For the current season, there’s not a ton to glean. The most notable row above is the red “dead salaries” row. The Raptors have spent $3.14 million on players no longer on the roster — the full $1.88 million owed to Svi Mykhailiuk, smaller partial guarantees for Champagnie, D.J. Wilson, Armoni Brooks, and Ishmail Wainright (from 2021-22), plus a small charge because Raptors 905 guard Saben Lee was signed-and-waived for G League purposes once the season’s salary clock had already begun. For a team well below the tax and in a non-contention year, $3.14 million is a completely reasonable use of space to have a competitive summer program and training camp if it helps you find your next end-of-roster developmental piece.
The cap snapshot is more useful to keep in mind longer-term. As currently constructed, the Raptors project to operate as an above-cap team this summer unless Fred VanVleet, Gary Trent Jr., and Otto Porter Jr. all decline player options and leave as unrestricted free agents. The Raptors have been a non-cap space team for years, left to utilize exceptions, trades and picks to keep building, to mixed effect.
Here’s how the 2023-24 cap sheet lines up, with two key numbers:
The first important number is $148.68 million. That’s what the Raptors have committed if all three players with player options exercise their options to stay with the team, the Raptors hold on to the (projected) No. 7 pick, and they opt to walk away from Young’s small partial guarantee. The cap is currently projected to rise to $134 million next year, meaning that with adding just their first-round pick, the Raptors are well above the cap, with about $13 million in wiggle room beneath the luxury tax to round out the roster.
Right below that number is $94.25 million, which is how much the Raptors would have on the books if all the player options were declined and they traded away (or stashed) their top pick. This is your “max cap space” determinant. The Raptors would have a little under $40 million in cap space before accounting for minimum contracts (or roster charges) to meet the roster minimum. The smallest max contract for this summer projects to begin at $33.5 million in Year One and would start as high as $46.9 million for an experienced veteran.
In other words, even watching all the players with options walk away doesn’t leave the Raptors with space for a max contract unless they’re willing to make further aggressive concessions.
Because of that, one of the bigger questions facing any sell-off for the Raptors is whether they’d be willing to eat longer-term money to improve the asset return.
As an example, dealing Trent for expiring contracts probably won’t return as nice a pick or prospect as dealing Trent for a player owed money beyond 2023 would. Since the Raptors’ path to meaningful cap space this summer would require a large (and careful) dismantling of the current roster, the more fruitful path will likely be maximizing asset value and operating as an above-cap team again. The opportunity cost of that lost cap space is minimal the more difficult your path to cap space is to begin with.
The complicated question that flows from that cap-space reality is how the team would go about replacing outbound talent as they retool for next season. Draft picks are great but rarely contribute meaningfully to winning right out of the gate. If the goal is to return to being a legitimate playoff threat in 2023-24, the (potential) final years on contracts for Pascal Siakam and O.G. Anunoby, how will the Raptors complement that pair and Scottie Barnes without cap space? Trades are always a possibility, but we’ve seen that mid-level and minimum-type signings aren’t reliable enough supplementary chips.
Any deal involving Trent or VanVleet then, may prioritize young, rotation-ready players more than draft picks deeper into the future. It also somewhat paradoxically adds value to taking on longer-term money in some instances, as the Raptors could use those contracts for salary-matching in future deals (though we quickly get into a temporal trade loop chasing that logic too far).
All of that is to say that while Siakam, Anunoby, Barnes, Chris Boucher, Precious Achiuwa and Christian Koloko are a nice group to be building with, it’s not enough. Removing Trent and/or VanVleet from that core without the cap room to chase another star this summer or even replace the production of that starting backcourt puts significant pressure on the Raptors to nail these trades.
Then again, holding both and re-signing them to larger deals after they opt out in the summer would make the Raptors a borderline luxury-tax team with few paths to improving. (VanVleet and Trent re-signing with a combined 2023-24 salary of $50 million would basically have the Raptors at the tax after using a smaller exception and filling out the roster. The team is currently 19-24.)
Their situation is, uh, complicated.
