2019-20 NBA Team Preview Series: Toronto Raptors
Photo credit: Kyle Terada - USA Today Sports
The 2019-2020 NBA season starts October 22th, and to get you ready for tip-off, Off the Glass is previewing all 30 teams. Today we look at the Toronto Raptors.
2018-2019 Record: 58-24, 1st in the Atlantic Division. Won the 2018-2019 NBA title (champions).
Season Recap: The Toronto Raptors finished the 2018-2019 season as NBA champions, following a thrilling playoff run through the Orlando Magic, Philadelphia 76ers, Milwaukee Bucks and (of course) Golden State Warriors.
Just before the trade deadline, the front office made the bold decision to trade CJ Miles, Jonas Valanciunas, Delon Wright and a second-round draft pick to the Memphis Grizzlies for All-Star centre Marc Gasol. Much to the chagrin of the other 29 teams, this trade was exactly the type of injection the team needed to push it over the top and seriously compete for a title.
The summertime decision to acquire and subsequently load-manage Kawhi Leonard paid off rather lucratively, as the Raptors rode his clutch offensive production into uncharted territory, emerging victorious after a six game Finals bout with the dynastic, albeit injury-afflicted, Warriors.
Key Losses: Kawhi Leonard (F), Danny Green (G)
Key Additions: Stanley Johnson (F), Rondae-Hollis Jefferson (F), Matt Thomas (G)
Preview: Following the departures of both Leonard and Danny Green, the Raptors now pivot into an era of uncertainty; they are the first team to ever attempt a title-defence without the reigning Finals MVP. However, they are well-positioned for a rebuild, with franchise cornerstone Pascal Siakam already acclimating to a No. 1 role on a team filled with youth potential.
The question for this upcoming season is an uncomfortable one: what do the Raptors do with their veterans, provided they are not real contenders for another title? Shipping out Serge Ibaka, Marc Gasol, and possibly Kyle Lowry to vet-needy pseudo-contenders could yield a bevy of first and second-round draft picks, with which the franchise could rapidly rebuild around Siakam.
Alternatively, they could hang onto their vets for one more season, and hope that yet another deep playoff run provides invaluable experience for Spicy P, OG Anunoby, Norman Powell, and Fred VanVleet. That core is youthful enough to be built around in a year's time, when the Raptors will be flush with cap space to pursue star free agents.
Player to Watch: Pascal Siakam (F)
Team X-Factor: Whether or not they keep the vets.
Worst Case Scenario: The defending champs never really feel like... well, defending champs. The losses of the offseason are too much to overcome with in-house development, and top-notch offensive possessions are few and far between; this team barely scores enough to squeak into the Eastern Conference playoffs as a 7 or 8-seed.
Best Case Scenario: With development from Siakam and Anunoby, along with bigger roles for Norm Powell and Fred VanVleet, the Raptors are once again a force in the Eastern Conference playoff picture. Their defense remains among the league's elite, and they score efficiently enough to represent a significant thorn in the side of the East's true contenders. A second-round playoff exit feels like this team's ceiling if everything breaks right (the vets stay, the young guys perform, and the coaching staff is one step ahead).
Actual 2019-2020 Prediction: 48-34, 3rd in the Atlantic Division.