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NBA Cleveland Cavaliers Kyrie Irving

The Best Trade The Cavs Can Make For Kyrie Irving Is?

So the Cleveland Cavaliers want a king’s ransom for Kyrie Irving or so says ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and that’s certainly where they should open the bidding, but that may not be the best trade the Cavs can or should make for their All-Star point guard. Long term, it may not even be in the team’s best interests.

The Cavaliers want a package that resembles the 2011 Nuggets-Knicks deal for Carmelo Anthony — young players, win-now veterans and draft picks.

As long as LeBron James is on the team, the Cavs will be the favorites to come out of the East. The only issues with that are James can be a free agent next summer and isn’t promising anything, plus even with Irving or a “replacement” veteran, no one gives the Cavs a chance against the Warriors in the NBA Finals.

Dan Gilbert or whomever is making decisions in Cleveland this summer needs to start thinking outside the box they put themselves in or Gilbert will be cutting a check for $75 million to the NBA to cover his luxury tax bill and still end up second best with some people looking at the Cavs as really being the league’s fourth best team.

The right deal probably isn’t something that helps the Cavs tread water and a little something extra for the future. Cleveland needs to be bolder than that.

The Philadelphia 76ers are planning a return trip to the postseason after five years of being terrible and president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo has added enough veteran pieces to his very young team to give them hope. Adding Irving would put them firmly in the playoff picture and greatly accelerate “the process.”

This is the trade the Cavs should make:

Cavaliers trade Kyrie Irving ($18.9 million) and Channing Frye ($7.4 million)

76ers trade Markelle Fultz ($7 million), Jahil Okafor ($5 million), and the draft rights to the 25th pick Anzerjs Pasecniks.

The 76ers have $15.1 million in practical cap space to absorb the extra salary according to Spotrac and the trade will save the Cavaliers $55 million in luxury tax next season.

(Note: Fultz can’t be traded until August 7)

For the Cavs, it’s a gamble to not get a veteran player back, but it’s as good a bet as a GM could make with Derrick Rose available in case it takes Fultz a while to figure out the NBA game.

Trading a young successful former number one overall pick who wants out for this year’s high potential number one overall pick is a great long term move. And Gilbert has already spent a fortune betting on short term moves. It’s time he got some LeBron insurance to protect his franchise just in case.

In Philadelphia, the playoff drought will be over and Irving gets his wish, a team to lead. The 76ers will not just be a team to watch because of all that young talent, they’ll be a team that’s expected to be competitive with playoff teams now and any “process” looks a lot sweeter while you’re winning.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 Featured image courtesy of Paul Saini
Instagram:  @fylmm.lifestyle and  @paul_saini

 

 

 

NBA New York Knicks Carmelo Anthony and Cleveland Cavaliers Kyrie Irving

Will The Cavs Trade Irving For Knicks Carmelo Anthony?

Okay, so the blood is barely in the water, but assuming ESPN has this right and Kyrie Irving wants to be traded, the Cleveland Cavaliers may as well get on the phone with the Knicks and get a deal done for Carmelo Anthony.

It’s very possible per the ESPN trade machine.

There is no way a deal like this would have been on the table before Irving’s agent talked to the Cavaliers management, but the likelihood of getting a better deal done under duress isn’t all that good and the Knicks will be at least as desperate to deal as Cleveland.

Who else can the Cavs trade for that might help smooth over this pending disaster with LeBron James? Let the rampant speculation begin.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 Featured image(s) courtesy of Larry Millson and Paul Saini
Instagram:  @fylmm.lifestyle and  @paul_saini

 

 

 

NBA Milwaukee Bucks Jason Terry and Greg Monroe

Should The Raptors Take A Look At The Bucks Greg Monroe?

It seems like Greg Monroe has been on the trading block ever since Milwaukee signed him to that three-year $50 million deal in the summer of 2015. So, with just one year remaining on his contract, now could be the time he can be moved and just maybe the Raptors should be taking a look.

“Monroe had the opportunity to opt out of his contract at the start of the month but opted to remain with the Bucks and collect $17.8 million for the remaining year on his contract.”  wrote Gery Woelfel  in Woelfel’s Press Box. “Monroe looks slim and trim and is in perhaps the best shape of his pro career.”

A big body in the post with very good midrange shooting and a solid rebounder, Monroe has been like an overpaid square peg in a round hole with the Bucks. After being a starter for his first six NBA seasons, Monroe came off the bench in all 81 regular season games and the 6 playoff games he played in last year.

However, that doesn’t mean Monroe hasn’t produced. He was the Bucks best offensive rebounder at 10.8 percent of the available boards and best rebounder overall (17 percent) on a team that finished 29th out of 30 NBA teams on the glass. And he was fourth in team scoring (11.7 points) in just 22.5 minutes per game.

His “successful” move to the bench didn’t stop the trade rumors and Monroe knows if the Bucks could move him, they would.

he knows he is still the subject of considerable trade conjecture.

Some NBA officials said Milwaukee is still clearly receptive to moving Monroe.

“I’d like to stay but that’s up to them,’’ said Monroe, referring to the Bucks’ front office.

The Raptors and the Bucks faced off in the first round of the playoffs with Toronto winning the final three games to take the series 4-2. While the move of Norman Powell into the starting lineup got all the headlines, of arguably equal importance was the Raptors sending starting center Jonas Valanciunas to the bench to match up with and neutralize Monroe.

In the first three games of that first round series Monroe averaged a very effective 16 points on 54.8 percent shooting off the bench while the starter Valanciunas struggled scoring 10 points on 37.5 percent shooting. The Raptors went 1-2.

In the final three games Monroe dipped to 10.3 points on 50 percent shooting while Valanciunas was a more effective 8.7 points at 62.5 percent. Monroe was held to just 6 points in the 3-point Game Six loss at home.

The new matchups favored the Raptors and there was little the Bucks could do about it.

Since the draft there have been rumors about the Bucks wanting to shakeup their big man rotation. Sure, they are very excited about the return of Jabari Parker in the new year and seeing what Thon Maker can do in his second season, but neither of these two young promising players showed anything encouraging on the glass.

The Bucks still need to upgrade their rebounding. Staying 29th in the NBA at anything isn’t where a team with high expectations wants to be.

However, the Raptors have also been trying to move Valanciunas since the draft as president Masai Ujiri was trying to manipulate his payroll to get under the tax and, at the same time, change his team’s style of play.

Ujiri solved his tax problem by dumping DeMarre Carroll’s $30 million in Brooklyn and he’s been looking for a decent return on Valanciunas in a market that hasn’t been very friendly to traditional centers.

If the Bucks want rebounding and a big man who can defend the post against other traditional centers, Valanciunas is a good option.

He’s been top ten in rebounding percentage in each of the past three seasons and the Bucks could use his 12 points and 9.5 rebounds in 26 minutes in the worst way. The knock on Valanciunas has been his trouble handling quicker stretch fours and fives, but the Bucks have that issue well covered with their other young big men. They need someone who can board with and slow down a guy like Valanciunas.

There are also signs Valanciunas has stretched his comfortable shooting range out to the free throw line and possibly even to the three-point line given time.

The Raptors are looking for change and Monroe would seem to be the kind of change Ujiri is looking for. Once considered a strictly “me” type player who didn’t seem all that happy in Detroit, Monroe is 27-years-old now and is saying the right things.

“I’m happy,’’ said Monroe, who attended the Bucks-Jazz game Friday night at Cox Pavilion on the UNLV campus. “I had no reason to leave. I want to build on what we started last year.’’

Monroe does the one thing the Raptors have been unsuccessful at getting Valanciunas to do. He moves the ball effectively. Where Valanciunas has only assisted on 4.2 percent of teammate field goals while he’s on the floor over his career with no signs of improvement, Monroe has averaged 13.2 percent and bumped that to 17.3 percent coming off the bench last year. Monroe could be the ball moving big man Ujiri wants to add in his new style of offense.

While Monroe has always been something of a tease in the NBA, a big man with star potential who could never quite put it all together, there’s a good argument to be made that he has never been in the right situation. The 2017-18 Raptors could be that situation.

A straight up trade of Monroe for Valanciunas works and does solve another problem for the Bucks. The $2.4 million difference in salary gets Milwaukee below the luxury tax line and if it’s important to Ujiri, he can stay below the tax as well.

It isn’t always easy trading with potential conference rivals, but sometimes the two teams have what each other needs. Both the Raptors and the Bucks would be better off after making this deal.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_inside

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.

 

 

Knicks Carmelo Anthony trade 2017

Can Raptors Be A Third Team In A Carmelo Anthony Trade?

There are still a few options/ long shots out there for Raptors president Masai Ujiri to make a move before the season starts, but perhaps none more exciting than attempting to squeeze into the rumored Carmelo Anthony to the Rockets or Cavs trades as a third or fourth team, assuming the Knicks might be interested in Valanciunas?

According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the Knicks aren’t all that interested in older players with years left on their contracts and that has stalled out the process as all sides are looking for partners to facilitate a deal.

the Knicks and Rockets are confident that they have a willing third-team trade partner

The fourth team was needed to move a particular player contract that neither the Knicks nor Rockets could or would accept in the deal

The Knicks’ front office has been privately saying that the organization’s marching orders are now focusing on players 25 years old and younger

Three team deals are tough enough, but adding a fourth team dramatically boosts the complexity and likelihood nothing gets done. However, Toronto has a 25-year-old starting center they’ve been rumored to be shopping and an apparent motivation to reduce payroll that should make the Raptors easier to deal with.

