Toronto Raptors: An early look at some tough off-season decisions

Fred VanVleet #23 of the Toronto Raptors. (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
Fred VanVleet #23 of the Toronto Raptors. (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images) /

If the NBA season gets altered in any way do the Toronto Raptors change how they approach their off-season with many question marks to solve?

There is no denying that the Toronto Raptors are among the top contenders in the NBA which makes this hiatus because of the COVID-19 pandemic really tough for fans to deal with.

For the past two weeks, there have been many ideas thrown out but a lack of a concrete date for when players can get back on the court could throw a wrench in plans. Imagine teams that have pending free agents that could walk away after contending teams either gave up serious cash or assets to get them.

In the Raptors case, they have three key players that are pending free agents and there has been serious debate as to how they will proceed with them after this season. It’s fair to say that Masai Ujiri and Bobby Webster have their work cut out for them.

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Let us start with the two big men in Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka who have proven to be a valuable duo in Nick Nurse’s lineup. The question is how does the future look for both of them after this season?

Ibaka will turn 31 when next season is ready to roll around so the age factor will have to be considered. The same will also have to be said for Gasol since he is 35-years-old.

Now the big thing to consider with Ibaka is how he is actually improving on his numbers. He is averaging 16 points, 8.3 rebounds, 1.5 assists and 51.8 per cent shooting from the field per game, and he’s no slouch defensively either.

Gasol is an integral part of the team with his leadership, elite defensive play and ability to facilitate ball movement. There aren’t any players that can provide what the Spaniard does but with injuries starting to catch up to him, it’s tough to see him landing a massive deal in Toronto.

This is a case where the Raptors might have to choose between Gasol or Ibaka unless the price tag makes so much sense that they can both return and allow the young options in Chris Boucher and Dewan Hernandez to develop. Boucher has flashed his potential with Gasol out of the lineup while Hernandez has only played in four games this season as he continues to deal with injuries.

What could be the big factor in the Raptors’ decision to bring Ibaka and Gasol is how the team decides to proceed with Fred VanVleet. This situation might seem clearer for Toronto but it isn’t going to be a cheap one.

There will be many suitors for VanVleet if he reaches free agency considering he has shown that he can be a starter in the NBA. With Kyle Lowry signed next season, the Raptors can only commit so much to VanVleet even though he is a starter with the way Nurse uses him in the rotation.

Now here is the key, VanVleet has made it known that he wants to stay in Toronto but also admitted back at the start of the season that he has to do the best thing for himself and his family.

"“I’ve been here. This is the team that gave me my chance, I think we understand that. I’m not gonna speak too much on free agency this year just ’cause it’s a business and I have to do what’s best for me and my family,” VanVleet told Sportsnet’s Tim and Sid.“But, I mean, I’ve been on record about how I feel about this place. This organization knows how I feel about this place. So in a perfect world, we know what would happen.”"

If Toronto decides to keep VanVleet, it likely means the team will move in a direction with either Ibaka and/or Gasol. This is crucial with Pascal Siakam‘s deal kicking in, and the potential for Giannis Antetokounmpo to be a free agent in 2021.

In the end, the Raptors will want as much flexibility but can’t let everything they worked hard to build. Given the uncertainty the NBA is dealing with, this could alter the rest of the season and make teams reconsider their off-season approach.

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What approach would you take if you were the Raptors? Which players would you bring back and who could you see walking out the door? Let us know in the comments below.