TORONTO — After completing the OG Anunoby and Pascal Siakam trades, Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri repeated a word, seemingly preparing himself as much as he was preparing anyone else.
“I don’t know (whether) to call this a rebuild or a reset or however we want to put it, but a normal rebuild with other teams takes … five, six years. Do we have the patience for that?” Ujiri, the Toronto Raptors’ president, said. “Do we have the patience for three to five years, building our team? Someway, somehow, we are going to have to have patience. And one of the things that I’m telling you, a hundred percent, I’m not going to BS anybody on it, is I am 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 just before the deadline hit. Only one other team, the Dallas Mavericks, gave up a first-rounder. The Raptors seemingly cannot fully commit to a youth movement.
However, Thursday was very different from the 2023 and 2022 deadlines for the Raptors. What they did by bringing in Kelly Olynyk and Ochai Agbaji and sending out four players amounted to, essentially, diversifying their portfolio of assets around the core of the team. That core remains Scottie Barnes, Immanuel Quickley, and, maybe, RJ Barrett.
“We’re trying to find the right mix,” Raptors general manager Bobby Webster said at a post-deadline press conference.
In addition to trading Otto Porter Jr., Kira Lewis Jr. and the first-round pick to Utah, the Raptors also traded Dennis Schröder and Thaddeus Young to Brooklyn for Spencer Dinwiddie, who they immediately waived, wanting to look more at Barnes and other younger options with the ball in their hands.
“Even in personal conversations with a lot of teams in our similar position, (the consensus is) the young guys need leadership,” Webster added. “And I think we lost a bit of that veteran presence when we made earlier deals.
“And so you’re trying to find that right chemistry of who can guide these players. It’s tough for us to lose Thad. … So we simultaneously are bringing in young players to develop and grow but also creating an environment around them, where they’re learning professional habits, they’re being held accountable, they’re understanding how to play basketball at the NBA level, they’re learning how to win.”
The two trades served very different purposes. The Raptors wanted the players from Utah, and decided giving up the worst of the three picks they got from the Pacers for Siakam was worth it. Trading for a pending unrestricted free agent in Olynyk is risky. The Raptors have done it with Young and Jakob Poeltl in the middle of the previous two seasons, and wound up re-signing them to player-friendly deals (although not egregiously so, from a team perspective) to retain those players. There is also the possibility of Olynyk deciding to go elsewhere, although the fact he is Canadian, and turning 33 shortly after the regular season ends, limits the teams that would be trying to sign him. At first blush, a two-year deal for right around the mid-level exception seems reasonable, essentially filling Schröder’s salary slot. Olynyk is extension-eligible immediately, and Webster said Olynyk wants to be in Toronto.
Translation: They are confident they will find common ground on a contract.
“We’ve been big fans of Kelly,” Webster said. “I think the way we view him specifically is he’s a steady hand and I think we’ve seen it with the bench units, especially with the bigs, he’s going to provide a skillset of veteran presence, a voice that we think that unit could use some help with.”
As much as anything, the Raptors seemed to not want to become more invested in the 2024 NBA Draft. Before Thursday, if their own pick were to fall in the top six, they would have had three first-round picks as well as one early second-rounder in what is considered to be a weak draft. According to multiple reports, the New York Knicks were offering a 2024 first-rounder for Bruce Brown, but the Raptors wanted a future pick, not wanting to become over-leveraged in this draft class.
The Raptors are giving up the least desirable of their picks too, which will end up being in the slot of the Los Angeles Clippers or Oklahoma City Thunder — whoever finishes with a better record and, accordingly, a worse pick. They still have the Pacers’ pick and the Detroit Pistons’ second-rounder, in addition to potentially having their own. Getting Agbaji, who is in the second year of his rookie deal at a sudden position of need, the wing, is a fine gamble.
“I think Ochai’s energy will invigorate Scottie,” Webster said.
Keeping Brown means it is very unlikely the Raptors will have space under the salary cap to splurge on free agents. They would have to decline Brown’s $23 million team option and let Olynyk and Gary Trent Jr. walk in free agency to approach $40 million of cap space. Then again, there is nobody on the market who would likely be worth that, at least those who would consider the Raptors a realistic option.
More likely: The Raptors retain Olynyk, see what Brown’s trade value is over the summer and next season and consider bringing back Trent if the price is right. For now, Olynyk and Brown will steady the bench, and give the Raptors a few more options to close competitive games.
As for the future? Well, let’s see who makes themselves indispensable.
• Webster said nobody met the Raptors’ asking price for Brown, or else they would have done something. With only two first-round picks moved on the day, the Raptors’ ask seems pretty obvious.
• The Raptors didn’t move Trent either. He is set to become an unrestricted free agent after picking up his player option for 2023-24 in a bit of a surprise 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 going forward. “I think he probably would even admit he didn’t get off to as good of a start as he would have wanted to, but he’s settled in now and we’re seeing it. So I think it’s a little TBD on Gary, but I think we’re watching him grow with this group. We’re watching him pick and choose his spots offensively. I think you’re seeing him be a bit more aggressive defensively, which we’ve seen over the years.”
Trent is young enough to get an offer above the mid-level exception from some team this summer, but having his Bird rights to potentially keep him as opposed to getting a few second-round picks for him is a defensible piece of roster management. TBD is right.
• The Raptors are down to 13 players on the main roster, which means they have two empty roster spots. They could convert one of their three players on two-way contracts, Jontay Porter, Javon Freeman-Liberty or Markquis Nowell, to a main-roster contract, or they could go outside the organization. The Raptors have to fill one of the spots within two weeks. They want to see what Barnes can do in a more ball-dominant role, but they have some need for a point guard, regardless.
• Finally, Webster was asked whether the possibility of keeping the pick they owe the San Antonio Spurs for Poeltl, which is protected through the top-six spots, in the next three drafts, would impact how the Raptors approach their final 31 games. The Raptors entered Thursday’s play tied with Memphis for the sixth-worst record in the league, although obviously, the lottery can change the draft order.
“We’re going to prioritize seeing this group play,” Webster said. “If it ends up that we’re in the top six or out of the top six, especially the way that the new (lottery odds) are — to try to game that doesn’t make a ton of sense. At the end of the day, it’s going to be the lottery balls.
“I think the big priority for us is playing that young group together: getting Gradey (Dick) in there with that group, seeing how they fit together because that will give us a lot more information about how to build this team.”
(Top photo of Kelly Olynyk: Troy Taormina / USA Today)