How will the Raptors approach free agency: Biggest needs, likely targets

Toronto Raptors guard Gary Trent Jr. (33) starts the break out. (Chris O'Meara/AP)

The NBA’s free-agent moratorium will open Monday at 6 p.m. ET, kicking off a week-long period before any agreed-upon deals can be made official that will see rumours flying left and right.

Near the heart of this madness will be the Toronto Raptors, who have one of the hottest free agents that they’ll need to make a decision on in Kyle Lowry.

Though things can change rapidly, Lowry isn’t expected to return to Toronto, ending a nine-year run of unprecedented excellence for the club that culminated in the team’s first-ever NBA championship, and enshrined Lowry as one of the city of Toronto’s sporting icons forever.

With Lowry likely leaving, however, the Raptors will have some big boots to fill and are likely to have the cap space to do it in free agency.

So, with that said, here’s a look at some targets the Raptors might want to go after in free agency.

What do the Raptors need?

As much as the Raptors have tried to mold themselves into a position-less club, coming into free agency, they have some holes to fill in three key areas, two being actual positions.

These three areas are help at point guard, centre help (or just big man help, in general) and better shooting/scoring from the wings.

The reason for point guard help should be obvious. If Lowry leaves in free agency, the team will be left without a good option to start there. Fred VanVleet is better used off the ball as a two-guard, meaning you’ll then be trusting a sophomore Malachi Flynn to run the show or, even unlikelier, the rookie second-rounder point guard David Johnson to do so.

Those aren’t great scenarios, meaning Toronto will need to find some kind of Lowry replacement, at least until Flynn and/or Johnson appear to be ready.

In regards to help with the team’s bigs, this should be obvious. The Raptors were severely hampered last season because Aron Baynes was an outright disaster and while the team’s centre position did manage to turn around a little thanks to the advent of Chris Boucher and late-season pickups Khem Birch and Freddie Gillespie, that still isn’t a good situation for the Raptors here and an upgrade is in order, even if Toronto opts to retain Boucher – which seems likely.

Lastly, about better shooting and/or scoring from the wings, it may seem odd to think the Raptors need to add more there given the apparent core of at those spots with OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam and No. 4 pick Scottie Barnes, but of that trio, only Siakam right now is a true nightly offensive threat.

Last season, Toronto was just the No. 16-ranked offence in the NBA and just the No. 15 ranked three-point shooting team in the league. These are marks that must improve if they’re going to return to prominence again and a way to do so would be by adding some firepower along the perimeter, giving better outlets for players like VanVleet, Siakam and, if he comes as advertised, Barnes when they drive into the paint.

This kind of player can either be a stationary, spot-up shooter or a guy who can knock down threes and put the ball on the deck and create for himself a little, but the fact remains that the Raptors need at least one guy like this, and should look to add him in free agency.

How much cap space do the Raptors have to work with?

Depending on if Lowry stays or not, the cost of restricted free agent Gary Trent Jr., as well as how many of their seven non-guaranteed contracts the Raptors opt to keep next season, Toronto could realistically have anywhere in the range of about a bit more than $8 million to nearly to $28 million.

If the Raptors do carve out that kind of cap space, they’ll also have access to something called the room mid-level exception (or just room exception for short), which is worth about $4.9 million.

If the Raptors don’t end up with cap space after possibly bringing back Lowry, however, there’s still a good chance they would have access to the non-taxpayer mid-level exception to go after a guy, which is expected to be worth about $9.5 million this off-season.

So there could potential be a little or a lot of room to work with, but either way, the Raptors are going to have to head into the free agency looking to add something.

Who are some targets the Raptors might be able to go after?

Finally, this brings us to reasonable targets Toronto could go after. The prices for each of these players will vary, of course, but given all the scenarios the team could find itself in, it’s good to keep an open mind.

Point guards

Kyle Lowry, Toronto Raptors:

Perhaps the easiest way to ensure the Raptors remain competitive with their current core would be if Lowry remained with the Raptors. As mentioned before, it’s increasingly looking like he won’t be a member of the team next season, but he remains the best player on the team and his return would obviously help them win games.

Goran Dragic, Miami Heat:

This wouldn’t be a free-agent signing as the Heat picked up Dragic’s team option, but it would likely be a sign-and-trade that would see the Raptors sending Lowry to Miami.

Dragic is a veteran point guard who brings with him a lot of the same qualities as Lowry. Which is to say, he’s a crafty veteran leader who can get his shot going and understands how to lead a team. He isn’t nearly the defender that Lowry is, but he could serve as a suitable bridge for one season to give Flynn more time to prepare himself to be the Raptors full-time starting point guard.

This deal would likely eat into a lot of the Raptors’ cap space as Dragic is owed $19.4 million this season, and Toronto would need some young pieces coming back in the deal, too, in order to make it worth their while, but something like this isn’t out of the question.

