Category Archives: Raptors Columns

In-depth stories about the Toronto Raptors and their players, coaches, management and outlook

You are here: Home / Raptors Columns
NBA Toronto Raptors Jonas Valanciunas and DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry

Raptors Move To Number One In NBA Power Rankings

It isn’t easy for We The North to get much recognition south of the border, but after completing the season series sweep over the Western Conference’s first place Houston Rockets on Friday night, the Toronto Raptors are getting some much deserved praise.

In John Schuhmann’s Week 22 Power Rankings on the Raptors rose two places to head the list at number one.

The Raptors got a signature win on Friday, outscoring the Rockets, 45-27 from 3-point range, with their defensive scheme keeping Houston’s threes in check and with Kyle Lowry making seven of his nine attempts from beyond the arc.

This season, both in Cleveland and in Toronto, feels much different. But we’ll just have to wait until April or May before this drama unfolds. For now, the Raptors are No. 1 and the Cavs most definitely are not.

Over at Sports Illustrated ,  Rohan Nadkarni also bumped the Raptors from the third spot to first overall.

Week 22 of the NBA season is here, and we’re seeing a shake-up at the top of the Power Rankings.

The Rockets have been bumped from the top spot after Toronto ended their 17-game win streak.

The Raptors have won eight in a row and nine of their last 10. It’s not too late for Drake to re-make the “God’s Plan” video and add one scene of DeMar DeRozan holding up the Larry O’Brien Trophy.

Over at, the CARM-ELO ranking system still has the Rockets first with the Raptors a close second. Both teams are given a 60 percent chance at representing their respective conferences in the NBA Finals.

ESPN Power Rankings have left the Raptors in third place behind the Rockets and Warriors choosing to ignore the recent losses by those teams and the Raptors NBA best 15-1 record since February 2nd. Occasionally it feels necessary to remind ESPN that the NBA has a team in Canada.

Despite seeing their 17-game winning streak come to an end against the Toronto Raptors, the Houston Rockets are in no danger of losing their No. 1 position in the NBA Power Rankings. And even after back-to-back losses without Stephen Curry, the Golden State Warriors still call their familiar No. 2 spot home for now.

While the Rockets were winning 17 in a row, the Raptors, almost unnoticed,  were almost as unbeatable and with the streak stopper against the Western Conference leader on Friday night, Toronto earned the top spot in the NBA and SI Power Rankings.



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 coach Dwane Casey

It’s Over: Dwane Casey Is Your NBA Coach Of The Year

As the seemingly hoped for collapse by the Raptors never materialized, recognition of what head coach Dwane Casey has been able to accomplish in Toronto this season was becoming just to hard to ignore. The pundits had already started to recognize Casey as Coach of the Year worthy and after his team completed the sweep of the NBA’s first overall Houston Rockets on Friday night, it’s over. Just give the man his award.

A couple of days prior to the big win over the Rockets, the NBA Writers Blogtable had unanimously picked Casey as their number one choice for Coach of the Year.

Steve Aschburner:  Casey has helped to reinvent the Raptors after another disappointing playoff exit last spring

Tas Melas:  Casey got multiple-time All-Stars to buy in to a new style of play. I thought it was unthinkable. That’s real coaching right there, and the bench’s success just puts it over the top.

Shaun Powell:  My choice by a large margin is Dwane Casey of the Toronto Raptors. I love how he has adapted and evolved his system to fit the needs of his players, and how the bench has developed.

John Schuhmann:  The Toronto Raptors are the only team that ranks in the top five in both offensive and defensive efficiency. They’ve changed their offense, have actually been more improved on defense.

Sekou Smith:  It’s not often you see a coach with his seasoning and stature scrap what’s been working and completely revamp his offense. Casey has always been a defensive mastermind, but to do what he’s done on the other side of the floor has been simply tremendous

On court success alone often isn’t enough to for an NBA head coach to get noticed. Every team and every coach comes into the season with certain expectations and the expectations for the Raptors upcoming season weren’t all that good.

ESPN’s Kevin Pelton was forecasting the Raptors as 43-44 win team early in August.

ESPN’s Summer Forecast and  Bleacher Report pegged the Raptors at 47 wins.

Using its CARM-ELO system, evaluated Toronto as a slightly better than average team prior to the start of the season.

After back-to-back 50+ win seasons, even the positive predictions had the Raptors taking a step back this year and reasons weren’t all that hard to understand. Ujiri had shipped off veterans DeMarre Carroll and Cory Joseph.  Key rotation cogs P.J. Tucker and Patrick Patterson were lost to free agency and the only veteran addition was journeyman three-point specialist C.J. Miles.

President Masai Ujiri made it clear he was going to see what his young players and rookies could do and to be fair, no one knew in advance how this would turn out. Casey was going to be under the gun to get a team of two All-Stars, three veterans and a host of unproven players still on their rookie deals playing together and, by the way, change how the team had played in those previous 50+ win seasons.

Casey didn’t just succeed. He blew the doors off of everyone’s preseason expectations.

After 65 games, the Eastern Conference’s first-place Toronto Raptors (48-17) have a 2.5 game lead over Boston and a 10 game advantage over the clinging to third place Cavaliers. projects them to win 61 games. They are beating teams by an NBA second best points differential of +8.6 and that young bench has the best Net Rating in the league (as a five-man unit). Only the Western Conference’s Rockets and Warriors have more wins (51).

Their style of play really has changed dramatically from the prior year. This season the Raptors are hoisting an NBA third most three-point shots (32.9) and are top 10 in assists (23.8) compared to last year when they were bottom 10 in three-point attempts at 24.3 and dead last in assists (18.5).

The changes were made in response to Ujiri’s frustration with not being able to get by the Cavs in the postseason. The Raptors two All-Stars had proven they could carry this team in the regular season, so the buy-in by Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan was going to be as critical to Casey’s ability to make the changes needed as his ability to accelerate the development of his young players.

Give credit where credit is due. Casey has succeeded on both fronts.

Coach of the Year is a regular season award, so that handful of stubborn Raptors’ doubters should have nothing to say. What Casey has been able to accomplish this season is in a word amazing and there should be no argument from anyone on that front.

(Yes the season isn’t over yet, but as far as Coach of the Year goes, this one’s in the bag.)



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

Raptors Clutch DeMar DeRozan Looking Like An MVP

The Toronto Raptors had to dig themselves out of a deep first half hole in order to come back to defeat the Pistons in Detroit in an overtime thriller on Wednesday night and it was DeMar DeRozan looking like an MVP who came thru in the clutch at the end of regulation and overtime.

