Nobody seems to know what the Raptors front office is up to, and that’s about the same number of people who agree on what they should do. Five Raptors Republic writers offer their takes on five burning questions about the Raptor’s offseason agenda and the team’s direction moving forward.
1. Do the Raptors need to start over and rebuild?
Zarar Siddiqi: No, because there are no guarantees that another rebuild would produce different results, or that the player they might end up drafting in the lottery is going to amount to more than whatever Terrence Ross is. If the Raptors tank and fail to get a major talent in the draft, it would be a massive waste of time. The current nucleus is not complete by any means, but smart additions can make the team competitive. Forget tanking, instead take advantage of the opportunity afforded by a weak East.
Tim W.: Tank, rebuild, fix. Whatever you want to call it, the Raptors need to do it. That is unless you’re happy with a mediocre team fighting for a playoff spot year after year. Someone brought up the example of Houston, but last summer, they amnestied their leading scorer, let their second leading scorer go for nothing and traded their third leading scorer for a lottery pick and they stockpiled draft picks and prospects. And that was after hovering just above .500 the previous 3 years.
Andrew Thompson: The oldest player amongst the Raps’ starting five is 27 years old; they already are rebuilding. Tanking has one of two purposes: add a dynamic young contributor to an already good team that’s injured (Harrison Barnes to the Warriors), or trying to land a franchise player. In addition to being terrible, you have to be exceptionally lucky in order to accomplish either. In the last 3 drafts, there have been exactly 3 franchise players (Paul George, Uncle Drew and The ‘Brow). The Raptors are not getting Harrison Barnes or the top pick; let’s try another route.
Garrett Hinchey: Yes – to an extent. Assuming the endgame of this franchise is to win championships, we’ve learned from basically all of NBA history that a team needs a historically great player to anchor the franchise to. Without one on the current roster and no way to get one, something’s gotta give, unless Masai has a master plan that I can’t fathom.
Blake Murphy: Hell no, I want no part of another tank and rebuild. There are some pretty decent pieces in place, pieces with trade value if they don’t quite fit the long-term vision. Ujiri has shown he’s capable of building a competitive team without tanking for a superstar.
2. What one player would you be unwilling to part with in a rebuild?
Zarar Siddiqi: Nobody is off the table because nobody has come close to showing that they’re on their way to be an All-NBAer. If the roster is to be deconstructed, it would make little sense to part with Jonas Valanciunas as he’s got a rookie-scale deal and is enroute to becoming a player that every winning team has. He may not be a superstar, but he’s serviceable.
Tim W.: I would hazard a guess and say everyone is going to say Valanciunas. I don’t say how you can say anyone else. Good, two-way centers are incredibly rare and valuable in the NBA, and Valanciunas could end up being a very good one. I doubt there is a deal out there that would convince me to part with Valanciunas, at this point.
Andrew Thompson:His name is Jonas. There are maybe a dozen good, two-way, starting centers in the entire league. Valanciunas is 21 years old, makes barely a third what Thiago Splitter and DeAndre Jordan make and already contributes just as much. It’s just too hard to find quality bigs.
Garrett Hinchey: I’d include Jonas as part of any potential rebuild so I’ll remove him from the discussion. Not including him, I’ll go with Amir Johnson. His energy on the court and in practice is contagious, he pairs well with Jonas in the short term and as a solid bench big in the long term, he’s on a good contract, and I think he still has some upside at 26
Blake Murphy: Jonas Valanciunas, of course. Everyone is available for the right price, but he’s young and has the highest upside on the roster. It would be a step backwards to move him to rebuild – you’d be just hoping to get a player as good as JoVal may eventually be with a draft pick, anyway.
3. Is the next step for this team through trades, free agency or the draft?
Zarar Siddiqi: Trades. Free-agency is extremely difficult unless S&Ts are arranged, and the draft requires a level of patience that neither the fans or the front-office has. It’s best that the Raptors use the draft as a concurrent supply-chain, rather than as a dependency for being good. Of course, this requires good drafting.
Tim W.: First thing, trade Gay, DeRozan and Lowry for draft picks, prospects and replacement-level players to fill out the roster. Then “develop” that talent over the season, and aim for the draft. If a James Harden-like deal comes along, then great, but I certainly wouldn’t bank on it.
