**Back to the drawing board - this doesn't work based on numbers and current roster situation**
This Raptors team is making me a believer. For me and my pretend GM fantasy land, the goal for Toronto is to keep the core the same but also allow flexibility to improve and add. There are currently 3 key members of the Raptors current core contributing significantly to this run who have contracts expiring this season.
First and foremost this offseason, assuming Lowry wants to remain a Raptor, is to resign him. However that is not without warranted concerns. Lowry has been injury plagued and overweight his entire career. This season, a contract year no less, he came in to camp in the best shape of his career (no doubt this is a highly correlated contributing factor to his staying healthy, in my opinion). His attitude has also been unquestionable since the Rudy Gay trade. Conditioning, health, and attitude have all been major question marks in the previous 7 years of his career.
So from the Raptors perspective, how can they protect themselves moving forward while keeping flexibility AT THE SAME TIME, from Lowry's perspective, ensuring Lowry gets what he is looking for? ($$$$ and a chance to win)
**For the 1,000,000th time offering Lowry an extension is not going to work for his agent. Losing a guaranteed year on his last big pay day? I don't think so.**
It is reasonable to say that Lowry would be looking for $8-9M per season based on the contracts of other PGs in recent years. Lets take the over and go with $36M. Now lets assume he believes Toronto are going to be a contender and that he actually wants to stay.
Now lets take a step back in time to November 2010:
To begin lets look at the total value of the 'proposed' contract: Lowry gets $36M.... but over 5 years. It would work out to an average annual salary of $7.2M. To get a total of $36M from another team, they'd have to be willing to give him $9M per year. Ideally any team would have the same concerns listed above and his value on the market doesn't equal his value on the court. Hopefully the idea of an extra year of security with 7.5% raises, and the opportunity to help win on the court and off the court with his contract would be incentive.Nick entered this season making $6.75 million in his final year with the Thunder. But after Tuesday night, he'll be making an All-Star level $13.3 million this year with the Thunder. How is that even legal, in a salary cap sense? Well, as Marc Stein reports, the Oklahoma City GM essentially gave him a $6.5-plus signing bonus for this season alone. Signing bonuses usually aren't common in the NBA, because you have to fit any level of payoff (right down to free TVs or ducats) underneath the salary cap. You have to report it, and most teams are perpetually over the salary cap with no space left to offer.
The Thunder had that left over salary cap space. And the team thought that that extra cash wasn't going to ease any sort of deal that they liked, and certainly not one that they wanted on their books as the league strives for a more ownership-friendly collective bargaining agreement after this season, so they dumped that cash on Collison now.
And while Nick himself will tell you he's not worth what he's making this season on the open market, he's also not going to be worth what he's making from 2011 through 2014. Just $11 million over that span, usually working for far less than half the average salary, for a well above average player. The Thunder are paying now, so that that they can pay a lot less later. Essentially, they just handed Nick Collison $6.5 million for the rights to only pay him $11 million over four years starting in 2011.
Crunching the numbers this is what I came up with to fulfill the Collison concept: starting salary of $4.5M with 7.5% annual raises and $9.8M signing bonus (total: $36M over 5 years).
So the Raptors, for 2014-15, will have to field their roster at $9.8M less than the 2014-15 salary cap which is estimated to be set at $62.1M. This leaves the Raptors at $52.3M. How is this done? Looking at current commitments for 2014-15*:
Salmons $1 (option not picked up - sorry)
Fields $2.08 (stretched over next 3 years)
Camby $646k (no longer on team)
#20 first round pick $1.2
That is 10 rosters spots and about $38.132M.
Lowry starts at $4.5M
Patterson gets 3yr starting at $3.75M ($12.1M total)
Vasquez gets 3 yr starting at $3.75M ($12.1M total)
That is 13 roster spots and a total of $50.132M.
Raptors have about $2.2M to sign two more players (probably their 2nd round picks?) or they could waive Hansbrough and have $4.4M to sign another player(s) leaving them with the $9.8M needed to give Lowry the huge lump sum.
*Raptors need to lose Novak.
2014-15 would stay fairly similar to the current core with the exception of adding a 1st round pick.
Moving beyond 2014-15, the Raptors would have about $34M committed for 2015-16 (DeRozan, 2014 first, Lowry, Patterson, Vasquez, JV, Ross, Fields stretch). Amir would be due for an extension but once that is done there is max money available, say for Love.
If the Raptors wanted to maintain flexibility for 2016 free agency (Durant!) then they could put team options on the contracts of Vasquez and Patterson for year 3. The trade off might be a higher salary for year 1 and 2. The $2.2-$4.4M they could have 'extra' in 2014-15 could allow for a higher salary in exchange for the one less guaranteed year.
**Disclosure: Not attempting to say this is what the Raptors are going to do nor am I saying this is the ONLY way. For me this was an exercise in convincing myself there is still ways to improve AND ensuring their immediate future is not tied to Lowry - which still scares the shit out of me. However it should still be noted that the future can look dramatically different between now and February trade deadline should Lowry be traded.**