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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.

 

 

 

 

NBA GMs Celtics Danny Ainge and 76ers Bryan Colangelo

The 76ers Process Is Over But The Celtics Is Just Starting

By Frank McLean

It was deal that has been speculated to happen over the last few days and it officially became a fact on Monday as the Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers made a deal which lets the two teams flip spots in the first round of Thursday’s NBA draft.

The Celtics, who had the first pick overall thanks to being the beneficiary of bad deals made by the past management of the Brooklyn Nets, flipped spots with the 76ers who were to pick third.

The Celtics also get for helping the 76ers either a first-round pick in 2018 or 2019. If the Los Angeles Lakers hold a pick between number two and five next season, Boston gets that one. If not, Philadelphia will send Boston either its own first-rounder in 2019 or Sacramento’s first-rounder that year which the Celtics hold the rights to.

This deal is all about the 76ers trying to build a contending team right now while the Celtics stockpile more draft picks to use to get players that can help them – now?

For Celtics basketball boss Danny Ainge he now has something to offer teams to get a player that can go with Isaiah Thomas and Al Horford and help them keep the number one seed in the Eastern Conference. Maybe a phone call to the Indiana Pacers for a one year rent a player like Paul George.

TNT reported over the weekend that George told the Pacers that when his contract runs out next season he plans on leaving and going to play for his hometown Los Angeles Lakers. The Pacers would be wise to trade George now and get something for him now instead of losing him for nothing in free agency.

Like the Raptors and Wizards, the Celtics are looking for the piece to challenge Cleveland for the Eastern Conference title and Golden State for the NBA title.

“This is certainly a trade that is under the microscope more than others,” Ainge said Monday. “But we’re not afraid of that.”

After Monday’s trade the Celtics have SEVEN! First round picks over the next three drafts and that includes Thursday night’s draft.

For the 76ers, well they will get the first pick overall for the second straight season and this time they hope they will get a player that can play.

Last year’s pick Ben Simmons did not play a game a game last season after breaking a bone in his foot. The player it seems they want this year is guard Markelle Fultz of the University of Washington.

Fultz has just one year of college experience. He averaged 23.2 points, 5.7 rebounds and 5.9 assists in 25 games standing out on a team that finished 9-22 and lost its final 13 games. He led the Pac-12 in scoring and finished sixth among all Division One players and led all freshman in scoring.

“We are very pleased with the outcome of this trade, which puts us in the enviable position of selecting first overall in consecutive draft years,” 76ers president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo said. “History suggests that number one has the greatest odds of producing franchise level talent and we are confident that this year’s draft class has that very potential.”

Here’s my take on the trade if you are the Raptors.

For the 76ers, if they draft Fultz, it’s a start but they will not be a playoff factor this year or next year and probably not the year after that.

Fultz joins a core of young potential stars, Jahlil Okafor and 2017 Rookie of the Year finalists Joel Embiid and Dario Saric. But they need players that can help this team contend and that’s going to take about three years to acquire.

Now the Celtics, they have a ton of bargaining chips to make themselves championship contenders with the seven first round draft picks. This has to make the Raptors, Wizards and Cavaliers concerned with the make-up of their current rosters.

If Danny Ainge can get veteran talent to go with what he has that just might be enough for them to win the East outright and get a shot at Golden State or Houston.

However, the one thing the Celtics doesn’t have is rebounding, but they have the chips now and it’s up to Ainge to cash them in.

 

   

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.

 

 

 

 

Dillon Brooks at Toronto Raptors

Could Canadian Dillon Brooks End Up On The Raptors?

By Frank McLean

As the calendar heads for June the Toronto Raptors, like all other NBA teams, have begun the process of trying to figure out who exactly they will pick come June 22nd the night of the NBA draft.

Picking 23rd means they won’t get a crack at a top ten pick, but they don’t need a franchise player, the Raptors need someone who can fill a hole in the skill-set of the current team’s roster makeup. And after the four game sweep by the Cleveland Cavaliers in the second round, three point shooting is something that needs to be fixed.

