The Toronto Raptors are diversifying their portfolio around Scottie Barnes at the trade deadline
TORONTO — After the OG Anunoby and Pascal Siakam trades were finalized, Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri repeated his speech, appearing to be preparing himself as much as he was preparing anyone else.
“I don’t know (whether) I would call this a rebuild or a reset or however we want to say it, but a normal rebuild with other teams takes… five or six years. Do we have the patience for that?” “Do we have the patience for three to five years to build our team,” Toronto Raptors president Ujiri said. One way or another, we will have to be patient. And one of the things I’ll tell you, 100 percent, I’m not going to blame anyone for this, is that I’m patient.
On the surface, the Raptors’ behavior Thursday countered that. For the third year in a row, they gave up a first-round pick before the deadline. Only one other team, the Dallas Mavericks, has made it past the first round. It seems like the Raptors can’t fully commit to the youth movement.
However, Thursday was very different from the 2023 and 2022 deadlines for the Raptors. What they did by bringing in Kelly Olynyk and Ochai Agbaje and sending in four players was to diversify their asset pool around the core of the team. That core remains Scottie Barnes, Immanuel Quickley, and perhaps RJ Barrett.
“We’re trying to find the right combination,” Raptors general manager Bobby Webster said in a news conference after the deadline.
In addition to trading Otto Porter Jr., Kyra Lewis Jr. and a first-round pick to Utah, the Raptors also traded Dennis Schröder and Thaddeus Young to Brooklyn for Spencer Dinwiddie, who they immediately waived, wanting to look more at Barnes and others. Younger options with the ball in their hands.
“Even in personal conversations with a lot of teams in a similar position to us, (the consensus is) that young people need leadership,” Webster added. “And I think we lost a little bit of that veteran presence when we did previous deals.
“And so you try to find the right chemistry of who can guide these players. It’s hard for us to lose Thad. … So we are at the same time bringing in young players to develop and grow, but also creating an environment around them, where they learn professional habits, take responsibility, and understand… How to play basketball at the NBA level, and they are “learning how to win.”
The two characters served very different purposes. The Raptors wanted the players from Utah, and decided that giving up the three worst picks they got from the Pacers for Siakam was worth it. Trading for a pending unrestricted free agent in Olynyk is risky. The Raptors did this with Young and Jakob Poeltl midway through the previous two seasons, and ended up re-signing them to player-friendly deals (although not egregiously, from the team’s perspective) to retain those players. There is also the possibility that Olynyk could decide to move elsewhere, although the fact that he is Canadian, and turned 33 shortly after the end of the regular season, limits the teams that will try to sign him. At first glance, a two-year deal for a mid-level exception seems reasonable, and essentially fills Schroder’s salary slot. Olynyk is eligible for an extension immediately, and Webster said Olynyk wants to be in Toronto.
Translation: They are confident they will find common ground on the contract.
“We were huge fans of Kelly,” Webster said. “I think the way we look at him specifically is he’s a steady hand and I think we’ve seen that with bench units, especially with the bigs, he’ll bring the skill set of a veteran presence, which is the voice that we think this unit can do.” Use some help.”
As much as it seems, the Raptors don’t want to become too invested in the 2024 NBA Draft. Before Thursday, if they picked in the top six, they would have had three first-round picks plus an early second round in what is considered a weak draft. According to multiple reports, the New York Knicks were offering Bruce Brown a 2024 draft pick, but the Raptors wanted a future pick, and didn’t want to get too high in this draft class.
The Raptors are also giving up the least desirable of their picks, which will end up being the Los Angeles Clippers or Oklahoma City Thunder spot — whichever will end up with a better record, and therefore a worse pick. They still have the Pacers’ pick and the Detroit Pistons’ No. 2 pick, plus potentially have their own picks. Acquiring Agbaje, who is in the second year of his rookie deal at the position of sudden need, winger, is a good gamble.
“I think Oshay’s energy will energize Scotty,” Webster said.
Keeping Brown means the Raptors are unlikely to have room under the salary cap to splurge on free agents. They would have to decline the Browns’ $23 million team option and let Olynyk and Gary Trent Jr. Walking into free agency approaching $40 million in cap space. But again, there’s no one on the market worth that amount, least of all those who might consider the Raptors a realistic option.
Most likely: The Raptors keep Olynyk, see Brown’s trade value over the summer and next season and consider bringing back Trent if the price is right. For now, Olynyk and Brown will anchor the bench, giving the Raptors some additional options to close out competitive games.
As for the future? Well, let’s see who makes himself indispensable.
• Webster said no one met the Raptors’ asking price for Brown, otherwise they would have done something. With only two first-round picks moving on the day, the Raptors’ request seems pretty clear.
• The Raptors didn’t move Trent either. He is set to become an unrestricted free agent after picking up his player option for 2023-24 in a bit of a surprise last season.
“Gary is 25 years old and a 40 percent three-point shooter. So you can start there,” Webster said when asked if Trent was part of the team’s plans moving forward. “I think he’ll probably admit he didn’t start out as well as He wanted to, but he’s settled down now and we see it. So I think that’s TBD on Gary, but I think we’re watching him grow with this group. We watch him choose his positions offensively. I think you see him being more aggressive on defense, which we’ve seen over the years.
Trent is young enough to get an above-average offer from some teams this summer, but getting Bird’s rights to hold him rather than getting a few picks for him in the second round is a defensible piece of roster management. TBD is right.
• The Raptors are down to 13 players on the main roster, meaning they have two empty roster spots. They could convert one of their three players on two-way contracts, Jontay Porter, Javon Freeman for Liberty or Marquis Noel, to a main roster contract, or they could exit the organization. The Raptors must fill a position within two weeks. They want to see what Barnes can do in a more ball-dominant role, but they have some need at a point guard, regardless.
• Finally, Webster was asked if the possibility of holding the pick they owe the San Antonio Spurs for Poeltl, who is protected by the top six, in the next three drafts would impact how the Raptors approach their final 31 games. The Raptors entered Thursday’s game tied with Memphis for the sixth-worst record in the league, though it’s clear the lottery could change the draft order.
“We will prioritize seeing that team play,” Webster said. “If we end up being in the top six or outside the top six, especially the new way (of lottery odds) — to try a game that’s pretty meaningless. At the end of the day, it’s going to be lottery balls.”
“I think the biggest priority for us is taking that young group together: getting Grady (Dick) into that group, seeing how they fit together because that will give us more information on how to build this team.”
(Top photo by Kelly Olynyk: Troy Taormina/USA Today)
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