The Toronto Raptors have officially transitioned out of their championship phase that they spent the last decade in, as Masai Ujiri decided to restock the roster with young talent after the sign-and-trade of Kyle Lowry to the Miami Heat.
While they held onto championship holdovers like Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby, and Fred VanVleet and added Scottie Barnes with the No. 4 overall pick in the 2021 NBA Draft, this roster will likely be fighting to make it to the postseason, not populating their minds with thoughts of another ring.
While Ujiri and GM Bobby Webster have spoken highly about the Siakam-Anunoby-VanVleet core and their potential for the future, Ujiri did his best to prepare raptors fans for the fact that this season will likely be fought with mistakes, disappointing results, and young players getting their feet wet.
Appearing on CBC’s “Front Burner” podcast, while Ujiri did speak kindly about VanVleet and his leadership, he did acknowledge that the Raptors are “not a team of ‘now'” and that fans should brace for some “growing pains” this season.
Masai Ujiri and the Raptors might be in for some growing pains in 2021.
In addition to the fact that this team is trying to make up for the loss of Lowry, this is one of the youngest teams in the league. 35-year-old Goran Dragic is the only player older than 28 on the roster (Khem Birch will be 29 in a few weeks), and the roster as it stands right now features nine players who are 24 or younger.
In addition to the three holdovers from the title team, the Raptors acquired Precious Achiuwa in the Lowry swap, and the potential housed within both him and Barnes on the floor together could be nightmarish if Nick Nurse gets them to shoot at an above-average clip.
Still, as Ujiri proved during the last decade, Rome wasn’t built in one day, and their plan to build back to the top is already tough considering that they play in the toughest division in the sport alongside two ready-made title contenders in Brooklyn and Philadelphia.
Just hold on, Raptors fans. Better days will be coming soon.
The 2021-22 season, and perhaps even the 2022-23 campaign, will be an exercise in patience. Barnes will have some off-nights shooting the ball, Siakam might struggle in his return from his shoulder ailment, and it could take the new additions some time to gel together.
If you’re expecting Toronto to take home the title, even Ujiri seems a bit skeptical of that.
Even with all of those qualifications, the potential of what this team could be is still so enticing.