Skip to content

With lottery and Barnes extension behind them, Raptors can get to work

Nick Lachance / Toronto Star / Getty Images

This feature originally ran on May 15. It has been edited to reflect Monday's news that Scottie Barnes and the Raptors have reportedly agreed to terms on a five-year extension.

It was only fitting that the Raptors' wretched 2023-24 season was bookended by a failed trip to the draft lottery, where Toronto officially saw its top-six protected pick convey to San Antonio in the form of the eighth overall selection.

Normally, such luck would be catastrophic for a 25-win team coming off the franchise's worst campaign in 13 years. All that for the solid yet unspectacular Jakob Poeltl?

But while the Raptors have taken plenty of self-inflicted punches over the last couple of years, any attempt to paint this result as a devastating knockout blow would be wrong.

It can't be overstated how poorly regarded the 2024 draft class is, which no doubt played into the light protections Toronto placed on the first-rounder. The Ringer's Ryan Russillo was told by one team's employee that the No. 1 pick in this year's draft might be equivalent to the seventh or eighth pick in an average year. ESPN's Zach Lowe reported that team officials from clubs who stood to potentially lose their picks seemed indifferent to the results leading up to the lottery.

Had the Raptors landed a top-six pick this year, the pick owed to the Spurs would've rolled over to 2025. Assuming Toronto improves to something closer to a play-in team next season, would a top-six pick in 2024 have been much more valuable than a mid-first-rounder in 2025? Based on every expert's opinion at the moment, probably not.

In addition, by conveying the pick to San Antonio now, the Raptors have access to all their future first-rounders as tradeable assets. Had Toronto kept its 2024 pick, the team wouldn't have been able to trade its own first-rounder until 2028. Finally, the Raptors also have the 19th and 31st selections in the draft (plus the Pacers' top-four protected pick in 2026), thanks to the midseason trades that shipped Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby to Indiana and New York, respectively.

Of course, none of this is ideal. There's no sugarcoating that the optics are hideous when a 57-loss team doesn't have a pick in the top 18. As uninspiring as this year's class appears, let's not forget that the last truly terrible draft (2013) still produced two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo and four-time Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert.

Those optics won't ease the pressure on a front office whose standing in Toronto has shifted from unimpeachable to questionable.

If nothing else, the lottery results were a reminder that team president Masai Ujiri and general manager Bobby Webster temporarily lost their way - or at least their sense of timing. The Poeltl trade stemmed from the fact Toronto entered the 2022-23 campaign with a glaring need at center. By the time the Raptors addressed it, a 10th-place team with a losing record was trading a future first-rounder for a middling starting center.

While the Anunoby trade was an excellent piece of business that infused the Raptors with more bankable young talent in Immanuel Quickley and RJ Barrett, the way Toronto botched the Siakam situation was shameful (though that deal now looks slightly better).

With the lottery and the first-round payout for Poeltl finally behind them, it's time for the Raptors to get back on track. Some would argue that with all their picks at their disposal again and the 2025 draft expected to be stronger, now is the time for Toronto to tank and commit to a longer-term rebuild. That's a bad idea.

Vaughn Ridley / NBA / Getty Images

Ujiri was correct when he acknowledged that, in 22-year-old All-Star Scottie Barnes, the Raptors already have the type of talent that is most coveted - and most difficult to acquire - for rebuilding teams. But the head start a talent like Barnes provides also leaves teams with less time to waste.

Barnes' reported extension will keep him under contract through 2030, but fans know how quickly time moves in the NBA. Barnes' deal comes with no guarantees he'll be a Raptor for the life of that contract. The best way to ensure that is to win, or to at least show Barnes that success is on the horizon.

That quest should begin immediately. Quickley (who is a pending RFA) appears poised for a breakout after taking the reins as Toronto's starting point guard. He has the on-ball chops, movement shooting, and playmaking to thrive beside Barnes. A rejuvenated Barrett looks comfortable and optimized in head coach Darko Rajakovic's system of quick decision-making. Gradey Dick averaged 11.1 points and shot 39.5% from deep over the final 40 games of his rookie campaign.

Rajakovic will enter his second year as an NBA head coach with a team that has a clear direction and purpose after his debut season was derailed by constant roster reshuffling and injuries.

Losing their 2024 first-rounder means the Raptors can carve out roughly $30 million in cap space to use before re-signing Quickley, depending on what decisions are made about pending free agent Gary Trent Jr. and Bruce Brown, whose 2024-25 team option is worth $23 million. A tanking team might use that space to take on unwanted contracts in exchange for additional draft capital. The Raptors should use it to expedite their rebuild, which doesn't have to mean acting recklessly.

If Toronto retains at least one of Trent or Brown and operates as an over-the-cap team, it should seriously consider whether the midlevel exception is enough to land caretaking Wizards guard Tyus Jones, for example.

There are options. Just don't expect one of those options to involve purposely banking on the 2025 lottery. "I'm patient, but I'm not trying to wait, like, six years," Ujiri reminded us at his end-of-season media availability.

The day of this year's lottery, Barnes wrote on Instagram, "I promise we will be better." The Raptors need him to keep that promise. They also need to help him deliver on it. Now's the time.

Joseph Casciaro is theScore's senior content producer.

Daily Newsletter

Get the latest trending sports news daily in your inbox