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Raptors appear frontrunners to land Lillard, however Barnes not part of trade

One week before most teams open training camp, the Toronto Raptors appear to be the frontrunners to land Damian Lillard in a trade, having maneuvered their way in front of the Miami Heat in the negotiations — if the Raptors are truly ready to pull the trigger on a deal for the 33-year-old All-NBA guard.

Whatever that trade package looks like, it will not involve Toronto sending former Rookie of the Year Scottie Barnes to Portland, league sources told NBC Sports. While Portland understandably covets Barnes — a 22-year-old 6'9" wing with handles who can get downhill, is a playmaker, averaged 15.3 points per game last season and is a plus defender — the Raptors front office loves him and has not made him available. It’s not that Toronto took him off the table, Barnes was never in the same room as the table.

In this fast-shifting trade negotiation, anything can change, however.

Would Portland and Toronto move forward with a package based around OG Anunoby, the 6'7" wing who is an elite defender and can shoot the 3 (38.7% last season) but also is up for a new contract next season? The trade also could be based around Pascal Siakam, although that seems unlikely — if the Raptors are making a win-now move such as trading for Lillard they will want the two-time All-NBA wing Siakam on the roster. The Trail Blazers also “are intrigued” about adding just-drafted Grady Dick, the 6'8" sharpshooter out of Kansas, as part of the deal, reports Marc Spears at Yahoo Sports.

In addition to the Raptors and Heat, the Bucks, Celtics, 76ers and Bulls “have shown interest” in a Lillard trade, Spears reports, although none of those appear to have gained serious traction yet. Whatever the trade looks like — and with whoever — it is expected to go down before the start of training camp next week, Spear adds.

While the Miami Heat remain Lillard’s preferred destination, the Raptors have been the name most mentioned in the past 72 hours and they “are very much in the mix,” Michael Grange of Sportsnet in Canada confirms.

The better question is, SHOULD Toronto be involved if they have to give up one of Anunoby, Barnes or Siakam to get the trade done?

Two things impact the answer to that question. First, Lillard is rumored to be unhappy with the idea of being traded to Toronto and — at the very least — his trade demand reportedly would stand. He would request the Raptors trade him to Miami. There are rumors Lillard would be disruptive if traded to Toronto (despite the league warning him about that), but whether or not Lillard breaks character and makes a scene, this still would be a distraction. It would be the first question Raptors management, new coach Darko Rajaković, Raptors players and Lillard himself would be asked during training camp and into the season.

The other question facing Toronto is: Would this be worth it?

If the Raptors have to give up Anunoby (or, for the sake of argument, Barnes or Siakam), how good would the team really be? From my perspective, with Lillard but without Anunoby they would move into a second tier of contenders behind Milwaukee (who brings back the core of a 58-win team led by Giannis Antetokounmpo) and Boston. Is it worth trading young for old — giving up a 25-year-old Anunoby for a 33-year-old Lillard — for a two-year, second-tier championship window? (Whether Lillard can maintain his All-NBA level of play at age 35 and beyond is up for debate.) While NBC Sports is reporting Barnes is unavailable, if he were it would be even harder to give up a 22-year-old the team has banked on for the 33-year-old Lillard, trading young for old rarely is a good call in the NBA.

Toronto can put together a trade package that does not involve any of Siakam, Barnes or Anunoby — a deal based around Dick, Gary Trent Jr., Chris Boucher, filler and a couple of first-round picks — and if part of a three-team deal with the Phoenix Suns that sends Deandre Ayton to Portland it might appeal to the Blazers. This trade makes sense for Toronto because a starting five of Lillard, Anunoby, Barnes, Siakam and Jakob Poeltl, with some depth, could move into top-flight contender status in the East. However, does that trade still make sense for Portland? For that matter, does any iteration of this trade without Barnes make sense for Portland and could Toronto’s front office change its mind if it’s Barnes or bust for the deal?

Could Portland use the leverage of Toronto to get more out of Miami in a three-team (or larger) trade? One that maybe sends Caleb Martin to Phoenix as depth along with Jusuf Nurkic (and Ayton heads to Portland).

With a week to go there are still a lot of questions, but the Raptors appear to be in the driver’s seat to land Lillard.