Thrilled, in the context of the Toronto Raptors’ 2018 off-season, is a strong word. I feel we need to add some modifiers in there — modestly thrilled? responsibly thrilled? mutely thrilled? Maybe we should just scrap the whole word entirely. This is, unfortunately, where we are with the Raptors right now. I’ll be honest, I’m not, uh, thrilled about it.
Toronto is not equipped to do much this off-season. We knew that throughout last season, but as the wins piled up, we didn’t mind. We doubly knew that once LeBron James crushed the city with his bare hands, and then we definitely, acutely, did mind. What can Toronto do to make us all feel over-the-moon happy? I don’t think there’s an actual answer to that question. The team is locked into the contracts it has, it hell-bent on developing the young players it still possesses, and we just have to believe that maybe with some of the pressure off (or LeBron in a different conference), something different can happen. It’s possible.
That said, the biggest free agency question for the Raptors right now is: can the team bring back Fred VanVleet? He’s headed into restricted free agency, and due for a sizable raise. It would be a hell of a story, and a nice win, to get the team’s sixth man and steadying force stowed securely on the roster for the foreseeable future. But, as has been pointed out, this may be part of the Raptors’ problem. The team is set up to succeed for the long haul, to maximize every little bit of its deep and well-distributed potential, to continue on in 2018-19 much as they did before. But when the bursts of extreme talent — the peaks on this particular team’s journey — start to arrive, Toronto has shown itself to have no real way to compete.
The flip-side here is just as... boring? unsatisfying? desultory? What’s the word here? There are people out there right now, this exact minute, expressing rage at how the Raptors are choosing to spend their off-season. I get that, even if I tend to preach perspective. Toronto just doesn’t have a lot of options available to them, given the makeup of the roster, the realities of the league, and the ever-present crunch of the salary cap. They could trade DeMar DeRozan, but that doesn’t seem likely to occur (and I’m not convinced we’d be happy if it does). There are no silver-lined free agency parachutes coming, not even with team president Masai Ujiri at the helm. This means we won’t really be pleased — but we also shouldn’t feel too angry. My only advice: deep breaths, and a moment spent remembering how much worse it’s been.
Ultimately, it’s a challenge to respond to such a happy-sad binary because, well, the Raptors are an in-between team at the moment. This is inherently weird to say about a squad that just set all kinds of team records on its way to the very best season in franchise history. But it’s also true.
The things that got the Raptors where they are make it hard to see them going much further. And those same things are also what make it hard for them to do different things, exciting things, surprising things, things that get a fan feeling, for lack of a better word: thrilled.