The 6 p.m. ET deadline for rookie-scale contract extensions for players entering their fourth NBA season has passed, and it has passed with no extension reported for Lucas Nogueira or Bruno Caboclo.
Both Nogueira and Caboclo are now set to become restricted free agents following the season, if the Raptors submit the qualifying offer for them, which isn’t a certainty. Giving a player the qualifying offer gives the Raptors the right to match any offer sheet the player signs in free agency (and exceed the salary cap to do so), but the player can also just sign the qualifying offer, receive that one-year contract guaranteed, and become an unrestricted free agent the following summer. (The qualifying offer can also be withdrawn any time before the Oct. 1 expiry date.) By declining to work out an extension at this point, both sides push the decision down the line, when all parties will have a better sense of market and player value – it’s not a “goodbye” so much as a “let’s revisit at the end of the season.”
Nogueira’s qualifying offer will be $4.1 million, which the Raptors will probably be fine with putting on the table. Were Nogueira to sign it, the team maybe wouldn’t be thrilled about locking in $4.1 million for a depth piece during a luxury tax crunch, but it’s also a reasonable price for a useful bench big and an entirely movable contract (though Nogueira would have the right to block any trade if he signed the qualifying offer). He’ll be fighting with Jakob Poeltl for the backup center role this season, a battle that could be pretty back-and-forth throughout the year. The Raptors have invested more in Poeltl and have more team control, but Nogueira offers a different skillset and match-up look and had a larger impact during his good stretches a year ago. Depending on how the team’s cap sheet looks come July and how they intend to manage the frontcourt positions moving forward, Poeltl and Nogueira may not be a one-or-the-other decision in the long-run, even if it seems that way a bit now. If it is, the qualifying offer, while not egregious in a vacuum, could prove unpalatable.
The decision might be a tougher question for Caboclo, who has a $3.5-million qualifying offer that exceeds any reasonable expectation for his 2018-19 salary. The Raptors may not want to risk him signing it even on a one-year deal, and so it’s possible that they decline to tender him a qualifying offer, allowing him to become an unrestricted free agent this summer. They could still sign him if they wanted to extend the experiment, they just couldn’t exceed the amount of the qualifying offer. This is an important year in Caboclo’s development, one in which he’s not expected to see much, if any, G-League time but also doesn’t figure into the NBA rotation. Three years into a four-year experiment, how Caboclo can show the requisite growth to extend the project is unclear. With a guaranteed contract and a team close to the luxury tax for 2017-18, he’ll at least get the chance to figure that out before free agency next summer.
Both of those decisions are now punted to late June, when the Raptors will not only have a better idea of how good the core is and what their financial situation will look like in the summer, but also of exactly who Nogueira and Caboclo are. One has shown to be productive, if inconsistent, in an important depth role, while the other has shown little at the NBA level but was always a long-term gamble, anyway. Now, their development has implications for their own financial futures and a firm end date for the franchise if either or both don’t continue improving to a degree befitting a potential second contract.
In a follow-up note from Saturday, the Raptors’ official opening day roster includes both Alfonzo McKinnie and K.J. McDaniels. McDaniels is listed as inactive along with Caboclo, though the Raptors can change that at any time and it really doesn’t mean much. As explained over the weekend, there’s no real cost – financial or opportunity – for the Raptors to keep McDaniels and McKinnie a little while longer. That changes around Oct. 28, when their $100,000 guarantees are essentially used up and keeping both begins to have a greater impact on their luxury tax standing.