The Toronto Raptors residing at or near the top of the NBA all season have been gaining respect in the numerous weekly power rankings as the Association’s best team, and in the ESPN midseason forecast, they have become the heavy favorites to represent the East in the NBA Finals. So what big moves are worthy of President Masai Ujiri’s consideration to a roster that is already deep and about to get veteran center Jonas Valanciunas back from a thumb injury around the end of the month?
Having swept the season series from a Golden State team that is still forecast to three-peat as NBA Champions, Ujiri could believe standing pat is good enough, but those wins came against a “struggling” Warriors squad that had yet to play a game with DeMarcus Cousins, so just maybe they haven’t seen the best from Curry and company. There’s also a real risk one or more of the Bucks, Pacers, 76ers, or Celtics find a way to further boost their roster by the trade deadline.
The Raptors, as good as they are, reside in the bottom half of NBA teams when it comes to three-point percentage and they shoot a lot of threes. Last year’s gunner C.J. Miles is apparently injured, mired in a terrible season and has lost his job to Norman Powell leaving a huge gap at forward for a floor spacer that would be very nice to fill.
As reluctant as Ujiri has been to part with any of his young developing talent, his team’s chances in the postseason would be greatly enhanced with another rotation worthy veteran or two, especially proven defenders that can hit the three. Raptors that should be available include: Malachi Richardson ($1.5m expiring UFA), Greg Monroe ($1.5m expiring UFA), and Miles ($8.3m, plus a player option). All these could be moved with virtually no impact. Plus there’s Norman Powell ($9.4m, in the first year of a four year deal) who would be nice to move, if anyone was willing to gamble on his development. Delon Wright ($2.5m expiring RFA) or OG Anunoby ($2m, with a year left on his rookie deal) should be available if Ujiri gets a player back to fill their spot in the rotation. The reality is, other than Valanciunas, the Raptors bench hasn’t exactly been firing on all cylinders with any consistency this year.
Ujiri also has a couple of trade exceptions ($2.45m and $2.95m), but any players added without sending salary out adds $3.25 per $1 in luxury tax (ouch). He also has the full taxpayer MLE.
The safer (and cheaper) moves are to tinker around the edges of head coach Nick Nurse’s rotation as other teams face the reality that playoffs aren’t in their future and then, maybe, to watch for more interesting options to begin to open up. However, in terms of sweeteners to get a deal done with a rebuilding team, Ujiri is rather limited having traded a top 20 protected first round draft pick to the Spurs in the Kawhi Leonard deal. He can dangle late second rounders… for what they’re worth? So, if the Raptors want a significant upgrade in talent, one of Ujiri’s young players may have to go.
Some “Safe” Options
Knicks Noah Vonleh
Knicks Vonleh ($1.5m expiring UFA) for Raptors Richardson plus a 2nd round pick
The Knicks undoubtedly will hope to get more for a young power forward reclamation project (and they might) who seems to have finally found a three-point shot (41.1%) and is gaining some respect as a defender, but as an unrestricted free agent that will likely command more than they’re willing to invest, getting something for the future via trade now should look enticing for a team trying to win the draft lottery.
Vonleh would be a good fit as Pascal Siakam’s backup and be considered a “big move” in hindsight if he can earn his minutes on a team actually playing for something. At the very least, Vonleh can provide Nurse an option if OG Anunoby struggles with his three-point shot or defense against bigger forwards. The Raptors are thin at the four.
Bulls Bobby Portis
Bulls Portis ($2.9m, expiring RFA) for Raptors Richardson, Monroe and two 2nd round picks
Portis has missed most of this season do to an assortment of injuries, but he should be ready to play and the 6’11 power forward brings an aggressive attitude, a high motor, has some three-point shooting and is a solid rebounder. He can also be a handful to coach/manage. He sent teammate Nikola Mirotic to the hospital after punching him in the face at the beginning of last season.
It’s hard to judge what the Bulls can command for a player like Portis, and they’ll probably hold out for a first round pick until they can’t do better than seconds, but at his best, Portis can be impactful, at his worst, Nurse might pull out what’s left of his hair. Portis is worth the risk… might even be worth considering Wright as the trade bait?
Wizards Jeff Green
Wizards Green ($1.5m expiring UFA) for Raptors Richardson plus a 2nd round pick
The Wizards season is over, except for Bradley Beal piling up stats, so they may as well start off-loading some of those veterans that won’t be back next season.
Now in his 12th season, the combo forward Green defines veteran presence and is even shooting the three-ball at a half decent clip (36.8%). He would be a useful player to have on the bench of just about any playoff team, so the Wiz certainly won’t miss him.
Some Going-For-It Options
Wizards Otto Porter, Tomas Satoransky, and Jeff Green
Wizards Porter ($26m plus a year plus a player option), Satoransky ($3m expiring RFA), and Green ($1.5m expiring UFA) for Raptors Powell, Fred Van Vleet, Miles, and Anunoby.
Instantly upgrading the Raptors three-point shooting with the “3-and-D” forward Porter (39.2%), guard Satoransky (39.2%) and forward Green (36.8%), Toronto gets the bench they need for the postseason and the Wizards off load Porter’s huge contract for some much more manageable options as they hope to engage in a quick rebuild with John Wall’s $170m deal about to kick in next season.
Porter’s contract is a risk as he’ll likely be backing up Kawhi Leonard and Pascal Siakam, at both forward spots, but if there was ever a highly skilled player being underutilized by his team, Porter is probably it. He can be a difference-maker for the Raptors this postseason and future salary cap consequences be damned.
It won’t be easy to give up VanVleet, but the Raptors don’t really have a better option to make up the needed salaries to land a big contract like Porter.
Timberwolves Robert Covington and Anthony Tolliver
Timberwolves Covington ($10.5m plus three more years) and Tolliver ($5.7m expiring UFA) for Raptors Powell (or Miles), Richardson, Monroe and Anunuoby.
The T-wolves never planned on trading All-Star Jimmy Butler for the All-NBA Defense First Team Covington and a young Dario Saric (who has another year on his rookie deal), but with an imploding season, their hand was forced. Unfortunately, their fortunes haven’t changed, their veterans on expiring deals aren’t likely to return and the “3-and-D” 28-year-old Covington fits better on a team ready to win now. The possibility of acquiring a high-potential prospect like Anunoby should get the T-wolves attention.
Covington has been shooting the three at 37.2 percent and the 33-year-old Tolliver has be hitting on 39.5 percent, so they are just what the Raptors need off the bench.
The only “fly-in-the-ointment” is Covington’s ankle bone bruise which could take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months to heal. If there isn’t a reasonable timetable for his return by the trade deadline, there’s no prospect of a deal.
It would be really nice from a Raptors standpoint to add the former 76er to their roster for the playoffs assuming he’s good-to-go. Covington’s as close to the “missing piece” as Ujiri is likely to find.