For many, many years, the Toronto Raptors were looking for the final piece of the puzzle. This was true even across different eras. In the Kyle Lowry-DeMar DeRozan years, Toronto shuffled small forwards over and over. In the Lowry-Kawhi Leonard year, Toronto splurged for Marc Gasol. In the Fred VanVleet-Pascal Siakam era, Toronto tinkered and added Thad Young, then Jakob Poeltl. The puzzle has been in place, but Toronto has simply been searching to fill in around the edges.
That is no longer the case. For the first time in a long time, Toronto is faced with a yawning cavern of questions. It's not just tinkering that this team needs. If you just need tinkering, that means a team believes the core is in place, the talent, that can compete for a championship. Toronto could convince itself of that for a long time, but it no longer can.
After the championship, the first option for stardom was the homegrown Siakam, developing him from late-first round pick and transition blur to proper star. The team failed to put a team around him that complemented his strengths or ameliorated his weaknesses, and it has now seemingly cast him to the side. Siakam is now playing more shooting guard than anything else, ghosting screens and sprinting into catch-and-shoot triples, spacing the floor, and attacking from the second side. He's still an elite player -- as always, leading the team in offensive on/offs -- but the team has loudly given up on building a contender around him.
Okay, time for plan B, which was actually running in the background the whole time: Draft a star.
That resulted in Scottie Barnes becoming a Toronto Raptor. He won Rookie of the Year and improved as a creator and minutes-winner in his sophomore year. The Raptors entered the 2023-24 at a crossroads. A new coach. A new system. A glaring lack of a contract extension for Siakam -- and a telling quote from Masai Ujiri saying that the two-time All-NBA needed to "prove it" to the team. Faced with a few different paths, the Raptors swerved off the road entirely they pivoted so hard to Barnes.
And it's working. Sure, Toronto is 2-4 and losing some painful games. But Barnes himself has been unimpeachable. First, let's establish how his stardom has manifested on the court this season. Then, what does it mean for Toronto?