NEW YORK -- The Toronto Raptors struck quickly over the summer, coming out of nowhere to sign DeMarre Carroll, the linchpin of the Atlanta Hawks' resurgence in 2014-15, to a four-year, $60 million contract.
Carroll, 29, was coming off a career-best season in which he proved to be a "D-and-3" force at small forward for the 60-win Hawks in the playoffs. And his two-way play was supposed to spark the Raptors, who had been unceremoniously ousted from the first round of the playoffs by the Washington Wizards in a four-game sweep.
But for the most part, injuries have prevented him from having that same type of impact in 2015-16. And on Wednesday afternoon, word officially came down that Carroll, who had already missed 13 of the team's first 36 games, had undergone arthroscopic surgery on his right knee and would be out indefinitely.
A hopeful estimate, sources say, is that he misses the next 6-8 weeks.
The news is certainly disconcerting to the Raptors, who have had arguably their best five-man lineup of Carroll, Luis Scola, Jonas Valanciunas, DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry on the court together for only 15 games. And now, even if Carroll does return under the best of circumstances, the team won't have that much time to jell before the playoffs begin.
"Does it set us back? Yes, because that's why we brought DeMarre in here -- to help us improve as a team," Toronto coach Dwane Casey said before his team rolled past the woeful Brooklyn Nets 91-74 despite an uneven performance on Wednesday night at Barclays Center. "But unfortunately he's not here, so the season goes on, and everybody has to step up."
At Carroll's position, that means opportunity for reserves James Johnson and Terrence Ross, who Casey says will alternate in the starting lineup depending on matchups. Johnson is more of a defensive-minded player, while Ross has the potential to score in bunches if his shot is falling on a given night. On Wednesday, Johnson started and posted eight points, five rebounds and two blocks in 26 minutes, while Ross came off the bench and added three points on 1-for-5 shooting in 19 minutes.
"We can't worry about what we're supposed to be," said Lowry, who carried the team with 17 points, eight rebounds, six assists and five steals. "We have to worry about what we are. ... I think James steps up defensively and gives us a big body. His talent is crazy, and I think he can take a little relief off of me and DeMar when he can grab a rebound and make plays for us here and there, and T-Ross has to stay consistent like he has been lately with making shots and staying aggressive."
Recently, Toronto's defense surrendered 115 points to Chicago -- including 40 in the second half by Jimmy Butler -- and then 122 to Cleveland, two teams it'll perhaps be looking to upset come playoff time. Carroll may be a great shooter from beyond the arc (37.8 percent), but where he really shines when healthy is in his ability to guard multiple positions.
To be successful on a consistent basis, the Raptors, who still rank 10th in defensive efficiency despite their recent lull, are going to have to pick it up at that end of the floor. And they're going to have to do so without Carroll, at least for the foreseeable future.
Unfortunately for them, not every opponent they face from here on out is going to be as depleted offensively as Brooklyn, either.
"It's always going to be interesting when you have to [overcome injuries], but I think we have a good enough group to understand that things aren't always going to be perfect, and we just have to make it work somehow," Lowry said.