As the Toronto Raptors prepare for their late season playoff push, they will desperately try to overcome what’s been a relatively shaky season. They currently sit in fourth place in the conference, which would still give them home court advantage in the playoffs. However, this team has the talent to finish number two, just like they did last season.
The Raptors have desperately tried to fill holes in their lineup, most recently trading away Terrence Ross to the Orlando Magic for Serge Ibaka, who has filled their hole at power forward. Raptors general manager, Masai Ujiri, has done an excellent job putting together a championship contender, but the Raptors just aren’t quite there yet. With Kyle Lowry going down after injuring his wrist, the Raptors are missing that spark that championship teams need. The Cavaliers have Lebron James, the Warriors have Stephen Curry and the Spurs’ have Kawhi Leonard.
Although Ujiri has built his team to be a well-balanced unit, they are missing that spark. Yes, Lowry and Demar Derozan are both excellent basketball players, and the offence runs through them. I truly believe, however, that in order to win the championship, the Raptors need a player who ranks in the top 10 of the NBA.
Before examining who that player could be, we must first list the NBA’s top 10 players. They are in no particular order, and I will not spend time defending my picks, we’ll save that for another day. In my opinion, they are:
Lebron James, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Kawhi Leonard, Stephen
Curry, James Harden, Anthony Davis, Paul George, Chris Paul and Giannis Antetokounmpo.
The first thing that comes to my mind when I look at that list is it would be nearly impossible to get a team to part ways with one of them. Unless you are the Pelicans and completely rip off the Kings, it seems very unlikely that you can put together a trade package that would be good enough to pry away their superstar.
The only trade situations that could possibly make sense would be around Davis or Cousins, and only if the dream power big-man duo did not pan out as hoped for New Orleans. Other than that, if you can outbid the Lakers or Celtics for someone like Paul George, the Pacers might be willing to ship out George with him being set to become a free agent after next season.
So with trades likely not the solution, the Raptors could try and convince one of these players to join them as a free agent. George is the likeliest player to change teams next in free agency, and if Toronto can upgrade at one position, small forward is likely the one they should decide on. A lineup of Lowry, Derozan, George, Ibaka and Jonas Valanciunas would seriously challenge the Cavaliers for the top spot in the East.
The other option, outside of trades and free agency, would be to create a top 10 player from scratch through the draft. If the Raptors fail to make a strong championship run in this year’s playoffs, they should seriously debate on doing whatever it takes to get a high draft pick. This year’s draft is projected to be one of the strongest in the past decade, so with a little luck, the Raptors could develop one of this year’s prospects into the next NBA superstar.
Washington’s Markelle Fultz, UCLA’s Lonzo Ball and Kansas’ Josh Jackson are just a trio of players that will likely become franchise cornerstones. However, guys like Michigan State’s Miles Bridges or North Carolina’s Justin Jackson are more reachable and are expected to go in the middle of the first round.
The Raptors’ have the potential to acquire the final missing piece in this year’s draft, however they’re likely to not get a pick until the final third of the first round. It would be hard to do, but the Raptors might have to consider breaking up what they already have built in order to acquire a potential future top 10 NBA player.
So, the question that should remain with Raptors fans is this: If you fail to make it to the NBA finals again, do you trade away a player like Derozan for a high draft pick, or do you keep the pieces glued together in hope that they will one day get the job done?