Way Too Many Words on the End of the Bench

Rambling but mostly coherent thoughts on how the roster breaks down from #13-18 – Double-A, DMC, Acy, Magloire, McNeal, and Wright.

Grabbing a nap on the floor rather than the bench.
Grabbing a nap on the floor rather than the bench.

There were some who were surprised when the Toronto Raptors added defensive specialist utility man Dominic McGuire to the roster late in the offseason. As the 15th man under contract, his signing essentially signified the end of the Raptors’ offseason, unless trades or an unexpected waive of a player occurred.

So you can forgive that same group for raising an eyebrow when the Raptors followed that move up by signing Jamaal Magloire to a player contract rather than a coaching contract of some sort, bringing the roster up to 16. The signing meant that, even if it was Magloire just transitioning from the floor to the bench, someone from the group wasn’t going to make the team.

And then, while not an uncommon move for NBA teams, the Raptors signed a 17th and an 18th member to the training camp squad, inking Jerel McNeal and Chris Wright to non-guaranteed deals. These are the standard, likely boiler-plate training camp contracts players sign if they either think they have a chance to make a team with an open roster spot or are resigned to playing in the U.S. for the year and are trying to catch the attention of scouts around the league.

The Candidates
McGuire, most recently of the Golden State Warriors, is without a doubt an NBA caliber player. A solid defender at multiple positions, McGuire is also a good rebounder and facilitator, although his reputation as a zero in the scoring department precedes him just about everywhere. With 316 games of NBA experience with four different teams in just five years, signing with the Raptors may officially make McGuire a journeyman, but one with the tools to remain in that niche role for some time.

Magloire, a Raptor last season as well, is on his last legs as an NBA player. Once an All Star (to the chagrin of some), Magloire was mostly a public relations signing, becoming the first Canadian to play for the Raptors. While still just 34, Magloire hasn’t had an appreciable impact on the floor since 2006-07 with Portland. Magloire was more player-coach than player last season, and some expected him to transition to coaching immediately after last year.

McNeal, a Marquette grad with nine minutes of NBA preseason experience with the Los Angeles Clippers in 2009-10, seemed from the outset to be a longshot to make the team. While the shooting guard depth isn’t sensational, he would have had to pass too many players to make an impact, and his only real chance was outplaying Alan Anderson and convincing the team it was worthwhile to waive Anderson’s 2012-13 contract. Had he gone gangbusters, this was maybe a slight possibility, but it seems he was simply an extra body for practice. For McNeal, coming back to North America after a few seasons abroad, it seems likely he’ll hang around and try to catch on with another team or a D-League affiliate in hopes of being a convenient, relatively experienced, low-cost call-up.

Wright is in a similar situation, but with a potentially brighter outlook given he fit a position of greater need at the small forward spot. Wright also has some more recent and reliable scouting tape, having played 24 games with the Warriors last year and spending the rest of the year dominating in the D-League to the tune of 18-and-9 nightly. Word from camp has also been that Wright seems to be a great human being, for whatever that’s worth.

I feel I should include Quincy Acy and Alan Anderson in this section as well, although their situations appear more clear. Acy, a second round pick, was not thought to be a guarantee to make the club after the draft but was signed to a multi-year deal, effectively sealing his spot. Double-A, who signed a one-year deal after a semi-successful 17-game audition after four years out of the league, seemed relatively assured as well as the last wing, although McGuire’s signing muddied that somewhat.

So with 18 bodies, some thought it would be an interesting preseason in terms of how the minutes would shake out and if there would be competition at the end of the roster. As it is, that hasn’t been the case.

Preseason Minutes
Minutes have been hard to come by for these four men fighting for the 15th roster spot. Anderson and McGuire have received regular run, but Acy and the others have been used sparingly. While the preseason isn’t always a useful looking glass for the season, minutes are an important “stat” for any players on the roster bubble, and can highlight the difference between a practice body and someone in the running for a job.

