Buying or Selling Raptors' Willingness to Move O.G. Anunoby and Latest NBA Trade Buzz

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBAFeatured Columnist IVJanuary 10, 2023

Buying or Selling Raptors' Willingness to Move O.G. Anunoby and Latest NBA Trade Buzz

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    TORONTO, ON - DECEMBER 30:  O.G. Anunoby #3 of the Toronto Raptors dribbles during the first half of their NBA game against the Phoenix Suns at Scotiabank Arena on December 30, 2022 in Toronto, Canada. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Cole Burston/Getty Images)
    Cole Burston/Getty Images

    Clouds of trade smoke will billow out and eventually blanket the basketball world between now and the Feb. 9 NBA trade deadline.

    Discerning hoopheads understand two things about this smoke: it's not always to be trusted, but it's also inadvisable to dismiss it.

    Most trade talks—or trade rumors—stem from somewhere, but the foundation could be fickle. Or it could be the early sign of an oncoming blockbuster. Of course, most of it lands somewhere in between, making the trade landscape tricky to navigate.

    Then again, that's why you landed here, isn't it? You might find yourself buried in these same smoke clouds and in need of someone to separate fact from fiction. Luckily, that happens to be our precise area of expertise, as we're giving the always reliable sniff test to the latest rumors.

Pistons Seeking Top-Tier Assets for Bojan Bogdanović

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    DETROIT, MICHIGAN - JANUARY 08: Bojan Bogdanovic #44 of the Detroit Pistons looks on against the Philadelphia 76ers at Little Caesars Arena on January 08, 2023 in Detroit, Michigan. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images)
    Nic Antaya/Getty Images

    The Detroit Pistons are sitting on a gold mine.

    He goes by the name of Bojan Bogdanović.

    The 33-year-old is a 6'7" skilled scorer with a feather-soft shooting touch and a career-high points-per-game average of 21. When he's not net-shredding from distance (career 39.4 percent) or punishing smaller defenders near the post, he fills in the cracks as a willing passer and capable team defender.

    If you think that describes the ideal trade target for virtually every team in the modern Association, well, you aren't far off. The number of interested suitors in Bogdanović has reportedly reached double digits, per Marc Stein. The Pistons are also reportedly telling teams they aren't eager to move Bogdanović, which feels about as believable as a hastily written zombie apocalypse script.

    Is it helpful to have him in the Motor City? No question, particularly since this offense needs a focal point with Cade Cunningham shelved by left leg surgery. Could it make sense to keep him around, then? Not at all. Not when a Bogdanović deal could yield a windfall of assets.

    The Pistons reportedly covet "at least one first-rounder and either a young player with upside or additional draft capital" in a Bogdanović trade, per Yahoo's Jake Fischer. In this trade market, which appears heavy on buyers but incredibly light on sellers, that seems like a reasonable ask.

    Bogdanović may not be a star, but he's a stone's throw from pairing those 21 points per game with the famed 50/40/90 shooting slash (he's at 48.4/41.6/89.4). That's a wildly effective and efficient offensive weapon—one slotted in the NBA's 93rd percentile.

    Verdict: Easy buy. If the Pistons deal Bogdanović—and they absolutely should—they can expect to fetch a first-round pick and more.

Jazz, Jordan Clarkson Talking Contract Extension

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    CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - JANUARY 07: Jordan Clarkson #00 of the Utah Jazz dribbles the ball up the court against the Chicago Bulls during the second half at United Center on January 07, 2023 in Chicago, Illinois. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
    Michael Reaves/Getty Images

    After unloading Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert—plus Bojan Bogdanović and Royce O'Neale—in the offseason, the Utah Jazz were supposed to bottom out in 2022-23.

    Jordan Clarkson is a big reason why they haven't.

    He ranks second on the team in scoring (20.4 points per game) and distributing (4.5 assists). He's also having one of his best shooting seasons to date, splashing 2.7 triples a night at a 35.6 percent clip.

