In a lot of ways, in Raptorland, May 28th, 2014 feels a lot like May 28th, 2007.

The NBA playoffs continue sans Raptors, after a young team exceeded expectations by playing greater than the sum of their parts. Both teams were led by a young All-Star (Chris Bosh/DeMar DeRozan), solid point guard play (TJose Caldeford/Kyle Lowry) and featured a player management was hoping would become a franchise-changing centre (Bargnani/Valanciunas). Like now, both teams featured a first-year general manager, fresh off an Executive of the Year victory (in Masai’s case, two years removed), heading into his first full offseason with the team.

And, like this year, the general consensus among fans, reporters, and management is to keep the team as-is, generally, save for a couple small upgrades here and there.

Now, hindsight is 20/20, obviously, and I’m not here to second guess the decisions that were made seven years ago. Further, plenty is different now, personnel wise (we’ll get to that). But a wise man once said that if we don’t learn from our mistakes, we’re doomed to repeat them.

Let’s take a chronological look at that offseason, courtesy of Basketball Reference:

June 15, 2007: Raptors trade 2009 and 2011 2nd round draft picks to the Detroit Pistons for Carlos Delfino, in an attempt to bolster their wing depth. Those picks later became Jonas Jerebko and Kyle Singler.

June 28, 2007: Draft night. Without a pick of their own, the Raptors trade their second-rounder from next year to the Spurs for the pick that became the immortal Georgios Printezis. That Raptors pick? It was used to select none other than Goran Dragic.

July 10, 2007: Raptors sign Jamario Moon as a free-agent out of the D-league.

July 11, 2007: In their “major” move of the off-season, the Raptors sign Jason Kapono to replace unrestricted free agent Morris Peterson. Two weeks later, Peterson signs with the Hornets.

July 25, 2007: Raptors sign Maceo Baston. 

OK, first impressions: good God, if the Raptors offer you a second round pick, you’d better take it without hesitation. Three for three on rotation players, including a potential All-Star? Wow.

That being said, all in all, it’d be difficult to characterize the Raptors’ last post-division championship offseason as filled with anything but minor moves. Handcuffed by a lack of draft picks (the Raptors first rounder was used in an earlier trade for Lamond Murray), the Raps’ hope for improvement in the next year were largely pinned on the development of their young players – particularly Bargnani – continued cohesion from their core group, and replacing versatile wings who didn’t necessarily fit the team’s system (Peterson) with those who, at least on paper, did (Kapono and Delfino).

Of course, we all know how that turned out – with a lack of interior defence and rebounding, and a lack of development by Bargnani on that front, the Raptors ended the year 41-41 and were taken out by Dwight Howard’s Magic in the first round of the playoffs. One year (and an overcorrection for Jermaine O’Neal later), the Raptors were back to being perpetually under .500.

So, let’s say Masai and company decide that they want to take the closest case study to their current situation, and learn from it. What lessons can we glean from the Raptors 2006/2007 offseason?

Don’t sacrifice talent for a system fit, unless you’ve already got the talent

The Raptors’ strong 2006/2007 season was in many ways buoyed by bringing a “European” style of basketball to the NBA – the team certainly boasted an international flavour, and was characterized on-court by a floor spacing group that could hit from anywhere. That continued in the offseason when Colangelo and company chose to sign players like Kapono (a pure 3-point shooter) and Delfino to replace Morris Peterson, a more traditional – most would argue more talented – NBA wing player who didn’t necessarily fit the team’s newfound style.

This year, the Raptors’ on-court style is characterized by grit and strong team defence. It’s a more traditional model than the team from seven years past, but the point still stands: just because your system (and your personnel’s fit within it) was largely responsible for your success, it’s important that Ujiri and the Raptor brass remember that in the NBA, talent is responsible for sustained success above all else. Which leads me to:

Use your draft picks, unless you can make a game changing move

Look at that list of players that were drafted with the second rounders the Raptors gave up: Jerebko, Singler, and Dragic. Something tells me that Colangelo would like a bit of a do-over there. This year, the Raptors have two second rounders, in addition to their first, and while it may be tempting to move one or more of those picks (or future picks) for immediate help, it’s paramount to realize that the Raptors still play in a market that is a tough sell for free agents, and thus these picks are by far the best way for them to find quality talent on cost-efficient deals.

