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Why the Raptors don’t care about the draft pick they owe the Spurs

After the deadline moves the Raptors made, it feels very likely the Spurs will get Toronto’s top-six protected pick, which is probably best for both franchises.

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Portland Trail Blazers Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

The Spurs and their fans had an eye on Toronto at the trade deadline. The Raptors, who will be hosting the Silver and Black on Monday, owe San Antonio their 2024 first-round pick from the Jakob Poeltl trade, which will convey as long as it falls out of the top six.

Toronto had made two big trades getting rid of two of their best players before the deadline and are close to a bottom-six record that would give them a big chance to keep their pick, at least for this year. Being big sellers seemed like a smart decision.

The Raptors opted for making a couple of moves that might actually make them better this season, which seems counterintuitive but makes a lot of sense. Let’s take a look at what their moves mean to them and the Spurs.

Before examining the actual trades, it’s important to understand where the Raptors stood before the deadline. They were tied for the sixth-worst record with the Grizzlies and far away from the bottom five teams, which were expected to remain atrocious. Memphis is without Ja Morant for the rest of the season and has had injury reports that reached double digits in names. The Nets were barely above Toronto in the standings, not trying to bottom out but really struggling. Tanking to the sixth-worst record was not impossible but it was going to be tough and it would require completely breaking the roster apart and likely resting some young players.

Under those circumstances, President Masai Ujiri and General Manager Bobby Webster decided to make a few trades. One consisted of trading Dennis Schroder and Thaddeus Young to the Nets for Spencer Dinwiddie. Shortly after the news of the trade broke, it was mentioned that Dinwiddie would be bought out. The move seems designed to make the team worse, but other factors at play need to be considered. First, Schroder was disgruntled after being demoted to a bench role. Second, Scottie Barnes is a good playmaker who can run the team at times and Toronto acquired Immanuel Quickley in the OG Anunoby trade. The move will give players who figure to be in the Raptors’ future more responsibility while helping the locker room.

Speaking of the locker room, Toronto's second move should also have an effect there. They traded Otto Porter Jr., Kira Lewis Jr. and one of their extra 2024 first-round picks to Utah for Ochai Agbaji and Kelly Olynyk. Olynyk has been around the Raptors organization since he was a kid and is close with fellow Canadian R.J. Barrett, one of the team’s new core players. The move is not just about vibes, though, as Olynyk is the type of floor spacing big the team needed and Agbaji is a young wing who can play and still has untapped potential. They also kept Bruce Brown, who many anticipated would be flipped to a contender, along with Jakob Poeltl and Gary Trent Jr. With the guys they have, they can put together a solid starting five and have some depth behind it.

But what about the sixth pick? Well, even after using one to get Olynyk and Agbaji, Toronto has a 2024 pick courtesy of other trades they made. They can get an injection of cheap youth next draft outside the lottery. Normally a top-six pick would be worth tanking for, but the Raptors have some talent already in place that would have made it hard and this class is considered to not be great. It’s possible the front office is not enamored with the prospects projected to be there at sixth, which is as high as they could have realistically selected without help from the ping-pong balls. If they don’t get lucky in the lottery, the pick goes to San Antonio and they can start fresh without owing any picks. If they are blessed by the basketball gods and jump into the top three — something that can happen even if they finish with the seventh-worst record — they can either use the pick or trade it to accelerate their rebuild around Barnes.

For Spurs fans, what Toronto did at the deadline was a little confusing. After the Anunoby and Siakam trades, it seemed like the Raptors could be angling to keep the pick. The deadline shows that is probably not the case. They put together a decent team with young and veteran pieces that fit on and off the court and building chemistry between the core players is taking priority over a pick they would likely struggle to get even if they tried. They have also managed their cap well enough to have max room next offseason and if they get lucky on lottery night they could still get a high pick this year.

Different teams rebuild in different ways and it seems like Ujiri is not even considering bottoming out as an option. Hopefully it will work out for the Raptors and their fans and also for the Spurs, who seem like they will have two lottery picks in the next draft.