The NBA Trade Deadline is tomorrow February 8th at 3pm, so you’ll forgive me if I sound a bit harried. While it’s true it feels like the Raptors won’t make a move this year, we’ve already tried to figure out some of the likely deals anyway. There are players to be had, as per usual, but it’s fair to ask: what can the Raptors offer?
The Raptors roster is, by design, top heavy, with a handful of players taking up the bulk of the room under the salary cap. After that there’s one mid-tier contract, and then a bunch of efficient players on low dollar deals. That makes finding a workable trade difficult — the Raptors don’t have a ton of useless (so to speak) players or dead money, and the players they do have are either very important to the team’s success, not that valuable league-wide, or they can’t be traded at all.
Still, it’s worthwhile to assess what exactly the Raptors are holding on to, what players they could presumably look to move if the right deal presented itself, and what that would mean for the squad in the short and long term. This is very inexact science.
The Raptors’ 14 players (and their associated contracts) break down impressively into a sextant (grow up) of categories of relative value. The first tier is obvious, and is as close to untouchable as you can get: high value to the team, high value around the league (or Double High Value; I’m smart.) Then we move into a mid-level situation, and naturally, then comes the low end.
Things get interesting when we consider the three follow-up mixed categories — where team value and league value are skewed. It’s here where the Raptors could potential finagle a deal if the urge came to them.
Now, let’s try to unpack all of this.
Double High Value
Obviously we have to put Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan as 1A and 1B here. Both are extremely valuable players to the Raptors — as shot creators, playmakers, leaders, and almost everything in between. Lowry’s locked into a three year deal, DeRozan is in year two of five. The odds of Toronto even thinking about trading either are astronomical.
That wouldn’t stop the league from asking, presumably, since both Lowry and DeRozan are also of an incredibly high value. Sure, maybe teams weren’t breaking down Lowry’s door to pay him $30 million a year this past summer, but that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t like to now. You don’t think the dumb Knicks wish they could have pulled the trigger on that trade all those years ago? Anyway, Lowry and DeRozan are the Raptors’ whole identity, and that’s that.
Next on the list is perhaps a bit surprising: OG Anunoby. His on-court value to the Raptors at this exact moment is really only a mid-level consideration — he starts, but isn’t counted on to do much more than play hard, learn, and hit a 3 or two. But his value to the Raptors going forward is enormous, and you can’t tell me the rest of the NBA isn’t looking at him as the next incredibly talented two-way wing. Of all the young guys on Toronto’s roster, it’s easy to say OG is the most untouchable.
Finally, bringing up the rear, we get to the Raptor who just barely ekes into the conversation here. Serge Ibaka just makes into the high value discussion right now because, you know what, I think most teams would like to have him. He’s not the player he was — and the stretch-4 doesn’t really exist anymore (yes, already) — but Ibaka can play at the rim, step out and hit jumpers, and when the mood strikes, he can make plays. His value to the Raptors is obvious: as a starting power forward, a crunch time centre, and the best two-way big man the squad has.
(Yes, you could argue Ibaka is a high value player to the Raptors, and mid-level to the rest of the league, but I’m not going to do that. Moving on!)
Double Mid Value
Here we get the whole dang bench squad in one go. Delon Wright, Jakob Poeltl, Pascal Siakam, and C.J. Miles all have salaries in the $1.3 million (Siakam) to $8 million (Miles) range, and they have all exhibited — or are in clear ownership of — NBA skills. Case in point: Wright can run an offense and is a versatile defender, Poeltl is a solid two-way big man with good hands, Siakam can guard almost any position, handle the ball a bit, and run like the wind, Miles can shoot.
None of these players are stars though, and while we can believe that, say, Wright or Siakam, can make a leap into that untouchable tier (which is why it feels likely the Raptors won’t push the button on any trades that includes them), it’s no sure thing. Coupled with the small amount of salary attached to their names, it means the league at large is only jumping at these names to help shore up their bench and a deal would be hard to make work. (Miles feels tradeable, but it’s likely the Raps could only get a guy who is, funnily enough, exactly like Miles — hello Marco Belinelli!)
Toronto’s reserves have been one of their key strengths all year, and really as a unit you could move this quartet into a quasi-category of High Value to Toronto/Mid Value for the League. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
Double Low Value
And now, finally, here we put Bruno Caboclo, god love him, and Alfonzo McKinnie. Nothing against either of these guys, but I highly doubt any GMs are scratching their heads trying to figure out how to pry them away from Toronto.
