It has now been 25 days since Kyle Lowry announced that he was signing with the Miami Heat, 21 nights since Goran Dragic came back as the financial centerpiece of that sign-and-trade, and 18 awkward sleeps since the Slovenian point guard publicly stated that he had “higher ambitions” than to play for the Raptors.
Let’s start off by saying that his comments were understandable. Not-so-breaking news: a 35-year-old former All-Star wants to spend his twilight years competing for a championship as opposed to being the veteran on a rebuilding squad north of the border. The way that Dragic expressed his displeasure was disrespectful, but boiled down to the notion, Lowry shared the same perspective – it’s what guided him to compete for a championship in South Beach.
Beyond Dragic’s desire to escape Toronto, he’s also been vocal about his aspirations of playing next to his national team running mate, Luka Doncic. According to Marc Stein, the Dallas Mavericks “aggressively” pursued Dragic before the Raptors-Heat sign-and-trade was complete, however they were unable to meet Toronto’s asking price, which surely sounds like a familiar tune echoing out the Raptors front office.
Often times, people get so caught up on what they ‘could’ get in return for a player on who’s on the trade block, without stopping to think if they ‘should’ make a trade at all. In this scenario, the Raptors have leverage, and they see Dragic as a positive asset. Despite being paid more handsomely than how his market would have rewarded him if he were part of the 2021 free agency class, he’s a starter-level point guard on an expiring deal, and the Raptors won’t give him up for nothing. That also means they’re unlikely to buy him out for anything close to the full value of his contract, since the dollar amount that they pay him to say sayonara would remain on their books for the 2021-2022 season.
In order for Dallas to make a trade work – which is widely expected to happen at some point before the trade deadline – they would need to send back $14.44 million in salary to Toronto, which essentially necessitates Dwight Powell coming back to the Raptors in order to make the math work. Powell is still owed a fully-guaranteed $22 million over the next two seasons – which doesn’t necessarily affect the Raptors’ cap situation since they’ll be operating as an over-the-cap team next summer regardless – but it does assist the Mavericks in creating some more financial flexibility for the 2022 offseason, if they’re able to unload the gargantuan contract of Kristaps Porzingis. As a result of the favour that the Raptors would be doing for the Mavericks (note: Dwight Powell is still not viewed by either side as a negative asset), they would likely require a young player coming back in addition to the Canadian big man.
This is where things get interesting, and it is likely the reason why there has been an ongoing stalemate for so long. A package of Powell and Josh Green sums to a total salary of $14.04 million, and pairing Powell with any of Jalen Brunson, Tyrell Terry, or Moses Brown (who can’t be re-directed until October 1st) comes out to an even cheaper bill. Unless the Raptors were willing to settle for a return of Powell and Boban Marjanovic, then Dallas would need to include two of those aforementioned young prospects, which admittedly, is a lot to give up for Dragic.
Ultimately, that dilemma is what landed us where we are right now. The Raptors are playing hard ball and holding out until Luka gets impatient, makes a trip to Nico Harrison’s desk, and forces his front office’s hand. The Mavericks are hoping that the Raptors will cave, recognize that Dragic is only eating into the developmental minutes of Malachi Flynn and Gary Trent Jr., and will ship him off for a suboptimal gain. There are of course more complicated scenarios in which a third team takes interest in a player like Marjanovic, and is willing to provide the Raptors with an asset they’re looking for in return for Boban, however until now, no such suitor has emerged.
As time progresses, it seems likelier that Dragic will at least begin the season in a Raptors uniform, although odds are that he won’t finish it in one.