After a quiet trade deadline, the Toronto Raptors seek an alternate method to improve their roster. Here are the top buyout candidates they should pursue.
The Toronto Raptors shocked the world last year when they won their franchise NBA championship. Leading up to it, there were multiple roster moves that allowed Nick Nurse's squad to go the distance.
At the trade deadline, Toronto made a blockbuster deal to acquire center, Marc Gasol. Now, a year later, they were quiet at the trade deadline, not making a single transaction. There's no reason to panic about the inaction because there's still an opportunity to add reinforcements, via the buyout market.
Once players are bought out or waived by their team, they are then free to sign with another team. In 2018-19, the Raptors had their eyes on multiple targets but had trouble bringing in any of their preferred choices. They ended up landing Jeremy Lin after he negotiated a buyout with the Atlanta Hawks.
This year, things are different. The Raptors are defending champions and every player in the league is now aware of their high-quality brand of basketball. There's now a draw to play in Toronto that didn't exist a year ago. The hope now is to recruit a useful hand and there appears to be many who could become available once teams trim rosters in a few weeks' time.
There are many reasons why a player could be bought out or waived. Usually, it is done when a player is earning a massive salary in his final year of a deal. He and the team will negotiate how much it would cost the club to get out of paying the entirety of the contract.
The beneficiary of this action is the new team who then sign the player for the remainder of the regular season plus playoffs, often at the league minimum. For the Raptors, adding a cheap, new player is a low-risk move that could potentially have a significant payoff. This is why they hope to get lucky with this year's buyout crop.
Marvin Williams, of the Charlotte Hornets, is a player that keeps getting mentioned as somebody to watch out for in the buyout market. He is a good outside shooter who never fully achieved his potential. Having just negotiated his buyout, Williams is rumoured to be heading to the Milwaukee Bucks.
Besides Williams, who else figures to hit the buyout market and be an option for Toronto?
If ever there was an ideal spot for a buyout player, it would be Bismack Biyombo returning to the Raptors. After all, his impressive performance in the 2015-16 playoffs as a member of the Raptors is what convinced the Orlando Magic to sign the center to a four-year, $72 million contract.
Biyombo is in the final year of that deal, on the books for $17 million in 2019-20.
Now with the Hornets and at the age of 27, Biyombo has transitioned from a starter to a member of the bench unit in Charlotte. He remains a similar player to the one Raptors fans remember (and fell in love with). He can finish inside the painted area and also protects his own rim with great enthusiasm. On the season, Biyombo has racked up 1.5 blocks per 36 minutes. It's the lowest mark of his career. Meanwhile, his 13.6 points per 36 minutes are actually the best of Biyombo's NBA tenure, helped by his field goal percentage of 53.4.
While Biyombo still doesn't have a made three in his NBA career (he's only taken two attempts in nine years) and is not what you'd call a modern-day big man, he rebounds the ball extremely well. This season, he is averaging 5.8 per game. Per 36 minutes, that number jumps to 10.8.
Bringing Biz back to the Big Smoke would shore up Toronto's frontcourt. He would play behind Gasol and Serge Ibaka, and be an option for Nick Nurse to play alongside one of those two when a big lineup is preferred.
Should Biyombo be bought out, he could very likely want to join the Raptors. He is still loved by fans who remember his single season with the team. In conclusion, Biyombo would be a good addition for Toronto, both on and off the court.
If the Raptors are concerned about their rebounding then the player they'd love most is Tristan Thompson. This would also be the opportunity to bring the hometown boy back to Toronto and add to the number of Canadians already on the team.
Thompson is averaging 10.4 rebounds per game this season, along with 11.9 points. In case it wasn't obvious, he is averaging a double-double on the year, making him a valuable piece for any contender looking to shore up its front lines.
Though it appears as though the Cavs want him to finish the season in Cleveland, Thompson is in the perfect position for a buyout. He is on the final year of a five-year, $82 million contract. This season, he is being paid $18,539,130. With the Cavs sitting dead last in the Eastern Conference, they don't have a need for paying the remainder of that enormous price tag and would benefit from negotiating to get out from under some of it. Also, with Cleveland getting Andre Drummond at the trade deadline and already having Kevin Love on its roster, it makes Thompson redundant on the team. The Cavs are now unnecessarily stacked at the center position, which may lead them to surprise the league and follow through on a buyout.
Thompson has set a lofty goal for himself this season. He wanted to be tasked with the toughest assignments in Cleveland and earn his way to being recognized with an all-defensive honour.
Back in October, Thompson spoke to reporters about his goals for the 2019-20 season:
“For me this year, it’s taking that challenge. I want to guard the best wings and bigs on every team. I want to make their night tough, to gain that respect defensively around the league. Goal of mine is to make first team All-Defense. The way you do that is guarding the best players. It starts with the MVP of the league.”
