The Toronto Raptors are coming off a historic season in 2015-16 but will need to do some work if they want to keep their good vibe going.
Toronto went 56-26 last season, setting a franchise record for wins in a season on its way to a third straight Atlantic division title. The Raptors also advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time in franchise history, losing to the Cleveland Cavaliers in six games. Toronto defeated the Indiana Pacers and Miami Heat in seven games in each of the first two rounds.
The Raptors don’t have a lot of decisions to make, though the decisions they have are important ones. Toronto took care of its first important decision earlier this month by signing head coach Dwane Casey to a three-year, $18-million contract extension that runs through 2019.
The Raptors have improved in each of Casey’s first five seasons. Going from 23 wins in the strike-shortened 2011-12 season, to 56 victories last year. Overall, the 59-year-old is 210-184 in Toronto and has led them to three playoff appearances.
With Casey’s situation taken care of, the Raps can now turn their attention to DeMar DeRozan and Bismack Biyombo. DeRozan has until June 16 to exercise his early termination, which he will absolutely do, and Biyombo is a free agent after opting out of his contract on June 6.
Toronto general manager Masai Ujiri told reporters at his end of the season news conference that re-signing DeRozan would be his top priority.
“Our No. 1 goal is to bring DeMar back here. We feel great that he wants to come back to our organization. I spoke to him [Sunday], and his eyes were still red. You could tell. He said he felt empty the next day, which was telling.”
DeRozan had a career season in 2015-16, leading the Raptors with 23.5 points a game to go along with 4.5 rebounds and four assists. The 26-year-old shot 44.6 percent from the field and 33.8 percent from beyond the arc.
The playoffs were a mixed bag for DeRozan. The six-foot-seven wing struggled in the first round and there were times in the first two rounds when he was benched for the entire fourth quarters. But DeRozan did step up his play as the playoffs went along, including a 32-point performance in a Game 4 win at home over the Cavaliers that evened the series. He finished the playoffs averaging 20.9 points along with 4.2 rebounds and 2.7 assists as he shot 39.4 percent from the field and just 15.4 percent from beyond the arc.
DeRozan could get a max contract this year, but is expected to indeed be back with the Raptors, according to Fansided.
If DeRozan does return and receives at least $20 million a year, Toronto may not be able afford to bring Biyombo back. Marc Stein of ESPN tweeted that Biyombo will likely get at least $15 million a season on the open market.
The floor figure teams are throwing around for Bismack Biyombo's free agency, thanks to the magical Cap Spike of 2016, is a cool $15 million— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) May 28, 2016
As of now, Toronto has $69.9 million committed to 10 players and that total would increase to at least $80 million if DeRozan does indeed re-sign. Meaning the Raptors would have less than $12 million in salary cap space.
Biyombo had a breakout season this past year, averaging 5.5 points and eight rebounds along with 1.6 blocks a game. He produced nine double-doubles while averaging just 22 minutes of action a game. The 23-year-old also shot 54.2 percent from the floor and a career-best 62.8 percent from the charity stripe.
Veterans Luis Scola, James Johnson, and Jason Thompson are also unrestricted free agents.
If DeRozan does bolt for the Los Angeles Lakers, his hometown team, Toronto could pursue Nic Batum of the Charlotte Hornets. Last year, RealGM suggested that Batum would be interested in joining the Raps this offseason. The New York Knicks also have interest in Batum, but the Frenchman is expected to re-sign with Charlotte with a deal nearing the maximum.
Batum had a career season last year despite shooting below his career averages, both overall and from beyond the arc. The 27-year-old averaged 14.9 points along with 6.1 rebounds and 5.8 assists. He is a career 36 percent shooter from beyond the arc and ranked No. 13 among all shooting guards in Real Plus-Minus.
What Are the Raptors looking for this offseason?
Casey told Josh Lewenberg of TSN that the Raptors would be targeting shooting and defensive toughness, both of which are strengths of Batum’s.
Power forward was a weakness for the Raptors last year. Scola started most of the season at the 4-spot, making 76 starts, but his skils are waning rapidly and his defense is not what it used to be. Toronto still has Patrick Patterson, but he has yet to establish himself as a starter.
