Change is coming around the corner for the Toronto Raptors.
After a 41-41 season and a disappointing crash out of the play-in tournament, Toronto is a franchise in need of a wake-up call. They’ve already fired head coach Nick Nurse, but face major roster decisions ahead in the coming weeks and months.
Toronto’s front office has preached patience for years, waiting for the right situation to take advantage of rather than forcing a move for the sake of a move.
“Everything that we could have done today… maybe we can do it in the summer,” Raptors president Masai Ujiri told reporters at the team’s post-trade deadline media availability this past season.
And while it’s not quite the summer yet, a move just may be in store for Toronto in the coming weeks.
Enter the Portland Trailblazers, a team with no playoff series wins over the last four years and the urgency to build around 32-year-old star point guard Damian Lillard, who has long expressed his desire to remain a Blazer for his entire career.
When Portland landed the third overall pick in this year’s draft lottery earlier this week, the conversations weren’t necessarily centred around “who’s Portland taking?” but rather, “who is Portland trading the pick to?”
“We’re a team that’s trying to win and trying to maximize Damian’s timeline. This was an important night for us,” Portland General Manager Joe Cronin told Yahoo Sports’ Jake Fischer earlier this week following the NBA draft lottery. “Front offices around the league think highly of this draft, so you would think that a lot of teams that were sitting [on stage] tonight will be getting a lot of calls from teams trying to move up and maneuver.”
And who fits the mold of a player that could serve as an incredible complementary piece to a seven-time All-Star like Lillard? Pascal Siakam.
Siakam served as one of the league’s best No. 2 options in the 2018-19 playoffs, where he averaged 19.0 points, 7.1 rebounds and 2.8 assists in 24 games in the postseason alongside Kawhi Leonard as Toronto captured its first championship in franchise history.
While individually Siakam’s star has skyrocketed over the last four seasons, making two All-Star games and a pair of All-NBA rosters, Toronto has won just one postseason round won since their 2019 title.
Both franchises appear at a stalemate for how to proceed, and it’s natural to wonder if Toronto parting ways with their star in order to get younger might be a route they’re willing to take. It’s not often you get the chance to draft third overall, but then again, it’s not all that often you have a player as talented as Siakam on your roster either. It’s not a decision Toronto would take lightly, but it’s also an opportunity to perhaps land a franchise-changing talent.
Who’s available at third overall if the Raptors get the pick?
While anything can happen in the NBA Draft, two names appear at third overall in nearly every major mock draft: Scoot Henderson out of G League Ignite and Brandon Miller, who played this past year at the University of Alabama and won the 2023 SEC Player of the Year.
With phenom Victor Wembanyama all but set to go to the San Antonio Spurs following Tuesday’s lottery, it’s largely dictated by what the Charlotte Hornets do with their second overall selection to see who whatever team is picking third will take.
Henderson spent much of the year as the consensus No. 2 overall pick, though Miller’s stock has increased with plenty of speculation the Hornets would select him instead.
Miller’s ties to being at a murder scene last fall that led to ex-teammate Darius Miles being charged for the crime have reportedly not impacted his high draft stock, but have dominated the public conversation around his NBA future, even though he was never charged himself.
What do the trade proposals look like?
Fans of both the Blazers and Raptors have been concocting up all sorts of trade proposals to see how Siakam might fit in a Portland uniform next season, with some combination of the third overall pick, 19-year-old Canadian forward Shaedon Sharpe, 23-year-old guard Anfernee Simons, 23-year old forward Nassir Little, or 28-year-old centre Jusuf Nurkic typically coming the other way.
Of course, we’ve seen this movie before. Much of last summer was spent pondering whether the Raptors should’ve traded a package of players for Brooklyn’s Kevin Durant, who remained with the franchise for the majority of the season before eventually being sent in a blockbuster deal to the Phoenix Suns.
And let’s not forget this last year’s trade deadline, where the Raptors were the target of hundreds of rumours, before eventually deciding to trade for Jakob Poeltl rather than give away a core piece.
“The way I look at the deadline, it’s really not a great place to make long-term decisions… That’s one of the ways we looked at it in terms of some of the things we might get [back in return],” Ujiri added.
Only time will tell how exactly things shake out with Siakam and the Raptors.