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Offseason Mailbag: Villains, Serpents, and a whole lot of free agent scenarios

This one jumps all over the place. The best ones always do.

I wasn’t sure if I was going to do an early offseason #RRMailbag. For one, I figured it’d be too large and we’d push close to the 7,000-word record (update: we broke it, this is 8,200 words, which is why it’s unedited). For another, the commentary around the team was pretty negative at season’s end. And most of all, the answer to a lot of the pressing offseason questions is “I don’t know, but here’s what I would do,” which probably isn’t as helpful as predicting what the team might do. So the answers that follow will have some Ifs and scenario breakdowns, but the Raptors themselves give the impression they don’t know where exactly they’re headed yet, so the best we can do is lay out the possibilities. I also timed the call for questions early on a Monday so I wouldn’t take four days to put this together. Alas, they always take a while. I did, however, go back and dig up some questions I’ve been asked fairly often, even if I already answered them on Twitter, as I figure if one person is asking, others may have the same question.

We’ll try to do mini-mailbags when time allows during the offseason, at least until they draw repetitive. You can find all of the previous editions of the mailbag here, if, for whatever reason, you wanted to read old mailbags.

Before we go ahead: A reminder that we have a Patreon page at patreon.com/RaptorsRepublic. If you appreciate the content we produce, want to support RR, and have the means to do so, any contribution is greatly appreciated and will help us continue to do what we do (and try to do even more). You can also follow me on Twitter for, uhh, tweets, and on Facebook for all of my writing/podcasting/radio stuff. Validate me. You can also ask me questions at any time using #RRMailbag, and I’ll be sure to include them in the next mailbag, no matter how long between.

Alright, let’s get this money.

(Note: I originally made this intentionally terrible photo shop for the header image but it was too stretched out. Disappointing when your terrible esoteric photoshops are rendered even more uesless.)

Common non-mailbag questions

Does Kyle Lowry opting out mean he is negotiating with teams for 2018-19 and will be with the Raptors next season? Or does opting mean he doesn’t have to play the last year of his contract? Or something else?

Kyle Lowry is a free agent as of midnight on July 1. His option was for the 2017-18 season, and he had until seven days after the Raptors’ elimination to choose to exercise it. The Raptors still hold his full Bird rights in free agency, but he can go anywhere he’d like for next season now. So when people talked about Lowry’s four-year deal or having X number of years left, they were including the option year. We’ll run into this again with DeMar DeRozan, who holds a player option in the last year of his new contract, too.

For clarity, this is a little different than the options the team holds on their young players. Those options, which need to be exercised by Oct. 31, are for the following season. Basically, with rookie-scale contracts, the team has to make those decisions very early, while veteran options are usually closer to the end of the relevant year. So when the team eventually exercises options on Delon Wright, Jakob Poeltl, and Pascal Siakam this fall, those will be for 2018-19.

Should the Raptors let Lowry go and use the money on a different free agent / Who do you like in free agency if Lowry walks?

This is perhaps the biggest complication with Lowry’s impending free agency: If Lowry walks, the Raptors don’t actually have any means of replacing him on the market. The Raptors are in a position to retain Lowry and their other free agents because they hold Bird rights, which allow them to exceed the salary cap to keep them. But they don’t have those rights on other free agents, and so they’ll lack the space to sign any marquee name.

To wit, even if the Raptors renounced the rights to all four of their unrestricted free agents, they’d only project to have roughly $20 million in cap space, not enough to chase a star and maybe not even enough to chase a second-tier point guard. No stars are incoming to replace Lowry, at least not via the money saved by not signing him.

And that’s assuming the Raptors don’t re-sign Serge Ibaka, P.J. Tucker, or Patrick Patterson. Those players have cap holds that essentially eat the Raptors’ theoretical cap space, and if any of them are re-signed, they’ll eat into real cap space. Basically, the Raptors will only be free agent players if all four free agents walk. Otherwise, you’re looking at trades, development, and one of the mid-level exceptions (depending on where salary lands) to fortify the squad.

Do you think Coaching Rumor X is related to Dwane Casey and the Raptors?

I mean, maybe? There is going to be a ton of coaching movement over the next couple of months, and you’ll drive yourself crazy trying to figure if each is related to the Raptors. They keep things pretty quiet – I got the Patrick Mutombo news last year but that’s rare – and the honest truth is Toronto probably doesn’t know yet which way they’re heading with the staff.

Can the Raptors sign-and-trade Lowry (or Serge Ibaka, or whomever) to recoup assets while losing the player?

I feel like I’ve written about this a bunch of times already, but let me re-hash: The newer two collective bargaining agreements essentially killed the sign-and-trade option as most people seem to remember it. When Chris Bosh left, for example, the Raptors recouped a pair of picks by using the sign-and-trade, which benefited the Raptors, Bosh, and the Miami Heat.

