A tumultuous trade deadline and the transition to the buyout market have transformed the East's elite rosters. Where do the Raptors stack up now?
After an exhilarating week of rumors and roster shakeups that have had league-wide repercussions, the annual NBA trade deadline has come and gone. With an Eastern Conference that is still wide open, the Toronto Raptors, along with their rivals have treated this past deadline as an all-out arms race, trading in their stockpiled assets, for win-now type weapons.
The Raptors still have a few final roster spots remaining for the buyout market, but for the most part, all the flashy and statement-making moves have already been made.
The 2018-2019 campaign for the Raptors has been largely regarded as an all-in season, where the stakes for the franchise are at an all-time high. In order to get Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green and Marc Gasol to Toronto, the Raptors have compromised some of their future by getting rid of youthful, productive prospects like Jakob Poeltl, Delon Wright, and Jonas Valanciunas.
Obviously, Leonard, Green, and Gasol are all upgrades at their positions, but with Kawhi's pending free agency casting a shadow over the Raptors, the question that remains is whether the Raptors have done enough to make it to the finals. If they do, Toronto could return enough pieces to be a contender for several seasons. If they don't, the Raptors could start the rebuilding process.
Most recently, Jeremy Lin has been added as the newest Raptor addition, but things are once again quieting down. So now that the dust has settled somewhat, let's take a look at why the Raptors will (or won't) be taking Canada's team to the coveted NBA Finals in its current form.
Case For: Egoless Stars, Easier Transition
Let's begin this section with our offseason acquisitions: Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard. Based on many accounts from teammates and personnel from his Spurs days to his current stint with the Raptors, it is no question that Danny Green has always been a glue guy.
Similarly, with the exception of his fallout with the Spurs last season due to discrepancies on the status of his injury, Kawhi Leonard has always been a quiet hustler, opting to leave his mark on the court rather than off of it. After learning his lesson with the Spurs, coupled with his generally humble demeanor, it won't be likely that he'll be dropping any controversial soundbites for the media to create distractions.
With the addition of Marc Gasol and Jeremy Lin, it seems like the Raptors are continuing a trend of incorporating solid professionals into their locker room. Obviously, the version of Gasol the Raptors are getting is an older shell of his former self, but the leadership and professionalism for team culture is still an invaluable asset.
A similar statement can be said for Jeremy Lin. A journeyman who has seen both the highs and lows of NBA life, he appears to be well positioned to be another mentor-like presence for the team. Trae Young, the fiery Atlanta Hawks rookie recently told the hosts of The Starters that he was "very sad" to see Lin go, as he was a fantastic "role model" for him during his time there.
As trivial as this may seem, this can actually be a huge plus for the Raptors, particularly during the playoffs. The 76ers and Celtics' locker room woes have been well documented this season as coaches Brett Brown and Brad Stephens have had difficulty controlling their respective volatile rosters.
While Tobias Harris, Ben Simmons, and JJ Redick have quieter, team-first personalities as part of an elite starting five for the 76ers, Joel Embiid and Jimmy Butler have both shown to be capable of culture-destroying meltdowns.
Similarly, on a Celtics team that is brimming with talent, managing minutes and expectations have been an issue throughout the season. Although they were widely believed at the start of the season to be the team coming out of the East, they still have not seemed to found the rhythm that made them such an effective team last season. Having a superstar like Kyrie Irving who has never been known to shy away from the media has also unfortunately created distractions for their organization.
Case For: More than Just a Locker Room Presence
Despite having personalities that seem to be more oriented to a culture of winning team basketball, the Raptors' new additions also have the skills to contribute on the court as well. Gasol averaged 15.7 points per game, alongside 8.6 rebounds and 4.7 assists in Memphis. Furthermore, as a defensive-minded big, he also averages more than one block and steal per game.
Since Marc Gasol has always been a humble giant on and off the court, people forget he was a former Defensive Player of the Year with multiple All-NBA team nods. Although Gasol has grown comfortable playing in Memphis' system, it is also important to recognize that Gasol has also seen 6 coaching changes during his decade-long tenure in Memphis, meaning that he may be able to adjust accordingly and quickly to the Raptors' system.
In just three games, Gasol has already shown how he can radically change the genetic makeup of the Raptors' offence going forward. As one of the more gifted passing big men in the game, Raptors are able to run plays through him, taking the heavy playmaking load off Lowry.
After entering into the league as a more traditional big man, Gasol's game has also evolved to match the needs of the modern NBA. He is the perfect center to help spread the floor for the Raptors, as he has incorporated a three-point shot into his game.
Averaging over four attempts a game on 34 percent shooting, he can help draw opposing big men out of the paint, which will be reassuring for players like Kyle Lowry, OG Anunoby, Kawhi Leonard, Pascal Siakam, and now Jeremy Lin, whom all have a tendency for slashing to the rim.
