NBA News: Toronto Raptors Have Improved Team This Offseason, Could Pursue Brendan Haywood On Open Market

Daniel Benjamin

The Toronto Raptors made improving their defense a priority this offseason, and they have seemingly accomplished this feat with their six offseason acquisitions. The Raptors will be the favorites to win the Atlantic Division crown once again and could challenge Cleveland, Chicago and Washington for supremacy in the Eastern Conference.

Toronto finished with a 49-33 record last season, which was good enough to capture the Atlantic Division for a second straight season, but the Raptors were swept by the Washington Wizards in the opening round of the playoffs. The Raptors struggled on the defensive end against the Wizards, surrendering an average of 110 points for the series, including 125 in Game 4. During the regular season, Toronto ranked No. 19 in the NBA in scoring defense (100.9) and No. 25 in defensive rating (107.7) according to Basketball-Reference.

Toronto signed Bismack Biyombo,DeMarre Carroll, Cory Joseph and Luis Scola as free agents this offseason and selected Delon Wright and Norman Powell in the 2015 draft in hopes of getting the team back to where they were in the 2013-14 season when they ranked No. 7 in the Association in scoring defense. The Raptors, who ranked No. 4 in the league in scoring offense (104.0 points a game) last year, did lose starting power forward Amir Johnson (Boston) along with Sixth Man of Year Lou Williams (Los Angeles Lakers) in free agency and traded backup point guard Greivis Vazquez to Milwaukee.

Overall, the Raptors had a very good offseason and received a B+ for their moves from ESPN Insider Kevin Pelton.

"It's easy to figure out Toronto's goal this offseason. Basically every player the Raptors added is a plus defender, and they shed defensive liabilities Greivis Vazquez and Williams. The hope is Toronto can execute Dwane Casey's scheme like in 2013-14."

Roberts has a partially guaranteed contract while Powell, Nogueira and Caboclo could be assigned to the franchise's D-League team, Raptors 905. Powell and Coboclo, who is still a work in progress, made great strides during their stints in the summer league.

The lone starting spot up for grabs is at power forward. The Toronto Star is reporting that Patterson has the inside track on taking over that role this upcoming season. The 26-year old is entering his sixth year in the NBA but has never been a full-time starter -- he has started 65 games in his career but only 11 in his 1 1/2 with the Raptors.

The 6-foot-9 forward has developed into more of a stretch-four than a back-to-the-basket type player, knocking down 37.1% of his three-point attempts last year. Patterson is also an excellent rebounder. He averaged 8.0 points and 5.3 rebounds in 26.6 minutes of action.

If Patterson is unable to handle the starting spot, the job will fall to the veteran Scola.

Scola, 35, is a defensive-minded player on the downward swing of his career. However, Scola still can be productive in short spurts. He averaged 9.4 points and 6.5 rebounds while shooting 46.7% from the field in 20 minutes of action a year ago for the Indiana Pacers. Scola averages 12.7 points and 7.0 rebounds in 26.8 minutes for his career.

Biyombo, Johnson, Nogueira, Roberts and Kyser also have the ability to play the power forward spot.

Even though the Raptors have 14 fully guaranteed contracts, it is possible the Raptors dip into the free agent market once again. According to Sports World Report, Toronto is a possible destination for recently released Brendan Haywood. The 35-year old was released by the Portland Trail Blazers on Thursday after being acquired from the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Haywood, who missed the entire 2013-14 season and saw extremely limited minutes with the Cavaliers last year, is not expected to provide much in terms of on court production but could be an attractive commodity for playoff contending teams looking for a veteran leader.

The New York Knicks, Los Angeles Lakers, Chicago Bulls, Houston Rockets, Phoenix Suns and Boston Celtics are also possible suitors for Haywood.

Another possibility for the Raptors is Kostas Papanikolaou, Rant Sports suggests, if he is waived by the Denver Nuggets. There have been rumors that Papanikolaou, who was obtained by the Nuggets in the Ty Lawson trade from Houston, will be waived but he currently is still on the team's roster. Denver has until October 4, to decide what to do with him as that is when his $4.8 million salary becomes fully guaranteed.

(photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)