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NBA Celtics Marcus Morris and Wizards Markieff Morris

Morris Twins Assault Trial Starts Monday

The Washington Wizards and Boston Celtics may not have long to wait to find out if and when they may have the services of Markieff and Marcus Morris this season. Jury selection is complete and their assault trial stemming from an incident a couple of years ago in Phoenix is set to start on Monday as described by Terell Wilkins and Adrian Marsh on azcentral.com.

Opening statements are scheduled to begin Monday in the aggravated assault trial of NBA players and identical twins Markieff and Marcus Morris, along with another man charged with them.

Two other defendants, Julius Kane and Christopher Melendez, chose to avoid trial and instead pleaded guilty on Wednesday to two counts of aggravated assault

The twins were playing for the Phoenix Suns at the time of the incident and the team quickly got out from under the potential issue by trading both players, so the ramifications basketball-wise now fall squarely on the two Eastern Conference teams vying for a top four seed in their conference.

Police say Erik Hood (the victim) identified the Morris twins as being part of the group that attacked him to the point of unconsciousness after hearing rumors that Hood had been sending “inappropriate” texts to their mother, Thomasine Morris.

While the facts of the case are yet to be determined in court and the Morris twins insist they were not part of the group that attacked Hood, the repercussions of a guilty verdict are serious. Nik DeCosta-Klipa on Boston.com provides a very detailed outline of the case and the potential implications for the players and their teams.

University of New Hampshire sports law professor Michael McCann noted that, under Arizona state law, the felony assault charges against Morris carry “a maximum prison sentence of 3.75 years and a presumptive sentence of 2.5 years.”

Given that Morris’s criminal history includes just one citation for misdemeanor battery, McCann says its unlikely he would receive “anywhere near the maximum sentence,” but could very well still face “some time behind bars or at least a suspended sentence, probation and required community service.”

Even a conviction not involving actual jail time is likely to elicit a response from the NBA and a suspension of 10 games or more.

Section 7 of the current NBA collective bargaining agreement mandates a minimum 10-game suspension for any player convicted of a violent felony

the commissioner has the right to punish players for lesser convictions

In the current environment, the NBA would likely feel compelled to suspend the Morris twins on admission of guilt to a misdemeanor charge or even on the settlement of a civil suit.

Hood reportedly suffered “a broken nose, a large knot on the back of his head and abrasions,” according to police records, and later identified Kane and the Morris twins as three of the five people involved in the attack.

In October 2016, Hood’s lawyers also filed a civil lawsuit against the Morris twins and the three other defendants, seeking compensatory and punitive damages.

The Morris twins are very good basketball players with important roles on their respective teams. They’ve even suggested this incident would never have gotten to trial if it weren’t for their minor celebrity status.

However, the media reports over the past couple of years do seem to confirm this isn’t a nothing incident exaggerated by an overzealous police force and piled on by the media. It’s understandable why the Suns didn’t want to have to deal with the issue.

This trial could be over before training camps open, so no one in Boston or Washington is expected to be waiting long to find out if this is a serious matter that could impact their team this season or just an annoying public relations problem.

 

 

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 and DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry

Raptors Can Set A Toronto Pro Sports Record This Season

In this month’s issue of The Potent Lifestyle Magazine, Pro Bball Report discusses the Toronto pro sports team record the Raptors can accomplish this season that not even the Toronto Maple Leafs have managed to reach in a century of action.

A relative newcomer to the Toronto sports scene via the NBA, the Raptors are entering their 23rd season. The MLB Blue Jays have been around for over 40 years and the NHL’s Maple Leafs started out as the Toronto Arenas in 1917. However, neither of these two more storied franchises have been able to achieve what the Raptors seem certain to get done this season.

The Blue Jays only managed to win over 60 percent of their games in a season once when they went 99-62 way back in 1985.

The Maple Leafs had back-to-back seasons winning over 60 percent  in 1933-34 and 1934-35, did it again in 1946-47 and 1947-48, and again in 1960-61 and 1961-62.

The Raptors have a chance for 50-plus wins/ a winning percentage over 60/ in back-to-back-to back seasons this year to hold a record not even Leafs have been to achieve in five-times as long.

continued……..

The Potent is a subscription based monthly magazine.

