The Toronto Raptors were grasping at straws during the COVID-19 sabbatical in Tampa, as the record was poor and the product on the floor was tough to watch. With Aron Baynes providing next to nothing as a replacement for Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka, Masai Ujiri turned to Khem Birch to get some consistency.
After years as a garden-variety backup with the Orlando Magic, the Montreal-born Birch exploded after joining the Raptors. After averaging 11.9 points, 7.6 rebounds, and 1.2 blocks per game in 19 Tampa cameos, the Raptors gave Birch a three-year, $20 million contract that was fully guaranteed.
Birch started regularly for Toronto in his first season, but his production declined to the point where he was essentially out of the lineup by his second year. Birch was eventually salary dumped to the San Antonio Spurs in the trade that brought a much better center in Jakob Poeltl to Toronto.
The Spurs officially waived Birch before ever playing a game in San Antonio. With injuries taking what little effectiveness he had and his inability to stick elsewhere, the Birch signing can now officially be described as one of the worst free agent moves in Raptors.
Toronto Raptors free agent flop Khem Birch released by Spurs.
Birch started 28 games in 2021-22, averaging 4.5 points and 4.3 rebounds per game before losing his spot. While that is in line with what the former UNLV star would put up in Orlando, it’s not what Toronto thought they were getting when they signed him to such a lucrative contract.
After playing just 8.1 minutes per game last season and missing a large chunk of the season due to an injury, Birch’s potential second chance as a veteran mentor in San Antonio was ruined before it even began. Injuries sidelines, and he was viewed as dead weight behind Victor Wembanyama.
Birch is a solid locker room veteran who can rebound the ball well, but his contract and subsequent play after signing the deal goes to show exactly how fake the Raptors’ season in the bubble was. Once that malaise started to come to an end, Birch’s inability to be a starting center on a playoff team became obvious.
Given Birch’s health problems, it will be difficult to imagine a situation where a team rolls the dice on him, barring a calamitous run of injuries. It’s a shame to see his career unfold like this, especially after Ujiri and the Raptors invested in him with the belief he could be a long-term piece.