By Jason Naipaul
In the wake of the Raptors' franchise record 49 win season and short lived playoff run, many Toronto basketball fans have been left feeling disappointed and dejected, myself included. I don't think anyone can fault us for that, our team did start out with 59 days on top of the Eastern Conference and after 41 games, the halfway mark of the season, the Raptors were able to win a remarkable 27 games. That pace was good enough for the best mark at the halfway point of the season in franchise history.
I can still vividly recall, early on in the season, when the Raptors faced their first real test. They were hosting a Grizzlies squad that held the second best record in the league and had just trounced the best team in the league, the Golden State Warriors. It was a close game that wasn't decided until the final frame but the Raptors came out on top. The twitter-verse exploded with declarations of the Raptors as the best team in the league. Life was good. Then Demar DeRozan went down and the proverbial shit hit the fan.
With DeRozan out and the Raptors once fearsome defense struggling mightily, the team relied on Kyle Lowry to carry the load. Lowry performed splendidly, putting up 22.8 PPG, 8.9 APG, 4.3 RPG all on 45.3% from the field and 37.8% from behind the arc in 16 games. These gaudy numbers came at a great price though, as Lowry seemed gassed in the latter part of the year and many point to this stretch of the season as the reason for Lowry's disappearing act against the Washington Wizards. Ultimately, the Raptors would burn out like few teams have before, losing both games at home to start their playoff series and succumbing to the Wizards in an elimination game that wasn't even competitive. It was a rough ending to a roller coaster ride of a season.
Many criticized general manager Masai Ujiri's lack of activity at the trade deadline last year but a solid record and expiring contracts were more than enough reason to stand pat. Going forward, the Raptors have Landry Fields (8.5M), Amir Johnson (7M), Chuck Hayes (nearly 6M), Lou Williams (5.45M), the ghost of Marcus Camby (4.17M), Tyler Hansborough (3.3M) and Greg Stiemsma (1M) all with contracts coming of the books at the end of the 2014-2015 season. Don't worry, I'll do the math for you, that's a total of 35.42 million dollars. That's a lot of cheese. Just to put that into perspective, Lowry makes 12 million a year and DeRozan makes 9.5 million.
If we assume 15.5 million will be used to either re-sign players (Lou Williams and Amir Johnson) or fill out other backup roles, we're left with 20M to acquire talent with.
I don't know about you, but I think that's cause for optimism. I won't blame you for keeping expectations conservative, especially after the Raptors' spectacular late season collapse, but the future is actually very bright for basketball in Toronto.