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NBA San Antonio Spurs LaMarcus Aldridge and Toronto Raptors Jonas Valanciunas

Raptors Should Just Go For It This Season

Already deep in luxury tax territory and unsuccessfully looking to dump contracts even at the expense of potentially getting worse, Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri should be looking to do more than just being a top four team in the Eastern Conference. He should got for it and take his shot at getting to the NBA Finals.

As Basketball Insiders senior writer Joel Brigham reported recently, overall the East has gotten weaker with Jimmy Butler, Paul George and Paul Millsap heading west. The top four in the East aren’t about to change, although maybe things between the top teams could become at least a little more interesting.

Cleveland, Boston, Toronto and Washington look almost certain to keep their top-four status in the conference simply by bringing back the same players they had a year ago. Add Milwaukee to that conversation, too

Chicago, Indiana and Atlanta all made the playoffs last year but each will vie for the conference’s worst record next season after losing their stars

Boston took the first steps towards becoming more competitive with the Cavs by getting Gordon Hayward’s commitment for next season. Although they still have more moves left to create the needed cap space to sign Hayward and they’ll probably want to do something about carrying four small forwards that all need to play next season.

Expect the Wizards to match anything restricted free agent Otto Porter signs on July 6th.

The Raptors will bring back starters Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka, but have lost rotation players P.J. Tucker and Patrick Patterson to free agency and are rumored to be looking to dump salary because of luxury tax concerns.

All three of these pretenders will be competitive during the regular season, but unless they have another major move up their sleeve, no one is going to give them more than a puncher’s chance at knocking off a healthy Cavs squad in the playoffs.

The Celtics with Isaiah Thomas, Al Horford and Gordon Hayward still need rebounding and they have the trade pieces to go get a difference maker. Of course the Celtics with Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum and Brooklyn’s 2018 first round draft pick could choose to tread water as a 50-win team while their young guys develop instead?

Built around John Wall and Bradley Beal, the Wizards will have continuity and if they can find some offense off the bench, it can be argued they don’t need anything else, but they really need that bench to step up.

The Raptors are built around Lowry, DeMar DeRozan and Ibaka, but like the Celtics, they need another impact player if they are going to be more than pretenders in the East.

(Players shown in the positions they would like to play)

The Raptors could make do with the players they have, even if it isn’t practical luxury tax wise. Delon Wright has the size to play on the wing. DeMarre Carroll can play both forward spots and Ibaka can play power forward (like he has for most of his career.) But this isn’t the best use of team resources.

The favored move seems to be to find a team to take on Carroll’s salary to solve the luxury tax issue, but this doesn’t help re-balance the roster or help move the needle of the team’s outlook for next season.

No, Ujiri needs to go big if this team is going to be significantly better than last season. He needs to add an impact player, preferably while reducing his luxury tax position.

Once teams can actually start signing free agents on July 6th and reality sets in around the league, trade season can start in earnest and there is one multiple-time All-Star rumored to have shopped around at the draft because he wasn’t happy, the Spurs LaMarcus Aldridge.

The almost 32-year-old five-time All-Star power forward wasn’t named to the All-Star team for first time since 2012 last year. He posted his lowest scoring (17.3 points per game), fewest field goals made (6.9) and worst rebounding numbers (7.3) since his rookie season way back in 2006-07. However, he was still an impact player and as has been a big man trend, he added a three-point shot and hit 41 percent of his 56 attempts last season.

In addition to Aldridge being unhappy, general manager R.C. Burford isn’t going to have star point guard Tony Parker to start the season, if at all. It doesn’t look like free agency is going all that well either besides the return of Patty Mills, so an aging Spurs team could use some young ready-to-go players for next season.

If the Raptors sent Jonas Valanciunas, Cory Joseph and Lucas Nogueira to the Spurs for Aldridge, the Raptors would get another impact player who can shoot plus shave $4.5 million off their payroll, and the Spurs would get to fill some holes with a young starting center, a backup point guard they know well and a young developing big man.

The Raptors tax situation becomes a lot more palatable and the players fall into roles they prefer/fit.

If Aldridge can re-gain his All-Star form of a year ago, which should be a lot easier in the NBA East, Toronto would at least get a second look as a potential competitor for the Cavs come playoff time.

At this point in early July, nothing is set in stone, however, expect the Celtics to make a move to address those rebounding concerns, look for the Wizards bench to improve and the Raptors will do … something.

Ujiri created a three-year window with the contracts of DeRozan, Lowry and Ibaka, so he may as well go for it this year if he can and there may be no better opportunity to snag an impact player than the situation in San Antonio with Aldridge. That is unless Danny Ainge beats him to it.

 

 

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 Patrick Patterson

Raptors Lose Patrick Patterson To The Thunder

It was inevitable that the Toronto Raptors were going to lose Patrick Patterson to free agency this summer because of luxury tax constraints, but at least he’s heading West to the Oklahoma City Thunder on a three-year $16.4 million dollar deal. The Raptors will only have to face him twice a year.

Patterson was the last of the four players Toronto received from the Sacramento Kings in December 2013 in the Rudy Gay trade that turned the Raptors from soft perennial losers into a four-time playoff team. He will be missed.