 

Stephen Brotherston at MoVernie StudioStephen Brotherston is the editor of ProBballReport.com and has covered the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams since 2009. His articles have previously appeared in USAToday.com, Foxsports.com, Hoopsworld.com, Yardbarker and Bleacher Report and he has been interviewed on ESPN Radio, Fox Radio, NBA TV Canada, Canada.com and independent basketball podcasts.

 

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors head coach Dwane Casey

Is Dwane Casey Coaching For His Job This Season?

Coaches are hired to be fired, so as the fourth longest tenured head coach in the NBA with six years under his belt in Toronto, is Dwane Casey coaching for his job this season?

Basketball Insiders editor Steve Kyler seems to think so even if the lack of recent advancement in the postseason is pretty hard to blame on Casey.

Unexpectedly, the Raptors won and became one of the up and comers in the East, keeping Casey on the bench.

Casey has done a remarkable job, especially when you consider how many drafted players have not panned out in Toronto, as well as some of the questionable free agent moves the club has made.

Since president Masai Ujiri’s arrival the Raptors have enjoyed a level of success previously unseen in franchise history and that’s despite the numerous stumbles along the way as Ujiri has tried to improve the roster within the financial restrictions imposed by his profit conscious ownership.

However, keeping Casey around and extending his contract for three more years in the summer of 2016 hasn’t been one of those stumbles.

The only team to actually stop the Raptors in the last two postseasons has been a Cavaliers squad with the highest payroll in the NBA and, well, LeBron James.

Casey had led his team to more victories than in the previous season for five straight years, only slipping back to 51 wins last year after setting a new franchise record for wins in a season with 56 in 2015-16 and an Eastern Conference Finals appearance. A slip, however, that should have been anticipated with the roster Ujiri handed to Casey last summer.

The Raptors fortunes turned around on one easily identified impact trade when Ujiri sent Rudy Gay, Quincy Acy and Aaron Gray to the Kings for Chuck Hayes, Patrick Patterson, John Salmons and Greivis Vasquez on December 9, 2013.

However, Ujiri’s best moves since then have involved other trades and re-signing his own free agents. The draft and free agent acquisitions from other teams haven’t exactly been helping out his head coach.

Ujiri is adamant about developing “his own” young talent and without a draft pick in 2013, the youth movement started in earnest the next summer and, hopefully, mercifully, has finally peaked this year.

2014

Bruno Caboclo was drafted 20th overall as an 18-year-old project player in 2014 and has yet to play a meaningful minute in the NBA.

“I want to almost blame myself for bringing him too soon to our team,” Ujiri said about Caboclo.  “It’s almost like he’s gone thru college on our team.”

Ujiri traded for the draft rights to the 2013 16th overall draft pick Lucas Nogueira and also acquired the veteran Lou Williams for John Salmons, a solid trade by any measure.

However, Nogueira played his first meaningful NBA minutes last season and then lost his spot in the rotation to rookie Jakob Poeltl.

Lou Williams was the sixth man of the year, but he was a square peg in a round hole, costing the Raptors badly on defense. He didn’t fit and was allowed to escape in free agency that summer without even a phone call.

2015

Ujiri signs DeMarre Carroll to a four-year $60 million contract, but the “3-and-D” forward is rehabbing or hurt for nearly his entire stay in Toronto and Ujiri had to pay the Nets with draft picks to take him this summer.

With the 20th pick Ujiri selects Delon Wright, but the young point guard has only played in 27 games in each of his first two seasons. He looks very promising and is destined for a bigger role this season, but as of yet hasn’t been any significant help to the Raptors.

Ujiri traded Vasquez for second round pick Norman Powell and a 2017 first round pick (OG Anunoby). Powell has been an impact player in both postseasons and could be Ujiri’s best draft pick while in Toronto.

Ujiri signs former first overall pick Anthony Bennett. He appeared in 23 games before being cut.

2016

In 2016 the youth movement is in full effect with Ujiri adding three rookies to Wright, Powell, Caboclo and Nogueira. That made seven players on his roster and only one Casey could have any confidence in heading into the season (Powell).

Ujiri drafted center Jakob Poeltl ninth overall who was accurately described as the player least likely to be a bust in the draft. Poeltl will be an effective NBA rotation player maybe as soon as this year or next.