“It was a big play,” teammate Kyle Lowry said postgame about DeRozan’s coast-to-coast drive for a dunk and-one with 4.6 seconds left in regulation. “For him to do that in that situation is just MVPish.”

From the ESPN broadcast: “What a finish. That’s what an All-Star looks like folks.”

It was all DeRozan in the OT boxscore as well as he assisted on on a Pascal Siakam layup and made an 18′ jumpshot and-one as Reggie Bullock fouled him. Then in the dying seconds of a tied game DeRozan drives the length of the court again and with four Pistons collapsing on him at the rim he passes to a wide-open Fred VanVleet who hits the long corner two for the win.

DeRozan scored 42 points on the night for his fourth 40+ point game of the season.

With the win the 47-17 Raptors become the first team in the NBA to clinch a playoff berth this season and return home to face the Western Conference’s first place Houston Rockets on Friday night who are on a 17-game winning streak. Both teams are a conference best 31-8 versus teams in their own conference.

In November Toronto defeated the Rockets in Houston 129-113. DeRozan leading the the Raptors with 27 points while shooting 7-15 from the field and going 13-16 from the charity stripe. James Harden led all-scorers with 38 points on a rough shooting night (8-25) that he made up for by going 19-19 from the free throw line.

DeRozan, leading Toronto to first place in the East, has looked like an MVP in Toronto this season. Harden, however, has led his team to first in the West (51-13), leads the NBA in scoring at 30.9 points per game and has an NBA best four 50+ point games including an NBA season high 60 point night.

Rockets at Raptors on Friday night could be an NBA Finals preview.



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 DeMar DeRozan

NBA Refs Really Do Screw Over The Raptors More Than Other Contenders

You can thank the NBA’s Two Minute Reports for confirming what Toronto Raptors fans have known about for years. NBA refs really do screw over the boys from the North more.

Chris Herring of FiveThirtyEight has run the numbers and the Raptors have been victimized by the referees 18 times in the last two minutes with the score within three points this season and that doesn’t count things like Jonas Valanciunas getting hit in the face on that game tying dunk on the Bucks that was later called incidental contact.

Of the teams in contention this season: Toronto (18 blown calls), Boston (17), Golden State (11), Houston (8) and (cough-cough) Cleveland (11), the Raptors are number one at getting screwed by the refs with the game on the line. The only solace might be the Celtics aren’t treated that much better, but being lumped in with the also-rans at the top of the disrespect chart isn’t anything to be happy about.

Apparently there is some justification to DeMar DeRozan’s frustration at not getting calls. He’s number five on the list identifying players who the referees choose to ignore when they’ve been fouled in crunch time.

Yes Toronto isn’t on the top of the bad calls list. That honor deservedly goes to Spencer Dinwiddie and the Nets, but that’s historically consistent. Really bad teams don’t get calls.

However, the Raptors (and even the Celtics) are the best in the East and in third and fourth overall respectively in the league. They deserve better and the four-time All-Star DeRozan shouldn’t have to be among the league leaders in getting no respect from the referees.



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 Fred VanVleet and Pascal Siakam and Jakob Poeltl

Casey Says Raptors Will Bet On Their Bench In The Playoffs

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Toronto Raptors head coach Dwane Casey plans to bet on his bench in the playoffs this year. When asked if he could play his 10-11 man deep rotations the same way in the postseason, Casey stumbled over a why wouldn’t I?

“We are going to find out,” Casey said after his bench beat up on the Wizards in Washington on Friday night. “The goal is to find out. Why not? What’s our record right now?

“Why change because of some rule book somewhere, if you find it, please send it to me cause I’ve been on some teams where you keep the same rotation.”

The Toronto bench hasn’t just been good this season. They’ve been outstanding and the eye test says they’ve been getting better as the season has moved along. But don’t just trust your eyes, the numbers confirm the five-man bench Casey rotates in is the best five-man unit in the entire NBA that have played at least 100 minutes together this season. In 207 minutes over 22 games, C.J. Miles, Jakob Poeltl, Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet and Delon Wright have a top three offensive rating of 121, a top six defensive rating of 94.7 and a league best net rating of +26.3.

Now no one is going to confuse the Raptors bench unit with the offensive powerhouses in Golden State or Houston that lead the NBA in offensive ratings, but on most nights they are destroying their opponent’s second unit and are often giving the opposing starters brought in to stop the bleeding a rough time.

As Casey rotates in his bench mob, the pace of play picks up, the ball moves faster and opponents often struggle to adjust. As a result, the Raptors dominate the second and fourth quarters.

Toronto is the league’s best second quarter team with a net rating of +14. The next best second quarter team in the East is Charlotte at +4.5.

Toronto also has the best fourth quarter net at rating +8.7. The Celtics are second best at +7.3.

In February, these second unit guys were closing games out for the Raptors.



“We take a lot of pride in coming in off the bench and changing games,” C.J. Miles said.

The Raptors starting unit that has featured rookie OG Anunoby 44 times hasn’t exactly been terrible as they’ve posted a very respectable +12.1 net rating, but the bench can take at least some of the credit for the starters success as they’ve often been the guys to put their opponent on its heels.

Anyone who has followed the Raptors under Casey and president Masai Ujiri shouldn’t be surprised by a commitment to the young guys coming off the bench or a rookie in the starting unit. Player development has been front and center in each of the Raptors playoff runs under their management. The difference this time is, this bench looks like they’re ready to make an impact.



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

Raptors Drive For 60 Wins

Sitting atop of the NBA’s Eastern Conference after 60 games is a place the Toronto Raptors aren’t familiar with, but at 43-17 they have 2 fewer losses than second place Boston (44-19) while the preseason favorite Cavs (36-25) have slid to 7.5 games back and are at a real risk of slipping out of the top four. Toronto only has to close out the season going 17-5 for 60 wins, so it’s there for the taking if the Raptors want it.

For the first time in franchise history the Raptors should be favorites to represent the East in the NBA Finals based on their dominating 27-8 conference record versus the Celtics 28-13 or the Cavs 26-14 and ESPN Basketball Power Index continues to reflect Toronto’s position by giving them a 24 percent chance at an NBA Title versus 4.2 percent for Boston and a 0.2 percent chance for Cleveland.

But games and playoff series aren’t played in mathematical models and it’s the stretch drive to the playoffs that will provide the best information about how these Toronto Raptors may fare after the regular season ends.

