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The Raptors need soul, not skill, from the 14th roster spot

The Raptors need to sign a big man. Here’s the case for a reunion with a former fan favourite.

2012 NBA Rookie Photo Shoot Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images

The Raptors are in the market for a guy, though not really out of necessity as much as technicality. Toronto’s roster has more useful wings than Nick Nurse can realistically use, three times as many good point guards as most teams employ (infinitely more than the Magic do), and a small but stout collection of big men whose skills blend well in all directions. Anyone who will matter for the Raptors this season is probably already on the roster.

There’s that pesky, open 14th roster spot that needs filling before the season, though.

Because of the team’s construction and lack of financial wiggle room, it’s probably destined to be filled by someone underwhelming and tall. But because it’s late July, the question of who will fill the role of sparingly-used big man depth is all Raptors fans seem to have on their minds.

Some positively unsexy names have been bandied about as possible Toronto targets by those in or around The Know. HoopsHype’s Alex Kennedy, for example, reported Monday that the Raptors are working out free agent bigs Christian Wood and Thomas Robinson. Wood’s put up gaudy G-League stats over parts of the last three seasons, his most sterling line coming last year with Delaware where he averaged 23.3 points and 10.4 boards a night over 45 games. He’s also failed to find any traction with a pair of putrid teams — the 10-72 Sixers in 2015-16 and the 2016-17 Hornets who relied on a whole lot of Roy Hibbert, Spencer Hawes and Frank Kaminsky up front, so... shoulder shrug. Robinson was a Sacramento Kings lottery pick. No front office should want to invite that evil into their own home.

From the realm of more proven NBA contributors comes Greg Monroe, the former Piston, Buck, Sun and Celtic, who may be the most talented player left unsigned this summer. Per TSN’s Josh Lewenberg, the Raptors may have some interest in making him their fourth big man.

With 13 players on guaranteed or partially-guaranteed deals, the Raptors are looking to fill that 14th spot with another big and have shown interest in a number of available players, including former Pistons centre Greg Monroe, according to league sources. Monroe, one of the biggest names left on the market, wouldn’t address their most pressing front court need - rim protection - but could give Toronto another experienced and gifted scorer, and some more depth, off the bench. They can use the smaller mid-level exception of up to $5.3 million to sign another player, if they choose, although they’re already projected to pay a sizable luxury tax bill, and may decide to fill out the roster with more cost efficient options.

How about no!

Talent-wise, sure, adding Monroe to the roster makes some sense. Having good players top-to-bottom is never a bad thing. As an insurance policy for the event one of Serge Ibaka, Jonas Valanciunas or Pascal Siakam misses extended time, Monroe would be preferable to a Wood, or Robinson, or some other unreliable minimum signing. Monroe’s not much as a defender, but brings enough post acumen and passing from the elbows to probably be a decent enough fit in Nick Nurse’s offense — particularly as a JV stand-in.

But it’s because of Monroe’s strengths and resumé that the Raptors should steer clear of bringing him in, whether on the taxpayer mid-level exception or something more meager.

Toronto doesn’t need more than three skilled big men under its current construction. This is a team that oozes with positional versatility following the additions of Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green. It has point guards that can play the two, wings that can slide in anywhere between shooting guard and small forward, and a pair of fours who could — and probably should — see time at centre. Valanciunas (and maybe Fred VanVleet depending on who you think is the point guard when he plays with Kyle Lowry) is the only player on the team that will see time at a single position this year. Nurse’s NBA 2K rotation sheet is going to be a nightmare for the organized mind. Adding Monroe, who’s good enough to warrant at least a handful of nightly minutes, would only make Nurse’s task harder, and be a hindrance to the Raptors having their most league-savaging lineups on the court as often as possible.

Between the Siakam-Ibaka pairing that should have played oh so much more during the playoffs, the Lowry-Green-Leonard-Anunoby-Siakam wet dream of a defensive unit, or even the Ibaka-Valanciunas partnership that posted a +6.7 NET Rating over 1,401 minutes last season, the Raptors have so many ways to roll out extremely bitchin’ lineups, whether with one big or two. Toss in Monroe for 10 minutes a night, and you’re actively taking that many fully-optimized minutes away from every Raptors game.

Worse might be better for Toronto’s 14th roster spot. Someone below the status of Monroe — a guy content with only figuring into the nightly rotation should one of the Raptors core three bigs go down — is what the Raptors should be after. Conveniently enough, that tier of players includes guys who fit a Raptors need more pressing than depth or rim protection. Those things are nice, but what Toronto could really stand to add is some fan service.

While an objectively good trade for Toronto, the Leonard for DeMar DeRozan swap was undeniably ghoulish. Though it’s made the Raptors roster into what should be a metronomic spewer of good results, the departure of DeRozan left the team with a vacuum atop its likability power rankings. Why not dedicate the marginally valuable 14th roster spot not to on-court utility, but to punching up the Raptors’ spiritual juice.

There are options available to fill the role of overqualified mascot. Though, regrettably, the most perfect match is employed by the dastardly Sixers. If there’s one aspect of the Leonard trade that Masai Ujiri duffed, it’s that he waited to pull the trigger until after Amir Johnson damned himself to another year of being an under appreciated depth piece in Philly. What better way to replace a former Young Gun than with yet another former Young Gun? Whatever PR hit the DeRozan deal incurred would have been wiped the instant Amir cut his signature smile loose at his introductory presser. Alas, the front office must look elsewhere, at least until next summer when Johnson’s available again.

David West’s name pops off the list of remaining free agents. Signing the two-time champion would infuse the Raptors with the kind of valuable old-guy energy that hasn’t been seen in these parts since Luis Scola, the difference being West wouldn’t have to start 76 goddamned games for this team. Free of the burden of playing every day, West would have time to do important things, like impart Dad wisdom upon the Raptors youths, while also offering a pair of fists to sub in for Ibaka whenever he starts feeling punchy. West is in a perpetual state of wishing a motherfucker would. Count him as an intriguing option no. 2.

There is only one truly correct answer to the question of who the Raptors should sign to fill their 14th roster spot. And that answer is former Raptor turned three-point-gunner Quincy Acy. Once the crown jewel of Kings’ return in the John Salmons trade, Acy checks all the boxes.

He’s used to spot rotation duty, having eclipsed 1,000 minutes played just twice in six seasons. Acy offers sentimental value — a former Raptors pick who achieved fan favourite status despite playing just 29 games with the club, and part of the trade that sparked the best era in the history of Toronto hoops. A more articulate person would have something poetic to say about his return to Toronto coinciding with the departure of the player and coach who most defined the years Acy missed out on. He’s a delightful interview, and at 27 would still be among the team’s more wizened vets; not quite West, but still a fatherly presence. Having played with the Kings, Knicks, Nets and Bargs-era Raptors, he’s seen some shit, and just might relish a spot on a contending team, even at the expense of regular minutes.

It’s less important than all of his intangible virtues, but Acy’s also a pretty good player! The only thing last year’s Nets gave less of a shit about than winning was conforming to league-wide norms. As a result, Acy got to nurture the inner gunner than lies within all of us, jacking up 4.2 threes a night over 70 games, connecting on more than 100 for the year at a clip near 35 percent.

The Raptors have a plenty of shooters you’d want heaving shots ahead of Acy. That’s fine. His role wouldn’t require him to be a crucial cog in Nurse’s night-to-night plans. Acy would be serving a far more noble and ineffable purpose in his return to Toronto. Ujiri had to make the Leonard deal to maximize the roster’s skill. Signing Acy would start the process of restoring its soul.