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NBA Daily: Biggest Surprises – Pacific Division

Ben Nadeau continues Basketball Insiders’ series on surprises by evaluating three teams in the Pacific Division, their statuses in your social circles and whether or not to abandon all hope already.

Ben Nadeau

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Listen, if you’ve found yourself here at this exact moment in late October and/or/potentially early November, there’s likely only one thing on your newly-refined, basketball-obsessed minds: hot takes.

Make ‘em as hot as you can. And none of that Cholula weak sauce spiciness either — no, let’s sear some taste buds off and shoot them all to the moon, never to be seen or heard from again. While a handful of my colleagues — sorry, Matt, Jordan, Drew — have launched reasonable observations in their by-the-division assignments, the conclusion still remains: any sample sizes, to this point, fall firmly under the difficult umbrella of filing — too tough to commit to, too impossible to guarantee.

In other words: they’re boring. (And what’s spicier than sending shots across the bow about your web-based teammates — I’m doing this correctly, right?) The Utah Jazz will probably have an elite-level offense, eventually. There’s little reason to worry about James Harden’s nosediving percentages until the All-Star break, too. And, sure, the Indiana Pacers have disappointed without Victor Oladipo to steer the ship — but, in reality, they weren’t true Eastern Conference contenders at any point.

Naturally, to make up for that tameness, the Pacific Division edition of the series will merely just lean in even harder. The Golden State Warriors? Send them to the G League. The Sacramento Kings? We were all suckers for believing that a tortured franchise could ever claw their way back from the depths of decade-long despair. The Pheonix Suns? They might as well be anointed as the new Kings, appropriate as that title may be.

And after five games, these are some undeniable and concrete conclusions. Set in stone, you can send them along in group chats with absolutely zero worry or responsibility. Embrace the hotness of October basketball and try to invent some even bigger claims about the Pacific Division!

Disband The Warriors — Better Yet, Take Away The New Arena

Has it really been that long since the We Believe Warriors of 2007? While that lovable gang of misfits shocked the world over ten years ago — early on, it’s obvious that this current version of the once-historically-great Golden State franchise will be lucky to even sniff the postseason. In lieu of outright saying that they stink — their 30th-ranked defensive rating of 118.5 speaks for itself — perhaps then, should they lose the rights to play in their brand-new, state-of-the-art arena until matters course correct.

Of course, before Wednesday, the answer was obviously that they should not tank. Of course, they could not consider blowing it all up. Of course, Klay Thompson is hurt and most of their notable role players are gone, retired or suffering in Memphis — but tank? No, that’s a building worth $1.4 billion and the back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back NBA Finalists could never embrace such a fate. Unsurprisingly, Draymond Green couldn’t buy into the rose-colored, glass-half-full perspective just yet, even after finally breaking into the win column:

“Oh, we’re still not a very good team,” Green said. “We have a lot of room for improvement, just because we won one game doesn’t mean we don’t suck right now, we still have a lot of improvement to do.”

And then, the optimism — if there was any — went out the window when Stephen Curry broke his hand. Out for the foreseeable future, the tank-worthy takes came faster than ever — after all, they would likely owe their 2020 first-rounder to Brooklyn if things didn’t completely capitulate. So, maybe: Rest up, nurse Curry and Thompson to health and take a year to evaluate the potential surrounding pieces. D’Angelo Russell is still adjusting and Green will keep Golden State from being historically bad on defense — but that’s not exactly the biggest issue at this point.

Alas, it’s the rest of the roster that remains a question mark of the highest variety. Willie Cauley-Stein and Alec Burks made their season debuts during Wednesday night’s loss against Phoenix — 12 points, five rebounds; seven points, respectively — but the bench is littered with unproven youngsters.

At this time last year, Eric Paschall was gearing up to lead a depleted Villanova squad as a 21-year-old — today, he’s Warriors’ third-highest scorer. Glenn Robinson III averaged 4.2 points over 13 minutes per game for the Detroit Pistons in 2018-19 — as of now, he’s Golden State’s nailed-on starter at small forward. Kevon Looney, Cauley-Stein and Burks will help — but not enough in a Curry-less Western Conference hierarchy. Already, continuing their monumental half-decade run to the Finals seems nearly impossible.

