The Raptors fell to the Milwaukee Bucks Wednesday night after going 2-2 against the Pacers and the Heat, dropping Toronto's record to 7-11.
That’s good enough for 11th in the Eastern Conference, which would leave Tampa's new NBA team out of the play-in games for the playoffs by one spot. The good news is that a couple of the teams above them are playing above their own talent, while the Raptors are playing significantly below it.
The Bulls, Knicks, and Cavaliers are not good enough to keep up with their average records, and even if they are, they are currently only a couple games ahead of the Raptors. The Raptors also have a much more favorable schedule coming up, with games against struggling teams such as Timberwolves, Magic, Wizards and the Grizzlies. All winnable games.
As for how the Raptors squad has been doing individually, the good news is that Norman Powell is continuing to bounce back from his slow start, potentially continuing to increase his trade value at the very least. In the past three games against the Pacers and Bucks he has dropped 20-plus points, and has increased his three-point shooting percentage to 40 for the season. Not too shabby, especially if Toronto hits a rough stretch and fall out of the playoff race (unlikely, but hey, crazier things have happened).
Of course, the “big news” in the NBA this week was the reports of JJ Redick, Lonzo Ball and Eric Bledsoe all being available on the trading block. They all are on the Pelicans, who have been one of the biggest disappointments in the NBA so far.
The Raptors lack the big-time trade assets to acquire a player like Lonzo Ball, not to mention his expiring contract and fit (or lack thereof) on the Raptors long-term. The Raptors have two elite guards in Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet, so the need simply isn’t there. I guess if the Raptors really saw the need to find a long-term replacement for Lowry (he’s 34 and his contract expires after next year) they could swing Powell and a future first to the Pelicans and see if that’s enough, but I kind of doubt it. As for Bledsoe, his contract is hefty for a guy that would likely have to come off the bench for the Raptors. He’s getting $16 million a year for the next two years, and the Raptors can’t really justify committing that kind of money to a backup point guard.
That leaves us with Redick. Now, Redick is off to a historically slow start, by far the worst of his career. However, the veteran sharpshooter is known for getting scorching hot down the stretch, and his veteran leadership would be incredibly valuable with the Raptors’ young prospects. Looking at his contract, though, there isn’t enough money to make the deal work. He makes $13 million on his expiring contract, and the only guy who could match that is Norman Powell, who is currently playing very well and makes Redick not much of an upgrade. Powell is also younger and due for a contract extension, one that the Pelicans are unlikely to give out if they hang onto Lonzo Ball.
The fit for both teams in a direct swap simply doesn’t make sense, but never count out Raptors President of Basketball Operations Masai Ujiri from getting creative. He could get involved in a potential Pelicans deal as a third team, as a way to deal Powell for picks or more prospects.
The good news for the Raptors is that things are looking up. They have a lot of talent on a roster that is underperforming, and they have the playoff experience to make a run down the stretch.
Maybe Toronto needs to start wearing the city of Tampa’s name on its jerseys. Seems to be working out in every other major sport.
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