By CHARLIE GOLDSMITH
Photo credit goes to cbc.ca.
In a league with little parity, the Toronto Raptors are miles behind the Cleveland Cavaliers, the defending champ and overwhelming favorite in the East next season. However, with their current core – Jones Valanciunas, Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan and DeMarre Carroll -- their window to compete is in the next two or three years.
The second best team in the conference should focus on the next three seasons as their prime opportunities to win the conference. Toronto (56-26, 1st in Atlantic) must be bold since this group has the best chance to win a title.
Patrick Patterson, PF (signed through 2016-17)
Kyle Lowry, PG (signed through 2016-17 with player option for 2017-18)
Bruno Caboclo, SF (signed through 2016-17 with team option for 2017-18)
Delon Wright, PG (signed through 2016-17 with team option for 2017-18 and 2018-19)
Norman Powell, PG (signed through 2017-18)
Lucas Nogueira, C (signed through 2017-18)
Cory Joseph, PG (signed through 2017-18 with player option for 2018-19)
Terrence Ross, SG (signed through 2018-19)
DeMarre Carroll, SF (signed through 2018-19)
Jonas Valanciunas, C (signed through 2018-19 with player option for 2019-2020)
Bismack Biyombo, C (Unrestricted Free Agent, player option for 2016-17)
DeMar DeRozan, SG (Unrestricted Free Agent)
James Johnson, SF/PF (Unrestricted Free Agent)
Luis Scola, PF (Unrestricted Free Agent)
Anthony Bennett, PF (Unrestricted Free Agent)
Salary cap available: $11,275,102 (pre rookie signings)
(1) Keep DeMar DeRozan, no matter the cost
While more flawed than the league's top two guards, DeRozan is still one of the eight best players at his position -- he could even be argued as top five. Even though Toronto could give his touches to Valanciunas and Terrence Ross without much of a hitch, losing this talented of a player would cripple a franchise in win-now mode. It would be terrible to lose such a talent for nothing.
(2) Replace Bismack Biyombo and Luis Scola, but not James Johnson
These tasks are easier than they appear. Free agents like Zaza Pachulia, Boban Marjanović and Feztus Ezili can replace Biyombo and provide similar energy and rebounding at a better cost. Jeff Green, Terrence Jones and Jared Sullinger can improve upon Scola's production and the Raptors’ more athletic options. However, James Johnson's production can be replaced internally by Norman Powell and Bruno Caboclo, two young, cheap, athletic players who can defend multiple positions almost as well as Johnson, a savvy but aging veteran.
(3) Hunt aggressively on the trade market for an athletic power forward
The four spot is definitely a flaw for Toronto. Patrick Patterson is a capable stretch four who can defend well on the perimeter for his position, but he and Scola are definitely weak links of both ends of the floor. Valanciunas definitely struggles defensively and is slow footed, so Toronto should look to add a forward who can defend and score. A talented four like Paul Millsap, Kenneth Faried and Markieff Morris would clearly improve the team's weak spots.
(4) Acquire a skilled spot-up shooter
Floor spacing definitely hurt Toronto in its series versus Cleveland. With non-shooters like DeRozan and Valanciunas, Toronto needs to have options on the bench who can create space for those two. O.J. Mayo, Jamaal Crawford and Courtney Lee would help them accomplish this.
(5) Give Jonas Valanciunas more touches
Toronto is a team with few floor spacers, so playing through Valanciunas would help the offense. An inside-out approach would give DeMar DeRozan and Terrence Ross, skilled mid-range shooters, more opportunities closer to the rim when the defense crashes on him.
These fives moves would definitely eat Toronto's future cap space, but acquiring these pieces would improve last year's team. Since the Raptors are unlikely to acquire a truly game-changing piece like Blake Griffin or Kevin Durant down the road, these smaller moves would improve the team's strengths and put them in a better position to challenge Cleveland in the future.