Toronto Raptors unlikely to make big move on or before trade deadline

TORONTO, CANADA - OCTOBER 22: President Masai Ujiri, and Pascal Siakam #43 of the Toronto Raptors pose for a photo with their Championship Ring after the game against the New Orleans Pelicans on October 22, 2019 at the Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2019 NBAE (Photo by David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images)
TORONTO, CANADA - OCTOBER 22: President Masai Ujiri, and Pascal Siakam #43 of the Toronto Raptors pose for a photo with their Championship Ring after the game against the New Orleans Pelicans on October 22, 2019 at the Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2019 NBAE (Photo by David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images) /

The Toronto Raptors appear to be one move away from being a serious title contender. But after surveying the trade market landscape, it might make more sense to stand pat.

The NBA trade deadline is February 6th. Now that the Super Bowl is over, front offices can get back to the business of basketball. There have already been a few minor deals made, though, none involving the Toronto Raptors. Most insiders expect this year’s deadline to be a quiet one relative to previous seasons.

A year ago, Toronto made a big splash when it sent Jonas Valanciunas, Delon Wright, C.J. Miles and a second-round pick to the Memphis Grizzlies in exchange for Marc Gasol. Gasol would go on to be a key contributor in the Raptors’ title run.

This past offseason, after losing both Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green, many felt Toronto would take a step back in 2020.

They were wrong.

Toronto currently sits second in the Eastern Conference, with a record of 36-14. The Raptors have the third-best record in the NBA. It is also the exact same record the team had through 50 games last season.

Despite the Raptors’ overall record, they have struggled against elite competition, posting a 4-8 record against the likes of Milwaukee, Boston, Philadelphia, Miami and both LA teams. If the Raptors are serious about defending their title, they’ll have to knock off at least a couple of those teams before the NBA Finals.

Masai Ujiri and Bobby Webster are likely doing their due diligence. Calls are being made. The Raptors’ front office is checking on the availability of players. But there are a number of restrictions that will make it very difficult for the Raptors to pull off a big trade. First and foremost, it has been widely reported that the Raptors want to keep their cap sheet clean for the summer of 2021 when a certain MVP in Milwaukee is slated to become an unrestricted free agent.

Currently, the Raptors have $46.2 million on the books for the 2021-22 season. That is before factoring in cap holds for OG Anunoby and Terence Davis. Fred VanVleet is a free agent this summer and the Raptors will look to sign him to a new long-term deal. Plus there are the team’s first-round picks in 2020 and 2021. Once all those contracts are taken into account, the Raptors’ payroll will be between $84 and $90 million.

The NBA salary cap is projected to increase to $125 million for the 2021-22 season. A max contract for Giannis Antetokounmpo would start at $37.5 million. As a result, if the Raptors plan to preserve cap space for a run at the Greek Freak, they cannot take on any long-term contracts at this year’s deadline.

Let’s assume Ujiri and his staff are confident they can clear the requisite space for Giannis if he wants to join Team North. That leads us to the second challenge facing them: A lack of high-quality talent at this year’s trade deadline market

Finding a trade partner

Toronto’s top trade assets include the expiring contracts of Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka. The team also has all of its own first-round picks as well as an intriguing collection of young players including Fred VanVleet, OG Anunoby, Norman Powell and Terence Davis. However, any deal including one or more of those four players would need to yield an all-star calibre talent in return.

There are six teams in each conference with a legitimate shot of making a deep playoff run. In the Eastern Conference, those teams are Milwaukee, Toronto, Miami, Boston, Philadelphia and Indiana. In the West, there are the Lakers and the Clippers, plus Denver, Utah, Houston and Dallas. Two other teams in each conference will earn a playoff berth, but they won’t be in the same class as the aforementioned.

Outside of the teams mentioned above, 18 teams remain, and each one may be willing to ship out a useful veteran if the price is right at the deadline.

With the exception of Giannis, the one player Raptors’ fans pine for is Bradley Beal. Beal would be a near-perfect fit in Toronto. However, he is ineligible to be traded this season after signing a two-year, $72 million contract extension this past offseason. Maybe the Raptors can make a deal for Beal this summer, but he will be spending the rest of this season suiting up for the lowly Wizards.

The New Orleans Pelicans, Brooklyn Nets and Orlando Magic have their sights set on the playoffs. So their players are currently off-limits.

The Atlanta Hawks and Phoenix Suns entered the season with playoff aspirations, but both appear bound for the lottery. Both teams feature bright young cores and there is no reason for either one to part with any of their core players.

The Portland Trail Blazers had seemed to waive the white flag after making a cost-cutting move by acquiring Trevor Ariza. The team has rebounded and is just a game and a half out of the eight spot.  The Blazers could make another move in order to get under the luxury tax or they could look to add talent. Either way, don’t expect a name like Damian Lillard or C.J. McCollum to be featured on the trade market menu board.

The San Antonio Spurs may look to move DeMar DeRozan at the deadline. The Spurs are on the verge of missing the playoffs for the first time in 22 years. Bringing DeRozan back would be an interesting storyline, but we’ve seen how that works out come playoff time. Similarly, I anticipate the Raptors will avoid a reunion with Rudy Gay, DeMarre Carroll or Marco Belinelli.

