Assessing the Raptors’ cap situation in a post-Kawhi world

NBA analyst Alvin Williams joins Sportsnet 590 The FAN to explain why he thinks the Raptors should "seriously consider" using the trade route to rid themselves of expiring contracts, to begin a rebuild in the post Kawhi era.

Kawhi Leonard is a member of the Los Angeles Clippers, meaning the Toronto Raptors, the team he ditched in free agency, now have a much different task ahead of themselves this off-season.

Championship aspirations, for now, are likely on hold as the Raptors have already begun the process of re-tooling. Paramount to successfully becoming a title contender again as quickly as possible will be the way Masai Ujiri, Bobby Webster and Co. handle the team’s cap situation.

With the reported signings of players like Stanley Johnson, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Terence Davis and Patrick McCaw coming in rapid succession since the weekend, we’re beginning to see how Toronto’s front office is positioning the club for the future.

There’s definitely more moves to come, but in the meantime, the Raptors do have enough players on the roster to field a team. As such, now is as good a time as any to make a little assessment of the Raptors’ cap situation in a post-Kawhi world.

NOTE: Salary cap figures and collective bargaining details are sourced via Basketball Insiders and Larry Coon’s CBA FAQ.

2019-20 NBA salary cap

Below is what the official figure for the NBA’s salary cap, luxury tax line and tax apron is set at for next season:

Salary cap: $109,410,000
Luxury tax: $132,627,000
Luxury tax apron: $138,928,000

Remember, the most important figure to keep in mind is the luxury tax line here as a team that exceeds the tax threshold will have to start paying the tax.

Do also keep in mind the tax apron, as the Raptors have access to the full mid-level exception should they end up using all $9.258 million available to them to sign players they’ll be hard-capped at the apron for the remainder of the season. This means a team can’t exceed the apron under any circumstance and therefore can’t make any moves until they find a way to first create room under the apron.

2019-20 Raptors salary cap picture

Here’s a glance at the Raptors’ cap table for the 2019-20 season:

Player Cap Figure
Kyle Lowry $34,996,296
Marc Gasol $25,595,700
Serge Ibaka $23,271,604
Norman Powell $10,116,576
Fred VanVleet $9,346,153
Stanley Johnson* $3,650,000
Pascal Siakam $2,351,839
OG Anunoby $2,281,800
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson* $1,620,564
Chris Boucher $1,588,231 (non-guaranteed)
Malcolm Miller $1,588,231 (non-guaranteed)
Justin Hamilton $1,000,000 (dead cap)
Matt Thomas $898,310
Terence Davis* $898,310
Patrick McCaw Unknown financial information
Dewan Hernandez Unsigned draft pick
  Total: $119,204,152

Looking at this table, you’ll see an asterisk beside some players’ names. These are estimates of what the actual salary could be in accordance to the value of the bi-annual exception, the pool available in the mid-level exception and minimum contract values.

In the case of Johnson, this number was from Basketball Insiders, where they’re forecasting the Raptors are using some of the mid-level exception to pay Johnson, but it’s also possible that Johnson could come in cheaper, at the $3.623-million value of the bi-annual exception.

For Davis, we projected a minimal salary since that’s also what Matt Thomas, another unknown guard, will be making.

Beyond some of that nitty gritty, the Raptors look to be in a good spot to avoid being a tax-paying team next season. Even without concrete information to project what McCaw will be making on his two-year deal, the Raptors have 14 players on the roster and are still about $13.4 million from the tax threshold, something they appear to be purposely trying not to hit given the minimum-value contracts they’ve been handing out thus far – including Hollis-Jefferson’s veteran minimum.

An interesting wild card in all of this is No. 59 pick Dewan Hernandez. He has yet to sign a contract with the Raptors, suggesting the team may be waiting to bring in more minimum-contract guys to get a look at and sign him to a two-way deal where he’ll get more reps and build more confidence with Raptors 905.

Teams can have a maximum of 20 players signed right up into training camp, so bringing in low-risk, possibly high-upside – like the reported Exhibit 10 signing Sagaba Konate – looks like it will be the team-building du jour for the Raptors this summer.

It’s a bit disappointing, especially after they just won a championship, but this is the reality the Raptors face sans superstar player to take them over the hump again.

With that said, this is a scenario Ujiri has very much been prepared for, and it’s all in how he constructed contracts to begin to give the team a built-in reset button.

Raptors multi-year outlook

“What reset button?” you might be asking. Take a look at this table to see for yourself.

