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NBA Toronto Raptors DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry

ESPN Flip Flops On Whether Raptors Will Win 50 Games

In perhaps the most obvious face saving move ESPN could make after their Summer Forecast had the Toronto Raptors going 47-35 next season and ending up in a fourth place tie, they produce a panel that flip flops on that doubtful prediction.

Chris Forsberg, ESPN.com: As long as Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan are healthy, the Raptors have a chance for 50 or more wins in an underwhelming East.

Chris Herring, FiveThirtyEight.com: unless injuries get in the way like they did last season — when Lowry missed 22 games and DeRozan missed 12 — it’s hard to see how the Raptors don’t approach, or eclipse, the 50-win mark yet again.

How does a team with two returning 3x All-Stars not win 50 games in the East this year?

Put in a call to Captain Obvious, he’s being paged by ESPN.

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors K.J. McDaniels

Raptors Give K.J. McDaniels A Training Camp Invite

Raptors president Masai Ujiri continued to fill out his training camp roster by signing free agent wing K.J. McDaniels to a partially guaranteed deal.

The Raptors took a good look at McDaniels prior to the draft in 2014, but opted for an even rawer talent in Bruno Caboclo with the 20th pick. McDaniels went 32nd overall to the 76ers.

A no step vertical of 33” and a wingspan just shy of 7’, the 6’6 McDaniels averaged 17.1 points, 7.1 rebounds, 1.1 steals and 2.8 blocks as a junior at Clemson. He was even showing some progress on developing a three-point shot, but it was his defense that had the Raptors attention.

“(McDaniels’ athleticism) will absolutely translate,” Raptors director of scouting Tolzman said in June 2014. “He is a dynamic player who it’s hard to see how good he is in this setting because in 5-on-5 with help-side defense that’s where he flourishes. I think with the way the spacing in the NBA is and the rotations and defensive principles are so important, a guy like him, he can fly in from the wing and get blocks – like nothing. That’s what gets guys time in the NBA.

“In his three years at Clemson, (McDaniels) showed progress (offensive improvement was) already happening. He improved as a shooter every year and he got more comfortable as a perimeter shooter. When he first started, he was just a high wire interior type guy and in his last year, he was all over the floor and did all different types of things offensively. I don’t know if he is comfortable enough yet to come in and shoot the NBA three, but that’s definitely the type of thing as he gets more comfortable stretching his range out, he be that type of guy.

“(McDaniels) can get on the floor because of his defense and from there, the sky could be the limit for him because he does have all the athletic tools.”

Tolzman’s predictions were coming true in Philly as McDaniels averaged 9.2 points, 3.8 rebounds, 0.8 steals and 1.3 blocks in 25.4 minutes thru 52 games as a rookie, but the 76ers opted to cash in on the quick progress by trading him to Houston where his development stalled on a team that had no minutes for him.

The Rockets traded him to the Nets this past season and Brooklyn declined to pick up his team option, so the now 24-year-old will be fighting it out with Ujiri’s pack of training camp invites in order to get his NBA career restarted.

McDaniels has played 2,092 minutes thru three NBA seasons on three different teams. He should be well ahead of the rookie prospects hoping to stick with the Raptors after training camp and preseason. If he can hit the three-ball at 35 percent like he did with the NBA G League Vipers two years ago on 85 attempts thru 16 games, his defense and athleticism just might give him the edge over his less experienced competition.

 

 

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

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Kyle Lowry, Serge Ibaka and C.J. Miles

Myth American Athletes Pay More Tax In Toronto Could Come True

It wasn’t all that long ago Crowe Soberman (actual tax experts) blew away the myth American athletes pay more tax in Toronto than their counterparts playing in the United States. At least it wasn’t true in the major markets located in New York and California where players paid virtually the same as in Toronto despite the uneducated bleating from some of the talking heads in the US and Canadian sports media. Unfortunately things never stay the same and recently things have gotten worse for all high income earners in We The North.

Co-leaders in the Sports and Entertainment Group Adam Scherer and Jeffrey Steinberg updated the Crowe Soberman articles of a couple of years ago to reflect the changes.

For starters, the Prime Minister of Canada has wielded his tax sword and raised rates in Canada by 4%.

Canada’s top rate of tax of 53.5% versus 39.6% (US) Federal, plus state

From a tax perspective, states with no income tax (i.e., Texas) will yield the lowest overall tax result

Playing in Ontario is now the worst

followed closely by California

It sounds bad, but on closer inspection, despite the significant change in Canadian tax rates, things haven’t really got all that much worse yet.

If one follows the rationale provided by the tax experts in some detail and then skips to numbers provided as there is no way someone who isn’t expert in these matters will have a chance at actually doing it themselves, it has only gotten slightly worse for those athletes playing north of the border.

Playing in California (and by inference New York), American athletes will only cough up about one percent less in taxes than Toronto. While one percent can represent hundreds of thousands of dollars to a big NBA star like say the Raptors Kyle Lowry or DeMar DeRozan, it isn’t going to affect their decision about where to play.

The bigger savings are in the tax free states such as Florida or Texas which can cut about four percent off the taxes of a Toronto player in Crowe Soberman’s example. That’s over a million dollars a year for player like Lowry or DeRozan and it’s possible that would be enough to get some stars to change their minds about where to play.

The good news for fans in Toronto is players are still, for the most part, picking where they want to go based on winning, ownership, coaching, and lifestyle. Players continue to give up money for other factors all the time. Remember, it costs a lot more in tax to play in California over Texas and the Warriors aren’t exactly having any trouble getting the biggest names in their sport to re-up or switch teams to play there.

However, there remains a dark tax cloud on the northern horizon as Scherer and Steinberg point out.

cuts to Medicare and personal tax rates seem to be (US President Donald Trump’s) personal goal

So far Trump hasn’t been able to get out of his own way during his first year in office and that’s good news for Toronto’s professional sports franchises, but that isn’t something teams can count on over the rest of his first term. A significant cut to the top US personal tax rate could change a slight disadvantage into a significant problem, so as usual, Canada’s neighbor to the south could turn a myth into a reality overnight.

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Masai Ujiri

Masai Ujiri Has Built His Raptors His Way From The Start

By mid-August virtually all of the desirable free agents were long gone and Raptors president Masai Ujiri had committed to 13 players, signed three more to bring to training camp on partially or non-guaranteed deals plus two more on the NBA’s new two-way contract destined for the Raptors 905. This current roster isn’t anything like the 15-man squad Ujiri inherited in June 2013 when he was introduced to the media in Toronto and it doesn’t look like the roster many people were hoping to see play in October, but it is built the way Ujiri said it would be four years ago.

“We have to develop young players, especially in the back of our roster,” Ujiri said on his introduction to Toronto in 2013. “Regardless of what direction you take, you have those young players that you are going to rely on in the future.”

There are only three players remaining on the Raptors from that initial summer. Veterans Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan have developed into three-time All-Stars under head coach Dwane Casey and Ujiri’s direction. Jonas Valanciunas won’t be 25-years-old until October, but even he was apparently on the trade block at the draft, however, for now, he’s the third surviving player from the pre-Ujiri era.

Toronto didn’t have a draft pick in 2013, so the movement towards acquiring and developing young talent had to wait a year, but since then Ujiri’s aggressive acquisition of young players has been a surprise even in the light of his opening remarks.

