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Raptors mailbag: Siakam's injury, Lowry sign-and-trade ideas, free agent targets

·NBA reporter
·10 min read
Pascal Siakam #43 and Kyle Lowry #7 of the Toronto Raptors share a laugh during a break in play.  (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
Pascal Siakam #43 and Kyle Lowry #7 of the Toronto Raptors share a laugh during a break in play. (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)

Toronto Raptors reporter William Lou answers Twitter questions each week during the offseason on the Raptors Over Everything podcast. Here are some expanded answers on the most pertinent questions.

How will the Raptors cope with Pascal Siakam's shoulder injury?

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Pascal Siakam’s shoulder injury is severe, and his absence will be difficult to cope with, but don’t be in such a rush to rule out the year. If the five-month recovery timeline is correct, that would put Siakam’s return somewhere around the third week of the season, translating to 10 games missed. That’s not going to decide the season unless he remains severely affected by the injury for more time than expected, although it does significantly eat into the Raptors’ buffer for other setbacks.

The more interesting question will be how the Raptors will manage the starting lineup without him. Even in a down year, Siakam was a huge contributor on both ends of the ball, and there is no natural replacement on the roster. The front office may look to address frontcourt depth with Siakam’s injury in mind, but short of any major moves, the Raptors will likely slot Chris Boucher into the starting five. Boucher will fill gaps defensively with his length and agility similar to Siakam, although he isn’t as solid of a one-on-one stopper. He also brings spacing and works hard on the glass on both ends.

Offensively, however, the Raptors will be even more challenged than usual. Assuming that Kyle Lowry moves on, the Raptors will have only one playmaker in the starting five in Fred VanVleet, who will likely see plenty of traps given that the other four starters aren’t strong ball handlers. Gary Trent Jr. is a knockdown shooter that rarely sets up others, OG Anunoby is still coming into his own as an offensive creator, Boucher is also trigger happy, and the bulk of Khem Birch’s creativity is mostly a secondary result of someone else first creating the advantage. Siakam’s ability to handle in transition, to set up shop in the post, to draw double teams, and his overall effectiveness at the basket is not replicable by any other members of the Raptors. Promoting Boucher to the starting five also takes away a valuable bench scorer.

All that being said, it’s too early to make any firm decisions on next season. It’s not even clear how the roster will look at this point, and if there is any silver lining in Siakam’s injury, it is a foreseeable hurdle that the front office and coaching staff can actively prepare for in the offseason.

What about Kelly Olynyk?

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It's a cliche to attach Canadian players to the Raptors but I promise this isn't that. Olynyk would fit the Raptors nicely as a floor-spacing and playmaking big, something that the team lacks outside of Siakam. Olynyk is a proven player who can contribute in a bench role, and although nobody outside of Houston paid much attention to the Rockets in the second half of the season, he quietly averaged 19 points, eight rebounds and four assists while shooting 54 percent from the floor and 39 percent from deep.

There would be a bit of a logjam in the frontcourt with everyone healthy if the Raptors were to add Olynyk, retain Boucher, and also re-sign Birch and Freddie Gillespie. But after watching half a season without any quality options at center, it would be nice to have options. None of them would be particularly pricey either, as neither Birch nor Olynyk will likely command more than $10 million annually despite their breakout showings in the second half of the year. 

Could the Raptors get something for their non-guaranteed contracts?

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There are varying degrees of usefulness in their three contract structures. Rodney Hood’s guarantee date is coming up in two weeks, which makes it mostly useless for salary-dumping purposes (unless the guarantee date is pushed back as a result of the pandemic delaying this season). Aron Baynes becomes guaranteed on Aug. 4, which is after the start of free agency, so that’s $7 million in expirings that could be used at the draft (July 29). And finally, Boucher’s deal holds the most value since he’s a productive player who wouldn’t be included in a trade solely for salary matching reasons.

If I had to guess, I don’t see any of the three being included in trades. Hood’s deadline is too early to be useful, and there’s no pressing drive to trade Boucher since he continues to show improvement as a homegrown talent. Baynes could be moved in a minor deal to absorb an unwanted contract, but this is also a weak free agent class so there likely won’t be much demand for a small bit of savings. The expiring deal for Baynes might hypothetically land you something unsexy like Tristan Thompson from the Celtics or Josh Richardson if he opts into his player option and if Dallas is desperate to open more cap room.

