TORONTO – With their exhibition slate completed and the start of their most anticipated season to date just around the corner, the Toronto Raptors have put the finishing touches on their roster.
In waiving training camp invitees Deng Adel, Kyle Collinsworth, Kay Felder and Eric Moreland – some of whom should end up with Toronto’s G League affiliate, Raptors 905 – the Raptors made Canadian big man Chris Boucher their second two-way contract player on Friday afternoon.
Toronto will open the new campaign, its 24th in franchise history, with 16 players: 13 on guaranteed contracts (Kyle Lowry, Kawhi Leonard, Serge Ibaka, Jonas Valanciunas, Danny Green, Norman Powell, Fred VanVleet, C.J. Miles, Delon Wright, Greg Monroe, OG Anunoby, Malachi Richardson and Pascal Siakam), one partially guaranteed (Lorenzo Brown), and a couple on two-way deals (Boucher and Jordan Loyd).
As a cost-cutting measure with the team projected to be well into the luxury tax, the Raptors are expected to keep their final roster spot vacant for most of the season. Instead, they’ll maximize the NBA service time of their two-way players, as they did last year.
With most of the roster all but locked in entering training camp, the second two-way gig had been the only spot up for grabs. Boucher emerged as an early favourite.
The power forward, who grew up in Montreal, has been around the organization since early July, when he impressed head coach Nick Nurse playing for Toronto’s Summer League team in Las Vegas. He spent the rest of the summer training with the team’s young players and assistant coaches in Las Angeles.
After getting a head start on his competition, Boucher continued to shine in camp, earning praise from Nurse following the team’s first few practices in Vancouver last month. At 25, Boucher is older than most players of his experience level, but because he was late to pick up the sport he still offers some intriguing upside as a long and mobile big that can run the floor, block shots and even step out and hit the three. With a guard heavy roster, Boucher gives the Raptors some additional depth in the frontcourt.
Boucher and Loyd can each spend up to 45 days with the parent club between the start of the G League season and the end of the G League playoffs, spending the rest with the 905. Neither will be playoff eligible, but the Raptors will have the option to convert one of their deals before the end of the season, assuming they keep their final spot open, like they did with Brown last year.
With the NBA’s best bench, at least in terms of net rating, and a rotation that occasionally expanded to as large as 12, the Raptors were arguably the deepest team in the league last year and figure to be even deeper this season.
The Raptors rested eight of their veteran rotation players for Thursday’s pre-season finale in New Orleans. Still, they beat Anthony Davis and a full Pelicans squad, 134-119, with seven Toronto players scoring in double figures.
Going head-to-head with Davis for most of the first half, Siakam finished the game with 21 points, 11 rebounds, six assists and four steals. Richardson hit four threes and scored 21 off the bench, while Miles added 14 points in 11 minutes and Anunoby chipped in with 15, playing in just his second exhibition game after returning from an excused 10-day personal leave.
Toronto finished the preseason with a record of 4-1, with Nurse shuffling his lineups in each game. The thinking was that experimenting with the rotation would help the coaches figure out what works and what doesn’t, while also allowing players to develop chemistry with different groups.
Nurse insists he is still undecided on what the starting lineup will look like to open the season, and it could remain fluid throughout the campaign. Of course, Leonard and Lowry are locks, and it also appears Green has the inside track on the third spot. Miles, Siakam and Anunoby (the presumed favourite) have all gotten a look at power forward, while Ibaka and Valanciunas are battling it out at centre.
It would seem Nurse intends to separate his two bigs, who started in the frontcourt together for the bulk of last season but have shared the court for just a few minutes this fall. They’ve alternated roles throughout the preseason, though it’s worth noting that Ibaka started three of the five games, including Wednesday’s dress rehearsal in Montreal.
Monroe, who signed with the Raptors over the summer to replace backup centre Jakob Poeltl, has been the odd man out so far, rarely seeing the court outside of garbage time. It’s conceivable, even likely that Monroe – an eight-year NBA vet, who has started 415 career games – could find himself on the outside of the team’s regular rotation as the 11th or 12th man, which speaks to how deep this roster is built.
The Raptors will take Saturday off after travelling back from New Orleans on Friday, and practice from Sunday to Tuesday before opening the regular season at home to the Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday