Raptors stand pat at trade deadline, which is fine

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The NBA’s 3 p.m. trade deadline has passed and the Toronto Raptors opted not to make a move for a second consecutive season.

Armed with a major trade chip in the lesser of the Knicks or Nuggets first-round pick in 2016, as well as three additional first-rounders over the next two drafts, the Raptors were unable to find a deal worth doing. Instead, they’ll hold firm in the No. 2 spot in the Eastern Conference and trust that a return to health for DeMarre Carroll within a few weeks will give them any push that may be perceived as necessary.

That’s not entirely surprising despite the asset chest, because the Raptors were always in a complicated position to make trades. Their salary structure is such that Patrick Patterson was going to have to go out in almost any framework that brought back meaningful salary, and pairing a useful, two-way piece the organization really likes and appreciates with that valuable pick rendered the market incapable of providing a name worth laying out the assets for. The team could have used a boost at the four, but with few sellers on the market, there wasn’t an obvious deal to make.

Thad Young? He makes nearly twice as much with two years longer on the deal and can’t space the floor. He’s a better player overall, but with the cost of the Knicks pick (and likely a prospect for salary matching), plus forgone flexibility. I’m not sure he moved the needle enough. Kenneth Faried? Nearly twice the cost of Patterson, a worse player than Young, and a really awkward fit.

Markieff Morris? Always felt like more of an offseason gamble when chemistry concerns can be handled more carefully and thoroughly, though he would have been a pure talent upgrade. The Wizards got him for a reasonable package the Raptors could have matched, but the risk-reward trade-off is much different for the Wizards than the Raptors. P.J. Tucker? Certainly not worth Patterson, and even a Scola-plus-pick price might have been steep.

Al Horford? Pulled off the market, likely because nobody was meeting an exorbitant asking price. Danilo Gallinari? No indication he was ever available.

Ryan Anderson? Not parting with a pick for what amounts to a marginal upgrade when both ends of the floor are factored in, and his Bird rights are meaningless if he’s going to command the reported $18 million annually this summer.

Keep in mind, too, that you can throw out all the scenarios to avoid dealing Patterson that you want, but the other team has to agree with it. Luis Scola and James Johnson make up the salary in most cases, but they’re also veterans on expiring deals, which doesn’t have much value in today’s NBA. Patterson is actually a pretty major asset as a productive 26-year-old with a terrific $6.1-million contract for next season.

That’s in part why not making a move is fine. The Raptors will enter the offseason in a pretty strong position to get better, even if DeMar DeRozan commands a max contract. Prior to re-upping DeRozan, they’ll have the flexibility to clear cap space for another max player if they’re willing to strip their depth, and failing that, they’ll have several valuable contracts for a potential sign-and-trade, or just a straight-up trade. They’ll also retain all of their draft pick war chest, and while it’s unlikely they add another two rookies to a very young end of the bench, those picks will have value on draft night, too.

There’s going to be disappointment in not making an all-in move, to be sure. I’ve been pretty clear in the lead-up to the deadline that I was in favor of a splashy move if it made sense, as the Raptors have never had a window into a deep playoff run like this before. Draft picks are food stamps, and with the Raptors’ prospects not being of the blue-chip variety,there weren’t going to be many objections from a win-now push from me. But the deal had to make sense and had to be available – if the Raptors couldn’t offer a package the Hawks liked for Horford, Gallinari wasn’t available, and no other name in a higher tier than, say, Young was available, what’s the team to do?

I don’t doubt for a second that reports of Ujiri being aggressive were accurate, but the names tied to the Raptors were heavy on downside without a great deal of reward potential. The Raptors remain the second-best team in the Eastern Conference, likely a threat to win a game, maybe two, from the Cleveland Cavaliers in a series, and nobody available was going to tilt that potential conference final in Toronto’s favor. At least, no name we heard anything about, save for the maybe-not-all-that-available Horford.

Cashing in a huge chit like the Knicks pick, one which doesn’t expire and has real value if held, only made sense if it pushed the Raptors to another level. There’s no evidence a deal that would do that existed, and Ujiri opted for the status quo, as he did last season.

That’s not the same non-gamble, though. At this time last year, there were plenty of signs the Raptors were in for a slide. Kyle Lowry was hitting the wall, the defense was porous-to-brutal, and the team’s ethereal chemistry was difficult to grasp or explain. This season, the team is winning at both ends of the floor, has a slightly more stable and varied offense, and is performing at a higher qualitative level than last year’s team was, despite similar records.

The Raptors, as currently constructed, are the second-best team in the East. The biggest threats to that standing didn’t make moves to strengthen their case. The Raptors still aren’t match-up proof in the first round, and several potential low-seeds improved, but they’re in a good position to make a deep run, perhaps a deeper one than they’ve ever taken before. And they’ve reached this height and established this standing and reputation largely without the benefit of Carroll, their marquee offseason signing, who should be back in time to shake the rust off for the playoffs (they’ve also insulated themselves well enough in the two-seed that they can be cautious with his return).

By making a deal, the Raptors would have taken on a bit of risk, sacrificed a bit of future potential and flexibility, and marginally improved their chances of getting to where they want to go. If a good deal was on the table inside those parameters, I trust they would have done it, and I would have been all for it. There’s never been a window like this. By not making a deal, the Raptors are betting on a core that’s proven very good this season, trusting that Carroll will be a difference-maker when healthy, and maintaining important flexibility to keep the team at this level for multiple seasons. That’s cool, too.

I always pegged the odds at less than 50-50 the Raptors would make a deal. it’s fine that they didn’t. It makes for a boring day, though.

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