1. Extending DeMar
Whether the 2011-2012 season happens or not, DeMar DeRozan is going to be up for an extension next summer. Financially, the Raptors are in a position to offer him anything they want, up to the maximum allowable salary. However, DeRozan finished last season at something of a crossroads. He had a tremendous finish to the year - averaging 19.9 ppg and 4.1 rpg after the All-Star break - but he still needed a lot of work on defence, passing, three-point shooting, and absorbing contact on drives. Another season of growth like last year's would thrust DeRozan into near stardom in the NBA, but he needs to demonstrate and prove that growth in order to be paid like a star.
The issue is this: If there is no season, how do the Raptors assess his value? Low-ball him and he may sour on the team, something a squad that loses stars with regularity cannot afford. Overpay him and not only would they screw up their cap flexibility, but the fans could turn on him for not living up to his contract (and they'd turn on Bryan Colangelo for giving it to him). They need this season to see if DeRozan is the real deal or not, because his development is as essential to the team's rebuilding plans as any player on the roster. Just about everything - from roster composition to cap space - will stem from this decision, so they need to be able to make it as informed as possible, and to do that they need to see him play this season.
2. The Bargnani Debacle
One of the reasons that the Raptors hired Dwane Casey as their head coach was so that he could try to hide Andrea Bargnani on defence the same way that he hid Dirk Nowitzki in Dallas. If Bargnani can be so hidden, then his place in Toronto's future may be cemented. If he cannot be, then the Raptors need to divest themselves of his services. They have to see him play under Casey, though, to know one way or another.
So why the urgency? Because no player on the roster requires as much compensating for as Bargnani; and if Colangelo is to make roster alterations to continue this rebuilding process, he needs to know if Bargnani is a piece worth compensating for anymore or not. This season was meant to be a freebie of sorts for Casey and Colangelo; a year where everyone knew losing was inevitable but they could tinker with their roster makeup before getting a windfall of cap space, a potentially dynamite draft pick in a loaded draft, and the arrival of the centre of the future, Jonas Valanciunas. After next summer, the expectations are going to heat up, and they can't afford to continue assessing Bargnani in that environment. By next summer they need to know - one way or another - what they are doing with him, and they need this season to figure out what the answer to that question is.
3. The Power Forward Glut versus The Draft
There is one thing that is pretty clear about this upcoming mega-draft: it is power forward heavy. Anthony Davis, Andre Drummond, Jared Sullinger, Perry Jones, Quincy Miller, Thomas Robinson, John Henson, James Michael McAdoo, Terrence Jones - all of these guys are potential lottery picks next spring, and each and every one is a power forward. In fact, on Chad Ford's ESPN Big Board, only two of his top ten are NOT power forwards (Harrison Barnes and Bradley Beal). The Raptors, of course, are already loaded at the position with Bargnani, Ed Davis and Amir Johnson, with James Johnson and Linas Kleiza both naturally more comfortable at the position as well. That's a situation that needs a little clarification ahead of the 2012 NBA draft.
Let's assume a few things first off. If Anthony Davis is on the board when they pick, they take him and figure out the logjam later. He's better than anyone they have. If Davis is gone but Barnes is available, they take Barnes to shore up their small forward spot. After that, things get tricky. The team doesn't really know what they have in Ed Davis yet, nor how they'd rank him against guys like Drummond, Sullinger or Henson. He had a strong first season, but hardly an earth-shattering one. Are they ready to marginalize him for one of the aforementioned guys? Maybe, but they'd really prefer to have another season of watching Davis to know if that's a good idea or not. If they play out the season and Davis (or Bargnani) really impresses, then perhaps the team focuses its attention more on guys like Beal, Jeremy Lamb or Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. It's incredibly hard to say at this point in the NCAA season, obviously, but making an informed decision about a lottery loaded with stud power forwards when you've got (somewhat) incomplete information about your own power forwards is a situation that is far from ideal for Toronto. They need a season to bring clarity to this issue before June.
4. The Amnesty Clause
Almost certain to be included in the new CBA is a clause that will allow a team to sever ties with one of their players without having their salary count against the cap (though the player still gets paid). The amnesty does not need to happen immediately, but heading into next summer - where lots of cap space promises to be available regardless - adding to their flexibility by cutting Jose Calderon, Kleiza, Bargnani, or no one is a decision that could use a season to sort out. If, for instance, Bargnani shows zero improvement under Casey, shouldn't he be at least considered for amnesty? Of course, the team needs to see him play under Casey to figure that out. Using the amnesty rule to open up more cap space next summer could have franchise-altering effects on this roster, given the talent that could be available. But so could making the wrong decision about the amnesty use because the team had only a fraction of the information that they needed to make a good one. A season would help sort out that issue tremendously.
5. The Short Deals
At the heart of all of this decision making is the fact that the men making the decisions - Colangleo and Casey - are on short two-year guaranteed deals right now. Lose this season, and both have only one year to prove that they are worth keeping around for another kick at the can. That's a perilously short period of time, especially for Casey, who'd basically have to coach for his life with a new team that is unused to playing defence the way he wants it played (which is playing it at all). If he can't bring hope back to the ACC then both he and Colangelo are likely goners. They need this season to happen so that they have a bit more breathing room to do their jobs before their jobs are put into jeopardy by expiring contracts.