The 2022-23 season was a little uneven for the Toronto Raptors, fluctuating between looking like one of the best teams in the league at times, and looking like one that looked lost. Towards the end of the year, the Raptors had the appearance of a team no one wanted to see come playoff time.
When the regular season was over, Toronto found themselves in the Eastern Conference Play-In Tournament, playing host to the Chicago Bulls in the 9 vs. 10 matchup. For the first two and a half quarters, the Raptors looked dominant, seemingly ready to cruise to an easy victory and move on to a meeting with the Miami Heat for the conference’s eighth and final playoff spot.
On the way, something changed after Toronto built a 19-point lead. The Bulls started to chip away at the advantage, and a defense that once looked immovable suddenly had no answers for the repeated attacks from Bulls stars Zach LaVine and DeMar DeRozan. Meanwhile, the offense couldn’t score, becoming mired in stagnation. It also didn’t help the Raptors let DeRozan’s daughter psych them out of making free throws.
As a result, a sound victory turned into a shocking 109-105 loss, and just like that, Toronto’s season is over. For the Raptors, it’s time to pick up the pieces, figure out what went wrong and come up with a plan to fix it. This sounds simple, but considering the amount of questions that need to be answered, it’s anything but.
One thing that was painfully obvious is the Raptors lack a certified bucket-getter to stop the charge of the Bulls. A player who can come off the bench and score baskets to stave off a run would have done wonders for Toronto. With that in mind, here are three free agency targets the team can go after in the offseason.
1. Caris LeVert
During the course of his seven-year career, LeVert has been a dependable player for whichever team he’s been on. He began his career with the Brooklyn Nets, and was traded to the Indiana Pacers during the 2020-21 season. It was then when a cancerous tumor on his left kidney was discovered during a routine physical, and LeVert’s playing time on the court was in serious doubt.
The good news was the tumor was detected early, and he was able to make a full recovery to play with the Pacers. LeVert was traded again, this time to the Cleveland Cavaliers, in the middle of last season. This year, it appears he has found a home in Cleveland, and when healthy, he’s one of the best sixth-man in the league. His averages are 12.1 points, 3.8 rebounds and 3.9 assists per game, and he is slated to become an unrestricted free agent at season’s end.
Unless LeVert decides to stay in Cleveland, he should definitely be at the top of the list for the Raptors to pursue.
2. Dennis Smith Jr.
Since being drafted by the Dallas Mavericks before the 2017-18 campaign, Smith Jr. has struggled to find his footing in the NBA. After a year and a half, with the Mavericks, he was traded to the New York Knicks. Stops with the Detroit Pistons and Portland Trail Blazers followed, before spending this season with the Charlotte Hornets.
During his time with the Hornets, Smith Jr. averaged 10.3 points, three rebounds and 4.4 assists per contest, and was able to get extended playing time with the absence of point guard LaMelo Ball. One thing the 25-year-old brings a lot of is athleticism, with the ability to fly through the sky with the best of dunkers in the league. That explosiveness is something the Toronto lacks as a collective unit.
With guard Fred VanVleet having a player option this offseason, the need for a point guard could be that much more dire. Smith Jr. could be a very good fit for that task.
3. Khris Middleton
This is a wild card, because there is no indication Middleton wants to leave the Milwaukee Bucks. Having said that, he does have a player option coming up, and if he decides to get out, this would also be something the Raptors might want to explore.
Middleton has been battling a lingering knee injury, but everyone knows what he’s capable of when at his peak. He can put up 40 points any time he steps on the court, and he’s an underrated defender. On top of that, he has championship pedigree, winning a title with the Bucks in 2021.
When he’s been on the court this season, Middleton has averaged 17 points, 4.8 rebounds and 3.8 assists pure game. Along with the experience, he provides someone who can set the offense up, with the ability to get his own shot.
This would be the first option for Toronto to go after, but Middleton will have to settle for third on this list since he’s not an unrestricted free agent.
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