There’s just over a week left before the door on the NBA’s buyout market slams shut for players hoping to jump into a new team for their upcoming playoff run. The waiver deadline is March 1st; any player bought out after that day is just another guy playing out the string with no chance at post-season glory. It’s quite the interminable sentence.
[Ed. note: this paragraph has been edited to correctly describe the March 1 deadline.]
The Raptors certainly know this, and have apparently had a 15th roster spot open all year in anticipation of potentially signing someone to fill a need. But what are those needs? And who is out their to fill them?
Before the All-Star break, ESPN Insider had some takes on this, and while some things have changed, Toronto’s needs have not. So where does that leave us? Let’s discuss.
The Raptors Have Needs
There’s an argument to be made that the Raptors want for nothing. They’ve literally played 10-men deep all year, and it’s actually been one of the best things about the squad as a whole. The fact that the Raptors can roll out all kinds of line-up combos — for defense! for offense! for size! for speed! — is really something to cherish. So then, when your roster is so solid you don’t even need your 11th and 12th men (Norman Powell and Lucas Nogueira, who could definitely find minutes on other lesser teams), what’s the point of grabbing a 13th?
For a couple reasons, actually. One, injuries happen. Let’s not dwell on that one. Two, the Raptors could always, always, always look to improve. If things carry out the way they have the last couple of years, they’re looking at a re-match down the line with LeBron James and the Cavaliers. If it’s not clear by now, they’ll need to maximize every chance they get, and hold onto every edge. Does the 13th man swing things that thoroughly? No, probably not. But he sure as hell swings it more than an empty roster spot.
So I look at it like this: the Raptors have need for more shooting (always), one more emergency wing player (if he can stretch from positions 2 to 4 and maybe help with defensive rebounding, then we’re really on to something), and sure, let’s add veteran intangibles to the list. To my mind, that’s it.
The shooting need is self-explanatory. Off the bench, the Raps have C.J. Miles and then a lot of question marks as to who can consistently hit 3s. This is not to say Norm, Delon Wright, and especially Fred VanVleet won’t knock them down too when the time comes, but more guys who can do it (and have done it before) is a good thing. The emergency wing is also easy to understand: the Raptors have been a bit thin at the position, with Powell being semi-unplayable for stretches, Miles being in and out of the lineup, and only rookie OG Anunoby readily available. Given the potency of the position, having more bodies to throw into the mix could help.
This brings us to that last need — veteran know-how. In the specific case of Anunoby, it can’t hurt to have one more old guy on the bench to calm him and the other young Raptors down and help maintain perspective. While there’s no doubt a player like OG, for example, will figure it out, he’s still a rookie and it may take more time for him to put it all together (especially since the playoffs start in less than two months).
Again, does all of this win Toronto a game or two in the post-season? Odds are no, but — as the old credo goes — still.
These Players Need the Raptors
Now the flip side of the equation: actual players out there who fit the bill. Some of the names I liked (Joe Johnson, Marco Belinelli) are already gone, having signed with other teams. (You can add Greg Monroe — who needs him! — and Brandan Wright to that list.)
Then there’s Vince Carter, who has yet to be bought out, and whom the Raptors have reportedly declined to pursue even if the option does arise. It’s not the worst decision for Toronto, given the weight carried between VC and the Raps, but it is a bit of a bummer. Anyway, it sounds unlikely Carter will leave Sacramento this season. What a way to end a career.
So who else is there?
Corey Brewer, Shabazz Muhammad, Arron Afflalo
I’ve lumped these three guys together because they’re still technically on other teams right now. Brewer is on the Lakers, collecting dust; Muhammad is looking to get off the Timberwolves (just when they got good!); and Afflalo is “helping” the Magic.
Now the downside: Brewer is a shooter by weird reputation (and volume) only. He’s been shooting under 28 percent from deep for his career, so I’m not sure he helps the Raptors much there. Shabazz is young (25) but he also can’t play a lick, and is shooting under 40 percent from the field (never mind from three, where he is shooting 21 percent). And there’s Afflalo, who seems to have aged in dog years. It was only yesterday Kendrick Lamar was rapping about him in a song, and now the best thing we can say about Afflalo is that he’s still shooting 37 percent from three. He’s definitely the best of this bunch — and the Raptors appear to know it.
Toronto’s old friend Gerald is still out there as a free agent, having been waived by the Sixers last summer. On the one hand, if the Raptors were to add Henderson, he could potentially absorb all of the bad Toronto killer vibes floating around out there and exorcise them from the city in advance of the team’s playoff run. On the other hand, the dude just had hip surgery and was already slowly falling apart.
Henderson shot 35 percent from three last season with the Sixers and he’s still only 30 years old. But he’s not exactly a playoff veteran, and, yeah, if we’ve learned anything from the NBA this year it’s that hip injuries are no joke to come back from. (Hi Isaiah Thomas!)
Boris Diaw and Ersan Ilyasova
I lumped these two together because they both feel very unlikely. Ilyasova, at 30 years old, is still putting up respectably numbers for a terrible Hawks team. They could look to buy him out just to get worse and lock up their position in this season’s tank-athon, but it feels less and less likely by the day. That said, if Ersan was available: he’d be a good fit for the Raptors. He is 6’10”, currently shooting 36 percent from three, and also averaging 5.5 rebounds. Still, would Ilyasova like to go from 25.5 minutes per game to almost none? Probably not.
Meanwhile, Diaw is currently roaming the countryside of France, putting up decent numbers in the French League as a 35-year-old savant. If Toronto did manage to lure him back to North America, it’s likely he’d be fine not having to play too much. And he’d definitely give the Raptors a ton of veteran know-how, some gifted playmaking and defensive skills, and a touch of shooting. We’d just have to see what kind of shape Diaw is in after all those months in the land of wine and cheese.
This group includes everyone from Rodney Stuckey (no way) to Derrick Williams (no thanks) to Andrew Bogut (keep him away) to the ghost of Quincy Pondexter. I won’t lie: I can’t see the Raptors adding anyone from this tier of players. There just doesn’t seem to be much on-court upside, and in many cases, the fit with the Raptors’ well-developed off-court culture would likely also prove to be, uh, not great.
To sum up, my preference for Raptors’ buyout targets is as follows: