The dream is dead. Any hopes Toronto harboured of landing reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo in 2021 were crushed with the announcement that he has re-signed with the Milwaukee Bucks. They gave him $228 million over five years and that was clearly enough to mask their failures.
Antetokounmpo is loyal to a fault and so it didn’t matter enough that the Bucks botched a sign-and-trade for a player he wanted in Bogdan Bogdanovic, kept faith in head coach Mike Budenholzer who has failed repeatedly in the post-season, and didn’t keep Malcolm Brogdon who was clearly a vital contributor to their success.
That bevy of bad decision-making rightfully gave Toronto enough reason to believe they were in play for the 26-year-old superstar, but now it’s time to move on from Plan A. There’s plenty of ways the wish list can go now, so let’s take a look at some of the options the Raptors can turn to from here.
Plan B: Stay the course
Let’s be real, maintaining cap space for 2021 was always about acquiring a generational talent and Antetokounmpo was the only realistic target on the list, unless you’re a huge believer in Rudy Gobert. Kawhi Leonard is likely to remain with the Clippers, Chris Paul would be surplus considering Toronto’s backcourt options, and so the other option in free agency is to try and make a couple pieces fit in instead of one max salary.
Victor Oladipo has had an injury-riddled couple seasons and should be a viable option who provides a dynamic scoring option while also being capable of holding his own on the defensive end. He also won’t command a max contract because of the last few years and so perhaps there may be a way to bring him over to the Raptors and secure the return of fan favourite Serge Ibaka. I’m sure when I prefaced with the term "fan favourite" you were thinking of DeMar DeRozan—who will also be a free agent—but both those signings would make Toronto better in the near-term, even if it won’t necessarily put them back on that championship-level pedigree.
Other viable free agents available include Jrue Holiday, Josh Richardson, and Will Barton.
Plan C: Stability
Control what you can control. Raptors planned as best they could but ultimately the ball was always in Antetokounmpo’s court. OG Anunoby is a restricted free agent, re-sign him. Norman Powell has a player option at the end of the season and there are worse decisions to be made than letting a player who can capably shoot the three, get to the basket off the bounce, and play average defence walk for nothing.
General Manager Bobby Webster seems to have a new deal all but set in stone and so Masai Ujiri needs to be the priority now. The current Raptors president is a pending free agent and said that his own discussions were pushed to the wayside so he could prioritize taking care of everyone else around him. There’s nothing to wait for now.
He has done nothing but bring big wins to the Raptors franchise since his arrival and MLSE should be willing to do whatever it takes to keep him around. With the Giannis decision not going to plan, perhaps it’s time to give Kyle Lowry a legacy deal and have him finish his career in Toronto.
Plan D: Drama chess
The Raptors have played this game before. Being very good but not quite championship-level can bear fruit in time. Toronto was very good for several years but just unable to break through the LeBron James barrier. Having allowed their roster to develop, though, they were able to create an appealing offer to snatch Kawhi Leonard from San Antonio’s clutches and we know how that story ended.
James Harden already wants out of Houston, Bradley Beal may grow tired of the Wizards, and in these times an NBA team always seems a moment away from having a disgruntled superstar. If you’re the Raptors, you know you have great young pieces on your roster and can be ready to strike when the moment is right.
Plan A may not have worked out, but the Raptors will be sure to pivot quickly and prove once again they are always prepared for any scenario.