Raptors’ plan: In Masai we trust

Raptors president Masai Ujiri
Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images
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NBC Sports’ Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.

Would I have drafted Scottie Barnes over Jalen Suggs at No. 4? No.

Do I trust Raptors president Masai Ujiri on talent evaluation more than I trust myself? Yes.

Toronto’s best move of the offseason: Retaining Ujiri, arguably the NBA’s best executive. If he hadn’t earned so much benefit of the doubt, I might question what he’s doing now.

After losing the greatest player in franchise historyKyle Lowry – to the Heat, Ujiri declared the Raptors “are not a team of now.” He has made clear the goal is a championship. Toronto just showed merely reaching the postseason isn’t even worth pursuing.

Yet, the Raptors kept Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet and OG Anunoby and re-signed 29-year-old Khem Birch to a three-year, $20,002,750 contract rather than fully tearing down. That looks more like a team with moderate ambitions than one chasing the highest goal.

Even Toronto’s handling of young players looks suspect.

Barnes is a solid prospect with his intensity, defense and passing. But it’s really hard for a perimeter player with a flawed jumper to break into stardom. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is too easy of a comparison.

Guaranteeing Gary Trent Jr. more than $17 million annually over the next three years is a lot to get only two more years of team control before he can hit unrestricted free agency at age 24.

Precious Achiuwa is solid return for Lowry by the time Lowry hit unrestricted free agency. But it’s a disappointing outcome after the Raptors kept Lowry through the last trade deadline. They really couldn’t have done better then?

The sign-and-trade also brought Gordon Dragic to Toronto. Unhappily. But he has seemingly come around enough to help (again, if the goal is mere postseason contention, which Ujiri says it’s not).

Under Ujiri, the Raptors have excelled at finding and developing under-the-radar players. The latest candidates: Svi Mykhailiuk (who might be too established for this group, getting a player option on his minimum contract), Sam Dekker, Isaac Bonga, No. 46 pick Dalano Blanton and No. 47 pick David Johnson.

Even if I’m apprehensive about the selection, Toronto still come out way ahead by moving up from the No. 7 seed in the lottery to get Barnes at No. 4.

Especially with an executive of Ujiri’s caliber locked in to build around Barnes long-term.

Offseason grade: B-