The standard noise in the days leading up to the NBA trade deadline is general managers will only let their obvious trade targets go if other teams “blow them away.” The premise being their non-All-Star who wasn’t a lottery draft pick should somehow command an All-Star player or premium lottery draft pick in return – PLEASE, everyone knows that’s not going to happen. Then there’s the player on the expiring deal and no matter how good they are, the team getting them faces the same risk as the team trading them, so how high does one value a short term rental?
Thus the search for the player who everyone knows is on the market and could possibly help a team inevitably drags out to the final days or even the final minutes before the NBA trade deadline shuts this all down until after the playoffs.
In Toronto, general manager Masai Ujiri has said openly that he is looking for a power forward to boost his team’s chances in the postseason.
“We understand that there is a window in the NBA now”
“that power forward position has always been a position that we need to get better.”
As ESPN’s Marc Stein said in a video on Tuesday morning,
“Toronto is definitely a team to keep an eye on.”
“Look for Toronto to try and get a power forward. They’ve been chasing. They’ve been talking to all kinds of different teams, Kenneth Faried, Thaddeus Young, they’ve talked Phoenix both about Markieff Morris and P.J. Tucker. Ryan Anderson in New Orleans is another one.”
Those are some the most most common names that have been bandied about as Ujiri really is talking to everyone about anyone that could possibly help his team at the forward spot.
What is Toronto likely to be offering in trade?
Ujiri is expected to tie his own hands with his continuing desire to develop his own talent and that is likely to protect him from making a bad deal.
The Raptors own the New York Knicks first round draft pick in June and it’s going to be a lottery pick. Even though the Raptors have four first round picks over the next two seasons, Ujiri values draft picks highly and that pending lottery pick could net him Canadian guard Jamal Murray who is playing for Kentucky where head coach Dwane Casey is an alumni. Now that’s going to be a tough asset to let go of. Toronto’s own first round draft picks over the next two seasons, expected to be in the mid-twenties, shouldn’t be so hard to extract though.
The Raptors are expected to make DeMar DeRozan their big free agent signing in July, so their All-Star shooting guard isn’t going anywhere.
Both Jonas Valanciunas and Terrence Ross were extended this summer making their contracts subject to the NBA’s “poison pill provision.” They would be very difficult to trade, but not impossible, although trading either of these players has never seemed to be on Ujiri’s mind.
It should be noted that Luis Scola is playing on a one-year deal and can’t be traded without his consent as he would lose his Early-Bird rights (NBA CBA FAQ #100). Since Scola signed with Toronto for a shot at a deep run in the playoffs, getting that permission doesn’t seem likely.
It’s obvious head coach Dwane Casey trusts “3-and-D” power forward Patrick Patterson’s defense despite the low offensive output that can be expected on a consistent basis. Patterson is mature for his age, reliable, and usually plays more like a 30-year-old veteran than a 26-year-old who is still developing many aspects of his game. Unfortunately for Casey and Patterson, he has the only contract over $5 million that Ujiri might entertain trading. As in any deal, you got to give something of value to get something of value.
Ujiri’s other obvious trade asset from Casey’s rotation is forward James Johnson. Johnson has settled into a tenth man role whose highest value to the Raptors is as an injury replacement. He has proven to be a very valuable fill-in for DeMarre Carroll and can step in for any of the Raptors wings or big men if needed. It’s been a long tough road for Casey to get Johnson to this point where he accepts his role and is productive in it without becoming sullen or a distraction. This is a guy worth keeping around next season to cover off the inevitable injuries that happen to every team every season.
Other general managers have likely noticed the change in Johnson’s attitude as well and this very versatile forward could be the “value” veteran Ujiri has to include to get a deal to happen.
Toronto also has five players that have spent time in the NBA D-League this season: rookies Delon Wright and Norman Powell, sophomores Bruno Caboclo and Lucas Nogueira and Canadian prospect/project Anthony Bennett. They will have little to no impact on how this season turns out for Toronto and as much as Ujiri values young talent, if they are needed to get the player he wants, they’re gone.
Who’s out there associated with the Raptors at the deadline?
Just about every forward option out there comes with some shortcoming or baggage. Slam dunk trades are hard to come by, although Ujiri has put together some impressive winners as a GM.
- Pelicans Ryan Anderson, expiring $8.5 million salary
Deadly and reliable three-point shooter whose defense is suspect. He could start if Casey can find a way to hide him on defense.
- Nets Thaddeus Young, contract has 3 more years remaining, $11.2 million salary (15% trade kicker)
Young is having a career year on the glass averaging 15.1 points and 9.1 rebounds. An upgrade at starting power forward for Toronto. No three-point game.
- Nuggets Kenneth Faried, contract has 3 more years remaining, $11.2 million salary
Undersized energizer bunny power forward. A Ujiri guy who rebounds and blocks shots, but defense? Has taken 12 three-point shots over his five seasons.
- Suns Markieff Morris, contract has 3 more years remaining, $8 million salary
- Suns P.J. Tucker, next season non-guaranteed, $5.5 million salary
The Suns players could be looked at like a package or individually. Morris has pending unresolved legal troubles and has a strong, seemingly immature personality. Tucker is no shrinking violet either.
This pair of players could be franchise changing. It’s just hard to know if the change will be positive or not. High risk, high return is possible. Let’s just say they are very intriguing.
- Bulls Taj Gibson, contract has 1 more year remaining, $8 million salary
Gibson is a better rebounding version of Patterson, but without the three-point shot. This sounds like something the Bulls would be more interested in than Toronto.
- Bulls Pau Gasol, player option for next season, $7.5 million salary
Rumors about Gasol are hard to come by, but if the Bulls see their playoff chances slipping away due to the multiple injuries – and they should. It’s time to cash in on Gasol before he walks away for nothing in July.
- Hawks Al Horford, expiring $12 million salary
- Hawks Kent Bazemore, expiring $2 million salary
Rumors about the Hawks blowing this team up abound and if they’re true, getting value back for pending free agents will be a top priority before the trade deadline.
Ujiri would have to be salivating about the prospects of playing All-Star power forward Al Horford beside his old teammate DeMarre Carroll in the playoffs. Bazemore could be the filler to get Ujiri to consider trading an asset(s) that wouldn’t otherwise be on the table.
When Atlanta is looking for teams that should be willing to pay the most – take the biggest risks trading for players who could walk in July – Toronto has to be at the top of their list.
Toronto is well known for running a tight-lipped organization. The trade rumors don’t leak out from there. However, where last year Ujiri was saying, “my phone is always on,” this year he’s pretty much admitting he’s the one making the calls.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise if Ujiri gets a deal done at the trade deadline this year and neither should it be a surprise if he does a deal no one saw coming.
Stephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.
Raptors GM Masai Ujiri Confirms He Wants A Power Forward
With just over a week before the NBA trade deadline, Toronto Raptors president and general manager Masai Ujiri confirmed what everyone has been speculating about, he’s looking for a power forward at the trade deadline.