Grading Toronto Raptors' Offseason Moves So Far
By the wave of his trusted wand, general manager Masai Ujiri not only brought back a core that was within an eyelash of the second round of the NBA playoffs but also added pieces around it that may put his Toronto Raptors over the top in 2014-15.
Is there anything he can't do?
The offseason as a whole should be looked at as nothing short of a grand success. A team that won 48 games and the second Atlantic Division title in franchise history will return intact, along with some new faces to provide that extra dose of special.
That becomes even more important during a time when the Eastern Conference appears to be in flux with big names changing places.
The 2014 NBA draft had fans bringing out their defibrillators, but the shock factor of that night has slowly faded away. The amount of faith Toronto has in Ujiri could scale the CN Tower and fill 10 Air Canada Centres.
The man knows what he's doing.
It's safe to say that the following grades of the Raptors' offseason moves will be pleasant to your senses. You may even want to post them on your fridge and admire them from afar.
You did good, Ujiri. You did very good.
Drafted Bruno Caboclo with No. 20 Pick
2013-14 statistics (Pinheiros): 20 games, 13.0 minutes, 5.1 points, 50.7 FG%, 2.9 rebounds, 0.2 assists, 0.3 steals, 0.7 blocks, 1.1 turnovers
That line from ESPN's Fran Fraschilla on draft night sent shivers down the spines of every Raptors fan within the sound of his voice. By that time, everyone had brought out their cellphones to search for Bruno Caboclo on their favorite search engine because he was such an unknown.
The No. 20 pick seemed like an awful stretch for a guy no one had ever heard of, but Ujiri took the risk because he believed the Brazilian wouldn't be on the board by the time the team picked again at No. 37.
As the Raptors general manager told Holly MacKenzie of Raptors.com, Caboclo's youthful exuberance and passion for the game will make his transition to the NBA a far smoother process.
“He’s a little shy until he gets used to what’s going on, and then he’s very open,” Ujiri said. “He’s a gym rat, and he’s competitive. If he doesn’t do a drill well, he will want to finish it. That’s him. He’s a great kid. Loves basketball. He wants to be in the gym every second, which is what you want in an 18-year-old.”
The "two years away from being two years away" schtick may have been a tad extreme, especially after watching the 18-year-old perform in the Las Vegas Summer League. He averaged 11.8 points and 2.0 rebounds in four games, per NBA.com.
Standing at 6'8" with a mind-blowing 7'6" wingspan, Caboclo has the physical gifts to be a special NBA pro one day. Toronto's coaching staff will help mold and shape him into a credible name, but it's not going to happen overnight.
Grading the pick at this time is futile. There are just too many question marks but certainly a lot of optimism sprinkled in as well.
Drafted DeAndre Daniels with No. 37 Pick
2013-14 statistics (Connecticut Huskies): 38 games, 29.0 minutes, 13.1 points, 46.9 FG%, 6.0 rebounds, 0.4 assists, 0.7 steals, 1.4 blocks, 1.5 turnovers, 20.0 player efficiency rating
The main difference between Caboclo and DeAndre Daniels is that the basketball world had at least some understanding of who Daniels was when he was taken in the second round on June 26.
Daniels scored eight points and grabbed six rebounds when Connecticut defeated the Kentucky Wildcats in the NCAA National Championship Game. He was exposed to a much larger audience on a much grander stage.
He was somewhat inconsistent through three seasons at Connecticut, though his physical tools for a wing, along with his core fundamental strengths, keep his upside intact.
At 6'8", Daniels is a smooth athlete who can slash, generate offense in the mid-range and stretch the floor with a much-improved 41.7 percent three-point stroke.
If Daniels puts it all together and ultimately finds a way to tap into those strengths on a routine basis, we could be talking about a strong second-unit complementary scorer down the road.
Ryan Wolstat of the Toronto Sun noted on July 3 that "Daniels will be stashed in Europe for a year to get some much-needed playing time."
The minutes won't be there should he stick around, so rather than wither away at the end of the bench, Daniels can be productive and work on his game overseas.
Grade: C +
Acquired Lou Williams and Bebe Nogueira from Atlanta Hawks
Transaction: John Salmons and a second-round pick to the Atlanta Hawks for Lou Williams and Lucas "Bebe" Nogueira
2013-14 statistics (Williams): 60 games, 24.1 minutes, 10.4 points, 40.0 FG%, 2.1 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.1 blocks, 1.5 turnovers, 14.2 PER
2013-14 statistics (Nogueira in Liga ACB): 18 games, 16.6 minutes, 6.2 points, 70.3 FG%, 4.1 rebounds, 0.5 assists, 0.7 steals, 1.6 blocks, 0.7 turnovers
John Salmons was going to be out the door no matter what. He's owed $7 million in 2014-15, but if the Raptors had waived the veteran swingman by June 30, they would have only been on the hook for $1 million, according to Dan Feldman of Pro Basketball Talk.
