Although Greivis Vasquez and Patrick Patterson are the two most valuable acquisitions of a recent trade involving Rudy Gay and the Sacramento Kings, will either player have a long-term future with the Toronto Raptors?
On December 8, a seven-player deal was struck between the Kings and Raptors that sent Gay, Quincy Acy and Aaron Gray to the River City, while Vasquez, Patterson, John Salmons and Chuck Hayes packed their bags and headed north of the border.
I should probably make clear that neither Salmons nor Hayes will be sticking around for the long haul. Please don't act surprised. Both individuals were added to simply make the numbers work from a salary standpoint.
Toronto can buy out Salmons at the end of the season, saving roughly $6 million in the process. He makes $7 million in 2014-15, but only one-seventh of that is guaranteed if he's waived before June 30 2014, according to ShamSports.
He doesn't serve much of a purpose with the roster already chock-full of wings, so if Masai Ujiri can save the team some money, he'll do it in a heartbeat.
Hayes is the only one of the four who is definitely signed through next season, making close to $6 million in 2014-15. He's an undersized (6'6") center who's a good locker room guy, but that won't be enough to keep him from being trade fodder.
So that leaves us with Vasquez and Patterson, both of whom will become either unrestricted or restricted free agents depending on whether the team extends them qualifying offers this summer. They're both working under rookie deals after being selected No. 28 and No. 14 respectively in the 2010 NBA draft.
Vasquez started all of his 18 games for the Kings this season, averaging 9.8 points and 5.3 assists in 25.8 minutes per game. The strong play of backup Isaiah Thomas off the bench (18.8 points and 5.2 assists) made the 26-year-old Venezuelan expendable. Sacramento therefore eliminated its point guard controversy by trading Vasquez and handing over the reins to Thomas.
That shouldn't be taken as a shot against Vasquez. The Raptors are all too familiar with having two strong point guards (remember Jose Calderon?) and not knowing how to manage the playing time between the two. Thomas is younger (24) and has proven himself to be a more efficient scorer and just as a good a distributor as Vasquez, so the choice was easy.
Now that Vasquez is a Raptor, won't similar controversies at the position arise again? Is Kyle Lowry at risk of losing his job?
Not necessarily. According to a report by Adrien Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports, Ujiri is picking up the phone and shopping around Lowry to the likes of the New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets, who are both extremely interested. He has an expiring contract and could very well leave Toronto with zero compensation if he decides to sign elsewhere, so the chances of him being moved in the near future are very high.
Vasquez gives the Raptors peace of mind that once Lowry is traded (it's going to happen), they will at least have someone who can competently play the point, with all due respect to Dwight Buycks and Julyan Stone.
It was just one year ago that Vasquez was averaging 13.9 points and 9.0 assists per game for the New Orleans Hornets. That was good enough for him to finish second in voting behind Paul George for the NBA Most Improved Player Award.
He has a great mind for the game and knows how to get his teammates the basketball at the most opportune moment. Vasquez is not as good a shooter as Calderon was during his time in Toronto, but his pass-first mentality will surely give Toronto fans some deja vu.
Listed at 6'6", Vasquez can give the Raptors options on defense, as he can defend both point and shooting guards. He's not the most athletic player on the planet, so he does have a tendency to get beaten off the dribble by quicker guys, although his height can help compensate for those deficiencies.
He's averaging 9.5 points and 4.0 assists in two games since joining the team. It's a small sample size, but those numbers do hover around what he was putting up as a King.
It also helps that he's already talking about being a Toronto Raptor for the rest of his career, via Mike Ganter of the Toronto Sun:
I'm excited here. I want to play for the Toronto Raptors and win a lot of games here. And hopefully I stay here my whole career.
Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't work and unfortunately it didn't work in Sacramento, but I have nothing against the franchise or the guys who played there. It's just I've (turned) the page.
Rarely do you ever see someone so enthused to join a team like the Raptors, who have struggled to put wins on the board for a majority of their existence. It's refreshing. Why wouldn't you want to keep a guy like that?
I'm not so sure you can build around Vasquez as your point guard of the future, but keeping him as a quality backup could be in the cards.
His ability to run the pick-and-roll will be a godsend to Jonas Valanciunas and Amir Johnson, who both thrive in those sets. There are more reasons to keep him than there are to let him go, especially if Ujiri can re-sign him on the cheap. I fully expect Vasquez to be wearing the red and white for Toronto for years to come.
Then again, with Ujiri calling the shots, is anyone truly safe?
I don't feel as if Patrick Patterson has gotten a fair shake since entering the league. A 6'9" power forward who can rebound, shoot from long range and attack the basket shouldn't be taken as lightly as he's been.
In 206 career games for the Houston Rockets, Kings and now Raptors, Patterson is averaging 8.2 points on 48.8 percent shooting, along with 4.5 rebounds and 0.9 assists.
In a 99-77 Toronto victory over the Chicago Bulls on December 14, Patterson came off the bench to score 11 points, hit two three-pointers, grab three rebounds and block two shots in 21 minutes. Valanciunas, Johnson and Tyler Hansbrough are ahead of Patterson in the frontcourt pecking order, but nights like that could earn him a role in the rotation.
I did mention earlier that Patterson can rebound, but he doesn't do it well enough to warrant a starting role.
In 38 starts (47 total games) for the Rockets in 2012-13, Patterson averaged 11.6 points and just 4.7 rebounds. He's not big enough (235 pounds) to be banging down low on a regular basis with some of the larger power forwards and centers the league has to offer. You'll take what he can give you on offense, but you'd like to see more of other intangibles that make an all-around solid big man in the NBA.
Has he peaked? It seems crazy to even insinuate that he has at just 24 years old, but it's a valid question. I believe his ceiling is as a third or fourth forward off the bench who can give you 15 to 20 minutes a game, provide your team with some scoring and help keep the defense honest with some outside shooting.
All you can do is smile when you look at what Ujiri got in return for the expensive Rudy Gay. Guys like Greivis Vasquez and Patrick Patterson give the team options both on and off the court with their youth, contracts and added depth.
Between Patterson and Vasquez, Patterson is the more likely of the two to see his time with Toronto cut short. That doesn't mean that it will be, but there's more of a need for Vasquez at point guard than there is for Patterson in the frontcourt.
Follow Featured Columnist Christopher Walder on Twitter at @WalderSports
*All statistics/salary information courtesy of NBA.com, Basketball-Reference, ShamSports and HoopsHype
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