The Toronto Raptors should be buyers, not sellers at the trade deadline

Masai Ujiri and Bobby Webster with ESPN writer Zach Lowe (Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images)
Masai Ujiri and Bobby Webster with ESPN writer Zach Lowe (Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images) /

Even though the Toronto Raptors are defending NBA champions, no one expected them to compete for a title again this year. Now, they’re proving everyone wrong and might be one trade away from seriously contending.

Before the season began, many thought the Toronto Raptors would take a significant step back after their championship run last year. They were expected to be a bottom-tier playoff team, and there was speculation that team president Masai Ujiri would start trading away players to kick-start a rebuild.

Instead, his strategy was to wait. Ujiri wanted to see if his roster sank or swam before making any significant personnel decisions.

It wasn’t clear what this team would look like after losing two of their most important players in free agency while their veterans all got a little older — but after 18 games, Ujiri has his answer: they’re swimming.

The Raptors are doing better than anyone expected, and the team’s ceiling looks significantly higher than it did a couple of months ago. The Raptors are currently eighth in the league in offensive rating and fifth in defensive rating. They’re one of four teams in the top-8 on both sides of the floor — The Milwaukee Bucks, Los Angeles Clippers, and Los Angles Lakers are the other three.

The continued improvements of Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet, and OG Anunoby have filled the void left by Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard, allowing the Raptors to keep winning despite injuries to Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka. At full strength, the Raptors have proven they can legitimately compete with any team in the NBA.

This has turned out to be the best-case scenario for the 2019-20 Raptors. However, earlier in the yearmany expected the worst. Without any significant off-season additions and the loss of a Finals MVP, many assumed the Raptors would fall off a cliff, back to NBA irrelevancy, where they’d been for so many years before.

With such gloomy predictions came the calls to trade away the expiring contracts of Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka, and even Kyle Lowry.

That’s still a possibility, but it looks much less likely now. If the Raptors make a trade, it shouldn’t be to trade away veterans in exchange for future assets – it should be to find someone who makes them better right now.

The Raptors have a proven and tested championship formula. They’re just missing a wing scorer who can take the pressure off Siakam when the going gets tough.

With the emergence of Anunoby as a more reliable offensive threat, Toronto’s only glaring weakness in their starting five is at shooting guard, where they’re either playing an out-of-position (and therefore undersized) VanVleet, or Norman Powell.

If the Raptors could find an upgrade at that position, they’d take another step towards contending, improving their chances in an Eastern Conference that looks more competitive than originally expected. Whether that player exists and is available for the Raptors to trade for is another question entirely, but it’s one Ujiri should at least be asking.

With a number of contracts coming off the books this summer, the Toronto Raptors are set-up nicely for the future no matter what they decide to do this season. Rather than trying to improve next year’s team, Ujiri should focus on the talent in the locker room at the moment.

Next. One thing from every Raptors game last week. dark

A trade to acquire a wing scorer would only help their chances of coming out of the east, and maybe, just maybe, repeating as champions.