Despite playing in a dysfunctional offense, Lin was very productive during his time in Atlanta. With averages of 19.6 points and 6.5 assists per-36 minutes, he can still be a major difference maker while Fred VanVleet is out and when Lowry sits.
More importantly, for both Gasol and Lin, this is the first time that either are having an opportunity to play for a legitimate contender. During the "Grit and Grind" era of Grizzlies basketball, the team was only able to make it to the conference finals once and were unceremoniously swept by the Spurs there.
For Lin, who has bounced from team to team over his 9-year career, he has only made the playoffs on three occasions.
Hopefully, playing for a contender will invigorate both players. With fewer minutes and more on the line during those minutes, Toronto should receive the best versions of Marc Gasol and Jeremy Lin.
Case Against: East Contenders Made Stronger Deadline Moves
While Gasol and LIn were big addition, the 76ers and Bucks have also made significant upgrades to their teams.
By adding Tobias Harris to an already-stacked starting roster, the 76ers faithful have begun branding this team the "Philly Phive", a sort of nod to Golden State's "Hampton's Five" starting line up of perennial all-stars.
As a selfless player, Harris will likely have no problems adjusting or sacrificing touches for his new team. However, when he does get his touches, Harris will fill up a glaring hole in Philadelphia: shooting.
A concern prior to the trade was Harris' ability to score outside of the pick-and-roll. As a member of the Clippers, Harris had over 900 pick plays called for him, whereas Wilson Chandler, the player he is replacing on the starting lineup, has only had 21 pick plays called for him.
Concerns about Harris ability to score in the starting lineup have been squashed for the time being. In his first four games with the Clippers, Harris has already put up an impressive 71 points, is averaging 17.8 points per contest.
It's a small sample size, but with five starters that possess unique offensive talents that complement one another, Philadelphia has the potential to steamroll any team they are up against.
Shooting seems to be the name of the game all over the East, as Milwaukee upgraded their own roster by adding Nikola Mirotic. Mirotic was a deadeye shooter this season for the New Orleans Pelicans, making almost three triples per contest.
Although he is still sidelined with a calf injury, both the organization and Mirotic himself have remarked that he is an ideal fit for the team and their goals. Looking at how the Bucks are set up, adding another three-point threat makes sense, clearing room for freak of nature Giannis Antetokounmpo.
With more than 82 percent of his shots coming from within 5 feet of the basket (and him converting on almost 75 percent of those attempts), Giannis is a player that demands double teams in the paint. As Giannis draws the attention of the defense, having capable shooters is key.
Case Against: Age and Pace Concerns
Through all of the moves made this season, the Raptors have aged themselves significantly, leveraging many of their younger pieces for Kawhi and other wily veterans in the hopes of making a deep playoff push. With an average team age of 27.1, they are already well above the league average of 26.4. When you single out key contributors Lowry, Green, Gasol, Ibaka, Lin, and Leonard, their average age is 30.5.
Considering their age, these players might be a step slower than their younger Eastern counterparts, especially when shorter rotations are utilized and playoff series run long.
It is perhaps concerning to note that both Lin and Leonard have already experienced season-ending injuries during their career, exponentially increasing their likelihood to suffer another.
After all, Leonard has spent much of this season seated during back to back games as a precaution for his foot/leg. Furthermore, Lowry and Gasol have both been banged up during their careers, and one can only hope that they are in full health heading in the postseason.
For Gasol especially, one thing to keep in mind is the pace. Memphis' style of play has been well-known for its grittiness on the defensive end and its extremely slow style of play. As expected, the Grizzlies once again have the slowest pace this season, as one of the only two teams to have less than 100 possessions per game. In a faster-paced environment, can Gasol keep up as the Raptors try to push the pace?
While the West has always garnered respect as the 'tougher' conference to be in, these deadline moves have definitely made East-coast basketball relevant and exciting once again.
As of right now, there are reasons to be excited about the Raptors' playoff chances, but when looking at the bigger picture, there are similar reasons to believe that they won't even make it out of the second round, due to the adjustments made by other contenders.
Aside from Milwaukee, who has stayed relatively quiet from a drama standpoint, both Boston and Philadelphia have been riddled with chemistry issues on and off the court. Squabbles on who gets more shots or touches have definitely affected the smoothness of some parts of their game.
The only possible knock on the Raptors' goals of making a deep playoff run would be age and the caliber of additions.
A lot of Raptors already have a ton of miles on their bodies and both Lin and Gasol seem to be on the tail end of their primes. This can be concerning when considering how Tobias Harris seems destined for all-stardom and how Mirotic's 3-point, floor stretching ability is a perfect fit for a Giannis-led offense.
Which trades will ultimately help push teams over the edge? Which experiments will fail? The final stretch of the season after the all-star break will prove to be an interesting site of analysis for the East for sure.