30 Teams in 30 Days: Toronto Raptors' veteran core ready to roll once again
Kyle Lowry, Serge Ibaka re-signed as sagely Raptors eye another long playoff run
Since the Warriors downed the Cavs to take the 2017 NBA title back on June 12, NBA teams have undergone a number of changes over the long summer offseason.
NBA.com’s Shaun Powell will evaluate the state of each franchise — from the team with the worst regular-season record in 2016-17 to the team with the best regular-season record — as we look at 30 teams in 30 days.
Today’s team: Toronto Raptors
2016-17 Record: 51-31
Who’s new: KJ McDaniels (free agency), C.J. Miles (free agency), OG Anunoby (Draft)
Who’s gone: DeMarre Carroll, Justin Hamilton, Cory Joseph, Patrick Patterson, P.J. Tucker
The lowdown: It was time for the Raptors to pay the bill, which they did, generously, to keep the status quo and make another run with virtually the same core that’s been successful to a point.
Which means, there’s a good chance Kyle Lowry and company will win roughly 50 games … and fail to reach The NBA Finals.
On the surface, that’s no so bad. Twenty to 25 teams would love to change places with the Raptors, who have thrived under the coaching of Dwane Casey and the guidance of GM Masai Ujiri. Basketball is fun in Toronto, which is perhaps the most underrated NBA city in terms of support, and fans have good reason to be spoiled and expect playoff runs as long as the main principals are involved.
Besides, what was the alternative? Break up the gang for … whom, exactly? There wasn’t a game-changing free agent on the market who was available, and the Raptors either didn’t make a push to trade for Paul George or weren’t asked to. Big free-agent fish Gordon Hayward didn’t give them an audience when he took the spotlight this summer.
So the Raptors used the summer mainly to keep certain players — most importantly Kyle Lowry and, to a lesser extent, Serge Ibaka.
Lowry was the big fish, a solid complement to DeMar DeRozan — who got paid the previous summer — and a tough-minded, premier point guard who makes the team go. The only question, really, is whether the Raptors had competition for the unrestricted free agent — and they really didn’t.
Yes, the Philadelphia 76ers and Lowry kicked each other’s tires, only because Lowry is Philadelphia native and ex-Villanova star and the Sixers had ample cap room to sign a much-needed veteran. But Lowry being 31 scared off a number a teams who were unwilling to invest so much into a player on the wrong side of 30.
In the end, Lowry and the Raptors needed each other. They couldn’t replace him with equal talent had he signed elsewhere, and he couldn’t find another team that had the combination of winning formula and city that Toronto offered. So it was a good compromise: The Raptors only gave Lowry three years, and Lowry will collect $33 million per season. One side made good on the years and the other made good on the dollars.
The last four seasons have been the best of his career, as Lowry averaged 17.9, 17.8, 21.2 and 21.4 points while shooting 44 percent and last year making a career-high 41.2 percent of his 3-pointers. Additionally, his leadership and playmaking skills are valued, along with his harmony with DeRozan, the team’s leading scorer.
More of a surprise was Toronto’s investment in Ibaka. He isn’t the defensive menace he was in Oklahoma City (his blocks have fallen from a high of 3.7 in 2011-12 to 1.4 last season, his lowest since his rookie season). Also, while Ibaka is a much more confident shooter than his first few seasons, his percentage dropped to 45.9 percent because he’s almost exclusively a perimeter player now, which means his free throw attempts have suffered.
Anyway, the Raptors gave him three years and $65 million for being a reasonably solid third-wheel to Lowry and DeRozan and nobody in the NBA was offering that much. Again, as with Lowry, the Raptors came out ahead on the years while Ibaka won in terms of annual payout.
To ease the burden on the salary cap, the Raptors erased a mistake and dumped DeMarre Carroll on the Brooklyn Nets, costing Toronto a No. 1 pick as a required throw-in. Carroll never fit in or consistently gave the Raptors what they needed from him, which is defense and secondary scoring especially from the perimeter.
They essentially swapped Joseph, another mild disappointment, for Miles in a backup-guard redo while drafting Anunoby, a raw forward from Indiana with the 23rd pick. Tucker, who gave the Raptors a boost when he arrived at midseason, was too expensive to keep around and he signed instead with the Houston Rockets.
What the Raptors would love to see is improvement from the developing players on the roster, mainly center Jakob Poeltl, their No. 1 pick from a year ago. He was steady, yet unspectacular, during the Las Vegas Summer League.
But the core players are all signed and, presumably, happy. Toronto can look forward to more from Lowry, DeRozan, Ibaka and Jonas Valanciunas, which is the good news.
Whether anyone will see Toronto playing basketball in June is an entirely different matter.
Coming Next: LA Clippers
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