This is it, today’s the day, it’s finally time for the 2018 NBA Draft. Yes, we made it.
But wait, actually, hold that thought. Toronto didn’t actually make anything. The Raptors, as has been noted again and again and again, do not have a first or even second round pick. (We can blame DeMarre Carroll’s balky knee and the P.J. Tucker rental for this turn of events.)
In truth, owing to their East-leading 59-23 record last season, the Raptors would not have held a high-impact level pick here. At slot 29, there’s usually not much game-changing talent there. Still, we always hold out hope — especially given Toronto’s recent run of success with late-round picks. And yes, we remain optimistic even though the Raptors do not have a pick.
So then, NBA Draft details!
When and Where
This year’s draft is tonight, June 21, at 7pm. As has been the case as of late, the event itself will be held at the Barclays Centre in Brooklyn.
This is a great thing because, to be honest, there’s nothing quite like a New York audience for its post-pick reactions. And because the Knicks are always involved and (usually) making bad decisions, there are always some fantastically ugly responses from the crowd.
For those at home, ESPN will be broadcasting the draft at 7pm — and we’ve been told that the usual scoopers (Woj, Shams, and the like) will not be breaking each and every pick. You’ll have to watch to find out what happens in real time. (Or follow Marc Stein at the NYT, who may have a righteous field day with everyone else’s hands tied.)
But the Raptors are not major players, which means we have to do our own off-brand brand of analysis. Which brings us to why we’re here.
What About the Raptors?
With no picks at all in the 2018 NBA Draft — hoo boy I hate typing that — Toronto and Masai Ujiri will need to get creative if they want to get involved at all. Let’s run through a trio of options as to what they could do to make some noise in the draft.
The Buy-In Option
This is the easiest, and for the most part, lamest option. Under the new CBA heading into the 2018-19 season, NBA teams can essentially trade upwards of $5.1 million for a draft pick. As Hoops Rumors summarizes here, there were a few of these deals recently, involving names like Patrick McCaw and Kay Felder, under the previous maximum of $3.5 million. Most of the other names involved in deals like this are, uh, not really a big deal. That said, along with McCaw back in 2016, the Warriors also bought Jordan Bell (the Bull’s 38th pick in the 2017 Draft), both of whom have figured into the team’s championship runs of the past two seasons. They weren’t key parts (obviously!) but their presence on the Warriors’ roster suggests there is value to be found by going this route.
Since Toronto hasn’t spent any money in this regard over the past season, the Raptors can throw some bucks around to potentially buy themselves a second round pick. It just depends on if there are any sellers. For example, it’s possible a team like the Philadelphia 76ers could look to part with one of their four second round picks. Of course, it will also depend on whether there are any second round-calibre players of interest to Toronto — and whether or not those players will even get selected in the second round. (Remember: Fred VanVleet was of great interest to the Raptors, but they knew he’d slide out of play and be available to be signed apart from the entire process.)
Bottom line here: the Raptors could very well take this approach, assuming they want to spend the money and potentially shuffle around the last few spots on their roster. But, odds are it won’t be a particularly exciting turn of events.
The Trading Norm Option
Here’s the option I would bet on as a thing that will happen on draft day, or at least before July 1st. Based on how last season went, the Raptors don’t really have a spot for Norman Powell in their rotation anymore (unless they trade DeMar DeRozan, which, hold that thought). On top of that, when Norm played last year, he was... well, not great. Despite being something of a playoff saviour two years in a row, Powell forced the action far too often during the 70 regular games in which he appeared. And what’s worse, Norm was a complete non-factor in the 2018 post-season, ending his streak of post-season excellence.
On top of all of that, Powell is owed almost $10 million next season, which is a lot of money for an out-of-the-rotation player.
Fortunately, because of the way Powell’s contract is structured, the Raptors can trade him for something of equal value to his previous salary — which is in the order of $1.5 million, or just about the value of a second round pick. Given that Toronto is looking at a severe salary cap crunch if they plan on re-signing VanVleet (to say nothing of their other already costly pieces), it seems probable for the Raptors to give this strategy a hard look — barring an even bigger trade.
Yes, it would be sad if the Raptors gave up on Norm, especially after all those memories, and sadder still for him to be dumped for a second round pick, especially after his surprising rise from obscurity, but, sigh, that’s the business of the NBA.
The Wild Option
Now, let’s consider some of the grander schemes in play here for the Raptors. As we rather breathlessly commented on here, and definitely here, Toronto could be in the market to make a considerable jump in the draft to try and nab Canadian point guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Barring that move, we also discussed the reported availability of the Grizzlies’ fourth pick, and what it would take for the Raptors to get it. In both these scenarios, the only way it happens for Toronto is if they trade a core piece.
The reason for this is simple: the Raptors don’t have a whole hell of a lot else to trade. While no one on the roster is inherently untouchable, it feels unlikely that a rival GM is calling Masai to deal a top pick for, say Pascal Siakam (as much as I like P. Skills). As mentioned, the Raptors don’t have any picks to move, and likely can’t or won’t part (yet) with any of the Bench Broskis (unless a dynamite deal comes along), so it falls to those big contracts at the centre of the team — and taking back any bad salary that comes along with such a trade.
Case in point: trading DeRozan could likely net Toronto a high pick, maybe even higher than the Clippers’ 12th pick necessary for snagging Gilgeous-Alexander. But if they were to make a run for Memphis’ fourth pick, they’d most definitely have to absorb Chandler Parsons’ wounded money as a result. And, obviously, whichever player they got at no. 4 would have a long way to go before becoming an All-NBA player of DeRozan’s calibre (to say nothing of replacing DeMar’s stature and reputation in Toronto). It could be a costly move, and waste the last bit of Kyle Lowry’s prime in the process.
As others have mentioned, the mere fact that a leak regarding Toronto’s plans made it out there suggests that it is not real news. Thanks to Masai, the Raptors are known for being spectacularly tight-lipped. While I’m sure they’re exploring every avenue available to them, it feels unlikely a mega deal involving DeRozan, or Lowry (or somehow Serge Ibaka or Jonas Valanciunas), is coming — hence, it’s the “wild” option. I’d be blown away if something like this went down tonight for the Raptors.
Which is to say: adjust your expectations for the 2018 NBA Draft accordingly.