Did the team get better?
Of the four groups, two got better, one got worse and one stayed the same. So just by that math, you would say, “Of course the Raptors got better.” However, it’s not quite that simple. The loss of Lowry as a player and as a figure in that organization is going to be a lot to overcome. He was a major part of the Raptors’ identity, and finding that new confidence as a team will take a little time. Replacing him with Dragic is a nice way to navigate that. He thrived in Miami, and he’ll thrive with Toronto as well. I love the addition of Achiuwa, and I’m interested to see what kind of impact Barnes makes right away. Most of the time, I don’t consider rookies to be all that meaningful for wins and losses in their first season. But with Barnes and this group, I think he’s going to actually be an impactful player from Day 1.
What does that mean for next season?
The Raptors weren’t as bad as they played last season. So many factors, including essentially playing 72 road games, kept them from making the playoffs. In a more “normal” season, we’re going to see much more of a team we can trust to compete with most of the teams in the Eastern Conference. As long as everybody is relatively healthy, I think this team can compete to avoid the Play-In Tournament. Siakam is going to have to find consistency as the top guy once he returns from the shoulder injury. They’ll need all the young guys to succeed in their roles. They’ll need Dragic to do for the Raptors what he did for the Heat. This is a team capable of competing with teams such as Atlanta, New York, Boston and Miami for one of those top six spots in the East when healthy.
Three quick questions with Eric Koreen, Raptors beat writer
1. Will the Raptors move Pascal Siakam before the trade deadline?
No. Unless it’s a star forcing his way out of a situation, my rule of thumb is to always bet against a trade happening. Siakam has three years and about $106 million left on his contract, and as our Sam Amick reported, he has no desire to leave Toronto. He’s not untouchable, but the Raptors’ vision built around defensive length and positionally flexible basketball includes Siakam. If a team comes to the Raptors with a strong collection of picks and players on rookie deals, they will have to consider it. As of now, I’d bet the Raptors value Siakam more than the rest of the league does, even on his pricey deal.
2. Should we expect Goran Dragic to be moved before the deadline?
Let’s put it this way: I’d be very surprised if he’s a Raptor after the buyout market closes at the end of February. His $19.4 million deal, even as an expiring contract, is complicated to move. If the Raptors are taking on a matching salary that goes beyond this season, they will want prospect/draft sweetener for the trouble. Will Dragic play well enough to prove worth it for a team looking for an extra creator? I’d lean yes, but his injury history and fit in the Raptors rotation doesn’t make that an obvious yes. It’s more likely than not the Raptors find a way to get him to a contender before the deadline. If they don’t, I’d wager he’ll be bought out then — and only then.
3. What will Scottie Barnes’ role be for the Raptors as a rookie?
Accordingly, Barnes will get more time right away than he might otherwise. When Siakam returns, he’ll slot beside Boucher and behind Siakam and Anunoby in the wing/small-ball center rotation, although he’ll have the lowest usage rate of the four. If Raptors fans remember Siakam’s rookie year, imagine a souped-up version of that role: Barnes will be asked to defend anybody and everybody in his minutes and help get the Raptors moving in transition. In the half court, I’d imagine the training wheels are on, with Barnes not involved in the heart of most of the actions. If everyone’s healthy, I’m picturing somewhere in the 20-22 minute range.
It is fitting that the first thing Masai Ujiri has done to impact life in Toronto since re-upping with the Raptors has nothing to do with basketball.
It has to do with his idol, Nelson Mandela, it has to do with trying to create a better world and address issues of great societal need, and it’s art that speaks to much larger questions than how he might divest the roster of Goran Dragic.
Oh, those basketball issues remain important and the team’s president and vice-chairman is driven to win another NBA title. But his step Wednesday into the world of public art installations speaks to his desire to branch out beyond professional sports.
The “Humanity” installation was unveiled Wednesday outside Union Station, where it will occupy space and hopefully allow Mandela’s message to be seen by hundreds of thousands of people between now and its closing Oct. 31. The installation is made up of 35 words that reflect what humanity means to Ujiri.
“It’s inspired by Nelson Mandela,” Ujiri said, standing in front of the circular installation on the Front Street side of Union Station between Bay and York streets. “I wanted to put a symbol up to remind people that we should think of others and we should be kind to others all the time.
“These times, the last couple of years, have shown we all need each other as much as we can. Who we are as people, what we feel, social justice, George Floyd, everything came to my mind with this and it’s time for us to really feel each other … that’s what inspired this.”