But the newer versions of the CBA no longer allow a player to get a fifth year using the sign-and-trade, nor can they get the larger annual raises the team with their rights can offer. So in the case of Lowry, his contract in a sign-and-trade would be the exact dollar amount as if he signed somewhere else without it. There is absolutely no financial benefit to Lowry to going this route. If Lowry wants to go to Philadelphia, the 76ers can sign him using cap space. There’s no sense in them surrendering an asset to the Raptors if there’s no benefit to them or Lowry.

The sign-and-trade tool, now, is really about expanding a player’s potential destinations. If Lowry (or Ibaka, or whoever) wants to go to a team that can’t sign them into cap space, then a sign-and-trade becomes an option for that team. The Raptors have to play ball and be amenable to that, and they’d likely ask for compensation in return. The player would be impartial, financially. So the sign-and-trade is useful for flexibility, but because it doesn’t change the contract a player can get, it’s really not as important a weapon as it used to be. The Raptors can’t really bank on getting anything back – basically, they can charge the going rate to eat salary, otherwise the acquiring team could just dump a contract elsewhere for cheaper to clear the requisite cap space.

Raptors offseason

They didn’t, so apologies that I didn’t get to this question. I don’t think it would have made much of a difference. With how guard-heavy the draft is at the top and how big a need Philly has there, they were probably going to use at least one of their picks on a guard, and they were going to have a need at the position still. Maybe landing Markelle Fultz would have made chasing Lowry slightly less likely, but Lowry can play off ball and rookie point guards need help anyway.

It’s a really difficult decision, one I’ve written about a ton already. I’m a Trust the Process person in general, but I think I’d probably keep the core and make a coaching/system change.

There’s just too much equity that’s been built the last while, and too big a risk of turning away from the best run in franchise history only to wind up spending years in the wilderness again just trying to get back to this point. I’d move Serge Ibaka to center, if he’ll stay, keep Patrick Patterson if his value’s taken a hit, shop Jonas Valanciunas (for his sake and for luxury tax reasons), use the draft pick, and hope some of the young players can take a step forward. You don’t have much financial wiggle room to add in this scenario, so I’d be on the lookout for a trade that nets a shooter. Dwane Casey doesn’t deserve to lose his job in a vacuum, but I’d probably make a change there just to try something new. The Raptors still wouldn’t be a serious threat to the Cavaliers like that, but I’m a believer there’s real value in staying good for an extended period.

But I am, like, 55/45 on this. The scenario in which they blow it up is just as justifiable, and while the day-to-day would be a lot less enjoyable, it would renew optimism about eventually getting where the team wants to go. There are tear-down measures available, some good young pieces on the roster, and a landscape in which there may not be many teams tanking for very interesting 2018 and 2019 drafts.

I don’t mean to be wishy washy, but as I outlined here, there are good arguments for either approach.

Where are we getting that Lowry is sharply depreciating? Prior to his wrist injury, Lowry was having perhaps his best season yet, and was a down-ballot MVP candidate again based on most advanced metrics. Everything we have to measure a player’s impact on a team still suggests Lowry is the team’s most important and impactful player, even if DeRozan often feels like the star because he’s the most important scorer.

You can definitely make an argument for moving on from Lowry and pivoting to a restart, but saying Lowry’s already started declining is disingenuous. In general, diminutive point guards age quite poorly, so the back end of the deal would definitely be concerning, and it’s a massive, flexibility limiting decision to re-sign him. As you mention, though, Ujiri hasn’t often let players go for nothing, and I still think the team will lean toward keeping him if he wants to stay (a major if).

If Lowry walks, the Raptors almost certainly have to tear things down. A DeRozan-Ibaka core is first-round fodder, and the argument for keeping the core together falls apart if the ceiling and floor are suddenly both lower. Don’t let a 14-7 record against a soft schedule with middling offense confuse that the Raptors wouldn’t be nearly as good without Lowry. Joseph is fine, but he’s not Lowry, and he can become a free agent after next year, too. You also can’t go after another star, because you still don’t have meaningful cap space. In my opinion, the direction hinges entirely on Lowry – if he goes, any argument for staying the course gets really, really thin.

I think Lowry returning would mean you can keep Ibaka if you choose you want to, at least. Ibaka probably won’t be able to find a better competitive situation in his price range, at least among teams that need a big like him and have cap space. The big thing with him could be moving Valanciunas, as Ibaka’s been pretty clear he enjoys playing center at this point (and he’s much better suited to play there, anyway). You probably have to choose between Tucker and Patterson for luxury tax reasons, and who you choose will come down to price, what you do with the rest of the roster positionally, and whether Tucker decides he wants to ring-chase at a discount somewhere else. Lowry returning puts you in the driver seat to approach the other free agents how you’d like. But I can’t really put a percentage on it, given all the players just speak in generalities about their plans and priorities.

