DeMar DeRozan isn’t fleeing to the Nets or Lakers.
The more interesting question is whether the Raptors should retain DeRozan, at a price close to (or at) the max.
That answer was unclear as recently as November, when DeRozan was struggling with his jumper and making boneheaded gaffes in crunch time. He’s improved significantly since then, and has even joined the All-Star conversation, but there remains a real risk in building around a high-usage, middling-efficiency guard who can’t hit threes.
Two strong months, even if they’ve constituted the best sustained stretch of DeRozan’s career, don’t change the equation. Re-signing DeRozan for $25 million per year will cap the Raptors out this summer, which would solidify this core (essentially the same one that’s been bounced in the first round of the playoffs the last two years) going forward.
Surrendering flexibility, however, still beats the alternative. If the Raptors let DeRozan walk, Ujiri would only have roughly $15 million to make an addition. That’s how much it cost for a decent starter like DeMarre Carrolllast year, and now the cap has jumped and every team has space. There’s no sense in swapping out DeRozan for a lesser player just to massage the cap.
Even if they end up capped out, Ujiri will still have options. He can rely on internal development from the likes of Jonas Valanciunas, Terrence Ross,Bruno Caboclo, Delon Wright, and Lucas Nogueira (all signed to cost-effective long-term deals), or trade those prospects, along with any or all of the four first-round picks they own in the next two drafts, to grab a star.
League executives pitched a hypothetical deal to ESPN’s Zach Lowe, in which the Raptors would get Marc Gasol. They could try to spring DeMarcus Cousins loose. Maybe work a sign-and-trade for Nic Batum (who was oncerumored to have interest in Toronto). Either way, it’s not like the Raptors will be stuck.
This is a relatively young team trying to make the difficult leap from good to great. And while DeRozan’s raise will likely make that even more difficult, it still makes much more sense to build with him than without him. Keeping a 26-year-old who has a near-spotless health record, never complains, wants to lead, and improves every year, is the logical play for Ujiri and company.
Read more: theScore