Where do the Toronto Raptors Go From Here?
The Toronto Raptors are at a crossroads. Many positives can be drawn from a franchise-record 59-win regular season. However, another unceremonious playoff exit has reinforced the fact that the team, as currently constructed, is simply not good enough to overcome a Lebron James-led squad. Now, they prepare to enter an offseason filled with questions whose answers could determine the future of the franchise. Essentially, Toronto’s potential course of action boils down to two options:
Stay the Course
As previously mentioned, the Raptors were as good in 2017-2018 as they have ever been.
For years now, Toronto has been built around the backcourt duo of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. These two all-stars are no longer young players. By the start of next season, DeRozan will be 29, while Lowry will be 32. Still, both have shown little signs of decline, barring their usual playoff struggles. If both return, there is not much reason to suggest that Toronto cannot attain another 50-plus win season, something that, despite today’s prevailing title-or-bust attitude, does have value in creating a “winning culture”, and establishing Toronto as a respectable franchise, two things that were unheard of for this team before their two guards broke out.
Lowry and DeRozan’s dedication to Toronto, something oft-repeated and reinforced by their respective decisions to re-sign with the Raptors in past offseasons, cannot be ignored. In a city that has seen other star talents leave, and that is notoriously difficult to attract marquee free agents to, the loyalty of DeRozan and Lowry should not be taken for granted. Even if the Raptors manage to acquire a young star through the draft, there is no guarantee that whoever they get would have the same attachment to Toronto, a bond built up over a long period of time.
By now, we know what Lowry and DeRozan can do. The big X-factor however in Toronto’s offseason, however, is Lebron. Surely, the Raptors would relish the opportunity to get out from under James’ thumb. If Lebron goes west, the Eastern Conference will finally become wide open after James’ 8-year run of dominance. While most predict Philadelphia or Boston, two rising young squads, will assume the East’s throne, Toronto should not be counted out. As we have seen so far in the 2nd round of the playoffs, the 76ers are not yet ready. Boston too, might not be a true contender. Are Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward really much better than DeRozan and Lowry? And how will Hayward return from his gruesome injury? If Lebron leaves the East, there is no reason to suggest that the Raptors cannot compete with these teams for Eastern Conference supremacy. It might be worth it to keep the gang together, at least for another year.
Blow it Up
Despite the aforementioned reasons to do otherwise, this very well could be the direction that Toronto takes. According to TSN’s Josh Lewenberg, the Raptors are “strongly leaning” towards firing head coach Dwane Casey, their coach since 2011. Lewenberg continued:
“After being swept out of the playoffs for the third time in four years – twice as the higher seed – the sense is it’s time for a new direction and a different voice.”
Indeed, change might be in order. Despite Casey’s tremendous work in instilling a new culture and style of play in the Raptors this season, the end result was the same. One gets the sense that Toronto believes that they have gone as far as they will go with Casey at the helm, and that it is time for someone new.
The above quote pertains to Casey, but it can be applied to anyone on the team. This iteration of the Toronto Raptors may have reached its ceiling. If a rebuild is truly on the menu, however, the Raptors will have to find takers for the sizable contracts of Lowry, DeRozan and Serge Ibaka, all of whom have yearly cap hits of at least $23 million, extending into 2019-2020 at the earliest. This offseason will definitely be an interesting one.
What will the Raptors do? Is the sun setting on the Lowry-Derozan-Casey era? Or is there one more run in this group? These questions are likely to be answered in the coming months. Stay tuned.