After the season ended, Ujiri emphasized the concept of continuity. “I don’t think there’s any risk [in spending money on chemistry],” Ujiri said at the time. “I’ll announce it here: We’re going to go through hard times. You have to expect them. We’re going to bump heads. Our job is to figure it out and move forward. The players, I think, understand that, and that’s why you want to always get guys who put basketball first and compete. Those are the kind of guys that we have.” The message was clear: Ujiri wanted Lowry back, and he wanted restricted free agents Greivis Vasquez and Patrick Patterson, the team’s two most important reserves, back, too. He wanted them back at a fair price, but he wanted them happy. Now, Ujiri might have to test just how important that is to him. Factoring in Lowry’s new deal and the rookie contracts for both 20th-overall pick Bruno Caboclo and Lucas “Bebe” Nogueira, acquired in the Lou Williams trade, the Raptors have committed nearly US$62-million to 12 players next year. The Raptors could use the “stretch provision” to waive a player such as Steve Novak or Landry Fields, but that, more or less, is the reality for the Raptors. Ujiri retains the right to match any offer given to Vasquez or Patterson, but doing so could prove costly.
Patrick Patterson, Greivis Vasquez and Nando de Colo each are restricted free agents, meaning the Raptors can match any offer, within three days of the offer being officially tendered by another club. The team also has the $5.35 million non-tax-payer mid-level exception and a $4.58-million trade exception from the Rudy Gay deal to spend, but cannot bring everybody back and use an exception (let alone two) without going over the luxury tax line. Patterson and Vasquez would eat up most of the $14 million in available space by themselves. Retaining Patterson is more crucial, since de Colo can be retained for cheap and since Williams can play a bit of point guard, even if he is ideally an undersized scoring guard. The Raptors would prefer to see Patterson and Vasquez — their two top reserves during a stunning 48-win season — come back on reasonable deals, but the mid-level and trade exceptions at least provide an opportunity to come up with a backup plan.
“Greivis is one of the best teammates you can have,” Ujiri said. “It’s a business and we are going to make a business decision. Greivis is closest on our team to Tyler Hansbrough, it’s crazy, everybody loves the guy. He is very close with Kyle. As competitive as he is, he figures out a way to be competitive with his team. We want to get something done. He is one of those pieces on the team where you know that he is always going to be a great teammate and is going to go out and compete.” The impact of a player like Vasquez on the court and in the locker room shouldn’t underestimated. He believes in himself and his teammates. Vasquez believes his team will win in pretty much any situation and his belief is outwardly visible. His outgoing nature permeates the locker room. He is a happy, positive, and uplifting influence and teams need a guy like him on their roster. He’ll be back.
Forget the suitors who might be able to offer a more immediate path to a championship — Houston, who had offered him a deal, or Miami, who had expressed interest — and forget the allure of playing for the Lakers in the Kobe Bryant’s last days. Lowry agreed to sign a four-year, US$48-million contract. It might be more than the Raptors expected to pay Lowry during the season, but compared to the first two days of free agency, where excesses were spent on decidedly marginal players, it is a reasonable deal for both player and team. Lowry will turn 32 by the end of the deal, if Lowry opts into the fourth and final year. By most projections, he is currently at the tail end of his peak. Still, if he can stay healthy, the contract slots him in to the group where he belongs. It is the same contract Ty Lawson got from the Denver Nuggets last year. That makes sense. Although Lowry has been in the league longer than Lawson, both are point guards who have never been all-stars or on all-NBA teams, but are right on the cusp of that level. Lowry should have received more consideration to receive both honours this year, but for a variety of reasons, he was ignored on both counts.
Watched Terrence Ross workout this summer. Jeez man. A REAL talent. And following the work ethic of vets like DeMar and Amir. Look out.
— Nate Jones (@JonesOnTheNBA) July 3, 2014
Luckily for Lowry, there was that third, rather rare option. The team that’s got an All-Star, young assets, a veteran coach, a fairly deep bench, future projects, a present and future window and that’s in the weaker East. Toronto. And thus Lowry decided to stay. This is a good sign of things to come for the Raptors. There were two other franchises trying their best to steal Lowry away and they came up short to another that’s been a laughing stock for so many years. Why did he do it? Because he sees something in Toronto that he couldn’t get in the other places. A good contract, a good team with players and a coach he likes and the potential to get back to the playoffs and take a playoff series for the first time since *Bosh was in town. Who’s to say that this won’t mean future players will do the same? They may look more seriously at why Lowry decided to stay and realize that they too want to continue pushing a now-winning franchise forward.
The Raptors won’t lose Johnson to free agency — he’s got a year left on his contract and isn’t going anywhere — but having a contingency plan in place is a must as they continue to navigate free-agency waters. It’s why, according to league sources, the Raptors have already had preliminary conversations with their own restricted free agent, Patrick Patterson, and are willing to wait for the market to calm before looking for the defensive-minded physical wing presence they need. Johnson has decided against off-season surgery on his ankle and will try to strengthen it through exercise and rehabilitation. It might be a gamble given his penchant for tweaking it and it’s why Toronto is looking for frontcourt insurance as much as anything. It also would have factored into the decision to pick up the final option year of Tyler Hansbrough’s contract.
DeAndre’s defense is solid, but no more. He’s active, and blocks shots at a respectable rate. His lack of strength allows his opponents to get to “their” spot seemingly at will, which makes them more dangerous. I haven’t seen evidence of great rebounding instinct, but he boxes out reasonably well, and that’s half the battle. While we might imagine DeAndre is more ready than Bruno to crack the lineup, I think that’s a remote possibility as of this writing. He needs a solid summer league performance, and many hours in the weight room, before he’s truly ready to challenge the incumbent small forwards. What’s more likely is him getting a training camp invitation following an active summer, then a season at Bakersfield with the Jam. DeAndre helped his team win the NCAA championship, so he’s no stiff. He will need to find a skill he can build his career on, as he’s OK at everything and great at nothing currently. I like the pick, but I’d be very (pleasantly!) surprised if he were to emerge as anything more than a rotation-grade SG/SF.
The 6-foot-9 forward is in Los Angeles, training hard with some of his new Raptors teammates and coaching staff. After his second session of the day, Daniels laughs easily and is extremely personable, despite the long day in the gym. “It’s great,” he said. “It’s good to see guys early, come out, get to play with them. Just talking with guys like Amir [Johnson], DeMar [DeRozan], listening to them and doing whatever they tell me to do because these guys have been in the league for a long time. It’s so great to get out here early, get our workouts in and then head out to [Las] Vegas for Summer League.” Daniels grew up in Los Angeles and has been familiar with Johnson and DeRozan since his high school days. In addition to working out with his vets, Caboclo arrived in L.A. Tuesday.