Off-season splashes in the NBA, unless you're the Warriors, are made in an effort to catch up to the pack. Entering this summer, the Raptors weren't exactly bringing up the rear. Winning 56 games, running away with the East's second seed and advancing to the Conference Finals comfortably has Toronto as one of the league's pace-setters for the first time in franchise history.
With Kevin Durant's landscape-altering move to Oakland, and a handful of teams in the East making plays to improve, the sense of dejection that seems rampant among Raptors fans is understandable. Toronto lost an effective contributor in Bismack Biyombo, had an unsexy draft night and has struck out on all of the free agents it's been linked with through four-plus days of free agency.
But don't fall into the trap of thinking this off-season has been a failure for Masai Ujiri. Toronto is operating with a head start on the rest of the field, and none of the chair-shuffling below them in the standings can realistically be expected to close the gap in time for opening day. Atlanta replaced Al Horford and Jeff Teague with Dwight Howard and an enhanced role for the volatile Dennis Schroeder -- a drop-off from their 48-win 2015-16 season is to be expected. Miami looks set to return a similar team to the one the Raptors beat in the second round, minus Joe Johnson ... and possibly Dwyane Wade ... and Tyler Johnson; Chris Bosh's future remains unclear as well. Boston's addition of Horford is huge, but Toronto's roster probably still has the overall edge in both talent and continuity. None of the East's other teams' transactions appear to have a prayer of elevating them to the East's top tier.
Standing pat is fine when you're at the level of Toronto. Factoring in the internal growth by players like Jonas Valanciunas and Norman Powell, the Raptors should enter the year as the favourite to repeat as the two-seed. Sure, resigning to another season of playing second-fiddle to the Cavs might be tough to swallow, but such has been the reality for every team in LeBron's East since 2011 -- he changes the extent to which his opponents can daydream. With the team as it is today, Toronto still stands a strong chance of replicating the rollicking fun it produced in this year's playoffs in the spring of 2017.
There does remain some potential for Ujiri to make late roster-bolstering additions, though. Durant has left turbulent waters in the wake of his move, and it may churn up some pieces that can be plucked from the surface by the Raptors via trade. On the free agent market, there remain some highly intriguing lottery ticket plays, and some less exciting but more stable options up front who could help bolster Toronto's thin big man rotation.
Armed with the understanding that none of these hypothetical pick-ups are absolutely necessary for the Raptors' to uphold their lofty new organization standards, here are a handful of small moves that could help the cause next season, and inject some life into a largely dull summer thus far.
Trade for Boris Diaw
What better way to replace a beloved, international power forward in his thirties with a delightful old man game than with a more talented, beloved, international power forward in his thirties with a delightful old man game. Immediately following the news that the Spurs were signing Pau Gasol, reports surfaced that the Spurs were looking to move Diaw and his $7.5 million cap hit in a bit of financial reshuffling to fit Gasol in under the salary cap.
Diaw is 34, and before his career was rejuvenated with a move to San Antonio during the 2011-12 season, his career was teetering. There's no way to guarantee Toronto Diaw would be the same as the ultra-versatile multi-tool he was with the Spurs, but given the way Luis Scola tailed off down the stretch last season, you could pencil him in as an upgrade -- whether he were to start or push Patrick Patterson into Scola's old role.
A lot of teams could use a guy like Diaw to inject some ball skills, solid defense and league average-ish three-point shooting, so a bidding war of sorts could develop for his services. But an offer centred around Lucas Nogueira could be a decent starting point for getting a deal in motion.
Trade for Taj Gibson
Gibson's name has been thrown around on sites like this for what seems like two years. Terrence Ross is the name on the tip of most Raptors fans' tongues when it comes to any kind of trade for a significant salary (Gibson has a cap hit of just under $9 million). But in this case, trading three seasons of a cheap shooting threat like Ross for one year of a power forward boost might not make a ton of sense for the Raptors, who are light on dangerous shooters as it is.
Still, there are ways in which a deal that benefits both sides could be cobbled together. If the Bulls, seemingly in a transition year, want to get out of say, Mike Dunleavy's contract in order to give more playing time to their developmental projects on the wing, maybe a Dunleavy and Gibson for Ross swap could be in the cards? Gibson would be an obvious choice to start at power forward, while also being able to play alongside Patterson as a centre to alleviate the load on Toronto's unproven backup centres. Dunleavy, meanwhile, could replicate some of Ross' catch-and-shoot accuracy while also providing a more steady hand on the defensive end.
Sign Terrence Jones
Jones has always been one of those guys who feels like he should be a lot better than he is. Injuries and inconsistency, however, have slowed the soon-to-be former Rocket's development to the point where he's now taking up "flier" status on the free agent market.
It's one the Raptors should at least do their research into taking. Even with just 83 games played in the last two years, there have been encouraging flashes; his 33 game sample in 2014-15, in which he shot 35 percent from three while posting 15.6 points, 8.9 boards and 2.4 blocks per-36 is tantalizing enough to take a shot if he can be signed into the Raptors' cap space on a one or two-year value-rehab deal.
Sign Someone Old and Slow
There's no shortage of old dudes without jobs who could soak up some backup front court minutes in Toronto next season. Nene is done in Washington, David Lee is only a year or so removed from being a key of sorts in the Warriors' title win over the Cavs, and guys like Josh Smith (puke) are kicking around too.
None of those options are even the tiniest bit impressive or even fun to think about. The Raptors are quite good, though. They aren't some monumental move away from matching their 2015-16 output. Adding a purveyor of veteran presence, a la Scola last season, might be all the hamstrung Raptors can accomplish this summer. Given their standing within the league's current hierarchy, that may be all that's necessary.