It’s pretty obvious to most fans that no team in the Eastern Conference is beating the Cleveland Cavaliers for the foreseeable future, unless of course LeBron James leaves in free agency next summer. Cleveland has steamrolled their way to the NBA Finals the past three seasons and in the process, they’ve beaten the Raptors twice. And it wasn’t like the Series’ between these teams was even close being that the Cavs won 8 games and the Raptors only won 2 and one of those Playoff Series resulted in a sweep to Toronto. This summer a lot of teams made humongous moves to try to better their odds to beat either Golden State or Cleveland. The Timberwolves traded for Jimmy Butler. The Celtics signed Gordon Hayward. The Rockets traded for Chris Paul, the list goes on and on.
Then you have the Raptors, who didn’t have much cap space going into free agency and had to use most of it on re-signing 31 year old Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka to 3- year deals each. They had to let power forward Patrick Patterson walk who ended up signing with the OKC Thunder. They couldn’t re-sign P.J. Tucker who went to Houston, and to make matters worse they had to salary dump Demarre Carroll to the Brooklyn Nets and give up a first round pick in the process just to clear up cap space. The only big acquisition the Raptors have made was a sign and trade that sent Cory Joseph to the Pacers in exchange for 3 and D player C.J. Miles. Other than that besides drafting OG Anunoby, the Raptors have been relatively quiet this offseason. And that is a huge problem. Cleveland is reportedly going after Derrick Rose, and Boston might get Anthony Davis via trade soon if the Pelicans don’t pan out. Toronto is already behind both the Celtics and the Cavaliers talent wise, and if those moves were to happen, it would only widen the gap between the Raptors and an NBA Finals berth.
So, how does Toronto fix this? The answer is simple. Toronto needs to go into win now mode. Toronto is notorious for player development over the past few years. 12 out of their 16 players on their roster have never been on another NBA team. Which is good in the sense that is develops loyalty and a family type culture but it’s also bad when your team has a win now core but still is trying to develop young talent.
If the Raptors seriously want to contend in the NBA they need to trade some young assets for NBA stars in their prime. But it isn’t that easy, otherwise every team would do it. It most likely would have to be a team that has stars in their prime but isn’t a contender and isn’t in a position to make themselves a contender. However every now and then there are teams that are looking to rebuild and one team that might be looking to do that is the Memphis Grizzlies.
While a lot of teams in the west got stronger the Grizzlies got substantially weaker. They lost Zach Randolph in free agency this summer and it looks like they are going to lose Tony Allen as well. They didn’t sign much in free agency besides Tyreke Evans and Ben McLemore and they don’t have much young talent to develop. The Grizzlies rank top 10 in salary at almost 93 million, and for a team that doesn’t even look like it’s going to make it to the playoffs they are probably taking phone calls for their star players. It doesn’t seem like any team is going to trade for Mike Conley with his gigantic contract that is going to pay him around 125 million over the next four seasons. Nobody is going to trade for Chandler Parsons with his deal, plus he is nowhere near the player he used to be on the Mavericks. The only tradable player they have that they could get some value back is Marc Gasol. Gasol, who is 32 still has a couple years on his contract. And with his salary being around 22 million for next season that is reasonable for most teams that can squeeze him under the salary cap.
Toronto could easily make a trade for Marc Gasol. Memphis is a slow it down and feed the post type of team, and the Raptors have something that the Grizzlies probably are dying for, Jonas Valanciunas. Jonas Valanciunas doesn’t fit in with Toronto’s style of play as the Raptors are trying to go small and rely on ball movement. Jonas is more of a back to the basket center that can get you a double double a night without breaking a sweat. The problem is that he can’t stretch the floor out to the 3 point line and he can’t protect the rim that well. He also has problems running the floor because he isn’t that fast of a player. Jonas is 25, and being that young still has a lot of time to play compared to the 32 year old Gasol. This trade is beneficial to both teams as they both get something they want. The Raptors get a stretch five and an elite center that might push them to the same level as the Cavaliers and the Grizzlies get a young center who fits their style of play easily.
Obviously there would be more players, picks and assets traded for this to work but I think it could be done. And then there’s the question. Does adding Gasol make the Raptors contenders. I believe it does. The Raptors were the only team in the NBA besides the Golden State Warriors to rank top 10 in both defensive and offensive efficiency. And the reason the Raptors got swept by Cleveland is because they couldn’t keep up with them on the fast break and couldn’t match their 3 point shooting. Adding an All-Star center with Gasol who can shoot threes at 38.8% which is excellent, play defense, and run the floor the Raptors look like a contending team. Will it be enough to beat the Warriors, I don’t know probably not. But is that enough to beat the Cavs if they’re having a bad night? I think it is.