Patterson is a stretch-4 who can shoot. The 27-year-old is athletic and has long arms, which helps him defensively. The six-foot-nine forward averaged 6.9 points and 4.3 rebounds, while shooting a career-worst 41.4 percent from the field and 36.2 percent from beyond the arc.
If Biyombo walks and Toronto renounces Scola’s rights, the Raptors would have enough cash to go after some mid-level veteran free agents such as Terrence Jones, Mirza Teletovic, Jordan Hill, Wayne Ellington, Randy Foye, or Jared Dudley.
Jones made just $2.4 million last season with the Houston Rockets. The 24-year-old only appeared in 50 games this past year and was not active during the Rockets first round playoff series with the Golden State Warriors. The six-foot-nine power forward averaged 8.7 points and 4.7 rebounds, while shooting a career-low 45.2 percent from the field and 31.6 percent on his three-point attempts.
Jones is very talented and skilled though he has been plagued by injuries the past few seasons. He can play both inside and outside, though he is not a great rebounder or defender.
Teletovic is a stretch-4 and an excellent shooter. The 30-year-old produced a career-high 12.2 points along with 3.8 rebounds, while shooting a career-best 42.7 percent from the field as well as a career-best 39.3 percent from beyond the arc.
Teletovic, like Jones, is not a good rebounder or defender.
Hill reportedly isn’t expected to re-sign with the Indiana Pacers. The 28-year-old would bring defensive toughness and solid rebounding ability as well as some scoring in the paint. The six-foot-10 power forward/center averaged 8.8 points and 6.2 rebounds, while shooting 50.6 percent from the field last year.
Ellington is a shooter with a decently well-rounded game overall. The 28-year-old has the ability to create his own shot, but is only a good three-point shooter. He averaged 7.7 points and 2.3 rebounds, while shooting 38.9 percent from the floor and 35.8 percent from beyond the arc last season with the Brooklyn Nets. Ellington is a career 37.6 percent from beyond the arc.
Foye is a good three-point shooter who is coming off a poor season with the Denver Nuggets and Oklahoma City Thunder. The 32-year-old produced just 5.9 points a game and shot a paltry 35.1 percent from the floor and 30.8 percent from the three-point line. He averages 10.8 points for his career and shoots 40.2 percent from the field along with 36.9 percent on three-point attempts.
Dudley is a role player who can shoot the lights out and guard multiple positions. The 30-year-old averaged 7.9 points a game as he shot 47.8 percent from the field and 42 percent from beyond the arc for the Washington Wizards last year. He is a 47 percent shooter overall and makes nearly 40 percent of his long-range shots.
Toronto has two first round draft picks this year, owning the No. 9 and No. 27 overall selections. Chad Ford of ESPN believes that the Raptors will go with Henry Ellenson, Skal Labissierre, or Domantas Sabonis with the No. 9 pick.
Ellenson is very skilled and moves well. The 19-year-old can score inside and out, and he possesses a decent mid-range game. He also plays hard but is not an elite defender.
Labissierre is athletic and is the best shooter of the five prospects. He is an excellent shot-blocker but is very raw and needs to add strength, as well as improve his low-post game.
Sabonis is very strong and is an excellent rebounder and shot-blocker. He is not overly athletic and needs to improve his perimeter game.
Chriss is raw, but very athletic and has the ability to protect the rim.
Davis is long and athletic. He is a very good rebounder/shot-blocker with range on his jumper out to 17 feet. Davis needs to add strength and improve his low-post game.
Toronto does have another option and that is to trade either one or two of the picks for a power forward such as Zach Randolph of the Memphis Grizzlies. The Grizzlies, who were the sixth oldest team in the league, may look to get younger and shed a little salary.
The Raptors already have several youngsters that are still in the development stage of their careers – Lucas Nogueira, Bruno Caboclo, and Delon Wright – so they may not want to add another project. Plus, Ujiri has said the Raps are open to any move.
Randolph will enter the final year of his contract this season, making $10.3 million. The 34-year-old’s minutes declined a little last year causing his production to drop off as well. Randolph is still an outstanding scorer and rebounder, but just not what he was a year or two ago.
[Photo by Tony Dejak/Associated Press]