Once again Patterson should have a solid shot at the starting job at the start of the season and maybe in Oklahoma City the role suites him better. For reasons no one could understand, including Patterson, he could never get comfortable in the starting line-up with the Raptors and it wasn’t because they didn’t need him in that role.

The big forward was an above average defender with genuine three-point range and over the past four seasons he figured prominently in a number of Raptors victories. However, his three-point shot had a nasty habit of disappearing at precisely the wrong time.

Raptors fans will remember this career 36.8 percent three-point shooter hit on only 30 percent of his attempts from three during the run to the Eastern Conference Finals two springs ago, going just 3-11 in those last three games against Cleveland.

In this year’s playoffs, Patterson shot 30.8 percent from three over the 10 games, but only 22.2 percent in the Cavs second round sweep of the Raptors. He was part of the reason president Masai Ujiri lamented about the team’s three-point shooters not hitting three-point shots in the playoffs.

Those playoff blips aside, Toronto consistently played better with Patterson on the court. He was a ball mover and reliable defender. The classic glue-guy and the Thunder are sure to appreciate the stability he can bring to a team at both ends of the court.

The hardest part about seeing Patterson leave for the Thunder is, at that salary, he’d still look really good in a Raptors uniform.

 

 

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 Boston Celtics Gordon Hayward

Gordon Hayward Admits He’s joining The Celtics

So what we were waiting for was Utah Jazz free agent Gordon Hayward to write a thank you piece in The Player’s Tribune. Hayward and his agent could have saved all of us a lot of grief if they just said this upfront instead the, in hindsight, bizarro response that was handed out.

After seven years in Utah, I have decided to join the Boston Celtics. – Gordon Hayward

Would it have been so hard to say we’ve made a decision and will be announcing it later today?

Okay, that’s done. Maybe this unlocks a few more options and gets free agency and the trade market into full swing.

 

NBA Minnesota Timberwolves Shabazz Muhammad and Miami Heat James Johnson and Toronto Raptors Patrick Patterson

What Is The Next Shoe To Drop For The Toronto Raptors

It feels like things are stalling out in the NBA for trades and free agency as teams wait on Gordon Hayward and the few remaining free agents with profile to decide where they want to go/ who wants them plus what is likely the inevitable return of Otto Porter to the Wizards after he signs an offer sheet with somebody. But until there’s some clarity, the next shoe to drop for teams like the Toronto Raptors is left hanging up in the air.

The Raptors aren’t the only ones looking to dump salary, the Bucks, Celtics? and likely and handful of other teams are also waiting for the big picture to work itself out as well. Toronto, however, after coming to terms with Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka is in a must deal versus might or would like to deal situation.

Toronto Raptors NBA

It likely isn’t as bad as being $17 million over the luxury tax line in Toronto. The first year salaries of Lowry and Ibaka combined could be about $5 million less than the three-year average, VanVleet is not guaranteed and can still be released, and their first round draft pick isn’t signed/could still be traded, but if paying the tax is a big deal for president Masai Ujiri, he still needs to move at least one of Jonas Valanciunas, DeMarre Carroll or (for a partial tax savings) Cory Joseph.

The most obvious shoe to drop is at point guard.

The Raptors have four and nobody needs four healthy point guards on their roster. The easy solution is to waive the non-guaranteed deal of VanVleet, but he’s a cheap option as a third string backup and Ujiri has been noticed trying to shop the $7.6 million expiring contract of Joseph.

A potential deal with Indiana apparently fell though, but solid young backup point guards are a reasonably valuable commodity. Joseph is trade-able.

Ideally Joseph would be packaged with Carroll or Valanciunas so Ujiri could get something of value back and still dip below tax line.

Even if the fan base couldn’t hold the door open fast enough to help Carroll move on, he is still a useful player at a position of need, assuming he can stay healthy. So, Ujiri can’t be too fussy if it’s his traditional slow-footed rebounding center Valanciunas or the disappointing ‘3-and-D’ forward Carroll who he manages to off load to save the tax. Both players are starters and would have a useful role coming off the bench in what is expected to be a higher scoring small ball focused Raptors rotation next season.

However, if Ujiri can find a way to fill the gaps in the rotation caused by their departure, internally, by way of trade or free agency, then both Valanciunas and Carroll could be on their way out for cheaper options.

While what could come back by way of trade is harder to judge, if Ujiri could move both Carroll and Valanciunas, there are still some interesting options in free agency.

The Timberwolves have withdrawn the qualifying offer from small forward Shabazz Muhammad.

Combo forward James Johnson is available and a known quantity in Toronto.

Patrick Patterson becomes a viable option who knows the Raptors systems and has been a very effective, if at times frustrating, glue guy.

Another option could be Clipper free agent Luc Mbah Moute who evolved into a 39 percent three-point shooter last season.

At this point in free agency, the list of second tier options is long. However, the first step is clearing enough space below the luxury tax line to make room.

 

 

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 Boston Celtics Gordon Hayward

What’s Next After Gordon Hayward Picks The Celtics?