Of the 22 games remaining, Toronto plays 13 teams who are no better than eighth in their conference. Facing Detroit, Brooklyn and Orlando twice more each should help run up the Raptors Eastern Conference best points differential.

There will be interesting contests against Washington, OKC and Indiana (2x), but it’s the March 9th date at the Air Canada Centre against the Western Conference leading Houston Rockets that should be the most watched game of the season to this point (ESPN where are you?) Way back in November the Raptors won 129-113 in Houston.

However, the best indicators of just how effective this Toronto team could be in the playoffs comes with two games at The Q in Cleveland on March 21st and April 3rd. Then two games against the Celtics starting March 31st in Boston and back home on April 4th.

Toronto beat the Cavs 133-99 in January, but realize things might be different next time. Boston won 95-94 at home when DeMar DeRozan missed two potential go-ahead shots in the final 19 seconds in November. Three weeks ago Toronto got their revenge with a 111-91 pasting of the Celtics at the ACC.

It’s likely these four remaining games will determine if Toronto ends the season in first place or slips to second in the playoff seeding, but if the drive for 60 wins comes true, there is likely nothing that can stop the Raptors from claiming top spot in the East this year.

While is should be expected head coach Dwane Casey will put zero emphasis on reaching the 60 win mark, it is a point of pride for any NBA team and their fan base base, especially the first 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 Dwane Casey

Casey And The Raptors Slowly Gaining Respect

For some fans and “experts” being the winningest coach in Raptors history and the only coach to ever lead Toronto to the Eastern Conference Finals isn’t enough to acknowledge the team with the best record in the East with only 25 games left this season should be considered the best team in the East, but slowly, grudgingly, this team and head coach Dwane Casey are gaining respect. And they deserve it.

As of the All-Star break ESPN’s FiveThirtyEight calculates that the Raptors are the only team in the East with a puncher’s chance (20%) at winning the NBA Championship and have a better than 50 percent chance of getting there.


ESPN’s NBA BPI Playoff Odds gives the Raptors an Eastern Conference best chance at a championship (26%). The Celtics are at dismal 3.6 percent and the Cavs at just 0.3 percent. Although the Cavs have started to reverse their downward slide with a trade deadline roster re-make.

These days the Raptors head coach is getting regular high praise from the opposition’s game callers as Toronto at 41-16 has built a two-game lead over the Boston Celtics and a 6.5 game bulge over the Cavs, but this wasn’t the way the “experts” thought this season would go. The preseason prognosticators had the Raptors as low as sixth place in the East and now Jeff Zillgitt of USA TODAY Sports  has Casey on his short list for Coach Of The Year.

This season, he is among the small group of coach of the year candidates. It’s not just because of the Raptors’ record

Casey changed the way the Raptors play.

Casey implemented offensive changes. They shoot more three-pointers and run fewer predetermined sets, making them less predictable.

Defensively, they switch more, a sign of versatility on a deep roster.

Ujiri took a chance with this season’s roster. With a mantra of let the young guys play, he handed Casey a roster with few veterans, but lots of rookies and unproven players still on their rookie deals, and told him to see what he’s got. Apparently this was the right call and Casey deserves a lot of the credit for making it work.

“One of the hardest things to do in any sport is win and develop at the same time,” Casey said. “Our guys have worked hard and gotten better.”

But Casey is making it work. DeRozan is turning in an MVP-caliber season, and Lowry is an All-Star for the fourth consecutive season.

Rookie forward OG Anunoby, who is in the starting lineup, center Jacob Poeltl, forward Pascal Siakam, guard Fred VanVleet – all in their second seasons – and third-year guards Norman Powell and Delon Wright form a promising and productive youth movement.

Casey didn’t need to say it – again, as he says it every year he’s been in Toronto, but….

“We’re still not a finished product”

If coach Casey can lead this young roster to a first place finish in the East, he deserves to win Coach of the Year.

As Rob Mahoney says in Sports Illustrated,

None of this would be possible without Casey, whose seven years of equity in Toronto allowed for the Raptors to change shape. The NBA has seen its share of smart, well-intentioned coaches promise their team a more modern style. But there is always some star to cater to, some veteran to indulge. What made Toronto’s conceptual exercise into reality was the trust that Casey and his staff had built.

Continuity is often an undervalued asset in the NBA where coaches are seen to be hired to be fired, but it’s been the All-Stars DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry’s trust in Casey and Ujiri’s willingness to give young players a chance to show what they got and his head coach a chance to show he can grow with his roster that has created this year’s version of the Raptors.

Casey’s success this season was finally thrust into the spotlight when he was announced as a head coach at the NBA All-Star Game, an honor reserved for the first place team in each conference (subject to certain restrictions). It wasn’t enough that he is coaching a Raptors team that set a franchise record for wins at the halfway point in the season and has real chance at surpassing the team’s previous best of 56 wins from two seasons ago. It took an All-Star appearance to get noticed.

This core has never been better. This franchise has never been better. For that, the Raptors can thank Casey, their third representative at this weekend’s All-Star festivities.

Maybe those talking heads on the ESPN and Fox talk shows should stop drooling over LeBron James in the hopes of yet another Cavs/Dubs Finals re-match and acknowledge there are other teams making noise in the NBA this season.



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




NBA Toronto Raptors Bruno Caboclo

Raptors Finally Ended The Bruno Caboclo Experiment

By Frank McLean

For Raptors President Masai Ujiri it was time to pull the plug on the experiment that was Bruno Caboclo. It was something where the team finally realized it wasn’t going to work for him in Toronto four years after they took him 20th overall in the draft out of Brazil.

Ujiri was doing some outside the box thinking. He saw a kid with raw basketball skills and at the time the Raptors were not even close to being a contender so he saw someone he thought they could make into an NBA player.

If you remember, this pick by the Raptors was so off the board that during their draft night telecast ESPN college basketball analyst Fran Fraschilla said he was “two years away from being two years away.”

But Toronto liked this kid so much they hid him from the other 29 NBA teams so they wouldn’t work him out knowing when they got him he needed a lot of grooming.

Unfortunately, during his first year in Toronto they did not have the Raptors 905 in Mississauga so they sent him to the Fort Wayne Mad Ants of what was then the D-League, but they were independently owned and he sat on the bench and missed an entire year where his development was stagnant.

The only benefit of this first year fiasco with Caboclo was Ujiri convinced the Board of Directors of MLSE to pony up the money for their own G-League franchise, and as they say the rest is history.

