Is This The Dawn of a New Era Part 2

In Part 1, we discussed new paths in a new era. Here, let's dive into the best routes to actually get there. Trades, baby!

In part one, the argument was made that the Raptors need to focus on building around Scottie Barnes and forget about their dual timeline, because it simply wasn’t working. With Pascal Siakam and O.G. Anunoby being their most valuable assets (outside of Scottie Barnes, obviously), many may ask the question, which one should the Raptors trade? The fact is that it’s less important who they should trade and more important who, or what type of player, they should trade for. 

First off, let’s be clear, if the Raptors are going to trade Siakam or Anunoby, then they’ll need to get a fair bit in return for them. This is not a case of simply trading a player for the sake of trading them. One thing in the Raptor’s favour is that if they decide to trade Siakam and/or Anunoby, it’s a sellers market, especially when a team has only draft capital and prospects to give up. 

There are only four teams that have All NBA-level players that could conceivably decide to trade their star players away and rebuild. Portland, who will be discussed later, Chicago, who has already stated they’re not going to rebuild and don’t even have a draft pick this year, Washington, who are in a good position to go into full rebuild with two of their top veterans becoming free agents, but their best player, Bradley Beal, has had two down seasons in a row and doesn’t have a whole lot of trade value, at the moment, and Toronto. 

Even if other teams, like Atlanta (Trae Young) and Boston (Jalen Brown) enter the picture and decide to make a big trade, they won’t be looking for draft picks or prospects in return, so they’d need to bring in a third team, like Toronto. This puts the Raptors in a very good position on the trade front.

While wild rumours happen leading up to every draft, it’s hard to remember a time when they were as prevalent as they are right now. By some accounts, as many as half the top ten draft picks could be available in a trade. And unlike next year, this is considered a very strong draft year, with numerous potential stars and even superstars available. Part of the reason may be that it’s become glaringly obvious that young teams tend not to be able to win, and a lot of the teams drafting in the top ten desperately want (or need) to win next year. 

Portland needs to decide between keeping Damian Lillard and trying to win now, which means trading their 3rd pick and young players, or trading Dame and going through a full rebuild. Dame is already on record stating that the Blazers need to trade their assets for another star player. Both Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby were immediately rumoured to be trade targets, but Masai Ujiri apparently asked for too much in return, and there are who think Portland should trade Dame if Scoot Henderson, who many scouts think could be a future superstar, is available at 3. It could be that Portland is simply playing hardball and will ultimately decide to trade the pick, with the Raptors as one of their most likely trade partners.

Houston’s new owner has made winning now a priority, which means using their cap space on signing a star player or two (their biggest target seems to be James Harden, but they’ve also been linked to Fred VanVleet), and may even be willing to trade for a veteran star. That could mean not only could their 4th pick be available, but some of their young players, including Jalen Green. The Rockets are probably the second most popular trading partner involving Siakam, with A.M. Hoops even predicting he will be traded there in his mock draft (in a trade that may even satisfy Raptor fans).

Detroit’s drop to 5 in the draft stung not just because they finished with the league’s worst record, but because it’s been more than a decade and a half since this once storied franchise was remotely relevant. They’ve made the playoffs just 3 times in the last 15 years and didn’t win one playoff game during that time. The last time they won a playoff game was 2008. They have their potential franchise player, in Cade Cunningham, and a whole lot of good, young talent, but they really need to start winning soon. With just 1 of their top 10 rotation players over 24, they could be open to a trade to push them into the playoffs. The 5th pick could still net a star, plus Detroit has a lot of young talent they could throw in a trade.  

Orlando has done well in acquiring young talent in the last few years and clearly have a bright future. They have the reigning rookie of the year, a probable future All Star, in Franz Wagner, and, like Detroit, most of their rotation players are under 25 years old. They also have the 6th and 11th picks, and if they can’t move up, they might be willing to trade those picks for a veteran star who can help get them to the playoffs and show the young players how to win. With a roster full of so many young players who need playing time to develop, it’s hard to imagine they’d want to add two more rookies to their already crowded roster. While the 6th and 11th picks obviously aren’t top 5 picks, adding two lottery picks (as well as their own 13th pick) would give them multiple shots at what is an inexact science. The problem with Orlando is if they want to move their lottery pick, it would most likely be looking for a guard. So while they aren’t likely trading partners for the Raptors on draft night, they could enter the picture once free agency starts. It’s been rumoured they’re looking at both Fred VanVleet and Gary Trent Jr.

