The Toronto Raptors have been linked in rumors for nearly two years with Milwaukee Bucks superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo. The “Greek Freak” is a free agent in 2021, and he is sure to create a bidding war throughout the NBA for his services next summer.
His name has been linked to the Toronto Raptors since he has a friendship bond with Raptors’ president of operations Masai Ujiri. The rumors surrounding the Milwaukee Bucks’ star player and the Toronto Raptors may have been muted had the Raptors not traded for Kyle Lowry in 2012.
In that deal, the Raptors’ 2013 draft pick was sent to Houston and wound up being used by the Oklahoma City Thunder 12th overall. Giannis Antetokounmpo was selected 15th overall in 2013.
Seven years later, Giannis Antetokounmpo is an absolute star in the NBA. He is a two time and current league MVP, who averaged 29.5 points and 13.6 rebounds a game in 2020.
He has led the Bucks to 116 wins over the last two seasons, but they could not get further than a six-game Eastern Conference Series loss to the Toronto Raptors in 2019. As the saying goes, if you can’t beat them, join them.
While there are obvious reasons to add a superstar player like Giannis Antetokounmpo to your roster, there are equally valid reasons why the Toronto Raptors should not.
Salary cap space does not mean acquiring talent.
If you are a Toronto Raptors fan, you know that having money to spend and a willingness to spend it does mean acquiring top-notch talent. But you don’t need to examine the history of the Toronto Raptors to see this scenario of chasing Giannis Antetokounmpo going horribly wrong.
The Los Angeles Clippers signed Kawhi Leonard away from Toronto last summer. However, that deal came with a demand to add Paul George to the roster, and it cost the Clippers a young talented guard in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. After the Clippers failed to reach their potential in 2020, you will note how Kawhi Leonard is now asking the Clippers’ management to find a point guard.
The New York Knicks had 70 million dollars in cap space last summer and wound up signing players like Julius Randle and Reggie Bullock. The highest-profile free agent the Toronto Raptors ever signed was Hedo Turkoglu, and that transaction went bust within a single season.
The Raptors have also had trouble retaining their own free agents over the years as back in 2001, Antonio Davis only re-signed because the Chicago Bulls low balled him on an offer, and Chris Bosh bolted for Miami in 2010.
By omission, hoarding salary cap space means limiting your roster’s talent and ability to win while waiting for a holy grail discovery. It’s like playing the lotto.
Toronto Raptors’ management style
While there may be a bond between Giannis Antetokounmpo and Masai Ujiri, acquiring a superstar player does not seem to fit the Toronto Raptors’ management style. It is possible under the right circumstances that Giannis Antetokounmpo could help the Toronto Raptors.
Masai Ujiri and Bobby Webster’s talent choice selections have been about finding players with strong work ethics and player development through the G-League affiliate the Raptors 905. This is evident with the young core that has made the Toronto Raptors so competitive with Fred VanVleet, Pascal Siakam, and Chris Boucher.
The arrival of a Giannis Antetokounmpo in a Raptors’ uniform would mean a departure from all of that hard work. Whether the opportunity arose in the past or not, the Raptors management has resisted trying to turn the roster into a two or three-player superteam.
Again, Masai Ujiri took a pass on Kawhi Leonard’s demand to add Paul George to the Raptors’ roster to ensure his return in free agency last summer. It was a deal that might have cost the Raptors Pascal Siakam.
“In a wild night of negotiations, Presti leveraged the Clippers and Raptors off each other, preying on the uncertainties of what the other might be willing to give OKC for the chance to secure Leonard and George — and perhaps the inside track on a championship,” Wojnarowski wrote in an article published early on Saturday morning.
Giannis Antetokounmpo’s playing style does not fit the Toronto Raptors.
Head coach Nick Nurse has been hailed as an innovative coach offensively and defensively. He is the current head coach of the year to lend credence to the claim. His switching defensive schemes on pick and roll play and having his players ready and prepared to switch on most plays is something the six-foot-eleven Giannis Antetokounmpo will thrive with.
At his size and length, he literally can guard all five positions considering his athleticism as well. However, the offensive end is where he and the Toronto Raptors’ system are very different.
The Toronto Raptors take a lot of three-point shots; it represented 42 percent of their field goal attempts. One of Giannis Antetokounmpo’s glaring weaknesses is his three-point shooting. He was at 30.4 percent in 2020 and is 28.4 percent for his career on long-range shots.
The offensive system that Nick Nurse has employed over the last two years is one of sharing the ball, and the Toronto Raptors averaged 25.2 assists per game in 2020. Giannis Antetokounmpo averaged 5.6 assists in 2020 per game but also turned the ball over 3.7 times.
The Raptors averaged 14.8 turnovers a game in 2020, which was 17th best in the NBA, and Giannis Antetokounmpo would hurt the team in this statistic.
In 2019, Nick Nurse did a great job of incorporating isolation plays for Kawhi Leonard, but Kawhi Leonard could stretch the floor and was a sure-handed ball handler. The same cannot be said of Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Finally, if Giannis Antetokounmpo leaves the Milwaukee Bucks for the Toronto Raptors, the most obvious reason would be a chance to win since the Raptors will pay him handsomely. But who would he be playing with?
In 2021, the Raptors will have Pascal Siakam, Norman Powell, Dewan Hernandez, and Matt Thomas signed to contracts. There is also the problem that Giannis Antetokounmpo and Pascal Siakam are similar players, with Giannis Antetokounmpo, the more polished player.
Nick Nurse would need to ask one to be a catch and shoot stretch the floor forward, which neither truly is. He may need to consider employing a more conventional offense to accommodate both players. The other option since Giannis Antetokounmpo would be the grand prize, with a newly minted max-deal contract, is to trade Pascal Siakam.
The one way around this is to trade for Giannis Antetokounmpo now betting you can resign him in the summer of 2021 with the cap space available, risking what happened with Kawhi Leonard.
Without foresight into what the Toronto Raptors’ roster will look like in two months, much less a year, it is risky business to pin all the hopes of a franchise on a distant moment in time that you cannot control.
It is better for Masai Ujiri and Bobby Webster to fill the roster as best they can. When the opportunity arises, make transactions that will help land Giannis Antetokounmpo if that’s what they want.