The Raptors are facing an off-season like no other. They have a handful of free agents to decide on, an uncertain NBA financial picture and a first-round pick in the Nov. 18 draft. This is the fifth in a six-part series looking at the decisions and options that lie ahead:
OG Anunoby and Norm Powell represent two intriguing parts of the Raptors’ future, and each presents yet another big decision for president Masai Ujiri as the NBA off-season approaches.
They have each been important contributors at times.
Powell’s speed, power and athleticism are unique among the team’s wings and guards, and he seemed to have found the consistency so many have been waiting for these past few seasons.
Anunoby is morphing into the best defender on the squad — able and, most important, willing to take on the prime defensive assignment each night, and that is a task not a lot of players relish. His offensive role expanded as last season went on. He was far more than an afterthought who waited in the corner for a three-point opportunity.
In many ways it was a breakout year for the 23-year-old, who is now three seasons into his career.
“To see OG go through what he did last year — he lost his dad, he went through the (pre-playoff appendectomy) and basically lost a year,” Ujiri said in his season-end recap. “I thought he’s come back this year trying to help the team, growing up as a person. I thought OG was outstanding.”
But Anunoby and Powell do present a conundrum to Ujiri and general manager Bobby Webster.
Anunoby is eligible for an extension to his rookie-scale contract. It would make complete sense, and send a message that he’s part of the long-term plans, but to tie him up this summer would put a dent in Toronto’s 2021 free-agent plans by taking salary cap money out of management’s collective pocket.
A case can be made for letting Anunoby go through next season and then re-signing him after whatever free-agent moves are made a year from now.
Powell’s situation is different, but equally intriguing.
He would certainly seem to have a long-term home here — in some circles, a 2021-22 starting backcourt of Powell and Fred VanVleet makes sense. But in the harsh reality of the NBA as a business, the 27-year-old might be the most tradeable asset Ujiri and Webster have at their disposal.
Powell will be paid about $10.8 million (U.S.) next season, and has a player option worth about $11.6 million in 2021-22. It’s not that the Raptors would want to get rid of him, but that’s an attractive number which, packaged with other bits and pieces, could yield a significant big man in return on the trade market. It’s impossible to even guess who that would be — there are too many moving parts at the moment — but Ujiri and Webster wouldn’t be doing their jobs if they didn’t examine all possibilities.
The best bet is that both will be back — Anunoby without an extension, Powell still as in-season trade bait — but the Raptors have shown they aren’t shy about making deals involving anyone on their team.
The rest of the roster is dotted with intriguing players on relatively low-value contracts for the most part — valuable for depth on the court or cap ballast in bigger transactions:
- Terence Davis II and Matt Thomas certainly have value as pieces of the playing puzzle, and the coaching staff remains enamoured of Patrick McCaw and his versatility, so the team would be fine having them back in more prominent roles.
- Youngsters such as Oshae Brissett, Paul Watson and Dewan Hernandez are in the throes of the vaunted Raptors developmental program and all deserve a longer look to see how they might ultimately fit.
“We are really proud of all the young players: Chris Boucher, Terence Davis making (NBA all-rookie) second team, Matt Thomas figuring out a way to start playing and being a part of a good team,” Ujiri said. “Norman Powell and the growth he’s made, from role player to now starting to become a prominent player with us. I’m really proud of this team.”
The rest are not vital bits, but still need to be dealt with:
- Boucher is a restricted free agent, and his possible return will likely depend on who else is back.
- Rondae Hollis-Jefferson is an unrestricted free agent, and the only way he’s probable to return would be on a one-year, low-money deal.
- Stanley Johnson is unlikely to turn down his $3.8-million player option, although it’s widely apparent he doesn’t fit into playing plans.
So while the majority of the Raptors’ off-season news will revolve around how Ujiri and Webster deal with the team’s marquee free agents — Fred VanVleet, Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol — there are many other moving parts to occupy the time and minds of the president and general manager.