Trades

Who Should The Leafs Target at the Trade Deadline?

Source: NHL

Source: NHL

With the NHL trade deadline just over a week away, the rumour mill has been in full swing with the latest predictions on which players will be moved and to where. The Maple Leafs got off to an early start by trading for Jake Muzzin over two weeks ago, and the early returns have been all that Leafs fans could have hoped for. It has vaulted the Leafs back into 2nd place in the NHL at the time of writing this article, but they are still 15 POINTS behind the league (and division) leader Tampa Bay Lightning, who are having a historic season. If the Leafs want to reach the Stanley Cup Final, the road will go through Tampa. So, what else do they need to add to take on this seemingly unstoppable Lightning team? I provide a few suggestions and mock trades below.

Michael Ferland & Brett Pesce

Source: ESPN

Source: ESPN

It’s hard to really gauge at this point if the Hurricanes will be buyers or sellers at the trade deadline. They currently sit three points out of a playoff spot and could realistically challenge for it. They could also look to move off some players to shake things up and provide the team with a boost. Two names really stand out to me on the Hurricanes: Micheal Ferland and Brett Pesce. I like Ferland a lot more than a guy like Wayne Simmonds. Ferland is still relatively young at 26 years of age (Simmonds is 30), provides some physicality for the forward group and produces with points. In 48 games played, Ferland has 31 points (15 goals, 16 assists), is +11 and has 38 penalty minutes. Pesce has attributes that I find appealing as a Leafs fan. He’s a right-handed shot, kills penalties and makes smart decisions with the puck, as evidenced by having more takeaways then giveaways (30 takeaways to 20 giveaways). As a reference, Jake Gardiner has lacked in this department this year, with 24 takeaways to 49 giveaways, and last year posted 39 takeaways compared to 105 giveaways. Granted, they both play different style of defence, but its nice to have that extra comfort with another defenseman. Pesce also sports a +18 and is currently carrying his highest shooting percentage of his career at 7.5%. Oh, and he’s also under contract until 2024 at $4.025 million.

These two players would both solve needs for the Maple Leafs, and if you can get them together it’s worth exploring. I have no doubt that the Hurricanes would ask for Andreas Johnsson in return, but if you could entice them with other options, it would be an avenue worth exploring.

Here is my mock trade:

TOR receives: Micheal Ferland and Brett Pesce

CAR receives: Nikita Zaitsev, Connor Brown, Jeremy Bracco, 2019 third-round pick, 2020 second-round pick

Radko Gudas

Source: USA Today

Source: USA Today

Just look at this picture. Does this look like the kind of guy you want to piss off? Probably not. The addition of Muzzin has been a welcome one because of the physicality that he brings, on top of the quality defence and steady offense. The Leafs could benefit from another physically imposing defenseman patrolling their blue line, and the name that often gets brought up is Gudas. Gudas doesn’t give you much offensively but is one of the more solid pure defensive defensemen in the entire league. In 55 games this year, he already has 182 hits, the most in the NHL by a defenseman. This would be a welcome bonus to a Leafs team who ranks 29th in the NHL in hits per game. I don’t think it will take much to pry Gudas out of Philly, who would be looking to recoup value for their assets.

Here is my mock trade:

TOR receives: Radko Gudas

PHI receives: Andreas Borgman, 2019 Blues fourth-round pick

Normally I would have one or two more trade packages to present, but with the Leafs current (and future) roster, cap restrictions as well as team needs, I don’t see any other trade package that would benefit the Leafs at this current time. Have a trade proposal that you want to present, or want to tweak one that I proposed? Let me know in the comments or follow me on Twitter or Instagram @TO_SportsViews to engage with me there.

Blue Jays Trade Deadline 2018 Gradebook

Source: ABC

Source: ABC

Well it's no secret that the 2018 version of the Toronto Blue Jays has been nothing short of disappointing. With a record of 51-59 heading into Sunday's action against the Mariners, the Jays dipped into the "sellers" market for the first time in a few years. In this article, I'm going to hand out a grade for every Blue Jays trade made thus far, plus give my predictions for potential August trade candidates and provide an overall thought on the Jays and the 2018 deadline.

Without further ado, let's get started.

Trade Gradebook

Roberto Osuna

Source: NBC News

Source: NBC News

Trade:

To Houston: Roberto Osuna

To Toronto: Ken Giles, Hector Perez, David Paulino

In one of the more stunning and most controversial trades across the MLB during this deadline, young Blue Jays closer Roberto Osuna was shipped off to Houston for Ken Giles and a couple of solid pitching prospects.

I am honestly shocked that this trade happened. I'm not shocked that the Blue Jays were willing to trade him, I am shocked at the fact that there was another team willing to trade for him, in particular the Houston Astros. The Astros recently have had to deal with their own domestic violence issues with one of their minor league players, which can be read about here. Astros GM Jeff Luhnow claims that the organization has a "zero tolerance policy" on domestic violence issues, but because the issue occured prior to the Astros acquiring him, this issue does not fall under the same scrutiny.

I purposefully waited a few days post non-waiver deadline to publish this article for the sole fact of gauging fan and media reaction on this trade. The Astros have been crucified for making this trade and having poor reasoning as to why they made the deal. Jeff Luhnow and the Astros deserve all the criticism coming their way, especially for an organization that just dealt with this issue recently internally. They clearly prioritize winning over ethics, and all it takes is one team in this league to make a deal. The Blue Jays jumped all over the opportunity, and got a great return for a "problem pitcher". Kudos to Shapiro and Atkins for valuing ethics over assets.

I've seen some Blue Jays fans upset that the front office traded away a player like Osuna, with years of control remaining and stellar numbers on his resume. If you're going to be mad as a fan, that's okay. Just don't direct your anger at the front office, direct it to Osuna. He put himself and his club in this position, and there's nobody else to blame but Roberto himself. Do you think the Jays would trade a 23 year old with a 2.87 lifetime ERA if he wasn't a problem? Of course they wouldn't. Instead, they turned their problem into a struggling yet young former closer, and two top tier pitching prosects that have good potential, with Perez becoming the 11th ranked Jays prospect and Paulino becoming the 20th ranked prospect. Great for them to give away their massive problem to another organization, and great for them to receive a package of any value back for him.

