One of the most popular questions heading into free agency is always what sign-and-trade possibilities look like for outbound free agents. Sign-and-trades are a flexibility tool for teams and players, allowing teams without cap space to still acquire free agents and get something for their outbound players.
VanVleet-to-Houston has not been reported as a sign-and-trade, at least not yet.
Houston had more than enough cap space to sign VanVleet outright, giving the Rockets all the leverage in such a discussion. Their deal for Canadian Dillon Brooks is being reported as a sign-and-trade, so they could simply tell the Raptors, “Look, we have the space to sign Fred, and Memphis is playing ball on Brooks, we don’t need to give you anything.” There are still some (small) reasons Houston may do it, and VanVleet getting three years (instead of the previously reported two-year deal) makes a sign-and-trade legal.
More realistically, though, it’s the Raptors who would want the sign-and-trade. Even if they get no players in return, sign-and-trading VanVleet would create an enormous traded player exception for Toronto. That exception would later let the Raptors take a player back in trade without making the salaries match. It could be valuable now, at the deadline, or at the start of the next free agent period. We’ve even seen teams in the past send picks with their outbound free agent just to create such an exception. Toronto isn’t in a draft-asset situation to do that, but it does highlight how highly teams value a large trade exception.
Keep an eye on the news between now and Thursday, when VanVleet’s deal can become official. If Houston is getting involved in even more transactions, the chances expand slightly for the Raptors to get a little nibble, even just an exception.
VanVleet moving on hastens the trajectory the Raptors were already heading towards — a team with 21-year-old Scottie Barnes as its focal point, both on the floor and off, with 25-year-old Anunoby as the most likely last veteran standing.
This doesn’t mean Siakam being moved is automatically going to be the next shoe to drop.
But it has been an uncomfortable stretch for the two-time all-NBA selection. He turned down a three-year max extension at the beginning of last season in the hopes that he would qualify for his third all-NBA team and thus become eligible for a ‘super max’ extension worth 35 per cent of the salary cap.
But he fell 15 points shy of that goal and is still waiting for news on an extension of any kind after becoming the first player in franchise history to log a season in which he averaged 24.2 points, 7.8 rebounds and 5.8 assists per game and was joined by superstars Nikola Jokic, Luka Doncic, Giannis Antetokounmpo and LeBron James as the only five players to do it league-wide this season.
In the meantime his long-time teammate, VanVleet, has left and the Raptors have let go two members of the coaching staff — Rico Hines and Earl Watson — that Siakam considers close to family and were hired in part to support his development in Toronto.
You have to wonder how the delay in getting an extension done — the two sides have yet to meet formally on the subject — is sitting with Siakam, or how he would feel if a career-best season wasn’t enough to earn one, or an offer for the full four years and $183 million he would be eligible for.
Or what if the deal came with caveats regarding role or usage as the Raptors try to reconfigure how they play under Rajakovic?
Meanwhile, just as the Raptors did in making the call not to exceed their in-house budget for VanVleet, maybe they are ready to look at the cold facts which — simplified to be sure — say that if Siakam’s best season didn’t move the Raptors past the .500 mark and instead left them in the play-in tournament, maybe testing the trade market isn’t the worst idea?
It’s all complicated and multilayered stuff. The Raptors would surely like to head into next season with all the questions about their roster that hampered the team last season buttoned up and answered, but there’s a way to go before that can happen.
“The way I look at the deadline — it’s really not a great place to make long-term decisions,” Raptors president Masai Ujiri said back in February. “Hopefully we can have a little bit of patience. Everything we could have done today maybe we could do in the summer.”
Well, summer’s here. And you’ll excuse the fan base if it’s getting short on patience. Nobody doubts Ujiri’s ambition. Lately, though, it’s been getting easier to question his vision. When it comes to reading players and anticipating markets, he hasn’t proven particularly prescient.
That probably doesn’t concern Ujiri, who’s still armed with job security and bottomless swagger. He knows better than anybody that everything can change in the swoop of one big move. And in a league in which there are no sure things – where the eighth-seeded Miami Heat represented the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals – you can understand why Ujiri has been operating as though he’s constantly waiting for the next superstar piece to shake free.
Still, it goes without saying Ujiri needs to be particularly careful with how he handles another couple of holdovers from Toronto’s title-winning era – specifically Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby. Both are heading into the final years of their respective contracts. And it’s certainly possible both could remain in Toronto beyond those deals.
Siakam has threatened as much — or so was the suggestion in a TNT report in the lead-up to last week’s draft that claimed there’s “growing sentiment” Siakam would not re-sign with the theoretical team that trades for him. That tells you Siakam is concerned he could be moved and is looking to assert some leverage. Staying in Toronto, after all, provides his likeliest route to earning the all-NBA status that would qualify him for the so-called super-max contract extension. And there’s a lot to like about being a top offensive option on a team short on offensive firepower.
But if the Raptors have been a middling team with Siakam as a centrepiece, what are the odds they get better when Siakam, who’ll turn 30 next season, gets more expensive?
Anunoby, on the other hand, has played through persistent reports he’s unhappy with his role in Raptorland, specifically on the offensive end. Perhaps with VanVleet out of the picture, there’ll be more touches for Anunoby and others. Certainly there are voids that need filling. Shooting is the obvious one. Playmaking and half-court know-how also come to mind, as does late-clock shot creation.
