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 DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry

Jrue Holiday Signing Sets A Floor Under Kyle Lowry

The Pelicans didn’t waste any time getting veteran point guard Jrue Holiday to commitment to stay long term in New Orleans with a five-year deal that could pay upwards of $150 million. Don’t think the Raptors Kyle Lowry hasn’t noticed, he’s better than Holiday, so that deal sets the floor.

The 27-year-old Holiday averaged 15.4 points, 3.9 rebounds, 7.3 assists, 1.5 steals and shot 35.6 percent from three point range. He’s good, but not Kyle Lowry good.

Lowry is older at 31-years-old, but he is the heart and sole of the Raptors and one of the top offensive guards in the Association. He averaged 22.4 points, 4.8 rebounds, 7.0 assists, 1.5 steals and shot an outstanding 41.2 percent from three.

Lowry is four years older, but don’t tell him that. He still sees a long career ahead and if it’s durability that comes into question, Holiday has averaged 51.5 games played per season over the past four years, while Lowry has averaged 71.5 games over the same period.

President Masai Ujiri knows what he’s got in the combination of DeMar DeRozan and Lowry. These guards have led the Raptors to home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs for four years straight and that has meant a lot of extra money in the pockets of team owner Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment.

Last summer DeRozan re-signed for five years and $137.5 million with a player option in year five. That has to be the ceiling Ujiri would like to get to, but that maybe optimistic in light of what Holiday got.

Lowry is a proud and competitive guy. Taking less money than a player he knows he’s better than is going to be hard to swallow and Ujiri knows it.

The two sides met last night and the odds are they will come to a new deal in short order and it’s likely neither side ends up being 100 percent happy, but don’t worry about Lowry. The great grandkids he can’t imagine yet won’t be missing any meals.

 

 

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 Minnesota Timberwolves Jeff Teague

Instant NBA Free Agent Action At Midnight

There is no waiting for the morning for these NBA free agents:

Jeff Teague to the Timberwolves

Tony Snell stays in Milwaukee

Patty Mills stays in San Antonio

Stephen Curry nears $201 million deal to stay in Golden State

Cristiano Felicio to stay in Chicago

Shaun Livingston to stay in Golden State

Blake Griffin to stay with the Clippers

Nene to remain in Houston

Remember none of these announcements are “signed deals” as teams cannot actually sign free agents until July 6th.

NBA Toronto Raptors Serge Ibaka and Masai Ujiri and Kyle Lowry

Canada Day Is A Referendum On The Raptors

As Canada celebrates it’s 150th year as a Country on July 1st, free agency opens and the Toronto Raptors face a referendum as an NBA franchise where players want to be and where a very wealthy ownership group is willing to spend … or not. The big party in the North may dominate the local news coverage for a time, but there will be no hiding from the results of the referendum on the Raptors.

The Raptors, finally, for the first time in franchise history, are a very good team, maybe not a genuine NBA Finals contender yet, but a real Eastern Conference Finals contender that with a little or a lot of luck (bad luck luck on the Cleveland Cavaliers part) could have snuck into the NBA Finals in each of the past two years.

All that is in jeopardy on July 1st as the Raptors have four key rotation players entering unrestricted free agency which means the players will decide where they want to play next season and all president Masai Ujiri can do is offer them a contract and try to talk them into coming back.

Three-time All-Star Kyle Lowry, three-time NBA All-Defensive first team big man Serge Ibaka, and veteran ‘3-and-D’ combo forwards P.J. Tucker and Patrick Patterson will decide if they want to play in Toronto next season.

ESPN currently puts the odds of the Raptors winning an NBA Title at 80:1, behind the Bucks and Timberwolves, tied with the Heat, Pelicans and (are they crazy) 76ers. It’s obvious how ESPN believes the referendum on the Raptors will turn out.

However, ESPN is better known in Canada for seeming to forget Toronto even has an NBA franchise. Attempts in recent years by the Raptors to keep their own free agents have gone pretty well.

