More to the point of the stylistic success, I don’t think leaning into this approach means not addressing the roster’s shortcomings. If you’re going to lean in, lean in. While Johnson, Watanabe, Bembry and Davis have all had positive stretches as part of those lineups, they’ve also had bad ones. Boucher has mostly been good but remains a bit inconsistent and is probably best deployed as a power forward, whatever the lineup alignment. Powell has been excellent, but that type of lineup has been at its deadliest when three forwards share the frontcourt, usually Anunoby, Siakam and a Johnson/Watanabe/Hollis-Jefferson type. It would be helpful to at least have that option, and the fact all of the Raptors’ third-forward options outside of Boucher are non-shooters was a problem once again made obvious by the Miami Heat zone.
If this stretch against some of the top teams in the East has provided takeaways, it’s that the Raptors don’t have to get bigger, necessarily. It’s an area they should address for depth, to be sure. Look around the centre market, though, and some names are too difficult to match salary for, that are owed longer-term money or carry a draft capital cost that might not be worth it. It’s not as if the names being kicked around are championship-level ceiling-raisers; has there been a realistic target out there who would materially change the accounting of a matchup against Joel Embiid, the Bucks or Bam Adebayo? Embiid is a real concern, of course, especially as he improves picking apart the Raptors’ scrambling zones, but Marc Gasol is not walking back through that door, and the Baynes minutes were mostly fine against him.
All of this is to say that as we look at Raptors trade targets in the coming weeks, we will not be focusing exclusively on the centre position. Yes, they need a piece there, and ideally, any big buy move would address it. The deadline is imperfect, though, especially in a transitional middle-of-the-pack year like this. Opening up the search to include wings or forwards who could make the Raptors’ embraced identity even stronger could be a clearer path to improvement. Getting even better without a centre, with another player they could deploy for defensive versatility and to stay “big” across the floor without a centre, without sacrificing as much on offence, might be a more meaningful move than adding a second Baynes to rotate with the first Baynes.
Lowry’s case is unique. I will get into where I align philosophically on moving Lowry later in trade season, but part of that thinking must be mentioned here. In short, Lowry deserves a say in how he wants to end his career. That doesn’t mean the Raptors are beholden to moving him if he asks out, but you would hope Lowry and the Raptors would have an honest conversation about their respective post-2021 intentions before the trade deadline. That could influence what the Raptors would be willing to accept in a Lowry trade, which they might have to do anyway: contenders like the Bucks, Clippers, Lakers and Nets are all functionally out of draft picks to trade. Don’t all run to the trade machine and start messing around with the 76ers at once.
“We are just trying to figure out the cohesiveness of how we can play with this small unit with Pascal (Siakam) at the five and OG at the four or five or whatever they are playing. So it’s about getting that comfortability of getting on the floor and getting more time together.”
The familiarity among the starters — the Lowry-VanVleet-Powell-Anunoby-Siakam group has been together for four seasons — makes up for any lack of size, especially defensively. They know each other’s tendencies, skills and deficiencies, and they know the system inside and out.
“I think that is the third time we have played that lineup to start?” Lowry said Wednesday. “So we just have to continue to get better at that.”
The group gives them a sense of cohesion that should be easy to re-establish, like in a key four-game stretch.
“I hope we can keep our edge up to play defence as hard we’ve been trying to play it,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said. “It’s not perfect and there’s some lapses here and there and there’s some mistakes, but I think the effort and the fight and the scramble is there and hopefully we can do that.”
Toronto’s offense is deadly, too, especially thanks to Norm Powell’s leap from bucket-getting sixth man to a criminally undermentioned all-around weapon. Before Wednesday night’s loss against the Heat, Powell was averaging 22 points with 52/45/94 shot splits over his previous dozen games. Last year, he shot a measly 22% from deep off the bounce. This year, flip a coin and the ball is going in. (Powell is the league’s most accurate pull-up three-point shooter, minimum 35 attempts.)
This isn’t to say Baynes has no place in Toronto. It’s more that his services are better used in specific spots, be it to battle a powerhouse like Joel Embiid or Domantas Sabonis, relieve some of the physical pressure Boucher can feel as a five off the bench or just come in and set some hard screens that detach Toronto’s frisky ballhandlers from their man. Baynes is solid. He’s also 34 years old and can make a half-court offense feel claustrophobic.