Reasonable? Sure. But it all depends on Lowry. Playoff confidence is probably some function like this:

Playoff Expectation = (Lowry return expectation) + (Lowry leave * Sneak in with rest of core) – (Lowry leave * Blow it up)

So depending on how you feel about those things, adjust playoff expectations accordingly.

I would imagine Ujiri has pretty close to unlimited leash with MLSE. He is a great leader and has their full trust and support. And MLSE is not going to turn their back on consistent success. You don’t really lose your job as team president for consistently being good and making moderate playoff runs, even if you spend a bit into the tax to do it. The value of the Raptors’ brand will continue to grow like that. Ujiri’s leash would only stand to become a question if the Raptors got bad accidentally or an intentional move to being bad stretched on too long.

The issue with dealing DeRozan is going to be that the draft happens nearly two weeks before free agency. The Raptors won’t know for sure what Lowry is doing, and so they won’t know for sure if they’re even willing to shop DeRozan (and you probably need to keep it very quiet if you do). You could come up with hypothetical scenarios, or maybe you get lucky and Lowry tells you his intentions ahead of time, but the most likely case is that if you end up dealing DeRozan, you’re dealing him for actual prospects and future picks rather than doing it in time to hold the actual pick in this year’s draft.

I think people’s expectations are a little out of line if they’re looking at a top-five pick for him, though. DeRozan is great, but the 76ers and Lakers have been bad for a long time now to get those picks, and they probably aren’t willing to cash them in at the first sign of a star. I can’t see Philly being interested in DeRozan in general, given his poor fit with the rest of their young core. The Lakers make more sense since Magic Johnson probably wants a star, DeRozan is from L.A.,  and Nike would be ecstatic, but he’s not a great fit with Luke Walton’s vision for basketball, the team is probably going to add yet another young guard in the draft.

I’m not sure what a reasonable expectation is for a DeRozan return. He’s a three-time All-Star, an elite scorer, improves every year, and is a consummate teammate, but he’ll be 28 this offseason, is owed a ton of money (roughly 27 percent of the cap) over the next four years (the final year a player option), is a minus defender, and it’s unclear how well he’d do if he weren’t the focal point of the offense. He’ll have a market, because he’s very good. I just don’t know if a top pick is reasonable. Something like a young player, a salary-matching contract, and a pair of future firsts might be a fair baseline to work from.

This is kind of the issue with DeRozan – he might be too good for the Raptors to truly tank with. If he’s your starting point, plus the few decent young pieces they already have in place, they’d be liable to win 30 games, which doesn’t really do the trick. You’re not tearing things down for another Terrence Ross pick. You do it all the way, or you don’t do it at all.

With so few teams in tank mode looking ahead the next year or two, there’s a pretty clear path to be among the worst teams quickly. Brooklyn doesn’t own their pick, so they have no incentive to tank. Ditto for the Lakers. The Wolves and 76ers are now firmly in trying to move upward mode. The Knicks, Kings, and Mavericks will probably never accept a proper tank. Other than maybe Orlando and Phoenix (and the Suns are a question mark), there’s a tanking “vacuum,” as Zach Lowe called it, right now. But that almost certainly requires unloading DeRozan to take advantage of fully.

I don’t think so, no. In a scenario where Lowry, DeRozan, and Ibaka are all gone, the Raptors figure to be a fun and exciting team but probably not a particularly good one. The young pieces just don’t have a lot of experience in major roles yet, the team would be fundamentally shifting how they play, and even if things broke right for all of the prospects, you’re still looking at a major step back. It would be weird to be rooting for them but also in the back of your head hoping they win less than 25 games, so I guess it’d be a lot of hoping for a lot of one-point losses. But no, I don’t really see an accidental way this team minus two All-Stars and other veteran pieces mistakes its way out of a mid-to-high lottery pick.

I’m pretty resigned to the fact that if Ibaka comes back, it makes sense to try to move Valanciunas. The pairing didn’t work particularly well together, largely because Ibaka isn’t really a power forward anymore. With Poeltl and Nogueira both around, it wouldn’t make a lot of sense to invest $35 million-plus in Ibaka and Valanciunas, and getting the Lithuanian a fresh start and a better fit would probably be best for both player and team (luxury tax considerations). Tucker’s situation is a lot harder to figure because it’ll come down to whether the Raptors remain competitive and whether he decides to stay as a result or still chase a better chance at a title elsewhere. I’d put the odds of all three being on the roster pretty low.