Grade: A+

J.A. Happ

Source: Getty Images

Source: Getty Images

Trade:

To New York: J.A. Happ

To Toronto: Brandon Drury, Billy McKinney

Jays fans and media alike were going into this trade deadline saying that J.A. Happ was our most valuable piece that was likely to be traded before July 31st. While he did struggle over his last couple of starts as a Blue Jay, he did put together a solid campaign that saw him make his first ever All-Star appearance. The original ask of a top-3 prospect from the Blue Jays was never realistic, but I stated on the last South of the 6ix podcast that I believed J.A. Happ could fetch a top 5-7 prospect, top 20-30 prospect and a long shot, hoping that one of the prospects coming back was a pitcher. My reasoning for the return was simple: J.A. is a proven veteran lefty who can provide you with solid innings in the playoffs as your 3rd or 4th starter, and having that lefty option in the playoffs is massive.

When the trade was announced and the details were confirmed, I was a little disappointed in the return. I have never been sold on Brandon Drury's game, but he has just entered into the league so hopefully for the sake of the Blue Jays, he can return to similar form that he had in Arizona. I don't see him as a piece for the future. I believe the Jays are hoping he can rebuild some value here in Toronto with regular playing time so we can trade him away for something of use. McKinney has been in a few blockbuster trades as a key prospect, but has never really panned out. He did crack the Yankees roster at the beginning of the year, but that all came crashing down (literally) when he crashed into the outfield wall at the Rogers Centre during the opening series against the Blue Jays. You can never have enough depth however, and he is a fringe MLB-ready prospect at this point (19th on Blue Jays prospect list). I felt like Shapiro and Atkins could have gotten a better return, especially from trading to an in-division rival such as the Yankees, which should have commanded a higher premium.

Grade: C-

Seung-hwan Oh

Source: Frank Gunn / CP

Source: Frank Gunn / CP

Trade:

To Colorado: Seung-hwan Oh

To Toronto: Forrest Wall, Chad Spanberger

For the bullpen trades, I won't go too in-depth with them, just because there's not as much substance or storyline to them. Saying that, the ROI from Oh was enormous for the Blue Jays. They signed him to a $1.75 million contract late this offseason (pennies in baseball terms) and they have now been able to convert that asset into two prospects, with Wall sliding into the 26th spot on the Blue Jays top-30 list. This is just another example of a smart "low-risk, high-reward" move that most casual fans hate at the beginning of the year, and then love when they see good results or a good trade package in return. Moves like these are what help to build a more deep farm system and a sustainable winning team.

Grade: A-

John Axford

Source: Sportsnet

Source: Sportsnet

Trade:

To Los Angeles: John Axford

To Toronto: Corey Copping

One of the hottest commodities in baseball lately is solid bullpen arms. Looking to capitalize on that trend, the Jays shipped out reliver John Axford to the Dodgers for minor league reliever Corey Copping

This trade seemed to have caught Axford off guard, as he had done some "asking around" and thought that he would be staying put with the Blue Jays. You can read more about that story here. I understand the need to trade expiring contracts for younger assets, so this deal on paper makes complete sense. Not to mention that Copping is putting up impressive numbers across AA and AAA this season (2.52 ERA, K/9 at 9.9). If they were to have kept a veteran reliver behind, I would have liked to have seen it be Axford because of his love for the city and experiences with the game. I believe it could have benefitted some of the new bullpen arms and September call-ups, but I digress.

Grade: B+

Aaron Loup

Source: Sportsnet

Source: Sportsnet

Trade:

To Philadelphia: Aaron Loup

To Toronto: Jacob Waguespack

The longest tenured Blue Jay is no longer. For those that follow me on Twitter (@TO_SportsViews in case you're wondering, or just follow me here), you know that I have been openly against Aaron Loup pitching for the Toronto Blue Jays Baseball Club. He is only a shell of his former 2012-2014 self, and has been ineffective for quite sometime now. He is brought in to face lefties, and quite frankly sucks against them. Danny Barnes is a better lefty specialist and he's a right hander.

The Jays received minor leaguer Jacob Waguespack back in the deal. His numbers aren't anything to boast about (4.75 ERA, 1.46 WHIP between AA and AAA in 2018), but I honestly would have been okay receiving a bag of balls back in return for Loup. In Loup's first and only appearance so far for the Phillies, he hit the only batter he faced. Chalk this one up as a win for the Blue Jays.

Grade: A-

Bonus Trivia Question: Who is now the longest tenured Blue Jay currently on the roster? I'll provide the answer at the bottom of the article.

Steve Pearce

Source: John Sokolowski / USA TODAY Sports

Source: John Sokolowski / USA TODAY Sports

Trade:

To Boston: Steve Pearce

To Toronto: Santiago Espinal

Ahh, the trade often forgotten about in the shuffle and commotion of trade deadline. This was the first major move the Blue Jays made this season, and it was an in-division trade. Once Steve Pearce returned to the Jays healthy, there was really no room for him, and it was time to ship him while the value was high instead of letting his rust away on the bench.

Pearce was batting .291 with an OPS of .868, 4 HR's and 16 RBI's in 79 AB's for the Blue Jays. Respectable numbers for a small sample size. Boston has seen exponential returns on investment here, as Pearce is batting .357 with an OPS of 1.162, 5 HR's and 14 RBI's in 56 AB's for the Red Sox. I always liked Pearce. He is a truly "clutch" player... *cough* two walk-off grand slams in one week *cough*. He even hit 4 HR's in 2 games for the Red Sox. I'm happy he is succeeding there and being put in positions to not fail.

