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Projecting The NBA East Playoff Seeding

Down to a dozen games to go and only three spots seem to have been settled when it comes to playoff seeding. Cavs, Celtics and Hawks appear to have locked in their current postseason rank and everyone else with a chance is still battling for position.

The Cavaliers only have a game and a half lead over the Celtics for first and ESPN projects they’ll finish two games ahead at the end of the regular season. Unless coach Lue goes a little overboard on this “rest” concept, only road games in San Antonio and Boston should really present a test to the team everyone has pegged as returning to defend their NBA title. Of course they’ll likely punt a few games unless Boston is really pushing them.

And Boston’s relatively easy schedule just might give them that opportunity to push the Cavs all the way to the end of the regular season. If it wasn’t for those recent unexpected losses to the Suns, Nuggets and 76ers, the ESPN prediction of a 7-4 run to the finish would look unreasonably conservative.

The Wizards will be doing well to finish out the last 12 games going 6-6. Losers of their last two games, they play 5th place Atlanta and last place Nets before heading out on a brutal five game road trip book-ended by Cleveland and Golden State.  They might need to win out in April to go 6-6. Fortunately it looks like the Hawks are too far back to pass them for 4th.

ESPN has Toronto passing the Wizards for 3rd place and if they win the games they are supposed to, the Raptors will be better than the projected 8-4 over their last 12 games and be ready to pounce on any unexpected major slippage by the Celtics for 2nd.

The real battle for playoff seeding begins at 6th and runs through 10th place. Someone isn’t going to make it who thinks they should.

The Pacers are trying to set some kind of bizarre record for alternating wins and losses (now at 14 games of a loss followed by a win) and if they can keep it up, they should grab one of the three remaining playoff spots. However, they have a tough remaining schedule, so the 5-7 ESPN prediction seems reasonable and could be bad news. A 41-41 record might not be enough for a playoff spot.

Milwaukee is hot and got hot at the right time, but Giannis Antetokoumpo turned an ankle and if he misses the usual two weeks, all bets are off on how the Bucks finish out the regular season. With Antetokoumpo, the ESPN prediction of going 6-7 seems ultra-conservative, without him, it might be generous.

The Pistons are in a tie with the Heat now and forecast to still be tied at the end of the regular season. Detroit needs to make hay from now to the end of March when they have seven winnable games because they aren’t making up any ground in April.

The Heat have won a home-and-home against the Cavs in March and then beat Toronto, but they face a tough schedule to the end of the regular season with Toronto twice more, Boston, Detroit, Washington twice and the Cavs again. They’ll have to perform without their third best scorer in Dion Waiters who might miss the rest of the regular season with an ankle injury.

The Bulls have the schedule to make up ground, but they haven’t been playing well and have lost Wade for the season.

The Hornets have a tough schedule ahead of them and just don’t seem to have anything left in the tank.

Playoff seeding 6th thru 8th is decidedly undecided.

 

 

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 East

Playoff Contenders And Pretenders In The NBA East

As NBA teams prepare for New Year’s celebrations, their coaches and general managers have to start facing up to some tough realities. Are they playoff contenders or pretenders in the East? Is it time to tank for the best possible NBA Draft Lottery ticket or go all in for one of the readily available last four playoff spots?

Currently there are eight teams fighting for the last four playoff spots in the Eastern Conference: Hawks, Wizards, Knicks, Bulls, Bucks, Pacers, Magic and Pistons and the 12th place Pistons are only three games back of the fifth place Hawks. Whoever can get and keep their act together over the final 40-odd games left in the season is in.

Just for perspective, ESPN Eastern Conference predictions have the Hornets, Celtics, Raptors and Cavaliers at better than 95 percent certainty of making the postseason. Although only the Raptors and Cavs are given any chance at advancing to the NBA Finals. Miami, Brooklyn and Philadelphia are already relegated to just playing out the string. ESPN also provides Strength of Schedule and the usual standings details to help round out where the teams in the East stand.

NBA East

The teams, their opponents, the fans or anyone else for that matter is under no obligation to just accept ESPN’s predictions. These eight teams are so close that the right move could solidify, boost or reverse (if the tank is in) the fortunes of any one of them.

Atlanta Hawks – ESPN 6th

The Hawks have made the postseason in each of the past nine seasons and if any organization has shown they can pull out the stops necessary to get back there again, this is it.

This team is full value for their .500 record. They have shown an ability to beat anyone, like the Raptors and Cavs and then lose to anyone as they did to the Timberwolves and Magic recently.

With fully half of this roster expected to hit free agency in July, one might expect the Hawks to do the rational move and cash in a high value player who will be tough to keep for a very mediocre team to get future assets, but pending free agents haven’t produced much in trade talks in recent years and it’ll be easier to just try to ride this group to a 10th in a row postseason appearance.

At this point, it wouldn’t be safe to go against the ESPN prediction.

Washington Wizards – ESPN 9th

The Wizards have reversed a terrible start to the season, but they did it playing a somewhat soft schedule that included a couple of wins over the Nets in December.

The best arguments for not just blowing up this roster are the two wins over Milwaukee and the wins over Charlotte and Detroit this month, all of whom ESPN has finishing ahead of Washington.

The Wizards financially committed to winning this season and should be actively looking for trades over the next six weeks to upgrade their roster, especially that terrible 29th ranked (worse than the Nets) bench. It wouldn’t take much to keep them solidly in the playoff picture.

If the Wizards don’t make a move, ESPN has got this prediction right.

New York Knicks – ESPN 10th

Will the Knicks break the hearts of their long suffering fans once again? Probably and it isn’t hard to see why. It’s challenging to project any team giving up nearly 108 points per game making the playoffs.

They are getting outscored by their opponents by the second biggest margin in this group of eight teams. They can’t beat good teams and the much anticipated string of injuries to this rather brittle roster has yet to really happen.

It’s easy to see the Knicks trying to turn draft picks into players that could help now and it might work – for this season, but hasn’t this organization had it’s fill of being taken advantage of by other teams for possible short term gain?

The Knicks making the postseason would be a real “feel good” story. However, the competition for one of those spots might just be too tough unless a few of their competitors decide to tank.

Chicago Bulls – ESPN 8th

Underachievers sums up the Bulls season and it might just cost head coach Fred Hoiberg his job, but if that happens, just throw out the ESPN prediction of 8th place. This team would be headed back to the Lottery and looking to retool for next year.

The Bulls have enjoyed the easiest schedule in the NBA and they are blowing it. Worse, they don’t seem to know why things aren’t going better and can benching Rajon Rondo in the second half of games really be the answer? Throw out the all the fancy ESPN stats on this one, since beating the Cavs on December 2nd, they’ve lost to every team that matters to go 5-10.

If any team needs to make a deal, the Bulls are it and they have assets other teams should be interested in. Assuming management can keep its focus, but this is one team that seems destined to return to the Lottery.

Milwaukee Bucks – ESPN 5th

A young Bucks team hasn’t fared so well thru a rough patch in the schedule, but they still hold the largest points differential of the teams in the group while playing the second toughest schedule. A 7-8 December includes losses to the Spurs, Raptors and Cavs twice.

Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker are the present and the future of this team and any tinkering with this roster has to take these two future (all?)-stars into account. Plus Kris Middleton could return from his hamstring injury after the All-Star break, so the pressure is off in terms of needing to add another impact player.

Sorry Greg Monroe, but the Bucks aren’t under any pressure to move you, but if any team has a point guard they’d like to swap for a big man?

This team is going to the postseason.

