Siakam: “we’re still the champs” | Not a good time for Wiggins to rep Canada | Raptors have developed a championship blueprint
— GIANNIS ANTEDTORONTO 2021 (@premekee) July 16, 2019
Lowry enters the final year of his deal worth just north of $33 million, Gasol will be paid $26 million and Ibaka roughly $23.3 million. In other words, all three players could fetch the Raptors some sort of return at the trade deadline in 2020 — definitely a better alternative than losing all three for absolutely nothing.
Although the Raptors still have a playoff-capable roster as they bring back their entire main core from last year’s championship team — minus Kawhi — they have virtually no chance of repeating as champions.
In fact, according to Sportsline’s projections three days before Leonard eventually signed with the Clippers, the Raptors had a 23.3 percent chance of winning the Eastern Conference and a 14.2 percent chance of repeating as NBA champions had Kawhi returned to Toronto.
However, immediately after Leonard decided to sign with the Clippers on July 6, those percentages dropped to a miniscule 4.6 percent to win the conference, and 1.2 percent chance to win the championship. Currently, SportsLine gives the Raptors worse 2019-20 title odds than the likes of the Indiana Pacers and Boston Celtics, two teams they were clearly better than last season.
But while the Raptors may not be your favorites in the Eastern Conference by a long shot, team president Masai Ujiri remained as headstrong as ever during NBA Las Vegas Summer League. He stressed that the team will be fine even after Kawhi’s decision to bolt the Raptors after just one season.
Ujiri’s most important task might be in determining what his priority for the summer of 2020 will be. My colleague Blake Murphy has called next season “transitional” on many occasions, but what will it be transitioning to? With a comparatively weak free-agent class, will the Raptors have any worthwhile targets to use their cap space on, or will they willingly take on other team’s guaranteed money for the 2020-21 season to clear space for others, trying to net some draft picks in the process? Do they think there is a point in saving space for the summer of 2021 when Giannis Antetokounmpo and a cadre of other stars could become free, or would that be foolish given the traffic jam they would find themselves in on that front?
The uncertainty will even make an obvious move, keeping Pascal Siakam around for the long haul, more complicated than necessary. If they have use for that space next summer, it would make sense to delay re-signing Siakam until next summer, since his cap hold as a restricted free agent, about $7.06-million, will be considerably less than the first year of his second contract, which would kick in for the 2020-21 season. In theory, the Raptors could execute whatever moves they would like to make before signing (or matching an offer sheet for) Siakam with the extra space they have in the short term that they would not have if they agreed to an extension this offseason. That seems like the obvious move, right up until you remember that the Spurs used the same tactic during Kawhi Leonard’s restricted free agency, which allowed them to sign LaMarcus Aldridge. That reportedly was a minor factor in the fissure between Leonard and the Spurs.
Ujiri has played this game before, taking the Raptors to the league’s apex. Despite none of the contracts being steals, he managed to re-sign players and then turn them into more useful ones — Terrence Ross into Ibaka, Jonas Valanciunas into Gasol, DeMar DeRozan into Leonard. At the beginning of his Toronto tenure, he said he never wanted to be on the so-called treadmill of mediocrity, but he has proven willing to tread water until the moment for a big splash comes along.
Before the Raptors can get there, though, Ujiri must nudge his team in one direction or the other. There is no simple choice for Ujiri to make.
All the tools are there. At worst, Anunoby is a dependable 3-and-D player on a rookie-scale contract, which is not a bad place to start. Anunoby is a respectable 35 percent shooter from deep for his career, and he can comfortably guard all three perimeter positions while taking occasional shifts on smaller power forwards. Even if he tops out as such, that’s still a win for the 23rd pick.
Watch enough tape of Anunoby, and you’ll see the promise. There’s stuff in that bag — a drive out of the corner, a reverse dunk off a cut, a spin move that would make Siakam’s highlight reel — that leave you wondering if Anunoby could be the next Raptors player to make a leap. He needs to put it all together, but there are tangible pieces to work with.
He definitely doesn’t lack for tools. Anunoby jumps out of the gym and he stands 6-foot-7 with a 7-foot-2 wingspan — roughly the same dimensions as Leonard — and those are his best assets around the basket. Anunoby has shot nearly 70 percent within the restricted area in his first two seasons, and with numbers like that, it just becomes a question of how to get him more looks down low.
