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Draft Week Mailbag: George scenarios, Fultz fallout, draft bigs, and more

Let’s kill time until the draft!

We’re all basically sitting on our hands until draft night, or until the rumor mill shines a light on the Raptors (it probably won’t), so I figured an #RRMailbag to pass the time was a reasonable idea. We’ll continue to try to do mini-mailbags when time allows during the offseason, at least until they draw repetitive. You can find all of the previous editions of the mailbag here, if, for whatever reason, you wanted to read old mailbags.

Before we go ahead: A reminder that we have a Patreon page at patreon.com/RaptorsRepublic. If you appreciate the content we produce, want to support RR, and have the means to do so, any contribution is greatly appreciated and will help us continue to do what we do (and try to do even more). You can also follow me on Twitter for, uhh, tweets, and on Facebook for all of my writing/podcasting/radio stuff. Validate me. You can also ask me questions at any time using #RRMailbag, and I’ll be sure to include them in the next mailbag, no matter how long between.

Alright, let’s get this money.

Draft & Rumor Mill

Interest? Absolutely. Masai Ujiri has done well to continue improving the team while maintaining a strong asset base in part for the unlikely event a star becomes available and the Raptors can make themselves a player. The idea of landing George, even on a rental, would be intriguing to them, really maximizing the window for the current core, all but assuring Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka would stay (if the Raptors wanted both, which they surely would), and making Toronto a more legitimate threat to the Cavaliers, if not the Warriors. They’d also acquire George’s Bird rights, and while George-to-LA has a ton of steam and certainly makes sense (the idea of the player with the league’s best shoe landing in a massive market where it would get a huge push is a fun side-story, by the way), that fifth year and extra money is a big deal when push comes to shove.

Interest, however, is not the same as it being realistic. Going up and down the league, it’s hard to figure the Raptors could offer a package that makes them anywhere near the favorite, unless the Pacers are enamored with Jonas Valanciunas (which they might be, but Myles Turner projects best as a center, not in a pairing with a hulking interior center, particularly on defense). The Raptors don’t have a lottery pick or a high-value future pick to dangle, nor do they have the sort of blue-chip prospect that can get these deals done, and the Pacers are reportedly after a prospect, a pair of picks, and salary filler. The Cavaliers could probably acquire more assets by way of routing Kevin Love somewhere else, and the Lakers could put a swift end to things if they feel threatened enough about 2018 to send an asset out to get George a year early.

It’s fun to think on, though.

Honestly, I’d pretty much offer anything that doesn’t include DeMar DeRozan (Lowry and Ibaka are free agents, and I’m ruling out a sign-and-trade here because it wouldn’t make a world of sense). So the Pacers could have their choice of prospect (Norman Powell or Delon Wright, or one of last year’s rookies), picks (the Raptors have a first and second in every draft in perpetuity), and salary filler (Valanciunas is the only name that really works, unless the Raptors could somehow find a third team to take on DeMarre Carroll). The structure of any offer would likely be Valanciunas+prospect+two picks, and I’d be fine with any iteration of that, really (I’d probably try to protect any pick from 2019 onward, mind you). Unfortunately, Valanciunas-Powell-No. 23-2019 first probably doesn’t get it done, even for a rental of George, unless the Pacers really like Valanciunas.

(A note here: Powell is awesome and, at the league minimum, is a huge bargain and an attractive trade chip. I’m not giving him a ton of value in this trade scenario, though, as the Pacers would be rebuilding under a deal like this, and Powell is a restricted free agent at the end of 2017-18. Basically, the discount on his contract matters less in a rebuilding trade scenario, because the Pacers would be in line to pay him eight figures by the time they’re good again. He’s an important chip still, but the pending RFA status colors things a bit.)

My initial reaction to the trade of the No. 1 pick was that it wouldn’t have much of an impact on Lowry’s free agent situation. There are a few reasons for this, namely that I’m not convinced Philly was ever more than a leverage destination for Lowry. The pieces lined up, so it made sense to use the specter of a move there to increase his value, but Lowry’s timeline doesn’t match up well with the Sixers’ timeline, there’s no assurance Philly will be good while Lowry is still great, and so on. Even if he was legitimately interested in returning home, Fultz doesn’t change much for me – he’s 6-foot-4 or 6-foot-5, can play off the ball, is a strong shooter, and can likely defend some twos, and Lowry has plenty of experience playing alongside other guards. Philly also just needs talent regardless of immediate fit, and Fultz figures to be a pretty flexible building block. (That the Sixers intend to have Ben Simmons initiate a lot of the offense still speaks to this a bit.)