Even in the Tampa Tank season, when they knew that group had run its course, they made just one relatively minor deadline deal, swapping out Norm Powell — who they weren’t going to pay in his free agency summer — for a less expensive, younger version of the same player in Gary Trent Jr.
There are those who think the Raptors might do the same in February, tinker on the periphery and if fortunes don’t change appreciably, go a much more passive route by shutting down key players in the latter stages of the season.
But it’s not like the Raptors aren’t creating buzz.
Hardly a day goes by without a report surfacing about a trade, other NBAers are using their podcasts to slag the team, with so many possibilities for deals. Toronto is seen as the linchpin to the trade deadline activity.
How do they react?
With a combination of bemusement, the odd eye-roll and the realization that the season isn’t going the way anyone expected so change may be inevitable.
But they’re going about their business as usual even as chatter swirls.
The players hear the podcast of New Orleans guard and NBPA president C.J. McCollum detailing the disappointment of the season and apparent disenchantment of some players and chalk it up to business as usual.
Maybe McCollum is making a subtle move to convince the Pelicans front office to make a serious play for a specific Raptor — how would an O.G. Anunoby look on the New Orleans roster? — or maybe he’s extrapolating on feelings about the underachieving Raptors throughout the league.
There are those in the organization that believe it’s intemperate for the union president to be talking as he was about another team but the overall reaction is “oh, well, just another thing.”
The clarity is not going to come until after the deadline, or whenever Webster and Ujiri want to strike in the trade market.
The preliminary talks they are having and have had are little more than place-setters, a deal can come to fruition in a day or two so there remains no real rush to get something done.
It won’t satisfy fans who want big moves now, it may not satisfy rival executives who covet Toronto players but Raptors management works at its own pace.
And the pace right now is as deliberate as it’s ever been.
The NBA can wait.
A season-long six-game home stand resulted in three wins against two opponents that entered Wednesday’s action each out of the play-in tournament in Charlotte and Portland.
When a current three-game road trip began on Martin Luther King Day in New York against the Knicks, the Raptors escaped with an overtime win when Jalen Brunson’s uncontested pull-up transition three-ball hit iron as time expired.
Against a depleted Milwaukee Bucks team, the Raptors yielded 44 first-quarter points and allowed Jrue Holiday to go off for a season-high 37 points in a win by the home side.
Toronto visits Minnesota to play the host T’Wolves on Thursday when the on-court play will not overshadow the off-court speculation that continues to swirl.
The Raptors find themselves sitting at 20-25 in the bottom of the East amid the doormats.
In fact, Toronto’s six-win road total ties it for the division lead for fewest away wins with the likes of Orlando, Detroit and Charlotte.
Not good by any measurement, but then again the Raptors are not a good team, despite some stretches when they do look good.
The problems are glaring and the issues facing this edition will not be solved by one or two moves.
With the NBA trade deadline about to kick in on Feb. 9, precisely three weeks from Thursday, the focus will be on the Raptors’ front office and what, if any moves, can and will be made.
A year ago, the Raptors dealt veteran point guard Goran Dragic to San Antonio.
Toronto also parted company with its first-round pick in exchange for veteran forward Thad Young.
While it’s true Young brought a veteran presence and steadying hand as Toronto would ultimately fall to Philly in six games of the opening round of the playoffs, Young enters Thursday’s game with five straight DNPs.
He hasn’t played in excess of 10 minutes since a home win over Phoenix on Jan. 30.
The first-round pick the Spurs used in this year’s draft turned out to be Ohio State guard Malaki Branham, who turns 20 this May.
The kid is slowly emerging into a player and could potentially turn into a core piece for the Spurs, who seem bent on doing whatever is necessary to improve their lottery chances of drafting Victor Wembanyama.
It’s why one-time Raptors centre Jakob Poeltl is being mentioned prominently in the trade rumours, a solid piece whom Toronto jettisoned as part of the Kawhi Leonard deal that also landed DeMar DeRozan in San Antonio.
After YEARS of begging the WNBA to bring women’s basketball to Canada, it will arrive this May! The league has announced a WNBA pre-season exhibition match will take place Saturday May 13th at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto.
