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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 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 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

 

 

 

 

#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 Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri

The Raptors Are Done With Free Agency For Now

As Raptors fans watch the remaining NBA free agents sign cheap veteran minimum deals they might be wondering why president Masai Ujiri hasn’t picked up a depth piece of his own, however, if one looks at the numbers, the Raptors are done with adding guaranteed contracts thru free agency for now.

 

The minimum salary for a 10-year NBA veteran is $2.3 million this year declining to $1.3 million for a player with one-year’s experience.

When asked recently, Ujiri said he might be looking at adding a couple of non-guaranteed players just before the official announcement of the Kennedy Meeks signing that brought the total number of players under contract to 15.  (Malcolm Miller is signed to a two-way contract that doesn’t count against the NBA roster.)

Alfonzo McKinnie, who impressed during NBA Summer League, only has a $100,000 guarantee and Meeks salary isn’t guaranteed, so, in theory at least, Ujiri could create $2.7 million below the luxury tax line and that is enough room to sign one 10-year NBA veteran to a minimum deal, but at this point that seems very unlikely.

It is more likely that Ujiri repeats the pattern of previous summers and finds up to four more undrafted players to invite to training camp on partially or non-guaranteed deals.

The one outstanding move that could create significant space to sign another free agent would be to trade Jonas Valanciunas in an unbalanced deal. However, after apparently shopping his starting center at the draft and not finding a deal to his liking, the ever patient Ujiri made it clear he wan’t unhappy just keeping his big traditional center around.

“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 and it’s something we are going to pay attention to this year.”

None of what Ujiri has said precludes trading Valanciunas. It’s just the Raptors are not giving him away. Just like with the Cory Joseph trade, they need and want value back one way or another.

Ujiri put a lot of effort and expended future assets he covets to get the Raptors below the luxury tax threshold in July. No one should be expecting he’s about to risk going back over the line just to sign some journeyman free agent that isn’t going to move the needle on the season and likely takes playing time away from some of his young prospects already on the roster.

For all intents and purposes, expectations are the Raptors are done with free agency for now. The ever patient Ujiri will sit on his hands and wait for an opportunity he believes will make a real difference.

 

 

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 Jared Sullinger

Jared Sullinger Admits Being Fat Cost Him Last Season

Jared Sullinger has been a big boy for a long time and in the past he’s used it to his advantage, however, he admitted to Rob Oller of The Columbus Dispatch that being fat finally caught up to him last season.

“My biggest was 320, when I was finishing my fourth year with Boston (2015-2016),” the 25-year-old offered. “Honestly, it was embarrassing.”

“I lost a year of basketball directly because of what I have done — my weight and my eating habits,” he said.

Sully tips the scales at 285 these days

Trying to fill a gaping defensive hole created when Bismack Biyombo was paid a fortune by the Magic last summer, the Raptors signed Sullinger as a free agent in the hopes the big man would rebound and build a different kind of defensive wall.

“Defensive rebounding and building a wall,” Ujiri responded to Pro Bball Report last summer. “I know Biyombo was a shot blocker, but we will probably have a different type of defense now with a big wall there and sometimes now you might not get that shot blocked, but (Sullinger) will stand in front of you and you’ll know he’s there.”

The Raptors probably should have weighed him before signing him as Sullinger broke his foot in preseason and the team never did get to find out if he could provide the defensive presence they were hoping for.

Eventually Sullinger was cleared to return to action in January and got into a few games, but he wasn’t effective and the Raptors traded him to Phoenix for P.J. Tucker. at the trade deadline and the Suns immediately cut him.

Sullinger is still available as an unrestricted free agent and the 25-year-old would like to land a new job playing basketball somewhere. His foot should be 100 percent and he’s probably willing to keep losing weight, under the circumstances.

“I’m fighting, but it’s hard,” he said. “It’s a daily challenge.”

“Now that I have basketball and my health, I don’t give a damn about anything else,” he said.

Sullinger averaged 10.8 points and 7.5 rebounds in 269 games thru his first five NBA seasons, if he has his health and a real commitment to not be fat, he could be a cheap low risk/high reward addition for some GM willing to take a 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 Toronto Raptors DeMar DeRozan and Sacramento Kings Rudy Gay 2016 by Larry Millson

Raptors DeMar DeRozan As Facilitator Is Nothing New

It was nice of Raptors head coach Dwane Casey to spend some time on Rogers Sportsnet Fan590 radio recently as nothing exciting is expected to happen on the trade or free agent front in Toronto for a while now. However, suggesting All-Star guard DeMar DeRozan would be asked to act more as a facilitator, a point guard this season really shouldn’t have surprised anyone.

“Everyone and their brother knows we want better ball movement,” said Casey.

“DeMar DeRozan, have him handle the ball a bit more as a point guard, a facilitator, a passer. Kyle Lowry moving the ball a bit more, spacing up. We don’t want to give our whole ‘what we’re going to try to do next year’ away, but again it comes down to passing the basketball and better spacing more so, than we know, one-on-one play.”

You can only be excused for not knowing the ball goes through DeRozan’s hands on over one-third of the Raptors plays if you never actually watched the team play. What is less talked about, however, is, DeRozan was top five among shooting guards in assists last season at 3.9 per game according to ESPN and that’s pretending James Harden was still playing as a shooting guard.

DeRozan has been averaging right around 4 assists per game every year since his first All-Star appearance in 2013-14, the same year this team actually started winning games – probably not a complete coincidence.

