In terms of wins in the regular season, the Toronto Raptors just completed their most successful season in franchise history, winning 50+ games for the third time in franchise history (and third time in a row). It was a 59 win season that saw them take the top seed in the Eastern Conference but in the playoffs, this wasn’t the same dominant Raptors that we saw all year long. The eighth seed Washington Wizards took them to 7 games, and in the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals, LeBron James continued his domination of the franchise by leading his Cavaliers squad to a sweep. It got the Raptors rethinking their whole approach and that began with the firing of Dwane Casey, but that won’t be the end of their offseason moves.
The coaching hire that the team makes will be crucial to their success going forward and if they can make a great hire, the team could no doubt improve. However, it’s on the court where the game is won, so player hires in the upcoming Free Agency period will decide whether the Raptors improve or regress. We’ve got a list of eight players that they should pursue if they wish to progress, and seven that they should avoid.
15 Should – DeAndre Jordan
DeAndre Jordan has remained faithful to the LA Clippers ever since he came into the league but with Blake Griffin and Chris Paul gone in a very tough Western Conference (that’s only getting tougher, especially is the Lakers can land any of their top free agent targets), there’s not much reason for him to stick around. If he’s looking to recreate the success he had with Lob City, then Toronto, which features arguably the best backcourt in the Eastern Conference wouldn’t be a bad place to call home.
They’d have to pay quite a bit but not as much as other big names on the market (especially one big man we’ll get too later). With so much raw talent and potential, Jordan would send them over the edge and if the chemistry was anywhere near as good as it was in LA, this team could come out of the East next season.
It’s not clear where Jordan wants to play next season, but if he’s looking for both personal and team success, Toronto should be at the top of their list, and although it may push Valanciunas to the bench, it would be good for the team overall.
14 Shouldn’t – Enes Kanter
Enes Kanter is very much a great combination of the old and new school center in the NBA, with great aggressiveness and rebounding down low, but also with the ability to heat up offensively away from the basket. However, during his three-team stint in the NBA, he hasn’t made too many friends, and with Serge Ibaka seen as the enforcer up in Toronto, there’s really no reason to bring in Kanter too. It would push Valanciunas to the bench, which would no doubt mess with the teams chemistry.
We’ve talked about bringing in DeAndre Jordan, and while he’s no saint either, he doesn’t bring with him the problems that a Kanter or Cousins would, and that’s why he wouldn’t mess up the chemistry (at least as much, but with his talent, he’s worth the risk). Kanter isn’t a fit for this current team, and it’s likely he’ll come back to the New York Knicks, so there’s just no point for Toronto to pursue him.
They currently have a great center and really good depth, so only the right fit would be good for the team, and with Ibaka, there’s just no need for Kanter. Let’s hope Toronto do the right thing here and stay away from the former Jazz and OKC middle-man.
13 Should – JJ Redick
The Toronto Raptors were a very well balanced team throughout this past season and led by their two stars, they were consistent all year long, but their scoring in the postseason was quite inconsistent. That’s what cost them several games in the playoffs but adding a veteran presence that could either start (and move DeRozan to the 3) or come off the bench who can score and be a capable defender would certainly help that cause down the stretch.
Playing alongside another talented young duo in Philadelphia this past year, Redick’s numbers weren’t the best of his career, but he had a solid season, and he’ll no doubt find a home again for the upcoming NBA season. While it’s not the flashiest move, it will no doubt help the Raptors fix one of their most glaring weaknesses. This one could realistically happen, and it would certainly help the team.
While Redick’s signature will be in high demand come Free Agency, Toronto is one of, if not the best situation that Redick could find himself in when it comes to both playing time and team success possibilities. Only time will tell if the team is as interested as they should be in the veteran SG.
12 Shouldn’t – Jabari Parker
Jabari Parker came into the league a few years ago with all the hype in the world behind him but like so many others, his career has unfortunately been hindered with injuries, and he hasn’t produced because of it. When he is on the court, he’s quite a decent player, but the Toronto Raptors are looking to add pieces to equip their team for a Finals run, and an inconsistent, unproven talent like Parker just doesn’t help their cause too much at the moment.
They’ve also got a pretty deep team at the moment and one of their biggest needs is a player off the bench that can score on their own. Parker just hasn’t shown that ability over his young career, and although he’s likely going to go to a team that has the time and patience to develop him, which will be good for him, he just doesn’t fit the needs of this Raptors team.
If he hadn’t suffered not one but two devastating knee injuries, he no doubt would have been on the Raptors radar, but at this point in time, Parker just doesn’t help this team succeed. They don’t have long together as a core group, so they need to succeed now, this means they should stay away from Parker.
11 Should – Trevor Ariza
The Houston Rockets, on the back of superstar James Harden have been knocking on the door in the Western Conference for quite a number of years now, and it’s mostly been on the back of Harden and their explosive offense, and one of the more underrated players in said offense is the veteran Trevor Ariza. With the Rockets likely needing to pay both Clint Capela and Chris Paul this offseason, it may leave Trevor on the outside looking in, and needing to find himself a new home.
