Conducting an ideal Raptors summer: Malik Monk, Fred VanVleet and the 33rd pick

If this is poised to be a relatively stress-free offseason for the Toronto Raptors, I’d hate to take part in a stressful one. Maybe I shouldn’t have dropped Grade 12 calculus.

As I laid out in the Raptors offseason primer, the team is all but certain to act as an above-the-cap, below-the-tax team, which significantly limits the team-building options at team president Masai Ujiri’s disposal. There is the non-taxpayer midlevel exception, the biannual exception, the ability to re-sign their own free agents and minimum-value contracts. In addition to that, the Raptors traded away their first-round pick, so they now have just the third pick of the second round, No. 33, to use. There are also trade discussions to have, but have you seen the NBA’s collective bargaining agreement? Putting together a deal is hard.

Even still, these things create anxiety. Knowing the Raptors want to avoid the luxury tax this season and at least make it plausible to do so in the coming years while letting their core players grow together, it is paramount to not hand out more long-term contracts than necessary. Still, the Raptors have several needs, and they want to be competitive in 2022-23. They don’t need to make a leap from their fifth-place finish in the Eastern Conference this past season, but it would be nice. At the minimum, the Raptors want to tread water, getting some more valuable playoff experience for Scottie Barnes and the rest of the team, hopefully with fewer injuries this time around.

So here is my first crack at what amounts to an ideal offseason for the Raptors. To borrow from last year: I’m operating within the realm of reasonable circumstances here, which means I’m not going to posit that Giannis Antetokounmpo will demand a trade to Toronto. Also, these are not predictions. I don’t necessarily believe these things will happen; I only believe it is possible they will.

June 23: With the 33rd pick of the NBA Draft, the Raptors select Wendell Moore Jr. from Duke University.

The player I said was the most Raptors-like prospect potentially available at No. 33, Arizona’s Dalen Terry, is now being mocked in the first round. Another pair of players who seem like fits, Leonard Miller of Fort Erie International Academy and Harrison Ingram of Stanford, are going to the G League and back to school, respectively. I don’t think either of the top centres likely to be around in this range, Christian Koloko and Ismael Kamagate, are special enough to really fit with the Raptors’ defensive mindset.

Increasingly, I like Moore. Remember what it felt like when late in his rookie year, Norman Powell emerged as a viable rotation option? It was awesome, and perhaps essential to the Raptors’ eventual title. (Without Powell’s performance in Game 5 against the Indiana Pacers, do the Raptors lose in the first round in 2016 and blow it up before Kawhi Leonard becomes available a few offseasons later?) Moore, perhaps, isn’t an upside play, lacking some of the raw athleticism and off-the-bounce explosiveness that pop in the NBA. He spent three years at Duke, meaning he is an older prospect. He’ll turn 21 before the season starts.

However, the guy knows how to play. He did a little bit of everything for one of the best teams in the country, and a smaller offensive role could lead to a better, more consistent application of his 7-foot wingspan on defence. With a history as a playmaker and at least decent shooting numbers, Moore could contribute this season if he is developed correctly. I have the Raptors signing him to a two-year contract at the minimum, but they could dip into either a midlevel or biannual exceptions to try to sign him to a longer deal.

June 27: Svi Mykhailiuk opts into the second year of his contract, worth $1.88 million.

A matter of accounting that the Raptors might as well accept immediately.

July 1: The Raptors agree to terms with free-agent guard Malik Monk on a three-year, $32.6 million deal, with a team option for 2024-25. The Raptors also agree to terms with Chris Boucher on a two-year, $22.88 million deal, with $3 million guaranteed in 2023-24.

I had Monk as my No. 2 Raptors target in free agency behind Bobby Portis, but I believe a) Portis is likely to re-sign with Milwaukee and b) the need on the perimeter might be more difficult to fill than the one inside. Monk comes with very real questions defensively, and the Raptors will have to be prepared to coach him up on that end. However, he is just 24 and an excellent shooter. He also has some secondary playmaking chops he flashed in Los Angeles.

It might be wishful thinking to believe the Raptors could get a team option on the third year of the deal. We’ll see. Since I’m trying to lean optimistic while staying realistic, we’ll include it here.

Boucher’s free agency is fascinating, given how strange of a player he is stylistically and in terms of age — a relatively inexperienced player who turns 30 next year. There is no doubting how productive he has been over the past two seasons, but is he the type of player a team is going to attack in free agency to address a need? I’m a bit skeptical. To that end, the Raptors give him slightly more than the midlevel exception to get him to stay, plus a nice guarantee in the second season with a player-friendly guarantee date to make sure he walks away with $14 million plus another shot to hit free agency next summer, at the very least.

July 3: The Raptors agree to terms with Thaddeus Young on two-year, $12.48 million deal, with a team option for 2023-24. They also agree to terms with JaVale McGee on two-year, $8.3 million deal, with a team option for 2023-24, and they renounce rights to restricted free agent Yuta Watanabe.

