The Toronto Raptors made no secret of the fact they wanted to draft Canadian point guard Tyler Ennis last June and President and General Manager, Basketball Operations Masai Ujiri has been suggesting he wants to add a Canadian player to the Raptors roster under his watch again this year, but is it the right time for that to happen just yet?
For years the rumblings coming from Toronto have suggested that if the Raptors acquired a Canadian player it would have to be the right player. Merely signing one of the now numerous Canadians coming out of the US college ranks, playing in Europe, the NBA D-League or available off of the NBA reject pile wasn’t in the cards unless they could be a viable part of the roster and the future of the team. So far the only available Canadian to (kind of) meet that test has been the veteran Jamaal Magloire in his final NBA season and the Raptors have kept the affable big man around since then to utilize his close ties to the local community and to provide a viable workout partner for their developing big men.
This year might be different however. The hot prospects like NBA Rookie of the Year Andrew Wiggins and sharp shooting rookie Nik Stauskas (he’ll figure things out) remain in the fantasy category, but if Ujiri really wants a Canadian on his roster that he can justify on talent and/or potential, he has options.
Tristan Thompson, Cleveland Cavaliers, RFA
The Cavs failed to sign Thompson to an extension last fall and the 2011 fourth overall pick has developed into a rebounding machine – especially at the offensive end of the court. Thompson has shown he can be a solid double-double power forward as a starter and an out of his area rebounder – two things the Raptors desperately need.
If the Cavaliers re-sign Kevin Love, this should be an easy steal for Toronto, but even if Love walks, a max contract offer gives the Raptors a legitimate shot at acquiring a Canadian starter at a position of need.
Cory Joseph, San Antonio Spurs, RFA
When Joseph has played with the Spurs he has proved his worth as a defensive-minded point guard. With Team Canada, Joseph has shown the leadership skills that are not obvious on his veteran laden NBA team.
Joseph was third on the depth chart with the Spurs last year and he’ll be third again next year if he re-signs, so getting a chance to be part of another team’s rotation will be enticing and playing in his hometown of Toronto should be an easy sale. The value-conscious Spurs should be reluctant to match offers approaching the MLE and could probably be enticed into a sign-and-trade.
Joseph is the rare type of guard that fits Head Coach Dwane Casey’s style and should be a priority for Ujiri if the Raptors truly want to put a renewed emphasis on defense.
Tyler Ennis, Milwaukee Bucks (possible trade target)
Ennis was inexplicably drafted by the Suns last year and was buried in a point guard deep roster. Traded to the Bucks, Ennis merely moved from one bad situation to another. If the Raptors still want Ennis, there should be a reasonable deal available to bring him back to Toronto.
As much as Ujiri extolled the virtues of Ennis last June, Ennis played more games in the NBA D-League (9) than he did with the Suns (8) and he only got minutes with the Bucks because of injuries. Ennis is still more of a prospect than a player likely to be inserted into the rotation on a playoff team, but if Ujiri can’t land Joseph, Ennis could be the backup point guard of the future.
Ennis is expected to be out of action for the next eight weeks or more after undergoing labral repair surgery to his right shoulder recently, but that should only make it easier to acquire him.
Anthony Bennett, Minnesota Timberwolves (possible trade target)
The first overall pick of the 2013 NBA draft, this Torontonian has been an expensive bust in his first two NBA seasons. Inconsistent play, suspect defense and injuries have conspired to limit the number of games Bennett has played and his minutes.
A combo forward that has yet to find a position between the three and the four, the one stat that stands out is an ability to suck in defensive rebounds and that is something the Raptors could actually use. A prospect/reclamation project, Bennett isn’t a sure thing, but he should be available to anyone willing to gamble on his $5.8 million salary for next season and the Wolves can’t expect to get much in return.
Kelly Olynyk, Boston Celtics (possible trade target)
After two seasons in Boston, Olynyk could become the odd man out on an evolving Celtics roster that unexpectedly snuck into the playoffs and will be looking to upgrade their talent this summer. Those Kevin Love rumors just won’t go away.
After Olynyk lost the starting center spot to Tyler Zeller in November, his minutes were cut significantly, but he still found a way to leave a big impression on the Raptors against whom he averaged 15 points, 6 boards and shot 50 percent from three-point range. Olynyk loves playing Toronto.
“At his best, the second-year Gonzaga product is a valuable offensive weapon — a 7-footer with 3-point range and an unusually silky shot for a big man. Olynyk isn’t a rim protector or a post-up threat, and he’s nothing special on the defensive end, but when he asserts himself, he has the ability to be a truly dangerous scorer.”
Olynyk isn’t the type of player one would usually associate with a Casey-led team, but he’s young, skilled and just possibly moldable into the floor stretcher Casey likes to utilize.
At this year’s draft the Raptors may have a chance at landing Kentucky forward Trey Lyles from Saskatoon. Although, like Ennis last June, Lyles may be picked before Toronto can grab him at 20. Guard Olivier Hanlan from Quebec was a big time scorer over three seasons at Boston College and should be available through the middle of the second round if the Raptors are interested in acquiring a second round pick in this draft.
There are Canadian players Ujiri could target this summer in free agency, through trades or at the draft, but if the Raptors are looking for proven talent they can immediately insert into the rotation, that list gets down to Thompson, Joseph and maybe Ennis in a hurry. If Ujiri was willing to take on a project player, he had his choice of several Canadians he could have taken with the 59th pick of last year’s draft, but he choose to sell that pick for cash to the Nets instead.
Is it time for the Raptors to acquire a Canadian? If it’s Thompson and/or Joseph, it should be an easy decision.
This upcoming season was (soon-to-be former MLSE overseer) Tim Leiweke’s target for his basketball team to become relevant and reading into President and General Manager, Basketball Operations Masai Ujiri’s year end comments, nothing has changed. The NBA All-Star Game is coming to Toronto in February and the Raptors want to be taken seriously – perhaps for the first time in franchise history.