This is what Raptors scouting director and general manager of the NBDL defending champion Raptors-905 Dan Tolzman’s job is to find someone who can eventually fill holes in the big teams roster.

Recently the Raptors brought in local talent Dillon Brooks of Mississauga, Ontario.

If you are an NCAA hoops junkie we don’t have to tell you he has spent the last three years with the University of Oregon Ducks in the ultra competitive Pac-12 Conference where he helped the team make it to the final four of this year’s tournament only to lose to the North Carolina Tar Heels.

Brooks is a question mark if he can be an effective NBA player. He is 6’6 220-pounds which is kind of undersized for a forward in a league made up of much bigger men, but here’s where he might fit in with the Raptors. This season he averaged 16-points a game shooting 48.8 percent from the field and 40.1 percent behind the three point arc.

Brooks needs these workout opportunities with all NBA teams to show that he can help a team out. Monday’s workout with the Raptors was his fourth and he said that he will workout with all 30-teams in the league if he has too if that what it takes to get a sniff on draft night.

“Dillon is a guy who brings so much passion to the table,” Tolzman said on Monday. “Whatever he doesn’t offer skill-talent wise he makes up for just with his winning plays and outplaying his opponents. I think he has shown he can score and defend and do all the things you look for in an energy-type guy and he brings that.”

Dillon has been projected to be a middle of the second round pick and the Raptors do not have a second round pick in this year’s draft as they traded it plus a second round pick next year along with Jared Sullinger to Phoenix for P.J. Tucker, but as Tolzman added.

“We don’t have a second-round pick right now, but we have shown that we are always able to get back in if we need to.”

However, the Raptors may not need to acquire a second round pick to get Dillon as they may be able to acquire him as an undrafted free agent.

Starting next season under the new collective bargaining agreement teams now have two additional roster spots beyond the 15 they had before that will be designated two-way roster spots allowing teams to maintain a players rights and shuttle him back and forth between the D-League while making more than the NBDL maximum of $25,500 (last year).

Brooks is just looking for a chance to show he can play in the NBA. What stands out for the Raptors is his three point shooting because that is a need that needs to be addressed ASAP.

There will be a lot more players Tolzman will workout between now and draft day, but don’t be surprised if Brooks ends up in training camp in October, his skill set might be just what the doctor ordered.

 

 

   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 Cleveland Cavaliers Kyle Korver

Kyle Korver Is Living The Dream In Cleveland

By Frank McLean

There is an old saying that if you wait and be patient good things will come and after a long NBA career, Kyle Korver is living the dream in Cleveland.

For Korver good things came back in February when he was traded by the Atlanta Hawks to the Cleveland Cavaliers and he finally got his best and quite possibly his last chance at an NBA Championship.

Korver was brought to Cleveland for one specific skill and that’s his ability to come off the bench and hit three point baskets. A noted Raptors killer in his days with the Atlanta Hawks, the Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue used his ability to hit three’s to kill just about every Raptors attempt at a comeback in each of the four games.

In Sunday’s series clincher Korver did all the work he needed in the second quarter. With the scored tied 28-all at the end of the first quarter he played the entire 12-minute period going six-for-eight from the field, four-for-six behind the three point arc for 16-points. He finished the game with 18-points by hitting a pair of free throws in the fourth quarter, but like someone doing a mob hit he did his work in the second.

Korver is pinching himself each day when he realizes that he is with a future a hall of famer like LeBron James and other players in the Cavaliers locker room who will be considered.

“It has been a whirlwind couple of months for me and my family,” Korver said. “Everyday is great to be playing with these guys.”

Korver will be going to his third conference final in his 16-year career, but this time he doesn’t have to worry about LeBron James knocking him out, this time they are on the same team.

“This is the way it goes, when I was in Utah we lost to the Lakers every year. In the Eastern Conference in Chicago and in Atlanta we lost to Lebron every year, whether it was Miami or here,” Korver lamented. “It’s just so nice to be on the other side now, but nothing is guaranteed I know that, but this is an amazing opportunity for me in this part of my career.”

