Ever since Chris Bosh left for Miami and, more recently, with the emergence of DeMar DeRozan as one of the NBA’s elite two-guards, the Toronto Raptors have struggled to populate their two forward positions.
Even as the NBA shifted away from fixed roles on the floor – “position-less basketball” – running out a skilled mobile big man who can help control rebounds and protect the rim is still important and the kind of wing who can match up with the other team’s best offensive player, score some himself and switch comfortably on defence when needed is helpful, too.
Injuries and an (at times) awkward fit in a Raptors offence that didn’t always cater to his basket cuts in space made the $30-million owed to Carroll over the next two years money that Raptors president Masai Ujiri was working hard to trade in the off-season.
He finally found a taker in the Brooklyn Nets, who required the Raptors to throw in a lottery-protected first-round pick in 2018 and their second-round pick as well to take Carroll off their hands. The Raptors took back Justin Hamilton. It was reported by Brian Windhorst of ESPN that Hamilton will be waived and the Raptors will stretch the payment of the remaining two years and $6 million on his contract to minimize its impact on their salary cap in the short term.
Carroll will go down as a rare Ujiri move that that never quite clicked, although the Raptors did win 56 and 51 wins with him on the roster.
But moving Carroll – first reported by Adrian Wojnarowski in the wee hours of Sunday morning – meant the Raptors’ positional cookie jar was never more empty.
And with the Raptors committed to paying the trio of DeMar DeRozan, Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka roughly $81 million next season, and likely headed for luxury tax territory, it wasn’t clear how Ujiri was going to restock.
Then later Sunday came the next shoe to drop. It was reported the Raptors have agreed to ship out Pickering, Ont.’s own Cory Joseph to the Indiana Pacers in a sign-and-trade for C.J. Miles.
The six-foot-six Miles will likely start in Carroll’s old spot and should be an upgrade even on a team-friendly deal of $25 million over three years. Miles has turned himself into a solid three-point shooter, knocking down 38 per cent on an average of 8.6 threes per game over the past five seasons. He’s one of the best at corner threes in the NBA, converting 51 per cent last season and 46.7 the season before that.
But the Raptors still have some gaps to fill, particular at power forward, forever a weak spot for Toronto and still one since the plan is to move Ibaka to centre. Unless they decide to start Miles as an under-size power forward alongside Norman Powell as an under-sized small forward, there could be more moves to come.
Depth remains an issue as the internal candidates at power forward are second-year man Pascal Siakam, still raw Bruno Caboclo, and newly drafted rookie OG Anunoby, who is coming off knee surgery and isn’t expected to be at full speed until November.
Powell deserves a bigger role heading into his third season, and Siakam and Caboclo have promise, but as a group it’s not good enough for a team with so much money tied up in all-star calibre veterans.
The good news is that by executing a sign-and-trade for Miles and waiving Hamilton, the Raptors salary commitments are about $121 million for next season. If they can shed another few million they will be under the $119-million luxury tax limit and could even get low enough to use the full mid-level exception to sign one more player. In the current market a deal starting at $8.4 million could bring back some quality.
Remaining targets for the Raptors available in free agency are – logically – Memphis Grizzlies forward JaMychal Green, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, who had a decent year with the Los Angeles Clippers, or the well-travelled Ersan Ilyasova.
With Carroll and Joseph gone, the Raptors are closer to having some much-needed financial flexibility. The addition of Miles fills some important holes, but there is still work to be done.