But that’s OK: Basketball is cyclical and those on top rarely stay there forever. Still, their current level of play is not befitting for one of the most expensive stadiums in human history — although, in their defense, the New York Giants and Jets doubly share in that pricey mediocrity as a yearly tradition without issue.

So here’s the proposal: Play like a G League team, play in the G League. Until the Warriors improve as an overall unit, swap them out with Santa Cruz.

The Santa Cruz Warriors are set to open their season on Nov. 8 and if their parent club can’t figure it out by then, give them the heave-ho. Last year, Santa Cruz went 34-16 and made the Conference Finals — and, honestly, that might be a better on-court product than whatever the 126-opponent-points-per-game-Golden State Warriors are offering up.

Disband the franchise, shoot their championship banners into the outer reaches of our solar system and then pray for mercy — but sadly, the basketball isn’t even pretty as it stands and maybe that’s the most surprising bit of all. Without Curry, it’s bound to get way worse.

The Phoenix Suns Are Basically A Disney Movie

This is difficult, but Basketball Insiders would like to apologize for any shade, tweets or personal negative thoughts shared — both publicly and privately — about the Phoenix Suns and general manager James Jones over the last six months. They’re actually… good? For some real statistical analysis, we’d suggest moseying over to Quinn Davis’ earlier piece on the conversation. Better then, that means this section-long apology can continue unbarred from here on out.

Frank Kaminsky? Maybe he didn’t get a fair shake in Charlotte after all as the seven-footer is currently averaging 12 points, 6.6 rebounds and 2.8 assists over 26 minutes per game — all would, obviously, set new career-bests. Deandre Ayton: Suspended, but still promising. Devin Booker: Not a fan of double teams, but remains an undeniable scoring machine (and now a much-improved passer). Kelly Oubre Jr., once famously the fourth man of a two-ring Washington circus, has absolutely continued to thrive with the new scenery (and his new swimming pool of cash, too).

Phoenix’s point differential is a ridiculous plus-9.2, fourth-highest league-wide and surrounded by Finals hopefuls and rosters with bonafide MVP candidates. The Suns’ 28.8 assists per game slot them at second-best in the NBA; last year, they finished in 20th in that category. Then there’s Ricky Rubio, recently cast out of both Minnesota and Utah for shinier toys, who tries on defense and satisfies the Suns’ multiple-year effort to both identify and sign/trade/develop a real point guard.

And maybe that’s the emerging theme in Phoenix this year: They’re clearly just copying the plans to any nondescript gritty, underdog Disney movie. And better yet: It’s actually working. Cool Runnings, Rudy, The Big Green; rinse and repeat, take your pick, it hardly matters. Maybe once a team hits a certain amount of castaways and underrated athletes, they automatically transcend proceedings and take on an unshakable date with destiny. If it’s not too late to bet the house and your entire life savings on the Suns, do it.

The easy caveated asterisk would be to mention that this probably won’t last. In the end, they’ve still got to play the two Los Angeles-based squads and the rest of Western Conference for, oh, six more months and, again, these are small sample sizes. So unless we’ve got a 1988 Winter Olympics situation afoot — remember, the Jamaican bobsled team came this close — then try to enjoy it while this lasts. Still, the damage has been done to media egos across the board: Phoenix has a competitive roster and we were all wrong — sorry, James.

The Sun(s) Will Rise Again starring Timothée Chalamet as Ricky Rubio to hit theaters in April 2020 — don’t miss it!

The Kings Are Suddenly No Longer Everybody’s Favorite Undisclosed Second Team

In 2018-19, you’d be hard-pressed to find another darling as loved as the Sacramento Kings were. De’Aaron Fox was affable, funny and, better yet, a blossoming basketball player. Marvin Bagley III looked, too, like a star in the making, while Buddy Hield, pre-contract negotiations, had ascended to long-range royalty. Although the Kings barely missed the postseason, the message appeared to be clear: At long last, the curse had been lifted and Sacramento would finally and definitively graduate to the rank of “Real Basketball Team” again.

