What it was like for Raptors to have the first pick of the NBA Draft's second round

TORONTO — The Toronto Raptors are a little more than five years removed from winning their NBA championship. They are a little less than five years removed from losing Kawhi Leonard in free agency. And they are about four years removed from losing in the second round of the playoffs in the NBA bubble.

It has been that long since the Raptors have been close to the centre of the NBA world, excluding the 2023 trade deadline, which wound up being anti-climactic. That all changed thanks to two decisions — one made by the league, the other by the Raptors. First, the NBA decided to split the draft into a two-day event, moving the second round away from the first round. Next, the Raptors decided to de-emphasize draft picks in the OG Anunoby trade, instead acquiring Immanuel Quickley, RJ Barrett and just a single second-round pick.

However, that pick did not belong to the New York Knicks, who received Anunoby. It was Detroit’s pick. At the time of the trade, the Pistons had lost 28 consecutive games, a streak they would break later that day — against the Raptors. Regardless, when the Raptors got the pick, they knew there was a decent chance they would wind up with the top pick of the draft’s second day.

“When we did the deal with New York, we knew that this was sort of a benefit of having 31, was to be able to have these next 18 hours to field calls,” Raptors general manager Bobby Webster said Wednesday night after the first round. “I think what typically happens in the draft (in previous years) is it very quickly turns to Round 2 and you have two minutes (to make a pick or trade it). Logistically, you can’t take all the calls you’d want to — so now we have some time.

“It’s a first. It’s a bit of a novelty for all of us here to have two days of the draft, so let’s see what happens.”

Again, it ended with an anti-climax: The Raptors took San Francisco’s Jonathan Mogbo, an undersized playmaking forward who played with Scottie Barnes as a child. He wasn’t one of the top names on most draft experts’ “best remaining” lists, but that’s how things frequently work in the second round.

On Wednesday night, Webster spoke of the multiple advantages to having the pick. First and foremost, there were the potential trade offers. Teams would have actual time to call the Raptors if a player they liked slipped. The Raptors, likewise, would have the ability to canvass the league — to be the aggressors.

Additionally, this was just the second year that specific cap exceptions have existed for teams to sign second-round picks, meaning teams don’t have to use parts of other exceptions or minimum deals to sign those players.

“There’s a little interesting dynamic in the late first, early second, and that’s what we’ve kind of found with 31,” Webster said Thursday. “In some ways teams would almost prefer the early seconds. They cost a little bit less (against) the tax.

It also allowed them to further talk things out if they were unsure about who to take. It turned out to be a busy evening, which turned into a busy Thursday, before the Raptors ultimately made the pick at 4:15 p.m.

“It was a bit of a stressful night,” Webster said. “No, it was fun to take in all of those offers. It’s part of the job — and it’s one of the few times that you’re sort of the centre of at least the NBA trade world.”

Webster and the Raptors made two trades, neither of which had been made official with a trade call as of Thursday night. Neither involved the 31st pick. One team source expressed doubt the Raptors would have been able to pull off the deals they did make under the old rules. The second round used to immediately follow the first, and there were two minutes in between picks. There are now four minutes in between picks in the second round.

Webster said there was legitimate interest in the pick. He said it was comparable to the last few trade deadlines, when the Raptors had a few of the players who were among the most desirable to contenders.

This was simpler, ultimately.

“One of the other general managers told me — he said, ‘Bobby, the good thing is there’s no emotion attached to draft picks,’” Webster said. “I think those conversations are easier to have when it’s draft pick as opposed to players (you have developed and got to know).”

It seems likely the NBA went to the two-day format to get more programming in primetime. Unfortunately, Day 2 ended up being on the same night as the U.S. presidential debate too. Whoever is in the Raptors’ position next year will have a few more hours on the clock, it stands to reason.

“I don’t think they knew the date (of the debate) when they made this thing,” Webster said with a smile.


• The Raptors pulled off a trade just before the second round began, trading Jalen McDaniels to the Sacramento Kings for Davion Mitchell, Sasha Vezenkov, the 45th-overall pick and Portland’s 2025 second-rounder. The Raptors took Jamal Shead with the 45th pick. Shead is a 6-foot guard from Houston and was the defensive player of the year in the NCAA. The trade won’t be official until Friday at the earliest.

Sacramento wanted to open up a roster spot and get under the luxury tax. It is a nice bit of work for the Raptors, who will likely use part of the trade exception they got from the Pascal Siakam trade to take on $8 million in extra salary, losing a roster spot in the process.

• Speaking of roster spots, the Raptors have 10 players on guaranteed contracts next year, if you include Ja’Kobe Walter, Wednesday’s pick. That does not include Bruce Brown, whose $23 million team option must be decided on by 11:59 p.m. Friday, the three second-round picks (more on the third pick below) or any free agents (Gary Trent Jr., Jordan Nwora, Garrett Temple and Immanuel Quickley, the last of whom is restricted). It also does not include Javon Freeman-Liberty, who is on a lightly guaranteed contract.

So, if the Raptors pick up Brown’s option, re-sign Quickley and Trent and give their first two second-rounders guaranteed deals, that would be a full 15-man roster.

• Assuming Freeman-Liberty is on the roster through summer league, the Raptors would owe about $105 million to those 10 guaranteed players. If Brown’s option is picked up, that would give them $128 million. The luxury tax threshold is projected to be at $172 million, giving the Raptors $44 million to fill out the roster. Even if you give Quickley a starting salary of $25 million, that should be ample room for the Raptors to avoid the tax. Trent’s contract seems to be the biggest variable. There are not many teams dangling cap space.

• Webster didn’t offer many clues on Brown or Trent. The Raptors have an exclusive window to negotiate with Trent until 6 p.m. Sunday. Expect them to avoid crossing the tax threshold.

• Although Mogbo most played centre in college, Webster referred to him as more of a “two-way Raptors wing.” One issue: Mogbo shot two 3-pointers over the last two years.

“I think, in talking to him, he doesn’t have any sort of confidence issues,” Webster said of Mogbo’s jumper. “I think we just need to see what it looks like up close and see how we can either tweak it or leave (him using the same shooting motion) or rip it out. It’ll be a fun project.”

Mogbo shot 57.8 percent from the free-throw line over the last two years.

• The Raptors also traded for the 57th pick, picking Cameroonian centre Ulrich Chomche. He is the first player to ever be taken out of the NBA Academy Africa. It has to be a point of pride for Raptors president Masai Ujiri, who has been working to develop basketball on the continent for two decades now. He will likely become the second of three two-way players on the roster, joining D.J. Carton. ESPN reported the Raptors are signing Utah centre Branden Carlson to a two-way contract. The 25-year-old 7-footer played five years at Utah, averaging 17.0 points and 6.6 rebounds per game.

(Photo: Jeff Haynes / NBAE via Getty Images)

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