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Kawhi didn’t stay, so what can the Raptors do next?

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With Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green gone, the Raptors have changed quite a bit over the last dozen hours. There’s still room for optimism though when looking ahead over the next two years.

NBA: Finals-Media Day Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Kawhi Leonard didn’t stay. Which means Danny Green didn’t stay.

And that does suck for Toronto, though the championship obviously means the trade paid off big time. Now we have a little more clarity (though not a lot more) on what the path forward looks like for the Raptors.

Let’s take a quick look at the salary cap situation this summer and moving forward and regroup to think about where Masai Ujiri goes from here.

Summer 2019

First off, that tax situation that was so daunting if Toronto tried to run back the championship roster? Yeah, that’s gone now. And hey, the Raps signed Matt Thomas and Stanley Johnson, so let’s throw them on here as well.

Player | 2019-20 Salary
Kyle Lowry: $34.8M
Marc Gasol: $25.6M
Serge Ibaka: $23.3M
Norman Powell: $10.1M
Fred VanVleet: $9.3M
Stanley Johnson: $3.6M
Pascal Siakam: $2.4M
OG Anunoby: $2.3M
Chris Boucher: $1.6M
Malcolm Miller: $1.6M
Matt Thomas: $0.9M

Overall, that’s $121 million of committed salary (including one minimum salary cap hold) and puts the team about $11 million above the cap. So, still no cap space to use.

But taking into account the slightly different accounting for tax purposes, the Raptors are lined up for a team salary of $124 million, while the tax line is $133 million this year. That leaves them with $9 million they can play with before hitting the tax.

That doesn’t include any re-signing of Patrick McCaw the Raptors may intend to do. They also have most of their full Mid-Level Exception left (they used $900,000 of it to sign Thomas), so they can offer a contract up to four years in length with a starting salary of $8.4 million. They just used the Bi-Annual Exception (up to two years, $3.6 million starting salary) to add Stanley Johnson. They also maintain all the trade exceptions we noted in the original piece, listed below.

Traded Player | TPE Value
Jakob Poeltl: $2.9M
Malachi Richardson: $1.6M
Delon Wright: $2.5M
Greg Monroe: $1.5M

These can be used to absorb a contract in a trade without sending back matching salary. They cannot be combined with each other or with an outgoing player to increase the allowed incoming salary in a deal. Similarly, the MLE mentioned above cannot be combined with other exceptions or salaries to make a larger offer, and can’t be used in trades at all.

With Nando de Colo heading back to Europe once again, the Raptors only have McCaw to re-sign as a free agent now. This is discounting the guys they have limited rights to like Jeremy Lin or Eric Moreland who likely aren’t coming back to the Raptors for next season.

The Raptors will certainly not want to venture into the tax for a team that has a dramatically lower chance to contend than last year’s, so when thinking about adding a free agent (and the list of interesting players is now quite short), just keep in mind that $9 million in room under the tax line. When you add a player’s salary, reduce it by $1.6M (that’s how much a minimum salary free agent counts against the tax) to see how much of that $9M you’ve used up.

And that assumes Masai is not going to make big changes. And he might. In any case, before diving into that, we should again look ahead to see what the next couple of summers look like.

Summer 2020

You may recall this short list:

Player | 2020-21 Salary
Norman Powell: $10.9M
OG Anunoby: $3.9M
Stanley Johnson: $3.8M
Matt Thomas: $1.5M

And then you’ve got Siakam’s $7 million cap hold. Also, we had held $2 million for Toronto’s next first round draft pick. At the time we were thinking it would be low in the first round, but it could range from $2 to $4 million depending where in the 10th to 20th pick range the team lands (if they land there). There’s not much savings below 20th, while the salaries skyrocket once you start moving up in the top 10 of the draft (nearly $10 million for the first overall pick, once you include the 120 percent of scale typical rookie signing).

So let’s hold a few million for a draft pick, and keep in mind if the Raptors go the rebuild route sooner rather than later they may end up with a higher cap number on that pick.

In any case, Siakam at $7 million, the pick at $3 million, and a bunch of roster slot cap holds at $1 million a pop takes the team to about $36 million in committed salary next summer. With a projected cap of $117M (a little higher than we had before with the latest projections from the NBA), that leaves, yes, $81 million in cap room.

The maximum salary slot for that summer will be roughly $35M for an in-prime free agent, so the Raptors have two of those slots plus about $11M to keep any other of their pieces at the same time — like, say, Fred VanVleet.

That should leave loads of room for imaginations to run wild. The only downside is the fairly boring free agent class of 2020 — very little in the way of big names, much more full of high end role players than stars, and the few stars on the list seem likely to re-sign with their teams. (For example, the number one name on the list is Anthony Davis, who seems a lock to stay with the Lakers.)

But if not summer 2020, what should the Raptors look ahead to? Well, the off-season of 2021 is a far more star-studded summer, and the Raptors maintain some flexibility there as well.

Summer 2021

You’ll notice this is rather similar to the above list.

Player | 2021-22 Salary
Norman Powell: $11.6M (Player Option)
Matt Thomas: $1.8M

OG Anunoby disappears, as he is a free agent that summer. His cap hold will be $12 million (actually, it’s almost identical to Powell’s salary above). Siakam is gone because we haven’t sorted out what to do with him next summer yet, but whether he re-signs then or is extended right now, you can probably pencil him in for somewhere between $25M and $32M.

Throw in the same first round pick from summer 2020 and an additional one of equal value in 2021 (combined between $4 and $8 million — say $6 mil for a ball park), and your total salary commitment becomes (taking Siakam’s max salary) $69 million in a projected $125 million cap (by my estimation). That’s enough room for one prime max slot of $37.5 million, with about $20 million left over.

To get to two max slots, you need to find another $16 million or so. Powell opting out of his player option would help, but there’s no guarantee of that, and if he’s opting out he’s probably a player you’d like to keep. But if he’s opting in, you probably don’t need him on the roster — in which case they could waive and stretch his salary, which would cut it in three — clearing about $8 million in cap room. Meaning if you really want to plan for this summer, the clearest path to a second max slot is to sign Pascal to a deal that pays him $8 million below his max (specifically in summer 2021, they can structure the deal to be at its lowest that summer). If Toronto can pull that off in an extension this summer, they could be in good shape to make a big splash that summer.

As for the free agents that summer, here are a list of potential free agents in 2021, assuming stars decline their player options.

LeBron James
Blake Griffin
Paul George
CJ McCollum
Rudy Gobert
Bradley Beal
Andre Drummond
Victor Oladipo
Giannis Antetokounmpo.

The list continues but I’m tired of typing. It’s potentially quite a summer.

All this is to say, Toronto has to be careful when planning moves this summer. Whether they are signing a player to the MLE, or trading for another star somehow, or taking on junk salary and picks in return for the expiring veterans on the team in an effort to rebuild — they need to keep the 2021 cap sheet clean.

It could be the key to making any retool or rebuild after Leonard’s departure as quick and painless as possible, with the potential to be back on top a very short time from now.

All salary information per basketballinsiders.com