Chances are it’s a lot, and the Toronto Raptors could be in the thick of it.
It all starts with tonight’s draft, but the shockwaves could spread in all directions with the opening of the league’s free agency period 72 hours later.
Within a week, the Kyle Lowry era could be over and the Raptors could have a new franchise cornerstone. The Raptors are hoping to draft one with the No.4 pick, but it’s possible Toronto will become the landing point for Philadelphia 76ers star Ben Simmons in a deal between Atlantic Division rivals, with each move bringing down another. series of dominoes, locally and across the NBA.
The draft takes place in Brooklyn, and while it represents an entry point into the league for the 60 young athletes who have worked years to achieve a dream, it also marks a starting point from the momentary calm to the usual chaos outside. season. for a league that – collectively – seems to be waiting for something to happen, maybe even something big.
Line-up note: In the 2021 NBA Draft, the future will take shape – and that’s on Sportsnet. Live coverage begins Thursday at 7:30 p.m. ET on SN 360 and SN Now.
Raptors general manager Bobby Webster isn’t prone to hyperbole. For business purposes, his favorite expression is “poker face”.
But even he admitted that the dynamics of the draft and the free agency period that (officially) begins three days later Monday at 6 p.m. ET could combine to dramatically change the look of the league.
“You’re getting ready for the draft; you prepare for different options in free agency. Obviously, things can happen on draft night that would affect free agency, so it’s a little difficult to lock in anything too early, ”Webster said in his draft comments Wednesday. “We want to see how tomorrow night goes, but then you have to [focus] very quickly on Friday, Saturday, Sunday and – I think the free agency opens at 6:00 PM on Monday – be prepared to jump on any offers then.
“There is some preparatory work now and I think the majority of the work will happen [Thursday night] based on what’s going on around the league because there will undoubtedly be movement, significant movement. “
The Raptors will be in all of this because they have the No. 4 pick in the draft and because at Lowry they have a free agent on hold who is in demand as teams have seen that adding a Smart, tough and highly skilled veteran point guard like Chris Paul did for the Phoenix Suns on their unexpected trip to the NBA Finals.
On the draft front – according to the information I was able to gather – the Raptors focused on Gonzaga’s six-foot-five two-way guard Jalen Suggs as their preferred choice if he is available, albeit six-foot-one. nine handyman defensemen Scottie Barnes of Florida State would be a more than welcome fallback option if Suggs were ruled out.
Reading between the lines, the Raptors are unlikely to try to move up the draft order to ensure they can grab Evan Mobley, the seven-foot USC who is projecting himself as a great all-round modern, even if Toronto’s greatest need is some quality size.
Toronto is optimistic, sources say, that they can meet their need for a great man through free agency, with Richaun Holmes of Sacramento – who shares an agency with Fred VanVleet – a potential target, with Khem Birch, who finished last season strong after Toronto pulled him off the buyout market.
If the Raptors move up in the draft, it would more likely be to ensure they can draft Suggs, who typically appear fourth on most draft tables, but which particularly appeals to Toronto due to their All-NBA-caliber potential as an All-NBA caliber. as a defender, his athleticism, his ability to score on the edge and on the half-court and in transition, as well as his dynamism and competitiveness.
“I think over the years everyone’s pretty familiar, we like mentally strong, versatile players who want to improve,” said Webster. “The players who are willing to work hard, the players who will buy in attack and defense and the systems that we manage. “
It sounds like Suggs to me.
Still, the more likely scenario is for the Raptors to stay put at four and, assuming the draft unfolds as has been so widely predicted – with Oklahoma State star Cade Cunningham heading to Detroit first. ; G-League prospect Ignite Jalen Green passes second in Houston and Mobley third in Cleveland – Toronto would bring her boyfriend there.
Not that they won’t listen to the options.
Interestingly, Raptors president Masai Ujiri and Webster spotted Australian playmaker Josh Giddey in person in Las Vegas, where the Australians were playing exhibition matches before heading to Tokyo for the Olympics. They also sent Michigan big man Franz Wagner to Tampa for interviews and a training session, so it’s clear they are considering all the possibilities, given that Giddey and Wagner are expected to fall more in the 7-10 range. of the draft.
The interpretation would be that the Raptors are considering – or at least gearing up for – the possibility of leaving the fourth position in order to capitalize on the fourth pick in something more than a single player.
“I think it’s very simple: it’s obviously easier to exchange [in the draft] than to trade, ”Webster said. “So you’re talking about trading and collecting multiple assets and I think at a certain range you want to stay in the same level and hopefully you just value something differently and you get two or three guys and maybe you get a player who is more established. So I think that’s still the point.
“And then when trading, the asking price is always high, whether there are four of us trying to trade one, two, or three or if you’re someone trying to trade up to 15.”
Ah yes, the trades.
The Raptors could also be active there.
With the Golden State Warriors in ‘win now’ mode with their core veterans while also having the No. 7 and No. 14 picks in the draft, there are good reasons the two teams are linked as partners. potential salespeople. Likewise, with the Oklahoma City Thunder sitting on the No.6 pick and a treasure chest of other draft assets, the Raptors’ pick could be one of their targets if they attempt to advance in the batting order.
It’s tempting to tie up aspiring OKC star and Hamilton native Shai Gilgeous Alexander with Toronto in some kind of feverish dream swap. But given how well Lu Dort of Montreal played for the Raptors and Team Canada head coach Nick Nurse in the Olympic qualifying tournament, it could also be intriguing – although it’s just me thinking. .
More concretely, I can confirm reports that Toronto is fully engaged with the 76ers about the possibility of acquiring Simmons, the gifted but flawed six-foot-ten goaltender who fell out of favor there, given that his poor shot – and even a reluctance to shoot at all – made him a less than ideal fit alongside Sixers big man Joel Embiid.
The Raptors’ interest is obvious: Simmons just turned 25; he’s on contract for four more years and in four active seasons (he missed his rookie year due to injury) has been an All-Defense selection three times, an All-Star three times and an All-NBA once. Since the Raptors don’t play with anything resembling a traditional cross, the possibility of Simmons switching gears defensively while running freely in the “five-out” sets that Nurse favors on offense is tantalizing.
Is there an adjustment?
The Sixers see themselves as a veteran ground-gap point guard away from winning the NBA title and likely blame themselves for not being tougher on Lowry by the trade deadline.
At the time, they were reluctant to pay a higher premium because Lowry was looking for a two-year extension promise in the order of $ 50 million. That price has likely gone up – Lowry is looking for a three-year warranty now – but so has the Sixers’ sense of urgency after being knocked out of the playoffs ahead of the Conference Finals for the fourth straight season, wasting a another year of Embiid first.
Reports of the Sixers asking for the moon for Simmons – a set including Lowry, OG Anunoby, VanVleet and several future picks – were ignored internally by the Raptors as Philadelphia tried to build a market around a struggling asset.
There’s no guarantee the Raptors will get Simmons, and Lowry’s departure isn’t even a sure thing – he’s tested the waters in free agency before and ended up staying in Toronto – but he doesn’t make any doubt the possibility exists for big change both in Toronto and around the NBA.
Get that seat belt ready, the ride is about to begin.