There are few certainties in life: death, taxes, and the Kyle Lowry-led Raptors winning their first game of the regular season. Unfortunately, only two remain after Toronto’s disappointing 113-99 loss to the New Orleans Pelicans last night. The Raptors falling below .500 for the first time in over five years was welcomed by dismal third quarter shooting, and the team’s inability to contain J.J. Redick, Eric Bledsoe, or Lonzo Ball from beyond the arc.
Akin, there could be another well-lived Raptors life nearing its end. Since his impressive rookie season where he projected to be heading for stardom, Norman Powell’s play has leveled off in foul fashion. In his first season, Powell was an average perimeter defender who could knock down open shots at a respectable clip, use his large and explosive frame to explode to the rim occasionally, but lacked any sort of playmaking ability – the prototypical young prospect that teams fawn over nowadays. Five years later with a much greater role, all that seems to have changed is the consistency with which he performs well.
After a breakout season last year, which even saw him win the Eastern Conference Player of the Week award, he appears to be decaying back to his old self. In last night’s loss, there was the good, the bad, the ugly, and then there was Norm. He looked lost defensively, unbeknownst to the Raptors defensive schemes, and he couldn’t buy a bucket for the life of him. While Powell deserves some slack, since he reportedly missed a couple of team practices due to an inconclusive COVID-19 test within his personal bubble, he did not play to the standards which he is capable of.
To clarify – any Powell slander or trade buzz is not an overreaction to last night’s game. Heading into training camp, the likelihood of him being traded was a hot topic. After three preseason games and one competitive contest that further proved what we already knew (that the Raptors need to improve their halfcourt offense, and lack frontcourt depth), Powell’s departure now seems inevitable.
Given his mid-level $10.9M deal, and expiring contract with a player option for next season, he’s simply the best trade piece that the Raptors have to land a serviceable big man. Especially with the multitude of backcourt depth that the Raptors have – which has even seen last year’s All-Rookie Second Team honouree Terence Davis Jr. fall out of the rotation – Norm’s minutes are easily replaceable with similar productivity.
Of course, there are also rumours swirling that the Raptors might have interest in James Harden, and in order to match his incoming salary, Powell would have to be included. With the Philadelphia 76ers ultimately holding the trump card in Ben Simmons, it’s unlikely that a union between the Raptors and the 2018 MVP materializes.
Among more realistic trade targets that the Raptors could look to trade Powell for are Dario Saric of the Phoenix Suns, Maxi Kleber or Dwight Powell of the Dallas Mavericks, P.J. Tucker of the Houston Rockets, Nemanja Bjelica of the Sacramento Kings, or Larry Nance Jr. of the Cleveland Cavaliers. Each of the above provide different skillsets, but all fill a need that the Raptors currently have.
Dwight Powell or Larry Nance Jr. would give the Raptors a mobile centre who can rebound and block shots, while not giving up as much size as Chris Boucher inside. P.J. Tucker would come back in his third stint with the Raptors as mostly a small ball 4 or 5 who can stretch the floor, and play uncannily good defense against far taller opponents. Dario Saric, Maxi Kleber, and Nemanja Bjelica all don’t offer much defensively, but would provide some much-needed offensive relief to a Raptors team that forecasts to have a stagnant halfcourt offense once again.
All in all, it seems as though Powell’s time in Toronto is coming to an end. For him, it could be the fresh start that he needs. In a more featured offensive role playing for a team with lower expectations, he could look to emulate a similar jump to what T.J. Warren experienced in Indiana. Ultimately, the Raptors will probably hold out on making any moves until the dust around James Harden has settled, but once all of that clears up, expect Masai Ujiri and company to solidify the Raptors frontcourt.