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NBA Toronto Raptors Serge Ibaka and PJ Tucker

Raptors Go From Greek Freak To King James

By Frank McLean

After taking care of the Greek Freak in Milwaukee, the Toronto Raptors go to round two of the NBA Playoffs and this time their opponent is King James and the the Cleveland Cavaliers, a round earlier than last year.

At the beginning of the year it was expected that these two teams would face each other in the Eastern Conference Final for a second time in a row, but the season just didn’t go as planned.

It’s not just the Raptors, but fact of life for all the other teams in the East if they have any aspirations of making it to the NBA Finals the road there goes through Interstate-90 into downtown Cleveland and Quicken Loans Arena where the defending champions live.

After winning their first 10-playoff games last year the Cavaliers up two games to nothing came to Toronto looking for the sweep, but then all of a sudden they found a Raptors team that didn’t get the memo that they were supposed to lay down and die. The Raptors won the next two games to tie the series, but would end up losing in game six to the appreciative cheers of their fans.

Which begs to question, are the Raptors the only team in the East that could put a monkey wrench in the bid for the Cavaliers to make it back to the finals for a third straight year?

Back in February you could see some cracks in the Cavaliers that made you think maybe their window as champions was closing. Injuries to Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving plus the loss of Matthew Dellavedova to the Milwaukee Bucks showed that when Lebron James doesn’t have his supporting cast around him the Cavaliers are beatable.

As a result the Cavaliers were 21-20 in the second half of the season and because of that they lost their grip on the top seed in the east to Boston and finishing second set up this second round match-up with the Raptors.

Cleveland’s defense was just not as a good as last year finishing 22nd after being 10th last season.

When you look at the defensive stats of the 16-teams that made the playoffs this year they were 13th in defensive ratings.

There was one point in the season where James was complaining in the press that they needed a playmaker to get him the ball. They had that in Dellavedova, but the Cavaliers let him walk to Milwaukee in the summer.

So when you look at that evidence you think like Lloyd Christmas in the comedy classic Dumb and Dumber, “So you’re telling me there is a chance.”

The Raptors do have a chance and you can thank two moves made by president Masai Ujiri at the trade deadline getting Serge Ibaka from Orlando and bringing P.J. Tucker back to the 416 from Phoenix.

He saw the window opening a crack and these two deals were made to make the Raptors better by making them a tougher team to handle in the paint with the sole object being able to stop LeBron James.

Ibaka gets to play the role Bismack Biyombo did last year and that’s to block the paint and scoop up rebounds while P.J. Tucker will get the assignment to shadow James and guard him close enough that he will know what brand of deodorant he puts on in the morning.

So the spotlight is on Tucker and he knows he has the dirty job of guarding the “King” and trying to limit his success?

“I don’t think his game changes,” Tucker was saying Sunday before the team left for Cleveland. “I think for the most part, when he’s aggressive and he’s trying to score the ball and he’s going, I don’t think it matters. I think when he gets a few to the rim, easy, he gets a few dunks, he hits a pullup, he hits a turnaround, and his three starts falling, he’s a feel-good player. If he’s hitting some regular shots, the tough stuff starts to fall. He’s probably the best player in the world. It’s still a feel game (for him).”

The addition of Tucker and Ibaka makes this team better on paper than last year.

The Raptors need to win one game in Cleveland to win this series since they do not have home court advantage in this round. And if there is game they can steal it would be game one since the Cavaliers will have gone eight days without playing since they finished their first round sweep of Indiana.

We will find out starting Monday night if the Raptors can finally slay the dragon of Ohio.

 

 

   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 D-League Mississauga Raptors 905 Edy Tavares

Raptors 905 Center Edy Tavares Named D-League DPOY

Toronto Raptors NBA Development League affiliate, Mississauga Raptors 905 center Edy Tavares has been named the 2016-17 D-League Defensive Player of the Year (DPOY) by a vote of the league’s 22 head coaches.

Taveras (7-3, 265) appeared in 48 games for Raptors 905 this season, anchoring a defense that held opponents to a league-low 98.0 points per game and 42.8 percent shooting. Raptors 905 allowed 94.5 points per 100 possessions when Tavares was on the court.

Taveras tied for the NBA D-League lead with 2.7 blocks per game. On March 25, he recorded an NBA D-League season-high 12 blocks as part of a triple-double that included 15 points and 11 rebounds. He also averaged 10.6 points on 59.1 percent shooting (eighth in the league) and 7.7 rebounds.

A 2017 NBA D-League All-Star, Taveras helped Raptors 905 to a league-best 39-11 record. The team swept the Canton Charge in the Eastern Conference Semifinals and currently leads the Maine Red Claws 1-0 in the Conference Finals.

Taveras, who was born in Maio, Cape Verde, was selected by the Atlanta Hawks with the 43rd pick of the 2014 NBA Draft. He appeared in 12 games with the Hawks and owns career averages of 2.5 points and 2.5 rebounds in 7.8 minutes.

He was recently called up by the Cleveland Cavaliers on April 12th.

 

 

NBA D-League Mad Ants Tyler Hansbrough

Mad Ants Tyler Hansbrough Should Be On NBA Teams Radar

By Frank McLean

The beautiful thing about the NBA Development League “NBDL” is that when you go to a game you never know who you are going to see. There are numerous players who are or who should be on many NBA teams radar.

Maybe it’s a first round pick from the NBA draft playing in the D-League to get the unlimited minutes not available with his NBA team so he can develop and make a contribution to the parent team. Or someone who excelled in the NCAA, but may not be good enough for the NBA like one-time NCAA player of the year Jimmer Ferdette.

One current under-employed NBA veteran trying to use the NBDL to get back to the big show is former Toronto Raptors forward Tyler Hansbrough.

After spending four years with Indiana Pacers where he was their first round pick in the 2009-draft, Hansbrough signed a two year free agent deal with the Raptors and when that expired, he signed a one year deal with the Charlotte Hornets for the 2015-16 season where his career came off the rails.

In Charlotte he had the worst season of the NBA career. He played in only 44-games where he averaged 2.4-points and 2-rebounds in just 7.8 minutes.

On March first, after no NBA team taking a chance on him during the offseason and sitting out the whole season, he signed a deal with the Fort Wayne Mad Ants of the NBDL which happens to be owned by the team that drafted him the Indiana Pacers.

He has been a factor. In two games down the stretch run of the regular season he had games of 25 and 31 points. He also had a 23 rebound game and that’s where he was always excelled, a ferocious rebounder and a deadly shooter in the paint. He is averaging a double-double in Fort Wayne.

Currently the Mad Ants are in the NBDL Eastern Conference semi-final against the Main Red Claws with the winner of the best of three series taking on the Raptors 905 in the Eastern Conference Final.

