Barkley, Shaq question Raptors' direction: 'They're in no man's land'

The Toronto Raptors’ season came to an end last Thursday, as they fell in six games to the Philadelphia 76ers. While many fans and pundits alike lauded the Raptors for their overachieving season and bright future, Hall of Famers and TNT analysts Shaquille O’Neal and Charles Barkley had a different outlook, lamenting that the team is stuck in mediocrity and bereft of star personnel.

Toronto finished the season with a record of 48-34, which was good for the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference. The team exceeded expectations, while simultaneously displaying a young, burgeoning nucleus, headlined by Rookie of the Year Scottie Barnes. Their mainstays, Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet are now proven commodities, with the former on the cusp of his second All-NBA selection in three years.

Charles Barkley and Shaquille O'Neal don't think the Raptors have what it takes right now to get over the hump. (Photos via Getty)
Charles Barkley and Shaquille O'Neal don't think the Raptors have what it takes right now to get over the hump. (Photos via Getty)

It's all a moot point, according to Barkley, who asserts that Toronto is in "no man’s land" and is “just good enough to make it to the playoffs and that’s it.”

Shaq, adding to his cohort's comments, stated that “they don’t have no stars. Definitely don’t have no superstars.”

To state that a team is in "no man’s land" insinuates that it is faced with either blowing up the franchise in pursuit of a rebuild or signing a superstar to ostensibly put them over the top. The Raptors cleared themselves of the rebuild phase this past season with a young core that is poised to ascend even more come next season. On the superstar front, Barnes at least deserves recognition for his trajectory and limitless ceiling. The 20-year-old wunderkind is coming off a historic rookie campaign, even garnering adulation and comparisons from Magic Johnson himself.

To reject the notion that Siakam is a superstar is understandable but to disregard him as at least a star is disparaging. Shaq thinks the 28-year-old is merely close to star status, despite being one of only five players to average 22+ points, 8+ rebounds, and 5+ assists this past season. Siakam’s elevated play in the postseason didn’t sway Shaq’s opinion either.

As the focal point of Philly’s defence, Siakam averaged 22.8 points, 7.2 rebounds, and 5.8 assists. In his last three games of the series, he put the team on his back, averaging 27.0 points and 6.3 assists, on 55 percent shooting from the field. While it may not be good enough for star status in Shaq’s book, Siakam showcased adept scoring and playmaking in the face of adversity.

Only time will tell whether the Raptors are truly stuck in no man’s land and devoid of superstars but, for now, they can relish the fact they have a promising future filled with young talent, All-Stars, and a championship pedigree.

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