The Toronto Raptors are apparently now in the driver's seat of the Damian Lillard sweepstakes and have emerged as frontrunners to land the Portland Trail Blazers star. In this saga that has dragged on for months, the Miami Heat have always been at the forefront of any Lillard trade discussions. However, talks have stalled and both sides are apparently in a cold war with each other. That has opened the door for other teams like the Raptors to enter into the sweepstakes.
It also helps that Lillard has eased his stance on a potential landing spot. Since requesting a trade, the Blazers guard was adamant he wanted to go to Miami and Miami only. But Dame has since said he will be a professional and report to whichever team acquires him.
With the Raptors, it's worth speculating just how much Masai Ujiri is willing to give up to bring Dame Time to Toronto. But Kurt Helin of NBC Sports claims that Toronto is not willing to include Barnes in a trade for Lillard — and rightfully so. Here are three reasons why the Raptors should not include Scottie Barnes in a trade offer for Damian Lillard.
1. It's a short-sighted move
This trade will definitely put the Raptors in win-now mode and firmly make them a legitimate playoff team. A Lillard-Siakam combo along with whoever isn't gone from the Dame trade should make Toronto competitive in the East.
At the same time, if they include Scottie Barnes in this trade for Damian Lillard, a lot of Toronto's future will be sacrificed.
This move will be short-sighted on their part, unlike the Leonard deal Masai Ujiri orchestrated five years ago. In that deal, they actually got away without trading any of their young studs at the time. While they did give up perhaps the most beloved figure in franchise history in DeMar DeRozan, the Raptors were able to exclude a promising O.G. Anunoby or even Pascal Siakam in the deal.
We still don't know if Barnes will ever develop into a legitimate franchise star. But what we do know is that he is still a work in progress and still possesses a ton of upside. He is still just 22 years old and is ways away from being a finished product. Meanwhile, Lillard is 11 years older and is on the wrong end of his prime.
2. Barnes can still improve
Speaking of upside, Scottie Barnes can definitely still improve. After winning the 2021-22 Rookie of the Year award, the Raptors were expectedly high on Barnes because he actually exceeded expectations in his debut campaign. Many were wary of his game because he possessed an iffy perimeter shot — which he still does. But he proved naysayers wrong by providing a ton of impact on the other facets of his game. He looked comfortable as a rookie and immediately showed that he belongs in the NBA.
In 74 games, Barnes averaged 15.3 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 3.5 assists to edge out No. 1 pick Cade Cunningham and No. 3 pick Evan Mobley in the ROTY race. Of course, that strong rookie year now came with a lot of expectations for Year 2.
However, Barnes didn't show much improvement in his sophomore campaign. In fact, his scoring average remained the same at 15.3 points per game. Barnes' efficiency also went down from over 49 percent field goal shooting in his first year, to just above 45 percent in his second season. His three-point shooting also dropped by two percent from his debut campaign.
Though he did plateau in his sophomore year, there is no reason to believe Barnes can't bounce back. The kid is only 22 years old and there are already a ton of facets in his game — such as his playmaking, hustle, and defense — that makes him standout. His offense is still a work in progress, but that can be developed over time. If Barnes is able to become an elite scorer, he should be a franchise star in this league in no time. And if he does get to that point, the Raptors could miss out on that upside if they include him in this deal for Dame.
3. It will make them look foolish
If the Raptors end up including Scottie Barnes in a trade for Damian Lillard, here's a question: so, you didn't want to include him in a trade for Kevin Durant and for Lillard, you do? It doesn't make a lot of sense.
No knock on Lillard, but he isn't Kevin Durant. Imagine what this Raptors lineup would be if they actually traded for KD last season. There's no knowing if the Brooklyn Nets actually would have accepted whatever Scottie Barnes-centered offer Masai Ujiri would have put together. But it would have given them the best chance of landing Durant.
Nonetheless, if the Blazers deem Barnes as a necessary piece in acquiring Lillard, Toronto shouldn't do it simply because it will make them look foolish. As much as this move doesn't assure that they can win at the highest level with Lillard, it could just frustrate the fanbase more because of the fact they didn't trade Barnes for Durant. And it will create another narrative that could potentially cloud the franchise on top of the other narratives that could emerge if this doesn't deal work out — e.g. win Toronto a championship.