On Monday night with his team facing elimination Hansbrough carried the Mad Ants in a comeback win to tie the series at one apiece and forcing a deciding game three on Wednesday night in Portland, Maine. Hansbrough put up 27-points and grabbed 15-boards in the game.

Pacers President Larry Bird has been in attendance for some games keeping an eye on who Pacers fans called “Psycho T.” A guy who’s defensive toughness, rebounding and scoring in the paint gave the Mad Ants a boost in their bid for the NBDL title.

Hansbrough, like any veteran who comes to the D-League, is there for one purpose and that’s to get back to the NBA. No one gave Hansbrough a 10-day contract which is a surprise when you see teams in the NBA who can use his skill set like maybe Cleveland? Just saying.

He was one of the all-time greats at the University of North Carolina, right up there with other alumni like Michael Jordan, Vince Carter and current Raptors 905 head coach Jerry Stackhouse. His number 50 was retired after being named on the ACC’s first all-star in each of his four years there plus being the rookie of the year in 2006 and in 2008 was the ACC’s player of the year as well as all the other national player of the year honors.

Here’s hoping the Mad Ants win their series and the local Toronto fans get a chance to see Hansbrough comeback to the GTA to take on the Raptors 905.

He is the reason why the NBDL was formed in the first place, to give young NBA draft picks a chance to work on their craft and veterans a place to audition their talents.

Something says Hansbrough won’t be in the NBDL long.

 

 

 

   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 D-League Mississauga Raptors 905 Edy Tavares

Cavs Grab Shot Blocker Edy Tavares From Raptors 905

A Cleveland Cavaliers team that has been searching desperately for any kind of big man help is about to sign the Toronto Raptors D-League affiliate 905 center Edy Tavares to a multi-year deal.

Tavares is coming off a first round playoff game with the Raptors 905 where he blocked 8 shots on the Cavs D-League affiliate Canton Charge.

“(Edy Tavares) has unbelievable talent,” Raptors 905 head coach Jerry Stackhouse said after the game. “The way he protects the rim for us. For the most part he just went up there and used his length. He has unbelievable timing.”

Shams Charania reports,

Tavares, a 7-foot-3 center, plans to sign a three-year contract with the Cavaliers on Wednesday, league sources said. Tavares has been a critical part of the Raptors 905’s championship contention in the D-League, averaging 10.9 points and 7.7 rebounds and 2.7 blocks for the season.

Raptors 905 have advanced to the NBA D-League East Finals, but in the process they lost Alex Toupane to the New Orleans Pelicans after he scored a franchise record 41 points in the 905’s first ever playoff game. Now they are about to lose their starting center to the Cavs.

 
 

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 JR Smith LeBron James Kyle Korver

The Cavaliers Got Real Old Real Fast This Year

Not old as in old news, the Cleveland Cavaliers were built as a veteran team and their age is finally catching up to them. LeBron James (32), J.R. Smith (31), Kyle Korver (35), Richard Jefferson (36), Deron Williams (32), Channing Frye (33), and James Jones (36) literally make up half of head coach Tyronn Lue’s available roster. Throw in a few injuries and no one should be surprised if the Cavs are looking more than just a little fatigued heading done the stretch.

Coaches (and James) love to play with veterans and they should. You know what you are going to get, but the older the veteran, the higher the risk of injury, the more careful you have to be about preserving them for the postseason, and the bigger the risk their natural physical abilities fade.

There is a reason why the NBA is often called a young man’s game. 82 games plus playoffs is a grind. It wears you down and the Cavaliers look like they are on their last legs. It’s a lot to ask of older players, especially defensively.

Losing four of their last five games and 11 of 19 since the All-Star break, the Cavs are backing into the playoffs. Once a sure-thing to finish first in the Conference, now even home court in the second round of the postseason seems to be in doubt. The Cavs have been a suspect team on defense all season and the longer it goes, the worse they’ve looked as recently discussed on the NBA.com blogtable.

David Aldridge: they haven’t been good for weeks now. This is a pretty large sample size. It can’t just all be that they’re bored or that the injuries have hurt their continuity.

Steve Aschburner: this looks more like an issue of fatigue, effort and focus.

Shaun Powell: aside from LeBron James, nobody is stellar. JR Smith and Iman Shumpert are older and mostly living on reputation these days.

Ian Thomsen: They shouldn’t be this bad defensively. What appears to be ailing them more than anything is exhaustion.

Smith is just recently back from a thumb injury and no one should be surprised that the oft-injured Kevin Love missed a few weeks (again). Love’s body is older and more fragile than might be expected from a 28-year-old.

Now it’s the aging key defensive cog Jefferson with knee tendinitis and the sharp shooter Korver with sore feet. If you count on guys over 30, you better have solid backups for when they go down.

The really big piece of this conversation remains James. Playing a team high 37.5 minutes a game because he has to, the seemingly indestructible King is only human and he’s not as young as he was before starting his run of six consecutive trips to the NBA Finals. Asking James at 32-years-old plus to carry a team playing big minutes thru the regular season will eventually mean he runs out of gas in the 20+ postseason games it takes to play in the Finals. No one at any age plays this many games for this many seasons.

“As far as rest goes, I think mentally it’s good for players just to get away,” Durant said. “Not even worrying about having to go through shootaround or mentally preparing for their matchup or playing the game. I think mentally it does help when you get a day not to worry about basketball because we’re so consumed with the game 24/7.

“… But most guys do want to play, love to play and want to be out there. So I understand both sides. It’s not like I’m taking sides at all. I understand both of them, but sometimes you may need a mental break from it, especially when you’re that top-level player like LeBron” – Chris Haynes, ESPN Staff Writer

This is what the Celtics, Wizards and Raptors have been waiting for. A crack in the Cavaliers juggernaut they can exploit. Right now the Cavs look old and slow on defense and injuries to key players make their offense much less formidable.

There is no cure for old tired legs except rest. Some people might suggest swallowing one’s pride, giving James a couple of weeks off and limiting the minutes of Love, Frye, Smith and company until the games matter and just let the regular season chips fall where they may. The Cavaliers are just playing for the postseason? Right?

 

 

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.

 

 

 

Top 4 teams in the NBA Eastern Conference 3-28-2017

So Who’s The Best In The NBA East Now?

It’s finally happened, the Cleveland Cavaliers have surrendered first place in the Eastern Conference with their 10th loss in 18 games since the All-Star break. The idle Boston Celtics assuming the half game lead on the back of an 11-6 run over the same period.

