While the Toronto Raptors may have seen their season end sooner than they would have liked following a heartbreaking Game 7 loss during the first round of the NBA playoffs, what the team accomplished this season will not soon be forgotten.
It seems like a lifetime ago now, but it was only last December when Toronto had struggled out of the gate with a 6-12 record.
Following that start, Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri had appeared to give up on the season and traded the team’s highest-paid player in Rudy Gay to the Sacramento Kings in exchange for a quartet of bench players.
Following that trade, it seemed that the “tank” for a high draft pick was on, and Ujiri was preparing to further dismantle the team. By now, it’s an open secret that he had also agreed to move starting point guard Kyle Lowry to the New York Knicks, only for Knicks owner James Dolan to block the trade at the last minute, per the New York Daily News’ Frank Isola (h/t Kelly Dwyer of Ball Don't Lie).
That blocked Lowry trade, combined with the Gay trade, may have been the best thing to happen for the Raptors in a long time.
Lowry ended up emerging as one of the best point guards in the Eastern Conference, averaging 17.9 points, 7.4 assists and 4.7 rebounds per game.
Swingman DeMar DeRozan—who had struggled playing alongside a volume shooter in Gay—suddenly became the focal point of the offense and made the All-Star team during what was a career year.
Sophomores Jonas Valanciunas and Terrence Ross both suddenly got meaningful minutes to play and performed admirably in the starting lineup.
Oh, and those bench players acquired from the Kings? They ended up giving Toronto the depth that it had lacked for years.
All of a sudden, a team that was expected to finish in last place went an Eastern Conference-best 42-22 since the Gay trade and ended up winning the Atlantic Division with an overall record of 48-34, taking the third seed in the Eastern Conference.
The 48 wins were a franchise-high. The division title was Toronto’s first since 2007 and just the second in franchise history. The team also made the playoffs for the first time in six years.
The Raptors matched up against the Brooklyn Nets during the first round of the playoffs. It’s important to note that the Nets went into this season with championship aspirations and had the league’s most expensive payroll at $102 million (roughly $190 million after factoring in the luxury tax).
So, going the full seven games against Brooklyn and losing the seventh game on the final play is nothing for the Raptors to be embarrassed about.
Keep in mind that Toronto still has one of the youngest teams in the NBA—the Raptors were the only team to feature at least two sophomores in their starting lineup during the playoffs—and there’s a lot of room for improvement.
The most important move for the Raptors this offseason will be to re-sign Lowry. Upgrading the bench should also be a priority.
But regardless of what happens from here on out, let’s get one thing straight, the Toronto Raptors’ 2013-2014 season was a success, as the team defied and then exceeded expectations.
And it should only get better from here on out.
*All stats are from Basketball-Reference.com.