The NBA trade deadline has come and gone and the Toronto Raptors remain searching for frontcourt answers.
When the organization shipped away Terence Davis and Matt Thomas just before Thursday’s 3 p.m. deadline it seemed as though a massive Kyle Lowry trade was about to be pulled off. All signs pointed to Toronto clearing up roster spots to allow for the Raptors to acquire multiple valuable pieces for Lowry. Instead, no such move happened.
As things sit on Saturday morning the Raptors have 13 players signed to standard contracts (not including Yuta Watanabe or Jalen Harris on two-way contracts). Per the NBA collective bargaining agreement that’s the minimum number of players you’re allowed to carry and teams must have 14 players signed within two weeks of dropping down to 13.
All of this is to say something is going to happen in the next two weeks and if Raptors head coach Nick Nurse is right, the team is expected to add a big in the buyout market.
“I would imagine, well, we’re still working hard [to add a centre],” Nurse said Friday. “There’s some guys that’ll come available in the buyout market, so I think there’s still some opportunity there maybe to get some help there.”
Over the next two weeks, there are expected to be a flurry of moves involving the buyout market. Weeks ago the Detroit Pistons bought out the final years of Blake Griffin’s deal and more recently the San Antonio Spurs and Cleveland Cavaliers bought out LaMarcus Aldridge and Andre Drummond, respectively. At some point between now and April 9 playoff eligibility cutoff, most, if not all, of these bought-out players will be scooped up and signed to minimum deals.
For the Raptors, this should create some bargain bin shopping opportunities. But before we take a look at who is or may become available let’s remember one thing: there’s a reason these players are being bought out.
It can be easy to get caught up in the superstar names attached to these bought-out players, but rarely does a bought-out player make a major difference for a team down the stretch and in the playoffs. These are almost always players well past their primes or players that couldn’t be moved at the deadline for anything of value.
With that being said, let’s take a look at the market and specifically the bigs who may be available:
Andre Drummond: Bought out
LaMarcus Aldridge: Bought out
Gorgui Dieng: Bought out
Meyers Leonard: Waived
Jabari Parker: Waived
Hassan Whiteside: Possible buyout candidate
Kelly Olynyk: Possible buyout candidate
Moe Harkless: Possible buyout candidate
Looking back on Raptors history, there isn’t much precedent for Toronto bringing in top buyout market players. Usually, the top available players end up on the best teams as they try to wrap up their careers with another championship ring.
What the Raptors can offer, however, is minutes. Any of the relatively younger players available may see Toronto as a potential destination to get some run with a very strong developmental organization and hopefully hit the 2021 free agency market having shown they can still play. That would be the pitch to someone like Dieng, Parker, Whiteside, Olynyk, Harkless, or dare I say, Leonard, who was waived by the Oklahoma City Thunder after the Miami Heat traded him away following an anti-Semitic comment he made while playing Call of Duty.
None of these players is particularly intriguing. The player Toronto should have signed is Alize Johnson, the 6-foot-7 wing who played for the Raptors 905 this season. It’s unclear why the organization opted to sign Henry Ellenson to a 10-day contract over Johnson, but the 24-year-old Johnson showed he might have a home in the NBA last Wednesday when he led a depleted Brooklyn Nets team with 23 points and 15 rebounds off the bench.
At some point very soon Toronto is going to make a move. By all accounts, it’ll be a centre and someone who can push Aron Baynes’ already dwindling minutes even lower. His signing hasn’t worked out well for Toronto. Now it’s time to regroup and salvage whatever is left of a lost season.