If Ujiri can get a first round pick for Bargnani, then those three have to get some sort of a decent return.
Andrew Thompson: Trades. Ujiri rebuilt the Nuggets on the fly in two years without a lottery pick or a big free agent signing. He is also the Omar Little from HBO’s The Wire to the New York Knicks Barksdale crews. I honestly believe that he could rob them of Madison Square Gardens at this point.
Garrett Hinchey: Assuming the next step is a rebuild, history tells us that it’s trades or the draft for Toronto. I’d go with the draft, personally, in that Masai has been proven to find value there in the past and that it’s been the proven model for non-marquee destinations to wind up with franchise players, which I really do think should be the goal for any NBA team.
Blake Murphy: It has to be trades, unfortunately. Bryan Colangelo didn’t leave the salary cap situation in a great way, so the Raptors are in a place where if they want to unload salary they may have to be willing to take some back. That’s manageable but it rules out free agency as a path to improving beyond the MLE.
4. What is the ceiling of the current team moving forward?
Zarar Siddiqi: As the roster stands right now, in a weak East they could easily be the seventh seed, but would have little to show in terms of growth going forward.
Tim W.: The ceiling for this current roster is somewhere between the current Milwaukee Bucks, and Joe Johnson’s Atlanta Hawks. If that excites you, then we have completely different goals for the Raptors.
Andrew Thompson: Next year? 6th place. Toronto, Washington, Detroit and Cleveland will be in line for 6th through 9th, and I’m betting in that order. Beyond that, this team reminds me a lot of the Indiana Pacers going into 2011-2012. What would we have said their ceiling was moving forward—because I’m guessing that one win away from the NBA Finals wouldn’t have come up.
Garrett Hinchey: If we get a Landry-ish backup big and a serviceable backup power forward in the draft, I’d say that it’s not crazy to think this core could compete for a 3-6 seed in the playoffs in the next few years. The five projected starters were a .500 team last year, they should all have some amount of improvement as they age and become more comfortable with one another, and the Atlantic looks weak for the next couple years with the Sixers and Celtics joining tankapalooza 2014.
Blake Murphy: First round playoff exit. There’s nothing wrong with that, especially after five years of missing the playoffs. I’d be happy as a fan (and writer) to have more to write about for longer and with a competitive team, and MLSE would love the playoff revenue. But I don’t see how they’re a top-four team in the East.
5. Would you be less inclined to watch a Raptors team next year that is rebuilding, again?
Zarar Siddiqi: Yes, since even tanking is going to be competitive next season, it would be extremely painful to watch this team lose on its way to having a 10% chance of gaining one decent player. The year to tank was 2011-12, and the Raptors did a horrible job of winning meaningless games and cost themselves Damian Lillard and Harrison Barnes.
Tim W.: I have watched all but a handful of games through both the Rob Babcock and Bryan Colangelo/Andrea Bargnani years. And I suffered through the early expansion years. I’m not going anywhere, now. If the Ujiri can give me some hope for the future, rather than more mediocrity, then I’m on board. Besides, I want to watch Valanciunas develop
Andrew Thompson: I’ve watched multiple summer league “games” on NBA TV this week alone. I have a sickness. So I can’t pretend that I wouldn’t watch. But it would be like finding out that there was a 5th Indiana Jones movie coming out. I know that it’s going to be terrible, but I absolutely love the franchise, and I will undoubtedly find myself with a ticket, even having rationalized excitement based on low expectations and nostalgia. Then, 2 ½ hours later, I will leave, angry.
Garrett Hinchey: It depends on the way they go about it. If they do a Sixers-style rebuild where they move their more established players for young guys with real upside, then I’d watch that for sure. If they do a Celtics-style rebuild that involves trading off all their assets for picks and essentially bailing on the season, I’d get it, but who’d really want to watch that?
Blake Murphy: Tell you one thing, I’d be quite upset that RR splurged for season tickets during an offseason where ticket prices went up. I had season seats in a rebuild year in 2011-12 and dropped them – I’d likely suggest the site do the same if the team hit the reset button yet again and expected the money to keep coming in.