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NBA Toronto Raptors Jonas Valanciunas and DeMarre Carroll

Should The Timberwolves Now Go After Carroll And Valanciunas?

Thirteen years as a Lottery Team would weigh on anybody and the Minnesota Timberwolves new president of basketball operations and head coach Tom Thibodeau didn’t sign up to run this team last year with the intention of extending that streak. He proved that in spades at the 2017 NBA Draft by trading potential future stars Kris Dunn, Zach LaVine and the number 7 pick Lauri Markkanen for Bulls All-Star Jimmy Butler and the number 16 pick Justin Patton.

The Timberwolves instantly got better, but if Thibs is serious about making an impact in the postseason next April, he still needs some playoff proven veterans help to get his remaining highly talented crop of young players to the next level and Toronto Raptors starters DeMarre Carroll and Jonas Valanciunas could become available because of Luxury Tax concerns.

Star Tribune’s Sid Hartman reported on the desperation for change by owner Glen Taylor at the end of the season,

“(Thibodeau) needs some players that will come off the bench and keep us going and not give up the lead,” he said. “I think he would say if he can get some guys with experience that would be helpful, so he can mix them in with our young guys during those substitution times. I think that will be a priority.

“We could also always use another big guy. If we back up a year and we were hoping that Pek [Nikola Pekovic] would be part of that and be a big, strong guy that would come in and take minutes off, so Karl [-Anthony Towns] didn’t get beat up so much and play so many minutes.”

Pek is officially done and last year’s attempt at veteran stability with players like Cole Aldrich (8.6 mpg), Jordan Hill (6.7 mpg), Omri Casspi (17.1 mpg) and Lance Stephenson (on two 10 days, 11.2 mpg) didn’t work.

However, even after the draft night trade, Thibodeau still has a ton of cap flexibility to sooth that burning desire to win now.

The Wolves will have Pekovic’s contract numbers off the books for next season, and because he did not play this season, his contract is covered by insurance, so that means their current salary cap should be in the $66 million range (prior to the Butler trade).

It wasn’t going to be easy attracting quality free agents to a team with a losing record let alone a mind-blowing 13-year losing streak and there is no pretending Minnesota is anything like New York, L.A. or Miami. So, just like the deal with the Bulls, the best way for Thibs to get what he needs is most likely to be accomplished by way of another trade.

Enter the Toronto scenario. Raptors president Masai Ujiri says he wants to re-sign free agents Kyle Lowry, Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker, but to do so would put his team deep into Luxury Tax territory with no guarantee they’d be able to escape the Eastern Conference currently owned by LeBron James. A tax bill of $45 million plus is a steep price to pay if you’re fighting for second best in your conference.

However, Ujiri could almost wipe out that tax bill if he could get one of Valanciunas or Carroll off of his books and a trade involving both players with the right asset back could give him the “culture change” he’s looking for next season as well.

While there is no chance the Timberwolves are going to part with another one of their young stars, Minnesota does have a player the African-born Ujiri would almost certainly be interested in, Senegal’s 27-year-old Gorgui Dieng.

Deng’ offensive production has stalled at about 10 points per game over the past three seasons as has his rebounding at about eight boards, but the power forward/center is known for his defense and has started to show he just might have an effective corner three-ball. It’s not hard to see him fitting into the “culture” Toronto is trying to build.

It shouldn’t be too hard to convince Thibs to trade the guy Dunking  With The Wolves George Rinaldi sees as a sixth man instead of a T-wolves starter in the future.

Dieng is producing decent basketball when needs be, but in all honesty, would perfectly suit a bench player.

What Dieng offers is a solid defensive player, able to knock down mid-range shots on a regular basis, and give a significant number of rebounds per game.

Just the chance to add a couple of starters like Valanciunas and Carroll from a team coming off four consecutive trips to the postseason and back-to-back 50-plus win regular seasons should be enough to get Thibs rushing to try and do a deal. The Twolves would go from being too young to win last season to a team with veteran depth.

The 25-year-old Valanciunas is a legit 7′ traditional center who can start, but actually played his best basketball coming off the bench in this year’s playoff run. He has consistently been in the top 10 for rebounding percentage in the NBA and produced a consistent 12 points and 9-plus rebounds in 26 minutes over the last three years. His contract is similar to Dieng’s four-year deal and has two more seasons plus a player option left.

The Raptors acquired the now 30-year-old Carroll from the 60-win Atlanta Hawks two summers ago and although the “3-and-D” combo forward missed most of his first season in Toronto due to knee problems and he’s taken a lot of flak from the fan base for not living up to early high expectations, he can still space the floor, hit threes and play defense the right way. He played 72 games last season and he would be the poster-boy for the type of veteran that could help stabilize a young team like the T-wolves. He has two years and $30.2 million left on his contract.

While simply moving Carroll’s contract into Minnesota’s cap space would largely solve’s Ujiri’s tax problems this year and give Thibodeau his veteran on a short two year leash, the larger deal could do more for both teams. One team trying to get to where Toronto is now and the other team trying to find a way to take the next step without setting new franchise records for luxury taxes.

There will be a lot of opportunities for these two teams to look at after free agency opens up in July, but signing free agents is tough and it often isn’t easy finding a motivated trade partner you aren’t competing 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 OG Anunoby

OG Anunoby Falls To The Raptors Because Of Injury

By Frank McLean

Speculation all day Thursday had the Toronto Raptors looking to trade their 23rd pick in the first round of the NBA draft along with center Jonas Valanciunas for a player that could help this team now, but with no takers the Raptors used their pick and selected a Hoosier from the University of Indiana, 6’8 sophomore forward OG Anunoby who had fallen in the draft because of an injury in January.

Anunoby is named after his father Ogugua Anunoby. He was born in London England, but his family hails from Nigeria. He went to Jefferson City High School in Jefferson City Missouri.

Anunoby is an interesting pick. He is a small forward who only played 16-games in his sophomore, starting 10-of them, but he missed the rest of the season after suffering a season-ending knee injury on January 16th in a game against BIGTEN rival Penn State.

In those 16-games he averaged 11.1 points, 5.4 rebounds, 1.3 blocks and 1.3 steals.

It’s believed that if he didn’t suffer that injury he would have been listed as a much higher pick in the draft as evidenced by his Green Room invitation, so the Raptors may have got themselves a steal, but that’s something we won’t know for maybe a few seasons.

“He’s a big time talent,” said Raptors coach Dwane Casey who addressed the media just minutes after the pick was announced. “If it wasn’t for his injury he would have went higher.

“He’s a guy our scouts targeted and there were teams behind us who were salivating to get him because he is one of the top defenders available in the draft.”

When it comes to his shooting Casey said it’s not broken, but like a lot of young players he needs to get in the gym and work on it while he is rehabbing, but he seems to be that Casey type of player because he loves his toughness and physicality that he brings.

The scouting report on him says that he has the physical profile to be a combo forward. He has a large wingspan measured at 7’2.25. He can guard multiple positions and is a disruptive defender, so you can see how the Raptors feel they may have found a steal with the 23rd pick.

On his knee injury Casey said he will begin work right away with the Raptors outstanding Director of Sports Science Alex Mckechnie. He added that the doctors said Anunoby’s rehabilitation is ahead of schedule and he will go to Los Angeles right away with McKechnie who has associates there who will help and speed up his recovery.

No one is certain how fast the knee will heal, but the Raptors don’t have to use him right away. If he needs more time to rehab and recover, he can get it and if needs to develop there is the Raptors 905 of the NBA G-League (formerly D-League).

With each NBA team now allowed to sign two players to a two way contract his salary wouldn’t count against the cap in that situation, but being a first round pick his agent may balk at the suggestion.

In Brooklyn where the draft was being held Anunoby confirmed to the media there that he is two months ahead of schedule which follows what Casey said to the media in Toronto.

“I’m starting to do a lot more on the court, I started running,” Anunoby said. “I should be back full go October, November”.

When the Raptors season ended, out of the 15 players they had under contract, there were seven players who you could say were still developing and not necessarily ready to be starters.

