June 18: Raptors officially sign Jonas Valanciunas
It took a while, but on June 18th the Raptors finally signed their 2011 first-round pick, Jonas Valanciunas. Many had doubted whether the Raptors would be able to reach a deal with Lietuvos Tytas, Valanciunas' Lithuanian league team, but eventually they did reach an agreement.
The Raptors completed the buyout of Valanciunas, and signed him to a rookie scale contract. Per team policy the financial terms of the deal were not discussed, but what we do know is the deal lasts until the 13-14 season, with two team option years to follow. In other words, if the Raptors choose to keep him until the 2015-16 season, they can do so.
To free JV from Lietuvos Tytas, the Raptors agreed to pay a $2.7 million buyout. However, by the time this buyout was set to go through, the new CBA with updated buyout restrictions was in place, and the Raptors were only permitted to pay $500,000 of the $2.7 million they agreed upon. I can't imagine the folks over at Lietuvos Tytas were too happy about this, but over at the MLSE offices they must have been overjoyed .
In the 28 games he's played this season, JV has had his ups and downs. At the top of his game, he's been a strong force down low, getting the best of fellow big men Roy Hibbert, Brook Lopez and Tim Duncan. At worst, it's looked like Aaron Gray's slow, clumsy play is rubbing off on the young man, as there are days where you can barely tell the two apart (apart from the hair). The good news for Raptors fans is the latter doesn't occur too often, and Jonas Valanciunas has a great NBA future ahead of him.
GRADE: The Raptors managed to sign their starting big man, and save two million dollars in the process. Deserving of an A+
July 4: Raptors offer Landry Fields a Three-Year, 18.7 million dollar contract
The Raptors front office entered the 2012 off season determined to land Mr. Canada, Steve Nash. It was shaping up to be the perfect story: Hometown hero returns home to rid country of basketball struggles, and lead country's only NBA team to the playoffs in final years of storied career. This idea clearly excited Mr. Colangelo, as he decided he would go to extreme measures to land Nash. If this meant offering Nash an insane $36 million over three years... hell, go for it. If this meant signing Landry Fields to a ridiculous contract, to cancel the rumored sign and trade that featured the Knicks landing Nash... yep, it's worth it. If this meant... WHAT?! HE SIGNED WITH THE LAKERS?! BUT, BUT, BUT... SMH.
Yes, July 4th was a sad day in Raptor-land. We missed out on landing Canada's best player, and sort-of-accidentally offered 18.7 million dollars to a third-string small forward. Oops?
The Raptors had their reasons, (ahem, read above) but it doesn't excuse them for signing Fields in what could have been the dumbest signing of this entire off season... for any team.
Fields has yet to contribute to his new squad, as injuries have defined his season thus far. Even in the 10 games he's played in, he hasn't looked like himself, shooting an abysmal .390 from the field, and not having made one three pointer all season. The Raptors futility at the SF position will assure Fields some playing time as the season continues, but so far he hasn't earned those minutes, but is playing basically by default.
GRADE: Severely overpaid and a very tough start to the season ... not a good combination. F
July 27: Raptors sign John Lucas III to Two-year, $1.5 million contract
I am a big fan of John Lucas the person. His positive attitude, his charisma, the confident swagger he plays with, and the toughness that you don't see in many point guards. So when the Raptors signed him way back in July, I was delighted. I figured he'd fill in perfectly as the third string point guard, just as he did for the Bulls, and would transition easily into the backup role once Jose Calderon was traded.
Two things have gone wrong since then, that have made him completely invaluable to the Raptors.
1. Shooting futility.
John Lucas is a chucker. He's a scoring point guard, who likes to take a lot of shots, and due to his height, is forced to take many of those outside the paint. As a jump shooter - when his shot is on, it's tough to stop him, and he looks like a very capable point guard. However, when his shot is not on, John Lucas doesn't provide much to a team. And that has been the case for much of his season on the Raptors. Lucas has improved since going 4-35 in his first six games, but his shooting is still an issue, and has still been significantly worse than it was last season.
