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NBA Toronto Raptors Kyle Lowry

Raptors Kyle Lowry Is Player Of The Week In The East

The NBA announced Monday that the Raptors two-time All-Star guard Kyle Lowry has been named Eastern Conference Player of the Week for games played February 22-28. Lowry earns the honor for the third time as a member of the Raptors and the fourth time in his career. He previously won the award for games played December 1-7, 2014, January 27-February 2, 2014 and March 12-19, 2011.

Lowry led the conference in scoring last week averaging 28.7 points, while shooting 28-for-47 (.596) from the field and 7-for-17 (.412) from three-point range. He also ranked second in the conference averaging 8.7 assists in three games for the Raptors.

Lowry began the week with his eighth career triple-double February 22 in New York, leading the team with 22 points, 11 assists and 11 rebounds in a 122-95 victory over the Knicks. He followed up with 21 points and a team-high six assists during a 114-105 win February 24 versus Minnesota.

Lowry then scored a career-high 43 points February 26, including the game-winning basket with 3.9 seconds remaining, to help Toronto defeat Cleveland 99-97 at Air Canada Centre. It was the first time Lowry had made a game-winning basket during his 10-year NBA career and helped Toronto win the season series 2-1 against the Cavaliers.

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Anthony Bennett

Raptors Waive Anthony Bennett To Sign Jason Thompson

It’s about time, the Anthony Bennett experiment is over for now. Toronto Raptors president and general manager Masai Ujiri has finally decided to add a little bit of hopefully useful depth on his bench by picking up veteran 6’11 big man Jason Thompson who had been waived by the Warriors last week to make room for Anderson Varejao.

 

 

Bennett has struggled in the NBA, starting with being drafted number one overall by the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2013 despite being injured prior to the draft. Injuries and what looked like a lack of confidence or maybe trust in his surgically repaired shoulder seem like the logical reason why Bennett was never able to live up the expectations of a lottery pick let alone being number one.

The Raptors took a flyer on him this past summer and handed Bennett the 15th spot on their roster, but in 19 appearances, he just didn’t perform. Throw out the low points and rebounds, he shot 30.8 percent from the field and 21.4 percent from three-point range and didn’t look good on defense either. More would have been expected from any third year player.

Even the Mississauga Raptors 905 didn’t bring out the best in him. Bennett shot just 33.9 percent from the field and 25 percent from deep against the want-to-bes and hopefuls in the NBA D-League. His 9.2 points and 3.1 rebounds was beyond disappointing at this level.

The 29-year-old Thompson is an eight-year NBA veteran who has started 406 NBA games. He played for the Kings until being traded last summer to the Warriors.

In Sacramento Thompson had career averages of 9.4 points and 6.9 rebounds in 26.5 minutes, but on a deep Warriors team there were few opportunities to play.

In Toronto he will give head coach Dwane Casey a third string big man with solid NBA experience for those occasions when someone gets in foul trouble, is injured or maybe is just having an off night.

 

Update:

The Phoenix Suns may be interested in picking up Bennett. That would be good news for Team Canada as Bennett could be an important piece in the team’s drive to qualify for the Olympics later this summer.

 

 

 

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

Was Friday The Raptors Best Regular Season Game Ever?

By Frank McLean

Whoever you talked to prior to Friday night’s Cleveland Cavaliers – Toronto Raptors match, it was either a big game or just another tilt in late February as the dog days to the playoffs keep progressing.

Turns out it was special as the Raptors fought back on a night that defined Kyle Lowry as someone you can count on when the chips are down. He hit a game winning long range two point shot to give the Raptors a 99-97 win.

Lowry said it was the first time in his NBA career that he has hit a game winning shot. It became Kyle Lowry night at the Air Canada Centre even if the tickets to the game didn’t say it was.

With his adopted brother DeMar DeRozan suffering from flu like symptoms and Cory Joseph feeling the same way, Lowry did what his opponent LeBron James has to do on a nightly basis with the Cavs and that’s carry the team on his back to a win.

Here’s his numbers. A career high 43 points going 15-for-20 from the field, 43 minutes played, 5 rebounds and 9 assists.

Coming in the Cavs led the second place Raptors by three games in the Eastern Conference. A win would have pushed it to four games, but the loss cut it to two. If this was hockey, this is what they would call a classic four-pointer.

The Cavaliers wanted this one bad.

In his pre-game comments Cavs new head coach Tyronn Lue made a point of being up by four games with the win as this was the last head-to-head meeting left on the regular season schedule between the two clubs.

Like Lowry, Lebron James tried to win this game all by himself. When he was on the floor the Cavs were clicking. When he wasn’t the Raptors would chip away at their lead. James spent 40 minutes on the floor scoring 25, adding eight boards and seven assists. He looked exhausted from playing the entire second half.

“It’s mental mistake after mental mistake and those hurt more than anything when you can play better mentally,” a very perturbed James said after the game. “People get so caught up in the physical side of the game, we lack the mental right now and we’ve got to continue to get better with it.”

James had a chance to force overtime or win it outright with the last shot of the game and he had a good look, but that was not the reason Cleveland lost the game.

In their next game on Sunday afternoon against the Wizards in Washington, James did not dress in what the team called ‘getting a rest.’ Fatigue has been a problem for the Cavaliers all season, although playing without James for any length of time might be an even bigger problem.

Meanwhile over in the Raptors locker room they were down playing the importance of this contest both before and after the game.

In his pregame comments Raptors head coach Dwayne Casey kept saying that it was just the next game on the regular season schedule and not a game to see if the bar had been raised for his team.

Casey is always talking about the process and it drives a lot of us nuts in media, but it’s true. After the game Casey made a point that Friday’s win means nothing if the Raptors go to Detroit Sunday night and play a stinker and that then media would be writing about how bad the Raptors are.

When you look at what Toronto had to overcome to win this one you have to wonder how they did it?

  1. DeRozan and Joseph were ill.
  2. Jonas Valanciunas was pretty much a non-factor in the third quarter after taking an elbow in the middle body and had to have ribs and diaphragm x-rayed.
  3. The all too common NBA bad officiating. The trio of James Capers, David Guthrie and Ben Taylor did not have a stellar night.

Casey said you have to hand it to his team for winning the game “despite the obstacles.”

However, you couldn’t have asked for a better ending. Lowry scoring scoring the last six points for Toronto. He tied the game at 97 with a drive into the paint to tie his own career high in points at 41 and then hit the game-winning long range jumper with 3.8 seconds left to set a new personal best of 43 points. James firing the three-point air ball with time expiring as the Cavs failed to score a point in the final minute.

So when you look back at Friday night this was the best regular season win in Raptors history. It has set up a potential rivalry with the Cavs that on paper should have these two teams meeting in the Eastern Conference Final.

In their 21 NBA seasons, the Raptors have never been this close to first place in the Eastern Conference this late in a season.

However, games are not played on paper. Upsets happen. We still don’t know how this Raptors team will do in the playoffs. Friday’s win means nothing if they can’t build on the “process” and get better as a team after the regular season ends.

Meanwhile for the Cavs the game sent up some red flags that they got to get better if they want to make it back to the finals.

Like James said, for them its mental.

 

 

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 Cleveland Cavaliers LeBron JamesCavs LeBron James Needs A Rest After Playing Toronto (again)

It’s been a recurring theme this year in Cleveland. The Cavaliers have looked tired at times, especially after playing the Raptors in Toronto. The solution appears to be giving their superstar LeBron James a day off to rest.

 

 

 

NBA D-League Mississauga Raptors 905 Sim Bhullar & Axel Toupane

7’5 Canadian Sim Bhullar Breaks Out With The Raptors 905

When you are 7’5, professional basketball teams tend to take notice and the giant Canadian big man Sim Bhullar is going to get a lot of chances to make it to the NBA. This year those chances started with a new commitment to his sport playing as close to home as possible with the Mississauga Raptors 905 NBA Development League team.

Being that big has meant Bhullar never really had to worry about his conditioning in college, but just being unimaginably huge isn’t enough to cut it at the next level and this year he finally started to take things seriously. His ability to stay on the court in a faster paced game didn’t happen overnight, but in the five games since the D-League All-Star break Bhullar has been averaging 33.6 minutes, 17.4 points on 70.2 percent shooting, 13 rebounds, 1.2 steals and 1.4 blocks.

