Raptors Rumors

Five Eastern FAs Who Have Significantly Boosted Their Value In 2018/19

For a star like Kevin Durant, the results of the 2018/19 season haven’t had much of an impact on his projected earnings in free agency. Heading into the season, the expectation was that Durant would land a maximum-salary contract; that hasn’t changed. In fact, barring a catastrophic injury, it’s hard to imagine what KD could have done this season that would’ve significantly impacted his stock as his free agency nears.

For most other NBA players in contract years though, their performance on the court this season will go a long way toward determining what sort of offers they’ll get this summer. There are several players around the league who have increased their value significantly with their on-court showings in 2018/19 and figure to do better than originally expected in free agency this year as a result.

Today, we’ll shine a spotlight on some of these players from the Eastern Conference, identifying six 2019 free-agents-to-be who have improved their stock with their play this season.

Let’s dive in…

  1. D’Angelo Russell, G, Nets (RFA): We’ve written repeatedly about Russell’s ascension this season, but it’s still worth reiterating how impressive it has been. It’s easy to forget now, but before Caris LeVert dislocated his foot in November, it was LeVert that looked like the Nets guard headed for a breakout year. Instead, Russell has emerged as The Man in Brooklyn, averaging 21.8 PPG, 7.4 APG, and 3.7 RPG on .436/.366/.792 shooting in the 60 games since that LeVert injury. Assuming the Nets can hold onto a playoff spot, D-Lo will have the opportunity to turn a few more heads in the postseason, positioning himself for an annual salary between $20MM and the max.
  2. Nikola Vucevic, C, Magic: To thrive in the modern NBA, a center generally needs to be able to shoot from outside or protect the rim — or both. Neither skill had ever been a huge part of Vucevic’s game, but he has proven he’s adaptable in recent years. In 72 games this season, the Magic center is putting up career highs in 3PT% (.366), total 3-pointers (74), and BPG (1.2). His 20.7 PPG and 12.1 RPG are also career bests, buoying him to his first career All-Star Game. At age 28, Vucevic may not be in line for a massive payday, but he appears set to get a nice raise on his current $12.75MM salary, which was hardly a lock heading into the season.
  3. Bojan Bogdanovic, G/F, Pacers: A sharpshooting role player prior to joining the Pacers, Bogdanovic has taken his game to another level this season — especially since Victor Oladipo suffered a season-ending quad injury in January. Having never averaged more than 14.3 PPG in a season, the 29-year-old has posted a blistering .509/.403/.794 shooting line in the 27 games since Oladipo went down, averaging a team-high 21.3 PPG in that stretch. Bogdanovic isn’t an elite defender, but any wing who can knock down threes at the rate he can will do well for himself in free agency.
  4. Danny Green, G, Raptors: While All-Stars Kawhi Leonard and Kyle Lowry and Most Improved Player candidate Pascal Siakam have – deservedly – received much of the credit for the Raptors‘ success this year, Green shouldn’t be overlooked. Viewed as almost a throw-in in the deal that sent Kawhi to Toronto, Green has had a terrific bounce-back season, knocking down a scorching 44.3% of his 3-point attempts. His on/off-court numbers exhibit his importance — the Raptors have a +12.2 net rating when he plays, compared to a -5.0 mark when he sits. An ideal three-and-D wing, Green should be in line for another lucrative multiyear deal this summer.
  5. Brook Lopez, C, Bucks: Like Vucevic, Lopez has avoided becoming an NBA relic by modernizing his game. Once a fixture in the low post, the 30-year-old can now frequently be found a few steps behind the arc, having earned the nickname Splash Mountain by knocking down threes and helping to space the Bucks‘ offense. Lopez is more of a role player than the core piece he was in Brooklyn, but his shooting (2.4 3PG, .371 3PT%) and rim protection (2.2 BPG) make him a valuable contributor. Milwaukee almost certainly won’t be able to bring him back at the same bargain-basement rate he agreed to in 2018 ($3.4MM).

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Raptors To Re-Sign Jodie Meeks

After letting Eric Moreland‘s 10-day contract expire over the weekend, the Raptors plan on filling one of their open roster spots by bringing back Jodie Meeks, per Shams Charania of The Athletic, who reports (via Twitter) that Toronto will sign Meeks to a rest-of-season contract.

Meeks, 31, appeared in 77 games in 2017/18 for the Wizards but saw his season come to an early end when he was suspended 25 games for violating the NBA’s anti-drug policy. Meeks was traded to Milwaukee in the offseason, where he served the rest of his suspension at the start of 2018/19 before being waived.

