NBA Trade Deadline: Should the Toronto Raptors Be Buyers or Sellers?

The Toronto Raptors seem to find a way to tread water every season in the Eastern Conference, regardless of which pieces come and go on their roster. This year, Fred VanVleet has taken a massive leap, and Scottie Barnes could be the NBA’s Rookie of the Year.

Toronto is once again jockeying for playoff position. But can the franchise realistically expect to make a deep postseason run? Or is it best to stand pat and let Barnes and the team’s other young players develop?

Should the Toronto Raptors be buyers or sellers at this year’s trade deadline?

Toronto is fighting for a playoff spot in the East

As of Jan. 18, the Raptors are hanging on — by a thread — to a spot in the play-in tournament. At 21-20, Toronto is ninth in the East, barely ahead of the Boston Celtics and New York Knicks.

On the flip side, the conference is so bunched up that the Raps are also only 1.5 games back of seventh place and just 3.5 games behind the Milwaukee Bucks for fifth with still half a season to play.

Toronto could try and become a significant buyer and, with a big run or two, jump into the middle of the East playoff picture.

But a bad run of form can just as quickly put the Raptors on the outside of the postseason.

The franchise is the definition of “on the edge.” This may be a more difficult question to answer for Raptors President Masai Ujiri’s team than any other in the NBA.

What assets does the team have and what does it need?

Should the Toronto Raptors be buyers or sellers ahead of this year's NBA trade deadline?
Fred VanVleet and Scottie Barnes of the Toronto Raptors take part in the team huddle before playing the New York Knicks. | Mark Blinch/Getty Images

VanVleet has always been a critical backcourt piece in Toronto. But with Kyle Lowry moving on to Miami in the offseason, he’s become the franchise’s star.

Every conversation now begins with the Raptors’ 27-year-old point guard.

The Wichita State alum is averaging a career-high in points, shot attempts, field-goal percentage, 3-point attempts, rebounds, assists, and steals. Thus far in 2021-22, the 6-foot-1 guard is putting up 21.9 points, 6.7 assists, 4.9 rebounds, and 1.7 steals a night.

He’s shooting nearly 41% from deep on 9.6 attempts per game.

However, the Raptors are only 22nd in the league in scoring and 28th in assists. So VanVleet’s individual success isn’t translating to team success.

Pascal Siakam has had a bounce-back year, averaging 21.0 points, 8.3 rebounds, and 5.0 assists. OG Anunoby is having his best offensive year as a pro, and Gary Trent Jr. has been a pleasant surprise.

Barnes is obviously a keeper as a possible franchise superstar north of the border. After that, however, things take a pretty giant leap off a cliff.

Chris Boucher, Precious Achiuwa, Khem Birch, and Svi Mykhailiuk have been Toronto’s best offensive performers outside of its top five. Depth is a major concern if the Raptors decide to try and push for the postseason.

As far assets go, the franchise owns each of its first-round picks through 2028. Dragic is on an $18 million expiring contract, but there’s a decent chance teams don’t bite on a trade assuming Toronto could buy out the veteran point guard.

Boucher is also on an expiring deal of just over $7 million.

Achiuwa could be a trade chip of minor interest to other teams. Maybe packaged together with a pick, the Raptors could bring back one of those depth pieces.

The biggest question surrounds Siakam. The 27-year-old forward could be a pivot point for the franchise. Finding a new home for Pascal could be difficult given his rookie-max extension, but he could also be a game-changer for a championship contender and Toronto’s future.

Verdict: The Toronto Raptors should be small-scale sellers at this year’s trade deadline

Unless there’s a package it can’t refuse for Siakam, Toronto should decide to sell around the margins at this year’s deadline.

Boucher and Dragic could find new homes — neither player is a crucial contributor to the Raptors rotation as it is. The roster wouldn’t be significantly worse for the second half of the season without them.

But the franchise needs to, for the most part, stand pat and continue building around its young core. Barnes is 20 years old. Trent is 23, Anunoby is 24, and Siakam and VanVleet are 27.

If contenders come calling for anyone else, Ujiri should listen and see if anything could be of potential help moving forward.

Outside of that, the Raptors’ president should be preaching patience.

All statistics courtesy of NBA.com.

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