Free Agency 2009

Wait...was this Transformers II, or

Wait...was this Transformers II, or "Be All You Can Be - the Extended Version?"

This morning, I got up early to complete the following article on Free Agency, and in particular, evaluating the options for the Toronto Raptors.

Unfortunately last night I saw Transformers II, possibly the worst movie I’ve ever sat through in a theatre, and I feel obligated to start this piece with a mini rant…

…WHAT THE HELL WERE MICHAEL BAY AND STEVEN SPIELBERG THINKING???

For any of you who have not seen this $200 Million piece of garbage, I urge you not to.

Howland and I went last night at by the time one of the little robots who swore and spoke in slang was humping Megan Fox’s leg, we were about to walk out.

Yes, it’s that bad.

The plot jumps all over the place and makes no sense at times, many of the characters are not only needless and annoying, but a few are essentially racist, you can’t even tell which robots are which half of the time, and I’m not even going to get into the over-the-top sexual references.

This is not a kid’s movie and it was slightly awkward to sit in a theatre with seven-year-olds asking their parents why robots were acting like beings who fed off Viagra, not Energon.

And the worst part is that MAYBE I could have forgiven the studio’s lame attempts at targeting certain demographics, but the action wasn’t even that great! Devastator was reduced to essentially a giant vacuum and didn’t seem powerful in the least, and by the end of the movie, I was wondering if I was watching Transformers, or a glorified extra-long US Army commercial.

Look, the premise is simple - robots in disguise fighting other robots in disguise. Why the need to have kids going to Playboy U and mothers eating hemp brownies??

I feel like one of Dwight Howard’s imitations of Stan Van Gundy…

Nevertheless, I saw online that the movie has grossed an absurd amount of money considering its on-screen performance.

Aaah…much like Hedo Turkoglu after tomorrow’s start to NBA Free-Agent Frenzy!

And will the Raptors be the ones making like the audience for Transformers 2, duped into overpaying based on the prequel (or the NBA playoffs in Hedo’s case?)

We’ll probably find out over the next few days. But regardless of Hedo’s worth, something we’ll discuss in a bit, by all accounts, as of this morning, the Toronto Raptors’ roster looks like this:

PG: Jose Calderon
SG:
SF:
PF: Chris Bosh
C: Andrea Bargnani

Bench 1: DeMar DeRozan
Bench 2: Roko Ukic
Bench 3: Reggie Evans
Bench 4: Kris Humphries
Bench 5: Quincy Douby
Bench 6: Patrick O’Bryant
Bench 7: Nathan Jawai

DNP: Marcus Banks

That doesn’t exactly look like an Eastern Conference contender does it?

As we discussed before and after the draft, the real meat of the 2009-10 Toronto Raptors will need to be filled-out via free-agency.

There are plenty of options out there, but as you can see from the above, the Raps have some very specific starting needs, ones that they’ll need to address if they want to be a competitive club next year.

So let’s start there and look at the options at the swingman spots.

Personally, I’d prefer if Shawn Marion was the starting 3 next year.

Looking at ESPN.com’s group of unrestricted free-agents next year, there aren’t many other options.

Yes, some will say Hedo, which we’ll get to in a minute, but considering what the Raptors are trying to build and the style they want to play, in my opinion there isn’t a better option out there...

...provided the price is right.

What is the right price?

Well ideally if you could convince Marion to sign for just above the mid-level, you’d be jumping for joy. I’d even be willing to go up to around $8 Million to retain his services but above that, no thanks.

It’s a tricky situation for Raptors’ management because Marion provided intangibles towards the end of last season that this team hadn’t seen in years. He was efficient offensively (except his put-backs around the rim which could use some work), surprisingly controlled in his shot-selection, particularly from long-range, and was a monster on the glass.

It’s this last point in particular that I want to emphasize.

Considering that Toronto wants to get out on the break and run, I’m not sure how you can do without Marion. To be an effective fast-break team, you NEED to be able to consistently rebound the basketball. That’s how things start - missed shot leads to break-out leads to quick transition basket.

Who else on the ESPN list can do this?

I expect Ariza to be re-signed by the Lakers, and don’t think Toronto will take a chance on Artest, so outside of these two, it’s Marion or bust. Yes, Hedo is a solid rebounder, and players like Childress (should he return to the US) and Marvin Williams might help, but let’s not confuse any with The Matrix.

Looking at the league’s financial landscape right now, the Raps appear to have the best chance at keeping Marion. The only teams with significant money to spend outside of the Dinos include the Pistons, Grizzlies, Thunder, Blazers, Kings and Hawks.

Of those, perhaps the Pistons make some sense once Rasheed Wallace is gone, and maybe the Blazers or Kings look to make a push. However it sounds like the Blazers are much more interested in Mr. Turkoglu, and would Marion really rather play for Sacramento then Toronto?

