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Raptors Mailbag: Amir Johnson's future, DeMar DeRozan's present struggles, and more

Answers to your questions.

Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

We asked you for questions, and you responded. Here's our first mailbag!

What do you think the Raptors should do with Amir Johnson? He's the heart of the team, but his health problems combined with poor rebounding and defense against stretch fours are concerns moving forward. He deserves a decent payday based on the player he is, but the Raptors could use an upgrade at that position and a loyalty extension could end up looking like Anderson Varejao's in Cleveland in a hurry. Do you think Masai Ujiri should test his trade value and look to move him? - Justin Rowan

Amir is definitely the heartbeat of this team, as Steve Kerr refers to Draymond Green in Golden State. The numbers are not always there on the box score, but he's a very high IQ player and does a lot of things on both ends of the floor that help facilitate what the Raptors are trying to execute within their sets. I've thought about this a lot, and with Amir set to his free agency this summer, it's interesting because of how much Masai has emphasized chemistry and continuity. If you're going by that logic, then it seems like a no brainer to bring back Amir, who is obviously a big part of the locker room, a fan favorite and has endured himself to the city of Toronto.

But like you mentioned, at what cost will that be, and will the long-term contract he signs bring back value in say, year three and year four of that deal? In an ideal world, I think the Raptors would love to have him back on something like a three-year, $36 million deal. But given his impact and the value of big men with his skill sets on the market, he'll probably command more years and dollars, and he definitely does not owe the Raptors anything in terms of giving them a discount. If that's what he wants to do in order to return, all the best.

Here's another thing to consider: Amir will be 28 when he hits free agency this summer but will have played ten seasons in the league. He's always struggling with various ailments, and while he plays through most of them, some nights it appears he has a lot of trouble even jumping and competing for rebounds. In this way, he reminds me a lot of Joakim Noah in Chicago, an impactful player who is always injured or playing hurt.

Those are a lot of things to consider. I'd like Amir back, but if Masai finds another option on the market (younger and cheaper, or more expensive but more reliable), I would be okay with that too.

And no, Amir won't be traded at the deadline. He's a key part on a team that's lining up for a playoff run.

What do you think the Raptors will be able to do with this summer's cap space? Would it be foolish of me to get my hopes up for Draymond Green or Jimmy Butler? - Kashtin Fitzsimmons

Here's the list of restricted and unrestricted free agents this summer. The restricted free agent field is absolutely loaded. You mentioned Green and Butler. As well: Patrick Beverley, Brandon Knight, Reggie Jackson, Tobias Harris, K.J. McDaniels and Kawhi Leonard, to name a few more.

I don't think the Raptors will be huge players in unrestricted free agency, and most of the top guys -- Marc Gasol, LaMarcus Aldridge, Rajon Rondo -- are likely to re-sign with their teams. The restricted free agent market field is tricky, if only because these teams can match any offer, although as we've seen with Jeremy Lin and Chandler Parsons in recent years, contracts can certainly be structured in a way to force a team to decline and move on.

I think the Bulls will match any offer for Butler, even if it's the max. Green is an interesting name, but I can't see the Raptors getting into the mix especially since it's likely he'll get a number approaching the max, and it might not be a fit for Toronto given they have guys on the wing who are entrenched in their spots, or are still developing. I love Green, but I'm not sure if he'd be a financial fit for his price.

The one name that interests me is Tobias Harris. He'll turn 23 in July, and is averaging 17.8 points and 6.7 rebounds for the Orlando Magic. If Toronto moves on from Amir, it's an interesting option, especially since Orlando has already committed four-year, $52 million to Nik Vucevic and is still figuring out what they have in Aaron Gordon.

Do you see the Raptors making a move before the deadline? If so, who might they target? Thaddeus Young seems like the best veteran talent that is still on the trade market for what the Raptors have to offer.

It's a boring answer, but I really don't see the Raptors making any moves at all outside of maybe adding someone to the end of the bench as a depth move, something minor. Jeff Green was a name that was floated around earlier this year but he was moved to Memphis a few weeks ago. There's really not a name out there -- including Thaddeus Young -- that seems worthwhile for Toronto to make a move right now. They have a rotation that, when healthy, is pretty set. The Raptors have a bunch of expiring contracts in theory that they could move (Landy Fields, Tyler Hansbrough, Chuck Hayes, Amir Johnson, Greg Stiemsma and Lou Williams), but Amir and Lou aren't going anywhere, and the rest of the guys would fetch a minimal return.

