RR Mailbag

Offseason Mailbag: Draft targets, trading everyone, and cap realities

With the offseason upon us, I thought I’d get things rolling with the #RRMailbag, which in retrospect may have been a bad idea, at least to do all in one sitting. But hey, maybe by the end, it’ll be the longest yet in a series of much-too-long editions (and if you want to catch up on all the previous mailbags, you can find them here).

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Alright, let’s get this money.

Draft

Absolutely, I think it’s possible. I think everything is on the table with that pick, and even if the Raptors use it on a player on June 23, nobody should assume that player is in the immediate plans. That goes whether or not it’s a top name (Jamal Murray, Kris Dunn, Buddy Hield) that somewhat unexpectedly slides.

There’s actually a pretty substantial value for the Raptors waiting until July or August to move the pick, depending on what they’re targeting – dealing the pick now would attach a salary of $0 to it for the purposes of a trade being cap compliant, whereas once the player’s signed (30 days after, technically), that pick could have a trade-matching value of up to $2.7 million. So if your ideal is “Terrence Ross and the No. 9 pick,” waiting until July to make the deal changes the allowable incoming salary in that deal from $5.4M (Ross’ Poison Pill Provision amount, times 1.5, plus $100K) to $15M (Ross’ 2016-17 salary, plus $5M), and waiting until August increases it further to $17.7M (Ross’ 2016-17 salary, plus the pick at 120 percent of scale, plus $5M).

You can ignore the cap things, but if you want to flip “Ross & No. 9,” the most common trade I’m asked about, you can bring in $12.3M more if you wait until 30 days after signing the pick, and it would be far less complicated.

Yes. I’m a pretty firm believer in taking the best player available with positional need only serving as a tie-breaker in most cases, so if Jakob Poeltl were to be that guy, then the Raptors should go for it. The reason I’m a believer in BPA is that rosters are so fluid, you really don’t know where the need will be once the player is ready to contribute (and make no mistake, very few prospects are “NBA ready,” particularly at No. 9 in a weaker draft). Delon Wright looked like he filled a need until he didn’t. And it’s not as if the team won’t need three centers over the course of the season

As far as Poeltl himself, I like him, and have really come around on him as I’ve talked to more people close to the draft. He’s unsexy, but with a bit of a drop-off after the top eight, he’s either the bottom of that second tier or the top of the third tier, and there’s virtually nobody who doesn’t think he’s going to at least be a decent NBA player. It’d be a little boring if he ended up being the pick, but I think people would eventually come around on him.

But no, I don’t think you’d want to play him and Valanciunas. Even if they can both hit from the mid-range with some regularity, your spacing is going to be very tight, and you’re asking one of them to defend far from the rim regularly. I just don’t think a twin-towers look makes a lot of sense as a regular look the way you want to play in today’s NBA.

I like Deyonta Davis as a prospect, but I’d hope that if he’s the pick at No. 9, everyone has very realistic expectations about him. Few players are “NBA ready,” but Davis, to me, looks like someone who’s a little further away than most in this range. He definitely profiles like the type of four/five the Raptors may like long-term – a long defender with great shot-blocking instincts and developing range – he’ll just need some time to put a lot of that raw talent and instinctual play to work in an NBA setting. Luckily for the Raptors, they don’t need contributions from this pick right away and have Raptors 905 to help bring the player along.

Personality testing will go a long way here, with Davis or any prospect – research from Eric Weiss of Sports Aptitude suggests that only certain personalities will thrive as a lottery pick coming on to a successful team.  The Raptors value that type of information in their draft process, anyway, but for us projecting from outside, it might be difficult to know who’s going to fit in well.

Trades

The Nets could definitely use the additional young assets, but it’s really tough to get a feel for what direction they may go in under the new management. From the Raptors’ perspective, I think two years of Young at only 20-30 percent higher cost than Ross, plus a year of Bogdanovic on a good deal, would be worthwhile (there are limitations created with a non-shooting four, but any trade is going to be imperfect, and Bogdanovic brings back some shooting). I’m just not sure Brooklyn’s in sell mode given just how far away they are, and if they are, I’m skeptical this would be enough of a return.

https://twitter.com/DonovanCoates/status/738828688372813824

I would not, no. I love Biyombo, but Valanciunas is a better player at this point and has more upside to continue to tap into. If it were a situation where the Raptors could deal Valanciunas for assets, and the whole of the team was made better, then sure – Biyombo opens up a ton on the defensive end and can be managed around on offense, especially with spacier lineups. Unfortunately, in order to sign Biyombo, the Raptors would have to deal Valanciunas for the resultant cap space, picks, and the trade exception it would create, which would leave the team in a worse place overall than if they just let Biyombo walk.

