MURPHY: Sorry, I put you on mute there for a bit to use the bathroom and cook dinner. If you’re exhaling, allow me a few quick retorts.
First, I’m not sure if using a cautionary tale as your first comparable is a joke or an insult or just misguided. Yes, Grunfeld surely wishes he signed Porter earlier. The counter to that, though, would be that Porter stands as a warning sign to teams pursuing a non-max RFA target. The history of offer sheets large enough to get a signature and force a match — Porter, Allen Crabbe, Chandler Parsons — will likely scare teams off unless we’re talking a max-level player. And while we love OG, he would need to take multiple large steps to reach that level.
Having said all of that, we’re in agreement that letting OG test the market isn’t in the best interests of either side here.
I’m not surprised you brought up Brown. There are certainly some similarities in terms of offensive production and defensive value. OG even had a better third season by efficiency and impact metrics. Brown, though, was more projectable offensively, already using 22.1 percent of possessions, which makes it more difficult to maintain a high true-shooting percentage. Brown also created more of his own baskets and posted a lower turnover rate despite the tougher role. If we’re projecting OG’s offensive growth in the year between now and restricted free agency, Brown’s 2019-20 is something near a 95th percentile outcome.
We think a few other comparisons are more role-appropriate. We’ll concede Porter is a good one, and we’d like to introduce Justise Winslow, an equivalent defender with worse shooting but superior ball skill and playmaking. Winslow’s injury history is a real factor, but he was much more projectible offensively — assuming some coaching creativity with positions — and received $39 million over three years with a team option in the third year. A few other recent lower-usage rookie-scale extension comparisons offer a mixed bag of results that highlights the risk on our end with overpaying for potential alone.
We hope OG gets there, but we’re not going to negotiate on best-case scenarios. And you’re asking for him to receive an equivalent share of the cap as Brown, in an environment where the cap is projected to stay flat rather than increase. We’re willing to come up a level above the Winslows, Nances and even Warrens, though.
Not only are we willing to offer a four-year deal worth $58 million in total, we’re also willing to offer OG a player option in the fourth year. That way, if he does end up out-shooting our projections for him, he can re-enter the market at age 27. I’m sure we’ll be happy to re-sign him at his established value for his peak years from there.
Pressure Scale: 7. What makes Ujiri’s challenge so fascinating is that we likely will not know the true consequences for about another year. The approach still has merit even if he strikes out on stars in 2021, but would feel different considering this offseason is a chance to add talent at a lower cost than usual considering the strange market.
Instead, Ujiri faces pressure due to circumstances largely out of his control: the priorities and received offers of the Raptors’ free agents. It is entirely possible that a team like the Knicks sees VanVleet as the one player who can both elevate them now and help RJ Barrett find long-term success, fueling an overly aggressive offer Toronto should not come close to equaling. If that happens, they may be without a key piece now and moving forward. The same could happen for Ibaka if he wants the security of a long-term agreement and Gasol is reportedly considering a return to Spain that would necessitate a replacement big man.
Still, what keeps Ujiri’s pressure lower than most is that the organization’s foundation is strong and they are remarkably well-positioned for a 2021-centric plan. Nurse and Siakam are under contract already while the surrounding players are either flexible or on team-friendly terms like Davis and Thomas should Ujiri want to keep them around. The front office also benefits from having their free agents facing such an extraordinarily tepid market, which could make the Raptors’ offers look better than they would have in a more cash-flush offseason. It will be fascinating to see if the timing works out perfectly for Toronto but it absolutely could.
Areas of Development
There’s no doubt that Hernandez’s injury and the pandemic set his development back. A silver lining for him is that the same pandemic allowed him to recover from his injury, which lead to a second training camp before he and the Raptors entered the Bubble.
Hernandez has an NBA-ready body, but he still needs to get stronger (particularly if he’s going to play centre), as he was easily pushed around by bigger and stronger bigs — even at the G League level. Fortunately, Hernandez has shown flashes of a solid pick-and-pop game. He has also shown good instincts for cutting to the basket, finishing as a roll-man, or moving around to the dunker’s spot area for a drop-off. He needs to work on finishing quicker and stronger though, which is tough to do at the NBA level. Hernandez is pretty mobile and can put the ball down better than most traditional big men. His drives to the basket do not look robotic — like, say, Serge Ibaka’s — which is a cause for optimism.
Overall, Hernandez will need to get back to the gym for the majority of the off-season. He should be working on polishing his skill-set with individual workouts and playing as much as possible to get those reps in actual games. Playing games against decent competition should allow him to get his timing back and get an overall feel on how much work he needs to do.
Much like the young players outside of the Raptors’ rotation, Hernandez has a big off-season ahead of him. Fortunately for him, his injury issues are past, so he should be focused on being a better basketball player than he was before the draft. The Raptors have a decision to make at the end of the season next month, as his contract is not guaranteed.
As Daniel Hackett mentioned in his Raptors Salary Cap primer, the Raptors’ starting, backup, and third big are all free agents this off-season, which means Dewan is their only big man left. Still, the Raptors will probably bring at least one of Marc Gasol or Serge Ibaka back or sign another centre before pencilling Hernandez into the rotation. At this point, it’s clear Dewan is not ready for that role.
One thing we should keep an eye on is Hernandez’s natural position. He’s got skills that can be seen on mobile and modern power forwards. He’s small as a centre, and the majority of the traditional big men around his height possess explosive athleticism (Dwight Howard), insane length (Jarrett Allen), brute force (DeAndre Jordan), or basketball IQ (Al Horford). Hernandez’s length is slightly above average, but he’s not necessarily an above-the-rim finisher; and obviously, it’s too early to tell where his IQ will end up. That said, right now he looks more like a power forward in the mould of JaMychal Green and Earl Clark Jr.
Whether the Raptors think Hernandez is ready to move one seat up remains to be seen. Can he become a mobile rim-runner and show off his pick-and-pop skills while not be a defensive liability? Maybe Dewan has made strides since he came back from his injury, but he may be gearing up for another season stuck at the very end of the bench for Toronto.
The path he currently travels isn’t an unfamiliar one for the Raptors, as players like Chris Boucher and Pascal Siakam have paved the way before him. In those cases, however, hardware solidified the investment. Boucher was named the 2018-19 G League MVP and Defensive Player of the Year, and Siakam clinched a title, as well as Finals MVP honours for the 905 (back when it was known as the D-League).
While Siakam’s success is unprecedented — he’s the first G League alum to become an NBA All-Star starter — Boucher’s path to the NBA is quite similar to the road Brissett looks to travel. Both receiving identical contracts in their first season, the early success of Boucher garnered him a two-year contract before his rookie season’s end. The same result hasn’t occurred for Brissett, but he’s proven his value in numerous ways.
Much of his NBA playing time was by way of necessary call-ups to fill in for rotational gaps due to injuries. From November to February, the Raptors saw no end to their injury woes, and found that they could rely on the forward who proved to be a versatile defender that could guard multiple positions.
But that’s who Brissett has been all season, the player you can count on to be there and do what’s needed. Just as he left for the Bubble, Brissett was always an option for the coaching staff to consider and was ready to be the next man up. Even when injuries came, he continued to soak it all in, and remained an active member of the squad throughout the season.
At 6-foot-8, Brissett has plenty to add to his arsenal, most of which is to his offensive game. But being a high-energy defender and a reliable asset isn’t one of them, and that’s something the Raptors will not overlook during the off-season.