DINGERS FROM THE 6IX
by Quinn Sweetzir
Note: Unlike most of my articles, this one is not about baseball or the Toronto Blue Jays. This is a one-off article.
Having spent the last few seasons competing with the likes of the Washington Wizards, Atlanta Hawks, Boston Celtics, Miami Heat etc. for the title of being the second-best team in the East, the Toronto Raptors continued the trend of falling to LeBron James after being swept in the second round. No one has been able to overthrow the LeBron James led Cleveland Cavaliers in the past three seasons or the LeBron James led Miami Heat before them, but the Toronto Raptors could conceivably improve with major moves that don’t involve getting rid of Kyle Lowry or DeMar DeRozan.
Instead of a full scale rebuild where the Raptors trade one or both of their stars in the hopes that they can bounce back in time for LeBron’s dominance to have diminished, the Raptors should make dramatic changes to their supporting cast. Lowry and DeRozan are legit all-stars, and building another team which contains as much talent as these two players posses is both difficult and unlikely.
Since it’s unrealistic to expect that engaging in a total rebuild will result in a better long term roster than what the Raptors already have, the Raptors should instead attempt to improve by acquiring a third all-star. In particular, the Raptors should make a concerted effort to acquire someone like Paul Millsap or Blake Griffin, both of whom are free agents and appear willing to move to new organizations.
If the Raptors were to do this, they would obviously need to clear cap space, as such of their current core including Kyle Lowry, Serge Ibaka, Patrick Patterson, and PJ Tucker are also free agents. As currently constructed, the Raptors stand to get worse since their current cap situation makes resigning all four of these players highly unlikely.
The Raptors should trade expensive contracts like those of Jonas Valanciunas (15.46 million), DeMarre Carroll (14.80 million), and Cory Joseph (7.63 million), even if the return is minimal to non-existent. In an age where veterans are more overpaid than ever, having solid quality, depth on rookie contracts has never been more valuable. Luckily, the Raptors have young players like Jakob Poetl and Delon Wright, who can probably produce at 90% of the level of JV and Joseph. Norman Powell is already better than Carrol too, and still has one year on his rookie contract. Plus, JV, Carroll, and Joseph would surely combine to make more money as free agents than what they’re currently being paid, making their seemingly large contracts more tradeable than it would appear.
With depth replacements already in the organization on their rookie contracts, there’s no need to carry the more expensive veterans, and if the Raptors were to trade all three of JV, Carroll, and Joseph, than the players Raptors would enter free agency with over 80 million dollars in cap space. This doesn’t consider the cost of resigning Lowry, but even if he signs a max contract, the Raptors are still left with more than 40 million to sign other free agents, and potentially pick up another star.
Plan A should be to sign a talented star level forward, preferably (and most likely) Paul Millsap, who put up 18.1 points and 7.7 rebounds as the best player on the Atlanta Hawks this season. The Raptors were reportedly trying hard to acquire him midseason this year, but the Hawks decided they didn’t want to sell him after all, so he remained property of Atlanta. Toronto could also conceivably make a push for Blake Griffin given that he would also be a good fit, but Millsap should be the Raptors preferred option since Griffin should have far more suitors and might not even be as good as Millsap without Chris Paul.
If the Raptors are unable to sign Paul Millsap, trading this trio still makes sense, and using the cap space to retain Serge Ibaka, and either PJ Tucker or Patrick Patterson which helps keep the Raptors competitive enough to try something similar next year if they wish. Doing this also makes since if you can resign them using bird rights and use the cap space to quality three point shooters such as Robert Covington or Kyle Korver, or stud defenders like Tony Allen or Andre Roberson.
As currently constructed, the Toronto Raptors are in no position to defeat Cleveland unless LeBron leaves to play baseball. However, a total rebuild doesn’t necessarily make a title more likely in the short or long term. Acquiring one star is hard enough, and acquiring a second is even harder. If the Raptors wish to win a title, their more likely to do it through acquiring a third star while they already have 2 than by trying to rebuild, and acquiring three later.