Morning Coffee – Mon, Jun 26

Deep dive into the Raptors cap situation and free agency | Drilling down on Gradey | Siakam wants to stay

Major decisions remain for Raptors with free agency on horizon – Sportsnet

The Raptors have $115.9 million committed to 10 players right now, plus $1 million guaranteed to Thaddeus Young and a non-guaranteed deal for Joe Wieskamp.

Young’s contract would become guaranteed for $8 million if he’s still on the roster past June 30. Now that the draft has passed without Young being used in a trade, the likeliest scenario is the Raptors waiving him in the next week and eating the $1 million he’s owed.

Wieskamp would be owed $1.93 million if he remains on the roster past June 30. That’s roughly the amount of a two-year veteran minimum, so this is mostly a question of roster flexibility. My guess would be the Raptors waive Wieskamp and, if his camp is willing, re-sign him to a new deal with a different guarantee schedule, allowing Wieskamp to develop in the system over the summer and compete for a roster spot in the fall.

There are also qualifying offers to be extended to Dalano Banton ($2.17 million), Jeff Dowtin Jr. (two-way), and/or Ron Harper Jr. (two-way) by June 29. Those players would become restricted free agents if given the qualifying offer and unrestricted free agents if not.

For the sake of simplicity, the following graphic assumes Young and Wieskamp are waived. We’ll put the RFAs off to the side for now, as well.

The first thing that should stand out here is even if we remove all of the Raptors free agents, the team would only have $17 million in cap space. That’s a scenario with no rights to re-sign those players and nothing coming back in any sign-and-trades. Because that amount is so small — barely above the mid-level exception — the Raptors will operate as an above-cap team, keeping the rights to their free agents and opening up the mid-level exception.

The more important number is $47.85 million, the space the Raptors have beneath the luxury tax right now.

If the Raptors don’t want to nudge into the tax, that’s the number they have available to re-sign VanVleet, Poeltl, any mid-level target, any undrafted rookies, Dowtin, and so on. You have to have at least 14 players under NBA contract, so the maximum for just VanVleet and Poeltl, assuming the roster is filled out with minimum contracts and they leave one open roster space, is $43.8 million. That would drop to about $42 million if they planned to use a 15th roster spot throughout the year.

Teams are allowed to back-load contracts to a small degree, offering the Raptors some additional flexibility. For example, if they wanted to get VanVleet and Poeltl for $42 million total, they could offer Poeltl a three-year, $55.1-million deal and VanVleet a four-year, $112 million deal and have them for starting salaries of $17 and $25 million. That example gets you both players for $42 million in 2023-24 salary despite the average salary being $46.4 million. That example also, again, includes no use of the mid-level or signings beyond the minimum. So use the $42 million number carefully.

Trades (and sign-and-trades) can change the outlook here fairly quickly. For now, the off-season’s headline item is “$42 million beneath the tax for VanVleet and Poeltl, plus minimum contract guys, barring trades.” There’s a world of creativity beyond that — in either franchise direction — but it’ll be our starting point for June 30.

Darko Rajaković and Gradey Dick are already shifting the Raptors’ vibes – The Athletic

Talent is a prerequisite. In the NBA, if you are going to win — and win big — you must be one of the league’s most skilled, cohesive teams. To reach the highest level of competition, to truly be in championship contention, you have to stack awesome player atop awesome player. And then, you must make it fit.

In the lead-up to and the aftermath of the Raptors’ 2019 NBA championship, then-coach Nick Nurse made reference to his group of “special players.” Kawhi Leonard, when healthy, is an all-timer. Kyle Lowry is probably heading for the Hall of Fame, and Marc Gasol has a 50-50 chance of joining him there. Fred VanVleet and Pascal Siakam were third-year players who went on to sign their next contracts for a combined $222 million. Norman Powell’s next contract earned him $20 million per year. Serge Ibaka was a three-time First-Team All-Defensive selection who accepted a lesser role, while Danny Green is one of the great glue guys in modern league history. The 2018-19 Raptors weren’t the happiest NBA team of all-time, but they liked each other enough to win when it mattered. A year later, even with Leonard and Green gone, they were among the best teams in the league — and, yes, also the happiest.

