Again, Masai Ujiri seems to have outsmarted his peers around the Association. As the league awaits the decisions of LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and what Minnesota will do with Kevin Love, Ujiri has taken care of his personal list of things to do this summer. The Raptors general manager wasn’t going to sit around waiting like more than half the league. He knew his needs and wants, and locked up his players before the NBA moratorium was lifted at midnight Thursday.
The Raptors top priority was to re-sign starting point Kyle Lowry. After a career season Lowry had interest from multiple teams around the league, but stuck around in Toronto agreeing to a 4-year, $48 million contract. Raptors original offer was 4-years and $44 million, but Lowry insisted on a fifth year, which instead turned into an extra $4 million for the 28-year-old.
Only two days later Ujiri locked down one of his top bench players, forward Patrick Patterson to a 3-year, $18 million contract. The deal does not include any options and is fully guaranteed.
To finish off his summer list Ujiri secured back up point guard Greivis Vasquez Wednesday night. Vasquez’s deal is worth $13 million over two seasons. Both Patterson and Vasquez came over from Sacramento in the Rudy Gay trade. Patterson became the back up big and the sixth man for Toronto, logging starter minutes on some nights. Vasquez went from just being the back up to Lowry to playing along side each other.
Early Thursday morning the Raptors announced they were bringing back forward James Johnson, who they traded a couple years ago to Sacramento. Johnson agreed to a 2-year deal.
The Raptors have also made some side trades over the past couple weeks. Ujiri shed John Salmons contract to Atlanta for Lou Williams, and young Lucas Nogueira. Williams is on the books for one more year at just over $5 million. Nogueira is a 2013 draft pick of the Hawks and has yet to play in the NBA. After signing Patterson, Raptors also traded Steve Novak to Utah for a second round pick (heavily protected) and Diante Garrett, who was waived by the Raptors. The Novak trade cleared much needed cap space for Ujiri.
Some minor action for the Raptors over the summer; Point Guard Nando De Colo rejected the Raptors contract offer and has signed overseas. The Raptors also waived point guard Julyan Stone.
With most of the cap space gone, the Raptors are most likely done making moves for the summer. However, Ujiri has built his team piece by piece exactly how he planned it out once the season came to an end.
Having most of the core team locked for multiple years to come the Raptors are trying to build what they haven’t ever had before; a winning culture. As the league awaits the James, Anthony, Bosh and Love drama, Ujiri understands the Raptors are in no place to try and go after any of those four. It takes winning to draw those big names to a city, as everything else comes afterwards.
With only DeMar DeRozan, Lowry and Patterson signed beyond 2016 one has to speculate on Ujiri’s vision for the future. Vasquez and Johnson both got contracts that end after the 2015-2016 season. Jonas Valanciunas and Terrence Ross become restricted free agents after that season and the rest of the team expires after this coming season. So what’s so big about 2016?
Kevin Durant, a former Raptors fan. Growing up Durant was one of the few kids who loved to watch the team up north. Most of it was due to Vince Carter, but Durant has had his eye on Toronto as a kid.
Ujiri understands that Durant is soon to hit the market the same way James has twice in his career, but the Raptors have never been ready for big names. So as the year 2016 approaches and the cap space begins to clear for the Raptors they hope to string two more winning seasons like the one that just ended.
The future is not just a focus for Durant for the Raptors. With a wave of Canadians entering the league Toronto is going to be a destination for future free agents. It’s just about finding away to attract those free agents and the plans to win now.
Ujiri knew that the time was now for the Raptors. This summer of bringing back his own free agents wasn’t for short term success but to sustain long term success. It might not be Durant but a winning culture in Toronto could allow the Raptors to be players in the fun drama filled NBA free agency as years go on.
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