Of Ujiri’s eight draft picks, only DeAndre Daniels (37th – 2014) and Xavier Thames (59th – 2014) are no longer part of the organization.

In 2014, he took Bruno Caboclo 20th and traded for the draft rights of Lucas Nogueira who was drafted 16th in 2013, traded twice and stashed in Europe until acquired by Ujiri and brought to Toronto.

In 2015, he took Delon Wright 20th and traded for the 46th pick to take Norman Powell.

In 2016, he took Jakob Poeltl 9th, Pascal Siakam 27th and then signed undrafted rookie Fred VanVleet.

In 2017, he took OG Anunoby 23rd and signed undrafted prospects Alfonzo McKinnie and Kennedy Meeks to non-guaranteed deals.

If Ujiri keeps all of his young players who are still on their rookie deals, he’ll have five veterans in Lowry, DeRozan, C.J. Miles, Serge Ibaka and Valanciunas plus 10 young developing players on the back of his roster. Just the way he drew it up in 2013.

“Scouting is my background,” Ujiri reminded everyone on his arrival. “Finding talent is what I know.”

That initial message has never wavered. Even as the fans and media that follow the team in the off season were speculating on which under the radar cheap veteran Ujiri would add to provide depth for the long NBA season, Ujiri was saying you got to let them play.

“You got to give (the young guys) a shot to play and that’s just the way our team is built,” Ujiri told Pro Bball Report after signing Lowry and Ibaka this summer. “I don’t have to build a team the way Cleveland is built (with veterans). We don’t have to do that. They have one player on that team that makes that a little easier for them, but not every team can be built that way.

“I don’t just think about Toronto Raptors for today. I think about the Toronto Raptors five years from now too.

“All we are trying to do is set up ourselves to try and become competitive, to put yourself in the position to maybe compete for a championship.”

In four years Ujiri’s Raptors have been to the postseason four times and made to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2016. The chance to “maybe compete for a championship” has been there and it would be hard to argue with his ability to find more talent and have more success than any of his predecessors in Toronto.

“Finding talent” and letting that talent play doesn’t provide the fan base or the prognosticators at major media outlets like ESPN with anything to base future expectations on. It’s a lot easier to look at a team made up of veterans and make a prediction. However, finding talent is what Ujiri hangs his reputation on, so his way is the right way for him and back-to-back 50-win seasons should count for something.

Ujiri’s way will field a very strong five man group of veterans who, as long as injuries don’t take a toll, can keep the Raptors in the top four of the Eastern Conference. How far Ujiri’s way will go beyond that this year will depend on his 10 handpicked young guys on the back of his roster.

 

 

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

 

 

 

NBA G-League Vipers Kyle Wiltjer and

Raptors To Bring Stretch-Four Kyle Wiltjer To Training Camp

The Toronto Raptors got a really good look at stretch-four Kyle Wiltjer during this past season’s three game NBA D-League Championships and the Houston Rockets rookie impressed if you are looking for a prolific three-point shooter. Since he was still unsigned in August, it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that the Raptors will be bringing him to training camp on a non-guaranteed deal.

Raptors 905 head coach Jerry Stackhouse gushed over what Wiltjer did in the D-League as Pro Bball Report discussed earlier this summer.

“Wiltjer was big time tonight,” Stackhouse said after Game Two of the D-League Finals. “A guy that is not the quickest swiftest of feet, but he gets to his spot and whenever he does, he’s a big time shooter.

“I’d say Brady (Heslip) is the best shooter in the world, (Wiltjer) got to be in the top five. I think he is going to have an opportunity to really showcase who he is.”

Wiltjer has been a knockdown three-point threat since college.

As a senior with Gonzaga, he averaged 20.4 points and 6.3 rebounds on 49.1 percent from the field and 43.7 percent on 5.7 three-point attempts per game.

In 22 regular season D-League games with the Vipers he was a three-point shooting machine, averaging 20.5 points and shooting 37.9 percent on 9.7 three-point attempts a game.

In the D-League playoffs, he averaged 21.2 points while shooting 40.8 percent on 10.9 three-point attempts.

Against the Raptors 905 in the Finals, Pascal Siakam held him to 16.7 points, 7.3 rebounds, 1 block and 1 steal while shooting 36.4 percent from three setting up what could be a very interesting training camp battle between the two young players in Victoria later next month.

While Wiltjer doesn’t look like he’d ever be more than an average defender at the NBA level, he could become the NBA’s next Channing Frye or Ryan Anderson and at an NBA minimum salary, that prospect is worth a hard look.

 

 

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

 

 

 

NBA L.A. Lakers Luol Deng

Skip Playoff Hopes, Lakers Will Be Sellers This Season

As much as it’s fun to think about the Lakers fighting it out for the privilege of getting swept in the first round of the playoffs next April, it isn’t going to happen. This team has other plans and will be sellers at every opportunity up until the NBA trade deadline according to Basketball Insiders editor Steve Kyler.

The LA Lakers are going to be sellers. As much as the team wants to talk about a playoff berth this season, there is a bigger picture plan that is going to require the Lakers to dump salary.

they almost have to sell off pieces in season, if they want any shot at the two max salary slots they would need to have to pursue the free agent targets (LeBron James and Paul George) they have been linked to.

The quick math says the Lakers have to dump all but $30.9 million in cap dollars committed.

The good news in Lakerland is Brook Lopez ($22.6 million), Kentavious Caldwell-Pope ($17.7 million), and Corey Brewer ($7.6 million) are all on expiring deals and the Lakers only have $41.3 million guaranteed for next season.

However, that figure ignores the team options for Brandon Ingram ($5.8 million) and Larry Nance Jr. ($2.8 million) that will be picked up and the inexpensive non-guaranteed deals of Tyler Ennis, Ivica Zubac and Thomas Bryant that would have to be replaced at about the same cost of about $3.5 million in total. Then there’s the qualifying offers for Julius Randle ($5.6 million), Vander Blue ($1.8 million) and Stephen Zimmerman ($1.7 million).

It’s never as easy to drive down payroll as it seems even with the pretty decent planning executed by the Lakers so far this summer.

As Kyler points out, one or both of Deng and/or Clarkson will need to go and getting any team to take on the three-years and $54 million still owed to Deng is going to take a lot of sweetener.

The 32-year-old Deng averaged 7.6 points and 5.3 rebounds last season. It’s hard to imagine even tossing in Randle would be enough to get some adventurous GM to take on that bloated contract without sending back something/someone the Lakers don’t want.

The 24-year-old Clarkson should be easier to move, but it will still be a challenge to do a deal with no money beyond this season coming back and dumping his salary alone won’t get the Lakers two open max salary slots next July.

There will be a lot of NBA teams looking to move salary this season with 10 franchises on the cusp or deep into Luxury Tax territory and maybe only four of those teams with any real or imagined hope of making it to the NBA Finals.

Then there’s the elephants in the room sucking up all the air until something happens with Carmelo Anthony and Kyrie Irving as just about every GM sees those pending possible moves as an opportunity to either take on or dump salary and grab an asset for themselves.

It will take patience to improve on the Lakers salary cap picture for next July, but it’s hard to argue with Kyler’s conclusion. The Lakers are a lot more interested in dumping salary than making the playoffs this year.

