After six years of Raptors president Masai Ujiri guiding the franchise’s growing relevance in the league that serves stars and glamour first, it could all come undone quickly.
Should Leonard leave for nothing in free agency along with sidekick Danny Green (also a free agent), and Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka a year older and heading into the final year of their deals, the Raptors could be forced into a rapid rebuild.
Events league-wide haven’t made life easier for Ujiri and general manager Bobby Webster.
Hours after the Raptors enjoyed one of their most impressive wins in weeks – a hard-fought road win in Philadelphia where they got important contributions from every segment of their roster and with the prospect of injured centre Jonas Valanciunas returning after a 31-game absence – the ground shifted underneath their feet.
Sixers fans who were heckling Elton Brand while the Raptors were building up an 18-point first-half lead woke up to learn that the rookie Philadelphia general manager had acquired Tobias Harris, an all-star calibre wing from the Los Angeles Clippers, as the centerpiece of a blockbuster deal that also netted the Sixers quality role players Boban Marjanovich – the only player in the league bigger than the Sixers’ Joel Embiid – and Mike Scott, who gave the Raptors fits in the playoffs when he was coming off the bench for the Washington Wizards.
The Sixers made the move without giving up any significant pieces from their current roster.
The Raptors create a $1,569,360 exception with this move. This is just an accounting matter that happens automatically, as the Raptors are sending out salary without taking any back. They’ll have one year in which they can use that exception to absorb that amount plus $100,000 back in a trade without sending out matching salary.
The Raptors also have a $2,451,225 trade exception from the Caboclo-Richardson deal that expires Friday and a $2,947,320 one from Jakob Poeltl’s part in the Spurs deal that expires in mid-July. (Exceptions can not be aggregated or combined with players for salary matching. They are 0-for-1 tools.)
The 76ers, by the way, absorbed Richardson into a previously existing trade exception created in Dario Saric’s part of the Jimmy Butler deal.
That is the view of NBA pundit J.E. Skeets.
Leonard will become a free agent this summer and has been linked with a move back to his home state of California.
The superstar recently bought a new $13.3million home in San Diego, just under two hours’ drive away from the Clippers practice facility.
Many fans believe that this is a sign that he wants to return to California after just a year in Canada.
The Clippers are gearing up for a run at free agency this summer, having let Harris leave the day before the trade deadline.
Teams have until 8pm GMT today to make deals before the trade window slams shut.
While Leonard will not leave until the summer, Skeets admitted that it is probable that he will depart in the offseason.
“My gut, even as a Raptors fan, I think he’s ultimately leaving,” he said.
“I think he’s going to go to California and the Clippers are up front.”
The Raptors are currently second in the Eastern Conference, level with the Milwaukee Bucks, and Skeets admitted that if the Raptors are able to make a push towards the NBA title, it could help sway Leonard’s decision.
“That’s the wildcard here,” he said of the Raptors making the NBA Finals.
“They’ve got to go very very deep into the playoffs, which would probably be a finals appearance in order to keep Kawhi.
“Unless Masai [Ujiri, Raptors president] has something up his sleeve and is going to get another big name, [which is] unlikely.
“I think he might go.
“I think the Clips are set up nicely, they’ve got Jerry West and he just makes things happen.”
The Raptors are not presently pursuing Memphis' Mike Conley, according to one league source, while pessimism is emanating from Detroit about the Pistons meeting the Grizzlies' asking price for Conley. Twenty hours to go before the trade deadline for things to re-ignite
— Marc Stein (@TheSteinLine) February 6, 2019
The 32-year-old guard addressed some of the recent rumors ahead of Thursday’s trade deadline, revealing he didn’t ask to be dealt to a new team.
“I personally want to be in Toronto,” Lowry said, per The Athletic. “I’ve never asked for a trade. My goal is to try to win a championship here, and that’s what I want to do. I’ve heard all the rumors just like that.
