Kawhi Leonard may be gone, but the Toronto Raptors future is still promising. Masai Ujiri has a plan for 2021 and beyond.
Sports fans have a short attention span. A little over a month ago the Toronto Raptors won their first NBA championship. Shortly after free agency opened it was announced that Kawhi Leonard, the man primarily responsible for that title, would be signing with the Los Angeles Clippers. Now instead of hoping for a repeat, Raptors fans are left wondering what’s next?
Josh Lewenberg of TSN reported that Masai Ujiri has no plans to trade Kyle Lowry, Serge Ibaka or Marc Gasol before the start of the season. All three are on expiring contracts. Any one of them would also be a valuable addition to a would-be contender. Some are calling for Ujiri to gut the team and start a rebuild now.
Despite the departure of Leonard, as well as Danny Green, the Raptors still project as one of the better teams in the Eastern Conference. Ujiri has signed a number of “second-draft” players. The list includes Stanley Johnson, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Cameron Payne. All are former first-round picks looking to prove they belong in the league.
Most of the players on the Raptors’ roster still haven’t entered their prime. Pascal Siakam is 25 years old. He was recently named the league’s Most Improved Player and is a borderline All-Star. OG Anunoby is 22 and just entering his third season. Fred VanVleet (25) and Norman Powell (26) will be given the opportunity to expand their games in larger roles next season. Getting these players further playoff experience will provide more of a long-term benefit than just chasing lottery balls.
With that being said, how the Raptors look today could be substantially different then it will be two years from now.
Between Lowry, Ibaka, and Gasol almost $84 million will come off the books next summer. Lowry just hired a new agent. At 33 years old, he will likely be looking for one last big payday. Ibaka and Gasol could also be headed elsewhere. It’s unlikely the Raptors will want to re-sign two veteran centres on the wrong side of 30.
So with so much money available, what free agents could they target over the next couple of seasons?