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NBA Washington Wizards Brandon Jennings / New York Knicks

Why The Knicks Fell Apart This Season Phil Jackson

By Frank McLean

Thursday night the Washington Wizards hosted the New York Knicks for the NBA’s latest version of guaranteed win night which is what a team gets when they host the Knicks.

The Knicks didn’t disappoint as they lost 106-103 to drop their season record to 30-wins and 49-losses leaving them with only three more agonizing games left in their regular season schedule for their battered and bruised fans back in New York City.

If you remember back on December 22nd the Knicks were 16-13 and they looked like they were on their way to their goal of making a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

So what went wrong? How did the train fall of tracks?

Before Thursday’s night’s game the Wizards Brandon Jennings weighed in on what went wrong with the New York media saying that once the Carmelo Anthony trade rumors started from Phil Jackson in January it all fell apart.

Jennings started the season with the Knicks after signing a deal with the club in the offseason.

After playing just 58-games averaging 8.6-points a game he was waived by the Knicks on February 27th and then signed with the Wizards on March first for the remainder of the season.

Anthony as we all know has a no trade clause in his contract and it’s known that Jackson was actively trying to move Anthony before the trade deadline. Jennings said that it definitely was bothering Anthony.

“It definitely took a toll, I think, on the team. Because it wasn’t even about basketball anymore, it was more about what was going on with Melo,” Jennings said. It was one of the wildest situations he has been in during his eight seasons in the league.

Jennings added that it was “cool” playing with Anthony, but went on to say that Anthony had “a lot of pressure on him dealing with stuff with Phil.”  Jennings went on to say that it just wasn’t fair what Anthony had to go through.

“I think it was just a roller coaster, an emotional roller coaster for him this year with everything he had to deal with, which isn’t fair,” he said. “For a player to wake up every day and you’re hearing trade rumors and you might be gone and this and that. It was like a two-week span where everybody was hitting your phone about Melo leaving.”

Jennings has a point. The Knicks were in Toronto playing the Raptors in January just a couple of days after the first Anthony to be traded out of New York started when a story came out attributed from a former Jackson colleague that Anthony has to go because he can’t play the triangle offense.

By the time the Knicks came back to Toronto in March you could see that the rumors had taken their toll in the locker room and on the court.

Other factors have to be considered too. The roster mix just didn’t fit, they couldn’t play a simple defense and the fact they couldn’t or wouldn’t play the triangle.

But Jennings hit it on the head that once the Anthony trade rumors started that pretty well killed their season.

Of course the rumors won’t go away as speculation has it that the Knicks will pursue a trade in the offseason and Anthony has hinted he may agree to one.  Meanwhile things have worked out well for Jennings.

When he was waived by the Knicks it was a mutual parting of the ways by both parties.

“I’m on my contract year so I didn’t want to go home in April,” Jennings said about the matter. “I have a chance to go to the playoffs, so I’m really excited about that.”

Who wouldn’t be excited (to leave the Knicks this season)?

 

 

   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 Orlando Magic Terrence Ross

Terrence Ross Exceeding Expectations With The Magic

By Frank McLean

Terrence Ross made his return to Toronto with his new team the Orlando Magic and even though for Ross it’s still “a little strange” being a member of the Magic, his new head coach Frank Vogel is happy to have him.

“He has played beyond expectations,” Vogel said when Pro Bball Report asked him about the short time Ross has been a member of the Magic.

Vogel has always been a big fan of Ross, having played the Raptors three to four times a year during his previous gig as the head man in Indiana. Vogel knew that Ross, when he’s hot, can be as deadly a shooter as anyone in the NBA.

Ross is entrenched in a special spot in the Raptors record book as one of only two players to have a 50-plus point game in franchise history when he tied Vince Carter’s 51-point record against the Los Angeles Clippers three years ago.

During his four and a half years in Toronto Ross was a key man coming off the bench for Raptors coach Dwane Casey. In Orlando, he has been in the starting line-up every night.

“I have always been high on Terrence when we played him when I was with the Pacers,” Vogel said. “I know what he can do and a lot of guys when you come into a new system you can exceed your expectations or fall short and Terrence has definitely exceeded my expectations in terms of being a high character guy and fitting in well.

“His transition was seamless,” Vogel added. “He picked up everything very, very quickly on both ends of the floor. And he fits this style of play that we are trying to implement.”

The deal the Magic made sending power forward Serge Ibaka to Toronto for Ross signalled a change in their style of play from the start of the season.

In the off season the plan was to go big and play a physical style of basketball. They signed Bismack Biyombo to a 70-million plus contract in which he has turned into a backup center and they acquired Ibaka from Oklahoma City to join Nikola Vucevic to form a modern day version of smashmouth basketball.

As a result third year power forward Aaron Gordon was moved to small forward and it did just not work out the way the Magic had planned so they decided to change their philosophy midway through the season.

Putting Gordon back at power forward and having Ross at small forward is working out better for the Magic.

“Offensively it’s not just a catch and shoot game. The memories I have of him (Ross) are drilling those corner threes when we were over helping on DeMar and Kyle,” Vogel said. “We have really been able to put the ball in his hands in the dribble-handoff game and off screens. Not only is he knocking down shots but he’s making plays off the bounce. He’s a dynamic play-maker when he’s going downhill towards the basket and making good decisions with the pass.”

The changes the Magic have made will not put them in the playoffs this season. Vogel said the goal now for this group is to win as many games as they can down the stretch to give them a good taste in their mouth as they take off for a long summer offseason and come to training camp in October on a positive note.

One thing for sure Ross will be a key part in a Magic team that will be gunning for a playoff spot next season and the Magic are happy they have him.

 

 

   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 New York Knicks Derrick Rose by Larry Millson

Can Things Get Any Worse For The Knicks?

By Frank McLean

Last week was not a banner week for the NBA’s most dysfunctional franchise, the New York Knicks. The news surrounding Phil Jackson, Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah was worse than all the losing. So, let’s work our way backwards and review the week that was for the embittered team.

On Saturday, not letting a deficit of 19-points at halftime deter them, the Knicks hung on to lose in San Antonio 106-98 and complete a perfect 0-for-4 west coast road trip and extend their losing streak to five games.

The Knicks have gone into complete tank mode, looking to get the best pick in the lottery and find a savior in the NBA draft to start their 100th rebuild since they won their last championship back in the early 70’s.

In the bizarre world of the Knicks, losing is good and losing big, even though they look like they are trying to follow the failed team building method of the Philadelphia 76ers, is “trusting the process.”

Meanwhile the guy running the show, Phil Jackson, might be expected to, you know, attend NCAA Tournament games for an up close and personal look at that one special player who might be able to play within his out dated triangle offense. Nah, that makes too much sense for the “Zen Master.”

Instead, when the Knicks left Los Angeles, Phil stayed behind to be present for the Shaquille O’Neal statue unveiling outside the Staples Center Friday night. Better to have your ego stroked and remind everyone you used to be a genius coaching all those championship teams in Chicago and Southern California and not the dummy you are thought off in New York.

Saturday saw the Knicks lose Joakim Noah to a 20-game suspension for violating the NBA’s drug policy. It seems that Noah took an over the counter banned performance enhancing substance. It’s seems Noah decided not to pick the brains of the team doctors who can tell you what supplements you can take and which ones to avoid.

Noah took a supplement with androgen that help’s with testosterone. It tends to act like an anabolic steroid and hence is viewed as a performance-enhancing ingredient because it “provides many of the muscle-building and therapeutic benefits of testosterone.’’ An NBA source told the New York Post that some items have been removed from the list in the new CBA for next season, but this one remained.

Noah is on the injured list, so his suspension will start when he comes off and is healthy enough to play. He is expected to be eligible to return this season so his suspension will cover the end of this season and the start of next totaling 20-games.

Almost overshadowed were the comments from Derrick Rose. Acquired in an offseason trade from Chicago with one year left on his contract, Rose hinted he is not considering coming back to the Knicks.

“I’ve got more than enough money saved. If I stopped playing basketball now, I’ll be all right. I want to win. I want to be happy and feel at peace with myself wherever I’m at. But being at the negotiating table, you never know. I’m not going to negotiate with people where money is the number one thing I’m asking for. I want to win.”

It’s hard not to read between the lines that he is saying, “I’m out of here.”

“This will be the first time I’ll be a free agent,” Rose added. “I don’t know how that process goes. After the season, me, my agent, my brothers, family will have to talk about it. Of course I want to be here, just being in this environment, being in New York, being at the Garden every other night, it’s a blessing. But, again, I have to really talk it over with my agent and my brothers.”

Give him credit, he made sure he did not insult the city of New York. It’s just that the Knicks as a team to play for sucks.

That was the week that was for the Knicks. It will be fun to see how they can screw things up this week and next and next. Winning any more games might be the biggest mistake at this point. Oops, what was the point in beating the Pistons on Monday?

 

 

   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 GM Masai Ujiri

Raptors Sitting In The Catbird Seat For The Playoffs

By Frank McLean

The Toronto Raptors return home Monday night to the Air Canada Center sitting in the catbird seat to start their stretch of their last nine games before the playoffs with a four game home stand against the Orlando Magic and an old friend Terrance Ross.

The Raptors officially punched their ticket to NBA playoffs for a franchise record fourth straight season on the back of their 94-86 win over the Mavericks in Dallas Saturday night which also was their fifth straight win in a row.

Schedule wise the Raptors are sitting in a great spot. Eight of their last nine games are against teams with a record blow .500. On the final night of the season they play in Cleveland against the Cavaliers the only team with a record better than .500 and if the game means nothing to the defending champions you can bet your life it will be another night of rest for Lebron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love.

The Raptors have a great opportunity to improve their lot in the Eastern Conference standings with this soft schedule heading into the stretch drive.

They sit fourth at 44-29 3.5 games back of Cleveland and Boston who are tied for first and a game back of Washington who is sitting third.

The goal is to try and avoid a match-up with Cleveland until the third round which would be the conference championship. What helps is that they have the tie breaker with Washington so third place is realistic. They just have to keep winning.

Another benefit of winning five straight is that they have a seven game lead over the fifth place Atlanta Hawks and unless they really hit the skids over these final nine games they pretty well have home court advantage in the first round locked up. Home court was something three weeks ago that wasn’t a sure thing.

The Raptors are hot at the right time which is saying something since they have not had the heart and soul of their offense Kyle Lowry since the all-star break because of a wrist injury.

The three teams in front of them all have some sort of weakness.

First let’s look at the defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers who are struggling to play defence right now. They are just 5-5 in their last 10-games. They dominate at home with a 28-8 record, but struggle away from Quicken Loans Arena and are barely over .500 at 19-17.

The Boston Celtics did not make any moves at the trade deadline which made General Manager Danny Ainge the target of the wrath from Celtics Nation. They have had trouble rebounding all season, but they are riding a four game win streak because they have been carried on the back of guard Isaiah Thomas. Thomas scored 30-points Sunday in a win at home against Miami.

And last you have the Washington Wizards who will have barely seen the US capitol city they live in this month. They started off in Cleveland Saturday night their last 10-games of the regular season with their second five game road trip this month which finish’s with the last four games on the west coast against the Lakers, Clippers, Utah and Golden State in that order.

And when they are done with that road trip they only play two of their final five games at home.

As you can see, evidence points to the Raptors having a golden opportunity to move up in the standings and somewhere in their last nine games they hope to get Kyle Lowry back in the lineup.

The Raptors are sitting in the catbird seat. They have their destiny in their own hands and all they have to do is keep winning, something the schedule maker has made a doable task.

Somewhere quietly behind the scenes, Raptors president Masai Ujiri is smiling.

 

 

   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 Jakob Poeltl

Raptors Rookie Center Jakob Poeltl Doesn’t Make Mistakes

By Frank McLean

On a team with deep playoff aspirations, rookies and young players in general often get nailed to the bench because they just make too many mistakes, but Raptors rookie center Jakob Poeltl may be one of the exceptions as he has cracked head coach Dwane Casey’s rotation post All-Star break.

“He’s always in the right place, very few mistakes, he’s very physical, he’s not afraid, he loves contact,” Casey said. “All those things add up, this is a physical game and he meets all those criteria.”

Back on draft night in June the Toronto Raptors had two picks in the first round. Their own and the ninth pick overall which they got from the New York Knicks in a deal that sent Andrea Bargnani to Broadway. However, with the Raptors coming off a season where they made it to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time in franchise history the thought was, what did they need with a draft pick? The need was for a veteran power forward to put them over the top.

With that ninth pick they found a seven foot center out of the University of Utah named Jakob Poeltl. Poeltl became an answer to a trivia question that night as he became the first Austrian born player in the history of the NBA.
The thought was Poeltl would be on the QEW highway shuttle between the Air Canada Centre and Mississauga playing most of his time with Jerry Stackhouse`s Raptors 905.

But with Jared Sullinger going down in the first preseason game with a foot injury Poeltl was able to get some minutes at the start of the season at power forward, but he eventually his lost his minutes to the Raptors other first round pick Pascal Siakam and found a spot on the bench.

Poeltl didn`t let it discourage him. He kept learning. It didn`t matter if he was on the bench, working extra reps in practice, or playing for the 905ers. He kept trying to get better.

It paid off this month with Poeltl taking Lucas Nogueira’s spot in the rotation and making a big contribution to team that is missing a big chunk of their offence without Kyle Lowry’s 23 points and seven assists a game.

Since the All-Star break, Poeltl has played in 11 games averaging 11 minutes, 2.9 points, 3.3 rebounds and 0.5 blocks and coach Dwane Casey has no issues bringing the rookie into the game.

“For me, just every time you put him in, he does something positive,” Casey was saying the other day at practice. “There’s that trust, not only with myself but with his teammates. He’s doing positive things. He plays with physicality. The only thing, and it’s not his fault, is cheap fouls, he gets a lot of cheap calls.”

Of course rookies in the NBA don`t get any love from the officials as the NBA is run like a feudal system where you have to earn your way up the respect ladder with the refs.

When you talk to Poeltl, playing the physical style of game that is demanded of professional basketball was the hardest thing to get adjusted to.

“Not now, not anymore, because I feel like I’m used to it already,” Poeltl said. “I’m still not the most physical player, but at least I’ve got adjusted to the new level of physicality in the NBA. But that was definitely a challenge to start the season, getting used to playing against bigger bodies and stronger guys.”

Poeltl has natural basketball instincts. His parents were athletes but roundball wasn`t their game, volleyball was.

“I don’t know,” Poeltl said. “I mean, I guess both my parents were athletes, I was always in love with sports in general, I was like playing around, playing basketball as a little kid. But it’s really just instincts. I don’t know where it’s coming from, I just feel comfortable out there and I feel like I know where I’m supposed to go.”

Regardless of where his natural instincts came from, the Raptors are just happy to have drafted him last June. His play of late has been a big help allowing the team to have a trusted back-up when Jonas Valanciunas needs a break.

Rookies don`t generally make an impact on a veteran playoff team, but this Austrian trailblazer has been the exception this month.

 

  

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

 

 

 

Adam Silver

Are NBA Teams Putting Themselves Ahead Of Their Fans?

By Frank McLean

The issue of teams resting their star players for no reason other than they want them to have a night off because of a compact NBA schedule has reared its ugly head again. This time on a prime time Saturday night game ESPN had scheduled for its sister network ABC with the defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers visiting the Los Angeles Clippers. The Cavaliers decided that morning that LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love were going to take the night off.

This is a practice that was started by San Antonio Spurs head coach Greg Popovich a few years back when he decided to rest his stars Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, etc in a game in Miami. The Heat being a non-conference opponent, Pop he felt he needed to rest his players for a game against a Western Conference opponent the next night which was crucial in the standings, and they were on a four games in five night schedule.

San Antonio was fined $250,000 by then-NBA commissioner David Stern in the 2012-13 season when coach Gregg Popovich sent Danny Green, Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili home for rest on Nov. 29, 2012, rather than having them play Miami in the final game of a six-game road trip. – NBA.com

Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that game was a TNT game of the week just like this past Saturday’s Cavaliers-Clippers game was nationally televised match-up.

On Monday, in a memo sent out by commissioner Adam Silver to the owners and referenced on NBA.com, the NBA league office let teams know that resting their star players is an extremely significant issue for our league.

“Decisions of this kind … can affect fans and business partners, impact our reputation and damage the perception of our game,” Silver wrote in the memo, which was obtained by The Associated Press. “With so much at stake, it is simply not acceptable for governors to be uninvolved or to defer decision-making authority on these matters to others in their organizations.”

