Toronto Raptors will embark on a new era this season as they prepare for life without championship winning coach Nick Nurse.
Nurse spent a decade with Toronto in total and was head coach for five seasons. The 56-year-old guided the team to a first ever championship in 2019 in his first season in charge but was fired at the conclusion of last season after missing out on the playoffs.
First-year coach Darko Rajakovic has taken charge and there have been significant on-court changes as well, most notably offensive talisman Fred VanVleet departing for Houston Rockets.
Coming off an even 41-41 season, the Raptors may find it difficult to reach that level again without their star point guard and championship-winning coach.
|2022/23 Toronto Raptors
|Result: Lost Play-In Round
|To win 2023/24 NBA Championship:
|To win 2023/24 NBA Eastern Conference:
After entering the league as an unheralded late first round draft pick, Siakam developed into a Most Improved Player Award winner who has led the league in minutes per game two seasons in a row. He also averaged a career highs in points and assists last season, with 24.2 and 5.8 respectively.
Gradey Dick (SG) Draft/Kansas
Dennis Schroder (PG) Los Angeles Lakers
Markquis Nowell (PG) Free Agent/Undrafted from Kansas State
Jalen McDaniels (SF) Philadelphia 76ers
Garrett Temple (SF) New Orleans Pelicans
Fred VanVleet (G) Houston Rockets
Joe Wieskamp (SG) Dallas Mavericks
Dalano Banton (SF) Boston Celtics
Will Barton (SG) Free agent
Toronto open the new season with a home game against Minnesota Timberwolves on October 25th and then head to the team that ended their playoff hopes last season as thet face the Bulls in Chicago.
However, the highlight game for Raptors fans in October is a reunion with Nurse, now the head coach of Philadelphia 76ers, as the Sixers visit the Scotiabank Arena on the 28th.
Toronto then head to Philly on November 2nd during what looks a tough run of games for Rajakovic and his team. The Raptors face both Milwaukee Bucks and Boston Celtics at home and away during a 17-day stint in November, and after the first 12 games of the season we should have a clear idea of whether or not this team can mount a serious challenge for a place in the playoffs.
The Raptors made a statement of intent in firing Nurse after they missed out on the playoffs, but after a difficult summer they may have lowered their expectations for the new season and Rajakovic’s first in charge.
They are a team in transition and have struggled to recruit during the offseason. At one stage, Toronto looked to be the frontrunners to land Damian Lillard from Portland Trail Blazers and had they managed to pull that trade off they would have been immediately elevated to potential championship challengers.
Instead, this is a team that looks to be a work in progress and improving their younger players will be a key priority for their new coach.
Scottie Barnes won the Rookie of the Year award in 2022 but didn’t show any signs of significant development last season, potentially due to injury problems, and helping him raise his levels further will be one goal for the team.
Rajakovic will also need some time to implement his own ideas and build a team in his image so instant success is not necessarily a requirement.
Ultimately, securing a place in the playoffs will be the goal for Rajakovic and his team, and Toronto are +110 to make the playoffs. Bettering last season’s win tally should also be on the agenda, but the expectation is the Raptors may struggle to achieve a 50% or better win ratio and they are -130 to record over 36.5 wins.
The Raptors are in the middle of the pack when it comes to the championship betting market at +5000 but with the talent they have in their squad it isn’t completely out of the question.
In Pascal Siakam and O.G. Anunoby, they have two of the best defensive players in the NBA - as Siakam earned a second All-Star call up last year and Anunoby led the league in steals - so they have the talent to compete with any NBA rival.
Toronto have strong foundations to build on and there are players within their squad who helped them win the championship under Nurse in 2019, and at +2200 they could be good outside contenders for the new in-season tournament rather than the championship itself.