Dream Raptors free agent may be more available than everyone thought

Scottie Barnes, Toronto Raptors
Scottie Barnes, Toronto Raptors / Cole Burston/GettyImages

The Toronto Raptors have a number of avenues ahead of them to build a long-term contender.

There are extremely drastic paths that include trading Scottie Barnes and completely tearing down; the 22-year-old All-Star would have a ton of value on the trade market. They could simply bring back this year's team and let them try to fight into the Play-In Tournament to build some level of chemistry and experience.

More likely, however, the Raptors will be looking for a second star to pair with Scottie Barnes. Immanuel Quickley could develop into that player, but he's more likely going to top out as the No. 3 on a good team. RJ Barrett likewise doesn't seem to boast that upside. The Raptors will need to add that star, either via the draft (slow plan), trade (an expensive plan) or free agency (a long-shot plan).

How do the Raptors add a second star?

Adding a star via free agency is a difficult task. Most stars never reach free agency, agreeing to lucrative contract extensions with their current teams. If they don't agree to terms they are often traded to new teams ahead of free agency. Only occasionally do Top-25 players in the league reach the open market.

When they do, they tend to sign in big cities. Kevin Durant went to San Francisco, then went to Brooklyn with Kyrie Irving. Kawhi Leonard signed in Los Angeles, as did LeBron James. While Toronto is a massive city, it usually isn't considered to be the metropolitan destination that big stars are looking for.

That doesn't mean they are completely out of the running for a big star, however. Eventually, things will come together where their combination of roster, money and location appeal to a player. It's unlikely, but in the realm of possibility, that could happen this summer.

If it does, the dream Raptors free agent target this summer to land a star to pair with Scottie Barnes and jumpstart their rebuild is none other than LA Clippers wing Paul George.

Paul George may be available in free agency

The nine-time All-Star, six-time All-NBA, four-time All-Defense wing has been playing alongside Kawhi Leonard on the Clippers for five seasons now, and only once have they made the Western Conference Finals; that season Leonard again went down to injury and they flamed out against the Phoenix Suns.

That's been the story of the Clippers, with an injury to Leonard, George or both derailing their postseason runs. When healthy, however, George has proven he is still an elite two-way wing and capable of fitting alongside any teammates because of his defensive versatility and shooting.

Leonard recently agreed to a contract extension to stay with the Clippers, but George and the team remain "apart" on contract negotiations of their own, per ESPN's Brian Windhorst. It may be that the two sides agree to a deal before free agency, or that he elects to re-sign with the team right away rather than sign an extension. At this point, however, it represents a clear crack opening between George and the Clippers that could turn into a divorce this summer.

Paul George is a dream fit with Scottie Barnes

George's fit with Scottie is tantalizing to consider. Defensively the two would terrorize opposing teams, locking up any two of their best perimeter players. On offense, Barnes could screen for George in the pick-and-roll or George could space the court and initiate secondary actions as Barnes attacks defenses.

In a large way, by leaving George would swap out an aging, injury-prone former Raptor for a much younger version of that player; Barnes may never reach Kawhi's ceiling but he has a lot of the same size, strength and defensive profile. George could sign in Toronto and seek to replicate Leonard's accomplishment by leading the Raptors to a title.

George is 33 years old, which means if the Raptors court him they are convinced they can compete for a championship over the next couple of seasons, and will need to convince George of the same. They can bring him in and then use their remaining youth and draft capital to add another player, likely using either Jakob Poeltl or RJ Barrett as matching salary. A core of Barnes, George, Quickley and a fourth key player has real potential to compete.

It's a pipe dream, and unlikely to occur. Yet if the Raptors are going to shoot for the moon, Paul George makes a lot of sense to target. And right now, the news leaking out is that he could be more available than expected this summer.

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