It’s fair to say 2023 was not a banner year for the Raptors, but new additions and possible trades are some of the reasons for optimism in 2024.
Raptors fans are desperate for a turnaround in 2024 after losing to the lowly Detroit Pistons and snapping their 28-game losing streak. So far in the new year, the early signs have been good.
Now we’ve firmly settled into 2024, let’s look at the key stories to follow over the next 12 months.
While December 30 will live in infamy as the day the Raptors snapped the Pistons’ losing streak, it also marked a new era for the team. Trading OG Anunoby, Precious Achiuwa, and Malachi Flynn to the New York Knicks was a firm break from the so-called Vision 6’9, landing the Raptors a starting caliber point guard.
Less than a month later, the front office dealt Pascal Siakam, a member of the 2019 NBA Championship-winning Raptors team, to the Indiana Pacers in exchange for Bruce Brown Jr., Kira Lewis Jr., and three first-round draft picks in a three-team deal that included the New Orleans Pelicans.
The addition of Immanuel Quickley pairs well with Scottie Barnes, while RJ Barrett gives Toronto fans a genuine hometown favourite. That trio - who were quickly christened BBQ - are the future of the franchise.
Brown provides versatility and athleticism, and he can fill a bunch of different roles for a team. Lewis, a 22-year-old who was the 13th-overall pick in the 2020 NBA Draft, is more of a project. He has played just 118 NBA games so far - nine of the 12 players drafted ahead of him have appeared in over 200 pro contests.
Barnes remains the one everything hangs upon. His leap this season has put him into All-Star contention and he’s set to sign a massive contract extension this offseason.
Barnes looks like the Raptors’ true star, but Quickley has also been hailed as a player with an incredibly high ceiling.
One of the biggest things to track in 2024 isn’t just their individual development, but how they gel as a duo. After that, Barrett needs to find his role in the side, as does Brown.
The biggest question mark hanging over the Raptors for the first few weeks of 2024 was Siakam’s future. As mentioned, the Raptors have officially traded the 29-year-old away so the team can fully embrace the rebuild while getting rid of an expiring contract.
Siakam was the last remaining member of the 2019 title-winning core - although reserve player Chris Boucher still remains a Raptor - and he was the team's leading scorer before the trade.
The haul of three first-round picks is the headline of the trade from Toronto's perspective, but Bruce Brown is a key arrival after becoming a difference-maker for the Denver Nuggets as they won their first NBA Championship last season.
Things did not fully work out for him after signing with the Indiana Pacers and taking on a bigger role while playing the second-most minutes per game on the team.
Brown wasn't the floor spacer that Pacers coach Rick Carlisle needed him to be next to Tyrese Haliburton and Myles Turner in a fast-paced offense, but Brown's defensive solidity and strength should fit better into Raptors coach Darko Rajakovic's slower, more halfcourt-oriented offense.
The Raptors appear to be righting the ship in terms of roster construction, but what about the man in charge?
Rajakovic hasn’t had the easiest spell at the helm, but it’s fair to say he’s been responsible for a few eyebrow-raising comments. Notably, he promised his team an all-expenses-paid dinner if they win three straight games, and he drew attention for ranting about foul calls after a game against the Los Angeles Lakers where LA shot 23 free throws to the Raptors' two in the fourth quarter alone.
For all the pizza promises and Steph Curry comparisons he has made, it’s in-game management where the head coach really should be judged. In that area, the Raptors look to be crying out for an experienced head on the bench.
Rajakovic is still showing some inexperience when it comes to tweaking lineups and calling timeouts. There does at times seem to be a chaotic energy to the bench that someone who has been around the block in the NBA could rein in.
When looking ahead to the Raptors’ remaining schedule, it feels nostalgic. Plenty of old faces return in the coming months, including a reunion with the trio traded to the Knicks.
The Raptors visit Anunoby and New York on January 20, three days after hosting Kyle Lowry’s Miami Heat. February brings two meetings with the Houston Rockets, where Fred VanVleet will make his Toronto return the day after the trade deadline.
The Pacers and Siakam travel to Toronto for a February 14 game, and the teams clash again in Indiana on February 26. The teams play for the final time on April 9 in Toronto.
Anunoby will return to Toronto on March 27, part of a four-game homestand which also sees Nick Nurse visit as he leads the Philadelphia 76ers. The regular season wraps up with a double-header away to Lowry and the Heat.
This could all be building to another Play-In meeting with the Chicago Bulls, given how both teams have improved of late. That would see the Raptors crossing paths with DeMar DeRozan.
The progression of Gradey Dick is something we’ll track throughout 2024, as the Raptors’ 13th pick from last summer has made a slow start. His NBA minutes have been limited and his G-League showings have failed to impress.
The former Kansas guard showed he is a fantastic three-point shooter in college and his skillset could really help this team. However, it seems he is a long-term development bet, which could mean another Summer League stint is on the cards.
Dick’s future will also play a part in decisions around upcoming free agents Gary Trent Jr and Otto Porter Jr. The pair are both seen as the franchise’s perimeter specialists but if they depart in the summer, and that could create an opportunity for Dick to take on an increased role in 2024/25.