 

 

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

 Featured image courtesy of Larry Millson

 

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors C.J. Miles

Versatile C.J. Miles Is The Answer At Both Forward Spots

After 12 years years in the NBA, C.J. Miles has evolved as a player and the changing NBA game has created opportunities for the 6’6 guard that no one could have anticipated. In the small ball NBA, Miles has been playing a lot at forward, and not just small forward either. This one-time guard has been effective in a stretch-four role as well and with so many teams trying to run with one big and four shooters, perhaps this shouldn’t have come as a surprise.

“I am naturally a wing guy,” Miles responded to Pro Bball Report. “A two/three, that’s what I’ve been my entire life. (Now) a power forward because the game change that’s come in the last couple of years and another reason for my success shooting the basketball has been learning to play that position (PF), being in pick-and-rolls, being able to slip pick-and-rolls, being able to get to the point where (I) can guard some of those bigger guys from the standpoint where they can’t just pick on you. (It) allows me to stay on the floor and space the floor and allows me to get more open shots.

“Naturally I am a wing, but as of the last couple of years, it’s pretty much position-less out there. It’s playing basketball and that’s one of the reasons I’ve been able to make my way thru those three positions (SG, SF, PF) because I understood what I had to do to be able to do those things and help my team.”

More than anything else, that is what stood out from Miles’ introduction to Toronto. It’s great that he’s been impressed by the fans, the city and the organization, but it’s his willingness as a veteran to fill whatever role the team has for him that really impresses.

“(I) am willing to do whatever I am asked to do,” Miles said. “I’ve played multiple positions. I’ve been able to attack the game in such a manner that its allowed me to blend in with whomever I’m playing with because I’ve had the ability to adjust.”

Aside from the exceptional three-point shooting, Miles has the one thing that’s in short supply in Toronto. He’s just one of four players the Raptors have who can be called a true veteran. He’s already experienced the tough conversations with his coaches that prodded him to get better at the things he was already doing well.

Miles has been around and his maturity shows.

“One of the biggest things has been maturity,” Miles said. “As far as how you approach the game and the way you are able to work on certain things. Then just the freedom to be able to do so at a higher level. Having the challenge put in front of you of something you want to add to the team or something the coach or the staff felt I could do and I took on the challenge to become an even better shooter.

“One of the first people that said something to me about it was Mike Brown when I was in Cleveland. We talked about it one day. We sat down, he said as well as you can shoot it, I feel you don’t shoot enough and that’s from a three-point standpoint. In the game and even the way you work on your game. You are always in the gym, but I don’t see you really honing on that with it being such a weapon that we could have, that you have. I’ve accepted that challenge and I’ve taken so much pride in it over time.”

Thank coach Brown as he helped push Miles to become one the top three-point shooters in the entire NBA. It’s been a glaring need on a Raptors team best known for the Eastern Conference’s second leading scorer in each of the past two seasons, two-point specialist DeMar DeRozan.

It’s also been a glaring need in the playoffs as The Potent’s Lindsay Dunn writes,

C.J. Miles is one of the answers the team hopes that will help them in the post-season.  The 225-pound swingman is coming off his best year in the league shooting 41 per cent from three-point range and 47 per cent overall from the floor when he was with the Indiana Pacers.

On a team with 11 players 25-years-old or younger, a versatile veteran three-point shooter like Miles was a badly needed off season addition. He will be expected to fill a significant role either in the starting unit or coming off the bench, but as importantly on a young team, he’ll be an example to the Raptors developing players of position-less basketball and how becoming that kind of player can keep them in the NBA for a very long time.

 

 

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

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Serge Ibaka

Can Raptors Serge Ibaka Finally Get An All-Star Nod?

The Raptors Serge Ibaka is the model for an ideal modern big man in today’s NBA. A 6’10 three-time All-Defensive First Team player that can effectively stretch the floor, guard the three-point line, score in the post and protect the rim with the best in the Association. So is this the year he can finally get recognized with an All-Star nod?

Over his career Ibaka has put up enough points to be the second/third scoring option on a good team and in the changing NBA game, he has a real chance to put up big numbers in the depleted Eastern Conference with the Toronto Raptors.

It helps a lot that most of last year’s Eastern Conference All-Star forwards aren’t going to be around.

Former Bulls All-Star Jimmy Butler is playing in Minnesota. Pacers superstar Paul George will be balling out with the Thunder. Paul Millsap has departed Atlanta and headed west to Denver. And the Knicks Carmelo Anthony is working really hard to get moved to Houston this season and has probably suffered enough damage to his image to make an 11th All-Star nod unlikely anyway.

Only three of the East’s All-Star forwards are expected back and only the West’s All-Star Gordon Hayward has come East, so there’s four or five open spots and Ibaka is a solid contender if not a lock for one of them.

Raptors president Masai Ujiri wanted Ibaka badly at the start of last season, but in a move that no one understood he was massively outbid by then Magic general manager Rob Hennigan’s career ending gamble to overload Orlando with defensive-minded power forward/centers and it might have cost Ibaka his first real chance to be an All-Star.

Ujiri was eventually able to get his man at his price at the NBA trade deadline and although he couldn’t have known it at the time, the acquisition helped keep Toronto a top three seed in the Eastern Conference despite the unanticipated loss of Kyle Lowry to injury for 20 games.

While Ibaka was an outstanding regular season addition to the Raptors on offense and defense and Ujiri was able to get him to re-up this summer for three more seasons, Ibaka wasn’t about to rest on his laurels or his guaranteed $65 million three-year deal.

“For the first time I am spending my summer working on my defensive game,” Ibaka responded to Pro Bball Report. “Of course working on offense too, in the summer working on my shot, my three-point shot and working on my post game, but I am focused working on my defense.

“It’s just the way the game is played now. I am working on guarding one, two, three, four, five. (That’s what) I am focused on this summer.”

For Ibaka to earn his first All-Star honors, Toronto has to get back to being a top 10 offensive and defensive club and based his 23 regular season games with the Raptors last season, he is just the player needed to make that happen.

It appears most of the people that follow the NBA have already forgotten that the Raptors were on a 56-win pace in the first half of last season with rookie Pascal Siakam in the starting lineup. The improvement next season with Ibaka starting instead of Siakam will be dramatic and dramatic is what gets a player into the All-Star Game.

Even with the high powered offense of Lowry and DeRozan plus veterans DeMarre Carroll and Jonas Valanciunas, the Raptors starting unit was a net minus 2.9 points with Siakam in the group. It wasn’t his fault, the rookie wasn’t supposed to start, but Ujiri had a team full of young players so when his free agent stop-gap Jared Sullinger broke a foot, Siakam was pressed into the rotation ready or not.

Ibaka is the leading active player in blocks per game per basketball-reference.com and last season he was second (39.1%) only to Channing Frye (40.9%) among the East’s power forwards and centers in three-point shooting percentage. He was sixth in three-pointers made in this group.

Ibaka got up the most three-point shots per game (4.5) of his career with the Raptors last season and that will be a focus with the team next year. He will also get to spend more time playing center in small ball lineups which should give him more opportunities to protect the rim.

This season head coach Dwane Casey will have the option to start the better three-point shooting C.J. Miles or the up-and-coming Norman Powell in the place of the disappointing Carroll as well as Ibaka instead of Siakam, so the expectations from his starting unit will be high. The expectations from Ibaka will be the highest of his career and the competition for that All-Star forward spot may never be this thin again.

