This article originally appeared on VICE Sports Canada.
The trade call was made, the deal official pending physicals, when Toronto Raptors president spoke to media on Tuesday. Having just acquired Serge Ibaka from the Orlando Magic for Terrence Ross and a first-round draft pick—a major acquisition that helps re-establish a struggling outfit in the Eastern Conference hierarchy—the conversation, naturally, shifted to what's next. Ibaka is nice, sure, but the Raptors could still do more, right?
"As long as I still have a phone," Ujiri said.
It is perhaps greedy to ask for another big splash so soon after landing a piece the team has coveted for a long time. But there are reasons the Raptors got that deal done 10 days before the deadline rather than waiting for Feb. 23. The primary one is to give Ibaka the eight-day All-Star break to get acclimated with his surroundings, the playbook, and the terminology, to be sure. There's also the window it keeps open for the Raptors to make a smaller follow-up move to re-balance the roster in a sense.
Now, there's no rule that a team needs to have three players at every position, and the modern NBA makes that mostly unnecessary. Still, even with Delon Wright showing a great deal of potential in multi-guard lineups, the Raptors find themselves thin on the wing with Ross' departure. Employing seven natural bigs, four point guards, and Bruno Caboclo leaves the team with just three wings. They're also a little thin on shooting, although Ibaka and the returning Patrick Patterson will help space the floor from the power forward and center positions. If they were to make an addition, it's probably for a wing who can provide some shooting off the bench, preferably with some defensive versatility.
What's more, the Raptors still have assets. The pick they surrendered in the deal is the lesser of their two first-round picks this year, and they own all of their other picks in perpetuity. That means they have first-rounders to dangle in any year, plus all of their second-rounders, though their near-term second-round picks figure to have little market value as likely selections in the 50s. If the Raptors wanted to stay very aggressive, they also have prospects in Wright, Jakob Poeltl, Fred VanVleet, and Pascal Siakam to send out.
Most importantly when looking at the names available, the Raptors have a mid-sized salary they can send out for the purposes of matching money. The NBA's salary cap rules require trades to be close in dollars in and dollars out, something that became a hindrance to Toronto at the deadline last year.
That's where Jared Sullinger may finally provide value to this team. With the acquisition of Ibaka, it's unlikely Sullinger figures into the rotation from here, barring injury. An impending unrestricted free agent, he'd probably be open to the idea of getting a chance to play minutes elsewhere (not that he'd have a choice). He can't be considered an asset in a trade—there's potential for him to become a nice piece once again, but he comes without Bird rights to go over the cap to re-sign him this summer, and he still hasn't shown to be in NBA form—but he can be a conduit for a deal thanks to his $5.6 million salary. Send Sullinger out and the Raptors can take back $8.54 million in a deal. Add a prospect and that amount grows.
The Raptors probably aren't going to be making another major splash. Ross was their big chip, Ibaka their big acquisition, and the market is woefully thin on sellers since only five teams are more than four games out of a playoff spot at the break. But they'll be active between now and 3 PM Thursday, with Sullinger plus an asset for a wing deal their most likely means to improving the roster further. Here's a look at a few names the Raptors could inquire on.
Bojan Bogdanovic, Brooklyn: The Nets are in the precarious position of being clear sellers without many assets to deal off. Bogdanovic could be a difficult get because the Nets hold his rights in restricted free agency this summer and may want the opportunity to retain the 27-year-old. If he's available, a 6-foot-8 forward with a 36.6-percent career 3-point percentage would be a nice weapon off the bench. He's not an elite defender by any means, but he has great size for the wing and would open up some switching options at that end. Given that the Nets want two first-round picks for Brook Lopez, the price on a Bogdanovic rental (plus his RFA rights) could be higher in prospect capital than the Raptors can stomach.
Gerald Henderson, 76ers: Acquiring a player who kills the Raptors just makes sense, right? Henderson has a hefty price tag at $9 million, but his salary is fully non-guaranteed for next season, providing some flexibility. More shooting guard than forward and more defensive weapon than offensive, Henderson has improved his 3-point percentage over the years and is hitting a career-best 36.9 percent on career-high volume this season. It's hard to know what the post-Sam Hinkie 76ers would be asking for in a sell-off move, but Ujiri and Bryan Colangelo obviously have a relationship, which could help get the ball rolling.
Nick Young, Lakers: Wait, hear me out. Hey, where are you going? Click back. Come back here. Swaggy P is the NBA's clown prince, sure, but the 31-year-old is quietly putting together the best two-way season of his career. Former Raptors assistant Jesse Mermuys raved about Young's improvements this year when the Lakers were in Toronto, and he's hitting a career-best 41.3 percent of his 3-point shots on a ludicrous volume without the space he'd receive in Toronto. Young is still a net negative defensively, but he has good size on the wing, can occasionally dial in, and his $5.7 million salary for next year comes in the form of a player option he may turn down coming off a strong season.
P.J. Tucker, Suns: A reported deadline target last year, the Suns may be more amenable to dealing the former Raptor back now that he's a few months from unrestricted free agency. At last word, the Suns wanted to get a first-round pick back for him, which might be too rich as a rental. If the price comes down, the 31-year-old could offer physicality, toughness, defense across three positions, and a respectable but hardly lethal 3-point shot. Tucker definitely fits the bill of what the Raptors always say they want to be defensively, it's just a matter of the asset Phoenix would want back.
Other options: Everyone seems to want Wilson Chandler, but the Raptors might not be willing to part with multiple assets (including potentially Cory Joseph) to entice the Nuggets, who aren't a natural fit as a trade partner in terms of assets. What's more, Ibaka lessens the need for a combo-forward, and Chandler would mean committing $27 million to a pair of small forwards for next year; Zach LaVine's injury probably takes Brandon Rush off the table in Minnesota, and he hasn't been great beyond his 3-point stroke this year; Courtney Lee would be a lovely fit on paper, but the Knicks are rarely sellers and he's in year one of a four-year, $48-million deal; the Bucks probably want to retain Tony Snell's RFA rights, but he's as close to a Ross doppelgänger as you're likely to find; if the Hornets continue to slide, Marco Belinelli and the $6.6 million owed to him next year might be available; with the Cavaliers suffering from multiple injuries, now's the time to trade LeBron James, and the Raptors should inquire.
The reality is that the Raptors probably won't end up making another move. It's always safer to bet against it, especially when one big acquisition has already been made. But Sullinger's contract provides options, and the Raptors have the prospect and pick capital for a low-end addition if they deem a rental worth parting with one of them. If they don't, that's entirely justifiable—they made their splash, Wright can help a bit moving a position over, and there's always the option to add someone in buyout season if balance looks like a problem once Ibaka's into the mix.