The Toronto Raptors‘ championship reign came to a screeching halt Friday night when they fell 92-87 to the Boston Celtics in Game 7 of their second-round NBA playoff series.
While their quest for a second consecutive crown came up short, the Raptors should be commended for how they fared in what has been the wackiest season in league history, thanks in large part, to the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Even after losing free-agent star Kawhi Leonard to the Los Angeles Clippers, Toronto managed to set a franchise record with a .736 winning percentage this season — rolling to a 53-19 record under NBA coach of the year Nick Nurse.
But now that Toronto has officially entered its off-season, there is a multitude of questions that will need to be addressed, both on and off the court.
The two biggest items on the Raptors’ off-court to-do list are the futures of president Masai Ujiri (2012-13 NBA executive of the year) and Nurse, who are both entering the final year of their contracts.
Nurse has most definitely earned himself a contract extension, and a handsome raise, and while there have been whispers in the past of Ujiri’s imminent departure I would bet that Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment (MLSE) will pony up to keep him in Toronto for a while longer.
The Raps have crucial questions to answer on the court with Fred VanVleet, Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol all without a contract for next season and 34-year-old Kyle Lowry will be entering the final year of his deal.
VanVleet, 26, is coming off his most productive season on the floor and will be highly sought after in the free-agent market who will be asking for a big raise after collecting $9.3 million this season.
Ibaka enjoyed a solid campaign, primarily as a contributor off the bench, and the 30-year-old will likely be looking to cash in on one last big contract after raking in $23 million in 2019-20.
At 35, Gasol is in the twilight of his career and I’d imagine that Toronto will want to go younger, and a lot cheaper, than the $25 million the team shelled out to the big Spaniard.
The 2020-21 Raptors will still have Lowry, Pascal Siakam (who starts earning his max deal next season), OG Anunoby and Norman Powell, so much of the core is locked in for next year.
If Toronto retains VanVleet and Ibaka and adds another quality piece or two, they could be well-positioned for another deep playoff run in 2021.
Rick Zamperin is the assistant program, news and senior sports director at Global News Radio 900 CHML.