Typically, the boring days of an NBA offseason occur a couple of weeks after the start of free agency. All of the big-name free agents would have found their new homes, the blockbuster trades would have been finalized, and the NBA Draft would be distant history. This year, things have obviously been different.
Rather than waiting the usual four or five days between the end of the NBA Finals and the start of the NBA Draft, we waited 36 days between the Los Angeles Lakers being crowned NBA Champions, and the time that Chris Paul was dealt to the Phoenix Suns, in what would become the first of many headline trades to go down over the past 36 hours.
Now, we are just one more day away from the NBA Draft, where the Toronto Raptors will be forced to hop in on the action. As the owners of the 29th and 59th picks tomorrow night, Masai Ujiri and Bobby Webster have had their hands full with scouting, interviewing, and working out various prospects.
With the new complexion of the Milwaukee Bucks however, and rumours swirling that James Harden could be dealt to the Brooklyn Nets in the coming days, it seems far less likely that the Raptors will be able to seriously contend in the Eastern Conference with their current talent level. Should Giannis Antetokounmpo sign his supermax contract extension with the Bucks, dreams of bringing him North of the border next summer would be shattered as well, essentially sentencing the Raptors to the upper tier of mediocrity for the next half-decade.
Obviously, the Raptors will have a backup plan if Giannis comes off the free agent board prematurely. Whether their contingency plan includes a scheme to pursue Bradley Beal via trade, give Kawhi Leonard another pitch to come back to Toronto, or simply rebuild around the young talent that remains on the roster is all yet to be seen. Tomorrow night however, the Raptors will have the opportunity to make trades that can set them up better for the future, regardless of the path which they choose to take.
Boston Celtics: Norman Powell, #29 Pick
Toronto Raptors: #14 Pick
Trading up into the mid-teens range for the Raptors would greatly improve the quality of prospects available. Most intriguingly, this would put them in position to draft Tyrese Maxey – a dynamic scoring guard from Kentucky, who plays much like Kyle Lowry on the defensive end. He’s scrappy, and has the potential to fall in line as yet another great Kentucky shooting guard to slip in the draft, following the likes of Devin Booker and Tyler Herro. While asking Maxey to come in as a rookie and be a top scoring option for a contending team might be unrealistic, his shot creating ability and noticeable scoring punch is exactly what the Raptors should be looking to add.
For Boston, they’ll still have a chance to add a low-impact player at the 29th pick, which is likely what they would be looking to do with the 16th pick anyways, given how their depth chart projects to look for next season. As owners of the 26th and 30th picks already, the Celtics could also choose another course of action to try and package all three of their first round picks, and move into the top ten. This would give them the opportunity to draft a win-now big man, such as Obi Toppin, or Onyeka Okongwu. Regardless, Norman Powell is a player who could help them massively by providing a scoring spark off the bench. Of course, this trade would take Boston over the salary cap, so in order to facilitate it, they would need Gordon Hayward to decline his player option, or trade him to a third team if he opts in. Reportedly, the Atlanta Hawks already have interest in trading for Hayward, so dealing him would not be a problem.
New York Knicks: Terence Davis, Norman Powell, #29 Pick
Toronto Raptors: #8 Pick
Is this the best trade that the New York Knicks could possibly make with their pick? No, it’s not. The 8th pick in this year’s draft is probably a bit more valuable than Powell, Terence Davis, and the 29th pick. That being said, it’s still the New York Knicks that we’re speaking of. Although they are under new (and much more competent) management now than they have been for the past decade, Masai Ujiri could literally write a book on how to fleece the Knicks, so why not apply those principles one more time?
Like I mentioned earlier in Boston’s case, selecting at number 8 might give the Raptors a chance to draft a player like Okongwu, who is a bit of an undersized center at only 6’9, however his defense speaks for itself. He is extremely versatile, a great rim protector, has a natural feel for the game on that end of the court. Many scouts liken Okongwu’s game to Bam Adebayo’s. Pairing him with Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby in the forward slots would not only give Toronto one of the best defensive frontcourts in the league, but would provide the Raptors with a window to compete even after Brooklyn’s closes.
Philadelphia 76ers: Kyle Lowry, Pick #29
Toronto Raptors: Pick #2
Golden State Warriors: Ben Simmons
Three way trades are always difficult to work out for a few reasons. There’s the salary complications, and then there is having to satisfy each team involved with the assets that they are getting in return. While the trade detailed above would not work out for the former cause, it does satisfy each team’s current needs. The Warriors could also easily work around the salary cap by flipping Andrew Wiggins or Draymond Green in a subsequent trade.
Let’s start by addressing the emotional problems that this trade creates. Kyle Lowry, the greatest Raptor of all-time, would be a 76er. If Lowry is to get traded anywhere though, it should absolutely be to a contender, and to a place where he wants to go. What better situation in the league than playing for his hometown Sixers with his good friend Tobias Harris, and one of the best big men in the game, Joel Embiid?
Philadelphia also moves on (maybe prematurely) from their Embiid-Simmons duo, which hasn’t panned out as they hoped it might over the past couple of seasons. In return, they get a bona-fide star, and a proven winner who can give their locker room exactly what it needs: a leader, and someone who knows what it takes to win a championship. Lowry would also provide the Sixers with some much-needed spacing, and could help alleviate some of the problems that Philadelphia faces when playing Embiid and Al Horford on the floor together.
Onto Golden State, they get exactly what they want out of this deal: a young forward who is destined for stardom. Ben Simmons replicates a lot of what Draymond Green already does for the Warriors, but at a much higher clip. Though he’s not the leader, or the “engine” that Green is referred to as, Simmons is a far superior player on both sides of the basketball. A trio of Simmons, Klay Thompson, and Stephen Curry would be a real threat in the Western Conference for the next four or five years. Just imagine Simmons as the primary ball handler, with both Curry and Thompson flying off pin-downs: unguardable.
Finally: the Raptors. This potential trade has been thrown around for a couple of months, however it has never made as much sense for Toronto as it does right now. As aforementioned, the Raptors simply won’t be able to contend for a championship in a conference that features a Nets team with Harden, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Durant, or a Bucks team with Giannis, Khris Middleton, Jrue Holiday, and Bogdan Bogdanovic. Instead of wasting one of the final years of Lowry’s stardom, and then potentially losing him for nothing in free agency next summer, let’s allow Kyle Lowry to live his life and chase a second championship, while the Raptors can look toward their future. With the second overall pick, the Raptors could draft a high impact guard such as Lamelo Ball, or Anthony Edwards, and center their focus around a core of Siakam, Anunoby, and Ball/Edwards. This would essentially shift the Raptors down to a 6 or 7 seed for the next couple of seasons, but if everybody develops as they hope, the Raptors would be able to contend in the Eastern Conference for years to come.
Earlier today, Bobby Webster was asked about the trades around the NBA so far, and responded, “We’re aware of it. We’re constantly calibrating and re-calibrating how we think it affects us or how we don’t think it affects us, but we’ll see how the chips fall maybe after tomorrow night.”
Raptors fans will just have to wait and see what decisions Toronto’s front office moguls come to. On the bright side, the wait won’t be much longer.