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Checking in on Nando De Colo and DeAndre Daniels

These guys probably aren’t factoring in this year.

There isn’t a whole lot tangible going on with the Toronto Raptors right now, at least not that we haven’t touched on already somewhere. I’m kind of regretting doing an 8,000-word mailbag rather than splitting it into smaller parts, or pocketing some of the questions for articles later. I also burned some bigger-picture juice at Vice and The Athletic this week. My bad (but please go read my big feature on Jerry Stackhouse).

One question that I’ve been asked a bunch on Twitter, though, is something I’m not sure I’ve addressed enough in an article. So for some light Friday content, let’s check in on three players the Raptors hold rights on but who aren’t currently in or around the NBA.

The Raptors still own Nando De Colo’s rights in restricted free agency. So what?

Toronto acquired Nando De Colo at the trade deadline in 2014, to that point a very uncharacteristic move for Masai Ujiri. On the surface, it mostly looked like roster balancing – De Colo, then 26, added some depth at either guard position while costing only Austin Daye, who had proven entirely superfluous and played sparingly. Down the stretch, De Colo would appear in 21 games for the Raptors, averaging 3.1 points and 1.6 assists in 9.2 minutes. It was underwhelming, as his entire two-year turn in the NBA was, and he saw just four minutes in the team’s seven-game series against the Brooklyn Nets.

From there, De Colo returned overseas, landing with CSKA Moscow. Because the Raptors had tendered him a qualifying offer that summer, they retained his NBA rights even though he had opted to play elsewhere. Each summer since, the Raptors have extended him a qualifying offer, he’s let it expire to stay in Russia, and the Raptors’ rights roll over. This can and will continue until De Colo either opts to return to the NBA, in which case he’d be a restricted free agent and the Raptors would have an inside track on signing him, or until the Raptors fail to extend him a qualifying offer or renounce his rights. Since the Raptors would only do that in a scenario where they’re trying to maximize every dollar of cap room (De Colo comes with a cap hold each offseason), they’ll continue to extend De Colo these qualifying offers until an offseason that looks drastically different from the last few. This summer, the Raptors wouldn’t even need to consider taking De Colo off the books unless they blow things up, as they don’t figure to have cap space in any scenario but that one, anyway.

The situation is worth monitoring, though. In the time since De Colo left, he’s continued to grow his game, turning himself into perhaps the best guard not currently in the NBA (Sergio Llull and Milos Teodosic, and maybe some others, would have arguments). Last year, De Colo helped lead CSKA Moscow to a EuroLeague championship, earning EuroLeague MVP (and EuroLeague Final Four MVP) honors. De Colo and CSKA couldn’t quite repeat this year, but they made it back to the EuroLeague Final Four, and De Colo earned his second consecutive All-EuroLeague First Team. CSKA have also won consecutive VTB United League championships in Russia and are in the semifinal once again (De Colo has a chance at three-peating as VTB MVP, as well). Between VTB and EuroLeague, De Colo averaged 18.3 points and 4.4 assists this year, shooting 53.8 percent overall and 42 percent on threes. He’s also been a large part of France national teams that have medalled at three consecutive EuroBasket tournaments

His success has been resounding. That this was within him isn’t all that surprising. De Colo dominated in 11 D-League games over his two NBA seasons, and it seemed like a situation where there simply wasn’t enough opportunity for him to continue growing in a small NBA role. He’s also paid quite handsomely to star on a EuroLeague power, probably more (or at least comparable) to what he’d make as an NBA backup. It’s tough to fault him.

If De Colo ever wanted to make the jump back to the NBA, there would figure to be at least a handful of teams interested, and the Raptors could be among them. The sticking point presently is that De Colo has two more years remaining on what was reported to be a three-year, 10-million euro (about $11.1M US at the current exchange) deal with no NBA out clause. NBA teams are capped on the amount they can contribute to a player’s buyout without it counting against the cap, and so if CSKA wanted to play hardball, De Colo would have to really want to make the leap. He’ll be 32 when that deal runs out, so while it’s fun to track his progress and remain curious about a potential NBA (and Raptors) return, it would seem off the table until De Colo begins the backside of his career.

Does DeAndre Daniels still exist?

