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NBA Trades: The Sixers-Celtics trade is probably a good thing for the Raptors

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Boston and Philly made a big trade. In the short term at least, it’s probably going to help the Raptors.

Philadelphia 76ers v Toronto Raptors Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images

Boston dealing the first-overall pick to the Sixers has ramifications for the Raptors far beyond shaking up the landscape of the Atlantic Division.

Before the trade materialized over the weekend, Philadelphia offered the most threatening combination of open cap space and positional need of any team primed to be part of the Kyle Lowry sweepstakes. Other potential Lowry shoppers (the Nets) boast a max salary slot but no hope of winning; others (the Spurs and Rockets), could use Lowry’s talent but would need to perform financial gymnastics to fit Lowry on their cap sheets.

Fultz is now the point guard The Process was designed to acquire -- a 19-year-old top prospect whose timeline syncs up perfectly with the Sixers’ other youthful studs. Lowry, at the moment, is a more winning-ready player than anyone under Philadelphia’s employ. Bryan Colangelo can renounce his way to about $50 million in cap space this summer per Spotrac,com. Considering those two realities, it might still make sense for Colangelo to extend a four-year max offer in an attempt to lure Lowry back to his home town.

It’s in the long term where Lowry might not be the snuggest fit. The Sixers won’t stay cheap forever. Joel Embiid — he of 31 career games played — is due for a new contract after this coming season. As is one of the best bargains in the NBA, Robert Covington, who could multiply his $1.5 million 2017-18 salary ten-fold (or more) on his next deal. Ben Simmons and Dario Saric will also be in line for new deals a year before the end of a hypothetical Lowry contract. Adding Lowry to steer a ship crewed by youth would look the part of a savvy move right now. But as the years tick on, and the Sixers become as pricey as super-talented young teams tend to, Lowry’s disparate timeline and inevitable late-contract decline would offer more nuisance than benefit for the 76ers.

Spending money on complementary pieces might be a more prudent way for Colangelo to go. Rather than giving the keys in Philly to Lowry, a modest two or three year deal for someone (or someones) like J.J. Redick, C.J. Miles, P.J. Tucker — or anyone else with an acronymous name — might better augment Philly’s foundational pieces. Lowry would require the Sixers be his show to run; role players would help Fultz, Simmons, Embiid and company to grow unencumbered by an experience star,

All of these reasons for the Sixers to not pursue Lowry fail to even acknowledge Lowry’s own agency. He spoke in his season-ending press conference about wanting to win above all else. While the pieces are in place for the Sixers to rule the 2020s, we’ve seen with other lottery pick-stocked teams that it takes time to shake the stench of losing. Two years into life with a pair first-overall picks on the roster, Minnesota has amassed a 60-104 record. If Philly’s young stars follow a similar developmental curve as Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, Lowry’s best years might be past him by the time the Sixers are mature enough to contend for real. Toronto’s roster isn’t perfect, and LeBron James remains a roadblock, but the Raptors have been specifically built to compete during Lowry’s peak.

Colangelo is no stranger to ill-timed “win now” plays, as Raptors came to learn during his tenure with the team. Lowry’s on-court fit would certainly add some potency to the Sixers as their prized prospects develop over the next couple years.

It’s not totally out of the question that Lowry would jump at the idea of playing with a burgeoning collection of future stars. It just seems unlikely considering his age and desire to win.

With the Sixers adding Fultz, the Spurs seemingly focusing on wooing Chris Paul and cap space being scarce around the league, Toronto looks increasingly like Lowry’s most likely long-term home — subject to change on a moment’s notice, of course, because the NBA is the General Hospital of sports leagues.

Elsewhere, the Celtics ascent to bona fide contender still has the look of a slow-and-steady one. After trading the first pick, Boston might be better off in three to five years, but this trade invites an added layer of uncertainty to the Celtics’ future. If they hand on to their newly added picks, there’s a chance they never find themselves with the first selection again. Unless Danny Ainge manages to swing a deal for Jimmy Butler or Paul George this week (which absolutely could happen, rendering these words entirely meaningless), Boston’s step towards legitimate title contention will be delayed a little longer. Free agency could beef up Boston, too, but it’s almost always safer to bet in favour of inertia when it comes to the league’s biggest names for hire.

For the time being, the Raptors look like an under-the-radar winner of this weekend’s blockbuster swap. Kyle Lowry’s most obvious non-Toronto destination is off the table, and the Celtics appear to be in a bit of a holding pattern — at least for a few weeks. Until further notice, the Raptors can still maintain a claim to being the East’s most dangerous runner-up to Cleveland. Kyle Lowry has a way of propping this team up to that level.