Being on the precipice of success is an exhausting venture.
Let me explain. For as long as the Raptors have been within throwing distance of the East title (three years or so), the trade rumour mill has struck up a truly tiring amount of banter. When you’re theoretically one piece away from a championship — and you can debate heavily whether that’s true for Toronto — any whiff of a deal is enough to make people salivate. It’s like waiting on that last paycheque before buying your first car, or a dog, or whatever it is people with disposable income buy.
That’s where we’re at with the Paul Millsap conversation. For no less than four months, since the first idea arose that Atlanta could be moving their star forward, Raptors fans have been dreaming up ways to get him. The ESPN Trade Machine has groaned under the weight of Canadian traffic. Twitter search “Millsap Raptors” and you get a playground atmosphere. It’s been an ongoing conversation, and understandably so: Millsap on the Raptors is a dreamier fit than a perfect pair of jeans.
With last night’s news that Atlanta is picking up their landline and that the Raptors are among those calling in, the talk has never been steamier. The Raptors have never been closer to getting a third scoring option. Millsap has never been more relevant to write about than today.
But... I wrote about him six weeks ago. I admit, this one is on me — I shot my Millsap buzzer-beater and I missed the timing. I understand if you want to click that hyperlink, read about what’s relevant, and never come back.
If you have come back, though, listen to this other proposition — one that might come about if Millsap ends up going west instead of north.
What about Taj Gibson?
Aside from Jimmy Butler, the Bulls are somewhat of a tire fire at the moment. They’ve benched Rajon Rondo indefinitely, are dealing with a Dwyane Wade injury, and have filled out their roster with seeming indifference.
There are some happy spots in the sadness stampede, though, and 31-year-old Taj Gibson is one of them. An unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2017, Gibson is making about $8.9 million in the last year of his current deal. He’s putting up nice numbers too. His 12 points per game is coming on a career-best 53.2 percent shooting, while his 6.9 rebounds matches a career-high. Under Fred Hoiberg, he’s been entrusted with a similar workload to his Thibodeau years – playing 25-30 minutes a night, giving you bruising defense, grabbing some boards, and hitting a few mid-range jumpers.
The Basketball Fit
The Raptors, first and foremost, need a power forward who can score and be trusted with the ball in his hands. Gibson is admittedly not that guy. While he’s effective from the mid-range, he doesn’t really handle all that well, and years of injuries have made him a bit stiff. He also doesn’t stretch to the three-point line.
If the Raptors can’t get that almighty superstar forward, though, Gibson’s utilities make him an intriguing deadline pickup. With Bismack Biyombo on the team last year, there wasn’t a good argument for bringing in additional muscle. This year, though, the team is dealing with a lot of young bigs who get tossed around inside. Jonas Valanciunas has to prop up Lucas Nogueira, Pascal Siakam, and Jakob Poetl – none of whom excel at rebounding (yet).
The eventual return of Jared Sullinger may help this rebounding problem, but Gibson’s interior defense is far superior to Sullinger’s, or even Patrick Patterson’s. He still has plenty of athleticism on the other side of 30, and can make breathtaking plays that nobody on the Raptors can boast.
Gibson would be a rental, yes, but an invaluable one for Toronto if they want to toughen up against players like Tristan Thompson, Al Horford, and Giannis Antetokounmpo in the playoffs.
The Emotional Fit
The emotional question here is who the Raptors would give up to meet Gibson’s salary? An intriguing option is Cory Joseph. There’s been a lot of talk about Delon Wright being ready to step in and play backup point guard, and if the Raptors are high on him, it could be an opportunity to flip Joseph’s salary for a power forward upgrade.
If Wright can slot in and play effectively in Kyle Lowry-led bench lineups, this swap would play well for both Toronto and Chicago. The Bulls get a real starting point guard who won’t pout or hunt for stats. The Raptors get a strength upgrade in the forward slot, one that will let them flex a little more in slower playoff basketball.
I’m going a bit trade machine rogue here, but I have a second opinion here. Our Bulls counterpart Blog A Bull feels the same way, and gets into further detail of why Gibson should be dealt (and treated as a rental, if you’re a Raptors fan).
As we isolated off the top, I know this is a bad day to talk about other power forwards. In the scenario where the Raptors strike out on Millsap, though, it’d be high time to start looking at smaller moves to bolster the roster’s playoff chances. Taj Gibson is a club bouncer on a contract position – you rent him, let him beat some dudes up, and let him get paid elsewhere in the league. It’s not a title-winning move, it may not even get them closer to Cleveland, but I like the look it gives Toronto.
What do you think of the potential for a Gibson deal?