30 Teams in 30 Days | 2023

30 teams in 30 days: Raptors seek direction after listless season

Despite lackluster results in 2022-23, Toronto is not ready to embrace a full-blown rebuild and is in major need of a clear path for the future.

One of new coach Darko Rajakovic’s biggest tasks will be getting Scottie Barnes back on track after a disappointing second season.

Key additions

  • Darko Rajakovic (coach), G Gradey Dick (draft), G Dennis Schroder (free agency)

Key subtractions

  • Nick Nurse (coach), G Fred VanVleet

Last season

The Raptors put more distance between them and that 2019 championship team with a season that was uneven and essentially uneventful. They never recovered from a December swoon that saw them go 5-10 for the month and showed little fight down the stretch, missing out on the playoffs completely.

Their man problems were an inability to win on the road (14-27) and, most glaringly, make shots. Otherwise, from a personnel standpoint, this team was decent. Pascal Siakam, in particular, was impressive, averaging 24.2 points, 7.8 rebounds and 5.8 assists.

VanVleet averaged 19.3 points and 7.2 assists and Gary Trent Jr., the club’s most dependable 3-point shooter, added 17.4 points. But it was a head-scratching season for Scottie Barnes, the 2021-22 Kia Rookie of the Year who saw his impact and production dip almost across the board.

At the trade deadline, all eyes watched to see if the Raptors would be big sellers and write off the season. They instead did the opposite, bringing back center Jakob Poeltl, who arrived and instantly gave the club an interior presence, especially on the boards.

But in the end, the Raptors finished in 10th place, Nurse lost his job and as the offseason approached, it seemed inevitable they would lose another link to the championship team, their starting point guard.

Summer summary

The Raptors give the impression of a team still searching, somewhat desperately, for its next identity. In that sense, the summer of 2023 came down to one question: Do they keep their most valuable asset or press the reboot button?

When the summer officially ended, Siakam was still a Raptor. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, because if they traded him, Toronto would do so hoping to find the next Pascal Siakam. And besides, Siakam never gave the impression he wanted to leave. So the All-Star and the team put aside all the trade scuttlebutt and prepared to keep the relationship going, at least for the moment. Should the Raptors get off to another poor start, they’ll do this dance all over again at the trade deadline.

Same, too, goes for OG Anunoby, another player who had value as a contributor and trade asset. The bottom line is, Toronto seems willing to run it back next season with the same squad plus a few rotational additions and a new coach.

They weren’t surprised when VanVleet left in free agency. It’s not that Toronto didn’t make an attempt to keep him; problem was, he was one of the better free agents in a weak year, and so his price shot up and his value became inflated. How many teams would’ve signed VanVleet for the contract he got — $130 million over three years — except the Rockets, who were flush with available money?

To replace him, the Raptors actually did well, getting Schroder for far less money. Schroder is good value after a solid season with the Lakers last year that rejuvenated his career, then leading Germany to victory at the FIBA World Cup as tournament MVP.

Also, speaking of good value: Toronto re-signed Poeltl, who they hope will continue his steady play from last season and at the very least be a bridge until Toronto finds a better big man.

In the Draft, the Raptors landed Dick, whose strength is exactly what Toronto needs: better perimeter shooting. That said, they’re asking a lot from a rookie given that they didn’t add any other shooters.

Stirring the soup will be up to Rajakovic, who if nothing else must find a system to get Barnes back on track and meet the expectations he set as a rookie.

The Raptors are hardly ready for a wrecking ball, but their ceiling seems to be the AT&T Play-In Tournament unless Barnes climbs to the level of Siakam. Judging by Toronto’s relatively mild offseason, there really isn’t any choice.

Up next: Detroit Pistons | Previously: Washington Wizards

> 30 teams in 30 days: Complete schedule

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Shaun Powell has covered the NBA for more than 25 years. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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