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NBA Toronto Raptors

Raptors Show Hustle Over Hype In Game Two Win

By Frank McLean

For the Toronto Raptors Tuesday night’s second game of their first round playoff battle with the Washington Wizards was uncharted territory. It was the first time the Raptors ever played a Game Two in a first round series up one game to nothing thanks to Saturday’s 114-106 win, so the worry was to keep the momentum up and not let down.

The theme of the night was written on the t-shirts that every fan had waiting for them at their seats “Hustle Over Hype”, that’s what head coach Dwane Casey wanted to avoid heading into Game Two, the hype after coming off a big win.

“When you get into the playoff situation, just because you win one game doesn’t mean anything,” Casey was saying before the game. “Behind one game, up one game, it’s a seven game series and you have to go on with that. It’s great to protect home court and have that mindset, but we are going into like we haven’t done anything.”

Well the Raptors past the test with a 130-119 win giving them their first ever two-games to nothing lead in a playoff series. They never let the hype of finally winning a game one get in their heads, but it was way they came out to start the game was something I have never seen in my 23-years covering the team.

They went on a 28-13 run to start the game ending the first quarter with a 44-27 lead that Washington would eventually cut to five with 7:52 left in the fourth quarter, but the Raptors would get the lead back up to 20 points and eventually win by 11.

Toronto hit seven three pointers in the first quarter, 11 in the first half overall and were 13-of-35 for the game. They broke three franchise playoff records in the game,

The 44 points in the first quarter was a new record for points in a quarter in a playoff game.

They lead 76-58 at the half and the 76 points was new record for points scored in a half in a playoff game.

The 130 points scored overall is also a new record for points in a playoff game.

And don’t forget DeMar DeRozan who tied his playoff career high with 37 points.

But you have to give the Wizards credit, they did get the deficit down to five in the fourth quarter.

It was all John Wall, the Wizards best player, who did his best scoring 22 second half points and that is someone Casey said the Raptors will have to do a better job defending the rest of the series.

“He was going where he wanted to go with the ball,” Casey said. “We got to do a better job of getting down in the stance, containing the ball, and the bigs have go to do a better job of protecting the rim. And we have (in the past), and we’ve done it, so it’s something that can be done, we just did not do a good job in the second half tonight.”

You had to feel sorry for Wizards coach Scott Brooks who in his post-game media conference looked like he had been put through the ringer. He credited a C.J. Miles three-pointer that killed their comeback at down five points in the fourth after starting the final frame down 15.

“C.J. Miles hit a big shot and John (Wall) had a good contest. Give him credit, he stepped up and made that,” Brooks said. “The momentum shifted when he made that shot. Tough to overcome 44 points in the first quarter, tough to overcome seven threes in the first quarter, but somehow we managed to do it. We probably ran out of gas a little bit.”

But this is a different Toronto Raptors team and as I said I have not seen anything like this in 23-years the franchise has been around.

They started the game with a killer instinct and when the Wizards John Wall slowly chipped away at the lead, they never folded up like a cheap suitcase as they’d done in the past.

The Raptors passed the test, so now it’s on to Washington where there are more uncharted waters to navigate.

 

 

DeMar DeRozan & Frank McLeanVeteran journalist Frank McLean has covered nearly every Raptors game in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. He has seen it all. The good, the bad and the really bad and he is one of the very few journalists in Toronto that has kept coming back for more.

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan

Raptors Don’t Have To Change A Thing For The Playoffs

By Frank McLean

The Toronto Raptors won Game One of their first round playoff series with the Washington Wizards Saturday 114-106 by not changing a thing about the way they played in the regular season.

That was the theme in the two days leading up to the first game of this series.

On Thursday DeMar DeRozan made that quite clear when he sat down with the media because some people still think 59 wins overall and 34 wins at home was somehow a fluke.

“We did it 82 games,” DeRozan said. “We won 59 games. If that’s not the ultimate understanding of what got us here wasn’t a fluke, it really worked, we’re not going to sway away from that. I think that speaks for itself. We know what works for us, what got us here, and what’s going take us even further.”

And they did that. Raptors head coach Dwane Casey rolled out 11 players out of the 13 he dressed for Game One which is nothing different from what he did during the regular season. The subs known as the BENCH MOB contributed 42 of the 114 points scored.

That has been this teams MO all season, use everybody and make it work.

There seems to be a theory that come playoff time you have to shorten your rotation to eight players heck maybe seven. Casey has had success running out 10-11 men a night and let it be known that he does not subscribe to that theory.

“Our record, we had the number one bench plus-minus in the league, one of the best producing benches in the league and that’s who we are and that’s one of the main reasons I say that and we’ll stick to that,” Casey said.

Six players had 10 or more points. You could see the difference from other years in which everything was centered around DeRozan and Kyle Lowry. They were sharing the ball looking for the best shot and taking numerous three point attempts.

Down 59-55 at halftime they went on a 11-2 run hitting four straight three-point shots and grabbing a 66-61 lead. They were 16-of-30 behind the arch for the game, plus the real C.J. Miles came back hitting four-of-seven.

The Raptors looked confident throughout the game. They didn’t get rattled when they gave up the lead, something that in past playoff games would cause them to lose focus and get so far behind they couldn’t catch up.

“We been great at home all year,” DeRozan said. “It’s definitely something we took more pride in than ever and I think it showed. With that, we got that confidence this time around more than ever. Like I said, it’s one of them moments to where we feel like when we on our home floor, anything’s possible, and our swag is at an all-time high.”

It’s only one game, but the Raptors showed a confidence they have never shown in a playoff Game One during the Dwane Casey era. If they keep playing this way, it’s going to be a long postseason run and they don’t have to change a thing.

 

 

DeMar DeRozan & Frank McLeanVeteran journalist Frank McLean has covered nearly every Raptors game in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. He has seen it all. The good, the bad and the really bad and he is one of the very few journalists in Toronto that has kept coming back for more.

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors assistant coach Jerry Stackhouse

NBA Coach Firing Season Opens Doors For Raptors Jerry Stackhouse

By Frank McLean

In the NFL they call it Black Monday. The day after the regular season ends and head coaches who have had a bad year don’t want to answer their cell phones, check their texts or emails because they are going to get fired. The NBA coach firing season starts on Black Thursday and this year it got underway before the sun even had a chance to rise in the eastern time zone.

In what was one of the worst kept secrets in the league the New York Knicks fired Jeff Hornacek early Thursday as their plane landed in New York City after they finished the season knocking off the Cavaliers in Cleveland.

Hornacek probably knew the noose was coming when all three of his bosses, president Steve Mills, general manager Scott Perry and player development director Craig Robinson, came along for the trip. They weren’t there to do a team evaluation, they know the Knicks stink and the job was to hand out a pink slip.

So since 2001 the Knicks will now be hiring their 11th coach since Jeff Van Gundy resigned in 2001.

11 coaches in 17 years, now if that is not the definition of a poorly run franchise, what is?

Also fired was assistant coach Kurt Rambis. Hornacek and Rambis are the last remaining pieces of the Phil Jackson era, so now, finally, the new management team can hire their own people.

Meanwhile in Orlando president of basketball operations Jeff Weltman and general manager John Hammond fired head coach Frank Vogel after two years on the job.

Vogel was a hire of previous management and it’s not because he had a 54-110 record with the Magic. They know he is a good coach and he had 250-184 record with the Indiana Pacers before Larry Bird fired him for reasons no could figure out after the Raptors eliminated them in a tough seven game first round playoff series.

It’s a case of Weltman and Hammond wanting to bring in their own coach.

In an article in Thursday mornings New York Post, Knicks beat writer Marc Berman listed names of possible candidates like ESPN commentator Mark Jackson, former and current head coaches David Fizdale, Jason Kidd, David Blatt, Doc Rivers if the Clippers release him and Raptors 905 G League head coach Jerry Stackhouse.

ESPN is already reporting that the Knicks have heavy interest in the Raptors 905 coach, but Orlando could also be a landing place for him and Stackhouse hinted he’s just waiting for his phone to ring.

“For a (NBA) team that needs a coaching change and we don’t know which teams those are, hopefully I get an opportunity to interview,” Stackhouse said after his loss in the G League Finals. “I hate speaking about other people’s jobs that haven’t even been taken yet. As those dominos fall, hopefully I get an opportunity to sit down and talk about what I’ve been able to witness being a part of the Raptors organization.”

Weltman is the former number two man to Raptors president Masai Ujiri and he would be crazy not to go after Stackhouse or Raptors assistant coach Nick Nurse who is another hot candidate likely to get a shot at coaching an NBA team.

Probably, by the time this day is through, it shouldn’t be a surprise if more coaches are fired. It is Black Thursday.

