TORONTO – After completing the OG Anunoby and Pascal Siakam trades, Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri repeated one word, seemingly preparing himself like he would prepare anyone else.
“I don’t know (I don’t know) what we’re going to call this rebuild or reset or what we want to say, but normal rebuilding with other teams … it’s going to take five, six years. Do we have the patience for this? ” said Ujiri, president of the Toronto Raptors. “Do we have three to five years of patience as we build our team? Somehow, someway, we’re going to have patience. And one of the things I’ll tell you, 100 percent, nobody’s going to BS on it, I’m patient.
On the surface, the Raptors’ action on Thursday flew in the face of that. For the third straight year, they gave up a first-round pick before the deadline. Only one other team, the Dallas Mavericks, made it out of the first round. The Raptors can’t seem to fully commit to the youth movement.
However, Thursday was very different from the Raptors’ 2023 and 2022 deadlines. What they did was essentially round out their team’s portfolio, bringing in Kelly Olynyk and Ochai Agbaji. That core is Scotty Barnes, Emmanuel Cloy, and possibly RJ Barrett.
“We’re trying to find the right mix,” Raptors general manager Bobby Webster said at a deadline day press conference.
In addition to trading Otto Porter Jr., Kyra Lewis Jr. and a first-round pick to Utah, the Raptors also traded Dennis Schroder and Thaddeus Young to Brooklyn for Spencer Dinwiddie, who immediately gave up Barnes and others. Young options with the ball in their hands.
“Even in private conversations with many groups in our same position, (the consensus is) the youth need leadership,” Webster added. “And I think we’ve eliminated that veteran presence when we’ve done deals in the past.
“And so you’re trying to find the right chemistry of who can lead these players. It is hard for us to lose Tad. … So at the same time we’re bringing in young players so they can grow and develop, but we’re creating an environment around them, where they’re learning professional habits, where they’re being challenged, they’re learning that they can play basketball at the NBA level. I’m learning how to win.
The two transactions served very different purposes. The Raptors wanted the player from Utah and decided to give up the worst of the three picks they got from the Pacers for Sikkam. Trading a pending unrestricted free agent in Olynyk is risky. The Raptors did so with Young and Jakob Poeltl between the last two offseasons and re-signed them to player-friendly deals (though not from a team perspective) to keep the players. There’s a chance Olynyk decides to go elsewhere, though the fact is he’s Canadian, and turning 33 soon after the regular season will limit teams trying to sign him. At first glance, a two-year deal seems reasonable for a truly mid-level specialty position, essentially Schröder’s salary slot. Olynyk is immediately extension-eligible, and Webster said Olynyk wants to be in Toronto.
Meaning: They are confident of finding common ground on a contractual agreement.
“We were big fans of Kelly,” Webster said. “The way we look at him in particular, I think he’s a steady hand and I think we’ve seen that with the bench units, especially with the big guys, he provides a veteran presence, a voice that we think that unit can do. Use some help.
As much as anything else, the Raptors didn’t seem to want to invest more in the 2024 NBA draft. If their own picks fall in the top six before Thursday, they would have three first-round picks and one early second-rounder in what is considered a weak draft. According to multiple reports, the New York Knicks were offering a 2024 first-rounder to Bruce Brown, but the Raptors wanted a future pick, and didn’t want to be overused in this part of the draft.
The Raptors leave the least desirable of their picks, which ends up being either the Los Angeles Clippers or the Oklahoma City Thunder — whichever finished with the better record and, accordingly, the worse pick. In addition to still owning them, they have the Pacers’ pick and the Detroit Pistons’ second-round pick. It’s a good gamble to get Agbaji, who is in the second year of his rookie contract, in a position of sudden need.
“I think Ochai’s energy will inspire Scott,” Webster said.
Keeping Brown doesn’t mean the Raptors won’t have room under the salary cap to splurge on free agents. They should decline the Browns’ $23 million team option and allow Olynyk and Gary Trent Jr. to walk in free agency, adding up to $40 million in cap space. Then again, there isn’t anyone on the market at this price, at least not considering the Raptors as a realistic option.
It could be more: The Raptors grab Olynyk, see what Brown’s trade value is over the summer and next season, and consider bringing in Trent if the price is right. For now, Olynyk and Brown will anchor the bench and give the Raptors a few more options to close out playoff games.
What about the future? Okay, let’s see who doesn’t make himself important.
• Webster: No one has met the Raptors’ demands for Brown or they would have done something. With two first-round picks moving on the day, the Raptors’ question seemed pretty clear.
• The Raptors didn’t move Trent either. He is set to become an unrestricted free agent after surprisingly picking up his player option for 2023-24 last offseason.
“Gary is 25 years old and a 40 percent 3-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 admit that he didn’t have as good a start as he would have liked, but now it’s been confirmed and we’re seeing it. So I think it’s a little TBD on Gary, but I think we’re going to see him grow with this team. We’re watching him pick and choose his offensive spots. I think you’re seeing a little more aggressiveness in defense than we’ve seen over the years.
Trent is young enough to get a special offer from some teams in the middle of this summer, but the possibility that Bird could keep him as opposed to getting a few second-round picks for him is defensible roster management. TBD is correct.
• The Raptors are down to 13 players on their main roster, which means they have two empty roster spots. They can trade one of their three players on two-way contracts, Jontay Porter, Javon Freeman-Liberty, or Marquis Nowell, to a major league contract, or they can leave the organization. The Raptors need to fill one position in two weeks. They want to see what Barnes can do in a more ball-dominant role, but they need a point guard regardless.
• Ultimately, Webster’s ability to keep the pick owed to the San Antonio Spurs for Poultle has prompted questions about how the Raptors, who are protected by the top six spots in the next three drafts, will approach the final 31 games. The Raptors enter Thursday’s game against Memphis tied for the league’s sixth-worst record, though the lottery could obviously change the draft order.
“We’re going to prioritize seeing this team play,” Webster said. “Whether we’re in the top six or out of the top six, especially with the way the new (lottery odds) are – trying a game that doesn’t make a lot of sense. At the end of the day, they become lottery balls.
“I think a big priority for us is getting that young team together. Grady (Dick) joining that team and seeing how they fit together will give us a lot more information on how to build this team.”
(Kelly Olynyk Top Photo: Troy Taormina / USA TODAY)