Thoughts on the Toronto Raptors Offseason

 After the Raptors won the NBA championship in 2019, and then lost Kawhi Leonard in free agency, I felt that was a good time for the Raptors to start a rebuild.  Going into the 2019-2020 season I did not have high expectations, the Raptors lost two key contributors and added zero high-quality replacements.  Instead of going out and signing replacements for Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard, the Raptors added a lot of cheaper replacements that played above expectations but none of them seemed to be a future all-star or even a starter.  The Raptors then surprised me by finishing second in the eastern conference before losing to the Boston Celtics in a great seven-game series.  The series against the Celtics was an edge of your seat, basket for basket, intense seven games.  The Raptors lost but had Pascal Siakam played even average, I think the Raptors might have squeaked out a win.  Siakam is a good player and he has gotten better every year, but he was terrible in the series vs the Celtics.  Siakam was a minus 22, averaged 2.14 turnovers per game, shot 12.5% from three-point range and shot just 38.2% from the floor.  Siakam was supposed to be the offensive focal point of the Raptors and Boston just shut him down, it was a good defensive effort from Boston but Siakam took a lot of bad shots and missed a lot of easy shots too.  I think Siakam will recover and hopefully will learn, Kyle Lowry, Serge Ibaka, Fred VanVleet and OG Anunoby kept the Raptors in the series and Kyle Lowry specifically was amazing.  


After the Raptors season ended against the Celtics, I was again feeling that now was the time for a rebuild.  The problem with rebuilding now was that we only have one player under contract that had a high value, Kyle Lowry.  Lowry had a great series against the Celtics and both Siakam and OG are players the Raptors would be better off keeping.  Trading Lowry would net a big return but since I never heard anything mentioning a potential trade, I have to assume it was never really considered.  I think the Raptors senior brass believe the team can compete, at least for a playoff spot.  I do not feel the team can compete in the eastern conference or even the western conference.  The Raptors will likely make the playoffs in the 2020-2021 season, but they are not a team that I can eliminate one of the top tier teams (Bucks, Celtic or Nets).  At some point, a rebuild will need to happen and I feel the sooner the better, OG and Siakam are still young if the team can add an elite player (like through the top of the NBA draft).  The Raptors had the 29th pick of the 2020 NBA draft, with the pick the Raptors selected Malachi Flynn, a point guard.  After the pick was announced I was a little disappointed as I hoped the Raptors would draft a forward or a centre.  With their second-round pick (no. 59) the Raptors selected Jalen Harris a shooting guard, I was more okay with this pick because the Raptors need a player on offence that is not just a three-point shooter.

The Raptors lost both Marc Gasol (Lakers) and Serge Ibaka (Clippers) in free agency, the Raptors replaced them with free agents Alex Len and Aron Baynes.  The Raptors also re-signed Fred VanVleet and signed free agent DeAndre' Bembry a defensive shooting guard.  With the addition of the draft picks, the Raptors will have a decent team but not a team that can compete against the elite teams.  Except for Kyle Lowry, I don't think the Raptors have an all-star unless Siakam and OG take more big steps in their play.  Siakam needs to show he can be a threat on all levels of offence while also making good passes when he is swarmed by the defence.  OG needs to attack the basket more, improve his ball-handling, passing and shooting, if OG can do that and be able to score points more consistently I think he might be an all-star.  I have not mentioned VanVleet more because I think his game has plateaued, he could work on his passing and take more mid-range shots.

The belief in Toronto is that the Raptors are holding out hope that after the 2020-2021 season the Raptor will go after one of marquee free agents.   The Raptors president Masai Ujiri has been linked to Giannis Antetokounmpo and if the Raptors could land Giannis it would mean the Raptors would be contenders for the foreseeable future.  Fred VanVleet signed a 4-year $85 million contract with the Raptors and starting in the 2021-2022 season his contract dips giving Toronto the potential to financially chase one of the key free agents.  It was nice to see the Raptors retain VanVleet, especially considering how his play against the Celtics kept the Raptors in that series.  I have mixed feelings about Fred VanVleet, I think he is a big-time player, but his size limits his effectiveness.  In the series against the Celtics, VanVleet was not lethal from three-point range (shot just 31.6%) but he hit big shots.  VanVleet though struggling with his shot still averaged 20 points per game in the series, I think VanVleet plays with a lot of heart and that will be the key to the Raptors season.

I think the addition of Aron Baynes at the centre position will be key, he added a three-point shot to his game and if he can duplicate or even get better than he was last season his shooting will only help the Raptors.  Baynes is big and physical and his post defence should help, he is not as athletic or as good of a three-point shooter as Ibaka or as good of a passer as Gasol, but he will be useful to Toronto.  I think drafting two guards will give the Raptors good depth, but Toronto is now heavy in guards but lacks depth in forwards.  I think Flynn could be a good replacement for Lowry when Lowry eventually retires (hopefully as a Raptor), Flynn plays tough and if he can shoot better be an aggressive attacker on offence I think he could be great.  Jalen Harris could be a big player for Toronto, he is an offence first player, and he does not need to be the key scorer, but he could be really effective on the second unit as a scorer.   


Based on the moves made I think it is safe to assume Toronto will be in the playoffs, but I feel confident Toronto won't be making another trip to the finals in this upcoming season.  The expectation that both OG and Siakam will be better or at the very least stay the same is fair; while I think Lowry and VanVleet will deliver as expected.  The key to the Raptors success will be Aron Baynes, Flynn and Harris, if all three of those players can make contributions then I think the Raptors will be a tough team to play against.  Someone who I have not mentioned in this article is the head coach Nick Nurse, he did a great job last season getting the team as far as they did after losing Kawhi and Green.  Nurse seems to be a coach that adjusts his game plan based on the players he has, so if he can be innovative, I think he can do some exciting things with this team.  I would have loved to see Toronto add a lane slashing strong finisher who could give the team something I think they needed against the Celtics.  The eastern conference might no longer have Lebron but now it has Giannis, Oladipo, Durant, the Celtics and a superb Miami Heat team.  The Raptors will have to work very hard to finish second again, but it will not be as easy as last season.  I would like to see the Raptors use Flynn a lot to spell Lowry more so Lowry will be fresher when the playoffs start.  I think the Raptors are a strong team and will make teams work hard to get a win, they might not win another championship, but they will be good.  

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