We are less than three weeks from the NBA trade deadline, which means it is time for my twice-annual trade tiers column.
This one is different from the previous six. Sure, the Toronto Raptors could make a move to improve their chances of possible Play-In Tournament seeding, but their standing as the potential seller with the most difference-makers puts them in an enviable position. We will explore that more next week, but the conditions are ripe for them to let the market play out as sellers. Any hypothetical big board of realistic trade targets at the deadline would have four of their starters in the top 12 or so. And there are far more buyers than sellers — at least there should be.
To remind you: I have placed each player into a group that corresponds with the scenario in which he is most likely to be traded. The groups are not ranked by the likelihood of each scenario playing out. However, within each group, the players listed at the top are more likely to be traded, and the players listed at the bottom are less likely to move. (All salary details include this season.)
Past Raptors trade tier versions: 1.0 (2020 trade deadline) | 2.0 (2020 offseason) | 3.0 (2021 deadline) | 4.0 (2021 offseason) | 5.0 (2021 trade deadline) | 6.0 (2022 offseason)
More Raptors trade deadline content: Sellers part one | Sellers part two | The Fred VanVleet conundrum
Scottie Barnes (three years, $25.79 million, team option for 2024-25, extension eligible in 2024, potential restricted free agent in 2025)
The best thing about the last 10 games or so of this disappointing Raptors season has been watching Scottie Barnes once again impact games in numerous ways. Whether it has been as a screener, passer or as a physical presence in the paint, Barnes is back to flashing his potential every game. Barnes is averaging 17.7 points, 7.3 rebounds, 4.9 assists, 1.5 steals and 1.3 blocks per game over the last 10 games, heading into Thursday’s contest in Minnesota. He has probably been the best Raptor during that stretch.
I’ve stuck “Almost” up there as more of an acknowledgment of how strange this season has been from a team perspective. The Raptors should have been humbled to the point where absolutely nothing is entirely off the table. Saying that, coming up with a sensible trade for Barnes is nearly impossible. The most likely outcome remains the Raptors offering him a maximum-value extension two summers from now, and Barnes remaining a Raptor for a long, long time.
Why would we give him up?
Precious Achiuwa (two years, $7.22 million remaining, extension eligible in 2023, RFA/UFA in 2024)
Christian Koloko (three years, $5.24 million remaining, 2024-25 unguaranteed, potential RFA in 2025)
Achiuwa has yet to show he can be a starter in the league, but his excellent play in the second half of last year and since he returned from his ankle injury should have the Raptors keeping him around for a while longer. Raptors president Masai Ujiri has said he still sees Toronto as a “team of the future,” and Achiuwa, with his massive defensive skill set and improving offensive decision-making, could be a meaningful part of that.
More to the point, with the Raptors unlikely to be in win-now mode this deadline, they shouldn’t be in the position where they have to add sweetener to get a deal done. After Barnes, Achiuwa is the best player the Raptors still have on a rookie deal. I’d bet against an extension getting done this offseason, just because the Raptors currently exist in an uncertain state, but that could change.
Koloko, who has provided above-average utility as a second-round pick, is less likely to move because of his comparatively low salary.
We’d rather not, but give us your best offer and we’ll think about it
OG Anunoby (three years, $55.93 million remaining, includes player option for 2024-25)
Pascal Siakam (two years, $73.34 million remaining)
Both Raptors forwards are extension-eligible this offseason. However, given Anunoby won’t qualify for a supermax, the Raptors could offer him a starting salary of about $22.4 million, with a maximum of eight-percent raises. If he were an unrestricted free agent this summer, some team would offer him a minimum of $30 million as a first-year salary, and that’s being conservative. If Siakam makes All-NBA this year, he’ll be eligible for a starting salary at 35 percent of the salary cap as opposed to 30 percent.
Anyway, Anunoby is more likely to move at the deadline for many reasons, primarily: He is easier to incorporate into an offense midseason, and he makes half of what Siakam does. Barring something unforeseen, Siakam’s value shouldn’t change dramatically between now and the summer, because part of the appeal of acquiring him would be the ability to realistically extend him. In case you’re worried the Raptors might win too many games with him, the likes of San Antonio, Detroit, Houston and Charlotte will be impossible for Toronto to “catch” in the lottery standings. The Raptors are more likely to fall somewhere in the 5-9 range. It’s obviously beneficial from a single-season perspective to have the best lottery positioning possible, but that’s more about the floor than the ceiling.
The digress. I’d bet against either Siakam or Anunoby moving at the deadline, but the latter is more realistic than the former.
One of these two is probably moving
Gary Trent Jr. (two years, $35.84 million remaining, including player option for 2023-24)
Fred VanVleet (two years, $44.08 million remaining, including player option for 2023-24)
Yes, the salary cap is going up, and will continue to do so when the new television deal is up for renewal. (The current one expires after the 2024-25 season.) It will be hard to give out a contract this coming offseason that will be a major hindrance to a team in the long term.
With that said, the Raptors project to be just $18 million or so under the luxury-tax threshold next season, assuming they let Thaddeus Young hit free agency — and that doesn’t account for the likelihood of Trent Jr. and VanVleet both opting out and signing for higher salaries, nor does it include the Raptors’ likely bringing in a high- or mid-lottery pick
After a few years of developmental struggles, the Raptors need more contributors on lighter contracts. Trading Trent Jr. or VanVleet is the easiest way to acquire those pieces. I’ve already written about how complex the VanVleet situation is; for that reason, I have Trent as the most likely player to move, although it could be closer than some might think.
Useful veterans who could be attractive to contenders
Thaddeus Young (two years, $16.1 million remaining, just $1 million guaranteed for 2023-24)
Chris Boucher (three years, $35.25 million remaining)
Neither of these players will fetch a first-rounder on his own. However, I could see multiple teams looking at Young or Boucher and believing they could help them in a depth role this year. Boucher’s contract isn’t looking great through the first half-season, so I would say he’s less likely to move than Young, who can be viewed as being on a quasi-expiring contract.
The Raptors shouldn’t feel pressured to move on from either of these players, but it wouldn’t be unreasonable to move them for second-round picks plus matching salaries.
Making the math work
Khem Birch (two years, $13.65 million remaining)
Otto Porter Jr. (two years, $12.3 million remaining, including player option for 2023-24)
Malachi Flynn (two years, $6.02 million remaining, extension eligible this offseason, RFA/UFA in 2024)
Juancho Hernangomez (one year, $1.84 million remaining)
Dalano Banton (one year, $1.56 million remaining, RFA/UFA in 2023)
Frankly, I didn’t see any reason to not rank these players by salary. I’m guessing the Raptors would be open to allowing the Banton experiment to continue for another year or two, and the injured Porter could still be a meaningful contributor at a good price next year. None of these players will get in the way of the Raptors conducting a bigger piece of business.
Cold hard cash (up to $6.36 million)
Their own second-round picks (2023, 2025-29)
Their own first-round picks (2023-29)
For the right future piece, I could see the Raptors trading a pick. I don’t see that as a likely scenario, but it’s meaningfully more than zero. Also, cash can grease the wheels of a trade. How do you feel about your monthly cable payments helping out Masai Ujiri?
(Photo: Mark Blinch/Getty Images)