The asset collectors

The Cavaliers, Pistons, Hornets and Warriors are all open for business.

Tristan Thompson is available. Thompson is from the Toronto area, but he isn’t an upgrade over Gasol or Ibaka. Sticking with the Cavs, as good a player as he is, there is no way the Raptors have any interest in taking on the three-years and $91 million remaining on Kevin Love’s deal.

Andre Drummond doesn’t make sense for the Raptors. Blake Griffin is out after season-ending knee surgery. Derrick Rose is the one player on the Pistons’ roster that makes a bit of sense in Toronto. But the Raptors wouldn’t be the only team interested in adding the veteran floor general. The Lakers and 76ers also have their sights set on Rose. Plus, the Pistons are seeking a lottery pick in any deal involving the former league MVP.

The Hornets are in the early stages of a rebuild. Bismack Biyombo, Marvin Williams and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist are all on expiring deals. Williams has carved out a decent career as a stretch-4. He also makes $15 million, which means the Raptors would need to ship out Ibaka or Powell in order to make the salaries work. Williams isn’t worth that price.

The Warriors just sent Willie Cauley-Stein to the Mavericks in exchange for a future second-round pick. The team could look to swap Alec Burks or Glenn Robinson III for more draft picks. Burks is an intriguing name and someone the Raptors might want to consider. But a small move like that isn’t going to put this team over the top.

There are two teams left in the Eastern Conference, both with expendable veterans.

The Chicago Bulls could look to move Thaddeus Young. But Young doesn’t space the floor and isn’t much of an upgrade over Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. Otto Porter Jr. is a solid combo-forward, who has only played in nine games this season. Porter still remains without a timetable for his return from injury.

The New York Knicks should be willing to trade anyone not named R.J. Barrett or Mitchell Robinson. The most intriguing name on their roster is Marcus Morris. Morris is having a career year, averaging 19.1 points and 5.6 rebounds per game. He’s also shooting 45.4 percent from three-point range. The issue with Morris is his salary. Morris is on the books for $15 million and poises the same financial problem as Marvin Williams.

That leaves four teams out west.

The best of the rest

The Memphis Grizzlies have two intriguing veteran wings on expiring deals in Andre Iguodala and Jae Crowder. The Grizzlies have been adamant that they won’t buy out Iguodala and want a first-round pick in exchange. The Raptors have the requisite picks, but Iguodala makes $17.2 million this season. That means the Raptors would need to part with someone like Powell in order to make the salaries work.

Crowder, on the other hand, is on the books for $7.8 million. A combination of Patrick McCaw and Stanley Johnson works financially. But the Raptors would have to add draft picks in order to pique the Grizzlies’ interest. At this stage of his career, Crowder probably isn’t worth a first-round pick, but multiple seconds could get it done.

The Oklahoma City Thunder could go either way. Chris Paul is an All-Star. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander looks like a superstar in the making. Danilo Gallinari, Dennis Schroder and Steven Adams are all rumoured to be available.

Gallinari makes the most sense for the Raptors. At 6-foot-10, he would provide the Raptors with versatility in the frontcourt. Gallinari could play with Pascal Siakam or give the team a legitimate scoring option off the bench. The Thunder forward is averaging 19.2 points per game, while shooting 41 percent from three-point range (on 4.8 attempts).

The problem is Gallinari makes $22.6 million this season. That means the Raptors would need to part with Gasol or Ibaka. Gallinari would provide help at the forward position, but the Raptors would suddenly find themselves needing another centre. Nerlens Noel could be added to the deal, but OKC may prefer to hold onto Gallinari and see if they can get more for him in a sign-and-trade in the summer.

The Sacramento Kings have a number of veteran players they could look to move. That list includes Dewayne Dedmon, Cory Joseph, Nemanja Bjelica and Harrison Barnes. Bjelica would be a cheaper, less effective version of Gallinari. He’s averaging 12.2 points, while shooting 43.3 percent from long distance (on 4.6 attempts). The other three don’t make much sense for Toronto.

The most intriguing player on the Kings’ roster is Bogdan Bogdanovic. Bogdanovic is a solid wing player, who has recently taken Buddy Hield’s place in the starting lineup. He is also set to be a restricted free agent this summer and will likely command more than Toronto is willing to spend this summer.

That leaves the Minnesota Timberwolves and everyone’s favourite three-and-D player, Robert Covington. Covington is on a team-friendly contract. He makes ~$11.3 million this season and is under contract for another two years. Covington can play either forward position and is exactly the type of player teams covet in the modern NBA.

As a result, every would-be contender will be calling Minnesota about Covington’s availability. The contracts of McCaw and Johnson work financially. But the Timberwolves are demanding two first-round picks. That’s a steep price to pay. However, the Raptors have shown they can find rotation players outside the draft. As such, Ujiri may be willing to part with two late first-round picks if he believes it will get them over the hump.

Next. The case for a quiet trade deadline for the Toronto Raptors. dark

Unfortunately that’s it. With so many teams focused on the future, there isn’t going to be much activity in the present. After surveying the market, I would expect that the Raptors will mostly stand pat at the deadline. However, that doesn’t mean this team isn’t serious about contending for a title. If the Raptors have shown us anything this season, it’s that this squad should not be underestimated. They are tough, defend well and on any given night, this team can beat any team in the NBA.