Raptors Cage

Three different paths that the Raptors can take this year

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Raptors 2020-21 Outlook

The Toronto Raptors are facing a crossroads this season. They have 34 year-old All star point guard Kyle Lowry and a core of players from ages 23-27. Furthermore, they have interesting depth pieces who could have break out seasons (or fail to live up to expectations). Masai Ujuri, Bobby Webster, and the rest of the Raptors front office have plenty of options on how to move forward.

Now that the 2021 Free Agency class has diminished, the Raptors are not waiting for anyone. During the pursuit of Giannis Antetokounmpo (which is over) they wanted to compete this season and make a playoff run to show Giannis what this team is about. Staying competitive is still on the table. This is never a bad option and as constructed the Raptors are still a good team. They aren’t a title contender, but could move into that conversation with the right move. What is that move though?

Takeaways from Miami Heat's preseason finale vs. Raptors | Miami Herald
The Raptors have a lot of options in the near future (Photo: CHRIS O’MEARA AP)

As of now, the Raptors (appear) to cap out as a second or third seed in the Eastern Conference who could win a playoff round. With a minor addition, they could look like a team that could make the Eastern Conference finals. If they dream big, they could make a major trade that will vault them into contender status. Or, they could look at the core of Pascal Siakam, Fred Vanvleet, OG Anunoby and Norman Powell and take a step back this season to build assets for the next 2-5 seasons. Let’s take a look at what these options could look like:

A minor addition

When considering marginal upgrades for this roster one position comes to mind. They lost Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka, and replaced them with Aron Baynes and Chris Boucher. Of course, the Raptors will play more small ball lineups this season. Alex Len could end up being the backup at some point as well. In all likelihood for the Raptors to make an Eastern Conference Finals, they would be better off with Baynes as a backup centre and Boucher as a third string or a backup power forward/utility player.

One minor move that the Raptors could make to upgrade this position is Richaun Holmes from the Sacramento Kings. Holmes is a good rebounder, a decent defender, and a hustle player. He would fit in with the Raptors very well. He is not a huge upgrade over Baynes, but would put Baynes into a more comfortable role as a backup who can play more matchup based minutes and fling threes coming off of the bench. Holmes had a career-high 12.4 points per game last season, and would pair nicely alongside Kyle Lowry.

Richaun Holmes could be an affordable upgrade for the Raptors (Photo via Sacramento Kings Twitter)

If they added Holmes, there is no guarantee that the ceiling would raise significantly. He does not shoot the three and does not have a large sample size of high-level play in the NBA. The nice thing about Holmes for the Raptors is that he would be a cheap price to acquire. He has only 2 years left on his contract for about 10 millions dollars. A player like Matt Thomas or Terence Davis (maybe even with a pick coming back) or a Patrick McCaw or Stanley Johnson and one or two second round picks could get him. They keep their top players, and potentially replicate a poor-man’s version of the centre rotation from last year that nearly made an Eastern Conference Finals.

A major move

A major move for the Raptors should only be considered if they believe it will vault them into legitimate contender status. The obvious major move to focus on, for now, is James Harden. Harden has been rumoured to be on the move soon and the Raptors have been mentioned as a candidate to acquire him. It is difficult to say if these rumours are true, but it is likely that Masai has at least been in contact with the Houston Rockets. If the Raptors were to trade for Harden, they would have a legitimate Superstar – but at what cost?

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James Harden has been linked to the Raptors – is he worth it? (Photo: REUTERS)

The most likely player that would have to be included in a trade for Harden, would be Siakam. The Rockets are believed to be wanting a young Allstar player along with draft assets. A package that includes Siakam and 3 draft picks (to start) could likely get the deal done. The problem with this trade is that it leaves the Raptors very thin on front-court depth. A player like PJ Tucker would have to come with Harden to help the front court. This may drive up the price too high for Masai and company.

If the Raptors could create a package that involved Lowry or Vanvleet, along with Powell and draft picks this trade could make a lot of sense. Unfortunately, Vanvleet cannot be traded as of now due to recent singing restrictions. If the package was to include Lowry it would likely have to be a three-team trade which could get complicated. It seems that Siakam will need to be included and it is difficult to imagine the Raptors winning a title with Lowry, Harden, and Vanvleet being their big three. The lineup would be very small, and they aren’t very deep in the centre position as is.

A downgrade for the future

If the Raptors are to make a move, the last option would involve trading older players to get someone younger. The obvious, and only, candidate here to be traded is Kyle Lowry. It would be extremely difficult to see Lowry traded. Lowry is the face of the Raptors culture, the leader of the team, and still probably the best player. If Masai and Bobby truly believe that the Raptors have no realistic shot of making a playoff run, this deal might make sense. Of course, the market for Lowry will have a lot of suitors – but how many can actually provide worthwhile assets to the Raptors?

Teams such as the Bucks, Sixers, Clippers, and even the Lakers would all love to trade for Lowry. Unfortunately, none of them have any assets that should entice the Raptors. Both the Clippers and Bucks made all-in trades, so they have no picks or young talent to entice the Raptors. The Sixers have Ben Simmons who would fit perfectly with the Raptors timeline, but there is no chance they trade him for Lowry – even if more assets are included. The Lakers have their picks, but would it really be worth it to trade Lowry for 30th overall picks. Kyle Kuzma for Lowry? No thank you.

Can Caris LeVert and the Nets escape the smothering Raptors defense?
Would the Nets be interested in Lowry to pair with Durant and Irving? (Photo: Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

There are two contenders who could possibly be a match. The Brooklyn Nets and the Miami Heat could both be potential trade partners. The Heat could give draft picks, or assets such as Tyler Herro if they decide to go all in. This isn’t likely, but it could make sense. The Nets, to me, make the most sense. They do have Kyrie Irving already, but a two point guard lineup works just fine (as Raptor fans know). Lowry can play with anyone and would be a great compliment to Kevin Durant and Deandre Jordan with the playmaking he brings. The Raptors could ask for Caris LeVert and Jared Allen in this trade. This would give them a potential centre, and a Backcourt mate for Fred Vanvleet during the next wave for the Raptors.

Which way will the Raptors go?

For now, all options are on the table. The Raptors will likely see how things look in the early part of the season and consider a trade depending on the results. Personally, if they are to make a major move, I would pass on James Harden. He is a great player but let’s just wait until the next Superstar demands a trade. Who knows, Karl-Anthony Towns or Bradley Beal could become available if they grow frustrated. It’s the NBA, players ask for trades in this league regularly. It is impossible to predict who will be next.

My best guess would be that the Raptors make a minor move, or no move at all. It doesn’t need to be Richaun Holmes – but that’s an option. Myles Turner could be a target if the price is right. They should be competitive this season. If they struggle, the Lowry trade will make more sense. He is still an Allstar caliber player. If he could get them LeVert and Allen, it would be worth considering. All of the paths for the Raptors have many options and targets. It will be interesting to see how it plays out this season.


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