For the Toronto Raptors to be a seller at the NBA’s trade deadline (Feb. 20) is about as likely as Toronto beating the Miami Heat or Indiana Pacers in the playoffs – the current Eastern Conference hegemonic powers. That’s the problem. Competitive, but not competitive enough. Having publicly announced this week that the team has set a high asking price for point guard Kyle Lowry, and the general weariness to part with Lowry due to the team’s 28-24, 3rd place Eastern Conference standing at the All-Star break makes being a seller seem unlikely.
It’s not to say general manager Masai Ujiri would not pull the trigger on a no-brainer deal involving Lowry, but that deal must require that magnitude of the Rudy Gay trade. Simply put, Ujiri already made the best possible trade he could this season. One of the unforeseen outliers of the Gay trade that makes it such a shrewd one is that the move created much-desired depth for the Raps.
That depth – point guard Greivis Vasquez, forward Patrick Patterson, and veteran combo guard / forward John Salmons have been so valuable because each of those players is not strictly designated into one position when on the floor, maybe with the exception being Patterson. For Toronto to make a deal as a buyer, it may require them to sacrifice some their newfound depth.
They also might be forced into prematurely deciding on how much they value swingman Terrence Ross and center Jonas Valanciunas if they were to seriously contemplate being a buyer. Ross has shot 41.5% from downtown since the Gay trade, while also looking like a capable one on one perimeter defender. Valanciunas (I need a nickname for this dude, by the way – suggestions welcome) has averaged nearly a double-double (recording 13) sitting at 11.5 points and 9.5 boards post Gay trade.
Then there’s the ace in the hole for Ujiri, the Raptors own four first-round draft picks the next three seasons. One of which came courtesy of the New York Knicks in the highway robbery trading of Andrea Bargnani. A combination of a first-round pick (or two), a young piece, and dead salary to spare from a bunch of guys (better than me listing them all off) – the Raptors could net themselves a very nice piece to build around going forward. But who?
Evan Turner – Personally, I’d rather Toronto inquire about Thaddeus Young, who’s PER has been above 18 every season of the past four, except this year although he’s posting a career high in points. But Turner’s name has been in trade rumors lately though, and it makes sense. Since being the second overall pick in the 2010 draft, Turner hasn’t resembled the dominant point-forward type that he was in college at the NBA level. His value shouldn’t be terribly high, especially since Philly is full rebuild mode and has questioned whether or not Turner is part of that future. If Toronto feels they can be the change of scenery Turner would need to play the facilitating point-forward role, he’s only 25 and would be under team control being in the last year of his rookie contract.
Eric Gordon – The Pelicans relationship with Gordon became tense and may have never recovered since Gordon publicly asked the team to not match an offer sheet the Phoenix Suns had offered Gordon a few years back as a restricted free agent. It was awkward, odd, and most definitely put the Pelicans in an unusual scenario. Once upon a time, Gordon was one of the most sought after two-guards in the league, but the guy simply cannot stay on the court. Over the past three years with New Orleans, Gordon’s played in a total of 100 games. Translation: Hi, I’m a red flag. Gordon has a player option for next season for around $15.5 million, so if Toronto were to trade for him, he may very well end up being a rental. Gordon’s the prime high risk, high reward example.
Pau Gasol – Gasol actually hasn’t played as bad as Lakers fans would make you believe (sorry, had to). Still, he’s obviously not the player he once was and won’t have the impact that Gordon, and to a lesser extent Turner would have in coming over in a trade. As always with Toronto, when a player has international flavor like Gasol does, he automatically becomes more appealing because of the likelihood that he’ll stay in Toronto. Gasol’s a free agent at the end of the year, and it boggles my mind as to why the Lakers would want to keep him. He’s hurt currently, but may be ready to return to action next week. So health is of course a bit of a concern. Of the three, Gasol makes the most sense to me.
Ultimately, I’d bet on Ujiri standing-pat and seeing what the current roster is able to accomplish throughout the rest of this season. However, all three of the players listed while may appear as more of an unnecessary gamble and don’t present the best possible benefit for the Raptors (Carmelo Anthony isn’t walking through the door anytime soon), Ujiri could take optimal advantage of a deal for any of the three at this point in time, in my opinion.