Here’s a hint. If you are an NBA coach and you finished with a record below .500, don’t answer the phone. You may be unemployed before it’s time for dinner.

 

 

DeMar DeRozan & Frank McLeanVeteran journalist Frank McLean has covered nearly every Raptors game in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. He has seen it all. The good, the bad and the really bad and he is one of the very few journalists in Toronto that has kept coming back for more.

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors head coach Dwane Casey

Do The Raptors Want To Win 60 Games?

By Frank McLean and Stephen Brotherston

Do the Raptors want to win 60 games? There are two schools of thought about rest versus rust and even about taking the risk of getting hurt in a “meaningless” contest. It’s easy to hear what you want to hear from the players and coaches at this time of year.

McLean:

The plan now for the rest of the way until the playoffs start this weekend for the Toronto Raptors is to work on things that have slipped in their game lately and give some rest to their starting five so they are fresh for what is expected to be a long playoff run.

Sunday night in their win over the Orlando Magic at the Air Canada Centre Jonas Valanciunas took the night off while Lucas Nogueira filled in for Jonas and Norman Powell took DeMar DeRozan’s spot.

But you know what they say about the best laid plans.

Powell, in the first few minutes of the game, came down on his knee and limped in pain to the locker room. The good news is that he came back and scored 13 points.

Nogueira ended up with hamstring tightness and Fred VanVleet ended up with back tightness. So if the Raptors team bus on its way to the airport to leave for Monday’s game in Detroit stopped at an all night Staples and got some bubble wrap no one would be surprised.

After Sunday night’s game with the Magic, the Raptors have just two meaningless games left before the playoffs start. The NBA won’t let you cancel games, so the real goal is to not let anybody get hurt.

But don’t worry, Dwane Casey has a plan to keep this team sharp so that they are ready to go for game one of the playoffs.

“Just execution, attention to detail,” Casey was saying before Sunday’s game. “You’ve got examples all around the league where teams underestimate teams around the league that are so-called playing for the lottery, whatever they’re playing for, a rebuild, playing young players, giving young players minutes. Those young players are showing 29 other teams that they can play, too. They have their individual reasons why they come in and compete. If you let them get going and get confident, they can be beat. We want to work on some little things. We’ll sprinkle some things that we want to use next week every now and then in.”

Casey also want’s to make sure his second unit, a.k.a. THE BENCH MOB, gets back to form.

“I don’t know how well they have played. I mean they have played better but it’s not with the same execution and timing and speed that they had been playing with previously. So getting them back up to speed to where they have been playing execution wise offensively and defensively. These next three games are great opportunities for these guys to play.”

One of the good things to come out of Sunday’s game was C.J. Miles who has been in a bit of a shooting slump as the season winds down scored 22 points and was 5-10 from the three point line. That’s where he makes his money and the Raptors need him to be consistent from there for them to have any post season success.

So let’s get the week over and start the weekend so the playoffs begin and let’s hope no one gets hurt before the real games begin.

Brotherston:

The Raptors have a chance for 60 wins and coach Casey wants it. He doesn’t want 60 at the risk of injury and he is going to gives certain players a day off, but it’s a goal he values going back to his days as an assistant coach in Seattle from 1994 to 2005.

“It does (mean something to win 60),” Casey said prior to the game against Orlando. “I think in Seattle we won (60) three times and it’s a milestone. I think it’s something that you want to accomplish. It’s not the end-all. We’d like to do it. Probably not at the expense of overplaying players, but it’s important.

“There are very few times in your organization’s history or time that you have an opportunity to win 60 and it’s kind of a good mark to have along with winning your conference.”

Kyle Lowry just hates to lose and will have to be told to sit down if Casey thinks he needs a rest over the next two games.

“I’m playing,” Lowry said emphatically after the win over the Magic. “I haven’t been playing as many minutes this year so it’s a little bit different for me. I don’t need the rest.

“I just want to play.

“First of all, winning is always important. Every game we play. We can’t worry about this, that and the other. Every single night from the first game of the season we play we can’t worry about (getting hurt). That’s how we got to approach it.”

The Raptors will get at least a couple of days off between the end of the regular season and the start of the playoffs, so unless someone is nicked-up, getting a day off is more of a nice thing to get rather than a needed break. However, Casey, who plans to keep using a 10+ man rotation in the postseason, doesn’t want anyone to get hurt now. It’s just, as Lowry points out, not something he can really worry about.

Maybe Casey makes Lowry and Serge Ibaka take the night off on the back-to-back in Detroit, but he’ll still expect his players to go for the win. After the season is over, reaching 60 wins for the first time in franchise history will have been a goal worth achieving.

 

DeMar DeRozan & Frank McLeanVeteran journalist Frank McLean has covered nearly every Raptors game in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. He has seen it all. The good, the bad and the really bad and he is one of the very few journalists in Toronto that has kept coming back for more.

 

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 Featured image courtesy of Larry Millson

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Jerry Stackhouse and Pascal Siakam 2017

Will The Raptors Lose Coach Jerry Stackhouse To The Knicks This Summer?

By Frank McLean

In professional sports when other teams look to try poaching your assistant coaches, or front office personnel it’s considered a compliment. It means your organization has been successful and teams which have not had much success will try to grab someone from a winning team in the hope that they can bring that success to them.

Such is the case of Raptors 905 coach Jerry Stackhouse. The work he is done with the Raptors G-League entry has not gone unnoticed in the front offices of the NBA’s other 29 teams.

After leading the 905 to the championship last season with a roster that had a lot of help from current Raptors Pascal Siakam and Fred Van Fleet, it was almost like they brought in ringers, but that wasn’t the case. It was player development and you can see it in their play on the big club this year.

This season, however, it’s been a different story.

With a roster that did not have half the talent that last year’s squad had, they started 4-9 and then went on a 27-10 tear to finish 31-19 and just one game back of the Westchester Knicks for first place in the Atlantic Division.

After knocking off Grand Rapids in a one game playoff at home they went to Westchester Monday night and beat the Knicks in another one game playoff highlighted by a stifling defense that shutdown the baby Knicks. If they can beat Erie Saturday night they get a shot at back-to-back championships.

As a result, a story in Wednesday’s edition of the New York Post has the Knicks interested in Stackhouse being their next head coach as current head coach Jeff Hornacek’s future on Broadway could be in doubt.

Now if Stackhouse does interview with Knicks it wouldn’t be the first time he looked for work in New York City.

In 2014, after he had retired with the Nets as a player at 38-years-old, Stackhouse interviewed with then Knicks President Phil Jackson and GM Steve Mills as a player development coach and that’s what makes Stackhouse a good fit for a struggling team. He has proven he can teach the skills needed to be successful in the NBA and more importantly, teach you how to win.

The Knicks are a mess and they are going to have to start from scratch and rebuild and Stackhouse fits what they should be looking for in a coach. Unfortunately for the Knicks, as many as 10-other NBA teams looking for a coach in the offseason.

During the G-League Showcase back in January I talked to scouts and front office people from other NBA teams and they were all talking about the work Stackhouse has done. It would be a surprise if Stackhouse does not get a shot at an NBA head coaching spot this summer.

That’s what happens when you are good. Teams come for your people. The Raptors should be flattered.

 

 

DeMar DeRozan & Frank McLeanVeteran journalist Frank McLean has covered nearly every Raptors game in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. He has seen it all. The good, the bad and the really bad and he is one of the very few journalists in Toronto that has kept coming back for more.

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Bruno Caboclo

Raptors Finally Ended The Bruno Caboclo Experiment

By Frank McLean

For Raptors President Masai Ujiri it was time to pull the plug on the experiment that was Bruno Caboclo. It was something where the team finally realized it wasn’t going to work for him in Toronto four years after they took him 20th overall in the draft out of Brazil.

Ujiri was doing some outside the box thinking. He saw a kid with raw basketball skills and at the time the Raptors were not even close to being a contender so he saw someone he thought they could make into an NBA player.

If you remember, this pick by the Raptors was so off the board that during their draft night telecast ESPN college basketball analyst Fran Fraschilla said he was “two years away from being two years away.”

But Toronto liked this kid so much they hid him from the other 29 NBA teams so they wouldn’t work him out knowing when they got him he needed a lot of grooming.

Unfortunately, during his first year in Toronto they did not have the Raptors 905 in Mississauga so they sent him to the Fort Wayne Mad Ants of what was then the D-League, but they were independently owned and he sat on the bench and missed an entire year where his development was stagnant.

The only benefit of this first year fiasco with Caboclo was Ujiri convinced the Board of Directors of MLSE to pony up the money for their own G-League franchise, and as they say the rest is history.

Immediately after trading Caboclo to the Sacramento Kings for 22 year old guard Malachi Richardson at the trade deadline, Ujiri did not make himself available to the media, but the next day he talked about what was the thought process about the move.

