Since it’s August and there’s really absolute nothing to talk about in the NBA, we’ve seen articles about everything from the top 100 players in 2017, LeBron’s lack of hair and the worst team nicknames in the NBA, which does not look kindly on the Raptors’s name, I thought I’d join the fun and take a look exactly where the Raptors could be one year from now.
To me, there are three likely scenarios, and I will briefly look at all of them.
The Raptors start the season better than expected, and begin January in sixth place in the East and above .500, prompting Ujiri to stick with the current roster. Unwilling, or unable, to find a trade that will improve the roster, the team is able to gel throughout the season and continue to play above .500 ball in January and February. Rudy Gay is mentioned as a possible All Star, but fails to get voted onto the team by the coaches. After the snub, he goes on a tear for the month of February, averaging 25 ppg.
After a tough April, the Raptors nab the seventh seed and make the playoffs for the first time in six years, finishing with their best record since 2007. Long-suffering Raptor fans bask in the glory of the playoffs, as small children learn, for the first time, what the playoffs are actually like.
Unfortunately, success is short-lived and the Raptors are bounced in the first round by the healthy Derrick Rose-lead Chicago Bulls team. Jonas Valanciunas and DeMar DeRozan, in their first NBA playoff appearance, struggle against the tough Chicago defense. Valanciunas shows toughness and grit, despite turning the ball over repeatedly against the swarming front line for the Bulls. Kyle Lowry tries to do too much and has a disappointing playoffs after a career best regular season.
After the season ends, Gay decides to opt out of his contract, after a career best season, and become a free agent during an offseason when a record number of teams have cap room. After being courted by the Lakers, Dallas and Cleveland, Gay decides to re-sign with Toronto for close to the max.
Lowry finds the market for point guards fairly soft, despite a career year from him and plenty of teams with cap room, and re-signs for $9 million a season.
With the team capped out, and not a whole lot of tradable assets, the Raptors sign a couple of veterans, but fail to improve the team in the offseason. The oft repeated mantra becomes “internal development” and all eyes turn to Valanciunas, with questions being asked about whether he has the potential to become the elite player the Raptors need to make the next step.
CLOSE, BUT NO CIGAR
The Raptors have a better November and December than expected, finishing close to .500. Ujiri takes the wait and see approach, but isn’t offered a trade he feels will improve the team before the trade deadline, although several Raptor names come up in rumours. The trade rumours seem to hurt the team, and they struggle in the month before the deadline.
Once the deadline passes, the team seems to get back on track and it appears as thought they will have a good chance at making the playoffs. Unfortunately, Lowry comes up lame at the beginning of March and misses two weeks. That coincides with DeRozan suddenly regressing from the three point line after finally seeing improvement in that area.
The team goes 2-6 in the month of April and end up 10th in the East with a 40-42 record, which takes them out of the playoffs. Ujiri faces a lot of tough questions about why he didn’t make a trade that would either improve the team, or help them get a top pick in the draft.
The Raptors fail to jump up in the lottery and select 13th, grabbing James McAdoo, a solid, but unspectacular forward. Ujiri tries but fails to move up in the draft, with teams asking for the Raptors draft pick AND Valanciunas for a top five pick.
Andrew Wiggins is selected by the Charlotte Bobcats who finally win the lottery. Charlotte Hornet jerseys with the number 22 start appearing on the streets of Toronto and in rap videos. Michael Jordan says it’s fitting Wiggins wears 22 because he’ll never be as good as 23.
Dwane Casey’s contract isn’t renewed and the Raptors search for a new coach.
Rudy Gay opts out and, after they strike out trying to sign LeBron James, signs with the Lakers for less than what the Raptors were offering him. Disgruntled Raptor fans start making Rudy is Gay signs and start planing to attend the only home game against the Lakers so they can boo him. Kobe starts following Gay on Twitter. DeRozan stops.
Lowry re-signs with the Raptors for $9 million.
The Raptors, armed with about $8 million in cap room, but in competition with numerous teams with far more cap room and more success, fail to sign a noteworthy free agent and fans start to call for Ujiri’s resignation. Raptor fans start looking at the 2015 draft, wondering if Jahlil Okafor would be able to play with Valanciunas.
HERE COMES THE TANK
After struggling out of the gate and going 7-13 in their first 20 games, Ujiri decides to blow the team up and starts getting busy on December 15th (when free agents signed during the offseason may be traded), trading Gay, DeRozan, Lowry, and Steve Novak before Christmas for draft picks, prospects and players no one wants.
Valanciunas, now the number one option, sees his scoring numbers rocket up and by the All Star break he’s averaging 18 ppg and 9 rpg, but the extra offensive responsibility has an effect on the defensive end, where he struggles.
Amir Johnson misses an extended period due to injury for the first time as a Raptor. While he practices with the team, he is kept out for “medical reasons, Casey says. When asked whether the team is throwing the season, Ujiri smiles and claims that tough decisions have to be made and the emphasis is on developing the young players.He denies the team is tanking.
After Quincy Acy starts a career best 34 games, the Raptors finish 25-57, tied for the fourth worst record in the league. The entire Raptor fanbase holds it’s collective breath on lottery night. Although they fail to move up to the number one slot, they do end up getting the third one and select Dante Exum with the third pick, after failing to secure a deal for the number one draft pick and the chance to select Andrew Wiggins.
The Raptors are able to acquire another lottery pick, using the assets acquired for Gay, DeRozan and Lowry, and grab Glenn Robinson Jr.
Raptor fans start arguing that Exum actually has more potential than Wiggins, and will end up being the best player from the draft in five years.