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NBA Trade Deadline: Reviewing the Raptors’ Wish List

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Just because you wished for it, doesn’t mean it will come true.

NBA: Phoenix Suns at Denver Nuggets Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

It borders on greedy for Raptors fans to expect a second pre-deadline move by Masai Ujiri before 3 p.m. Thursday. Toronto has already landed it’s prized target in Serge Ibaka -- the long-needed power forward who alters the complexion of the roster and provides stability and versatility to the once thin front court.

If the Raptors do nothing between now and the deadline, they’ll probably be just fine. Yes, the Wizards made a shrewd move to add Bojan Bogdanovic and the Celtics loom as an ever-present threat to shake up the Eastern Conference power structure. That said, the Raptors as currently built boast a strong one-through-nine rotation with some usable pieces on the end of the bench. This is a roster that can get back to the Eastern Conference Finals if things break their way.

That doesn’t mean the Raptors front office should turn off their BlackBerry Passports and sit tight for the next few hours. With the departure of Terrence Ross in the Ibaka deal, the Raptors could use a touch more shooting on the wings. An injection of defense at that spot wouldn’t hurt either.

Ideally, the Raptors would add someone who brings both of those elements in a last-minute deal. A strange array of remaining assets to dangle, an already jumbled cap sheet heading into a pivotal summer, and a lack of available two-dimensional solutions with reasonable price tags are all working in concert to see that such a deal doesn’t happen for Toronto.

The Raptors are awkwardly positioned for any bidding wars they may partake in for the names circulating the market. Barring the need for another big salary for matching purposes (ahem, Cory Joseph), Jared Sullinger, the team’s remaining first-round pick and the back-of-bench prospects are likely the assets in play for the Raptors; it’s a weird collection of pieces that are either totally unsexy or potentially too valuable to give up for a minor addition.

A wing on an expiring deal whose departure this summer wouldn’t sting seems like the dream target. With Kyle Lowry, Patrick Patterson and Ibaka hitting free agency in July, it’s going to take some financial gymnastics to hang on to two of them, let alone all three. Any addition with money committed beyond this year would throw yet another complication into the mix come July. Cleaner is better.

If a rental is the target, Raptors brass will have to seriously consider whether or not it’s worth parting with a meaningful asset (attached to Sullinger’s salary) to bring one in. Why give away a first-round pick in exchange for a marginal upgrade that will likely end up serving as more a luxury than necessity on the roster?

Virtually none of the players being discussed in association with the Raptors fit the criteria as a relatively cheap, expiring, shooting, defending wing that will raise Toronto’s ceiling. For that reason it’s seems likely that Ujiri and Jeff Weltman will opt for the totally acceptable status quo.

If however, a move is in the cards, here are some guys who should be high on the wish list for Raptors fans.

Imperfect fits with the least imperfections

P.J. Tucker, Phoenix Suns

Why it works: Tucker is a maniacal one-on-one defender — just ask DeMar DeRozan. His shooting stroke (34% 3FG) isn’t his best asset, but stick him in the corners and he can at least be adequate (36.4%). His $5.3 million salary is easy to match, and it comes off the books at the end of this season.

Why it doesn’t work: Sullinger and a first-rounder could get this deal done; reports from those plugged in suggest the Suns are in search of a first-round pick in exchange for Tucker. In comes the value question for the Raptors: is a pick in the twenties worth 25 games and a playoff run’s worth of Tucker, who would likely be no more than a situational 10th man? If the Suns can be talked down to Sullinger, Fred VanVleet and an admittedly near-worthless second-rounder, that might be an easier pill to swallow. Although it’s unclear why the Suns would bite at that offer with Tucker being rumoured as the apple of many a contender’s eye.

Nick Young, Los Angeles Lakers

Why it works: Young has been lighting it up from three this season, knocking down north of 41 percent of his threes on a substantial volume. He’s earning less than $6 million this year. With a player option after this season, and a strong season under his belt, Young might be eager to test the open market — something the Raptors won’t mind. It took a low first-round pick for the Rockets to snare Lou Williams from the Lakers; perhaps Young, a less proven player than Williams, could be had for something even less. With Ross out of the picture, the Raptors could use an unintentional comedy guy too.

