Well a superstar like LaMarcus Aldridge would be nice and President and General Manager, Basketball Operations Masai Ujiri has created the necessary flexibility to make that possible, but aside from hitting a homerun, what are the Raptors needs in free agency?
Toronto has won the Atlantic Division back-to-back with a starting lineup of Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, Terrence Ross, Amir Johnson and Jonas Valanciunas. The 9 point 6 rebound Johnson is an unrestricted free agent and not expected to return, however, DeRozan, Ross and Valanciunas are all young players that Ujiri expects – nay requires – to take another step in their development over the summer. The Raptors can seriously argue that they are just one player away from contention assuming that player is a star level starting power forward to replace Johnson.
The Raptors have retained backup forwards James Johnson, Patrick Patterson and Bruno Caboclo plus center Lucas Nogueira, so just nabbing a new starting power forward wouldn’t complete Ujiri’s summer workload. There are other obvious, albeit less critical, holes that need filling.
Additions: rookie Delon Wright, possibly veteran Luke Ridnour
Subtractions: veteran backup Greivis Vasquez
23-year-old Wright, winner of the Cousy award, is more NBA ready than most rookies and all of the past winners of that award have “made it” in the NBA, but a veteran backup is needed just in case and it’s hard to see Ridnour filling that role or even still being on the team in two weeks.
The ideal solution would be to steal restricted free agent Cory Joseph from the Spurs.
Potential additions: rookie Norman Powell, restricted free agent Nando DeColo
Subtractions: Sixth Man award winner Lou Williams
The rookie Powell could be the backup shooting guard of the future in Toronto, but that feels rushed.
If the Raptors could get their 28-year-old former Spurs rookie DeColo to return to Toronto from Moscow he could fill the gap, otherwise a veteran like 32-year-old unrestricted free agent Leandro Barbosa would make a good target.
Subtractions: veteran third string Landry Fields
Ujiri signed James Johnson to fill the backup small forward role last summer and despite his inconsistencies, he can still do the job. There remains some consternation among the fan base about relying on Ross to carry a heavy load and most people would be more comfortable with Ross in a backup role (or just plain gone), but that seems unlikely with Ujiri’s desire to continue giving his guys a chance to show what they can do.
At the very least the Raptors should pursue a veteran small forward to provide some toughness just in case Ross stagnates again and Johnson puts himself back in Coach Casey’s doghouse. The return of 32-year-old Alan Anderson would do the trick. (Try not to cringe.)
Potential additions: rookie DeAndre Daniels
Subtractions: starter Amir Johnson, backup Tyler Hansbrough
Toronto has a gaping hole at power forward, a hole they need to fill via free agency. Patterson has developed rapidly in Toronto and has the potential to become a stretch four/ defensive specialist worthy of starting, but he has been an impact player off the bench and that’s the role he should continue to fill next season. James Johnson can backup power forward as well, but he is best suited to an injury reserve/ third string role here.
Ujiri hopes to land Aldridge which would make his team a contender in the weak East. The Cavaliers restricted free agent Tristan Thompson would be a solid addition if Aldridge is gone and solve the Raptors rebounding woes in one stroke. Other potential targets that would meet the Raptors objectives include: Paul Millsap, Greg Monroe and David West.
Toronto also needs to add a backup power forward and Tyler Hansbrough would be the obvious choice for continuity and team chemistry. Alternatively, unrestricted free agent Jonas Jerebko is a solid rebounder who could be an effective backup in Toronto.
Daniels has been working out in Toronto for a few months now, but we won’t get a decent look at him until Summer League and Caboclo remains a mystery as well.
Subtractions: veteran backup Chuck Hayes
Hayes won the Raptors several games last season and his veteran presence will be missed, unless of course Ujiri offers the undersized 10-year veteran a job.
The call in Toronto remains rebounding and rim protection and getting a backup center capable of providing those two things is high on Ujiri’s priority list. The team never got to see if the uber-athletic Nogueira could translate his shot blocking and rim running to the NBA because of persistent nagging injuries, but maybe he is the answer to the Raptors needs – with legitimate reasons to be cautious.
To ensure his team has a true backup center next season, Ujiri could go after the now unrestricted free agent Bismack Biyombo. Biyombo is a shot blocking and rebounding machine, although his offense is limited to setting screens and grabbing second chance opportunities for his teammates.
With the Raptors hosting the 2016 NBA All-Star Game, the team is hoping for a homerun in free agency and with the high possibility of three-peating as Atlantic Division winners, Ujiri has something to sell to free agents this summer. However, most of the Raptors eggs are in the star power forward basket and Ujiri needs to land a player that can give him a lot more than Amir Johnson has provided over the last couple of seasons if he is to be seen as a winner in free agency.