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NBA Toronto Raptors Pascal Siakam

Is Raptors Pascal Siakam Better Than A NY Unicorn?

The Raptors second year forward Pascal Siakam was pressed into the starting lineup against the New York Knicks on Friday night in Toronto when Serge Ibaka was forced to rest a swollen knee, but the NY unicorn Kristaps Porzingis wasn’t exactly catching a break because the Raptors veteran missed the game. Siakam owned his more highly touted opponent all night on both ends of the court and just maybe it shouldn’t have come as such a surprise.

Playing head-to-head for 31 minutes Siakam got up into Porzingis’ space to hold him to 2-11 shooting and a minus 9 points with three turnovers. It was no contest. Siakam leaving his opponent in the dust on fast breaks and drives to the hoop to shoot 6-11 himself in addition to dishing 4 dimes.

On this night at least Siakam was a lot more impressive than NY’s unicorn and that’s something going up against a player who’s averaging almost 28 points per game.

After the game Porzingis admitted Siakam was giving him trouble per ESPN

“He’s long and he was able to stab at the ball pretty good when I was playing in the post,” Porzingis said.

“As the game went on, we still were struggling finding our rhythm and finding the best positions to attack from. It was just a rough night for us.”

“I thought he did as good a job as you can do against Porzingis, who is a very dynamic offensive player,” Casey said.

At the start of the season Siakam was the odd man out in head coach Dwane Casey’s rotation as the Raptors had too many forwards and not enough minutes to go around. However, injuries got him three quick starts in a row and the second year forward performed so well that Casey has created minutes for him ever since.

In his four starts coming against the Warriors, Lakers, Trail Blazers and Knicks, Siakam has averaged 14.3 points on 66.7 percent shooting from the field, 4 rebounds, 2.3 assists, a block and 1.3 steals and the Raptors have been a +7 points with him on the court. He hasn’t been making decisions about playing time easy on Casey as his regulars return to the lineup.

The Raptors selected Siakam 27th overall in 2016. It’s starting to look like president Masai Ujiri has found the Raptors another overlooked and underrated gem in the draft.

 

 

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

It’s Decision Time For The Raptors On Bruno Caboclo

By Frank McLean

It’s decision time for the Toronto Raptors this season when comes to their first round draft pick from 2014 Bruno Caboclo.

For the last three years it’s been evident by his lack of playing time from head coach Dwane Casey that he is still not ready for regular minutes at the NBA level and as a result has spent most of his time in what is now known as the G-League trying to hone his skills at the professional level.

During his first year with the organization the Raptors did not own their own developmental team so he was sent to the Fort Wayne Mad Ants which at the time was an independent operation and as a result he sat on the bench as they were trying win basketball games and sell tickets and there was no room for a rookie from Brazil with no pro experience.

With the Raptors owning their own team in Mississauga the last two years Caboclo has been able to get a lot of time to work on his skills at the G-League level, but he has received very sparse playing time in the NBA.

Now, with one year left on his contract and no room for him with the big club, Caboclo has volunteered to play with the Raptors 905 because it’s the only way he can stay sharp and hopefully get a chance with the big club. After three years of service a player cannot be sent to the G-League without his approval.

Raptors 905 head coach Jerry Stackhouse was happy to get him back in time for their home opener last week saying, “it was good to have him home and we can get him some reps.”

“There is a logjam there right now and there are a lot of young guys in the mix”, Stackhouse said regarding the Raptors roster right now. “They are still figuring the rotation with everybody there. He has been on the outside looking in.

“We are still high on Bruno. We believe he has unbelievable potential. We just got to find a way to tap into it.”

And here lies the problem for Caboclo. Sitting on the bench in Fort Wayne the first year set his development back a whole season and it was hoped that by now he would be a factor on the Raptors roster. The way Caboclo was handled in Fort Wayne provided a convincing reason for president Masi Ujiri to get the MLSE board to come up with the cash to buy their own G-League team so they can develop their own talent and not leave it to a third party.

