The Raptors should be incredibly proud of what they accomplished last season. After all, it was the most successful in franchise history. Winning two games in the Eastern Conference finals is a great accomplishment from a roster that got much more than expected out of its talent.
Unfortunately, the team was largely unable to find its game for long stretches during the postseason and, though they took two games in the Eastern Conference Finals, succumbed to inevitability losing to the Cavaliers.
Normally the outlook for a team that went as far as the Raptors did last season would be very positive. This year, however, Toronto faces a number of difficult questions that make its future cloudy.
First and foremost the Raptors need to decide what to do with DeMar DeRozan. DeRozan has spent his entire career in Toronto after being drafted in 2009 and has gotten undeniably better each year the league. Still, he’s a player whose flaws are only going to become more visible as he gets older and the league continues to shoot ungodly amounts of threes. His defense has always left something to be desired. He struggles against bigger and stronger players, as evidenced by the way Paul George shut him down in the first round. And he still is either unwilling or unable to develop a three-point shot.
ESPN’s Zach Lowe wrote about DeRozan’s game at length here and outlined a few of the reasons he remains incredibly valuable to the Raptors. Toronto would be right to reward his development. It’s exactly what you want to happen when you draft a player. But hesitating to pay him a ton would be equally as fair. With the amount of cap space around the league this summer, DeRozan is virtually assured of getting a max offer. The only question is whether or not that offer will come from the Raptors.
Toronto faces another tough call to make in the case of Bismack Biyombo. Biyombo was one of the steals of last year’s free agent class and, after breaking out in this year’s playoffs (even earning a few Star of the Hardwood honors), is in line for a huge payday. Unfortunately, the Raptors are unlikely to have the space necessary to keep him. Their cap sheet makes it nearly impossible to retain both DeRozan and Biyombo. The only viable way would be trade another foundational player: Jonas Valanciunas.
That’s what makes this offseason so interesting for the Raptors. They can either recommit to players they drafted, who have improved every season and taken them to the Conference Finals, or they can try and retune the roster for the modern NBA. DeRozan struggles to make threes and Valanciunas is an offensively talented big man who fails to adequately protect the rim. Can a team built around those two guys and an aging All-Star in Kyle Lowry maintain its place atop the East?