It's time for Raptors to shut down Scottie Barnes for balance of the season

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The Raptors insist it’s too early to say if Scottie Barnes will see the floor again this season after the team’s star and its most indispensable player underwent hand surgery Monday.

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In Toronto’s first game since Barnes was hurt last Friday night when Golden State came to town, the Raptors defeated a Charlotte Hornets team that isn’t very good.

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Against a very good New Orleans Pelicans side, the Raptors closed out their four-game homestand with a predictable loss Tuesday night.

A rout would ensue, but no one should be overly concerned given how the deck was stacked against the homeside, which gave up an average of 132 points in losses to the visiting Mavs, Dubs and Pels.

All isn’t exactly lost, although it seems that way given the team’s depleted roster, with the Raptors knowing more games will be played as more opportunities await for players looking to make an impression, whether they stay in Toronto or find employment with another team next season.

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For Barnes, there is nothing to prove, at least for this season, at a time when it’s becoming clear the Raptors have no hope of qualifying for the NBA’s play-in tournament.

The one uncertainty is whether the Raptors will maintain their top-six pick in the June draft or forfeit the first-round slot to San Antonio, the price Toronto paid when it re-acquired Jakob Poeltl at last year’s trade deadline.

Even in a draft class not considered deep, there always exists the potential of a suitor emerging as a trade partner.

Toronto sits at 23-39 and will begin a four-game road trip Thursday when it visits the Valley of the Sun in a matchup featuring Kevin Durant.

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Against quality teams, the current Raptors makeup is prone to getting overwhelmed.

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A healthy Barnes changes the outlook, but he’s not healthy and won’t be cleared to play anytime soon.

While no word has been made on Barnes’ return, the best move and the only move would be for the Raptors to shut him down for the balance of the season, whether they say anything or not.

Prudence must be exercised with Barnes’ long-term future remaining the primary and only goal of a franchise that will at least be able to take a closer look at the current pieces assembled.

As currently constituted, the Raptors aren’t big.

They try to move the ball on offence and spread the floor.

When shots are dropping they can be competitive, but only in spurts.

Against the visiting Pels, Poeltl, who was seeing specialists to examine his dislocated finger suffered in Toronto’s win over the Hornets, was not available.

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It was then announced by the Raptors that Poeltl underwent surgery with the team adding updates on his condition will be provided as appropriate.

Bruce Brown (knee) also missed the New Orleans tip, his second in a row.

What remained was a small lineup featuring two Canadians — R.J. Barrett and Kelly Olynyk — thrust into the starting lineup.

Ochai Agbaji made his second start for the Raptors, but knee soreness limited his night to only 16 minutes after he heaved 20 attempts two nights earlier in his Toronto debut as a starter.

Toronto went 1-3 during its homestand, but one is now left to wonder and ask what’s the point of playing Barnes, if he gets the green light in the next few weeks.

As a competitor, Barnes would want to play and resume his third season that has seen the kid emerge as a star with the ceiling of perhaps embracing that true franchise piece.

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In theory, having Barnes back in the lineup will allow the team to assess how the various pieces fit around Barnes.

In practical terms, shutting down Barnes for the balance of the season will provide an opportunity for others to handle the ball, take on more responsibility and play extended minutes.

It promises, make no mistake, to be ugly, perhaps as ugly as Tuesday’s 139-98 demolition by the Pelicans.

Even a healthy Barnes would not have changed the outcome.

Truth be told, a completely healthy Raptors team would not have beaten New Orleans.

As a road trip tips off in Phoenix, the Raptors are not healthy with Agbaji becoming the latest victim when he left Tuesday’s game with knee soreness after playing 16 minutes.

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In the near future, the team is destined to post its 50th loss, a total last experienced during the 2010-11 season that would end with a 22-60 record.

Barnes will be back with the team when relationship building should be the mandate.

What he shouldn’t do is play another game.

Change has been the operative word this season and additional changes will be made in the off-season.

When the Raptors eventually gather for training camp, Barnes will be fully healthy and ready to fully integrate with his teammates.

Until then, the remaining 20 games to close out the season should feature plenty of Gradey Dick and figuring out if there’s a legitimate backup for Immanuel Quickley at the point position.

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There’s no point in playing Barnes when so many questions remain unanswered.

In time, the Raptors may discover only a handful of players currently on the roster fit the system head coach Darko Rajakovic wants to run.

He’ll be able to get an up-close look with Barnes on the sideline.

When Barnes returns to the lineup, it should arrive for the start of next season.

If he’s allowed to return sooner, the Raptors will be making a huge mistake.

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