The last four years has been the most successful run in franchise history. Since the blockbuster trade in December of 2013 that sent Rudy Gay to Sacramento – that was initially intended to signal a rebuild – the duo of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan has led the Raptors to four straight playoff appearances, set the franchise record for regular season wins, and fell just two games short of making the 2016 NBA Finals. As they enter the 2017-2018 season with the same core intact, the age-old question remains: Can this team beat the Cleveland Cavaliers in the playoffs? Let’s take a look.
Key Off-Season Moves
This was amongst the most entertaining and shocking NBA off-seasons in recent memory (maybe ever?). The sheer volume of all-star caliber players who changed teams this summer was truly staggering. If just one of the players below were traded or signed with a new team, it would be a story. The fact that all of this happened within the span of a few months is almost incomprehensible.
- Kyrie Irving is traded to Boston; Isaiah Thomas is traded to Cleveland
- Chris Paul is traded to Houston
- Paul George AND Carmelo Anthony are traded to Oklahoma
- Gordon Hayward signs a new contract with Boston
- Paul Millsap signs a new contract with Denver
- Jimmy Butler is traded to Minnesota
- Dwight Howard is traded to Charlotte
- Los Angeles drafted Lonzo Ball (how could we not mention the Big Baller Brand circus?)
Now, back to the Toronto Raptors. This was a franchise defining off-season as Masai Ujiri charts his course for the next few years. After locking up DeMar DeRozan to a max contract in 2016, Masai decided to commit to this core and extend their championship window by signing Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka to a pair of three year contracts. This trio is now signed through 2020-2021, giving Masai three years to find the right supporting cast. As a casualty of Lowry and Ibaka’s new deals, the Raptors were forced to shed the contracts of several quality depth pieces including Patrick Patterson, Cory Joseph, P.J. Tucker, and DeMarre Carroll. The only notable addition was acquiring swingman C.J. Miles in a sign-and-trade deal with Indiana in exchange for fan favourite Cory Joseph. Miles will add much needed depth at small forward as well as shooting prowess from behind the arc. The loss of Joseph and Tucker means that Norman Powell and Delon Wright will be relied upon for significant minutes.
- Traded Cory Joseph to Indiana for C.J. Miles
- Signed Kyle Lowry for 3 years x $100M
- Signed Serge Ibaka for 3 years, $65M
- Traded DeMarre Carroll to Brooklyn Nets
- Drafted OG Anunoby
The Raptors roster is an interesting mix of a veteran core complimented by young role players. The following is a look at their strengths and weaknesses.
- Guards: The starting back court of DeRozan and Lowry is elite and amongst the best in the NBA.
- Consistency: Same core players, same coach, same GM. Not many teams have this level of consistency entering the new season.
- Shooting: In a league that’s moving away from midrange shooting to more and more three-point attempts, the Raptors need to improve from beyond the arc. C.J. Miles will help.
- Depth: Beyond Miles, Ibaka, and Valanciunas, the Raptors lack depth in the front court.
- Wild Card:
- The Next Generation. Can Powell, Wright, Siakam, and Poeltl (And Anunoby) take significant steps forward? If not, this team is not built to withstand major injuries.
Heading into the season, here are a few Raptors story lines to follow:
- Will the Raptors commitment to adapting to the “New NBA” – by improving their 3-point shooting – work this season?
- How will the two young guards – Norman Powell and Delon Wright – play in bigger minutes?
- How will the two young forwards – Pascal Siakam or Jakob Poeltl play in bigger minutes?
- Is Head Coach Dwane Casey on the hot sea? Is reigning G-League coach of the year Jerry Stackhouse next in line?
- Can this Raptors team finally get over the hump and beat LeBron James in the playoffs?
- Can DeMar DeRozan continue to evolve as he has done year-over-year to improve his defence and add a 3-point shot to enter the upper echelon of NBA Superstars?
- And finally, what every Raptors fan wants to know: was Fran Fraschilla’s draft night prediction about Bruno Caboclo being “two years away from being two years away” accurate as he enters his 4th season?
This is going to be a fascinating season for the Toronto Raptors. In a weak Eastern Conference, the Raptors core is strong enough to guide them to a top four finish in the regular season and their 5th consecutive playoff appearance. What will determine how far they go will be driven by the play of their young supporting cast. To make the Finals, you have to go through LeBron James. Can this team as currently constructed beat the Cavaliers? Unfortunately, it’s difficult to make a strong case for any team to dethrone The King. LeBron is a generational player and less than a handful of people on the planet can limit him offensively. That being said, this Raptors team is poised to make the playoffs and they have the assets to make a deal at the deadline. If they can improve their shooting and add to their depth, coupled with a little good fortune, this could be their year.
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