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NBA Trade Deadline 2018: Let’s make a Raptors deal!

Or at least let’s see what might make some sense for Toronto.

Detroit Pistons v Toronto Raptors Photo by Ron Turenne/NBAE via Getty Images

The deadline approaches! After looking at the Raptors’ salary situation and how they are situated in terms of making a trade a couple of weeks ago, we’ve come to deadline week and the Raptors haven’t done anything yet. So let’s figure out some stuff for them to do.

First, let’s revisit what they can do, and what their goals might be with that in mind.

Salary Situation

If you look back at the last post, you’ll note the Raptors are sitting $1 million shy of the tax line, and have about $4.7 million in room under the hard cap (so that’s the absolute maximum amount they can increase their salary). That tax figure is the most pertinent one — they are well positioned to avoid the tax this year, and probably would really like to, as they are very likely to be paying the tax, and possibly significant tax bills, for the next two seasons after this one.

For the purposes of this piece, we’ll use the tax line as the point to avoid, rather than the hard cap, as I’m pretty sure that’s what management is thinking. So, with that in mind, Kyle Lowry’s incentives really come into play.

We’ve gotten more information on Lowry’s incentives (and he’s earned one) since the last post, so let’s lay those out. Lowry has about $2.3 million in incentives this season (and in each season of his contract). We know that he has already earned a $200,000 incentive for making the all-star game, and it was recently reported by Bobby Marks of ESPN that he also has $500,000 incentives for the Raptors making each of the Conference Finals and the Finals. That explains $1.2 million of the incentives. The other $1.1 million is spread over the Raptors winning the championship, and Lowry making the All-NBA or All-Defense teams.

We’ll leave aside the latter three incentives, even if Lowry does have a shot at the All-NBA selection, and look at those three that are firmly reported. Lowry needs to play 65 games to earn those incentives, but it’s looking like he will manage that this year, and the team is surely counting on it at this point, so we’ll ignore that requirement here. That means Lowry has already earned his $200,000 all-star incentive. That alone shrinks the room the Raptors have under the tax line to $820,000.

Then it’s an exercise in expectations. The Raptors surely expect to at least make the Conference Finals, in terms of a successful season. So for planning purposes, let’s pencil in that half million dollar incentive for Lowry as well. That leaves $320,000 in room under the tax. If they make the Finals, they are into the tax — so perhaps that’s an acceptable trade-off for management. They are willing to put themselves in a salary situation where if the team makes the Finals, they pay the tax this year. But if they don’t make it, they appear to want to be in a spot where they can duck the tax line.

So. We’ll draw the line there — in any trade or waiver wire scenario, we’ll limit the Raptors’ increase in salary to $320,000.

That’s our starting point.

Who Can They Trade?

Well, basically anyone. But it depends what your goals are. I expect any deadline moves will be about shoring up some weaknesses (shooting) and trying to capitalize on guys they may lose in the summer anyway to extract value while they can. So, for the purposes of this piece, I won’t be looking at any big trades for stars, nor any salary shedding moves to improve flexibility in the summer — we’ll leave those possibilities for the spring and summer when the team has more assets to play with.

So really, the trade bait pieces boil down to the small expirings the Raptors have — Lucas Nogueira, Bruno Caboclo, and (gasp) Fred VanVleet. There’s every chance the Raptors try to wait out the market on VanVleet this summer, so it’s unlikely he gets dealt, but if the team feared he would be poached with an offer they couldn’t afford, they may decide to try to get value for him now. I expect they value this playoff run too much, though, and will take their chances in the summer.

For Nogueira in particular, though, he is buried in the rotation, has shown flashes other teams might be interested in, and would come with Bird Rights and restricted free agency status (that is, he’s controllable) for a team willing to extend him a qualifying offer. The Raptors would probably not be extending him a qualifying offer, so he’d end up an unrestricted free agent, and they’d be hoping to bring him back on a near-minimum deal. The same mostly applies to Caboclo. The value other teams would place on these players is obviously questionable, but we’re going fishing for small gap fillers, so this sort of prospect plus maybe a pick might be good enough.

So then, let’s find some targets. We want low value targets, so almost certainly low salary expiring deals. We want a shooter. And we want teams that would be willing to take a shot on an unproven upside piece like Bebe or Bruno in spite of their contract situations. So bad teams.

First, let’s look for players making less than $320,000 more than Nogueira’s $2.95 million salary, and who are unrestricted free agents this summer. That narrows the entire league down to 80 players. Now, let’s look at the bottom four teams in each conference, to see who might be selling, and narrow that list further.

