An incredible regular season and playoff run that culminated in the Toronto Raptors’ first-ever championship was followed up by a brutal run in free agency, making the Canadian franchise’s upcoming campaign a fascinating one. They won’t have MVP candidate Kawhi Leonard anymore, nor will they have elite 3-and-D 2-guard Danny Green, but even so, they should still have enough to push for a playoff spot in the weaker Eastern Conference.
The question is: Will the group they have left possess the firepower to make it out of the first round?
If not, over the next eight months, Toronto’s roster could start to look much different, especially with a general manager like the Raptors’ who doesn’t let personal affection towards players get in the way of making the best business decisions, as we all saw with the DeMar DeRozan trade.
STAYING: OG Anunoby, Chris Boucher, Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka, Kyle Lowry, Patrick McCaw, Malcolm Miller, Norman Powell, Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet.
ADDED: Oshae Brissett (Syracuse), Terence Davis (Mississippi), Dewan Hernandez (University of Miami), Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (Brooklyn), Stanley Johnson (New Orleans), Sagaba Konate (West Virginia), Cameron Payne (Cleveland), Devin Robinson (Washington), Isaiah Taylor and Matt Thomas (Valencia Basket).
GONE: Danny Green (LA Lakers), Kawhi Leonard (LA Clippers), Jeremy Lin (Beijing Ducks), Jordan Loyd (Valencia Basket), Jodie Meeks and Eric Moreland (Oklahoma City).
STRENGTHS: Though the Raptors suffered major losses in free agency, they still possess a lot of the core that pushed them to a title including Lowry, VanVleet, Siakam, Ibaka and Gasol … That continuity could help them not experience as big of a drop-off as many reasonably expect … And all those players are still either in their primes or still producing as if they were … The two cheap flyers they picked up in free agency, Stanley Johnson and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, could pay off wonderfully if Toronto is able to help them reach the upside they had as draft prospects … And with how good the Raptors are at developing players (just look at Siakam for an example), that possibility can’t be ruled out … That’s not just the case with the two new guys, either, but with OG Anunoby as well, who had impressive moments early in his career, but is coming off an injury-plagued campaign … His upside as a 3-and-D wing is quite high … Speaking of young wings, the absence of Leonard could help the 25-year-old Siakam take an even bigger leap, which could prove scary considering how productive/impactful he already was last year … If worst comes to worst and Toronto decides to blow things up, they have multiple talented veterans who could draw interest on the trade market, and net the Raptors future-oriented assets.
WEAKNESSES: Obviously, the losses of Leonard, the reigning Finals MVP, and Green, an elite 3-and-D wing with championship pedigree, cannot be overstated … Even if things break perfectly for Toronto this upcoming season, their ceiling as a team took a huge hit with the loss of the two players, and expecting the team to make a repeat appearance even in the Eastern Conference Finals would be foolhardy … Lack of star power, that player who could take the big shot in late games, could sink them against elite competition … In the weak East, that may not matter as much, but it surely will against top teams, and in the playoffs, if Toronto makes it … Uncertainty with the roster could also become a problem, especially if the team gets off to a slow start … If the Raptors looks like they’ll be outside the playoff picture around late December and early January, it’s very possible general manager Masai Ujiri, who is known for his business-first style, decides to start shipping away the team’s title-winning core for assets … Unless Anunoby or Johnson take a huge leap, the 3-spot could be a big weakness for the Raptors … Neither was all that productive last season … Age could also start to affect Toronto as Lowry is 33, Gasol is nearly 35 and Ibaka is 30, but with 10 years of high-level service.
PREDICTION: 4th in the Atlantic Division, 7th in the Eastern Conference.