Instead, Ujiri turned an asset he was going to wipe his hands clean of into a scoring guard who, at one time, was considered one of the best bench players in the entire league. Toss in a nice prospect in Nogueira, and you have another gold star next to the GM's name.
Williams was downright lethal for the Philadelphia 76ers in 2011-12 as their sixth man, leading the team in scoring with 14.9 points. A torn ACL in 2013 after signing with the Hawks one year prior put an end to his season after 39 games.
If he can duplicate the success he had before his knee injury in Toronto, the second unit will be better off. Even if he can't, the numbers he posted in 2013-14 weren't awful at all. That Williams will be just as welcome.
He only has one year left on his deal worth $5.5 million, so if all else fails, the team can kick him to the curb if he doesn't deliver the goods.
Toronto and Nogueira's Spanish club Estudiantes are currently working on a buyout, according to Ryan Wolstat of the Toronto Sun.
As is the case with fellow Brazilian Caboclo, Nogueira has fantastic length and an endless supply of energy, but the weight room will need to become his home away from home.
Re-Signed Kyle Lowry
Contract: Four years, $48 million
2013-14 statistics: 79 games, 36.2 minutes, 17.9 points, 42.3 FG%, 4.7 rebounds, 7.4 assists, 1.5 steals, 0.2 blocks, 2.5 turnovers, 20.1 PER
The stigma that the Raptors can't retain their own free agents took a swift kick to the crotch when Kyle Lowry signed on the dotted line.
Signing him for $48 million over four years is the equivalent to highway robbery considering Lowry's 2013-14 season, when he averaged career highs across the board. You can make the argument that it was a contract year and his numbers are a product of that, but unless you watched him play live, you wouldn't come close to knowing just how much of an impact he had.
Without him, 48 wins would not have happened. He was the man running the offense, dictating the pace and setting the court ablaze with reckless drives to the basket and scorching three-point shooting. His teammates fed off his on-court intensity, rallying around their fearless leader on a nightly basis.
With this new deal, the Raptors will get the 28-year-old Lowry through his prime years at a price that is more than fair. He'll have a player option in his fourth year, which is a compromise for not going the full five years. The team can renegotiate after three if it sees fit.
I wouldn't worry too much about Lowry regressing. He wants to win a championship in Toronto and will continue to fight until that dream becomes a reality. If he falters, it won't be due to a lack of trying.
You can't rip out the heart and expect the body to function. Ujiri ensured the Raptors' heart is securely in place.
Four more years.
Re-Signed Patrick Patterson
Contract: Three years, $18 million
2013-14 statistics: 48 games, 23.3 minutes, 9.1 points, 47.7 FG%, 5.1 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 0.9 steals, 0.7 blocks, 1.0 turnovers, 16.2 PER
What's Gotham City without Batman? What's the city of Toronto without Patman?
There was interest from the Orlando Magic in landing restricted free agent Patrick Patterson, but the opportunity to continue building a winning foundation with the Raptors was just too sweet to pass up, per Stephen Whyno of the Canadian Press (via the Toronto Star):
I was happy at the end of the day we were able to come to great terms — more thrilled that everyone’s coming back from last year, pretty much. (We) still have that core group of guys that we can build on and have another successful year.
I look it as a way that we’re building. We have something special here, we have something positive. We have a great coaching staff, great organization, great leadership, great players and we have guys who are hungry and willing to learn and get better every single day. I’m glad that we’re all staying together, and with the success that we had last year, hopefully we can build on that and have an even better year.
With Amir Johnson's ankles having taken a beating over time, Patterson will need to continue being that reliable option off the bench who can instantly step in as a starter should Johnson need time off.
Patterson can pass, shoot from distance, crash the glass and be as dependable as the Caped Crusader, at least from a basketball standpoint.
Ujiri probably paid a little bit more than he was originally willing to in order to keep Patterson, but outside offers forced his hand.
Traded Steve Novak to Utah Jazz
Transaction: Steve Novak and a second-round pick to the Utah Jazz for Diante Garrett
2013-14 statistics (Novak): 54 games, 10.0 minutes, 3.3 points, 42.6 3P%, 1.1 rebounds, 0.2 assists, 0.2 steals, 0.1 blocks, 0.1 turnovers, 11.1 PER
The ultimate one-trick pony has met his match.