**Side Rant**

Am I the only one who thinks that free agency and the draft should be at the same time? The fact that they are weeks apart means teams go into the draft not knowing what will happen in their offseason. A team like Toronto may not know if VanVleet will return, so won’t know if they should draft a point guard to replace him. It would also allow teams to combine sing and trades with the trading of drafting players. For example, Toronto would be able to trade Siakam to Houston and do a sign a trade for VanVleet for their 3rd pick, Jalen Green and Jabari Smith Jr (this is not a trade proposal, just an example of something that could be done).

**End Side Rant**

It’s no secret Dallas needs to start winning if they want to keep Luka Doncic happy, and while the Mavericks have a good chance of finding a very good player at 10, it’s unlikely that player will have the immediate impact Dallas wants. Ironically, Dallas probably wouldn’t be in the situation they’re in now if they’d built slowly with youth around Luka, rather than surrounding him with veterans to try and win sooner. Now they don’t have the luxury of time, so their 10th pick and their two young players, Josh Green and Jaden Hardy, are available as they’re only valuable assets. And while there’s obviously not as much value there as Portland, Houston, Detroit or Orlando, Green and Hardy are two good prospects, and it’s still a top 10 pick.

Oklahoma also has a lot of draft picks, including the 12th pick) and young prospects they could trade, but there don’t seem to be any indications that the Thunder are looking to speed up their  development.

Miami will probably be looking for a star player, but don’t have nearly as much to offer the Raptors as the above teams. New Orleans could be in the market for a roster upgrade, and do have some intriguing assets, but they’ll most likely be looking for backcourt help. So barring an unforeseen event, Portland, Houston, Detroit, Orlando and Dallas are the most likely trading partners for the Raptors, either directly or indirectly.

The next question is what type of players the Raptors should be going after. 

Obviously, their first priority is finding a potential superstar to pair with Scottie Barnes. Ideally, someone who compliments him and his game. A strong shooter who can play on and off ball, as well as create their own shot. Basically, what every team has ever looked for. Thankfully, there are such possibilities the Raptors could conceivably get. 

Scoot Henderson is the obvious prospect. While he’s not the great shooter that would be ideal  to play with Barnes, most draft experts feel Henderson has superstar potential and is possibly one of the best prospects that have entered the draft in the last decade. He’s a lock to go in the top 3. 

Brandon Miller may not have the ceiling Henderson does, but he’d actually be a better fit alongside Barnes, due his shooting ability and ability to play off ball. He has star potential and if Scoot ends up going 2nd, and the Raptors trade for the 3rd pick, he would be a great prospect.

Jalen Green doesn’t jump out as an obvious fit with Barnes. His lack of efficiency and Houston’s dismal record has caused him to lose some of the lustre from when he was drafted, but he still has the potential that made Houston pick him ahead of Eric Mobley and Barnes. He scored 22 ppg this season and saw statistical increases in nearly every statistical category, apart from shooting efficiency, so he has improved. 

Anfernee Simons was a favourite of Portland’s coaching and front office staff, and his potential was why they traded away CJ McCollum. He’s a very good shooter and scorer and passes the ball. Those attributes would make him a good fit on the Raptors, but his poor defence is one reason he’s being made available by the Blazers. Still, he’s just 23 and the Raptors could certainly use his shooting and scoring.

Shaedon Sharpe is apparently not available in a trade, but it’s hard to believe the Blazers wouldn’t part with him if it meant surrounding Dame with players who will help them win now. He’s not an ideal fit due to his inconsistent outside shot (although it was better than anticipated), but he’s an insanely dynamic player with star potential and a Canadian whose impact could go beyond the franchise. 

Cam Whitmore has moved up the draft boards so that most see him going 4th. He doesn’t have the potential that the above players do, but he still has star potential and could be a great fit beside Barnes because of his ability to score off the ball.

