Free agency decisions made by the Raptors will speak to Masai Ujiri’s belief in the core of the team

Three years, six different years NBA The finalists. This hasn’t happened since 2006-08, a period that culminated in the culmination of the era of the Great Trio Celtics, which is believed to have driven the super team era that followed. Before that, it hadn’t happened since Michael Jordan’s second-of-three peat gave way to Shaq Kobe’s dueling dominance. Lakers led by Tim Duncan Tottenham.

When the Celtics and the Warriors Tip Thursday night, it would be another sign like that. This is as close as it gets to the NBA, the league where success is forever associated with star players, getting par. By definition, the NBA will never display as much randomness as its North American counterparts, but thanks to a large number of factors – Kevin Durant Leaving the Golden State, injuries, LeBron James Aging, injuries, epidemics, injuries and more – entering into a competition for the championship hasn’t felt this achievable in a while.

to me wild birdsAnd for a host of other teams looking to make the leap from just a good idea, that should be encouraging. The Celtics were defiantly average through January. The Warriors were a train wreck two seasons ago and only averaged last year. The suns He made one deal to turn what seemed like an unbelievable bubble performance into two final wins and a 64-win season. Sure, three of the last six teams in the Finals were built around the top 20 players of all time: James, Giannis Antikonmo And the Stephen Curry. This still leaves three finalists, and several schemes to follow in success. For those who donned in Durant go to the Golden State or Kohi Leonard Regulates his transfer to clippersIt’s refreshing.

The Celtics, in particular, should serve as a beacon for raptors. They don’t have any talented singles players, at the moment at least, like Jason Tatum, but the combination of stressful and happy defense (played at the highest possible level, keep in mind) plus a more democratic attack can send you off the cliff. In recent years, the Celtics have lost key players, Keri Irving And the Gordon HaywardNo return, and here they are. Shows the power of inner development, sharpening and modification of playing style and organizational philosophy.

Jared Weiss, writer from the Celtics also won here at the athlete, noted that a Boston win would raise the team’s payroll above the luxury tax threshold for the first time since 2018-2019. Prior to that, they had not paid the tax since Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce traded in 2013. Whether the Warriors or the Celtics win the title, they will be the fifth champ in the past six years to pay the tax. The only exception, the 2019-20 Lakers, paid about $51 million in taxes in the next two seasons, while the Warriors, who used their 2016 cap peak to sign Durant in the first place, had gone taxing to a comical degree in all but one year since Signing Durant, even a signing and trading deal to leave Durant was done which kept them paying the tax in order to acquire some assets in exchange for one of the best players in the world. They could let him leave in free agency, and the warriors could arrange their books.

The decisive maneuver ended with Durant turning into D’Angelo Russell who turned into Andrew Wiggins And a selection from the first round, the former is an essential part of this year’s team and the latter is used Jonathan KumingaBeing a promising part of the future. The cost of paying taxes was huge, but it prepared the Warriors for another window to the tournament. To be clear, warriors are one of the few exceptions in how often they are willing to pay the tax, not the rule.

Barring a few odd moves, the Raptors won’t pay the tax next season, with all of their key players remaining on contracts. However, they have many decisions that can influence when they have to face the tax issue, which means it’s a factor starting now, even if the bill isn’t due until 2024 at the earliest.

Celtics star Jason Tatum and Scotty Barnes of the Raptors. (Cole Burston/Getty Images)

The Raptors have a much more visible history of paying tax bills than the Celtics, having paid in the title year and not since 2002-03 before that. No major decision maker in basketball has ever said the property should spend more on its roster, with Masai Ujiri repeatedly saying the MLSE is open to such talks. Reminder: The NBA has a salary cap, if not tough, so the team simply can’t “make a decision” to spend on it. It only happens when the team gives its players enough money, by Larry Bird exception or related transactions, to push payroll to the bottom line and beyond.

Those decisions are coming though. Extension windows for Fred Vanfleet And the Pascal Siakam Open this offseason. In 2023, OG Anunoby He would be eligible for such a deal, VanVleet, if he did not sign an extension, and Gary Trent Jr. You can reach a free agency. Then Siakam will be a free agent without extension, and it can be Anunoby and Precious Ichiwa will be restricted. Hanging on top of it all: Scotty Barnesand what the Raptors hope will be the maximum value extension they will get in two seasons, which comes into effect in 2025-26.

These issues may seem far-fetched, but with a collective bargaining agreement limiting contracts to five years at most, they can creep into the franchise faster than you think. Even with the league’s revenue and, therefore, the tax cap expected to go up over the next few seasons, it’s going to be tough to pay all of these players their market value and forgo tax, especially if you’re trying to accumulate a little bit of depth. It’s no accident Anunoby trade rumors float on the surface. This is why the Raptors should at least talk about potential VanVleet deals, even if it’s most of the money they could make for him The extension would be completely reasonable In terms of the size of the maximum percentage it will represent. Moving players who have already hit eight figures a year and tending to player increases in lower-cost deals is how to keep those future costs low.

This is why the Raptors’ casual decisions with surrounding players, no matter how unexciting, will pioneer the future. If the birds of prey are willing to give more than a year or two guaranteed to their free agents, Chris Boucher And the Thaddeus Young, and anyone they might bring in with a mid-level exception would show that management is at least willing to create scenarios in which they have to get creative to keep the books accountable. If they keep the deals shorter, you’ll know that the threat of paying the tax is still a huge burden on the franchise. (You’ll know this because Augeri and Bobby Webster will use the word “flexibility” a lot.)

The exciting thing here is that with the tournament image blurring more than it has in years past, the whole idea of ​​the proof-of-concept might have changed. In the past, ownership of raptors paid the tax when there was an obvious shot at the title. Prior to this year, the Warriors and the Celtics had fourth and thirteenth championship odds. A year ago, it was dollars Suns slipped into the second and fourteenth places. It is difficult and even more difficult to know when this window will open.

“We still preach here about patience and growth,” Ojiri said after the season ended. “I know how the results came at the end of the season, I know the expectations are now day by day. I understand it from a fan perspective or from a media perspective. He is winning now. But we are thinking about the long game here.”

In the NBA, the distance from here to there has rarely seemed shorter. The future may come sooner than you think.

(Photo: Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images)