It was an exciting offseason for the Toronto Raptors, as they rid themselves of two of their biggest hindrances to success and saw great progress from a player they hope will serve as a foundational piece for their franchise moving forward.
The Raptors’ biggest acquisition will never see a minute of action during a game. Toronto wooed reigning Executive of the Year Masai Ujiri back to his original stomping grounds with a five-year contract. Ujiri was handed a team with bloated contracts and little financial flexibility. To correct these issues, Ujiri did the unthinkable: he traded Andrea Bargnani. The trade wasn’t unthinkable because Bargnani was a franchise cornerstone, or a beloved figure in Toronto — he was none of those things, probably even the exact opposite of those things — but because Bargnani’s contract was widely considered untradeable, given how bad he’d been. It seems we forgot to consider two important factors: one, Masai Ujiri is a wizard, or at the very least a powerful telepath, and two, the New York Knicks. The Knicks love bloated contracts more than James Dolan loves his Fender stratocaster, and they hate first round picks/developing talent more than Lala and Carmelo Anthony hate snitches.
The trade sent Bargnani to the Knicks in exchange for Steve Novak,, Marcus Camby (later released), Quentin Richardson, a 2016 first round draft pick and a 2014 and 2017 second round pick. That Ujiri was able to trade Bargnani at all should be enough to seal a second Executive of the Year award. That he was able to get a solid role player and a FIRST ROUND DRAFT PICK merits the creation of Masai Ujiri day, maybe Masai Ujiri month, as a holiday for all of Canada.
Jonas Valanciunas won summer league MVP. Yes, it’s summer league, so production should be taken with a mountainous grain of salt, but that doesn’t change the fact that Valanciunas flat-out looked better. From a purely physical standpoint, Valanciunas looked to be in the best shape of his life, sporting a much more refined and chiseled frame. No longer tepid, Valaciunas moved with authority on the court, noticeably more physical with his opponents than last season. Valanciunas has always been deceptively graceful, but now that grace is augmented by muscle and an improved basketball IQ.
Toronto also signed summer league stand-out Dwight Buycks, who burst onto the scene while playing for the Oklahoma City Thunder’s summer league team in Orlando, then proceeded to lead Las Vegas in points and assists while playing with the Raptors. Buycks will battle D.J. Augustin, another offseason addition, for the back-up point guard spot behind Kyle Lowry.
While Dwyane Casey is still the head coach, the Raptors hired former D-League coach Nick Nurse, a hot name in coaching circles, as an assistant coach. Could he be Ujiri’s choice to succeed (or replace) Casey? A rift existed between Casey and the former front office, and it remains to be seen if that rift still exists with the new regime, or if he’s now on the same page with Ujiri and company. If he’s not, it’s highly likely we won’t see Casey return to the Raptors after this season.
For Toronto, this season was all about preparing for the future. With Bargnani’s departure, they gained some financial freedom, and with Ujiri’s arrival, they have a proven architect to build their team. They stand a slight chance of making the playoffs this season, if only because the bottom of the East is as weak as ever, but if they don’t, they’ll have a shot at native son Andrew Wiggins. Either way, the future is promising for the Raptors.
Image via Flickr by Arhtur40A