“I am playing so much better than I was earlier in the year,” Bhullar said. “Taking the time off and becoming a better player, doing the right things off the court and I think that’s really affecting my game and I am playing a lot better now.”

Bhullar came into the Mississauga 905 training camp focused on getting into better shape. His new team set down rules and expectations and Bhullar didn’t even travel with the club early in the season so he could concentrate on his training.

“This organization means business,” Raptors 905 head coach Jesse Mermuys said. “We brought him here and we had conditions in place with his agent, with Canada Basketball and we are not going to be lax on that. We are committed to the process and I’m sure it was tough, but we are not really going to let up until he gets to where he needs to be.”

“I kind of have to get the college mindset out,” Bhullar explained prior to the start of the season. “I stopped eating junk food and stuff like that. I kind of grew up a little bit and now I am on a good diet and got rid of the bad habits and it’s been good so far.”

The process has been paying off. Bhullar only played in nine games in his first two months with the 905, averaging about 13 minutes, 5.3 points and 4.6 rebounds as he just wasn’t in any condition to play. Mermuys had to restrict Bhullar to shifts that were no longer than about 3 minutes as his center was gasping for air after just a few trips up and down the court. It wasn’t your typical approach to player development, but it’s never been about his skills that coaches have worried about.

“It gives me time to refresh myself and I know Coach is going to put me right back into the game,” Bhullar said at the time. “So, it’s just go in there and work your hardest and get on the bench and get some water and get some rest and get right ready to go right back in there.”

Mermuys started ramping up Bhullar’s number of games and minutes in January as the center played in 10 games, started 5 and averaged about 19 minutes, those minutes increasing as the month rolled along to over 24 minutes per game in the last 5 games of the month.

Bhullar’s opportunity to play an even bigger role came towards the end of January when NBA D-League top-ranked ranked prospect Ronald Roberts Jr. was sidelined with a right knee strain.

Roberts was averaging 18.1 points and 12.1 rebounds for Mermuys and the 905 coach suddenly needed someone to pick up the slack and Bhullar was tagged with the job. Since the All-Star break, Bhullar has done just that.

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Jonas Valanciunas

The Game Has Slowed For Raptors Center Jonas Valanciunas

Averaging 12.8 points and 9.4 rebounds in just 26.3 minutes this season, Toronto Raptors 23-year-old center Jonas Valanciunas has been playing the best basketball of his relatively short NBA career. Aspects of the game have slowed down for the seven-footer and he’s been making better decisions at both ends of the court. While Valanciunas is never going to run like a deer or jump out of the gym, he has started to figure out how to read the court and be where he needs to be.

“I am getting more used to the speed and finding what decision to make,” Valanciunas told Pro Bball Report. “Quicker mind, quicker decision-making. The thing I want to improve more is to find the right passes to be a good teammate and pass the ball, that’s part of basketball.

“That’s the next level when you see a double-team and you find the right man. The open guy cutting or spaced out on the three-point line for an open shot. That’s a thing I am trying to get better on and I need to get better on.”

Unlike previous seasons when Raptors head coach Dwane Casey deflected questions about how he used Valanciunas, now he seems to trust his big man more, run more plays for him and is willing to actually play Valanciunas in crunch-time minutes.

“JV is evolving, he’s getting better,” Casey said. “He’s more comfortable once he’s catches the ball down there. He doesn’t get rattled by fake digs, fake double-teams. Last year he couldn’t decide if they were going to double-team or not double-team and this year he’s doing a much better job of reading that and that’s helped his offensive post game. Before DeRozan was probably our best post-up player, but now Jonas in the right match-ups in going to be a big plus for us.”

Valanciunas doesn’t see the game as slowing down, instead he believes he’s reading the court better, understanding what’s happening around him and reacting quicker.

“Maybe you read better, ‘slows down’ is just a word,” Valanciunas explained. “I think it’s you read better. You see quicker. You see what’s going on on the court better.”

As important as reading what defenses are trying to do to him is figuring out how offenses are attacking him and Valanciunas has gotten a lot better at that end of the court as well.

“You got to read cutters (too), there’s different stuff to do, but you got to read as much as you do on offense, same as defense.”

Some of that ability to read what’s going on has translated to his rebounding numbers where Valanciunas has broken into the top five in offensive rebounding percentage in the Association and is top 10 at grabbing available rebounds overall.

Casey chalks up the improvements to time and experience. This is Valanciunas’ fourth NBA season and he should continue to improve for quite a few years yet.

“He’s matured into that, he’s grown into that,” Casey said. “The game is not as fast for him right now. It’s slowed down for him. Now when he catches it in there he’s not thinking a 100 miles an hour. He’s seeing the cutters. He’s seeing the how the defense is playing him. He doesn’t get hurried up and he can make good decisions out of (the post). This comes from time, maturity, experience in the league. Time is the only answer for that.”

The Raptors regular season success has been largely driven by their All-Star backcourt of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan who score almost 44 percent of this team’s points, but the Raptors goals are beyond regular season success. They’ll need their big man in the postseason.

“I knew (Valanciunas) was a good player, but I have really been impressed,” Raptors veteran forward Luis Scola explained to Pro Bball Report. “Jonas has a great feel for the low post and the little details for the touch around the rim to finish the basketball and making a move on the basket. He has a very bright future ahead of him.

“I don’t think, I know we need his full potential to win. We can’t win without him and I keep telling him that. At times he’s not very happy with the way he has played or the things that happen in the game, but I keep telling him that there is just no way we are going to win without him.”

 

 

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 Brooklyn Nets Joe Johnson

Should Everyone Want The Nets 34-year-old Joe Johnson?

So Joe Johnson is about to get his freedom from the awful Brooklyn Nets, assuming he wants to leave. ESPN’s Mark Stein reports Nets new general manager Sean Marks believes the 34-year-old Johnson deserves another chance at the playoffs and Stein sees a long list of suitors waiting in the wings for his release.

As long as Johnson is released by new Nets general manager Sean Marks by Tuesday, he’ll be playoff eligible for his next team.

“I think he’s deserved the right to [play on a playoff team if that’s what he wants],” Marks said of Johnson during an appearance on New York’s WFAN on Thursday.

A number of likely playoff teams, sources said, are already pursuing Johnson: Atlanta, Boston, Cleveland, Houston, Miami, Oklahoma City and Toronto.

If Johnson wants a real shot a the Conference Finals, the list of teams worthy of consideration isn’t anywhere near as long as Stein has reported.

Houston is in ninth place in the West and the Hawks are in seventh place in the East, just two games out of ninth, so neither team really seems like they are just one aging veteran away from making noise in the postseason. Unless, maybe, Johnson is homesick for Atlanta?

It looks like Miami may have just lost Chris Bosh for the season and sitting just two loses out of eighth place, their concerns are closer to missing the playoffs than making a deep run.

Boston is an intriguing mix of young players, but president of basketball operations Danny Ainge just waived the stabilizing influence of proven veteran David Lee. Did he really do that to make room for Joe Johnson? That just doesn’t feel right.

Eastern Conference leading Cleveland is heavily favored to be in the Conference Finals without a move and remains the most likely team in the East to advance to the NBA Finals. However, the Cavs already have a proven veteran in Richard Jefferson backing up LeBron James at small forward and veteran stretch-four Channing Frye backing up Kevin Love at power forward. It’s pretty hard to see where Johnson fits on the Cavaliers except as injury insurance. So does Johnson just want to be on a winning team or would he like to actually play once in a while?

Maybe the West’s third best team Oklahoma City Thunder could use a slight boost to get over the hump during the playoffs? Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka are going to play the bulk of the forward minutes and Nick Collision and Kyle Singler are good backups, but Johnson still has a presence and can shoot the three-ball. This is a potential landing spot that makes sense and OKC has an open roster spot if they don’t mind paying a little more in luxury tax.

The fans in Toronto would like to see Johnson on the roster. This is the same guy that burned them two years ago in the playoffs. Johnson would have a real shot at being in the rotation as well. Even after DeMarre Carroll gets back to assume the starting small forward role, Joe Johnson would likely be able to bump the the Raptors James Johnson out of the backup small forward spot based on his playoff experience and three-point shooting. Although, one shouldn’t assume that’s a sure thing, Joe would still have to prove he can play defense to keep his minutes.

