Assuming the new collective bargaining agreement is ratified, training camps and free agency are set to begin on December 9th. Along with the season tipping off December 25th, that leaves only 16 days for teams to sign free agents and get ready for the upcoming season.
The current free agent class doesn’t have very many big names. That could change once teams begin using the amnesty clause. Despite that, here are some talented players that will get big paydays, none of which are likely to end up in Toronto.
The Raptors have two glaring needs. The team needs another big man, either to start at centre or to back up Andrea Bargnani and Amir Johnson. Toronto also needs another swingman, as Linas Kleiza is still recovering from knee surgery, and Sonny Weems signed with a Lithuanian team and his contract doesn’t have an out clause for when the NBA season starts.
The salary cap is expected to stay at approximately $58 million, the same as the 2010-11 season. Toronto has about $45 million in committed salary for next year, plus a $2.9 cap hold for first-round pick Jonas Valanciunas. That means, if the team renounces the rights to all of their free agents, Toronto will have about $10 million in cap space, plus the newly-created $2.5 million exception, when signing free agents.
There are a number of centre prospects available, including Tyson Chandler, Marc Gasol, Nene, DeAndre Jordan and Samuel Dalembert. However, I can’t imagine any of these players ending up in a Raptor uniform for a number of reasons.
If the Raptors are not going to add any big-name, high-profile players, then who is left? The five players here are not necessarily well known, but would help the team and could turn into quality rotation players.
Thornton is a 6’8” small forward out of Florida State. He is entering his fifth year in the league and is an unrestricted free agent. He split last season between Washington and Golden State.
The 2010-11 season was not kind to Thornton. He had by far his worst statistical season as a professional. His rookie contract is now over, and it is unlikely Golden State would bring him back, as they don’t have room for another wing player on their roster.
What does this mean for the Raptors?
They can add a young, small forward with career averages of 11.9 points and 4.1 rebounds per game cheaply. The team could likely sign him to a two-year contract, the second being a team option and give Thornton the chance to prove he belongs in the NBA.
A short deal like this would force him to work hard because he might otherwise not be in the league in a couple years. It doesn’t hurt the Raptors either because making the second year a team option would preserve the team’s potential cap space next summer when big-name free agents become available.
Przybilla is a 7’1”, 245 lbs. centre, and his specialties are rebounding and blocking shots—the two things the Raptors need most.
He’s only played 66 games, averaging 15 minutes per game, over the last two seasons because of injuries, but is a very effective player when on the floor.
Last season he had a rebounding rate of 13.4 per 48 minutes, compared to some of the elite rebounders in the league, such as Dwight Howard, Kevin Love and Joakim Noah, who had per 48 averages of 18, 20.4 and 15.2, respectively, last year. His career low is 11.5 per 48 minutes.
Przybilla is not a long-term solution at centre, but merely a stopgap until Valanciunas joins the team next season. Looking at this upcoming season though, he would hide some of the deficiencies in Bargnani’s game.
Clark is a 6’10”, 225 lbs. combo forward who is entering his third year in the league. He was the 14th overall pick by Phoenix in the 2009 NBA draft, but was sent to Orlando at trade deadline along with Hedo Turkoglu in the Vince Carter trade.
Before the trade, Phoenix declined to pick up Clark’s third-year option and as a result, he is now an unrestricted free agent.
Clark wasn’t supposed to be available this year, as he signed with the Zhejiang Lions of the Chinese Basketball League. However, the team let him out of his contract because his girlfriend was experiencing problems with her pregnancy.
There is no question he has the tools to be successful in the NBA, given his size, length and athleticism. But there are questions about his ability to put those tools together and be a contributor on a winning team.
Regardless of the uncertainty, he is another young player who can be signed for cheap and needs to prove he can play at the NBA level. Clark is definitely someone Bryan Colangelo should consider taking a chance on.
Jones is another young, unknown big man who, given the opportunity, could prove to be a successful backup centre in the NBA.
He is 6’10” and 245 lbs. Jones spent last season with the Indiana Pacers. It’s unlikely the Pacers are going to retain his services, as they are one of the teams with cap space and are looking to add a veteran power forward. They are rumoured to be targeting David West.
Jones is entering his sixth year in the league and was selected by the Atlanta Hawks in the second round of the 2006 NBA draft. His career averages don’t jump off the page, 3.1 points and 2.4 rebounds per game.
However, what fans need to remember is whoever the Raptors sign isn’t going to play major minutes. The bulk of the frontcourt minutes will go to Bargnani, Johnson and Ed Davis. Toronto needs to determine what type of players these three are, as the team approaches a 2012 NBA draft that is power forward-heavy.
Therefore, Jones could be a big body that is actually capable of rebounding, defending and protecting the paint, something that Toronto hasn’t seen in years.
Forbes is a D-League success story. He went undrafted out of UMass. Then he went to Italy for a year. He spent two years playing in the D-League, before receiving an invite to training camp with the Denver Nuggets.
Forbes is a 6’7” swingman, with legitimate NBA range. He played 63 games last season for the Nuggets, but averaged only 12 minutes a game. Obviously, it’s tough to crack the rotation when you play the same position as Carmelo Anthony.
The benefit of adding a player like Forbes to the roster would be his ability to stretch the floor. The Raptors don’t have anyone on the team that can knock it down from the outside on a consistent basis.
The Nuggets may not be willing to let him walk though, as the team lost a number of its key players this offseason. Wilson Chandler, JR Smith and Kenyon Martin all signed contracts with teams in China and none have a clause in their contract allowing them to return to the NBA at the end of the lockout.