As the trade deadline looms in two short weeks, the Toronto Raptors are one of the more interesting teams to watch at the deadline, as they can go in virtually any direction.
Sitting at ninth in the Eastern Conference at 17-20, they are only two games out of fourth place, yet just a game and a half ahead of the 13th seed. The East’s parity this season has made it impossible to predict who finishes where.
As their record would suggest, the Raptors have been up and down all season long, with rumours swirling that they will both rebuild and make a trade to vault into contention. Given the immense flexibility that General Manager Bobby Webster has built the roster on, with the Raptors owning all their future draft picks and projecting to hold in excess of 20 million dollars in cap space this offseason, they are equipped to do just about anything they desire.
The point being, a lot can happen in two weeks. It is way too early to conclude where the Raptors will be in the standings on deadline day or what kind of trades they would look at, if any at all. So, naturally, we’re going to outline a very premature trade deadline preview and look at three directions the Raptors could take at the deadline, to go with a trade prediction for each of them:
While it’s not the most intriguing option to mortgage the future for a high-upside player, it is still an option.
John Collins averaged a double-double last season and since coming into the league, he has emerged as one of the better offensive big men in the game with room to grow. However, he will be a restricted free agent in the off-season and will command a hefty asking price.
Collins reportedly rejected a four-year, 90 million dollar extension with the Hawks in the fall and with the season he’s having, there will be a number of teams lining up to pay him a max deal in free agency. By trading for him, the Raptors would earn first right of refusal on any contract and bet on their centre of the future by trading away rookie guard Malachi Flynn and their pick this year.
Knowing the Raptors have had success playing faster and smaller, they could insert Collins next to Siakam and hope the duo can develop into an agile big combo that can score and guard anywhere on the floor. Collins has never been a strong defender, but with a strong player development track record, the Raptors could hope he will develop into one and trade him down the line if the pairing doesn’t work out.
While the Raptors have many questions surrounding their roster, they would essentially be adding Collins to their team while keeping their core five of Kyle Lowry, Norman Powell, Fred VanVleet, OG Anunoby, and Pascal Siakam intact. This would make them a lot better on paper and give them plenty of lineup options to mix and match with. The Raptors would not only become a threat in the East, but they would give themselves a potential centre of the future – at a relatively hefty price.
One other potential direction the Raptors could take at the deadline will force them to answer this question: is it time to sell high on Norman Powell?
Powell has flourished for the Raptors since entering the starting lineup and he has certainly stepped up when the team needed him most. The underlying side effect of his breakout is the fact that he may become a lot more expensive this offseason.
Powell is likely to opt out of his 11.6 million dollar player option for next season, as he will be in line to receive a much more lucrative deal. There will be many bidders for his services and the Raptors will have a decision on their hands if they want to be the team to pay Powell what he will command. As we detailed a few weeks back, Starter Norm needs to stick around; if the Raptors want to pay him, they will have to firmly commit to him as the starting shooting guard of the future.
If this is something they decide against, the next best option is to flip Powell for a move that may see a lateral or small step back in the short-term, but has the potential to pay dividends in the long-term without compromising any of the flexibility. The Raptors have sustained the last eight years off shrewd asset management and this could be the next move on their list to keep the trend up.
Enter Marvin Bagley.
The Kings are reaching an impasse with the big man, being undecided on which position he’ll play long-term and still finding themselves struggling in the Western Conference. Add to the fact that they’re holding a logjam at the big positions — and him reportedly being disgruntled with the team — it may be in the best interest of both parties to call it quits.
Toronto is desperately in need of a starting centre, and while Bagley is by no means guaranteed to be that, he has the potential to become a future cornerstone next to Pascal Siakam, making it a worthy gamble. He turns just 22 on Sunday and is still only two and a half years removed from being the second overall pick in the NBA draft.
He came into the league as a springy, versatile athlete who can defend all areas of the floor and crashes the glass, with room to grow on the offensive end. He is starting to show that this season, shooting a career-best 37 percent from beyond the arc. He would have the ability to play in the Raptors’ speedier lineups beside Siakam, and potentially solve two big issues: defence and rebounding.
The Kings, meanwhile, can slot Powell into their starting five, as he fits their pace-and-space style while bringing solid on-ball defence and leadership to a team desperately in need of it. As they approach the off-season, they would have an inside track to offer him starter money as well.
With several ways to go at this deadline, this may be an intriguing possibility to set themselves up for the future while not sacrificing anything now. While Bagley may not be the answer, he could be and that may be worth finding out.
This is perhaps the most difficult route to discuss, but given where the Raptors are in the standings and where Kyle Lowry is in his career, this deadline is finally time to have the talk.
The Raptors, in all likelihood, are not going to be contending for a championship this year. Kyle Lowry, in the final year of his contract and at the ripe age of 34 years (he turns 35 on March 25th, deadline day), may choose to chase a championship.
With how much he has given to the franchise, Masai Ujiri and Webster should reward him by granting him any path he chooses; if he wants to chase a championship this year knowing he doesn’t have much time left, so be it. He deserves everything he wants and the Raptors should do everything in their power to give it to him.
The Sixers, meanwhile, are sitting pretty as the East’s top seed with Joel Embiid a frontrunner for the league’s Most Valuable Player. With a roster as well-rounded as theirs, they are perhaps a piece or two away from being legitimate NBA title favourites, rather than simply being in the mix with a few teams.
Everything about the fit makes sense, too. Lowry is a Philadelphia native and winning a championship for his hometown would be all too sweet. On paper, he projects as an excellent fit next to Ben Simmons with his all-around game, shooting, and intangibles. They have an 8.2 million dollar trade exception thanks to their summer offloading of Al Horford, and since they aren’t hard-capped, they can absorb Chris Boucher outright in a standalone trade.
The Sixers would be paying a steep price in giving up Maxey and two future first-round picks, but knowing this is their year to go for it, they may decide to do just that. The Raptors would cash in nicely on Lowry and Boucher and while they would likely suffer in the immediate term, it lets them build around their core.
They would suddenly have excess draft picks, a dynamic young guard in Maxey to add to the nucleus, and a high draft pick of their own to build for the future. Green, Scott, and Ferguson would most likely expire and move on in this scenario or agree to buyouts to move to a contending team.
While it’s difficult to imagine Kyle Lowry in any other uniform at this point in his career, Raptors fans would wish him nothing but the best and root for his success all the way. It would be overjoying to see him win another championship if the Raptors can’t do it themselves and if they can set themselves up nicely moving forward by doing so, it could be a win-win for all involved.