The Toronto Raptors are in a position that almost no NBA team wants to be in. Defined as NBA purgatory, the Raptors aren’t bad enough to be in the very prized lottery this year; however, they are still on the outside looking in with playoff contention. Being a clear seller as the NBA trade deadline approaches, the Raptors are in need of direction. There are a few factors that play into the potential direction that GM Masai Ujiri and the front office take.
The development of Scottie Barnes
Scottie Barnes is widely looked at as the young foundational piece for the Raptors, while going into the future. The swiss army knife forward has proven to be very productive, next to the franchise player, Pascal Siakam, throughout his two seasons. But for the Raptors, being very productive isn’t enough if they take the route of retooling and rerouting assets to compete in the near future. Barnes’ stats between his rookie and sophomore years are as identical as you can get with improved defense from last year, seemingly hitting a plateau in production. Since the Raptors are sure to be active during this deadline, which could potentially see them move Fred VanVleet, Pascal Siakam, and OG Anunoby, Barnes will need to ingratiate himself as a franchise cornerstone going forward.
The Raptors’ management has been no stranger to roster turnaround since the championship campaign in 2019 with Kawhi Leonard. Still, during the roster turnover, the Raptors have managed to remain competitive in the Eastern Conference. They only missed the playoffs once in the three seasons since Leonard’s departure. And even a year after Leonard’s departure, they made it to the Eastern Conference semis. Ujiri has become synonymous with avoiding a full fledged rebuild but instead opting to retool the roster to not only remain competitive but also remain a tough out in the postseason. With a lot riding on the development of the young crop of talent they’ve acquired, and the fact they are in consistent trade talks with franchise cornerstones, the Raptors could finally be embracing the rebuild.
The Eastern Conference
Depending on what you qualify as a championship contender, the East has at least three to four teams that fit the bill. The fifth through ten seeds are in a log jam and are extremely interchangeable as the season continues. The Indiana Pacers and Raptors are both in the running for the last play-in spot as they have the exact same record. This is a very interesting scenario to be in if you’re Toronto. If none of their key pieces move at the deadline, they could very well scrape into the postseason by the skin of their teeth. However, if they sell and acquire future assets, they still won’t be as bad as the Pistons or Hornets in the Wembanyama sweepstakes.
Patience is the name of the game
Where does this leave the Raptors? Ujiri has really cemented himself as a GM that belongs in the upper echelon of the league in his position. The Raptors will figure it out nonetheless. Whether it’s making a big swing for a disgruntled star with their pool of assets, or using those same assets to prep for the rebuild, Raptors fans need to be patient with the franchise.
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