Tomorrow night’s NBA Draft represents one of, if not the, highest-stakes moment in Toronto basketball since Game 6 of the NBA title. Yes, it could be that important to the future of the franchise.
The Raptors will be picking at number four in the 2021 NBA Draft, with the consensus saying that no matter what happens in picks 1-3, a player with multiple All-Star potential will end up wearing Raptors’ purple (Barney forever!).
Of course, that’s not all that is going to happen this off-season. GROAT Kyle Lowry’s fate with the franchise is to be decided. There are rumours Toronto might be willing to trade a supposed-to-be franchise corner-stone in Pascal Siakam. And, there have been a million articles floated across the inter-webs discussing trade-up and down scenarios for Toronto with that no. 4 pick.
Let’s join the fun with a look at what might go down in the next week and how it could reverberate until 2030 for the Raptors.
The Status Quo
Raptors select Jalen Suggs at no. 4
Raptors re-sign Kyle Lowry for two years and $55 million
This is what most people expect the Raps to do with the pick, and it’s a pretty damn good place to be. Suggs has been analyzed to death, so I’ll keep it short, except to say that the Gonzaga point guard seems to have a clear path to a long and productive NBA career. As a big guard who can pass, score, and defend, and who could very well become a plus shooter, Suggs could be a multi-time All-Star.
In this scenario, the Raps and Kyle Lowry decide to keep it together, and the Raps address their big-man issues through a re-signing of Khem Birch and some other “over the cap” team maneuverings that net buy low names (Otto Porter?) or haven’t popped yet (Harry Giles?) type players.
Toronto starts Birch-Siakam-OG Anunoby-Fred VanVleet-Lowry and counts on a bench featuring Suggs-Gary Trent Jr.-Chris Boucher-Yuta Watanabe, combined with, you know, actual home games in the belief that that will be enough for the Raptors to storm to a top Eastern Conference seed and a deep playoff run.
The Look to the Future
Raptors select Jalen Suggs at no. 4
Raptors sign-and-trade Kyle Lowry to Miami for Precious Achiuwa, KZ Okpala and Andre Iguodala (Raps waive or buy-out Iguodala)
In this scenario, the Raps decide that the young(ish) core they have is close enough to competitiveness that they can afford to move Lowry. Achiuwa is the big get here — at his very best he could become a Bam Adebayo clone. Even his medium cases suggest a very good modern defensive NBA centre with enough hops to threaten defenses in the pick-and-roll, and who passes well enough from the elbows that he can contribute in the half-court.
The Raps would roll with Achiuwa-Siakam-Anunoby-VanVleet-Suggs as their ideal crunch time quintet — a group that would be a defensive monster, and, if Siakam and Suggs are both league average shooters from deep, would be able to leverage the group’s play-making to be a handful on the other end as well.
And that’s just in the first season...
Moving On Up
Raptors trade the no. 4 pick and a top-8 protected 2022 1st round pick, for the no. 3 pick and select Evan Mobley
Raptors re-sign Kyle Lowry for two years and $55 million
The Raps pay real value to move up and get the player many consider the perfect fit for them. Like Suggs, Mobley has been picked over a lot — but the comp I like best for him is “brawnier Chris Bosh”. That sort of multi-faceted offensive and defensive piece would be a huge get for the Raps and worth the extra first-round pick.
I debated about whether the Raps would need to add a 2024 pick swap if that deal feels light — given Toronto should be picking deep in the 20s if everything works out — then feel free to add that in.
A Mobley-Siakam-Anunoby-VanVleet-Lowry lineup could be a real bear by the post-season, and with Khem Birch, Trent Jr (both re-signed), Boucher, and Malachi Flynn on the bench the Raps would be stocked with players who would be tough to play off the court in the post-season.
However, Mobley might need a few years of seasoning. If so…
Moving On Up Part II
Raptors trade the no. 4 pick and a top-8 protected 2022 1st round pick for no. 3 and select Evan Mobley
Raptors sign-and-trade Kyle Lowry to the Philadelphia 76ers for Tyrese Maxey, George Hill, Mike Scott (Raps waive, buy-out, or trade Hill)
In this world, the Raps determine that by the time Mobley is fully operational, Lowry will no longer be a top-3 player on a title team and decide to skew younger. In this deal, the Sixers sign Scott to a deal that lets the salaries match, and the Raps take him to get the asset they really like in Maxey.
That gives the Raps another creator in Maxey, while keeping flexibility for chasing after a future star. In this scenario, Toronto is looking at a Mobley-Siakam-Anunoby-VanVleet-Trent closing five — which is one of the weaker groups we’ve discussed, but if Maxey or Flynn pop, by the time Mobley is ready to be a playoff game-changer the Raps might have their two-headed back-court monster back in full swing.