However, it isn’t safe to just assume the Boston Celtics are now the best team. The Washington Wizards and Toronto Raptors have their own claims to make and the defending NBA Champion Cavaliers aren’t about to give props to anyone else reports ESPN senior writer Ramona Shelburne,

“That’s fine,” Cavaliers star LeBron James said when informed Boston had passed Cleveland in the standings with the 103-74 loss. “It matters more that we play better basketball than where we’re at. If that results in the 1, 2 or 3 seed, we need to play better basketball. That’s all it comes down to. I’m not worried about anything.”

Boston may temporarily hold down first place, but there are other measures that can indicate which team is currently the “best.” (NBA.com team stats)

NBA Eastern Conference net rating

The Raptors can lay claim to the best defensive rating and best net rating of the top four teams in the East, however, what is equally interesting is the Cavaliers terrible defensive rating. Only the Nets and Knicks are worse defensively than Cleveland this season.

The ESPN Basketball Power Index (BPI), a measure of team strength developed by the ESPN Analytics team, confirms the Raptors position at number one in the East. (Noting four teams in the West rank ahead of Toronto.)

However, the Raptors best argument for the strength of their team might come from focusing on just the games since the All-Star break. Notably, this period matches the concerns about the once heavily favored Cavaliers.

In the end, LeBron James and the Cavs have one stat they can hold over the three other teams challenging them in the East. In head-to-head games this season, the Cavs hold winning records over each of them.

It is going to take a lot to shake the confidence most of the talking heads will have in the Cavaliers ability to bounce back and play better once the postseason kicks off. The excuses relating to injuries and chemistry won’t count for much then and a LeBron James led team always makes it to the NBA Finals? Except for maybe this tidbit from the Celtics ESPN home page.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the Celtics are in sole possession of the best record in the Eastern Conference this late into the season for the 1st time since the end of the 2007-08 season, when they won the title.

In the meantime, the Celtics are now favored to finish first in the East, but the Raptors can claim they are playing better, own the season series with the Cs and are the hotter team heading down the stretch. However, the best team won’t be known until the playoffs.

 
 

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.

 
 

Cleveland Cavaliers shooters 2016-17

Not So Tough Cavs Backing Into The Playoffs

It’s a little early to be gearing down and the Cleveland Cavaliers apparent lack of toughness is starting to wear on LeBron James as his team seems to be backing into the playoffs according to ESPN Staff Writer Dave McMenamin.

“We’ve got to be more, just do more. It ain’t about no group. You can’t preach toughness. You’ve got to have it,” James said after an embarrassing effort by the Cavs in Denver. “Um, one thing about it: I always bring toughness to the game. I know that. That’s for sure.”

There should be no doubt, this year’s version of the Cavs isn’t as tough as last year’s NBA Championship team. Even when things were going well before the All-Star break and they sported a 70.9 winning percentage, the Cavaliers were giving up 106 points per game and winning with offense (111.3 points). That’s not how a tough team plays and since the break, things have slid backwards considerably.

In their past 15 games, the Cavs are 7-8, are being outscored 109-107.2, getting beat on the boards 45.7-42.4, losing the turnover battle 12-9 and letting opponents shoot 46.9 percent from the field. No amount of time off for rest and injury woes can fully explain what’s been going on since the break.

“There’s no comparison, man,” Kyrie Irving said. “Last year compared to this year, you can’t even [compare]. It wouldn’t be fair.

“We’re trying to go into the playoffs as healthy as possible. Everybody is getting back. It’s been a very, very weird season for all of us. Injuries here and there. Things to figure out. New player trades and stuff like that.”

You got to give Irving that it’s been a weird season for the Cavs. With the NBA’s highest payroll and all that talent, things should be different, but maybe James is right, it’s about toughness. McMenamin lays out what has changed.

The difference in Cleveland’s 2016 championship team versus the team the Cavs will take into these playoffs is that the key bench pieces in Matthew Dellavedova, Timofey Mozgov and Dahntay Jones have been replaced by theoretical upgrades in Korver, Deron Williams and Derrick Williams.

The missing pieces from last season were tough players and their replacements were either old or discards or both when Cleveland acquired them. They were moves motivated by a desire to save money on the team’s pending horrendous luxury tax bill and if the ‘theoretical upgrades’ don’t pull through, it’s a gamble that could cost the Cavs first place in the East and possibly a chance to defend their title.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

Adam Silver

Are NBA Teams Putting Themselves Ahead Of Their Fans?

By Frank McLean

The issue of teams resting their star players for no reason other than they want them to have a night off because of a compact NBA schedule has reared its ugly head again. This time on a prime time Saturday night game ESPN had scheduled for its sister network ABC with the defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers visiting the Los Angeles Clippers. The Cavaliers decided that morning that LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love were going to take the night off.

This is a practice that was started by San Antonio Spurs head coach Greg Popovich a few years back when he decided to rest his stars Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, etc in a game in Miami. The Heat being a non-conference opponent, Pop he felt he needed to rest his players for a game against a Western Conference opponent the next night which was crucial in the standings, and they were on a four games in five night schedule.

San Antonio was fined $250,000 by then-NBA commissioner David Stern in the 2012-13 season when coach Gregg Popovich sent Danny Green, Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili home for rest on Nov. 29, 2012, rather than having them play Miami in the final game of a six-game road trip. – NBA.com

Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that game was a TNT game of the week just like this past Saturday’s Cavaliers-Clippers game was nationally televised match-up.

On Monday, in a memo sent out by commissioner Adam Silver to the owners and referenced on NBA.com, the NBA league office let teams know that resting their star players is an extremely significant issue for our league.

“Decisions of this kind … can affect fans and business partners, impact our reputation and damage the perception of our game,” Silver wrote in the memo, which was obtained by The Associated Press. “With so much at stake, it is simply not acceptable for governors to be uninvolved or to defer decision-making authority on these matters to others in their organizations.”

Silver stated that the issue of resting players will be at the top of the agenda April 6th the day of the next Board of Governors meeting. Silver is quoted in the memo saying “significant penalties for teams that don’t abide by the league’s standing rules for providing ‎notice to the league office, their opponent, and the media immediately upon a determination that a player will not participate in a game due to rest.”

Not only does the league have to stand by their television partners, whose billions of dollars paid for television rights is the main reason league revenues go up every year, but fans who buy tickets to games months in advance expecting to see LeBron James and company and instead get the B team.

As Silver said, “it is unacceptable for owners to be uninvolved or defer decision-making on this topic to others in their organizations, who may not have the same awareness of the impact these decisions can have on fans and business partners, the reputation of the league and perception of our game.”

What irked me and I’m sure what really irked ESPN was the attitude of Cavaliers General Manager David Griffin who really didn’t care what people thought of his stars taking a night off.