There was a concerted effort by Anunoby to expand his game as a sophomore. He dabbled with a handful of pick-and-rolls and post-ups. The results were up and down and he looked awkward at times, but nobody becomes great without some growing pains. The odds of Anunoby blossoming into a proficient off-the-dribble creator are slim to none, but he did show enough growth to warrant a longer leash during a transition year for the Raptors.
Defensively, Anunoby is mostly complete. He has very quick feet relative to his size, and that allows him to defend most guards. Anunoby plays with great awareness as a younger player, especially in zone coverages, and he is back to being the Raptors’ best wing defender now that Green and Leonard are gone. For that reason alone, it’s almost a guarantee that Anunoby will return to the starting five.
Although Boucher has played both the power forward and center position, it’s more than likely he will see more minutes at the latter off the bench next season to ease the workload of Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol, who are both not the youngest of players. His talent has been on full display over this past season.
At 6-foot-11, Boucher has outstanding length, energy, and a special ability to shoot the ball and convert at the hoop. His 51 percent clip from the field in the G-league reflects that. Boucher is also decent from the charity stripe, shooting 76.2 percent. He is very good at getting up and down the court as well, stretching the floor efficiently for a big.
For his size, he’s very athletic, using his long frame to fearlessly drive to the rim and finish aggressively on a regular basis. At just 200 pounds, he does need to bulk up a little more in order to really compete against bigs in the NBA, but the thought is he could put on some more weight.
Boucher’s 7-foot-4 wingspan is a trait that has helped him be such an impactful rim protector and rebounder. His average of four blocks per contest this past season was one block more than anyone else in the G-league. Despite his light frame, I have no doubt that he can definitely have a presence in the paint at the NBA level, especially when it comes to swatting opponents.
Frankly, Boucher has nothing else to prove in the G-league. He’s won MVP, Defensive player of the year and been an instrumental piece in every aspect possible on the court. He’s even shown the ability to drain 3’s from time to time for a 31 percent clip on just over two attempts per game.
Host William Lou is joined by freelance writer Katie Heindl to discuss the latest surrounding the Toronto Raptors.
- Sights and sounds from Las Vegas Summer League
- Impressions of Chris Boucher, Terence Davis, Dewan Hernandez, Lindell Wigginton
- Post-championship mood
- Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby’s future
- Twitter questions
…defending champion Raptors form the next bloc of teams, and all have at least an 86 percent chance of making the playoffs despite plenty of offseason roster shakeups.
Kawhi Leonard led the Toronto Raptors to their first NBA championship last month, but it was only possible because of the strong supporting cast assembled around the superstar.
Kyle Lowry, Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka and Danny Green are all established veterans, but the Raptors don’t lift the Larry OB without contributions from homegrown talent like Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet, and Norman Powell.
Toronto’s staff has done a great job seasoning these young players at both the G League and NBA level, and the work the franchise is doing isn’t going unnoticed.
“I talked to a lot of NBA guys, the young guys in the league and some veterans, and they said the Toronto Raptors have the best player development in the league,” Raptors second-round pick Dewan Hernandez recently told reporters at Las Vegas Summer League. “I’m very excited to be in the hands of the Toronto Raptors.”
It should be noted that this is just a list of invitations, and that a finalized list will be announced prior to the start of camp; some of these players could drop out, and others (such as Wiggins) may announce their intentions to attend at a later date.
Either way, it’s an impressive-looking list; it may not be the ‘92 Dream Team but it is a stacked roster that speaks to the development of the sport across Canada over the past couple of decades.
Training camp begins August 4 at the OVO Athletic Centre in Toronto; the team will then play a couple of exhibition games across Canada, and a handful in Australia, before heading to China for the World Cup on August 31.
There, the final team of 12 players will compete in a group with Australia, Lithuania and Senegal; the top two teams advance to the next round, and then into an eight-team single-elimination tournament. A top-two finish (out of the teams from the Americas Zone) will qualify them for the 2020 Olympics.
Nurse is expecting a lot from whomever makes his roster.
