Raptors Current Roster Presents Free Agency Quandry for GM Ujiri

Warren Little

For most NBA teams this off-season, they know where they need upgrades and where they are pretty much set. As Adam Francis notes, this isn't the case for the Toronto Raptors...

When I first sat down to write yesterday's article, I was prepared to list off an easy 10 free agent fits for the Toronto Raptors.

However upon doing the cap research, and looking at the remaining free agent options, that quickly dropped to five.

And then three.

The problem I soon realized was that it was extremely hard to choose free agent options for this club when we're not really sure how new General Manager Masai Ujiri wants to rebuild this team. He may still decide to take a blowtorch to things, but as of now, the dealing of Andrea Bargnani and potential signing of Julyan Stone look more like adjustments that promise to make the team slightly better next season, not send it spiraling down towards Andrew Wiggins.

Now if Ujiri had, say, moved Amir Johnson, or taken back that horrific package from Detroit in exchange for Rudy Gay in order to dump his contract, those, yes, moves like those would pretty much cement which way the team was headed next season.

Right now though it's still anyone's guess.

As I was penning the free agent piece, I got thinking about how much of a challenge Ujiri is undertaking with this club. It's one thing to take over the Charlotte Bobcats and realize that you just don't have enough talent. You'd say "look, we suck, we're playing a bunch of guys who probably shouldn't even be in the league." Then you go out and upgrade either via the draft, or trade or free-agency etc.

Or if you were to take over the Los Angeles Lakers. There you'd probably say something like "yeah, we might not be very good next year but hey, we're the Lakers, everyone wants to play for us so we'll wait a year, and cash in on next year's free-agent crop!"

But what about if on paper, the club you've taken over could be fairly good, but simply isn't for a variety of reasons?

I'm one of the more critical voices regarding the bulk of this roster but bare with me for a second.

Let's say DeMar DeRozan comes to camp with a three-point shot and due to the presence of Rudy Gay's offence, can focus more on the defensive end next season? DeRozan isn't the most laterally quick defender, but he's got enough athleticism to at least be a plus in this regard, negating therefore some of the team's perimeter D issues.

Gay, with some corrective eye-work, he comes into camp shooting daggers. He also gets lots of run with DeRozan and Lowry over the summer and theybegin to complement each other; Gay using his low-post game, DeRozan spreading the floor with his newfound range, and Lowry filling in the blanks where needed.

Lowry of course simply needs to return to his Houston version. Without Calderon or any real threat, can he settle down and play the style of game that nearly made him an All-Star only two seasons ago?

Obviously you know what Amir Johnson is going to bring, but maybe he extends his range a bit more, and of course we all expect Jonas Valanciunas to take a big step forward in development.

That's suddenly a pretty solid starting five is it not? Again, this is the rose-coloured glasses view, but it's not out of the realm of possibility that these things occur. Add in a little return to form from bench guys like Landry Fields and another step from Terrence Ross, oh, and regular double-doubles from Mr. Acy and...

Well, let's not get carried away.

The point here though is that it's really hard to talk about things like free agency when the bulk of the options that are left out there aren't necessarily upgrades over the current pieces! Sure, I'd rather have Anthony Morrow shooting three-pointers than Landry Fields, but if Fields can even get back to 30 per cent from long-range, his other attributes will overall outweigh what Morrow brings to the table.

And Corey Brewer could be a defensive pest par-excellence, but so could Terrence Ross, a superior offensive player I'd add, when given time to develop.

I just don't see many "aha" moments for the Raps' new GM during the evaluation process. This isn't the Nets who can say "Gerald Wallace...yeah, that ain't working." Or the Pistons saying "signing Charlie Villanueva to that giant deal probably wasn't a great plan. He needs to go."

In fact the proverbial sore thumb for the Raptors I'd argue was Andrea Bargnani, and he's already been dealt with.

So now comes the task of sifting through the remaining pieces to see what can be cut, what can be upgraded, adn what's fine where it is. Aside from Linas Kleiza though, there just aren't many clear-cut answers. Toronto's problem isn't so much the players they don't have, but the ones they do. Ujiri may therefore choose wait for a chunk of the season to go by so that he can get a feel for what he has to work with, instead of pushing the reset button this off-season.

The old saying goes, "sometimes the best moves are the ones you don't make."

It's not something Bryan Colangelo put to practice very often during his tenure, but we might be seeing signs that Masai Ujiri is already advocating this position.

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