Allow me to begin by saying a few things:
Yes, Toronto just acquired Kawhi Leonard. No, we don’t know what’s going to happen next season — not in the playoffs nor in the offseason. Yes, the Raptors current salary number is $134.2 million — larger than its ever been. Yes, Leonard will command a max salary in next years free agent market (there is the smallest of chances he opts into his player option, set at $21.3 million). Finally, yes — Toronto’s management group has an incredible task ahead of them in order to re-sign Leonard.
Leonard’s Max Contract
Let’s just get this part out of the way. Under the rules of the NBA’s Collective Bargaining Agreement, players that have 7-9 years of experience in the NBA are eligible to be paid up to 30 percent of the salary cap in the first year of their contract. The salary cap in 2019-20 is set to be up to $109 million. Leonard’s eight years of experience (after next season) means he would get $32.7 million in the first year of his max deal.
The CBA also says that Leonard is eligible for an 8.0 percent raise in annual salary beginning with the second season through the life of the contract. Assuming it’s a max deal, with a max (8.0 percent) raise based on his first year salary, Leonard’s earnings in the remaining four years will be (roughly): $32.7 million, $35.3m, $37.9m, and $43.1m.
(You’re free to go take a drink of water if you need to.)
The difference in Leonard re-signing with Toronto and choosing to sign with a team that doesn’t own his “Bird Rights” is a fifth-year on the contract, and a limit of 5.0 percent on annual raises instead of the 8.0 percent figure with the Raptors. It might not seem like a lot, but those are important differences for a player looking to maximize their value in free agency.
Now let’s look at the rest of the team.
The Salary Situation
Toronto has a huge group of players with some form of “option” (whether it be player, team or qualifying offer) for the 2019-2020 season, along with two outright unrestricted free agents in Danny Green and Lorenzo Brown. These players, including Green and Brown, are: Kawhi Leonard, Jonas Valanciunas, Delon Wright, C.J. Miles, Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby and Malachi Richardson.
Of that group, the following players have a team option: Siakam, Richardson and Anunoby. The Raptors will have to decide before the start of the 2019-20 season what to do with each of them. Meanwhile, Wright‘s status has to be worked out before the start of the 2018-19 season, or he’ll become an unrestricted free agent. Delon comes with a qualifying offer of $3.6 million, giving the team some control over his situation. I don’t believe Toronto matches any outrageous offers from desperate teams, such as those in the $14-16 million per year range, and the quality of Wright’s play next season will dictate the amount of those offers totally.
In reality, the Raptors are probably looking at an offer not too different from Fred VanVleet’s contract this past month — $18 million over two years, or a similar digestible amount over a short period of time — one that offers flexibility for both sides. Let’s call it a conservative $11 million per year over two years.
When it comes to the three of Siakam, Anunoby and Richardson, I think we’ll all assume Siakam ($2.4m) and Anunoby ($2.3m) are shoe-ins — barring trade, their options will be picked up, no question. Richardson’s option, however, is worth roughly $2.6 million — a not-so-small amount to consider when you’re paying the luxury tax. His option could easily be declined, making him an unrestricted free agent.
Player options are trickier to predict, but not impossible. It’s important to note, also, that if a player declines their option, they become an unrestricted free agent.
Valanciunas, whose player option is worth $17.6 million for the 2019-20 season, might decide that figure is worth more than he would be offered in the first year of a new contract. Clint Capela was just given a five-year contract worth $90 million total — averaging $18 million (without knowing the annual raises or starting number) per year.
With the number of high-value players on the market next offseason, Valanciunas could decide to take that guaranteed money and wait until 2020 to hit the market, when he could get a higher starting salary amount. Let’s mark Valanciunas down for accepting his player option.
Miles is a tough call. Like Valanciunas, the amount of high-quality guys could put a damper on his market value. However, he offers a totally different skill than Valanciunas, and as such, operates in a totally different market.
There’s a chance he enters free agency as the hottest shooter in the playoffs, and it becomes widely expected he will be courted by both playoff teams and those on the fringes. With that amount of attention, Miles could find it fruitful to decline his $8.7 million player option. There’s also a chance he has his worst year shooting the ball and his market is dimmer. I find that result hard to believe, so we’ll assume Miles declines his player option and becomes an unrestricted free agent.
As it stands, we have Toronto accepting the team options for Siakam and Anunoby, signing Wright to a deal worth $11 million per year, and Valanciunas opting into his $17.6 million option. Miles has declined his option in my hypothetical scenario.
Before re-signing Leonard, Green, Miles and Brown, the Raptors have over $109 million in committed salary for the 2019-20 season. Take a deep breath. After signing Leonard only in this hypothetical, the Raptors will have roughly $141.7 million committed — without bringing back Green, Miles or Brown.
Now you see the need to trim the fat.