Just a week ago, the direction of the Toronto Raptors’ organization was unclear.
With Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka able to leave for nothing in free agency, a rebuild was not out of the realm of possibility.
But president Masai Ujiri was able to lock down his two biggest off-season priorities this past weekend, keeping arguably the most successful core in franchise history intact.
Ibaka and Lowry re-signed for three years, $65 million and $100 million deals respectively, cutting their contracts by the 2020 off-season — DeRozan will also have the ability to opt out of his deal in 2020.
Not only has the reputation improved around the league when talking about Toronto as a destination for free agent landings, but the current direction is to win, and win now. Ujiri is giving this core another chance.
With several star players moving to the Western Conference — Jimmy Butler to Minnesota, Paul George to Oklahoma City, Paul Millsap to Denver — this core will have a small opportunity to reach the NBA Finals.
The East has become very top-heavy, with Cleveland, Toronto, Boston and Washington the only four teams with a real competitive chance in the conference — which could change based on circumstances like injuries, and other player transactions that are yet to happen.
With Lowry missing a big chunk of the season, and a mid-season transaction that brought in two new players to a completely new system, the Raptors still managed to win 50 games for third in the East.
Ujiri is right to give the core another chance, allowing Lowry and Ibaka the opportunity to develop on-court chemistry. It’s sensible to give one of the best back-courts in the league another opportunity to lead the team into depths the franchise has never touched.
He’s right to take advantage of a weaker conference, and compete as LeBron reaches a point of decline.
They’ve got a chance, and in these coming weeks, the following moves Ujiri makes to bolster the roster should give a better idea at this team’s ability to compete with the other Eastern powerhouses.
If it doesn’t work, Ujiri was able to negotiate his way into some proactive deals.
The three-year terms on the Lowry/Ibaka deals allow the front office to cut ties in case the current core has maxed out its potential.
Not only will Lowry and Ibaka’s deals expire in 2020, but if by the second year of the deal the roster does not pan out, the team will be able to offer two talented players on expiring deals the following season — those of which will be very attractive to either championship teams looking to bolster their talent, or teams looking to make some cap space.
Not to mention, DeRozan will have the ability to opt out of his contract and become a free agent in 2020 as well.
This could all lead the organization going young and preparing for a full rebuild — early.
The Raptors have amassed a number of young pieces in recent years: Jakob Poetl, Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet, Delon Wright, Norman Powell, Bruno Caboclo, Lucas Noguiera, and OG Anunoby.
If — and eventually, when — the Raptors decide to split it up, Toronto will have a jump-start on piecing together a young core.