As we close in on zero hour of NBA free agency, there are still a lot of questions surrounding what the Raptors will (or will not) do. As has been discussed elsewhere, for the Raptors to contemplate some bigger signings, some decisions and/or trades will have to be made. Still, whether with big cap space or small, who should the Raptors pursue in free agency?
(By the by, you can see SB Nation's ranking of the 2016 free agent class here.)
The Big Two
Let's get right to the main event here: Al Horford and Nicolas Batum.
If you checked SB Nation's ranking, you'd see that Horford is at number five and for the Raptors, a team that would love to have an uber-skilled (and adaptable) big man on their roster, he's a no-brainer target. Granted, to get him the Raptors would have to clear considerable cap space (bye to re-signing Biyombo for sure, and Terrence Ross, and probably some more names I don't even realize). You could also make the argument that Horford is at his best playing centre, but as he's proven -- whether paired with Tiago Splitter or Paul Millsap -- Horford is the kind of player who makes things work. I don't believe it is a wild stretch to play him at the 4 in a big lineup with Jonas Valanciunas, and you could easily stagger his minutes with bench lineups as well.
One final note: let's not forget that Horford is 30. Signing him would signify that the Raptors are making a big push to challenge Cleveland (the presumptive Conference favourites) right now. It's risky, is what I'm saying -- especially since they'd have to dump/trade players just to get him. For a team that is also riding an ageing point guard in Kyle Lowry, this could be a contract albatross in a couple of years. But what a couple of years they could be!
A push for Nic Batum is, like Horford, the signal of an all-in move. And like Horford, Batum strikes me as the type of player who's adaptable enough to fit in with whatever lineup, even if he's not quite what the Raptors need in terms of position.
Batum's best spot would be as a point-forward, where the Raptors don't need help, and on the wing, where the Raptors (right now) don't need reinforcements. Like DeMarre Carroll, Batum could probably run out there in a small ball lineup at the 4, but this is not where you'd like to see him spend his time. Still, Batum can defend, he can make plays, he can shoot, and he can do a lot of little things that turn teams from pretty good to solidly great. To get him however, you'd have to be sure you're OK with giving up some things (again: Ross, a chance to re-sign Biyombo, etc. etc.)
Powering the Forward Spot
If you're abandoning the dream scenarios for the Raptors (where they have to give up considerable assets), then it comes down to positional and contract fit. As constructed, with their rookies and development projects and everything, the most obvious need for the Raptors is at power forward. That is to say the still don't have one who could start. They also don't have a ton of available cap space. Conundrum!
Patrick Patterson is great, but I'm in the camp that likes him off the bench playing in the 25-30 minute range. He can play more, but the team should look to find a true starter. The only other PF they have on the roster is rookie Pascal Siakam. (And no, I don't think Jakob Poeltl is playing the four just yet, or ever.) The problem is, there are not a ton of guys they can afford.
The Raptors need a PF who can defend his (and maybe other positions) and rebound. They'll have enough offense around the position that scoring isn't really super necessary. Some shooting range would be nice, but come on, you can't have everything. Names like Darrell Arthur (good), Jon Leuer (he's got some range!) and Andrew Nicholson (we are out there) are maybe guys worth having a look at. They can be signed for reasonable-ish money, but they don't really solve this PF problem.
I wish I had a more firm solution here.
Other Funky Options
There are other wild ass options out there. Would the Raptors be interested in the offensive power of late-period Al Jefferson? How about Pau Gasol, could they afford him? What if they double-downed on small-ball power forwards and went for Solomon Hill (who almost killed the Raps last season)? Where does Luol Deng fit in all of this? Can you pair him with DeMarre Carroll to create some sort of uber-switching three-four combo?
Finally, and most fun, what if the Celtics decide to cut bait with a power forward they have on a non-guaranteed contract. Who is that player? His name is Amir Johnson.
NBA free agency!
(And I think that's my signal to throw it to the comments. What do you guys think?)