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After a season-long revolving door at the center position, the Toronto Raptors might be finally adding a big man, hopefully putting an end to this merry-go-round.
Per both The Athletic and ESPN, the Toronto Raptors are set to sign Khem Birch, a 28 year-old Montreal native, for the remainder of the season after he finalizes a contract buyout with the Orlando Magic.
Birch played 48 games for the Magic this season, averaging 5.3 points and 5.1 rebounds coming off the bench. He is set to become an unrestricted free agent this off-season and was not in Orlando’s plans moving forward, as they wanted to dedicate more playing time to evaluate younger bigs in Mo Bamba and the recently acquired Wendell Carter Jr.
This would be a great signing at a perfectly convenient time for a variety of reasons, and there are several key implications to why the Raptors and Birch are coming together:
The Raptors Need Help at C, Badly
This is perhaps the most obvious answer of the bunch, and while it’s been discussed ad nauseum, it still holds true.
The Raptors are now sitting 11th in the Eastern Conference at 20-31 and have struggled through a myriad of issues, one of the most notable being lack of production at the five spot. The Aron Baynes signing has not panned out as he has proven to be a poor fit alongside Pascal Siakam, and Alex Len was waived earlier in the season.
The Raptors have attempted to go smaller in recent days, starting either Pascal Siakam or Chris Boucher at center when possible, and while those lineups have generally been successful, it has compromised the bench production, and it remains to be seen whether this can be a sustainable long-term solution.
Birch, at the bare minimum, is capable of holding down minutes off the bench. He is a solid rim protector and can score a little in the paint as well. The Raptors may try him as a starter next to Siakam, because really, what do they have to lose at this point? They’re desperate for production, and if Birch can provide any type of spark, it will be very welcome.
Birch Gets a Free Agency Showcase
For Khem specifically, this is also an opportunity to show teams what he can bring to the table for next season and beyond, the Raptors included. He was phased out of Orlando’s plans with the acquisition of Wendell Carter Jr., and for players who don’t get the opportunity every day, it’s easy to become overlooked by NBA teams, particularly as a free agent.
With the Raptors, Birch would get the opportunity for extended playing time in a new system to showcase his abilities, and potentially earn himself another NBA contract next season. He is certainly talented enough to play in the league, and for a team in dire need of help, he will have all the opportunity in the world to earn his keep.
Plus, if things work out, the Raptors could consider signing him for next season as well. This is a flier, by all accounts, and a worthy low-risk high-reward scenario. The Raptors are notorious for bringing players into their system and allowing them to succeed by playing them to their strengths, and this could give Birch a strong audition for next season.
The Chris Boucher Connection: Old Friend, New Teammate
Here’s a fun fact: Chris Boucher and Khem Birch are longtime friends! Now, they will have the opportunity to play together, potentially as a tandem duo off the bench.
Boucher and Birch are the same age, and they grew up in the same area. They came up in the same basketball scene of Montreal, going at each other in prep games. Now, they have both made it to the NBA, and might get to team up for the Toronto Raptors. This is such a fantastic story for two undrafted guys who worked hard and managed to achieve their dreams.
For Chris and Khem, this has been years in the making. Both have carved out separate underdog stories, with Boucher’s breakout season being one of Toronto’s headliners this year. The two friends should have instant chemistry off the bench together, and with both expected to be part of Team Canada’s roster, this also gives them some extended run to play together.
Prep Work for Canada Coach Nurse
One of the hidden benefits to this signing for the Raptors is also affording Nick Nurse the opportunity to get extended work in with one of his potential Canadian big men through the summer.
Nurse is, of course, the head coach of Team Canada basketball. With the Olympic Qualifier tournament set to take place in British Columbia towards the end of June, Khem Birch is widely expected to be part of the roster aiming to lock in a spot at the 2021 Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan.
For Nick Nurse, this is a great opportunity to become comfortable with Birch and figure out how to utilize him, both for NBA and international basketball, and have extended work together. Nurse may experiment with Birch and the aforementioned Boucher together, as this is potentially Team Canada’s reserve frontcourt this summer. While this may not have been at the top of the reasons for why Birch could be signing with the Raptors, it is still certainly an important consideration.
Overall, this is a solid move for a lot of different reasons. It would benefit both Birch and the Raptors greatly, and it also allows for some extra goals to be accomplished. This is about as ideal a signing as the team can make right now, and it should lead to success for all parties involved.