There’s a lot of “sameness” up and down the roster with no real clarity in who is ahead of whom.
How Ujiri and Webster take care of the problem is the question.
A trade would be the logical move but teams with Toronto’s needs — a proven three-point shooter at either of the forward spot or a starting point guard with experience and shooting chops — tend to keep them.
The player who’d bring the most back is Pascal Siakam and there are whispers around the NBA that the Raptors are still mulling the possibility of a blockbuster trade involving the two-time all-NBA team member and two-time all-star.
Siakam doesn’t want to go — he and his agents told teams inquiring about him that he wants to play his entire career in Toronto — but his expiring $37.9 million (U.S.) contract could certainly bring back the pieces the Raptors need.
It has to be something of substance, though, someone who’d be a difference maker.
The way the roster is constructed, a proven shooter in the frontcourt has to be a priority. There is not nearly enough consistency at either power forward or centre to thrive in this era of the NBA.
An experienced point guard, to either back up Schröder or relegate him to his proven role coming off the bench would be second on the list.
Some point guard hopes were dashed Monday when Rexdale’s Dalano Banton signed a deal with the Boston Celtics, according to a report from the Athletic citing his agents.
Whether Banton would have developed into a consistent rotation player with the Raptors can’t be known for sure. But losing a six-foot-nine, 23-year-old after spending two seasons working their vaunted developmental program has to been seen as a failure by the Raptors.
The move also makes sense for Lillard. With Siakam, Barnes and even players like Gary Trent Jr. empowered and able to bring the ball up the floor, Lillard would be able to do his best Steph Curry impression, moving without the ball in terrifying and defense-contorting ways. Off-ball Dame forces teams to both watch the man with the ball, and Lillard with equal levels of urgency. Lillard would save himself the pounding and stress of having to create each and every action, as he usually did in Portland, but would still be the unquestioned late game initiator.
The Raps also have the size to insulate him in a way Portland never could (and Miami currently can’t). Jakob Poeltl may not be the absolute best version of a modern switchable NBA big, but he’s pretty damn good, is an elite rim-protector, and would be a fantastic pick and roll partner himself.
Siakam, Barnes, OG Anunoby, Chris Boucher, Precious Achiuwa, the newly acquired Jalen McDaniels and even Thad Young provide size and savvy to back Dame up when he is targeted by the opposition, and overall, Toronto has enough defensive talent to consistently stash Lillard on the opponent’s weakest offensive player, freeing Lillard up to do what he does best on defense – anticipating the play and jumping into it to cause steals and fuel what would still be a lethal Toronto transition game.
Of course, not all these pieces would be here after a Lillard trade. Portland is going to want some of those so their Simons, Sharpe back-court can start to cook ASAP, and this is why Ujiri has resisted Toronto tearing it down. He has pieces that are good now, not maybe in three years, and where project 6’9 pays dividends – the Raptors best players can fit on almost any team.
Toronto could offer Portland a deal in this vein: Anunoby, Boucher, and the expiring deals of Young, Malachi Flynn and Joe Wieskamp, plus three first round picks and pick swaps as required to get the deal done.
Toronto will have options to keep Anunoby. The organization can still offer him more money and more term than anyone else: Five years, roughly $260.3 million is expected to be his max contract. But the Raptors also could have offered VanVleet a similar number but backed down when the prices became exorbitant.
If Anunoby isn’t deemed worthy of the max, Toronto’s leverage begins to disappear. While it’s tough to sit a year away from free agency 2024 and predict who will have cap space next summer, the VanVleet situation proved to always be ready for someone. To pick one example, the Indiana Pacers, who have long been connected to Anunoby, an alumnus of the Indiana Hoosiers, could create cap space next summer.
There is, of course, the other option, the one Toronto opted not to take with VanVleet, and move Anunoby. It wouldn’t be an easy pill to swallow for the Raptors who are already light on shooting, but it could be the prudent one.
Toronto has now watched as Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green, March Gasol, Serge Ibaka, and now VanVleet have all walked in free agency with no asset returns. It’s proved costly time and time again. The Raptors can’t afford to let it happen next summer for the sixth time in less than a decade.
1. VanVleet’s departure only makes it that much clearer, at least to me: The Raptors should seriously explore trading Siakam. With the downgrade at point guard (and yes, it’s a downgrade), the Raptors are a less dangerous team. Siakam’s market might not be what the Raptors would like, especially with his agency leaking he will not consider signing an extension with any team he is traded to and Portland is not a viable Siakam destination with the Damian Lillard trade request.
Still, there is very little shooting on this roster, and that is going to limit: a) how great Siakam can be; and b) how much Barnes is capable of growing. Siakam and Anunoby are the two means to get some real help, and roster diversity, for Barnes going forward.