    In fact, he's been so productive—90th percentile by estimated offensive plus-minus—that he and the Jazz "have been engaged in contract extension talks," per Tony Jones of The Athletic, who added that "there is mutual interest in moving forward."

    This isn't the first we've heard of Utah's willingness to keep Clarkson. While he has so far rebuffed extension offers, per Stein, the veteran scribe doesn't expect that to motivate the Jazz to trade Clarkson. The Missouri product holds a $14.3 million player option for next season, and even if he hits the open market, the Jazz have his Bird rights, giving them some flexibility to bring him back.

    His off-the-dribble verve adds a different dimension to this offense, and he has already created good chemistry with All-Star candidate Lauri Markkanen. Lineups featuring the pair have shredded opponents to the tune of 119.7 points per possession, which comfortably bests the Boston Celtics' league-leading mark of 117.2.

    And yet, unless you buy that the Jazz are contenders now—they are 8-17 since their 12-6 start, so good luck with that—or will reach that tier in the very near future, then it's hard to see the logic in keeping Clarkson. He'll be 31 in June and quite possibly in need of a massive pay raise. Utah, which needs to add and develop more blue-chip talent for this rebuild to really work, isn't far enough along to justify shelling out major coin for such a non-star.

    Verdict: Split decision. We'll buy Utah's interest in keeping Clarkson since that narrative isn't new, but we'll sell that the Jazz actually do it.

Fred VanVleet Turned Down Nine-Figure Extension Offer

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    TORONTO, ON - JANUARY 08: Fred VanVleet #23 of the Toronto Raptors is seen during a break in play during the second half of their NBA game against the Portland Trail Blazers at Scotiabank Arena on January 8, 2023 in Toronto, Canada. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Cole Burston/Getty Images)
    Cole Burston/Getty Images

    The last time Fred VanVleet hit the open market, he scored the then-richest contract ever given to an undrafted player.

    Should he find his way to back to free agency—he has a $22.8 million player option for next season—it sounds as if he'll be eyeing another historic payday.

    Toronto tried getting out ahead of this and offered him a $114 million extension before the season, which he turned down, per TSN's Josh Lewenberg. Sportsnet's Michael Grange noted that the offer was not "rejected" but that there was a "mutual decision to wait, with no deadline discussed."

    Either way, it sounds as if VanVleet's future north of the border is up in the air. A lot of things could be given how the Raptors' campaign has played out.

    While Toronto's advanced metrics aren't alarmingly bad (16th in net rating), the team has a 17-23 record, which slots 12th in the Eastern Conference. Depth issues have torpedoed this club, which has tasked VanVleet, O.G. Anunoby and Pascal Siakam all with more than 37 minutes per night—just to not be good enough to reach the play-in tournament.

    VanVleet hasn't played up to his normal efficiency. His 52.5 true shooting percentage is on course to be his lowest since his rookie season. Still, though, he grades out as a good to really good player, ranking in the 91st percentile of estimated plus-minus and tying for 36th in overall RAPTOR.

    He can function as a primary scorer or pass-first table-setter. His defense is all kinds of pesky, and he creates more havoc on that end than you'd expect from a 6'0", 197-pounder.

    If he thinks he can do better than $114 million on the open market, he is probably right. The only question, though, is whether the Raptors will recommit to the 28-year-old (29 next month) or view this season's struggles as a reason to pivot into a rebuild around reigning Rookie of the Year Scottie Barnes.

    Verdict: Buying. VanVleet's leadership, ability and production are worth more than the Raptors can offer on an extension.

Khris Middleton Could Test Free-Agent Market

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    MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN - DECEMBER 13: Khris Middleton #22 of the Milwaukee Bucks participates in warmups prior to a game against the Golden State Warriors at Fiserv Forum on December 13, 2022 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
    Stacy Revere/Getty Images

    Khris Middleton has played 10 of his 11 seasons with the Milwaukee Bucks. He not only found his footing in the Badger State, but he also booked a trio of All-Star trips and played a pivotal role in the franchise's 2020-21 championship run.

