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Raptors near elimination, and maybe major changes

Toronto could alter their direction this offseason

POSTED: Apr 26, 2015 1:46 AM ET
UPDATED: Apr 26, 2015 11:23 AM ET

By John Schuhmann

BY John Schuhmann

NBA.com

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— Before the playoffs began, Toronto Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri held a press conference and was asked how much the postseason would affect his offseason decisions regarding his roster.

"100 percent," Ujiri responded. "It influences everything, in my opinion. It just depends on how you look at it and it just depends on the results that you have."

The results have not been good. The Raptors are down 0-3 in their first round series with the Washington Wizards, having been outplayed on both ends of the floor. And it's hard not to look at it with a very critical eye.

The Raptors' issues start on defense, where they ranked 26th after Thanksgiving. Jonas Valanciunas' foot speed is an obvious shortcoming, but it's otherwise hard to pinpoint how a team that ranked ninth defensively last season could fall to 23rd after making minimal roster changes.

But that regression has clearly come back to bite the Raptors in this series. They've been unable to flip the switch defensively and John Wall has picked them apart in the last two games, totaling 45 points and 32 assists.

Offensively, the Raptors ranked third in the regular season. But their offense was guard-heavy and lacking ball movement. It's not in their collective DNA to move the ball quickly and find the open man when a defense pressures the guards as much as the Wizards have in this series. And that's a big reason why they're down 0-3.

After recording 278 passes in Game 1, the Raptors recorded 262 in Game 2 and just 224 in Game 3, according to SportVU tracking data. Despite the ball pressure and a relatively fast pace in the series, the Raptors have averaged 26 fewer passes per game than they did in the regular season, when they ranked 24th in that category. They've also averaged 56 fewer passes per game than the Wizards.

Assuming this series ends like the 111 previous series in which a team led 3-0, the problems on both ends of the floor give Ujiri license to make significant changes this summer.

The 2012-13 Executive of the Year has yet to make a major imprint on the Raptors. He has traded away Rudy Gay, Andrea Bargnani, but his coach -- Dwane Casey -- and five starters were all already in Toronto when Ujiri arrived in May of 2013.

There was an opportunity to go in another direction last summer, when Casey's contract was up and Kyle Lowry was a free agent. But the 2013-14 Raptors had exceeded expectations, won 14 more games than they did the year before, and were the only Eastern Conference team to rank in the top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency.

Ujiri had no choice but to stay the course. He gave Casey a new contract, re-signed Lowry, Patrick Patterson and Greivis Vasquez, and made a steal of a deal to add Lou Williams.

The Raptors' 49 regular season wins this year were the most in franchise history. But four straight losses in the playoffs would render those 49 wins pretty meaningless. The Raptors have won three division titles, but haven't followed any of them up with a series win. And in their 20 seasons, they've never won a best-of-seven series.

There's plenty of blame to go around this time. Lowry has shot 10-for-42 and has been thoroughly outplayed by Wall. DeMar DeRozan had a huge first quarter in Game 3, but has tried to do too much by himself. Valanciunas has been expectedly slow defensively, Terrence Ross has been only slightly better than he was in last year's playoffs (when he was really bad), and Casey hasn't been able to find any answers.

On the surface, it would appear that nobody is safe when it's time for Ujiri to make changes this summer. Williams, Amir Johnson and Tyler Hansbrough are free agents, while Ross and Valanciunas are up for extensions.

If he lets two or more of the free agents walk, Ujiri will have cap space to make additions. But unless his team pulls off a miracle in the next week, it may be time to break up the core, finally make a real imprint on the roster, and put the stink of this series behind him and his team.

"When the offseason comes, we will really look at both last year and this year's playoffs," Ujiri said last week. "You assess everything, because you have to assess your players and you have to evaluate all of them. But the playoffs does make an impact in terms of evaluating for the offseason."

This time, that impact could be significant.

John Schuhmann is a staff writer for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

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