The Toronto Raptors' surprising season has had two turning points. The first was when general manager Masai Ujiri traded Rudy Gay to the Sacramento Kings in December in exchange for a bench. The second was a few days after that, when New York Knicks owner Jim Dolan backed out of a deal for point guard Kyle Lowry. "Dolan didn't want to get fleeced again by Masai," a Knicks source told Frank Isola of the New York Daily News.
If that second deal had come to pass, the Raptors would likely be in the lottery and the Knicks could be positioning themselves for the playoffs. Instead, Toronto is third in the East, but that hasn't totally stopped the rumors about Ujiri's plans and Lowry's future.
The Lowry situation
There's a good argument that Lowry has been the best point guard in the Eastern Conference this season. He's averaging 16.7 points, 7.6 assists and 4.5 rebounds per game, and has played better defense than the vast majority of his peers at the position. He arrived in training camp in much better shape than the season before, and has earned all sorts of praise from head coach Dwane Casey for his leadership and his attitude, areas in which he has been questioned in the past. The 27-year-old is in a contract season, though, and there have been doubts as to whether the team would be willing to match his demands in free agency.
The landscape of the market suggests Lowry will likely remain a Raptor, as the teams who will have cap space this summer by and large don't need a starting point guard. "We've heard it from [Toronto] that he won't be moved," a rival executive told Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski last week, and that appears unlikely to change unless an incredible offer is presented. The possibility of Jeff Teague ending up in Toronto and Lowry becoming a Knick was floated in a report by ESPN's Ian Begley, however, and Ujiri has interest in Boston Celtics star point guard Rajon Rondo, according to the Toronto Sun's Ryan Wolstat.
Minor moves possible?
Ujiri is typically vague when it comes to his plans for the team, speaking in generalities about patience, growing and competing. He isn't tipping his hand regarding the trade deadline, either, via Mike Ganter of the Toronto Sun:
"I'll be right here (waving his cellphone) waiting and we'll see what happens," he said of his plans between now and the trade deadline. "I never know what to expect. Sometimes it's quiet until the last minute. Sometimes it's busy. As far as our team, I think the team has played well. They have done well with the platform so keep trying to grow.
With Lowry likely not going anywhere, who could be on the move? The answer is probably no one, but several role players are interesting to think about.
If the Raptors aren't going to bring back backup point guard Greivis Vasquez, who will be a restricted free agent this offseason, then it would be worth exploring his trade value. Tyler Hansbrough, whose role as a backup power forward became less important with the acquisition of Patrick Patterson, is making just over $3 million this season and is only guaranteed $1 million next season. John Salmons, who also is owed only $1 million next season, has a $7.5 million cap figure this year and could be an option for a team looking to save money.
Salary situation looking better
If Toronto chooses to stand pat at the deadline, it will still be in pretty good position this summer. That's a testament to the moves Ujiri has already made. The Raptors are no longer on the hook for Andrea Bargnani's $11.5 million next season, nor the $19.3 million option that Rudy Gay could have opted into. With a strong finish to the regular season and a respectable showing in the playoffs, the value of players currently on the roster should only increase. That'll give Ujiri flexibility, something this team sorely lacked this time last year. From a front office perspective, the Raptors don't have to do anything before Thursday to make this year a success.