Think it's rather evident why the Raptors were thoroughly unwilling to surrender Norman Powell in a trade for Andre Drummond.
Toronto registered trade interest in Drummond long ago, but Cleveland wanted Powell, who scored 43 tonight for Toronto in a narrow defeat at Detroit https://t.co/TyjyO7j045
— Marc Stein (@TheSteinLine) March 18, 2021
Blake: Selling high on Powell to land a near-prime piece to add to the team’s core, rather than future assets, has been a popular idea in the comments section. So I threw it Chris’ way, since John Collins is one of the more popular targets of such a move. Because of Collins’ smaller salary, Aron Baynes and Tony Snell are added here as ballast expirings. The real deal is Powell and a lottery-protected first for Collins, with both players headed for free agency. The Raptors would have to be comfortable with Collins’ likely salary as a restricted free agent, while the Hawks would hope to use Bird rights to re-up Powell.
Chris Kirschner, Hawks beat writer: “The Hawks could use more offensive production off the bench and another player who is capable of playing on the ball in the second unit and off the ball with Trae Young in certain lineups. That’s what the Hawks would be getting with Powell. He’s not necessarily the best defender, but Atlanta has De’Andre Hunter, Cam Reddish and Kris Dunn on the wing for that. Including Baynes here would give the Hawks an additional trade piece to flip to a center-needy team who can hopefully net more draft capital. If the Hawks are content with not paying Collins a significant contract and this is the best they can get, they should do this deal as they get a good player in Powell, who’s under contract for one more year, and a first-round pick.”
The Raptors need his offensive punch but need him to make strides defensively as well.
“He’s got to be able to guard a four-man in this league … the only issue with that right now is a lot of the four men look like Jerami Grant and Pascal Siakam. They’re high-powered scoring guys. … It’s a tricky spot we’re in, I’ve got to be honest with you,” said Nurse. “It’s a tricky spot we’re in because he looks great on offence. Even the blocked shots look great. But we’re giving up a lot of things at the other end. We’ve got to figure it out.”
Boucher, who is achieving career highs in nearly every statistical category and may get some consideration for the league’s Most Improved Player or Sixth Man awards, knows that he’s still got strides to take.
“I’m just trying to figure out ways to help this team and figuring out ways to be a contributor on defence. Sometimes it’s not just blocking shots, sometimes you’ve just gotta put your body there and him seeing you there might prevent him from driving the ball,” said Nurse. “When it comes to contesting threes, I just have to stay down a little bit more. I know I can get some of them but sometimes you’ve just gotta stay down and contest it, and if he makes it, we’ll live with it, but having blow-bys and all that, that doesn’t help our defence.”
Similarly, Nurse hasn’t seemed all that impressed with Powell’s scoring exploits of late – coming off a career-high 43 against the Pistons Powell is averaging 30.3 points a game on 49 per cent shooting from deep over his last seven games – he’d much prefer a sounder brand of team play, rather than having one player have to carry the attack, no matter how well he’s doing it.
“We [only] had Norm and Kyle out of there and there was gonna be a lot more opportunities for Norm, right? So, we’ll see how it integrates back in [now they the Raptors are healthy],” said Nurse. “I’m more concerned with playing winning basketball, playing both ends, making the right play, I think Norm’s had the capability to score, I’ve known that for a long time. I didn’t need to see him score 40, 30, 40, 30 … [but] we need to play the possessions to win them and [the scoring] will move around night to night.”
There’s a lot to do, and not a lot of time to do it with the trade deadline on March 25th. Presuming the Raptors are still intact after that, there are still 32 games remaining to play the kind of basketball – especially defensively – of which the team has historically been capable, but progress has to be made sooner than later.
It’s unlikely that this recent skid has changed the front office’s view of the team, what they’re capable of at full strength, or where its weaknesses lay. If they believed in this group a month ago – when they clawed back to .500 with wins over Milwaukee and Philadelphia – then they still should now. But with 32 games left to play, the question is whether they feel like there’s enough time to make a run and get back into the race.
On one hand, they’re just three games out of sixth place, with the suddenly streaking Miami Heat – currently in fourth – serving as an example of how quickly a team can shoot their way up the standings, and the play-in tournament offering some hope to lower-seeded clubs this season. On the other, even when they’re whole again it’s going to take some time for the returning players to get their conditioning back.
They’re either going for it or they’re not, but in either scenario standing pat doesn’t seem like a prudent option.