2. Jose Calderon hasn't been traded.
At the time John Lucas was signed, it seemed like a sure thing that Jose Calderon would be traded, and wouldn't play for the Raptors for the bulk of the 2012-13 season. That would free up Lucas to fill in as the backup point guard, and replace Jerryd Bayless' role as designated backup PG shot chucker. Obviously Calderon has yet to be traded, which has caused a road block in Lucas' progression.
The truth is, as the team currently stands, the Raptors don't need John Lucas. They would have been better off signing a low-level big man or SF instead of John Lucas, although the signing will potentially become valuable if Jose Calderon is dealt before the deadline. But can the Raptors thrive with Lucas playing huge minutes behind Lowry?
GRADE: John Lucas III has played poorly this season, and hasn't been needed by the Raptors thus far. C
July 27: Raptors re-sign Aaron Gray to Two-year, $5 million contract
Aaron Gray can be described in one word. Steady. Steady because each game he'll play the same way, and that way is always staying focused, and putting in 100%. Steady because he could have 12 points and 12 rebounds and no one would notice until it was mentioned on the radio the next morning. Steady because he may be boring to watch, but his consistent play really helps the team. And steady because he's not that good, but he's also not that bad.
Gray may not be flashy, he's really helped the Raptors; as the injuries to Bargnani/Valanciunas have forced him to step up and play major minutes as of late, and he has filled in fairly well.
GRADE: Gray's consistent play has helped the Raptors play consistently as a team, and his salary his hardly an outlandish one. A-
July 30: Raptors re-sign Alan Anderson to One-year, $885K contract
Alan Anderson, the man who spent the last seven years bouncing around different D-League and European teams, was signed to his first guaranteed NBA contract this summer, and he's making the most of it.
He's been the Raptors best small forward all season, although he's yet to take over the starting spot. Just a few weeks ago, his return to the lineup sparked a five-game win streak, and the Raptors winning 8 of 9 games. His effort on both ends of the floor has resulted in Anderson becoming a fan favorite, and the most surprising player on this Raptors squad. Anderson has gone from a D-League call-up just last season, to a leader, and one of the more important players with the Dinos this year.
Worth Noting: This year, Anderson will make five million dollars less than um...Landry Fields.
GRADE: Anderson's play is one of the main reason Raptor fans can still talk playoffs without sounding too foolish. A++
October 31: DeMar DeRozan accepts four-year, $38 million contract extension
In order to eliminate the chance of DeRozan walking away from the Raptors next summer, the Raps signed DeMar DeRozan to a four-year $38 million contract extension. This contract has been debated and analyzed by every Raptors fan out there, so here's my view:
It's a recurring pattern that good players develop in Toronto, and once they reach the level of stardom they feel that they're ‘better than the city', and want to get out. Guys like McGrady, Carter and Bosh, who no longer wanted to play in Toronto once they found themselves on the cover of magazines and ESPN top 10's.
The NBA is a player's league, and if a guy wants to be traded, he's going to be traded. So the ideal player for the Raptors would be a talented player who loves the city of Toronto, and wants to spend the rest of his career here. A man who can lead the team for years, and won't wish he's on the other side of the border. The Raptors don't have that guy, but DeMar DeRozan is the closest thing they've got.
He has yet to reach his full potential (we hope), and has the talent to be an All-Star in the coming seasons. The most important thing though, is that he wants to play in Toronto. He's not interested in New York, LA or Boston. He's happy playing in T.O, and instead of focusing on where he'll be heading this summer (i.e Dwight Howard), he's focused on getting the Raptors a ring.
Considering DeRozan's current quality of play, the Raptors did overpay for him, but if he's able to develop into the All-Star some predict, this move won't be so bad after all.
GRADE: DeRozan has a lot of potential, and most importantly wants to play in Toronto. B