“They’re paying me to win a championship.” Griffin told ESPN.com. “I’m not overly concerned about the perception of it. We literally had one guy rest tonight, and everybody else was reasonably injured, so I don’t feel like we did anything terribly egregious.”

He went on to say that it’s not his job to appease the league and it’s television partners.

On Monday, ESPN management released a statement about teams resting their star players during nationally televised games.

“As always, our aim is to serve NBA fans with the best matchups involving the league’s top stars and we share the fans’ disappointment. We understand this is a complex issue and we’re working closely with the NBA to best address it going forward from a media partnership standpoint.”

What finally drove ESPN management over the edge was it was the second Saturday in a row a team decided to rest it big guns.

The previous week the Golden State Warriors were in stretch of playing eight games in eight different cities over a 13-day period covering a pair of cross country trips and some 11-thousand miles logged and in which six of those games were slated as a TNT or ESPN appearance. So for that Saturday night game with rival San Antonio Warriors coach Steve Kerr gave the night off to Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala.

So what does the league do to stop this?

They did announce during All-Star Weekend that they are cutting the pre-season by a week and starting the regular season earlier to cut down on the back to back games and hopefully reduce injuries.

“That’s why we’re adding the extra week to the season,” Silver said during his news conference at the All-Star Game. “We’ve reduced the number of games we’ll play in the preseason and added a full week to the regular season. … That extra week in our schedule will enable us to cut down on the back-to-backs, cut down on the number of times that our teams are obligated to play four games in five nights, and it will enable the coaches to provide additional rest for their players.”

Maybe the NBA could adopt what the NHL did this season where each team got five days off sometime in January or February. Teams were not allowed to practice during those five days so it was something that went along with the five days each team got in January for the all-star break.

I’m sure it’s an idea that might be brought up by governors from the Knicks and Raptors who’s parent companies also own NHL teams when they meet in April.

The issue of resting stars who are not hurt is something you don’t see in other sports. It’s something the NBA has to correct or maybe their television partners might look at spending their money elsewhere.

 

 

   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.

 

 

 

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 Cleveland Cavaliers J.R. Smith

Injuries Could Play Havoc With The NBA Playoffs

So the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors are a sure thing to meet in the NBA Finals? You sure? It seems like no one thinks either team is headed for an early exit – yet, but both teams could be in for a tougher time in the first two rounds of the playoffs than anyone anticipated and if their sidelined All-Stars aren’t back to 100 percent by the Conference Finals, all bets should be off on a three-peat in the NBA Finals.

But it’s not just the top two teams in each conference with issues. Injuries have hit a number of other teams this year hoping to make some noise in the postseason and if they aren’t aren’t back by now, optimistic assessments about how soon and how good key players will be aside, teams are worried – not that there’s much they can do about it now.

Golden State Warriors – Kevin Durant

An MCL sprain and bone bruise in his left knee that’ll be reassessed at the end of March. No worries, he’ll be back for the playoffs, right? Maybe, but in the meantime the Dubs are 0-2 without him and the Spurs are just 3 games back.

How good would a Warriors – Thunder matchup look in the first round if the Dubs can’t hold onto first in the West and KD is still watching from the sidelines mid-April – which is very possible. Russell Westbrook would only be slightly better motivated to triple-double his way into the second round vs GSW.

Cleveland Cavaliers – JR Smith, Kevin Love

The Cavs showed their true feelings about whether Smith and his broken thumb could be counted on for the postseason by quickly trading for Kyle Korver and the move has worked. Smith or no Smith, the Cavs got that covered.

They also showed their true feelings about Kevin Love’s “minor” knee surgery – is there a stranger term than “minor surgery”? They cut a young prospect to sign a waived 32-year-old Andrew Bogut who averaged 3.0 points in 26 appearances for the Lottery-bound Mavericks.

Sure Love could be back in the 4-6 week time horizon that would make him available for the playoffs and the Cavs are hoping that happens, but there are no guarantees and it’s unlikely he’ll return right away as the same 20 point 11 rebound power forward he was before the injury.

Bogut doesn’t replace Love and it’s a certainty the Cavs will not be as good without their starting power forward or trying to play Love as he goes through the inevitable soreness and conditioning issues that come with knee surgery no matter how “minor.”

Toronto Raptors – Kyle Lowry

Lowry had wrist surgery to remove “loose bodies” that were causing swelling and pain and is expected back in time for the postseason, however, a month or more without the East’s leading three-point maker and the Raptors are going to have to adapt fast to hold onto home court advantage for the playoffs.

The team made big additions defensively with Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker prior to the trade deadline and now have both Patrick Patterson and Delon Wright back from injury, so they added depth just in time to compensate, but without their All-Star point guard, the Raptors aren’t the same threat they were earlier in the season. They are hoping for a very speedy and full recovery or this could be a return to the quick postseason exits of a couple of years ago.

Denver Nuggets – Kenneth Faried

After missing most of February with a severely sprained ankle, now the veteran forward has been out with back spasms and could miss another week? It doesn’t sound serious other than the 8th place Nuggets have been relying on the short-handed Trail Blazers to play worse than .500 ball to stay ahead of them.

Other notables include: Miami Heat Justus Winslow (shoulder), Minnesota Timberwolves Zach LaVine (torn ACL), Milwaukee Bucks Jabari Parker (torn ACL), New York Knicks Joakim Noah (knee surgery), Orlando Magic Jodie Meeks (thumb surgery), Philadelphia 76ers Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid among others, Portland Trail Blazers Festus Ezeli (knee), Even Turner (broken hand), Ed Davis (torn labrum), Sacramento Kings Rudy Gay (ruptured Achilles).

It’s hard to win without players your team was counting upon at the start of the season and it gets even harder in the playoffs. A last second return mid-April shouldn’t fill one with confidence either.

A Cavs vs Dubs rematch in the NBA Finals? Possible, but injuries aren’t making what seemed like a sure-thing in October nearly as likely.

 

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 Kevin Love

NBA East Opens Up: Surgery For Love, Ibaka To Raptors

Never say the NBA season is a forgone conclusion. Big changes can happen and in an instant what seemed like a sure thing can be thrown into doubt. The certainty of the Cleveland Cavaliers defense of their title in the NBA Finals took a massive hit as Kevin Love underwent knee surgery just as the Toronto Raptors filled their gapping hole at power forward by trading for “Air Congo” Serge Ibaka.

Cavaliers forward and 2017 NBA All-Star Kevin Love underwent arthroscopic surgery to remove a loose body from his left knee this morning at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City. His return to play is estimated at approximately six weeks.

“I would love to be able to tell you that he’ll miss three games and be back,” general manager David Griffin told the Cleveland Plain Dealer. “But I can’t right now because we don’t know.”

