After generally taking a pretty pedestrian approach to all of their prior offseasons under team president Masai Ujiri, the Toronto Raptors made a lot of noise this time around.
No longer on the team is the star that the fan base cherished dearly for so many years. Instead, he was shipped away for a better superstar. He may just be the missing piece that the Raptors need to get over their noted playoff woes. Also among the casualties was the franchise’s all-time winningest head coach. He has since been replaced by his unproven, but brilliant offensive minded assistant.
Not to be lost in the shuffle was another key move that should help the Raptors perform well on the court again this season. With those things in mind, here are Armchair All-Americans’ grades for the three biggest moves that the Raptors made this offseason.
Trading for Kawhi Leonard
This still seems surreal. Obviously, Raptors fans will miss DeMar DeRozan dearly because of the nine seasons he spent in Toronto. With Leonard, Toronto may have regained something that they haven’t had since Vince Carter‘s days in The 6 — a bona fide superstar. Leonard is this good, and he significantly increases the Raptors’ chances of reaching the NBA Finals. He’s a pretty good offensive player, but he’s a fantastic defensive player — as evidenced by him twice taking home Defensive Player of The Year honors. When healthy, Leonard is considered by many to be at worst a top-10 player in the NBA.
The Raptors obviously took a tremendous risk in trading for Leonard. There are a multitude of reports suggesting that the quiet-natured star fully intends to sign with one of his hometown Los Angeles teams in free agency next summer. Regardless, acquiring Leonard was a risk worth taking for the Raptors. It’s a move they should be applauded for making after suffering many years of disappointing postseason results. Not to be overlooked is the fact that the Raptors also got Danny Green in the deal for Leonard. In Green, the Raptors are getting a proven veteran, who plays tough defense and is a dead eye 3-point shooter. Green will likely join Leonard in the Raptors’ starting lineup.
Hiring Nick Nurse as head coach
He wasn’t the choice that many fans wanted to see the Raptors go with to replace Dwane Casey. In reality, Nurse was a solid pick. He may lack head coaching experience at the NBA level. Despite that, his near 30 years of experience coaching at various levels and five seasons as an assistant with the Raptors has prepared him well for this opportunity. Under Nurse’s direction last season, the Raptors achieved a top-5 offensive rating. That was undoubtedly a big part of the reason as to why they finished with the best regular-season record in the Eastern Conference. Besides his offensive expertise, Nurse has shown that he’s intent on challenging every player on the team to play better on the court.
New #Raptors HC Nick Nurse says Toronto might experiment with having DeMar DeRozan guarding All Stars "instead of hiding him in a regular season game on a poor offensive player" https://t.co/SjqlnGAgKq #NBASummer pic.twitter.com/C9YLfWlxQb— SiriusXM NBA Radio (@SiriusXMNBA) July 7, 2018
This wasn’t something that was apparent with Casey at the helm, at least in regards to DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, anyway. With his familiarity with the roster and having already laid down some of his principals over the years, the transition to Nurse should be pretty smooth.
Re-signing Fred VanVleet
One would hope that the Raptors didn’t require much deliberation when it came to deciding how to approach Fred VanVleet’s free agency. A finalist for last season’s Sixth Man of The Year award, VanVleet was a big part of the Raptors’ success on the court last season. He figures to be again. He is a strong shooter and smart player overall. The Raptors don’t seem to miss a beat when he comes into the game. He’s arguably the most important piece of Toronto’s well-respected ‘bench mob’ second unit.
The Raptors should consider themselves fortunate to have retained the third-year man in free agency. Ideally, they most likely would have liked to have locked him up for longer than the new two-year deal that he signed. The short length of the contract is probably more of a reflection of VanVleet embodying his adopted mantra. He is continuing to bet on himself going forward. Either way, props to the Raps for retaining him.
Gambling this season? Want to try it just to see what it feels like? Go to MyBookie.ag and use promo code ARMCHAIR at checkout. They will match your deposit dollar for dollar. Putting in $100? You’ll now have $200.