Brooklyn Nets

The Nets have two players that fit the criteria, and both of them are on near-minimum salaries. For either player, I’d expect the offer would be Nogueira or Bruno plus a 2019 2nd rounder. Not a great get for the Nets, but they aren’t exactly selling all stars.

Quincy Acy is a guy Raptors fans should remember from the Bryan Colangelo era — he was one of the outgoing pieces in the deal to remove Rudy Gay from the team, that sparked the current era of winning basketball. A stretch PF who can’t really shoot all that well (33% from 3 on four attempts a game), but basically only shoots (77% of his shots come from beyond the arc, low rebounding numbers, and turns it over whenever he doesn’t shoot). This would be a throw back, but a disappointing yield at the deadline.

Joe Harris may be a better fit. He’s a shooting guard who can really shoot (40% from distance on over four attempts a game), but does little else. That’s what you are likely to get with these low salary expiring deals — one NBA skill. And the Raptors would be shopping for shooting, so this makes sense. Does Brooklyn take an offer like the one outlined above? It’s worth asking.

Chicago Bulls

The only guy that fits here is Tony Allen. Allen is known more for his defense than shooting, though he is able to hit the occasional three. He would be an interesting piece to add, and if you can get him cheap, maybe he replicates the PJ Tucker effect from last season, adding a veteran defender to a roster full of young role players.

Chicago is publicly shopping him, and will waive him if they can’t find a taker by the deadline, so they may be quite open to the sort of offer the Raptors could put in.

Orlando Magic

Due to the Jeff Weltman poaching, the Raptors and Magic can’t trade with each other this season.

Atlanta Hawks

They have... Luke Babbitt. Another guy who is a one skill athlete. He shoots a lot (65% of his attempts are from deep, and he gets up 3 long range attempts in only 15 MPG), and does it well 44% from 3 this year), and that’s it. Still, it’s a tool the Raptors could maybe use. I’d put him a little further down the list than Harris or Allen, but a viable option.

[Ed. Note: We wrote about Marco Belinelli here, but it would be tough to make a workable deal.]

Memphis Grizzlies

The favourite target of many fans here is Tyreke Evans. But the Grizzlies seem likely to get a 1st rounder for him from someone, and I doubt the Raptors are willing to give up that much for a rental (he does not come with Bird Rights, and with their tax situation this summer, would be tough to re-sign anyway). He also makes slightly too much, and would put the Raptors over that $320,000 increase in salary, if only by a little.

An overlooked option from Memphis is James Ennis. He makes slightly less than Evans, is big enough to play small forward and probably cover some small ball 4 if needed, and is shooting 37% from 3 on two attempts per game this season. He’s more well-rounded than many targets on this list, as he’s a decent shooter and a decent defender, though not great at either. Another guy who is certainly worth the ask.

Phoenix Suns

They don’t have anybody that fits the profile, sadly. What kind of sad sack team doesn’t even have a cheap vet to sell off? I know, it’s because all their cheap guys are young and locked in, which is technically a good thing, but still.

(Some may mention Troy Daniels here — a young-ish shooter on a low-end contract — but he’s locked in for this year and the next, and I feel like the Raptors may not want to tie up non-minimum salary for that long, given the team’s cap situation.)

Sacramento Kings

Same here! Come on guys.

Now, I know there are questions aplenty about Vince Carter — but he makes way too much for the Raptors to get without impacting their rotation. The good news, is that he is likely to be waived if he’s not traded at the deadline, and then the Raptors could pick him up on a rest-of-season minimum contract. Right now they are very tight on room under the tax, and would have to wait until closer to the end of the season to get his pro-rated salary low enough to squeeze in, as pro-rated salaries drop as the season goes on.

But if you notice, almost all the deals outlined with other teams above have the Raptors shedding salary (except the Memphis one). If they can increase the room they have under the tax line with a deal like that, it could have double benefits — grabbing another shooter in the trade, and also clearing enough room to add a veteran depth piece (yes, maybe like Vince Carter) to bolster the lineup heading towards the playoffs.

Dallas Mavericks

Dallas doesn’t have anyone that fits the profile either. Come on Western Conference, really dropping the ball here.

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Anyway, I think that about rounds out our list of options for low value, low cost trades from losing teams that are not likely to ask too much for their rentals. If the Raptors can add a cheap piece like Harris, Ennis or Allen, that would be a solid move to improve depth on the wing at the forward spots, and if they can shed money in the process to be bigger players in the waived veteran market, even better.

Which of these options do you prefer? Do you have any other targets in mind with the salary constraints above? Or do you think the team should be diving into the tax and trying to pick up a slightly bigger target?

Thanks to Basketball-Insiders for the player salary information.