Silver stated that the issue of resting players will be at the top of the agenda April 6th the day of the next Board of Governors meeting. Silver is quoted in the memo saying “significant penalties for teams that don’t abide by the league’s standing rules for providing ‎notice to the league office, their opponent, and the media immediately upon a determination that a player will not participate in a game due to rest.”

Not only does the league have to stand by their television partners, whose billions of dollars paid for television rights is the main reason league revenues go up every year, but fans who buy tickets to games months in advance expecting to see LeBron James and company and instead get the B team.

As Silver said, “it is unacceptable for owners to be uninvolved or defer decision-making on this topic to others in their organizations, who may not have the same awareness of the impact these decisions can have on fans and business partners, the reputation of the league and perception of our game.”

What irked me and I’m sure what really irked ESPN was the attitude of Cavaliers General Manager David Griffin who really didn’t care what people thought of his stars taking a night off.

“They’re paying me to win a championship.” Griffin told ESPN.com. “I’m not overly concerned about the perception of it. We literally had one guy rest tonight, and everybody else was reasonably injured, so I don’t feel like we did anything terribly egregious.”

He went on to say that it’s not his job to appease the league and it’s television partners.

On Monday, ESPN management released a statement about teams resting their star players during nationally televised games.

“As always, our aim is to serve NBA fans with the best matchups involving the league’s top stars and we share the fans’ disappointment. We understand this is a complex issue and we’re working closely with the NBA to best address it going forward from a media partnership standpoint.”

What finally drove ESPN management over the edge was it was the second Saturday in a row a team decided to rest it big guns.

The previous week the Golden State Warriors were in stretch of playing eight games in eight different cities over a 13-day period covering a pair of cross country trips and some 11-thousand miles logged and in which six of those games were slated as a TNT or ESPN appearance. So for that Saturday night game with rival San Antonio Warriors coach Steve Kerr gave the night off to Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala.

So what does the league do to stop this?

They did announce during All-Star Weekend that they are cutting the pre-season by a week and starting the regular season earlier to cut down on the back to back games and hopefully reduce injuries.

“That’s why we’re adding the extra week to the season,” Silver said during his news conference at the All-Star Game. “We’ve reduced the number of games we’ll play in the preseason and added a full week to the regular season. … That extra week in our schedule will enable us to cut down on the back-to-backs, cut down on the number of times that our teams are obligated to play four games in five nights, and it will enable the coaches to provide additional rest for their players.”

Maybe the NBA could adopt what the NHL did this season where each team got five days off sometime in January or February. Teams were not allowed to practice during those five days so it was something that went along with the five days each team got in January for the all-star break.

I’m sure it’s an idea that might be brought up by governors from the Knicks and Raptors who’s parent companies also own NHL teams when they meet in April.

The issue of resting stars who are not hurt is something you don’t see in other sports. It’s something the NBA has to correct or maybe their television partners might look at spending their money elsewhere.

 

 

   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 Norman Powell & Delon Wright

The Raptors Will Be Relying More On Norman Powell

By Frank McLean

When Terrence Ross was traded to the Orlando Magic last week for Serge Ibaka one member of the Raptors stood to gain a lot more playing time and that’s second year guard Norman Powell.

Powell, whose rights were acquired by the Raptors on draft night in 2016 from the Milwaukee Bucks for Greivis Vasquez, has shown some spurts of brilliance in his year and a half with the Raptors. He has been a fan favorite and his two way play on the floor and hard work in practice is something head coach Dwane Casey loves and he will tell you that when asked.

He was factor in last year’s playoffs in the first two rounds against Indiana and Miami, but as a rookie he was not as successful against a Cleveland Cavaliers team that was headed for their first ever championship.

This season during DeMar DeRozan absence due to his ankle injury he started and since DeRozan came back he has been a big cog in the fourth quarter providing impact off the bench like a fourth line player in hockey.


He’s only been averaging seven points and two rebounds a game, but in the last two games before the All-Star break with Terrance Ross gone he got to see a lot of time and he produced.

In 18-minutes against the Chicago Bulls he put up 13-points and the next night against the Charlotte Hornets he played 28-minutes and scored 17-points.

Raptors head coach Dwane Casey admits that way Powell has been used it hasn’t made things easy for him.

“As a coaching staff, we put him in a tough situation. He starts one game and has a rhythm. He comes off the bench in the fourth quarter when we need him and it’s a different rhythm. That’s hard to do and it’s tough on him, but as I mentioned to the players, this is the NBA. You have a chance to do your job. If it’s two minutes, five minutes, the whole game, go in and do your job. And don’t forget what got you here. The dirty work, the grimy work. So whether it’s Norm or whoever is in that role has to remember that I got here by being a grinder, a tough defender at my position, and offensively do what comes naturally.”

Powell says it would be easy knowing what the rotation is going to be on a given night, but as the old saying goes, it is what it is.

“I think it would be easier knowing the rotations, knowing when you are going to go in, knowing when your name is going to be called, but it’s still the same thing for me. I have to go in there and produce and help on both sides of the ball, defense first. Take some of the workload off Kyle (Lowry) and DeMar (DeRozan) when asked and just try to be productive in my minutes. That’s presented to me and I’m just looking forward to it. It’s a new opportunity that I’m ready for.” 

Powell is happy for the opportunity to get more playing time, but he was close to Ross and this was a lesson that professional basketball is a business and sometimes you lose friends.

“I mean it’s crazy waking up and seeing not just your teammate, but a close friend of yours gone. Being here my first year and a half, I just wish him the best and thank him for everything we talked about and helping me along the way. All the best to him in his new situation. There’s an opportunity for him down in Orlando but, you know, he’s going to be missed.”

Powell’s opportunity almost vanished at the last second on trade deadline day when the team acquired the versatile defensive specialist P.J. Tucker, but before a game could be played, Kyle Lowry showed up with a sore wrist. A wrist injury that has now been determined will keep Lowry out of the lineup for a month or more. Minutes that supposedly had vanished were back on the table for the Raptors second year guards Delon Wright and Powell.

In the first three games after the All-Star break Powell has averaged 15.3 minutes, 4.7 points and 4.3 rebounds. It’s not the same role as he would have enjoyed if the team hadn’t of acquired Tucker, but it’s a role he likely gets to keep – for a while at least. Wright is averaging 13.7 minutes as the two young guards have been splitting the time the now starting Cory Joseph was playing off the bench.

Powell knows this is his opportunity to make a name for himself in the NBA and if the last five games are any indication, he’s not going to waste 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 Toronto Raptors Terrence Ross

Raptors Give Terrence Ross A Fresh Start With The Magic

By Frank McLean

When the Toronto Raptors sent Terrence Ross and a first round draft pick to the Orlando Magic for big power forward Serge Ibaka, they gave their promising young wing a chance at a fresh start. An opportunity to realize his obvious potential without an All-Star standing in his way.

During my days covering the Toronto Blue Jays, the hall of fame general manager Pat Gillick would always tell us that you always have to give up something good to get something good back whenever you make a trade.

Ross in his five years in Toronto was definition of being a hot and cold player. A player Raptors head coach Dwane Casey put a lot of time and effort into developing and showed a lot of faith in despite the inconsistent results.

He is a 38-percent three point shooter lifetime and when he is good he is real good. Like the night a few years back when he scored 51-points against the Los Angeles Clippers tying the franchise record for points in a single game with Vince Carter.

Then there are nights when you watch him and he struggles. Nights when he couldn’t put a jump shot into Lake Ontario from the shore.

Struggling to become a consistent NBA player has been something that didn’t change during his five years in Toronto.

One of the reasons he wasn’t traded sooner by the Raptors was the fear that if he was moved the light might finally come on and the potential that was always there would come to fruition and Ross would become the All-Star he was projected to be.

“As you watch our team play, it’s no secret that sometimes we struggle to make shots, and I think his ability to do just that intrigues us,” Magic general manager Rob Hennigan said last week when acquiring Ross. “His age, his contract are all things that we feel are positives and strengths for us. As Terrence gets situated here, I think his ability to stretch the floor, his ability to score will help our team. I think it’ll help our team at both ends of the floor.”

Ross knows that the skill sets he brings to the table will  help the Magic.

“My shooting, my athleticism and defense. I think I can try to help with that when it comes to the wing position,” Ross told the Orlando Sentinel in an interview last week. “I’m really just looking forward to playing with the guys, getting to know the team, getting to know the city, and just playing hard for them.”

