By: Rossy Pasternak
What a journey.
I previously wrote an article about how Raptors fans should cherish the moment – how it has taken so long and so much work to get here. At that time, the Raptors were tied 2-2 in the Eastern Conference Finals, facing off with quite possibly the best player in NBA history, LeBron James. The Raptors were his last threat to reaching the finals for a 6th time in a row.
But what now?
The Raptors are heading into the most important offseason in franchise history (doesn’t it seem like everything now is the most important in franchise history?). What GM Masai Ujiri does next could change the course of the Raptors franchise. Now that we have had a few moments to decompress from the emotional journey of the playoff run, here is my outlook on this offseason for the team.
Sign DeMar DeRozan
Masai has already stated that signing DeMar is priority #1, and it really shouldn’t be an issue. The player wants to stay, and the team wants to keep him. I have a feeling that DeRozan will take his meetings in LA, New York, Brooklyn and maybe even Philadelphia, before returning to the Raptors on a max deal.
Whether or not that is a good thing for the Raptors is still up for debate.
DeRozan has become a star in this league since being drafted #9 overall in the 2009 Draft. He has steadily improved every year, adding a new facet to his game each summer. This season, he averaged a career-high 23.5 pts, and added in 4 assists and 4.5 rebounds. His defence was questionable, and his three-point shooting needs work, but the Raptors trust DeRozan to improve on those during the upcoming summer, and so do I. In the NBA, where it is so hard to find and keep stars, especially historically in Toronto, you cannot let one leave. Add to that fact that there is no obvious replacement, or cap space to obtain said replacement, and there is almost no other option than to offer DeRozan the max and beg him to accept it.
I have faith that he will.
Bring Back Dwane Casey
I am very open about my dislike for Casey. He has been slow to adjust schematically, and for a supposed defensive guru, hasn’t been able to figure out how to stop elite offences and players. In addition to that, his rotations have been very questionable in a lot of late-game and important situations. His teams tend to struggle closing out quarters – sans Lou Williams – and games; and are even worse out of timeouts.
However, Casey has led this team to an improving record every year he has coached the Raptors. Not only that, but he has even helped them go where no other Raptors team has gone before in the playoffs. As much as I am a believer in the theory that Casey can only take the Raptors so far, I believe he has earned a contract extension, and have no doubt in my mind that he will get one.
Fill the Holes
The Raptors have a glaring need for a starting power forward and a backup small forward. With the emergence of Norm Powell, Terrence Ross has become expendable. Ross will likely be moved to clear cap space for the power forward, as the Patrick Patterson is better suited in a bench role. The Raptors could be interested in someone like Ersan Ilyasova or Mirza Teletovic, who can space the floor – but they may prove to be too expensive for the cap-stricken Raps. If so, they could look to the draft, where they possess the #9 pick, for a backup power forward and start Patterson, in addition to scouring the market for a bargain – much like Bismack Biyombo and Louis Scola.
If the Raptors do want to make a splash, there have been rumours ever since his trade to Charlotte last summer that Nicolas Batum wants to play in Toronto. That would be difficult to pull off, but a sign-and-trade involving Ross, the #9 pick, and some more salary could get it done. It’s wishful thinking, and very unlikely to happen due to the Raptors’ salary cap situation, but Batum can play power forward to start, and allow Patterson to come off the bench.
As for the backup small forward, the Raptors could target someone like Soloman Hill, who can stretch the floor, play some power forward, and will come cheap. Hill may have priced himself out of the Raptors budget with his excellent series against them, but someone like him would be a solid addition to the squad.
The Raptors will have to say goodbye to some fan favourites this summer. Louis Scola and James Johnson appear to be on their way out. Also appearing to be on his way out is Biyombo. Biz was a fan favourite during the playoffs, and has developed into a premier defensive/rebounding big. Many teams are in need of players like him, and he will likely earn close to $17M per year on his next deal. He has already stated he would take a discount to stay, but even with a salary of $15M, it would mean the Raptors would have to trade away Ross. The Raptors cannot afford to spend its money on a position where they already have a premier player in Jonas Valenciunas.
Speaking of JV, these playoffs were a breaking out party for the young Lithuanian centre as well. Valenciunas forced the Raptors hand, and made them give him post touches and run some sets for him. “Big Science” delivered in more ways than one, scoring as well has doing his job on the glass and protecting the rim. In my opinion, Valenciunas has the potential to become an all-star next year, as long as the Raptors involve him consistently on offence.
All around, it was the best season in history for the Raptors. It could be just the beginning for a budding, exciting franchise, in a market starving for success.Or, it could be the culmination of a few good seasons, where the Raptors exceeded everyones expectations do to their devotion and determination. This could be the end of the road. Only Masai Ujiri knows what comes next. Only he controls the fate of this franchise. With the right moves, he could have a perennial contender on his hands. With a couple of wrong ones, well, I hope Raptors fans enjoyed this while it lasted.
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