So the draft came and went with positive results for the Toronto Raptors, and now all the focus shifts to Wednesday July 1, the first day that NBA teams can begin negotiations with free agents. For the Raptors, a team with five free agents and lots of needs still to be filled on the roster, it will be a busy day that serves to kick-off a busy summer.
In this two-part series, we'll look at the Raptors' own free agents and the likelihood of their returning, and tomorrow we'll take a look at possible free agent targets leading into the signing period.
First, the Raptors' own. There are certain advantages to having so many free agents associated with your team. While the most obvious is the fact that you are in the best position to resign said players given either Bird-rights or restricted status, another subtler advantage is that you can potentially use the players in sign-and-trade scenarios, possible netting an asset for an outgoing free agent (even one you had no intention of resigning). With that, let's take a look at who's expiring:
Marion is not only Toronto's most recognizable free agent, he's also their number one target. After the trade that brought him to Toronto in February Marion immediately found his niche with the team and he would be nearly impossible to replace with any one player. His rebounding is a necessity for a team starting Andrea Bargnani at centre (Marion was the NBA's leading rebounder at small forward last year), he is integral for a team wanting to weaponize the fast break and his perimeter defense and overall I.Q. would be sorely missed if he left town.
The Raptors, though, have several factors working in their favor as it relates to retaining Marion. The first is that team's looking for small forwards will probably be more willing to open up their wallets for Trevor Ariza, who is far younger, or Hedo Turkoglu and Lamar Odom, who are coming off of Finals appearances. The second is that very few teams, especially those in contention, can use a small forward that can't hit threes (Marion shot .154 from three last year). Lastly, Toronto is a team that knows Marion is a fit, and so they'll probably feel more secure offering him more than the mid-level right off of the bat and his relationship with Colangelo could get the deal done quickly (after all, Colangelo is the only man who has ever inked Marion to an NBA deal). The only thing that could really kill a return is if there is a team with money to spend that feels Marion is THE piece to their puzzle and breaks the bank for him – though it is nearly impossible to imagine any team harboring those sentiments.
Chances of returning: 75 percent
AP has been the consummate pro at the starting shooting guard spot since arriving in Toronto in 2006. He's been a steadying force in the locker room and he's afforded a typically young roster a measure of respectability. However, Parker isn't the player he was in 2006. At 34, he's lost much of the athleticism that made him special and as a result his defensive prowess has suffered. He can no longer keep up with the quickest guards in the NBA, and his offensive-efficiency has been unable to offset that decline as it too has begun sliding. Were Parker willing to take a small-dollar contract to return as a backup combo guard he'd be a wonderful piece for the future, but by all accounts his stock remains high enough that other NBA teams will be willing to cough-up more dough to nab him away from Toronto. Toss in the fact that several European outfits will be clamoring for his services (rumors of a big-ticket Olypiakos offer have swirled in newspapers across the pond) and it is highly unlikely Parker re-ups for a second tour of duty as a Raptor.
However, given the level of interest there is for him around the league, he remains a great candidate for a sign-and-trade. If teams like San Antonio or Cleveland come calling looking for way to nab Parker without eating into their mid-level exception, Toronto will no doubt be willing to explore options that benefit all parties involved – especially themselves. Parker was exactly what the Raptors needed at the time that they signed him, but today it looks like the team is going in another direction.
Chances of returning: 30 percent
If the Raptors aren't bending over backwards to resign Parker, it's partly because they expect to see Delfino return to the club this fall. He's still a restricted free agent and he and the club have talked since December about reuniting next season. Delfino does many of the same things as Parker (though perhaps none of them quite as well), he'll be an affordable replacement and he's still only 27-years-old. While Delfino wasn't exactly Mr. Consistency in his last tour of duty with Toronto (he actually shot below 40 percent in his lone season), he probably fits better with Jay Triano's movement/slashing/running offense than he did with Sam Mitchell's penetrate/dish/pick-n-roll offense. He's an aggressive player and he rebounds, always a plus, and his quickness should help in team defensive strategies. Plus, his ability to handle the ball some, like Parker, may also help the Raptors if Roko Ukic proves to be unprepared for full backup point guard duties.