Immediately after trading Caboclo to the Sacramento Kings for 22 year old guard Malachi Richardson at the trade deadline, Ujiri did not make himself available to the media, but the next day he talked about what was the thought process about the move.

“It was difficult for us because I thought it was just time. We tried to, we started the process a little late, which is something we failed at but I think we will learn from.

“At some point, I think there needed to be some separation where he goes and learns something different somewhere else. On that part right he is a real talented kid.”

Ujiri did confirm that because of Caboclo they hurried the process of starting up the 905 team.

“But in the process we got the D-League team a couple of years later and it’s a question from me whether he should have stayed over. There were little things Bruno needs to deal with that I think he’ll get better at.

“But at the end of the day, I thought this was better because for where we are with our young guys and for where he is to come and try and break through, it would have been like a challenge for him.”

With that last quote Ujiri was being very politically correct. If you read between the lines he is saying that he is just not good enough to beat out anybody on the current Raptors roster. And if you have watched their last four games where the starters have not played the fourth quarter because the leads are so big the bench is good enough to not blow a lead, so who is Caboclo going to beat out  to get playing time? This is a luxury the team has never had in its history.

So where does Caboclo’s career go now? Well there is no answer to that question right now.

When he did get into an NBA game with the Raptors, which was rare, he looked lost and just couldn’t keep up. When he would dress in a G-League game for the Raptors 905 he looked more at home, but consistency was his problem. He would have one amazingly good game and then have three bad ones for a player on an NBA contract.

So it looks like it could be back to the G-League, maybe Europe or even a return to Brazil for Caboclo in the future.

Should Ujiri be condemned for the Caboclo draft pick? No. Not every move a GM or President makes in professional sports works.

Caboclo is a great kid. Very polite and friendly to everyone he ever came across.

It was a move that didn’t work for the Raptors and it was time to turn the page.



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 Norman Powell

Raptors Norman Powell Finds His Stride

Maybe it was the pressure of signing a big dollar extension in the off season, but the Toronto Raptors young wing Norman Powell has had trouble finding his stride or even just holding onto a spot in head coach Dwane Casey’s rotation this year.

While not every appearance has been a dud, Powell has struggled with his shot, his judgement and even his usually reliable defense, but maybe, just maybe, he’s back on track?

With C.J. Miles out with a sore knee, Powell is earning another shot at a regular spot in Casey’s rotation. Over his last three games Powell hasn’t disappointed, averaging 9 points, 61.1 percent shooting from the field and hitting on 5 of 9 three-point attempts.

“Not playing too much recently, going thru some ups and downs during the season, but I think it felt good just going out there and just play,” Powell said. “I am confident in my game and what I do, make or miss. I feel I am one of the hardest working guys out there. I am always in the gym working on my game, trying to improve.

“Eventually it’s going to turn around. I just work too hard.”

A starting wing spot was Powell’s to lose at the start of the season and he lost it after 12 starts to rookie OG Anunoby when he injured his hip in Boston. However, shooting 40.9 percent the field and 30.8 percent from three in those 12 games meant it was going to be easy for Anunoby to show he deserved to keep the starting job after Powell got back and Casey wasn’t about to take veteran three-point shooter Miles out of the rotation, so Powell didn’t have many minutes to go after on his return if he wasn’t playing at a high level.

Fans in Toronto should be used to Casey using an 11 or even 12 man rotation as this team continues to be focused on player development even with expectations of another 50+ win season and the possibility of finishing first in the East out there for the taking. So, Powell getting garbage minutes to stay involved and regular rotation minutes as soon as anyone in a guard or wing spot goes down isn’t a surprise.

This time, however, Powell has looked more like the player everyone was expecting to show up in October. Maybe, just maybe, he can hang onto a spot in the rotation and someone else will see their minutes cut?

If the playoff version of Powell that got him the big extension is on the court, it’s hard to sit him down.



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 Los Angeles Clippers Blake Griffin

Can The Blake Griffin Trade Save The Pistons?

A blockbuster deal just landed in Detroit as Stan Van Gundy makes his move to save the imploding Pistons season by acquiring Blake Griffin from the Clippers.

On the face of it, this is a good deal for Detroit. They get a bona fide max player with four more years on his deal in Griffin for the expiring contract of Avery Bradley, a productive combo forward with just one more year left on his deal in Tobias Harris, a center no one will miss in Boban Marjanovic and a couple of drafts picks that the Pistons would have probably swung and missed on anyway.

In what can only be described as a guard-driven league, Gundy has re-created the Pelicans experiment with two big men sucking up nearly all of his cap room. At least the Pelicans managed to stay in the playoff race with their two big stars (while they were healthy). At this point Gundy would be happy with that.

It’s going to be tough in L.A. to sell this trade as anything but the start of a rebuild and it would make sense to see what other assets they can grab for DeAndre Jordan and Lou Williams.

But as things sit, the Clippers can argue they are still better than the Pistons post trade, not that being better than the Pistons will guarantee the Clippers a playoff spot in the West.

However, at the very least, the Pistons have generated some excitement and given themselves a chance to turn things around. It’ll be fun to see what happens.

Griffin is averaging 22.6 points, 7.9 rebounds and 5.4 assists this season and is still on the right side of 30 years old. If the team that gets the best player wins the trade, the Pistons can claim victory.



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 Delon Wright

Raptors Delon Wright Is Blocking Shots Like He’s Kevin Durant

Toronto Raptors backup point guard Delon Wright made his presence felt on the defensive end of the court against Detroit on Wednesday night at the Air Canada Centre with his fifth multiple block game of the season as the Raptors 20th pick of the 2015 draft has been rediscovering his impressive college defense. Over his past 13 games, he’s been swatting away layup attempts and jump shots at the same rate as Kevin Durant.

“I’ve always been a guy that going to block shots,” Wright told Pro Bball Report. “Even when I was younger, it was just something that I was able to do.

“If you look at my college stats I’ve been blocking shots since my junior year.”

He was 5th overall in the Pac-12 with 43 blocked shots as a junior and blocked 77 shots in 68 games during his two seasons with Utah. Not bad for a 6’5 guard. So, this really isn’t anything new for Wright, from his perspective.

Returning from a shoulder strain in mid-December, Wright has been on a roll and he’s been averaging 10.7 points while shooting 50 percent from three, 4 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.2 steals and 1.1 blocks in just 23 minutes since December 23rd. He should be forcing head coach Dwane Casey to find him even more minutes, if only the Raptors weren’t trying to develop so many young players this season.