“I had a great time in Toronto. I spent five good years there and grew a lot. The city accepted me and I have a lot of memories. But I’m ready to take the next step in my career, and I’m looking forward to the opportunity to play for Frank Vogel and play for the Magic and play for the city. I’m just excited about all this.”

Ross made his Magic debut Thursday night at home against the Portland Trail-Blazers where the Magic blew an 11-point fourth quarter lead in an eventual 112-103 loss.

It looked like Ross put the proverbial dagger in the Trail-Blazers when he hit a three pointer with 9:07 left in the fourth to give the Magic a 91-80 lead and then they imploded.

As Magic coach Frank Vogel told me in a conversation we had during the Magic’s recent visit to Toronto “we have to learn how to win” and that showed Thursday night.

Ross started and played 33 minutes, going 4-17 from the field for 13 points and 5 rebounds, so maybe Ross isn’t the one player the Magic need to put them over the top and make them a consistent playoff contender, but he is a start.

Then on Saturday night against the Hawks Ross played 35 minutes and shot 10-15 from the field for a game-high 24 points as the Magic won 105-86 as if to emphasize his potential.

Ross’ long term spot in the rotation hasn’t been decided yet. He may continue to start or he could come off the bench like he did with the Raptors, but one thing is sure Ross is getting a second chance with the Magic and he is going to make the most of 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 D-League Mississauga Raptors 905 Jerry Stackhouse

Raptors 905 Coach Jerry Stackhouse Has Been An Instant Success

By Frank McLean

He’s only halfway through his first season as a head coach in professional basketball, but already Jerry Stackhouse is getting recognition for the job he has done with the NBA Development League (NBDL) Raptors 905.

After beating Canton 118-88, Stackhouse has the 905 sitting in first place in the Central Division with a 24-9 record, the second best in the league overall, just behind the Pacific Division leading Los Angeles Defenders who are 26-8. So he got the honor of coaching the NBDL’s Eastern Conference All-Stars as part of the NBA All-Star festivities in New Orleans.

Coby Karl who is the head coach of the Defenders will be Western Conference coach, and if the surname sounds familiar it is. Coby is the son of legendary NBA coach George Karl who has over a thousand wins as an NBA bench boss.

After spending last year as an assistant on Dwane Casey’s staff with the big club over at the Air Canada Centre, Casey and team president Masai Ujiri thought he would perfect fit to replace Jesse Mermuys with the 905 who had taken a job as an assistant coach on Luke Walton’s Los Angeles Lakers staff.

Being a head coach in the NBDL presents a whole different set of dynamics than it does in the NBA, and Stackhouse has handled it with no problems.

You have a roster full of players who are trying to get to an NBA roster as well as having players sent down from the parent club who need minutes to develop which they can’t get on the NBA squad. When young players like Bruno Caboclo, Fred VanVleet and Delon Wright or veterans like Jared Sullinger on an injury rehab assignment are sent to Mississauga for playing time those non-Raptors players end up on the bench or not dressing for the game at all.

“He wants us to do every detail, to be perfect,” Caboclo told Pro Bball Report earlier this season. “Basketball is a game of mistakes and with him, (he wants) less. He works us very hard every day.”

“The 905 is like everybody is family. Everybody helps each other, the coach too.”

Balancing egos and keeping player agents happy are a big part of your job description. Fortunately, managing people is something Stackhouse is comfortable with.

“Managing people, managing the players, managing the different personalities not so much the basketball part of it is something I have been doing all my life and I feel comfortable with it,” Stackhouse said. “I think I’m a little bit father figure, little bit big brother. These guys are real young. Some of these guys I got they are kids aged 19-20. I’m a father figure to them but at the same time I have to forge a relationship with them so they can talk to me about things.”

One of the things Stackhouse and his coaching staff do every day at practice is run a drill where the coaches take on the players. At 41 Stackhouse is still in great shape and he will tell you he thinks he could still give some minutes in an NBA game if called upon. He can ball when he gets a chance to go one-on-one with his players.

But, Stackhouse will tell you his real joy is to get players to the NBA.

“It would be great to win the D-League championship, but my job is to try and help them (the players) get to the next level,” Stackhouse said. If we get 10 of these guys called up, man that would be the best thing to happen to me this season.”

Stackhouse earned his moment in the limelight at All-Star weekend as a coach and the work he has done so far has proved Casey and Ujiri right when they tapped him for the Raptors 905 job.

 

   

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.

 

 

 

 

Indiana Pacers Frank Vogel 2016 NBA playoffs

Magic Coach Frank Vogel Faces A Reality Check

By Frank McLean

Serge Ibaka was traded from Orlando to Toronto on Valentine’s Day as the slumping Magic were forced to face a reality check. Even new head coach Frank Vogel couldn’t turn this collection of mismatched talent into a playoff team.

A highly successful and respected head coach, Vogel had an instant impact with the Pacers, turning the team around in the second half of the 2010-11 season and leading them to the postseason, however, his first season with the Magic hasn’t gone so smoothly.

Vogel had landed on his feet with in Orlando after his contract was unexpectedly not renewed by the Indiana Pacers. On May 5th just after the Pacers had lost Game Seven of their first round series with the Toronto Raptors, Pacers President of basketball operations Larry Bird announced they were not going to renew Vogel’s contract saying that the team needed “a new voice to lead the players.”

People around the NBA couldn’t figure this out. In his six years with the Pacers he had 250-181 record taking the team to playoffs in five of those six years and getting to the Eastern Conference Finals twice.

Last year he took a Pacers team with less talent than the Raptors to seven games in the first round of the playoffs almost pulling off the upset. So you figured it was a no brainer that he would bring Vogel back, but Bird decided to make a change.

Talking to Vogel when the Magic were in Toronto recently he told me he had no idea that Bird was not going to bring him back and that he was as surprised as anyone about the decision. But with his track record you knew he would not be out of work long and as it turned out it was less than three weeks.

Vogel has his work cut out for him in Orlando. Currently. they sit in 14th place in the Eastern Conference well back of the Detroit Pistons for the eighth and last playoff spot and it was highly unlikely they would make the post-season prior to trading away their best player, starting power forward Serge Ibaka, for the Raptors backup wing Terrence Ross and a draft pick.

In our conversation Vogel told me that it’s not just one thing about the Magic’s game right now that needs fixing.

“It’s a little bit of everything, not good enough offensively, not good on defense. I haven’t been satisfied with our effort on a consistent basis. We don’t have three all-stars on our team and it’s been disappointing and I have challenged our guys to correct it.”

“Effort is not the guys are not trying to make hustle plays. (It’s) losing focus and attention to detail, it’s all those things that I consider effort in my book. They are running hard they are playing hard, (but) you got to be your best every time you step on the floor.”

The first thing the Magic did in the offseason to start correcting their defensive problems was, unfortunately, to trade Ersan Ilyasova, Victor Oladipo and Domatas Sabonis for Ibaka. A trade that has now netted them just a late first round pick and Ross. Then they signed the Raptors free agent backup center Bismack Biyombo to a four year $70-million deal.

In hindsight, but foreseeable, the moves pushed power forward Aaron Gordon out of position to small forward and left the team light on guards and heavy on big men. Vogel was going to have his work cut out for him trying to win with this roster. At least the acquisition of Ross does help address the need for better guard depth.

From the start, Vogel wanted his team to copy the work ethic on defense that Biyombo brings to the table in his communication skills and commitment and that’s something the Magic can continue to build on.

“It’s part of building that culture. It takes time to establish time to implement those habits”, Vogel said about learning from Biyombo. “To play on the defensive end not just communicate but to commit.”

When you wrap everything up Vogel is trying to do with the Magic what all the other 29-coaches in the NBA are trying to do with their team and that’s make them winners.

“Winning is a competitive response. We have to figure out with this group how to win. We win games and then the next time out we respond with a poor performance and I have challenged them to fix that.”

Regardless of what further changes happen with the Magic, the Pacers loss should still be the Magic’s gain in regards to Vogel. His track record proves that sooner before later, Vogel will straighten out the Magic.

 

   

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 Kyle Lowry Carries A Heavy Load In Toronto

By Frank McLean

Okay Raptors fans who’s is averaging more minutes a game in the NBA this year than MVP candidates James Harden, Russell Westbrook and some guy named LeBron James. Would you believe Kyle Lowry?

