After bringing home the NBA championship to the city of Toronto for the first time in 2019, the Raptors are no longer a so-called “pretender” among the elite teams in the league. The golden hands of Masai Ujiri, their president of basketball operations, have been the driving force of their sustainable success since 2013.
It will be difficult to replicate the successful championship run they had in 2019, especially with other contenders in the Eastern Conference loading up their respective rosters. On top of that, the Raptors didn’t have a huge addition this offseason. They gave young star Fred VanVleet a well-deserved lucrative contract, then signed Aron Baynes and Alex Len to shore up their frontcourt.
But looking at how the Raptors’ current roster build-up, there is a growing sense that they are heading towards a potential rebuild soon.
Departure of Gasol and Ibaka
When the Raptors’ season ended at the hands of the Boston Celtics during the second round of the playoffs, there was a belief that they could keep either one of Serge Ibaka or Marc Gasol, who were both entering unrestricted free agency. Ibaka was coming off a career-best year in which he averaged 15.4 points, 8.2 rebounds, and a stellar 39% clip from the three-point line. Gasol’s production dipped in the past couple of years, but he is still one of the most well-rounded centers in the league.
Keeping both veteran big men would have been costly for the Raptors, both in this season and in the long run. They were hoping to nab at least one to maintain their elite status in the East. But Ibaka went on to sign with the Clippers, while Gasol inked a deal with the Lakers. Without their two top defensive anchors, the Raptors’ efficiency at that end of the floor will definitely take a hit.
Signing Baynes is a sign that the Raptors still want to stay in playoff contention, but an early first-round exit awaits them.
Lowry’s contract expires in 2021
Kyle Lowry, the long-time face of the Raptors’ franchise, will be a free agent next year. He will be 35 years old by then, and it won’t come as a surprise if he goes ring-hunting to cap off his productive career. I don’t see the Raptors making another commitment to him, especially now that they have established VanVleet as the cornerstone of the team.
But if Lowry would accept a lesser payday, take the backseat behind VanVleet, and maybe a mentorship role off the bench, there is still the possibility of him staying in Toronto. Lowry’s veteran presence and winning pedigree will be important to have around when the Raptors pursue a Greek Freak-size big fish in 2021.
Looming failure in the Giannis sweepstakes
It’s not a secret that the Raptors are going for the grand prize in the summer of 2021. If reigning back-to-back Most Valuable Player Giannis Antetokounmpo doesn’t sign a max extension with the Milwaukee Bucks this season, the Raptors will come for the Greek Freak with everything they got.
The problem is there’s just little to be excited about the Raptors’ roster. Pascal Siakam, who notched his first All-Star appearance last season, struggled mightily in the playoffs. Ibaka and Gasol are gone. Lowry is at the twilight stage of his career. VanVleet is an excellent point guard, but having Jrue Holiday in Milwaukee is a far better option for Giannis.
There’s a high chance that the Raptors will miss out on Giannis, and this will pave the way for the Raptors to rebuild around VanVleet and restart the roster.