As far as 15th men making the league minimum are concerned, you could do worse than a 22-year-old former No. 1 pick who is a hometown boy and also happens to play a position of need for the Toronto Raptors. As is obvious to anyone who has been following the Anthony Bennett story, his profile isn’t as simple or as rosy as those positives would indicate.
The Brampton native has been tethered to his status as a first overall, with averages of 4.7 points and 3.4 rebounds over his first two years in the league putting him in the biggest NBA bust discussion. But at a price point that falls a shade under $950,000 and with a roster spot to spare, taking a chance on Bennett doesn’t represent much of a risk for the Raptors.
The club won’t guarantee him anything coming in. He is planted firmly behind Patrick Patterson and Luis Scola on the power forward depth chart – perhaps even lower down depending on how the team uses versatile forwards DeMarre Carroll and James Johnson – and will need to earn his way into minutes through training camp and practice. While its always possible that Dwane Casey and his coaching staff may find a way to unlock whatever the Cavaliers saw in Bennett upon making him the top selection in 2013, the team stands to lose little if this experiment doesn’t pan out. At worst, Bennett might serve as a centerpiece and marketing tool for the Raptors 905 D-League squad.
The Bennett signing does make training camp, which kicked off on Monday in BC, a little more interesting. From the outset, it appears that two roster spots are open for any two of Bennett, Norman Powell, Ronald Roberts and Shannon Scott to claim. The Raps may have a tough decision to make if Roberts, a Summer League standout without a guaranteed contract, can outplay the new signee, albeit one that the minimum-salaried contract makes significantly more palatable.
Bennett said all the right things on Raptors Media Day on Monday, expressing his excitement coming home and embracing the challenge of having to prove himself. Clearly, though, this isn’t quite what he had in mind two years into his NBA career. It may not be a last chance situation – NBA clubs don’t tend to shrug off size and raw potential from a guy in his early twenties – but it certainly must be humbling to garner no waiver claims and be left to fight for a place in the NBA alongside a guy like Roberts, who went un-drafted the year after Bennett went No. 1.
For the Raptors, it all comes down to how Bennett responds to this humbling experience. There may still be a role for the taking, although it won’t be easy. If this earn your keep scenario can spark a fire and unleash some of the physical ability that we’ve seen snippets of, most recently with the Canadian national team this summer, then this signing could pay dividends as a key depth addition. If he doesn’t find success in his third NBA home in as many seasons, the player stands to lose far more than the club who have taken a flyer on him.