Masai said it best himself following a sweep by the hands of the Cavs. "We need a culture reset." Well, did he hit the self proclaimed "reset" button?
Here's my gradebook on the Toronto Raptors 2017 Offseason (so far) and what we can expect from Ujiri and Webster in the future. All categories are listed in sequential order.
Masai's first pressing offseason decision came in the form of his head coach Dwane Casey. Just one year into a three-year contract extension, speculation about Casey came after Masai's comments regarding the coach and the play style of the team.
"Because we’ve done what we’ve done so many times and it hasn’t worked. It’s easy to defend in my opinion when you play one-on-one. It’s predictable, we feel we have to go in another direction. I don’t know what it is. Maybe it will be the new thing in the league that wins." Masai also added "I think there are times that I think coach did a great job and I think there are times that we struggled."
It wasn't exactly a 'vote of confidence' for the winningest coach in Raptors history, but Masai didn't give anything away regarding his thoughts on the coach's future. Remember that even though Masai gave Casey an extension last season, this still isn't the coach he hired, but rather inherited from the previous regime. Both Masai and Casey acknowledged that changes needed to be made in playing style, and that the hero ISO ball that every Raptors fan hates needs to be eliminated.
A few weeks later, Casey confirmed to media outlets that he would in fact be returning as the head coach of the Raptors squad. This move puzzled many who follow the Dinos considering Masai's remarks.
I really like Casey. Not only is he a character guy, but he's done incredible things for the Toronto Raptors, and the team may not be in the position its in today if it were not for him. Saying this, the ISO-ball style clearly isn't working, and it will be interesting to see if Casey can adapt. When times get tough, can the team stick to the new style of play, or will the coach and his squad revert back to the old ISO ways? Only time will tell.
They say that across any sport, most deals begin to take shape on draft night. With all the GM's focused on one particular aspect, many use that time to "hotline bling" opposing GM's and try to work something out. There's always deals that get done, as NBA players and current draft picks alike are often shipped across various teams, some more surprising than others (looking at you Timberwolves).
Insert the Toronto Raptors. There were reports circulating on Twitter at the beginning of the night that Masai was actively shopping Itty Bitty Baller Jonas Valanciunas along with the 23rd overall pick as a way to shed some salary off the cap. This became a very intriguing prospect to most, as getting rid of JV would be a nice way to create some room in the salary cap.
Midway through the draft the rumour was still being floated about Masai actively shopping this duo together. As the draft board inched closer and closer to the 23rd overall pick, this rumour began to die off as one intriguing name remained on the board; OG Anunoby. The tantalizing prospect out of Indiana was a projected lottery pick on every mock draft until he sustained a season ending knee injury on January 20th.
While many expected Anunoby to drop out of the lottery as a result of the injury, experts did not predict him to drop too much lower than that. As the numbers kept increasing, the "true OG" was still in his seat, and the Raptors began to realize that this might actually be a possibility. Once it was the Raptors turn to make a pick and OG was still available, it was impossible not to make that selection.
What many experts deem to be "the steal of the draft", the Raptors literally had this young phenom fall right into their laps. While Anunoby still has to work on his offensive game (averaged 11.1 points and 5.5 rebounds per game), he is credited as the one of the best defenders in the draft, if not the best. He hasn't played a game since his season ending knee surgery in January. OG is working towards a return in November-December.
When people ask me for NBA comparables, I give them a floor and ceiling of the type of player I believe that Anunoby can become. His floor is a PJ Tucker, and his ceiling is a Kawhi Leonard. I'm not saying he's going to be the next Kawhi, but do expect him to be the best defender on the floor who can lock down the opposition's star player and give you consistent offence.
Once the calendar turned over to July, the Raptors roster really began to take shape. Once the signings of Ibaka and Lowry were made official, it was clear the road they would travel on.
Here's a list of who the Raptors have added/retained and who they have traded away/let walk in free agency.