Why it doesn’t work: Young’s aloofness might not jive with a team that is currently crawling out of a two-month-long slump that has serious aspirations this spring. He also doesn’t really play defense, which maybe doesn’t matter for a reserve playing 10-15 minutes a night. Come playoff time, though, it would be nice for the Raptors to have an insurance policy for defending big wings if DeMarre Carroll is too slow or Norman Powell is too small. Young is definitely not that.

Danilo Gallinari, Denver Nuggets

Why it works: Gallinari is pricey, coming with a $15 million price tag this season. He does, however, have a player option at the end of the year that he’ll likely decline in order to take advantage of the booming salary cap this summer. He would likely be a rental, but not in the same vein as a Tucker or Young. Gallinari off the bench could cook opposing second units, figure in to some crunch time looks, and raise the overall talent level of the roster by enough that it might be worth employing him for just a stretch run. Denver seems disenchanted by Emmanuel Mudiay; perhaps a package of Sullinger and Joseph could be a starting point. Handing Delon Wright the backup point guard job outright is risky, even though his two-game NBA sample this year has been promising. For an overall talent boost like Gallo, it might be a smart trade-off.

Why it doesn’t work: Anything beyond a Joseph-Sullinger return starts to veer into that tricky zone of balancing present-day and long-term interests. Gallinari could be a glitzy enough piece to be sold as a second “all-in” move by Ujiri, therefore justifying the addition of a first-rounder or prospect to the deal. In the event the Raptors sneak into a Finals, then it’s all worth it. If not, the questioning begins. This deal would certainly turn some heads and electrify a waiting fan base. Just don’t count on it happening. Making two blockbuster deals in the matter of nine days is A) a decidedly non-Ujiri like move and B) potentially damaging to the continuity the Raptors depend on.

Even Less Perfect Options

Marco Belinelli, Charlotte Hornets

Why it works: Belinelli can shoot, and does so while earning less than $7 million a year. On reserve units paired with Norman Powell on the wing, it shouldn’t be difficult to hide is defensive flaws — especially if those units are up against opposing bench scrubs.

Why it doesn’t work: Belinelli only provides one half of the shooting and defense the Raptors are in need of. On top of that, the money he’s owed through next season makes the Raptors’ cap situation trickier to juggle this off-season. He also isn’t going to be the difference between the Raptors reaching or falling short of their goals, so coughing up a useful future asset (pick or player) likely isn’t worth the trouble. Not to mention, Charlotte just traded a first-rounder of their own to land Belinelli at last year’s draft, and may not be inclined to let him go for peanuts just eight months later.

Ben McLemore, Sacramento Kings

Why it works: The Raptors land a discount version of Terrence Ross who has looked competent in recent weeks for the Kings (he’s hitting 47.1 percent of his threes in the New Year). As a former highly-touted pick, there’s always the chance that McLemore pops once freed from the toxic confines of Sacramento. He’s cheap, playing out the final year of his rookie deal. Sacramento is also run by ... actually, no one really knows who calls the shots. If the Pelicans got DeMarcus Cousins for Buddy Hield, some salary filler, and first and second round picks, maybe the Kings can be convinced to hand over McLemore for next to nothing?

Ujiri: Hey, Vlade. Can we have McLemore? We’ll give you Nando de Colo.

Divac: Done.

Ujiri: No, Vlade, I was jok—

Divac: I said done. Vivek thinks he’s French Tony Parker.

Why it doesn’t work: McLemore is set to enter restricted free agency this summer. If he were to perform well in the final weeks of the season, he would represent yet another decision for the Raptors to weigh in an already convoluted off-season — especially if it took a real asset to acquire him in the first place. There’s also the four-year sample that suggest McLemore is simply a bad player who may not be worth the hassle, and would just get in the way of more qualified pseudo-wings like Wright were he to take up the 10th spot on the roster.

*****

There are other names out there that the Raptors should at least be investigating. Lance Thomas and Justin Holiday of the Knicks might be prime candidates, but Ujiri may still be blackballed by James Dolan after the Andrea Bargnani fleecing and the Lowry Trade That Wasn’t. Robert Covington is dirt-cheap and the Sixers love marginal picks. Robert Covington is also not very good.

Across the league, it’s hard to find too many names that even remotely fit what the Raptors might be in search of while also being, you know, available. But even if nothing materializes between now and the trade deadline, Raptors fans should rest easy knowing that their team’s big acquisition is already taken care of.

Let us know in the comments — who is on your deadline wish list?