Very rarely in franchise history have the Toronto Raptors had this many eyes on them at the NBA Trade Deadline. They’ve been sellers before — Vince Carter’s famous escape to New Jersey sticks out in my memory — but it’s never been a flurry like this, with so many of Toronto’s key rotational pieces in rumours across the league.
Three players have been seriously bandied about: Fred VanVleet and Gary Trent Jr., both on expiring deals who could walk for nothing in the off-season, and OG Anunoby — an elite two-way wing who would fit seamlessly on any NBA team with championship aspirations. All three players are on trade-friendly contracts. To recap:
Fred VanVleet – $21.3 million with a player option in 2023-24 (expected to decline)
Gary Trent Jr. – $17.5 million with a player option in 2023-24 (expected to decline)
OG Anunoby – $17.3 million this season, $18.6 million in 2023-24 and a player option in 2024-25
So, the question on the tip of everyone’s tongue: what will the Raptors actually do at the deadline?
Let’s get one thing out of the way first: it’s very unlikely the Raptors take offers on Pascal Siakam. Siakam may not be on the same timeline as a Scottie Barnes-led team, but is ultimately an All-NBA calibre bridge to that team — one that keeps the team competitive if they were to sell on the aforementioned pieces.
Reporters in the know around the team have not even hinted at serious discussions to move Siakam and his $35+ million contract. While some O’writers would love that blow it up move, it’s not happening in my eyes.
So, let’s focus in on the other three — looking at the Raptors’ motivations, the rumours flying today, and what keen-eyed gamblers can get in on the action with DraftKings.
Reset, not rebuild
We know Masai Ujiri and Bobby Webster expect better than what the Raptors are showing this season.
At 23-29 and 1.5 games back of even the play in tournament, Toronto has taken a big step back from 2021-22.
The main reason has been on defense — highlighted excellently in this SB Nation piece — but they’ve also spent large, critical portions of the season struggling to shoot. Much of the rotation is intact from their exciting push up the standings to end last season, but health has been a factor and fatigue has set in because of it. Siakam had to carry a huge burden for the Raptors before the new year, and it’s starting to catch up with his stats.
Pascal Siakam until December 31st (26 games):— Keerthika Uthayakumar (@keerthikau) January 31, 2023
37.0 MIN, 26.5 PTS, 8.3 REB, 6.7 AST, 2.4 TO, 57.9 TS%
Pascal Siakam in January (16 games):
38.8 MIN, 22.4 PTS, 7.4 REB, 5.6 AST, 2.9 TO, 53.6 TS%
VanVleet is playing well now, but hasn’t lined up his great play with others on the team. Barnes has been thrilling, but as inconsistent as you’d expect from a second-year player. Anunoby is out with injury again.
We can take two truths from this. First, the Raptors are not a bad team when they’re whole, but that’s almost never the case. Second, their rotation and style of play isn’t sustainable over a full season, and the cracks are showing. External factors have played in, but even when Toronto has everyone available, they just aren’t able to keep that defensive intensity alive for long stretches like we’ve grown accustomed to.
With this in mind, if the Raptors are going to sell at the trade deadline, it would be to reset — not to rebuild. Building a younger core around Scottie Barnes and Precious Achiuwa, with Siakam as the bridge, seems to be the best route. That, and hopefully lose enough games to get them into the lottery for another young piece at the draft.
Here’s what they can do to get there.
The expiring deals
The “easiest” move to make is to send the expiring contracts of VanVleet or Trent Jr. to a team either looking for a rental or will enthusiastically pay their expected off-season raises.
Let’s start with Fred.
This one is more complicated. VanVleet has been excellent since the start of 2023, scoring 25 or more in five of the last eight games and shooting 50% or better in four of those outings. The Raptors may want to expedite Scottie Barnes’ development at point guard by trading Fred, but there’d be a steep dropoff in three-point threat to do so. Maybe, if you’re on team tank, that’s a good thing.
VanVleet has been linked most recently to the Los Angeles Clippers, per ESPN. Regular injuries to John Wall have made the point guard position one of inconsistency for the surging Clippers, who are up to No. 4 in the west. Kawhi Leonard has been rumoured to welcome a reunion with either VanVleet or another 2019 NBA Champion teammate in Kyle Lowry to fill that gap.
“Kawhi Leonard has made it clear to the Clippers front office that he would welcome a point guard addition, and it’s no surprise that two of his former teammates on his championship Raptors team, Lowry and VanVleet, are on their short list of targets.”— NBACentral (@TheNBACentral) January 29, 2023
- @HPbasketball pic.twitter.com/0WOxelx1AK
Trent Jr., meanwhile, seemed like the most likely trade deadline piece to be shipped off when the Raptors started the season. After all this terrible shooting, though, Trent Jr. has proved to be a valuable piece — often rescuing the Raps from otherwise unwatchable games with his ability to shoot and break down defenses off the dribble.
There’s been some buzz about the Los Angeles Lakers being interested in Trent, according to Jake Fischer of Yahoo Sports, with one of their two tradeable first round picks out on the table.
For my money, though, I think the Raptors keep Trent Jr. rather than sell for a single pick. With guys like Tyler Herro as an example, he will command a huge payday in the off-season, but at 24 years old, there’s still lots of room for the guard to grow — and Vision 6’9” has proved to have too many offensive cracks to totally sell on the Raptors’ shooters.
The big move potential
That brings us to the big move: trading OG Anunoby. If the Raptors are going to bring in a haul of picks and players akin to the Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell deals of the off-season, it would be for OG.
We obviously know why. The league is built around wings with size who can defend at a high level and shoot. Anunoby can do both, and was a DPOY candidate before the Raptors’ season started to slip.
While Anunoby hilariously dismissed being unhappy in Toronto to Sportsnet’s Michael Grange, rumours are hottest for his name today. One of two major insiders — the Athletic’s Shams Charania reported Tuesday morning that the Raptors are starting to listen to trade calls for OG, with the Knicks and Suns being the most interested. The Grizzlies and Blazers have also been talked about as possible destinations for Anunoby.
The Raptors have officially started listening to trade calls on OG Anunoby with the Knicks and Suns being the most interested, per @ShamsCharania.— Unbiased NBA Fan (@nonbiasednbafan) January 31, 2023
Could that team win the West? pic.twitter.com/lKEOzNUWkr
The Suns have been referred to as “sneaky buyers” at the deadline, and where there’s smoke for them, there may be fire. We’ll see what happens over the next week, but expect a lot of OG chatter, whether legitimate or not.
Always tuned in, Vegas is reflecting this changing trade landscape for the Raptors.
As of Tuesday night, DraftKings trade deadline odds show OG Anunoby is the second-most likely player in the NBA to be traded — behind only very-annoyed Jae Crowder — at -500. Gary Trent Jr. is in a group of players at -200 and Fred VanVleet is in the top ten at -150. (Odds-makers are as pessimistic as I am on a Siakam deal, though he’s on the board at +300 if you’re a masochist taking flyers.)
Vegas is showing what we all know: besides the Crowder deal we all know is coming, the league is waiting on the Raptors to make the first move before trades start to roll out. There’s only nine days left before rumours turn into reality. Start breathing heavy into those paper bags, folks. We’re in for a wild ride.
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