Anunoby is a safe pick but he isn’t expected to make a difference to the Raptors next season. Trades and re-signing Kyle Lowry, Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker will chart the future of this team.

Still, not a bad second choice for not being able to make a draft day deal.

 

 
 

   

DeMar DeRozan & Frank McLeanVeteran journalist Frank McLean has covered nearly every Raptors game in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. He has seen it all. The good, the bad and the really bad and he is one of the very few journalists in Toronto that has kept coming back for more.

   

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Kennedy Meeks

Raptors Sign Undrafted UNC Center Kennedy Meeks

Raptors president Masai Ujiri didn’t waste any time after the NBA draft to pursue his new player development program as he quickly signed undrafted UNC senior center Kennedy Meeks to a partially guaranteed deal.

Jonathan Givony of Draft Express tagged Meeks as “strong candidate for a two-way contract” prior to Thursday’s draft.

The 22-year-old Meeks is 6’10 277 lbs and averaged 12.5 points, 9.5 rebounds, 1.2 blocks and a steal in 24.3 minutes last year as UNC won the NCAA tournament. Meeks had some monster games at the end of the season and during the Tar Heels championship run.

At the ACC Final, Meeks had 19 points and 12 boards in a 93-83 loss to Duke.

At the NCAA tournament:

In the second round he had 16 points, 11 rebounds and 3 blocks in the 72-65 win over Arkansas.

At the Elite 8 he put up 7 points, 17 rebounds and 4 blocks in the 75-73 win over Kentucky.

During the 77-76 Final Four match with Oregon, he had 25 points, 14 boards, a block and 3 steals.

Then in the championship game he had 7 points 10 boards, 2 blocks and 2 steals in the 71-65 win over Gonzaga.

He obviously has the potential to be a dominant physical force in the paint, but he’s going to be expected to step up his effort on a consistent basis in the pros.

He didn’t make the type of progress NBA scouts were hoping for over the past three years, partially due to injuries, conditioning concerns, and his porous defense, as he simply didn’t always bring the type of approach to the game you might have hoped considering his average size, length and athleticism for a center prospect. – Jonathan Givony

Meeks is an ideal candidate for the new NBA two-way contract. If he finds his way to being more consistent and adapts to the pro game, he could be a nice find that develops quickly.

Prior to the draft, Meeks worked out in Toronto and talked to the media afterwards.

 

 

 

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

Eight Is More Than Enough Raptors On Rookie Deals

I get young players are gold under the current CBA and Raptors president Masai Ujiri wants to develop his own guys, but if he drafts and keeps his pick at 23 tonight, that will make eight players on their rookie deals taking up roster spots and eight is more than enough. It’s way too many for a playoff team.

“With the way the new CBA is constructed, I feel that player development is something that we have to pay attention to,” Ujiri said. “So whatever young players or draft picks we have, we just have to pay attention to it and you never know when you hit with that or something pans out that can help your team in any kind of way.

“We are really open-minded when it comes to this pick. It’s not very often when you see in the 20s where guys come up and contribute right away.”

The Raptors have been a 50-plus win team in each of the last two seasons and expectations are a lot higher than they were in the past. However, a team loaded with guys on their rookie deals isn’t winning 50 games, so how many of these guys can Ujiri squeeze into a 15-man roster?

“17, I think now with the (new) two-way contracts, we can squeeze in 17,” Ujiri responded to Pro Ball Reports query. “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.”

Well, you got to give Ujiri props for being consistent. It’s frustrating to watch a raw rookie like Pascal Siakam start at power forward for half a season because an injury took out the team’s only viable option while a veteran like James Johnson was let escape to Miami on a cheap deal to make room – in reality to make room to add three rookies.

But that is one way to build a team and as long as the team is winning 50-plus games, it’s hard to argue that in the long term it isn’t going to produce better results. Unfortunately, in the NBA, the long term is usually three years or less under the current CBA and over the next three years, James Johnson would have been the better player to have.

The Toronto Raptors are one of only a handful of NBA teams that doesn’t leak everything that’s going on to the media. Ujiri has a plan for his team and when he has executed in the past, those deals have looked pretty good all the way to downright thievery.

This draft is loaded with high profile trade targets and teams actively looking to deal. What Ujiri is up to won’t come out until it’s nearly or completely done, but hopefully his plan includes turning some of those young assets on rookie deals and/or his draft pick into a veteran player that can advance the Raptors a step closer to the ultimate goal – escaping the East and competing at the NBA Finals.

Eight guys on rookie deals is more than enough and there could be 10 if Ujiri doesn’t trade somebody. Could someone ask Ujiri to walk back that statement about 17.

 

 

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

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri

Don’t Look For A Savior For The Raptors In The Draft

By Frank McLean

In case you missed it, and it’s been in all the newspapers, Thursday night is draft night in the NBA, but the Toronto Raptors aren’t looking for a savior when it’s finally their turn.

The Toronto Raptors are picking 23rd and I look back at a conversation I had with team president Masai Ujiri at this time last season. He said to me that when you are picking in the 20’s you probably are not going to get a player that will be an impact player for you. Now if you are in the top five or ten spots in the draft, in other words you are a dreaded lottery pick, then you are going to get the guy.

In the case of last year’s picks, Jakob Poeltl and Pascal Siakam, they did play a small part when needed this past season, but they were not anywhere near the main reason for the team’s success or failure.

So if you are looking for the next great Larry Bird three point shooter the team desperately needs, or an impact player that can put them past Cleveland and give them a chance to compete with Golden State for a title, forget it. It won’t be coming through the draft tonight.

Two days after the Raptors were eliminated by Cleveland, Ujiri sat down with the media and told us quite clearly that he didn’t know why he was talking to us because he had nothing to say, but give him a month and he would.

On Tuesday at a pre-draft get together he had a lot to say, but really said nothing.

He and his staff have evaluated the team, but like those big time poker players you watch on afternoon sports television, he kept his cards secret because he has plans, however, deep down until Thursday night arrives, he’s not sure what they will be.

“I think this is why you wait and go through the process of evaluating your team,” Ujiri said on Tuesday.

“One day it’s quiet, the next day it’s noisy. That’s just how the NBA works. With all these things going around, you make calls you listen to calls an you see what fits your team. Leading up to the draft and on draft day, that’s another deadline that we work with on our side. Things will shake up a little bit and we’ll see how it affects the Raptors.”

Any changes that the team will make all hinges on what Kyle Lowry decides on, staying with the Raptors or moving on in free agency.

Stories came out this week that Lowry doesn’t want to stay in Toronto. Ujiri says that’s not so, but he and his staff have come up with five different ways they can go as an organization should the veteran guard leave.

“I think we are comfortable,” Ujiri said. “Any direction we are going, I think we are prepared, that’s what I should say. We are very well prepared after studying it for a couple of months after the season has been over.

“I think it’s a good time for us. Looking at the league, looking at where everybody is and all the action, hey, we are in this thing to compete and to get better so we’ll see where it takes us.”

So in a nutshell don’t expect any miracles Thursday night. The draft will not solve any of their problems. It will hinge on Kyle Lowry’s decision.

There is a plan, but no one will know what it is until Ujiri implements it.

 

   

DeMar DeRozan & Frank McLeanVeteran journalist Frank McLean has covered nearly every Raptors game in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. He has seen it all. The good, the bad and the really bad and he is one of the very few journalists in Toronto that has kept coming back for more.

 

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Kyle Lowry and Chicago Bulls Jimmy Butler

Could Jimmy Butler Push Raptors GM Ujiri Into Action?

It’s already been a busy and interesting trade market ahead of the NBA Draft on Thursday and apparently the Bulls Jimmy Butler is out there stirring the pot by trying to convince Raptors free agent Kyle Lowry to come and join him in Chicago instead of Butler trying to find another All-Star to play with in a different city. This could be just the impetuous needed to stir Raptors president Masai Ujiri into action at the draft.

Back in Toronto Ujiri is pretty confident his unrestricted free agent point guard will re-up with the Raptors on July 1st and he should be. Lowry has been hanging around the team since the season ended and Ujiri talked to him at their practice facility this week.

