Part II of the two part series: what in the world are the Toronto Raptors going to do with their roster this offseason? In case you missed yesterday’s discussion on players I believe the Raptors front office would be wise to bring back, check it out here. For my money, it’s always easier to pass judgment on a player(s) who shouldn’t be a part of a given team because that’s easier to spot out, no? It doesn’t exactly take an NBA level scout to see that some pieces just don’t fit, for whatever reason, they just don’t.
For the Raptors, most of the pieces clicked last season, fortunately enough. Looking back, how many true weak spots could you say the Raptors suffered from game-in-and-game-out? Arguably, the Raptors all ready removed their biggest deficiency mid-season in trading Rudy Gay off to Sacramento (I feel like I bring up that trade almost every article I write, which means it was THAT good of a trade). A ball-stopping, shot-heavy 6-foot-9 small forward playing 20+ feet away from the rim better be named Kevin Durant or Paul George. Gay started playing better, or should I say – more to his capability once he arrived in Sac Town. Remember, at one point in time Memphis was coaxed into offering him his concurrent contract of 5 years for $82 million because Gay’s combination of size, athleticism, and ability is absolutely in the upper echelon of talents in the NBA.
At any rate, the Raptors rapidly improved once Gay left but can still afford to make subtractions before next season. To start, I’m not simply indiscriminately selecting players for the mere sake of it. I understand that the NBA is an occupation, and I feel a bit uncomfortable contending to the status of an NBA player as unworthy. The truth of it is, it’s tough to self-disclose my opinion on whether or not I think a player should or should not be on the Raptors. Alas, it comes with the territory of sports journalism, I suppose. Really, it’s just my opinion and I want you to keep that in mind.
With that, I’m going to start with the player I’m most torn over: Amir Johnson. Johnson’s the longest tenured Raptor who is still under team control for next season and is scheduled to make a guaranteed $5 million no matter what happens in 2014-2015, but will be a cap hit of $7 million in total. One could argue Johnson as the heart and soul of the Raptors, and it’d be hard to find an opponent to that claim. Heck, I’d even buy into the idea that Johnson was the heart and soul, however intangible it may be.
My thinking is this: Johnson just turned 27 and has proven to be a serviceable power forward in the NBA, even providing some solid rim protection as opponents shot 47.9% on shots at the rim when defended by Johnson, per NBA.com. His advanced numbers show some slipping in areas like PER and Total Rebound Percentage, and I wouldn’t concern myself too much with his rebounding numbers being down across the board, advanced or not, because of Jonas Valanciunas’ emergence this past season.
Johnson has value; he’s still a good player that’s going to be on an expiring contract next season. Problem with being on an expiring contract for a player like Johnson is that it forces the Raptors hand into making a decision on whether or not to keep him basically a year in advance, because it’s unlikely the Raptors could extend Johnson at all next season. They’d have to try to resign him next summer when he’s an unrestricted free agent, at which point the team could very well lose him for nothing. Johnson’s a nice piece for a good team, but maybe not a starter. A bench role would be more suited to his talents and abilities.
The one position the Raptors need to upgrade is power forward; the other four positions in the starting lineup are all but locks to be mainstays for at least the next 3-4 years (obviously assuming the Raptors sign Lowry). Johnson plays within himself, he doesn’t shoot much but when he does he’s taking a high percentage shot, he was in the top 20 last season for both True Shooting Percentage and Effective Field Goal Percentage in the league. To me, the Raptors need more production at the power forward spot next season if they are going to advance in the post season, at the cost of losing the efficiency Johnson provides.
Basically, Johnson’s value is at its peak and looking to trade him this summer would be the play I’d look into most aggressively. I’d have no issue with Johnson being brought back for the last season of his contract, as we saw with Kyle Lowry just last season – contract years sometimes bring out a career-year in a player, but I just don’t see Johnson making a leap from a 10 point per game guy to even 15 points a game. Johnson’s reached the plateau of what he’ll give a team offensively and defensively, and if the Raptors want to win more, they need more than what Johnson gives them.
To stick with the theme of power forwards, I’d also like to address Patrick Patterson’s situation this offseason. I’m a big fan of Patterson’s game, he’s a 37% three-point shooter over his three-year career, and he’s listed at 6-foot-9. He’s got good enough size to play power forward in the NBA, and he’s best at stretching the floor and spacing out an offense to create driving lanes for penetrating guards from the wing or top-of-the-key.
I thought Patterson’s role was perfect this season when he came over as part of the Gay trade; he played just under 24 minutes a game and embraced his role. His per 36 minutes numbers suggest he’d be a 13/8 guy if he played starter minutes (per 36 numbers are nice, but don’t tell the whole story, I should add). I do think he’d be a great piece if the Raptors could bring him back on a qualifying offer, but that’s not going to happen. What’s going to happen is that since Patterson is a restricted free agent in the last year of his rookie contract, a team is going to offer him something close to 6-7 mill a year, and if I were the Raptors I’d let Patterson walk.
It’s hard to justify paying a guy like Patterson that much money to come off the bench, not even as your 6th man. Quite frankly, 6-foot-9 stretch power forwards can be replaced fairly easily; those types of players are not uncommon in today’s NBA. The Raptors could easily draft a forward with shooting ability in place of Patterson’s role at three times less the cost. Some team is going to offer Patterson a contract that the Raptors should not match, not that he’s not a nice player, but he’s going to be an overpaid player and you want as few of those guys on your roster as possible.
Other than the power forwards, which as I’ve said is the area the Raptors could stand to make the biggest upgrade, I expect John Salmons to be waived. As long as Salmons is waived before June 30th, his contract (which is slated to be worth $7 million if he’s on the roster as of July 1st) will only cost the Raptors $1 million guaranteed. That’s the tricky part with unguaranteed contacts, as stipulations over what portion of a player’s contract IS guaranteed if that player is on the team by a certain date varies contract-to-contract. Salmons is at the tail end of his career, which turned out to be a lengthy and prosperous one, but all signs point to it being over for Salmons.
If you have any suggestions on what you think the Raptors should do this offseason, I’d love to discuss.