And how silly it was to believe any of that, right?

Bogdan Bogdanovic may or may not be unhappy. The Kings may or may not have buyer’s remorse on Harrison Barnes’ offseason deal. Through five games, Dewayne Dedmon, Sacramento’s newly-signed center, is rocking a PER of 2.06. Over 22 minutes per game, Trevor Ariza is only tallying 3.8 points and the Kings’ defensive rating is down near the cellar. Harry Giles has struggled to stay healthy and now Bagley is out for the next 4-to-6 weeks with a fractured thumb. Worse, the run-and-fun offense that the young Kings made a staple of their surprise campaign has evaporated completely.

In the five defeats, Sacramento has notched just 12.4 fastbreak points per game — ranking them at No. 18 thus far. It’s a distant cry from the league-leading 20.9 points they averaged last season with head coach Dave Joerger at the helm, who was unceremoniously fired despite leading the Kings to their best regular season record since 2005-06. Now under the watchful eye of Luke Walton, they’ve begun to trend backward and sideways instead ahead. In what seems to be a competitive division hidden amongst a cutthroat conference, the Kings may be digging themselves into a giant, bottomless pit — so, unfortunately, it’s time to say farewell to your secret second favorite team.

Everybody’s got them, don’t lie.

Generally speaking, these teams are tailor-made for post-practice and corporate water cooler conversations. Fun and scrappy — and, importantly, unable to truly disappoint given a low bar of expectations — the Kings often gave onlookers an outlet of solace for their regular-day pains. With Fox, Hield and Bagley operating on all cylinders, Sacramento existed as a breezy secondary option, a late-night solution for any iso-laden trappings and star-heavy shortcomings found elsewhere. For a brief moment, the Kings were a dose of cure-all medication: Young, speedy and modern — a match made in heaven within a social-media indebted society.

Now, unfortunately, those Kings are dead. We’ve buried them. They’re gone and all we can do is swiftly move on.

Other new sneaky-good options to claim fandom ownership of come the holiday season: Ja Morant; the Orlando Magic; mastering the art of tradsies between James Harden and Russell Westbrook; the Cleveland Cavaliers; Nikola Jokic; the aforementioned Suns; Kyrie Irving’s desire to freestyle dribble every possession permanently into the hardwood; Joe Ingles and steadfastly defending Ben Simmons’ role as ‘a peacemaker, not a three-taker.’

The point of a secret backup team is having an easy-to-reference comeback when somebody sullies the great and impeachable name of your favorite squad. Oh, really, I should believe in Bobby Portis? How’s Terry Rozier working out so far? The Chicago Bulls? More like the Chicago Dulls, right? And if that go-to retort happens to be 0-5, everybody is suddenly unhappy and playing slow, slow basketball — then they’ve got to go.

There’s already too much sadness in the world already, so find yourself a secret second favorite team that won’t make your trips to the office kitchen even more upsetting than usual.

Time can only tell if the Kings are truly cursed for eternity — but you can’t afford to wait around.

The season is only five games young, but don’t hesitate to write teams off completely, bury them alive and erase years and years worth of data from your mind with reckless abandon. In the case of the Pacific Division, that means demoting the Warriors to the G League and/or sending their championship banners into space. It also mandates that the Kings should probably be treated as an ex-significant other when whispered about in the hallways and on gym floors too — they’re just forgotten ghosts to you, don’t get it twisted

In the end, we’re already a full six percent into the season and that’s plenty of time to build an irrefutable narrative from which nobody will dare deviate from. So, for the moral of our story: Just lean in, we all know you want to.

Ben Nadeau is a Seattle-based writer in his third year with Basketball Insiders. For five seasons, he covered the Brooklyn Nets for The Brooklyn Game.

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Anfernee Simons Can Grow, But Disappointing Blazers Set Him Up To Fail

The Blazers had big expectations for Anfernee Simons this season. The sophomore guard hasn’t lived up to them, calling into question both his long-term potential and Portland’s ability for self-evaluation.

