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Franchise can't see Alvin and AI on the same team next year...

Franchise can't see Alvin and AI on the same team next year...

And they’re off.

At 12:01 this morning, the NBA’s free-agent frenzy kicked off with a bang...

...or should I say the sound of crickets.

Unlike past years when NBA teams jumped out of the starter’s block to sign players, this year was quite different.

The word around the league is that there are talks going on, but aside from Kobe Bryant, Carlos Boozer and Mehmet Okur deciding not to opt out, so far we’ve got tumbleweeds.

On the Raptors side of things, the same is true.

I expect Bryan Colangelo has been talking with Shawn Marion and his agent, and perhaps a few other names as well, however I wouldn’t be surprised to not see anything transpire today, or even tomorrow.

However with so much discussion on the site yesterday regarding potential free-agent targets, while we wait for BC to make his move(s), I thought it might be good to take a closer look at some of these names.

For this purpose, I’ve bucketed players into several categories categories.

The Good – Linas Kleiza and Walter Hermann

I think Kleiza is one of the more realistic options out there for Toronto. Why? Well for starters he could play the 3 and 4 so kills two birds with one stone there. Plus his arrival would negate getting another big in case the Jawai-O’Bryant experiment doesn’t work out. Second, you could probably sign him to a reasonable deal considering he’d have a much bigger role with the Raptors. Add on the fact that he’s still quite young, has nice upside, can stretch the floor with his shooting, and has the size and toughness this team needs. More Kleiza!

I left Fabio off yesterday’s list only because with Michael Curry gone, I think Detroit will attempt to retain Hermann. If not, he’s a bit like Kleiza 1.0 on my list, another player who can hit the outside shot, play the 3 and 4, and bring toughness and intensity. If Detroit doesn’t want to ante up for him and the price is right, he’s another player I hope BC takes a close look at.

The Bad – Channing Frye/Nate Robinson/Ben Gordon

In this group I’ve bucketed players who I’d rather not see in a Raptors uniform next year, not because they don’t have talent, but more because I don’t think it’s a great fit. Frye to me is a player who still has some upside, and probably didn’t get enough playing time with the Blazers. However isn’t he simply a better version of Patrick O’Bryant? Neither are great rebounders, and both are face-up shooters in the paint, not low-post presences. To me, Frye would be a much better option off the pine but with P.O.B. working with the coaching staff and expected to be on the Summer League roster, my bet is that he’ll be coming off the bench next year, not Frye.

Nate Robinson and Ben Gordon are quite similar in terms of their size and offensive prowess, with Gordon being the superior shooter and pure scorer, and Robinson being the athletic marvel. Toronto could use doses of both of what these players bring to the table, but Gordon will probably be too expensive (and will want to start) and I think the Knicks will let Lee walk based on their draft day moves, and therefore look to keep Krypto-Nate.

The Ugly – Allen Iverson/Rasheed Wallace/Rashad McCants

Let’s start with AI. Allen Iverson is one of my five favourite players of all time. Is he a proven winner? Not exactly. But pound-for-pound he’s one of the toughest and most competitive players in NBA history. While that sounds like exactly the type of player Toronto needs, I can’t see how this would work. Time and time again Iverson has shown that to be effective, he needs to be in a system where he can dominate the ball and control the offense. That’s problem number one for a Raptors’ team apparently looking to move the ball more on offense and get out in transition. Secondly, we all know about Jose’s defensive issues, so is playing Iverson at the 2 even an option? And just how long would it be before both Bosh and Bargs started to complain about Iverson’s ball-hogging ways?

The shame of it all, is that if Iverson was content to come off the bench, he would be an amazing asset for a team, Raptors or no-Raptors. He can still get to the rim with ease, and is relentless offensively. However between his need to start, his shot-happy style, and the over-zealous financial contract he’s likely seeking, I think we can put this one to bed.

Rasheed Wallace is somewhat of a similar situation; malcontent behind the scenes when not starting, trigger-happy at times, and probably not someone the Raptors want to take a chance on. Frankly if Toronto was going to invest in a long-range shooting power-forward off the bench, I think Charlie Villanueva is a lot higher up on their list. That’s not even taking into account that I doubt Wallace would even consider heading north, especially when rumours abound that championship contending clubs have their eyes on him.

