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NBA Free Agency: What to expect from the Raptors this weekend

The clock starts today! The Raptors are running a tight ship as usual, but we can make some informed predictions for the moves they might make.

2022 NBA Playoffs - Philadelphia 76ers v Toronto Raptors Photo by Vaughn Ridley/NBAE via Getty Images

The transition from June into July is always a hectic one in the NBA, with the NBA Finals wrapping up, the NBA Draft, then the start of NBA free agency.

But for the Toronto Raptors, this year seems like a quiet one.

For one thing, the team exited the playoffs back in April. They didn’t have a first round pick in the draft, and didn’t make any moves to acquire another pick beyond #33 (which they used to draft developing centre Christian Koloko).

And it doesn’t seem like we should expect anything splashy to happen in free agency, either.

As our cap expert Daniel Hackett broke down for us earlier this week, the Raptors are just below the salary cap line ($116 million in committed salary, plus Koloko, who hasn’t signed yet; the salary cap sits at $123.6 million).

Given the likelihood of retaining their own guys — more in that in a minute — the team is essentially operating as an “above the cap, below the tax” team, and can use the mid-level exception ($10 million/year, up to 4 years) or bi-annual exception ($4 million/year, up to 4 years) to sign additional players. Note also the team can divide up the MLE and sign more than one player, as long as the total salary does not exceed $10.3 million.

So — not a whole lot of room to play around with, and certainly not enough entice any of the big names, like Zach Lavine, Miles Bridges, or DeAndre Ayton, not without significant sign-and-trade shenanigans.

Who can the Raptors sign with their exceptions?

The likeliest Raptors target at this point seems to be Mo Bamba, who is an unrestricted free agent after the Orlando Magic declined to extend him a qualifying offer. Bamba fits the Raptors mold — long, athletic, non-traditional big man — but despite starting 69 games and playing 26 minutes a night, only averaged 10 points and 8 boards a game. If Bamba couldn’t make an impact on a terrible Magic team, will he be able to contribute to the Raptors?

Speaking of the Orlando Magic, guard Gary Harris is also unrestricted. Though he’s been up and down (mostly down) the past few seasons, he did shoot better last year (38% from deep) and the Raptors desperately need shooting and bench scoring. He’s undersized, though, for what the Raptors want to do. So is Malik Monk, another reasonable UFA who shot 39% from downtown last season.

Perhaps a more intriguing name is Nic Claxton, a restricted fee agent centre from Brooklyn. I like his fit a lot more than Bamba, but I suspect a) he’ll command more than $10 million per year and b) he’ll likely want to continue playing with Kevin Durant in Brooklyn.

My prediction: The Raptors use most of the MLE to sign Bamba.

Will the Raptors re-sign their own guys?

Chris Boucher and Thaddeus Young are both UFAs, though the Raptors have Bird rights for both players, meaning they can over the cap to sign them.

Boucher seems the more likely to return; he’s well-liked on the team, fits the system well (even if he does go rogue with the three-ball at times) and his skillset would be hard to replace. But it’s also possible another team offers him a significant raise that the Raptors aren’t willing to pay; I would guess the Raptors would be comfortable with something like three years, $42 million, but some team might be crazy enough to give Boucher three years and $55 M, or 4/$70 M.

As for Young, as I wrote the other day, despite his perfect fit on paper (and the occasional brilliant flashes he showed in his 26 games with the Raps) there are questions about his ability to contribute at his age. Would he be comfortable taking a 2-year, $22 million deal? Or will he get more money, or a shot at more playing time, elsewhere?

My prediction: The Raptors sign Boucher to somewhere around $15 million/year. Young walks.

Will the Fred VanVleet extension get done?

Fred VanVleet is extension-eligible and you better believe the Raptors want to lock him up, if they can. And rumours are flying that they’re already working on a deal, perhaps at this very moment. (Reminder that the Raptors don’t leak, so this might be total speculation.)

As Hackett wrote the other day, the maximum the Raptors can offer VanVleet right now works out to four additional years, at an average of about $28.5 million/year. That’s a nice raise over his current ~$22 million salary, sure, but it’s possible — likely even — VanVleet can get more on the open market next summer.

I suspect some dominoes falling — notably fellow All-Star LaVine, as well as Jalen Brunson — might help determine VanVleet’s value, and whether or not the extension happens. If LaVine and Brunson both sign in the $30 million range, then you can bet Fred will want to be in the same range.

My prediction: The extension doesn’t happen, and VanVleet tests the market next summer.

What does this do for the team’s chances?

All of this sounds like the Raptors are brining back the same team in 2022-23, perhaps with Bamba in place of Young. They went 48-34 last year, despite Siakam missing the first month of the year, and the team’s bout with COVID. I think 50 wins sounds reasonable, no? Maybe 52, if Scottie Barnes takes a leap?

As for championship contention, well, as I write this our friends at DraftKings have the Raptors at +5500 to win the title. That’s pretty firmly in the middle of the pack, alongside the Chicago Bulls and Minnesota Timberwolves. Which... sounds about right? They’re not a “true” contender like the Warriors or Bucks, don’t have the depth of talent or superstars that other teams have... but with their defense, the Raptors can beat anyone on any night.

I don’t believe anything that happens over the next few days will change those odds one way or the other... but then again, you never know what Masai Ujiri and Bobby Webster might have up their sleeves!

Let’s find out.

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