Early thoughts on the NBA draft, free agency and the Raptors' offseason

Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

The Toronto Raptors were only eliminated from the NBA playoffs a few days ago, but Adam Francis has a few early thoughts on the club's impending off-season.

Paul Pierce's fingertips started the process.

The exit interviews, the locker cleanouts, the post-season wraps-ups, and the fan thank you videos:


And now we're in full-on offseason mode, a few weeks later than usual for this franchise, but offseason nonetheless as the club turns its attention to things like the NBA Draft and Free Agency.

The Raptors of course set things in motion by bringing head coach Dwane Casey back earlier this week and we'll likely start hearing discussing regarding the other staff surrounding Casey.  My guess is that everyone's back although names like Nick Nurse have come up in various head coaching vacancy discussions.

Next up though, the 2014 NBA Draft on Thursday June 26.

The Raptors at present have three picks, one first round pick (20th overall) and two second round picks, 37th (via the Sacramento Kings) and 59th (via the OKC Thunder.)  With a fairly full roster at present, and 2012 second-round pick Tomislav Zubcic stashed overseas, I'm thinking the club keeps its first rounder, and looks to move one, or maybe both of the second-round picks for future options.  (Or as part of a bigger trade.)  The team has needs that can be addressed to a certain extent via the draft, but with a fairly young club already, Masai Ujiri and co would probably prefer to get some more veteran help instead of rookie assistance.

What needs will the Raptors be looking to fill this offseason?

For starters, a true center behind Jonas Valanciunas would be solid.  The Raptors used combinations of Chuck Hayes and Tyler Hansbrough at times, both vertically challenged options, or rolled with Amir Johnson, providing less than ideal results.  While there are some intriguing big men options in the draft, big men generally take a while to round into form so this area is probably best addressed via trade or free-agency.

However a strong, athletic wing type may be an option.  The old adage "you can't teach size" applies here and the draft does provide some options for Toronto.  While these players may be raw, all could give the club a boost defensively off the bench, right off the bat, supplanting the likes of John Salmons and Landry Fields.

DraftExpress.com currently has the Raptors slotted to take Syracuse's Jerami Grant, a 6-8 athletic wing specimen who does a pretty good job fitting that bill.

Other options later in the first round might include Clemson's K.J. McDaniels and Wichita State's Cleanthony Early.

In terms of second-round options, I'd be intrigued to see Toronto take a shot at Florida's Patric Young, Tennessee's Jarnell Stokes, UNLV's Khem Birch and UNC's James Michael McAdoo.

I won't get into a ton of free-agent talk as the NBA playoffs are obviously still a ways from being done, but from this early list of 2014 Free Agents, there are indeed a few names that would be interesting options, from cheapie back-up possibilities like Joel Anthony, to major upgrades like Luol Deng.  Who knows which direction Masai Ujiri decides to go but I'm betting he won't make like his predecessor and start swinging for the fences.

This could be an off-season of "tweaks," assuming Kyle Lowry returns, with the bulk of the starting line-up set in stone. It's an exciting prospect for myself, considering the bulk of the time RaptorsHQ has been in existence, each offseason has represented close to a complete overhaul for the franchise.  Jermaine O'Neal to Hedo Turkoglu to Rudy Gay, change was the name of the game so it will be nice to have some stability.

I'm hoping it can be equated in fact to the 2000 offseason for the Dinos.  The club had key pieces like Vince Carter already in place, and plucked a gem in Morris Peterson out of the later stages of the first round.  Peterson was no All-Star, but he'd become a very nice complimentary piece to an already strong core.  Incidentally, the Raptors are picking right around the same spot this year, and Masai Ujiri has had success in finding key pieces outside the top 10 spots in the draft.  (Faried, Lawson.)

For the Raptors to really take another step forward next season, I think the bulk of the improvement comes not from draft picks or free-agent transactions, but from the club's current core.  Terrence Ross and Jonas Valanciunas obviously have room for improvement, DeMar DeRozan continues to add parts to his game, and the same can be said for Patrick Patterson and Greivis Vasques.

Even an offseason of rest for the perpetually banged-up Amir Johnson could do wonders.

In his first year on the job, Masai Ujiri finished in the top five of this year's "NBA Executive of the Year" award race mostly due to his "addition by subtraction moves."  (Bargnani, Gay.)

I'm not sure about you, but I can't wait to see what year two brings, starting this offseason.

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