I doubt it. In that article linked in the tweet, I went into some potential ways the Raptors could trim salary, including unloading Valanciunas or Joseph. Unloading Carroll is likely going to cost you a first-round pick or one of the prospects, and the team would probably deem that poor asset management.

They’re certainly talking up a return to form for Carroll, who’s already into his offseason workouts rather than taking any extended time off, and the value play, if luxury tax allows, might be to let it play out and see if he can’t increase his value. If they tear things down, I think Carroll sticks around as a veteran leader and value-rehabilitation project, for sure. If the Raptors try to remain competitive, the salary will continue to look like a bit of an albatross, but the market may not give them any choice but to hope for the best (using the Stretch Provision really doesn’t seem like a Ujiri move, especially since it would only lessen the tax hit, not free up real space).

I’d say Valanciunas is the most likely to go, just because he has the combination of biggest cost savings and actual value. The center market is flooded and Valanciunas’ player type might not be in high-demand, but he’s a good, young player, bigs peak late, and his contract really isn’t that bad, especially if the sense is he’ll decline his player option in two years. Carroll is going to cost you something to unload, and while you could move Joseph in a heartbeat, he doesn’t free up very much financial flexibility. From a roster-building standpoint, moving Valanciunas opens up the most for you.

I could see Joseph outbound if Lowry stays, by the way, but I think it would be in an actual basketball trade rather than a salary dump.

I think they’ll keep it. Ujiri likes to keep the back half of the roster flush with development pieces, and he’s really been talking up how important player development will be in the new collective bargaining agreement, where it’s tougher and tougher to land talent from outside the organization. While the Raptors already have seven players on entry-level deals, four of those can become restricted free agents next summer and will get more expensive as a result, so using the pick and developing another player will allow them to continue filling out the last few spots with inexpensive projects. It’s a smart strategy, fiscally and to maintain a pivot foot if they ever opt to blow things up and don’t want to start completely from scratch.

As for what they’ll use it on, your guess is as good as mine. They’ve shown that they’ll go well off-board with their picks and that they’ll take the player they deem to be the best available regardless of perceived short-term fit, so from there it’s a matter of figuring out who they may like. It’s too early in the process (they’ve only had two in-house workouts) to judge. They surely don’t know yet, either. I don’t think, though, that they’ll dial in on “shooter,” “stretch four,” or anything specific like that. They’ll evaluate the entire package.

The one extra consideration here is, of course, what direction the team heads in. If they bring everyone back, the pick could come into play to unload a salary in trade, and if they use it, they’ll probably lean toward an experienced, mature player who might be able to help if called upon. If they tear things down, I think the Raptors would be more open to swinging for the fences with a higher-risk, higher-reward pick.

Unfortunately, Nando De Colo has two years left on his deal with CSKA Moscow. The Raptors hold his restricted free agent rights if he ever decides to return, but his contract reportedly has no NBA buy-out clause, which means CSKA could play hardball in letting him go. NBA teams are capped in the amount they can contribute to a buyout without it counting against the cap, so De Colo would have to be willing to pay his own way out of his deal. Considering his salary there is comparable to what he’d make in the NBA (I believe his deal was three years, 10 million euros) and he’s a superstar overseas, it would seem unlikely he’d want to bolt any time soon. This probably isn’t a real consideration until 2019, when De Colo will be 31.

There isn’t really a good way of predicting things like this. You can look at teams that have cap space and may need a center and are competitive, but things change so quickly and players make odd choices sometimes. You’d think Ibaka wants to stay in a competitive environment, and he’d probably lean toward a warmer climate and multicultural city, but really, money might talk at the end of the day. Looking at teams that might be willing and able to pay his asking price and have somewhat of a frontcourt need, Dallas stands out, as do the Rockets (they’d have to shed some salary), Bucks (if Monroe opts out), Timberwolves (fun!), Spurs, Kings, and Heat. But again, things change really quickly. Forced to guess, I’ll say Dallas, but that’s my default for a lot of second-tier free agents.

You don’t, really. If the team keeps three of the free agents and even unloads one large salary, they’re going to be left using the smaller mid-level exception to add a piece in free agency, and that’s just not going to get you a useful shooter who isn’t strictly a specialist (an Anthony Morrow type). They’d be hoping on some internal development from their shooters (like Powell), maybe using one of the hybrid spots on someone who can occasionally come in and provide that skill (Heslip, though it’s unclear if he’d be willing), or they could try to maybe swing a Cory Joseph for a wing shooter, since they have the point guard depth to withstand that loss. Kyle Korver and J.J. Redick aren’t walking through that door.

It’s tough, which is why I’m a little skeptical the talked-up system changes are going to produce a high volume of threes, anyway.

