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11 Down, 4 to Go - An Early Look at Free Agency for the Toronto Raptors

Could the Raptors be looking to make a play for a veteran presence like Battier?  Will it even matter with a lock-out looming?
Could the Raptors be looking to make a play for a veteran presence like Battier? Will it even matter with a lock-out looming?

The HQ takes a first stab at the upcoming free-agency period and what challenges lay ahead for the Raps...

Is it just me, or does this feel like a very weird time to be a fan of the Toronto Raptors.

First, the NBA draft crashes down and the team selects arguably the most controversial prospect possible.

Then, the dust settles, and the team needs to address free agency, however the whole situation may be a moot point once the NBA's collective bargaining agreement expires this Friday and the lock-out begins.

Yep, the lock-out.

There's no question this is going down, the only question I believe will be how long this thing lasts.

(RapsRepub did a good breakdown of the situation this morning, based on an ESPN podcast on the subject, worth a listen to if you get the chance.)

So while ordinarily we'd be gearing up for the free-agent period, and breaking down all the top options for the Raptors, now, we've got this weird situation where teams have to act like it's "business as usual," even though that couldn't be further from the truth.

But here are the basics.

Assuming Sonny Weems accepts the contract extension offered qualifying offer extended yesterday by the Raptors, that gives the team 11 players in tow for the 2011-12 season, and a depth chart that looks like:

PG:  Jose Calderon, Jerryd Bayless

SG:  DeMar DeRozan, Leandro Barbosa, Sonny Weems

SF:  James Johnson, Linas Kleiza

PF:  Andrea Bargnani, Amir Johnson, Ed Davis

C:  Solomon Alabi

It doesn't take a rocket scientist therefore to determine where the biggest hole is in this line-up that needs to be filled during the free agent period.

It's the 5 spot, especially since it sounds like the team is going to try and use Andrea at the 4 (hence his spot on the depth chart above.)

The top options at center?

We'll take an in-depth look at the top suspects tomorrow morning but options range from top dogs like Tyson Chandler, Marc Gasol and Nene, to possible value choices like Nazr Mohammed, Joel Przybilla and Greg Oden.

The small forward position though could probably use a boost too, and in that category, names like Shane Battier, Grant Hill, Andrei Kirilenko and Tayshaun Prince jump out.

However there's one major problem I keep running into when going through free agent options for the Raps.

It's the current line-up.

No matter you how slice it, Toronto already has commitments in place to 11 of 15 possible roster spots, and the bulk of these commitments are not great.

Players like Jose Calderon, Andrea Bargnani and Leandro Barbosa are overpaid for the production they bring to the table, and yet will likely again be counted on as top options.

And then on the flip side, the team has indeed a number of lesser financial commitments, but they're to players who have major question marks regarding their futures.

Will Jerryd Bayless be able to take the reigns as the team's top PG?

Can Solomon Alabi take another step forward and at least provide back-up minutes at the 5?

Is James Johnson ready to lock-down the team's small forward position?

We're talking about a major list of queries up and down the roster and really, the only position that I view as one of strength is the 4 spot.  Ed Davis and Amir Johnson were both spectacular last year given the rest of their teammates, and the position produced an average PER of 17.0 last year, tied for tops on the team with that of PG.

However going back to my initial comment, the problem is, even Toronto's positions of strength are still under-achievers league-wide.

According to, last year opponent PER by position versus Toronto was:

PG:  17.6

SG:  16.5

SF:  15.0

PF:  19.1

C:   21.0

The Raptors trotted out the following PER's by position:

PG:  17.0 (-0.6)

SG:  14.6 (-1.9)

SF:  12.2 (-2.8)

PF:  17.0 (-2.1)

C:  16.1 (-4.9)

As you can see, I've put the difference between league average and Toronto's PER score in brackets and essentially, the Raps employed on average, players at every position that were less productive than the rest of the league. were "out-performed" at every position by their opponents last season.

So while netting a Marc Gasol in free agency will do wonders possibly for the center position, the reality is that this entire club needs upgrades, and while free agency might help a bit, a lot of the team's "upgrading" is going to have to come organically via the club's youngsters.

This is something we're going to be keeping in mind as we go through the free agent list, position by position.

The other thing to keep in mind?

Until a new CBA is reached, we have no idea how much money the team will have to work with both in terms of the overall salary cap, and even things like the mid-level exception.

Good times.

So while we'll begin arguing why Toronto should be taking a shot at Josh Howard and Chuck Hayes tomorrow, there's not a lot of certainty in the air right now.

And for a club that's attempting to get back on the right track, that makes a tough stretch that much tougher.