The bigger factor for me is that Bryan Colangelo said Monday that the Sixers will keep their cap flexibility in tact for 2018, when they can make a splash in a deeper free agent pool that better lines up with their timeline for contention. This always seemed more logical, anyway, but Colangelo confirming as much is helpful. (It also helps the Raptors by taking one public suitor for Lowry out of the discussion – appreciate you, Bryan.)

https://twitter.com/The_6ix_man/status/876869244524400642

You and I talked about this on Twitter, but for those unaware: At one point in May, Ivan Rabb had mentioned he had a workout coming up in Toronto. He was not, however, among the names that ended up visiting, and the Raptors had no off-site workouts this time around (or so I’m told). But with this process, things can change fairly quickly with factors like health, fatigue, logistical issues, and draft stocks, and there are usually a handful of players who have their schedules shaken up. In the case of the Raptors, they had a pair of potential first-round picks wind up missing a workout due to some combination of these factors, and another (Ike Anigbogu) who only did the interview portion due to injury. There was also a workout scrapped entirely late in the process.

These things happen. Luckily, the workouts are just a small part of the entire process. It’s unfortunate to not get a particular player in, but the team will still have plenty of information from college scouting, other interviews, the combine, pro/agency days, research, and so on.

Under Ujiri and company, the Raptors have pretty clearly shown they’ll take who they feel the best player available to them is, regardless of perceived fit or what the consensus rankings or mock drafts may say. Norman Powell didn’t necessarily fill a need, but they liked him. They followed the Delon Wright pick by signing Cory Joseph. They drafted a pair of bigs last year when they already had some young, interesting bigs on the roster. The player development side is all about talent acquisition and maximization, and so I think the Raptors will approach things from a best-player-available standpoint, up to a certain degree. Chad Ford is fond of talking about “draft tiers,” where teams will group prospects they like a fairly similar amount and then pick for need within those tiers if multiple players are left for them. In other words, they won’t reach down a tier just to get someone who fits better – there’s no sense leaving talent on the table, and rosters are too fluid to accurately project your specific needs when the rookie is eventually capable of contributing – but they’ll factor in fit and position if they’re choosing between players they like a roughly equal amount.

Now, which specific bigs they may be enamored enough with to disregard their overstock on bigs is unclear. They don’t really tip their hand in that regard. But they do already employ Jonas Valanciunas (25, with three years remaining on his deal), Jakob Poeltl (21, No. 9 pick a year ago), Pascal Siakam (23, No. 27), and Lucas Nogueira (24, one year from restricted free agency), and would like to retain Serge Ibaka (on what would be a medium-to-long term, high-priced deal). On the surface, it doesn’t look like picking a big makes sense. Again, though, they’ll look for the best talent available to them, and this draft is pretty deep with intriguing bigs, particularly where the Raptors might be picking.

In terms of those specific names, the Harry Giles question is one I can’t answer given a lack of access to his medical information. There’s obviously lottery-level talent there, but how likely a return to full health and a return to form is, that’s a question I can’t really answer. His agent also controls his destination a bit by way of access to medical information. Justin Patton has a really wide draft range owing to the apparent lack of athleticism to back up his size, and I’m not sure he’s an ideal fit with the way the Raptors want to play, however talented. At this point I’m not even sure Patton being there at No. 23 would be considered slipping, because team’s opinions are going to vary a lot with him. Jarrett Allen, I would imagine, is thought of highly enough that if he were around at No. 23, you grab that talented a player and worry about roster balance later – he’s pretty consistently considered a top-20 talent here, and with the 905 existing, the Raptors probably wouldn’t worry too much about him needing a year or two of seasoning.

The two names I’ve come back to a lot who figure to probably be available when the Raptors pick are Semi Ojeleye and Jordan Bell. I know Ojeleye probably doesn’t count as a big here since he’s a combo-forward. Bell, I like a lot, even if some might think he’s a bit of a reach at No. 23. Ike Anigbogu is intriguing if he slips, but his late green room invite suggests that probably won’t be the case. Jonah Bolden is really intriguing to me, too, as a guy I saw a lot of a year ago but much less so this year. The one name I really don’t want in that range is Tyler Lydon, if he counts as a big. I don’t have a strong opinion on Anzejs Pasecniks either way, he’s kind of right in the middle in that group (I mention him because I know you’re talking yourself into him). This is a brief response, but I’ll probably have a full ranking out on Thursday.

