My favorite dark horse Damian Lillard team is the Raptors.
They have a premium asset in No. 4 with their future picks. They can use their team options/non guarantees/Lowry in an S&T to a 3rd team to match salary. They’d stay above the cap, use the MLE on a big and re-sign Trent.
— Sam Quinn (@SamQuinnCBS) June 27, 2021
The deal: No. 4, a 2023 unprotected first-round pick and a 2025 top-three protected first-round pick for No. 1.
The fit: As both Sam Vecenie and James Edwards III have noted in the immediate aftermath of the mock, Cunningham is not a sure thing at No. 1. Vecenie was not willing to write the pick in stone, pointing to general manager Troy Weaver’s avoidance of groupthink. Edwards said Cunningham is “not a lock,” with the Pistons also being high on Green and Mobley. If the Pistons want anyone other than Cunningham here, they should aggressively pursue a trade down. Cunningham is the type of player that can fetch you multiple building blocks in return. The Raptors, who intend to be back in contention soon, would likely put multiple future picks on the table along with No. 4 to get a franchise player.
The response: You think Detroit is going to help turn Toronto back into juggernauts!? Huh!? Well, this is a really good offer. One that I think Weaver would have to seriously consider. At this moment in time, though, I’m leaning toward no, simply because I don’t think Green or Mobley are still on the board at No. 4. There is a feeling around the league that Weaver really likes Green. And while I still believe Detroit takes Cunningham No. 1 overall, it’s not something I’d bet money on right now. Getting Green, whether via trading back a slot or two or just simply taking him No. 1, would have to be possible for it to be worthwhile for the Pistons to move back. I’m just not sure it is. — James L. Edwards III
The verdict: My offer here might even be light. There are two big swing factors at play here. The first is the Thunder, who have far more picks than they’ll know what to do with in time and should absolutely be cashing extra ones in for franchise-level talent. The second is that if the Pistons really love Green, this may have to expand to a three-team deal that also entices the Rockets to move down, as Kelly Iko has the Rockets taking Green at No. 2 in our staff mock.
The third option would be for the Raptors to use the fourth pick as the centrepiece of a win-now trade for a player to help them return to contention. Toronto has a handful of expiring deals that could be used to match contracts, and all of their core pieces (Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet, Anunoby) carry positive value as they are all in their prime and signed long-term.
The question is who are the disgruntled stars that will be available. Ben Simmons and C.J. McCollum look to be the fall guys for their team’s respective playoff flameouts, although both teams would be looking for win-now pieces in return so the fourth pick would need to move in a three-team trade. There’s always speculation around Bradley Beal since the Wizards are perpetually mediocre, but the introduction of Russell Westbrook and a strong finish to the regular season might have been enough to keep Beal satiated.
Washington may look to move off Beal anyway since he’s only guaranteed for one more season, but the recent trade history involving star players in their primes have returned much more than one pick, with Anthony Davis fetching three first-round picks and two former No. 2 selections, Paul George netting five picks and Shai Gilegous-Alexander, while James Harden was just moved for four picks and an additional four pick swaps.
It doesn’t quite make sense for the Raptors to push all-in. The Raptors have a solid core, but this is not the Kawhi Leonard situation where they can trade from a surplus of talent for one player that magically completes the puzzle. For one, there is nobody as good as Leonard who is available, and two, a fully healthy Nets team is clearly a cut above in the East. The Raptors are in a reloading phase, and their main contribution of the offseason would be using the fourth pick on another core piece.
Things are looking exceptionally bright in Raptors land!
With the US-Canada border starting to re-open and the Canadian government allowing the Montreal Canadiens (and their opponents) to cross the border, hopes are rising for the Raptors to open next season at Scotiabank Arena. Inside the Arena, front office executives were given a much-needed jolt when Lady Luck smiled down on the Raptors in the draft lottery. The Raptors jumped from #7 to #4 in the draft, ensuring Toronto has a chance to select one of Evan Mobley, Jalen Green, or Jalen Suggs — all of whom fit a Raptors need and raise the team’s ceiling!
