Finding a reliable big man isn’t easy. But with both Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka set to enter free agency, the Toronto Raptors need to start thinking about replacement options.
Before this season started, a lot of commentators believed that Kawhi Leonard had left the Toronto Raptors for dead. Several critics south of the border believed that Leonard single-handedly dragged the Raptors to the NBA Finals and secured the franchise its first championship.
There is no doubt that Leonard was an integral part of the Raptors’ championship run. He hit the shot at the end of Game 7 to close out the 76ers. Leonard shut down Giannis Antetokounmpo in the Eastern Conference Finals. Leonard was named Finals MVP. But that doesn’t mean we should downplay the contributions of everyone else.
When it is all said and done, Leonard’s most important contribution was showing this team what it takes to win it all. Year after year, the narrative was that the Raptors were a good regular season team, but couldn’t get it done in the playoffs. Last season changed all that.
Entering this year, the DNA of the remaining Raptors players had changed. They now know what it takes to win a championship. Every member of the team has carried themselves with a certain swagger because they are the NBA Champions.
This was supposed to be a transition year. But before the NBA was shut down due to COVID-19, the Raptors were sitting in second place in the Eastern Conference. They had the third-best record in the entire NBA. The Raptors even had a better record than Leonard and the Los Angeles Clippers.
It remains to be seen if and when basketball will return this season. When that does occur, the Raptors will continue their title defense. Masai Ujiri is on record stating that the Raptors are going to die trying to defend this title. But when this season is finally over, the Raptors are going to be left with several tough decisions.
Only nine players are under contract for next season. Five or six of those are rotation players, depending on how you view Patrick McCaw. The others are Kyle Lowry, Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby, Norman Powell and Terence Davis II.
Fred VanVleet, Serge Ibaka, Marc Gasol, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Chris Boucher will all be free agents. VanVleet will be the Raptors’ number one priority. Ideally, they will re-sign VanVleet to a multiyear contract starting at between $17 million and $22 million annually.
The NBA salary cap is projected to increase to $115 million next season. However, the salary cap is connected to Basketball-Related Income (or “BRI”) and depending on how the rest of the season plays out, that number could very well go down. Ben Golliver of The Washington Post reported the NBA could lose $1 billion, which would significantly impact next year’s salary cap.
In any event, the Raptors won’t have much flexibility this summer. After factoring in VanVleet’s new contract (estimated at $20 million) and the Raptors’ first-round pick (No. 27 overall), the team’s payroll sits at about $108 million for 11 players. That leaves four open roster spots to be filled.
The smart money is on the Raptors re-signing either Ibaka or Gasol to a one-year contract similar to the one given to Lowry. There are only a few teams projected to have significant cap space this summer. None of which are legitimate title contenders. As such, the most any other team can offer Ibaka or Gasol is the non-taxpayer mid-level exception ($9.75 million).
Offering either Ibaka or Gasol a one-year contract at $15 million to $20 million should be tempting enough to keep them in Toronto for another year. But that also leaves the Raptors without much depth in the frontcourt.
The Raptors have been a poor rebounding team for most of this season. There are a few intriguing big men projected to be available when the team will be selecting in this year’s draft. Jalen Smith out of Maryland, for instance, is someone the Raptors might want to seriously consider. He provides rebounding and shot-blocking. Smith is also capable of spacing the floor and knocking down an open 3.
But it is often difficult for rookies to come in and make an impact immediately. Big men, in general, are slower to develop than guards. As such, the Raptors may need to look to free agency to find some help upfront. Here are three players the Raptors could consider whenever the offseason starts: