Offseason In Review: Toronto Raptors

Hoops Rumors is in the process of looking back at each team’s offseason, from the end of the playoffs in June right up until opening night. Trades, free agent signings, draft picks, contract extensions, option decisions, camp invitees, and more will be covered, as we examine the moves each franchise made over the last several months.

Signings

Extensions

  • None

Trades

Waiver Claims

  • None

Draft Picks

  • Bruno Caboclo (Round 1, 20th overall). Signed via rookie exception to rookie scale contract.
  • DeAndre Daniels (Round 2, 37th overall). Playing in Australia.
  • Lucas Nogueira (2013, Round 1, 16th overall). Signed via rookie exception to rookie scale contract.

Camp Invitees

Departing Players

Rookie Contract Option Decisions

The results of this past offseason seem rather tame for GM Masai Ujiri, who made his mark with splashy moves in Denver and in his first months in Toronto. Still, it’s not as if the former Executive of the Year award-winner didn’t put in his fair share of work this summer. Kyle Lowry admitted that the Raptors weren’t always the favorite in the race to re-sign him but said that Ujiri’s enthusiasm for bringing him back influenced his decision to stay north of the border. There was a relatively slim field of suitors for the point guard who wound up with a four-year, $48MM deal, with the Rockets, Lakers, Mavs and Heat seemingly the only legitimate competition for Toronto, and reports later in the summer indicated that Miami’s interest was overstated.

NBA: Toronto Raptors at Oklahoma City ThunderThat weak market for Lowry had much to do with a glut of quality point guards around the league, but it also speaks to the uneasiness that comes with projecting Lowry’s performance. Last season was a career year for the now 28-year-old, and while it could be a signal that he’s entering his prime, it could also be a blip on the radar that precedes a regression during the season ahead. Many reports have documented Lowry’s attitude change for the better over the past year, but it remains to be seen if his demeanor is truly the key to his on-court production. The Raptors bet heavily that the 2013/14 version of Lowry more closely resembles the one who’ll be around for the next few years, but in Toronto, where free agents aren’t known to flock, the need to take such risks is higher than it is elsewhere.

The former Villanova standout isn’t the only Raptors point guard who’s back after having been a free agent. Greivis Vasquez made it clear that he longed to stay in Toronto, where he’d spent only a partial season after stops in Memphis, New Orleans and Sacramento during a whirlwind tour of the league on his rookie scale contract. Vasquez is only a season removed from having averaged 9.0 assists in New Orleans during his only full year as a starter. The buyer’s market for point guards surely didn’t help Vasquez, either, though he still probably could have ended up with a starting job somewhere, provided the Raptors didn’t exercise their right to match offers for the restricted free agent. The Raptors paid a premium of a contract valued slightly above the mid-level salary to keep him, but Vasquez is probably worth it, particularly since he gives the team a solid Plan B in case Lowry indeed regresses, and his presence tacitly puts pressure on Lowry to perform.

The Raptors were reportedly worried at one point that they wouldn’t be able to keep both Vasquez and Patrick Patterson, their other restricted free agent, but thanks in large measure to the Steve Novak trade, they were able to accommodate new deals for both under the tax line. The only cost of unloading Novak’s nearly $3.446MM salary on the Jazz, other than Novak himself, was a second-round pick that Ujiri had acquired from the Knicks in 2013’s Andrea Bargnani trade. Toronto took back the non-guaranteed salary of Diante Garrett and promptly waived him, opening the flexibility to give Patterson a three-year deal with salaries similar to Vasquez’s two-year pact. Patterson, the last pick of the lottery in 2010, never had the breakout year that Vasquez had, though he’s never had the opportunity to be a full-time starter, except for the first half of the 2012/13 season before the Rockets traded him to Sacramento. Vasquez has done more to merit his deal than Patterson has to earn his, but Patterson is nonetheless a floor-spacing power forward who provides a complement to the inside game of starting power forward Amir Johnson. Fit often trumps talent when it comes to building benches.

