The Toronto Raptors have been an NBA laughingstock for over a decade now, with just one season over .500 since the 2001-2002 campaign. The franchise hasn’t won a playoff series since 2001. But finally, thanks to new GM Masai Ujiri, it seems like they’re getting back on the path toward respectability. Ujiri did it in Denver, and I’d bet he pulls it off in Toronto. Remember, Ujiri already wisely dumped Andrea Bargnani on the Knicks last summer. Clearly, one of Ujiri’s strong suits is identifying the clueless general managers and dumping bad salaries on them. Don’t be shocked when he pulls off a stunner with the Brooklyn Nets.
Ujiri’s trump card in Denver was Carmelo Anthony – so he shipped him to New York for whatever he could. The Knicks, essentially bidding against themselves, gave up far too much. (It’s come back to haunt them now, but let’s not talk about the Knicks again.) The Raptors have three trump cards – 1) Rudy Gay, 2) DeMar DeRozan, 3) Kyle Lowry.
Gay is owned $37 million over the next two years, so they shipped him to Sacramento for whatever they could. DeRozan is slated to make $9.5 million each of the next four years, and while he’s an improving 24-year old shooting guard (21.6 ppg), he’s a career 26% three-point shooter (though he has greatly improved this season to 35%). Would an offensively-challenged team – say, Charlotte? – overpay for DeRozan? Lowry is a free agent after this year, and other teams will covet his expiring contract, so there’s a chance he gets dealt for an under-the-radar player who Ujiri secretly covets. The last move has been perfected in recent years by Daryl Morey in Houston.
No, Toronto isn’t a free agent destination (but it is a lovely city!). So Ujiri has to do what he did in Denver – build a balanced, deep team with lots of very good players and no big salaries. The 2012-2013 Nuggets had nine players averaging between 8-16.7 ppg and won 57 games, but lost arguably their best offensive player, Danilo Gallinari, before the playoffs, and then ran into a hot Warriors team.
I don’t think the Kings merit discussion. Rudy Gay at the stretch 4 with Cousins, Derrick Williams, Ben McLemore and a bunch of guards not named Jimmer Fredette? See you guys in the lottery (again). And again in 2015. And again in 2016.
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