The Toronto Raptors have waived Kyle Wiltjer, Andy Rautins, and Kennedy Meeks, the team announced Saturday.
Wiltjer was in camp on a non-guaranteed contract, your basic summer tryout deal. His early release may raise the most eyebrows, as he shot the ball fairly well during his audition, hitting nine of his 19 3-point attempts if the intrasquad game is included. An exceptionally gifted – and high-volume – outside shooter, Wiltjer fits the mold of a specialist with size, and it was likely that his defensive shortcomings cost him a spot here rather than anything in his offensive profile. Still just 24 and with such an established track record as a shooter, Wiltjer may be a candidate to get a look from other NBA teams, either on waivers or once he clears. Failing that, his G-League rights are unowned, and Raptors 905 would figure to be interested in bringing him on as an Affiliate Players.
Rautins had a less impressive preseason performance, though he was always a bit of a long-shot to make the team. A late addition to camp after some strong workouts in the weeks leading up to it, Rautins hit four threes in the intrasquad game, then went 0-for-7 in his official preseason appearances. He has some nice size for a shooter and the improvements he made overseas as a playmaker were evident in a secondary ball-handling role off the bench (he recorded four assists on Thursday), but his all-around game isn’t quite where it needs to be, especially if his shot isn’t falling. While his G-League rights are unowned, it seems likely he’ll head back overseas to continue a very solid career there.
Things were even tougher for Meeks, who only saw three minutes of preseason action. Coming off of a strong Las Vegas Summer League, Meeks arrived to camp having shed even more weight and feeling comfortable in his transition from interior center to more multi-faceted combo-big, with range he was hoping to show off. His path to a roster spot was always going to be difficult, with the Raptors employing three centers and two power forwards who could pretty seamlessly play there, and with Meeks’ own game still needing some development. Meeks was in camp on an Exhibit 10 contract, which means that he’ll receive a $50,000 bonus if he clears waivers, agrees to join Raptors 905, and stays there for 60 days. Fellow UNC alum Jerry Stackhouse would have a field day using Meeks as a post-oriented scorer and playmaker there, and a year under NBA tutelage should help Meeks’ game become a more clear fit in the modern NBA.
The timing of the cuts is a little surprising, even if the names aren’t. With nearly two weeks until the Oct. 19 season opener, the Raptors had a bit more time they could have used to get a longer look. The quick move suggests a couple of things, namely that they’re pretty confident in narrowing the battle for the final two roster spots down as they have. It may also suggest that they had an agreement or two in place to give someone (possible Rautins) an early release so that they could pursue overseas opportunities or a chance with another NBA team. The Raptors now give themselves some lead time to play the preseason waiver wire themselves, or to sign another player (maybe Davion Berry) to an Exhibit 10 contract, then waive them to help restock Raptors 905.
In any case, the roster is now down to 17. That’s 13 guaranteed contracts, a pair of two-way players, and Alfonzo McKinnie and K.J. McDaniels, both of whom are in camp with partial guarantees. In theory, the roster may now be the opening-night edition. In handicapping the battle for the final spots, I gave McKinnie and McDaniels the best chances of making the team, even perhaps together – while there’s some overlap in skillset, the team is thin at the forward spots, and this could allow the team to effectively extend the battle between the two as long as Jan. 10, when contracts become fully guaranteed. Keeping McDaniels would make a McKinnie G-League assignment hypothetically possible, even if McKinnie would appear to have the edge at this point in time.
There’s also a chance the Raptors opt to keep just one of them and roll with 14 players plus their two-ways, though there’s not really a cost of keeping a 15th player, in terms of flexibility, until that guarantee date. If that’s the case, McKinnie would figure to have the inside edge halfway through the preseason. A more established name, McDaniels struggled in extended playing time Tuesday but has clearly done enough in practices to stick around a while longer. McKinnie, meanwhile, had a terrific two-way performance on Thursday and has impressed with his energy and improved jumper. McDaniels’ G-League rights are unowned but he may not be amenable to joining the G-League after three years in the NBA; McKinnie’s G-League rights would need to be acquired from Windy City if waived, if he even cleared. That both are sticking around a while longer suggests the team has been impressed with both, or at least wants to get to know them a little longer.
Here’s how things look for the remainder of the preseason, which consists of a lot of practice time wrapped around two more games:
PG: Kyle Lowry, Delon Wright, Fred VanVleet, Lorenzo Brown (two-way)
SG: DeMar DeRozan, Norman Powell, K.J. McDaniels (partial guarantee)
SF: C.J. Miles, Bruno Caboclo, Alfonzo McKinnie (partial guarantee), OG Anunoby (injured)
PF: Serge Ibaka, Pascal Siakam, Malcolm Miller (two-way)
C: Jonas Valanciunas, Lucas Nogueira, Jakob Poeltl