Toronto General Manager Masai Ujiri is probably a tad bit overrated. He’s hit a couple of homeruns in his tenure but this current roster is going nowhere fast and it’s time to make a commitment one way or another. This team is neither very good nor very bad and that’s a challenging place to be.
Toronto Raptors (Over/Under 36.5 Wins)
Key Adds - Gradey Dick, Jalen McDaniels, Dennis Schroeder,
Key Losses - Fred Van Vleet
After Vince Carter flat-out quit on the Raptors years ago, things were pretty bleak in Toronto for some time. Together, Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan were able to bring excitement to fans north of the border. Raptors fans had high hopes and wondered what their dynamic duo could do, only to watch their team roll over and get trampled by LeBron James. It was an annual tradition.
Enter Masai Ujiri. Like Thanos, he was the only person capable of doing what needed to be done for the greater good. The decision to trade away DeRozan was not universally lauded by Raptors fans but it did result in a championship. In retrospect, it frankly wasn’t that hard of a decision. Kawhi would ultimately force the team to make a commitment. If he left, Ujiri could finally tear things down and build the team the way he envisioned. If he stayed, Ujiri was happy to continue building around Kawhi. Ultimately Kawhi left but Ujiri has failed to commit to a complete teardown and has passed up opportunities to chase another ring.
Many assumed the Raptors would either draft Jalen Suggs or trade out of the 4th pick after some incredible lottery luck that landed the Raptors in the top 5. Instead, Ujiri went with Scottie Barnes and many questioned whether he had made a huge mistake. Surely a team on the brink of contending could turn a top 4 pick into more than a potential project with a questionable jump shot. At the time, Ujiri had enough equity and goodwill built up to where no one in the media was TOO vocal about their doubts. In the end, Ujiri was right, and Barnes has shown flashes of brilliance while Jalen Suggs has struggled to carve out a role on a Magic team bereft of guard talent.
Then came Kevin Durant’s infamous trade request. It was speculated that KD would accept a trade to Toronto, but the Raptors would have to part with Scottie Barnes. For Ujiri, it was a non-starter. Durant would have unquestionably made the Raptors title contenders the second he passed through customs, but Ujiri decided Barnes’s long term upside was too much to give up. Nothing is guaranteed in the NBA but it’s more likely than not that a team with Durant, Fred Van Vleet, OG Anunoby, and Pascal Siakam would have won a ring or come darn close to it. Now, with Van Vleet gone, Anunoby looking for an expanded role, and Siakam on a max contract, you have to wonder if Ujiri overplayed his hand.
Van Vleet isn’t a superstar but losing him for nothing is far from ideal. Anunoby has been the topic of trade speculation for two years now and has a player option after this season. He might as well send his opt-out in now. There’s zero chance he opts into his final year at $19.9 million. Anunoby will be looking for a huge pay raise and the opportunity to get more touches on the offensive end. Pascal Siakam is entering the last year of his deal and won’t accept anything less than a max contract.
After trading a first-round pick for Jakob Poeltl at the deadline, the Raptors lavished him with a 4-year, $58.5 million dollar contract. Poeltl is a good player but having his contract on the books makes any potential rebuild that much harder. Gary Trent Jr. is good but what will his next contract look like? He’s not good enough to overpay but is not bad enough to let walk for nothing. The Raptors have had plenty of opportunities to reshape their short- and long-term outlooks and have opted to do nothing. Drafting late in the lottery is unlikely to yield a franchise-altering player.
So, what now? Does Ujiri bring back a team with a clear ceiling but at a much heftier price tag? Does he tear it down and build around Scottie Barnes? The path forward looks uncertain for this team and someone with the rep of Masai Ujiri should not have allowed things to reach this point. The Raptors are one of the few teams that could tremendously impact the trade market if they commit to being a buyer or seller. Until that happens, however, this team will be too good to tank and nowhere near good enough to win in a meaningful way. Masai, the man once praised as the most forward-thinking and ruthless GM in the league, where art thou?
PREDICTION - YAWN...OVER 36.5 Wins