From the minute Kawhi Leonard chose to head home to Los Angeles, this time was coming in Toronto.
The Raptors won the championship just a couple of seasons ago, but the team that takes the court when the season tips off next month is radically different than the one that raised the Larry O’Brien Trophy. No Leonard, no Kyle Lowry, no Serge Ibaka, no Danny Green, no Norman Powell. The Raptors have too much talent on the roster to call this a rebuild, but they are definitely retooling for the future. Team president Masai Ujiri admitted as much this week discussing the Raptors and the legacy of Lowry (now a member of the Heat).
“We are not a team of ‘now,'” Ujiri said. “There are going to be growing pains, trust me, you know like, sometimes it’s gonna be tough to watch but we know what’s coming, we know we’re excited about the young talent. They are excited to play – to see how, OG [Anunoby], Pascal [Siakam], Fred, are going to evolve as leaders – as elite players.
“And then the young guys, [Scottie] Barnes, Malachi [Flynn], Dalano [Banton]. In sports, people think ‘now,’ you know? And this is where we have to be patient and let it grow.”
That retooling starts with Pascal Siakam, the second-leading scorer on the championship Raptors team, who followed up with an All-NBA season after Leonard left. Last season Siakam didn’t live up to the role of a No. 1, struggled with his 3-point shot, and wasn’t the same. This offseason saw Siakam coming up in trade rumors — something he did not want — but he is putting in the work to bounce back this season.
OG Anunoby and Fred VanVleet make up the rest of the core. This is a likely playoff team in the East — the Raptors missed that cut last season, but playing an entire season on the road with Tampa Bay as their “home” threw everything off — but they are not a contender. Not yet.
They are not a team of “now,” but does anyone doubt Ujiri can have them back there in a few years? Especially now that he has committed to staying in Toronto? Ujiri talked about that decision, too.
“Toronto has become home for me, for my family. There’s something about this space of Toronto, of Canada, that really is special. It gives me a good platform to speak, to represent and it’s a unique space.”
And it’s a city that may be a team of “now” again in just a few years.