This week, the league’s executives and any player agent of note are in Chicago for the NBA draft combine, which also serves as a meeting ground where teams start shopping in earnest to see what’s available to improve themselves heading into next season, both via free agency and trade. But the Toronto Raptors' plan for how to approach this moment started long before.
Less than 24 hours had passed since the team had been eliminated from the NBA playoffs, but head coach Nick Nurse already had a wish list for how they could improve. As a 48-win team with a young roster featuring the reigning rookie-of-the-year the Raptors have a strong base to build on, but they had — and have — clear needs.
“You can’t go into a season with eight or nine guys anymore, you can’t,” Nurse said at his end-of-season media availability. “Your ninth, 10th, 11th, 12th, 13th, 14th guys better be able to go out there and play and not just look like it once and while. We’ve gotta get some depth to keep up with the times."
“We could probably use some catch-and-shoot,” he said.
And while Nurse remains committed to the idea of a roster that is heavy with switchy, six-foot-nine (ish) wing players — in fact, he wants more — having a big man who can be a rim threat on both ends of the floor would be nice.
“That would help too,” he said. “I think that probably lifts a little bit of pressure for guys like Fred [VanVleet] and Gary [Trent Jr.], OG [Anunoby], those guys that could get more open corner looks because of the pressure being put on the rim on the weak side.”
So quality depth, better shooting and some mobile size are on the wish list.
The question is what steps the Raptors can take to add those pieces.
But first, the Raptors' current roster situation.
Before you start pencilling in Utah Jazz defensive anchor Rudy Gobert – widely rumoured to be on the trade market this summer, along with the four years and $170 million remaining on his contract through his age 34 season — for 15 points, 12 rebounds and three blocked shots every night, there are a few parameters to keep in mind.
The Raptors have nine players under contract next season — presuming Svi Mykhailiuk picks up his player option for 2022-23 — which leaves them with six open roster spots to fill. But chances are Dalano Banton and Chris Boucher will be back, leaving four, and the sense is Thad Young will stick around too, so let’s call it three roster spots available.
They almost certainly will operate as a team that is above the salary cap but below the luxury tax threshold. What that translates into is that the primary tool the front office has to compete for potential free agents is using the mid-level exception (the 'MLE'), which allows teams over the cap to sign a player or players for about $10.3 million and a maximum of four years. In other words, the largest single contract they can offer is four years and roughly $41 million — a nice chunk of change, but it’s not going to be enough to sign Bradley Beal, for example.