July 22, 2024

Raptors lock up Immanuel Quickley and Scottie Barnes. Now, to avoid mediocrity


TORONTO — The sticker shock is going to drive people batty.

On Friday morning, minutes before the Toronto Raptors introduced two of their rookies to the media, The Athletic’s Shams Charania broke the news that the team has agreed to sign Immanuel Quickley to a five-year, $175 million deal. Quickley was poised to be a restricted free agent, but signing him allows the Raptors to approach the opening of free agency knowing precisely how much room they will have before hitting the luxury tax threshold.

It is a lot of money, for sure — more than I thought Quickley would get. He will have a starting salary around $30 million, assuming the typical structure of a contract. On the other hand, here is the list of point guards who will make more money than Quickley next season: Damian Lillard, Stephan Curry, Tyrese Haliburton, Trae Young, Fred VanVleet, LaMelo Ball, Kyrie Irving, Ja Morant, Darius Garland, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Ben Simmons (!). Jamal Murray is reportedly nearing a deal for an extension that will take him beyond Quickley. Jalen Brunson is on a steal of a deal that will be bumped up sooner rather than later. De’Aaron Fox and Derrick White are both eligible for extensions too.

So, the Raptors are paying Quickley to be an average starting point guard and have signed him from his age-25 season through his age-29 season. That is reasonable. Quickley has spent just a half season as a starting point guard, but these are the types of bets you make if you are in the Raptors’ position. You have to hope your promising players can become very good players and outplay their contracts at some point.

His contract will likely rise by 8 percent per year, while the salary cap is poised to rise by 10 percent annually. It should take up less room by the year, just as Scottie Barnes’ maximum-value agreement will.

The danger is thinking that, because of that, these decisions have no impact — that this is all silly money, and the deals are free of consequences. In 2025-26, the Raptors will owe approximately $99 million to Barnes, Quickley and RJ Barrett. That is about 63.8 percent of the projected cap for that season. By then, will Barnes be more than an average star, which is what the Raptors are paying him to be? Can Quickley ascend past being an average starting point guard and into the All-Star conversation? Was Barrett’s jump in efficiency at the end of last year real, and can he make a similar leap defensively?

go-deeper

GO DEEPER

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The Raptors need a few “yes” answers there to avoid stalling out with this core in a similar way they stalled out with the previous core of Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby and VanVleet. It is not that the Raptors overpaid any of them and could not build around them. Their contracts represented fine value, hence some of the offers they got for those players while they were still on their deals. It is just that none of those players ever radically outperformed their final deals as Raptors. Siakam struggled with his offensive efficiency as a No. 1 option, even as he improved his playmaking. Anunoby became an elite 3-and-D role player but could not self-create. VanVleet was an average starting point guard, occasionally topping that if you looked deep into some advanced statistics.

They lived up to their deals but did not transcend them. With the failure on the player-development side further down the roster, that wasn’t enough for the Raptors to make much of that mini-era.

With Barnes, Quickley and Barrett under contract through 2026-27 and beyond, that process begins again. Will that trio become more than the sum of its parts in a way the old core could not? Will the Raptors hit on more of their draft picks and free-agency fliers than they did in the previous five years?

Or, failing that, will the Raptors be bad (or lucky) enough one of these years to add more elite talent to the mix? At this point, it seems like any of Duke forward Cooper Flagg and incoming Rutgers teammates Airious Bailey and Dylan Harper, all college freshmen next season, would have been the top pick in this past draft and could be foundational NBA players.

The Raptors could get some lottery luck along the way, which is how they got Barnes. But they will enter next season likely to win more games than the Washington Wizards, Charlotte Hornets, Brooklyn Nets, Detroit Pistons and Chicago Bulls. We haven’t touched the Western Conference, which, admittedly, has fewer teams that are indifferent to winning games.

The fear is that, by locking up Barnes and Quickley, the Raptors are aiming for the cushy middle. Surely, the team would counter by saying that is how things looked with DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry. When you hit a few developmental home runs, things change. You still need the guys at the top to coalesce into something more than they are on their own.

Notes

Per my colleague John Hollinger, the Raptors have enough money to exercise Bruce Brown’s $23 million team option, sign Jonathan Mogbo and Jamal Shead using the second-round exception and still have a little less than the nontaxpayer midlevel exception while staying below the luxury tax threshold. Notably absent in that math: Gary Trent Jr., who made $18.56 million this past season. The Raptors also have a guard-heavy roster, which is to say, it is looking increasingly unlikely they will be able to retain both Brown and Trent. The Raptors must decide on Brown’s option by the end of the day Friday.

• Both Ja’Kobe Walter (the 19th pick of the NBA Draft) and Mogbo (the 31st pick) met the media Friday. Walter noted that Toronto reminded him of New York, and he was getting used to his new surroundings. Mogbo was as at ease as I can remember any rookie being in his initial meeting with the press. He referred to Barnes, whom he has known since he was a grade-schooler, as “Scott.” He relayed stories about being mistaken for Precious Achiuwa during his previous visits to Toronto. He also seemed to have a really good understanding of his journey, during which he shot up to 6-foot-6, going to two junior colleges and two universities before finally making it on to the NBA radar this year.

“Probably the start of my last year at University of San Francisco, when I finally earned that respect from my coaches (was when I knew I had a chance to make the NBA),” Mogbo said. “I had to prove a lot coming from Missouri State. Missouri State (had me playing primarily in) short screens, (the) dunker spot, screen-and-roll.

“There was more to my game that people didn’t see. So when I got the chance to throw backdoor passes, bring the ball up in transition, doing that kind of opened my eyes a little bit. And I was like, ‘You know what? If I can get in this system, I can do great things.’ And now I’m here today.”

(Photo: Andy Lyons / Getty Images)





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