Thu. Feb 27th, 2020

30 Teams in 30 Days: Toronto Raptors

Toronto Raptors

2018-19 record: 58-24

Ahhh Toronto… where do we start? The Raptors were the meme of the decade a couple of years ago, having great regular seasons only to vastly underperform in the playoffs. This was most apparent during the “LeBronto” days. Y’all remember? When they lost to the Cavaliers for three straight seasons (two straight second-round sweeps), all in which LeBron dominated them. Sure, you could make the argument that the first two years they weren’t even favored to win, which is true, but in 2018? There’s no excuses; they had what was, at the time, considered to be their best team in franchise history with DeMar DeRozan playing some of the best basketball of his career, Kyle Lowry being healthy and playing well, and them having the best bench in the entire league, which led them to have the first seed in the East. They again faced LeBron, who had the worst supporting cast he’s ever had since 2007, and were favored to win the series, yet ultimately were swept in rather embarrassing fashion.

The man at the root of them underperforming was their loyal star: DeMar DeRozan. DeRozan had been on the team since he was drafted, and even had the opportunity to leave them in free agency, but opted to be loyal and sign an extension with them. So what did the Raptors do with their loyal star who underperformed (along with Kyle Lowry)? They traded him. At the time it seemed pretty stupid; you traded a player who was loyal for a player who had just missed most of the last season and whose contract expired the next season, at a time where the player mainly responsible for their demise (LeBron James) had just left the conference. But, we all know how the story goes: Kawhi Leonard, in one season, became one of the best players in Raptors’ history while leading them to their first championship in franchise history. Then, he left them in free agency for the Clippers… what now for Toronto?

Starting Lineup:

PG: Kyle Lowry

SG: Norman Powell
SF: OG Anunoby

PF: Pascal Siakam

C: Marc Gasol

  • For offensive purposes, Fred VanVleet would be ideal starting with Lowry in the backcourt. However, I think it works best if VanVleet comes off the bench as a 6th man (where he’s thrived the last two seasons) and put Norman Powell in the starting five, where you get someone who can occasionally make a play on offense and provides good defense at the position
  • OG started his rookie season in the NBA (year before the Kawhi trade), so I put him in the starting five easily ahead of Stanley Johnson
  • rest of the starters aren’t really debatable: Kyle Lowry, Marc Gasol and Pascal Siakam

The interesting case with the Raptors is that, without Kawhi last season, they were still a very good team. Yet, people think that they are much worse than what they were last season. To me, the dilemma for them doesn’t lie in this season, but for the next couple of seasons. See, the Raptors are still going to be good this season. Sure, they aren’t going to contend for the title in my opinion, but that’s a compliment to the East rather than an insult (the 76ers were four lucky bounces on the rim away from potentially beating them in the semifinals, and they’re still good after re-tooling, while Milwaukee choked a 2-0 lead in the conference finals and are poised to make another deep playoff run) rather than an insult to them. However, the way their roster is constructed leaves a lot of questions heading into the future…

They have good young players who have shown potential to be good-great players (notably Pascal, VanVleet, Powell, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson). Then, they have some guys who’ve shown potential to be good players, and potential to be busts (Cameron Payne and Stanley Johnson). And then you have guys who still haven’t had enough playing time in the NBA to accurately try to predict their potential (Chris Boucher, Malcolm Miller, and rookies). A big part of their salary is allocated to older players this season only (Lowry, Gasol, Serge Ibaka), so that raises a lot of interesting questions: Do you still compete, knowing that you’re still probably not going to win the championship? How much time do you give the young guys? Are they sellers at the deadline? And if so, who gets traded? If they’re in the top five in the East by February, do they go all in for a repeat?

I think the Raptors are good enough to be a top four seed in the East, but just not good enough to seriously contend for a championship (like previously mentioned). Yet, I still expect them to be sellers at the deadline. Marc Gasol was traded from Memphis to the Raptors. I could see Gasol being traded at this season’s trade deadline, also along with Serge Ibaka, both being players on expiring contracts that could help out contenders in the frontcourt while also giving minutes to some of the young guys they have. Speaking of young guys…

After this season, the main goal for the Raptors is to re-sign Pascal Siakam, who has a player option for the 2020-21 season. Whatever the Raptors are going to do with their rebuild, they need Siakam for it. Sure, I don’t expect him to be the best player on a hopeful champion, but I do expect him to be an integral piece of it (he’s proved he can be just that).

What makes the situation with the Raptors even more interesting is the fact that, even with all the cap space that they’re set to have this upcoming summer, they aren’t a premier free agent destination; they’ve never signed a marquee free agent ever. Heck, all the great stars they’ve had have left them, so what do they do with all that cap space? It does not seem like many great young players would want to play in Toronto either. The only thing the Raptors currently have going for them is that they have a great coach (Nick Nurse), and have developed players that weren’t highly touted to great players in their team (VanVleet, Siakam, Jakob Poetl, Norman Powell, OG Anunoby). It will be some interesting years down at the Jurassic Park, so if you want to watch them live this season before they turn to full rebuild mode, get your tickets from Seatgeek. Seatgeek is an app that posts tickets from all over the web for any type of event (concerts, games of any sport, etc) at very affordable prices. It gives you a view from the seat you’re going to buy, and even has a color scale that shows you if you’re getting a good deal for your tickets (green=good, yellow=good but could be better, red=not good). Still undecided? Consider using our promo code BRKDWN for a 20% discount on your first purchase!

To summarize:

  • They will be a good team in the East this year, just not a championship contender
  • Expect them to be sellers at the deadline
  • NEED to keep Pascal Siakam
  • rebuild or re-tool?

What do you expect from the Toronto Raptors and their players this season? After this season, will they rebuild or re-tool? Tweet us your opinions to @the_BRKDWN. Next, I’ll be talking about a team that is so bad at making moves, that they made it possible to worsen a rebuild