The 2017 offseason was the wildest in NBA history. LeBron James and Kyrie Irving are now Eastern Conference rivals. Out West, Chris Paul joined James Harden, while Paul George and Carmelo Anthony united with Russell Westbrook. Ten recent All–Stars changed uniforms, and we haven’t even gotten to Kevin Durant’s strange summer, so let’s get to previewing. The 2017-18 NBA season is finally upon us.
2016-17 finish: 51-31, lost in the second round
• Offensive rating: 109.8 (6th)
• Defensive rating: 104.9 (8th)
Did the summer help at all?
The Raptors re-signed Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka to “cheaper” deals than anticipated, spending a combined $165 million on them through 2020. They also swapped Joseph for Miles, and then signed the sharpshooting wing to a three-year contract. Combined with DeMar DeRozan’s max deal and the Jonas Valanciunas extension, Toronto is now committed to spending above the projected salary cap for the next three seasons, even after dumping Carroll’s cumbersome contract on the Brooklyn Nets.
That means they’re locked into a core that regressed last season from a 2016 Eastern Conference finalist showing, exiting the playoffs in a second-round sweep against the Cleveland Cavaliers. Granted, Lowry missed Games 3 and 4 due to injury, but the writing was on the wall before he tweaked an ankle, and the Raptors will be counting on the same 31-year-old point guard this time around.
Miles should help what was a middle-of-the-road 3-point shooting team last season, as would the expanded range DeRozan has been teasing for years now. But what the Raptors made up for on offense, they lost on defense. Miles is serviceable in that regard, but Tucker and Patterson were two 3-and-D glue guys who provided lineup flexibility. Even Joseph and Carroll were, at times, useful players.
A full season with Ibaka will presumably benefit the defense — presuming Raptors coach Dwane Casey can tap into the rim-protection that made the big man so special on the Oklahoma City Thunder.
The depth is gone, though. In its place are a handful of unproven bigs, from second-year center Jakob Poeltl to draft reaches Bruno Caboclo, Lucas Nogueira and Pascal Siakam. Impending restricted free agent Norman Powell is a nice backup guard off the bench, but beyond a solid starting five, the rest of the roster is a question mark, including the well-traveled McDaniels and first-round pick Anunoby.
Best-case scenario: Lowry stays healthy, DeRozan adds a 3-point shot, Miles shoots the lights out, and Ibaka settles in after an offseason with the team, reverting to the floor-spacing, rim-protecting force he was with OKC. A dominant Valanciunas campaign wouldn’t hurt, either. From there, the Raptors still need a couple of their recent first-round picks to emerge as legitimate rotational contributors. Then, they can consider themselves in the hunt for a return to the conference finals two years later.
If everything falls apart: Lowry breaks down, DeRozan stagnates, Miles isn’t a marked upgrade from Tucker, Ibaka continues to slip as a game-changing defensive presence, and Valanciunas’ brutish game is phased out of the pace-and-space era. Meanwhile, the bench is an abomination. And even in the watered-down East, the Raptors fall out of a home playoff seed, surpassed by the Milwaukee Bucks among the conference’s elite. Then, they’re staring at two more years of the same regression.
Best guess at a record: 49-33
Read all of Ball Don’t Lie’s 2017-18 NBA Season Previews:
Atlanta Hawks • Boston Celtics • Brooklyn Nets • Charlotte Hornets • Chicago Bulls • Cleveland Cavaliers • Detroit Pistons • Indiana Pacers • Miami Heat • Milwaukee Bucks • New York Knicks • Orlando Magic • Philadelphia 76ers • Toronto Raptors • Washington Wizards
Dallas Mavericks • Denver Nuggets • Golden State Warriors • Houston Rockets • Los Angeles Clippers • Los Angeles Lakers • Memphis Grizzlies • Minnesota Timberwolves • New Orleans Pelicans • Oklahoma City Thunder • Phoenix Suns • Portland Trail Blazers • Sacramento Kings • San Antonio Spurs • Utah Jazz
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