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Raptors' roster taking shape as Summer League battles play out

Christian Koloko Toronto Raptors Christian Koloko - Bart Young/NBAE via Getty Images

LAS VEGAS – Courtside seating was at a premium for the Raptors’ Summer League opener at Cox Pavilion in Las Vegas this past weekend.

With Vegas becoming a hub for off-season training and the NBA’s annual summer showcase growing in popularity over recent years, it’s not unusual to see a few veteran players pop by the arena to support their younger teammates. Most teams have two or three regular roster guys sitting in the front row. On Saturday, Toronto brought two-thirds of its squad.

Recently signed veteran forward Otto Porter Jr. sat towards one end of the sideline chatting with and getting to know new teammate Pascal Siakam. Scottie Barnes was on the opposite end, snapping photos for IG. Then Fred VanVleet arrived, followed by Precious Achiuwa and Gary Trent Jr., who made his entrance wearing a leather vest, because of course he did.

By the time Chris Boucher showed up towards the end of the first half, Raptors row featured eight of the team’s 12 players with guaranteed contracts for next season. The one notable absence was OG Anunoby, who had been training with the team in Vegas for a few days last week but left to attend to a personal matter and is currently working out in Atlanta. Nothing to be concerned about, or so team sources say.

So, barring a big mid-summer trade – can you think of anybody who might be available? – this is what the opening night roster could look like, more or less. The seven guys who ate up the bulk of the minutes in Nick Nurse’s rotation should be back, and they’re hoping they’ve done enough to fortify a bench that struggled through most of last season.

“Injuries took their toll and the depth was a factor last season,” said Nurse, who was also a spectator at Sunday’s game and has been sitting in and observing practices this past week. “But I think we’ve added someone in Otto who’s going to fit in and play right away. That helps. And I think [Thaddeus Young] is really caught up and now in the swing of things. I think he’ll be ready to go from Day 1. So there’s a couple good veteran guys that are really key, I think, and the rest of these guys, we’ll see how it breaks down.”

That’s the value of Summer League. What happens on the court or in the gym this month could go a long way in determining who will earn those coveted final roster spots.

Currently, their 12 roster players are as follows: Siakam, VanVleet, Trent, Anunoby, Boucher, Young, Barnes, Khem Birch, Porter, Achiuwa, Malachi Flynn and Svi Mykhailiuk (who recently picked up his player option for next season). That means they have up to three spots to fill, as well as their second two-way slot (the first is expected to go to undrafted rookie guard Ron Harper Jr.). They can have up to 20 players at training camp, which opens in late September.


Christian Koloko

The 33rd-overall pick in last month’s draft remains unsigned. As a second-rounder, Koloko isn’t bound to a standard rookie scale contract, so the Raptors have some flexibility in terms of how they structure his deal.

Technically, he’s eligible to sign a two-way contract, if he’s amenable to that, but it sure sounds like they intend to have him on the regular roster. Pencil him into that 13th spot.

He’s impressed in Vegas so far. He scored 12 points and grabbed seven rebounds in his Summer League debut on Saturday, a decisive 97-77 win over Philadelphia. He looked a bit lost on offence at times, as you would have expected in his first game as a pro, and committed six fouls in 28 high-energy minutes. But you could also see why the Raptors are excited about him and his upside, especially on the defensive end, where he blocked three shots to go along with his three steals. He gives the team something it hasn’t had in a while: a seven-foot rim running and rim-protecting centre.

“He does what he does very well and we probably don’t need him to do much more than that,” Nurse told TSN. “I love the way he runs, his feet are great, he’s blocking shots, screening OK and he’s got a pretty decent, safe pair of hands. And it’s probably a good roster fit.”

The plan is to ease him in. He should get plenty of G League seasoning with the 905 early in his first NBA campaign, but if he develops as they hope, the Raptors think he could be a rotation option later in the season.

“I would imagine that his game is going to translate and transfer pretty quickly,” said Nurse. “I think he’ll be ready. We’ll go into it with a combo of: if he is ready right away that’s a little bit of icing on the cake and, probably more likely, we take the realistic or planned view of up and down a little bit – down to really get his feet under him and then probably back up and making an impact by January or February.”

Dalano Banton

The partial guarantee on Banton’s contract went up slightly earlier this month and becomes fully guaranteed on opening night if he’s not waived prior to that.

The Toronto Rexdale native and former second-round pick was in and out of Nurse’s rotation as a rookie. He came back down to earth a bit after a nice start to the season, but he made the most of his time with the 905, looking like a star at the G League level. He’s mostly looked too good for Summer League as well.

After scoring 18 of his 21 points in the second half of Saturday’s opener, Banton went off for 12 points in the first four minutes of Tuesday’s loss to Chicago.

Encouragingly, he’s shown improvement in two key areas. He’s making better decisions with the ball, which is crucial if he’s going to continue to play point guard at the NBA level, and he’s shooting the three-ball well, a focus for him this summer.

“I see Dalano as an intriguing, improving player,” Nurse said. “For me, [we’ve] just gotta continue to push him to use what he’s got. He’s long, man, and he could block shots. He’s gotta keep swinging at ‘em. He’s gotta keep getting deflections. He’s gotta make sure that his 6-9 and his length impact the game at the defensive end. He does in spurts here and there but I think it’s something he could take up to a specialist type of role at that end, really come in and impact the game.”

