Best Bargain-Bin 2014 Free-Agency Options for Toronto Raptors
The Toronto Raptors don't need to hit it out of the park as they fill their final few roster spots, but with so many bargain-bin free agents still available, there's always a chance that general manager Masai Ujiri could land a valuable contributor with his remaining cap space.
He has worked his tail off in recent weeks trying to re-sign members of the 2013-14 rotation who not only helped the franchise earn its second Atlantic Division title but also the first postseason appearance in more than six years.
Kyle Lowry agreed to a four-year, $48 million deal to stay a Raptor, per Sam Amick of USA Today. Patrick Patterson will remain with the team on a three-year, $18 million deal as well, according to ESPN's Jeff Goodman. Nothing can be official until July 10.
That leaves the Raptors with 10 players under contract for next season: Lowry, Patterson, DeMar DeRozan, Amir Johnson, Terrence Ross, Jonas Valanciunas, Chuck Hayes, Landry Fields, Lou Williams and Tyler Hansbrough.
According to Ryan Wolstat of the Toronto Sun, Ujiri is "closing in" on a deal with backup guard Greivis Vasquez. Factoring in rookies Bruno Caboclo (No. 20 pick in the 2014 NBA draft) and Lucas Nogueira (No. 16 pick in the 2013 NBA draft, acquired from Atlanta Hawks in the John Salmons trade, per Marc Stein of ESPN), that gives the Raptors 13 players and two open spots remaining.
Vasquez should earn anywhere from $4 to $6 million in his next deal, giving Ujiri the opportunity to use his full mid-level exception to round out the team. The 2014-15 salary cap is projected at $63.2 million, with the tax level at $77 million, according to Larry Coon's CBA Blog.
Small forward and backup center are the most glaring weaknesses, so the mid-level exception should go toward fixing those areas of need.
Let's take a look at five free agents who can help the Raptors on the cheap while maybe even exceeding their market value in the process.
2013-14 statistics: 55 games, 18.3 minutes, 2.9 points, 57.4 FG%, 4.1 rebounds, 0.7 assists, 0.6 steals, 1.0 blocks, 0.8 turnovers, 9.7 player efficiency rating
2013-14 salary: $2,676,000
2013-14 team: New Orleans Pelicans
The beautiful thing about a signing of this nature is that expectations would be so low, no one would notice if things didn't pan out for the 6'11" big man out of the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
The crop of available centers this summer is limited, so Ujiri will have to throw caution to the wind and perhaps roll the dice on a guy like Greg Stiemsma.
He's not much of a scorer, averaging just 2.8 shots over his three-year NBA career. Fortunately for him, a consistent offensive game is the last thing that will be asked of him in Toronto.
What he does bring to the table is length around the basket to alter shots, including a decent ability of rebounding the basketball and attacking the glass. He averaged 8.1 rebounds and 2.0 blocks per 36 minutes for the Pelicans last season.
The 7'0" rookie Nogueira is a project in every sense of the word and may take years before he's NBA-ready. That doesn't mean head coach Dwane Casey won't throw him to the wolves once in a while, but Stiemsma could offer some insurance as a fourth or fifth big for the second unit.
Hayes and Johnson will continue to alternate time at the 5 spot behind Valanciunas, but if matchups dictate a larger defensive assignment, Stiemsma could sneak in some minutes here and there from the end of the bench.
2013-14 statistics: 78 games, 22.7 minutes, 7.2 points, 40 FG%, 2.2 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 0.6 steals, 0.1 blocks, 0.8 turnovers, 9.5 PER
2013-14 salary: $947,907
2013-14 team: Brooklyn Nets
There's no place like home.
Alan Anderson may have been an enemy of the city as a member of the Nets during the NBA playoffs, but fans will find it in their hearts to look past that if he returns to the team that helped put him on the basketball map.
The 31-year-old played two seasons with the Raptors from 2011 to 2013 before signing with the Nets. He averaged 10.4 points and 2.2 rebounds in red and white, providing a nice scoring punch off the bench during his time with the team.
He's not the greatest defender on the wing, but he's good enough to not be a liability.
His biggest strength comes at the offensive end. You can never fault Anderson for a lack of confidence, that's for sure. He has a tendency to get trigger-happy with his shot selection, but when he starts knocking down a few in a row, you need to step back because there's no getting the ball out of his hands.
The transition back to Toronto would be a seamless one. He's comfortable in Casey's system, his former teammates love him, and he'd immediately have a role. The head coach loves players who can establish themselves on both ends of the floor.
