For one, it takes them out of the range of the draft where they would have likely had to weigh short- and long-term considerations. Those are still relevant, but the more established picks in this draft figure to be able to occupy some rotation minutes as they develop. Some of the more intriguing picks outside the top five or so offer tantalizing upside with lower projectability and a longer time frame, or offer some role certainty without the upside. I have tended to favour the former group given the Raptors’ elite player development system, which is why I’ve been higher on names like Keon Johnson, Kai Jones and Jaden Springer. Talent, and specifically ceiling-raising upside, should rule at draft time. Now, they can likely service both upside and a fit with the existing core within their peak phases over the next three-plus seasons.
It also puts the Raptors in a bit of the driver’s seat in terms of draft-night trades. If the Raptors were to disagree with the established pecking order at the top, there’s likely to be a team willing to move up to make sure they get one of those cornerstone pieces. The Magic, for example, are probably going to take Jonathan Kuminga — let’s be honest, they are — but their need for guard play and holding picks Nos. 5 and 8 could entice them to make a package play for No. 4. (There’s also the option to trade out entirely, though I wouldn’t explore that for anything less than a star-level deal. The value of hitting on a player of this calibre is too high, in the short-term for cap management purposes and in the long-term for franchise stability.)
Preferring someone off the board wouldn’t exactly be surprising. The Raptors haven’t often stuck to league dogma. In our immediate post-lottery mock draft here at The Athletic, I selected Scottie Barnes for the Raptors instead of presumed pick Jalen Suggs. We didn’t have the option to explore trading down, and both Eric Koreen and John Hollinger have made such spirited cases for Barnes that I couldn’t let them down. We’ll dive deeper into all of the options at No. 4 in the weeks to come, this is just to say that it’s more than “take the last guy from the top four” to explore here.
If their guy is not the fourth-of-four, maneuvering around could be fruitful, as it has been historically. (There’s also a small cap-related reason to trade down if you think you’ll still get your player. The cap hold for the Raptors’ pick at No. 4 versus No. 7 is about $3.1 million higher.)
The other scenario is that the player the Raptors want simply falls to them at No. 4. For that reason, I’d be surprised if any deal gets consummated before the first couple of picks are off the board.
Looking at the draft order, Cunningham to the Pistons at No. 1 is a lock. Beyond that, Houston and Cleveland are tougher calls at Nos. 2 and 3. Our beat writers selected Jalen Green and Evan Mobley, respectively, in our mock, but the Cavs are about to invest long-term money in restricted free agent Jarrett Allen and could look for another guard that fits their young backcourt (or makes one piece superfluous for trade). Mobley is versatile enough to fit in either of those places. Still, with a little less tier separation after No. 1, it’s entirely possible Mobley slides to Toronto, where he’s about the best fit imaginable.
The Raptors have drafted and developed players well, so it could be a massive boon for them. However, it is not big enough on its own that it will make Ujiri’s decision to stay or go for him. That will be determined by the nature of his conversations with team ownership, and what he wants to do with his life — not some lottery luck.
(For what it’s worth, Webster said Ujiri’s role in draft preparation would be “exactly the same” this season as in past years. Either that means Webster expects him to have the final say, or that Ujiri’s importance in the draft room has been vastly exaggerated by Open Gym clips. Ujiri’s contract was initially supposed to run through June 30, which is usually after the draft but before free agency. It’s not apparent how the change in league schedule will change that, if it will at all.)
“The value from seven to four, even if you look at it historically, whether it’s a player or trade, it’s meaningful,” Webster said. “All of our options are open.”
Most importantly, the Raptors are not hemmed in. Sure, the Raptors might not have an obvious alpha on offence, but that means they don’t have to obsess over fit. VanVleet is a point guard who plays well off the ball, while Siakam and OG Anunoby are both multi-positional defenders. Almost any type of player would fit with them, not to mention coach Nick Nurse’s plethora of schemes.
