Selecting little-known Brazilian player Bruno Caboclo with the No. 20 pick in the first round caught the basketball world off guard. Even Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski, who had been spoiling draft picks all night on Twitter before commissioner Adam Silver announced them live at the Barclays Center, was left out of the loop on the Caboclo pick.
“I’m not here looking to be popular. I’m trying to look out for the organization long-term. I think, long-term, we will look at Bruno and say at least he has a chance as a young player to develop for this ball club," Ujiri said.
With visions of Rafael Araujo dancing in their heads, Raptor fans immediately freaked out after hearing Caboclo's name. ESPN's Fran Fraschilla didn't make matters any easier when he summed up how long it might take for Caboclo to be a contributor on the team:
While figuring out what exactly they have in Caboclo by putting him through the Las Vegas Summer League and testing the waters there, Ujiri's laundry list of things to do will go way beyond just evaluating his unknown commodity.
There's still the matter of Kyle Lowry and whether he'll be wearing Raptor red next season. Some tweaks to the roster will also be made to boost the Raptors' chances of not only moving up the standings in the Eastern Conference, but getting further in the NBA playoffs as well.
There's plenty of work to be done. Ujiri is going to have his hands full for the next few months.
Re-Sign Kyle Lowry to a New Deal
The No. 1, 2 and 3 items on Ujiri's to-do list should be re-signing Kyle Lowry.
The GM made that clear as could be before draft night, stating how reaching an agreement with his star point guard was a top priority, per Lori Ewing of The Canadian Press.
“We are going full force after Kyle Lowry, and if there’s a talented point guard in the draft. . . we’ll go for talent in the draft. But Kyle Lowry is our target,” he said.
And why wouldn't he be? In 79 games last season (most since 2007-08), Lowry averaged a career high in points (17.9), assists (7.4), rebounds (4.7) and minutes played (36.2). His scoring increased to an average of 21.1 points per game against the Brooklyn Nets in Toronto's opening-round series, including a 36-point performance in Game 5.
What Lowry wants, as should be the case with any player in the league, is to win an NBA championship. Being 28 years old, the 6'0" guard wants nothing more than to hoist the Larry O'Brien Trophy sooner rather than later, per Alex Kennedy of Basketball Insiders.
“I think the right situation is somewhere I’m winning and being happy, and honestly I want to play for a championship,” Lowry said. “I’m happy with making the playoffs and doing that, but the end game for all players should be a championship and that’s what I want to play for. I want to play for a championship.”
The team is moving in the right direction, but it's still bits and pieces away from being a title contender. A 48-win season and the second Atlantic Division crown in franchise history create optimism, though. Lowry knows what he has to work with in Toronto and is hopeful his younger teammates will continue to develop at a rate befitting of a future champion.
Per Kennedy: “We have a lot of very good young pieces. It all starts with DeMar [DeRozan], and I think Jonas [Valanciunas] and Terrence [Ross] could be really good. I think that the team as a whole could be really good. Last year was a great year; we had a bunch of guys who just wanted to go out there and win games. Everyone was very unselfish and knew what was at stake and wanted to be a good team. I think the team is very talented. I think it’s very good upside for the Raptors.”
The Raptors own Lowry's Bird rights, meaning they can go over the salary cap to re-sign him. After making $6.2 million last season, Lowry will likely command anywhere from $8 to 10 million when he signs on the dotted line after July 1.
With money not being an issue, expect Ujiri to work his magic and lock up Lowry. It will be extremely difficult to duplicate (or even exceed) Toronto's last season without the heart and soul of the roster guiding the ship on the floor.
"I love this place. I love this situation. It's as simple as that," Lowry said after Toronto's Game 7 loss to Brooklyn, per CBC Sports.
Rumors of a potential sign-and-trade with the Miami Heat were quickly put to rest when Ric Bucher of Bleacher Report admitted his sources had led him astray on Twitter.
That's one less team Ujiri will have to sweat over obtaining his prize catch. The Los Angeles Lakers have Lowry on their radar, but it may merely be wishful thinking on their part if they believe they're near the top of the pack for his services.
Lowry wants to be a Raptor. It's just a matter of making ends meet.
Acquire a Backup for Jonas Valanciunas
It would have been nice to see Ujiri land a credible backup center for Jonas Valanciunas in the draft, but I suppose beggars can't be choosers.
Clint Capela of Switzerland at No. 20 or Jordan Bachynski of Arizona State at No. 59 would have been sound choices, providing head coach Dwane Casey with a certain level of size for his bench that he doesn't currently have.
The 22-year-old Valanciunas is still prone to mistakes on the defensive end. His 3.1 fouls tied him for 13th in the NBA, per ESPN.com. His 249 fouls were 10th-highest as well.
His minutes fluctuated throughout the course of the season due to his inability to stay out of foul trouble. Valanciunas would pick up silly, ticky-tacky fouls that could have been easily avoided with better hand movement and/or positioning. They weren't always noticeable, but refs make sure to keep an extra eye on young players, like Valanciunas, battling it out down low.
The problem was that the next biggest guy down Casey's bench was Steve Novak at 6'10". Novak will never be mistaken for a center or anyone capable of playing the position properly (he's a natural small forward), so that meant undersized forwards like Amir Johnson (6'9") and Chuck Hayes (6'6") were forced into that role.
It's times like these where fans can see the value in players like former Raptor Aaron Gray (dealt to the Sacramento Kings in December) and the little things he did to help the team win games.
Sometimes all you need from your backup big is six fouls and the ability to clog the lane and alter shots around the basket. That's what Gray brought to the table during his 95 games with the team, averaging 2.3 fouls in 14.2 minutes. It at least provided insurance for when Valanciunas needed to be pulled early. The Raptors lost some scoring but not any size.
You can't teach size. All of the training and conditioning on the planet won't make you taller.
The Raptors have very few glaring needs, but this is one that sticks out like a sore thumb. The best-case scenario would be Ujiri scouring the market for a 7-footer who can play 10 to 12 minutes a night.
Names like Greg Stiemsma of the New Orleans Pelicans (unrestricted) and Cole Aldrich of the New York Knicks (unrestricted) come to mind. They're both 6'11" or taller, physical in the paint area and capable of playing spot minutes for Casey.
Players like Aldrich, who averaged 3.3 blocks per 36 minutes for the Knicks, would also help the Raptors with their poor shot blocking. The team finished 23rd in the NBA in blocked shots with an average of 4.2.
Valanciunas missed just one game last season. The Raptors were lucky in that regard. Come 2014-15, they may not be so fortunate. All the more reason to sign a backup for their Lithuanian stud .
All statistics are courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com.
Christopher Walder is a freelance writer who has been published at Bleacher Report, SB Nation, FanSided, SI.com and several other online outlets. You can follow him on Twitter @WalderSports.
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