Because of how the NBA is these days, an undersized point guard with below-average athleticism (e.g. one who can’t dunk) is never going to be the centre of attention. When we think on the ceiling of the Raptors, we tend to dwell on do-it-all forwards Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby — and with good reason. If those two can continue to expand their respective games, the Raptors will continue to get better. So then what of VanVleet?
Much like Kyle Lowry, VanVleet’s role on the Raptors has become something of the ultimate floor-raiser. That much became clear in 2020-21. Obviously, Lowry is still the king of this in Toronto (and perhaps the league), but VanVleet has been gradually taking on more and more responsibility in this regard. And what’s more, he’s been able to adapt his play from game to game depending on what the Raptors need. It’s how he can explode for a franchise-record 54 points on one night and also put up those low-scoring, high-assist nights — a Lowry specialty these days — that get Toronto to another win.
Like the rest of the squad, VanVleet had to muscle through a brutal March. He missed the team’s first five games of that month (all losses) and was unable to turn Toronto’s fortunes around as they went on to lose eight of their next nine. Now, it’s hard to be too down on this extreme rough patch — the Raptors and VanVleet were reeling from just about every health problem a squad could have. So yes, while there are limits to VanVleet’s game, let’s be fair about what’s humanly possible in such circumstances. At times, it was remarkable VanVleet was out there at all after recovering from COVID-19 while still putting up some 40-minute nights and being as dogged on defense as he ever has been.
To be clear: talent is still the most important thing in the NBA. And there are likely always going to be things VanVleet can’t do (we’ll expand on that below). But every team with aspirations of greatness needs a rock. And as we’ve seen from VanVleet, even when he was more inexperienced in the NBA, even when he looked out of his element (early in his career, early in the 2019 playoffs), nothing seems to shake him from his belief in himself and in his team. The Raptors will look to acquire and develop more talented players than VanVleet, but his role as the team’s leader will continue to be valuable.
Mexico City holdovers like Cory Joseph, Andrew Wiggins and Dwight Powell should do much of the heavy lifting. There will be intense pressure on RJ Barrett, playing in his first significant senior tournament, along with NBAers Lu Dort and Mychal Mulder and promising guards Trae Bell-Haynes, Nickeil Alexander-Walker and Andrew Nembhard.
There would seem to be sufficient talent for Canada to earn the one available spot. Nurse’s biggest task is finding a group he trusts to handle the mental and physical stresses of the last, often frantic seconds of close games.
Unlike the NBA, with multiple timeouts available to each team and endless reviews that allow teams to use timeouts they don’t have, FIBA games often devolve into frenetic finishes solely in the hands of the players on the court. Teams are limited to when they can call timeouts — only in dead-ball situations and only from the bench — and they are allowed just two per half that are not transferable from one to the other.
Cory Joseph, playing against Australia in the 2019 World Cup, will likely play a key role again as Canada tries to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics during a six-team tournament in Victoria this week.
It puts a premium not only on the quick thinking of players in the heat of the moment, but on the preparation drilled into them for weeks.
“It’s certainly one of the things that’s at the top of our priority list,” Nurse said. “A lot of these games are going to come down to these plays and being able to execute them. We’ve got to do the best we can to have a group of guys that we think would be (the best) in these situations.”
The tournament was delayed a year because of the global pandemic and the residual impact of COVID-19 is still being felt. The six teams and top officials are sequestered in their own hotel, there are strict testing protocols for anyone with anything to do with the event, and the first two days of competition will be held in an empty facility.
British Columbia health officials will allow 10 per cent of capacity at the 7,400-seat Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre for the final day of group play July 1 — Canada does not play that day — as well as next weekend’s semifinals and championship game. That will give tournament organizers a chance to recoup the $3 million “hosting fee” it took to get the event in Canada.
Koreen: Props to the Canadian women, who have been killing it for years on years and have a legitimate shot to medal in Tokyo. The men would love to be in the position they’re in. Alas.