As impressive as his offensive contributions have been recently with two 20 point games over the past month, it’s those blocks that have been most unexpected and invigorating to the players on the bench. Perhaps it’s time to just expect them, but like a big man playing on the weak side, those blocks just seem to come out of nowhere at just the right time.

“I like to use my timing to get those weak side blocks,” Wright said. “Whatever I can do to get a stop, that’s what I try to do.

“Sometimes guards will try to bump into their man and as they are hanging in the air I try to see if I can get a finger on it.”

And Wright has been getting a finger on the ball a lot lately. Over these past 13 games, Wright been blocking shots at the highest rate per minute of any guard in the association, just ahead of rookie of the year candidate 6’10 Ben Simmons, but perhaps more impressive is he’s been ahead of big centers like Steve Adams and Gorgui Deng.

Apparently, blocking shots isn’t anything outside of his skill-set and in his third NBA season, Wright has got this thing figured out.



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




NBA Toronto Raptors Pascal Siakam

Raptors Pascal Siakam Will Keep Shooting 3s No Matter What

It’s hard not to notice, but opposing teams are leaving Pascal Siakam wide open on the three-point line and daring him to shoot and the Raptors young power forward has kept on firing away whether they are going down or not.

“I think that’s the confidence the team gives me,” Siakam told Pro Bball Report. “They see my work and know I’m working on (my three-point shot), so they trust that I put the work in and to shoot it when I’m open.”

They must be going down in practice for his coaches and teammates to have confidence in his three-point shot because Siakam is shooting just 12-81 (14.8%) on the season, went on a 0-25 streak from three a month ago and in his last 10 games is just 3-18 from the land beyond.

However, Siakam shooting threes isn’t out of context from what the Raptors are trying to do this season and despite the clunks and air balls, he still has a green light from head coach Dwane Casey.

“If you’re open shoot the ball,” Siakam explained. “I think the offense is free and everyone is playing off each other. When you are open, you shoot.

“I think that is most important in this offense. There is a lot of drive and kicks and that’s the way this offense is and you have to be able to shoot that (three).”

Confidence comes from necessity and working on his three-point shooting everyday and if Siakam can find an even modestly reliable long range jump shot by the end of the season, he’ll make the Raptors second unit nearly impossible to guard.

“I work on it everyday,” Siakam said. “I make it in practice. So I got to keep working on it and I got to keep doing it.”

Siakam has earned his minutes this season with his defense plus his ability to run the floor and score in the paint. His jump shot may be cringe-worthy at the moment, but he’s just doing what he’s told and trying to fit into a style of play that demands players shoot from distance.

Don’t expect Siakam to change. He’ll keep working on those three-balls in practice and in games whether they are going in or not.


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 Lorenzo Brown

Raptors Two-Way Lorenzo Brown Should Be An NBA Player

Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri landed himself a gem when he signed Lorenzo Brown to an NBA two-way contract this season. The big point guard has been tearing up the G League with three 30 point games since the start of December and, in the process, has tied the 905 franchise record for assists (15) and points (36, tied with Norman Powell).

“I believe I’m an NBA guy right now,” Brown told Pro Bball Report and it’s a statement that’s getting hard to argue with.

In the 905’s opening G League Showcase game on Thursday, Brown put up a double-double 24 points and 12 assists in 35 minutes at noon. Then he sprinted down to the Air Canada Centre to play 19 minutes in the Raptors rout of the Cavaliers recording 6 points and 5 assists.

Brown has been playing like an All-Star at the G League level, but it’s been his impact with the Raptors in the NBA that deserves another look.

As a third string injury replacement point guard with the Raptors, Brown is filling a very different role at the NBA level, but whenever he gets more than a couple of minutes, he makes an impact.

“I have a role to play,” Brown said. “I have a role to play up there and I have a role to play here. I feel I am more aggressive down here and when the time comes to be more aggressive up there I’ll take that approach.”

With the big club, Brown’s approach is conservative. He plays defense and looks to limit mistakes and it’s working. He’s been a “plus” +/- player in each of the five games where he’s got more than a couple of minutes, a +38 in 69 minutes of action.

He may not be getting noticed by the causal fan, but the Raptors lead grows with him on the court. His focus on defense has been effective.

“That’s been my focus to tell you the truth,” Brown said. “I am a great defender when I put my mind to it. (But) when that time comes for me to be aggressive at the offensive end, I’ll show it. Right now my goal is to bring energy to the team and defend.

“(My role is) to be a great teammate.”

It’s hard for his teammates on the big club to incorporate him into the offense. They just don’t have the opportunity to play with him that much and practice minutes with guys not in the regular rotation is really hard to find.

However, even with the lack of familiarity sliding this solid scorer to the fifth option on offense, head coach Dwane Casey can leave him on the court for extended minutes because he fits on defense.

“I’m just waiting on my opportunity man,” Brown said.

That opportunity is going to come. If the Raptors make a move to trade one of their guards, Brown has shown he can be effective as a third string guard with the Raptors right now and there are always NBA teams looking for a big guard that can play defense and has the potential to be a big time scorer if given the 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

Raptors DeMar DeRozan Career Year Comes With A Heavy Heart.

By Frank McLean

Toronto Raptors guard DeMar DeRozan is currently in what athletes call “the zone”, he is playing the best basketball of his career and he’s doing it with a heavy heart.

He averaged 25.2 points a game in the month of December which was a main factor for the team going 11-3. And in one of those games he had a then career high 45 pointer in a comeback win in Philadelphia.

He was named the NBA Player of the Week for the first week of the calendar year in 2018 where he averaged 35.7 points a game in three games and erased his career and Raptors franchise mark for points in a game on New Year’s night against Milwaukee by scoring 52.

But it hasn’t been easy for the Raptors All-Star.

DeRozan has left the team twice in the last few weeks to head home to Los Angeles to be with his father who is not doing well with kidney disease.

Heck it doesn’t surprise me that he is going this well with all that is going on his life right now. DeRozan is one of the most focused athletes I have covered in in Toronto in the 30-plus years I have been around Toronto sports. He ranks right up there with Robbie Alomar, the late Roy Halladay and Doug Gilmour for their coolness under pressure no matter what is going on.

Over the past weekend in New York,  Toronto Sun’s Mike Ganter DeRozan as saying,

“I grew up in Compton, California, man, every day was a challenge for me. That’s all I’ve known my whole life. It’s not a surprise for me. It’s not something that’s going to hold me down. I fight through adversity anywhere it comes in my life. It’s nothing new to me.”

