Should the Raptors pay Gary Trent Jr. this off-season?

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The Toronto Raptors have a busy off-season ahead of them. With the NBA Draft and Free Agency quickly approaching, some big decisions must be made that will ultimately shape the future of the franchise.

One of the key off-season storylines is whether or not Gary Trent Jr. will continue to be a part of the Raptors’ young core going forward. This decision has been looming ever since he was acquired at the trade deadline, but the Raptors seem to have their eyes set on locking up Trent for the foreseeable future.

Since joining the Raps, there is no denying the immediate impact that Trent made on the team. He is a dynamic scoring threat with the ability to create his own shot off the dribble and hit from deep on catch and shoot opportunities. Along with a great amount of confidence and swagger, he has embraced his new role in such a short time, making Toronto fans excited to (hopefully) see him play in person next season.

One main area of concern for the Raptors this off-season will be to solidify their backcourt. A bunch of factors play into Trent’s contract decision, including the unrestricted free agent status of Kyle Lowry and the Raptors’ 2021 NBA Draft lottery spot.

Masai and the Raptors’ front office have to decide if they are willing to pay Gary Trent Jr. as the team aims to secure a solid starting shooting guard, along with more depth at this position.

Trent’s Current Status:

The Raptors gained a bit of relief when they brought in Trent back at the deadline in late March. Acquiring him in exchange for Norman Powell gave the Raps a younger player at the same position with a similar potential trajectory. On the financial side, the Raps were able to get rid of Powell’s unrestricted free agent status and avoid the desired raise Norm wanted along with it. The Raptors succeeded by acquiring a younger and cheaper shooting guard, allowing for more flexibility in the off-season in hopes that Trent would sign a long-term deal to stay in Toronto at an affordable price.

As it looks right now with Trent’s current contract status, he is a restricted free agent in the final year of his rookie deal from the Portland Trail Blazers. He is currently making an annual average salary of $1.3 million and will be looking for a pay raise with the Raptors this summer.

As a restricted free agent, Trent has an option to accept his current qualifying offer of $4.73 million. This would mean he carries out the rest of the 2021-22 season with Toronto but opts to test the waters as an unrestricted free agent in the 2022 off-season.

Last off-season, Trent decided to decline a contract extension with the Trail Blazers, refusing a maximum contract of $53.76 million over four years. At about $13.4 million per year, this is in a similar ballpark to what the Raptors would want to spend, with Trent projected to receive around the $15 million range in free agency.

With this being said, having the restricted status on Trent’s free agency gives the Raptors some options. Being a restricted free agent allows the Raptors to match any offers that other teams may try to entice Trent with.

Potential teams interested in Gary Trent Jr.:

There have been speculations that some teams with enough salary cap room could send a larger offer to Trent. A couple teams to keep an eye on are:

  1. OKC Thunder – The Thunder have an abundance of space thanks to their front office completely revamping the team this past season. With a projected $52 million in cap space for the ’21-22 season, The Thunder could make a run at Trent to bring him along with their young team. However, unless the offer is really high, it seems unlikely that Trent would sign with a non-contender.
  2. Dallas Mavericks – On the flip side, the Mavericks are an up-and-coming team in the West with lots of potential in Luka Doncic. With Tim Hardaway Jr. hitting free agency as a UFA, and the Mavs having a projected cap space of up to $35.3 million, Dallas could also make its case to try to acquire a young sharpshooter like Trent.

Should the Raptors Pay?

Considering the lacklustre 2021 free agency market, the Raptors should try to pay Gary Trent Jr. at a projected annual salary of at most $15 million. The Powell trade was made in hopes that Trent would sign long-term for less than the cost of keeping Norm, and the Raptors should stick to this plan. Trent looks to be a solid long-term piece that the Raptors can build around in the future. Starting 15 of his 17 games played with the Raptors, Trent averaged 16.2 points per game, including a breakout 44 point career-high performance. After a game like that, he looked motivated to stay up North with Toronto.

With that being said, the fate of Trent’s future in Toronto may depend on the contract decision with Lowry and the Raptors’ draft strategy. As it stands now with projected mock drafts, the Raptors would select Keon Johnson at the seventh overall pick. The 19 year old freshman guard out of Tennessee could be another rookie project for the Raptors to invest in, however, experience at the position might be more beneficial for the team right now, as they already have young guards in Malachi Flynn and Jalen Harris.

The decision will ultimately be up to Trent and what he wants to do at the end of the day. At such a young age, he has the options for either long-term security with the Raptors or gambling on himself and his abilities for the future free agent market.

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