And that brings us to McCants. At face value, Rashad seems like a very interesting option. He’s a bit undersized, but is gritty, can shoot the ball, and can be a very able defender when he wants to be. Hell, before last weekend, I would have thought offering him part of the mid-level was a good idea too.

Then last Friday night in New York, a former North Carolina alum who now writes for the Nets, gave me the goods on McCants. Let’s just say he makes Iverson and Wallace seem like Grant Hill and Kyle Korver. I won’t go into all the gory details but here’s one perfect example of how McCants simply lives by his own rules:

At North Carolina, the writer’s friend, also an aspiring journalist, had set up in advance an interview with McCants. The idea was to simply go through a few questions to get a feel for the team, especially since this was a Tar Heel squad that looked to be on the brink of an NCAA Championship. So to that end, the writer’s friend had prepared 50 queries, just to ensure that if the first 10 or so went too quickly, or didn’t provide much depth into the team, he had back-up options.

Well…the writer’s friend used all 50.

Why?

Because McCants decided he was going to answer every question with "yes" or "no," and made the writer sit through this whole charade until every question was done.

Yep, great guy.

I know the Raptors need some more grit, and even some edge, but let’s not confuse "fight" with "I live in my own world."

The "Not Going to Happen" Group: Trevor Ariza/Lamar Odom/Chris Andersen

The three names in this bucket would all represent big boosts in talent for Toronto, but I’d fall out of my chair if any of them were in a Raptors uniform anytime soon. Let’s start with Mr. Ariza.

I’m first off going to say that I don’t even like talking about Ariza, mostly because this is a player Toronto could have easily had years ago. As a Knick, Ariza was tops on Howland and I’s off-season list as a high-upside player the Raps should go after. He was languishing under then-coach Larry Brown, and seemed ripe for the taking. Unfortunately, the Magic did the taking when they acquired him and Penny Hardaway in a deal for Steve Francis. Ariza didn’t move any mountains there either, and was largely forgotten until being dealt to the Lakers, where he then began to break out.

Yes, Ariza in a perfect world would be the top option for Toronto’s off-season dollars. He’s athletic, can defend multiple positions, has improved his ability to put the ball on the floor, and is now a threat from long distance. Essentially what the Raptors desperately need in the starting line-up. But there’s no way LA lets him go.

Odom isn’t quite the same lock as Ariza and while another team might outbid LA for his services (Detroit, Cleveland etc), I don’t see him in red and black in the next few days either.

Andersen, much like Ariza, was a player I wanted BC to take a chance on last summer when he was reinstated by the league. He stays within his designated role, is a huge boost defensively off the bench, and provides a level of energy and intensity that’s rare in the league. And for those reasons again, I’d be shocked to see Denver let him go.

The "I Don’t Understand It" Group: Rasho Nesterovic/Charlie Villanueva

Next, we come to two former Raptors whose names have been mentioned in Raptors’ free-agent rumours for quite some time.

And personally, I don’t want to see either with the club next year.

I like both of these guys, CV in particular who I defended from the moment Rob Babcock plucked him in the 2005 draft. However isn’t Villanueva looking to start for a team next year? In Toronto at best, he’d be coming off the bench behind Bosh and Bargs, a luxury for sure, but probably a pricey one. And it sounds like Detroit and other teams who could offer him more money and playing time are coming a calling.

As for Rasho, yes, great locker-room presence and basketball IQ, but with Reggie Evans on board and Hump still around, unless he could be had for an extremely reasonable deal, I’m not sure how useful he would be except in a sort of Darrick Martin role. Of course if Hump is dealt, then this makes more sense but right now, there are other bigs I’d prefer the Raptors to take a look at like Zaza Pachulia and Marcin Gortat.

So with all that said, what do I think the Raptors’ roster will look like next year? Well I think Marion and Delfino will be part of the rotation, but filling out those final spots, I’m not sure I have any idea which way BC is leaning.

However how about the following final line-up?

