Last time we covered the tight situation in summer 2016. and looked at how to play in free agency that summer. It would mean the Raptors letting all their free agents go except for Jonas Valanciunas. And that only works if he doesn't sign an extension. The conclusion was that if the Raptors wanted to chase a star in free agency, perhaps 2016 wasn't the time to do it, and maybe the artificial inflation of the 2017 cap to $108 million presented a better opportunity.
So, what exactly do the Raptors have to work with in summer 2017?
Again, I'll avoid listing out the full details, just giving a summary.
Currently, the Raptors have $37.5 million committed in summer 2017, if you include Powell's final year (and that's small impact anyway as he makes the minimum) and all the Raptors' draft picks. The players locked in are DeMarre Carroll, Cory Joseph, and all the rookie scale guys - Bruno Caboclo, Lucas Nogueira, Delon Wright, Norman Powell, and four first rounders in the next two drafts. Now, maybe some of those guys or picks are traded away, but who knows what comes back in such a deal, so we won't consider trades right now. This also assumes Kyle Lowry opts out of his $12 million final year, which seems inevitable.
So that basic starting point leaves $70.5 million in cap room. If the team wants to be able to play in the "first UFA contract" market, the guys who have 7-9 years experience, they need to set aside $30.5 million in cap room. That leaves $40 million to keep as many of our free agents in summer 2016 and 2017 as possible.
So let's start with a list of who would need to be kept or let go.
So, that's a lot of players to be keeping for $40 million.
The good news is Kyle Lowry, Patrick Patterson and Bismack Biyombo are UFA's in the summer of 2017, so in theory the Raptors could chase big names, then if they strike out still re-sign those three guys. The big decisions have to be the guys who will potentially be extended this summer (JV and Ross) and the guys who would need to be re-signed next summer (DeRozan, James Johnson, Luis Scola).
That suggests a strategy. For maximized surety, Lowry, Patterson and Biyombo should be a fall back for if the Raptors strike out on big name free agents. Because if you let someone who needs an earlier decision go ahead of time and strike out, they are gone. If you strike out with only the 2017 free agents waiting, you can still try to re-sign them, or some of them, after testing out the waters. So that pushes the equation in one direction.
That leaves DeRozan, JJ and Scola, as well as potential extendees JV and Ross, to decide on ahead of time, and to use that $40 million on. I think first off we can leave Scola and Johnson off the list - those two are replaceable. Scola is not exactly going to be part of a long term plan at 35 (let alone 37, 38, 39...), and Johnson seemingly will not be getting minutes here no matter how effective he is. Throw in his relatively low value league-wide and his age (he just turned 28) and he's simply not a piece you keep as a priority.
So. DeRozan, Valanciunas, and Ross. $40 million. At least one of them has to go.
First, let's look at worst case valuations. I don't think anyone in their right mind pegs Ross as a max player. His 2016 cap hold is probably about right (just about $9 million) for the high end. Meanwhile, DeRozan's maximum is a starting salary of $25.1 million and Valanciunas' is a starting salary of $21 million.
The summer 2017 contract values for those contracts (assuming full 7.5 percent raises) are $9.6 million for Ross, $27.0 million for DeRozan, and $22.5 million for JV. The worst case options for keeping them for under $40 million then are:
Keep DeRozan (leaves $13 million)
Keep DeRozan and Ross (leaves $3.5 million)
Keep Valanciunas (leaves $17.5 million)
Keep Valanciunas and Ross (leaves $8 million)
Keep Ross (leaves $30.5 million)
Now, that's with worst case numbers, but a couple scenarios pop out. First, it is clear that the Raptors cannot keep both JV and DD in the worst case scenario for their salaries without sacrificing flexibility in 2017. Second, keeping only Valanciunas leaves a rather convenient $17.5 million in room in 2017 - and Lowry's cap hold is $18 million that summer. That could open the window of possibility of getting a max level free agent and keeping Lowry. Third, keeping only Ross actually leaves enough room for TWO mid-max offers (for veterans with 7-9 years experience). Finally, keeping only DeRozan leaves room for Patterson's cap hold, so both could be kept.
So, the worst case plans, assuming the Raptors want cap space to chase a 7-9 year maximum veteran, and keeping in mind that in 2017 the Raptors could keep all three of Lowry, Patterson and Biyombo if they strike out on the big names:
Keep DeRozan and Patterson
Keep DeRozan and Ross
Keep Valanciunas and Lowry
Keep Valanciunas and Ross
Keep Ross and chase TWO big names rather than just one
Then there is probably the ideal case, which is convincing DeRozan and Valanciunas to sign for a combined $40 million. Or for those who are not believers in DeRozan, to get Valanciunas and Ross to extend for $28.5 million combined (allowing the Raptors to hold onto Patterson's cap hold while chasing a big name).
If one assumes that Valanciunas could be signed for an amount similar to what Kanter got this summer ($17.5 million per year, but we'll play with the raises and decreases so he makes the least in 2017), that means at minimum a $16.2 million salary in summer 2017. That leaves $23.8 million for DeRozan, meaning (if we play around again and minimize salary in 2017) a deal worth an average of $26.3 million over five years.
For the second scenario, extending Ross and JV for a combined $28.5 million should be easy - if Ross gets his $9.6 million in 2017 as suggested earlier (an average of $9.9 million over four years), then it requires JV only limit his second year to $18.9 million, and an average salary of $20.4 million over four years.
There looks to be a bunch of ways to get maximum cap room in 2017, potentially without losing too much of the core to make it happen. And you can see how getting extensions done with Valanciunas and/or Ross this summer could be crucial.
Do any of these plans fit? Which ones are the best? And who do you think the Raptors potentially target in 2017 free agency?