There definitely are, though I don’t think the Raptors will narrow in on any one skill unless it’s as a sort of tiebreaker between fairly equal prospects. They’ve shown in the past that they won’t shy away from perceived non-shooters if they can identify mechanical tweaks that could be made to the shot, and some talent developers believe shooting is among the most teachable skills. Still, it’s the team’s clearest need, and if they were to decide it’s a priority over length, quickness, overall upside, or whatever, a few names stand out.

Semi Ojeleye probably tops my draft board of guys who might be available to the Raptors right now, and while there’s some disagreement on whether his entire game will translate, he shot 42.4 percent on threes and 78.5 percent at the free-throw line this year. T.J. Leaf and Tyler Lydon, offense-first shooters at the power forward spot, have already come in and worked out. Terrance Ferguson has a much prettier stroke than his 3-point percentage would suggest. Luke Kennard could conceivably slip. Dillon Brooks and Frank Mason would be low-upside reaches, but are considerations if the Raptors somehow landed a second-round pick. And here’s a name to file away because I think he’s going to move up draft boards over the next few weeks: Justin Jackson, the Canadian version from Maryland.

I’m pretty sure this question is just kidding, but it’s an interesting thought experiment now that we know George didn’t make an All-NBA team, limiting Indiana’s potential ability to retain him past 2018. If George wants to go to L.A. as everyone seems to think (hot take: he has the best shoe in basketball and him going to the Lakers would make it among the most popular eventually), the Pacers will probably once again explore dealing him. It would make more sense to get younger and put other pieces around Myles Turner, but if they decided they wanted to remain competitive now, maybe a star-swap would entice them if they’re getting someone on a longer deal. I’m skeptical, though, and it’s hard to figure what direction they may be heading with their power structure in flux, anyway. This is probably also one of those cases where even if it’d be an interesting deal for both sides, neither would pull the trigger. You’re really walking away from one of the best players in franchise history to roll the dice on another star? Anyway, Indiana probably says no first.

Raptors miscellaneous

By the end of this season, Valanciunas was in pretty terrific shape. He wasn’t at his best early on, but he got there. The issue with asking him to trim down is that this kind of who he is now – for years he focused on adding strength and size, and while he’ll definitely tailor his workouts to getting quicker, actually getting smaller might not be realistic any longer. He’s a big dude. He’ll aim to get quicker this summer, for sure, but he might not come in lighter. I do think his development will inform just how much they ask Poeltl and Siakam to bulk up – the Raptors are focused far more on functional size and strength than a number on the scale at this point.

There were a number of things at play here. Later in the season, the loss of Lowry hurt huge, obviously. Even in that 14-7 stretch, the Raptors were only an average offense. For some time before that, a sustained stretch of cold 3-point shooting hurt them. Come playoff time, it was a combination of what we’ve seen the last few years: Teams sold out to slow down the stars, at least one of them wasn’t particularly healthy, and the role players, after a full season of not doing a ton, couldn’t quite step up with a greater load on their shoulders. Like Ujiri talked about at the end of the year and many have been pointing out for years, there’s something about the drive-oriented attack that slows down in the playoffs. I do think it was fine to try it again this year without a significant change, because there was enough noise (matchup and injury) the three seasons prior to make it hard to conclude decisively, but at some point, the caveats all fall away, the sample grows, and you find yourself talking about a culture reset without a real clear idea of what that will entail.

It must be tough, for players, staff, and Ujiri, for something to work fantastically over 328 regular season games and then fail consistently over 41 playoff games.

I don’t think I would if I were in Ujiri’s position, no. I don’t think Casey deserves to lose his job. He’s a good coach, and he’s been a major part of the best stretch in franchise history. I’m also not sure the blame for the system falls entirely on him when it’s based around the team’s personnel. But if the team blows things up, I don’t really see a 60-year-old Casey being the right choice to lead a youth movement, at least not outside of one year to kind of transition things over to a new coach. And if they try to stay competitive, even if Casey is willing and able to tweak his system, it’s just a really hard sell for me, bringing back exactly the same group once again. I’m torn, because Casey is a good person and leader and has played the hand he’s been dealt fairly well, but I’m skeptical you can undergo a “culture reset” when literally every single piece is the same.

This is a pretty big consideration, yeah. Rex Kalamian and Nick Nurse are both well-respected assistants who have been rumored to have interest elsewhere in the past, both as lead assistants and possibly as potential head coaches. Kalamian is a sharp defensive mind who players really like, and Nurse has plenty of success outside of the NBA and a deep offensive playbook. If you promote one to head coach, you might risk losing the other. If you bring in an outside hire or promote Jerry Stackhouse, maybe they look for other positions. But heck, that could happen if Casey stays, too – they’re both really good, and one of the risks of having a consistently strong organization is that people will want to poach your people. This also assumes a lot about Kalamian and Nurse and their goals. It’s a consideration from the organization’s perspective, for sure, but how it’d shake down is tough to read, at least until the summer’s coaching rumor mill starts in earnest.