  

 

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

 Featured image courtesy of Larry Millson

 

 

 

 

NBA OKC Thunder Patrick Patterson

Raptors Masai Ujiri Dodged Another Patrick Patterson Injury

Call it good planning, inside knowledge or just plain blind luck, but Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri dodged another potentially damaging injury situation by allowing free agent Patrick Patterson to sign a “bargain” contract with the Thunder this summer.

The Thunder issued a press release outlining the situation.

Oklahoma City Thunder forward Patrick Patterson underwent a successful arthroscopic procedure today on his left knee…

Patterson will be re-evaluated in 4-6 weeks.

As described on Rotoworld,

we’ll consider him questionable for training camp. He did struggle with his knee last season

Patterson was having an impact season as a player on an expiring contract up until the end of December when he hurt his knee in Phoenix. After sitting out four games, he came back too soon and ended up sitting for six more. He then played for for a week before being forced to sit back down for another six games.

While his stats looked okay after getting back to stay, his play on the court didn’t and he lost minutes to P.J.Tucker before falling completely off the rails in the postseason for the second time in a row.

After failing to step up in the playoffs in successive years, Ujiri had a good enough reason to look elsewhere when making his plans for next season.

Injury prone or not, Patterson wasn’t likely to be re-signed in Toronto despite the fact the Raptors are short on veterans to fill in their bench, but seeing the popular forward continuing to be impacted by knee problems this summer should make losing his services just a little easier to accept.

 

 

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

 

 

 

NBA Basketball Shoes by Paul Saini

Basketball Shoe Game Rose To New Heights At Summer League

Thank the outspoken and often annoying antics of LaVar Ball for taking the basketball shoe game to new heights this summer. He single-handedly turned the NBA summer League from almost meaningless games between future NBA rookies, hopefuls and never will be pros into a must follow social media event.

What basketball shoes his son and Lakers number two overall draft pick Lonzo Ball was wearing each night was worth finding out.

Lonzo started out in his own Big Baller Brand ZO2s, tried out some Nike Kobe AD Purple Stardust sneakers. He upped the drama with Adidas Harden Vol. 1 Night Life, some Jordan’s and Stephen Curry sent him a pair of his signature shoes by Under Armor.

The media grabbing attention has created the desired impact for Ball. Whether the other major players in the sports shoe market step up or not, their Ball Baller brand got a major and potentially game-changing boost.

LaVar made quite the stir prior to the draft when he didn’t just take the standard rookie endorsement deal from Nike Shoes for his son. He wanted more and with all the buzz he’s created, he just might get it.

Those with a hardcore basketball shoe game should be paying attention. Before this is all over, those $495 Big Baller Brand shoes just might be a rare collector’s item… or not?

ESPN’s Nick DePaula updates the impact of Big Baller Brand post Summer League. The Ball family has surprised a lot of people with their success and they might not need the “big boys” in the industry after all.

Ball’s path to taking the court in a sneaker from his family’s own brand is unlike anything seen before in the big business of athletic sneakers.

After meeting with representatives from each of the major domestic basketball brands — Nike, Adidas and Under Armour — as far back as December 2016, none of the company reps had an interest in LaVar’s offered “co-branded partnership” structure.

Since launching the $495 pre-order edition of the ZO2 sneaker, along with an autographed $995 “collector’s edition,” … More than 700 pairs have already been ordered.  — it’s a respectable number that beat out the expectations of several rival industry sources.

Big Baller Brand just might become a disruptive force unlike anything the industry has ever seen.

 

  

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

Featured image courtesy of Paul Saini
Instagram:  @fylmm.lifestyle and  @paul_saini

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Jared Sullinger

Jared Sullinger Shows Something At The Basketball Tournament

Getting hurt, traded and cut last season wasn’t how Jared Sullinger envisioned the end of his NBA career and at just 25-years-old, he’s still fighting for a spot to play somewhere next season.

Needing to showcase that’s his foot is healed and he’s back in basketball shape, Sullinger joined Ohio State’s alumni “Scarlet and Gray” playing in The Basketball Tournament (“TBT”) as reported by James Graga Jr. in Scout.com.

Sullinger said he joined the alumni team for a number of reasons. For starters, Sullinger is not currently under contract by any professional team after he was waived by the Phoenix Suns after being traded from the Toronto Raptors in February. In addition, Sullinger said he wants to prove to NBA franchises that he is still healthy. The former Ohio State star has undergone two foot surgeries in recent years and said his personal agenda for the tournament is to prove to teams he can still play at a high level.

“I am healthy. I am running up and down the floor, playing basketball and I am healthy. That is my main concern right now,” he said.

 

The Basketball Tournament is no easy ride writes Aaron Torres of The Washington Post. These are solid rosters loaded with current and former NBA players and they are motivated to win.

Sixty-four teams of various affiliations compete for a prize of $2 million in TBT.

It’s broadcast on ESPN. NBA scouts attend the games.

This year, according to TBT, 66 current and former NBA players participated in TBT, either as players or coaches, adding a sense of legitimacy to the tournament.

“These aren’t a bunch of no-names playing in this tournament,” said ESPN basketball analyst Fran Fraschilla. “These are professional athletes.”

“For Jared, this is a job interview,” Fraschilla said.

Unfortunately for Sullinger, “Scarlet and Gray” lost the semi-finals match in double overtime to Austin Day’s “Team Challenge ALS” as reported by TBT Staff.

Jared Sullinger completed a solid performance in TBT, scoring 26 points and grabbing 10 rebounds in the losing effort for Scarlet & Gray

Sullinger shot 6-12 from the field, 1-1 from three and 13-15 from the free throw line. He also had a block and two steals to go with his double-double performance.

Prior to the game Josh Brown wrote,

Sullinger has shown that he’s back at full strength after suffering two foot injuries last season. He’s averaging 14.5 ppg and 9 rpg. In typical Sullinger fashion, not only has he been very efficient around the rim but he is shooting the three ball with some success as well.

In other games:

Regional Championship: Sullinger contributed to the team’s win, scoring 15 points and grabbing eight rebounds.

Super 16: Jared Sullinger rebounded from an uneven performance in the Round 2 win to register 21 points and nine rebounds

When healthy Sullinger put up good numbers with the Boston Celtics in his first four NBA seasons. It might be hard to trust his feet at this point, but he’s someone to watch.

If he can get his weight under control (Sullinger has admitted he was fat last year), he’ll be back in the NBA at some point.

 

  

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

Featured image courtesy of Larry Millson

 

 

 

 

Raptors preseason schedule

Toronto Raptors Training Camp And Preseason Schedule

The Toronto Raptors have announced their training camp and preseason schedule for the 2017-18 season.

Head coach Dwane Casey and his team will hold training camp in Victoria, British Columbia. This marks the fourth consecutive year the Raptors will hold training camp in British Columbia and fifth time overall in team history.

Following training camp the Raptors will kick off a five-game preseason schedule in Honolulu, Hawaii.

The Raptors will practice Tuesday, September 26 through Friday, September 29 at Centre for Athletics, Recreation and Special Abilities (CARSA) on the University of Victoria campus and the team will hold an open intra-squad game Thursday, September 28.

