The Toronto Raptors went into free agency this summer with little flexibility. There was no chance president and general manager Masai Ujiri wasn’t going to make re-signing All-Star DeMar DeRozan his first priority and after striking out trying to make a trade at the NBA Draft and keeping both of his picks at 9 and 27, Toronto was left with about $6 million in salary cap space if they renounced their other free agents and cap holds. In other words, options are limited.
However, now that most of the top free agent talent is gone as is most of the league’s salary cap space, the remaining guys unrealistic salary expectations after watching all those unbelievable contracts being handed out will start to fade. Reality is about to hit home soon and hard, it’s time for Ujiri to start picking thru what’s left in free agency to fill the holes in his roster at the two forward spots.
Point Guard: Kyle Lowry, Cory Joseph, Delon Wright
Shooting Guard: DeMar DeRozan, Norman Powell
Small Forward: DeMarre Carroll, Terrence Ross, Bruno Caboclo
Power Forward: Patrick Patterson, Pascal Siakam*
Center: Jonas Valanciunas, Jacob Poeltl*, Lucas Nogueira
* unsigned rookies
The Raptors have wants not needs. Except for the 36-year-old Luis Scola, Bismack Biyombo backing up center and James Johnson backing up small forward, this is the same relatively young roster that won 56 games last season and got to the Eastern Conference Finals with their big 2015 free agent signing DeMarre Carroll injured for most of the way.
Based on how Ujiri loves to develop young players, Poeltl is going to have to play himself out of the backup center spot, although going to Nogueira next doesn’t exactly leave one with a warm fuzzy feeling that everything would be alright. It should be expected Siakam will have to earn all of his minutes, and he might. He is after all an energy and effort type of player, but a proven third big man that could slide between the four and the five would be a big boost to this roster.
There are big man options available in free agency that should help what should be an already solid rotation.
Marreese Speights, UFA Golden State Warriors, 6’10, 255 lbs
A veteran big man with the ability to provide instant offense off the bench. He has even started to develop a three-point shot.
David Lee, UFA Dallas Mavericks, 6’9, 245 lbs
The 33-year-old former All-Star is still a superior scorer and rebounder and has been solid in a bench role these past two seasons. A porous defender, but a good teammate and veteran.
Brandon Bass, UFA Los Angeles Lakers, 6’8 250 lbs
At 31-years-old, you know exactly what you’ll get from Bass. Not an exciting choice, no upside, just a reliable, boring placeholder while the young guys figure things out.
Terrence Jones, UFA Houston Rockets, 6’9, 250 lbs
Terrence Jones would be a hot prospect if anyone believed he could get most of the way thru a season unscathed. The Rockets don’t, that’s why the 24-year-old is unrestricted.
Jared Sullinger, RFA Boston Celtics, 6’9 260 lbs
Jared Sullinger has burned the Raptors on numerous occasions and one would assume the Celtics would match any offer, but that team has some big decisions to make. They have rookies they need to sign, trade or potentially lose. They have unguaranteed contracts with veteran big men Amir Johnson and Jonas Jerebko that they should be picking up now that they’ve brought All-Star Al Horford on board. (They’d look good in a Raptors uniform if cut.)
It’s either Sullinger and Tyler Zeller (RFA center) or Johnson and Jerebko and the Celtics can be pushed around on this one. They don’t have enough roster spots to keep everyone.
Trail Blazers RFA Meyers Leonard had shoulder surgery and will be out for 6-8 months, but he’d be an interesting pickup if you can stomach the risk?
There are few interesting options to bolster the Raptors small forward spot, but the guy they had last year is probably the guy that would do the job best again in October.
The veteran (yes, he’s a veteran now) James Johnson took on the third string injury reserve role on the Raptors last season and did a great job filling in for Carroll until Powell took his minutes. Consistency is valuable and bringing Johnson back next season makes sense.
If Ujiri wants a wing that can shoot the three-ball instead of Johnson, Thunder forward Kyle Singler’s younger brother E.J. Singler finished off the NBA D-League season with the Raptors 905 and made a huge impact. If he performs well with Toronto in Summer League, he could be the Raptors new third stringer.
As things continue to shake out, teams pull qualifying offers off the table and players get waived to make room for other deals, there will be new and possibly unforeseen opportunities this summer. If anything, Ujiri is an opportunist, but there is enough out there right now to meet his team’s needs.