The Toronto Raptors are looking at a significant tax bill next season. If there is any cap casualty, it should be Serge Ibaka, not Danny Green.
The Toronto Raptors just completed one of the best seasons in franchise history. Their next goal? Try to do it all again.
Masai Ujiri has already stated the Raptors intend on trying to run it back with the same team next season. However, that could prove costly. For Toronto to keep the same roster as last year, they would very likely need to become the most expensive team in NBA history.
That may sound shocking at first, but Toronto becoming the most expensive team in NBA history does make some sense. Teams become more expensive over time, the franchise just won their first-ever NBA Finals, and now they need to make an impression an important upcoming free agent. If there ever was a time to pay an incredibly high luxury-tax, this would be it.
The Raptors ownership, Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment (MLSE), has the money. Toronto just competed in the most expensive NBA Finals of all-time, and the Raptors charge approximately $2.6 million for a single lower bowl ticket during this postseason. Option #1, should be paying any tax bill which helps the team.
What if they're not willing?
Paying any tax bill sounds great in theory, but every ownership group has its walking away point. We aren't aware of MLSE's number, but make no mistake, there is a number.
As an unrestricted free agent, Danny Green will receive a host of offers from other contenders. He's a great fit for a multitude of teams, as last season Green shot above 45-percent from three while being voted one of the best defenders in the NBA. He's the perfect encapsulation of a three-and-D wing.
However, even if Green receives a sizeable offer, say something in the $12-$15 million range, the Raptors shouldn't cut bait. If they're forced to cut salary for tax-savings, it should be Serge Ibaka, not Danny Green.
This has less to do with Serge Ibaka and more to do with positional scarcity.
If Danny Green leaves, it becomes essentially impossible to replace him. With Green off the books, Toronto could technically use their Taxpayer Mid-Level Exception.
But wings are incredibly hard to find, and with only $5.7 million to work with, there won't be much available. There certainly won't be anyone approaching Green's level of efficiency. Optimistically, They might be able to land someone like Garrett Temple or Austin Rivers.
If the team keeps Ibaka, Norman Powell will become the starting shooting guard, and the team will rely more on the dual point guard lineup of Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet. Not a horrible option, but less than ideal.
Ibaka, of course, will remain the team's backup center, playing approximately 20 minutes per game.
The other option is trading Ibaka into another team's cap space. Doing so would likely require an asset, as Ibaka isn't worth his $23 million contract anymore. However, it shouldn't be too expensive considering he's still a solid player on a one-year deal.
A reasonable dump of Ibaka would require the Raptors sending out a lottery-protected first or two second-round picks. Sacramento, New Orleans, and others can still use a veteran starting center who can space the floor and provide leadership for their young locker rooms.
With Ibaka off the roster, Toronto would be free to both re-sign Danny Green and use their Taxpayer Mid-Level Exception while remaining cheaper than if they just kept Ibaka. Ibaka is projected to make over $23 million. Green and the MLE would make at most $20-$21 million.
But if $5.7 million can't get you much in the guard market, how can it buy you a reasonable backup center? Again, the answer is positional scarcity.
In a league trending small and utilizing centers less often every day, there has been a flood of cheap, serviceable-good backup centers on the market.
Last season centers were available for nothing. This year's market doesn't appear to be any different. Aron Baynes is a good player who makes $5.1 million. He was just treated as negative salary in a trade to Phoenix in which Boston needed to attach an asset.
Are these players as good as Serge Ibaka? No. Do they approximate his value in a backup center role? Absolutely.
Toronto might even be able to split the option -- or use the exception and a minimum -- to add two backup centers which they can deploy based on matchup. Having two quality backup bigs could help limit the Raptors injury risk as well.
In the end, it comes down to would rather have a pairing of Danny Green and Robin Lopez or Serge Ibaka and Garret Temple. In a league going small, where wings are valued above everything else, give me the first pairing every time. Sorry Serge Ibaka, but you're just more replaceable.