Dwane Casey will tell you that you can learn skills in the G-League, but in order to learn to play the game you have to do that in the NBA.

To start with in Mississauga this season, Stackhouse has played Caboclo at center out of necessity.

His original plan was to use the returning Edy Tavares at the five spot, but Tavares was offered a contract with Real Madrid so the big man headed to Spain. With Andre Washington his only other option at center and Kennedy Meeks the former North Carolina star who is a natural center but is being used at the four, Stackhouse has been trying out Caboclo in the middle.

“I want to find out a few things,” Stackhouse said about the experiment. “I want to see how they (opponents) will adjust to him, and see if they can hang with him. We feel with his length he will be able to hold his own in rebounding the basketball.”

Four games in Caboclo is averaging 31.8 minutes 17.5 points, 7.5 rebounds, 2 steals and 1.5 blocks while taking 4.3 three-pointers and hitting on 58.8 percent of them.

Talking to NBA scouts on opening night they felt there is no way the 6’9 forward could play the five at the NBA level, but in the G-League it will probably work.

And these scouts are the people Caboclo needs to impress this year. If the Raptors decide to cut ties with him, he needs to show the other 29 NBA teams that he can offer them something at the NBA level.

Playing the five maybe some team will give him a flyer by using him as a utility player. If not in the NBA, then there are European scouts to impress or those back in his home country of Brazil.

On draft night ESPN college basketball analyst Fran Fraschilla said that Caboclo was two years away from being two years away. Do the math, two plus two equals NOW for Bruno Caboclo.

   

 

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 Delon Wright and Norman Powell and Fred VanVleet and Pascal Siakam and Jakob Poeltl

Raptors Winning And Growing

Check out Pro Bball Report editor Stephen Brotherston’s latest article about the Toronto Raptors in The Potent Lifestyle Magazine.

 

Can The Raptors Develop And Win At The Same Time?

The one constant since head Coach Dwane Casey arrived on the scene in Toronto six years ago has been a focus on developing the team’s young talent and that strategy isn’t one that tends to garner a lot of respect. Earlier this summer the self-proclaimed “World Wide Leader in Sports” ESPN picked the Raptors to drop to sixth in the East after finishing top three in back-to-back seasons, but to be fair, it isn’t easy to develop and win at the same time….

Trying to develop and win at the same time is never easy and there will be nights when a lack of veteran depth will be painfully obvious, but to start the season Casey has his young guys playing defense at a high level and making some surprising contributions on offense. If they can keep this up, the Raptors will win over 50 games for the third season in a row and Powell, Wright, Poeltl, Anunoby and VanVleet can force ESPN to just stuff those pessimistic preseason predictions…. 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 Kyle Lowry

Can Kyle Lowry Get Back To Playing Like An All-Star?

Anyone in Toronto could easily make the argument that the Raptors would have kicked off the 2017-18 season 6-1 or 7-0 instead of 4-3 if Kyle Lowry was hitting shots, but just like last season, the All-Star point guard is having trouble finding the bottom of the net early on.

“I got to make them,” Lowry said after a disappointing loss to the Warriors. “I am not shooting a great percentage right now, but I’m going to keep shooting. At the end of the day I know my shots are going to fall. Every shot I took tonight felt good and was in and out, but it happens.”

If Lowry had of been hot from three instead of brick-laying a 2-8 in San Antonio and 1-8 at Golden State, the Raptors would have been the talk of the NBA right about now.

However, slow starts are not anything new for Lowry. Last year he shot 28.6 percent from three over the first nine games before turning things around to hit over 43 percent the rest of the way, earn his third All-Star nod and share top spot in the East with Isaiah Thomas by averaging 3.2 three-point makes a game for the season.

The best news for Lowry as he figures things out is the Raptors have been on a six game Western Conference road trip, the Toronto Maple Leafs continue getting most of the local media attention and the World Series was a huge distraction. It’s likely few fans in Toronto have even noticed.