Korver’s role as a three point specialist is a lot like the designated hitter in baseball, where you come to bat three maybe four times a game and then you wait. Now in baseball all the stadiums have batting cages near the locker room where you can keep loose and hit live pitching out of a machine. Not so in basketball and Korver agrees that the comparison is close but he has to prepare different from the Edwin Encarnacion’s of the world.

“There is no place where I can practice shooting that’s for sure but I have to stretch and keep loose on the bench as there is no excuse for me to tighten up. When I’m put in the game my job is to make shots.”

Korver knows it’s LeBron James’ team, but what he and others in the locker room want is to take the pressure off him of doing everything.

“That’s what me and the rest of guys try and do when we are in the game, make shots and try and take the pressure of LeBron when he’s in there.”

The Cavaliers, in the four games against Toronto, shot 61-for-131 behind the three point arc for an incredible 183-points. Korver is a big part of an attack that has the three pointer as a featured weapon and because of his talents there, that’s why he is getting a shot at a championship.

If you wait long enough good things happen and for Kyle Korver good things are happening for him in Cleveland.

 

 

   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

Raptors Coach Dwane Casey Isn’t Going Anywhere, Deal With It

By Frank McLean

I might be turning into an old crotchety sports writer, but I have had enough of the trolls on social media and sports radio callers which former New York Daily News writer Bob Raissman used to call “The Valley Of The Stupid”.

I don’t mean to ruin your day, but Toronto Raptors head coach Dwane Casey is the least of the Raptors problems. He is not going anywhere.

The cries of Casey has got to go have been loud and clear since the loss in game one and a couple of questionable efforts in the Milwaukee series, but he is not the problem.

In the six years he has been in Toronto he has coached this team to three Atlantic Division titles, four straight trips to the playoffs and a 261-215 regular season won-loss record which is a .548 winning percentage.

And let’s not forget the last two years the team has won back to back 50-win seasons.

His body of work earned Casey a three year 18-million dollar contract extension which means with 12-million dollars roughly left to be paid out, he ain’t going nowhere.

The players like Casey which in this day and age in the NBA is the most important thing that coach has to earn for job security. The team has not given up on him, the effort is there on the court, it’s just that this group as a whole is not good enough to dethrone Cleveland and that’s not Casey’s fault, he did not put the roster together, that’s Masai Ujiri’s mess and we will talk about that at a later date.

If the players don’t like coach, especially the team superstar, he is at the unemployment office.

Ask David Blatt who was run out of Cleveland by the Cavaliers real General Manager and President of Basketball Operations LeBron James.

And Casey has not given up on his team either, he made that clear on Saturday in his daily media availability. He still thinks they are close to making a legitimate run at Cleveland. He hasn’t gone John Torterella on his guys.

“I like our team, it’s the most talented team we’ve had but it does take time when you are trying to integrate those pieces those pieces together and timing.”

The problem is how close is this team to Cleveland and Casey says that he is not sure.

“If and when it’s hard to say, if is a huge word in that situation because this group hasn’t had a training camp or time together to against him (a roster with Ibaka and Tucker) but I like this group we have the right pieces in place.”

Now if you can find someone who can coach better than Casey go out and get him. But the only guy I can think of would be Greg Popovich and if he leaves the San Antonio Spurs it will either by retirement or he passes away to the great basketball court in the sky while he is still employed there.

Any other coach with a similar resume to Casey would be a lateral move, and don’t say that maybe a different voice is needed. Some moves need to be made on the roster and that will happen by necessity or by players leaving by free agency.

You saw what happened in Indiana this year after Larry Bird did not renew the contract of Frank Vogel, the Pacers regressed.

In six years there Vogel ran up a 250-181 regular season record and five playoff appearances. His crime with Larry Bird was that he had the nerve to give Paul George a three minute breather in their playoff games against the Raptors.

Vogel was out of work about two weeks before the Magic hired him and if Casey left Toronto he would be employed before June. There are a lot of bad NBA teams that would jump at him.

Dwane Casey should not be fired, he is not the problem and there is nobody better out there.

Now the roster that’s another story.