(using the ESPN trade machine)

A move like this wouldn’t change the direction Ujiri is taking, but it would help re-balance the roster, cut $8 million off the payroll this year and $16.5 million next season.

It’s pure speculation, but the 32-year-old 6’8 Trevor Ariza could be the perfect veteran to mentor the Raptors young forwards and upgrade the team’s starting unit.

In New York, where nothing ever seems to go their way, landing Eric Gordon and Valanciunas for Carmelo Anthony should be seen as hitting one out of the park. (At least it shouldn’t be viewed as embarrassing.) Assuming Dolan can get over the fact he’s been burned by trading with Ujiri in the past?

In the extremely unlikely event the Cavaliers would entertain a trade including their conference rivals, the Raptors would almost certainly be interested in doing a deal.

There is a lot of motivation on the Knicks, Rockets and even the Cavaliers to find a way to make a very difficult trade happen. They might just have to swallow hard and allow a team like Toronto to squeeze in there to get it done.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

 

 

NBA San Antonio Spurs LaMarcus Aldridge and Toronto Raptors Jonas Valanciunas

Raptors Should Just Go For It This Season

Already deep in luxury tax territory and unsuccessfully looking to dump contracts even at the expense of potentially getting worse, Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri should be looking to do more than just being a top four team in the Eastern Conference. He should got for it and take his shot at getting to the NBA Finals.

As Basketball Insiders senior writer Joel Brigham reported recently, overall the East has gotten weaker with Jimmy Butler, Paul George and Paul Millsap heading west. The top four in the East aren’t about to change, although maybe things between the top teams could become at least a little more interesting.

Cleveland, Boston, Toronto and Washington look almost certain to keep their top-four status in the conference simply by bringing back the same players they had a year ago. Add Milwaukee to that conversation, too

Chicago, Indiana and Atlanta all made the playoffs last year but each will vie for the conference’s worst record next season after losing their stars

Boston took the first steps towards becoming more competitive with the Cavs by getting Gordon Hayward’s commitment for next season. Although they still have more moves left to create the needed cap space to sign Hayward and they’ll probably want to do something about carrying four small forwards that all need to play next season.

Expect the Wizards to match anything restricted free agent Otto Porter signs on July 6th.

The Raptors will bring back starters Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka, but have lost rotation players P.J. Tucker and Patrick Patterson to free agency and are rumored to be looking to dump salary because of luxury tax concerns.

All three of these pretenders will be competitive during the regular season, but unless they have another major move up their sleeve, no one is going to give them more than a puncher’s chance at knocking off a healthy Cavs squad in the playoffs.

The Celtics with Isaiah Thomas, Al Horford and Gordon Hayward still need rebounding and they have the trade pieces to go get a difference maker. Of course the Celtics with Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum and Brooklyn’s 2018 first round draft pick could choose to tread water as a 50-win team while their young guys develop instead?

Built around John Wall and Bradley Beal, the Wizards will have continuity and if they can find some offense off the bench, it can be argued they don’t need anything else, but they really need that bench to step up.

The Raptors are built around Lowry, DeMar DeRozan and Ibaka, but like the Celtics, they need another impact player if they are going to be more than pretenders in the East.

(Players shown in the positions they would like to play)

The Raptors could make do with the players they have, even if it isn’t practical luxury tax wise. Delon Wright has the size to play on the wing. DeMarre Carroll can play both forward spots and Ibaka can play power forward (like he has for most of his career.) But this isn’t the best use of team resources.

The favored move seems to be to find a team to take on Carroll’s salary to solve the luxury tax issue, but this doesn’t help re-balance the roster or help move the needle of the team’s outlook for next season.

No, Ujiri needs to go big if this team is going to be significantly better than last season. He needs to add an impact player, preferably while reducing his luxury tax position.

Once teams can actually start signing free agents on July 6th and reality sets in around the league, trade season can start in earnest and there is one multiple-time All-Star rumored to have shopped around at the draft because he wasn’t happy, the Spurs LaMarcus Aldridge.

The almost 32-year-old five-time All-Star power forward wasn’t named to the All-Star team for first time since 2012 last year. He posted his lowest scoring (17.3 points per game), fewest field goals made (6.9) and worst rebounding numbers (7.3) since his rookie season way back in 2006-07. However, he was still an impact player and as has been a big man trend, he added a three-point shot and hit 41 percent of his 56 attempts last season.

In addition to Aldridge being unhappy, general manager R.C. Burford isn’t going to have star point guard Tony Parker to start the season, if at all. It doesn’t look like free agency is going all that well either besides the return of Patty Mills, so an aging Spurs team could use some young ready-to-go players for next season.

If the Raptors sent Jonas Valanciunas, Cory Joseph and Lucas Nogueira to the Spurs for Aldridge, the Raptors would get another impact player who can shoot plus shave $4.5 million off their payroll, and the Spurs would get to fill some holes with a young starting center, a backup point guard they know well and a young developing big man.

The Raptors tax situation becomes a lot more palatable and the players fall into roles they prefer/fit.

If Aldridge can re-gain his All-Star form of a year ago, which should be a lot easier in the NBA East, Toronto would at least get a second look as a potential competitor for the Cavs come playoff time.

At this point in early July, nothing is set in stone, however, expect the Celtics to make a move to address those rebounding concerns, look for the Wizards bench to improve and the Raptors will do … something.

Ujiri created a three-year window with the contracts of DeRozan, Lowry and Ibaka, so he may as well go for it this year if he can and there may be no better opportunity to snag an impact player than the situation in San Antonio with Aldridge. That is unless Danny Ainge beats him to it.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

   Featured image courtesy of Larry Millson

 

 

 

 

NBA San Antonio Spurs LaMarcus Aldridge

Don’t Overlook Spurs LaMarcus Aldridge This Trade Season

The ink was barely dry on the contract LaMarcus Aldridge signed with the Spurs in 2015 when questions began to arise about how happy he was with his decision. Speculation abounded about the Spurs trading Aldridge during his initial season and the honeymoon seemed to be over after the Spurs lost in the second round of the playoffs. Heading into this year’s draft, the trade rumors have started up again, stronger than ever as reported by Sam Amick of USA Today Sports.

The Spurs are known to be talking to several teams about the possibility of trading Aldridge

According to a person with knowledge of the Spurs forward’s situation, it’s the 31-year-old’s unhappiness in San Antonio that is the driving force behind the Spurs’ trade talks

It was just two summers ago that Aldridge was the hottest free agent target actually available and he made stops in Phoenix, Toronto and elsewhere before heading to San Antonio and a perceived shot at contending for an NBA title.

Well that dream has run headlong into a Golden State Warriors team that doesn’t look like they’ll have to face a major decision about their devastating roster until Klay Thompson becomes a free agent in the summer of 2019.

The soon-to-be 32-year Aldridge isn’t enjoying the same level of personal success any more either. This past season was the first time Aldridge wasn’t an All-Star since 2012. He posted his lowest scoring (17.3 points per game), fewest field goals made (6.9) and worst rebounding numbers (7.3) since his rookie season way back in 2006-07.

Then in the playoffs with Tony Parker and Kawhi Leonard injured, Aldridge averaged just 15.5 points on 41.3 percent shooting and 5.8 rebounds in the Conference Finals as those impressive Warriors swept the Spurs out in four straight.

The Spurs are well enough run to never let it leak they are looking to dump Aldridge and the $21.5 million owing next season plus the 2018-19 player option for $22.3 million, but there is virtually no doubt he was made available during the NBA Draft.

The Spurs have already used up what would have to be considered the best two years of Aldridge’s four-year deal, but that won’t stop them from trying to extract maximum value for a player who should still be able to make an impact on a good team.

However, just as the Pacers are experiencing in their attempts to trade Paul George, teams are justifiably reluctant to give up too much for a player that has the option to become an unrestricted free agent next summer. Expecting a Lottery pick in this year’s draft for Aldridge was never very realistic, but the Spurs have plenty of other needs heading into July.

At 35-years-old Tony Parker may have suffered a career-ending injury and even if he eventually gets back in time to play in the second half of next season, no one should be expecting he’ll be the same. Add in half the roster will be testing free agency, plus rumors of Danny Green being dangled and the Spurs need everything.

The Raptors had a good meeting with Aldridge two summers ago, however, there have been no indications as yet if their interest then translates into interest today.

Even though nothing got done, the Raptors, like several other teams, were active at this year’s draft. If Toronto wants to remain a top four team in the Eastern Conference, president Masai Ujiri has accumulated a surplus of young players still on their rookie deals that needs to be cashed-in. The only concern with trading any of them to Spurs general manager R.C. Buford is, if he wants them, you’re probably losing the trade.

Despite the down year Aldridge will generate interest from teams hoping to take a step up next season and the Raptors should be included in that group. However, who will step up to get fleeced by Burford remains to be seen.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Jonas Valanciunas and DeMarre Carroll

Should The Timberwolves Now Go After Carroll And Valanciunas?