Asking the Eastern Conference’s second leading scorer to handle the ball more and create more opportunities for his teammates hardly feels like a stretch. It’s more like just the next expected evolution of a 28-year-old three-time All-Star guard’s game.

Casey has been letting other guards bring the ball up the court to initiate the offense every year he’s had a second guard capable of doing so. It allows his best above the arc three-point shooter Kyle Lowry to play off the ball and be a bigger scoring threat and makes defenses adjust to an alternate look. Having DeRozan handle the ball more really wouldn’t be anything unexpected.

DeRozan was third on the Raptors in passes per game made last season (34.8) per NBA.com behind only Kyle Lowry and Cory Joseph. He was second in secondary assists (1.0), second in potential assists (8.1) and second in points created off of assists (9.8).

DeRozan and Lowry have a nearly identical assist to pass ratio, further illustrating he already was a significant contributor to the Raptors offense beyond creating his own shot. Asking him to create more, isn’t a major leap.

When president Masai Ujiri was asked if the Raptors were going to play differently this coming season at the C.J. Miles media availability, he put everything in it’s proper perspective.

“We are going to try (to play differently) a little bit,” Ujiri explained. “We are not asking for a dramatic change. If that is what anybody is looking for, I don’t know that this is the team to watch.

“It’s not going to be a dramatic change. We have to be conscious of the things we can do better. We have to pay attention to those things we can do better, moving the ball a little bit better, spacing the floor a little bit better.”

Can DeRozan bring the ball up the court more often next season? Sure, I doubt anyone would even notice.

Could DeRozan initiate the offense more often? Again, sure, what’s the big deal here?

Will DeRozan get more assists next season? Passing the ball to Miles in the corner a couple of times a game should accomplish that all on it’s own.

 

 

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 G-League Vipers Kyle Wiltjer and

Kyle Wiltjer Is Available If Raptors Want A Stretch-Four

At this point it’s not a mystery, Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri is looking to fill out his roster with young high potential shooters on non-guaranteed deals. There may be no better recently available young free agent prospect than the sharp shooting stretch four Kyle Wiltjer.

“You are wearing shorts, I’d like to sign you,” Ujiri joked when asked about his plans to fill out the rest of his roster. “We are going to add a couple of different players, maybe they are non-guaranteed, I don’t know. We’ll see how the market fares now.”

With a genuine desire to see how well the young players on his roster perform next season, it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise if the players added after the signing of C.J. Miles are training camp competition for guys like Pascal Siakam, Lucas Nogueira and Bruno Caboclo.

Wiltjer, an undrafted rookie with the Rockets last season, couldn’t crack the rotation in Houston, but he put up big numbers with their D-League affiliate Vipers helping lead the team to the NBA D-League Finals against the Raptors 905.

Over the three games in the Finals, the 905 got a good look at Wiltjer and it wasn’t until Game Three when head coach Jerry Stackhouse told eventual Finals MVP Pascal Siakam to smother him like a blanket that they were able to stop him from scoring.

“Wiltjer was big time tonight,” Stackhouse said after Game Two. “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 didn’t suddenly become a knockdown three-point shooter in the D-League. Thru four years of college he averaged 42.5 percent on 4 three-point attempts per game. 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. He stepped that up in the postseason to 21.2 points and 40.8 percent on 10.9 three-point attempts.

If Ujiri is looking for a stretch-four to develop who is willing to fire away, it’s hard to argue against Wiltjer.

Those three D-League Final head-to-head matchups with Siakam provided a lot of insight as well.

When it was his primary responsibility in Game Three, Siakam was able to keep Wiltjer from going off, but that’s exactly what a stretch-four is supposed to do. Wiltjer occupied his opponent’s best defender. The Vipers just didn’t have enough other scorers to take advantage.

Wiltjer was a dominant player in the D-League because of his three-point shooting and he could be the NBA’s next Channing Frye or Ryan Anderson. With the way the NBA is headed, he’s at least worth a training camp invite and a reasonable guarantee amount to get him there.

 

 

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 Bruno Caboclo

Ujiri Admits Raptors Made a Mistake With Bruno Caboclo

It isn’t easy for anyone to admit they made a mistake, especially when it’s a $7 million mistake ($10 million Canadian), but Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri finally felt forced to admit he may have blew it by drafting the very raw 18-year-old Bruno Caboclo and bringing him to the NBA straight away.

“Bruno is a tough one because I think I want to almost blame myself for bringing him too soon to our team,” Ujiri responded to Pro Bball Report when asked about his project player. “We wanted to see his development and it’s the price we pay. The price I pay.

“I wanted to see his development and it’s almost like he’s gone thru college on our team.”

It wasn’t supposed to go this way.

The Raptors knew they had drafted a project player in Caboclo and the plan was to purchase a minor pro league basketball team that summer and convert it into an NBA Development League franchise to give Caboclo a place to play. Unfortunately the deal fell thru and options and easy opportunities to get Caboclo playing time fell thru with it.

The independently owned Fort Wayne Mad Ants became the Raptors only D-League option for Caboclo and while they accepted the player assignment, they were never even remotely interested in developing teenagers for someone else.

Rather than getting some much needed playing time, Caboclo was treated to a string of DNP-CDs. The Mad Ants did successfully crush the rookie’s confidence and sent back a young player worse for the experience.

