The Raptors Are Better Than Ever — but They Need to Make a Trade
While you’ve been focusing on the dominance of LeBron James, the return of Chris Paul, and the Stephen Curry-less Golden State Warriors, the Toronto Raptors have quietly solidified themselves as the third best team in the league.
For some reason, that’s a controversial statement. The Raptors have been an elite Eastern Conference team for four years running now, and each time they’ve fallen on their face in the postseason in pretty spectacular ways. They lost to the ancient Brooklyn Nets, were swept out of the first round by the Washington Wizards, scraped out two seven-game series wins only to be obliterated by the Cleveland Cavaliers, then had more or less the same result last year.
It’s a real problem. They become a different team in the playoffs. Even though they clearly have a better resume at this point than the Cavs, I would obviously still pick Cleveland in a playoff series.
But they have made an effort to change that this year, in a way that could work. Toronto is seventh in the league in three pointers attempted after finishing 20th in that category last year. They’re currently tenth in pace of play, after finishing 22nd last year. They said goodbye to some of their veteran contributors to give an opportunity to some young guys, and it’s pretty much worked across the board.
It’s hard to talk yourself into Toronto after the past four years. But now that they’ve finally came into the year 2013 offensively, they could really be one trade away from being a serious contender.
Let’s see if we can figure out that trade for them.
The Big Option: Just Get Rid Of Jonas Valanciunas
Valanciunas is likely in the midst of the best season of his career. He’s taken on a smaller role and is playing within it pretty effectively.
At the end of the day, he just isn’t that good. The effects are always going to show up most on the defensive end. Toronto is elite defensively with Valanciunas on the bench, and pretty bad when is on the floor.
Big centers who can’t shoot or play defense are the least valuable trade asset in the league. Everyone seemingly has one that they can’t get rid of. But JV is only 25, and you have to think Chicago could talk themselves into him.
For Toronto, it’s not like Robin Lopez will change their lives. But it’s more likely Casey will bring him off of the bench, and it’s easier to just yank him from the rotation when necessary. Plus, Lopez’s contract comes off of the books a year earlier.
It’s a small step, but ridding themselves of JV should be a priority for Toronto.
The Now Option: Cash In The Young Guys For A Star
Memphis Grizzlies star Marc Gasol has started the process of forcing a trade. That doesn’t mean he is going to finish the process and, if he does, it doesn’t mean it will be this year. But it is really happening, so it’s worth considering.
This doesn’t look like a big haul for Big Spain — the Raptors would definitely have to include multiple picks — but it’s reality. Not only is Gasol on the wrong side of 30 and on a long-term contract, he is also playing terribly right now. If the Grizz want to trade him, they could do worse than a young stud like OG and a bunch of picks.
This would be an unbelievable grab for Toronto. If they can get Gasol back to the way he was playing last year on both ends of the floor, he would be the final piece for the Raptors’ core. He would greatly help their issues with consistency come playoff time. Not many teams could hang with a lineup of Lowry-DeRozan-Miles-Ibaka-Gasol.
This one is a long shot, but the Raptors should offer whatever they can to get Gasol.
The Nuclear Option: Trade DeMar DeRozan
This isn’t a popular opinion, but DeRozan is this team’s ceiling in human form. Every year, they are held back in the playoffs by the fact that his bread and butter comes through the most difficult shot in basketball.
Every single action becomes so much more difficult for Toronto when DeRozan isn’t making shots, because he is the engine that makes this team go. When the game slows down and the defense keys in, that engine begins to sputter. That’s the cause of what I affectionately refer to as “Raptors Disease” in the postseason.
DeRozan is hugely popular in the city and he has been the face of the most successful era in the history of the franchise. It’s unlikely Raptors president Masai Ujiri is even considering trading his star shooting guard. But to people like me, who don’t work for the Toronto Raptors, none of that matters.
I just want to see the Raptors in the NBA Finals and I think they can do it. But not with DeRozan.
With an unstoppable scoring threat like C.J. McCollum next to Kyle Lowry, suddenly things get pretty wide open for this team. As I mentioned previously, the Raptors have started shooting way more from behind-the-arc. But they still aren’t making them at a great percentage. McCollum would complete their rebrand into a modern offense.
It’s unclear whether the Blazers would have interest in DeRozan. I actually like the fit because it makes DeRozan a second option to Damian Lillard. But Portland might be happy with what they have.
Even if this isn’t the trade they make, the Raptors should be looking at DeRozan trades if they ever want to maximize this roster.