Zach Lowe's Tuesday column on the Charlotte Hornets might not have been an eye-catcher for the average Raptors die-hard. While Lowe's articles are typically in the "must-read" category, you can justify not dedicating 15 minutes to reading about the Hornets; when a court design is the most exciting thing about a franchise, it's not a great sign.
But if you happened to read Lowe's Charlotte deep dive (or if you're one of those people that gives his articles the old 'Control+F-Toronto' treatment - don't lie, I know you've done it), you would have seen this interesting nugget about forward Nic Batum:
Batum is an impending unrestricted free-agent on a borderline playoff team, diving into an unprecedented cap frenzy in which two-dozen suitors could offer $20 million per season. Batum's people have already made noise about how much Batum would like to play in Toronto, a city that appeals to his international roots, per several league sources.
And with one block quote, a piece of mid-summer content is born.
It's still bizarre seeing "Player X would like to play in Toronto" written down in words. Fortunately, this might be the new reality north of the border. Misconceptions are starting to be disproved and Toronto is clearly climbing the NBA destination power rankings. It's pretty cool.
Of course it's a little absurd to get too giddy over this report. We haven't even started thinking about getting geared up for the 2015-'16 season yet, and anyone paying attention knows how quickly things can change in this ever-evolving beast we call the NBA. Batum could have a second-straight disappointing season, sustain a career-altering injury (let's hope not) or simply have a change of heart in the 330-something days between now and July 1st - we have no idea. There was also his swift response to the report today:
Nicolas Batum (@nicolas88batum) July 28, 2015
Just to make it clear... pic.twitter.com/YQTOoa5520— Nicolas Batum (@nicolas88batum) July 28, 2015
With all of that said, let's daydream a little bit. What if the Raptors really do land Batum next summer? What would he cost? How would he fit the roster? Can 'Batum' be rhymed with anything in a song? These are the questions fans and Drake need to know the answers to. So let's give it a go.
By now you probably know that the NBA salary cap is going to jump astronomically in the next couple years. This season, the cap rests at an even $70 million, but will jump to a projected $89 million next summer before shooting up over $100 million in 2017. But even with all that space, fitting a contract for Batum on the Raptors' books might be tricky next summer.
As Lowe mentioned, with a resurgent season in Charlotte, a do-it-all wing like Batum could fetch a hefty sum on the open market. DeMarre Carroll will earn $13.6 million this season - roughly 19 percent of the Raptors cap for 2015-'16. Batum at his stat-sheet filling peak is easily worth that much - so let's guess that he'd require an equal percentage of the Raptors' 2016-'17 cap; if it's $89 million, that puts Batum at a starting salary of about $16.9 million if the contract is structured similarly to Carroll's.
Toronto's cap situation is complex going into next summer. DeMar DeRozan will surely opt out of his deal in search of a near-max deal. On top of that, Jonas Valanciunas and Terrence Ross' cap holds will take up about $20.5 million if they haven't already received extensions.
Essentially, without moving substantial salaries out of town - starting with guys like Ross, Patrick Patterson, and Bismack Biyombo - it will be a tough squeeze to sign Batum at market value while holding on to both DeRozan and Valanciunas (shout out to Daniel Hackett and William Lou for salary cap fact-checking here).
Of course there is always the possibility that the Raptors could trade DeRozan this year, or let him walk, rendering all of this fretting over cap room moot. But the bottom line is, targeting Batum next summer would be an expensive and potentially core-altering endeavor.
I don't want to say I've been conducting the 'Carroll-at-the-four' train since he was brought on board, but I'm definitely sitting in Seat 1A of the first-class car. The idea of deploying a Lowry-DeRozan-Ross-Carroll-Valanciunas line-up for stretches this year is all kinds of enticing.
Ross' issues are many though. He's undersized, lackadaisical and maddeningly inconsistent. As Raptors' brass has mentioned already this off-season, he is probably too slight to be a small forward full-time, so the amount of minutes that small-ball unit will see is probably limited.
Let's forget about the financial concerns with Batum for a moment. With him in the fold, going small could be more than just a bit-part of Toronto's attack - it could the Raptors' full-fledged identity. If people were intrigued by a Wes Matthews, DeRozan and Carroll combination at the two, three and four spots, the excitement over a DeRozan-Batum-Carroll trio might pop the roof off the ACC.
Switching on pick-and-rolls would be seamless for a Toronto line-up featuring those three guys along with Lowry and Valanciunas. Throw someone like Delon Wright at the point in spurts? Good luck trying to penetrate that wall.
On offense, it's hard to pinpoint what Batum's ceiling is. The Frenchman suffered a steep drop-off across the board last season. He averaged a career-worst 10.0 points per 36 minutes, shooting an ugly 32.4 percent from long range.
What led to his downturn though?
Firstly, you have to acknowledge that Batum was fighting through a series of nagging injuries throughout the season - including wrist and lower back problems that could easily be used to explain his depressed shooting numbers. Factor in Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge both posting career high Usage Rates this year, and Batum's slip on the offensive end makes some more sense.
It'll be interesting to see if Batum is relied on more heavily for shot creation in Charlotte than he was in Portland's stacked starting unit. If he can rebound his shooting totals this year as a second scoring option behind Al Jefferson, the Raptors could possibly justify signing Batum and letting DeRozan leave as a free agent because Batum does so many other things well.
I'll spare you. Drizzy will figure something out I'm sure. Maybe we'll see an English-French collaboration with Win Butler's wife?
What do you make of Nic Batum's rumoured interest in the Raptors?