With the news breaking that Mark Cuban and company may be open to shopping “the Unicorn” himself, Kristaps Porzingis, the collective spidey-sense of the Toronto Raptors fanbase has been tingling. The Raptors need a true center, and ideally one capable of bringing the true trifecta of stretch-5 play to the table: rim protection, three-point shooting, and rebounding.
We’ve heard the rumors about Andre Drummond, a top rebounder in the league, but a mediocre defender and horrible shooter. We’ve heard the rumors about Myles Turner, but Indiana has expressed little interest in moving on from their young big-man.
Enter the Dallas Mavericks and 7’3” baby-faced-big-man Kristaps Porzingis, also known as KP6, the Unicorn, and Porzingod (and/or Godzingis). While the Mavs have played better as of late, 7-3 in their last ten games and now at .500 (at 16 and 16), they have been a disappointment this year. Luka Doncic was expected by many to lead this team to a top spot in the West and to be a front-runner for MVP honors. In reality, the Mavs are currently ninth in the West, and Marc Cuban seems poised to make a move to bring Luka a stronger supporting cast.
Toronto (or at least temporarily, Tampa) just happens to be in an almost identical boat. The Raptors also find themselves at .500 but playing better as of late at 6-4 in their last 10 games. The Raptors are also rumored to be open to potential trades as the deadline approaches. Kyle Lowry is on an expiring contract and Toronto already has his replacement in-house in Fred VanVleet. Norm Powell, who has been playing like an All-Star in recent weeks, has long been involved in potential trade ideas as well.
Consistently this season, what has been the glaring hole in the Raptors lineup? Center. Offseason addition Aron Baynes has been viewed as a major disappointment as the heir apparent to Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka. Chris Boucher has emerged this year but is extremely frail and undersized when matched up against the Joel Embiid’s and Rudy Gobert’s of the world. Their other offseason addition, Alex Len, has already been cut and is now an Atlanta Hawk.
So, the Raptors need a reliable stretch big man. The Mavericks need deeper talent and aggressive play to support Luka. Sounds like a match.
The Raptors get:
- Kristaps Porzingis
- Trey Burke
The Mavericks get:
- Kyle Lowry
- Matt Thomas
- Aron Baynes
- 2021 First Round Pick
The Raptors get their big man of the future, who still has 3.5 years left on his deal. Porzingis is an outstanding offensive option, averaging 20+ points per game for his third straight year while shooting 35% from three and 85% from the free-throw line. He is a decent rebounder, with 8.0 boards per game so far this season. Not quite a top-tier defender, he is a capable rim protector averaging 2.0 blocks per game for his career.
In fact, not only do the Raptors get a top-flight starting center in Kristaps Porzingis, but they retain Chris Boucher, who, depending on matchups, could easily start in the post for several teams in this league based on his performance this season (13.0 points. 6.5 boards, and 2.0 blocks per game in just 23 minutes). Along with borderline All-Star Pascal Siakam at power forward, the Raptors suddenly have a top frontcourt in the East.
The Thomas/Burke swap could be considered a lateral move. Burke is a more established player and a solid role player. Thomas has the potential to be one of the great shooters in the league but has miles to go defensively. He has fallen in and out of Nick Nurse’s current rotation. Mark Cuban loves a European League hero, though, so I’m sure he has heard about Thomas’ 50% three-point shooting heroics before arriving in the NBA.
So, clearly, KP is an upgrade, but at what cost? Firstly, the Raptors lose arguably their GOAT in Kyle Lowry. Secondly, they lose their first-round pick for next year.
Losing Lowry, while a potential heartbreaker for Raptors fans, actually makes quite a bit of sense. This could be why he just conspicuously sold his Toronto home. The Raptors have an outstanding starting backcourt even without Lowry with the aforementioned Powell and VanVleet.
Moving on from Lowry gives the first-round pick Malachi Flynn a chance to move into the rotation as the top back-up at point guard. Swapping Baynes for Porzingis at the 5 is a no-brainer and a serious win in this rotation. So, let’s take a look at where this trade leaves a potential Raptors 8-man lineup come playoff time:
- PG: Fred VanVleet
- SG: Norm Powell
- SF: OG Anunoby
- PF: Pascal Siakam
- C: Kristaps Porzingis
- Sixth Man: Chris Boucher
- Back up PG: Malachi Flynn/Tre Burke
- 8th man: Deandre Bembry/Terence Davis/Stanley Johnson (all provide situational value)
This is a top-flight lineup in the East. KP is probably the lowest level defender in that starting lineup. However, the addition of his size and shot-blocking is enough of a positive to fit in nicely with a lineup made up of aggressive defenders.
This team could challenge any team in the Eastern Conference. It is also made up of young players who are primarily locked in for multiple seasons. The only real need in the offseason will be to re-sign Norman Powell, which should be doable.
Having this line up locked in for the foreseeable future eases the pain of losing a first-round pick next year. The only risk, and it is a notable one, is Kristaps Porzingis’ injury history. He has only played 18 games this year, 57 games the year prior, missed the entire 2018-19 season, played 48 games three years ago, and averaged 69 games through his first two seasons in New York. So he is clearly injury prone, and will never be an 82 game-per-season player. In the best-case scenario, you can hope to have KP 60 games a season. This is where it becomes a major judgment call for the Raptors front office, but one that I personally go for.
The Mavericks get one of the top guards in the league. Lowry is a hard-nosed defender, outstanding shooter, and a true leader to pair up with Luka Doncic and this young core. They also get a project player and former European league star, who if developed properly, could become a top-flight sharpshooter in the league. While they lose KP, they are losing a guy who, due to missed time, hasn’t been a consistent member of the rotation anyway, and hasn’t necessarily been an ideal fit in the Mavericks system when he has been present.
The first-round pick that they receive from Toronto provides a great opportunity to reset their frontcourt through the draft. Mark Cuban and his player-friendly franchise should have a great chance to convince Lowry to re-sign for the last couple of years of his productive prime, giving Lowry time to help build the same outstanding, team-first culture he helped build in Toronto. Let’s take a look at where this trade puts the potential Mavericks playoff line up:
- PG: Luka Doncic
- SG: Kyle Lowry
- SF: Tim Hardaway Jr.
- PF: Maxi Kleber
- C: Willie Cauley-Stein
- Sixth Man: Josh Richardson
- Back-up PG: Jalen Brunson
- 8th Man: Dorian Finney Smith/Matt Thomas/James Johnson based on matchups
Luka now has a top-flight playmaker as a backcourt partner, taking a ton of pressure off of the young triple-double machine. Lowry also takes the pressure off the young star as a leader and helps build a strong, winning culture in Dallas. Luka is generally surrounded by shooters, with the exception of the center position.
Honestly, as part two of this move, I would highly recommend that the Dallas front office explore the buy-out market to bolster their frontcourt. Demarcus Cousins could actually be a great option to fill out this lineup, as he brings size, toughness, and improved shooting. Swap out Cauley-Stein with Boogie Cousins in this lineup and I honestly believe this team could make a run in the West despite their slow start. Plus, as noted, they bring in a first-round pick in next year’s draft to rebuild their frontcourt depth.
A win-win situation. Both teams are underachieving and hovering around .500. The Raptors have the advantage of playing in the East, where .500 will still get them into the playoffs. For the Mavs, however, they need to improve quickly to have a shot at the postseason. For both teams, this shakes up their current lineup and addresses their primary needs.