After a disappointing second-round sweep at the hands of the Cleveland Cavaliers, Toronto Raptors General Manager Masai Ujiri promised his team would undergo a ‘culture reset’ in the off-season that involves adapting the Raptors style of play. Personnel changes are likely as well. Big changes are coming in Raptorland. Let’s try and break down what some of the Toronto Raptors off-season changes may be.
Toronto Raptors Off-season Outlook
Let’s start with the biggest domino in the equation: Kyle Lowry‘s impending free agency.
Will Kyle Lowry Re-sign?
The Raptors dynamic point guard will have plenty of suitors in free agency after Lowry opted out of the final year of his deal. The 76ers have shown interest in signing Lowry, a Philadelphia-native. The 31-year-old would be a sizeable upgrade over T.J. McConnell and would help mold promising youngsters Joel Embiid, Dario Saric, and Ben Simmons for years to come.
Joining a championship-contender is of utmost important to Lowry, as he’s publicly stated his desire to join a team in win-now mode. With that in mind, the San Antonio Spurs could be a logical destination for the three-time all-star, especially given Tony Parker‘s decline. Imagine Lowry alongside Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge, with Gregg Popovich on the bench. Lowry’s gritty play style would fit in seamlessly in San Antonio.
The Raptors have the financial advantage in the Lowry sweepstakes. Toronto can sign him to a five-year max-deal, while other teams can only offer four. Even so, Lowry’s desire to join a true contender may trump whatever amount of money Ujiri and co. throw his way. While Toronto is in the upper-echelon of the league, they simply don’t have enough firepower to supplant LeBron James‘ Cavaliers.
Ujiri has publically stated the team’s desire to resign Lowry. At this point, Lowry hasn’t made it clear on whether he’s willing to return.
What About Serge Ibaka?
Deciding on whether to resign Serge Ibaka is also at the forefront of the Toronto Raptors off-season plans. The big man improves Toronto’s interior defence and spaces the floor. Resigning Ibaka makes sense whether Lowry stays or goes, given he’s younger (28), more affordable (approximately $20 million per season), and covers up the Raptors most glaring weaknesses. Early rumours indicate that Ibaka and the Raptors are already nearing a new deal.
Other Expiring Contracts
Patterson is known for his spot-up shooting ability, yet struggled mightily in the postseason from long-range. He shot just 30 percent from three and averaged an underwhelming 3.4 points per game. Patterson’s scoring average has declined in each of the past four playoff runs with Toronto. Patterson may be on his way out, with Ujiri looking to upgrade the Raptors’ scoring punch off the bench.
Tucker provided defensive intensity and grit after joining Toronto at the trade deadline. His contributions don’t show up in the box score, but it’s Tucker’s intangibles that make him such a commodity. Tucker will undoubtedly garner interest on the open market. It will be interesting to see whether Toronto pays the swingman and makes him a part of the team’s long-term plans.
Adapting the Raptors Style of Play
Aside from personnel changes, the Raptors ‘culture reset’ will involve changing the team’s style of play, something Ujiri says he’s already spoken to Head Coach Dwane Casey about.
The Raptors have been too reliant on isolation plays, and it shows in their assist totals. The Raps ranked last in the 2016-17 regular season with 18.5 per game and have ranked bottom-ten in assists each of the past four seasons. It’s no secret moving the ball leads to more open shots and higher assist totals. Toronto should focus on improving its ball movement heading into next season, rather than relying on DeRozan and Lowry (if he returns) to create offence.
Casey said the Raptors could have done a better job of adapting to the ‘new-age NBA’, which leans heavily on three-pointers. While the Raptors did finish a respectable 13th leaguewide in three-point percentage at 36.3 percent, moving the ball more could easily push them into the top-ten. How they go about revamping their offensive sets to emphasize ball movement is unclear at this point. Running more sets for Jonas Valanciunas or Ibaka down low could force defences to collapse on them, which would open up passing lanes. Both players would have to improve as passers for that to happen, though.
Should the Raptors be Satisfied with Consistent Playoff Appearances?
Ujiri and his staff have to determine if consistently making the playoffs, but not being a front-runner for the Larry O’Brien Trophy is sufficient enough for the organization. Obviously, the end goal for every team is a championship. With King James at the peak of his powers in Cleveland, though, it’s tough for any team to dethrone him. James is 32, so he may not slow down anytime soon.