“I learned only mental (aspects) because I didn’t play a lot of minutes,” Caboclo told Pro Bball Report about his Mad Ants experience. “I had games where I was not playing, like five games, zero minutes.”

“It was embarrassing,” Caboclo later admitted.

The next summer Ujiri got his D-League team, the Mississauga Raptors 905, so Caboclo finally got a chance to play and he appreciated it. Caboclo played 32.7 minutes and put up a 16 point 13 rebound double-double in the Raptors 905 inaugural season opener in Fort Wayne.

It probably didn’t surprise anybody that the rest of his first real pro season in North America didn’t come close to living up to his first 905 game, but at least he got to play 1270.5 minutes in 37 games.

Last year there was hope he’d build on his first season of D-League experience, but surprisingly, across the board his regular season stats were down. Points, 14.7 fell to 9.9, rebounds dropped from 6.5 to 5.4, and  blocks 1.8 to 1.2. Even his three-point shooting percentage didn’t improve, stalling out at 33.1 percent.

So why does Ujiri sound hopeful, even happy, with his progress?

“We are happy with how he finished in the D-League,” Ujiri explained. “We like the player he is developing into and we are hoping we can find some minutes for him next year. He is making good progress as a two-way player.”

Caboclo stepped up huge in the Raptors 905 seven game run to the 2017 D-League Championship. Averaging 12 points on 51.6 percent shooting, 41.9 percent on 4.4 three-point attempts per game, 5.1 rebounds and 1.4 blocks, he looked pretty good. Not as good as Pascal Siakam who was the Championship MVP, but pretty good.

There were signs of Caboclo becoming that long lanky ‘3-and-D’ forward envisioned when he drafted three years ago.

“Whether he tries to be a knock-down shooter and a defender using his length, those are the kinds of players we are looking for. It’s only he has been a player on our team for a long time and people are waiting for it,” Ujiri said.

“I think it’s close. I think the coaches are happy with where they see him now.”

Caboclo is working out with DeMar DeRozan and his teammates in L.A. and would have played in the Las Vegas Summer League except he tweaked a knee ahead of the tournament.

The kid who needed an English tutor when he first arrived in Toronto and was still struggling to understand everything he heard last year is getting better at all aspects of the pro game. The kid glove treatment from his first 905 head coach Jesse Mermuys and the more demanding treatment from last year’s 905 head coach Jerry Stackhouse was what he needed.

“One of the things being a foreign player and being a foreign very young player, probably the youngest player in the NBA when he came in is the feel for the game. The life of the NBA. The everything on and off the court. You almost have to teach those things,” Ujiri explained.  “And these are the things he’s learned over the last three years and hopefully his body filling out, getting a little bit stronger, where he can stay on the court with NBA players will help him quite a bit.”

The Raptors can see the possibilities.

“He’s hearing me over there yelling go at him. (Caboclo) can do everything, it’s not that he can’t do anything, he can do everything so it’s about giving him the confidence to know that we want him to do it,” Stackhouse said.

 

 

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 Jonas Valanciunas

Raptors Need To Bring In Jonas Valanciunas Off The Bench

It’s still July, so there’s a long ways to go in the NBA off season, but the market for traditional centers hasn’t been very strong and all efforts to trade Toronto Raptors Jonas Valanciunas have been for naught.

The Raptors are betting on the development of their players still on their rookie deals and there’s an argument that Valanciunas is in the way. President Masai Ujiri wasn’t kidding around when he responded to Pro Bball Report about how may young guys he could have on the Raptors.

“17, I think now with the (new) two-way contracts, we can squeeze in 17,” Ujiri responded to Pro Ball Reports query right before the draft. “It’s where our team is. I think the most important question is how many of these guys are contributing to your team and we feel that even the rookies we had had points in time in the season (where) they contributed. They are getting better, so we can have as many, it doesn’t bother me as long as we are making progress and they are getting better.”

The team has just inked the undrafted free agent big man from their Summer League team Kennedy Meeks as their 15th roster player although it’s likely to a non-guaranteed deal. Undrafted Malcolm Miller on a two-way contract makes 16.

But Ujiri isn’t going to end up with 17 young players, he wants to win and develop at the same time. So his team will be led by All-Stars Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, plus the three-time NBA All-Defensive First Team big man Serge Ibaka. Add in veteran three-point shooter C.J. Miles and the Raptors will have one of the top tier starting units in the East no matter which player he chooses to round out his top five.

Valanciunas, the only other veteran on the roster, has been the Raptors starting center for five straight seasons, however, it’s not certain that he is the right fit going forward in today’s changing NBA.  If he was, he wouldn’t have been in constant trade rumors going back to before the draft.

However, Valanciunas isn’t just another journeyman center. He’s better than that as a player who has been a top 10 rebounder in each of the past three seasons while he’s on the court. At 12 points and 9.5 rebounds in 25.8 minutes last year, he contributed and Ujiri made sure everyone remembers that.

“We believe in JV’s talent. I want everybody to know that,” Masai said after introducing Miles to the Toronto media. “If we reverse this a year before, everybody was talking about how great JV was. One year ago, when he got injured in that Miami series it was oh, if we had JV, if we had JV against Cleveland. I don’t know how in the hell one player has changed so much.

“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 and it’s something we are going to pay attention to this year.”

