After making the franchise’s first ever conference finals, there’s only one step further for the Toronto Raptors, hoping that the team built around DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, with all of the financial limitations it presents, can actually change what seems to be impossible to alter in the East.
The Raptors did put up a fight in last year’s conference finals, dragging the Cavaliers to six games. The question is whether a team that hasn’t changed much except the peripherals, only with a much more expensive DeRozan now on the team, can go one step further and win the Eastern crown? Because if not, and the goal is all-or-nothing, which some NBA clubs chase a bit too obsessively, than the core of this group will probably have to change.
The question of whether to re-sign Lowry after he opts out at the end of this season (and he will, making only $12 million in 2017-2018 if he stays) is irrelevant, at least for the next few months. It’s about winning this season, and whether or not it’s possible. It probably has a lot more to do with LeBron James and his group not declining than it has to do with the Raptors improving, or how much better the Boston Celtics will be.
The Raptors’ main addition was Jared Sullinger, who they’re hoping can overcome his weight problems and become a consistent finisher near the rim, giving the Raptors a very good paint-duo along with Jonas Valanciunas, who is probably looking to get more touches and minutes this season, after a disappointing postseason for him, often feeling who wasn’t used as much as he should be, probably making things a bit more difficult for the Raptors in certain situations.
After losing Bismack Biyombo to free agency, the Raptors will try to fill his departure with a few players, not one. Jakob Poltl, the 7-foot Austrian who starred for Utah last season and won the Pac-12 player of the year, could become a useful big man off the bench, and the Raptors are probably hoping that Lucas Nogueira finally becomes more than just a developmental project. Obviously, DeMarre Carroll being healthy all season will be a huge boost, and there are big expectations of Norman Powell entering his second NBA season.
Best Case Scenario
Repeating last season, which means 50+ wins and making the conference finals. The competition is slightly more difficult this season in the Eastern conference, but the Raptors believe they got better too. DeRozan and Lowry continue to score their 45 points a night or better, while Carroll stays healthy, Patrick Patterson is good all year long, Powell turns into a much more meaningful player on the perimeter, and their big men rotation doesn’t feel a little bit underdeveloped and overwhelmed.
Worst Case Scenario
Back to square one, which is probably along the lines of not winning a playoff round. That won’t be just regressing from where they ended up last season, but will put the plans of winning with this core in serious doubt. DeRozan is here to stay for the long term no matter what. But if Lowry has a bad year, suddenly things seem very different, and the Raptors fear changing what they have, after so many years of being out of the picture.