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An NBA Must Win Sunday?

Except for the Spurs, every other NBA team playing this Sunday will live to play another day, but that doesn’t mean these aren’t must win games and the teams that need to win might surprise you.

Celtics (2-1) at Bucks

The Bucks finally won a game when they got back home, but it shouldn’t matter. Even a depleted Celtics roster should take this team of under-performers out in five, so the pressure is on, on the Celtics that is.

Celtics were full value for their 55 win season and losing in the first round would be a major embarrassment, even missing some key players. This is a must win game to put the Bucks in their place and wrap this series up at home on Tuesday.

Warriors (3-0) at Spurs

Not a must win for either team, but it’d be nice if the Dubs could end the Spurs suffering quickly.

Raptors (2-1) at Wizards

The Wizards “talent” showed up in Game Three just the way it does for any team that still has some element of pride left, but the 59 win Raptors weren’t just the NBA’s best team at home this season, they also had the East’s second best road record.

The Wizards might feel bad about their season if they lose Game Four, but the first-place Raptors, who have a history of going seven games deep against lesser competition, are the team that will feel all the pressure if they can’t pull this one out.

Cavs at Pacers (2-1)

Is there a more fragile team in the playoffs than the Cavs? The Pacers have an opportunity to break Cleveland’s spirit and put the most feared team (okay player) in the East out in the first round. All the Pacers have to do is win Game Four at home. There’s no way Indiana can afford to give a LeBron James led team hope.

The “must win” teams on Sunday are the Celtics, Raptors and Pacers and they should all be favored.

 

 

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

For The First Time Raptors Are Favorites In The East

It’s time to put those bizarre misleading thoughts about the Raptors fading in the playoffs to bed. Toronto has never been favorites to get out of the NBA’s Eastern Conference previously and just maybe that’s because they’ve never finished first in their conference before – ever.

Also this is the first time Kyle Lowry isn’t heading into the postseason with a nagging injury and DeMar DeRozan, who gets lots of flak for not living up to playoff expectations despite averaging over 20 points per game  in each of the past four postseason runs, has undeniably gotten better this year.

As Jackie MacMullan says in  ESPN’s playoff preview,

Having spent time in Toronto last weekend, the unease surrounding the Raptors’ fan base is palpable. They are worried about losing Game 1 (again).

Enough already. DeRozan has submitted an All-NBA season, becoming a more efficient player, expanding his range to the 3-point line, and finally — finally! — tuning out the naysayers.

Fans in Toronto need to remember it’s the Maple Leafs who have disappointed them for over 50 years and it was the Raptors that got to the Conference Finals two years ago.

The goal this season, however, is to finally get out of the East and they’ve dominated Eastern Conference teams during the regular season by a margin of 40 wins to just 12 losses and outscored those teams by an impressive +10.2 points.

The next best team in the East against their own conference has been the Cavs with 35 wins, but they’ve been just getting by with a points differential of +2.6. Arguably the 76ers have looked better in their 34 wins against the East at +4.7 points and should be the favored team to advance to the Conference Finals against Toronto.

More impressive and perhaps more important is Toronto has been absolutely dominant at home this season with an NBA best 34-7 record at the Air Canada Centre where they’ve rolled over Eastern Conference rivals, winning 23 and losing just 3 times. In the process, they’ve outscored teams from the East by a confidence-destroying average of 13.3 points.

The other Eastern Conference teams with a home court advantage this season have been the 76ers (21-5, +9.0) and, wait for it, the Heat (20-6, +5.0). The Cavs were 19-7  and +1.6 vs the East at home. (A cynic might say the Raptors didn’t mind losing the last game of the regular season in overtime to Miami.)

If those fans still having doubts can’t remember, Toronto has crushed the teams in the East most likely to challenge a Raptors run to the NBA Finals at home.

The surging 76ers lost 128-94 and 102-86 in Toronto,

The fourth place Cavaliers were destroyed 133-99 at the ACC, and

The currently injured Celtics lost 111-91 and 96-78 when they came visiting.

The Raptors were not as good on the road as at home, but they still set a franchise record for wins away from the ACC at 25-16  and were 17-9 vs the East.

Those other contending Eastern Conference teams looked a lot better in their own buildings vs the Raptors. The 76ers earned a split, the Cavs held on for a couple of hotly contested wins and the Celtics took two in their own building.

Fortunately for the Raptors, by finishing first in the East and second overall in the NBA, the only team they won’t have home court advantage over is the Rockets out West.

In the team’s last two playoff runs they ran headlong into the heavily favored Cleveland Cavaliers and LeBron James. The fact the Raptors lost to those Cavs teams wasn’t a surprise to anyone and those who claim Toronto underachieved are simply being disingenuous. However, those days are past.

This is the Raptors year. They finished second overall in the NBA and were a dominant team all season, especially on home court and even more so against the East. If they lose to an Eastern Conference team this time, they’ll deserve the criticism. They are the deserving  favorites and anything less than an NBA Finals appearance will be a huge disappointment in Toronto.

ESPN’s Kevin Arnovitz concurs,

After several seasons of residing in the league’s upper-middle class, the Raptors asserted themselves in 2017-18 as the team to beat in the Eastern Conference.

The Raptors have tasted the conference finals, so anything short of an NBA Finals appearance would qualify as a disappointment, especially as the Eastern Conference’s No. 1 seed.