Assembling that much talent is very, very difficult and requires a whole bunch of work and luck. If you don’t want to get too excited about the prospect of watching the 2023-24 Raptors because they are likely to look a lot like the 2022-23 Raptors, strictly from a reading-the-roster perspective, that’s fair. This team won 48 games two years ago and just 41 last year. The starting point guard and centre are free agents, each possible flight risks with no obvious Plan B for either. The Raptors will have to pay full freight to keep VanVleet and Jakob Poeltl.

With all that said, after last year’s morose march toward mediocrity, the early signs of this offseason are refreshing, at the very least. People are smiling. Human beings are excited to be associated with the Raptors, not openly musing about their exits.

“I’m never going to go into something and try to be someone who I’m not, like walk in the tunnel with a stone face and try to be too cool for anything,” 13th overall pick/ruby red enthusiast Gradey Dick told Toronto reporters about an hour after the Raptors picked him in Thursday night’s NBA Draft. “I’ll never be like that, and I’m never gonna lose that, ever. Go there, have a fun time. That’s when I have the most fun in life, when I’m playing basketball and am able to show my emotions.”

Scrolling TikTok ain’t my thing, but a cursory search of his social media activity makes it clear that Dick is a goofy extrovert. He certainly had a bunch of Raptors employees smiling on Thursday (in, it must be noted, a heavily edited video produced by very talented team-employed professionals).

Raptors Draft Watch: 2023 NBA Draft in Review – Raptors HQ

I had Gradey a tier above the cluster of Wallace, Bufkin, George etc., and I like him better than some of the prospects drafted ahead of him. Before the draft lottery, he was one of the guys on my shortlist. Still, once the Raptors decided to stubbornly get into the play-in range, I knew the Raptors would be too far out of range for someone like Gradey.

The Raptors’ fit is straightforward. We’ve seen at least two seasons now of horrendous perimeter shooting. The front office hasn’t given the past coach a balanced roster to help space out the floor and open their playbook. The better shooters got relegated to the bench in favour of more length (can’t say more defense, as the defense was bad regardless), which led to non-shooters having to take way too many perimeter shots that became detrimental to their success.

Gradey brings another perimeter threat on the floor to the team, someone that opposing teams would be conscious of. At the very least, it should help open up the floor for the likes of Pascal Siakam and Scottie Barnes when they have the ball. The best part is Gradey will find his spot on the floor, as he’s an excellent movement shooter, unlike OG Anunoby.

Gradey is not just a perimeter threat, as he’s a good cutter willing to get into the chest of his defender. He’s got good counters, probably limited to 1-4 dribble sidestep/stepback to hunt for the trifecta unless he immediately decides to get to the basket. Shooting-wise, he’s got a lethal catch-and-shoot game, and he’s one of those rare players that doesn’t even have to bring the ball below his shoulders. The fun part is he’s got a good feel for his defender’s closeouts and can quickly decide when to catch the ball up high, leading to his high shot pocket.

I can see why some compare him a bit to Larry Legend, due to the similarities in their game, high release point, and the smart usage of their left hand.

Gradey lacks the quick first step and finishing burst, but he’s got a great feel on how to leverage his gravity and use that as a pseudo-first step to get that half-a-step advantage over his defender. He’s not the most athletic, but Joe Wieskamp makes him look like Dominique Wilkins.

The biggest area of concern is on the defensive end. Like most rookies, Gradey needs to get stronger. He’s had the bulls-eye target defensively, and he’ll have to work hard to ensure he doesn’t get played out of the floor because he’s a huge hole on the defensive end. I am slightly concerned about his lateral quickness, especially being too upright to my liking defensively, but that can be fixed, as he’s shown good effort, but he’s getting blown by far too often to my liking.

Raptors a ‘Great Fit’ for Gradey Dick, Kansas Coach Says – Sports Illustrated

Dick is “pretty damn good” offensively, as Self put it. Everyone is going to focus on his shooting skills because they’re incredible. Not only did he shoot 40% from behind the arc as a freshman but he nailed 53% of his three-pointers off the dribble last year, the best in Division 1 basketball of anyone with at least 30 attempts, per ESPN Stats. But Dick is far more than just a shooter.

