Toronto Raptors facing the prospect of mediocrity after this season

Marc Gasol #33 of the Memphis Grizzlies plays the Denver Nuggets at the Pepsi Center on December 10, 2018 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
Marc Gasol #33 of the Memphis Grizzlies plays the Denver Nuggets at the Pepsi Center on December 10, 2018 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images) /

By going all-in this season, the Toronto Raptors are setting themselves up to be all-out for the next few years.

When the Toronto Raptors traded DeMar DeRozan for Kawhi Leonard during the summer, they signaled their intention to go all-in this season. If there was still any doubt about this approach, it was removed for good with the decision to trade for Marc Gasol on Thursday.

The overriding sentiment seems to be that the Raptors made an excellent decision, in the quest to improve their chances of finally making it to the NBA finals this season. While Gasol might not be quite the player he used to be, he still strengthens the defence, offers a genuine inside scoring threat and is as good as he’s ever been setting up his teammates.

However, while this move highlights Masai Ujiri’s aggressive and bold approach, it also shows exactly how much of a gambler he is. By going all-in for this season, he’s set the team up to be all-out in the coming years.

For a start, no matter what the fans are hoping, we have to face the likely reality Leonard will not be re-signing with the Raptors and staying long-term in Toronto. While there would be no problem with being proved wrong on this, he’s probably going to be one-and-done.

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Don’t take this as meaning Ujiri and company should have kept hold of DeRozan. As much as Toronto sports fans loved his loyalty to the city and the team, he was never going to be the man to lead them to the promised land.

However, by making the trade, the Raptors put themselves in the position of not having DeRozan or Leonard after this season. Pure and simple, the team will not be as strong in 2019-20.

Moving onto Gasol, there is a possibility he will also be gone after this campaign, due to his contract situation. He has a player option for next season and for all we know, he may decide to decline it.

Now of course, with that player option being worth just under $25.6 million, you could just as easily see the 34-year-old picking it up. In addition, even if he does decline it, the Raptors could well offer him a longer-term deal which he might accept; for example, two years and $40 million.

However — while not as certain as our predicted Leonard outcome — there is a good chance Gasol will ultimately also be one-and-done. And then we have another tough position, where the Raptors enter next season without Gasol or Jonas Valanciunas. (While appreciating there were other players in the package which went to Memphis, Valanciunas is the player who will be missed most, for a whole variety of reasons.)

Going back to Leonard for a moment, when the Raptors traded for him, the inclusion of Danny Green was conceivably underrated at the time. It’s only been since this season started, that people have realised how invaluable he is to the team, as he has arguably his best campaign since 2014-15.

In this respect, Green is set to become an unrestricted player after the season concludes. While he has repeatedly said how much he enjoys being in Toronto, you have to rate the chances at 50-50, that he re-signs and returns next season.

So essentially, the Raptors will face a situation where they could lose two or three — depending on what head coach Nick Nurse does with Gasol — of their starting lineup at the conclusion of the 2018-19 campaign. This scenario would also see the team’s defensive capabilities downgraded significantly.

Now of course, we appreciate this is a worst case doomsday outlook at matters. However, it still has to be considered.

The Raptors have been on the best run in franchise history since 2013-14. Over the course of the last five campaigns, they’ve averaged 53 regular season wins, won four Atlantic Division titles and made the playoffs every year.

There seem little to no doubt the Raptors will make the playoffs once again this season. In addition, there is no denying they are now in the best ever position to make their first trip to the NBA finals.

However, we’re also now at a point where fans need to savour every single game for the remainder of the 2018-19 campaign. The chances are that from next season, the Toronto Raptors will struggle to remain competitive — and relevant — in the NBA.

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What is your take on the Gasol trade? Are you happy they brought him in? More to the point, do you agree with what the Toronto Raptors gave up to acquire him? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.