O.G. Anunoby this season:
Led the NBA in steals per game. pic.twitter.com/VVAcEHkmg6
— StatMuse (@statmuse) June 20, 2023
It might be less than Trent Jr. could have been hoping for at the beginning of last season when players like Tyler Herro and Jordan Poole were signing extensions for $120 million and $130 million, respectively. But it’s a nice pay day if that’s how it shakes out, and would still give the Minnesota native another crack at free agency before he turns 30.
The decision was made easier, per team sources, by the fact that Trent Jr. wanted to stay in Toronto — that he’s been training at the OVO Athletic Centre almost continuously since the season ended being one evident example.
There are more shoes to drop for the Raptors as Jakob Poeltl and Fred VanVleet are both unrestricted free agents. The general math is that the Raptors had about $60 million to spend on Trent Jr., VanVleet and Poeltl before tipping over into the luxury tax, which affects teams with payrolls over $162 million for 2023-24.
The Raptors have paid into the luxury tax when they were championship contenders but have avoided doing so otherwise, in part because teams that aren’t in the tax collect a payout from the ‘taxes’ collected from the teams over the tax — a lump sum estimated to be worth about $15 million this past season.
With Trent Jr.’s number locked in at $18.5 million, it leaves about $41.5 million left to sign VanVleet and Poeltl once place holders for draft picks and empty roster spots are accounted for. Per league sources, it’s expected Poeltl, the big Austrian centre Toronto acquired at the trade deadline, will be looking for a deal with an average value of $20 million per season, while VanVleet is expected to be looking for something in the $30-million range.
When I did the rough math on that scenario with Sportsnet’s Blake Murphy, VanVleet and Poeltl could get first-year salaries starting at $26.7 million and $17.9 million and still have contracts that averaged $30 million and $20 million per year. That would add up to $44.6 million on the first-year deals when combined, or $3.6 million more than the $41.5 million they theoretically can spend and stay under the tax threshold.
Presuming the Raptors want to keep their core together – and they’ve given no signals that they don’t want to, with VanVleet and Poeltl forming one of the NBA’s best pick-and-roll combinations after the all-star break and the metrics for their starting five as a whole all suggesting a more competitive version of the team that went 41-41 last season – something will have to give.
The simplest solution would be trading fourth-year guard Malachi Flynn — who is owed $3.8 million next season — and not take any salary back. Another option would be moving Otto Porter Jr., the veteran wing who played just eight games last season before missing the rest of the year after having surgery on his toe. He is owed $6.3 million. Moving that much off the books would likely leave enough to squeeze in VanVleet and Poeltl and still have plenty of room under the luxury tax, but the question is if there is a market for the oft-injured player.
The Athletic’s John Hollinger predicted Trent would opt for free agency this offseason to sign a long-term contract on the open market. He can still do that, but only with the Raptors, and with a starting salary of no more than $26 million. It’s unclear if Trent would have received a deal in free agency that would have paid him more than the nearly $19 million he will make next year by opting into the last year of his deal, signed in 2021. However, not only would opting out have allowed him to sign a long-term deal that started next year as opposed to 2024-25, but it also would have allowed him to reach unrestricted free agency for a second time a year earlier, too — when he’s 28 instead of 29, or 29 instead of 30, depending on the length of his next deal.
He turns 25 in January, so one year is unlikely to mean much to him in three or four years’ time, but you never know.
Now, maybe the Raptors knew this was the direction Trent was leaning. He’s represented by Klutch Sports, as are Christian Koloko, O.G. Anunoby and Fred VanVleet — remember that last name — so it makes sense that the Raptors had at least some idea of Trent’s thinking. Still, Trent didn’t make the decision until Tuesday, the absolute deadline for him to do so. Maybe the Raptors weren’t shocked or even surprised, but they were, at the very least, uncertain about Trent’s intentions.
All of that plays into the draft and VanVleet’s free agency. It’s been easiest in mock drafts and less formal projections to predict the Raptors will come away with a guard, just because their three most valuable players under contract — Anunoby, Pascal Siakam and Scottie Barnes — are all forwards, or at least forward-sized. Likewise, given the Raptors traded three draft picks, including a first-rounder, to acquire Jakob Poeltl at February’s trade deadline, it stands to reason the Raptors will do what they can to retain him in free agency. They used last year’s high second-rounder on Christian Koloko, who had a fine rookie season. They are likely set at centre.
