Toronto Raptors GM Masai Ujiri wasted no time addressing the uncertain future of all-star guard DeMar DeRozan this week. Fresh off the team’s six game Conference Finals loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers, Ujiri made it clear Monday during his end-of-the-season press conference that re-signing the guard was the team’s central focus heading into the off-season.
“Our number one priority is to bring DeMar back,” Ujiri said, putting to rest any doubts the team would let him walk without at least making an offer.
DeRozan, for his part, also shot down speculation he was looking to bolt to a new team or a warmer climate. “I grew up in L.A. That’s my home…I don’t get caught up into it,” DeRozan said during his end-of-season presser. “I let whoever comes up with [the Laker rumours] say what they want to say. The only thing appealing to me is the things I’ve done in this organization and the things that can be done here. And that’s always been my mindset.”
But for the Raptors, is not as simple as shoving a contract in front of DeRozan and calling it a day. The team has difficult choices to make that could impact the future of the organization for years to come. Here are the pros and cons of some of the approaches Ujiri can choose regarding DeRozan.
Option 1: The five-year max
The most obvious route, and the one often cited as the most likely, is to ink DeRozan to a five-year deal for the maximum salary, which for a player with DeRozan’s experience is about $25M per year. The route allows the team to utilize a couple of advantages it has regarding DeRozan. The first is his full bird rights, which allows the team to go over the cap to re-sign a player. The second is the ability to offer him an extra year on the deal (other teams can only offer four years), an attractive piece for players looking for financial security later in their careers.
Pros: The long-term deal ensures the Raptors will have DeRozan on the team for his entire prime. As DeRozan shows signs of improvement each year, this could mean having a consistent all-star on the roster for the foreseeable future. DeRozan has shown a willingness to improve his game each year (a career-high in 3-point percentage last season being one exciting stat), there’s no reason to believe he’s going to slow down. Plus, from a more sentimental standpoint, a five-year deal would cement DeRozan as the franchise’s longest-serving player. He’s currently only 21 games back of Morris Peterson for the franchise lead, and about 1,200 minutes behind Chris Bosh in that category. By the end of his career, it’s very possible we could see number 10 hanging from the ACC rafters.
Cons: The five-year max deal would limit the team’s flexibility to make any additional moves this year or next year, locking in the team’s core for years to come. Despite a deep playoff run this past season, there isn’t much evidence this Raptors team has what it takes to win a championship. It’s also tough to imagine the contract will look very good near its end, when DeRozan is in his early thirties and losing some of the athleticism that makes him so potent. While it may sting to think about, signing DeRozan to a max deal may be a good short-term move, but have severe long-term repercussions.
Option 2: Try for a home-town discount
The likelihood of DeRozan taking less than market value to stay with the Raptors depends on what is important to him. Does he want financial security, or does he want to build a true contender? In this case a home-town discount might not depend on how much the team pays DeRozan annually because they can go over the cap to sign him, but it could mean a shorter term (for example, a two year deal with a player option for a third year).
Pros: Obviously, this type of arrangement could allow the team greater flexibility to make additional moves down the road. It could also benefit DeRozan by allowing him to re-enter free agency when the cap is even higher, therefore maximizing the amount of money he could earn. Of course, that all depends on his performance, which leads us to…
Cons: As much as DeRozan says he loves playing for Toronto, he needs to think about his own needs first. A shorter deal could be disastrous if he doesn’t perform as expected or suffers a severe injury. That’s why it’s probably not likely he goes for this type of deal.
Option 3: Sign and trade
While unlikely, if DeRozan is interested in joining another team, but that team can’t afford to sign him, the Raptors could stand to gain.
Pros: Obviously, if the Raptors can’t keep DeRozan, it’s preferable to get something in return for the all-star. The team could use the opportunity to bolster the power forward position, trusting Norman Powell or Terrence Ross to fill in at shooting guard.
Cons: Probably won’t happen. DeRozan has made it clear he wants to stay in Toronto, the choice is really up to the Raptors’ front office at this point. If they do allow DeRozan to walk, this option could come into play, but not a lot of teams would be willing to exchange a star-powered forward for a star-powered guard 1-for-1. But getting anything in return is likely better than…
Option 4: Let him walk
It would be a very tough choice for the team’s front office, but it’s possible we’ve seen DeRozan’s last game as a Raptor.
Pros: Losing DeRozan’s $15M cap hold would allow the team the financial flexibility to become a player in this summer’s free agency battle. While the team would need to make some more small moves to afford an A-lister like Kevin Durant, there will be plenty of great fits in the market that can be signed for more palatable contracts (Nicolas Batum, for example, has been linked to the Raptors in the past). The open roster sport could also allow for young players like Powell to take the next step in their development.
Cons: For one, DeRozan was the NBA’s 9th leading scorer last year, and that type of scoring output is unlikely to be replaced within the existing roster or free agency. DeRozan’s departure could also impact the free agency decision of friend and teammate Kyle Lowry, who will likely turn down his player option next year in order to enter unrestricted free agency. DeRozan leaving could also signal the end of Lowry in a Raptors’ uniform. Pretty soon, Toronto might be right back in rebuilding mode. Once again, sentimentality comes into play. DeRozan has grown through the Raptors system, and has always embraced the city and the country throughout his Raptor tenure. It would also be immeasurably sad to see DeRozan in another uniform.
The next two months will be crucial for the long-term health and goals of the franchise. The decision to lock down DeRozan long-term will send a clear signal about where the franchise is, and where it sees itself going. No matter what happens, DeRozan will likely remain one of the most beloved Raptors of all time, but this contract could be the difference between a few solid seasons or a name hanging from the ceiling for decades.
Follow Matt Jamieson on Twitter @mattjamieson12