Practice sessions will be closed to the public. A detailed training camp schedule, along with information for the open intra-squad game will be released at a later date.

“It’s an honour to visit a different part of Canada and prepare for our season in the first-class facilities at the University of Victoria,” said Casey. “We are extremely proud being Canada’s only NBA franchise. Our players and staff feel enthusiasm for basketball in every city we have visited. We don’t ever want to take that for granted.”

“We are very excited to partner with the Toronto Raptors on their 2017 preseason training camp,” said Clint Hamilton, Director of Vikes Athletics and Recreation at the University of Victoria. “This will be a great opportunity for our community as we welcome Canada’s NBA team to UVic and our CARSA facility. We look forward to providing a high quality environment for the Raptors players and staff as they begin their journey towards a championship in the 2017-18 season.”

This is the 10th time the Raptors have held a portion of their training camp outside the province of Ontario. Previously the team has trained in Halifax, Treviso and Rome in Italy, Madrid in Spain and Buffalo, New York.

The five-game preseason schedule starts in Honolulu, Hawaii for the first time in franchise history with a pair of games October 1st at 10 pm ET and October 3rd at 1 am ET against the Los Angeles Clippers. Both games will be played at Stan Sheriff Center on the University of Hawaii campus.

The Raptors return to the mainland on October 5th at 10 pm ET to face Portland at Moda Center, returning to Toronto for their lone preseason contest at Air Canada Centre on October 10th at 7 pm versus Detroit. The preseason finale will take place on October 13th at 8 pm ET on the road in Chicago at the United Center.

The 2017-18 NBA season will tip-off Tuesday, October 17.

 

 

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

 

 

 

#NBA Toronto Raptors Kyle Lowry DeMar DeRozan CJ Miles Serge Ibaka

Are We Underestimating The Toronto Raptors Again?

Coming off back-to-back 50-plus win seasons and in an Eastern Conference that’s bleeding talent West, is everyone underestimating the stand pat Toronto Raptors again?

The Raptors will head into the 2017-18 NBA season with their All-Star core of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan intact, but with no outside huge free agent signings or trades bringing in new big time talent, this team has gotten a collective yawn for what they’ve done in July.

There’s no argument here about the less than exciting off season in Toronto. The big news has been Lowry didn’t bolt for the West with everyone else and Serge Ibaka really did want to come to Toronto as reported at the trade deadline in February.

Their other trade deadline acquisition, P.J. Tucker, we hardly got to know you, opted for Houston early in free agency and president Masai Ujiri didn’t even try to re-sign the defensively talented but offensively frustrating Patrick Patterson. Important role players to be sure, but hardly irreplaceable and the lack of off season excitement continued.

The addition of a real three-point threat in veteran wing/forward C.J. Miles was a solid acquisition, but not a star.

Ujiri’s summer has been all about getting below the Luxury Tax threshold while trying not to take a step backwards and in that narrow context, no one is arguing with the result, but in the disappointment of not trying to make the team dramatically better by spending more, did Ujiri succeed in putting together a roster that is better than last season?

In short, painfully, yes.

Two of Ujiri’s biggest off season moves were salary dumps.

  1. DeMarre Carroll, don’t let the door hit you on the way out, took two draft picks to get the Nets to take him and,
  2. Cory Joseph, who’ll be missed mostly because he’s a nice Canadian kid who everyone liked.

These moves cleared the space below the luxury tax threshold to sign the Pacers very solid three-point shooting veteran free agent Miles and make no mistake, Miles at forward will be light-years ahead of what Carroll gave the team over the past two seasons.

Small forward and backup point guard

Carroll: 72 games, 26.1 minutes, 8.9 points, 3.8 rebounds, 4.4 three-point attempts per game at 34.1 percent and a whole lot of missed or poorly played games due to injury. “3-and-D” was more like iffy D and no 3 as the expensive forward rehabbed as he played.

Miles: 76 games, 23.4 minutes,10.7 points, 3 rebounds, 5.4 three-point attempts per game at 41.3 percent. An overall better journeyman forward at half the price of Carroll. The Raptors finally have a player that’s among the NBA’s best at the corner three-ball.

At backup point guard, it was just time to let the young guys move up a step by sending Joseph to another team,

NBA Toronto Raptors backup PG stats 2016-17

Joseph’s only faults were he made more money than either Delon Wright or Fred VanVleet and while the two guys playing behind him were getting better, Joseph hadn’t really improved since being signed two summers ago.

It’s not for sure, but the Raptors are probably a better team with Wright backing up Lowry.

Power forward

It’s easy to forget Ibaka was only part of the Raptors for 23 regular season games and Lowry was injured for almost all of them. The full impact of having Ibaka on the roster has yet to be seen.

It’s also easy to forget that the Raptors played most of last season without the power forward a 50-win team should have in their starting lineup. Rookie Pascal Siakam undoubtedly got a lot out of starting 38 games for the Raptors, but substituting in Ibaka is like an order of magnitude improvement.

The Raptors went 16-7 in the regular season with Ibaka and Lowry just trying to play himself back into shape over his last three games. The record says a lot about what Ibaka added to his new team. The likelihood of Toronto having a 50-win season without Lowry for a month and a half wasn’t very good.

Center

The move that didn’t happen was the departure of Jonas Valanciunas. In a league moving away from traditional centers, it’s still important to have one just in case you need an answer to a player like the Bucks Greg Monroe.

Valanciunas may or may not ever fully adapt to the changing ways in the NBA, but as he showed in the Milwaukee series, when you need a big traditional center, you had better have one.

Heading into his sixth NBA season, Valanciunas can probably average a double-double in 24 minutes as a starter or a reserve, so while he’s likely still an available trade piece, Ujiri isn’t about to just give him away.

“We believe in JV’s talent. I want everybody to know that,” Ujiri said. “You can say the style of play in the NBA is going in one direction, but we also believe in offensive rebounding and he’s really good at that.

“We are not trying to give JV away.”

The Rest?

Maybe everyone just forgot? But last year the Raptors had seven guys on rookie deals and the veteran Ujiri signed for depth (as a starter), Jared Sullinger, effectively ended his season before it started with a broken foot. Proven depth was almost nonexistent for the 51-win Raptors.

This year Ujiri could have 10 guys on rookie deals, but,

  1. Lucas Nogueira is in his fourth season and played in 57 games last year.
  2. Norman Powell is in his third season and will be fighting for a deserved spot in the starting rotation. He’s not a rookie or just a “young guy” anymore.
  3. Wright looks ready to takeover at backup point guard. In fact, he looked ready last year.
  4. Jakob Poeltl deserves more run, but as long as JV is around, there aren’t many minutes.
  5. It’s possible the NBA G League Finals MVP Pascal Siakam took a big step over the summer. He’s played in 55 NBA games and seems to have the potential to stick around long term.
  6. As is often the case, there is some excitement over new rookie OG Anunoby, but predicting what you’ll get out of any rookie is a crap shoot.

The Raptors are deeper than last year because the young players from last year gained some real experience and are expected to be better.

As Basketball Insiders 

While the Celtics added the top available free agent and the Cavaliers appear to be unraveling at the seams, the ever-reliable Raptors just kept things exactly the same.
All in all, the recapture of Lowry and Ibaka likely won’t lead to an NBA Finals appearance anytime soon, but it’s a strong indication that the franchise’s newfound success will continue until further notice.

