Morning Coffee – Wed, Dec 13

Masai is not a war-time general and this team is in a war for its future.

Raptors might be sellers with Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby on the move – The Athletic

Koreen: John, why do I feel like we’ve been here before? It’s trade season*, and the Raptors are one of the most intriguing potential sellers. I guess it’s not deja vu when you can pinpoint exactly when this last happened.

*Never mind that last year, there were two trades made in the entire month of January. We’re going to make trade season a thing, damn it. It’s the “fetch” of the NBA content mill.

Indeed, our colleague Shams Charania reported that other teams believe “now, more than ever” it is likely the Raptors will move one of Siakam or Anunoby (if not both). Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice…

Anyway, there are a couple of things I want to check with you on here, because this is a very interesting situation. The Raptors’ situation seems significantly less complex than those of the suitors.

Briefly: The Raptors owe their own first-round pick in 2024 to San Antonio, protected one through six. (If they land in the top six, the pick, with the same protection, gets kicked until 2025. The same is true for the next year. All things being equal, the Raptors are likely fine conveying the pick this year, in what is considered a weak draft class.) They don’t have the normal seller’s incentive, then, to get bad as soon as possible to improve their lottery position, especially because, as you recently wrote, the bad teams in this league are truly wretched. As of Monday, the Raptors had the ninth-worst record in the league. The Poor Four — Detroit, San Antonio, Washington and Portland — are going to be tough to “catch.” From the Raptors’ perspective, they might as well hold out until closer to the deadline, when they are more likely to get better offers.

I want to question that last assumption. We’ve already seen one team push to get a deal done so they had more time to mesh — the LA Clippers with James Harden. The Play-In Tournament puts pressure on teams with playoff expectations to get a deal done quickly. The three teams mentioned as potential suitors are in very different spots. The Indiana Pacers are having a textbook “Innocent Climb” season, as Pat Riley put it. I’d be very surprised if they get too aggressive this year, especially this far out from the deadline. They could also have max cap room in the offseason. I’m guessing they will have to get a steep discount to make such a big move, even if they suffer the very well-known In-Season Tournament Finalist Hangover. Again, totally a thing.

The Sacramento Kings and Atlanta Hawks, though? Different stories. The Kings are 12-8 and in sixth place in the Western Conference— ahead of the Phoenix Suns, who are getting Bradley Beal back. The Hawks, meanwhile, are 9-12, just ahead of the Raptors, in the final Play-In spot. They’ve been disappointing.

Logic would dictate the Raptors wait and let markets develop. However, do you think there is a chance one of those two teams gets aggressive now? And in the same vein, do you think there is a risk in waiting until closer to the deadline, when those teams could have their fates sealed, one way or another? Do you disagree with the assumption I’ve made about the Pacers?

Hollinger: History says teams in the trade market are a bit like Christmas shoppers. They may claim this year they’re being more assertive and getting their work done early, but in reality, they end up at Circle K at 11:45 p.m. on Dec. 24 because it’s the only thing open and they never bought anything for Aunt Myrtle.

The unfortunate reality from my seven years in the front office is that it takes two to tango on a trade, and most of the other teams aren’t ready to dance until February. Some teams are virtually impossible to complete a deal with at any earlier date, and others are only willing to do so if they can rob you blind.

In terms of Indiana, the Pacers are a perfect theoretical home for Anunoby given his age and ability to help an awful defensive team … but he’s also a flight risk if they trade for him right now. I don’t see Indiana putting enough on the table to tempt Toronto when the Pacers can have max cap room this summer, and I don’t see them as a home for Siakam given his age. I’d expect the Pacers to make calls and kick tires, but there isn’t urgency on their end.

On the other hand, I see less risk in waiting for Toronto because A) other teams could join the fray at some point, and B) these teams would be dealing with more than this season in mind. Any team trading anything of value for Anunoby or Siakam is doing it intending to re-sign them to a long-term deal (or perhaps doing an extend-and-trade in the case of Siakam), and thus their specific position in the standings is of less import than their long-term picture in the out years.

Siakam’s future with Raptors still unclear as trade market unofficially opens – Sportsnet

The logic plays out like this: If the Raptors sign Siakam to an extension between now and the end of December, they would be giving up the right to trade him for six months, so he would be off the table for the upcoming trade deadline.

