Going into the trade deadline yesterday, the obituaries of Kyle Lowry and Norman Powell had already been written. Following the Raptors’ most impressive game of the season, almost all of the questions for each guard in their post-game press conference on Wednesday night were unrelated to the game. Journalists were already preparing their farewell stories for the two longest tenured Raptors, asking them about their expectations, hopes, and wants for the following day.
Emotions were running high. It’s unusual for Lowry to spend twenty minutes with the media, or be brutally honest with reporters either. Typically, he’ll hide his private life from the public, and avoid answering any questions on topics unrelated to basketball, yet there he was – challenging Sportsnet’s Michael Grange to a round of golf, showing off an incoming FaceTime call from Drake during his press conference, and even admitting that Wednesday night’s game felt “kinda weird,” knowing it could have been his last in a Raptors uniform.
Powell also had his bit of emotions to share after the Raptors’ big win over the Nuggets. Behind Lowry, Norm was the second longest tenured Raptor before he was dealt. He was drafted with the 46th overall pick in 2015, and after an impressive rookie campaign fans had high hopes for him. It wasn’t long until injuries began to toy with his career, jolting him in and out of the rotation like a yo-yo. Finally after the Raptors’ depth was slashed due to the departures of Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green, Serge Ibaka, and Marc Gasol, Norm had found his footing.
He was playing at an All-Star level this season, and despite not being as instrumental as Lowry in guiding the franchise through their most successful era, Powell will always be remembered a core member of the Raptors’ first championship team.
When asked if he thinks about the headlines that have been attached to his name for so long heading into the trade deadline, Powell told reporters, “I don’t think about it at all. Other people around me think about it more than me. My roots are here. I’ve given everything I have to this franchise. I want to stay here.”
Unfortunately, as most NBA players learn eventually, the league is a business. Just after lunchtime on Thursday, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that the Raptors were sending Norman Powell to the Portland Trail Blazers in exchange for Gary Trent Jr., and Rodney Hood.
Trent, 22, is coming off an impressive performance in the NBA bubble with Portland, where he shot 62% from three-point range, and averaged 18 points per game. That tremendous play has carried over to this season, where Trent is now posting career-high’s across the board, recording 15.0 points and 2.2 rebounds per game on 39.7% shooting from deep.
In comparison to the outgoing Powell, Trent is a less explosive athlete. While he’s also capable of scoring at all three levels and putting the ball on the floor to create his own shot, he’s still a step below Norm in that regard. Where the improvement lies – and likely why Masai Ujiri and Bobby Webster decided to swing on this deal – is because Trent is a much improved team defender. He happily guards the opponent’s best wing, which can be seen from his inspiring defensive effort trying to stop LeBron James in last year’s first round series between Portland and L.A., and he’s a much smarter off-ball defender than Powell was – both in terms of his feel for the game, and understanding of positioning.
Financially, the Raptors also benefit by swapping out Powell for Trent. While Norm is going to be an unrestricted free agent this summer looking to secure a long-term contract in the range of $20M per season, Trent’s price tag should be far cheaper. Beyond that, Trent is also going to be a restricted free agent, meaning the Raptors could match any offer sheet that he tries to sign with another team, and keep him North of the border for another few years. Being the youngest player on the Raptors roster now, it’s almost a certainty that they will re-sign Trent regardless of the cost.
The other piece of the trade, who was likely just thrown in to make the salaries match, is Rodney Hood. Hood is coming in as the veteran of the deal at 28 years old. A slew of injuries throughout his career have prevented him from becoming the elite scorer that many thought he was destined to be, however still at just 28-years-old, he hopes to still be able to provide a scoring punch off the bench for his new team. It remains to be seen if Hood will earn any minutes on the wing over Stanley Johnson, DeAndre’ Bembry, or even Paul Watson Jr., however Nurse may opt to make use of Hood’s shooting ability situationally.
On the other side of the trade, the Trail Blazers are acquiring one of the most efficient scorers in the NBA. Powell’s true shooting percentage (which accounts for three’s, field goals inside the arc, and free-throws) is among the best in the entire NBA, ranking ninth among players who have a usage rate of over 20%. Interestingly enough, three of the players ahead of him are legit MVP candidates, and five are All-Stars.
Slotting in next to C.J. McCollum and Damian Lillard in Portland, it’s likely that Norm won’t be tasked with creating much of his own offense, unless Terry Stotts decides to bring him off the bench in a sixth man role. Even so, Norm should find most of his looks in catch-and-shoot scenarios. Unequivocally, his natural ability to score will further amplify Portland’s offense-first identity, while giving Portland arguably the best three-guard lineup in the entire NBA.
Fortunately, it won’t be long before Powell, Trent, and Hood all get to see their old teammates once again to say a last farewell. The Raptors and Trail Blazers will coincidentally meet at Amalie Arena on Sunday night. If Powell, Trent, and Hood aren’t able to suit up for their new teams tonight, they’ll surely be ready to go by then.