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Reviewing the Raptors’ roster after the Draft and before free agency

The Raptor have two new players joining the team, and they’ve also still got many free agency issues to sort out. Let’s take a look at the roster as it stands right now and make some predictions.

NCAA Basketball: St. John at Villanova Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

As we absolutely barrel through the NBA off-season, the Raptors once again have some quick decisions to make. So far, Toronto has not gotten into any real trade talk — legit or otherwise — but they did just add two players in the 2020 NBA Draft, and now have free agency matters to consider. And to be clear, “barrel” is the verb to use here: the league’s free agency period is set to begin... tomorrow.

So where does the Raptors’ roster stand as of today, post-draft, and in the relative lull of this crazy time? I’m glad you asked: let’s review.

First, to get up to speed, read our brief takes on the latest players to join the Raptors, point guard Malachi Flynn taken 29th and shooting guard Jalen Harris in at no. 59 in last night’s Draft. (Then, please note: This initial cut summarizes only the players still under contract in Toronto. We’ll get into some possible roster permutations and guesses after that.)

Toronto’s Roster

PG: Kyle Lowry, Patrick McCaw, Malachi Flynn

SG: Norman Powell, Terence Davis, Matt Thomas, Jalen Harris

SF: OG Anunoby, Stanley Johnson, Paul Watson (Two-Way)

PF: Pascal Siakam

C: Dewan Hernandez

That’s a total of 12 players, with some assumptions made with regards to position, and absent a whole bunch of names — both big and small. The obvious omissions are Fred VanVleet, Marc Gasol, and Serge Ibaka. But let’s not forget that Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Chris Boucher are also absent, along with restricted free agent Oshae Brissett and deep-bench stalwart Malcolm Miller. (We’re also making a big assumption as it relates to Davis’ current status with the team; the cynic in me thinks Toronto may end up just keeping him after he makes some show of apology and restitution.)

Before we start add back any players and taking guesses on who is returning or not to Toronto, the above summary indicates where the Raptors have a need: in the frontcourt. In fact, given their selections of Flynn and Harris in Wednesday’s Draft, that need has now only grown. While it’s true teams are going smaller and smaller in their lineups these days, the Raptors will still need someone to play centre for long stretches of the regular season. Downsizing in the playoffs makes sense when the situation calls for it, but we’re talking about (now) 72 games of wear and tear. Young Dewan is likely not up to the task (yet).

To that end, our first free agent guess. Despite erronous reports of a sudden return to Barcelona, I think there’s a solid chance the Raptors will bring Gasol back for one more year. The thinking here: they could theoretically sign him to a big-time one-year deal, which is probably the best he could do. (The optimistic alternative: some team offers Gasol, soon-to-be 36, a multi-year deal with a cumulative value greater than some one-off from Toronto.) While it’s likely Gasol’s role with the Raptors would be diminished again come playoff time (as happened last post-season), that doesn’t mean he’s not an effective minutes-eater for this squad. What’s more, for a team now composed largely of younger players learning the ropes, having Gasol around to organize the offense and defense on a day-to-day basis is definitely a value-add for Toronto.

So that settles that, now here are two more free agency guesses coming at ya: Fred VanVleet is going to re-sign with Toronto; and the Raptors will say goodbye to all four of Ibaka, Miller, Hollis-Jefferson, and Boucher. For the former guess, while the Knicks are still theoretically in play to make VanVleet a big-time offer, I’m betting against it. I admit, this is more of a feeling (or perhaps wishful thinking) than speculation based in fact, but I just don’t see VanVleet willingly inserting himself into the disaster cyclone that is the Knicks organization. Yes, the money could very well be right, but I don’t think that big-time offer will be coming from New York. There, I said it.

As for those other four players, let’s start with the biggest name. Ibaka will likely command more money and years than the Raptors would care to lock in now. That’s the black-and-white of it. As much as it sucks to write this — and believe me, I’m sorry to do it — Ibaka is likely gone from Toronto. On the other end of the bench, we’ve known for awhile now that Miller is likely gone too, if only because there doesn’t seem to be anything else to develop with him. He got his shot with the Raptors and as he’s done on the court as of late: Miller missed it. Meanwhile, for Hollis-Jefferson, it just feels like both team and player will be looking elsewhere. Rondae played himself into a bigger contract over the past season; and Toronto will happily let some other team give it to him. (This is almost an exact copy of the Bismack Biyombo situation back in 2016.) Finally, Boucher. There is indeed a chance he could come back, but it’ll depend on what kind of money and contract term he’s looking for. The Raptors could still use him as their back-up power forward — but they could be set to look elsewhere too. I’m playing it safe and assuming Boucher is out the door too.

The next couple of players to discuss here are both wings: two-way contract fillers Brissett (at best a stretch-4) and Paul Watson (at best an undersized small forward). It remains likely there’s still two-way interest between Brissett and Toronto (and only Toronto), so let’s assume — as we’ve done here — that he’ll stay with the Raptors as a deep wing/small-ball forward option. The team will have to extend a qualifying offer to him tomorrow to keep him in play as a restricted free agent; but again, I don’t get the sense other teams are clamouring for Brissett’s services right now. Meanwhile, as noted, Watson is still on the second year of his two-way deal (though who knows when the G League will return). As such, he’s a lock to stay in Toronto for now.

So where does that leave us?

Toronto’s Potential Roster

PG: Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, Patrick McCaw, Malachi Flynn

SG: Norman Powell, Terence Davis, Matt Thomas, Jalen Harris

SF: OG Anunoby, Stanley Johnson, Paul Watson (Two-Way)

PF: Pascal Siakam, Oshae Brissett

C: Marc Gasol, Dewan Hernandez

Still insanely top heavy in the backcourt and still pretty thin in the frontcourt. If Gasol pulls his hamstring again, the Raptors would be in serious trouble. The obvious conclusion here then: the Raptors need to look for some serious forward and centre help ahead of the 2020-21 season. I don’t know how they’ll solve this situation specifically, at least not without gaining access to the team’s free agency war room. But my final bet is that Masai Ujiri and Bobby Webster have some plan to figure it all out.

We’ll see starting tomorrow what they do and how they do it.