“I’m pretty sure everyone in here goes through life situations,” DeRozan added. “You live on this earth, you’re going to have some type of issue that occurs that’s close to you. It’s just a matter of how you handle it, how you go about it. I go about mine like a man, like a professional. I don’t complain. I don’t cry about it. I don’t make excuses. These are things you just got to handle.

“I just go out and play, I don’t think about the run (the last few weeks), I don’t think about nothing. I just love playing basketball. When you get in that zone and you are just going out there playing ball you are able to zone out and be in a different space than you are throughout the rest of the day doing anything else. Basketball is always that realm for me where I can just get in that mindset of feeling free.”

When you are a kid it’s usually your dad that inserts a love of a sport or sports in general and in the case of basketball it was his dad that helped him get the basketball bug.

“He is everything,” DeRozan said. “My dad put the basketball in my hands. My dad took me to the park. My dad pushed me. My dad was my dad. My dad was the reason I wanted to play sports, just like every other kid that looked up to their dad. That’s what he is to me to this day, and what he is to me forever.”

When you talk to Raptors head coach Dwane Casey and you bring up DeRozan he will tell you that nothing he does will amaze you. One of the reasons players love Casey is that in this crazy world that is the NBA family comes first and he tells each and every player that.

  “This is his refuge here and he should use this as a refuge to get away from his issues and problems for those two hours,” Casey said. “But if he has to get away and go home for his family he knows he has the organization’s support to do that.”

DeRozan started week two off right in 2018 as he scored 35 points in Monday’s 114-113 overtime thriller in Brooklyn.

DeRozan is a special talent, no argument there. He is right when he says that we all have to go through something like this with a close family member at one time or another. It’s just life. We go to work every day because we have to. It’s just that when we do, we don’t do it in front of 20-thousand people in an arena and millions more watching you on television.

That’s what makes it more amazing to watch this run DeRozan is currently on.



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 Raptors Serge Ibaka and Cavaliers Isaiah Thomas

The NBA Shows Its Disrespect For Toronto Yet Again

So the Toronto Raptors Serge Ibaka gets a one game suspension for almost fighting and the Cleveland Cavaliers repeat offender Isaiah Thomas just gets fined for actually decking Andrew Wiggins with a vicious hit to the throat. But no one should actually be surprised. That’s just the usual lack of respect the NBA shows for its only team not in the USA and the overt favoritism towards certain other clubs.

Both Serge Ibaka and James Johnson got suspended for one game each after being ejected for nearly fighting in a game at the Air Canada Centre on Tuesday night. Both players threw what could be viewed as “hostile” elbows in a heated pushing match that, as usual in the NBA, never actually evolved into a fight.

While almost fighting in the NBA is risking a suspension and the punishment isn’t all that usual, Ibaka’s been in fake fights before,  but it’s hard to ignore the kid gloves treatment the league office chose to use in Thomas’ case.

This isn’t the first time Thomas lost his temper and tried to take the head off his unsuspecting opponent. As reported by A. Sherrod Blakely in NBC Sports Boston in April 2016, he’s done this before.

The Celtics got a bit of good news on Saturday with the NBA deciding to not suspend Isaiah Thomas for his first quarter run-in with Atlanta’s Dennis Schroder in Boston’s 111-103 Game 3 win on Friday night.

“I knew what I did,” said Thomas who added that he had not spoken with any league officials regarding the incident. “A slower version would like I looked at him and tried to hit him. If I tried to hit somebody I would have hit them.”

Replays showed Thomas connecting with Schroder’s head while running up the court.

After the play, Thomas had to be restrained by teammate Jared Sullinger.

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Shame on the NBA for buying into Thomas hitting an unsuspecting opponent in the head with what should be called a punch an accident for a second time.

Ejected for the fourth time in his career, Thomas showed no remorse and denied doing anything wrong. Tell it to the video!

Thomas said after the game that it was inadvertent and that he was going for a steal. – ESPN

No one in Toronto really wants to believe the NBA uses a double standard when it comes to Toronto, but the examples just keep on coming.

On Thursday when the Cavaliers visit Toronto for the teams first tilt of the season, Thomas will be in the lineup and Ibaka will be in street clothes and the NBA doesn’t see anything wrong with that.



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 Delon Wright and Fred VanVleet

Raptors Counting On Delon Wright And Fred VanVleet

There’s a reason why teams like to carry three point guards that they aren’t afraid to play and with the Toronto Raptors All-Star Kyle Lowry out with a bruised tailbone, they’ll be counting on Delon Wright and Fred VanVleet to pick up the slack.

Head coach Dwane Casey hasn’t been shy about playing the third year Wright and the second year VanVleet significant minutes this season and the real sticking point may come when he’d like to be running out his three point guard lineup that’s produced some interesting results. However, in the process, he’s gotten these two young guards as ready as possible to cover in Lowry’s absence.

The season-to-date stats for Wright and VanVleet are as encouraging as they are misleading.

Wright has averaged 21.2 minutes over 26 games having missed a stretch do to a shoulder injury and he’s averaged 8.8 points on 50.9 percent from the field, 2.9 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 1.2 steals and 0.6 blocks. He’s as comfortable running the point as playing off the ball and has even soaked up minutes as a small forward. Versatile should be his middle name and he is really at his best when he looks to score, although he prefers to facilitate.

VanVleet has appeared in all 38 games averaging 17.9 minutes, 6.3 points on 39.4 percent shooting, 2 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 0.8 steals. He sees a surprising amount of time in fourth quarters and isn’t afraid of the big moments.

Both players have been getting significantly better as the season has progressed and during the team’s current five game winning streak:

Wright has averaged 13 points on 59.1 percent shooting from the field and 54.5 percent from three, 5.6 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 1.8 steals and 1.0 blocks in 25.4 minutes.

VanVleet has averaged 9 points on 44.7 percent shooting from the field and 46.2 percent from three, 1.8 rebounds, 2 assists and 0.6 steals in 18.9 minutes.

The Raptors are hoping the trend continues as both players will be expected to carry a heavier offensive load until Lowry gets back.

The Raptors can’t expect to replace an All-Star with a couple of young guards no matter how well they’ve been playing lately and there is no way to know if they can play as well for extended minutes without Lowry’s veteran presence. There can be no question both Wright and VanVleet have looked better playing with Lowry on the court beside them.

Next man up, opportunity knocks and a whole other list of clichés. The Raptors have no choice but to count on their two young point guards. All those minutes Casey has been been giving them this season is looking like it was a pretty good idea right about 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.

