If I had to describe the offseason for the Raptors in one word, it would be continuity.
Unlike a typical Raptors offseason of change, this one wasn’t necessarily about player addition or subtraction. Rather, it was keeping the same core group of players intact for at least another season or two.
Masai Ujiri was able to build that continuity by resigning Kyle Lowry as well as his other restricted free agents Greivis Vasquez and Patrick Patterson and even all the way down to his coach Dwane Casey.
Here’s quick a look at what the Raptors did this offseason:
-Resigned Coach Dwane Casey for three years
-Resigned Kyle Lowry to a reasonable long-term deal
-Resigned Greivis Vasquez for two years
-Resigned Patrick Patterson for three years
-Drafted Bruno Caboclo and DeAndre Daniels
-Traded for Lou Williams and Lucas Nogueira
-Traded Steve Novak for Diante Garrett (waived)
-Signed James Johnson and Will Cherry
-Signed Jordan Hamilton
-Signed Greg Steimsma
There were only minor tweaking to the Raptors roster and sometimes making no drastic moves can be the best move for a team to make. Besides, this is still a team fighting to establish itself in the NBA ranks.
Perhaps no major roster shakeup ends up as metaphorically taking a step forward for this club. A case for improvement can simply be made based off of the continuity from last season. The team has now had more time to gel along with an entire training camp and preseason together. This as a result, should create even more team chemistry for the already cohesive group that we saw last season.
In addition, while there were no obvious game changing or swinging for the fence type of roster moves, the Raptors did at least, make some moves. They were able to add some nice pieces off the bench which should help at various times throughout the season.
James Johnson can guard the type of big mobile forwards that had their way with the Raptors in the playoff series with Brooklyn. As well as Lou Williams who is a combo guard scorer at Casey’s disposal who can some off the bench and put up points in bunches.
The only other notable additions to the team were the rookies. I loved the risk/reward mentality on selecting Bruno Caboclo in the draft versus going for one of the more well known players. I also liked acquiring another young Brazilian with potential in Lucas Nogueira for next to nothing. Any time you can get a good young prospect for a player that was going to be waived, sign me up.
While neither of them have the ability or talent to make an impact on the team at this point, it’s the potential of those two players that I find most intriguing for the team’s future. Potential will be the key here and both players have the potential to be impactful players down the road which is the right strategy in the Raptors current position.
Going along with the continuity theme with the roster, I’ve also continued to be pleased with the work that Masai Ujiri has done, despite his short time with the Raptors thus far.
There has been some very impressive work in what has seemed like each time he made a trade, he turned nothing into something. Which is quite the opposite of his predecessor Bryan Colangelo, who always seemed to give up something in return for nothing.
With that said, however, even though the Raptors have made a case for improvement by simply staying the course, it must also be noted that the Eastern conference as a whole has also improved by making changes. It won’t be the same walk in the park like last year’s conference was. The East will be more competitive this season and the wins will be much more difficult to attain this season.
Dwane Casey will now have his work cut out for him to once again go out and improve the team this season. It is an upward trend that the team has maintained ever since taking over as the head coach of the team.
Except that this time around, the outlook surrounding the team has changed completely considering that now the team is under an enormous amount of pressure to win right out of the gate. That is not something that Casey has had to deal with yet as coach of the Raptors, because he has for the most part been involved with the team’s rebuild.
Even last season, many fans, including myself, thought that trading Rudy Gay was a clear sign of tanking last season, so it’s not like there were high expectations prior to winning the division a few months later.
So it will be interesting to see how he handles that new found pressure to win from day one. As a playoff team and favourite to win the Atlantic division, you need to go out and win the games that playoff teams are supposed to win.
The Raptors have exceeded just about all expectations to this point under Masai Ujiri which has caused the expectations for the team this season to grow exponentially. The city, the fans and the front office have gone all in on this team and have set some high expectations for this season.
The question now though, is with those growing expectations, can the Raptors meet them?