Gasol will replace Jonas Valanciunas as the Raptors’ starting center — the 26-year-old will go to the Memphis Grizzlies, along with guard Delon Wright, wing C.J. Miles and a 2024 second-round pick, per ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. The deal was perhaps the most high-impact move of Thursday’s NBA trade deadline.
Let’s grade the trade.
Toronto Raptors: A
- Marc Gasol
You don’t trade for a 34-year-old center unless you believe it’s a big upgrade and you’re trying to win immediately. In this case, Toronto made perfect sense as a Gasol destination. With Kawhi Leonard’s free agency hanging over the franchise, the Raptors do not want to waste their opportunity to compete for a championship. In the Masai Ujiri era, they have never had a good passing center. Gasol is a great one, and he will immediately add some juice to Nick Nurse’s offense, setting punishing screens and directing his teammates like a point guard. While he is no longer a Defensive Player of the Year candidate, he is still a superior defender to Valanciunas. He will be particularly useful against Joel Embiid in a potential series with the Sixers, being physical with him on the inside and drawing him out to the perimeter.
The Wright loss may change how the Raptors play, though. Toronto is a less versatile team now, but it still has one of the best backup point guards in the league, Fred VanVleet, under contract. Had the Raptors kept Wright, they would have been faced with a difficult decision in July, when he will be a restricted free agent. Losing him does not hurt them that much in the long run.
Miles has dealt with injuries and shooting slumps since signing in Toronto in 2017, and he lost his spot as a regular in the rotation. His shooting might be missed in a playoff series, but the Raptors will surely try to address this hole in the buyout market, with a couple of new roster spots to fill. Ujiri’s work is not done.
Your reaction to this trade likely hinges on how you value Gasol and Valanciunas and what you think of Toronto’s title chances. In theory, Toronto is exactly the type of team that should make a trade sacrificing depth for star power. The question is whether or not this was the right trade. If you believe in Valanciunas building on his last couple of years of improvement, if you believe Gasol is no longer a difference-maker or if you believe the Raptors still aren’t good enough, then you probably don’t like what they did here. I would argue, though, that Toronto has gotten tougher, more difficult to defend and more playoff-ready, without giving up too much.
Memphis Grizzlies: B+
- Jonas Valanciunas
- Delon Wright
- C.J. Miles
- 2024 second-round pick
Gasol has meant so much to Memphis, and this isn’t exactly a typical return for a franchise player. It would be unfair, though, to hold the Grizzlies to that standard. As a result of his age and the dearth of teams looking for centers, they didn’t have a ton of options here. Before his injury, Valanciunas was playing arguably the best basketball of his career this season, and while he is seen as a “traditional” center, he has done what he can to change his game in order to survive in the modern NBA. Whether he is a major part of the next era of Memphis basketball or not, he has value — as long as he picks up his $17.6 million player option for next season.
Wright is the most interesting player here, from the Grizzlies’ perspective. At 6-foot-5, he can play both guard positions and even spent some time at the 3 in Toronto. Wright is a long, rangy defender, but the defining part of his game is his shiftiness. He tricks defenders with herky-jerky moves to the basket and is a clever finisher. With the Raptors, though, he never had the responsibility of running the team for extended stretches. If he is capable of being a primary playmaker, Memphis might have something to be excited about. The difficult part of this is it only has the next couple of months to figure out how much it is comfortable investing in him.
Miles’ contract looked like a steal when he signed it, but if it is going to have positive value again, he will have to play better with the Grizzlies than he did with the Raptors. He has a $8.7 million player option next season, and while the veteran doesn’t make much sense on a rebuilding team, it is easy to envision Memphis flipping him somewhere else for a pick.
One of the many fascinating things about this trade is it’s hard to know how many of these guys will still be Grizzlies next season. This wasn’t a straight salary dump, but it is theoretically possible that Valanciunas and Miles could become free agents and Memphis could choose not to match an offer sheet for Wright. I like the thinking behind this deal, but without knowing what will happen in July, it is unclear how much it will help the Grizzlies rebuild.