Cost-Effective Moves the Toronto Raptors Can Make in Free Agency
For the Toronto Raptors to make the NBA playoffs next season, they need to get help wherever they can. With no picks in this year’s draft and a tight financial situation, new general manager Masai Ujiri will have to take a creative approach to improving the team this summer.
With ESPN's Marc Stein breaking the news that the Raptors are declining John Lucas III's team option, the Raptors now have approximately $71.4 million in salary committed to their roster. However, if they decide to use their amnesty provision on either Andrea Bargnani or Linas Kleiza, they could make sure one of those contracts don’t count against their cap, thus freeing up space for free-agent signings.
Whether the Raptors try to cut costs to avoid the luxury tax or decide to pay the price for an improved roster, GM Masai Ujiri has two options he can use to find role players in free agency: the mid-level exception and veteran’s minimum. While these two options don’t constitute a large amount of money (the MLE is $5.15 million and the VM is $1.2 million), there are plenty of potential contracts out there that are both favorable and realistic.
The Raptors have done a good job of keeping their core intact. However, sometimes the difference between a playoff team and a lottery-bound one is a few good role players who are available on the cheap.
1. Marco Belinelli, UFA
Belinelli could become the Raptors' top three-point threat.
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2012-13 Salary: $1,957,000
A career 39 three-point field-goal percentage shooter, Marco Belinelli could immediately slot in as the Raptors’ best long-range threat. With Rudy Gay and DeMar DeRozan slashing and driving, Belinelli’s range would provide precious floor spacing, allowing the Raptors' wings to get easier looks at the rim.
Too often this season, opposing defenses were able to clamp down on DeRozan and Gay without having to worry about open shooters. Belinelli would change that. He’s not particularly adept in any other area on the floor, but his skill set is one the Raptors desperately need.
After scoring 11.1 points per game in this year's playoffs with the Chicago Bulls, Belinelli may have earned himself some more money this summer. His salary was fairly reasonable this season, so if it stays around that price range, he could be a bargain. But on the other hand, if he opts to search for a bigger payday, the Raptors will either have to pass or get creative.
2. DeJuan Blair, UFA
DeJuan Blair lost favor with the San Antonio Spurs this season.
2012-13 Salary: $1,054,000
Once upon a time, DeJuan Blair was on his way to becoming a very productive NBA player. In his first three seasons, he averaged 8.5 points, 6.3 rebounds with a 53 field-goal percentage in just 20.3 minutes. It looked like he was just scratching the surface of his talent.
Then the 2012-13 season happened.
Blair’s averages plummeted to 5.4 points, 3.8 rebounds and just 14 minutes a game. Part of the reason for this was San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich having a lot more options at power forward this year. Among his choices were Boris Diaw, Matt Bonner, Tiago Splitter and, of course, Tim Duncan.
If he were to join the Raptors, Blair could function as a big body to punish opposing forwards down low.
Although Blair is short for his position (6’7”), he’s a workhorse who can impact close games with his offensive rebounding. With Amir Johnson beside him in the paint, the two of them have the potential to become a force on the offensive glass, providing critical second-chance opportunities for an inefficient Raptors offense (ranked only 23rd in offensive efficiency with Gay).
It’s unclear if the Spurs want Blair back or if he even wants to return. However, if he doesn't, the Raptors should pounce.
He's not likely to command a lot of money on the market, meaning Toronto should be able to afford him. After such a sharp decrease in playing time, his primary concern may simply be time on the court, something the Raptors should be able to provide.
3. Darren Collison, RFA
Darren Collison struggled with turnovers this season.
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2012-13 Salary: $2,319,344
The way this season went, it appears highly unlikely that a reunion between Darren Collison and the Dallas Mavericks is going to happen next year. Not only did the organization bench him in favor of 38-year-old Derek Fisher, they also benched him for 38-year-old Mike James.
Collison is an extremely talented player; he can drive, shoot and run with the best of them. Where he struggles is running offensive sets and making the right passes. With a lack of creators outside of Dirk Nowitzki and O.J Mayo, the Mavericks needed Collison to run their plays for them.
Unfortunately, that wasn't something he’s particularly adept at, as indicated by this box score.
The good news is that if he were to join the Raptors next year, he wouldn't have anywhere near the same pressure put on him to initiate offense. Between DeRozan, Gay and Kyle Lowry, the Raptors already have ample offensive creativity on their roster. Collison would be free to plug in as a role player who could push the tempo, get inside the paint and facilitate the fast break.
Collison may be looking for a bigger payday and a long-term deal, but given his performance this season, it’s unlikely he would command a large contract. If he can be content with backing up Lowry on a reasonable salary, the Raptors should take a look at him.
4. Randy Foye, UFA
Randy Foye can be deadly from deep.
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2012-13 Salary: $2,500,000
Much like Belinelli, Randy Foye is a sniper. This season, he shot a 41 three-point field-goal percentage for the Utah Jazz while starting 72 games for them. There hasn't been much offseason news regarding his free-agency plans, but if he’s looking for a new team, the Raptors could certainly do worse.
Whereas Belinelli is most efficient functioning purely as a three-point shooter, Foye is more of a combo guard who can also play the 1 if needed. That’s good news for the Raptors, as it would ensure that the team has floor-spacers on the court even in Lowry’s absence.
There’s not much separating Belinelli from Foye, but with Foye’s added ability to man the point, the Raptors should go with him if given the choice between the two. If the Raptors want to throw their money at one player, Foye is an excellent candidate to take up that cap space.
5. Marreese Speights, RFA
Marreese Speights is a talented offensive big man.
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2012-13 Salary: $4,200,000
Which means the Toronto Raptors should seriously consider picking him up.
An obviously gifted player, it’s been his inconstancy and perceived attitude problems that have kept him from emerging and may ultimately cost him his big payday.
He may not have completely fit in with the Cavaliers, but the talent is definitely there with Speights. He has a nice offensive game that stretches out to about 15 feet, and he’s no slouch on the offensive boards (1.8 offensive rebounds this season), an attribute that should be invaluable to the Raptors offense.
However, the most important facet of his game is Speights' scoring capability. When given the opportunity in Cleveland, he averaged 10.2 points per game in just 18.5 minutes. When the Raptors' perimeter attack isn't there for them, Speights could give the team a go-to option in the post.
The Raptors don’t have a lot of options for improving this summer. However, even with their limited money, they can still add a quality rotation player or two. The two most pressing areas the Raptors need to address is the lack of three-point shooting and a dominant rebounding game.
Whether the team opts to spend their money on the former or the latter, either choice will be one that pushes its playoff aspirations in the right direction.