The NBA off-season isn’t over. There are still some minor moves the Raptors could or should make — filling in their 15th man, putting together a G League squad, and figuring out two-ways and Exhibit 10 deals before Tuesday’s training camp start. But in terms of big moves, the action across the league certainly seems to be winding down.
Let’s take a quick look at which Raptors-related folks did well, and who is hurting. Yes, it’s time to review the Winners... and the Losers of NBA free agency in Toronto.
Winner: Fred VanVleet
$85 million dollars is a lot of cash — it’s enough to buy 833 of Tesla’s most expensive vehicle the Model X Performance (which is an SUV, ‘natch, cause Fred has those adorable kids). You could buy forty-two and a half million Caramilk bars (because you can’t find that sweet thing in the U.S.), or if you wanted to funnel the cash back into the empire — two-hundred and twelve thousand, five hundred of the newest design of Fred’s “Bet On Yourself” t-shirts.
It’s a lot of cash.
It’s not just the cash though that made Fred the big winner, it’s the way he handled the entire negotiation: matter of fact, and clear with what he wanted. If someone had swooped in and signed him away, fans would have said: “he said he wanted the bag, and Team X just gave it to him. Good for Fred.” After he signed, it was more of the same goodness. VanVleet let the city know he expected to be back here, because it was where he wanted to be.
Oh, and it doesn’t hurt he has a player option for the fourth year so he can get back into the free agency pool in time to lock up another massive deal. Well played, sir.
Loser: Dewan Hernandez
Hernandez may yet end up back in the Raptors organization — there is some evidence the team still thinks he has potential. But after an injury-ravaged rookie season his NBA dream has only barely come true and he just had to say goodbye to the close to $1.5 million he would have made had the Raps guaranteed his contract for next season.
Hernandez will get some of that, but with an uncertain future North America-wise, he may have to go to Europe to secure a contract anywhere approaching that dollar-number — and to rehab his potential NBA value.
Winner: Chris Boucher
Slimm Duck. Swatterboi. The $13 million dollar man. Call him what you want, but call Chris Boucher a big winner. Sure, the first year is the only one he’s guaranteed to collect, but still, that would more than double his career earnings to date.
More importantly, Boucher has a path to regular minutes for the first time in his career. While coach Nick Nurse has options in the frontcourt, it seems likely that Boucher’s shooting range and familiarity with the team’s system will give him a chance to earn twenty plus minutes a night — at least to start the year.
The question with Boucher has always been consistency. But is that fair? Maybe it’s because of the hot and cold nature of his three-point shot is the easiest thing to track, e.g. it’s a lot harder to see whether a player is corralling the pick-and-roll the same way night after night. Still, there is evidence that Boucher contributed on the regular last season for the Raptors. In fact, advanced stats suggest the Quebecois was more valuable than Serge Ibaka last year.
Crazy talk? Maybe. But in the 12 games where Boucher played at least 20 minutes he was pretty good.
Boucher’s Delightful Dozen
Now there’s some causation here — Boucher naturally got more run in games he (and the team) was playing well, but still. If the Raps give this Duck a chance to fly, there’s a chance he might soar.
Loser: Terence Davis
What allegedly happened in the off-season with Davis means he has bigger issues to worry about than his basketball career. (And sadly, there doesn’t seem to be any reason to doubt the reports.) While this is not the most important element to the story right now, it’s impossible to look at this off-season and not conclude that Davis has lost himself a huge opportunity in Toronto, if not professional basketball.
Coming off a playoff where the Raptors showed a lack of diversity in their ability to attack an elite switchable defense like Boston’s, it seems likely that Davis would have been given a chance to build on his all-rookie team showing — especially if Nurse experimented with smaller lineups.
It remains to be seen what will happen next with Davis as a Raptor. The team seems likely to guarantee the second year of his contrat and wait out the legal process into December. What happens after that is anyone’s guess, even if, as many fans have already expressed, the Raptors should just move on immediately. All of this is to say, after an electric rookie campaign, the excitement around Davis’ career has all but disappeared in Toronto.
Winner: Matt Thomas
Also uncomfortable to note: as a result of the Davis situation, there is a big hole in the Raptors’ guard rotation for next season. Matt Thomas seems to be the guy most likely to step up into it. After all, he was the one Nurse trusted for spot minutes throughout the entirety of the second round.
It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out. Thomas is limited, yes, but he’s a better player than the descriptor “shooting specialist” would have you believe. He has some off-the-bounce juice, a nice little floater game, and a bit of a playmaker package. And on defense Thomas tries to compensate for his limited (NBA) athleticism, by being aggressive and knowing what his role is in the team’s defensive scheme. That counts for a lot.
Thomas will have to keep that defensive effort up, as that’s the only route to minutes on a Nurse-coached team. But coach does seem to have a soft-spot for him, so maybe Thomas can earn semi-regular minutes next season. Enough at least to show if he can get that sweet three-point shot of his up enough to swing some games. Not a bad result for a guy who went undrafted.
Winner: Malachi Flynn
We’ll end this by taking a look at the Raptors’ first round pick. I think Flynn could turn into a solid NBA player in almost any situation, but boy did he land in a good one in Toronto.
First off, he has the size, playing style, and demeanour that mirror VanVleet and Kyle Lowry — so he has 100 percent landed in an organization that knows the value of those attributes.
Second, Flynn is a canny scorer who can create for himself, and, increasingly, for others. Given what the Raps suffered with against Boston — which was a concern all season, if we’re being honest — that’s a skill-set the team is going to actively seek to leverage.
Third, VanVleet and Lowry are great role models for him to learn from. He’s about to get a graduate-level class in both manipulating defenses when you lack height and elite athleticism, as well as a minor in the dark arts of little guy post-defense.
Finally, Flynn gives every indication that his main goal as a basketball player is to win. And while Toronto is obviously not the only franchise that operates that way in the NBA, it is one of the few that does it the best.
Take it all together, and it feels like Flynn landed in about as perfect spot for him to start, and hopefully spend the majority of, his career in.