What a historic season it was for last season's Toronto Raptors. It was the greatest season by the Raptors as they set franchise records in wins with 56, most home wins with 32, most road wins with 24, but most important of all was the Raptors making its first ever Eastern Conference Finals appearance and were just wins away from reaching the NBA Finals.
Outside of teams success, guards Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan had career-setting seasons. Lowry and DeRozan set career highs in either points per game, free throws attempts per game, assists per game, and steals per game. Other Raptors such as Jonas Valanciunas, Cory Joseph, and former Raptor Bismack Biyombo had career years as well.
As good as a year it was for the Raptors, the only way for the Raptors is to go up. So let's take a look at what happened during the offseason.
Back in June, with the ninth overall pick, the Raptors drafted the first ever Austrian-born player in 21-year-old Jakob Poeltl out of the University of Utah. The Raptors and general manager Masai Ujiri anticipated the departure of Bismack Biyombo, so drafting Poeltl was the best move going forward. In his sophomore season where he won the Pac-12 Player of the Year as a Utes, Poeltl averaged 17.2 points, 9.1 rebounds, and 1.6 blocks per game. He is a good-quality center with a high celling. His only improvement is to stay active and to toughen up on defense in the low-post. Poeltl is likely to come off the bench for the Raptors and serve as back up to Valanciunas.
With the 27th overall pick in the draft, the Raptors selected 22-year-old Pascal Siakam out the University of New Mexico. Siakam averaged 20.2 points, 11.6 rebounds, and 2.2 blocks per game in his sophomore season. He is a long and quick forward who can play small or big. His only weakness is to consistently drain his jump shots. Siakam will likely be spending time with the Raptors 905, Toronto's D-League team.
Free Agency Signings
The Raptors did not take long to re-sign their two-time all-star guard in DeMar DeRozan. Hours into the free agency period on July 1, DeRozan and the Raptors agreed to a max five-year, $139-million deal. This deal would be the second-biggest contract in NBA history.
Ever since Chris Bosh left Toronto for the Miami Heat, the Raptors have been looking for that power forward who can bring what Bosh brought to the table. With that said, general manager Ujiri believes that signing Jared Sullinger would be that guy. The Raptors and Sullinger agreed to a one-year, $6-million deal back in the second week of the free agency period.
The Raptors also signed 22-year-old Fred VanVleet a guard out of Wichita State University. He went undrafted in this year's draft but spent four years at Wichita, averaging 10.2 points, 4.5 assists, and 1.6 steals a game for his career. He too will spend time with the Raptors 905 squad over the course of the season.
Free Agency Departures
The Raptors lost a key center in Bismack Biyombo. With the max-deal DeRozan was given, there was no space to re-sign Biyombo for the value he wanted. He signed with the Orlando Magic on a four-year, $70-million contract. The Magic are lucky to have a big man with his size and athletic ability.
Luis Scola was another player who left in free agency, he signed with the Brooklyn Nets on a one-year, $5.5-million contract.
James Johnson who was seen on the bench most time than not also left the Raptors to find a more increased role. He signed with the Miami Heat on a one-year, $4-million deal.
Jason Thompson was waived by the team to make room for Jared Sullinger.
2016-17 Season Expectations
It will be tough to top last season's performance but it is possible. The Raptors greatly improve with the signing of Sullinger as well as a healthy DeMarre Carroll. The East's top teams got tougher during the offseason and with how poorly the Eastern Conference has been up until last season, the Raptors now have targets on their backs. Winning the Atlantic Division this season will be tougher with the Boston Celtics upping their depth. The signing of Al Horford will match up perfectly with the Raptors as the Celtics have a quality veteran center guarding the paint. Just like last season, the Raptors must take care of business in regards to the Eastern Conference in order to stay on top.
Most importantly, Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, and Jonas Valanciunas must play with aggression like they last season. They are the Raptors' key players and they must lead them to win games.
Prediction for 2016-17 Season Record: 52-30, best for third place in the Eastern Conference.