At 37-minutes a game Lowry is leading the league with minutes played.  17-times this year he has logged 40-minutes or more in a game. He carries a heavy load in Toronto each and every night.

He has been the Raptors most consistent player because of his ability to log heavy minutes in a season where he has been one of the lucky ones to avoid extended stays on the injury list, which started in the summer league with Delon Wright and added Jared Sullinger in the preseason and more recently Patrick Patterson and his partner at guard DeMar DeRozan.

You wonder how Lowry is able to keep it up? Along with DeRozan he spent the summer with the USA Basketball winning the gold medal at the Olympics and had maybe a total of three weeks off before training camp rolled around for the current NBA season.

Lowry will tell you though he is enjoying every minute of it.

“I play basketball for a living. It’s very easy. It’s very easy to get up and then when you have a great group of guys and great coaches around you it’s fun. At times you’re like I want to sleep in longer, but it’s your job. At the end of the day it brings home the bacon.”

Lowry and the Raptors have been enjoying something that the schedule doesn’t give you very often and that’s three days off before their next game. They also have games Tuesday and Wednesday before the team gets eight days off for the All-Star break.

Now Lowry along with DeRozan won’t get the full eight days off since they will be in New Orleans to play in the game, but with only four wins in their last 13-games, this break is needed.

But the problem for the Raptors is not just needing a rest. Their defence has disappeared and that showed in a Wednesday night loss in Minnesota.

Lowry as the leader of this team spoke Wednesday night about what needs to be done down the stretch to the playoffs because the defence has not been their consistently all year.

“Honestly, no it hasn’t,” Lowry said. “I think we had one good game where we shot 38 or 40% and we won the game. That’s one game this year. Other than that I just feel like we have to figure it out and it’s on everyone. It’s on myself to hold guys acceptable, it’s on DeMar to hold guys accountable, it’s on us to lead us. It starts with us. We got to both do it. Then DeMarre (Carroll) and (Jonas Valanciunas) and everyone else has to step up.

“Something has got to shake, something has got to give. It’s not in the sense of doing something, we just have to figure it out ourselves. When I say something has got to give we just all have to give in and figure out our defence, put ourselves on the line and hold each other accountable. We are a good team, but as of now we are not a good team. We are not playing like a good team.”

Lowry has been ‘the man’ all season, averaging 23-points, five rebounds and seven assists. With DeRozan back from his ankle injury, the dynamic duo are averaging a combined 51-points a night.

This also Lowry’s contract year and a big payday of over $25-million a year will be coming his way.

He’s earned it. He has been the Raptors most reliable player all 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.

  Featured image courtesy of Larry Millson

 

 

 

 

NBA L.A. Clippers Paul Pierce remembering the Boston Celtics

Paul Pierce’s Last Hurrah In Boston Goes According To Script

By Frank McLean

Paul Pierce’s last hurrah on the court in Boston couldn’t have gone any better. It was like it went according to script, a special moment in a special career.

“It was really cool,” Clippers head coach Doc Rivers said pregame in Toronto. “I don’t know what it meant to me, but that was as neat of a thing as I have been involved with that’s not playoffs. It was a fanbased, the way they received Paul was unbelievable.

“If you were a Boston fan yesterday you had one helluva day. The Celtics won, Paul Pierce makes the last shot and then New England wins (the Super Bowl). They had a good day yesterday.

“I look back on (the last play and) everyone got it. End of a game guys usually come down and jack shots, the game was over, but Austin (Rivers) came down, he knew to give it to Paul. Isaiah (Thomas) was guarding Paul, he knew to back up and give him a shot. It was like everyone kind of got it which is rare. Usually there’s that one guy with the ego that ruins the moment and it was funny, everyone got it. That was really nice.

“It was great to see what it’s like when you win something and do something in one city which I think more players should do more of. It’s really cool.

“I was a baseball White Socks fan and I stapled Dick Allen and George on the wall and they stayed there for years. They never left. Now you need Velcro.”

Excuse me a second if I sound like an old fart who thinks that things were better when he was younger than they are nowadays. I don’t think that way, but when it comes to professional sports in general I will make the argument it was better in the old days.

When I was a kid your sports heroes stayed with one team their whole career. If you were fan of a certain team like the Boston Celtics the Larry Bird’s the John Havlachek’s stayed with their team for their whole career. You just knew that when each season started your star guy was going to be in the lineup.

Paul Pierce who was drafted with the 10th pick overall in the 1998 draft never got to stay his whole career in Boston. He lasted 15-years with the green and white but then spent a year in Brooklyn and another year in Washington before playing the last two years with his old Celtics coach Doc Rivers and the Clippers where he is going to hang it up after a stellar 19-year career at the end of the season.

On Sunday Pierce played his last game at TD Bank Garden where along with Rivers as coach he won his only NBA championship in 2008.

His best days are behind him. He has only got into 13-games this year averaging just four points and one rebound a game, but that didn’t matter to the Garden faithful who brought him to tears chanting “we want Paul” and his nickname “the truth”.

Rivers made the class move of putting Pierce in the starting lineup playing the first five minutes of the game. But with the fans still chanting for Pierce, Rivers put him back out there for the last 20-seconds of the game where took a pass from Doc’s kid Austin and hit a 28-foot three-pointer for the only points he would score in a game which the Clippers lost 107-102.

It was kind of like another Boston great Ted Williams hitting a home run in his final at bat in Fenway Park, but the difference here is Pierce was playing for the opposition.

“It’s a tough situation. You’ve been sitting for like the last two hours and then I had to come in there and get a shot,” Pierce said afterward. “But I’m glad I ended it that way. It was a lot of emotion running through. My teammates kind of felt it too. I’m glad I was able to cap it off, my last game in the Garden. At least I can just say I put one last bucket in at the end of the game.”

“I never felt anything like this,” Pierce added. “I truly appreciate my time here. I truly appreciate tonight. Fans really showered me with a lot of love. It was just — you really don’t know what you meant to a team while you’re playing, and you really don’t get a chance to really reflect on it while you’re playing.”

When asked about putting Pierce back into the game Rivers said, “I’m no dummy.

“So once I thought the game was in hand to Boston, we put him back in. And him making that shot just, that’s just, I don’t know what the heck that is.  That’s that only happens like here, or, I don’t know what that is. I don’t know who can sit that long and walk in on the floor and make a shot.”

Monday night the Clippers make their only appearance in Toronto this year and Pierce will not be hearing any cheers. It’s more likely he’ll be booed by the Raptors faithful.

In the 2013-14 playoffs in Brooklyn and the 2014-15 postseason in Washington he was the main factor why the Raptors were upset in the first round. His buzzer beating shots and his trash talking made him public enemy number one in the 416.

But when I think of Paul Pierce I think of him as a Celtic, not a Net, not a Wizard and not a Clipper. Too bad he never got a chance to play his whole career in Boston, but he did get a proper send off by the fans that a future Celtic hall of famer is deserved.

You see sports was better when we were kids.

 

 

  

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 Cleveland Cavaliers Kevin Love and LeBron James

Cavs Kevin Love Isn’t Going Anywhere

By Frank McLean

Kevin Love is not going anywhere. If you don’t believe me listen to the guy who is listed as a player but acts like the real General Manager of the Cleveland Cavaliers LeBron James.

As if to make a point, Marc Berman in the New York Post reported after the Cavaliers beat the New York Knicks 111-104 right in Madison Square Garden,

James said, “Kevin is here for a reason. We know why he is here. We know what he is capable of.”

James set Love up with the game winning three point field goal with 44-seconds left in the fourth quarter.

It’s the worst kept secret around NBA circles that the Knicks are looking to move Carmelo Anthony even though he does have a no trade contract.

Reports recently said that the Knicks offered Anthony to the Cavaliers in exchange for Love and well as you can expect the Cavaliers supposedly said no.

The Cavaliers are in a bit of a slump right now. They started the season going 23-6 in their first 29-games, but since then and counting last night’s win they have gone just 11-9.

A few weeks back James went public demanding that the Cavaliers find him a playmaker to get him the ball seeing that the Golden State Warriors went out and improved their roster by getting Kevin Durant in the off season.

After the game Saturday night Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue reassured everyone that Love isn’t going anywhere.

“Just because teams ask about you doesn’t mean you’re getting traded. Right now we have who we have and not looking to move one of our guys right now.”