So Gordon Hayward has picked the Celtics according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and will rejoin his college coach Brad Stevens, but that’s not the end of this story. Not by a long shot. As things sit, Boston doesn’t have the salary cap space to sign Hayward to a max deal as described by ESPN,

Boston would now need a series of transactions to create cap space for Gordon Hayward. The Celtics would have to pull the qualifying offer on Kelly Olynyk, renounce free agents Jonas Jerebko, James Young, Gerald Green and waive the contracts of Jordan Mickey and Demetrius Jackson (or trade). The Celtics would be left with $27.6M in room and likely need to move the contract of Terry Rozier or Marcus Smart. Trading Rozier would have the Celtics short $1M of a max salary a lot.

Bobby Marks, ESPN

Now Hayward’s agent has replied to the news saying no deal has been finalized, so maybe the details are still up in the air, but as noted by Rick Kamla during NBA Summer League, if Hayward was rejoining the Jazz, he would have just said that.

(The article on ESPN has since been edited to reflect Hayward’s agent’s comments.)

The Celtics will look very different next season. Gone will be veteran centers Amir Johnson, Tyler Zeller, Kelly Olynk, stretch four Jonas Jerebko and second year big Jordan Mickey.

Al Horford will be the last big man standing with NBA experience and a team that couldn’t rebound the ball might struggle to ever see another board.

Still on the roster are small forwards Jae Crowder, Jaylen Brown and this year’s third overall draft pick Jayson Tatum. Even if Hayward is moving to power forward, something has to give and fast. There wasn’t enough minutes to go around at his position before he got there.

And sure Hayward at 6’8 could possibly play a combo forward role in the new small ball NBA, but with Horford averaging 6.6 rebounds and Hayward coming in averaging 6.1 rebounds, the Celtics could well become the worst rebounding team in NBA history. Another move has to be in the cards on this front as well, doesn’t it?

It wouldn’t make sense to just DNP-CD Brown or Tatum next season and the Celtics need a veteran big man. So, the obvious fix is to dangle the team friendly contract of Crowder and see just how good the offers are coming back.

A starting caliber big man or rotation ready young center or power forward with a nose for the ball would go a long ways to re-balancing this guard and wing heavy lineup and president of basketball operations Danny Ainge has the extra pieces already on his roster to land a very good player.

Gaining Hayward’s commitment to sign can only be the first step in putting the Celtics into contention for the NBA Finals next season. If ESPN’s Bobby Marks has his math right, Ainge has to dump $3 million in salary and then, from a practical standpoint, he has to find somebody(s) that can rebound.

 

 

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 New York Knicks Carmelo Anthony

Phil’s Gone, Knicks Carmelo Anthony Puts Himself In Play

Now that Phil Jackson is gone, Carmelo Anthony took the biggest impediment to trading him off the table putting himself in play. Adrian Wojnarowski reports Melo will waive his no trade clause for Houston or Cleveland, the two teams closest to knocking off the dynasty in Golden State.

The Cavaliers have desperately been searching for another star to play beside LeBron James. What James has got has got him to the NBA Finals for three straight years, but realistically, he can only expect to beat the Dubs with what he’s got if something goes seriously wrong for his rival.

The Rockets went all-in by trading for Chris Paul, but to beat the Warriors, they are going to need a third superstar scorer and Melo could give them a real chance.

The Knicks want to go young and need draft picks, something that both teams should be willing to part with. The big issue is going to be finding enough salary to send back to make the trade math work with Anthony’s $26.2 million salary.

To get young guys and picks, the Knicks are going to have to absorb a big ticket player they probably don’t want as well, but, with a little luck, they’ll be able to flip the player(s) they don’t want elsewhere by the trade deadline.

After all, the Knicks are rebuilding, so what’s the rush. They just need to get some assets that can fit for the long term as the dump an asset that obviously doesn’t fit and is finally willing to leave.

 

 

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

Kyle Lowry Comes Home To The Raptors

Kyle Lowry got his salary and president Masai Ujiri got his term as the Toronto Raptors re-acquired their free agent All-Star point guard on a three-year $100 million deal.

It’s more money per year than most analysts were expecting Lowry could command, but it only commits Toronto to Lowry until age 34 when he should still be still playing his best basketball. A compromise to be sure that matches the contract terms of DeMar DeRozan (player option) and Serge Ibaka.

Ensuring no one had any doubt after the fact that Toronto was where he wanted to be, Lowry posted “Home” on The Players Tribune.

When I had to make my free-agency decision, there was a lot going through my head, a lot of roads my mind was traveling down. Family, first and foremost, and what’s going to make them happy, and give them the best life. Basketball, of course, and where I’d like to play for these next several years. And then there was also the gut-check aspect — just what I was feeling in my heart.

But for me, at the end of the day, this was an easy decision. And all of those roads … they all led me back to the same place: home.

They all led me back to Toronto.

The ability to re-sign All-Star DeMar DeRozan last summer and All-Star Kyle Lowry this summer is something Raptors would have been hard pressed to even imagine before the Masai Ujiri era started in Toronto.