Game 1
In the first exhibition game against Real Madrid, the Spanish club kept it close until the closing minutes, leaving Dwane Casey to use his main rotation players more than I expected for the first outing. While McGuire logged a busy nine minutes (two rebounds, an assist, a block, a turnover and three fouls) and Double-A played 14 (with seven points on 2/7 shooting with an assist), Acy saw just 19 seconds at the tail end of the game. Acy was a star compared to McNeal, Wright and Magloire though, who all kept their warmups on for the duration of the contest.

Game 2
The first of two against the Pistons saw Casey go 14-deep with his rotation, including all of the anticipated regulars except an injured Kyle Lowry. Anderson again played 14 minutes (8-3-3 with two turnovers and a foul) and McGuire logged eight (three assists, two steals, a rebound and a turnover). Acy saw four minutes of action, chipping in with a block and a foul, while Magloire, Wright and McNeal all remained in their cute little track suits.

Game 3
The second game against the Pistons was more of the same, although this time Acy kept his buddies Magloire and Wright company on the bench for all 48 minutes. Anderson stayed on the floor for 27 minutes (9-5-1 with a steal, two turnovers and a foul), while McGuire actually sat the entirety of the game. Jerel McNeal saw his first action, grabbing six minutes of spot duty with a pair of assists, a foul and a turnover, missing his only shot attempt.

Game 4
Aaron Gray joined the regulars with the night off for this game against the Wizards, keeping Acy, Magloire, Wright and McNeal company and leaving just McGuire and Anderson to grab minutes. Anderson played 13 (5-2-1 with two fouls and three steals) while McGuire played 11 (two points, two assists and a block).

Game 5
Ed Davis got the night off due to some soreness but it didn’t clear a path for Magloire or Acy, who remained glued to the wood. McNeal and Wright also sat, once again leaving just Double-A and McGuire to compete, potentially for an active roster spot, even. Anderson tallied 14 more minutes (4-3-1 with two fouls and a turnover) while McGuire played seven (two points, an assist and two turnovers).

With two games remaining and the regulars all relatively healthy, the time may have passed for any of the players other than Anderson and McGuire to make an impact. In the final preseason tune-up on Friday, Coach Casey may throw McNeal and Wright a bone and give them a few minutes, thus allowing them to showcase themselves while also protecting the rotation players for the regular season.

It seems pretty evident how the end of the roster is going to work out at this time, unless there are some surprises between now and the opener on Halloween. It seems likely that Wright and McNeal will be cut, perhaps with an invitation to join the Raptors’ D-League affiliate in Bakersfield (the Raptors would not have a claim to either player, but could keep them “in the family,” so to speak, in case a roster spot opened up and they had yet to be scooped up by another team). And it seems a near certainty that Magloire will “officially” retire and join the team as an assistant coach in some capacity.

As for the others, logic would hold that Acy will be sent to the D-League so that he can get playing time rather than being just a practice body. The Raptors utilized this option with Solomon Alabi at times last year, although they haven’t always been aggressive in this regard, probably since they share an affiliate with other teams (and therefore don’t have direct control over minutes, coaching, system, etc). With that said, it seems a better route for Acy’s development.

McGuire and Anderson, then, appeared tagged for duty on the inactive list, since you can only dress 12 of your 15 players on a given night. Even though both have seen appreciable playing time in the preseason, it seems unlikely either has usurped one of the 12 players ahead of them for the time being. They will be there in the event that injuries strike, and it’s perhaps possible that Anderson could be called on in the event an extra shooter is required one night, or McGuire if there is a particularly tough defensive matchup on the wing.

A lot can happen over the course of the season, so a D-League assignment or a spot on the inactive list is anything but a death knell. Instead, these are just how the roster battle appears to break down at this moment in time.

Potential Roster Breakdown
Starters: Lowry, DeRozan, Fields, Bargnani, Johnson/Valanciunas
Rotation: Calderon, Johnson/Valanciunas, Davis, Ross/Kleiza
Bench: Gray, Lucas, Kleiza/Ross
Inactive List: McGuire, Anderson
D-League: Acy
Waived: Wright, McNeal
Coaching but ready to play: Magloire, Boogie Williams

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