Raptor Offseason Plans and Other Related Things

ESPN’s Chad Ford recently discussed the different ways GM’s Danny Ferry and Sam Presti are building their respective teams (the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Oklahoma City Thunder). Both men come from a very successful and respected Spurs organization and should have learned a thing or two about how to build a winner. Both men were lucky enough to either inherit or be in a position to draft a superstar. Both men also took over a franchise that hadn’t made the playoffs the previous few seasons. That’s where the similarities end, though.

Ferry tried to surround LeBron with veterans in order to win immediately, whereas Presti has resisted the urge to grab veterans for short-term gain and went with building slowly with youth. And while Cleveland had the best record in the league last season, their three best players, other than LeBron, are currently 26, 34 and 37. And two of them play the same position and only four players who were in the rotation last season are currently under contract. And then there’s Shaq. What does this say about the Cavs’ future and more importantly, what does it say to LeBron? What Ferry did right was manage his contracts right because at the end of next season, not one player over the age of 27 will be under contract.

Presti, on the other hand, traded away most of the veterans he could and currently is employing only two players above the age of 29, and only one of them is considered to be part of the rotation this coming season (Earl Watson), and he’s only 30. Clearly, Presti wanted Kevin Durant to grow with the team and put players around him that could conceivably be with him most of his career. Currently, the five players pencilled in as starters are 20, 19, 20, 22 and a relatively ancient 26. And all of them are talented. When it’s time for Durant to re-sign, he’ll see a young, talented team built around him that, hopefully, has a lot of good years left.

And while I agree, in principle, with what Chad Ford is saying in criticizing Ferry’s plan and lauding Presti’s, I think Presti is making a mistake by avoiding veterans. Young teams generally don’t learn how to win. They just learn to accept losing. The danger is that Kevin Durant and his young teammates will learn bad habits that will prevent them from ever becoming successful players and a successful team. And with them winning only 23 games last season, they are certainly not learning how to win.

I think what Presti needs to do either some some of that cap room they have to sign a veteran or trade away one of their young players and take on a veteran with a bigger contract. I am continued to be reminded of Cleveland the last time they were successful. They had a great young core of Mark Price, Ron Harper and Brad Daugherty, but it wasn’t until they traded for veteran Larry Nance that they made a leap in the standings.

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Chad Ford’s article relates to what the Raptors need to be doing this offseason. With Chris Bosh entering the free agent market next summer, there is a lot of speculation of what the Raptors need to do. Most seem to believe the Raptors have to win right now in order to make Bosh re-sign. Some have even said that if the Raptors don’t reach the second round of the playoffs, Bosh is as good as gone. Obviously this would require either the re-signing of Shawn Marion or the signing of a veteran like Hedo Turkoglu. While this would indeed give Bosh a reason to re-sign, I don’t think Colangelo, or Bosh, is this short-sighted.

With the drafting of DeMar DeRozan (which I like quite bit), I see the Raptors going a different route, and a smarter one at that. Instead of trying to go after immediate gratification by collecting players who are past their prime, Colangelo, I believe, has signaled his intentions by drafting a young player most consider a project. While DeRozan will not make the immediate impact that older, more seasoned rookies such as Gerald Henderson or Terrence Williams will have, he’s got a lot more upside. On a side note, he’s also not nearly as raw as some seem to think- his mid-range game is very, very good, as his .523 shooting percentage attests. I believe Henderson and Williams will have long NBA careers, only DeRozan has the potential to be an All-Star.

Currently, despite having only $46 million in contracts and a salary cap expected to be somewhere close to $56 million, the Raptors are not under the cap. That’s because they have several free agents (Shawn Marion, Anthony Parker, Pops Mensah-Bonsu, Patrick O’Bryant, Quincy Douby and Carlos Delfino) who are taking up room. By renouncing their rights, the Raptors could open up a lot of cap room, but that would mean getting rid of 6 players, 3 of whom would be rotation players. On Doug Smith’s blog, Doug has mentioned several times how bad this would be for the team, and I agree to a point.

This type of discussion comes up because players like Lamar Odom or Hedo Turkoglu would demand close to, if not all, of the $10 million the Raptors would have. The Raptors learned last season how bad an idea it is to have no money, except the veteran minimum, to sign half your roster. You end up with guys like Hasaan Adams and Will Solomon actually on the court at times.

The player I believe the Raptors should be targeting is Trevor Ariza. Now I’m under no illusions that Ariza is a better player than he is, and that if the Lakers didn’t make the Finals, he would probably be getting no more than the MLE this summer. That said, there are several reasons I would target him.

1. He’s 24 years old.
2. He has a chance to be one of the top defenders in the league at his position.
3. He’s very athletic.
4. He’s shown much improvement in his offensive game, this past season, which was the area of biggest concern. He’s even become a marginal threat from outside the 3 point line.
5. Despite his young age, he’s got more playoff experience than any Raptor last season outside of Shawn Marion.
6. He could be signed for an amount just over the MLE, I’m guessing somewhere in the $6-7 million range.

Considering the Raptors needs (defense, athleticism) and signing him would still allow the Raptors to re-sign someone like Carlos Delfino, I think Ariza should be the Raptors prime target. Sure, he doesn’t have the talent that a Turkoglu or Odom, or even Marion has, but if you’re Chris Bosh, what would you rather see at the end of the season: A team that managed to win 50 games, but has given a long term contract to a guy over 30 who is on the decline, or a team that has won 45 games, but a young team that will get better every year your contract would last?

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Speaking of free agents and offseason moves, is there any more proof of how stupid some fans are than the attention guys like Jamal Crawford, Charlie Villanueva, Allen Iverson or Ben Gordon get over at thestar.com?

Jamal Crawford has been in the league 9 years and has not once played on a winning team. That’s astounding. It also says a lot about the player. He’s a combo guard not big enough to play SG full time and doesn’t handle the ball well enough (or pass enough) to play the point. He takes incredibly bad shots, which explains his .404 career shooting percentage. He hasn’t played defense in years and has picked up so many bad habits in the 9 years of playing for lottery teams I wouldn’t be surprised if he actually causes Atlanta to win fewer games next season.

Charlie Villanueva is a really nice guy who loved Toronto. Of course, that doesn’t mean he should play for the Raptors. He’s also a poor defending PF who avoids the paint and can’t get to the line. And despite him being able to shoot from outside, that doesn’t mean he can play SF. I can shoot from the outside, but that doesn’t mean I’m a small forward. Neither of us can defend the other small forwards in the NBA and with the defense that the Raptors play, especially Bosh and Bargnani, that would end up being a disaster. Plus, the guy is incredibly inconsistent, so much so that he ended up playing less time at PF for the Bucks than Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, a 6’6 offensively challenged SF. Sure, money was a factor, but if Villanueva was really that valuable, Milwaukee would have found a way to keep him.

Allen Iverson is an old 34 years old, has seen his last two teams get better AFTER he was traded away, still demands to get a lion’s share of the shots even though he’s well past his prime and even in his prime had trouble guarding other SG’s. At 34 and 6’0 he would be an invitation for any opposing SG’s to go for a career high. And perhaps none of his backers noticed how he finished his season in Detroit. Ya, that’s the kind of guy the Raptors want on their team.

Ben Gordon would be a great choice if he were 3 inches taller, played defense and passed the ball in the fourth quarter. Since he is not, doesn’t and won’t, he’ll end up being a guy casual fans will forever wonder why he doesn’t get more respect around the league. In a perfect world, Gordon would be the third guard on a contender (in a Vinnie “The Microwave” Johnson-type role), but since he thinks he’s too good to come off the bench, I don’t envision that happening.

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