Add in Serge Ibaka agreeing to re-up for another three years and there is almost a semblance of hope that this organization will not slide back into another long dark stretch as an NBA Lottery team with little hope every time a key free agent has the option to leave.

Ujiri can get good players to re-up in Toronto and he can do it on reasonable terms. Now if only he could get his corporate masters at MLSE to open the vault and let him spend the kind of money that needs to be committed to have more than a ghost of a chance at reaching the NBA Finals. But, maybe, one thing at a 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 Brooklyn Nets Quincy Acy

Suns Or Nets Could Take On A Raptors Salary Dump

If as it appears Raptors president Masai Ujiri is looking hard for a way to dump salary, then his best and possibly only options are with the Nets and Suns, but it’s going to cost him. When everyone knows you are desperately trying to move a player, they are going to demand a pound of flesh.

Neither the Nets nor the Suns are under any delusions about where their respective franchises currently stand, but they do have salary cap space and they know that can be a very valuable commodity to a team like Toronto.

Maybe they take on DeMarre Carroll’s two years and $30 million, but not without a nice sweetener like a first round draft pick or a young player still on his rookie deal.

Ujiri can look elsewhere for unbalanced trades for the more desirable Cory Joseph or Jonas Valanciunas, but those will likely be “basketball trades” as opposed to straight salary dumps and when it comes to moving Valanciunas, he’ll want to stick that young man out West. Ujiri wouldn’t want his starting center coming back to embarrass him twice a year at home in the Eastern Conference.

In dealing with the Nets, Ujiri could ask for the feel good move of requesting forward Quincy Acy and his $1.7 million non-guaranteed deal back. Acy was a popular player in Toronto three season ago for his hustle and the 26-year-old has shot 40 percent from three on 139 attempts over the past two years, so maybe he’s worth another 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 Toronto Raptors Serge Ibaka

Serge Ibaka Returns To The Raptors

After the Magic traded Serge Ibaka to the Raptors at the trade deadline, it came out that Toronto was the only destination the big man had indicated he would re-sign with next summer and apparently he will. Adrian Wojnarowski reports Ibaka has agreed to a team friendly three year $65 million deal.

If anyone is still wondering why a deal with Kyle Lowry hasn’t been put to bed yet, look no further than the number of years Ibaka got.

President Masai Ujiri did get a very favorable deal with Ibaka.

 

 

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 Cory Joseph and Jonas Valanciunas and DeMarre Carroll

Are The Raptors Still Afraid Of The Luxury Tax?

Just ignore the annual comments from whomever the Raptors GM is this year about being willing and able to spend into the Tax, by all appearances, the Raptors are going cheap… again. Maybe we’re jumping to conclusions, but this team is still afraid of the NBA Luxury Tax.

As the negotiations drag out with Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka, almost certainly about dollars and length of contract, the Raptors have already lost P.J. Tucker to the Rockets because of what has become their ongoing fear of spending into the tax.

The rumors about Toronto trying to dump salary in order to “make room” under the luxury tax are coming more frequently and gaining credibility.

This is especially disappointing in light of the overwhelming fan support in Toronto which boasted the third highest attendance in the NBA last season and the very deep pockets of their corporate owners (Rogers and Bell own MLSE) where the profit or loss of the Raptors wouldn’t even make a footnote in their annual statement.

If moving out salaries is the only way Masai Ujiri is allowed to re-sign Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka, then MLSE has seriously handcuffed the Raptors president.

 

 

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 P.J. Tucker

As Raptors Dither, P.J. Tucker Joins The Rockets

The Raptors wanted P.J. Tucker back next season and they made the 32-year-old a high-ball offer of $33 million over three years, but he opted to take less money and join former Clippers superstar Chris Paul in Houston with the Rockets. As the Raptors dither with free agent Kyle Lowry, president Masai Ujiri couldn’t get done what Tucker really wanted fast enough.

The Raptors didn’t give up much to get Tucker at the trade deadline in February, but this was a guy Ujiri really wanted back. A veteran with a physical presence that isn’t always easy to find. While Tucker doesn’t do much for a team on the stats sheet, he does make an impact on the court.

It really looks like Tucker’s decision was all about going with the sure thing. At the locker clean out media availability, Tucker made it pretty clear he wasn’t coming back unless the team re-signed Kyle Lowry.

“I think fit is everything,” Tucker said about his impending free agency. “I want to go to a team I can help push to the next level.”

“I look to be a piece going towards something. It’s not just the money. It’s a bunch of things that goes into it and seeing where I fit.

“You got to let (free agency) play out.”

Faced with making a decision to join a very good Rockets team that has Paul committed to playing there next season versus agreeing to return to a Raptors team that still hasn’t been able to come to terms with Lowry or Serge Ibaka, it wasn’t all that hard a decision to make when the dollars are this close.

 

 

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 center Amir Johnson former Pistons Raptors Celtics

Former Raptors Big Amir Johnson Gets Paid Again

No one in Toronto blamed Raptors fan favorite Amir Johnson for taking $24 million from the Boston Celtics two years ago and the popular big man has found himself another big pay day this summer. The Philadelphia 76ers have used some of their excess cap space to give Johnson another $11 million for next season.