“I’m sure if anything were to happen, management would call me and talk to me and make me aware of anything that was going down. That’s one of the things where I’m sure we have a good enough relationship to know what is going on.”
Lowry explained he isn’t concerned because trades are just the nature of the business, and the Raptors will make a decision based on what’s best for the franchise.
“I think they will make decisions for themselves, and they’ll do what’s best for them. I don’t think there’s one thing I can say or do [to change that], you know what I mean? I think that’s just how they work, and they operate,” Lowry told ESPN. “They make moves, and they make moves for the best of the organization. If they do something that will be their feeling to whatever the organization thinks is best for them.”
Sports Illustrated reported earlier this week that Toronto offered guard Kyle Lowry and center Jonas Valanciunas to Memphis in exchange for Mike Conley and Marc Gasol. Lowry, however, said he hasn’t yet heard anything from the team about a potential trade.
There have been rumblings the longtime Raptors’ guard could be on the move. The Raptors offered Lowry and Jonas Valanciunas to the Grizzlies in exchange for both Conley and Gasol, Sports Illustrated reported.
The offer was rejected, but Lowry is said to be aware Toronto is shopping him elsewhere. Lowry told reporters in Toronto on Tuesday night that his goal is still “to win a championship here.”
The 76ers on Wednesday acquired Tobias Harris, Boban Marjanovic and Mike Scott in a trade with the Clippers, but another deal might be on the horizon.
This time, Markelle Fultz could be on the move. Both the Hawks and Magic have expressed interest in the former No. 1 draft pick, according to ESPN. Fultz’s role with the 76ers has grown increasingly unclear in the past few months after he lost a spot in the starting lineup to Jimmy Butler. His agent also revealed in December that he has a nerve disorder, thoracic outlet syndrome, which could hamper his shooting ability.
The Philadelphia 76ers added forward Tobias Harris, a fringe Western Conference all-star, from the Los Angeles Clippers and now have a formidable starting five of Ben Simmons, J.J. Redick, Jimmy Butler, Harris and Joel Embiid. The cost was substantial — promising rookie Landry Shamet and four draft picks, including a 2021 unprotected first-rounder from Miami — but the Sixers seem all-in on taking a run at the East this year.
And the conference-leading Milwaukee Bucks picked up a depth piece in Stanley Johnson from Detroit in a swap for the seldom-used Thon Maker.
The Boston Celtics, seen as the other Big Four team in the East, remained on the sidelines.
League and industry sources, speaking on the condition of anonymity given the delicate and ever-changing nature of trade negotiations, continued to insist late Wednesday afternoon that the Raptors were unlikely to pull off a significant deal.
The Raptors did make one inconsequential money-saving move, shipping seldom-used Malachi Richardson and a 2022 protected second-round pick to Philadelphia for the rights to Emir Preldzic. It will not shift the balance of power in the conference, but it does create a roster spot that the Raptors will have to fill within 14 days.
The roster has needs — three-point shooting and depth in rim protection would be high on the “want” list — but there doesn’t seem to be anything available that would address the needs without taking away from assets and long-term possibilities that Ujiri and Webster have been accruing for years.
The players, who are far more in tune with what’s going on with the team and around the league than anyone else, understand the process. They also understand that, for the most part, nothing substantial happens on deadline day.
The Kyle Lowry trade rumours carried over to a second day Wednesday, with ESPN’s Brian Windhorst reporting the Raptors have talked with the Memphis Grizzlies about a potential deal that would also involve Grizzlies guard Mike Conley.
“The message (Conley) wants is if he’s going to be traded he’d prefer to go to the Eastern Conference. Now Memphis is working on deals with Detroit and Toronto. Toronto would be Kyle Lowry,” Windhorst said on The Jump Wednesday.
Conley’s name had been attached to the Utah Jazz in trade rumours until his agent let it be known he’d prefer not to play there, per Windhorst. But the Jazz could still be involved in a three-team trade that would send Lowry to Salt Lake City.
