Anybody who pays attention to the news and rumours mill in the NBA knows one thing about the Raptors: they’re a top-heavy team. Seemingly, Nick Nurse has admitted to his competition that this is the shallowest team he’s had to coach in years. Over the last seven games, the Raptors have paid a majority of their healthy roster to put on their track suit and warm their own seats. The list of players who have played meaningful minutes is short enough to list right here: Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet, OG Anunoby, Scottie Barnes, Precious Achiuwa, Chris Boucher, and with his return to the lineup on Friday from a swollen ankle, Gary Trent Jr.
Even with such a limited number of serviceable players, the Raptors boast a 22-21 record sitting eighth in the Eastern Conference – one game out of the tenth seed, but also just five games behind the first-seeded Brooklyn Nets. Despite going 2-4 over their last six games, the Raptors stood toe-to-toe with some of the league’s best competition, despite not being at full health. The Raptors are evidently playing well enough for the front office to make a move and help them compete, thanks to the expedited development of Barnes, and the standout play of VanVleet and Siakam. But, it would also be unjust to assume that the Raptors will be contenders as early as this season. Becoming title contenders would require making a splash for a player who currently, doesn’t seem to be available on the trade market. Masai Ujiri’s biggest challenge prior to the February 10th trade deadline will be finding a way to upgrade his roster without sacrificing what they can be in the future.
Luckily, he has some assets under contract to make something work. Here are the three Raptors players who are unequivocally the most likely to be dealt in the coming weeks.
Believe it or not, he’s still on the roster. After reports in late-November that Dragic was leaving the team to attend to a personal matter, he was spotted several times in Miami working out at the Heat’s facilities. It was later confirmed by his brother, Zoran Dragic, that Goran is simply spending time in Miami with his family waiting to be traded.
Unfortunately, trading him won’t be as easy as hosting a garage sale and seeing what you can get for Goran. Sitting on a near $20M contract, he isn’t exactly regarded as a preeminent asset league wide. There was speculation that after Ricky Rubio got injured, Cleveland called Toronto to inquire about Dragic, but they instead chose to land Rajon Rondo at a much cheaper price.
There are only two scenarios in which Dragic’s contract can still provide value to the Raptors. The first is where they trade for a star on a big contract, and Dragic’s money will be used for salary-matching purposes. The second is where he would be dealt for a player who could provide the Raptors with some bench depth, and who, contracts aside, is clearly a more valuable asset than Dragic, but has more guaranteed years remaining on their contract. A prime example of this scenario is Eric Gordon, who is owed a guaranteed $19.6M through the 2022-2023 season. If the Rockets were interested in creating some cap space this offseason, they could offload Gordon’s contract to Toronto for Dragic; let Dragic expire, and look to reinvent their bench with some additional spending money in July.
If neither of these scenarios comes to fruition, expect Dragic to be bought out shortly after the deadline.
After a slow start to the year in which he looked like a chicken with its head cut off defensively, and was shooting about as poorly as a blindfolded P.E. teacher from three-point range, Boucher has become one of the Raptors most reliable bench options. Over his last six games, he’s averaging 14.3 points, 9.7 rebounds, and is shooting 39.1% from beyond the arc. Despite being one of the Raptors only seven guys who Nurse can rely on right now, it’s also important to sell high – especially on a player as inconsistent as Boucher.
If the Montreal-native were a few years younger than he is, the narrative might be spun a bit differently. The Raptors could look to keep him around after the deadline and re-sign him to another short term deal. Shockingly, Boucher is the second oldest player on the team, after only Khem Birch (excluding Dragic). The average age of the roster is nearly five years younger than Boucher, and with their championship window set to begin after his contract expires, it makes the most sense from an asset management perspective to shop him around. Some names to keep an eye on are Marvin Bagley, Jalen Smith, Coby White, and Nicolas Claxton.
It seems fair to say already – just 431 days after he was drafted – that Flynn might be the second most disappointing first round pick during Masai Ujiri’s tenure in Toronto (following only Bruno Caboclo). After playing well last season and making the All-G-League Second Team, Flynn has been an utter disappointment in the short stretches of time he’s received this season. Failing to bounce back from an inefficient rookie year, he is still connecting on less than 35% of his looks from the floor. To add fuel to the fire, Malachi’s father, Eric Flynn, also had some choice words about his son’s lack of minutes on Facebook last week.
It’s unlikely that anything has gotten personal between Nurse and Malachi, however with the emergence of Dalano Banton as a potential future backup point guard, it might make most sense for the Raptors to see what they can salvage of Flynn. Who knows, a change of scenery might even be what he needs to get his career going?