Many labeled the New York Knicks as the mystery Eastern Conference team Marc Spears hinted at when discussing Damian Lillard trade talks. New York has the assets to get a deal done, but the front office has proven it isn’t going to go after any star that’s on the market.
On the ‘Locked On NBA’ podcast, Action Network’s Matt Moore revealed the Raptors have expressed interest in the 33-year-old star guard. Assuming that’s true (and it might not be), Toronto has been dubbed the mystery team.
The Raptors have three key players who could all enter free agency next summer: Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby, and Gary Trent Jr. Toronto lost Fred VanVleet in free agency after not trading him ahead of last February’s deadline. Masai Ujiri could be active at this year’s deadline, but that’s if he doesn’t make a splash for Lillard.
It’s been almost three months since Dame requested a trade, and he wants to team up with Jimmy Butler in Miami. The Miami Herald’s Barry Jackson reported that if Lillard isn’t traded to the Heat, he’ll demand another trade.
That puts teams like the Trail Blazers in a bind, as the last thing they should want is to give up assets for Lillard only for him to maintain his Heat stance.
Raptors trading for Damian Lillard would put them in position to bump Knicks down conference standings
OG Anunoby has been included in trade rumors for a while now, with the Knicks reportedly reaching out to the Raptors about the wing last December. He has a player option for 2024-25, and he’s expected to decline it to become an unrestricted free agent, so if the Trail Blazers traded for Damian Lillard, Anunoby would presumably be out the door.
Like Lillard, Pascal Siakam reportedly wouldn’t sign an extension with his new team if he’s traded, making a team going all-in on him a gamble. If Toronto keeps Siakam and adds Lillard, the Raptors should be able to return to the playoffs in 2024.
Masai Ujiri has been hesitant to enter rebuilding mode, and landing Dame would keep the Raptors competitive. Without Lillard, Toronto should sit at the bottom of the Atlantic Division for the second year.
Lillard is an explosive scorer; his age hasn’t slowed him down. He averaged a career-high 32.2 points last season, matching a career-best 46.3% shooting from the field and 37.1% from three. He couldn’t guide the Trail Blazers to the postseason, much less the play-in tournament, but he didn’t have much of a supporting cast.
That wouldn’t be the case in Canada, where he’d certainly play alongside Scottie Barnes, as he isn’t going anywhere. If the Raptors could keep Siakam and Trent or Anunoby, Toronto would be tough competition for New York in the East.
While it’d be tough to have Lillard in the division, the silver lining would be that the Heat lost out on the star guard.