- Javid Lalva
Toronto Raptors Off-Season Preview
With the offseason ready to start, there are many question marks surrounding the Toronto Raptors and many directions the team can take this offseason.
The first question mark is taking care of the front office with Masai Ujiri and Bobby Webster, both having one year left on their contracts. The fact they haven’t been extended yet is a little unnerving for many fans. There aren’t any positions around the league open, but MLSE needs to take care of their own and show commitment to one of the best front offices in the league.
This now brings us to the roster. Let’s take a look at where we are as a team. There are only nine players on the books for next season and they currently take up roughly $86 million in cap space. Let’s address the players by position.
Point Guard: Kyle Lowry, Terrance Davis
Shooting Guard: Norman Powell, Matt Thomas,
Small Forward: OG Anunoby, Patrick McCaw, Stanley Johnson (player option)
Power Forward: Pascal Siakam
Center: Dewan Hernandez
Terrance Davis is on a team-friendly contract but has run into some legal trouble this offseason. This puts the Raptors in a tough position. Davis has a non-guaranteed contract, which allows the Raptors to walk away from him with no buyout, but this decision has to be made before free agency starts. And with his court date in mid-December, the Raptors are in a tough spot.
The Raptors have definite holes on this roster going into this shortened offseason. They are going to need a starting shooting guard and center, a backup center and another wing/forward player. Bringing back Fred VanVleet and Serge Ibaka would solve the two big issues, however, the question is, how much will it cost? With the Raptors looking at next year’s offseason and hoping to keep enough cap room to sign a player to a max contract (aka Giannis Antetokounmpo), running it back for at least one more year seems like the way this team will go this offseason.
Fred VanVleet, Mr. bet-on-yourself, has already come out and said he wants to secure the bag. How much will the bag be? And what is ideal? is still up for discussion. Don’t get me wrong here Freddy is a solid player in the league and has shown that he is a winner wherever he plays. He deserves to be a starter, which he has been for the Raptors, but he doesn’t have full reigns of the offence as long as Lowry is here. I think the most the Raptors will offer is $20 million per season, which allows the Raptors to keep a max contract spot for next offseason. The salary may be a little above his value, but with teams like the Knicks and former coach Dwayne Casey’s Pistons looking for PG’s, there is potential for them to lure VanVleet away with a salary above the $20 million the Raptors will offer. Where I stand here is if we can get him at 20 or less we should keep him. Anything above that, we might have to let him walk.
If he does walk, one potential replacement I can see the Raptors go after is Groan Dragic on a big one-year deal. This would give them a player who is comparable to VanVleet and a vet who matches the rest of the roster. Another player who I can see the Raptors target if he becomes a UFA is Kris Dunn. He hasn’t developed into the player that people thought he would, but the Raptors have a great development system and may be able to turn him into a consistent player in the league.
Serge Ibaka has already stated his love for Toronto. He has been a big part of this team and has created a market for himself with many teams rumoured to pursue him. The biggest advantage in the Raptors favour is having Ibaka's Bird Rights, which allows the Raptors to go over the cap to re-sign him. With the thought of going hard after Antetokounmpo next offseason firmly planted in the back of their mind's, I think the Raptors throw Ibaka a one-year deal for a lot of money. Giving him close to $15 million on a one-year term will be more than what the competition can offer. However, this would probably require Ibaka to sign the mid-level exception if the team is over the cap and tax limit.
If Ibaka walks, one potential target would be to bring Ontario-native Tristan Thomson back home. He would serve as a great replacement for Ibaka as well as a vet - and proven champion - who fits in with this roster. If they want to aim for a younger replacement, Harry Giles could be a target. He is another high draft pick who hasn't quite panned out and could end up being a rewarding challenge for the Raptors development team if it works out. The other rumour that has been circulating is Montezl Harrell. There is no doubt he is a great player, but I just don’t see how he would fit with Pascal Siakam in the frontcourt. He is also a liability on defence and would make our frontcourt very undersized. Another player, who would be a perfect fit, is Aaron Baynes. His game as a low post presence would work if Ibaka leaves. He can defend other bigs and can play that pick-and-pop role that Ibaka has really dominated.
Marc Gasol, the former defensive player of the year, has lost a few steps. However, if we can bring him back on a veteran's minimum contract, that would be ideal. I do think he will be championship hunting and would be an asset to any team on limited minutes. Personally, I think he should go back home to Barcelona, make some big bucks and dominate in Spain.
I would love to bring back Bismack Biyombo on a low contract as a potential Gasol replacement. He loved his time here and can be a great player in a limited role off of the bench. Another replacement could be Chris Boucher, who has shown he can play when given the minutes but has struggled with consistency. Whether or not he is worth another contract is the big question mark for the front office to figure out.
With two draft picks that can help fill the roster, I think the Raptors have a good shot of running it back for one more year and keeping the max salary spot open for the 2021 free-agent class. There are many rumours linking the Raptors to Antetokounmpo and I think running it back would be the best option for giving them that opportunity.
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