As the clock counts down to the NBA’s Trade Deadline on Feb. 6 at 3 p.m. ET., let’s break down each roster of the Eastern Conference’s top contenders. Check out the breakdown of the Heat, Celtics and Pacers.
Incredibly, there are stories circulating that the defending NBA champion Toronto Raptors might be sellers at the trade deadline.
That is hard to believe, especially since the Raptors have the nucleus to make another run.
Strengths: (1) A strong backcourt with point guard Kyle Lowry being among the top team leaders in the NBA and vastly improved Fred VanFleet becoming a major scoring threat. (2) Pascal Siakam has developed into a true go-to player who is especially effective posting up. (3) Marc Gasol is a major defensive force and plays the Sixers Joel Embiid as well as anybody in the NBA. (4) This is one of the better three-point shooting teams in the NBA and the Raptors are also good foul shooters.
Weakness: (1) Health. This season Siakam, Lowry, Gasol and Norman Powell have each missed 10 or more games. It is a credit to the Raptors that they have remained so competitive despite the rash of injuries. (2) Lowry has had to play heavy minutes and one has to worry about him wearing down at the end. When Lowry is off the court, the Raptors struggle running their offense. (3) Backup center Serge Ibaka provides solid offense but he has trouble defending the better centers. (4) Gasol, once a proficient scorer, has not looked to provide much offense and teams have started to play off of him and double-team Siakam. The Raptors will need a little more offense from him.
How they match up with the Sixers: Very well. Until Embiid can solve his struggles against Gasol, the Raptors will continue to be a tough opponent for the Sixers. Lowry’s toughness is so underrated, and the team gets its personality from him.
Biggest need at the deadline: One more scorer off the bench who can provide instant offense.
Couldn’t hurt acquiring: A power forward-center off the bench, especially since Gasol is most effective when he plays in the 30-32 minute range.
Players who could help at the deadline:
Jamal Crawford, guard. Crawford is a free agent who hasn’t played all season. He will be 40 in March, but keeps himself in great shape and scored 51 points in his final game of the year with the Phoenix Suns. As a current free agent, he wouldn’t require any compensation.
Andre Iguodala, Memphis, forward. Last season Iguodala played against Toronto in the NBA finals with Golden State. He hasn’t played at all this season for Memphis, which wanted to go with younger players and will deal him by the deadline. Virtually any contender could use his experience and he remains a top defensive player. Memphis is likely holding out for a first-round draft choice, which could be a steep price to pay for a rental, since he will be a free agent at season’s end.
Kevin Love, Cleveland, forward. On a Toronto team that likes to run, he would get open shots and really spread the defense. Almost any contender can use him, but with more than $90 million left on his contract for the three years after this season, dealing for him will be extremely difficult.
Alec Burks, Golden State guard. Burks will be a free agent after this season and he has been one of the bright spots for the Warriors. He has dealt with injuries during his career but has been healthy and would provide a major perimeter threat. He should be in high demand and is making a very affordable $2.3 million.
Conclusion: The Raptors would not have won the NBA title without acquiring Gasol at last year’s trade deadline. They likely need to make a trade this year for a realistic chance of repeating. Toronto has shown so much perseverance battling through the injuries, and if the Raptors can find another scorer, they would once again be a difficult out in the Eastern Conference.