Offseason Grades: Toronto Raptors
The Point Forward will grade every team’s offseason over the next few weeks. Click here for the complete archive.
Additions: Tyler Hansbrough, Steve Novak, D.J. Augustin, Dwight Buycks, Austin Daye, Quentin Richardson
Losses: Andrea Bargnani, Linas Kleiza, John Lucas III, Sebastian Telfair, Alan Anderson, Mickael Pietrus
Other Moves: Hired Masai Ujiri to replace Bryan Colangelo as general manager
What Went Right: A front-office shakeup and the miracle of pulling actual value in a deal for Bargnani. Colangelo’s decision making had spiraled out of control in recent seasons, creating the need for a change in Toronto’s managerial structure. That came with the dismissal of Colangelo from his basketball duties after seven years, followed by his subsequent decision to step down from work with the Raptors in any formal capacity.
Such a shift is very much for the best. The team that Colangelo built was set to be over the luxury-tax line without any guarantee of Toronto’s first playoff berth since 2008. It was fraught with ill-fitting pieces, the most costly of which was Rudy Gay, a sub-star scorer set to make $37.2 million over the next two seasons and hinder the team’s flexibility in the process. The 27-year-old forward is a fine player, but for a team in need of so much and with limited flexibility to accomplish its goals, Gay’s acquisition last January was a decidedly impractical maneuver.
But it was hardly the Gay deal alone that undid Colangelo, who had spent years piling up questionable contracts and disagreeable components. Every good decision (trading for Kyle Lowry, drafting Jonas Valanciunas, signing Amir Johnson) was met with corresponding errors (Bargnani’s extension, DeMar DeRozan’s extension, signing the now-amnestied Kleiza and Landry Fields to bloated deals) to upset the balance, leading to an expensive roster with marginal hope for immediate improvement. The time had come for Colangelo to answer for the odd judgment calls, and finally the Raptors replaced him with a GM with a much more impressive track record over the last few seasons.
Ujiri did a fantastic job of retooling a Nuggets team that at times seemed to have no leverage whatsoever, such as landing a stockpile of assets while trading Carmelo Anthony and sneaking into the Dwight Howard-Andrew Bynum swap to nab Andre Iguodala. The Raptors will need Ujiri’s talents to salvage the best parts of their current roster, and he’s already off to a good start in somehow getting a decent return for Bargnani.
Ditching Bargnani, the first pick in the 2006 draft, was important as a symbolic gesture considering that Toronto is still working to reinvent itself, but the prospect of getting anything in exchange seemed unlikely after Colangelo articulated the team’s desire to move the underperforming forward. That Ujiri was able to acquire a first-round pick and two second-round picks from the Knicks while shaving $4 million in salary this season (creating room to make moves under the tax line) and $7.4 million* for the 2014-15 season is, frankly, amazing. Bargnani would have been dead weight on the Raptors’ cap sheet and a drain on their performance. Instead, Ujiri has cleared that hurdle with assets to spare, and the only cost was the $11 million owed to Novak over the next three years.
*This figure assumes that Toronto releases Richardson by Jan. 1 in order to avoid guaranteeing the final two years of his deal.
What Went Wrong: Few quality players were acquired this summer, leaving the Raptors without all that much hope for instant improvement. While replacing Colangelo and dealing Bargnani were great moves for the general health of the franchise, Toronto isn’t a recognizably better team than it was at the end of last season. A full year of Gay and more playing time for Valanciunas should help swing the Raptors into the playoff picture, but even that isn’t an offseason development so much as a natural evolution.
Otherwise, Toronto’s moves were mostly lateral at best. Hansbrough isn’t much of an upgrade, and will log minutes as a marginal reserve forward; Augustin might be a less useful NBA player at this stage than the departed Lucas III; Buycks, a 6-3 guard, looks to be a decent prospect but will likely be buried in the rotation; Richardson won’t last on this roster to the new year; and while Novak and Daye are OK additions, neither moves the needle much.
It’s good that Toronto is moving on from Colangelo’s tenure and Bargnani’s stint, but this is still a team in need of rebooting its reboot. Some of the present core pieces are worth keeping and investing in, but for the most part this base group doesn’t seem all that likely to secure a playoff berth this season and lacks the upward mobility to pose a more considerable challenge in future seasons.
Grade: B-. Ujiri is off to a fine start, but it’s tough to be more optimistic about the Raptors’ offseason because not even any decent long-term pieces were acquired.