“It was difficult for us because I thought it was just time. We tried to, we started the process a little late, which is something we failed at but I think we will learn from.

“At some point, I think there needed to be some separation where he goes and learns something different somewhere else. On that part right he is a real talented kid.”

Ujiri did confirm that because of Caboclo they hurried the process of starting up the 905 team.

“But in the process we got the D-League team a couple of years later and it’s a question from me whether he should have stayed over. There were little things Bruno needs to deal with that I think he’ll get better at.

“But at the end of the day, I thought this was better because for where we are with our young guys and for where he is to come and try and break through, it would have been like a challenge for him.”

With that last quote Ujiri was being very politically correct. If you read between the lines he is saying that he is just not good enough to beat out anybody on the current Raptors roster. And if you have watched their last four games where the starters have not played the fourth quarter because the leads are so big the bench is good enough to not blow a lead, so who is Caboclo going to beat out  to get playing time? This is a luxury the team has never had in its history.

So where does Caboclo’s career go now? Well there is no answer to that question right now.

When he did get into an NBA game with the Raptors, which was rare, he looked lost and just couldn’t keep up. When he would dress in a G-League game for the Raptors 905 he looked more at home, but consistency was his problem. He would have one amazingly good game and then have three bad ones for a player on an NBA contract.

So it looks like it could be back to the G-League, maybe Europe or even a return to Brazil for Caboclo in the future.

Should Ujiri be condemned for the Caboclo draft pick? No. Not every move a GM or President makes in professional sports works.

Caboclo is a great kid. Very polite and friendly to everyone he ever came across.

It was a move that didn’t work for the Raptors and it was time to turn the page.

 

 

DeMar DeRozan & Frank McLeanVeteran journalist Frank McLean has covered nearly every Raptors game in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. He has seen it all. The good, the bad and the really bad and he is one of the very few journalists in Toronto that has kept coming back for more.

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors DeMar DeRozan

Raptors DeMar DeRozan Career Year Comes With A Heavy Heart.

By Frank McLean

Toronto Raptors guard DeMar DeRozan is currently in what athletes call “the zone”, he is playing the best basketball of his career and he’s doing it with a heavy heart.

He averaged 25.2 points a game in the month of December which was a main factor for the team going 11-3. And in one of those games he had a then career high 45 pointer in a comeback win in Philadelphia.

He was named the NBA Player of the Week for the first week of the calendar year in 2018 where he averaged 35.7 points a game in three games and erased his career and Raptors franchise mark for points in a game on New Year’s night against Milwaukee by scoring 52.

But it hasn’t been easy for the Raptors All-Star.

DeRozan has left the team twice in the last few weeks to head home to Los Angeles to be with his father who is not doing well with kidney disease.

Heck it doesn’t surprise me that he is going this well with all that is going on his life right now. DeRozan is one of the most focused athletes I have covered in in Toronto in the 30-plus years I have been around Toronto sports. He ranks right up there with Robbie Alomar, the late Roy Halladay and Doug Gilmour for their coolness under pressure no matter what is going on.

Over the past weekend in New York,  Toronto Sun’s Mike Ganter DeRozan as saying,

“I grew up in Compton, California, man, every day was a challenge for me. That’s all I’ve known my whole life. It’s not a surprise for me. It’s not something that’s going to hold me down. I fight through adversity anywhere it comes in my life. It’s nothing new to me.”

“I’m pretty sure everyone in here goes through life situations,” DeRozan added. “You live on this earth, you’re going to have some type of issue that occurs that’s close to you. It’s just a matter of how you handle it, how you go about it. I go about mine like a man, like a professional. I don’t complain. I don’t cry about it. I don’t make excuses. These are things you just got to handle.

“I just go out and play, I don’t think about the run (the last few weeks), I don’t think about nothing. I just love playing basketball. When you get in that zone and you are just going out there playing ball you are able to zone out and be in a different space than you are throughout the rest of the day doing anything else. Basketball is always that realm for me where I can just get in that mindset of feeling free.”

When you are a kid it’s usually your dad that inserts a love of a sport or sports in general and in the case of basketball it was his dad that helped him get the basketball bug.

“He is everything,” DeRozan said. “My dad put the basketball in my hands. My dad took me to the park. My dad pushed me. My dad was my dad. My dad was the reason I wanted to play sports, just like every other kid that looked up to their dad. That’s what he is to me to this day, and what he is to me forever.”

When you talk to Raptors head coach Dwane Casey and you bring up DeRozan he will tell you that nothing he does will amaze you. One of the reasons players love Casey is that in this crazy world that is the NBA family comes first and he tells each and every player that.

  “This is his refuge here and he should use this as a refuge to get away from his issues and problems for those two hours,” Casey said. “But if he has to get away and go home for his family he knows he has the organization’s support to do that.”

DeRozan started week two off right in 2018 as he scored 35 points in Monday’s 114-113 overtime thriller in Brooklyn.

DeRozan is a special talent, no argument there. He is right when he says that we all have to go through something like this with a close family member at one time or another. It’s just life. We go to work every day because we have to. It’s just that when we do, we don’t do it in front of 20-thousand people in an arena and millions more watching you on television.

That’s what makes it more amazing to watch this run DeRozan is currently on.

 

 

DeMar DeRozan & Frank McLeanVeteran journalist Frank McLean has covered nearly every Raptors game in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. He has seen it all. The good, the bad and the really bad and he is one of the very few journalists in Toronto that has kept coming back for more.

 

 

NBA Lakers Lonzo Ball

Are The Lakers Regretting The Lonzo Ball Draft Pick Yet?

By Frank McLean

When an NBA team, and for that matter any team in pro sports, is preparing for their respective drafts, a lot of work goes into who they are going to pick. Will they be able to fit in the way their team plays? Will they be able to fit in the locker room with their teammates? Even how much of a pain in the butt their agent could be?

In the case of the Los Angeles Lakers when they drafted Lonzo Ball they knew a unique problem came with the pick and that’s his father LaVar who is shall we say is outspoken!

This past weekend in Lithuania, where Ball has his two other sons playing pro ball in that country’s league, he ripped into Lakers head coach Luke Walton saying in an interview with ESPN.com that, “You can see they’re not playing for Luke no more. Luke doesn’t have control of the team no more. They don’t want to play for him.’’

This isn’t the first time that Ball has ran his mouth off, he has been a constant critic of the way the Lakers use his son.

When you listen to him he comes across like boxing promoter Don King without the bad hairdoo.

This has not just got the Lakers upset but other coaches current and past have come out and shown they have got Walton’s back like Dallas Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle who also is the head of the NBA’s coaches association. He is upset that ESPN being a major television partner with the NBA should not be writing about comments that are not true.

“ESPN is an NBA partner, and they’ve been a great one. But part of that partnership is that the coaches do a lot of things to help them with access, interviews. In exchange for that, they should back up the coaches. Printing an article where the father of an NBA player has an opinion that is printed as anything like legitimate erodes trust that we built with ESPN.”

“Our coaches are upset because Luke Walton does not deserve that,” Carlisle added. “Two years ago, he took a veteran team (the Warriors) and led them to 24-wins in a row, which is an amazing accomplishment. Off of that he earned the Laker job. To have to deal with these kinds of ignorant distractions is deplorable.”

Former NBA coach and current ESPN analyst Jeff Van Gundy now went against his employers on giving a big mouth like Ball the time of day.

“You guys want the cheap shots,” Van Gundy said on Sirius XM NBA Radio. “You want the hits. You want these like you said, clicks, whatever that means. It is part of the business, and it’s also a reason why this does lack journalistic integrity. It is a reason for coaches to unite and say, ‘No no, forget it, if we have to take this, then why are we giving of our time?’ It’s not like they’re going to violate any rule if they don’t participate with ESPN.”

I’m sure Van Gundy will hear about this from his bosses.

Some teams in the league have said they are considering revoking credentials of ESPN reporters who interview Ball. And here lies the problem. Ball is a big mouth publicity hound who thinks he is smarter than everyone else and he is a control freak who thinks he should run everything. The current ESPN way of presenting sports news is they love controversy, it fuels their talk shows like First Take and Pardon the Interruption and this is what has gotten the coaches association upset.

Lakers GM Rob Pelinka along with President Magic Johnson and owner Jeanne Buss did their due diligence before they drafted Lonzo Ball. They got assurances from his father that he would not cause trouble for the team if they drafted his son.

He did not keep his mouth shut.

The team asked him in late November to please tone it down. He said he would. But his actions this weekend show he did not listen.

The Lakers are a rebuilding team. After a good start they had dropped nine of their last 10 games and that was expected, no one saw them as a playoff team this year.

