Re-signing Kyle Lowry was one of the final pieces of the puzzle for the Toronto Raptors. With Lowry under contract for the next four years, the Raptors have every one of their starting five locked up for the indefinite future. They have a good young player at every position and the 28-year-old Lowry is the oldest of the group. This is a team on the rise, regardless of how much star power they have.
Bryan Colangelo made a lot of questionable decisions in his tenure in Toronto, but he left a pretty full cupboard for Masai Ujiri. The only thing Ujiri had to do was give away some of Colangelo's mistakes. Once he moved Andrea Bargnani and Rudy Gay, the Raptors were ready to take the next step. They have two-way starters at every position - there aren't many weak links on either side of the ball.
As soon as they traded Gay, their season turned around. They went 6-12 with Gay and 42-24 without him, a 50+ win pace. They lost in the first round, but it was about as close of a loss as you could possibly have - losing a Game 7 on their home floor in the final seconds. It was a learning experience for a young team that is only getting better and will have the benefit of multiple years of continuity between their best players.
Lowry is the only one in his prime. Amir Johnson is 26, DeMar DeRozan is 24, Terrence Ross is 22 and Jonas Valanciunas is 21 ("ages" in which they just completed the past season). They have a young roster with plenty of room for internal improvement - this should be the start of a strong 3-5 year run for them. They remind me a lot of the 2010-11 Indiana Pacers, who won 37 games and lost to the Chicago Bulls in the first round.
The next offseason, they signed David West and traded for George Hill, rounding out their starting five and giving them a group that could grow together over the next few seasons. They went from 37 wins to 42 in 2011, 49 in 2012 and 56 in 2013. They didn't need to make any major moves - they just relied on internal improvement every season. Toronto is at the beginning of that process.
The common knock on the Raptors is their lack of star power, but that will change with time. As they win more games, they will get more All-Star appearances. You already saw it happen this year - DeRozan didn't have statistics that were much better than Aaron Afflalo or Lance Stephenson, but he was the leading scorer on a division-leading team that needed at least one All-Star. A few more wins would have ensured an All-Star berth for Lowry as well.
They have a lot of upside on the roster too. Lowry and DeRozan get most of the attention because they have the ball in their hands, but Ross and Valanciunas have the potential to be All-Star caliber players as well. They are lottery picks with elite tools for their position and they are both still very young. It will be like Lance Stephenson in Indiana - as they get better, the team will get better.
At 6'6 190, Ross is not quite as big as George, but he's just as athletic and just as skilled. He's an elite shooter and an elite athlete who can handle the ball, so it's pretty easy for him to create a shot. The important number with Ross isn't the 11 points per game, it's the 9 field goal attempts. He took 29 shots to get 51 against the Los Angeles Clippers - he only got that many shots because DeRozan was injured.
Valanciunas is the key to the whole puzzle. Center is the hardest position to find a two-way player in the league - there are just not many guys who can play high-level interior defense and still be an effective player on offense. He's not quite as big as Hibbert, but he's more athletic and he's much more skilled. He already shoots 53% from the field and 76% from the free-throw line.
In three years, Lowry will be 31, Ross will be 26, DeRozan will be 27, Johnson will be 30 and Valanciunas will be 25. All five of those guys will likely be under contract at the same time, which doesn't happen all that often. Lowry, as the oldest player in their core, is the David West in this scenario. In three years, they might have to start thinking about replacing him, but the rest will be near their peak.
If you don't have a transcendent superstar like LeBron James or Kevin Durant, timing is the key to being an elite team. A lot of times, injuries can derail a group. The Pacers were able to survive the loss of Danny Granger because of Stephenson. Contracts happen too. Stephenson many end up leaving for more money in the offseason. For the time being, everything is lining up in Toronto.
Like Indiana, they will need to continue to move pieces around on their bench over the next few seasons.
Greivis Vasquez and Patrick Patterson both play important roles on this team, but they are not irreplaceable. The good news is Masai Ujiri has a good track record of accumulating talent in Denver. Bruno Caboclo was an out of nowhere pick, but Lou Williams should be a good addition and DeAndre Daniels has more upside than most second-round picks.
Durant in 2016 is probably not going to happen, but they can be an elite team without him. As long as everyone stays healthy, the Raptors should be one of the most complete teams in the league. If you have a player who can contribute on offense and defense at every position, you will have a good team. All the pieces are in place in Toronto - it's not any more complicated than that.