It is early June. The NBA Finals are about to start., The NBA Draft is still weeks away, and the Toronto Raptors own the No. 20 pick, likely to net a solid but unspectacular prospect and nothing to get excited about.
These are the pre-dog days dog days. We’re in a lull, the draft and free agency will give us a quick boost, Las Vegas Summer League will do the same, and then we’ll convince ourselves to invest heavily in the various FIBA continental Olympic qualifying tournaments. Life could be worse, but the next couple of weeks will make it tough to come up with Raptors-relevant content.
What I’m trying to say is: I have no idea what to write about when tasked with doing so right now.
Need to write something for @raptorsrepublic for Wednesday. If nobody has a better idea, I’m just gonna do early cap/free agency primer.
— Blake Murphy (@BlakeMurphyODC) June 1, 2015
That tweet led to some pretty decent light suggestions and some fun twitter interactions, but I’m left uninspired. And so we’ll do a somewhat brief offseason primer today. But first, a minor concern. Bruno Caboclo may be getting too cool.
A photo posted by Bruno Fernandes (@brunofive) on
Let’s hope his basketball development comes along as quickly as his development as a burgeoning pop culture icon has.
Some of what follows will be in less detail than is necessary for a thorough understanding and/or more detail than is necessary for a cursory understanding. Apologies if I haven’t correctly navigated that middle-ground.
The Raptors have a pretty straight-forward cap sheet entering the offseason.
Unrestricted Free Agents: Amir Johnson ($7M), Landry Fields ($6.25M), Chuck Hayes ($5.96M), Lou Williams ($5.45M), Tyler Hansbrough ($3.33M), Greg Stiemsma ($915,243)
Restricted Free Agents: None
Non-guaranteed Deals: None
Also off the Books: Will Cherry ($25,000), Marcus Camby ($646,609)
Having those expiring contracts doesn’t necessarily give the Raptors cap space. Until their rights are renounced, players have cap holds, which count for the purposes of the salary cap to prevent teams from signing a bunch of free agents with cap space and then signing their own guys. In many cases, ordering signings in that way can still be beneficial, but for the Raptors, they may need to renounce some rights to clear up ample space.
Here’s how the Raptors’ cap sheet looks at present:
Obviously, that’s terrible, and the team is going to look nothing like that.
It seems a safe bet that if they need the space, the Raptors would renounced the rights to De Colo, Stiemsma, Pietrus, Fields, and Hayes without much concern. Williams and Johnson are less certain propositions – if the team intends to sign either, expect a deal to come early, so their cap hold would turn into their actual salary amount, which in both cases should result in a decrease in cap hit. Hansbrough is a bit uncertain, too, but let’s assume the team is going to move on from him.
To be thorough, the Raptors have Bird rights on Williams, Johnson, Fields, and Hayes, Early Bird rights on Hansbrough and De Colo, and Non-Bird rights on Stiemsma and Pietrus.
In reality, the team will only renounce rights once they have to, or the cap holds disappear when a player signs elsewhere.
Let’s also add in the salary for the No. 20 pick. Picks almost always sign for 120 percent of scale, but until the contract is signed, only the scale amount counts on the books.
This is the table from which the Raptors are making decisions for next season. As you can see, they don’t have cap space in this scenario – they can only carve that out by renouncing the rights to Johnson and Williams, or by signing them to deals below their cap holds.
For illustrative purposes, assume the Raptors want maximum cap space. We’ll renounce Johnson and Williams, and from there we also need to add rookie minimum contract cap holds to bring the roster up to 12 players.
In this scenario, the Raptors have just shy of $15 million in cap space, using current cap projections. That’s a sizable amount and should put them in the conversation for most free agents. It’s possible they could unload a piece to clear further space if they wanted to get in to max-contract territory (about $21.7M for a 10-year veteran, $18.6M for a 7-9-year vet, and $15.5M for younger players).
Tables 2 and 3 are what you should be looking at when playing around with the roster for next season. There are a few other considerations to make, too.
The Raptors own the No. 20 pick in the draft but will send their second-rounder to Atlanta as a part of the Lou-Bebe-Salmons deal.
They also owe their 2016 second-round pick (likely to Memphis but possible to Utah). Otherwise, they own all their own future picks.
They are also owed a juicy 2016 first-rounder – thanks a lot, Andrea Bargnani! – which will come from either the Knicks or Nuggets, whichever pick is worse (meaning a less valuable pick, not a worse record).
As much as picks may be assets, the fact that the salary cap is set to explode but the rookie wage scale won’t adjust until at least 2017 makes first-round picks an incredibly valuable proposition for the immediate future. It’d be tough to pry a pick from me without an impact player being involved, were I in Masai Ujiri’s shoes. (I’m not, for the record.)
Way too early for this, but a case for NOT trading any of the Raps’ 3 1st-rd picks in 2015 & 2016. pic.twitter.com/12GjMgUyf1
— Blake Murphy (@BlakeMurphyODC) April 27, 2015
The Raptors own the draft rights to DeAndre Daniels, who had a solid season in the Australian league and figures to play stateside this season if things go well. My instinct is that the team would prefer him to spend the season in the D-League – on a $25,000 D-League contract rather than as an NBA roster player on assignment. Daniels would have to agree to that setup. If he doesn’t, and he wants to try his hand in the NBA, the Raptors have to offer him at least a non-guaranteed minimum contract, a risky play for Daniels to sign.
The Raptors also own the draft rights to Croatian big man Tomislav Zubcic (2012) and U.S. forward DeeAndre Hulett (2000). Zubcic remains underwhelming in Croatia and Hulett was never anything more than a footnote – while these rights mean little, they also cost little, and in the event the Raptors wanted to do make a trade for cash or as a salary dump, these rights can be used as “consideration” (both teams need to send something to the other in a deal).
The league allows teams to send out and receive up to $3.3M per season. The Raptors have sent and received $0, so those full amounts are available to them.
$2.36M – expires June 30, from Lou-Bebe-Salmons deal
$3.45M – expires July 10, from Novak deal
The Raptors own their Bi-Annual exception so long as they stay less than $4M above the luxury tax line (after using it). It allows them to sign a player above the salary cap with a starting salary of $2.14 million, and they can add a second year at $2.24 million, too (so a two-year, $4.38M deal is available).
They’re also likely to have the non-taxpayer mid-level exception. Again, so long as they’re less than $4M above the tax after using it. This can be split among multiple players, but if they wanted to use it all in one place, they could offer a $5.46-million starting salary and a four-year, $23.3-million deal at maximum.
From there, the team can sign any number of players to minimum deals, with deals for veterans of more than three years service only counting at the two-year service minimum for accounting purposes (to prevent veterans from getting frozen out over marginal salary amounts).
That’s a lot to sort through. The front office doesn’t have an easy job, and putting this together is a stressful endeavor because I know there are a handful of fans out there who will jump on any poor wording, misinformation, or key point missed. This is meant to be a pretty high-level preview of what the Raptors are working with entering the offseason, and I’ll do my best to nail a salary cap situation down to the penny once free agency is set to open. It’s also a little rushed, which I hate admitting, but it is what it is.
The key points you need to know:
*The Raptors could conceivably carve out max money or close to it.
*They probably shouldn’t trade their picks without landing an impact player.
*The mid-level exception may wind up being a big piece of the offseason.
*I have absolutely no idea what direction Ujiri may go in.