Most of the attention during and coming out of NBA All-Star Weekend was justifiably paid to DeMarcus Cousins, the New Orleans Pelicans, and the flaming tire fire that is the Sacramento Kings organization. Even with that blockbuster drawing the bulk of the headlines, though, there’s plenty to be gleaned from Monday’s smattering of reports. All-Star Weekend preceding the trade deadline makes the annual showcase an executive summit of sorts, and Monday is usually the day most tied-in reporters come firing with plenty of information.
Perhaps nobody does a better job of that than ESPN’s Zach Lowe, who somehow blended sharp analysis, humor, and excellent reporting seamlessly in a mega-dump of information yesterday. (Shocking that Lowe continues to be the best, right?) From a Toronto Raptors perspective, there are a few relevant notes, although none of them should surprise you. Let’s have a quick look.
The Raptors want to make another move.
Toronto and Washington are both eager to add another rotation player, per several league sources. The Raps roster is a little heavy on bigs after the Ibaka deal, and they still have trade chips — all their own picks, and some interesting young guys. They have the maximum 15 players under contract, but if necessary, they could waive Jared Sullinger to clear a roster spot.
Any deal involving an expensive Drakes veteran will probably wait until the summer, when the team faces a severe luxury tax crunch.
Basically, the Raptors would still like to add a piece, and they’re not out of assets yet. I wrote last week following the Serge Ibaka acquisition that the Raptors still had the assets to make a move – Masai Ujiri still has a phone, as he pointed out – and that Jared Sullinger’s salary seemed like the most logical outbound piece to attach to an asset (a prospect or pick) in order to help match salary. The idea of waiving Sullinger outright is something I had only really considered if the Raptors couldn’t make a move and wanted to play the G-League/buyout market.
(Gery Woelfel of the Racine Journal Times adds that they’re likely after a swingman, which, yeah, of course.)
Lowe noting that a Raptors’ veteran likely won’t be heading out means you can probably scratch Cory Joseph and DeMarre Carroll off your trade scenarios. Joseph has a line of succession behind him at point guard, but while I really like Delon Wright and Fred VanVleet, it would be difficult to enter the playoffs needing 8-10 minutes from them at a minimum, given their limited experience. And Carroll’s probably going to cost you an asset to unload, which makes little sense with where the Raptors are at this exact moment.
This all makes sense. It’s what we laid out following the Ibaka deal as the most likely scenario. So while some want the Raptors to keep swinging for the fences, a more muted, lower-tier rotation move always seemed like the most likely follow-up to Ibaka. A bigger move isn’t impossible, there just aren’t many names on the market. Speaking of which…
The price on Gallinari/Chandler is high.
Prior to the Ibaka deal, Wilson Chandler and Danilo Gallinari were names that made sense for the Raptors on paper. Personally, I thought the Ibaka deal eliminated them as targets – the Raptors no longer have Terrence Ross to dangle, and without him, the Denver Nuggets are a bit of an odd trade partner. What’s more, Chandler has $12 million on the books for next season, and the Raptors no longer really need another forward who can slide up a position since they figure to play small less, which would mean that’s a commitment of $27 million to the small forward position next year. Gallinari just figured to be too expensive after already surrendering assets.
Well, if the Raptors wanted to get involved, Lowe notes that the Nuggets want “a lottery-protected first-round pick and swap rights on another pick.” That’s not exorbitant, but factoring in the pieces that would need to go out for salary matching, it likely takes the Raptors out of the market for them, anyway.
P.J. Tucker, though.
On Friday, I wrote about some potential trade targets for the Raptors. At the top of the list was P.J. Tucker, in whom the Raptors showed interest at last year’s deadline, too. The Phoenix Suns are one of the league’s few sellers, and if the asking price on Tucker comes down – initially it was reported to be a first-round pick – then he’s a nice rental for the end of the season. He provides solid defense across three positions, shoots well enough to keep opponents honest, and he brings a degree of toughness and physicality on the perimeter that the Raptors could use.
Lowe offers that Tucker is the most likely Sun to be moved and to “watch the Raptors and Clips, among others.” The Raptors’ second-rounders don’t have much value as picks in the 50s, but perhaps the Suns like one of the Raptors’ prospects?
According to Jake Fischer of Sports Illustrated, the Raptors have left no stone unturned in their quest to improve. Fischer writes:
As much as Toronto needs to find depth behind its current frontline, the Raptors are also still skeptical about Jonas Valanciunas. Before they acquired Serge Ibaka, the Raptors called the Pistons pitching a package centered around Valanciunas for Drummond, according to a league source.
Well, that’s certainly interesting, if true. The Raptors probably would have had to offer more than a straight swap, and Andre Drummond making more money would complicate the Raptors’ future, but it’s interesting nonetheless. If nothing else, it’s telling about Valanciunas’ potentially tenuous future with the team beyond this season, especially if Serge Ibaka is retained.
A note on DeMarcus Cousins.
I’ve seen a lot of hand-wringing about the Raptors not getting involved on Cousins. I tweeted a bunch about it and tomorrow’s mailbag has a ton of Cousins questions, but this reporting from Kevin O’Connor at The Ringer more or less sums up why it’s difficult to be mad at the Raptors (or any team) for not being able to top what is, objectively, a bad package. Here’s O’Connor:
League executives are just as baffled as you are by the Kings’ decision to trade DeMarcus Cousins for not much of anything. “They gave Cousins away for a three-piece meal at Popeyes lol,” one source texted me Monday morning. Said another: “It’s just a disgrace.” Kings general manager Vlade Divac will shoulder the blame for botching this trade, especially after he admitted the Kings had a better offer for Cousins two days ago.
But the fault is on Kings ownership. Vivek Ranadivé believes Buddy Hield has Stephen Curry–level potential, a source explained; they view him as the equivalent of a top-five pick with superstar upside — a franchise-altering piece. “People don’t realize that teams get fixated on certain players and do deals specifically to get those players,” said a league executive. Trades require ownership approval, and in Ranadivé’s eyes, Hield was by far the best available asset being offered.
If this doesn’t make sense to you, don’t worry; it doesn’t make sense to anyone. It was not the most orderly or rational process by the Kings. “Vlade needed a huge haul to get Vivek to sign off [on a different deal],” said the Eastern Conference source. “They needed a home run deal to get past Vivek.”
Basically, the Kings’ owner got obsessed with Hield, the Kings didn’t want to take on money or older prospects, and so Hield, expiring deals, and a couple mediocre picks became the best package. It’s easy to say “Jonas Valanciunas, Norman Powell, and a pick” is a better package, because it is in an asset-value vacuum, but it requires the Kings to feel the same way. Before even getting into any fit or chemistry/personality things with Cousins, you have to acknowledge that a) the Raptors’ best “prospect, picks, and expirings” offer isn’t very good if the Kings think Hield, who is not good, is the next coming of Steph Curry, and b) that the Kings are run terribly, make no sense, and all objectivity has to go out the window with them.