Luxury tax apron / Hard-cap
Hanging over every hypothetical deal that adds salary is the fact that the Raptors are hard-capped this year. Because they used the non-taxpayer mid-level exception to sign C.J. Miles, they triggered the “tax apron,” which means that under no circumstances can the Raptors exceed $125,266,000 in team salary.
On the surface, that would leave them some room to add money. I said above that their salary for tax purposes is about $118.24 million, which would leave them $7 million to add (which fits nicely with the smaller trade exception). There are two complicating factors.
The first is that unlikely bonuses count toward the calculation of team salary toward the apron, even if players don’t end up hitting them. The Raptors only get the relief from a player missing their unlikely bonus at the end of the season, when it’s a Yes/No rather than a Likely/Unlikely (this is explained in more detail here). The NBA can’t make that judgment now and let a team “accidentally” wind up over the tax apron, and so the maximum potential salaries for Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan count when determining how much salary Toronto can add.
Lowry has an estimated $2.2 million in unlikely bonuses this year, and DeRozan has an estimated $302,618. The team salary number the Raptors are operating with for trade purposes, then, is $120.7 million, which leaves them just $4.55 million to add underneath the apron.
As strictly a hypothetical, if the Raptors sent out Valanciunas in a one-for-one trade, they could take on a player earning up to $19.43 million and comply with trade rules while staying beneath the apron.
The second complicating factor comes if the Raptors are going to add multiple players in a package for one, which they’d almost surely need to do to take on salary – a trade partner will want at least one of the Raptors’ prospects in a bigger deal, since the draft assets to send out aren’t spectacular. NBA teams have to maintain a 14-man roster, and so if the Raptors sent out two players for one, they’d also need to account for signing another player at the minimum when factoring in the tax apron.
What has negatively impacted the 905 is their decline offensively. They are currently second-last in the G League with an offensive rating of 97.8 — nearly 12 points less than last year’s mark — and repeatedly have stretches in games where the offence comes at a screeching halt.
Friday’s game against the Grand Rapids Drive was a perfect example, where the Drive went on a 16-3 run between the end of the first quarter and early second quarter to take a commanding lead. The 905 were plus-3 over the other three quarters, but were done in by losing the second frame 28-11.
They are struggling to move the ball or create open spaces for each other in an offence where Stackhouse demands quick read-and-react decisions. The lack of outside shooting to space the floor has allowed opposing defences to focus on clogging the middle and daring the 905 to shoot from the outside.
The 905 are currently shooting a league-worst 29.7 per cent from downtown on 28.1 attempts per game, after finishing second in the league at 37.6 per cent last year. This can happen when you lose a sniper like Brady Heslip, who made more three-pointers than anyone in the G League last season.
The Knicks’ 2014 second round pick was used to draft Xavier Thames (2014), who was traded one day later to the Nets for cash. He hasn’t appeared in an NBA game.
Shedding Bargnani’s salary alone was a major win for Ujiri and the Raptors, helping achieve more flexibility for moves in the years to come, which included signing free agents DeMarre Carroll and Cory Joseph in 2015.
But the real coup was the 2016 first round pick, which the Knicks obviously didn’t expect to be so valuable, and ended up being the ninth overall selection.
The Raptors drafted Jakob Poeltl with the pick they got in return for Bargnani, a move that has not only helped propel the team to a killer start this season, but provided the Raps with, at best a potential cornerstone, and at worst, a player who figures to be a fixture in the starting lineup as his career progresses.
Ujiri bucked convention when he selected Poeltl in the 2016 lottery. All the talk around the NBA centred on how the league was going smaller, emphasizing the three-point shot. Plus, the team already had a centre under long-term contract in Jonas Valanciunas.
Fred VanVleet, who figures to be most impacted by the looming return of Wright, is always even-keeled and says this stretch is nothing to worry about.
“It’s a long year. As good as we’ve been, we kind of set the standard high for ourselves,” VanVleet said of the bench.
“We’ve got to live up to that every night. But the past few games it’s been up and down, up and down. We’ve just got to be able to be consistent and contribute on a high level … As long as we err on the side of being above the average line, I think we can live with that. We’ve got to pick it back up and be better than we’ve been. And it’s a culmination of things, a lot of things go into that. But each guy himself has just got to look at himself in the mirror and be better then next time out.”
VanVleet agreed that the way the bench had been torching opponents likely caught the attention of opposing coaches.
“I’m sure that’s a part of it. I’m sure we’re not sneaking up on anybody (anymore),” he said.
“But that’s a part of the NBA. Teams scout. We scout. I’m sure every team we play against have coaches that are paid to do that, and players who are paid to know the game plan. That’s not an excuse. It’s a long year. And there’s going to be really good games and there’s going to be some below-average games. We’ve just got to try and limit those and get back to what we’ve been doing.”
The match between team and coach hasn’t been without its pitfalls. Casey and Lowry have clashed at times over the years. It would be safe to assume they’re likely to clash again in the months to come. But the stability Casey brings has been as successful as it is rare. Since 2013-14, Casey’s third season in Toronto and the team’s first of an ongoing run of four consecutive playoff appearances, the Raptors have the best win percentage in the Eastern Conference (.628) — this heading into Monday’s slate of games — and the fifth-best mark in the league behind the Warriors, Spurs, Rockets and Clippers.