With the Raptors in second place, just three games back of Cleveland, Johnson might just be able to convince himself that he could be the difference-maker for Toronto getting to the Conference Finals and beyond, and he might be right? Of course, Raptors president and general manager Masai Ujiri would have to waive one of his valued prospects to make room for Johnson and there have been no indications Masai is willing to do that.

Other teams that should be showing interest in Johnson include the Pacers, Clippers and Mavs.

Johnson is in the final year of a $124 million contract and he’s playing for the third worst team in the NBA with a record of 15-42. Sure the Nets might lose an extra game or two if they waive him, but really, how much worse could the Nets record actually be without him?

This seven-time All-Star is still playing almost 34 minutes per game this season, so any team looking to acquire him for a reserve role shouldn’t have any concerns about his ability to stay on the court.

His scoring is down, his two-point shooting is the worst of his 15-year career at 42.7 percent, but Johnson can still nail the long ball. He is taking 4 threes a game and sinking them at his career average of 37.1 percent. His rebounds and assists sit right around his career averages as well. He’s definitely on the downside of his career, but  Johnson isn’t done yet.

Johnson can play a power three or stretch four forward role that can prove to be difficult to handle in the often slower paced postseason. He is still a player that could help the right team get over the hump.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

Update: Nets Press Release

The Brooklyn Nets have waived Joe Johnson, allowing the seven-time All-Star to leave one of the NBA’s worst teams and join a contender.
The Nets announced the move Thursday after agreeing to a buyout of the remainder of Johnson’s contract – one of the largest in the NBA. Players have to be waived by March 1 in order to sign with another team and be eligible for the playoffs.

 

NBA Toronto Raptors DeMar DeRozan

Anti-analytical DeMar DeRozan Stirs The Drink For The Raptors

By Frank McLean

Here’s a question. Who is the Raptors starter that the team can most ill afford to lose?

I say it’s DeMar DeRozan.

Monday night in the Raptors win over the New York Knicks right on Broadway, DeRozan became the player with the most wins in the 21-year history of the franchise.

Monday’s game was his 498th career game and he now has been part of 233 Raptors victories. He moved past Chris Bosh (232 wins in 509 games) and Morris Peterson (232 in 542) into first place on the all-time wins list.

“It’s an honor for me, I’ve been here since the beginning and to have that is big for me. I can’t believe it, I really can’t believe it, but it’s in the books now,” DeRozan said speaking to reporters in his postgame media availability.
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At 26 years of age and two All-Star game appearances he has become the face of this franchise. It’s well deserved as he stuck with a team which during his time in Toronto has suffered seasons where they have been out of playoff contention by Christmas, had long losing streaks and where if you walked into the locker room, you could see the faces of players who wondered if they would ever win another game.

For proof that he is this team’s most important player, all you have to do is look at last season when he missed time in December with a back injury. Kyle Lowry did his best to hold things together, but the Raptors were a .500 team the rest of the regular season.

This year DeRozan has stayed healthy. Oh the team has missed DeMarre Carroll, who is expected to be back sometime before the middle of March, even if the win total has still met expectations. Then they did not miss a step when Jonas Valanciunas injured his hand in game against the Lakers in December. The Raptors are sitting comfortably in second place in the Eastern Conference three back of the first place Cleveland Cavaliers and 5.5 games up on the surprising Heat and Celtics.

Talk to Kyle Lowry and he can’t keep the smile off his face. He is happy for his best friend on the team.

“It’s really an exciting time for him and I’m very happy for him. It just shows the adversity he has been through. When he first started here, you would never have thought he would get that record but now he has it and he did it in less games than the other two.”

“The big strides he made from where he was to be an All-Star is a great story, it says a lot about him and what he’s meant to the franchise, what he means to the franchise,” head coach Dwane Casey said about DeRozan.

“Your legacy is what you’re record is. If you have a record for a franchise as a player, it says a lot. We’re a growing franchise, I know 20-years is not a long time, but we’re taking steps and DeMar’s been a big part of that, he’s a big engine in that growth.

“It’s a feather in his cap to have that record.”

The scary thing is that since Christmas you see him taking more three point shot attempts. DeRozan has said in the past it’s the next phase of his game to get better at. Even opposing coaches have noticed him getting better at it.

Talking to Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers when they were in Toronto recently he made a point of recognizing that he is getting better at shooting behind the arc and that it’s just going to be a bigger pain to defend him now that he has added that to his game.

Casey will tell you that they have created an offensive scheme based on DeRozan’s talents.

“He has a niche, we have an offense catered around him and also Kyle. He knows where he’s going to get the ball.

“You can throw the analytics out the window because he gets to the free-throw line enough to offset the three-point shot. We have a system built around DeMar and his anti-analytical game that has been efficient for him.”

DeRozan is what baseball great Reggie Jackson used to say of himself “the straw that stirs the drink.” If this team is finally going to have playoff success it will all fall on the back of DeRozan.

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Norman Powell

The Raptors Best Prospect Is Norman Powell

The Toronto Raptors put a lot of emphasis on developing their NBA D-League affiliate Mississauga Raptors 905 at the start of this season and in the process they drafted two players they didn’t have a spot in their rotation for in Delon Wright and Norman Powell. They added these two players to last year’s rookies Bruno Caboclo and Lucas Nogueira who equally had little chance at cracking the Raptors rotation. Then they picked up Canadian reclamation project Anthony Bennett.

Based on how head coach Dwane Casey has used the last five players on his bench, the Raptors best prospect so far this season has been their 2015 second round draft pick Powell.

All five of these players have spent time with the Mississauga Raptors 905 and it’s a good thing they have as meaningful minutes in Toronto have been few and far between for any of them. Powell has led this third string group of players hoping to find a place in Casey’s rotation as he got minutes in eight of his NBA team’s first 13 games and has played 157 minutes in 25 games so far this season.

Of the other fours players, it’s Lucas Nogueira with 138 minutes in 19 games, Anthony Bennett 80 minutes in 17 games, Delon Wright 44 minutes in 15 games and Bruno Caboclo 4 minutes in 3 games. The biggest case this group of extras has made for NBA minutes has been for president and general manager Masai Ujiri to find Casey a veteran journeyman third stringer off the waiver wire for insurance in case of injury – although that is seeming to become less and less likely to actually happen.

Toronto’s rookie 6’4 shooting guard hasn’t won his minutes this season with offense, the scrappy guard has struggled finding the bottom of the net when playing with the big boys, but Powell hasn’t been afraid to mix things up and plays with a lot of energy on defense. That’s what a defensive-minded coach like Casey values and when James Johnson went down with a turned ankle recently, it was the undersized Powell that got the nod to start in his place.

“I was really surprised when I got the start,” Powell told Pro Bball Report. “It felt good just getting the experience. Being able to play on the floor with Kyle (Lowry) and DeMar (DeRozan), two All-Stars, two guys I look up to and (can) learn a lot from. It really helped with my development. As the game(s) went on, I got more confident with myself in the offense and doing the little things on defense that gained their trust and the coach’s trust. I thought the four starts that I had were really key to my development.

“It’s just being aggressive. I talked to Kyle. I talked to DeMar. They said don’t lose that aggressiveness. Don’t get hesitant on offense just because you are on the floor with us because usually I am just getting opportunities with the young guys. Just play my game. They aren’t going to get mad if I take a shot, so as the games went along. I just started to play my game, take the shots that I know I am capable of making.”

In his first three starts, he went 0-5 from the field and wasn’t looking to shoot, but Powell has an offensive flair to his game that he wasn’t taking advantage of. In his last start, he was more aggressive looking for offensive opportunities and went 4-6 for 8 points, only missing on his two three-point attempts, but that’s an aspect of his game that’s still underdevelopment.

We know Powell can fill the basket from his extensive run with the 905. In his 25 D-League games, he’s averaging 23.4 points on 48.8 percent shooting and he’s hitting on 31.8 percent from three-point range. He’s also averaging 4.1 rebounds and 4.4 assists plus 2.1 steals.

“The difference is in Mississauga I am the go-to-guy,” Powell said. “Guys are looking for me to score the basketball, set them up. I think that will really help me when my role does increase at the NBA level (as) I’ll have that playmaking ability, see the floor better, making decisions with the ball in my hands more often. I think that is what Mississauga has helped me with. I’ve been able to run point guard and be the facilitator out there.