Jack Winter

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Wide-eyed optimism runs notoriously rampant at all NBA media days.

Before training camp opens and the real games tip off, players, coaches and executives alike inevitably fall victim to the unmitigated promise provided by another season to prove themselves at the game’s highest level. Even so, it’s not hard to suss through the league-wide landscape and pinpoint teams whose hopes and beliefs espoused on media day are rooted far more in reality than the afterglow of summer.

The Portland Trail Blazers’, though, existed somewhere in the middle of those extremes. Coming off a surprising trip to the Western Conference Finals, the Blazers exuded the sweeping confidence at media day that would be necessary for them to compensate for a major talent deficit compared to the Western Conference’s true elite.

Hassan Whiteside predicted multiple triple-doubles while playing in Portland’s dribble-handoff heavy attack. Mario Hezonja was féted by his new teammates and coaches as a game-changing point forward. Rodney Hood called his mindset “night and day” compared to last season, while Kent Bazemore admitted that he imagined himself being the Blazers’ “missing piece” while watching last season’s playoffs.

“This year,” Damian Lillard said on Sep. 30, “Our focus is to win the championship.”

Just over halfway through 2019-20, Portland’s focus has shifted dramatically. At 20-27 and tenth-place in the West, with the league’s 19th-best net rating, that much is clear. What’s less obvious and will prove instrumental in charting the path forward is how realistic their goal of winning a title this season was in the first place.

Imagine a world in which Portland’s offseason additions lived up to media-day hype and Jusuf Nurkic quickly regained the form that made him a two-way impact player upon returning from injury. Imagine Neil Olshey flipped Whiteside’s expiring contract for a proven playoff performer on the wing or up in front.

Where would that leave Anfernee Simons?

The same place he is right now – as the Blazers’ third guard. But instead of fading into the background of a lost season, Simons might be Portland’s biggest question mark with the playoffs fast approaching.

Olshey, like the Blazers’ players and coaches, forecasted much bigger things for his team this season than a fight for the last playoff spot in the conference. Among the rosier reasons why were his outlandish preseason expectations for Simons, a 20-year-old sophomore that notched just 141 minutes in the NBA last season after spending the previous year at prep powerhouse IMG Academy.

Gushing about Portland’s revamped roster at media day, Olshey said Simons is “the best young guard in the league.”

The Blazers had been hyping Simons for months, priming local and national media for a breakout campaign they made seem like a formality. Olshey is known for his unflinching and often outlandish optimism. No one realistic thought Simons would challenge for Sixth Man of the Year while backing up Damian Lillard or CJ McCollum, let alone match the prorated production of precocious guards from his draft class like Trae Young or Shae Gilgeous-Alexander.

Even outsiders less familiar with Simons’ game, though, anticipated more than what he’s given Portland over the season’s first four months.

Simons is averaging 9.2 points, 2.5 rebounds and 1.5 assists in 23.1 minutes per game. He’s connecting on an ugly 31.7 percent of his spot-up tries from deep, and shooting just 42.0 percent on drives, per NBA.com. Lineups featuring Simons as the Blazers’ lead guard, or situations without Lillard or McCollum next to him, possess a 90.3 offensive rating – over 13 points lower than the Golden State Warriors’ league-worst mark.

Nearly as disheartening as the numbers is the eye test. A potential dunk-contest participant at All-Star Weekend with rare burst and fluidity, Simons’ elite athletic profile has been manifested during games on fleeting occasions this season. Absent a head of steam in transition or ample space to rise for alley-oops in the halfcourt, you’d have no idea Simons has routinely been described by Portland as one of the best overall athletes in the NBA.

None of this is to suggest that Simons is doomed. This season is his first taste of real NBA basketball. His blend of raw, on-ball scoring ability and physical tools still tantalize.

