As each NBA team is eliminated from contention for the 2016-17 title, The Washington Post will look ahead to what they have in store for this offseason. The series continues with the Toronto Raptors, who were eliminated by the Cleveland Cavaliers in the second round of the playoffs.
2017 draft picks
First round: Los Angeles Clippers’ (No. 23).
Second round: None.
2017-18 salary cap space (with projected $102 million cap)
$21 million. (Nine players with $76.8 million in guaranteed contracts, one draft pick worth $1.6 million; two roster charges worth $1.6 million). Doesn’t include non-guaranteed contracts for Norman Powell and Fred Van Vleet and a player option for Kyle Lowry.
2017 free agents
PG Kyle Lowry (player option), SF P.J. Tucker, PF Serge Ibaka, PF Patrick Patterson
Five questions to answer
1. What’s next for Kyle Lowry?
Lowry is the definition of a late-bloomer, breaking out as an all-star point guard in his late 20s and early 30s. But Lowry has had repeated issues in the playoffs, including this season.
This leaves Toronto with a brutal decision: commit a five-year max contract to Lowry worth more than $200 million, or watch him walk in free agency — and see the best stretch in franchise history come to a screeching halt.
If Toronto chooses not to pony up, where might the 31-year-old end up? Obvious options are the 76ers (Lowry is from Philly and went to Villanova) and New York Knicks, with Philadelphia the leader in the clubhouse.
2. What’s next for Serge Ibaka?
Acquired at the trade deadline, Ibaka was seen as the final step in building a legitimate challenger to Cleveland in the Eastern Conference. Instead, the Raptors were obliterated once again by LeBron James.
Ibaka will be an interesting factor in the free agent market. While he isn’t the same player since his calf injury a few years ago, he still is a quality big who can protect the rim and can stretch the floor as a credible three-point shooter — in short, the kind of big every team wants.
It seems as if the best course of action for Toronto, assuming the Raptors remain contenders, is play him at center. But that would lead to the following question.
3. Will Jonas Valanciunas be back in Toronto next season?
Valanciunas is the kind of player a changing NBA is leaving behind. He’s a strong scoring center who is a bear to keep off the offensive glass. But he’s also a big, lumbering center that can’t stretch the floor as a shooter, isn’t a great rim protector and can’t switch or guard on the perimeter.
This leaves Toronto in a difficult situation. Valanciunas is on a good contract extension from a team perspective, averaging $16 million for the next three years (and with a player option on the third year). But he also doesn’t fit with the direction of the team. And, if the Raptors keep Ibaka and Lowry, they’re going to get awfully expensive, making Valanciunas potentially expendable.
That leads to the other problem: There aren’t many teams looking for a center to acquire via trade. Valanciunas, however, is worth more to Toronto if the Raptors have to attach an asset to him to move him on. He would be one of the more intriguing trade candidates on the market — if, in fact, he is made available.
4. Can the Raptors move DeMarre Carroll’s remaining two years?
In addition to Lowry and Ibaka, the Raptors also have two other intriguing free agents: P.J. Tucker and Patrick Patterson. Toronto is unlikely to keep all four, especially under their current salary structure, in which payroll and luxury taxes would soar well north of $200 million.
That’s why potentially moving Valanciunas and Carroll would be intriguing. But while Valanciunas is still a positive asset, Carroll is a huge negative. Since signing a four-year, $60 million deal two years ago, he has struggled with nagging knee injuries.
Still, he only has two years left at a combined $30 million; paired with Toronto’s No. 23 draft pick, he could become an easy piece to offload. A team with cap space and a need for assets, such as the Brooklyn Nets, might be willing to make that deal.
5. Can any of the team’s young players (other than Norman Powell) become a contributor?
A second-round pick in 2015, Powell has been a revelation. But Toronto has several other first-round picks whose futures are less certain.
The most obvious is 2014 first-round pick Bruno Caboclo, who ESPN’s Fran Fraschilla famously described as “two years away from being two years away.” Caboclo has played a combined 106 minutes in three seasons. It seems unlikely he’ll ever help the Raptors.
The other four first rounders — point guard Delon Wright, power forward Pascal Siakam and centers Jakob Poeltl and Bebe Nogueira — have shown various levels of promise, and could all be forced into bigger roles. If Toronto keeps some of its expensive free agents, trading Valanciunas would free minutes for the two centers, and Wright could be the backup point guard if Cory Joseph is moved to clear money. Or one or more could be packaged with Valanciunas or Carroll to clear some cap room. No matter what happens, this should be a big summer for the Raptors, one that could translate into a big season for them as well.