“Always concerned when guys are going down,” Lue told the Cleveland Plain Dealer about Love. “And we’re already limited as it is. Definitely concerned.”

– NBA News

The Toronto Raptors issued a similar statement last year about DeMarre Carroll. Carroll did return in time for the postseason, but it wasn’t until December of this year that his knee fully healed. There are no certainties when a player goes under the knife.

Love is averaging 20 points and 11.1 rebounds for the Cavs.

The Raptors have played the Cavaliers close over the past two seasons, losing 4-2 in six games in the Eastern Conference Finals last year and losing their three regular season games to the Cavs this season by an average of 3.6 points, 110.3-106.7. Love torching the Raptors for 21.7 points and 12.3 rebounds. His production isn’t going to be easy to replace.

The Raptors, currently mired in a 4-10 slump that can be traced to injuries to DeMar DeRozan and Patrick Patterson, will get a big boost from the acquisition of Serge Ibaka. Ibaka was leading the Orlando Magic with 846 points, 83 made three-point field goals, a 54.7 eFG% and 90 blocks and will slide seamlessly into a starting power forward spot in the Raptors rotation that head coach Dwane Casey hasn’t found anyone to fill on an effective basis.

DeRozan is back and playing well and Patterson is day-to-day. The Raptors lost backup wing Terrence Ross in the trade for Ibaka, but sophomore Norman Powell is ready to step in to fill that role and many who follow the team believe Powell should have been ahead of Ross in the rotation already.

If the Raptors can stay healthy, the addition of Ibaka should give pause to anyone thinking the Cavaliers march to the NBA Finals is still a sure thing. The Celtics, Wizards and Hawks should also believe their chances of representing the East in the NBA Finals just took a big leap forward as well.

Things just got interesting again in the East.

 

 

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 Kevin Love and LeBron James

Cavs Kevin Love Isn’t Going Anywhere

By Frank McLean

Kevin Love is not going anywhere. If you don’t believe me listen to the guy who is listed as a player but acts like the real General Manager of the Cleveland Cavaliers LeBron James.

As if to make a point, Marc Berman in the New York Post reported after the Cavaliers beat the New York Knicks 111-104 right in Madison Square Garden,

James said, “Kevin is here for a reason. We know why he is here. We know what he is capable of.”

James set Love up with the game winning three point field goal with 44-seconds left in the fourth quarter.

It’s the worst kept secret around NBA circles that the Knicks are looking to move Carmelo Anthony even though he does have a no trade contract.

Reports recently said that the Knicks offered Anthony to the Cavaliers in exchange for Love and well as you can expect the Cavaliers supposedly said no.

The Cavaliers are in a bit of a slump right now. They started the season going 23-6 in their first 29-games, but since then and counting last night’s win they have gone just 11-9.

A few weeks back James went public demanding that the Cavaliers find him a playmaker to get him the ball seeing that the Golden State Warriors went out and improved their roster by getting Kevin Durant in the off season.

After the game Saturday night Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue reassured everyone that Love isn’t going anywhere.

“Just because teams ask about you doesn’t mean you’re getting traded. Right now we have who we have and not looking to move one of our guys right now.”

But what does Kevin Love think about all this talk about him heading for Broadway? It always seems that since he came to Cleveland in a trade from the Minnesota Timberwolves he is always being mentioned in a possible trade.

“Comes with the territory,” Love said late last week in an interview with long time basketball writer Fred Kerber of the New York Post.  “When that stuff comes along, I’ve done a lot better job of letting things just kind of roll off of me. I think it’d helped me out on the court as well.”

Love is averaging a double-double 19.9-points and 11-rebounds a game while battling spasms.

“It’s good to be wanted”, Love joked.

“I predicted that. I said it doesn’t matter if I have an All-Star year, one side or the other, it’s always going to be there.”

February 23rd can’t come soon enough for Love who I’m sure will be checking his messages every couple of hours just to make sure he isn’t leaving the Queen City of Ohio.

Nobody wants to be traded. The feeling that no one wants you any more stinks. The positive that somebody wants you helps you get over being traded for somebody else.

Love is still an important cog in the Cleveland Cavaliers offense, he helps make LeBron James go and it was evident in Saturday night’s win over the Knicks where he scored 23-points and grabbed 16-rebounds.

It seems that the Knicks can ask and ask all they want, but if LeBron James and Tyronn Lue have anything to say they still have a lot of Love for Kevin Love.

 

 

 

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 San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich

Spurs Plan On Interrupting Cavs Vs Warriors Part Three

By Frank McLean

It’s not a secret that NBA fans and those in the management offices at ESPN in Bristol, Connecticut want a Cleveland Cavaliers versus Golden State Warriors for a third year in this year’s NBA Finals.

With both teams being the winner of one of each of the last two finals you can imagine the ratings bonanza the rubber match would be for the self-proclaimed “World Wide Leader in Sports”.

Well don’t tell that to San Antonio Spurs coach Greg Popovich.

Making their annual visit to Toronto this week Popovich said he’s not ready to concede to the Warriors the Western Conference title for a third straight year regardless if they have added some guy named Kevin Durant.

“You do the best you can to take advantage of whatever weaknesses or strengths they might have. You have to go against their weaknesses, try to figure out what their strengths are and take’em away,” Popovich said about taking on the Warriors. “And that’s what this is all about. So the challenge is what makes it exciting. If you’re of the mindset that where you say what’s the point, then you’re in the wrong business.”

So Popovich is not going to sit down and kiss the Warriors championship rings and why should he?

Since he took the job in 1999 the Spurs have won five NBA championships, averaged 55-wins per season and are on pace for a second straight year of 65-wins.

When you see Popovich as a grumpy old coach in a wrinkled sports coat and khaki pants when he is interviewed on television, in most part it’s an act. When you ask him thoughtful questions he will give you thoughtful answers.

He is also humble.

His peers in the NBA, and that include Raptors coach Dwane Casey, feel that Popovich is not just the best coach in the NBA, but all of sports.

Popovich’s stock answer when you say this to him is that he had Tim Duncan for a long time and that made him look good. Popovich knows that if you don’t have good players a coach is not going to look smart. That’s something every coach I have ever come across well tell you, if you don’t have the horses, you aren’t going to win.

His theory of coaching a game is pretty simple and it explains how he lasted almost 20-years in the same job.

“The game starts and you play the game, you do your best. You make adjustments, make substitutions, get certain groups on the court, call timeouts, yell and scream and beg and love and be crazy and then you win or you lose and then what happens? You go to dinner. Sometimes the best part of the evening.”

He also had high praise for Dwane Casey who each year on the job has gotten his team to win more games than the previous year. Raptors fans may not want to hear this, especially with the club on a five game losing skid and social media is calling for his head as a result.