It’s not Simons that deserves criticism for underperforming expectations, but Olshey for slotting him in a role he’s definitely not ready to play. Under head coach Terry Stotts, the Blazers have relied on consistent productivity from third guards as much as any team in the league save the Dallas Mavericks. If Olshey wasn’t absolutely certain that Simons could come close to replicating the play of Seth Curry and Shabazz Napier over the years, while sprinkling in dashes of future stardom, earmarking such a crucial place in the rotation for him was always setting Simons up to disappoint.

In that vein, Portland’s failure to live up to preseason title aspirations could be considered a blessing. Simons’ development wouldn’t be hastened by cutting his teeth as the Blazers’ third guard while they chased a championship. The relative lack of pressure playing for a team whose dreams of playing in June have already vanished should make Simons’ ongoing acclimation to NBA basketball a bit easier.

That’s the only silver lining for Portland to glean from wasting a year of Lillard’s prime. The belief in-house is that the Blazers will recover from a debilitating spate of injuries, re-tool on the edges of the rotation and enter next season with the same sense of championship promise as they did this one.

But as 2019-20 has made so abundantly clear, Olshey’s capacity to accurately evaluate the strength of his roster will again loom large – and maybe, without the loftiest of expectations on his shoulders, Simons can still become the player Portland insists he will be.

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NBA Daily: Kobe’s 81 Is An Untouchable Feat

Of Kobe Bryant’s lengthy list of accomplishments and records, his 81-point game is the one that has no peer.

Douglas Farmer

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Of Kobe Bryant’s lengthy list of accolades, accomplishments and records, the most obvious of them may also be the most under-appreciated.

NBA fans can cite Kobe contemporaries that can match his five NBA championships. In addition to Tim Duncan and Steve Kerr, LeBron James is at No. 3 and still counting. And of course, James passed Kobe’s 33,643 career points just this weekend, moving into third all-time.

Kobe’s career-high 35.4 points per game in 2005-06 falls short of James Harden’s current stretch, averaging 36.07 this season and 36.13 last year. In fact, Harden’s career average of 24.97 points slots just behind Kobe’s 24.99, both behind LeBron’s 27.10 and Kevin Durant’s 27.02.

But no modern player has come close to Kobe’s legendary 81-point game during that 2006 season. Sure, Devin Booker tallied 70 three years ago and David Robinson got to 71 back in 1994, but neither were actually that close to Kobe’s iconic torching of the Toronto Raptors.

When Booker poured in 70 against the Boston Celtics, he needed 40 field goal attempts to do it. At his shooting rates that March night, he would have needed to take another seven shots to reach Kobe’s 81. If he didn’t attempt more free throws, then that number ticks up to 10 more attempts.

Sticking to that math, Robinson’s 71 would have needed six more hoists to beat Kobe to 81, a total of 47 hypothetical attempts.

By no means was Kobe the epitome of efficiency when he outscored everyone but Wilt Chamberlain by going 28-of-46 and 7-of-13 from deep – supplemented by an 18-of-20 performance at the free throw line. Nonetheless, he was hardly detrimental to the Los Angeles Lakers’ offense.

In the last 40 years, only five players have come within 20 points of Kobe’s singular feat while shooting at rates such that they could have theoretically gotten to 81 points on fewer than his 46 field goal attempts. Two of those, naturally, came from Kobe himself.

Player Date Points FGA Total FGA needed to reach 81
Michael Jordan 3/28/1990 69 37 44
Kobe Bryant 12/20/2005 62 31 41
LeBron James 3/3/2014 61 33 44
Kobe Bryant 2/2/2009 61 31 42
Karl Malone 1/27/1990 61 26 35
Klay Thompson 12/5/2016 60 33 45

For someone long-criticized for his shot volume, Kobe was the definition of an efficient mass scorer more often than anyone else, to such a degree he has essentially been without a peer for 30 years.

Aside from Thompson, the obvious nominee of who might match Kobe is a healthy Stephen Curry, even though he has never scored more than 54 points in a game. When Curry reached that mark at Madison Square Garden in 2013, he would have needed to take another 14 shots to have a genuine chance at 81, for a total of 42 attempts. His 53-point effort in 2015 would have also needed to get to 42 attempts to be on pace to match Kobe.

