Let the offseason begin.
NBA free agency gets underway on Monday, Aug. 2 at 6:00 p.m. when teams can begin negotiating with free agents to reach agreements in principle. The Toronto Raptors are among the teams with a number of decisions to make, one of which revolves around restricted free agent Gary Trent Jr.
Trent, who was acquired by the Raptors at the trade deadline in a deal that sent Norman Powell to the Portland Trail Blazers, is an intriguing case. The 2020-21 season was a breakout campaign in many regards for the 22-year-old, who finished the season averaging 15.3 points over 58 games (38 starts).
Specific to his time with Toronto, Trent averaged 16.2 points over 17 games (15 starts). He scored a career-high 44 points (on 17-for-19 shooting) in a win over the Cleveland Cavaliers soon after joining the Raptors but sat for nine of the team's final 12 games of the season.
On Monday, July 26, the Raptors extended a qualifying offer to Trent, making him a restricted free agent in 2021, meaning the team has the option to either re-sign Trent after negotiations or allow the rest of the league to set the market and match any offer sheet he could potentially sign with another team.
As the situation takes shape, it brings about three key questions facing Trent as free agency begins…
What will the market look like?
22-year-olds who average 15.3 points while shooting 38.5 percent from deep don't exactly grow on trees. There will likely be interest in Trent, but how much?
In late June, The Athletic's John Hollinger reported that "league sources also widely expect Gary Trent Jr. to return to Toronto," citing the minuscule cap hold associated with the qualifying offer the team extended. If Trent re-signing with Toronto is considered by many to be a foregone conclusion, it could limit the amount of league-wide interest in the prolific young guard.
Conversely, a team with roster flexibility and cap space could make a lucrative offer to Trent, forcing the Raptors' hands to match the offer sheet or be left with just Rodney Hood after executing a deal at the deadline to part ways with Powell.
Among teams that could clear a large amount of cap space this offseason are the New York Knicks, Dallas Mavericks, Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs. Of those teams, the Knicks seem likeliest to make an offer to Trent but even that is somewhat far-fetched, as New York's sights appear to be set on some of the older, more established talents in the free agent class.
The market for the 22-year-old is difficult to gauge, but ESPN's Jordan Schultz has reported that two playoff teams consider Trent to be a "priority" restricted free agency target.
How much money is he in line to receive?
Ahead of the 2020-21 season, it was reported that Trent turned down a four-year contract extension in the $50-$55 million range, betting on himself to earn a bigger contract this offseason.
The market will ultimately dictate the figure, but when looking at shooting guards around the league, Trent and his representation could cite the four-year, $64 million contract extension signed by LA Clippers guard Luke Kennard last December.
From a production standpoint, Trent's numbers in 2020-21 are similar to Kennard's final year with the Detroit Pistons and also align with last season's offensive production of Memphis Grizzlies guard Dillon Brooks, who is set to make $12.2 million this upcoming season, and Orlando Magic guard Terrence Ross, who will make $12.5 million in 2021-22.
|Gary Trent Jr.||2020-21||22||58||31.1||15.3||5.5||13.5||40.8||2.8||7.4||38.5|
Let it not get lost in comparison that Trent will not turn 23 until January of 2022, while Kennard is entering his 25-year-old season, Brooks will turn 26 in January and Ross is a 30-year-old veteran entering his 10th NBA season.
Trent's youth means upside, which means a figure in the Kennard range is much more likely, if not more. ESPN's Schultz and HoopsHype's Michael Scotto have each indicated that Trent could receive an annual figure in the $18-20 million range.
It will all depend on which team is willing to make such an offer.
What role is ideal for Trent?
As mentioned above, Trent started in 38 games this past season while he was a reserve in the other 20 that he appeared in. A quick look at Trent's splits indicates that he's ready to step up and perform in a starting role.
Given the lack of continuity with the Raptors this past season, this should probably be taken with a grain of salt, but it is worth noting that two of Trent's worst performances with Toronto - a two-game stretch in which he scored a combined nine points on 4-for-17 shooting - came in a reserve role, his only two non-starts with the team.
That leads me to believe he's best suited in the Raptors' starting unit moving forward, but it's dependent upon a number of things.
While reports indicate that he is not currently expected to re-sign, if Kyle Lowry were to remain with the Raptors, would they opt for a three-guard lineup that features Lowry, Fred VanVleet and Trent?
If Lowry were to walk, the fit between VanVleet and Trent is much cleaner as a backcourt, but drafting a guard like Jalen Suggs could again make it a three-guard deal in the starting lineup, resulting in a small frontcourt of OG Anunoby and Pascal Siakam, once he returns from his shoulder injury.
Given the Raptors' perceived focus on bringing in a starting-calibre center this offseason, would Trent be looked at as a super sixth man to make way for the backcourt? Would a rookie guard be relegated to the bench?
At this point, we know who Trent is, but his age means we don't know what he can become. Trent's ability to knock down tough shots oftentimes renders him a streaky shooter, because in getting them to fall, he can build a habit of settling for tough ones.
In his case, it's an easy fix, especially as a 22-year-old in one of the league's best player development systems.
As for the culture, Trent has been a great fit in Toronto, developing a fast relationship with Anunoby, among others, and buying into the mindset of giving a complete effort on both ends of the floor. Trent's potential, along with his fit in multiple areas, is why it seems to almost be a foregone conclusion that he will be back with the Raptors for the foreseeable future.
For now, the contract figure is the biggest question facing the team, the rest can be figured out later.
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