Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri isn’t known for letting much leak out of his organization and it’s been all quiet up north heading into the NBA free agency scramble that’s only days away.
However, just like last summer the Raptors appear to be slotted in as a luxury tax team with no chance of competing for an NBA title and if the dumping of the 2018 NBA Coach of the Year Dwane Casey in order to save a few million dollars by promoting his assistant Nick Nurse is any indication, then the historically cheap ownership in Toronto will have Ujiri jumping thru hoops to save money again this summer.
The little bit of actual news emanating out of the North revolves around the obvious desire to re-sign pending restricted free agent Fred VanVleet and the likely salary dump of Norman Powell. The teaser in this scenario being Ujiri will probably still have to find a way to off load a few more million to stay below the luxury tax threshold, so just like last summer, Ujiri will need to make another move to keep his bosses happy.
The good news, if one can call it good news, is the team is deep enough and Ujiri is good enough at making deals that even with a rookie head coach and no obvious upgrade in talent on the horizon, the Raptors should have enough for another 50 win season and get back to the second round of the playoffs. Unfortunately, that scenario will sell seats, fill the owners’ pockets and give the organization little rationale doing what it takes to build a real contender.
While Ujiri isn’t expected to tank for a rebuild as that would cost the organization a lot of money, anyone expecting/hoping for a blockbuster deal involving Kyle Lowry and/or DeMar DeRozan is going to be disappointed. This duo is more than good enough to win regular season games and give Ujiri job security.
It’s going to take something special to pry one of Ujiri’s young assets out of Toronto which makes this unlikely, but anyone interested in center Jonas Valanciunas or power forward/center Serge Ibaka will be listened to. While the trade market for traditional big men is dubious, these two players are Ujiri’s best hope for a trade that brings back less salary and a useful asset accomplishing the organization’s twin goals of respectability on the court and high profits.
More palatable trade scenarios where Toronto takes on salary to try to improve the roster (like going after Otto Porter or Andrew Wiggins) and gives new head coach Nick Nurse a shot at building on last season might be possible as the wild ride that’s about to start as other teams pursue LeBron James, Paul George, Kawhi Leonard and others, but those nearly infinite possibilities would all entail crossing that luxury tax threshold with no guarantee of getting out of the Eastern conference. The history of the Raptors firmly suggests that will never happen.
It’s all quiet up North and the reason being, just like last summer, what Ujiri is likely working on isn’t anything that anyone outside of Toronto will even notice.
Confidently took vacation during the 2018 NBA Draft believing the Raptors weren’t about to do anything.