The wildest part about the NBA’s free agency period this time around is that while ordinarily we’d spend months fantasizing about what our favourite team, the Toronto Raptors, will eventually look like when it takes the court, now we just get to see it happen in a week or two. The ink hasn’t even dried — indeed it hasn’t even been put to paper yet — yet the Raptors have re-made a chunk of their roster and are now gearing up for training camp on December 1st. Such is the NBA world of the pandemic, everything far more topsy-turvy than normal. Hell, the Raptors are set to play their home games in Tampa, Florida — but let’s not get started on that.
In that spirit of reckless adventure, let’s return instead to our roster summary thoughts of just five days ago and review how the Raptors have changed since then.
First, here’s where things stood as of the ringing of the dinner bell last Friday at 6pm, when the league’s free agency bonanza began in earnest.
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
[Edit: The following has been updated because we forgot to include the Fred VanVleet re-signing. Look at that, already taking him for granted. For shame!]
After the re-signing of Fred VanVleet — which to my mind was never really in doubt — things were a little hazier for Toronto. As has been noted: the roster in that moment was extremely thin up front, with obvious needs at power forward and centre — and, really, just all around size. In truth, the beefiest guy on the Raptors’ partial roster above is OG Anunoby, who has flashed centre utility before, but is not a guy Toronto should have banging at the 5-spot for a full regular season. After all, that’s what the real big boys are for!
To that end, in a surprising turn, the Raptors welcomed one of the beefiest boys on the market to Toronto (or, for now, Tampa): Aron Baynes. We had the original announcement here and we even got into some of the salary cap math making it all work here. As far as back-up plans go, grabbing Baynes on a team-friendly two-year deal (with a team-option on the second) is a solid way to go. No, Baynes is not quite Marc Gasol (whose departure to LA set off this signing), but he is modestly younger at 33 years old, and built like a brick fort at 6’10” and 262 pounds. What’s more, while Baynes began his career as not much more than a bruiser, he’s since expanded his shooting and passing game in the new NBA. That’s something, right?
Last season in Phoenix, Baynes appeared in 42 contests, averaging 22.2 minutes per, while posting 11.5 points, 5.6 rebounds, and 1.6 assists per game. He also shot 48 percent from the field and an eye-opening 35 percent from three on four attempts per game. Again, Baynes is not Gasol, but those are some Gasol-ian counting stats in the interim. As has been pointed out elsewhere, Baynes is also a real roll-man, a guy who sets hard screens and lumbers to the basket with force and an active ability to finish hard at the rim. This is skill-set with which a point guard like Kyle Lowry can work. The major question with Baynes at this point, much like our concerns with Gasol, is whether or not his health can hold up. Keep in mind: Baynes missed three different chunks of last season with the Suns, the last absence coming due to a COVID-19 infection, causing him to skip the Bubble entirely. So, yeah, we’ll have to keep that in mind when Baynes takes the court for the first time since March 10th.
In any case, Baynes is locked in as the Raptors’ starting centre. There are, of course, two other signings to announce here. Since Serge Ibaka also left Toronto — a bummer, if only because of how entertaining Serge has become off the court — the team was still in dire straits in the frontcourt. Fortunately, 28-year-old Chris Boucher was also still on the table, and able to work out a deal with the Raptors. Now, to be clear, Boucher is not Ibaka — he does not have, and likely never will have, Serge’s mid-range game or footwork/touch skills near the basket. Like Ibaka though, Boucher is confident shooting from three-point range (to lesser effect, but still) and he’s far more mobile than the former Toronto veteran has become as of late. But the downside to having Boucher as the team’s back-up power forward/centre is likely to be felt most on the defensive glass. Chaotic and confident as Boucher is, he just does not have the same strength and power that Ibaka (or Gasol) commands down low.
Still, this is the modern NBA and having a frontcourt player who can fling himself around the court counts for something. It’s likely that logic that had the Raptors’ braintrust pivot to picking up wing DeAndre’ Bembry as a depressed asset on the open market. The thinking here is much the same as Toronto’s decision-making when they grabbed Stanley Johnson and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson in the wake of Kawhi Leonard’s departure. Sure, those players could never replace a supernova like Kawhi, but the Raptors got both young players on team-friendly-ish deals to see what they could do in a designated role. Johnson hasn’t really work out, but Hollis-Jefferson did, and now here we are. (To be clear: Rondae is still available, but I contend that he is not waiting for another modest one-year deal for the Raptors.)