Thirteen years as a Lottery Team would weigh on anybody and the Minnesota Timberwolves new president of basketball operations and head coach Tom Thibodeau didn’t sign up to run this team last year with the intention of extending that streak. He proved that in spades at the 2017 NBA Draft by trading potential future stars Kris Dunn, Zach LaVine and the number 7 pick Lauri Markkanen for Bulls All-Star Jimmy Butler and the number 16 pick Justin Patton.

The Timberwolves instantly got better, but if Thibs is serious about making an impact in the postseason next April, he still needs some playoff proven veterans help to get his remaining highly talented crop of young players to the next level and Toronto Raptors starters DeMarre Carroll and Jonas Valanciunas could become available because of Luxury Tax concerns.

Star Tribune’s Sid Hartman reported on the desperation for change by owner Glen Taylor at the end of the season,

“(Thibodeau) needs some players that will come off the bench and keep us going and not give up the lead,” he said. “I think he would say if he can get some guys with experience that would be helpful, so he can mix them in with our young guys during those substitution times. I think that will be a priority.

“We could also always use another big guy. If we back up a year and we were hoping that Pek [Nikola Pekovic] would be part of that and be a big, strong guy that would come in and take minutes off, so Karl [-Anthony Towns] didn’t get beat up so much and play so many minutes.”

Pek is officially done and last year’s attempt at veteran stability with players like Cole Aldrich (8.6 mpg), Jordan Hill (6.7 mpg), Omri Casspi (17.1 mpg) and Lance Stephenson (on two 10 days, 11.2 mpg) didn’t work.

However, even after the draft night trade, Thibodeau still has a ton of cap flexibility to sooth that burning desire to win now.

The Wolves will have Pekovic’s contract numbers off the books for next season, and because he did not play this season, his contract is covered by insurance, so that means their current salary cap should be in the $66 million range (prior to the Butler trade).

It wasn’t going to be easy attracting quality free agents to a team with a losing record let alone a mind-blowing 13-year losing streak and there is no pretending Minnesota is anything like New York, L.A. or Miami. So, just like the deal with the Bulls, the best way for Thibs to get what he needs is most likely to be accomplished by way of another trade.

Enter the Toronto scenario. Raptors president Masai Ujiri says he wants to re-sign free agents Kyle Lowry, Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker, but to do so would put his team deep into Luxury Tax territory with no guarantee they’d be able to escape the Eastern Conference currently owned by LeBron James. A tax bill of $45 million plus is a steep price to pay if you’re fighting for second best in your conference.

However, Ujiri could almost wipe out that tax bill if he could get one of Valanciunas or Carroll off of his books and a trade involving both players with the right asset back could give him the “culture change” he’s looking for next season as well.

While there is no chance the Timberwolves are going to part with another one of their young stars, Minnesota does have a player the African-born Ujiri would almost certainly be interested in, Senegal’s 27-year-old Gorgui Dieng.

Deng’ offensive production has stalled at about 10 points per game over the past three seasons as has his rebounding at about eight boards, but the power forward/center is known for his defense and has started to show he just might have an effective corner three-ball. It’s not hard to see him fitting into the “culture” Toronto is trying to build.

It shouldn’t be too hard to convince Thibs to trade the guy Dunking  With The Wolves George Rinaldi sees as a sixth man instead of a T-wolves starter in the future.

Dieng is producing decent basketball when needs be, but in all honesty, would perfectly suit a bench player.

What Dieng offers is a solid defensive player, able to knock down mid-range shots on a regular basis, and give a significant number of rebounds per game.

Just the chance to add a couple of starters like Valanciunas and Carroll from a team coming off four consecutive trips to the postseason and back-to-back 50-plus win regular seasons should be enough to get Thibs rushing to try and do a deal. The Twolves would go from being too young to win last season to a team with veteran depth.

The 25-year-old Valanciunas is a legit 7′ traditional center who can start, but actually played his best basketball coming off the bench in this year’s playoff run. He has consistently been in the top 10 for rebounding percentage in the NBA and produced a consistent 12 points and 9-plus rebounds in 26 minutes over the last three years. His contract is similar to Dieng’s four-year deal and has two more seasons plus a player option left.

The Raptors acquired the now 30-year-old Carroll from the 60-win Atlanta Hawks two summers ago and although the “3-and-D” combo forward missed most of his first season in Toronto due to knee problems and he’s taken a lot of flak from the fan base for not living up to early high expectations, he can still space the floor, hit threes and play defense the right way. He played 72 games last season and he would be the poster-boy for the type of veteran that could help stabilize a young team like the T-wolves. He has two years and $30.2 million left on his contract.

While simply moving Carroll’s contract into Minnesota’s cap space would largely solve’s Ujiri’s tax problems this year and give Thibodeau his veteran on a short two year leash, the larger deal could do more for both teams. One team trying to get to where Toronto is now and the other team trying to find a way to take the next step without setting new franchise records for luxury taxes.

There will be a lot of opportunities for these two teams to look at after free agency opens up in July, but signing free agents is tough and it often isn’t easy finding a motivated trade partner you aren’t competing with.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Kyle Lowry and Chicago Bulls Jimmy Butler

Could Jimmy Butler Push Raptors GM Ujiri Into Action?

It’s already been a busy and interesting trade market ahead of the NBA Draft on Thursday and apparently the Bulls Jimmy Butler is out there stirring the pot by trying to convince Raptors free agent Kyle Lowry to come and join him in Chicago instead of Butler trying to find another All-Star to play with in a different city. This could be just the impetuous needed to stir Raptors president Masai Ujiri into action at the draft.

Back in Toronto Ujiri is pretty confident his unrestricted free agent point guard will re-up with the Raptors on July 1st and he should be. Lowry has been hanging around the team since the season ended and Ujiri talked to him at their practice facility this week.

However, even Ujiri admits it’s his job to convince Lowry to want to re-sign with the Raptors – not that it should all that hard to convince Lowry that playing with his best friend DeMar DeRozan for the next four years is the right decision.

But don’t discount the fear even the remote possibility of Lowry changing his mind could cause. Sure Ujiri says he’s ready for five different scenarios this summer, but the ones that don’t include Lowry aren’t the ones he wants to entertain.

The duo of Lowry and DeRozan led the Raptors to an impressive 56 win season in 2015-16 and they were 28-13 at the halfway point last year when they went into a slide exasperated by a 3-5 stretch where DeRozan only played one game (that he shouldn’t have) book-ended with 0-3 and 1-3 marks. Then Lowry went down after the All-Star break until April 5th and only the additions of P.J. Tucker and Serge Ibaka kept the regular season win total over 50.

Ujiri knows the Raptors are a 50-plus win team with Lowry and DeRozan on it and they should be able to beat the franchise win record set in 2015-16 if he can hang onto Ibaka and Tucker – and there’s the crux.

If Lowry jumps ship, Ibaka and Tucker become doubtful and those scenarios that resemble a rebuild become very possible. It could be as diverse as going for 60 wins versus tanking for the Draft Lottery.

So how does Ujiri “guarantee” Lowry has no better landing spot than the one he is inclined to go for anyway. The answer seems simple. Upgrade the roster beyond just bringing back Ibaka and Tucker and there is an obvious trade target.

Almost every NBA analyst out there (and it’s a long list) is now convinced the Pacers are trying to move Paul George and his expiring contract by the draft because he’ll walk away for nothing next summer.

NBA Indiana Pacers Paul George

Indiana is doing their best under difficult circumstances to create a market and will take the best deal available from wherever it comes and it’s assumed they covet young players, draft picks and no long term commitments.

Potentially, the Raptors could fill those requirements and they probably don’t have to worry about anyone outbidding them with a Lottery pick. All Ujiri has to do is make a couple of those seven players still on their rookie deals he seems to love available and put his 2017 draft pick on the table.

For what could be a one season rental, giving up young talent and a pick is a big haul for the Pacers and a steep price for any team, but if it guarantees the Raptors can keep their All-Star point guard from jumping ship, they should just live with it.

Ujiri doesn’t really need to keep all seven guys he still has on their rookie deals plus add another rookie for next season – Does he?

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

 

 

NBA Indiana Pacers Paul George

Paul George Rumors May Give Raptors A Real Shot

If you love NBA rumors, with the Cleveland Cavaliers are the cusp of being swept out of the NBA Finals, things are about to get very interesting. First, LeBron James speculation will become rampant, but soon after, where and how the next super team gets created will dominate the “news/rumor cycle.” But if you are sitting in Toronto, the speculation should focus on the possibility of the Indiana Pacers Paul George joining the Raptors.

Last summer Raptors president Masai Ujiri made a hard push to acquire Serge Ibaka, but the Magic made a ridiculous bid to rent the big forward for the season and Ujiri got his man at his price at the trade deadline out of the ashes.

This year the Pacers face the reality George could walk away for nothing next summer and there is nothing they can do to recreate the 56-win team of four years ago that had just reached the Eastern Conference Finals for the second year in a row. It was an obviously frustrated George who has been knocked out of the first round in each of the past two seasons.

George can’t be very happy with the Pacers owner’s ideas about how to run a team as reported by IndyStar’s Matthew VanTryon,

“Believe me, our aim is to be competitive,” Pacers owner Herb Simon told IndyStar two weeks ago. “We don’t like to be paying the luxury tax, but most teams try to avoid that.”

Well Herb, you won’t be very competitive with the Cavaliers or the Warriors if you don’t like paying the luxury tax and George knows that.

But as The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor accurately states, it isn’t going to be easy to trade George for max value either.