It's a match made in heaven.
2012-13 statistics: 79 games, 26.0 minutes, 9.7 points, 47.7 FG%, 8.8 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 0.6 steals, 1.0 blocks, 1.4 turnovers, 15.8 PER
2013-14 salary: $14,487,500
2013-14 team: Phoenix Suns
A herniated disc in his neck cost Emeka Okafor the entire 2013-14 season, so there's obviously going to be some red flags concerning his health and durability.
He won't make anything close to what he did during the final year of his most recent contract. It's hard to invest too much in a guy coming off an injury of that magnitude. The Raptors will need to do their homework and make sure he's close to 100 percent before giving him a call.
If Okafor's health is not an issue and the cost is within reason, Ujiri would be landing a defensive-minded center who's a great locker-room guy to boot.
It's hard to expect similar stats to what he put up during his first five seasons in the league, operating as a double-double machine (14.0 points and 10.7 rebounds) for the Charlotte Bobcats, but it's possible for him to knock on the door of that level of production on occasion again.
His worst statistical season came in 2012-13 with the Washington Wizards, yet he still put up respectable numbers in a much lesser role.
Put his 255-pound frame under the hoop and watch as he outmuscles the opposition and imposes his will on the boards. Have him inspire a young player like Valanciunas by leading by example.
You'll have to keep an eye on Okafor's neck, but with great risk comes great reward. Ujiri can afford to take that chance, if the price is right.
2013-14 statistics: 38 games, 11.0 minutes, 2.1 points, 33.3 FG%, 1.2 rebounds, 0.6 assists, 0.1 steals, 0.2 blocks, 0.5 turnovers, 4.1 PER
2013-14 salary: $4,000,000
2013-14 team: Utah Jazz
Another player riddled with injury concerns, Brandon Rush has played in just 40 games the past two seasons because of a torn left ACL.
Before his unfortunate twist of fate, he was making a name for himself as a three-point marksman for the Golden State Warriors, shooting a scorching 45.2 percent from behind the arc in 2011-12.
Three-point shooting wasn't an area of concern last season with the Raptors, who finished eighth in the NBA at 37.2 percent. Forward Steve Novak (42.6 percent) is now out of the picture after a recent trade to the Jazz, so with one of the best three-point shooters in the league sent packing, the Raptors could benefit from finding a suitable replacement, right?
Novak is a one-trick pony, while Rush can offer more by just getting to the rim—when he's healthy, of course.
He's not one for forcing the ball-handler into turnovers, but he's quick enough (again, when healthy) to keep his man in front of him and at least be a pest with his hands.
Teams may have to overpay for the likes of Xavier Henry and Wesley Johnson after watching what they did for the Los Angeles Lakers. Some sucker is going to shell out the dough and put too much stock in numbers that were exaggerated by the fact that no one else was capable of contributing for that team.
In Rush, all you need to do is give him the opportunity on an inexpensive deal and see if he can hold his own after so much time off.
2013-14 statistics: 80 games, 25.6 minutes, 7.2 points, 47.4 FG%, 6.2 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.5 blocks, 1.1 turnovers, 13.2 PER
2013-14 salary: $3.7 million
2013-14 team: New Orleans Pelicans
Selected No, 8 overall in the 2010 NBA draft, Al-Farouq Aminu has never quite lived up to the status that came with being a high lottery pick.
In his defense, he's only 23 years old. His best years are ahead of him, but the question remains as to how much growth he'll display in the not-too-distant future, if any.
He has still managed to establish himself as one of the better rebounding small forwards in the league, finishing with the third-highest rebound rate at the position at 14.4, according to Hollinger's ratings at ESPN.
He'd be a nice fit alongside DeRozan and Lowry in the starting lineup over Ross. The Raptors stars would continue to get their looks, while Aminu would be content doing the dirty work on the glass and on the defensive end as a No. 5 option. Ross could be Toronto's sixth man, competing against non-starters and shooting to his heart's content. Everyone is happy.
Just don't let Aminu shoot, though. He hit just 33.7 percent of his jump shots and 32.0 percent from between 16 feet and the three-point arc last season.
Ujiri should look at Aminu as less of a project and more of a redemption story. New surroundings will do him a world of good.
Accentuate his strengths and hide his weaknesses.
All statistics are courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com.
All salary information courtesy of Sham Sports.
Christopher Walder is a freelance writer who has been published at Bleacher Report, SB Nation, FanSided, SI.com and several other online outlets. You can follow him on Twitter @WalderSports.