The trade deadline arrives this Thursday at 3 p.m. ET. The Toronto Raptors have been one of the most talked-about teams leading up to the deadline, thanks to where they are in the standings and the impending free agency status of Kyle Lowry and Norman Powell. Here are five questions I have about the deadline:
How far are the Raptors thinking ahead of the deadline?
Masai Ujiri and Bobby Webster have enough of a track record by now for us to know they've considered every short-term and long-term option as they weigh potential deals this week. How they want to prioritize the rest of this season versus making the best move for this team’s future will dictate where the deadline goes. The Raptors are 17-25 and on an eight-game losing streak after another disappointing result against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Sunday. Time is running out on the Raptors season with just 30 games remaining. They would need to go 19-11 to finish at .500. Nick Nurse said last week he believes this roster deserves a chance to make a late-season push together. But with each loss, it is becoming clear this is looking like a lost season.
What do the Raptors need if they want to salvage this season?
When they’re healthy, the Raptors have a very capable starting five of Lowry, Fred VanVleet, Powell, Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby. But things get dicey after that. Chris Boucher has been a key contributor all season, but even Nurse pointed out last week there are some defensive gaps to make up when he’s on the floor. It points to an overall problem with the bench. Yuta Watanabe, DeAndre’ Bembry and Paul Watson Jr. all provide a level of energy on the court but are not secondary scoring options. Malachi Flynn looks every bit like an NBA rookie so far. Matt Thomas has not made up for his defensive flaws with enough scoring on the other end. Terence Davis has been inconsistent and is prone to mistakes. Aron Baynes has struggled. Stanley Johnson was an early-season pleasant surprise but has fallen out of the rotation. Nurse says he would like to start playing a consistent eight-man rotation. If the Raptors decide to keep their core group and try to make a run, the focus should be on adding some depth pieces on Thursday.
Are the Raptors making an early free-agency decision on Norman Powell this Thursday?
Powell has an $11.6 million player option for next season, which he will likely decline considering he was averaging 28.4 points on 55.2 percent shooting (49.3 percent from three) in March heading into Sunday’s game against Cleveland. The price tag for Powell this summer will likely move closer to what VanVleet received last offseason, which leaves the Raptors in a position to have to essentially decide by this Thursday whether they’re willing to pay for Powell to be part of their long-term core. It’s a difficult decision given the money invested into VanVleet, Siakam and Anunoby and because the Raptors might want to use their cap room to upgrade somewhere else, like making a run at Atlanta Hawks forward John Collins. The latest round of reporting around Powell from Sportsnet’s Michael Grange says it is almost inevitable he’ll be traded on Thursday, which might provide insight into the front office’s thinking.
Is the door shut on a potential Kyle Lowry trade?
Multiple reports have surfaced in recent weeks on the likelihood of a Lowry trade at the deadline. They’ve all reiterated one thing: the Raptors are unlikely to trade their starting point guard. But the door is never completely shut, and even the results against Houston and Denver this week before the deadline might inform the team’s thinking. For Raptors fans hoping for Lowry to stay with the team and even potentially return on a new contract this summer, it’s probably best not to assume anything until Thursday’s deadline has passed. If Lowry does change his mind between now and then and decides it’s time to move on, his most likely destinations would be Miami and Philadelphia.
Can the Raptors still make the playoffs even without Lowry?
This question gets to the central issue for this Raptors team as they try to navigate the deadline. Their floor is not that of a tanking team. Even with their current losing streak, the Raptors still have too many wins at this time to even consider themselves for the top of the lottery standings. And even if they get there, the new draft lottery rules make it impossible to truly control your destiny of the range of draft picks you might receive. On the other hand, the Raptors are probably for the short-term still in a similar spot with or without Lowry. The young core has proven they can win games without him, but there’s also a particular ceiling to where they can go. A climb back to .500 would almost certainly guarantee at least a play-in tournament spot, but it’s hard to be optimistic about anything more than that at this point. The Raptors just look exhausted. Three starters just returned from health and safety protocols, and the grind of an entire season away from home isn’t helping the glaring flaws on the roster. The short answer is yes, but no one should be upset at the front office if they take the long view on Thursday and make moves that will benefit the franchise beyond this season.
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