While it might feel like the NBA season started yesterday, the trading deadline is right around the corner. That means teams around the league will have to come to terms with reality; are they buyers, chasing after a championship, or sellers, looking to retool for the future? The Toronto Raptors are one of the clubs that can go either way.
The Raptors are currently sitting atop the Atlantic Division, but are rumored to be ready to listen to offers at the trade deadline. Could Toronto really send some players packing, or will they be looking for some last-minute reinforcements?
The Toronto Raptors impressive 2019 campaign
Last season, the Toronto Raptors captured their first NBA title. The celebrations couldn’t last too long, though, as Kawhi Leonard left town in free agency.
While everyone expected there would be a bit of a drop-off, no one told the Raptors. The club stormed out of the gate, winning eight of their first 12 games. Pascal Siakam emerged as a legitimate star, but he has plenty of help; Kyle Lowry is averaging over 20 points a night, while Fred VanVleet has shown that last year’s playoff performance wasn’t a fluke.
Although the Raptors have struggled with injuries—most of the team’s main players, including Siakam, Lowry, and Serge Ibaka have spent time on the shelf—they’re still sitting atop the Atlantic Conference. Nick Nurse has been pushing the right buttons on the sidelines and has to be feeling good about his club; even if they fall short of their ultimate goal, the Raptors have still proved they’re more than a one-hit-wonder.
The Toronto Raptors are willing to listen to offers prior to the trade deadline
With the NBA trade deadline on the horizon, every team needs to decide whether they’re buyers or sellers. Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri has apparently decided to listen to offers for a few of his players.
“Some teams believe the Raptors would listen to calls on players like [Marc] Gasol and Serge Ibaka, both of whom are in the final years of their contracts and, seemingly not in their long-term plans,” Dan Woike wrote in the Los Angeles Times. “There’s also speculation that Kyle Lowry could be had at the right price — the kind of seismic moves teams headed for the postseason wouldn’t normally make.”
Of those three players, Ibaka seems to be the most expendable. While he’s a solid contributor, averaging 14.8 points and 8.4 rebounds per outing, the big man doesn’t really move the needle anymore. From a statistical perspective, Gasol is even less valuable but provides more versatility; that could buy him a reprieve at the deadline.
Taking calls doesn’t mean giving up, though
Ordinarily, moving players at the trade deadline is a sign that a team has given up. The Toronto Raptors, however, aren’t punting on this campaign.
Despite losing Kawhi Leonard and battling through countless injuries, the Raptors are still sitting in a prime position. They’re currently leading the Atlantic Divison and are the third overall in the East; the club might not have great odds to win the title, but once you’re in the postseason, anything can happen.
While Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol are valuable role players for the Raptors, Masai Ujiri will have to break a few eggs to make an omelet; if he believes that his team needs some extra help off the bench, it’s only logical to try to flip some expiring contracts. The key factor, however, is long-term cost. If the Raptors are trying to build a successful franchise and position themselves for the summer of 2021, it will be hard to bring in a massive name.
Ujiri has just over two weeks to get something done. If any executive has earned the benefit of the doubt, though, it’s him.