The Raptors have a lot to figure out before the trade deadline

Decisions are coming in Toronto. There are decisions to be made throughout the NBA, but many front offices will hold their cards in this months-long poker game and never let them go. It seems clear that the Raptors, who have been averse to upping the ante in recent seasons, won’t choose to shut up before the Feb. 9 trade deadline.

“What they won’t do is be in the middle,” said one Western Conference executive.

“They told the teams they would something“, said the assistant general manager.

Throughout the G League Showcase in late December, Toronto officials informed the curious that they would evaluate this Raptors roster by that fateful second Thursday next month, league sources told Yahoo Sports, especially since head coach Nick Nurse’s unit is just 20-24 , tied 10th in the conference, and Toronto’s leadership is expected to compete among the East’s elite. Those are the standards when you get a youngster like Scottie Barnes, who the Raptors wouldn’t have entertained working out for Kevin Durant last summer, and All-Stars like Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet.

The stability at the top of the Raptors’ basketball operations has rival CEOs and player representatives bracing for some kind of change. Before, we saw big changes from team president Masai Ujiri and front office GM Bobby Webster, backed by a deep-pocketed ownership group and Maple Leaf Sports president Larry Tanenbaum. If Toronto decides to bolster this group, league personnel expect the Raptors to focus on perimeter play and interior rim protection.

They must have been sniffing around the big market in recent seasons. Toronto hired Dallas to acquire Kristaps Porzingis for Goran Dragic and a first-round pick eventually sent to San Antonio for Thaddeus Young. The Raptors registered interest in Rudy Gobert this summer, sources told Yahoo Sports, though there was never a serious approach from Toronto. Myles Turner and Deandre Ayton were the other two centers on Toronto’s radar, sources said. And former Raptors center Jakob Poeltl, who left the franchise with DeMar DeRozan as part of the 2018 offseason swoop to land Kawhi Leonard, remains a target of Toronto’s front office, as Yahoo Sports reported in December.

TORONTO, ON, CANADA - January 12, 2023: Gary Trent Jr.  #33 of the Toronto Raptors prior to the Toronto Raptors regular season NBA game against the Charlotte Hornets at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto (Photo by Anatoliy Cherkasov/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Gary Trent Jr. is in position to decline next season’s $18.5 million player option and test free agency. (Photo by Anatoly Cherkasov/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

But if the losses continue to pile up and the Raptors go the Tampa Tank route that took Barnes to the No. 4 pick in the 2021 NBA Draft, Toronto will have no shortage of buyers in this current seller’s market. Plus, with the order so caught in the middle, the franchise is as close to the top of the draft lottery as it is to the back of the postseason, without the full selloff needed to compete for another high pick.

Could the Raptors eventually decide to trade Siakam? Anything is possible in this world of musical chairs, but Toronto is only expected to seriously listen to offers for Gary Trent Jr., sources said. Fred VanVleet’s apparent trade candidacy appears to be rooted far more in his poor performance this season as the undersized guard approaches his 29th birthday than in the front office’s willingness to part with such a central leader of the team. Raptors officials, meanwhile, left rival front offices with the impression, sources said, that Dejounte Murray — more of an unprotected first-round pick — would be needed, at least at Atlanta’s offseason price, for Toronto to even consider parting ways with OG Anunoby, a known favorite of Ujiri.

As Marc Stein previously reported , Trent appears to be the most likely Raptor to be traded, by a wide margin. Various rival executives are under the impression that Toronto will even try to move Trent before the deadline, as Trent is positioned to decline his $18.5 million player option for next season and test free agency. Early indications are that Trent will be looking for more than $25 million in average annual value before the start of the 2023-24 campaign.

Trent did arrive in Toronto as a result of a similar dynamic with Norm Powell before the 2021 deadline. The Raptors moved Powell to Portland in exchange for Trent, as Powell was expected to decline his player option for that next season in 2021-22. The Blazers eventually awarded Powell a five-year, $90 million contract. Toronto was not interested in an extension, but the Raptors instead signed Trent to his three-year, $51 million contract.

What would the Raptors want in return for Trent? One hint: Toronto has shown interest in Hornets forward Jalen McDaniels, sources said. Charlotte’s fourth-year forward would fit the same bill as Trent did two years ago. Unrestricted free agency will hit this summer, with teams projecting McDaniels to command a far lower salary than Trent — roughly $10 million per season — under the non-taxpayer mid-level exception.

VanVleet also faces a player option next year, which he is similarly expected to decline, but his circumstances are more unclear. Both sides appear open to resuming contract talks at the end of the season, sources said, after there was no significant move on an extension this past offseason. “I’m never going to talk about my free agency or contract negotiations, especially the conversations between me and management…” VanVleet recently told reporters. “But I never got an official offer.”

VanVleet was eligible for a four-year, $114 million extension, and by waiting, he would become eligible for a contract worth as much as $230 million over five seasons. That higher layer would seem unrealistic. And yet VanVleet, who became just the fifth undrafted player in NBA history to reach the All-Star Game a season ago, played under his below-market value contract. Anyone not drafted enters the league at a financial disadvantage, typically earning a minimum-salary contract first, where the cap restriction then limits how much players can receive in raises for their next deals. It seems only natural for VanVleet and his team to seek a better salary now that he’s established himself as a top starter, ahead of an expected bump in numbers from the league’s upcoming 2025 transfer deal.

League figures show VanVleet’s next salary will be between $30 million and $35 million, which is above the threshold he could have extended last summer, but the length of that deal will be important. Kyle Lowry before him signed a three-year, $100 million deal with the Raptors before the 2017-18 season at age 31.

Much of the decision-making conversation in Toronto stems from accounting issues. The Raptors will have plenty of flexibility to avoid the luxury tax next season, but they are currently heading for a monstrous payroll for 2024-25. with Siakam and Anunoby eligible to hit free agency that summer before, especially if VanVleet’s next big deal stays on their books. And at this point, is this Toronto team worth such a hefty bill right now? If that seems too far in the future to consider, 2024 free agency is less than 18 months away.

Anunoby will certainly be looking for his own raise just like VanVleet. The 25-year-old forward garnered defensive player of the year attention this season while making less than $20 million a year this year and next. His situation is actually quite similar to Murray’s before him, with the All-Star point guard’s bargain $16 million average annual contract putting his potential extension number well below the cap figure he’ll be eligible for in the 2024 offseason — virtually guaranteeing Murray will reach unlimited free action. Anunoby and Murray also share the same representation: Klutch Sports.

The comparisons seem to stop there. A big factor in Murray’s departure from San Antonio was his interest in leaving the franchise and the Spurs’ conclusion that Murray either wouldn’t be worth that 2024 payment or wouldn’t be worth it amid the team’s overall competitive timeline. There was no indication that the Raptors had any ideas beyond keeping Anunoby. While he’s certainly expected to decline his $19.9 million option for the 2024-25 season and hit unrestricted free agency, where any contender with an offer for Anunoby is sure to give Anunoby a bigger offensive role than he’s currently afforded north of borders.

“If the Raptors make him available for a trade now, every team will be calling,” one general manager told Yahoo Sports.

Toronto has 12 games to play between now and the deadline, an eternity in this league-wide transactional holding pattern. The results of a grueling seven-game trip around the Western Conference, which ends just before the buzzer on Feb. 9, could ultimately push the Raptors’ front office in the next direction.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *