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Looking Ahead to Summer 2017: Where will the Raptors be then?

With the Raptors' off-season mostly settled down, let's take a look at what they can do this season and next summer.

Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

With the Raptors seemingly done for this summer, let's take a look ahead to what they can do via trade during the season and what next summer might look like in terms of cap flexibility.

Here is the cap room situation for this season, as it stands right now. DeMar DeRozan's contract value is updated to the amount reported by Basketball-Insiders.

DeMar DeRozan
Jonas Valanciunas
DeMarre Carroll
Kyle Lowry
Terrence Ross
Cory Joseph
Patrick Patterson
Jared Sullinger
Jakob Poeltl
Lucas Nogueira
Bruno Caboclo
Delon Wright
Pascal Siakam
Norman Powell
Fred Van Vleet
Jarrod Uthoff

Salary Cap: $94,143,000
Tax: $113,287,000
Apron: $117,287,000

That totals $106.6 million committed salary, assuming one of Van Vleet or Uthoff makes the roster (and the other gets their $50,000 guarantee) or about $12.4 million above the cap. Note that the total salary towards the tax is counted slightly differently, with players like Powell (1-year veteran's minimum salary) counting for a little more salary (the 2-year minimum), and incentives counting even if they are unlikely (so DeRozan's number goes up by about $1.2 million for tax purposes -- this is still an assumption as no solid report of incentives on DeRozan has come out yet). So that means about $108.3 million in salary for tax calculations, leaving them about $5.0 million below the threshold.

Here are the cap holds for the free agents for whom the Raptors have rights of some kind. Those rights allow the team to go over the cap to sign the free agent, to various contract amounts depending on the type of rights each player has. Now that the cap space is gone anyway, this is really just a list of the players the Raptors hold rights to. Cap holds do not count toward the tax.

Nando de Colo
Jason Thompson

Trades at the Deadline

Heading into the season, the team has the option to make trades while over the cap. The likeliest range of dates for trades will be between December 15th (when most free agent signings become eligible to be traded) and the trade deadline in February. This requires matching salaries -- to bring in a player, the team must send out a similar salary. The matching rules are as follows (the first two apply only if the team finishes the trade under the tax line):

1) If the team sends out less than $9.8 million in salary, they can receive back 150% of their outgoing salary (plus $100,000).

2) If the team sends out between $9.8 million and $19.6 million in salary, they can receive back $5 million more than their outgoing salary.

3) If the team sends out more than $19.6 million, or finishes the trade over the tax, they can receive back 125% of their outgoing salary (plus $100,000).

A team can receive back as little salary as they like, they are limited in increasing their total salary, not decreasing it.

Also note, since the Raptors used the MLE, they are now hard-capped at the tax apron (listed above). They cannot go over that amount all season, so keep that in mind (as well as the amount of room under the tax I listed above) when constructing trades.

As for candidates to be moved in a trade if they manage to set their sights on a big money upgrade at power forward? Using the rules above, the goal would be to be able to bring back as large a salary as possible, ideally without going into the tax. Assuming Lowry, DeRozan, Valanciunas and Carroll are locked in as the core, that leaves the obvious trade pieces (with significant salary) as Ross, Joseph, Patterson and Sullinger. Sullinger in particular is a good trade candidate -- as we will explore in detail below, he'll be very hard to re-sign, so he might be best used as trade ballast. And then of course there is the bounty of draft picks and prospects available. The Raptors own all their own picks from here out plus the Clippers' pick (lotto protected) in the 2017 draft.

For example, Ross, Sullinger, Nogueira and both 2017 picks could fetch a decent return and can bring back as much as $22.5 million in returning salary. That covers many PF targets, including Kevin Love, Blake Griffin and Paul Millsap. In any case, that's the sort of structure you'd likely try to build around if trading for a player with a large salary.

Summer 2017

Moving on to next summer, and the reasons why we are looking at trades for this season so closely. Assuming no trades are made this season, here is the salary cap situation for next summer. This assumes all the obvious cap clearing moves are made -- that Uthoff or Van Vleet are waived before they get any guaranteed salary, and that the Raptors don't carry any player rights beyond what is outlined below. It also assumes that all rookie scale team options (for Wright, Bruno, and Bebe) are picked up this summer (which is very, very likely).

DeMar DeRozan
Jonas Valanciunas
DeMarre Carroll
Terrence Ross
Cory Joseph
Lucas Nogueira
Jakob Poeltl
Bruno Caboclo
Delon Wright
Pascal Siakam
Norman Powell

Projected Salary Cap: $102,000,000
Projected Luxury Tax: $122,000,000
Projected Tax Apron: $126,000,000

That all comes to $88.2 million committed salary. So about $14 million in cap room. As you may recall from this summer, that doesn't get you very much anymore. Plus, the Raptors also have free agents with cap holds that they might want to keep around.

Kyle Lowry
Patrick Patterson
Jared Sullinger
Clippers' Pick 2017
Raptors' Pick 2017

Note that the Raptors and Clippers picks are assumed to slot in at 25th and 26th overall, that could obviously change. In any case, assuming the Raptors want to sign their rookies after they are drafted, that means cutting about $2.2 million in cap room to keep those holds. If they want to keep Lowry, they'll have no cap room at all. Same goes for Patterson (essentially). Sullinger would leave them with the MLE, so essentially no room at all. There are other cap holds that might be in play (such as Nando de Colo's) but these five tell the story of what the Raptors are able to do next off-season.

One important point to consider: Lowry and Patterson both have full Bird Rights with the Raptors, meaning the team can sign them to whatever their salary demands are (up to the maximum salary) without needing cap room. Sullinger has only non-Bird rights with the team, so he is eligible for only a 20% raise on his current salary unless the Raptors clear cap room for him. As noted above, that would mean not carrying Lowry's cap hold, or Patterson's (they could probably keep the picks) if they wanted to offer Sullinger up to a $12 million per year deal. If he performs very well, and is looking for more, on the order of what Bismack Biyombo got this summer (about $18 million), that becomes tricky. If you let Lowry and Patterson walk, you can move Ross or Joseph and get to $18 million in cap room fairly quickly.

It is hard to envision losing Lowry (and Patterson and Ross) to keep Sullinger though. Now, if the team wanted to keep Lowry's hold on the books and still keep Sullinger, they start to have to cut salary. With Lowry on the books but Patterson walking, the team sits at $108 million committed in a $102 million cap. So they would need to shed $24 million in salary to clear enough room for a big offer to Sullinger. That can happen any number of ways, but they all require a significant loss of talent. It is probably best, for that reason, to approach Sullinger as a one year rental (and potential trade bait/ballast at the deadline).

For the record, the same logic applies to clearing cap space for any other team's free agent. If you want to chase someone and keep Lowry, you have to cut major salary elsewhere. Basically, you have to cut the amount you want to offer the free agent, plus $6 million. So for a star player who will probably want something close to what DeRozan got ($26.5 million), the team would have to shed $32.5 million in player contracts to clear enough cap room (and keep Lowry).

One final note: next summer there will in all likelihood be a new CBA negotiated, so any number of things can change -- the salary cap level, the value of rookie scale contracts, and anything else in between. So keep that in mind. Planning ahead for 2017 right now is a process filled with even more assumptions than we are usually dealing with.

All confirmed salary numbers per