Two years after winning their first NBA championship in 2019, the Toronto Raptors found themselves out of the playoff picture and in the lottery. In many ways, this 2021 offseason sort of marked the beginning of a new era for Toronto. This summer saw the end of the tenure of arguably the greatest player to ever don a Raptors jersey, Kyle Lowry. The 35-year old, who won an NBA title and made six All-Star appearances as a Raptor, moved on to the next chapter of his career and took his talents to South Beach to join the Miami Heat.
The Raptors also kicked off their “rebuild” on a positive note as they landed the no. 4 overall pick in the 2021 NBA draft. This obviously became one of their defining moments of the summer. Obtaining a high lottery pick in what many projects to be a loaded draft class, Toronto, which finished 12th in the East last season with a 27-45 mark, could not have asked for a better way to embark on their new era. With that said, let’s take a look at how Toronto fared with their 2021 NBA offseason.
Toronto Raptors offseason grade: B+
With their 4th pick, many draft experts projected the Raptors to select Gonzaga star, Jalen Suggs. The 6-foot-4 point guard definitely made sense as the heir apparent in Toronto given the looming exit for Lowry. Instead, however, the Raptors threw the first curveball of the draft when they skipped on Suggs and took Florida State forward Scottie Barnes at no. 4 overall.
Barnes’ workout reportedly impressed the Raptors brass and this was enough to convince them that the 6-foot-9 versatile wing was their guy. No doubt, the 20-year old has a ton of talent and a wide variety of skills. He can facilitate an offense and is adept at making plays for his teammates. With a near 7-foot-3 wingspan and an insane motor, Barnes should easily translate and thrive as a defender in the NBA right away.
Obviously, the Raptors were attracted by all his tools and skills. Most analysts compare him to someone like Draymond Green, with the way he can facilitate, dish, and play relentless defense. However, like Green, there are question marks with his scoring and this is where he could struggle through the early portions of his career.
It’s hard to give the Raptors a perfect mark with their no. 4 pick, since the guy they passed on looks like he’s the real deal. Jalen Suggs may have played just about three games in Summer League, as it was cut short due to a thumb injury. But in that short span, he sure did showcase just what he’s capable of doing. Suggs showcased his entire repertoire as a future two-way stud, from his scoring, his playmaking, and his defense.
Nonetheless, Barnes played well in Las Vegas, too. Through his Summer League run, he was able to showcase his strengths and what he can contribute to the Raptors this season as a rookie. Likewise, however, it also became clear that his limitations on offense are as advertised.
As for the Raptors’ other picks, they drafted Toronto-native Dalano Banton with the no. 46 pick of the draft and selected David Johnson at 47th. Banton, who played at Nebraska in the 2021 college season, made history by becoming the first-ever Canadian taken by Toronto in the draft. He is a 6-foot-9 point guard that should see time in the G-League. Johnson, meanwhile, is a 6-foot-5 shooting guard who played two years with the Louisville Cardinals.
As touched upon earlier, another notable moment of the Raptors’ summer was Kyle Lowry’s departure. On the surface, this should bring down Toronto’s offseason grade significantly, as Lowry was a huge part of Toronto’s championship run a couple of years ago. But with the direction the Raptors are now headed, moving on from the 35-year old made sense. Likewise, they still managed to salvage some value from losing Lowry. Toronto executed a sign-and-trade with the Heat that landed them Goran Dragic, whom they are expected to move as well, and Miami’s 2020 first-round pick Precious Achiuwa.
In free agency, the Raptors also retained a couple of their midseason acquisitions from last season. Toronto gave Gary Trent Jr. a 3-year, $51.8 million deal. The 22-year old should be a major part of the Raptors’ plans moving forward. In 17 games with Toronto, Trent Jr. averaged 16.2 points on 39.5 percent shooting from the field and 35.5 percent shooting from three. This included a game on April 10 against the Cleveland Cavaliers in which he erupted for 44 points, missing just two of his 19 shot attempts throughout the evening.
The Raptors also re-signed Khem Birch, whom they picked up from the waivers last April, to a 3-year, $20 million deal. Kyle Lowry made it known last season that he wanted to get the Montreal native paid this summer and it seems like the Raptors granted Lowry his wish.
As for their other free agency moves, Toronto gave former lottery pick Sam Dekker another shot in the NBA by signing the 27-year old to a one-year deal. Dekker played in the Turkish Super League last season and last appeared in the NBA in the 2018-19 season with the Washington Wizards. In addition, the Raptors also brought in Isaac Bonga on a one-year deal. Bonga is still just 21 years old and could be a project that Toronto’s top-notch development staff can work on.
Arguably the most important move the Raptors made this offseason is locking up Masai Ujiri to a new deal to stay in Toronto. A former executive of the year, Ujiri is regarded as one of the best in the NBA. With a new era on the horizon, the Nigerian-Canadian executive is ready to build another championship-caliber squad from the ground up.
Ujiri also stood pat on all the trade rumors surrounding his squad this summer, particularly with All-Star forward Pascal Siakam. He has made it clear that he intends to build around Siakam, along with Fred VanVleet and O.G. Anunoby, the remaining mainstays from their 2019 championship team.
Given their current roster construction, a return to the top may not be in Toronto’s near future. But with their 2021 offseason, they have done a good job in maintaining their foundation. With that, the Raptors deserve some credit, despite turning the page on a new era.