As we’ve mentioned quite a bit, the Raptors biggest problem was their scoring when DeRozan left the court (they struggled in the Cavs series with him on the floor too) and Ariza would provide a veteran presence for the first or second team, as well as some fantastic 3-point shooting and decent defense. That’s a good fit for the team.
He may take a pay cut to stay with Houston depending on how they do in the rest of the playoffs. However, the Raptors definitely need to take a look in at Ariza, who could be the veteran presence that they are missing to take the next step.
10 Shouldn’t – Avery Bradley
Avery Bradley is one of the most underrated players of the last decade. As a defensive presence, there are few guards in that time that can match him, but during the prime of his career, he was also an offensive threat. These days unfortunately, he just isn’t that effective, and for a Raptors team that needs more consistent offense outside of their two biggest stars, an ageing Avery Bradley isn’t the answer.
Sure, they’ve already got one of the best players in the NBA, so they likely aren’t going to seriously pursue many top stars in Free Agency, as they’ll likely be looking for a role player or a lower end star, but Bradley just isn’t a great fit. Especially when there is some good offensive guards in this Free Agency field that could do the job they need.
There are teams out there that need defensive help off the bench to help their playoff push or to become serious contenders, so Bradley will no doubt find another job before his eventual retirement in a few years. However, it’s not going to be with the Toronto Raptors, a team who's window is closing quickly.
9 Should – Zach Lavine
The Minnesota Timberwolves are one of the most promising young teams out in the Western Conference and that’s on the back of young stars like Andrew Wiggins and Karl Anthony-Towns. It wasn’t long ago that Zach LaVine was one of the names touted to carry Minnesota back to the playoffs and after an injury and a trade to Chicago for Jimmy Butler, LaVine is about to hit Free Agency for the first time after a really solid year coming back from said injury.
During his time with Chicago, he wasn’t as explosive as he once was (understandable since he was coming back from a devastating knee injury) but he developed his overall game and became much more of a leader. If Toronto is looking for someone to lead their second team, LaVine is a great young candidate for that spot. He was once a starter out in Minnesota, so it’s not known whether LaVine again wants to start or whether he can fit into a teams needs and come from the bench.
If he did the latter in Toronto, he would no doubt help them take another step forward but he would be a genuine contender for NBA Sixth Man of the Year.
8 Shouldn’t – Clint Capela
Clint Capela has been a promising young player for quite some time now, but bringing a floor general like CP3 to the team has taken his game to another level, and with Houston battling Golden State in the WCF, Capela has become a very valuable presence on this team. With Free Agency looming, there’s really no doubt in anyone’s mind that both of these sides want to stay together, and a deal will likely get done quite quickly, no matter the result of the Western Conference Finals.
Sure, Toronto could try and pursue him, but after their abrupt exit from the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals at the hands of Cleveland, however it’s unlikely that Capela would listen to anything. He’s been with Houston his entire NBA career, so there’s really no doubt that he’ll return to James Harden (and likely CP3 who is also a Free Agent).
Toronto has built quite a nice core group for itself and what they need is established stars or role players to aid them in taking the next step. Capela hasn’t proven he can be a consistent threat, so even though he wouldn’t listen to their pitch, he’s not even worth a look from the Raptors point of view.
7 Should – Tyreke Evans
Tyreke Evans came into the NBA with plenty of hype behind him, and after winning Rookie of the Year with the Sacramento Kings, it looked like he’d be an integral part of that organization for years to come. However, the mismanagement cost them as usual, as they let him walk, and after his 2017/18 season with the Memphis Grizzlies, it’s clear that Evans has plenty to give. If he joined the Raptors, he’d no doubt be a favorite for the Sixth Man of the Year award.
After his breakout year this past season that saw him post several career bests while playing off the bench for Memphis, there’s no real reason for him to return. They have no chance of returning to the playoffs anytime soon, so he will be looking around. If the Raptors want a dominant force once DeRozan goes to the bench, then Evans is a guy they should pursue.
He won’t cost as much as other players on this list either, which is a huge positive for a team that isn’t in one of the biggest markets in the NBA. Adding someone like this would no doubt help their quest to dethrone the King, so it’s something I think they’ll try quite hard for.
6 Shouldn’t – Isaiah Thomas
Two years ago after he became a member of the Boston Celtics, the last overall pick in the 2011 Draft, point guard Isaiah Thomas became a huge star, and was expected to be paid quite handsomely by whatever team finally garnered his signature. After a severe hip injury, he was traded by the Celtics to the Cavaliers, and after he didn’t get much better, he was then moved on to the Los Angeles Lakers, and he’s now to hit Free Agency; which unfortunately is one of the biggest falls from grace we’ve ever seen in the NBA.
The Raptors definitely need to find a force coming off their bench, so when the tandem of Lowry/DeRozan rest, they can continue their momentum, but Thomas just isn’t that player. They shouldn’t even look in his direction for a myriad of reasons. Firstly, Thomas still believes that based on his form last season, he should be highly paid, and due to his injury (reason #2 not to look his way), his defensive inefficiency and his height, there’s just no justifying giving him a big contract.
