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A deep exploration of potential Raptors trade targets

The Toronto Raptors are 24-15 as they near the midway point of the season, good for second in the Eastern Conference. They rank in the top 10 on both ends of the floor, the only non-contender that can make that claim, and they rank eighth in net rating. And all of this, despite long-term absences for Jonas Valanciunas and DeMarre Carroll, starters who are crucial for what the team does on offense and defense, respectively. Things have mostly gone as well as one could hope, given the adversity.

Still, my semi-regular mailbags are usually flush with questions about potential trades, and we get plenty of tweets to the same effect. Back in mid-December, I spilled 4,000 words shooting down a lot of trade ideas, not to be a jerk, but to highlight how weird a spot the Raptors are in for making deals. I’d recommend going back and reading the first half of that piece as a refresher before we continue, as it might answer why some of your pet targets didn’t make this piece. The unrivalled Zach Lowe wrote about the Raptors for ESPN on Tuesday and seemed to be scratching his head as much as I have been about what deals this team could make to take the leap.

There aren’t many obvious ones, to be quite honest. The Raptors are built with a weird salary structure, a third of their roster is committed to players who have decreased trade value because of a lack of playing time and the Endowment Effect, and while they have a surplus of picks, I’m highly skeptical that general manager Masai Ujiri would use one on a rental player.

In any case, I promised I’d explore some trade targets, and the slow Raptors week afforded me the opportunity. In most cases, I tried to get in touch with someone who covers the team in question to get a feel for their take on a potential deal, or whether one is even realistic. I literally worked the phones for this column, which was a weird but fun experience. A lot of work went in to figure out what might be realistic frameworks, and given that fact, and the fact that this is already pushing 4,000 words, I couldn’t cover every potential target. I tried to focus on players that were asked about most frequently and teams who could theoretically be sellers, are known to have players on the market, or seem a natural fit, while I opted not to look at many of the more difficult win-win deals with other playoff teams.

Let’s get into potential deals, in no particular order.

Brooklyn Nets – Bojan Bogdanovic

The trade: James Johnson and the Raptors’ 2018 2nd-round pick for Bojan Bogdanovic

Why the Raptors do it: Bench scoring continues to be a bit of a concern with the uneven (but improved) play of Terrence Ross and Patrick Patterson. If one assumes Johnson won’t be utilized to the fullest once Carroll is healthy, returning to his 10th-man role, he becomes a trade chip because of his $2.5-million expiring contract. That itself is not a big asset, necessarily, but the Raptors have a strange salary structure, such that Johnson is the most fungible piece with which to land a smaller-salaried player. Bogdanovic provides some shooting (he’s at 34.3 percent for his career despite a cold start to the season), is a weapon off the ball, and is someone who can adequately, if unspectacularly, guard either wing spot. He also has one more affordable year on his contract at $3.6 million before restricted free agency.

Why the Raptors don’t do it: It’s a defensive downgrade and restricts small-lineup flexibility some by losing Johnson as a four, it costs a future asset (the pick), and Ujiri may not want additional salary on the books if something bigger is in the works for the offseason.

The Nets’ perspective: Devin Kharpertian, an excellent go-to at The Brooklyn Game, was unable to comment given the crazy week in Brooklyn, which is totally understandable. Like not having a Nets writer to get an answer from, Ujiri wouldn’t know who to contact in the GM-less Nets front office. My assumption is that even with a player they like, they’d welcome clearing even more 2016 salary, and while they’d prefer an earlier pick (the Raptors owe their 2016 second and seem unlikely to trade them in back-to-back seasons), they need any tangible future asset they can get their hands on. (Kharpertian says “probably more than one second,” however.)

Final thoughts: Your opinion on this one probably comes down to whether you think Bogdanovic is an actual shooting threat or not. I’d be totally fine if they made this deal, but I’m not sure it makes them much better this season. If the Nets would do something for a single second and one of the prospects, it gets more interesting, but the cap math gets really tricky without Johnson.

Denver Nuggets – Danilo Gallinari

The trade: Raptors get Danilo Gallinari and Randy Foye, Nuggets get Terrence Ross, James Johnson, Alec Burks, and the Knicks/Nuggets’ 2016 1st-round pick, Jazz get Cory Joseph, Gary Harris

Why the Raptors do it: Gallinari is a popular name that comes up, but it’s going to cost a ton to get him. The salaries work even with Ross’ poison pill provision, and though it sucks to lose two young assets with years of control and a very valuable pick, that’s the cost of getting a controllable second-tier star. Gallinari opens up three-wing sets because he can play some four, and he raises the team’s talent level significantly. There’s some roster balancing that needs doing afterward, but turning two bench pieces and a pick into a potential third All-Star might be worth the dice-roll.

