Marc Gasol arrives from Grizzlies, Jonas Valanciunas leaves the Raptors
Masai Ujiri traded away a third of his roster for the “winner” that the franchise craved. Undoubtedly one of the league’s biggest deals at the NBA trade deadline.
The Raptors president acquired Marc Gasol from the Memphis Grizzlies on Thursday in a move that both echoes his vision of a chance at a championship this season. While it also brings a player his dream to play in Toronto.
“He is a phenomenal player and a real winner. That hopefully make an impact,” Ujiri said. “I’ve talked to Marc, he’s really excited to be here and this is exciting for us going forward as we move to all of us trying to achieve a dream of contending for a championship in the NBA.
“That’s our goal and I think everybody on the team understands that. We’ll keep trying to achieve that goal.”
The Raptors sent forward Jonas Valanciunas, C.J. Miles and Delon Wright, plus a 2024 second-round draft pick to the Grizzlies. Later in what turned into a marathon day, they sent Greg Monroe and a 2021 second-round pick to Brooklyn for cash considerations. A day earlier, Toronto shipped Malachi Richardson to Philadelphia for cash considerations.
Acquiring the 34-year-old Gasol was a power move for a Toronto team looking to at least keep pace with Milwaukee and Philadelphia. Who both pulled the trigger on trades of their own, in a heated Eastern Conference race.
Gasol is a three-time all-star and the 2013 defensive player of the year. He’s averaging 15.7 points, 8.6 rebounds, 1.2 blocks and 1.1 steals per game. His 4.7 assists a night is the second best in the league for a centre behind Denver’s Nikola Jokic.
Ujiri was clearly thrilled, he said: “We added a player that’s very savvy. In the playoffs you need experience, going forward you need a really strong basketball mind, toughness, you need size, you need shooting from outside, basketball IQ. He combines it all.”
Raptors guard Fred VanVleet was understandably excited with the arrival of Gasol. Speaking shortly before Toronto’s victory over the Hawks in Atlanta.
He said: “He has been one of the best fives in the league for a long time now, perennial all-star, defensive player of the year. Just really excited to see how we can acclimate him to what we do and see how much he can give us a boost. Obviously we’re very excited about that.”
The 76ers and Bucks were both highly active before Thursday’s deadline. The Sixers acquired Tobias Harris and Milwaukee acquiring Nikola Mirotic.
Raptors fans began to grow anxious as the deadline got closer. They were demanding Ujiri to do something.
He wasn’t to disappoint the fans. In fact, this turned out to be Ujiri’s biggest deadline deal since he returned to the team as GM in 2013.
“I think with a player like Marc, we had talked about it for some time, it lined it up well for us,” Ujiri said.
Head coach Nick Nurse said the atmosphere at the team hotel was “a sad one” prior to the Raptors victory over the Hawks. Nurse spent five years as an assistant coach working with Valanciunas and worked out with him in his native Lithuania on several occasions.
“I said to him today ‘No more trips to Lithuania,’ he says, ‘Come on man, you can still come,”‘ Nurse said. “I think it’s funny to say, as a coach-player deal, but I think we’ll be friends for life man, for sure. And certainly, miss him. I miss him already.”
The deadline moved slow and the deal wasn’t official until late in the night. However, the team president finally addressed the wilting media at Biosteel Centre and thanked them “for hanging on here. I appreciate you hanging on.”
In Valanciunas, the Raptors lose one of their most popular players. Ujiri said it was a “tough” phone call to make.
He explained: “Jonas was a baby with us, grew up with us.”
The 26-year-old was finally cleared to play Thursday after missing 25 games with a dislocated left thumb. The team posted a photo of the big bearded Lithuanian on social media with two words: “I’m back.”
Wright was playing FIFA with Norman Powell when he learned he was on the move.
The major shakeup comes after an off-season that saw fan favourite DeMar DeRozan traded to San Antonio for Leonard.
Undoubtedly there will be more moves in the coming weeks for the Raptors; with only ten players currently under NBA contracts. They will need 14 players registered within two weeks. They could convert one or both of their two-way contracts with Chris Boucher and Jordan Loyd into NBA contracts.
Asked if he has any players in mind, Ujiri jokingly mentioned several reporters in the room.
“How good are you guys? Can you play?” he laughed. “We have a lot of spots. We’re going to attack the buyout market and try to get guys. It’s becoming a big market in the NBA.”
Gasol, meanwhile, could be in the Raptors’ lineup Saturday in New York pending a team physical. Exciting times ahead for the Raptors.