Well, the end seems to be nigh and with that in mind, the Toronto Raptors will head into an offseason with plenty to think about. Scrolling through Twitter, it’s apparent that there are some who believe it’s time to press the panic button. Back in 2015, when the Raps were swept at the hands of the Wizards, that was time to panic.
Fast-forward to when the Raps were swept by LeBron in 2018, that was definitely time to panic. And with another possible sweep just hours away, there’s a lot of people reaching for the panic button. But y’all should pull back and think before doing that.
Let’s recall the end of last season. It was unfamiliar territory. Masai and Bobby hadn’t missed the playoffs since they took over and after letting Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka walk for nothing, they signed Aron Baynes and Alex Len to shore up the middle. Baynes was waived at seasons end and Len lasted no more than seven games in a Raptors uniform.
The team regressed for the first time in seven years. But when you zoom out, the domino effect is so painfully evident. And as a result, Scottie Barnes is a Toronto Raptor. Sure, the team needed some luck to land the fourth pick but that was fate. We won’t get into the rumbles of those who were upset at the selection of Scottie because those individuals still have their feet stuck in their mouth.
At the beginning of the season, I didn’t have any expectations. I knew better than to think that the Raptors were back in championship contention. In fact, I predicted they were going to finish between the eighth and 10th seed, with a record of 38-44. Masai said it was a year of development and he was absolutely correct.
Throughout the Rap Up, any Rap Casts, and any discussion our RR family had, I kept thinking back to one particular moment: Masai being interviewed in the tunnel during a game. It was early in the season and he talked about how there were going to be struggles and growing pains. As he was speaking, the ball rolled all the way out of bounds to him and he smiled, reiterating his claim.
I’ve said it a million times this year: the Raps exceeded expectations. They’re trying this new long, athletic, versatile style of basketball and based on the returns this season, it seems like a good move in the short-term and long-term. With that being said, the roster will be under construction when the season’s over and adding a player that can protect the paint should absolutely be a top priority. I’m just not going to say someone needs to go in order for it to happen.
When DeMar was traded, it was because the Raptors had gone as far as they could’ve with him and Kyle. For five years, they were widely regarded as a top-five backcourt and I’ll give them all their flowers everyday because that’s how great they are. But their ceiling was determined in 2016. The skillset of the players on the roster right now is so unique. They each bring a distinctive element.
Pascal is arguably the most versatile player in the league, Fred is one of the strongest and best defensive guards, GTJ is so much better on defense than anyone thought, OG is exactly the 3-and-D type of player that todays game is based around, and Scottie has a ridiculously dangerous skillset to go along with his frame and without placing any expectations on him, the way he plays basketball is so smooth. He doesn’t force anything and all of his motions are blended within the game. For a rookie to have that kind of a touch is simply astonishing.
Ultimately, this starting-five has the potential to do some serious damage. I also truly believe we have no idea how good this lineup could be.
The Raptors have two glaring needs: interior defence and bench production. I’m not saying either are easy fixes, but at least the areas of concern are crystal clear. The cap looks tight, even after factoring in Thad Young’s expiring deal. But, I honestly don’t think a second championship is that far away.
The 2022 NBA championship was not the goal this year and it’s not like tanking was the priority either. This was a year to see what worked and what didn’t. It’s a new age in Raptors basketball and just like how every season ends, there are 29 teams who go into the summer with more questions than answers. Whenever their season ends, the Raptors know that they are on to something with this roster.
Whatever happens on Saturday, just remember to do one thing: sit back, relax, and let the kids grow.