Why the Raptors don’t do it: It’s a lot to give up and thins the team out some. It also commits more long-term money, meaning the Raptors are very much locked into the Kyle Lowry-DeMar DeRozan-Gallinari-Carroll-Jonas Valanciunas core.

The Nuggets’ perspective: Fellow pop-punk lover and Denver native Jordan White of Hardwood Paroxysm says that the Nuggets could be sellers despite their proximity to the playoffs but it’s a matter of “”will they get an offer that they think will improve their team?” More from White: “They know this isn’t a championship roster, but they also really like a lot of their pieces. I think they’d be open to a deal, so long as their “untouchables” aren’t involved and it doesn’t sacrifice their future flexibility. Not unless you came at them with a deal they loved. They’re incredibly high on Gallinari, and I don’t think the Raptors can offer any player that they feel is better than Gallo.”

When I pressed on Ross, cap filler, and the Knicks pick alone, White suggested I’d need a third team to make something work. He thought long and hard about the three-team. “Hmmm…that miiiiight get it done,” though (head coach Mike) “Malone would probably not like that deal” given the roster imbalance it creates.

The Jazz’ perspective: From Ben Dowsett: “That’s not enough for what they think of Burks. And doesn’t move them forward really.” That’s what I figured the answer would be, though I’m slightly less high on Burks than they seem to be (I see the potential and like that he can play some point, and that deal could end up being great in the new cap environment). He agreed the Gallinari price from the Raptors is in the ballpark, but the Jazz might not be a fit as a third team.

Final thoughts: I really tried, for the good number of you asking about Gallinari. I couldn’t find something that worked emphatically for all sides. But this might be close-ish, maybe some of you can build from this framework and find a different third team.

Boston Celtics – Evan Turner

The trade: James Johnson and the Raptors’ 2018 2nd-round pick (top-40 protected) for Evan Turner

Why the Raptors do it: Because he’s hilarious. Also, secondary ball-handling, scoring, and creation for others in the second unit.

Why the Raptors don’t do it: It’s giving up an asset for what might not even be an upgrade, as Turner’s teams have been worse with him on the floor pretty much always and he’s not the defender Johnson is.

The Celtics’ perspective: Michael Pina of, well, everywhere, says the Celtics aren’t “in a rush to get rid of ball-handlers at the moment,” but if Marcus Smart improves or the Celtics struggle further, “they’ll either bench Turner or ship him out for a bag of peanuts.”

Final thoughts: Honestly, William Lou put him out there as someone to explore, and I love The Villain, so I did. I don’t think this is a fit unless Pina literally means a bag of peanuts.

Houston Rockets – Trevor Ariza

The trade: Patrick Patterson, Delon Wright, and the Knicks/Nuggets’ 2016 1st-round pick for Trevor Ariza and Marcus Thornton

Why the Raptors do it: Ariza’s a quality multi-position defender who is leading the league in corner threes for a third season in a row. The Raptors were chasing Wes Matthews even after landing Carroll, and Ariza would be an interesting fit in a three-wing approach. He has two more affordable years left on his deal ($15.2M total) and has always seemed a “situation/motivation” guy, possibly explaining his downturn in performance this season.

Why the Raptors don’t do it: It’s a major risk, in terms of committing to playing heavy minutes small, surrendering two future assets for a 30-year-old, and assuming his play will come back up toward its 2013-14 levels. I’m not sure Ariza is the guy Ujiri surrenders so much flexibility for, either.

The Rockets’ perspective: Again, from Pina: “Given their struggles and just how disappointing they’ve been relative to preseason expectations, I think every player on the Rockets is up for grabs except James Harden. With regards to Trevor Ariza, it’s almost impossible to get anything back from the Raptors that’d upgrade what’s already in place…From there, the two things Houston would look for are cap relief and/or inexpensive youth. Bruno Caboclo, Delon Wright or the Knicks’ 2016 first-round pick are all assets Daryl Morey would reach for in a deal where he’s essentially giving up on this season…I doubt Houston is dying to reduce their shot at a title—as low as it currently might be—by surrendering a key cog like Ariza.”

In other words, probably not, but if things went further awry or Morey needed future assets for another deal, then maybe there’s something. (The Rockets also like Patterson a lot, but he doesn’t fit unless they move on from another four.)

Final thoughts: There’s enough to dislike on each side that it’s tough to see anything getting done. The player night be a fit, but where each team is right now isn’t. Maybe there’s a multi-team deal here somewhere.