What Valanciunas does well is many of the things a traditional center does like rebounding, the tough problem is the numbers back up what the eyes have seen. The Raptors starting unit hasn’t been as effective as it should be with two All-Stars on it and the man clogging up the middle at times has been JV.

Blame the early season pairing with Pascal Siakam on playing with a rookie, but that doesn’t hold up with Ibaka. The two big men both played better when the other guy was off the court and if you have to choose a starter, it’s Ibaka in a landslide.

However, the Raptors got a glimpse of Valanciunas as part of the second unit in their first round playoff series against the Milwaukee Bucks. Where JV was ineffective in the starting unit going against quicker bigs, he helped stall the offense of Greg Monroe (another former starting center) off the bench and showed off his own offensive effectiveness in that matchup.

Perhaps the biggest tease out of the numbers was just how effective the pairing of Lucas Nogueira and JV was last season. There are question marks about both of them separately, but some how, for some reason, they were very good together. Sometimes chemistry you’d never expect is just there?

It is still a long time until training camp and Casey will be doing a lot of experimenting with this group of players in order to figure what combinations are going to be able to produce for him on the court.

Siakam in his second season is going to be better, but how much better is to be determined. He could be back in G-League if he isn’t ready.

Nogueira had better put on a show as this is his fourth NBA season and if he wants a fifth one, he has to be good enough that someone wants him next year. The big Brazilian shot blocker has a lot of incentive to find that “good game” on a consistent basis this time (hopefully).

Even Valanciunas might not be the same player who was on the court last season. There’s hope he’s found the range that three-point shot he was practicing and is moving a little closer to looking like a modern NBA center.

“He is working more on his shooting range,” Ujiri confirmed. “His shooting touch is something we need to take advantage of if he gets a little bit better at it. Eventually it will come.”

“The days of boom, boom, boom, pound it, pound it, pound it (are over),” Casey acknowledged last season.

The ever patient Ujiri isn’t going to waste an asset like Valanciunas even if he has wait until the trade deadline to get the deal he wants. Assuming JV doesn’t just find a way to make himself indispensable during the season.

“We are very comfortable with JV,” Ujiri emphasized. “We are not trying to give JV away. There were some scenarios where you know what, we are trying to create space and do some other things, … maybe (we would have) made a move, but with this team now, we are very comfortable.”

And just maybe there is still a role for a young veteran center who is developing a jump shot to be paired with an even younger developing big man coming off the bench? The Raptors really don’t have an extra veteran to waste on this 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.

 Featured image courtesy of Larry Millson

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Fred VanVleet

Raptors Already Have Another Solid Three-Point Threat

After the Toronto Raptors were swept out of the playoffs by the Cleveland Cavaliers in the second round, president Masai Ujiri lamented the fact his team’s three-point shooters didn’t make shots going 27-90 from deep. So changes were coming and they came, but he may have already had at least one other solid three-point threat on his roster just waiting for an opportunity.

“I think we have the ability to shoot the three,” Ujiri responded to Pro Bball Report prior to the NBA draft. “But I don’t think we shot the three well. In parts of the season we shot the three well, (but at the end), one, we didn’t have Kyle (Lowry) and (two,) a couple of our guys that usually shoot it okay did not shoot it well and so it’s something we are paying attention to and we hope to get better at.

“There was emphasis on that obviously because Kyle didn’t play these games (versus Cleveland) and we just didn’t shoot the three-ball well as a team.”

Players the Raptors were counting on to stretch the floor in the postseason: DeMarre Carroll (31.8% 3FG), Patrick Patterson (30.8% 3FG), and P.J. Tucker (32.1% 3FG) are now all gone via trade or free agency.

In bound is one of the top three-point shooters in the NBA, 30-year-old guard/forward C.J. Miles, who shot 41.3 percent from three-point range with the Pacers last season. And, he should help, a lot.

Earning a much bigger role in this upcoming season during the playoffs was guard/wing Norman Powell who hit on 44.1 percent of his postseason three-balls.

But sliding under the radar and getting very little attention until July’s Las Vegas Summer League has been last year’s undrafted rookie Fred VanVleet, and for a team seemingly desperate to add more and better three-point shooting, he’s been there all along.

VanVleet had another solid stint in Las Vegas hitting on 8-18 three-point attempts (44.4%) and running a group of players with little practice time very effectively.

However, the undersized guard wasn’t just standing at the arc firing up three-balls. Looking like Kyle Lowry clone, he was driving to the basket and making shots thru traffic with seeming ease. He got to the free throw line a lot (for Summer League) and hit on 15-15 from the charity stripe over his four games.

None of this should be a surprise.

Last year at Summer League he shot 6-11 from three over five games coming off the bench and in college he went 141-365 (38.6%) over his four years at Wichita State. VanVleet is a three-point shooter.

While Summer League and college doesn’t always translate to the pros, in VanVleet’s case, it looks like it has.

In his 16 regular season G-League (formerly D-League) games with the Raptors 905, VanVleet was at his best firing from deep, hitting on 22-54 attempts (40.7%).  Then in his limited run with the big club, he hit on 11-29 (37.9%) versus NBA competition.

He’s not afraid to shoot the three against anybody and so far, the level of competition hasn’t affected his ability to hit them.

As expected, he didn’t play much in the NBA playoffs, but in the 29 minutes he did get, VanVleet shot 2-5 from three.

There was a time when an undersized player at any position was going struggle to get the attention their talent deserved. However, things have changed in the NBA. There has never been more focus on getting and developing effective three-point shooters and the Raptors may have found one in VanVleet.