Ujiri and his team seem to realize the value of picks – they’ve already stockpiled quite a few since he took over last summer – but it’s important to realize that unless the picks are packaged for a player that will truly move the needle, teams are better off rolling the dice. As impressive as the Raptors are, they aren’t one move away from a title. I’d rather take the minuscule chance that one of our seconds turns into Goran Dragic than pick up a couple more wins next year.

Development is NOT a guarantee

Now, Jonas Valanciunas is not Andrea Bargnani. Far from it. But, if the Raptors REALLY want to improve next season, the Bargnani experiment did teach an important lesson, which is that top prospects don’t always develop at the rate you expect them to. Do I expect Valanciunas to improve next year, and the Raptors to improve with him? Yes. Absolutely. If I want to improve on my performance from this year (in this case, get past the first round of the playoffs), can I count on him improving as what puts the team over the top? Nope.

Basically, what I’m getting at here is that maintaining the status quo personnel wise is extremely likely to result in the status quo being maintained performance wise. For Raptor fans, I’m sure another 48 win season would be much appreciated. But let it not be lost on us that these things don’t always work out the way they’re supposed to, and we need to use caution before we throw all of our eggs in the 2014/2015 basket.

Obviously, there are plenty of differences between the two offseasons, too. These Raptors are far more flexible, cap-wise, and a few of our key players (and arguably our MOST key player) are free agents. We didn’t trade our first round draft pick for Lamond Murray. In many ways, we’re in much better shape to make either minor or major changes, or stay the course; whatever management chooses to do.

I guess what I’m advocating here is that, from looking at 2007, the minor changes approach doesn’t really work. If we’re not going to really shake it up, let’s keep our picks, keep collecting assets, and see what happens without the burden of increased expectations.

The biggest change between 2007 and 2014, in my mind, is that Masai Ujiri, and not Bryan Colangelo, is pulling the strings. Here’s hoping his team understands this as well as we think they do.

  • jakdripr

    I had no idea our pick became goran dragic, that’s pretty unfortunate in hindsight.

    • Raymond

      Don’t be too sad, Goran Dragic can’t be as good as today if without Nash. He might become the 3rd PG and never has chance to show off if he landed on Raptors.

      • jakdripr

        True that, I mean even the Suns traded him so it was definitely a perfect storm that turned him into what he is today.

  • c_bcm

    Last year was a complete outlier for Dragic. Waiting 7 years for a player to “break out” isn’t much of a strategy. He was a serviceable backup for much of his career before that, which is pretty good for a second rounder. But to say we missed out on a potential All Star is a bit of a stretch since, if we had drafted him, he would never have been so valuable that we wouldn’t have traded him to try and improve the position.

  • edgar

    While the basis of the argument is great, using late picks like the Spurs is difficult to pull off. The Delfino trade was a wash – Jerebko and Singlar’s combined current day values are likely similar to a 2nd rounder per and Delfino was a good all-around wing first wing off the bench (although inconsistant). The Mopete issue was not that they should have kept him (the Hornets paid 4 y/24Mil) but that Kapono was a hugely short-sighted move for a 1 dimentional player who came off a career year and championship. Better off with neither.

    • DanH

      It should also be noted that Delfino’s rights were eventually translated into Amir Johnson. So Delfino was a valuable asset to be able to move for one of the most important players on the team.

  • northof40

    This article is total conjecture. Nobody knows how next season will shape out. Not Lewieke, not Masai, not Casey. Nobody. It should be noted that there are a few things that this particular squad has that the previous didn’t. The first and foremost is a healthy locker room. The 06/07 team was efficient, sure, but there were personalities that were a ticking time bomb; aka TJ Ford. The Bargnani experiment hadn’t really begun yet (he played limited minutes off the bench in 06/07) so that’s a bit moot and the teams “glue guy”, Jorge Garbajosa, was no longer able to play at an NBA level an ultimately disappeared back to Europe in 07/08. Additionally, the team’s offense was kind of stagnant. A majority of plays were run through Chris Bosh, who is mainly a post up/face up player. Jose or TJ would carry the ball down the court, dump it down to Bosh and he’d either make or miss – that was the offense. That’s what happened a majority of time and quite frankly all we were ever going to get from that were mediocre results. What we know now of Bosh is that he’s far better suited in Miami as a number 3 option. If Lowry can be secured, we’re in good standing offensively. A few steady pieces just need to be added to the bench to help anchor things. Also, the team in 06/07 was being pushed in a direction that basically eliminated defense (thanks Bryan!). That’s obviously not the case now with Casey at the helm. This team finished 9th (?) in the league in defensive rating. So all-in-all, yes there are similarities to 06/07, but this squad, should the core stay together, is in a far better position going forward than that of the Bosh era. And I’m sorry, Goran Dragic has had one, possibly two notable seasons since being drafted. JV is 21… 21!!! And has a very high ceiling at this moment. I take JV over Dragic any day of the week.

