No one knows for sure what LaMarcus Aldridge is thinking these days, but if he does the logical thing and abandons the Western Conference for Toronto, he is the future of the Raptors and what’s next is filling in the holes with young guys and minimum salary veterans. However, the front-running Spurs, all-in Suns, hopeful Rockets and yes, even the sad-sack Lakers are still in this race, so counting on Aldridge for next season definitely requires a really practical backup plan. Then there’s this crazy notion Aldridge has been just doing all this for the attention and will re-sign with the Trail Blazers… what the…. it’s his right.
As Aldridge ponders, the best alternatives – like say David West – are being courted heavily and no one wants to be your second choice. If Aldridge takes the weekend to decide, Toronto will need to have lined up plans “C”, “D”, and possibly “E”. Free Agent pickings will start to get thin really quickly.
As things sit on Friday afternoon, the Raptors starting unit consists of Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, DeMarre Carroll (to be signed), Patrick Patterson and Jonas Valanciunas. Their backups are rookie Delon Wright, Terrence Ross, James Johnson, Bruno Caboclo, Lucas Nogueira and the likely-to-be-waived Luke Ridnour.
At a minimum, the Raptors need to add a guard, power forward and a center and if second round picks Norman Powell and/or DeAndre Daniels enter the mix, those additions had better be rotation worthy.
If the salary cap rises to $69 million as expected and Ridnour is waived, Toronto could have between $10 and $13 million under the cap if Aldridge decides to go elsewhere. (There’s just a lot of information that remains uncertain.)
However, if President and General Manager, Basketball Operations Masai Ujiri’s focus on obtaining tough two-way players continues, he may still have options he likes in free agency.
If Ujiri is lucky, David West is still available and willing to sign for something under $8 million per season, but when have the Raptors ever been that lucky?
Assuming the Spurs win the Aldridge sweepstakes, the qualifying offer to Cory Joseph will almost certainly have to be rescinded making him an unrestricted free agent. As a defensive-minded backup point guard with a much improved jump shot, he’d be perfect in Head Coach Dwane Casey’s system and allow the rookie Wright to be the team’s fourth guard.
Last year’s Sixth-Man Lou Williams could even still be available and it’s somewhat surprising that he hasn’t been spoken for already. Williams isn’t exactly a defensive-minded guard, but he definitely helped Toronto win a few games last season.
At power forward, there may yet be better rated options than Tyler Hansbrough available, but there won’t be a better fit in terms of accepting a role and having instant chemistry in small ball lineups with Patterson. Hansbrough won’t command significant term or dollars and that flexibility could come in handy next summer when the free agent free-for-all starts all over again. A very low risk addition who will practice hard and play hard on command. A proven Coach Casey type guy.
It would be nice if unrestricted free agent Kosta Koufos lasts long enough to be picked up next week, although he really shouldn’t. He was a solid backup center for a tough-minded team in Memphis last year and he’ll do the same for his next team. If he’s gone or his price has moved out of the Raptors range, then in keeping with finding a defensive-minded player that can rebound and block shots, unrestricted free agent Bismack Biyombo fits the bill. Either player passes as a tenacious rebounder that can swat away anything within reach, just don’t expect them to lead the bench in scoring.
Leave to Ujiri’s imagination to still find a homerun if the Raptors lose Aldridge to the crowd pursuing him, nothing should surprise Toronto fans at this point.
There is no point in targeting restricted free agents until after July 8th as their own club has three days to match an offer sheet, so giving them a heads up is counterproductive.
There is a world of trade possibilities for a team with salary cap space and multiple first round draft picks in each of the next two years like Toronto. However, it’s still free agent season and trades that start to make sense aren’t expected to happen until after the July moratorium has ended.
It isn’t over until it’s over. In the meantime it’s just hurry up and wait.