“It is really different. The D-League is more a pick-up type feel game. (We have) similar sets and things, (but) the spacing, the gaps, a drop off in height and athleticism, centers are like 6’9. Up here you got JV (Valanciunas) 7′ 7’1 so, that’s the real difference and the athleticism, guys close up really fast.”

Of the five guys at the back end of Casey’s roster, Powell is the one player that doesn’t look hesitant on the court other then a reluctance to shoot. The other four players were all first round draft picks, but it’s been Powell who aggressively goes after loose balls, defends without looking at the name on the back of the jersey and has shown the most fight.

First round picks are expected to have the most talent and the higher upside, but they have to show the effort necessary to overcome inexperience early in their careers. So far it’s been Powell that’s looked like the Raptors best prospect.

 

 

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 Memphis Grizzlies Vince Carter

Grizzlies Vince Carter Comes Full Circle In Toronto

By Frank McLean

He is arguably the best player in the 21-year history of the Toronto Raptors. He is as Chuck Swirsky named him “Air Canada” half man half amazing. He is Vince Carter.

Carter made his annual appearance at the Air Canada Center Sunday night with his Memphis Grizzlies in a 98-85 loss to the Raptors, but sitting in press row and watching a 39-year-old 17-year veteran play the amazing thing you see is he still has something left in the tank.

He led the Grizzlies in the first half with 13 points and finished with a season high 16 points so yah he still can make a contribution to an NBA roster.

As regular readers of this site know I have covered the Raptors since day one and what I still can’t get over is that it’s been 17-years since he broke into the league during a lockout shortened 1998-1999 season.

When you check out the Raptors record book after all these years, Carter is still their all-time leader in points per game (23.4), player efficiency rating (21.8) value over replacement player (22.9) and winning percentage (.498).

He was this franchise’s marquee player and he made the Raptors known in the rest of the NBA and I mean in the United States where they didn’t pay attention to the two Canadian expansion teams from 1995, the Raptors and the then Vancouver Grizzlies.

It was a Sunday afternoon home game on February 27th 2000 that the “Air Canada” persona took place and the Raptors became known in the States.

Carter scored his personal best and still Raptors record 51 points against the Phoenix Suns in a 103-102 win. NBC was in town that day with Tom Hammond and Bill Walton describing the feat in front of a national television audience in the US of A.

The amazing win in the slam dunk competition a year later was an exclamation point, but what those two events did was make the fledgling Raptors franchise known and that’s what he will always be remembered for.

When I found Carter in the locker room Sunday night, I saw a smiling 39-year-old who was just happy to still be playing the game he loves and still healthy enough to average 14 minutes a night.

He admits it takes him a little longer to get ready for a game than it did 17 years ago.

“Yah I spend a little more time with trainers before the game than I did before,” he said laughing.

But how long will he continue playing?

“I just go year by year and listen to the body. Every now and then I’ll think about it. When I do know (it’s time), how do I approach that? It’s just tough accepting it because I enjoy playing still. I think when I don’t enjoy playing I will definitely let it be known.”

He has become the elder statesman on the team and 17 years of service time in the NBA will give you that status.

Carter speaks highly of how Charles Oakley took him under his wing when he came into the NBA and made him a pro both on the court and off the court. Just like Crash Davis did for Nuke LaRoosh in the movie Bull Durham.

When you talk to Grizzlies head coach Dave Joerger he will tell you how much Carter has helped with the younger players on the squad.

“He’s always leader and always pulling guys off to the side to talk to guys,” Joerger said. “Whatever people might say about the new guys we have, you know what, Vince Carter is right over there in their ears. It’s all ‘Hey, here’s what we are trying to do on this’ or ‘You know what? Come with me to the airport’ or whatever it is. He’s a total pro on and off the court and all he cares about is the game and doing whatever he can to help.”

“When the coach comes in, new coach or whatever the case may be, and he’s trying to explain the offensive philosophies or whatever, you can only tell them so much,” Carter said. “Players are able to interact with other players and are able to say ‘Oh this is like what you ran with a certain team’ and (then) it makes more sense.”

There is one other thing that brings a smile to Carter’s face is when you mention that young Canadian kids, especially those who are now in the NBA, chose basketball over other sports like hockey because they watched him and Oakley and Tracy McGrady. He made basketball big in hockey-crazed Canada.

One of those kids is Raptors Cory Joseph who talked about playing against his idol after Sunday’s game.

“Watching him, Air Canada, I was in a lot of situations where I was out in the driveway doing things that he was doing back then,” Joseph said. “It’s obviously a great moment for me, being able to play against him now to see how far I’ve come. It’s great that he’s still here. It was definitely a special moment.”

As you can see Carter has evolved as a player and a person. We didn’t talk about how his ugly departure from the Raptors occurred because well that has been rehashed to death by the media every time he has come to town.

The fans have largely forgiven him. The standing ovation they gave him last year when he came to town when the team gave him that video tribute for their 20th anniversary brought him to tears.

Statistically, Carter is still the best player the Raptors have ever had, but that should change in the next few years as DeMar DeRozan slowly moves up the standings in the record book. More importantly, however, is Carter has grown comfortably in his own skin and has morphed into one of the NBA’s respected elder statesmen.

 

 

Frank McLean - small sizeVeteran 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 Denver Nuggets J.J. Hickson

Would Nuggets J.J. Hickson Give The Raptors A Boost At Power Forward?

It’s the post NBA trade deadline clean out the back of your roster season and there are teams with players that just don’t fit looking to create space to try out guys that might. The Denver Nuggets tried to trade Hickson, but failing that, they’ve waived him and teams, like the Toronto Raptors, looking for a cheap boost at power forward are likely taking a hard look.

This isn’t a slam dunk for a team that would have to waive a player to sign Hickson. For all the things he does well, like running the floor, playing in the post and rebounding at a superior rate, he has his flaws. Of course if he didn’t have his flaws, he’d be starting on the Nuggets instead of being set free.

Today’s Fastbreak summed things up nicely prior to the start of the season,

Let me tell you, it’s a wild ride. One minute, he’s snatching offensive and defensive rebounds with the ferocity of a crazed bull, the next, well, I guess he’s kind of doing that same thing. Turns out Hickson is pretty one-dimensional.

Hickson is a tad porous on the defensive side of the ball

He’s really not very good in some fairly impactful ways. Very often, he sacrifices good off-the-ball defense for better rebounding positioning.

He plays a tough brand of basketball, he’s physical and for the most part hustles. Even if that hustle tends to show up more on the offensive end, he’s good for a rebound every three minutes he’s in the game and he gets out and runs on the break.

Hickson had a $5.6 million expiring salary, but even that wasn’t cheap enough for the Nuggets to be able to dump him off on another team at the trade deadline. Nuggets head coach Michael Malone obviously didn’t value what the 27-year-old big man could do either as Hickson had only played in 20 games this season after being a starter and leading rebounder in Denver just two years ago.

Hickson getting bumped out of the rotation by a crop of promising young big men on a team that isn’t going anywhere soon isn’t much of a surprise, but for a playoff bound team looking for a third string big man who can provide some toughness and rebounding to cover off some minutes due to foul trouble or minor injuries – Hickson looks like cheap insurance.

This isn’t going to be an easy call for teams that will have to waive a player to make room for a third stringer who might not even play, but in Toronto where the contributions from backups Lucas Nogueira and Anthony Bennett leave coaches and fans holding their collective breath, bringing in even a limited veteran like Hickson suddenly doesn’t seem like such a bad idea.

 

 

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 Brooklyn Nets Andrea Bargnani

Nets Andrea Bargnani Could Be Bought Out Soon

The Brooklyn Nets have discovered what the Toronto Raptors and New York Knicks already knew, the highly skilled 7-footer Andrea Bargnani is a huge tease. It’s being widely reported that the player and team have opened buy out talks.

NBA Nets Knicks Raptors Andrea Bargnani

Update – it’s confirmed:
 

 

Last summer, Knicks President Phil Jackson said what no one was willing to be quoted as saying in an interview with ESPN’s Charlie Rosen,

“AB was and still is a big tease. When he was injured he refused to do simple non-contact activities like dummy our offense in practice. He seemed to be a malingerer and this had a bad effect on the team, and also on the way the Knicks fans reacted to him. When he was on the court, he had a hard time staying intense, didn’t hustle back in offense-to-defense transition, wasn’t active enough in defending screen-rolls. Still, his offense is perfectly suited to the triangle because he really doesn’t have to work very hard to get shots. He’s another guy we renounced, but whether we can agree on financial terms for his return, or he winds up someplace else, AB will always be somewhat of an enigma.”