Indiana Pacers – ESPN 11th

Tied with Chicago for the easiest schedule in the NBA, a team featuring Paul George should be competing with Toronto for second place in the East instead of owning a spot in the Lottery. There were consequences to shaking up the roster and firing the head coach after what should have been considered a successful season last year.

A team that used to be known for playing big is getting crushed on the glass to the tune of almost 12 offensive rebounds given up and a rebounding differential approaching 5. Add that to the third worst bench in the NBA and what’s become a middle of the road starting group, and even a superstar isn’t going to save you.

A trade for a shooting guard that could score would help as would a big that could rebound, but the Pacers don’t have a lot to offer in return. Unfortunately, ESPN’s prediction of 11th place is looking to be rock solid.

Orlando Magic – ESPN 12th

Apparently someone forgot to mention that the NBA is a guard driven league these days?

The Magic have trouble scoring, they aren’t much of a three-point threat and they could use upgrades at both guard spots. Other than that, this team could be really good. Maybe a trade would help?

Bringing in Serge Ibaka on an expiring deal without the guard play necessary to get the most out of him could easily turn this into a terrible trade for the Magic when he walks away in free agency in July. So sooner rather than later, the Magic have to either trade Ibaka to get something back or trade someone else to get the help needed to turn this sinking Titanic around in hopes of convincing Ibaka to re-sign.

Either way, go with the ESPN prediction. The Magic’s plan for this season didn’t work.

Detroit Pistons – ESPN 7th

Stan Van Gundy is a really good coach, but even he seems flustered by the play of this group. Although, playing the second toughest schedule in the NBA could do that to a team expected to finish somewhere between 5th and 8th before the season began.

The Pistons have played 20 games against teams with a .500 record or better. The Bulls have only played 12, the Wizards 13, and the Hawks and Pacers 14. Van Gundy has his excuse for being in 12th place at 15-20 on the season (not that he’s using it.)

A middle of the road group of starters is supported by the East’s 4th best bench, so slipping into a playoff spot is well within reach and Van Gundy isn’t above rolling the dice on a trade. Although, all the Pistons may need to do is to wait on the schedule to turn in their favor and they’ll meet or exceed ESPN’s prediction.

In Summary,

Contenders: Hawks, Bucks, Pistons

Pretenders: Knicks, Pacers, Magic

Let’s Make A Deal: Wizards, Bulls

 

Who do you think can grab one of the final four playoff spots in the East?

Which teams pull the trigger on a deal – to make it? – or tank?

 

 

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 Milwaukee Bucks Larry Sanders

Is Larry Sanders The Answer At Backup Center?

Larry Sanders led the NBA in block percentage in the 2012-13 season with the Bucks, swatting away 7.6 percent of opponent two-point field goal attempts while he was on the court. He also pulled in over a quarter of all the defensive rebounds. The future looked very bright for the then 24-year-old center. So how did he end up in the summer of 2016 rumor mill as a potential backup center?

Sanders was waived by Milwaukee on February 21, 2015 after deciding to walk away from basketball and a big chunk of his recently signed $44 million contract, however, he didn’t leave empty handed. The Bucks used the stretch provision and will be paying Sanders $2.2 million per year thru 2021-22.

After his big season in 2012-13, things started going wrong. Sanders only played in 23 games the next year as an eye injury that required orbital bone surgery ended his season and the thumb he injured in a bar fight also had to be surgically repaired. Plus, a five game suspension for his third time violating the league’s marijuana policy put him at odds with the organization as detailed by Rotoworld.

He got into 27 games in 2014-15 before a string of missed games due to “illness” preceded his departure. Sanders recently talked about his decision in an extensive interview with Alex Kennedy of Basketball Insiders.

I got to the point where I realized that the NBA is a machine. It’s going to keep running, with or without you. If it can keep running without Allen Iverson – Allen Iverson! – then it’s definitely not worried about me. I knew that, and I also knew they really didn’t have the time to get to know me, to understand me and who I am. And look, I totally understand that. I get that. But I just felt like I had to put myself in a better position in life, to feel more fulfilled. At the end of the day, I’m left with myself, my loved ones and the life I made. I wanted to be someone who was proud of their story. It was always about staying true to myself. I didn’t want to lose myself and who I was for anything. No amount of money. Nothing.”

Sanders will be 28-years-old in November and the reason he still gets talked about is the 6’11 center with the 7’6 wingspan could have been/ was about to become? the Eastern Conference equivalent of DeAndre Jordan, a double-double shot blocking machine. If only he could get back on track. At the same age in the same 2012-13 season, Sanders looked like a better player than Jordan.

He told Kennedy that he’s ready to come back to the NBA.

I feel like I’m in a much better place right now and I’m equipped to be able to put myself in that situation again.

Stepping out of the NBA schedule and doing that was good for me, I’m very happy now.

I could see myself coming back to the NBA

Crank up the rumor mill, most of the teams in the NBA could use a defensive center that can protect the rim and rebound, however, Jordan doesn’t appear to be willing to just tryout for an NBA team to prove he’s ready to come back. He wants some kind of guaranteed deal with a spot in the rotation.

There’s the rub. Sanders’ name has been associated with several teams this summer and apparently passed over. Nearly two years away from the game will do that. Organizations have a right to be cautious. Sanders didn’t exit the NBA under the best of circumstances and there is no real way to know if he’s physically ready to play an NBA season until you can get him in a gym for a few weeks and preferably see him play at least a handful of preseason games. He isn’t an undrafted 20 something rookie a team can invest in developing. Sanders is either an NBA player or he isn’t.

There are still some obvious situations where Sanders could prove himself. In Toronto, the Raptors lost defensive center Bismack Biyombo to free agency and Sanders could actually be an upgrade. The only issue is, Toronto, like most NBA teams, already has potential solutions on the roster to cover off the loss. Sanders would have to prove himself a better option than Jared Sullinger and Lucas Nogueira, plus rookies Jakob Poeltl and Pascal Siakam. The 2012-13 version of Sanders wins the minutes at backup center, the 2013-14 or 2014-15 version likely gets the thanks, but no thanks.

At this late date, things aren’t likely to be any easier anywhere else. If Sanders wants back in the NBA, he’s going to be competing for more than a spot in a rotation, he’ll have to fight for a spot on a roster. Opportunities exist and some kind of partial guarantee could be out there, but after how things went in Milwaukee, asking for a guaranteed contract and a promise of playing time may not be the best way to get an NBA GM to believe he’s ready to come back.

 

 

 

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 D-League Mississauga Raptors 905 Ronald Roberts Jr

Raptors Lose 905 Star Ronald Roberts To The Bucks

Up until he was injured, Mississauga Raptors 905 Ronald Roberts was rapidly climbing the NBA D-League prospect list and about to earn a 10-day contract somewhere in the NBA. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the Milwaukee Bucks have invited him to join their NBA Summer League team.

“I felt that my season went really well,” Roberts told Pro Bball Report. “Honestly, I owe a lot to Coach Jesse (Mermuys). He had a lot of faith in me and he just believed in me and he let me do a lot of things out there that a lot coaches in the past didn’t let me do. So, he let me expand my game and that eventually got me to the top (of the D-League prospect list) and I went down (with an injury), but everything happens for a reason and I should be ready for Summer League.

“I had calls from a few teams after I got hurt. A week after I got calls from teams, but obviously I couldn’t take (the offers).”

Gery Woelfel of The Journal Times reported on Woelfel’s Press Box that the Bucks have invited him to their Summer League camp.

The Bucks, who want to bolster their suspect reserve corps, have reached a verbal agreement with Ronald Roberts to play for their summer league team.