The vibe I’ve gotten from talking to NBA executives and agents over the past few weeks is that teams aren’t willing to sell the farm for George because of the possibility that he’ll sign with the Lakers is so strong.

However,

The Lakers are in shambles now. They’re a bad team, period. They’ve won less than 28 percent of their games (91 out of 328) over the past four seasons.

It’s very unlikely another team that’s not quite ready for prime time overbids for George this summer with the Ibaka fiasco fresh in GMs minds. That move and other risks cost Rob Hennigan his job. Indiana will be hard pressed to demand a boatload of talent and picks for the privilege of renting George this season.

Also, despite the annual (hoped for) belief that superstars will beat a path to the Staples Center, it’s almost funny to think players like James and George will run to L.A. to save the storied Lakers a year from now. These days superstars don’t save your franchise, they elevate it to NBA Finals contention or look elsewhere.

In the NBA East, the obvious landing spots that George could believe give him a real chance at making the NBA Finals are in Boston and Toronto.

Back in Toronto, Ujiri only “wins” the Ibaka trade if he can re-sign him. Fortunately, it’s been widely rumored that only reason Ujiri was able to trade for him in the first place was Ibaka had made it known the only team he’d re-sign with was the Raptors.

Ujiri has made it clear the Raptors plans are to re-sign Kyle Lowry, P.J. Tucker and Ibaka. If the Raptors are (finally) sincere in their willingness to pay Luxury Tax in order to compete for a championship, they’ll have a line-up and a payroll that will be attractive to George beyond next season.

Toronto has been a 50+ win team in each of the past two seasons and only the James-led Cavaliers have stood in their way of getting out of the East. Another real chance to beat James would be huge to George.

The obvious alternative acceptable landing spot is a Celtics team that finished first in the Conference last year.

If Danny Ainge is willing to part with one of those coveted Brooklyn Nets picks and some young talent, Pritchard won’t be able to say yes fast enough, however, those picks could set the Celtics up for the next decade and he doesn’t have to risk anything. It’s hard to see Ainge giving up Jaylen Brown, this year’s first overall draft pick or next year’s Nets pick and no one should blame him. As a potential one-year rental, George shouldn’t be able to command anything nearly that good.

The Raptors are at significant disadvantage to Boston in terms of talent available to trade, however, they may be willing to offer more.

First, George and the Raptors DeMar DeRozan are friends (although, DeRozan seems to be friends with most of the league) and second, there’s the deleted tweet George supposedly sent out a few years ago suggesting he wanted to play with DeRozan.

Ujiri should be willing to build a package around Jonas Valanciunas and at the start of the season, consider adding Norman Powell and Delon Wright or Cory Joseph. It’s not close to being an even trade, but the closer new President of Basketball Operations Kevin Pritchard gets to the trade deadline, the worse the offers are going to get.

Many teams get in their own way when it becomes obvious their star player is going to leave them after the season. Pritchard isn’t going to be able to recreate the 2013-14 Pacers next season and he’s more likely to lose key free agents this summer than to sign better ones, but if he holds onto hope too long, a possible re-load will become an extended re-build.

Pritchard’s best chance to get value for George is to have the Celtics and the Raptors bid against each other for his services sooner rather than later.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

Featured image courtesy of Paul Saini
Instagram:  @fylmm.lifestyle and  @paul_saini

 

 

 

 

NBA Detroit Pistons Jon Leuer and Toronto Raptors DeMarre Carroll

Should The Raptors And Pistons Make A Trade?

Pistons chief cook and bottle washer Stan Van Gundy wasn’t happy after his team took a step back into Draft Lottery territory with a 37-45 record this past season and he’s looking to make a deal. Raptors president Masai Ujiri’s team won 51 games, but he’s got his own moves to make as keeping his key guys together means a trip into Luxury Tax territory. Just maybe these two decision-makers should be talking trade?

The Detroit News’ Rod Beard says Van Gundy is pressing to make changes.

“Would we like to make changes this summer? Absolutely. Is it a priority to be out trying to make changes? Absolutely. We need to make improvements,” Van Gundy said.

“We’re not under the cap, so our way to make changes and get better is through trades.”

Van Gundy insists wholesale changes aren’t needed, but his team needs help in a number of areas, especially three-point shooting and unfortunately last year’s big stretch four free agent acquisition Jon Leuer was only stretching his credibility at the three-point line.

Leuer had shot 38.2 percent from three in Phoenix the previous season earning him a four year, $41 million contract from the Pistons that summer. Unfortunately in a bigger role with Detroit he couldn’t find the range and shot just 29.3 percent from three on a team that was desperate for someone, anyone to help spread the floor.

Detroit Free Press’ Vince Ellis didn’t hold back in his opening statement about the Pistons’ players after the season and only gives Leuer a 50 percent chance of being back with the Pistons next year.

Trade center Andre Drummond!

Get rid of that bum point guard Reggie Jackson!

Jon Leuer is a bust!

Stanley Johnson was a mistake!

The word: (Leuer) Went from a great signing to an awful signing in the same season. Probably played over his head the first 50 games but probably is better than he showed the last 30. An obvious replacement (Ellenson) is on the roster.

The Drummond and Jackson comments were undoubtedly for effect, but if things don’t change, the effect could become reality at the trade deadline. Teams don’t usually give up on Lottery Picks on modest contracts like Johnson easily, but Leuer’s contract isn’t scary, even if his history and recent run with Detroit says he’s best suited to coming off the bench.

If the Pistons want to move Leuer, the Raptors might be the team who’ll take a chance on him…. if Van Gundy wants what the Raptors will be selling.

It’s expected Toronto will lose backup stretch four Patrick Patterson to free agency. If Ujiri gets his way and Kyle Lowry, Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker all re-sign, the Luxury Tax bill to keep Patterson could set new NBA records if something doesn’t give.

Ujiri will be motivated to move a veteran piece from his 50-win roster and one available piece is almost certainly starter DeMarre Carroll.

Carroll is a 31-year-old veteran who’s been to the Conference Finals twice in the last three years on teams averaging over 55 wins. He’s shot 39 percent or better from three in two of the past three years and last season’s “slump” to 34.1 percent would have tied him with Marcus Morris at 1.5 made threes per game as second best on the Pistons.

The issue with Carroll has been injuries. Specifically an undiagnosed knee problem that required surgery early in the 2015-16 season and only became fully rehabbed midway thru last year. In theory at least, Carroll is back to 100 percent healthy now.

His $30.2 million remaining over the next two seasons on his contract is almost identical to what the Pistons owe Leuer over the next three years and can probably be made to work in a straight up trade.

If in the unlikely event Van Gundy is truly disheartened by Johnson, Ujiri would almost certainly give up his first round draft pick to get him.

The Raptors would have some immediate interest in a deal of Carroll for Leuer based on the Luxury Tax savings alone, but the clincher likely would come down to Tucker’s assessment of his former Suns teammate.

Leuer had the best season of his career the year he played with Tucker. If he could recreate something similar to 2015-16 for the Raptors off the bench, Ujiri would be pretty happy with the move.

At the least Carroll is a proven veteran from a winning program who is good with young players. At his best, he’s a very effective “3-and D” combo forward who can guard multiple positions on the perimeter and can play in a variety of lineups. He could be the guy who helps get Detroit back into the playoff picture.

Neither the Pistons nor the Raptors can expect to hit a homerun with the players they are likely willing to part with this summer, but this is the type of trade that could help both teams (or neither team) and is worth the risk.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Jonas Valanciunas

What Can The Raptors Get For Jonas Valanciunas?

The fifth overall pick of the 2011 NBA draft Jonas Valanciunas is a traditional 7′ center in a game that is evolving away from the paint. So if the Toronto Raptors want “a change” and face the Luxury Tax challenge of keeping their own free agents this summer, what could they get for for this still developing 25-year-old big man.

Valanciunas is a space-eater, a top-10 rebounder in each of the past three seasons and an imposing force against the undersized big men becoming oh so common in today’s NBA. Unfortunately, those same undersized big men can send him to the bench in the fourth quarter as Valanciunas struggles guarding the perimeter.

He is the type of player a team doesn’t need until they need him, but when your team is getting hammered on the boards, Valanciunas is the kind of guy you’ll need to stop the bleeding and hit back.

On Sportsnet, Dave Zarum quotes the former assistant general manager of the Brooklyn Nets Bobby Marks ahead of the trade deadline as saying,

“I think the league goes in cycles and there’s still a role for centers.

“In certain situations— Cleveland going small— then there’s probably not a role for him, but in the majority of matchups there is.

“I wouldn’t do anything with him if I’m in Toronto. It would have to be something really big. You look at what centers got this (past) summer — Mozgov, Noah, Mahinmi — and Jonas’ contract ($16 million/yr) carries great value.”

The Raptors made their own moves at the trade deadline by bringing in Serge Ibaka, a player they want to keep in free agency this summer who has made no secret of the fact he wants to start at center next year. So unless Raptors president Masai Ujiri is happy paying starter’s money for a center who’s likely to come the bench next season, he needs to find a trade partner for Valanciunas.

Boston Celtics

Like last summer there will be a lot of noise about the Celtics packaging draft picks and players to land another star, but the prices were too high for Danny Aigne last year and they’ll likely be too high again this year. Aigne isn’t about to disrupt what’s he’s building for a rental, potential poor fit or a massive overpay in free agency either.

