As little as six months ago, nearly everyone was writing off the Toronto Raptors. They were supposed to be nothing more than a lottery team, and with the emergence of Canada’s Andrew Wiggins, it seemed sure that newly appointed GM Masai Ujiri was ready to throw in the towel to increase the teams’ chances of landing a top pick. Then came the most shocking turn around ever seen in Raptors history. Nearly everyone looked at the Rudy Gay trade as the turning point for this team, but this was just one of many roster moves that helped the Raptors develop into one of the best teams in the east. In today’s article we’ll examine the moves made by Masai Ujiri that helped the Toronto Raptors secure their first playoff berth since 2008 and win the Atlantic division crown.
1. The Bargnani Departure
One of the biggest stains on Bryan Colangelo’s tenure with the Raptors, was his inability to draft game changing players. Andrea Bargnani was one of the main reasons this view persisted. So when Ujiri was able to find a suitor for the Italian big, fans in Toronto jumped for joy. Most importantly, with the departure of Bargnani, second year centre Jonas Valanciunas was finally given the playing experience needed to help him develop. The chance to start and play big minutes has done wonders for the Lithuanian’s confidence, so much so that he is now seen as one of the leagues best emerging centres.
On top of all this he also landed a first round pick from the trade that could prove to be incredibly valuable if New York’s troubles continue. They also picked up Steve Novak, who despite playing limited minutes has kicked in when needed for the Raptors.
2. Helping Kyle Lowry Find His Game
It’s pretty unusual that a General Manager has a lot of one on one interaction with his players in a mentor type role, but that is exactly what Ujiri has been able to do with Kyle Lowry. The veteran point guard has always had the talent, but for one reason or another Lowry has never been able to put it all together. During the preseason, Masai had a sit down with Kyle to explain to him his options. It was in this meeting that he was perfectly frank with his starting point guard, explaining to him that he was running out of chances and that this would have to be the year that he would prove himself as a leader.
Kyle Lowry responded better than anyone could have hoped for, including Ujiri. When the video clip of Lowry hugging Masai, after an incredible performance in Brooklyn in late January, was screened, the entire Raptors fan base saw how important this relationship was to the teams success. Lowry has been without question Toronto’s MVP this year, and is one that many Toronto fans are hoping will be around for years to come.
3. The Rudy Gay Trade
Since January the narrative around the team has been that the departure of Rudy Gay was the single largest contribution to the team’s newfound success. Why? It allowed DeMar DeRozan to become the All-Star that he is today. Demar can now open up the court and control the tempo of the game with his athleticism. He has become Toronto’s number one scoring threat. On top of this, it also gave Terrence Ross the chance to start games and get big time minutes, which has only helped move along his development into one of the NBA’s most exciting young players.
However, it is more than just the departure of Gay that led to the resurgence of the Toronto Raptors. The haul that came back the other way, provided Toronto with an incredibly deep bench that made them a very dangerous team. It has provided the Raps with a legitimate back up point guard in Greivis Vazquez. It gave them another good young piece in back up power forward, Patrick Patterson. It also gave them Chuck Hayes, who despite all of his offensive shortcomings, has been a solid defensive piece for the Raptors. It was more than just departure of Gay and the opening up of the floor, it was the addition of a deep and productive bench that made the Rudy Gay trade so remarkable.
The NBA Playoffs begin April 19, make sure to catch the Raps in action!