Of course, Leonard is no longer around, as he signed with the Los Angeles Clippers this summer.
So, the Raptors went from champions to playoff hopefuls in a matter of a few weeks between Game 6 of the NBA Finals and Leonard’s free-agency decision in July.
Toronto still has a very impressive young talent in Pascal Siakam and a roster full of seasoned veterans, so it should at least be a respectable team this coming season.
Here are five bold predictions for the Raptors entering the 2019-20 NBA season.
5. They’ll have to fight for a playoff spot
Yes, the East is weak, but losing Kawhi is a major, major thing.
This isn’t to say the Raptors will be terrible, but it would not be shocking to see them win under 45 games, as some of their best players like Kyle Lowry, Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka are all declining.
The Bucks, 76ers, Celtics and Pacers all seem like locks to be better than Toronto, and the Nets and Magic may also be better. Then, you have teams like the Pistons and Heat who will be battling for one of the final playoff spots in the conference.
I won’t go as far to say that the Raptors will miss the postseason, because they deserve more respect than that, but it would not shock me if that ends up happening.
4. Stanley Johnson will forge a role
Some compared him to a Jimmy Butler or Ron Artest type when he first came out of college, and he showed some flashes during his rookie season. However, he has not progressed since.
However, Johnson is quite a bit bulkier than Anunoby and Hollis-Jefferson and is more equipped to defend 4s and even some small-ball 5s, so he will probably have a role on this team.
There is still some hope that Johnson can develop into a useful NBA player, and Toronto is certainly a better system for him (or anyone) than Detroit.
3. Pascal Siakam will make an All-Star bid
With Leonard out of the picture, Siakam now becomes the top guy on the Raptors for the 2019-20 NBA season, as he was their clear second-best player for most of this past season.
As a result, Siakam, who won the NBA’s Most Improved Player of the Year award, should see a lot more touches this year, and it would not be surprising to see him average 20 points per game on solid efficiency.
It’s not like the East is as stacked as the West, either, so there should be room for Siakam to potentially make the All-Star team. After all, Khris Middleton made it this past season when his numbers certainly did not seem All-Star caliber (although playing on the team with the league’s best record certainly helped).
I would be more surprised if Siakam didn’t at least contend for a spot on the All-Star team than if he actually made it.
2. They’ll add a shooter off the bench
A lot of the guys mentioned thus far are not exactly dependable long-range threats. Anunoby is okay from deep. Johnson isn’t very good. Hollis-Jefferson stinks.
For that reason, Toronto really needs to add another shooter if it wants to truly compete in the East.
It’s not like the Raptors are bereft of long-range shooters. We know Lowry can shoot it, and Fred VanVleet can catch fire. Siakam has developed into a solid long-distance shooter in his own right, and Gasol and Ibaka can spread the floor up front.
But Toronto definitely needs another shooter on the wing, especially if Nick Nurse is going to have all three of Anunoby, Johnson and Hollis-Jefferson in his rotation.
1. They’ll explore the trade market for Lowry and the vets
This comes with a caveat: the Raptors would almost definitely have to fall out of the playoff picture or think they have no shot of contending to do such a thing. Lowry has become an icon in Toronto, and Ibaka and Gasol will forever be loved for their contributions this past spring.
However, all three of them are entering the final years of their respective deals, and it’s obvious they are no longer the same players they once were.
Yes, Lowry was big-time in the NBA Finals, but we are forgetting just how much of a struggle the regular season was for him, as he dealt with back issues and had his worst season as a Raptor.
Gasol wasn’t particularly impressive for Toronto during the regular season. While Ibaka was solid, he will probably end up signing elsewhere next summer, so it might be wise to move him now.
Again, it would probably take the Raptors being very disappointing in the first half of the 2019-20 NBA season to do something like this. But let’s be honest: without Leonard, this team is not a legitimate contender, so gauging the trade market for its veterans is a wise approach.
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