All of this is happening on July 3 because I have a wedding to attend that night, making it virtually certain news will break at the worst possible time for me. It’s an ideal offseason for the Raptors, not me.

Young turns 34 next week, and I doubt teams will be chasing him with significant exceptions. Even two guaranteed years at the biannual exception would be less than $6 million for 2022-23 with the Raptors and his veteran’s minimum for any team for the following season. A team option gives the Raptors a bit of flexibility in case they love what he is bringing.

I think the McGee signing is the least likely part of this whole exercise. The Raptors have preferred to keep the back half of their roster young, and signing McGee to be a depth piece, which is what he would be, gives the Raptors two players in their mid-30s who might not play every night. If I had to predict, I’d say the Raptors will not use the biannual exception, instead creating more of a training camp competition with young players on partially guaranteed deals. I would prefer to bring in McGee as a rim deterrent and lob threat. Hey, Masai Ujiri traded for him a decade ago in Denver, and he’s become an Olympic champion and three-time NBA champion since then.

Using that spot on McGee makes a real training camp competition less likely, so the Raptors choose to do right by a player who fit well with the team but could not stay healthy, making Watanabe unrestricted.

July 4: Dalano Banton remains on the roster, guaranteeing $300,000 of his 2022-23 salary.

The Raptors obviously want Banton at NBA Summer League and in their developmental program, so they guarantee an extra $150,000 on his contract for a total of $300,000.

July 20: The Raptors sign Justin Champagnie to a two-year contract at the minimum; they sign David Johnson to two-year contract at the minimum, $150,000 guaranteed for 2022-23, with escalating guarantees if he remains on roster; and they sign Julian Champagnie to a two-year contract at the minimum, $100,000 guaranteed.

This will allow the Raptors to make decisions based on Summer League performances. Surely, Justin Champagnie and Johnson will be on the roster in Vegas. I wouldn’t be surprised if Justin Champagnie and the Raptors come to an agreement before this, but let’s pencil him in for a guaranteed contract for two seasons, with his LVSL play securing what they already know: They want to work with Justin Champagnie for years to come.

Like Justin Champagnie, Johnson was on a two-way contract last year, which means the Raptors must extend a qualifying offer for nearly $1.58 million to retain his rights as a restricted free agent. If they did this with no prior arrangement, Johnson might be obliged to take it. However, I’m going to assume the injury-plagued year cools Johnson’s potential landing spots, which will result in him accepting a two-year deal with $150,000 guaranteed. He will have a chance to fight for a roster spot in training camp.

And what the hell, I’m signing Julian Champagnie to a training-camp deal, a present for the version of myself that is a beat writer not an executive. Champagnie brothers feature coming up!

Aug. 1: The Raptors keep Armoni Brooks on their roster, guaranteeing him $250,000.

This allows Brooks to come to training camp to fight for a roster spot.

Sept. 6: The Raptors sign Fred VanVleet to a four-year, $114.9 million extension.

Why is this happening on this date? Well, it will have been the 61st day since the Raptors were eligible to sign VanVleet to a contract extension, with the 60 prior picks representing all the selections used to draft other players in 2016.

I agree with The Athletic’s John Hollinger that the Raptors should be thrilled if they can get VanVleet to sign this deal — especially without a player option on the final season, which I’m excluding here. I would bet against the two sides agreeing to a deal this offseason, because there is no deadline for the parties to come to an agreement, and because so many teams might have significant cap room in 2023, when VanVleet can opt out of his contract. However, if some of those teams sign players and effectively eliminate their cap room for next summer, it becomes a dicier play. Sure, VanVleet has made a brand on continually pushing his chips all in, but this deal would lock him into nearly $197 million in career earnings, with him still becoming a free agent again at 33. That’s not too bad.

From the Raptors’ perspective, assuming revenue growth of five percent annually, VanVleet’s contract would take up 19.9 percent of the cap in 2022-23, and about 21.7 percent in 2026-27. That’s not a deal without risk, surely, but it also doesn’t feel likely to become an albatross during its existence.

Negotiations can begin with Pascal Siakam on a contract extension on Oct. 1. I think both parties will be content to talk about potential frameworks, but I don’t think the Raptors would be in a rush to offer Siakam a maximum-value deal two full seasons out from his free agency, and I don’t think Siakam would be likely to accept less than that at this moment.

Outlook

Here is what the cap sheet for this coming sheet would look like if everything above unfolds.

