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An Off-Season of Addition by Subtraction?

This might be the “New Era’s” biggest off-season. Things have not started perhaps as smoothly as hoped with the NBA Draft (but really what DOES Steven A. Smith know? Please bring back Barkley and the TNT crew!) but as time since the June 28th draft passes, we here at Raptorshq continue to be more upbeat. With four draft picks, at least two of which will be on the opening day roster, what can we expect from here on in? What other roster changes can we expect?

When you look at the roster today it is almost full even when you leave free-agents Milt Palacio, and Donyell Marshall out of the equation. If the season started today here’s the guys that would be guaranteed a spot on the opening-day roster:

PG: Rafer Alson, Alvin Williams
SG: Morris Peterson, Joey Graham, Lamond Murray
SF: Jalen Rose, Eric Williams
PF: Chris Bosh, Charlie Villanueva
C: Rafael Araujo, Aaron Williams, Loren Woods

An NBA team can essentially carry 15 guys, 12 on the bench and three on the IR. We have 12 guys listed here. Well there’s your playing cast for the 2005-06 season....hold-up! Currently the Raptors have extended qualifying offers to both Matt “The Red Rocket” Bonner and Pape “Spiderman” Sow. Unless either or the two are offered huge contracts expect the Raptors to re-sign both the Rocket and Spiderman, likely using up the majority, if not all, of the teams mid-level exception. That takes us to 14. If Roko gets the buyout from KK Split that he wants that brings us to 15, the maximum allowed. So does this mean the team sits and does nothing? Hopefully not. However, any Raptor fan looking for a big free-agent signing or blockbuster deal will likely be disappointed.

So let’s take a look at the roster when you add these three guys mentioned above:

PG: Rafer Alson, Alvin Williams, Roko Leni-Ukic
SG: Morris Peterson, Joey Graham, Lamond Murray
SF: Jalen Rose, Eric Williams, Matt Bonner
PF: Chris Bosh, Charlie Villanueva
C: Rafael Araujo, Aaron Williams, Loren Woods, Pape Sow.

This is a full roster with very little room for adding a guy who may make an impression during summer league (we are hoping Omar goes off) or a veteran presence up-front which we feel should be a top priority. There are however ways to trim and/or change this roster be it through trade or buy out in order to continue to change the team’s face and atmosphere in a positive way. The question therefore becomes who should be subtracted, or even better, what moves could be considered an addition by subtraction?

GM Babcock and Coach Mitchell want guys who play “their way”. Defensive intensity, hard work, and team play. So who doesn’t fit the mold? A few names jump out at you, unfortunately it is the guys without much value. Let’s take a look:

Lamond Murray: When the Raps dealt for him and a second round draft choice on August 25, 2002 in exchange for Yogi Stewart and a future number one draft choice, Lamond was coming off a great year on a terrible team averaging 16.6 ppg, 5.2 rpg and shooting a respectable .424 from three. Unfortunately, bad luck (foot injury), clashes with coaches (Kevin O’Neal) and his ability to play the human rendition of a black hole, has killed Lamond’s productivity since becoming a Raptor. Lamond does not fit any of the criteria that the Raptors brass are looking for. With one year left on the contract a buy-out may be possible unless Isaih decides another “shooter” is just what the big-apple needs.

Eric Williams: Considered a feature of the Vince Carter trade along with the two number one draft choices. Prior to leaving the swamp he was averaging 12.6 ppg, 4.5 rpg and 2.0 apg. Solid numbers all around. By the end of the year one had to wonder if Eric believed that the further south his numbers headed the higher his chances of returning there. In some ways you have to feel bad for the guy, he signed in NJ to be close to his family off the court. Unfortunately for both Eric and the Raptors he did not “fit in” with his new family on the court. Although a good defensive player and known for hard work this is just a bad fit. Provided Jalen remains a Raptor (it will be interesting to see the final version of the CBA and the new luxury tax relief provisions which may end Jalen’s tenure North of the border) Eric will continue to come off the bench and you just get the feeling that things won’t get better. That being said Eric would still have value on the trade market in particular for a young team looking to add some veterans. Can you say Boston or the Clips?

Loren Woods: Lucky for us the Knicks drafted this guy....oh no, sorry they took version 2.0 in Channing Frye. Loren gave Raps fans a bit of hope after the first week of the season, in particular with his HARD effort against Yao Ming in the home opener. Unfortunately things went down hill and soon Loren was looking for PT like Gary Payton’s looking for a good Canadian lawyer. Loren has one year left on his contract and based on what the Raps have in terms of front court talent Loren easily has the smallest upside of the bunch. Somehow, someway Babcock will find a way to remove Loren from the front-court equation.

Aaron Williams: This guy can play ball when given the opportunity and has been nothing but a professional since arriving in Toronto even though minutes have been tough to come by. Aaron will exercise his players option for this year (approx. 4M) because it is highly unlikely that he would get the same salary through free agency. That being said, he is not in this Franchise’s long term plans and does not have the low-post skills to mentor the Raptor’s young front court. With only one year left on his deal Aaron has value in terms of an expiring contract and for some reason there is always a market for a serviceable back-up C. As an aside, he, Michael Pittman and David Boston should get together to see who has the biggest arms in professional sports.

One could make a number of arguments why virtually everyone on the current roster could/should be moved. We here at Raptorshq however, feel like these are the first guys that should be moved or somehow removed from the Raps opening day roster. That being said their respective removals do not necessarily translate into roster space, but it may lead to guys who want to play the “New Era” way. The fact of the matter is that a minor trade(s) and maybe a buy-out are likely the only moves Raptor fans can expect this off-season. Fortunately sometimes small moves can translate into great moves. With such a young team there will undoubtedly be some growing pains, but by not shaking things up too much it will allow the young guns to grow together and come together as a unit in a “team first”and stable atmosphere, something this Franchise has been missing for too long now.

Dave Randell