First, and I know this from talking to people close to Carter over the last little while, he’s quite happy in Dallas, he’s fit into a nice role there as an old head and backup and I would imagine the Mavs feel that way, too. But there are other reasons to take a pass that I think are equally, if not more, important. There shouldn’t be but there are some lingering issues with some fans and Carter and I wonder if that wouldn’t become some kind of distraction for a team on the ascent. What if he doesn’t play well? How would fans react? What if he tires of the attention he’s sure to get and withdraws into himself, as he can? What if a return has some negative impact on delicate chemistry? I like Vince, an awful lot, and think he’s still got a couple of years of good NBA production left in him. I don’t think anyone can deny that after watching what he did in a backup role with the Mavericks this year. He can surely help a team with his skills and his smarts, I just don’t think, given all that’s gone on, that it would be worth the risk with this team at this point. Besides, this is not a business for sentimentality
The extension gives Ujiri the chance to see what a full year’s worth of a team that ranked ninth in the league in both offense and defensive efficiency – scoring 107 points per 100 possessions while surrendering 102, per NBA.com/stats – post-Gay can do. If the Raptors re-sign Kyle Lowry, pivotal to the Raptors’ transformation and the team’s production proves sustainable, terrific. If not, the Raptors have young, valuable assets they can flip for a franchise player or draft picks. Dwane Casey may not be the coach to lead the Raptors to the championship, and that’s fine – the Raptors aren’t quite there yet. They still need to develop their young players like Terrence Ross and Jonas Valanciunas, an area in which Casey’s proved adept. So even though Casey may not be The Guy, he’s the The Guy Right Now, perfectly suited to Toronto’s needs, at least for the moment.
“He’s grown as a person tremendously to be coached and to work with,” Ujiri said. “His teammates, everybody has said that. We’re very proud of him. And so we’ll go through that process, but we’re optimistic stuff will happen. To be honest, too, we’re building a team where we have to be confident with ourselves.” After Toronto’s Game 7 loss, Lowry took to the podium and spoke about his coach growing into a great coach over the course of the year. A day later, he said this group was the best he’d ever played with. Coming into the season knowing that the organization was counting on him to be their point guard, Lowry did not take the opportunity for granted. Building on the progress he had shown a season ago after the team traded Jose Calderon, Lowry began to trust his coaching staff. “Once Jose [Calderon] was traded it got closer, he understood what we were doing,” Casey said. “I understood what he was going to do in certain situations, trusted him, that trust built, he trusted me that I was telling him the right information, and is it always going to be perfect? No. There’s no head coach out there that I’ve been around that’s always been perfect, but it has grown, and it is still growing, and because I think Kyle has grown as a man, as a father, as a husband.”
Greivis Vasquez cannot replace what Lowry provides and nobody attainable in the draft or via free agency can either. The team’s heart and soul and top player has to be back. That said, what is his value on the open market? His representative surely will ask for the max, money similar to the likes of John Wall, Russell Westbrook, Derrick Rose, Deron Williams and others. The Raptors will balk. Talents like Jeff Teague, Mike Conley Jr., George Hill, Goran Dragic, Jose Calderon and Brandon Jennings make in the $7-8 million US range. Jennings gets it over three years, Conley and Hill five, the rest four. Ujiri matched an offer sheet to Ty Lawson that will pay him $12 million a year over four years. Rajon Rondo got $11 million a year over five. Stephen Curry was inked for the bargain-basement price of $11 million a season. Spurs superstar Tony Parker earned $12.25 million each of the past four seasons on his latest extension. Look for Lowry to get in the Lawson/Curry/Parker range, perhaps a tad less given his age and because he’s simply not as good as Curry or Parker.
Remember the Summer of Vince in 2001? If you thought the current Raptors team inspired an unprecedented love-in, you have a short memory. The crowds at Maple Leaf Square during the playoffs were great, but not long after Carter pledged allegiance to Toronto by putting his signature on a six-year $94-million contract extension he walked into an Air Canada Centre packed with 20,000 screaming, worshipping fans who paid $20 each to watch his charity game. Think about that. And while you could write a book about why that 47-win team turned into a 42-win team the next year and then one that missed the playoffs for the next four, it’s impossible to overlook the rush to spend money that even at today’s prices looks reckless.
A knee injury cost him three games in early April. Those were the only three he missed the entire season, logging a career-high 36.2 minutes along the way—an absurd number considering the way the 6’0″ point guard actively seeks out contact. On the floor, he’s everything a franchise would want in a team leader. He’s a potent scorer but still a ready and willing passer. He has top-shelf talent but has the passion of a guy playing for a roster spot. Off the court, you get the sense he’s maturing by the minute. A divisive presence at each of his previous NBA stops, he now seemed to be the one holding everything together. By all accounts, he looks like he’s found a home.
A number of teams – the Los Angeles Lakers and Sacramento Kings pop to mind – have a need for a top flight point guard and could have the cap room to offer Lowry a rich contract. The Raptors need to be patient and see what the market dictates while also keeping an eye on other pieces like Reggie Jackson (restricted free agent) and Isaiah Thomas (unrestricted free agent). Both players are young, talented point guards who may come cheaper than Lowry. Jackson has played well in a reserve role for the Oklahoma City Thunder and he played well in a starting role while filling in for an injury Russell Westbrook. He has a strong bond with Kevin Durant but he has also stated a desire this summer to try to secure a starting role via free agency. It’s also worth noting that Oklahoma City probably won’t match an offer of more than $8 million per season due to already being pushed close to the salary cap. Both Jackson and Thomas serve as solid Option B’s for the Raptors. Or, if Lowry’s asking price gets too steep, they may serve as better options than retaining Lowry.
Teams with cap space who could justify throwing big money at a starting PG: 1. LAL – 26 million in cap space. 2. Mil – 15 million in cap space. 3. Orl – 18 million in cap space. 4. Phi – 30 million in cap space. 5. Uta – 31 million in cap space 6. Dal – 31 million in cap space.
Management now knows that it is time to take advantage of this new-found basketball frenzy and strike while the iron is hot. With a core consisting of DeRozan, Lowry and Valanciunas that has yet to hit its ceiling the organization can now afford to take its time to build the right way. Though it is likely that there will be some change in the roster, the plan has to be to keep these three together. Fans in Toronto have legitimate reason to look forward. This team is young, talented and ready to strike in an Eastern Conference that is right for the taking. The hurt we all felt on Sunday was real and it was deep, but there is every reason to believe there will be brighter days ahead. This is a team on the rise, now everyone knows it.
The Raptors had one of their best seasons in franchise history, winning 48 games and being rewarded with the 3rd seed in the Eastern Conference. Although with that record they wouldn’t have made the playoffs in the Western Conference and they lost in 7 games in the 1st round of the playoffs against the Nets, they proved that they are one of the best young teams in the NBA and with their excellent young talent headlined by All Star shooting guard DeMar DeRozan (24) and franchise center Jonas Valanciunas (22), they have a very bright tomorrow. However, including resigning 3 of their best players and making a big free agent transaction, there are 5 things they can do this offseason to build a potential title contender, assuming their young talent continues to improve. They already resigned their coach Dwayne Casey, but there are still 5 moves that their excellent general manager Massai Ujiri needs to make to assure they stay close to the best teams in the East. If they make these moves and DeRozan, Valanciunas and the players involved improve, they could have a possible contender on their hands in a couple of seasons.
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