Raptors roster breakdown: How final cut impacts cap, Raptors 905 and more

With a line set at 36.5 wins, The Raptors Show discusses why the Toronto Raptors will hit the over and how the team might be deeper than they were a year ago.

The Toronto Raptors made their final roster moves of the pre-season Sunday, locking in their 18-man roster for opening night and giving us an early glimpse of what Raptors 905 could look like in the G League.

As far as training camps go, this one was without much roster competition. We knew when the team embarked on Vancouver that they had 15 guaranteed contracts and three players signed to two-way deals, and as it turns out, that is the exact group they’ll start the season with. The questions that existed were more ancillary, like how ready to play Otto Porter Jr. would be or which 905-bound players would stand out most.

The only real roster question was whether Jeff Dowtin Jr. could do enough to carve out a spot. He was the only player among the 21 without preexisting clarity on their spot and, despite his best efforts this fall and last season, the Raptors decided to cut him. Mo Gueye and Makur Maker were also waived, though that was always the expectation.

Because this is the NBA in the year 2023, some of those final transactions require some explanation.

A regrettable Jeff Dowtin Jr. decision

Dowtin’s case, from a roster and salary cap perspective, is very straightforward: The Raptors had 15 guaranteed contracts and Dowtin’s contract was not guaranteed. NBA rosters are not perfectly meritocratic; contracts matter, and Dowtin was the most easily expendable piece to get to roster compliance, from a salary cap perspective.

On a purely basketball basis, Dowtin would likely have made the team. It’s a roster thin on guard play, and he’s provided a steady hand in that regard whenever the Raptors have turned to him. He has often looked more polished than Malachi Flynn and is an order of magnitude more NBA-ready than two-way guard Markquis Nowell. Even ignoring the team’s limited guard depth, it’s hard to let go of a young, inexpensive player who’s shown he can hang in NBA minutes.

Unfortunately, keeping Dowtin would have meant waiving someone with guaranteed money. The Raptors have enough space under the luxury tax line to do that and keep Dowtin, but it’s tight, and the Raptors have preferred to maintain some flexibility under the tax in the event of trades and/or signings later in the season.

I realize some may say that calling this “regrettable” is an exaggeration since it’s the final roster spot and a 26-year-old non-prospect. Everything matters, though. And a Raptors organization that was defined by their success at the margins for a long time has really struggled to find and develop end-of-roster pieces the last few years. Dowtin seems likely to get another NBA opportunity elsewhere, and while these names don’t swing championships, he could join names like Gary Payton II, Yuta Watanabe, Oshae Brissett and others who have stuck as rotation-level pieces elsewhere.

Dowtin now has a few options if he clears waivers. There are 12 open roster spots around the NBA, and while some of those are being kept open for cap and tax purposes, there are opportunities there. Six teams also have a two-way spot open, and Dowtin is eligible. The tough question for Dowtin is whether a two-way deal is worth it. A two-way contract would pay him $560,000, with up to half guaranteed. If he bet on himself and went to the G League awaiting an actual NBA contract, he would earn far less in the interim but $11,600 per day if he’s called up. If he thinks he could stick with a team for 49 days, the money says bet on yourself. There’s also the possibility to get your two-way deal converted, though, and there’s value in being visible in the NBA. It’s a tough decision.

If Dowtin goes to the G League rather than signing a two-way, his rights are owned by Philadelphia’s affiliate, so he would join an organization with a new head coach who we know is fond of his play.

Justise Winslow, the Vision 6’9 prince that was promised

Once upon a time, Justise Winslow was an avatar for the type of player the Raptors were trying to make a roster out of. Large, long, versatile defensively and capable of being a plus-passer on offence, Winslow has always been very Raptors-y, even if he’s technically only six-foot-six. 

His career has been hampered more by injury than by his inability to develop a three-point shot. Teams have shown they’ll play Winslow for his defence and playmaking even if it cramps spacing, but Winslow has missed significant time with wrist, shoulder, back, hip, and ankle injuries. His most recent injury, to his left ankle, required a bone marrow aspirate concentrate procedure and subsequent surgery.

All of that is to say, Winslow is not in the Raptors’ immediate plans. They signed and then waived him this week so that he can go to Raptors 905 with an elevated G League salary. The idea is for Winslow to be able to show that he’s healthy, contribute to the 905, and audition for all 30 NBA teams. If a roster spot opens up on the NBA Raptors, Winslow would surely be in the mix. For now, he’ll lead a very exciting-looking crop of 905ers.

