It's difficult to imagine that a team that's about to finish out of the playoffs for the fourth straight season would have any measure of confidence or accomplishment heading into the summer.
But the simple fact is, the Raptors are so much further along now than they've been in the past four years that it's hard not to see a reason for at least a bit of optimism.
The season ended with a 98-67 loss to the New Jersey Nets on Thursday that left the Raptors at 23-43 on the year but this season was never about this season and the goals the team established for itself have been met.
Yes, they were a disappointment offensively -- in the bottom four in the NBA in scoring -- but the strides they made defensively have created a buzz around the franchise.
"I'm not going to home and say, 'yeah, great season' not for sure," said veteran guard Jose Calderon. "I don't like to lose at all but I see good stuff. I see we're really growing and we are just one step short (of doing) what we want to do."
The growth was, at times, painful. Toronto was just 6-18 in games decided by six points or fewer and had a penchant for playing just well enough to lose down the stretch of close games, a frustrating attribute that has to be addressed next season.
But they did what they wanted in developing some kind of a defensive presence and have a variety of ways available to improve in other areas this offseason.
They have last year's No. 5 draft pick -- center Jonas Valanciunas -- getting ready for the NBA by playing in Lithuania and a variety of significant global tournaments. They will be in line for another high draft pick this summer and they now have about $10 million in cap space to either trade into or to use to sign free agents.
Maintaining that financial flexibility -- and not clogging up the roster with players who aren't going to be of assistance in the long-term -- was the stated goal of president and general manager Bryan Colangelo and nothing he did this season got in the way of that.
It might have been a difficult year for fans to stomach but the organization -- and the players -- knew there were significant long-term benefits available if they stayed the course.
Coach Dwane Casey's sole goal this season was to improve Toronto's team defense and it may not be pretty or hugely noticeable but he did. The Raptors were 29th in team defense in the 2010-11 season and moved up to No. 15 in Casey's first year in charge. Toronto improved in virtually every significant defensive statistic and had laid a foundation they never had before.
Andrea Bargnani had just returned from a six-game absence because of a strained left calf muscle when the Raptors were on their longest west coast road trip. He came back to score 36 points in a late-January win in Phoenix and had 26 in an upset win at Utah the next night. But in that double-overtime win over the Jazz, he re-injured the calf and missed the next 20 games.
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