It turns out that 54 seconds isn’t enough to change much.
That’s how much playing time Sam Dekker got over the course of the three-week extension of his tryout with the Raptors he played on. Dekker and Isaac Bonga had defeated Ishmail Wainright, Freddie Gillespie and Reggie Perry in the battle for the team’s last two roster spots, but the team was unsure of a Dekker-or-Bonga-or-both decision. Both players agreed to increase their contract guarantee dates from October 19 to November 6, extending their fight by 10 games into the season.
On Saturday, the Raptors had to part with Dekker.
He barely played a minute at the end of a blowout win against the Indiana Pacers on Oct. 27, enough for people to remember that he was an official part of the team on his stats ledger or basketball card (KJ McDaniels, you may recall, did not get that concession in 2017-18, when he spent two games with the team before being released in an almost identical fight with Alfonzo McKinnie).
It’s a disappointing ending for an intriguing player who’s put in a lot of work on and off the pitch.
Originally somewhat of a non-shooter, Dekker became a knockdown threat in Turkey last season and carried that over to a strong shooting camp with Toronto, culminating in a 5-for-8 mark in exhibition games. And while there were some questions about Dekker’s possible cultural fit, he showed real growth and maturity, winning fans on the bench and in the organization (if you get OG Anunoby to write multiple phrases supporting you or congratulating you on your birth announcement, you know you made an impression).
In the end, Bonga’s more prototypical Raptor-ness — he’s six feet tall with a long wingspan, positional versatility, and the ability to push the ball to size — won out over Dekker’s shooting and chopping. That Bonga is five and a half years younger probably didn’t hurt either, although both players were on one-year contracts and would have been unrestricted free players after the season.
“It was pretty close all the way,” said head coach Nick Nurse on Saturday about the battle between Dekker and Bonga. “Isaac has probably just played the role we want. He’s got size, he’s kind of a versatile defender, he’s on the attacking glass. He’s kind of a real role player that we think we can deploy there at any time. He’s good enough to play in games now, to be honest, but we can’t play against everyone.…
“We were very close. Sam was great. He spent a lot of time with us from the moment, especially from the moment we first watched him in the open run kind of situation, and he spent a lot of time working. But it’s the hard side of it, man. hard side. I’m sorry to see him go.”
It is unclear what comes next for Dekker. Due to the extent of his partial warranty, he is not eligible for Raptors 905 (nor is he eligible for a two-way contract with any team due to his level of experience). He will almost certainly erase waivers – claiming that he would result in that team taking his entire guaranteed salary and removing his partial warranty from the Raptors’ books – but there should be interest throughout the league, even with just a few open rosters. -places competition-wide.
Dekker can also choose to play things in the G League like an extended audition, going back abroad or just waiting for an opportunity while training at home near his pregnant wife.
Always another hill to climb… many more hoops for me.
I’m going to miss these guys, easily the hardest part of the business.
And I really want to shout out to the raptor fans – you’ve all seen me for who I really am. That means more than you know. I won’t forget that.
– Sam Dekker (@dekker) Nov 6, 2021
What follows are a few notes on why this step was made and why now.
Why are you doing this?
The Raptors are extremely close to the league’s luxury tax line right now. By forgoing Dekker, they’re currently sidestepping it at just $18,541 based on my numbers.
She power get extra breathing room there as Gary Trent Jr. some of his bonuses fail or if they make a trade that brings in less pay than they send. But for now, this allows them to operate without the threat of the luxury tax.
The Raptors gave Dekker a partial guarantee of $350,000 to compete for a spot on the roster. Had he been on the roster last Saturday, his deal would have been fully guaranteed and locked him up for $1.67 million.
Why bother with the luxury tax?
Yes, I know fans sometimes suggest, well, just pay it!
And while that’s fair in some cases — the Raptors paid deep in taxes in their championship season, for example — it doesn’t make much sense now because this is a team coming out of a low-income season abroad that has also given in the have made major expansions for key members of their coaching staff and front office in the past 18 months. The salary cap may be a “soft cap” that offers room to outdo your opponents in some cases, but the money is real.
That is exceptionally true this year, where tax forecasts for the entire league are extremely high. The luxury tax paid by tax teams is split among the non-tax-paying teams, so getting under the tax not only saves costs, but also makes the Raptors eligible for a substantial payout at the end of the year. So the move might have saved the Raptors $1.32 million in Dekker salary and $1.95 million in luxury tax payments, and they opened up to an estimated $13 million in tax payments, for a total of about $18.27 million swing. Even if the numbers turn out lower than estimated – the league has some discretion with using half of the luxury tax pool – it’s a big swing for a 15th man.
Was this necessary?
Not quite. The decision was not explicitly Dekker versus Bonga. It was Dekker versus Bonga versus both keep and swallow that affected their financial flexibility.
Luxury Tax is calculated based on your cap sheet on the day of Game 82, not a running total, so the Raptors could have guaranteed both players and later find their way under the tax, either by confirming a second round pick to a small salary or by giving someone like Goran Dragic a cap-positive move.
What’s wrong with Bonga?
To hear the Raptors tell, Bonga looks ready to run if at any point a spot opens up. That’s not a huge shock considering Bonga has played a good chunk of minutes over the past two NBA seasons and was one of the potential cheap targets we identified before it went free agency. It’s just unlikely to matter any time soon. Bonga has played seven minutes so far and Scottie Barnes and Pascal Siakam are both back now, with Yuta Watanabe hopefully not too far behind.
My personal hope is that at some point Bonga will be Raptors 905-bound. Bonga and the union should both approve such a move as he is in his fourth NBA season. That wasn’t much of a problem for the Raptors in the past. With the still young Bonga needing playtime to keep growing and auditioning for future contracts, it would make sense for him to spend the occasional game in Mississauga.
There’s not much stigma around the competition for a former second-round voter who is 21 years old and needs additional development reps, and it’s probably best for Bonga in the short and long term to really play every now and then.
Has the alternative camp strategy worked this year?
In recent years, the Raptors have used the last training camp spots differently than this year. It’s always a camp match, just to be clear. However, previous leagues have often featured players on Exhibit 10 deals with small guarantees, where those from the outside looking in at the end could be tied to the 905 and those who made it could be bumped into a two-way contract (or from a two-way contract to a two-way contract). real NBA deal).
This time, the Raptors only had one Exhibit 10 player (Perry) and had filled their two-way. They had Gillespie ($50,000), Wainright ($250,000 this season, $125,000 next season), Dekker ($350,000), and Bonga ($200,000) all vying for one spot with partial guarantees; all those guarantees except Gillespie were big enough to make the 905 players ineligible, and Gillespie’s G League rights are in the hands of Memphis. In other words, Perry and the two-ways were the only 905 considerations, so they started the season a little thinner than they were used to.
How we evaluate this change in approach probably comes down to Bonga. The Raptors pay $775,000 dead money to the players who lost to him, and he’s a post-season UFA. If he’s going to be a longer-term piece, then it’s been worth it. If he ends up as “Just A Guy” and the 905’s development pipeline is in worse shape, I think next year we’ll see a turn to the previous strategy.
Can you give me the TL;DR version?
• The Raptors prioritized flexibility around the luxury tax over taking a 15th player they probably didn’t need or wouldn’t use.
• Bonga achieves a delayed victory in the battle for the final place.
• Toronto continues with Bonga, an empty spot on the list, $775,000 in dead money and breathing space under the tax as they map out trading strategies between now and November.