Lowry was traded to the Raptors in the summer of 2012 and had to fight his way into the starting line-up. A cranky player with a huge chip on his shoulder who always seemed to be in conflict with head coach Dwane Casey, Ujiri got Lowry to re-up in free agency during the summer of 2014 on a team friendly contract.

All that’s happened with Lowry since then is he’s become an All-Star on a playoff team that’s been to the Eastern Conference Finals and is desired and respected around the league. DeMar DeRozan has become his best friend and their families are tight, so ESPN, explain exactly why he’s not re-signing again this summer?

Patrick Patterson came to Toronto in a trade deadline deal in 2013 and re-signed with the Raptors on a very team friendly contract in 2014. After bouncing around the league in unpalatable situations, all he’s done in Toronto is go to the playoffs every year and play for a head coach that obviously supports him.

There is a risk if the Raptors re-sign their other three free agents that Ujiri doesn’t have a big enough budget to re-acquire Patterson, but it won’t be because Patterson doesn’t want to be in Toronto.

Ibaka and Tucker were 2017 trade deadline moves, so it’s harder to make a call about how badly they want to return, however, all indications are they are interested and they were key pieces of Casey’s rotation.

However, wanting to return and re-signing these unrestricted free agents may not coincide unless Ujiri really does have the ability to commit the Raptors to a massive increase in payroll next season. While he may not have to outbid other teams, he can’t insult these guys with below market bids either.

This referendum is as much about the Raptors ownership group being willing to spend the money they have and can easily afford to invest in these players as it is about Raptors free agents interest in playing for Toronto.

In light of other recent news, this referendum could have bigger implications than just whether some key players are back or not.

The Knicks have finally addressed the disaster that was Phil Jackson and the New York media has focused in on Masai Ujiri as the executive who could put this storied franchise back on track.

Ignoring the fact Ujiri is still under contract to the Raptors and the Knicks would have to: a) ask for permission to talk to him; b) pay some serious compensation in draft picks and dollars; and, c) bribe Ujiri to leave with an outrageous contract, this isn’t an impossible scenario.

Imagine Ujiri is handcuffed by the Raptors ownership and the promised budget that is supposed to allow him to pay significant luxury tax dollars next season isn’t there. His free agents walk, the Raptors are thrust into a rebuilding program, and Ujiri is seriously embarrassed with what he was forced to offer players he has built close relationships with.

In one act of putting profits ahead of winning and player relations, the Raptors turn back the clock and once again become a team players can’t wait to leave.

What has been a very stable Raptors franchise over the past four years: general manager, coach Casey, Lowry and DeRozan could all be at risk. This is one referendum the Raptors can’t afford to lose.

 

 

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

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri and GM Bobby Webster

Knicks Dump Phil Jackson, Want Raptors Steady Masai Ujiri

By Frank McLean

A very quiet week at the Toronto Raptors Biosteel Centre practice facility became chaotic Wednesday morning after it was announced that the New York Knicks were finally coming to their senses and dumping Phil Jackson as their President of Basketball Operations.

So how does that affect the Toronto Raptors you might ask?

Well, minutes after the Jackson story became official Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical reported that Madison Square Garden was hiring former MLSE boss Tim Leiweke as an adviser and then reported that the Knicks were interested in hiring the Raptors basketball guru Masai Ujiri to take over the Knicks, regardless that Ujiri still has four years remaining on his current contract.

So by 9am both of Toronto’s all sports radio stations and the social media word was going nuts with the story.

Then about a half hour later the Raptors finally announced how Ujiri was restructuring his front office based on the departure of former General Manager Jeff Weltman to the Orlando Magic.

So the front office will look like this.

Assistant General Manager Bobby Webster, who has been considered for GM jobs with other orgainizations, will now be the General Manager and the guy who will have to sit down and re-sign Kyle Lowry, PJ Tucker, Serge Ibaka and Patrick Patterson.