Luke Walton is an excellent young coach. Rick Carlisle was right, his work with the Warriors filling in for Steve Kerr during his illness a few years ago showed that he can coach in the NBA. The Lakers don’t need this distraction from a family member. It may come to a point if his father won’t shut up they will try to trade him, but what GM would want to take on the headache of the dysfunctional Ball’s father?

I do have a problem with the coaches association trying to tell ESPN how to do their job. To me it’s like Donald Trump calling CNN, MSNBC and others fake news because they don’t report on his administration the way he thinks they should. That’s an attack on freedom of the press.

My take is some people, and myself included, are just fed up of hearing from Ball. But our opinion doesn’t matter because people still watch and read whenever Ball has an opinion and as long as they do ESPN and others will give him a platform.

I’m sure if you managed to get Rob Pelinka alone having a beer he’d tell you, I should never have drafted Lonzo Ball. No team needs this.

 

 

DeMar DeRozan & Frank McLeanVeteran journalist Frank McLean has covered nearly every Raptors game in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. He has seen it all. The good, the bad and the really bad and he is one of the very few journalists in Toronto that has kept coming back for more.

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors DeMar DeRozan

Is 52 Points From DeRozan Enough For Next Christmas?

By Frank McLean

Now that the holiday season is over and we all head back to work or school about ten pounds bigger than we weighed before December 24th from all the food we stuffed ourselves with, fans of the Toronto Raptors wondered why weren’t the Raptors included in the five pack of Christmas Day games?

Well fans you are not alone. The Raptors organization was asking that same question before Christmas and again it’s the same old refrain of the team just not getting any respect south of the border.

In a scrum with the media during the home and home series with Philadelphia just before the Christmas break Dwane Casey lamented that he wished they were playing on December 25th.

“I wish we were in that group,” Casey said. “I think we have earned the right to be there. We are one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference. I don’t know if it is advertising ? I don’t know what the reason is? Our record shows we deserve to be one of those teams.”

Casey has a point. After their overtime win on New Year’s day over the Milwaukee Bucks where the Raptors improved their overall record to 25-10 and an NBA best 14-1 at home, good for second in the NBA East behind first place Boston Celtics and a game where DeMar DeRozan broke Vince Carter’s record for points in a game by scoring 52, he has a point.

The problem is the Raptors do not resonate with ESPN and TNT the NBA’s national television partners in the United States and as a result they do not resonate with the fans in the USA.

Now the Raptors have been featured in one of the Christmas Day games – once. It was 17-years ago in 2001 when NBC had the national television rights in the US and the Raptors visited Madison Square Garden to take on the New York Knicks.

They Raptors lost 102-94, but that was a moot point, NBC in those days couldn’t get enough of Toronto because they had Vince Carter.

Carter was big in the US and playing in Canada did not make him invisible in the states. He won the 1999 Rookie Of The Year award, he went out and won the slam dunk competition at the 2000 All-Star Game in Oakland and he had his 51-point game, which until Monday was the club record, on an NBC game of the week against Phoenix. People watched the Raptors when they were on national television in the US because of the man Chuck Swirsky called “Air Canada”. Kids in the US wanted Carter’s jersey the same way kids now want LeBron James or Steph Curry’s now.

This current group of Raptors have no one on their team that’s popular as Carter was back in the day. ESPN reported that this year’s Christmas Day games that they aired on their network or ABC had a 39-percent increase over last year’s games.

Would putting Toronto on affect those ratings? Well that’s the impression I get.

Here is the reality, regardless of the numbers DeMar DeRozan is putting up he does not have the publicity in the US that Carter had. Nobody is demanding that ESPN or TNT put the Raptors on regularly because they want to see DeRozan or Kyle Lowry. But they can’t get enough of James or Curry.

Now when you have the LeBron James Cavaliers and Steph Curry’s Warriors playing in three straight NBA Championship’s and the fact they are the two most popular players in the league you know that’s why they always get to play Christmas Day.

But why does no one want to watch DeRozan? In the last three weeks alone he has had two monster offensive games. We mentioned Monday’s club record 52-pointer, but five days before Christmas he put up 45-points in a comeback win in Philadelphia. He is one of the most exciting players to watch right now who is having the best season any Raptor has ever put up.

So what do the Raptors need to do? Short of their PR department putting a gun to ESPN and TNT’s head I don’t know.

The reality is the Raptors need to keep putting pressure on first place Boston for the lead in the East. Get back to the Eastern Conference Finals win it and get to the NBA Championship. Even if they don’t win the title that seems to get you an automatic Christmas Day game since one of them is always a rematch of the previous seasons final.

The only alternative is for DeRozan to keep having monster games so sooner or later ESPN and TNT will have no choice but to feature the Raptors on Christmas Day.

Maybe next year?

 

 

DeMar DeRozan & Frank McLeanVeteran journalist Frank McLean has covered nearly every Raptors game in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. He has seen it all. The good, the bad and the really bad and he is one of the very few journalists in Toronto that has kept coming back for more.

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors head coach Dwane Casey

Halfway To A 1,000 Games, Coach Casey Keeps On Winning

By Frank McLean

Toronto Raptors head coach Dwane Casey quietly reached a milestone on their west coast road trip last week when he coached his 500th game with the basketball team.

In his seventh season with the team and following their win this past Sunday at home against Sacramento his won-loss record is an impressive 281-223. Currently they are sitting third in the Eastern Conference with a 20-8 record. They are definitely on pace for a third straight 50 win season and dare we say, maybe 60 wins.

The 20-8 record is impressive because of the tough schedule the NBA came up with. The Raptors have already played 16 road contests, in which they have completed all but three of their west coast visits and have won nine to go with the best home record in the league at 11-1.

The 20-8 mark is a lot better a start than anticipated because the team made a complete 360-degree change in how they play offense with constant ball movement and a lot more three-point attempts.

Looks like to me they caught on a little quicker than what many people thought.

But defense first is still Casey’s first commandment of playing winning basketball and they are in the top-10 in fewest points allowed per 100-poessions. When he came to Toronto, the team was 30th, dead last in defense.

It’s remarkable that into his seventh year as coach Casey has not lost his team. It doesn’t matter what professional sport we are talking about, a head coach’s shelf life is typically slightly longer than a quart of milk sitting in your fridge. Players after a few years just seem to tune them out.

Listen to the testimonials from his current stars.

“It’s been a long, long, long journey. It’s a testament to him sticking to all of his guns and understanding his principles that he came in here with,” said DeMar DeRozan who is the only Raptor left on the roster from Casey’s first season with the team.

“Look at him now, he holds the record for wins and games coached, everything, you’ve got to give him credit for that.”

“Always you face some ups and downs, some bumps, some downhills, but, if you are able to get back and if you are able to stay strong over those bumps, you are real then,” Jonas Valanciunas said of Casey.“He knows what he’s doing, he’s a great dude, he’s a great guy. He’s humble, he’s trying to win. That’s all that matters.”

And this from Kyle Lowry who has bumped heads more than a few times like a son does with his father.

“I don’t think our coach is ever happy, honestly. But that’s the one thing about our coach, he’s hard on us, and he’s tough on us. But we know that he wants us to be a championship calibre team, and that’s what we push for, and that’s why we respond to him so well.”

When you check out social media there are still people demanding that Casey be fired which again proves that it is the worst invention in the history of man when you hear some of the stuff being said… and it’s not just with respect to basketball.

Dwane Casey is the best thing that’s happened to this franchise period.

Casey was hired by former general manager Bryan Colangelo and when Masai Ujiri took over he could have fired Casey and brought in his own man, but he stayed with him and as a result the team has increased its win total from 23 in his initial season to 34 the next year then 48, 49, 56 and 51 last year. The Raptors are on pace to win more than 56 games this season.

If there is somebody better out there go get him, but I don’t see Greg Popovich or Steve Kerr leaving their current jobs.

I don’t think when Casey arrived in Toronto many pundits thought he would last 500 games. Hopefully, he gets another 500 games on the bench and maybe a trip to NBA Finals will finally come about.

 

 

DeMar DeRozan & Frank McLeanVeteran journalist Frank McLean has covered nearly every Raptors game in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. He has seen it all. The good, the bad and the really bad and he is one of the very few journalists in Toronto that has kept coming back for more.

  Featured image courtesy of Larry Millson

 

 

NBA Phoenix Suns Devin Booker

Will The Phoenix Suns Trust The Process?

By Frank McLean

The Phoenix Suns are this year’s mess in the NBA, a team which has become the salvage project of a once great franchise that has gone into the toilet and will have to “trust the process” to get back to where they once were.

You remember the Suns? The team that had Steve Nash, the mad bomber Dan Marjerle and Kevin Johnson. Then the must-see-TV offense coached by Mike D’Antoni with weapons like Amare Stoudemire and Shawn Marion.

