The Toronto Raptors have addressed their centre depth in the short-term with the signing of Canadian free agent Khem Birch.
The 2021 season has not been kind to the Toronto Raptors, with injuries and suspensions forcing head coach Nick Nurse into playing a variety of line-ups to find ways of winning.
After winning the NBA Championship in 2019, with a roster that was filled with talent and depth at every position, this edition of the Raptors has limped along with players playing out of their preferred position.
The centre position, in particular, has been one of weakness for Toronto this season, with Aron Baynes being the only full-time player at the position that the team have been able to call upon – with his impact far less than hoped when he originally signed.
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Baynes joined the Raptors after posting career-high numbers with the Phoenix Suns in 2019/20, where he averaged 5.6 rebounds (4 defensive), 1.6 assists and 11.5 points per game – earning himself a two-year contract with a total salary of $14.35 million.
The hope was that Baynes would continue his impressive showing and replace Serge Ibaka, who joined the Los Angeles Clippers in November, but in reality, it has not been an overly impressive spell for the Australian.
A one-time NBA champion with the San Antonio Spurs in 2014, Baynes has averaged just 5.8 points and 5.1 rebounds (3.4 defensive) in 50 games played this season, with 31 starts.
With the Raptors also having to use Chris Boucher, who is better suited as a power forward, as a stand-in centre at times, the need to add another, full-time centre to the mix was needed.
The Toronto Raptors reportedly were interested in making a trade for Andre Drummond ahead of the deadline, so the need and desire to add to the five position has been evident for a number of weeks.
Birch, playing in his fourth NBA season, has a similar stat line to Baynes, with 5.3 points and 5.1 rebounds (2.6 defensive), despite starting in just five games this year with the Orlando Magic.
His per 36 minutes stats, however, portray Birch as a player that could potentially have a bigger impact if given a larger role on the team, averaging 9.6 points and 9.2 rebounds.
The Montreal, Quebec native joins the Raptors with the goal of pushing Baynes and potentially overtaking him in the team’s depth chart if he can step up and perform; earning more playing time and opportunities to impress on his short-term deal.
Financial terms of the contract, which runs until the end of the season, were not disclosed by the Raptors, though Spotrac lists it as being $425,463.
The impending UFA is playing for a contract beyond this season, whether it’s with Toronto or not, so the team could certainly see the best of him come out, especially with the number of opportunities he is likely to earn in the team’s depleted roster.