Since then, Meeks has signed just one NBA contract, inking a 10-day deal with Toronto after the All-Star break. Although he only got into a couple games with the Raptors, the veteran sharpshooter provided a spark off the bench, scoring 15 points and knocking down three 3-pointers in just 24 total minutes. The former Kentucky standout is a career 37.2% shooter from beyond the arc.

While Meeks is unlikely to play much of a role for Toronto in the postseason, he figures to see some action in the club’s final regular season games. Still, it’s not clear when the Raptors will officially sign Meeks, since they’re over the tax line and aren’t under pressure to add a 14th man right away.

When he does sign, Meeks will earn $12,295 per day for the rest of the regular season, with the contract counting against the Raps’ cap at a rate of $8,546 per day. The team will still have one more open roster spot once Meeks is back on board.

Atlantic Notes: Kawhi, Sixers, Russell

Like Paul George, Kawhi Leonard was traded to an unexpected suitor with one year left in his free agency, despite rumors that he wanted to end up in Los Angeles. George, who was sent from Indiana to Oklahoma City, was considered a lock to end up with the Lakers, but shocked NBA fans and experts alike by choosing to sign long-term with the Thunder.

A year after George opted not to go to Los Angeles, the Clippers are widely considered to be the favorite for Leonard, who was traded from the Spurs to the Raptors in 2018. Given their similar career paths, George has spoken to Leonard about his own experiences, he confirmed last week (Twitter link via Josh Lewenberg of TSN.ca). However, PG13 declined to reveal what sort of advice he offered to Kawhi.

“That’s between us,” George said.

Here’s more from around the Atlantic:

  • While it remains to be seen if they’ll be able to lock him up long-term, the Raptors have to be pleased with how things have gone with Kawhi Leonard so far, says Ryan Wolstat of The Toronto Sun. As Wolstat details, Leonard has seemed happy with how the team has handled his health concerns so far. “It’s big,” Kawhi said, when asked about working in tandem with the Raptors and their medical staff. “You have to be able to play for people that you trust and them being able to see what you feel and you just move from there and try to get better together.”
  • Will the Sixers re-sign both Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris this summer? Or will they bring back one or the other? Or neither? Sean Deveney of Sporting News examines the four possible outcomes, citing one source who says there’s “almost no chance” that Butler returns and Harris doesn’t. Harris staying and Butler leaving is considered the most likely scenario, according to Deveney.
  • Eric Pincus of Bleacher Report takes a deep dive into D’Angelo Russell‘s upcoming free agency, exploring whether the RFA-to-be point guard is worth the max to the Nets — or another team. Pincus expects Russell’s next deal to ultimately fall between Zach LaVine‘s (four years, $78.8MM) and Devin Booker‘s (five years, maximum salary) in terms of value. That’s a pretty big window, so it’ll be interesting to see how D-Lo’s free agency plays out.

Lowry Playing Again Despite Not Being 100%

  • Raptors guard Kyle Lowry returned to the court tonight even though his right ankle isn’t fully healed, tweets Josh Lewenberg of TSN Sports. Lowry missed back-to-back games after a scary incident Monday night, but said he felt like he needed to start playing again. “I could sit out until the playoffs with the type of injury I have but I want to play, keep a rhythm, get out there with the guys and play some basketball,” he said. “If I can get out there and play, I’m going to go play.”

Raptors Shift Focus From Playoff Seed To Playoffs Itself

  • The Raptors are more focused on the postseason itself than what seed they can grab, Tim Bontemps of ESPN.com writes. “It just doesn’t seem to have much relevance to our team, and the situation that our organization is in,” head coach Nick Nurse said. “Yeah, we want a decent seed, but we can’t get caught up in it.” The Raptors have a history of successful regular seasons that led to failed playoff runs, something they hope can be changed this time around with their current group.

Kawhi Leonard Has Been Everything The Raptors Could've Hoped For

  • Kawhi Leonard has been everything the Raptors could’ve hoped for when they traded for him last summer, Doug Smith of the Toronto Star opines. Leonard has averaged a career-high 27.0 points, 7.5 rebounds and 1.8 steals in 52 games, shooting 49.6% from the floor and 37.0% from deep with his usual stellar defense. His production on both ends is a key reason why the Raptors have already clinched a playoff berth with a 51-21 record this season.

