2013 Sprite Slam Dunk Contest

With the Draft behind us and free agency negotiations set to begin next week, we’ll have plenty of rumours and reports to sift through and discuss over the next little while, and the first one comes to us from ESPN’s Marc Stein, who writes that the Raptors “have joined the Orlando Magic at the head of the list of known suitors for Los Angeles Clippers guard Eric Bledsoe, according to sources close to the process.”

Stein goes on to write that while talks are only said to be in an “exploratory stage” right now, Toronto’s interest in Bledsoe is “significant.”

As for which Raptors players could be involved, the Raps would obviously hope to include Andrea Bargnani, while the Clippers would likely want DeMar DeRozan, with Stein adding that “Some rival executives believe the Raptors are prepared to part with DeRozan.”

Bledsoe is an intriguing point guard option who everyone seems to believe will blossom into a star once given a starting job outside of Chris Paul’s shadow, but he hasn’t done enough (yet) to fully convince me of that or to convince me that he’ll be a better lead guard than the equally defensive minded Kyle Lowry. Though having said that, the report doesn’t mention anything about Lowry, so I suppose it is possible that the Raptors could be interested in a point guard duo of Lowry and Bledsoe next season.

The real interesting part of this to me is the potential inclusion of DeRozan in a deal for Bledsoe, and DeRozan’s reported availability in general. It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone when you consider that a General Manager as prudent as Masai Ujiri probably wouldn’t want to pay the combination of DeRozan and Rudy Gay over $27 million in a salary cap world.

Regular RaptorBlog readers know that while I was impressed with his play making improvements last season, I still don’t think DeMar is worth $38 million over the next four years, and I also think that the significantly cheaper Terrence Ross, who is more fundamentally sound than DeRozan in nearly all facets of the game, can more than fill DeRozan’s role in Toronto if given the development time.

So on that note, I have absolutely no problem with DeRozan being a trade chip for Ujiri this summer. The question though, is would a move for Bledsoe be the best Masai can get from dangling DeRozan, and what other Clippers would the Raps have to take back, as Bledsoe is only set to make about $2.6 million next season?

For what it’s worth, Bledsoe can also become a restricted free agent next summer if he isn’t extended before the season starts.

Let the off-season madness begin!

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UPDATE: Stein updated his post later on Saturday night, writing that the Raptors have “pitched a trade scenario in which L.A. would receive both Bargnani and shooting guard DeMar DeRozan,” but that Doc Rivers wants to hang onto Bledsoe and that “sources say the Clippers actually prefer Bargnani to DeRozan because of the Italian forward’s ability to step out and stretch the floor.”

Regardless of how willing the Clippers would be to trading Bledsoe to Toronto or not, my question is what other contracts would be coming back in return in the Raptors’ proposed trade to make the outgoing/incoming salaries match? After all, DeRozan and Bargnani are set to make over $20 million between the two of them next season, while Bledsoe is set to earn just over $2.6 million in 2013-14. Chris Paul and Blake Griffin are obviously off limits, so that leaves us with DeAndre Jordan, Caron Butler and Jamal Crawford as the only other Clippers set to make big money next year.

One trade that could work if completed before DeRozan’s significant raise officially kicks in is DeRozan and Bargnani for Bledsoe, Butler and Crawford. Butler will have an expiring contract next season, while the final two years of Crawford’s contract (after next season) are unguaranteed, so if Ujiri is looking to acquire Bledsoe while creating much more financial flexibility after next season by including DeRozan and Bargnani, that could be the offer.

Stay tuned.

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UPDATE 2: Stein keeps giving us the goods…

Now we’re talking. I would love this trade for the Raptors. Not because I think Butler would be crucial to any sort of immediate or future success, but because the Raps would shed Bargnani’s contract while taking on an expiring contract (worth $8 million), and would then still have the amnesty option in their back pockets to use on Linas Kleiza.

Trading Bargnani for an expiring contract like Butler’s and then amnestying Kleiza could save the Raptors over $7 million this season while being the difference between being capped out next summer and actually having roughly $10 million of space. If Bargnani for Butler is actually an option, it should be a no-brainer for Toronto.