(Or, maybe it isn’t.)
But here at HQ, we’re not interested in hypotheticals that don’t allow us to go down a thirteen-hundred word rabbit-hole about the Raptors, so let’s take a moment to dig into the idea that the Grizzlies are serious about trading the pick.
Basically, should Toronto and Masai Ujiri be in on it?
Would It Make Sense for Memphis?
You can see why the Grizzlies might consider this. With Mike Conley and Marc Gasol locked into big money deals and in the (late) prime of their careers, the Grizz need to win now, or tear down. And, while the draft is stocked with some potentially great players, one thing it is short on are guys who you can easily predict would be ready to come in and make an impact on a good team right off the bat.
So, why not flip that asset for someone (or someones) who can make that impact?
Looking at the Raptors one player makes the most sense: DeMar DeRozan.
Now, Memphis isn’t flipping no. 4 overall for DD straight-up, nor can they because of those pesky cap rules. Fortunately, the Grizzlies have a piece whose salary would match very nicely with the Raptors, and would serve as the extra value the Grizz would want to make a deal.
Raptors fans, meet Chandler Parsons. At $23 million and change, Parsons is shy of DeRozan’s hit, thankfully the entry-level salary for the #4 pick would match almost exactly, allowing a deal to be done.
A Gasol-Conley-DeRozan collective is an interesting one, as you have two defensive minded presences to put around DeMar’s weaker game.
He’d also inject a significant chunk of juice to the Grizzlies’ attack, reducing the stress on Conley and Gasol. Similar to his role in Toronto, DeRozan could serve as a primary ball-handler for chunks of the game, allowing Conley, a dynamite three-point shooter, to roam off the ball in much the way Kyle Lowry does. DeMar would also benefit from the space that Gasol, both a solid shooter and a brilliant passer, creates.
Ultimately it’s hard to see a much higher ceiling in Memphis then the Raps had as Conley and Lowry are arguable clones, and while Gasol is better than Serge Ibaka or Jonas Valanciunas, he still can be victimized by the pace and space games of the Warriors and Rockets of the world.
Still, given the other options seems to be a fire-sale into a sellers market, or banking on Parsons health and a likely raw, high-upside project, panning out quickly, this is something the small-market (re: playoff revenue hungry) Grizzlies might strongly consider.
What About the Raptors?
Here’s where it’s gets tricky. Quite apart from the massive blow to team culture, the possible fraying of a relationship with Lowry, and the message it might send to players around the league about Toronto and loyalty (which are all huge, but would need like another seventeen-hundred words), it isn’t clear this deal actually helps the Raptors win.
Parsons’s contract may be a year shorter than DeRozan’s, but it’s as close to an albatross deal as one could expect. With almost $50 million remaining over two years he’s an expensive stretch — just under $10 million dollar hit over five seasons.
Back when he was healthy, Parsons was a pretty good player (hence the max). And, last year, in limited time, Parsons showed flashes that he could be useful again. He shot 42% from downtown, which was a career high, but not insanely so. He was playable on defense, although more as a small-ball four, and while never the most athletic, was still crafty enough to get to the rim, and a smart passer.
Still, you’re talking about a guy who may never play back-to-backs again, might struggle to play more than 25 minutes a night, could break down at any moment, and is trending the wrong way both age-wise, and along the defensive spectrum.
But, Parsons isn’t the prize here. He’s the price. The prize is the fourth overall pick in a draft that many have described as one of the deepest in years…
The top end of the draft features a lot of very athletic big men — all of whom, with the exception of Texas’ Mo Bamba and Michigan State’s Jaren Jackson, have shown significant problems defending in college. Trae Young, the Oklahoma point-guard who did a legit Steph Curry impression for a solid five weeks could be a franchise changer — but he also might be unplayable defensively. If the post-modern era of basketball is teaching us anything, it’s this: if you have a player who can be repeatedly attacked in the pick-and-roll, you’re in trouble.
Still, there are some intriguing two-way options who could be around at the four spot. Bamba has the chance to be Clint Capela, but with a three, and bigger and faster. Still, at this point his shooting stroke is more theoretical and while he’s incredibly intelligent off the court, some question his feel for the game.
I’d probably prefer Jackson. He’s shown the ability to shoot, defend the rim, and move the ball quickly. The knock is that he may not be athletic, or skilled enough to be truly great at anything.
Maybe you prefer Michael Porter. After all, he was the guy who was seen as the top talent coming into the year, before back surgery basically ended his college career. Porter projects as a perfect modern wing. He could defend 1-4. He has a varied offensive game with some shades of Jayson Tatum. He’s also been called Andrew Wiggins-esque (an inefficient, empty scorer), and is a poor-rebounder — meaning it might be tough to go small-ball with him, and the defensive potential, like Bamba’s shooting, is mostly theoretical.
For the Raps, Doncic could be a dream find. He’s already established himself at a high level, and landing in Toronto would put him in an almost the same situation he was in Real Madrid — as the featured scorer on a team awash with veterans who can quickly learn his game and how they can compliment it. Doncic’s biggest question-mark (besides: is he going to declare?) is his lack of elite athleticism. He already has to take a bunch of tough jumpers in Europe — can he learn enough craft to avoid that against the better athletes of the NBA? And, will his insanely high basketball IQ allow him to defend at a high enough level, that those stronger athletes can’t cook him in the crucible of a seven-game series?
Me, I’d bet yes. Hard. But, if I’m the Grizz, I’m not making a trade until I know what’s at four. And if Doncic would be the perfect fit in Toronto, he’d be just as good now in Memphis and, on a team with no young building blocks, his long-term value is too high to pass up for even an All-Star of DeRozan’s calibre.
The question then becomes: ‘Can you win a title with Michael Porter, Mo Bamba, Marvin Bagley or Jaren Jackson as your best player?’ Is it worth taking on Parsons salary to find out?
Because that’s really what this move would be about. The Raps are too young, and too good down the back half of their roster to tank. Trading DeRozan for the fourth pick and no cap relief, would be a bet that that player is going to be the guy who can go toe-to-toe with the Irvings, Embids and Durants of the world. It’s a tall order.
That’s not to say Masai couldn’t, or wouldn’t make other moves, but DeRozan, despite his flaws, has real value. As the third, or maybe even clear second option for a team: he would be deadly. Placed in a back-court with a big physical point-guard who could cross-match on defense, his biggest weakness could be dramatically muted.
At the end of the day, this draft isn’t deep enough to justify moving DeRozan and not getting any sort of cap-relief, or a player you actually want.
The Raps best long-term move might be to stay patient for at least another year, and see whether the expiring deals of guys like Lowry, Ibaka, Valanciunas et al become more valuable assets. Maybe that allows Toronto to be the team who can deploy DeMar in a different way.
Maybe the Sixers, if Markelle Fultz doesn’t develop, and Ben Simmons still can’t shoot, pony up legit assets for a year of native son Lowry.
Maybe the Rockets strike out on LeBron James and see Ibaka as a rotation piece with the size, athleticism and shooting to stay on the court against the Warriors. Maybe Masai takes back Ryan Anderson’s deal and gets a late first, which he turns into more gold?
And, if you feel DeMar has to go, maybe after another year of spinning their wheels, the Knicks get fidgety and throw us a lottery pick and Frank Nitilika to take Joakim Noah’s shorter, cheaper, deal in exchange for DeRozan.
The Grizzlies fourth overall pick is a shiny prize, but at this stage in the Raptors team-building cycle, it might not be the right one. We’ll wait and see what happens as the NBA Draft of 2018 approaches.