VanVleet situation among biggest Raptors questions ahead of free agency

Where will the Raptors play the upcoming NBA season? Will Fred VanVleet re-sign in Toronto? What do the latest moves from the Bucks mean? Raps General Manager Bobby Webster weighs in on all things basketball with Tim & Sid.

Compared to many other teams around the league, the Toronto Raptors had a relatively quiet draft Wednesday night.

They ended up just using their two picks to select San Diego State point guard Malachi Flynn and Nevada combo guard Jalen Harris with No. 29 and 59 selections, respectively.

It’s unclear yet just what kind of upgrade these two players may provide the Raptors, but both young men appear to be NBA ready, at the very least, fitting the profile of older collegiate players with experience and maturity that Toronto’s front office seem to favour.

Now with the draft in the rearview, the Raptors will turn their attention to free agency, which opens Friday at 6:00 p.m. ET.

In the aftermath of the draft, and now heading into free agency, the team still has questions to answer -- beyond the obvious one of where they’re going to play this coming season. Here are three of the biggest:

Are the Raptors now in the driver’s seat for VanVleet?

By now you’re probably acutely aware that the biggest piece of off-season business for the Raptors will be trying to re-sign Fred VanVleet.

You’re also probably aware of the fact VanVleet is looking for a big-time payday as one of the top free agents on the market -- an understandable source of consternation for Raptors fans, who may be afraid that his big payday exists elsewhere.

If you're worried about the Raptors possibly losing VanVleet, however, you may not be aware that it seems VanVleet’s market outside of Toronto could be shrinking.

Of the initially projected outside suitors for VanVleet’s services -- the Phoenix Suns, Detroit Pistons and New York Knicks -- there’s a chance that only the Knicks remain as serious competition for VanVleet.

That's because earlier this week the Suns reportedly made a big trade for Chris Paul from the Oklahoma City Thunder, meaning the starting role VanVleet is likely desiring is off the table, as Paul will start alongside Devin Booker in Phoenix’s backcourt.

As for Detroit, as ESPN’s Bobby Marks reported, by acquiring Trevor Ariza from the Houston Rockets Wednesday night, they lost a good chunk of their cap space that could’ve been used to sign VanVleet in free agency.

That leaves the Knicks as the Raptors’ most realistic competitors for VanVleet, and if it comes down to a choice between New York and Toronto you have to think the Raptors have the edge. They know VanVleet well and have been far more successful of late (though the Knicks offer a big-market appeal).

And, as it turns out, there may not even be any competition from the Knicks as it's been reported that New York's been in hot pursuit of Gordon Hayward.

Should Hayward sign with New York that would potentially be another possible destination for VanVleet crossed off the list.

Granted, if VanVleet really wants to play in Phoenix, Detroit, New York or anywhere else, he will do that as it’s his earned the right to choose a team as an unrestricted free agent, but logically speaking, based off his own comments, the fact the Raptors have publicly stated they want him back and an apparent dwindling market for him, things are looking good for VanVleet to remain a Raptor for the foreseeable future.

What’s the Raptors’ biggest need heading into free agency?

While getting VanVleet locked up is the most important piece of business for the Raptors heading into free agency, doing so won’t address their most important need.

Taking a look at the club’s depth chart, you’ll see a glaring hole at the two big man spots that the team should look to address.

With both Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol being free agents, the Raptors are only left with Dewan Hernandez and Chris Boucher -- who also may not remain with the club as he’s a restricted free agent -- as the team’s true bigs.

The Raptors could have addressed this need in the draft but went with Flynn and Harris as they believed they were the two best players available to them at the time, even if it meant adding to an already loaded part of the depth chart.

So it’ll be up to the Raptors’ front office to find big men to fill out the roster and there are a couple ways they can do it.

The best option would probably be to re-sign Ibaka. Though he recently turned 31, Ibaka’s coming off the best season of his pro career and the Raptors aren’t likely to find much of an upgrade on him in free agency outside of, perhaps, Montrezl Harrell.

And should re-signing Ibaka not be an option, another interesting solution for the Raptors might exist in the trade market.

One example is Canadian centre Kelly Olynyk, who is picking up his $13.6-million player option with the Miami Heat. Olynyk could be an attractive trade chip for Miami, as an expiring contract and as a player who fits the mold for modern, floor-stretching big men.

Could there be a trade fit with the Raptors? Olynyk would gel with the team’s offence as a skilled facilitator who can shoot the ball. Plus, adding a notable Canadian national team star to the Raptors roster would be pretty cool to see.

Keep in mind, this is just speculation, but the Raptors really do need a big and if retaining Ibaka isn’t an option then they could certainly do worse than Olynyk.

What other holes could the Raptors could look to address?

Should the Raptors take care of VanVleet and address their hole at centre, the club’s immediate needs will likely be met, but that doesn’t mean the team will be without some weaknesses that need to be shored up.

Looking at the Raptors’ depth chart of wings, you’ll see a lot of names, but only a few of them are guys you’d trust to take the floor for extended minutes. The Raptors addressed this issue somewhat by drafting Harris, but he’s an unknown commodity right now, so it might do the team some good to seek upgrades at that spot, even if only moderate.

Another area the Raptors could stand to improve in is looking for a suitable backup for Pascal Siakam at the four. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson was probably supposed to the backup to Siakam as an energy combo forward, but that just didn’t pan out.

Hollis-Jefferson is a free agent and in all likelihood won’t be back for this coming season, meaning the Raptors once again will need to find someone to spur Siakam and even, at times, do the same for OG Anunoby and play alongside the Raptors' cornerstones in some lineups.

There’s some overlap to be found here with the team’s search for big men, but free agents like Jerami Grant or maybe even Christian Wood could fit the bill here, although it’s possible both of those players may be out of Toronto’s price range.

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