Unless the Cavs implode, no other team in the NBA East including the Celtics will be given a shot at making an NBA Finals appearance, so it’s hard to argue with 

 

 

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

 

 

 

NBA Cleveland Cavaliers Kyrie Irving

The Best Trade The Cavs Can Make For Kyrie Irving Is?

So the Cleveland Cavaliers want a king’s ransom for Kyrie Irving or so says ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and that’s certainly where they should open the bidding, but that may not be the best trade the Cavs can or should make for their All-Star point guard. Long term, it may not even be in the team’s best interests.

The Cavaliers want a package that resembles the 2011 Nuggets-Knicks deal for Carmelo Anthony — young players, win-now veterans and draft picks.

As long as LeBron James is on the team, the Cavs will be the favorites to come out of the East. The only issues with that are James can be a free agent next summer and isn’t promising anything, plus even with Irving or a “replacement” veteran, no one gives the Cavs a chance against the Warriors in the NBA Finals.

Dan Gilbert or whomever is making decisions in Cleveland this summer needs to start thinking outside the box they put themselves in or Gilbert will be cutting a check for $75 million to the NBA to cover his luxury tax bill and still end up second best with some people looking at the Cavs as really being the league’s fourth best team.

The right deal probably isn’t something that helps the Cavs tread water and a little something extra for the future. Cleveland needs to be bolder than that.

The Philadelphia 76ers are planning a return trip to the postseason after five years of being terrible and president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo has added enough veteran pieces to his very young team to give them hope. Adding Irving would put them firmly in the playoff picture and greatly accelerate “the process.”

This is the trade the Cavs should make:

Cavaliers trade Kyrie Irving ($18.9 million) and Channing Frye ($7.4 million)

76ers trade Markelle Fultz ($7 million), Jahil Okafor ($5 million), and the draft rights to the 25th pick Anzerjs Pasecniks.

The 76ers have $15.1 million in practical cap space to absorb the extra salary according to Spotrac and the trade will save the Cavaliers $55 million in luxury tax next season.

(Note: Fultz can’t be traded until August 7)

For the Cavs, it’s a gamble to not get a veteran player back, but it’s as good a bet as a GM could make with Derrick Rose available in case it takes Fultz a while to figure out the NBA game.

Trading a young successful former number one overall pick who wants out for this year’s high potential number one overall pick is a great long term move. And Gilbert has already spent a fortune betting on short term moves. It’s time he got some LeBron insurance to protect his franchise just in case.

In Philadelphia, the playoff drought will be over and Irving gets his wish, a team to lead. The 76ers will not just be a team to watch because of all that young talent, they’ll be a team that’s expected to be competitive with playoff teams now and any “process” looks a lot sweeter while you’re winning.

 

 

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

 Featured image courtesy of Paul Saini
Instagram:  @fylmm.lifestyle and  @paul_saini

 

 

 

NBA playoffs Cleveland Cavaliers Lebron James - Kyrie Irving - Kevin Love

Are Massive Losses Driving The Cavaliers Decisions?

We live in a world where major league sports franchises are often owned by billionaires who seem to have unlimited resources for their big boy toys, but billionaires didn’t get to their lofty financial position by pissing away money. Eventually massive losses, usually long before accumulating into the nine-figure range, will start driving decisions and that’s where the Cleveland Cavaliers are right now.

Wonder why Cavs majority owner had an apparent falling out with the top guy running his team David Griffin? Griffin has built a team that as constructed will have accumulated over $100 million in losses by the end of next season. No parade or ring ceremony is going to make writing that check feel good.

*The 2018-19 numbers only include 11 players and assumes LeBron James picks up his player option.

Crain’s Cleveland Business Kevin Kleps reported in January that the Cavaliers had lost at least $40 million in their championship season and would lose more this year.

After the very public spat, Forbes reported last Friday, Jan. 27, that the Cavs lost $40 million during their championship season.

Well, I was told by an industry source that Forbes’ numbers were indeed off. They were actually “conservative.”

I got the feeling the number was considerably higher.

The Cavs will lose money again this season — though not as much, the source said — and they will continue to do so for “the foreseeable future,” because their payroll is only going to increase.

As Kleps comments, “No one is feeling sorry for Dan Gilbert.” The Cavs majority owner is worth a reported $5 billion dollars and the $375 million price tag on the Cavs when he bought in would be well over a billion now.

However, what often gets overlooked in an environment where an asset is going up in value but losing money hand-over-fist is someone has to keep writing checks to pay the bills and billionaire or not, cutting checks for over $100 million with no end in sight usually ends in prematurely selling your asset.

The last two seasons were estimated to cost Gilbert a conservative $50 million to play basketball team owner and maybe closer to $70-75 million? These next two seasons could easily top $120 million and if Griffin had of been successful in trading for Paul George, the Cavs could easily have blown right past that astronomical sum.

Those are record setting Brooklyn Nets type of loses and their billionaire still hasn’t recovered.

Further complicating the Cavs financial prospects is Cleveland remains a small market team with just over 2 million population in the greater metropolitan area. There is no billion dollar local TV contract coming to cover loses no matter how good the Cavs are and raising ticket prices to New York or L.A. levels would be a foolish gamble.

Maybe we shouldn’t have been so surprised that Gilbert wanted new leadership for his team?

Also, its more complicated than Gilbert just sucking it up, paying the bills and buying LeBron James another shot at a championship. Gilbert has partners in the Cavs and when it comes to asking for big money to fund discretionary operating loses, it not uncommon for partners to disagree.

It’s easy to forget the Cavaliers were purchased by an investor group led by Dan Gilbert in 2005 that included inactive partners Grammy-award winning recording artist Usher Raymond IV, former owner Gordon Gund, movie producer Gary Gilbert and others. Minority owners Jeff Cohen and Nathan Forbes have been active in the business.

In February  Joe Vardon in Cleveland.com reported on a Cavs shake-up at the top.

Jeff Cohen is out as vice chairman and Nathan Forbes, while maintaining his title has lost influence with Gilbert and is spending very little time on Cavs business

The two were “extensions” of Gilbert within the Cavs, according to one source, offering input on major trades and organizational decisions presented to Gilbert by general manager David Griffin.

Based on Griffins release, it appears these two minority partners were more likely acting as advocates for the GM’s rather expensive proposals.

As is usual in large private corporations and partnerships, the books are never open to the public and ownership/partner “discussions” are resolved behind closed doors, so it’s possible we’ll never be sure who made what decision and why. However, it’s very certain that Gilbert is pulling the strings.

The resolution to the Kyrie Irving situation will provide a lot of insight as to how Gilbert really feels about losing over $50 million a year to run his franchise.

This is an opportunity to significantly cut his projected $75 million luxury tax bill and reduce the Cavaliers operating loses this year and going forward. Talent coming back could quickly become a secondary consideration to finding ways to dump salary.  Based on what’s happened so far this year that could easily happen with an eye toward making sure it doesn’t look that way.

There really is nothing like a great off season drama.

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

NBA Cleveland Cavaliers Kyrie Irving

Six Offers For Kyrie Irving Not Enough For Delusional Cavs

The Cleveland Cavaliers are in a pickle. They don’t want to trade All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving, but Irving wants to go and the whole league knows it. According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski six teams have made offers, but so far nothing has happened. If the Cavs think what’s been put on the table isn’t reasonable, they’re delusional.