 

 

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 DeMarre Carroll

DeMarre Carroll Knew What He Was Getting With The Raptors

DeMarre Carroll has created quite the stir with his comments about the Toronto Raptors after being traded in a pure salary dump move to the Brooklyn Nets. When the Toronto Sun’s Ryan Wolstat reported Carroll’s words “ISO” they brought to the surface some deep passions in parts of the Raptors fan base.

“I wasn’t surprised because I knew it was a lot of things going on last year that didn’t come out,” Carroll told Postmedia on Sunday in his first interview following the deal.

“I wasn’t happy, my agent, we thought the style of ball was going to be different, it was going to be more team-oriented, but I guess it was still ISO (isolation), so I thought they would have moved me last year, but that didn’t happen.”

However, Carroll knew exactly what he was getting into when he quickly agreed to sign with the Raptors in the summer of 2015 while the Detroit Pistons were waiting to talk to him in the hotel lobby.

“Toronto came and we had a lengthy meeting and we kind of went back-and-forth and we got a deal done,” Carroll said about his first meeting in free agency. “But Detroit was in the hotel waiting to have their meeting, so I felt kind of bad to tell all those teams I wasn’t going to visit, but at the same time, it’s a business. I think the business of basketball is what’s best for the individual and that’s what I did.”

Carroll wanted to win and he knew his best chance at winning was to join a playoff team with a couple of All-Stars where he would have a role.

“That was very big,” Carroll responded to Pro Bball Report about joining a winning team in July 2015. “I was drooling at the mouth just to play along aside of guys like Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. Those are two All-Star guys and they bring a lot. When I used to guard DeMar, he’s one of the toughest guys because of his ability to put the ball in the hoop at a very rapid pace.

“So it was really just a sign to come to a winning program and to help this team as much as I can.”

Carroll knew what his role was going to be and he embraced it. It was his job to defend. DeRozan was going to be set free to score more.

“I actually told DeMar, I said now you don’t have to fight with those big guys like LeBron James and Kevin Durant no more, you can just go out there and take this team to the promised land.”

Things didn’t go as planned for Carroll in Toronto. A knee injury suffered with the Hawks in the just completed postseason run to the Conference Final came back to knock him out of 56 games in 2015-16 and he was never really 100 percent even after he came back.

The 2016-17 season started with knee soreness that hung around until the new year. Then just as he was putting a solid stretch of games together, he was accidentally kicked in the head as he fell and he wasn’t really the same the rest of the way. Even Carroll had to admit he wasn’t the same guy after it happened.

“I really didn’t have the whole summer to workout like most guys, so at the end of the day I am trying to get my rhythm and everything thru the season,” Carroll told Pro Bball Report in February. “My knee is great (now). I got nicks and bruises, finger and elbow, but the knee’s great, so I just got to keep pushing.

“I am slowly getting there. It’s not only physical, it’s mental. I’m trying to come back and missing shots and my finger and everything and all this, but now I am feeling more comfortable. Hopefully going into the playoffs I’ll be playing the best basketball.”

He never really got all the way back in time for the playoffs.

Carroll ended the season coming off the bench in the second round playing fewer minutes each night. That had to be a very tough way to end the season for this very proud player.

However, it didn’t take very long after the trade to Brooklyn for Carroll to get back on the positive vibe he felt for Toronto two years ago. In a courtside interview at NBA Summer League in Las Vegas, he had a very positive outlook for the Raptors future once again

“(The Raptors) have talent. They definitely have the talent (to get by the Cavs),” Carroll said. “Coach Casey, he tries his best to get the best out of his guys and Masai (Ujiri) brings in a lot of talent to go around those two All-Stars Kyle and DeMar, so they have the talent. Just have to try to put it all together.

“Biggest key, especially for Toronto is just being healthy going into the playoffs. I feel like each year wasn’t healthy. It kind of made our run short.”

He’s not wrong.

Carroll knew from the start he was joining a team where the best players are “ISO” players and he knew his role was to provide defense so they would have more freedom to do what they do best. It was just unfortunate that he was never physically healthy enough to do his part. It’s no reflection on Carroll, he tried. It just didn’t work out.

 

 

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 Milwaukee Bucks Jason Terry and Greg Monroe

Should The Raptors Take A Look At The Bucks Greg Monroe?

It seems like Greg Monroe has been on the trading block ever since Milwaukee signed him to that three-year $50 million deal in the summer of 2015. So, with just one year remaining on his contract, now could be the time he can be moved and just maybe the Raptors should be taking a look.

“Monroe had the opportunity to opt out of his contract at the start of the month but opted to remain with the Bucks and collect $17.8 million for the remaining year on his contract.”  wrote Gery Woelfel  in Woelfel’s Press Box. “Monroe looks slim and trim and is in perhaps the best shape of his pro career.”

A big body in the post with very good midrange shooting and a solid rebounder, Monroe has been like an overpaid square peg in a round hole with the Bucks. After being a starter for his first six NBA seasons, Monroe came off the bench in all 81 regular season games and the 6 playoff games he played in last year.

However, that doesn’t mean Monroe hasn’t produced. He was the Bucks best offensive rebounder at 10.8 percent of the available boards and best rebounder overall (17 percent) on a team that finished 29th out of 30 NBA teams on the glass. And he was fourth in team scoring (11.7 points) in just 22.5 minutes per game.

