In an article published a few days ago, it was reported that the Raptors franchise have one thing in mind as they plan for the future: to eventually lure Andrew Wiggins to come home and play for Toronto.
The piece also touches on the immediate future of the team, and two players who may be of interest to the Raptors (and every other NBA team in the league):
A year and a half from now, there’s the race for Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant. Since Durant was outgoing MLSE CEO Tim Leiweke’s white whale, that seems less and less likely to happen. They’re fun names to throw out – Gasol and Durant. You get the strong impression the Raptors are chasing them not in the expectation of signing them, but in order to educate themselves in the art of free-agent flirtation.
Gasol and Durant are test cases. The real target will not rise into view for more than six years – Andrew Wiggins.
That’s a long time from now, but a great deal of what the Raptors are building is being constructed with Wiggins in mind.
Something drastic would have to happen between now and the end of the season to convince Gasol to leave that much money on the table and to leave what is a pretty comfortable situation in Memphis right now.
As for Durant, I agree with Cathal Kelly in that even getting a meeting with him in the summer of 2016 will be significant progress for the franchise.
And then, there's the Wiggins tidbit. To me, even having a conversation about this now is pointless. First, he's not slated to hit unrestricted free agency until 2021 at the earliest. That's a long time to set up any sort of firm plan into the future. The Raptors have, surprise, zero players signed through the 2020-21 season. Between now and then, there will be significant turnover on this roster. Kyle Lowry's current contract will have expired, DeMar DeRozan will be on his next contract, which will (most likely) approach a max level salary. Perhaps Terrence Ross and Jonas Valanciunas will be key building blocks on a contender in Toronto by then, or maybe they'll be elsewhere. No one knows.
And even though I imagine Masai Ujiri has every single scenario mapped out from A to Z, the league is so cyclical it's impossible to even know whether the Raptors will be contenders in three years, or six. Who knows if Ujiri will be around?
All of this matters. If you're going to lure any superstar player to Toronto, having a team on the cusp of contention will matter much more than a We The North campaign, or convincing that player to play in another country.
Of course, the Wiggins-to-Toronto talk has been set in motion literally the day he was officially traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves, when an article titled "Love deal sets stage for Wiggins' homecoming" was published at Sportsnet. Maybe Lee Jenkins of Sports Illustrated will pen Wiggins' homecoming letter in 2021, or maybe the Wolves have built a solid enough foundation that Wiggins will decide to stay. Maybe Wiggins won't even be the most coveted player on the market by then. Again, it's impossible to see that far into the future. Six years in NBA terms is a lifetime, any conversation about it now would just be noise.
I'm just like all these fans in Toronto, I love to dream about the team's future. In private conversations, I've laid out the elaborate path of how Durant will eventually join the Raptors. You see: we win 50-plus games this season and next, make a couple of deep playoff runs, Durant comes to Toronto for All-Star Weekend next year and Toronto fans absolutely shower him with love in what turns out to be a recruiting pitch before he hits free agency, Bruno Caboclo shows real signs of being the next actual Kevin Durant, and we had into the summer of 2016 as a legitimate contender in the East, and we happen to have the Knicks first round pick which turns out to be the second overall pick. Durant looks at all this and signs.
You see how easy that is? To just manufacture any scenario and talk yourself into a path that makes sense because it fits what your end goal is. That's why I hate any Wiggins-to-Toronto narratives being spread and worst, being discussed.
It's great the franchise is continuing to improve and positioning themselves to be a player in free agency, but if you think Wiggins is coming to Toronto in 2021 no matter what, well then go ahead and bookmark this post and email me an "I told you so" in six years.
Until then, let's just enjoy Wiggins and his growth as an NBA player, see where this current Raptors team will go, and let's have these other conversations when the time is right. That time is not now, and not for awhile.