Forward Pascal Siakam was drafted 27th overall and pressed into the starting lineup because of an injury and an obvious lack of depth on the roster. The 38 starts were good for Siakam, but it was the equivalent of asking Casey to coach with one hand tied behind his back.

Ujiri then added undrafted rookie Fred VanVleet as his fourth point guard. VanVleet shows promise and might be good enough to take on a backup role as soon as this season, but last year it meant Casey didn’t have enough forward depth.

The plan at forward was free agent Jared Sullinger, but the big man broke his foot in preseason, later admitted being fat cost him the season and the Raptors dealt him at the trade deadline. Can’t blame Ujiri for an unanticipated injury, but that didn’t help his coach.

2017

When Pro Bball Report asked Ujiri prior to the 2017 draft how many young players he could have on his roster for next season, he answered “17” and from what he’s done, that wasn’t too far off.

All seven players on rookie deals are back from last season. Lorenzo Brown and Malcolm Miller have been added on the new two-way contracts. Invited to training camp are Alfonzo McKinnie, Kennedy Meeks, Kyle Wiltjer and K.J. McDaniels to fight over two open roster spots.

Ujiri drafted injured forward OG Anunoby 23rd overall and the hope is he’ll be ready for training camp, but there’s no guarantee he’ll even play this season.

Ujiri could have 10 players on rookie contracts and only five players with at least five years experience on his roster for this season.

“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.

He should have said, ‘that’s just the way I’ve built this team.’

In every way Ujiri has upped the level of difficulty for Casey to win more games than last year and advance further in the postseason. Guys like Powell, Wright, Nogueira, Poeltl, Siakam and even VanVleet had better be ready to step up or it could be a tough year for their head coach.

This happened despite the annual promise of being willing to spend to win. However, that’s never actually happened in Toronto, so no one should be holding their breath expecting the Raptors ownership to actually risk a penny of their massive and growing profits. (The Raptors ownership group just signed a new building naming rights deal that pays them a record $40 million per season.)

“I don’t have to build a team the way Cleveland is built,” Ujiri pointedly told Pro Bball Report. “We don’t have to do that.”

Casey is under contract for this season and next, so it’s unlikely Ujiri would make any coaching moves during the season no matter what happens. As Kyler points out,

It’s highly unlikely the Raptors make a coaching change in-season, but with how much the Raptors have locked themselves into this current roster, Casey is the only thing they could really change if they can’t get the job done this season.

While Ujiri says the goal is to beat the Cavs and thinking about it keeps him up at night, he hasn’t exactly provided Casey with any veteran depth in case of injury or attempted to use his “excess” salary (Carroll) to try to package with those draft picks he gave away to acquire an impact player or even just someone proven/useful now.

This summer was all about getting below the luxury tax threshold and adding young cheap talent that might be useful in the future.

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

“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.”

The key words from Ujiri were “try” and “maybe” as the Cavs are the overwhelming favorites again this season and advancing past them shouldn’t be how Casey will be judged this year.

If his main guys – Lowry, DeRozan, Miles, Ibaka and Valanciunas – stay relatively injury free and the young guys – Wright, Powell, VanVleet, Nogueira, Poeltl, Siakam as a group continue to show progress – it’s fair to expect another 50-win season. It’s fair to expect a return to the second round of the playoffs with anything beyond that depending on favorable matchups.

However, Kyler is right that the four-time Eastern Conference Coach of the Month Dwane Casey could be on the way out after this season if he isn’t seen as getting ‘the job done.’ Coaches are, after all, always coaching for their job.

Getting the job done as Ujiri has built this team, however, is merely keeping the veterans on board with your program and seeing the young players develop. Ujiri hasn’t given Casey the tools to expect more than that – yet.

 

 

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

Quiet Raptors Superstar DeMar DeRozan Talks About Next Season

There has been a lot of reluctance to label the Toronto Raptors three-time All-Star DeMar DeRozan as a superstar in the NBA, but on ESPN in Los Angeles there is no such hesitation, they’d love to have the Compton Kid playing for the Lakers or even the Clippers.

As the second leading scorer in the Eastern Conference for the past two years in a row and the fifth leading scorer overall in the NBA last season, DeRozan doesn’t always get the recognition he deserves.

The always perceived as serious and often quiet DeRozan talks about his career, his goals, playing in Canada, expectations for the Raptors and his charity work in the following interview.