The other clubs either don’t seem to be a great fit, or involve teams who aren’t likely to open the coffers this summer.

And what about Hedo the great?

For all of the venom I’ve spewed against the former King, I want to say that I wouldn’t shut down RaptorsHQ and follow another team should he be signed. I do think he’s a talented player, and would clearly be an upgrade over most of the "talent" that the Raptors were saddled with last year.

However much like Marion, this all depends on how much the Raps are willing to pay him, and considering he just opted out of a fairly decent deal, it sounds like he expects to be paid, pretty much the entire amount of Toronto’s remaining cap room, let’s say about $10 Million.

No thanks.

So if Marion can’t be retained, and Toronto can’t/won’t afford to pay Hedo, what’s left?
I’m going to discount certain names like the Birdman (I can’t see Denver letting him go) and Allen Iverson (really??)

But does the team take a flyer on Ben Gordon?

Make a run at Anderson Varejao or David Lee?

Take a close look at players like Al Harrington and Marvin Williams?

The salary cap is estimated to sit at around $58.7 Million this year, essentially the same as last, so there isn’t a lot of wiggle room. Yes, Bryan Colangelo is quoting a $21 Million dollar breathing room number, the difference between the expected luxury tax threshold and the current pay-roll (if the Raptors renounce the rights to all their free-agent players etc), but that’s a bit of an illusion. If Toronto wants to keep Marion and a few other players, after all is said and done they’ll likely only have about the mid-level exception to work with.

Therefore it’s going to be very interesting to see how this tug of war unfolds.

In the past, players held the power in many of these off-season negotiations and over-paying for mediocre talent was almost expected.

This year could be quite different however as a) there aren’t many teams that have money to spend and b) even those teams that do have room to spend won’t be spending as much because of the economy.

So the likes Carlos Boozer and Ben Gordon, players who at one point believed they were in for big raises this summer, might be having second thoughts.

The same is true for Lamar Odom, a player who LA might not retain and who outside of Marion and Hedo, might be a good option to fill Toronto’s starting small-forward spot at the right price.

This financial crunch of course could benefit the Raptors.

Suddenly, under-the-radar players could be had at discount prices and to that end, RaptorsHQ takes a look at 10 such players:

1. Grant Hill – I don’t believe he’ll leave Phoenix but this is someone who would be a great addition to the Raptors. He could start or come off the bench, play a few positions on the court, and would be a great replacement for Anthony Parker in terms of locker-room presence and professionalism.

2. Leon Powe – The Celtics are strapped for cash and need to keep Powe and Big Baby Davis. I’m not sure they’ll do both, and while Powe is a bit of an injury risk, he’d look great off the bench behind Bosh.

3. Chris Wilcox – The Raptors seem to have plenty of bigs right now, but that’s if you believe that Hump and Pops will still be around for training camp, and that Jawai or O’Bryant will ever get off the bench (although the Raptors did extend a qualifying offer to Pops yesterday.) I’m not convinced of either situation and Wilcox is an athletic and aggressive 4-5, who looks like a great fit in the offense Toronto is trying to run.

4. Rodney Carney – Carney has been pretty much a bust since he left college but did show some flashes last year. He probably could be had for cheap, and considering the Raptors’ needs at the 2-3 in terms of athleticism, might be an interesting option.

5. Linas Kleiza – If Denver is going to keep Jones and The Birdman, Kleiza will be on his own. Toronto has made a play for his services in the past and he would provide the toughness and all-around game off the bench that Toronto needs.

6. Marquis Daniels – One of our commentors mentioned that they expect to see BC over-pay for Daniels next year. I hope that isn’t the case, but in terms of a scoring 7th man off the bench, he might be one of the best options out there.

7. Sean May – Like Williams, May has been a bust so far in the league as well. However there’s no denying his talent and if he could get his weight under control, might be a huge low-post boost off the bench for a team. Could that be the Raptors?

8. Von Wafer – Wafer has been a favourite of mine for two season now and while he’s a bit hot-headed, I’m not sure Toronto couldn’t use a bit of that. He’s one of the best off the bench at getting to the rim as well, something TO desperately needs.

Franchise would love to see Wafer doing this sort of thing off the Raps bench next year...

Franchise would love to see Wafer doing this sort of thing off the Raps bench next year...

9. Ime Udoka – We’ve talked a lot about offence in terms of filling out roster spots, but what about the D. Udoka could do that in spades and might look great at the 2 to help out Jose in a Dahntay Jones type role.

10. Matt Barnes – Similar to Udoka, Barnes can play some aggressive D but can also score and get to the hoop. He excels in the up-tempo style Toronto is looking to play and his time in Phoenix might be over.

FRANCHISE

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