Following the departure of Kawhi Leonard, the world was expecting a total rebuild for the defending NBA Champions. With their biggest star gone, and questions looming about their potential without him, it seemed inevitable that the franchise was headed in a new direction.
Yet, when summer came and went, Masai Ujiri and the team front-office went silent, choosing to roll with who they had instead of giving in and blowing it up.
The result? Better than what anyone could have imagined. Not only are the Raptors not bad, but they’re actually pretty good. With the fourth-best record in the East, at 15-6, Toronto is once again swimming with elite company. They are second in 3-point field goal percentage, eighth in offensive rating, fourth in defensive rating, and allow their opponents to shoot a league-best average of 41% from the field.
In light of their success, they are on the hunt for another foundational piece to put them over the edge. And, according to Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer, opposing GM’s expect them to make a significant deal before February’s trade deadline.
“If an opportunity presented itself, league front-office executives wouldn’t rule out Ujiri making a move this season to bolster their chances for a repeat. The Raptors are one of a handful of Eastern Conference teams with a chance to make the Finals. In their win against Toronto, the Heat showed that they too belong in the conversation, and both Milwaukee and Philadelphia remain threats. Boston and Indiana loom, too. But the Raptors are built to play many styles, meaning they can adapt or dictate to any playoff opponent. Potential additions could increase their odds, but no matter what happens, the Raptors are in good shape.”
The emergence of Fred VanVleet and Pascal Siakam are no doubt a big reason for Toronto’s surprising performance so far. Adding another star in the mix alongside those guys would only bolster their chances to become back-to-back Champions.
No matter what the Raptors do, or who they add, repeating won’t be a cakewalk. They will have to fight through steep competition in the conference, and then meet whichever powerhouse comes out of the West.
It will be interesting to see where they stand after the dust settles.