What should the Raptors do with DeMar DeRozan?

Not long ago, the decision on whether to re-sign DeMar DeRozan to a big contract seemed like an easy one for the Toronto Raptors. Now, after several poor playoff performances, the answer isn't so obvious anymore.

DeRozan opted out of the last year of his four-year contract with the Raptors earlier this season in hopes of landing a max contract worth approximately $25 million US per season when he hits free agency this summer.

But the Compton, Calif., native has been heavily criticized through two rounds of the playoffs as he has managed to shoot just 35.9 per cent from the field, far below his career regular-season average of 44 per cent.  

Poor shooting

In the Raptors' Game 4 loss to the Miami Heat, DeRozan and fellow guard Kyle Lowry shot a combined 6-for-28 from the field, prompting more speculation on the duo's future in Toronto's backcourt (Lowry is under contract until the end of the 2018 season).

DeRozan has said that he's a better player when Lowry is playing well, and Lowry has connected on only 34.9 per cent of his shots from the field this post-season. Their shooting slumps could be shaking both players' confidence.

"The one thing that has been consistent is that they have been taking tough shots," analyst Kenny Smith said on Inside the NBA.

"But they are the same shots that they have been making all year," analyst Shaquille O'Neal responded. "I think, at this point, it's a little bit in their heads. You want to play good. Everyone expects you to play good. If you start missing your first few shots, you start to worry."

Despite DeRozan's playoff struggles, though, his seven-year career with the Raptors shouldn't be dismissed because of a few dismal post-season performances, and it may still be in Toronto's best interest to re-sign him to that big contract.

Good chemistry

Over the past year, DeRozan has developed into an elite NBA player with his ability to draw contact and get to the free-throw line. The 6-foot-7 shooting guard attempted the third most free throws in the NBA (8.4 per game) this season, and he is a core asset to the Raptors' offence, especially as he makes 85 per cent of his shots from the charity stripe.

Although his inability to draw fouls in the first-round playoff series against the Pacers (5.9 free-throw attempts) is concerning, it is certainly not a reason to discount DeRozan as a max-contract player.  

DeRozan's chemistry with Lowry is another a reason that the Raptors can't afford to let the two-time All-Star walk. Lowry and DeRozan have led Toronto to three straight franchise-best seasons, starting from 48 wins two seasons ago to 56 victories this year. This season, Lowry and DeRozan led the team in minutes with 38.8 and 35.2, respectively.

If the Raptors decide to separate from DeRozan in the off-season, that leaves a huge void to be filled. In 2014-2015, DeRozan missed 22 games due to injury and the subsequent minute increase for Lowry ultimately proved to be too much. A banged-up Lowry struggled late in the season and into the playoffs — one of the reasons that ultimately resulted in a first-round sweep by the Washington Wizards.

Limited options

Finding a replacement for DeRozan in free agency could be difficult. The options are slim, as Charlotte Hornets guard Nicolas Batum appears to be the only viable option on the wing. Batum averaged 12.4 points over the last three seasons compared to DeRozan's 22.1 points per game during that span. Not exactly an ideal replacement.

The Raptors could look internally to options like third-year guard Terrance Ross or standout rookie Norman Powell. However, Ross has yet to prove himself as a legitimate starter, and despite Powell's strong play in the playoffs, asking the 22-year-old to play more than 35 minutes per game would be risky (Powell averaged 14.8 minutes this season). 

Cap going up

Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri has a lot to consider when it comes to re-signing DeRozan, and the soon-to-be increasing salary cap will certainly factor in his decision. The NBA's new $24-billion television deal will begin in the 2016-2017 season and the cap could rise from $63 million to $90 million, and may even surpass $100 million by 2017-2018. DeRozan's best years may still be ahead of him and this would give Ujiri plenty of cap space to sign the 25-year-old to a max contract.  

Plenty of big stars have moved on from the Raptors in the past: Vince Carter, Chris Bosh and Tracy McGrady to name a few.

For a team that is two wins from its first Eastern Conference final appearance in franchise history, the Raptors simply cannot afford to let another star walk away. 

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