5 Steps the Toronto Raptors Must Take Before Contending in the East
The Raptors had a good offseason this summer, but are still far away from contending in the Eastern Conference. The team is weak offensively and will need at least two more star players before they can dream of winning the Atlantic Division title.
The good news is that Toronto has a good young core and enough cap room next summer to help find some more scoring.
The bad news is that there are very few superstar players in this league, and the Raptors will need one if they plan on eventually winning a title.
Fortunately, anybody can get lucky and Toronto’s future looks a lot brighter than it did at this time last year.
Find a Legitimate Small Forward
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The Raptors went yet another offseason without adding an elite player who can start at small forward. While Landry Fields may become a solid starter for Toronto, it’s more than likely that fans will be pleading for a new 3 when the season ends.
Getting Josh Smith to come to Toronto would be very difficult, especially because he’d be leaving his hometown in Atlanta. The Raptors would most likely need to offer Smith a max deal to get him to come north of the border, but they would finally have a legitimate starting small forward.
Smith has played almost exclusively power forward with Atlanta because of their lack of size, but he is a very athletic and versatile player and would thrive at small forward for the Raptors.
Wait for Their Youth to Develop
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The Raptors have four players with three years of experience or less who should play a big role in the team’s future. DeMar DeRozan, Ed Davis, Jonas Valanciunas and Terrence Ross are very talented, but will need to develop some more before Toronto becomes a force in the East.
Kyle Lowry is already one of the premier players in the conference, but Toronto will need more players who can play at an All-Star caliber level if they want to win a title.
All four of the players mentioned above are capable of becoming starters on championship-level teams. While it’s unlikely every player from the Raptors' young core will pan out, if two or three become legitimate starters and they strike gold in free agency, than Toronto is set for the future.
Find an Elite Bench Scorer
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The Raptors traded away their best bench scorer last year when they moved Leandro Barbosa to the Pacers last March. Terrence Ross could start the season coming off the bench, but he’s a player Toronto would eventually like to see in their starting unit.
While Toronto doesn’t have to get an elite bench scorer like Jason Terry or Ray Allen to contend in the East, they will need to do better than their current second unit offensively.
Mo Williams’ contract expires with Utah in 2013 and he should be targeted by Bryan Colangelo next offseason. Williams only started one game last year, but still averaged 13.2 points per game and shot 90 percent from the free throw line.
Toronto already has enough good defensive players and need to concentrate more on offense if they ever want to win the Atlantic Division.
Become a Better 3-Point Shooting Team
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The Raptors finished the 2011-12 season shooting 34 percent from beyond the arc, good for 19th in the league. In 2007-08, the last year Toronto made the playoffs, they were second in the NBA with a 39.2 three-point shooting percentage.
The Raptors drafted Terrence Ross, who has the potential to be a knockdown shooter, and have other players who can hit threes like Kyle Lowry and Jose Calderon, but they currently don't have anyone who can consistently shoot over 40 percent from beyond the arc year after year.
JJ Redick’s contract with the Orlando Magic expires after this season, and he should be a player Toronto should consider in the 2013 offseason. Redick has shot 40 percent from long range throughout his career and would be a valuable player off the bench for the Raptors.
Get Lucky and Find a Superstar
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While defense wins championships, you still need to shoot the basketball. The Raptors are not very talented offensively, in large part because they don’t have a superstar who can consistently drop 25 points every game.
DeMar DeRozan and Andrea Bargnani both have the potential to become elite scorers, but are currently nothing better than third or fourth options on a championship-level team.
Finding a superstar in the NBA is very difficult and the Raptors would have to get lucky to find one.
Their best bet may be to miss the playoffs during the 2013-14 season and hope they land the first pick so they can draft Andrew Wiggins.
Wiggins looks to be as good as LeBron James did in high school, and there’s a good chance he will eventually become a top five player in the NBA. Being from Toronto will mean the Raptors will have a good chance of retaining him, and they would become a perennial contender with him in their lineup.