Breaking down the Marc Gasol trade.
1 – Here’s the trade: Marc Gasol for Jonas Valanciunas, Delon Wright, C.J. Miles and 2024 2nd-round pick. The Raptors made a win-now move without giving up either one of Pascal Siakam or OG Anunoby. It makes complete sense.
2 – Why they made the deal: Let’s be real about this — the East got a lot better over the past few months and the Raptors needed a talent upgrade to keep pace. The 76ers got Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris, the Bucks hired a competent coach and they’re rolling teams by 15 points every night, and the Celtics are still overrated frauds. Toronto appeared to be the best team in the East to start the year, but clearly the rest of the conference closed the gap on them, so Masai Ujiri made his move.
3 – Why Gasol is needed against the Bucks: My thinking is that the Raptors identified the Bucks as their biggest threat in the East, especially after their most recent meeting in which Milwaukee dominated Toronto from start to finish. The Bucks have exactly one weakness in their defense — they always allow the pick-and-pop jumper in favor of collapsing the paint — and a stretch-five Gasol is the perfect foil. Either the Bucks come out and contest against Gasol’s jumper, which means Kawhi Leonard, Kyle Lowry, and Pascal Siakam are driving 1-on-1 to the basket, or they’re helping at the rim and leaving a 36-percent shooter wide-open. Between Gasol and Serge Ibaka, the Raptors will have a floor-spacing five who can also guard the rim for the full 48 minutes against the Bucks, which wasn’t the case when Jonas Valanciunas was the backup.
this is why the raps made the gasol move:
– bucks entire defense is built around collapsing the paint
– gasol's ability to pop is the counter pic.twitter.com/KA9caCz2Fd
— William Lou (@william_lou) February 7, 2019
4 – Another dimension: Gasol also gives the Raptors a legitimate playmaking option out of the post, which will make the Raptors harder to scheme against. Toronto ran sets with Ibaka and Valanciunas at the elbows, but Valanciunas couldn’t shoot so there was no space in the paint, and Ibaka couldn’t pass so it didn’t matter that he was stretching the floor, but Gasol fixes that. Not only is he one of the most talented passers at the center spot, but he can also draw the center out of position, which opens actual cutting lanes. Expect Pascal Siakam, Norman Powell, and OG Anunoby to be the main beneficiaries of Gasol’s presence.
5 – How the rotation shakes out: It’s unclear if a proud and accomplished star like Gasol would accept a bench role, but he should really alternate starts along with Ibaka according to the match-up. Both players are capable starters, but Ibaka has carried the Raptors through thick and thin this season, and Gasol’s playmaking fits better with the bench, anyway. The Raptors will undoubtedly lean on Spanish national head coach Sergio Scariolo to sell the reduced role to Gasol.
6 – The experience factor: If there’s one thing the last five years have taught the Raptors, it’s that experience matters in the playoffs. Gasol is a grizzled veteran who has made the Western Conference finals as the best player on his team. Draymond Green (fuck him still for breaking Jonas’s hand and that being the last memory of him as a Raptor) said it best: There are 82-game players, and 16-game players. Gasol is a 16-game player.
7 – But there is risk: Gasol’s decline is a concern. He came out of the gates on fire to start the season, but Gasol then went into a 23-game funk where he averaged 12 points per game, shot 39 percent from the field, 28 percent from deep, and straight-up stopped trying on defense. The Grizzlies subsequently went into the tank and Gasol was traded. Hopefully, a chance to reach the Finals will motivate and bring the best out of Gasol, but he’s definitely past his prime. Gasol has never been a dominant rebounder by any means, and he loves settling for midrange jumpers.
8 – Bigger picture: Gasol has a $26-million player option next season, but he should retain enough productivity to not require a draft pick to shed his expiring salary. However, this does complicate the books for next season, as the Raptors will be close to the salary cap without even factoring in a max contract for Kawhi Leonard (please re-sign my career depends on it) or an eight-figure deal for Danny Green. Ujiri could probably convince Gasol to reject the option and take a longer-term deal at a lower annual rate, but how much do you want to invest in a 34-year-old?
9 – More moves coming: The Raptors only have 10 roster spots filled at the moment. Even if they convert two-way players like Jordan Loyd and Chris Boucher into minimum contracts, that still leaves three open roster spots. They need a reliable playmaker, a knockdown shooter, and a mobile big who can rebound. We’ll see who’s available in the coming weeks, but don’t get your hopes up. Chances are they bring in fringe players like Shelvin Mack.
10 – A moment of appreciation: Valanciunas, Miles, and Wright were all good soldiers for the Raptors, and they deserve to be celebrated when they eventually return to Toronto. Valanciunas and Wright know no other franchise, while Miles was an instant hit with fans before the Go Daddy curse consumed him. They became like family members — Valanciunas as the goofy uncle, Miles as the smiley granddad, Wright as the awkward teenager with braces — and cutting them loose is by far the worst part of the job. But honestly, everyone and everything was on the table after DeMar DeRozan was traded.
11 – Not in vain: DeRozan, Valanciunas, Wright, Miles, and even Terrence Ross weren’t sacrificed for nothing. You would have lost your fucking mind if I told you two years ago that the Raptors — the freaking incompetent dinosaur franchise — were going to get Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green, Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol. Ujiri tried the sustainable growth route that it didn’t go anywhere, so he changed it up. This new team is here for a good time, not a long time, so appreciate every moment.
12 – Raptors-Hawks: That win was hilarious … The Raptors flat-out didn’t try for the first 20 minutes, Leonard didn’t play and Ibaka hardly broke a sweat, but they still came away with a blowout win on the road against a respectable team … Siakam is the truth, and I never want to see him in any other uniform … Pat McCaw impressed me with his activity and effort on defense, but he’s Bebe-levels of shy when it comes to shooting … VanVleet had the game of his career, and this is a massive confidence boost, but I hope he keeps everything in perspective and doesn’t try to play outside of himself with everyone healthy.