Onward & Upward

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Toronto Raptors Fall in Season Finale, Focus Turns on Crucial Offseason

That’s all she wrote.

On Sunday afternoon, the Toronto Raptors fell in their season finale to the Indiana Pacers by a score of 125-113, ending their season at a 27-45 mark.

Comparing this season to the the handful of years prior is night and day. The Raptors started the season at 2-8 – somehow with an even net rating. They battled through adversity, bad luck, bouts with COVID, injuries, all while being forced to play their home games 2000 miles away from the Scotiabank Arena.

But at the end of the day, the Raptors were just too inconsistent and not good enough.

“I find myself doing a lot of soul-searching just in life in general. I’m at a crossroads in my life in general, just speaking, like, I spent 27 years to get to this point, to get the big contract, to have two kids, to have a happy family. But I’ve been a winner the whole time,” said point guard Fred VanVleet during his post-game press conference. “So the moment I get to the pinnacle of my life and where I wanna be, we have this [expletive]-[expletive] season. It’s just a lot of back and forth on who that makes you as a person, because you let winning define so much of your character. Do you know what I’m saying?

“When you’re not winning anymore, you’re searching, like, ‘Well damn, if it’s not winning, what is it?’ There was a lot of that this year, just mentally.”

Despite the mental hurdles and the up-and-down season, there remains some optimism heading into the offseason.

Pascal Siakam will have a long Summer to continue to work and elevate his game. OG Anunoby and Chris Boucher took a big step forward, while rookies Malachi Flynn and Jalen Harris showed plenty promise over the last few weeks of what has otherwise been a difficult season. Fred VanVleet, of course, was spectacular and arguably one of the bigger All-Star snubs as he continued to mature into the leader of a young Raptors group.

“It’s an exciting time and wanting to get better is something that I take pride in and I’ve always done it,” said Siakam. “Obviously, going through different things you learn about things that you need and those are the things I want to go back and focus on. Having more time is a better thing.”

For the players themselves, it is now time to evaluate the season that was and identify the areas that require improvement. Unlike in years past, the Raptors will have a lengthy layoff prior to next season to not only address the holes on the roster but to give their core plenty of time to put the work in.

“The next step is continued all-around development, on-court, off-court leadership,” Anunoby said. “Just continue to work on my skills. Just being a leader, more of a leader, more vocal. Trying to help guys get to their sports; help guys (know) what to do on the court and off, just helping guys, especially when we’re back in Toronto, teaching them about the city, stuff like that.”

Despite the unfortunate record, let’s remain calm and rationale.

Between VanVleet, Siakam, and Anunoby, the team has young players on the doorstep of stardom locked up long-term. They will return home to Toronto next season – one would hope – and they will be receiving not only an extended offseason of extra development time for Flynn, Harris, as well as Chris Boucher, but a lottery pick in the 2021 NBA Draft to boot.

These are exciting times and there are players on this roster who want to continue to get better – to win again in Toronto.

“Yeah, I’m definitely going into this summer with a game plan a lot better than the other years,” Boucher said. “Playing at a different position, there’s a lot of stuff that I can get better at and I have plenty of clips now that I can watch. But I also just want to become a more patient player. My [basketball] IQ needs to get better. Playing at the four now, there’s a lot of stuff you don’t do as a five man. I need to get better at those. I have a lot of clips to look at so I’ll definitely get better at it and we definitely have a game plan now and we want to go into the summer attacking it.”

As the offseason begins, the pressing questions will revolve around the futures of Kyle Lowry and Masai Ujiri. There appears to be confidence amongst the organization and ownership that a deal will come together for Ujiri, but of course as is the case with every contract discussion, nothing is 100-percent until the parties sign on the dotted line.

Lowry’s future with the Raptors is a little bit murkier.

It’s difficult to imagine the Raptors without Lowry, who was very much available at the NBA’s trade deadline. With that in mind, there is a very obvious spot that remains open on the roster if Lowry wants to return. This is a team that isn’t too far off competing again and if Lowry is interested on returning on another one-year deal, things can turn around really quickly in Toronto.

That being said, with the season coming to an end today, it is far too early to speculate what the offseason will look like for the Raptors. It’s now time to be patience and trust the foundation on which the front office was built on under Ujiri’s watch.

There will be brighter days in the Raptors basketball universe.

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