Raptors offseason

I’m going to assume I’m understanding your assumptions here: Serge Ibaka is retained, he’s played primarily at center (where he’s much better off at this point, rebounding be damned), the Raptors are trying to win now, and Jonas Valanciunas is shopped in order to try to lessen the luxury tax bill and because of the planned usage for Ibaka. This, by the way, is my guess for how things would play out if Lowry opts to return.

The first matter is finding somewhere for Valanciunas, which isn’t easy. As I’ve written a bunch, it’s not necessarily a dig on Valanciunas, who is worth his deal in a vacuum, plays (and accepts) his role quite well, is an elite screen-setter, and is literally never discussed reasonably by his supporters or detractors. Valanciunas is a fine young center and a useful piece. But he’s a poor fit with the way the Raptors seem to want to play on the defensive end, he’s somewhat redundant if Ibaka is retained given the cache of young bigs also on the roster, and because he’s useful, he potentially offers the most financial flexibility without simply giving something away. The issue here is that the market for centers is pretty flooded and recent precedent suggests the Raptors wouldn’t get “fair” value for the Lithuanian. I don’t have a good answer for “who,” mostly because it’s very early in the offseason (and in part because the draft is deep on bigs, confusing things further).

If they find a home for Valanciunas, yes, it would be nice to get another power forward. They would still be able to cobble together minutes there – Ibaka would still play there as needed, Pascal Siakam should be a bit better in Year Two, and if the team retained P.J. Tucker or Patrick Patterson, there’s another option there. The draft has a few interesting combo-forwards or combo-bigs in that range, too, though you can’t really pencil a late-first rookie for contributions out of the gate. If they look to add at the position, it will have to be through the draft or bargain hunting – the Raptors will have moved Valanciunas for tax relief in this scenario, meaning they’ll be looking at the mini-mid-level to add a piece, which doesn’t even get you into the Patterson tier of fours on the market.

A lot of assumptions here. Please keep in mind the response to questions is just scenario analysis.

I would add Siakam to your list of bigs, too, as I’m a believer that he’s best off as a five, too, even though he can obviously play the four as well. You need five bigs over the course of a season, but it would seem an inefficient distribution of resources in the modern NBA to employ three true centers and two power forwards who can also play center, three of whom are first-round picks on their rookie deals and another two of whom would be under big contracts. And that’s before mentioning that the draft has a lot of interesting bigs where the Raptors are set to select.

Basically, I don’t think there’s a scenario in which it makes sense to retain both Ibaka and Valanciunas. From there, I think you can carry the other young bigs without much issue thanks to the presence of the 905 and how inexpensive their deals are.

As for the point guards, I’m more comfortable with some redundancy there given how much each player has shown the ability to play in multi-guard lineups, how important even moderately effective shooting is, and the fact that Joseph and Wright would probably stand as interesting in-season trade chips if further balancing was needed own the line. It’s entirely conceivable one of them moves before then, and Joseph may be the Raptors’ best means of landing a shooter on the trade market, but you’re fine with four guards on a 15-man (0r 17-man, as it were) roster.

I really have to hand it to Jeff. The number of times he’s asked about or tweeted about Brady Heslip is exceeded only by the number of threes Heslip hit this season. And look, Heslip is great – he’s very likely the best shooter in the world not in the NBA, he improved noticeably as a point guard with the 905 this season, and he seems like the kind of guy the two-way roster spots that are coming was designed for. The reality, though, is that Heslip has been an elite shooter forever, and he’s now 27 and still hasn’t gotten a look from an NBA team. He was available to the entire league all season long. And, probably most important for his NBA prospects, the 905 moved him to the bench in the postseason in part for defensive reasons at the one (his scoring punch off the bench factored in, too, to be fair).

I understand why you ask so often, though. In the modern NBA, you’d think a high-volume sharpshooter would have a spot at the end of a bench. Maybe the expansion to 17 (15 and two one-thirds?) roster spots this year gets him a look. From Heslip’s perspective, there will be substantial contract offers overseas to weigh heavily, too. He’s such an interesting test case for where the line is in terms of having one elite NBA skill but not getting a chance.

I think we’re maybe assuming a little too much about the reasoning behind Masai Ujiri’s decision here. Ujiri has very rarely hesitated to do anything – he’s come into organizations and made sweeping changes, he’s dealt players shortly after re-signing them, he’s tweaked coaching staffs promptly, and so on. To ascribe his continued commitment to Casey to some sort of flaw within Ujiri that he hasn’t exhibited anywhere else is probably an attribution error. The reality is that Ujiri evaluated the situation, had faith that Casey can make some system tweaks, and decided to give it another year (alternatively, maybe he just didn’t like the coaching options available on the market, or some confluence of factors). I’m not sure I agree with the decision entirely, but that’s not the same as thinking there’s some flaw with Ujiri’s process that’s led to a decision I’m not one thousand percent behind.

