It feels like things are stalling out in the NBA for trades and free agency as teams wait on Gordon Hayward and the few remaining free agents with profile to decide where they want to go/ who wants them plus what is likely the inevitable return of Otto Porter to the Wizards after he signs an offer sheet with somebody. But until there’s some clarity, the next shoe to drop for teams like the Toronto Raptors is left hanging up in the air.
The Raptors aren’t the only ones looking to dump salary, the Bucks, Celtics? and likely and handful of other teams are also waiting for the big picture to work itself out as well. Toronto, however, after coming to terms with Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka is in a must deal versus might or would like to deal situation.
It likely isn’t as bad as being $17 million over the luxury tax line in Toronto. The first year salaries of Lowry and Ibaka combined could be about $5 million less than the three-year average, VanVleet is not guaranteed and can still be released, and their first round draft pick isn’t signed/could still be traded, but if paying the tax is a big deal for president Masai Ujiri, he still needs to move at least one of Jonas Valanciunas, DeMarre Carroll or (for a partial tax savings) Cory Joseph.
The most obvious shoe to drop is at point guard.
The Raptors have four and nobody needs four healthy point guards on their roster. The easy solution is to waive the non-guaranteed deal of VanVleet, but he’s a cheap option as a third string backup and Ujiri has been noticed trying to shop the $7.6 million expiring contract of Joseph.
A potential deal with Indiana apparently fell though, but solid young backup point guards are a reasonably valuable commodity. Joseph is trade-able.
Ideally Joseph would be packaged with Carroll or Valanciunas so Ujiri could get something of value back and still dip below tax line.
Even if the fan base couldn’t hold the door open fast enough to help Carroll move on, he is still a useful player at a position of need, assuming he can stay healthy. So, Ujiri can’t be too fussy if it’s his traditional slow-footed rebounding center Valanciunas or the disappointing ‘3-and-D’ forward Carroll who he manages to off load to save the tax. Both players are starters and would have a useful role coming off the bench in what is expected to be a higher scoring small ball focused Raptors rotation next season.
However, if Ujiri can find a way to fill the gaps in the rotation caused by their departure, internally, by way of trade or free agency, then both Valanciunas and Carroll could be on their way out for cheaper options.
While what could come back by way of trade is harder to judge, if Ujiri could move both Carroll and Valanciunas, there are still some interesting options in free agency.
The Timberwolves have withdrawn the qualifying offer from small forward Shabazz Muhammad.
Combo forward James Johnson is available and a known quantity in Toronto.
Patrick Patterson becomes a viable option who knows the Raptors systems and has been a very effective, if at times frustrating, glue guy.
Another option could be Clipper free agent Luc Mbah Moute who evolved into a 39 percent three-point shooter last season.
At this point in free agency, the list of second tier options is long. However, the first step is clearing enough space below the luxury tax line to make room.