By Jon Turco, freelance contributor for the Toronto Raptors and Dallas Mavericks | Also contributed to HoopsHabit, Bleacher Report and Raptors HQ
In this opinion column, I will be discussing a bold take leading into the NBA Draft, the Greatest Raptor of All Time free agency dilemma and what is turning out to be an ugly break-up down in Philadelphia.
The 2021 NBA Draft is only one restful night away for fans, and an extension of sleepless nights for front offices around the Association. The consensus top 4 amongst most of the Mock Drafts, in some order seems to be Cade Cunningham, Evan Mobley, Jalen Green and Jalen Suggs. Each are very different players, bringing unique skillsets, athleticism, intangibles and fit depending on the respective team’s needs. The common denominator amongst all draft analysts is this is a deep draft and in any other draft year in this past decade (omit Zion Williamson, Karl-Anthony Towns, and Anthony Davis), these four young aspiring soon-to-be NBA’ers would be a consensus number one pick.
You already knew all of that and not here for the same ol’ verbiage found on the other sites; you are here for the bold take. Here it is: one of the top-five picks in the draft will be traded. More specifically, if the Orlando Magic fall in love with one of the Jalens, it is very easy decision for them to package picks no. five and eight, plus other assets whether its one of their many big bodied, athletic forwards or guards to either to the Houston Rockets at pick no. two (if they want to draft Green/Suggs) or to the Cleveland Cavaliers at pick no. three (if they want to draft Jalen Suggs).
Orlando just outside the top-4 could very easily as many sites report draft two top-10 players in the draft including the most Magic-like and Florida state prospect in Scottie Barnes. But, they need to swing for the fences, after cleaning house this past trade deadline, trading away their veterans for asset accumulation and younger players, they need someone who will be a star for the next decade. Anything short of that is just status-quo for a team that doesn’t score a lot, doesn’t have much playmaking, and their top players are injury prone (Markelle Fultz and Jonathan Isaac). Getting a walking bucket in Jalen Green or one of the best floor generals in Suggs, will dramatically change the trajectory of the franchise. Both the Cavs and the Rockets need assets, especially the Rockets. Grabbing two top-ten players in a deep draft is a great return. Maybe they see promise in Jonathan Kuminga, Barnes or the Australian playmaking wing in Josh Giddey—big swing picks for potential types. Another option for the Magic is to trade with the Toronto Raptors, who may not be ready to move on from Kyle Lowry and be willing trade down, potentially grabbing Suggs at pick no. four and the Raptors with Barnes with the following pick, who they reportedly like.
Speaking of Kyle Lowry, the Greatest Raptor of All Time, no debate necessary, does the Raptors potentially drafting a highly touted guard in Suggs mean the end for KLOE (Kyle Lowry Over Everything)? Simply put, no. The Raptors didn’t win the number one pick, but they were one of the biggest winners, with an 8.5 % chance of getting the fourth pick, and hit. When in a draft as deep as this one, you pick best player available and if that happens to be Suggs, re-signing Lowry to his reported asking of three years at $90 million, may hinder the growth of a potential future All-Star prospect.
This hasn’t deterred the Raptors from drafting (or signing) a guard in the past. Fred VanVleet (27), Gary Trent Jr. (22) (RFA-qualified), Malachi Flynn (23) are all currently on the roster, each relatively young and have not yet reached their full potential. Adding another young guard in Suggs (20), would potentially clog up minutes for some, if not most of them if Lowry were to re-sign. Head coach Nick Nurse loves to deploy two playmaking guards together and this has been the recipe for success for many years, except last year where they had one of their worse seasons, record-wise since 2012. But, they were playing in Tampa, Covid-19 ravaged their team with absences/injuries and with no true centre until they signed Khem Birch, I digress. The point is, Lowry is the GROAT for a reason, losing a player of his caliber regardless of age (36) and especially since the projected decline in his game has not come to fruition, it would make the Raptors worse.
They have a great core in FVV, OG Anunoby and Pascal Siakam, and a winning culture fostered by Lowry (and DeMar DeRozan) for the past eight years. The leadership, hustle and everything Lowry brings to the table is so difficult to replicate, hence why multiple teams are vying for his services even at his age. Should the Raptors try and re-sign Lowry? Absolutely, but whether it will be financially feasible is more difficult to answer. The happy medium answer to his free agency dilemma is if another team is willing to pay Lowry what he reportedly wants on a team he wants to go to, a sign and trade option is available to help the poaching team be able to acquire his talents and the Raptors don’t get left empty handed.
One of those teams who are very interested in Lowry is a team from his hometown, the Philadelphia 76ers. The fit there would be amazing for both Lowry playing at home and for the Sixers, who have been looking for a playmaker, shot-creator, and leadership since Jimmy Butler left for the Miami Heat. The problem is the Sixers have three max-salary players on the books and very little to no cap space. The aforementioned sign and trade opportunity is there, as the Raptors are interested in acquiring a star player to add to their roster. Do the Sixers have a star player who would welcome a trade to another team, especially a fanbase that would criticize every step he takes or free throw he misses?
You would be living in the stone age if you don’t know about the Ben Simmons fiasco this past postseason and the criticism he has endured under the national lights. It is the players’ offseason and there are reports of the Sixers were “unable to collaborate” with Simmons. If I was getting paid $30+ million annually, when your boss calls, regardless of when, you answer. The fact he hasn’t means there is more to this story from both sides.
The asking price for Simmons seems to be “robust” with the Raptors reportedly turning down the offer of Simmons because the ask was ridiculously high (FVV, OG, Lowry, fourth overall pick and future first). The Raptors are notorious for not leaking anything to media, meaning this is President Daryl Morey’s doing, and has a reputation for astronomical asks, until realities sink in when dealing his star players.
There are no official reports from Simmons’ camp about demanding a trade out of Philly and would be difficult to envision with four years left on his contract on his max deal. But, if the Sixers brass do not address the heated fanbase about Simmons or any tension between themselves and the star player, the animosity will rear its ugly head for both the team and the forward. For once, let the healthy option be chosen, fix the relationship or a clean break via trade.