“It is difficult (to do that),” Popovich said. “You’ll see people have two good seasons or one, it goes down for two or three and then maybe it comes up a little bit and then the owner fires him. That seems to be the deal. But to sustain it and to sustain it and do better every year is a difficult thing. And what Casey’s done here is implemented a culture and a system. It doesn’t happen immediately, but as you all know by now, they’ve bought in, everybody knows what the deal is. He’s going to be consistent, he’s going to be demanding, he’s going to be fair.”

It’s too bad Popovich and the Spurs only come to Toronto once a year. Like I said, when you get Popovich engaged, he is one of the best quote machines in the league.

And as far as I’m concerned he is one of the best coaches in all of sports. The only person who comes close to him is in the NFL and that’s Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots who has won four Super Bowls in six appearances and is heading for his seventh appearance in the big one during his tenure there.

I’m sure the Warriors wish they only had to deal with Popovich and the Spurs once a year.

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

NBA Cavs LeBron James

There’s Some Whine And Gold From Cavs LeBron James

Every NBA player tries to sell they’ve been fouled on every play and conversely no one seems to believe they’ve ever fouled anybody, but usually the constant complaining about calls stays on the court as it’s universally acknowledged the NBA game is very hard to officiate with all of the overt acting going on. But, not this time, there was some classic whine and gold as LeBron James felt the need to complain about not getting enough calls going his way after the Cavs had a couple of tough road games in the West.

ESPN’s Dave Menamin reports,

James is actually 10th in the league in free throw attempts per game. James also averages more minutes than everyone above him in the top 10.

Much of James’ detest comes from the fact that the vast majority of his shots come from within the paint … he feels contact is ignored.

“Yeah, I got fouled,” James said after the game, when asked about his outburst in Salt Lake City.

“It is, it is. It is. But I know what the main thing is — the main thing is to win — but it is. It is. It is.”

James is hard to officiate for a few reasons. One, he is bigger and stronger than some of today’s centers. Two, he’ll play like a guard, a wing or a power forward in the same sequence, so he isn’t doing what other players do and that makes it hard to anticipate plays for the referees. And three, he gets treated like a superstar at the defensive end so his opponents have a right to complain about getting frequently whacked by James with no call.

Funny, you never hear James talk about what he gets away with and it’s a lot. James, the ever active and very physical defender, fouls at the unbelievably low rate of just 2.1 fouls per 100 possessions. Only the Lakers Luol Deng and Lou Williams foul less (2.0). James gets the “kid-glove” treatment from the referees on defense like no one else does, so maybe he should be expecting the referees are getting an earful every night about calling the game the same way at both ends?

It’s not like James is getting no calls. He is 15th in the NBA for fouls drawn per 100 possessions at 7.2. The leaders being Joel Embiid (12.9), DeMarcus Cousins (12), Anthony Davis (10), Isaiah Thomas (9.9) and Russell Westbrook (9.3). All of these players play a very different style of game from James.

James isn’t a post-up player like Embiid (6 post touches per game). James (2.3 post touches) makes his living starting on the perimeter and is one of the game’s best facilitators, so like the seemingly numerous guards who get to the line more often, James is better known for his drives. But James doesn’t drive to the basket as often as you (he?) thinks.

Top five in drives to the basket include Thomas (13.5), Westbrook (11.6) and Harden (11.3). James (9.5) is way back at 16th and he should know, no one gets a call on every drive even when there is some contact.

So, no one should pretend James spends the same amount of time fighting for space as the league’s centers and power forwards under the basket where claw marks on your arms and shoulders after games is the norm. He’s far too valuable getting other players easy buckets to be “wasting” energy in those battles, so he shouldn’t be expecting to get the calls other big men draw over the course of a game either.

You don’t get a call every time you are whacked fighting in the paint with another big man. The game has never been called that way and the NBA isn’t about to change that for James. Big men are expected to man up and expect physical contact under the basket without complaining.

James mini-rant was pure gold and he probably did it in the hope he’d get some more calls on this road trip. It doesn’t always work and it shouldn’t, but history shows us that sometimes it does and that only encourages more whine and gold from the league’s stars.

Maybe he’d be happier getting called for all those whack-down “great” defensive plays and drawing more fouls at the other end? Probably not.

 

 

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

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

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Kyle Lowry

Toronto Raptors Need To Add More Offense To Contend

It was bad enough in the NBA East before the Cleveland Cavaliers traded for three-point marksman Kyle Korver, but now more than ever you need incredible offense to contend for a spot in the NBA Finals and even the Toronto Raptors averaging an East leading 110.6 points per game don’t have enough.

NBA EAST

No team in the East is holding opponents under 100 points per game and only three teams in the West are, but teams in the West are still giving up 104.7 points per game and they are scoring (105.4) at an even higher clip than the East’s inflated numbers.

The NBA is now a high-scoring, three-point shooting, defense-second league. You don’t stop players like Russell Westbrook (31.2 points), Anthony Davis (29.1 points), James Harden (28.2 points), DeMarcus Cousins (28.1 points), Isaiah Thomas (28 points), or DeMar DeRozan (27.8 points), you outscore them or you fail. This year traditional scoring leaders like LeBron James (26.2), Kevin Durant (25.9), Stephen Curry (24.8), Kyrie Irving (24.3) aren’t even given much of a chance at a scoring title. You need more.

Cavs Nation on Facebook

The Warriors got theirs. They lead the NBA at 117.5 points per game with three players that can’t be stopped averaging over 20 points per game. The Cavs have their own triumvirate averaging over 20 per game, a bevy of shooters and a strangle hold on first in the East.

Most teams are lucky to have one reliable 20 point scorer and the Raptors with DeRozan and Kyle Lowry are blessed with two, but even two isn’t going to be enough these days. When it seems like everyone that matters is giving up over a 100 points except the Spurs (97.5), you are fighting a trend that no defensive scheme is going to overcome – unless maybe you have a Kawhi Leonard on your team.

When you are leading the East in scoring, adding more offense doesn’t necessarily seem like the right solution, but the Raptors have been most often getting beat because they can’t always keep up in today’s shoot-out oriented NBA.

After an October anomaly, he Cavs have beaten Toronto 121-117 and 116-112 and as noted, Cleveland just added more firepower. The Warriors won by 127-121 and 121-111. Then losses to Clippers 123-115, Hawks 125-121, Bulls 123-118 and Rockets 129-122 only serve to illustrate what’s going on in the NBA.