The Raptors had enough flexibility left over to bring in a player who once started for them and slot him for a bench role. James Johnson‘s stock had cratered before the Grizzlies signed him last December, but he made it plain that he deserves a place in the league, helping Memphis stay afloat while the team was dealing with numerous injuries. The 16th overall pick from 2009 can play either forward position, and though his lack of three-point shooting makes it a tougher go for him at small forward, Patterson’s floor-stretching ability once more comes in handy, since he and Johnson will likely see plenty of time together. Reports indicated the Rockets had interest while the Grizzlies were split on whether to re-sign him, but that doesn’t suggest there was a robust market for the 27-year-old, making his $2.5MM salaries seem pricey for the Raptors.

They’re still much less than what the Raptors would have had to pay John Salmons, whom Ujiri shipped to Atlanta before his $7MM salary for this season became fully guaranteed. The Raptors are shelling out more this year to the two players they received in return, but the 28-year-old Lou Williams, a double-figure scorer for the past seven seasons, has much more upside than the 34-year-old Salmons. Lucas Nogueira, the raw big man from Brazil whom the Raptors also received in the trade, ostensibly has more upside than Salmons, too, though his potential won’t be realized for a while.

Ujiri is clearly not averse to raw Brazilian big men, as he proved when he made one of the most shocking draft picks in the past several years, taking Bruno Caboclo with the 20th overall pick. Just 18 years old on draft day, Caboclo had spent the past season in the lightly regarded Brazilian league, scoring 5.2 points in just 13.0 minutes per game. There were other teams that reportedly planned to draft him before the Raptors would have had a chance to nab him with their second-round pick, at No. 37, but it’s unclear if those clubs would have had the temerity to go through with such a bold move when their picks came around. Perhaps most surprisingly, the Raptors signed him over the summer, starting the clock on his rookie scale contract and committing two years of guaranteed salaries to him rather than letting him develop overseas. That could pay off if he hits restricted free agency before he truly breaks out, allowing the Raptors to re-sign him at a discount, but there’s certainly no promise that he’ll ever truly pay off for the Raptors or anyone else in the league.

Ujiri filled his team’s final opening-night roster spot with Greg Stiemsma, an experienced backup center who can supplement an otherwise unproven (Nogueira, Caboclo) or undersized (Chuck Hayes) group of reserve big men. Stiemsma beat out Jordan Hamilton and Will Cherry in a spirited preseason competition, and with both Hamilton and Cherry now under contract with other NBA teams, it’s clear the Raptors are paying a premium for using a pair of roster spots on long-term projects. There’s an opportunity for the Raptors to go to the Eastern Conference Finals this season if they play well and catch a break, with Derrick Rose‘s health a question mark and many uncertainties surrounding the way the new Cavs will mesh. Still, the Raptors are at their heart a young team, with DeMar DeRozan, Jonas Valanciunas and Terrence Ross still gaining steam and Lowry seemingly just hitting his stride. Ujiri has as much of an obligation to look toward the future as he does to the present, and in that context, the Brazilian big men are just two more examples of Ujiri’s fearlessness.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images. The Basketball Insiders salary pages were used in the creation of this post.

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4 Comments on "Offseason In Review: Toronto Raptors"

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Adam Gingrich
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Adam Gingrich
1 year 10 months ago

what I find most interesting about this roster is that they are considered to be a deep team, perhaps too deep depending on your perspective, while still committing two roster spots to guys who aren’t expected to contribute

HoopsRumors
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HoopsRumors
1 year 10 months ago

Count me in the camp of those who believe you can never be too deep, but I do think the Raptors bench is improved on the whole.

–Chuck

Adam Gingrich
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Adam Gingrich
1 year 10 months ago
Agreed, considering that Lowry doesn’t have a great track record for staying healthy given his style of play and size and Amir has an ongoing ankle issue. HoweverI still think Ujiri would like to consolidate some of this depth into a star. He was in a similar situation post-Melo with the Nuggets and was vocal about trying to acquire a top-10 player using the depth he had accumulated. Combine that with a possible roster crunch (Ross and Jonas are eligible for extensions, 9 guys already under contract for next year + 2 1st round picks) and there’s some real potential… Read more »
Omazing
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Omazing
1 year 10 months ago

Somebody just dropped Michael Carter Williams in my fantasy league. I have no PG other than Sessions. We have a $300 auction limit for the whole season. Does spending $103 for MCW sound crazy? I think i may :-) thoughts?

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