It’s no secret that the Toronto Raptors made some trades in the offseason and again last week just before the trade deadline. These aggressive moves show us that this Raptors team is serious, not just about making the playoffs, but going deep. Real deep. Their goal is to make the NBA Finals for the first time in franchise history and potentially give the Warriors a run for their money. Oh, and if they could get Kawhi Leonard to stick around for a few more seasons in Toronto, that’d be icing on the cake!
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The Addition of Marc Gasol
It’s safe to say the Raptors aren’t playing nice anymore. After trading the much beloved DeMar DeRozan this summer and Jonas Valanciunas last week, they’re doing whatever it takes to refine their roster and hang a banner. Along with Valanciunas, they sent CJ Wright and Delon Wright (and a second-round pick) over to Memphis to pick up Grizzlies’ center Marc Gasol. Raptors owner Masai Ujiri is hoping that the 7’1” Spanish giant will help him dominate the competition in the East – a tough challenge in itself – and then take it to the Warriors in the Finals.
So… how’s it working out for them so far?
This new roster’s home opener against an exciting-to-watch Brooklyn Nets team showed that Raptors management might have made the right move with these trades. Gasol, a three-time All Star, went five for five from the floor, making key defensive moves and providing two assists during the fourth quarter to help push his new team to a narrow two-point victory (the final score was 127-125). In his full 22 minutes on the floor, Gasol put up 16 points and six rebounds.
Will he start though? Well, right now Serge Ibaka is the Raptor’s go-to center. He completes the starting lineup of Leonard, Danny Green, Kyle Lowry, and Pascal Siakam, all of whom fans have come to know over the course of this season. ESPN’s experts figure that Gasol could replace Ibaka in some games and play alongside him in others, with Ibaka at power forward to create a huge lineup during at some point in the future. So there are options!
Either way, some fresh blood could be just what the Raptors’ starting five need right now. They’ve underperformed compared to their hot start earlier this season – outshooting opponents like 16 ish points in 100 possessions – and now they’re being outscored by opposing teams. If it’s fatigue, maybe the All Star break will help with that. If not, maybe Gasol will.
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THANK YOU to the Hawks so much for this opportunity. Coming off of 2 years of being injured, you helped me become myself again on the basketball court and allowed me to experience the joy of hoops again! Thank you to the Ressler family, to Travis, to Coach Pierce, to my teammates. An organization that does things the right way, treats people the right way! What an honor it's been to get to play with Vince the 🐐 and to watch these young guys develop. The future is bright for Atlanta!!! I truly mean that! Everyone who knows me knows how big my dreams are and that I have so much left to give to the game. Hyped to join the Raptors!! Galatians 6:9 #WeTheNorth #NeverDone
… And Jeremy Lin
The Raptors also acquired Jeremy Lin from a buyout with the Atlanta Hawks this week. The former Nets guard could turn out to be a dangerous addition to this team in the postseason as well. Toronto probably hopes that he and Gasol together can compensate for the times when Leonard isn’t on the floor. (The Raptors tend to lose a little bit of their magic when their star player isn’t in the game.) Though frequently injured in past seasons, Lin is averaging 10.7 points per game and he can also give the Raptors some support in the backcourt. Meanwhile, Fred VanVleet is out with a thumb injury for at least a few games and Lin should be able to fill in well for him. So that’s convenient.
According to Nets coach Kenny Atkinson, “What I always said about Jeremy is he’s a heck of a competitor, a much better defender than people think… He fits the style of play [Raptors coach] Nick [Nurse] wants to play. He’s an elite competitor… You know he’s going to be prepared. He’s meticulous in his preparation and obviously very smart and versatile.”
Will it work?
The Raptors are currently on top of the Eastern Atlantic Division with a record of 42-16. They’re second in the East behind only the Milwaukee Bucks and third in the league overall. And that’s all been done without Gasol, remember?
But the East is a tough place to be right now. The competition is stronger than ever and the Bucks and the Sixers both made trade deals in an effort to get even better. The Raptors are going to have to figure out how to incorporate these new guys, gas up their veterans, and maintain their momentum if they want to make it through Giannis & Co. to reach the Finals! We’ll be watching to see if they can pull it off. You should too.