An up and down 2014-2015 year for the Toronto Raptors, was followed by what claims to be a very successful off-season. Masai Ujiri made some big-time decisions, which gained mostly positive feedback. It seems the Raptors’ roster has been built for not only immediate success, but lasting results, considering the characters, and youth added to the core of the team.
After a disappointing performance in the playoffs, Ujiri made quick work of any valuable assets and cap available to improve the team while removing what the front office might’ve seen as negatives for the roster.
Free-agent signing, DeMarre Carroll: A
Safe to say the best move Ujiri and staff made, was scoring on the free-agent signing of DeMarre Carroll, who was the best option in the free agent class at his position. Ujiri made it known during the introductory press conference of DeMarre Carroll, that “he is a hard nosed player … plays with passion and commitment on both ends of the floor.” Basketball fans should know that, especially after the season he had. With the acknowledgement from Ujiri, it defines exactly what Carroll will bring to the court, and even in the locker room. Carroll is a defensive stopper, a scrapper who rebounds the basketball, and will make a ton of hustle plays. Offensively, Carroll is terrific in off-ball situations, mainly as a spot-up, catch-and-shoot type player. Carroll averaged an impressive 39.5% from the perimeter, and 48.7% overall from the field. Efficient offence, and game-affecting defence is exactly what Carroll is, which will be a major fit besides Kyle Lowry, and DeMar DeRozan.
However, you can argue that he’s overpaid – paid more than both Lowry, and DeRozan (the team’s two all-stars) – but, with the increase in salary cap the next couple season’s (approximately $30 million raise), Carroll’s salary numbers are a steal, considering what he has proven himself to be.
Free-agent signing, Cory Joseph: A-
Signing Cory Joseph was probably a no-brainer for Ujiri and his camp; a Canadian, up-and-coming, young, dynamic, defensive point guard with a load of potential. Sure, a well-loved signing, however, controversy is what surrounds this decision as well. The domino effect of from the decision was Lou Williams was let go. Eventually signing at a cheaper price. Lou the Raptors’ Sixth Man of the Year this past season, proved to be a valuable offensive option. Something that could be argued pertaining to how he affected team’s system and play.
Don’t get me wrong here, Joseph’s signing is fantastic. Now here’s a player who will back-up Lowry, and will likely be around for a very long time, however, the reason Joseph’s signing grade isn’t a perfect A is the grey cloud surrounding the money he signed for at 4 years/$30 million dollar deal, versus Lou signing with the Los Angeles Lakers for 3 years/$21 million. A proven commodity was let go, for an un-proven (in consistent large minutes, that is) player at a larger expense.
Free-agent signing, Luis Scola: B+
Luis Scola was a solid signing, especially demonstrating that he’s got a ton of game left. He single-handedly dominated Canada in their one match-up at the FIBA America’s, and winning yet another MVP award for the tourney. Scola, known for his terrific rebounding and all-around offensive skill – back-to-the-basket, screen-&-roll/pop, and play-making in the high-post – is going to bring a ton to the table, On the other hand, Scola is not a very good defender and struggles with longer, more athletic players. Luckily his role is likely to come off the bench as a main offensive option. Just a bit of a lower grade, considering Amir Johnson‘s rebounding and defence walked out the door, but at 1 year/$3 million dollars, you can’t go wrong.
Free-agent signing, Bismack Biyombo: B+
In Bismack Biyombo the Raptors finally have a centre to back up Jonas Valanciunas. More importantly, he plays defence, and very well. Biyombo is a terrific finisher around the rim. This will allow to spell both JV and Patrick Patterson‘s (assuming he is promoted by default to a starter) minutes, rather than have to mix line-ups, and have one play significantly longer.This became a serious issue where Pat and Amir were constantly out of position, guarding bigger, stronger centres. Also, at 2 years/$6 million dollars, that’s a highway robbery for a centre who was one of the very few, good, available options at that position.
TRADE – Raptors receive 2017 first round pick & the rights to the 46th pick in 2015 draft from the Milwaukee Bucks (Norman Powell) for Greivis Vasquez : A+
Masai Ujiri made one trade on draft night, by dealing the former swag-master, back-up point guard, Greivis Vasquez to the Milwaukee Bucks for the 46th pick of the 2015 draft (Norman Powell) and a 2017 first round pick. The reason this trade is graded well, is based on Vasquez’s performance this past season; inconsistent, at times cringe-worthy. This isn’t to say Vasquez did nothing for the season, for he was a reason for the quick success/turnaround for the team in the past two years, and made a major impact in many games, but 38% from the field, a drop in assists, and vile defence in 25 minutes made it known that he was also a liability from there on out. With the coaching staff, and the front office leaning heavily towards a desire to improve defence, it was an easy decision. The major positives in this deal however, is the future assets received; Powell might proving in summer league that he could easily be a rotation player in the NBA makes it easy for Ujiri and staff to continue on an already upside-heavy, young core. Not only will it add, but it can play as future trade-able, bargaining assets.
Two years in a row, Ujiri has gone with a pick that nobody expected; Delon Wright, the long and defensive long 6’5 point guard from Utah was a pick that surprised many. Not a Bruno Caboclo type of surprise – but ended up proving solid potential for the Raptors in the future. The grade a little low, based on Ujiri’s inability to move up, with many names in mind taken before the Raptors’ pick, not to mention names that they possibly could’ve picked otherwise; Tyus Jones, Rondae-Hollis Jefferson, and Bobby Portis, but a still a very good pick, leaning towards the major defensive identity and upgrade.
Jonas Valanciunas signed a 4 year/$64 million dollar extension, much less than the expected desire for the max salary, and less than a comparison made to Enes Kanter. JV, with even the few touches, and inconsistent use of his ability, had one of the best true shooting percentages in the league, a top in the field goal percentages lists, and improvement every single season. A big-man with potential, ability to play the pick-&-roll, and anchor a team on both ends, is very rare nowadays. The extension is great, and although being paid more than the team’s all-stars, it’s a no-brainer to extend and keep him, especially with his still, very high ceiling.
This might be a lower-than-expected grade, but should deem fair; a positive grade, nonetheless, despite some of the money spent, questionable – few – decisions, and the ‘let-go’ of some prominent, productive players for the team in the past season(s). An obvious major upgrade defensively, with the likes of Cory Joseph, DeMarre Carroll, Bismack Biyombo, drafting and trading for Norman Powell, Delon Wright, and adding some offensive punch with Luis Scola, has created what looks like a versatile, talented, potential-heavy roster. This is arguably the first time Ujiri has had the assets and open wing to make his stamp (cap space, expiring contracts) on this team.