After a year of strategic money-saving trades and lots of patience the Raptors have already put themselves back in position to compete for a playoff spot only one year after losing their franchise player Chris Bosh.
At times where the league witnessed teams "dumping" star players such as Tyson Chandler, Gerald Wallace, Al Jefferson, and Michael Beasley, the Toronto Raptors remained steadfast and chose not to use the bulk of the Chris Bosh trade exception. The Raptors have only $50 million on the books for next season, nearly $20 million below the previous luxury tax threshold, and they're expected to shed another $10 million for 2012.
While it's still not clear exactly how the next salary cap will look, rumors have suggested that owners are looking to either implement what some believe will be a "hard cap" by removing exceptions such as the mid-level exception, and by significantly increasing the financial penalties on teams that go over the luxury tax threshold.
Despite this, owners have shown signs that they're willing to back off their demands for the alleged "hard cap" if players accept a 50-50 BRI (basketball related revenue) split.
In both situations the Raptors should be able to spend as much as they did in the last CBA but they won't be able to go over the cap. Since Toronto isn't a team which is known for big spending, this situation wouldn't be bad at all.
There is another scenario where the owners force players to take salary roll backs and reduce the cap. If the owners reduce the cap it will only be logical that they roll back contracts accordingly,. That won't be a problem for the Raptors because even though they'll have less money to spend, the market value for players will also decrease.
So assuming the Raptors will remain in a good position to land free agents whenever the season stars, why should they spend big? Surely it looks as though they could tank another season and earn another early draft pick?
The reason why the Raptors should spend big is because of security. Unlike many free agent classes, the class of 2011 will have many talented centers the Raptors' greatest position of need. Toronto is commonly referred to as the Siberia of the NBA where every star player has chosen to leave; this offseason Toronto could definitely be an appealing option to the top free agent centers, offering a leading role on a up-and-coming team and also offering them a long term contract.
Other teams with cap space like New Jersey, Indiana, and Washington already have above average starting centers. Tyson Chandler has just won a championship with Dallas, but he didn't seem very interested at the idea of taking a pay cut to remain with the cash strapped Mavericks. If money is what he wants, Toronto will be the best fit for Chandler.
The European Marc Gasol is another intriguing target. Under the previous CBA the Memphis Grizzlies could offer Gasol between $10 to $13 million per year without going over the cap, but they will have to let key players like Shane Battier and O.J Mayo walk. Since the next CBA is likely to be even more restrictive, the Grizzlies could find themselves between a rock and a hard spot, while Toronto will still be able to offer Gasol top dollar.
The Denver Nuggets are another team struggling to keep their franchise center after Nene opted out of his contract and became an unrestricted free agent. While Denver is a great situation for Nene, the Raptors could be the better team considering Denver has already lost J.R Smith, Kenyon Martin, Wilson Chandler, and could possibly lose guard Aaron Afflalo to free agency as well.
The final target for Toronto would be the young DeAndre Jordan. The Clippers won't let Jordan get away easily but their owner Donald Sterling is known for making bad decisions and he might just refuse to match a decent offer to Jordan.
Even though the Raptors drafted Jonas Valanciunas this June it'd still be in their best interest to take advantage of this opportunity. There's no guaranteeing the 20-year-old Valanciunas will be ready to start in the NBA, and the Raptors cannot afford to continue losing during DeRozan's contract year. Also the Raptors could simply "undo" any major signing if teams are given an amnesty clause, because as of now Toronto doesn't look like it will waive anybody if such an exception is granted to teams.
The Toronto Raptors could enjoy their best season of the decade with the addition of a true center. In 2009-2010 the Raptors were a "50 win" team halfway through the season, despite having only one 20-point scorer and no real center. How much worse will the Raptors be with Bargnani starting at the four compared to when Chris Bosh started? Just a little. Enter a Tyson Chandler and DeRozan and there's no reason why we can't maintain that type of success throughout the entire season.
This opportunity doesn't present itself often, and it provides a lot more security than tanking it for a possible top draft pick which could lead to a possible star. Plus, if things don't look so well early on, we could always pull the plug and aim for the lottery. Why not give it a try?
Overall I could see Toronto having a winning record for multiple seasons by signing a true center this offseason. The Raptors are in a very strategic position and they'll have nothing to lose from a big name acquisition if the rumored amnesty clause is granted to teams.
Knowing Bryan Colangelo, the Raptors will likely clear the log jam at power forward to fill the hole at small forward; if this is done successfully, I believe Toronto has the opportunity to win the most games in franchise history next season.