We're now just one day away from this season's trade deadline and there's already been one massive deal.
On Tuesday night, the Rockets, Timberwolves, Nuggets and Hawks engaged in a 12-player trade headlined by Clint Capela going to the Hawks and Robert Covington headed to the Rockets. In terms of sheer number of players traded, it's the single largest trade since the one that sent Patrick Ewing from the Knicks to the SuperSonics way back in 2000.
So much for a quiet deadline!
Could that be merely the first domino to fall? There are a number of teams in position to upgrade their roster for the final stretch and could now be spurred on with the first big deal in the books.
One of those teams? The Toronto Raptors, who currently sit at No. 2 in the Eastern Conference with a 36-14 record.
Even though the Raptors have established themselves as one of the teams to beat in both their conference and the league as a whole, they know first-hand how a move at the trade deadline can change a franchise's season. Will they make a similar move this season to capitalize on their strong start to the season or do they believe that they already have enough to make another run?
Here are the six biggest questions for the Raptors entering the trade deadline.
Kyle Lowry and Pascal Siakam aren't going anywhere ... right?
We don't have to spend much time on this.
You never want to say never in this league, but it's safe to assume the odds of the Raptors trading Siakam at the deadline are something along the lines of 0.0000001 percent. He's the future of this franchise and a legitimate star.
MORE: Siakam has become an entirely new player again
The odds are probably higher for Lowry, but he's been a huge reason for the team's success this season, posting 19.4 points, 7.3 assists and 4.5 rebounds per game en route to his sixth straight All-Star appearance. Would any team really extend the type of Godfather offer it would presumably take to pry away Lowry? Would the Raptors even consider anything given the manner in which the season is unfolding?
If the Raptors are ever going to trade Lowry, it might make more sense to do it in the offseason, especially if they commit long-term to Fred VanVleet - more on that in a bit.
Will Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol finish the season on the Raptors?
Gasol and Ibaka are set to be unrestricted free agents in a few months.
They're both still productive players, even in their early-to-mid 30s. Gasol isn't the scorer he once was, but he's still one of the better passers at the centre position and he provides important spacing as a 3-point shooter. He's also still a tremendous defender, one who can anchor a championship-level defence, as the Raptors learned last season.
Not only that, Gasol is one of the best post defenders in the league. His ability to match up with back to the basket centres makes him particularly appealing to teams that know they'll have to go through the likes of Joel Embiid, Nikola Jokic and Anthony Davis in the playoffs.
Ibaka is neither the passer nor defender that Gasol is, but he's a far superior scorer. He's averaging 15.5 points per game this season, which is both a career-high and the fourth-highest mark on the team. Ibaka is even shooting 3s well this season. Whereas he made only 29.0 percent of his 3-point attempts last season, he's up to 39.6 percent this season.
MORE: Ibaka deserves a standing ovation
Together, they give the Raptors 48 minutes of quality centre play. But do either of them have a future on this team?
If the answer is no, the Raptors might look to deal at least one of them ahead of the trade deadline in the hopes of getting something in return for them before they possibly walk in free agency. It won't necessarily be easy for teams to trade for either one of them because they're both making around $25 million this season, but there would likely be interest around the league if the Raptors do make them available - Gasol because of how he ties everything together on both ends of the court, Ibaka because of the scoring punch he provides, either in a starting role or as a reserve.
Whether or not the Raptors could turn that interest into real assets is another question because there's only so much teams will likely give up for a player on an expiring deal. It's probably worth exploring the market for both of them nonetheless.
Are the Raptors going to commit long-term to Fred VanVleet?
VanVleet is another player on the Raptors who is on an expiring contract this season.
The difference with VanVleet is that he's entering his prime, whereas Gasol and Ibaka are both in the back-end of their careers. VanVleet has improved each season he's been with the Raptors, to the point where he's averaging 17.8 points and 7.0 assists per game alongside Lowry in the starting lineup.
It's always seemed as though VanVleet would be Lowry's successor in Toronto, but he's playing his way into a big pay day this offseason. With him being one of the better free agents available, particularly at his position, it wouldn't be a surprise to see a team like the New York Knicks or Detroit Pistons, for example, give him starter-level money in the hopes of prying him away from the Raptors.
In which case, would the Raptors be willing to spend up to or even more than whatever offer VanVleet is likely to receive as an unrestricted free agent? While he's already said that "in a perfect world" he'd re-sign with the Raptors, they might not be able to offer him as much as other teams in the league, especially if someone is willing to give him upwards of $25 million a year on his next contract as has been rumoured.
As John Hollinger of The Athletic noted, anything over $20 million annually for VanVleet would make it complicated for the Raptors to create max room in the summer of 2021, when the likes of Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jrue Holiday, Rudy Gobert and Victor Oladipo could become free agents.
