Exploring the Toronto Raptors free agent options with the mid-level exception

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Not to harsh the collective buzz of Toronto Raptors fans, but this summer’s NBA free agency, which begins tonight, is going to be pretty dull for the dinos.

The highest looming question on the minds of Raptors fans is the future of all-star guard DeMar DeRozan with the organization. But at this point, his new deal is pretty much all but signed. DeRozan has made it clear he has no intentions of meeting with other teams this off-season. He and GM Masai Ujiri will sit down and hash out a deal as soon as possible. If all goes according to plan, DeRozan won’t even sniff the open market.

The prevailing wisdom is that DeRozan will sign a lucrative max deal that will see him earn up to $153 million over the next five years. DeRozan has always seemed like a nice guy, so he may opt to take some sort of discount to help his club out, but the difference that would make for the Raptors this off season is minimal.

Once DeRozan is signed, the Raptors are essentially capped out for the 2016-17 season. There are likely scenarios in which the Raptors renounce their pending free agents except DeRozan (Bismack Biyombo, Luis Scola, James Johnson, Jason Thompson) to clear their cap holds. Then the team can wait to sign DeRozan so it can use the difference between his $15 million cap hold and his $22 million max salary to sign someone, but I don’t want to go too deep into that right now. What we’re here to discuss is the mid-level exception.

The mid-level exception is surprisingly not the name of a forgotten mid-2000s made-for-TV movie, but, in fact, is a valuable exception built into the CBA to help capped-out teams add talent. If a team’s salary is less than $4 million over the cap – also known as the ‘apron’ – the team can add $5.6 million in salary (this number increases each year) without it counting against the team’s cap.

The mid-level will likely come into play for the capped-out Raptors, so let’s take a look at some of the guys that fit the Raptors needs and could conceivably sign for around $5.6 million this off season. It is worth noting, however, that a lot of teams are going to have a lot of money and not a whole lot to do with it this summer. A lot of guys will have larger offers from other teams to consider, so if any of the following players are going to sign for the mid-level exception, there’s a good chance it’s because they like the fit in Toronto, have strong relationships with the team already, love Canada, or are Canadian.

Here are five guys the Raptors should consider:

Darrell Arthur, F, Denver

Dec 10, 2014; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Nuggets forward Darrell Arthur (00) during the game against the Miami Heat at Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

 

Arthur is a versatile forward entering his eighth season in the league. He’s a solid defensive player off the bench, able to guard spots 2 through 4 in the lineup effectively. Last season, Arthur had the best 3-point shooting year of his career, knocking down 38% of his looks from behind the arc.

His rebounding numbers aren’t quite as great as you’d like them to be (averaged 4 on 20 minutes per game), but at this price level, you can’t have everything. Arthur could be a solid option at the back-up power forward spot, so long as he stays healthy. Arthur played 70 games for just the third time in his career last season.

Andrew Nicholson, F, Orlando

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A good ol’ Canadian boy. After the Orlando Magic elected not to offer the 26-year-old a qualifying offer on Tuesday, Nicholson was set adrift into the wide ocean of unrestricted free agency. The situation is eerily similar to that of Cory Joseph last year – another Canadian snatched up by his hometown team after getting let go by his former club.

The Mississauga-native is another solid option at the back-up 4 position. Nicholson, like Arthur, is coming off his best 3-point shooting season of his career, having drilled 36% last season. Nicholson is a decent energy guy who can hold his own on the defensive end.

Dwight Powell, F, Dallas

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It’s nearly Canada Day, so of course we have to talk about another Canadian kid. Powell is just coming off his second season in the NBA with Dallas. He’s the kind of guy that’s a lot of fun to throw in a pick and roll and watch him dunk on people.

Powell is a natural 4, but can slide over to the 5 in a pinch or in some small looks. He doesn’t space the floor at all, so it would be difficult to the slide him on the floor with Jonas Valanciunas out at the same time, but he can thrive if he’s thrown into some 4-out looks surrounded by shooters.

Jon Leuer, F/C, Phoenix

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Another big man coming off is best 3-point shooting season of his career, Leuer proved himself to be good enough of a shooter that teams couldn’t forget about him, knocking down 38% on 110 attempts. Raptors fans may remember Leuer from his Nov. 29, 2015 game against Toronto when he dropped 16 points on 6-of-10 shooting in a Phoenix win.

Leuer has some defensive deficiencies that would make him difficult to play alongside Valanciunas, but he will likely be the cheapest of these 5 free agents.

Terrence Jones, F, Houston

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Yes, Terrence Jones had an abysmal year last year. Yes, he shot 31% from 3-point range and only mustered 4.2 rebounds on 21 minutes per game, but let’s not forget that all of the Houston Rockets played horribly last year. Today, the Rockets decided not to extend a qualifying offer to Jones, who is now free to pursue some greener pastures. A new situation is just what the doctor ordered for young Terrence Jones. And yes, he is young at only 24.

Toronto seems like the change of scenery Jones could use. He could recover his three point shot with a coaching staff that’s very good at improving the shots of big men (JV, Scola), and he could play alongside his close friend Terrence Ross. It’s a low risk/potentially high reward situation.

Follow Matt Jamieson on Twitter @mattjamieson12

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