Forget about Lowry, then, and forget about Ujiri. Tuesday night didn’t mean much for them. It was about a future that will be beyond the point guard’s time in Toronto, and maybe beyond the president’s. We’ll find out soon enough. In the meantime, Tuesday’s good news is worth appreciating on its own merits.
We’ve seen this front office go off the board before, or they could look to move down. What about trading out of the draft altogether? Considering they’ve set their sights on a return to the top of the Eastern Conference, would it make more sense to leverage the pick for a veteran player that better fits their timeline?
The Raptors knew that they would have flexibility going into this crucial offseason and the jump to pick No. 4 gives them even more of it. You can bet they’re planning to explore all of their options.
“The value from seven to four, even if you look at it historically, whether it’s a player or trade, it’s meaningful,” said Webster. “All of our options are open. As much as we would love the pick, we’re going to see what it yields outside of the draft.”
Webster, Ujiri and most of the team’s front office watched the lottery from a bar in Chicago, where they’re attending the draft combine. served as the team’s good luck charm, representing the team virtually on the broadcast from his home in nearby Rockford, Illinois.
It was only the second time that Toronto has been in the lottery during Ujiri and Webster’s eight-year tenure, with the first coming when they selected ninth overall in 2016. This is not an experience they’re used to or want to relive any time soon. Webster described it as “incredibly stressful,” and Raptors fans can relate.
This is a front office that’s had plenty of success finding and developing talent late in the draft, or even outside of the draft. In 2016, they snagged with the 27th pick and then signed VanVleet as an undrafted free agent. They got at pick No. 23 a year later. They’ve never had an asset like the fourth-overall selection. Naturally, most people are excited to see what they can do with it.
“I think it’s kind of a challenge and fun,” Webster said. “We haven’t, fortunately, been in this position much in the past. And so, for us, it’s a great challenge. It’s a great project for us to really dive into. So, from that perspective, I think we feel less pressure and more challenge.”
The pre-draft process has already begun. The Raptors have started scheduling prospect workouts, which they’ll hold at their facilities in Tampa over the coming weeks. Now they’ll get to take a closer look at a few players they didn’t anticipate being able to audition and interview. It’s unlikely that guys like Mobley, Green or Suggs plan on visiting teams outside of the top four or five.
As for Ujiri, whose contractual status is still uncertain, his role in the decision-making process remains the same as seasons past, according to Webster. That’s reassuring when you consider how many big decisions the Raptors have to make this summer, beginning with the draft on July 29th.
Now the real work begins for the Raptors after they caught some NBA lottery luck Tuesday night.
After a disjointed non-playoff year when they had to play “home” games in Tampa, the Raptors moved up three spots in the lottery and will have the fourth overall pick in next month’s draft.
It is a significant move for a team that missed the playoffs for just the first time in eight years, and opens a plethora of options.
“The value from seven to four — even if you look at it historically, whether it’s a player or trade — it’s meaningful,” general manager Bobby Webster said. “All of our options are open. As much as we would love the pick, we’re going to see what it yields outside of the draft.”
Many experts consider this to be one of the deepest draft classes in years, rife with teenaged prospects of varying skills and sizes.
Speculation will immediately centre on players such as G League Ignite guard Jalen Green, Gonzaga guard Jalen Suggs, Ignite forward Jonathan Kuminga or even perhaps USC big man Evan Mobley.
“It’s a silver lining on a tough season, but the work starts now,” Webster said. “For us, the jump from seven to four is meaningful. As far as franchise-altering, obviously it depends on the player and who gets selected and ultimately what the player becomes, but it does increase our odds here.”
And the Raptors have several roster holes to plug. They don’t currently have either an NBA-proven shooting guard or centre under contract and will start the season without Pascal Siakam, who had shoulder surgery earlier this month, or a backup to presumptive starting small forward OG Anunoby. But with a core that includes Fred VanVleet, Anunoby and Siakam, when he gets back, there is certainly a solid nucleus for a young player to join.