A report emerged Thursday morning from SNY’s Ian Begley that the Knicks had offered the Raptors two first-round picks for OG Anunoby in December. This comes after the Toronto Star’s Bruce Arthur reported earlier this week that the Raptors had received an offer of three first-round picks for Anunoby from an unnamed team.
So far, Masai Ujiri is unmoved.
But how long will it stay that way?
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 desirable shooter/defender for almost any competitor.
If the Raptors were to admit this season’s struggles and put a cap on this current player core, they would be able to go down the Oklahoma City road to a rebuild. Scottie Barnes becomes your Shai Gilgeous Alexander building block, and everyone else gets freaked out over a truckload of design capital.
Let’s say Siakam is worth three first-round picks. Anunoby three more. VanVleet possibly two. Another for Trento. That’s nine first-round picks, plus Toronto controls all of its own picks moving forward. That’s big loot, but if you’re the Raptors, are you ready for a fresh start? The reason these players are worth so much is that they are very good. Difficult to replace.
Perhaps the Raptors will go the route of trading a few guys but keeping a core intact. If this is the case, VanVleet and/or Trent will most likely ship. Assuming Trent declines his player option for next season, both will be unrestricted free agents this summer.
Earlier this month, ESPN’s Tim Bontemps reported that Toronto had offered VanVleet the maximum allowable four-year extension of $114 million. VanVleet declined. From ESPN:
But one thing is clear: VanVleet believes he’s worth more than what Toronto can currently give him.
“Without going into too much depth… [I’m] I’m just trying to put myself in a good position commercially and not renew a contract that was made three or four years ago,” VanVleet told ESPN.
“I felt like I had surpassed that contract so far. So I was just trying to put myself in a position to put the cards in their hands. You have to make a decision from an organizational point of view.
“I love being here. I love being a raptor. I have a great relationship with Masai and Bobby so I’m confident we could find [a deal]. We have a great partnership so I’m not going to make it easy for them in the future and they’re not going to make it easy for me either and that’s the way it goes.”
At the close of 2021, the Raptors sent Norman Powell to the Blazers for the same reason they might be covering VanVleet in the next few weeks. They didn’t want to pay Powell what it would have cost to keep him, and they didn’t want to lose him to free agency for nothing.
If you are Ujiri, this is a good problem. A bunch of good players that other teams really covet and would probably keep. By the same deadline in 2021, it almost looked like a formality that the Raptors would relocate Kyle Lowry. But they didn’t.
Ujiri will not compromise. We know that much. We also know that “good problems” are still problems. It’s not an easy decision. I’d certainly trust Ujiri to put together a contender if he suddenly finds himself armed with an OKC-esque barrel full of pickaxes, but there’s no guarantee. And it can be a long process. The Thunder have been around since 2020 and are only now becoming a .500 team because of SGA’s progression to an MVP level player.
Does Barnes really have that advantage? I would say no, emphatically. I think he’s a guy you build with, not close by. The same goes for Anunoby. Siakam is the star, but he turns 29 in April. His schedule would not fit into a Barnes/Draft Capital plan.
I don’t know the right answer. This is not my task. My guess is that VanVleet and Trent will move and Siakam and Anunoby will stay. That would give Toronto at least two more first-round picks to add to its own chest, which would be a pretty nice package to go to market with to try and bring in a star alongside Siakam and Anunoby. That would seem to be the shortest way to a dispute.
But which star will become available? And would the Raptors be able to outbid an OKC or Houston or New York – all of whom are also armed to the teeth with draft capital? Would they give up a bunch of really good players for a chance to be great, only to end up in the same place, or maybe even worse than where they started? Ask any Blazers fan about it.
These are all theoretical questions, but you can bet Ujiri is thinking about it. These are the decisions that GMs get paid the big bucks for. You are not easy. The only thing we know for sure is that if Ujuri decides to trade one of these guys, he won’t be short of applicants.