Were it to wind up being true that Ujiri had some hesitation in moving on from Casey, rather than simply deciding he’s the best person for the job, then it would be more weakness than strength. Rigidity isn’t particularly flattering in an ever-changing environment. But again, I don’t believe that to be the case here.

It’s not really a realistic scenario. As I’ve written about a bunch, the Raptors will have next to know recourse for replacing Lowry if he leaves. If Lowry walks and even two of the other three free agents are retained, the Raptors are looking at only the mid-level exception to play on the free agent market, and that probably doesn’t get you Patty Mills unless you’re the Spurs. If the Raptors let all four free agents walk, they could find their way to about $20 million in cap space, but the more cap space you carve out, the less sense it will make to spend it on a veteran rather than taking a flier on a young player. Basically, if Lowry leaves, the succession plan at point guard is going to be what they have with maybe one mid-level addition, which is a big part of why the “they can be just as good or better without Lowry” arguments don’t hold much water (that, and the fact that he’s their best 3-point shooter, highest-volume 3-point shooter, and best creator of threes for others as the team looks to add more threes to their offense).

Anyway, in another offseason, it’s a fun thought experiment, toying with different “replacement” levels and costs. But the Raptors are capped out even without Lowry, a big part of his leverage.

Raptors miscellaneous

Is Bruno Caboclo better than DeMarre Carroll right now? No. And he probably won’t be to start next year, either.

This isn’t meant as a dig at Caboclo, who is still young and in the development stage of his career. Caboclo has taken some really nice strides on the defensive end of the floor, and as he continues to fill out (and grow), I think he’s probably pretty close to being an NBA-level defender at the forward positions. His individual defense improved a lot this year, as did his team defense, particularly in help-and-recover or help-the-helper scenarios, some of the tougher things to iron out once a raw player tries to get past “use my length wildly.” Overall, though, Caboclo needs to come quite a ways on offense. He has a nice stroke, but his 3-point shot hasn’t fallen with a ton of regularity in a fairly large sample, his ball skill isn’t close to an NBA level, and opponents would load up off of him and then scramble out to him beyond the arc, forcing him to put the ball on the floor. There remains room for optimism with Caboclo, even in the nearer-term, but his role for 2017-18 probably tops out as occasional bench player with some continued D-League time.

It’s also a bit of a vote of tepid confidence in Carroll. Carroll’s fallen on hard times, to be sure, and I understand the dissipated patience in him returning to his Hawks-caliber self. At age 30 with the injury history he has, he might not ever get back there. But Carroll’s also a bit removed from real injury now, and the team has talked up their faith in his ability to get back at least somewhere closer to his previous form. They have to say that, obviously, but an offseason without a recovery to worry about (and the requisite time off it necessitated) should be good for him. He’s still a decent defender against some player types and his 3-point shooting should regress closer to his career norm.

The Raptors would probably prefer to find a home for Carroll to save on luxury tax, but that’s unlikely to happen without paying a team to take him. Instead, they may be left hoping for the best, treating the $30.2 million still owed to him as a sunk cost, and seeing if he can capably transition to a bench role if he doesn’t have a bounce-back to start the season.

(This is assuming the Raptors try to remain competitive. Were they to blow it up, yeah, Caboclo probably has a huge role.)

The easiest way off the treadmill is to stop trying to move forward altogether. It hurts, but if the Raptors want to break free from a continued existence in the league’s meaty second tier, the easiest path to doing so is to move backward into a lower tier. That is, tanking, or “rebuilding” if you prefer a less objectionable turn. It would look something like this, and it would be painful. The path to moving forward off of the treadmill just isn’t really there without a franchise-altering prospect, significant salary cap flexibility, or obvious trade assets for a star.

Taking a big step backward isn’t palatable for some. For others, it’s the only reasonable approach forward. Both sides have a legitimate, justifiable case for their preference. If the craziness of the last week has shown anything, it’s that there are good arguments for both sides. The Sixers cashing in some assets for an even brighter near-term future shows just how exciting a rebuild can be as it rounds into form, and how much optimism there can be if things break even remotely right. The Celtics and Sixers both being set up to strike a few years down the line (or sooner) is a reminder that Cleveland or otherwise, there will almost always be a top team in your way when you’re ready. The mess that is the Cavaliers is a reminder that there’s value in staying ready to strike in the now, because the league’s power balance can change on a moment’s notice.

