Sasha Ujiri made one of the best moves of all-time when trading for the former Spurs and Raptors superstar Kawhi Leonard. Kawhi Leonard was not happy and made it extremely clear he wanted to be traded out of San Antonio. Ujiri and the Raptors slid in and landed Leonard, at the cost of Raptors legend Demar Derozan. Adding Leonard to the Raptors roster was a perfect fit with their style of play, defense-minded because of their head coach Nick Nurse, he slid right in with no problems. After defeating the Warriors and capturing the NBA title, Leonard then left in the off-season for the Clippers. Leaving the Raptors starless and Ujiri in search of the direction of this team.
The Fallen Soldiers
Since the departure of Leonard, the Raptors have still been one of the stronger teams in the NBA and eastern conference. But, this past season the Raptors lost a lot of their core players to Free Agency. Since Leonard left, Danny Green, Marc Gasol, and Serge Ibaka have all left Toronto for new teams.
Going into the season many people knew the Raptors would not achieve the same level of success they had the previous year without Leonard, the loss of Gasol and Ibaka proved to be massive for the Raptors. Now, with a few pieces of the championship core remaining, the Raptors front office needs to plan for the future.
Even though the Raptors have not had much success this season, they still have many trade assets that could be valuable for contending teams across the league. One player who has been receiving buzz is Norman Powell, a great wing who can shoot the three and defend at a high level. Powell’s championship experience and willingness to buy into a teams system could make him a popular player in trade talks. Kyle Lowry is another player who has been heavily linked to being moved out of Toronto. Lowry, a former all-star, is in the final year of his deal and has made it clear that he wants to be moved to a team in contention.
For a player like Lowry, nearing the end of his prime, being on a contender is what is best for him and his career. However, with the amount of money that Lowry brings in annually, he is a hard player to trade for. With the Nets having such star power at guard, Lowry could help another team defensively when matching up with them. On top of making north of $30 million, Lowry is also eying a 2 year extension after this season.
Are the Raptors in Panic Mode?
Since the Raptors won the title and lost Kawhi Leonard, they have yet to replace the production and play Leonard brought them. As the rest of their roster aged, the clock was ticking on how much longer they could contend for. Seeing both Gasol and Ibaka leave without receiving any value back for them is hard to see, but not terrible because they were in the playoff race at the time. However now the Raptors are struggling and they are staring at losing both Lowry and Powell for nothing while still missing the playoffs. Obtaining assets in exchange for players you will lose regardless is something the Raptors need to do to ensure the fastest way back to being a contender. The Raptors could lose not only Lowry and Powell this off-season, but they also could lose Sasha Ujiri to another organization as well.
Ujiri’s contract is up this season, and even though this is not rare for executives, Ujiri will be one of the most sought after executives to hit the open market ever. Losing him could be a major loss for the Raptors, and an aging roster is not something that will make the Raptors look enticing.