Three years ago, the Raptors used the No. 37 pick on DeAndre Daniels, a lanky forward out of U-Conn who had just turned in a terrific NCAA Tournament. It was considered a bit of a reach at the time and remains a somewhat curious pick in retrospect. Hey, it’s the second round, these things happen, and Daniels has had immense misfortune on the injury front.

After a Summer League, the Raptors sent him to Australia where he could play a larger role, as the Raptors didn’t yet have a D-League team. Around injuries to his eye and elbow, Daniels put up decent numbers but with low efficiency, with really only his rebounding standing out. He was set to return to the Summer League squad in 2015 but suffered a Jones fracture, costing him almost all of what would have been his second pro season. He joined Raptors 905 late last year, but really only ever got to the rehabilitation stage, playing minimal minutes over eight games and looking as rusty as you’d expect after almost a year off. This past summer, a minor injury and a deep Summer League roster bumped him out of the Las Vegas rotation entirely, and Daniels opted to head overseas rather than do another D-League year (he would not have been susceptible to getting plucked by another team, but he would have also made a bare-bones salary).

Daniels latched on with Dinamica Generale Mantovana in the Italian Serie A2 league, Italy’s second-tier league. Mantovana finished 19-16 overall, losing in five games in the first round of the playoffs. But Daniels was solid, leading the team in rebounding, blocked shots, and player efficiency rating. And he stayed healthy the entire season! In 35 games, Daniels averaged 13 points, 6.6 rebounds, and 1.1 blocks, shooting 50.3 percent overall and 39.3 percent on threes. All told, it was an encouraging season, statistically and health-wise, though it’s hard to effectively translate those numbers or Daniels’ progress without the benefit of film (or seeing how much weight he’s been able to add).

It would seem unlikely that Daniels factors into the Raptors’ plans any longer. At 25, Daniels appears to be only a good international player, and unless there’s been some major skill and body development underlying the production, that might be what his career is from here. That’s respectable and could be quite lucrative, so Daniels perhaps wouldn’t be open to a return to the D-League and a chance to catch on somewhere. It’s tough to say without speaking to him directly, but a lower salary and no chance for another NBA team to grab him would leave a lot on the table. Conversely, it’s unclear whether Daniels remains enough of a prospect to warrant one of the two-way contracts that will be introduced this year, deals that could see players earn salaries competitive with international leagues while also allowing for D-League (or G-League, rather) development.

Whether or not Daniels is on the Summer League roster or not should be telling. The Raptors retain his NBA draft rights, but the longer he’s away from the program, the more his rights become a form of currency rather than anything of tangible value.

(What I mean by this: In any NBA trade, both teams have to send something, and so often NBA draft rights will be swapped to satisfy that condition, even though the team has little use for them. The Raptors have previously done this with such luminaries as Edin Bavcic, Albert Miralles, and Remon Van de Hare, and acquired and then swapped the rights to former European dunk champion Georgios Printezis. Along with Daniels, the Raptors also presently own the NBA rights to DeeAndre Hulett.)

Wait, whom, in the blue hell, is DeeAndre Hulett?

DeeAndre Hulett was the No. 47 overall pick in the 2000 NBA Draft. After entering and then withdrawing in 1999, the College of the Sequoias product (a Division III school), by way of Las Vegas of the IBL, apparently impressed Glen Grunwald and the Raptors enough to take a flier. At the time, Hulett was only 19, and the last measurement of him shows 6-foot-7 and 225 pounds, decent size fr the wing. He had averaged 8.4 points over 56 games in the IBL as a teenager, shooting 50.1 percent. It is…difficult to find much more information than that. From scouring the internet, it appears at one point he was playing professionally in the Dominican Republic and Mexico, and he was a seond-round pick of Greenville in the 2001 NBDL draft but never played. According to an article from 2010 I found, he appears to coach basketball in Caro, Michigan.

Anyway, Hulett is 36 now, but the Raptors retain his draft rights. There’s no need to renounce them at any point – the Atlanta Hawks hold draft rights on a player dating back to 1986 – and if a trade ever materialized where the Raptors needed to acquire something without sending anything real out, they could use Hulett’s rights (they did this the other summer by sending the rights to Tomislav Zubcic for Luke Ridnour, for example).

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