NBA Front Office Confidential: Raptors hold key to opening trade market

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If you’re expecting some NBA trade action, you can’t be a Toronto Raptors fan. You’re actually a fan of every team that’s playing, at least for the next week.

Teams looking to make a move, league sources say, are waiting to see if Raptors team president Masai Ujiri decides to pat himself on the back or begins the demolition of a long-standing team below expectations and that has a lot of potential free agents. summer

And the more they lose between now and the Feb. 9 deadline, the more likely Ujiri will retool his roster and set his sights on one of the potential superstars in the upcoming draft.

“Toronto is the No. 1 domino in all of this,” said one Eastern Conference general manager. “They have three potential pieces that would attract interest. If they get through the next leg unscathed, they might stick with what they have. But if they get crushed over the next seven or eight days, Masai might decide to make some changes.”

The Raptors are in 12th place in the Eastern Conference after starting a seven-game swing in the West with a win over the Sacramento Kings and a loss to the Golden State Warriors. They play their second game in as many nights Saturday against the Portland Trail Blazers. It will then move on to Phoenix, Utah, Houston and Memphis, returning home on February 6.

The reason Toronto’s short-term results could affect Ujiri’s long-term plans is that its starting backcourt, point guard Fred Van Vleet and shooting guard Gary Trent Jr., may opt to waive the their contracts this summer. Van Vleet denied reports that he turned down a four-year, $113 million extension from the Raptors before the season, saying there was no “formal” offer. Even if there had been, there are signs Van Vleet wants a deal comparable to the four-year, $130 million Tyler Herro signed with the Miami Heat.

If Toronto opted to make Van Vleet available, league sources say he is one of three point guards the Los Angeles Clippers have added to their roster, with the Jazz’s Mike Conley and the Heat’s Kyle Lowry also on their roster. consideration. It’s reasonable to think Van Vleet, 28, would be their first choice as the youngest of the three and the most recent All-Star. And if there’s one owner who hasn’t been caught out when it comes to meeting current player contract demands, it’s Clippers owner Steve Ballmer, who already has the third-most expensive roster in the league.

Trent Jr. he could also draw interest as a 24-year-old floor spacer. He has steadily improved throughout his five-year career, shooting 35 percent or better from 3 while averaging more than seven attempts per game since his rookie year. He’s slated to make $18 million next season, which means if he’s opted in, Toronto could also take close to $100 million to keep him in the fold.

The real potential prize on the Raptors’ roster, however, is forward OG Anunoby. While his offensive production is a shade below Trent Jr.’s. and lacks Van Vleet’s All-Star credentials, league sources say he would inspire the fiercest trade deadline bidding war. Reason: His age (25), size (6-foot-7, 232 pounds) and tenacious defense (currently leading the league in steals at 2.1), which goes along with a 17-point average and a 3 reliable points (36%). He has everything teams covet in a forward strong enough to defend the post and quick enough to cover the perimeter in today’s game.

“A versatile young player in his prime?” said the Eastern Conference general manager. “One thousand percent he would be the best player available at the deadline.”

His contract is also attractive. Unlike Van Vleet and Trent, Jr., Anunoby will sign next season at a very shopper-friendly $18.6 million, giving whoever acquires him this season and next before he has to compromise with him. And if they didn’t, for whatever reason, they know it would be a great asset.

“OG would be a substantial prize,” said one Western Conference scout.
“Size, rebounding three-and-D player. Reasonable contract.”

So why would Ujiri even consider trading him?

League sources say Anunoby is unhappy in Toronto, and while the reason wasn’t made clear, Ujiri has a history of moving quickly if a player wants to be elsewhere.

Ujiri could not be reached for comment.

Alternate options for teams looking to add a player in Anunoby’s mold are Phoenix’s Jae Crowder and Utah’s Jarred Vanderbilt.

But no one is likely to make a move to acquire any of them until they know what their chances are of landing Anunoby. And whether Anunoby is available could depend on… well, you know.

MERCHANT DAN COULD SUPPORT: If there has been a prevailing belief among fans, media and executives, it is that Utah Jazz team president Danny Ainge will at some point this season continue his dismantling of the roster that starting with the trade of All-Stars Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert last summer. Conley, Vanderbilt, Malik Beasley and Jordan Clarkson have all been mentioned as potential trade targets for other teams, presumably because they got a signal from Ainge that they might be available.

But “Trader Dan,” as he became known during his tenure with the Boston Celtics, is also known for talking about deals far more often than actually taking one. Several managers who know him well said this year could be no different.

“It never changes,” said one scout. “He’ll make a deal if he likes the value. If there aren’t any deals he likes, he’ll go golf. He’s not afraid to work in the summer or bring a guy.”

WHAT CAN RUI DO FOR THE LAKERS?: Lakers fans seemed pleased with general manager Rob Pelinka’s acquisition of forward Rui Hachimura from the Washington Wizards in exchange for Kendrick Nunn and three second-round picks. A Western Conference general manager suggested that this had to be the main motivating factor for Pelinka to do it. Pelinka, and by extension owner Jeanie Buss, have been criticized by fans and the media alike for not surrounding the 38-year-old LeBron James with more talent.

“It’s a high price, but now he can say he did something,” the general manager said of the trade. “He takes some heat off. I don’t know why else I would do it. I didn’t think it was a great trade. Rui gives them a little more size and a little better defender, but he’s injury prone.” that they’ve had enough, and their contract is a problem.”

Hachimura will be a restricted free agent this summer. The Lakers have indicated they plan to sign him to an extension, but how quickly they do so, and at what price, could affect their ability to add other upgrades. Hachimura’s qualifying offer for next season is approximately $8.5 million, and the amount of the salary cap frozen until he signs that offer, or an extension, is more than $18 million.

“I’ve never been a big fan to be honest,” said one Eastern Conference scout. “Sometimes I can get some buckets, but as far as being an impact player on a winning team, I just don’t see it. I also have some questions about his IQ.”

But not everyone was upset with Hachimura or the deal. To put a positive spin on it, the Lakers traded an undrafted guard (Nunn) and three second-round picks for a three-point power forward who was the ninth pick in the 2019 draft.

“Rui has been playing really well lately, and I’m sure he can be a high 30% 3-point shooter,” said a second Eastern Conference scout. “He can play any forward position. Being able to play multiple positions is always a plus.”

A third Eastern Conference scout said, “Steal deal for the Lakers. Rare valuation for their front office.”

Ric Bucher is an NBA writer for FOX Sports. He previously wrote for Bleacher Report, ESPN The Magazine and The Washington Post and has written two books, “Rebound,” about NBA forward Brian Grant’s battle with young-onset Parkinson’s, and “Yao: A Life In Two Worlds”. He also has a daily podcast, “On The Ball with Ric Bucher.” Follow him on Twitter @Rick Bucher.

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