Serge Ibaka Regrets Incident With Chriss

  • Before making his return from a three-game suspension on Wednesday night for the Raptors, Serge Ibaka expressed regret over last week’s altercation with Cleveland’s Marquese Chriss. As Josh Lewenberg of TSN.ca relays (via Twitter), Ibaka especially lamented the fine, which cost him about $448K. “I was thinking, man, you know how many people need that money?” Ibaka said. “Instead [of going after Chriss], I could have just said, you know, I’m not going to fight, and take that money and go do something for people that need it.”

Kyle Lowry Believed To Have Avoided Major Injury

Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry limped off the floor against the Knicks tonight with a right ankle injury, but Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.com (Twitter link) reports that the injury is not believed to be serious. Lowry will undergo tests on the ankle tonight.

Toronto holds the second-best record in the Eastern Conference despite seeing several players shuffle in and out of the lineup all season. Kawhi Leonard has missed 20 games so far, Lowry has missed 15 games, and the pair have only played together 37 times this season, per NBA.com.

Fred VanVleet has started 22 games and he will step into that role should Lowry miss additional time. The Raptors’ next game is against the Thunder on Wednesday.

VanVleet Returns, Lin To Have Role Reduced?

Fred VanVleet returned to the Raptors‘ lineup at the right time, suiting up for the team on Sunday for the first time since injuring his thumb before the All-Star break. As Michael Grange of Sportsnet.ca details, Toronto threw VanVleet into the deep end in his return, playing him for 31 minutes in a tightly-contested loss to Detroit, and the club was at its best when he was on the floor.

VanVleet won’t be relied upon to play quite as significant a role once Kyle Lowry is ready to return from his ankle injury, but Jeremy Lin‘s struggles since joining the Raptors last month have highlighted VanVleet’s importance, Grange notes.

In 15 games since he arrived, the Raptors have a -5.9 net rating when Lin plays and a +12.9 rating when he sits. With VanVleet back in the rotation and Lowry nearing a return, Lin’s role is in danger of being cut back significantly as the postseason approaches.

Atlantic Notes: Gasol, Brown, Knox, Fizdale

The Raptors‘ big deadline acquisition was veteran Marc Gasol, bolstering Toronto’s frontcourt entering the final stretch of the regular season. Thus far, Gasol has seen nearly equal time as a starter (six games) and as a reserve (seven games).

In those 13 games, Gasol has averaged 9.4 PPG and 6.2 RPG for the Raptors, well below his career rates. After spending his first 10-and-a-half seasons in Memphis, the big man is still getting used to his new team and teammates, as Arden Zwelling of Sportsnet.ca writes.

“It’s an adjustment. I think it’s an adjustment for me, an adjustment for my teammates, for the coaches,” Gasol said. “You know, you play a certain way and it’s hard to change certain things on the fly. But you can’t try to force the issue. You have to organically improve and I’m here to work and do my best with a very positive mindset every day. It’s about what’s best for the team and how we can take another step at both ends of the floor.”

While the three-time All-Star figures out his role, the Raptors are focused on the postseason, clinching a spot in the Eastern Conference last week. Heading into that stretch, Gasol’s experience will be a factor but he does not want the attention to be solely on him.

“I don’t want to make a big deal out of it,” Gasol said. “Whatever role you’re given, it’s about having a good mindset. It’s not so much about starting — it’s about finishing games. It’s about the team playing well, and contributing to that. I know now that I’m going to have to start for the next few games, probably. And that contributes to a routine and a habit and a little bit of consistency. That helps you get that out of your mind. But I definitely don’t want to make a big deal out of it.”

Check out more Atlantic Division notes below:

  • Jaylen Brown has embraced his role off the bench to the Celtics‘ benefit despite being a starter and the team’s second-leading scorer a season ago, A. Sherrod Blakely of NBC Sports Boston writes. “He’s done a good job of embracing that,” Boston head coach Brad Stevens said. “He’s done a good job of not letting that affect his aggressiveness or his game.”
  • It has been an up and down season for Knicks rookie Kevin Knox who had been in a slump since December. Knox is appreciative of the rebuilding Knicks’ patience with his development but head coach David Fizdale has a strategy to help him improve, Marc Berman of New York Post writes.“His strength is going to be a big, big thing, fine-tuning his shooting, solidifying his post game,” Fizdale said. “Obviously, defensively I’m going to be all over him about taking another step forward, about being a playmaker, a shotblocker, a guy who can take a challenge one on one and really slide his feet against the best attackers.”
  • Speaking of Fizdale, earlier we relayed the head coach’s confidence in the Knicks doing well with free agents this summer.