The current question on everyone’s mind in Toronto and in a whole lot of other NBA cities in need of a starting center is: will Bismack Biyombo be back with the Raptors next season? As difficult as arranging a return seems to be for Biyombo’s mentor/Raptors president and general manager Masai Ujiri, somethings up.
“I love it up here,” Biyombo said about his pending free agency. “I would love to be back here. The one thing I believe is in the office there are the right people and I have the right people on my side to enter (those discussions). I am not to concerned about that. I think I’ve heard Masai say a couple of times (we’ll) do whatever it takes.”
Ujiri is a straight shooter. If he says something, he means it, but this time, “whatever it takes” means he’ll have to make other things happen with his roster to be able to offer Biyombo a fair deal based on his age and recent success.
As a player with only one year in Toronto, Ujiri doesn’t have “Bird Rights” to re-sign Biyombo. The Raptors will have to clear salary cap space to make an offer, but Ujiri knew all this when he signed Biyombo using the Raptors “Room Exception” last summer and he knew there’d be some flaming hoops to jump through when he told Biyombo he’d do whatever it takes to re-sign him.
Biyombo was in for a huge raise this summer based on his regular season success. The playoffs only served to raise the causal fans’ awareness of just how good Biyombo could be in the right situation with the right coach and teammates.
“A lot of credit goes to my teammates and the coaches for really finding a way to use me to help the team,” Biyombo said. “When the opportunity to come to Toronto came, I felt it was going to be a perfect fit for me from the jump. I am beyond grateful.”
On the 56 win Raptors, Biyombo started 22 games, but he primarily came off the bench to split minutes with Jonas Valanciunas as the pair of centers crushed it on the glass all season. Valanciunas grabbing 20.1 percent of all available rebounds and Biyombo hauling in 20.8 percent. They were the reason the Raptors outrebounded their opponents by +2.6 boards per game during the regular season.
In the playoffs, those rebounding numbers were about to go up. Valanciunas grabbing 32.2 percent of the available boards and Biyombo 33.8 percent. The Raptors centers kept their teammates in the postseason when their All-Stars struggled hitting shots early on. When Valanciunas was lost to an ankle sprain in the second round, Biyombo stepped up for 8 games on his own to prove the regular season starts were no fluke, he can do it as a starter in the playoffs as well.
Rebounders like Valanciunas and Biyombo are hard to find and highly prized. A team is likely to have only one such rebounding big man if they are lucky and it gave the Raptors a lot of flexibility with the rest of their rotation. Players like the Raptors Patrick Patterson and DeMarre Carroll that like to hang out on the perimeter are ideally paired with someone that can clean the glass. Ujiri won’t want to lose either of his centers this summer if he can avoid it.
The Raptors GM doesn’t have a lot to work with, however. In reality, if the Raptors hang onto their All-Star DeMar DeRozan – and they will – all of their salary cap space and more is already spoken for.
Available salary cap space for the 2016-17 season could be as high as $92 million, a $20 million jump from last season, but that money has already been spent on extensions to Valanciunas and Terrence Ross that kick in next season.
If the Raptors rescind all of the player cap holds except for DeRozan and Biyombo, they can get to almost $7 million for Biyombo and there is room to tinker, but to get to a contract on par with Valanciunas’ extension (a reasonable target), they’ll need to double that.
Someone with a reasonably significant contract – like say Patterson ($6 million) or Ross ($10 million) could be traded to a team with cap space for assets with a limited current cap hit to create room. Teams have done this before, it can work, but how Ujiri would get it done in Toronto is anyone’s guess at this point.
Expect a very busy period for the Raptors between the draft and free agency. Ujiri has been nothing less than a magician when it comes to moving, keeping and and acquiring players since his arrival in Toronto.