 

Jackson nailed it. Bargnani at his best has been an unstoppable offensive force and a solid one-on-one defender. At his worse, it’s hard to imagine how a guy that big can become invisible. Unfortunately, except for brief stretches, he was usually completely visible with all of his warts showing.

 

Often accused of being “soft,” Bargnani explained in his own words this past summer why it always seemed like he didn’t quite “get it.” Nets Daily translating the revealing quot from RAI.

“When I arrived in the NBA, I thought a lot more about me, as an individual, scoring 20 points.”

“This thought has gone away slowly. I always try to continue improving. However, playing well and losing the game leaves me with a sense of sadness that in the early years wasn’t there.”

It has made sense for Bargnani to return to play in Italy ever since the rash of injuries derailed his NBA career while playing with the Raptors. A much shorter schedule and playing against less athletic big men in the Euroleague should help to mitigate the injuries that have plagued his time in North America. But you never know, another desperate NBA GM might just give him a (fourth) shot?

Bargnani is currently playing for the NBA veterans minimum salary with a player option for next season. There really isn’t much for the Nets to negotiate here. Just give the man his money and call it a day.

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

Nets Andrea BargnaniAndrea Bargnani Confirms What Raptors Fans Believed

At this point it can only be taken as cold comfort, everything Toronto Raptors fans thought was wrong about their team’s former number one overall draft pick Andrea Bargnani was true. Bargnani really was putting himself first.

 

 

NBA Boston Celtics David Lee

Raptors Linked To Celtics David Lee Once He’s Bought Out

Toronto Raptors president and general manager Masai Ujiri didn’t find a power forward he thought was worth the price at the NBA trade deadline, but that didn’t surprise Basketball Insiders Steve Kyler who predicted on February 16th Toronto would look to add the Celtics two-time All-Star David Lee once he was bought out.

(The Raptors) have a good thing going, so not likely to mess with it drastically, but if the right power forward comes their way, maybe. I think its more likely they wait and see if David Lee gets a buy out. I have been told there is mutual interest. Not sure the Raptors can trade for him without giving up something real because of his salary, but if he gets bought out… very possible.

With the NBA trade deadline now in the rearview mirror and Lee still with the Celtics, the promised buyout is expected to happen soon confirmed Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald.

In more immediate business, Ainge will be speaking with David Lee and his agent, Mark Bartelstein, to work on a buyout for the 32-year-old forward. The sides had said they would do so if Lee wasn’t traded — and his inclusion was only going to happen if his contract was needed to make a deal with a star work.

There is no great benefit to letting Lee go, but, if he’s not going to play here, Ainge doesn’t want to see an 11-year veteran tied to the pine. Lee will get a chance to see if there’s a place for him in the rotation of a team with stronger postseason aspirations than the Celts.

President of basketball operations Danny Ainge undoubtedly knows about the mutual interest between Toronto and Lee, but a promise to an agent isn’t an easy thing to walk away from even if it’s to avoid helping out a team you’re chasing in the standings.

Lee originally wanted out of Golden State after winning an NBA Championship there last year because the team just didn’t have any playing time for him with the emergence of Draymond Green. Boston seemed like a logical landing spot, a team in need of a veteran presence, but then Ainge loaded up with big men and playing time vanished in Boston as well.

Lee only played in 49 games last year in Golden State and he’s only gotten into 30 with Boston this year, but he’s made the most of his opportunities and he’s continued to produce at a lofty double-double rate per 36 minutes.

His averages of 7.1 points, 4.3 rebounds and 1.8 assists in 15.7 minutes with Boston equate to 16.4 points, 10 rebounds and 4.1 assists per 36 minutes which are in-line with his career averages on a per 36 minutes basis.

The soon-to-be 33-year-old Lee knows big minutes or indeed any minutes are going to be tough to find on teams expected to make a deep postseason run, so the trade-off he has to make is between potentially playing more versus helping a good team win in spot duty.

Statistically Lee is just another version of the Raptors soon-to-be 36-year-old veteran forward Luis Scola without the three-point shot. Both players are very good defensive rebounders, better than most on the offensive glass and can still put up big scoring nights when the matchups favor them. However, they are also both on the wrong side of 30, so putting up points like they could 3 or 4 years ago isn’t reasonable to expect on a consistent basis.

Ujiri should still be interested, however. The Raptors big weakness heading towards the postseason is a lack of depth. While Toronto didn’t need to make a trade and their top-10 players are solid, this team starts to look very thin when a second injury hits Casey’s rotation like what happened when James Johnson turned an ankle with DeMarre Carroll still rehabbing his knee.

Lee would be the perfect addition for the Raptors if he can accept a limited role like he embraced with Golden State a year ago. Injury risk is real for any team and can ruin a postseason early if there isn’t a reliable veteran on the bench ready to step in and play at a high level.

Toronto is 5.5 games ahead of third place Boston in the standings ( 6 games in the loss column) and still has an outside chance of catching Cleveland for first place in the Eastern Conference. The Raptors give Lee as good a chance at reaching the NBA Finals as any place he’s likely to land after he’s bought out.

If the mutual interest is there as Kyler suggests, Lee will be playing for the Raptors in the very near future.

 

 

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 Sacramento Kings Rudy Gay

Could Rudy Gay Be The Raptors Fallback Trade Target?

The Toronto Raptors are central to numerous power forward/ combo forward rumors heading into the trade deadline. However, there is one big forward out there that hasn’t been linked to the Raptors yet and that’s the Kings Rudy Gay.

The East’s top scoring duo of Kyle Lowry (7th best at 21 ppg)) and DeMar DeRozan (2nd best at 23.4 ppg) are carrying the Raptors this season and are having career years, but to get out of the Eastern Conference, that may not be enough. While DeMarre Carroll is expected to return in time for the stretch drive to the postseason and provide a big boost to an already effective defense and contribute to a top 10 offense, he just hasn’t played enough this year to give everyone that warm fuzzy feeling.

President and general manager Masai Ujiri has acknowledged the remaining hole in his team’s rotation once Carroll returns is at power forward and he’s been working the phones to find an impactful deal that doesn’t screw up his second place team’s chemistry or continuity.  He has admitted to realizing the “window is open”, so this time around, he is a highly motivated buyer.

Names jumping to the top of the rumor mill for Toronto include Al Horford, Thaddeus Young, Markieff Morris and Ryan Anderson, but there are solid reasons why nothing could happen on any of these fronts.

  • The Hawks will want a boatload back for Horford. They know the impact he could have on a team – including how his loss could mean their slide out of a playoff spot. This isn’t going to be an easy trade for any team to pull off.
  • The Nets are in the process of hiring a new general manager. Determining what they’ll do at the trade deadline is impossible. Thaddeus Young does seem to fit what the Raptors are looking for though.
  • Morris has outstanding criminal charges and still shows signs of immaturity. Talented? Yes. The ideal guy for a playoff push right now? Who knows?
  • Ryan Anderson is a very good stretch-four and a very suspect defender. Not exactly the guy one would expect a defensive-minded Coach Casey would be pushing for.

In more recent “news,” the slip-sliding Bulls are rumored to have put both Taj Gibson and Pau Gasol on the block.

Gibson is just an older, better rebounding version of Patrick Patterson, but without any ability to stretch the floor. As rebounding hasn’t been an issue for Toronto this year and three-point shooting has been, it’s hard to see why Ujiri would be interested unless Gibson is being given away to save on luxury taxes.

If Gasol is available at a cost Ujiri can stomach, that would be a slam dunk move for Toronto. Keep your eyes on that thread.

However, there’s a reason for almost every proposed trade to fall apart or never even get into serious discussions over the next 24 hours and Ujiri is motivated. A fallback plan involving the Kings and Rudy Gay should be somewhere on board in the Raptors war room.

Gay has checkered past in the NBA, but the beef with Gay was never about effort or talent or off the court issues. What kept getting Gay bounced around was his humongous contract and now that’s he’s on a new deal at $12.4 million this season, maybe it’s time to re-evaluate the situation.

