The Toronto Raptors may have made the playoffs four seasons in a row, but that doesn't mean these fans (who suffered through nearly two full decades of constant pain and frustration), are content with it. Toronto was swept by the Cleveland Cavaliers in the second round of the playoffs. Considering they reached the third round last year and pushed the Cavs to six games, it's easy to deem 2016-17 a disappointment for Canada's only NBA team.
Though LeBron James and the Cavaliers appear unstoppable in the Eastern Conference, Toronto may truly be just one piece away from getting through Cleveland. If they want to do that, they would have to re-sign point guard Kyle Lowry and/or add another big piece to their roster.
But there are also some big-named players that may excite Masai Ujiri that he should try to avoid. Here are eight players the Raptors should chase in the offseason and seven they should stay away from.
16 *Stats courtesy of ESPN.com*
15 Chase: Kyle Lowry
Let's get this entry out of the way early, since everyone knows the Raptors would be foolish if they let their star point guard go.
Kyle Lowry has taken his game to an All-Star level over the last two seasons, finishing with 21.2 points per game in 2015-16 and a career-best 22.4 in 2016-17. He and DeMar DeRozan have guided the Raptors to consecutive 50-win seasons, but the team is just not good enough to beat LeBron James and the Cavaliers right now.
So what's the solution to finally dethroning The King and his men? Well, not letting Lowry go is a start. He told reporters that he's going to opt out of his contract, but it could just be a way of ensuring the Raptors give him top dollar.
Either way, the Raptors need to do whatever it takes to ensure Lowry remains in Canada.
14 Avoid: Serge Ibaka
Serge Ibaka was a great midseason pickup for the Raptors, shoring up their defensive woes and adding plenty of muscle up front. In 23 games with Toronto, Ibaka averaged 14.2 points, 6.8 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game. He also showed up in the playoffs, averaging 14.3 points and 6.5 rebounds per game.
But with all due respect to Ibaka, his superb defence didn't do anything to help the Raptors get over the hump this year. Cleveland is going to keep beating Toronto until the Raptors add another big scorer to complement DeRozan and (hopefully) Lowry.
There is no need to spend a ton of cash on Ibaka when he, Lowry and DeRozan were no match for the Cavaliers. Yes, he was a great fit, but Toronto simply has to find a bonafide scorer instead of using their valuable cap space on Ibaka.
Sorry, but Cleveland's sweep of Toronto is hard to ignore.
13 Chase: P.J. Tucker
The Raptors drafted P.J. Tucker back in 2006 and then re-acquired him in a mid-season trade with the Phoenix Suns. Though not much of a scorer, Tucker added plenty of much-needed defence and rebounding to a Raptors team whose entire identity was previously on offence. Tucker averaged 5.4 rebounds and 1.3 steals per game -- helping the Raptors own the league's eighth-best defence.
I asked Dan Favale from Bleacher Report what he thinks Tucker would bring on the market:
it's possible, but i'm not sure you get away without taking back salary in return. and i could see Tucker getting $8-12M per yr— Dan Favale (@danfavale) March 29, 2017
Tucker doesn't score a whole lot, but the Raptors don't need him to. Tucker is a great one-on-one defender and provides plenty of depth on the bench. He also shot .400 from downtown -- which was big on a Raptors team that generally struggles from that area.
Tucker was an underrated pickup for Toronto, and they should pay back the defensive standout by giving him the money he deserves.
12 12 Avoid: Dwyane Wade
Dwayne Wade still has one year left on his contract with the Chicago Bulls, but it's entirely possible that he chooses to opt out and chase another championship elsewhere. The Raptors would be a great fit for the 35-year-old, who put off father time by averaging 18.3 points and 3.8 assists per game while shooting .434 from the field.
The Raptors primary weakness is not having an outside shooter, and D-Wade would fill that void instantly. Should he opt out, he's not going to command too much money.
The only problem is that the Raptors already field a star shooting guard in DeMar DeRozan. If Wade isn't commanding much interest in the free agent market and has to accept a split role, it shouldn't come from Toronto. His three championship rings and playoff experience may sound attractive, but he does nothing to make the Raptors a better team.
11 Chase: Paul Millsap
The Toronto Raptors were linked to Paul Millsap earlier this season, but the Atlanta Hawks decided to keep the standout power forward for a playoff run. The Hawks were eliminated in the first round by the Washington Wizards, and it's easy to believe Millsap will chase more money and a chance to win elsewhere.