Dan Tolzman, who was the player personnel guy and the man behind the success which is the NBDL’s Raptors-905, moves to Assistant General Manager.

And Keith Boyarsky moves from analytics to Vice President of Basketball Strategy and Research.

Much to the surprise of the assembled media Ujiri made a brief statement about the promotions, but before he was asked he stated he would not comment on the news of the day because he did not want to steal the thunder from Webster, Tolzman and Boyarsky’s day.

“Today is all about Bobby Webster, he deserves it,” Ujiri said. “Also Dan Tolzman and Keith Boyarsky who we promoted. It’s their day. Everything that we have done in this organization and going forward, they have contributed in every way that they could and have been a big part of it. So today is about Bobby, congratulations.”

After he introduced Webster he disappeared.

The timing of the press conference was strange because usually we (in the media) get a notice of a press conference a day before so news outlets can plan for staffing it. We knew Ujiri was not in a hurry to announce the moves, but this seems like the Raptors were trying to put out a fire.

The last paragraph in the announcement stated that Webster, Tolzman and Boyarsky will all report to Ujiri. Was that a hidden message? Well, probably not hidden.

At 32 Webster becomes the youngest GM in the NBA and he made it clear that yes he knows he is young.

“I know I’m young and I’m younger looking,” Webster said to much laughter in the room. “I know the circumstances that got me here and I know I will continue to grow.”

He also credited the leadership support from MLSE’s Larry Tannenbaum and the Board of Directors for having the confidence to put him in this position.

For a 32-year old, Webster has a resume that would make you think he is older than what his birth certificate says.

He started with the Orlando Magic, then spent seven years in the NBA office in New York City where Masai Ujiri plucked him for the Raptors.

At the NBA he was the Associate Director of Salary Cap Management. Helped the league’s Labor Relations Committee negotiate the CBA with the Players Association and advised all 30-teams on salary cap management, luxury tax planning, contact negotiations and trade proposals.

As you can see, he has the experience to step into the GM’s job.

But with all the noise out of New York City about Ujiri leaving for the Knicks a question to him if he thinks he will be working for Ujiri might put a stop to the speculation.

“When you see the special relationship everyday between Larry (Tannenbaum) and Masai it’s clear that he is happy to be part of it.”

When the question of the four free agents came up Webster said it will be addressed when it is the appropriate time and that contract talks with agents are,  “not as crazy as people think. You sit down and talk basketball.”

When it was all done the speculation of Ujiri leaving was still there like the proverbial 500-pound gorilla in the room. So, until he addresses the issue yes or no, it won’t go away.

My take is I think this is a lot of hot air out of New York. People there can’t understand why anyone would not want to work there. They think it’s the center of the universe.

The Knicks are as a dysfunctional operation as there is in all of professional sports. Ujiri loves Toronto and countless times he has stated that. He has a good thing with the Raptors why would he want to go?

Who could forget his heartfelt re-introduction to the local Toronto media back in the summer of 2013. “I’m home,” Ujiri almost sighed.

And if he was leaving the Raptors, would he have been allowed to make the moves that he did on Wednesday.

Folks he is not going anywhere. It’s hard to imagine Tannenbaum ever giving Dolan permission to even just talk to Ujiri.

“We believe in Masai and Masai believes in us,” Webster said.

Wednesday was a crazy day, what will Thursday bring?

 

 

   

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

  

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Kyle Lowry and P.J. Tucker and Serge Ibaka

Six Things The Raptors Should Do This Summer

The Toronto Raptors have won over 50 games in back-to-back seasons for the first time in franchise history and both times they were easily eliminated in the playoffs by the Cleveland Cavaliers. Everyone is predicting another Cavs – Dubs rematch in the NBA Finals again next year, so, in that light, what are six things the Raptor should be doing this summer?

