Continuing on with their look at free agent options for the Toronto Raptors (if and when free agency arrives), the HQ turns to the small forward position.
When you look at the roster of the Toronto Raptors, a few things stand out.
For one, there's a big hole at center.
However you'd have to say that there's some promise at the power forward and shooting guard spots, and while the point guard situation isn't perfect, there's some value there.
But the small forward position?
This spot has been a problem for Toronto now for years, or as Bryan Colangelo likes to remind us, since Jose Garbajosa suffered a career-altering injury.
There have been many attempts made to upgrade that position, from Hedo Turkoglu to Carlos Delfino, but none have stuck and last season Toronto's PER of 12.2 at the 3 was bested by only the New Jersey Nets (9.1 thanks to guys like Travis Outlaw and Stephen Graham), Cleveland Cavaliers (10.0 - Alonzo Gee and Joey Graham anyone?) and LA Clippers (10.4 - Ryan Gomes and Jamario Moon).
That being said, James Johnson did show some flashes as the season progressed, both in terms of game play and advanced stats, and Colangelo's move to acquire him for a late first-round pick looks more and more like a solid decision. If Johnson can take another step next season, perhaps he can at least be a reliable option going forward.
The problem is, there's no certainty that this will occur, and given Johnson's age (he'll be 25 next Feb) and development to date, I'm not sure the Raps should be putting all their eggs in one basket.
So with that in mind, let's take a look at the free-agent situation at the small forward position.
The "I'll Hug Colangelo" Tier:
1) Grant Hill - Hill's price-tag last season was $3.2M so we're not talking about someone the Raptors wouldn't be able to afford. However it just seems that Hill is content to play out his remaining days in Phoenix, hence his application to this category.
But that doesn't mean I wouldn't be thrilled to see the Raps grab him.
He's 38 with a horrific history of injuries, but we're talking about a player who played in 123 of a possible 126 games the last three seasons, averaging about 12 points, 5 rebounds and 2.5 assists with great percentages. Most importantly though, his defence would be a huge boost to the club, and his veteran leadership and presence would be a huge benefit to a very young team.
The "Nice Work if you Can Get It" Tier:
1) Shane Battier - In a similar mould to Grant Hill, this other ex Blue Devil would lend a helping hand in both the leadership and defensive intensity categories. At 32, he's also six years younger than Hill with a better history in terms of health, and considering the success of Tony Allen last year, Memphis may be prepared to let him walk.
However while his salary of $7.4M last season should decrease, he's still likely one of the more in-demand free agents available, and Toronto may not be able to afford giving Battier a long-term deal and not addressing some of their other needs.
2) Thaddeus Young - Mr. Young made only $2.9M last season but as a restricted free agent with a $4.0M qualifying offer, he's due for a raise.
Can Toronto afford his services?
I'm not so sure, and considering Philly has first right of refusal, it doesn't seem like he's going anywhere.
Stranger things have happened though, and Young's rebounding, defence, athleticism and still blossoming offensive game would be a welcome addition at the 3 for Toronto. At only 23, if the Raps were going to throw around some big money at the 3, this is where I would put it.
3) Tayshaun Prince - To me, Tayshaun has gone from being underrated early in his career, to overrated thanks to his last contract situation, to now once more, being underrated as his Pistons struggled last year, and critics claimed that he and Richard Hamilton were dead weight contractually.
However we're still talking about 14 points, 4.5 rebounds and 3 assists over his last two seasons, and one of the better defenders in this free agent class. He's no spring chicken at 31, but if BC could get the original Thad Young on a short deal for somewhere around $4 to $5M, I'd pretty pretty content.
4) Caron Butler - "Tough Juice" has been one of my favourite players since he entered the league in 2002. Like Prince, he's a 31 year old vet now, and unfortunately, is coming off a season-ending rupture of the patellar tendon in his right knee.
So is he worth throwing serious cash at?
His salary of $10.8M last year will likely drop, but it's hard to imagine it falling into the $5M range that the Raps could stomach, barring major changes to the next CBA.
However as the title of this tier suggests, if Toronto could grab him he'd be another veteran presence with a professional demeanor that would serve this club well, not to mention being an accomplished scorer and solid defender when asked to play that role.
Oh, and did we mention his former assistant coach would be helping to recruit him?
5) Andrei Kirilenko - Kirilenko is kind of in the same boat as Butler and Prince; former All-Star who provided excellent value, especially on D, until he was given an egregious deal and now in his 30's, is trying to prove his best days aren't behind him.
There's no way anyone's throwing $17.8M his way (his last year's salary) but teams looking for help on D and in stretching the floor might be willing to hand him somewhere in the neighborhood of $7M or $8M per.
That's out of Toronto's price range, but if BC could get him for less than that, again on a short-term deal, it would be hard not to come away from the free-agent period with a smile. AK47 may not be the lock-down type he once was, but on a team that needs to compensate for Andrea Bargnani's deficiencies, Kirilenko, like Battier, Prince and Young, could provide some much-needed help.
The "Fine, I Guess That Works" Tier:
1) No One - With the dearth of options for the Dinos at the 5, we listed folks like Joel Przybilla and Samuel Dalembert on our free agent center breakdown as they were possibly affordable and actual upgrades for the team.
However at the 3, there's no one who fit this tier in my books.
Are guys like James Jones, Al Thornton, Earl Clark and Rodney Carney really upgrades over James Johnson or even a healthy Linas Kleiza?
It's highly doubtful.
The "These Guys are Kind of Interesting" Tier:
1) Josh Howard - To me, this is the most interesting tier in this analysis. While there are lots of big name 3's like Butler and Kirilenko, all are hardly spring chickens and likely won't be worth big deals. However there are a number of very interesting "sleeper" options this off-season, starting with Josh Howard.
Howard was at one point one of the up and coming 3's in the league, a legit 6-7 wing who could slash to the bucket and defend his position.
Injuries though, knee in particular, have resulted in only 105 games played since late in the 2008 season, and at nearly 32, he's just not the same explosive player he once was.
But as an option off the bench for a fraction of his former salary? I like this idea a lot however if I'm Colangelo, it's contingent on numerous medical reports and analysis that indeed says his knee is fully healed.
2) Kelenna Azubuike - Mini Josh Howard. Like Howard, Azubuike was an under-appreciated slasher out of college who really started to come into his own a few seasons, until knee injuries side-tracked things.
With a second knee surgery last spring, he might finally be on the road to recovery and at only 27, is probably a safer gamble financially than Howard.
3) Chris Douglas- Roberts - Is he a 2? A 3? With size to play the 3 and a good scoring touch at the 2, CDR remains one of my favourite sleepers in the NBA. He hasn't exactly lit up the league since being drafted about three years ago but in a more offensive-minded system with legit playing time (like Toronto), he could break out. Plus his price tag (less than $1M last year) makes him one of the more attractive "upside" players.
4) Reggie Williams - An argument could be made that Toronto should be focussing on defense instead of offense in free agency, but efficient offense is always in demand. That's what Reggie Williams provides thanks to 41% shooting from long-range, and a true shooting percentage of nearly 60%. At about $1M a season, this 24 year old could really help the Raps stretch the floor without being a pylon on D.
5) Shawne Williams - Basically Reggie Williams' double, Shawne shot about 40% from downtown for the Knicks last season and showed that he could play a nice role as a floor-stretching 3. He'd come at a pretty cheap cost and while not overall as effective a player as Reggie, could still be a nice addition off the pine.
The "Just Say No" Tier:
Jamarion Moon, Jason Kapono, Peja Stojakavic.
Been there, done that.