clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile
Oklahoma City Thunder v Toronto Raptors

The Rap-Up: Can the Raptors focus amidst trade rumours?

Toronto plays its first game against Fred VanVleet while an MVP candidate awaits.

Photo by Mark Blinch/Getty Images

A friend of mine shared the unfortunate news that he had just been laid off. It’s a sad reality that many people face as the companies they work(ed) for navigate a competitive landscape.

I’ve been laid off four times in my career. The working environment in those companies was toxic. Back-stabbing and office politics would start to affect daily productivity. Sales and stock prices would start to drop while whispers of cutbacks would grow louder.

For some people, getting laid off is a relief. It’s a chance to start anew, free from the shackles of a workplace that did not recognize your value. For other people, layoff rumours light a proverbial fire. As if to prove that they should not be on the chopping block, these individuals see their productivity soar as they try and “survive the next wave.”

With every Toronto Raptor creeping into trade rumours (except for Scottie Barnes, RJ Barrett, Immanuel Quickley, and Gradey Dick), the question is, which bucket will each of the other Raptors fall?

Can Garrett Temple, Thaddeus Young, and Dennis Schroder show interested teams that they can still contribute and, hopefully, raise the Larry OB for the first time? Toronto’s newest addition, Bruce Brown, offers the Raptors front office something they haven’t had in a couple of years: trade leverage. How will Masai use his latest, greatest trade chip? What about Gary Trent Jr.? His bet on himself has mostly failed. Could a new home provide the boost he needs while also salvaging an asset or two for the Raptors’ last remaining (big) expiring contract?

To help answer these questions, I turned to my shiny new toy — Spotrac’s new Trade Machine — to create some fake trades with this week’s Raptors opponents.

January 30 @ Chicago Bulls

The Bulls are very thin up front. How thin? Patrick Williams has spent 93% of his court time as a Power Forward. DeMar DeRozan has used 34% of his court time as a Power Forward. They are 6’7 and 6’6 respectively.

Inversely, Chicago has a plethora of guards at their disposal. So many, in fact, that serviceable guards are fighting for some run.

Hopefully, this trade can solve both problems.

Toronto gets: Patrick Williams and Jevon Carter

Chicago gets: Chris Boucher and Jalen McDaniels

The Raptors get 30+ games to see if Williams, who has been up-and-down throughout his early career, can be added to the Scottie timeline. He’s an unrestricted free agent this summer. Carter is an excellent defender who goes from being buried behind Coby White, Alex Caruso, Ayo Dosunmu, and, eventually (maybe), Lonzo Ball, to serving as Quickley’s backup.

For the Bulls, they clear a logjam in their backcourt by trading Carter, while getting something in return before Williams tests unrestricted free agency. Boucher will slot in nicely, not only as their 3rd-tallest player but as a solid rim-running, space-flooring, shot-blocking menace. Chicago also gets this season and next of some much-needed forward depth from McDaniels.

Fun fact that may only interest me

If the Raptors can pry Carter away from the Bulls, he’d be the latest player from the 2018 Draft Second Round to play for Toronto. Below are some notable Raptors drafted after the first round:

  • #32 Memphis — Jevon Carter
  • #37 Sacramento — Gary Trent Jr.
  • #39 Philadelphia — Isaac Bonga
  • #40 Brooklyn — Rodions Kurucs (played on the 2022 Raptors Summer League team)
  • #42 Detroit — Bruce Brown
  • #47 L.A. Lakers — Svi Mykhailiuk
  • #50 Indiana — Alize Johnson

Bonus fact: Carter was also drafted before a pair of Knicks (Jalen Brunson went #33 to Dallas. Mitchell Robinson went #36 to New York)

Prediction

So far in 2024, Chicago is 6-0 against lottery-bound teams (Charlotte x 2, San Antonio, Toronto, Memphis, Portland) and 1-6 against playoff-bound teams (Philadelphia, New York, Golden State, Cleveland, Phoenix, L.A. Lakers), with the lone win coming at home over a Rockets team missing Dillon Brooks and Tari Eason.

The Raptors’ current 5-game losing streak — the longest of the season — started with a home loss to the Bulls. Toronto has lost 9 of its last 10 games.

Jakob Poeltl is listed as questionable and might make his return from an ankle injury. Chicago will be without Zach Lavine (who is still recovering from the ankle injury he sustained in Toronto on January 18th), Patrick Williams, and Torrey Craig.

However, the Raptors will be without RJ Barrett and, likely, Immanuel Quickley (listed as doubtful) too. This will, at times, look like a matchup between teams that have no business playing any basketball past mid-April. However, Coby White will have his way with GTJ and Schroder, while DeMar DeRozan enjoys an Anunoby-free defense. Chicago wins 123-120 over Toronto.

February 2 @ Houston Rockets

Houston’s guard depth behind nominal starters, Fred VanVleet and Jalen Green, is not much to look at. Aaron Holiday, Amen Thompson, and Reggie Bullock are not exactly instilling fear in Houston’s opponents. In line with their need for a stronger backcourt, the Rockets are in desperate need of shooting.

