Amidst all of the rumours of a potential Kawhi Leonard trade, it seems many Raptors fans have been ignoring another route that could be available to improve the team. The Raptors have yet to use any of their taxpayer mid-level exception (MLE) valued at $5.29 million. While there aren’t any Leonard-level players who are going to be signing for the MLE, there are valuable pieces who remain unsigned in this unfriendly market. Think back to the Raptors acquiring C.J. Miles, who signed for $8,333,333 with the Pacers before being traded to Toronto. There are a number of decent players left on the market that could provide some additional fire power to the team’s second unit, and these are the top 5 that could help improve the team a little bit. Many are more valuable than the $5.29 million contract would suggest, but in such a stingy marketplace, may be willing to sign with the Raptors at this point, as very few teams can offer more than that number.
1. Montrezl Harrell
One of the more surprising players to remain unsigned, Harrell has shown the ability to be a great hustle player off the bench, and he’s still pretty young at 24 years old. He put up 11 points and 4 rebounds a game in only 17 minutes for the Clippers last season, and while he isn’t even close to being a 3-point threat, he still managed to score extremely efficiently. His crazy .641 shooting on 2-point field goals lead him to a .647 TS% last season. Most popular advanced stats portray Harrell very well, which is a trend among high-efficiency bench players who can defend well.
While Harrell might be the remaining MLE-level player with the highest impact, there are valid questions about how he would fit on the squad. He plays a similar role and the same position as Pascal Siakam, and adding another non-shooter to the lineup would negatively affect spacing even more. If other options are off the table, Harrell could certainly be a nice signing for the Raptors to further improve their depth for cheap (or if, say, Siakam or Wright were to be moved in a trade).
2. Rodney Hood
Hood has been polarizing for fans over his NBA career so far. While he may never be the primary scoring option that the Jazz once envisioned, he has shown the ability to shoot pretty well. He has a career .369 3P% on about 5 attempts per game, which would be good for the 5th highest on our team last season (4th if you exclude JV’s 1 attempt per game). Before he was thrown into the chaos that was Cleveland’s locker room last year, he was hitting a higher percentage of his 3-point shots on more attempts than Raptor’s resident sharpshooter C.J. Miles.
Many would question adding Hood after his behaviour with Cleveland last post season, but worst case scenario Hood would simply not crack the rotation in Toronto. One of the luxuries of having a very deep roster is that you can dip into the MLE on risky players like Hood, and if he doesn’t meet expectations you always have someone else ready to take his place. If Hood doesn’t play then the bench runs as usual, and best case scenario could see the addition of a 15PPG wing who can space the floor some more.
It’s important to remember that Hood is a restricted free agent, so the chances of signing him depend on what the Cavalier’s have planned for their future. They also have the same MLE available that the Raptor’s do, so it’s likely they would end up matching any offer unless they don’t see Hood as a part of their future.
3. Marcus Smart
Another RFA who may or may not be a part of their franchises’ plans going forward, Smart has been a key piece to the Celtics top-ranked defence for the past few years. While it’s likely that either Smart or Terry Rozier won’t be a part of the team shortly in the future, if we were to offer him a one or two-year deal on the MLE it would be hard to imagine the Celtics not matching his offer and viewing his contract as an asset going forward.
Everyone knows Smart’s game at this point, and it doesn’t seem likely to change much in the future. He won’t score well or space the floor at all for our bench unit, but he does still add significant value when he plays. He’s the type of player who could inject a burst of intensity and focus during high stakes scenarios, something which has been a little lacking from the Raptors when the pressure is on.
4. Michael Beasley
Michael Beasley may not be the first name that sprung to mind as a quality free agent addition, but he seems to have matured recently and he was putting up pretty good numbers with the Knicks last season. 13 PPG on 50/39/78 shooting splits lead to an eFG% of .528, which was above league average last year. He didn’t hit a high volume on three-pointers with only 1.2 attempts per game, ideally he would be able to increase that number in Nick Nurse’s new offence, but at his age it’s hard to expect any major improvements. He would still, however, be an interesting new option for the team if one of the rotation players is having a bad night.
5. Vince Carter
Bringing Carter back to play a veteran leadership role would be more for sentimental reasons than for his actual on-court contributions. Opinions on Vince amongst Raptors’ fans is largely divided, but at some point it’s nice to bury the hatchet and move on. Carter seems to have matured, and he’s apologized for how he exited Toronto back in 2004. It would be nice to bring an old legend back for what could be his last season, and everything that’s came out recently suggests that he’s a great locker room presence for the young guys.
Another promising part of this signing would be that Toronto may be able to get him for less than the full MLE. This would help the team to keep more flexibility going forward, or to keep taxes down if MLSE wishes. It also means that Toronto would likely be able to outbid (or at the very least match) any other offers given. It’s unlikely he would be given more than 1 year of the MLE, as that’s about what he was getting with the Kings last season. For a team as deep as the Raptors, who almost have too many players to fit into the rotation fully, using the MLE for veteran leadership and to please fans could be inconsequential compared to other teams.