The return for the Blue Jays on this deal is not something to be overlooked either. In A and AA baseball this year, Espinal is batting .299 with an OPS of .817 along with 9 HR's and 50 RBI's. Anyway to add valuable youth to the organization at this stage is imperative, and Shapiro and Atkins were able to do just that with this deal.

Grade: B+

Potential August Trade Candidates

Editor's Note: When listing "potential suitors" I have put them in the order in which I believe is the best fit for said player, based on player cost and acquiring team need.

Josh Donaldson

Source: The Canadian Press

Source: The Canadian Press

One of the most intriguing names entering into the 2018 season was Josh Donaldson. He was the key, and arguably biggest difference maker, for the Jays having either a competitive season or a bad season. If the team were to be sellers at the deadline, it was expected that JD would be the most valuable asset that can be moved and the rebuild could be accelerated a little bit.

Fast forward to August 2018, and here we are talking about an incredibly devalued asset. Playing only roughly a third of the season (36 games played out of 110 total games), Donaldson has looked old and worn on the defensive end with his shoulder issues, has appeared to be a liability on the basepaths with his calf injuries, and has shown no offensive flashes of his former MVP self from three years ago, batting just .234 with 5 HR's, 16 RBI's and an OPS of .757. Remember the dream trade packages we were all mock creating last season? You can take those and throw them in the trash.

Despite all of these poor numbers, there are still teams that showed interest in Donaldson before the July 31st deadline. According to Yahoo! Sports Canada, Atkins tolf Gregor Chisolm of MLB.com that there were "lots of discussions" on Donaldson. He continued by saying "The challenge is, with any player that is not playing, is understanding that risk and that timeline, with not the same access to information that we have." You can read the entire article here.

A return for Donaldson is still tough to gauge at this point, mainly because if he were to be traded in August, it would be closer to the end of the month as teams would need to see him healthy and playing for longer than a week at a time. They need to see that he still has the ability to play at an elite level and be a difference maker. If he can prove that in a short window, then I'm sure some competing team will take a shot at him. I don't necessarily think that JD will be traded this month, as I believe it will be tough to build up value in a short period of time, but as I stated earlier there was interest in him before the July 31st deadline, so anything can happen.

Expected Trade: Josh Donaldson and cash for a top 20-30 prospect

Potential Suitors: Braves, Cardinals, Pirates, Diamondbacks

Marco Estrada

Source: Sportsnet

Source: Sportsnet

This move might come later on in August just because of the recent strained glute injury that put him on the 10-day DL as well as the $13 million contract that he has for this year. Prior to the injury, Marco was putting up impressive numbers, so it was a shame that he had to get hurt. This circles back to my point of selling high on starters. You never know when they can get hurt and missed starts closer to the deadline are amplified. Saying this, I'm sure a team that is looking to bolster their pitching depth and add a reliable, proven playoff starter into their 3rd or 4th spot will pony up for Marco. In his last start in Seattle, Estrada was looking like ACEstrada once again, going 7 innings and giving up 1 earned run. I'm sure this caught the attention of plenty of competing GM's across the league looking to add starting depth. Houston just lost Lance McCullers to the 10-day DL, so maybe they now enter the market for starting pitching depth? I wouldn't expect either the Red Sox or Yankees to be interested in him, as he hasn't done well in their ballparks as of late, especially Yankee Stadium. The return will not be as much as Happ's was, but if healthy, Marco could be considered a "trade deadline steal" come October.

Expected Trade: Marco Estrada for a top 25-30 prospect, single A prospect

Potential Suitors: Mariners, Athletics, Brewers, Diamondbacks, Astros, Nationals

Curtis Granderson

Source: Nathan Denette / The Canadian Press

Source: Nathan Denette / The Canadian Press

I don't know if there's a more likeable duo in sports than Granderson and Solarte (more on Solarte later). Granderson is a true professional. At the age of 37, he still finds ways to bring value to a ball club. This article written by Jon Paul Morosi at the beginning of the year perfectly summarizes why Granderson is still MLB's top teammate. He's a teacher, he's a mentor, he's a counsellor for not just the youth, but for the vets too.

Saying all of this, it's not like he only contributes off the field. On the field, Granderson is batting .234 with 10 HR's and 31 RBI's and can still contribute on the defenisve end as well. He also doesn't ground into many double plays (only three this year). So it's no wonder that a team like the Phillies is calling Shapiro and Atkins about Granderson. Granderson would be a perfect fit for the Phillies, a young up-and-coming team that could use a vet like Granderson to help mentor them for the later part of the season and help them through the playoffs. I don't expect too much of a return for Granderson, probably something just below what Pearce got for the Blue Jays.

Expected Trade: Curtis Granderson for a top 30-40 prospect

Potential Suitors: Phillies, Braves, Dodgers, Mariners

Yangervis Solarte

Source: Nathan Denette / The Canadian Press

Source: Nathan Denette / The Canadian Press

Before I dive into this, I just want to say how fond I've grown towards Solarte. This is a person who could have let his past troubles affect him, but he challenged the adversity head on and kept on persevering. If you don't know what I am talking about, this Jays Journal article does a great job in summarizing Solarte's story. This is a player who has an infectious smile, some pretty cool dance moves, and is the "spirit animal" for all the other Blue Jays players in the clubhouse. In a short period of time, he has become the heart and soul of the Jays, and embodies what it means to be a blue bird. Oh, and he's a pretty good baseball player too.

He's currently hitting .233 with 17 HR's and 53 RBI's in 106 games played this season. Not only can he contribute with the bat, but he can essentially play any position on the field that you want him to. He's a true "super utility" player, and I believe that championship teams need a player like this on their roster in order to win a World Series (ie. Ben Zobrist and Marwin Gonzalez). With the newest Blue Jays infield addition in Brandon Drury, this leaves five men for three spots. I expect one of these men to be dealt before at some point, especially with Tulo recently stating his intentions of returning to the field, which leaves Solarte being the likeliest out of the bunch.

