All good things must come to an end. This end seems a bit premature considering how successful the Raptors have been in the NBA regular season, but as many pundits have noted, the regular season does not matter in professional basketball.
The Raptors fired Dwane Casey on May 11, following yet another early exit in the playoffs. Toronto continued to run into a wall in the postseason. That wall is named LeBron James. James has dispatched the Raptors each of the last three years, including two straight sweeps in the Conference Semifinals. It is pretty clear something needs to change in Toronto and Casey might just be the catalyst for larger moves.
But why fire a coach to bring back the same team the following year? That is the question right now when analyzing this situation. Casey was far from the root of the problem in Toronto. He is a finalist for Coach of the Year. He also put the Raptors in a position to succeed in the postseason, as the team earned home-court advantage throughout the Eastern Conference playoffs.
Most of the blame for this year’s playoff collapse can be attributed to DeMar DeRozan and Serge Ibaka. DeRozan averaged 16.8 points, 4 rebounds and 2.8 assists during the series against the Cavaliers. Solid numbers for most, but disappointing for a player who is supposed to be leading his team offensively. He scored 67 points in the series on 66 shots. His inability to get to the line or shoot from behind the arc seriously limits his value. Ibaka was even worse, averaging 8.5, 6.3 and 1 in those same categories. He is not meant to do a whole lot offensively, but he was not very effective, shooting just 44 percent for the series. DeRozan and Ibaka combine for almost $50 million in cap space for Toronto next year, 38.7 percent of the team’s total.
Firing Casey only really makes sense if the Raptors’ front office goes for a massive makeover this offseason. Otherwise, this move makes very little sense. Kyle Lowry, Jonas Valanciunas and Ibaka are all under contract until 2020. DeRozen hangs around another year after that. In fact, 12 of the Raptors’ 15 players from this season have contracts that extend into next year.
In short, this is going to be basically the same team as it was a year ago. Toronto has close to zero potential to add free agents, as it has no cap space and already used a mid-level exception on C.J. Miles. Additionally, the Raptors do not have a single pick in this year’s draft. GM Bobby Webster can hope he can strike gold with another player on a minimum deal who greatly outperforms the deal like he did when he brought in Fred VanVleet. The likelihood of that occurring is seemingly low.
The best solution for Toronto moving forward is to cut bait with DeRozan and/or Ibaka this offseason via trade. The unfortunate truth is that this Raptors core is not capable of winning a championship. It needs to be revamped or rebuilt. This is more than LeBron simply being the team’s kryptonite.
It would be easy to say, just wait out the Warriors and Rockets, build for the future. However, the Celtics seem to be on the verge of creating a dynasty. The 76ers might be a title-contender by next year.
Becoming a true title-contender can be done in a short time frame too. In 2016, the Rockets were the eighth seed in the West, losing in five games. Two years later, they had the best record in the NBA and pose a legitimate threat to the Warriors. The catalyst was reworking a roster that already had a franchise player. If nothing else, Houston should provide a blueprint for Toronto on how to go from good to great.
Not entirely sure where the Raptors go from here as an organization, but this offseason is going to be crucial for the team’s future plans.