This sort of motivation would play well on the Raps. It's still unclear at this time whether the Cavs will part ways with Thompson, but if they do, he'd be adopted very quickly as a fan favourite in Toronto.
The Philadelphia 76ers were buyers at the trade deadline. Their biggest move was acquiring Alec Burks and Glenn Robinson III from the Golden State Warriors. Bringing in the pair meant that they needed to open up roster space. They did so by trading James Ennis to the Orlando Magic and also waiving Trey Burke.
Interestingly, center Kyle O'Quinn has asked to be waived, as he has grown unhappy with the Sixers. It doesn't appear as though they will grant him his wish since they already used Burke's dismissal to ensure that they have their roster set.
For Burke, he will now be looking to find a home, in search of his fourth team in two years. This wasn't a shocking decision by the 76ers, as it appeared Burke no longer had the trust of his coach, Brett Brown. Brown elected to keep Burke off the floor during pivotal stretches which substantially reduced his minutes.
Getting waived may provide Burke with the opportunity to prove that he was mismanaged in Philadelphia. He still has the ability to be a scoring threat, able to create off the dribble. The Raptors could use the point guard to help give the team a different look off the bench. They would also love to take advantage of his three-point shot. That said, it's unlikely Burke would overtake Terence Davis in Toronto's rotation.
In Burke's 25 games this season, he's averaged 5.9 points, 1.4 rebounds, and 2.1 assists in 13.2 minutes per game. At age 27, Burke still has a lot to offer, provided he's given the right opportunity. Per 36 minutes, he averaged 16.1 points, 3.8 rebounds, and 5.8 assists as a member of the "glitchy" Sixers.
At age 34, Courtney Lee is no longer the highly efficient guard that basketball fans remember. He has been limited to playing slightly more than garbage time minutes since being traded from the New York Knicks to the Dallas Mavericks. With the Mavs, Lee could be found right at the end of the bench. There's no reason to believe that this wouldn't be the same use for him with the Raptors. There's no magic left in his game, but he still can pick and pop at the best of times.
While many might consider signing Lee a disappointment, he could be used as insurance for an injury and another veteran voice inside the locker room. Though the Raps have a plethora of strong leaders, bringing in another can do nothing but help keep his teammates focus when things get difficult.
Even though Lee has been limited to just 9.7 minutes per contest, he has managed to take 1.8 attempts from beyond the arc per game and made an impressive 56.5 percent of them. This is in great contrast to his career average of 38.8 percent from beyond the arc.
If the Mavericks don't cut ties with Lee, they will be stuck paying him the remainder of the $12,759,670 he's owed this season. It's the final year of a four-year, $48,003,340 contract that was given to Lee by the Knicks, the league's leading supplier of head-scratching deals. Even though they are headed to the playoffs themselves, it would make sense for the Mavs to save a few dollars and cut ties with Lee before the buyout market closes.
Another recently made free agent in the NBA is the man who was suspended ten games by the Miami Heat early in the season, Dion Waiters. The highly-publicized discipline came after he had a panic attack on an airplane, leading to an investigation. It was discovered that the panic attack was brought on from a cannabis-infused edible given to Waiters by a teammate.
This was only one of three suspensions levied upon the point guard this season. He was out of the lineup so often that he only managed to play in three games for the Heat before they traded him to the Memphis Grizzlies as part of a three-team deal.
The Grizzlies didn't allow Waiters to see any playing time before deciding to let him go. In doing so, they are now on the hook for the remainder of Waiters' salary.
The 28-year-old would surely love to turn things around and provide his services to a contender. The Raptors could be interested, but they should be cautious of what adding the man nicknamed "Google Me" could mean for team dynamics.
If the Raptors believe that Waiters would be a good fit, both on and off the court, it's unlikely they'd have much competition for his services. While he never lived up to his billing as a Dwyane Wade lookalike, he has shown an aggressive presence and is an above-average cutter and penetrator.
For his career, through seven season and three games, Waiters has produced 13.2 points, 2.7 boards, and 2.8 assists per game. Those numbers are more than respectable.
If edibles are what Waiters are after, then Toronto might be the perfect landing spot for him, considering Canada recently legalized cannabis for recreational use.
It might be a longshot that Maurice Harkless gets bought out by the New York Knicks, the team that just traded for him. Harkless was involved in a three-team deal that sent him to New York, along with the draft rights to guard Issuf Sannon and a pair of draft picks. The Knicks gave up Marcus Morris to get that haul. With their seeding near the bottom of the standings, there's no reason for them to hold onto Harkless. If he asks for his release, expect both parties to get to work on a buyout.
Harkless is set to become an unrestricted free agent at season's end. He is earning $11,011,236 this year, a figure that owner James Dolan may want to avoid paying.