It could work out in the longer run, however. If the two sides did reach an agreement on an extension by say, Dec. 28, Siakam would be eligible to be traded six months later, on June 28, 2024. The Raptors would essentially make themselves players in the trade market next summer — as they were this past summer — the difference being Siakam would be under contract and presumably a less risky acquisition than he was as a pending free agent.

The same logic could drive trade activity in the short term: if the Raptors don’t see themselves reaching an agreement on an extension with Siakam before Dec. 30, it might spur them to move him sooner than later. Not only would the acquiring team get Siakam for the rest of this season, but they would also have a precious few days to negotiate an extension with Siakam using his ‘Bird Rights’ (which would allow his new team to offer a richer deal than he could get on the open market) before the market opens (officially) to the rest of the league on July 1.

It’s something to watch over the next few weeks and creates an environment where the Raptors and Siakam could become mutually aligned: If — after nearly a year surveying the market — the Raptors haven’t got an offer they find satisfactory, they offer an extension to Siakam to keep their window open until they do, and Siakam gets a deal.

It might require some flexibility on term and dollars, but it might be an interesting path for each side to explore in the coming weeks.

It’s Time for the Raptors to be The Main Characters of Trade Deadline – Raptors HQ

So now we approach another trade deadline where the future of this Raptors team delicately hangs in the balance. You have Pascal Siakam, whose contract expires at the end of the season — and the Raptors have made no move to extend him. You have O.G. Anunoby, whose contract expires at the end of the season — and the Raptors have made no move to extend him. Gary Trent Jr. — same sitch. The likelihood of the Raptors getting that top six pick is slim. You already lost a high caliber player THIS offseason with no return because you didn’t deal him at the deadline. The stakes are high.

The Raptors need to be sellers at this trade deadline for a variety of reasons.

First, replaying the scenario of last season would make this front office lose whatever trust the fans still have in them. It’s already a little rocky right now, but letting Siakam AND/OR Anunoby walk for nothing would be extremely disheartening for fans.

Next, obviously something isn’t working. This team is currently at 9-14 on the season, are in the midst of a four-game losing streak, and just lost against the Charlotte Hornets, which (no tea no shade) is a little indicative that this team can’t go the distance. They lack cohesion, they lack identity, they lack literal shooting the basketball ability.

Individually, these players are fantastic — you have the 2021 Rookie of the Year, three NBA Champions, the reigning FIBA World Cup MVP… but together, something ain’t working. Their defence is non-existent at times, their shooting/offence is sometimes hard to watch, and they very often need to dig themselves out of double digit point deficits.

The Toronto Raptors need to be the MAIN CHARACTERS in this deadline because they currently have ALL the leverage. It’s clear Scottie Barnes is out of the question when it comes to trades — they plan to build around him. Okay so now you move to an All-NBA, Champion player, who is still only 29 years old — a GREAT piece to get some goods back with.

While I’m of the opinion to keep O.G. Anunoby and use him to build this team along with Barnes, I’m also not the General Manager of the Raptors. So, he’s another piece you could get HUGE return from.

Then, literally anyone else is on the table. They probably won’t move away from Poeltl after giving away so much for him, but there are other great options to choose from if you need to pad a trade scenario. Malachi Flynn has improved this year, Trent Jr is also on an expiring contract, there’s Thad Young and Otto Porter Jr., and Jalen McDaniels.

At this point, the Raptors need to shake it up. We are basically at the point of the season where RuPaul is about to announce that this episode is the Snatch Game and we’re gonna see a glimpse into how the rest of the season could turn out. Basically, it’s a make or break point for this franchise.

The next few months are going to determine what direction this Raptors team is headed in. They need to OWN where they are now, use what they have as leverage, and make this Trade Deadline ABOUT THEM. You are the Main Character girl! Give them something (positive) to talk about.

The alternative is going two years in a row of losing valuable assets (that you drafted and developed!) in free agency without getting anything in return. That would be bad.

It all starts on December 15th has we head purse-first into NBA trade season…

Josh Lewenberg: Toronto Raptors reluctant to shake up struggling starting unit | TSN

The Raptors are desperately searching for answers, a way to turn their fortunes around and save their season, but perhaps they’re not desperate enough. Among their ongoing concerns is how the starters have performed, particularly to open each half.

Rajakovic, who settled on the first unit of Dennis Schroder, Scottie Barnes, OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam and Jakob Poeltl early in training camp, has been reluctant to tinker with it – those five players have started together in each of the 19 games they’ve all been available for. At some point, though, that group may force his hand.

