Over at VICE Sports, I took a look at the off-season so far for the Toronto Raptors. They’ve brought back to core that won 48 games and the Atlantic Division last year, and made additions to the bench to strengthen their case to be a contender in the Eastern Conference next season.
At the same time, there’s a recognition by general manager Masai Ujiri that this team still needs to find a superstar to build around, whether it’s from within or by positioning themselves to acquire one when it becomes available. This is Toronto, not a premium destination for players to play, but they’re making strides. And getting there.
You can read the entire piece here, excerpt is below. Enjoy.
The Raptors are without a true superstar, but they’ve accumulated enough young talent on their roster that there’s the possibility one of the core players can make that leap. Valanciunas is one possibility. In just his second season in the league, he put up 14.5 points and 11.3 rebounds per 36 minutes. His instincts on the defensive end are improving, but his offensive game is still a work in progress. Ross had a horrendous debut in the playoffs. But in the regular season, he shot 39.5 percent from three, and has flashed the potential to be an athletic two-way threat on the floor. Most likely, both Valanciunas and Ross become above average players in this league, or at the very least serviceable rotation players. But they could be more than that. There’s time, there’s a chance.
Ujiri is smart enough to realize that even though his team surprised everyone last season, the league is such that to truly field a championship roster, you need a superstar. Roster building is a complicated exercise for general managers to navigate, with the salary cap and luxury tax penalties, not to mention any financial restrictions your team’s owners may place on you. You can build an adequate roster that can compete in the Eastern Conference, but if the end goal is the title, history suggests you need to find that superstar.
It’s this type of thinking that explains a swing-for-the-fences pick like Coboclo, who has already impressed the folks in Las Vegas (caveat: it’s summer league). It may have been wise to select a rotation play who could have contributed right away, like say Kyle Anderson, but Ujiri is planning for the future as much as the present. The possibility—however low it may be—that Coboclo becomes a game changing player is worth far more to Ujiri than settling for a player who will end up playing 20 to 25 minutes per game off the bench for his career.