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 33-14 record good for 2nd 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 more than 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. For example, the Brooklyn Nets could have a healthy Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant as soon as next season.
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 explored the Raptors’ needs by position, concluding that they lack a bit of size and could use a front-court contributor off the bench; ideally, a guy who can defend and provide scoring and rebounding.
Today, for part two, I will look into the most realistic players the Raptors could target ahead of the February 6th deadline (one week away).
Caveat 1: These are mostly big names because I think if the Raptors are going to make a trade they might as well do something impactful, otherwise they can stand pat.
Caveat 2: I think the Raptors are more likely to trade Ibaka than Gasol, which is why I have him as the outgoing salary in many of these trades. However, with Gasol’s injury and Ibaka’s improved play, the Raptors might think differently.
Tristian Thompson, center, Cleveland Cavaliers
Framework: Serge Ibaka + first-round pick for Thompson
As I mentioned in part one, the Raptors should be hesitant to trade Ibaka — who would likely be in the deal for salary-matching purposes — for a big who can not play next to Gasol.
However, Thompson would immediately solve a lot of the Raptors rebounding problems and give them a pick-and-roll threat to play alongside Lowry and VanVleet.
Thompson doesn’t shoot, but he lets his presence be felt on the offensive end in other ways, averaging 12/10/2 on the season (all career highs) while shooting 51.7 percent from the field.
He ranks 8th in the league in total rebounds (467) and 2nd in offensive rebounds (185). The Raptors, on the other hand, rank 22nd in the league in rebounding rate at 49.2 percent. They will likely have to get through at least two of Milwaukee (52.5%), Miami (52.5%), and Philadelphia (51.7%), the top-three rebounding teams in the league.
Rebounding should be at the top of the Raptors priorities ahead of the deadline. They simply can not afford to surrender numerous second-chance opportunities to teams when they don’t have the talent to make up for it.
Thompson is not only an elite rebounder: He is solid defensively, has championship experience, and is a good pick-and-roll player. Plus, he is a Torontonian who might be willing to stay in Toronto after this season when his contract expires.
In the unlikely scenario that Thompson is not traded and gets bought-out, expect him to land in Toronto.
Danilo Gallinari, forward, Oklahoma City thunder
Framework: Ibaka + first-round pick for Gallinari
Gallo is having an incredible season, scoring 19.0 points while shooting 41.4 percent from three on 7.4 attempts per game. At 6-foot-10, he is a big floor spacer who can also create for his teammates, averaging 2.3 assists per game (and just 1.4 turnovers).
Again, matching Gallinari’s $22 million expiring contract would likely mean sending Ibaka the other way. That would mean sacrificing some defense and rim protection for a reliable scorer, but it would also mean the Raptors would lack a reliable backup center unless they get one in the buy-out market or make a second trade.
Oklahoma City is in the 7th seed in the West and have not made it clear whether or not Gallinari is even on the trading block, which is why this one seems unlikely. However, his passing would help a bench unit that struggles to move the ball without Gasol and his shooting would open up the floor for everyone to attack, allowing the Raptors to play five real shooters at a time.
Davis Bertans, forward, Washington Wizards
Framework: Patrick McCaw, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson + first-round pick for Bertans
Bertans is owed just $7 million and his contract expires after this season, which means the Raptors could theoretically trade for him without sacrificing Ibaka or Powell. They would, however, likely have to send their first-round pick and/or a prospect.
Bertans might be worth it, even if he is just a rental for the season.
Bertans is averaging 15.2 points while shooting 42.0 percent on a ridiculous 8.7 three-point attempts per game. His true shooting percentage of 61.9 ranks 16th in the league, just ahead of Gallinari (61.7).
Bertans is a worse passer than Gallo but might be more attractive based on his salary. The Raptors would be better off with one more big who can space the floor and play the three or four, and they could acquire Bertans without giving up Ibaka or Gasol.
Although Bertans can struggle defensively, the Raptors would surround him with wings and bigs who are elite on that side of the floor, making up for his weakness. The Raptors need scoring more than defense, though, and Bertans could provide a scoring punch.
Robert Covington, wing, Minnesota Timberwolves
Framework: McCaw, Hollis-Jefferson + first-round pick for Covington
Roco provides scoring and defense, which is why he will be highly coveted ahead of the deadline. Plus, he is on an extremely team-friendly deal, owed $36 million over the next three seasons.
Despite averaging 12.8 points and 6.0 rebounds, Covington hasn’t shot the ball all that well this season, shooting just 34.8 percent on 6.5 three-point attempts per game.
He is still a very good defender who is averaging 0.9 blocks and 1.6 steals per game, and he would be a significant upgrade over any eighth man the Raptors currently have on their roster.
However, it is likely going to cost a lot of assets to acquire Covington considering how many teams are going after him, and it might not be worth it for a Raptors team that needs scoring and rebounding above all else.
Marcus Morris, wing, New York Knicks
Framework: Ibaka for Morris + Taj Gibson
Morris will be another hot commodity at the deadline. He is shooting a ridiculous 45.0 percent from three on 5.9 attempts per game, putting up 19/6/2. He isn’t as good of a defender as Covington but Morris plays extremely hard, is tough, and is having a career season.
Still, his 1-year, $15 million contract means he would not only be a rental but the Raptors would have to send out a significant salary, such as Powell or Ibaka, to match.
Andre Iguodala, wing, Memphis Grizzlies
Serge Ibaka + first-round pick for Iguodala and Jae Crowder
Iguodala is a really interesting player. The 36-year-old has not played organized basketball since the NBA Finals in June, but Iggy has a long history of coming through in big moments, especially on the defensive side of the ball.
Iggy would be a great eighth man on the Raptors, in my opinion, because even ten minutes a game of Iggy guarding the best wings on the opposing team would be extremely helpful. However, the problem for Toronto is that they don’t have an expiring salary large enough to match Iggy’s $17 million without losing a contributor. The only realistic outgoing options are Ibaka or Powell, both of whom are hugely important to what the Raptors do, and Iggy isn’t enough of an upgrade to justify sending either to Memphis, so this remains unlikely.
Evan Fournier, guard, Orlando Magic
Framework: Norman Powell, Stanley Johnson + second-round pick for Fournier
Fournier has a player option next season for $17 million, although he is likely to decline it and test his value in the open market. In other words: He is likely a rental.
However, the Magic are not even guaranteed a playoff spot this year, currently just 2.5 games up on the ninth-seed Chicago Bulls.
Fournier is an intriguing shooting guard / small forward who is scoring a career-high 18.8 points along with 3.4 assists. He is shooting 46/40/82 with a true shooting percentage of 58.9 on a 24.7 usage percentage, very efficient numbers for so much offensive responsibility.
Fournier would give the Raptors a big boost off the bench and, at 6-foot-7, could solve some of their size problems against bigger opponents. The Raptors need to ask themselves how much of an upgrade Fournier is over Powell, though, especially considering he is likely a rental.
LaMarcus Aldridge, forward, San Antonio Spurs
Bogdan Bogdanovich, guard, Sacramento Kings
Jrue Holiday, guard, New Orleans Pelicans
Aldridge, Bogdanovich, and Holiday are all intriguing options for the Raptors, although they remain extremely unlikely ahead of the deadline.
Not only would each cost several good assets to acquire, but their teams aren’t even clear sellers ahead of the deadline as the Spurs and Pelicans push for the eighth seed and the Kings are still considering re-signing Bogdanovich in the offseason.
Still, I wouldn’t put it past the Raptors front office to try to do something big if it’s on the table, making a push for the title in an uncertain year.