After that tough shooting night against the Warriors things were looking up for Lowry as he shot 3-7 from three and laid a triple-double on Lakers rookie Lonzo Ball and then a double-double while shooting 3-6 from three in Portland in a pair of Raptors road wins. Unfortunately Lowry and the rest of his teammates then laid an egg (Lowry going 1-5 from deep) in a very disappointing loss to the Nuggets.

“We didn’t play well,” Lowry said after the loss in Denver. “I put a lot of the blame on myself.”

The end result for Lowry has been he’s still shooting under 32 percent from three and just over 37 percent from the field on the season. The Raptors are lucky to have two wins in five tries on this road trip with their best player still trying to find some consistency.

The good news has been Lowry’s shooting woes haven’t impacted the rest of his game. If anything, the veteran point guard has been playing harder as evidenced by his grabbing rebounds at a rate that’s better than a lot of forwards. Hauling in 5.7 rebounds per game tops anyone on the Raptors not listed as a center.

If the effort continues, there’s a good chance Toronto return from this long road trip salvaging a 3-3 record against Western Conference teams.

So if Lowry can find the range on his three-point shot by the time the Raptors start a three game home stand on November 5th, there’s a decent chance no one will even remember or care about his early season shooting struggles again this year.

 

  

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 Delon Wright and Jakob Poeltl and OG Anunoby

Raptors Still Trying To Develop And Win At The Same Time

The one constant since head coach Dwane Casey arrived on the scene in Toronto six years ago has been a focus on developing the team’s young talent and even after four consecutive trips to the postseason, the Raptors are still trying to develop and win at the same time.

“It’s very important and I think they are going to get that opportunity,” Casey responded to Pro Bball Report about playing the young guys this season. “I think that’s what we’ve been doing the entire exhibition (season) is giving those guys an opportunity to play and produce and I think that’s very important for the future of our organization (that the young guys) come out and play and get experience.

“The only way you get experience in this league, you are not going to get in the 905 (G-League), you can develop some skills there and get better and work on some things but, the only way you get ready and prepared mentally and physically for the NBA is to play in the NBA, so they are going to get that opportunity.

“The young guys are going to play.”

True to his word, the Raptors second unit in the first regular season game featured significant minutes for the Raptors young core.

Third year guard/wing Norman Powell started and played 25 minutes and third year guard Delon Wright came off the bench for 23 minutes and both players were significant contributors. C.J. Miles was the only veteran in a second unit that saw rookie OG Anunoby play 17 minutes, second year center Jakob Poeltl on the court for 18 minutes and second year guard Fred VanVleet play 13 minutes. Second year forward Pascal Siakam and undrafted rookie Alfonzo McKinnie got minutes during garbage time in the Raptors blowout win.

The young second unit that looked good in preseason was outstanding playing against a depleted Bulls team on opening night.

“The young group has come in and done a heck of a job of energy, focus, togetherness,” Casey said. “They play together like they’ve played together for the last four or five years, so that’s been a joy to watch.”

They were a joy to watch. It was the Raptors second unit that took over Game One of the season and staked the home team to a 20+ point lead in the second quarter that they rode to the end.

In the home opener it was the starting unit that sometimes looked out of sorts with 12 of the team’s 17 turnovers, however, Toronto has a lot of talent in their first five and this team has realistic sights set on being better than last year’s 51-win season.

The team’s two returning three-time All-Stars Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan should do no worse than leading their team back to a home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. Serge Ibaka, who helped Toronto to a 14-7 record after the All-Star break while Lowry was injured last year is ready to show he’s yet to get the respect he deserves and Jonas Valanciunas has looked like a young veteran ready for a break out season.

This team is expected to win, but it’s going to take some major contributions from the young guys if the Raptors are going to improve on last season when it counts in the playoffs. The development of players like Powell, Wright, VanVleet, Anunoby and Poeltl can’t happen fast enough and they’ll be tested early and often in October.

