One of the more under-the-radar clubs affected by the season suspension is the Raptors. Toronto was second in the East when play was stopped, and their .719 winning percentage was actually ahead of the mark of last summer’s championship squad. The Raptors entered this season as candidates for a soft teardown of sorts. Masai Ujiri, with a trophy in hand, had the runway to hand the team off to younger players while leveraging higher-priced veterans for players who could contribute in the future. To Toronto’s credit, the front office kept the remaining band together, and the team kept on winning. So now what?
The Raptors are in a tough spot. The 2020 season was shaping up perfectly. The team could make one more—however unlikely—push toward the Finals while maintaining flexibility in the summer. Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol are on expiring contracts, while Kyle Lowry has one year left on his deal. In an ideal world, the Raptors could have played deep into the playoffs, and then launched into a new phase in the summer. The pandemic may force the Raptors into that new phase without the benefit of another postseason run.
Does it make sense to bring back guys like Gasol and Ibaka moving forward? Lowry is a franchise icon, but he’ll also be a valuable guy on the trade market for other contenders by the time next season rolls around. And younger players like Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet are ready for starring roles.
In a long-term obsessed NBA, it makes sense for Toronto to move on from the current group and start building the foundation for an extended run of success. But the romantic in me hopes that the uncertainty surrounding the NBA’s return this season and the next one convinces the front office to give the current group another run together. Maybe bringing back everyone on one-year deals isn’t the soundest planning for the future. But the Raptors were playing like a team ready to put up a spirited title defense. They still deserve that chance.