The Toronto Raptors hopes of making the NBA’s inaugural play-in tournament are extinct. After the Indiana Pacers beat the Clevenand Cavaliers last night by a score of 111-102, the Raptors’ destiny of missing the playoffs for the first time since 2013 was sealed. The only other season during the Kyle Lowry era in which the Raptors have not qualified for the postseason tournament was when coach Dwane Casey’s bench unit consisted of Landry Fields, John Lucas, Aaron Gray, and Alan Anderson.
Fast forward eight blissful years from then: the Raptors captured their first ever NBA Championship, their organization’s development system for coaches, staff, and young players has been put on a pedestal and heralded as the place for people to go if they want to grow, and they are currently sitting on the longest active playoff streak in the league at seven consecutive years. It’s been the best era of the franchise’s history, and it might not be over just yet.
Many are calling this week Kyle Lowry’s last as a Raptor. Masai Ujiri, Bobby Webster, and the Raptors’ front office have understandably dealt with a considerable amount of criticism for not trading Lowry at the March 25th trade deadline, and then proceeding to bench him down the final stretch of the season. Should Lowry ultimately leave in free agency, then hindsight will be 20/20, and it will be easy to say that the Raptors should have shipped him to Philadelphia for Tyrese Maxey plus whatever else was on the table at the time. However, there is also the possibility that all of the rumours stating Lowry wants to go to Miami are false, and Kyle decides to stay. After all, the Raptors probably aren’t as terrible as their record this season would suggest.
It remains to be seen how much of this season’s volatility can be attributed to factors that were outside of the Raptors’ control, such as them being forced to practice in a hotel ballroom, dodge alligators on their way to work, play 2,000 kilometers away from home, and of course, deal with COVID-19 along the way. Regardless, one thing is certain – this team has the potential to be a top-four seed in the East again.
If we look at the stretch of games between the Raptors 2-8 start, and the time that Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet, and OG Anunoby contracted a deadly virus, the team went 14-7 – essentially playing every single one of those games on the road, and playing Aron Baynes for extended minutes. Extrapolating based on that record, they would have landed somewhere around the second seed in the Eastern Conference, ceteris paribus
With the recent additions of Khem Birch and Freddie Gillespie to shore up the team’s frontcourt issues, and the development of Malachi Flynn, Jalen Harris, Gary Trent Jr., and OG Anunoby, the Raptors look like they will be competitive next season – at least on paper. Heading into this summer, the most important items on Masai Ujiri’s grocery list will be to re-sign Khem Birch, Gary Trent Jr., and of course, figure out what to do with Kyle Lowry.
Although Lowry doesn’t fit the team’s timeline going forward, basketball is a people business, and Lowry has certainly earned the right to make it his own decision if he retires as a Raptor or not. If he leaves, then the Raptors will have $34 million in practical cap space, without accounting for the salary of their first-round draft pick. For odds on where the Raptors’ pick might land in this year’s lottery, check out sites such as comeon.com/ca. With that extra cap space, the Raptors could either explore options to make them more competitive in the short term, or try to find and develop younger players that would set the team up better for the future.
No matter which way they decide to spin the narrative, it’s hard to say that the Raptors aren’t in a good position going into next season with Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby, Fred VanVleet, Malachi Flynn, Gary Trent Jr., the seventh best lottery odds in this year’s stacked draft, and a chartered flight back to Toronto as soon as possible.