On Thursday morning, a report from SNY’s Ian Begley surfaced that in December the Knicks offered the Raptors two first-round picks for OG Anunoby. This comes after it was reported earlier this week, by the Toronto Star’s Bruce Arthur, that the Raptors received an offer from an unnamed team of three first-round picks for Anunoby.
So far, Masai Ujiri is unmoved.
But how long will that remain the case?
It’s not just Anunoby that Toronto is sitting on as a potential high-value trade piece. Pascal Siakam is an All-NBA player. Fred VanVleet is an All-Star. Gary Trent Jr. would be a coveted shooter/defender for just about any contender.
If the Raptors wanted to concede to the struggles of this season and put a ceiling of this current core of players, they would be in position to take the Oklahoma City path to a rebuild. Scottie Barnes becomes your Shai Gilgeous-Alexander building block, and everyone else gets flipped out for a truckload of draft capital.
Let’s say Siakam is worth three first-round picks. Anunoby three more. VanVleet potentially two. Another for Trent. That’s nine first-round picks, plus Toronto controls all its own picks moving forward. That’s a big-time haul, but if you’re the Raptors, are you ready to start over? The reason that these players would be worth so much is they’re very good. Hard to replace.
Perhaps the Raptors go the route of trading a couple guys, but keep a core intact. If that’s the case, it’s most likely that VanVleet and/or Trent would be shipped out. Assuming Trent turns down his player option for next season, they’ll both be unrestricted free agents this summer.
Earlier this month, ESPN’s Tim Bontemps reported that Toronto offered VanVleet the max allowable four-year, $114 million extension. VanVleet turned it down. From ESPN:
But one thing is clear: VanVleet believes he’s worth more than what Toronto can currently give him.
“Without going too far into it … [I’m] just trying to put myself in a good position business-wise, and not take an extension on a deal that was made three or four years ago,” VanVleet told ESPN.
“I felt like I’ve outplayed that contract thus far. So just trying to get myself in a position to put the cards in their hands. They got to make a decision from an organization standpoint.
“I love being here. I love being a Raptor. I got a great relationship with Masai and Bobby, so I’m confident that we could find [a deal]. It’s a great partnership that we have, so going forward, I’m not going to make it easy on them and they’re not going to make it on me either, and that’s the way it’s going.”
At the 2021 trade deadline, the Raptors sent Norman Powell to the Blazers for the same reason they might end up dealing VanVleet over the next few weeks. They didn’t want to pay Powell what it would’ve taken to keep him, and they didn’t want to lose him for nothing in a free agency.
If you’re Ujiri, this is a good problem to have. A bunch of good players that other teams really covet, and that he would probably be fine keeping as well. At that same 2021 deadline, it looked like a near formality that the Raptors would move Kyle Lowry. But they didn’t.
Ujiri is not going to compromise. We know that much. We also know that “good problems” are problems nonetheless. This is not an easy decision. I would certainly trust Ujiri to put a contender together if he was to suddenly find himself armed with an OKC-like barrel of picks, but there’s no guarantee. And it can be a long process. The Thunder have been at this since 2020 and are only now becoming a .500 team because SGA has turned into an MVP-level player.
Does Barnes really have that kind of upside? I would say no, emphatically. I think he’s a guy you build with, not around. Same with Anunoby. Siakam is the star, but he’s going to turn 29 in April. His timeline wouldn’t fit into a Barnes/draft capital plan.
I don’t know the right answer. That’s not my job. My guess is that VanVleet and Trent will be moved, and Siakam and Anunoby will stay. That would give Toronto at least two more first-round picks to add to their own chest, which would be a pretty nice package to go out on the market with in an attempt to bring in a star alongside Siakam and Anunoby. That would seemingly be the shortest route to contention.
But what star is going to become available? And would the Raptors be able to out-bid an OKC or Houston or New York — all of which are also armed to the teeth with draft capital? Would they be giving up a bunch of really good players for the chance to become great, only to end up in the same place or maybe even worse than where they started? Go ask a Blazers fan about that.
These are all theoretical questions, but ones you can bet Ujiri is considering. These are the decisions GMs get paid the big bucks to make. They’re not easy. The only thing we know for sure is if Ujuri does decide to trade any of these guys, he will have no shortage of suitors.