Last February, nearing the halfway mark of the NBA season, the Toronto Raptors made a high risk, high reward move in acquiring the expiring contracts of Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker to better their chances of winning a championship.
Unfortunately, the Raptors were swept by the Cleveland Cavaliers in the second round of the NBA playoffs, which led many to question what to do with the expiring contracts and what direction the team should take going forward.
One of the options suggested was to let go of Lowry and Ibaka, rebuild the Raptors core around DeMar DeRozan, and wait out the LeBron era. With DeRozan under contract until 2021, it was entirely plausible they would take this path. The other option would be to go all in, keep the star players, and go for another title run.
After weeks of speculation, the Raptors were able to re-sign both Lowry and Ibaka to contracts over the next three years. Lowry announced his decision in a letter to The Players Tribune stating, “I’m coming back to Toronto because my heart is telling me that it’s home — and because staying home, for me and my family, feels like the right thing to do.”
In the open letter, much like most Raptors fans, Lowry questioned whether playing in Toronto was worth sticking around for and if the team had the ability to take the next step forward. Due to the loss of P.J. Tucker to the Houston Rockets, the Raptors acquired C.J. Miles from the Indiana Pacers in exchange for Cory Joseph. The Raptors also parted ways with DeMarre Carroll and their 2018 first and second round picks for the Brooklyn Nets’ Justin Hamilton.
NBA teams have been forced to decide whether to wait out superteams like the Cavaliers or try to build their own. Several teams made moves to build their team to compete for a championship, while others have decided to start their rebuild early. The Chicago Bulls traded their all-star Jimmy Butler to the Minnesota Timberwolves in exchange for Kris Dunn and Zach LaVine. The Pacers sent perennial all-star Paul George to the Oklahoma City Thunder in exchange for Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis. In the biggest move of the offseason, the Los Angeles Clippers traded likely future Hall of Famer Chris Paul to the Rockets for a long list of players, most notably Patrick Beverley, Lou Williams, and a first-round draft pick.
The move is indicative of a pattern going on in the league right now: the Bulls, Clippers, and Pacers all had franchise players that they moved around in exchange for a younger core and future draft picks, thereby choosing to wait out superteams. On the flip side, the Thunder, Rockets, and Timberwolves came to the realization that they need more than one superstar player to compete for a championship. Rockets general manager Daryl Morey said it best: “It’s a weapons race in the NBA, and you’re either in the weapons race or on the sidelines.”
The Raptors are in a prime position to climb the ladder of the Eastern Conference and hopefully compete for a championship. The team is clearly invested in winning a title; like Lowry concluded in his letter, “If you start something? Man, you finish it.”