If the Raptors do keep VanVleet beyond the trade deadline, it could signal that they're prepared to do anything to keep him around. In the same vein as Gasol and Ibaka, an alternative is to trade him before he becomes a free agent.
It's hard to believe the Raptors would actually part ways with him because of how important he's been to the team's success, but VanVleet might be their best shot at getting an All-Star calibre player at the trade deadline - assuming, of course, that an All-Star calibre player becomes available. The one player who is reportedly available that would make sense for the Raptors to part ways with VanVleet for is Jrue Holiday, but it's seeming more and more likely that the one-time All-Star will stay in New Orleans for at least the rest of this season.
That raises an important question.
Who is actually available?
We have a running list of players who are reportedly available.
Of those players, the Raptors could talk themselves into Holiday, Andre Drummond, Dewayne Dedmon, and Danilo Gallinari. Capela and Covington could have been options until both were moved in Tuesday's shakeup.
Holiday would move the needle the most. His numbers are down slightly this season, but he's one of the league's best defenders at his position. He's also capable of playing with and without the ball in his hands on offence, the combination of which makes him someone who could fit in with just about any team.
As for Drummond and Dedmon, they'd give the Raptors a different look at the centre position. Drummond, like Capela, offers tremendous rebounding and is a dangerous rim runner in pick-and-roll situations. The biggest hang-up with any deal concerning Drummond is that he could be looking for a big pay day this summer if he declines his player option for next season, something he's already hinted at doing.
Dedmon's ceiling is far lower, but he's a veteran who can shoot 3s and protect the rim at a solid rate.
Would any of them offer a significant upgrade over the Gasol/Ibaka tag team?
MORE: Should the Raptors trade for Drummond?
Then there's Gallinari who provides valuable floor spacing and playmaking at the power forward position. There would be some risk involved in trading for him - he'll be an unrestricted free agent this summer as well - but he's one of the better scorers who appears to be gettable at the trade deadline.
With Covington no longer on the market following his move to Houston, Gallinari is likely the biggest potentially available difference maker among the hybrid 3/4s. That, of course, depends on if the Oklahoma City Thunder are even open to the idea of moving him given their unexpected playoff push and current place within the Western Conference.
Is there a smaller move for the Raptors to make?
Trading VanVleet might be Toronto's best hope of acquiring a star like Holiday at the deadline - again, assuming the New Orleans Pelicans actually make him available - but there might be a smaller move the Raptors can make to improve the roster.
Because of how much Gasol and Ibaka are being owed this season, there are obstacles in making them the centerpiece of a deal. Norman Powell and perhaps OG Anunoby are therefore the most likely players to headline a smaller trade.
Powell's trade value coming into this season probably wasn't very high because of his inconsistencies, but he's having a career year with 15.3 points per game. Although he's suffered a couple of injuries lately, the most recent of which has him out indefinitely, he would be a welcomed addition to any second unit that is in need of scoring and 3-point shooting.
Powell is under contract for two more seasons, with him making $10.9 million in 2020-21 followed by a player option worth $11.6 million in 2021-22.
Anunoby's trade value isn't quite as clear. His numbers don't jump off the page, but he's made some legitimate improvements this season and has the potential to be a high level 3-and-D wing down the line. Remember, Anunoby was one of the names originally floated in the deal that landed Kawhi Leonard in the summer of 2018. Even if interest has waned, he's a name that still carries weight and intrigue around the league.
Are the Raptors willing to wait and see if Anunoby can become that player? Or would they rather have a starting small forward who can do a little more, particularly on offence?
The answer to those questions might depend on...
Would the Raptors regret not making a move?
We all know what happened last season.
The Raptors were well positioned to compete in the Eastern Conference prior to the trade deadline, but making a move for Gasol is what put them over the top. Without his defence - not to mention his shooting, passing and all-around toughness - the Raptors don't win the championship.
The expectations this season aren't what they were last season, but the Raptors enter the All-Star break with the second-best record in the Eastern Conference. As currently constructed, they have a legitimate shot at making another run, which isn't something anyone could have foreseen after they lost both Leonard and Danny Green in the offseason.
The Raptors have reason to believe that they can compete now and in the future if they stand pat. However, with so much up in the air this season - the Milwaukee Bucks are running away with the best record in the league, but there isn't a clear No. 2 in the Eastern Conference - there might be a move out there that can put them ahead of the Miami Heat, Boston Celtics, Indiana Pacers and Philadelphia 76ers and possibly at the same level as the Bucks.
What that move is, I'm not sure, but it appears as though the Raptors will do their due diligence: ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reported a couple of weeks ago that the Raptors are operating as buyers, not sellers, ahead of the trade deadline.
After what happened last season and how well they've been playing this season, even with the amount of injuries they've dealt with, it's smart of them to at least keep their options open.
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