The Toronto Raptors have traded DeMarre Carroll, a lottery protected 2018 first-round pick, and a 2018 second-round pick (owed to them from Orlando or the Lakers) to the Brooklyn nets for Justin Hamilton, according to a report from Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.
A pair of picks is a steep price to pay to unload salary, but in shedding Carroll, the Raptors free themselves of the $14.8 million this year and $15.4 million next year, substantial sums as they were backed up against the luxury tax and, potentially, the luxury tax apron. Hamilton will make $3 million this season, so the net savings works out to $27.2 million over two years. After doling out three-year deals to Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka as the salary cap and luxury tax marks came in below initial projections, Toronto figured to be in a long-term bind in fiscal terms, without the flexibility to supplement the core in a meaningful way.
This frees them up to add another, cheaper piece now, makes the full non-taxpayer mid-level exception available closer to a reality (they’d still need to shed salary), and clears the books a bit ahead of Norman Powell’s restricted free agency next summer. They save $11.8 million now and have $15.4 million to wiggle with next year, and while the cap sheet in both seasons is still messy, this is a big help.
The cost, however, is substantial. Even as a team that figures to pick in the 20s, surrendering a first-round pick hurts. The Raptors have put an enormous emphasis on player development in recent years, and the loss of a pick is not just the loss of currency and a lottery ticket but of four years of an inexpensive player who they might be able to turn to for production. Adding a second-rounder on top of that, one acquired for outbound general manager Jeff Weltman, adds to the pain. The Raptors have no picks in 2018 as things currently stand, and they have four young players hitting restricted free agency next summer. That puts an even greater onus on the player development and scouting side, and Masai Ujiri will surely be on the hunt for an extra pick down the line.
But moving Carroll was always going to cost them, and it must have been the preferable option to dealing Jonas Valanciunas or Cory Joseph. There could still be more moves to come, however. Valanciunas is somewhat superfluous with Ibaka best suited to the five and Jakob Poeltl in tow, and Joseph might be able to net them a return that refills the draft cache some. For now, Carroll was likely deemed the most burdensome salary and they did what it took to unload him.
Signed to a lucrative four-year deal in 2015, the 30-year-old Carroll was slowed by myriad injuries during his time with the Raptors, never quite finding a groove for replicating his performance from his Atlanta Hawks days. While he did great work as a member of the community and was generally a pleasure to have around the tema, his defense dropped off precipitously and his 3-point stroke went wayward. Over two seasons, he appeared in just 98 regular season games, averaging 9.4 points and 4.1 rebounds while shooting 39.6 percent from the floor. His advanced metrics remained decent at times (although not in the playoffs), but it was clear he had lost a step against quicker wings and couldn’t quite handle power wings down low.
It got to the point this year in the playoffs where Carroll was finally removed from the starting lineup – too late, mind you – and that seemed to put the writing on the wall. The Raptors had talked up a potential return to form for the combo-forward, but there’s not a great track record of players in their 30s rediscovering defensive juice after two rough years.
In Brooklyn, Carroll will get a chance to play the role of leader and elder statesman while still get significant minutes. His 3-point shot should rebound closer to his career norms, and a more democratic Brooklyn offense might be what he needs to get back to his #CarrollCuts ways, when he expertly carved through defenses for cheap buckets while with the Hawks. Nets head coach Kenny Atkinson was an assistant during those Atlanta years and, Woj reports, has an “affinity” for the well-dressed veteran. Here’s hoping, because Sr. Swag Daddy and the Atlantic Division’s 2017 sportsmanship award nominee deserves a break at this point.
With Hamilton, the Raptors don’t land anything all too intriguing. The 27-year-old is a solid piece, but with so many centers already on the roster, he probably doesn’t factor into plans significantly. A year ago, he averaged 6.9 points and 4.1 rebounds, hitting 30.6 percent of his threes as an emerging stretch-five of sorts. He’s a decent shot-blocker but isn’t a great rebounder, and real plus-minus ranked him among the worst centers in terms of impact last year. It wouldn’t be a disaster to play him, but he’s the least interesting big on the team at present. It’s possible the team tries to route him elsewhere or even eats his salary altogether (they could use the stretch provision and just have a $1-million hit on the books for each of the next three years, too).
The move leaves the Raptors in an awkward spot from a roster-balance perspective. They have four centers and a power forward best off at center, and they have next to no forwards. Powell figures to start and play a massive role now, which has been a long time coming, slotting in alongside DeMar DeRozan. Behind him, there’s basically smaller units, the untested Bruno Caboclo, injured rookie OG Anunoby, and Alfonzo McKinnie, who we broke had signed Saturday. They’ve also lost three of their best 3-point shooters in a year where they’re trying to add more threes to the offense, and they’ve lost two strong defenders in P.J. Tucker and Patrick Patterson and a third they were at one point comfortable with in Carroll. They’re thin in a few key spots. More moves are definitely on the way.
PG: Lowry, Joseph, Wright, VanVleet
SF: Powell, Caboclo, Anunoby, McKinnie
PF: Ibaka, Siakam
C: Valanciunas, Poeltl, Nogueira, Hamilton
Other: Meeks (Exhibit 10), Miller (two-way)
This gets the Raptors down to an estimated $120.6 million in salary committed (give or take), just a hair over the luxury tax and still less than $5 million from the apron. They can safely use the smaller mid-level and only worry about the tax bill, or they can move Joseph or Valanciunas and open up the full mid-level, though that triggers a hard cap. They’ll also now have an $11.8-million trade exception they can use to acquire someone without sending salary out, a useful chip for the next year. We’ll do a full cap sheet breakdown when we know the specifics of Lowry’s deal sometime this week.
It’s a good first step, if a costly one. Now, Ujiri and company can approach the rest of the offseason building the team without the specter of the tax apron hanging over them.