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ArseTalk: Raptors need to aim high at the trade deadline

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The rumours of the Raptors interest in Thaddeus Young reminds me of four years ago, which is when Sam first started carrying a picture of him in his wallet.  He’s been desired by RR for many years, including myself, and the last time his name was mentioned in a Raptors rumour was before last year’s trade deadline, by ESPN no less.  He’s got the Shareef Abdur Rahim bug in him, as in he’s never actually played for a proper team, so you don’t know whether his numbers project out on a team that isn’t terrible.  And the Nets are so bad that Young is actually their pitch man when trying to sign free-agents.

This year I get the rumour but not for the same reasons as before. The Raptors have a working offense right now which relies on floor spacing via Patrick Patterson, who is a low-maintenance, active defender shooting 35% from three.  On the other hand, Young is a 22% three-point shooter (low volume) who teams dare to shoot, which would change the dynamic of a bench unit performing very effectively.  Young is unlikely to bring the same low-block offensive punch that Markieff Morris would, overall making this a lateral move: trading away surefire three-point shooting for a post-up presence.   From an offensive standpoint, this is not the type of move that puts you over the edge, and the only rationale I can think of for making a move like this is defense.  

If you’re looking ahead to specific playoff matchups, like going up against Pau Gasol, Taj Gibson, or Tristan Thompson, Young is a viable option.  The Raptors, as presently constructed, don’t have anyone to matchup with those types of players in the post-season.  DeMarre Carroll would matchup with Jimmy Butler or LeBron James, leaving the task of guarding the other low-block four to…Luis Scola? Patrick Patterson? James Johnson? Anthony Bennett? There’s a gap here, since none of those four can effectively guard any of Chicago or Cleveland’s power forwards.  

The pick that the Nets are looking for in a deal isn’t necessarily a high price to pay, it’s just that if you’re going to give that up, you may as well dream a little bigger and seek out a top-notch player.  This is where Al Horford comes in.  Horford is going to be 30 in June and looking for a fifth year on his upcoming contract.  The man is grossly underpaid at $12M and is about to mint some bitcoin this summer.  The Hawks have already balked at giving him an extension, and they’d be wise to offload Horford and get some high draft picks in return.  From a Raptors point of view, adding a player in his prime during our window of contention is a no-brainer.   I’m not going to pretend and know what the impact of his fifth year might be; he’d be 34 years old at the start of his fifth year which doesn’t sound horrible, and almost a plausible proposition.

This is the deal that the Raptors have to seek out, and make work.  If Horford’s on the table, you have no issue giving up Patrick Patterson even if you lose out a little on three-point shooting, just because you gain so much on offense and rebounding.  Horford’s also improved his three-point shooting this season, shooting 34% on close to three attempts a game. He’s still a player defenses will give the open three to (kind of like Scola), but at least he’s been making them pay this season, despite having a very unorthodox release.  

My main issue with Horford has always been that, for a guy of his talents,  he doesn’t get to the line enough (career 2.6 FTA/game).  Over his career, he’s steadily moved his offensive game away from the rim.  He’s gone from having an average shot distance of 7.3 ft to 12.3 ft over his career.  At the same time, he’s coordinated when executing back-to-the-basket or face-up moves, so you’re left to wonder why he doesn’t do more of that.  

The interest in Horford might be a bit low because teams generally seek some sort of verbal guarantee (ala Kevin Love), that they’d have a fair shot at re-signing him and avoiding a rent-a-player situation.  The hesitance of those clubs is the Raptors opportunity.  Horford being from the Dominican Republic and Toronto being a multicultural city could also play a part.  There’s a lot of goodwill out there for the city right now and although we’d all want #Durant2016 to be true, a more realistic option might be Horford, who satisfies a defensive need in the post-season, while also bulking up the offense.

Unfortunately for the Raptors, at least for this season, they’ve struck out on Anthony Bennett and Lucas Noguiera, setting up the need for a possible deal.  A few of us had some high hopes for Bennett who hasn’t played at all, and when he has, it’s not been great.  Noguiera had his moments when Valanciunas was out, but injury caught up to him and he’s been a non-factor.  Even though they’re fringe players, the lack of production from either spot probably moves Masai Ujiri’s hand just a little.  If one of these two were productive members of a longer rotation, perhaps the need to look for outside help might not be as severe, but given James Johnson’s inability to guard the four, Luis Scola’s legs, and Patrick Patterson’s slight build, there is a legitimate hole that needs to be filled.

Some quick thoughts on All-Star weekend which had the fortune to attend on all three nights:

  • Dimmed lights at the ACC look beautiful, and though the NBA paid for it and it can’t be replicated this season, we should look into it for next year.
  • DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry are two very humble dudes that go against the grain when it comes to what many associate with the NBA lifestyle.
  • Blake is the hardest working basketball reporter in the city.
  • There should have been a tie in the dunk-contest, it was a spectacle to watch.
  • I think the All-Star game will return to Toronto within 10 years.
  • The skills challenge was actually interesting to watch. They should add more things to do and more obstacles, because watching big men like KAT and DMC perform is pretty fun.
  • Isaiah Thomas is like 5’7” tops.
  • The Raptors used their practice court as the press conference area.
  • There was a massive Latvian crowd at the Rising Stars challenge to support Kristaps Porziņģis.
  • The dude from 4Korners has gotten kind of old.
  • Nelly Furtado ruined the national anthem.  We have a great anthem which, if sung in its default configuration, is awesome.  You can’t be going for an off-kilter rendition on such a big stage.  It was weak.
  • Red Panda was more impressive than Cirque Du Soleil (though I didn’t see them live since I was behind the stage).
  • Drake is basically friends with every single NBA player.  He doesn’t go up to them. They go up to him.

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