Let’s see what the Trade Machine cooks up.

Toronto gets Jalen Green and Jae’Sean Tate

Houston gets Gary Trent Jr. and Gradey Dick

Whew! I know! Please let me explain.

The situation in Houston is quite unique. They entered the 2021 draft with a need to select a player who could inject life into a team that finished with the worst record the previous season. Evan Mobley was available but the team opted for the bucket-making phenom from the G League Ignite, Jalen Green. The scoring has translated, somewhat, to the NBA, although the shooting percentages have left much to be desired. It’s no coincidence that with the offense shifting from Green to Alperen Sengun, the Rockets have been a more successful team. This has left Rockets fans pondering what Green’s trade value would look like.

Enter Masai Ujiri.

I know I said Gradey was off-limits, but the possibility of getting a scoring talent like Green is simply too enticing. The addition of GTJ gives Houston the outside shooting they sorely need. Distributing the usage more towards Sengun and VanVleet should provide efficiency gains on the offensive end, while GTJ’s and Dick’s defensive activity shouldn’t take away anything from Houston’s 6th-ranked defense.

This trade actually works financially without adding Gradey but there’s no way Houston considers this without a young prospect coming back. (They probably hang up the phone at the full proposal too)

Fun fact that may only interest me

Last summer, the Rockets signed 16-year veteran, Jeff Green, to a 2-year contract. Up to that point, Green’s career earnings totaled $84,794,563.

Last summer, the Rockets signed 8-year veteran, Fred VanVleet to a 3-year contract. Over the first two seasons of this contract, VanVleet will earn $83,652,915.

Prediction

When VanVleet suits up against Toronto for the first time, it will look almost nothing like the team he left last season. Out of the 17 players on the roster for VanVleet’s final game as a Raptor, only 6 are still with Toronto. Despite the turnover, the Raptors may have a chance at NBA history in this game.

Assuming they take care of business in Chicago, Toronto can set an NBA record by getting at least 25 assists for their 31st consecutive game. It’s been a long season with few signs of hope, but at least Toronto can etch their names in the record book with this impressive feat!

If you haven’t made the shift yet as a Raptors fan, you need to alter how you digest these games. This season (and next) is not about wins and losses, it’s about how the players develop and how the team’s chemistry builds — both on the court and with the roster construction. For this game, the key matchup is how Scottie Barnes handles the menacing defense of Dillon Brooks.

Houston’s 17-8 home record isn’t a fluke. The Rockets beat the visiting Raptors 123-108.

February 4 @ Oklahoma City Thunder

Full transparency: this is one of my most anticipated games on the Raptors schedule!

The Thunder are such a treat to follow. They have one of the youngest rosters in the league and one of the lowest payrolls, yet they’ve consistently been near the top of the Western Conference. Oklahoma City is busting out of the seams with potential award winners: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (MVP), Chet Holmgren (ROY), Jalen Williams (MIP), and Mark Daigneault (COY). Sam Presti still has ALL THE DRAFT PICKS. Plus, the vibes are immaculate.

The Thunder are also every team’s favourite (fake) trade partner......myself included. Oklahoma City’s roster is like the dining menu on a cruise ship: you don’t want just one, you want EVERYTHING!

Toronto gets Davis Bertans and Cason Wallace

Oklahoma City gets Bruce Brown

The Raptors cash in its biggest trade chip for IQ’s backcourt running mate of the future. The Thunder cash in its largest tradeable salary for someone with (recent) championship experience who can slot perfectly next to the SGA-Jalen-Chet core. Bumping Josh Giddey out of the starting lineup also stabilizes OKC’s bench unit.

Fun fact that may only interest me

There are so many SGA stats to drool over. Let’s go with this one.

Gilgeous-Alexander has more total points and total steals than anyone in the league. He’s currently averaging 31.3 points and 2.2 steals, to go with a sparkling .301 Win Shares per 48. Only Michael Jordan (x 3) and Steph Curry have ever averaged at least 30 points, 2 steals, and 0.3 WS/48.

The present and future of Canadian basketball is just as drool-worthy as the Oklahoma City Thunder because of Shai!

Prediction

I’m way over my word count and way past my submission deadline to break this down any further than it needs. These are a pair of teams headed in opposite directions in the standings but in similar directions in player development. OKC is clearly further along on the development curve, but at least now the direction has been laid out.

Yes, I realize the Thunder lost to the Pistons last week, but that was in Detroit. Oklahoma City is 17-6 at home and the Raptors have no answer for guarding SGA (who does), nor will they have a lot of success scoring at the rim with Chet roaming the paint. The Thunder defeat the Raptors 125-110.

********

Last Week: 0-3

Season Record: 29-17

Raptors Analysis

Toronto Raptors vs Golden State Warriors Final: 120-105 — Toronto flails after losing Barnes

Raptors Game Previews

Preview: Toronto Raptors vs. Golden State Warriors — Start Time, Lineups, and More

Raptors Analysis

Toronto Raptors vs Dallas Mavericks Final: 136-125 — Luka puts the Raptors to bed