The Toronto Raptors are 3 games behind first, they rank 6th and 9th in offensive and defensive efficiency, and they are poised for a deep playoff run. But, they aren’t a championship contender…yet. The Cleveland Cavaliers were appointed Kings of the East before the season started, and most choose the San Antonio Spurs or the Golden State Warriors to win it all. With the trade deadline looming Raptors GM Masai Ujiri has to determine what his team needs in order to challenge these NBA super powers. After two quick playoff exits, Masai can’t just think about the future – he needs to field a team that makes a deep playoff run this season. Anything less and Raptors Nation will start to lose faith in their “Messiah”. He has to show he is an elite GM that can make the Raps better without mortgaging the future. To do this it is simple math. Take stock of what you have, figure out what you need, and see if a fit is on the market.
- What the Raps have:
This is a fun group to watch! Seeing them shake off the shackles of iso ball (ahem Lou Williams), and playing like a team makes it more certain they will win their first 7 game playoff series this year. The Toronto Raptors starting five have hit their stride. Added to this, the bench plays effectively and spells the top 5 for solid minutes.
The Toronto Raptors are a young team and they will only get younger. The average age of the Dinos is the 10th youngest in the NBA. Added to their current roster they have a bounty of prospects and 4 draft picks over the next two years.
- What the Raps Need:
Chemistry is great for now and the youthfulness is good for the future. However, for this year, the Raptors really could use a veteran power forward to bring it all together. There are a few names that continue to pop up. The Raps aren’t interested in Markieff Morris anymore, but there are plenty of targets they could deal for.
- Let’s go Shopping:
The Chicago Bulls are having a big n’ tall firesale. Pau Gasol, Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson are available for the right price. Considering Gasol’s is in the twilight of his career, and it is difficult to get a full season out of Joakim Noah, I would only consider Gibson as a viable option. He has been on a Bulls team that made deep playoff runs, he is a team first player and a defensive presence. Gibson is 29 years old with two years left on his contract at a price-tag of $13M/year. Chicago may not be entering a rebuilding phase however they know their current team is not close to playing for a championship. The Raptors have plenty of prospects and 4 draft picks in the next two years. This is too much youth. The Raptors don’t have the capacity to develop 8 players over the next two years. Some of them have to go. The tricky part is choosing which asset is least valuable. I wouldn’t advocate for sending this year’s 1st round pick that they will acquire from either New York or Denver. It looks like both teams will be in the lottery and this year’s draft is very deep.The Bulls have reportedly offered a Patrick Patterson for Gibson swap – this could be something the Raptors consider if all else fails. It fits a need and the Toronto Raptors acquire a solid defensive specialist with a team first mentality for assets they can’t use.
The New Orleans Pelicans are not having a very good season. Anderson has been one of their best players, but is an upcoming free agent who will be looking for a large payday. Ultimately, the Pels will need to make a decision on whether they see Anderson as a core piece going forward. Anderson is a great stretch four who is having a fantastic year offensively. Defensively, he’s always been mediocre – he would not be much of an upgrade over Scola. However, he would add another weapon to make the Raptors offense all the more lethal.
Young has been linked to the Raptors by multiple reports. The athletic forward is averaging 15 points and 9 rebounds this season on the terrible Nets. He’s been fairly efficient and effective, and is a solid defensive player. He would be under contract for two more seasons after this year, and is owed approximately 12 million per year. Ultimately, the asking price may be too high as the Nets are looking for a first round pick, a prospect, and player to match salaries. Young realistically would not put the Raptors in that contender status.
Yet another player being linked to the Raps is Kenneth Faried. One of Masai’s old draftees, Faried has been a slightly above average power forward for years. He’s averaging 12.5 points and 9 rebounds per game on a bad team. Faried is signed to a long-term deal where he will make on average 13 million per year until 2019. He’s 26, likely not getting much better, and basically Amir Johnson without the defensive presence. This really should not be an option because once again, he does not push the Raptors over the top.
The Atlanta Hawks have decided to consider offers for their big man rather than lose him for nothing in free agency. The Hawks are supposedly asking for a lot, but the All-Star certainly warrants the price. This is the franchise changing talent that would push the Raptors over the top. Horford is that marquee player who can also anchor a defense. More importantly, he has some deep playoff experience. The drawbacks are at 29 years of age he doesn’t have anymore of a veteran presence than Kyle Lowry does. Lastly, he is an unrestricted free agent come July and may not be anymore than a half season rental if he cannot come to terms with the Toronto Raptors management. However, the Raptors would have a good chance in re-signing him if a deal was struck, according to sources. A deal would almost certainly need to include first round pick(s), Patterson, and one of the Raptors prospects (think Delon Wright). It is almost certain that the Raptors have had talks with the Hawks – if Atlanta decides they are going to break things up, expect Masai to be at the front door ready to buy.
Unfortunately there is little supply on the market for what the Raptors need to improve this team. If Masai can’t swing a deal that makes sense, it may be better to address their lack of a veteran presence in free agency. Also, with DeMarre Carroll‘s imminent return it is possible The Toronto Raptors have enough to get past the first round and attract a marquee free agent with the increased salary cap. Stay tuned, as I am sure we will get lots more in the next couple of days.