After years of fans clamoring for it, Masai Ujiri has heard the deadline pleas from fans and has acted. The Raptors made a win now move in February and accelerated their timeline for winning. The goal is now.
Patience, and years of evaluating what the Raptors are/have came to completion in a way the moment Masai traded Terrence Ross and their worst 2017 First Round pick (either their’s or the Clippers’ pick) for Serge Ibaka.
While the expectation is that Ibaka should help right the currently sinking ship that is the Toronto Raptors, we can’t know for certain until we begin to see the on court results. At least on paper he solves many issues. For years the Raptors have been best when Patrick Patterson shares the court with Kyle Lowry, and Ibaka should functionally be a supped up version of Pat-Pat in what the Raptors do.
He also should be able to share the court with Patterson, providing the Raptors with two defensive bigs, who can switch easily and can both hit open shots.
He can block shots, he can guard on the perimeter, he can stretch the floor (hitting 38.8 percent on the season), and he stylistically suits what the Raptors want to do. He should be a natural fit, with the goal to still challenge Cleveland in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Right now the Raptors are far from the Eastern Conference Finals, but that’s the goal at least. To be in position to go a step further than last season.
But I’m not here to write about how getting Ibaka should help the Raptors both now and in the future (goal is to resign him in the summer). I’m here to discuss the beauty of the trade itself if things go as bad as they possibly could.
My big fear when it came to making a win now acquisition is that there is a hint of desperation in it. Desperation can be motivating and helpful, and it can also cause you to do something incredibly stupid. We see it again and again in the NBA. A team thinks they are one or two pieces away, and they make a big move (or a series of moves) to mortgage a little (or a lot) of future for the glory of now.
And then they don’t win, but the mortgage still needs to get paid years down the line.
Coming off of a 54 win season the New York Knicks gave up a piece of their future for Andrea Bargnani. This was just plain stupid, but I’m guessing that they were desperate for a certain type of player and Masai took advantage.
The Los Angeles Lakers were desperate to win while Kobe still had a some years left on his body, and they are still paying for the Dwight Howard and Steve Nash deals (Philadelphia owns their 2017 First, top 3 protected, which was originally sent to Phoenix in the Nash deal).
A new owner who was desperate for immediate contention with the Brooklyn Nets sent their entire future to the Boston Celtics for Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce.
Desperation can lead to stupidity, and that was my fear. The Ibaka trade showed careful planning on the part of Ujiri. Outside of the clear benefits that Ibaka should provide on the court, the trade also prepares Toronto well for the future even if he is simply a rental option.
By keeping the better of their two 2017 First Round picks the Raptors will still have an opportunity to add another young player to their growing youthful bench mob. With cheap youth at the end of the bench, Ujiri is creating a succession plan as the team salary grows.
Cheap contributors like Norman Powell, Delon Wright, and Jakob Poeltl (all of which played key roles in last night’s come from behind victory against Charlotte. Seriously. Delon and Jakob were amazing.), the Raptors may have a shot to resign their three key free agents in Lowry, Ibaka, and Patterson.
Not only that, but Masai also maintained all their own picks moving forward. He didn’t bet the future of the team on a slightly improved chance of winning immediately. If a doomsday scenario sees Toronto lose two of Lowry, Ibaka, and Patterson (or, heaven forbid, all three of them), the Raptors are not at risk of losing a high end pick in the near future.
Between free agency, aging players, ebbs and flows in a team’s in-season success, and the possibility of a devastating injury hitting a team, trading future draft picks (even protected picks) can be a painful experience.
In one move, Masai Ujiri not only improved the Raptors’ chances of winning this season (at least in theory), but he also continues to safeguard them if the worst were to happen.
The Raptors now have the most talented team in franchise history, are deep with young talent, and maintain control of their future if the bottom falls out. What a sweet combination to have.
I should know by now to simply trust in Masai.