Player 2019-20 2020-21 2021-22 2022-23
Kyle Lowry $34,996,296 UFA    
Marc Gasol $25,595,700 UFA    
Serge Ibaka $23,271,604 UFA    
Norman Powell $10,116,576 $10,865,952 $11,615,328 (PO) UFA
Fred VanVleet $9,346,153 UFA    
Stanley Johnson* $3,650,000 $3,832,500 (PO) UFA  
Pascal Siakam $2,351,839 $3,487,777 (QO) UFA  
OG Anunoby $2,281,800 $3,872,215 (TO) $5,634,073 (QO) UFA
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson* $1,737,145 UFA    
Chris Boucher $1,588,231 (non-guaranteed) $1,999,761 (QO) UFA  
Malcolm Miller $1,588,231 (non-guaranteed) $1,999,761 (QO) UFA  
Justin Hamilton $1,000,000 (dead cap)      
Matt Thomas $898,310 $1,517,981 $1,782,621 UFA
Terence Davis* $898,310 $1,517,981 (non-guaranteed) UFA  
Patrick McCaw Unknown financial information Unknown financial information UFA

There will be five unrestricted free agents from the Raptors in the summer of 2020, with a potential sixth in Johnson, and only three players total under contract – potentially only two if Toronto decides not to pick up OG Anunoby’s team option.

Most notable is the three fattest contracts coming off the books in the summer of 2020 in Kyle Lowry, Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka. But there’s no need to wait on next summer as all three should be considered prime trade candidates as the Raptors attempt to re-stock a war chest they exhausted during these past six seasons of championship pursuit.

Perhaps the most likely trade candidate of the trio is Ibaka, who will be 30 when the season starts, doesn’t have as much mileage on him as 33-year-old Lowry and 34-year-old Gasol and is coming off his best season in four years.

The Raptors always understood the risk involved in trading for Leonard last year with what amounted to just one season left on his contract – he had a player option for the 2019-20 season that he was always expected to, and then did, decline – and already had their contracts set up in place for basically all of their key pieces to expire after 2019-20.

In acquiring Leonard, the Raptors managed to keep their timeline and gave themselves an even greater reason to stick with it as, should he leave after one season (as he did), the Raptors would then have time to try to extract value out of their aging roster.

This is what they’re starting to attempt to do now and why they’re signing relative unknowns. There’s no real risk if these players don’t end up working out because they’re hardly costing Toronto anything and they’re more or less just options in case they do end up becoming real players and this new-look Raptors team that’s coming ends up playing much better than anyone expected.

If there is a podcasting odd couple, this might be it. Donnovan Bennett and JD Bunkis don’t agree on much, but you’ll agree this is the best Toronto Raptors podcast going.

Siakam’s extension

And the easiest way the Raptors can jumpstart this new era for themselves would be for Pascal Siakam to continue his meteoric growth arc and to become a bona fide star.

Siakam enjoyed a breakout post-season run that had many anointing him already, but perhaps the true test of Siakam’s ascending star will be what happens between now and the rookie scale extension deadline in October right before the new season starts.

Entering the fourth season of his rookie-scale contract, Siakam is eligible for something called the “designated rookie extension,” a five-year extension that kicks in after a rookie-scale player’s fourth season and allows that player a maximum salary of 25 per cent of the cap, so long as his team offers it up.

In more concrete terms, if using a potential salary-cap number of $117 million for the 2020-21 season, Siakam’s extension would come in at $169.65 million over five years from the Raptors.

This is huge money to commit to a player who looks like he might be a star but isn’t a sure thing.

Had Leonard returned, perhaps this decision would’ve been easier because the Raptors were going to “run it back,” meaning swallowing the huge contract of Siakam’s (and the luxury tax bill that would come with it) would be easy because the team would still be competing for championships.

It isn’t nearly as simple now, and the Raptors have to properly assess just what Siakam is now and what he will become in the future. If they do commit to a big max extension to him they will, by handing him the keys to the car, make him the go-to guy for the first time in his basketball-playing life.

Making a run at 2021?

But even if the Raptors do decide to give Siakam the big payday and he doesn’t thrive as the No. 1 option the way you’d like to see him to, it might not matter because of the summer of 2021.

Look again at that multi-year chart and take a look at who’s under contract in 2021-22. Nearly no one. And while that will certainly change, it’s worth noting because of the potential strength of the free agent class of 2021.

Most notably 2019 MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, other names slated for the summer of 2021 include Blake Griffin, Paul George, LeBron James, Jrue Holiday, Josh Richardson, C.J. McCollum, LaMarcus Aldridge, Mike Conley and Bradley Beal.

If the Raptors also spend next summer loading up on short-term, minimum-contract players, they should be in line to have a ton of cap space to go after one or two of these top names to team up with, hopefully, a flourishing star in Siakam.

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