Geography and little tradition of winning have put Toronto in a tough spot. Unable to attract high-profile free-agents, the Raptors are going to have to build through the draft to turn around what has been a rough four-year stretch as the team hasn't made the playoffs since 2008. Last season, the Raptors struggled to a 23-43 mark and that came after a 22-60 mark the year before. It's going to be a long road back to respectability for Toronto.
In June, Toronto took guard Terence Ross with the 8th overall pick in the NBA draft. The 6'-7" Ross averaged 16 points and 6 rebounds in his sophomore season at Washington, but his pre-draft workouts helped his stock rise from a late first-rounder to a top 10 selection. In three summer league games, Ross put up 15 points in 31 minutes of action, but shooting just 38 percent from the field. Raptors second-year coach Dwayne Casey has indicated that he would likely bring Ross off the bench as a sixth man in his rookie season.
Toronto also gets 2011 first-round draft pick center Jonas Valanciunas for the upcoming season. Valanciunas was under contract overseas and didn't play for the Raptors last year. Toronto hopes the big 7-footer is worth the wait. Valanciunas, FIBA's young men's player of the year in 2011, was considered the best big man prospect in that 2011 draft. He likely will be the starting center immediately as the Raptors went with Amir Johnson and Jamal Magliore at the 5 last season. Valanciunas is also defensive minded and can help the frontcourt with a more offensively focused Andrea Bargnani.
The Raptors added athletic swingman Landry Fields through free agency and traded for point guard Kyle Lowry. Fields is a very active defensive minded player who spent the last few years in New York. Lowry was unhappy in Houston and got out after averaging 14 points and 7 assists a game for the Rockets.
With the Raptors also inking veteran back up point guard John Lucas III to a two-year deal, the writing is on the wall for last season's starter Jose Calderon as he will likely get traded -- if not before the season, at least before the trade deadline. Calderon is entering the final year of his contract.
Key returning players include shooting guard DeMar Derozan, who averaged 16 points as a starter last season, and Bargnani who put up 19 a game but missed over half the season with injuries. Toronto will need more next year from 2009 first-round pick Ed Davis, who only averaged 6 points and 6 rebounds in his second season with the Raptors.
There's no question Toronto is rebuilding and the development of their draft picks will be pivotal for the Raptors to get out from near the bottom of the eastern conference.