But what does Kevin Love think about all this talk about him heading for Broadway? It always seems that since he came to Cleveland in a trade from the Minnesota Timberwolves he is always being mentioned in a possible trade.

“Comes with the territory,” Love said late last week in an interview with long time basketball writer Fred Kerber of the New York Post.  “When that stuff comes along, I’ve done a lot better job of letting things just kind of roll off of me. I think it’d helped me out on the court as well.”

Love is averaging a double-double 19.9-points and 11-rebounds a game while battling spasms.

“It’s good to be wanted”, Love joked.

“I predicted that. I said it doesn’t matter if I have an All-Star year, one side or the other, it’s always going to be there.”

February 23rd can’t come soon enough for Love who I’m sure will be checking his messages every couple of hours just to make sure he isn’t leaving the Queen City of Ohio.

Nobody wants to be traded. The feeling that no one wants you any more stinks. The positive that somebody wants you helps you get over being traded for somebody else.

Love is still an important cog in the Cleveland Cavaliers offense, he helps make LeBron James go and it was evident in Saturday night’s win over the Knicks where he scored 23-points and grabbed 16-rebounds.

It seems that the Knicks can ask and ask all they want, but if LeBron James and Tyronn Lue have anything to say they still have a lot of Love for Kevin Love.

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

L

The Magic Is Back With The Lakers

By Frank McLean

I’ve written many times about how the New York Knicks, one of the NBA’s marquee franchises, is a complete mess thanks to an owner who has no idea of what he is doing.

On the west coast another marquee franchise the Los Angeles Lakers have slumped into a poorly run lottery team since the passing of their owner Jerry Buss.

When the elder Buss passed away in 2013 the team was left in the hands of his two children, daughter Jeanie who would look after the business end of the operation and his son Jim who would take care of the basketball end of things.

Jeanie has done well keeping the business end of the operations going fine as the team is still a powerful brand regardless that it doesn’t show up in their win-loss record.

But the win-loss record is the problem and that’s where Jim comes in. The team stinks and instead of acting like an owner and hiring people who know what they are doing, he is running the show and has run the team into the ground.

Look at last season. Instead of trying to make the team better, it was all about the Kobe Bryant retirement tour and the celebration of a guy who’s best days were behind him.

He also began a feud with one of the all-time greats in the history of the Lakers history, Magic Johnson.

Johnson, who had a small ownership piece of the Lakers, became critical of the way Jim Buss was running the team. He didn’t like the hiring of Mike D’Antoni as coach in 2012. He thought they should have brought back Phil Jackson. He was also irked that they didn’t sign any high profile players.

“I’m going to say it again: I love Jim Buss. He should just be the owner, like his dad was just the owner,” Johnson said in an article in December 2015. “Let’s go back with facts, so I can back this up with facts: 27 wins a couple years ago (2013-14), 21 wins last year (2014-15). Three summers now, we haven’t signed anybody. I am backing this up with facts. We haven’t signed any superstar. We’ve had cap space. We had cap space last summer. We’re going to have more this summer.”

Jim Buss fired back in a USA today feature.

“Magic Johnson going nuts on me? It’s like, ‘Really, dude? My dad made you a billionaire almost. Really? Where are you coming from?”

Johnson left the organization becoming a part owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers and becoming a face of their ownership group.

That all changed on Thursday as Jeanie Buss brought back Johnson to be an advisor to her in all areas of business and basketball.

“We are thrilled and honored to add Magic’s expertise and abilities, and I look forward to working alongside him,” Jeanie Buss said about the hiring in a Lakers press release.

“Everyone knows my love for the Lakers,” Johnson said. “Over the years, I have considered other management opportunities, however my devotion to the game and Los Angeles make the Lakers my first and only choice. I will do everything in my power to help return the Lakers to their rightful place among the elite teams of the NBA.”

Ever since the death of the elder Buss there has been a power struggle between the siblings.

Jim Buss said in 2014 that if the Lakers are not a championship team by the summer of 2017 he would step down. A championship is not going to happen this year, the Lakers are second last in the Western Conference and will be a lottery team.

The Johnson hiring by Jeanie is a step in the right direction. It looks like she is slowly taking over the full operation of the team and she did say last year that she expects her brother to fulfill his promise – at that time.

“Jim is calling the shots,” Johnson said, via the Orange County Register‘s Mark Medina. “I want him to understand I’m just here to lend advice. I’m not here to be anything but just give you some basketball knowledge.”

For now, Johnson will be able to help greatly as an advisor and will be show those in charge of the team how a championship team is run. He should know, he was there in their glory days. It’s a no brainer.

The NBA is poorer when its marquee franchises like the Lakers, Knicks are suffering.

The Jeanie and Jim power struggle was like one of those 1980’s prime time soap operas Dallas or in this case Dynasty. It’s going to take a while for the Lakers to be a contender again. The hiring of Johnson and Jim Buss eventually stepping aside is just a start.

 

 

 

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

Is A Trade The Solution To Toronto Raptors Olay Defense?

By Frank McLean

Olay, olay, olay, olay, the question Toronto Raptors head coach Dwane Casey was asking after Sunday’s loss to the Orlando Magic was “Where did their defense go”?

The Raptors lost the game 114-113, but as the old saying goes, ‘The score was not indicative of the way the game went.’ The best way to describe the way they played defense was like a bull fighter, an olay defense.

After leading by nine points at the end of the first quarter the Raptors trailed by nine at half time after allowing the Magic to go on a 21-2 run in the final 5:45 of the half. The Magic run put the Raptors in a large hole to try and comeback from in which they ran out of time and lost by just one point.  

The lack of defense was the frustrating part of this game for the Raptors who should not have lost like this to a bad Magic team.

No disrespect to the Magic who came into the game 18-30, but they did have the riot act read to them on Saturday by their coach Frank Vogel after they as he said “didn’t show up” for their game Friday night in Boston where the lost by 30.

After the game Casey was lamenting that he couldn’t find five guys who could defend and as a result had lost six of their last seven games.

The answer to the problem might be over in the Magic locker room with Bismack Biyombo. The Raptors have yet to find a consistent replacement for him and yes that is a factor to why they are struggling with their defense.

Biyombo went on with the local media Sunday on what went right for the Raptors last year.

“I don’t think we play for any other reason than to find a way to get three stops out of four possessions and I think that’s what made us to be a great defensive team last year. I understand that the whole team relied on me to guide them. (Jonas Valanciunas) is a great player and I’m sure that they’ll find a way. Lucas (Nogueira), they are all great players, I know they (took) a step back, but you can only hope before the playoffs they can find a way to catch up to that because when the playoffs start, that’s when things really matter and I can only hope for them to get better.

“They have enough to get it done”, Biyombo added. “Hopefully they get to repeat the same thing that we did last year or go further, because the fans here deserve it more than anything. They came out, they supported the team every night, they bring the great energy and you’ve got to work with them, they work with you.”

So what do the Raptors do to correct the problem?

Well with the trade deadline coming up do they make a trade or look at a solution within?

Jarred Sullinger was brought in over the offseason to fill Biyombo’s role on the roster, but he is working himself back into game shape after a foot injury in the first preseason game kept him out the first two months of the year.

Lucas Nogueira is trying to grow into the role, but he is still green and is a work in progress.

If they go the trade route where do you go?

Nikola Vucevic of the Magic could be available. He had a 25-and-10 game Sunday going three-for-four behind the three point arc. It’s believed he was put back in the starting line-up for the purpose of showcasing him.

And of course there is DeMarcus Cousins of the Sacramento Kings. He is a powder keg for sure with an explosive personality and a noted coach killer.

At the NBA D-League Showcase last week I came across my sources with the Kings organization. They said they thought Cousins could thrive with the Raptors for two reasons.

One, Dwane Casey is a respected coach that Cousins would not try to push around.

And two, he played with DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry with USA Basketball at the Olympics and he respects their leadership and their spot in the Raptors locker room.

Regardless, the defense has to be fixed or a long playoff run could be jeopardy.

 

 

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 Orlando Magic Bismack Biyombo 2016

The Impact Of Bismack Biyombo Is Still Helping The Raptors

By Frank McLean

Bismack Biyombo makes his first appearance Sunday at the Air Canada Centre since he left town in the off season after signing a huge free agent deal worth $72-million over four years with the Orlando Magic.