PG: Jose Calderon ($8,219,009)
SG: Carlos Delfino ($2.5M)
SF: Shawn Marion ($7M)
PF: Chris Bosh ($15,779,912)
C: Andrea Bargnani ($6,527,490)

Bench 1: Jarrett Jack ($3.2M)
Bench 2: Linas Kleiza ($2.8M)
Bench 3: DeMar DeRozan ($2.5M)
Bench 4: Reggie Evans ($4,960,000)
Bench 5: Roko Ukic ($1,350,000)
Bench 6: Kris Humphries ($3,200,000)
Bench 7: Quincy Douby ($855,189)

DNP: Nathan Jawai ($736,420)
DNP: Patrick O’Bryant ($1,620,000)
DNP: Marcus Banks ($4,464,000)

It’s not the Cavs or Magic, but if healthy, it has the makings of a very well-rounded top 10, with some options beyond that.

I’ve put the salary of each player in brackets, and regarding a returning Marion and the other new additions, the salary I expect each of these four to command. This is by no means a sure thing, but considering that the Raptors are reportedly going to offer Marion about $7 Million and Delfino should be available for around the $2.5M mark, I don’t think that’s too far off. With those two under contract, Toronto’s total committed salary would sit at about $60,012,020, putting the team a few million above the salary cap, and thus able to use the mid-level and bi-annual exceptions.

With the mid-level, expected to sit at around $6M, hopefully BC could split things up between Kleiza and Jack. Their new salaries in brackets would represent a fairly substantial raise over their previous deals ($2,002,623 for Jack and $1,824,493 for Kleiza last year), but both could of course make more than this on the open market.

Kapono won't be in Raptors' red (or green) next year, but how about Jack?

Kapono won't be in Raptors' red (or green) next year, but how about Jack?

My hope is that the economy forces things down a bit, and so both would be happy to take raises, and bigger roles with the Raptors. We’ve talked about the benefits of Kleiza in depth but Jack I feel would be a big asset too. He’s a steady point guard, so a huge boost behind Jose, but also a player who’s big enough to play some 2 and who can score and defend both the 1 and 2 spots.

That would put Toronto’s total salary count at about $66 Million, so a few million under the expected luxury tax should it drop from about $71M to about $68 M, and thus giving the team some wiggle room and still allow them to hold the bi-annual exception.

Again, this is far from academic but the point of this exercise is more to provide a visual of what the Raptors are faced with financially.

You’ll notice that Pops Mensah-Bonsu is not on this list, and while I’d love to see him retained over the likes of Hump, Jawai and O’Bryant, the Raptors really haven’t given any positive signals that they want to retain him.

Marion is obviously priority A1, and as Michael Grange of the Globe broke down yesterday, things really start with the Matrix. From Grange:

Keeping Marion or doing a sign-and-trade with another team would mean the Raptors would stay above the NBA’s salary cap threshold, which in turn would enable the Raptors to use the mid-level exception and the bi-annual exception – available only to teams above the salary cap – to sign additional players which in a buyer’s market would allow the Raptors to add at least one and possibly two rotation players.

This is a huge point and one that I negated to mention yesterday.

If Marion walks for nothing, suddenly the Dinos are in a very precarious position. First and foremost, the price to acquire Marion was steep (Marcus Banks, 14th on ESPN.com’s recent "Cap Killer" list, and a first-round pick), and second if he walks for nothing, there aren’t a lot of great replacement options. Toronto might be forced to overpay for a player who isn’t as good a fit, and that of course would again leave last year’s depth issues un-addressed.

In fact, I think the reality in this whole free-agency situation is that regardless of the moves Toronto makes, for this team to get back into the playoffs, improvement need to come from inside.

If Jose and CB4 stay healthy, if Andrea continues to develop, and if the Raptors receive an unexpected boost from the likes of DeRozan, Jawai, Ukic or even Delfino, then maybe 40 or so wins is within reach.

However as I mentioned to one of our HQ team yesterday, that’s a lot of "if’s" and the bottom line is that regardless of what transpires over the next few days, you again have to question if this club’s core is simply good enough, or if a major overhaul isn’t needed.

FRANCHISE

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