A move like this could also see the Raps explore the market for Chris Boucher, cashing in on him when his stock is highest, but if not, a hypothetical Birch-Boucher back-up front-court would be one of the better ones in the league.
Getting Very Spicy
Raptors trade nos. 4 and 46 with Yuta Watanabe to OKC for nos. 6, 16, and 18 picks
Raptors trade Pascal Siakam and no. 18 pick for James Wiseman, Andrew Wiggins, nos. 7 and 14 picks, plus a future (top 20 protected) 1st round pick.
Raptors select Jonathan Kuminga (6th), Josh Giddy (7th), Moses Moody (14th), Jalen Johnson (16th)
Kyle Lowry signs with the New Orleans Pelicans.
This is the “toss the grenade in the room and shut the door” version. The Raps have decided their current core isn’t enough to win, but, at the same time, believe that they have enough talent on board to get back to contention quickly if they take advantage of what is considered one of the deeper drafts in recent history.
(And yes, in real life the Raps probably don’t want to take four guys in the same draft — if only for contract issues when extensions come due, but it’s a fun scenario to imagine.)
I’ve been thinking about Kuminga more and more lately as a classic stealth Raps pick. He hasn’t been connected to Toronto much at all, he’s one of the youngest players in the Draft, and he’s a physical marvel with an advanced bag of offensive moves. Now, he couldn’t hit any of the shots he created in the G League, and he struggled with the speed of the game and the intricacies of NBA defensive assignments, but, again, he was 18.
Kuminga also has quite an intense backstory. A kid who left the Congo at 13 — hasn’t seen his parents in five years, had to learn English, and fought through a frustrating season where he was criticized for, basically, not being amazing against pro-level competition, yet still draws raves for his personality and work ethic.
That sort of personal maturity and perseverance feels very much a piece of what the Raptors believe players who maximize their gifts have. Say Kuminga goes back to the G League, and, a year older and stronger and knowing what to expect, absolutely destroys it? At 19, is he now the number one pick in the 2022 draft?
If this season was just a painful learning experience for Kuminga, then this is a talent to dream on. A kid who can get to his spots and drain his shots against almost anyone — and has been talked about as an all-defense type talent. Maybe Kuminga is the real Kawhi Leonard comp in the draft. It’s not impossible.
The Raps then grab Josh Giddy — the jumbo-sized (6’8!) Aussie point-guard who has one of the best feels for play-making in the Draft, has reportedly improved his shot, and is smart enough to use his size to make up for his mediocre NBA athleticism on defense.
Moses Moody is a classic “play in the league for ten years because of shooting and defense” guy, who has the potential to become a solid second-tier shot creator. The sort of guy who can thrive in the playoffs because if you play off him to help he bangs in threes, but if you close out too aggressively he can get past you and get to the cup, or set up someone else when the defense collapses.
Finally, the Raps take a risk on a developmental pick in Jalen Johnson. Johnson has been compared to players like Aaron Gordon and Rudy Gay because he’s big, physical and has a solid handle and good passing abilities. He’s also been compared to Ben Simmons (in a bad way) because he hasn’t shown much of an ability to shoot. He’s also had some major red-flags for character, but the Raps love their tool-sy prospects, can afford to let Johnson develop in the G League. (We also assume the Raps are comfortable the personality issues are maturity based and not deeper issues — though that’s not clear at this time.)
In this wild world, the Raps are looking at a Wiseman-Boucher-Anunoby-Wiggins-VanVleet starting line-up. Yes, I’m pushing Wiggins to the two to let Boucher cook at the four where he’s best suited. Even in a “tear-down” year, this Raps roster has the potential to be a solid two-way force.
With a bench of Trent Jr., Flynn, Moody, Giddy, and eventually Kuminga and Johnson the Raps would be young, but very exciting. If anything, you worry that maybe this team is too good to get one more crack at a high-lottery pick to really maximize the core.
However, with Lowry off the books, Toronto would have some ways to significant cap-room going forward, especially if after a season or two of letting Wiggins’ contract run down, the Raps flip the still useful Canadian into additional assets.
The most likely scenario still seems like the Raps will keep it simple and grab Suggs, a Chauncy Billups-esque (on the court) type player who should quickly mature into the type of young veteran that Anunboy and VanVleet are, boosting the Raps team now and in the future.
Still, you’re forgiven if the potential of a seemingly unlimited combination of moves gets you dreaming of what could be. Heck, being a die-hard Raps fan, you probably have your own fantasies for the next week (and half of them involve both Scottie Barnes and Richaun Holmes).
Enjoy them. Share them. We’ve got one more sleep before some of them start coming true.