Gay bombed in Toronto in his brief time there because he was supposed to carry the team. In Sacramento, he has been expected to be a difference maker playing beside DeMarcus Cousins. Where Gay thrived was as the fourth best player in Memphis playing behind Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph and Mike Conley. The problem being your fourth best player can’t be making as much or more money as your best player.

Basketball Insiders Alex Kennedy says Gay wants out of Sacramento badly,

“The two guys I’ve heard the Kings are looking to move, or at least are open to moving, are Rudy Gay and Darren Collison. I’ve been told those guys want out. Rudy Gay specifically I think he wants out, that’s what I’ve heard. So don’t be surprised if Rudy Gay gets traded before the deadline. I think he’s upset, I think he’s open to being traded and he’s pushing for that.”

On a dysfunctional team, that comment spells opportunity. There’s a deal to be made with the Kings (again) and it’s likely to be favorable for the team that makes it.

Gay would return to Toronto in a similar position to the one he left in Memphis. A team on the rise with a solid shot at making the Conference Finals where he’s third, fourth or even fifth maybe in terms of importance. No pressure to be the best guy or lead the team. Kyle Lowry owns that mantle in Toronto. No pressure to be the best scorer, that’s DeRozan. Not even any pressure to be the best forward once Carroll gets back. This could work.

A deal along the lines of Patrick Patterson, James Johnson, Norman Powell and the Raptors own 2016 first round draft pick for Gay and former Raptors fan favorite Quincy Acy might just do the trick depending on what other teams are willing to pony up for Gay’s services.

Gay was a good guy during his time in Toronto. He gave a full effort trying to be the Raptors leader and go-to-guy while he was there, but what was being asked of him just wasn’t within his ability. He had a solid relationship with Lowry prior to his arrival the first time and he should be able to re-integrate himself into Casey’s system and find his spot in the pecking order with Lowry and DeRozan easier than just about anyone else Ujiri could acquire at the trade deadline.

A below the radar move and possibly just a fallback position, but if Ujiri can’t get the guy he wants, Gay could be the guy he needs to boost his team’s chances in the postseason.

 

 

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 Rudy GayWas Rudy Gay Sabotaged In Toronto?

How Casey described Gay’s roles was accurate.  It wasn’t reasonable, but it was true.  The Raptors needed Gay to perform all of those roles, he just never had to before.  Gay didn’t shy away from trying either.

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors GM Masai Ujiri

Raptors Search For A Power Forward Dragging To The Deadline

The standard noise in the days leading up to the NBA trade deadline is general managers will only let their obvious trade targets go if other teams “blow them away.” The premise being their non-All-Star who wasn’t a lottery draft pick should somehow command an All-Star player or premium lottery draft pick in return – PLEASE, everyone knows that’s not going to happen. Then there’s the player on the expiring deal and no matter how good they are, the team getting them faces the same risk as the team trading them, so how high does one value a short term rental?

Thus the search for the player who everyone knows is on the market and could possibly help a team inevitably drags out to the final days or even the final minutes before the NBA trade deadline shuts this all down until after the playoffs.

In Toronto, general manager Masai Ujiri has said openly that he is looking for a power forward to boost his team’s chances in the postseason.

“We understand that there is a window in the NBA now”

“that power forward position has always been a position that we need to get better.”

As ESPN’s Marc Stein said in a video on Tuesday morning,

“Toronto is definitely a team to keep an eye on.”

“Look for Toronto to try and get a power forward. They’ve been chasing. They’ve been talking to all kinds of different teams, Kenneth Faried, Thaddeus Young, they’ve talked Phoenix both about Markieff Morris and P.J. Tucker. Ryan Anderson in New Orleans is another one.”

Those are some the most most common names that have been bandied about as Ujiri really is talking to everyone about anyone that could possibly help his team at the forward spot.

What is Toronto likely to be offering in trade?

Ujiri is expected to tie his own hands with his continuing desire to develop his own talent and that is likely to protect him from making a bad deal.

The Raptors own the New York Knicks first round draft pick in June and it’s going to be a lottery pick. Even though the Raptors have four first round picks over the next two seasons, Ujiri values draft picks highly and that pending lottery pick could net him Canadian guard Jamal Murray who is playing for Kentucky where head coach Dwane Casey is an alumni. Now that’s going to be a tough asset to let go of. Toronto’s own first round draft picks over the next two seasons, expected to be in the mid-twenties, shouldn’t be so hard to extract though.

The Raptors are expected to make DeMar DeRozan their big free agent signing in July, so their All-Star shooting guard isn’t going anywhere.

Both Jonas Valanciunas and Terrence Ross were extended this summer making their contracts subject to the NBA’s “poison pill provision.” They would be very difficult to trade, but not impossible, although trading either of these players has never seemed to be on Ujiri’s mind.

It should be noted that Luis Scola is playing on a one-year deal and can’t be traded without his consent as he would lose his Early-Bird rights (NBA CBA FAQ #100). Since Scola signed with Toronto for a shot at a deep run in the playoffs, getting that permission doesn’t seem likely.

It’s obvious head coach Dwane Casey trusts “3-and-D” power forward Patrick Patterson’s defense despite the low offensive output that can be expected on a consistent basis. Patterson is mature for his age, reliable, and usually plays more like a 30-year-old veteran than a 26-year-old who is still developing many aspects of his game. Unfortunately for Casey and Patterson, he has the only contract over $5 million that Ujiri might entertain trading. As in any deal, you got to give something of value to get something of value.

Ujiri’s other obvious trade asset from Casey’s rotation is forward James Johnson. Johnson has settled into a tenth man role whose highest value to the Raptors is as an injury replacement. He has proven to be a very valuable fill-in for DeMarre Carroll and can step in for any of the Raptors wings or big men if needed. It’s been a long tough road for Casey to get Johnson to this point where he accepts his role and is productive in it without becoming sullen or a distraction. This is a guy worth keeping around next season to cover off the inevitable injuries that happen to every team every season.

Other general managers have likely noticed the change in Johnson’s attitude as well and this very versatile forward could be the “value” veteran Ujiri has to include to get a deal to happen.

Toronto also has five players that have spent time in the NBA D-League this season: rookies Delon Wright and Norman Powell, sophomores Bruno Caboclo and Lucas Nogueira and Canadian prospect/project Anthony Bennett. They will have little to no impact on how this season turns out for Toronto and as much as Ujiri values young talent, if they are needed to get the player he wants, they’re gone.

Who’s out there associated with the Raptors at the deadline?

Just about every forward option out there comes with some shortcoming or baggage. Slam dunk trades are hard to come by, although Ujiri has put together some impressive winners as a GM.

  • Pelicans Ryan Anderson, expiring $8.5 million salary

Deadly and reliable three-point shooter whose defense is suspect. He could start if Casey can find a way to hide him on defense.

  • Nets Thaddeus Young, contract has 3 more years remaining,  $11.2 million salary (15% trade kicker)

Young is having a career year on the glass averaging 15.1 points and 9.1 rebounds. An upgrade at starting power forward for Toronto. No three-point game.

  • Nuggets Kenneth Faried, contract has 3 more years remaining,  $11.2 million salary

Undersized energizer bunny power forward. A Ujiri guy who rebounds and blocks shots, but defense? Has taken 12 three-point shots over his five seasons.

  • Suns Markieff Morris, contract has 3 more years remaining,  $8 million salary
  • Suns P.J. Tucker, next season non-guaranteed, $5.5 million salary

The Suns players could be looked at like a package or individually. Morris has pending unresolved legal troubles and has a strong, seemingly immature personality. Tucker is no shrinking violet either.

This pair of players could be franchise changing. It’s just hard to know if the change will be positive or not. High risk, high return is possible. Let’s just say they are very intriguing.

  • Bulls Taj Gibson, contract has 1 more year remaining,  $8 million salary

Gibson is a better rebounding version of Patterson, but without the three-point shot. This sounds like something the Bulls would be more interested in than Toronto.

  • Bulls Pau Gasol, player option for next season, $7.5 million salary

Rumors about Gasol are hard to come by, but if the Bulls see their playoff chances slipping away due to the multiple injuries – and they should. It’s time to cash in on Gasol before he walks away for nothing in July.

  • Hawks Al Horford, expiring $12 million salary
  • Hawks Kent Bazemore, expiring $2 million salary

Rumors about the Hawks blowing this team up abound and if they’re true, getting value back for pending free agents will be a top priority before the trade deadline.

