The NBA season is less than a month old, but the future of this Raptors team already seems depressingly obvious. As presently constructed, this team should win between 33 and 42 games. They could sneak into one of the last playoff spots in the East, where they would serve as sacrificial dinosaurs for Indiana or Miami. Following the ceremonial sweep, they would be rewarded with a pick in the 15-17 range in a draft with potentially several franchise-changers in the top five.
Does that sound like fun? It shouldn't, and I trust Masai Ujiri is smart enough to realize the steaming pile of feces Bryan Colangelo left behind should be shoveled away as soon as possible. The question, of course, is how. Executing trades in the NBA is difficult, especially when every other team knows you're looking to move players. The obvious play is to try to move DeMar DeRozan and/or Rudy Gay, but that's going to be tough. The trade market for Gay has probably never been weaker and DeRozan is a middling player with a relatively expensive and long-term deal.
Still, there's one move Ujiri could make, one move that would potentially do more to hurt the team this year than any other:
Trade Kyle Lowry
The Toronto Star's Cathal Kelly discussed this yesterday but of all the tank-centric scenarios, this one is the most realistic and offers the easiest way to the bottom. Imagine Dwight Buycks or D.J. Augustin at the controls. It's deliciously awful.
There are many reasons why a Lowry trade would be easier to pull off than anything involving Gay or DeRozan. Lowry has a relatively cheap ($6.2 million) expiring contract, making potential trades easier to construct. Most importantly, he could actually help some teams. He doesn't seem like the easiest guy to play with, but a contending team or a team desperate to make the playoffs could use him. Here's a possible trade scenario, with the caveat that more options will open up after December 15, when most players signed this summer will become trade-eligible.
Raptors receive: Steve Blake, Jodie Meeks
Lakers receive: Kyle Lowry
The Lakers probably should be tanking, especially considering Steve Nash's season (and career) might be all but over. Thanks to Kobe Bryant and Jim Buss, though, I don't think they will. Blake and Jordan Farmar have played well in Nash's absence, but Lowry is an obvious upgrade and would make a quick Nash return less urgent. Meeks has played well but will have a severely reduced role when Kobe comes back.
The deal is essentially cap-neutral, an important consideration for a Toronto team flirting with the luxury tax. All contracts involved are expiring, meaning the Raptors wouldn't be sacrificing any future flexibility.
From the Raptors' perspective, Blake is a clear downgrade from Lowry and might even be pushed by Buycks. Meeks probably wouldn't see the floor much behind DeRozan and Ross. The idea is by removing the head of the snake (Lowry), the body would die, or at least mindlessly launch contested mid-range jumpers.
I'm not sure how much sense this makes for the Lakers, but sense isn't always a factor with the younger Buss. As we learned with the Andrea Bargnani trade, anything is possible when you're dealing with inept owners with deep pockets. When in doubt, call Buss or Dolan.
There are other teams that could use Lowry (Chicago comes to mind), but fitting the pieces together is tough. Still, I'm convinced that a trade centered around Lowry is both possible and would hurt the Raptors' chances this season more than any other. That's a strange sentiment to support, but the NBA can be a bizarre place.