The Raptors hear the chatter and their families and friends and agents keep them up to date on the ever-churning rumour mill.
They see and feel the losses mount in a season that was filled with promise but that’s now circling the drain and they can sense that change may be coming.
No one wants to get traded in the middle of an NBA season and they also know the best way to assure that doesn’t happen is to somehow turnaround the team’s fading fortunes.
If not? Well, something’s likely to happen, if not in the next three weeks than definitely in the summer.
“The better you play and the better your team does, the lower the chance anybody getting shipped out of here,” a candid Fred VanVleet said this week in Minneapolis.
“If you (crap) the bed you set yourself up for anything to happen. So we’ve got to control the controllables.”
The harsh truth is that the Raptors have not controlled the controllables for any length of time this season.
They’ve never won more than three games in a row, they awoke Friday to the realization that they are closer to 13th in the East than they are to 10th and the final play-in post-season slot. And they’ve not shown any measure of consistency that would create any optimistic view that the season will miraculously turn around.
It could, of course. There is abundant talent on the roster and they give themselves a chance to win most games. But they haven’t won nearly enough and that’s not going to sit well with the front office.
Everyone knows it. Everyone hears about possible mid-season deals. Somehow the players need to block it all out and the best way is to string together some wins and to start feeling good about themselves.
“We got something there,” VanVleet said. “It might not look good, like what everybody wants it to look like, (but) we got hot the last year and changed everybody’s expectation for what this group could do this year, rightfully so.
“We haven’t answered that up until January. So we got a couple of months to figure (it) out. I’m confident in the bunch that we have, regardless of what happens in the next couple of weeks.”
There wasn’t much confidence to be gained from the most recent Raptors loss, a 128-126 defeat in Minnesota on Thursday when they managed to score just 17 fourth quarter points and couldn’t put away a team finishing a hard back-to-back that had begun a night earlier in Denver.
So instead of coming home with two wins in three games over four nights on the road and with five wins in seven games, they had to dwell on a big lead blown, another close loss to digest and a much less palatable 4-3 record that did nothing to enhance their position in the standings.
And it will surely raise more questions — and reaffirm ones that already exist — about the viability of this group.
“There’s definitely too many of the games where we just didn’t compete,” VanVleet said. “Like coach says, you get one of those every once in a blue moon, but we’ve had too many of those.
“We’ve played well and we’ve played bad. Our bottom line has got to be a little bit higher. Our lull games have to be a little bit higher, but our standards are still pretty high.”
High? Fine. Realistic? To be determined.
“It’s not getting any easier for us to go out there and perform but you know, adversity should bring you closer together and be able to build out of this thing with something positive,” VanVleet said. “I like the way that we’ve been going lately but like I said we definitely put ourselves in a little bit of a hole.”
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