President Masai Ujiri says the goal is to get past the Cavs and win an NBA championship, but to be blunt, every NBA GM says they want to win a championship and almost none of them have any reasonable expectation of accomplishing it next season or even in the foreseeable future.

By any historical measure, Toronto has nothing to be upset about. This team has succeeded on the court while Ujiri has handicapped his head coach with quite literally half a roster of inexperienced, inexpensive players under development. The building is sold out and the organization is raking in the cash from 16 home playoff dates over the past two postseason runs. But for injury, the Raptors could have easily set a fourth consecutive record for franchise wins in a season last year.

This summer will be different. The team has four key unrestricted free agents that they should have no trouble hanging onto if Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment (MLSE) will open their checkbook, but that would end the days of modest payroll and huge profits. What the Raptors should do for their fans and will do for their corporate masters may not be on the same page.

1. Re-sign Kyle Lowry (31-years-old), unrestricted free agent

Everything this summer for the Raptors revolves around re-signing Lowry. If Ujiri screws this up, the rest of free agency will quickly circle the drain.

The Raptors need to get the best deal possible and hopefully that’s in the order of four years and $120 million, but if if takes five years and $150 million plus to get it done, well, it’s time the Raptors started spending some of that money they’ve made off of their loyal fans.

2. Re-sign Serge Ibaka (28) and P.J. Tucker (32), unrestricted free agents

Ujiri said he traded for these two players at the trade deadline in February in order to get their Bird Rights. Well the only reason you need a player’s Bird Rights in free agency is so you can go over the salary cap to re-sign them, so get it done.

This is no time to cheap out. Ibaka wants to be in Toronto, but he isn’t going to take a below market deal, so offer Ibaka five years and $100 million. Tucker said he was looking for fit in his next contract and Lowry would be a big factor in determining that, but he’s 32-years-old, offer Tucker three years and $25 million and be prepared to go higher.

Failure to re-sign Ibaka and Tucker means Ujiri gave away a young three-point shooter in Terrence Ross, a first round draft pick and two second round draft picks for nothing.

3. See what the market says UFA Patrick Patterson’s (28) value is

Over the past four years the Raptors have played better as a team with Patterson on the court, but he has proven to be an unreliable offensive threat who seems to get hurt at the worst time and his limited offense takes a holiday after returning from injury.

Patterson didn’t do himself any favors in the playoffs over the past two seasons either as this career average 36.8 percent three-point shooter fired 30.2 percent from deep over his last 30 postseason games.

From a Raptors perspective, it would be nice to re-sign Patterson to another cheap three-year deal to continue coming off the bench, but like Bismack Biyombo last summer, expect Patterson to get paid a lot more elsewhere than he’s worth to Toronto.

Get ready to say bye-bye to a great guy in July.

4. Trade DeMarre Carroll

Despite not living up to some very high expectations or his contract, Carroll has done nothing wrong in Toronto and it’s likely his knee will finally be 100 percent and he’ll return to being an effective ‘3-and-D’ combo forward next season.

It’s just, at 31-years-old in July, after two disappointing seasons in Toronto, he’s in the way of younger players and it’s time to move on and potentially help a different (younger?) team that needs what he should still be able to bring to the table.

Ujiri can’t expect much back and he might have to include him in a larger deal just to move him. However, the Luxury tax savings alone should make a trade for nothing back worthwhile from a corporate standpoint. From a team standpoint, he should be able to do a little better.

5. Trade Jonas Valanciunas

Valanciunas can probably improve his jump shooting dramatically and within a couple of years become that trailing three-point threat on the fast break who is left wide open. However, he’ll never be decent runner and his lack of quickness will continue to challenge him when guarding on the perimeter.

Given 30 minutes a night, JV can almost guarantee a double-double average, so he should have solid trade value as one of the top rebounders in the NBA on a percentage basis and a still improving player on offense.

Unfortunately for Valanciunas, if the rookie Jakob Poeltl continues improve over the summer and Ibaka is re-signed, Poeltl should be able to just take JV’s minutes at a much lower cost.

