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NBA Free Agency Sliding Doors: What if Lowry or Ibaka left the Raptors?

With four players looking to free agency this summer, the Raptors have questions to answer. Today, we look at two big scenarios.

NBA: Playoffs-Milwaukee Bucks at Toronto Raptors John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

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?

Read Part 1 of the discussion here. Read Part 2 of the discussion here.

Grant: For the past two days, we’ve basically been setting the scene. Letting all of their free agents walk for nothing doesn’t make a lot of sense for Toronto; neither does retaining them all.

So let’s get down to the nitty and the gritty, Hackett.

Who should the Raptors keep? And once they do, how does that affect their financial flexibility? We need a more focused scope than that, so let me lay out a couple scenarios for you, and see where we land.

Keep in mind, faithful reader, these are just potential scenarios, and not endorsements, so put down the brass candlestick you’re wielding in rage until we’re all the way through.

Scenario 1

The Raptors retain Kyle Lowry, P.J. Tucker and Patrick Patterson, but not Serge Ibaka.

Hackett: Well, let’s assume we start from the same concept as in previous days — $81 million in committed salary, a $102 million dollar salary cap, a $121 million tax threshold, and assumed salaries of $31 million, $9 million and $13 million respectively for Lowry, Tucker and Patterson for next season.

Grant: It should be noted that these are the figures we’ll be using today and tomorrow. Obviously, they may wind up being tweaked a few million in either direction for any of the players involved, but they’re a reasonable starting point. Back to Hackett.

Hackett: Right away, that additional $53 million takes the Raptors committed salary to $134 million. So, is $13 million in excess of the tax acceptable? I suspect that if the team is not re-signing both of Lowry and Ibaka, they are not going to want to pay the tax at all.

So you'd want to clear $13 million in salary. That said, if the team is open to a tax bill of $24 million (and as such a total player cost of $158 million, in line with what we discussed in Part 2), then there you have it.

Grant: Great! Let’s get some sandwiches.

Hackett: Not so fast.

Realistically, however, they'll want to duck under the tax by shedding that $13 million if they can. There are two pretty obvious candidates for that: DeMarre Carroll makes $14.8 million next season, and Jonas Valanciunas makes $15.5 million. Moving either player for little to no returning salary would clear enough flexibility.

Grant: As we discussed in Part 2, a team can take on those salaries without sending any back, as long as that team has enough space under the cap. Philadelphia, Dallas and Sacramento are obvious candidates, but there are several others who could get there pretty easily, depending on how they address current cap holds.

Hackett: There's also the obvious hope that Valanciunas would bring back more that just cap flexibility, but in the current league climate, the value of big men is impossible to gauge. The Raptors may end up deciding that regardless of whatever small return or small cost would be involved in shedding the salary, it comes down to a play style decision. Presumably if Ibaka is gone, you'd want to hold onto as much size as possible, and look to move Carroll first. Otherwise you are counting on a lot of minutes from Poeltl or Nogueira (or both) next season.

Scenario 2

The Raptors retain Serge Ibaka, P.J. Tucker and Patrick Patterson, but not Kyle Lowry

Grant: There’s a growing segment of the fan-base (or at least a vocal one) that feels that because Toronto has depth at the point guard position, simply letting Kyle Lowry walk away is a viable alternative. There’s another segment that feels if you let Lowry leave, you might as well hurl a grenade at the entire roster and start over.

Putting aside any judgments for now, how would letting Lowry walk, but bringing back everyone else, affect the Raptors financial flexibility?

Hackett: If Lowry is lured away by a huge offer from a team like Philly, or decides to go west to avoid LeBron for a while, and the team wants to remain competitive, the salary picture is a lot cleaner.

Ibaka, Tucker and Patterson add up to a presumed additional $42 million, with Ibaka's $22 million subbed in for Lowry's $33 million from Scenario 1. That brings the team salary up to $123 million — just barely over the projected tax line. The team could look to shed a small salary like Nogueira's to make this work pretty easily.

Or they could aim slightly higher, and look to move Cory Joseph for a pick, get well under the tax and free up some money to sign some depth at another position, say on the wing. Perhaps Vince Carter would want a victory lap in his old stomping grounds.

Grant: Boooooooooooo!

Hackett: Boo’s aside, they could aim even higher still, and move one or both of Carroll or Valanciunas, which would allow them to bring back a significant salary in return, while over the cap but under the tax.

If the team wants to move on from Valanciunas, which would make a little more sense with Ibaka still here and presumably the bulk of the big man minutes eaten up by Ibaka and Pat, with Poeltl and Tucker backing them up, they wouldn't have to find a team with cap space anymore. They could look to bring back a player on an unwanted contract only a few million dollars cheaper than Valanciunas' — that would drop them below the tax, and probably allow them to pull more value (in form of picks or prospects) out of a Valanciunas trade.

Grant: I think that’s a more likely scenario, if Lowry leaves. I find it hard to believe Toronto would up Valanciunas, even with his limitations, for absolutely nothing, particularly if they also just lost Lowry for nothing.

Hackett: They could also do something crazy and hunt out another player in that $15-18 million range that another team might be experiencing some buyer's remorse with after the crazy summer of 2016, and move both Joseph and Valanciunas for them, if the team feels they are a better fit for what the roster ideally looks like. They’d then be shedding the combined 23(ish) million of JV and Joseph, bringing back some decent value and getting under the tax, all in one fell swoop.

Grant: So not a terrible option, in terms of finanical flexibility, but you’re basically left with the same issues. You’re capped out, and need to move out salary to add anything significant — in this scenario, to a roster that just lost its best player.

A popular notion among some fans has been that Bismack Biyombo would be a good target here — but unless Orlando moves out Nik Vucevic, it’s hard to see them having any interest in Valanciunas. Also, didn’t we see enough of what a Biyombo-Ibaka front court achieved last season? They had a -9.7 net rating in 561 minutes on the floor together. Yuck.

Other potentially available targets in that 15- 18 million range could include Detroit’s Tobias Harris, Dallas’ Wes Matthews, and Atlanta’s Kent Bazemore — not exactly a murderer’s row, and certainly not enough to replace a departing Lowry. There are, of course, myriad other targets and potential scenarios here.

Hackett: With the uncertainty of what direction the Raptors are going to move in, and exactly what a new offensive system and even team culture might look like, the possibilities really are endless.

Grant: The world is our oyster! Our financially arduous, emotionally-draining, infinitely complicated oyster.

Tomorrow, we’ll go more deeply into potential trade destinations for any of the salary dump candidates on the roster, throw out our favourite crazy trade possibilities and finally, predict what we think will actually happen with these Raptors free agents.