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Toronto Raptors forward Shawn Marion drives with the ball against the Washington Wizards Caron Butler during their NBA basketball game in Washington, DC, Monday night. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)
Toronto Raptors forward Shawn Marion drives with the ball against the Washington Wizards Caron Butler during their NBA basketball game in Washington, DC, Monday night. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

Raptors' plans in Marion's hands Add to ...

Shawn Marion's nickname is The Matrix, but after the clock strikes midnight tonight, starting the NBA's free agency period, perhaps something along the lines of The Domino is more appropriate.

What Marion and his agent, Dan Fegan, decide will go a long way toward shaping the Toronto Raptors' roster for next season.

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If the forward is open to being re-signed by Toronto or even agreeing to a contract and immediately being dealt to a preferred team, the Raptors have a lineup similar to the one they finished with last season, though with much more robust depth.

If he leaves, everything is on the table, and the Raptors could conceivably end up with more star power, but a barebones second unit.

"I won't rule [anything]out," said Raptors general manager Colangelo. "That's why I keep saying there are options here.

The most straight-forward is to re-sign Marion to play alongside Chris Bosh and Andrea Bargnani, a front line combination that showed some promise at the end of last season as the trio became more comfortable with each other.

Easy to say, but is it doable?

The Raptors would likely offer in the range of $21-million (U.S.) over three seasons. In a tight free-agent market that might be enough as most teams will be leery going much richer or longer for a 31-year-old given that NBA revenues are expected to decline significantly this year.

The next option would be to sign Marion to a contract of his liking providing they could then turn about and trade him to willing partner.

In this scenario Marion might get a better deal than he might as a pure free agent - incumbent teams can offer larger annual raises than new ones - and in return the Raptors get a player or two rather than simply losing Marion for nothing.

The final option is the most dramatic and for the Raptors, the one they want avoid. If they can't reach an agreement with Marion he's gone, no strings attached, and the Raptors would have some money to spend, but his departure would set off a chain of events that could mean a massive and risky makeover of the roster.

Keeping Marion or doing a sign-and-trade with another team would mean the Raptors would stay above the NBA's salary cap threshold, which in turn would enable the Raptors to use the mid-level exception and the bi-annual exception - available only to teams above the salary cap - to sign additional players which in a buyer's market would allow the Raptors to add at least one and possibly two rotation players.

In that scenario the Raptors would also likely try to sign former Raptors guard Carlos Delfino, who played in Russia last year while bringing back Quincy Douby and Patrick O'Bryant as depth up front and at guard, respectively.

But if Marion walks they wouldn't be able to use their exceptions to sign additional players. Moreover, in order to have a budget to sign a player or add one via trade the Raptors would have to renounce their rights to a third of their projected roster: Delfino, Joey Graham, Douby, O'Bryant and Pops Mensah-Bonsu, to whom Toronto made a qualifying offer yesterday.

"If it gets to the point where we're not comfortable with the proceedings [regarding Marion]I may use the space to go another way, either to acquire a player in a trade or by signing someone with the free-agent money," Colangelo said. "I have to be open-minded to that because if we're not getting anywhere with Shawn and there's not a deal we like in a sign-and-trade scenario then utilizing the money is certainly an option."

Colangelo would have about $10-million to spend, but the only players under contract would be Bosh, Bargnani, Jose Calderon, Reggie Evans, Kris Humphries, Marcus Banks and Roko Ukic.

With $10-million the Raptors could definitely make a splash in free agency - Hedo Turkoglu, the pending Orlando Magic free agent, might be available for a salary starting in that range, but does signing a single player make up for the depth issues the Raptors would inevitably have?

It's a question the Raptors might have to answer sooner than later, but not until the first domino falls.

FREE AGENCY OPTIONS

Players with the option to become free agents:

1. Kobe Bryant, Lakers: Can opt out of his contract, but expected to re-sign with L.A.

2. Carlos Boozer, Jazz: If he opts out he'll be looking for a raise on the $12-million he has on his deal next season; injury history makes him a shaky bet.

3. Hedo Turkoglu, Magic: Expected to opt out and likely the Magic won't be able to afford him; reportedly looking for $50-million for five years.

4. Anderson Varejao, Cavaliers: Can the Cavaliers afford to let best front-court defender go?

Restricted free agents expected to hit the market:

1. David Lee, Knicks: With Knick trying to clear cap space for next summer, look for someone to make a run at Lee.

2. Paul Millsap, Jazz: Will attract interest, but everyone expects Utah to keep one of the NBA's most effective - if unheralded - power forwards.

4. Raymond Felton, Bobcats: Michael Jordan has said Charlotte wants to keep him; would he be worth the Raptors money to round out the point guard rotation with Calderon?

Unrestricted free agents:

1. Ben Gordon, Bulls: How much is a one-dimensional, under-sized scoring machine worth?

2. Shawn Marion, Raptors: No matter where he ends up, will be looking at a roughly $10-million pay cut.

3. Trevor Ariza, Lakers: No way Lakers let him go.

4. Lamar Odom, Lakers: If Marion walks you can bet the Raptors will make a pitch to Odom.

Raptors free agents:

1.Carlos Delfino (restricted)

2. Joey Graham (restricted)

3. Anthony Parker (restricted)

4. Pops-Mensah Bonsu (restricted)

5. Quincy Douby (Unrestricted)







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