Rebuild vs. Retool

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What Does the Offseason Have in Store for the Toronto Raptors?

There is no question that the 2020-21 season has been a colossal disappoint for the Toronto Raptors.

It’s not their fault entirely.

Unlike every other team in the NBA, the Raptors were forced to play their home games outside of their market city – hell even their market country. In light of the ongoing global pandemic, the Raptors played their home games over 2000 km from the Scotiabank Arena down in Tampa Bay.

Similar to other teams, the Raptors had to endure a heavy bout with COVID-19.

After a slow and inconsistent start to their season, the Raptors looked to have turned the corner and were beginning to get into a groove. That sudden burst of momentum was halted by the virus breaking out in the team’s locker room and it was that sudden halt to the team’s momentum that the Raptors were unable to overcome. At 23-34, the Raptors are sitting in 12th place in the Eastern Conference and for the first time in nearly a decade, the Raptors are in danger of missing the postseason entirely.

There was no cake walk to the playoffs this year.

This season was an all out grind – a battle – and one that the Raptors were unable to handle. Sure, injuries played a large role as well, but the play on the court was lacklustre and quite simply not good enough.

While the Pythagorean model suggest the Raptors are far better than their record suggests, they are ranked just better than middle of the pack in both defense and offense. They’re dead last in the NBA in rebounding, 20th in assists and rank 15th and 20th in true shooting percentage and effective field goal percentage respectively. So Pythagorean model aside, the Raptors need answers and they are quickly approaching a very important offseason.

Change will be coming, but how much change is the question?

Depending on how the remaining 15 games go, the Raptors may end up with an inside-10 lottery pick in a Draft that has been billed as one of the better ones in recent memory. Despite the injuries and all of the bad, the Raptors have also seen noteworthy growth from their young players, especially Gary Trent, the 22-year old shooting guard the team received at the trade deadline in the Norman Powell trade.

OG Anunoby and Pascal Siakam have had up and down seasons but appear to be trending in the right direction while Fred VanVleet played has played All-Star level basketball on both ends on the court but was snubbed largely due to lack of name recognition in other markets. Outside of the team’s four cornerstone young players, Malachi Flynn has begun showing glimpses of greatness while Chris Boucher has been a complete revelation this season.

This team very clearly has a bright young core and it will soon add another piece via the Draft lottery.

Whether or not this young core is good enough to compete for a championship, is still too early to say, but one thing is perfectly clear – the Raptors won’t be doing any rebuilding any time soon.

The biggest offseason question may revolve around the future of Kyle Lowry who remains very much the heart and sole of the entire franchise. A pending free agent, the team was openly shopping the multi-time All-Star at the deadline, but failed to find a deal that worked.

With all of this in mind, and you can call me fickle, but I don’t believe this is necessarily the end of Lowry’s time with the Raptors organization. In fact, you don’t have to ask a basketball savant to know that Lowry still brings incredible value on the court. Even at 35, Lowry has shown that he can play at an All-Star level and the possibility of bringing him back next year, even on a one-year deal could and should be a very real option for the Raptors.

At the very least, I suspect the Raptors will make a competitive offer to a guy who put his body on the line for an organization for nearly a decade and help bring the country its first NBA championship.

Assuming Lowry is brought back and the Raptors are able to return to Toronto next season – or at some point next season – the Raptors can very well be back in the playoff picture.

Let’s not forget, this is a team that lost Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka in the span of two offseason. All four were crucial parts to their championship run. While the Raptors remarkably overcame the loss of Leonard, the Raptors clearly were unable to overcome the loss of two key cogs in their front court.

The Raptors do not need to rebuild, they need to retool and if Lowry is brought back, the front court will need to be addressed.

This is a team that very clearly has talent and it will be up to Masai Ujiri, Bobby Webster and the front office to put the correct pieces around a bright core group that is led by a player that has been overlooked almost as many times as the team has since its inception.

Being overlooked is nothing new to the Raptors, but under Ujiri watch, this is a team that has consistently surpassed all expectations and they can do it again in 2021-22.

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