Should the Raptors trade for Millsap if the price is right?
Kyle Lowry scored 41 points on 16 shots in Sunday's 123-114 win over the Los Angeles Lakers. Like his backcourt mate and close friend DeMar DeRozan, Lowry is having a career year. Neither has ever shot better from the floor or averaged more points in their NBA careers, a combined 19 seasons.
Like DeRozan last year, Lowry will enter unrestricted free agency this coming summer. While there's little reason to believe the catalyst of the Raptors has any desire to go elsewhere, the true decision rests with the organization. A five-year max contract worth about $150 million for a 31-year-old point guard comes with a warning label, no matter how many games Lowry didn't play in earlier in his career.
That's not to say the Raptors shouldn't reward arguably the best player in franchise history; they absolutely should, and more than likely will. What it says is the window on this Raptors' core is not a gaping one.
At an average age of 26.1, Toronto is smack dab in the median of the league, 15th out of 30. Most of the key players are above the average though: Lowry turns 31 in March, DeRozan is 27, DeMarre Carroll is 30, and Patrick Patterson - also a free agent this summer - turns 28 in March.
So, how does adding Paul Millsap, who turns 32 in February, help?
Well, it wouldn't be done with the future in mind, but the present. This is probably not a team built to win with a 34-year-old Lowry running the point in 2020, it's a squad built to try and win the Eastern Conference now. Outside of themselves, the only real obstruction to that goal is LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Does adding Millsap move the needle enough to beat the Cavs in a best-of-seven series? Maybe not. But does the addition of one of the East's elite power forwards notably enhance their odds? Of course it does.
Outside of his less-than-optimal age, Millsap is the closest consensus there is to a perfect addition for the Raptors' rotation; a reliable rebounder who can score high and low, a mobile defender, and a spark for small lineups.
Clearly, the Raptors shouldn't overpay for Millsap. Reports are now circulating he could be available; predictable given the question marks surrounding the Atlanta Hawks' roster and his impending free agency. The re-emergence of Terrence Ross on what is now a bargain contract - as well as the idea that Norm Powell could replace his minutes - would likely be central to any Toronto offer, although it's anyone's guess if Atlanta would be interested.
The Raptors also currently hold two first-round picks this June. Cory Joseph - who Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer helped develop with the San Antonio Spurs - could be of interest in Atlanta. While some may be amenable to moving Jonas Valanciunas in a deal for Millsap, the Raps might balk at that given their often-exposed center's still-young age.
Which brings us to Millsap's unrestricted free-agent status in July. There's always a risk in trading for a free-agent-to-be at midseason; at worst, you get a rental player. In Millsap's case, the Raptors would land his Bird rights in a deal, allowing them to offer him a maximum contract up to five years in length.
The problem once again: Millsap will be 32 in February, and locking him up along with Lowry and perhaps even Patterson would push the Raptors well into the luxury tax. Assuming they sucked that up, the core of Lowry, DeRozan, and Millsap would probably have another two seasons at best of Finals capability.
So the question comes back to: Is it worth it?
Is it worth taking the best shot available now, or holding off? The argument can be made the Raptors' window could basically be the same either way. Does the play of Ross this season erase the memory of inconsistencies past? These are things for Masai Ujiri to think about, assuming there's even a serious interest.
There's one more thing to consider, however.
If Millsap was available for the right price, would the Raptors do their best to compete? In something that longtime Southern Ontario sports fans could talk themselves into finding alarming, the Toronto Star's Bruce Arthur said on a recent "Lowe Post" podcast with ESPN's Zach Lowe that "there isn't a lot of organizational pressure," for the Raptors to go out and get better.
Ujiri's reputation as a smart, shrewd negotiator aside, the collective above him is Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment - a multi-billion dollar business that's not new to the accusation that their teams' on-field success isn't priority No. 1. The competitive turnarounds of MLSE's properties in recent years (three straight division titles for the Raptors, Toronto FC's MLS Cup appearance, and a presumably competent rebuild for the Maple Leafs) can be credited in large part to former CEO Tim Leiweke, who left the company in 2015.
The Raptors make a lot of money for MLSE. Playing into June could further that. There's absolutely no assurance Millsap gets them there, but sometimes teams have to take a swing.