The Toronto Raptors nabbed Serge Ibaka from the Orlando Magic on Tuesday, and they may not be done wheeling and dealing.
Doug Smith of the Toronto Star is reporting that the Raptors could look to add another piece to help them compete with the Boston Celtics and Cleveland Cavaliers in the playoffs. Smith said that the Raps could still package Jared Sullinger’s expiring contract, their remaining 2017 first-round draft pick, and perhaps one of their backup point guards in a deal.
Sullinger has been a major disappointment for the Raptors since signing a one-year deal for around $6 million in the offseason. The six-foot-nine power forward missed the first two months of the season as he was still recovering from a fractured foot, and he has only played in 11 games overall. He is averaging 3.4 points and 2.5 caroms while shooting 31.9 percent from the field and 16.7 percent from the three-point line.
Toronto currently has four point guards on its roster with Lowry, Cory Joseph, Delon Wright and Fred VanVleet. Lowry is the starter and is not going anywhere. The 30-year-old is having the best season of his career though he has been in a shooting slump recently, making just 41.4 percent of his shots from the field and 35.5 percent of his three-point attempts in the month of February. He is averaging 22.8 points and 6.9 assists as he is shooting 46.3 percent from the field and 41.7 percent from beyond the arc for the season.
Joseph has been a little inconsistent this season, but he is still a quality backup. The 25-year-old Toronto native has struggled this month after having a solid January. He is averaging 8.5 points and 2.7 assists while turning the ball over just once a game for the season.
Wright is still in the developmental stage of his NBA career, appearing in just two NBA games this season. The 24-year-old had 11 points, on 3-of-5 shooting, and two assists in 28 minutes of action against the Charlotte Hornets on Thursday night.
VanVleet has not seen any action in the Raptors’ last five games, although he has appeared in 21 games overall. The 22-year-old undrafted rookie has shown flashes of brilliance recently, tallying 25 points and doling out seven assists in 46 minutes over his last two games on Feb. 3 and 5 against Orlando and Brooklyn, respectively.
Smith added that the team would prefer not to include youngsters Wright, VanVleet, Lucas Nogueira, Pascal Siakam, Jake Poeltl or Norm Powell in any trade.
Toronto is hoping that Ibaka — who they acquired for Terrence Ross and a 2017 first round selection — can help them right the ship. The Raptors (33-24) have dropped from second in the Eastern Conference down to number four as they have gone 11-14 since Jan. 1. They are currently two games behind the upstart Washington Wizards (34-21) and four games behind the Atlantic division leaders Boston Celtics (37-20) in the battle for the conference’s second seed behind the Cleveland Cavaliers (39-16).
The Raps snapped a three-game losing streak by holding the Hornets to just 12 fourth quarter points as they came back from 17 points down to earn a 90-85 win. Kyle Lowry led the way for the Raptors with 21 points. Jonas Valanciunas contributed 10 points and 11 boards for his 21st double-double of the season. Norm Powell, DeMarre Carroll, and Wright also reached double-figures.
Ibaka did not play in the win over Charlotte, but he is expected to fit in very nicely with the team. The 27-year-old will likely start at power forward when the Raptors host the Boston Celtics on February 24, meaning that Siakam will be headed back to the bench. Toronto has been looking for somebody to solidify the four position since before the start of the season. Siakam, Patrick Patterson, Poeltl, and Sullinger have all started at power forward this season.
Patterson and Sullinger were expected to split time at the position. But both have dealt with injuries and struggled during their time on the court. Patterson has missed the last six games with a knee ailment and 17 games overall. The 27-year old has been a valuable member of the team as the Raptors are a plus-15.3 with him on the court and a minus-0.3 with him off the court. He is averaging 7.2 points and 5.5 rebounds a game.
Siakam, who was selected with the 27th overall pick in this past draft, has been fairly impressive this season. The 22-year-old has started 38 of the 48 games he has appeared in, averaging 4.4 points and 3.5 rebounds in a little more than 16 minutes of action overall.
Ibaka wasn’t having a great season with the Magic, averaging 15.1 points and 6.8 boards a game, although he was scoring at a career-best rate over 40 minutes (19.8 ppg). The 27-year-old has increased his accuracy from beyond the arc but has also struggled in the rebounding and defense departments. However, he does provide a shot-blocking presence for the Raptors — which is one area the Raps lack in. Nogueira was the only member of the team averaging over one block a game prior to Ibaka’s arrival.
So will the Raptors make any more deals?
Toronto has the talent to give the Cavs all they can handle in the playoffs, especially with the arrival of Ibaka. The Raptors’ biggest problem this year has been that they have taken a step back on the defensive end. The Raps ranked second in the league last year in scoring defense, allowing 98.2 points a game. They currently rank 11th in scoring defense, permitting 104.3 points a game — Toronto has permitted 20 of their last 25 opponents to reach the century mark.
Amin Elhassan, an ESPN Insider, also believes the Raptors don’t use the three-pointer as much of a weapon as they should. The Raps rank in the top-10 in the league in offensive efficiency, but they only get 25.5 percent of their points from beyond the arc — which ranks 21st in the league. Toronto has knocked down 37.0 percent of their long-distance attempts — seventh best in the league — although their 24.9 attempts rank 21st in the league. Lowry leads the team with 3.3 triples a game while Carroll and Patterson average more than one trey a game.
P.J. Tucker’s name has been thrown around as someone the Raptors should be interested. And ESPN Insider Bradford Doolittle suggested that the Raptors look to add a “3 and D type player”.
Tucker is probably best suited to play the 4 despite standing just six-foot-six. The 31-year-old is known for his gritty defense and ability to guard multiple positions. The problem is that he is a below average three-point shooter, making less than a triple a game and shooting under 35 percent for his career. Tucker is currently 7.0 points and 6.0 rebounds in a little over 28 minutes of action.
Featured Image by Charles Krupa/ AP Images]