“He’s a good mover without the basketball. He’s a very, very sneaky rebounder. He’s good at transition,” said Self, a two-time NCAA championship-winning coach. “He’s a good finisher and can certainly finish above the rim.”

His handle is above average for a player of his size, Self added. He’s not afraid to attack the rim and beat closeouts, a skill he’s going to need to show against NBA defenses with the way opposing teams are going to close out on him. He converted on 48.4% of his two-pointers for Kansas while averaging 14.1 points, 5.1 rebounds, and 1.7 assists.

“Is he going to be as good as what he needs to be?” Self asked rhetorically. “The answer is there’s still a lot of room for improvement and he’ll work at it hard each and every day to improve his skill set.”

The biggest area of growth for Dick is going to come on the defensive end. He was often the target of opposing teams’ offensive strategies while with the Jayhawks. His size, 6-foot-6.25 with a 6-foot-8.75 wingspan at the NBA combine, should help, but his lack of foot speed will be a hindrance on the perimeter.

“I don’t think that’s what he does best, yet,” Self noted. “But I do think he’s a very adequate defender and play to his athleticism and his length and he did a much better job as the season went on for us.”

By all accounts, though, Dick is going to be ready to improve. He’s unselfish and a great teammate, Self said, and someone who is going to put in the work necessary to become a more well-rounded prospect.

“He’ll have to take a very professional approach to it,” Self said. “I actually think it’s a great fit for him.”

Raptors hint at shift in philosophy by selecting Gradey Dick in NBA Draft – Yahoo!

Dick is not a perfect player, with an 8-foot-5 standing reach that is smaller than his height would indicate, average athleticism and below-average strength that combines to make him a bit of a liability on the defensive end, at least when it comes to matching up one-on-one with like-sized wing players. He is not the type of “Raptors-y” player this front office has typically prioritized in the draft, let alone in the first round.

But Dick is the best shooter in the 2023 NBA Draft and, when it comes to offensive upside, there are few players in the draft who come close to the type of scorer Dick could one day be.

“I think we had Gradey in kind of his own group,” Raptors general manager Bobby Webster said about the selection. “I think probably the size, shooting, and IQ probably stood out a bit.”

“He’s not just a shooter,” Webster added. “I think he knows how to play off the ball. He knows how to make backdoor cuts, he can pass well, he rebounds well. So I think he’s more of a well-rounded player even though he’s probably going to get pegged early as just a shooter.”

While it may be true the Raptors believe in Dick long-term as a rebounder and even a defender, that’s not why they took him. The Raptors, who shot just 33.5% from three last season, 28th in the league, realized that it was time for them to start prioritizing other skill sets besides defence, rebounding and playmaking, hinting at a shift in their team-building philosophy after prioritizing the latter for many years. They decided the roster had enough of those players for now, at least, and were ready to invest in a bonafide shooter and scorer in Dick.

“I think the biggest thing that I can really provide and my biggest goal coming into this is making an instant impact early,” Dick said over Zoom after being drafted by the Raptors. “Coming in, seeing a team, especially like Toronto, and bringing that shooting ability, the thing I take pride in the most.”

It’s helpful that the Raptors will be able to insulate Dick’s potentially shaky one-on-one defence with the big, long and versatile defenders they have spent the last eight years prioritizing. Slot in Dick beside a few of O.G. Anunoby, Scottie Barnes, Pascal Siakam, Precious Achiuwa and Jakob Poeltl, and all of the sudden his defensive shortcomings are not such a concern — hence the roster building philosophy in the first place.

But the Raptors jumped at the opportunity to take Dick because they see the limitations of their roster and where the league as a whole is going.

Chris Boucher knows Raptors changes can be a good thing | The Star

The 30-year-old Boucher was in Toronto working out with some of the team’s younger players when Rajakovic was hired. It was a regular part of his summer routine that this year included a first-ever stint with the NBA’s global initiative for promising young talent.