The Celtics are a good team already, albeit a good team with a glaring weakness. They were one of the worst rebounding teams (-2.5 boards per game) during the regular season. They were the worst rebounding team (-6.6) in the playoffs.

What the Celtics do have is 2012 second round pick Jae Crowder who has evolved into a solid “3-and-D” small forward. While no one is going to call him a “LeBron Stopper,” he is just the kind of small forward the Raptors need for next season. He is also uncomfortably in the way of the Celtics third overall pick of last season Jaylen Brown.

If these two Atlantic Division rivals can put their egos aside, they have the solution to each other’s problem in a player they can afford to trade. Hopefully someone reminds them the goal is to get by Cleveland, if not now, eventually?

Indians Pacers

The Pacers would have been hard pressed to screw up last season any worse and while they probably cling to hope over the summer of a resurgence strong enough to convince Paul George to re-sign, if next season resembles last season, it’ll take a major brain cramp to not start shopping their best player before the trade deadline.

The problem with shopping a “rental” All-Star is teams won’t be giving up much unless they believe he’ll re-sign in his new home. Maybe George really does want to go lose with the Lakers? But it seems more likely he’d rather join a team that gives him a shot at the NBA Finals – say hello to Boston and Toronto.

Last year Aigne wouldn’t give a top draft pick and/or top young prospect(s) for a potential rental of Serge Ibaka and who could blame him? The Celtics don’t need to take those kinds of risks for a real shot at getting to the next level all on their own.

The Raptors are likely easier to convince, in part because they don’t have any former or current top five draft picks to risk other than Valanciunas.

It might seem like a pipe dream for Toronto to land a player like George, but if next season plays out like last season (for Orlando), the Pacers could find themselves looking for the best available offer with a player who has made it very clear where he wants to end up.

Dallas Mavericks

Mark Cuban doesn’t like to lose and he doesn’t like to wait either, so if the Raptors just want to do a salary dump for a first round lottery draft pick, the Mavericks are the team to talk to.

Draft Express has 7′ Arizona freshman stretch four Lauri Markkanen going to Dallas at nine and describe him as,

One of the top jump shooters in this draft regardless of position

Among the top shooting players over 6’10 in NCAA history

Shooters of his caliber at the power forward position don’t come along very often

If the Raptors can bring back both Ibaka and P.J. Tucker, a player like  Markkanen could be the perfect long term fit.

Why not just keep Valanciunas?

The Raptors make a lot of money. They are third in attendance in the NBA and, supposedly, Ujiri can go into the Tax if he so chooses. Bringing Valanciunas in off the bench probably doesn’t affect his minutes all that much and he’d arguably be the best backup center in the NBA.

As anyone who has followed the team for a long time knows, believing a stated willingness to pay Luxury Tax has fallen firmly into the show-me category. Besides, the Raptors have a backup center in Jakob Poeltl who can/should fill that role admirably next season if given a chance for a lot less money.

Valanciunas would probably say all the right things about coming off the bench, but most of us would have a hard time believing him if it lasted into the new year. To be fair, it’s start him or trade him.

As Bobby Marks said, “Jonas’ contract ($16 million/yr) carries great value.” So Ujiri should be able to extract pretty good value for Valanciunas. However, the problem will be other general managers can figure out the Raptors pending Luxury Tax issues with Toronto re-signing their own free agents and will want to exploit that situation for themselves.

What Ujiri can get for Valanciunas will depend as much on how quickly he wants to unload that contract for his own reasons as what he needs to get back. However, assuming Ujiri was sincere in wanting to re-sign free agents Kyle Lowry, Ibaka and Tucker, this is one situation that isn’t going to just go away.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

  Featured image courtesy of Larry Millson

 

 

 

NBA Orlando Magic Serge Ibaka vs Toronto Raptors Pascal Siakam

Magic Forward Serge Ibaka Trade To Raptors Hinges On Price

There has been a lot written about the possibility of the Toronto Raptors acquiring the pending Orlando Magic free agent power forward Serge Ibaka by the NBA trade deadline. As things stand now, this isn’t about to happen unless something changes.

That the slumping Magic are trying to salvage something from the high risk move of acquiring Ibaka by trade in the summer has become increasingly more obvious as the losses pile up, but the only way GM Rob Henningan can recoup anything close to what he gave up is to try and create a bidding war. To that end, the Raptors, Wizards, Celtics, Pacers, Rockets, Trail Blazers, Spurs and Heat have all been mentioned in a process that feels a lot like a GM trying to maximize value.

The Raptors being singled out because it is believed the Magic outbid them for Ibaka in the summer.

Hennigan’s problem is he gave up Ersan Ilyasova, Victor Oladipo and 2016 11th overall draft pick Domantas Sabonis for Ibaka seven months ago and if anything, Ibaka’s value has dropped since then. The Raptors and any other NBA team should be reluctant to provide an equivalent haul of talent for a pending free agent with less than 30 regular season games remaining.

Serge Ibaka’s 2016-17 salary is $12.25 million.

One possible scenario would see Terrence Ross ($10 million salary), a young player like Delon Wright ($1.6 million salary) and a first round draft pick heading back to Orlando, but that seems like a lot for a potential rental.

From a Raptors perspective, something along the lines of Jared Sullinger ($5.6 million), Delon Wright ($1.6 million) and either Bruno Caboclo or Pascal Siakam to make the trade math work. It’s a discount to what Orlando paid that Hennigan would probably feel is too hard to swallow, but they got Ibaka’s services for over half the season.

Neither scenario likely gets a deal done, but time’s a wasting. The Raptors need a boost for the postseason and Hennigan will look pretty foolish if Ibaka walks away in the summer and he left anything of value on the table now.

The biggest risks to a deal getting done are Hennigan sticking to his demands, another team is willing to part with more than Raptors president Masai Ujiri, and Ujiri finding a more reasonable trade partner elsewhere. Ibaka isn’t the only player in play.

What would you give up for a potential rental of Ibaka?

Are the Raptors just too cost conscious and risk averse to get the big deal done that might make this team a contender?

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 Featured image courtesy of Larry Millson

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Lucas Nogueira

Lucas Nogueira Is Key To Raptors Trade Talks

It’s widely assumed the Toronto Raptors are looking for an impact player at power forward prior to the NBA trade deadline to fill the one gapping hole in their rotation, however, president Masai Ujiri may have other options thanks to the development of third year center Lucas Nogueira.

Nogueira has been an unexpected surprise as an elite rim protector backing up Jonas Valanciunas, but with all of the injuries and rookie Pascal Siakam being, well, a rookie, head coach Dwane Casey  has given Nogueira significant minutes at power forward as well and that makes the big Brazilian a potential key to future moves by Ujiri.

“My normal spot is not the four, but I like it because when I started playing basketball I worked on the skills of a four like shooting threes, putting the ball on the court and passing,” Nogueira told Pro Bball Report. “I have a chance to play at the four, I am so glad to be in that position.

“I know it’s hard to guard fours in this league. Every night I am going to have a tough time at the four, so I have to be ready to play offense, but it is more important to be able to guard those fours. It is a big challenge in this league.”

Unlike many traditional fives, Nogueira has the mobility to guard on the perimeter and his length gives him an advantage in the post on both ends of the court. It isn’t easy to shoot over him, especially for those players under 7′. At this point in his career it’s mostly a lack of experience that’s holding him back from a bigger role, he’s already played four times as many minutes this year as he did in his first two NBA seasons combined.

“Every sport is about concentration,” Nogueira said. “The winner is the one who makes fewer mistakes and if you focus, you are going to make fewer mistakes.”

And yes, Nogueira makes mistakes, but while it isn’t a big sample size yet, Nogueira seems to focus harder when taken a bit out of his comfort zone playing at the four. It is certainly an intriguing lineup and a difficult matchup for most opponents when Casey has two 7-footers out there at the same time.

“I don’t pay attention to statistics about minutes at the four and the five,” Nogueira said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s the four or five, every time I am on the court I try to help my teammates because I (play with) some of the greatest offensive players in the league. I just try to do the normal help as a four or five, I don’t care. I don’t pay attention if I block more shots at the four or the five.”

In a bit of a surprise, Nogueira has become a keeper in Toronto and it’s a good thing he doesn’t care about whether he plays at the four or the five as it means Ujiri can effectively tweak his lineup with an addition at either position at the trade deadline.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

NBA Sacramento Kings DeMarcus Cousins

Sacramento Kings DeMarcus Cousins May Be In Play

Warm up all those fantasy trade rumors, according to Ailene Voisin of The Sacramento Bee, the Kings are sending out mixed messages about the availability of everyone’s favorite trade target at center DeMarcus Cousins. He is most definitely in play.

Within the past two weeks, three different team executives complained the Kings once again were sending mixed signals. Divac was receptive to moving Cousins, while Ranadive was still meddling and still leaning toward keeping Boogie.

The plan of attack should be obvious by now. General manager Vlade Divac should be immersed in conversations with those of his peers intrigued by Cousins and burning up his cellphone battery working over the skeptics. Celtics. Lakers. Cavs. Mavs. Suns. Magic. The list surely will expand before Feb. 23, with Boston, L.A. and Phoenix armed with an array of young assets to facilitate a prudent, deliberate, long overdue Kings rebuild.