Well dysfunction has set into this once proud franchise which looks a lot like the New York Knicks of the last few years or the New York Football Giants the way they have treated their superstar quarterback Eli manning the last couple of weeks.

The season started with Suns losing their first three games. Then point guard Eric Bledsoe started with the “get me out of this mess right now” plea and demanded a trade. The result of that was the firing of head coach Earl Watson after the third game by general manager Ryan McDonough.

McDonough felt the heat and rightfully so. The question was being asked if you didn’t like the job the coach was doing why didn’t you fire him in the off season? Why didn’t you bring in a new guy over the summer?

Talking to people who cover the Suns on a regular basis, they could not answer that question. Their response was that you think they would have made the coaching change in the off season.

Plus another question that no one could answer is, why would you hire a coach, like Watson, with zero NBA head coaching experience?

Watson was replaced by his assistant coach and former Raptors head coach Jay Triano. Triano has been in this position before. He is getting another shot as an NBA head coach because the situation here in Phoenix is the same as when he got the Raptors job where he was an assistant coach to Sam Mitchell and was tapped to replace him by then general manager Bryan Colangelo. Triano has also coached the Canadian National Men’s team.

Head Coach Jay Triano close upMcDonough was lucky to have someone like Triano on his staff to take over on an interim basis and help in the development of their young talent.

Long time Suns radio play man Al McCoy, who has seen his share of Suns coaches in his over 40 years behind the microphone, was gushing about Triano as a coach and person.

“He’s a great guy,” McCoy said. “More importantly he is a basketball guy, just loves the game and he is great with our young talent.”

Triano came back to Toronto Tuesday night with a Suns team sporting a 9-16 record and coming off a come-from-behind 115-101 win in Philadelphia.

The Suns now are in the major rebuild mode and have taken a page from the team they beat Monday night in the 76ers.

They have become a tanking rebuilding team trying to grab as many high lottery draft picks they can and develop young players.

In an interview with the Philadelphia Daily News Triano said that that the comparison with the Sixers is bang on.

“We are in the same boat. Our young players have the same goals and I have the same aspirations for our young team to keep playing. Find the right way, play hard all the time and eventually we’ll get this thing turned around.”

They picked fourth overall in this past June’s draft and grabbed Josh Jackson and they already have from their first pick in 2015 guard Devin Booker out of the University of Kentucky.

Booker put the Suns on his back Monday night in their comeback win scoring 46 points after hitting a terrible two-of his first 11-shots but then hitting nine-of his next-16 and scoring 32 of his 42 points in the second half.

He is a special talent and this is the guy the Suns are building around.

The Suns lost 126-113 against the Raptors, but the young team didn’t quit. You can see they don’t have the talent to compete on a night to night basis with the top teams in the league right now.

Worst with less than three minutes left in the game, Booker strained his abductor muscle in a bizarre accident where he could not move any part of his body and had to be carried off the floor by teammates and the training staff.

Booker will be gone for the next two to three weeks and without him the Suns will be lost and it will be harder for to the Suns to, as Triano put it, “turn this thing around.” Not that it should matter.

The Suns are copying the Sixers plan of how to rebuild and the hope is they can soon be a force in the Western Conference.

One thing I wonder? Will Suns fans be willing to “trust the process.”

Time will tell.

 

DeMar DeRozan & Frank McLeanVeteran journalist Frank McLean has covered nearly every Raptors game in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. He has seen it all. The good, the bad and the really bad and he is one of the very few journalists in Toronto that has kept coming back for more.

  Featured image courtesy of Larry Millson

 

 

NBA G-League Toronto Raptors Kennedy Meeks

Raptors 905 Kennedy Meeks Is Trying To Change First Impressions

By Frank McLean

Being in professional sports is no different than anything else in life and that first impressions can either make the start of your career easier or make it a heck of a lot more difficult.

That’s what Raptors 905 center/forward Kennedy Meeks is going through right now.

Signed as an undrafted free agent by the Toronto Raptors back in July after being a major cog in the North Carolina Tar Heels run to the NCAA National Championship this past March, Meeks was one of the Raptors first cuts in training camp. But the Raptors not wanting to give up on a talent like Meeks signed him to their Raptors 905 G-League squad in Mississauga.

Meeks spent four years playing at North Carolina for one of the college games most legendary coaches in Roy Williams. The numbers he put up their make you wonder why he is in the G-League.

Meeks averaged 10-points and seven rebounds during his four years, and in his senior year he averaged 12.5 points and 9.5 rebounds. He is ranked fifth in the school’s history with 1,052 rebounds. His 152 offensive rebounds was the most of any Tar Heel since that stat started being kept in 1995-1996.

To top it all off in last year’s NCAA Tournament he grabbed 69 rebounds which was the most by any Tar Heel in an NCAA Tournament and in the semi-final against an Oregon Ducks team that was expected to win it all he tied his career high with 25 points and 14 boards.

So why is a guy like this in the G-League? That is a question I asked an assortment of NBA scouts I know and they all said the same thing,  he is not in shape.

And this is where first perceptions comes in and not being in shape when you start a professional career can be a deal breaker.

Meeks has played five games for the 905 before taking part with Team USA and their bid to qualify for the FIBA World Championships. He has put up some decent numbers playing the four spot averaging 11 points a game and  nine rebounds.

Meeks is going to get a chance to change that bad initial perception and when I talked to Raptors 905 head coach Jerry Stackhouse he knows what Meeks has got to do to get better and he gets a little excited about his prospect’s potential. After all Stackhouse is one of the all-time greats to come out of the North Carolina program.

“He still has to work on his conditioning,“ Stackhouse said first thing. “He has to work on his body and he needs to change a little bit and have a little more lift. He has unbelievable savvy and some of the softest hands in the G-League. You see the ability of him finishing around the rim and the soft tip in’s will give us (as a team) a big lift on second chance points.”

When you talk to Meeks, one of the first things he tells you is that he has to work on his conditioning.

“I’m in the weight room trying to get stronger and working on my quickness and strength,” Meeks said. “Playing at the four (as opposed to center in college) there is a lot of running around and it becomes a bit harder and I’m trying to adjust and get into better shape.”

“The pace of the game is a little different,” Meeks explained comparing the pro game to that of college. “I’m learning how to make the correct passes, the spacing on the court and to listen to what the coaches are saying and buy into the game.”

Being a fellow North Carolina Tar Heel with Stackhouse, Meeks is not getting any special treatment. In fact Meeks will tell you it’s the opposite.

“I think he is harder on me than anybody else on the team,” Meeks laughs. “Because we are both from North Carolina he expects more because that’s the way it is when you play for North Carolina.”

Meeks is getting a chance to change a first impression that he is out of shape for pro ball. He is making the commitment to get better and the numbers he has put up in his brief time in the G-League show that if he can get in shape and stay there he could be a 10 point, 10 rebound guy and you can make a good living in the NBA or in Europe if you average that on a game-by-game basis.

Scouts are watching too and if he can get it in gear there is chance an NBA team will come calling later in the season with a 10-day contract and a chance to show what he can do.

   

 

DeMar DeRozan & Frank McLeanVeteran journalist Frank McLean has covered nearly every Raptors game in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. He has seen it all. The good, the bad and the really bad and he is one of the very few journalists in Toronto that has kept coming back for more.

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Kyle Lowry

Raptors Making Kyle Lowry Rest That Giant Chip He Carries

By Frank McLean

The Kyle Lowry we have watched in his time as a Toronto Raptor has been a little ball of hate. Standing six-foot-one he is a guard who after 11-years in the NBA still plays with a gigantic chip on his shoulder still thinking that he has to prove to everyone that he deserves the accolades he’s earned.

Now that style of play has endeared him to his fans and Raptors management, but he has had trouble staying healthy for a full season and come playoff time needle on the gas tank is in that red spot on the gauge telling you that you better get to a gas station fast because you are just about to run out.

After signing a three year 100-million dollar contract extension this past summer, which 93-million is guaranteed, the Raptors want to be able to keep him fresh, limit the injuries and get some playoff bang for the buck they signed him to.

Now this isn’t something new. Lowry was talking about this earlier this week after a practice in a conversation with the media. “It’s something we’ve been working on. We talked about it the last three years. Now we’re doing it.”

Coming into Wednesday night’s home tilt against Charlotte Lowry had only played 37-minutes in a game twice. Last year he did that in 12 of the team’s first 19 games and he’s averaging almost five fewer minutes a game than last season.

A major factor for the team being able to cut Lowry’s minutes has been the play of Delon Wright, before he separated his shoulder and Fred VanVleet which has resulted in Raptors head coach Dwane Casey not being afraid to use his duo of backup guards in games.