The team could draft well and sign several key role players with the money that they’d need to give to Thomas.
5 Should – Aaron Gordon
The current NBA landscape is stacked full of top tier young talent that will one day take over the NBA and the Orlando Magic thought that they had got one such player in Aaron Gordon. While he’s been quite solid over his NBA career, he just hasn’t taken that next step, and now that he’s reached Free Agency, it’s about time that he looks to change it up and perhaps that will help him fulfill his potential.
There’s few better landing spots for him than up North in Toronto. With Serge Ibaka ageing but still helping the team on the defensive end, they could rotate their lineup with Gordon/Ibaka, and there’s no better veteran out there to learn from if you’re Gordon. It's a really good situation all around, and if the Raptors are smart, they’ll pursue Gordon, as he’ll become yet another offensive threat for a team that struggled to score consistently at the end of the season.
He won’t command the value that other guys do this year, especially with the top end stars that are heading into Free Agency this year. It would work out perfectly for Toronto, and with so little experience in the postseason, it would be great for Gordon -this is one that would work out for both sides.
4 Shouldn’t – DeMarcus Cousins
Despite the fact that the Toronto Raptors currently have a promising young big man in Jonas Valanciunas , they still shouldn’t discount the idea of bringing in another to add depth to this roster. However, with all the money that DeMarcus Cousins would be after, it’s just not worth it for the Raptors to even give him a look.
There are plenty of talented big men in the NBA today, guys like Joel Embiid and Karl Anthony-Towns among them, but DeMarcus Cousins is perhaps the most talented and well-rounded of the lot. With that comes the desire for quite a lot of money, and although he’d be a great addition to this team, it’s just not worth it for the chemistry of Toronto to bring him in.
Sure, in the short term, this might not be the worst way for Toronto to finally get over LeBron James and the Cavaliers but their stars are still quite young. They have depth, so to sacrifice that future for one or two potential shots at a title is just something that they won’t do, and with so many better (and cheaper) options out there, there just isn’t any reason at all for the Raptors to look at Cousins as an option.
3 Should – Paul George
The Toronto Raptors were the East’s most consistent team in the 2018 season, and the exact opposite can be said about the Oklahoma City Thunder. The team was ousted in the first round by the Utah Jazz, it’s expected that PG13 would move on and the most likely landing destination is the Los Angeles Lakers.
However, with the East completely up for grabs in the near future, he’d make the perfect addition to the Raptors. The Raps biggest problem in taking complete control of the Eastern Conference is LeBron James, so seeing someone on the market like PG13, who has proven that he steps up as an offensive force in the postseason and is also one of the most versatile defenders in the league - you have to step up and take notice. If George truly wants to succeed in the playoffs, this is actually a really good move.
George isn't the easiest Free Agent to predict in the upcoming offseason, as LA, OKC and so many other teams are still in play for his signature. However, adding him to play alongside DeRozan and Lowry gives them one of the best and deepest lineups in the League, and it could be the one piece that could finally let them contend with The King.
2 Shouldn’t – Chris Paul
Chris Paul will no doubt go down as one of the top 10 Point Guards in NBA history despite all of his struggles in the playoffs. The Toronto Raptors have quite a good Point Guard of their own in Kyle Lowry, and although CP3 is easily the better player of the two, Toronto has built their chemistry around their two biggest stars, and sending Lowry to the bench at the expense of Paul is something that wouldn’t sit well with the rest of the team.
No matter how the Houston Rockets finish their playoff push this year, whether it be coming up short or raising a Championship banner, it makes sense for Paul to return to the team, as he’s never experienced this much playoff success in his career. The Raptors won’t likely get a chance to court CP3, but even if they did, it’s just a move that doesn’t make much sense.
If CP3 was truly interesting in coming over to Toronto, they could likely facilitate a trade with Lowry to give the reigns of the team to CP3, but that’s probably not going to happen. There’s really no need for Toronto to look his way this offseason.
1 Should – LeBron James
It seems pretty obvious that any team in the NBA should pursue the greatest player in the game today but the Toronto Raptors need James more than anyone in the league. Not because they lack high end talent (they’ve got DeMar Derozan who was arguably a top five MVP candidate this year), but because they need to get James out of the way to finally reach the NBA finals. He has dashed their hopes almost single handedly several times over the past few years.
Their team is built to succeed right now and their choice of head coach after letting go of Casey is going to be key to whether they can finally pass James or if they can lure him North of the border. We know that LBJ wants to succeed now and pairing him with the presence of Serge Ibaka and the talent of Lowry and Derozan could actually be better than most situations in the league.
This one is probably not going to happen as James has been more linked to teams like the 76ers, Rockets and Lakers, but the combination of James along with the 59 wins and top seed from this past season would make them impossible to stop in the East. With James, they could even be good enough to successfully challenge the Rockets or Warriors in the Finals.