This is the way big deals get done. The Kings have to maximize their return in any deal for Cousins as they know, on the right team, Cousins could be the difference between pretender and NBA Finals contender. He is that talented, so teams will bid against one another to get him.

As painful as it will be to part ways with Cousins, Kings principal owner Vivek Ranadive and Divac must surely know by now that all the salary cap space in the world isn’t going to bring a max free agent that could take their team into contention. Not with a revolving door coaching policy, a decade in the NBA Draft Lottery, and all that bad press their organization seems to get from just about every NBA player that’s been fortunate enough to escape to another team.

While the Kings could tear this thing down to the wood and do a total rebuild through the draft, that may not be necessary. If the Kings have proven anything over the past decade it’s they aren’t very good at picking and developing talent.

Yes they will absolutely want first round draft picks, but more importantly, the players they get back in any trade for Cousins had better be young, proven, NBA level talent. They need players with potential who can be inserted into a starting lineup right now. It’s not like they don’t need upgrades at every single position outside of Cousins.

Any deal has to be a homerun.

The biggest problem the Kings will have in trying to extract full value for Cousins is his ridiculously low $17 million salary, but it won’t be hard to find parts to add in order to get that number up.

While a broken down Rudy Gay might be challenging to pawn off on another team, Arron Afflalo and his $12.5 million deal is only guaranteed for $1.5 million next year and he’s a guy another GM could be talked into taking. Divac has pieces he can use.

So NBA GMs should start looking at their starters, key rotation players, rookies and draft picks to see if they’ve got enough to make Ranadive and Divac feel like winners as they let the “best center in the game” walk out their door and in all likelihood help some other team become an NBA Finals contender. Rationally they can’t say no to a good deal and they shouldn’t have any trouble convincing other people that Cousins was never going to fulfill his promise in Sacramento anyway.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 Featured image courtesy of Larry Millson

 

 

 

NBA Phoenix Suns Tyson Chandler and Toronto Raptors Jonas Valanciunas

The Raptors Missing Veteran Voice Could Be On The Suns

The Raptors on-court defensive play calling has gone somewhat silent in Toronto this season with the veteran Luis Scola helping out in Brooklyn and backup center Bismack Biyombo anchoring the Magic’s defense and it shows. There’s a lack of proven depth, but that missing veteran voice could be on an imploding Suns team that should be on everyone’s NBA trade deadline radar.

“P.J. Tucker has been in the headlines recently, with his name surfacing in trade rumors and Jared Dudley tweeting about his lockdown defense,” reports Basketball Insiders Michael Scotto.

Suns coach Earl Watson, “It’s all on intensity, passion, toughness and a lot of heart. He plays with that every time he touches the court. He’s one of our best players. To me, he’s the most underrated defender in our league, especially on isolations. I think our isolation defense kind of speaks for itself because of him.”

The 31-year-old Tucker is making trade rumor headlines today, but the Suns will be rebuilding, again, and there are other players that could help a team like Toronto as well.

Everyone knew the Raptors got real young real fast in the event anyone in the rotation was hurt. At the beginning of the year President Masai Ujiri had hung onto prospect Bruno Caboclo, injured sophomore Delon Wright, the very promising sophomore Norman Powell and added three rookies in Jakob Poeltl, Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet. The only “old guys” in Toronto are Kyle Lowry (30) and DeMarre Carroll (30).

The Raptors started out hot, going 22-8 to start the season, and the current 8-12 collapse coincides perfectly with a knee injury to their best big man defender Patrick Patterson who missed 10 of those games and has been hobbled until very recently in his return. Then as Patterson gets his legs back under him, DeMar DeRozan tweaks an ankle and the slide gets worse.

A team that has counted on mediocre defense and unbelievable offense this season has shown they have no one to replace either of these two players for even brief periods. Not even Kyle Lowry putting up +30 points a night can compensate.

It’s not like Ujiri hasn’t been aware of the situation. Reports of him going hard after Paul Millsap and Serge Ibaka have been out there since July and right up to now, but the price has been unpalatable for the risk of acquiring a player that could walk away as a free agent in the summer.

Adding another “star player” might not be necessary either. A team that won 56-games last season and was on track to exceed that before Patterson was hurt is more in need of a tweak than a homerun.

The Suns thought they’d be better than this or they wouldn’t have signed the now 34-year-old Tyson Chandler to a 4-year $52 million deal in July 2015, but while that was a big number then, $13 million a year now is nothing special. Tyson has lived up to expectations too. The Suns might suck, but he doesn’t as one the best rebounders in the NBA (4th) collecting 22.9 percent of the available boards (better than Jonas Valanciunas at 8th).

Tyson is a veteran leader, a guiding voice on defense, and someone who has the respect of Raptors head coach Dwane Casey. If Ujiri could pry the combination of Tucker and Chandler out of Phoenix, his team’s shoddy defense would have received a major upgrade.

However, the Suns aren’t going to part with these players for nothing.

The Timberwolves offered Shabazz Muhammad for Tucker, a league source told Basketball Insiders. 

The Raptors have assets the Suns should be interested in, young players, picks and contracts that haven’t fulfilled their promise to make the trade math work. There is a deal to be made here if Ujiri wants to make it and it will almost undoubtedly be less painful than trying to pry Ibaka out of Orlando (although he’ll probably keep trying on that front).

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 Featured image courtesy of Larry Millson

 

 

NBA Orlando Magic Nikola Vucevic

Raptors Should Target Magic Center Nikola Vucevic

Raptors president Masai Ujiri has openly stated more than once he likes to develop his own young talent, but at some point the goal has to become winning and despite the recent slide, Toronto could be as close as one solid player away from upsetting the favorite Cavaliers in the East this year. That player could be Magic center Nikola Vucevic and there is every indication that he’s available.

“If there is one team that really has to look at the NBA trade deadline seriously it’s got to be the Toronto Raptors,” said Basketball Insiders editor Steve Kyler. “They are one player away from being legitimate challengers in the Eastern Conference.

“Let’s face it, they are not the challenger they would like to be and let’s face it, they could be. They got some assets they could move and the window is not going to be any more open for the Toronto Raptors than it is right now.”

The Magic are having a very disappointing season, the recent 114-113 win over the Raptors in Toronto notwithstanding. Vucevic, who put up 25 points and 10 boards (in a showcase effort?) in Toronto, has been bumped in and out of the starting lineup because, despite general manager Rob Hennigan’s best intensions this past summer, the Magic are a poorly constructed team. Too many quality big men needing minutes and too few quality guards to spread the floor and set up the bigs.

Sending out guard Victor Oladipo for pending free agent power forward Serge Ibaka last summer and signing free agent center Bismack Biyombo seemed like good ideas at the time, but it took minutes away from Aaron Gordon in a crowded frontcourt and left the Magic with a backcourt that’s suspect and unfortunately plagued by injury problems.

“The Magic are probably working the phones now and just seeing what’s available out there and if they find a right fit, then I think they ultimately make a move to help get their team some additional scoring power,” Basketball Insiders Cody Taylor said.

Re-signing Ibaka has become a career-saving necessity for Hennigan as pending free agents just don’t return much in trade during the season, so getting the most possible for Vucevic has become the best way out of this self-inflicted jam.

Fortunately for Henningan, Vucevic is tailor made for solving the rebounding allergic Celtics biggest problem and almost certainly would vault Boston ahead of Toronto this season and possibly beyond. That in itself should be enough to rattle Ujiri (it would certainly rattle the fan base), but the Raptors need to solve their own rebounding issues this season and they need to add another reliable scorer to the All-Star duo of DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry if they want to advance their own cause.

That’s good news for the Magic. Henningan should be able to get value back for his double-double center despite the bargain contract he’s on.

Now in his sixth NBA season, the 26-year-old 7′ Vucevic has recorded a team-high 20 double-doubles during the 2016-17 campaign and now has 178 double-doubles during his NBA career. Bounced in and out of the starting lineup this season, he has 10 double-doubles off the bench and is averaging 14 points and 9.7 rebounds.

“We asked (Vucevic) for a while to come off the bench, but he’s back in the starting lineup,” Magic head coach Frank Vogel said. “He’s a team player, (has) a great attitude putting the team first when we asked him to do that. Back in the starting lineup, we are running more offense thru him.

“He has responded to me asking him to improve on the defensive end. For the most part this year, he’s been really good (on defense).”

Vucevic is known for his offense, but to get ‘smash-mouth basketball’ Vogel to compliment him on his defense is either a significant change or an overt sales job.

“Vucevic is a handful for anybody,” Raptors head coach Dwane Casey said. “He is so talented, so skilled with the basketball that he causes a problem for everybody. He’s not your typical back to the basket center. He’s going to face you first and if you don’t react properly, he’ll knock down a jump shot, so you got a multitude of things you got to guard. The face-up game, plus the back-down game, plus he has a very dominant left hand. He can use that left hand as well as his right.”

A scorer throughout his NBA career, Vucevic has added three-point range to his jump shot this season, averaging one deep attempt per game and hitting on 31 percent of them. Of course in Toronto, he went 3-4 from three as the Raptors failed to guard him standing just outside the three-point line at the top of the arc. It seems every center in the NBA is being looked as a potential floor-stretcher and Vucevic, at least, has legitimate range on his jump shot and should be able to become proficient.