 

Those who have followed DeRozan’s career, particularly at his free agent decision points, know he almost made fun of any media speculating he wanted to leave Toronto. He’s made a point about how special it is to play for a single team, find himself a place in a franchise’s record books and help take a team from the lottery to respectability and hopefully beyond.

“I played the cards I was dealt,” DeRozan said about his path to the NBA. “It worked out perfect for me. I played college here (at USC) for a year and now been in Canada ever since.

“It’s great for me to be able to come back home. Go to Canada. Represent both sides of the fence in two different countries.

“It’s great to have this opportunity to carry a franchise and just show’em I come back every year better.”

DeRozan acknowledges he doesn’t always get the respect his personal and team success should provide and without saying it, likely would provide in a major US market. But, he puts everything back on himself. It’s up to him to come back better every year and let his game speak for itself.

“At times,” DeRozan said about noticing the lack of respect for his game. “But every time I step on that court I am going to leave a reminder why I have the success that I have.

“It’s never been out loud. I’ve never been the one for fame and attention. I go out there and do my job the best way that I can and every season try to come back better and let that speak for itself.”

His personal goal is simple. Learn from last year and come back better next year. It shows in his increased scoring, improved field goal percentage, increased free throw attempts, his rebounding and his assists. He’s not been an All-Star in three of the past four seasons by accident.

“Continue to get better, continue to win, continue to grow as a player, as a leader, keep pushing the envelope. Understand my flaws from the year previously and come back better this year.”

The Raptors have been good the last two seasons. Historically good by their own standards. 56 wins two seasons ago, second place and a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals where they took two games from the eventual NBA champion Cavaliers before bowing out.

Last year started on a 56-win pace until the halfway point and the season was slightly derailed by injuries to DeRozan and Kyle Lowry that lowered the win total to 51 and third place. They ended the year losing to the Cavs again, but this time in the conference semi-finals, swept away in four straight after Lowry was injured and unavailable to play in the team’s final two home games.

However, DeRozan believes his team was just one player away from advancing during the past two seasons.

“It’s hard to say (what we needed),” DeRozan said. “Last couple of years we felt we were a piece a way. Whatever that piece may be.

“We are still trying to figure it out. Going into this season we added and subtracted some things. So we are going to see.

“As long as we stay healthy, anything is possible.”

Every season starts with a fresh clean slate and the quiet DeRozan will be looking to leave his mark yet again on the court where his game will continue to speak for itself.

 

  

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 Golden State Warriors Kevin Durant

Durant Explains Why DeRozan Is The NBA’s Best ISO Player

The Toronto Raptors take a lot of flak locally for their isolation style of play even though they have one of the NBA’s best and most efficient iso scorers in DeMar DeRozan. However, the league’s active leading scorer Kevin Durant recognizes what the Raptors have in the Eastern Conference’s second best points producer and he would like to add some of DeRozan’s moves to his game.

“DeMar DeRozan’s probably got the best footwork I’ve seen in a long, long time,” Durant said on the Bill Simmons Podcast ‘Kevin Durant IV Ask Kevin Anything, Part 2 (Ep. 252)’ at the 38.21 mark.

“I’ve been trying to watch him to see how he does it. He’s just way more athletic than I am first of all, so his body can move a little different, but his pace is amazing. He’s a guy I’ve been studying lately just because of his footwork. Every time I see him I’m just looking at how his body, his footwork. I think that’s where I can get better.”

NBA L.A. Lakers Luol Deng

DeRozan by no means has a strangle hold on the league’s lead for the most frequent use of the iso play and the Raptors aren’t the league leaders in this area either. That honor belongs to the Cleveland Cavaliers who run iso plays almost 12 percent of the time versus 8.5 percent in Toronto and the Cavs scored over 300 more points than the Raptors off those plays last year.

The Cavaliers had two of the top five iso players in the NBA in LeBron James (5.1 possessions, 20.3 percent frequency) and Kyrie Irving (5.1 possessions, 21.4 percent frequency per stats.NBA.com). DeRozan checks in at 4.6 possessions and 17.1 percent frequency. The next Raptor on this list, Kyle Lowry, is way down at 2.3 iso possessions per game.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that James Harden, Russell Westbrook and Carmelo Anthony had the most iso possessions per game last year.

