In the hours after DeMarre Carroll agreed to join the Raptors on a 4-year / $60 million contract on July 1st, the possibilities seemed endless for what the Raptors could soon look like. LaMarcus Aldridge had spurned the Lakers and had already been swooned by an unexpected contender for his services in the Suns; with a meeting with Toronto still scheduled, there remained a glimmer of hope that he might pack his bags and head north of the border.
Simultaneously, the idea of Carroll and DeMar DeRozan playing alongside Wesley Matthews in a nifty small-ball configuration seemed to be gaining steam. Even if the Raptors' books would have required all kinds of shuffling to fit in one of the ex-Blazers teammates, it seemed entirely feasible that the Raptors could add to their already impressive free agent haul.
Of course, the dreams of wooing Aldridge and Matthews are now dead. The latter agreed to join a remodeled Mavs squad and Aldridge, after sampling every cut of steak on the Ruth's Chris menu for free, is now San Antonio bound.
Additionally, Orlando free agents Tobias Harris and Kyle O'Quinn might have been intriguing ways to fill the gaps at the three and four. Alas, Harris re-upped with the Magic for big money while O'Quinn wound up with the Knicks in a sign-and-trade.
It's unfortunate for the Raptors, but such is the nature of this franchise. It's clear the recent culture change is being noticed league-wide, but bringing two major free agents to Toronto in one week would have been a drastic deviation from history. That said, even though there are no legitimate difference makers left on the free agent market, it's not as if Masai Ujiri's summer of activity is over. Thanks to his careful planning and dedication to maintaining flexibility, there are still plenty of avenues for the Raptors to improve in the coming days and weeks.
We've already seen Ujiri bring in some rim protecting for the reserve unit, adding Bismack Biyombo and his anaconda arms; a move that according to Ryan Wolstat, will be done with the mini-mid-level exception and won't cut into the Raptors' remaining cap space.
With the centre position seemingly locked in, and the combination of Kyle Lowry and Delon Wright more than capable of holding down the point guard duties, the front office will now look to bolster the positions in between.
Few needle-movers remain available in free agency, but Toronto has the combination of open cap space (roughly $8 million) tradeable contracts and future picks that could put them in the mix for anyone who remains unsigned - while also leaving Ujiri with a multitude of trade options.
Carroll's addition is a handy development as the Raps' GM looks to upgrade the roster. He's 6'8, passes willingly, is fresh off shooting 39.5 percent from three, and is a tough-as-nails defender. He profiles as a perfect modern-day stretch four. As a result, Ujiri isn't tethered to chasing one style of player. He can peruse the trade and free agent markets with a widened scope, knowing that his prized signing is pliable enough to play either forward spot based on who the Raptors can reel in.
Hang on. This is about to get incredibly hypothetical.
• • • • •
The first and most simple option for Ujiri to exercise as he looks to fully form the roster is to sign one of the remaining free agent power forwards to man the bench and promote Patrick Patterson to the starting role at the four. That move would slide Carroll to the three, relegate Terrence Ross to the bench and add a dependable veteran to the second unit. Here's how the not-quite complete depth chart might look:
|PG||Kyle Lowry||Delon Wright||Luke Ridnour|
|SG||DeMar DeRozan||Lou Williams/Free Agent SG||Terrence Ross|
|SF||DeMarre Carroll||James Johnson||Bruno Caboclo||DeAndre Daniels|
|PF||Patrick Patterson||Free Agent PF|
|C||Jonas Valanciunas||Bismack Biyombo||Lucas Nogeuira|
Obviously that's not exactly what the full roster will look like. Ridnour is still likely to be waived on July 11th and Lou Williams' return remains a massive question mark. But you can see how the addition of a bench-level four would nicely fill out Toronto's reserve unit. And There's no shortage of guys available who could occupy the "Free Agent PF" hole. Players like Darrell Arthur, Jordan Hill and Kevin Seraphin could all be plucked from the big man sales rack and provide dependable minutes in a rotation.
Bringing in someone to back up Patterson at the four would firmly entrench Carroll into the starting small forward role. That's not necessarily a bad thing. However, Carroll's versatile two-way skill-set might be better put to use at the four and the team's defensive potential might be limited with Patterson garnering a starter's minutes.
Free agency might not be the path to take if the plan is to find a small forward to push Carroll to the starting four slot. Most of the very best threes - Matthews, Danny Green, Jae Crowder and the like - are off the market. And the flawed cast of remaining free agent wings including the high-usage Gerald Green, and unproven K.J. McDaniels doesn't exactly offer much of an upgrade over the incumbent Ross.
Not to worry. This is where Ujiri's careful plotting could bear fruit via trade. His former team is of particular interest here as well.
The Denver Nuggets are stuck in roster-building purgatory. They should probably sell off veterans and rebuild given their mediocre collection of talent clearly can't hack it in the ferocious Western Conference - but it's a tough pill to swallow though for a team that won 57 games in 2012-'13.
Two players from that team would look particularly good on the wing in Toronto: Wilson Chandler and Danilo Gallinari.
Given Toronto's focus on defensive upgrades this off-season, targeting players like Chandler and Gallinari, who have historically posted underwhelming defensive metrics (albeit on Knicks and Nuggets teams that weren't exactly stout), might be more palatable than it would have been before the Wright-Carroll-Biyombo triumvirate was acquired.
Both Nuggets are passable three-point shooters (Chandler: 33.9% career / Gallinari: 36.7%), and would each bring elements that Ross has never showcased in the pros.
Chandler hauled in 6.9 rebounds per-36 minutes last year, and despite not having a tremendous free throw rate, got to the line twice as often as Ross in 2014-'15 (Chandler: 0.146 Free Throw Rate / Ross: 0.074). Gallinari has dwarfed both Chandler and Ross in terms of Free Throw Rate in his career (0.410) and would bring to the Raptors a shot-creating ability that it's pretty clear Ross can't offer.
Prying one of the forwards two from the Nuggets, who should be entering an asset-gathering phase, won't be simple. Chandler's $7 million salary, Gallinari's $11 million price tag and Toronto's dwindling cap room might make the financial details tight, but Luke Ridnour, James Johnson and Ross could all be included in an outgoing package.
If Ujiri really wanted to sweeten the pot, one of the bounty of first-round picks at Toronto's disposal could also be included (although sending that 2016 Knicks/Nuggets pick back to Denver may cause the universe to implode).
Regardless of the paths Ujiri attempts to explore going forward this summer, he will have no shortage of flexibility to help him achieve the things he wants. When you consider the line-up versatility provided by the multi-talented Carroll, the plethora of passable big men on the free agent market and Ujiri's ever-expanding collection of movable assets, the potential looks of this team come the fall are many.
And judging by Ujiri's history of shrewd moves, it seems reasonable to believe the 2015-'16 Raptors will be far more attractive than the team we saw pummeled by the Wizards in April.
What do you guys think?