And, sadly, the Raps don’t really need either guy. Maybe next year?
Now we get to the interesting mixed categories, where the Raptors could potentially find value, or some way to create value on the trade market.
First up, a note: Norman Powell doesn’t factor into any of this. If we were talking one year ago, Powell would have been a Double Mid Value — or some other mix — player for the Raptors. Since he’s signed his extension he can’t be traded during the season, so we’ll have to wait until it kicks in to see what Toronto does with him. (Come July 1st, pencil Norm in as Low Value to Toronto, Mid Value to the League — but that also depends on what happens to some of the other players on the team.)
High Value to Toronto, Low Value to the League
Here comes everyone’s favourite big man, Jonas Valanciunas. In truth, it was JV who got me thinking along these lines. There were two different columns recently (here and here) that totally missed the point on what he’s bringing to Toronto right now. Yes, it’s true that the league at large does not necessarily want or need big ground-bound centres who make upwards of $17 million a year. Valanciunas has shown himself to be a passable defender on average (and often a straight up bad one), he’s not the best passer while stationary (and definitely not on the move), and while we’ve been enjoying his three-point explosion as of late, it’s a pretty small body of work. All of this points to a concrete reality: few teams are going to call Toronto looking to make a deal for JV.
But to say the Raptors are looking to dump him at the deadline is to overlook everything Valanciunas is bringing to the team right now. He’s been a strong defender in the post, an effective and efficient offensive player, he’s showing flashes of some advanced moves, and perhaps most importantly, he’s the best (and perhaps the only legitimate) rebounder on the team. Jonas does everything he can to take up space and use his size effectively. Sure, there’s a version of the Raptors where they figure out a deal to move JV and rely on Poeltl (and/or Lucas Nogueira) to man the pivot, but if you’ve been watching the Raptors in 2018, the team isn’t looking to make this happen any time soon.
Mid Value to the League, Low Value to Toronto
Speaking of centres, here’s where we file Nogueira. The Brazilian big man has shown flashes of elite NBA skills (passing, finishing at the rim, rim protection) but he’s also shown to be not particularly durable enough, from game to game, minute to minute, to play big minutes as a team’s centre. Right now it’s clear he’s an emergency player for Toronto, one who can come in if necessary to change the team’s flow or keep the rotation consistent. Bebe could deserve more though, in the right situation.
Fortunately, that situation could occur soon. Bebe is the Raptors’ third centre, he’s on an expiring deal worth almost $3 million, and as I just said, he’s got some skills. It’s worth noting: almost any reasonable trade scenario we could draw up involves Nogueira because of those factors — contract situation, skills, need. If a Raptors trade does happen in the next few hours, do not be surprised at all if Bebe is involved.
High Value to Toronto, Mid Value to the League
Fred VanVleet is now perhaps the seventh best guy on the Raptors, and as his recent absences have shown, he’s maybe even more valuable than that. Toronto’s bench has a lot of moving parts — and they’ve shown out with both Lowry and DeRozan sprinkled into the mix — but VanVleet has emerged as the organizing energy of the lineup, the guy who creates shots, assists, three-balls, and more, for the team. Who’d have figured on that happening 50 games in?
When the Raptors hit the post-season, and the rotation inevitably shortens, it will be interesting to see what kind of role VanVleet has. Will teams try to attack him, or will FVV make them pay for underestimating him? Away from the court, will this undrafted, soon-to-be restricted free agent garner any interest from teams looking to shore up their backcourt rotation and potentially gain control over a decent guard for the future? It would be overstating it to say VanVleet is a hugely valuable guard — he thrives in Toronto’s system, with this specific bench squad — but as a 40 percent three-ball shooter and increasingly rugged and confident player, Toronto is sitting on something there. My bet is: they know it.
So there you have it, the Raptors can toss their whole roster into these categories and know where they stand before the trade deadline. If I was going to make a prediction, I can only see Nogueira being traded, as both Jonas and FVV are too valuable to this version of the Raptors, and everyone else is either way too untouchable or unable to move the needle enough to urge a trade into existence.
A humdrum conclusion perhaps, but there are worse problems to have than a strong roster from top to bottom. Such is life.
Enjoy NBA trade deadline day everyone!