By: Greg Rector
Now that the L.A. Lakers have brought home their 17th Championship the off season work for every franchise is in full swing. Since my brethren here at Nuts and Bolts Sports are all located south of the 49th parallel, I am going to write about the possible moves and forecast for the Toronto Raptors. I have seen almost every game the last few years since all Raptors are broadcast up here in Canada on either Sportsnet or TSN.
The Raptors indeed exceeded expectations of the so-called experts who wrote them off after their title run with departures of Leonard and Green. Said it at the time and defended it all season, do so at your own peril. What ensued was a season that saw a spirited title defense. In only 9 games did the team have their full roster, yet finished the Covid19 interrupted season with the leagues 2nd best record. Prior to the shutdown the leagues best record in calendar year 2020 belonged to the Toronto Raptors. This is a major reason that head coach Nick Nurse deservedly so was awarded the NBA Coach of the Year award.
The shutdown did affect the Raptors negatively when play resumed in “the bubble.” Most obviously it was the play of Pascal Siakam, who in his basketball life (All 9 years of it) had not taken a break from the game. He did not pick up a ball and it showed once play resumed. What most people did not know nor took into account was the passing of his father, and the fact Siakam was unable to go to the funeral because of the lockdown. The rotation was shortened (A move I disagreed with) and the veterans were simply gassed.
The second round loss to the Celtics was a 7 game war. The Raptors have had three weaknesses all of which the Celtics took advantage of. The first was their propensity to not protect the ball against the Celtics. They gave the younger, faster team far too many freebies. They also did not rebound as needed, and that’s been their biggest weakness the last few seasons. Lastly and if any of you read my tweets or have heard me on with Monte on his podcast you know what’s coming. The backcourt combination of Lowry and VanVleet, at just 6′ each, does not give the Raptors the length needed in today’s game. Yes they are dogged defenders etc… however they have struggled as a combination against certain teams. VanVleet does not finish at the rim against bigger defenders and that really hurt them in the second round.
2021 Free Agency
Every team has two priorities at this point, the draft which I will touch on later on and free agency. The rumor mill surrounding the possible free agency signings and the Raptors are numerous. The reason of course is because of who is available not this off season but the guy in Milwaukee who may become available after the 2021 season, Giannis. You can tie him to any number of teams, however take all factors into account, existing rosters, salary cap space and so on, and there are two destinations that move to the top of the list as to the next possible home for the “Greek Freak.” and those two teams are Miami and Toronto.
That said deciding what to do this off season is where the genius of team President Masai Ujuri, and General Manager Bobby Webster will come into play. Let’s break this down now. Both Gasol and Ibaka are free agents. It’s widely felt Gasol will leave the league entirely and finish his career back in Spain. So do you keep Ibaka and give him a large one-year deal? I believe they will. Now other teams might offer him more term so he will have a decision to make. Key factor here is he loves Toronto and the fans love him. Evidenced by his massive following during the lockdown on social media.
The next decision involves VanVleet and unrestricted free agent. Rumors have several teams including the Knicks ready to offer Fred a huge pay increase. The other option out there is a sign and trade deal with the Pacers since Vivcor Oladipo, has made his trade wish well known. Personally I favor moving him to the Pacers. Oladipo would give the Raptors a bigger starting backcourt and comes at a price that works for the salary cap. I like Freddie a lot as a leader and off the court, however to stay in the hunt I firmly believe they need that added length.
Next up is for me the MOST important guy to extend on the roster, that is OG Anunoby, who has drastically improved in so many facets of his game. He is a restricted free agent, but for my money needs to be given his payday now. Do you want evidence? How about the Raptors two victories over the eventual champion Lakers. In both those game guess who drew the assignment against LeBron James? Anunoby. In both games he outplayed LeBron. His shooting greatly improved and he can guard anyone. This also means Giannis would know the defensive load wouldn’t be on him alone if he chooses Toronto.
There will not be a Montrez Harrell signing. First of all the Raptors are looking only at one year deals to leave as much space as possible for you know who. My possible candidates therefore are guys like Hassan Whiteside or a Clippers teammate of Harrell’s, Marcus Morris, who could add much needed toughness off the bench and at 31 may be agreeable to a one year deal.
The Raptors have the 29th pick in the first round for now. This is the real unknown for the off season. Ujuri has been known to make moves where others wouldn’t. I don’t know if they are planning on moving up, but I wouldn’t be shocked if they did. If they do trade up then it’s going to be a major shakeup in order for it to happen. It would mean Kyle Lowry leaving. If a team is looking for him it’s not been talked about much. Is there a PG NBA ready outside of Ball? So while not very likely anything is possible for the guy who moved Andrea Bargnani, when no one said it was possible. Thank you New York…lol
If they stay at 29 I fully expect to see a shooting guard taken at that spot. They need my oft repeated refrain of more length in the backcourt, both starting and off the bench. They could go to a wing player though if the Pacers sign and trade is made.
Every move made or not made by Toronto is predicated on the biggest fish in the 2021 Free Agency pond.
As always you can find me on Twitter @GregCowboys