We are now sixteen days away from the NBA trade deadline, and the Toronto Raptors may find themselves in an unexpected position to bolster their young core. Generally around this time you hear about veteran players with burdensome contracts hitting the trade market, and there are a good number of those players this year, too, but sprinkled amongst the bloat are some younger assets that generally don't find themselves available this early in their NBA career.
For the Raptors, a club looking to stockpile youth to develop or, Boston Celtics-style, one day exchange for a key veteran or two, the pickings on the open market have to appear quite appetizing. While it looked like there was a chance they were going to eschew the trade market entirely after they bought-out expected trade chip Peja Stojakovic on January 20th, that was primarily because it looked like all that was going to be available was contracts like those belonging to Andris Biedrins and Andre Iguodala. While those names are still purported to be available, they've been joined by some promising young guards that the Raptors will no doubt at least sniff around to see about how much it would cost them to acquire a piece or two this month.
Here are three names that the Raptors should pay particular attention to, and one name that they should steer clear from.
O.J. Mayo - Memphis Grizzlies
It is no secret that Mayo has worn out his welcome in Memphis. While he was a very solid starter in his first two years with the club, this year has been a wreck. He's been benched, gotten into an altercation with teammate Tony Allen, gotten suspended for using a banned substance and rumors have started to circulate that he's had numerous clashes with the coaching staff during his two-and-a-half year tenure with the club. Given all of this negativity, why would the Raptors have any interest in Mayo at this point?
Well, first, he's still only 23-years-old, he plays a position of need for the Raptors and his contract expires at the end of next season, so if he doesn't mesh with what the club has already assembled he can simply be let go.
Mayo is a player with a strong scoring mentality, and that would come in huge for a team with only two quasi-scoring options in Andrea Bargnani and DeMar DeRozan. Of late, when those two have struggled, the team has had a terrible time putting points on the board. Mayo would not only bring an ability to put points on the board at the shooting guard spot (shifting DeRozan to small forward), he's also a tremendous three-point shooter, an asset to a club trailing the league in that category.
To get him the Raptors would probably have to sacrifice Leandro Barbosa and, more significantly, may have to absorb the contract of Hasheem Thabeet, the preeminent bust of last year's draft. The Grizzlies are only a game-and-a-half out of the eighth playoff spot out West, and getting a dependable veteran scorer off of the bench (to essentially replace Mayo without the drama that comes from having him) might be just the ticket to pry him away from the Grizzlies. Swapping Barbosa for Mayo should be a pretty easy deal for the Raptors to pull the trigger on if Memphis were amenable, but taking on Thabeet and the $5-million he's guaranteed next season might be a deal-breaker. No one knows what Memphis would demand (and what they would accept) to get Mayo out of their system, but the Raptors would appear to be a team well positioned to find out this month.
Jonny Flynn - Minnesota Timberwolves
Minnesota's point guard gamble in the 2009 draft hasn't exactly worked out the way they had hoped it would. Fifth-overall pick Ricky Rubio is still overseas and sixth overall pick Jonny Flynn is struggling in his second year with the club.
For the Raptors, though, Flynn could be an interesting asset off of the bench. Jerryd Bayless is out of position as a backup point guard, he's much more of a backup two like Barbosa, and pairing Flynn with Bayless could create a lot of offensive quickness for other teams to contend with, and it would give Toronto one of the more up-tempo reserve crews in the NBA. While both still have a lot of refining to do with their games, it might be worth a look putting them together to see if they could do any damage as a tandem against opposing bench units for the rest of the season.
It's hard to say what the Raptors would have to sacrifice to get Flynn, though. Obviously he's not worth Toronto's first-round pick, and Minnesota is already well below the cap so financial savings wouldn't appear to be a major consideration. Taking back an onerous contract (like that of Martell Webster) doesn't hold much interest for Toronto, either, so it's again unclear what it would take to pry Flynn loose. Put it this way: if the Raptors can get him for Miami's pick plus a non-core asset, you jump on it. If they have to take back Webster or give up Bayless or a better pick, it's not worth it. Chalk this acquisition up as unlikely.
Avery Bradley - Boston Celtics
The Raptors were hot after Bradley in the draft, though their interest may have cooled since acquiring Bayless. Still, Boston may be in the market for some inexpensive help at the small forward spot with Marquis Daniels going down, and Sonny Weems or Julian Wright may be enough to pry Bradley loose if the Raptors still want him.
DO NOT PURSUE
Aaron Brooks - Houston Rockets
It would seem counter-intuitive to say the Raptors should pursue Jonny Flynn, basically a low-rent version of Brooks, and not Brooks himself this winter, but that isn't necessarily true. Flynn still has two more years on his rookie deal to play with before the Raptors would have to make any kind of longterm decision with regards to him, whereas Brooks is a free agent this summer. The Raptors have worked hard to open up cap space this summer, and having to consider spending it on Brooks (whom they would probably not consider spending it on were he merely someone else's free agent this summer) takes attention away from better-suited pursuits. Sure, Brooks at $2-million is great. Having to re-sign him for $5-$6-million - not so much. He may be a name that attracts some interest this month, but it's not likely to come from the Raptors.