There is, however, another volume scorer to watch, one who came within 20 points of Kobe’s best just last week. Damian Lillard’s week warrants Kobe-esque notice.

Last Monday: 61 points on 17-of-37 shooting against the Warriors; would have need 50 shots to catch Kobe.

Thursday: 47 points on 16-of-28 shooting against the Mavericks; would have needed 49 shots to catch Kobe.

Sunday: 50 points on 14-of-23 shooting against the Pacers, would have needed 38 shots to catch Kobe.

To wit, take last night as an example: Lillard scored 50 points in an impeccably efficient matter, but if he had somehow not missed a single shot, he would have scored only 74 points.

Fittingly, a monomaniacal guard with a penchant for game-winning shots is the one scoring in bunches in ways that can be compared to only Kobe – yet the Portland Trail Blazers’ guard remains far short of the 81-point standard.

But that just goes to show how amazing Kobe’s night on Jan. 22, 2006 really was.

The five-time champion, first-ballot Hall of Famer achieved many things and left an imprint beyond our grasp this tragic week, but his one night of heaviest binge scoring may be the least likely piece of his career to ever be repeated.

It has no modern peer and even those the closest to matching it have tended to fall a dozen shots and 20 points short.

But that day? In today’s modern NBA landscape, that’s a great chance we’ll never, ever see something quite like it again.

Kobe Bryant, a legend and icon in so, so many ways.

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NBA Daily: Deadline Dilemma In Toronto

After winning the 2019 NBA Championship and losing Kawhi Leonard, the Toronto Raptors have defied the odds, winning 30 of their first 44 games this season — but Drew Maresca argues that conceding this season in hopes of building an even stronger future roster is the smarter long-term move.

Drew Maresca

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The Raptors have overachieved in a ridiculous way in 2019-20. They were +700 to repeat as NBA champions prior to the 2019 free agency period, according to the Draft Kings.

Immediately after Kawhi Leonard fled West, the Raptors’ odds grew to +2200 to repeat – tied with the Celtics, who just lost Kyrie Irving, and the Nets, whose best player was set to miss the entire year. And yet through 44 games, the Raptors are third in the Eastern Conference with a 31-14 record and only one-and-a-half games behind last year’s pace (32-12).

But what’s in a record? There’s more to unpack than just wins and losses, especially when success has almost certainly been redefined in a city that just experienced its first NBA championship ever. So a logical test is how well you’re playing against the crème de la crème. And in that regard, the Raptors haven’t fared too well. Including their home win against Philadelphia on Wednesday night, the Raptors are still only 7-12 against winning teams with a net rating of minus-37 in those 19 games.

Very few teams would be terribly upset to be in a similar situation as the Raptors. In fact, most teams would be thrilled to be third overall in their conference. But the Raptors are barreling toward an interesting decision: embrace the opportunity to continue to gain playoff experience (and additional playoff revenue) or expedite a miniature rebuild. This writer’s thoughts on the matter are well documented in our 2019-20 Toronto Raptors Season Preview and our recent Atlantic Division – buyers or sellers piece. But let’s officially build a case supporting the Raptors trading some of their veterans in an attempt to add assets prior to the Feb. 6 trade deadline.

The Raptors’ most valuable trade chip is also their longest-tenured player – starting point guard, Kyle Lowry. Lowry is 33 years old and experiencing a career resurgence after taking a back seat to Leonard last year. Lowry is averaging a near career-high 37.1 minutes per game, in which time he’s scoring 20 points per game – more than he’s scored since 2016-17 — and dishing out 7.5 assists.

But Lowry is probably the last guy the team wants to move. He’s a fan favorite and has been with the team for eight consecutive seasons; Lowry is currently third overall for games played in franchise history. But if they chose to dangle Lowry on the trade market, they would certainly get a good amount of interest from teams like the Lakers, HEAT, 76ers and maybe even the Jazz and Nuggets. What interested parties would offer is an entirely different story, but it would have to be pretty aggressive to get the Raptors to part with their franchise player.

