The Toronto Raptors definitely got lucky when they moved all the way up to No. 4 in the 2021 NBA Draft. Still, playing with better chips means you can be aggressive — and rumour has it Masai Ujiri, Bobby Webster, and the Raptors front office are doing just that.
As part of The Ringer’s mock draft, NBA writer Kevin O’Connor reports that the Raptors are among a number of teams who have contacted the Cavaliers about moving up to No. 3 — a presumed landing spot for USC’s Evan Mobley, the top big man in this year’s draft. From the mouth of Kevin O’Commentary:
League sources say the Cavaliers have received significant trade interest for this selection, and the Raptors and Magic—the next two teams up to pick—have made offers to move up. But Cleveland might just stay put. Some talent evaluators around the league consider Mobley the best prospect in this class because of his versatility on both offense and defense. He can protect the rim, switch on to the perimeter, and serve as the lone big in a lineup. On offense, he can shoot, pass, and make plays off the bounce, making him an all-around smooth fit alongside Cleveland’s existing personnel. But really, Mobley can excel anywhere.
The fit for Mobley and Toronto is obvious. The Raptors struggled with centre depth all season and only late in the campaign, with the additions of Khem Birch and Freddie Gillespie, did they have serviceable minutes at that position. While Birch may fit into the team’s long-term plans, they also need to start future-proofing that position. The clocks on OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, and Fred VanVleet are starting to tick and if the Raptors want to add a young big who lines up with the timelines of their best players’ prime, it has to come this off-season or next.
Mobley is unpolished, but has the skill set of a modern NBA centre. He has shown excellent intuition in the pick-and-roll, both with a mid-range jump shot and his ability to pass on the short roll. His upside on the other end is even better, with strong switch-ability that would fit well in Nick Nurse’s schemes — some see him becoming an All-Defense player in the future.
So, what would the Raptors have to do to convince the Cavaliers to part with the No. 3 pick?
Machinations of the trade probably won’t involve big salaries. Toronto is unlikely to part with Siakam or VanVleet in any pick swap where they’re moving up one spot. This also isn’t going to be the sign and trade for Kyle Lowry, as there’s no chance the team thanks him for years of service by sending him to a team where a championship is unattainable.
Cleveland probably won’t find the answer to their Kevin Love quandary here either — the big man is earning upwards of $31 million next season and without an Olympics to showcase his talent, NBA teams are unlikely to pick up the phone.
That brings us to Collin Sexton.
If Cleveland is going to make a big swing for talent this off-season, it’ll likely be in a deal involving Sexton.
There are limited paths to how the Raptors can make a pick swap enticing under a scenario where Sexton is included — one is to trade OG Anunoby and the No. 4 pick for Sexton and No. 3. I don’t like this for a lot of reasons, especially as someone who believes OG is heading into a season where it’s possible he breaks through a ceiling of potential. Still, it’s a deal that could work for both teams — Cleveland gets elite role-playing wings with OG and Jalen Suggs, while Toronto has the big man of their future and another potent scoring guard to offset the possibility of Kyle Lowry leaving.
This is really what’s dicy about the 2021 Draft, though. We don’t know for sure Evan Mobley is the No. 3 pick because there’s no guarantee that Houston takes Jalen Green at No. 2. Heck, even Detroit could surprise everyone and leave Cade Cunningham for one of the hungry teams behind them.
Toronto can swing for the fences and move up in the draft if they love Mobley, but there’s no guarantee he’ll be there for them — unless they call up the other three teams and say pretty please.
This is to say again — I don’t love the idea of moving up just for position. It also goes against what the Raptors have said in interviews leading up to the draft. This is a team that always drafts for talent, not on positional need. The best scenario I can think of is to take the best player available at No. 4 (it might even be Mobley!) and re-tool your roster through trades outside the draft.
What’s your opinion on it?