The Vulture Waits

This off-season may be much more about listening than speaking.

9 mins read

The vulture is a fascinating animal which is universally hated for a few reasons. It is seen as a lazy predator which skips the hunt and opts to wait for its victims to perish before feasting on the carcasses. A certain Pulitzer Prize winning photograph reinforced the veneer causing the entire species to fire its publicists and accept its role as society’s outcasts.

Far above the savannah’s countless battles the vulture roams the skies searching for the aftermaths of battles so it can feast on the sorrows of those fallen. Postbellum is wrought with anxiety and indecision, and it is this period that invites our underrated creature.

Where I’m going with this is that this off-season the Raptors can play vulture.

The clubs to eye are those that have waged their war and fallen short, and are either too tired to try again or too broken to be mended. Amongst them, the Bucks, Clippers, 76ers and Rockets. The Clippers are an impatient bunch looking for a shortcut to success. They were mercenaries assembled with a common goal but not a common cause, and as soon as the first crack in the armour appeared, so did the fissure which led to their ultimate demise. There will no doubt be pickings from this herd that the Raptors can consider. Montrezl Harrell made the rounds and Marcus Morris, who the Raptors had interest in, is also a free-agent.

The Bucks have decisions to make of their own – they can’t possibly enter next season without having some sort of confidence that they’ll be able to re-sign Giannis Antetokounmpo, and if they’re not, the ensuing sale might be marked down well below sticker prices. I certainly hope their misery knows no bounds.

The Sixers are also faux contenders though I’m sure someone at ESPN is still going on about how they’re the real deal. The thing about being the “team to beat” is that you first need to be a team, not a collection of randoms masked behind a slogan conflicting the underlying actions. Simmons, Embiid, Horford and Harris are untenable which means they will look to shake things up. When you try to shake that big of a shit out there will be side effects and the dominos will start falling. The Raptors would probably never be interested in either of those four, but as a third team in trades they have plenty to offer and more importantly, receive. And this holds true for any scenario, not just the Sixers.

There’s also the Rockets that may have had enough of trying to win a title without playing any defense, but scanning their roster there’s not much of interest. When Robert Covington and Danuel House are the attractive propositions there’s not much to be said. But the more important point here is that these four teams are going to be looking to make moves and willing to make trade-offs, which is where the Raptors can pounce. There will be activity which the Raptors can watch and wait without risking anything of great importance, because even if the Raptors come back with the default playbook (e.g., sign VanVleet, short deals for Ibaka, maybe Gasol), experience alone makes them a contender. So there’s no pressure to make a deal, only opportunities to pick off.

In a deal, though, their key bargaining chip is Norman Powell who is almost perfect trade bait. He’s got a year left on his deal with a player option that he’ll likely decline, and is considered to be an excellent bench player who could possibly flirt as a starter on a team desperate enough to look past his deficiencies. The Raptors also have sufficient backup in the position. Of the people that the Raptors would rather pay Powell is definitely towards the bottom of that list. He is this year’s Jakob Poeltl – a serviceable guy who many see as having a long and consistent NBA career.

Talking about a Powell trade seems underwhelming because even if we do ship him, what could we possibly get? Probably nothing exciting but this observer feels that if we are able to, somehow, flip him for a veteran like JJ Redick it would be phenomenal. Redick has two years left on his deal at $13M each and I don’t know what it would take to pry him from the claws of the Pelicans. If the Raptors are intending to make another realistic run at the Finals they need to address their three-point shooting. I can’t think of a better candidate in terms of leadership, consistency and ability than Redick. This is where throwing in a prospect or pick can be helpful.

The most valuable asset the Raptors have remains Kyle Lowry. I am making a deconstructionist argument here by suggesting that we need to dismantle excessive loyalty to any idea and look at the opposite of conventional wisdom to truly uncover all benefits. As unthinkable as it is to talk about a Lowry trade, he is the one player that a club could “overpay” for obvious reasons. Any trade involving a $30M player usually requires netting someone similar in return so there’s that to deal with but it’s still a possibility.

If Masai Ujiri was able to trade DeMar DeRozan for the betterment of the franchise he can do the same with Kyle Lowry. It would be hypocritical of him to not adopt the same mindset here. There’s no doubt Lowry’s the greatest Raptor ever but even Houston said goodbye to Hakeem Olajuwon and the Bulls declined Michael Jordan. A Lowry trade also has the potential for seamlessly transitioning between eras rather than a discrete hand-off where two eras sandwich a period of mediocrity.

Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of this off-season is whether Ujiri feels that the Raptors are able to come back with Lowry as the main guy and get back to the Finals. Given what’s transpiring with Boston and what’s happening with other underperforming Eastern contenders, he may see running it back as a fair option to get to the Finals.

As a side note, how many of you would have bet on Lowry’s trade value at age 34 being the highest it has ever been?

Overall, the Raptors don’t have to be aggressive in the trade market because given the turmoil in various clubs, opportunities are bound to present themselves. In Lowry they also hold an asset that plenty of teams can find attractive, so it may be a matter of listening rather than making calls.

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