 

  

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 head coach Dwane Casey

Toronto Raptors Are The Rodney Dangerfield Of The NBA

By Frank McLean

On Tuesday I dropped in on the Toronto Raptors practice just to get an idea of how they were getting ready for Thursday night’s curtain raiser for the 2017-2018 NBA season. And the talk again, like it seems every year for the last four years, is that this team gets no respect. They are the Rodney Dangerfield of the National Basketball Association.

If you are old enough to remember Rodney, he was the comedian who based his stand-up act on him getting no respect from anybody in the world. In the basketball world, this is your Toronto Raptors.

Many of the pundits, and yes those pundits are in the United States, do not think the Raptors have a shot at finishing in the top group in the Eastern Conference again. The worst insult comes from the self-proclaimed “World Wide Leader in Sports” ESPN, who picked the Raptors to finish sixth in the East. This is the same group that listed DeMar DeRozan the 39th best player in the league, but that’s another story for another time.

Looking at the body of the Raptors work for the last four seasons this does not make any sense.

They have made the playoffs four straight seasons, including an appearance in the 2015 conference finals. Two 50 plus win seasons the last two years and an all-star starting backcourt of DeRozan and Kyle Lowry.

New Raptor C.J. Miles he can’t understand it because he has had to play against this team over the last four years.

“How does anybody write a story and not talk about a team that was third in the East last year?” Miles questioned. “It’s a little weird. I didn’t really think about it. From the outside looking in as a guy who’s a fan of the game and watches games and watches everybody play, I looked at them as an elite team and when I walked into the arena they felt like an elite team when you played against them.

“Second or third in the East and now they don’t even say your name, like, how does that happen”?” a flabbergasted Miles added.

Head coach Dwane Casey feels that this should light a little fire under his teams butt.

“It should (put) you off,” Casey said. “There are still 82 games to be played. We should take that as a line of disrespect because we went from tied with Cleveland all the way down to fifth or sixth of wherever they have us. Paper says one thing and all the predictions say one thing, but it’s up to us as a team to go out and compete and show they’re different.”

For DeRozan this no respect thing is just another year at the office.

“Nothing changed,” DeRozan explained. “Same old thing. For us, we’ve got to go out there, worry about ourselves and at the end of the day, it don’t matter what we do, pretty sure they’ll say the same things.”

DeRozan added that since the core of this team has been together for so long the is a comfort level that has led to their success.

“Camaraderie and chemistry is hard to come by. So when you have that sense of comfort, knowing guys as individuals, on and off the court, you have a different comfort zone when you go out there in the big moments, understanding each other,” he added.

“That kind of goes a long way and it actually wins you games in the NBA. You can tell teams that have been together for years, just off the strength of that, they can pull out victories over more talented teams.”

What to expect this year?

Well if this team stays healthy, they should have a good shot for a third straight 50 win season.

This should upset the pundits south of the border who only talk about Cleveland, Golden State, Boston, Houston and maybe San Antonio as the only worthy teams to talk about playing in the NBA Finals.

Let’s face it, ESPN really wants a Cleveland-Golden State Finals part four because according to them, there are only two players in the NBA and they are named James and Curry.

So starting Thursday night let’s see if “WE THE NORTH” can get a little respect that Rodney never got.

 

   

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 DeMar DeRozan and Jonas Valanciunas and Kyle Lowry

Raptors Jonas Valanciunas Has Something To Say

The 19-year-old European prospect the Toronto Raptors took fifth overall way back in 2011 as the gregarious future leader of the Lithuanian National team isn’t a kid any more. Now 25, Jonas Valanciunas is a young veteran on a team with few veterans of any age and he’s finally got something to say.

Six years ago he had to take a back seat to the veterans on his National Team and when he arrived in Toronto a year later, he was one of three rookies on a not very good Raptors squad loaded with veterans with about the same amount of experience as he has now. With English as a (not all that good) second language, he wasn’t about to take over a locker room or a media scrum.