His “successful” move to the bench didn’t stop the trade rumors and Monroe knows if the Bucks could move him, they would.

he knows he is still the subject of considerable trade conjecture.

Some NBA officials said Milwaukee is still clearly receptive to moving Monroe.

“I’d like to stay but that’s up to them,’’ said Monroe, referring to the Bucks’ front office.

The Raptors and the Bucks faced off in the first round of the playoffs with Toronto winning the final three games to take the series 4-2. While the move of Norman Powell into the starting lineup got all the headlines, of arguably equal importance was the Raptors sending starting center Jonas Valanciunas to the bench to match up with and neutralize Monroe.

In the first three games of that first round series Monroe averaged a very effective 16 points on 54.8 percent shooting off the bench while the starter Valanciunas struggled scoring 10 points on 37.5 percent shooting. The Raptors went 1-2.

In the final three games Monroe dipped to 10.3 points on 50 percent shooting while Valanciunas was a more effective 8.7 points at 62.5 percent. Monroe was held to just 6 points in the 3-point Game Six loss at home.

The new matchups favored the Raptors and there was little the Bucks could do about it.

Since the draft there have been rumors about the Bucks wanting to shakeup their big man rotation. Sure, they are very excited about the return of Jabari Parker in the new year and seeing what Thon Maker can do in his second season, but neither of these two young promising players showed anything encouraging on the glass.

The Bucks still need to upgrade their rebounding. Staying 29th in the NBA at anything isn’t where a team with high expectations wants to be.

However, the Raptors have also been trying to move Valanciunas since the draft as president Masai Ujiri was trying to manipulate his payroll to get under the tax and, at the same time, change his team’s style of play.

Ujiri solved his tax problem by dumping DeMarre Carroll’s $30 million in Brooklyn and he’s been looking for a decent return on Valanciunas in a market that hasn’t been very friendly to traditional centers.

If the Bucks want rebounding and a big man who can defend the post against other traditional centers, Valanciunas is a good option.

He’s been top ten in rebounding percentage in each of the past three seasons and the Bucks could use his 12 points and 9.5 rebounds in 26 minutes in the worst way. The knock on Valanciunas has been his trouble handling quicker stretch fours and fives, but the Bucks have that issue well covered with their other young big men. They need someone who can board with and slow down a guy like Valanciunas.

There are also signs Valanciunas has stretched his comfortable shooting range out to the free throw line and possibly even to the three-point line given time.

The Raptors are looking for change and Monroe would seem to be the kind of change Ujiri is looking for. Once considered a strictly “me” type player who didn’t seem all that happy in Detroit, Monroe is 27-years-old now and is saying the right things.

“I’m happy,’’ said Monroe, who attended the Bucks-Jazz game Friday night at Cox Pavilion on the UNLV campus. “I had no reason to leave. I want to build on what we started last year.’’

Monroe does the one thing the Raptors have been unsuccessful at getting Valanciunas to do. He moves the ball effectively. Where Valanciunas has only assisted on 4.2 percent of teammate field goals while he’s on the floor over his career with no signs of improvement, Monroe has averaged 13.2 percent and bumped that to 17.3 percent coming off the bench last year. Monroe could be the ball moving big man Ujiri wants to add in his new style of offense.

While Monroe has always been something of a tease in the NBA, a big man with star potential who could never quite put it all together, there’s a good argument to be made that he has never been in the right situation. The 2017-18 Raptors could be that situation.

A straight up trade of Monroe for Valanciunas works and does solve another problem for the Bucks. The $2.4 million difference in salary gets Milwaukee below the luxury tax line and if it’s important to Ujiri, he can stay below the tax as well.

It isn’t always easy trading with potential conference rivals, but sometimes the two teams have what each other needs. Both the Raptors and the Bucks would be better off after making this deal.

 

 

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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 Powell Wright VanVleet Siakam Poeltl 2017

Are The Raptors Opting For Youthful Excitement?

The further Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri gets into July, the fewer his options are to actually move the needle on expectations heading into the upcoming season. So, apparently, the Raptors are opting to develop the young guys and at least it has the potential to produce some youthful excitement.

Ujiri has done a good job of getting below the luxury tax threshold as, once again, that was a lot more important than he let on before the draft. The Raptors may be hard-capped at $125 million in total salaries, but the tax bill will be minimal or zero with a little room left over to go add some cheap veteran help.

Like last year, the Raptors currently have what should be a pretty solid eight man rotation with a few positive changes.

  1. All-Star guards Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan are back to lead the show.
  2. New three-point threat C.J. Miles is a major upgrade on the wing over DeMarre Carroll in terms of actually being about to hit threes.
  3. Serge Ibaka will be around for training camp and the start of the season this year. At power forward or center, he’s a huge upgrade. And, yes,
  4. Even Jonas Valanciunas is a veteran that can rebound and give smaller centers fits in the paint and on the glass (until he’s traded?)
  5. Third year players Delon Wright and Norman Powell are expected to be solid young additions to the rotation playing significant minutes at guard and on the wing.
  6. Last year’s lottery pick Jakob Poeltl looked pretty good backing up center after the All-Star break and is an obvious successor to Valanciunas if and when JV gets traded.

The impact of youth on the Raptors season will be evident from the start. They’ll need Powell, Wright and Poeltl to bring all the energy and excitement they can.