Expected Trade: Yangervis Solarte for a top 25-30 prospect and "long shot" single-A prospect

Potential Suitors: Diamondbacks, Phillies, Braves

Overall 2018 Trade Deadline Thoughts

I have to say that as a fan that was expecting these "seller" moves to happen, I am impressed with the most part about the return for the players we traded away. I was expecting more for Happ, as I think he will be dominant for the Yankees in the regular season and playoffs, but otherwise the Jays did a great job of acquiring some MLB-ready pieces to not field a completely awful team, and a lot of prospects that provide value, some more than others. I'm sure that we will be able to look back on this deadline in a few years and see how some of these moves helped to put the Blue Jays back into World Series contention.

Overall Grade: A-

Bonus Trivia Question Answer!

For those who didn't cheat, the answer to the bonus trivia question is...

Source: Frank Gunn / CP

Source: Frank Gunn / CP

Superman himself, Kevin Pillar!

Raptors Make Biggest Trade in Franchise History

Source: Bob Donnan / USA TODAY Sports

Source: Bob Donnan / USA TODAY Sports

They say that nice guys finish last. It seems that Masai Ujiri has decided to embrace that adage this offseason.

Just two months after firing the NBA Coach of the Year and fan favourite Dwane Casey, Ujiri and Co. were not satisfied with bringing back the same core of players that have fallen short in the playoffs the past two seasons. By "core", I'm talking about the all-star back court of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. If this team wanted to reach an NBA Final for the first time in franchise history, one or both of these men would have to be moved.

Unless you have insomnia, are parent to a newborn, or work incredibly weird hours, chances are that on July 18th, 2018 (dubbed "the most boring day in sports") you woke up to the news that the Raptors and Spurs agreed in principle on a trade sending Kawhi Leonard to Toronto and DeMar DeRozan to San Antonio. At first, I was unsure about the deal, only because the remaining details had not been released yet. How much extra was Toronto about to give up? Would I have seen OG or Siakam's last games in a Raptors uniform? How many picks would be given back? Would we have to eat that brutal Patty Mills contract? Once all my questions were answered, it was clear who won this trade.

demar-derozan-insta-story.png

In case you are unaware of the full trade, here it is.

Raptors Receive: Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green, $5 million USD

Spurs Receive: DeMar DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl, 2019 Protected 1st Round Pick (1-20)

When rumours first began to swirl regarding a potential "Kawhi Leonard to the Raptors" deal, pundits on social media were stating that it would take DeMar, OG, and MULTIPLE unprotected 1st round picks, PLUS picking up Patty Mills' contract. I thought it was ludacris to expect this type of haul for a "rental player" especially one that hasn't seen the floor in a year. The Spurs were about to be pigeon-holed, and I was public in stating that the Raptors would draw a line in the same, and find a way to keep OG for sure, and hopefully Siakam. When news broke that they were able to keep both, PLUS only give up one heavily protected 1st round pick in 2019, PLUS obtain another good player in Danny Green, PLUS get back $5 million dollars to help with tax relief...I couldn't have been happier.

Source: SI

Source: SI

We all knew the cost of acquiring a top end talent would be either DeMar or Kyle going the other way in a deal. Until it becomes a reality, you don't realize how much it will sting to see one of them gone, and the death of the incredible "bromance" that they shared on the court. I can't recall any two Toronto athletes having the same chemistry and relationship that DeMar and Kyle shared together. It's something that I will miss for sure. The always entertaining post-game interviews, the segments that they would do together, the laughter that they shared.

It's going to be interesting to see how Lowry reacts to this. Masai has stated in a press conference on Friday afternoon that he hadn't spoken with Lowry yet and that "I'm sure it will be really hard on him." Someone pointed out to me that Lowry had been through this before with the Rudy Gay trade. Rudy was (and still is) one of Lowry's best friends, and he is the godfather to Kyle's son. To have seen him traded away would have been gut-wrenching for Lowry, but he learned to develop a new relationship with DeMar. Hopefully he can take that same approach this time around, because the Raptors need him now more than ever.

It's Okay To Be Sad And Excited At The Same Time

I have this notion that Raptors fans feel like they have to pick a side. They are either sad that DeMar is gone and criticize Masai Ujiri for trading away the most loyal player the Raptors have ever had, or they are exciting and feel no empathy for DeMar and his family. Why do we have to live in a world of absolutes? This trade and the circumstances surrounding it is one that the NBA hasn't seen in a very long time, so there's no "right way" to feel. Saying this, I'll provide you with my perspective on the situation, and hopefully it can provide you the reader with a different lens to view it through.

DeMar was the heart and soul of this Raptors team the moment Chris Bosh walked out that door. His iconic "Don't worry, I got us..." tweet lives on in Raptors lore. He lived up to his tweet. He embraced the city. He was proud to rep not just the 6ix, but an entire nation. He helped make the Raptors relevant again. Kids were playing basketball in the streets, wearing their DeRozan Raptors jersey with pride. He never took a free agent meeting with any other team other than Toronto. He had a desire to retire a Raptor. It's emotional and difficult to see a player like that be traded for a player that may not want to return in a year. For all you have done for the Raptors, Toronto and the country of Canada, we thank you DeMar.

On the other hand, it is rare that a top-5 player in the NBA is available in trade talks. When that happens, you need to do whatever it takes to try and secure a player of that calibre. To obtain a player such as Kawhi, the trade package will have to sting. Losing DeMar was the stinger, but it was necessary. This deal on paper is a massive win for the Raptors. They give up arguably their best player, but receive an even better player in the deal. Not to mention they got Danny Green as well, who is a reliable 3-and-D player who will be a welcome addition into the starting lineup. One aspect of this trade that is not really being talked about is the impact that this trade will have on OG Anunoby. OG's ceiling is Kawhi Leonard, as the two play a very similar type of play-style. OG can learn a lot from Kawhi, even if it's for just a year. This will work wonders for the growth and development of OG as a player, and provides him with a greater chance of reaching his ceiling than ever before. 

