Instead of trying to save a seemingly lost campaign and sneak into the playoffs via the play-in tournament, Toronto has chosen to prioritize resting its veteran players, developing its young players and, yes. , to lottery balls.
“It’s about winning a championship again,” Raptors president Masai Ujiri said after his club ended the season with a disappointing 27-45 record and missed the playoffs for the first time in eight. years.
“You want to prepare to win another one. Don’t play in the play-in match, don’t play in the playoffs, you want to win a championship. Everyone is like, “Why don’t you just jump into the game? »Play for what?
It wasn’t a universally popular choice at the time, but there’s a reason they made it, and on Tuesday it paid off.
The Raptors entered the NBA Draft Lottery with the seventh best chance of landing the first pick and what was essentially a one in three chance (or 31.9%, to be exact) of making the top four. And that’s what they did. With a little luck in the lottery, Toronto will select fourth in next month’s draft.
“It’s a silver lining on a tough season, but the job is starting now,” general manager Bobby Webster said. “The shift from seven to four is significant for us. When it comes to changing the franchise, obviously it depends on the player, who is selected and ultimately what becomes of the player. But it increases our chances.
If you had to step up in the draft, this was the year to do it. Although it is believed to be a deep class, the talent at the top is undeniable.
Oklahoma State’s Cade Cunningham is the jackpot and, barring something shocking, he’ll be the first player off the board. There is a reason he is the first choice of the consensus. He is a generational talent, a superstar in the making. Detroit, which won the lottery, will have a good one.
But the other three players were planning to make the top four stars – USC big man Evan Mobley; athletic wing Jalen Green, who spent last season with the G League Ignite; and playmaker Gonzaga Jalen Suggs – are elite prospects in their own right. In another year, in a different class, any of these guys could be the first choice.
These are three very different players with different skills at different stages of their development.
Mobley is a big all-rounder who would immediately address some of Toronto’s concerns, especially on the defensive end. He’s raw but with immense potential both ways he could have anyone’s best advantage in this draft.
It has been a long time since the Raptors had such an explosive and athletically gifted player as Green. He has shown improved scoring and shooting ability over the G League season and would fit in well with the young core Toronto.
Suggs is the type of prospect Toronto has gravitated towards for a long time: tough, competitive, hardworking, with a high IQ, and mature beyond his years. He is a natural leader and a winner, through and through. If the Raptors end up going from Kyle Lowry this summer, he would be the perfect successor.
At No.4, the Raptors won’t have a choice between them – that distinction will go to Houston and Cleveland, who shot second and third pick respectively – but they will have the right to pick whichever remains on the board.
But not so fast. What if they like someone else in this class? Jonathan Kuminga, also of G League Ignite, is making headlines for the next level. Florida St. Scottie Barnes forward shoots off draft boards and looks like a Raptors prospect, with his length and defensive edge.
We’ve seen this front office drop off the board before, or they might look to go down. What about the total project exchange? Considering that they’ve set their sights on a return to the top of the Eastern Conference, would it make more sense to take advantage of picking a veteran player who better fits their schedule?
The Raptors knew they would have flexibility heading into this crucial offseason and the jump to pick the No.4 gives them even more. You can bet they are planning to explore all of their options.
“The value of seven to four, even if you look at it historically, whether it’s a player or a trade, it’s significant,” Webster said. “All our options are open. As much as we would love the pick, we’ll see what it brings outside of the draft.
Webster, Ujiri, and most of the team’s front office have watched the lottery from a Chicago bar, where they watch the draft combine. Fred Van Vleet served as the team’s lucky charm, representing the team virtually on the show from their home near Rockford, Illinois.
This was only the second time Toronto has entered the lottery during Ujiri and Webster’s eight-year tenure, the first having come when they selected Jakob Poeltl Ninth overall in 2016. It’s not an experience they are used to or want to relive anytime soon. Webster described it as “incredibly stressful,” and Raptors fans can relate to it.
This is a front office that has been very successful in finding and developing talent late in the project, or even outside of the project. In 2016, they hung on Pascal Siakam with the 27th pick, then signed VanVleet as an undrafted free agent. they have OG Anunoby choice n ° 23 one year later. They never had an asset like the fourth overall selection. Naturally, most people are happy to see what they can do with it.
“I think it’s kind of a challenge and fun,” said Webster. “Fortunately, we haven’t been in this position much in the past. And so, for us, it’s a big challenge. It’s a big project that we really need to dive into. So from that point of view, I think we feel less pressure and more challenges. “
The pre-draft process has already started. The Raptors have started planning practice sessions for the prospects, which they will be holding at their Tampa facility over the next few weeks. Now they’re going to be able to take a closer look at a few players they didn’t expect to be able to audition and interview. Guys like Mobley, Green or Suggs are unlikely to consider visiting any teams outside of the top four or five.
As for Ujiri, whose contractual status is still uncertain, his role in the decision-making process remains the same as in seasons past, according to Webster. It’s reassuring when you consider the number of big decisions the Raptors have to make this summer, starting with the July 29 draft.