In my opinion, the 2013-14 season was a good one for the Toronto Raptors.
Early on, it was difficult to determine whether the goal was to carve out a path to the draft lottery or to take a shot at squeaking into the playoffs.
After a 6-12 start, they appeared to be at a crossroads. However, everything changed when Rudy Gay was traded for a package of role players who added depth and chemistry and when general manager Masai Ujiri decided to stay the course with Kyle Lowry.
The turnaround from that point was borderline epic, culminating in a franchise-record 48 wins, a division title, and a first-round series that went the distance.
What the Raptors were able to accomplish may have arrived a year or two sooner than anticipated, but either way, the bar has been raised and expectations will be high for them to be as good or even better next season.
My offseason commentary so far has focused on things the Raptors need to do to ensure a successful follow-up in 2014-15.
I began with a to-do list that outlined everything from the importance of keeping the core group together to the need for internal growth and development.
Then, as a way to address the topic of roster needs, I profiled some inexpensive free agent options that might show up on the radar screen this summer.
Most recently, I offered some thoughts on where Kyle Lowry might end up if he decides against returning to Toronto.
Worth exploring now are trade scenarios that could factor into the plans as the Raptors continue with the goal of building a perennial contender.
GOOD TRACK RECORD
Ujiri had only been on the job for a little over a month when he announced that Andrea Bargnani had been traded to the New York Knicks. The move pleased fans and, as you would hope, it was also beneficial for the team.
It was also a move that needed to happen and one that Bryan Colangelo had been unwilling to make since he drafted Bargnani first overall in 2006.
Above all, the trade signaled a new beginning for the Raptors.
Then in December, Ujiri decided to move Gay, another piece from Colangelo’s tenure, but one that didn’t even last a full calendar year with the team.
This transaction was impressive for two reasons. The first being that Gay still has one year at $19.3 million remaining on his contract. And secondly, that Ujiri set his team up with better talent in the present and with some salary cap flexibility in the long run.
Perhaps Ujiri’s ability to move a big money player shouldn’t have come as a surprise.
At the trade deadline in 2011, while working as the general manager for the Denver Nuggets, Ujiri was able to yield a high return in a deal that sent Carmelo Anthony to the Knicks. Everyone knew that Melo wanted to go to New York, yet Ujiri was still able to get value in exchange for a franchise player.
Of course, Ujiri’s efforts did not go unnoticed. He was named NBA Executive of the Year for the 2012-13 season after the Nuggets won a franchise-record 57 games and placed third in the Western Conference.
KEEPING THE CORE GROUP TOGETHER
So as the Raptors head into an important offseason, one that could shape the team for many years to come, there is no doubt in my mind that Ujiri will be able to steer the ship in the right direction.
My guess is that he would like to keep the core group of players together. That being DeMar DeRozan, Jonas Valanciunas, Terrence Ross, Amir Johnson, free-agent-to-be Kyle Lowry, and pending restricted free agents Patrick Patterson and Greivis Vasquez.
At the same time, the price to re-sign Lowry, Patterson, and Vasquez will be high and could require some tinkering with the roster.
Very generally speaking, if the Raptors needed to clear some cap space to accommodate these signings and/or if they wanted to clear the way to make Patterson a full-time starter, then trading Johnson would be an option. The 27-year-old is adored by fans and he embodies the team’s heart and hustle mentality, but with one year and $7 million left on his contract, he has the potential to be a trade chip.
Patterson and Vasquez are also not locks to return. There is potential for both of them to receive an offer sheet that the Raptors will be either unwilling or incapable of matching.
Furthermore, teams are prohibited from trading restricted free agents, which means the Raptors are left with the choices of either re-signing Patterson and Vasquez or allowing them to sign with another team and not receive any compensation in return.
NO GUARANTEES WITH LOWRY AND CO.
The Raptors will have the option of entering into a sign-and-trade with Lowry, in the event that he doesn’t want to return to Toronto or the other way around.
In that case, especially with Ujiri calling the shots, I would expect the Raptors to get a package in return that would at least allow them to remain competitive next season.
The Knicks, Miami Heat, Chicago Bulls, and Los Angeles Lakers may all be in need of point guard help. Trade discussions could ignite with any of those teams and the possibility of a three-team deal (involving other suitors) is not far-fetched.
To a large extent, the Raptors will be at a stand still as far as roster moves until Lowry’s fate is determined. Unless the Raptors are confident that they know what Lowry is going to do or unless Lowry has already given some indication of his plans, then the Raptors might be confined in what they can do leading up to and at the draft.
STARS AVAILABLE IN DRAFT
As of this moment, the Raptors hold the 20th pick in the draft. In my opinion, their roster needs include a backup small forward and possibly a big man capable of rebounding and holding his ground in the post.
One intriguing possibility to me would be Syracuse product Jerami Grant, a 6’8″ forward with plenty of upside and potential at the NBA level. According to DraftExpress.com, Grant will be available and could very well be taken by the Raptors with the 20th pick.
But what if Ujiri decides there is a must-have talent higher up in the draft? Not a top-three pick necessarily, but perhaps someone in the range of picks four through 12.
Undoubtedly, the price to trade for that opportunity would be astronomical and not without risk.
In any scenario involving the Raptors moving up in the draft, I would expect the trade chips to be one or a combination of DeRozan, Valanciunas, and Ross. Not only would the price be steep, but that type of move would also signal a major change in direction for the Raptors.
If the priority truly is to keep the core group together, then I can’t see anything like that unfolding.
Overall, I don’t expect the Raptors to make any headline-grabbing trades this summer, but that is assuming that they are comfortable moving forward with the talent that is, and hopefully will be, in place.
The areas of the roster that do need to be addressed can be handled through free agency and by trading players who I consider to be nothing more than moving pieces, such as John Salmons, Chuck Hayes, Steve Novak, and Tyler Hansbrough.
However, with so many factors in play and so much still to be determined, anything can happen.
Once the major pieces start to fall into place (or not), the remaining needs and possible trade scenarios will be a lot easier to determine.
Tags: Toronto Raptors