“I love the guy,” said a coach, who saw Roberts play on several occasions last season. “He’s really athletic and he’s a high-energy guy. He plays so hard. He comes to play every night.”

“Right now, he just doesn’t shoot it well, but if he develops a jump shot, he could be a really nice player and help some (NBA) team off the bench.”

The undrafted 24-year-old averaged 18.1 points, 12.1 rebounds and 1.5 blocks in 24 games for the 905 last season and outshone the Raptors big men Bruno Caboclo and Lucas Nogueira in their D-League stints.

Unfortunately, the Raptors don’t control D-league players on the 905 who they don’t hold draft rights to or an NBA contract with, so players that start to stand out can be scooped up by other NBA teams without compensation.

“I think that’s kind of the whole goal of the D-league,” Raptors director of scouting and 905 GM Dan Tolzman said. “As much as it is to develop our Raptors players, our goal is to create NBA players. That’s the whole concept of this league.

“If Ronald (Roberts) had not gotten hurt, we would probably have had three guys that were signing rest of season contracts (with another NBA team.)”

The Bucks don’t have Roberts NBA rights yet, but they’ll get a good look at a player who can probably help them 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.

 

 

 


 

NBA Toronto Raptors Norman Powell

Raptors Norman Powell Reaches New Highs In Milwaukee

It was a game in which  head coach Dwane Casey gave All-Star DeMar DeRozan the night off to rest and Norman Powell a start at shooting guard and the rookie took full advantage of his opportunity to rewrite his personal bests across the stats sheet in the Raptors 107-89 victory over the Bucks in Milwaukee.

Powell played 35 minutes, 10 more than in any of his previous games, and he got up 15 shots, making 6 and scoring 17 points, all career bests. He was 3-7 from three-point range having never made more than 2 nor taken more than 3 shots from deep previously. He was active and effective on both ends of the court, dishing 2 dimes and blocking 2 shots.

Getting the rookie treatment from the referees on his drives to the basket didn’t dissuade Powell from going inside and he made a surprising end-to-end drive for a dunk that caught the entire building off guard. He made a couple of impressive layups thru traffic as well.

As we are unexpectedly coming to expect, Powell continues to earn his keep at the defensive end of the court. Casey said this before and it was true tonight, “He was physical. He was gritty. He was grimy. His attention to detail, he didn’t fall asleep.” These things have earned his Coach’s trust and the only starts (8) this season by any of this team’s rookies and sophomores.

This kid is looking good.

“I thought Norm came in and did an excellent job,” Casey said after the game. “He did exactly what we thought he was going to do, nothing more, nothing less. He’s a defender, a hard-playing guy.”

 

 

Kyle Lowry carried the Raptors early on in this contest, finishing with 25 points and 11 assists, but as the Raptors pulled away in the second half, Casey was able to give his other All-Star the fourth quarter off.

Bismack Biyombo had a 12 point, 13 rebound, 2 block double-double and was intimidating in the paint. Jason Thompson played 23 solid minutes as Jonas Valanciunas was given the night off to rest a bruised hand.

Bucks future star Giannis Antetokounmpo had 18 points, 12 rebounds, 9 assists and 3 blocks in the loss.

 

 

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 Atlanta Hawks Al Horford Paul Millsap & Jeff Teague

It’s Just The Calm Before The NBA Trade Deadline Storm

Unlike the NHL trade deadline which is typically a day long snooze-fest of calm, in the NBA, a storm is the norm and this year won’t be any different. Huge names like Dwight Howard, Kevin Love, Al Horford, Blake Griffin and Carmelo Anthony are swirling in the trade winds and it won’t surprise anyone if a truly big name player changes teams by Thursday at 3 pm.

Plus, there are a boatload of very good NBA players who will be waiting on a trade deadline phone call as well. A sample of the names being tossed around includes:

  1. Hawks Jeff Teague, Thabo Sefolsha, and everyone else in Atlanta,
  2. Nets Thad Young and unlikely but possible Brook Lopez,
  3. Hornets Nicolas Batum and Al Jefferson,
  4. Bulls Taj Gibson and Pau Gasol,
  5. Cavaliers Timofey Mosgov,
  6. Nuggets Danilo Gallinari and Kenneth Faried,
  7. Rockets Ty Lawson,
  8. Pacers George Hill,
  9. Clippers Lance Stephenson,
  10. Lakers Brandon Bass and just about everyone else,
  11. Grizzlies have already traded Courtney Lee,
  12. Heat Chris Anderson traded, Hassan Whiteside available,  plus someone else to get below the luxury tax line
  13. Bucks Greg Monroe and Michael Carter-Williams,
  14. Timberwolves Kevin Martin, plus someone please take Nikola Pekovic
  15. Pelicans Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson,
  16. Knicks Jose Calderon,
  17. Magic already dumped Tobias Harris’ contract, Channing Frye is still in play,
  18. Suns Markieff Morris and P.J. Tucker,
  19. Kings Rudy Gay, Kosta Koufas, Ben McLemore  and more,
  20. Spurs Danny Green (those rumors have to be some kind of joke?),
  21. Raptors Patrick Patterson,
  22. Jazz Trey Burke

It’s getting hard to keep up and it’s about to get worse. Most of the names being bandied about will never come close to being traded, but as past deadlines prove, more than enough big deals will happen to keep trade deadline day very interesting indeed.

Interesting deals that happened last year,

  1. Nets trade Kevin Garnett for Thaddeus Young
  2. Nuggets traded Arron Afflalo and JaVale McGee and got Will Barton
  3. Pistons in a multi-team multi-player deal turned Kyle Singler into Reggie Jackson
  4. Heat in a multi-player deal traded two first-round picks for Goran Dragic
  5. Bucks traded Brandon Knight for Michael Carter-Williams, Tyler Ennis and Miles Plumlee.
  6. Thunder turned Reggie Jackson into Enes Kanter and Kyle Singler

It was a wild and woolly NBA trade deadline last year. It’s is going to be just as exciting this time around.

 

 

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 Houston Rockets Dwight HowardNBA Trade Deadline Teams Motivated By Money

For teams that are underachieving, deals motivated by money become a very real possibility. The luxury tax provisions of the 2011 Collective Bargaining Agreement are enough to give any general manager reason to pause. It has to be worth it to pay the tax.

 

 

NBA Milwaukee Bucks Tyler Ennis

Canadian Tyler Ennis Talks About His Bumpy Road In The NBA

Canadian point guard Tyler Ennis was Raptors president and general manager Masai Ujiri’s first choice in the 2014 NBA draft, but it wasn’t to be. The guard heavy Phoenix Suns swooped in and grabbed Ennis with the 18th pick and Ujiri ended up taking forward prospect Bruno Caboclo at 20 two picks later.

Ennis talks about getting drafted, the benefits of playing with so many experienced point guards in Phoenix, the trade to Milwaukee, Team Canada and his shoulder injury as part of his bumpy road in the NBA.

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

Bucks Greivis Vasquez Found It Hard To Leave The Raptors

By Frank McLean

Something you are going to see from time to time this season is the return of all the ex-Raptors that were either traded or did not have their contracts renewed after the club was swept four straight by the Washington Wizards in last season’s playoffs. Last Sunday it was the return of Greivis Vasquez, an all-time media favorite for us who have covered the team because he never turned down a postgame interview and always had an answer to whatever the members of the fifth estate had for him.