The San Antonio Spurs, LA Clippers, Phoenix Suns, Minnesota Timberwolves, New York Knicks and Miami Heat. There were approximately 20 teams that inquired …, but far fewer have registered legitimate proposals… many simply don’t have the assets to make a deal happen.

What Wojnarowski isn’t saying is some GMs wouldn’t replace their current starting point guard with Irving who isn’t a great playmaker, doesn’t play defense and whose numbers and reputation has almost certainly been juiced by playing along side LeBron James.

No one believes Irving isn’t a worthy All-Star. His handles, shooting and flash is elite. He’s worth all of his $18.9 million salary and he’d get more in today’s market, but let’s not go crazy here. Irving isn’t about to carry any team to the postseason as their top player. He needs to share that load or play with someone better.

The Heat have made a solid offer, one that probably makes the Cavs better than last season, but politics may be getting in the way. This deal should have gotten done.

The Heat are willing to part with Goran Dragic and Justise Winslow as centerpieces for an Irving trade, league sources said. With the Cleveland-Miami history, there’s little chance for a deal unless the Heat offered an overwhelming package.

Aside from taking 4.3 fewer shots per game, Dragic has nearly identical shooting percentages from the field and from three, they had the same number of assists and steals plus, Dragic is half a rebound better. Then there’s Dragic wasn’t playing beside anyone of note to divert attention away from the fact he was his team’s leading scorer. Imagine how much better those numbers could look with James setting him up for open shots and ISO plays driving to the hoop.

Sure Irving is six years younger, that’s why the 21-year-old Lottery Pick Winslow was included in the package.

Dragic will be at least as statistically good as Irving for the two years the Cavs can force Irving to stay in Cleveland and will keep the Cavs as the heavy favorites to come out of the East again this season.

If you’re looking for a REAL REASON the Cavs are balking at this trade, look no further than the luxury tax. This trade would add almost a million dollars to the Cavs payroll with a luxury tax cost approaching $5 million.

Then there’s the five other teams Wojnarowski says have made offers.

San Antonio would be interested with Tony Parker injured, but aside from LaMarcus Aldridge, they don’t have a lot to trade until December 15th. It’s laughable to think the Spurs would trade Kawhi Leonard for anyone on the Cavs including James. Even Aldridge’s departure would leave a hole in the roster that would not be compensated by acquiring Irving.

The Clippers might be interested in building a package around DeAndre Jordan and would be pretty happy if they could knock a million or two off their payroll in the process. Most any other deal would have to wait until December 15th. The Cavs wouldn’t be too excited at the prospect of increasing their already huge tax bill though.

The Suns have assets including a protected first round pick from the Heat and could include Eric Blesoe plus a young player in a deal. The fly in this ointment would probably come from the Irving’s camp. He wouldn’t be too excited about joining a projected Lottery Team that would still be a projected Lottery Team with him on it and he’d almost certainly let the Suns know that.

The Timberwolves are an interesting landing spot. Logically this team doesn’t need Irving as they just signed free agent Jeff Teague to a $19 million per year deal, but there sure is a lot of speculation. Irving would be a big upgrade over Teague, although a trade couldn’t be made until December 15th. What makes this especially intriguing is if the T-wolves and Andrew Wiggins can’t come to terms on a max contract extension. A Teague plus Wiggins for Irving plus Shumpert would be a home run for the Cavs.

The Knicks want to do something around Carmelo Anthony and its a good trade for the Cavs even if they don’t seem all that excited about it. Irving plus Shumpert for Melo knocks almost $3 million off the Cavs payroll and saves almost $15 million in tax. Not sure what the holdup is?

The Cavs can trade Irving before the start of the season for a solid return as long as they don’t get so delusional about Irving’s value that they get in their own way. A deal with either the Heat or the Knicks would leave Cleveland at least as well off on the court after the trade as they were before it next season and likely the season after that. Expecting much more probably means waiting until after December 15th and taking all kinds of needless risks.

 

 

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

 

 

 

NBA Orlando Magic Khem Birch

Canadian Shot Blocker Khem Birch Signs With The Magic

The Orlando Magic announced they have signed Canadian big man Khem Birch to a two year contract.

Birch (6’9”, 220, 9/28/92) played in Greece last season, appearing in 37 games (21 starts) with Olympiacos, averaging 7.3 ppg. and 5.6 rpg. in 18.0 minpg., while shooting 62.4 percent from the field.

After playing collegiately at both the University of Pittsburgh and UNLV, Birch declared for the 2014 NBA Draft and spent the 2014-15 campaign with the Sioux Falls Skyforce of the NBA G League, where he averaged 11.1 ppg., 9.5 rpg., 1.2 apg. and 1.8 blkpg. in 52 contests. He was named to the Futures All-Star Team in 2015.

A native of Montreal, Quebec, Birch has also played professionally in Turkey (2015-16) and is a member of the Canadian National Team.

Although Birch went undrafted in 2014, he was part of the ever growing wave of Canadian basketball players getting noticed by the NBA.

One of the best shot blockers in all of college basketball in his third season, Birch averaged a double-double with 3.8 blocks per game at UNLV and his collegiate success had a big impact on basketball in his hometown.

“It’s definitely a moment,” Birch said at a Raptors predraft workout in 2014. “The most Canadians ever in the draft, so it’s definitely a moment.

“There are a lot of young guys coming up (who are) my brother’s age of 14 years old and every time I do something, they like everything, so I have made a really big impact on Montreal basketball. I’m proud and hopefully I’ll keep it up. Right now it’s hockey, but watch, in the future, it’s going to be basketball. I can see it’s coming up.”

Expecting to go late in the second round of the NBA draft, Birch ended up with the D-League Sioux Falls Skyforce and then headed to Europe for the next two seasons. However, in hindsight, it was apparent before he left that he’d fit in today’s NBA style of play.

“Khem, he is so athletic and he’s got the length and the shot blocking and the rebounding,” Raptors director of scouting Dan Tolzman said in 2014. “He is an intriguing player because he is the type of player that the NBA is going to more – athletic, nimble types of bigs and he is right in that group.”

Josh Cohen in the Orlando Magic Film Room illustrates what Birch could potentially bring to the NBA today.

With his speed, athleticism and aggressiveness, Birch chases down opponents in transition and swats shots away. He also is a terrific help defender and will often slide over from the weak side to block shots.

Birch fits in very well in small-ball lineups because he has the lateral foot speed to stay in front of smaller, quicker perimeter players. In pick-and-roll scenarios, Birch doesn’t get intimidated by opponents trying to break him down off the dribble. He has the body of a power forward but the game of a center.

An intriguing prospect when he left college, the 24-year-old gets his second chance at making an NBA roster (he played six preseason games with Miami in 2014) after an impressive run to the Euroleague Final Four last season.

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

NBA free agent collage

NBA Free Agent Scrap Heap Bargains

Any NBA free agent still on the market at the end of July is at risk of ending up on the scrap heap and with few exceptions, their options for signing anything but a bargain NBA minimum contract for next season are getting thin.

So far NBA teams have handed out over $2 billion in new deals averaging over $12 million per season per Spotrac and only the Bulls, Suns, Mavericks and 76ers can still create over $10 million in salary cap space by renouncing their exceptions to make a significant offer to a free agent.

