Why Toronto Raptors should shift their attention to 2021

Toronto Raptors - Norman Powell (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Toronto Raptors - Norman Powell (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images) /

The Toronto Raptors have a ton of cap space available for the summer of 2020. However, with only a few quality free agents available, they might want to push their attention back another year.

When the Toronto Raptors signed Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka to three-year deals, rather than full-length contracts, Masai Ujiri had a plan in mind. Keep the Raptors flexible and allow them to dip back into free agency during the Summer of 2020.

But what happens when the 2020 offseason is projecting to be a dud? When you’ve put all your eggs in the wrong basket? Rather than continuing down a flawed path, the Raptors should pivot and focus their attention towards the 2021 class.

Raptors projected 2020 space

Nearly all of the Raptors veterans are on expiring deals this upcoming year. Marc Gasol, Kyle Lowry, and Serge Ibaka will all be free agents at season’s end. And with more than $83 million set to come off the books, Toronto is projected to have at least $66 million in cap space available for 2020.

The only items greater than $5 million expected to be on Toronto’s cap sheet next season are Norman Powell‘s contract, Pascal Siakam‘s cap-hold, and Fred VanVleet‘s cap-hold. Other than those items, Toronto is basically commitment-free.

Unfortunately, they’re commitment-free at precisely the wrong time.

2020 Projected Free Agent Class

2019 was one of the greatest free agent classes of all-time. 2020 does not appear to be shaping up the same way. The top three free agents are projected to be Anthony Davis, Draymond Green, and Mike Conley.

Davis will almost certainly be re-signing (could you imagine if he didn’t), the same goes for Green (who might be well overpaid on his next deal anyways), and Conley has a player option for which he will likely opt-in*. In fact, the best free agent to actually hit the market might be Kyle Lowry.

*Conley’s deal is actually an ETO where he would have to opt-out to be a free agent, but that is largely semantics.

However, despite the limited market of players available, there is still a reasonable amount of space. That typically leads to players getting overpaid.

Think of 2016, when players like Bismack Biyombo, Timofey Mozgov, and Chandler Parsons were given monster contracts which immediately became albatrosses. The NBA, for all its strengths, doesn’t always show fiscal responsibility. With multiple teams in a bidding war for only a few players, 2020 could see a similar problem.

2021 Projected Free Agent Class

If the 2020 class is the jobless bum living in his parent’s basement, the 2021 class is the successful doctor who bought those same parents a car. The Summer of 2021 is projected to have a host of All-Stars, including one superstar who has been loosely rumored to the Toronto Raptors for a while.

Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, Bradley Beal, and that’s right, Giannis Antetokounmpo, are just a few headliners of an absolutely loaded class. 2021 has the potential to look a lot like this past offseason, where the entire NBA landscape changed in the blink of an eye.

Teams with multiple max spots in 2021 have the potential to pair multiple superstars, similar to what the Los Angeles Clippers or Brooklyn Nets did this offseason. Having space in 2020 will likely lead to Ian Mahinmi type contracts.

How they can focus on 2021 instead

With Kawhi Leonard gone, the Raptors are no longer title contenders. Now, Toronto faces the decision of trying to stay competitive for next season or jumping headfirst into a rebuild.

If they’re going into a rebuild, Toronto should be willing to eat two-year contracts in exchange for their expiring deals. Not only does it expand the Raptors list of potential trade partners, but teams without 2021 free agency plans will also value the ability to shed longer contracts.

If they’re trying to remain competitive in the near future, they should look to shop their current expiring contracts for more talented players on two-year deals. If nothing presents itself to upgrade over the next season, 2020 free agency should be built on one-year deals, in an attempt to get back in the market in 2021.

Next. Three possible Kyle Lowry trade destinations. dark

It won’t be easy. Other teams are aware of the 2020 market and the overpays it may create. But Masai Ujiri and the Toronto Raptors have shown more discipline than the typical NBA franchise. The Summer of 2020 is another opportunity to do just that.