So as the team hit the quarter pole with their 20th game of the season against Charlotte, Lowry’s statistical numbers were noticeably lower to start the year.

He’s dishing dimes as per usual, but his scoring has been way down. It’s not for a lack of playing hard as he is one of the league’s leaders at drawing charges and his rebounding is second best on the Raptors.

Lowry though has not been happy with his start of his season.

One thing Lowry was saying is that they still haven’t figured out how many minutes a game he will play.

“Me, personally, I don’t know it. I’m either gonna play or I’m not,” Lowry said. “I think the coaches have done a great job with it. I don’t know how many minutes I’m averaging, but I can definitely tell the difference with being given more rest. I’m feeling fresh. I’m feeling good. At the same time, when I’m playing a lot of minutes I get a little bit of a rhythm.”

“Nobody’s really playing huge minutes,” Casey said about how much Lowry will play. “Now, we’re going to have the right to extend those minutes if we need Kyle Lowry or we need DeMar DeRozan in a game but we don’t want to make it a habit.”

And yes there won’t be a set number of minutes here for Lowry because there are going to be night’s where bench players get into foul trouble or injuries may dictate that he will play more, but in the end this strategy will help come playoff time.

A healthy Lowry will be needed if this team is going to get back to the conference finals. We have seen in past playoff’s when Lowry is injured, opponents just key on DeMar DeRozan and can take away the Raptors offense from the guard position. Then teams can key on Serge Ibaka and down goes the entire offense.

Kyle Lowry is what New York Yankees slugger Reggie Jackson used to say about himself, “he’s the straw that stirs the drink”.

Come playoff time it’s hoped Lowry will still have plenty of gas in the tank and that there won’t be a need to find the nearest gas station.

 

   

DeMar DeRozan & Frank McLeanVeteran journalist Frank McLean has covered nearly every Raptors game in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. He has seen it all. The good, the bad and the really bad and he is one of the very few journalists in Toronto that has kept coming back for more.

  Featured image courtesy of Larry Millson

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Bruno Caboclo

It’s Decision Time For The Raptors On Bruno Caboclo

By Frank McLean

It’s decision time for the Toronto Raptors this season when comes to their first round draft pick from 2014 Bruno Caboclo.

For the last three years it’s been evident by his lack of playing time from head coach Dwane Casey that he is still not ready for regular minutes at the NBA level and as a result has spent most of his time in what is now known as the G-League trying to hone his skills at the professional level.

During his first year with the organization the Raptors did not own their own developmental team so he was sent to the Fort Wayne Mad Ants which at the time was an independent operation and as a result he sat on the bench as they were trying win basketball games and sell tickets and there was no room for a rookie from Brazil with no pro experience.

With the Raptors owning their own team in Mississauga the last two years Caboclo has been able to get a lot of time to work on his skills at the G-League level, but he has received very sparse playing time in the NBA.

Now, with one year left on his contract and no room for him with the big club, Caboclo has volunteered to play with the Raptors 905 because it’s the only way he can stay sharp and hopefully get a chance with the big club. After three years of service a player cannot be sent to the G-League without his approval.

Raptors 905 head coach Jerry Stackhouse was happy to get him back in time for their home opener last week saying, “it was good to have him home and we can get him some reps.”

“There is a logjam there right now and there are a lot of young guys in the mix”, Stackhouse said regarding the Raptors roster right now. “They are still figuring the rotation with everybody there. He has been on the outside looking in.

“We are still high on Bruno. We believe he has unbelievable potential. We just got to find a way to tap into it.”

And here lies the problem for Caboclo. Sitting on the bench in Fort Wayne the first year set his development back a whole season and it was hoped that by now he would be a factor on the Raptors roster. The way Caboclo was handled in Fort Wayne provided a convincing reason for president Masi Ujiri to get the MLSE board to come up with the cash to buy their own G-League team so they can develop their own talent and not leave it to a third party.

Dwane Casey will tell you that you can learn skills in the G-League, but in order to learn to play the game you have to do that in the NBA.

To start with in Mississauga this season, Stackhouse has played Caboclo at center out of necessity.

His original plan was to use the returning Edy Tavares at the five spot, but Tavares was offered a contract with Real Madrid so the big man headed to Spain. With Andre Washington his only other option at center and Kennedy Meeks the former North Carolina star who is a natural center but is being used at the four, Stackhouse has been trying out Caboclo in the middle.

“I want to find out a few things,” Stackhouse said about the experiment. “I want to see how they (opponents) will adjust to him, and see if they can hang with him. We feel with his length he will be able to hold his own in rebounding the basketball.”

Four games in Caboclo is averaging 31.8 minutes 17.5 points, 7.5 rebounds, 2 steals and 1.5 blocks while taking 4.3 three-pointers and hitting on 58.8 percent of them.

Talking to NBA scouts on opening night they felt there is no way the 6’9 forward could play the five at the NBA level, but in the G-League it will probably work.

And these scouts are the people Caboclo needs to impress this year. If the Raptors decide to cut ties with him, he needs to show the other 29 NBA teams that he can offer them something at the NBA level.

Playing the five maybe some team will give him a flyer by using him as a utility player. If not in the NBA, then there are European scouts to impress or those back in his home country of Brazil.

On draft night ESPN college basketball analyst Fran Fraschilla said that Caboclo was two years away from being two years away. Do the math, two plus two equals NOW for Bruno Caboclo.

   

 

DeMar DeRozan & Frank McLeanVeteran journalist Frank McLean has covered nearly every Raptors game in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. He has seen it all. The good, the bad and the really bad and he is one of the very few journalists in Toronto that has kept coming back for more.

 

 

 

NBA New York Knicks Kristaps Porzingis

Kristaps Porzingis NBA MVP?

By Frank McLean

NBA Draft night in 2015 at the Barclays Centre in Brooklyn the arena was full of New York Knicks fans waiting to see who then President of Basketball Operations Phil Jackson was going to choose with the team’s first round draft pick. When it came time to name their selection the Knicks picked a seven-foot-three forward from Latvia named Kristaps Porzingis.

As David Stern announced his name at the podium the boos raining down from the gallery was deafening. The fans wanted someone who played in the NCAA not some European stiff who no one on this side of the Atlantic Ocean ever heard of.

Jackson is gone now after running the Knicks into the ground and making them the most dysfunctional franchise in the NBA, but it’s starting to look like the drafting of Porzingis is going to be one of the few things he got right.

After 13 games the Knicks are sitting at 7-6 which is about as a good of a start the team has enjoyed in a long time. They have been as big a surprise as any team in the NBA and the reason they are off to that start has to do with Porzingis.

Recently he scored a career high 40-points in a 108-101 win over the Indiana Pacers where he had a big 17-point fourth quarter.
Two days before that he dropped 37 in a win against Phoenix. He has now scored 30-plus points in eight games already this season.

Teammate Enes Kanter has started beating the drums for Porzingis to be the league’s MVP which his coach Jeff Hornacek is also a believer.

 

“Why not?” Hornacek said in an interview with the New York Post. “When you’re seven-three and have the skills that he has and doing it on both sides of the ball, you’re going to be put up as one of the best players in the league. KP has that drive. Not a lot of guys have that drive. If they do, they don’t want to put the effort in there to get there. He does. He’s worked hard in the summer. He’s so young, he’s going to get better and better.”

It’s hard to imagine he can get any better. He’s third in scoring in the NBA and his 29.5 points a game average is 11 points better than last season so the evidence is there that he is on his way to a career year.

Now Knicks fans, who have never been known to be completely sane, were ready for their team to tank this season so that they could get a shot at another top four lottery pick in the draft. And now winning games goes against that plan. Like I said sane and Knicks fan are not usually spoken in the same sentence.

Ask Porzingis if he thinks the Knicks can make the playoffs and if it would be better for the development of the team to play meaningful games in April?

“That’s not how I look at it,” Porzingis said when asked if it’s better to get a high lottery pick. “We want to win as many games as we can. That’s not how I think is right. I think we have a good enough team to make the playoffs. I didn’t make the playoffs my first two years. This year, if we can do it, it would be a step forward. We want to keep building. That step forward will draw more attention to the team and we can keep building also. I said before the season the goal for me would be to make the playoffs and get that playoff taste. That would be a good experience.”

It’s early, but Kristaps Porzingis has made watching Knicks basketball fun again.

The numbers he has put up so far this season are starting to prove Phil Jackson was right in drafting him.

Is he an early season candidate for league MVP? Yes, but there is a lot of basketball left.

Can Porzingis get the Knicks into the playoffs? Okay let’s not get crazy… let’s see how this all plays out. But, thanks to the improved play of Porzingis, the Knicks are not guaranteed win night for opponents anymore.