 

 

   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 head coach Dwane Casey

Raptors Playing For Pride On Sunday

By Frank McLean

Toronto Raptors head coach Dwane Casey said all the right things after Game Three, Sunday’s game against the Cavs is for pride. You don’t want to end your season at home.

So if I’m Casey I put on my Dr. Phil hat and my speech is… okay guys we have won four games in a row before right so it’s not so hard right.

Sam Mitchell used to drive me nuts during his time coaching with the Raptors. During his media scrums because was always using the saying, “it is what it is guys”, to describe whatever predicament the team was going through at a particular time.

Heading into Sunday’s fourth game against the Cleveland Cavaliers in this Eastern Conference Semifinal, which the Cavaliers have made the Raptors look like the victims of a drive by shooting, “it is what it is for the Raptors.”

The Raptors have to win four straight games to go to the Eastern Conference Final for a second straight year which after watching how the Cavaliers carved up the Raptors in the first 1:52 of the fourth quarter in Game Three with a quick 8-2 run that tuned into 20-3, well it just showed that the Raptors are not in their class.

So if you are Dwane Casey what is your motivational speech to his teams?

During the regular season the Raptors had four-four game win streaks along with two three game streaks and a pair of six game win streaks, but in those win streaks they didn’t have to play four consecutive games against the Cavaliers.

Casey also needs to let his team know exactly what he said about them to the media in his post-game thoughts after Game Three.

“I’m still proud of our guys, I think we have a lot of fighters in that locker room. We came up short, but I do like how they responded. I loved the way DeMar DeRozan responded after they killed him saying that he couldn’t score.”

Casey has got to make sure that he has not given up on them because you know human nature after you have been beat like the Raptors have been beat you might give up on yourself.

Meanwhile over in the Cavaliers locker room they don’t seem to be taking for granted that they have this Game Four locked up and a sweep in their pockets.

LeBron James said after game three that the most important thing is to come out on Sunday and play their game.

“Our coaching staff once again will give us a game plan and it is up to us to go out and execute. It is a quick turnaround game on Sunday, we do not to be thinking about sleep or getting rest. We need to be thinking about what we need to do to execute defensively and offensively coming into Sunday.”

Now you can hope, and if you are one to grasp at straws, you can hope that the 3:30 start and maybe Toronto’s outstanding nightlife might make the Cavaliers a little hung over and a soft spot to beat-em. But I doubt it.

It is playoff time and party time comes when Adam Silver hands the Cavaliers the championship trophy in June.

But upsets do happen in sports. Saturday’s Kentucky Derby was not run on paper. 20-horses went to the gate and ran a race.

Maybe the Raptors can win one maybe two, but they have to win four straight. It is what it is. Game Four is all about playing for pride.

 

 

   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

Even A Career Game By DeMar DeRozan Wasn’t Enough

By Frank McLean

After having the worst playoff game of his career Wednesday night, five points in 31-minutes of play, DeMar DeRozan redeemed himself Friday night, but it wasn’t enough as the Cleveland Cavaliers took a commanding three games to nothing lead in this Eastern Conference Semifinal with 115-94 win.

DeRozan played the playoff game of his life. He logged 41-minutes of court time and scored a career playoff high 37-points. It wasn’t enough as if I may paraphrase the Beatles, “he didn’t get by with a little help from his friends.”

For the first three quarter the Raptors were in this game, they actually had a punchers chance to pull this off despite the fact they were putting up numbers that in the modern day NBA does not lead to wins.

They were leading at halftime 52-49. It was the first time in this series the Raptors led at halftime. Heck it was the first time the Raptors have led at the end of any quarter in this series. But they still couldn’t make a shot behind the three point arch as they were OH-FOR-NINE.

They didn’t make a three pointer until their 13th attempt with 6:15 left in the third when Norman Powell broke the ice.

DeRozan had 21-points in the first half and had not even tried a three point attempt.

The Raptors were winning playing a pre-1980’s style basketball that was used in the NBA before they implementation of the three point line and they were still in this game down just a duce, 79-77, after three quarters.

But it all fell apart in the first 1:52 of the fourth quarter.

