The Toronto Raptors could possibly lose a key veteran heading into next season. Starting center Marc Gasol is reportedly mulling his future in the NBA and is seriously considering finishing his basketball career in Europe, though rumors of him signing overseas have been denied. If the Spaniard still chooses to go another year in the Association, there’s always the possibility that he signs with a different team, which ESPN’s Zach Lowe recently hinted at on his podcast.
With that said, the Raptors need to find a way to replace the former Defensive Player of the Year in their frontcourt in case he decides to end his stint in Canada. Here are four players Toronto can sign to replace Marc Gasol.
1. DeMarcus Cousins
Remember this guy? Just over two years ago, DeMarcus Cousins was still an All-NBA center. Unfortunately, two debilitating injuries have likely ended the 30-year-old’s days as a superstar. It’s hard to envision Cousins returning to his once-dominant form. But perhaps the four-time All-Star can still provide reliable minutes on a title contender like Toronto.
Perhaps the closest player to Marc Gasol on this list, at least offensively, DeMarcus Cousins can both knock down 3s and provide playmaking at the center position. Cousins averaged nearly five assists and shot close to 36 percent from 3-land in the two seasons prior to his Achilles tear in 2018.
The Raptors would likely only bring in Cousins at the right price. The mid-level exception would probably be better spent elsewhere than someone coming off two major injuries.
If Toronto can ink the former Kentucky standout to the minimum, they shouldn’t hesitate to do so. Cousins will likely not get a lot of suitors given his injury situation. The Raptors, meanwhile, should be able to present the former All-Star a one-year opportunity to showcase that he can still be a solid contributor at this stage of his career.
2. Aron Baynes
Aron Baynes and Marc Gasol are alike in the sense that both of them can stretch the floor at the 5 while playing a rugged game inside. Much like Gasol, the Australian has adapted well to the new NBA and developed a reliable shot from the outside. In the 2019-20 season, Baynes shot 35.1 percent from beyond the arc on decent volume (4.0 attempts per game).
While he may not carry the same defensive acumen Gasol carries, the 6-foot-10, 260-pound bruiser is still a big body the Raptors can utilize to guard the more traditional centers in the NBA.
The Raptors will certainly put their offseason priority in retaining starting guard Fred VanVleet and big man Serge Ibaka. What happens on that front could determine just how much Toronto has to offer a player like Baynes in terms of the mid-level exception (taxpayer MLE = $5.7 million, non-taxpayer MLE = $9.3 million).
3. Paul Millsap
The only player on this list who doesn’t share the same position as Marc Gasol, Paul Millsap is perhaps the most seasoned veteran among the possible candidates. The 35-year-old’s age was apparent in the 2020 playoffs, where he clearly lost a step. Furthermore, he also had major struggles from the field, especially in the Western Conference Finals against the Lakers.
Nonetheless, Millsap could still serve a reliable bench role for the Raptors. He could fill in for the loss of Gasol’s veteran presence in the locker room, which is an undervalued aspect of the game. As poorly as he shot in the playoffs, the four-time All-Star is at least a threat to make shots from beyond the arc. Millsap may not address losing Gasol’s size down on the block, but he nonetheless gives them toughness and hustle.
Millsap has made a lot of money in his career, so the 6-foot-7 forward might not be looking for too much at this stage in order to compete for a championship. In case the Denver Nuggets don’t retain Millsap, the Raptors should consider swooping in.
4. Mason Plumlee
Perhaps the freshest memory NBA fans have of Mason Plumlee is him screwing up on defense when Anthony Davis nailed his iconic buzzer-beating 3-pointer in Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals. Nonetheless, that play shouldn’t scare away the Raptors from considering him as a Marc Gasol replacement in case the Spaniard decides to close the Canadian chapter of his basketball career.
Unlike Gasol or anyone on this list, Plumlee is the only non-threat from beyond the arc. Thus, they would lose that aspect of the three-time All-Star’s game. But while he isn’t the passer Gasol is, Plumlee is a pretty decent playmaker from the 5-spot. In his best stretch as a pro, Plumlee averaged 4.0 assists in 54 games (all starts) with the Portland Trail Blazers in the 2016-17 season.
If the Raptors don’t have any other options for the MLE, they might as well try to offer that to the 30-year-old. Coming off a three-year, $41 million deal this offseason, Plumlee likely won’t demand much on the market.