2016 NBA Draft Is Key to Toronto Raptors Future


2016 NBA Draft Is Key to Toronto Raptors Future

The craziness of the NBA trade deadline has come and gone. While a number of teams like the Miami Heat made last minute moves to improve their team, the Toronto Raptors took the alternative route of standing pat. Despite holding coveted future assets like expiring contracts and future draft picks, Masai Ujiri’s decision speaks volumes to what could be on the horizon for the Raptors, in particular, during the 2016 NBA Draft.

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  • The Raptors have two first-round picks in next year’s draft, one of which is the lower pick (less favourable) between the New York Knicks/Denver Nuggets. Regardless of which pick they receive, the chances are very high that it will be within the top 10, maybe even top-five picks. Plus, the Raptors will have their own first-round pick, which will probably fall in the mid-to-late 20’s.

    However, the crown jewel of this draft for the Raptors is undoubtedly the Knicks/Nuggets first-round pick. With players like Ben Simmons, Jaylen Brown, Thon Maker, Chase Jeter, Ivan Rabb, Malik Newman — and whoever else decides to stay back in college following this draft — more than likely available, the Raptors will have a chance to add another young, talented building block to their core.

    In what is considered to be a loaded draft class, the Raptors’ look to be in a great position.

    But when you actually evaluate what they already have, “a great position” might be an understatement to just how great it actually is.

    The Raptors are currently the 10th youngest team in the league and have all of their core pieces locked up until at least the 2016-17 season. Their two superstars, Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan will make a combined $21.5 million over the next two seasons and are about to enter the prime of their careers. Add in supplementary pieces like Jonas Valanciunas, Terrence Ross and Patrick Patterson — all three are within team control for the next two years — and you have a young, cap-friendly core in place.

    Oct 29, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Raptors guard DeMar DeRozan (10) and guard Kyle Lowry (right) celebrate a win over the Atlanta Hawks at the Air Canada Centre. Toronto defeated Atlanta 109-102. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

    Then there is the expiring contracts of this season. The Raptors have $23 million in expiring contracts this offseason, ultimately giving Masai Ujiri the financial flexibility to do whatever he sees fit. He could use a portion of that money to bring back Lou Williams and Amir Johnson. Or, in the highly unlikely scenario, he could defer to re-sign both players and try to lure a max-contract free agent like Greg Monroe or LaMarcus Aldridge to Toronto, accompanied by a mid-level exception player.

    Another scenario could see the Raptors using all that cap space, plus the Knicks first-round pick, to go acquire a bona fide player to join forces with Lowry and DeRozan. Who that bona fide player could be is debatable, but either way, the Raptors have that option available as well.

    When we take the options discussed above and apply them to the Eastern Conference, the Raptors once again emerge in great shape. Teams like Cleveland and Washington have capped out, while Chicago and Atlanta have some cap room, but both have key free agents to re-sign like Jimmy Butler and Paul Millsap. Once both those players are re-signed, the Bulls and Hawks will be capped out too, leaving the Raptors all by their lonesome in terms of cap flexibility.

    Also, this is already a team on pace for 50 plus wins this season. So the idea of them having cap space, two first-round picks in a loaded draft and a cap-friendly core is terrifying for the Eastern Conference.

    With all these assets, why is the 2016 NBA Draft so important then?

    Well, since 1999 one of the following players have appeared in every single NBA Finals: Tim Duncan, Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.

    The cliché of the NBA being a “superstar league” is supported by those five players, since their team’s success has revolved the same constant — those players.

    Unless the Raptors plan on constructing their roster like the mid-2000’s Detroit Pistons, hanging on to the Knicks 2016 first-round pick might be wise when you consider how superstar driven the NBA has been.

    Although the salary cap is expected to rise substantially, Toronto is never viewed as a “top-flight destination” in NBA free agency. Hopefully that will change after next year’s All-Star Weekend, but until then, the Raptors are at a slight disadvantage when it comes to luring big names to Toronto. The easiest resolution to that problem is through the draft. Although selecting a superstar like the Spurs, Lakers and Heat did is never a guarantee, waiting to see where the pick lands might not be a bad idea.

    There are a lot of factors to consider with the Raptors future, but one that every Raptors’ fan will be sure to look back on in a few years is the 2016 NBA Draft. Whether they keep the pick or trade it, that crown jewel will dictate how the next few years of Raptors’ basketball turns out.

    Next: Toronto Raptors Crush Atlanta to Avenge Loss