I’ve been asked about Millsap a lot, which makes some sense because he’s awesome and would be a terrific fit but is a little curious because I’m not sure why everyone seems to think he’s on the block. The Hawks may lose Al Horford, yes, and Jeff Teague’s name’s been floated, but it seems to me they’re doing more of a re-tooling than a rebuilding. If they were rebuilding, Millsap should fetch a greater return (maybe not in terms of number of assets, since he can be a free agent in 2017, but in terms of the highest-quality asset coming back).

If the Raptors aren’t comfortable with Nogueira playing a role this season, I’d imagine he’s available in trade, even with the Bruno Caboclo relationship standing as important to the organization. Nogueira will be 24 this summer, has played effective minutes in the world’s second-best league, and is entering the third year of his rookie-scale contract. Bigs peak a little later, and Nogueira certainly showed flashes last year, so I think this is a pretty big offseason for him. (It’s telling that he’s not playing with the Brazilian team, as of this writing, though some of that is due to personal obligations keeping him in Toronto.)

He has trade value, for sure. He’s entering the second year of a cheap rookie-scale deal and is ready for backup minutes. He’s pretty solid, though he’s obviously not on Joseph’s level (nor does he have a ceiling as high as Joseph’s, in my opinion).

Wright’s situation does serve to highlight two points I’ll make a lot this offseason: That drafting for need is short-sighted, because rosters turn over so quickly (Wright filled a need at draft time), and that the team should look to acquire talent foremost and worry about fit and lineups after the fact (even if he didn’t, if he was the best talent there, the pick is justified). Masai Ujiri is an asset manager, and the team’s chase of Wes Matthews after landing DeMarre Carroll suggests, to me, his thinking is somewhat similar to mine.

I’m not sure that’s a fair assumption. In speaking with Dan Tolzman, it seems the organization was happy with the development allocation on the main roster, at least once they replaced Anthony Bennett with Jason Thompson. I think they’d probably like to enter the season with only three names tabbed for potential D-League duty (probably Caboclo, Wright, and one draft pick, with Powell having graduated to the rotation full-time), but that doesn’t mean Nogueira (or anyone) is out necessarily, even if they’re advanced for the D-League.

Basically, if there’s enough value to be had in moving one, sure, but I doubt they move one just to decrease the team’s reliance on the 905 or anything like that. Forced to guess, I’d think Nogueira’s the mostly likely to go, simply because he has the largest salary to help with salary-matching in deals.

Oh god, nothing currently in-house, I don’t think. I should qualify that a) I don’t think that will happen, and b) If it did, the Raptors should offer whatever it takes. From there, what do the Pacers want? Take it all. George has such a rare combination of youth, track record, versatility, offense, and defense, plus a below-market deal as the cap rises, there are few assets as valuable. The Pacers would be welcome to whatever players and picks they like, and we’d even throw Raptors Republic into the deal. (I use hyperbole, but with DeRozan a free agent and Lowry a 30-year-old one year from free agency, there’s probably no package that could pry him. It’s fun to dream – a Lowry-DeRozan-George trio would be a very nice starting place.)

Free Agency

I’ll cover this off more in a salary cap primer that’s coming soon. At a high-level, let me answer this and another question I get often.

Golden State-Durant: For the Warriors to land Durant, they would have to do a ton of cap maneuvering (renounce Barnes, deal one of Bogut or Iguodala, maybe some other moves), so keep in mind that nobody is talking about them just adding Durant to this core. It would be painful, though ultimately worth it, to do so. The Raptors could actually clear out the space, too, by renouncing DeRozan and then making moves, or unloading, say, Ross and Valanciunas in salary dumps. It’s talked about less because it’s less realistic that Durant would come to Toronto than Oakland (I think he stays in Oklahoma City, for what it’s worth). As for Biyombo, because the Raptors don’t own his Bird Rights, they would have to make similar moves to re-sign him – a team has to have certain rights and exceptions to go over the salary cap, and they don’t have them for Biyombo, so signing him would require them to get under the cap by unloading Ross or Valanciunas (or some other combination of players).

Related, Cleveland: I’m often asked how Cleveland is able to have so much higher a payroll, even though MLSE says they’re willing to spent into the tax. Again, it comes back to exceptions and rights – the Raptors are willing to go into the tax, they say, but they don’t have the requisite rights and exceptions to do so. Had Biyombo been with the Raptors for three seasons at this point, they could pay him whatever they want and go over the cap to do so. The Cavs were able to get to such a high salary marker by a combination of salaries kicking in at the right time (Kyrie Irving was still on his rookie deal as they were building), owning player rights (they used Bird Rights to exceed the cap to re-sign Iman Shumpert), trade exceptions (where you can take back salary without sending it out, which they had due to the strange Brendan Haywood contract), and the fact that you can add a little extra salary in deals (they brought in Kevin Love without sending quite as much salary out, then used rights to re-sign him).