Harkless is a two-way forward that would fit in well in Nick Nurse's system. Harkless, similar to Thompson, plays the game with a lot of heart. He works very hard to get to every loose ball and isn't afraid to use his 6'7" frame to be physical on the court.
At age 26, this is Harkless's eighth year in the association. In his 50 games with the Clippers this season (38 starts), he's averaged very round numbers: 5.5 points, four rebounds, one assist and a steal per game.
Defensively, Harkless is known as an above-average defender, which appears to be the sort of player Masai Ujiri and Bobby Webster have looked for in the construction of this roster. If that's still the case, the Harkless makes some sense for the dinos.
In December of 2019, the Utah Jazz waived Jeff Green, making him a free agent. He has yet to join another team.
The Raptors, and their fans, would remember Green best from his 2017-18 season, when his Cleveland Cavaliers swept Toronto from the postseason, defeating Dwane Casey's team in the conference semifinals.
This version of Toronto would like the 6'8" forward, mostly because of his defensive versatility. He has the ability to guard any position on the court. He uses his athleticism and long frame to make getting to the hoop difficult.
Green has been more traditionally played at the four, but he has also spent time at center and small forward. In Toronto, being able to flow freely between positions would mean an improved opportunity to get minutes on the floor. He's been partial to three-point shooting, though Green isn't particularly impressive in this area. For his career, he has shot 33.3 percent from beyond the arc.
While Green is better suited for Toronto's bench, he does have the talent to start games, though, his biggest problem has been inconsistency. It's unclear, night-to-night, which player is suiting up. Green has the ability to make highlight-reel plays but can also disappear for long stretches at a time.
At age 33, the Georgetown product still has a lot of basketball left in him. It would be surprising if he didn't catch on with an NBA team, somewhere. It could be a worthwhile experiment for the dinos to take a chance on what may be a rusty forward.
Isaiah Thomas has had a difficult career since leaving the Boston Celtics. He was traded yet again this season, going from the Washington Wizards to the Los Angeles Clippers. Marcus Morris was the big prize in that trade and the only player that the Clippers wanted to keep for the playoffs. They waived Thomas shortly after acquiring him, the day after his 31st birthday, in fact.
The Raptors certainly could take a chance on IT who still has a lot left to prove. Playing for the Wizards, Thomas rejuvenated his game, starting 37 of 40 games. The rugged point guard averaged 12.2 points, 1.7 rebounds, and 3.7 dimes playing in America's capital.
Thomas's downside is his defence. At 5'9", he has trouble containing larger players and can often be exploited in mismatches. But the man who once wore the name "Pizza Guy" on the back of his jersey excels on offence, and that's what he'd bring to Toronto.
A strong passer and an even better three-point shooter, Thomas' offensive arsenal is extensive. From downtown this season, he hit an average of two triples per contest, on 4.7 attempts. That's 41.3 percent from downtown. This is a new element to Thomas's game, which is a clear upgrade from his career average of 36.4 percent.
Thomas has also shown that he can still create his own shot, which is something that the Raptors could use when they're in need of a timely bucket. Even if Thomas is added to sit at the end of the bench, having him available to help lighten both Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet's workloads makes sense.
The Hornets cut ties with forward, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. At 26 years old, he has spent all seven of his NBA seasons in Charlotte after it selected him second overall in the 2012 draft. Now in his eighth year, his time with the only team he's known has come to an end.
There's a certain level of expectation placed on a player when they get taken as high as Kidd-Gilchrist did in the draft. The Hornets had no choice, but to give up the idea of him becoming a star. This is now the second season in his career where he was banished from the starting five after beginning 2019-20 in the team's starting five. That doesn't mean that there's no value in the 6'6" wing.
Kidd-Gilchrist isn't the flashiest player and has never been known as someone who can score in large volumes. He does, however, offer a steadying presence on defence. When at his best, he can make opposing players "disappear".
MKG only appeared in 12 games this season before being bought out. His stats for those games are underwhelming. He had four points, 2.9 rebounds, and 0.8 assists in just 13.3 minutes per game. Also, for a player whos best feature is defence, he himself had to be disappointed that he failed to record a single steal.
Kidd-Gilchrist isn't someone that the Raptors should be clamouring to bring into the organization. Frankly, there is already interest from the Dallas Mavericks. The forward would fit at the end of the bench in Toronto, only to be used in specific situations. If the Raptors are unsuccessful in their bids for other players, then Kidd-Gilchrist could be a fine consolation prize.Related Story:What effect does Andre Iguodala joining the Miami Heat have on the Toronto Raptors?
Whatever winds up happening in the buyout market, the Toronto Raptors appear set to give a repeat title run a real shot. They could certainly use some additional outside help, as any team can, but make no mistake that this team, as its presently constructed, is more than capable of winning it all again and giving the city and country it represents another parade this summer.