This off season has been marked by big trades like Paul George and Chris Paul plus big salary dumps like DeMarre Carroll and Allen Crabbe. Aside from Gordon Hayward going to the Celtics, most of the big name free agents have re-upped with their old teams and in the process, the most desirable free agent destinations are out of both salary cap space and room under the luxury tax threshold.

Some NBA free agent bargains to watch are:

Unrestricted Free Agents

Shabazz Muhammad, Minnesota Timberwolves, UFA

Muhammad’s agent should have pressed the panic button when the T-wolves rescinded their qualifying offer making him unrestricted.

The 14th overall pick in 2013  is still just 24-years-old. His experience on a bad Minnesota team makes him look like a black hole on offense and a questionable defender, but four different coaches in four years isn’t the way to develop any player.

This 6’6 wing with a 6’11 wingspan and a 37″ max vertical jump has averaged 10.8 points on 47.7 percent shooting in just 20.5 minutes over the past three years as a reserve and has shown potential to shoot the three.

Teams are looking at mature undrafted players to fill in the back end of their rosters. Muhammad is a way better option that doing that.

Dante Cunningham, New Orleans Pelicans, UFA

The 30-year-old veteran forward is considered a decent defender with a good three-point shot developed over the past two seasons. At 39.2 percent from three on 2.7 attempts last season, it shouldn’t be a surprise he thought there’d be more demand for his services when he opted out of his $3.1 million player option.

Undoubtedly a victim of unreasonable expectations, this is a player that can help a team right away.

Luke Babbitt, Miami Heat, UFA

The 6’9 combo forward does one thing well, it just happens to be the one thing every NBA team seems to need these days. He chucked up a three-ball every five minutes he was on the court for the Heat and he sunk 41.4 percent of them.

The 28-year-old isn’t a terrible rebounder and no one is looking to him for defense, but he legitimately stretches the floor and he’ll be cheap.

Derrick Williams, Cleveland Cavaliers, UFA

Almost completely off the free agent radar, Derrick Williams earned himself a second sixth chance with the Cavaliers last season when he survived two 10 day contracts and was picked up for the balance of the season.

The 2011 2nd overall draft pick bombed, but the 6’8 240 lb forward has talent and sometimes it takes longer for the school of hard knocks to make an impact than should normally be expected.

Williams shot 50.5 percent from the field and 40.4 percent from three in 25 games for the Cavs. At 26-years-old, he is still relatively young, an uber-athlete and he’ll be cheap. Odds are he’d take a non-guaranteed deal in a heartbeat.  No risk/high return, why hasn’t he gotten a camp invite yet?

Restricted Free Agents

This summer wasn’t as good for free agents as last summer (and it’s going to be worse next summer). Players are being screwed over in restricted free agency as teams refuse to bid against themselves,

Nerlens Noel, Dallas Mavericks, RFA

A big traditional center in a market that’s not rewarding big traditional centers, the Mavs can afford to wait out Noel as no team is going to try to steal him with a ludicrous offer sheet.

Noel should be more worried than he appears as well. The Mavs are sitting on salary cap space they could use to acquire one of the seemingly numerous available veteran traditional centers and get paid to do it with future draft picks.

Mason Plumlee, Denver Nuggets, RFA

Another big traditional center with no leverage in negotiations. He’ll be a backup next season if he stays in Denver and in his position, the qualifying offer should be starting to look good.

JaMychal Green, Memphis Grizzlies, RFA

JaMychal Green started 75 games for the Grizzlies last season and the 6’9 power forward became the ‘3-and-D’ player the previous season suggested he would. It’s actually surprising no other team took a serious run at him despite Memphis’ promise to match any offer sheet.

Green is type of young big man just about every NBA team wants and needs in today’s NBA and it shouldn’t surprise anyone if the Grizzlies have quietly been offered several sign-and-trade opportunities, but they seem content to wait things out in an attempt to get Green on the contract they want.

 

A few of the other recognizable free agents in need of a place to play include: Monta Ellis, Gerald Henderson, Tyler Zeller, Festus Ezeli and Nikola Mirotic.

There are still a lot of players waiting on the sidelines in free agency, but the money and the roster spots are quickly drying up. It won’t be long before restricted free agents will start thinking their best option may be that qualifying offer and unrestricted free agents are completely stuck between a veteran’s minimum deal or no deal at all.

 

 

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

 

 

 

NBA Andrew Nicholson Magic Wizards Nets and Trail Blazers

Canadian Andrew Nicholson Becomes An NBA Free Agent Again

Canadian forward Andrew Nicholson was drafted 19th overall by the Orlando Magic in 2012 and after a less than inspiring four years, it must have felt like he hit the jackpot when the Wizards signed him as a free agent to a four year $26 million contract last summer.

It all fell apart in Washington, however, as he had only played in 28 games by the All-Star break when he was traded to Brooklyn for Bojan Bogdanovic in a multi-player deal. Only seeing action in 10 games with the Nets wasn’t a good sign either and he’s become trade ballast in yet another deal, this time headed to Portland for Allen Crabbe.

Luxury tax savings was the only thing on the Trail Blazers minds and Nicholson will be stretched and waived for the big time savings.

All this means is Nicholson still gets his money and will be a free agent once again this summer who can sign with any team that will have him in the NBA or overseas.

The 6’9 250 lb forward averaged 6.5 points, 3.2 rebounds and 15.1 minutes in 247 games with the Magic and steadily improved his three-point shooting to 36 percent on 2.0 attempts per game in his fourth season.

The move to Washington was a disaster, but someone should give this potential stretch-four a second chance.

 

 

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

 

 

 

NBA G League Mississauga Raptors 905 Lorenzo Brown

Raptors Sign Guard Lorenzo Brown To A Two-Way Contract

The Toronto Raptors announced Tuesday they have signed 26-year-old guard Lorenzo Brown to a two-way contract.

Brown, 6-foot-5, 189 pounds, has averaged 3.3 points, 1.7 rebounds and 2.3 assists in 63 career NBA games with Philadelphia (2013-14), Minnesota (2014-15) and Phoenix (2015-16). He has also appeared in 74 career D-League games over four seasons with the Delaware 87ers (2013-14), Springfield Armor (2013-14) and Grand Rapids Drive averaging 18.5 points, 5.4 rebounds, 5.2 assists and 1.8 steals while shooting 48.6 percent from the field and 36.4 percent from three-point range.

A native of Roswell Georgia, Brown was selected 52nd overall in the 2013 NBA Draft by Minnesota after playing three seasons at North Carolina State. He averaged 11.6 points, 4.2 rebounds and 5.8 assists in college.

Brown split last season between the Zhejiang Golden Bulls of the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) and the Drive.

He averaged 24.0 points, while shooting .301 (37-for-123) from three-point range during 20 games with Zhejiang. Brown finished the season averaging 23.6 points and 7.7 rebounds while shooting .353 (18-for-51) from three-point territory in 11 appearances for Grand Rapids.

Two-way contracts do not count against the 15-man NBA roster. Teams are restricted to two players on two-way contracts. The Raptors other two-way contract player is Malcolm Miller.

As an older player with international experience, Brown fits with the concept of someone the Raptors might call up from the G League to the NBA as an injury replacement during the regular season.

 

 

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