The Raptors are turning the page to a new era after trading Kyle Lowry to the Miami Heat, dealing their floor general and head of the snake on both sides of the ball. Lowry joined Toronto in 2012 and helped win a championship while emerging as the franchise’s all-time leaders in assists, steals, 3-pointers and triple-doubles. There’s no question of whether his No. 7 will be retired but rather when.
Despite moving Lowry, there’s undoubtedly going to be excitement in Toronto despite the franchise seemingly taking another step backward after emerging as 2019 NBA champions. After being empty for basketball for roughly a year-and-a-half due to Canada’s COVID-19 policies forcing the Raptors to vacate the country and play games in the Orlando bubble and then last season, in Tampa’s Amelie Arena, the team will be back in action at Scotiabank Arena.
It’s also good news that coveted executive Masai Ujiri, the Raptors president of basketball operations, re-upped and added the title of vice chairman. While terms of his new contract haven’t been divulged, he claims to want to be in Toronto “forever.” Considering he had other options in the NBA and outside of sports, keeping Ujiri in place in addition to respected general manager Bobby Webster is a win for an organization that is undergoing a youth movement and restructuring as they look to build and make their next push.
Lowry Deal Lands Dragic, Meaning Another Move Looms
Lowry wanted to move on from a rebuilding situation and was linked to Miami for months last season, so it wasn’t a major surprise to see him end up with the Heat. The Raptors ended up with a young player they can groom in big second-year forward Precious Achiuwa, a raw 21-year-old who rebounds well and should be able to utilize his length to defend opposing fours and fives.
The biggest name coming back to Toronto is point guard Goran Dragic, a 35-year-old whose biggest draw is an expiring $19.44 million contract that becomes a great trade chip. Dragic made some controversial comments to a TV station back in his native Slovenia, saying he had higher ambitions than to play for the Raptors. He’s since apologized and walked back the statement, saying he’ll be committed wherever he winds up, but there’s no one who believes he’ll play a full season in Toronto. At some point, he’ll be moved, landing another key piece or two as the Raptors look to continue accumulating assets.
Outside of Dragic, the Raptors don’t have a single player over 30 years old on their roster. Khem Birch, who turns 29 in September, is the elder statesman. Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet and Chris Boucher are all in their upper-20’s and entering their prime while forward OG Anunoby, shooter Gary Trent, Jr. and No. 4 overall pick Scottie Barnes are all 24 or under. If that’s the core, the Raptors have a versatile, loaded frontcourt and a backcourt led by VanVleet moving over to the point full-time to replace Lowry and Trent likely starting at shooting guard.
Barnes’ selection over Gonzaga’s Jalen Suggs was viewed as an upset in NBA circles since the point guard who helped his team to the national championship game is going to be a star and seemed like a natural fit to move on with Lowry exiting. Instead, Ujiri opted for Barnes, a 20-year-old gifted defender who should be able to plug in at shooting guard, small forward and power forward as his body matures. Barnes stuffed the stat sheet in Summer League but didn’t play as well as Suggs, who was dominant for Orlando.
Magic management was said to be giddy that Suggs was available since they were expected to wind up with Barnes, so those two will be tied together for the rest of their careers. Ujiri fell in love with Barnes’ temperament, versatility and potential, but he’ll need the Florida State product to straighten out his jump shot if he’s going to be proven right.
Projected Win Totals Forecast Raptors will Miss Playoffs
Losing Lowry has most sportsbooks that have put out win totals and make-the-playoffs fading Toronto. BetRivers has set the Raptors’ projected win total at 37.5 and have made bets for them to miss the playoffs -186 ‘chalk.’ If you believe Toronto can slide into the Eastern Conference’s top eight, the payout is set at +145.
DraftKings sports betting app is even less optimistic about the Raptors’ chances, setting their odds to miss the playoffs at -360 and enticing bettors who believe they’ll be able to land a top-eight spot with a +280 payout. The site has set their win total at just 35.5 (Over -120, Under +100). Toronto is listed at +6000 to win the Eastern Conference, which is even with Washington for the 11th-best odds in the East. Only the Detroit Pistons, Orlando Magic and Cleveland Cavaliers (+25000) have worse odds.
Brooklyn, Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Miami, Atlanta, Boston, New York and Chicago are the teams favored to reach the Eastern Conference playoffs with Indiana and Charlotte being looked at as the most likely play-in teams.
Among player awards, Siakam is +15000 to win MVP at DraftKings while VanVleet was listed at +30000. Dallas star Luka Doncic is favored at +400.
The Most Improved market includes three Raptors, which may not be a bad bet given that there will be more touches to go around with Lowry gone. Boucher is tied for the 10th-best odds (+1800) while there are numbers available on VanVleet (+3000), Anunoby (+5000) and Trent (+6000). Siakam won the award in 2019. Denver’s Michael Porter, Jr. (+600), Oklahoma City’s Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (+700), New Orleans’ Zion Williamson (+750) and Houston’s Kevin Porter, Jr. (+800) are favored.
Barnes (+1200) has the fifth-best odds to win Rookie of the Year, even with Houston’s Alpe Sengun. According to DraftKings, No. 1 pick Cade Cunningham of the Pistons is the favorite (+250), followed closely by Rockets’ guard Jalen Green (+275), Orlando’s Suggs (+700) and Cavs forward Evan Mobley, the No. 3 pick (+800).
Raptors Schedule Highlights Center Around Return Home
Reporting out of Toronto quotes Ujiri as being reluctant to even discuss a backup plan if COVID-19 strikes again and forces the Raptors to relocate. Since the Blue Jays have returned to Rodgers Centre after spending the bulk of the MLB season in Dunedin and Buffalo, the Raptors are optimistic that they’ll be able to execute all training camp and preseason activities at home in Canada.
The regular season opener is scheduled for Oct. 20 with the Raptors hosting the Wizards in a game they’ll almost certainly be favored in. Toronto hosts Dallas on the opening Saturday night of the season (Oct. 23), offering up the lone opportunity to see international superstar Doncic in 2021-22. Four of the Raps’ first five games will be at Scotiabank Arena.
Toronto has only two nationally televised games in the U.S. this season, and one will air on TNT as Lowry returns to face the Raptors with the Miami Heat on Feb. 3. Lowry has already divulged that he’ll undoubtedly be shedding tears. Fan favorite DeMar DeRozan comes through a couple of times with his new team, the Chicago Bulls. His first appearance will come on Oct. 25.
Kawhi Leonard is unlikely to make the trip on Dec. 31 since he’ll be injured when the Clippers come through town, but another member of the ’19 championship yet to be honored will make an appearance when the 76ers come through on Dec. 28 with Danny Green in tow.
The first Barnes-Suggs matchup will come inside the first 10 days of the season as the Magic visit Toronto on Oct. 29. Count on Suggs being especially motivated to play against the team that passed on his services. Toronto’s preseason opener will come against the 76ers on Oct. 4. They’ll also be involved in a Nov. 1 75th-anniversary celebration of the first NBA regular-season contest between the Knicks and the then-Toronto Huskies. That game will be played at Madison Square Garden.