 Featured image courtesy of Larry Millson



NBA Toronto Raptors DeMar DeRozan

Raptors DeMar DeRozan Has Been A Superstar For 3 Weeks

To notice that a three-time All-Star has elevated his game to another level takes some doing, but for the past three weeks, the Toronto Raptors DeMar DeRozan has been playing like a bona fide superstar.

The East’s second leading scorer in each of the past two seasons, DeRozan was plugging along at 23.7 points per game and the Raptors were a respectable 18-8, then things changed. The Raptors went on a 9-2 run as one of the NBA’s best mid-range players unexpectedly found the range from beyond the arc and in the process set two new personal bests for points in a game and set a new franchise record with 52 points against the (now rival) Bucks.

Now DeRozan’s jump shot was never broken and he wasn’t having a bad year, winning Eastern Conference player of the week on November 20th. It’s just that in his first eight NBA seasons he only took 9.2 percent of his shots from three and he only hit on 28.1 percent of them. Up until mid-December of this year nothing had changed. He was shooting 24.6 percent from three and had gone oh-for (0-15) in the nine immediately prior games.

Then, against Brooklyn, on December 15th, DeRozan hit a three. No big deal, but five nights later in Charlotte he goes 3-4 from deep and on the back-to-back in Philadelphia DeRozan sets a new personal best with 6 three-balls on 9 attempts as he scored a new personal best 45 points.

For the week, DeRozan shot 13-20 from three and averaged 34 points. Not surprisingly, DeRozan was the NBA Eastern Conference player of the week for the second time this season.

After a couple of post-Christmas turkeys in Dallas and OKC, DeRozan hit 5 three-balls twice. Over his last 11 games games DeRozan has been averaging 50.7 percent from the field and 51.9 percent from three-point range.

In the process, Toronto took all four games in home and away sets from the more popular 76ers and Bucks with DeRozan averaging 36.5 points. A quiet in your face ESPN, who rather overtly, would like to see Joel Embiid and Giannis Antetokounmpo be the story.

DeRozan remains an early favorite to be voted back to the All-Star Game this season, but just representing a much maligned East in NBA’s big mid-season showcase isn’t enough anymore. The player who has increased his scoring by 3+ points in each of the past two seasons wants to show he can do more and his team needs it if they are to start getting respect as the Eastern Conference Finals contender that they were two seasons ago and should be this year again.

The Raptors need a superstar. A player that demands attention from ESPN, TNT, NBA TV and other points south of the border as only that level of player will command the respect of the NBA (and their on court officials) come playoff time.

DeRozan is showing signs his game commands that level of respect. In Toronto’s blow out win over the Bucks in Milwaukee, DeRozan grabbed a long offensive rebound in the corner, turned and fired a three knowing he’d hit nothing but net. He believes his new found three-point range is here to stay and if it is, how do you you stop him now?

The question is, can he keep it up? Not ordinary All-Star level respect, superstar level respect.

Over the next 30 days the Raptors will face the Cavaliers, Warriors, Spurs and Celtics at the Air Canada Centre. By rights he shouldn’t have to, but DeRozan probably has to lead his team to some wins against this group if he’s going to get anything more than polite courtesy (another, yes you’re right, we missed that call at the end of the game that cost you the win) from the NBA and it’s entrenched box score watching media.

(Another 50+ win season and second best scorer in the East isn’t likely to do it.)


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

 Featured image courtesy of Larry Millson



NBA Toronto Raptors Delon Wright

Raptors Versatile Delon Wright Has Broken Out

When a young player puts up a line of 25 points, 4 three-balls, 13 rebounds, 5 assists, 4 steals and a block for his first ever double-double in a meaningful mid-season game it gets noticed, but it doesn’t mean they have broken out. However, Delon Wright’s big night didn’t just happen, for him it’s been a rough road thru injuries, internal competition and the lower expectations that come with being a late first round draft pick.

Wright was both a seemingly unstoppable offensive force and a disruptive defensive presence during the Raptors first win in Chicago over the Bulls since 2013. His efforts were only slightly overshadowed by DeMar DeRozan’s 35 points, but this night was something we should have saw coming.

Since the start of November Wright has been shooting the ball exceptionally well and month off between mid-November and mid December to rest his second shoulder injury in two seasons hasn’t slowed him down at all. If anything, Wright has significantly improved since his return, his play at both ends of the court commanding an increased role off the bench, and everyone in the organization is telling him to shoot more.

“Everybody, even people in the top of the organization, everyone, just shoot the ball, we don’t care if you miss,” Wright said after the game.

Those requests to shoot more were not being made gratuitously. In November Wright was shooting 75 percent from the field and 66.7 percent from three, but he was only taking 4 shots per game. Those shooting percentages aren’t realistic for anyone to maintain and since his return they’ve dipped to 48.8 percent from the field and 43.5 percent from three on 8.4 shots over his last 10 games, but if he keeps firing in this ballpark, the Raptors will be pushing Wright to shoot even more.

Listed as the backup point guard, the 6’5 Wright finds himself entering most games on the wing, defending ones, twos and threes. He plays off the ball at least as often as he’s expected to initiate the offense and he is almost always on the court with another point guard.

“When I am in with Kyle (Lowry) it’s more of a facilitating role, when I’m with the second unit, I can do a little of both,” Wright told Pro Bball Report earlier this season. “It just depends on who’s on the floor, your role kind of changes.

“It’s just something you have to do. If you want to be a guard and you want to play, you have to play multiple positions.

“I’ve played off the ball a lot and on the ball also. It’s not a big issue. It’s just sometimes I get into the mode of trying to score more instead of facilitating.”

And scoring more is something the Raptors want to see from their promising young guard. Drives to the basket and an improving three-point shot was something Wright was known for at the University of Utah.

“I have to get back to that,” Wright said about his days with the Utes. “I think I am better as a player when I am trying to score more instead of always looking to pass.”

As a senior, Wright was the first player from the Utes to be selected to the First Team All-Pac 12. He was also Pac-12 All-Defensive First Team, led the Pac-12 in steals, third in field goal percentage, and sixth in blocked shots.

There were concerns last season after he returned from a summer league shoulder injury just before the All-Star break, but couldn’t find his shooting stroke and it was a problem that persisted into October of this season.

But, Wright has been getting back into a scoring role and the Raptors are reaping the benefits. He’s becoming another driving guard with a deadly three-point shot that keeps defenses honest.