Ujiri would have to be salivating about the prospects of playing All-Star power forward Al Horford beside his old teammate DeMarre Carroll in the playoffs. Bazemore could be the filler to get Ujiri to consider trading an asset(s) that wouldn’t otherwise be on the table.

When Atlanta is looking for teams that should be willing to pay the most – take the biggest risks trading for players who could walk in July – Toronto has to be at the top of their list.

  • Other teams

Toronto is well known for running a tight-lipped organization. The trade rumors don’t leak out from there. However, where last year Ujiri was saying, “my phone is always on,” this year he’s pretty much admitting he’s the one making the calls.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise if Ujiri gets a deal done at the trade deadline this year and neither should it be a surprise if he does a deal no one saw coming.

 

 

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 UjiriRaptors GM Masai Ujiri Confirms He Wants A Power Forward

With just over a week before the NBA trade deadline, Toronto Raptors president and general manager Masai Ujiri confirmed what everyone has been speculating about, he’s looking for a power forward at the trade deadline.

 

 

NBA Orlando Magic Aaron Gordon

Aaron Gordon Was Pure Magic At The NBA Slam Dunk Contest

It’s been said that there are no more dunks left to do, but Magic power forward Aaron Gordon absolutely blew everyone away with what is quite possibly the most difficult and spectacular dunk ever seen at an NBA Slam Dunk Contest. Gordon used Magic mascot Stuff the Magic Dragon with amazing effect several times to illustrate his athletic and creative flair to raise the bar once again at what can be at times the premier event at NBA All-Star weekend.

In the dunk of the night, Gordon jumped over Stuff the Magic Dragon, who is almost as tall as the 6’9 Gordon, in spectacular fashion that defied probability. Completely clearing Stuff with his legs parallel to the floor, Gordon reached beneath his legs to grab the ball out of Stuff’s raised hands and windmill the ball over his own head to complete the impossible sequence with a slam through the hoop. The only disappointment being the judges didn’t give him a score of more than 50.

“Going under both legs. Yeah, so I knew I wanted to do that because it was just different,” Gordon said after the contest. “I knew it hadn’t been done in an NBA Dunk Contest. So I think all four of my initial dunks had never been done in an NBA Dunk Contest before. So I think that was my goal, and I did it.”

Watch the highlights of the dunk contest on the NBA Youtube channel,

The event continued into extra innings as Zach LaVine and Gordon traded scores of 50 until the judges undervalued Gordon’s final dunk as both competitors were forced into displays that they couldn’t have planned on using but remained spectacular.

“Out of my first four dunks, I think potentially I could have won,” Gordon continued. “It could have gone either way. Zach’s an incredible dunker, he went through the legs from the free throw line. That is insane.

“If I knew it was going to be like that, I would have prepared better and we would have been here dunking all night, going back 50 after 50 after 50 after 50. We would have been here all night. I didn’t know it was going to be like that.”

LaVine earned his scores of 50, by any prior dunk contest standards his dunks were perfect. However, Gordon took things to another level and the judges didn’t have a means to give him the higher scores he deserved.

Watch the entire dunk contest here,

After that display, no one will be suggesting the dunk contest is past it’s prime now, but next year’s crop of participants may have a near impossible standard to match – or will they? Apparently we’ve been writing off this event as “it’s over” far too easily before.

“I kind of did a lot of dunks there, man. I don’t know how many more I’ve got,” Gordon said. “I’ve got a year, yeah. In Charlotte, yeah, if they want me to come back, I probably will. I’ve got a year to get my dunks ready.”

 

 

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 Cleveland Cavaliers head coach Tyronn Lue

Did The Cavaliers Get Fat And Lazy Last Summer?

Listen to the Eastern Conference first place Cleveland Cavaliers head coaches (yes that’s coaches plural) and you may have heard a recurring theme. These guys didn’t come into the season in good shape and they still aren’t at the All-Star break. Sure the Cavs knew coming into this season their team could win games on talent alone and they have, but did all that confidence lead to a group that collectively (not individually) got fat and lazy last summer?

The success or failure of this heavily favored team coming into this season isn’t something that should be hung around the neck of general manager David Griffin or owner Dan Gilbert. They spent the money necessary this summer to be great. At $109 million, Cleveland has the highest payroll in the NBA and faces a luxury tax bill of over $60 million. The Golden State Warriors fourth highest $95 million investment in players’ salaries seems like a bargain by comparison with 10 more wins to-date than the Cavs and a pending luxury tax bill of just $18 million.

All that Gilbert’s money has bought him is the fourth best record in the NBA after 52 games and 52 games is plenty long enough to get a really good read on a team.

“I think guys are not in great shape yet, so now we’re saving it for the offensive end and not
competing on the defensive end,” said current Cavs head coach Tyronn Lue at All-Star Weekend in Toronto.

Lue has an 8-3 record as the head coach of the Cavaliers and that’s pretty good, even if it’s losing ground to the Warriors, Spurs, Thunder and more importantly, the Eastern Conference second place Toronto Raptors. However, it would be pretty hard to argue the Cavs are currently doing any better than they would have been doing under Coach Blatt who was fired with a 30-11 record.

“Like I said before, Coach Blatt did a phenomenal job,” Lue said. “It was an unfortunate situation. It’s not like it was a bad locker room when he was there.

“He did a great job. We went to the NBA Finals together, and he’s put us in this position to be number one, close to the All-Star Game.”

Lue wasn’t the first to notice his team is not in great shape. Blatt called them out for it too earlier in the season when they visited Toronto with an 11-3 record and lost.

“I don’t think it was the most physical game that we’ve played in,” Blatt said postgame. “It was a hard played game.

“I thought we got tired for obvious reasons, very short-handed. I thought our guys played hard. I thought we ran out of gas.

“I thought fatigue played a big part of that, I really did.

“Maybe a little of both (mental and physical fatigue).”

Blatt was making excuses and LeBron James wasn’t accepting any.

“It’s all mindset,” James said. “It comes from within. I’ve always had it. My upbringing had me like that. It’s either you got it or you don’t.”

Apparently, the Cavs don’t always have “it.”

The very deep Cavaliers were not really short-handed that night and hadn’t played a very onerous schedule. That was their fifth game in 11 days with no back-to-back contests and in the NBA, that’s about as good as it gets for scheduling. Missing Kyrie Irving and Timofey Mozgov might have impacted the result, but Blatt had more than enough available players and went nine deep in his rotation – getting tired shouldn’t have been a factor.

What’s surprising at this point in the season is Lue noticing the same things almost 40 games later. Exactly when are these guys supposed to get in shape 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.

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Kyle Lowry

Raptors Kyle Lowry All-Star Media Availability

Toronto Raptors Kyle Lowry talks about hosting All-Star Weekend, his friendship with DeMar DeRozan, Kobe, what’s different this time and how the perception of Toronto has changed during NBA All-Star media availability.

How special does it feel knowing that it’s here now and it’s the weekend?

KL: Yeah, I think the first time is always special, but now it’s fun and in my hometown where I play every night. And the way I get to represent the team, it’s great. It’s a lot of buzz around me, and my family and my friends, and especially a buzz with me and DeMar [DeRozan]. It’s a special time.

To share it with DeMar, that must be really good?

KL: Yeah, it means the world. Because we’re our leaders of our team. We put our blood, sweat and tears into the organization and what we do. It’s just been good. It’s been a good season so far.

Do you get a chance to play host a little bit because this is in Toronto?

KL: A little bit. But we’ve kind of been staying a little more low key and not trying to do everything out there. But people called me and asked me where to go or where to eat dinner. I’ve given a few tips here and there.

What are the tips?

KL: Stay out of traffic. But gave them a couple of restaurants and the restaurants that I like. I’ll make a call into it and make sure people take care of them.

It’s Kobe’s last time, does that mean something to you?

KL: It means a lot. I think it means something to everybody this year. He’s the Michael Jordan of our era. He’s the most competitive player we’ve played against, and the thing he’s done throughout his career and the things he’s done to change the game, to motivate the players is unbelievable.

Are you going to go for MVP?

KL: I’m just going to go out and have fun and enjoy the game.

You’re from Philly, Kobe’s from Philly. Growing up, was he a guy that you looked up to?

KL: Well, he’s a Laker. Of course he’s a guy that we grew up watching and respect because of where he’s from. He’s from Philly, and I’m from Philly, and the things he’s done to put the city on the map is magical.

