By Luca Rosano

A year ago at this time, there was a sense of optimism for the Raptors. They got rid of a cancer by the name of Rudy Gay, exceeded expectations by going from “here we go again with another rebuild” to “wait, we’re actually good” to recording 48 wins for the first time in franchise history on their way to a first round playoff series agaisnt the aging Brooklyn Nets, which ended with Paul Pierce destroying the Raptors feel good story.

Fast forward the clock a year later and the Raptors did what they were supposed to do. They won more games, recording their franchise-record 49th win of the season, Kyle Lowry made the All-Star team, they repeated as Atlantic division champions and they secured home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs once again.

The only problem was they weren’t up agaisnt the Bucks, they were up agaisnt public enemy number one and a familiar dream crushing foe, Paul Pierce.

Before the series even started Paul Pierce got inside the Raptors’ player’s heads by saying that the team didn’t have the “it” factor. Of course Masai Ujiri who isn’t afraid of standing up for his team fired back by uttering “we don’t give a sh*t about it” in front of a hostile crowd at Jurassic Park before game 1.

Right from the start of the series the Raptors came out flat, with no energy and with no integrity to compete. This was equivalent to the Maple Leafs packing it in at the end of the season, but unlike the Leafs the Raptors were actually considered somewhat of a dark horse contender. Many experts, including Kenny “The Jet” Smith considered the Raptors to be at an equal with the Wizards as one of the rising young teams in the East.

The Wizards made the Raptors look like they were a team tanking for a lottery pick in the draft. It’s ironic to say, but the Raptors didn’t have “it” at all. It’s like Paul Pierce put a hex on the team coming in because they were deflated on offense, were last out of any other playoff team on the glass and if last year’s version of James Harden’s defence was complied into its own team, the Raptors would be born.

There’s one thing Raptors fans have learned throughout this tough experience and it’s that the truth shall set you free.

This Wizards team from top to bottom was simply overpowering for Toronto. Starting from the backcourt matchup of Wall and Beal outplaying Lowry and DeRozan to the front court matchup which wasn’t even close. Ross, JV, Amir and Patterson were non-existent, while guys like Porter, Nene, Gortat and Gooden flourished.

There will be a ton of questions in Raptors Land this off-season starting with the future of Dwayne Casey and ending with the Raptors needing to address its frontcourt problem by acquiring a solid 4. The future of Ross, Amir and Vasquez remains up in the air and how about the core of JV, Lowry and DeRozan, will Masai be fielding potential trade offers for them? One thing is certain, no one is safe this summer and given Ujiri’s track record things could look a lot different come next year.

Raptors with expiring contracts:
Landry Fields- $8.5M
Amir Johnson-$7M
Chuck Hayes-$5.9M
Lou Williams-$5.45M
Stiemsma -981K

Lou Will is the only player out of this grouping that has earned himself another chance and contract with the Raptors coming off his 6th man of the year award. As for the rest of the players, all of them can be on their way out.

Unlike last year, the future doesn’t look the same for the Raptors. They were given a rude reality check and it was one that needed to happen. This team was never going to be better than a first round playoff birth. It’s time to take the next step and it’s time to produce a team that won’t get embarrassed with the NBA’s best fan base behind them.