The Toronto Raptors have finally fixed their frontcourt issues, as the combination of Khem Birch and newcomer Freddie Gillespie, the latter of whom just signed a multi-year deal, has Toronto rebounding better and finishing easy looks inside. The days of Aron Baynes seem like a distant memory after adding a Montreal native like Birch.
Birch has averaged 10.8 points and 7.2 rebounds per game as a starter with the Raptors, who are giving him a much longer leash than the Orlando Magic did. Birch hasn’t turned into Kevin Durant, but he is setting good screens, rebounding, and finishing his shots close to the basket, which is all they really needed.
Birch signed for the rest of the season, but he could hit the open market after his fantastic stint with the Raptors. While he discussed at length how happy he was to come and play for the NBA’s only Canadian team, the allure of a big contract could prevent him from returning.
WIth Gillespie back on a two-year contract, three draft picks that will almost assuredly contain one true center, and enough cap space to pull off a huge move in free agency, Birch will have plenty of competition if he wants to once again hold onto his starting center spot. Birch potentially pricing himself out of a Toronto reunion is also a possibility.
Is Khem Birch playing himself out of a contract with the Toronto Raptors?
There are better offensive big men on the market, including the likes of Lauri Markkanen. As well as Birch has been playing, his offensive game isn’t the most varied right now, and that could tempt Masai Ujiri to potentially overpay for someone with a higher ceiling on offense.
There aren’t a ton of tremendous rebounding and defensive big men available in this class with Birch’s finishing ability inside. Now that he is starting to show off an offensive game that is slightly more effective than he had in Orlando, Birch’s next contract could approach eight figures for one or two seasons of work, likely more than Ujiri expected when he took a flier on him.
Assuming Gillespie will be back, Toronto will likely use one of their draft picks on a center to get even more depth. If they sign a non-Birch center in free agency, the combination of Center X, Gillespie, and Draft Pick Y could be a better combination than just retaining Birch by himself.
The ideal situation for the Toronto Raptors is Birch deciding to take less money, staying in his native country, and giving the Raptors one of the best backup centers in the game. That situation is still in the cards, but Ujiri can’t just assume that Birch is going to return after his fantastic stint with Toronto this season.