Following a disappointing season, the Toronto Raptors looked to start fresh — but not in the way some fans expected.
The Raptors have been a mediocre team for the past few seasons. The Chicago Bulls defeated them in the play-in tournament last season; the Raptors exited in the first round in the season before; and they missed the playoffs outright three seasons ago. For many fans, a rebuild seemed to be the only card left for the Raptors to play. Yet the team has remained firm on its roster, believing that the current core of players can still compete.
After firing longtime head coach Nick Nurse, the Raptors hired Darko Rajakovic, who is the former assistant coach of the Memphis Grizzlies. His arrival marked the start of big changes in the organization. Rajakovic offers a fresh perspective on the game, with a specialty in developing young players.
Raptors fans should be somewhat pleased with how the offseason has gone so far. President Masai Ujiri and General Manager Bobby Webster began the offseason by drafting Gradey Dick, a six-foot-eight guard out of Kansas University. Dick was projected to go 11th in the draft by most analysts, so fans were ecstatic when the Raptors had — and seized — the chance to draft him at 13th.
The biggest flaw with the Raptors last season was their shooting; the team ranked 27th and 28th in field goal percentage and three-point percentage, respectively. Dick was a sharpshooter in college, shooting 40.3 per cent from three. Fans hope he can contribute to a more efficient and long-ranged Raptors team and potentially fill some of the holes left on the team with the departure of point guard Fred VanVleet.
It’s no secret that VanVleet was a fan favourite in the city — he won a championship and was a key part of the core team for multiple years. Yet, one of the Raptors’ best moves in the offseason was choosing not to re-sign him. He shot an abysmal 39.3 per cent from the field during the 2022–2023 season, leaving him third-last in the league in that stat. His questionable decision-making and overly confident shot attempts made for a frustrating watch this past season.
Not to mention, VanVleet signed an albatross of a contract with the Houston Rockets which secured him nearly $130 million over the next three seasons. His departure looked even better after fans started hearing reports of his frustrations and arguments with young players last season.
Conversely, the Raptors’ biggest signing was that of Dennis Schröder — a guard who specializes in attacking the rim and mid-range shooting. Schröder is still an inefficient shooter from beyond the arc and is not close to the calibre of player that VanVleet was, but the Raptors had to make do with what they could find in the free agency period among players with expired contracts. It’s unsure how the team will use Schröder, but he is a decent filler for the new vacancy at the guard position.
Elsewhere, a bright spot last season was Gary Trent Jr. who shot 36.9 per cent from three while averaging 17.4 points and 1.6 steals per game. Thankfully, the 24-year-old opted into his $18.5 million player option on June 20 and will surely be a big part of the core next season.
A lot of fans were understandably nervous about center Jakob Poeltl heading into the offseason. Poeltl was acquired at the trade deadline in February — a puzzling move where the Raptors sent the San Antonio Spurs their opportunity first-round draft pick in 2024. Notably, the pick is only top-six protected, meaning that the Raptors will retain the draft pick only if the team lands in the top six of the draft pick order by a combination of luck and bad playing.
For an average team, it was hard to understand why they would send such a lightly protected pick for a player who hardly moved the competitive needle, especially as Poetl was on an expiring contract. Poeltl signed a four-year, $80 million contract with the Raptors, which was a relief for fans.
But big names continue to swirl in trade rumours. Fan favourite and all-star player Pascal Siakam has been the target of most of these rumours in the past weeks, with O.G. Anunoby earning some mild mentions. Should either player be moved, you can expect the organization to move into a full rebuild, giving more responsibility to their young players like Dick and Scottie Barnes, the 2021–2022 NBA rookie of the year.
The Raptors are headed in a positive direction after improving their shooting and giving space for their young stars to develop. Don’t expect them to be competitive this season — but a playoff run is a possibility, and depends on a huge step up from Barnes and a breakout season from Dick. Raptors fans should look forward to a new, more exciting style of play this upcoming season.