Though aiming higher, Raptors land Lowry’s last play against Young’s trade

Now we can all sit back and watch just how good Precious Achiuwa really can be.

The NBA trade deadline marked the end of the Kyle Lowry era — at least in accounting terms.

When the Toronto Raptors agreed to trade Goran Dragic to the San Antonio Spurs for veteran forward Thaddeus Young shortly before lunchtime on Thursday, he gave the final ‘i’ in the deal which saw the franchise-defining playmaker heading to the Miami Heat as part of a sign-and-trade for Achiuwa and Dragic.

The hope – almost since Dragic arrived – was that the veteran guard’s expiring $19.4 million contract would help Toronto earn one more trump card for the pot, and they were even set to join a draft pick. if that meant firing a good player who fit their core now and in the future.

In the end, they shared the difference. Cost to face Young — a 33-year-old who didn’t fit Spurs’ plans on an expiring $14.5 million deal — was the Raptors’ first-round pick. The Spurs took advantage of that price by signing the rights to the Detroit Pistons’ second-round pick to the Raptors.

If the season ended today, the Spurs would be 20th and the Raptors 31st. The draft is not considered particularly deep.

“It’s the value game here,” Raptors general manager Bobby Webster said. “You slip a bit in the draft and pick a player that you think is going to help you. Historically, this is an area of ​​the draft where we have operated in the past. Realistically, we don’t see a ton of incremental changes between these choices.

Another advantage is that unlike a first-round pick, which comes with a fixed salary for two years and quite often ends up on your books for at least four years, a high second-round pick allows teams more flexibility in how they structure contracts, which are in some ways viewed more favorably as trading tokens.

Another advantage is that Toronto has a little more spare change lying around without going into the luxury tax, which they don’t want to do, because not only would it cost them a dollar for each one they cross the threshold, but that would prevent them from getting what should be a $10-15 million payout that non-taxable teams get in the NBA’s Robin Hood approach to revenue sharing.

What can they do with it? How about using some of their newly created wiggle room to convert up-and-coming rookie Justin Champagnie from a two-way deal to a favorable rookie contract with friendly team terms? It would be one of those little moves that could look great a year from now if Champagnie could smooth out a three-point shot to complement his hustle and turn into a low-cost rotation player.

Apart from that, Young improves the Raptors. He was collateral damage when the Chicago Bulls had to include him in the sign and trade that won them DeMar DeRozan, but he was loved there not only for his production – 12.1 points, 6.2 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 1.1 steals in 24 minutes. off the bench – but for a veteran, an egoless professionalism that should make him an easy candidate for Toronto. If his 1,059 games of NBA experience can be used to help Achiuwa in his second year, and first as a regular, great.

“Thaddeus is a household name in the NBA,” Webster said. “For us, we’ve been following him for a while. We’ve made a few attempts to get him through trade in the previous years. We felt like it was a good situation where we bring him to Toronto. And we think that’s a good situation where it really complements the core. It kind of complements more than it tries to replace what they do. Part of the philosophy for us was to maintain and respect what this group was doing and (to determine) how we could add something to it.

Realistically, however, the Raptors were hoping for more. Adding another 6-foot-9 big guy who can switch between multiple positions defensively helps marginally. At the very least, he’s an upgrade or at least insurance for Khem Birch’s uncertain knee and a safety blanket for Raptors head coach Nick Nurse when things get tense, and he has no want to guess which of Achiuwa or Chris Boucher is less likely to get a brain freeze on a defensive mission.

But in the weeks leading up to the deadline, there was hope – even confidence – that they could translate Dragic’s deal and a pick into something that would measurably improve their rapidly improving team. .

They don’t need their analytics department telling them that having a bench their head coach doesn’t trust isn’t a formula for long-term success. Every good team the Raptors have had in the Masai Ujiri/Bobby Webster era has been deep; some of them ridiculously so. Norman Powell was the 11th man in Toronto in 2018-19 and 2019-20, was released in 2020-21 and ended up winning a $90 million contract with the Portland Trail Blazers after establishing himself as one of the best shooters in the league.