The NBA is hard. Being on the treadmill is a place a lot of teams would love to be. There’s value in it, especially when you a) have never been there before, and b) haven’t been there that long, really. There’s no certainty trying to get off won’t just have you back in the same spot a little later down the line, anyway. But maybe it does. Again, your mileage (get it?) on a treadmill will vary, and there’s no right or wrong way to feel.

I’m going to use the best individual seasons of Raptors here. What I mean is: I can’t take Tracy McGrady’s best season with the Magic or Rockets. I’m only grabbing the best Raptors at those snapshots in time. And to be clear, I’m not building this team to be just the best eight players, I’m building it specifically in an attempt to try to beat this Warriors team.

PG: Kyle Lowry, 2015-16
SG: DeMar DeRozan, 2016-17
SF: Vince Carter, 2000-01
PF: Donyell Marshall, 2003-04
C: Chris Bosh, 2007-08
Guard: Jose Calderon, 2007-08
Wing: Doug Christie, 1996-97
Big: Antonio Davis, 2000-01

You could probably go with Damon Stoudamire’s 1996-97 season in Calderon’s place, but I opted for shooting over non-disasters on defense. I might not even with Mike James’ ether season, or Lou Williams’ Sixth Man year, given the need for scoring. You could go with Amir Johnson in 2012-13 or 2013-14 in Davis’ place, too. What gets really tough with the Raptors is that after the fairly obvious Lowry/DeRozan/Carter/Bosh inclusions, you’re dealing with players who either didn’t sustain that level too long (Marshall), are mostly one-way players (Calderon), don’t fit the matchup (Jonas Valanciunas), weren’t who they’d become yet (McGrady), and so on. Don’t sleep on how insane Marshall’s 2003-04 was, by the way.

I think you could go a lot of different ways with this. Interested to hear other people’s top-eight.

Non-Raptors miscellaneous

False. I’m all for poking fun at Isaiah Thomas, but this is a few steps too far. Thomas is too legitimately good, and has and will sustain it too long, for the shady James Ellsworth comp. Now, if you wanted to give Thomas a comparison of a cruiserweight who had a short-lived and unsuccessful run at the top (think Chris Sabin in TNA, or even Rey Mysterio when not opposite Eddie Guerrero), I’m all for that. But our hate-hard cross-sport comps have to at least be somewhat fair. I thought way too long about who is deserving of the Ellsworth nod and came up empty. I can hate hard, but not that hard.

https://twitter.com/Cam_From_Canada/status/876976608115961856

Now here is a guy worthy of an Ellsworth comp. I’m not sure what’s next for Rougned Odor, and I’m going to make the smart career move and censor myself here about all things Texas Rangers.

I’m done season one! Eric and I will probably discuss it on the Raptors Reasonablists podcast later today (with better audio quality, I hope – sorry). I’ve liked it. It’s not surprising, given my affinity for other Rob Thomas shows, his naming tropes, his recurring actors, and so on. I think, understandably, me watching Veronica Mars for the first time now, way after, at age 31, lessens it’s resonation a bit compared to those who had an earlier attachment to it, but it’s quite good. I really liked the way they paced and structured the big storyline over the course of the season while using the individual episode arcs to build a really strong “universe” for the series. By the end of the season, as characters weave back in and out, the show plays off itself and it’s canon really well. I started season two, and while I’ve heard it’s not as good, I could see that elaborate universe helping carry a less encapsulating overall storyline. (I need more Wallace basketball storylines though.)

Anyway, thanks to you and Eric for pushing it on me. It’s a nice follow up to last summer’s first watch of The OC.

The annual Raptors Republic 3-on-3 tournament is shaping up to be pretty awesome. There will be a post on it later this week opening up slots for sign-up. As a bit of a teaser, there will be four teams represented by Toronto/Raptors-adjacent media. As for bracketing, I’m always torn on how to do this: To force those feuds or hope they play out naturally. Last year, I organized the group stage blind (no team names) based on self-ratings and size to try to create the most even playing field…but then I didn’t get to break Reynolds’ ankles or dunk on Woodley. I think this year I’ll make sure I get to go against at least one of Will & The Defeated, Alex Wong, or theScore crew.

As a reminder, if you appreciate the content we produce, want to support RR, and have the means to do so, we’ve started a Patreon page at patreon.com/RaptorsRepublic. Any contribution is greatly appreciated and will help us continue to do what we do, and try to do even more.

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