Masai Ujiri has brewed up a big batch of Kool-Aid, and the Toronto Raptors are drinking it. One of last year’s best NBA bets has done what once was unthinkable: keep a marquee free agent in the T-Dot.
Who are we to doubt Masai Ujiri? Coming off a highly successful re-tooling of the Toronto Raptors, the 2013 NBA Executive of the Year put the “mock” in “mock draft” by taking unheralded Brazilian forward Bruno Caboclo with the No. 20 pick at the 2014 NBA Draft. Bruno Who?
Nobody’s laughing now. It remains to be seen how Caboclo pans out, but Toronto fans are ready to name Ujiri their new mayor after he pulled off the biggest free-agency signing of the summer thus far, convincing point guard Kyle Lowry to remain Up North for another four years – at a very reasonable $12 million per year. Looks like the Raptors (48-34 SU, 46-33-3 ATS last season) will be pounding those NBA lines for a while yet.
It’s difficult to exaggerate how important Lowry’s signing is to the Raptors. It isn’t just that they’ve locked down a premium point guard (20.1 PER) who deserved to make the All-Star Game last year. Lowry’s decision to stay in Toronto is precedent-setting; think of the big-time players they’ve lost, from Vince Carter and Tracy McGrady to Chris Bosh. They wanted to leave. Lowry wanted to stay.
Credit Ujiri for that. He’s remodeled the Raptors as a tight-knit group of outsiders, and he’s not done yet. Ujiri engineered a nice little trade earlier this week that sent small forward John Salmons (7.6 PER) and his contract to the Atlanta Hawks for guard Lou Williams (14.2 PER) and last year’s No. 16 pick, Brazilian center Lucas Nogueira. That deal improves Toronto’s backcourt depth while also landing a tantalizing prospect who, like Caboclo, could help the Raptors in the future. A very bright future, if Ujiri keeps working his magic.
You’ve Got a Place to Go
It’s been a very busy week for free agent guards. C.J. Miles (16.0 PER) has found a new home, moving from the Cleveland Cavaliers to the Indiana Pacers. Jodie Meeks (14.7 PER) is now a member of the Detroit Pistons after two years with the Los Angeles Lakers. And the Sacramento Kings just got better, signing Darren Collison (16.2 PER) away from the L.A. Clippers. All three guards should be able to help their new employers – especially Miles, who’s landing on a Pacers team that desperately needed some bench strength.
Not sure the same can be said for former Charlotte Bobcats/Hornets guard Ben Gordon (6.4 PER), who just signed a two-year, $9-million deal with the Orlando Magic. Gordon was an electric combo guard for five seasons with the Chicago Bulls, then he landed a big free-agent deal with the Pistons and quickly turned into a pile of leaves. Oh well. At least the second year is a team option.
It’s a Shame about Ray
While all these guys are changing uniforms, a number of marquee free agents have decided to make like Lowry and stay with their current teams, led by franchise players Tim Duncan (21.3 PER) of the San Antonio Spurs and Dirk Nowitzki (23.6 PER) of the Dallas Mavericks. Not as if they were in any real danger of leaving. But can we say the same for the Miami Heat and their Big Three? As we go to press, LeBron James (29.3 PER), Dwyane Wade (22.0 PER) and Chris Bosh (19.0 PER) are all still in limbo after opting out of their contracts.
And then you’ve got Carmelo Anthony (24.4 PER). Will he stay with the New York Knicks? Will he end up in Chicago, or Miami? Hard to say, but the Knicks have signed Derek Fisher to be their new head coach, and they just got rid of Ray Felton (12.9 PER). Who are we to doubt Phil Jackson?
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