The Raptors are a great team. They have been a great team in the East over the last four years in the regular season. However, we have seen great in the regular season doesn’t necessarily mean great come playoff time.
How Do You Define Contender?
If you define a contender as one of the best teams in the league you can throw the Raptors in there. Contender typically means a team has a chance to contend for a title. This current Raptors team probably doesn’t have a chance to win a title as long as the Warriors exist.
“But the Raptors almost beat the Warriors in their first meeting this year.”
The Warriors have gone down in multiple games this season. They haven’t been perfect in the regular season, but they have closed games well which includes the game against the Raptors where Steph Curry and Kevin Durant both hit pull-up threes to win.
It is unreasonable to expect title or bust. If all you care about is the Raptors winning a title you will be disappointed. Right now, the expectation for the Raptors should be to get to the Eastern Conference Finals. At a minimum that would at least be respectable. If we are talking about the goal the Raptors should strive it could be beating LeBron James in the playoffs or getting to the finals. Those might be lofty goals with the current roster, but they aren’t out of the question. The Raptors can try to upgrade the roster by the trade deadline.
“How do the Raptors upgrade the roster when they don’t own their draft picks?”
The Raptors currently seem to have one of the deepest rosters in franchise history. It’s great to have 12 guys that play and actually contribute during the regular season. However, come playoff time rotations tend to shrink to eight or nine-man rotations. Why cannot the Raptors package some of their depth? The Raptors are currently dealing with injuries to Delon Wright and Norman Powell, so it might be hard to package depth if the Raptors aren't at full strength.
Who Are the Raptors Trade Assets?
Lucas “Bebe” Nogueira is probably the Raptors primary trade asset. He’s a decent backup that will be a free agent this summer. The Raptors are loaded with guys that can play center, so it doesn’t really make sense to go into the luxury tax to keep Nogueira. Speaking of the Raptors being loaded at center Jonas Valanciunas is another guy the Raptors could potentially move. He’s not a great fit with the Raptors because the Raptors don’t run plays for him. Valanciunas has two key skills. They are scoring and rebounding. If the Raptors aren’t getting Jonas the ball he just becomes a good rebounder. Since the Raptors aren’t putting him in a position to succeed it may be time to move him. However, that doesn't mean dump him for anything. The Raptors are interested in getting something of value back for Valanciunas and it’s hard considering the market for high priced centers is low. Lucas, on the other hand, is currently a low-priced center who is a capable backup center in the NBA.
Any team trading for him would also be able to match any contract offered to him this summer if they want to keep him long term. Lucas Nogueira is probably easier to trade than Jonas Valanciunas. The problem is the since Bebe doesn’t make much money it would be difficult for the Raptors to take much salary back in a trade scenario. If the Raptors aren't able to take much salary back it would be tough to get a good player back. Also, Nogueira is probably playing near his ceiling. He’s a good shot-blocker that fits well in the Raptors system, but it’s hard to imagine he ever becomes a star. Just look a Bismack Biyombo who was incredible at times with the Raptors. It is now looking like the Magic are stuck with a horrible contract because he was at his ceiling with the Raptors. You can argue Jonas Valanciunas is on a bad contract with the Raptors, but what you cannot argue is that his talents are being maximized with the Raptors. Valanciunas absolutely could live up to his contract in a different situation.
It’s unclear what players will be on the trade block as we get closer to the deadline, but if there is a star available the Raptors should pick up the phone. The Raptors should also look into potential trade targets that fit their play style. The Raptors seem to want to shoot more threes. It wouldn’t hurt to try to add a player that is a good three-point shooter.
There are very few landing spots for Jonas Valanciunas as most teams do not need starting centers. However, the Mavs are a team that might need one. Dirk Nowitzki will be eligible to be traded in about a month’s time.
Raptors Trade: Jonas Valanciunas
Mavs Trade: Dirk Nowitzki & Dwight Powell
Why Would the Raptors Do It?
The Raptors don’t need Jonas Valanciunas because they are loaded at center with guys like Jakob Poeltl, Lucas Nogueira, and Serge Ibaka can also play minutes there. The Raptors want to shoot a lot of threes and Dirk Nowitzki is still a good three-point shooter. Of course, Nowitzki is no longer the superstar he once was, but he’s still a decent player. Plus, Dwane Casey was an assistant coach on that Mavs team that won a title. So reuniting Dirk with Dwane could be interesting. Nowitzki being a former NBA champion would be valuable. The Raptors seem to run into problems in the playoffs every year. Just having a guy like that should boost confidence behind the scenes. Also, Dirk is a good dude.
When you make a trade, there is always a concern it could mess with chemistry. The odds of that happening with Nowitzki are slim to none. It’s unclear if Dwight Powell is good, but the Raptors would need to take some salary back beyond Dirk and Canadian Powell could be that guy. Finally, the Raptors don’t need Dirk to play more than 20 minutes a game because they have Pascal Siakam and Serge Ibaka. At 39 years old it wouldn’t be fair to put Dirk in a situation and expect more than that from him anyway.
Why Would the Mavs Do It?
The Mavs are bad and by bad, I mean one of the worst teams in the league. They should be thinking long-term rebuilding and Dirk doesn’t really fit into those plans considering he’ll be 40 in June. Also, the Mavs don’t really have a center. Nerlens Noel signed the qualifying offer after he turned down big money from the Mavs this last summer. Since then Noel has barely played and has had games where he has not played due to coaching decisions (DNP-CD).
Nerlens is clearly not happy and the Mavs probably know he will not be back in Dallas next year. It’s time for them to find a center to build around. Jonas Valanciunas is only 25 years old and could be a nice buy-low piece for the Mavs.
Why Would Dirk Waive His No-Trade Clause?
Unfortunately, Dirk Nowitzki has a no-trade clause meaning he could veto any deal that involves him. However, it seems to hard to believe that he enjoys being on a losing team. If he can join one of the best teams in the East and he sees him leaving could also help the Mavs long-term maybe he would entertain it.
This trade is unlikely to happen, but makes sense for all parties involved. A guy like Dirk Nowitzki in his current state probably doesn’t increase the Raptors title odds over the Warriors, but it should give them a better shot of coming out of the East. The Raptors have a three-year window with Kyle Lowry. Masai has to do whatever it takes to raise the Raptors ceiling in this time frame.