Maybe Raptors head coach Dwane Casey is right that his team doesn’t need to do anything, but that’s except when it comes to the Cavs. It’s only reasonable to expect Cleveland to continue adding to their firepower between now and the last day to add players eligible for the postseason. The team Toronto can’t keep up with on the scoring front is going to add more scoring.

President Masai Ujiri has made it pretty clear the Raptors won’t sell off their young assets for short term gain. It’s been reported he tried to land Paul Millsap and Serge Ibaka last summer and in all likelihood is still trying, but the price has to right. Otherwise, the fallback position of the Raptors and apparently even their closest competitor, the Celtics, is to wait this thing out and see what develops on what are still very young and developing teams.

They can always just wait on LeBron James to get old?

 

 

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

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

 

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Kyle Lowry

Raptors Crash And Burn On A Back-To-Back Again

The Toronto Raptors must believe the NBA schedule makers like to engage in some kind of sick humor, there have been some brutally tough back-to-back sets for Toronto in the first half of the season. Cavs on the road followed by the Warriors at home in November being the best-worst example.

Then Sunday’s game against the Rockets marked the shortest turnaround time between games for the Raptors this season at 22 hours. Toronto played at 8 pm ET game in Chicago on Saturday and then tipped off at 6 pm ET at home the next night. The Raptors lost in overtime to the Bulls and then faded in the fourth quarter against the Rockets to lose both ends of a back-to-back for the fourth time this season.

No team likes to use the schedule as an excuse and back-to-backs were not an issue for the Raptors last season, finishing with a record of 20-14, but this year hasn’t gone so well and at 6-8, most of their losses this season have come as a result of these challenging sets.

It’s not the “ordinary” back-to-backs that are hurting the team. The Raptors have won both ends of Hornets/Knicks, Lakers/Hawks and Timberwolves/Celtics. It’s the combination of games against elite teams and/or the teams that have historically given the Raptors trouble where disaster has struck.

Toronto has lost both ends of the back-to-backs against @Cavs/Dubs, @Kings/@Clippers, @Dubs/@Suns, and @Bulls/Rockets.

The NBA may as well just given the Raptors a couple of nights off and the Ls with the Cavs and Warriors on a back-to-back – thanks for nothing. The loss to the Kings in Sacramento was the infamous time running out despite time still on the clock game as Terrence Ross hits the game-tying buzzer-beater that wasn’t. Losing the next night in L.A. to a very good Clippers team wasn’t a surprise after that. Playing a second back-to-back set that includes the high-scoring, high-tempo Warriors before January is just cruel. Then there’s the Bulls, who Toronto had lost nine games in a row to heading into that game. Putting the high-scoring Rockets as their next opponent 22 hours later virtually guaranteed the Raptors were going to run out of gas.

The Rockets were “just” the fourth team currently ranked in the NBA’s top-10 for win percentage the Raptors have faced on the second night of a back-to-back with the opponent resting the night before – Golden State, L.A. Clippers, Boston and Houston. The Raptors will potentially face this same situation with the Bulls again before the NBA All-Star Break February 14-15 when they play in Chicago, then home to take on Charlotte in Toronto 22 hours later.

Maybe head coach Dwane Casey could’ve squeezed out a couple more wins by punting the fourth quarters of the games against the Cavs or Dubs in the first game of those back-to-back sets, but he would have been giving up the measuring stick against the competition that really matters in May and June. And even after the toughest schedule in the NBA’s Eastern Conference according to ESPN, the Raptors still hold down second place at 24-13.

 

 

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 Atanta Hawks Kyle Korver

Atlanta Hawks Crossing The Road To Rebuilding

We’re only barely into 2017 and the Atlanta Hawks will probably need the rest of the month to blow this whole thing up, but they are already crossing the road towards rebuilding despite still having a very real shot at winning the Southeast Division this season (for now).

The Hawks are at a crossroads of their own making. The core of this team is old, over half of this roster will be free agents in July and no one gives them a ghost of a chance of getting by the second round of the playoffs as constructed in a best case scenario. So, Kyle Korver is gone, Paul Millsap is expected to follow and things shouldn’t stop there.

This year’s starters Millsap, Korver and Dwight Howard are in their thirties as is sixth man Thabo Sefolosha and backup Kris Humphries. Millsap (PO), Korver, Sefolosha and Tim Hardaway Jr. (RFA) will be free agents along with Tiago Splitter, Humphries, and Mike Scott.

Sure the Hawks could have pointed to about $40 million in salary cap space next summer, but cap holds would have used up all of that and more and the Hawks are more worried about losing what they have for nothing than fantasizing about which free agents from other teams might be tempted to join them.

Another summer of losing their best player was (is still) definitely on the table and finding a replacement in free agency that would let them tread water again next year will be difficult to say the least.

So it appears that first round draft picks are the currency that will extract the Hawks veterans and in today’s NBA with exploding salaries, players coming in on rookie deals are the one class of asset management still has solid cost controls on.

To saddle the Hawks future with doom and gloom, however, would be a mistake. Dennis Schroder (23), Kent Bazemore (27) and Tim Hardaway (24) give them the start of a solid young core to build around and it should be possible to expand this group with players in their early to mid-twenties using their prime veteran players as trade bait. A complete tear down and rebuild from the ground up shouldn’t be necessary.

Millsap makes $20 million, so most teams will have to find at least $15 million worth of player contracts to send back and even if the Hawks get a decent first round draft pick in the deal, they aren’t going to accept players with deals extending past this season they wouldn’t be willing to keep on the roster. They should get at least one or two young players worth keeping.

While it might be hard to discern what the Hawks could get for their other players on expiring deals, they do have another impact player in Dwight Howard ($23 million, plus two more seasons totaling $47.3 million) who could take a contending team to the next level. Don’t laugh, Howard is averaging 14 points on 8.7 shots, 13.1 rebounds, 0.9 steals and 1.4 blocks in under 30 minutes. 7th in the NBA with 22 double-doubles and his salary is only about 2/3rds of next summer’s maximum so it isn’t as exorbitant as it sounds.

The Hawks may have “brought Howard home,” but things change and if the Hawks are willing to trade Millsap to get younger and acquire picks, they may as well start shopping the 31-year-old Howard as well. Korver is just the guy who got this party started.

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

Chicago Bulls Rajon Rondo

The Cavaliers Should Trade For The Bulls Rajon Rondo

One teams’ trash can be another team’s need and about the only thing the Cavaliers need is a backup point guard, so if the Bulls are fed up with Rajon Rondo, the Cavs should be making a phone call.

It’s beyond clear the Bulls think they made a huge mistake by signing Rondo in the off season. The only good news is they can opt out of the deal before next summer and limit the damages, but it would be even better if they find some poor sucker – er other team – to give them something, anything back in return.

