Under Dwane Casey, the Toronto Raptors have been one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference for the last five seasons. This season was a coming out party for Canada’s NBA team. After finishing with a franchise record 59 wins and the number one seed in the East, this was supposed to be the year the Raptors challenge LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. The mid-season roster overhaul was supposed to throw off the Cavaliers chance at a return trip to the NBA finals and the Raptors were supposed to take advantage.
KING JAMES ONCE AGAIN FOR THE WIN!!!!! AT THE BUZZER!!!
— Basketball Society (@BBallSociety_) May 6, 2018
However, once again, the King remained a constant psychological advantage for Cleveland. Even though the Raptors had home court advantage, they couldn’t get over the LeBron hump. For the second straight year, the Raptors were swept by the Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference semifinals. NBA playoff history was made as the Raptors became the first one seed in 49 years to be swept before the conference finals. Overall, it was a tough end for Toronto after changing their basketball philosophy and integrating some really good young players into the equation.
The things that made the Raptors great in the regular season didn’t come into full bloom against the Cavs. Dwane Casey used his bench a lot and focused more on ball movement as opposed to having Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan in the pick-and-roll. Players like Fred Van Vleet, Pascal Siakam, and Jakob Poeltl contributed to the success the Raptors had in the regular season. Because of another postseason debacle, the same question that was asked last season will be asked again: should the Raptors blow the team up?
Raptors President Masai Ujiri has a tough choice to make. Does he stick with the current core of Lowry, DeRozan, Jonas Valanciunas, Serge Ibaka, etc. or does he trade one or both of his two-star players? The cap situation doesn’t look so great for Toronto. Norman Powell’s extension starts next year and the aforementioned Lowry, DeRozan, and Ibaka are getting at least $20 million over the next two seasons (three seasons for DeRozan).
In addition to that, Van Vleet is the most significant free agent the Raptors have and Ujiri may be forced to let him walk. The former Wichita State star is a restricted free agent this summer meaning the Raptors can match any contract offered to him. Although this is the case, Van Vleet could covet a deal that could be worth too much for a Raptors team that is going to be over the cap going into next season. Expect the Raptors to let Lucas Nogueira become an unrestricted free agent by rescinding his $4.1 million qualifying offer.
Then, there comes the situation surrounding head coach Dwane Casey. He’s been very successful with the Raptors leading them to five straight playoff appearances including a trip to the conference finals in 2016. However, this was the best Raptors team of the bunch and as the number one seed, they were expected to reach the NBA finals amidst the turmoil in Cleveland and the injury bug in Boston.
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) May 8, 2018
While the Raptors and coach Casey failed to reach their expectations this season, he isn’t the problem in the end. LeBron James is the real problem here because he is the cause for the Raptors misery. Whether he wins another ring this season or not, there is speculation that LeBron could leave Cleveland again. If he leaves for a team in the Western Conference, things would then be looking up for the Raptors and the other eastern conference playoff contenders.
Overall, there are plenty of things to consider with the current state of the Raptors organization. Dwane Casey hasn’t been able to lead the Raptors past LeBron and the Cavs, but fans must consider the prospect that the Raptors had never been a consistent playoff team until Casey arrived. This is the most success the franchise has seen since their inaugural season. In this tough time, it is up to Masai Ujiri and the rest of the Raptors front office to make some tough decisions this summer.