Between injuries, a lack of depth, and COVID-19, things just haven’t quite come together the way the Toronto Raptors expected. That being said, they’ve looked great when they’ve had their lineup fully healthy.
With the trade deadline only two days away, the Raptors have several directions in which they could go this trading season. Sitting at 17-26 and on a nine-game losing streak, they are sitting at 11th in the Eastern Conference and three games out of the last seed in the NBA’s new play-in format. With so much parity in the East this season, the Raptors are practically as close to a home-court seed as they are to the bottom of the standings.
With great anticipation building up to Thursday, the Raptors camp has remained silent as usual. However, rumours have been swirling in the media, highlighting the team’s need for a big man and discussing the uncertain futures surrounding players such as Kyle Lowry and Norman Powell. Nobody knows definitively what the team will do, but there is certainly speculation abound.
For our special trade deadline coverage, I thought to myself: what’s better than getting one Raptors Insider writer’s opinion? Five, of course!
Today, I have with me four of my fellow Raptors Insider staff to answer five burning questions about the team’s position and what could transpire over the next few days for them. Joining me today is Max Ciarmela, Hugh McLarty, Olivier Neven, and Kai Francois!
Let’s dive right in:
Shane: Build for the future. The Raptors look to be definitively out of the East’s top five this season and have only four players with guaranteed contracts next year. They are better served moving expiring contracts that will likely depart and garner assets to surround the core of Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby, and Fred VanVleet. This doesn’t necessarily mean tanking, as they could strategically buy, but the Raptors should be making moves with next season and beyond in mind.
Max: The fight to make the playoffs is not over. Even if the Raptors finish 10th in the East, they can still make the playoffs. There is still a promising core group of players on this team, and the struggles this season are mainly due to the fact that those core guys have missed a lot of games this year. All that said, a move should be made to acquire a player that complements Siakam, VanVleet, Anunoby, Powell and Chris Boucher. The rest of the team, outside of Lowry, should be for sale.
Hugh: It is clear, at least to me, that they are not a championship contending team this year. I can see them making the playoffs, but really, what’s the point? I’ve already been disappointed enough watching them lose in the Conference Finals to LeBron James, so I don’t want to relive that with the Brooklyn Nets. The Raptors should be sellers this year and load up for a solid season next year.
Olivier: They’re in a tough spot. The team is among the best in the East when it’s at its best, but is not realistically considered a contender. I think trading Lowry for a sizable package at the deadline is my preferred course of action, as Toronto has proven this year that they can be successful without him. If they get a good young piece in return, it would add to an already proven core and perhaps take the Raptors over the hump.
Kai: I definitely think the Raptors should work towards building for the future. They should look to make the necessary trades and moves during the deadline to build around the established younger core of the team since they’re not in a contending position. To me, this would either be making a move for a young big if possible, or any future assets that could help bolster the core.
Shane: Myles Turner. The Indiana Pacers are reeling, and while they are not actively shopping Turner, they should look to shake things up for the right offer, freeing them up to make Domantas Sabonis the full-time centre. It would dramatically improve the Raptors now, they would get a defensive beast on a controllable deal for the next two and a half years, something any team would covet. Turner is turning 25 tomorrow, and he theoretically fits extremely well next to Siakam. The Raptors would likely have to pay a hefty price, but it would shore up many of their issues and add a dimension this group is missing.
Max: I think a realistic trade option is making a move for LaMarcus Aldridge. I understand the concerns around his defence and his age, but a skilled offensive big that can stretch the floor is something this team is in desperate need of. This deal would, of course, come as a big risk for the Raptors. Aldridge is 35 years old, in his contract year while being paid 24 million dollars. The long term vision on this trade is blurry, but if we are talking winning right now, Aldridge would fit well.
Hugh: It isn’t a secret that the Raptors need a big man. If you have a core of VanVleet, Anunoby, and Siakam, add a legitimate big and that’s a scary lineup. There has been a lot of talk surrounding John Collins, an impending restricted free agent, and Atlanta has flip-flopped on whether or not they will trade him. Reports are saying right now that the Hawks are unlikely to move him, but if there is a team who could make a good offer for Collins, it would be Toronto.
Olivier: This might be a stretch, but might as well have some fun here! The Orlando Magic would be better off tanking and shooting their shot at good fortune in the draft. A rebuild would start with trading their most attractive piece, All-Star centre Nikola Vucevic. He is great around the rim, is a very good rebounder, and has proven to be a steady shooter from deep. He would demand a significant package, but I’d imagine they’d look for picks and prospects in exchange for their star.
Kai: It is evident that the Raptors are lacking a skilled big with the departure of Ibaka and Gasol. They miss both the post presence and secondary shooting ability these two brought last season. I think a realistic trade could be for Collins, who can provide a solid two-way addition at the four or five. The Hawks would be interested in trading Collins for the right price, but I am not sure if the Raps would be willing to meet it.
Shane: For the right deal, yes to both. Powell is likely to hit the free agent market and I expect the Raptors to be out-priced this off-season. With a significant amount of teams inquiring about the sixth-year wing, the Raptors could likely get a nice haul. Boucher is on a team-friendly deal for next year and has been outstanding all season, but his sample size of success is still only a few months and he doesn’t project to be a starter down the line. I’m inclined to keep him, but if a team calls with an offer that includes a first-round pick, the Raptors would have to strongly consider it.
Max: I see both of these players as building blocks for the future. Unless an All-Star-calibre player is offered, then hold on to both. Powell has been one of the better scorers in the league this season and Boucher is a mobile big that has a rare ability to block shots and stretch the floor. Yes, Powell will have to get paid this summer, but I think he’s worth it at this point and he’s shown that as a starter.