2. The question the Raptors have to ask themselves is whether Siakam is more valuable now, on the last year of his contract with questions about whether he would consider signing an extension with the acquiring team, or on a four-year, $192-million contract with the Raptors that starts next year. That is not a rhetorical question, by the way. There are questions of fit that complicate that. Also, if Siakam doesn’t take the extension now from the Raptors, it’s a moot point. Trade him now, lest you risk a repeat of the VanVleet situation.
3. Who might be interested in Siakam? Atlanta, Oklahoma City, Brooklyn, Chicago, Indiana and Minnesota all make varying degrees of hypothetical sense. I’d encourage the Raptors to focus on the future rather than the near term, but there is no reason to limit your search.
4. Say it with me: The first-round pick the Raptors gave up for Jakob Poeltl is a sunk cost. Not having it should not be a guiding principle for the franchise. Maximizing the potential of your best young players should be the goal here. If that comes with being a non-playoff/Play-In team, so be it. If they lose a pick in next year’s draft, which the Raptors and many other experts consider weak, that is part of the calculated risk the team took when it traded for Poeltl. The pick is top-six protected. If not conveyed, it would become a 2025 pick, with the same protections.
5. I’d be less inclined to trade Anunoby, but the Raptors have to take full stock of what happened on Friday. The Trail Blazers gave Jerami Grant a five-year deal worth $160 million, making any vague notion that Anunoby will sign the four-year, $117 extension offer the Raptors can offer him silly. It ain’t happening.
It’s incumbent, then, that the Raptors find out what Anunoby wants on the court. If that is not available in Toronto even after VanVleet left, then it is time to move him. Financially, the Raptors have to be prepared to pay Anunoby a maximum-value deal, if it comes to that. What, you say Anunoby isn’t worth such a deal? Well, look what just happened with VanVleet. More teams are likely to have cap space next year with the free agency class likely to be better than this year. If you are blanching at the price, get what you can and move on. Anunoby is young and good enough to be part of the Raptors’ future, but he has to want to be in this situation.
Unless of course, the Raptors don’t believe they can re-sign Siakam next season when his contract expires. At that point, the avoid-at-all-costs scenario is losing another homegrown all-star for nothing.
The same can also be said for O.G. Anunoby who, like Siakam, becomes a free agent next summer. Anunoby is three years younger than Siakam. He turns 26 later this month. That three-year difference will be a factor if it comes down to deciding between the two as the team grows around Barnes.
On the roster, the Raptors also have both Malachi Flynn and Jeff Dowtin Jr., but at this point in their development neither are considered starting-level point guards.
So, if we assume Siakam stays, although we don’t say that with any certainty, and the big moves are over, going with Barnes would likely be the No. 1 option. His shooting is a work in progress but his court vision and willingness to get everyone involved are some of his best attributes.
Schroder has that crazy first step that can get him into the lane but he doesn’t shoot the ball well either.
He came off the bench for the Lakers for the most part last year and handled that job well. And it’s no secret the Raptors bench could use a lift.
On that side of the ledger the Raptors then have potentially made three significant additions to their bench in 6-foot-9 swingman Jalen McDaniels, Schroder and lottery pick Gradey Dick, again assuming Dick doesn’t get rushed into the starting five. And then there’s the addition of two-way guard Marquis Nowell, made official Monday, who is likely to have more impact with the Raptors 905 in Mississauga initially. (Though, like VanVleet, he has a penchant for exceeding expectations.)
The starting five might have taken a hit, but the bench will be improved.
New coach Darko Rajaković continues to build an eclectic staff to help him along. In addition to adding countryman Imo Simovic from UCLA, Rajaković has also hired Jama Mahlalela (formerly of the Warriors, and the Raptors before that), Pat Delany (Wizards), Vin Bhavnani (Thunder) and Mike Batiste (Rockets). The Raptors are also retaining Jim Sann, who has been heavily involved in the franchise’s player development side for years.
The staff still lacks a former NBA head coach or at least a very experienced front-of-the bench assistant. We will see if the Raptors think it is necessary to hire such a coach to assist Rajaković.
Chicago Sky head coach and general manager James Wade has stepped down and will join Toronto’s staff alongside Darko Rajaković, the Sky announced Saturday. Toronto is yet to confirm the hiring.
Wade has been involved in women’s basketball since 2013. He joined the Sky in 2019 and won the league’s Coach of the Year honors in his first season. In 2021, he led the Sky to a WNBA championship before earning the league’s Executive of the Year award the following season.
The 47-year-old from Memphis previously worked as an assistant coach for the San Antonio Stars of the WNBA from 2013 to 2016. Prior to that, he spent over a decade playing basketball internationally around the world.
Wade joins Toronto’s staff alongside Jama Mahlalela, Pat Delany, Ivo Simovic, Vin Bhavnani, and Mike Batiste. The Raptors have also retained assistant coach Jim Sann from Nick Nurse’s coaching staff.
Toronto had one of the league’s bigger coaching staff under Nurse. It’s unclear how big the Raptors want Rajaković’s staff to be, but the expectation is it will be smaller.