The Raptors aren’t going to be signing a top-tier free-agent, let’s come to accept that and not have any more wet dreams of Jimmy Butler coming our way. We’re also unlikely to get second-tier free-agents (hell, we can’t even get a half-decent assistant coach). It’s best to turn our attention to the bottom end of the barrel, the soggy tomatoes, the mushy bananas, the almost-expired milk…you get where I’m going with this.
Without further ado, here are three free-agents that may not be sexy, but could be just as effective.
Mike Dunleavy, 6’9”, 34 years old, Small Forward – $3M
Dunleavy is old and slow, yet retains a skill-set that any team can find a use for. A career 38% three-point shooter, he shot over 40% last year from downtown with the Bulls in Tom Thibodeau’s underrated offense. Dwane Casey allegedly has a desire to spread the floor, and if James Johnson isn’t cutting it, then Dunleavy certainly can. Defensively, Dunleavy has good 100.4 rating, and has historically been a disciplined defender. He doesn’t gamble, sticks to the plan (assuming there is one), and has a reputation of being a sturdy, professional and consistent presence.
The downside is that he’s 34 and giving him minutes would be counter to any youth movement the Raptors may be undertaking. The 15-year veteran doesn’t have the swagger or shot-making ability of Paul Pierce, but would provide a senior presence in the locker room, and a tangible threat on the court, both of which the Raptors could find room for. He could be used in a variety of offensive schemes because he’s a great cutter to the rim, spreads the court, and is an able passer with strong fundamentals (always looking up).
Dunleavy made $3M last season in 63 games, and all indications are that they Bulls are interested in retaining him. Giving Dunleavy a one or two year deal above his current rate could entice him away.
Marco Belinelli, 6’5″, 29 years old, Shooting Guard – $2.87M
The former Raptor was on the fringes of the NBA after leaving Toronto, but has rejuvenated himself with stops in Chicago and San Antonio. He’s now primarily a three-point shooter with 49% of his attempts coming from downtown, and he’s hitting them at a 37% clip. The challenge with Belinelli integrating into this Raptors team is role definition. In his previous two stops he’s had a very specific role defined for him by Greg Popovich and Tom Thibodeau, which has helped him use his specialized skills to good effect.
In Toronto, there is unlikely to be such specification for him and he could revert to being what he was in his first stint – a loose cannon liable to take a bad shot at any given moment. Whereas with Dunleavy you don’t have to worry about that, Belinelli has enough flash in him that he could just turn into Lou Williams-lite (a bad thing). Defensively, he’s improved his discipline but remains laterally challenged. In San Antonio, there’s a defensive setup in place and personnel behind him that excuse his defensive deficiencies, not so much in Toronto.
Though a more experienced player than Terrence Ross, it’s hard to see him providing much more than the beleaguered Raptors swingman, even though Belinelli isn’t a direct replacement. He would be a replacement for Lou Williams, provided you’re willing to sacrifice some offense for a likely more disciplined player with a better outside shot, all at a cheaper rate than the current SMOTY.
Kosta Koufos, 7’0”, 26 years old, Center, $3M
Here’s Masai Ujiri’s Denver connection playing a part in this article. Koufos has carved himself a name as a reliable, unflashy, underrated backup center. Ujiri acquired Koufos as part of the Carmelo Anthony deal from Minnesota, and a year later signed him to a contract extension. Clearly, he thinks highly of the center who since then has only improved, and was a bargain at $3M.
Like Jonas Valanciunas, Koufos can stay healthy for a man his size despite playing a physical game. He’s very strong down low, and is quicker than you might think, often surprising players with his activity underneath the rim. He’s got a hook which he can finish in traffic and under contact, and is a good finisher at the rim. He’s more decisive than Valanciunas on offense, but isn’t anywhere close to the offensive talent, but has a rebound rate comparable to the Lithuanian. Koufos is an excellent rim-protector with opponents shot only 38.5% at the rim against his defense in the playoffs, which he upped from 46.9% in the regular season – both good numbers.
His defensive rebound percentage of 25.4% would be higher if he was part of any other team but the Grizzlies, seeing how Zach Randolph and Pau Gasol gobble up their faire share of rebounds. He’s primarily a put-back guy, with those accounting for 31% of his offensive touches, followed by pick ‘n rolls at 22%, and post-ups at 16%. His mid-range game is between the 3-10 foot range (45%), and beyond that he’s awful.
Overall, he offers a more physical style of play than Valanciunas, without needing touches to survive, but I’m sure if signed, Raptors fans will lament and complain about Koufos “not getting enough post-ups”. Having Valanciunas and Koufos on the roster would allow any coach to look to the bench without having to sacrifice rebounding. The problem might be that teams like Boston have shown great interest in the big man, and it’s likely that he sees himself as a starter in the league, and there’s going to be a team out there that can offer him that opportunity along with a healthy raise. Being an understudy of Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph is also seen as a big bonus, which his future employer will undoubtedly benefit from.