Why the Toronto Raptors are a dark horse destination for Chris Paul

Chris Paul #3 of the Houston Rockets shoots the ball as Kyle Lowry #7 of the Toronto Raptors defends during the second half of an NBA game. (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
Chris Paul #3 of the Houston Rockets shoots the ball as Kyle Lowry #7 of the Toronto Raptors defends during the second half of an NBA game. (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images) /

With trade speculation surrounding veteran All-Star point guard Chris Paul, don’t rule out the Toronto Raptors as a potential destination.

Death, taxes, and Chris Paul’s name floating around on the NBA trade market. This is the new reality to which basketball fans worldwide have become accustomed to in the last few years.

After spending his first six seasons with the New Orleans Hornets, and the next six with the LA Clippers, Paul is looking at his third different relocation in three years once the NBA’s offseason kicks off. His renaissance season with the OKC Thunder has revitalized his trade value, and now a number of the NBA’s 30 teams are kicking the tires on a potential trade for the 16-year veteran.

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The Phoenix Suns are the latest. According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, they have engaged with the Thunder on trade talks surrounding Paul as recently as this month. Along with the New York Knicks and Milwaukee Bucks, they make up the majority of the market for the point guard.

But could other suitors emerge? For example, would the Toronto Raptors take an interest? They’re a contender in the Eastern Conference that is preparing for a possible reality without half of their starting backcourt duo in Fred VanVleet, who’ll be an unrestricted free agent this offseason.

It’s a weird time for the Raptors who may not even play in front of their home crowd until the season after next thanks to COVID-19. As apart of the league’s measures to ensure the season goes smoothly, there have been talks of relocating the team to somewhere else on the East Coast with the latest recommendation being Tampa, FL.

That combined with possibly having to say goodbye to VanVleet, Marc Gasol, and Serge Ibaka can have a franchise turn around and stare itself in the mirror, searching for direction.

Masai Ujiri will no doubt be looking to upgrade this Toronto Raptors roster and maintain its stature in the Eastern Conference. Toronto’s won 50 or more games in each of the last five seasons, and as long as they’re home to Pascal Siakam, will feel they can reach the playoffs year in and year out.

But in order to make the most of young and upcoming stars, everyone in the league knows you’ve got to surround them with the proper supporting cast of veterans and perennial All-Stars. They’ve done so with all of his aforementioned teammates, which resulted in him winning a championship by age 25. Could Chris Paul be a necessary addition in helping them win a second title?

Chris Paul has value to the Toronto Raptors

Someone who’s been around as long as Ujiri no doubt knows the 35-year old’s value both on the floor and in the locker room. But does that value hold up to his price tag? Paul is entering his 16th season and will be due $40+ million for each of the next two years.

But both of those numbers seem reasonable at worst when you take into account his performance with the Thunder last year. Paul averaged 17.6 points, 6.7 assists, five rebounds, and 1.6 steals for a team that was inaccurately ruled out of the playoffs from the jump; yet still exceeded expectations.

Another thing to keep in mind is Ujiri’s insistence on always operating in the bigger picture. He made a trade for a disgruntled star in Kawhi Leonard back in 2019, gambling that he had a supporting cast waiting for him in Toronto that was championship caliber. He was right.

We know Toronto is eyeing a run at 2021 free agent belle-of-the-ball Giannis Antetokounmpo. And we also know that Paul has publicly made comments about how much he’d like to play with the 2019 MVP. Would that be reason enough for Ujiri to go all-in on a trade for the point guard?

Luring Antetokounmpo to the Toronto Raptors won’t be easy, considering the last superstar they landed was essentially forced there and left after just one year (and one championship). But Ujiri’s job will be a lot easier if he can put together a more attractive supporting cast for Antetokounmpo, and that starts with maintaining Siakam and elsewhere upgrading the roster.

A Chris Paul-Giannis Antetokounmpo-Pascal Siakam trio would certainly be good enough to make the Eastern Conference playoffs, and challenge those at the top of the totem pole. Even then, could the Raptors make the numbers work? What would Oklahoma City want in return?

The Thunder are embarking on a rebuild…we think.

But they already have a future star in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and Sam Presti’s armed the franchise with a haul of future first-round picks that would make the Brooklyn Nets trade for Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce look like a lemonade stand operation in comparison.

That being said, either of Kyle Lowry or Fred VanVleet would make sense for Oklahoma City.

The former is one of (if not the) greatest Raptor(s) of all time, so they’ll want to maintain their cultural approach by finding a path out of Toronto that benefits him. Yet getting traded to the Thunder would make him a candidate for relocation as early as the upcoming trade deadline.

Would that be enough to compensate for Lowry’s contributions as a Raptor?

VanVleet would have to agree to a sign-and-trade to end up in Oklahoma City, but that’s not entirely out of the question. In an appearance on J.J. Redick’s podcastthe Old Man and the Three, he made sure note of his interest in taking on a larger role than he’s had in Toronto:

"“I’m 26, I feel like I’m—you know, I’m only four years in, but I feel like I’m on the verge of blossoming even more with more of a lead role and just taking more responsibility in my game.”"

Could he have that in Oklahoma City, serving as the next mentor in Gilgeous-Alexander’s journey to NBA star? It’s possible, and the Thunder roster is still playoff-caliber if they can replace Paul properly with another All-Star talent. VanVleet could pick up where they left off last year.

Nonetheless, it would take more than just one of the Toronto Raptors’ current point guards to compete with the potential offers Presti’s receiving from New York, Phoenix, and potentially Milwaukee.

In addition, the Raptors could throw in veteran sharpshooter Norman Powell. He’s under contract next season for $10.8 million and has an $11.6 million player option for the 2021-2022 season.

Draft compensation on a deal like this is tricky. Teams are looking at Paul as a plus-asset, but he’s also got one of the league’s higher salaries. So is he a salary dump? Not quite, but it begs the question of who should be on the receiving end of draft picks in this deal.

When it comes to potential Chris Paul destinations, don’t dismiss the Toronto Raptors as a dark horse. Given their eyes on a larger than life offseason next year and Masai Ujiri’s track record as an executive, inevitability may be the game when it comes to his and the front office’s next move.

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