“All centers now are kind of migrating out there (three-point line),” Casey said. “It’s the next evolution of centers. Lucas (Nogueira) is migrating out there and JV (Jonas Valanciunas) is migrating out there. I think that’s going to be the new wave. That’s the new thing with the NBA now.”

In Toronto, Nogueira has shown three-point potential in a handful of attempts, but Valanciunas is still working on hitting a consistent jumper at any range. Right now it’s just Patrick Patterson at power forward and an inconsistent DeMarre Carroll in small lineups. The Raptors could really use another big man to stretch the floor.

The hope in Toronto was the Hawks would part ways with All-Star power forward Paul Millsap, but with Atlanta now just one game back of the third place Raptors, the slim possibly of snagging the Hawks soon-to-be free agent have become even more remote. The Magic’s own soon-to-be free agent Ibaka would be a similar catch, but it would be very tough to part ways with the talent the Magic is going to want back in return for what could easily become a very short term rental.

Vucevic is a lot younger and cheaper than Millsap and unlike Ibaka, he has two years remaining on his contract after this season. In the two seasons prior to this year, Vucevic averaged 18.8 points and 10 rebounds. For a Raptors team in need of someone who could pick up some of the rebounding load and be a legitimate third scoring option, he seems to fit the bill.

Vucevic has 62 career games with 20+ points and 10+ rebounds, six career 20-point/20-rebound games and two career 30-point/20-rebound outings.

There’s nothing like having a player show up in your building and rub your team’s current deficiencies in it’s face. It would become especially painful for the Raptors if Vucevic was doing was he does for the (now) second place Celtics instead of the struggling Magic.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 Featured image courtesy of Larry Millson

 

 

 

 

 

NBA Brooklyn Nets Brook Lopez

Is The Stretch-5 Brook Lopez An Answer For The Raptors?

There doesn’t appear to be much of a market for the 28-year-old Brook Lopez, but this new stretch-5 version of the Nets center deserves a second look and the Toronto Raptors should be asking if he is the answer to their need for another big man capable of impacting today’s game?

Once upon a time not so long ago Lopez was an NBA All-Star, one of the top scoring centers in the entire league and top-10 at blocking shots, but that year was sandwiched in-between a couple of injury shortened seasons and Lopez really still hasn’t fully recovered his reputation, even though he’s played over 70 games in each of the past two seasons and has only missed three games this year.

This season Lopez is averaging 20.1 points, 5.1 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 0.5 steals and 1.7 blocks. His assists are up nicely and his rebounds are down, but part of that is from hanging out more on the perimeter where he is firing 5.2 three-point attempts and connecting on 36.4 percent of them. On corner threes his average jumps to 45.8 percent. He is one the best shooting stretch-5 true centers in the NBA this year and he gets blocks too.

It been suggested by ESPN’s Marc Stein that all Brooklyn wants is a couple of first round draft picks in return for Lopez. The Nets (foolishly) traded their future to the Celtics for a chance at becoming a contender that never happened and now they don’t even have the assets to rebuild. Not that any NBA team feels the need to bail them out of this mess of their own making, but to poach an asset for cheap? A GM has to listen.

Part of the problem is Lopez makes $21.1 million this year and $22.6 million next year, but unlike so many of the other potential impact players being talked about (Paul Millsap, Serge Ibaka), at least he is not just a rental.

Unfortunately his contract means most teams will have to send back at least $16.1 million in salaries and it isn’t likely the players going back would all be on expiring contracts and of limited value. This will become something resembling a real trade if the Nets can get two first round draft picks out of it as well. At least a GM knows the Nets interest is sincere. The Nets, unlike the Hawks, really are playing for nothing. The need to tear down and rebuild right now is very real.

But how would Lopez fit on the Raptors with Jonas Valanciunas entrenched at starting center and Lucas Nogueira doing a respectable job backing him up. Well the Raptors have been unexpectedly experimenting with Nogueira playing along side of Valanciunas in order to provide some needed shot blocking, speed and athleticism and it seems to be working. The two big men provide an effective paint deterrent and a difficult match-up for opposing teams. This gives head coach Dwane Casey options.

Casey could look to splitting the minutes at center between Valanciunas and Lopez depending on the match-up. A traditional rebounding center in Valanciunas and a stretch-5 in Lopez who would finally give the Raptors an effective countermove when the Cavaliers go small with the 6’11 Channing Frye stretching the floor. Nogueira and Patrick Patterson splitting the minutes at power forward would give the Raptors a rotation of four big men, two of whom can stretch the floor, that few teams could match.

If Raptors president Masai Ujiri believes Lopez has made the leap to becoming a stretch-5 and that’s the missing piece in his team’s rotation, this is a deal that needs pursuing. The Raptors need more offense to contend.

It would take a combination of Terrence Ross ($10 million), Jared Sullinger ($5.6 million) and one of Bruno Caboclo, Delon Wright, Pascal Siakam or Fred VanVleet to make the trade math work. Undoubtedly, which young player gets thrown in would determine how many draft picks Ujiri might part with. Like with any trade Ujiri has gotten involved with, if the price got too steep, he would walk away.

There are few players that are truly plausible trade targets where the team with the star has to take virtually anything that’s remotely reasonable, but the Nets are that team. It’s a team in a situation Ujiri has been able to bend to his advantage in the past.

Rumors are beginning to surface that the Nets are considering parting ways with their franchise cornerstone in Lopez, and Lopez (fantasy) owners should be rooting for that outcome. He’s skilled enough to have solid value regardless of his uniform – Rotoworld Jan 8 – 3:34 PM.

Lopez scoring 20 points per game is nothing new and aren’t skilled big men that can shoot the prized possessions in today’s high scoring NBA?

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

 

 

NBA Atlanta Hawks Dwight Howard

Celtics Must Pursue Dwight Howard If They Want To Contend

The Boston Celtics have been accumulating prime assets in order to acquire another star so they can compete with the Cavaliers in the East and with the Hawks seemingly in full rebuild mode, they must strike while the iron is hot and pursue Dwight Howard now.

“That’s a tricky question to answer,” Howard said about the Hawks apparent change in direction. “It’s basketball. It’s a serious business. You never know what can happen, with any team. You never know. I mean, I didn’t expect this to happen, but like I said, you never know.” – Brian Windhorst ESPN Senior Writer

When the Boston Celtics acquired the Atlanta Hawks free agent Al Horford this past summer, president basketball operations Danny Ainge knew his team was still one piece away from really being a contender this season. He also knew the Celtics would be a terrible rebounding team just like Atlanta had been with Horford at center and eventually it was an area he would have to address.

Howard is the answer to Ainge’s problem, this is after all what the Hawks had planned for this summer before Horford jumped ship. It was Millsap who was supposed to be traded to make room for a Horford/Howard pairing that would allow Horford to slide over to his natural power forward spot and solve the Hawks rebounding problems. There is no shame in stealing another GM’s good idea and Ainge should be all over this.

As much as it will hurt in Atlanta to see Horford and Howard playing together on another team, Boston simply has too much to offer for Hawks president of basketball operations and head coach Mike Budenholzer to walk away from.

Ainge could offer Amir Johnson (expiring), 2016 third overall draft pick Jaylen Brown, 2015 16th pick overall Terry Rozier plus the Nets first round draft in pick either 2017 or 2018. Try walking away from that?

While Howard’s reputation has taken a hit in recent years, his production over the last season and a half has been at a difference-making level, 13.8 points, 12.2 rebounds, 1 steal, 1.5 blocks. He is the second best rebounder in the NBA this season (24.5 percent of available rebounds) just behind Andre Drummond (24.7) and no disrespect to Drummond, but Howard is the better player.

From a Celtics standpoint, Howard’s contract should be taken as a positive as well. At $23.2 million this year and $47.3 million over the next two seasons, Ainge will have locked down his center at about 2/3rds of next summer’s maximum contract and it’s a deal he will escape from before Howard turns 35-years-old.

An opportunity to fill the Celtics greatest position of need might not come again. Ainge needs to jump on this opportunity fast before either someone else does or Budenholzer gets cold feet about the price he’ll pay this year for the rebuild he has just embarked on.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

 

 

 

NBA Atlanta Hawks Paul Millsap

There’s Smoke For A Paul Millsap To The Raptors Trade

Old saying, ‘where there’s smoke, there’s fire’ and there’s a ton of smoke suggesting the Atlanta Hawks will trade All-Star Paul Millsap with the most probable destination being the Toronto Raptors as discussed on ESPN Radio Truehoop Podcast on January 3rd (at about the 28 minute mark).

The discussion opens with the idea Toronto sends Patrick Patterson, Terrence Ross, Jakob Poeltl and Delon Wright for Paul Millsap and Kris Humphries suggesting that trade would give Toronto the advantage over Cleveland in the playoffs.

It was noted that Atlanta has developed a reputation for asking for “the moon and the stars” in trade talks and not getting anything done.

Brian Windhorst: “I was talking to an executive just yesterday about a potential Toronto-Atlanta trade and he was like, ‘If they can get two assets out of it, then Atlanta would have done a good job.’ The two assets are Patrick Patterson and Terrence Ross. If he were Toronto, he wouldn’t offer more than Patterson and Ross.”

“There is absolutely a bad taste on the mouth after losing Al Horford for nothing. And that’s something they don’t want to get burned twice.”

Of course nothing precludes the parties from expanding the trade, especially if the Hawks become more future oriented and are looking for pieces to rebuild with rather than maintaining a playoff seed for this season. The Raptors are loaded with young players and draft picks if the Hawks want to head in that direction.

