The Toronto Raptors may have lost the superstar that led them to the promised land last season, but Masai Ujiri assures everyone that the quest for the franchise’s second championship will continue.

The Raptors aren’t going anywhere. This was the message Ujiri delivered right after losing Kawhi Leonard to the Los Angeles Clippers in free agency.

Sure, without Kawhi Leonard, the Raptors wouldn’t be as good as they were last season.

Although a team led by Pascal Siakam, Kyle Lowry, Serge Ibaka, Marc Gasol, and Fred VanVleet isn’t that bad, their title contention hope has dimmed with the way free agency turns out for the team and the rest of the league.

The question now is what’s next for Ujiri and the Raptors?

Free Agency of 2021

Josh Lewenberg of TSN wrote in his piece about the Raptors’ looming financial flexibility in the summer of 2020 with the contracts of Lowry ($35 million), Gasol ($26 million), Ibaka ($23 million) and VanVleet ($9 million) going off the books at the end of this coming season.

Toronto is projected to have $90 million in cap space next summer, though that figure may dwindle to around $70 million once they hand out Siakam a lucrative rookie contract extension this fall.

Without delving too much into cap gymnastics, simple math showed the Raptors are poised to have a room for two max-level contracts. The dilemma now is whether Ujiri would be willing to spend on a shallow free agency pool next year.

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Lewenberg believes the other option for the Raptors is to keep absorbing low-risk, short-term deals, which would put them in position to retain cap flexibility and make a big splash in the summer of 2021.

On top of Ujiri’s wishlist is none other than the Greek Freak, the reigning NBA MVP: Giannis Antetokounmpo.

“Beginning in the summer of 2020, Ujiri can rebuild or retool or pivot in any direction he chooses.

“Maybe the Raptors become players in next summer’s free agency market, which isn’t expected to be a deep one. Maybe they use the space to take on big, unwanted short-term money and collect assets ahead of the more anticipated off-season of 2021 when Giannis Antetokounmpo – a player Ujiri has coveted for years – could be available,” Lewenberg added.

Flipping the script

The Raptors have become the victim of one of the most clandestine moves in NBA free-agency history.

No one ever conceived that Leonard, who has the notoriety for his laid-back character, was capable of pulling off arguably the biggest coup of the summer: signing with the Clippers and convincing Paul George to join as his co-star.

Leonard’s powerplay has reshaped the league even more. The era of the Super Team has ended, and a new trend of dynamic duos around the association has emerged.

Ujiri has a plan.

He doesn’t speak about it. He doesn’t drop any hint, but Raptors fans know he has something big under his sleeves.

Masai has coveted Giannis ever since he laid his eyes on the 7-foot freak of nature. Being the first and only African-born GM in the league, the connection between him and Antetokounmpo – whose parents are from Nigeria – should be given.

It’s safe to say the Raptors will have a shot at Giannis once he hits free-agency waters in 2021. It all depends on Ujiri’s convincing power and the state of the Raptors roster whether or not they land the biggest prize of that summer.

Should the Raptors somehow, someway get Antetokounmpo, getting an equal co-star wouldn’t be impossible. The appeal of playing alongside a perennial MVP contender will be irresistible enough that someone from the so-called NBA's cream of the crop will find a way out of his current team to tandem with Giannis north of the border.

But who could it be?

Well, Joel Embiid might be a natural candidate. Sure, he signed a five-year, $147 million contract extension that will lock him up until 2023. But as what George to Clippers deal showed to everybody, a lengthy deal isn’t going to be a roadblock for any trade to happen.

This is a players’ league now. Stars have officially taken over the driving seat from the owners and GMs. They are now the master of their own ships. Players have now full control of their destination.

The Philadelphia 76ers has built a formidable roster for this coming season with the acquisition of Al Horford (free-agency), Tobias Harris (re-signed) and Josh Richardson (trade). However, these next two seasons will be make-or-break years for the Sixers. Once they fail to even sniff a finals appearance in the next couple of years, then the idea of a Ben Simmons-Joel Embiid breakup would be very much possible.

Heck, it wouldn’t be surprising if Embiid would try forcing his way out of Philadelphia. Big-market teams like the New York Knicks and Los Angeles Lakers will come as the favorites; however, Ujiri’s African influence will always be a factor, especially for players with deep African roots.

Siakam, who was discovered from Cameroon just like Embiid, could either be a heavy recruiter too or perhaps the centerpiece of the package for the All-NBA big man.

In a league where crazy deals happen year in and year out, no one should sleep on or laugh at the Raptors’ ability to reshape the league anew. As long as Ujiri is in place and new discoveries from African keep on coming, the entire NBA knows Toronto will always be a force to be reckoned with going forward.

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