    • truth be told

      You’re making stuff up about the locker room in 2007. TJ Ford was a ticking time bomb? Hyperbole.

      Say whatever you want around Bosh but he was and still is better than any player the Raptors currently have.

      This team is in a far better position based on what? Because that’s how you would like it to be? A division championship in a year in which the Gm himself was surprised it happened. The same players were here the year before when they were basically a 30 win team.

      • northof40

        Meh… I disagree. My main point was that I believe the Raptors are in a much better position now then they were back then simply because they have really good chemistry going forward. And yes, that is how I would like it to be. Who wouldn’t? Is that enough to get them further down the road next season? Will they even match what they did this past season? Will they crap out or make improvements? You nor I will know until this time next year.

  • kendricx

    I’m no Colangelo fan but as bad as it was, I think he had a vision for the team.

    What is Masai’s vision for the team? Everyone is secure in him running the ship now but what is his vision for the future of this team? He’s still living off of BC’s player acquisitions.

    • Microaggressive

      There is nothing worse than a GM that tries to put his stamp on a team “just because”

    • Milesboyer

      Vision can be combined with open-mindedness and flexibility. It’s the whole reason the Raptors made the playoffs this year.

    • DanH

      BC’s vision changed every year. Not much value in vision like that.

  • Roarque

    I hope to see a breakout season from two or three of the assistant coaches that Dwane has re-upped for the next year at least. With the security of a longer term contract I am betting that Dwane will shorten the lease on Nurse and Bayno ( maybe one other as well) so they can do what they’re really good at. So while JV is learning at the feet of the master this off season and DDR is being groomed to play defense in 2015, perhaps someone on the coaching staff can study the films of the Spurs in action from 2014. I watch their team and I am astounded – mostly about all the grey hair in the close ups at the free throw line. These guys are geriatrics and yet…they’re in the semis. Why? I ask why? Well in fact we all know the answer. It’s COACHING. It’s a SYSTEM. It’s DISCIPLINE. It’s veterans (and a few exceptional young no names) who have bought into the defensive and the offensive systems of one Greg Popovich.
    So if the Raps have the chemistry ( what is that? I was soo bad at high school chemistry) which should help them to WANT to play with discipline. Nick, Bill, and Dwane….your future is NOW. You have a green field on which to erect an edifice to your coaching skills.
    Flash your badges and crack the whip.
    Good luck!

  • Wes mantooth

    If Garbo didn’t get hurt they would’ve advanced in my opinion. They has great chemistry and a really unselfish star player. They had vets like Anthony Parker playing D and hitting 3s and they had a promising big in bargnani that no one new how to scout. That being said much like this team they took everybody by surprise and the next year were scouted much better. Again much like this team for next year. Gonna get tougher.
    I think the 07 team was Better and in a better position. Especially if Garbo would’ve stayed healthy.
    The only advantage this team has is the east is much weaker now then it was then
    Another note. Is greg oden injured again. What’s the word on him an should the raps make a play for him next year on a similar type deal to back up JV ??

  • ShadowXL

    You had me… then you lost me.

    One thing I’ll say: don’t make moves for the sake of making moves. The one thing that was missing is that every on this team this year, from Lowry to Buycks, wants to come back. Do you upgrade? Absolutely! Do you bet the farm and mess with a good thing? As it was stated earlier, not unless it’s a game changing move.

    Many people want DeRozan gone. DD actually fit into the dynamic of why things worked out the way it did. Don’t expect wholesale changes, but don’t expect status quo either. Ujiri is too smart for that.

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