Whether or not the Toronto Raptors can make a successful late surge for a play-in spot, the coming off-season promises to be a big one. A shift in direction awaits, with a decision on unrestricted free agent Kyle Lowry’s future and a new contract for Gary Trent Jr. forthcoming, to say nothing of the future of president Masai Ujiri.
Not to be overlooked amidst some of the bigger items to be resolved, however, is the status of a number of players under some form of team control, as several
Now that the club has rewarded both Yuta Watanabe and Freddie Gillespie with standard, albeit non-guaranteed, NBA contracts, there are six Raptors who enter the 2021-22 season on non-guaranteed deals or holding team options.
Here, Toronto’s front office holds all the cards. In what has been an underwhelming season, chances are the organization doesn’t wish to essentially run it back by retaining all of these players. So, then, whose contracts are worth picking up? And whose are best left cutting loose?
Let’s play some ‘Pass or Cash’!
Which Toronto Raptors players will stay, and which will go?
2021-22 Contract Status: $1.76 million, non-guaranteed
Early this season, the NBA announced that two-way players could remain on a team’s roster for the duration of the campaign without being converted, contrary to rules in normal, non-pandemic times.
That meant that Watanabe’s contract extension served no benefit to the Raptors from a roster management standpoint, but they still felt as though he needed a reward for his services.
Of course, it could ultimately prove little more than a meaningless, feel-good moment if the club opts to cut ties with the 26-year-old before any guaranteed money kicks in. This scenario is highly unlikely, as the high-energy, 3-point shooting forward has carved out a role and impressed many within the organization.
From a brand value standpoint, it’s worth noting that Watanabe will probably be worth his $1.76 million contract in jersey sales, alone. His cultural and marketing impact in Japan is part of the reason why the Raptors timed his contract announcement to cater to Japanese fans.
Regardless, expect Watanabe to be back as a key contributor to a hopefully upgraded bench unit next season. There is no way he should be in another jersey next year.
2021-22 Contract Status: $1.5 million, non-guaranteed
The 2020-21 salaries of Aron Baynes and Alex Len amounted to approximately $9.2 million, or roughly 17 times the combined total cap hit (about $540k) of their front-court replacements in Gillespie and Khem Birch. Even apart from the savings, however, Gillespie and Birch have been a breath of fresh air for the big man-starved franchise.
While Birch is an unrestricted free agent who Toronto would surely love to have back, Gillespie has been the true revelation. Finally getting his NBA shot, the 23-year-old, had he qualified, would’ve ranked second among rookies in blocks behind Isaiah Stewart, and has proven effective as a more traditional, low post big man.
Gillespie’s steady production and consistent play may not blow anyone away (apart from his five-block effort against Brooklyn), but the Raps have witnessed first-hand how hard it is to compete without reliable play in the frontcourt.
At $1.5 million, he represents precisely the kind of young player worth taking a flyer on, especially for a team that may be approaching a rebuilding season.
Gillespie also gets points for being super into his rookie hazing performance of “Party in the USA”. He’s got to be back after that.