Phoenix Suns – Mirza Teletovic (and a note on P.J. Tucker and Markieff Morris)

The trade: Patrick Patterson and the Raptors’ 2018 2nd-round pick for Mirza Teletovic

Why the Raptors do it: Teletovic is a more reliable outside shooter than Patterson, has more of a post game when teams switch on him, and he’s a comparable rebounder. If Ujiri values flexibility this offseason, the deal also removes Patterson’s contract from the books, as Teletovic is an unrestricted free agent.

Why the Raptors don’t do it: It’s surrendering a pick and a year of control of Patterson for a shooting upgrade that comes with a defensive downgrade. I love Teletovic, but I think head coach Dwane Casey would disapprove of losing Patterson’s defense, and the team would be paying a premium for less time with a somewhat comparable player.

The Suns’ perspective: I tried to get Andrew Lynch of FOX Sports to do this without a pick on the basis of Patterson being younger and controllable. “A 2nd might get it done. I think they like Mirza and what he brings, but he’s 30.”

Andrew also said there’s no chance of me getting Tucker without taking on Morris, and money is too tough to land them both. A Patterson-Morris swap works straight up and might be enough, but that’s a huge risk for the Raptors from a chemistry standpoint for a player who hasn’t consistently shown he’s better than Patterson right now. Would the Suns sweeten the pot to be rid of him? “I really think they’re trying to get real assets for him, so no, not today. But anything is possible.”

Final thoughts: Your feelings on Teletovic or Morris depend almost entirely on your feelings for Patterson. I think if the Suns would do a straight Patterson-Morris swap, you have to think long and hard about whether that inexpensive talent upgrade is worth the very real risk, and whether you think your culture can get the most out of a malcontent.

Sacramento Kings – Omri Casspi

The trade: James Johnson and the Clippers’ 2017 1st-round pick (lottery-protected) for Omri Casspi

Why the Raptors do it: Because Casspi is freaking awesome and has another season on his deal at a really affordable price ($3M). Sure, it’s a big asset to surrender, but it’s for a 27-year-old who can play some four, is a great shooter, can run the floor, and is not a terrible defender (he hits the glass well for a combo-forward to help make up for any shortcoming at that end).

Why the Raptors don’t do it: It’s giving up an asset and tying up a bit of cap space for a player they don’t know particularly well at a persona level, one coming from a situation he very clearly likes and hand-picked.

The Kings’ perspective: James Ham of CSN Bay Area gave me some really great insight in a phone call this week. So I’m paraphrasing here, but his take essentially came down to this: The Kings are in it to win and close enough to a playoff spot that they’re unlikely to sell. Casspi’s a guy they love and he loves them, even delaying signing and forgoing prorated money in 2014-15 to help the team maintain flexibility. He’s also tight with DeMarcus Cousins. In other words, there’s a lot keeping Casspi there even if the Kings fell out of the race, and the conversation would have to start with a “good first.”

Final thoughts: I think if the Kings slipped, that first should be enough for Casspi, in a vacuum. I’d even swap Johnson out for one of the prospects if they demanded (the salaries are trickier). But there are less-basketball-y reasons why he’s probably not going anywhere. Damn.

New Orleans Pelicans – Ryan Anderson

The trade: Patrick Patterson and the Raptors 2016 1st-round pick for Ryan Anderson (Alternatively: Patrick Patterson and Terrence Ross for Ryan Anderson, Dante Cunningham, and Denver’s 2016 2nd-round pick)

Why the Raptors do it: Anderson is a shooting upgrade and rebounds as well as Patterson. Because of his reputation, he can help bend the defense a little more than Patterson, and he’s a fairly natural offensive fit with what the Raptors are doing. If the Raptors really like him, they’d have his Bird rights, too, though the idea that he could get close to the max should give anyone thinking this way major pause. The variation that includes Cunningham retains the pick and returns a usable combo-forward who brings some of what they’d be losing defensively.

Why the Raptors don’t do it: It’s giving up assets for a rental, one who sacrifices the defense and may not move the needle enough in the grand scheme of things. The Cunningham variation gives up two major pieces for a rental (Anderson) and a piece that’s not that hard to find on the open market (Cunningham).

The Pelicans’ perspective: Here’s Mason Ginsberg of Bourbon Street Shots when I reached out about Anderson or Quincy Pondexter (pre-injury diagnosis): “Personally, I think they should have been sellers a couple of weeks ago. I’m not saying ‘tank,’ but I am saying look to make a move that will help you long-term, likely at the expense of this season. Any team with Anthony Davis can’t tank.