Millsap is widely expected to opt out of his contract this summer, and there'll be a huge amount of suitors lining up for him. He's coming off a career season, averaging 18.1 points, 7.7 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game.
Millsap can score in bunches and adds plenty of defence that could make up for the loss of Serge Ibaka. The Raptors would have a star point guard in Kyle Lowry, a great shooter in DeMar DeRozan and a force around the rim in Millsap. Suddenly, the Cavaliers should be put on notice.
10 Avoid: Tony Allen
Though the Raptors truly need another outside shooter (as we said in the Dwyane Wade entry), Tony Allen is not the answer for them. He's still a solid shooter (.461 from the field with the Memphis Grizzlies this season), but he averaged just 9.1 points and 1.4 assists per game. That just wouldn't be enough to take the Raptors to the next level in 2017-18 and beyond.
Furthermore, Allen is 35 years of age and cannot beat father time much longer. The Raptors need to find a guy who can easily put up over 15 points per game, and they won't get that in Allen.
If they're looking to add him as a bench player (a role I highly doubt he would accept), then Masai Ujiri can call his agent. But if he's looking to add Allen to fill the shooting guard hole, that's just another problem.
9 Chase: Danilo Gallinari
Thanks to an impressive campaign by Danilo Gallinari, the long-time struggling Denver Nuggets made a late surge for the playoffs that fell just short. It's easy to envision the 28-year-old Italian star chasing A) more money and B) the chance to win now on another team. That could be good news for the Raptors, who have a tendency for landing international players (Hedo Turkoglu, Serge Ibaka, Jonas Valanciunas, etc).
Gallinari was a force with an otherwise mediocre Nuggets team, averaging 18.2 points and 5.2 rebounds per game this season. Toronto needs more help shooting from the outside, and Gallinari would provide that after shooting .447 from the field in 2016-17.
If Toronto could land another big scorer and solid defender in Gallinari, they would certainly be more set up to dethrone the Cavaliers.
8 Avoid: Andre Iguodala
Because Andre Iguodala won the 2015 NBA Finals MVP and nearly helped the Golden State Warriors cap off the greatest season in NBA history, many folks like to think of him as a borderline superstar. In reality, Iguodala is barely an above-average small forward and shooting guard.
Yes, he used to put up nearly 20 points per game with the Philadelphia 76ers, but Iguodala hasn't averaged double digit points since 2012-13 with the Denver Nuggets. Considering he plays on a stacked Warriors team, and it doesn't take a genius to realize he's a role player at best.
Guys in Iguodala's position have been overpaid simply because they were playing on a winning team, where superstars helped them win titles. If the Raptors blockbuster move of the offseason is to sign Iguodala, then they'll face major scrutiny. Iguodala is going to get overpaid by someone, and he's not going to change Toronto that much. Better stay away, Mr. Ujiri sir.
7 Chase: Pau Gasol
The Spanish sensation was on the Raptors' radar in free agency last year, but Pau Gasol opted to take his talents to San Antonio instead. Though not quite the scorer he once was, Gasol brings plenty of experience and solid defence; there's a reason Toronto went after him last year.
Gasol averaged just 12.4 points and 7.8 rebounds per game in 2016-17, far off his career averages of 17.9 points and 9.4 rebounds. But Toronto keeps having postseason meltdowns because their players just don't have the experience. Gasol has 11 playoff seasons under his belt and won the NBA Championship with the Los Angeles Lakers in 2009 and 2010.
If the Raptors have to use most of their cap space on keeping Lowry, then Gasol would be a great pickup in the bargain shopping bin. His leadership and experience would be just as valuable as his production on the court.
6 Avoid: Zach Randolph
Zach Randolph has been one of the NBA's top power forwards since the Portland Trail Blazers drafted him in 2001. The two-time All-Star has averaged 16.8 points and 9.3 rebounds per game in his career. Randolph used to be a sure bet to score over 20 points per game, but 15 points is a more realistic target these days.
Randolph will turn 36 this offseason and is embarking on a gradual decline. Even if he were to sign with the Raptors and have another 15 points per game season, it wouldn't be enough to get Toronto to that next level.
