Entering his first-year in charge of the Toronto Raptors, new General Manager Masai Ujiri will have the fan base on pins and needles wondering what his intentions for the club are going to be.
Ujiri will have the season to examine the roster and determine what road to travel down moving forward. How the team plays in the first-half of the year will decide which path Ujiri chooses.
The general manager has two options moving forward when it comes to making decisions on the roster. If the team plays well, he’ll likely decide to make additions to the club in an attempt to improve the team and their playoff aspirations. If the team struggles and the postseason seems unlikely, all indications point to Ujiri blowing up the roster and starting from scratch with another Raptors rebuild.
The fan base is growing impatient and Raptors management want the team to be competitive by the time the 2016 NBA All-Star Game is hosted in Toronto. This means whatever Ujiri decides to do he’ll have to make his decision quick. If he elects to put the franchise through another rebuild, it better be an accelerated rebuild or there might not be many Raptor fans left by the time the All-Star Game rolls into town. If he determines the Raptors have a good enough core in place and all that is needed are a couple significant tweaks to the roster, then he’ll need to sign Rudy Gay to a contract extension as soon as possible.
Gay can opt out of his contract at the end of the season and if the Raptors aren’t going to rebuild than they certainly can’t afford to lose the swingman and receive nothing in return. The club is finally getting over losing Chris Bosh for virtually nothing and it took them quite awhile to recover from trading Vince Carter for a half-empty box of Cheerios. Losing Gay for nothing would devastate the franchise and set it back for years to come.
It’s unlikely Gay would opt out of his contract, given he’d be walking away from nearly $20 million dollars. However, stranger things have happened in the NBA and if he puts up big numbers being the primary option of the team, he might sacrifice $20 million in 2014-15 to sign a contract for similar money over multiple years.
Ujiri will also have to make decisions on Kyle Lowry and Amir Johnson moving forward, as the point guard is a free agent at the end of the year while the power forward has a team option for the 2014-15 season.
Lowry is playing for a contract this season. Regardless of what kind of numbers he puts up, the main thing for the guard will be to prove he can stay healthy. Injuries plagued the guard in his first year with the club last season, as he never seemed to be able to play pain-free or stay on the court. He also displayed attitude issues a year ago after pouting over losing his starting job to Jose Calderon. Lowry had a history of being immature before arriving in Toronto and if he can’t focus on what is best for the team, it might be better for Ujiri to search for his starting point guard elsewhere.
Johnson has a team option for $7 million next season and unless the forward has a significant drop-off in his play this year, it is safe to say his option will be picked up. Johnson’s contract was considered a gross overpayment and ridiculous when he first signed it. However, nobody shares those thoughts now as many feel he is underpaid for what he brings to the franchise.
With three of the players projected to be in the starting-five unit for the upcoming season unclear of their status with the franchise next year, Ujiri will have his hands full trying to decide what to do with the roster.
All of his decisions will be based on how well the team preforms to start the season, as a lackluster start will no doubt result in players leaving town.