Title: A Serge for answers: After pair of deadline deals, can Raptors afford to keep everyone?
Date: February 24, 2017
Original Source: The Athletic
Synopsis: In my latest for The Athletic Toronto, I provided a brief primer on the Raptors’ upcoming luxury tax crunch in free agency. It’s…messy.
With last week’s trade for Serge Ibaka, the Raptors’ future was changed, both in the short term and the long term. While Ibaka answers a big question for the Raptors for the moment, he raises several new ones for the team. Over the last few days, The Athletic has searched (which, as it happens, shares certain aural qualities with the name Serge) for the answers to those queries. Today is the final piece in that series.
Raptors president Masai Ujiri met with media following Thursday’s NBA trade deadline. Fresh off of the acquisition of P.J. Tucker from the Phoenix Suns for Jared Sullinger and a pair of second-round picks — a deal that followed landing Serge Ibaka from the Orlando Magic for Terrence Ross and a first-round pick last week — Ujiri seemed upbeat and optimistic. He called the moves something that the roster and the city “deserved,” making it clear he had done his best to put this core in the best position possible to succeed, whatever the organization’s definition for success this year may be.
Ujiri also addressed the biggest question still left to answer with respect to Ibaka: Can the team afford to keep all of these players moving forward? In answering that question, he also shifted the onus of “will they” on to the players, making it clear that the front office’s work, for the time being, is done.
“Any direction we take this team, ownership is ready and they’ll support us 100 per cent. There’s no doubt,” he said. “I have to take ownership on where I feel and where our team, front office and me feel that this team is. I think we have to evaluate that and then make the right decisions. I think that’s more on us than ownership to be honest. Everyone writes that this ownership allowed all of that. 100 per cent they will, but we have to put the right team to do that.
“I don’t think it makes sense to put a team that’s not making the playoffs or getting beat in the first round to go into the tax.”
There’s the gauntlet for the Raptors. They now have the No. 5 payroll in basketball. Prove this core can have sustained playoff success, and the money will be there, perhaps to go even higher. Flame out in the first round, and the questions grow much more difficult. For now, let’s assume the best. If the Raptors succeed in getting back to the conference finals and Ujiri deems the luxury tax a worthwhile penalty. How might things look this summer?