Do you think Norman Powell is being actively shopped given the summer ’21 cap situation and ambitions? And do you think he could fetch a late first? — Alexandre
I don’t know if shopped is the right word, necessarily. Raptors fans are certainly shopping him based on the proposals I received for this piece. The actual team is probably in a situation where Powell just makes the most sense as a piece of a lot of frameworks. He’s the team’s only mid-tier salary, which makes him valuable for salary matching. He’s also a wing scorer in his prime on a reasonable deal, which makes him an attractive asset to teams who aren’t as worried about his 2021-22 player option. It’s similar to a few years back when every trade idea in this column involved Patrick Patterson because he was the only Raptor who was good and on a deal that helped match salary.
Having laid that out, I think hoping for a first-round pick might be too optimistic. Prior to 2019-20, some of our 2021 scenarios involved paying a team to take Powell, similar to the DeMarre Carroll dump. He had a career year, but he is probably only a slightly positive asset. That might help you move up or get a second attached to a similar salary. If a first — especially a 2021 first — is on the table, they should take the short-term hit and do it.
Ultimately the decision for who gets to be exempted from the quarantine requirements at the border is made by Health Canada.
When I reached out to the office of Health Minister Patty Hajdu, the response was clear as mud:
“The Government of Canada’s priority is to protect the health and safety of Canadians. The resumption of sports events in Canada must be undertaken in adherence to Canada’s plan to mitigate the importation and spread of COVID-19. Like other countries, Canada is working on plans for a measured resumption of sports, including, both professional and amateur sporting events.
“The Government is open to reviewing proposals from the Toronto Raptors that includes a comprehensive public health plan agreed to by the Public Health Agency of Canada and obtaining written support from provincial or territorial public health officials.”
Remaining Time -3:56
Raptors have short period to figure out where to play
In the meantime, Ujiri has done some subtle prodding through the media – an interview with the CBC here, an op-ed in the Toronto Star there – to get his position out there and perhaps make it easier (optically at least) for the government to grant the required exceptions and exemptions even as the second wave of COVID-19 keeps rising on both sides of the border with no crest in sight.
After all the NHL, MLB and MLS – not to mention the CHL and other lesser leagues that operate in both Canada and the US – will be watching with interest.
One way or the other, a precedent could be set.
Those are big picture issues. But for the player trying to figure out whether they need to rent an apartment in Toronto or Tampa or the Raptors staffer waiting to find out if they have to leave their family behind for months at a time – again – they just want to know: Where are we going and when.
Tuesday is two weeks until training camp.
The No. 1 priority for the Raptors this offseason is to bring back Fred VanVleet. The trio of VanVleet, Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby allows the Raptors to start looking towards their next window of championship contention, and gives them a core that might entice any available max-level free agents next summer.
VanVleet has made it clear he’s looking to get paid, and rightfully so. Thankfully, this shouldn’t be a particularly difficult negotiation and the Raptors have shown every indication they consider the 26-year-old guard as part of their long-term plans.
The mutual interest is there, and also consider the list of teams that would make sense for VanVleet from a financial and competitive standpoint appears to be dwindling. The Knicks are reportedly looking to use their cap room to take on bad contracts in order to acquire additional assets. The Suns have emerged as a potential suitor for Chris Paul. The Pistons could make a competitive offer, but assuming Toronto isn’t in the business of lowballing its own player, the Raptors are far and away the best current and long-term option for VanVleet on the court, and can make sure he gets paid.
Prediction: Fred VanVleet re-signs with the Raptors for four-years, $84 million
Serge Ibaka also doesn’t appear interested in taking a discount, and with reason. Many have suggested the 31-year-old centre could join a contender for the mid-level exception, and while Ibaka’s name has been mentioned with the Nets, Lakers and Rockets, he is coming off two very impressive seasons with the Raptors, proven he is still a starting calibre player in this league, and will be looking to be compensated as such. The only issue for Ibaka is there isn’t a team out there that can provide him with both a lucrative long-term deal and a chance to compete for a championship. The Raptors have been pretty transparent in their plan to preserve cap room for next summer, so the best they can do is probably a one-year deal in the $20 million range, which would allow Ibaka to explore the market again next summer.
