Masai Ujiri brought the band back together. Is that a good thing?

The Eastern Conference, as compared to its Western counterpart, saw a fair bit of shuffling this offseason. In addition to a trio of All-Stars — Derrick Rose, Brook Lopez, Al Horford — returning from injury, seven of the eight playoff teams (and Cleveland) underwent major makeovers.

Atlanta will have a revamped perimeter and a healthy Al Horford. Charlotte shed Josh McRoberts but added Noah Vonleh, Marvin Williams and Lance Stephenson. Brooklyn lost two rotation pieces in Shaun Livingston and Paul Pierce. Washington snagged Pierce to replace Trevor Ariza. The Bulls lost out on Carmelo Anthony, but won the Pau Gasol sweepstakes and Derrick Rose is on the mend. Indiana lost both Stephenson and Paul George. The Heat lost LeBron James, but plugged holes by inking Luol Deng and McRoberts. And, of course, the Cavaliers sunk everyone’s battleship by landing LeBron and (eventually) Kevin Love.

Why even bother? The East is ours.

By contrast, the Raptors were the only playoff hopeful that stood pat this offseason. Raptors GM Masai Ujiri elected to re-sign Patrick Patterson, Greivis Vasquez and Kyle Lowry, but save for some minor adds, the 2014-15 Raptors projects to look very similar to the previous iteration.

There was logic behind each transaction. Vasquez, Lowry and Patterson were all key cogs in the post-Gay squad that went 42-24, a record besting the East over that stretch. Lowry returns as the team’s leader, Patterson reclaims the floor-stretch half of the platoon at power forward, and Vasquez is back to lead the second unit.

Not adding anyone of significance isn’t the whole story. There’s also something to be said about addressing needs. Ujiri didn’t acquire anyone significant, but he did try to plug holes using his limited budget. The playoffs exposed the need for a wing stopper; enter James Johnson. Ball-handling was also an issue to the point where John Salmons had to play the seventh-most minutes last season. Lou Williams reprises that role, and fits nicely alongside Vasquez. If the Raptors get anything from Bebe Nogueira or Bruno Caboclo, that’s gravy.

But for the most part, the biggest advantage the Raptors had over their shuffle-happy competitors is continuity. Aside from the Wizards, every other playoff team drastically changed their team structure.

Rose and Pau should command nearly 50 percent of possessions when they’re on the floor. Charlotte brought in two new starters, including a ball-dominant Stephenson to replace an excellent facilitator in McRoberts. Brooklyn goes from being a smallball team to a plodding post-oriented squad. Atlanta adding Al Horford means they can no longer field five three-point threats. The Pacers’ entire playbook went out the window. Teams rarely click right away. There will be some growing pains.

That’s where the Raptors should theoretically have an edge. Eight of the top-nine in minutes played last season — DeMar DeRozan, Lowry, Jonas Valanciunas, Amir Johnson, Terrence Ross, Vasquez, Patterson and Tyler Hansbrough — have been retained, with the lone substitution being Williams for Salmons. The team should have the schemes down pat. Lowry knows that if he’s running the fast break, Terrence Ross will flash to the corner for an open triple. Amir knows to hand-off and screen after DeRozan tosses him the rock in the high-post.

The same applies in the locker room. The guys all know each other, and there’s no need to awkwardly suss out a pecking order. DeRozan and Lowry are the leaders, it’s their team. If someone steps out of line and Lowry calls them out for it, no one will bat an eye.

We never made big moves. We just win.

I can’t speak with any authority as to how much continuity really matters. The obvious example is the San Antonio Spurs, but that’s the outlier not the norm. With all due respect, the Raptors’ foundation isn’t nearly as solid as the Spurs’ for reasons that should be obvious. And for every team-oriented championship squad like the Spurs or Pistons, there’s a superstar-laden winner like the Heat or Lakers.

But having a per-established culture and system has to inherently hold some value, even if it just translates to two or three extra wins to start of the season. In the Eastern Conference, where the homogenous set of sub-contenders — Raptors, Wizards, Hornets, Hawks, Heat — aren’t ostensibly distinct in terms of talent, every win should count for something. In that respect, perhaps Ujiri not rocking the boat with a splashy acquisition is his biggest addition of all.

  • webfeatmm

    Seems to work for the Spurs.

  • siggian

    Some of the changes that occurred on those other eastern teams are not for the better. Pacers and Nets are definitely worse off and some of the other team’s changes are just rearranging deck chairs.

  • Tinmann

    What is the benefit of continuity? Only answer = come November we will find out.
    It should be interesting? How far does Miami and Indy drop? How many more games will the Bulls win? Has Atlanta gotten better? Charlotte? Washington? Cleveland should win a few more games this season.
    Can we maintain or string of good health? Everything kinda went right last season, what are the odds of that happening again? Lowry is a happy player when we are winning……….
    On paper, I think Masai had a fantastic off season. Bringing everyone back at good contracts and the subtle additions. Most of returning players are still on the upswing arc of their careers.
    But we will see come November.

    Oh yeah – we are about 3 years away from you justifying the Spurs picture.

  • noname

    I got a feeling the raps are going to be better than expected…just a hunch.

    • Wes mantooth

      The one thing not mentioned here is it’s continuity with young improving players. Everyone improved last year and it appears from what we are seeing that DD has already shown improvement. Not to mention the growth of val. If tross can make a similar jump as well , having continuity was the best option.
      Adding a much needed humbled wing defender and a ball handling bench scorer were the only real needs the raps had. I think it’s been a near perfect summer minus the lack of acquiring a back up C
      Also pat Patterson in my opinion proved to be an Xfactor last season and he’s never had any real continuity in his career so I can only imagine a boost in his play as well having found a team and system that utilizes him correctly.
      Pleas excuse the jumbled bad grammar I’m exhausted

      • SR

        I’m pickin’ up what you’re puttin’ down, mantooth.