But I also wouldn’t put it past the Raptors front office to get creative. In 2014, the Raptors turned the expiring deal of John Salmons into Lou Williams (who won Sixth Man of the Year) and Lucas Nogueira (who was great entertainment and occasionally useful). If they come anywhere close to replicating that deal, they will deserve full credit. Aggregating all three deals for a 35-year-old Al Horford, who is owed at least $41 million over the next two seasons, would not qualify. Horford is still productive, but there's no long-term upside at all in this deal unless the Raptors get a pick out of it. 

Are the Suns similar to the 2019 Raptors?

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The Suns have been an amazing story all season and they are genuinely a very good team, but I don’t fully see the parallels between the two squads beyond trading for a future Hall-of-Famer and being elevated as a result.

The Raptors had more interior scoring with Kawhi Leonard and Siakam both being able to create in the paint, while Serge Ibaka was also a reliable finisher. The Suns are much more perimeter-oriented in how they generate offense, although Deandre Ayton has also elevated his game. Toronto also had more veterans who had made a few runs, while Phoenix is mostly young with the exceptions of Chris Paul and Jae Crowder. The Raptors were also historically dominant on defense in that run, whereas the Suns are very good defensively but aren't overwhelming to the same degree.

The similarities are in the defense and their overall depth. The Suns have been able to lock in against both the Lakers and the Nuggets. Phoenix has silenced great interior scorers (Anthony Davis, LeBron James, Nikola Jokic) just as Toronto did in its run (Joel Embiid, Nikola Vucevic, Giannis Antetokounmpo). Phoenix also has lots of depth on the roster. While most games are decided by the starters, the Suns have seen bench pieces like Cam Payne and Torrey Craig make huge impressions, similar to how the Raptors had Ibaka, VanVleet, and Norman Powell among their reserves.

You could also say that key injuries played into their respective runs, although it’s always forgotten that the Raptors battled through issues of their own. Lowry played through a dislocated thumb that eventually needed surgery, Siakam strained his calf, and Leonard's quad was always a concern. OG Anunoby also had an emergency appendectomy on the eve of the playoffs, which sidelined him for the entire run. None of that is as impactful as Kevin Durant not playing, or Klay Thompson being hurt for six quarters, but as we see in this year's playoffs, injuries are very much part of the game. 

Would the Pacers be interested in a Gary Trent Jr. for Myles Turner swap?

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Indiana is an interesting team to watch as it seems poised for a shakeup beyond just the undignified dismissal of former Raptors assistant coach Nate Bjorkgren. If the Pacers look to shuffle their roster, Myles Turner is a logical target to be moved since there has always been a layer of redundancy between him and Domantas Sabonis sharing the frontcourt. That being said, the Pacers should be able to score more than Trent Jr. on a sign-and-trade if they were to move Turner, who led the league in blocks and is the rare center who can also knock down threes.

The Raptors would also be trading from a position of weakness. Trent Jr. is not perfect, but he is the only starting-caliber shooting guard on the team. Toronto traded Norman Powell, DeMar DeRozan, Terence Davis, and Matt Thomas in recent years, while also allowing Danny Green to walk in free agency, so there is no depth at the position. Even if they re-signed Lowry, which is a 50-50 proposition, there would still be a need for more guards. Of course, the Raptors could also use their pick on a shooting guard or sign one in free agency, but then what was really the point of flipping Powell for Trent Jr. at the deadline? Cleary, the team sees potential for Trent Jr. to grow in their system.

How would a Kyle Lowry to Dallas sign-and-trade work?

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Lowry would be a great fit in Dallas as a secondary playmaker around Luka Doncic, which is mostly what kept the Mavericks from advancing in the past two postseasons. Lowry remains in top condition and if everything works out, he could give the Mavericks a boost similar to what Paul did for Phoenix. Lowry doesn’t offer the same scoring as Paul, but he has consistently shown an ability to elevate and complement star players.

The Mavericks would probably want to retain Jalen Brunson given that he’s signed for just $2 million next season and that he’s their second-most promising player outside of Doncic. However, Brunson’s role was diminished in the playoffs, and if they also intend to retain Tim Hardaway Jr. and add Lowry, there won’t be enough minutes for Brunson, especially with Doncic also dominating the ball. The same case could be applied for the Raptors, who would have VanVleet, Trent Jr., and Malachi Flynn vying for minutes, but Brunson is as good as any of those three in any given game.

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