The Toronto Raptors didn't make a cataclysmic splash in free agency like the Cleveland Cavaliers did when they brought back LeBron James, but by keeping a core together that was within an eyelash of the second round of the NBA playoffs, Masai Ujiri and company can hold their heads high.
David Aldridge of NBA.com has certainly taken notice of Toronto's summer fun, crediting the team with the sixth-best offseason in his latest piece for the site.
Continuity matters here as well. The most successful teams identify a core group of players and keep them together several seasons; teams that re-sign their own players (at reasonable amounts) get good marks from me.
Re-signing Kyle Lowry, Patrick Patterson and Greivis Vasquez to new deals helps eliminate the stigma the franchise once had for being unable to keep their own guys. It also added a gold star next to their name when Aldridge made his evaluations.
Here's what he had to say in his quick rundown of the team:
It takes a losing franchise a long time to change its spots. After years chasing their collective tails, the Raps finally turned the battleship around last season. Whether it was by design or luck (GM Masai Ujiri had a deal to send Lowry to New York, only to have Knicks owner James Dolan veto it), Toronto has some momentum now, an exciting style of play, a great hashtag (#wethenorth) and a renewed fanatical fan base around which to build. So keeping the still-young core together was crucial, and Ujiri did it without overspending. Lowry's new deal puts him right among most of his point guard peers, but below the elite. That's right where he should be. Patterson really helped change the geometry of the Raptors' offense when he arrived from Sacramento as part of the multi-player deal that sent Rudy Gay to the Kings. In 48 games in Toronto, Patterson shot 41 percent on threes and had a PER superior to that of Marvin Williams, who got more money per season in free agency, and Josh McRoberts, who signed with the Heat. Another solid single for Ujiri. Williams faltered last season in Atlanta and was deemed expendible, but Coach Dwane Casey (also re-signed with little muss or fuss) will no doubt give him opportunities to regain his form in Philly (pre-ACL tear) as one of the league's most dangerous scorers off the bench. Time will tell whether Caboclo was worth the reach in the first round, but the early signs in Vegas were promising
The Raptors' momentum was only going to carry over if everyone who was around to build it in the first place returned to continue on the path of success. Rebuilding and hitting the reset button over and over again is a frustrating process that no one enjoys going through. It's not a finished product, but it's not going to be blown up any time soon either.
Aldridge takes note of the fact that Ujiri was able to retain talent while not digging deep into his wallet. During a summer where Gordon Hayward (Utah Jazz) signed on for $63 million, Avery Bradley (Boston Celtics) for $32 million and Jodie Meeks (Detroit Pistons) for $19 million, Ujiri managed to buck the trend and make sound investments without strapping the team financially.
Lowry's four-year, $48 million deal will make him the seventh highest-paid point guard in the NBA in 2014-15, per Spotrac.com. That puts him in the same crop of player as Rajon Rondo, Stephen Curry and Ty Lawson but below the likes of John Wall, Russell Westbrook, Derrick Rose and Chris Paul. After averaging 17.9 points, 7.4 assists and 4.7 rebounds with a PER of 20.1, Lowry undoubtedly deserves to be paid like one of the best at his position, although he's still a tier below the cream of the crop.
Patterson did finish with a better PER (14.6) than Marvin Williams (14.0) and Josh McRoberts (13.8) in 2013-14, but it's not as if he blew the two out of the water. A mere percentage points separated the three forwards in that regard. With that being said, Raptor fans will gladly take Patterson's three-year deal worth $18 million against Williams' $14 million over two years with the Charlotte Hornets or McRoberts' $24 million over four years with the Miami Heat. Patterson played the least amount of minutes of the three while averaging just as many points on more efficient shooting.
A change of scenery could be just what the doctor ordered for Lou Williams. It was back in 2011-12 when Williams led the Philadelphia 76ers in scoring with 14.9 points off the bench, something you rarely see in this day and age. He may never regain that kind of production again, but even the slightest of downgrades from that will still be a welcome addition to a bench that finished 27th in the league at 26.1 points a night, per Hoopsstats.com. His offensive prowess and knack for scoring the basketball is something you don't turn your nose at. He's working under a one-year deal so it's a small rental if all else fails.
Bruno Caboclo, the No. 20 pick in the 2014 NBA draft, averaged 11.4 points and 3.0 rebounds in five games during the Las Vegas Summer League. Being "two years away from being two years away," the now infamous line from ESPN's Fran Fraschilla on draft night, may be a tad extreme in retrospect. It will be interesting to see how many minutes Dwane Casey gives his rookie over the course of the season as Toronto makes their push for a second-straight Atlantic Division title. We've seen in the past how minutes are allocated to first-year players under Casey's regime, most noticeably with Jonas Valanciunas in the frontcourt. Rookies are handed nothing and need to work for everything. The same goes for Caboclo.
It's hard to argue with Aldridge ranking the Cavaliers No. 1 on his list after they managed to snag James away from a team that made four-straight NBA Finals appearances. I guess home really is where the heart is. Cleveland was followed by the Chicago Bulls, who made headlines of their own by luring away Pau Gasol from the Los Angeles Lakers. The Hornets came in at No. 3 after Noah Vonleh fell into their laps with their ninth overall pick. They also signed Lance Stephenson to a respectable three-year, $27.4 million contract. The Boston Celtics (No. 4) secured further assets and draft picks while the Denver Nuggets (No. 5) stole Aaron Afflalo from the Orlando Magic.
Rankings such as these are a matter of opinion and Aldridge is certainly entitled to his. A case could be made for the Raptors being higher, especially when you consider his aforementioned emphasis on teams re-signing their own players.
Where would you rank the Toronto Raptors' offseason?