By all accounts the 2013/14 Toronto Raptors campaign was a smashing success. This team wasn’t supposed to be this good, especially after shipping Rudy Gay out of town, who some people considered their best player (but we’re smarter than that, right?). Canada’s team was expected to challenge for a playoff spot, but instead cruised into the playoffs and were one ill-advised, 1-on-4 Kyle Lowry layup attempt away from making it into the second round. But no worries, because the future is bright in Raptorland, right? Au contraire, mon ami.
Maybe it is just my default attitude of being cynical and contrarian (some might even say negative, but who asked for your opinion) coming into play, but I just don’t see it. I just don’t see the Raptors taking the next step and becoming a serious NBA title contender, or even a perennial playoff participant at that. The main issue is you don’t win an NBA title, or even challenge for an NBA title, without at least one “superstar” player, a player who you can build your roster around (preferably a big man – point guards don’t win championships). And, let’s be perfectly honest here – the Raptors have none in sight.
DeMar DeRozan is being tabbed for this role, but that is a serious case of miscasting. DeRozan apparently “broke out” in these playoffs and became a “star”. While it’s true his scoring numbers look purdy (and that’s all people really care about) and he did a great job getting to the line and knocking down free throws, he only shot 38.5% from the field, isn’t an elite defender, and doesn’t really contribute anything else other than points. Take a look at his stats compared to an average shooting guard - even this past season, which was a career year for the young Compton product, the only thing DeRozan was above average in was scoring and getting to the line, and he was below average in shooting (except from the charity stripe). Everything else is average across the board. He’s a nice complementary player, but no star. The good news is the Raptors have $28.5 million more owing to him. Let the good times roll!
The other potential “star” is the aforementioned Lowry, who had a real good season. Whether it’s a coincidence that he shed two of the negative tags attached to him (poor conditioning, being a “coach killer”) in his contract year is probably beside the point, because he’s bound to be overpaid this offseason. Whether this is via the Raptors or not is yet to be seen.
The rest of the roster is bereft of any real top-shelf talent. Amir Johnson is a grinder and an advanced stat star, but he’s a role player at best. Jonas Valanciunas is young and big – two great attributes – but really didn’t take a huge step this season. He still looks like he’s going to be a real nice player, but he’s not really projecting to be a cornerstone of a championship team. Terrence Ross is DeMar DeRozan lite, and had an abysmal playoffs. The rest of the roster is filled out with role players and vagabonds.
There are basically two avenues for a franchise to acquire a superstar – via free agency (or sign and trades) and the draft – superstar trades rarely happen. The best player Toronto has been able to entice to cross the border as a free agent, even with rosters that included stars like Vince Carter and Chris Bosh, was Hedo Turkoglu. Free agent NBA players, especially American ones, really have shown no interest in playing in Canada. As for the draft, Toronto screwed that up by being good this year – they’ll be picking 20th. And if they continue to be good enough to lose in the first round of the playoffs every year, they’ll be hard-pressed to draft a superstar in the draft slots they’ll be getting.
Don’t rush out and buy and shades, Raptor fans – the future isn’t that bright.