To fit with the direction Ujiri seems to be taking this team, he needs to get back a more mobile big man with a better jump shot or a solid ‘3-and-D’ forward.

6. Reduce The Number Of Prospects On The 15 Man Roster

While there should be no objection to Ujiri drafting the injured small forward OG Anunoby with the 23rd pick in June, there should be huge concerns about heading into the 2017-18 season with eight players still on their rookie deals.

Of those eight players,

As the most sure-fire young player on the Raptors, Norman Powell is ready to take on a much bigger role this season. Depending on what other moves Ujiri makes this summer, Powell could be starting. He’s earned it.

Jacob Poeltl needs a spot in the rotation somewhere as he is far too good to get anything out of being sent back to the Raptors 905.

Ujiri needs to decide if it’s going to be Delon Wright or Fred VanVleet assuming the third string point guard duties next season. Both are promising young players, but he needs that roster spot to improve the team’s depth elsewhere. So, pick one.

Between Bruno Caboclo, Pascal Siakam, Lucas Nogueira and Anunoby, Ujiri needs to start making decisions about who he believes in and who he is just hanging on to out of hope. At least one of these guys should be available in trade to make room for a more NBA ready player or just simply to grease a trade.

The Raptors have two new quasi-roster spots available (total 17) on two-way deals this season that don’t count against the salary cap. Use them and get the prospects on the 15-man roster down to a more manageable number.

Conclusion

The Raptors need to follow the plan Ujiri created when he traded for Ibaka and Tucker at the trade deadline this past season. Everything follows from there.

Whether the roster Ujiri manages to put together will be good enough to get past the Cavs or not, Raptors fans deserve the best team possible, even if that squeezes MLSE’s profits.

 

 

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 DeMarre Carroll

Should The Timberwolves Now Go After Carroll And Valanciunas?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors OG Anunoby

OG Anunoby Falls To The Raptors Because Of Injury

By Frank McLean

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 
 

   

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

   

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Kennedy Meeks

Raptors Sign Undrafted UNC Center Kennedy Meeks

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

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

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

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

At the NCAA tournament:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri

Eight Is More Than Enough Raptors On Rookie Deals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri

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

By Frank McLean

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

   

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

 

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Kyle Lowry and Chicago Bulls Jimmy Butler

Could Jimmy Butler Push Raptors GM Ujiri Into Action?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NBA Indiana Pacers Paul George

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

NBA Nets Brook Lopez

Lakers Land Brook Lopez From The Nets For Russell

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

Indiana Pacers Paul George

Do Pacers Want Paul George Traded By Draft Night?

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

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

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

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

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


 

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

 

 

 

NBA Indiana Pacers Paul George

Paul George Rumors May Give Raptors A Real Shot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

However,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

 

 

 

 

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

Should The Raptors Trade Canadian Cory Joseph?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NBA Toronto Raptors backup PG stats 2016-17

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

 

PJ Dozier at Toronto Raptors NBA draft workout

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

 

 

NBA Detroit Pistons Jon Leuer and Toronto Raptors DeMarre Carroll

Should The Raptors And Pistons Make A Trade?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trade center Andre Drummond!

Get rid of that bum point guard Reggie Jackson!

Jon Leuer is a bust!

Stanley Johnson was a mistake!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Jonas Valanciunas

What Can The Raptors Get For Jonas Valanciunas?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Boston Celtics

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

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

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

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

Indians Pacers

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

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

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

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

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

Dallas Mavericks

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why not just keep Valanciunas?

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

  Featured image courtesy of Larry Millson

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Kyle Lowry and P.J. Tucker and Serge Ibaka

Raptors Should Be Judged By Luxury Taxes In 2018

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

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

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

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

NBA Toronto Raptors salaries 2017-18

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Norman Powell

Raptors Norman Powell Is Ready To Take On A Major Role

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

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

NBA Toronto Raptors Norman Powell career stats

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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