Johnson saw his minutes decline in Boston last season to average just 20.1 while his production dropped to 6.5 points and 4.6 rebounds. However, the 30-year-old is known as a great teammate, community ambassador and willing mentor, so he should fit in well on a very young 76ers team.

76ers president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo had traded for Johnson in 2009 when he ran the show in Toronto. Johnson has played for the Pistons, Raptors and Celtics.

 

 

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 LeBron James

LeBron James Is Against NBA CBA Maximum Salary Limits

As Stephen Curry agrees to a new NBA record $201 million contract which will be surpassed within a year, LeBron James couldn’t help but note just how much more valuable Curry is to the Golden State Warriors franchise than the NBA CBA maximum salary limits permit.

James is right of course and by putting maximum salary limits on what players can earn, the NBA has created the possibility of super teams coming together and dominating the Association.

However, it should be pointed out that James is a senior member of the player’s association that collectively bargained for the limits in the current CBA.

If there was no limit on an individual player’s salary, the superstars in the NBA could command nearly the entire salary cap space. Teams would pay it. James would get offers that meant the rest of the roster he’d be playing with would be on NBA minimum salaries. He’d likely take it to. That $400 million contract number would become very possible if he wasn’t limited by the CBA.

However, the potential future owner of an NBA franchise might not like the power a change like this to the CBA would give to players like James, Curry, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Paul George or James Harden and it’s been proven that without limits, owners can’t help themselves and their often huge mistakes would become franchise crippling.

So maybe James the player was acting like James the future NBA owner during those CBA negotiations?

 

 

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 DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry

Jrue Holiday Signing Sets A Floor Under Kyle Lowry

The Pelicans didn’t waste any time getting veteran point guard Jrue Holiday to commitment to stay long term in New Orleans with a five-year deal that could pay upwards of $150 million. Don’t think the Raptors Kyle Lowry hasn’t noticed, he’s better than Holiday, so that deal sets the floor.

The 27-year-old Holiday averaged 15.4 points, 3.9 rebounds, 7.3 assists, 1.5 steals and shot 35.6 percent from three point range. He’s good, but not Kyle Lowry good.

Lowry is older at 31-years-old, but he is the heart and sole of the Raptors and one of the top offensive guards in the Association. He averaged 22.4 points, 4.8 rebounds, 7.0 assists, 1.5 steals and shot an outstanding 41.2 percent from three.

Lowry is four years older, but don’t tell him that. He still sees a long career ahead and if it’s durability that comes into question, Holiday has averaged 51.5 games played per season over the past four years, while Lowry has averaged 71.5 games over the same period.

President Masai Ujiri knows what he’s got in the combination of DeMar DeRozan and Lowry. These guards have led the Raptors to home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs for four years straight and that has meant a lot of extra money in the pockets of team owner Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment.

Last summer DeRozan re-signed for five years and $137.5 million with a player option in year five. That has to be the ceiling Ujiri would like to get to, but that maybe optimistic in light of what Holiday got.

Lowry is a proud and competitive guy. Taking less money than a player he knows he’s better than is going to be hard to swallow and Ujiri knows it.

The two sides met last night and the odds are they will come to a new deal in short order and it’s likely neither side ends up being 100 percent happy, but don’t worry about Lowry. The great grandkids he can’t imagine yet won’t be missing any meals.

 

 

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 Minnesota Timberwolves Jeff Teague

Instant NBA Free Agent Action At Midnight

There is no waiting for the morning for these NBA free agents:

Jeff Teague to the Timberwolves

Tony Snell stays in Milwaukee

Patty Mills stays in San Antonio

Stephen Curry nears $201 million deal to stay in Golden State

Cristiano Felicio to stay in Chicago

Shaun Livingston to stay in Golden State

Blake Griffin to stay with the Clippers

Nene to remain in Houston

Remember none of these announcements are “signed deals” as teams cannot actually sign free agents until July 6th.

Indiana Pacers Paul George

Thunder Win, Paul George Heads West

In hindsight it’s obvious, the Pacers didn’t want Paul George to stay in the Eastern Conference, so it’s off to the Oklahoma City Thunder in return for guard Victor Oladipo and second-year big man Domantas Sabonis.

In effect the Thunder have managed to trade the assets they got for Serge Ibaka last summer from the Magic for George this summer. Thunder general manager Sam Presti knows how to deal.

 

 

 

NBA analyst Adrian Wojnarowski

NBA News Breaker Adrian Wojnarowski Goes Dark

The NBA’s leading news breaker Adrian Wojnarowski has gone dark pending the start of his new relationship with ESPN that starts at midnight on July 1st as reported by Sports Illustrated’s Richard Deitsch.

Adrian Wojnarowski has gone dormant since Thursday at 3:29 p.m. ET. This is intentional. SI.com has learned that Wojnarowski will not report any new NBA information until the start of his ESPN contract, which comes at 12:01 a.m. on Saturday. No trades, no signings, no speculation until then.

The last WOJ tweet was,

As Wojnarowski is almost always the first to report on anything NBA, may his twitter feed start humming again real soon.