However, like last year, the rest of the roster has its question marks. (Thus the need to find another cheap reliable veteran.).

Lucas Nogueira could be an impact player at power forward and center if he could get out of his own way. It’s on him to get serious and focus on basketball. Hopefully, head coach Dwane Casey isn’t forced into using “Bebe” because he doesn’t have a better option and the 25-year-old from Brazil earns a spot in the rotation at training camp. The Raptors leading shot blocker and turnover machine from last season is a guy that could move the needle on the season, if he’s ready, if he really wants to, t.b.d. (not holding my breath.)

The other project from Brazil, 21-year-old Bruno Caboclo, finally played well in the NBA D-League championship run by the Raptors 905, but that was after a pretty mediocre regular D-League season. No one is counting on anything from Bruno. His brief appearances in the NBA over three seasons don’t fill one with confidence. He’s a straight up ‘show me you deserve to be here’ player.

The NBA D-League Championship MVP Pascal Siakam started 38 games as a rookie for the Raptors at the start of last year solely because the viable rotation was that thin, so at least he has some NBA experience and he is improving. But is he really ready to backup power forward this year as a 9th or 10th man? Casey might not have another option but to go with the potential of this young developing athlete again. It could be exciting, but not necessarily in a good way (yet). He can fly around a court though.

As soon as he is 100 percent healthy, ready or not, rookie forward OG Anunoby is going to get a look. He missed NBA Summer League rehabbing his knee. It’s hoped he’ll be back in time for training camp, but no guarantees. He’s an uber-athlete, but hasn’t played since January, so no one will really have any idea what to expect this year, but in terms of excitement, his coaches and his fans can’t wait to find out.

Reminding everyone of a young Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet keeps showing enough to believe he’s going to stick in the NBA for a long time. The problem is, even if he unexpectedly beats out Wright for minutes at backup point guard, that isn’t going to move the needle on the Raptors season. It’s more likely his big impact will come if one of the four guards ahead of him gets hurt and he steps up to fill in the gap.

With the Raptors just over the luxury tax line, eventually the recently acquired Justin Hamilton will be traded or waived and stretched. The excitement Hamilton is expected to be providing comes when he makes room for someone else.

Did you see the Pogo Stick Alfonzo McKinnie has been riding at NBA Summer League for the Raptors? The 6’8 24-year-old forward should be reminding everyone of Jamario Moon back in 2007-08. He has a $100,000 guarantee on a two-year minimum contract, so he still has to make the team at training camp, but at the very least, this kid will be fun to watch in preseason. If you want excitement, you should be hoping he makes it.

Getting below the luxury tax threshold is good for the Raptors corporate owners. Watching the young guys play during the regular season isn’t even a bad deal for the fans as they will be exciting. However, for anyone hoping against hope this team would be trying to surpass the Cavaliers this season, how much luxury tax the Raptors were prepared to pay was a benchmark.

 

 

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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 Free Agents LucMbah a Moute and Dante Cunningham

Raptors Need Some Cheap Veteran Help At Forward

Ever since the Toronto Raptors let James Johnson walk away in free agency a year ago, they’ve needed a cheap reliable veteran forward that can play both positions and doesn’t mind (too much) that he could lose his job to some young guy who isn’t better than him yet.

The Raptors have two All-Star guards with solid young backups, two really good forwards and way too many centers, but as the center market for trades is looking kind of iffy, they may have to sort through the bargain bin of remaining free agents to fill that obvious forward hole in the rotation until one or both of Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby are ready to take it.

If president Masai Ujiri is swinging for the fences, he could take a run at Grizzlies restricted free agent power forward/center JaMychal Green with a sign-and-trade offer in the four-years $50-60 million range. Memphis loves him, but doesn’t want to pay him and so maybe there’s a chance, a slim chance they’d take the younger Jonas Valanciunas in return.

The 27-year-old Green is the big mobile type defender that fits the current NBA as is his developing three-point shot (33.3% 3FG on 45 attempts in 2015-16, 37.9% 3FG on 145 attempts last season.) He’d look really good in a Raptors uniform.

But it’s probably going to be tough to trade Valanciunas and get reasonable value back, so maybe one of the handful of overlooked free agent forwards could fit the bill.

The Pelicans 30-year-old forward  Dante Cunningham gave up $3.1 million to become a free agent this summer and it’s starting to get late in the game. Considered a versatile defender with limited offense who developed a three-point shot over the last two seasons (39.2% 3FG on 181 attempts last year), he’s already been passed by the secondary tier of free agents who signed on the cheap.

Forward Luc Richard Mbah a Moute will be 31 in September and he declined a $2.3 million player option with the Clippers in June. It’s previously been suggested by Rogers Michael Grange that the Raptors have shown some interest. Just like Cunningham, Mbah a Moute is considered a versatile defender with limited offense who has also been working on his three-point shot (39.1% 3FG on 110 attempts last year.)

As long as the price and the term are right, either Cunningham or Mbah a Moute could be a good fit on the Raptors.

Then there’s the 35-year-old Boris Diaw who was just waived by the Jazz because his numbers have fallen off a cliff and they could save $7 million by cutting him. There are still several players available that could provide a veteran presence if that’s all Ujiri wants? But the pickings are getting thin.

 

 

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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.

 

 

Knicks Carmelo Anthony trade 2017

Can Raptors Be A Third Team In A Carmelo Anthony Trade?

