The Toronto Raptors are treating their fans with another season of greatness.
For a team that entered the season without any real expectations despite winning the title last June, the Raptors find themselves among the Eastern Conference elite with a 30-14 record, good for 3rd in the East. Nearly every Raptors’ player who was a part of the title run — veterans included — have taken a step forward this season, and the front office has brought in a very capable bench.
The NBA is as open as it has been in recent memory. There is no Miami Heat or Golden State Warriors dynasty standing in the way of teams weighing the pros and cons of pursuing a title. Every team in the league outside of the Milwaukee Bucks — who are still unproven in the playoffs — have at least one flaw, and some teams like the Philadelphia 76ers and Houston Rockets are playing well below expectations.
The Raptors understand where the league stands and are a very confident group, enough for Masai Ujiri to claim that “we’re going to die trying” to repeat as champions. Adding, “These guys know how to compete and we’ll continue to see how that evolves, and we’re confident in these guys.”
As confident as they may be, the Raptors are looking to add talent at the deadline, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. Despite having a core of young players, windows to win are short in the NBA, and you never know what the future holds. Need I remind you that the Brooklyn Nets could have a healthy Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant as soon as next season.
Today I am going to explore some positional needs for the Raptors ahead of the NBA trade deadline on February 6th. I highly recommend reading Blake Murphy’s trade deadline primer to understand where the team sits financially as well as Eric Koreen’s Raptors trade tiers to understand which players are most likely to go out the door.
For part one of this exercise, I will explore each position (centers, forwards, wings, and guards) the Raptors could look to upgrade, including which scenarios are most likely. For part two, which will come out next week, I will dive deeper into some players the Raptors could realistically target.
Center (Ex. Tristian Thompson, Andre Drummond)
When considering trading for a pure center like Thompson or Drummond, the Raptors would have to decide which one of their centers — Serge Ibaka or Marc Gasol — they would be sending the other way. Although Ibaka may sound like the obvious answer, the reality is slightly more complicated.
Gasol is the team’s defensive anchor and the Raptors are significantly better with him on the floor. However, Ibaka is playing some of the best basketball of his career this season, and his versatility being able to play power forward in big lineups or center can not be overlooked.
Still, it feels like Gasol is too important to be traded whereas Ibaka is slightly more expendable.
The next question the Raptors front office would need to ask themselves is this: is upgrading the backup center position by bringing in someone who can rebound and score a little more consistently than Ibaka worth it when it means the team will sacrifice some versatility?
Since neither Thompson or Drummond can play alongside Gasol, it seems unlikely that the Raptors would trade Ibaka for a pure center.
Forward (Ex. Danilo Gallinari, Davis Bertans, LaMarcus Aldridge, Kevin Love)
If the Raptors are going to trade Ibaka, it makes more sense to go after a similar forward who represents a slight upgrade, ideally one who can play power forward or center.
Gallinari and Bertans would both struggle to play center, although both are elite three-point shooters. Aldridge and Love can slide between positions, but neither is likely to be traded ahead of the deadline and the Raptors probably don’t want to take on Love’s contract anyway.
More importantly, Ibaka has become a more consistent double-double guy and is shooting 37.1 percent from three this season. Sure, there are forwards around the league that would represent a clear upgrade over Ibaka, but none of them are likely to be on the trading block. It might make sense to keep the frontcourt as is, especially after how well Ibaka and Gasol played together last playoffs.
If the Raptors make a move at the deadline, which position do you most hope they improve?
— Oren Weisfeld (@OrenWeisfeld) January 20, 2020
Wing (Ex. Robert Covington, Marcus Morris, Andre Iguodala)
If the Raptors do make a deal ahead of the deadline — not at all a given considering that their top-seven is playing very good basketball together — I think they are most likely to add a wing. You really can’t have too many wings in the modern NBA.
Covington, Morris, and Iguodala are all solid 3-and-D players who could come off the bench and provide additional floor spacing and defense. Plus, the addition of one more 3-and-D guy would make the Raptors significantly more versatile, enabling them to bench Hollis-Jefferson when needed to play five reliable shooters at all times.
However, the front office would need to ask themselves if any of these players represent a clear upgrade over Norman Powell, who is playing the best basketball of his career. If not, does it make sense to package end-of-rotation guys (to match salary) and a pick to bring in an eighth man?
It might, given that all three of the players mentioned above are a significant upgrade over Patrick McCaw and Hollis-Jefferson. However, aside from Covington ($11 million), the money gets difficult to match for Morris ($15 million) and Iguodala ($17 million).
Who would you prefer the Raptors trade for?
— Oren Weisfeld (@OrenWeisfeld) January 18, 2020
Guard (Ex. Evan Fournier, Derrick Rose, Bogdan Bogdanovich, Jrue Holiday)
Finally, would the Raptors try to bring in a veteran guard to replace McCaw and Davis’ minutes?
Fourier and Rose are veterans who can provide steady scoring off the bench, whereas Bogdanovich and Holiday are stars who would likely fetch either VanVleet or Powell in return.
With Lowry and VanVleet, the Raptors have two All-Star level point guards who can play on or off the ball and complement each other well. It means Nick Nurse can split up his point guards so that one is on the floor at all times, keeping the offense steady. With the way Lowry and VanVleet have played this season, it would be hard to trade either.
However, the Raptors are going to have to play very big teams like Philadelphia and Milwaukee in the playoffs, and we saw what happened to VanVleet especially, but Lowry to a lesser extent, against the 76ers last year. It’s hard to play two 6-foot guards together in the league today, which is why the Raptors front office might be forward-thinking enough to trade for a guard like Holiday if he is on the block.
In part two next week I will look deeper into some of the players mentioned above, exploring which players are a fit for the Raptors and at what price.