Being an outstanding shooter from behind the arc (43.2 percent from three-point range for his career) is Novak's claim to fame, but that's all he really does. Specialists are a dime a dozen in the NBA. If you can't bring more to the table, your value will take a hit because of it.
He was a beloved locker-room guy who his teammates adored, but the two years and $7.2 million remaining on his contract were overbearing and a huge inconvenience.
Hands down one of the best teammates I've had in @stevenovak16 Appreciate you Steve-O. Hold it down my G.— DeMar DeRozan (@DeMar_DeRozan) July 5, 2014
The fact that Ujiri was able to find a taker for a player with such an erroneous price tag is a testament to how efficient a general manager he really is.
After finishing 25th in the league with a 34.4 three-point percentage as a team, the Utah Jazz needed someone who could step in and knock down a trey or two. They'll get that in Novak, but that's about all they'll get.
Garrett and his non-guaranteed $915,000 deal will likely be waived by the Raptors. This move was all about getting Novak off the books. Nothing more and nothing less.
Re-Signed Greivis Vasquez
Contract: Two years, $13.5 million
2013-14 statistics: 61 games, 21.5 minutes, 9.5 points, 41.7 FG%, 2.3 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 0.4 steals, 0.1 blocks, 1.7 turnovers, 14.2 PER
Greivis Vasquez adores Toronto and sincerely wants to live and compete here. There were some speed bumps in getting a deal done, but at the end of the day, both parties were willing to reach a middle ground.
Nearly $6.5 million per year is some seriously moolah, but that's likely where the aforementioned middle ground comes into play.
Vasquez may have wanted a longer contract, but in an effort to preserve cap space for 2016 when Kevin Durant is available, Ujiri offered more money for less years. That's a very shrewd business decision on his part.
Point guards who can handle the ball and attack off the dribble at 6'6" don't grow on trees. Trading for Lou Williams added depth at the position, but he's more of an undersized 2 than a true-blue 1. You can have Vasquez run the point or continue running two-point guard lineups like Dwane Casey did last season with Lowry.
Bringing back Vasquez also means there will be a bit more leeway for Lowry to rest his body.
Signed James Johnson
Contract: Two years, $5 million
2013-14 statistics (Memphis Grizzlies): 52 games, 18.4 minutes, 7.4 points, 46.4 FG%, 3.2 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 0.8 steals, 1.1 blocks, 1.3 turnovers, 18.5 PER
James Johnson is back in red and black.
The 27-year-old spent parts of the 2010-11 and 2011-12 seasons as a member of the Raptors after coming over in a trade with the Chicago Bulls in exchange for a first round pick. While Johnson put up the best numbers of his career north of the border (9.1 points and 4.7 rebounds in 87 games), his shaky relationship with coach Casey caused many a headache both on and off the court.
His main strengths came on the defensive end, yet Johnson remained adamant over wanting more of an offensive role. This difference in opinion eventually led to his benching and a suspension over an incident that was eventually referred to as "an internal matter."
Those past issues appear to be nothing more than water under the bridge as Johnson looks to rectify mistakes of the past and start fresh in a familiar setting, per the Canadian Press (via CBC.ca):
It never was bad, we had our bumps, but that's war. It's a war out there when we're playing a game and sometimes you say stuff that you regret or you say stuff that you don't really mean.
Dwane Casey is a great guy and I feel like he realizes that and we've moved forward from where we were at. We had a great conversation and I'm just ready to win and I know he is.
It was a crazy road for me, but you learn a lot throughout your mistakes. I felt like Masai [Ujiri] and the rest of the Toronto Raptors they felt the same way about the situation and feel the same way about my play and what I could bring to the team.
I still have a lot to prove, but [the Raptors] signing me for two years gives me a boost of confidence and I'm going to work my hardest to help us go further than we did last year.
It appears that Johnson understands his position in the rotation and what will be asked of him moving forward. Further depth at the wing positions was sorely needed, so it's hard to knock this signing too much.
He could even step into the starting lineup at small forward, which would move Terrence Ross to the bench should the third-year pro fail to take reasonable enough strides in his continued development.
A lot will hinge on Johnson's attitude, though. If that's kept in check, we shouldn't hear a peep out of anyone.
Christopher Walder is considered by many to be the "songbird of his generation" and the greatest center to have never played professional, collegiate, high school, house league or pickup basketball. His work has been published at Bleacher Report, SB Nation, Sports Illustrated, Fansided and several other online outlets. You may follow him on Twitter at @WalderSports.
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