Getting swept by LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers has left even the most optimistic Raptors fans with the same question regarding Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. Are they going to be kept together another year? With another postseason disappointment and an overall consensus that the team has peaked, logic would say that a trade should happen, but those around the NBA are almost certain that it won’t. Here are five reasons for this:
DeMar’s contract has him here for the long-run while Lowry’s has him here for the near future, all the way through 2019-2020, the season after next. Having the dup under contract for two more seasons gives the Raptors front office freedom with their options. It’s hard to get equal value in a trade when the player being traded is already halfway out the door, and right now Masai Ujiri doesn’t have that problem. This also means that if other team’s don’t make a serious offer for the two stars, then the Raptors would have no trouble saying “forget it” and trying again with this group, given that they can ride with them for two years and let Lowry’s contract expire.
2. Low flexibility around the league
The league’s cap situation has made this offseason a daunting one for free agents and team’s looking to reduce their payroll. The spending frenzy the league went on during the 2016 offseason is starting to hurt teams. The trade market is mostly sellers because so many team’s have players that are being paid above their market value and upcoming free agents want in on the pot. Because of this, GMs are trying to dump these bad contracts more than they’re really looking for trades. Unless you have Anthony Davis, Kawhi Leonard or someone of that caliber, you’re not getting much value. The 2016 offseason was the year Bismack Biyombo signed a 4-year $72 million contract with the Orlando Magic and Chandler Parsons signed a 4-year $92 million contract. Even with all the love Toronto fans had for Biyombo, it’s fun to look back at that and laugh. It will be hard for the Raptors to find an ideal trade in this chaos. Consider that if the Raptors were to make a trade it would have to be one that clearly makes the team better, as Ujiri isn’t the type of GM that is looking to make a lateral move. But there aren’t many players available that fit the description of a move that would make the team better. Names like Kawhi Leonard and Andrew Wiggins have been floated as potential trade options, but probably aren’t realistic options. Even if Leonard came somehow, the possibility of him not re-signing in a year is high, as the Raptors aren’t a franchise that can honestly make a compelling offer for Leonard to stay. What does Toronto have that the Spurs didn’t? Andrew Wiggins is a good player and he’s only 23 with a lot of potential, but he may be another target that would lead to more of the same. On the other hand if the Raptors want a draft pick they’ll probably have to take on a few bad contracts and completely start rebuild mode. The front office could consider waiting for next offseason to make a move and see if the options available to them are more favorable than the current ones, because of the current state of the market.
3. Why mess with a good thing?
Regardless of the sweep, the Raptors have shown they’re a team with continuity and an identity. 59 win seasons don’t grow on trees in the NBA. With another year under their belts together, it’s possible they take that next step. Remember the 2013 finals when the Spurs lost to the Cavaliers after Ray Allen’s last second right corner three that sent game six into overtime?
That team could’ve folded after one of the most gut wrenching finals losses in history- in fact, there were rumors about it. Luckily for Spurs fans, they didn’t, instead, they rallied together and turned that failure into an entire season worth of fuel and the very next season happened to win the championship by a record margin. The reality is although we have history as a reference no one really knows how this core will play the next time their in a tough playoff series. This team was one of the youngest in the playoffs this season with an average age of 25.43. (Sidenote- Funny that the two teams in the finals have two of the three oldest rosters in the playoffs.) Youth and lack of experience are legitimate excuses the front office can use considering these numbers. For guys like Delon Wright and OG Anunoby this was their first time experiencing meaningful playoff action while actually on the court. Why give up on a team that included a ton of players who had very little-to-no regular NBA experience before this season?
4. Running it again with a new coach
It’s hard to see how Masai Ujiri can justify firing head coach Dwane Casey and replacing him with Nick Nurse while also acknowledging his roster has issues. If Ujiri honestly believes Casey was the problem, then giving another coach an opportunity could lead to a Mark Jackson/Steve Kerr situation where one coach takes a team to heights their predecessor couldn’t. If Ujiri’s going to change the roster and start rebuilding the team then he should be taking blame for assembling it. He can’t have it both ways. The new coach might be given a shot at maximizing the team’s potential and fixing their playoff issues. It’s looking like Casey might be the fall guy for a franchise that’s searching for answers, and running back the Lowry/DeRozan tandem with Nick Nurse could yield better results. It’s worth a shot.
5. It’s the East
The East is still much weaker than the West, and when the iron is hot you have to strike. If the Raptors were playing in the west, they may not be a top four seed. The balance in conference powers could switch any season, so pushing all the chips to the table for the time being to take advantage of this conference gap it isn’t a bad idea. Once you’re in the Finals anything can happen, as we saw with the 2016 Cavs. Plus, what if LeBron heads West? It would take away the possibility of the Raptors facing their kryptonite before the Finals completely. With the East in it’s current state for the next few years, the Raptors should stick with what got them to 59 wins and not go into rebuilding mode yet. Try to get to the dance, and worry about the rest later.
Lowry and DeRozan will probably stay for the time being, but don’t count a trade out in the future. Let’s not forget that around the trade deadline the league will look much different, and there’s almost always a sucker in the NBA that can be taken advantage of at the right moment. Starting the season the duo wouldn’t necessarily mean their contracts are going to be ridden out and they can’t be traded eventually. Even if nothing goes right this year, the Raptors will probably get near similar value in a trade for DeMar if they were so inclined. This would be a very safe approach but could also yield the best results.