When I last checking in early in July, Raptors GM Masai Ujiri had already done most of his summer work in securing and cementing a core that included the re-signed Kyle Lowry and Patrick Patterson, as well as the newly acquired Lou Williams and Lucas Nogueira and surprise draftee Bruno Caboclo. Thing is, Ujiri wasn’t quite done.
While nothing monumental took place over the past two and a half months to impact the organization (save, perhaps, for the announced departure of Tim Lieweke), Ujiri has gone about putting the finishing touches on what had been an incomplete roster. With the core rotation in tact, the GM and the rest of the front office spent the remainder of the summer continuing to solidify the back court, securing that coveted wing defender (and, let’s face it, Terrence Ross insurance) and adding some additional depth that could make for a competitive training camp.
Raps Re-Sign Vasquez for Two Years, $13 Million
Greivis Vasquez’s free agency wasn’t exactly an exercise in keeping things close to the vest, a route that so many other UFAs take (and with good reason, too). Where other players would speak about ‘keeping their options open’, Vasquez made no bones about his desire to return to the city that he had called home following the December Rudy Gay trade. Heck, he even stuck around Toronto as an unrestricted free agent for some public appearances as the Ambassador for the 2015 Pan Am Games (seriously, how awkward would that gig have been if he was playing elsewhere??).
The Vasquez signing was hard to criticize in light of how much mutual interest there was on both sides of the agreement. Vasquez is probably the most Toronto-loving Raptor since Matt Bonner, while the team and fans clearly have fond memories of Vasquez’s integral role as a crunch time player on the Atlantic division-winning Raps.
That being said, the $13 million commitment represents somewhat of an overpay for a point guard who is backing up a firmly entrenched, 35-minute-per-game starter in Lowry. A quick look at other off-season back-up PG signings reveals annual cap hits – $5.305 million for Shaun Livingston, $2.75 million for Jameer Nelson – that are significantly lower than Vasquez’s $6.4 million for the upcoming season. The overpay is mitigated somewhat by the short two-year term, but the re-signing of Vasquez looms dangerously close to the ‘overpaying to maintain the status quo’ territory that plagues many teams that taste success.
Raps Sign Johnson for Two Years, $5 Million
There were no shortage of ex-Raptors that appeared to be potential candidates to return to town this off-season – Alan Anderson, Ed Davis and PJ Tucker, among them. However, it was an ex-Rap who few observers had on their radar that is now returning to the fold. Clearly, given that he could have signed with any NBA club, James Johnson has moved past any prior issues with head coach Dwane Casey, whom he reportedly clashed with during his first stint with the team.
Past history aside, the signing is a solid, if unspectacular, one. Personally, I was holding out hope for an Anderson return after he stood out in last spring’s Raps/Nets playoff series (Brooklyn stole him back for two more years at under $3 million). But Johnson is already the best wing defender on the team and represents a significant upgrade on the John Salmons / Steve Novak bench depth from last season (although Salmons didn’t have a bad post-Sacramento run).
Raps Sign Hamilton for One (Partially Guaranteed) Year, $950,000
For a few years now, Jordan Hamilton has been a compelling talent for front office types and NBA nerds, alike. When he was dealt to Houston in a trade deadline move last February, the Rockets and GM Daryl Morey were lauded for the acquisition of a low-risk, high-upside player.
But even now, approaching his 24th birthday, Hamilton is running out of chances as he gets set to play for his third team in just over a year. Last season represented a step back for the 6’7″ small forward, failing to take advantage of a minutes boost in Denver. He went from 18.9 points and 8.6 rebounds per 36 minutes during the 2012-13 season to 14.3 points and 6.9 rebounds per 36 minutes last year.
This signing, about as low risk as it gets, could go one of two ways. It may not pan out, in which case Hamilton will either be glued to the bench amidst a fairly deep team or cut altogether as the club looks to trim their roster back to 15 players. He could also elevate his game under Casey, taking some SF minutes which could be ripe for the taking with neither Ross nor Johnson serving as an unassailable option. At the very least, Hamilton should provide some added competition come training camp.
Raps Sign Stiemsma for One Year, $980,000
Even as the NBA goes smaller, Greg Stiemsma might be one of the league’s prime current examples that the “have height, will travel” (no, not that kind of travel) rule still exists. The 6’11” centre is a capable role player and a hired gun who is now on his fourth club in as many NBA seasons. He has never played a central role on any team, but he’s settled comfortably into a role that has seen him average 16 minutes over almost 200 NBA contests.
In Toronto, Stiemsma will back up Jonas Valanciunas, allowing Patrick Patterson to stick to the four and all but eliminating the role of Chuck Hayes, who looked to be on the down slope in limited duty last season. The former Celtic/Timberwolf/Pelican shouldn’t have a big role in Toronto, as the club increases JV’s minutes. But he could serve as valuable injury insurance and could be vital in the event of foul troubles plaguing Valanciunas and/or Amir Johnson. A bench of Stiemsma, Patterson, Hayes, Tyler Hansbrough and Lucas Noguiera might be the deepest group of bigs in franchise history, although where Hansbrough and Noguiera fit in I haven’t a clue.
Training camp begins next week for the Raps, featuring a roster that will need to be whittled down by at least two by opening night. I’ll be posting regularly as the countdown to the regular season and the club’s division title defence begins!