It should also be noted that Raptors president Masai Ujiri has a reputation for being the fleecer rather than the fleeced. It’s the Hawks who are feeling the pressure in this situation and unless they can drum up a number of competing bids for the expiring contract of Millsap, they aren’t going to get “the stars and the moon” and getting burned by another All-Star leaving in free agency for nothing will push them to make a deal happen.

The more solid trade for a Raptors team looking for a clear-cut advantage over the rival Cavaliers would be along the lines of Ross, Sullinger, Wright and a first round draft pick for Millsap. Both Patterson and Sullinger are on expiring deals, so if the Hawks are looking to rebuild, it shouldn’t matter to them, but Patterson is a key defensive cog on Toronto’s second unit. Patterson matters to Toronto.

The Truehoop panel had no trouble coming up with alternative destinations for Millsap, but the most motivated potential trade partner should be the Raptors. Of course, if Atlanta stalls, Ujiri may have other equally interesting options.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 Featured image courtesy of Larry Millson

 

 

 

 

NBA OKC Thunder Serge Ibaka

Trade Possibilities To Get The Raptors To The NBA Finals

If you listen to Raptors president Masai Ujiri and head coach Dwane Casey, Toronto has everything they need to compete with the Cleveland Cavaliers right now. They don’t need a trade to get to the NBA Finals, but the biggest fly in that ointment (aside from losing to the Cavs three-times already this season) is the fact that this team has three rookies and four more players still on their rookie deals, so when Patrick Patterson went down with a sore knee, Casey has been forced into scramble mode to replace him.

“We’re guessing,” Casey said after the win over the Lakers. “I am telling you right now we’re guessing. We are trying to find that combination.”

Seemingly invisible to the “experts” that follow the NBA is the fact that Patterson is the lynch pin that makes two of the top three best five man units in the NBA work. A fact that isn’t lost on Casey.

“Things that Patrick does well in his offensive approach, in his defensive approach, are huge,” Casey said.

Ujiri will only be able to trade Patterson to upgrade his roster by ripping him from Casey’s cold, dead fingers.

To solve what should be temporary problem, Casey has been trying more minutes for rookie forward Pascal Siakam, playing Lucas Nogueira at power forward despite his young big man still trying to figure out what to do at center, giving DeMarre Carroll a turn at the four and even just flat out going with small ball, but the results have been mixed.

The Raptors might find an in-house solution to Patterson’s absence and in the process prove Ujiri right about this team having all the pieces they need, but it’s more likely Toronto finds out their lack of depth catches up to them a bit and their “solutions” need more seasoning before they are truly ready to take this team to the next level.

Almost forgotten, Toronto does have a potential solution in Jared Sullinger assuming he gets back before the All-Star break and rounds quickly into the rebounding and stretch-four/five big man they thought would be available before breaking his foot in the preseason. But, Sullinger isn’t expected to be the “third star player” many think will be necessary for Toronto to get by the Cavs in the Eastern Conference Finals.

However, the potential for acquiring that “third star” seems to be developing if Ujiri is willing to take the big risks necessary to take his team to the next level this season.

Raptors Trade Bait

Terrence Ross, 5th year, 6’7 wing, 20.8 min., 10.8 points, 2.3 rebounds, 1.1 steals, 41.2% three-point shooter, $10 million salary plus 2 more years

Norman Powell, 2nd year, 6’4 guards/wing, 14.7 min., 6.3 points, 1.7 rebounds, 0.8 steals, 40% three-point shooter, $0.9 million on rookie deal

Ross and Powell are equally deserving and in each others way backing up DeMarre Carroll ($14 million and 2 more years remaining). There just isn’t enough minutes to go around, so Ujiri needs to pick two guys to go forward with. What would make things really interesting is if the Raptors believe they could run with Ross backing up Powell at small forward?

Pascal Siakam, rookie, 6’9 forward, 18.2 min., 33 starts, 5 points, 3.7 rebounds, 0.5 steals, 0.8 blocks, $1.2 million on rookie deal

Ujiri hates to part with “his guys,” but Siakam was never supposed to be a starter in Toronto as a rookie.

Jared Sullinger (injured) $5.6 million expiring, Delon Wright (injured) $1.6 million rookie deal, Jakob Poeltl $2.7 million rookie, Fred VanVleet $0.5 million rookie, Bruno Caboclo $1.6 million 3rd year prospect.

Both Sullinger and Wright are expected to return sometime in January.

Lucas Nogueira was going to be the limited minutes reserve center before Sullinger was injured and it’ll be challenging to take away his minutes once Sullinger returns. He’s improved so rapidly this season that he may have become almost unavailable.

As much as Jonas Valanciunas seems to be a somewhat insignificant part of this team’s success during the regular season, that’s only “seems to be.” JV turns into an indispensable monster in the playoffs. If would take a lot to even get a response.

Atlanta Hawks – Paul Millsap, $20 million, 2017-18 P.O. $21.4 million

The Hawks have reason to believe Millsap will opt out at the end of this season and reason to fear he’ll look for better opportunities elsewhere in free agency, but Millsap is the player that makes the Hawks a playoff team this year and that would make it a 10-year continuous stretch run in the postseason. Plus Atlanta ranks in the bottom half of the NBA for attendance despite their long term success, so it isn’t going to be easy to give up Millsap without a significant return.

Toronto would have to send back at least $15 million in salaries to make this trade and it shouldn’t be expected that Atlanta will be easy to deal with. They need a power forward, small forward and/or a guard.

A package of Ross, Sullinger and Wright would be intriguing, assuming Atlanta can be convinced both Sullinger and Wright will be able to play soon. Toronto has the Clippers protected 2017 first round draft pick to use as a sweetener. As much as the Hawks will want a boatload of talent back, the Raptors have to find a way to mitigate the risk that Millsap walks away in July.

The unspoken issue with Millsap is he’ll be 32-years-old in February and looking for a new long term deal worth upwards of $150 million as a free agent in seven months.

Sacramento Kings – DeMarcus Cousins, $17 million, 2017-18 $18 million

If you believe the press clippings, everyone wants Cousins, but there are two issues. One, the Kings haven’t shown any interest in trading him and two, he is a potential chemistry disaster anywhere he goes.

The Raptors acquired Patterson from the Kings and if you read between the lines, he hated it there and there was one very big reason for it. Unless Cousins’ teammates from TEAM USA, Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, say otherwise, there is little chance the Raptors would even entertain bringing “the best center in the game” to Toronto.

Assuming Lowry and DeRozan give their blessing and the Kings change their mind, the cost is going to be steep. Jonas Valanciunas, Norman Powell, Delon Wright and a couple of first round draft picks for openers.

Acquiring Cousins is the ultimate high risk high return move and if, stress if, the Kings make him available, there will be significant competition.

 Orlando Magic – Serge Ibaka $12.3 million

The Magic traded a pretty good scoring guard to get the pending free agent Ibaka and as of now, they could really use a wing that can score from the outside in the worst way. A backup point guard with a future that could set up their bigs would be very useful too.

Orlando should be motivated to do something. In 12th place, but only 1.5 games out of 8th, the season seems salvageable and on the brink of collapse at the same time. It should be safe to assume that no playoffs equals no chance of re-signing Ibaka.

Ross and Siakam and/or Wright for Ibaka and Mario Hezonja would help to re-balance both teams rosters. The Magic should be able to squeeze a draft pick out of Toronto as well.

Orlando Magic – Nikola Vucevic $11.8 million, plus two years averaging $12.5 million

A starter sent to the bench, Vucevic was a significant double-double machine before this season when the Magic screwed up their big man rotation. He’s not seen as a star, but he averaged 18.7 points and 9.9 rebounds over the past two seasons. As a center with some stretch-five potential (30 percent from three on 0.8 attempts this year), the 26-year-old should draw interest for his current and longer term potential.

Ross and Siakam for Vucevic and Hezonja would re-balance both teams rosters. Not nearly as exciting as acquiring Ibaka for Toronto, but cheaper, more practical and less risky going forward.

Philadelphia 76ers – Nerlens Noel $4.4 million, 2017-17 Q.O. $5.8 million

The 76ers are motivated, but the market is soft for this oft-injured young big man who has fallen out of a terrible 76ers rotation.

Noel could be an impact player right away, despite some obvious concerns. He can block shots, rebound and finish at the rim, if he can learn to accept coaching and accept a role that’s likely less than he wants and less than it will be in a few years, then he’s a guy worth taking a risk on. Noel’s image problem is likely as much a creation of his untenable situation as anything he’s done.

The hard part is figuring out if he moves the needle and who the Raptors would be willing to give up to get him?

Patience

There’s still seven weeks until the NBA trade deadline and the Raptors have yet to see what Sullinger can bring to the table. If he can get in game-shape fast enough, he might just sell Ujiri on standing pat. Toronto’s rebounding and starting unit concerns this season should end with Sullinger’s return.

Then there’s the list of teams in the East who will have to decide soon if they are contenders or pretenders and what to do about it. Players who are not on anyone’s radar at the beginning of January could be hot topics in a couple of weeks.

If Ujiri makes a move now, it has to be for a player he would want no matter what shakes out later on and the move that seems to have the highest probability of happening that could actually move the needle for Toronto is to make a hard push for Ibaka.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.