Drake references aside, Toronto finally got over the hump by completing the impossible (defeating the juggernaut team from the Bay), made possible by a preseason acquisition and the emergence of a reliable forward: Pascal Siakam. Despite the success of last season and playing in a weak/top-heavy conference, the Raptors will need to survive the trade deadline without losing any major pieces and receive strong playoff performances from Siakam, Van Fleet and Lowry to have a shot at repeating a championship run.
The biggest offseason move for Toronto was a subtraction, rather than an addition - the loss of Kawahi Leonard in free agency. Upper management of the Raptors front office knew that this huge off-season transaction to receive Leonard, preceding the 2018-2019 season, could be a one-year rental, as Leonard has openly expressed his desire to play close to Los Angeles for the past three seasons. Despite this, the Raptors pulled the trigger and were willing to come to terms with the large possibility that this would be a one-year lease. The lease worked, reeling in the franchise’s first Larry O’Brien Trophy; however, they must now move forward without a perennial superstar. A core consisting of Gasol, Van Fleet, Siakam, Lowry, and Ibaka has the power to make the playoffs in a weak Eastern Conference, but with expiring contracts and the aforementioned lack of a star, Toronto will need a lot of external help to repeat last year’s success.
It will be interesting to see how the team looks come the trade deadline because of these expiring contracts and the strong internal urge from several front office officials to push the reset button and begin the rebuilding process. Doing so will allow the Raptors to gain a little compensation back from players, such as Gasol or Ibaka, who no longer fill the void of being roster centerpieces, but rather are being seen and used as role players. These players could reel in sizeable amounts of young talent from teams in contention who are looking for one more piece from a mid-season pick-up to push them over the hump. Although this could set Toronto up for seasons to come, doing so would effectively end their chances of being a real contender for the championship this season.
Young bucks Siakam and Van Fleet took tremendous strides last season and are now pivotal pieces to the future of Toronto’s franchise. Siakam reeled in the NBA’s Most Improved Player of the year, while Van Fleet put on a complete show during the Finals. A large portion of Toronto’s future success and direction depends directly on the play and development of these two young players. If they continue to build on last season’s performance, the future of Toronto’s core looks extremely bright.
While Toronto’s chances of repeating as NBA Champions seem to be relatively thin, anything can happen in a league that has undergone so many physical and emotional changes this offseason. As long as player development continues within Toronto’s young core, and the front office refrains from hitting the reset button at the trade deadline, Toronto will be in the picture to come out of the Eastern Conference next summer.
Subscribe to The Pangean
Get the latest posts delivered right to your inbox