However, even Ujiri admits it’s his job to convince Lowry to want to re-sign with the Raptors – not that it should all that hard to convince Lowry that playing with his best friend DeMar DeRozan for the next four years is the right decision.

But don’t discount the fear even the remote possibility of Lowry changing his mind could cause. Sure Ujiri says he’s ready for five different scenarios this summer, but the ones that don’t include Lowry aren’t the ones he wants to entertain.

The duo of Lowry and DeRozan led the Raptors to an impressive 56 win season in 2015-16 and they were 28-13 at the halfway point last year when they went into a slide exasperated by a 3-5 stretch where DeRozan only played one game (that he shouldn’t have) book-ended with 0-3 and 1-3 marks. Then Lowry went down after the All-Star break until April 5th and only the additions of P.J. Tucker and Serge Ibaka kept the regular season win total over 50.

Ujiri knows the Raptors are a 50-plus win team with Lowry and DeRozan on it and they should be able to beat the franchise win record set in 2015-16 if he can hang onto Ibaka and Tucker – and there’s the crux.

If Lowry jumps ship, Ibaka and Tucker become doubtful and those scenarios that resemble a rebuild become very possible. It could be as diverse as going for 60 wins versus tanking for the Draft Lottery.

So how does Ujiri “guarantee” Lowry has no better landing spot than the one he is inclined to go for anyway. The answer seems simple. Upgrade the roster beyond just bringing back Ibaka and Tucker and there is an obvious trade target.

Almost every NBA analyst out there (and it’s a long list) is now convinced the Pacers are trying to move Paul George and his expiring contract by the draft because he’ll walk away for nothing next summer.

NBA Indiana Pacers Paul George

Indiana is doing their best under difficult circumstances to create a market and will take the best deal available from wherever it comes and it’s assumed they covet young players, draft picks and no long term commitments.

Potentially, the Raptors could fill those requirements and they probably don’t have to worry about anyone outbidding them with a Lottery pick. All Ujiri has to do is make a couple of those seven players still on their rookie deals he seems to love available and put his 2017 draft pick on the table.

For what could be a one season rental, giving up young talent and a pick is a big haul for the Pacers and a steep price for any team, but if it guarantees the Raptors can keep their All-Star point guard from jumping ship, they should just live with it.

Ujiri doesn’t really need to keep all seven guys he still has on their rookie deals plus add another rookie for next season – Does he?

 

 

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 Nets Brook Lopez

Lakers Land Brook Lopez From The Nets For Russell

The Los Angeles Lakers aren’t wasting time trying to get better fast as they ship D’Angelo Russell and veteran Timofey Mozgov to Brooklyn for the Nets one-time All-Star and leading scorer Brook Lopez plus the 27th pick in this year’s draft.

The trade sheds a ton of guaranteed future salary commitments by the Lakers who acquire Lopez’s expiring $22.6 million deal, although he won’t be cheap to re-sign next season assuming they want to keep this very effective offensive center who averaged over 20 points per game last year.

Mozgov is guaranteed $15.3 million next season and has two more years remaining after that at $16 million and $16.7 million. He wasn’t exactly productive in L.A. last year averaging 7.4 points and 4.9 rebounds in 20.4 minutes over 54 games.

Russell just finished his second season and shows promise if he can stay on the court. He averaged 15.6 points, 3.5 rebounds and 4.8 assists in 28.7 minutes over 63 games. He shot 35.2 percent from three on 6.1 attempts demonstrating what has become perhaps the most sought after skill in a young guard.

The move clears the way for the Lakers to add a starting point guard with the second overall pick in this year’s draft, possibly Lonzo Ball and if they choose not to re-sign Lopez, they’ll have a ton of salary cap space next year with which to fantasize about LeBron James and Paul George in their free agent summers.

 

It’s worth noting that Lopez shot 34.6 percent from three on 5.2 attempts last year and that was the first time in his nine year career that he played as a stretch-five. If he can keep that up, the Lakers would be foolish to just turf him for extra salary cap space at the end of next season.

 

 

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

 

 

Indiana Pacers Paul George

Do Pacers Want Paul George Traded By Draft Night?

Get ready for an exciting ride between now and the NBA Draft. The Indiana Pacers aren’t fooling around any longer. They want Paul George traded, the sooner, the better.

The opening salvo seems straightforward enough. A starter and two first round draft picks, but Indy will likely even have to compromise on this to get a deal done.

Pacers general manager Kevin Pritchard has the right idea though. Create a market, a (potentially false) sense of urgency, an arbitrary but identifiable deadline and see who steps up with the best offer. The trade value of Paul George will never be higher than now and the closer we get to the start of the season and eventually the trade deadline, the less Pritchard can expect to get.

There is obviously no certainty a deal can get done in a few days, but this is the best way to maximize value.

The process has just begun in earnest and the Pacers will reach out to every team they believe has any interest in the hopes of finding the best deal. This is going to be a wild rumor filled ride.


 

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 Indiana Pacers Paul George

Paul George Rumors May Give Raptors A Real Shot

If you love NBA rumors, with the Cleveland Cavaliers are the cusp of being swept out of the NBA Finals, things are about to get very interesting. First, LeBron James speculation will become rampant, but soon after, where and how the next super team gets created will dominate the “news/rumor cycle.” But if you are sitting in Toronto, the speculation should focus on the possibility of the Indiana Pacers Paul George joining the Raptors.

Last summer Raptors president Masai Ujiri made a hard push to acquire Serge Ibaka, but the Magic made a ridiculous bid to rent the big forward for the season and Ujiri got his man at his price at the trade deadline out of the ashes.

This year the Pacers face the reality George could walk away for nothing next summer and there is nothing they can do to recreate the 56-win team of four years ago that had just reached the Eastern Conference Finals for the second year in a row. It was an obviously frustrated George who has been knocked out of the first round in each of the past two seasons.

George can’t be very happy with the Pacers owner’s ideas about how to run a team as reported by IndyStar’s Matthew VanTryon,

“Believe me, our aim is to be competitive,” Pacers owner Herb Simon told IndyStar two weeks ago. “We don’t like to be paying the luxury tax, but most teams try to avoid that.”

Well Herb, you won’t be very competitive with the Cavaliers or the Warriors if you don’t like paying the luxury tax and George knows that.

But as The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor accurately states, it isn’t going to be easy to trade George for max value either.

The vibe I’ve gotten from talking to NBA executives and agents over the past few weeks is that teams aren’t willing to sell the farm for George because of the possibility that he’ll sign with the Lakers is so strong.

However,

The Lakers are in shambles now. They’re a bad team, period. They’ve won less than 28 percent of their games (91 out of 328) over the past four seasons.

It’s very unlikely another team that’s not quite ready for prime time overbids for George this summer with the Ibaka fiasco fresh in GMs minds. That move and other risks cost Rob Hennigan his job. Indiana will be hard pressed to demand a boatload of talent and picks for the privilege of renting George this season.

Also, despite the annual (hoped for) belief that superstars will beat a path to the Staples Center, it’s almost funny to think players like James and George will run to L.A. to save the storied Lakers a year from now. These days superstars don’t save your franchise, they elevate it to NBA Finals contention or look elsewhere.

In the NBA East, the obvious landing spots that George could believe give him a real chance at making the NBA Finals are in Boston and Toronto.

Back in Toronto, Ujiri only “wins” the Ibaka trade if he can re-sign him. Fortunately, it’s been widely rumored that only reason Ujiri was able to trade for him in the first place was Ibaka had made it known the only team he’d re-sign with was the Raptors.

Ujiri has made it clear the Raptors plans are to re-sign Kyle Lowry, P.J. Tucker and Ibaka. If the Raptors are (finally) sincere in their willingness to pay Luxury Tax in order to compete for a championship, they’ll have a line-up and a payroll that will be attractive to George beyond next season.

Toronto has been a 50+ win team in each of the past two seasons and only the James-led Cavaliers have stood in their way of getting out of the East. Another real chance to beat James would be huge to George.