I am sad, but I am excited. It's okay to feel both, there's nothing wrong with that. Raptors fans got the change they were looking for. Let's just put our trust in Masai that he knows what he is doing. Speaking of Masai...

This Is Truly Masai's Team Now...

masai-ujiri.jpg.size.custom.crop.1086x724.jpg

Over the course of his tenure as Raptors GM and Team President, Masai has made some moves to take this team from a bottom feeder to perennial contender. His first massive move was trading away Andrea Bargnani to the Knicks, which then turned into Jakob Poeltl, which then helped to turn into Kawhi Leonard. He traded away Rudy Gay, and the return package helped Toronto get to the playoffs for the first time since the 2007-08 season. They have made the playoffs for 4 straight years. They made it to an Eastern Conference Finals in 2016. Saying all of this, the last two years feel like the Raptors have fallen short, and Masai decided to finally change the nucleus of this team...one that was formed by former GM Bryan Colangelo.

Masai fired a coach that he inherited. He made his first coaching hire ever as an NBA GM. He then traded away one of the "dynamic duo" in DeRozan. Lowry and DeRozan were a part of the Raptors prior to Masai's arrival. In essence, Masai's moves focused on adding around the core three of Lowry, DeRozan and Coach Casey. Now, with a rookie head coach in Nick Nurse, and the addition of Kawhi Leonard, Masai has now truly made his mark on this team. He has pushed all in with pocket Kings. Hopefully for Raptors fans everywhere, someone else doesn't have pocket Aces.

Raptors 2017 Offseason Gradebook

Source: Chris Young/The Canadian Press

Source: Chris Young/The Canadian Press

Masai said it best himself following a sweep by the hands of the Cavs. "We need a culture reset." Well, did he hit the self proclaimed "reset" button?

Somewhat.

Here's my gradebook on the Toronto Raptors 2017 Offseason (so far) and what we can expect from Ujiri and Webster in the future. All categories are listed in sequential order.

We are going to hold everybody accountable because we need to. We need to figure it out.
— Masai Ujiri

Coach

Source: Raptors Republic

Source: Raptors Republic

Masai's first pressing offseason decision came in the form of his head coach Dwane Casey. Just one year into a three-year contract extension, speculation about Casey came after Masai's comments regarding the coach and the play style of the team.

"Because we’ve done what we’ve done so many times and it hasn’t worked. It’s easy to defend in my opinion when you play one-on-one. It’s predictable, we feel we have to go in another direction. I don’t know what it is. Maybe it will be the new thing in the league that wins." Masai also added "I think there are times that I think coach did a great job and I think there are times that we struggled."

It wasn't exactly a 'vote of confidence' for the winningest coach in Raptors history, but Masai didn't give anything away regarding his thoughts on the coach's future. Remember that even though Masai gave Casey an extension last season, this still isn't the coach he hired, but rather inherited from the previous regime. Both Masai and Casey acknowledged that changes needed to be made in playing style, and that the hero ISO ball that every Raptors fan hates needs to be eliminated.

A few weeks later, Casey confirmed to media outlets that he would in fact be returning as the head coach of the Raptors squad. This move puzzled many who follow the Dinos considering Masai's remarks. 

I really like Casey. Not only is he a character guy, but he's done incredible things for the Toronto Raptors, and the team may not be in the position its in today if it were not for him. Saying this, the ISO-ball style clearly isn't working, and it will be interesting to see if Casey can adapt. When times get tough, can the team stick to the new style of play, or will the coach and his squad revert back to the old ISO ways? Only time will tell.

GRADE: C

Draft

Source: Sports Illustrated

Source: Sports Illustrated

They say that across any sport, most deals begin to take shape on draft night. With all the GM's focused on one particular aspect, many use that time to "hotline bling" opposing GM's and try to work something out. There's always deals that get done, as NBA players and current draft picks alike are often shipped across various teams, some more surprising than others (looking at you Timberwolves).

Insert the Toronto Raptors. There were reports circulating on Twitter at the beginning of the night that Masai was actively shopping Itty Bitty Baller Jonas Valanciunas along with the 23rd overall pick as a way to shed some salary off the cap. This became a very intriguing prospect to most, as getting rid of JV would be a nice way to create some room in the salary cap.

Midway through the draft the rumour was still being floated about Masai actively shopping this duo together. As the draft board inched closer and closer to the 23rd overall pick, this rumour began to die off as one intriguing name remained on the board; OG Anunoby. The tantalizing prospect out of Indiana was a projected lottery pick on every mock draft until he sustained a season ending knee injury on January 20th.

While many expected Anunoby to drop out of the lottery as a result of the injury, experts did not predict him to drop too much lower than that. As the numbers kept increasing, the "true OG" was still in his seat, and the Raptors began to realize that this might actually be a possibility. Once it was the Raptors turn to make a pick and OG was still available, it was impossible not to make that selection.

What many experts deem to be "the steal of the draft", the Raptors literally had this young phenom fall right into their laps. While Anunoby still has to work on his offensive game (averaged 11.1 points and 5.5 rebounds per game), he is credited as the one of the best defenders in the draft, if not the best. He hasn't played a game since his season ending knee surgery in January. OG is working towards a return in November-December.

When people ask me for NBA comparables, I give them a floor and ceiling of the type of player I believe that Anunoby can become. His floor is a PJ Tucker, and his ceiling is a Kawhi Leonard. I'm not saying he's going to be the next Kawhi, but do expect him to be the best defender on the floor who can lock down the opposition's star player and give you consistent offence.

GRADE: A

Free Agency/Trades

Source: Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images

Source: Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images

Once the calendar turned over to July, the Raptors roster really began to take shape. Once the signings of Ibaka and Lowry were made official, it was clear the road they would travel on.

Here's a list of who the Raptors have added/retained and who they have traded away/let walk in free agency.