Hugh: Sell Powell, keep Boucher. As much as I love Powell, the guy has been playing out of his mind and will be getting offered a ton of money this off-season. Sell him when his value is at its peak to avoid losing him for nothing when the Raptors decide not to match the massive contract he will inevitably be offered. Keep Boucher because he’s Canadian.
Olivier: I think both should stay with the Raptors. Powell has proven to be a great shot creator and consistent scorer and he can claim a starting role if Lowry leaves. Boucher offers a unique skill set and spark off the bench that is hard to find in big men in the league, and I believe he’s a valuable sixth-man-type player.
Kai: I would lean more towards selling high on Powell only. The Raptors have a tough decision to make with him if he continues to play this well: either pay him to stay or trade him for future value. Given his age, and that he is not part of the core, I think they should sell high on Powell now in order to get back some future assets. I would keep Boucher based on the Canadian connection, as well as the fact that the team already has a need for a big – it is also very hard to find good two-way shooting big men like Boucher in the league.
Shane: Terence Davis and Patrick McCaw to Orlando for Mo Bamba and their 2021 second-round draft pick. It’s a flier for both teams, and a pair of players who could perhaps benefit from a change of scenery. The Raptors can offer Bamba a role and pick up an additional pick for taking on his salary next season, and perhaps unlock some of the potential the Magic saw when they used a lottery pick on him. Davis and McCaw, set to be free agents, are both likely to move on; Orlando needs guard scoring badly and Davis would be worth a look.
Max: I would like to see the Raptors make a move for a serviceable big man like Hassan Whiteside. When given minutes, Whiteside has shown he can be a productive player, especially on the defensive end. Sacramento already has two younger bigs in Marvin Bagley and Richaun Holmes, they just might be willing to part with Whiteside on a beneficial deal for the Raptors.
Hugh: It’s not a trade, but they should re-sign Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. I’m not sure why they haven’t yet. He played for them last year so he is familiar with the coaching staff and systems. Toronto needs energy off the bench and they need hustle players and that is exactly what RHJ is.
Olivier: I would not be surprised if Tristan Thompson is shipped out of Boston, and it also wouldn’t surprise me if the Raptors scooped him up. His 9.5 million dollar salary might be tough to swallow, but Thompson offers a strong paint presence, which is the Raptors biggest roster hole. Plus, it would be cool to get another local guy on the team!
Kai: I think a potential move for the Raptors would be a deal with the Charlotte Hornets for either Bismack Biyombo or Cody Zeller. We’ve addressed the Raps’ need for a big, so this makes sense money-wise and addresses the positional gap. For the Hornets, they may be moving towards a younger direction, which would include giving more opportunity to PJ Washington as their younger big. The extra bigs at the position would make for good trading pieces that the Raptors could capitalize on for a lower cost.
Shane: It pains me to say it, but no. Lowry is the greatest Raptor ever, but he is not getting younger and he wants to win now. If Lowry stays past the deadline, I would expect him to sign with a team that will compete for a championship next year. However, if he decides it’s time to move on, it would be better for him to be moved at the deadline so the Raptors can recoup assets. Lowry can maximize his payday this way, as the team who acquires him can use his Bird rights and go over the salary cap to re-sign him. Nothing would make me happier than seeing Lowry get another chance to win it all. If that’s his desire, the Raptors should grant his wish and let him have what he rightfully deserves.
Max: I think it’s highly unlikely that an attractive enough deal will be offered to the Raptors to actually pull the trigger on a trade for Lowry. That being said, the same approach was taken with DeMar DeRozan, and you just never know who might become available. It would be nice to get something in return for Lowry, because if he does decide to go elsewhere this summer, the Raptors will be left in similar situations from when Kawhi Leonard and Chris Bosh left in free agency. I expect Lowry to get some big contract offers from other teams this summer, and the Raptors probably won’t be able to keep him on a team-friendly deal. Lowry has shown great loyalty to Toronto over the years, but in the twilight years of his career, unfortunately it just might make most sense for him to move on. Whether that happens before or after the deadline remains to be seen.
Hugh: At this point, if Lowry leaves at the deadline it’s because he wants to, but with that being said, the Raptors won’t trade him for nothing. If Lowry goes, it will be to a contender; to be traded anywhere else would be disrespectful. The reason why I think it’s unlikely is that Lowry has a massive contract, and Toronto would most likely have to take on a big contract in return. I can’t see Masai and Bobby being interested in that, and I can’t see a trade go down without that happening.
Olivier: I believe the Raptors won’t end up dealing him. Whether it’s because the right package won’t be offered, or they want to squeeze out as much as they can out of this season, I think we’ll see Lowry play out the rest of his contract with the Raptors. As for his future, it’s tough to call. I have a feeling that he would stay on a team-friendly deal. It might sound funny, but winning one title with a franchise you represented for many years might mean more to a player’s legacy than capturing a second one as a mercenary. I’m sure some will disagree with that logic, but something tells me Lowry might feel that way.
Kai: I would lean more towards yes; however, I believe that the decision is completely in Lowry’s hands. If we look long-term, contending for a championship will mostly revolve around VanVleet, Siakam and Anunoby within the next four-to-five years and Lowry will be in his late thirties by then. The Raptors organization respects Lowry too much to deal him to a bad team, so options would be to either trade him to a contending team of his choosing, or to keep him and work around his age and expiring contract. I would like to see the Raps trade him for value now, however it is all dependent on Lowry and making sure he is happy if he is going to be traded. If he is not traded, it is more likely Powell gets traded in order to leave room to pay Lowry in the offseason.