Toronto Raptors: Drama, Trades, and Tanking for the 2021 NBA Draft

The Toronto Raptors have won just one of their last 13 games with their latest loss coming against the Detroit Pistons 118-104. It has been an unsettling campaign for Toronto who has dealt with relocating to Tampa Bay and a serious bout of COVID-19. The Raptors fought themselves back into playoff position prior to the All-Star break before a wave of COVID-19 punctuated momentum.

Toronto sits in 11th place with an 18-29 record but appears to have a new goal in mind.

Toronto Raptors: Drama, Trades, and Tanking for the 2021 NBA Draft

Losing streak, Siakam drama, Strange Closing Line-ups, and Effort issues

In their last 13 games, the Raptors have an offensive rating of 110.2 (16th) and a defensive rating of 117.7 (29th). Sure, they have dealt with a COVID-19 wave and played a bunch of line-ups with no experience but problems are much deeper.

Head Coach Nick Nurse and star forward Pascal Siakam got into a heated argument following his benching against the Cleveland Cavaliers. Nurse benched Siakam for the entire fourth quarter in which the Raptors lost 116-105.

This was a case of frustration boiling over for Siakam who has had a nice bounce-back season overall but struggles for stretches of games. Nurse and Siakam confrontations are nothing new as the pair have been at odds in the past.

Additionally, Nurse has also rolled out some strange closing line-ups. Stanley Johnson, Malachi Flynn, and Chris Boucher have all seen closing minutes when Toronto’s stars have been available. It is a stealth tank move by the Raptors who are competing for three quarters before throwing in the towelToronto’s effort comes and goes with players failing to get back on defense. This is unusual for a Nurse-led squad that prides itself on that side of the ball so one wonders if players understand the situation.

Given the team’s recent efforts and Nurse’s peculiar line-ups recently, the Raptors appear to be heading towards the 2021 Draft.

Toronto Raptors move Norman Powell, keep Kyle Lowry

At the trade deadline, Raptors General Manager Masai Ujiri was fielding calls regarding Kyle Lowry. Despite strong interest from Philadelphia and Miami, Ujiri was unable to find a deal and Lowry remains on the roster. Ujiri did make one deal, however, sending Norman Powell to the Portland Trailblazers.

The Raptors received a fair return for Powell who will enter free agency looking for a substantial raise. Gary Trent has one year remaining before he becomes a restricted free agent while Rodney Hood hits the open market next offseason.

Successfully moving Powell and attempting to trade Lowry signaled the club was heading in a different direction.

Roster Turnover, Re-signing Stars, and Free Agency Questions

Since its 2019 title run, the club’s core group has moved on. Kawhi Leonard and Serge Ibaka now play for the Los Angeles Clippers while Marc Gasol is the starting center for the Los Angeles Lakers. Additionally, Danny Green left to join the Lakers in 2019-20, won a title, and was then traded to Philadelphia for the 2020-21 campaign. As mentioned earlier, Powell is now in Portland to form a three-headed monster with Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. A big chunk of the Raptors’ playoff experience left for no return.

However, Toronto did re-sign and secure its younger stars to lucrative deals. Siakam inked a four-year, $137-million-dollar contract while Fred VanVleet received four years, $85-million, and OG Anunoby four years, $72-million. This does raise the question though, is this core group good enough to make a deep run in the next three to four seasons? Siakam and Van Vleet are 27-years-old and are entering their primes but appear to be excellent secondary options rather than the guy. Anunoby is still very young at 23-years-old and has a lot of time to develop.

Toronto will look to move Lowry via sign and trade in the 2021 offseason but the biggest question is what they will do with Siakam and VanVleet.

Final Thoughts

The Toronto Raptors are on track to tank the rest of the season to assume a high pick. Their effort on court leaves a lot to be desired and while the play-in position is within reach, the franchise doesn’t appear to be interested. Additionally, GM Ujiri is yet to sign a contract extension, it’s unknown if Lowry will work with Toronto in a sign and trade situation, and who knows if VanVleet and Siakam are the future. The Raptors should rip off the bandaid and look for good returns on Siakam and VanVleet. They are likely to net Toronto a haul to kick start a full-blown rebuild.

Ujiri is one of the best GMs in the NBA and whatever he chooses to do is likely in the team’s best interest.

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