The Toronto Raptors have a few different ways they can go this season, but tank mode won’t be one of them, according to the latest reports.
On the back of a championship season, Sean Deveney of Heavy.com is reporting that the Raptors have not been entertaining trade calls for any of Kyle Lowry, Marc Gasol or Serge Ibaka.
A veteran trio that served as an excellent supporting cast to Kawhi Leonard during the 2018-19 title run, Lowry, Gasol and Ibaka now present a bit of a dilemma for team president Masai Ujiri and the front office as they have to at least consider recouping some value for these players who are now in the final years of their respective deals and could leave for nothing. They account for almost $84 million on the books this season, nearly two-thirds of the entire team’s salaries.
“This is where they always wanted to be,” a source told Heavy.com. “Masai was always going to rebuild things around Siakam and OG (Anunoby) and the other young guys eventually. He’s going to have a ton of cap space. But he’s got to be able to get free agents to go there and it’s still a tough sell, getting guys to go to Canada. So they’ve got the ring, if they can get to the playoffs again, he has something more to sell when that cap space comes available.”
On one side of the fence, you can see why the organization would want to capitalize on the momentum gained from winning the championship and reward the fans with yet another winning season and a completely stress-free playoff run. Having the Larry O’Brien trophy in the bag has earned them an extended leash, very much unlike the one they had after three straight playoff exits at the hands of LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. Now the Raptors are about enjoying their trot around the bases after an all-time swing for the fences.
From an emotional and goodwill perspective, there is certainly value in having the likes of Lowry, Gasol and Ibaka around for opening night to claim their rings, see the banner go up, and play the long-anticipated Christmas game.
The biggest bottomline here is the fact that this is still a very good team, one that is capable of competing in the upper echelon of the Eastern Conference and has every chance to have home-court advantage for at least the first round of the playoffs.
What Lawrence Frank, Doc Rivers and the rest of the Clippers organization did actually serves as a great example of why there is value in remaining competitive. They faced the risk of losing their draft pick last season to the Boston Celtics if they were to make the playoffs, and did so anyway because they felt there was more value in showing free agents that they were already a competitive team and just needed a couple of pieces to get over the hump. And then they got Leonard and Paul George.
There is also value in just holding out for cap space, and so if the Raptors aren’t necessarily able to get value in a deal involving any of those three that trumps financial flexibility, then running it back is the best way to go.
Toronto struggles out of the gate, putting it in sell-mode and opponents are looking to throw the Raptors pennies for a dollar. This is a low probability scenario but we are looking at the downside here. You never know how injuries can play out.
The toughest part of looking at the projected cap space for 2020 is the accompanying free agent class. Anthony Davis is the biggest name on the list but he is widely expected to re-sign with the Los Angeles Lakers. Draymond Green inked an extension with the Golden State Warriors this summer, so that leaves the likes of Gordon Hayward, DeMar DeRozan, Otto Porter, and a 35-year-old Paul Millsap available ... not exactly the premium class you save up for.
Losing all three veterans for nothing and failing to secure a big-time free agent could set the franchise back in a major way. If Pascal Siakam fails to show he can be ‘The Man’ then the Raptors will have a tough time convincing free agents to come over and won’t have a cabinet of draft picks to work with either.
It shouldn’t be forgotten that Fred VanVleet is a free agent at the end of the coming season as well, and he will certainly be looking to secure the bag while Ujiri looks to figure out what he can make happen with the veterans. That’s just one more unknown to deal with on top of Siakam potentially dealing with restricted free agency if the Raptors can’t come to an agreement with him between now and Oct. 21.
In summation, this is part of why the Raptors face very little pressure to perform this season while also remaining one of the more intriguing teams to follow. There are several ways their season could go, and the domino effect that follows whichever path they end up taking will determine the success of the franchise for years to come.
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