As we watch the Toronto Raptors going down the stretch fighting for third place in the NBA’s Eastern Conference with a chance to set a franchise record for wins, the early season Tank Nation crowd are still muttering, ‘there’s no cap space, we won’t get Wiggins, too many free agents, will Kyle Lowry and company stay in Toronto?’ The short answer to all of that is, if President and General Manager, Basketball Operations Masai Ujiri wants to keep his team together, there is no salary cap space for the summer of 2014.
The Raptors have 6 players under fully guaranteed contracts for next season estimated at $31.7 million by Basket Insiders for DeMar DeRozan, Landry Fields, Chuck Hayes, Steve Novak, Jonas Valanciunas and Terrence Ross plus they owe $0.65 million from the Marcus Camby buyout. Amir Johnson is guaranteed $5 million of his $7 million for next season so he’s not going anywhere for a total of $39.3 million.
Kyle Lowry will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of this season and he has become Head Coach Dwane Casey’s ‘Head of the Snake’ on offense and defense. If Tyreke Evans could command $44 million over 4 years last summer, better pencil in Lowry at $12 million per season (or more?), but will Lowry leave Toronto? The better questions are: Where has he enjoyed more success? and, Where can he go that the situation will be better? Odds are Lowry is back on Toronto’s roster next season with a nice fat new contract.
The other standout free agent on the Raptors has been Patrick Patterson and an excellent comparable would be Amir Johnson in 2010. Patterson oozes potential. Even as a restricted free agent who has yet to put up big numbers in his career, this stretch 4 will be an attractive asset. Mid-level exception money or 4 years and $24 million could turn out to be conservative.
With just these 8 players returning – and Ujiri will be doing everything possible to bring back Lowry and Patterson – the Raptors salary commitments are at about $57 million. Add a salary cap hold for a first round draft pick and there’s no salary cap space left to work with and Ujiri still has to fill out his roster. No Cap Space For You Toronto is a virtual certainty.
Toronto is also expected to issue qualifying offers to Greivis Vasquez and Nando De Colo and unless these players receive offers that are well beyond their perceived value (which is about the only way teams can steal restricted free agents that are worth acquiring), they will be back in Toronto. It’s possible Ujiri has potential sign and trade assets with these players, but this team needs a solid young backup point guard to continue to improve and Vasquez fits the bill. De Colo hasn’t played a lot yet, but he’s very intriguing.
John Salmons contract is for $7 million with a $1 million guarantee. Despite the nice fit with this roster and the obvious chemistry, the veteran isn’t worth $7 million next season and buying him out could give Ujiri some much needed room below the luxury tax line. If the Raptors are going to be a tax team (likely if Salmons stays and possible even if he’s gone), they’ll have a tough time explaining to the MLSE Board (owners) why they’d be paying an additional 1.5 times Salmons salary in luxury tax to keep him.
Tyler Hansbrough $3.3 million salary is only guaranteed for $1 million, however, it’s unlikely Toronto could ever find a better reserve to replace him for the veterans’ minimum if he was bought out. Even if Hansbrough remains behind Johnson and Patterson on the Raptors depth chart, he has already proven his value as an injury replacement and would be a solid trade chip as a modest expiring contract next season.
The contracts of Julyan Stone and Dwight Buycks are not guaranteed, but they are also for under $1 million. If not them, then someone else at a similar contract to round out the bench is likely.
If the Raptors let all of their free agents go and bought out all of their non-guaranteed contracts, they could possibly get $20 million in salary cap space (minus holds for open salary slots and their first round draft pick) and take a run at a bigger name free agent in July, but that seems like an unlikely scenario. There would be just too many holes to fill on this roster to actually get better going that route. Keeping Johnson, Lowry and Patterson means this team will not have salary cap space to play with and it’s pretty hard to imagine just which high end free agents will be available that Toronto could realistically pursue that would make this team better anyway.
On the NBA draft front, Masai Ujiri has credentials as a good evaluator of young basketball talent. The upcoming draft is deep and there will be gems to be plucked when Toronto picks. However, if Ujiri wants to upgrade his roster in the short term, look for him to do his damage this summer in the trade market. This capped out general manager has assets that other teams will be willing to look at.
Toronto Raptors Look After Nando De Colo And His Girlfriend
“She is Spanish,” De Colo said. “It’s okay, she was with me in San Antonio, so after a year and a half, she knows this kind of life. Now to come to Toronto, it is just a new life and new city and everything is different, but it’s a new experience, so it’s exciting.”