So, long story short: no.

Not trying to spill Haterade, but the Raptors have had great timing putting together a competent team during a lull in the Eastern Conference for the past two seasons. How much is this season, and this roster, a setup for disappointment once the East becomes decent again? Or are we to believe that what the Raptors have is good enough for several more playoff berths? - Kelly McGuiness

I'm not sure if the success of this team the past few seasons is because there's this sudden lull in the Eastern Conference, but more because this team accidentally fell into a competent roster while they were trying to rebuild and bottom out.

I don't think anyone is disillusioned by the fact that this season, or this roster as currently constructed, is a championship contender. Or at least I hope not. Talk to anyone who follows the team closely, and I don't think anyone would venture to think this is a team that can win four playoff rounds this year. Now, if we're talking about fans who dare to dream, that's a different story of course.

The Raptors are an above average team in the Eastern Conference, and even as other young teams start to make a move, this roster is set up to be a playoff team for the next several years. You have to keep in mind, at the same time that teams make a move up the standings (see: Atlanta, Cleveland and Milwaukee this year), others are falling (see: Miami and Brooklyn this year). The Raptors are in a good spot based on how the rest of the Atlantic Division teams are, so they'll be in the mix.

As for taking that next step to become a title contender? It's a challenging thought. Will Jonas Valanciunas and Terrence Ross develop and become two internal pieces who can propel the team to the next level? Is there a move to be made in free agency or trade that would allow the Raptors to add a superstar? All of that remains to be seen.

What’s up with DeMar since he came back? He looks lost.defensive rap

(Note: I'm writing this prior to Sunday's game against Detroit so the stats won't include that game)

DeMar did score over 20 points in each of his first three games back from injury, but yes, he's been struggling this week, and according to reports, was visibly frustrated after the game in Memphis. Here's the key stat for DeMar: in three games this week against Milwaukee, Memphis and Philadelphia, he's gotten to the free throw line just three times, including zero free throw attempts against the 76ers in 29 minutes of play on Friday.

DeMar's offensive game is structured around mid-range shots sprinkled with a lot of free throw attempts. Last season, he averaged 8.0 free throw attempts per game. This season, he's at 6.5. He needs to get back to getting to the basket. I'm not sure if he's still getting comfortable on the floor after the injury, but when that aspect of his game comes back, he'll be fine.

Why did it take so long to get Terrence Ross out of the starting line up? Anybody else think it takes Duane Casey a long time to make adjustments? - high voltage rob

Casey places a high value on not changing his rotation, especially to keep his bench guys in their particular roles. Whether that's the right approach is of course debatable. I mean, when DeRozan went out with the injury, the natural inclination would have been to insert James Johnson into the starting line-up. But instead, Casey dusted off Landry Fields to keep the bench the same. Of course, once he did take Ross out of the starting lineup, the bench rotation was so out of sorts that James didn't even play in Milwaukee!

As for how long it took to get Ross out of the starting line-up. I think you have to be think about whether such a move means you'll completely lose a guy. Ross obviously struggled a lot in the playoffs last season and hasn't overwhelmed anyone this season. But when you make that move, there's no going back.

For the record, some stats to think about:

  • Lowry-DeRozan-Ross-Amir-JV, in 258 minutes this season, have a net rating of +2.5 when they're on the floor together
  • The white squad line-up, Greivis-JJ-Lou-Patterson-Hansbrough have a net rating of +12.1 in 185 minutes together
  • With Terrence Ross on the court, the Raptors have a 107.1 defensive rating. Without him, they're allowing 100.8 points per 100 possessions

Can we get James Johnson into the dunk contest with Andre Drummond as his prop? The whole world needs to see him cock the joint back and bang on him again. - the_bigE

My only contribution to the dunk contest is that someone needs to use a selfie stick as a prop. I think it might be Giannis.

Why does Zach Lowe like the Raps? Why does Simmons hate them?

Feel free to send me examples. None of the national media personalities and writers actually hates the Raptors. I promise you!

My girlfriend has this theory that Drake no longer comes to Raptors games because Bruno has filed a restraining order against him. Please advise. - Kashtin Fitzsimmons