The NBA Trade Deadline is Thursday at 3pm et, and Lowry could be in the spotlight until then.
“I don’t know if Toronto is going to do this, but the sides have talked about it for sure.
“Lowry, five-time All-Star with the Raptors, he is definitely concerned about being traded by tomorrow.”
This is a haymaker on two fronts. By trading for Tobias Harris, an All-Star-level player who fills a distinct need as an elite shooter, the Sixers have dealt a big blow to Toronto’s NBA Finals chances. The Sixers likely won’t be able to catch them in the standings, with just 28 games left to close the gap of 4.5 games, but as the Raptors found out last postseason, rotations shrink in the postseason. The Sixers just armed themselves with the best starting lineup in the Eastern Conference. They’re going to be a tough out.
On another front, by moving Harris, the Clippers have firmly opened up a max slot for the Raptors’ best player in Kawhi Leonard. Executives around the league weren’t sure that Harris was going to stay put in L.A., not with the team’s bigger aspirations of landing Leonard. (Ask former Clippers analyst Bruce Bowen how serious they are about the Kawhi sweepstakes). The Clippers can now focus all their attention on landing the big fish. Leonard is No. 1; Harris — whose Bird Rights are more valuable to a team over the cap like the Sixers — is not.
This was a great gamble by the Sixers on its own merits. But the 1-2 punch it levied against an elite East superpower can’t be discounted. Will the Raptors counter? Don’t be surprised if they make a move for Marc Gasol or Kevin Love. Raptors president Masai Ujiri is pot-committed.
They got some welcome news on Tuesday morning when point guard Kyle Lowry – listed as doubtful on the team’s injury report for tonight’s game here against the Philadelphia 76ers – plopped himself down on a courtside chair before the team’s shootaround at Wells Fargo Center and announced:
It’s not the first time Lowry has surprised his team by deciding to return to action in his hometown – although in this case he’d only missed one game. The last time didn’t work out very well. Lowry had been out four games beginning Dec. 12th dealing with what was listed as a thigh injury, when he put himself in the lineup against the 76ers on Dec. 22nd.
Lowry was largely ineffective (6-of-15 from the floor; 2-of-9 from deep) in a blowout loss and ended up missing the next six games with a back problem. He returned on Jan. 6th and played 12 games largely below his standard – he shot just 30.6 from three over that stretch – and then was held out again on Sunday against the Los Angeles Clippers with no previous indication that there was a problem.
Lowry tried to clarify things on Tuesday morning regarding his most recent issue by downplaying it: “I’ll be honest with you. I don’t know who listed me as doubtful. I didn’t list myself as doubtful. I never wasn’t planning on playing [against Philadelphia],” he said.
The Toronto Raptors announced Wednesday they have acquired cash considerations from the Philadelphia 76ers in exchange for guard Malachi Richardson, the draft rights to forward Emir Preldzic and draft considerations.
Richardson appeared in 23 games during two seasons with the Raptors. He was acquired from Sacramento on Feb. 8, 2018.
“I think they will make decisions for themselves, and they’ll do what’s best for them,” Lowry told ESPN after scoring 20 points to go with six assists and two steals in a 119-107 win over the Philadelphia 76ers on Tuesday. “I don’t think there’s one thing I can say or do [to change that], you know what I mean?
I think that’s just how they work, and they operate. They make moves, and they make moves for the best of the organization. If they do something, that will be their feeling to whatever the organization thinks is best for them.”
Lowry has been discussed as a piece in a potential deal with the Memphis Grizzlies, sources confirmed to ESPN. He admitted he was surprised that his name had come up at all, and that he hasn’t been contacted by anyone in Toronto’s front office about a potential deal.
“No, I haven’t heard anything,” Lowry said. “Reassurance would be great, but at the end of the day, they don’t have to call me. My job is, as a player, to go out here and do my job. If they want to call me, that’d be great. I would appreciate it. But if they don’t, I understand.
