“We the North!!”
While this Game of Thrones inspired tagline and unofficial Raptors motto KICKED ASS it was somehow, unbelievably, only the 3rd best thing to come out of Toronto’s postseason berth last summer, falling behind GM Masai Ujiri shouting “Fuck Brooklyn” at a Raptors rally and Drake creating OVO lint rollers (!!!!) after being caught on camera freshening up courtside. Wow.
Kyle Lowry is back with a new 4 year $44 Million contract after playing the best basketball of his career. While Kyrie Irving and John Wall definitely have more upside, Lowry looked like the best PG in the Eastern Conference for huge stretches of last year and led his team to the best record among those three. There have been a lot of negative comments about Lowry’s attitude and conditioning over the years, but he has emerged as the unquestioned leader and heart of this team and seems to be happy where he is and with coach Dwayne Casey. A little contract hangover is very possible, but I think this is a guy who wants to take this young team even further.
The funniest thing about the Raptors last year was the massive improvement this team underwent when trading Rudy Gay away to the Kings. The Raptors went 6-12 to start the season before jettisoning their supposed best player, going 13-5 in the next 18 games, and finishing the season with the 3rd best record in the East. I’d be curious to look into whether there has ever been a greater example of addition-by-subtraction in the history of the league, especially as there were no locker room issues and all the Raps got along well with Gay. Toronto received Greivis Vasquez in exchange, who became a solid backup PG, but mostly this trade was just about getting rid of Gay’s ridiculous 30.1% usage rating and sub 40 FG%.
The Raptors fall into a wide range of Eastern Conference teams who stand a good chance of making the playoffs, but will scare absolutely no one from the Western Conference should they pull off a few upsets and reach the Finals. This team was defeated by the Nets in 7 games, thanks to some vintage Paul Pierce performances but likely got some good experience out of the first trip to the postseason for many of the younger players. While the Raps should improve a lot internally, they may not be able to secure home court again as they took full advantage of a decimated Eastern Conference last year. I think we’ll be seeing them in the playoffs for the next several seasons, but it may be awhile before they can win a series.
X-Factor= Terrence Ross
Ross or Jonas Valanciunas, one of these guys needs to take a big step forward next year. I say its gonna be Ross. This former slam dunk champion is one of the most athletic guys in the league and a good 3 point shooter, but hasn’t proved he can do much else. Coming into his third year, I think Ross can benefit from the continuity of this team and become much more skilled at cutting off the ball and getting a few more open looks a game.