How is this year different for you?

KL: It’s home. It’s my home city and where I play every single night. Like I said, I can play host, unofficial host. But it’s just one thing to be able to represent the team, the country, the city, like I do every single night I step on that floor.

How much do you think the perception of Toronto has changed since the time that you’ve
been in the league?

KL: I think it’s changed a lot. Toronto is kind of one of those teams that you think, Oh, they’re Toronto. But now we’ve become a force. We’re 48, 49 wins [in the last two seasons]. Unfortunately, the playoffs haven’t turned into what we wanted to do. But every year we’re getting better. The organization is getting better, the team is getting better, players are growing. Me staying, hopefully that changes people’s perception about people leaving and coming and having a couple years and leaving. Me staying was the reason for me to try to change the perception.

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors DeMar DeRozan

Raptors DeMar DeRozan All-Star Media Availability

Toronto Raptors DeMar DeRozan talks about hosting All-Star Weekend, his friendship with Kyle Lowry, Kobe, Drake and what’s ahead after the season during NBA All-Star media availability.

Are you in a tall task playing as host this weekend?

DD: Yeah, which is fun. A lot of people rarely get this opportunity, and we just try to take advantage of it and have fun.

How did you and Kyle [Lowry] become such good friends?

DD: I have no clue how we became cool or how we got cool or anything. I think it just came about. It was genuine, and that’s my man. That’s my man.

How excited are you to have the All-Star Game here in Toronto and what it means for you and the city?

DD: For me, it means a lot. But how far I’ve been with this organization, from watching it grow year in and year out, to now having the All-Star Game here, it’s definitely big. I think the whole city is loving it. The country deserves it, and I think the world gets a chance now to really recognize Toronto.

What’s it like for you to walk around with these guys and soak this in?

DD: It’s been great. We’re only a day in. I think as the weekend goes on, it can’t do anything but get better.

What will it be like to step on the floor on Sunday with Kobe in his final All-Star Game?

DD: It’s going to be big for me personally. Going out in something that’s going to be in the history books and being a part of it in your hometown, it’s definitely going to be big.

What’s (Kobe) meant for you in your career?

DD: I grew up watching the Lakers. I grew up watching him his whole career and getting a chance to have a relationship with him and kind of, you know, patterned my game after him so to speak, so definitely speaks volumes.

How different is this year versus two years ago?

DD: Just everything’s different in the sense of I’m more experienced and feel like I’ve been here before. I mean, I felt like I put in the time and deserve it, that’s all.

How special is it going to be for you and Kyle to be going up against the Splash Brothers on the other side?

DD: That’s always fun. To have two guys on the same team in your own city representing the organization is going to be great.

What do you think of Drake getting the key to the city tonight?

DD: That’s big, that’s big. He deserves it. He deserves it. I support him. That’s big.

What is your favorite Drake song?

DD: Started from the Bottom.

Marc Stein from ESPN talking about the interview he had with you, talking about how tough it would be to leave Toronto. Can you just comment about what’s ahead for you at the end of the season?

DD: I mean, you know, you go through adversity with anything in life. It brings you closer to a situation. I just feel like I’m close to the situation. I’ve been through so much here and my mindset has never been anywhere else. So that was the whole reason of that conversation. I don’t think otherwise, until I’m questioned about it or people bring it up.

 

 

NBA Chicago Bulls Pau Gasol

Fading Bulls Should Get Pau Gasol His Shot With The Raptors

At age 35-years-old, All-Star Pau Gasol’s chances at another ring are fading, especially if he’s forced to stick it out with a Bulls team that seems to have lost interest in the playing out the rest of this season after so many key injuries. It’s time for Bulls general manager Gar Forman to cut bait and get back what he can for Gasol while giving the former NBA champion one more shot at reaching the NBA Finals.

As ESPN’s Nick Friedell wrote after the Bulls lost again,

On the laundry list of injuries the Chicago Bulls have been dealing with this season, the most important one that has been missing on the injury report is heart.

In the short term, that means that Pau Gasol should be dealt by next week. Gasol is too talented an offensive player to continue languishing on a roster that does not have enough to win a title.

Losers of 13 of their past 18 games, the Bulls heart just isn’t in it anymore as they sit just one game ahead of the ninth place Pistons. Missing leading scorer Jimmy Butler for the next month likely means they aren’t even in a playoff spot when he eventually gets back.

Forman has to do an honest assessment of his team’s situation. While holding onto Gasol might give the Bulls a chance to claim bottom playoff seed in April, moving Gasol along could guarantee him a lottery pick in June and probably more. Even as player who no one will consider as a potential long term piece of the puzzle and someone who could opt out for unrestricted free agency this summer, Gasol has value to a team hoping to contend.

Gasol wasn’t given the nod as Butler’s All-Star replacement this weekend for sentimental reasons. The big Spaniard is averaging 17 points, 10.9 rebounds, 2 blocks and shooting 41 percent from three-point range. He really could make a solid second place team like the Toronto Raptors a legitimate NBA Finals contender.

There isn’t a blockbuster return in the cards for Gasol, he only makes $7.5 million this year, but that doesn’t mean the Bulls would be giving him away for nothing. A second unit player and/or  a young prospect or two and likely a late first round draft pick are all possible and that should be worth a whole lot more than a suspect shot at eighth place and losing Gasol for nothing this summer.

 

 

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 Sacramento Kings Quincy Acy

Ex-Raptors Series: Kings Quincy Acy Is Still The Energy Guy

Former Raptors forward Quincy Acy was drafted in the second round by Toronto in 2012 and was becoming a popular player on a bad team when he was shipped out of town with Aaron Gray and Rudy Gay in that franchising changing trade with the Sacramento Kings in December 2013. There wasn’t always a lot to cheer for back then for Raptors fans, but a self-professed energy guy who wouldn’t let anyone outwork him like Acy was someone the fans could get behind and Acy is still trying to fill that role today.

“It’s going well,” Acy told Pro Bball Report during the Kings only visit to Toronto this season. “Same things. Just staying prepared. Trying to get the crowd to love me. Playing hard any time I get a chance. It’s the story of my career.

“Every play, every opportunity, every chance I get to provide energy in some way I’m doing it and that’s if I’m on the court or off the court. I am always trying to be in guys ears helping them. Always talking, a man full of energy.”

The Kings traded Acy to the Knicks last year, but when he became available again this past summer the Kings signed him to a new two-year deal at the NBA veteran’s minimum salary. The second season was originally reported as a player option, but subsequent reports suggest the second season isn’t guaranteed.

Acy has been an undersized power forward at 6’7, but he was showing signs of developing a three-point shot to go with all the energy and effort inside. As a stretch four or power small forward, Acy’s utility in a league gearing towards small ball at every opportunity would be greatly increased.

With the Knicks, Acy played in 68 games and shot 18-60 from three-point range, both career highs. He also maintained his solid defensive rebounding rate of 20.5 percent while averaging the most minutes of his career (18.9), so the energy was still there.

Acy has been in and out of the Kings lineup this season, playing in just 29 games with 7 starts, but when he’s gotten a chance, he has been productive.

In three games between January 5-9, Acy averaged 13 points, 4.3 rebounds, 0.7 steals and 0.7 blocks in 21 minutes while shooting 88.2 percent from the field. Then in a four game span from January 26 to February 1, he averaged 4.3 points, 6.5 rebounds in 16 minutes on 47.1 percent shooting.

“I am still a young dude, still learning every day,” Acy insists.

This year Acy has hit on just 5-11 three-point attempts as his opportunities to play have greatly decreased from his time with New York, but his game hasn’t changed and at just 25-years-old, it should continue to improve – if given the opportunity. Acy still can’t wait to get up in the morning and head to the gym.

“It’s still fun,” Acy said. “I still wake up early and still try to be the first person in the gym. When you’re not having fun with it, you’re done with it. I definitely have a passion for this game. I love it and I always want to be around it.”

Acy’s love for the game showed while he was in Toronto and that’s why the fans loved him back. He is a guy worth watching because you know the effort and the energy will always be there.

 

 

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

 

 

 

Quincy Acy 1Quincy Acy: Bringing Life To The Raptors

“My game is high energy,” Acy said.  “It is not just based on that I am an offensive rebounder or a defender, I can do anything to provide a spark.  That is my main thing, just to put some life into the team whenever I can, whenever they need it.”