Raptors starting five still open to debate

TORONTO, ON - MAY 07: Kevin Love
TORONTO, ON - MAY 07: Kevin Love /

The Raptors may be settled at the smaller positions, but there’s no consensus on who should start up front. Here’s my position on positions.

The Toronto Raptors open training camp in a few months, and the roster is far from finalized. For example, the team announced the signing of Lorenzo Brown to a two-way contract. Why we need this particular backup combo guard isn’t clear to me, but let’s assume our scouts know what they are doing.

Of greater interest to me is the starting five – who’s on it, and why? This question is largely confined to the front court, as the guards are set.

Another question to be answered: will the Raptors use all their roster spots, or will they leave one open? We’ll leave that matter for another time, though I note with interest the cutting of Axel Toupane by the New Orleans Pelicans.

CLEVELAND, OH – APRIL 17: LeBron James
CLEVELAND, OH – APRIL 17: LeBron James /

Is Valanciunas on the block or no?

The most heated question these days in Raptors-land is what, if anything, Masai should do with Jonas Valanciunas. I suspect whatever answer you come up with indicates the degree of your belief in small ball. Should you like Serge Ibaka and four smurfs (relatively speaking) as your starters, then the likelihood is you want to move JV. Perhaps there’s a team overloaded with swingmen which is desperate to add a young big man with upside (whether you believe he has upside or not is moot – your job is to convince the other party he does).

Alternatively, the Raptors could roll out four familiar faces (JV, Serge, Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan) plus newcomer C.J. Miles at the 3-spot, and see what happens.

Conservative to start

Assuredly, that quintet would be my preference, for several reasons. Firstly, JV’s value has never been lower. He has been the subject of rumors suggesting he’ll be the centerpiece of a DeMarre Carroll-style salary dump. This summer is not the time to trade him for table scraps. Instead, let’s give him until Christmas to show his footwork, shooting and conditioning have improved. If we notice, so will other teams.

Injuries can create opportunities. General Managers who have been giving Masai Ujiri the brush-off can change their minds in a hurry when a key big man goes down in a heap . For instance, if Denver loses Nikola Jokic, they might be amenable to adding JV in exchange for Will Barton and some other kids. The Nuggets are tired of watching the playoffs at home.

I’m not offering a serious Trade Proposal, just providing an example of a team with high hopes which doesn’t want to see them crushed. Portland is another “candidate”. They are anxious to make the post-season and love Jusuf Nurkic. If he was hurt in Game 35, their brains trust would be instantly motivated to strike a deal.

And who’s the power forward?

Second, if Serge is the center, who’s the 4-man? I like Pascal Siakam a considerable amount, but I’m not ready to anoint him as an NBA starter. And asking Serge to protect the paint by himself isn’t reasonable.

No, our starters need to look much like last year’s. I hasten to mention that I’d be perfectly content should Lucas Nogueira insert himself into the starter conversation with an eye-opening training camp. JV is an asset; if there’s someone else who can do his job for (a lot!) less money, terrific. Now the trade talks can heat up. Lord knows we need shooting.

Timing, guys – it’s all about the timing. There’s no urgency to move JV, and many reasons to wait. If the Raptors start the season with 14 wins in their first 20 games, and JV is the starter, his value will be double what it is today.

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