The obvious alternative acceptable landing spot is a Celtics team that finished first in the Conference last year.

If Danny Ainge is willing to part with one of those coveted Brooklyn Nets picks and some young talent, Pritchard won’t be able to say yes fast enough, however, those picks could set the Celtics up for the next decade and he doesn’t have to risk anything. It’s hard to see Ainge giving up Jaylen Brown, this year’s first overall draft pick or next year’s Nets pick and no one should blame him. As a potential one-year rental, George shouldn’t be able to command anything nearly that good.

The Raptors are at significant disadvantage to Boston in terms of talent available to trade, however, they may be willing to offer more.

First, George and the Raptors DeMar DeRozan are friends (although, DeRozan seems to be friends with most of the league) and second, there’s the deleted tweet George supposedly sent out a few years ago suggesting he wanted to play with DeRozan.

Ujiri should be willing to build a package around Jonas Valanciunas and at the start of the season, consider adding Norman Powell and Delon Wright or Cory Joseph. It’s not close to being an even trade, but the closer new President of Basketball Operations Kevin Pritchard gets to the trade deadline, the worse the offers are going to get.

Many teams get in their own way when it becomes obvious their star player is going to leave them after the season. Pritchard isn’t going to be able to recreate the 2013-14 Pacers next season and he’s more likely to lose key free agents this summer than to sign better ones, but if he holds onto hope too long, a possible re-load will become an extended re-build.

Pritchard’s best chance to get value for George is to have the Celtics and the Raptors bid against each other for his services sooner rather than later.

 

 

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

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

 

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Delon Wright, Cory Joseph, and Fred VanVleet

Should The Raptors Trade Canadian Cory Joseph?

It is widely assumed the Toronto Raptors will re-sign All-Star Kyle Lowry in July and that lands them back squarely in the untenable position of carrying four point guards again next season. So, taking all of their options into account, should the Raptors trade backup Cory Joseph even though he’s the popular local Canadian kid who’s made good?

Joseph was an upgrade at backup point guard when president Masai Ujiri signed him as a free agent in the summer of 2015. The young guard had spent four seasons with the San Antonio Spurs honing his craft, playing in 41 playoff games and collecting a championship ring in 2014.

Just turning 24-years-old at the start of his first season in Toronto, it was expected he’d continue to build on the steady improvement shown in San Antonio and Raptors head coach Dwane Casey made sure this local prospect would be given every opportunity to excel.

Joseph has backed-up Lowry and Casey found additional minutes for him with regular two point guard line-ups. Over the two years Joseph has averaged better than 25 minutes a game and had some big moments, but one can be excused if they are having trouble finding “a next step taken” in Joseph’s game.

  • Joseph’s three-point shot that hit 36.4 percent in 2014-15, back-slid to 27.3 percent in his first season with the Raptors and only rebounded to 35.6 percent last year.
  • He is still scoring at the 13.3 points per 36 minute rate he left San Antonio with, his rebound rate is down and his assist rate hasn’t changed.
  • Known for his defense, his steady steals rate of 1.2 per 36 minutes reflects the barely noticeable change at that end of the court as well.

In many ways, the soon to be 26-year-old hasn’t shown any significant improvement in the past four seasons. The shade being thrown at him from some corners notwithstanding, Joseph isn’t playing poorly. He just hasn’t gotten better.

Last year Ujiri unexpectedly signed undrafted free agent point guard Fred VanVleet, bringing his rookie total to three and his point guard total to four. Neither situation making much sense heading into a season with high expectations. If he re-signs Lowry as expected, continuing to carry four point guards still doesn’t make any sense.

The barely acceptable excuse for signing VanVleet was Wright’s injury at Summer League that was expected to keep him off the court for a couple of months into the season, however, Wright is back and looked pretty good after the All-Star break.

NBA Toronto Raptors backup PG stats 2016-17

The 6′ 5.5″ Wright showed defensive potential covering multiple positions and the maturity expected from a 25-year-old. He looked ready to assume the backup point guard role and take his game to another level if given a chance.

The undersized VanVleet has drawn comparisons to Lowry for his style of play. The “younger” 23-year-old was still making rookie mistakes and playing too fast, but the effort, hustle and fearlessness was hard to ignore.

What the Raptors saw from Wright and VanVleet should make Ujiri very comfortable in making Joseph available in trade talks and Joseph should draw plenty of interest from teams in need of a reliable floor general.

Joseph is still young enough that another organization, if interested, will believe they can further develop his game. His contract is modest and the risk is low.

  • Joseph has averaged 10.8 points, 3.3 rebounds and 3.8 assists in 69 career starts.
  • He’s played in 71 playoff games.
  • At worst, he’s a solid backup and great teammate.

How Ujiri decides to handle his four point guard “problem” remains up in the air and the Raptors opportunistic leader will undoubtedly resolve the issue based on what brings back the greatest value. However, with Luxury Tax issues expected to overhang this summer’s moves, Joseph trade rumors should be starting up any time now.

 

 

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.

 

 

PJ Dozier at Toronto Raptors NBA draft workout

Drafting In The 20s, Raptors Look at P.J. Dozier

With all the young players already under contract, drafting in the twenties can seem kind of pointless as the Raptors took a hard look at utility guard P.J. Dozier in Toronto.

At 6’6, the South Carolina sophomore can guard multiple positions, but he’s always played point guard and that may not be where he ends up playing professionally.

“I’ve always been a point guard at every level thus far,” Dozier said. “But being versatile is definitely something I hang my hat on. Being able to play the one thru three and also defend the one thru three.”

“He is one of the utility guys that with his basketball I.Q. and his feel for the game you can plug him in multiple positions and he’ll impact the game somehow,” said Dan Tolzman, Raptors director player personnel. “It’s just a matter of him working on all of the different (parts) of the game that he impacts and just improving on all those aspects.”

In other words, the physical tools and potential is there, but Dozier has a lot to learn.

There is no consensus as to where Dozier might fall in the draft. He could go in the mid-twenties or fall deep in the second round.

Draft Express has him at 50 and Julian Applebome explains why,

Dozier doesn’t yet have a true position offensively … He is not yet a true point guard … Dozier isn’t an elite ball-handler …  He lacks touch on his mid-range jumpers … His limited outside shooting really prohibits him in the half court

his upside as a versatile defender is what is most intriguing about him as an NBA prospect.  Dozier brings a ton of value in those aspects of the game.

NBA Draft.net puts him in the first round and Clayton Crowe compares him to Shaun Livingston.

Combo guard with the ability and length to play/defend up three positions on the court … Was forced to play more PG during sophomore year at South Carolina … Gifted athlete with an improving offensive game

he doesn’t necessarily have the shot for the shooting guard position and is far from a finished product in terms of his handle and vision for the point

He’s still extremely raw on the offensive end of the floor

Comments about Dozier give the impression he’s a young prospect who is likely to be spending most of his rookie season in the NBA D-League learning the nuances of the professional game and working on his skills while his team figures what position he is best suited to play at the next level.

Dozier likely has NBA potential and his defensive credentials are intriguing, but is the Raptors roster as currently constructed really in need of another player at this stage?

 

 

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 Detroit Pistons Jon Leuer and Toronto Raptors DeMarre Carroll

Should The Raptors And Pistons Make A Trade?

Pistons chief cook and bottle washer Stan Van Gundy wasn’t happy after his team took a step back into Draft Lottery territory with a 37-45 record this past season and he’s looking to make a deal. Raptors president Masai Ujiri’s team won 51 games, but he’s got his own moves to make as keeping his key guys together means a trip into Luxury Tax territory. Just maybe these two decision-makers should be talking trade?

The Detroit News’ Rod Beard says Van Gundy is pressing to make changes.

“Would we like to make changes this summer? Absolutely. Is it a priority to be out trying to make changes? Absolutely. We need to make improvements,” Van Gundy said.

“We’re not under the cap, so our way to make changes and get better is through trades.”

Van Gundy insists wholesale changes aren’t needed, but his team needs help in a number of areas, especially three-point shooting and unfortunately last year’s big stretch four free agent acquisition Jon Leuer was only stretching his credibility at the three-point line.

