The Raptors had a lot of legitimate reasons for trading Rudy Gay — his bloated salary, his inefficient game, and the difficulty of planning the franchise's path without knowing whether Gay would exercise his mammoth $19.3 million player option for next season. But they also understood the possibility that flipping the team's offensive centerpiece for rotation flotsam could send the Raptors into chaos — and into a top-five spot in the most anticipated lottery since 2003. It was not a coincidence that Toronto engaged the Knicks in Kyle Lowry trade talks just days after sending Gay to the reaching Kings.

The immediacy of the Lowry talks also revealed two truths that will define the next six weeks of Raptordom:

1. The market for Lowry, and whatever other veteran pieces the Raptors might wish to slough off, might not be as robust as the team had hoped. Tanking is painful on its own, and it's especially tough this season, with so many miserable teams at the bottom of the standings. Tanking can bring a double blow if the process includes selling off talent at a discount rate simply for the sake of getting worse without any guarantees in the end. Real talent has value; knowingly wasting that value hurts and comes with a cost.

2. The Gay trade might have made the Raptors better — an outcome that was not hard to predict. At the time of the trade, Gay was poisoning Toronto with a toxic and nearly unprecedented combination of volume shooting and bricklaying. Almost any team would get better by excising a player hogging possessions at Iversonian levels and shooting 38 percent.1 The Raptors added four useful rotation players, three of whom filled in positions where the team had minimal NBA-level talent: backup big man and backup point guard.

Not even the most cockeyed Raptor optimists could have expected this: Toronto is 7-3 since the trade, with road wins over Dallas and Oklahoma City and a point differential in that stretch that would rank just behind Portland's very strong overall mark. Two of the three post-Gay losses came against San Antonio, and the Raps didn't yet have the Kings' trade bounty for the first of those games. The Raps now sit atop the embarrassing Atlantic Division with a content group of players, a fun, whirring offense, and the toughest schedule to date of any Eastern Conference team.

"You can sink and drown, or you can float," DeMar DeRozan explained to Grantland over the weekend in Toronto while discussing his reaction to the trade. "And we out here like Michael Phelps."

Toronto has scored 105.8 points per 100 possessions since dealing Gay, nearly five points better than it managed with a Rudy-centric offense.2 Toronto is flinging the ball from side to side, one pick-and-roll bleeding into the next on the opposite wing, bending opposing defenses until an opening emerges. The Raptors are passing the ball 30 more times per game since the trade, per SportVU data provided to Grantland, and shooting about three more 3-pointers — an intended benefit of replacing Gay in the starting lineup with Terrence Ross. "The ball is just constantly moving," DeRozan says. "We don't care who scores, or who shoots the ball. Masai [Ujiri, the team's GM] made the best decision for us to win. You hate to see a close friend go, but he made a good decision. It's paying off now."