Free agency opens: Raps stand pat as rivals court VanVleet, Ibaka

William Lou
·NBA reporter
·5-min read

The Toronto Raptors stood pat on an otherwise hectic Day 1 of NBA free agency.

Detroit stuffed their roster full of centers and forwards, the Lakers rubbed salt in the Clippers’ wounds by swiping Montrezl Harrell, and the Wizards are on the verge of imploding after John Wall demanded a trade. Meanwhile, the Raptors hold three of the most coveted free agents on the market, but have opted to stay patient and let the market cool off following the initial frenzy.

Here is where Toronto’s main pieces stand:

Fred VanVleet will take meetings on Saturday

The Raptors say re-signing VanVleet is their top priority, and they are reportedly “very likely” to land him. However, the 26-year-old is an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his career, and will take meetings on Saturday in Chicago. Toronto is among the small handful of teams who will meet with VanVleet, and a decision should be reached by the end of the weekend.

The main contender for VanVleet figures to be the New York Knicks, who have nearly $30 million in cap space. The Knicks are also pursuing Gordon Hayward, but the former All-Star is reportedly set on joining the Indiana Pacers so long as a sign-and-trade can be worked out with the Boston Celtics. Given that the Knicks have a glaring need for a lead playmaker, they will likely make a significant offer to VanVleet.

Toronto still holds full Bird Rights on VanVleet, meaning they can exceed the cap by any amount to re-sign VanVleet. It was assumed that the Raptors would want to keep a maximum salary slot open for the summer of 2021 when Giannis Antetokounmpo and other stars could potentially hit the market, but the Raptors may first look to retain their own players, as they are also reportedly interested in signing OG Anunoby to an extension, according to Michael Grange of Sportsnet.

Serge Ibaka drawing interest from 10 teams

The Raptors also face stiff competition for Serge Ibaka, who is drawing offers from 10 different teams, including the Brooklyn Nets. Most competitors can only offer their mid-level exception worth just under $10 million per year, but there are also offers that have surpassed it. The Raptors hold full Bird Rights on Ibaka, and could instead offer a shorter contract at a much higher annual salary.

Ibaka was linked to the Lakers in recent days, but that ship has likely sailed after the Lakers added Harrell. Brooklyn figures to be the next biggest suitor, however re-signing Joe Harris to a $75-million contract leaves them with only the mid-level exception. In that scenario, Ibaka would need to weigh the chance to reunite with Kevin Durant against what would likely be a richer offer to stay with the Raptors.

Marc Gasol following Pau’s footsteps to the Lakers?

As for Gasol, the only rumor for the 35-year-old is from the Lakers who are looking for a reserve center to replace Dwight Howard. Gasol struggled through a miserable year between injuries and a total inability to score, but his impact was still evident in advanced statistics. Gasol was still an elite defender at the rim and in the post, and he would be an excellent utility addition to any contender.

Raptors linked to Harry Giles and Tristan Thompson

Masai Ujiri and Bobby Webster’s front office never leaks anything, so take these rumors with a grain of salt. But given that all three of Toronto’s centers are in free agency, it would make sense for the Raptors to be exploring the market for another big man.

Harry Giles is set to leave the Sacramento Kings, and the Raptors are “heavily interested” in the 22-year-old center, according to Joseph Zucker of Bleacher Report. Giles was a top prospect in high school, but suffered a slew of debilitating leg injuries that caused him to slide in the draft. The Kings took him anyway, allowed him to slowly recover, but he didn’t quite pay off as he remained in a bench role. Giles showed flashes of an above-average handle, good athleticism, and an ability to distribute from the post. He is a prime candidate to improve if he lands in an established developmental program such as the Raptors.

On the other end of the spectrum is Tristan Thompson, who is linked to the Raptors on a semi-annual basis. Thompson is an experienced and serviceable center who is a factor on the offensive glass, versatile on defense, and has a championship to his name. The 29-year-old from Brampton averaged 12 points and 10 rebounds last season with the Cavaliers, but he became redundant on the roster following their acquisition of Andre Drummond at the trade deadline. If one or both of Ibaka and Gasol walk, signing Thompson would fill a need at center at least for the time being.

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