Two years ago, the Raptors, under previous management, locked up DeMar DeRozan for $9.5 million per season on a deal that runs through 2017. It looked like a shaky deal at the time as DeRozan hadn't shown much more than mid-tier production and it appeared that long eight-figure deals would be problems under the new salary cap rules. But DeRozan improved massively, Toronto's new GM Masai Ujiri cleared up the Raptors' cap sheet quickly and huge revenue strides for the NBA have quickly increased the cap. DeRozan became a first-time All-Star in 2013-14, and now that once shaky deal looks like a steal. (Also, I was way wrong about DeRozan in 2012. Way wrong. He has proved me and others way, way wrong.)
On Wednesday, the Raptors reached a deal with Kyle Lowry for four years and $48 million. Lowry just missed an All-Star bid this season -- DeRozan and Lowry should have each been granted half of an All-Star spot, perhaps -- and was one of the hottest commodities on what's shaping up to be a pricey 2014 market. Toronto signed him on Day 2 for what looks to be fair market value.
The average salary of an East All-Star last season was $13.3 million. That includes rookie deal salaries for Paul George, John Wall and Kyrie Irving, all of whom had either already signed max early extensions or who have since done so. So the real average salary of an East All-Star is likely to be higher this season as two of those (George and Wall) kick in. The Raptors now have two guards capable of being named All-Stars for the total price of less than $22 million per season for the next three seasons. That's about one third of the team's cap. What a huge boon for a franchise on the rise.
As Toronto's first-round loss to the vet-heavy Nets proves, the Raptors need to do more than tread water this offseason. Keeping Lowry was key, and moving John Salmons for Lou Williams is a solid move. But there are two more free agents to address -- Greivis Vasquez and Patrick Patterson -- and a good bit more of Bryan Colangelo messiness to clean up or work around. (Landry Fields is due $6.2 million. Don't ask me how.)
But having two high-production guards on deals that are totally reasonable sets the stage well for the rest of Ujiri's plans. In Denver, he was prone to be active on the trade market and unafraid to take major risks. (See: signing Nene to a massive deal, flipping him for JaVale McGee, and then signing McGee to a massive deal.)
After retaining Lowry, the Raptors have plenty of room to operate under the luxury tax line and, more importantly, time. Lowry is just 28, DeRozan is 24, Amir Johnson is 27 and Jonas Valanciunas and Terrence Ross are still coming up. Plus Ujiri is keeping the asset drawer stocked through the draft and by picking up prospects in trades (such as Lucas Nogueira, acquired in the Salmons/Williams deal).
No one is likely to pick Toronto to win the East next season without another massive move and LeBron moving west. But in a generally up-for-grabs conference, the Raptors are as well-positioned as anyone to make a big run over the next few years, all because of that affordable yet fantastic backcourt. What a coup for a franchise in need of coups.