It is the season of intrigue in the NBA, with the 2021 championship finally settled and all eyes in the basketball world turning to the draft and free agency period. The Raptors are involved heavily in both as owners of the fourth overall pick and a roster (or absence of one) built around maximum flexibility for this very summer.
As expected then, the rumours have been flying about what Toronto could do or not do in the upcoming draft and with one of their key free agents — Kyle Lowry, only the greatest Raptor of all time. Let’s unpack some of the recent news and decide on how much truth there is to any of these tidbits.
Could the Raptors move up in the NBA Draft?
I’m on the record as wanting Toronto to draft centre Evan Mobley. But there’s an obvious problem with this idea: he’s not likely to be available when the Raptors make their selection. Fortunately, the solution is just as obvious: trade up in the NBA Draft! Could Toronto do it?
As we wrote about earlier this week, there apparently is some chatter that the Raptors are pressing Cleveland for access to the third pick, thought to be the one that gets them Mobley. (In this scenario, Cade Cunningham is a lock to Detroit and Houston goes for Jalen Green.) The question then is what would the Raptors have to do to pry the third pick away from the Cavaliers? If we’re talking assets, Cleveland would want to get their hands on someone like OG Anunoby, whom I sincerely doubt Toronto would trade just for a pick. I also don’t think there’s a ton of interest from the Raptors in taking back Collin Sexton — and they definitely don’t want any part of the tab on Kevin Love.
That leaves trading futures. Theoretically, the Raptors could dangle more first round picks to Cleveland (in addition to this year’s fourth pick) to make it a win-win for them. Toronto would get their man (Mobley), Cleveland would get the consensus fourth pick (Jalen Suggs, or perhaps Scottie Barnes — more on him next), and then they’d also get, say, Toronto’s 2022 first pick and a pick swap in 2023. To a certain extent, that’s a steal for Cleveland, even if, as seems likely, the Raptors are not selecting in the lottery over the next few years.
Still, a player like Mobley could be someone special. What’s more, in this specific case, he could exceed the bounds of what Cleveland’s current starting young centre (Jarrett Allen) can do today and in the future. Further working against the Raptors is something else: the Cavaliers need to start winning games. Extra first round picks are nice — especially if Cleveland gets smart about acquiring and then trading them for better or more established players — but the franchise is running out of runway. In that spirit, they may just want the best, most NBA-ready, player available now and the chance to really double-down on developing into a competitive squad right away.
All of which is to say: do not bet on the Raptors trading up to the number three spot.
Is Toronto looking to select Scottie Barnes at no. 4?
Patient Zero on this idea was NBA Draft savant Sam Vecenie, whom I really have no reason to doubt. In his latest draft column, he made clear that the Raptors are still — and should — favour Jalen Suggs in the four-spot. But he also opened the door on Scottie Barnes, who has been floating around slots five and six for some time.
As it happens, our guy JD Quirante reflected on what Barnes could like in Toronto. The thinking here? Barnes could be a defensive monster and has shown ability as a play-maker, which would be huge for the Raptors on the wing. The downsides on him right now are his apparent offensive limitations — JD compared him to Ben Simmons (which, in truth, would be a not bad outcome) and Michael Carter-Williams (which would be a disaster).
Here’s what I think: the Raptors are being smart and doing their due diligence on basically all of their lottery pick options. Remember, prior to the actual lottery, they were operating under the assumption they’d be picking in the range of sixth to ninth, which makes interviewing and working out Barnes just part of the commonplace evaluating of potential first round selections. To be clear: it’s not impossible to see the Raptors select Barnes. Maybe they really do like his character, IQ, and upside. Maybe they know or see something we, as laypeople, just do not know or see. But also, let’s not overthink this: Suggs is the consensus pick in this spot and the Raptors are unlikely to gamble.
Are we about to see a reunion of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan in Los Angeles?
Thanks to the Los Angeles Times and Broderick Turner, the NBA blog aggregation machine sprung to life over the past week, linking every top free agent in the league to — wouldn’t you know it — the Lakers. A story like this is easy to write, and it is just as easy to dismiss as a non-story. The key here is understanding the dynamics at play, both from the team in question and the players mentioned in the story, including Kyle Lowry and our old friend DeMar DeRozan.
First, yes, of course, the Los Angeles Lakers are interested in signing all of the top free agents of 2021 — every team wants to do that! Now, you could argue the Lakers may have an easier time attracting said free agents, what with the presence of LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and that beautiful weather we keep hearing about. But this is not really news, per se. They’ll have to figure out their salary cap and roster balance just like every other team and then work out what they can afford to pay to whom.
On that note, I could definitely see DeRozan making a grand return to his hometown to make a title run with LeBron. Does he help the two key areas (shooting and defense) the Lakers need to win it all? No, not really, but they do so love their star power in Los Angeles, the big names all lined up there on the bench. The idea that DeRozan is interested in going to LA is reportedly coming from “people not authorized to speak publicly on the matter,” so, yeah, I wouldn’t invest too much into the idea just yet. Ultimately, like Lowry, it may come down to what kind of pay-cut DeRozan would be willing to take from his previous year’s salary of $27 million.
Meanwhile, the case for Lowry is different. He could very much help Los Angeles win it all — and the argument can still be made that they should have traded for him at last season’s deadline to avoid their embarrassing first round defeat. There also has to be some bonus appeal for Lowry if DeRozan does end up on the Lakers. In that scenario, he can enjoy a low-gear season, hang out with his best pal, and then power up for some sort of playoff and title push. The only question really is whether the Lakers can make all the salaries fit.
Oh, and we have to decide how real the “interest” is from Lowry. Just like every team is interested in acquiring the best players, every player is interested in getting paid well in a comfortable and/or competitive situation. The Raptors are a comfortable and relatively competitive situation for Lowry and they can pay him well too. That’s not to say Toronto has the inside track, it just suggests he could be just as interested in returning as he is in leaving. Unfortunately, it really is as vague as all that.
Then again, like I said off the top, this is the season of intrigue.