They’ve been outscored in six of the past seven games, with the exception coming in the lone win over that stretch – they were plus-six in 21 minutes against Phoenix, a game Toronto won by seven points. In the other six games, all losses, the starting lineup was minus-44 in 90 minutes. The Raptors lost those contests by a combined 46 points.

“We’re talking about it,” Rajakovic said, asked if he would be open to making a change. “It’s not something that’s completely off the table but I would like to give it another game or two for our guys to try to figure it out.”

In fairness, there isn’t a clear alternative available at the moment. For one, it’s not like anybody off the bench has consistently pushed for more minutes or a bigger role. Gary Trent Jr. would seem to be the most likely candidate, but that’s based on track record and skill set more than his body of work this season (he’s shooting 38 per cent – the lowest mark since his rookie year in Portland). If nothing else, Trent could give that group some much-needed floor spacing and another player capable of creating his own shot (and, theoretically, knocking it down). But who comes out?

Obviously, it’s not going to be Barnes, or Siakam or Anunoby, as long as they’re on the roster, which leaves Poeltl and Schroder. Going small, with Trent in place of Poeltl, has its advantages on the offensive end but would come at the expense of rebounding and rim protection, and may not sit well with Masai Ujiri, who gave up a first-round pick for the big man at last year’s trade deadline, signed him to an $80 million deal over the summer and has referred to him as a top-10 centre.

The other option would mean starting games without a traditional point guard on the floor. It’s a question of whether Rajakovic feels that Barnes is capable of being a primary ball handler and creator at this stage of his career, or least sharing those duties with Siakam, and given how sparingly they’ve used him in that role this season, we may already have the answer. Even when he’s leading those bench units, he can still defer to a traditional point guard in Malachi Flynn.

Then there’s Rajakovic’s relationship with Schroder, who he coached when he was an assistant in Oklahoma City during the 2018-19 season. Dating back to the start of camp, he’s made it clear that he views Schroder as a starting NBA point guard, and for what it’s worth, the 11-year vet hasn’t done anything to prove him wrong. While he’s tailed off a bit since his hot start, he’s looked like an adequate short-term replacement for Fred VanVleet.

“When we lost games earlier in the season people said it was the bench, now they’re saying it’s the starters,” said Schroder, who’s averaging 15.3 points and a team-high 7.0 assists in his first season with the Raptors. “We’ve just gotta be better as a team. We lose as a team and we win as a team. Right now it’s a tough stretch. I didn’t play well. So everybody’s just gotta look in the mirror and be better.”

Even if there isn’t an obvious change to make, the best reason for trying something new is: why not? What do they have to lose?

Raptors coach will give starters a chance to figure it out – Toronto Star

The Raptors have stayed with the starting lineup of Dennis Schröder, Scottie Barnes, OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam and Jakob Poeltl when all are healthy since the season began.

Rajakovic said the team has had a certain level of success with letting Barnes run the point when bench players like Malachi Flynn and Precious Achiuwa are subbed in, which helps with building team chemistry.

As a coach, it’s easy for Rajakovic to list all the things he wants to see changed or improved: transition defence, guarding the ball, closing out on the three-point line, pick-and-roll coverage, finishing possessions and preventing opponents from getting second-chance opportunities.

The Knicks had 14 offensive rebounds leading to 15 points Monday.

Rajakovic said the team is having “open and honest” conversations and the commitment to make things better is there from everyone on the roster.

“Four losses in a row, it’s not what we want, it’s not something that we’re working towards to, and everybody is eager to change the course of this momentum we have right now,” he said.

The players know it takes everyone’s total buy-in to win games regardless of who is in the starting lineup and who comes off the bench or how much playing time they get.

“When we lost games earlier in the season, people said it’s the bench. Now it’s the starters. At the end of the day we are 12 guys and everybody who hits the floor just has to be ready,” said Schröder, who recorded a 20-point and 10-assist double-double in Monday’s loss.

“We just have to be better as a team. We lose as a team and we win as a team … Everybody just has to look in the mirror and just be better.”

Despite the losses piling up, the Raptors rank among the best teams in the league this season when it comes to moving and sharing the ball on offence. Their current average of 28.5 assists per game is the fourth best, behind Indiana, Denver and San Antonio, according to the NBA.