Maybe Darko Rajakovic’s presence as a rookie head coach will change the tone and the look. Maybe Scottie Barnes, learning from the mistakes of his uneven sophomore season, will reassert himself as a star worth building around. But if Ujiri didn’t enjoy watching this past season’s Raptors team play, as he admitted in his end-of-season press conference, it’s hard to imagine why the current roster, as it sits, will produce a decidedly better product.
Some of the Toronto Raptors’ veterans – particularly leading scorers Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet – were deeply frustrated with the younger players on the roster during the 2022-23 season, sources told Sportsnet’s Michael Grange.
VanVleet let the younger players on the roster know about the veterans’ frustration, which was not received well, Grange adds.
The Raptors finished the season 41-41, ninth in the Eastern Conference, and were eliminated by the Chicago Bulls at home in a play-in game. They fired head coach Nick Nurse following the season and replaced him with former Memphis Grizzlies assistant Darko Rajakovic.
Raptors president Masai Ujiri personally addressed the team, and specifically second-year forward Scottie Barnes, after multiple blowout losses early in the season, according to Grange. Ujiri did so again before the trade deadline in February, pointing to players’ selfish play and poor body language.
Barnes, 21, struggled at times during his second NBA campaign. He maintained his scoring average from his rookie year but declined in efficiency.
VanVleet signed a three-year, $130-million deal with the Houston Rockets shortly after free agency opened. The 29-year-old guard spent the first seven seasons of his career in Toronto after signing with the Raptors as an undrafted free agent in 2016.
Bryan Hayes and Frankie Corrado are joined by TSN Basketball analyst Jack Armstrong to discuss if the Raptors should inquire about Damian Lillard and do they have the right package to make a deal like that.
Killian Hayes, Detroit ($7.4 million, RFA in 2024): A high-end defensive prospect who has shown no consistent ability to shoot in the first three years of his career (27.4 from 3)? The joke is too easy to finish.
Hayes was good enough to go in the lottery in 2020, and has been playing on a roster short on talent for his entire career. Detroit is loaded with young guards/playmakers: Cade Cunningham, Jaden Ivey, Ausar Thompson and Marcus Sasser. The first three of those players have been top-five picks in the last three years. Hayes doesn’t seem like a priority in Detroit.
Potential trade: Hayes for Chris Boucher
Cole Anthony, Orlando ($5.5 million, RFA in 2024): The trade below is maybe my favourite of the bunch. Anthony is in a similar position in Orlando as Hayes is in Detroit. With Franz Wagner, Paolo Banchero, Jalen Suggs and Anthony Black, the Magic have their playmakers of the future. It is hard to envision them trying to keep Anthony around long-term.
Unlike Hayes, Anthony is more of a scoring-minded player than one focused on defence, but adding a sixth-man type to either complement Barnes or back up Gary Trent Jr. makes some sense. The Raptors would get a year to judge the fit of a pair of former first-rounders who the Magic probably won’t be looking to keep in Orlando.
Potential trade: Anthony and Chuma Okeke for Boucher
Delany joins the Raptors after two seasons (2021-23) as an assistant coach with the Washington Wizards. Delany has also served as an assistant coach with the Orlando Magic (2018-21) and Charlotte Hornets (2014-18). He spent 12 seasons in the Miami Heat organization, as head coach of Miami’s G League affiliate, the Sioux Falls Skyforce, amongst other jobs. Delany will coach the Raptors’ entry at NBA summer league later this week.
Mahlalela is back after spending two seasons as an assistant coach with the Golden State Warriors, where he helped win the 2022 NBA Championship. He was an assistant coach with the Raptors during the 2020-21 campaign after two seasons (2018-20) as head coach of Raptors 905. He’s also previously held a variety of jobs in his previous stints with the Raptors.
Mahlalela was a high school star while at Oakwood in Toronto and then for UBC. When he was chosen to coach Raptors 905, Raptors assistant general manager Dan Tolzman said: “Jama has played a big part in developing our young Raptors core, and we look forward to him continuing to do so from the Raptors 905 sideline. He is an example of what homegrown talent can achieve in this growing global game.” Now he’s been elevated to a key position with the Raptors after his time with the Warriors.
Head coach James Wade of the Chicago Sky reacts during the second half against the New York Liberty at Barclays Center on June 04, 2023 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. PHOTO BY SARAH STIER /Getty Images
Wade arrives from the WNBA’s Chicago Sky, where he spent five years as the team’s general manager and head coach. In 2021, he led the Sky to the franchise’s first WNBA championship, following four straight years of postseason appearances. He was named the 2019 WNBA Coach of the Year and 2022 Executive of the Year, Wade. Wade also spent nearly 13 years playing professionally across Europe. Wade was in town with the Sky for the first WNBA exhibition game in Canada back in May and was impressed with the huge crowd. “It will hit me one day. Especially if we get a team here. I can say I was the first to coach in this thing. This is my house,” he joked.
Batiste joins the Raptors after a season as an assistant coach with the Houston Rockets. The previous year, he was the Washington Wizards’ manager of player development, after seasons spent as a player development assistant with the Brooklyn Nets (2016-17) and an assistant coach with the Charlotte Hornets (2017-18) and Orlando Magic (2018-21). After a college career where he was a first-team All-Pac-10 player (1999) at Arizona State, Batiste spent nearly a decade (2003-12) playing overseas for Panathinaikos Athens. Those squads won eight consecutive league championships as well as three EuroLeague championships. Batiste was the Greek league’s MVP and Finals MVP in 2010.