It can get pretty complicated – and, admittedly, frustrating when other teams go into the tax – but it essentially boils down to the Raptors being willing to spend more but unable to because of certain cap restrictions, and a somewhat unique make up of the roster.

https://twitter.com/ChrisTarroza/status/738770188598956032

I’d want to go East, where the road to the finals is a little easier. I’d also want somewhere that has a great summer vibe, a famous rapper to pal around with, and a basketball franchise I grew up rooting for. An assistant coach I really like and a point guard who seems like a kindred spirit of sorts wouldn’t hurt, either. And a great blog presence is a must.

So, Washington.

(I kid. Toronto, obviously.)

I love Horford as a player, but I question the fit and the timing here. Because of limited cap space and the fact that there’s not much value (to the player) in a sign-and-trade in the current CBA, the Raptors would need to lose several pieces to clear out the space to sign him. He’s also 30, so while he fits with the Lowry-DeRozan duo in terms of timeline, the Raptors would be looking at a two-to-three year window they need to pounce on, if that’s something that concerns you.

Again, I’m all for maximizing the talent, and I think even if you had to jettison Valanciunas to clear the space, Horford can play the five, as he has in Atlanta (and if you can get the space without losing Valanciunas, they’d be mostly fine together, if imperfect). You just better be damn sure you have some trickle-down moves lined up, because jockeying into space for Horford (or Nic Batum, or Durant) means losing multiple pieces first.

It’s not really a matter of cap space, because even if the Raptors renounced Biyombo and all non-DeRozan free agents, they’d still looking at minimal cap space. I think re-signing Biyombo is probably off the table based on the salary he’ll command, but unfortunately even that doesn’t leave the Raptors with a ton of wiggle room on the market – you’re probably trying to trade for a smaller upgrade, hoping you strike gold at No. 9, or waiting out the market and throwing the mid-level exception, which has never had less value than this summer, at someone who can split he role with Patterson.

(I’ll take this opportunity to add that Patterson should be penciled in as the starting four right now. I know he and the team seem to like him better off the bench, but if they can’t upgrade that spot, they should try starting him again, and ask him to prepare as if he’ll start. If there’s a more clear path to adding a wing and dealing with Patterson/Carroll as a power forward combo than just upgrading at power forward, then get me the wing. I want the best players possible, not necessarily an even rotation by the five outdated positional definitions.)

In a recent article, I referred to Williams as “future Raptors forward Marvin Williams,” so count me in. I’m a huge fan, as a player and a potential fit in the locker room. The issue will be that for the Raptors to sign Williams, the most they can probably offer (barring trades) is the mid-level exception, which would be a pay decrease for Williams. At 29, he may or may not be willing to take such a cut, and the Hornets own his Early Bird rights and can exceed the cap to give him a moderate raise, if he wants to stay.

(On a strictly “Blake, you’re being annoying, stop talking about the cap” front, yes, I’d love Williams for this team.)

I could see one of them coming back, but that’s probably it. Even if the Raptors re-sign DeRozan and use both draft picks on players slated for the NBA, they’re still only at 13 players. They’d probably aim higher than those names with their mid-level exception for one of the spots. Then, there’d be the ability to sign one to the minimum, using Early Bird (Johnson) or Non-Bird (Scola and Thompson) rights, or using the Bi-Annual Exception. All three are guys the Raptors liked having around (yes, even Johnson, who spent a ton of time with the team’s young players), and they could find themselves in need of power forward depth. I’m all for filling out the roster with a high-character guy who knows the system and can contribute off the floor, too. (Forced to rank, I’d guess the likelihood of either returning to go Scola-Thompson-Johnson, but it’s pretty even across the board.)

This is asking an awful lot of DeRozan. Yes, he would stand to make more total money by approaching things that way (it’s not quite as big a benefit as for Durant, who also hits the 10-year service time marker by doing so), but it’s an enormous risk, even for a guy who’s been an ironman in six of his seven seasons (particularly if the player side is worried about a 2017 lockout). From the Raptors’ perspective, it actually wouldn’t really help them a ton this offseason (since they’d be in a tough spot to get significant cap space, anyway) and could actually hurt their cap situation next summer (or at least not help it), plus they’d run the risk of punishment from the league if it comes out that they had a handshake agreement to “make up” the salary later.

