Since being humbled by the Cleveland Cavaliers, now NBA Finalists, the Raptors have been largely mum. Yes, it’s true Toronto fired its long-time coach Dwane Casey, and that did indeed cause quite a stir for a few days, but that’s been pretty much it for our guys in Toronto since May 7th, the date of the Raptors’ last game. I admit, I’ve enjoyed the emotional break.
Now, to add to that growing silence, we must also acknowledge: the Raptors have no picks in the upcoming NBA Draft, and they have limited moves to make on the trade or free agency market (as we’ve talked about here and here). It’s a relatively good thing for Toronto to be quiet — as we’ll address later in this post — but it does feel like a bit of a tense time.
So, keeping that in mind, let’s ask: What’s been going on with the Raptors?
After their season-ending press conferences on May 9th, both Casey and Raptors president Masai Ujiri talked about the future of the team. On May 11th, Casey was summarily fired (but in, like, a kind way) — and that future was no clearer. In fact, it’s now 20 days later, and the Raptors are one of two teams (along with the Pistons) who do not have a head coach as the calendar prepares to flip to June.
So what’s been going on? Well, the Raptors tried to lure former Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer to Toronto, but he chose the Giannis-led Bucks instead (a fair choice, in my opinion). Since then they’ve had interviews with the Spurs’ Ime Udoka and Ettore Messina, both of whom offer stout organizational experience at vastly different levels. Udoka is relatively new to coaching, while Messina is a veteran — but both have spent the last few years training with an acknowledged master in Gregg Popovich.
And then of course, there are the Raptors’ internal candidates. To my mind, the choice there is binary: Nick Nurse or Jerry Stackhouse. Choosing one could mean the end of the other’s tenure in Toronto. Both have their qualifications (which I outlined here), which makes for a tough choice.
There is still no firm answer here, and there’s been indication one way or the other as to what the Raptors will do. Since the team will likely not be heavily involved in the NBA Draft, the pressure to have a coach in place is maybe off a bit — but I imagine having that specific personnel situation sorted come July 1st would be an organizational priority for Toronto.
Qualifying Free Agents
As brilliantly outlined by my online nemesis Blake Murphy at the Athletic, the Raptors have a few free agency situations to sort out (more than you may realize as you read this sentence). I suggest you read his whole thing at the link I provided (and maybe even get an Athletic subscription while you’re at it to help pay for my friend’s work).
Still, to summarize, the Raptors have four dudes under ostensible contract control right now: Lucas Nogueira, Fred VanVleet, Malcolm Miller, and the immortal Nando De Colo.
Starting with the last player on the list, De Colo is at this point a piece of accounting rather than an actual NBA player. It costs nothing for Toronto to extend a qualifying offer, they’ll do that, and he’ll keep making buckets of money in Russia. Godspeed Nando.
Miller, meanwhile, feels like a prospect the Raptors would like to have around, and actually playing for the team (be it the full squad or for the 905 in the G League). The price for Miller will likely be right (e.g the minimum), and having wing players who can shoot threes and defend never sounds like a bad idea.
Let’s move on to the bigger names. First, while I hate to say this, Nogueira looks like a goner to me. I just can’t figure out a situation where paying Bebe his $4.1 million qualifying offer makes sense for Toronto — and I looked this guy right in the eye and told him everything would work out for him next season. I felt confident saying that because, well, it will!
There’s no chance Nogueira doesn’t catch on with a team somewhere in the NBA (or the world). He’s too tall, and too skilled a play-maker (given that height), to not be a player. It’s just that the Raptors have too many centres, and, given their need to keep costs under control, it just doesn’t make sense to spend on a third (or fourth, if Serge Ibaka plays more there) centre. It’s tough to write this.
But now, second, Fred VanVleet. Technically speaking, the Raptors can offer FVV a $1.7 million qualifying offer, which, of course, VanVleet will laugh at and ignore. He bet on himself, and now it’s time for the payout.
So we already know what’s happening here: the Raptors want to keep FVV. The only question is the cost. In one sense, Toronto can afford to be patient, and wait to see what happens in this situation because VanVleet is set to be a restricted free agent, which means they can match any deal he’s offered. But man, what will those offers be? And what kind of cap gymnastics (or luxury tax) will Toronto have to take on to keep Fred on the team?
My guess is VanVleet is worth $8-10 million on the open market — which sounds like a lot. Maybe other teams don’t want to pay that much for a back-up guard, maybe they do. Either way, I feel confident in saying the Raptors will match whatever offer sheet he signs.
The Colangelo Situation
In case you missed it (which, uh, really undersells the enormity of what I’m about to write here), you might want to sit down: Bryan Colangelo, current GM of the Philadephia 76ers and former GM of the Raptors for seven years, may have a bunch of burner Twitter accounts out there getting up to no good.
That’s what the Ringer’s Ben Detrick reported here, in one of the more epic and bizarre sports stories we’ve seen as of late.
The Raptors connection here is obvious, and the story actually reports on some of the tweets from at least one burner account that tell on Masai Ujiri (the man who slowly pushed Colangelo out of Toronto) and the team, particularly over the past two seasons. In the days since this story has dropped, it has been fascinating to read commentary from reporters like Sportsnet’s Michael Grange and the Toronto Star’s Bruce Arthur, guys who are, or have been, connected to BC a touch closer than most other media members in North America by dint of their position in the Toronto sports scene. (It’s a shame we aren’t getting the full Doug Smith take right now; get well soon Doug!) The main takeaway seems to be that it’s a complicated situation. Colangelo says he is totally innocent, but Detrick’s reporting also feels fairly tight. On top of that, the general feeling about BC is that it’s at least possible that he would or could do something like this.
Me personally, I’m willing to believe two scenarios. One, that Colangelo is behind it all, and really did sit around sniping at people online. (How many of us, really.) And two, that it was someone close to him — his wife, his mother, some other confidant — dutifully plugging away. This angle, which has exploded across social media over the past 24 hours, moves the story in a sadder direction. And that’s because no matter how this plays out: the Sixers have to fire Colangelo now. There’s really no two ways about it. Some of the information in those tweets, and the in-the-know commentary that came along with them, is supposed to be confidential. It’ll be hard for anyone inside or outside the Sixers organization to trust any interactions or dealings with them again until BC is removed.
So yes, while I decidedly support all of the jokes being made about his shirt collars (normal or not), it is something of a bummer to imagine Colangelo’s career being undone by something so dumb. He’ll be fine in the long run, but once again, the only real lesson to learn here is, as always: never tweet.