The Toronto Raptors and the Sacramento Kings are both looking to wheel and deal in order to rebuild, and they found willing partners in each other on December 8, with a seven-player deal that figures to alter the future of both franchises.
But that trade—in which the Kings received polarizing wing Rudy Gay, along with Quincy Acy and Aaron Gray in exchange for Greivis Vasquez, Patrick Paterson, John Salmons and Chuck Hayes—is but another step in a long process for both teams.
According to Marc Stein of ESPN.com, neither team may be finished dealing this season.
But while the Kings and Raptors may be willing to make a few more deals, they have set themselves on very different rebuilding paths. Sacramento seems content with much of its current roster, while Toronto is looking to trade just about everything that isn't nailed down in pursuit of a near-total roster overhaul.
The Kings' Hope: Double Down on the New "Big Four"
Ironically, Sacramento might have the more patient fanbase of these two, since the good people of "Sac-town" are honeymooning with the current ownership group after years of fighting the Maloof family to keep the Kings from moving to Seattle.
While it's true the previous regime horribly mismanaged the team—last season's ridiculous trade of rookie forward (and fifth overall pick) Thomas Robinson after just 51 games being just one example—they didn't exactly leave the cupboard bare.
The Kings came into the season with an intriguing potential star in forward DeMarcus Cousins and have been further aided by the breakout season of point guard Isaiah Thomas.
Both players are under the age of 25, and while leaning heavily on both players, the Kings have been respectable, if a little unlucky. Though they have won only six of their first 19 games, their expected W-L record coming into Tuesday was 8-11—not bad for a young team in the Western Conference.
But the Kings haven't been content to stand pat. They've made two bold moves already this season in trading for Derrick Williams and Rudy Gay.
Williams, who was acquired from the Minnesota Timberwolves for Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, was the second overall pick in the 2011 NBA draft. He fell out of favor with Wolves coach Rick Adelman, who wanted to see more energy from the forward, according to the Associated Press (via ESPN).
In a way, the Williams trade could be an interesting way to make up for this new Kings' front office to make up for the loss of Robinson last season by bringing in another promising forward with upside.
The acquisition of Gay was a much bigger risk, if only because of his $19 million player option next year and his high-volume shooting. A player like Gay, who came into Tuesday ranked sixth in the league in usage rate, using 30.4 percent of his team's possessions in Toronto, would be ill-suited to play with Cousins (first in the NBA with a 34.9 usage rate) and Thomas (11th in the NBA with a 28.2 usage rate).
But, as Derek James of Hardwood Paroxysm points out, Gay's contract and status as the Raptor's No. 1 scoring option might have clouded our judgement as to what may still be a good player.
The perception of Gay has changed dramatically since he signed the extension although he had performed well in the seasons before and up to his rookie season. In the first season of his extension, Gay shot .455 percent on his way to averages of 19 points, 6.4 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game on a talented Grizzlies team.
Yet, it was last year, the second year of his extension when his shooting began to slip and the criticisms escalated as he was dealt north to Toronto. Even through today he has continued to struggle with his shot, the real lone blemish on some otherwise respectable numbers. Clearly, Gay must be just another overpaid ball-stopper now and for eternity, right? Maybe, but it’s also very likely he isn’t a lost cause.
The Kings now have four talented and intriguing players. If they can mesh, then the Kings will be a dangerous team this season and perhaps challenge for a playoff spot as early as 2014-15.
The Raptors' Hope: A Strong Front Office
Outside of promising big Jonas Valanciunas and swingman DeMar DeRozan, the Raptors don't have much to build on. But they have a trump card in general manager Masai Ujiri, one of the most respected basketball minds on the planet.
Ujiri made a name for himself in Denver, when he built a promising roster through smart drafting and shrewd trades.
He acquired Ty Lawson (18th pick) and Kenneth Faried (22nd pick) outside of the lottery (Lawson via a draft-day trade). He bilked the New York Knicks out of a small fortune in assets for Carmelo Anthony, despite the fact Anthony was months away from free agency and seemingly intent on signing with the Knicks.
Toronto pried Ujiri away from Denver in the offseason, and Ujiri wasted no time clearing away the mess he inherited from the former regime. He once again linked up with his favorite trading partner, the Knicks. Not only did he get rid of Andrea Bargnani's awful contract, but he also managed to pull off a minor miracle by getting a first and second-round pick in the process.
Now that Ujiri has rid himself of two onerous contracts and acquired assets for the future, he's not stopping there.
Ujiri has managed to trade away Andrea Bargnani and now Gay over the past six months to create financial flexibility going forward and -- with Toronto apparently determined to avoid any accidental success in the Atlantic Division -- is said to be happy to surrender veteran point guard Kyle Lowry next.
The priority in Toronto is clearly finishing as high as possible in the lottery with Canadian sensation Andrew Wiggins and several other top prospects expected to be available to teams picking at the top of the June draft.
Unlike Sacramento, Toronto is executing a textbook tank job. As with any process which relies so heavily on trades and drafting, the most important component is a competent front office. Ujiri has proven over the years he is more than capable.
Who Has the Edge?
This appears to be a classic case of two long-suffering teams with different aims. By acquiring a veteran like Gay, the Kings clearly believe they are closer to contention. The Raptors, on the other hand, seem content with a total strip-down rebuild.
For the impatient fan, the Kings will be better off in the short run. They are already a much more exciting team than Toronto, and they may be able to compete for a playoff spot much sooner, despite being in the tougher conference.
But the Raptors clearly have intentions of making a run at the impressive 2014 draft, which could mean a superstar player and a chance at a future championship contender. Those ping-pong balls can be a fickle mistress, though.
If the goal is making the playoffs, then the Kings likely have the edge. In fact, Ujiri and the Raptors might not be all that interested in making the playoffs for the next two seasons.
But if the goal is building a real championship contender down the road, then the Raptors' "total-overhaul" approach has a better chance at success.