 

 

 

2017 NBA free agents Raptors Patrick Patterson and Timberwolves Shabazz Mohammad and Warriors Ian Clark and Pacers Jeff Teague collage

Some NBA Free Agents Your Team Can Actually Get

There is no more exciting time for most teams and most fans than NBA free agency, but it can quickly become the most disappointing couple of weeks in the off season when you strike out.

If a team is going to put all their focus into hitting a home run, they had better have a really good idea about why that player is going to choose them over all of those other opportunities because as you wait, the next best options are coming off the board.

Here’s our list of getable free agents that if you act fast, you just might just lock up before the competition realizes what happened.

Point Guard

Jeff Teague, Pacers UFA, 29-years-old

2016-17, 15.3 pts, 4.0* rbs, 7.8* asts, 1.2 stls, 35.7% 3FG

* career best

A former one-time All-Star, reliable starting point guard who has only played one year with the Pacers. While other teams are wasting their efforts pursuing Kyle Lowry and George Hill, impress Teague and solve your point guard issues.

Micheal Carter-Williams, Bulls UFA, 25-years-old

2016-17, 6.6 pts, 3.4 rbs, 2.5 asts, 0.8 stls, 23.4% 3FG

The 2014 NBA ROY saw his minutes slashed in Chicago and made an unrestricted free agent this summer, but if your team is out of cap space and not planning on a postseason run, giving this big point guard another second chance might not be such a bad idea. He was an 11/5/5 player with 1.5 steals for the Bucks two seasons ago.

Shooting Guard

Dion Waiters, Heat UFA, 25-years-old

2016-17, 15.8 pts, 3.3 rbs, 4.3 asts, 0.9 stls, 39.5% 3FG

It was a breakout season for Waiters and teams will have their eye on the possibility of stealing him from the Heat as his current team doesn’t hold his Bird Rights. Strike fast with a big offer while Miami is focused on Gordon Hayward and you might just steal him.

Ian Clark, Warriors UFA, 26-years-old

2016-17, 6.8 pts, 1.6 rbs, 1.2 asts, 0.5 stls, 37.4% 3FG

The Warriors only hold Clark’s early bird rights, so this is one player you can outbid a luxury tax sensitive team for. He put up those numbers in less than 15 minutes a game. It’s time he got his chance to show everyone what he’s made of.

Small Forward

Shabazz Muhammad, Timberwolves RFA, 24-years-old

2016-17, 9.9 pts, 2.8 rbs, 0.4 asts, 33.8% 3FG

While the Timberwolves are busy gloating over the acquisition of Jimmy Butler and looking for the next piece of the playoff puzzle, Shabazz is kind of sitting on the outside looking in, but this a solid young defensive wing who could become a real steal if, as the expression goes, “the lights come on” with a change of scenery.

Luc Mbah a Moute, Clippers UFA, 30-years-old

2016-17, 6.1 pts, 2.1 rbs, 0.5 asts, 1.0 stls, 39.1% 3FG

The Clippers are in trouble and only hold Mbah a Monte’s early bird rights, so pile on and pick apart the carcass. This guy went from a defensive forward to a  much more valuable ‘3-and-D’ forward last season and there is a lot of teams that could use him coming off the bench.

Power Forward

James Johnson, Heat UFA, 30-years-old

2016-17, 12.8 pts, 4.9 rbs, 3.6 asts, 1.0 stls, 1.1 blks, 34% 3FG

A non-bird free agent means the Heat have to use salary cap space to re-sign him, thus making James Johnson a great target for other teams. A breakout season that James should be crediting to the tough love he got in Toronto – the place where he finally figured out how and when to shoot the three-ball without it being embarrassing.

Patrick Patterson, Raptors UFA, 28-years-old

2016-17, 6.8 pts, 4.5 rbs, 1.2 asts, 37.2% 3FG

While the Raptors are distracted by Kyle Lowry, Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker, Patterson should be an easy target and a reasonable contract.

The ‘3-and-D” Patterson is one of those glue-guys who makes other people around him better even if he isn’t filling the stats sheet while doing it.

Center

Dewayne Dedmon, Spurs UFA, 27-years-old

2016-17, 5.1 pts, 6.5 rbs, 0.6 asts, 0.8 blks

Dedmon played 17.5 minutes a game for Pop last season and that alone should put this guy on your radar.  The Spurs don’t hold his bird rights either, so he is very getable.

Zaza Pachulia, Warriors UFA, 33-years-old

2016-17, 6.1, 5.9 rbs, 1.9 asts, 0.8 steals

If your team needs an infusion of toughness, grit, nastiness, Pachulia can still bring it. Culture change in a 6’11 don’t give a crap how it gets done center. The Warriors don’t hold his bird rights.

 

If your team is on the cusp and has a load of salary cap space to burn, sure take a run at Hayward, Blake Griffin, or Paul Millsap. Not sure any of those big name free agents are using your team as anything more than a free lunch and a means to extract a better contract from someone else? Then move down a tier and get a player that can actually help move you closer to your goals before someone else gets them.