That leaves guard as the most obvious position of need, whether through the draft, free agency, trade or a combination of all three. Trent remaining in Toronto for one more year (and, by the way, he is eligible to be traded) does little to change that. If the Raptors manage to use one of their forwards to trade up to the second or third overall picks, held by Charlotte and Portland, respectively, point guard Scoot Henderson would be the most likely target. While the consensus is that there are many bigger players, including bigger playmaking guards in the mid-lottery, such as Amen Thompson, Ausar Thompson and Anthony Black, the draft swings back toward more typical guards — point and shooting, if there’s much of a difference at this point — at no. 13, where the Raptors currently stand. Michigan’s Kobe Bufkin, Indiana’s Jalen Hood-Schifino, Kentucky’s Cason Wallace and Connecticut’s Jordan Hawkins all make some sense on the Raptors roster, and are all 6-foot-3 or 6-foot-4.
The Raptors badly need some clarity in the backcourt.
Preparation is one thing, of course. Execution is quite another. And recent history suggests that Thursday night will be a relative non-event. Just like many forecast the Raptors as potential NBA rain makers at this season’s trade deadline, only to see Ujiri sit and watch the office paint dry, the safe bet is the Raptors make their pick at No. 13 and largely stick with the status quo, at least for now.
Certainly Tuesday offered a modest nudge in that direction, when Raptors guard Gary Trent Jr. made the somewhat unexpected move of exercising his player option for next season and forgoing free agency. You could say Trent Jr. is betting on himself, sure. Or perhaps, as a competent jump shooter playing for a club lacking that skill set in quantity, Trent Jr. is betting on the notion he can secure a longer-term deal with a Toronto franchise that can’t afford to let him go.
There are other decisions looming, among them Fred VanVleet’s impending free agency. But as much as Ujiri spoke after the season about the in-house “selfishness” and the fractured culture, so far the franchise has signalled its belief that a considerable part of last season’s problem was head coach Nick Nurse. Witness last week’s introduction of Nurse’s successor, Darko Rajakovic, and the many implications that Rajakovic has vowed to pay more heed to the importance of developing the roster than Nurse ever did.
Tolzman insisted the “structure” and “process” of the Raptors’ in-house development program is as strong as it’s ever been, even if the developmental success stories haven’t come in abundance since the like of Pascal Siakam and VanVleet defied the odds to become all-stars. Hint, hint: Blame Nurse for burying the likes of Malachi Flynn and Dalano Banton on the bench while their career arcs flatlined, and maybe even for allowing Scottie Barnes to stagnate as a sophomore. The proof, of course, will be in how they perform going forward.
“I think we have a pretty good track record of (developing players) and I don’t think we necessarily forgot how to do that,” Tolzman said. “And so I think everyone around here is still very confident that no matter who we bring in or even the guys that are still on our roster, we can continue to put an emphasis on getting better.”
As for the importance of new-coach energy, said Tolzman: “(Rajakovic is) going to have different ideas and different perspectives of what works. We’ve been doing things a certain way for quite a while now, to where having a little bit of a fresh perspective on it could go a long way of improving our process … Like I said, I don’t think we need to change a ton of it. But, at the same time, having a new set of eyes and some ideas as to what can be done, I think it could actually benefit (the program) a lot.”
If it all sounds naively optimistic, well, such is the hope-inducing nature of draft night. Literally everything can change in a moment if the Raptors happen upon the right circumstance; history tells you as much. Still, if a foundation-shaking blockbuster is the dream, and securing a transformational player is the fantasy, something decidedly less seismic is the likely reality.
The NBA can be an unpredictable place, so much so that you’d think Ujiri would occasionally surprise us by taking the bat off his shoulder. But in a league of slim margins, it’s not hard to see why the team president seems to be insisting that, by sticking with the rough status quo and keeping the options open down the line, last season’s disappointment could be a prelude to next season’s breakthrough. In other words, there’s a good chance fans holding out hope for a bigger shakeup in Raptorland will be registering their disappointment while Brendan Shanahan nods approvingly.
To suggest the Raptors are targeting anyone in the draft is futile since they can’t be sure who might still be available at No. 13 or if they might buck franchise history and pull off some major draft-night transaction.
Tolzman said the Raptors worked out about 20 prospects, including Canadians Leonard Miller and Olivier-Maxence Prosper. Other than those two whispered names, the workout list was a closely guarded secret.
“It’s just another advantage of not letting the teams around us know who we have coming around here, to be totally honest with you,” he said. “Just trying to keep a little bit of privacy in terms of what we are doing with that.”
Does it work? “It doesn’t really. In today’s day and age it’s impossible to keep anything like that (secret).”
As they do every draft season, the Raptors are preparing for every eventuality. The bluster of trades usually winds up being little more than that, but they’ve kept an eye on the top picks and those expected to be drafted well after No. 13. It’s just prudent business.
“As we get to know our pick at 13, we’re also really taking a close look at the players up in the top five, top 10, whatever, just in case,” Tolzman said. “And then the same with move-back opportunities, too. You try to really know the different options out there … draft night is so crazy.
“You never really know what comes your way, to where you don’t want to be caught off guard just because we focused on 13 the whole time. How realistic is it that we can move up? I don’t know. But, at the same time, you don’t want to not be prepared for it.”
