Bravo, Goran Dragic — you got what you wanted.
His “blink-and-you-missed-it” Toronto Raptors career is over, and he’s now secured his buy-out with the San Antonio Spurs and is free to sign with whatever team (cough, cough, Miami), he deems worthy of his lofty expectations for himself and his career.
Dragic is the latest in a trickle of NBA players who have been waived, reinstated, or bought-out of their existing contracts. Right now, Dragic is the biggest name amongst players like Drew Eubanks (R.I.P. Drew), PJ Dozier and Michael Carter-Williams, but more are coming before March 1st.
Why March 1st, you ask? Well, that’s because that’s the last day that any player who was bought-out can sign and appear in the playoffs for his new club. Guys will get bought out after, but in the big picture it doesn’t matter that much.
It’s worthwhile remembering as well, that with rare exceptions (Wesley Matthews, PJ Brown and Joe Johnson back in the day), most buyout players are being paid not to play for a reason — they aren’t difference-makers.
Still, who could get out there? And which guys fit Toronto’s needs most? (And just remember, as much as the whole country would like to have him back, NBA rules prohibit Dragic from returning to Toronto...)
1) Gary Harris, Orlando Magic (14pts, 2.6 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 1.1 steals, 38% from three per 36 minutes)
Fit: Way back in 2017-2018, Gary Harris looked like one of the better shooting guards in the NBA. A guy who could hit the three, play defense and offer a soupçon of secondary playmaking, Harris turned that package into a four year, $84-million dollar deal with the Denver Nuggets.
Then the injuries came and Harris became a shell of himself. Now, four seasons later, Harris has rediscovered himself on the Magic’s bench. He’s not 6’7 of course, but he has decent size for a two-guard, and would give the Raps the third guard they so badly need in their rotation, while being able to fit pretty well into most of their defensive schemes.
8/10 (You still worry about the injury risk)
Likelihood: Pretty much every NBA team could use a guy like Harris coming off their bench, but particularly teams like Utah, Philly, Chicago, and Milwaukee. Harris would be a perfect fit for Toronto, and given his career in small-markets might not have an anti-Toronto bias, but if I’m his agent, I’m telling Harris to sign with a top-six team. If Harris has a big playoff round, or two, he’ll dramatically increase his pay-day this off-season.
2) Robin Lopez, Orlando Magic (16.5 pts, 7.5 rbs, 3.4 ast, 1.2 blocks, 12 mascots maimed per 36)
Fit: Sure, he’s not his brother, Brook, but Lopez is huge, intelligent, and has developed a nifty little hook shot that’s actually become pretty hard to stop. The Raps would have to play more drop-coverage on defense with Lopez out there, but his under-rated passing could help their offense in the half-court.
While I think the Raps need for a bigman is somewhat over-stated, at least in the East where only the Bulls (Nikola Vucevic) and the Sixers (Joel Embiid) loom as true paint menaces. But given how those two guys play, I think Lopez’s size — 7ft, 280 lbs. — gives him the edge over other big men options out there.
6.5/10 (He’s only really a better option for Nurse against the bruiser centres, but in the right matchup he’s a true upgrade. I’m adding a half-point for the on-going theatre that would be him vs. The Raptor.)
Likelihood: With the Warriors and the Sixers both rumoured to be looking for a big man, this may be another situation where even though the fit is there, and the player wouldn’t presumably have a huge bias against the city, Toronto may just lose out to more “attractive” options, playoff basketball-wise.
Then again Lopez is a huge comic nerd, and Toronto is a great comic nerd town - maybe we toss in some FanExpo passes??? (Robin, if you’re reading this, I’ll give you a signed copy of every issue I’ve ever worked on.)
3) Dennis Schröeder, Houston Rockets (17.6 pts, 4.1 reb, 5.3 asts, 1 steal, 34.7% from three per 36 minutes)
Fit: Schröeder has had his moments in the NBA. Times where he seemed like he was a legit starting guard on a good team. He’s lightning fast off the dribble, can spray passes around the gym, and can be a pesky physical presence on defense.
He can also take bad gambles on both ends, has a tendency to freelance, and pouts when he feels like he’s not central to everything a team wants to do. Assuming Schröeder would be engaged by escaping Houston, he could offer the Raps some badly needed creativity in the back-court.
