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HQ Mailbag: Answering questions on the draft, trade rumours and free agency

With the Draft taking place Thursday and the off-season rumour mill exploding, Sean Woodley takes some reader questions on how it all relates to the Raptors.

Toronto Raptors v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

In the lead-up to Thursday’s draft, the rumours and news have been coming with furious speed. Each Twitter refresh might reveal some potentially league-shaking tweet from Adrian Wojnarowski or Marc Stein.

As a result, my mentions have been overflowing with questions ranging from what the Raptors may do at the draft to how the team might approach free agency to ways in which one can ruin a perfectly good bowl of mac ‘n cheese.

Consider this, the first (in a long while) Raptors HQ mailbag, a way for me to tidy up the clutter and provide you with answers. In all likelihood, some news will break within minutes of this posting to render it entirely moot anyway.


It’s getting drafty in here

Truth be told, I can’t find it in my heart to get all that emotional about anyone who seems to be available in the Raptors range.

Except, of course, for Tyler Lydon.

Draft Express’ latest mock has him going to the Raptors at no. 23, and boy is that troublesome. I am by no means a draft expert, but from everything I’ve read, heard or watched on or about Lydon, he seems to be a fool’s gold stretch four prospect without much chance of being anything more than a deep bench player in the NBA. I could absolutely be wrong, as I have been over many a Raptors pick in the past (I was apoplectic that the Raptors picked Jonas Valanciunas over Brandon Knight back in the day, because I’m a moron), but sometimes you just get a feeling about a guy. Lydon would bring me back to those 2011 levels of disgruntlement.

Having already answered a more creatively worded version of this question, I’ll chance this question to “most favourite pick at 23,” although “most favourite” is a blatant redundancy.

Getting too attached to prospects this late in the draft is a good way to get your heart broken. So much can and probably will happen in the 22 picks preceding Toronto’s that it’s impossible to envision what the draft board might look like when the Raptors are finally on the clock at about 11pm.

That said, I’m preparing to be crushed when the Raptors don’t pick Jordan Bell, who looks like the most complete and modernized defender available in the draft. I don’t want much college basketball, and when I do I am rarely wowed by the exploits of a particular player. But over the last three years, whenever I’ve tuned into an Oregon game, Bell unfailingly does something on defense that makes my heart flutter. It’ll be hard for the Raptors to go totally awry with their pick in this supposedly deep draft. Still, I’ll be profoundly bummed if Bell isn’t a Raptor as of Friday morning.

Baseless scuttlebutt

This time of year we like to play fast and loose with the term “rumours.” From what I’ve seen, there has been nothing linking Blake Griffin to Toronto aside from saying Toronto is one of the his four favourite NBA cities on an episode of ‘Pardon My Take’ this week.

Montreal is a dope city. That doesn’t mean I’m moving there.

I would place the chances of Sotto Sotto becoming Griffin’s new local establishment somewhere between 0 and 0.00001 percent, with a lean towards the former. It’s an intriguing fit in theory — an elite playmaking big to hypothetically pair next to Serge Ibaka would be glorious to behold after years of the Raptors searching for a reliable front court pairing. But Toronto doesn’t have the requisite cap space to get in the conversation, and their priorities lie in retaining their own high-price free agents, not wooing those on other teams.

Oh no, the Nets are a real team again

Brooklyn landing D’Angelo Russell cements the Atlantic Division’s new reality: there is only one garbage fire organization left in the bunch. Absorbing Tim (by the laws of Woj, this is now is real name) Mozgov’s disaster contract is a tiny price to pay for Sean Marks, who just added the closest thing resembling a franchise building block to play in Brooklyn since post-trade Deron Williams. D’Angelo Russell comes with his baggage, but he’s the exact kind of reclamation project the Nets should be gambling on until they have draft picks again.

From the Lakers side of things, the deal is the culmination of seasons of inept management.; the Lakers just turned a 2nd-overall pick into one season of Brook Lopez. Had the Lakers not jumped into bed with Mozgov last July 1 at 12:01 AM, maybe Russell is still a Laker.