And be prepared to draft for talent rather than perceived need.
“I don’t want to overstate it that we just try to focus on the best players on the board,” Tolzman said.
The Raptors’ front office pretty much used the trade deadline to gauge the trade values of their players, including OG Anunoby. Getting overtures about Pascal Siakam should not be a surprise, either. Given some of the teams holding high lottery picks and a bunch of teams licking their wounds off a disappointing post-season run, Raptors President Masai Ujiri and GM Bobby Webster find themselves at the epicentre of several trade talks heading into draft night.
The Charlotte Hornets and the Portland Trail Blazers hold the 2nd and 3rd picks consecutively, and both teams might not be too interested in waiting for kids to develop. The Blazers are holding on to the closing window of Dame Lillard, while the Hornets might be looking to surround LaMelo Ball with better players. The Raptors have also talked to Houston about their 4th pick.
Some of the rumours floating around: Siakam’s being targeted by the Atlanta Hawks, while Portland Trail Blazers have been frustrated talking to the Raptors about Siakam and Anunoby. That frustration’s probably been going on since last year, as the Raptors won’t give up Siakam or Anunoby for a bargain when the Blazers need to make this trade wayyyy more than the Raptors do. Anunoby and Indiana Pacers have been linked for ages now, while the Sacramento Kings and the Memphis Grizzlies are also in the picture.
Anunoby’s not worth a top-four pick, but he should net a decent return. Siakam, on the other hand, to paraphrase our buddy Kenyon from Basketball Rewind: When you give up an All-NBA/All-Star type of talent, you would want multiple stabs at getting a future replacement player. Ideally, young players and multiple high draft picks, as the chances of any of the haul matching what you are giving up matching, or exceeding what you have given up is very slim.
Historically, this front office hasn’t cashed out on any of their core players, and a retool is much more convenient for this ownership’s wallet than going on a full rebuild. Cashing out on Anunoby would be understandable and will keep the Raptors in a position to retool. Whereas trading Siakam can have a lot of personnel implications, as that move puts them closer to a rebuild than a retool. A rebuild is unlikely any time soon, especially when Ujiri’s been on the “there’s parity in the league” belief for a few years now.
A Siakam trade essentially throws this team’s compete window away. It wouldn’t make sense to get Jakob Poeltl and retain Anunoby, Gary Trent Jr., and Fred VanVleet past the trade deadline only to potentially lose out on the future assets that they could have gotten if a rebuild is something this franchise considers as an immediate plan B. So a Siakam for a big haul makes sense, as the receiving team needs him more than we need whatever quarters they are giving back, and they also have to pay the team the “rebuild tax.”
“I think it’s kind of more, just the more you think about it, it’s just another advantage of not letting the teams around us know who we have coming around here to be totally honest with you,” Tolzman told an assembled group of media two days prior to draft night.
“Just trying to keep a little bit of privacy in terms of what we are doing with that.”
Tolzman readily acknowledges there are no real secrets with so many people involved in a workout, from the ones participating in it to the ones helping run it, but the team sees no point in just sharing information like who they are working out and when and how often with their competitors.
What Tolzman was willing to share with reporters was that the team worked out “about 20” different individuals for a draft in which they currently own the 13th pick in the first round and no pick in the second, having sent that to San Antonio in the Jakob Poeltl deal.
The lack of a second-round pick and picking basically in the middle of the first round combined to limit the drawing power a workout in Toronto might otherwise have for the players and more precisely their agents.
As Tolzman pointed out, there are 20 players who probably believe they are going top 10 in this draft and would therefore bypass a workout invite from a team selecting 13th. There are as many or more who don’t believe they have a shot at 13 and would therefore decline an invitation.
It made for fewer workouts and fewer bodies, but no less preparation as the Raptors have to be ready for any eventuality and that includes moving up or down in the draft.
According to Tolzman, there are plenty of picks being offered in a draft that is both rich in talent at the top and deep through much of the first round, and that means the team can’t go into Thursday night with just a plan for 13.
They have to plan for the possibility that they could trade into the top five in the draft or they could turn 13 into multiple lower picks and build depth that way.
One thing Tolzman was very clear on was that nothing happening with the current roster, whether that’s the free-agent status of Fred VanVleet and Poeltl, or the potential that the Raptors may deal some of its core rotation pieces this summer, or even the arrivial of a new head coach, factors in too much to who they draft.
For a moment, it almost seemed like the Toronto Raptors were revealing something.
How much consideration have you given to moving up in the draft, one reporter asked assistant general manager Dan Tolzman on Tuesday afternoon ahead of Thursday’s NBA Draft.
“Quite a bit,” Tolzman said.
It was never going to be that easy.