Raptors cap sheet, ideal offseason

Player Type 2022-23 Partial Guarantee

Pascal Siakam

Bird

35,448,672

Fred VanVleet

Bird

21,250,000

OG Anunoby

Bird

17,357,142

Gary Trent Jr

Bird

17,280,000

Chris Boucher

Bird

11,000,000

Malik Monk

MLE

10,349,000

Scottie Barnes

Bird

7,644,600

Khem Birch

Bird

6,667,750

Thaddeus Young

Bird

6,000,000

JaVale McGee

BAE

4,050,000

Precious Achiuwa

Bird

2,840,160

Malachi Flynn

Bird

2,145,720

Svi Mykhailiuk

Early

1,878,720

Armoni Brooks

Non

1,752,638

250k on 8/1

Justin Champagnie

Minimum

1,616,044

David Johnson

Minimum

1,616,044

150k

Dalano Banton

Early

1,563,518

300k on 7/4

Wendell Moore Jr.

2RP, Minimum

1,004,159

Julian Champagnie

Undrafted, Minimum

1,004,159

100k

Ish Wainright

WAIVED

125,000

Total

152,593,326

Guaranteed

147,456,967

Projected Cap

122,000,000

Projected Tax

149,000,000

(Projected cap and tax thresholds for 2022-23 as of the latest reporting)

If you prefer a depth chart, as difficult as that can be with the Raptors, here you go. (No, Barnes is not a shooting guard. You get the point.)

Point guard: VanVleet, Malachi Flynn, Banton, Brooks
Shooting guard: Barnes, Gary Trent Jr., Monk, Moore, Johnson
Small forward: OG Anunoby, Justin Champagnie, Mykhailiuk, Julian Champagnie
Power forward: Siakam, Boucher, Young
Centre: Precious Achiuwa, McGee, Khem Birch

Here is how the rotation might look.

Starters: VanVleet, Barnes, Anunoby, Siakam, Achiuwa
Prominent reserves: Trent, Monk, Flynn, Boucher, McGee
Veteran insurance: Young, Birch
Developmental: Moore, Justin Champagnie
Training camp battle/Developmental/Raptors 905/two-way: Mykhailiuk, Banton, Brooks, Johnson, Julian Champagnie

You might have noticed another thing: There are 15 players on guaranteed contracts, with four others — Banton, Brooks, Johnson and Julian Champagnie — on partially guaranteed deals. (If Jalen Harris is reinstated following his year-long disqualification due to violating the terms of the league’s anti-drug program, he would most likely slide in among those four players. If he is reinstated, the Raptors would retain his rights as a restricted free agent, with his most likely path to sticking with the team coming from a solid showing with Scarborough of the CEBL and with the Raptors’ Summer League team. All of that could earn him a training camp invitation on a lightly guaranteed deal. That’s my best guess, at least.)

I did the math, and if the Raptors decided to keep Banton ahead of Mykhailiuk, waiving the young veteran, the Raptors would still be nearly $400,000 under the luxury tax. (In this scenario, that is what I would predict.) Of course, you’d rather have more wiggle room, whether it is to add salary in a trade or to make other roster moves, but the Raptors are used to operating so snugly to the tax threshold. The Raptors also would have two-way contracts to use — they do not count against the cap. I did not account for that here, but add your favourite of the hypothetically waived players/undrafted free agents and slot them in there.

As for the future,  the Raptors are almost $22 million under the cap (assuming it rises by five percent) for the 2023 offseason even when factoring in VanVleet’s extension, although that number is more likely to be closer to $9 million when factoring options for Barnes and Achiuwa that the Raptors will likely exercise Trent could become a free agent then if he opts out of the final year of his deal. For that reason, the Raptors are likely to operate as an above-the-cap team in 2023. Assuming the Raptors sign Trent to a deal starting at $23 million and guarantee Boucher’s deal, Toronto would have about $142.6 million committed to 11 players, with the tax threshold potentially hanging around $156 million. Not an unmanageable situation, but you can see how things would get complicated, and only more so the following offseason.

Notes

• I toyed around with some trades that would have sent Flynn and/or Birch to another team — the former because he has struggled to find his place with the Raptors, the latter because I wanted to get off of his guaranteed contract in 2023-24. To move Birch for a player with a shorter deal, I would have been willing to attach a second-round pick for the right player. Alas, I could not find a move that made sense on both ends. A few teams to watch on those fronts: the San Antonio Spurs, Chicago Bulls, Memphis Grizzlies (I spent way too much time trying to acquire De’Anthony Melton before deciding the Grizzlies are saving him for a bigger trade), Charlotte Hornets and more.

• I would not be shocked if the Myles Turner rumours heat up again. A framework built around Trent and picks makes sense for the Raptors, but Trent only has limited value to the Pacers, given a) he only has one more guaranteed year on his contract and b) Tyler Haliburton and Chris Duarte are probably Indiana’s two pieces most likely to hang around in the long term, leaving the Pacers wanting to get bigger and stronger on the wing. (Once again: No, I wouldn’t think about an Anunoby-for-Turner trade.) The Pacers have the sixth pick, though, and Trent is three years younger than Turner. If the Pacers address some other needs through the draft and free agency, I wouldn’t be shocked to see a deal built around these two guys come together.

(Photo: Dan Hamilton / USA Today)

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