There isn’t a whole lot of subtlety to what the Raptors are trying to accomplish at the team’s training camp that begins Monday.
They have structured the 20-man camp roster to ensure there’s legitimate choice among those vying for end-of-the-team spots and they have structured the contracts to ensure the team won’t get locked into anyone for any significant amount of time.
It is the wisest course of action given the core group and it should allow coach Nick Nurse to experiment as he sees fit because the young group fighting for guaranteed NBA employment offers myriad possibilities.
How it all shakes out will go a long way in showing just what kind of team the Raptors want to be: Long and primarily defensive or can they address a need for more shooting and floor-stretching wings.
It will all be determined through a week of practices followed by a five-game pre-season schedule and is different from many years in the recent past.
As it stands — and while things could change with dramatic last-second machinations to alter the camp makeup that seems unlikely — there are six players of varying skills and experience who will battle for, at most, three roster spots.
It hasn’t been that way with this team for years; there was always a clear delineation between the “team” and the “camp fodder” that’s blurry now.
And blurry is good.
None of the six — Yuta Watanabe, Freddie Gillespie, Isaac Bonga, Ish Wainright, Sam Dekker and Reggie Perry — has a fully guaranteed deal so that gives the team some financial flexibility; none of them are close to being established players so they can take nothing for granted.
It will be fun to see who emerges to fill out the roster after the 12 players with guaranteed deals who are basically assured spots on the opening night roster Oct. 21 against Washington.
Among the more interesting aspects of the camp roster is that it’s very much built with the longer term in mind, just as president and vice-chairman Masai Ujiri and general manager Bobby Webster want.
They see this current iteration of the team as something to build on, to develop, to start the process very much like it started in the mid-2010s heading into the championship run of 2019.
They aren’t punting on this season by any stretch of the imagination with a core group of Fred VanVleet, OG Anunoby and Pascal Siakam augmented by Khem Birch, Scottie Barnes, Precious Achiuwa, Chris Boucher, Gary Trent Jr., Goran Dragic and Malachi Flynn more than adequate to go through the season and keep Toronto competitive.
But it is in the second tier that the difference is glaring and the longer term in more sharp focus.
In the past, the Raptors have filled those spots with “young veterans” for want of a better description.
It was the likes of DeMarre Carroll, Stanley Johnson, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and DeAndre’ Bembry who got those spots, always on guaranteed deals. That’s not the case this time, nor should it be.
The oldest among the possibilities are Dekker and Wainright, both 27 years old; Bonga and Perry are only 21 and all of the candidates can be seen as developmental pieces, far more than they can be considered established NBA talents.
It is a sea change for the Raptors, one that Ujiri and Webster insisted upon when they filled out the training camp wish list through the end of free agency.
The Raptors brain trust is also under no illusion that everyone they have invited to camp is going to turn into a bona fide NBA regular which speaks to the sheer volume of legitimate possibilities who have been invited to camp.
A handful of those six, and even some younger players with short-term guaranteed deals are likely to wash out and not stick but having many options is the most logical process for Webster and Ujiri to pursue.
It’s impossible to say with any certainty who would even be a favourite to emerge from the competition. Watanabe and Gillespie have history with the team but holes in their games and the Raptors added players — guys like Svi Mykhailiuk and Achiuwa — who have already vaulted over them on the depth chart.
But because this is very much seen as a starting point for this Raptors era — even the relative newness of being back in Toronto provides a level of freshness to being in camp — slates have been wiped clean and the fight for positions will begin from scratch.
To be fair, the question is really about roster spots 13 through 15 — or just 13 and 14 if Webster wants to have some in-season flexibility to add — and whoever makes it won’t be counted on to contribute regularly.
But even having the chance to get a spot is new and adds an intriguing dimension to the training camp process.
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