“You got to have something to say before you say (something),” Jonas Valanciunas told Pro Bball Report at training camp in Victoria.  “You can’t just be saying nonsense. You got to collect the news first, then you can say something.”

Valanciunas has been “collecting the news” for five seasons and despite an obvious lack of quicks and rather plodding speed on the fast break, he has been a very productive player on the glass and even putting up points. For the past three seasons Valanciunas has been a top 10 NBA player in field goal and total rebound percentage.

Head coach Dwane Casey may still not completely trust his big man to defend other teams when they go small, but Valanciunas has figured out how to be a very effective player against conventional lineups and he has earned a level of confidence in his abilities.

“It’s my sixth year,” Valanciunas said. “I don’t feel like an old man, but I feel like I can give guys advice, I can bring guys together, I can say something. I am not a young guy no more.”

The Raptors got young this summer. They are going to need the leadership and experience Valanciunas can offer. Two-thirds of the roster is still playing on their rookie contracts and the team is counting on contributions from some very young big men like Jacob Poeltl, Pascal Siakam, and Lucas Nogueira. Now in his sixth NBA season with 33 playoff games under his belt, Valanciunas really does know something.

“This is the time in your career when you are turning from a young guy into a mature player,” Valanciunas said. “You can’t get here without being a young guy. You got to have a couple of years, four, five years, being a rook, being a guy who is listening, being a guy who is getting everything into his head.”

Now it’s Valanciunas turn to be the guy younger players listen to. His game is still developing, but he has real experience under his belt the Raptors other young big men can benefit from.

“Playing basketball is fun,” Valanciunas explained. “It’s a job, but it’s a fun job. The biggest part of the job is maintaining your body, diet, practicing, but when it comes to the game, it’s enjoyment. That’s the fun part. Before the fun part, it’s a job.

“It’s hard to be good, but by working hard, doing what you are supposed to do, by listening to other guys, listening to the coaches, everything is in (your) hands.”

After five years in the NBA, Valanciunas has done enough to have something say.

 

  

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.

 

 

 

 

Bulls Fred Hoiberg

Raptors To Face A Badly Depleted Bulls Roster In Opener

It’s no secret the Bulls hit the reset button this summer when they traded away All-Star Jimmy Butler and waived future hall-of-fame candidate Dwyane Wade, however, these moves aren’t why head coach Fred Hoiberg will be bringing a badly depleted roster to Toronto for the Raptors home opener on Thursday.

Injuries to Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn, Cameron Payne and Quincy Pondexter were going to make things challenging enough for Hoiberg over the next month or two, but now he has to deal with additional self-inflicted challenges created by a poorly timed bone-headed move by Bobby Portis as reported by K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune.

The young, hungry and competitive nature the Bulls sought after choosing to rebuild crossed a line Tuesday when Bobby Portis punched Nikola Mirotic in the face during a practice altercation.

the forward suffered two fractures and placed an early estimate for his absence at “a few weeks, at least.”

The Bulls added “surgery is likely required.”

Bulls said they are evaluating disciplinary action.

Portis will be suspended for multiple games.

Johnson goes on to say Mirotic had won the Bulls starting power forward spot and “signs pointed to Portis possibly being the odd man out ultimately in the rotation.”

In any case, it means the already depleted roster Hoiberg had to bring to Toronto will be an additional two men down and the Bulls coach is going to be forced into playing some lineups he likely never thought would be on the court prior to Tuesday.

The Raptors defeated the Bulls 125-104 on Friday in Chicago in their final preseason game.

 

  

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

The Raptors Culture Change Is Happening

The Toronto Raptors were promising culture change after getting unceremoniously booted from the playoffs by a superior Cavs squad at the end of last season and although the messages coming from the management, coaches and players were mixed, that change is happening and it started in training camp at the University of Victoria.