Prediction: Serge Ibaka re-signs with the Raptors for one-year, $22 million
As a winning club selecting towards the bottom of the first round, there’s less pressure to hit on every pick than there is for a lottery team. A Caboclo-type player isn’t going to sink you, but a Siakam-type – as hard as they are to find – can extend your competitive window. That’s the philosophy that helped the Spurs find diamonds in the rough, Manu Ginobili (the 57th pick in 1999) and Tony Parker (the 28th pick in 2001), and sustain their run of success for more than two decades.
However, as a winning club with a top-heavy salary structure, there is some pressure to build through the draft – filling out the backend of your rotation with young and inexpensive talent that can be developed over time. Few teams have done that better than the Raptors, but the biggest misconception about their front office is that they’ve done it by swinging for the fences. They’ve also shown a willingness to play it safe, when the situation has called for it.
At ninth-overall in 2016 – the team’s lone lottery selection of this era, a gift from the Knicks via the Andrea Bargnani trade – Jakob Poeltl was considered more of a conservative pick, as was his college teammate Delon Wright, who Toronto took 20th the year prior.
Neither pick seemed shocking at the time – Wright was projected to go somewhere in the 20s and most pundits had Poeltl coming off the board late in the lottery. They were both expected to contribute right away and go on to have solid NBA careers, but many predicted that age and skill set would limit their upside – and, so far, that assessment has mostly rung true. Still, Poeltl and Wright were important rotation pieces with the Raptors for years before being included in the deals that landed Kawhi Leonard and Marc Gasol, respectively, in Toronto.
You can see the Raptors taking either approach this year, particularly with the 29th pick.
On one hand, they have an eye on the future with aspirations of competing for another championship, perhaps as early as 2021. It might make sense to take a player who fits that timeline and needs a year or two to develop. Maybe this is the year to pick somebody they can stash overseas.
On the other hand, assuming they plan to remain competitive this season, they’ve got a few holes to fill. Their two centres, Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka, are about to hit unrestricted free agency – and Chris Boucher will be restricted – and while they hope to retain at least one, they could certainly use another young body in the frontcourt. With Fred VanVleet also headed for free agency, and Kyle Lowry turning 35 in March, they’re in need of some insurance at the point guard position. Then, depending on what they decide to do with Terence Davis’ team option for next season, they could also consider adding more depth on the wing.
All of that is to say, you could understand why they might opt for a more seasoned rookie that could step in and make an immediate impact.
On Monday, after all, one of Ujiri’s biggest off-season chores got a little less onerous. The Phoenix Suns’ move to acquire Chris Paul from the Oklahoma City Thunder effectively eliminated one of the top handful of potential suitors for unrestricted free-agent guard Fred VanVleet.
The move — which saw the Suns give up Ricky Rubio, Kelly Oubre, Ty Jerome, Jalen Lecque and a first-round draft pick for the 35-year-old Paul — gave the Suns a point guard foil to shooting savant Devin Booker. And it took away maybe the most attractive rumoured landing spot for VanVleet, the four-year Raptor who has vowed to diligently investigate his free-market options.
Anything can happen, sure. The unexpected can always present itself. But suddenly the idea of VanVleet being wooed away from Toronto, where the Raptors would very much like to re-sign him at a reasonable number, seems a little less likely.
The New York Knicks could still blow away VanVleet with a outlandishly generous offer that might fit with that organization’s reputation for questionable judgment. Still, with respected former player agent Leon Rose running that operation as president — albeit with James Dolan still presiding at the top of the historically dysfunctional org chart — it’s expected the Knicks might finally dispense with such sketchy spending. Paying an undersized guard like VanVleet something approaching the maximum allowable contract, which works out to an annual average of about $29 million (U.S.) on a four-year term, would qualify as folly. The Raptors are hoping to land VanVleet at something closer to $20 million annually.
The Detroit Pistons also loom as a possibility. But as much as VanVleet has a good relationship with Pistons head coach Dwane Casey, who spent seven name-building seasons in Toronto before he was ousted by Ujiri in 2018, Detroit played last season at a 24-win pace and sits a distance from respectability. And Detroit, with its recent history of burying itself under nightmarishly bad contracts, doesn’t profile as a team that would shock the hoops world with an astronomical offer.