 

 

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 and Masai Ujiri and Kyle Lowry

Canada Day Is A Referendum On The Raptors

As Canada celebrates it’s 150th year as a Country on July 1st, free agency opens and the Toronto Raptors face a referendum as an NBA franchise where players want to be and where a very wealthy ownership group is willing to spend … or not. The big party in the North may dominate the local news coverage for a time, but there will be no hiding from the results of the referendum on the Raptors.

The Raptors, finally, for the first time in franchise history, are a very good team, maybe not a genuine NBA Finals contender yet, but a real Eastern Conference Finals contender that with a little or a lot of luck (bad luck luck on the Cleveland Cavaliers part) could have snuck into the NBA Finals in each of the past two years.

All that is in jeopardy on July 1st as the Raptors have four key rotation players entering unrestricted free agency which means the players will decide where they want to play next season and all president Masai Ujiri can do is offer them a contract and try to talk them into coming back.

Three-time All-Star Kyle Lowry, three-time NBA All-Defensive first team big man Serge Ibaka, and veteran ‘3-and-D’ combo forwards P.J. Tucker and Patrick Patterson will decide if they want to play in Toronto next season.

ESPN currently puts the odds of the Raptors winning an NBA Title at 80:1, behind the Bucks and Timberwolves, tied with the Heat, Pelicans and (are they crazy) 76ers. It’s obvious how ESPN believes the referendum on the Raptors will turn out.

However, ESPN is better known in Canada for seeming to forget Toronto even has an NBA franchise. Attempts in recent years by the Raptors to keep their own free agents have gone pretty well.

Lowry was traded to the Raptors in the summer of 2012 and had to fight his way into the starting line-up. A cranky player with a huge chip on his shoulder who always seemed to be in conflict with head coach Dwane Casey, Ujiri got Lowry to re-up in free agency during the summer of 2014 on a team friendly contract.

All that’s happened with Lowry since then is he’s become an All-Star on a playoff team that’s been to the Eastern Conference Finals and is desired and respected around the league. DeMar DeRozan has become his best friend and their families are tight, so ESPN, explain exactly why he’s not re-signing again this summer?

Patrick Patterson came to Toronto in a trade deadline deal in 2013 and re-signed with the Raptors on a very team friendly contract in 2014. After bouncing around the league in unpalatable situations, all he’s done in Toronto is go to the playoffs every year and play for a head coach that obviously supports him.

There is a risk if the Raptors re-sign their other three free agents that Ujiri doesn’t have a big enough budget to re-acquire Patterson, but it won’t be because Patterson doesn’t want to be in Toronto.

Ibaka and Tucker were 2017 trade deadline moves, so it’s harder to make a call about how badly they want to return, however, all indications are they are interested and they were key pieces of Casey’s rotation.

However, wanting to return and re-signing these unrestricted free agents may not coincide unless Ujiri really does have the ability to commit the Raptors to a massive increase in payroll next season. While he may not have to outbid other teams, he can’t insult these guys with below market bids either.

This referendum is as much about the Raptors ownership group being willing to spend the money they have and can easily afford to invest in these players as it is about Raptors free agents interest in playing for Toronto.

In light of other recent news, this referendum could have bigger implications than just whether some key players are back or not.

The Knicks have finally addressed the disaster that was Phil Jackson and the New York media has focused in on Masai Ujiri as the executive who could put this storied franchise back on track.

Ignoring the fact Ujiri is still under contract to the Raptors and the Knicks would have to: a) ask for permission to talk to him; b) pay some serious compensation in draft picks and dollars; and, c) bribe Ujiri to leave with an outrageous contract, this isn’t an impossible scenario.

Imagine Ujiri is handcuffed by the Raptors ownership and the promised budget that is supposed to allow him to pay significant luxury tax dollars next season isn’t there. His free agents walk, the Raptors are thrust into a rebuilding program, and Ujiri is seriously embarrassed with what he was forced to offer players he has built close relationships with.

In one act of putting profits ahead of winning and player relations, the Raptors turn back the clock and once again become a team players can’t wait to leave.

What has been a very stable Raptors franchise over the past four years: general manager, coach Casey, Lowry and DeRozan could all be at risk. This is one referendum the Raptors can’t afford to lose.

 

 

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 and P.J. Tucker and Serge Ibaka

Six Things The Raptors Should Do This Summer

The Toronto Raptors have won over 50 games in back-to-back seasons for the first time in franchise history and both times they were easily eliminated in the playoffs by the Cleveland Cavaliers. Everyone is predicting another Cavs – Dubs rematch in the NBA Finals again next year, so, in that light, what are six things the Raptor should be doing this summer?

President Masai Ujiri says the goal is to get past the Cavs and win an NBA championship, but to be blunt, every NBA GM says they want to win a championship and almost none of them have any reasonable expectation of accomplishing it next season or even in the foreseeable future.

By any historical measure, Toronto has nothing to be upset about. This team has succeeded on the court while Ujiri has handicapped his head coach with quite literally half a roster of inexperienced, inexpensive players under development. The building is sold out and the organization is raking in the cash from 16 home playoff dates over the past two postseason runs. But for injury, the Raptors could have easily set a fourth consecutive record for franchise wins in a season last year.

