A Case for Staying the Course! A Look at the Toronto Raptors!

Photo Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

A Case for Staying the Course! A Look at the Toronto Raptors!

 

The Toronto Raptors made news by not blowing their team up. Unusual these days. You can guarantee every offseason in the NBA will include a couple of teams blowing it up. Blowing it up simply means getting rid of all your good or decent players, to be really bad in hope of getting a high draft pick. That pick can then be a franchise player. Fans call for teams to blow it up all the time. Figuring what’s the point of being average? Sure you may be an 8 seed one year, but you’ll likely lose in five. Then what? Fans, and some executives would rather be really good or really bad. NBA purgatory is a scary place. If you’re stuck in the middle, it’s harder to get better draft picks to improve and take the next step. That is why tanking has become more prevalent.

This offseason you saw the Indiana Pacers and Chicago Bulls trade their best player, so they can avoid purgatory and essentially become awful. These teams also give an example of why this is easier said than done. Tanking might have been the right move for these teams, but they got very little in return, for superstar players. Now the cupboard is bare. Free agents are less likely to come to bad teams, unless you can offer the house.

The good news is these teams now have money. Bad news is they will be awful. They better get their draft picks right. If they don’t it’s years of suffering. Ask the Timberwolves, Kings and Knicks. Blowing it up hurts. You lose ticket sales, fans and players. It’s harder to make trades, attract free agents, and get quality coaches. Sometimes it’s the right move and sometimes it’s not. Timing is a big part of it.

 

The Case for Staying the Course! 

Every one had their eyes on the Los Angeles Clippers and Toronto Raptors this offseason. Many people around the league figured they would blow it up. Toronto was coming off a second round annihilation to Cleveland. L.A was coming off a disappointing first round exit to Utah. The Clips had made the playoffs for five years in a row; Toronto had made it for four. They were very similar, but there were differences. L.A had the higher ceiling as they were the better team. Their postseason’s were undone by injuries, and unexpected meltdowns. Toronto had the meltdowns. Their style simply didn’t seem to translate to postseason success. Even though they did make the eastern conference finals two years ago.

This offseason the Clippers lost Chris Paul to the Houston Rockets. Luckily for them they were able to pull of a sign and trade, and get a good return for Paul. Getting a good return changed their whole offseason approach. They resigned Blake Griffin to a five-year $173 million dollar deal. They traded for Danilo Gallinari. Deandre Jordan was taken off the trade block. Milos Teodosic was brought over from Europe. Chris Paul was their best player, but the Clippers believe they can still be good. L.A retooled instead of rebuild. I didn’t love all their moves, but for a franchise that has been awful for so long, I understand it.

Toronto, like the Clippers stayed the course. Also, like the Clippers they have been awful for most of their existence. These past four years have been the best in Toronto history. Fifty wins and a trip to the playoffs every year is not a bad place, despite what a lot of fans think. Toronto has passionate fans, some of the best in the league. If they go back in the toilet, they may not stick around, and ticket sales will go down. Toronto has made some noise in the offseason, but not in the way people expected. Similar to L.A they retooled instead of rebuild. Unlike the Clippers though they did it without jeopardising their long-term success. The greatest win-win in the NBA. Lets look at the Raptors’ offseason.

 

A Look Into Toronto’s Offseason!

Last year Toronto went all in at the trade deadline. Acquiring Serge Ibaka and P.J Tucker. Two players who were brought in to make them tougher, and more versatile. Then, once they acquired him, Kyle Lowry got hurt. He came back for the playoffs, but lost a lot of time gelling. In the first round they barely survived Milwaukee. In the second round LeBron swept them in emphatic fashion. Kyle Lowry missed the last two games of that series. They went all in, and it didn’t work. It was still the right move.

