After the Toronto Raptors’ wrenching Game 7 loss to the rival Boston Celtics in the 2020 second round, their leader Kyle Lowry began saying his goodbyes.
Lowry said goodbye to the Bubble first (“the Bubble was a success; time to leave this mother----“). But he also sounded as if he was saying goodbye to some of his teammates, acknowledging it may be his last time playing with them.
The question now, of course, is whether that split will be caused by his departure, through trade, or their departures through free agency, or both.
Few of the NBA’s contenders have more difficult decisions than the Raptors do, led by their creative and impatient general manager Masai Ujiri, who himself has been the target of other organizations for some time.
So how do you handicap what happens in the North?
The Lowry question: The bet here? He’ll be dealt. This will be emotionally excruciating for the fan base, which sees him – correctly – as the engine behind the Raptors’ ascent. But his $30.5 million salary, in the last year of his contract, makes him expendable. A nother contender (Miami? Lakers?) might bite and give Ujiri the flexibility to do must be done to retain the Raptors’ other diminutive guard.
Keeping FVV: Fred Van Vleet is the ultimate Raptors’ success story, from undrafted in 2016 to essential in postseason runs. And, in a down year for free agents around the NBA, he will be near the top of many lists, including those of bad teams (Pistons? Knicks?) who need a competent backcourt performer. Even with the likely decrease in the salary cap due to the China controversy and the Covid-19 disruption, he figures to get north of $20 million per (After all, Malcolm Brogdon did, and you can argue Van Vleet is better). Expect Ujiri to make it worth Van Vleet’s while to stay, by handing him the keys to the offense.
Which big? None, one, or both? Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka, best known for their All-Star level play elsewhere, were key contributors in Toronto’s title run. Both, however, were on the bench for key moments in the Boston series and with the league going smaller and both getting older, it doesn’t pay sense to allocate major resources here. Gasol may be more likely to stay, but here’s expecting Ujiri to find a cheaper option in free agency, while giving more reps to cheap find Chris Boucher and others, accelerating the team’s excellent development program.
Next year projection: A slip back to a five to seven seed in the East, but we said that before last season, and the Raptors finished second.
-- written by Juicy-J