Taylor Hendricks is an intriguing prospect because he’s an athletic shooter who can defend and hustles. That means his floor is pretty high, while he still has star potential.

 Jarace Walker and the Thompson twins (Amen and Ausar) all certainly have star potential, but their inability to shoot from outside (and lack of potential to ever become good from that range), probably doesn’t make them the best fit for the Raptors.

While there almost certainly could be a player or two that become stars outside of these that the Raptors could draft or trade for, these should probably be the main targets for them.

With the hiring of Darko Rajakovic as head coach, it seems like we could thankfully see a lot less isolation play and more ball movement. Could we finally see a Raptors team running a motion-type offence? And if there’s anything the last year has taught us it’s that not only do the Raptors desperately need to upgrade their shooting. If they want to ever be a contender, they need to become a good three point shooting team. And on the other end, they need to improve their defence, especially at the point of attack and in the paint. Any players traded for or drafted should be done with all this in mind.

So what are the best trades for the Raptors?

Without a doubt, the best and most obvious trading partner is Portland. They have the third pick, Anfernee Simons and Shaedon Sharpe. While the ideal scenario is trading either Siakam or Anunoby for all three, the chance of getting a potential superstar, in Scoot Henderson (if he’s available) AND a very good shooter and scorer, in Simons, should be too much to pass up. If the Raptors are going to trade Siakam before his contract expires next summer, it’s hard to believe they’d get a better deal than that.

Houston, not surprisingly, is the next option, with their 4th pick and Jalen Green. Because of Houston’s cap room, the Raptors could throw in more players to try and get both the 4th pick and Green. 

If the Raptors do make a big trade on draft night, the safe money is that it will be with either Portland or Houston. The only danger is is Masai decides to ask for too much and ends up on the outside looking in.

There are other trade possibilities that aren’t nearly as appealing, but still make sense for the Raptors, should they want to make a splash. Anunoby would be a perfect player for Luka and Dallas, and would be able to send their 10th pick, Green and Hardy, as well as their 2026 draft pick. 

Detroit could do an Anunoby for their 5th pick, Jalen Duren and a protected pick, although they also have cap room and could sign a player without giving up any assets.

If Orlando wants to sign VanVleet and/or Trent Jr, the Raptors could try and get someone like Jalen Suggs or even Caleb Houstan back, but it’s always tricky trying to get much out of a sign and trade, especially with a team with enough cap room to sign them outright, like Orlando.

Multi-team trades could also involve the Raptors. If Boston decides to trade Jalen Brown and Portland wants him instead of Siakam or Anunoby, the Raptors could help facilitate, by moving Siakam to Boston and taking the draft picks/prospects that wouldn’t fit Boston’s win-now timeline.

An out-there possibility would be if Minnesota decides to part ways with Karl Anthony Townes and someone like Portland or even Golden State is interested in acquiring him. Minnesota would have no interest in getting draft picks or young players back, and bring in the Raptors to help facilitate in a way similar to the Boston trade above. 

If the Raptors go with the nuclear option and decide to trade both Siakam and Anunoby, imagine a Raptors roster that includes Scoot Henderson, Anfernee Simons, Jalen Duren and Taylor Hendricks to go along with Scottie Barnes, Precious Achiuwa and Jakob Poeltl. 

While these are some of the more likely scenarios, it wouldn’t be surprising if Masai Ujiri ends up doing something out of left field, or nothing at all. That’s always been his M.O. With an entirely new coaching staff (Sportsnet’s Michael Grange reported no one on the coaching staff will return), the likelihood of both VanVleet and Trent Jr to leave via free agency, and both Siakam and Anunoby having just one more year on their contract, it seems like the time to try and move them, build a team around Barnes and one that fits better with today’s NBA. 

One last note. Philadelphia is apparently one of the more favoured locations for VanVleet to go in free agency, probably because of Nick Nursing now coaching them, but I see absolutely no sign-and-trade scenario where this could work. At this point, Orlando, Houston, New Orleans or even the Suns seem like more likely possibilities than the 76ers.