Despite losing their superstar Kawhi Leonard, the Toronto Raptors front-office has remained upbeat about the future of the franchise.

Masai Ujiri, the architect behind the team’s championship roster, will finally get the chance to rebuild a team from ground zero – a process that may involve trading expiring contracts for assets.

The Raptors’ quest for a second championship took a big hit following the departure of Kawhi Leonard to the Los Angeles Clippers.

During the ESPYs, Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN spent a few minutes to discuss the impact of Kawhi’s exit and provided new details on the superstar’s free agency process leading up to his ultimate decision.

With their leading scorer and best perimeter stopper now gone, Toronto is projected as a 40+ win team and potential playoff dark horse in a wide-open Eastern Conference. Still, the Raptors aren’t a title contender any longer.

Pascal Siakam may continue to take that leap of becoming a bona fide All-Star next season, but filling the void left by Leonard would be a monumental task.

That is why many NBA pundits – including Raptors beat writer Josh Lewenberg of TSN – considered the 2019-20 NBA season as a bridge year for Toronto.

Ujiri couldn’t stress enough in interviews that he wants to keep the core of the team intact, as he plans to give them the opportunity to sink or swim next season.

Trade deadline rush

While Ujiri will be patient with his team, Lewenberg believes the Raptors could still be an active player in the trade market comes February.

“Depending on how this team fares over the first few months of the season, they could be open for business by the trade deadline.

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At some point, Ujiri will almost certainly gauge the market for the expiring contracts, though they might be tough to move even if that becomes the preferred option,” Lewenberg writes in his latest article on TSN.

The Raptors have three huge expiring contracts on their roster: Kyle Lowry ($35 million), Marc Gasol ($25 million) and Serge Ibaka ($23 million).

While all of these three vets would be intriguing trade targets, their salaries are going to be the biggest roadblocks for any trade transaction to materialize.

Ibaka and Gasol are expected to command the most interest in the market, given the high demand for playoff-tested big men at that period of the season. The Raptors will definitely try to maximize the trade value of these players by putting a premium on acquisition of future draft picks or high-upside young players.

Defensive sustainability

By the way the Raptors filled their roster post-Kawhi Leonard, it’s very clear they want to continue with their defensive ways next season.

Toronto is among the elite defensive teams in the league last season, allowing opposing ball clubs to shoot barely 45 percent from the field and 34 percent from the three-point line. The Raptors took their defense notches higher in the postseason by limiting teams to 101 points and 42.4 percent FG shooting.

This year, Ujiri wants his team to keep that defensive identity and that is very evident by adding versatile defenders Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Stanley Johnson, giving the team more depth at the wing position.

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