The Raptors’ path to creating the deepest roster possible for this coming season involves keeping both Chris Boucher and Thaddeus Young, both of whom will be free agents. The Raptors have both players’ Bird rights, which means they can exceed the salary cap by any amount they choose in order to retain them.
It might not be so easy. The Raptors will likely want to a) steer clear of paying the luxury tax this year for a team that does not project to be a championship contender yet; b) maintain the ability to use the $10.35 million non-taxpayer mid-level exception to add to the roster; c) limit spending years into the future to allow for eventual raises for much of their core.
In other words, while the Raptors have the cap tools to keep both players, they probably have walk-away prices for both players, or at least a total expenditure for the duo. If the Raptors exceed, let’s say, $19 million, for the two hybrid frontcourt players, it would become very complicated to use the full MLE, fill out the roster and stay under the tax. In his BORD$ valuations, The Athletic’s John Hollinger has Boucher’s cap value for this coming season at $19.78 million and Young’s at $8.01 million. In both cases, Hollinger said it was possible, or even likely, that neither player would command that much in actual free agency, but it shows the potential for teams to prize both guys highly. If that happens, the Raptors might have to choose between the two, or make some long-term concessions.
With that in mind, I thought it wise to assess their most likely pursuers, about 10 days shy of free agency.
(All cap figures per Keith Smith at Spotrac; most teams’ actual spending ability will be determined based on their decisions on their own free agents, so the listed cap situations are merely educated hypotheses at this stage.)
Cap space teams
Indiana ($24.9 million in projected cap room): Most of the teams projected to have any meaningful cap space beyond the non-taxpayer mid-level exception failed to make the playoffs this year. That points to these teams either looking to make a significant free-agent splash at the top of the market or preserving that room to acquire some additional draft picks as a tax for taking on unwanted contracts. The Pacers are one of the teams I can imagine having Boucher as a top option, just because they were extremely aggressive on the offensive glass last year, finishing behind only the Grizzlies and Raptors in offensive rebounding percentage. Boucher fits in with that type of approach. Myles Turner is a potential trade candidate and Goga Bitadze has been in and out of the rotation for two years. Isaiah Jackson flashed as a rookie and Jalen Smith is a restricted free agent, but Boucher is malleable enough to fit in with either of them (or Turner if he hangs around, too).
Portland: ($23.5 million in cap room): The Trail Blazers aren’t likely to end up with cap room. If they bring Jusuf Nurkic back in the mid-eight figures, they will end up operating as an over-the-cap team. Boucher would make some sense next to Nurkic, though. Regardless, the Trail Blazers were one of the worst rebounding teams in the league, and Portland does not have any significant frontcourt prospects.
Non-taxpayer mid-level teams
Charlotte (projected $39.92 million under luxury tax): The Hornets are in a fascinating position, with their top priority being the retention of Miles Bridges, one of the best players in restricted free agency. Cody Martin is also a restricted free agent, while Montrezl Harrell is an unrestricted free agent. Charlotte could also not pick up the full guarantee on Mason Plumlee, making him a free agent. Obviously, the Hornets’ frontcourt situation could go a number of ways, and they are always mentioned when a big man of note becomes available (watch out for them with both Deandre Ayton and, to a lesser degree, Rudy Gobert). If they prefer a subtler move, Boucher, a rim-running shot-blocker, would make a ton of sense sprinting down the court with LaMelo Ball. Charlotte was a wretched resounding team, too.
Chicago ($48.97 million under luxury tax): Keeping Zach Lavine will be the Bulls’ focus. With that said, with or without LaVine, the Bulls lacked frontcourt explosiveness, especially as Patrick Williams missed the majority of the year. Williams should be healthy, but the Bulls still have precious little depth up front, and they finished with the worst defensive rating of any playoff team. It is easy to picture Boucher in a hybrid lineup with Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso, mucking things up.
Minnesota ($29.47 million under luxury tax): I have a working theory: the Raptors and Timberwolves have such similar styles that it makes sense to imagine former Raptors playing in Minnesota and former Timberwolves playing in Toronto. With Karl-Anthony Towns, Jarred Vanderbilt, Naz Reid and Jaden McDaniels, Minnesota has solid frontcourt depth. Boucher gets after it, though, and is familiar with how Chris Finch, Nick Nurse’s close coaching pal, wants his team to play.
Phoenix ($19.83 million under luxury tax): This only happens if the Suns lose Ayton and do not return players making a similar amount of money (they can accept up to $20 million in incoming salary) in a sign-and-trade. Boucher could absolutely be part of a more cost-friendly approach to the center position, and former Raptors staffer Patrick Mutombo is now in Phoenix coaching on Monty Williams’ staff to vouch for him. Think of all the lobs Boucher could catch from Chris Paul. The Suns are trying to win now, and Boucher is a low-usage frontcourt option in his prime.
Cap space teams
Memphis (Approximately $20 million in cap room): Depending on what happens with free agents Tyus Jones and Kyle Anderson, the Grizzlies could either use cap space or act as an over-the-cap team and dangle the taxpayer mid-level exception to improve their roster. Given Young’s age, it makes little sense for any team to offer more than the exception annually for Young, but he makes sense as a veteran presence who fits in with the Grizzlies’ aggressive, in-your face style. (They could also be a Boucher suitor.) Of note: Young operates his AAU team out of Memphis.
Non-taxpayer mid-level teams
Minnesota: See Boucher entry.
Sacramento ($35.2 million under tax): Never bet against the Kings trying to sign an actual adult human in order to bring some sort of accountability to the organization. Additionally, if Mike Brown wants to bring more of Golden State’s randomness to his new team, adding another plus passer in the frontcourt helps. The Kings likely need to prioritize perimeter shooting to put around Domantas Sabonis and De’Aaron Fox, but Young could be a sensible fallback option to address some other needs.
New York ($29 million under tax): My therapist told me never to try to understand what the Knicks are doing at any given moment, so this might be way out there. With that said, any offense that was stuck in mud as often as the Knicks’ was last year could use a player such as Young. For a team without a stud point guard, adding some playmaking up front is a possible workaround. Again, these are the Knicks, so nobody knows.
Taxpayer mid-level teams
Milwaukee ($4.4 million over tax threshold): If I had to bet, if Young leaves Toronto, it will be to sign for the taxpayer mid-level ($6.39 million) with some team. He makes some sense on a lot of these rosters — Golden State, Boston, the Clippers, Dallas and so forth. Milwaukee is my favorite of those potential landing spots, especially if Bobby Portis leaves in free agency. The Bucks missed PJ Tucker this year, and while Young is not the perimeter defender that he is, he brings some of that versatility. Young would probably need to increase his 3-point volume in Milwaukee, but picturing him throwing passes to a cutting Giannis Antetokounmpo has me giddy, as a basketball nerd.
(Photo by Chris Boucher: Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports)