Chisholm: Colangelo facing roster challenges

Tim Chisholm
7/5/2009 11:42:15 AM
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So the confirmations are coming in hot and heavy from Hedo's representation that Turkoglu is prepared to sign with Toronto for roughly $53-million for five years, regardless of how the intricacies and manifestations need to play out. All expectations, though, point to Hedo being a signed Toronto Raptor by the time next week rolls into weekend.

Yesterday we took a look at how the Raptors could look to stock up their roster if they were able to maintain the use of their mid-level and bi-annual exceptions. If, however, the Raptors are unable to creatively adjust the roster to maintain either of those exceptions (by manipulating the methods of acquisition or the methods of annualized payments) then they will have no cap exceptions to use in rebuilding the roster. In that scenario GM Bryan Colangelo will have to get especially creative in restocking the club.

The primary method of reshaping the roster in those conditions will come from the use of minimum-salaried players. In recent years teams at or near the luxury tax threshold have been savvy about using minimum-salaried players (of which the team can sign as many as they want, be they above or below the cap), with Denver being a key example of recent success story with that method. Denver was able to use minimum-salaried players in Dahntay Jones and Chris Andersen to great effect in their unexpected run to the Western Conference Finals last season as both played integral roles for the club as starting shooting guard and backup centre, respectively.

The keys to unearthing these players, though, are varied and they depend greatly on need and circumstance. For instance, the best values tend to come from players looking for a one-year shot to boost their value as an NBA commodity. That was how Washington was able to nab DeShawn Stevenson in 2006 for the minimum salary, because he was unexpectedly unable to come up with a more lucrative deal on the open market.

While this method may yield the best players, it is a very dangerous road to rely on. First, a team must demonstrate patience and foresight in targeting players who are likely to accept a one-year pact due to unfavorable free agency conditions, and then they would have to convince them to sign with their club instead of someone else's.

It would appear that this year of economic downturn, combined with teams saving up for the summer of 2010, would be an ideal year to nab a player spurned by a volatile market, but that becomes only part of the equation.

Let's say that a talented player (or players) does wind up team-less towards the end of summer and is open to playing on the cheap for a single season, the Raptors would still have to prove themselves as a desirable destination with no added financial incentives available to them for enticement. If they can guarantee playing time – which they almost assuredly can with so many roster gaps – then that can provide a worthwhile inducement to players looking to juice their value (as it did with Jones in Denver), but will it be enough? Toronto has had trouble in the past luring these free agents to town, which is why their European counterparts have been so heavily relied upon since Colangelo took the reigns of the club in 2006.

The Raptors will probably be keeping close tabs on Jones, Keith Bogans, Flip Murray, Jamaal Magloire, Von Wafer, Quinton Ross and Mikki Moore in this category, nonetheless.

There are other approaches to nabbing minimum-salaried players too, though, and they may be more in line with Toronto's recent history. That would be relying heavily on scouting lesser-known prospects and banking on their ability to thrive in Toronto's system. This approach worked for Toronto in securing Jamario Moon, an All-Rookie Second Team selection in 2008, and Pops Mensah-Bonsu, but it also backfired in acquiring Hassan Adams, Will Solomon and Maceo Baston. The pitfalls are obvious: sign an unknown/untested commodity to play a significant role for your club and you could wind up with a dud at a crucial spot on the roster. The potential upside, though, is that you find a player for next to no money who can lockdown an integral roster spot, like Moon did for a season-and-a-half. There are no doubt international players, undrafted rookies and D-League vets who will be given looks by Toronto this summer, but it would behoove the club to tread wisely in these waters as they are fraught with unneeded dangers. D'Or Fischer, Dwayne Mitchell, Coby Karl and Raptors Summer League invitee Demetris Nichols could be options here.

If all of the risk of minimum-salaried personnel frightens you, however, take heed; there is one more option available to the club. Because signing Hedo only puts the team up against the cap, and not the luxury tax, the team could look to parlay their existing players into more expensive counterparts without upsetting the brass at MLSE. For instance, since a team can take back 125% plus $100, 000 of the salaries they send out, the opportunity exists for the Raptors to pluck an undesirable contract off of a team looking to shed wages. So, for instance, the Raptors could take a contract like that of Kris Humphries ($3.2-million), Marcus Banks ($4.6-million) or Roko Ukic ($1.4-million) and turn it into a contract worth $4.1-million, $5.8-million or $1.9-million, respectively. That would, in theory, mean the Raptors could swap Humphries for New Jersey's Keyon Dooling or Milwaukee's Charlie Bell and they could swap Banks for Hornet Morris Peterson.
Basically, if a team has a contract for a useful vet that they'd like to get relief for, Toronto could be their best option.

At this point, all that those at home can do is wait and see how Colangelo plays his cards over the next several weeks. It's a rather unique situation for a team to have: they have money they want to spend (below the tax) but precious few ways to access it. At a time when so many teams are looking to rid themselves of salary Toronto is looking for creative ways to take more on. How successful they are in doing so will go a very long way in determining how successful this team can expect to be this coming season. Having a loaded starting five is all well and good, but it is the support of a quality bench that takes teams to the winner's circle. It will be very interesting to hear Colangelo's views on this matter when his league-imposed gag order on such subjects is lifted on July 8th.

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