The NBA Draft is a time of hope. It’s the one day a year in the NBA calendar where the attention isn’t on the super teams and frontrunners; it’s on the teams who have struggled and need a franchise altering piece.
With the help of the draft lottery, the Toronto Raptors have moved up to the 4th pick in this year’s draft, and are guaranteed to land a player that could make an immediate impact. Seasons like last years have been rare for Toronto this decade, and the hope is that through the draft and a few other moves the Raptors will be able to climb back into the Eastern Conference conversation without having to tank and completely blow the team apart.
In this article, we will delve into the current state of the Raptors franchise, and preview the Draft with analysis on all of the options with the 4th selection, as well as other possibilities such as moving the pick or even trading Raptor legend Kyle Lowry in a sign-and-trade deal. Nothing is off the table for Toronto this postseason, and that’s exactly why this will be one of the most intriguing off-seasons in the franchise’s history.
The Season That Was
Before we get into all of the craziness that may unfold this summer, it’s important to quickly recap how we got here. Last season was the worst showing from a Raptors team since the 2012-2013 campaign, although there was a chunk of excuses at their disposal. For one, the Raptors were essentially homeless last season, barred from playing in Canada due to the pandemic, and instead being forced into setting up shop in Tampa Bay. As well, the team dealt with several COVID-related absences and other injuries, which played a large role in the season derailing after the all-star break.
With all the excuses put out on the table though, the fact still remains that last year’s Raptors squad was just not good enough. Departures from the previous season cost them, especially in the case of Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol. Toronto had absolutely no presence on the glass whatsoever and were one of the worst rebounding teams in the entire league.
Also, last year’s Raptors team was one of the thinnest yet, with a bench that was respectable but not comparable to any of the others over the past five or so years. Add on to these issues the constant changing lineups due to players missing time and you have a jumbled season that was destined to end the way it did.
The beauty of sports though is that you always get a chance at redemption, and the Raptors got that through the draft lottery, moving up from a projected 7th/8th pick into 4th, a big jump considering the projected top 4 in this year’s class look to be a step above everyone else.
The Projected Draft Order
Across a majority of this year’s mock drafts there are constants that exist even if the rankings differ. The first is that guard Cade Cunningham is almost guaranteed to be the first overall pick in this year’s draft, and the second is that Evan Mobley, Jalen Green and Jalen Suggs are the next three to be selected, regardless of order.
About a month ago, most mocks were projecting a top 4 of Cunningham – Mobley – Green – Suggs, but it seems as if the tide has shifted a bit. Many now believe that the Houston Rockets may elect to go with guard Jalen Green with the 2nd pick instead of Mobley, with Cleveland taking the big man at 33 instead.
What has remained fairly unchanged though is the Raptors projected selection, who is still predicted to be Jalen Suggs from Gonzaga. Suggs is believed to have the lowest ceiling out of the top four draftees, but could still turn into an incredible player with the right guidance and coaching.
Who Would Be the Best Fit?
The best fit for the Toronto Raptors at #4 would be Evan Mobley without a doubt. Scouts have labeled his NBA comparable to someone like Chris Bosh, which goes to show just how dominant Mobley has a chance to be. For the Raptors, rebounding and inside presence is a must, and Mobley would answer all of the questions from last year and then some, likely within his first couple of seasons as well.
Following Mobley, the second-best fit would be Jalen Green from the G-League Ignite team, who could slot into Toronto’s backcourt immediately. Green has been putting up sensational numbers against grown men in the G-League, and many of his offensive tools look like they could translate easily to the NBA game. He’s still a bit raw on the defensive end, but the Raptors development staff are some of the best in the league, and there’s no doubt they could transform him into the 2-way guard of the future for this franchise.
The issue for the Raptors is that they are picking last out of a group of 4 players, and so unless they decide to pick off of the board and go elsewhere, they won’t be in much control on draft night. If Mobley and Green are already picked by the time the Raptors pick comes around, Suggs would still be a great option, and as mentioned, the Raptors development staff has done wonders with players that have much less natural talent than Suggs, so the sky would be the limit for the Gonzaga guard should he get picked by the North.
Other Storylines (Kyle Lowry, Masai Ujiri)
One of the biggest storylines over the remainder of the summer will be what transpires with Raptors GOAT Kyle Lowry, who’s a free agent this offseason. Lowry likes to keep his cards close to his chest, and at this point no outcome would be surprising.
If a different team is able to offer Lowry more money and minutes, it wouldn’t be fair to expect Lowry to turn down that opportunity. At the same time, KLow has made it clear over the years that Toronto is home, and so it wouldn’t be a shock to re-sign him either.
The real kicker is the third option: a sign-and-trade. If the Raptors draft either Suggs or Green, it creates a bit of a logjam at the guard position, and it would be tough to figure out where Lowry would fit into the equation. Especially if a guard is chosen, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Lowry signed and then traded to a team such as Philadelphia or Miami, which would be a win-win scenario in many ways. Lowry would get the chance for a bigger role and contract elsewhere, and the Raptors would get something in return for Lowry rather than just having him to walk off in free agency.
Elsewhere in Raptorland, fans are nervous over the contract situation of Masai Ujiri, who’s deal expired this past year and is now free to do whatever he chooses. Both parties have made it clear there’s plans to get a deal done, but the lack of updates have made it a scary subject for the Raptors faithful.
Ujiri’s past contributions to this team are too valuable to put into words, but going forward, the Raptors will need to keep Ujiri if they want the best chance to win. Re-signing Ujiri would be the biggest signing of the offseason for Toronto, and would allow them to be confident in the rest of their moves ahead of the 2021-2022 season.
The Toronto Raptors may have had one of their worst seasons in a while last year, but the near future actually looks bright. From the moment the Raptors moved up to #4 in the draft, it’s looked as if this offseason will allow for management to re-tool and get right back to being competitive in the Eastern Conference, rather than doing a full tank that would require multiple years of losing.
Now that we know they will be back at home, it’s clear that this team is good enough to get back to the playoffs, but the key will be the additions that are made. If the Raptors can get better through the draft and free agency, they will once again be a threat in the East, and the hope is that Ujiri will still be in control when the ball gets tipped off for a fresh season later this year.