Leuer had shot 38.2 percent from three in Phoenix the previous season earning him a four year, $41 million contract from the Pistons that summer. Unfortunately in a bigger role with Detroit he couldn’t find the range and shot just 29.3 percent from three on a team that was desperate for someone, anyone to help spread the floor.

Detroit Free Press’ Vince Ellis didn’t hold back in his opening statement about the Pistons’ players after the season and only gives Leuer a 50 percent chance of being back with the Pistons next year.

Trade center Andre Drummond!

Get rid of that bum point guard Reggie Jackson!

Jon Leuer is a bust!

Stanley Johnson was a mistake!

The word: (Leuer) Went from a great signing to an awful signing in the same season. Probably played over his head the first 50 games but probably is better than he showed the last 30. An obvious replacement (Ellenson) is on the roster.

The Drummond and Jackson comments were undoubtedly for effect, but if things don’t change, the effect could become reality at the trade deadline. Teams don’t usually give up on Lottery Picks on modest contracts like Johnson easily, but Leuer’s contract isn’t scary, even if his history and recent run with Detroit says he’s best suited to coming off the bench.

If the Pistons want to move Leuer, the Raptors might be the team who’ll take a chance on him…. if Van Gundy wants what the Raptors will be selling.

It’s expected Toronto will lose backup stretch four Patrick Patterson to free agency. If Ujiri gets his way and Kyle Lowry, Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker all re-sign, the Luxury Tax bill to keep Patterson could set new NBA records if something doesn’t give.

Ujiri will be motivated to move a veteran piece from his 50-win roster and one available piece is almost certainly starter DeMarre Carroll.

Carroll is a 31-year-old veteran who’s been to the Conference Finals twice in the last three years on teams averaging over 55 wins. He’s shot 39 percent or better from three in two of the past three years and last season’s “slump” to 34.1 percent would have tied him with Marcus Morris at 1.5 made threes per game as second best on the Pistons.

The issue with Carroll has been injuries. Specifically an undiagnosed knee problem that required surgery early in the 2015-16 season and only became fully rehabbed midway thru last year. In theory at least, Carroll is back to 100 percent healthy now.

His $30.2 million remaining over the next two seasons on his contract is almost identical to what the Pistons owe Leuer over the next three years and can probably be made to work in a straight up trade.

If in the unlikely event Van Gundy is truly disheartened by Johnson, Ujiri would almost certainly give up his first round draft pick to get him.

The Raptors would have some immediate interest in a deal of Carroll for Leuer based on the Luxury Tax savings alone, but the clincher likely would come down to Tucker’s assessment of his former Suns teammate.

Leuer had the best season of his career the year he played with Tucker. If he could recreate something similar to 2015-16 for the Raptors off the bench, Ujiri would be pretty happy with the move.

At the least Carroll is a proven veteran from a winning program who is good with young players. At his best, he’s a very effective “3-and D” combo forward who can guard multiple positions on the perimeter and can play in a variety of lineups. He could be the guy who helps get Detroit back into the playoff picture.

Neither the Pistons nor the Raptors can expect to hit a homerun with the players they are likely willing to part with this summer, but this is the type of trade that could help both teams (or neither team) and is worth the risk.

 

 

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

What Can The Raptors Get For Jonas Valanciunas?

The fifth overall pick of the 2011 NBA draft Jonas Valanciunas is a traditional 7′ center in a game that is evolving away from the paint. So if the Toronto Raptors want “a change” and face the Luxury Tax challenge of keeping their own free agents this summer, what could they get for for this still developing 25-year-old big man.

Valanciunas is a space-eater, a top-10 rebounder in each of the past three seasons and an imposing force against the undersized big men becoming oh so common in today’s NBA. Unfortunately, those same undersized big men can send him to the bench in the fourth quarter as Valanciunas struggles guarding the perimeter.

He is the type of player a team doesn’t need until they need him, but when your team is getting hammered on the boards, Valanciunas is the kind of guy you’ll need to stop the bleeding and hit back.

On Sportsnet, Dave Zarum quotes the former assistant general manager of the Brooklyn Nets Bobby Marks ahead of the trade deadline as saying,

“I think the league goes in cycles and there’s still a role for centers.

“In certain situations— Cleveland going small— then there’s probably not a role for him, but in the majority of matchups there is.

“I wouldn’t do anything with him if I’m in Toronto. It would have to be something really big. You look at what centers got this (past) summer — Mozgov, Noah, Mahinmi — and Jonas’ contract ($16 million/yr) carries great value.”

The Raptors made their own moves at the trade deadline by bringing in Serge Ibaka, a player they want to keep in free agency this summer who has made no secret of the fact he wants to start at center next year. So unless Raptors president Masai Ujiri is happy paying starter’s money for a center who’s likely to come the bench next season, he needs to find a trade partner for Valanciunas.

Boston Celtics

Like last summer there will be a lot of noise about the Celtics packaging draft picks and players to land another star, but the prices were too high for Danny Aigne last year and they’ll likely be too high again this year. Aigne isn’t about to disrupt what’s he’s building for a rental, potential poor fit or a massive overpay in free agency either.

The Celtics are a good team already, albeit a good team with a glaring weakness. They were one of the worst rebounding teams (-2.5 boards per game) during the regular season. They were the worst rebounding team (-6.6) in the playoffs.

What the Celtics do have is 2012 second round pick Jae Crowder who has evolved into a solid “3-and-D” small forward. While no one is going to call him a “LeBron Stopper,” he is just the kind of small forward the Raptors need for next season. He is also uncomfortably in the way of the Celtics third overall pick of last season Jaylen Brown.

If these two Atlantic Division rivals can put their egos aside, they have the solution to each other’s problem in a player they can afford to trade. Hopefully someone reminds them the goal is to get by Cleveland, if not now, eventually?

Indians Pacers

The Pacers would have been hard pressed to screw up last season any worse and while they probably cling to hope over the summer of a resurgence strong enough to convince Paul George to re-sign, if next season resembles last season, it’ll take a major brain cramp to not start shopping their best player before the trade deadline.

The problem with shopping a “rental” All-Star is teams won’t be giving up much unless they believe he’ll re-sign in his new home. Maybe George really does want to go lose with the Lakers? But it seems more likely he’d rather join a team that gives him a shot at the NBA Finals – say hello to Boston and Toronto.

Last year Aigne wouldn’t give a top draft pick and/or top young prospect(s) for a potential rental of Serge Ibaka and who could blame him? The Celtics don’t need to take those kinds of risks for a real shot at getting to the next level all on their own.

The Raptors are likely easier to convince, in part because they don’t have any former or current top five draft picks to risk other than Valanciunas.

It might seem like a pipe dream for Toronto to land a player like George, but if next season plays out like last season (for Orlando), the Pacers could find themselves looking for the best available offer with a player who has made it very clear where he wants to end up.

Dallas Mavericks

Mark Cuban doesn’t like to lose and he doesn’t like to wait either, so if the Raptors just want to do a salary dump for a first round lottery draft pick, the Mavericks are the team to talk to.

Draft Express has 7′ Arizona freshman stretch four Lauri Markkanen going to Dallas at nine and describe him as,

One of the top jump shooters in this draft regardless of position

Among the top shooting players over 6’10 in NCAA history

Shooters of his caliber at the power forward position don’t come along very often

If the Raptors can bring back both Ibaka and P.J. Tucker, a player like  Markkanen could be the perfect long term fit.

Why not just keep Valanciunas?

The Raptors make a lot of money. They are third in attendance in the NBA and, supposedly, Ujiri can go into the Tax if he so chooses. Bringing Valanciunas in off the bench probably doesn’t affect his minutes all that much and he’d arguably be the best backup center in the NBA.

As anyone who has followed the team for a long time knows, believing a stated willingness to pay Luxury Tax has fallen firmly into the show-me category. Besides, the Raptors have a backup center in Jakob Poeltl who can/should fill that role admirably next season if given a chance for a lot less money.