Having Anunoby makes the change so much easier. He started off on Embiid (with help from frequent double teams) when Toronto beat Philly, spent plenty of time on Giannis Antetokounmpo in both wins against the Bucks and guarded Bam Adebayo on Wednesday night. Another way to communicate Raptors’ small ball is “Siakam at the five,” but Anunoby might be the more accurate facsimile of a modern big man. More importantly, he’s the lynchpin that lets small ball work.
He’s rock solid with deceptive, cat-like quickness—an unfair combination. Watch how he helps on Furkan Korkmaz’s drive, leaps to Simmons, then pounces on Danny Green in the corner, all in about two seconds.
But even in that light, Silver’s comments gave the impression the NBA commissioner accepted at face value that one of his most respected executives shared responsibility for what was subsequently proved to be an unprovoked and flagrant abuse of power by a police officer on a Black man. As the legal process carried on, clips of Silver’s interview would circulate on social media begging the question: Does the commissioner of the NBA owe its highest-profile Black executive an apology?
It’s worth noting that those aren’t questions raised by Ujiri. He and Silver are close, with a relationship that goes back to Ujiri’s days trying to break into the NBA as an unpaid international scout working on behalf of the Orlando Magic while Silver was still a rising executive in the league offices. They have worked on the NBA’s push to connect with Africa, travelled together and consider themselves friends. For nearly two years they have lived together on the inside of the legal battle – the NBA was also named in Strickland’s suit – and now that they are on the other side of it, they are good.
“This hasn’t been an issue between us in the past and it isn’t now,” Ujiri said to me via text message. “We have talked about it; I know I have Adam’s support and he has mine.
“Let’s move forward from this and focus on what we can do to make positive change. And I know the fans have been supporting me through all this – I really appreciate their concern. It’s been unbelievable.”
From Silver’s point of view, the experience has already prompted meaningful and tangible change. Going forward, the NBA will have its own security staff at access points for key league events and during the NBA Finals, in particular, to make sure that something like what happened to Ujiri won’t happen again.
“It’s my responsibility, at least in terms of these kinds of incidences, that I put in place practices so something like what happened to Masai doesn’t happen to other Black executives in our arena or an any NBA event,” said Silver. “We should have had our own security person standing there who knows who to let centre court for the ceremony…. It’s on me, not [Ujiri], that similar situations like that don’t happen in the future.”
NBA commissioner Adam Silver has apologized to Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri for comments he made about the incident Ujiri was involved in at the end of the 2019 NBA Finals. Speaking to SportsNet in Canada, Silver said Ujiri has his “full and unequivocal support.”
“When I watch that last bit of the interview, in light of what we now know, I would love to take those words back,” Silver said. “But I apologize to Masai for what I said in that interview… Believe me, when I look at that now, I cringe when I watch it.”
The Raptors’ slow start predictably led other teams to surmise that Lowry might be on his way out. They’ve turned their season around, though, and the type of team most interested in a soon-to-be 35-year-old point guard typically isn’t the type of team that can easily trade for a $30.5 million contract. If Lowry informs Toronto that he doesn’t plan on re-signing as a free agent, you’d think the front office would try to move him. Otherwise, this remains a mutually beneficial partnership, and there are non-sentimental reasons it could continue beyond this season.
A source said Lowry would like to be in Philly. The source believes the Sixers and Raptors might be able to get something done. But if it comes to that, Toronto would most likely want some picks, young players, and veterans with expiring contracts for Lowry, who’s making $30 million this season.
But it’s still early, as the trade deadline isn’t until March 25.
The 34-year-old’s contract with the Raptors expires at the conclusion of the season. This is his ninth season with Toronto after previous stops with the Memphis Grizzlies and Houston Rockets.
While Vince Carter is regarded as the all-time best Raptors player, Lowry is the most decorated one.
His six all-star appearances have come during his Raptors tenure. So did his third-team All-NBA selection in 2016 and gold-medal win with USA Basketball in the 2016 Summer Olympics. Lowry also helped the Raptors win their lone NBA title in 2019.
But until recently, this season had been disappointing for the Raptors (16-17 as of Thursday). And wanting the best for one of their all-time greats, Toronto told Lowry they would be willing to trade him to a preferred destination if they get something of value in return, according to sources.
A league source says the Raptors want to reward Lowry for his years of service by helping him secure an opportunity to win another NBA title. That would help his legacy.
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