The Raptors 2016-2017 Roster Spot Dilemma


The Toronto Raptors did not make any moves at this year’s trade deadline which may have been the smartest possible decision for them. It is questionable that any of the available PFs were upgrades over the duo of Luis Scola and Patrick Patterson, and messing with the chemistry of a group that is currently sitting in 2nd place in the Eastern Conference could have been disastrous. However, at the end of this season, whenever it does end, it seems very likely that the Raptors will need to make a move to improve. A trade of some sort will likely be the type of move, which is due to the number of committed roster spots the team currently has and their likely need to make improvements of some sort.

As of today, the Raptors are committed to 11 players (assuming DeMar DeRozan will opt out of his contract) on their current roster for next season: Kyle Lowry, DeMarre Carroll, Cory Joseph, Patrick Patterson, Jonas Valanciunas, Terrence Ross, Bismack Biyombo, Lucas Nogueira, Bruno Caboclo, Delon Wright, and Norman Powell. They also have two first round draft picks, which will bring their total roster up to 13 players. This means that the Raptors would have 2 roster spots remaining to replace two starters (DeMar DeRozan and Luis Scola) and James Johnson, while leaving no space to upgrade any other aspects of the team. At the beginning of the offseason the Raptors will have a depth chart that looks something like this:

PG: Kyle Lowry, Cory Joseph, Delon Wright

SG: (DeMar DeRozan), Terrence Ross, Norman Powell

SF: DeMarre Carroll, Bruno Caboclo

PF: Patrick Patterson

C: Jonas Valanciunas, Bismack Biyombo, Lucas Nogueira

This Raptors team, on paper, is certainly a downgrade from the current squad, and even if DeRozan is brought back, the loss of Scola’s offensive output would be sorely missed. With draft picks likely falling around 10th and 25th overall, it is unlikely that the draft alone will be able to make up for the lost production (especially if DeRozan is gone). This likely means that the Raptors would need to address the lost production through free agency. The issue with that approach is that the Raptors will also have limited cap space (approximately $16 million in soft cap room). The lack of significant cap space will make it very unlikely that the Raptors will be able to attract any marquee free agents, especially as the max contract amount increases to around $25 million. With the draft proving an unlikely source of completely replacing the lost talent, and free agency appearing to be simply unfeasible, it seems as though the Raptors will need to improve their roster through trades.

With the high value placed on 1st round draft picks, even those well outside of the lottery, the Raptors could put together an attractive package to upgrade their roster. Although this draft is not especially deep, the value of a late 1st rounder could increase as some teams get to know, and like, some of the prospects in this draft. The Raptors also have four young assets on rookie contracts who could be valuable if added to a trade package (Caboclo, Nogueira, Powell, and Wright).

If we assume that DeRozan is back on the team, it will still be necessary to upgrade the PF position with at least one more contributing player. Considering the high expectations that exist now for the Raptors, it is unlikely that a mid to late lottery pick will be prepared to handle a large workload. This means that although the Raptors did not make a move at this years deadline, don’t be surprised if the Raptors are again linked to many of the PFs that they were reportedly considering, and possibly some even better alternatives.

Bringing back Luis Scola may be another alternative for the Raptors, but if both he and DeRozan are back the 2016-17 team will look strikingly similar to this years group. If the Raptors can take a huge step and reach either the Eastern Conference Finals or the NBA Finals keeping this group may be acceptable. However, in the far more likely scenario that the Raptors need to improve in order to take the next step towards a Finals run, bringing Scola back would necessitate a trade of some sort, and allowing him to walk may allow the team more flexibility in pursuing an improvement at the position.

The Toronto Raptors have created high expectations for themselves based off of their performances over the last two and a half seasons, and these expectations will only increase if they are able to win a playoff series this year. The team will need to take the next step, likely through adding additional talent to this core group. In order to add players that will be prepared right away to help the Raptors take the next step towards title contention, a trade of some sort is very likely this offseason.