When Bryan Colangelo sent the team's top-scoring sixth man, Leandro Barbosa, to the Indiana Pacers for a second-round pick, he was giddy about the financial flexibility he had just provided his team with. All of a sudden Barbosa's entire 2011-12 salary ($7.6-million) was eradicated from the team's ledger, affording them just a hair under $12-million in immediate cap space.
Now, obviously the Raptors cannot use any cap space on an upcoming free agent until July, but as Colangelo has repeated again and again since Barbosa was shipped off, the space can be used in a lopsided trade anytime between now and July 1st so long as the team the Raptors are dealing with is no longer playing in the NBA Playoffs. In other words, the Raptors can use their space to absorb any player in a trade so long as the incoming salary doesn't put them more than $100, 000 over the cap. The Raptors can also add their own players to the mix and increase the amount they can bring back in a trade.
For instance, let's peg the cap space at $12-million, which would allow them to bring in $12.1-million in a trade without sending back any salary whatsoever. Now, let's say that they want a more expensive player in return, they could add Amir Johnson's salary to the mix (assuming the other side wants Johnson in return) and all of a sudden a $12.1-million window becomes a $17.6-million window. There are all sorts of little niggles and rules, but in very broad strokes this is the situation the Raptors are looking at before July 1st when all sorts of new wrinkles enter the equation. However, it stands to reason that Colangelo's ceaseless efforts to remind the world that he has this option available to him suggest he is seriously engaged in trying to make use of it, which then begs the obvious question: On whom?
There is no greater need for the Raptors right now than on the wing at the starting small forward spot, so that's as good a place as any to look because there are several high-priced small forwards that Colangelo may be able to engineer a trade for. If he can land one of the better ones before free agency he could also do wonders to make his roster look more attractive to free agents, while also demonstrating an ability to acquire the pieces necessary to advance Toronto's fortunes. Here is a look at the candidates for a move to Toronto, along with the viability of each guy getting acquired.
JOSH SMITH ($12.4-million)
The Atlanta Hawks are stuck in mud as a franchise and Smith's expiring deal is one of the club's most tradeable assets. He'd immediately bring the kind of versatile defensive force that would have Dwane Casey salivating on the sidelines. He can guard multiple positions, while wreaking havoc with steals and blocks and would afford Casey options when designing various mid-game lineups. The problem is that Smith is a wild card on offense, and Atlanta's unsettled ownership situation may keep the team from making any big trades at all, despite the club's leveling-off in recent years. There is also the fact that the club would probably demand more in return for Smith than the Raptors would be willing to offer.
DANNY GRANGER ($12-million)
Paul George is Indiana's small forward of the future, and with guys like Eric Gordon and O.J. Mayo in their sights in free agency, Granger could finally be moved on after years of trade speculation. He'd be a killer offensive upgrade on the wing for Colangelo and he is a more than passable defender when engaged. Working against Toronto, though, is the fact that Indiana doesn't need to move Granger to free up cap space to make a big move this summer. They actually have more space to play with than Toronto does (although they have to worry about re-signing Roy Hibbert and George Hill). Also, Indiana would probably want to be certain that they could secure the services of an offensive force like Gordon before they pulled the trigger on a move involving their team's high scorer. The risk of backsliding after a stellar season might prove too great to warrant putting Granger on the market in 2012. However, if the Pacers decided now is the time to move him, Colangelo is in a good position to package compelling assets to push a deal through, especially since he has a solid trading history with the organization. This is one to keep an eye on.
TAYSHAUN PRINCE ($6.3-million)
Prince is an intriguing and often overlooked option for Toronto this spring. The Pistons are in a full-on rebuilding mode and Prince is a vestige of an era gone by. While he's still a perfectly capable player and a standout defensive option, Detroit is a lottery team that is pushing up against the salary cap and is going to have to make some salary-conscious moves this summer. While they'd love to keep Prince around as a mentor, they may not be able to afford that luxury when they have a well-compensated Jonas Jerebko sitting behind him on the depth chart. He wouldn't be Colangelo's first choice, but he'd be worth pursuing if other options fell through.
RUDY GAY ($15-million)
The Grizzlies were at their best last season in the playoffs, ramming the ball down opposing teams' throats with Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph. This spring Rudy Gay was supposed to diversify their attack and instead he looked totally lost playing his finesse game on Memphis' blue collar team. Is that enough to get him onto the trading block? It might be, considering his astronomical salary and the team's history of frugality. However, Memphis still hasn't had a whole season with their core fully healthy, and one has to imagine they would want a solid look before they break it up.
Viability: Very Low
ANDRE IGUODALA ($13.5-million)
Here he is, the guy every Raptors fan looks at with a possessive hunger, as he should have been theirs from the get-go. Unlike the ever-improving Pacers with Danny Granger, Philadelphia looks to have reached a plateau with Iguodala in toe. Not to mention, with Evan Turner's role growing, Iguodala's place on the roster looks more and more tenuous. The Sixers are facing free agency for high-scorer Lou Williams and starting center Spencer Hawes, so freeing up some cash might be appealing to management, too. His tenacious defense is something Toronto would love to import, and his strong passing and newfound three-point shot (.394 this year) make him an ideal fit. He might cost Toronto an asset like their draft pick or DeMar DeRozan, but if Colangelo feels like he has Iguodala in his grasp he'll have a hard time letting go.
However, If Philly is patient then they'll watch Elton Brand's $18-million contract come off of the books next summer, which might temper their desire to salary-dump Iguodala this year. Also, Philly was a top-three defensive efficiency team this season and a lot of that had to do with Iguodala. Lose him and the team may not only lose its identity but also their grip on a bottom-four playoff finish. That said, if Toronto offered DeRozan, Ed Davis and the right to swap picks (Toronto's 8th, top-three protected for Philly's 15th) for Iguodala and Nikola Vucevic, it would be pretty hard for Philly to hang up the phone.