty much guarantee a loss.
The final game of the season for the Raptors and Nets could very well decide what the next decade will be like for both teams. The Raptors will probably make a big improvement in the win column, next season whether or not they move up in the draft, possibly even making the playoffs. With Jonas Valanciunas and whoever the Raptors draft in June, the Raptors will have some pretty good talent and a coach that has shown the ability to get the most out of them. What they lack, however, is an elite talent that would allow them to become a true contender, rather than an Atlanta Hawks want-a-be. Does Valanciunas have that ability? Maybe. That’s something for a future post. But getting the top pick in this draft and drafting Anthony Davis would give the Raptors a great shot at building a real contender and giving them their best shot ever at a Championship, down the road.
The Nets are in just as a precarious position, but with very different circumstances. When they traded Derrick Favors and a couple of lottery picks to Utah for Deron Williams, they made a huge gamble that will fail completely if Williams ends up leaving this summer. New Jersey thought that they would be able to grab Dwight Howard to play with Williams, but Howard picking up his option for next season completely screwed the Nets. Now their best hope is probably winning the lottery and the ability to draft Anthony Davis, who might be enough to convince Williams to stay, but even if he’s not, the Nets will, at least, have a franchise player they can market to their new home in Brooklyn and build around.
The Nets even went all in at the trade deadline and traded away their draft pick this season (top 5 protected) for a declining and injury prone Gerald Wallace, so if they don’t move up into the top three, they won’t have ANY draft pick this June. They could start next season with a 30 year old Wallace, Brook Lopez and a lot of money to spend on players who might not even want to sign with the team. Remember the last time they had a boatload of money to spend on free agents? They ended up with Travis Outlaw, who they ended up amnestying.
Ironically (or coincidentally, depending on how you look at it), the last game of the season for both the Nets and the Raptors is against each other, and the winner of the game might end up being the big loser. They’re both currently at 22 wins and tied for 6th in the race to the bottom. Both Cleveland and Sacramento are at 21 wins and Golden State as 23 wins. Cleveland has a good chance to get to 22 wins with a game against Washington left, and Sacramento will play the Lakers a final game which might see their best players resting for the playoffs.
For the Raptors-Nets game, that means a win might mean 8th place and only 28 chances (2.8%) at moving up to the top 3. A loss could mean finishing 4th (last) and 119 chances (11.9%) to move up. That’s a massive difference and a big reason why I say the Raptors should do everything they can to lose that last game. Even if it means big minutes for these two guys…