You can’t blame the guy for taking the money and running to Florida’s Gulf Coast area after making around $3-million in his one season with the Raptors. He got the contact that has set him up for life, which is not bad for a guy who makes his living as an energy guy coming off the bench, a rebounder who struggles as a shooter from the field and the foul line.

His numbers from his one year in Toronto and his half a year in Orlando haven’t changed much. In Toronto he averaged 22-minutes a game, 5.5-points, 8.0-rebounds and 1.6 blocks. In Orlando in 47-games it’s 24.5 minutes, 6.3-points, 7.7-rebounds and 1.3 blocks.

Now don’t get me wrong. A player with Biyombo’s knack for rebounding is a valuable piece that is needed when a general manager is putting together his 15-man roster.  But 72-million over four years for a guy that mainly rebounds is obscene and it shows that with the salary cap rising each year thanks to ESPN and TNT’s television money that teams are overpaying for talent when they try and find it through the free agent route.

Biyombo’s influence in his one year in Toronto was felt in more ways than just the numbers on a box score. It was with the guy who has taken over his minutes on the floor and that’s Lucas Nogueira.

Nogueira was reflecting on that after Saturday’s practice with the media and he let everybody know that he’s not Biyombo’s replacement.

“I am never going to replace Biz,” Nogueira was saying. “The city loves him. I personally love him too and I am so thankful for what he did for us. I can block five shots a night like I did on Friday, but I’m never going to replace Biz. I do think I have the hardest job in the league trying to replace Bismack because he made a huge impact here.”

Nogueira did say though that Biyombo was his mentor.

“Of course he was my mentor,” Nogueira said of Biyombo. “He changed my habits. He made me become a better professional and he made me see how it was important to take practice seriously and take my basketball life seriously. In life sometimes you only get one opportunity and if you don’t take it seriously you might not get another one. He made me realize that. That’s the reason I say he was my mentor when he was here. His level of professionalism made me a better professional.”

Nogueira is averaging 21.3-minutes a game, but in the month of January it’s up to 25-minutes which shows the coach Dwane Casey has the confidence to use him more.

“He has done an excellent job of protecting the rim, blocking shots and doing what we need him to do in the paint,” Casey said. “He’s doing an excellent job of catching the ball out of double teams and quarterbacking, making teams pay when they do blitz Kyle (Lowry) and DeMar (DeRozan) and that’s what we needed. That’s a plus that Biz didn’t give us. He was strictly a defensive plus. Lucas gives us that guy who can quarterback, kick it out, he’s a huge target with great hands so he gives that to us on the offensive end as well.”

Casey did say that there is a missing link from the way the Raptors played defense last year to this year that Biyombo brought that he wished they picked up on.

“I wish one thing rubbed off more from Biz and I think it did but they seem to have forgotten it without Biz being around. It’s talking loud and confidently. And not just Lucas, but all of our centres — (Jonas Valanciunas), Jakob (Poeltl), and Pascal (Siakam). Talk loud and with confidence and that is what Biz brought. He brought an energy, but he rubbed off on those guys.”

As you can see, Biyombo’s influence is still being felt on the Raptors.

The Orlando Magic is a young struggling rebuilding team and new coach Frank Vogel is hoping Biyombo can have a big influence there as well and he has a massive four year contract to do just that.

 

 

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 Kyle Lowry Has Earned The Respect Of His Opponents

By Frank McLean

It was one of those things you took for granted was going to happen, but you weren’t quite sure until it was officially announced, the Toronto Raptors Kyle Lowry would be going to his third straight NBA All-Star Game.

Lowry got the word Thursday night that the coaches had voted him on the Eastern Conference roster as a reserve and that he will be joining his Siamese twin in the Raptors backcourt DeMar DeRozan next month in New Orleans.

DeRozan, who had been a reserve last year, was named a starter in the fan/player/media voting two weeks ago.

Lowry has been one of the top guards in the Eastern Conference all season. He has averaged 22.7-points, 4.8 rebounds and 6.9 assists a game. You figured the coaches have got to pick him right?

“Of course I would love to have the fans voted me in,” Lowry was saying to the media on Friday.  “But for the coaches to vote you in, it means they respect your game, respect what you bring to the team.”

Meanwhile his coach Dwane Casey was saying he didn’t have to contact his fellow coaches around the league and put in a plug for his player.

“Not much (lobbying) because a lot of (the coaches) said they were all in. Kyle’s numbers and us hovering around second place spoke for itself .”

During his time in Toronto Lowry has become respected around the league. His play, hustle and the extra work he has put in the gym are major factors towards him making his third straight appearance in the All-Star Game.

Before Lowry came to Toronto he played in Memphis where he was drafted out of Villanova and then went to Houston. In both places he came with a reputation as an uncoachable player always arguing about the way he was being used and not going along with the game plan.

Lowry’s story is quite similar to that of another Toronto star of the past, center fielder Devon White of the Blue Jays. White came to the Blue Jays in a trade with the California Angels spent the next five years as an all-star and major part of Toronto’s two MLB World Championship teams.

White arrived in Toronto with the same reputation as Lowry, yet when you saw White play everyday, you saw a hard worker who played the game the right way and was a quality teammate.

When Lowry first arrived from Houston he knew he had a bad rap, but Dwane Casey and Raptors management showed him the right way to be pro and the results are there in black and white.

Lowry is ecstatic that he’s going to game again with his pal DeRozan.

“It feels great. It’s pretty cool to be able to say the things we’ve done from the end of May (including a gold medal win with the US National Basketball team at the Olympics) until now and continue to grow with me and him. It just shows the hard work, the passion, the dedication to be great and to win is there.

“He’s one of my best friends ever. We can hang out, go to dinner, hang out with our families.  My first year (with the Raptors) I really didn’t talk to anybody. I was trying to figure (things) out. It just happened to grow and we became leaders of the team, we took that upon ourselves on the basketball court and we developed a great relationship off of it.”

Lowry’s hard work and play on the court during his time in Toronto has made him a respected veteran and player any coach can trust with big minutes during a game.

This coming off season it will be time for Lowry to get the big maximum contract that veteran players get with his numbers.

It’s a no brainer that he will get that respect.

 

 

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 San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich

Spurs Plan On Interrupting Cavs Vs Warriors Part Three

By Frank McLean

It’s not a secret that NBA fans and those in the management offices at ESPN in Bristol, Connecticut want a Cleveland Cavaliers versus Golden State Warriors for a third year in this year’s NBA Finals.

With both teams being the winner of one of each of the last two finals you can imagine the ratings bonanza the rubber match would be for the self-proclaimed “World Wide Leader in Sports”.

Well don’t tell that to San Antonio Spurs coach Greg Popovich.

Making their annual visit to Toronto this week Popovich said he’s not ready to concede to the Warriors the Western Conference title for a third straight year regardless if they have added some guy named Kevin Durant.

“You do the best you can to take advantage of whatever weaknesses or strengths they might have. You have to go against their weaknesses, try to figure out what their strengths are and take’em away,” Popovich said about taking on the Warriors. “And that’s what this is all about. So the challenge is what makes it exciting. If you’re of the mindset that where you say what’s the point, then you’re in the wrong business.”

So Popovich is not going to sit down and kiss the Warriors championship rings and why should he?

Since he took the job in 1999 the Spurs have won five NBA championships, averaged 55-wins per season and are on pace for a second straight year of 65-wins.

When you see Popovich as a grumpy old coach in a wrinkled sports coat and khaki pants when he is interviewed on television, in most part it’s an act. When you ask him thoughtful questions he will give you thoughtful answers.

He is also humble.

His peers in the NBA, and that include Raptors coach Dwane Casey, feel that Popovich is not just the best coach in the NBA, but all of sports.

Popovich’s stock answer when you say this to him is that he had Tim Duncan for a long time and that made him look good. Popovich knows that if you don’t have good players a coach is not going to look smart. That’s something every coach I have ever come across well tell you, if you don’t have the horses, you aren’t going to win.

His theory of coaching a game is pretty simple and it explains how he lasted almost 20-years in the same job.

“The game starts and you play the game, you do your best. You make adjustments, make substitutions, get certain groups on the court, call timeouts, yell and scream and beg and love and be crazy and then you win or you lose and then what happens? You go to dinner. Sometimes the best part of the evening.”

