What DeMar DeRozan at the Max Would Mean for the Raptors

May 7, 2016; Miami, FL, USA; Toronto Raptors guard DeMar DeRozan (10) takes a breather during the third quarter in game three of the second round of the NBA Playoffs against the Miami Heat at American Airlines Arena. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
May 7, 2016; Miami, FL, USA; Toronto Raptors guard DeMar DeRozan (10) takes a breather during the third quarter in game three of the second round of the NBA Playoffs against the Miami Heat at American Airlines Arena. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports /

Before Masai Ujiri drafts that contract he needs to ask himself a question, what defines success for the Toronto Raptors?

At the beginning of the season, if someone had told you that the Toronto Raptors would make it to the Eastern Conference finals would you have believed them? Would you have believed that we took the Cavaliers to six games? This year was full of surprises, but under the surface a prominent question has started to emerge.

This offseason has the Raptors at a crossroads and there are two prominent paths to take. Most franchises have a clear path because they are at a clear stage in their development. For teams like the Magic or Bucks, it’s to retain their young free agents and grow their young talent. For other teams like the Spurs or Thunder they are trying to figure out how to retool so they can make a deeper run in the deadly west and win a championship.

More from Tip of the Tower

The Raptors seem to be caught in a zone between those two types of teams after what would be considered the best season ever for the Toronto Raptors. There is tons of young talent on the roster: Norman Powell, Terrance Ross, Jonas Valanciunas and Cory Joseph are all 25 and below. The Raptors are also older than most people would think; Luis Scola is 36, Kyle Lowry is 30, DeMar DeRozan turns 27 in August and DeMarre Carroll turns 30 in July.

Those are core pieces to what the teams is now, the two stars and a rare 3 and D wing. The Raptors seem to be stuck between two timelines, rebuilding with their young talent, or capitalize on their core pieces now to be as good as possible.

If the Raptors look to re-sign DeMar DeRozan he’s more than likely to command a maximum salary and maximum years which is about 26 million (plus annual raises) per year for the next five years. That may seem like a joke to you but the salary cap is going to boom to roughly 90 million dollars this offseason and then 105 million next offseason thanks to the new TV deal the NBA agreed to.

Nearly every team in the league is going to have cap space and many will have max space for players. But there aren’t that many impact players on the open market, meaning players are likely to get overpaid.

The Raptors only have $16.9 million in open cap space this summer but have the bird rights on DeRozan, so re-signing him would effectively end their offseason, leaving them with just the veteran’s minimum along with the mini-mid level exception to make any additions.

DeMar is a good player, but paying 26 million for a 2-guard that doesn’t shoot threes and struggles against the best defenders in the league is egregious. At age 27 DeRozan will be in the prime of his career and at this point he is who he is. He’s a 90’s shooting guard in the year 2016, he’s a volume scorer whose primary weapons are the post up, acrobatic finishes at the rim and mid range jump shots. He’s an inefficient scorer overall, who requires good defenders to be around in order to hide him, and he doesn’t make his teammates better other than inflating their rebounding numbers.

So with DeMar’s signature on a contract for a maximum deal that means the Kevin Durant dream is over and the team is essentially locking into what it is now for years to come. Before Massai drafts that contract he needs to ask himself a question, what defines success for this team?

More from Toronto Raptors

Toronto as a city has been starved for any modicum of success since the Blue Jays won the World Series in back to back seasons in 1992 and 1993. Since that team every other Toronto sports team has been mediocre and met with healthy skepticism by fans.

In the NBA there are teams that are either championship or bust, namely the Lakers, Celtics and Cavaliers. The only time for those teams to consider their season a success is when they raise the Larry O’Brien trophy. Every move the franchise makes is designed to get them back to that podium with their team standing next to Adam Silver. Whatever it takes, go into the luxury tax to keep the team together, trade draft picks for assets right now to make the team better, bottom out of years to get that one generational player to turn the entire franchise around.

Then there are teams that just above average most seasons and are satisfied with a good run with the playoffs, much like the Grizzlies and Hornets. These teams have never won championships and much like the Raptors, have had seldom success but have spent most of their years drudging through the mud at the bottom of the league.

These teams are the middle class of the NBA. They’re good enough to make it to the playoffs and maybe through a couple of rounds, depending on the year, and the city rallies behind them regardless. Success for these franchises is just being there, making the playoffs is the accomplishment and everything else is gravy.

Toronto Raptors
Apr 26, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; The Toronto Raptors crew show their support before game five of the first round of the 2016 NBA Playoffs against the Indiana Pacers at Air Canada Centre. The Toronto Raptors won 102-99. Mandatory Credit: Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports /

Much like the Grizzlies, the Raptors have a genius marketing campaign. ‘We The North’ has capitalized on Canada’s separation from the rest of the league. The Raptors represent Canada as a whole and the connection to Game of Thrones doesn’t hurt. The Raptors of today and Grizzlies of the past have completely captivated fans and spun them into a frenzy making it that much harder to divert from sticking to the status quo. That rabid fandom and money can be hard to turn away from.

DeRozan’s contract is the crossroads of the Raptor’s philosophy going forward. Be above average now or gamble on being great later? The rest of the East is pretty far behind the Raptors though, so re-signing DeRozan gives the Raptors a few more cracks at the Eastern conference finals, but Toronto surpassing is unlikely if all things remain the same.

The team isn’t going to get better than this season going forward. Lowry is 30 and just played the best season of his career, Bismack Biyombo will more than likely leave, Carroll is turning 30, Scola is 36, and Toronto is further from a championship than most think.

The road to the championship runs through Cleveland and we got evidence of that in the Conference Finals. Letting DeRozan go could be painful in the short-term, costing the Raptors wins, but it would serve as a time to develop the young talent on the roster. JV would get more touches, Norman Powell and Terrance Ross would get more playing time and the Raptors would be much more open to trades and free agency in the coming years.

LeBron James is a specimen that is nearly impossible to guard, while Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love are there to supplant LeBron’s decline. In other words, the Cavaliers aren’t going anywhere.

There is nobody on the current Raptors’ roster that looks like they will become a true superstar to bring Toronto to the next level and that’s what you need to win a championship this league. People will point to the 2004 Pistons but that was an aberration, there has never been a team before or after that has won a championship without a superstar player. So to double down on this raptors era would be a foolish idea if the plan is to win a championship.

Next: Bismack Biyombo Says He' Take a Discount to Stay in Toronto

The city will continue to love the Raptors because they’re a very good team now and the Raptors have been a farce for far too long, but they can easily find themselves on the NBA middle class treadmill. They would be too good to tank and get a superstar player, but not good enough to topple the best teams in the NBA, and too restricted monetarily to make any out-of-house improvements.

Is that good enough for the fans? Is that good enough for management and Ownership? Only time and contracts will tell.