I’m not sure anyone is to blame as “the problem,” but as noted above, I agree that the system has been built around those players. It’s kind of a chicken-or-the-egg thing, where Lowry and DeRozan are such terrific one-on-one attackers that the system is designed to put them in those positions, but the system being designed that way leads to a somewhat redundant mismatch-attack approach. And it’s been kind of hard to argue with, anyway – the Raptors’ offense has been very good in the regular season, the two All-Stars are great in their roles, and it’s not as if the team has the personnel to be fundamentally different, anyway – there aren’t many high-volume shooters or creators, which again could be why the system is the way it is or a product of the system itself.

Basically, there’s a ton of uncertainty in trying a new approach with the same pieces. It’s still a worthwhile endeavor, but there are going to be some growing pains. DeRozan is who he is, and he improves every year, but he’s not suddenly going to become a knock-down threat from above the arc, and you don’t want a player of his skillset hanging out in the corner, anyway. Lowry is a more adaptable piece as a playmaking pick-and-roll point guard who can also spot up off the ball. The real onus will fall on the team’s role players to step into larger roles effectively, because there aren’t many paths to bringing in offensive reinforcements.

As much as has been made about the team’s need for more shooting, I’d say it’s defense by a significant margin. DeRozan hit 40 percent of his threes from the corner this year, which is a nice step even though he won’t be there much, and it’d be great if he improves above the arc so opponents have to respect him more while stationary. But he’s on the move most of the time, anyway, and I’m not sure tweaks in the system are going to have him standing around catching and shooting, anyway. Defensively, there’s so much room for improvement, and while it’d be subtler than the addition of the 3-point threat, it would probably help normalize some of those extreme on/off splits the team has with DeRozan. Given how often and how much he improves each year, I think it’s reasonable to expect him to take a step forward in at least one of these areas this year.

I don’t really know how to put a number on how I feel about advanced stats. Sadly, there’s not yet an advanced stat for that. In general, I am always in favor of having more information. Some of the metrics we have available are really useful for pushing analysis in a certain direction or confirming what we’re seeing with our eyes. I would never look up Real Plus-Minus or VORP and drop it as a discussion-finisher, but I think things like lineup data, on-off numbers, and our best attempts at catch-all player value metrics are at least useful for forcing us to ask questions about what we’re seeing and how we’re looking.

Lowry and DeRozan are a great example – DeRozan looks like the best player on the floor and has the gaudiest numbers, but for years, a suite of metrics have suggested that Lowry’s a more important piece for the team’s success. So while those numbers don’t necessarily answer any debate, they can at least push you to look for different things on the court, question why it may be that Lowry’s impact is more pronounced, and so on. Nobody should use only advanced stats, obviously, but I think ignoring new, rich information is making a pretty risky assumption about our ability to evaluate 10 moving parts in real time.

I’m not going to do a full article today, because I’ve been writing about it all year and it’s just too much for the scope of the mailbag. As far as the non-Raptors roster players on the 905, the names you’ll be looking at this offseason are probably Brady Heslip, E.J. Singler, and Will Sheehey. I could see some combination of those three (and maybe C.J. Leslie and Yanick Moreira, if they don’t cash in overseas) earning Summer League invites, and one of them might even be on the radar for one of the hybrid two-way spots next year. None of the players who weren’t called up (Edy Tavares and Axel Toupane are gone) figure in to the 15-man roster at this point, but until we see how teams and agents are going to treat those two-way spots, those guys can probably consider themselves in at least a loose competition for them. This all depends on them deciding to stay, though, because most of the 905ers would stand to make more overseas, particularly if they’re not in line for a hybrid spot.

Heslip is the best shooter in the world not in the NBA. But that’s been the case for a couple of years now, and no NBA team has given him a shot. He was free to be called up by anyone all year, even as he hit the second-most thees in D-League history. He’s 26, and even though he was great this year, improved a lot as a point guard, and Stackhouse is his biggest fan, the 905 moved Heslip to a bench role in the postseason for defensive purposes (part of it was surely to balance the scoring with Toupane gone, too, but point guard defense was the primary concern). I think Heslip has a shot to catch on with a hybrid roster spot somewhere, where he could help at the D-League level and then come up on occasion when a team’s light on shooting. Failing that, he can make star money overseas, so he’s in a good position either way.

Caboclo definitely is not getting cut. The team picked up his option for next year, and they’re going to see this experiment through the four years. His growth this year was pretty pronounced, and even if the season-long box score numbers don’t show it, he got a lot better. He’s already to the point of being a quality defender, both man-to-man and in the team context, and his additional size (still a focus for this offseason) mean he’ll probably be able to handle a full-time move to power forward at some point. He remains a very, very interesting defensive prospect who isn’t all that far away at that end of the floor. Offensively he has further to go, with a nice-looking 3-point stroke still not dropping as much as you’d like and the other elements of his game grading as pretty inconsistent.

