Swap meet? Fire sale? If you’re an NBA executive nosing around north of the border in hopes of finding veteran basketball talent on the cheap, you’ve come to the wrong place. If the defending-champ Toronto Raptors, primed for a rebuild after losing star Kawhi Leonard last summer, do plan on selling off its veterans with expiring contracts, that will have to come later.
League sources told Heavy.com that the Raptors are quite happy with where they are entering this season and have not been entertaining trade talks on its three big-dollar veterans—center Marc Gasol, guard Kyle Lowry and forward Serge Ibaka—each of whom happens to be in the final year of his contract.
The roster will be rebuilt, eventually, around league Most Improved Player Pascal Siakam, who averaged 16.9 points, 6.9 rebounds and 3.1 assists last season. Siakam figures to get something around a max-contract offer from the Raptors, either before this year’s October 21 deadline or in restricted free agency next year.
And Toronto team president Masai Ujiri does not want to approach the post-title season as a throwaway, not after the thrill of last spring for the organizations and its fans. Ujiri eagerly wants the Raptors back in the playoffs this season, not only to reward the team’s fans, but as a key element of his ability to rebuild in the future.
“This is where they always wanted to be,” one source with knowledge of the team’s thinking said. “Masai was always going to rebuild things around Siakam and OG (Anunoby) and the other young guys eventually. He’s going to have a ton of cap space. But he’s got to be able to get free agents to go there and it’s still a tough sell, getting guys to go to Canada. So they’ve got the ring, if they can get to the playoffs again, he has something more to sell when that cap space comes available.”
Raptors Veterans Expected to Bolster Young Core
That’s why Lowry, Gasol and Ibaka have not been actively shopped and teams that have inquired have been turned away. Lowry figures to be the starting point guard and Gasol will start at center. Ibaka will back up both big-man spots.
The team is also expecting a third-year leap from OG Anunoby, who will get his starting small forward spot back with Leonard’s departure. Anunoby missed Toronto’s remarkable playoff run last spring after having an appendectomy but will be expected to carry an extra load with Leonard gone.
The Raptors are also hoping to make good on some reclamation projects, with Patrick McCaw, Stanley Johnson and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson on the roster. Each has shown some promise in previous stops, but all three are coming off bad 2018-19 seasons.
The Top 2 teams in the East figure to be the Bucks and the Sixers. But beyond those, the Raptors expect to be in the next tier with the Pacers, Celtics, Nets and Heat, fighting for a win total in the mid-40s and homecourt advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
Selling Toronto to Free Agents Still a Goal
It’s possible, of course, that injuries will hit, players will disappoint or things will generally go sideways for the Raptors. Toronto could reconsider its push to the playoffs, decide to tank the rest of the season and position itself for the best possible lottery pick it can find. That’s when Lowry, Gasol and Ibaka could hit the trade block.
Or they could be included as part of an in-season blockbuster to bolster the Raptors as they stand. Toronto has been linked to Washington star Bradley Beal since last season and though no substantive talks have taken place—the Wizards are still angling to keep Beal, who has not requested a trade—that could change.
Ujiri would like to be able to sell the Raptors to free agents with the team’s impending acre of cap space, but he’s keenly aware of the difficulties of getting players to come to Toronto without first trading for those players. Beal would be an ideal fit alongside Siakam and if a package of future draft picks and expiring contracts would make such a deal possible, the Raptors naturally would go for it.
Those aggressive star-caliber deals will have to wait. Toronto suffered a big blow in losing Leonard this summer. But they’re still in position to earn a solid playoff spot in the East and as long as that remains the case, there’s no fire sale planned.