Why has Toronto’s free agency been so quiet?

On the right mix of long-term planning and the structure required for it to succeed.

During their time together, Masai Ujiri and the Toronto Raptors have vacillated between quiet and loud — with very little in between. If the Raptors are going in, they’re going all in: trading for Kawhi Leonard, Marc Gasol. They’re trading away Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby. Dennis Schroder for good measure. And if they aren’t going in, they’re calmly using their exceptions, signing small names, tinkering around the edges. No half measures, personified.

Only a few days into 2024’s free agency, it looks like the Raptors are more or less done their work. There may be more tinkering, sure. But Toronto’s free agency has been very quiet. Its signings have mostly been re-signings, with a max contract extension for Scottie Barnes, a near-max for Immanuel Quickley, and even a (much) smaller deal for Garrett Temple for good measure. It has kept its own team together, spending big to do so.

The Raptors did most of their external work in and around the draft. Absorbing a salary dump from the Sacramento Kings meant the Raptors added Davion Mitchell, Sasha Vezenkov, Jamal Shead, and another pick next year.

As a result, Toronto has a variety of players who need institutional focus for their development. Barnes is not yet the All-NBA player the team (and we at Raptors Republic) project him to be. That will come. And if Toronto had one wish for Christmas in July, it would be for Barnes to achieve his maximal form. Quickley is adapting to being a full-time point guard, and the team — evidenced by his enormous new contract — is treating him like a future all star. Those two, more than the rest of the team combined, are the future. If Toronto can make sure that duo fulfills its potential, can intertwine its varied skills, that’s more or less the determining factor for whether the team fulfills its goals in this rebuild.

Of course, there are plenty of other projects going on. The dream is that Gradey Dick and Ja’Kobe Walter become two of the best movement shooters in the league, sprinting the baseline, lifting above the break, curling around pin-ins and pindowns, jetting backdoor, running split action, dashing into shots out of back screens, pulling up out of handoffs, and generally sowing havoc in one another’s’ wakes. Their movement should be the crowbar used to pry open space for Barnes, and his downhill passing in those moments should leverage the space right back — ending in open jumpers for them. Symbiosis.

Jonathan Mogbo is an enormously athletic two-way wing that Toronto needs to pop on defense. His rebounding fills a huge need, and his passing in tight spaces means he should be able to stay on the floor even if the jumper doesn’t pop right away. If he can hold up on defense out of the gate, he might just find himself playing a real role immediately. Ulrich Chomche might even become the rim protecting floor spacer every team craves. Eventually. Don’t expect anything anytime soon. The point is, that’s a lot Toronto is trying to build, all at the same time.

There are veterans on the team meant to provide the institutional foundation, to set the screens and hit the shots and make sure the level of play will at least reach competent no matter who is developing around them. Jakob Poeltl is a literal and metaphorical giant in that area. RJ Barrett may be young, but his consistent downhill driving will open up everything else. Consider him a veteran, not a project, on this roster. Kelly Olynyk will space the floor, dipsie-do in the post, and slide slick passes through open windows. Garrett Temple will mentor teammates from the bench and in practice. Though Barnes is Toronto’s most significant project, he is also its surest thing, its most crucial building block upon whom the development of the rookies, and the shooters, will rely. The veteran core needs to be dependable. Sure things. What they offer, night in and night out, will be consistent and certain. Consider them the canvas on which the paint of the projects will splatter, sometimes into a masterpiece, sometimes into the pictures I hang on my fridge from my two-year-old. (Toronto might not mind if there’s a little more of the latter this upcoming season.)

But the mix, as it currently stands, is likely what the team wants.

No team wants too many development projects. See: Detroit Pistons, circa 2019-2024 (and longer, most likely). There has to be stability alongside. There have to be players who already know who they are, who aren’t fighting for touches and development reps. Perhaps the Raptors figured they already had the right mix. Sure, Toronto could likely have outbid the Dallas Mavericks for Naji Marshall. The Raptors could still be closing in on Caleb Martin, for all we know. But it’s very unlikely the Raptors are trying to spend their available money — or free up extra cash — to try to sign another development project. Ujiri told assembled media before the trade deadline that he didn’t really want three rookies, and then he went out and got four.

The Raptors already have much to be determined going forward. It’s not going to take forever, not going to be dragged out so long that the team never manages to add support to ameliorate its core’s weaknesses. (Read: What happened to the Siakam-Anunoby-VanVleet core.) At least, we have to hope the Raptors learned one of the key takeaways from their last core’s failure: Move faster when you need to. But also, don’t move so fast that you fail to give players a maximal chance at their own futures.

Toronto is threading a needle at the moment in trying to maximize the current team. With so much youth, and so much development and seasoning required, the best path forward will surely take tinkering and adjustments, a quiet hand, to learn what this roster actually is. For now. Until the team is ready. And then, get ready for Ujiri to once again push all his chips into the middle and light some fireworks. Toronto’s current offseason is quiet so that in the future the team is ready to be loud once again.