Milwaukee Bucks Greivis Vasquez

Vazquez became a Buck in an off season deal that brought to Toronto the rights to Norman Powell and a first round pick the Bucks had obtained from the Los Angeles Clippers. So as expected a rather larger than normal group of Toronto media surrounded Vazquez at his locker before Sunday’s contest.

It was so bad that the only member of the Milwaukee media in Toronto, Charles Gardiner of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, barely survived from being squished by the sea of humanity as Vasquez admitted that it was hard to leave Toronto.

“It was hard extremely hard,” Vasquez explained. “I was so engaged with the city and the fans and with the team. It’s part of the business. You’ve got to move on real fast.”

Vasquez added that he was kind of expecting that he would be moved in the offseason.

“We really didn’t do a good job at the end of the season,” Vasquez said. “It was going to be either me or Lou (Williams) and it was both (plus) Amir (Johnson). It was tough because we had something really good. We were the number one team in the East for 61 days and everybody started expecting so much out of us. We didn’t fulfil those expectations and this happened. It was hard to swallow the whole thing. It’s a neat opportunity. I’m excited.”

So far things have not been “neat” as Vasquez put it for the Bucks.

The Bucks are still looking for their first win of the season after Sunday night’s loss to the Raptors 106-87. They started the season 0-3 which something they have not done since way back in 1976-77. The head coach at time Larry Costello lasted only 18 games into the campaign and was replaced by future hall of famer Don Nelson.

In 2015 the Bucks are coached by someone who will be in the hall of fame one day and that’s Jason Kidd. Kidd like Vasquez was a point guard who has was tall and Vasquez feels that playing for Kidd is the best part of now being a Milwaukee Buck.

“Obviously he beat us my first year here in Toronto (when Kidd coached the Brooklyn Nets),” Vasquez said. “Growing up he was obviously an idol of mine. Now he’s my coach. I’m really going to take advantage of that. I feel like that’s really going to benefit my game.”

Vasquez is just the first of a long line of former Raptors from the last couple of seasons making a return to the Air Canada Centre this year. It will be interesting to see the fans reaction when last year’s Sixth Man award winner Lou Williams and the Los Angeles Lakers come to town on December 7th.

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

Billionaire Bucks Owners Get $250 million For New Arena

The billionaire laden ownership group that controls the Milwaukee Bucks got their $250 million government subsidy approved on Wednesday for a new arena, but not everyone was happy about it as reported

Wisconsin Governor and Republican presidential candidate Scott Walker will sign a bill Wednesday finalizing his controversial plan to spend $250 million in state, county and city funds — plus tens of millions more in interest and future tax breaks — on a new basketball arena for the Milwaukee Bucks.

“Government shouldn’t be in the business of financing private sports stadiums,” said the Koch brothers-backed group Americans for Prosperity Wisconsin. “The current deal is based on fuzzy math, complicated accounting and millions of taxpayer dollars. Whether it comes from the state, the county, the city or other authority, these are taxpayer dollars.” The Libertarian CATO Institute added: “Any presidential candidate who believes that taxpayer-subsidized stadiums are ‘a good deal’ shouldn’t be anywhere near the federal Treasury.”

It has always been  sore point with taxpayers – not all of whom are professional sports fans – when a billionaire owner gets a massive public handout to provide his franchise with a new arena so he can earn even bigger profits. However, with the very real threat of moving their franchise to another community hanging over their heads, state and municipal governments have caved in to the pressure so often that some owners believe it’s become a right.

Ollstein also pointed out the cozy connection between Governor Walker and the Bucks owners in this arrangement. One of the Bucks owners is Walkers’ Presidential campaign finance co-chair and a major contributor to his current and past campaigns.

On the very day that Walker began pushing for taxpayers to foot much of the bill for the new arena, one of the team’s owners donated $150,000 to his super PAC. The investor, Jon Hammes, has donated directly to Walker’s past campaigns, as well … Walker hired him as his national finance co-chairman. Another Bucks owner, Ted Kellner, gave $50,000 to Walker’s Super PAC.

This subsidy is for a lot more than just half the cost of a new arena. According to USA Today, the final bill will total closer to $400 million with interest.

Taxpayers will contribute $250 million to the arena over 20 years, although that commitment will grow to $400 million with interest. Current and former team owners will spend another $250 million.

However, the community supposedly did get what they supposedly wanted out of the arrangement. The very real threat of moving the franchise has been squashed – for now, as reported by b

The team’s ownership group — which includes one of Walker’s top campaign fundraisers — had threatened to move the Bucks to another state if the taxpayer financing did not come through.

The new owners promised to keep the Bucks in Milwaukee as long as they got a new arena by 2017.

However, one more step remains before the entire arena proposal is final. The Milwaukee City Council has yet to vote on their portion as per USA Today.

Feigin said the next step will come in September, when the Milwaukee city council votes on the city’s segment of the deal. Assuming that part of the plan is approved, the Bucks hope to break ground in October or November, he said.

Since the sale of the Bucks a year ago, the new Bucks ownership group has continued to expand to include several of the 400 richest people in America. Hammes is a real estate developer specializing in arena projects, so with all the expertise this group has, the project will go smoothly. But one really has to wonder why an ownership group this wealthy needed a government handout?

 

 

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.

photo credit Paul Saini Fylmm.com

 

 

 

 

Raptors Trade Greivis Vasquez For Cap Space And Picks

The Toronto Raptors have traded veteran point guard Greivis Vasquez to the Bucks for salary cap space, a future first round draft pick and a second round pick. This move can give Toronto the room to go after a max contract free agent this summer.

 

 

Vasquez averaged 9.5 points, 2.6 rebounds and 3.7 assists in 24.3 minutes last season for Toronto. He started in 29 games. Vasquez is a fearless shooter who hit on 37.9 percent of his three-point attempts and is an excellent passer. He led the NBA in assists in 2012-13.

 

 

Bucks Tyler Ennis May Miss NBA Summer League And Team Canada

The Milwaukee Bucks guard Tyler Ennis is expected to be out of action for the next eight weeks or more after unexpectedly undergoing labral repair surgery to his right shoulder on Tuesday as reported by NBA.com

Milwaukee Bucks General Manager John Hammond announced that guard Tyler Ennis underwent successful labral repair surgery to his right shoulder today. After consultation with Bucks orthopaedist Dr. Michael Gordon and Dr. David Altcheck from the Hospital for Special Surgery, the procedure was performed this morning in New York.

It was only a few days ago that Ennis was quoted as hoping to play in the NBA Summer League and for Team Canada. The Canadian Men’s National Team will be at the 2015 Pan Am games in Toronto from July 21-25 and the FIBA Americas Olympic qualifying tournament in Monterrey, Mexico from August 25 to September 6 where they hope to earn a trip to Rio 2016.

The Bucks rookie guard was acquired from Phoenix in a three-team deal on February 19. He had not missed any games due to this injury during the season. Ennis averaged 14.1 minutes, 4 points and 2.4 assists in 25 games with Milwaukee and appeared in one postseason contest playing 16 minutes and contributing 5 points, 4 rebounds and 3 assists in the Bucks Game 6 blowout loss to the Bulls.

The competition for a spot on the Team Canada roster is expected to be especially tough this summer with a record number of NBA players likely to be available. It will be very difficult for Ennis to make the final roster if he isn’t back to 100 percent by the time training camp opens.

Ennis was born in Brampton, Ontario and represented Canada at the 2013 FIBA U19 World Championship in Prague.

 

 

 

Milwaukee Bucks, How The Heck Do They Keep Winning?

You got to hand it to the Milwaukee Bucks.

