Fred VanVleet always seems to have time for the media.
While most players cower from press conferences, doing whatever they can to avoid media duties, VanVleet is one of the good ones. Any time he's in front of a microphone you can expect thoughtful, in-depth, and most importantly, helpful answers from the Toronto Raptors' 27-year-old guard.
On Wednesday night, however, that wasn't the case.
VanVleet didn't want to talk. He sat at the podium with his head down and while words did come out of his mouth, they weren't the normal words. He appeared to be broken.
At this point, what more is there to say?
The Raptors are 18-30 on the season, they wrapped up the month of March with a 1-13 record, and on Wednesday they were beaten by an Oklahoma City Thunder team that looked more like a G League squad than an NBA roster.
"It's tough," VanVleet said. "I mean, I don't know, does anybody really care [about how I feel]? Like does it matter? I mean, I gotta show up tomorrow and get ready for a game on Friday. So I mean I can tell you how I feel but I don’t really think it matters that much right now we got to look forward and try to keep getting better."
The Raptors have had, as VanVleet said, 1,000,001 things go wrong for them this season. Their top three players on Wednesday night are all still recovering from COVID-19 quarantine and have hit a wall, VanVleet said. The team's defensive rebounding has been dreadful all season and the offence has looked dysfunctional.
It's easy to look at the Raptors roster, poke holes, blame the circumstances of the season, and say the team should just tank the rest of the year. It's the logical thing to do this season considering the strength of the draft class and the increasingly unlikely chance Toronto finds a way into the playoffs. But even so, that doesn't change the fact that these players, for the most part, have been winners for their whole careers. VanVleet, for example, came into this season with a 439-147 record (.749) dating back to his freshmen season in high school. The last time he was on a team even close to as bad as this year's Raptors, he was a sophomore in high school on an 18-9 team.
Now the Raptors appear to have reached a tipping point. The frustration both on the court and in the post-game press conferences is palpable and there are no signs of things changing any time soon. Kyle Lowry is expected to miss seven to ten days with a toe infection, Rodney Hood is believed to have suffered a fairly serious hip injury, and Toronto has the sixth toughest remaining schedule in the league.
Things are going to get bleak.
But we've learned something about this group. Winning is easy. It masks all the other problems and, for the most part, everyone is happy. It's losing that is hard. It sucks and, right now, the Raptors are frustrated. But, in some ways, maybe that's a good thing. You wouldn't want a team that's content with losing. You wouldn't want VanVleet to sit at the podium after another embarrassing loss and show no signs of frustration.
This season is going to sting. For some of the Raptors, it'll be their first taste of losing in a very long time. But for those who remain after this year, it'll be a learning experience. They now know what losing feels like and going forward it should motivate them to prevent this from ever happening again.