The Toronto Raptors signed DeMarre Carroll to a multi-year deal in 2015. Four years later, Justin Hamilton’s contract represents the last residuals of that mistake.
The LeBron Stopper! The missing piece! The player who catapults the Toronto Raptors into the tier of true contenders. DeMarre Carroll was packaged as many things to Raptors fans. He didn’t live up to any of them.
That was less on Carroll and more on the media/fan base who over-hyped him. Carroll was a good player during his tenure with the Atlanta Hawks. However, to be declared as anything greater than a solid acquisition was setting the bar too high. Carroll didn’t live up to expectations in large part because expectations were off to start.
But even if expectations were set reasonably, the Carroll signing still would be an unequivocal flop. After signing a $60 million deal, Carroll was a below-average starter for Toronto, losing a step defensively while failing to do much of anything on the offensive end.
After two years of a failed experiment, the Raptors bailed. Carroll was traded to the asset acquiring Brooklyn Nets at the cost of a first and second-round draft pick. The trade allowed the Raptors to re-sign both Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka without entering the luxury-tax, a likely non-starter for ownership at the time.
Not only did the Raptors have to give up draft picks, but they also had to take back center Justin Hamilton. Hamilton had one-year $3 million remaining on his contract. Toronto waived and stretched his contract over three years due to luxury-tax concerns. Because of that, his contract remains on the Raptors books for this season.
At just $1 million per season, Hamilton’s cap-hit likely won’t have major consequences on the Raptors’ team building. Toronto is over the cap, and for the moment, relatively comfortable under the tax, at about $1.4 million below the line.
However, if Toronto did want to take on additional salary via trade at the deadline, whether it was loading up for the playoffs or selling key veterans, they have a little less wiggle room than they otherwise would.
Now, $1 million isn’t much in today’s NBA, and the Raptors aren’t even still paying out salary. — Stretching a player’s contract only impacts the timing of how they’re salary is counted, not the actual timing of distributions — But the cap-hit does represent a poor decision by a team chasing a contender status which they clearly didn’t belong too.
Masai Ujiri hasn’t made many mistakes during his tenure as Toronto Raptors General Manager/Team President. Perhaps that’s what makes the Carroll signing so glaring.
After masterminding a championship roster, it’s hard to criticize Ujiri, and this is obviously not a referendum on him as an executive. Instead, it’s as a reminder that even the best general managers can talk themselves into a bad contract if they think that player might have even the smallest chance of being a difference-maker.
It’s also a lesson to use moving forward. A lesson that Toronto shouldn’t chase the mediocre free agents who they can talk themselves into. The Raptors need to show discipline. Even if a potential upgrade becomes available, they need to make sure it’s the right upgrade, not a bloated contract which they’ll have to ship out in another few years.
Discipline isn’t something you have, it’s something you consistently work towards. Masai has been incredibly disciplined since the Carroll signing, let’s hope he continues to exercise that same judgment moving forward.