NBA AM: The Raptors Center Problem
The Raptors’ Center Problem: The Toronto Raptors spent their 5th overall pick in the 2011 NBA Draft on international big man Jonas Valanciunas. The move initially took some Raptor fans by surprise, especially with players like Brandon Knight and Kemba Walker arguably filling a bigger, more immediate need.
The Raptors’ decision to take Jonas was further complicated when Jonas’ international buyout was deferred for a year, meaning the Raptors dropped their pick on a player they won’t see in uniform for at least another year.
The future for the Raptors looks bright, and Jonas has been impressive in international play since the draft. He’s is currently logging limited minutes for Lithuania in the 2011 EuroBasket tournament, so Raptor fans can see first-hand that Jonas isn’t a big stiff. However, next season still has questions – questions beyond the biggest of will there be a season.
The Raptors are sitting on roughly $52.22 million in salary commitments next season meaning the odds that they are substantial free agent players are pretty slim, especially if the new salary system enacted with a new Collective Bargaining Agreement brings a salary cap figure below the current $57.8 million.
There are some notable free agent big men like Marc Gasol (restricted free agent), Tyson Chandler (unrestricted free agent) and Denver big man Nene (unrestricted free agent) however all of them are coming from situations better than the one in Toronto and all of them would command far more money than the Raptors can offer especially if the cap is coming down.
There is been a lot of talk that the sign and trade provision in the old labor deal could be a causality of the new labor deal meaning the Raptors will need to find their center for next season in trade, from the value bin or from their own roster.
The good news is that the Raptors do have a candidate in Solomon Alabi who was drafted last year with the 50th pick. Solomon was drafted coming off of knee surgery which was kept somewhat low key during the draft process; as a result he really did not work out well for NBA teams and took a slide.
If you recall, Alabi was considered by some to be a late first round prospect that just tumbled on draft night.
Alabi did not get healthy until mid-season last year and by that time he’d already been written out of the game plan by former head coach Jay Triano. Alabi saw garbage time but little else as a rookie.
When the Raptors’ season ended Alabi hit the gym almost immediately, so when the Raptors put together a mini-camp at the end of June, Alabi was not only one of the best players in the camp, he was finally healthy and had some bounce again.
If you recall, Alabi last season he could barely jump over a phone book and looked like a plodding stiff.
New Raptors’ head coach Dwane Casey was impressed with Alabi’s performance and told the 23-year-old seven-footer that if he came to camp with the same bounce, energy and aggressiveness that he showed in the mini-camp, he’d get a chance to compete for the starters spot at center.
Now the Raptors won’t be banking on Solo as their only options, but as you start to consider where the Raptors can go with limited money to spend Solo may get his chance out of necessity.
There is little doubt that Jonas Valanciunas is the Raptors’ center of the future, however for next season Solomon Alabi may get a chance to earn his spot and that’s far more likely than a major free agent being brought in for a number of reasons.
They Are Talking: The NBA and its Players met for six hours on Wednesday and emerged with a similar line for the media – it won’t be constructive to blast one another anymore.
Sources close to the situation say the meeting did not yield any new proposals from either side, rather a review of the core issues in play and an open dialogue between both sides.
In 1999, the last time the NBA lost games to a work stoppage, the final deal was reached with a small handful of people in the room, so the fact that Wednesday’s meeting was again a small group with the power to make a deal bodes well for where the process stands.
While civility and optimism emerged from Wednesday’s meeting, sources near the process continue to say the gulf between the two sides remains massive and that’s going to be the focus when meetings resume next week.
A common theme among fans is questioning why there is so much time between meetings and part of that is simply giving both sides a chance to craft a well thought out response to the core issue of how to remove some $350 million per year from the NBA economy. Removing that much money from the salary pool is not a simple process for the Players, mainly because they do not believe they should have to solve this problem out of their pockets.
Fans often point to how teams spend money, and the Players to a certain extent use the logic that no one forces owners to write contracts. When in truth no one forces an individual owner to write checks to a specific player, but as a league the NBA has to give the Players 57% of revenue.
The differences in what’s actually paid in salary and what’s made up in bulk payments are spread to the teams that don’t spend. So in essence it’s easy to say the Pistons shouldn’t have given Ben Gordon $60 million, but the truth is the franchise would have been charged for those dollars had they gone unused, so teams have to spend whether they want to or not because of how the deal is structured.
The Owners need the share of revenue reduced, and that is the biggest core issue.
Fans and Players have gotten caught up in well publicized concepts in a new agreement, like hard caps and lower salary caps, but the truth of it is if the NBA Owners get the share given to the Players reduced far enough, they’d cave on just about everything else.
Wednesday’s meeting was a good starting point for talks. Both sides were civil with one another and dialogue is occurring again.
We are still a long way from a deal, but a deal happens with both sides in the room and new meetings are scheduled for next week. So here is hoping progress is made next week.
In Related: Many of you have asked what the deal needs to look like to get done on both sides, and while we have gotten into that on a few separate occasions, here are the bullet points of the Kyler Compromise:
- Revenue is split 50/50 for the first three years of a 10 year agreement. The Players percentage increases in year 4, and continues to increase based on a defined revenue growth scale with the ability to get to a 55% share if league revenues growth more than 6% annually. The NBA guarantees that salaries and benefits to the Players never fall below $2 billion at any time in the deal.
- The Players agree to forfeit their 8% Escrow fund for the next three years, unless revenue growth exceeds 5% in any given year. In Year 4 the system returns to the normal escrowed percentage protection format in place now.
- Maximum length of player contracts is reduced to four years for players staying with their existing teams. A Maximum contract for players leaving their teams is three years. Automatic annual increases are eliminated.
- The rookie salary system for incoming players is recalibrated to the new salary structure on a percentage basis.
- In an effort to address Franchise Players protection, each team can designate one Franchise Player on their roster and his salary does not count against the Salary cap and can be up to a predetermined maximum salary. A Franchise Player cannot be traded during the term of his Franchise contract.
- The NBA will agree to fund an increase in the Player’s pension and disability fund, to address the threat of shorter careers.
- The NBA and The Players agree to a standard accounting practice to eliminate number disputes in future agreements.
In short the Players are guaranteed to make no less than $2 billion in salary and benefits. They get the chance to earn additional monies as the league grows. The owners get their reductions in expenses and their rollback of costs for the next three years.
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