Rick Zamperin: Toronto Raptors set to stumble this season

Toronto Raptors guard Fred VanVleet celebrates after scoringing against the Charlotte Hornets during the first half of an NBA preseason basketball game in Charlotte, Monday, Dec. 14, 2020. AP Photo/Chris Carlson

After several consecutive seasons as one of the more dominant teams in the NBA the Toronto Raptors are going to take a step backwards.

There, I said it. I don’t like it, but it’s the truth.

The Raptors tip off their 2020-21 season Wednesday night when they host the New Orleans Pelicans in their temporary home in Tampa, Florida.

Toronto is still led by Coach of the Year Nick Nurse and veteran guard Kyle Lowry, and they have a really good nucleus that includes Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet, Norm Powell and OJ Anunoby, so this isn’t a roster that has a dearth of talent.

But we’ve all seen the roster deletions the Raps have endured over the last two seasons — namely the exodus of 2019 NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green, Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol.

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Toronto has replaced those players with the likes of NBA journeyman Aron Baynes, fifth-year man DeAndre’ Bembry and rookie Malachi Flynn, roster moves that will test the team’s once heralded talent off the bench.

Click to play video: 'Toronto Raptors coach Nick Nurse on his new memoir ‘Rapture’'
Toronto Raptors coach Nick Nurse on his new memoir ‘Rapture’

The Raptors are also in a division that includes one of the most improved teams on paper in the Brooklyn Nets, two teams that have yet to achieve their potential in the Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers, and an eternally rebuilding New York Knicks team.

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I can see the Raptors finishing as high as first place in the Atlantic Division if everything goes their way but the realist in me says Toronto will finish in third or fourth place in the division and fifth or sixth in the East.

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Come playoff time, I’m not too confident that Toronto will be able to advance deep into the NBA’s second season against teams like Milwaukee, Brooklyn, Boston and Miami.

I hope I’m wrong, but I don’t think I will be.

Rick’s 2020-21 NBA predictions

Division winners

Atlantic – Boston
Central – Milwaukee
Southeast – Miami
Northwest – Denver
Pacific – L.A. Lakers
Southwest – Dallas

Conference Finals

East – Milwaukee over Boston
West – L.A. Lakers vs. L.A. Clippers

NBA Finals

L.A. Lakers over Milwaukee

Rick Zamperin is the assistant program, news and senior sports director at Global News Radio 900 CHML.


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