Likelihood: I keep reading the Lakers want to bring him back (LOL), and there is no shortage of teams that could use another guard who can juice the offense. Given his reputation for flakiness, he doesn’t feel like a Raptor anyway.
4) Tyreke Evans, free agent (Did not play - suspension. Last season 2018-2019: 18.1 pts, 5.2 reb, 4.3 ast, 1.5 steals, 35.6% from three per 36 minuts)
Fit: Not technically a buyout, and the biggest wildcard on this list, Evans was just re-instated after a multi-year ban for running afoul of the league’s drug policy. When he was last seen on an NBA court, Evans was a somewhat inefficient gunner, albeit one who had showed a marked improvement in his three-point shooting percentage (27.8% over his first six seasons, 37.4% over his last four). He does however possess a good frame, (6’6, 220lbs), the ability to handle the ball (albeit with more turnovers than you’d like), and the theoretical ability to guard three positions.
The big question is, of course, the head. Did Evans time away from the game give him a chance to refocus? If so, Evans could be a steal.
5.5/10 (It would be higher, but who knows what he looks like after this time away)
Likelihood: I think Evans, like Harris, sees a real opportunity to increase his payday if he picks the right situation. He’s going to want minutes, which theoretically the Raptors have to give, but spotlight and a real chance to go deep in the playoffs may matter more. This feels like a Lakers match. If everything goes right, Evans could be playing 25-minutes a game, and getting LeBron social media shout-outs about how he’s better than ever.
5) Tristan Thompson, Indiana Pacers (14 pts, 12.5 reb, 1.4 assists, 1.7 ‘stocks’ (steals plus blocks, per 36 minutes.)
Fit: The hometown kid offers one thing the Raps could badly use: a rebound rate up around 20% that would, theoretically help Toronto clean up the glass in their own end. Thompson isn’t the lob threat he, sort of, once was, and his mobility is waning, but he should be able to do enough on both ends of the court to play. He has a real mean streak, which, is always a nice addition in the playoffs, and as recently as a year ago put up a 15 and 11 and a 19 and 13 in round 1 against the Nets.
The question here is: Is Thompson really much better than say, Khem Birch? A good portion of that rebound rate happens on the offensive end, which is not a Raps weakness.
Likelihood: For a whole host of reasons you could talk yourself into this one. His previous relationship with Nurse through Canada basketball, being from the area, a comparative lack of teams interested, but ultimately this one falls short to me because I’m not sure the Raps would see Thompson as an upgrade.
[Editor’s note — Pacers head coach Rick Carlisle indicated Thompson would be signing with the Bulls. Isn’t that, like, reverse tampering?]
Other potential options for the Raps
E’Twaun Moore: Moore hasn’t played this year, but that might be a: “DNP - Magic don’t need vets to ruin their tanking efforts.” A career 38.9% shooter from three with some defensive jam, Moore could make sense for Toronto, but is he actually better than Yuta Watanabe?
Derrick Favours: He’s only 6’9, but at a playing weight of 260 lbs.+ he’d be the overall biggest body the Raps had, and could see some situational use when Toronto played against bruising centres. His offensive game has pretty much disappeared though, and there is no guarantee OKC waives him.
D.J. Augustin: A point-guard who can hit the three (38.0% for his career), Augustin makes theoretical sense for Toronto. However, his best days are behind him, and his slight size makes him feel like the polar opposite of what the Raps are trying to do on both ends of the court.
Tomas Satoransky: He was hideous in 23 games with the Pelicans this season, but Satoransky has size (6’7), some shooting (over 36% for his career before this season), and is a capable floor general. Plus, it would be fun for Canadian hoops fans to figure out if they wanted to cheer or boo the guy after what happened in Olympic qualifying.
Even though I didn’t have him listed, Satoransky would actually make a lot of sense. He’s not a ceiling raiser, but as a guy who could credibly run the point in VanVleet’s absence, while not having to make Nurse change much in terms of strategy, the Czech guard could be the best combo of fit and availability.
So yeah, a guy who shot 29.9% from the field and 16.1% from three might be Toronto’s best play on the buy-out market... like I said, don’t get too excited.