Toronto Raptors Possible Draft Day Trades
The new luxury tax penalties that kick in after next season have put some NBA teams in a bind, no longer will teams only pay dollar-for-dollar when spending too much, these new rules will cause some serious pain. Teams that couldn’t afford luxury tax under the old collective bargaining agreement will not even risk ending up there now and owners who previously spent like drunken sailors have already started to reel things back in. This means is opportunities should be plentiful for teams with salary cap space, young inexpensive players and draft picks like the Toronto Raptors.
President and General Manager Bryan Colangelo made moves during the season that undoubtedly cost his team some wins, but they also gave the Raptors a league-best $12 million in salary cap space to use in unbalanced trades before free agency. If even one team blinks in the face of future luxury tax bills, he should be able to take advantage of that space.
The Hawks have committed $60.9 million to just six players and while this group can win 50 games, they can’t get out of the first or second round of the playoffs as currently constructed. It has been suggested on numerous occasions that the All-Star snub Josh Smith is the logical player to be traded.
Smith will earn $13.2 million in the final year of his contract next season and any team acquiring his services will have to take this into consideration, but Smith is precisely the type of player that could elevate Toronto into serious playoff contention. A lottery pick and some young talent should get Atlanta’s attention.
If Hawks want to add depth and the potential to improve without risking luxury tax, their alternatives are very limited. As HOOPSWORLD’s Jason Fleming explained, “If they want to sign veteran minimum salaries – like how they signed Tracy McGrady, Vladimir Radmanovic, Jason Collins, Jerry Stackhouse, Willie Green and Jannero Pargo last summer – they will be in the luxury tax.”
It is expected the Bulls will be without All-Star Derrick Rose all of next season and if All-Star Luol Deng participates in the Olympics, Deng could miss the start of the season recovering from delayed wrist surgery. With $60 million committed to just six players and three non-guaranteed deals totaling $12.5 million, the Bulls could be deep into luxury tax territory and fighting to just make the playoffs next year if something doesn’t change.
Chicago has the option to eat the luxury taxes and keep this highly successful team together or they could choose to take advantage of lower expectations to restructure their roster. If Chicago restructures, their options include not picking up the non-guaranteed contracts, amnesty of Carlos Boozer or trading Luol Deng, and it would take at least two of these options to make a significant difference to their payroll.
If Chicago is willing to take back a lottery pick, a young player and cap space for Deng’s $13.3 million salary, Toronto could accommodate them. The Bulls have some tough decisions to make.
The Grizzlies have $59.5 million committed to six players next season and must issue qualifying offers to O.J. Mayo, Marreese Speights and Darrell Arthur for a total of $14.4 million or risk losing them to unrestricted free agency this summer. Unfortunately, the small market Grizzlies cannot afford to become a luxury tax team, so something has to give.
While it has been long rumored that Mayo would be traded or lost to free agency, Mayo’s salary alone does not significantly alleviate Memphis’ luxury tax issues and Mayo has proven to be a key player for the Grizzlies over the past four seasons. Somewhat surprisingly, this team enjoyed its greatest success during the 2011 playoffs when Rudy Gay was injured.
Gay is earning a max contract over the next three seasons and receiving a lottery pick, young players and salary cap space could solve Memphis’ luxury tax issues into the foreseeable future. Gay, like Smith or Deng, would instantly move the Raptors into playoff contention.
Oklahoma City Thunder
The Thunder can keep this group of players together next season. Their issue is the pending contract extension talks with James Harden and Serge Ibaka. After next season, Oklahoma City has committed $41.8 million to Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant and Kendrick Perkins and both Harden and Ibaka can make a case for maximum or near maximum deals.
The minimum for Ibaka was set when DeAndre Jordan received a four-year $43 million contract last summer and Harden could be the best young shooting guard in the league. The Thunder will not part with either of these players easily, but it would be very difficult for this small market team to spend any significant time in luxury tax territory.
An argument can be made that it will be easier for the Thunder to replace Harden’s offense off the bench than Ibaka’s defensive presence and the most effective means of replacing Harden’s contributions in the lineup would be with another young scorer on their rookie deal and a lottery pick.
The Thunder should make their move with these two young stars before contract extension talks begin next season. Allowing either of them to become restricted free agents risks losing them for nothing. Most teams with a lottery pick would put a serious proposal in front of the Thunder if Harden became available.
Other teams facing roster decisions that will impact on their luxury tax situation include New York, Miami, Los Angeles Lakers and Orlando.
In theory, all of these teams have the option to accept luxury tax in the future or delay making significant moves until after free agency begins and more teams with salary cap space are available to bid on players. However, history tells us that once a team has drafted a lottery pick, they usually find it difficult to part with that player until after they know what they have. If a team wants to add a lottery pick to their roster, the best time to a make a deal is before the player is drafted.
Colangelo spent this past season creating the maximum financial flexibility possible and protecting his team’s draft status. The first real test of his efforts will come with the NBA draft when all eyes will be on Toronto to see if Colangelo can, indeed, take the first step towards building the contender that he has described. With the recent changes to the collective bargaining agreement and luxury tax rules, he should be able to find a partner with whom to create some draft day fireworks.