The only real issue with this signing is whether or not Delfino is prepared to be the kind of ‘fifth-starter' this team needs as they wait on the development of DeMar DeRozen. With Bosh, Bargnani and Calderon remaining the core of the club, and Marion requiring some offensive attention to reward him for the work he does elsewhere, Delfino will need to be ultra-efficient in his efforts and accepting of playing off of the aforementioned teammates. His last season in Toronto didn't exactly suggest he'd be appropriate for that role, but perhaps a new system, a new coach and a year away have given him the tools to succeed in such a scenario.
Chances of returning: 90 percent
Ah, Joey Graham, selected one pick ahead of Danny Granger. That is, perhaps, what he'll always been known for in these parts of the woods. Try as he might, he never really found the consistency to his game that would demand that he returns to the club. He appeared to have turned a corner last year, but faded badly down the stretch of the season (when the team was playing its best ball) trying too hard to create one-on-one opportunities for himself on offense. He never capitalized on the defensive prowess he was advertised as possessing and he never managed to turn his enviable body into a rebounding force. He's one of those classic examples of a set of skills with a killer NBA body that never turned into a real player.
Basically, he's been given four years to prove that he has something to offer the Toronto Raptors and he's been unable to do so. I maintain that players like Graham are a dime a dozen around the NBA, and it would be hard to see why Colangelo would invest another dime in him when he has shown a remarkable ability to unearth cheap gems throughout his career. It's impossible to say Graham won't return because the team has no current depth at his position on the roster, but given that the team hasn't even extended him a qualifying offer to retain his rights says about all one needs to know about Graham's future in Toronto.
Chances of returning: 15 percent
It's not easy for a player to show up to a bad team and become a fan favorite within days of his arrival, but that is exactly what Mensah-Bonsu did in Toronto. His opening act in the city, averaging 8.6 rebounds off of the bench in his first five games, was enough to win the hearts of many a Raptors follower. However, he would only achieve 8 or more rebounds three more times for the rest of the season as he began struggling to get court time as other areas of weakness became apparent. Pops was an atrocious offensive player outside of dunks in transition, and his defense wasn't nearly as revelatory as his rebounding numbers. Throw in the fact that the Raptors got a more consistent rebounding force in Reggie Evans via trade (and he plays much better defense) and all signs pointed Mensah-Bonsu's way out of town.
However, all hope is not lost for Pops fanatics in Raptor land. If there was one player made even more irrelevant by the arrival of Evans, it's Raptors incumbent Kris Humphries, who has clashed with every coach who has wanted to him to ease up on the offense and focus on defense and rebounding. If the Raptors can find a way to unload Hump (a rumored Humphris for Keyon Dooling deal makes a lot more sense now that the Nets have acquired three new guards) that could compel the team to explore retaining Pops. If they do, Pops should spend the rest of the summer studying Jerome Williams' game, being able to use his athleticism to guard threes and fours, and learning some rudimentary post moves to avoid getting blocked after every offensive rebound.
Chances of returning: 50 percent
Jake was brought in to add some depth to the centre position early in the season. He did little as a veteran presence in the post and will almost certainly be allowed to opportunity to explore employment elsewhere.
Chances of returning: 5 percent
For those of you don't remember seeing Printezis on the Raptors squad last year, worry not. Here we have the second round pick of Toronto from 2008. After a year of seasoning with Olympiakos he is being looked at as a potential roster addition next season. He's a rugged forward with some athleticism and size (6'9”) that can play both forward spots for the club. His situation is this: He's negotiating a new contract with Olympiakos, but he's trying to use a possible deal with Toronto as leverage. Colangelo is on record as saying he'd like to explore bringing him over, but the money is going to have to work for both sides to make that happen. Right now's he's hanging in the $1-$2-million-per-year USD range with Olympiakos, so we'll see if the Raptors are interested in competing for his services. He could certainly be a useful addition to the club off of the bench, but it's not a do-or-die situation for Toronto with regards to acquiring him. If they can reach an agreement, great, if they cannot, there are plenty of other avenues for the Raptors to go down while still retaining his NBA rights.
Chances of acquisition: 40 percent
So that's the book on the Raptors free agents. There are still holes to fill in this roster and tomorrow we'll look at the players that might be explored to do just that.
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