May 30, 2016, 9:34 am
Masai Ujiri held his end of season press conference today and discussed his offseason plans for the Raptors.
The most pressing matter facing the team is undoubtedly DeMar DeRozan’s free agency. When asked about his All-Star guard, Ujiri reiterated that bringing DeRozan back was his number one goal in free agency. When asked specifically if the organization felt comfortable offering DD a max contract, the GM chose to avoid the question, saying, “that question is for later.”
Ujiri and the Raptors are still in the driver’s seat when it comes to DeRozan, so his comments today leave the door open for the team to try and sign DeRozan for less than the max. DeRozan has been an outspoken advocate for the team and city, so while it would be a pretty big upset, it’s not crazy to think that he could take less money and give the Raptors some added flexibility going forward.
Regarding his other impending free agent, Ujiri acknowledged that it will be tough to keep the band together and that retaining Bismack Biyombo could be a challenge too big to overcome. Recent rumors have Biyombo earning upwards of $17 million annually in free agency, a figure that seems far too burdensome for the Raptors to entertain.
Ujiri went on to say that Biyombo’s frontcourt partner, Jonas Valanciunas, is ready for a bigger role going forward. He announced his arrival with authority in the postseason and will likely be a focal point of Toronto’s offense next year. The emergence of Big Science makes retaining Biyombo at a large salary even more difficult to imagine since the two centers will never share the court.
Ujiri also declared that Dwane Casey is the coach of the future in Toronto. It seems like an extension is all but done and Ujiri is comfortable proceeding with Casey at the helm, citing his postseason growth and role as a pillar of the culture the franchise is trying to establish. Our own Aaron Bruski broke it down when the rumors of an extension first surfaced.
He identified the power forward and backup small forward spots as Toronto’s greatest needs. He went on to say that Toronto will need to get creative in free agency, but that the Raptors are now in a position where players are attracted to the organization.
The power forward upgrade is a no-brainer, as Luis Scola will likely sign elsewhere and Patrick Patterson has been more comfortable in a bench role. The backup small forward comment is far more interesting, as that seems to suggest that Terrence Ross could be on his way out and that Ujiri views Norman Powell as more of a backup shooting guard.
If Ross were to be traded, it stands to reason that any salary savings would be put towards bringing back Biyombo. Moving Ross would make for an odd choice considering the Raptors lack secondary scoring. It’s possible that the team is prepared to count on Norman Powell to fill Ross’s role, but trading their only reliable bench scorer is a risky proposition without knowing what Ujiri’s other plans are.
Regarding the draft, Ujiri suggested that at least one first round pick is in play. With Lucas Nogueira, Bruno Caboclo and Delon Wright already on the bench, it’s unlikely that the team would want to roster another player that can’t crack the rotation. The team could try the draft-and-stash approach or hope to land their power forward of the future at #9, but trading either pick could return a nice haul. Ujiri has done well to compile picks while assembling a competitive team and is now reaping the rewards of his shrewd moves.
Coming off the high of a record season, Ujiri has many tough choices ahead. It will surely be an entertaining offseason in Toronto.