 

   

DeMar DeRozan & Frank McLeanVeteran journalist Frank McLean has covered nearly every Raptors game in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. He has seen it all. The good, the bad and the really bad and he is one of the very few journalists in Toronto that has kept coming back for more.

 

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors head coach Dwane Casey

Toronto Raptors Are The Rodney Dangerfield Of The NBA

By Frank McLean

On Tuesday I dropped in on the Toronto Raptors practice just to get an idea of how they were getting ready for Thursday night’s curtain raiser for the 2017-2018 NBA season. And the talk again, like it seems every year for the last four years, is that this team gets no respect. They are the Rodney Dangerfield of the National Basketball Association.

If you are old enough to remember Rodney, he was the comedian who based his stand-up act on him getting no respect from anybody in the world. In the basketball world, this is your Toronto Raptors.

Many of the pundits, and yes those pundits are in the United States, do not think the Raptors have a shot at finishing in the top group in the Eastern Conference again. The worst insult comes from the self-proclaimed “World Wide Leader in Sports” ESPN, who picked the Raptors to finish sixth in the East. This is the same group that listed DeMar DeRozan the 39th best player in the league, but that’s another story for another time.

Looking at the body of the Raptors work for the last four seasons this does not make any sense.

They have made the playoffs four straight seasons, including an appearance in the 2015 conference finals. Two 50 plus win seasons the last two years and an all-star starting backcourt of DeRozan and Kyle Lowry.

New Raptor C.J. Miles he can’t understand it because he has had to play against this team over the last four years.

“How does anybody write a story and not talk about a team that was third in the East last year?” Miles questioned. “It’s a little weird. I didn’t really think about it. From the outside looking in as a guy who’s a fan of the game and watches games and watches everybody play, I looked at them as an elite team and when I walked into the arena they felt like an elite team when you played against them.

“Second or third in the East and now they don’t even say your name, like, how does that happen”?” a flabbergasted Miles added.

Head coach Dwane Casey feels that this should light a little fire under his teams butt.

“It should (put) you off,” Casey said. “There are still 82 games to be played. We should take that as a line of disrespect because we went from tied with Cleveland all the way down to fifth or sixth of wherever they have us. Paper says one thing and all the predictions say one thing, but it’s up to us as a team to go out and compete and show they’re different.”

For DeRozan this no respect thing is just another year at the office.

“Nothing changed,” DeRozan explained. “Same old thing. For us, we’ve got to go out there, worry about ourselves and at the end of the day, it don’t matter what we do, pretty sure they’ll say the same things.”

DeRozan added that since the core of this team has been together for so long the is a comfort level that has led to their success.

“Camaraderie and chemistry is hard to come by. So when you have that sense of comfort, knowing guys as individuals, on and off the court, you have a different comfort zone when you go out there in the big moments, understanding each other,” he added.

“That kind of goes a long way and it actually wins you games in the NBA. You can tell teams that have been together for years, just off the strength of that, they can pull out victories over more talented teams.”

What to expect this year?

Well if this team stays healthy, they should have a good shot for a third straight 50 win season.

This should upset the pundits south of the border who only talk about Cleveland, Golden State, Boston, Houston and maybe San Antonio as the only worthy teams to talk about playing in the NBA Finals.

Let’s face it, ESPN really wants a Cleveland-Golden State Finals part four because according to them, there are only two players in the NBA and they are named James and Curry.

So starting Thursday night let’s see if “WE THE NORTH” can get a little respect that Rodney never got.

 

   

DeMar DeRozan & Frank McLeanVeteran journalist Frank McLean has covered nearly every Raptors game in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. He has seen it all. The good, the bad and the really bad and he is one of the very few journalists in Toronto that has kept coming back for more.

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri and GM Bobby Webster

Knicks Dump Phil Jackson, Want Raptors Steady Masai Ujiri

By Frank McLean

A very quiet week at the Toronto Raptors Biosteel Centre practice facility became chaotic Wednesday morning after it was announced that the New York Knicks were finally coming to their senses and dumping Phil Jackson as their President of Basketball Operations.

So how does that affect the Toronto Raptors you might ask?

Well, minutes after the Jackson story became official Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical reported that Madison Square Garden was hiring former MLSE boss Tim Leiweke as an adviser and then reported that the Knicks were interested in hiring the Raptors basketball guru Masai Ujiri to take over the Knicks, regardless that Ujiri still has four years remaining on his current contract.

So by 9am both of Toronto’s all sports radio stations and the social media word was going nuts with the story.

Then about a half hour later the Raptors finally announced how Ujiri was restructuring his front office based on the departure of former General Manager Jeff Weltman to the Orlando Magic.

So the front office will look like this.

Assistant General Manager Bobby Webster, who has been considered for GM jobs with other orgainizations, will now be the General Manager and the guy who will have to sit down and re-sign Kyle Lowry, PJ Tucker, Serge Ibaka and Patrick Patterson.

Dan Tolzman, who was the player personnel guy and the man behind the success which is the NBDL’s Raptors-905, moves to Assistant General Manager.

And Keith Boyarsky moves from analytics to Vice President of Basketball Strategy and Research.

Much to the surprise of the assembled media Ujiri made a brief statement about the promotions, but before he was asked he stated he would not comment on the news of the day because he did not want to steal the thunder from Webster, Tolzman and Boyarsky’s day.

“Today is all about Bobby Webster, he deserves it,” Ujiri said. “Also Dan Tolzman and Keith Boyarsky who we promoted. It’s their day. Everything that we have done in this organization and going forward, they have contributed in every way that they could and have been a big part of it. So today is about Bobby, congratulations.”

After he introduced Webster he disappeared.

The timing of the press conference was strange because usually we (in the media) get a notice of a press conference a day before so news outlets can plan for staffing it. We knew Ujiri was not in a hurry to announce the moves, but this seems like the Raptors were trying to put out a fire.

The last paragraph in the announcement stated that Webster, Tolzman and Boyarsky will all report to Ujiri. Was that a hidden message? Well, probably not hidden.

At 32 Webster becomes the youngest GM in the NBA and he made it clear that yes he knows he is young.

“I know I’m young and I’m younger looking,” Webster said to much laughter in the room. “I know the circumstances that got me here and I know I will continue to grow.”

He also credited the leadership support from MLSE’s Larry Tannenbaum and the Board of Directors for having the confidence to put him in this position.

For a 32-year old, Webster has a resume that would make you think he is older than what his birth certificate says.

He started with the Orlando Magic, then spent seven years in the NBA office in New York City where Masai Ujiri plucked him for the Raptors.

At the NBA he was the Associate Director of Salary Cap Management. Helped the league’s Labor Relations Committee negotiate the CBA with the Players Association and advised all 30-teams on salary cap management, luxury tax planning, contact negotiations and trade proposals.

As you can see, he has the experience to step into the GM’s job.

But with all the noise out of New York City about Ujiri leaving for the Knicks a question to him if he thinks he will be working for Ujiri might put a stop to the speculation.

“When you see the special relationship everyday between Larry (Tannenbaum) and Masai it’s clear that he is happy to be part of it.”

When the question of the four free agents came up Webster said it will be addressed when it is the appropriate time and that contract talks with agents are,  “not as crazy as people think. You sit down and talk basketball.”

When it was all done the speculation of Ujiri leaving was still there like the proverbial 500-pound gorilla in the room. So, until he addresses the issue yes or no, it won’t go away.

My take is I think this is a lot of hot air out of New York. People there can’t understand why anyone would not want to work there. They think it’s the center of the universe.

The Knicks are as a dysfunctional operation as there is in all of professional sports. Ujiri loves Toronto and countless times he has stated that. He has a good thing with the Raptors why would he want to go?

Who could forget his heartfelt re-introduction to the local Toronto media back in the summer of 2013. “I’m home,” Ujiri almost sighed.

And if he was leaving the Raptors, would he have been allowed to make the moves that he did on Wednesday.

Folks he is not going anywhere. It’s hard to imagine Tannenbaum ever giving Dolan permission to even just talk to Ujiri.

“We believe in Masai and Masai believes in us,” Webster said.

Wednesday was a crazy day, what will Thursday bring?

 

 

   

DeMar DeRozan & Frank McLeanVeteran journalist Frank McLean has covered nearly every Raptors game in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. He has seen it all. The good, the bad and the really bad and he is one of the very few journalists in Toronto that has kept coming back for more.

  

 

 

 

NBA New York Knicks Joakim Noah

What Is Phil Jackson Trying To Do To The Knicks?

By Frank McLean

Phil Jackson, the 70-year old hippie who is seems to be intent on wrecking the New York Knicks, is at it again and this time it could be the finishing touch.

