Trading for Kawhi Leonard created multiple opportunities for the Raptors. Upgrading from DeMar DeRozan on the wing gives them a better chance of winning a title this season. If that doesn’t work, they’re better positioned to pivot into rebuilding with DeRozan’s contract cleared.
Of course, the deal also carried significant risks and costs. Leonard missed nearly all of last season with injury, and he can become an unrestricted free agent next summer. Toronto also had to surrender Jakob Poeltl and a future draft pick.
But the swap of DeRozan and Poeltl for Leonard and Danny Green carried another, underdiscussed, cost: It increased the Raptors’ payroll next season.
As a result of the trade, the Raptors are in line to spend an extra $9,821,660 – $2,426,772 in salary, $7,394,888 in luxury tax.
Ian Begley of ESPN:
The Raptors are on track to pay $34,504,486 in luxury tax. That might seem reasonable for a championship contender, especially on a one-year window, though I’m not the one paying for it. Toronto hasn’t paid the luxury tax since 2004.
How much is ownership willing to spend this season?
The Raptors packaged a first-rounder and a second-rounder to dump DeMarre Carroll and avoid the tax last season. I’d be surprised if the Raptors completely avoid the tax this year, but they have until the final day of the regular season.
Jonas Valanciunas (two years and $34,157,302 remaining) and Norman Powell (four years and $41,965,056 remaining) are the prime candidates to get moved. Both can play, but they might be luxuries Toronto isn’t willing to afford. Valanciunas looks like a Nick Nurse favorite, but the Raptors can play Serge Ibaka at center. Powell is just 25, but Toronto built a strong bench last year with him mostly out of the rotation.
I suspect, if they could just give away Valanciunas or Powell, the Raptors would have already.
The question becomes: How much of a sweetener would Toronto include to unload either player? The question is especially complicated, because both Valanciunas and Powell can help on the court. They’re overpaid, not deadweight.
The Raptors will spend the next season trying to impress Leonard into re-signing. As they handle upcoming costs, they ought to keep sight of that opportunity. Nobody wants to play for a team that won’t spend what it takes to win.