Cavs owner Dan Gilbert seems to be the most willing of anyone in the NBA to take on reclamation projects if they advance his team’s chances at a championship and he’s spent the money to prove it.

Cleveland isn’t worried about making it back to the Eastern Conference Finals. They are only slightly concerned the Toronto Raptors pull off some miraculous trade that would actually have them worried about getting back to the NBA Finals. But, and it is a big but, with Kyrie Irving being backed up by Kay Felder (you’re excused for not knowing who that is?) and only Kay Felder, nabbing a reliable veteran point guard that could actually run the show when their real floor general LeBron James takes a rest would be more than just a little nice. Especially when it comes to boosting their regular season record and when they have to face the juggernaut that will come out of the West.

Sure Rondo has a history since leaving Boston of being more than just a little challenging to manage, but if he won’t toe the company line for James, he may as well hang up his sneakers. The Cavs are playing for Championships and Rondo could be a key cog in accomplishing that if he gets with the program – and the Cavs find a way to get him to Cleveland.

Somehow Rondo managed to talk the Bulls into paying him $14 million this season, so he doesn’t fit into one of the Cavs trade exceptions and Cleveland would have to send back nearly $12 million in salary to make the trade math work.

So, a trade isn’t going to be easy to do. Rondo’s value, other than maybe to Cleveland, isn’t that high, so the Bulls can’t expect to get a player back who’s a slam dunk and the Cavs aren’t that motivated to get a point guard to get fleeced.

However, Iman Shumpert makes almost $10 million a year and has shown himself to be a useful defensive guard. Add in Mo Williams $2 million expiring deal and the trade math works. The Bulls couldn’t realistically hope to do better and Shumpert could actually help them.

What the Bulls do at this point is anyone’s guess? Maybe management decides it’s head coach Fred Hoiberg that needs to go instead? But if Rondo is going to be riding the pine for $14 million this season, it behooves them to at least try to get something of value for that contract.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

Cleveland Cavaliers LeBron James

ESPN Favors Toronto To Represent The East In The NBA Finals

Apparently last year’s 56-win season and trip to the Eastern Conference Finals by Toronto wasn’t an aberration, it was just part of a trend as the Raptors led by their two All-Stars Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan have continued the journey this season and are presently favored to represent the East in the NBA Finals this year by ESPN.

ESPN’s Ben Alamar writes,

The Raptors have ridden their offensive prowess to the No. 2 spot in ESPN’s Basketball Power Index and currently have the best chance to represent the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals at 48 percent.

After playing their final game of calendar 2016, ESPN projects the Raptors to win 58 games this season, one fewer than the Cavs, but their Analytics team gives Toronto a 12.1 percent chance at an NBA title compared to just 8.9 percent for Cleveland. The Warriors continue to dominate projections with a 64.3 percent chance of winning it all this year.

While LeBron James and the Cavaliers will have a lot to say about how the rest of this season and the playoffs play out in the East, to this point Toronto has the top two offensive rated five-man units and the first and third best net rated five-man units in the entire league. So just maybe the objective analytics at ESPN is on to something.

 

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

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Jonas Valanciunas, DeMarre Carroll, Kyle Lowry & DeMar DeRozan

Raptors Are Ahead Of Last Year’s Pace At The Quarter Pole

By Frank McLean

As we sit at the quarter pole of this current NBA season for the Toronto Raptors things are pretty much the same as they were when the 2015-16 season ended in late May as Toronto was eliminated by the Cavs in the Eastern Conference Final. The Raptors are the second best team in the conference.

After the Cavaliers knocked off the Raptors on Monday night for their third win against Toronto this season the standings looked like this, Cleveland sitting in first at 14-5, and the Raptors sitting in second at 14-7. Although, after 21 games last year, these Raptors were 12-9.

Forget the rest of the Eastern Conference, and yes just like last year you still have nine other teams fighting for the other six playoff  berths in the conference, but realistically if the Cavaliers and Raptors are at full strength roster wise, those nine squads are just not good enough to win a best of seven series against either team.

The Cavaliers know that there is only one team that could be a roadblock for them making a third straight appearance in the NBA Finals and that’s the Raptors.

“They have had our attention for a long time,” LeBron James was telling the media earlier this week in Toronto about the team that actually fought back and lasted six games in the conference final last spring.

“I think they’ve had the NBA’s attention. You don’t need them playing well and us not playing well or us playing well and them not playing well for them to get our attention. I think it’s there.”

“It’s a team that’s first of all well-coached,” James added. “It starts with their two-headed monster, (DeMar) DeRozan and (Kyle) Lowry. Their complimentary guys have been playing great. Their role players have been playing great. DeMarre (Carroll) and Patrick (Patterson), Terrence Ross coming in and giving them big minutes, obviously Cory Joseph being a solid backup point guard for them as well. Even some of the younger guys, they’ve been coming into the game have come in and played some good ball”.

Kyrie Irving also talked about the Raptors one-two punch at guard.

“Their two-guard set is one that just separates them in the league. DeMar, Kyle, they do an unbelievable job of leading this team offensively. And defensively, they compete every possession. They take advantage of different lineups you have because one of (Lowry or DeRozan) is on the floor almost every minute of the game.”

But still the Raptors are just the second best team in the conference and until they figure out a way to beat the Cavaliers they won’t be taking the next step of playing in the NBA Finals.

So the ball is in the court of president Masai Ujiri and general manager Jeff Weltman to make the trade that puts them over the top.

The Raptors are in a similar spot that the Toronto Blue Jays were in at the start of the 1990’s. After making the American League Championship series in 1985 and 89 and losing to Kansas City and Oakland, they needed to make a roster shifting trade to become a championship ballclub.

GM Pat Gillick made the trade that put the Jays over the top sending Tony Fernandez and Fred McGriff to San Diego for Joe Carter and Hall Of Famer Robbie Alomar and as they say “the rest is history.”

So when do Ujiri and Weltman make the trade that puts the team in a position to make a championship run?

They do get their free agent signing of the summer, forward Jared Sullinger back around the all-star break from his foot injury suffered in the preseason. His defence and rebounding will help and it will be like getting player in a trade deadline deal without giving up someone.

But the question remains, does the Raptors management do something this year or wait?

The Raptors are getting the best season DeMar DeRozan has ever put out, averaging 28 points a game with 10 games of 30 points plus already.

But then you have starting center Jonas Valanciunas still not playing in crucial parts of games where you expect your starting center to play.

This team will win 50-plus games again, win the Atlantic Division title for a third straight year, and finish no lower than second in the East.

That’s why everybody will be watching what the Raptors do between now and the March first trade deadline.

Do they make a run now for a championship or wait until later?

Time will tell, but opportunities to win can be fleeting.

 

 

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.