Whoever said worrying gives a small thing a big shadow has never seen Anthony Davis play basketball.
The Davis sweepstakes are probably just the beginning of the drama prior to the NBA trade deadline, and the Toronto Raptors should keep their eyes open for a few moves that could alter the paths of some Eastern Conference teams.
Here are four potential trades the Raptors should be worried about.
Otto Porter Jr. to the Pacers
Why it could happen: The Indiana Pacers were on a five-game winning streak before all-star guard Victor Oladipo went down with a season-ending knee injury on Jan. 23, and the team must now decide whether or not it’ll go all-in before the trade deadline in order to stay competitive in the post-season.
The Washington Wizards‘ Porter has been linked to the Pacers in past trade rumours, and could be the answer to the team’s predicaments. The forward is a solid scorer and a unique defensive presence who would be able to absorb the load borne by Oladipo before his injury. In the long haul, it would also be entertaining to see Oladipo and Porter mesh together and possibly create one of the most dynamic two-way duos in the NBA.
How it could happen: The Wizards would likely ask for at least one of the Pacers’ young assets, which means someone like Domantas Sabonis might be in play. Indiana also holds its 2019 first-round pick, which currently falls outside the lottery, and a handful of second-rounders. The team would have to send hefty contracts to Washington in order to complete the trade, which brings to mind names like Bojan Bogdanovic and Darren Collison.
Why the Raptors should worry: The way things stand right now, it’s easy to count the Pacers out of the Eastern Conference race, but Indiana would still manage to stay competitive this season if willing to make a move for Porter. Oladipo was averaging 18.8 points, 5.2 assists, 5.6 rebounds and 1.7 steals per game before his injury. While Porter’s numbers are less impressive, especially in the assist column, his defensive prowess matches Oladipo’s. As for the playmaking gap, guard Darren Collison might need to step up if he wasn’t sent to Washington in return.
The Raptors would still have a sounder roster and a lot more proven firepower than the Pacers, but the addition of Porter would certainly put the Pacers back in contention talks in the East.
Dennis Smith Jr. to the 76ers
Why it could happen: The Markelle Fultz experiment has failed in Philly and the Dallas Mavericks might not be able to mend fences with Smith, which means Philadelphia could try to snatch the young guard at the trade deadline. Adding a pure point guard was the 76ers’ original plan when drafting Fultz, which is why this trade would make sense. Smith has proven that he’s a prolific scorer and an effective shooter – something Philadelphia desperately needs more of, especially from its guards.
How it could happen: While it would be entertaining to see these two teams take on each other’s failed draft picks, a Fultz-Smith swap is almost impossible, even if other pieces are involved in the deal. A more realistic possibility would comprise of a young player like Zaire Smith being shipped to Dallas along with one of the two first-rounders Philadelphia holds in the 2019 draft.
Why the Raptors should worry: The already-frightening 76ers would likely see an immediate increase in scoring and shooting efficiency with a player that has the potential to be a star and thrive in Philadephia’s unconstrained system.
Smith is a versatile athlete trapped in an unfortunate situation, as his lack of chemistry with wunderkind Luka Doncic has seen him fall by the wayside of the Mavericks’ future plans. Still, he averaged 15.2 points and 5.2 assists last season, earning an all-rookie selection and finishing fifth in Rookie of the Year voting.
Should be enough to concern every team in the East.
Anthony Davis to the Nets
Why it could happen: Davis was not originally on this list, since the New Orleans Pelicans were adamant about not trading the five-time all-star before his contract expired in 2020. Then, he made it clear he wanted out, making the Feb. 7 deadline a lot more interesting.
The Brooklyn Nets are finally playing good basketball, currently on a 6-1 run, and would be an enticing fit for Davis. Brooklyn’s lineup has been pestered with injuries all season – notably to guard Caris LeVert, who went down with a foot ailment after starting the season as a strong contender for the Most Improved Player award. But the Nets keep finding ways to win, which attests to a well-coached organization that could instantly become elite by adding a certified all-star to its starting five.
How it could happen: In addition to being competitive at last, the Nets also hold a first-round draft pick that would come into play. They might be reluctant to part with it after the Paul Pierce-Kevin Garnett disaster of 2013, but Davis is a proven star, so the possibility should at least be in consideration. The Nets’ depth in young talent should also come into play, and names like DeMarre Carroll and Allen Crabbe could be used to match salaries.
Why the Raptors should worry: Davis would be much more than a scoring all-star for the Nets. He’d be the answer to their biggest defensive problem.
Despite putting together a solid season, the Nets have a considerable void at centre. Playing traditional big men at the five — such as Ed Davis and Jarrett Allen — Brooklyn gives up an average of 25.6 points per game to opposing centres – the third-worst mark in the league.
Toronto has also seen rebounds become one of the team’s greatest weaknesses, ranking 17th in the league with 45 boards per contest Facing Davis (who’s averaging 13.3 rebounds per game in the season) in the East should expose this flaw even further.
Correcting that flaw while adding a potential MVP candidate could be the difference between exiting in the first round of the playoffs and giving teams like the Raptors a run for their money.
Marc Gasol to the Bucks
Why it could happen: Because it would be a great incentive for the nickname “Splash Mountain.”
In all seriousness, Brook Lopez has been a force for the Milwaukee Bucks, but Gasol would be a valuable defensive upgrade. While the two big men have similar averages in points and field-goal percentage, Gasol is known for being a superior defender and is a big part of the reason why the Memphis Grizzlies rank second in opponent points per game. The Spaniard is a versatile five who averages twice as many rebounds per game in comparison to Lopez (8.7 versus 4.0) and contributes with 4.7 assists per game – something that’s completely lacking in Lopez’s game.
Of course, not all defensive efforts can be masterpieces.
But Gasol’s overall contributions are still above-average.
How it could happen: The Bucks have depth. If notable names like Malcolm Brogdon or Khris Middleton came into talks, role-playing wing players such as Pat Connaughton could probably take on the starting duties and the team wouldn’t suffer too much. Ersan Ilyasova could be an enticing salary-matching piece.
What the Bucks don’t have is a wide array of draft picks to create trades from. Milwaukee does not hold its own 2019 first-rounder, so the front office would probably count solely on its existing young talent to make a deal for Gasol.
Why the Raptors should worry: What happens when you pair up a former Defensive Player of the Year with an All-Defensive Team selection and MVP candidate? It gets pretty hard to score baskets. The Giannis Antetokounmpo-Gasol defensive tandem may prove to be a new headache for opposing teams — at least as long as the 34-year-old can keep his production.
The Raptors’ inability to grab boards would also be at risk of being seriously exposed should the Bucks add another rebounding big.
Toronto sits comfortably at seventh in team points per game with 114.1 and eighth in shooting percentage at 47.2 per cent in the battle of inches for the Eastern Conference No. 1 playoff spot, and since action is worry’s worst enemy, this may just be why the Bucks might jump at an opportunity to make a deal like this.