It’s been a hell of a ride for the Raptors over the past two seasons. Kawhi dropping by for a quick title before leaving for warmer, less successful and far more unstable waters in LA. A COVID-shortened-season-turned-bubble experiment that saw shocking success in the regular season lead to playoff disappointment. What can possibly be next for this franchise? Here are my thoughts on what I believe should be the Raptor’s top priority this offseason.
By the way, there is only one team in the world of sports that I love and follow as closely as closely as the Raptors (I think I just loved Dinosaurs when I was 8 and this team was founded, little history for ya). So pardon my language when I refer to them as “us” and “we.” I know I’m not officially a member of the organization, but damn it, I love me some Raptors!
RE-SIGN MASAI UJIRI (and his protégé Bobby Webster)
Nothing of the aforementioned rollercoaster ride and consistent success would have been possible without the mastermind of the organization, Masai Ujiri. Masai took control of a long suffering franchise that had treaded water between pitiful and okay for almost two decades, and within a few short years built a champion, developing an outstanding culture with his own players and coaches (this after having similar success building a winner in another unheralded basketball market in Denver). Siakam, Anunoby, VanVleet, and Davis are amazing late round or undrafted finds under Ujiri’s watch, building a team overloaded with talent in a less than desirable market for NBA players.
More than losing Fred VanVleet, Kyle Lowry, or even Nick Nurse, I would be mortified if Ujiri jumped ship to another team (rumor has it James Dolan is desperate for his services in New York, though I can’t imagine Ujiri tolerating Dolan’s ownership style in that dumpster baby fire abortion that is the Knicks front office). The type of leadership and influence Ujiri brings to the table cannot be replaced. Plus, the way he has handled the fall out from his run in with a knucklehead cop at Oracle Arena has only added to his image as a badass boss. Reports have indicated that the powers-that-be at MLSE fully intend to extend Ujiri as well as GM Bobby Webster, and I can’t stress enough that they have to make that happen. We went from Bargnani to a championship in less than a decade thanks to this man. That is all.
RE-SIGN FRED VANVLEET
With Nick Nurse locked up long term, and hopefully my wish of extending Ujiri achieved next, the third tier of leadership that the Raptors must nail down is at the player level. Kyle Lowry has made an outstanding leader for the better part of the last decade, but as he slowly takes that forever flop into the twilight of his career, Fred VanVleet has quickly proven himself to be the perfect heir apparent.
Statistically, VanVleet put up Lowry-like numbers sharing guard duties with his mentor last year, with a solid 17.6 points and 6.6 assists per game even as essentially the third scoring option the team beyond Siakam. His toughness and overall badassery (see bandaged up and black-eyed Fred in last year’s finals) makes him a perfect fit to fill Lowry’s shoes.
I know there are many with dreams of paying Giannis a year from now, who fear eating up cap space by paying Fred, but as a Raptor’s fan from the Zan Tabak, Oliver Miller and Gary Trent Sr. days (NBA Courtside with Kobe Bryant (RIP), 96/97 season, classic), I will never hold my breath on a top free agent coming to Canada, and I sure as hell would not sacrifice our point guard and leader of the future for what very well may turn out to be a pipe dream. PAY THE MAN (even if it calls for the $25 million a year or more, which is very well may). Again, as an almost life-long Raptors fan, I am more than thrilled to watch our core of Siakam, Anunoby, and Van Vleet grow together (with some help, Giannis or otherwise down the road).
RE-SIGN SERGE IBAKA (and let Gasol go home to Spain)
It seems that Marc Gasol is leaning towards going home to Europe, which seems like the perfect win-win, as his productivity is diminished considerably and he would likely find himself out of the rotation next year (behind Ibaka, should he stick around, and perhaps behind an improving Chris Boucher).
On the flip side, Serge Ibaka, who a couple years ago had haters calling for his birth certificate, claiming his declining numbers in Orlando were a sign that he was considerably older than reported (b******t and maybe a teensy bit racist), absolutely crushed it this year. Ibaka came back better than ever, putting up career numbers with 15.4 points and 8.2 boards a game (only his block numbers aren’t what they once were, at around 0.8 per game). He put up those numbers primarily off the bench, and his energy and attitude are a perfect fit in the Raptors culture. For proof check out the awesome chemistry he has with his teammates on his Youtube cooking show (for real) and some random fashion segments with OG. All good stuff.
This may not be a popular opinion given Siakam’s struggles in the playoffs this year, but I am happy running back a starting five of Lowry, VanVleet, Anunoby, Siakam, and Ibaka. Two are tough, talented, veteran leaders and three are young stars still on the upswing of their young careers (Siakam has only been playing ball since he was 16). Run it back, SIGN THIS MAN.
RE-SIGN CHRIS SLENDERMAN BOUCHER
Boucher is a restricted free agent, who will likely get middling interest from other teams. I say match any offers and bring the man back. He is a great fit for the young core of this team, and last year, after putting on some weight so he is actually visible from a profile perspective and can break 200 lbs, he put up 6.6 and 4.5 boards in only about 13 minutes per game, and brought a ton of energy off the bench. With Gasol moving on, Boucher seems ready to move into the back up center role behind Ibaka once and for all.
LET EVERYONE ELSE WALK
This article is already wordy, so I will just wait for someone to give me a convincing reason to hang on to Stanley Johnson (yes, he was a Raptor last year) and Rondae Hollis Jefferson (who has some skill but can’t hit the side of a barn from three and didn’t seem like a great fit culturally last year). Don’t let the big door hitcha where the good lord splitcha.
BRING IN MONTREZL HARRELL
I liked Harrell going into the 2015 draft as a late round pick for the Raptors. He wound up going to Houston, and has gradually developed into a high energy, undersized big who can get hot on offense but can disappear on defense. The good: He was extremely productive last season, putting up 18.6 points and 7.1 boards for the Clippers off the bench, plus a block a game.
The good: He was extremely productive last season, putting up 18.6 points and 7.1 boards for the Clippers off the bench, plus a block a game.
The bad: He can’t shoot threes (0% for his career) and as noted, he is a defensive liability. Could moving into the established culture of Toronto up his focus on D? Could he learn to shoot like Derozan did towards the end of his Toronto tenure? Probably not. But he’s a HELL of an upgrade over Hollis Jefferson as a back up four and depending on matchups Ibaka has shown openness to splitting starting duties.
Harrell could make an exciting addition to a Siakam, Anunoby front court (two out of three can even defend). Plus, he followed the Raptors on social media this summer, which could be a sign that he is ready to jump ship (albeit in a passive aggressive way).
I know it isn’t a sexy call, but let’s run it back, with a little help from our social media friends. As a Raptors fan, I will not be spoiled by our one-and-done championship. The ability to “run it back” isn’t something we could even entertain in the past, where all of our stars bailed or forced their way south of the border (Carter, Bosh, McGrady, Mourning, Camby and so many more).
This team is an awesome blend of veterans, youth, shooters, and defenders, and I still believe Siakam can be a number one option. Add in a high energy scorer like Harrell, and I believe we can still compete with anyone in the East. Should Giannis (or even Kawhi) actually show interest in heading to Ontario in the near future, I have faith that Masai (our most important pending free agent, will figure it out and make it happen (though again, hold my breath I shall not).
Agree? Disagree? Couldn’t care less? Let me know, and thanks for reading!