In a world of cap sheets, qualifying offers, and no money anywhere whatsoever, it can be difficult to understand the decisions that the average NBA team has to make during these next, very eventful few weeks in the NBA free agency market. The Raptors have fired their coach, signed their undrafted free agents, but now face real roster decisions. Here are some questions that will help guide a preview as to what the Raptors are likely to do in free agency.
Is Fred VanVleet coming back?
It’s hard to be sure, but Steady Freddy is a solid bet to return. Even though there is an argument to be made that Fred is the second best pointguard in the class (is Marcus Smart a PG?), teams are stingy. As a non-first round pick, Fred falls under the “Arenas Provision”, which means that teams can only pay him the mid-level exception for the first two years of a hypothetical contract. Then, they can raise it up to whichever number over the max they’d like. Teams need a full amount of cap-space to make this offer and cannot go over in doing so. With so much money tied up, there are only around nine teams who are able to do this and thus compete with the Raptors in terms of signing Fred. Masai loves Fred, as he’s mentioned on several occasions, and he’s likely to be brought back.
How can the Raptors sign Fred and stay under the tax?
Even before Fred is brought back, the Raptors are looking at a number of $7 million into the projected tax. Their way out of it, as many have reported, may be Norman Powell. Norm is an interesting case study because the market for him is completely up in the air. A promosing young player 9 months ago has turned into a contract the team would love to get off of. Will there be a bidder for Norm? The Raps have to hope. There certainly aren’t too many options when it comes to just taking Norm and not sending money back.
Could Delon Wright be an option to get off some money with? He will be extension-eligible this offseason, and it may not make sense to hoard three pointguards. The difference between Delon and Fred isn’t too large, and this could be another way to get off of money. Because of the incredible regular season, these are some guys who may be dealt for more than their real value, and Delon is one of them. Is CJ Miles another at $8.3 million this season? He was also rather important in the regular season, but a large part of the Cleveland series disaster, and dealing him may not be too much of an issue. In addition to these assets, Raptors have all their picks moving forward. Will this be something that can moved to shed salary? It would certainly be frustrating to go another year without picking.
The most attractive answer when it comes to the wilingness of other teams to make a deal may be Jonas Valanciunas. Jakob Poeltl is on an incredibly cheap contract and can fit into the starting centre role. JV was solid this year and the Raptors have a shot at being able to clear money without giving up a cheap asset.
There is a market for contracts like JV and Norm types. A few of these players may be intersting to these teams after the bulk of free agency is over. Say a team like Chicago, with a ton of cap space and hoping to free salary, strikes out on FA. A team like that may be able to take JV or Norm after they whiff on some of their first options.
Who can the Raptors add?
What’s interesting about the Raptors is that they have no real needs. Their biggest needs will be created by whoever isn’t on the team anymore, which could be a backup centre or a third pointguard depending on a possible aforementioned trade. Generally speaking, their options are pretty limited, and the mid-level exception is likely where a signing would come from. It could be optimal to find young players to fit in their system, because almost every young player has excelled recently. Perhaps a Noah Vonleh could add value. Jeremi Grant for size on LeBron? How about a stretch five like Channing Frye or Ersan Illyasova? A reliable big that can shoot incredibly well is something the Raptors have lacked. None are big names, but there are endless possibilities.
Are Lowry and/or DeRozan getting traded?
We covered this here. Kyle Lowry makes $31 million next season and then has one year left at around $33 million. DeMar has $27.7 for the next two years followed by a player option. Assuming JV and Ibaka aren’t dealt, their contracts are also on the books for two years. See a pattern? Because of how much these deals line up, it’s likely the Raptors ride it out with Lowry and DeRozan before either 2020 or 2021 brings a ton of change. It’s difficult to gauge value for either one, and with a new coach, the Raptors will likely keep there core and make another run at it.
Do the Raptors care about where LeBron goes?
The LeBronto meme is no longer funny, but James’ decision impacts the Raptors more than most. If he were to sign, say, a three year deal in Cleveland, that could be a prompt to make big trades. However, if he were to head to the West, that may be an indication to go into the tax and do whatever it takes to finally compete in a conference without the King.