Sizing this all up, the Nets indeed become an absolute force for the next 3 or 4 years, but it'll all come down to chemistry, Irving's sanity, defense, coaching, and intangibles.
The Pacers moving Dipo for LeVert is a fantastic simple move that sets the stage for the next three playoff runs.
The Celtics will be good with anything they pad around Brown and Tatum.
Diddo for the 76ers with Embiid, Harris, and Simmons.
Nets, Bucks, Celtics, 76ers, and even the Pacers, as currently constructed, are likely appropriating themselves of the top five seeds in the East, while the Raptors and Heat likely remain in the conversation on a lower rung to round out what is now a tougher Eastern conference.
During the Lowry - DeRozan era, we were typically among the top of a relatively weak East. We went all in in 2019 and punched out a glorious championship. Now things are different: we're facing a decidedly tougher set of competition for the next 3 or 4 years. There's definitely a different angle here for the Raptors going forward.
Nevertheless, we're in good position cap-wise to eventually add a 4th player to the Fred-OG-Pascal trio and field a team that can indeed compete on equal footing with the Celtics, 76ers, and Pacers, if the Nets and Bucks indeed play out as the top tier.
I wouldn't bet against Masai, Webster, and Nurse out-maneuvering the competition, placing us among the East's top 4 again. Adding Dipo, Collins, or Beal, who has a player option in 2022, or LaVine, is still perfectly possible. That in tandem with a still ascendant Siakam, who like many other players who came late to basketball, is unlikely to mentally piece his physical gifts, and peak, before his 30th birthday.
Ultimately, considering our astute management of cap space, assets, development, and coaching competence, I'd say that the probability of us being successful in the East, with Masai adding what is lacking within the next two or three off-seasons, is still greater than the compounded probability of:
- the team playing as bad as needed to maximize the recently flattened lottery chances
- indeed landing a top lottery pick
- waiting two to three seasons for that rookie to develop
- banking on said development to unfold into a franchise player
As a Raptors fan, I remember getting endlessly ridiculed for saying that tanking for Wiggins was a completely idiotic idea. As a Leafs fan, I can recall the exact same thing about the bafflingly moronic death-wish of tanking for Magnus Paajarvi back in the day. Etc. etc.
I'm not going to be bullish on this forum about my hatred for the glee with which so many otherwise well-meaning fans think tanking is a good idea and the only desirable alternative to fielding a top-tier competitive team. I've learned with age to just let dumb ideas play themselves out and let father time point out their folly at a glacier-like pace.