The Toronto Raptors failed to qualify for the 2021 NBA Playoffs, their most treasured long-term player is an unrestricted free agent and the constructor of their 2019 championship could be building teams elsewhere within the near future.
It’s thus safe to say the Raptors are heading into an offseason with a lot of potential change. Sure, maybe both Kyle Lowry and Masai Ujiri stand pat, in which case crisis averted for another year or two. But what about when Lowry nears retirement, which likely isn’t that far out in the future given that he’s 35 and will turn 36 in the middle of next season?
The retooling option
The short-term future lies mostly in the hands of Lowry. If he stays, the Raptors will likely go to war with roughly the same core they used this year, plus a presumed Top 10 draft selection.
If he doesn’t, that allows the Raptors to pivot into a re-tooling project. With Fred VanVleet and Pascal Siakam already on the roster – both of whom are 27 – it stands to reason the Raptors will attempt to construct the roster around those two, and hope to present a competitive product sooner than later. The re-signing of Gary Trent Jr, who the Raptors acquired in a trade deadline deal with the Portland Trail Blazers, should be of immense priority as he would factor a great deal into whichever direction the Raptors decide to go.
With no Lowry earning over $30 million, the Raptors could clear significant cap space by waiving Rodney Hood, who is on a non-guaranteed $10.8 million contract for next season and declining the $7.3 million team option on Aron Baynes.
Toronto could have somewhere in the area of $30 million to spend on players, identifying players in a similar age bracket as Siakam and VanVleet, such as Evan Fournier, Tim Hardaway Jr, Spencer Dinwiddie or Josh Richardson.
Getting two of the above should bring the Raptors back into playoff contention, and if they consider moving off their own 2021 selection for an established veteran, that too could be an intriguing avenue for them.
Of course, there’s also a different path available.
The rebuilding option
The Raptors could pivot into a youth movement and use Trent Jr, just 22, and OG Anunoby, 23, as major building blocks. This would mean moving off of Siakam and VanVleet, but both should fetch major hauls.
The New York Knicks are armed with cap space to upwards of $50 million this summer and looking to be a player in the point guard market, as they’re rumored to target Lonzo Ball or Devonte’ Graham, neither of whom are as good as VanVleet.
If VanVleet is available, the Knicks are very likely to jump at the chance.
New York could pick on behalf of the Raptors in the 2021 NBA Draft with their selection at #19 and complete the trade in free agency, when their cap space kicks in. That way, the Knicks can absorb most of VanVleet’s contract, while also sending Immanuel Quickley and a 2023 Top 10 protected first-rounder to Canada.
The Raptors could then follow up by swinging a trade with the Golden State Warriors that fetches them Siakam, where they take back James Wiseman, the Minnesota pick (Top 3 protected this year, unprotected in 2022), Golden State’s own pick in 2022 and a signed-and-traded Kelly Oubre Jr to make salaries work. Or, if they prefer, Andrew Wiggins instead.
The Raptors would get an immediate talent injection via the acquisitions of Wiseman, Quickley and Oubre/Wiggins (and a high-lottery rookie if the Minnesota pick conveys this year), while also setting themselves up for a steady stream of incoming draft picks in the future.
Toronto would enter next season with a core of Wiseman, Oubre or Wiggins, Anunoby, Trent Jr, Quickley, and their own 2021 selection, setting themselves up for the future.
Which to prefer?
While the rebuilding option might present a ton of future upside, there will be a ton of question marks hovering over such a team. Is there a number one guy? What if Wiseman turns out to be more hype than substance? Can they all develop together?
Moving off of Siakam and VanVleet means giving up two highly productive two-way players, who are both known commodities. There is absolutely zero insurance that the Raptors find players as good as those two, essentially making the rebuild option a roll of the dice.
Sometimes, that might be enough for a team to go all-in on the future. For others, it’s not.
This likely boils down to whether or not Ujiri returns. If he doesn’t, a new Team President would undoubtedly love to put his own mark on the team, suggesting a larger likelihood of a rebuild, than if Ujiri remained long-term.
If he does, it would stand to reason he wishes to remain competitive at his earliest convenience making a brief, but effective, retooling process all that more appealing.