In organizations where people are the key resources that dictate performance, human resource managers often use replacement charts to visualize which employees can, and will replace their outgoing co-workers. In the basketball realm, replacement charts could be equated to teams’ depth charts – something that is used both formally by teams, and casually by the media.
This autumn, the Raptors have a relatively empty depth chart. With players such as Fred VanVleet, Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka, and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson all hitting unrestricted free agency, and the likes of Chris Boucher, Malcolm Miller, and Oshae Brissett all coming for the restricted market, Toronto only has nine players under contract for next season. Further, if Terence Davis Jr. is found guilty in his court trial on December 11th, the Raptors will likely cut bait with him, and the aforementioned figure will be down to eight. That’s not even to mention the departure of Nate Bjorkgren, who is leaving Toronto as one of Nick Nurse’s top assistant coaches to become the Indiana Pacers’ bench boss.
After a few years of seeing mostly familiar faces on the court for the Raptors, things are about to get a little bit shaky. Toronto can’t afford to retain all of their free agents, nor should they if they want to retain cap space for next summer and go after Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Assuming Davis does not return next season wearing a Raptors jersey, here is how the Raptors’ depth chart projects to look like:
|Kyle Lowry||Norman Powell||OG Anunoby||Pascal Siakam||Dewan Hernandez|
|Matt Thomas||Stanley Johnson|
Now looking over to the actual talent that remains on this roster, the team really only has a solid six man rotation, which could arguably be stretched to seven and include Patrick McCaw on some nights. The bright side is that moving forward, the Raptors have all of their own draft picks. That includes #29, and #59 in the 2020 NBA Draft slated to take place next week. Additionally, the Raptors have just under $25M in cap space to spend this summer, and have a couple of tradeable assets, including Norman Powell, and Stanley Johnson.
The first thing that stands out from Toronto’s depth chart is the centre position. With all due respect to Dewan Hernandez, he’s not ready to be a starting centre in the NBA. Heck, I’m sure the Raptors coaching staff would feel uncomfortable throwing him out there for more than ten minutes per game at this stage in his career. The Raptors need to get at least two solid centres, plus maybe one more as injury insurance. Among their targeted options will most likely be Serge Ibaka, Harry Giles – an unrestricted free agent who last played for the Sacramento Kings, Tristan Thompson – whom the Raptors reportedly have expressed some interest in, and Chris Boucher – if they are able to keep him at the right price. There will also be options in the draft at the 29th pick who may be able to come in and contribute off the bench as a rookie, such as Zeke Nnaji from Arizona, or Udoka Azubuike from Kansas.
Toronto’s next biggest need is their backup point guard slot, which is directly intertwined with their necessity for a better starting shooting guard, simply because of a guy named Fred VanVleet. His story is already well-known, so we won’t dive too deep into that, however players like him who have been overlooked for a majority of their career often pledge a loyalty to the team which gave them their shot. While there will certainly be high competition for VanVleet in the marketplace – most notably from teams like the New York Knicks, Detroit Pistons, and Phoenix Suns – the Raptors can make him an ambitious offer in the range of 4 years/$80M, which should be enough to keep him north of the border. In such a case, Freddy would likely start at shooting guard, and fill some of those backup point guard minutes by sliding over to the one when Lowry goes to the bench, and vice versa. Among other low-budget combo guard options whom the Raptors could pursue from the free agent market to play a smaller role off the bench are Reggie Jackson, Kris Dunn, and Jerian Grant. Again, they could also address this void through the draft by selecting someone like Devon Dotson from Kansas, Malachi Flynn from San Diego State, Leandro Bolmaro from the EuroLeague, or Tyrell Terry from Stanford.
Finally, Toronto’s least glaring hole which still demands attention will be finding a couple of guys to play backup minutes at either forward slot behind Anunoby and Siakam. Of course, Toronto could look to bring back Hollis-Jefferson on another one-year deal, however that will depend on his market value. Surely, it will not be as low as it was last summer, when the Raptors signed him to a measly $2.5M contract. Other players whom they could pursue on the free agent market are Jeff Green, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, or JaMychal Green. Via the draft route, some of the most intriguing forward prospects whom I believe are bursting with potential are DePaul’s Paul Reed, Colorado’s Tyler Bey, or Washington’s Jaden McDaniels.
Ultimately, the Raptors will have plenty of options regarding how they handle this offseason. There is still a chance that they could bring back a roster that looks relatively similar by re-signing VanVleet, Ibaka, Boucher, and Brissett, which is certainly a possibility. They could also fill some minutes at backup small forward by looking to their farm team and calling up Paul Watson Jr. Even in that case however, the backend of the team would be rounded out with rookies, and under-the-radar free agent flyers. One thing is for sure though – next year’s Raptors squad will bring some fresh faces to Toronto.