Valanciunas would probably say all the right things about coming off the bench, but most of us would have a hard time believing him if it lasted into the new year. To be fair, it’s start him or trade him.

As Bobby Marks said, “Jonas’ contract ($16 million/yr) carries great value.” So Ujiri should be able to extract pretty good value for Valanciunas. However, the problem will be other general managers can figure out the Raptors pending Luxury Tax issues with Toronto re-signing their own free agents and will want to exploit that situation for themselves.

What Ujiri can get for Valanciunas will depend as much on how quickly he wants to unload that contract for his own reasons as what he needs to get back. However, assuming Ujiri was sincere in wanting to re-sign free agents Kyle Lowry, Ibaka and Tucker, this is one situation that isn’t going to just go away.

 

 

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 PJ Tucker and Serge Ibaka

Raptors Should Be Judged By Luxury Taxes In 2018

Whether or not a team in the NBA East is serious about being an NBA Finalist will be judged by Luxury Taxes next season and the Toronto Raptors are not an exception. A willingness to pay the tax has been a long standing test of the resolve to win in Toronto and and elsewhere, and it’s a test that has left the fans wanting most of the time.

The Cavaliers are already committed to being a tax team next season with seven open roster spots still to fill in the summer. As much as the Cavaliers are winning now because of LeBron James, having the highest payroll in the NBA and a willingness to pay huge Luxury Tax bills has tipped the scales heavily in their favor. If an Eastern Conference team wants to compete with the Cavs, trying to do it on the cheap is laughable.

The new CBA gives teams a significant advantage with their own talent, but it makes many of the old tricks of the trade teams like the Lakers used to pull to add talent from other teams more difficult or even completely offside.

Raptors president Masai Ujiri traded for Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker in February as much to acquire their “Bird” rights this summer as to add talent for the stretch drive and the playoffs. Now he’ll be tested by the tax if he wants to keep them.

NBA Toronto Raptors salaries 2017-18

There are many people in Toronto who will look at the numbers and think Kyle Lowry is gone. They won’t believe Ujiri really wants to keep his All-Star point guard when the team can likely remain a non-tax paying playoff team by re-signing Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker and letting Lowry walk.

However, no team is a serious conference finalist contender without at least an All-Star candidate point guard. Not in a point guard driven league.

Alternatively Ujiri could look to dump the salary of Jonas Valanciunas and/or DeMarre Carroll to significantly lower his Luxury Tax commitment, but to compete against the Cavs, he needs veterans in his rotation. Veterans like Valanciunas and Carroll, but not necessarily these specific players.

One advantage of bringing back one’s own free agents and keeping what he’s got is it gives Ujiri a bigger pool of players with which to use in the trade market. He might not keep a player for an entire season, but having a $15 million salary on the roster you could live without could be what’s needed for that big trade deadline deal.

That’s the old trick the Lakers used to great success in the past that can still work, hanging onto a big salary they didn’t need in order to use it as trade ballast in a big trade during the season.

With Ibaka back and Jakob Poeltl looking ready to take on a backup center role, Ujiri can shop Valanciunas and maybe acquire the three-point shooting wing or forward he needs.

If Ujiri is comfortable with a three guard lineup of Norman Powell, DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, then he could look to swap Carroll for a less expensive backup. Although, if Carroll can get and stay healthy, he could be the answer as an expensive three-point shooting backup combo forward. It’s only money….

Concerns should only arise if Ujiri starts dumping salary just to get below the tax line.

Toronto was third in NBA attendance last season and the fans deserve to see their team willing to spend in order to put the best roster possible on the court. The Raptors have made a lot of money as a non-tax paying team over the past four years, they can afford to pay to keep talent for themselves or to use as trade bait.

Maybe $100 million in Luxury tax is over the top, but $40-50 million isn’t. This team should be judged by their willingness to make a big commitment to paying the tax in 2018. Otherwise, Ujiri is only pretending to want to compete for a championship. (The unlikely fleecing of another GM out of a star on a cheap contract notwithstanding.)

 

 

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 Norman Powell

Raptors Norman Powell Is Ready To Take On A Major Role

Raptors president Masai Ujiri is looking within for the change needed to take his team to another level and no one has looked more ready to take on a new major role next season than Norman Powell.

Going back to his rookie season Powell has shown the signs of huge potential despite his second round status and the persistent doubts about his jump shot. Ignore the career averages of 7.3 points per game and 35.1 percent shooting from three and focus on his 42 regular season starts where he averages 12.5 points and 43 percent three-point shooting. It seems like every time he has been called upon, he has performed.

NBA Toronto Raptors Norman Powell career stats

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Powell has played better when given a consistent spot in the rotation with consistent minutes. Almost every young player performs better under those circumstances.

Unfortunately for Powell, he has been stuck in a spot where it has taken injuries to get regular consistent minutes at either the two or the three and when everyone is healthy, he’s been battling an uphill fight against the Raptors big free agent addition DeMarre Carroll and until last year’s trade, Terrence Ross.

Now Ross is gone and it’s time to admit the Raptors have played better with Powell starting instead of Carroll even if that means an undersized three-guard lineup. Just ask Milwaukee about the difference Powell made to the Raptors in the playoffs.

“In the Milwaukee series being the ball handler, taking the pressure off of DeMar and Kyle in that series,” Powell explained. “Being able to make plays off the bounce is always a focus. I draw so much attention driving to the rim, getting to the bucket and when I attack, find the open player, being able to create off the bounce.”

Milwaukee had no answer for Powell and going back to last year’s playoff experience against Paul George and the Pacers, the postseason has had a big impact on Powell’s development.

“It’s really helpful,” Powell responded to Pro Bball Report after Game Four against the Cavaliers. “Letting me see myself in these moments, reading the game, slowing down, seeing what I can work on, seeing how to play, calming myself down and keeping myself even keeled.

“It’s going to be really big for my development down the road and makes me even more motivated and fired up to keep working to get better. To see myself being in these moments and playing with DeMar (DeRozan) and Kyle (Lowry).

“Every game I go in trying to figure out how to get better and ways I can take my game to the next level and get to where I want to be. Being in a (playoff) series like this and situations like this really helps with that.”

The Raptors  believed in Powell’s potential as a secondary ball handler from the start and took advantage of the Raptors 905 D-league team to get him minutes as a point guard early in his rookie season.  However, Powell first earned minutes on the big club with his defense on the wing, but in the current high scoring NBA, the Raptors now need him for his offense and Powell is ready to step into the starting rotation and make a big impact.

“I am always ready,” Powell said. “That’s where I see myself, playing a bigger role. That’s what I work for.

“I want to be(come) a focal point. Watching DeMar, watching Kyle, I am learning from them. How to be the guy. How to take that responsibility and it’s fun being able to talk to some of the best players in the league and pick from them what I can and what they see.

“(Lowry’s) bulldog play, playmaking mentality. He’s a great guy who can create in tight spaces. How he is able to thrive in those situations and then I am able to watch DeMar and how he is able to thrive in iso situations using his body, his footwork to create separation and get guys off balance. So I get the best of both, scoring from DeMar and playmaking from Kyle.”

And the lessons don’t end with the season. The summer is where players build on what they learned during the season and work on new aspects of their game.

“I am going into the off season with that, learning from DeMar and hopefully going to work out with some of the other best players in this league and really develop my game, to focus and learn from them.

“It’s definitely going to be a good summer for me.”

Powell has looked good when given an opportunity in his first two seasons with the Raptors, however, his third year with the club should be expected to open some eyes. The ability to drive, dish, finish and hit threes is all there. He’s ready to take on a major role next season.

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

Dillon Brooks at Toronto Raptors

Could Canadian Dillon Brooks End Up On The Raptors?

By Frank McLean

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

   DeMar DeRozan & Frank McLeanVeteran journalist Frank McLean has covered nearly every Raptors game in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. He has seen it all. The good, the bad and the really bad and he is one of the very few journalists in Toronto that has kept coming back for more.

 

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors P.J. Tucker and Serge Ibaka

What The Raptors Rotation Could Look Like Next Season

There are plenty of clues coming out about what the Toronto Raptors rotation could look like next season. President Masai Ujiri isn’t exactly trying to hide what he believes in and the direction he will be taking his team.