Justin Hamilton (waived)
2018 First Round Pick (lottery protected)
2018 Second Round Pick
I have been on the fence all offseason about the direction the Raptors should take this team. I'm pretty sure I was more indecisive than my girlfriend trying to choose what to eat for dinner. However, once I saw the details of the Ibaka and Lowry signings, I was all abord the compete train.
Masai handed out three-year contracts to both Ibaka and Lowry, which matches up with the expiry of DeRozan's contract. Masai is giving this core three years to compete. In an incredibly weak Eastern Conference that has seen superstars Jimmy Butler and Paul George head out to the incredibly stacked West, it only makes sense for the Raptors to at least remain competitive and allow their talented youth to develop and grow with the team. Bringing back these two players was essential, as they both boast impressive three-point numbers for their respective positions, aligning with the culture reset that Masai referred to.
Anybody with a brain would know that Masai and Co. would have constructed a methodical plan of action to carry out once they re-secured their own free agents. With the core signings completed, this pushed the Raptors into tax territory, giving them virtually no room to add any complimentary pieces unless a trade was completed.
So Masai went to work.
Step 1 of the master plan? Get rid of the one bad free agent contract on the books. The true JUNK yard dog DeMarre Carroll was shipped off to hell (aka Brooklyn) along with a future 2018 lottery protected 1st and 2nd round pick in exchange for a heaping pile of dog shit in Justin Hamilton. The trade was purely a cap relief scenario, and it cost the Raps a couple of draft picks. With the promising young talent this roster has already, I'm okay with the price of this necessary move.
Step 2 almost mirrored step 1. Nearly 12 hours after trading away DeMarre Carroll, the Raptors traded away backup point guard and fellow Canadian Cory Joseph to the Pacers in order to make room in the cap to sign C.J. Miles. "I get a ring and I bring it home like I'm Cory Joe." Drake embodied the feelings of Raptors fans everywhere when Cory Joe signed in Toronto as a free agent a few years ago, and we will forever be grateful to him. However, with young promising talent like Delon Wright and Fred VanVleet knocking at the door, it just made sense to move CoJo and his salary. This allowed the Raps to go out and sign DeMarre's replacement in C.J. Miles. Coming off a three-point field goal percentage of 42% last season, Miles is the perfect addition to a team in desperate need of that asset. He also provides solid defence and is one of the most underrated two-way forwards in the game.
The one aspect of Free Agency that sucks is that you can lose your players for nothing. Due to the Raptors tight cap crunch, they lost free agents PJ Tucker to the Houston Rockets and Patrick Patterson to the Oklahoma City Thunder. The one that really stings for me is the loss of Tucker. I was hoping that Masai would do whatever it took to keep the team's best defender and leader, but was ultimately swayed by the idea of playing alongside fellow friend Chris Paul and MVP nominee James Harden. His loss of presence will be felt on the court, and hopefully players like Miles and Norman Powell can help eliminate the pain.
Overall it was a fairly productive free agency period for Masai. I don't believe he's done yet, however I believe he would be content with starting the year with the current roster he has constructed. Kudos on keeping our star free agents and moving the players that needed to be moved. The grade would have had the letter A in it if not for the loss of PJ Tucker, which will hurt the Raptors more than most expect.
Remaining Offseason Predictions and Overall Grade
Like I said before, I don't believe that Masai is done just yet. There's a step 3 in his master plan, but it just hasn't been revealed to us. So what could that step 3 be, you might ask?
Let's circle back to draft night. Remember when the Raps were trying hard to shop JV? Where there's smoke, there's fire, and that means that the Raps were looking to shed his salary. I believe that they still are, and if the right trade partner and offer comes along, I believe the Raps will take it. This could allow for a solid trade deadline acquisition without creeping into the tax, and allowing for more room next offseason to make one big splash.
Masai is a god. He will play some mind trick on a poor soul and force them to agree to whatever trade he wants. Let's all bow down to him.
The Raptors have done a good job (so far) this offseason. They have positioned themselves well to compete now, as well as not be locked in to any ridiculous contracts three years from now. They are only one injury away from actually having a chance to win the East, and that's all fans can ask for.
Overall Grade: B+