Toronto Temperature: The Toronto Raptors buckle down for the future

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In what has not been the season that any Raptors fan, staffer, coach or player could have hoped for, the end is near as we have reached the penultimate Toronto Temperature. While the Raptors will miss the playoffs for the first time in eight seasons, at least they’ve got some humour about it.

Mired in a four-game losing streak after having gone 0-3 on the week, the Raptors are rightfully giving their young, unproven bench players a chance to show coach Nick Nurse and his staff what they might be able to bring next season.

More on that to come as we take the Temperature

Who’s Hot

Pascal Siakam, In the Clutch

While Pascal put up a bit of a dud against the Memphis Grizzlies with an 18-3-4 night, he almost single-handedly willed the Raptors to a win against the Wizards thanks to his 44-point and 11-rebound double-double on 61 percent shooting. Siakam was responsible for 16 of the Raptors’ 19 finals points in the 4th quarter and the five points in OT. Unfortunately, with the game on the line and an opportunity to tie, Toronto managed to miss four shots in the span of 14 seconds. While that stretch essentially decided their season, it was an important reminder of just how great Siakam can be.

Now out with a strained shoulder, it’s important to note that Siakam was still out there over the past few weeks trying to get wins for the Raptors. It didn’t work out that well obviously, and this season has been rough for Siakam in general, but Toronto’s star forward can still produce as a top-line player. Next season, under normal conditions, perhaps we’ll see what that means after the tests of this bizarre Tampa year.

Jalen Harris, An Interesting Piece

The Raptors’ elimination from playoff contention, as lousy as that is, has allowed Toronto to get a better glimpse at what it has waiting in the wings. Longer looks for a guy like Malachi Flynn were expected, and, to some, long overdue, but getting the opportunity to see what Jalen Harris might bring as a contributor to the ball club is an unexpected result of the Raptors season in Tampa.

Harris has seen minutes in seven straight games, with the last two games against the Grizzlies and Clippers clocking in at just shy of 30 minutes for the game. While the games have been uneven, and mostly less than meaningless from a competitive standpoint, Harris has flashed his scoring ability — going so far as to drop a career-high of 16 points. While he’s got ways to go as a distributor and defender — and could stand to improve on his turnovers — Harris has shown a cool feel for the game that’s allowed him to strut his stuff a little bit in his rookie season.

Who Knows?

Masai Ujiri, Contract Talks Commence

What we know is that MLSE head honcho Larry Tanenbaum has said talks will begin with Masai Ujiri after the season ends. There’s some logic to that, but it does kind of amaze that we’ve been waiting all season for the dust to settle on this open question. Does that bode well for Masai’s grand return to Toronto?

Or is Masai already planning his exit? With Bobby Webster re-signed as Raptors GM, there’s a clear succession plan in place if/when Ujiri decides he’d like to move on from Toronto. But man, it would be something to have Masai re-commit to the city as the Raptors finally return to Toronto to make a renewed run in the East.

Raptors Bench, Many Questions

What will the Raptors’ bench even look like next year? The starting lineup of Fred VanVleet, OG Anunoby, and Siakam is locked in. Meanwhile, Chris Boucher is under contract, and it feels likely he’ll return to bolster whatever the team does next season. After that, mysteries abound. We know Khem Birch is playing himself into money, and the team wants to hang onto Flynn, Harris, and Freddie Gillespie. But then?

The first question to address before getting to the bench is Kyle Lowry. But then Toronto has to decide how and what to pay Gary Trent Jr. and what role he’ll have. And then they have to figure out how Yuta Watanabe and perhaps DeAndre’ Bembry and Paul Watson fit in. That’s a rotation that has some heart to it. Right now it is only fair to assume that for sure Stanley Johnson and Aron Baynes will be gone.

Oh, and shoutout to Yuta and Bembry for making Zach Lowe’s Luke Walton All-Stars.

Who’s Not

Rodney Hood, Hard Luck

Also likely gone is Rodney Hood. When he was brought over to Toronto as part of the Norman Powell trade, it was for salary cap reasons. The Blazers needed to match Norm’s larger salary compared to Trent Jr.’s rookie scale contract. And while Hood was likely never going to be a long-term option for the Raptors, he did show off some of the skills that have turned him into a steady rotation player.

Unfortunately, injuries undid Hood in his 2019-20 season after he had found a place for himself in Portland. And now injuries have hurt him again — literally and figuratively — as it remains unclear what kind of interest there will be in Hood’s services for 2021-22. Here’s hoping for better luck soon for Rodney.