Raptors’ championship defense undercut before it begins
NBC Sports’ Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.
The Raptors became the first team to win a championship then lose an unquestioned star to another team the ensuing offseason.
Don’t lose the key takeaway from the preceding sentence: The Raptors won a championship!
That makes this bitter summer easy to swallow. Kawhi Leonard left for the Clippers, and Danny Green followed out to the Lakers.
All told, Toronto lost players responsible for 30% of its 2019 postseason minutes. That’s among the highest marks ever for a defending champion.
Here are the champions with the highest percentage of postseason minutes going to players who didn’t play for the team the following season:
Toronto made no major changes by its own volition. Kyle Lowry, Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka are under contract only one more season. The Raptors appear content to coast along with this depleted championship core for now. They can pivot into something new altogether soon enough.
With limited flexibility, Toronto mostly settled for signing a few mildly interesting players – Patrick McCaw (two years, $8 million), Stanley Johnson (two years, $7,427,150 with a player option), Rondae Hollis Jefferson (one year, $2.5 million), Matt Thomas (three years, minimum with a guaranteed season, a partially guaranteed season and an unguaranteed season) and Terence Davis (two years, minimum with a guaranteed season and an unguaranteed season. Maybe one of those players will become a keeper.
Obviously, none will replace Leonard. Heck, none will replace Green, an underrated contributor.
The Raptors downgraded this summer from championship contender to a middling Eastern Conference playoff team. At least they never had any pretense of certainty in Leonard staying. Of course, they wanted to keep him, but they were always aware of the possibility of him bolting after only one year. It was still worth it.
Toronto fell far but did it the best way – dropping from the greatest height.
Offseason grade: D-