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Offseason In Review: Toronto Raptors

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.




Waiver Claims

  • None

Draft Picks

  • Delon Wright (Round 1, 20th overall). Signed via rookie exception to rookie scale contract.

Camp Invitees

  • None

Departing Players

Rookie Contract Option Decisions

Courtesy of USA Today Sports Images

Courtesy of USA Today Sports Images

The last vestiges of the post-Rudy Gay-trade honeymoon were unmistakably gone when the Wizards walked off the floor with a first-round sweep of the Raptors last spring. The plucky group from Toronto, which GM Masai Ujiri nearly broke apart before he realized what he had, finally made it clear that it had a definitive ceiling. The Raptors had somehow lost their way defensively, in spite of the presence of Dwane Casey, who made his reputation as a defensive coach. Change was inevitable, and the only question was just how drastic it would be. Casey wasn’t assured of keeping his job until two weeks after the team’s playoff ouster, and two of his assistants weren’t as lucky. A draft night deal that sent Greivis Vasquez to the Bucks for no salary in return opened cap space and portended a major foray into free agency.

Ujiri aimed high, and the Raptors were among the teams to meet with LaMarcus Aldridge. They also met with Wesley Matthews and were apparently still chasing both even after they made what turned out to be their most significant offseason signing. The Raptors sat down with DeMarre Carroll and blew away the competition, offering him a four-year deal so lucrative that he canceled meetings with the Pistons, Suns and Knicks. The former Hawks small forward will see $58MM, not the widely reported $60MM, over the life of his contract, but it’s still a tremendous raise on the two-year, $5MM deal he signed in 2013 with Atlanta. Carroll had quickly become one of the league’s foremost “three-and-D players” while with the Hawks.

Carroll’s skills complement DeMar DeRozan, a gifted scorer off the dribble who’s shot less than 30% from behind the arc for his career and who was only the league’s 34th-best defensive shooting guard last season, according to ESPN’s Real Plus/Minus metric. The question about Carroll is whether a player who’d never averaged more than 12.6 points per game for a season and had only recently become more than a fringe player would prove worthy of such an investment. So far, the results are positive, as Carroll is pouring 13.0 points a night and the Raptors are 5-0.

Time will tell if that holds up, but we may never know how the Raptors would have created the cap space to sign Aldridge or Matthews, both of whom wound up inking for the max. Presumably, the Raptors would have traded one of their core players to make it happen. Instead, Toronto spent the latter part of the offseason investing in the two youngest members of last season’s starting lineup, including the player whom Carroll displaced from the starting five.

The extension for Terrence Ross, a deal that happened in the final hour of the four-month window in which he was eligible for it, was a bet that the former eighth overall pick will become at least somewhat more valuable than he is now. The defensive regression that he showed last season contributed to the team’s disappointing performance on that end of the floor, and consistency on both offense and defense is “a huge question with him,” as Casey said the weekend before the extension took place. That’s why it’s hard to put much stock into his strong start this season, one in which he’s averaging a career-best 18.0 points per game and is also playing better defense than ever, according to his Basketball-Reference Defensive Box Plus/Minus number. A deal with an average annual value of slightly more than $10MM a year doesn’t present as much of a risk for teams as it used to, given the rapid rise of the salary cap, but it’s still a significant outlay for someone who just lost his starting job.

The extension the Raptors gave Jonas Valanciunas also required the team to show some faith. The development of the former No. 5 overall pick largely stagnated last season, and Ujiri seemed to pin the blame on the team’s assistant coaches, ostensibly the catalyst for the changes to Casey’s bench. The Lithuanian center often sat during crunch time last season, but that’s not happening this year, and like so many other Raptors, he’s off to a strong start. He’s averaging 15.8 points and 10.4 rebounds per game, both numbers that would be career bests if he keeps them up. He’s also assumed a somewhat larger role in the offense, a point that Ryan Wolstat of the Toronto Sun told us would be key.

Right behind Valanciunas and tied with Ross for the most field goal attempts on the Raptors this season is 35-year-old offseason signee Luis Scola, who won the starting power forward job. His addition ran counter to the defensive focus the team had with most of its significant additions, since even though Scola spent the last two seasons with a Pacers team that played a grind-it-out style, he’ll never be mistaken for a stopper. It underscores the team’s lack of an obvious answer at the four in the wake of Amir Johnson‘s departure in free agency for the Celtics. Johnson had begun to lose his grip on his starting gig even before that, and while the Raptors addressed the position with the signings of Scola and Anthony Bennett, it remains to be seen if that’ll be enough to fill the hole.

Indeed, more uncertainty surrounds Bennett than perhaps any of the new Raptors, considering the gulf between the expectations thrust upon him when he became the No. 1 overall pick in 2013 and his decidedly underwhelming performances since then. Yet as far as the Raptors are concerned, Bennett should forget about having been the top pick and simply focus on what’s ahead of him, as Casey has said. It would appear, from Ujiri’s comments, that what’s ahead of him is more than just one season with the Raptors, even though he’s only on a one-year deal.

Bennett and Cory Joseph fulfill Ujiri’s desire for more Canadians on the roster, and Joseph and Bismack combine to give the second unit the added defense that Carroll gives to the starting five. Biyombo, at just 6’9″, also gives the Raptors help on the boards, as he’s the team’s third leading per-game rebounder even though he’s seeing just 16.8 minutes per game so far. Joseph has inherited part of the offensive responsibilities left over from the departure of Lou Williams, who told Alex Kennedy of Basketball Insiders that the Raptors didn’t make him an offer despite the fact he won the Sixth Man of the Year award last season.

Perhaps no decision defined Toronto’s offseason as much as that one. Casey acknowledged the Raptors were simply looking for other kinds of production, and it’s obvious that defense was the team’s aim. The early returns are a positive sign for the Raptors, who are sixth in defensive efficiency compared to 23rd last year, according to Still, as the Raptors must know after watching the promise of the immediate wake of the Rudy Gay trade dissipate, they have to keep moving in the right direction.

Eddie Scarito contributed to this post. The Basketball Insiders salary pages were used in the creation of it.

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