Raptors head coach Dwane Casey gave DeRozan and Corey Joseph a brief rest to catch their breath. DeRozan had put in 33-minutes and scored 36-points while Joseph had put in 29-minutes filling in for the injured Kyle Lowry. They needed to catch their breath and get a little Gatorade in their body.

But in that 1:52 the Cavaliers went on a 8-2 run before DeRozan and Joseph could get back in the game. Unfortunately their return meant nothing as the Cavaliers added to the run making it a 20-3 blitz that pretty much ended the game right there.

DeRozan tried to carry this team on his back and win this game. Would a semi healthy Kyle Lowry have helped? Absolutely, but he wasn’t there and that was their lot in life and they didn’t win.

Before the game Raptors coach Dwane Casey said that in the first two games they weren’t taking their opportunities to make three point attempts.

The Raptors inability to make three point shots will be on their obituary when this series ends. They were a combined 15-of-43 in the first two games and on Friday, after missing their first 12-attempts, they were two-for-18 which makes them 17-for-61.

The Cavaliers are for the series are 45-for-90 behind the three point line, that’s a total of 135-points of the 356-points they have scored in this series. They have made exactly 50-percent of their shots which is how you win in the modern day NBA.

As we said earlier it was amazing that Raptors were leading at the half and actually were in a position to win this game.

In his postgame comments Casey said, “Sunday’s game is all about pride. You don’t want to get swept in your home building. Our guys will come out and we certainly need to do a better job than being two-for-18” (shooting 3’s).

Coming back down three games to nothing in a playoff series in North American sports is rare. You have a better chance winning the Powerball or Lotto 6/49.

The most it has been done is in the NHL where in 1942 the Toronto Maple Leafs beat the Detroit Red Wings in the Stanley Cup Final. The New York Islanders in 1975, the Philadelphia Flyers in 2010 and the LA Kings in 2014 won playoff series down three-nothing. It has only been done in baseball once when the Boston Red Sox came back to beat the New York Yankees in the 2004 American League Championship.

It has never been done in the NBA.

But that’s the lot in the life the Toronto Raptors have been handed. It’s asking a lot for this team to pull off something that has never been done in the NBA win four straight after dropping three in a row to start a playoff series.

They don’t have anyone but DeRozan who can make shots right now. And even if the others in the lineup can hit some shots with any consistency, it’s probably too little too late and the Raptors season will probably be over before people sit down to their Sunday dinners.

 

 

   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 and Kyle Lowry

Can The Raptors Win A Game Without Kyle Lowry?

By Frank McLean

As we head to Game Three of this Eastern Conference semifinal between the Raptors and the Cleveland Cavaliers with a banged up Kyle Lowry questionable to play, why does it seem that the next two games of this series are going to be the last two games this season for the Raptors? Maybe the answer is obvious.

First LeBron James has stepped up his game. He has been an obsessed individual.

74-points and 16-rebounds is what James has combined for in the first two games. He has made this series look like a handicap match where the Raptors have five players on the floor and the Cavaliers have just one guy… James.

He is the best player in basketball hands down. He can take a team in money games, and the playoffs are money games, put them on his back and just win.

In last year`s fifth and six games of the conference finals, after the Cavaliers let a two game lead slip away by losing Games Three and Four in Toronto, he took control of things and made sure that there would be no Game Seven.

He carried that over to the first two games of this year`s series.

And let`s not forget he led that comeback in the NBA Finals where they were down 3-1 to Golden State and they won the next three to give the city of Cleveland their first sports championship since the 1964 NFL Browns.

Just ask DeMar DeRozan about James in the first two games if this series.

“He is a lot more aggressive, you just see a different fire, hunger in him this time around, as it should be,” DeRozan said comparing this year`s version of James over last year`s.

The other reason why it looks like this is going to be a short series is the possible absence of Kyle Lowry who injured his ankle pretty bad Wednesday night.

Lowry is listed as questionable which pretty well means if this was January he would not be playing at all.

