At the end of an article I wrote, I noted that this current Toronto Raptors squad is not a championship caliber contender, “but that’s a story for another day”. Well, here’s that story.
If you’ve been living under a rock, Bryan Colangelo was extended as president but removed as general manager of the Toronto Raptors. Masai Ujiri has taken over as general manager, and hasn’t exactly made it clear which direction this team is going to go.
However, he did make it clear that he wants to build it right, and not just a team that will make the playoffs. With Colangelo around to oversee his project finish I would guess that Ujiri isn’t going to blow the whole thing up, rather make do with what the current roster has and try to develop it into something more than a ‘treadmill team’, but that’s completely speculation based. However, I believe this roster deserves a chance to showcase its full potential, and I really am hoping Ujiri gives it that chance and re-tools rather than re-builds.
With that being said, Tim Leiweke has made winning championships the priority, and right now there is no way this Raptors team comes close to winning a championship.
Well no kidding. The real question is, how far away is this team from contention?
My personal opinion tells me that unless you are building around superstars, you need to be solid at every single position, and run an 8-9 man rotation in order to be competitive in this league. And by solid, I mean at least a top-10 caliber player at each position, with one player being the clear-cut scoring leader and closer on the team. There are obviously exceptions, the team has to have the right mix of offense and a very strong defense, but for the most part, following a model similar to the Detroit Pistons back in the days where they had Chauncey and co wouldn’t be a bad route.
Let’s start by looking at the Raptors’ starting 5. Kyle Lowry fits the role that I described, and is a young, dynamic point guard. No problems there. DeMar DeRozan is certainly a borderline top 10 shooting guard with a ton of room to improve.
A lot of Raptors fans weren’t happy with the Rudy Gay deal, but people have to understand that he’s the best player the Raptors are going to be able to build around, and that’s not a bad thing at all. LeBron isn’t coming to Toronto. Neither is Carmelo, or Durant, or Kobe, or any superstar top 5 talent that is considered a proper ‘building block’ which teams can build around. There’s only a handful of them in this league and a few teams are lucky enough to own them.
Toronto fans do have to understand that no first tier superstar is going to come to Toronto until they find some serious incentive. Andrew Wiggins is a possibility down the line, but this team is realistically too good to stand a chance at Wiggins, so at this point look for this team to build around second tier stars. Rudy falls in that category, and quite frankly is one of the top second tier star building blocks. He’s fantastic in isolation, and can hit big shots at the rate of a first tier superstar, so as I said, the Raps can do a lot worse that build around Rudy.
However, Rudy evidently isn’t a superstar in the sense that having him on your team already puts you at contender status – he will need support in multiple areas. Amir Johnson is a very, very solid big man and would be a fantastic first big off the bench of a championship squad, but he won’t cut it if this team wants to go anywhere. This team needs a top 10 power forward that can stretch the floor (simply because of the make-up of the squad). Josh Smith, Paul Millsap, Al Jefferson and the 13-game Andrea Bargnani would fit that bill, and are all long-shots, but available this offseason. If only this team had Chris Bosh.
Jonas Valanciunas should be able to anchor the team at the center spot within a few years, however the rate of his development will be one of the biggest factors in this team’s success going forward. So that covers the starting 5, but as I said an 8 man rotation would be optimal. Amir Johnson fills the role of that back-up big man off the bench, and my hope is that Terrence Ross turns into a viable 6th man. What’s missing is obviously a back-up point guard, and that isn’t too hard to fill. The rest of the 7 roster spots should be used for fillers and injury replacements. This is how I see the current roster (player name, minutes in rotation):
PG – Kyle Lowry 35, Need 13
SG- DeMar DeRozan 36, Terrence Ross 24
SF- Rudy Gay 36, Terrence Ross 24
PF- Need 36, Amir Johnson 24
C- Jonas Valanciunas 36, Amir Johnson 24
Fillers: Linas Kleiza, Landry Fields, Aaron Gray, John Lucas III, Quincy Acy
I didn’t include Andrea Bargnani because I’m really not sure what to make of the situation, or him as a player for that matter. The 13-game Bargnani is a top 10 PF in this league, the other Bargnani isn’t very good. The bottom line is that the Raptors can hope he pans out, but after waiting 7 years now, it’s likely the case that they have had enough waiting, so I will leave Bargnani off this list for now.
Another point I would like to make is how strangely this team is built. This team looks like it’s ready for a playoff appearance at the very minimum, yet two of its core piece are rookies. One of the biggest factors in this plan coming to fruition will be the development of Ross and Valanciunas, and how quickly they will be able to (if at all) develop into their roles slated above.
To conclude, if I’m Ujiri, I get a list of power forwards, and bring one of them on this roster. Amnesty Kleiza, move Bargnani + a 2014 1st rounder in a sign and trade for Josh Smith and you’re done: this team will compete once the rookies pan out.
Maybe this is a little optimistic, and I haven’t taken enough account for chemistry, coaching, and all of the other factors but the bottom line is this : you need talent to win games and Toronto needs more talent.