Ahead of the official start to free agency, the Raptors have reportedly sent out qualifying offers to two of their restricted free agents. That’s news, baby!
The first, Patrick McCaw, appeared in 26 regular season games last year with the Raptors and was on the playoff roster for their march to the title. That championship outcome makes McCaw a three-time winner and, somehow, 3-for-3 in his career. In those 26 games, McCaw put up 2.7 points, 1.7 rebounds, and 1.0 assists while shooting 44 percent from the field and 33 percent from three. His post-season presence was mostly invisible, shading towards negative (with our guy Daniel Hackett in particular losing his mind every time McCaw took the court in the playoffs). At 23, McCaw may be what he is — an offensively limited wing with some solid (or even elite) defensive skills. The Raptors may gamble on that, or the eventual price for McCaw may be too high.
The second name is an expected blast from the past, Nando De Colo. We’ve said what we can about him already — I’ll put the link here again just in case you missed it in the last sentence.
The Toronto Raptors have tendered qualifying offers to both Nando De Colo and Patrick McCaw per league sources.— Keith Smith (@KeithSmithNBA) June 24, 2019
This makes both De Colo and McCaw restricted free agents and the Raptors will retain the right to match any offer sheet either player signs.
As Keith Smith outlines above, this puts the Raptors in something of the driver’s seat going forward with both McCaw and De Colo. They can’t dictate the market for them, but it will allow them to decide whether they want to keep them on their roster or not. As restricted free agents, Toronto will the last word on each of their short-term career fates.
For McCaw, Hackett outlines what could or could not happen:
To maintain his rights, the Raptors will need to extend [McCaw] his qualifying offer (QO), which is a one year contract offer for $1.9M. He can accept that, or negotiate another deal with the Raptors or another team. The Raptors don’t have his Bird or Early Bird rights, so offering him a contract above that salary (or matching such an offer made by another team) requires them to use an exception.
The minimum salary they can offer a free agent is about $0.9M, but for tax purposes (which will be crucial, as we will see momentarily), will count as $1.6M. So the $1.9M QO for McCaw is very low risk and provides the team a level of control over a player they might want to hold onto.
Those “tax purposes” Hackett mentions there are outlined over here. The Raptors head into this off-season with a capped out team, such as it is, and, as you definitely know, a huge free agency question hanging over their head vis a vis Kawhi Leonard. There’s room for them to manoeuvre — because Masai Ujiri is a genius — but overpaying for a guy like McCaw could be trouble.
As for De Colo, there’s some buzz (or idealized thinking?) out there that if he fell into the taxpayer's Mid-Level Exception, e.g. $5 million or so for a season, then Toronto could keep him as a less expensive option on the wing. This, of course, supposes that the Raptors would look to be cutting salary like Norman Powell. Could De Colo recreate everything Norm gives the Raptors? Maybe, maybe not — but Nando would definitely cost half as much at that MLE figure.
In any case, all of this is not entirely news — and it’s definitely not surprising. The Raptors are known as a team that likes a bit of cost certainty and likes to control its assets should any unforeseen need arise. They are not alone in doing this, but it definitely seems like Ujiri has become something of a master at it. (The Knicks, for example, would have forgotten who De Colo was in between regime changes.) While Toronto’s summer will still very much be dictated by what Kawhi does, don’t let these smaller contract issues slide by unnoticed. The pieces do matter.