“Kyle is our driving force, our point guard, our leader,” DeRozan was saying at Thursday`s practice. “So for us not to have him anything close to 100%, it would be difficult on us. But next guy, everybody else gotta do something a little bit more to fill whatever void it is he can’t fully do out there on the court.”

Next man up has always been the Raptors mantra during Dwane Casey`s time as the Raptors head coach and he emphasized that on Thursday.

If Lowry can`t answer the bell for Game Three, Pickering, Ontario`s favorite son Cory Joseph would get the start and at least he is playoff tested from his days as a San Antonio Spur where he did get a championship ring.

Casey is hoping for that.

“I thought Cory Joseph was a bright spot Wednesday night, the confidence he played with, the force he played with, the way he shot the three ball,” Casey said. “It’s huge. Because we need every one of ’em. But with (Lowry) questionable, that’s why you have 15 on the roster. All year long, we’ve always had the next man up mentality. So I have all the trust and confidence in the world. Cory, of all the people on our team, has won a championship. So he’s been there, he knows how hard it is.”

Regardless if Lowry plays or not, the 64-thousand dollar question is can the Raptors pull off a pair of wins at home like they did last year against the Cavaliers where they were in the exact same two-games to nothing hole.

First DeMar DeRozan can`t have another five point game like he did in Game Three. Last year in Game Three and Four in Toronto he had a pair of 32-point games to lead the Raptors to wins.

But other Raptors on Wednesday missed good looks as well and Casey talked about that matter.

“The blitzing on DeMar, there are opportunities there where we have to score, and we got to make sure we take advantage of them, be shot-ready and be prepared when it hits your hands to be ready to shoot it and take it. It’s pretty simple. It’s nothing different than we have done all year.”

On playing better defense Casey said, “We got to take away something. Right now they are doing what they want to do to our defense and that is unacceptable and we can do better. There is a level of defensive focus and intensity and physicality that we got to get to and can get to and will get to.”

All the right things were being said on Thursday and you expect that of a professional basketball team. Can the Raptors rally together and win a game against the Cavaliers is something we won`t find out until sometime after 7pm on Friday.

 

 

   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 Cleveland Cavaliers LeBron James

Who’s Having Second Thoughts About The Cavs Being Vulnerable?

By Frank McLean

Boy I was wrong. I thought that maybe the Cleveland Cavaliers were vulnerable and maybe, just maybe there was a slight chance they could be beat.

Boy I was wrong.

That was not the Cleveland Cavaliers team that went 21-20 in the second half of the season. The team that slipped defensively over last year. This team sure looked a lot like that Cavaliers team of the last two seasons in Game One versus the Raptors.

The score was 116-105 Cleveland, just in case you turned the television over to the Blue Jays game Monday night were they actually were winning their third game in a row over the Yankees.

Game One for the Raptors was typical of their playoff history since they entered the NBA, they lost. They are now 1-12 in the opening game of a playoff series.

Now let’s find the positive, they actually competed, but they just were not good enough to steal a victory. They would fight back go on a few runs to cut into the Cavalier’s lead and at one point in the second quarter went on a 18-3 run to only trail by a single point. But they couldn’t get over the hump.

It’s a fact in the NBA that your star players have to be your star players, and LeBron James was just that, dropping 35-points and grabbing 10-boards. That’s what your star player does. He makes a statement in Game One of a series, making sure your team does not lose home court advantage.

James has made comments about respecting the Raptors and it’s not a line that he shoots to the media, he does. He has also made comments about how rabid the Raptors home fans are. He knows the Raptors, if they play perfect basketball, might be the only team in the East that can upset the Cavaliers and the additions of Serge Ibaka and PJ Tucker give them the best line-up in the history of the franchise. Based on the fact the Raptors won Games Three and Four in their playoff series at home last year, he knows that it’s not the Indiana Pacers they are playing who they beat four straight in round one.

Now if you’re the Raptors what do you do?

Tuesday at practice head coach Dwane Casey sounded more like a sports psychologist than coach.

“Hey, they put their pants on one leg at a time, too,” Casey said. “I haven’t seen them jump in and pull them both up at the same time.”

