President and General Manager, Basketball Operations Masai Ujiri should be forgiven if he chooses to sit on his hands through the NBA trade deadline. His Eastern Conference leading team is exceeding all expectations and will be instantly improved once DeMar DeRozan returns from his groin injury – which could happen any day now. However, rebounding has been an issue all season and Ujiri would be remiss if he wasn’t looking to add some frontcourt help on the glass.
The bane of Head Coach’s Dwane Casey’s defense has been giving up offense rebounds after a tough defensive stand. The Raptors are 26th in the Association at grabbing available defensive boards at 72.7 percent. Only the guard heavy Suns and the offensive-minded Mavericks are worse among +.500 teams. The Wizards are top five in defensive rebounding at 77.2 percent of available defensive rebounds and the Hawks and Bulls grab better than 74 percent. These are teams Toronto will have to beat if this season is going to go as well as the early indications suggest it might.
Big men that can rebound and provide some rim protection are always in demand, but looking around the league, there are some trade targets Ujiri could go after if he is willing to part with some of his future oriented assets. Also, Toronto has players on expiring contracts that could provide matching salaries in a deal.
Kevin Garnett, Brooklyn Nets
It might seem crazy to rent the 38-year-old Garnett for the rest of the season, but he leads the NBA in defensive rebounding percentage at 33.5 and is currently a top 10 rebounder per minute. No one should question his passion to win and the impact he would have on a young team like Toronto.
Garnett doesn’t come without some risks and he should be a polarizing figure in any debate about who the Raptors should target. However, his expiring deal shouldn’t command a high price and he is best suited to a backup center role and that meets the Raptors needs for this season.
Brandan Wright, Boston Celtics
The Raptors were interested in the 27-year-old 6’10 athletic forward/center when he signed with Dallas two summers ago as a free agent. His rebounding numbers are average, but his shot blocking is superior. Wright is efficient offensively and he has the kind of long reach and big hops that seems to attract Ujiri.
Boston doesn’t seem interested in keeping Wright, but they are not under any to pressure to move him either. The Celtics will likely hold out for a future oriented asset in return and Wright will be an unrestricted free agent after the season. His $5 million salary makes a trade relatively straightforward if Ujiri is willing to part with a draft pick or a rookie?
Jordan Hill, Los Angeles Lakers
When the Lakers claimed center Tarik Black off of waivers, they may as well have fired off an email to every GM that they now have a big man available to trade. The most likely available target, Jordan Hill, has a $9 million deal and a team option for $9 million that would probably have to be picked up to get a trade done.
The 27-year-old 6’10 center is starting for the woeful Lakers, but would probably look better coming off the bench against other backups. He is long, bouncy and plays with energy and he is a solid defensive rebounder that grabs about 20 percent of the available defensive boards. In Toronto, only Valanciunas has better numbers on the glass than Hill.
It’s tough to know what the Lakers would want in return. They should be rebuilding and the acquisition of Black suggests that might be the direction the team is heading. Toronto does have an ‘extra’ first round draft pick in 2016 if Ujiri wants a specific player badly enough and one look at the Lakers roster suggests players like Landry Fields and Tyler Hansbrough would actually help them.
Bismack Biyombo, Charlotte Hornets
At 22-years-old, Bismack Biyombo is still young, raw and coming to the end of his rookie deal in Charlotte. He is playing 14.4 minutes a night and earning $3.9 million. The Hornets will have to make him a $5.1 million qualifying offer this summer or risk losing him for nothing in free agency. There is a deal to made here if another team wants him.
Biyombo isn’t going to score much and it’s likely he never will. He’s 50 percent from the free throw line as well. However, he rebounds the heck out of the ball. Top 5 in rebounds per minute grabbing over 25 percent of the available defensive boards and over 15 percent at the offensive end, Biyombo does what no one else on the Raptors can except Valanciunas. He is also blocking 7.7 percent of opponent’s two-point shots while he is on the court. This kid provides rim protection and takes away opponents’ second chance opportunities.
On a team that is at the top of the league in scoring, a shot blocking rebounder could look pretty good coming off the bench.
Players to keep an eye on:
Nuggets JaVale McGee had tibia surgery last year and is out with leg soreness, but if he comes back in time, he is a player Denver might give up assets to move along. He makes $12 million next season and appears to have lost his job to Timofey Mozgov, but he is an active player and very good rebounder when 100 percent healthy. There will be rumors about all the Nuggets big men if they keep losing at the current rate.
Rockets Terrence Jones will be out for 4-6 weeks with nerve damage in his leg and when he gets back, it looks like recently acquired Josh Smith will be his team’s main man at power forward – for now and in the future. His return should coincide with the trade deadline, so if the Rockets feel they have a need, he is an attractive trade asset.
Ujiri has options to look at during the season. The bigger question in Toronto revolves around messing with some very effective team chemistry and keeping one’s powder dry (salary cap space available) for the July free agency period. However, when a team is doing this well and has a legitimate shot at reaching the NBA Finals, Ujiri has to look at what’s available. The future is unpredictable. The opportunity to go far in the playoffs may not be there again next year.
A GM’s job is never done and the Raptors have hopes and wishes for the New Year. Fortunately, outside of a couple of possible roster tweaks, the Raptors best chance at a dramatic improvement is already in their own locker room. It isn’t often a team can hold onto first place in the conference while their only All-Star is out of action for over a month. However, their biggest wish is for their fans to vote Kyle Lowry onto the All-Star team.
Fields has the highest salary of any player on the Raptors who isn’t part of the regular rotation and that big expiring contract could make him a key piece in any trade President and General Manager, Basketball Operations Masai Ujiri might make in an attempt to upgrade the team’s roster for the postseason and beyond.
After 30 games, 17 of them at home, the Toronto Raptors lead the NBA in attendance at 334,624, but their fans just aren’t getting the job done in the All-Star voting. In the early All-Star ballot returns, Toronto doesn’t have any players even close to being voted into the big game.