TORONTO — Having barely taken a breath after winning his first NBA championship last week, Toronto Raptors general manager Bobby Webster was back to work scouting players ahead of Thursday’s draft.
“We asked Golden State (Warriors) how do you do this five years in a row,” he quipped.
Throughout the Raptors’ championship run, Webster and scouts held workout sessions with draft-eligible players. The Raptors, who traded away their first-round selection earlier, had to wait until the second-last pick to take centre Dewan Hernandez 59th overall.
The former University of Miami player was ineligible to play last season after he was one of 19 players named in an agency scandal. It was alleged that Hernandez entered in an agreement with his agent where he would receive monthly payments.
NCAA students are not allowed to receive any payment while collegiate athletes. Although the charges were never proven, he was not allowed to play for the Hurricanes last season.
“To some extent, we got lucky that he didn’t play last year, he kind of flew under the radar,” Webster said. “Had he had a full season, we feel like he wouldn’t have been available at 59.”
Hernandez was the Raptors’ first draft pick in two seasons, having traded away both of their selections in 2018 to the Brooklyn Nets along with forward DeMarre Carroll in exchange for centre Justin Hamilton, who was then waived.
The lack of top picks didn’t hurt the Raptors. They became the first NBA team in the modern era to win an NBA title without a lottery pick. Fred VanVleet, an undrafted free agent, was signed by the Raptors and turned into a key player in their title run, including earning one vote for Finals MVP.
The Raptors hope Hernandez can blossom, despite being a late pick.
“We’re always trying to find the next Fred. It’s not easy,” Webster said. “We have a good plan for these guys.”
The Raptors hope to get a better sense of their roster for next year in the coming weeks. Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard is expected to opt out of his current contract and make a decision on whether he wants to stay with the team on a new deal or leave, with the Los Angeles Clippers reportedly a possible destination.
Leonard can start negotiating with teams as a free agent on June 30.
“We’re comfortable with the pitch we’ve made,” Webster said. “Throughout the year, we’ve been talking about the things that we can offer and what has made this season so special. We’ll just continue with that.”
Raptors centre Marc Gasol, like Leonard, also has a player option which expires on June 27.
“He’s earned the right to think about this,” Webster said. “Obviously, we’d love to have him back.”
David Alter, The Canadian Press