He has been named defensive player of the year three times, finishing third this season. aHe has been named to first-team NBA All-Defense five times and could be headed for a sixth this season. He led the NBA in FiveThirtyEight’s defensive RAPTOR metric this season, which he has done for each of the last three years. He’s 15th among active players in defensive win shares, having played at least 107 fewer games than all of the players ahead of him.
He is, in many ways, a good defense unto himself. Since his rise in 2016-17, the Jazz have finished third, first, second, 13th, third and 10th in defensive efficiency. In both of the relatively off years, the Jazz played at or close to league-best marks when Gobert was on the floor.
The Jazz disappointed in the playoffs again, and it looks as if Gobert is not long for Utah with new franchise steward Danny Ainge likely looking to build around Donovan Mitchell in another way. Naturally, rumors are circulating about Gobert’s potential whereabouts, with both Ian Begley of SNY and Marc Stein on his Substack reporting the raptors would have some interest in him.
That is prudent. However, the problem comes when you try to make a sensitive trade.
Gobert has four years left on the max extension he signed in 2020, and he is slated to make $38.1 million next season. (He is owed about $131.5 million over the final three years of his deal, which includes a player option for the last season.) First off, that’s a lot of money for a player who will turn 30, albeit with no real signs of a dip in production, in June. More problematic, trading for him would require either moving Pascal Siakam or moving two of these players: Fred VanVleet, OG Anunoby other Gary Trent Jr In theoretical trade negotiations, both sides would argue that they should be receiving sweeteners in the form of prospects and/or draft picks.
Most metrics would suggest Gobert is the most impactful player of the four, and that certainly checks out in the regular season. However, even if Utah’s playoffs should not be pinned solely or even mostly on Gobert, he is an interior player on both ends in a league that increasingly prizes court expansion. This is a problem — not because you cannot win with those players, but because Scottie Barnes, the Raptors’ most important long-term player, is currently a more useful piece in and around the paint than on the outside. That isn’t to say he will not change and grow, but we do not know exactly how, or how quickly, that will transpire. It would just be an awkward short-term fit. Since it makes the Raptors less flexible, stylistically and financially, in the long term, it’s tough to see where the fit exists for the Raptors.
With the Gobert rumors flying, I thought it would be a good idea to update my twice-annual column. With players whose contracts expire at the end of this season ineligible to be traded and players who sign this off-season ineligible to be traded, in general, until mid-December, these are the players and assets the Raptors can move in a trade in the interim (Note, players with options on their contract for next season cannot be moved until options are picked up, but I am going to assume Svi Mykhailiuk is going to pick up his player option for next year. I’m crazy like that.)
To remind you: I have placed each player into a group that corresponds with the scenario in which he is most likely to be traded. The groups are not ranked by the likelihood of each scenario playing out. However, within each group, the players listed at the top are more likely to be traded, and the players listed at the bottom are less likely to move. (All salary details starting with the 2022-23 season)
Scottie Barnes (three years, $25.79 million remaining, includes teams options for 2023-24 and 2024-25)
Only moving in a blockbuster
Fred VanVleet (two years, $44.08 million remaining, includes player option for 2023-24)
OG Anunoby (three years, $55.93 million remaining, includes player option for 2024-25)
Pascal Siakam (two years, $73.34 million remaining)
Putting these three players in some order was the toughest part of this exercise. You can talk yourself into putting them in any order, stacking the pros and cons in any way you see fit. Want to shake up the team? Siakam’s value might be peaking, Anunoby’s offensive development has stalled a bit and VanVleet is a physical outlier in the Raptors’ core. Want to keep them? Siakam was a top-15 player in the final four months of the season, and how do you get fair value for him? Anunoby hasn’t been healthy, which might make teams undervalue him. VanVleet is the soul of the franchise.
To be clear, I don’t think any of these guys are moving this offseason, as I indicated in my column last week following Masai Ujiri’s media availability. Ultimately, I think VanVleet is slightly more likely to move because of his mix of accolades, playoff success and the ability to extend him upon trading for him, potentially signing him through his prime years. That could make him more valuable than his shorter contract would otherwise indicate.
Ultimately, it’s very close. So, let’s stop to appreciate how Siakam’s value has shifted (in my eyes, at least). At the beginning of the season, certain observers were discussing Siakam’s deal as if it were one of the worst in the league. Now, it’s easy to imagine contenders having long, long discussions about how much to offer for him should the Raptors truly make him available.
Genuine needle movers
Gary Trent Jr. (two years, $35.84 million remaining, includes player option for 2023-24)
2022 second-round pick, 33rd overall
Future first-round picks (Raptors do not own 2022 pick, and cannot trade 2023 first-rounder until after this coming draft)
Precious Achiuwa (two years, $7.22 million remaining, includes team option for 2023-24)
What a funky group. Again, since I don’t think the Raptors will be particularly active in the offseason, I don’t think any of these players or assets are going anywhere. Still, trying to rank them is an interesting thought exercise.
Trent is a good player on a fair deal who would have more value if his contract were longer. I disliked the length of the deal when the two sides agreed to it, and my opinion hasn’t changed. A three-year deal or a two-year deal with a team option seems like it should have been possible, based on the market. Anyway, at least Klutch Sports, Trent’s agency, is happy, presumably allowing Ujiri to goof on the lakers.
The Raptors love their picks, so I’d be surprised to see their pick moved this year or any future first-rounders, barring a much bigger framework.
Finally, if Siakam changed his trade value the most this season, Achiuwa was a close second. The potential he showed after the All-Star break, providing plus-defence across most positions while hitting 39.2 percent of his 3s, vastly changes his future outlook. It might take a good first half to next season to solidify that value across the league, but Achiuwa could represent the Raptors’ next development home run.
Salary matching and/or trading, sweetener or low-stakes moves
Malachi Flynn (two years, $6.02 million remaining, includes team option for 2023-24)
Khem Birch (two years, $13.65 million remaining)
Svi Mykhailiuk (one year, $1.88 million remaining)
Armoni Brooks (one year, $1.75 million remaining, partially guaranteed, restricted in 2023)
Future second-round picks (own all of their own except 2024)
Dalano Banton (one year, $1.56 million remaining, partially guaranteed, restricted in 2023)
The Raptors have said all the right things about Flynn since the season ended. The fact is, he played 391 fewer minutes in his sophomore season than he did as a rookie. There are factors to help explain that, but the Raptors had an overall need for depth and a specific need for guard play off the bench, and still Flynn had a tough time getting on the floor. One of the most common types of trades in the NBA is the change-of-scenery deal — one team trades its player who has had trouble fitting in for another player in a similar situation — and Flynn is a prime candidate to be moved in that type of transaction.
Elsewhere, the Raptors’ relative failure with the mid-level exception over the last two years stands out, as they have no salary slot between Birch and Trent, save for Barnes. That is why coming up with a realistic trade for Gobert is so difficult: There is no VanVleet-plus-filler or, more intriguingly for Utah, Anunoby-plus-filler framework that works. Still, Birch’s contract could be useful in a smaller trade.
The rest is self-explanatory. Except for Banton, I don’t think the Raptors would be particularly reluctant to move any of these pieces for a player they secretly covet, but nothing too substantial is happening with these players or assets as primary parts of a trade.
(Top photo of Rudy Gobert and Fred VanVleet: Douglas P. DeFelice / Getty Images)