Offseason In Review: Toronto Raptors

November 6 2013 at 4:10pm CST By Luke Adams

Hoops Rumors is in the process of looking back at each team’s offseason, from the end of the playoffs in June right up until opening night. Trades, free agent signings, draft picks, contract extensions, option decisions, camp invitees, and more will be covered, as we examine the moves each franchise made over the last several months.

Signings

Trades

Draft Picks

  • None

Camp Invitees

Departing Players

Rookie Contract Option Decisions

If one of the keys to assembling a successful NBA roster involves buying low and selling high on assets, Masai Ujiri‘s return to Toronto is somewhat ironic. After all, Ujiri had been with the Raptors previously, working in a more under-the-radar position as the team’s assistant GM under Bryan Colangelo, before he was hired away by the Nuggets. After he was named Executive of the Year earlier in 2013, the Raptors lured him back to Toronto with a lucrative multiyear offer to run the team’s basketball operations. Now the Raptors are hoping that, with Ujiri running the show, the GM himself is the last asset the team has to “buy high” on anytime soon.

With no picks at his disposal in the 2013 draft, the first task facing Ujiri upon his arrival in Toronto was figuring out what to do with Andrea Bargnani. The former first overall pick had been the subject of a few amnesty rumors leading up to the offseason, but a trade was the preferred option, since Linas Kleiza always looked like the team’s most likely amnesty victim. Coming off a 2012/13 season in which he appeared in just 35 games, posting an 11.2 PER to go along with a .399 FG%, Bargnani’s stock was at an all-time low.

Yet somehow Ujiri managed to land a first-round pick for Bargnani, along with a pair of future second-rounders and a couple of the Knicks’ unwanted mid-level contracts. The first-rounder headed to Toronto in 2016 will be the less favorable of Denver’s and New York’s picks that year. Such a pick wouldn’t have been all that desirable in 2013, but who knows what the Nuggets and Knicks will look like three years from now — it’s not out of the realm of possibility that both clubs could be in the lottery.

For Ujiri, who engineered the deals that shipped Carmelo Anthony and Nene out of Denver, the Bargnani trade was the latest example of his ability to extract more value than expected in situations where he didn’t have much leverage. It’s a talent that could come in handy in the next year or two for the Raptors, since players like Rudy Gay, Kyle Lowry, and DeMar DeRozan may not fit in the team’s long-term plan. If Ujiri decides to move any of those players, Raptors fans should have confidence that he won’t settle for 50 cents on the loonie.

Outside of the Bargnani deal, Ujiri’s first offseason back with the Raptors lacked a major splash. As mentioned earlier, Toronto didn’t have a first- or second-rounder in June’s draft, and the absence of any real cap flexibility ensured that the club was fairly quiet in free agency. The front office also took a wait-and-see approach with head coach Dwane Casey, who is in the final year of his contract.

The Raptors’ handful of small signings were uninspiring, as the team added a pair of players who contributed to a subpar Pacers bench last season: Tyler Hansbrough and D.J. Augustin. In addition to the ex-Pacers duo, the Raps signed Austin Daye, Dwight Buycks, and Julyan Stone to deals worth the minimum or close to it. Toronto liked Buycks enough to offer him a guaranteed non-minimum salary in his rookie year, and Stone’s time in Denver put him on Ujiri’s radar. Still, it’s unlikely that either player, or Daye, will play significant minutes this season unless injuries plague the team’s regular contributors.

The Raptors head into the 2013/14 season in a tough spot. The team is playing in the right conference to contend for a postseason berth, and there’s enough talent on the roster that it’s a real possibility. But unlike his predecessor, Ujiri reportedly doesn’t believe the current roster is capable of turning the Raptors into a legit contender, so he’ll be tasked with figuring out the best way to change that.

While blowing up everything and building around¬†Jonas Valanciunas is one option,¬†another extended rebuild doesn’t sound overly appealing for a team that has only advanced past the first round once in its history. The best-case scenario for Ujiri involves finding a way to turn his veteran assets into 2014 picks or young players that would help the Raptors improve their long-term prospects without considerably compromising the club’s short-term outlook.

That’s much easier said than done, though if there’s a GM capable of it, it’s the NBA’s reigning Executive of the Year. For Ujiri, the Bargnani trade was a step in the right direction, but the toughest decisions are still to come.

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