The big questions facing bloggers as August winds down: Is it over? Has the NBA offseason finally shut itself down and gone on vacation? Am I safe to write a wrap-up piece?
Crossing my fingers and hoping nothing crazy happens in the moments between writing this and posting it live, here are a few thoughts on the major moves the Toronto Raptors made this past NBA offseason:
I had mixed feelings about this at the time, and they’re no less mixed now (and are perhaps even more mixed) in the wake of other moves the Raptors made this offseason (<cough> Kawhi <cough>). But ultimately my take at the time stands: The Raptors’ “core four” of Casey, Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan and Jonas Valanciunas hadn’t gotten it done in the playoffs, and something had to change. Firing the coach is always the easiest change to make, unfortunately for Dwane.
Does it look different now, in hindsight, knowing what we know? Sure. If Masai Ujiri had a crystal ball and foreseen his own future moves, he might not have fired Casey; I wouldn’t have. Alas.
Verdict: Unfortunate, but necessary.
The biggest problem in firing a successful coach is finding a worthy replacement. The Raptors looked to within and hired longtime assistant Nick Nurse. It was probably the safest hire; Sarunas Jasikevicius and Ettore Messina might have been more interesting, but there just isn’t much track record of Euroleague coaches having success in the NBA.
Breaking out the crystal ball again, you can wonder if a rookie NBA head coach is the best option when trying to integrate a new superstar (and trying to convince him to sign long-term). But without such a crystal ball, you can only make moves based on what you know in the moment and as such, I think Nurse was the best choice.
Verdict: ...it’s fine?
June 19: Jerry Stackhouse leaves Toronto, Jama Mahlalela takes over as Raptors 905 coach
Speaking of rookie head coaches, was Jerry Stackhouse ever in serious consideration for the Raptors’ head coaching job? We may never know, but regardless, he left the organization for an assistant’s job in Memphis. Stack did an amazing job with the 905 and it’s sad to see a coaching up-and-comer go, but, I’m happy that’s he’s moving up the ranks.
Jama Mahlalela takes over, and while it’s easy to dismiss the 905 and the G-League, you can’t underestimate the impact it’s had on the Raptors the past two years. Fred VanVleet, Pascal Siakam, Delon Wright and Jakob Poeltl all spent time developing there. Without much in the way of draft picks and with a lot of potential Raptors roster uncertainty coming up in the next two offseasons, the 905 will be as important as ever. Mahlalela’s spent enough time around the team to earn a shot at the head of the bench, so let’s see how he does.
Verdict: It’s a hung jury. Stack is good, Jama is good, we’ll have to re-try this one in 7-8 months.
The Raptors added Rawle Alkins after the draft, but he signed with Chicago after summer league.
June 26: Dwane Casey wins Coach of the Year
July 1: Raptors re-sign Fred VanVleet to two-year deal
The Raptors opted to bring back the heart and should of the second unit, signing VanVleet to a two-year, $18 million deal. It’s a smart move; you might be able to argue it’s a bit high annually for a backup PG, but, if you watched the team last year—and saw them in the playoffs without VanVleet—you know how important he is. (And if you saw VanVleet at UCLA last week, you know he’s looking just fine after that shoulder injury.) Meanwhile the two-year contract length connects him with the rest of the Raptors core, and everything can be re-evaluated in 2020.
Verdict: Great move.
July 1: LeBron James leaves Eastern Conference
Here’s the first move that makes you start to second-guess firing Dwane Casey. Wouldn’t you want to see what the Raptors core could do in a LeBron-less East, with the biggest obstacle to their postseason success gone?
Maybe. But maybe you lean the other way and say that era’s over, the Raptors failed and “settling” for winning only after LeBron left would leave a really bad taste in the mouth.
Verdict: Hasta la vista, Bronny
July 15: Raptors wrap up summer league with 2-4 record
I hope we can all agree summer league doesn’t mean too much in the grand scheme of things, but nevertheless, it was a good handful of games for Nick Nurse to run the show and for OG Anunoby to get some more work in.
Ultimately there were two bits of news out of Vegas: That Canadian Chris Boucher has tons of upside (the Raptors signed Boucher to a training camp deal, along with Jordan Loyd) and Malcom Miller got hurt (and had his qualifying offer withdrawn).
Verdict: Summer league, as always, is a mixed bag.
This is mainly a little tidying of the edges of the roster, but signing Brown just makes sense. He was the G-League MVP last year and while he didn’t “wow” in his NBA minutes, he looked just fine—if a little hesitant to shoot. Keeping him around as a 905er and as an injury replacement when needed is smart.
Verdict: What’d I just say? Smart.
It’s funny, I’d kinda gotten used to the idea that Kawhi Leonard is a Raptor in recent weeks; re-reading the news from July for this piece reminded me just how absolutely stunning the whole thing was.
We’ve written about it at length here at RaptorsHQ, but it’s still the biggest trade in Raptors history, with the most upside and the most risk, and Kawhi Leonard—if healthy—is the most talented player the Raptors have ever had on their roster.
Was he worth the cost: The all-time greatest Raptor? We’ll see. But this was a move that had to be made.
Verdict: I’m all-in on this one... just like Masai.
The Raptors rounded out their roster by bringing in Monroe, a reliable big who, if memory serves, has given the Raptors tons of trouble when playing against them in Detroit, Milwaukee and Boston. Monroe is perhaps a bit of an outcast in today’s NBA—a bit slow, a bit plodding, too undersized to be a rim protector but not quick enough to be a perimeter defender, no 3-point shot. BUT. What he does do, which is post up, rebound and clear space in the lane, he does very well.
At the very least, we’ve got to assume the veteran Monroe won’t pick up nearly as many moving screen violations as young Poeltl, so that right there is a positive.
It’s a little unclear just how the Raptors rotations will shake out, so there may not be a lot of minutes for Monroe to play. But small-ball lineups with Monroe at 5 and OG Anunoby and Kawhi Leonard at the 3-4 are definitely a possibility, and minutes alongside Jonas Valanciunas in an effort to preserve Serge Ibaka are also a possibility.
And at a low salary, it’s a low-risk move.
Verdict: Solid, much like Moose himself.
Training camps start next month. Things should be relatively quiet until then, and after a busy summer, the Raptors organization deserves a bit of a breather.