The Toronto Raptors have taken over the Miami Heat in the race to acquire Damian Lillard from the Portland Trail Blazers. In the Raptors' pursuit of the Blazers superstar, will they include Scottie Barnes in a trade offer for Damian Lillard?
This Damian Lillard trade saga has been dragging on for months with Portland and Miami unable to agree on a deal that would send Dame Time to South Beach. The situation has allowed other teams such to sneak into the discussion and, for the Raptors, even emerge as the frontrunner to land the seven-time All-Star.
Lillard previously remained adamant that he only wanted to go to Miami. Since then, he has eased his stance, saying he will be a pro and report to any team that he ends up going.
Kurt Helin of NBC Sports claims that the Raptors have deemed Barnes as untouchable in any trade for Lillard. Should they really, though? Here are three reasons why the Raptors should include Scottie Barnes in their offer for Damian Lillard.
1. Raptors can win now with Lillard
If it takes Scottie Barnes for Portland to agree on a deal, the main case for Toronto to do it is because they can win now with Lillard. On the flip side, Barnes is still just developing and is ways away from his prime. Lillard may be on the downside of his prime, but he is still one of the top point guards in the NBA. Pairing him with Siakam along with the other surrounding pieces the Raptors have left following the deal should make them a real threat in the East.
The construction of a package will be difficult though, as Lillard will make roughly $45 million this upcoming season. Including Barnes along with Anunoby may be too much for Toronto's liking, so Masai Ujiri will need to get creative if the former Rookie of the Year is going to be the main trade chip. That, unfortunately, will also mean the Raptors will gut their depth.
It could take four Raptors players along with a plethora of draft picks and pick swaps to land Lillard. Let's say the deal includes Barnes, Gary Trent Jr., Chris Boucher, and Thaddeus Young. That leaves the Raptors with a core of Lillard, Siakam, Anunoby, Jakob Poeltl to go along with new additions Dennis Schroder, Gradey Dick, and Jaden McDaniels. That's a pretty good core to compete with in an Eastern Conference that is in flux.
Almost every team in the East will enter this season with some kind of wrinkle. The Bucks are getting older around Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Celtics traded a defensive staple in Marcus Smart for Kristaps Porzingis. Who the heck knows what Philadelphia is going to do with that messy James Harden situation. Miami made the Finals but isn't getting Lillard if Toronto trades for him. The Knicks are the Knicks. Cleveland isn't really a threat.
As you can see, the East is completely wide open and the aforementioned Raptors core will be as good as any team on that side of the bracket. If it takes Scottie Barnes to acquire Lillard, the Raptors should go for it. Windows like this don't open often. Masai Ujiri knows this first-hand.
2. Are we sure Scottie Barnes is going to be a star?
A question worth asking: Is Scottie Barnes really going to be a star in this league? Perhaps, he may just be. But is he going to be a franchise type of star player like Damian Lillard can be? Can he be the No. 1 guy on a conference finals contender like Lillard was in Portland?
Sure, the clock may be ticking on Lillard's prime. But the 33-year-old hasn't shown any signs of slowing down. He still played 58 games last year and averaged over 32 points per game while shooting over 46 percent from the field and 37 percent from three.
Meanwhile, Barnes is still a work in progress. His jumper is still a question mark and if he doesn't improve to becoming at least an average shooter in the NBA, he may have difficulty becoming a legitimate franchise star in the league. Barnes' strengths are his playmaking and defense. But if he doesn't become an elite scorer, he won't be a No. 1 or even No. 2 guy in any championship contending team.
3. Lillard's presence could attract another top free agent
Like Giannis Antetokounmpo? What if this is a long-term plan for Masai Ujiri to actually build a superteam in Toronto?
After this season, Antetokounmpo still has a year left on his deal before going into pre-agency (he has a player option for 2025-26). Many are speculating he could end up as a Raptor given his ties with Ujiri. If Lillard is there, the Greek Freak may just force his way north of the border and form a superstar pairing with Lillard.
Sure, Lillard is already on the wrong end of his prime. But if Ujiri is able to land a superstar like Antetokounmpo because of this trade, then he could completely change the way the best players in the league view Toronto as a top-tier destination.