The Toronto Raptors have fully embraced the idea of a full-blown rebuild.
If moving on from Fred VanVleet last summer wasn’t an indicator, and if somehow the deals that saw the Raptors part ways with OG Anunoby and Pascal Siakam slipped you by, the National Basketball Association’s trade deadline certainly would have given you the indication that the Raptors have made a full change in direction.
“I think we traded eight players so far,” Raptors general manager Bobby Webster said following the trade deadline. “Sounds like some people would rather we trade 15, but we got a lot of work done and there’s more moves to be done.”
With just one singular player remaining from the 2019 NBA championship-winning season (31-year-old Chris Boucher – who actually probably should have been dealt), Toronto is far removed from the days of Kawhi Leonard, Fred VanVleet and Pascal Siakam leading the offensive charge.
As a matter of fact, VanVleet actually just made his return to face the new-look Raptors on Friday night in his first game back in Canada as a member of the Houston Rockets. Toronto honoured its former point guard with a video message on the jumbotron and a standing ovation from fans, but VanVleet, unfortunately, did not suit up due to a lingering adductor strain.
He did speak on the changes afoot in Toronto and the foreshadowing that he saw prior to leaving.
“That’s really the only way it was ever gonna go,” VanVleet said. “It was just a matter of when. You set off on that timeline and on that trajectory, this is what it looks like. It’s hard for people that are fans of the team… people on the team that were heavily invested in that group, but I think it was time to turn over a new leaf and they’re making all the right moves.”
VanVleet said he had been keeping tabs on the Raptors prior to deadline day, admitting that his young child had been asking him to watch Toronto games on television. “Just such a different team now.”
Leading the way is Scottie Barnes, who received some help in the form of RJ Barrett via the Anunoby deal. Then it was a handful of prospects and draft picks heading Toronto’s way following the trade involving Siakam.
At the deadline, the Raptors opted not to fully overhaul the squad but rather make two deals, including the additions of Canadian veteran Kelly Olynyk and 2022 Ochai Agbaji from Utah in exchange for their worst 2024 first-round pick, Kira Lewis Jr. and Otto Porter Jr.
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Toronto then moved Dennis Schroder and Thaddeus Young to the Brooklyn Nets for Spencer Dinwiddie, to whom the team then waived as a salary dump for Schroder’s $13 million contract. This move gives the Raptors some room to add two players to the active roster over the next two weeks.
Olynyk, a product of Toronto, has averaged 8.1 points, 5.1 rebounds and 4.4 assists so far on the season, while Agbaji, the 14th overall selection in the 2022 NBA Draft, has averaged 5.4 points, 2.5 rebounds a 1 assist per game.
“It’s a full circle moment,” Olynyk said of the trade. “It’s really cool to look back at your life and everything that you’ve done up till now and how monumental the Raptors have been in my life. My mom was a scorekeeper here. My dad was an associate coach here for a year. Ya know, just being in the driveway pretending you’re a Raptor growing up. I used to fall asleep at night with a little alarm clock radio listening to the FAN590 and Chuck Swirsky. So to be putting on this jersey and you know, these shirts and hats and stuff. It’s like, it’s something that you can’t even put into words.”
He will suit up alongside Barrett on the Raptors as well as on Team Canada for the 2024 Summer Olympic Games in Paris this July.
“We love them as players first and it’s great that they are Canadian, they want to be here,” Webster said of the pair of players his staff traded for. “I think that’d be the other piece, which is having players that want to play here goes a long way on many levels.”
Neither Olynyk nor Agbaji made it down to Toronto in time for Friday’s three-point victory over the Rockets, but both are ready to roll come Saturday’s tilt with Cleveland.
“Yeah, I’m ready for this one,” Agbaji said. “And ever since I got that call, that phone call, yesterday, I feel like it’s a fresh new start, new team obviously, new coach, and new staff but a different approach at the same time too. Coming in here, doing everything and giving you my all to win every single night.”