Raptors notebook: Tampering, Ben Simmons and Birch's questionable claim

The Toronto Raptors were back in action on Sunday afternoon, opening their summer league schedule with a win over the New York Knicks. Malachi Flynn and Scottie Barnes look on track to raise the Larry O’Brien trophy in five years, so there’s no need to talk about the future. Instead, let’s dive into some current Raptors-related news items:

The Kyle Lowry sign-and-trade is under investigation

According to ESPN, the NBA is opening investigations into two sign-and-trade deals, the first involving the New Orleans Pelicans and Chicago Bulls for Lonzo Ball and Miami’s trade with Toronto to acquire Kyle Lowry. The official start of free agency was last Monday at 6 p.m. ET, but the league wants to see if there’s any evidence of illegal contact between teams and players before then.

Both of these deals were presumably discussed and consummated before the start of free agency. This is simply how business is done, but not every team is happy about the most open secret around the league. The maximum fine for tampering is $10 million. The league can also suspend team executives, take away draft picks, and even void contracts altogether.

Last year, the league took a second-round pick from the Milwaukee Bucks after looking into a potential sign-and-trade agreement they had with restricted free agent Bogdan Bogdanovic, who ended up signing with the Atlanta Hawks. In 2017, the NBA issued a $500,000 fine to the Lakers deeming they had made inappropriate contact with impending free agent Paul George.

There’s something hypocritical about how the league chooses to enforce its tampering rules. For example, the Los Angeles Clippers were very open about recruiting Kawhi Leonard while he was with the Raptors, but only got a slap on the wrist in the form of a $50,000 fine after Doc Rivers compared Leonard to Michael Jordan during the playoffs.

Instead of selectively choosing who to investigate, the league should just acknowledge that free agency is an ongoing recruiting process and embrace it because no one is really following the rules as it is. Or, finish the investigation and conclude Kyle Lowry must return to the Toronto Raptors.

Did Khem Birch get offered $18 million per year in free agency?

Khem Birch is back with the Raptors on a three-year, $20 million contract, which is great, but I want to discuss the above report.

According to Birch’s agent, three Western Conference teams offered $18 million per year to secure his client’s services in the open market. This is no disrespect towards the 28-year-old Montreal native, who made Raptors fans believe in the starting centre position again last season, but I’m going to go ahead and say those offers were not out there.

And if I’m wrong, then Birch either needs to fire his agent or vice versa, because as much as I love the story of a Canadian kid playing for Canada’s only NBA team, passing up that kind of money is just silly. I say we get the league to investigate this one as well because I need answers.

My least favourite argument: which Raptors jerseys should be retired?

Raptors chairman Larry Tanenbaum spoke to The Athletic last week and confirmed Lowry’s number would be the first to be retired. The greatest Raptor of all time is undoubtedly worthy of the honour, but of course, it leads to the inevitable question: who will join Lowry in the Scotiabank Arena rafters?

This feels like a discussion we have every few months, so let me say it again: Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, Vince Carter, Chris Bosh and Kawhi Leonard would be my starting five in the rafters, but if you want to argue against anyone outside of Lowry and Carter, I’m fine with that too.

TAMPA, FL- FEBRUARY 21: Ben Simmons #25 of the Philadelphia 76ers shoots the ball during the game against the Toronto Raptors on February 21, 2021 at Amalie Arena in Tampa, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2021 NBAE (Photo by Scott Audette/NBAE via Getty Images)
Ben Simmons reportedly has no interest in playing for the Raptors. (Photo by Scott Audette/NBAE via Getty Images)

Ben Simmons doesn’t want to come to Toronto?

According to reports, Ben Simmons and his agent have told the Philadelphia 76ers they would like to avoid a potential trade to Portland and Toronto, classifying them as “bad situations.”

Without any additional context, we can only guess why the Raptors are on this list. Maybe Simmons feels like the Toronto fanbase would scrutinize his shooting struggles as closely as Philly fans, or he simply wants to be on a team that's closer to contending. From a basketball standpoint, I do feel like Toronto’s player development track record is strong enough where Simmons could make another leap here.

This whole discussion might be moot anyway, given Daryl Morey’s current asking price. Last I heard, he wants OG Anunoby, Fred VanVleet, three Osmow’s franchises, a $500 Swiss Chalet gift card, two downtown Toronto condos and Kyle Dubas in exchange for Simmons.

And finally… the “We The North” tracker is back!

We got a David Johnson sighting and a “We The North” reference at the end of his intro video:

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