The Chicago Sky and the Minnesota Lynx will be putting on a show for their Canadian fans.
This will be the first ever WNBA game played in Canada, and will hopefully feature Canadian talent. There are currently two Canadians who play in Minnesota, Bridget Carleton and Natalie Achonwa. With Achonwa expecting her first child this year, Carleton may be the sole Canadian player in the game.
The third Canadian player in the WNBA is Kia Nurse, who played last season for the Phoenix Mercury. She is currently an Unrestricted Free Agent, so it is not yet clear where she will be playing this upcoming season.
The trio are also household names on the Canadian Senior National Team, who recently took 4th place at the FIBA World Cup in Australia. Carleton was selected as one of the tournament’s All-Star Five after a great showing, which resulted in Canada’s first semi-finals appearance at the event.
“Bringing a WNBA preseason game to Canada is an important milestone for the global growth of the league. We’re looking forward building on the momentum and excitement surrounding the WNBA in Canada with this historic game,” said WNBA Commissioner Cathy Englebert.
The Minnesota Lynx are four-time WNBA champions with a rich history in the league. They recently said goodbye to WNBA Legend Sylvia Fowles, who retired at the end of 2022 season. They also have 2017 Rookie of the Year Napheesa Collier on the squad, and will look to add talent this year with the No.2 pick in the upcoming 2023 WNBA Draft.
The Chicago Sky made history in 2021 by winning their first WNBA Championship, and last year hosted the WNBA All-Star game. That Championship was achieved with a roster consisting of WNBA powerhouses Candace Parker, Courtney Vandersloot, Kahleah Copper, and Allie Quigley.
Though we are currently deep into WNBA Free Agency, and therefore cannot 100% predict the exact rosters to be featured in the Toronto game, the match is still set to make history. With a league consisting of only 144 players at most, the WNBA is incredibly competitive and entertaining.
This will be the third WNBA game played outside of the United States. The first was in 2004, when the Detroit Shock and San Antontio Silver Stars played in Mexico. In 2011, the Atlanta Dream played the Great Britain Women’s Basketball team in Manchester, England.
A pre-season game between the Minnesota Lynx and Chicago Sky on May 13 at the Scotiabank Arena will serve as the first test for the viability of a Canadian expansion team.
“This is a way to assess the popularity of the sport in Canada,” WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert said in a conference call with reporters. “We’re certainly excited to see how the market responds and certainly the fans in the country from a viewership perspective as well.”
The 12-team WNBA has announced plans to expand but has not offered a timeline or an exact number of cities.
With an eight-year collective bargaining agreement that lasts until 2028, the business side of the game is settled, which provides the stability needed to expand with certainty for any new owners.
There are a handful of American cities — the Bay area of California among them — that also want a team. Engelbert said the original list of potential new cities was about 100 but it’s been culled considerably.
“A league of our size and scope … we’re gonna expand at the right time,” she said. ”Toronto’s certainly one of the names on the narrowed list.”
Playing at the Scotiabank Arena is significant, as is working with MLSE on promoting the game. The league is looking for continued growth in ticket sales and scope; playing in large arenas is a big step.
“I know this market is hugely into women’s sports, too,” Engelbert said. “I think playing at Scotiabank Arena is a really important part of this … to get that equality message out there, too, that we can draw at an arena like that.”
Bridget Carleton, of Chatham, Ont., is expected to be with the Lynx in the coming WNBA season and Natalie Achonwa, of Guelph, is also on the Minnesota roster, though she’s announced that she’s pregnant and her playing status is clouded. Canada’s other WNBA player, Hamilton’s Kia Nurse, is currently an unrestricted free agent and won’t have a new team until next month.
But the game itself, and how the WNBA is accepted by ticket buyers and business interests in Canada, is as important as who is playing in the game.
“It’s definitely part of how we want to see this game grow,” Engelbert said.
The timing of expansion is unclear. Given the logistics of a bidding process, awarding teams to cities and giving them a chance to put in place a basketball operations department, as well as marketing, ticket-selling and sponsorship deals, would suggest any new teams wouldn’t likely play until the 2025 season.