Despite what I said above, it’s legitimately disappointing that the rare time Canada Basketball ponied up to host a significant international tournament, fan attendance is limited. I’m not going to list that on the top 20 of my pandemic complaints, but I was really looking forward to seeing what a Canadian crowd looked like. Oh well, time to save up those IOC bribes/discretionary funds for the 2036 Olympics, with Jonas Valaniunas Jr. and Rocky Nurse leading the way.
I am not putting too much stock in the odds. I’ve seen too much, Blake, and the unsettled nature of the roster leading into the tournament gives me tremendous pause. Canada is the most talented team, but as we’ve both discussed, that guarantees very little. I’m going to go ahead and predict a Canadian win, but it’s not something I’d be willing to wager on.
Let’s assume Canada does win. The Olympic tournament starts on July 25. Free agency in the NBA doesn’t open up until early August, but let’s say some players who aren’t available for this tournament can commit to playing in Tokyo, for whatever reason. Do you alter the roster or ride with the 12 who brought you to Japan, factoring in any injury replacements that have to be made. In short, I think I would consider long-time contributors to the program, but probably not guys who have played only once or twice for the senior team.
By the way, if they win, how are we dealing with covering games, given the 13-hour time difference between Tokyo and Toronto? We’ve gotta cheer for some evening games for Team Canada (which would be early morning as opposed to the middle of the night for us). Also, here’s some needless anxiety for both of us: The free-agency moratorium (when teams can officially reach out to players for the first time) comes at 6 p.m. Eastern on Aug. 2. The quarterfinals of the Olympic tournament are on Aug. 3 in Japan, which means a Canadian knockout match could start as soon as six hours after that. Also, the medal games are the day before the Las Vegas Summer League starts. Hahahaha. It’s fine.
Murphy: Can we not, man? It’s fine. I covered the 2019 FIBA World Cup in China remotely while housesitting away from home and writing a book, in the aftermath of the championship and some serious and unpleasant family stuff. I’m fine to hammer some Monster and make it work. If I can do it for NJPW Wrestle Kingdom, I can do it for Canada in the Olympics.
As for who will be there, of course, the 14 in Victoria will have an inside edge. (I’m not sure what the restrictions are for Olympic rosters, but I’d hope they’re able to bring two or three alternates to the 12-man roster, given the situation.) I think the Hawaii in-between camp will be telling. Is someone really going to suit up for the Olympics and not get a couple of weeks training in Hawaii out of it?
As for who could re-enter the mix, it’s tough. Nobody’s situation will have materially changed — Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Jamal Murray will still be hurt, Olynyk and Birch and Pangos will still be free agents and so on. Of those not in Victoria, I would think Ejim, Birch, Pangos and Olynyk all have the sweat equity in the program to warrant at least a camp spot. Thompson’s a tougher one because he was a stalwart but has only one cap since 2016.
Brooks might be the most interesting case. He’d be Canada’s best defender and a useful secondary scoring weapon, and he’s not a free agent. He’s also participated a fair amount through the junior programs but hasn’t had as much genuine opportunity to play for the senior team. I think I’d lean toward his being in. Who gets bumped if one or two of those guys show up is a much tougher question.
I’ll tell you one person not in Victoria who should get to go to Tokyo with certainty, though: me.
Oh, and to close, I’m sure people are wondering about our starters for the team, to which I’d answer that it doesn’t particularly matter for a Nurse team. Barrett, Wiggins and Powell seem like safe bets, and I’d lean Joseph as the steadiest point guard hand. Wiggins at the four is certainly possible in the FIBA game, though you’d consider sizing up against Turkey. That fifth starter spot could be matchup-based or come down to who has looked best in camp. Then again, Dort would probably volunteer to play centre if you really needed him.
There are always reasons not to play for Canada’s national team. It’s hard to fault anyone for declining the invite after a gruelling condensed NBA season where a few months of rest are more valuable than ever before. But some are willing to sacrifice those things to represent and compete for their country, like Toronto native Dwight Powell, and they should be applauded. Josh Lewenberg has more.