When we last left our beloved Toronto Raptors, they had seemingly recovered from an ugly mid-season stumble and were preparing to make a run into the playoffs. This would avenge the previous year’s heartbreaking first round ouster, cementing their legacy as the greatest Raptors squad ever in the process. Things… did not go as planned.
It was a painful moment for everyone, but most especially for Toronto’s Brand Ambassador, as Drake had to suffer the double humiliation of watching the Raptors soul-crushing implosion and then getting trolled relentlessly by rapper Wale afterwards (with that damn Paul Pierce swooping in to kick him when he was down).
That’s all in the past now. The start of the 2015/2016 NBA season is just around the corner and the Raps have rebooted and are ready to get back to work. So, what do you say, Drake? Ready to help us out with our Toronto Raptors 2015/2016 season preview?
We’ll take that as a yes.
Toronto made a big splash on day one of free agency by signing ascendant free agent swingman DeMarre Carroll to a four year, $60,000,000 contract. It’s a move that is not without its risks – Carroll, a former 28th overall pick with a career scoring average of 7.6 points per game, is now one of their highest paid players. However, he is a dynamic two-way threat who was a key cog in one of the league’s most terrifying offences and will immediately help to address Toronto’s ongoing struggles on the defensive end as well.
Masai Ujiri finished out the offseason by giving the second unit a facelift with a few low-key moves, selecting 6’5” point guard Delon Wright with the 20th pick in the NBA draft, and signing crafty veteran Luis Scola, defensive savant Bismark Biyombo, as well as Toronto natives Corey Joseph and (former 1st overall pick) Anthony Bennett.
These new additions seem to indicate a renewed emphasis on defence and ball-movement, two areas where the Raptors were sorely lacking in last year’s disappointing effort. As such, trigger happy guards Lou Williams (free agency) and Greivis Vasquez (traded for high-flyer Norman Powell) were jettisoned. Unfortunately, so too was fan-favourite veteran forward Amir Johnson, who signed with the Celtics. Goodbye Amir. We’ll miss you.
On a positive note, the Raptors also re-branded, unveiling some slick new jerseys, including a particularly tasty OVO-inspired alternate.
Head Coach Dwane Casey has had his ups and downs over his four years with the team. He has absolutely contributed to the Raptors’ relative reversal in fortunes over the last two seasons even if some of his decisions, like his clear disdain for potential MVP candidate James Johnson or his steadfast refusal to give young Lithuanian big man Jonas Valanciunas 4th quarter minutes of any significance, sometimes have fans making faces like this:
Nevertheless, he was re-signed to a three-year extension before the beginning of last season, and by keeping him around, Ujiri is showing his patience in allowing the team to continue building on the identity and culture they’ve established. Not to mention the fact that panicking and replacing Casey would be a costly decision that wouldn’t make a lot of sense when the team is still not quite yet at championship contention status.
Starting line up
Returning starters Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, and Valanciunas will be joined by Carroll (replacing Terrence Ross, who seemed to take a step backwards last year) and, most likely, stretch-4 Patrick Patterson (replacing Amir Johnson). It’s not exactly a lineup that is going to be League Pass appointment material, but is one that can compete with any starting five in the league on any given night.
Lowry blew everyone’s mind this summer by drastically transforming his body (possibly through some kind of sorcery) and looks to redeem himself from his last season. He started out looking like an MVP candidate before the physical and mental stress of carrying the team on his back destroyed his production and rendered him a shadow of himself during the ugly final few weeks of the campaign.
DeRozan is on the last year of his steal of a contract and is expected to fetch a huge max offer next summer following the increase in the NBA’s salary cap. He’s an amazing scorer, but his iso-heavy midrange game has begun to look a little dated in a post-statistical revolution era that values 3-point shooting and efficiency above all else. This year he will look to silence his critics and prove to everyone in Toronto that he’s worth the franchise-player money they’ll have to pay to bring him back next season.
Valanciunas signed his big extension this summer, which will ensure he’ll be staying in a Raptors uniform for the next few years. He also had a nice Eurobasket tournament for silver medal-winning Lithuania. With Casey more or less committing on-record to finally start giving Jonas meaningful 4th quarter minutes, the impressively-bearded 23-year-old will look to build on last season – in which he posted a career high in scoring, averaged above 20 in PER and was among the league leaders in field goal percentage – and become a legitimately dominant big man and franchise cornerstone.
Rounded out by the sharpshooting Patterson and the aforementioned Carroll (who is saying all the right things about making an impact on the defensive end and making sure the ball gets back to zipping around on offence the way it did in that magical 2013/2014 season) the Raptors starters are a solid upgrade over last year’s team. Combined with the new-look second unit, they aim to erase the memory of last year from the minds of their rabid fans.
Last season’s humiliating finish did have the positive effect of splashing a bit of cold water on the wildly out-of-control expectations of many Raptors fans. All anyone really wants from the team is to win a playoff series. With their revamped roster making an increased focus on playing defence and sharing the ball (not to mention Jose Bautista hopefully bat-flipping the professional sports monkey off of Toronto’s collective back), they are poised to do just that. A solid improvement this year will leave the Raptors in a great position for next offseason, when they’ll be flush with cap space and will have the opportunity to lock down a marquee, franchise-altering free agent. Don’t worry, Drake is already all over it.
Things are definitely looking up in Raptorland, but it’s still probably best not to let expectations exceed cautious optimism. We’ve been burned before.