What may come as a surprise is that of the 15 NBA players with the most iso possessions per game only Irving, DeRozan and Damian Lillard scored over a point per iso possession and only DeRozan had a score frequency over 50 percent.

The reason the Raptors use DeRozan in iso plays as often as they do is because it works and it works because, as Durant volunteered, “DeMar DeRozan’s probably got the best footwork I’ve seen in a long, 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.

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

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Bruno Caboclo

Raptors Bruno Caboclo Frustration Boils Over With Brazil

It shouldn’t have even come as a surprise that the Toronto Raptors Bruno Caboclo let his frustration boil over with Brazil this summer. National Team head coaches are famous for acting more like they are running a US college team of 30 years ago than a group of professionals and Caboclo brought a lot of insecurity and baggage with him.

As Fábio Balassiano writes in uol (translated),

I do not know if there could be a more bizarre / sad / tragic / catastrophic night for Brazilian basketball like this one on August 26, 2017 in Medellin.

To make matters worse, the mood (heated) up between Bruno Caboclo and the national coaching staff.

the Toronto Raptors’ wing was called to return to the court in the second period, but declined. In the interval, he was dismissed for discipline by the Manager Renato Lamas.

The real reasons behind Caboclo’s insubordination during the game against Mexico may never fully come to light, but they should have been headed off by the coaching staff as something was obviously going very wrong in the relationship as described by Colin Foster of basquete 360 (translated),

On the bench, he had an expression of extreme dissatisfaction. In the warm-up, he went to the other half of the court while the whole group hit the ball on one side. He stayed alone until the team work was mandatory.

The Toronto Raptors had drafted Caboclo as a project player most famously described as being two years away from being two years away and his first NBA season was an unmitigated disaster.

The next year in the inaugural season with the NBA D-League Raptors 905 things got better and last year he finally started to show some consistency in the NBA D-League championship run by the 905. However, each season saw him feeling less and less like he was a part of the big club.

Raptors president Masai Ujiri described Caboclo’s first three NBA season as, “almost like he’s gone thru college on our team.”

Caboclo said no one on the Raptors was mentoring him and, “the 905 is like everybody is family.”

Last season in Toronto Caboclo knew where he stood and it was obvious from talking to him that his ego was fragile. It wasn’t going to take a lot to shatter his confidence or make him feel like an outsider this summer.

Great job Lamas, you succeeded in setting Caboclo back yet again.

Caboclo was then informed that he would no longer be part of the group, was away indefinitely and that he would return from Medellín on the first possible flight this Sunday.

After the game Caboclo apologized for his actions on his instagram account.

 

" Eu Quero me desculpar com a Confederação Brasileira de Basquete pela minha conduta durante o jogo da noite passada. Respeito meus treinadores e colegas, e deixei que minhas emoções entrassem no caminho dos objetivos da nossa equipe. É uma honra representar o país que amo e humildemente aceito as consequências para as minhas ações. Estou crescendo como um profissional a cada dia e me esforçando para tornar os meus fãs, companheiros de equipe, país e família orgulhosos ". • • • • • • • "I want to apologize to the Brazilian Basketball Federation for my conduct during last night’s game. I respect my coaches/teammates and disappointed that my emotions got in the way of our team’s goals. It’s an honor to represent the country I love and will humbly accept the consequences for my actions. I am growing as a professional each day and striving to make my fans, teammates, country and family proud."

A post shared by Bruno Caboclo (@brunofive) on

 

“I want to apologize to the Brazilian Basketball Federation for my conduct during last night’s game. I respect my coaches/teammates and disappointed that my emotions got in the way of our team’s goals. It’s an honor to represent the country I love and will humbly accept the consequences for my actions. I am growing as a professional each day and striving to make my fans, teammates, country and family proud.”

As Balassiano says about the Brazil’s National Team,

The guilt is far from being only of (the manager), but I confess that I expected more of a team that appears apathetic, disorganized and totally without an idea of what to do with the ball

Once again Caboclo has been tossed into a situation he wasn’t ready for, little was done to accommodate his inexperience and immaturity and he’ll likely take the brunt of the blame for his meltdown. He wasn’t ready for this situation and Brazil’s coaches obviously weren’t ready for this summer either.

If he wasn’t making so much money from the Raptors, it’d be hard not to feel sorry for the kid.

 

 

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

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Kyle Lowry, 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.