Fast forward to the offseason. People figured the Toronto Raptors might let free agents Serge Ibaka and Kyle Lowry walk. Maybe trade Demar Derozan and fully rebuild. Instead, Toronto resigned Lowry and Ibaka on three-year deals. Lowry got $100 million and Ibaka got $65 million. The short-term deals protect them against two older players declining. It also protects their future financial flexibility. Both are fair deals, both could have potentially made more on the open market. Toronto took a risk and it worked out, for the best in my opinion. They kept their three best players. In the east that’s good for 50 wins. They didn’t stand pat though, they adjusted.

Toronto knew they had to make some changes. Changes to their style of play, and changes to avoid paying luxury tax. Something a small market team, that is not a serious championship contender, doesn’t want to pay. To avoid the tax line, Toronto traded Demarre Carroll to the Brooklyn Nets in a salary dump. Caroll had to go. His knees are shot, and he costs a ton of money. A healthy Carroll would have been perfect for that team. Some times, good moves don’t work out. To get rid of Caroll they had to give up a first and a second round pick. That hurts. All they got back in return was Justin Hamilton, who they waved immediately. Losing a first round pick hurts, and the move left Toronto thin on the wing. However, the move was necessary.

After this move, the Drake’s were not done on Sunday. In the afternoon they traded Cory Joesph to the Indian Pacers for CJ Miles. A move I view as a rare win for both teams. Miles fits a need for the Toronto Raptors. He helps their three-point shooting and can play multiple positions for them. The departure of Joesph opens up the door for Deion Wright. Now the young point guard can assume the full-time backup role to Lowry. He is ready. Miles improves them in the short-term. Giving meaningful minutes to young players helps them in the long-term.

 

The Toronto Raptors Going Forward! 

The Toronto Raptors should mostly be done for the offseason. If they make another big move, look for them to trade center Jonas Valanciunas. Jonas has been a part of their core for a while, but it’s time for him to go. He is a skilled offensive big man, and a solid rebounder. The problem is defensively he can be run off the floor. Especially against teams with a lot of shooting. This becomes more of a problem in the playoffs. His offense can also hurt in the postseason. He can clog up driving lanes for Lowry and Derozan.

Valanciunas is best served as a back up big. Think Enes Kanter in Oklahoma City. I know the Toronto Raptors want to trade him. It will be tough though, as his current value is low. They might have to throw in a sweetener to do it. Trading Valancunias will also let Ibaka play the five, which is his better place at this point in his career. If they can’t trade him, they may keep him, and try to get his value back up.

The Toronto Raptors can start with Lowry, Derozan, Powell, Ibaka and Valanciunas. To finish games they can insert CJ Miles, and slide Ibaka to the five. Getting Dion Wright and Jakob Poeltl more minutes is key this season. When rookie Og Anunoby is ready he needs minutes. He is the kind of 3-and-D player the Raptors need. DeMar DeRozan is working on a three ball. Finally! If he adds that, Toronto can reach a new level. But I will believe it when I see it. Losing Patrick Patterson and P.J Tucker hurts their depth and defense.

They may take a step back on that end this season. Last year they were one of the few teams in the top ten in offense and defense. This team will still get buckets. Playing younger players and losing tough veterans, will cost them a bit on the other end. I still project this team as one of the better teams in the east. Likely a top four team in the east. Finally, they could be high as third, behind only Cleveland and Boston.

 

Overview!

Sometimes there is nothing wrong with being a 50 win team and not a championship contender. It allows you to keep fans engaged. More impotantly it opens you up to options bad teams don’t have. If things go south, they still have three great trade options in Lowry, DeRozan and Ibaka. If things go well the Raptors become more attractive to free agents in the offseason. Toronto has the luxury of solid young players on the roster. They can play them with their core, to bridge the gap between the present and the future.

Blowing up is right for some teams, but not for all. Toronto made the right move by bringing the band back together. They made smart adjustments instead of drastic changes. Some teams panic after a disappointing postseason, Toronto held strong. Now the Drake’s have another season of good basketball ahead of them. Once in the playoffs anything can happen, despite past failure. I admire the Toronto Raptors’ offseason and can’t wait to watch them next year.

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