The Raptors have made another big move. As expected, Pascal Siakam is leaving Toronto to join the Pacers, who will be sending back three first-round picks, Bruce Brown and Jordan Nwora in the transaction. The Pelicans will also be sending a second-rounder to Indiana and Kira Lewis to The North for cash considerations.
The trade could have repercussions in the East standings, as Tyrese Haliburton’s Pacers are getting the type of secondary playmaker and flexible defender they needed to potentially get to the next level. As far as the Spurs are concerned, however, this move is only interesting in terms of how it affects their chances of getting Toronto’s 2024 top-six protected pick. So let’s take a look at how things stand now.
The Raptors might struggle to out-tank the field
In a matter of weeks, Toronto lost two of their best players. An indirect benefit of trading OG Anunoby and Pascal Siakam is that the Raptors, which were already struggling to be competitive, could get worse, which would not be the worst thing for them this year. If they finish with a bottom-six record, their chances of keeping the 2024 first-rounder they owe the Spurs would grow exponentially. It would be understandable for them to just accept being bad for the rest of a season that wasn’t going to lead to the playoffs anyway, add a lottery pick on top of everything that the trades yielded, and go from there. Unfortunately for the Raptors, it might be hard for them to be bad enough to make that happen without lottery luck, for both internal and external reasons.
A look at Toronto’s roster after the trades shows a bad but not terrible squad. Immanuel Quickley, RJ Barrett and Bruce Brown are not as decorated or talented as Anunoby and Siakam, but they are good rotation players. The Raptors still have a young star in Scottie Barnes, a quality starting center in Jakob Poeltl and a handful of other solid pieces like Gary Trent Jr., and Dennis Schroder. There are a few veterans around and a couple of other promising young players in the mix. More trades could be on the horizon and teams have been known to shut down guys for the season when they are trying to tank, but right now Toronto looks competent enough to win a few games. In this year, that might not be enough to get a bottom-six record.
There are four completely atrocious teams in the NBA this season. The Spurs, Pistons, Wizards and Hornets are likely impossible to out-tank. The Trail Blazers are close to those four right now but might be a little better if they can get healthy. Still, they just don’t have the talent to make a leap up the standings. The Raptors would likely have to fight the Grizzlies for the sixth-worst record. In theory, Memphis is the better team, but Ja Morant is out for the season and the franchise’s injury luck is terrible right now. Then you have the Hawks, which are reportedly looking for picks and not a star back for Dejounte Murray and have only one more win than Toronto. The Nets are a mess, too. There’s competition for that spot behind the disastrous five, so even if the Raptors decide to tank, they might be too good to do it, compared to others.
Conveying the pick as soon as possible might be the best idea for the Raptors
Let’s say the Raptors manage to out-tank others by trading away their veterans and going as young as possible. They get the sixth-worst record and there are no surprises in the lottery, so they keep their pick. It solves nothing. They will still owe San Antonio a future top-six protected first-rounder, and unless the guy they pick in the draft is a game-changer from the get-go or they can sign a superstar with cap space despite being a bottom-dweller the year before, they would be a bad but not awful team picking in the lottery next season. In all likelihood, the pick would convey in 2025, which has a stronger draft class, according to experts. If it somehow doesn’t, it would probably be conveyed in 2026, unless something goes terribly wrong in the reloading effort. The protection is not air-tight enough to offer Toronto’s front office actual control of their draft capital.
If keeping the pick in 2024 was more likely or if they simply had no proven NBA players left on their roster, tanking would seem like the obvious choice, but the Raptors have some talent still around. Continuing to try to win would allow them to see how their young players mesh with each other and figure out if their veterans are worth keeping. Doing so would likely mean losing a lottery pick in 2024 but they got two first-rounders back in the Siakam trade for that same draft. If their pick conveys to the Spurs sooner rather than later, they would have control of their own in 2025, a year in which they have no extra first-rounders. Then in 2026, they would have their pick and another one from the Pacers. If this is a new chapter, getting rid of old obligations as soon as possible makes sense, and making sure the franchise has at least one first-rounder in the next few drafts instead of three in 2024 and none in 2025 seems smart.
The reality is that a Raptors first-rounder is very likely to go to the Spurs, whether it happens in 2024, 2025, or 2026. There’s no guarantee that Toronto will get to keep it this year even if they try and they will have a couple of selections in 2024 anyway, The best move for the franchise might be to spend the rest of this season seeing what it has instead of intentionally trying to lose, while getting rid of a future obligation and moving on with picks in every draft going forward.