This summer will be different. The team has four key unrestricted free agents that they should have no trouble hanging onto if Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment (MLSE) will open their checkbook, but that would end the days of modest payroll and huge profits. What the Raptors should do for their fans and will do for their corporate masters may not be on the same page.

1. Re-sign Kyle Lowry (31-years-old), unrestricted free agent

Everything this summer for the Raptors revolves around re-signing Lowry. If Ujiri screws this up, the rest of free agency will quickly circle the drain.

The Raptors need to get the best deal possible and hopefully that’s in the order of four years and $120 million, but if if takes five years and $150 million plus to get it done, well, it’s time the Raptors started spending some of that money they’ve made off of their loyal fans.

2. Re-sign Serge Ibaka (28) and P.J. Tucker (32), unrestricted free agents

Ujiri said he traded for these two players at the trade deadline in February in order to get their Bird Rights. Well the only reason you need a player’s Bird Rights in free agency is so you can go over the salary cap to re-sign them, so get it done.

This is no time to cheap out. Ibaka wants to be in Toronto, but he isn’t going to take a below market deal, so offer Ibaka five years and $100 million. Tucker said he was looking for fit in his next contract and Lowry would be a big factor in determining that, but he’s 32-years-old, offer Tucker three years and $25 million and be prepared to go higher.

Failure to re-sign Ibaka and Tucker means Ujiri gave away a young three-point shooter in Terrence Ross, a first round draft pick and two second round draft picks for nothing.

3. See what the market says UFA Patrick Patterson’s (28) value is

Over the past four years the Raptors have played better as a team with Patterson on the court, but he has proven to be an unreliable offensive threat who seems to get hurt at the worst time and his limited offense takes a holiday after returning from injury.

Patterson didn’t do himself any favors in the playoffs over the past two seasons either as this career average 36.8 percent three-point shooter fired 30.2 percent from deep over his last 30 postseason games.

From a Raptors perspective, it would be nice to re-sign Patterson to another cheap three-year deal to continue coming off the bench, but like Bismack Biyombo last summer, expect Patterson to get paid a lot more elsewhere than he’s worth to Toronto.

Get ready to say bye-bye to a great guy in July.

4. Trade DeMarre Carroll

Despite not living up to some very high expectations or his contract, Carroll has done nothing wrong in Toronto and it’s likely his knee will finally be 100 percent and he’ll return to being an effective ‘3-and-D’ combo forward next season.

It’s just, at 31-years-old in July, after two disappointing seasons in Toronto, he’s in the way of younger players and it’s time to move on and potentially help a different (younger?) team that needs what he should still be able to bring to the table.

Ujiri can’t expect much back and he might have to include him in a larger deal just to move him. However, the Luxury tax savings alone should make a trade for nothing back worthwhile from a corporate standpoint. From a team standpoint, he should be able to do a little better.

5. Trade Jonas Valanciunas

Valanciunas can probably improve his jump shooting dramatically and within a couple of years become that trailing three-point threat on the fast break who is left wide open. However, he’ll never be decent runner and his lack of quickness will continue to challenge him when guarding on the perimeter.

Given 30 minutes a night, JV can almost guarantee a double-double average, so he should have solid trade value as one of the top rebounders in the NBA on a percentage basis and a still improving player on offense.

Unfortunately for Valanciunas, if the rookie Jakob Poeltl continues improve over the summer and Ibaka is re-signed, Poeltl should be able to just take JV’s minutes at a much lower cost.

To fit with the direction Ujiri seems to be taking this team, he needs to get back a more mobile big man with a better jump shot or a solid ‘3-and-D’ forward.

6. Reduce The Number Of Prospects On The 15 Man Roster

While there should be no objection to Ujiri drafting the injured small forward OG Anunoby with the 23rd pick in June, there should be huge concerns about heading into the 2017-18 season with eight players still on their rookie deals.

Of those eight players,

As the most sure-fire young player on the Raptors, Norman Powell is ready to take on a much bigger role this season. Depending on what other moves Ujiri makes this summer, Powell could be starting. He’s earned it.

Jacob Poeltl needs a spot in the rotation somewhere as he is far too good to get anything out of being sent back to the Raptors 905.

Ujiri needs to decide if it’s going to be Delon Wright or Fred VanVleet assuming the third string point guard duties next season. Both are promising young players, but he needs that roster spot to improve the team’s depth elsewhere. So, pick one.

Between Bruno Caboclo, Pascal Siakam, Lucas Nogueira and Anunoby, Ujiri needs to start making decisions about who he believes in and who he is just hanging on to out of hope. At least one of these guys should be available in trade to make room for a more NBA ready player or just simply to grease a trade.

The Raptors have two new quasi-roster spots available (total 17) on two-way deals this season that don’t count against the salary cap. Use them and get the prospects on the 15-man roster down to a more manageable number.

Conclusion

The Raptors need to follow the plan Ujiri created when he traded for Ibaka and Tucker at the trade deadline this past season. Everything follows from there.

Whether the roster Ujiri manages to put together will be good enough to get past the Cavs or not, Raptors fans deserve the best team possible, even if that squeezes MLSE’s profits.

 

 

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.