Meanwhile, since Casey was brought aboard there have been no less than 50 instances in which an NBA coach has been fired or had his contract expire without renewal. There’ve been another 14 instances in which a coaching change was framed as a resignation or a demotion or a trade or a retirement. That’s 64 moments of upheaval for franchises other than Toronto’s.
The coaching carousel, in other words, has spun and spun and spun. And Casey has stood strong as a rare exception. Only San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich, Miami’s Erik Spoelstra and Dallas’s Rick Carlisle can say they’ve been in their jobs longer than Casey has been in his.
“Well, I’m not sure if I imagined 500 games,” said Casey, who was scheduled to coach his 501st against the Clippers at Staples Center on Monday night. “We were just trying to get out of 30th place defensively. That was the first spurt, I wasn’t even thinking about 500 . . . And then it became the offensive side of the ball, now we are going through that phase.”
Toronto is perhaps the most worrisome. Not only are Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan as crafty and troublesome as ever, but the Raptors youth movement gives the team a newfound level of depth. At the time of this writing, Toronto’s bench is turning in 40.6 points per game and leads the league with a 4.7 +/-.
Suddenly, the Raptors have varied their offense beyond iso drives and mid-range jumpers. The team also boasts the second best defensive rating in the conference. Dwane Casey’s club is maybe as balanced as its ever been and, although Boston is 1-0 against Toronto, it’s fair to expect this team to be a real threat through the season.
With that out of the way, the Raptors should be looking forward to tonight’s game against the Suns, whom they defeated last Tuesday at the ACC, 126-113. The Raptors community may still be reeling following Monday’s loss to the injury-riddled Clippers (a near-guaranteed win in the eyes of fans), but beyond the score, there was an interesting development worth looking at down below.
The Suns, on the other hand, have been marred in a grueling portion of the schedule. They’ve just finished up six consecutive games versus playoff teams, and as expected, struggled throughout that stretch. They will once again be without the services of star guard Devin Booker, who was injured late in the fourth quarter of last week’s game in Toronto.
The Raptors hope to finish their road trip at 3-1 before returning home to host the Nets on Friday.
The Suns have been playing without their best player, guard Devin Booker, since he was carried off the floor in Toronto last week with what was later diagnosed as a left groin strain. He’s expected to be out two to three weeks . . . From the department of favourable scheduling: This will be the second time in eight days the Raptors have faced the Suns with the Suns playing the second end of a back-to-back set. While the Raptors had a day off in Phoenix on Tuesday, the Suns were in Sacramento facing the Kings. A Toronto loss in this spot would be an opportunity lost . . . The Raptors are 6-15 all-time in Phoenix.
Assist club: Kyle Lowry is averaging 7.0 assists per game, eighth in the league. When he reaches double figures in assists, recording 10 or more, the Raptors are 5-0. Lowry is also averaging 16.4 points, 6.4 rebounds and 0.9 steals in 25 games this season.
Looking forward: After Monday’s disappointing loss against the Clippers, the Raptors are ready to leave the loss in Los Angeles and focus on finishing their road trip strong. “It happens,” DeMar DeRozan said. “We’re going to have nights like that where we miss shots. We made a lot of mistakes in the last couple of minutes of the game.”
Battle on the boards: Though the Raptors held the Clippers under 40 percent shooting (37 percent), they were dominated on the boards. Los Angeles grabbed 57 rebounds, including 14 on the offensive glass, six offensive boards coming from DeAndre Jordan. Late in the game, they allowed the Clippers to control crucial offensive rebounds off of missed free throws. The Raptors as a team had 39 rebounds, and just three on the offensive glass. Against the Suns, and moving forward, regardless of the five-man lineup on the floor, Toronto will be looking to be quicker to the glass.
Salmons similarly never made like he was going to whip a ball at Kobe Bryant’s head. He didn’t get a garbage time shot blocked by John Henson, and then, after both players were ejected, go looking for Henson in the tunnel. He didn’t foster an inscrutable years-long beef with Serge Ibaka. He didn’t once insinuate himself into a brawl that started with him putting his hands on Jason Terry and ended with him dumping then-Mavs assistant Terry Stotts into the courtside seats. You get the idea: Matt Barnes is famous for fighting people.
Had he played in the thick of the grimier early/mid-90s NBA, he might have been understood as just another one of those don’t-mess-around dudes: Anthony Mason, Charles Oakley, Rick Mahorn. But bridging as he did a more physical, self-consciously manly era of the league and one that is free-flowing in aesthetic and almost antiseptically friendly in temperament, Barnes acquired an increasingly ronin-like vibe as he aged. Year over year, he became more out of step with the modern NBA, not in the way back-to-the-basket big men recently have, but in terms of his entire conception of the sport. Barnes thinks of basketball as war in allegory and every so often in fact. Chris Palmer wrote a sympathetic profile of him last year, and in it, Barnes explains how his experiences have informed his character: I’ve seen people get shot, stabbed. I’ve seen the drugs. I’ve seen the abuse. I’m real. The way I look, people call me a pretty boy, tough guy, or a fake tough guy. But if you really have something to say then say it to my face and see where it goes. This quote is right in the middle of an extensive record of Barnes bullying other players.
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