The kings of the North are dead. Long live the kings.
After a championship defense that somehow both far exceeded expectations, and was disappointing, the Toronto Raptors now face what’s surely going to be an active off-season.
As is custom, HQ’s resident capologist, Daniel Hackett, will be along shortly with an article that will dig through the nitty-gritty of the free agency period, and how the cap will shape what the Raptors can do with their — and other — free agents. For now, I’m going to do a few broad stroke takes on what the Raptors are facing in terms of next year’s roster construction.
Unrestricted Free Agents
Fred VanVleet, Serge Ibaka, Marc Gasol, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson
The Raptors enter the off-season with four significant pieces heading to unrestricted free agency. I’ll do a deeper dive on the first three later this off-season, but quickly:
Fred VanVleet — came off a career year by setting highs in points, assists, rebounds and steals while keeping his effective field goal percentage close to its previous high despite a big uptick in Usage. He’s going to get paid very well by someone, but there’s no guarantee that’ll be here in Toronto
Red Flags: VanVleet’s advanced numbers are good, but don’t scream max contract, and his playoff performance against long-rangy defenses suggest he needs to be more of a third or fourth option on the offensive end.
Chance of Him Re-signing?: This one is out of the Raps’ hands to a certain extent. If a team like New York, Detroit, or — less likely — Atlanta, decides to use their cap space to offer a max deal it’s hard to believe Fred won’t bet on himself and take it.
Serge Ibaka - It wasn’t quite a career year from the Congolese big man, but it was a very effective one as Ibaka’s re-discovered three-point stroke, a bit of play-making, and continued strong rebounding established him as one of the top handful of off-the-bench bigs in the league.
Red Flags: For all he did on the stat sheet, in terms of the Raptors’ net rating when he was on the floor Ibaka was one of the least impactful Raptors this year — ahead of only Patrick McCaw, and [checks notes] Shamorie Ponds? Ibaka’s block rate cratered, which is sort of expected given how the league plays now, but at times he struggled to defend in space too. You could also quibble over whether the athletic aspects of Ibaka’s game are going to age well as he moves into his thirties.
Chance of Him Re-signing?: A few months ago, it seemed he’d be the third target of the big three, but now... If Ibaka is willing to do a one-and-one so that he can potentially re-enter free agency in a year when COVID-19 may no longer be killing gate receipts, the odds increase significantly.
Marc Gasol - The case for Gasol is a study in contrasts. Do you care more for individual numbers or team performance? For a championship-level team are playoff results the truest barometer or is it just small sample-size noise? One thing you can’t take away from Gasol: during the regular season he led the Raps with a +10.1 net rating — indicating he was still a huge part of a very good team.
Red Flags: I mean, did you see the playoffs? Gasol went cold at the absolute worst time. For all the hand-wringing about Pascal Siakam, Gasol’s complete inability to make the Celtics pay for ignoring him was almost as big a factor in Toronto’s loss to Boston. Meanwhile, he turns 36 next season and continues to be almost pathologically afraid to shoot. A steep decline seems inevitable at this point.
Chance of Him Re-signing: Higher than you might think. The market for Gasol is unlikely to be robust. He seems to like the city, and the Raptors brain trust is unlikely to allow a weak bubble performance to outshine the 60 games before. If the price is right, he could very well be back.
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson - He was towards the bottom of the Raptors roster in terms of net rating, but Rondae also knew his role and generally played it well. He’s a versatile defender with a mean-spirited post-game who rarely takes jump shots he can’t make. There’s value in knowing your role, and playing it with energy — especially over the long haul of a regular season. I’ll take a deeper look at him when it’s time for player profiles.
Red Flags: He can’t shoot. Nick Nurse didn’t seem to trust him at all against Boston, even though he should have been able to defend pretty much every Celtic 1-5, and the Raps definitely needed an injection of chaos, trips to the line, and the chance at extra possessions his game could provide. Ah well.
Chance of Him Re-signing: It likely depends on what the Raps do with Ibaka and Gasol. Could there be a role for RHJ as a small-ball five, back-up big? Given the Raptors’ love for defending, yes, but I wouldn’t bet on it.
Restricted Free Agents
Chris Boucher, Malcolm Miller, Oshae Brissett, Paul Watson
Chris Boucher - “Slimm Duck” was more than serviceable for the Raptors this past season — he willingly shot threes to space the floor (he didn’t really make them, but still) and protected the rim solidly enough. He was also sandwiched between JaVale McGee and Jakob Poeltl in allowing opponents to shoot 56.2 percent at the rim, and provided the type of energy the Raps sometimes lacked.
Red Flags: You’ve heard this before, but Boucher will be 28 when next season begins so he’s likely a finished product. While he showed his thin frame could hold up under moderate use, he can still be bullied inside. It’s not at all certain he can hold his own on the perimeter against any good offense that can drag him away from the rim.
Chance of Him Re-signing: It’s a tough one to handicap. If the Raps are priced out of the Gasol and Ibaka markets (or just want a change), Boucher’s chances of staying in Canada obviously spike. However, his highlight reel-type play, and the hope his three-point shooting could take a mini-leap given his strong numbers from the free throw line, could mean he gets a richer than expected contract with the sort of term the Raps just aren’t interested in matching.
Malcolm Miller - It’s sad but Miller Time is almost certainly over in Toronto. He barely played this year, and it’s clear Nurse simply feels he has better options. The good news is that Miller does have the profile of an NBA player, and maybe some of that “Raptors shine” will see him land a guaranteed deal on a team desperate for shooting. Detroit anyone?
Oshae Brissett/Paul Watson - I’ll lump them together, because it seems like something completely bizarre would have to happen to keep the Raps from retaining both in the organization on low-cost deals. Watson has shown flashes that he could be a low-key impact player in the NBA, while Brissett brings the size and defensive attitude the Raps love in their wings. He could easily take Hollis-Jefferson’s role next year, for example, with the hope that Toronto’s developmental system could make him a better shooter than RHJ.
The Extension Candidate
Toronto is eligible to sign Anunoby to a rookie-extension deal — the max amount could come in at about 25 percent of the salary cap. That number seems unlikely for a number of reasons, not least that it could hamstring the Raptors’ plans in 2021 free agency. The other issue is that, right now, there isn’t evidence that Anunoby deserves anything close to a max extension. In the regular season, OG was right in the middle of the team as far as on-court impact. In the playoffs, despite the Game 3 heroics, Anunoby’s net rating was ahead of only VanVleet and Gasol.
Of course, rookie extensions are about how well you think a player is going to do — and Anunoby’s key metrics are all trending upwards. He shot the three-ball very well (39 percent), he saw his assist percentage trend up, while his turnover percentage stayed the same. He rebounded the ball better, and a number of defensive metrics, as well as the eye-test, saw him taking a real step forward there too.
The question is what sort of mid-tier number would Anunoby’s camp settle on? It’s hard to believe Toronto would splash out too much for Anunoby who still needs to make significant strides in his ball-handling and decision-making, as well as his ability to shoot anything but a stationary three, to be considered a real offensive weapon.
It’s possible the two sides can’t decide on a number, and that both are comfortable playing out next year where Anunoby could end up a restricted free agent, in what may be a better economic environment for both sides (and where the question of a certain Milwaukee Buck’s free agency has been answered).