With the recent trade for Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green, the Raptors have set themselves up with one of the most versatile and distinguished rosters we’ve seen in Toronto’s 23 years. In lieu of players with concrete positions, the Raptors have players who can swing from guard to forward to a stretch-four position. On defense, the Raptors have at least four players who can guard at least four positions in OG Anunoby, Kawhi Leonard, Pascal Siakam and Danny Green.
Trading DeMar DeRozan for Kawhi Leonard, for the cost of Jakob Poeltl and a 2019 first-round pick in the 20s (or two second-round picks in 2020) was the ultimate embodiment of Masai Ujiri’s negotiating skills. Toronto immediately gained arguably the best defender in the NBA (Leonard has won two Defensive Player of the Year awards) who also happens to shoot nearly 40 percent from three for his career.
Leonard’s new teammates are radically different than those whom he shared a locker room in San Antonio: Kyle Lowry is a run and gun shooter and especially dangerous in transition; Jonas Valanciunas, a Nick Nurse favorite, can be a dominant post scorer and rebounding extraordinaire if he’s given the playing time needed to showcase his full set of skills; Serge Ibaka — for all the flak he’s received for his shoddy offense during last year’s postseason — is still a great post-defender and shot blocker; and we haven’t even discussed Leonard’s new young crew of tireless defenders off the bench.
No longer will “Kawhisolation” — where teams literally put Leonard on an island in order to remove him from the game action — be an effective strategy to employ in an attempt to take Leonard out of the game. With Anunoby and Siakam possessing similar length and tenacity, Leonard will no longer be stressed to be the best or most effective defender on the floor. Imagining Leonard playing alongside Delon Wright for extended periods of time should have fans giddily excited for next year’s team defense.
So, all of the potential positives are crystal clear right now. There still remain the unknowns that will crop up over the course of the season, but most of the excitement revolves around the versatility this roster offers — which begs the question: What (or who) is being forgotten?
Identifying A Redundancy
First of all, the other (rarely acknowledged) piece of this trade — Danny Green — was one of the first 3-and-D players to emerge in the modern NBA. For most of this decade, he provided the Spurs a vicious defender and knock-down shooter. He went on the court, played his ass off on defense, and found ways to get open for threes. Over the last four seasons, averaging 26.8 minutes, Green has made 1.8 threes per game at a 37.6 percent clip.
In that same span, over 30 percent of his three-point attempts have come from the corner, of which he sinks 41.3 percent. All in all, Green is the exact player Toronto was hoping to get in DeMarre Carroll nearly four seasons ago.
The point guard situation remains unchanged thanks to the recent two year contract signed by Fred VanVleet, and though Delon Wright will be a restricted free agent after this upcoming season, the team seems to be in a good position to retain both young guards with just a couple tweaks of the team’s guaranteed salary on the books.
Additionally, I’m sure Raptors’ general manager Bobby Webster would love to get from under Norman Powell’s $40 million contract, but the chances of dumping a four year deal before the season starts is close to absolute zero. Plus, let’s see what he can do now that he’s sharing minutes with Green instead of DeRozan. For all we know, this is Powell’s chance to shine.
The 3-and-D Machine
Enter C.J. Miles. Miles was brought in to shoot threes. Not dribble, nor pass, nor even to play defense (because everyone knows it’s not his strength). He was brought in to chuck, and that’s what he did. Miles shot a career-high 454 3-point shots last season (his 13th season in the league) and made 2.3 per game in under 20 minutes — good for 36.1 percent. The problem the coaching staff had with Miles centred around his inability to play defense — most of the reason he played just 19.5 minutes per game, and rarely in crunch time.
With Green now on the roster, Miles becomes the ultimate redundancy — especially considering his struggles on defense. Green will be one less problem for coach Nurse to worry about in the heat of a playoff series, and he has consistently proven to be one of the lowest-maintenance players in the league since he was drafted. Green has grown into his role brilliantly, and to remember that he’s also a $10 million expiring contract is just a cherry on top of this trade sundae.
The problem in the Miles/Green situation is that Miles has a player option after this season — something that he could very well pick up if his playing time dips this year.
Where Does Toronto Go From Here?
Miles is still a valuable player in this league — especially given the amount he’s set to be paid (just a hair over $8 million). His ability to light the nets up at any given moment will always inflate his value. There are 16 playoff teams every season that would love to add another shooter off the bench. Whether they are able to accept his struggles on defense may whittle the potential buyers down a bit — but not entirely.
Webster could very well be looking at the possibility of unloading Miles’ contract because Green offers everything Miles does — plus incredible defense.
Cutting Miles isn’t an option, because it effectively does nothing to change the cap situation the Raptors’ find themselves in. Miles would need to be traded and his $8.3 million salary — a very trade-friendly number — would need to be at least partially absorbed for the move to be worth the trouble. If Toronto can’t receive some cap relief by trading Miles, he’s better off on the roster as an offensive weapon.
It goes without saying, the additions of Leonard and Green have made a few players on the Raptors’ roster redundant. Powell — one of these players — should have a renewed chance to play up to his abilities now that DeRozan isn’t above him on the depth chart, and Delon Wright will be an incredible weapon in three-guard lineups alongside Kawhi Leonard and a stretch-four — perhaps Serge Ibaka or Pascal Siakam.
Miles’ only problem regarding his place on the roster is his inability to play defense at any position. He is a one-dimensional player who, last season, played his role admirably. He shot the lights out when needed and provided sparks when the heat was off. Unfortunately, he’s been replaced with a two-way veteran of the same ilk — and one with a higher pedigree.