Raptors lost a crucial trade deadline opportunity to reorganize their old and pricey team

February 10, 2023

At the trade deadline in 2021, the Toronto Raptors received a number of trades offers for upcoming free agent point guard Kyle Lowry. Known candidates at the time included the Philadelphia 76ers, Miami Heat, and Los Angeles Lakers. It’s unclear what specifically was offered, but it was recently reported that Philadelphia was willing to put Tyrese Maxey on the table. A source claims that the Heat offered Duncan Robinson, who was a few months away from agreeing to a $90 million contract. We can assume that the offers were significant.


However, no Lowry deal materialized before the 2021 trade deadline. The choice at the time was perplexing. Since Lowry was leaving after the season and Toronto was in the midst of the infamous “Tampa tank,” they did not need him to help them in the playoffs. However, the Raptors decided to keep him and wait until the offseason before trading him for Goran Dragic, who refused to play for them, and the much less desirable Precious Achiuwa (who has shown promise but is now likely to be relegated to a bench role). The Raptors would have gotten a better deal if they had waited.


On Thursday, a situation very similar to this one occurred. After the 2019 season, the Raptors’ top two remaining veterans, OG Anunoby and Pascal Siakam, will be free agents. They are Fred VanVleet and Gary Trent Jr. According to reports, Anunoby is dissatisfied with his job. Trent’s defense has come under fire from Nick Nurse in the media. However, when all was said and done, Toronto had only made one move: Jakob Poeltl, a center for the Spurs who will also be a free agent after the season, will receive an unexpectedly poorly protected first-round pick in 2024.


For the past few years, VanVleet, Anunoby, and Poeltl have all been making salaries significantly below the market rate. Siakam may be eligible for a supermax contract because he has made the All-NBA Teams in two of the last three seasons. VanVleet has yet to sign a new agreement, but he hasn’t said he turned down a $114 million extension either. It’s challenging to imagine Anunoby getting the opportunities and touches he wants on a roster with many players looking for new contracts. He is represented by Klutch Sports, the NBA agency most notorious for pressuring moves when players are unhappy. In other words, the Raptors cannot keep all 5 of these players, particularly since Scottie Barnes may sign a new contract after the 2019–20 season.


The Raptors are 26-30, so would they want to even if they could keep everyone? Over the last three seasons, they have a 101-109 record, and even in their most recent playoff appearance, the Philadelphia 76ers eliminated them in the first round. There are overlaps in the skill sets of Barnes, Siakam, and Anunoby. Poeltl might provide them the center they’ve been looking for for a while, but he also limits the offense’s options for plays, according to Cleaning the Glass, which presently ranks 27th in half-court points per play. The talent level of the Raptors is high. Because of this, the entire NBA has been attempting to trade with them over the past few weeks. However, it seems evident at this point that how talent has been combined and used won’t result in long-term success. The Raptors only needed to make a few significant changes and didn’t need to disassemble everything.


Toronto’s high trade demands are why they didn’t, though. The Warriors reportedly tried to sign Anunoby. J. Jonathan Kuminga, other players, and draft picks were all that Toronto wanted, according to Holmes of the San Francisco Chronicle. Golden State-backed away. The Lakers and Clippers were two teams that made precise pushes for VanVleet, but they ultimately chose other guards. If this sounds familiar, the rhetoric surrounding the 2021 deadline was similar. In 2021, according to Windhorst, the 76ers were “allowed to trade ’21, and ’23 first-round picks — this year’s pick and in 2023.” Tyrese Maxey, a young guard from Kentucky, is another addition. Matisse Thybulle is also included. All of those pieces would be appreciated in Toronto. I’ve also been told that Philly hasn’t been eager to include the entire package. Such requirements were unjustified. There was no Lowry deal.


And now, the Raptors are at risk of suffering a similar fate this offseason. VanVleet and Trent can try to work out sign-and-trade deals, but competing teams will only have to collaborate if they are at a loss for cap space. The Magic compete in a state without income taxes, as Orlando is one known VanVleet suitor with more than enough cap room to sign him outright. Toronto will have to outbid Orlando to be on an equal footing. Houston poses a similar threat to VanVleet and has previously been connected to him. Due to his contract, Anunoby is a desirable trade target right now. Still, if a team buys him next summer, he’ll only be accessible for one guaranteed postseason run rather than the two he could have provided if dealt before the deadline. That will affect his value. Siakam is given the same treatment despite earning a respectable market wage.


This gives a new perspective on one of the NBA’s most admired organizations. The Raptors are experts at player development and scouting, but they may need to be more skilled at managing the assets required to assemble a strong NBA roster. It should be emphasized that Toronto lost most of its championship rotation from 2019 (Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green, Marc Gasol, and Serge Ibaka) as free agents within two years of their championship while having no control over all of these defections. A pathetic sum of money was given in return for Lowry. They lost crucial first-round picks at back-to-back deadlines, and the player they obtained last season, Thaddeus Young, only provided them with approximately 18 minutes per game (and fewer in the postseason).


These flaws have so far been overcome by the Raptors’ success in spotting and developing talent. Perhaps things won’t stay that way forever. NBA teams can only lose this many valuable players for a while and expect to establish a true winner. The best opportunity for Toronto to change course and adopt a more long-term approach to team-building was on Thursday. They didn’t do that and might pay dearly for it when the offseason rolls around.

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