During a season where many foresaw this franchise being more of a fire-sale squad at the NBA trade deadline, the Toronto Raptors now find themselves in the enviable position of being able to sit back and facilitate offers rather than hitting the phones with great desperation.
A 26-23 record with a 3.5-game lead for the top spot in the Atlantic Division as of Feb. 6 is nowhere near disastrous. It's a nice and very much welcome change of pace for a fanbase that's had to endure its fair share of losing in recent years.
There's no need to sound the alarm and blow things up. Things are looking good. Why ruin the chemistry of a group of guys who have proved that they can coexist both behind the scenes and on the floor?
John Hollinger's 2013-14 NBA playoff odds over at ESPN.com are giving the team a 99.9 percent chance of qualifying for the postseason and a 90.5 percent chance of taking home their second-ever division crown. Life is good, Raptor fans.
With that being said, I don't see how any trade deadline shopping list would be very long.
Does Toronto need more of a veteran presence? John Salmons and Chuck Hayes are providing that while also playing valuable minutes in the rotation. Never underestimate how important veteran leadership can be, especially on a roster with eight players 25 years of age or younger.
Is Terrence Ross a piece that could be on his way out if the price is right? I have 51 reasons that suggest he's not. The potential for greatness is far too high.
Ditto for Jonas Valanciunas. He averaged a near double-double of 10.5 points and 9.1 rebounds in January with his scoring numbers rising to 16 points through three games in February. He's safer than a bomb shelter full of bubble wrap.
Patrick Patterson has been a pleasant surprise in his sixth-man role, averaging 9.7 points and 5.0 rebounds in 28 games. The team has the right to match any offers that come his way this offseason, which they should strongly consider doing based on his production.
So what should Masai Ujiri look to accomplish before the Feb. 20 deadline? Better yet, is there anything that really needs immediate attention?
A True Backup Center For Jonas Valanciunas
While Valanciunas has taken significant steps forward in the right direction this season, one thing that's troubled him on more than one occasion is picking up fouls early in games.
He's still young and prone to making bad decisions on the defensive end from time to time. His average of 3.2 fouls a game is tied for 12th-highest in the NBA.
There isn't a heck of a lot of size sitting behind him in the second unit. Hayes is an undersized center at 6'6", while both Patterson and Tyler Hansbrough are 6'9" power forwards who occasionally find themselves at the 5-spot. The same goes for Amir Johnson, who starts alongside Valanciunas in the frontcourt.
The last true backup center the Raptors had was 7'0" Aaron Gray, but he was a part of the package that sent Rudy Gay to the Sacramento Kings back in December. He wasn't much of a threat to score (career average of 3.5 points), but he could give you six fouls, clog the lane and alter shots around the basket.
It sure would be nice to have someone like that sitting on the bench again, if only as further insurance for the 21-year-old Lithuanian.
Patterson, Hayes and Hansbrough can hold their own on defense, but you'd still like to see someone larger go up against the Joakim Noah's and Roy Hibbert's of the Eastern Conference if push came to shove.
Ujiri could probably get away with packaging someone like Hansbrough or forward Steve Novak with a draft pick or two to sweeten the pot for any team looking to part ways with a big.
Remember, if the Raptors make the playoffs (which they surely will at this point), their 2014 first-round pick won't be very high. The crop of talent is deep, but rather than rolling the dice on another prospect, why not use that as bait for more of a sure thing?
Keep Listening To Offers For Kyle Lowry
Surely I cannot be serious.
I'm not saying the Raptors should look to move their star point guard at the first chance they get, but if someone calls up management and presents a reasonable offer that's beneficial for both the short and long-term, they'd be crazy to blatantly ignore it, right?
Kyle Lowry is an expiring contract worth roughly $6.2 million. There's still no way of knowing if he's going to walk at the end of the season, so ruling out out a potential trade would be pretty silly.
He's one of only three players in the NBA this season (Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors and Jameer Nelson of the Orlando Magic being the other two) with more than 100 three-pointers and 300 assists. Lowry's averages of 16.6 points, 7.5 assists and 39.4 percent shooting from behind the arc are all career highs.
In an unrelated story, fans in Toronto were chanting "M-V-P" when Kyle Lowry shot free throws in the 4th quarter. I love Canada.— Frank Isola (@FisolaNYDN) January 30, 2014
He's playing out-of-his-mind basketball at the moment, which makes the idea of actually parting ways with the eight-year pro all the more kooky.
Lowry's 7.7 win shares, which is an estimate of the number of wins contributed by a player, is fifth-best in the NBA. Only LeBron James, Blake Griffin, Kevin Love and Kevin Durant are better. That's not bad company to be grouped with.
DeMar DeRozan may be the All-Star, but Lowry has proved that he may just be the most crucial piece to the Raptors puzzle.
The only way I see a deal coming to fruition is if what's being offered is so grand and so extraordinary that Ujiri would have to be a damn fool to turn it down.
If Lowry goes, the ship will start sinking faster than you can say Titanic 2. Yes, it does exist.
Just don't hang up the phone right away. That's all I'm recommending here.