But there are other guys who make more sense in a trade.

There’s Marc Gasol, their soon-to-be 35-year-old center. Unlike Lowry, Gasol is not experiencing a career renaissance. He’s missed 12 of their 44 games, with down years in scoring (7.8 points per game compared to his 14.7 career average), two-point shooting (44% compared to his from 49.7% career average) and rebounds (6.4 rebounds compared to his 7.6. career average). But he still has a good amount of utility in him. After all, he leads the Raptors in defensive plus/minus, per Basketball Reference – something that he’s prided himself on throughout his career and an attribute that would be a welcomed addition to most contenders.

There’s also Serge Ibaka, their 30-year-old sometimes-starting, sometimes-backup big man. Ibaka is actually outpacing career averages in scoring (14.9), rebounds (8.4) and assists (1.3). Ibaka is still widely viewed as an above-average and versatile defender, and the fact that he’s shooting 37% on three-pointers makes him all the more valuable to teams like the Boston Celtics – who lack a true big man who can stretch the floor.

Gasol and Ibaka’s standing in Toronto is especially vulnerable since both will enter free agency this summer — whereas Lowry signed an extension last year that runs through 2020-21, when he’ll make $30.5 million. The Raptors could choose to keep Gasol and/or Ibaka, but either or both could walk without returning any assets as soon as this July. Further, the team is unlikely to break the bank for either considering they’ll have to make a generous offer to retain soon-to-be free agent guard Fred VanVleet – who is having a breakout season, averaging 18.7 points and 6.7 assists per game while shooting 38.8% on a career-high 6.9 three-point attempts per game. VanVleet is only 25 years old and fits alongside Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby and the team’s young role players like Norman Powell far better than Ibaka or Gasol.

As it stands, the Raptors have about $85 million in salary commitments for 2020-21 with $3.8 million in a player option (Stanley Johnson) and another $1.5 million in a team option (Terence Davis). The cap is projected at $116 million with the luxury tax kicking in at $141 million. They can (and should) invest between $20 and $25 million per year in VanVleet, which brings them up to about $110 million. If negotiations begin creeping north of $25 million per year, the Raptors will have to make concessions elsewhere if they hope to retain VanVleet – Ibaka would theoretically be among those concessions since he’ll probably be looking for at least one more generous payday. It’s unclear what Gasol would seek in a new contract.

All three of the aforementioned Raptors have at least one thing in common – they are the only three Raptors born before 1990. So whether they like it or not, the Raptors have turned their roster over quickly and effectively to the extent that they have a talented young core with the framework of a contender in the making.

All three veteran players can definitely continue contributing for at least the remainder of this season – and to varying degrees, well beyond it. But their impact will be more profound on a contender looking to add quality veterans. And despite what their record tells us, that’s just not the Raptors right now.

Instead, the Raptors are a team in the very fortunate position of being able to reload relatively quickly around a blossoming young core. Yes, they’re significantly better than average, but which would you prefer: a team that qualifies for the conference semifinals in 2019-20 or a team that loses in the first round of the 2019-20 playoffs, but adds additional assets — some of whom help the team remain competitive for years to come?

Granted, dislodging Lowry from Toronto requires a monster offer and would result in at least some backlash; but neglecting to trade Gasol and/or Ibaka is likely to result in one or both leaving to pursue more money and/or additional championships – neither of which can the Raptors offer. The Raptors and team president Masai Ujiri have made bold moves time and again. There is no reason to hold off on moving either Gasol and/or Ibaka before Feb. 6 – and if a sweetheart offer comes in for Lowry, then him, too.

Regardless, the Raptors are fairly well set up for the future, so it is unlikely that this move (or lack of it) is analyzed too aggressively in the future. And also, there is certainly a fine line between being opportunist and greedy. But trading one, both or all veterans allows the team to add additional assets to a cupboard that already looks pretty well stocked.

And it’s probably one of the final opportunities to add talent before their core takes its final form — and if that form results in future championships is partially dependent on how the Raptors proceed before the 2020 trade deadline.

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