What are Exhibit 10s and who else has one?

The deal Winslow signed is called an Exhibit 10 contract. It is a one-year minimum contract with no guaranteed money, and teams have the right to convert the player to a two-way contract if he is eligible (Winslow is not). These deals can be used as legitimate camp tryout deals, where a team can evaluate a player and keep whoever wins a spot. 

In most cases though, Exhibit 10 deals are used to get an early start on building G League rosters. By signing an Exhibit 10, a player receives a $75,000 bonus if they spend 60 days in the G League. Considering most G Leaguers earn about $40,500 for the season, an Exhibit 10 fundamentally changes the economics of playing in the G League versus going overseas, where most G Leaguers could earn more. Despite the bonus, those players can still be signed by any NBA team while in the G League.

The Raptors used all six of their Exhibit 10s to stock Raptors 905 for the year ahead. In addition to Winslow, Gueye, and Maker, the Raptors had previously signed and waived Kevin Obanor and Darryl Morsell for this reason.

On Sunday, Omari Moore became the sixth and final Exhibit 10, as he was signed and will be subsequently waived. Because the Raptors made this move this late in camp, they will incur a $6,434 cap hit. (Moore receives that $6,434, by the way, which is significant after spending the summer on a two-way with the Bucks that paid him zero dollars.)

Two-ways and Raptors 905 roundup

Those six Exhibit 10s make the core of Raptors 905 for the year ahead. They will be joined regularly by the Raptors’ three two-way players, Nowell, Ron Harper Jr., and camp standout Javon Freeman-Liberty. Those players will mostly be with the 905 but can spend up to 50 games on the active NBA roster.

Harper and Freeman-Liberty have their two-ways guaranteed for the maximum amount, which is $279,900, while Nowell has $75,000 guaranteed.

Despite those guarantees, two-ways are very easy to swap out, as they do not count against the cap or tax. The Raptors could waive one of their two-ways in order to promote another 905er into the spot or to sign someone from another G League organization. They could also convert a two-way player to an NBA deal, if they had a roster spot, and then sign someone else into the two-way spot. Other teams can’t sign your two-way, unlike the Exhibit 10 players, so there is value in having a 905er on a two-way versus an Exhibit 10 or standard G League deal.

The 905 roster currently includes Nowell, Harper, Freeman-LIberty, Winslow, Maker, Gueye, Obanor, Morsell, and Wells.

They can include four more players, either via returning player rights or through the G League draft and open tryouts. The draft and tryout system usually don’t provide much value, so expect a few returners to be in the mix. Jaysean Paige, Jaylen Morris, Keith Williams, and Tra-Deon Hollins are the four players the 905 hold the rights to who are not playing somewhere else right now. Paige and Morris, in particular, would be really nice complements to the existing group.

Raptors 905 camp begins Oct. 30. We’ll provide a breakdown sometime during camp to help you get to know the roster.

The cap and tax situation

Now that the cuts have been made, we have a clear picture of the Raptors’ financial situation. 

Note that the cap and tax numbers are slightly different, as the league uses different criteria for which parts of salary count under the tax. Jakob Poeltl, Thad Young, and Gary Trent Jr., for example, have small bonuses considered “unlikely” that count for the tax and not the cap.

The Raptors have $1.93 million in wiggle room beneath the tax right now, and that expands to $3.18 million if you ignore “unlikely” incentives. That amount is notable for any trades the Raptors engage in, or with any late-season signings. Last year, non-tax teams received about $15 million in payouts from tax-paying teams, so when you’re this close to the tax line, most teams will make sure they avoid it.

What’s next?

Monday is the deadline for rookie-scale extensions for Malachi Flynn and Precious Achiuwa. If they are not extended on Monday, they will be restricted free agents next summer. (It’s possible Flynn becomes unrestricted, as his $5.8-million qualifying offer could be too large depending on how his season goes. Achiuwa’s $6.3-million qualifying offer is more reasonable, given where he is in his development right now.) The Raptors would probably prefer to lock Achiuwa up to a reasonable deal now, but it can safely be revisited in July.

Trent, Pascal Siakam, and Anunoby are also extension-eligible. Those extensions can be done during the season, so there is no Monday urgency in their cases. (Anunoby would technically have to decline his 2024-25 player option to sign an extension once the season starts. Just a technicality, as he’d be doing that in most scenarios, anyway.)

The Raptors will also announce sometime in the coming days that they’ve picked up their 2024-25 option on Scottie Barnes.

Otherwise, that’s it! It’s time to ball.

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