Heading into the 2018-19 season, the Raptors seemed to have six potential starters for five spots. In the last full season each had played, none of Kyle Lowry, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Serge Ibaka, OG Anunoby or Jonas Valančiūnas had started fewer than 83 percent of their games. It had been years since some of them had come off the bench at all.
Really, it seemed to be a battle between three guys — Anunoby, Ibaka and Valanciunas — for two spots. Then life, and the reality of the sport, intervened. Due to the tragic death of his father and injury, Anunoby was up and down in terms of availability at the start of the season. However, it was Pascal Siakam, starter of only five of 81 games the year prior, who slid into the starting lineup. That worked out pretty well, with Siakam emerging as the Raptors’ second-leading scorer and the league’s Most Improved Player. He came off the bench just once that season and was rewarded with a maximum-value rookie extension after the season ended.
With the other spot, the Raptors concluded that Ibaka and Valančiūnas were not complementary defensive players. The pair traded the starting centre spot depending on the matchup — at least until Valančiūnas broke his thumb in mid-December 2018 in a game against the Warriors. That gave Ibaka the starting spot until Valančiūnas was set to return in February, when he was promptly traded for Marc Gasol, who quickly took over the bulk of that job. All of that worked out nicely for the Raptors, too. Anunoby re-emerged as a starter the following season with Leonard’s departure, and he earned a lucrative rookie extension, as Siakam did the year before in the NBA standings.
Heading into this season, the Raptors again seem to have five spots for six guys. Really, it’s one spot for two very different players: Gary Trent Jr. and Precious Achiuwa.
This time around, both players have something on the line, contractually speaking. Trent can become an unrestricted free agent next summer if he declines his $18.8 million player option for 2023-24. The Raptors inevitably will pick up Achiuwa’s $4.4 million player option for the same season, but he will be extension-eligible next offseason. These are very different situations, however. Even if the Raptors and Achiuwa don’t agree to an extension next offseason, he most likely would be headed for restricted free agency, giving him limited control of his options in the 2024 offseason.