There are scenarios for teams and players where such an approach would help a great deal, but unfortunately, this isn’t really one of them. DeRozan will probably value the long-term financial security, though he may negotiate an ETO following year three so he has the option to re-enter the market before his 30th birthday (and maybe he takes a slight discount as “payment” for that option).

This is the toughest question of the offseason, and it’s why I’m fine with the team not even answering it (as outlined above) if there’s a more clear path to adding another wing and relying on Patterson/Carroll there.

If they keep a pick, there are a couple of interesting names, but it’s unrealistic to expect a rookie to contribute meaningfully. They’ll only have the mid-level exception to offer, at most, on the market (most likely), so maybe you throw that at a Mirza Teletovic or Anthony Tolliver (I realize those are unsexy names, but it’s really tough to guess who may be willing to sign at the MLE amount in such a cap-crazy year). I’d maybe try to take a flier on Jon Leuer or see if Luc Richard Mbah a Moute (more of a combo-forward) might come cheap. And then, of course, I’d max Mo Speights.

And this sounds like a cop-out, but if it comes to a trade, your guess is as good as mine. The trade market is impossible to get a handle on when every team has cap space, the weak draft limits the potential value of draft picks as trade chips, and the Raptors would have to wait until July to make a deal (in most cases). But hey, let’s hear your Kevin Love trade scenarios!

I wouldn’t say hold the status quo, but I think the tone of the answers so far suggests fans should have modest expectations for the offseason. Even if the Raptors don’t make a major free agent or trade splash now, they have a lot of assets and will continue to accumulate them. Ujiri’s proven aggressive in the offseason, often making deals nobody thought were on the table, but I think the more likely scenario is a slightly quieter offseason, with the asset base continuing to expand so that Toronto’s in a good place to strike during or after the 2016-17 season.

One more thing I want to lay out here and have no idea where to put it: The mega-scenario. I have no idea who the targets may be or what teams may play ball, but I’ve concocted a wild scenario in my head where the Raptors have a multi-stage offseason attack that sees them trade Ross and Patterson or Valanciunas for picks to clear cap space, make a splash, then use those same picks (and their own) along with the trade exceptions created in the earlier deals to then add depth back to the roster. It would be a lot of balls in the air at once and require some very careful domino alignment, but it’s the type of strange cap minutiae that makes Bobby Webster so valuable, and you know Ujiri will leave no stone unturned. I don’t know…this is me trying to have fun and come up with better scenarios than just saying “not possible” to a lot of things. I’m the worst.

Assorted

This is no longer really a fair criticism of Casey, I don’t think. His between-game planning proved much better in this year’s postseason, and he overhauled the defensive scheme to great effect. He had help, of course, but the humility to lean on and accept that help is a huge part of Casey’s development, and I don’t think it’s accurate to criticize him for much beyond slower-than-you’d-like in-game adjustments and conservative end-of-quarter play-calling. I wrote about why I like the extension in greater detail here.

And I know your question was asked before all the ducks were lined up, but good news! Rex Kalamian and Nick Nurse are staying, and the team’s working to try to retain Andy Greer, too. So Casey’s staff should remain pretty strong.

I’m unclear on exactly what “legitimate shot” means here. Are we talking a 50/50 chance? A guaranteed berth in the finals against whoever the West team is? Without knowing exactly where that line is, this is tough. I’d need something like a 25 percent shot at the title in one of those seasons to sacrifice a decade of being pretty good for a decade. My bar may be higher than most, though, because noncompetitive seasons are bad for business.

Let’s put this to the floor though: You have just a 5-percent chance at a title but a 100-percent chance at the playoffs, a 60-percent chance at the second round, and a 25-percent chance at the conference finals for 10 years. How high does the percentage likelihood of a title need to go for you to trade those 10 years in for a one-year window?

Definitely a four. The 905 even experimented with him at the five down the stretch, and while he’ll never have the bulk to play there, it speaks to what the Raptors see his ultimate position as. Best-case, he’s a switch-everything defender who can fill in at the three or four and help around the court on different (un-strong) player types, using his length and reach to funnel ball-handlers or contest in help at the rim. I think right now, though, they’ll take him turning into anything at all.

A bunch of different ways. Sam and I keep our eyes out for fledgling blogs and talent elsewhere, and sometimes people will just reach out with writing samples. Finding new writers is the bane of my existence, but we’ve had some really good luck in recent years by just stumbling across people’s blogs, which is why my first advice to everyone is always to start writing somewhere, anywhere, even if it’s a free Medium/WordPress account you think nobody will see. Twitter’s a good tool, too, but be selective about how often you @ people with links, so as to not come off as spammy.