Added:
Kyle Lowry
Serge Ibaka
Justin Hamilton (waived)
C.J. Miles

Subtracted:
PJ Tucker
Patrick Patterson
DeMarre Carroll
2018 First Round Pick (lottery protected)
2018 Second Round Pick
Cory Joseph

I have been on the fence all offseason about the direction the Raptors should take this team. I'm pretty sure I was more indecisive than my girlfriend trying to choose what to eat for dinner. However, once I saw the details of the Ibaka and Lowry signings, I was all abord the compete train.

It’s our job to try and get Kyle to come back and do it the best way that we possibly can. We want him back, he has been a huge part of the success here.
— Masai Ujiri

Masai handed out three-year contracts to both Ibaka and Lowry, which matches up with the expiry of DeRozan's contract. Masai is giving this core three years to compete. In an incredibly weak Eastern Conference that has seen superstars Jimmy Butler and Paul George head out to the incredibly stacked West, it only makes sense for the Raptors to at least remain competitive and allow their talented youth to develop and grow with the team. Bringing back these two players was essential, as they both boast impressive three-point numbers for their respective positions, aligning with the culture reset that Masai referred to.

Anybody with a brain would know that Masai and Co. would have constructed a methodical plan of action to carry out once they re-secured their own free agents. With the core signings completed, this pushed the Raptors into tax territory, giving them virtually no room to add any complimentary pieces unless a trade was completed.

So Masai went to work.

Step 1 of the master plan? Get rid of the one bad free agent contract on the books. The true JUNK yard dog DeMarre Carroll was shipped off to hell (aka Brooklyn) along with a future 2018 lottery protected 1st and 2nd round pick in exchange for a heaping pile of dog shit in Justin Hamilton. The trade was purely a cap relief scenario, and it cost the Raps a couple of draft picks. With the promising young talent this roster has already, I'm okay with the price of this necessary move.

Step 2 almost mirrored step 1. Nearly 12 hours after trading away DeMarre Carroll, the Raptors traded away backup point guard and fellow Canadian Cory Joseph to the Pacers in order to make room in the cap to sign C.J. Miles. "I get a ring and I bring it home like I'm Cory Joe." Drake embodied the feelings of Raptors fans everywhere when Cory Joe signed in Toronto as a free agent a few years ago, and we will forever be grateful to him. However, with young promising talent like Delon Wright and Fred VanVleet knocking at the door, it just made sense to move CoJo and his salary. This allowed the Raps to go out and sign DeMarre's replacement in C.J. Miles. Coming off a three-point field goal percentage of 42% last season, Miles is the perfect addition to a team in desperate need of that asset. He also provides solid defence and is one of the most underrated two-way forwards in the game.

The one aspect of Free Agency that sucks is that you can lose your players for nothing. Due to the Raptors tight cap crunch, they lost free agents PJ Tucker to the Houston Rockets and Patrick Patterson to the Oklahoma City Thunder. The one that really stings for me is the loss of Tucker. I was hoping that Masai would do whatever it took to keep the team's best defender and leader, but was ultimately swayed by the idea of playing alongside fellow friend Chris Paul and MVP nominee James Harden. His loss of presence will be felt on the court, and hopefully players like Miles and Norman Powell can help eliminate the pain.

Overall it was a fairly productive free agency period for Masai. I don't believe he's done yet, however I believe he would be content with starting the year with the current roster he has constructed. Kudos on keeping our star free agents and moving the players that needed to be moved. The grade would have had the letter A in it if not for the loss of PJ Tucker, which will hurt the Raptors more than most expect.

GRADE: B+

Remaining Offseason Predictions and Overall Grade

Source: Raptors Republic

Source: Raptors Republic

Like I said before, I don't believe that Masai is done just yet. There's a step 3 in his master plan, but it just hasn't been revealed to us. So what could that step 3 be, you might ask?

Great question.

Let's circle back to draft night. Remember when the Raps were trying hard to shop JV? Where there's smoke, there's fire, and that means that the Raps were looking to shed his salary. I believe that they still are, and if the right trade partner and offer comes along, I believe the Raps will take it. This could allow for a solid trade deadline acquisition without creeping into the tax, and allowing for more room next offseason to make one big splash.

Masai is a god. He will play some mind trick on a poor soul and force them to agree to whatever trade he wants. Let's all bow down to him.

The Raptors have done a good job (so far) this offseason. They have positioned themselves well to compete now, as well as not be locked in to any ridiculous contracts three years from now. They are only one injury away from actually having a chance to win the East, and that's all fans can ask for.

Overall Grade: B+

Best and Worst Trades - Toronto Raptors

Source: Canadian Press

Source: Canadian Press

Welcome to my first article in a series that will examine the best and worst trades of a certain team or league. This article is obviously focused around the Toronto Raptors. I know I'm not the first to do this, and won't be the last, but now is perfect timing to examine this while we wait for the draft, free agency, trades, and the start of the new season.

While Masai Ujiri has pulled off some franchise altering trades, there were trades before his arrival that were deemed...terrible, to say the least. Below is a list of some great and not so great trades over the Raptors 22 year history (in no particular order).

Best - Andrea Bargnani Trade

Source: Canadian Press

Source: Canadian Press

On July 10th, 2013, Masai Ujiri make his first impact move, trading away shunned Toronto athlete Andrea Bargnani to the New York Knicks in exchange for (get this) Marcus Camby, Steve Novak, Quentin Richardson, and THREE draft picks (two 2nd round picks and the Knicks 2016 first round pick). For a player that was deemed to have zero value, Ujiri was able to not only unload his contract and get him out of Toronto, but accumulate three draft picks for him. Camby and Richardson were waived before the season began and Novak didn't really accomplish much as a bench player for the Raptors, so the value lied within the draft picks. The cake was getting Bargnani out of Toronto, and the delicious icing was the draft picks.


