They only have an even record in an uneven season, finding themselves firmly in the middle of the Eastern Conference pack, yet the Toronto Raptors believe they have reason to be bullish as they gear up for the NBA trade deadline -- just a little more than two weeks away on Feb. 10.

From the outset, the 2021-22 season has mostly been played under the umbrella of research and development in the first year of the post-Kyle Lowry era.

But even with a steady drip of injuries and a brief COVID-19 interruption, the results have come sooner than might have been expected and -- Toronto’s 22-22 record aside -- have been encouraging.

The club has essentially ruled out trading any of who they define as their core -- Fred VanVleet, Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby and Scottie Barnes aren’t going anywhere next month.

Instead, the goal is to scour the market for pieces that can augment that group now and in the near future.

The Raptors are actively gauging the potential return if they attach future assets -- a first-round pick at minimum -- to their one ‘no-brainer’ trade chip: Goran Dragic’s expiring $19.4 million contract.

The Raptors aren’t committed in that direction, but they recognize it’s the most likely way they can add to their existing talent in the immediate term.

It also represents a chance to squeeze some added value out of the sign-and-trade arrangement that ended up with Lowry in Miami and the Raptors with Precious Achiuwa -- the young big whose athletic potential has yet to square with his on-court production -- and Dragic. The latter hasn’t been with the team since late November due to a personal matter that wasn’t on the horizon when they made the deal with the Heat.

The situation was a curve ball they didn’t see coming. The Raptors were optimistic Dragic could help them on the floor and maintain value as a trade piece as the season went along. But Dragic requested a personal leave to be with his family in Slovenia and now Miami, where they made their home for the previous seven years. The Raptors have respected Dragic’s wishes to keep the matter private, even though a since deleted video of Dragic working out in Miami led some to call into question Toronto’s choice to do the sign-and-trade rather than let Lowry become a free agent and use the resulting cap space to sign a player or two in free agency.

Still, if Dragic’s contract allows them to make a trade or be at the table when a bigger one goes down -- the gold standard being the Cleveland Cavaliers getting Jarrett Allen and Taurean Prince for the price of a late first-round pick and Dante Exum’s expiring contract when they helped facilitate the Brooklyn Nets’ deal for James Harden last season -- the Raptors will look shrewd in the end.

All of which makes it more likely than not the Raptors do something at the trade deadline. Once it passes, Dragic’s deal holds no value to them as an asset. Sure, it’s generally easier to make roster moves in the summer, but in this case the Raptors have clear needs -- quality depth in almost any shape or form for one of the NBA’s thinnest rosters -- and are deep enough in the playoff mix that they might as well fortify themselves. Doing nothing and finishing 11th -- missing the play-in tournament and landing low in the lottery -- would be a hard one to explain.

The Raptors -- for good reason -- have little interest in a short-term fix, and nor should they. But adding some quality with some team control -- either a player with contract term, or a restricted free agent would be a priority.

Can they pull something off? Maybe.

“There’s some quality bigs available and some bench guys,” said one league executive. “A number that big that’s expiring has value because there are always going to be teams that have contracts, they’d rather not have or want to open up cap space or have a player that doesn’t fit into long-term plans.”

The urgency should be there. Team pillars VanVleet and Siakam aren’t exactly aging out, but they each turn 28 before the end of the season so it makes sense to leverage what promises to be their productivity peaks, particularly given Siakam is only under contract for two more seasons after this one, while VanVleet has one more year and a player option in 2023-24.

Add in that Gary Trent Jr. has only one more year of team control and Anunoby two and the Raptors don’t necessarily have the luxury of slow, organic growth before they will need to face some potentially challenging decisions regarding their key players.