A team that was considered a major rebuilding project at the start of the season with a brand new coach in Jason Kidd, not much was expected from this club, but after their 82-75 win in Toronto Monday night over the Raptors, they have now racked off 4-straight wins. That’s good for a 26-22 record in the Eastern Conference and most importantly, sits them in sixth spot in the conference standings.

What is amazing is that they are doing it with a bare bones roster night after night.

Kidd only had nine players dressed Monday night. A few hours before the game he found out he would not have the services of his leading and only consistent scorer.  Point guard Brandon Knight would be out with a strained quad.

Then with just over 4-minutes left in the second quarter, the roster was trimmed to just eight healthy bodies as O.J. Mayo was given a double technical foul and ejected from the game.

When talking to Kidd and the Bucks players, they all sing from the same hymn book “one goes down another has to step up”.

In Monday’s win forward Khris Middleton was that man. He was 10-17 from the field, 3-4 from behind the arc and a perfect 2-2 from the foul line. The result was a season high 25-points and 9-rebounds.

Before the game Kidd said” I think this is a great learning process for our team to be able to handle injuries and just keep playing”.

It should be pointed out for those who don’t follow the Bucks on a daily basis the rest of the missing players, and there is some talent missing. Ersan Ilyasova groin, Damien Inglis ankle, Kendell Marshall ACL tear, Jabari Parker knee surgery, Zaza Pachulia calf strain and Larry Sanders out on a league suspension.

The real story on Monday night is the Bucks held an opponent to under 90-points for the 17th-time this year and they have not lost a game yet when they held an opponent to under-90.

The Raptors shot just 32 percent for the game, which head coach Dwayne Casey called “A stinker” after the game. Saturday night, however, the Bucks beat Portland 95-88 and held them to just 37 percent shooting.

The Bucks are not doing this against teams that could not beat the Washington Generals. They are doing this against the elite scoring teams in the league.

After the game Kidd said, “Normally when you don’t score you need to play defense. We needed to rebound and they did”.

In case you forgot, when the Bucks visited Toronto in November, the Raptors won 124-83. Monday night the 75-points scored by the Raptors was a season low.

So as this Bucks team gets healthy, watch for them in the playoffs. If you are looking for a team capable of a first round upset, this might be it.

 

 

Veteran 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.

 

 

ATL_Horford_AlAtlanta Hawks Are Set To Stretch Their Lead In The East
By Frank McLean
“We have a chance to do something special this time,” Hawks star center Al Horford said. “We have to keep getting better and it’s up for us to keep playing well and (not) be satisfied. We are half way there and we got to keep going”.

 

 

James Johnson Sits, Raptors Defeat Bucks 92-89

Head Coach Dwane Casey must be tired of losing, so he made some dramatic changes to his rotation on Monday night in Milwaukee and came away with a hard fought 92-89 win over the Bucks. Terrence Ross was replaced in the starting lineup by Greivis Vasquez and James Johnson sat as a healthy DNP-CD. The nine Raptors that played responded with one of their better defensive efforts.

It would be a challenge to lay much of the blame on James Johnson for the Raptors recent 4 win 8 loss slide. Averaging 9.5 points on 61.5 percent shooting, 5.1 rebounds, 0.8 steals and 1.2 blocks over the past 12 games, Johnson was a model of effort and consistency until his 0 point and 3 turnover effort in 11 minutes on Sunday. Johnson took a silly technical foul sandwiched between two turnovers early in the fourth quarter against the Pelicans and Casey subbed him out for good despite needing his defense later in the game. Casey assured everyone Johnson didn’t do anything wrong in Milwaukee.

“It had nothing to do (with James),” Casey said. “Just those three guys were playing, were doing a good job. I would love to play 15 guys. There are going to be some guys out of the rotation. Tonight those three guys did a good job. Terrence came off the bench, Lou (Williams), Greivis, and Kyle (Lowry) – it had nothing to do with James, nothing he did wrong.”

There is a history between Casey and Johnson that saw Johnson traded for a second round draft pick at the end of the 2011-2012 season in which Johnson had put up some solid stats. Hopefully history isn’t repeating itself.

Ross came off the bench a little slow with 4:51 left in the first quarter. After making a quick midrange jump shot, he missed two deep three-point attempts, turned the ball over and blew a defensive assignment. He started the second quarter with some intensity – a dunk, two made threes and three personal fouls. Ross looked alive for an extended period and earned his extra time on the court.

“Terrence responded coming off the bench and did a great job,” Casey said.

Ross had 16 points and five rebounds and scored the Raptors last two field goals including Toronto’s game-winning shot at the 26.4 second mark and a dunk with 15.9 seconds left.

Jonas Valanciunas had a 11 point 11 rebound double-double at the half, but he only played 5.5 minutes after the break and didn’t score as both Toronto and Milwaukee went small. It seemed inevitable that Valanciunas would have a short night as he had trouble hanging onto the ball and coughed it up 5 times, but Patrick Patterson picked up the rebounding effort for the Raptors with Valanciunas on the bench.

“Pat Patterson was a man on the boards,” Casey said. “His energy on the boards was the difference.”

Patterson tied his career-high of 13 rebounds with 10 in the second half as the Raptors dominated the glass by grabbing 20 offensive rebounds and out dueling the Bucks 54-43 on the boards.

The Raptors needed those offensive rebounds to escape Milwaukee with the win. They shot 40 percent from the field as a team and DeMar DeRozan legs were gone in his first back-to-back game since returning from injury. He shot 0-9 from the field for 0 points. Lowry also couldn’t find the mark, going 8-25 to score 18 points, but Lowry had his fingerprints all over this game with 5 boards, a steal, a block and charges drawn. Lowry was a force.

“DeMar gave us what he had,” Casey said. “I thought his legs were a little shot from coming back and being out for so long.”

The only real criticism of Casey’s rotation in this game was that after watching DeRozan struggle in the first quarter and looking fatigued, maybe he should have given him the rest of the night off. He did just miss a month and a half with a groin injury.

This game was even closer than the final score indicates. The Bucks missed 9 free throws, going 16-25 from the line while the Raptors bricked their way to 14-24 from the charity stripe. Toronto even managed to brick three technical foul shots and Lowry missed a pair of free throws in the dying seconds that would have put this game out of reach.

It is about time Casey started following his own advice and shortened his rotation to 8 or 9 guys. In his own words, ‘I would love to play 15 guys. (But) there are going to be some guys out of the rotation.’ He can’t play everyone and he can’t keep everyone happy with their playing time or spot in the rotation. Monday night in Milwaukee might be the start of trend – maybe.

 

 

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 Milwaukee Bucks Larry Sanders

Will Bucks Larry Sanders Walk Away From $40m?

Bucks center Larry Sanders hasn’t been playing for Milwaukee recently for personal reasons and the situation appears to be getting pretty serious – serious enough that Sanders may be prepared to walk away from the 4-year $44 million extension he signed with the Bucks that kicked in this season.

 

 

Those personal reasons are strong enough for Sanders to contemplate retirement according to Racine Journal Times Columnist Gery Woelfel.

 

 

Apparently Sanders concerns run back to the summer when Sanders was reportedly looking at options outside of basketball according to his friends.

 

 

This isn’t a straight forward situation. The Bucks signed Sanders to that extension because of his potential and they would be remiss to just let him out of his contract for personal reasons that could resolve themselves over a reasonable period of time in relation to his 4-year contract. However, the situation cannot go on indefinitely as is either – something will have to give at some point in the not too distant 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.

