The NBA playoffs are halfway through, and while the prime topic of discussion remains about teams that are still competing in the bubble, it is also interesting to evaluate the options of players in teams that didn't make it past the Conference Semi-Finals.
Specifically focusing on the impact of losing on defending champions Toronto Raptors, two important names come up. These are of Serge Ibaka and Fred VanVleet.
Not much was expected of the Raptors this season, mainly because of star player Kawhi Leonard's move to Los Angeles following the championship last year. However, after dragging the Boston Celtics to a Game 7 and falling just short, the Canada-based franchise has earned the respect of fans and experts alike.
The Raptors strong showing has largely been the result of solid coaching from Nick Nurse and the team as a cohesive unit, one which has seen huge performances at key moments from most players, including Ibaka and VanVleet.
We shall now look at how their playoff performance is likely to impact their worth in free-agency this year.
#1 - Fred VanVleet
After being the Raptors' main reserve point guard last season, VanVleet started in all the games for Toronto this year as the absence of Danny Green opened up a free spot in the starting lineup. And he has showed up.
Averaging 17.6 points, 3.8 rebounds and 6.6 assists throughout the regular season, VanVleet took his game to greater levels in the playoffs, going for 19.6 points, 4.4 rebounds and 6.9 assists per game. In the process, he has proven himself to be one of the premier catch and shoot three-point shooters in the league.
Moreover, VanVleet is a shot-maker and can be trusted with the ball in the final minutes of a game. He had made headlines last year for saying that he would love to stay in Toronto in 'a perfect world' but would have to do what's best for him and his family.
Those hopes came crashing down after Leonard's departure, only to be rejuvenated by Siakam in the regular season this year, but drowned by his performance in the playoffs.
VanVleet is likely to leave the Raptors and teams such as the Miami Heat, Detroit Pistons, and even the Phoenix Suns could be favorable destinations for the 26-year-old.
#2 - Serge Ibaka
One of the main sixth-men for the Toronto Raptors, Serge Ibaka has been amazing this season. Making up for fellow center Marc Gasol, Ibaka has been the Raptors' primary big man and has stepped up in critical moments.
He averaged 15.4 points and 8.2 rebounds throughout the regular season. While those numbers reduced to 14.8 points and 7.7 rebounds in the playoffs, it can also be argued that he played only 22.8 minutes per game in the playoffs as opposed to 27 minutes in the regular season.
Ibaka has been and continues to be a crucial piece for the Raptors bench and one they are going to find very hard to replace if he decides to move. Teams with a large cap-space such as the New York Knicks and the Atlanta Hawks could be favorable destinations.
Gasol also becomes an unrestricted free agent this year. However, he has been posting career lows across the board. It will be interesting to see how his situation pans out.
How much of an impact will fellow teammates like Lowry have on these decisions remains to be seen as well. All said and done, we could be looking at some major changes at the Toronto Raptors this off-season.