The good news is the Raptors have had worse starts than this one | Toronto Sun

Siakam painted quite a picture, recalling former teammate DeMar DeRozan, who was the Raptors king of analogies, along with Charles Oakley. But even he knows it’s one thing to talk about what needs to be done, another to do it.

“At the end of the day we can talk about Xs and Os and this and that,” Siakam told reporters. “We’ve just got to be able to buckle up and go out and do it. We have no choice. This is what it is and we have to figure it out.”

But is this a puzzle that can be solved? All evidence suggests not, unless management finally decides to alter the roster significantly. Yes, many Raptors are shooting near career worst levels both from outside and the free throw line, but even if this isn’t the worst three-point shooting team in the NBA, where they currently sit, it’s got to be close. Atlanta shoots 84% from the line, two other teams 85% or better. The Raptors shoot 73.5%, which is also nowhere close to the top teams. The Raptors don’t have much room to operate both because there is too much roster duplication and limitations and because opponents simply don’t respect their abilities to put the ball in the basket. Only five teams shoot worse on wide open shots, per and when opponents due tend to close in, the Raptors don’t hit those attempts either (only five teams shoot worse when defenders are within 2-4 feet).

All in all, this has not been the start to the Darko Rajakovic/post Fred VanVleet Eras that anyone hoped for.

But once again, it could be worse. Maybe that’s going to have to do for now.

Raptors threaten countersuit in firing back at Knicks – Toronto Star

The ongoing off-court battle between the Toronto Raptors and New York Knicks reached new heights this week, with Toronto threatening in the new court filings that the named defendants could sue for defamation once the dispute is over.

The Knicks launched a lawsuit against the Raptors over the summer, accusing the organization of stealing thousands of valuable and confidential files in order to gain a competitive advantage. The Raptors have called those allegations “baseless” and “a public relations stunt.”

In the latest documents filed to the U.S. District Court in Manhattan on Monday, the Raptors accused the Knicks of trying to drag out the case “as long as possible.”

“This lawsuit attracts publicity and is directed at harming the Raptors, its head coach and members of his staff,” the Raptors wrote, partly in relation to the Knicks refusing to let NBA commissioner Adam Silver act as an arbiter between the two sides.

“The Knicks’ aversion to (Silver’s) jurisdiction is simply because they know they will not like his determination. Although it is inevitable the Knicks’ claims will fail on the merits in any forum, this proceeding permits the Knicks to keep their allegations in the public media, causing harm to the Named Defendants.”

The Knicks filed their first complaint last August. They accuse Toronto of using Ikechukwu Azotam, who worked as a video co-ordinator and player development assistant for the Knicks before joining the Raptors front office, to steal confidential proprietary information and share them with his new employer.

“The evidence will show that not a single trade secret belonging to the Knicks was ever shared by Azotam with a single Raptors employee,” the Raptors wrote in the new court documents. “Even if the claims are not sent to arbitration, there is no doubt they will inevitably be dismissed but only after they have harmed the Named Defendants’ reputations.”

NBA Power Rankings – Bucks bounce back, Lakers rise with NBA Cup, Warriors fall – ESPN

Last week: 22
This week: 23

After dropping a game at Madison Square Garden on Monday night, Toronto sits five games under .500 and has lost four in a row heading into a pretty critical two-game series at home against the Hawks — who currently sit a half-game ahead of the Raptors in the 10th and final play-in tournament spot in the Eastern Conference standings. Fail to win one or even both of those games, and the temperature could start to rise in Toronto. Whispers about the future of this team, and specifically, the futures of pending free agents Pascal Siakam and O.G. Anunoby, could get much louder. — Bontemps

NBA Power Rankings: 76ers near top 5, Lakers make leap and first-quarter grades – The Athletic

Last week: 20
This week: 22

First Quarter Grade: C-

The Raptors are just stuck in that treadmill zone. They’re running but not going anywhere. They’re really solid on defense. Scottie Barnes is a star. And yet, the team is terrible offensively because it’s the worst 3-point shooting team in the league. Toronto can’t make shots or get to the free-throw line. My advice is to blow this up and build around Barnes.

Preseason prediction update:Pascal Siakam is traded before the deadline.

We might be forever waiting for the Raptors to make some major moves, but this one is still in play.

Key Stats
Offensive Rating
112.2 (20th)
Defensive Rating
114.1 (18th)
Net Rating