  • I_have_seasons!_@torontofilmdr

    USA has gone 64-1 in international play over the last 9 years. That one lose came to Greece in 2005 in the semis. That Greek team had played together for years with the exception of big baby. One example of how familiarity amongst teammates breeds success.

    Pundits have truly under estimated the value of a team that knows each other and everyone gets along, not to mention a 42-24 record and one poorly executed play away from the eastern semis.

    Boils my blood the disrespect or lack of credit that comes from south of the border. All you hear is ‘they haven’t made any big moves’. They don’t need too!!

    I bet 90% of these ‘writers’ haven’t played competitive sports at a high level albeit any level. Locker room chemistry is as important as the talent of the players taking the court.

    I could go on and give a plethora of examples of teams who have excelled with no ‘superstars’ on their team.

    I’ll let the Raps do the rest of my talking.
    55-27.
    Hats off to you Lou.
    MK

  • DC

    Believe continuity at San Antonio starts with ownership and management. At Toronto, not so much!

  • Alex Vostrikov

    silly to compare any team to the spurs… even our raptors LOL
    just to remind you, Duncan is a hall of famer. not just a ball hog or stat oriented player. and spurs built as a team from bottom up. they have sg who could start on any team… but took a role as a reserve for over 10 years. PG who can easily score 25 a game, but choses team play. SF who is probably 3rd best in the league, but still sacrifices stats for team play. and etc…..
    raps have good young team, but no where near the top 10-12 in the league. so what is all the hype about anything?
    I cant wait for the season to start, and for our team to win more than loose. but that’s where it will end….
    east is improved by a lot. west is as strong as always. Toronto will get its 3rd-4th seed, maybe reach 2nd round…. but again, more than likely, who ever is at 5-6 spots is more than we can chew (Chicago, Miami, Atlanta).
    7 game series, is not same as playing season basketball. casey is not a strategist. he has no clew how to adjust to anything. he goes with the flow of a single game. we could easily see that against the nets. please note that nets where exhausted, Williams/garnett where none existent. pierce was so so. JJohnson stole the show in 3 games, with no answer what so ever…. except the 10 minutes fields gave him complete hard time… and was benched. oh, casey…. anyways.
    go raps

    • DDayLewis

      Maybe read the words, not just look at the pictures?

      “The obvious example is the San Antonio Spurs, but that’s the outlier not
      the norm. With all due respect, the Raptors’ foundation isn’t nearly as
      solid as the Spurs’ for reasons that should be obvious.”

    • johnnie

      “he has no clew” Now that’s ironic…

      • Alex Vostrikov

        how many languages do you speak….?
        English is my : not first language, not second, not 3rd, not 4th, not 5th….. get the point? LOL
        to be exact, I speak 6 language fluently. and one typo, or two, or three….. or what ever it is… NOW, that’s ironic.
        by the way, you missed the comma after now…. first grade grammar.

        • Roarque

          Easy man, don’t let the johnnies get you down. You said your piece and you said it well.
          Every thread has a “not” in it.

    • Shifty

      Roster is good, depth is excellent. Continuity will allow them to get a running start.
      I agree, Casey is a weak point of the team.

      San Antonio does have Duncan but it also has Gregg.

  • LetsGoRaptors!

    This team needs to walk before it runs. Because of the weakness in the East and especially the Atlantic we can all see an opportunity but we need to be patient. Under the current circumstances, continuity to me makes a lot of strategic sense. The current team is full of youth and potential which leaves a lot of unknowns in the equation. Masai gets another year to evaluate what he has in terms of actual talent. I believe he knows what he wants, i just don’t think he is sure of what he has. With the cap room available next year he can hopefully pick-up an FA or make a trade that will bring the final piece or pieces.
    I don’t know how many of you remember the Jays run to a championship but it took many years and a lot of disappointment. The Raptors still have a lot of the jigsaw puzzle that needs to be figured out. And i’m not convinced that we have our Alomar yet.

  • Slap Dog Hoops

    I still think the Raptors should have done more because even though they have maintained the squad that brought the team to the top of the Atlantic Division, I have doubts that they can repeat that performance next season. The East is not as weak as it once was with numerous teams capable to at least match, if not surpass the Raptors next season. The Raptors should have used their assets to facilitate a sign and trade to get a quality veteran such as Pau Gasol and Carlos Boozer to name a couple.

    • GreatCall

      So you think the team should drop the patient build approach and resort to the BC quick fix, overpay for vets on the downside approach. You gotta get a hold of that drinking problem, man.

      • Slap Dog Hoops

        The Raptors are well beyond that stage, my friend. You only use the term “developing” when you are either a tanking team such as Philly and Boston or near a breakthroug, which the Raptors were at one point. The team have four solid pieces as a foundation in Demar, Kyle, Greivis and Jonas. What they need are stronger building blocks to maintain their hold on their division–not more young people they have to patient for to hopefully develop down the line. That’s why adding veterans such as a Carlos Boozer, Dirk Nowitzki or Pau Gasol would have been a good idea to go after because they add the knowledge, experience and intangibles that cannot be found in a twenty something trying to learn or get adjusted to the game.

  • why

    wasn’t one of the criticisms of colangelo that the roster lacked continuity as he was always making significamnt changes to the roster?
    Personally I think Ujuri ddi the right things this off season – time will tell.

  • Roarque

    IMO there’s a big difference between standing pat with eight veterans over thirty and eight veterans under 28. Especially if three of the players under 28 are second year and third year pros. DDR has set the bar on this team for summer time improvement – the “kids” will follow him into hell. Why? Because they’re brothers. Watch and enjoy; this is going to be a great year to be a Raptors fan.

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