Is a trade for superstar Paul George worth the risk for the Toronto Raptors?
The Toronto Raptors have made the playoffs over the past two seasons, both ending in elimination against the Cleveland Cavaliers. Even with the addition of Serge Ibaka, Toronto is clearly a tier below Cleveland.
With Kyle Lowry on the wrong side of 30, and DeMar DeRozan (27) and Serge Ibaka (27) entering their primes, Toronto needs to be in “win now” mode. The Raptors don’t have enough space on their salary cap to sign a superstar free agent, so they will have to enter the trade market.
The Raptors have one of the most productive backcourts in the NBA, to go along with big men Serge Ibaka and Jonas Valanciunas. Toronto’s largest hole is at the small forward position, a place that is especially vulnerable for Toronto with LeBron James in the East. As DeMar DeRozan said in a press conference after Toronto was swept by Cleveland, “If we had LeBron on our team too, we would have won.”
Now, the Raptors have a chance at a player who can go toe-to-toe with LeBron in the playoffs. On Sunday afternoon, Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical announced that Paul George notified the Indiana Pacers of his plan to leave after his contract expires in the upcoming season. Instead of letting him walk for nothing in return, Indiana has been listening to offers for George.
In the 2016-17 season, George averaged 23.7 points, 6.6 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game, not to mention that he is one of the best defenders in the game. George can score off the dribble and spot up at the three-point line. At just 26 years old, Paul is entering his prime and is poised for the best season of his career.
Is Paul George worth the risk?
The question for the Raptors is not will George make the Raptors contenders in the East, but rather, is it worth the risk of trading for him? He has already stated that his preferred team to play for is the Los Angeles Lakers. Paul wants to return home to Palmdale, California, which is just outside of Los Angeles.
Even if the Raptors are able to successfully trade for George, he may still opt out of the final year in his contract and leave in 2018, meaning that Toronto would be forced to trade away some of its young assets in return for a one-year rental. If Toronto is eliminated again before the NBA Finals, and then George bolts for L.A., this would prove disastrous for the Raptors.
The good news is that the Lakers reportedly have no interest in trading away any of their young talent for George, which makes sense if he plans to go there in free agency anyway. The Pacers will be desperate to get something in return for George before he leaves, and desperation is a disadvantage in negotiations.
If the Raptors were to compete a deal with Indiana, Norman Powell and his $874,636 salary would probably be included. Then, we can hypothetically add in Jonas Valanciunas ($14.4 million), Jakob Poeltl ($2.7 million), and Delon Wright ($1.6 million) to the list. That would be enough to match Paul George’s $18.3 million salary.
Would a trio of Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan and Paul George be enough to lift Toronto over the Cavs? That’s a tough question to answer. James will turn 33 years old next December, but he hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down.
If the addition of Paul George could get Toronto to the Finals, it would be hard to imagine him leaving. Toronto would be hard-pressed to defeat the Golden State Warriors four times in a series, but just giving George a taste of the championship round could be enough to get him to stick around. That’s a big if though, and one that Masai Ujiri and the Toronto Raptors front office will have to weigh.