His final two games in the D-League Championship are worth going back and watching. In those outings, you really saw what the Raptors saw in Caboclo and why they remain high on his chances of eventually contributing to an NBA team. He was, if not the best, one of the best players on the floor for either team. It’s easy to forget because he’s been a Raptor for so long, but Caboclo’s still one of the two-dozen youngest players in the NBA, and even counting his D-League, Summer League, and preseason minutes, he’s about as experienced as a college sophomore. They’re not going to pull the plug early, especially when he’s something close to on the track they had envisioned (people joke about the two-years-away thing, but it always was a long-term plan).

This is probably a better question for someone who is specifically a draft expert, like the guys at DraftExpress, but I think they’d be pretty high up there. It’s just too hard for me to translate NBA and D-League performance backward to college. Best I’ve got: A year ago, the Raptors had Poeltl higher on their board than most and were thrilled to get him at No. 9. Given what he showed at the NBA level, how he improved, how high his IQ is at both ends of the floor, and the fact that bigs peak later anyway, he’d probably be a top-20 pick. Whether or not he’d land in the lottery would probably depend on how different teams view juniors versus higher-upside picks, but Poeltl was essentially considered bust-proof last year, and he showed why. Caboclo is a tougher case, but picture a red-shirt sophomore combo-forward standing 7-feet with a nearly 8-foot wingspan, a 33-percent mark on a high volume of NBA threes, a strong performance in some of the biggest games of the college season and quality defense. The age would scare some off, but that’s definitely an intriguing prospect. The team feels like he’d be something close to a lottery pick. Three years in, you kind of have to separate that they drafted him at No. 20 (sunk cost fallacy, my dudes) and just look at him for the prospect he is today.

I don’t think so, no. The All-Star competition is usually loaded enough that non-superstars on bad teams don’t really have a shot at getting in. Look at how tight it was this year just for Lowry to get in, and he was playing at an all-world level at that point in time. Every year there are a handful of deserving guys that get left off, and often team success seems like an unofficial tiebreaker or barrier to entry except in the most extreme of cases. I don’t think any of the kids would stand much of a chance until the Raptors rounded back into being decent once again.

I would guess Delon Wright, Fred VanVleet, Pascal Siakam, Jakob Poeltl, and the No. 23 pick are there for sure. Bruno Caboclo has to give his permission since he’s been three times already, but I’d imagine he’s a participant, too. I don’t really see the point in sending Norman Powell again, but if he’s itching to play and the team doesn’t mind the risk, they have the right to send him. Lucas Nogueira won’t be there. Filling out the roster would be some combination of 905 players, potential training camp invitees, and undrafted free agents, and maybe Drew Crawford again, but guessing who this far out is difficult – last year, most of the 905ers ended up playing for other Summer League teams because the Raptors’ team was so loaded. Heslip, Singler, Sheehey, and Moreira are probably in the mix if things stay the course, but a lot can change in the next two months.

I guess it depends how we measure improvement. If it’s strictly a percentage better, I’d guess Caboclo, just because he has the largest gap between current level and ultimate potential. But even improving a lot might not be meaningful for the NBA level just yet. From that perspective, I could see Powell taking yet another step forward with how hard he works, and playmaking should probably be the biggest focus there. In terms of relevance to their role next year, the shooting of Wright and Siakam are probably the most important individual skills any player will be working on this summer.

I don’t have a full list, but I know you can add Norman Powell to that as well. Powell ran his first camp in San Diego last year and it sounds like it’ll be a staple moving forward. Fred VanVleet (Illinois) and Delon Wright (Utah) are also holding camps, and Pascal Siakam had at least discussed the idea of holding one in Cameroon with Joel Embiid and Luc Mbah a Moute at some point. Maybe Jakob Poeltl will join Wright, too. And there could be some other things we just don’t hear about. The team doesn’t send releases out about these things, so just keep an eye on players’ social media if you’re interested in knowing more.

This is an interesting question I don’t have the answer to. A lot of jersey stuff appears to be in flux with the coming change to Nike. That goes doubly for the Raptors, who used six different jerseys this past season, two more than the usual number. Whether they’ll carry the Huskies, Chinese New Year, and OVO jerseys all over to the new brand is unknown but probably unlikely. Personally, if I had to choose, I’d keep the Huskies, and the league would probably allow for a Chinese New Year option anyway. With Drake’s contract with the team up and the OVO association being a little quieter this year, I’d guess that’s the jersey that falls off.

