In the hands of general manager Masai Ujiri, the Toronto Raptors' long-term plans, goals and aspirations become all the more realistic. His willingness to pick up the phone, make moves, do his homework and go the extra mile has put the franchise in a position where it might not take another period of rebuilding to become a true contender.
Perhaps we've reached the point where we can all have conversations without snickering under our breath over whether or not the Raptors can hang with the elite of the Eastern Conference and maintain that level of success for years on end.
There was some anxiety to be had when all three of Kyle Lowry, Patrick Patterson and Greivis Vasquez became free agents earlier this offseason, though. It would have been hard to imagine the Raptors repeating or even exceeding their 48-win season from 2013-14 without three of their key pieces in the fold.
Raptor history dictates, for the most part, that if you make any sort of a name for yourself north of the border, you're bound to leave when the opportunity presents itself.
The outpouring of support from the entire country over the course of the year proved that basketball in Canada is anything but a passing fad. That, along with winning games and money being on the table, provided the right amount of incentive. Why leave when there are plenty of concrete reasons to stay?
With the roster locked in at 15 players, Ujiri's summer workload appears to be a lot less hectic.
|Point Guard||Shooting Guard||Small Forward||Power Forward||Center|
|Kyle Lowry||DeMar DeRozan||Terrence Ross||Amir Johnson||Jonas Valanciunas|
|Greivis Vasquez||Lou Williams||James Johnson||Patrick Patterson||Chuck Hayes|
|Will Cherry||Landry Fields||Tyler Hansbrough||Lucas Nogueira|
The future of DeAndre Daniels, the No. 37 pick in the 2014 NBA draft, still needs attending to.
As Dan Feldman of ProBasketballTalk reports, the Raptors have until Sept. 6 to offer Daniels a required tender—a contract, guaranteed or unguaranteed, worth at least the league minimum—or he'll become a free agent.
The Raptors could always attempt to secure Daniels a contract overseas as long as he agrees to turn down the tender. That would allow the team to retain his rights.
Ryan Wolstat of the Toronto Sun confirmed on Twitter that the plan is indeed for Daniels to be stashed away in Europe. Now it's just a matter of where exactly it will be.
Raptors roster is full. They are still trying to find a fit for DeAndre Daniels in Europe to stash him for a year.— Ryan Wolstat (@WolstatSun) August 3, 2014
Since the roster is all accounted for, what happens next?
That's up to head coach Dwane Casey and his players.
The East hasn't been this open since before LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh joined forces in South Beach back in 2010. With the four-time NBA Most Valuable Player having returned home to join the Cleveland Cavaliers, there's an opening at the top of the standings that needs to be filled.
The Cavaliers will certainly be in the conversation to emerge at the head of the pack, but it's anything but a given that they'll pull it off. A trade with the Minnesota Timberwolves to acquire Kevin Love could tip the scale in their favor should a deal come to fruition.
The Indiana Pacers finished with a record of 56-26 last season, although the chances of them winning as many games again took a major hit when Paul George suffered an open tibia-fibula fracture during a recent Team USA intrasquad scrimmage. Losing Lance Stephenson to the Charlotte Hornets didn't help matters either.
Toronto has continuity on its side, having avoided any cataclysmic changes to its personnel or talent pool. Many of the teams the Raptors will be competing against will have to incorporate major pieces into their systems, which may or may not be a seamless transition.
With Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, Terrence Ross, Amir Johnson and Jonas Valanciunas all projected to be returning to Casey's starting lineup, the chemistry and rapport is already in place. It's just a matter of growing as a unit and creating something even more special in the process.
One flaw of the team that many basketball pundits love to point out is the lack of a superstar player.
Nate Duncan of Basketball Insiders believes Toronto's only real shot at competing for an NBA championship will come when one falls into their lap:
Yet despite their statistical success, it is hard to see this core competing for a championship sans superstar.* What’s worse, the Raptors’ success this year hurt their chances of acquiring such a player in the draft. In this context, identifying the keepers on the Raptors is especially difficult. Despite their success this year, they are in some ways closer to a lottery team in terms of the timeline for the keepers on their roster.
How about Kevin Durant?
The reigning NBA MVP will become a free agent in the summer of 2016, a summer in which the Raptors will have plenty of money to throw his way.
Only seven players are on the books through 2016-17 at $27,550,000, per HoopsHype.com.
Durant said in an interview with The Dan Patrick Show in 2013 that the Raptors were a favorite of his growing up in Washington.
"I wanted to play for the Toronto Raptors, that was my favorite team." Kevin Durant on who he wanted to play for growing up. @dpshow— Paul Pabst (@PaulPabst) January 17, 2013
Drake, the global ambassador for the Raptors and one of the biggest musical acts on the planet, began the recruitment process at his fifth annual OVO fest at the Molson Canadian Amphitheatre on Aug. 5, getting fans to chant for Durant as he watched the show live.
Now Durant's decision on whether or not he leaves the Oklahoma City Thunder will depend heavily on how the team fares the next two seasons in its hunt for a championship. If Toronto continues its winning ways and the Thunder falter, a change of scenery will be far more appealing.
If it never happens, at least the Raptors have their own Durant clone to mold in Brazilian Bruno Caboclo, who ESPN's Fran Fraschilla referred to as "the Brazilian Kevin Durant" on draft night.
Caboclo averaged 11.4 points and 3.0 rebounds in five games during the Las Vegas Summer League, playing with the passion of a young prospect who clearly wants to get better. We may look back at his "two years away from being two years away" gimmick and shake our heads.
“I love that people said he’s two years away from being two years away,” Casey said after the team’s second Summer League game, per Eric Koreen of the National Post. “Those people don’t know anything about basketball if that’s what they think.”
The problem is that there may not be any room in Casey's rotation for Caboclo to contribute, at least right away. A stint in the NBA Developmental League is a sure bet at some point during the season. He's the definition of a basketball project as he'll need plenty of time in the gym working with his coaches and trainers to turn into an NBA-ready talent.
The process likely won't take nearly as long as some are projecting, but it's not going to happen overnight.
Until that time, the Raptors will need to focus their attention on the here and now instead of what things may look like in two years.
Could Durant end up with the Raptors? Possibly. Is Caboclo the next big thing? It's hard to say.
Whether it be long term or short term, the future has never looked this bright.
Christopher Walder is considered by many to be the "songbird of his generation" and the greatest center to have never played professional, collegiate, high school, house league or pickup basketball. His work has been published at Bleacher Report, SB Nation, Sports Illustrated, FanSided and several other online outlets. You may follow him on Twitter at @WalderSports.