Worst - Hakeem Olajuwon Trade

Source: AP

Source: AP

To me, this is like the NBA's version of a Mats Sundin scenario. A player who should have never left his original team, but did so late in his career only to play at a significantly reduced level and be plagued with injuries. Insert Hakeem "The Dream" Olajuwon. If Hakeem had played to his Hall of Fame career potential in Toronto, this trade would be in a different category, however we know this was not the case. A beast in the paint, Olajuwon averaged 21.8 points per game and 11.1 rebounds per game during his illustrious career, but could not replicate that success in Toronto, averaging single season career lows of 7.1 points per game and 6.0 rebounds per game. Riddled with back injuries, he was forced to retire after his completing only one of his three years he signed on with the Raptors back in 2001 after being traded for a first and second round pick.


Best - Norman Powell Trade

Source: ESPN

Source: ESPN

The high flyer. "King of the Norm". In the 2015 draft, he was overlooked by every team except for two. The Milwaukee Bucks had drafted Norman Powell with the 46th pick, and it seemed as though Toronto had his eye on him too. The two sides were able to orchestrate a trade, with the Raptors sending Greivis Vasquez to the Bucks for Powell and the LA Clippers 2017 first round draft pick. What a steal for the Raptors. Not only were they able to get Powell for Vasquez, but were able to secure a first round draft pick too! Vasquez, who played an integral role in the 2014 and 2015 Raptors playoff runs, only played for the Bucks for one season and was waived by the Brooklyn Nets last season (when you are waived by the Nets, you should probably retire...). Powell has played an important role for the Raptors, filling in for injured starters and making a strong case to start next season. It's only the beginning for Norm and his potential in this league.


Worst - Rudy Gay Trade (to Toronto)

Source: Getty Images

Source: Getty Images

On paper, this seemed like the move that the Raptors needed. The Raptors acquired Rudy Gay and Hamed Haddadi from the Memphis Grizzlies in exchange for Jose Calderon, Ed Davis and Toronto's 2013 second round draft pick. Haddadi was traded at the deadline that season and never played a role, while Gay was brought in to be a catalyst and leader around a young DeRozan and unproven Lowry. After ending the 2012-13 season with a 34-48 record, the Rudy Gay-led Raptors started the 2013-14 season off with a 6-12 start, which leads right into my next trade discussion...


Best - Rudy Gay Trade (to Sacramento)

Source: The Canadian Press

Source: The Canadian Press

We were going to blow the team up.
— Jeff Weltman on the Raptor's mind set after the 6-12 start

It's extremely rare to find the same person on any team's best AND worst trade list, but here we are. After that 6-12 start I just spoke of, Masai Ujiri knew that change was needed to this club. Remember, this was the draft year for local boy Andrew Wiggins, and the #TankForWiggins movement was only gaining more and more traction as the losses piled up. After Jeff Weltman made the move to Orlando as their new President, he admitted that the Raptors were planning on blowing the team up. With this decision made, they traded Rudy Gay, Aaron Gray and Quincy Acy to the Sacramento Kings for Patrick Patterson, Greivis Vasquez, Chuck Hayes and John Salmons. Not only did this trade ignite the team, but it altered the landscape of the franchise for the better. With Gay gone they had the ability to play more as a team, hand the keys of the team to Lowry and DeRozan and the rest is history.


Worst: Hedo Turkoglu Trade

Source: Sportsnet

Source: Sportsnet

Good old Turkoglu. The Masked Man. Just like all of the other "worst" trades, this one appeared to be a home run on paper, but in reality it was just one big strikeout. After making an appearance in the finals for the Magic the season before, the Raptors thought they had found the missing piece to compliment Chris Bosh. The Raptors traded Shawn Marion, Kris Humphries, Nathan Jawai and Toronto's 2016 second round draft pick to the Magic in a four-team trade for Hedo Turkoglu, Devean George and Antoine Wright. The Raptors got sold a bill of goods that never delivered, and when it was realized that Turkoglu would never been the same catalyst that played for the Magic, he was shipped out of town. But it wasn't all bad for the Big Turk's time in Toronto, as he produced super awkward post-game interview gems just like this.


Best - Vince Carter Trade (to Toronto)

Source: imageslides.com

Source: imageslides.com

Ahh, the trade that may be the reason why basketball in Toronto is not only alive, but thriving. What most new fans and some old fans forget is that VC was not originally drafted by the Raptors. The Raptors had the fourth pick in the 1998 draft, and traded that pick to Golden State for the fifth pick and cash. The Warriors had their sights set on Antawn Jamison and were afraid that the Raptors would draft him before they even had a chance to. The Raptors did in fact take Jamison with the fourth overall pick, and the Warriors then selected Vince Carter with the fifth overall pick, but they were quickly swapped. While Jamison went on to have a great career in the NBA, his college teammate Carter became a legend in the NBA. A sure Hall of Famer, Carter created a passion for basketball in Canada with his dynamic style of play, high flying dunks and love for the game. I love watching his highlights, and I'll never forget dunk #1 from this dunk highlights clip.


Worst - Vince Carter Trade (to New Jersey)

Source: UPI

Source: UPI

There was no way I was going to leave this trade off the list. There's no argument when it comes to what the worst trade in Raptors history was. The Raptors traded a superstar Carter in his prime and got the equivalent of a bag of balls. Then acting General Manager Rob Babcock had the audacity to send Vince Carter to the New Jersey Nets in exchange for Eric Williams, Aaron Williams, Alonzo Mourning, Philadelphia's 2005 conditional first round pick and Denver's 2006 conditional first round pick. Here's where it gets even better (aka worse). Mourning, the highlight of the terrible low ball offer from the Nets, refused to report to Toronto, meaning that Babcock had an opportunity to negate the trade and start from scratch. But even at that, he still couldn't figure out how to say no. It was a get out of jail free card handed to him on a silver platter, and he burned it. Anyways, its a no-brainer as to why Babcock has never held a job of any similar ilk, as he was essentially laughed out of the league.


There are obviously more trades that have impacted Toronto's history, positively and negatively. There's the Kyle Lowry trade from Houston that paid massive dividends, and the Jermaine O'Neal trade from Indiana that was another swing and a miss for the Raptors. Either way, all trades and transactions have led to this current Raptors squad, and I am thankful for the way things have panned out, for better or for worse.

