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Some trade ideas to re-tool the Raptors, and help some other teams

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Toronto may not be big players in this summer’s free agency market, but they could make some trades to remake their team. Here are a couple of ideas.

NBA: Toronto Raptors at Los Angeles Clippers Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

So, fellow HQ contributor Joel Stephens put together a nice piece exploring some landing places for Norman Powell. The piece tries its best to find a team to take Norm off the Raptors’ hands to shed some salary and more easily fit a new contract for Fred VanVleet onto the books — ideally before Powell’s extension kicks in.

One scenario (which would work in the summer after those options have potentially passed the team by) that is a little less about just removing Norm, but also about making a bigger trade, is pitching in and helping the Clippers and Mavericks sort out their DeAndre Jordan dance.

The Clippers owe their 2019 1st round pick (lotto protected) and would probably prefer to keep competing. As indicated by the Marcin Gortat trade, they seem to still want to be able to field a competitive team after losing Jordan.

The Mavericks seem to be trying to keep as much cap flexibility as possible — they just rescinded the qualifying offer to Doug McDermott, making him an unrestricted free agent. The only real reason to do so is if they were concerned he might take that qualifying offer (they could rescind it at any time if they just needed to clear his cap hold) and that doing so might mess up their plans. The Raptors, oddly enough, can offer that to them, by giving the Clippers a reason to take on salary in a DeAndre Jordan deal. So, say Jordan opts into his deal as he is rumoured to be considering (it can work as a sign and trade too, but this way is easier to describe). Then:

Clippers receive: DeMar DeRozan

Mavericks receive: DeAndre Jordan, Norman Powell

Raptors receive: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Wesley Matthews, Dwight Powell

The Clippers basically break even in salary and add an All-Star (who is from LA, and locked in for a couple years) at the cost of a centre they were going to move anyway and one late lotto pick from this past draft. They also hold onto Tobias Harris and their mid-size expiring contracts, presumably the financial centrepieces in any Kawhi Leonard trade they might attempt.

The Mavericks get their big free agent centre target, and only use $5 million of their cap space to make it happen, by shedding the salaries of Matthews and Powell and only taking back Norm’s deal. That leaves them up to between $20 and $25 million in cap room to chase one more add this summer (which could be worth more than usual with so few teams having above the Mid-Level Exception — $8.6 million — to offer) after getting Jordan. They take on some long term salary as the price of shedding short term salary.

The Raptors cash DeRozan in for a (Canadian) prospect they wanted at the draft (reportedly), a second Canadian (and solid young PF) in Powell, and a solid veteran wing whose contract expires after this coming season. And they get out from under Norm’s contract. Meaning they shed about $23 million for summer 2019 (which is nice considering the huge tax bill they currently project to face), and about $6 million or so for the two summers after that. They can try to compete again this year, with a roster better fit to their new head coach’s offensive philosophy, and then evaluate which direction to go the following summer. And they shed about $6 million this off-season, making re-signing VanVleet much easier with their tax situation.

A Follow-Up Serge Ibaka Move

I do think this would mean finding a trade for Serge Ibaka. It wouldn’t even have to shed salary because of the above, but with Dwight Powell and Pascal Siakam on board, I’d think the team would look to move on. One target in particular makes sense to me.

Joakim Noah is owed $18.5 million this coming year ($19.3 million the following year), and a simple swap of him for Ibaka would save the Raptors $3-4 million per year. I imagine the Raptors would want a draft asset or two, but it would be along the lines of the 2020 and/or 2021 second rounders Charlotte owes the Knicks — not a huge price. The Knicks wouldn’t be taking on much salary at all (considering they are stuck paying Noah anyway), and would be getting a guy who could actually play — potentially as a centre in a super stretchy frontcourt alongside Porzingis.

The Raptors would then waive Noah. The unique thing about the stretch provision is that it technically applies to all players who are waived. The salary paid to the player is stretched over twice the term plus one season. So Noah’s two years and $38 million would be stretched out to about $7.6 million per year for five years. The choice teams have is whether to stretch out the cap hit on such a player or not. Stretching out the cap hit not only affects the cap room for the team, but also the luxury tax calculation, so it is a quick way to reduce salary for a team facing a tax bill.

The Raptors would be smart not to stretch out the cap hit. Although it would help with the tax right now, in this scenario they are lined up to avoid the tax the next summer anyway, and stretching that cap hit would potentially hurt any chances they have in 2020 or 2021 of adding a top free agent when they project to have cap space. The good news is, even with the team paying tax this summer, the actual salary cost reduction in an Ibaka-Noah trade when you take into consideration a stretched salary (even with a non-stretched cap hit) is about $14 million dollars.

As a reference, $14 million dollars is almost exactly how much extra tax the Raptors would currently be projected to pay if they simply brought VanVleet back on a Mid-Level deal and made no other moves. So that cash savings can off-set a luxury tax bill even if the cap hit staying high means the team still has to pay that luxury tax.

Although, for the record, after making these two deals, assuming the team gave VanVleet that Mid-Level deal, the team salary would be only about $7 million above the tax line, meaning an $11 million tax bill, which is very reasonable.

Just some food for thought, building off the most recent rumours from around the league. What do you think? Do all the teams involved say yes? Do you, if you were in charge of the Raptors? As ever, any questions about the cap situation or this move in particular are welcome below, and I’ll do my best to answer them.

All salaries per basketballinsiders.com. Future draft picks ownership per RealGM.com.