Raptors president and general manager Masai Ujiri confirmed the obvious at his end of season presser on Monday, the last thing Toronto needs is another couple of young players to develop. Unfortunately, Ujiri has two first round draft picks this year and one of them is a lottery pick. The Raptors GM quite literally asked for suggestions from the media – not that he hasn’t thought about it. Trade up, trade out or stand pat and hope to fix it this summer are the only options.
The teams to talk to are the Lakers, Timberwolves and possibly the Pelicans. The Celtics hold the third pick, but they’re another team with too many young assets and too many draft picks. The Suns have three first round draft picks including the 4th overall, but they should want to talk deal with everyone/anyone.
Out of the blue last season Norman Powell emerged as a tough defensive guard/wing with more offensive flair and a better three-point shot than almost anyone in the Raptors organization expected. At least they didn’t expect things to develop this quickly. Unless he gets hurt or implodes over the summer, Powell will be a rotation player next season and there won’t be more than two young guys in head coach Dwane Casey’s defending Eastern Conference Finals rotation in 2016-17.
Ujiri has another big overhanging issue. He would like to bring back his glass-cleaning backup center Bismack Biyombo next season, but to do it, he’s going to have to clear some salary cap space. Trading up in the draft could give him the means to solve both of his problems and he has the trade bait to make a move. If Powell is in the rotation at the start of the season, Terrence Ross is available and opening up his salary slot would give Ujiri the means to bring back Biyombo.
The Raptors roster targets are at the small forward and power forward spots and three-point shooting is a priority. If Ujiri is going to add a rookie to his roster, they need to be ready to contribute. It also means one of the current young guys will be available as well. The Raptors are all full up with players who’ll be watching from the bench and spending time in the NBA D-League in order to get playing time. If Ujiri adds a rookie, someone is getting pushed out.
The 25-year-old Ross signed a three-year $31.5 million extension that kicks in on July 1. How he’ll be valued by other teams is unknown, but you know what he’s done. A career 38 percent three-point shooter who can and will fire up 5 treys per 24 minutes and dramatically improved his two-point effectiveness last season. Ross is a scorer that has shown defensive potential. He’s tied with Vince Carter for the most points ever scored by a Raptors player in a single game and it still seems like he’s a breakout player just waiting for the light to come on. A change of scenery could pay big dividends.
Players in the draft the Raptors could look to trade up for include: LSU forward Ben Simmons (expected to go 1st overall – so skip him), Duke small forward Brandon Ingram, and California small forward Jaylen Brown (who the Raptors saw recently in a workout). Highly-rated Maccabi Tel Aviv power forward Dragan Bender barely played last season, so he’d be tough to draft and expect to contribute much right away.
At this time, the best power forwards in the draft are expected to be available with the ninth pick, although that could change.
Lakers 2nd overall draft pick
What would it take for the Lakers to give up the possibility of drafting Brandon Ingram?
Aside from the realization that they are in a rebuilding phase, likely won’t have a first round draft pick next year or in 2019, and big name free agents just don’t come pounding down the doors of lottery teams? (Yes DeMar DeRozan really does value winning higher than going home.) The Lakers need assets, more assets than just one more player picked up in the draft can give them and the Raptors have assets and the incentive to trade them.
The Lakers could and should fleece the Raptors for the 9th pick, 27th pick, last year’s 20th pick Delon Wright and Terrence Ross for the 2nd pick in this year’s draft. It seems like way too much, but the time to get the assets you need to rebuild is when the other team can’t use them and needs to deal.
Suns 4th overall draft pick
Toronto would likely be hoping Jaylen Brown had dropped past the third spot to be interested in trying to work out a deal with the Suns. The Suns aren’t where they envisioned at this point and have four draft picks between 4th and 34th. Unless the player they really want is available at nine, it’s going to be hard to trade up with them.
Timberwolves 5th overall draft pick
The Timberwolves are tired of losing and frustrated by 12 years in the lottery in a row. They want to win now. Ross is a young veteran who would fit on their team. If there’s a player Ujiri wants available at five, he needs to talk with the T-wolves about trading up.
Pelicans 6th overall draft pick
The difference between picking sixth or ninth in this year’s draft depends more on where the guy you want is available. The Pelicans should be amiable to a deal and maybe Ujiri could grab Canadian guard Jamal Murray with the pick. Murray doesn’t fill a position of need, but he can fire the three-ball and he has real potential at either guard spot.
At some point, if Ujiri wants to keep Biyombo, he has to take what he can get trading some salary off his roster and Murray would be a popular choice.
The optics of trading up in this year’s draft are just better than trading out altogether, but it takes two teams to make a deal and trading up is never easy. It gets harder if teams believe you are trying to create salary cap space, but Ujiri should be able to find at least a couple of teams that should be really tempted to make a deal as they need what he has to offer.