The team that many experts had predicted would finish at the bottom of the Eastern Conference has been on an impressive run ever since trading away Rudy Gay last December.
The Raptors currently find themselves first in the Atlantic Division and are the third seed in the conference with a 28-24 record. Suddenly the playoffs are no longer looking unlikely.
While the team’s strong play is certainly a pleasant surprise, it does raise one very important question.
Will the Raptors be buyers or sellers at the trade deadline?
According to Ryan Wolstat of the Toronto Sun, the Raptors have no plans to throw in the towel.
Wolstat writes that Toronto is currently exploring a deal that would see Boston Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo head to Toronto in a three-way trade that would send Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry to the New York Knicks.
The Raptors had already discussed a trade for Lowry with the Knicks earlier this season that would’ve netted Toronto a package that included a first-round draft pick according to Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski. Knicks owner James Dolan, though, nixed the trade at the last minute according to Frank Isola of the New York Daily News (h/t Yahoo! Sports' Kelly Dwyer).
Since then, Lowry has played at an elite level and has been a big part of the Raptors’ success this season.
But with his contract expiring at the end of the season, the Raptors are still interested in moving Lowry rather than risk losing him for nothing.
The Knicks, who have been underperforming all season long, still need a point guard and Lowry’s strong play may have made Dolan change his tune.
The Celtics are in the midst of a full rebuilding project and have dangled Rondo, a four-time all-star, to the league.
If there is indeed a trade in the works, it likely involves the Raptors sending Lowry to the Knicks and a first-round draft pick to the Celtics. The Knicks would then send a first-round draft pick to the Celtics (the rest of the return on Lowry would likely go to the Raptors). The Celtics would then send Rondo to the Raptors.
That’s a hefty price for someone who missed most of last season with a torn ACL and will be an unrestricted free agent in 2015. But Rondo’s defensive prowess—he’s been selected to the all-defensive team four times—would be a good fit in Coach Dwane Casey’s defense-first system.
Wolstat writes that the Raptors are also enamored by the “star” power that a player like Rondo would bring to the team.
Tim Leiweke, CEO and president of MLSE, the company that owns the Raptors, has already stated on numerous occasions that he wants star players leading his teams. If we are to take him at his word, then expect him to push Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri to aggressively pursue star players when they become available.
With the trade deadline fast approaching on Feb. 20, it will be interesting to see how everything plays out.
But whatever does or doesn't transpire, the Raptors will not be abandoning their shot to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2008.