Five Offseason Targets the Leafs Should Pursue

Source: CBS Sports

Source: CBS Sports

Can you believe it's been almost a month since the Leafs lost in the most thrilling first round of the playoffs to the Washington Capitals? The Leafs were eliminated from the playoffs on Sunday April 23. I had to triple check my calendar just to make sure.

Regardless, we are approaching the Stanley Cup Final matchup and at this point it's anyone's Cup to win. The injury to Ryan Johansen really puts a dent into the Predators hopes, and if Pittsburgh can't get healthy in time we could end up seeing a 2007 Stanley Cup Final rematch between the Ducks and Senators. Can someone say #boring? Snooze fest. (Sorry Sens fans, your team really is boring).

Something to notice during these playoffs is the commonality that all four remaining teams possess...defence. They are built from the blue line out, and Pittsburgh is suffering because of their depleted blue line. Players like Karlsson, Josi, Subban, Ellis, Schultz, Fowler and many more are catalysts for these teams and their success. The balance of offensive productivity and defensive presence is something to marvel at.

The Leafs have the necessary offensive weapons. They have the goalie that can steal some games for them and has plenty of playoff experience for a player of his age. The one glaring need for this team is defence, but this doesn't come as a surprise to anyone following this team. With that in mind, let's take a look at some free agents and potential trade targets that the Leafs front office should have some serious conversations about (in no particular order):

We have to get better. It’s obvious certain areas we need (help).
— Lou Lamoriello
Source: Russian Machine Never Breaks

Source: Russian Machine Never Breaks

1) Karl Alzner

No, it's not just because I happen to share the same birthday as Karl Alzner (it's September 24th in case anybody wants to plan ahead for gifts). The Leafs have young defense core that is comprised of Rielly, Gardiner and Zaitsev for the foreseeable future. Alzner would be the perfect fit to slide into that top four. A big, physical body who brings grit and is a great stay at home defenseman who is in his prime is the exact type of player that the Leafs are looking for right now, as is just about every other team in the league. He was sorely missed by the Capitals when he went down with injury during the playoffs, and the Leafs were able to penetrate the zone a lot better without him looming. He will be overpaid, but what decent free agent isn't these days? It would be a smart pursuit for the Leafs.

Priority: HIGH

Source: Sporting News

Source: Sporting News

2) Sami Vatanen

It's no secret that Leafs bench boss Mike Babcock and GM Lou Lamoriello were spotted together in Nashville catching some of the Nashville vs Anaheim series. While it is entirely possible that they happened to be in the same vacation spot together, one would reason that they are scouting the blue lines of either Nashville, Anaheim, or both. While I'm intrigued by the possibility of a trade with someone like Ellis, I believe the more likely scenario would come from Anaheim in the form of Vatanen. Coming off the worst of his three years, and signed to a contract of three more years with an AAV of $4.875 million, he is an attractive piece for many teams coveting a right hand shot defenseman. Anaheim could use more young offensive talent, and Toronto definitely has a massive surplus of that commodity. Look for Toronto to pounce on the opportunity to get great value for a young defenseman on a great contract.

Priority: HIGH

You do whatever you can to get better. But you don’t do things for the sake of doing things.
— Lou Lamoriello
Source: ESPN

Source: ESPN

3) Justin Williams

Yep, Mr. Game 7 himself. "But you said the Leafs have a surplus of offence why would you recom-" Stop. If a guy of this experience and caliber becomes available on the market for a reasonable term and dollar value, all 31 teams will jump on it. Father Time may not be on his side (will be 36 by the 2017 season), but he has played arguably his best hockey since joining the Capitals, posting an average of 50 points over 81 games per year. Not to mention he becomes a beast in the playoffs, especially clutch situations. In 15 game 7's, Williams has 7 goals and 7 assists. That's incredible. Who better to teach the meaning of clutch to this young group of Leafs forwards than Mr. Game 7?

Priority: MEDIUM

Source: Tip of the Tower

Source: Tip of the Tower

4) Brian Boyle

Not all targets have to be new faces. Boyle was acquired at the trade deadline and did a fine job slotting into that fourth line with Martin and the rookie carousel as the other winger. When Kapanen was slotted into the final wing position come playoff time, that fourth line did some damage, and even came up clutch in double OT. That was arguably the greatest moment in the Leafs season, and was set up with a filthy assist from Boyle. (Side note: #BringBowenBack, that guy has the best Leafs broadcasting voice). He brings a physicality and leadership that shouldn't be overlooked. Boyle said he was willing to resign in Toronto, so make it happen Lamoriello and Co.

Priority: MEDIUM

Source: The Hockey Writers

Source: The Hockey Writers

5) Michael Del Zotto

If the Leafs find themselves penny pinching and want to invest in a player who might have a bounce-back campaign, it's Del Zotto. I'll be the first to admit that this isn't a "sexy" option, but it could be worth exploring if the price is right. Del Zotto will only be 27 years of age come the 2017-18 season, and we have seen defensemen take a long time to mature and develop into the top four guys they were projected to be. Would only sign on a one or two year contract, and go from there.

Priority: LOW

You can’t be satisfied. Once you get satisfied, complacency sets in. Once complacency sets in, you’re in trouble. You’re going a different direction.
— Lou Lamoriello

There are some big names I left off my list. I initially wanted the Leafs to pursue Shattenkirk, but when I saw he couldn't hit the net if his life depended on it in the playoffs, it turned me off. Radulov will go back to the Canadiens. Oshie will command too much money for the Leafs to fit in their cap with the contracts of the big three due for renewal soon (Matthews, Marner, Nylander). Thorton is too slow and old to keep up with the speedy Leafs. So on and so forth.

Lou said changes are coming. This management group has proven over the past few years how brilliant and creative they are. Let's hope they can pull out another bunny from the magic hat this offseason.