“I’ve never been on a losing team in my life,” VanVleet said on J.J. Redick’s podcast last week.
With all that in mind, the Raptors would still like to compete in the coming season. They were a game away from reaching the East final in the bubble and project once again to land in the top five of the conference.
In pursuit of that goal, it would help not to lose the team’s top two centres in Gasol and Ibaka. Both played pivotal roles in the championship run, with Gasol shutting down Joel Embiid in Round 2 and Ibaka emerging as a key secondary scorer.
However, it also doesn’t make a lot of sense for the Raptors to pay to keep a pair of centres who are likely both past their prime. So who should the Raptors keep?
Gasol uses his high basketball IQ for exceptional defence and smart, facilitating offence, but is no longer a high-level scorer or rebounder. Ibaka relies on athleticism on defence and provides less presence in the post, but he’s a more consistent scorer to go along with his improved passing game.
Of course, the decision is ultimately up to Gasol and Ibaka themselves. There was talk of Gasol going to play in the Spanish pro league, though that faded. At 35, he could be looking at one-year deals, which lines up well with the Raptors’ interests. Meanwhile, the Lakers and Nets are reportedly interested in Ibaka, who at 31 might value term on what may be his last big salary in the NBA.
Outside of their own guys, the Raptors don’t project as big players in free agency. With Hollis-Jefferson possibly on his way out, Toronto may try to bring in a draft reclamation project to fill that role on a low-risk, decent-reward deal.
And if the team happens to lose all three of VanVleet, Ibaka and Gasol, it’ll be on Lowry and Siakam to keep the Raptors competitive.
In Wednesday’s draft, the Raptors hold their own first-round pick for the first time since 2017, when they selected Anunoby. Toronto is scheduled to pick 29th and 59th overall.
Within one week, we should know a lot more about the 2020-21 Raptors.
A delegation from the Toronto Raptors was in Tampa Bay late last week touring practice facilities, sources have told DraftKings Nation.
The Raptors are likely in need of a new home for the upcoming 2020-21 NBA season thanks to the Canadian government restrictions on “non-essential” cross-border travel. Tampa is one of several cities being considered, but is considered the favorite because of the weather, facilities, and relaxed regulations in Florida regarding Covid-19. Other locations in the running, but likely behind in the process, include Kansas City and Buffalo, according to area sources.
With the timeline of the NBA, many in Tampa Bay expect the Raptors to make a decision as soon as this week. The NBA is scheduled to have training camps begin on December 1st, with the regular season tipping off on December 22nd.
Two of the facilities included in the tour were the Muma Basketball Center at the University of South Florida, as well as AdventHealth Center Ice facility in Pasco County, though a “wide net” was cast across the Tampa Bay area with at least 10 potential homes considered. Muma has two full basketball courts in two separate parts of the same building for both the men’s and women’s basketball teams at USF, and AdventHealth has four full-sized hockey rinks, though one is in a mini-arena setting that can be converted for basketball.
Throughout his career, Ibaka has turned to a range of off-court interests in his free time. In February, a knit scarf that scaled his seven-foot frame became the subject of some Raptors one-upmanship, and a reminder of his presence on any number of best-dressed lists, including this magazine’s. He holds a cooking-and-conversation show on YouTube called “How Hungry Are You?” in addition to his fashion show “Avec Classe.” The Serge Ibaka Foundation focuses on children’s health and education in Congo, where Ibaka was born.
“The more stuff I do outside basketball,” Ibaka said, “the more focused I am in basketball.”
“It helps me to understand who I am,” he continued. “It helps me to understand why I do all the things I do.”
And so while he awaits the beginning of free agency—he couldn’t yet say where he expects to be playing next season, but emphasized how much he’s enjoyed his three seasons in Toronto—Ibaka is launching his first fashion collaboration with the Canadian company Nobis. The nine-piece capsule, which will be available starting November 19, includes some of the brand’s familiar, technically minded outerwear, but is sprinkled throughout with the idiosyncratic touches that Ibaka described as the heart of how he gets dressed.
“I like to always keep my style simple but not boring,” Ibaka said. The famous scarf, for instance, might have been unremarkable in more modest proportions. “Sometimes a scarf, it’s just a scarf,” Ibaka said. “But the way you wear it…it can become art.”
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