The Toronto Raptors head into the season with a lower set of expectations than they’ve become accustomed too over the past 3 years. They’re no longer a championship contender, but they do still have a competitive roster. If free agency told us anything, however, it’s that this team might be looking further ahead than just this year.
It was a somewhat underwhelming free agency period for the Toronto Raptors, though they did make some under the radar moves. Despite some key losses, they did enough to stay afloat in the eastern conference. Most importantly, they were able to maintain financial flexibility heading into next summer when they intend to make a play for Giannis Antetekoumpo, among others.
As the dust has now settled on a whirlwind of surprise signings from around the league, it’s time to assess the Raptors’ moves and where they stand.
Fred VanVleet – Re-signed for 4 years/$85 million
While technically not an addition, bringing back VanVleet was a huge get for this team as he was one of the most sought after free agents on the market. Not only that, but the 4 years $85 million contracts was a relatively good bargain based on what was expected to be offered by other teams.
VanVleet will now be handed the keys as one of the true leaders of the team. At the age of 26, he still has another level to get too in his game, and he also represents a contingency plan at the point guard position in case the team has to part ways with upcoming free agent Kyle Lowry.
The Wichita State product is a big part of the Toronto Raptors’ culture as well, and keeping him maintains a sense of order on the team. Not to mention, they didn’t have to break the bank for him so it won’t affect their future plans.
Aron Baynes – signed for 2 years/$14 million
Aron Baynes was one of the luckiest people of agree agency. His expected market was a veterans minimum, but when the Toronto Raptors struck out on a few players and realized they had no centre, Baynes (the best player left on the board) received the hefty offer.
To the casual fan, it looks like an overpay, but keep in mind that $14 million as part of a mid-level exception that they had to use on someone.
Make no mistake, Baynes is a real player. His shooting ability in pick and pop situations and toughness will be a serviceable replacement for the production lost from Serge Ibaka’s departure (which we’ll get too). He averaged over 11 ppg and 5 rpg last season while shooting 48% from the field last season.
Baynes’ main problem is that he can’t stay on the court; he missed 40 games last year and 31 the year prior. He also just doesn’t provide the same level of defence and rim protection that the combination of Ibaka and Gasol brought to the team.
Chris Boucher – resigned for 2 years/$13 million
The pride of Montreal got a generous deal from the Toronto Raptors, but it was worth it. Boucher is expected to have a much larger role this year given the losses in the frontcourt, after showing positive flashes last year as a spot player off the bench.
His contract, while above his market value, doesn’t complicate next years cap situation either. The pause with Boucher is that he is already 27 years old. A fact people tend to forget when dreaming about a potential quantum leap in his game like that of Pascal Siakam two years ago. That isn’t to say he doesn’t have more room to grow however, and he’ll get his chance as he’ll be thrust into much bigger shoes as the primary back up centre. Which brings us too….
Serge Ibaka – signed for 2 years/$19 million with Clippers
Many Toronto Raptors fans were sad to see Ibaka leave, and for good reason. He was one of the best players on the team last season, putting up 15 points and 8 boards per game while shooting an absurd 38% from three-point range. His combination of mobility and rim protection on defence allowed the Raptors to play him at the centre and not get burned on pick and rolls.
The loss will certainly hurt this team, and though Aron Baynes is as good a replacement as any, its still a downgrade. You can’t blame Ibaka for joining his old buddy Kawhi Leonard in Los Angelas, he saw the writing on the wall and as an older player, decided he had a better chance at another ring by parting ways with the Toronto Raptors.
Marc Gasol – signed for 2 years $ million with Lakers
Gasol’s departure was equally sad for fans, as he was also beloved by many for his ties to the 2019 title. The impact of the loss on-court though, won’t be as large as Ibaka’s. Many believe Gasol was cooked during the 2020 postseason, and it was time for both sides to mutually move on. Gasol was borderline unplayable against the Boston Celtics in the East semis. He seemed slow, unsure of himself, and that he had no confidence left in his jump shot.
For what they need out of that role of backup centre, Boucher might actually be a better option given the point both players are at in their careers. Still, what will be lost in Gasol is an adult in the locker room. He was an emotional leader for this team and an incredibly smart anchor at the back end of the defence.
OVERALL GRADE: B-
The departure of Ibaka is definitely a loss for the Toronto Raptors, but they did manage to bring in a cost-effective replacement. They also brought back a core cornerstone for the future in VanVleet, all while keeping their finances in order, so they’ll be free to make a huge run at Giannis.
The Toronto Raptors didn’t make any big splashes this offseason, so the tweaks they made will fly under the radar, but this team actually had a smart and careful free agency. Setting them up for what will likely be somewhat of a bridge year.