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Free Agency

Raptors sign Drew Crawford and Yanick Moreira

Two more to vie for the 15th roster spot.

The Toronto Raptors have signed Drew Crawford and Yanick Moreira, the team announced Thursday.

Crawford is the more interesting name here, as he impressed a great deal with the team at Las Vegas Summer League last month. After participating with the Raptors in that tournament in 2015, his agent reached out to the Raptors for the chance to re-join in 2016, and the Raptors were more than happy to oblige. He then proceeded to average eight points, 2.8 rebounds, and one assist in 17.9 minutes, working as a secondary ball-handler and proving a savvy mover without the ball. He was also a key factor in the Raptors locking down most opposition throughout the tournament, as a 6-foot-8 wingspan and solid frame allow him to switch across multiple positions as needed.

In between Summer League stints, Crawford played his way to All-Star status in Israel, averaging 15.8 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 2.2 assists for Bnei Herzeliyya. He also shot 34.5 percent on 51 3-point attempts, continuing to show his stroke has steadied since his days at Northwestern – in 2014-15, he shot 35.5 percent on 186 attempts in the D-League, where he averaged 16 points, 5.1 rebounds, and 1.8 assists (he shot 35.5 percent in college, too, but had a dip in his senior season). The son of NBA referee Danny Crawford and a multi-time Academic All-American, the 25-year-old Crawford brings the type of maturity the Raptors look for up and down their roster, and he blended seamlessly with the team in Vegas.

Moreira is a bit more of a project than Crawford despite also being 25, at least on the offensive side of the ball. Backing up at the five for the Raptors in Summer League, he averaged 2.4 points, four rebounds, and one block in 13.7 minutes, shooting just 2-of-10 from the floor. He had a major impact on the defensive end, however, and proved an intriguing piece when the Raptors went super-small with Moreira as the lone natural big, switching freely and hedging a little more aggressively than Raptors bigs traditionally do. At 7-feet with a 7-foot-2 wingspan, it’s easy to see him developing into a quality defender, he’ll just need to bring his offensive game along. After averaging 11.1 points, 6.4 rebounds, and 1.2 blocks and shooting 55 percent as a senior at SMU in 2014-15, he split last season between Rouen Metropole Basket in France and UCAM Murcia in Spain, averaging 7.5 points and four rebounds and shooting 50.1 percent in 17.1 minutes.

He may be best-remembered for goaltending Bryce Alford’s game-winning shot attempt in the Round of 32 of the NCAA Tournament in 2015, giving UCLA the victory over Moreira’s Mustangs. He was snake-bitten in an elimination scenario again at Summer League, when he was whistled for a bogus foul on Tyus Jones at the end of regulation that gave Minnesota the win over Toronto. There’s plenty more to him than those moments, of course, and he international basketball fans will remember him for his outstanding performance in the 2014 FIBA World Cup (17.8 points and 8.2 rebounds per-game) and subsequent strong showing with Angola in last summer’s FIBA Africa Championship.

The statistical production from each player may not jump out, but that’s kind of exactly the point here, looking longer-term. Both came in and did a job off the bench, working in secondary roles around the Raptors’ primary roster players. It’s great to go off for 20 points and show out in a setting like that, of course, but teams aren’t exactly scouring the Vegas free agent bin for primary scoring options. They want guys who they know can excel with a narrower focus.

“The other guys have really come in and played their role. I think that’s the key to Summer League, and like I told the players, that’s a skill: To be able to come in and fit,” head coach Dwane Casey told Raptors Republic in Vegas. “Because if you go to any team in the league, you’re probably gonna be in a subservient role, a role that’s coming off the bench or whatever. So we’re looking to see how you accept that role here, and guys have done a heck of a job of coming in and filling in those roles.”

While terms were not disclosed, the deals are likely of the standard training camp variety, with a second non-guaranteed year tacked on in the event either player makes good on the camp invite and proves worthy of an NBA roster spot moving forward. That means a small partial guarantee in the $25,000-$100,000 range that would act as a supplement to the minuscule ($26,000 max) D-League income if the players were willing to become D-League affiliate players and clear waivers. It’s unclear if that’s the immediate plan for either player, but the Raptors signed four players to similar deals last summer, and there isn’t room for everyone again this time around.

In Crawford’s case, they would need to acquire his D-League rights from the Erie Bayhawks, which may cost them a mid-round pick or the rights to another player. He’s also more of a flight risk than any of the other camp invites, having had success overseas and with several lucrative offers likely awaiting him if he fails to break camp. As far as the money is concerned, with the Raptors already over the cap and unlikely to push to the luxury tax barring a fairly significant trade, the small guarantees paid out here don’t cost much in terms of real dollars or flexibility.

Until that time comes, both players will be in competition for the Raptors’ 15th roster spot, which presently remains open. Fred VanVleet would seem to have the inside track as point guard insurance with Delon Wright set to miss at least a month of the season, but Jarrod Uthoff fills a more season-long need as a sweet-shooting combo-forward who can defend. Crawford fills a bit of a need as another two-way wing who can handle the ball, and Moreira is the only glaringly superfluous invitee as another somewhat raw, project center.

In any case, at most one of these players will make the team, and some of the others could be headed for Raptors 905 duty, giving that team a pretty terrific (and mature) talent base to supplement the youngsters on assignment. Assuming they clear waivers and decide not to cash in overseas, that is. Again, that seems somewhat unlikely for Crawford, but they can hope.

“I don’t think he’s a D-League player either, though,” assistant general manager Dan Tolzman told Raptors Republic of Crawford at Summer League (VanVleet being the other he’s referring to). “It’s a problem that we’ve got too many guys that are above the D-League standard and yet we don’t want to not have them in our system.”

As things stand, here’s how the roster for camp looks:

PG: Kyle Lowry, Cory Joseph, (Delon Wright – injured), Fred VanVleet
SG: DeMar DeRozan, Norman Powell, Drew Crawford
SF: DeMarre Carroll, Terrence Ross, Bruno Caboclo, Jarrod Uthoff (more of a 3/4, but we’ll slot him here)
PF: Jared Sullinger, Patrick Patterson, Pascal Siakam
C: Jonas Valanciunas, Lucas Nogueira, Jakob Poeltl, Yanick Moreira

It’s also possible the Raptors could still sign a veteran name to fill the final roster spot, employing either the veteran’s minimum exception or their $2.2-million bi-annual exception. The list of available names who fit the team’s current needs isn’t exactly an exciting one, but considering the team is already set to roster six players in their first three seasons in the league, adding another rookie like one of the four camp competitors may not be Plan A, however mature and experienced they may be.

Failing that, expect the Raptors to add another name or two to fight for the spot in camp. E.J. Singler is a player the Raptors really like and could give a small guarantee to in order to coax him into another year with the 905, and the team also still holds the rights to DeAndre Daniels, though he hasn’t looked ready for much beyond a D-League comeback season so far.

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