By the way: There was a rumor floating around that the Raptors had a chance to get back on the Powell bandwagon when the Trail Blazers dangled him last week. It would have cost Toronto Gary Trent Jr., so that was a quick ‘no’ — not that the Raptors were in the market for a four-year contract and $72 million remaining after this season.

But that Powell was eventually traded to the Clippers for what was effectively a second-round pick and an unheralded rookie explains why there was some optimism in the Raptors’ front office about what Dragic and a pick could bring them. .

Like many teams, they had hoped the Atlanta Hawks would consider the reality that they should have $33 million tied up in Bogdan Bogdanovich and Kevin Huerter next season and deciding to move Bogdanovich now would make sense.

He would have been the kind of addition the Raptors would have jumped on, seeing the 29-year-old as a short-term and long-term assist. But the Hawks never budged, presumably thinking Bogdanovich can help them this season and be no less valuable in trade this summer or beyond.

It was the theme of the week or of the day. There were a lot of intriguing players that you could see moving or who were said to be moved, who never moved.

The Raptors have been involved in talks with the New York Knicks and Los Angeles Lakers over a deal that would have landed the Raptors Nathan Horton-Tucker – a long-armed 21-year-old who is raw but promising; the perfect Raptor, in other words — of the Lakers and Nerlens Noel, the — wait for it — super-switchy 6-foot-9 of the Knicks.

How bad was it? “Sweet”, I was told.

Before anyone gets mad because the Raptors aren’t doing anything sexy, remember that the spiraling Lakers — as desperate as any team in the league, at least on paper — haven’t moved any of their easily tradable assets.

It was the topic of the day. There were a few blockbusters, but conversely, some stagnation too, with the NBA’s play-in tournament format singled out as a reason why more teams weren’t more willing to sell.

The Raptors tried. They appealed to more expensive items like Harrison Barnes of the Sacramento Kings or Jerami Grant of the Detroit Pistons, the sources say, but in today’s NBA, smaller markets aren’t used to selling quality players who are under the control of the team for nothing. .

The Raptors had more reason to be optimistic about Houston Rockets’ Eric Gordon, Danillo Gallinari with Atlanta and hey, maybe he even kicked the tires of their old friend Terrence Ross. with the Orlando Magic as a value game. Each of them offered different levels of perimeter shooting, play and positional versatility, but each in the areas the Raptors lack, rather than Young, whose skills overlap to varying degrees with what they have. already.

There were options the Raptors had — Evan Fournier of the Knicks, say — but didn’t consider attractive enough to owe $37 million over the next two seasons.

It seems a safe bet in conversations the Raptors had with Spurs that point guard Derrick White came on, but Toronto didn’t want to inherit the three years and $53 million remaining on his contract for a future 28-year-old. – old who does not shoot well.

So it comes down to Young and Achiuwa. A partial season from the veteran and the talented 22-year-old’s athletic bounty as the only tangible return for Lowry, which wouldn’t be all that bad if not he’s the only return the Raptors have after their championship core – Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green, Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka – all left as free agents with no return at all.

That’s the way things are, in some respects. The Philadelphia 76ers weren’t going to offer a royal ransom for Lowry at the trade deadline last year with no assurances he wanted to play there long-term (he didn’t) and Miami wasn’t. offer a pot of gold when they knew Lowry would come to them in the summer (he did).

So if Young plays well this season and – more importantly – if Achiuwa blossoms and eventually harnesses his very obvious talent and becomes an elite defender capable of destroying rims on the roll and settling into open threes if needed, he could end up being a nice comeback for the best player in franchise history.

But Achiuwa is a project and it will take time.

If he doesn’t become what the Raptors are hoping for? A championship banner and lots of memories because Lowry’s return will have to be enough.

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