The time may be here for the Raptors’ Ujiri and Webster to decide if they’re all in on this season


They are patient men, Masai Ujiri and Bobby Webster are, they are not prone to making rash decisions. They are basketball executives who like to let a team breathe and grow and take its time figuring out precisely what it is.

But eventually the Raptors president and general manager must strike, to do something to either give the existing roster a boost or to retrench for the longer term. Decision time is coming up on them and the patience they have shown since the middle of the summer may now be tested.

The unofficial NBA trade season opened Sunday and, with 25 games behind them, Ujiri and Webster have enough of a baseline to know what they want to do.

More than 110 players who signed deals or moved teams in the off-season are now eligible to be traded and can be dealt any time until the league’s deadline on Feb. 6.

It’s not like deals are going to start happening with regularity today but the process of seeing which players might be legitimately available does begin in earnest. And Ujiri and Webster might add some urgency to the routine conversations they have with other executives. Front offices have to decide if they are a piece or two away from contending for a championship, or if they are better off dealing away pieces for future assets.

It’s a hard decision but this current Raptors roster has every reason to believe it can be a legitimate contender to play for a second successive NBA championship, even if holes exist today.

The needs are obvious:

  • The Raptors can use another playmaking guard to alleviate some of the load on Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet.
  • They could use some more size and rebounding prowess in the frontcourt, where they currently rely almost exclusively on veterans Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka.

The balancing act for Ujiri and Webster is how they can improve the team without changing it too dramatically.

The expiring contracts of Gasol and Ibaka will be of interest to other teams but moving either of them opens holes, regardless of who comes back. VanVleet, Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby are virtually untouchable. Lowry will probably be more marketable in the summer, and he’s too intrinsic to this current team to be replaced.

That leaves guys like Norm Powell, whose recent strong play has opened eyes, and bit players and roster fillers like Chris Boucher, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Terence Davis II and Pat McCaw, none of whom will fetch anything significant on the market.

But a package of players — Powell, a couple of the others and perhaps the team’s 2020 first-round draft pick — might be enough to fill at least one of those holes.

Someone like Oklahoma City’s Danilo Gallinari, a six-foot-10 forward and shooting guard in his 11th NBA season, would be a solid fit. Free agent Jamal Crawford, who is closing in on 40 but can play both guard positions, might have interest in Toronto because there is every reason to think this Raptors roster isn’t far off from playing for a championship.

The Raptors hierarchy has always lived by the credo that it would give the roster every chance to maximize its potential; getting it some help soon is how to do that this season.

The complicating factor, though, is the bonanza of free agents who will hit the market in 2021, a target summer of the Raptors for some time.

There is no way Ujiri or Webster should cut into the vast cap space they are set up to have that summer, and that limits the players they might have interest in today.

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The Raptors under Ujiri have never shied away from making in-season deals to get immediate returns. The most significant trade the team has pulled off in this era came last February when they moved Jonas Valanciunas, Delon Wright and C.J. Miles to Memphis for Marc Gasol in a deal that propelled them to their championship run.

They face the same decisions today as they did in February: Is there a package they can put together to get that one guy who can make a difference?

With the market now open, the answer has to be yes.

Doug Smith

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