So what’s the plan? Maybe it’s time to go back and play a little tough physical basketball like I don’t know, like they did in the 1980’s.

The other second round series between the Celtics and Wizards has turned into not only a modern day scoring bonanza but some old time physical basketball too.

Heck Isaiah Thomas lost a tooth in Game One.

“All that’s in play,” Casey was coy Tuesday at practice. “We gotta get a little closer (to them). I don’t know if they felt us last night (Monday) whatsoever. We were half a step off, respecting their speed a little too much, we gotta make them feel us a little bit better.”

The Raptors do not have much room to make mistakes in any game against Cleveland. The margin of error is so small you can’t see it with the naked eye.

Conn Smythe, when he owned the Toronto Maple Leafs, had a saying about being successful in hockey. “If you can’t beat em in the alley you can’t beat em on the ice.”

Maybe the Raptors have learnt, “If you can’t beat em in the alley you can’t beat em on the court.”

We’ll see if that’s the plan in Game Two. It might be their only chance.

 

 

   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 Paul Saini
Instagram:  @fylmm.lifestyle and  @paul_saini

 

 

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Serge Ibaka and PJ Tucker

Raptors Go From Greek Freak To King James

By Frank McLean

After taking care of the Greek Freak in Milwaukee, the Toronto Raptors go to round two of the NBA Playoffs and this time their opponent is King James and the the Cleveland Cavaliers, a round earlier than last year.

At the beginning of the year it was expected that these two teams would face each other in the Eastern Conference Final for a second time in a row, but the season just didn’t go as planned.

It’s not just the Raptors, but fact of life for all the other teams in the East if they have any aspirations of making it to the NBA Finals the road there goes through Interstate-90 into downtown Cleveland and Quicken Loans Arena where the defending champions live.

After winning their first 10-playoff games last year the Cavaliers up two games to nothing came to Toronto looking for the sweep, but then all of a sudden they found a Raptors team that didn’t get the memo that they were supposed to lay down and die. The Raptors won the next two games to tie the series, but would end up losing in game six to the appreciative cheers of their fans.

Which begs to question, are the Raptors the only team in the East that could put a monkey wrench in the bid for the Cavaliers to make it back to the finals for a third straight year?

Back in February you could see some cracks in the Cavaliers that made you think maybe their window as champions was closing. Injuries to Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving plus the loss of Matthew Dellavedova to the Milwaukee Bucks showed that when Lebron James doesn’t have his supporting cast around him the Cavaliers are beatable.

As a result the Cavaliers were 21-20 in the second half of the season and because of that they lost their grip on the top seed in the east to Boston and finishing second set up this second round match-up with the Raptors.

Cleveland’s defense was just not as a good as last year finishing 22nd after being 10th last season.

When you look at the defensive stats of the 16-teams that made the playoffs this year they were 13th in defensive ratings.

There was one point in the season where James was complaining in the press that they needed a playmaker to get him the ball. They had that in Dellavedova, but the Cavaliers let him walk to Milwaukee in the summer.

So when you look at that evidence you think like Lloyd Christmas in the comedy classic Dumb and Dumber, “So you’re telling me there is a chance.”

The Raptors do have a chance and you can thank two moves made by president Masai Ujiri at the trade deadline getting Serge Ibaka from Orlando and bringing P.J. Tucker back to the 416 from Phoenix.

He saw the window opening a crack and these two deals were made to make the Raptors better by making them a tougher team to handle in the paint with the sole object being able to stop LeBron James.

Ibaka gets to play the role Bismack Biyombo did last year and that’s to block the paint and scoop up rebounds while P.J. Tucker will get the assignment to shadow James and guard him close enough that he will know what brand of deodorant he puts on in the morning.

So the spotlight is on Tucker and he knows he has the dirty job of guarding the “King” and trying to limit his success?

“I don’t think his game changes,” Tucker was saying Sunday before the team left for Cleveland. “I think for the most part, when he’s aggressive and he’s trying to score the ball and he’s going, I don’t think it matters. I think when he gets a few to the rim, easy, he gets a few dunks, he hits a pullup, he hits a turnaround, and his three starts falling, he’s a feel-good player. If he’s hitting some regular shots, the tough stuff starts to fall. He’s probably the best player in the world. It’s still a feel game (for him).”

