Now that Kawhi Leonard has made his decision, the Toronto Raptors are left with few options to fill out the rest of the roster. Who could they bring in with the Mid-Level Exception?
Kawhiwatch is over. After days of speculation, Kawhi Leonard has decided to leave the Toronto Raptors and sign with the Los Angeles Clippers. His decision came after the Clippers were able to pull off a blockbuster deal acquiring Paul George from the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN reported that Thunder General Manager, Sam Presti discussed the possibility of sending George and Russell Westbrook to the Raptors in exchange for a package centered around Pascal Siakam and future draft picks. At the end of the day, the Raptors couldn’t match what the Clippers had to offer.
Not only is Kawhi headed to Los Angeles, so too is Danny Green. Green reportedly has agreed to sign a two-year $30 million contract with the Lakers. These moves leave the Raptors without either of their starting wings from last season.
The Raptors entered the offseason without much flexibility. The team was already over the salary cap, even without re-signing Leonard or Green. That is one of the reasons the Raptors were able to wait for Kawhi to make his decision. Even if he decided to leave, the Raptors were unlikely to make a big splash.
Entering free agency, the Raptors had about $112 million committed in salary for next season, including the non-guaranteed contracts of Chris Boucher and Malcolm Miller. Assuming Masai Ujiri and Bobby Webster don’t blow the team up immediately the Raptors have a few avenues available to improve their roster for next season.
The team currently possesses four trade exceptions from previous deals involving the following players: Jakob Poeltl ($2,947,320), Malachi Richardson ($1,569,360), Greg Monroe ($1,512,601) and Delon Wright ($2,563,898). The Raptors have the bi-annual exception which is set to be $3,623,000 next season. The team also has the non-taxpayer mid-level exception ($9,258,000).
The Raptors signed Matt Thomas to a three-year, $4.2 million contract. The team also signed Stanley Johnson to a two-year, $7.5 million contract. Johnson’s signing either uses a portion of the mid-level exception or -- if the deal actually comes in closer to $7.4 million -- the team's full bi-annual exception.
Johnson is an intriguing addition. He was the eighth overall pick in the 2015 Draft and at just turned 23 years old still looks the part of a modern forward. He stands 6-foot-6.5 (in shoes) with a 6-foot-11.5 wingspan. Johnson has developed into a strong defensive player and is capable of guarding multiple positions.
On the offensive end, Johnson can be best described as a work in progress. He needs to become a more consistent outside shooter in order to stay on the floor. But at the price, Johnson is worth the risk to see if the Raptors’ coaching staff can fix his shot.
As the roster is currently constructed, Norman Powell and OG Anunoby will likely move into the starting lineup while Fred VanVleet and Serge Ibaka will stay on the bench. Johnson will slot in at one of the bench forward positions. That means the Raptors need to add two more wing players in order to fill out the rotation.
Bringing back Patrick McCaw
Patrick McCaw is a restricted free agent. However, the Raptors don’t have his Bird rights, meaning unless the Raptors re-sign him with one of the exceptions, they can only offer him 120% of his previous salary.
McCaw didn’t do anything extraordinary during his time in Toronto. He averaged 2.7 points, 1.7 rebounds and 1.0 assists per game in 13.2 minutes of action. But McCaw is also just 23 years old and is the type of long-armed versatile player that the Raptors like.
As such, he's likely to be back next season. Toronto should be able to re-sign using the bi-annual exception or a part of the mid-level which is similar in value.
If the Raptors were to bring back McCaw that would leave them with just over $5.6 million to add another impact player. There are a couple of names within that $5.6 million price range that could add value to the roster.
Most free agents have already been snatched up for next season. But there are a few players left that the Raptors might want to consider. Three of those players are: Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Trey Lyles and Justin Holiday.
The Nets declined to extend Hollis-Jefferson a qualifying-offer, making him an unrestricted free agent. He has a number of similarities to Johnson. Hollis-Jefferson measured 6-foot-7 (in shoes) with a 7-foot-2 wingspan at the Draft Combine. He can also play multiple positions. But Hollis-Jefferson is an even worse shooter. Johnson has shown flashes of shooting potential. Hollis-Jefferson is a career 22 percent shooter from three-point range.
Since the Raptors have already signed Johnson, adding Hollis-Jefferson might not make sense. However, at just 24 years old, Hollis-Jefferson will get a second opportunity. He would be another buy-low candidate for the Raptors to see if they can help turn his career around.
Lyles is a restricted free agent. The Raptors would have to hope the Denver Nuggets elect not to match the offer sheet. Lyles is more of a power forward but can play on the wing. He is 6-foot-10 with a 7-foot-1.5 wingspan.
Lyles’ best season came in 2017-18, where he averaged 9.9 points and 4.8 rebounds while shooting 38 percent from long-distance. Lyles took a bit of a step back last season and was out of the rotation by the end of the year. The Nuggets also have Michael Porter Jr. waiting in the wings, which means Lyles might be available for the right price.
Holiday is most experienced out of the group. He's played for six teams over his career so far. Last season, Holiday split time between Chicago and Memphis. He averaged 10.5 points and 3.9 rebounds while shooting 34.8 percent from three-point range.
Holiday has good size at 6-foot-6 with a 7-foot wingspan. The Raptors were rumored to be interested in his services. Holiday would be a steady contributor off the bench. He is also someone who could be flipped to a contender at the trade deadline for future assets.
Make a trade instead
In addition to using their exceptions, the Raptors could look to take on a contract through one of their trade exceptions. The Memphis Grizzlies are a team to watch. They just waived Avery Bradley and are expected to waive Dwight Howard. However, the Grizzlies would still have 16 players for just 15 roster spots, including Delon Wright who is a restricted free agent and first-round pick, Brandon Clarke.
Dillon Brooks, Ivan Rabb, and Bruno Caboclo all have non-guaranteed salaries for next season. The Grizzlies also have an abundance of wing players. The Raptors could absorb one of those contracts instead of the Grizzlies being forced to cut one of their players.
Brooks would be the one to target out of this group. He missed most of last season with a toe injury. But Brooks showed promise as a rookie. He averaged 11 points and 3.1 rebounds while shooting 35.6 percent from three-point range. Brooks is 6-foot-6 and capable of playing either wing position.
The Raptors could also look to bring back Caboclo. After signing with the Grizzlies last season, Caboclo played in 34 games, starting 19 of them. He averaged 8.3 points and 4.6 rebounds per game. Caboclo also hit 36.9 percent of shots from long distance. Caboclo will be just 24 at the start of next season. He is finally starting to look like an NBA player and could be a nice piece for the future.
At the end of the day, Kawhi’s decision to leave hurts. There was nothing else the Raptors could have done to keep him here. Anyone that the Raptors add won’t be able to fill Kawhi’s shoes. However, the NBA is a business. It is time to move on and the Raptors need more players that can help them win games next season.