In the grander scheme, the Lakers might avoid being crippled by this move. If the Lakers parlay their freshly minted cap space into one or both of Paul George and LeBron James, Russell’s possible stardom won’t move the needle.

If we’re grading the deal: it’s an A-plus for the Nets, and a D-minus with the chance to become a B for the Lakers in a year’s time.

Some boring, realistic Raptors scenarios

In an ideal world, a DeMarre Carroll trade won’t require the Raptors to give up an asset in order to facilitate it. Some people I’ve interacted with seem to be okay with the idea of packaging Carroll with the no. 23 pick in order to shed the 30 or so million bucks the Raptors owe him over the next two seasons. “The Raptors have enough prospects already,” is a common refrain.

Masai Ujiri’s strategy of team-building has been proven to work. Having multiple rotation players on rookie contracts helps you to spend more heavily at the top end of your roster. Guys like Norman Powell, Lucas Nogueira and Delon Wright won’t stay cheap forever, and keeping the pipeline stocked with prospects is a good bit of insurance in the event of a roster exodus like the one we could possibly see this summer if everything goes horribly wrong. Having a one-year gap on the youth conveyor-belt might not be worth shedding Carroll.

Seemingly everyone is out on Carroll at this point. After what’s transpired the last two years, frustration is justified. There’s reason to believe Carroll isn’t completely finished yet, though. He was a useful defender for Toronto as the team switched identities with Kyle Lowry out, and his 34 percent mark from deep was a four-year low. Knee injuries can take multiple years to recover from. Maybe he’s not capable of $15 million worth of production next year, but he still has some utility to the Raptors. Giving up on both him and a draft pick simultaneously would be a suspect bit of asset management.

Considering how cap-strapped the Raptors are going to be, any free agent pick-ups will probably have to be done through their exceptions. Casspi might be in that range financially, whether the Raptors are forced to use the taxpayer mid-level of the regular MLE — he could cost somewhere in the $5-8 million range.

Casspi would be an intriguing replacement if P.J. Tucker dips. He’d provide a similar hybrid forward skill set, trading off a bit less defensive prowess with a bit more shooting accuracy. Count me in if P.J. breaks Mitch Robson’s heart and leaves this summer.

Jonas Valanciunas is going to be hard to trade. Saying that isn't a criticism of him as a player. In a vacuum, Jonas is a positive asset who could help a lot of teams with his mix of elite rebounding and post efficiency. In today's NBA where seemingly every team has a centre they'd like to deal, he's probably not fetching a notable upgrade.

William Lou of The Score and I had a hilariously heated discussion about this on an episode of Locked on Raptors this week if you want to hear more in-depth thoughts on the matter, but my basic opinion is this: Jonas is currently more valuable as a player to the Raptors than he would be to most other teams, so it's going to be hard to move him. If he were to be dealt, I would imagine another centre with his own set of flaws would be coming back the other way -- if you can get that centre attached to other pieces, then maybe you can consider it a net positive for the Raptors. A less extreme version of the D'Angelo Russell trade might be a good template -- trade Jonas, get a worse centre, but another useful player thrown in.

Think of all the trades involving big men over the last year. Almost all of them involve some form of a big-for-big swap. It's all kinds of unsexy, but it's the reality of today's NBA.

Cory Joseph's 2016-17 was uneven, but ultimately he performed his best when the Raptors needed him most, so I'm willing to forget the buttery soft defense he played in the first half of the year.

It's anyone's guess as to whether or not he'll be back. As a trade piece, he may not be quite as valuable as one of the league's best backup guards probably should be. His salary next year is cheap, yes, but he also has a player option at the end of the season. He's essentially an expiring deal unless he flops to the point of being worth less than $7 million.

His friendly cost is also what makes it tricky to fetch anything of real value for him. With the Raptors being capped out, Joseph can't land a player with a significant salary unless he's being pair with one of Toronto's more expensive (and frankly undesirable) pieces. Players who could be considered an upgrade over Joseph don't usually share his pay grade.

