In the fifteen-year history of the Toronto Raptors, I can honestly say that this is the first time I can remember them ever not NEEDING a trade going into the deadline.
For all of the flack that Bryan Colangelo took in the opening weeks of the season, his creation has turned out to be one of the most stable Raptors squads ever assembled - at least by one-year standards - and pulling any element out and replacing it has never been less crucial.
Consider that the only other times the Raptors have been on pace for a season as successful as this one there were major needs going into the deadline.
In 2001, the year the Raptors went to the second round (still the pinnacle of success for this franchise), it took deadline moves to get Jerome Williams and Chris Childs added to the squad to make that push. The club lacked for depth and energy off of the bench and both players proved to be crucial additions in those capacities, especially Childs who started at the point in the post-season while pushing Alvin Williams to his more natural shooting guard slot.
In 2007, the team severely lacked for rebounding and defensive intensity but they failed to manufacture a trade for either (the only move made was a minor deal swapping Fred Jones for Juan Dixon) and they were exposed in the playoffs by a savvier New Jersey Nets team.
This year, though, the team doesn't appear to have nearly the glaring weaknesses of those two squads. Chis Bosh is playing at (and maybe even exceeding) the level Vince Carter achieved in 2000-2001, Andrea Bargnani has become a second scorer like the Raptors have never seen before and head coach Jay Triano has a grip on the job (and is backed by management) like no coach in the history of the team.
Jarrett Jack is as poised a floor leader as the club could ask for, Amir Johnson, Antoine Wright and Sonny Weems have been solid - and are getting better - off of the bench and the team still has veterans Rasho Nesterovic and Reggie Evans in reserve for a playoff run.
Even one-time headaches this season like Jose Calderon and Hedo Turkoglu have found their footing and, at their worst, haven't prevented the team from winning games at an unprecedented clip since December 4th.
Does that mean that this team is infallible and destined for greatness from today until forever? No, of course not. The issue here, though, isn't about whether or not the team is at the precipice of perfection but rather whether or not they NEED to make a trade between now and Thursday afternoon to achieve their goals. There may be trades that could help, but NEED doesn't appear to be case.
First, one has to look at what the Raptors even have to trade in the first place. Bryan Colangelo has made it clear that Bosh isn't going anywhere (duh) and there is no reason to unload Bargnani at this point, either.
Jack is providing an incredible monetary value as an effective starting point guard and so moving him would take a very lopsided deal in terms of talent. Turkoglu, despite the cries of some Raptors fans, is going nowhere if for no other reason than his contract makes moving him unlikely (plus his playmaking complements Jack well in the starting five). So, to start off any trade conversation those four names must be removed from the table.
After them, though, things become admittedly more complex. Calderon has long been seen as a potential trading asset, but the teams in need of a starting point guard at his price (New York, Philadelphia, Detroit, Indiana, Miami, Washington) are all looking to shed salary right now and while Charlotte is always on the hunt for a new point guard their imminent sale makes most salary-absorbing trades unlikely unless the talent going their way makes the move a no-brainer.
That means that in order to move Calderon and receive talent back the club would in all likelihood have to sweeten the deal with DeMar DeRozan - which brings up the question of when to sell high on an asset.
I'll deviate for a moment and use Amir Johnson to make this example. Most Raptor fans would think it heresy to let go of Amir Johnson in any trade this week; he's been a crucial asset off of the bench, he's young and athletic and he knows his role and sticks to it.
While all of those things are true, it is also true that this is his fifth year in the NBA, so he isn't likely to get markedly better, he's got a $3.6-million expiring contract and his stock is at an all-time high as an asset around the league. So you have to ask yourself, what is the best play here: do you keep him as a genuinely valuable piece of your second unit or do you look to leverage his stock into a superior player? There is no 'right' answer to that question. For instance, if you could package him with Marcus Banks to get Corey Maggette as a high-calibre bench scorer, do you do it?
In theory, Reggie Evans and Rasho Nesterovic could hold down his position while Maggette fills a need in Toronto, but will Evans and Rasho fill the role as ably as Johnson, and what if Johnson improves demonstrably in Golden State's run-n-gun system? In terms of a talent swap the trade is a no-brainer for Toronto, but as a chemistry/momentum-altering swap the waters are muddied somewhat. Like I said, there is no 'right' answer to that one.
Which brings us back to DeRozan. By all accounts DeMar has had a perfectly fine rookie season thus far. He's meshed well with the first unit, he hasn't been a defensive liability to the degree many feared and his offensive game continues to round into form. If he could improve his three-point shooting this summer while continuing to use his athleticism on defense he could become a Trevor Ariza-esque player in Toronto's rotation, which would be fantastic for the club.
However, if you use that as a theoretical ceiling for DeMar (while also acknowledging that he could both exceed that mark as well as fall far short of it) then you have ask yourself if he wouldn't be worth giving up if you are getting a player better than Ariza back in return for him.
I'm not going to toss around any more names, but Calderon and DeRozan combine to make $10.5-million in contracts, and while neither is of the highly-coveted expiring kind, two useful assets may be of interest to some clubs not willing to throw in the towel just yet. Giving up either of them, though, creates real holes at two spots on the roster that any trade would have to at least attempt to fill before they look to improve other areas, so even though one could trade them in theory, actually doing it is hardly necessary.
Truth be told, nearly all of the Raptors rotational reserves are to one degree or another exceeding the expectations placed on them at some point this year (with Marco Belinelli perhaps being the lone exception), and to varying degrees several players fall under this 'sell high' umbrella.
So, in theory, the Raptors could sneak in under the radar and pull of a significant move if they wanted before the deadline with what assets they do have available to trade.
Which brings of back to the question of NEED. The club may want to make a move (Colangelo even said the team will be buyers in a February interview on The Fan 590) but, if they do, it probably wouldn't come from a feeling of immediate NEED.
Keep in mind that the talent brought to Toronto in any scenario has to be balanced against the loss in chemistry that it would create. As much as anything this Raptor resurgence has had to do with a lot of pieces finding a groove amongst each other and fostering and growing that groove in the last few months.
It says here that one of the biggest holes in the Raptors plans in their entire history has been a lack of fostering consistency in their roster. Losing any part of this unit has the potential to again upset the team's groove, as does importing a major new piece, so while talent may be available to the club if they want it, they have to be very judicious about who they would bring in for just this reason.
Still, some may say that this team isn't good enough to make serious noise this season and more has to be acquired to meet that goal. That may be true, but ask yourself what would happen if the team never recovered their mojo after such a move.
What happens if the trade has an Allen Iverson-to-Detroit effect, or a Shaq-to-Phoenix one, and the Raptors lose their momentum and fall back of the pack in the East Playoff standings, how do you think that would sit with free-agent-to-be Chris Bosh?
Let's not kid ourselves, keeping Bosh happy is the only NEED in Raptorland until he either re-signs or leaves this summer. While he'd no doubt welcome a move that puts the Raptors into the class of Cleveland, Orlando, Atlanta and Boston, if that move actually set the team back it isn't like he'd feel obligated to stick around to clean up the mess. That being the case, the club better be certain that any trade they pull off will only improve their fortunes, because the alternative could be disastrous.
Let's simplify things, though: the Raptors are going in the right direction, and they have several key pieces locked-up and the inside track to re-sign Bosh this summer. Eventually the talent level in certain areas will need to increase, but it doesn't NEED to increase today.
As is always the case, if the right trade comes along you do it, but for what might be the first time ever the Raptors get to choose whether a trade is even necessary for their club at the deadline - which for a squad like the Raptors is an achievement unto itself. Now we just have to wait and see what option they exercise.