“Anderson is likely their top asset that they’d consider moving; he’s an expiring, but he can absolutely help a playoff team this year. In terms of what they’d be looking for, it’s either A) a two-way wing better than what they currently have who won’t break the bank (this team really, really misses Pondexter), or just future assets that they can include in future moves (like the Ish Smith trade for two high second rounders). Looking at the Raptors’ roster – outside of picks, the only guy who I could see making any sort of sense for both sides is Terrence Ross. His defensive metrics don’t look very good and that worries me, but he’s young athlete who can shoot and instantly help the Pels on the wings.”

Ginsberg suggested the two-for-two, by the way (I added the second to it), after I threw out Patterson-plus for Anderson and we discussed Cunningham separately.

Final thoughts: I know there are some who are really high on Anderson as a fit for the Raptors, and I explored the trade for that reason. Personally, I don’t think he raises the ceiling enough over the next four months to warrant surrendering a major asset (a first-round pick) or an important potential trade chip entering the summer (Ross). But since a lot of you are high on him, there are your frameworks.

Charlotte Hornets – Nicolas Batum

The trade: Patrick Patterson, James Johnson, Delon Wright, and the Knicks/Nuggets 2016 1st-round pick for Nicolas Batum and Tyler Hansbrough (Alternatively: Patrick Patterson, Terrence Ross, and the Raptors’ 2016 1st-round pick for Nicolas Batum)

Why the Raptors do it: What, you guys thought I’d leave out the most demanded trade target? Like with the Matthews/Ariza comments, I don’t think the Raptors would mind committing to three wings and a smaller look for long stretches. Batum is a better defender and passer than DeRozan and a comparable shooter to Carroll, and he’s in the midst of the best season of his career. Getting Batum now gives the Raptors his Bird rights, meaning they can go over the cap to re-sign both him and DeRozan this summer (alternatively, it gives them DeRozan insurance or a DeRozan succession plan). Batum’s still just 27, too. It’s a big bet on being able to re-sign him, but they’d have a major inside edge, and they’d probably vault to being the second best team in the East in the short-term.

Why the Raptors don’t do it: Because Hansbrough and Bismack Biyombo would brawl the remainder of the season.

The Hornets’ perspective: Here’s Spencer Percy of Queen City Hoops when I reached out about Batum and what it would take for the Hornets to consider themselves sellers: “Fundamentally, Charlotte does not approach the trade deadline with the mentality of being a seller. As most of the league knows, Jordan and the Hornets front office is hell-bent on making the postseason, so they’d have to be more than probably five-to-six games out to consider moving pieces (Note: They’re 2.5 out right now). The team needs to get healthy and see if they can right-the-ship before the All-Star break and that’s very possible…With the whispers about MKG possibly returning in March, Charlotte still believes they belong in the Eastern Conference playoff conversation.

“Batum is certainly the most valuable trade asset on the Hornets roster…The asking price would be a first-round pick and whatever pieces made the salaries work and Batum and the Raptors have already been linked to each other – which I’m sure everyone in the land of Drake is already aware of.”

Percy also questioned why the Raptors would make a big move amid coaching uncertainty, which is a reasonable question, but one I’m going to ignore because the people demand trade talk (and because I’m of the mind Casey is just fine unless a demonstrably better option presents itself).

The Hornets surrendered a year of Gerald Henderson and Noah Vonleh, a 20-year-old one year removed from lottery status, to get Batum. Getting them to sacrifice Batum’s Bird rights means paying a similar price. Does a year of Patterson, a prospect in Wright, and a likely lottery pick do enough? More importantly, should the Hornets even be selling? I think they’re still legitimately in the race and, not only that, would be a feisty first-round out.

Final thoughts: I hope so. I’m all for positionless basketball and would be fine committing to 20 minutes a game with Carroll at the four and the three wings switching seamlessly. But even if the Hornets fall out of it, I’m not sure this package is enough – I doubt they have much interest in Ross, but maybe they want Lucas Nogueira instead of Wright, or both in place of Johnson, or Cory Joseph involved? Even though this is close to what they gave up, I still feel like the framework is a bit too Real GM forumsy, and the Hornets would value the chance to re-sign him too highly. And, of course, all of this hinges on the Hornets falling out of the race, which may or may not happen.

Other targets I explored
Al-Farouq Aminu (too good a deal and fit in Portland to realistically see them trading him), Will Barton (more or less untouchable on that contract), DeMarcus Cousins (was assured pretty strongly that things are better in Sacramento now, the Kings want to head into their new arena with a winner next year, and the Raptors wouldn’t have the pieces for a win now-win now deal), Jeff Green (just, bleh), Marc Gasol (I started but Lowe’s note that it would take Valanciunas and “way too many” extra assets to land him killed my enthusiasm for trying, though my answer to “how much is too much” in this case would be “there is no such thing”), Terrence Jones (couldn’t find a workable framework), and a few others I’m surely forgetting.

I’m exhausted.

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