Each week during the 2023-24 NBA season, we will take a deeper dive into some of the league’s biggest storylines in an attempt to determine whether the trends are based more in fact or fiction moving forward.
This week's topic: The Pascal Siakam trade was no big deal
This week's Toronto Raptors' trade of Pascal Siakam has its on-court ramifications, vaulting the Indiana Pacers into fringe championship contention, but the biggest impact of the deal could come in the summer.
The ripple effects from Siakam's move will rock not only Toronto's rebuild but also the 2024 trade deadline, draft and free-agenct class, including any team currently carving a path to offseason salary-cap space.
First, the trade itself: Folks around the league believe the Raptors could've traded Siakam for significantly more last season than the package they received Wednesday, containing Bruce Brown, Jordan Nwora, Kira Lewis Jr., Indiana's 2024 and 2026 (top-four protected) first-round draft picks and the worst 2024 first-round draft pick from the Houston Rockets, Los Angeles Clippers, Oklahoma City Thunder or Utah Jazz.
While that might sound like a significant haul, there were whispers that the two 2024 first-round picks are more window dressing than they appear, given that this year's draft is considered to be the weakest in years.
Or, as one source told Yahoo Sports, "The worst draft maybe ever."
That same source added, "The big draft comes in 2025," when true seniors and anyone who uses the final year of COVID fifth-year eligibility will fill out the field, and we are beginning to see plenty of evidence to support that belief. The Phoenix Suns, who dealt the farm for Kevin Durant this past February, are the only team since the summer of 2022 to trade a 2025 first-round draft pick. That is 16 months — or an NBA lifetime — in which 29 teams have held closely to picks that could become Cooper Flagg or another top talent.
Of the eight teams that will not or are unlikely to retain their 2025 first-round pick, only the Heat and 76ers did not include it in a blockbuster, and theirs were, respectively, an amendment to create flexibility in Miami's pursuit of a star and the premature shedding of Al Horford's $109 million contract in Philadelphia.
Miami owes its 2025 first-round pick to Oklahoma City (amended in February 2022).
Phoenix owes its 2025 first-round pick to Brooklyn (for Durant in February 2023).
The Knicks, Pelicans, Thunder, Spurs and Jazz could all have at least as many as three first-round picks in 2025. Some began planning when a double-draft seemed possible in 2025 and will benefit from a deeper draft anyhow. Keep an eye on how loosely teams trade their 2024 first-rounders and how tightly they cling to them for 2025 leading into the Feb. 8 deadline, when Murray might be the biggest name available again. In one form or another, 14 of the league's 30 first-rounders in 2024 have already changed hands at least once.
Another interesting wrinkle: The Pelicans have a choice between the Lakers' 2024 and 2025 first-round picks, and they will almost surely opt for next year's selection, but by waiting until the last possible moment to decide, New Orleans prevents Los Angeles from including its 2024 pick in a trade at this year's deadline.
It is also notable that Charlotte, Detroit, Portland and Washington — four of the five worst teams in the league — all have incentive to tank again next season, when each has tied an outgoing 2025 first-round pick to lottery protections. Toronto, Utah and Golden State should all be motivated to make the playoffs this season, ridding themselves of lottery-protected first-rounders in 2024 rather than risking losing one in 2025.
Toronto's recent trades of Siakam and OG Anunoby remove two of the biggest names from the 2024 free-agent market, assuming the Pacers and Knicks sign each to the large extensions he expects. They were almost certainly the two best 20-somethings expected to be available to teams with cap space.
Now, the biggest names include LeBron James, Paul George, Jrue Holiday, James Harden and DeMar DeRozan. All but DeRozan are expected to stay put in the summer, and he might find his next landing spot by the deadline. The market will then turn to names such as Tobias Harris, Nicolas Claxton and a then steep drop-off.
Even if those stars wanted to change teams in July, five of the seven teams currently projected to be able to create significant cap space — the Hornets, Pistons, Spurs, Jazz and Wizards — are not exactly premier destinations. That leaves the Sixers and Magic fighting for ... who exactly? Those teams might now be more willing to forego the chance to create maximum cap space in favor of more immediate help at the deadline.
Determination: Fiction. The Siakam deal was bigger than you think, just not in the way you might have thought.