“It’s a business. I know that’s such a cliche, but if they wanted to call me, I’m sure they would. I’ve been here six years, and I’ve given a lot to this organization. I’m sure if they were going to trade me, they’d say, ‘Hey, Kyle, this is what’s on the table.'”
In its annual rankings, Forbes said the Knicks’ value increased 11 per cent from last year because of a $1 billion renovation of Madison Square Garden, completed in 2013, that has produced a series of new revenue streams.
The Knicks, who feature a starting lineup with three new players acquired in the Kristaps Porzingis trade, lost at home Tuesday night for a franchise-record 15th straight game. They began Wednesday with a 10-43 record.
Forbes says the Los Angeles Lakers remain in second place with a value of $3.7 billion, up 12 per cent.
Rounding out the top five are the Golden State Warriors ($3.5 billion), Chicago Bulls ($2.9 billion) and Boston Celtics ($2.8 billion).
The Toronto Raptors are 11th at $1.7 billion. Toronto is also ranked fifth in value increase over the last five years at 222 per cent, behind Golden State (367 per cent), Los Angeles Clippers (282 per cent), Philadelphia (252 per cent) and Milwaukee (233 per cent).
The average NBA team is worth $1.9 billion, up 13 per cent from last year.
“That Sixers trade felt desperate – gave up way too much for an expiring [free agent],” Simmons wrote in a subsequent tweet. “And throwing [Landry] Shamet in the deal was just weird … Why not make same offer for Jrue Holiday?”
Not everyone at The Ringer agreed with their boss. NBA writer Kevin O’Connor wrote the addition of Harris arguably gives the Sixers the best five-man lineup in the Eastern Conference.
Over on ESPN, writer Kevin Pelton gave the Clippers a solid “A” for the trade, while he slapped the Sixers with a “C-,” writing that the Philadelphia “paid dearly” to add Harris.
“I don’t think I would have given up so much in terms of both future picks and Shamet for a player who will be an unrestricted free agent in five months (and could, it should be noted, just walk away),” Pelton wrote. “If the Sixers reach the NBA Finals in the next couple of years, however, the price may prove worth it.”
Fellow NBA writer Tim Bontemps was curious about what other Eastern Conference contenders would do to counter the Sixers, who could be a threat in the East for years to come if they manage to keep Ben Simmons, Jimmy Butler, Joel Embiid, and Harris together long-term.
“The question now is how do the other contenders — the Boston Celtics, Toronto Raptors and Milwaukee Bucks — react? The Bucks have likely already made their big moves, while the Celtics have to wait until the offseason to make the swing they’ve been plotting for years — trying to land [New Orleans Pelicans star] Anthony Davis,” Bontemps wrote. “That leaves the Raptors as the team most likely to counter with an aggressive move, and it won’t be a surprise if Toronto does something significant between now and Thursday afternoon.”
The Jazz are in multiple conversations around the deadline about acquiring talent to improve their team for the rest of the 2018-19 season and beyond, sources tell The Salt Lake Tribune. The focus remains on upgrading the guard and power forward positions, due to the expiring contracts of Ricky Rubio and Derrick Favors.
That they’re facing an uncertain free agency period is a major impetus for the trade discussions. On Tuesday night, Tobias Harris, one of the possible free agent signings who Utah was interested in, was traded for the Philadelphia 76ers for a huge package which included two first round picks (including a 2021 Miami unprotected pick, considered one of the better draft assets in the league) along with talented rookie Landry Shamet and Mike Muscala, among others. Harris will still be a free agent in the summer, but his trade to Philadelphia makes the 76ers the massive favorites in retaining his services.
Meanwhile, it’s a relatively weak point guard market beyond Kyrie Irving and Kemba Walker, neither of which are likely to be interested in signing with Utah.
That’s one of the largest reasons the Jazz have continued their chase for Memphis point guard Mike Conley: the dearth of options to upgrade in the near future. The 31-year-old Conley, on the other hand, has averaged 20.4 points and 6.4 assists per game for the Grizzlies.