After the Marc Gasol trade, the Raptors rotation heading into the playoffs was nearly set. They had 10 players on the roster, with the starters and key bench pieces in place. All that was left to do was fill out the back third of the roster. To start, the Raptors signed Malcolm Miller and Chris Boucher for the rest of the season (with non-guaranteed and partially guaranteed money for 2019-20, respectively). Next, they went to the buyout market, signing Jeremy Lin. The final step: bringing in Jodie Meeks and Eric Moreland for the playoff run.
Meeks, the 10-year NBA veteran, had two stints with the Raptors, first signing a 10-day contract on February 20th (which the Raptors let expire), and later signing on for the rest of the season on March 26th. It had been quite the roller-coaster ride for Meeks to be playing in the NBA again. He missed the entire 2017-2018 playoffs with the Washington Wizards, serving a 25-game suspension for violating the NBA’s anti-drug program. His suspension carried into the 2018-19 season (now traded to the Milwaukee Bucks), finally becoming a free agent on November 24th, after getting waived by Milwaukee.
So when Meeks played his first game as a Raptor, facing the Orlando Magic on February 24th, it had been 319 days since his last NBA game. A long time to miss, but it didn’t affect Meeks. He proved his value right away, drilling two threes and scoring 10 points in 17 minutes that first game.
For the Raptors, they needed a sharpshooter off the bench. The team couldn’t be certain of their wing three-point shooting heading into the playoffs. Danny Green, of course, was a good bet. But the others, Patrick McCaw, Norman Powell, and OG Anunoby, didn’t project huge confidence from long range. Meeks was a good insurance policy and he had the resume: A career 37.3 percent three-point shooter on 2,078 attempts, possessing the necessary veteran experience to perform on a new team mid-season.
All told, in two stints with the Raptors, Meeks played 22 games, 14 in the playoffs. He was a mainstay in bench-heavy units, operating in the often frustrating Pascal-Siakam-plus-four-bench-guys lineup that saw time together in the Orlando series. As the playoffs progressed, Meeks was used less, limited to garbage time minutes and the odd call from Nick Nurse, such as his eight minute stint in Game 2 versus Milwaukee.
The other guy, and the last player to sign, was Eric Moreland. He spent training camp with the Raptors on an Exhibit 10 deal, later earning a 10-day contract in February (which the team let expire) and a contract for the rest of the season on April 9th. All told, Moreland played 15 games for the Raptors, ten in the playoffs.
Moreland was an insurance policy at centre, standing behind Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka on the depth chart. Moreland, in his four-year NBA career, never had huge opportunity, but he played 67 games for the Pistons in 2017-18, averaging 2.1 points, 4.1 rebounds, and 1.2 assists in 12 minutes per game.
Even though Meeks and Moreland weren’t big time contributors, they still have reasons to be celebrated. I mean, number one, they are champions. Whether it was providing an challenge to the Raptors’ regulars during practise or cheering them on from the bench, they made an impact. And, of course, you know, Meeks had actual NBA moments too. “Jodie Meeks from Milton”, Matt Devlin said as a spattering of Raptors fans stood up and cheered for Meeks’ second three-pointer of the night during his first game as a Raptor.
Moreland had his moments too. He showed his passing ability, along with his desire for rebounds in garbage time minutes. For the most part, though, off the court is where we saw most of Moreland. He was tasked with Marc Gasol duty during the championship parade, making sure the inebriated Gasol was safe and sound.
Looking towards free agency, the Raptors, as it stands now, have ten active players on the books for next season (this includes Malcolm Miller and Chris Boucher who have, respectively, non-guaranteed and partially guaranteed contracts, and Matt Thomas, who recently signed a contract worth 4.2 million over three years). If Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green re-sign, that number jumps to 12, with the Raptors almost certainly moving above the tax apron (the Raptors would have the taxpayer mid-level exception available to them in this scenario). From there, the Raptors will need 14 contracts to be at the league’s minimum. Patrick McCaw (no bird rights) and Nando De Colo (early bird rights) are both options as restricted free agents. The Raptors second-round draft pick, Dewan Hernandez, could also be signed. But after that, who’s to say.
For now, it would seem unlikely that either Meeks or Moreland return next season. Both of them were solid in their role this season, but the Raptors, with a full summer ahead of them, might look to go in other free agent directions. No mater what happens, Meeks and Moreland can call themselves champions for the first time in their career.