“I’ve been putting up a lot of shots, a lot of reps, and I’m going to continue to trust in the work,” said Banton. “We’ve seen guys come before me like Freddie, Pascal, a lot of guys that went through the development process with the Raptors and they’re shining today. So I’m going to continue to trust in them and whatever they have planned for me I’m going to do it with all I’ve got.”

His body of work and the team’s investment in his development should be enough to ensure he sticks around past training camp.

Justin Champagnie

After impressing on a two-way deal last season, Champagnie – a Nurse favourite – went into the summer with an inside track at a roster spot. Unfortunately, the 21-year-old forward suffered a small fracture in his left thumb on the eve of Saturday’s opener, putting an end to his Summer League before it even started.

“Obviously it sucks but everything happens for a reason, I’m a big believer in that,” Champagnie told TSN on Monday. “I’ll be ready for training camp, probably before that, so when that comes around I’ll be ready to go and I’ll put my best foot forward. It sucks because I wanted to go out there and really show what I’m made of for Summer League. But I feel like I showed a lot between the G League and when I had my games in the [NBA], so I’m ready for whatever happens.”

Champagnie, a restricted free agent, still doesn’t have a contract but the plan is for him to be at training camp in the fall. Assuming he’s healthy, he should still have a good shot at earning a spot.

“Justin, you know I love,” Nurse said. “I think he’s disappointed that he’s injured here because he was really playing just how we’re trying to get him to play. He sped up the release from three, his percentages have gone up, he’s shooting it confidently and he’s all over the glass all the time.”

D.J. Wilson

Timing wasn’t on Wilson’s side last season. Amid an organization-wide COVID outbreak, the Raptors signed the 26-year-old forward to a hardship 10-day contract in December. After making a strong first impression, Wilson tested positive for the virus himself.

He got a second opportunity with the club later in the season but it was cut short again, this time due to a knee injury. Still, the Raptors saw enough from the former first-round pick to warrant another look. They signed him to a two-year deal last week, though the second season isn’t guaranteed and there’s only a small guarantee for this season. It essentially amounts to a training camp invite.

“I’m so blessed and grateful and appreciative,” Wilson said. “It means everything just to be able to play at the highest level. It’s everything I’ve been working for. So I’m gonna make the most of my opportunity and definitely seize it and I’m extremely grateful for the organization to give me this chance.”

Wilson’s off to a rough start in Vegas. He shot 2-for-9 and committed six fouls in 23 minutes against Philadelphia and then turned the ball over six times in the loss to Chicago.

Armoni Brooks, David Johnson and Harper Jr.

Brooks’ partial guarantee for this coming season goes up to $250,000 on August 1st and his deal becomes fully guaranteed on opening night unless he’s waived before those dates.

After earning a couple 10-day contracts late last season and then signing on for the remainder of the campaign, the 24-year-old guard has a head start on some of his competition. He also addresses a need on the roster as a shooter and backcourt depth piece. He was excellent in the Summer League opener, hitting five of his 12 three-point attempts and scoring a game-high 25 points off the bench.

Coming off an injury-plagued rookie season, Johnson is a restricted free agent. He was on a two-way deal a year ago, after Toronto selected him in the second round of the 2021 draft. The question is whether he’s shown enough to earn a longer look. He played sparingly off the bench and struggled in both Summer League games.

Harper will be at training camp with the club and is expected to fill one of their two-way spots, although they’ll have the option to convert his deal to a regular NBA contract if he turns heads. Son of the former Chicago Bulls guard and five-time champion, Harper has been quiet in the two games but was Toronto’s best player in a closed-door scrimmage with New Orleans over the weekend, according to Summer League head coach Trevor Gleeson.


Obviously, the ongoing Kevin Durant saga is a wildcard when it comes to roster construction. It’s eerily quiet on the KD front and all indications are there hasn’t been much traction in trade talks, with Toronto or any other team.

The Raptors have engaged Brooklyn in preliminary discussions, but it hasn’t moved past that. One league source described the Nets’ asking price as “unreasonably high,” and Toronto has been unwilling to include Barnes or the maximum haul of future first-round picks in an offer.

If they were to make a trade in which they send out three or four players for one, having all this inexpensive depth on the fringes of the roster could come in handy. In the more likely scenario where the roster stays status quo, there will only be space for a few of these guys.

Best guess is that Koloko and Banton end up on the regular roster with Champagnie winning the 15th spot in training camp.

With Porter’s Year 1 salary coming in below the taxpayer mid-level exception – $6 million, as TSN first reported – the Raptors have some additional flexibility. They could give Koloko a third year on his deal or avoid being hard capped in the event they do make a trade that pushes them over the tax apron.

If somebody else stands out in camp, the Raptors could also decide to waive Mykhailiuk and just eat the small cap hit. Wilson would seem to be a likely candidate if they decide to hang onto an extra player.

“I would imagine all three of those guys have a really good chance of being on the roster,” Nurse said in reference to Banton, Champagnie and Wilson.

Nurse and the Raptors could have some tough decisions to make this fall, but that’s a good problem to have. However these roster battles shake out, there should be plenty of internal competition for the final few spots.

“It’s a close-knit group,” said Wilson. “We’re all real close so it makes it easier, as weird as it sounds. It makes it more fun, if that makes sense. It’s a competitive group and we get after it everyday, the coaches make sure of it. Where the chips fall, they fall but we’re getting after it and we’re having a lot of fun doing it.”

“I’ve never been one to shy away from [competition],” Champagnie said. “I’m a dog, I want to compete and however it plays out it plays out. I’m ready to work for it. I knew this wasn’t going to be easy so I’m here for it.”