By the time you read this, the Toronto Raptors might have already won their first ever NBA championship. Even if they somehow manage to lose their 3-2 lead to the Warriors (which is historically very unlikely, but then again – it’s the Warriors), the way the Raptors managed to rise from one of the worst franchises in NBA history to year-in and year-out title contenders is nothing short of spectacular.
In this post, we will take a closer look at how this came to be, and the smart changes and choices they made which got them to this point.
Draft Choices and Under-the-Radar Signings
Just like basketball betting, drafting and choosing unknown players can be fairly unpredictable and uncertain. You can be certain that a player will be the next coming of LeBron James, which is what the Cavs thought when they drafted Anthony Bennett, but we all saw how that ended.
However, this was not an issue for the Raptors. Through some smart drafting and player scouting, they were able to get Fred VanVleet, their pitbull back-up point guard, who went undrafted in 2016 but later signed for the Raptors’ summer league team.
In 2015, they acquired the rights to guard Norman Powell. A year later, with the 27th pick in the 2016 draft, they selected Cameroon forward – Pascal Siakam, who at a few points of this years’ playoff run, was their third or even second best player.
All three of these guys were crucial pieces for the Raptors over the last few years, and they were able to acquire them for next to nothing, and on very favorable deals.
The Hiring of Masai Ujiri
On May 31, 2013, the Raptors announced the hiring of their former assistant GM – Masai Ujiri – who has previously been with the club from 2007-2010. He is now serving as their GM.
This proved to be the turning point for the Raptors, who missed the playoffs in the previous 5 seasons and only made it past the first round once in all of their history, up until that point.
In the first season with Ujiri as GM, the Raptors finished 3rd in the East, making the playoffs for the first time since the Chris Bosh era. Even though they failed to get past the first round that season, and the season after that, in the following years they managed to get out of this rut and became yearly contenders for the NBA Finals.
Something that ties in with the hiring of Masai Ujiri as GM are the smart trades and player selections that he made over the years to bring the Raptors star-power as well as some great bench pieces.
In fact, his very first move as GM was the trading of Andrea Bargnani, who at the time was on a very unfavorable $10 million deal, in exchange for some expiring contracts and future first-round picks. A little bit later, he was able to turn John Salmons and Greivis Vasquez into Lou Williams, Norman Powell and O.G. Anunoby.
After trading for Serge Ibaka in 2017, Ujiri made two more huge trades in the 2018/19 season. First, he traded for Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard, and later in the season, for veteran Marc Gasol. Along with Kyle Lowry, these players have had the most impact for the Raptors this season. It’s honestly really amazing how Ujiri was able to capitalize on all of these events such as the falling out between the Spurs and Kawhi, and the fact that Gasol and Ibaka were both on non-contending teams.