2012/13 Payroll: $53.2 million
2012/13 (Projected) NBA Salary Cap: $58 million
Roughly: $4.8 million under cap
Highlights: Raptors GM Bryan Colangelo has arguably the hardest job in the league. Why? Well, because nobody wants to play for his team. Which makes the work he’s done over the past couple seasons – after understandably overpaying the likes of Hedo Turkoglu, given, as previously noted, that nobody really wants to play in Toronto – all the more impressive, assembling a team that could very well contend for a playoff birth this year while boasting considerable potential should the pieces congeal as hoped.
With no need for more lottery picks to dilute the young talent in the fold and inevitably opt to sign elsewhere, Colangelo pulled off one of the better trades of the offseason in dealing a future lottery pick for Kyle Lowry, one of the league’s five most cap-friendly contracts. The 26-year old point guard, who averaged 14.3 points, 6.6 assists and 1.6 steals for Houston in 2011-12 and is just now entering his prime, will inject the Raptors with welcomed intensity and grit at the point guard position. And he’s owed just $12 million over the next two seasons. The Raptors bolstered their backcourt with the unexpected but commendable selection of 6-7 swingman Terrence Ross with the eighth pick in the draft. Ross is a terrific shooter and dynamic athlete who plays hard and has a high ceiling, and his rookie contract won’t be the least bit burdensome for the Raptors. Former Knicks fan favorite Landry Fields will provide size, toughness and consistency at a reasonable salary.
Set to suit up for the Raptors after reaching a buyout with his Euro club with a ton of hype, having become increasingly dominant on the amateur, world, and professional circuits following his selection with the fifth pick of the 2011 draft, 6-11 center Jonas Valanciunas is on his way to the NBA. Many scouts in Europe felt that he was the top overall talent in the 2011 draft, Kyrie Irving included. With a passion for the game and excellent length and touch, he has the potential to become one of the top true centers in the league someday. The team has Val locked down at under 4 million for the next four seasons of his rookie contract. He gives the team hope for the future as a centerpiece to build around.
Unjustly buried in a frontcourt that will only grow more muddled with the addition of Valanciunas, Ed Davis has proved his worth as a reliable rebounder and shot blocker whose scoring ability on the block has always been underrated. He’s a bargain at $5.4 million over the next two years and should be a good complement to Valanciunas and Bargnani off the bench, and could usurp Bargnani as the future at power forward when Il Magio’s contract expires in 2015.
While the $10.6 million owed to Jose Calderon is a bit much, it’s not necessarily a blemish on the Raptors payroll. Given his standing as the league’s most efficient passer, he’s just about worth the money, and his expiring deal should be attractive to a bunch of teams, with the Mavs already having expressing interest.
An athletic 22-year old shooting guard who averages 16.7 points and is owed just $3.3 million next season, DeMar DeRozan will likely be moved to the 3 position with Ross appearing to be the team’s future at the 2. It’s a make or break season for Derozan in Toronto and he appears primed to bolt when his rookie contract expires at season’s end, he doesn’t project to be a part of the Raptors future, but he could also potentially yield something for the team via trade.
Lowlights: Andrea Bargnani can give you 20 points in a variety of ways, but he’s not good for much else and it’s hard to have faith in a team on which Bargnani is the primary option. The $33 million that he’s owed over the next three years is by no means ludicrous given his impressive scoring arsenal, but his presence could negatively serve the young Raptors’ growth given his poor rebounding ability, ball-dominance and consistently unacceptable effort on the defensive end.
Amir Johnson’s contract was a mistake from the moment the ink dried and the $20 million he’s owed over the next three years looks even more absurd considering he’s been situated as the team’s fourth big man. Amir’s biggest issue is he;s a tweener lacking a true position. Johnson averaged 7.1 points and 6.4 rebounds in 24 minutes a game, and with Valanciunas on the way, it’s hard to imagine that any of those figures will increase.
Linas Kleiza’s contract is even more unappealing, with $9.2 million owed to the Lithuanian small forward over the next two seasons (the second is a player option). With DeRozan, Fields and Ross at the swing, Kleiza could, and should, be bumped from the rotation.
The Future: Though it’s taken Colangelo longer than expected, he’s finally assembled a core of talented youngsters who play both ends and project to complement each other well. Lowry will bring a much-needed change of pace at the point guard position while DeRozan, Fields and Ross promise solid production on the wing with the potential to produce big time in the future.
Bargnani and Valanciunas will make for a nice low block combo, with Valanciunas’ toughness, especially on the boards, complementing Bargnani’s finesse game nicely. Davis is an intriguing young big man with substantial untapped potential.
They still have the amnesty provision to use on either Calderon or Amir Johnson. With one or two more Colangelo heists, we could be looking at the best Raptors team since the days of Vinsanity and T-Mac, only this group is much more likely to stick together for the long haul.