Raptors on the Right Path?

2/23/13 in NBA   |   Andrew_Ericksen   |   230 respect

Feb 22, 2013; Toronto, ON, Canada; Toronto Raptors forward Rudy Gay (22) talks to point guard Kyle Lowry (3) during their game against the New York Knicks at the Air Canada Centre. The Raptors beat the Knicks 100-98. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports10 games into the Rudy Gay Era, things are looking pretty good.  Since the trade, the Raptors are 7-3 with quality wins over the Knicks (twice), the Clippers, and the Pacers.  Their three losses: the Heat, the Celtics, and the Grizzlies.  Now 4.5 games back of Milwaukee for the 8th seed in the playoffs, there’s a decent chance the Raptors could make a run at the postseason.  But the main question is where they will go next; what players they need to hold on to, and which need to be unloaded as the team looks toward the future.
 
Here are the key players the Raptors have under contract for at least the next few years:
 
- Rudy Gay: Approx. $34 million through 2014, player option for $19.3 million in 2015
- Andrea Bargnani: $33 million through 2015
- Amir Johnson: $12.5 million through 2014, team option for $7 million in 2015
- Landry Fields: Approx. $19 million through 2015
- Jonas Valanciunas: Approx. $7 million through 2014, team option to extend for $8 million through 2016
- DeMar DeRozan: Approx. $30 million through 2016
 
Kyle Lowry has a team option deal for next year and Alan Anderson is an upcoming free agent.  That pretty much rounds out the Raptors core players.
 
Gay’s contract is obviously excessive as is Bargnani’s and even DeRozan’s.  Next year the trio will be making nearly $40 million combined, so yeah, someone needs to go.  And my guess is that if you ask 100 Raptors fans who should be the odd man out, at least 95 of your answers will be Bargnani.
 
The Raptors tried extremely hard to move the Italian shooter before the trade deadline, but with a meaty contract, injuries, and a disappointing performance on the court the last few years, Bargnani is a really tough player to move right now.
 
They could try packaging him with DeRozan or Valanciunas, but then they might be losing one of their most enticing options going forward.
 
I think the best solution would be toughing it out with him for another season and trying to move him in 2015 when his contract will be expiring.  First off, maybe he’ll find his stroke back this offseason and become a valuable bench player next year and second off, it’s not like the Raptors will be making a title run in the next two years anyways, so why trade away an important future piece just to clear up some money now?
 
Going into this offseason, the main free agency question for the Raptors is in regards to Kyle Lowry.  He’s had a disappointing season both in terms of injury and production and the Raptors need to decide whether he will be their man going forward.  Jarrett Jack is an intriguing option on the free agent market (though his last stint in Toronto was underwhelming).  Beno Udrih and Jerryd Bayless (another former Raptor) could be good options as well, but if I’m Toronto, I’m sticking with Lowry another year.  He’s a hard-worker that can really take over a game when he’s at his best.  The main question is just how often the Raptors can get him at his best.  Again, the Raptors won’t be making a run at the crown next year, so I say keep Lowry on another year and see what he can do.
 
Elsewhere in free agency, the Raptors may want to consider adding some inside scoring help.  Paul Millsap is probably going to be out of the Raptors price range and more interested in better market teams.  David West may be the same way if he doesn’t stay in Indiana.  But Carl Landry or JJ Hickson won’t cost as much and could provide great support down in the post.  Chris Kaman could also be an option to help groom Valanciunas as a sturdy NBA rebounder and defender.
 
All in all, the Gay trade was a solid move for the franchise, but it’s only a small step.  The next few big moves the Raptors make will truly dictate how far they will go and whether they’ll be able to bring a stronger basketball presence to Canada in the near future.
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