The Toronto Raptors enjoyed their best season in franchise history in 2015-16, winning 56 games and coming two victories away from the NBA Finals. The Raptors weren’t all that busy this offseason, although they made a significant investment in All-Star shooting guard DeMar DeRozan in the form of a mammoth five-year deal. On the flip side, Toronto lost a key contributor from last year’s squad in Bismack Biyombo, as well as veteran forward Luis Scola, although the cheap addition of Jared Sullinger helps mitigate these losses to an extent. Can the Raptors take another step forward in 2016-17?
1. Best move of offseason
Tom West: I’m taking Jared Sullinger as the Raptors’ best move of the offseason, purely because they didn’t do that much. The priority was re-signing DeMar DeRozan, and while the offense centers around him and Kyle Lowry, with DeRozan’s knack of getting to the line and 23.5 points per game being more important than he can get credit for, I can’t choose the necessity of paying him $139 million as the best move of the offseason. That’s especially the case when he’s hardly a three-point threat, takes too many of the worst shots in the game (long twos) at a streaky rate and doesn’t bring much defensively.
So, I’m coming back to Sullinger. Also, because he’ll have a bigger impact, at least for next season, than rookie center Jakob Poeltl. Sullinger may not be the ideal stretch 4 that the Raptors wanted this summer. For someone who’s attempted 2.8 threes per 36 minutes over the course of his career, making just 27.6 percent of them (28.2 last season) doesn’t really cut it. That being said, for someone who can still stretch the floor more comfortably around 18-20 feet and average 12.7 rebounds per 36 minutes, he brings more physicality and youth than Luis Scola did.
Kelly Scaletta: Jared Sullinger for under $6 million was a low-key great pickup for the Raptors. He can shoot the ball, and he’s a solid rebounder. His 2.48 DRPM was 18th among power forwards, though, some would argue that’s a system thing. But these days, a six-million-dollar-man is cheap, and Sullinger fills a number of holes at a bargain price.
Jason Patt: I third the Sullinger signing as the best move of the Raptors’ offseason. I guess you could say keeping DeMar DeRozan around and not losing him to an outside bidder was the most important move of the offseason, but I don’t think it was necessarily Toronto’s “best” move of the summer. Sullinger isn’t great or anything, but he’s a solid player and was signed at a great price.
2. Worst move of offseason
Tom: My worst move of the offseason doesn’t come at the fault of the Raptors, but is merely based on their biggest loss as October nears. Unfortunately for their stretched salary cap and the need to keep DeRozan’s scoring, the Raptors couldn’t afford to keep Bismack Biyombo. And while it was virtually inevitable he’d earn a major pay rise in today’s market, especially after his emphatic performance in the playoffs, there’s no denying that Biyombo leaving for Orlando on a four-year, $70 million deal will prove costly to the Raptors’ defense.
Biyombo outplayed his role as a backup for the way he stepped up in Jonas Valanciunas’ injured absence in the playoffs, and emphasized on a larger scale exactly what the Raptors will miss. He may be limited offensively, but Biyombo does essentially everything you want from a modern center besides spacing the floor. He’s a fierce rebounder (13 per 36 last season), he runs the floor, he rolls strongly to the rim, he can protect the paint, and he’s quick and agile enough to step out and defend the perimeter when necessary. Sadly for Toronto, it was impossible to keep him at a fair price, and the loss of “To infinite and Biyombo!” will show its effect on their defense and second-unit resilience next season.
Kelly: I’m probably going to go a little bit controversial here. While I understand why the Raptors gave DeMar DeRozan the deal they did, I just don’t think it was wise. They were kind of “Joe Johnson’d” into it. Someone was going to offer him a max deal. They had to beat the offer. And if they let him walk, there wasn’t anyone they could reasonably sign in his place to fill the hole. But this is one-season thinking that kills franchises and locks them into years of fake-contender status. DeRozan just takes too many mid-range shots and isn’t a good enough passer to get that many touches on a championship-caliber team. Now they’re stuck with him.
Jason: It’s just about impossible to say the Raptors did anything truly “bad” this offseason. You can question whether DeRozan will be worth his fat new contract, but there was no chance Toronto wasn’t going to pony up the cash to re-sign him after the best year in franchise history. Losing Bismack Biyombo because of it hurt, but it is what it is.
3. Offseason grade
Tom: The Raptors receiving a C+ seems fair for what they did in a relatively limited summer. After DeRozan’s deal they were never going to be making any drastic moves or acquisitions, and signing Sullinger for $5.62 million is reasonable in the new market.
Poeltl is a well developed post scorer, capable passer and solid rim protector. He can’t play next to Valanciunas, so can instead develop in more limited minutes and help address the loss of Biyombo off the bench, taking control inside against weaker bench units as he finds his feet in the NBA. He just doesn’t do enough, especially right away, to bump the Raptors’ grade up to something that suggests they took a step forward.
Kelly: C-. Sometimes teams have to have the courage to let their “stars” walk. This was one of those cases.
Jason: C+. The Raptors accomplished their main offseason goal by re-signing DeMar DeRozan, and they made solid additions in Jared Sullinger and Jakob Poeltl to help with frontcourt depth. It wasn’t a particularly exciting offseason, but rather just fine.
4. Early prediction for 2016-17
Tom: Coming off a franchise-record 56 wins last season, it’s fairly safe to say that the Raptors could be taking a slight step back, possibly towards the 52- or 53-win mark. The loss of Biyombo’s athleticism and defense is the biggest concern, and there wasn’t the cap to do anything more than hover at a similar level of contention. At least second-year Norman Powell is something fans can be excited about.
Yet again, the Raptors will be behind the Cavaliers along with the new Al Horford Celtics in the tier of Eastern contenders behind the Cavaliers. Lowry and DeRozan can lead a talented offense, earn a top-three seed in the East and proceed to suffer an easy dismissal at the dominant hands of LeBron James.
Kelly: At best, another No. 2 seed and exit from the Eastern Conference Finals. But Boston could usurp both of those spots from them. Probably 50-55 wins.
Jason: I do think the Raptors will take a small step back without Bismack Biyombo, but they’re still firmly in that second Eastern Conference tier. Toronto should win around 50 games and finish with the second or third seed in the East, but while a return to the Eastern Conference Finals is very doable, I’m leaning toward a second-round loss.