The Toronto Raptors bounced back from a horrific 2020-2021 season by finishing 5th in the Eastern Conference in 2021-2022. If they want to return to genuine title contention status, though, they need to make some moves in the 2022 NBA free agency period.
First, the Raptors are well-positioned to contend now and in the future, that much is certain. In addition to Fred VanVleet and Pascal Siakam approaching their primes, Scottie Barnes is only beginning to realize his true potential. For his part, OG Anunoby is constantly improving his game.
The four of them work together to create a strong core for the Raptors. The onus is now on Toronto’s front office to put the proper supporting cast around them.
Going into the 2022–23 season, the Raptors have a few options for achieving that. The first was the draft, where they selected Christian Koloko as the 33rd overall pick. The next phase is free agency, which starts on June 30.
The caveat here is that the Raptors don’t have much to spend this offseason. They need to be frugal, if not cunning.
Free agency is almost here, and our guy @dhackett1565 has come through with an updated salary cap primer for our Raptors! Read on and see what the team’s options are this summer: https://t.co/18AULp5hsx
— Raptors HQ (@RaptorsHQ) June 28, 2022
Given the lack of cap space they have, the Raptors’ main options right now are offering the mid-level exception, worth up to $10.3 million, and/or the biannual exception, worth up to $4.1 million. Other than those, it’s the trading block.
Keep in mind, however, that Toronto can keep unrestricted free agents Chris Boucher and Thaddeus Young even if they go over the cap, since both players’ Bird rights belong to the Raptors.
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4 players Raptors must sign in 2022 NBA free agency:
4. Tyus Jones
Someone like Tyus Jones can be a considerable option for the Raptors as a back-up to Fred VanVleet. Jones would add significant depth at the point guard spot and would be a considerable upgrade from Armani Brooks.
The main selling point of Jones is his tremendous efficiency as a classic floor general. Over his 7-year career, Jones has recorded close to a 4-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio, which is actually close to Chris Paul territory already. Jones is also known as a pesky defender, and he also shot a career-high 39.0 percent from beyond the arc last season.
If the Raptors manage to sign Jones, he shores up their perimeter playmaking and defense while also addressing a key concern — 3-point shooting. He could really want a higher salary than the Raptors are willing to provide, but he’d still be a great VanVleet backup.
3. Nic Claxton
The most intriguing thing Nic Claxton can bring to the Raptors would be his rim protection. Claxton blocked 1.1 shots last season. That’s not elite, but that’s already better than any Raptor had in 2021-2022. For the record, Chris Boucher led the team in blocks with 0.9 per contest.
Claxton, meanwhile, upped his game in the 2022 NBA Playoffs, blocking 2.3 shots on top of scoring 10.5 points and netting 1.3 steals per game.
At 6’11, Claxton also gives the Raptors a true big man at the slot. Gone would be the days of Boucher, Pascal Siakam, and Precious Achiuwa pretending to be centers.
Claxton would be such a good fit that if he is the only new name the Raptors land in free agency, that should be considered a slam dunk already.
Also keep in mind that at the trade deadline earlier this year, the Raptors allegedly came close to getting Claxton from the Nets. Again, it is easy to understand why Toronto wanted him, given his ability to defend the rim, switch on defense, and catch those lobs.
REPORT: The Nets were “very close” to sending Nic Claxton to Raptors for a first round pick at the deadline.
— Legion Hoops (@LegionHoops) February 16, 2022
2. Gary Harris
Aside from rim protection, the aforementioned 3-point shooting is another element the Raptors would do well to address.
As a team, Toronto shot under 35.0 percent from beyond the arc in 2021-2022. They were ranked 20th overall in the league. That number went down to under 30.0% in the postseason, where Pascal Siakam’s and Gary Trent Jr’s shooting fell sharply.
Enter someone like Gary Harris, who can potentially be another perimeter threat for Toronto. The 27-year-old did pretty well for the Orlando Magic last season, scoring 11.1 points per game while shooting 38.4 percent from 3-point land. That’s the third-best 3-point shooting clip of his career so far.
Harris is the kind of player who can have an immediate impact on a club that is in contention, which he must do on a mid-level exception. Additionally, Harris won’t be 28 until September, despite the fact that it seems like he has been in the league for much longer.
1. Chris Boucher
This should not even be a discussion for the Raptors.
Chris Boucher has played for the Toronto Raptors for the last four seasons. At 6’10 with a 7’3 wingspan, he plays in a very distinctive manner. Last season, the player from Oregon averaged 9.4 points, 6.2 rebounds, and a team-leading 0.9 blocks per game. That’s a bit of a step back from his 2020-2021 production, but he should still be worth keeping.
In reality, the rise of Scottie Barnes and Toronto’s overabundance of long forwards most likely slowed Boucher’s development, but he should rediscover his niche on this squad soon enough.
The most underrated players in the 2022 NBA free agency 🏀
Gary Payton II
— Fadeaway World (@FadeawayWorld) June 27, 2022
On offense, Boucher is a willing floor spreader and an above-average rebounder on both ends of the floor. In fact, he did average a career-high 2.2 offensive boards per game last season. On the defensive side of the ball, his wide wingspan would be a huge asset. He would be a valuable addition to the club because of his ability to lead the Raptors’ second unit.
If Toronto loses Boucher, there might be hell to pay.