 

 

Caboclo Debuts in Raptors 124-83 Blowout Of The Bucks

The Toronto Raptors first round draft pick Bruno Caboclo had yet to see the court in a regular season game before tonight as Head Coach Dwane Casey has been focusing on piling up the wins for the 10-2 NBA Eastern Conference leader. It took injuries to both Tyler Hansbrough and James Johnson for Caboclo and fellow rookie from Brazil Lucas Nogueira to be activated, but the timing couldn’t have been better as the Milwaukee Bucks folded like a cheap suit under an avalanche of three point shots from Toronto.

The blowout started in the first quarter as the Raptors scored 37 points and only a pair of late three-pointers from Ersan Ilyasova kept Milwaukee within 10 points, but it was only going to get worse for the Bucks from there. Toronto scored 34 more points in the second quarter to take a 71-45 lead into the half and if the Raptors could keep up the pressure, Caboclo and Nogueira’s NBA debuts were assured.

The rookies had nothing to worry about as the Raptors were not about to let up in the third quarter, expanding their lead to an all-time franchise high of 45 points by the time the period ended. Caboclo started the fourth quarter and helped the Raptors set a new high water mark of 52 points as he hit his second three-pointer to make the score 116-64.

Caboclo finished with 8 points on 3-6 from the field including 2-3 from three-point range, a block and a rebound in 12 minutes. Who says this kid is two years away from being two years away?

The final score of 124-83 was 1 point shy of the franchise’s biggest winning margin set in 2008 against the HEAT.

ESPN Recap: Raptors Obliterate Bucks noted:

When Williams hit a pair of free throws in the final seconds of the third quarter, it gave Toronto a 101-56 lead. At the time, the 45-point margin represented the biggest lead in franchise history.

Toronto narrowly missed matching its largest margin of victory in franchise history, set in a 96-54 victory over Miami on March 19, 2008.

Raptors Republic: Quick Reaction: Raptors 124, Bucks 83 by Garrett Hinchey summed it up:

Yes, this is just an early-season blowout against an expected non-playoff team, but enjoy this one, Raptor fans. A huge win, a 6-1 homestand, the best record in the conference, 8 points from Bruno, and Cleveland coming up tomorrow night. This, friends, is as close to basketball nirvana as it’s gotten here in a long, long time.

Lou Williams led all scorers with 22 points off the bench in just 19 minutes, shooting 5-7 from three-point range including buzzer-beaters at the end of the first and second quarters. Kyle Lowry had 20 points, 9 rebounds and 5 assists. Jonas Valanciunas notched a quick double-double of 18 points and 12 boards. DeMar DeRozan was held to 1-8 from the field as the Bucks packed the paint, but he did collect 5 rebounds and 5 assists. Nogueira had 2 points, 5 rebounds and a steal in his debut.

The Raptors shot 60% from deep for 15 three-pointers as the Bucks perimeter defense was hard to find. Amir Johnson was left alone at the top of the three-point line for so long that he eventually caved to the pressure and drained the most uncontested three-pointer of the NBA season. Johnson may as well have been standing in the gym by himself.

Toronto shot 52.3 percent from the field and out-rebounded the Bucks 57-30. This game was a total beat down in every aspect.

The rookie Jabari Parker led the Bucks in scoring with 15 points.

It wasn’t supposed to be this easy. The Bucks were on a 3 game winning streak and had a 7-5 record coming into the game. Their record is still better than either the HEAT or Cavaliers.

The Raptors travel to Cleveland for a Saturday night game against a Cavaliers team that just lost 91-78 to the Wizards and has a record of 5 wins and 6 loses. Toronto dismantled the Wizards 103-84 two weeks ago, but no one believes any game against LeBron James will be easy.

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

Caboclo getting ready to shootRaptors Bruno Caboclo: Put Me In Coach

“I want an opportunity to improve my game,” Caboclo told Pro Bball Report. “I’ve worked a lot to get one chance, but I know it’s hard. We have 13 players, but I keep working.”

 

 

Ranking The Bottom 5 Of The NBA Eastern Conference

It is going to be tough on teams that don’t expect to win much in the NBA Eastern Conference. There will be a lot of competition for last place and the best odds at a top lottery pick. All the teams in the bottom 5 have good reasons to focus on developing players and looking towards the future.

As usual injuries, hidden agendas and plain old fashioned luck will impact the final standings.
 

Ranking The Bottom 5

11. Indiana Pacers – Projected 33-49, last season 56-26

The Pacers took a chance by not tying up last season’s triple-double leader Lance Stephenson and letting the restricted free agent walk for a very modest contract to the Hornets, but there was no way they could have known at the time that they wouldn’t have leading scorer Paul George for the upcoming season. Of last year’s playoff teams, only Chicago and Memphis had a tougher time making baskets and without Stephenson’s playmaking and George’s ability to finish, the Pacers are missing over 36 percent of last season’s offense. They also have a gaping hole through both wing positions on defense.

It’s going to be a very uncomfortable season in Indiana and if they do the logical thing, the Pacers will be looking to trade David West, Luis Scola and/or Roy Hibbert for some young up-and-coming talent they can develop as they tank for a better draft pick.

Finishing worse than 11th in the East would represent success this season. The Pacers are in stall mode until George returns.
 

12. Milwaukee Bucks – Projected 33-49, last season 15-67

The Bucks are going to surprise a few teams. Last year injuries crushed a team’s hopes that believed they had a chance to sneak into the playoffs again. In fact the chance was real, but everything that could have gone wrong happened in Milwaukee.

New Head Coach Jason Kidd will get a clean slate and low expectations, but this roster is a lot better than that of a 15-win team. Don’t be surprised if the Knicks, Nets and Pistons can feel Milwaukee breathing down their necks in April.
 

13. Boston Celtics – Projected 29-53, last season 25-57

Boston has created maximum training camp flexibility with players on expiring contracts and non-guaranteed deals. Will Rajon Rondo be traded? How does Gerald Wallace fit on this team? With too many point guards, forwards and big men, what President of Basketball Operations Danny Ainge does in October and/or during the season will determine if the Celtics win over or under 30 games.

Pegging a win total for Boston now is basically a Wild-Ass-Guess.
 

14. Orlando Magic – Projected 25-57, last season 23-59

The Magic took a significant hit to their expected win total by moving out Arron Afflalo and then got some it back by signing Channing Frye. Orlando will be a fun team to follow with lots of young potential future stars worth watching and they could be marginally better in Victor Oladipo’s sophomore season.

Player development will take precedence over winning, as it should.
 

15. Philadelphia 76ers – Projected 19-63, last season 19-63

The game plan in Philadelphia has been obvious for a while now and they would have taken last place in 2013-14 if only the Bucks could have won a few more times. It is really hard to win fewer than 20 games, but the 76ers should be able to do it again with ease.

President and General Manager Sam Hinkie is taking the long view and searching for a superstar to build around through the draft. He may have found one already in Michael Carter-Williams, Nerlens Noel, Joel Embiid or Dario Saric, but it will likely take more than a couple of years to find out.

Risks and Obstacles

 

Tanking a season, developing players and/or rebuilding through the draft are not guarantees for success, but it is one of the very few ways many teams have of getting a superstar. Each of the teams in the bottom 5 have the ability to go for a top lottery pick in next year’s draft, but it isn’t easy and sometimes your own players and coaches don’t cooperate. Nobody likes to lose.
 

Who do you think finishes last in the East? Which one of the teams in the bottom 5 will be first to overtly start tanking the season? Can any of these teams exceed expectations and make the playoffs? Let us know in the comments below.

 

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.