As for me, I was doing just that, writing on my own blog in 2007-08-ish, and I’d occasionally write for Sam’s Raptors blog. When ESPN created the TrueHoop Network, they got Sam and Zarar to pair up for RR, and I was one of their first additions. For a few years I just did it part-time as a hobby while I worked a “real job,” then took over the day-to-day content stuff when I decided to make this a career.

I followed DeMarre Carroll all season and Russell Westbrook is my favorite non-Raptor in the NBA. I’m very much in favor of everyone wearing what they want to wear. I say this in plain jeans and a Vans t-shirt, so maybe don’t take my style opinions for much.

More Arbys.

Honestly, I know it’s a concern, but I think it’s one that will sort itself out some. They’re 19th in bullpen ERA, which isn’t great, but the Grilli addition should help, Cecil will be back (and hopefully back to form) at some point, and Storen has started edging in the right direction (although I don’t love how he’s doing it). And then the bullpen is generally the cheapest area to upgrade closer to the deadline, if they still find themselves in need a month from now (and they probably will).

One name to watch out for: Murphy Smith. He’s a 28-year-old career minor leaguer who’s never even pitched at Triple-A, and he isn’t on the 40-man roster, but he’s been absolutely dominant for New Hampshire this year, posting a 1.03 ERA, 2.39 FIP, and nearly 11 strikeouts per-nine innings. None of that is to say he’s a guarantee to be a good major-league reliever, but bullpens often require churn, and he’s an interesting name who’s shown some legitimate improvement with a full-time move to the bullpen this year.

This is obviously a tough PR-versus-baseball decision, but the cold, analytic side of me comes into play here. I’m of the mind that you really just have to focus on your own team, doing what’s best for it, and trying to maximize what it can do each year. If re-signing Bautista and Encarnacion doesn’t fit the plan or the path at a certain price, then it doesn’t really matter where it is they’re going – the Sox (and Yankees) are going to spend on guys no matter what, and you can’t keep free agents from specific teams. Do you, let the other 29 teams do them, and trust your process.

Now, having said all of that, I’d pay Bautista and Encarnacion whatever the hell they want. They’re the best.

(Zubes is on private. The question here is: Are you cheering for #Broken Matt Hardy or “Brother Nero” Jeff Hardy?)

I nearly rushed this mailbag or split it into two so that I could get JUST this answer up ahead of Final Destination on Sunday. Luckily, the feud is continuing, and we’re left to hope that eventually, #Broken Matt comes out on top.

He’s the victim here. He’s the hero. He’s in the right. There’s a reason he’s #Broken – Brother Nero has been given every advantage, every opportunity, and every benefit of the doubt at every single turn. Nero’s messed up time and time again, always of his own doing, yet the worst thing Matt’s ever done is get his girlfriend stolen from him. Nero’s always been at the top of the card despite, you know, not actually being very good, and he’s valued things like music or dirt bikes or drugs over wrestling. Matt’s life is wrestling.

Imagine having a younger brother who you’re responsible for, who you share your passion with, who you embrace as a teammate and, well, a brother, and he follows you on your path, because your path becomes your path. But he treats it like he’s along for the ride, messing up at every turn, caring less, burning bridges, and still he’s the favorite. He’s the Prodigal Son, except he never leaves and just keeps blowing through his inheritance, then yours, then your own income, then your parents’ retirement fund. And still, he’s the one everyone wants to see at the family BBQ, even though, again, you’re genuinely better, both as a person and in your chosen profession.

And then after all of this, you start a family and reach the absolute pinnacle of the profession, after literally decades. So what does the brother do? He tries to co-opt your shine and take your title, knowing he doesn’t have to do the requisite work and put in the sweat you did, because your his brother and you’ll do right by him. He messes it up for the both of you, because messing things up is what he does. You’d break, too.

This is a silly answer, but that’s the story they’re telling, and on a personal level I’ve always strongly preferred Matt Hardy to Jeff Hardy by a substantial margin. The storyline has been good (read: campy and wacky and silly fun) enough that I actually watched some Impact Wrestling of late, and I’ll continue to do so as long as the ever-more #Broken Matt is this good. It’s been unbelievably entertaining in the most pro-wrestling way possible, and I just pray it culminates in a backyard wrestling match at their childhood home, with #Broken Matt coming out on top.

As a reminder, if you appreciate the content we produce, want to support RR, and have the means to do so, we’ve started a Patreon page at patreon.com/RaptorsRepublic. Any contribution is greatly appreciated and will help us continue to do what we do, and try to do even more.

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