The Raptors need more youth, speed and athleticism on the court to keep up with the top dogs in the NBA. Randolph has had a remarkable career, but the pending free agent isn't going to address the Raptors weaknesses.
5 Chase: Gordon Hayward
The Utah Jazz may have seen an excellent 2016-17 campaign end at the hands of the Golden State Warriors in the second round, but this team has a real bright future -- should they manage to re-sign superstar shooting forward Gordon Hayward. But there's a strong possibility he prices himself out from a team that barely hands out big money contracts. In that case...
The Raptors should look at Hayward as an option to fill out the rest of their offensive woes. Hayward is a poor man's LeBron James; averaging 21.9 points, 5.4 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game while shooting .471 from the field this season.
There will definitely be plenty of suitors for Hayward, but the Raptors really need him more than the others. Hayward is great at both ends of the court, and that's a missing piece Toronto needs to get through Cleveland.
4 Avoid: Manu Ginobili
Manu Ginobili's legacy with the San Antonio Spurs is all but set. He's a four-time NBA Champion and formed one of the most iconic duos in sports history with Tim Duncan and Tony Parker -- as the Spurs became the NBA's model of excellence in the 21st century. But Ginobili turns 40 in the offseason and is set to become a free agent.
He could contemplate retirement, but if he chooses to play another season, you have to assume the Spurs would welcome him back in welcome arms. But let's just imagine a scenario where he decides he wants to play elsewhere or the Spurs simply don't want him back.
The Raptors may be tempted to sign him as a possible replacement for Lowry, but that would be the wrong call. Ginobili averaged just 7.5 points per game -- the lowest of his career. He is not a championship puzzle piece for Toronto at this point. They cannot be tempted because of his four championships. Stay away and let Ginobili play out his career somewhere else.
3 Chase: Jimmy Butler
The Chicago Bulls were supposed to blow it all up at the trade deadline, and reports indicated that they were close to trading away superstar Jimmy Butler to the Boston Celtics. But they kept Butler around, and he guided Chicago to the playoffs. They now have a tough decision to either build around him or trade Butler and load up on assets to begin a rebuild.
If they decide to trade Butler, the Raptors should offer up anything but DeRozan for him. Butler is coming off a career year, averaging 23.9 points, 5.5 assists and 6.2 rebounds per game. He would fix the Raptors three-point shooting woes and could form a true superteam with DeRozan and/or Lowry.
Toronto has no reason not to trade Butler. They should offer multiple first-round picks and other roster players for the Bulls star if the team decides to trade Butler. He'd be the final piece needed in contending for titles.
2 Avoid: Derrick Rose
The only way the Raptors would think about going for the 2011 NBA MVP is if Kyle Lowry decides to go elsewhere. But if Masai Ujiri gets desperate to fill the void left by Lowry, he cannot sign Derrick Rose. This is a player who is past his prime and hasn't been able to stay healthy for five years now.
Rose hasn't averaged over 20 points per game since he since the 2011-12 season. Many thought a change of scenery with the New York Knicks could revive Rose's career, but his 18 points and 4.4 assists per game in 2016-17 were well below his career averages.
Rose is still a talented player and could help a playoff hopeful team instantly. But is he the type of player that can take a championship hopeful team like Toronto over the top? Absolutely not. Ujiri would have to look elsewhere to replace Lowry...
1 Chase: Blake Griffin
The big one. The prize of all unrestricted free agents (because everyone knows Stephen Curry is going to stay in Golden State and that Kevin Durant will re-sign there if he opts out).
Realistically, Blake Griffin is going to be the best free agent on the market, and he should top the Raptors free agent wish list. Before we explain why he'd be an ideal fit, let's just rule out the Warriors, Spurs and Cavaliers from signing Griffin, since they don't really need his services. All signs have pointed to Griffin leaving the Clippers, too. They can't get over the hump and he's had some run-ins with team management.
If he wants to win now, the Toronto Raptors and Boston Celtics are probably the two best fits in giving him a ton of money and the max contract.
Griffin averaged 21.6 points, 8.1 rebounds and 4.9 assists per game. He's one of the league's best offensive players around the rim and brings an underrated defensive game. He would give the Raptors that big primary scorer that they truly need.
Griffin, DeRozan and Lowry vs. Love, LeBron and Irving? Bring it on. At least, the Raptors faithful can only dream right now.