“I think that our people that make those decisions have to do what’s best for the health of the team, organizational health, whatever that means,” Nick Nurse said following Wednesday’s game. “It’s always unsettling when there are [mid-season] trades, and trade talk is unsettling as well, but it’s going to be interesting to see if we do anything for short term or long term.”
“I think that’s the position they’re always in – what are you looking at now so we can make a push here with this team, because they deserve a chance to make a push because they’ve proven they can play well against the best teams in the league, and then what do you do about the future?”
That’s where the red-hot Norman Powell could come into play.
Powell’s value has never been higher, literally – he scored a career-high 43 points on 18 shots in Wednesday’s loss. The 27-year-old guard-forward has blossomed into one of the league’s best and most efficient scorers at his position, averaging a personal-best 19.7 points on 50 per cent shooting in his sixth NBA campaign.
The market for him should reflect that. His $10.9 million salary makes him easier to move than, say, Lowry, who is owed $30 million this season. And unlike Lowry, who you would only consider moving to a contender, there are more conceivable destinations for Powell, if he’s made available. A rebuilding team might see him as the kind of established, culture fit that helps fortify a young core. A winning team might see him as its missing piece.
The biggest issue, though, is that Ujiri and Webster are dealing with disparate realities of what the current iteration of the team is, which will further complicate whatever decisions they reach between now and next Thursday’s deadline.
Are the Raptors the team that started 2-8 and is currently in a 1-9 swoon? Or are the Raptors the team that rattled off a 14-6 run in between that included wins over all the big boys of the Eastern Conference and showed they still have some big-time fight in them?
It is not easy. And deciding what to do may be harder this year for the president and general manager than it has been at any point in the seven-year run of post-season appearances the Raptors are in danger of seeing broken.
In many ways, it makes no sense to do anything of substance and to ride out the season before making any startling moves.
The Raptors can be good — they can be very good, in fact — and while they certainly have a hole to climb out of, there’s reason to think they won’t.
“We’re going to have to kind of recalibrate it, fight like heck to try to get in the playoffs, and then again, try to just build and proceed and try to be playing a lot better,” Nurse said earlier this week. “And keep improving, ’cause there’s still a long way to go.
“There’s a lot of room for improvement with the team.”
It may purely be sentiment — and that’s a dangerous emotion for upper management to have — but there’s a case to be made to letting this version of the team have perhaps one last run. Besides, making a major trade may prove impossible to set up a transition into the summer or into next season.
“The thing is it’s a learning process or a re-learning process or whatever,” Nurse said of the team’s current predicament. “And also, I mean you’ve got to be realistic too, right? Like, I mean you can be upset about it and get mad about it but you’ve got to have some realistic (views) … I mean those guys stepped onto the floor for the first time in two weeks and the game is moving as fast as heck. There is a little bit of … you understand right? You have to have some understanding that they are not in full fitness, they are not in full cardio shape.”
But couple that with a six-game losing skid and the urgency of righting the ship threatens to take over even when Nurse is telling himself he has to be realistic.
The list of defensive issues facing the team right now is a long one but those two — getting back and getting set defensively and closing out possessions with a rebound are right at the top of Nurse’s priority list.
“We are doing a really poor job in transition, a really poor job when we’ve been as good as anybody in the league at that as a focus,” Nurse said. “We are (also) doing a really poor job at the end of possessions. So, the middle is not too bad, right? If we can get our defence set and hold them to one shot, we get a lot of stops. There are still a lot of really good things in this. But we’ve got to clean up the beginning and the end, man. That’s it.”
Nurse described yesterday’s practice as a return to fundamentals, almost training-camp like as he stressed those two defensive points.
And if all of that weren’t enough to ratchet up the angst for a team that just isn’t accustomed to these kind of mid-season struggles, let alone the present 11th place in the East standing, it comes in a year where they have already dug themselves a bit of a hole at the beginning with a 2-8 start and it comes in the second half of a season that has been condensed to the point that any practice time is going to come at the cost of necessary rest time to combat the gruelling schedule.
None of it is familiar territory, but Nurse remains confident the tide can be turned.
“We have already done it with this team this year and we have done it at super high levels (in the past),” Nurse said. “We’ll get there if we can just keep everyone on the floor for a little bit. Get to the practice gym a little bit. Get to the ballroom a little bit. I think everybody is committed and focussed to try and get back our foundational principles here as quickly as possible.”
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