The NBA trade deadline has come and gone and Kyle Lowry still remains a Raptor, at least for the rest of this season. It certainly seemed like he had played his last game on Wednesday after flashing a somber peace sign to the camera while walking off the floor, but Masai Ujiri and Bobby Webster held their ground when nobody met their rightfully high asking price.
Lowry means more to the Raptors organization than any other, so it was always going to take a hefty package to part ways with him. The same cannot be said for Norman Powell, who the Raptors did trade to Portland for Gary Trent Jr. and Rodney Hood. Powell’s value was at its absolute peak; with his impending unrestricted free agency set to take place after a career year where he’s averaging close to 20 points a game, Powell will likely demand a contract in the annual range of $18-$20 million (assuming he declines his $11.6 million player option, which he will).
Trades like this are always a bit bittersweet — Norman Powell means a lot to both the city and the franchise and played a key role on that 2019 championship team. As a four-year college player coming out of UCLA, the Raptors drafted the 22-year-old Powell with the 46th pick in 2015 and he quickly turned into another late-pick success story that has become the norm rather than the exception for the franchise over the past half-decade.
His steal and subsequent dunk in the fourth quarter of Game 5 of the Raptors’ first-round playoff series against the Pacers in 2016 will forever go down in Raptor lore as a potentially franchise-altering moment. The Raptors were coming off two straight first-round playoff losses, with the most recent exit being an embarrassing sweep at the hands of Washington that almost ended the ‘We The North’ era before it really started. At the time of Powell’s dunk, the Raptors and Pacers were tied 2-2 in the series; with Game 6 set to take place in Indiana, a Game 5 loss would almost certainly have meant a third straight first-round loss and with it, a complete roster overhaul.
A rookie Powell stole the ball free from Paul George, strode down the length of the court and, through a combination of adrenaline and athleticism, threw down what can only really be described as a wobbly dunk that tied the game at 92 with six-and-a-half minutes remaining. The Raptors would go on to win that game as well as the series before making it all the way to the Conference Finals for their first appearance in franchise history.
Powell signed a four-year/$42 million contract extension in 2017 that went from looking like a bad contract in year one to one of the best in the league by year four — a testament to the work he put in to become a legitimate scoring weapon and a lethal shooter. Compare his first three years in the league where he was a 32 per cent three point shooter to his last three, where he’s raised that mark to 41 per cent. This season, he’s shooting 44 per cent from three with a true shooting percentage of 64.5, the sixth best mark in the league coming from a perimeter player.
He’s now off to a Portland team where he’ll be the third scoring option on a team poised for yet another playoff appearance and will get the big payday he deserves in the offseason, whether it’s with the Blazers or elsewhere.
While not all Raptors fans were stoked at the return of Trent and Hood, I actually quite like the trade and really believe in Trent. Hood was mostly thrown in to make the trade work on paper — Trent is the real asset being exchanged. Hood’s contract is not guaranteed for next season and will most likely eat up some wing minutes for the rest of the season before moving elsewhere next year.
Trent will actually be a free agent as well, but the key difference is he will be restricted, meaning the Raptors can match any offer he gets elsewhere, assuming the Raptors make the qualifying offer which they certainly will. Trent is in his third NBA season, yet is just 22 years old (the same age Powell was when he was drafted), which is one of the advantages of drafting someone who played one year in college rather than four. Trent really made a name for himself in the Orlando Bubble this past summer, averaging nearly 17 points a game off of 50.7 per cent three point shooting.
That’s Trent’s M.O. — he’s a lethal shooter off the catch, but isn’t fully developed off the dribble, something the Raptors will no doubt work with him to improve on. They’ve got a pretty good track record when it comes to developing attacking off the dribble (see: DeMar DeRozan and OG Anunoby for proof). He’s a bit smaller than Powell, but projects better as a defender and seems to fit in well with the core group of VanVleet, Anunoby and Siakam moving forward.
The Raptors made some other very minor moves that initially looked like precursors to a potential Lowry deal (and very well could have been), when they shipped out Matt Thomas to Utah and Terence Davis to Sacramento each for a second round pick. While second round picks are not the flashiest of returns, the more of them you have, the more chances you also have of drafting another Norman Powell.
Thomas is pretty much ‘white-guy-stereotype’ personified, which is to say he’s an incredible shooter but can’t really do anything else well. He gives the Jazz another shooter though and that’s never a bad thing for contending teams. Davis is truly having an awful year on both sides of the ball and when you take into account his arrest for allegedly assaulting his girlfriend this fall, I think it’s safe to say he won’t be missed by anyone. Gee, a poor character guy going to Sacramento, what could go wrong! It’s actually kind of shocking they were able to net a second rounder for him, but hey, it is the Kings after all.
So a bit of a hectic day all in all, but the Raptors got a really nice player and prospect in Trent, acquired some minor draft assets for guys who weren’t contributing to the team, while keeping around the best player in franchise history for at least the rest of the season. While this season is already a wash, if nothing else, take the next 30ish games to just bask in the Lowry light a little while longer, because as we just learned, you never know when it might end.