The Toronto Raptors didn’t have a ton of improvements to shout about, but one player that clearly took some gargantuan steps this past season was center Khem Birch, who looked like a viable starting center in this league after the Orlando Magic decided to ditch him.
After failing to top 4.8 points per game in any full season with Orlando prior to his release, the Canadian stud upped his scoring average to 11.9 points per contest while mixing in 7.6 rebounds per game. After weeks of watching Aron Baynes get boat raced by even average centers, Birch playing well was such a spurt of welcome respite.
Unfortunately, Birch is going to hit the free agent market, and his free agency will be one of the most important decisions the Raptors end up making over the next few months. With center a weak spot right now, is Birch the guy who can man that position as Toronto claws back into the postseason picture?
Birch was one of the finer centers in the East during his stint with Toronto, but he only has one 19-game stretch of productivity. How will that be valued when it comes time to iron out a contract?
How much money should the Toronto Raptors give Khem Birch?
The salary cap has been set at $112 million, and the luxury tax is $136.6 million, both of which are slight increased from last year. In practical terms, the market for centers might not look too dissimilar from what we saw last year.
Willie Cauley-Stein, who had two very productive seasons in Sacramento before signing with Golden State, got two years and $8.2 million per season. Robin Lopez totaled $7.3 million in his one-year deal with the Washington Wizards, and Baynes fleeced the Raptors with a $14.3 million contract over two seasons.
While Birch has been a fairly anonymous backup big for most of his career, last year proved that he can be the best version of himself in Nurse’s system. The question comes with how Nurse should view that progress. Was it a one-year flash in the pan? Is this as good as it gets?
Ideally, Birch should be able to earn a two-year contract worth around $12 million, as he has proven to be an adequate rebounder, finisher at the rim, and shot-blocker in this scheme.
Ultimately, a contract similar in value to what Baynes got could be a good deal for the player and the club alike. This makes sure that Birch is compensated for his breakout year with the Raptors, but it also gives the organization some flexibility if it turns out that his magical half-season ride was going to last that long.