    One might assume he'd rank among the least likely players to entertain the idea of a scenery change, and yet his future may be less cemented than it seems.

    According to the Action Network's Matt Moore, Middleton could decline his $40.4 million player option for next season. "There has been burbling noise around the league that Middleton will, at the very least, test the market," Moore wrote.

    While injuries have limited Middleton to just seven appearances, he would rocket up the list of coveted free agents should he opt out. He's exactly the kind of do-it-all two-way wing every modern NBA team wants.

    Does that mean he's guaranteed to find a deal that nets him $40 million-plus in annual salary? Who knows, but upping his yearly pay may not be the aim. The 31-year-old could instead see some appeal in simply gaining stability with a longer contract, as opting out could allow him to find a new deal of up to five seasons.

    What are the chances he'd take that contract from anyone other than the Bucks? Middleton dished on that possibility before the season, and while he didn't sound particularly interested in searching for greener grass, he has also been around the league long enough to know it's rarely advisable to rule things out.

    "I think everybody knows deep down that I want to stay. But also, you know it's a business," Middleton said in September. "Things change, things happen. You just never know. For sure I would love to stay."

    Why wouldn't he? Staying in Milwaukee means staying alongside Giannis Antetokounmpo, who might be the planet's best player and essentially guarantees his club a yearly shot at the title. It's been a strange season for the Bucks—in no small part because of Middleton's absences—but they still make the short list of top-shelf contenders.

    Verdict: Mostly selling. It's possible Middleton could ditch next season's option in search of long-term security, but it's hard to picture his seriously considering options outside of Milwaukee.

O.G. Anunoby's 'Astronomical' Trade Price Keeps Climbing

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    TORONTO, CANADA - DECEMBER 29: OG Anunoby #3 of the Toronto Raptors dribbles the ball during the game against the Memphis Grizzlies on December 29, 2022 at the Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2022 NBAE (Photo by Mark Blinch/NBAE via Getty Images)
    Mark Blinch/NBAE via Getty Images

    With a surplus of buyers and a shortage of sellers, it feels like any underperforming team with win-now talent could turn this trade season on its head by entering rebuild mode and flooding the market with attractive targets.

    Toronto might be the underperforming team to watch in that regard, since the Raptors boast plug-and-play trade candidates who are good enough to significantly impact clubs championship chances.

    The question is whether the Raptors will actually let any of those players go. The answer, it seems, is that it's complicated.

    "Toronto is active in trade talks and open to moving players, but the asking prices have been described as 'insane,' 'astronomical' and 'far-fetched,'" Moore reported.

    O.G. Anunoby, a Defensive Player of the Year candidate who ups his offensive output year after year, is one of Toronto's best trade chips—and the Raptors know it. Last summer, they reportedly sought a top-10 pick for the two-way swingman, per Moore, but now "the consensus is that his price might be higher."

    As it should be.

    The 25-year-old, who has long been likened to his former Raptors running mate Kawhi Leonard, sits in the 99th percentile in estimated defensive plus-minus and is on pace to post a career-high scoring average, as he has every season. He's up to 18.2 points per contest on 46.5/34.9/83.6 shooting, and he rounds out the rest of his stat sheet with 6.0 rebounds, a league-best 2.3 steals, 2.1 assists and 0.8 blocks.

    He is certainly young enough for Toronto to keep, but that's assuming the Raptors are comfortable covering the cost of his next contract. He could reach free agency as soon as 2024 ($19.9 million player option for 2024-25), and he'll be awfully expensive whenever he gets there.

    If the franchise thinks he's worth it, though, then the money doesn't matter.

    Verdict: Buying the huge asking price, selling the possibility of a trade. Even if the Raptors opt to trade players over the next month, Anunoby should be off-limits given his age and cornerstone potential.


    Statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference, NBA.com, FiveThirtyEight and Dunks and Threes and accurate through Sunday. Salary information via Spotrac.

    Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @ZachBuckleyNBA.

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