This is a big concern. As a fellow big-booty haver, I need someone on the team to look up to in that regard. Maybe they can bring Chuck Hayes back from Denver as a scout? I’ll have to scour the draft boards for who has the type of backside the Raptors need.

Riverdale and Wrestling (and other miscellaneous)

They’ve tweaked the CBA a handful of times now to try to prevent it, but you’re never going to be able to legislate out good fortune. LeBron James was born in Akron, and that – and some lottery luck and expert management of salary cap exceptions – opens up a lot for Cleveland. The Warriors’ dynasty was made possible almost entirely because of Steph Curry’s wonky ankles and the resultant below-market deal. Those aren’t the traditional big-market teams, so the league probably actually sees this three-year stretch as a partial victory.

The only solution I have for increased parity is a strict hard cap (and draft picks becoming free agents immediately upon entering the league), which the players’ union and the richer teams would never agree to. Economically, it’s the way to balance the playing field. Even then, though, you can’t take away the agency of players or the luck factor.

I sleep a bit more, yeah, but I’m not really a very good sleeper, anyway. I do catch up on TV, at least.

This is Nos. 1 through 3.

I had to Google who this was. I feel like my music tastes are pretty well-established online, this is quite the off-board pull. I hope for your sake they make a quick comeback, though.

I got way more bothered by this than I should have. Clearly, Netflix and The CW knew all along that they were intentionally withholding Jughead eating burgers, a central tenet to his character. Look, you can have a lot of creative license with characters, but Jughead better be eating some goddam burgers. It’d be like re-writing Batman and taking the bats out of his origin story. When they left burgers out of the first 12 episodes, my wheels were spinning that it could be intentional, with an aim toward a secret burger addiction storyline in Season 2. Burgers falling out of his locker or backpack, and all that. Instead, Jughead randomly and subtly ate a burger at the Southside cafeteria, and then we get this trolling video.

Wasted opportunity, guys.

Also (/extremely “female Ghostbusters!” voice), stop trying to sexualize Jughead. (I kid. Just have him eat burgers.)

Will never came back with his Riverdale questions, so let me use one from Chris to sell you on the show…

Now that Season 1 has concluded and the whole thing is on Netflix, I strongly recommend watching Riverdale. Yes, on the surface it looks campy and convoluted, and guess what? It is! But if you go in with that kind of expectation and prepare yourself for a decent but entertaining show that makes for great discussion fodder with friends, then it’ll be a huge win. It’s really entertaining.

And F.P. Jones is that dude. Serpents 4 Lyfe.

It’s a pretty damn good cover. You’d think it would mask any smell pretty well, at least. My questions are two-fold: Wouldn’t the drugs being all sticky be a bit of a risk? And if the Blossoms are the producers of the syrup, how does it not raise a red flag when deliveries come in? Why are they keeping the drugs on the family property instead of shipping the syrup elsewhere, where the drugs are then hidden? It seems circuitous and unnecessarily risky to make your home the warehouse and the factory. Los Pollos Hermanos had a better set up, in my humble opinion.

If we’re ranking drug fronts, I’m not sure what tops the list, but I do know the worst: When I lived in Kingston, there was a candy store that was open until like 3 a.m. Nobody is eating candy after the bar with warring shawarma options on either corner, and they definitely don’t need to be open after serving hours.

Oh, I’m here for a spot of bother. Over the last year or two, “The Villain” Marty Scurll has quickly become one of my favorites outside of WWE and in general. It starts with the character work, which is basically unmatched. Everything Scurll does on the mic and in the ring contributes to his character, which is that of an unapologetic bad guy doing whatever he wants, because he’s the best and he can. The look really amplifies this, with Scurll’s well-dressed but dark-and-garish look – complete with beaked mask, top hat, and trademark accessory-cum-weapon umbrella – really making him seem unique (And like a big deal – he just inked a big deal with one of the top suit brands in the U.K.). The in-ring work is strong, too – you can’t become this buzzy a prospect without it anymore – and all of his mannerisms and actions feed back into the gimmick.

If there’s an issue with Scurll, it was perhaps that a “Villain” character was getting too popular (the old “you’re too good not to cheer, and also your merchandise is amazing” issue, coupled with the woop-woop in his theme to sing along too). Joining Bullet Club could exacerbate that issue, as they’re the most over heels in recent memory (and oh boy, the merch sales). Still, Scurll hasn’t deviated from his character – he’s still a bad guy doing bad guy things and (mostly) getting away with it because he’s too good to be stopped. As long as he sticks to that, it’s not his fault if the crowd leans toward him regardless of position on the face-heel spectrum.

If you were to list the non-WWE prospects likely to be snatched up and succeed in WWE over the next few years, Scurll would be pretty close to the top. An incredible start to the NJPW Super Juniors will only push him higher.

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