Raptors soul-searching after play-in loss

TORONTO – Fred VanVleet believes it’s time for the Toronto Raptors to move forward from the 2019 NBA Championship. It’s not necessarily a massive personnel change, but it’s coming to grips with the fact that it’s a different team now.

A day after Toronto was eliminated from the NBA postseason in a 109-105 loss to the Chicago Bulls, VanVleet spoke candidly about what went wrong in the Raptors’ season.

“Whatever it is, I think we have to find another identity,” said VanVleet, adding that the team has the talent and the right defensive plan, but those plays need to be better executed. “I think for us the devil is in the details. I think we have to recreate it and build on it.”

“You can’t expect to take over the championship from four years ago and add it to your current group, trying to do it by penetration.”

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VanVleet was one of several players who spoke at a briefing with head coach Nick Nurse, the Toronto front office and the team’s medical staff on Thursday.

Most of the Raptors were still processing the play-in loss from the previous night, and Toronto had an 18-point lead and shot just 50% from the free-throw line when they arrived at the media center at the OVO Center. I didn’t..

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But VanVleet, one of Toronto’s most experienced locker room leaders, already had a plan for how the Raptors would recalibrate for the 2023-24 season.

“You have to start building all the details offensively and defensively, so they show up when you’re in a situation where you need to win the game,” VanVleet said. As, that’s my focus.

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“Get our habits right, get the details back right, and then everything else will work accordingly.”

Head coach Nick Nurse and all of the players who spoke with the media acknowledged that consistency was an issue throughout the season, not just against the Bulls. It wasn’t clear.

“I think we started slow, like too late. By the time we picked it up, we were already under .500 for four, five, six games,” Nurse said. “I think the team started to shift a bit in the right direction from January, and I think the arrival[of center Jakob Poeltl on February 9]changed the complexion a lot.

“So it was almost like three different stages of the season.”

Pascal Siakam, the Raptors’ only All-Star this season, averaged 24.2 points, 7.8 rebounds and 5.8 assists per game. When asked what he had gone wrong with this season, Siakam thought it was a good question, but he had no answer.

“I didn’t sleep at all last night and I didn’t know what I was thinking,” Siakam said. “But I wasn’t thinking of anything in particular either. I don’t know if it made sense. There were a lot of them.

“We weren’t consistent enough as a team. We had a lot of ups and downs. We won three here and lost three there. It’s a great league, especially in the East.”

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There are some questions in Toronto heading into this summer.

Nurse denied a feud with team president Masai Ujiri on Thursday, despite weeks of media speculation that he may have been coaching with the Raptors last season.

“My job is to make the best decisions for this organization. “When you think about it calmly, every decision should determine what is best for the organization.”

Poeltl will become a free agent this summer, but VanVleet, shooting guard Gary Trent Jr. and small forward Otto Porter Jr. have player options to exercise.

“It will take days, weeks,” VanVleet said of whether to opt out.

Trent also said he wanted to take some time to reflect on the season before deciding whether to stay in Toronto.

“I haven’t accepted it yet,” he said. “Of course, I will sit down and talk to the team and see how everything plays out.”

This report by the Canadian Press was first published on April 13, 2023.

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© 2023 The Canadian Press

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