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Fred VanVleet assumes leadership role with departure of Kyle Lowry

Outside expectations are low for the Raptors, but Fred VanVleet said they're still shooting to compete for a title.

Associated Press

Fred VanVleet sees no reason why the Raptors can’t compete despite the loss of franchise legend Kyle Lowry.

TORONTO — Raptors guard Fred VanVleet doesn’t worry about players who aren’t teammates anymore, or what can’t be done without them.

He just wants to win.

Finally back home in Canada after two frustrating seasons disrupted by the pandemic, the Raptors are a far cry from the star-studded team that Kawhi Leonard and Kyle Lowry helped lead to the 2019 NBA championship.

Leonard is long gone and Lowry left this summer in a sign-and-trade with Miami, but don’t tell VanVleet the Raptors can’t compete.

“The goal is to win a championship every year,” VanVleet said. “I’m certainly not going to lower my standards. I don’t care who’s on the team.”

Coach Nick Nurse agrees.

“I’ve never really approached the season with thoughts other than trying to win and win big,” Nurse said. “There’s got to be a way.”

VanVleet, along with fellow championship holdovers Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby, will be counted on to provide the kind of leadership that Lowry once delivered.

“We’ll try to pick up the slack that he left behind, the greatest Raptor to do it,” VanVleet said. “I read a quote the other day that said ‘There’s things that have never been done (before) done every day.’ I’m up for the challenge, I think the team is ready for the challenge. We have a young, hungry group that are looking to prove themselves.”

After missing the playoffs last season and ending up with the fourth pick in the draft, Toronto chose Florida State forward Scottie Barnes, adding another long, athletic player to a growing stable of similar talents, including Siakam and Anunoby.

“We want to go out there and have people not want to play us,” Siakam said. “That’s the energy and mindset you’ve got to have, being that team you don’t want to play against because of the length, the athleticism, the energy, all those things.”

General manager Bobby Webster understands why the Raptors aren’t considered championship contenders any more, but is happy with the way things are headed.

“We feel like the trajectory of the team is on the climb and we feel like we have some interesting pieces,” Webster said. “If one or two or three players pop, maybe we’re in a different group.”