Offseason Outlook: Toronto Raptors

Guaranteed Contracts


Non-Guaranteed Contracts

  • Kyle Lowry ($6,210,000; guaranteed for $1,000,000)1

Free Agents / Cap Holds

Draft Picks

  • None

Cap Outlook

  • Guaranteed Salary: $66,173,758
  • Options: $1,567,500
  • Non-Guaranteed Salary: $5,210,000
  • Cap Holds: $3,806,336
  • Total: $76,757,594

While the on-court results for an NBA lottery team can be discouraging, there's usually some reason for hope when the offseason rolls around. Whether that means a top-five draft pick or an abundance of cap space, fans of 50- or 60-loss teams can often talk themselves into believing that with a couple smart draft picks, trades, or signings, things will turn around — and sometimes that's even true.

This isn't to say there's no hope in sight for the Raptors. But of this year's 14 lottery teams, only one has no cap space and no top-14 pick: Toronto. In fact, not only are they capped out and without a lottery pick, but the Raptors are dangerously close to tax territory and don't have a pick anywhere in the 2013 draft.

Although the Raptors don't appear well-positioned to make many big moves this offseason, the team essentially made its summer-of-2013 moves ahead of time, by cashing in their trade chips within the last 11 months. This year's lottery pick is gone because the club traded it to Houston to acquire point guard Kyle Lowry last season. And the lack of cap room can be attributed at least in part to a blockbuster in-season trade that sent Ed Davis and Jose Calderon's big expiring contract to the Grizzlies and Pistons, respectively, in exchange for Rudy Gay.

Gay and Lowry are good players, and Gay's exorbitant salary ($17.89MM) is at least balanced out a little by the reasonable rate the team will be paying Lowry ($6.21MM). That duo won't be enough to take Toronto to the playoffs on its own, however, and many of the other pieces on the roster represent questionable investments on the part of former GM Bryan Colangelo; Andrea Bargnani at $10.75MM, Landry Fields at $6.25MM, and Linas Kleiza at $4.6MM come immediately to mind.

Still, there are talented players here — Jonas Valanciunas and Terrence Ross showed real flashes of promise during their respective rookie seasons, Amir Johnson is coming off perhaps the best year of his career, and DeMar DeRozan certainly has the ability to score, even though the jury's still out on whether he'll live up to his four-year, $38MM contract extension that begins in 2013/14.

Barring tremendous steps forward by Valanciunas and Ross or a big bounce-back season from Bargnani, there isn't quite enough here for the Raptors to become a legit contender in 2013/14. So for Colangelo's successor in the front office, whether that's Masai Ujiri or someone else, this summer's task will involve finding a way to add that extra piece or two to the roster in the hopes of taking the team to the next level.

Assuming the Raptors guarantee Lowry's salary, which seems like a lock, the team will have $71MM+ on its books for 11 players. The amnesty clause figures to be of use this offseason, and it was widely anticipated that Kleiza would be the victim, since Bargnani may still have some trade value. But with Colangelo no longer in charge of the team's basketball decisions, I'll be curious to see whether Bargnani receives any amnesty consideration.

Based on his performance in 2012/13, it's hard to imagine any team agreeing to take on Bargnani's salary without either sending the Raptors an equally bad contract or acquiring a more valuable asset from the Raps as part of the deal. As such, using the amnesty provision to clear Bargnani's two years and $22.25MM overall salary from the books could be more beneficial than amnestying Kleiza and his $4.6MM salary.

It's true that amnestying Bargnani wouldn't get the Raptors below the cap, which would somewhat minimize the benefits of the move. But let's say Toronto amnesties Kleiza instead. At that point, the team would be spending about $66.8MM on 10 players. If the Raps hope to sign someone to the full mid-level, which starts at $5.15MM, that would take them back to (or near) the tax line. It would also hard-cap them for the season, a situation we saw with the Bulls this past year, which would make it a tight squeeze to even fill out the roster.

In a way, the decision on Bargnani will create a ripple effect on the rest of the Raptors' summer moves. If Toronto is able to trade him and get a decent power forward in return (say, Carlos Boozer or Kris Humphries), the team could pursue a backup point guard with its mid-level exception. If Bargnani doesn't return anything of value, or is amnestied, that MLE may have to be used on a big man to replace him.

A Raptors team that features Lowry, Gay, DeRozan, Valanciunas, Johnson, and Ross playing at their best is dangerous, and should at least contend for the postseason in the East no matter who else is added to the roster. However, Valanciunas and Ross are still developing, and production from the Raptors' veterans was often inconsistent in 2012/13. A few more reinforcements would help significantly, but with no draft picks and little cap flexibility, the Raptors team we see now likely won't be much different than the one we see on opening night in October. Perhaps a new GM can make some small tweaks and solve the lingering Bargnani problem, but the core is essentially in place in Toronto. Now it's up to them to perform.

Additional notes:

  • When I spoke to Alan Anderson last month, he expressed a sincere desire to return to the Raptors, the team that gave him a second chance in the NBA in 2011/12. After averaging double-digit points this past year though, Anderson figures to receive interest from a handful of other teams. If another club offers him more than the minimum, the Raps may have a hard time matching that offer.
  • As for Toronto's other free agents, I'd be surprised if either Mickael Pietrus or Sebastian Telfair returned. The team will face an interesting decision on John Lucas III — I assume the deadline for his $1.57MM team option is June 30th, so the Raps won't have a chance to explore the free agent market for alternatives before making that decision. Declining the option would leave them with only Lowry at the point, but I could still see them doing that and then trying to find a backup or two in July.
  • Aaron Gray and Kleiza initially had player options for 2013/14 — they've already exercised them.
  • The Ted Stepien rule prevents the Raptors from trading their 2014 first-rounder at this point, since they don't have a 2013 first-rounder. However, they could deal their '14 pick after next month's draft. I don't expect them to do so, after sitting out this year's draft, but it'd be an option to consider if they dangle Bargnani's contract in trade talks.

Cap footnotes:

  1. If Lowry is not released on or before July 15th, his 2013/14 salary will become fully guaranteed.

Storytellers Contracts and Sham Sports were used in the creation of this post.

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