It’s was discussed when the Toronto Raptors won it all in June, and again when Kawhi Leonard announced he was heading to the Los Angeles Clippers. It was discussed at media day and will continue to be discussed as we work through training camp and into the regular season:
On Sunday, Sportsnet’s Michael Grange’s touched on the Lowry situation so we won’t go into it much here — as team president Masai Ujiri said on media day, Lowry has now reached “legacy status” with the club meaning his situation is a lot different than the others because of what he means to the franchise from a historical standpoint.
As for Gasol, Ibaka and VanVleet, however, what Ujiri decides with these three is much more indicative of both the Raptors’ short-and-long-term direction. Let’s take a closer look at each of their cases:
Gasol is one of only two men to win an NBA title and a FIBA Basketball World Cup gold medal in the same calendar year. But as someone who’s turning 35 in late January it’s worth wondering how much he realistically has left in the tank.
Gasol is owed $25.6 million this season and then he’s off the Raptors’ books. He proved in his half-season and stellar playoff run last season that he can be a difference-maker on defence and still has the range from deep and vision as a distributor to still be a good contributor. Even with those pluses, is he still worth keeping around?
The idea of keeping Gasol for the entire year and then seeing that big chunk of change immediately clear as he enters free agency might sound attractive at first but when you consider how weak the 2020 free agency class is expected to be (with Draymond Green and DeMar DeRozan the likely top targets) the notion of having a ton of cap space becomes that much less attractive.
So then, does this mean the Raptors should automatically trade Gasol? Not necessarily, but it should be an option on the table — especially if this looks to be a team that’s more likely to be competing for a No. 5 or 6 seed than for a spot atop the Eastern Conference standings. Extracting value of some kind and maybe doing Gasol a solid by shipping him to another legitimate contender wouldn’t be the worst end to his tenure in Toronto.
Of course, should the Raptors deal Gasol, they’re going to want to make sure that whatever contract coming back helps align them to get money off the books for the summer of 2021.
It’s a task that might prove difficult because every team will be looking to do just that as that will be the summer of Giannis Antetokounmpo’s free agency.
As such, perhaps then the best option for the Raptors would be to just hold onto Gasol and then try to convince him to re-sign with the club on a one-year deal so the team can keep financial flexibility and have a shot to chase free agents in the summer of 2021 while Gasol potentially gets one last big pay day.
The Raptors face a similar situation with Ibaka as they do with Gasol.
Many of the same factors the Raptors must weigh with Gasol must also be considered with Ibaka. This includes the fact that having a lot of money come off the books for the summer of 2020 isn’t as valuable as having flexibility for 2021.
With Ibaka, however, he has the advantage of relative youth over Gasol. A 30-year-old big man who showed both shot-blocking acumen and deadly pick-and-pop ability last season, Ibaka is probably more attractive to prospective teams looking to add talent for a playoff run than even Gasol simply because Ibaka probably has a lot more left to give.
With that said, the chance the Raptors might just re-sign Ibaka, preferably on a one-year deal, still exists, just like with Gasol.
“I think Kyle, Serge and Gasol really, really showed maturity in the playoffs last year,” said Ujiri. “The roller coaster that this game can bring is incredible. I thought those guys showed unbelievable composure as veteran players and I think it’s going to carry into this year.”
“There were times where we were low,” he continued, “and those veteran players were always calm, were always confident and they were cheering for the young players. We really appreciate them as an organization and as a team.”
Ujiri said this on media day in response to a question about Lowry, Gasol and Ibaka’s expiring contracts. Based off these comments it appears as if Ujiri would like to keep all three veterans to be voices in the locker room for the younger players on the Raptors roster.
This is a nice notion but the likelihood that all three will remain with the Raptors for at least one more season after this one doesn’t appear to be high.
The keys to the car are going to be handed over to 25-year-old Pascal Siakam this season and building around him with older players doesn’t make the most sense.
As stated before, Lowry’s case is special because of the legacy status he holds with the club, but between Gasol and Ibaka it probably makes more sense for the Raptors to hold onto Ibaka if only because at 30-years-old he can still be effective and help with the transition of what appears to be a Siakam-led Raptors for the time being.
Lastly, there’s VanVleet.
The contract situation VanVleet finds himself in is very different to those of Lowry, Gasol and Ibaka.
That’s because, even though he was probably just as important to each of those players to Raptors title run last season, there may be less of a decision to wrestle with when it comes to re-signing the clutch shooter.
VanVleet is still only due to make about $9.3 million this season and even though he’ll almost certainly be in line for a raise it’s not like it’ll be a maximum contract.
What’s more, he’s only 25 years old and figures to be a big part of the future for the Raptors. He should be looked upon as a player who can make an impact on the court and also potentially help with free-agent pitches as a solid, reliable point guard with championship pedigree and toughness.
An unrestricted free agent this coming summer there is, of course, the possibility that he takes an offer from another team. But given how the Raptors have invested in VanVleet and will continue to do so this season, you’d have to think that Ujiri and Co. will look to re-sign him and keep him in a Dinos jersey for the foreseeable future.