Lonzo Ball, New Orleans Pelicans:

A restricted free agent who looks like he can be picked up because of, ironically, how interested the Pelicans appear to be in Lowry. Could there be a double sign-and-trade to work out between Toronto and New Orleans?

As far as fit goes on the Raptors, Ball has elite size for his position, is a strong multi-positional defender and knows how to run an offence. His jumper is still wonky, but he ticks a lot of boxes the Raptors like.

Spencer Dinwiddie, Brooklyn Nets:

Dinwiddie is a risky target because he’ll be coming off a partial ACL tear in his right knee, but because of that he could be an interesting buy-low, high-return candidate for the Raptors.

Though he’s not much of a shooter, he’s an elite ball-handler at excellent size who can create his own shot and get hot in a hurry – particularly from the mid-range – to absolute bury teams. The Raptors probably want more reliability than what Dinwiddie offers, but they do need a scoring punch, and Dinwiddie can be a microwave scorer.

Bigs

Khem Birch, Toronto Raptors:

Birch got a 19-game tryout with the Raptors last season and, for the most part, looked pretty good, averaging 11.9 points and 7.6 rebounds in a little over 30 minutes per game, primarily as a starter.

That’s solid production, and with Birch improving as an outside threat, too, the Raptors could do worse than bringing back the Canadian to help with their centre position woes.

Jarrett Allen, Cleveland Cavaliers: This would be the crown jewel prize for the Raptors this off-season if they could make it happen. The issue, of course, is trying to make it happen.

Allen is a restricted free agent and despite Cleveland also drafting talented big man Evan Mobley, odds are they’re going to try to retain Allen’s services, meaning it’s going to take a gigantic offer sheet to pry him from the Cavaliers’ hands.

If Toronto can acquire Allen, however, they’ll be getting one of the best young centres in the NBA. He isn’t a threat to shoot from the perimeter, but he’s a terror on the inside on both ends of the floor and competes and plays extremely hard.

Richaun Holmes, Sacramento Kings:

A popular possible target because of his athleticism, finishing ability around the basket and shot-blocking ability, Holmes does a lot of things that Allen does – and can’t do, as they’re both poor three-point shooters – but does them at respectable, instead of outstanding level.

He’s likely to come cheaper than Allen would as well – to say nothing that he’s an unrestricted free agent, meaning acquiring him would be theoretically easier, too.

Nerlens Noel, New York Knicks: Noel is a defensive anchor with limited offensive game.

The Raptors would probably want to have more of a roll threat at the five than what Noel provides, but if you want a big who can protect the paint and is able to hedge out on ball-handlers and switch with ease on defence then you’d be hard-pressed to find someone better.

Wings

Gary Trent Jr., Toronto Raptors:

The Raptors traded Norman Powell at the trade deadline with main piece coming back to them in the transaction being Trent, so odds are they’re going to be looking to retain the restricted free agent.

There’s a chance he’ll come in at a number higher than most would like to see, but he’s only 22 and has flashed some huge offensive upside over the three seasons he’s been in the league, particularly as a sharpshooter who can occasionally create his own shot.

He mostly showed this version of himself in Portland, but the hope is that with a full training camp to get adjusted to the Raptors’ system the player Toronto thought it was acquiring at the deadline will emerge.

Doug McDermott, Indiana Pacers:

Given how sparsely Raptors coach Nick Nurse used Matt Thomas, adding a player like McDermott, who would be brought in only to shoot the ball, may seem like a poor fit. But McDermott has the advantage of being six-foot-seven, 225 pounds and also a deadly three-point shooter.

That’s much bigger than the six-foot-four, 190 pounds that Thomas features and would help to McDermott to keep on the floor, because even though he doesn’t have the fleetest of feet and isn’t the stoutest of defenders, McDermott’s size still allows him to be inherently more disruptive defensively than Thomas was, meaning he’ll likely be afforded more opportunity to allow his offence do the talking for him.

Norman Powell, Portland Trail Blazers,
Tim Hardaway Jr., Dallas Mavericks,
Will Barton, Denver Nuggets,
Duncan Robinson, Miami Heat:

We grouped these four players together because these guys would be ideal free agent signings for the Raptors, but seem unlikely.

Toronto just traded away Powell and he looks to be a priority for the Blazers to retain this off-season. The same can be said of Hardaway and Barton, who, like Powell, are strong shooters who can heat up and become explosive scorers for a team for a game or two, but are key off-season priorities for their team.

Of this quartet, Robinson is the most interesting because he’s a restricted free agent and is among the game’s best marksmen from deep, while showing himself to be an improving defender with the added ability to maybe be able to guard three positions in a pinch at six-foot-seven and 215 pounds.

What makes Robinson intriguing for the Raptors, specifically, is if there is a deal brewing between them and the Heat involving Lowry and Dragic, you’d have to think Robinson would be one of the pieces the Raptors would want coming back in the deal, something that would instantly make such a transaction look pretty damn good from Toronto’s perspective.

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