With the Raptors off-season continuing apace, day after day, it's time to look at some of the possible ways in which things can happen for Toronto in the NBA free agency period. Today starts the discussion: Four scenarios, two Dans, one Raptors future. How will it all play out?
Grant: As Sean Woodley and Daniel Hackett have courteously and graciously informed us, the Toronto Raptors have major off-season decisions to make, and not a lot of time in which to make them. The draft is just over two weeks away and the cap situation, as currently projected, is less than ideal. Toronto is swimming in assets, however, and it's always positive to have cards to play. It will take some creative manoeuvring to ensure things land just right, especially with the multiple scenarios that are in play.
Here in this pre-draft world, a wondrous wasteland of possibility beckons. Each of the starting scenarios for the Raptors off-season (and we've narrowed it to four) hinges on the Raptors two major free agents, DeMar DeRozan and Bismack Biyombo.
I tend to get a bit fanciful, so I decided to enlist Hackett to help keep me anchored in reality. We'll consider one scenario per day over the next four days. Kick back and enjoy. Or you know, skim until you begin frothing with rage; anything is possible at this moment!
Scenario 1: The Nightmare
Bismack Biyombo and DeMar DeRozan Both Leave in Free Agency
Grant: This is the most difficult situation to project, because it's by far the most unlikely. Toronto is a winning team in a good situation, and both players have expressed that they want to stay (and one of them probably will). If they both didn't, it would be a harbinger of change for the franchise.
Envision it. The Raptors decide to retain DeRozan and let Biyombo walk. Bismack receives 4 year offers at 16-17 AAV from, lets say the Blazers. Toronto gives him a hearty handshake and recommends a solid taxi service to take him to Pearson. But then, disaster! The Lakers (or someone else) offer DeRozan a max deal over 4 seasons and he decides to bet on himself earning that fifth year money in 2021. He gone.
Just thinking about this fills me with despair.
What do you think Hackett?
Hackett: In terms of team building, this result would be a disaster. Your big man depth is immediately shot -- you have to hope Lucas Nogueira can step into a full time role at centre, plus the questions would remain at power forward -- and the entire structure of your offence is gone too. One of those things is bound to happen, but both is a huge hit. Not only that, but one of your highest value assets walking for nothing hurts. But even more so, when you are sitting primed to go above the cap -- now your asset is walking and not even leaving enough cap space to replace him with. With both players gone, if the Raptors let all their other free agents' rights go, they are sitting on $18.8 million in cap room. That's not nearly enough to be big players this summer. Max level guys will be getting 26 million -- even players coming off rookie scale deals will max out around 22 million. Even if you cleared a few million to make an offer, there's always the risk their team matches (as these players would be restricted free agents). Not good.
Post-Draft Committed Salary (Minus Incoming Rookie Contracts)
Grant: As you can see (if you do the math), the Raptors are left with 71 million dollars committed to a depleted roster, and gaping holes in their primary rotation. They'd have that 18.8 million in cap space, sure. But as Hackett mentioned, that doesn't sniff a max deal under the new cap -- 18.8 million sure doesn't buy what it used to.
So what the hell would the Raptors do?
Hackett: Two options: First, fill in the holes that are left however you can. Hunt for a scorer who can handle the ball or a big who can start at PF. Though the odds are in this market with that 18.8 million, you are getting only one of those things. Maybe whoever you pick at 9 fills one role and you hunt for the other in free agency. Second option (and my preference): Clear a little more cap space, go head first into the bidding for the top free agents. Moving Ross, for example, would give you the $26 million you need to get into the market for Durant, Horford and Batum. Being able to bring in a guy like Horford or Batum if DeMar walks could bolster your starting lineup to the point where maybe you don't drop off all that much -- a guy like Horford in particular solves the big man problem that Biyombo leaving causes as well as the usage problem that DeRozan leaving does. And obviously the pipe dream of grabbing Durant would make all the bad thoughts go away.
Grant: Durant? Settle down Hackett, you're here to be the voice of reason! Still, I agree with the principal behind your course of action. It makes logical sense to move out a guy like Ross to free up the capital to make a play for a big talent, since you'd in theory have just lost one. I'd argue that strategy makes sense even if you don't lose them both (more on that tomorrow!). You can't replace DeRozan and Biyombo with a gaggle of less-talented players and hope that cumulatively their roles get filled. In basketball, more than any other sport, the saying 'four quarters doesn't equal a dollar' is a universal truth rather than a philosophy.
So sure, you could try and sign some lesser free agents and trades are always an option. But look at this free agent class. There are some nice names at the top to be sure, but otherwise, woof. You'd have needs for a rebounding/defensive big, and you'd need to add a starting guard -- maybe less of a scorer than DeRozan was, but certainly someone who can put some points on the board when necessary. What names fit that bill? Dion Waiters or Courtney Lee at guard? Marvin Williams at forward? Jason Smith or Jordan Hill as bigs?
Does a year of leaning on a now solo Kyle Lowry and a more involved Jonas Valanciunas sound like fun? I mean maybe it could be in a parallel universe. But it also sounds like a huge step backwards from the success of this season, unless you're able to defy the odds and land a big fish. Even then, you'd just be treading water. With Lowry likely to opt out of his contract following next season, Toronto needs to make sure they retain DeRozan, or it might be time for more drastic changes. If DeRozan and Biyombo are both gone, you might as well deal Lowry, Patterson and Carroll too, and use those four first rounders in the next two drafts to start rebuilding around JV and your other young assets.
I ain't ready for that!
Good thing it won't happen.