Toss in the nearly one block and 1.6 steals per game since his return to action in mid-December and head coach Dwane Casey is being hard pressed to give the versatile Wright even more playing 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 DeMar DeRozan

Is 52 Points From DeRozan Enough For Next Christmas?

By Frank McLean

Now that the holiday season is over and we all head back to work or school about ten pounds bigger than we weighed before December 24th from all the food we stuffed ourselves with, fans of the Toronto Raptors wondered why weren’t the Raptors included in the five pack of Christmas Day games?

Well fans you are not alone. The Raptors organization was asking that same question before Christmas and again it’s the same old refrain of the team just not getting any respect south of the border.

In a scrum with the media during the home and home series with Philadelphia just before the Christmas break Dwane Casey lamented that he wished they were playing on December 25th.

“I wish we were in that group,” Casey said. “I think we have earned the right to be there. We are one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference. I don’t know if it is advertising ? I don’t know what the reason is? Our record shows we deserve to be one of those teams.”

Casey has a point. After their overtime win on New Year’s day over the Milwaukee Bucks where the Raptors improved their overall record to 25-10 and an NBA best 14-1 at home, good for second in the NBA East behind first place Boston Celtics and a game where DeMar DeRozan broke Vince Carter’s record for points in a game by scoring 52, he has a point.

The problem is the Raptors do not resonate with ESPN and TNT the NBA’s national television partners in the United States and as a result they do not resonate with the fans in the USA.

Now the Raptors have been featured in one of the Christmas Day games – once. It was 17-years ago in 2001 when NBC had the national television rights in the US and the Raptors visited Madison Square Garden to take on the New York Knicks.

They Raptors lost 102-94, but that was a moot point, NBC in those days couldn’t get enough of Toronto because they had Vince Carter.

Carter was big in the US and playing in Canada did not make him invisible in the states. He won the 1999 Rookie Of The Year award, he went out and won the slam dunk competition at the 2000 All-Star Game in Oakland and he had his 51-point game, which until Monday was the club record, on an NBC game of the week against Phoenix. People watched the Raptors when they were on national television in the US because of the man Chuck Swirsky called “Air Canada”. Kids in the US wanted Carter’s jersey the same way kids now want LeBron James or Steph Curry’s now.

This current group of Raptors have no one on their team that’s popular as Carter was back in the day. ESPN reported that this year’s Christmas Day games that they aired on their network or ABC had a 39-percent increase over last year’s games.

Would putting Toronto on affect those ratings? Well that’s the impression I get.

Here is the reality, regardless of the numbers DeMar DeRozan is putting up he does not have the publicity in the US that Carter had. Nobody is demanding that ESPN or TNT put the Raptors on regularly because they want to see DeRozan or Kyle Lowry. But they can’t get enough of James or Curry.

Now when you have the LeBron James Cavaliers and Steph Curry’s Warriors playing in three straight NBA Championship’s and the fact they are the two most popular players in the league you know that’s why they always get to play Christmas Day.

But why does no one want to watch DeRozan? In the last three weeks alone he has had two monster offensive games. We mentioned Monday’s club record 52-pointer, but five days before Christmas he put up 45-points in a comeback win in Philadelphia. He is one of the most exciting players to watch right now who is having the best season any Raptor has ever put up.

So what do the Raptors need to do? Short of their PR department putting a gun to ESPN and TNT’s head I don’t know.

The reality is the Raptors need to keep putting pressure on first place Boston for the lead in the East. Get back to the Eastern Conference Finals win it and get to the NBA Championship. Even if they don’t win the title that seems to get you an automatic Christmas Day game since one of them is always a rematch of the previous seasons final.

The only alternative is for DeRozan to keep having monster games so sooner or later ESPN and TNT will have no choice but to feature the Raptors on Christmas Day.

Maybe next year?



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 Alfonzo McKinnie

Raptors Face Decision Deadline On Alfonzo McKinnie

The Toronto Raptors are quickly approaching the January 10th deadline when the contract of undrafted rookie Alfonzo McKinnie becomes fully guaranteed for the rest of this season. His $815,615 salary may not seem like much in today’s NBA, but with the Raptors right up against the NBA’s Luxury Tax threshold, if president Masai Ujiri wants to add a veteran for the playoffs, he’s got a decision to make.

Toronto opted during the off season to give the young guys a chance and continue searching for new young talent to fill out the roster. So far the results are good, so good that head coach Dwane Casey faces a logjam of too many players needing minutes and no real opportunities for the guys on the back end of the roster to get any run at the NBA level.

Ujiri doesn’t have to do anything. He could stand pat up up until the trade deadline before trying to make a move, but the decision about McKinnie’s future has to be made now if he wants any sort of future wiggle room when it comes to making a deal and potentially staying below the tax. And the Raptors have a history of doing everything possible to avoid luxury taxes.

McKinnie isn’t making this an easy call, however. With no NBA minutes available, this high flying 6’8 forward has been demonstrating his evolving game with the Raptors 905 in the G League.

A questionable jump shooter coming out of college in 2015,  McKinnie has improved his three-point shooting from 30.8 percent in 50 games with the Windy City Bulls last year to 38.5 percent in 12 games with the 905. He’s taking more (4.3 three-point attempts versus 2.7 last year) and making more.

McKinnie is showing he might just have the potential to earn that NBA contract Ujiri signed him to.

“Me going down to play with the 905 is just a way to get game reps and game action, just work on the stuff that I am working on with the Raptors in practice and outside of practice,” McKinnie told Pro Bball Report. “There is a lot of good guys in the G League. There is a lot of guys who could potentially play in the NBA, if not now, later on down the line. The competition line is obviously different than the NBA, but it’s still a competitive league.”

McKinnie is putting up good numbers in the G League, averaging 15.7 points and 8.2 rebounds, but this isn’t just about getting numbers for McKinnie.

“I just want to go down and do stuff that, later down the line, will help me get more minutes with the big club,” McKinnie said. “Whether it’s me nailing a corner three, or being a defensive stopper, or rebound, whatever my role role with the big club, I just try to go down and work on that.”

McKinnie put up a couple of monster games with the 905 in December. A 23 point, 16 rebound game against the Vipers on the 5th and a 26 point, 8 rebound, 2 steal effort against the Mad Ants on the 23rd.

He has shown the ability to be a dominant player at the G League level. However, Ujiri has to make the call about the 25-year-old McKinnie’s future prospects now and evaluate that against the possible benefit of a little more room under the luxury tax threshold heading into the NBA’s deal making 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.