Although Canada hasn’t played in the World Cup in about a decade, the country’s experienced an unprecedented spike in talent during the same time span.
“We can go as far as we want to go,” he said. “We’ve got to get together. We’ve got to develop a really tough mentality defensively. We’re going to have to develop a selfless hit-the-open-man offensive mentality.
“When you start doing those things, who knows where you can go.”
Playing in the World Cup amounts to a six-week commitment from players, with Canada opening its two-game exhibition series against Nigeria in Toronto on Aug. 7 and then in Winnipeg on Aug. 9.
After those two games, the Canadians will travel to Australia for a five-game exhibition series against Australia (Aug. 16-17), New Zealand (Aug. 20-21) and the Americans (Aug. 26) before heading to China for the tournament itself.
Basketball Canada said a finalized list of training camp attendees will be announced prior to the start of camp.
Minnesota Timberwolves forward Andrew Wiggins wasn’t included among the list which features NBA rookies R.J. Barrett and Nickeil Alexander-Walker along with NCAA players such as Andrew Nembard, EuroLeaguers like Kevin Pangos and the expected NBA suspects in Jamal Murray, Tristan Thompson and Cory Joseph.
Wiggins hasn’t suited up for Canada since the 2015 FIBA AmeriCup.
A finalized list of training camp invitees will be announced prior to the start of camp, which takes place between Aug. 4-6 at OVO Athletic Centre.
Canada plays exhibition contests against Nigeria at Mattamy Athletic Centre on Aug. 7 and Aug. 9 at Bell MTS Place in Winnipeg before the team leaves the country for some more tune-up games in Australia beginning Aug. 16.
Canada begins its FIBA World Cup on Sept. 1 against Australia. The Canadians also play Lithuania and Senegal in Group H.
Andrew Wiggins elected to miss Canada’s national team training camp ahead of this summer’s FIBA World Cup in China, so what does that mean for his future with the national program? What are the chances Canada can advance out of its group? Leo Rautins shares his thoughts.
4. Kyle Lowry, Raptors
Lowry will be a 34-year-old point guard coming off a big $33 million payday. Lowry’s play next season will go a long way in determining his value. Leonard and DeRozan are no longer Raptors, but the team should still be a playoff contender. Five consecutive All-Star appearances place Lowry in the top five. With Leonard’s departure, Lowry’s scoring numbers should also go back up.
The point is that there is no blueprint for teams, especially small markets, to win big in this league. Life isn’t fair and neither is the NBA. Rings are harder to come by for small market teams and that’s just the reality of the sport. Granted, Toronto is a big media market (6th largest in the NBA), but they’ve never been a destination for players in free agency, which is a similar challenge to other teams in smaller markets.
That being said, a small market team who is stuck should absolutely take a good look at the Raptors and see if they can create a broad-strokes version of it. With the right front office, “stuck” might just be another word for waiting, and the Raptors showed the league that waiting is okay if you are ready to go for it when the door opens up.
What’s next won’t be as glamorous for the Raptors. With the departure of Kawhi Leonard, they’ll likely be one of the last few teams to make the playoffs and exit pretty quickly. Their path back to relevancy is likely going to be centered around the NBA’s most improved player, Pascal Siakam.
The interesting part for them will be how they handle their expiring contracts which would be assets in the trade market, especially around the trade deadline. Per Spotrac, the Raptors have expiring contracts for Kyle Lowry, Marc Gasol, and Serge Ibaka. All three guys could be valuable to a team looking to make a playoff push and would land the Raptors on the opposite side of the market that they were in last year.
The writing is on the wall for the Raptors and it looks like it’s finally time to tear it all down. I would expect the Raptors to play the season out for a couple of months while free-agent contracts are still locked and then look to be sellers before the deadline to get pieces back for a future around Siakam. Who knows though? Maybe Masai Ujiri has one more miracle blockbuster deal in him before he gives in to the rebuild.
Either way, what the Raptors did with their roster will be remembered when we look back in NBA history. Combining patience with some well-timed risks and a little good fortune, Masai Ujiri flipped the narrative. He turned a team who seemed to annually one-up their failures from the year prior and finished their story by ending one of the most powerful dynasties in league history. Not bad for a team that was stuck 13 months ago.
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