Toronto Raptors have decision ahead on point guard investment

Long a positional of stability for the Toronto Raptors, the point guard spot will potentially have its future reviewed this off-season.

The Toronto Raptors will receive their chance at defending the 2018-19 title, with the news on Thursday of the NBA’s return set for July 31st. A stable group is in place to lead the 46-18 team, but there is a chance this team owns a different look by the fall, starting with the point guard position.

Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet are as stable a duo as any to handle the main distributor role, though the latter man started 48 of 48 games he appeared in. Still, VanVleet can act as a secondary guard when Lowry is off the court and has taken a significant role in life without Kawhi Leonard, making jumps in points, assists, rebounds, steals and 3-point percentage.

But this duo could break up when the off-season arrives in November, with the Wichita State product set for restricted free agency. Making $9 million in 2019-20, he will potentially flirt with or cross a $20 million average annual salary, pending the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on the salary cap. While Toronto will have cash available with Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka’s combined $48.8 million leaving the books, investing significantly in two point guard-esque players may not be feasible for roster construction.

Figure a team with outside interest will throw money at VanVleet, luring him from Toronto, who will have to decide on its dollar investment in the backcourt, which is already expensive. Lowry and Norman Powell will make a combined $40 million, and potential changes to the salary cap could force the extra money elsewhere to fill the gaps left by Gasol and Ibaka, unless they return for significantly less money.

Lowry only has one year remaining on his contract, though. While at $30 million for 2020-21, at 35 years old, figure it’s unlikely he replicates that money for a potential return to the Raptors in 2021-22, or if he re-signs elsewhere. Either way, he is not the long-term answer based on age alone, despite his organizational value these past eight years.

So, it almost makes re-signing VanVleet imperative; the streaky-shooting, defensive guard that contributed to a title-winning team and took steps forward in development. It might sap the Toronto Raptors of flexibility for one season, but 2020-21 was bound for another transition, with the aforementioned frontcourt players heading for free agency and bench retooling possible. Pascal Siakam leading the way hardly makes the team’s next iteration weak. Along with a rising OG Anunoby, a positive core remains.

Investing money at the top, though, creates difficulties filling the rest of the roster. Lack of depth will make a difference against the Milwaukee Bucks or the foundation being crafted in Miami, and it might take two off-seasons to recuperate that, allocating money from Lowry’s expired contract.

The fact Lowry’s in the back-end of his NBA career should make VanVleet’s return guaranteed. Optics of the salary cap are just unknown and how it not only impacts the Raptors, but other teams in their pursuit of the younger point guard. VanVleet can lead Toronto’s backcourt at some point, but outside money could make that happen 12 months earlier.