There should no doubt in anyone’s mind that the NBA’s Eastern Conference is there for the taking. If ever there was a time to make a move, to take a chance, this is it.
Raptors President and General Manager, Basketball Operations Masai Ujiri is both cautious and aggressive. He will not sacrifice real future potential for a likely four month rental, but by going after Magic small forward Tobias Harris, he could have his cake and eat it too.
In the final year of his rookie deal, the 22-year-old Harris is having a breakout season. Double-digit scoring in every game that he has played in this season, Harris is arguably the best player on the Magic, but he’s a player the Magic just might be willing to part with according to Basketball Insiders editor Steve Kyler.
Harris and the Magic did not reach an extension this past October, making him a free agent in July … do the Magic want to risk a price tag north of $12 million a year for Harris or could he return something significant for a team that’s not terribly better than they were last season.
Given where the Magic are in the standings it seems unlikely that they sit out the trade market, especially with so many teams shopping for parts and the Magic having some to sell.
The Florida-based Kyler has been covering the NBA for 17 seasons, if he sees trade smoke in Orlando, there’s a fire somewhere.
One glaring hole in the Raptors starting lineup that has become especially obvious since DeMar DeRozan was injured has been Terrence Ross. It was hoped that Ross would step up in DeRozan’s absence, but despite some small statistical improvements that are largely the result of averaging about 4 more minutes per game, Ross has remained inconsistent and even back-slid a little. Head Coach Dwane Casey quite correctly admonishes that Ross is only in his third season and won’t become a veteran overnight, no matter what the circumstances, but in a very tight Eastern Conference race, that’s exactly what the Raptors needed.
The uber-athletic Ross seems to drive to the basket even less often than he did before DeRozan was hurt, gets to the free throw line less than once per game and even his three-point shooting average has dipped a bit with the increased defensive attention. He is scoring over 12 points per game as a third or fourth option over the past six weeks and continues to show what could be at both ends of the court in spurts, but this doesn’t look like the year Ross will breakout.
However, to suggest Ross doesn’t continue to have a high ceiling or significant trade value would be a mistake. Few players have scored 51 points in a game like Ross did last year and have the tools to become a lockdown defender, deadly three-point threat and a regular highlight reel dunker – it just might not happen this year. Ross is precisely the type of asset that could fit the Magic’s current longer term player development plan.
Orlando Sentinel’s Josh Robbins provides the description Ujiri would be looking for to justify any deal that would sent his young prospect out of town for help this season and beyond.
“T.B. works so hard, man,” guard Victor Oladipo said. “I’m glad he’s on my team. After watching him this summer, and watching how hard he worked and how [much] better he’s gotten, nobody in this locker room deserves it more than him.”
“I think that just comes from the endless hours in the gym when nobody’s watching and getting those repetitions and getting those shots up,” Harris said.
“He plays with a lot confidence,” center Nikola Vucevic said. “That comes from him working so hard. He put a lot of time in this summer to improve his game, and he did. Every day, you’d see him work out and try to get better, and it shows on the court. It all comes from that.”
The Raptors other need this season has been rebounding and Harris averages 6.9 boards per game. He might not continue to average 18 points per game in Toronto, especially after DeRozan returns, but he has been shooting 40 percent from three and getting to the line 3.9 times per game. Harris can fill Ross’ role in the Raptors rotation and give them a needed boost in confidence, size and experience. It’s a solid bet that Toronto would be noticeably better post trade.
Recent trades suggest Ujiri is not going to be able to trade Ross for Harris straight up. A first round draft pick will almost certainly be required to grease the wheels, but the addition of Harris to the Raptors rotation would significantly improve their outlook now without detracting from the team’s future potential.
Harris is expected to be a restricted free agent after this season and moving to a playoff bound team would help to more accurately set his value. Kyler’s suggestion, north of $12 million, may not be too far off, however, the Raptors can afford to keep a player in that price range and Harris seems to fit the value-mold in Toronto.
The winner of such a trade probably wouldn’t be known for several seasons, but the opportunity to make a run at the NBA Finals doesn’t come along every year. Ross plus this year’s first round draft pick isn’t too big a price to pay for the chance.
“I don’t feel like a rookie,” Ross said. “I feel like one of the young guys. I’ve been in too many situations. I’ve had enough playing time that I can’t use that excuse anymore. Everything going forward is just manning up and if I messed up, I messed up. Right now I feel like I am a different player and I can do a lot more than I did last year.”
“It is a lot less stressful,” Ross said. “It is harder, but in some ways you can play a little more freely. Just knowing that I am going to get the chance to keep playing, I am always going to get the opportunity, you don’t have to rush it and try to prove yourself as much, so now you just play your game and they keep me on the court. Now I just have to sharpen it up and make sure I don’t make many mistakes.”