The On Deck Circle

The unofficial home of Real Talk

Delfino - Stay or Go?

Posted by Blake Murphy on March 6, 2008

Carlos Delfino has had a great season. Picked up for two future 2nd round picks from the Detroit Pistons in the offseason, he flew under the radar as an inconsequential pick-up, a move meant to add bench depth and continue to grow the Raptors’ international flavor.

When ‘Los showed up to training camp, Sam Mitchell wasn’t impressed. While he didn’t say it outright, comments he made about Delfino’s effort and hustle lead one to believe that Sam believed the widespread analysis of his time in Detroit – Delfino probably should have kept playing international ball. During camp, though, Mitchell and Delfino had a communication breakthrough and Delfino was suddenly a favorite swingman of Sam’s.

So when the season opened and Sam went public with his dismay at the small forward position, it was no surprise that Jamario Moon saw early run (what is surprising, though, is the fact that he’s still starting). Carlos was not forgotten, either, with Joey Graham glued to the bench and Kapono being a defensive liability of sorts. In the first six games of the season, Delfino hit the 30 minute mark five times. While his minutes have since levelled off to 24.5 per contest, Carlos has gotten a good deal more run on this squad than anyone thought he would coming into the season.

He has, indeed, been a steal and a pleasant surprise.

But this offseason, the Delfino situation won’t be as crystal clear for Bryan Colangelo. No longer will he be able to intelligently cash in on Piston’s trash. No, this summer, the Raptors have a few glaring holes and very little wiggle room to fix them. While it’s unclear if Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment will approve a move into the luxury tax area, it seems unlikely given how they’ve treated the Raptors as a ‘cash cow’ since purchase. We can assume, then, that the Raptors will spend the luxury tax threshold at a maximum.

For 2008-09, using recent growth rates, we can assume a salary cap of $59.1M and a luxury tax threshold of $71.25M. Assuming Rasho exercises his player option, we already have $58M tied up in ten players for next season. Throw in our draft pick that should make roughly $1.8M using recent rookie salary scales, and we have $59.8M committed to 11 players. Realistically, this leaves us with nothing under the cap and $11.45M under the luxury tax line for four players.

One of these players is Jose Calderon, who will no doubt be re-signed and who will no doubt be getting paid. Even if we make the conservative estimate of a $6.25M per year contract, we are now left with no cap space and just $5.2M to play with for our last three roster spots. Under the NBA’s collective bargaining rules, we also have a mid-level exception to spend (anticipated to be in the $5.5-6M range) and as always, you can sign as many minimum-contract players as you want. These exceptions still count towards the luxury tax, however, so our offseason appears to be very inflexible if we can’t cross the luxury tax line. All of this assumes, however, that Colangelo doesn’t parlay the 2009-expiring deals of Rasho, Graham, Garbo, and/or Baston into a cheaper player or solid rotation player.

With the assumptions laid out about our cap situation, we have $5M to spend on our last three players. Will one of these be emerging rotation player Carlos Delfino? It doesn’t look that way. Carlos has had a great season, averaging 9.4-4.6-1.8 with 0.88 steals, all career bests, coupled with above average defense and a 39.9% clip from long range. At just 25 and with the ability to play three positions, Delfino could be a hot commodity in a free agent market where very few teams have money to spend. His PER is roughly the league average at 14.05, and he has shown the ability to take over for stretches (he has scored 20+ points four times, all Raptor wins).

At the same time, he doesn’t really know his role. He shoots an ugly 40.3% clip overall, is wildly inconsistent, has taken the most threes on the entire team, and has taken nearly as many shots overall as Andrea (a focal point of the offense) and Jose (in far fewer minutes). He can slash to the rim, but often opts not to. He can handle the ball, but doesn’t have score many assists. He also has the swagger you love in a superstar, but not so much in a role player.

Yes, Delfino poses a tough decision. Should Colangelo match an offer made for him, push the team razor close to the luxury tax line, and hope he matures into a more efficient version of his current self? Or should Colangelo roll the dice letting him go, hoping to catch lightning in a bottle yet again with the next Jamario Moon or Carlos Delfino offseason finding? The team clearly needs a slashing/scoring swingman to take the step to the next level, but will Delfino evolve into said player?

For what it’s worth, I’d spend my money elsewhere. Delfino has posted career highs, yes, but in a system that gives him a lot of offensive freedom. He is talented, but seems to lack some of the common sense parts of the game, when to slash and when to pass. I assume, given the ugly free agent market (if the players with options are smart and stay put) and the very few teams with cap space, a desperate team will offer Delfino something close to the mid-level exception as the free agent period wavers on. This is too high a price for the Lite version of what this team needs, and a poor investment given our fiscal situation.

What do we do instead? Well, we do have four contracts that expire in the summer of 2009, so it’s not farfetched to think a rebuilding team like Memphis, Philadelphia, Minnesota, or Seattle would want some of those deals to create cap space in the future. They may not have the players to make the deal work but sign-and-trades exist, as do three team deals. Given our roster for next year and this summer’s potential free agent class, I think the best fit as small forward of the future would be Corey “I Don’t Think You’re Ready For” Maggette, but outside of him very few affordable options exist.

Delfino has been a great surprise this year. At age 25 and with obvious talent, he has a bright future in the NBA. I’d hate to see him jump ship and take off to stardom, but I’d also hate to see us overpay for potential and be too handcuffed to add the piece we need. Thanks for the good season, Carlos, and good luck with your new team next year. We’ll always have the fact that we share the same hair product.

This article is also available at Raptors Talk, who will be co-publishing some of my Raptor material.

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