 

 

Irving and RoseRanking The Top Five 2014-15 NBA Eastern Conference Teams

 

 

Bosh and AnthonyRanking The Middle 5 Teams in The NBA Eastern Conference

 

 

Todd Mayo Is Not Just The Bucks OJ Mayo’s Little Brother

One thing that stands out with Todd Mayo is he is not just a younger version of his brother O.J. Mayo who has been playing in the NBA for the past six seasons. Todd is his own person and very different basketball player. As someone that didn’t start playing basketball until grade 10, Todd’s route to the professional ranks has been and will follow its own path.

The decision of the Marquette Golden Eagles guard to turn professional after his junior season despite not being an immediate NBA prospect did catch a lot of people by surprise, however, Marquette was going through their own changes by hiring new head coach of Steve Wojciechowski. Despite a tumultuous three seasons under former coach Buzz Williams, Mayo had a comfort level with the relationship and maybe it was just time to move on.

To start Todd Mayo is looking at the NBA D-League to launch his professional career while he prepares for the 2015 NBA Draft.

Todd Mayo audio:

 

“I just felt that when Buzz went as a father figure – he did a lot for me whether it was good or bad – whether it was discipline or just letting me play my game,” Mayo said. “I felt he made me grow as a man and when he left, I just wanted to approach my pro career.”

“The D-League is going to give me a different perspective. (NBA teams) will get to see my game and my personality on and off the court for a whole year. It will prepare me for when the upcoming 2015 (NBA) draft comes.”

“More NBA teams will come and see a D-League game faster than taking a flight 22 hours to go to China or wherever it may be if I was playing overseas.”

“I think I can be a one or a two just because I am so active and can score the ball and shoot. There are a lot more areas I need to improve.”

“In college I always wanted to guard the best player. With a little bit of help from the Development League, it will help me to become a better defender in the NBA. I like to watch Tony Allen sometimes because I feel by watching him you can learn certain things. I feel that I am a pretty good defender, but at the highest level I am just okay right now.”

“I need to learn a lot more. A year’s worth of learning and just understanding the game at the highest level.”

“(I want) the NBA to see a different player – this is Todd Mayo not O.J. Mayo’s little brother. I want to learn a lot more about the game. I started when I was in 10th grade so I still feel like I have a lot more to learn. For me to leave early from school, I feel there are a lot more areas I can get better in and I just want to achieve getting better and staying humble and become a better person on and off the court.”

Mayo averaged 11.3 points on 46.1 percent shooting to go with 2.7 rebounds and 2 assists in 23.8 minutes as a junior last year, so he does have a lot to learn and just maybe the NBA D-League will give him what he needs to progress as a player. The D-League has become a viable option for many young players to develop their game and by this time next year, Todd Mayo should have established that he is not just O.J. Mayo’s little brother.

Todd Mayo is represented by Daniel Hazan. Hazan has been busy lining up interest in his client for the upcoming NBA D-League Draft.

 

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

 

 

Raptors Raise Banner And Roll Over Bucks For Win Number 48

Raptors Banner ADC 2014 webIt was Fanapolooza night at the Air Canada Centre in the Toronto Raptors final regular season home game of the 2013-14 season and DeMar DeRozan kicked the party off by raising his team’s Atlantic Division Champions banner to the rafters. A feel good game punctuated by prizes, giveaways and contests as the Raptors picked on the depleted last place Milwaukee Bucks to chalk up win number 48 of the season 110-100.

DeRozan was given the night off to rest up for the playoffs and Toronto ran out to a 32-19 first quarter lead as Greivis Vasquez took advantage of his opportunity to start by nailing 3 long range bombs. The Raptors never trailed in this game and the result was never even remotely in doubt.

“They’re a good team,” Head Coach Larry Drew said. “They’ve been playing well. They are gearing up for the playoffs. Even minus DeRozan, it just goes to show you how much talent they have on that team. We fell behind, we tried to fight back. We got it under 10, but we just couldn’t get over the hump.”

In Toronto, Drew’s comments sound like the eerily familiar voices of Raptors head coaches in seasons past and with the loss, the Bucks guaranteed themselves last place overall heading into the NBA Draft Lottery.

The Raptors could afford to rest DeRozan against the Bucks who only had 9 players available as injuries have been an unpleasant theme in Milwaukee all season, however, the rationale really was to hopefully add some ‘pep to DeRozan’s step’ in the postseason.

“Amir (Johnson) has had some time off and Kyle (Lowry) has had some time off,” Head Coach Dwane Casey said. “(DeRozan) is the only guy with big minutes that hasn’t had time off. I can see pep in Kyle’s step since he’s had his rest, so we’ll see how it goes and we’ll see what happens Wednesday.”

Casey leaving the door open to giving DeRozan another day off against the Knicks in New York on Wednesday in their final regular season game.

DeRozan’s replacement Vasquez hit 5 three pointers before finally missing one and led the Raptors with 25 points and 7 assists. Lowry got to play off the ball with Vasquez on the court for big minutes and scored 24 points without having to shoulder his usual heavy workload. Double-doubles went to Jonas Valanciunas with 14 points and 13 rebounds and Tyler Hansbrough off the bench for 12 points and 11 rebounds.

The Bucks were led by Ramon Sessions with 21 points, Jeff Adrien’s 19 points and Brandon Knight’s 18 points.

The Raptors are currently in third place because they hold the tie-breaker with the Bulls. If the Raptors win on Wednesday in New York or the Bulls lose in Charlotte, Toronto will finish in third place in the Eastern Conference.

Toronto set a new franchise high for wins in a season of 48 tonight with one game remaining. Previously Toronto’s best seasons were in 2000-01 and 2006-07 when the team won 47 games.

 

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

 

Check out:

Toronto Raptors Love Being Atlantic Division Champs
“We won the Division, it’s a great thing,” Salmons said. “Us four guys coming over from Sacramento from where we started, from where the Raptors started at the beginning of the season to where we are now, it’s a great thing.”

Greivis Vasquez Bombs Help Set A Raptors Road Win Record

The Toronto Raptors came into Milwaukee and almost laid an egg as they were emotionally flat after a big win at home over the Pacers the night before. Fortunately, Greivis Vasquez set a career-high with 6 three-pointers and tied his season-high of 26 points to keep his sleepwalking teammates in this game until DeMar DeRozan could turn things on in the fourth quarter and allow Toronto to head home with a 102-98 victory over the last place Bucks.

Head Coach Dwane Casey was livid about his team’s effort in the first half.

“The first half, we played like crap,” Casey said. “There are no nice words you can put to it. We talked about it after half-time and after the game. We can’t approach the game that way. It is not acceptable for where we want to go and how we want to do. If we want to be average – fine – I told the guys, but to get where we want to go and be a playoff caliber team, we got to perform better than that.”

The defensive-minded Raptors allowed the Bucks to shoot 58.5 percent from the field in the first half and a 10-0 Bucks run to end the second quarter meant Toronto was down 56-47 at the half. Vasquez and John Salmons combined for 20 points before the break and Jonas Valanciunas was effective in the paint when his teammates remembered him, but this was a listless group deserving of Casey’s rage. The Bucks Khris Middleton, Ramon Sessions and John Henson all scored in double-digits before half as shots went uncontested and the driving lanes were open.

“One thing you can bring is your defensive fundamentals,” Casey said. “A stance, transition defense and all the things that are included on the defensive end. We let them shoot 58 percent in the first half and I – you can’t accept that and I am not going to accept that.”

