In the midst of a global pandemic that isn’t slowing down anytime soon and just a little over a month after the conclusion of the 2019-20 season, the NBA is starting up again this week. It is going to be a frantic five weeks leading up to opening night on Dec. 22, and it all starts on Monday as the league’s transaction moratorium will be lifted. The draft is on Wednesday and free agency officially starts on Friday at 6 p.m. ET.
The Raptors have a lot to figure out over the next few weeks, including where they’ll be playing this upcoming 72-game regular season. Tampa Bay has emerged as the most likely host city, but plenty can change between now and opening night. This week, Toronto will shift its focus to free agency, where three of its players from its championship core will hit the market, headlined by Fred VanVleet.
Here are our predictions for how things might shake out for the Raptors in the coming weeks:
The championship core: VanVleet, Ibaka & Gasol
The No. 1 priority for the Raptors this offseason is to bring back Fred VanVleet. The trio of VanVleet, Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby allows the Raptors to start looking towards their next window of championship contention, and gives them a core that might entice any available max-level free agents next summer.
VanVleet has made it clear he’s looking to get paid, and rightfully so. Thankfully, this shouldn’t be a particularly difficult negotiation and the Raptors have shown every indication they consider the 26-year-old guard as part of their long-term plans.
The mutual interest is there, and also consider the list of teams that would make sense for VanVleet from a financial and competitive standpoint appears to be dwindling. The Knicks are reportedly looking to use their cap room to take on bad contracts in order to acquire additional assets. The Suns have emerged as a potential suitor for Chris Paul. The Pistons could make a competitive offer, but assuming Toronto isn’t in the business of lowballing its own player, the Raptors are far and away the best current and long-term option for VanVleet on the court, and can make sure he gets paid.
Prediction: Fred VanVleet re-signs with the Raptors for four-years, $84 million
Serge Ibaka also doesn’t appear interested in taking a discount, and with reason. Many have suggested the 31-year-old centre could join a contender for the mid-level exception, and while Ibaka’s name has been mentioned with the Nets, Lakers and Rockets, he is coming off two very impressive seasons with the Raptors, proven he is still a starting calibre player in this league, and will be looking to be compensated as such. The only issue for Ibaka is there isn’t a team out there that can provide him with both a lucrative long-term deal and a chance to compete for a championship. The Raptors have been pretty transparent in their plan to preserve cap room for next summer, so the best they can do is probably a one-year deal in the $20 million range, which would allow Ibaka to explore the market again next summer.
Prediction: Serge Ibaka re-signs with the Raptors for one-year, $22 million
The Raptors could still use Marc Gasol’s skillset, but the proposition becomes tricky especially if Ibaka does return on a one-year deal. Asking Ibaka to come off the bench in another contract year might be too tall of an ask. It feels like if one of the core championship pieces does go this offseason, it will be Gasol.
There are plenty of teams who would make sense for Gasol if he wants to join a contender out west, but Golden State feels like it makes the most sense. With the No. 2 pick in Wednesday’s draft and Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson returning to the court this season, the Warriors are expected to be right back in the championship mix
At 35, Gasol is still one of the best defensive centres in the league, and playing alongside Curry and Thompson means it can alleviate the pressure of having to contribute as a consistent scorer on offence.
Prediction: Marc Gasol signs with the Golden State Warriors for one-year, $5.7 million
The rest of the roster
The two other main roster pieces hitting free agency are Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Chris Boucher. Hollis-Jefferson was a regular contributor during the season, but was not a factor in the playoffs. The Raptors have other options including Dewan Hernandez who might get a look off the bench this season.
Chris Boucher is a restricted free agent. Even in a scenario where both Ibaka and Gasol return, retaining Boucher would seem like a smart move for the Raptors. They’ve devoted considerable time developing his game, and there is still enough upside there to see what the 27-year-old can develop into.
Prediction: Rondae Hollis-Jefferson leaves in free agency
Prediction: Chris Boucher returns on a one-year deal
The trade market
If the Raptors are to explore upgrading their roster in the trade market, their most attractive trade chip would be Norman Powell, who is coming off a season where he emerged as a Sixth Man of the Year candidate. There are two schools of thought here: the Raptors could be trading high on Powell, who has been inconsistent in previous seasons, or they should keep him because the depth on the roster gets pretty thin after the starting five. The latter is probably more important than the former for the Raptors.
Prediction: Norman Powell isn’t traded
The extension candidate
OG Anunoby is eligible for a rookie-scale contract extension before the start of the season. Coming off a breakout year, the price for the 23-year-old forward is only going to go up, especially if Anunoby gets himself into the Defensive Player of the Year and All-Defensive Team conversations this season. The template here would be similar to what the Raptors did with signing Pascal Siakam to a four-year extension last summer, although the price will be comparably lower for Anunoby. Finding a number that works for both sides might be a bit more difficult in this case, especially since Anunoby should be confident in his value rising even more after this season. It feels like the two sides will discuss an extension but ultimately agree to revisit a new contract next summer.
Prediction: OG Anunoby doesn’t sign an extension and heads into next summer as a restricted free agent
Free agency is last on this list because once you take the Raptors’ top three free agents off the board, there aren’t too many exciting names on the market. Montrezl Harrell, Danilo Gallinari and Davis Bertans will command more money elsewhere. Bogdan Bogdanovic is a restricted free agent and expected to have plenty of suitors. After that, the list of what you would define as marquee free agents gets thin really quick.
Assuming the Raptors re-sign VanVleet and Ibaka, they’ll turn their attention to supplementing the bench with some depth. Names that could be interesting, assuming the price makes sense for Toronto: Kris Dunn, Aron Baynes, Harry Giles, and… there’s really not much out there.
Prediction: The Raptors sign either Harry Giles or Kris Dunn
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