When doing the rounds with his corporate masters recently. (The Raptors are owned by Rogers and Bell who control Sportsnet and TSN respectively.) He did his best to clarify his comments about “culture change” and any perceptions regarding head coach Dwane Casey and his All-Star point guard Kyle Lowry.

“Our culture is pretty good,” Ujiri told Tim and Sid on the Fan 590 just to set the tone for the entire interview.

“I am the problem solver here,” Ujiri said in regards to re-signing Lowry (and just about anything else.)

“I am confident (coach Casey) can pull those things off.”

As he has said since the beginning of his tenure as president (and general manager), Ujiri believes in developing his own talent and it is something he is doubling down on under the new CBA.

“The new CBA means a lot of players are going to stay where they are at,” Ujiri explained. “That’s just how it works. The way (the CBA) is constructed a lot of teams are going to have the ability to keep their own players. So we have to figure out ways with our own players.

“Drafting and developing our players is a high priority for us. We have to develop from within.”

There aren’t any false hopes about Paul George or Jimmy Butler arriving in Toronto anytime soon.

Ujiri is confident Lowry will re-sign with Toronto and not without a lot of justification. The Raptors and coach Casey made Lowry a three-time All-Star, his best friend is DeMar DeRozan, and they will pay him $30 million plus a season to stay.

He is equally confident about Serge Ibaka and more than few media reports suggested Ibaka wanted to be traded to Toronto. Ujiri has the checkbook to re-sign Ibaka to a $100 million plus contract as well. P.J. Tucker almost came out and said if Lowry comes back, he’s coming back.

It shouldn’t take a leap of faith to figure out what type of ‘culture change’ Ujiri wants. He has always wanted a ‘tougher’ team and absolutely no one can ignore the need to have an excess of three-point shooting today.

Fortunately, the Raptors got a glimpse of what their future could look like in their first round series with Milwaukee.

On opening night, the Raptors starting line-up should look like this:

PG Kyle Lowry 22.4 ppg, 7.8 3FGA, 41.2% 3FG
SG DeMar DeRozan 27.3 ppg, 1.7 3FGA, 26.6% 3FG
SF Norman Powell* 15.6 ppg, 4.1 3FGA, 39.7% 3FG
PF P.J. Tucker** 5.8 ppg, 2.5 3FGA, 40% 3FG
C Serge Ibaka** 14.2 ppg, 4.5 3FGA, 39.8% 3FG

* Powell as a starter in 18 games last season
** Tucker and Ibaka as a Raptor after the All-Star break

A three-guard lineup of Lowry, DeRozan and Powell tore thru the Bucks in the postseason and represents the direction the NBA is headed but with a toughness that fits with coach Casey’s preferred style of play.

NBA Toronto Raptors Norman Powell and Kyle Lowry

Powell will guard bigger players and was effective as a rookie guarding Paul George last year which is no small feat. It’s time to put Ujiri’s player development to the test and insert Powell into the starting rotation from day one.

NBA Toronto Raptors PJ Tucker

Tucker is just plain nasty. A combo forward who can guard either spot against anyone, just putting him into the starting rotation could be considered a culture change for the Raptors.

“The most dirty, rugged, nasty (person) you’ll ever see,” Tucker describes himself.

It looked like Ibaka had lost a step during the playoffs, but that’s only if you forget he was playing on a sore left ankle. Prior to that Ibaka was switching out onto guards and stuffing them at the three-point line. He represents a huge improvement in mobility and versatility over a traditional center like Jonas Valanciunas.

This is a starting lineup that stretches the floor and can panic defenses trying to simultaneously guard the three-point line and the paint. Even DeRozan should be expected to improve on last season’s three-point shooting over the summer. No one should be surprised if he’s hitting 33 percent or more of his open threes next year.

Who backs up these starters isn’t even close to being decided, except for some obvious things Ujiri must be considering. Cory Joseph and a group to be determined including possibly one or more not even on the roster yet.

NBA Toronto Raptors Cory Joseph

There will be battles for minutes off the bench and Ujiri could/should be looking to make moves to create opportunities for some of his young guys to develop or just to get a little closer to the luxury tax line. Bringing back Lowry, Ibaka and Tucker will put the Raptors $15-25 million into the tax unless Ujiri can shed some salary.

As much as Ujiri wants to develop his own guys, this may the time to sell high on Jonas Valanciunas and the unproven but very real possibility of him developing a three-point shot. With a salary of just $15.5 million and two years left on his deal, Valanciunas will have value on the trade market.

The temptation to keep DeMarre Carroll around will be high as his trade value is suspect. Although injuries have prevented him from showing what he can do in Toronto thus far, he remains a decent three-point shooting forward in a league where three-point shooting forwards are in demand. However, if Ujiri could move his $14.8 million in salary, it would really help lower the luxury tax bill. (Even if next year is finally the season he starts without being hindered by injury.)

Moving Valanciunas and potentially Carroll opens up minutes for last year’s rookie center Jakob Poeltl and forward?/center Lucas Nogueira.

Poeltl impressed as a rookie and seems poised to take a big step next season assuming Ujiri opens up a spot in the rotation for him. He doesn’t have any range on his shot, but he rebounds, has soft hands and good mobility for a big man. In keeping with Ujiri’s mantra of developing his own players, this is one guy that needs to play.

It probably hasn’t gone unnoticed by Ujiri or Casey, but Nogueira had a team fifth best plus/minus of +3.1 points last season. Sure he lost the few minutes that were available at center to Poeltl after the All-Star break trades, but Casey made a concerted effort to try him out at power forward and those efforts weren’t completely in vain. NBA Toronto Raptors Lucas Nogueira

Look for Nogueira to be battling it out for minutes at the four (and maybe the five). Pascal Siakam, who started 38 games at power forward for Toronto last year but has a questionable jump shot, possibly a player to be traded for, or even the Raptors draft pick (if it’s someone like UCLA’s T.J. Leaf) could be in the mix at the backup four spot.

If Carroll is traded, the Raptors could be thin at small forward. Tucker can play both forward spots, but this could quickly become a big hole. It wouldn’t be a shock if Ujiri traded for a small forward prospect as no one will be planning on Bruno Caboclo being ready to play in the NBA next season – hoping maybe, planning, not a chance.

Backup guard is potentially the most interesting spot. NBA Toronto Raptors Fred VanVleet and Cory Joseph

Cory Joseph will continue backing up Lowry and as his three-point shooting was dramatically better up until the All-Star break last season, look for Joseph to solidify his hold on the role by coming into training camp after another summer of improving his shooting.

Delon Wright looked good after coming back from injury late last season, but he has competition from a potentially better three-point shooter in Fred VanVleet. Wright has more versatility than the undersized VanVleet and showed potential guarding the wing, but Casey hasn’t shown any reluctance to playing Joseph and VanVleet together. This could be the best and most predictable battle for minutes on the roster.

The Raptors starting lineup will be good, better than last season and another 50+ win campaign will be expected, but as Ujiri has said, that isn’t the goal.

“If we are just going to be stuck in second, third, fourth every year and some years we are disappointed in the playoffs and some years we are happy – that’s not the goal,” Ujiri stated. “The goal is to win a championship.

“The way we have played hasn’t worked the past three, four years to take us to the highest level and it’s one of those things we have to figure out a way.

“I hate losing to those guys (the Cavaliers). It drives me crazy.”

To get past the Cavs, it will take more than a better starting lineup and developing young players while the Cavs boast the highest payroll in the NBA doesn’t make it any easier.

Ujiri has to find a way via trade or a big step in the play of one/some of his young guys, but it has to be consistent with what he believes in. A copycat move isn’t going to work against LeBron James in the East or the Warriors in the West.

“We are not saying we are going to change completely to the way another team plays or copy another team.”

Ujiri has to find his own blend of grit, toughness and three-point shooting. Someone(s) out of Powell, Poeltl, Nogueira, Wright, VanVleet, Caboclo, a rookie, or an undervalued trade prospect had better take a huge step forward or next year will be another year Ujiri doesn’t get past the Cavs.