The Raptors got Casey’s message loud and clear, starting the third quarter on a 13-2 run to get back into this game and holding the Bucks to just 41.2 percent shooting during the quarter to stay in it. As has so often been the case this season, Toronto ramped up their defense another notch in the fourth quarter to hold Milwaukee to just 33.3 percent shooting and DeMar DeRozan poured in 15 of his 23 points to help secure the win.

“We did a better job in the second half,” Casey reluctantly acknowledged. “In the second half everybody did a lot of good things. Everybody came in and contributed.”

Valanciunas scored 17 points and grabbed a game-high 13 rebounds. Nando De Colo had 7 points and a team-high 6 assists in 18.5 minutes.

Henson led the Bucks with 23 points and 9 boards. Middleton scored 20 points and Jeff Adrien had 19 points and 12 boards. Sessions had 13 points and 10 assists. As a team, the Bucks shot 48.1 percent from the field, outscored Toronto in the paint 64-34 and had 20 fast break points to the Raptors 3.

The Raptors edge was they nailed 12 three-pointers to just 1 for the Bucks as all to often Milwaukee didn’t get out to challenge the long ball.

In a season of on-going surprises, the Raptors claimed their 21st road win of the season to set a new franchise mark for wins away from the Air Canada Centre. This is the first season in team history with a winning record on the road.

“Our focus has been good on the road for whatever reason,” Casey said. “We keep the same routine. We try to make sure our travel is efficient so guys can get rest. The guys have focused for the most part, excluding the first half tonight. They have really focused throughout the year on the road.”

The Raptors return home to face the 76ers on Wednesday and everyone will get a couple of days without a formal practice to rest and recuperate. If Toronto can win 3 of their remaining 5 games, they will surpass the franchise record for wins in a season of 47 set in 2000-2001 and again in 2006-2007. Their remaining games are 76ers, Knicks, Pistons, Bucks and Knicks.

The Bucks play Indiana on Wednesday.

 

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

 

Check out:

Raptors Dwight Buycks, Toronto Is The Same As The States
“It is just being back home in the States is always better than being overseas,” Buycks said. “(Canada) is pretty much the same, actually I feel like I am in the States.”

NBA Rookie Watch Post All-Star Blues

The NBA Rookie of the Year award has been the 76ers Michael Carter–Williams to lose for most of this season and the fans in Philadelphia have reason to be concerned that their team’s head office appears to be helping him to lose it.  That was one rough trade deadline if a strong finish to Carter-Williams season was on your wish list.

Fortunately, the turmoil that goes with striving for the best lottery pick doesn’t rest solely in Philadelphia.  Most of this year’s top rookies will face similar challenges down the stretch.

Utah Jazz Media Day

1A. Trey Burke, Utah Jazz
48 GP, 12.5 points, 37.5%, 3.2 rebounds, 5.4 assists, 0.6 steals, 1.8 turnovers, PER 12.9

If Burke could boost his shooting percentage to something more reasonable, he would win Rookie of the Year.  As it is, the race is on and it’s undecided.

The Jazz have outperformed expectations with him in the lineup and been brutal without him.  As a young point guard, he has done a good job of leading his team, taking care of the ball and on occasion, put up some impressive scoring lines. Over the past 10 games, his team is 4-6 and the 76ers would prefer that you skip that stat.

Burke’s numbers have been improving since the All-Star break.  Over his past 8 games, he is shooting 41.5 percent and his turnovers were 1.4.  If this gets down to a decision between the top 3 young guards and Burke continues to improve over these last few weeks, the guy with the non-embarrassing turnover numbers deserves to get the nod.

PHI_Carter_Williams_Michael

1B. Michael Carter-Williams, Philadelphia 76ers
49 GP, 17 points, 39.5%, 5.4 rebounds, 6.2 assists, 2 steals, 3.7 turnovers, PER 15.3

The 76ers are in a 15 game slide and Carter-Williams has been feeling the effects.  It’s not his fault the team traded away the guys who helped build his attractive stat line and it’s not like he still can’t produce, but this decline has been underway for a while and it’s not likely to get better.

Carter-Williams is shooting just 38.8 percent from the field since the All-Star break and only 12.5 percent from deep, worse he’s been turning the ball over 4.6 times per game.  Again, it’s hard to blame Carter-Williams, but it’s getting to the point of hoping for the sympathy vote to win Rookie of the Year.

Orlando Magic Media Day

1C. Victor Oladipo, Orlando Magic
62 GP, 13.9 points, 41.1%, 4.3 rebounds, 4 assists, 1.6 steals, 3.1 turnovers, PER 13.5

Oladipo played a ‘don’t forget about me’ game after the All-Star break when he scored 30 points, collected 9 rebounds and dished 14 dimes in a 129-121 win over the Knicks, but in the 8 games since the break, his averages haven’t really moved much from his season stats.

The Magic have beaten the 76ers twice since All-Star weekend, so the recent win totals could be considered bloated, but they are still better than Philadelphia’s – 0-15 is truly awful.  The Magic are still trying to win after offloading some talent and that alone should help Olapido’s case.

Milwaukee Bucks Media Day

4.  Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
54 GP, 7.2 points, 43.1%, 4.6 rebounds, 0.8 steals, 0.8 blocks PER 11.8

There may not be a more impressive rookie in the NBA this season than the 19-year-old Antetokounmpo.  The kid walks onto the court looking like he belongs there and he has the size, skills and athleticism that makes one wonder how he managed to slip to 15th in the draft.

His stats will not get him to the top of the board, but this is a player worth following over the next few seasons.  Post All-Star game, 9.3 points, 45.5 percent from the field and 42.9 percent from three-point range, 4.9 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 1.3 blocks and 1.3 steals over 7 games should catch everyone’s attention.

 

5. Mason Plumlee, Brooklyn Nets
46 GP, 6.3 points, 63.3%, 3.5 rebounds, 0.8 blocks, PER 18.5

When Plumlee gets a chance, he doesn’t embarrass himself, in fact, on a team headed to the lottery, he might just get enough minutes to win Rookie of the Year, but that isn’t happening in Brooklyn.

Plumlee’s rise on our Rookie Watch is as much the fall or lack of progress of other rookies as it’s been his recent improvement.  With a few more minutes lately – stress few – he has been averaging 7.4 points on 64 percent shooting, 5.4 rebounds and a block in 17.3 minutes since the All-Star break.

The young center rarely seems to leave the paint, but in a league struggling to find size, the Nets have a keeper.

Just missing the cut:

Tim Hardaway Jr., New York Knicks
Lots of points lately, but his excellent shooting has deserted him.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Detroit Pistons
Being shafted for playing time by a team hoping to win – it’s not working.

Kelly Olynyk, Boston Celtics
Could move up, if he could stay healthy.

Cody Zeller, Charlotte Bobcats
Needs more minutes and an improved shooting touch.

Time is getting short, but if you think we have over looked or overrated a rookie, let us know in the comments below.

 

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.

 

Check out:

Orlando Magic Media Day
Magic Rookie Victor Oladipo: Shooting vs. Point Guard?
“I still have a lot of room for improvement,” Oladipo said.  “I just have to keep getting better, keep growing and keep believing in myself.  A big thing is to never let my confidence waiver, continue to have my teammates back and I know they believe in me too, just going out and playing hard for them.”

CHA_Zeller_Cody
Charlotte Bobcats Rookie Cody Zeller Is Having Fun
“It is definitely a learning process being a rookie in the NBA,” Zeller said. “You have a lot to learn, but everyone has been good about trying to help me out, the coaches, the vets, everyone along the way. We are winning, so everything is better when you are winning. It’s definitely fun. It could be a lot worse than playing basketball for a living.”