“Our whole operation around the draft is to try to know at least all the ranges of picks just in case something comes across the table that’s too good to pass up on,” Tolzman continued. “We’re also really taking a close look at the players up in the top five, top ten, whatever, just in case. And then same with move-back opportunities, too.”
The Raptors aren’t revealing anything these days. Even the names of the 20 or so prospects the organization has decided to work out are shrouded in secrecy. Only those who need to know are in the know, Tolzman said. To them, it’s a competitive advantage, at least in theory.
What we do know is Toronto wants to take the best player available, at least so they say. It’s cliché, of course, but to the Raptors it remains true regardless of the roster, free agency, and whatever trades may or may not happen this summer.
“You can’t deny talent when it’s all said and done,” Tolzman said. “With the draft picks because you never know what the team could look like two weeks later, a month later, six months later.”
For Toronto, this year is particularly complicated with Fred VanVleet and Jakob Poeltl both heading into free agency. The Raptors are in desperate need of guard depth, especially if VanVleet leaves, and even if he returns, this roster could use additional ball-handling and floor-spacing talent.
Regardless of drafting for fit, Toronto is confident there will be plenty of players who do fit on the board at No. 13. It’s a deep draft, Tolzman said, with a high level of on-ball playmakers.
“We like where we’re at, at 13, and we’re getting a lot of offers or things coming across the table for picks all around the draft as well,” Tolzman noted. “There seems to be a number of different places in this draft where there’s players to be had.”
It has been a little frustrating for the Raptors that they haven’t been able to bring in more players for workouts. As Tolzman joked, 20 players think they’re going in the top 10 and some of those prospects are unwilling to work out for teams later in the lottery. Similarly, Toronto’s lack of a second-round pick has inhibited the team’s ability to bring in some of those lesser-known prospects who could be undrafted free-agent signings for the organization.
Yet, this all begs the question — Can the Raptors AFFORD to keep him? Out of all the free agents headed into the offseason, it almost seemed the most likely that the Raptors would let Gary Trent Jr. walk. Think about it — they’ve invested more into Fred VanVleet, and why accept that BONKERS Jakob Poeltl trade just to let him walk months later?
Does this mean Fred VanVleet is now more likely to walk in free agency? Are the Raptors expecting to keep Trent Jr or use him as a piece in a bigger deal? The questions are never ending, especially as we head into the NBA Draft.
The NBA rumour mill has been on full speed heading into the Draft and — much like at the NBA trade deadline — the Toronto Raptors seem to be the main characters. Right now, they have the 13th overall pick, but many think the front office is pondering trading up to get a higher pick.
The suspects in this talks are the same as usual — Pascal Siakam and O.G. Anunoby. Obviously two hot commodities in the NBA, as they’ve developed from later picks to absolute super stars. Siakam has extreme versatility, scoring ability, and height, while Anunoby is more than just your average 3-and-D forward. Their names come up in most trade scenarios this week.
ANOTHER factor to ALL of this is the Raptors themselves. Reported to be eying more of a “re-tool” than a “re-build” this offseason, there is speculation as to whether they will do much at ALL. Any big moves with Siakam or Anunoby would probably (though not exclusively) happen before the NBA Draft on Thursday night. Then there is the situation of retaining free agents, and signing others…
All of this to say, Gary Trent Jr.’s opting in has surely launched the wheels into motion regarding the Raptors offseason plans.
It was widely anticipated that Trent, 24, would opt out in search of a new deal on the open market (but still possibly from the Raptors in the end), given this is considered a weak free-agent class NBA-wide.
But TNT’s Chris Haynes first reported Trent will instead opt-in to his $18.5-million deal for 2023-24 and will attempt to work out a long-term extension to stay put in Toronto once that becomes a possibility in early July. That deal would give Trent a hefty raise surely worth north of $20 million a season.
By locking in now, Trent Jr. helps the Raptors in the team’s pursuit of also keeping Fred VanVleet and Jakob Poeltl, both unrestricted free agents. At $18.5 million instead of, say, $21-$24 million to start a new deal, there is more wiggle room to bring back the veterans while still ducking the NBA’s luxury tax of $162 million next season.
When it comes to teams that could make a deal with Portland should it choose to trade the No. 3 pick, look no further than the Raptors. Toronto owns the No. 13 pick in the draft and has a bunch of valuable veterans that could fit well with Lillard in Portland, including Pascal Siakam and O.G. Anunoby, who the Blazers have reportedly been after for years. And while it seems like the Raptors are in the rumour mill around this time of year and usually end up doing nothing, this year feels different for a number of reasons.
After all, the Raptors have their new coach Darko Rajakovic and will likely look to re-shape their roster this offseason in order to duck under the luxury tax and address some of their fit and spacing concerns. The Raptors know that the draft is the best time to do that, and they are reportedly attempting to move up in the top three or four of the draft, potentially resetting their timeline around Scottie Barnes and other young players.