He also had high praise for Dwane Casey who each year on the job has gotten his team to win more games than the previous year. Raptors fans may not want to hear this, especially with the club on a five game losing skid and social media is calling for his head as a result.

“It is difficult (to do that),” Popovich said. “You’ll see people have two good seasons or one, it goes down for two or three and then maybe it comes up a little bit and then the owner fires him. That seems to be the deal. But to sustain it and to sustain it and do better every year is a difficult thing. And what Casey’s done here is implemented a culture and a system. It doesn’t happen immediately, but as you all know by now, they’ve bought in, everybody knows what the deal is. He’s going to be consistent, he’s going to be demanding, he’s going to be fair.”

It’s too bad Popovich and the Spurs only come to Toronto once a year. Like I said, when you get Popovich engaged, he is one of the best quote machines in the league.

And as far as I’m concerned he is one of the best coaches in all of sports. The only person who comes close to him is in the NFL and that’s Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots who has won four Super Bowls in six appearances and is heading for his seventh appearance in the big one during his tenure there.

I’m sure the Warriors wish they only had to deal with Popovich and the Spurs once a 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 Jonas Valanciunas and Patrick Patterson

Dog-Days Of January Stink For The Toronto Raptors

By Frank McLean

The month of January is the beginning of a new year. It’s a time of hope, a new beginning as we start a new year with a clean slate so to speak and we try and not make the same mistakes that we did in the previous year. In reality, the dog-days of January stink.

After all the excitement of a December holiday season with family and friends and ringing in of the new year, January is a like a lump of coal you hope wasn’t in your Christmas stocking. The formerly red hot Raptors went 6-7 after Boxing Day.

January is one giant party-pooper. The weather is cold and damp and cloudy. Daylight hours are short and it’s still pitch dark before 6pm. It’s called the blahs and we all get it.

The Toronto Raptors are going through their own period of January blah’s right now and it showed Friday night in Charlotte where they suffered their biggest margin of defeat this year, a 34-point beat down by the Hornets.

The score was 113-79 and the 79-points the Raptors put up, as well as the 33.7-per cent field goal percentage, were season lows.

After a big month of December where the Raptors put up a 10-4 record, they head into Sunday night’s home game against the Phoenix Suns with more losses than all of last month.

“Yeah, we’ve been in a little funk lately,” Kyle Lowry said after Friday’s game. “We’re not playing on all cylinders right now.

“I just think it’s that time of year. No excuses at all. There’s just this mental fatigue, a little bit of travel fatigue, but no excuses. I think we might have done something like this, maybe, about this time last year? I don’t know, I’m not sure, but it happens. As a team we will figure a way out of it.”

There is something to what Lowry said. It is that time of year, the mental and travel fatigue.

The calendar we use in everyday life says we are in the middle of the first month of the beginning of the year. On the basketball calendar it says they are at the half way point.

As we hit the middle of January teams are at the midway point of the regular season schedule. Teams can see the All-Star Game on the horizon where they get a nice five day break featuring no games, no practices, and a chance to walk away from the grind and recharge their batteries before they hit the stretch drive before the playoffs.

Right now, those playoffs that seems like light years away from happening.

That five day break is four weeks away which is not that far off, but in the case of the Raptors counting Sunday’s game there are still 14-games to play before they can rest.

Now this is where Raptors coach Dwane Casey has to do his best coaching job to help his team “keep their eye on the prize” so to speak. Keep the team focused and keep a little midseason funk from turning into a long losing streak.

Casey knows where the problem is.

“Right now we’re going through maybe a week of bad offensive shooting,” Casey said on Friday about how the last week went. “Against it still says nothing about your defense. That’s when your defense has to pick back up. Your defense has to carry you until your offense comes back around. You go through that during the season. The most important thing is we stay together, stay positive. Everybody goes through it. It’s not an excuse. We have to fight our way out of it. It’s up to us.”

Casey hit the nail on the head in his comments that everybody goes through this. Every team in the NBA goes through a cold streak during the season regardless if they are playoff contender or not.

If talk to the coaches of the other 29-teams in the NBA they will all tell you that, yah my team is starting to think about the break coming up and I have to work harder to keep them focused.

Just like school kids waiting for the winter break to come and week away from school. NBA players are no different.

The Raptors are going through their own January blahs right now. This is a very focused group of players in their locker room and the leadership in their will not let this slump fester.

So don’t panic Raptors nation.Their body of work over the last two seasons have shown that there is too much talent on this team for it to last long. With five of their next six games at the Air Canada Centre, things should turn around quick.

 

 

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 Carmelo Anthony and Joakim Noah

The Clock Is Ticking On Phil Jackson’s Time In New York

By Frank McLean

Phil Jackson has to be hoping that this week is better than last week. Heck it couldn’t get any worse and you have to wonder with Jackson’s invisible act, if maybe the clock is ticking on him staying on as the New York Knicks President of Basketball.

It started (sort of) when Derrick Rose went AWOL hours before the Knicks were to play the New Orleans Pelicans. The players did not know where Rose was. Coach Jeff Hornacek did not know where he was and neither did the team’s PR staff. Afterward it was learnt he had went home to Chicago to attend a family issue regarding his mother.

There was not a peep from Jackson and you had to feel sorry for Hornacek as he had to address the media as to what happened. He had no answers.

Oh and let’s not forget that the Knicks, supposed to be a playoff team, have just kept losing. Counting the one point loss to Atlanta the Knicks have only celebrated a victory thrice in their last 16-games and have slipped to 19-26 good for 11th-in the East and three games out of the last playoff spot.

The cream came in Toronto when the Knicks were taking a 17-point beatdown by the Raptors where at one point the deficit reached 34-points.

A so called 30-year friend of Jackson, a guy named Charley Rosen wrote a column for FanRagSports.com that Carmelo Anthony’s time in New York is numbered.

Rosen alleged Anthony’s “legs are going, going gone’’ and wrote. “The only sure thing is that Carmelo Anthony has outlived his usefulness in New York. As ever, he’s still a dangerous scorer but resists any offensive game plan that limits his one-on-one adventures.”

Rosen on Monday wrote that he has never talked to Jackson and that his comments are his not Phil’s.

Anthony has a no trade clause in his contract so any trade can’t be made unless he agrees to it and to his credit he has not asked for trade. He’s 32 (until May) and his time to get a shot of winning a championship is running out.

“If that’s the case, if that’s where it’s coming from, that side, I guess it’s a conversation we should have,” Anthony said Sunday. “If they feel my time in New York is over, I guess that’s a conversation we should have.

“Listen, if that’s how they feel, if that’s coming from that side, then that’s what’s coming from that side. I haven’t thought once about that. I hear it, hear all the rhetoric going on out there. I still come to work every day, play and bust my ass and try not to worry about it. ”

Anthony isn’t pouting. The problem with the Knicks, all the dysfunction with this team, points to Jackson.

He is the boss and he has gone into hiding. Yes you see him and General Manager Steve Mills sitting in their seats during games in Madison Square Garden, but he has not spoken public about anything since December.

In that Jackson talked about how Anthony clogs up the flow of his sacred triangle offense.

He should have been the frontman when Rose went missing. He’s the boss, the top man, if one of your employees is missing you have to be the one answering questions. Instead he sends out Hornacek to answer questions. That’s not his responsibility.

The roster is a mess.

Yes they are missing second year center Kristap Porzingis with a sore Achilles periodically, but the Knicks don’t play defense. Joakim Noah all of a sudden can’t score and Rose is upset that the team can’t get it together.

You have to think Jackson’s time with the Knicks has to be coming to an end soon.

The roster is all on him, it’s not working and his insistence on the outdated triangle offense is not helping.

The problem is he really doesn’t know how to be a good manager. There is no communication with the players. Normally management and employees talk all the time because in every business, to be successful, everyone has to be on the same page.

Jackson should have been talking to Anthony on Sunday to say ‘hey I did not make those comments or yah I did I have a problem of the way you play and we need to talk.’

ESPN reported that sometime the two will meet. Sometime is not a day on a calendar.

If Jackson’s head is not in this job he needs to go and the Knicks need to find someone who is familiar with 21st century basketball on how to build a proper roster and run things in a professional manner. And not have your friends act as your unofficial PR guy letting the world know what you think about your team.

It looks like Phil Jackson has lost his employees trust and as a result his time in New York is running out. Perhaps the real question should be, what’s taking so long?

 

 

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