The addition of Tucker and Ibaka makes this team better on paper than last year.

The Raptors need to win one game in Cleveland to win this series since they do not have home court advantage in this round. And if there is game they can steal it would be game one since the Cavaliers will have gone eight days without playing since they finished their first round sweep of Indiana.

We will find out starting Monday night if the Raptors can finally slay the dragon of Ohio.

 

 

   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 D-League Mississauga Raptors 905 Pascal Siakam

A Raptors 905 Championship Was Never In The Plans Until Now

By Frank McLean

Thursday night the Raptors 905 have a chance to win the NBDL championship in just their second year of operation when they host the Rio Grande Vipers in the third and deciding game of this best of three series.

Winning championships are rare. Not just in professional sports but you can throw in college, high school and even when you’re a kid playing house league.

I always think of the great Chicago Cubs hall of fame infielder Ernie Banks when it comes to winning championships. He played for the Cubs between the years of 1953 to 1971 and he never won a championship. In fact he never ever played one post season game.

Raptors 905 head coach Jerry Stackhouse played 18-years in the NBA with eight different teams. He was able to get into a number of playoff games, but never won a ring.

In the NBDL it’s almost like you stumble across it by accident.

The NBDL stands for National Basketball Developmental League and all 23-teams emphasize the “DEVELOPMENT” first before ever thinking about a championship.

When I first talked to Stackhouse way back in November during the 905’s training camp Stackhouse said the goal is to “get these guys into the NBA. it’s not about winning championship’s, if I can get nine, 10, 11 of these guys into the NBA I have done my job”.

Now don’t think Stackhouse doesn’t want to win the title Thursday night, you bet he does.

When I brought up the Ernie Banks story he let me know that Jerry Stackhouse has never won a title either. “I played 18 years and never got all the way to the table”, he said. “Weren’t able to get the job done.”

Stackhouse really wants his guys to win more than he does for himself. I have watched him work all year with this team and he and his entire coaching staff for that matter have put their hearts and souls into making every player on this roster better players today then they were back in November.

Thus Stackhouse has let his group know how special an opportunity this is for them.

“It’s a great opportunity I tell these men take advantage of this opportunity. This group we have assembled this year will never be together again. I tell them take care of your brothers and leave it all out there, there is nothing guaranteed so let’s walk away whatever happens and leave it out on the floor.”

When Stackhouse said this group will never be together again he is not lying. Since all the players on the roster, except for players the NBA Raptors send down for work, are all under contract to the 905 chances are most of this group will either be in the NBA next year, or Europe or worst not being able to find a roster spot in some league will be working in the real world of a nine to five job.

Stackhouse did his job for sure this year. Two of his players were plucked off his roster early in these playoffs, Axel Toupane with the New Orleans Pelicans and Edy Tavares with the Cleveland Cavaliers . Tavares was named the NBDL Defensive Player Of The Year and instead of getting a shot at a NBDL title he gets a chance to go for the big one in the NBA.

Stackhouse has done a great job with players the Raptors sent down.

Fred VanVleet has worn a path going between Toronto and Mississauga this year. Monday night he was dressed for the big club in their game five win over Milwaukee and the dying moments of the game hit a three pointer and mad a big rebound. Tuesday night he was in Mississauga where he was a big factor in the 905 game two win scoring 16-points, grabbed seven boards and had nine assists.

Stackhouse’s face lit up when talked about VanVleet’s Monday night effort.

The plan was player development when the season started, but now they have a shot at a championship and Jerry Stackhouse and his group are going to take a shot it.

Winning a championship in the NBDL is probably the most difficult thing to pull off compared to let’s say baseball and hockey who’s minor league operations are set up by their sports to be true player development operations.

In hockey and baseball the entire rosters belong to their parent teams where all the players are under contract to that club. Stackhouse never knows for sure who will be on his roster from day-to-day, moment-to-moment.

 

 

   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.