Bembry joins Toronto as a former first round pick (21st in 2016), having spent his entire four-year career with the rebuilding Atlanta Hawks. It’s useful to mention Hollis-Jefferson in this discussion because the comparisons between the two players and their career situations are similar. Both players were drafted as later first round picks, both were on rebuilding teams that then pivoted away from them when they actually got built, and both play with extreme chaos energy. Oh, and neither player can shoot at all. Bembry’s shooting line last season as a 6’5”, 210 pound wing: 46 percent from the field, an ugly 23 percent from three, and a just plain bad 54 percent from the free throw line. So what’s working in Bembry’s favour for the Raptors? He can legit handle the ball (and finish plays at the rim without somehow careening sideways) and he’s a true pest of a defender, which is always useful for a swarming team like Toronto’s. On the downside: the move away from Rondae here means the Raptors lose his frontcourt defensive versatility. There’s just no way Bembry is going to take a turn stone-walling, say, Karl-Anthony Towns when the situation calls for it.
Nevertheless, as coach Nick Nurse would say — if you’ll allow me to paraphrase — a team can only play with the players it’s got. In that spirit, the Raptors now have a roster that looks something like this:
Toronto’s Updated Roster
PG: Kyle Lowry, Patrick McCaw, Malachi Flynn
SG: Fred VanVleet, Norman Powell, Terence Davis, Matt Thomas, Jalen Harris
SF: OG Anunoby, DeAndre’ Bembry, Stanley Johnson, Paul Watson (Two-Way)
PF: Pascal Siakam, Chris Boucher
C: Aron Baynes, Dewan Hernandez
Now that’s a little more like it. We’re starting to find some balance here. The above list includes 16 players, which would mean the Raptors roster is full, with just one two-way contract slot open. To my mind then, there remain a few obvious and outstanding questions. These include:
- Who is actually going to be on a two-way contract for the 2020-21 Toronto Raptors?
Last season the two-way contracts for Toronto were held by Oshae Brissett and Paul Watson. The former is now a restricted free agent with Toronto and it is unclear what’s going to happen with him. The Raptors can match any offer and bring him back, but it’s unlikely Oshae is waiting for another two-way contract with the team; he wants to be a full-time NBA player now, I’m sure. Watson, meanwhile, is still on his two-way way deal for another season, so it feels like we can maybe slot him in there for now.
Meanwhile, a player like Harris may be due to swap places with Brissett in the Raptors’ overall team hierarchy — seniority has to count for something, right? As we’ve already established, the team is loaded with backcourt talent — and Flynn likely takes precedence right now from a development perspective — so maybe it makes sense to offer Harris the two-way deal and bring Brissett in as a wing/small-ball power forward. Making that swap (assuming the team actually brings back Oshae) means the Raptors are still at 15 players, with both two-way contracts filled out by Harris and Watson. But maybe they will have one roster spot to work with because...
- What’s the deal with Terence Davis now?
We have to discuss the elephant in the room eventually. As reported, seven criminal charges were brought against Davis stemming from a domestic violence case back in late October. The Raptors have made it clear they’re waiting to see what conclusions the investigation and legal process arrive at. That said, the deadline to commit to the second year of Davis’ contract is November 29th, and his next court date is on December 11th. These two dates are in direct conflict.
Having positioned themselves as a team with a moral conscience, the Raptors should just cut Davis today, right now. But of course, he also represents great value for them — as an on-court player and as trade sweetener. To lose Davis for nothing — and then, in all likelihood, watch him go right to another team — is not something the Raptors would ordinarily contemplate. But this is not an ordinary situation; it’s one to which Toronto should apply their much-lauded organizational moral compass, one they should get in front of immediately, rather than trying to have it both ways.
Unfortunately, my guess is the Raptors will do just that: they will keep Davis and release a few public statements about how he is going to rectify the situation, complete with a public apology from Davis himself. In all likelihood the charges against him will also be dropped, and the Raptors will claim the legal process has done its work, nothing to see here, folks. None of this feels good, least of all for the woman still in Davis’ orbit, let down by the institutions that are theoretically supposed to protect her. All I can add here is: it no longer feels fun and exciting to cheer for Terence Davis, wherever he may end up in the NBA.
- What could the Raptors do with an open roster spot or two-way contract?
If Brissett doesn’t come back or Davis is indeed released, there could be a roster spot or two open on the Raptors. Our intrepid draft reporter JD Quirante already wrote up a brief summary of a few undrafted players still available (Canadian Karim Mané is already gone from this list), so there are possibilities. There are also some veteran big men still floating who could be signed as frontcourt insurance, e.g. Dewayne Dedmon (not bad), DeMarcus Cousins (I’d stay away), Hassan Whiteside (oh hell no). Toronto could also opt to keep that potential slot open and fill it if the need should arise during the season.
Keep in mind for training camp, the Raptors can have a roster of up to 20 players, and have gone up to that limit every year in recent memory. This time out they need to figure out fast who’s ready to play now and who is worth developing for the future. They’re obviously invested in some of their recent young additions (Flynn, for example), but they’re also very much dedicated to keeping that cap sheet clean in the summer of 2021. Operating from those two principles, we’ll see how the Raptors proceed from here.
And hey, at least we won’t have to wait very long to see how this all plays out. The Raptors will be on the practice — and actual — court in no time. Literally.