TORONTO — Raptors President Masai Ujiri promised a “culture reset” after Toronto was swept out of the second round of the playoffs by the Cavaliers.
In the end, things mostly stayed the same, with Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka signing new contracts to remain alongside three-time All-Star DeMar DeRozan as the Raptors take another shot at unseating LeBron James and Cleveland in the Eastern Conference.
Even so, there will be some differences in Toronto this season, including a renewed emphasis on 3-point shooting.
“We’ve played a certain way for the past few years,” Ujiri said Monday at Raptors media day. “It’s gotten to a point where I think everyone agrees if we can make some little changes, they don’t have to be drastic.”
Coach Dwane Casey’s team has reached the playoffs in four straight seasons, and pushed the Cavaliers to six games in the Eastern Conference finals two years ago. Considered a defense-first coach, Casey said he isn’t hesitant to embrace change, even though his roster is largely intact.
“You have to adapt or you die,” Casey said. “That’s the thing. You have to adapt to the league, the way the game is changing. The tricky thing with that is you’re not going to make some players into something they’re not. DeMar DeRozan is not going to become Klay Thompson overnight.
“Our trick is to make sure our offense travels when we play the elite teams, when we play in the playoffs,” Casey added. “Make sure whatever system we have fits. We can’t throw the baby out with the bathwater and try to be something we’re not. The key is making sure we keep up with the times but maintain some of the strengths that we have.”
Toronto certainly has strengths: the Raptors have won 50 or more games in each of the past two seasons. This year, they also hope to get full seasons from Ibaka, who was acquired from Orlando at the trade deadline last year, and from Lowry, who missed time down the stretch with a wrist injury. Trying to mesh the pieces in little time proved a problem once the playoffs arrived.
“This time around, being able to really lock in from ground zero and understand step by step how we’re going to play, how we’re going to execute, really building that chemistry, everything plays big in this training camp and this preseason,” DeRozan said.
Besides giving Lowry a three-year, $100 million deal and Ibaka a three-year, $65 million deal, the Raptors added some outside shooting prowess by signing free agent C.J. Miles to a three-year, $25 million contract.
“My ability to shoot the basketball and space the floor, obviously, is one of the main reasons why they felt like I would fit here,” Miles said. “It’s no secret that the game changing has done a lot for guys like me.”
A 12-year veteran, Miles is expected to compete with third-year guard and playoff breakout star Norm Powell for a starting role alongside DeRozan, Lowry, Ibaka and center Jonas Valanciunas.
In DeRozan’s view, the Raptors have undergone cosmetic changes rather than a “culture reset,” but he’s fine with that.
“If you get a different haircut that you’re not used to getting, you’ll look a little different but you’re still you,” DeRozan said. “You trim it down a little bit, they’re going to say you look a little different but you’re still you. You might walk with a little bit more of swagger, whatever it may be, but you’re going to feel a little bit more confident about yourself. That’s the route, whenever you hear the word change, that we’re trying to approach.”