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Raptors Draft Watch: Temperature Check

With just a few days away from the draft, the fanbase is getting antsy, and the blood pressure is rising on who the Raptors should select and if the front office should make some draft-day deals.

NBA: Toronto Raptors-Press Conference Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Draft night is fast approaching, and Masai Ujiri and the Toronto Raptors are at the centre of several trade rumours. Again. The front office has several decisions to make, not just for the draft but perhaps for the immediate future of the team as well. Could we see a trade or two go down? Who knows? The Raptors, as usual, are keeping things to their vest. Heck, they don’t even announce who they have worked out with anymore.

What’s Hot?

Siakam and Anunoby Trade Rumours

The Raptors’ front office pretty much used the trade deadline to gauge the trade values of their players, including OG Anunoby. Getting overtures about Pascal Siakam should not be a surprise, either. Given some of the teams holding high lottery picks and a bunch of teams licking their wounds off a disappointing post-season run, Raptors President Masai Ujiri and GM Bobby Webster find themselves at the epicentre of several trade talks heading into draft night.

The Charlotte Hornets and the Portland Trail Blazers hold the 2nd and 3rd picks consecutively, and both teams might not be too interested in waiting for kids to develop. The Blazers are holding on to the closing window of Dame Lillard, while the Hornets might be looking to surround LaMelo Ball with better players. The Raptors have also talked to Houston about their 4th pick.

Some of the rumours floating around: Siakam’s being targeted by the Atlanta Hawks, while Portland Trail Blazers have been frustrated talking to the Raptors about Siakam and Anunoby. That frustration’s probably been going on since last year, as the Raptors won’t give up Siakam or Anunoby for a bargain when the Blazers need to make this trade wayyyy more than the Raptors do. Anunoby and Indiana Pacers have been linked for ages now, while the Sacramento Kings and the Memphis Grizzlies are also in the picture.

Anunoby’s not worth a top-four pick, but he should net a decent return. Siakam, on the other hand, to paraphrase our buddy Kenyon from Basketball Rewind: When you give up an All-NBA/All-Star type of talent, you would want multiple stabs at getting a future replacement player. Ideally, young players and multiple high draft picks, as the chances of any of the haul matching what you are giving up matching, or exceeding what you have given up is very slim.

Historically, this front office hasn’t cashed out on any of their core players, and a retool is much more convenient for this ownership’s wallet than going on a full rebuild. Cashing out on Anunoby would be understandable and will keep the Raptors in a position to retool. Whereas trading Siakam can have a lot of personnel implications, as that move puts them closer to a rebuild than a retool. A rebuild is unlikely any time soon, especially when Ujiri’s been on the “there’s parity in the league” belief for a few years now.

A Siakam trade essentially throws this team’s compete window away. It wouldn’t make sense to get Jakob Poeltl and retain Anunoby, Gary Trent Jr., and Fred VanVleet past the trade deadline only to potentially lose out on the future assets that they could have gotten if a rebuild is something this franchise considers as an immediate plan B. So a Siakam for a big haul makes sense, as the receiving team needs him more than we need whatever quarters they are giving back, and they also have to pay the team the “rebuild tax.”

Bradley Beal Trade

Welp. There you go; the Toronto Raptors got absolved for making the worst trade in NBA history. The new Washington Wizards front office had to go “hold my beer” and gave away Bradley Beal in exchange for cap space and a bunch of second-round picks in the two-way contract range. Some ripple effect that could be felt as early as draft night is that the Wizards don’t have to worry about the “floor” of their draft pick. I won’t be surprised if they take a swing for someone like Bilal Coulibaly at the 8th spot.

There’s also the potential effect on VanVleet and Anunoby market. The Los Angeles Clippers are rumoured to be interested in bringing back Chris Paul. If that happens, two possible VanVleet destinations are crossed off the list. Another team attached to the Chris Paul rumour is the Golden State Warriors, and giving up young assets in exchange for Paul might take the Warriors out of the Anunoby sweepstakes.

13th Pick Selection

The Raptors need backcourt help regardless of VanVleet and Trent Jr.’s situation. Fortunately, one of Cason Wallace, Kobe Bufkin, and Keyonte George should be available when they are on the clock. Bufkin is gaining momentum among several mock drafts. Unfortunately, one thing is consistent with this front office: their ability to “zig” just when they are expected to “zag.”

Last year, Bryce McGowens was the most popular mocked pick for the Raptors until two days before the draft, Christian Koloko became the frontrunner on several major mock sites. Sadly, the Raptors no longer announce their workout list, so it’s a painful guessing game until draft night.

What’s Not?

Gary Trent Jr.’s Contract Situation

Gary Trent Jr. has yet to opt-in/out as of this writing. We’re mere hours away from his deadline, and there’s very little chatter of teams having an interest in him. In comparison, VanVleet opted out much earlier than his deadline. It’s a tricky situation, as his camp has to make sure that he’s got some options on the market, and there are only so many teams with cap space this coming free agency. A sign-and-trade could be available, but that’s if the receiving team sees him as someone worth giving up an asset for. Opting in poses some risks as well. Next summer, more and better players will also be hitting the market.

Trent Jr.’s decision should not prevent the Raptors from potentially grabbing a guard like Kobe Bufkin, Jordan Hawkins, Cason Wallace, or Keyonte George. That’s Darko Rajakovic’s problem on how to make it work.

Lottery Pick Value

Full disclosure — I like Scoot Henderson and Brandon Miller. However, after the top three, the consensus next six picks are a bit underwhelming relative to their draft position. For example, I’m a bit iffy with the idea of trading Siakam for either 2nd or 3rd picks, even in a vacuum. I’m even having difficulty assessing, “Who’s the worst ‘top player’ worth the 2nd pick?” It isn’t easy to assess this draft’s value at the top outside of Victor Wembanyama, as many have questions about their game.

There aren’t any prospects considered as generational talent outside of Victor, and from there, what are Miller and Henderson at? All-NBA or All-Star? And does that require them to have a “Fred VanVleet hitting all the best case scenario boxes”-type to reach their max? The same can be said for the rest, like the Thompson twins, Cam Whitmore, Jarace Walker, and Anthony Black. Are any of those prospects projected to be borderline all-stars if they reach 70% of their potential?

It feels like the value is in the middle of the lottery onward, where there are many good players whose floor is a good bench player while not requiring much development (and developmental time) to be a good starter. With the new CBA coming up, it might be worth loading up on such players than taking in several long-term projects, and the Raptors should look into securing another pick.

Draft Pick Surplus

Several teams on this draft hold way more picks than they probably would want, so they can either consolidate or punt those picks for future selections. With the Raptors surrendering their first-round pick next year via the Jakob Poeltl trade, they should look into getting a second pick, whether in the first or early second round. As mentioned above, should the Raptors choose to trade either Anunoby or Siakam, that should net them another first-round pick, at the very least. Just don’t tell the Washington Wizards that this is possible.

However, acquiring a second pick is also possible without involving those two guys. If Gary Trent Jr. opts in, his contract and skill set can fetch the Raptors something. Chris Boucher, Thaddeus Young, and Precious Achiuwa should have some value ranging from the late 1st to mid-2nd round. Perhaps Malachi Flynn can fetch you a mid-to-late second-rounder. The question here is, would Masai and Bobby pull the trigger?