In a story that was published in the New York Post, sources confirmed that Jackson was looking to move his first round pick from two seasons ago Kristaps Porzingis because, are you ready for this, he did not attend his exit meeting with Jackson at the end of the season.

The only reason he hasn’t pulled the trigger on a deal is that he has not found something that piques his interest.

An exit interview is professional sports way of doing a performance review like employers do in the real world. You sit down with the coach and general manager and you go over what you did good, what you did bad, and what you need to work on. Sometimes a physical exam is required but otherwise it’s a glorified performance review.

In an interview with MSG network, Jackson let his frustration show.

“We’re getting calls,’’ Jackson said. “You know as much as we value Kristaps and what he’s done for us, but when a guy doesn’t show up to an exit meeting, everyone starts speculating on his duration or movability from a club. We’re listening, but we’re not intrigued yet at this level. But as much as we love this guy, we have to do what’s good for our club.”

Sure Phil, you have to do what’s good for the club, but really here is the real reason Jackson is crapping all over his only good young up and coming player on his roster. Jackson will not admit that he has done a poor job running this team, I mean he has done a great job running it into the ground, but he needs a scapegoat and Porzingis, and you can count his treatment of Carmelo Anthony as well, fits the bill.

If you are Knicks fan you probably couldn’t help but roll over on the floor in pain on hearing this nugget from Jackson.

“I think we know what we’re doing. That’s all I can say, even though it hasn’t been apparent in our record the last couple of years. We’ve grown from within, gotten young players that are on the move up. It takes time to rebuild with youth and I think they have confidence in the fact that we are going to have good players, a good team and be competitive on the court.’’

Jackson went on to say that in 25-years this has never happened to him,  that a player did not come to an exit interview, but apparently Shaquille O’Neal did it to him when he was with the Lakers.

If the Knicks had responsible ownership, and Madison Square Garden boss James Dolan is not, he would bite the bullet and fire Jackson’s ass ASAP. (Anyone else feel that just maybe this is what Phil wants?)

Playing in the NBA is every young basketball players dream and New York is the mecca of pro basketball, but no one, no draft pick or a potential free agent will want to come to the Knicks when management uses their players as scapegoats for their own shortcomings.

And if players don’t want to come to your team, well you will be like the Los Angeles Clippers when Donald Sterling ran the show.

The Knicks are one of the original flagship franchises in the NBA and they don’t deserve to be Clipperesque.

Jackson has to go.

 

   

DeMar DeRozan & Frank McLeanVeteran journalist Frank McLean has covered nearly every Raptors game in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. He has seen it all. The good, the bad and the really bad and he is one of the very few journalists in Toronto that has kept coming back for more.

   Featured image courtesy of Larry Millson

 

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors OG Anunoby

OG Anunoby Falls To The Raptors Because Of Injury

By Frank McLean

Speculation all day Thursday had the Toronto Raptors looking to trade their 23rd pick in the first round of the NBA draft along with center Jonas Valanciunas for a player that could help this team now, but with no takers the Raptors used their pick and selected a Hoosier from the University of Indiana, 6’8 sophomore forward OG Anunoby who had fallen in the draft because of an injury in January.

Anunoby is named after his father Ogugua Anunoby. He was born in London England, but his family hails from Nigeria. He went to Jefferson City High School in Jefferson City Missouri.

Anunoby is an interesting pick. He is a small forward who only played 16-games in his sophomore, starting 10-of them, but he missed the rest of the season after suffering a season-ending knee injury on January 16th in a game against BIGTEN rival Penn State.

In those 16-games he averaged 11.1 points, 5.4 rebounds, 1.3 blocks and 1.3 steals.

It’s believed that if he didn’t suffer that injury he would have been listed as a much higher pick in the draft as evidenced by his Green Room invitation, so the Raptors may have got themselves a steal, but that’s something we won’t know for maybe a few seasons.

“He’s a big time talent,” said Raptors coach Dwane Casey who addressed the media just minutes after the pick was announced. “If it wasn’t for his injury he would have went higher.

“He’s a guy our scouts targeted and there were teams behind us who were salivating to get him because he is one of the top defenders available in the draft.”

When it comes to his shooting Casey said it’s not broken, but like a lot of young players he needs to get in the gym and work on it while he is rehabbing, but he seems to be that Casey type of player because he loves his toughness and physicality that he brings.

The scouting report on him says that he has the physical profile to be a combo forward. He has a large wingspan measured at 7’2.25. He can guard multiple positions and is a disruptive defender, so you can see how the Raptors feel they may have found a steal with the 23rd pick.

On his knee injury Casey said he will begin work right away with the Raptors outstanding Director of Sports Science Alex Mckechnie. He added that the doctors said Anunoby’s rehabilitation is ahead of schedule and he will go to Los Angeles right away with McKechnie who has associates there who will help and speed up his recovery.

No one is certain how fast the knee will heal, but the Raptors don’t have to use him right away. If he needs more time to rehab and recover, he can get it and if needs to develop there is the Raptors 905 of the NBA G-League (formerly D-League).

With each NBA team now allowed to sign two players to a two way contract his salary wouldn’t count against the cap in that situation, but being a first round pick his agent may balk at the suggestion.

In Brooklyn where the draft was being held Anunoby confirmed to the media there that he is two months ahead of schedule which follows what Casey said to the media in Toronto.

“I’m starting to do a lot more on the court, I started running,” Anunoby said. “I should be back full go October, November”.

When the Raptors season ended, out of the 15 players they had under contract, there were seven players who you could say were still developing and not necessarily ready to be starters.

Anunoby is a safe pick but he isn’t expected to make a difference to the Raptors next season. Trades and re-signing Kyle Lowry, Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker will chart the future of this team.

Still, not a bad second choice for not being able to make a draft day deal.

 

 
 

   

DeMar DeRozan & Frank McLeanVeteran journalist Frank McLean has covered nearly every Raptors game in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. He has seen it all. The good, the bad and the really bad and he is one of the very few journalists in Toronto that has kept coming back for more.

   

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri

Don’t Look For A Savior For The Raptors In The Draft

By Frank McLean

In case you missed it, and it’s been in all the newspapers, Thursday night is draft night in the NBA, but the Toronto Raptors aren’t looking for a savior when it’s finally their turn.

The Toronto Raptors are picking 23rd and I look back at a conversation I had with team president Masai Ujiri at this time last season. He said to me that when you are picking in the 20’s you probably are not going to get a player that will be an impact player for you. Now if you are in the top five or ten spots in the draft, in other words you are a dreaded lottery pick, then you are going to get the guy.

In the case of last year’s picks, Jakob Poeltl and Pascal Siakam, they did play a small part when needed this past season, but they were not anywhere near the main reason for the team’s success or failure.

So if you are looking for the next great Larry Bird three point shooter the team desperately needs, or an impact player that can put them past Cleveland and give them a chance to compete with Golden State for a title, forget it. It won’t be coming through the draft tonight.

Two days after the Raptors were eliminated by Cleveland, Ujiri sat down with the media and told us quite clearly that he didn’t know why he was talking to us because he had nothing to say, but give him a month and he would.

On Tuesday at a pre-draft get together he had a lot to say, but really said nothing.

He and his staff have evaluated the team, but like those big time poker players you watch on afternoon sports television, he kept his cards secret because he has plans, however, deep down until Thursday night arrives, he’s not sure what they will be.

“I think this is why you wait and go through the process of evaluating your team,” Ujiri said on Tuesday.

“One day it’s quiet, the next day it’s noisy. That’s just how the NBA works. With all these things going around, you make calls you listen to calls an you see what fits your team. Leading up to the draft and on draft day, that’s another deadline that we work with on our side. Things will shake up a little bit and we’ll see how it affects the Raptors.”

Any changes that the team will make all hinges on what Kyle Lowry decides on, staying with the Raptors or moving on in free agency.

Stories came out this week that Lowry doesn’t want to stay in Toronto. Ujiri says that’s not so, but he and his staff have come up with five different ways they can go as an organization should the veteran guard leave.

“I think we are comfortable,” Ujiri said. “Any direction we are going, I think we are prepared, that’s what I should say. We are very well prepared after studying it for a couple of months after the season has been over.

“I think it’s a good time for us. Looking at the league, looking at where everybody is and all the action, hey, we are in this thing to compete and to get better so we’ll see where it takes us.”

So in a nutshell don’t expect any miracles Thursday night. The draft will not solve any of their problems. It will hinge on Kyle Lowry’s decision.

There is a plan, but no one will know what it is until Ujiri implements it.

 

   

DeMar DeRozan & Frank McLeanVeteran journalist Frank McLean has covered nearly every Raptors game in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. He has seen it all. The good, the bad and the really bad and he is one of the very few journalists in Toronto that has kept coming back for more.