Written by: Jared Hammer – Staff Writing Intern (@jjjhammer)
The Toronto Raptors were blown out Tuesday night by the San Antonio Spurs 110-82. It was their sixth and final game of a holiday road trip out West. They were without Patrick Patterson who missed his second straight game with a knee injury. Even though it was just one game, it’s games like this that spotlight the Raptors glaring need for three go-to players on their roster.
Their record is 1-6 against the current top four teams in the league (GS, SAS, CLE, HOU) with their only win against the NBA’s elite coming against Houston. They’re a fairly safe pick to finish second in the East again this year, but can they take the next step with this current roster?
Enter Paul Millsap. The 11-year veteran who can opt out of his current deal at the end of the season has had his name surface in trade rumors to begin 2017. ESPN’s Marc Stein first reported that that the Hawks have begun fielding calls to move Millsap on January 1st, fearing he’ll leave for nothing this summer.
Story posting soon with @WindhorstESPN: ESPN sources say the Hawks have begun listening to trade offers for free agent-to-be Paul Millsap
— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) January 1, 2017
In that article, Stein and his colleague Brian Windhorst reported that the Raptors were one team expressing interest in Millsap, along with the Denver Nuggets. The Raptors were thought to be making calls to acquire him at last years’ trade deadline but the price may have been too steep and nothing materialized. Well this year the Hawks asking price for the Raptors to rent Millsap may be out.
Patterson, and Ross are big pieces to move for the Raptors. Add in Poeltl, Wright and draft picks and this would be an all-in move, in hopes of taking a run at Cleveland come May. We could debate all day whether or not the Raptors should pull the trigger. Millsap would be a great piece to add with Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. Will the trio fit well together? How much will the Raptors miss Patterson who’s third in minutes per game, and the glue that holds the defense together?
A better option may be dealing Jonas Valanciunas. The Raptors aren’t using him to his full potential, and are actually a better team when he’s on the bench – which has been happening more and more of late. It’s no knock to JV, the Raps are just better with a big man who can defend the rim, set good screens and roll hard to the basket as an outlet for a lob from Lowry, DeRozan or backup Corey Joseph.
Lucas Nogueira is part of four of the Raptors top five effective lineups, while JV is a member of three of the worst five. They’ve mastered using Bebe – who was a big part of the Raptors leading the league in ORtg – and Millsap’s transition would be silky smooth. Patterson or Millsap could also move into the Small Forward slot, which could give Lebron James and Kevin Love fits with the switching ability.
But would the Hawks want Valanciunas? They already have one seven-foot Center in Dwight Howard, and those two would probably never play together, making it less likely that they’d swap Millsap for JV, Ross, and picks. There is one team though in the Eastern Conference who could use a big man with scoring touch in the paint. The Charlotte Hornets.
Valanciunas has better polish around the rim than Cody Zeller, who is the Hornets most productive big man and has been playing really well. Zeller would move into a reserve roll, bolstering the bench with Frank Kaminsky. Would the Hornets be willing to deal Michael Kidd-Gilchrist – who is coming off a seven-game 2015-16, injury ridden campaign, and has nine ppg on 44% shooting – to the Hawks?
The Raptors would get their “big 3” and avoid giving up Patrick Patterson. Of course, they’d probably need to give up some more as I imagine Ross and a few other young prospects and picks would be headed the other way.
The Hawks would get a nice young core of Dennis Schroder (23), Kent Bazemore (27), Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (23), and Terrence Ross (25) all on fairly valuable contracts for the next 4 years. Paired with Dwight Howard, that’s an athletic, long, and young lineup with some upside. And most importantly a pretty big haul for a player who may leave you for nothing.
And the Hornets would get a big who would draw attention and doubles in the paint, opening up lanes for Kemba Walker, and Nic Batum. Or drawing the defenders away from shooters Jeremy Lamb, Marvin Williams, Marco Belinelli, and Kaminsky. Walker and Valanciunas pick and rolls would also be fun to watch and just as hard to stop.
ESPN’s trade machine approved it, so you know this is pretty much a done deal. A lot would have to go right for this to go through, but I doubt Masai Ujiri would be willing to give up Patterson, Ross, Poeltl, Wright and picks for a rental player. While they risk Millsap leaving, they’d have freed up some cap room moving Valanciunas and Ross and could then find something in free agency or make resigning Lowry and Patterson easier.
There’s no question the Raptors need another piece to take the next step and become a true contender in the East, but at what price will that be?