Even with the No. 20 pick in a relatively deep 2014 NBA draft class, general manager Masai Ujiri of the Toronto Raptors won't sit idly by and let the festivities on June 26 roll through without making some calls in an attempt to improve his roster and/or acquire a higher pick.
There's no complacency within this organization. A 48-34 regular season is fine and dandy, but they want more. The first Atlantic Division title in six years is a step in the right direction, but back-to-back titles are even better. An appearance in the postseason in an epic seven-game series against a talented Brooklyn Nets squad helped garner respect, but the Raptors want to advance even further.
It's not as if the the current crop of players couldn't work over the offseason and make a go of things again in 2014-15. In a wide open Eastern Conference, the only thing that could hold back the Raptors from landing a top seed is themselves.
Could Ujiri stick with the No. 20 pick and simply take the best available prospect? Absolutely. Does he want to? Probably not. His is a mind that is constantly thinking of new and creative ways to elevate his basketball team. He also has the No. 37 and 59 picks in the second round to work with as well.
The 20th overall pick hasn't produced many gems over the past 15 years anyways. Zach Randolph, a two-time NBA All-Star for the Memphis Grizzlies, is the only noteworthy player of the bunch. Names like Julius Hodge, Alexis Ajinca and Renaldo Balkman don't inspire much confidence, so maybe the best course of action is to see if there are any buyers for a late first-round draft pick that the Raptors don't necessarily need to use.
Trades for the sake of trades smell of desperation. Ujiri is methodical in his wheeling and dealing, never succumbing to pressure or scrutiny. Raptor fans should have every confidence in their fearless front office leader after he was able to dispose of the contracts of both Andrea Bargnani and Rudy Gay. He's earned that level of trust after a little over a year on the job.
June 26 is shaping up to be a quite the memorable day. Ujiri will want a piece of the action.
Toronto Raptors receive: F Kevin Love
It's springtime and love is in the air. By love, what I really mean is the future of Minnesota Timberwolves forward Kevin Love.
The Chicago Bulls, Golden State Warriors and Boston Celtics are three of a handful of teams looking to acquire the services of the disgruntled three-time NBA All-Star. While we haven't heard any outright rumors of the Raptors wanting to throw their hat into the Kevin Love Sweepstakes, that doesn't necessarily mean they haven't made their inquiries.
Love averaged 26.1 points (fourth in NBA) and 12.5 rebounds (third in NBA) in 77 games for Minnesota during the regular season. Even with those stellar numbers, the Timberwolves didn't get very far in the Western Conference, finishing with a record of 40-42 as they missed out on the NBA playoffs for the 10th straight year.
He's already told management that he has no intention of signing an extension and that he intends to become an unrestricted free agent next summer, per ESPN.com. Looking at the dilemma the Timberwolves are now in, it would be wise to trade their coveted star before he bails and leaves them with nothing.
What Love really wants is a sweet taste of some postseason basketball, something that's eluded him his entire career. His best bet would be to demand a trade to an Eastern Conference squad where hovering near the top of the standings is a far easier task.
Cue the Toronto Raptors.
It would take a king's random to get him, but in professional sports, you must give something to get something back.
The best-case scenario would have Ujiri dealing only one of Jonas Valanciunas and Terrence Ross. The price of both may be a tad steep. You'd prefer Ross to be the one traded over Valanciunas because the idea of a Love/Valanciunas frontcourt is just too good not to try.
As much as fans love Amir Johnson, his recklessness on the court and somewhat stubborn (yet extremely appreciated) attitude towards playing through injuries will eventually catch up with him. His heart, passion and charm have made him a darling in the greater Toronto Area, but his ankles and knees don't run on happy thoughts and loud cheers.
It would be a shame to see him wearing anything but red and white, but Love is such an obvious upgrade at the position that it would be hard to think twice.
The problem with Love is that he could end up being a rental if the Raptors brought him on board. There's no way of knowing if he'd stick around for the foreseeable future or if he'd stick with his plans for free agency and test the waters.
Toronto Raptors receive: F Kenneth Faried, G/F Wilson Chandler, G Nate Robinson, No. 11 pick in 2014
Denver Nuggets receive: F Amir Johnson, G Greivis Vasquez, F John Salmons, No. 20 pick in 2014
Kenneth Faried will forever be known in Raptor folklore as the man who got posterized by Ross in the 2014 NBA Dunk of the Year, according to NBA.com. You know what can help erase that memory? Faried joining the team and being the double-double machine (27 in 2013-14) he's capable of being.
His defensive numbers (DRtg of 106) are slightly lower than Johnson's (DRtg of 104), and the scoring and rebounding numbers tilt in Faried's favor as well.
With Wilson Chandler, you can bring Ross off the bench and have him be your de facto sixth man who's capable of scoring in bursts as he learns to be a lockdown defender. Chandler would start at small forward and be a nice set piece until Ross develops further. He wouldn't need many looks on offense, which would provide more scoring opportunities for DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, whom the Raptors hope to re-sign.
The inclusion of Greivis Vasquez would be a tough pill to swallow. Not only does he hold a high opinion of the city, but one of the Raptors' biggest strengths is their depth at point guard. Vasquez averaged 9.5 points and 3.7 assists off the bench in 61 games. He finished third in the league in assists with 9.0 just one year prior as a member of the New Orleans Hornets. Nate Robinson (10.4 points and 2.5 assists) is more of a scorer than a distributor, which may offset the team balance.
John Salmons is as good as gone. Only $1 million of his $7 million salary in 2014-15 is guaranteed, per Basketball Insiders. He's simply in this deal to make it work financially, although the Nuggets have expressed their desire to add more veteran talent to their roster, per Christopher Dempsey of The Denver Post:
The Nuggets own the 11th selection in the June 26 draft. It's their highest draft position since 2003, when they took Carmelo Anthony at No. 3. The Nuggets advanced to the playoffs 10 consecutive seasons following the Anthony selection but failed to make it this season after a 36-46 record.
So they'll retool, and they'll start by using the pick as a key cog in the improvement. Trading the selection for a veteran and moving up in the draft are the two areas of most interest to the Nuggets.
By moving up nine picks, the Raptors go from taking a chance at No. 20 to selecting more of a sure thing at No. 11.
Jonathan Wasserman's latest NBA Mock Draft for Bleacher Report has the likes of Nik Stauskas, Dario Saric, Zach LaVine and Julius Randle hovering around the No. 11 spot.
Ujiri can take a sharpshooter who can spread the floor in Stauskas, a back-to-the-basket prospect with considerable power in Randle, an overseas talent who's competed on a professional level in Saric and in LaVine an athletic freak of nature.
If the Raptors want to move up in the draft and not undergo a massive downgrade in the process, this is a move they should consider. Besides, I'm sure Ujiri still has ties to the Nuggets, a team he once ran as their general manager.
All statistics are courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com.
Christopher Walder is a freelance writer who has been published at Bleacher Report, SB Nation, FanSided, SI.com and several other online outlets. You can follow him on Twitter @WalderSports.
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