Although Ujiri really didn’t say anything new during his recent media tour, (if anything the Raptors president has been consistent since day one), in case you missed it, you can listen to Ujiri on Tim and Sid here.

 

 

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 P.J. Tucker

P.J. Tucker Is The Culture Change The Raptors Need

The big money in Toronto this summer will be be going to Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka, but if the Raptors really want to win more games, the culture change they need is embodied by P.J. Tucker.

“I’ve been playing against LeBron (James) since we were nine years old,” Tucker said after the Game Four loss to the Cavaliers. “We came out of the same class, so he’s just another guy, another player, someone who plays in this league, plays every night. There is no difference. Just put on your hard hat and go to work.”

While Raptors head coach Dwane Casey suggested the Raptors were a little “wide-eyed” at what James did to them in their second round series, the same couldn’t be said of Tucker and that is the only hope any team in the East has of getting by the King in his extended prime.

“I prefer being physical to being finesse,” Tucker said. “I don’t think I have any finesse in my game at all. The most dirty, rugged, nasty (person) you’ll ever see.”

Tucker was nasty as he put up a double-double 13 points and 11 rebounds in the Raptors Game One loss to the Cavs and a 14 point 12 rebound double-double in Game Four while guarding James about as good as is possible when the King is effortlessly draining the three-ball. Casey had no one else that could even seem to bother James.

As tough as the Cavs are playing with a traditional lineup, when they go ‘small,’ the matchups become nearly impossible. The typical power forward has no chance matching the combination of speed, ball handing, court vision, shooting and size that James brings to the four spot.

“The game was different (when I was drafted,)” Tucker explained. “Everybody played with big Fours. Now everybody goes small ball and in the fourth quarter everybody goes small ball. Nobody keeps two bigs in the fourth quarter any more. Those undersized guys back then, now are – Draymond Green – everybody has those guys now.

“The game has changed to fit me more.”

Tucker was drafted as a 6’5 power forward by Toronto in 2006, but he didn’t make it to the end of his rookie season in the NBA. After five years in Europe the Suns picked up the more mature and skilled combo forward and since then the NBA game has evolved to match what the now 32-year-old is able to provide.

Toronto has what Tucker is looking for as well. At this stage of his career, Tucker knows what he needs to be successful. He is a role player who plays off of stars like Lowry, DeRozan and Ibaka.

“I think fit is everything,” Tucker said. “Once you’re a veteran, an older guy, it’s all about fit. The situation, the team, the coaches, you want the total fit, (for) everything to work out.

“Coach Casey is a defensive coach. He likes hard-nosed guys. So those things alone makes us fit. Fit with a coach is everything, especially for a veteran. That’s one of the things that is a priority going into free agency.”

As a veteran free agent, Tucker understands that he isn’t going to be the first guy contacted in July and he doesn’t want to be. Tucker wants to know the situation he is headed into. Who will be on the team and who will be coaching them.

“There are really good guys in this locker room,” Tucker said. “Guys that have fought together, been together. They have added a few pieces like Serge (Ibaka) and I think it’s on the way up. They have the core it takes to be at this level.

“I love playing with both (DeRozan and Lowry). Once you realize how to make it in this league is playing a role, being able to figure out what your role is. How you can effect the game in other ways other than scoring. Then you figure out playing roles is the way to go.

“I look to be a piece going toward something. It’s not just the money. It’s seeing where I fit and feel like I can give this team something to put them over the top. You got to let it play out.”

Tucker had a big impact on the Raptors after he was acquired at the trade deadline and his play in the postseason has cemented that impression. He can be the missing ‘3-and-D’ forward in a Raptors small ball lineup and the big small forward in more traditional five-man units.

President Masai Ujiri was calling for “culture change” after his team was swept out of the postseason by the Cavs, but really he needs to double-down on his original goal of upping the toughness quotient. Tucker’s willingness to shoot the three-ball being the other half of making toughness work in today’s NBA.

“Anytime you get someone who wants to compete, you got to respect that,” James said about Tucker after Game Four. “P.J. has been like that since we was kids. From AAU ball thru high school to Texas and being a part of this league, he has always been a guy that at the end of the day he is going to leave it all out there. As a competitor, I can always respect that.”

Culture change will come by bringing P.J. Tucker to training camp.

 

 

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

Kyle Lowry Credits Coach Casey For His Development

Kyle Lowry owes a lot to head coach Dwane Casey and the Toronto Raptors for his current run of success and elevated status in the NBA. As a pending free agent, this three-time All-Star was not headed down the path of becoming a max player before being traded to “We The North” and it almost didn’t work out.

Memphis gave up on him after two and a half seasons and got a late first round draft pick back. Houston traded him to Toronto for a future first round draft pick and the Raptors tried to send him to the Knicks when president Masai Ujiri was in the failed process of blowing up his roster during Lowry’s second season in Toronto.

Luckily for Lowry and the Raptors, the Knicks meddling owner James Dolan stepped in to squash the trade after everyone thought it was a done deal. It’s hard to imagine how things could have gone well for the young brash Lowry in the dysfunction junction that is New York.

Instead of experiencing the revolving management and coaching door Dolan has created, Lowry listened to Ujiri and Casey, put the giant chip on his shoulder down and had a career year with the Raptors, leading his team to their first playoff berth in five seasons.

“Me and coach (Casey) we’ve had our ups and downs, but it’s been great,” Lowry said after the current season ended. “Coach Casey has allowed me to become a three-time All-Star. He’s helped me. He’s allowed me to be the player I’ve become. He’s allowed me to have a voice. He’s allowed me to grow. He has allowed me a lot of things and in that sense he’s been great to me.

“Of course we are going to butt heads. I think most coaches and point guards butt heads because they want to be better. They want to push each other to be better, but he has helped me tremendously.

“He has let me be me. He has let me grow to become a leader, a better leader, a better man, a better basketball player. Coach has always been in my corner, he has always had my back. So, at the end of the day, I think our relationship has grown from here to here.”

Before his arrival in Toronto, no one, absolutely no one, envisioned Lowry ever becoming an NBA All-Star. There was a lot of anger and frustration clouding Lowry’s view of the NBA. He didn’t think coaches believed in him or supported him and from his perspective, he wasn’t wrong, but once he believed the Raptors believed in him, he changed – on the court and in the off season. He earned those All-Star nods with hard work and a new attitude. An attitude that comes from your coach believing in you.

“(Casey) allows us to make mistakes,” Lowry explained. “He allows us to have a say in anything we are doing and he doesn’t hold us back. He wants us to go out and get better. He is pushing us to come back next year better and if you prove you can do something, he’s not going to stop you doing it.

“I remember the first year I was here, I’d shoot pull-up threes and he’s like, ‘what the hell are you doing?’ But, I proved I could do it, so he’s like, ‘shoot-em every time.’

“He’s a guy that you prove you can do it, he’s going to allow you to do it. He wants you to do it.”

While after eight seasons DeMar DeRozan is the face of the franchise, this now Lowry’s team. Lowry is the leader, the go-to-guy when things get tough and in a three-point shooting happy NBA, Lowry has evolved into one of the best long range threats in the Association. He appreciates everything the team and the community has done for him over the past five years.

“The city has been amazing to me,” Lowry said. “They have supported everything I’ve done. They have always had my back. When I try to give back to the community I don’t do it for anything but to give back to the community because they supported me. I want to support the communities that supported me. This place has been nothing but supportive thru the past five years.”

His teammates are hoping the support of the management, coaches, fans and themselves has been enough to keep their All-Star point guard in Toronto next season.

 

 

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

  Featured image courtesy of Larry Millson

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors head coach Dwane Casey

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

By Frank McLean

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now the roster that’s another story.

 

 

   DeMar DeRozan & Frank McLeanVeteran journalist Frank McLean has covered nearly every Raptors game in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. He has seen it all. The good, the bad and the really bad and he is one of the very few journalists in Toronto that has kept coming back for more.

  Featured image courtesy of Larry Millson