There are still a few options/ long shots out there for Raptors president Masai Ujiri to make a move before the season starts, but perhaps none more exciting than attempting to squeeze into the rumored Carmelo Anthony to the Rockets or Cavs trades as a third or fourth team, assuming the Knicks might be interested in Valanciunas?

According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the Knicks aren’t all that interested in older players with years left on their contracts and that has stalled out the process as all sides are looking for partners to facilitate a deal.

the Knicks and Rockets are confident that they have a willing third-team trade partner

The fourth team was needed to move a particular player contract that neither the Knicks nor Rockets could or would accept in the deal

The Knicks’ front office has been privately saying that the organization’s marching orders are now focusing on players 25 years old and younger

Three team deals are tough enough, but adding a fourth team dramatically boosts the complexity and likelihood nothing gets done. However, Toronto has a 25-year-old starting center they’ve been rumored to be shopping and an apparent motivation to reduce payroll that should make the Raptors easier to deal with.

(using the ESPN trade machine)

A move like this wouldn’t change the direction Ujiri is taking, but it would help re-balance the roster, cut $8 million off the payroll this year and $16.5 million next season.

It’s pure speculation, but the 32-year-old 6’8 Trevor Ariza could be the perfect veteran to mentor the Raptors young forwards and upgrade the team’s starting unit.

In New York, where nothing ever seems to go their way, landing Eric Gordon and Valanciunas for Carmelo Anthony should be seen as hitting one out of the park. (At least it shouldn’t be viewed as embarrassing.) Assuming Dolan can get over the fact he’s been burned by trading with Ujiri in the past?

In the extremely unlikely event the Cavaliers would entertain a trade including their conference rivals, the Raptors would almost certainly be interested in doing a deal.

There is a lot of motivation on the Knicks, Rockets and even the Cavaliers to find a way to make a very difficult trade happen. They might just have to swallow hard and allow a team like Toronto to squeeze in there to get it done.

 

 

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 Lucas Nogueira

Can Raptors Trust Lucas Nogueira To Be In The Rotation?

It took until his third year for Lucas Nogueira to gain head coach Dwane Casey’s trust enough to crack the Raptors rotation and even though he lost his minutes after Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker arrived, if one looks at what he did objectively, the Raptors should seriously want to see what he could do coming into his fourth NBA season.

Nogueira has an image problem, mostly of his own making, but exaggerated by those annoying Raptors NBA TV ads where he says he is only competing against himself, he is not competing with Jonas Valanciunas and Jakob Poeltl. Does he know just how naive that sounds?

It’s a theme that started a couple of years ago when Nogueira left a solid impression that he believed he is in the NBA for a reason and doesn’t have to prove anything to anybody. Call it poor communication in a second language or just the musings of a young player totally unaware of just how brutal the NBA can be.

Putting all that negative press aside, Nogueira made an impact last year and if he comes to training camp ready to compete for minutes, he does bring things the Raptors want and need.

When he’s focused and on his game, Nogueira is a flat out fast, exceptionally long and athletic 7-footer with quick feet and hands, good timing, an excellent screen setter and a way above average shot blocker.

Let’s put just how good he can be in perspective. Last season the NBA’s leading shot blocker Rudy Gobert blocked 6.35 percent of the two-point shots while he was on the floor and Serge Ibaka was tenth best at 4.2 percent per basketball-reference. Nogueira didn’t play enough total minutes to qualify, but he swatted 7.1 percent of the two-point shots attempted while he was on the court. The Raptors needed that.

In the 55 games he played more than 3 seconds, he only failed to block a shot 7 times. Even in a three-point shooting happy era, rim protection is still a big deal. Averaging just 19.1 minutes, he was Toronto’s leading shot blocker at 1.6 per game.

His offense is limited and that supposed three-point shot he’s working on isn’t proven, but of the few shots he does take (2.7 per game), over 75 percent are at the rim and he puts in over 75 percent of them.

There is a reason Nogueira doesn’t have the ball in his hands very often, however, he turned the ball over 1 out of every 5 plays he was involved in and unfortunately for Nogueira, that’s hard not to notice.

His 9’6 standing reach and 7’6 wingspan means he can erase some his defensive miscues and make everyone forget that the turnover causing the chance he just erased was caused by him in the first place, but it feels like most of his mistakes come from a lack of focus and that’s on him.

However, for all the warts with his game, he was worth it last year. Of the returning players, Nogueira has the third best +/- of +3.1 points, the second best net rating +9.8 and perhaps most importantly, he showed he could play at both power forward and center.

With all of the Raptors injuries, consistent 5-man units were tough to keep together last year, but of those units that played at least 5 games together, the third best at +2.7 points featured Nogueira at power forward for 10 games.

Using NBA Stats for 2-man units playing over 40 games together, Lowry and Nogueira were the Raptors second best pair on the court with a +/- of +4.3 points in 15.6 minutes.

It isn’t going to be easy to convince anyone, possibly not even coach Casey, that Nogueira should be a significant part of the rotation next season. The 25-year-old from Brazil is almost certainly going to cost the coach his voice almost every night he plays him.

However, unless the Raptors make another move via trade or free agency, Casey’s only other option to soak up minutes at the four spot could be second year forward Pascal Siakam, but at least there’s some competition so the decision doesn’t have to be made solely on trust. Even if Nogueira won’t acknowledge it, it’s pretty much a guarantee Siakam knows he’s competing for minutes.

 

 

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