Toronto Raptors' Conundrum Without Kawhi Leonard
The Kawhi Leonard contract situation creates a unique problem the Toronto Raptors have never been adept at solving. July 1st, 2019, will be a franchise changing moment perhaps more so than the DeMar DeRozan, Jacob Poeltl, and a protected 2019 pick for Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green was. The team payroll without Kawhi Leonard will be around $117 million.
However, its the NBA, so you cannot just replace a contract. The salary cap for this season is $101.869 million. The luxury tax is $123.733 million. This means without Leonard, the Raptors are under the luxury tax but over the soft cap.
If they are resigning Leonard, their status being over the soft cap doesn't matter. However, signing a free agent from another franchise would not be allowed as the Raptors are over the cap. There are your mid-level and bi-annual exceptions that they could use, however, the amount that could be spent under these exceptions would not return a talent of Leonard's capabilities.
Therefore, a combination of trades and or signings would have to occur to get the Raptors under the cap to sign someone or return the departing skills of Leonard via a trade(s).
There is another $16.4 million dollars the Raptors could easily eliminate from their payroll, by simply not resigning four players. They would be Danny Green, Lorenzo Brown, Delon Wright and Greg Monroe. The irony is you traded DeRozan for cap space. These moves. though, put you at the salary cap with a hope that next summer it rises.
It means the Raptors would have to move either Kyle Lowry ($33 .3 million), Jonas Valanciunas ($17.6 million) or Serge Ibaka ($23.2 million). In this scenario, Lowry's $33 million next year would bring you the best chance to restock your roster and get a player in return if you trade him.
However, Lowry's age would dictate you would get a similar player in return at a similar price or a series of projects or picks. Now, you've lost three starters, Leonard, Lowry and Green for unproven potential, money you may never be able to spend and or a series of picks or expiring contracts. It could be a problem and Toronto's history suggests it will.
Toronto president, Masai Ujiri and GM Bobby Webster, are betting they can keep Kawhi Leonard, in Toronto. Failing that, they must believe they can revamp this roster in a way no other Toronto Raptors management team has been able to do. Here is an abbreviated version of successes and failures the Raptors have experienced in their 23-year lifespan during free agency:
In a second stint with Toronto, Rafer Alston signed a multi-year deal in the summer of 2004. Due to attitude and fueds, with then-coach Sam Mitchell, he was traded to Houston for Mike James.
Hedo Turkoglu had spent five mostly successful seasons in Orlando and was coming off a season, in which, he averaged 16.8 pts per game and was an NBA finalist in the 2008-09 season. Raptors, then GM, Bryan Colangelo, signed Turkoglu to a five year $53 million dollar contract. Hedo Turkoglu was a bust for Toronto averaging 11.3 pts. per game and was traded to Phoenix for Leandro Barbosa and Dwayne Jones in July 2010.
Then, there was Landry Fields, originally signed in the summer of 2012, as a restricted free agent mainly to hamper the Knicks ability to sign then free agent Steve Nash. Colangelo's grand scheme fell apart. The Knicks did not match the offer to Fields. Nash signed with the Lakers and Colangelo and the Raptors were stuck with Fields.
Now, that seems mean, because, by all accounts, Fields was a solid defender and rebounder and a respectable 3-point shooter. But, there should have been some homework done, by Bryan Colangelo. In Fields' second season, he only shot 25.6% from 3-point range, while he was a good 39.3% in his rookie season. It wasn't until months after he had signed his 3-year $19.5 million dollar contract with Toronto that the Raptors and Fields' learned he had damage to a nerve, in his shooting arm. He was never the same.
The list goes on. Fred Jones was signed to a 3-year $11 million contract and he played 39 games. Michael Yogi Stewart from 1999 to 2002 was signed to a 6-year $24 million dollar contract and he played in 121 games over parts of four seasons, for Toronto, never averaging more than 2 points per game, as a center.
There was center Nate Huffman, who appeared, in seven games, signed to a 3 year $5.2 million dollar contract in 2002. There were some good signings too, such as Anthony Parker, Jamario Moon, Tracy Murray and Walt Williams.
Jose Calderon was perhaps the best - a constant lights out free throw shooter, he was a good shooter from beyond the arc. He constantly was near the top of the league in assist to turnover ratio and was Toronto's point guard from 2005 to 2013 and at age 37 is still hooping with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
We have heard it all why good free agents don't want to come to Toronto. Issues, such as, taxes are too high, not wanting your family or children to learn the metric system, its too cold, its a different culture, the team isn't good enough and the list goes on. Regardless, as to the Raptors recent five-year history, whether the Raptors management team revamps the roster or rebuilds, should Kawhi Leonard walk away, Masai Ujiri and Bobby Webster have some tough choices to make in the summer of 2019.
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