“The league is changing,” head coach Dwane Casey said at the end of last season. “The league is changing and believe me, you’ve got to change or get stuck in the mud. It’s more of a scoring league now. We’ve got to score points. We’ve got to manufacture points and not get down cause the other team scores. We have the players to do it, to put points on the board tit-for-tat.”

That kind of thinking has been a hard sell to a fan base who knows Casey as a defensive coach, but in an intrasquad scrimmage in front of 2700 enthusiast fans at the Centre for Athletics, Recreation and Special Abilities in Victoria, those end of season comments started to ring true. In four 10 minutes quarters, the Raptors in black went 10-25 from three-point range and the Raptors in white went 10-28.

It appears Casey has adopted the current trend in the NBA and it’s going to be a three-point barrage coming out of Toronto this season.

“We have to have the confidence and the gumption to knock down those (three-point) shots,” head coach Dwane Casey said at training camp.

These Raptors will be firing away from deep at every opportunity this year.

After training camp the Raptors headed off to Hawaii for two preseason games against the Clippers and hoisted an almost unbelievable 79 three-balls. The final three preseason contests weren’t any different as it became readily apparent the Raptors were expected to shoot every open shot from deep no matter who had the ball in their hands.

In Toronto’s five preseason games the team averaged the second most three-point attempts per game of any team. The Raptors took over half of their preseason shots from three at 41.6 attempts per game. Only the three-ball happy Rockets shot more and they were putting up over 50 long range hoists per contest.

Everyone was taking threes and the sub-30 percent shooting reflected that, but as Casey has said on numerous occasions, in the regular season the focus will shift to getting the right players to take those shots. In the preseason, however, it was all about setting the right tone or “changing the culture.” Turning down open threes was something Casey didn’t want to see.

And for those bemoaning the overall poor shooting during the preseason, remember, those players trying to make the team or earn their spot in the rotation knew what the focus was. Even non-shooters who won’t be expected to fire away from deep during the regular season got the message.

Once the regular season starts, Kyle Lowry, Serge Ibaka, Norman Powell and C.J. Miles will be carrying the load from three-point range and they are all very capable.

But, Delon Wright showed he had the touch as a rookie and last year in limited minutes Fred VanVleet made it known he can shoot too. These two players got a lot of run during preseason. However, the undrafted rookie forward Alfonzo McKennie quietly shot 45.5 percent from three on 2.2 attempts in under 12 minutes over 5 preseason games and the Raptors rookie OG Anunoby surprised everyone by hitting on three of his last four three-point attempts against the Bulls. Even Pascal Siakam and Lucas Nogueira were putting up threes in preseason. The Raptors will be counting on a couple of these other guys that the league may not have on the radar to come thru as legitimate three-point threats.

Toronto was in the bottom 10 NBA teams in three-point attempts last season (24.3), but it would have taken just one more three-point attempt per quarter to put them in the top 10. At two more three-point attempts a quarter, they bounce all the way into the top five with teams like Cleveland (33.9), Boston (33.4) and Golden State (31.2).

The NBA’s most prolific three-point shooting team, Houston (40.3), resides in three-point universe all of their own, but if Toronto keeps up their preseason pace, they’d join them. Although no one seriously expects Casey to keep letting all those non-three-point shooters to keep firing away from deep once the games start to count.

In fairness, over the past two seasons players like DeMarre Carroll and Patrick Paterson (no longer with the team) admitted they had the green light to shoot and Casey would constantly hint about the negative impact of turning down open shots from three. Inhindsight, that was the culture change the team was looking for and it clears up comments from players like DeMar DeRozan who said the changes wouldn’t be all that great. This is the way Casey wanted the team to play.

Adding a prolific three-point shooter like Miles should help as will turning loose the extremely confident Powell, but what happened in training camp and preseason was needed to set the tone and “change the culture.”

Now the biggest concern will be maintaining the discipline to resist the temptation and comfort of sliding back into the style of play that won this team over 50 games a season during the past two years. As with implementing any change, there will be bumps in the road.

 

  

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 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