All that said, he does feel like the easiest to move of the Raptors' trade candidates this summer, and with Delon Wright looking promising, I wouldn't be shocked if he got flipped somewhere. It just won't happen until after Kyle Lowry's situation is sorted.

Less realistic Raptors scenarios

It would be lovely to live an NBA 2K world where you can fleece teams for stars simply by adjusting a slider. In real life, however, stars are expensive no matter their contractual situation. People in the comments seem scared away from the idea of including Norman Powell in a hypothetical trade offer for Paul George. Guess what? If you’re hoping to land a player as good as Paul George, Powell and a boat load more are going to have to be included.

So no, even with Masai Ujiri’s propensity for ripping teams off, I don’t see him pulling a star out of his ass without parting with the very best the Raptors have to offer. And if the Raptors were to present their most precious assets to an opposing GM, odds are another team out there would be able to beat the offer.

Some talk about useless red paste

I’m going to take this opportunity on this medium-sized platform to put to rest the myth that ketchup is actually good. Ketchup is border-line inedible. It’s a sugar-laden, crayon-coloured, presentation-destroying paste. It doesn’t matter what food is acting as the condiment vessel -- there is always a better option than ketchup.

Fries? Ever heard of gravy?

Grilled cheese? Dip it in tomato soup like a person who isn’t four-years-old.

Mac and cheese? Can we please stop mixing cheese with ketchup and use hot sauce like refined adults?

Squirting that red ooze onto a plate is like farting inside a locked panic room -- it's an irreversible mistake that soon taints everything within the confined space.

Ketchup's claim to being a real food is it's source material, tomatoes; except ketchup is to tomatoes what Real GM is to a Bruce Arthur piece on Kyle Lowry: it takes the colour without including any of the juicy insides that hold it all together.

Perhaps the greatest indictment of ketchup is that Heinz once fucked around with its colour just because it could, and the flavour went entirely unchanged. It is chemical sludge posing as a food-enhancer. Big Ketchup has people brainwashed, and it needs to stop.

Miscellaneous and what not

Both on-court basketball reasons and financial concerns will keep this from become a possibility this year. Jrue Holiday, when healthy, is a nice player. He is not Kyle Lowry, though. Lowry's shooting is invaluable to the Raptors, and while Holiday isn't a bricklayer by any means, he's not the high volume weapon that Lowry is. Kyle's pull-ups and expanded range contort opposing defenses in a way Holiday's shooting simply doesn't.

By virtue of size, Holiday probably has the edge on Lowry defensively, but Lowry is a better playmaker, driver and natural fit next to DeMar DeRozan. It's easy to forget because of his late-season injuries, but Lowry was a top-10 player in the league by most metrics through the first 61 games of the year.

Speaking of injuries -- if you find Lowry’s durability to be worriesome, Holiday wouldn’t console you. While younger than Lowry, Holiday's injury track record is far more damning. Stress fractures shorten careers.

How Holiday and Lowry stack up on the court is ultimately meaningless for the purposes of this question anyway. Even if all four of the Raptors' free agents leave, Toronto can only get to about $19 million of cap space, with the charred remains of last year's roster left behind. Holiday will likely be hunting something closer to $25 or $30 million as a starting salary. It can't and won't happen.

If the Raptors are going to make any trades, I would expect they come after the free agency dust settles. Bringing back Lowry, Ibaka and to a lesser extent, P.J. Tucker and/or Patrick Patterson is the top priority with the rest of the off-season plans likely flowing from how those four situations play out.

Barring some miraculous Paul George deal, the trades that seem most likely for Toronto are salary-offloading type moves involving DeMarre Carroll, Jonas Valanciunas or possibly Cory Joseph. Trading any of those three before the Raptors deal with their free agents risks a complete decimation of the roster’s depth. Additionally, teams that have enough cap space to potentially absorb a big salary will probably only be open for business after they make free agency plays. Brooklyn, for example, has endless cap room, but won’t want to spend it on a Carroll or JV until they try their hand at the free agent market, be it UFA or RFA.

It’s all very boring for those who like constant off-season intrigue. Keep in mind, though — teams mostly tend to be boring only when they’re in a position of strength.