And aside from teaching some of the technical aspects of the game, the Saint Lucia-born and Montreal-raised Boucher made certain the 63 teenage prospects at the weekend camp in Longueuil got some life lessons as well.

“I think being a basketball player is one thing, but once you get there and get the money, the fame and all that, a lot of things come at you fast,” he said. “You always want to tell them to stay humble, stay themselves, take care of their families, gather a good circle around. That’s something that I tell them a lot.

“Also, I just want them to know it’s OK to make mistakes. Not every career goes up all the way up; there’s ups and downs. Tell them the truth. You want them to be ready for anything if they get there.”

The chance to take part in the camp along with fellow Quebecers Lu Dort of the Oklahoma City Thunder and Bennedict Mathurin of the Indiana Pacers — along with a handful of NBA assistant coaches — allowed Boucher to help celebrate the rise of NBA talent from the province. Just last week, Montreal native Olivier-Maxence Prosper was a first-round pick at the NBA draft. He will play for the Dallas Mavericks next season.

“Every year it seems to have somebody new,” he said. “We knew that from a long time (ago), that we have a lot of talent in Quebec, so it makes it a lot easier to have camps.

“If they made it to Basketball Without Borders, that means they were a selected few and they’ve already made a big step to be here. So just keep believing, work hard, do the right thing.

5 Realistic Star Trades After 2023 NBA Draft | Bleacher Report

Portland Trail Blazers Receive: Pascal Siakam

Toronto Raptors Receive: Anfernee Simons, Kris Murray, Rayan Rupert and Nassir Little

The Blazers don’t “truly covet” either Siakam or OG Anunoby, per Yahoo! Sports’ Jake Fischer. But that report referred to Portland’s reticence to move the No. 3 pick, which became Scoot Henderson. The Blazers might feel a little more covetous if the headliner of a package for Siakam were a less valuable asset, like Simons.

Siakam tanked his trade value (perhaps purposely?) by suggesting he wouldn’t re-sign with a team if traded away from Toronto, per Matt Moore of the Action Network. If he’s more of a rental than a keeper, that changes everything. Not only is Henderson off the table in that scenario, but so is Shaedon Sharpe.

The Blazers could have a shot to land Siakam with Simons as the main outgoing asset, provided they attach some young pieces like 2023 draftees Murray and Rupert, plus Little for some salary filler.

With Fred VanVleet possibly departing in free agency, the Raptors have a glaring hole at the point—one Simons, a 24-year-old with a career 38.7 percent hit rate from deep, could fill.

If Toronto intends to run it back with the same core, retaining Siakam and hoping it can re-sign him for less than the max next summer makes sense. But if a soft reset is in the cards, moving Siakam for some value now could be the better play. The alternatives—maxing him out or losing him for nothing—are scary.

From Portland’s perspective, swapping out Simons from a suddenly crowded backcourt for a two-time All-Star forward gives Damian Lillard a top-flight running mate—if only for one season.

Pascal Siakam Trade Rumors: Hawks Have Tried to Deal for Raptors PF ‘Without Success’ | Bleacher Report

Jake Fischer of Yahoo Sports reported on Thursday they’ve been trying to put together “several creative packages” that include “at least one three-team scenario” in an attempt to land the 29-year-old.

One player Atlanta could be shopping to opposing teams is De’Andre Hunter. B/R’s Jonathan Wasserman noted leading up to the draft on Thursday the Hawks “explored the idea of trading” the 25-year-old because they want to increase AJ Griffin’s role next season.

A big stumbling block for any team trying to acquire Siakam is his contract. He’s owed $37.9 million in 2023-24, the final season of his four-year, $136.9 million deal he signed in October 2019.

Presumably, a team would want assurances from Siakam that he would commit to signing a long-term extension to facilitate a trade.

Per Doug Smith of the Toronto Star, Siakam has “put word out that he would not entertain contract extension talks with any team” because he “would like nothing better than to finish his career here as the longest-serving Raptors player.”

Siakam has spent his entire NBA career in Toronto since being drafted 27th overall in 2016 out of New Mexico State. He’s been named to the All-NBA team twice and won an NBA title with the Raptors during the 2018-19 season.