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Basketball, Sports

What the Raptors can do moving forward without Kawhi Leonard

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Curtis Panke Jul 08, 2019 11:57 am 8,915

The King of the North is relinquishing his throne and heading west.

After a weeks of rumours, speculation, and plane watching, Kawhi Leonard decided to go home, signing a four-year, $142 million contract with the Los Angeles Clippers.

With the newly acquired Paul George by his side, Leonard has his eyes set on another crown, the one LeBron James currently wears with the LA Lakers.

Kawhi will see a familiar face at Staples Center, as longtime teammate Danny Green signed a two-year, $30 million contract with the Lakers, who share their home court with the Clippers.

With Leonard gone, the Raptors’ plans going forward have drastically changed. Instead of  focusing on repeating as NBA champions, Masai Ujiri and Bobby Webster have to figure out how they want to steer the franchise going forward.

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The Raptors have some good young players in the fold, but they’ve also got some notable veterans getting up in age on expiring contracts.

With that being said, here is where the Raptors stand in the post-Kawhi era.

Teams passing them by in the East

As the Raptors waited for Leonard’s decision, the rest of the Eastern Conference moved past them and loaded up on talent:

  • The Brooklyn Nets signed Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant, and DeAndre Jordan.
  • The Boston Celtics signed Kemba Walker.
  • The Philadelphia 76ers signed Al Horford and acquired Josh Richardson from the Miami Heat in exchange for Jimmy Butler.
  • The Milwaukee Bucks re-signed Brook Lopez and Kris Middleton.
  • The Indiana Pacers traded for Malcolm Brogdon from the Bucks and will get Victor Oladipo back from injury.

While they’re no longer considered the frontrunners to win the East, the Raptors will still be in the playoff hunt since the bottom half of the conference is questionable at best.

Most of their championship core will be returning

The good news for the Raptors heading into the 2019-20 season is that aside from the departures of Leonard and Green, the rest of the roster is still intact.

The Raptors starting lineup will most likely be Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, and Marc Gasol. If Nick Nurse needs a bigger lineup you could see Serge Ibaka in for VanVleet.

Their bench still has Ibaka, Norman Powell, Patrick McCaw, Malcolm Miller, and Chris Boucher.

They will be joined by free agent signings Stanley Johnson, Matt Thomas, and Terence Davis.

Johnson is a defensive forward and former top-10 draft pick, while Thomas is a three-point specialist who spent the past two seasons in Europe with Obradoiro CAB and Valencia. Davis is a undrafted guard out of Ole Miss.

All eyes on Giannis in 2021

What going to be interesting to watch from the Raptors’ front office is how they choose to manage salary cap space.

Entering next season the Raptors will dip into the luxury tax since they are over the salary cap according to Spotrac, but with a few moves that could change drastically.

Aside from Powell and Anunoby,  there are no other Raptors currently under contract after next season. It’s quite possible to see Ujiri and Webster trade older players like Ibaka, Gasol, and even Lowry for assets, while building around a young core of Siakam, Anunoby, and VanVleet.

While the 2020 free agency class isn’t loaded on star power, the 2021 class is going to rival this year’s free agency frenzy with players like Giannis Antetokounmpo, LeBron James, Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, Paul George, Gordon Hayward, Bradley Beal, Mike Conley, DeMar DeRozan, C.J. McCollum, Jrue Holiday, Rudy Gobert, and Victor Oladipo expected to hit the open market.

After running the Raptors since 2013, Ujiri finds himself in a position to finally put together a roster completely from scratch.

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