 

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

 

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors DeMar DeRozan

Raptors Drive For 60 Wins

Sitting atop of the NBA’s Eastern Conference after 60 games is a place the Toronto Raptors aren’t familiar with, but at 43-17 they have 2 fewer losses than second place Boston (44-19) while the preseason favorite Cavs (36-25) have slid to 7.5 games back and are at a real risk of slipping out of the top four. Toronto only has to close out the season going 17-5 for 60 wins, so it’s there for the taking if the Raptors want it.

For the first time in franchise history the Raptors should be favorites to represent the East in the NBA Finals based on their dominating 27-8 conference record versus the Celtics 28-13 or the Cavs 26-14 and ESPN Basketball Power Index continues to reflect Toronto’s position by giving them a 24 percent chance at an NBA Title versus 4.2 percent for Boston and a 0.2 percent chance for Cleveland.

But games and playoff series aren’t played in mathematical models and it’s the stretch drive to the playoffs that will provide the best information about how these Toronto Raptors may fare after the regular season ends.

Of the 22 games remaining, Toronto plays 13 teams who are no better than eighth in their conference. Facing Detroit, Brooklyn and Orlando twice more each should help run up the Raptors Eastern Conference best points differential.

There will be interesting contests against Washington, OKC and Indiana (2x), but it’s the March 9th date at the Air Canada Centre against the Western Conference leading Houston Rockets that should be the most watched game of the season to this point (ESPN where are you?) Way back in November the Raptors won 129-113 in Houston.

However, the best indicators of just how effective this Toronto team could be in the playoffs comes with two games at The Q in Cleveland on March 21st and April 3rd. Then two games against the Celtics starting March 31st in Boston and back home on April 4th.

Toronto beat the Cavs 133-99 in January, but realize things might be different next time. Boston won 95-94 at home when DeMar DeRozan missed two potential go-ahead shots in the final 19 seconds in November. Three weeks ago Toronto got their revenge with a 111-91 pasting of the Celtics at the ACC.

It’s likely these four remaining games will determine if Toronto ends the season in first place or slips to second in the playoff seeding, but if the drive for 60 wins comes true, there is likely nothing that can stop the Raptors from claiming top spot in the East this year.

While is should be expected head coach Dwane Casey will put zero emphasis on reaching the 60 win mark, it is a point of pride for any NBA team and their fan base base, especially the first time.

 

 

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

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Kyle Lowry and Boston Celtics Kyrie Irving

Celtics Vs Raptors Battle For Best In The East

With the Cavaliers in utter turmoil the two best teams in the Eastern Conference are the Boston Celtics (39-15) and the Toronto Raptors (36-16) and they headline a week in the NBA that could establish who will claim the top spot in the East this season when they face off in Toronto on Tuesday.

An ESPN panel ranks Boston 3rd overall in the NBA and the Raptors in 4th while the Cavs have slipped to 11th. In ESPN’s math based NBA Basketball Power Index those rankings are reversed with Toronto in 3rd (BPI 6.0) and the Celtics in 4th (BPI 4.5). The Cavs have slipped to an irrelevant 15th (BPI 0.4).

John Schuhmann’s NBA Power Rankings provide more detail and have the Raptors (3rd) ranked just ahead of the Celtics (4th). He has the Cavs in 13th.

3. Toronto Raptors
Record: 36-16 
Pace: 100.5 (11) OffRtg: 110.1 (4) DefRtg: 103.1 (3) NetRtg: +7.0 (3)
Though the Raptors have been a little inconsistent themselves over the last few weeks, the Warriors’ defensive slippage has left Toronto as the only team that ranks in the top five on both ends of the floor. The offense (118 points scored per 100 possessions) has been better than the defense as they’ve won four of their last five games. The only game in that stretch that they lost in the one (at Washington on Thursday) that they played without Fred VanVleet, who has averaged 16 points off the bench in the other four. With the Cavs continuing to flounder, the two best teams in the East will meet (for the first time since early November) in Toronto on Tuesday, though it’s not clear if Kyrie Irving (bruised quad) will be available for the Celtics.
Week 17: vs. BOS, vs. NYK, @ CHA
4. Boston Celtics
Record: 39-15
Pace: 98.2 (22) OffRtg: 104.8 (17) DefRtg: 99.9 (1) NetRtg: +5.0 (4)
Al Horford assisted on Jaylen Brown’s game winner in Denver on Monday and hit the game-winner himself as the Celtics pulled off another comeback from a double-digit deficit on Sunday. But the middle of the week belonged to Terry Rozier. In his first two career starts, Rozier recorded a triple-double against New York on Wednesday and dropped a career-high 31 points on the Hawks on Friday, helping the Celtics enjoy some rare offensive success without Kyrie Irving. Daniel Theis has given them some good minutes as they’ve won five of their last six games (with the only loss coming by four points at Golden State), but may be replaced in the rotation by Greg Monroe.
Week 17: @ TOR, @ WAS, vs. IND, vs. CLE

Both teams rely on top-ranked defenses and guard the three-point line better than anyone else. The Raptors are ranked first for the fewest opponent three-point shots made per game (8.8). The Celtics ranked first for opponent’s three-point field goal percentage (33.3%).

The differences come with the Celtics slow pace (22nd) and league average scoring (13th) versus much faster than previous seasons Raptors pace (11th ranked) and an ability to put up an Eastern Conference best 111.4 points per game.

In their first meeting Boston did what they’ve been doing all season, steal a game at the end as their opponent missed shots that normally would have dropped and the Celtics won in Boston 95-94 over the Raptors.

Those wins look like luck, but Boston has the most wins in the NBA (9) in games decided by three points or less this year and grinding out low scoring affairs is how they do it. The Raptors on the other hand regularly put up 120 points plus and are an Eastern Conference best 20-3 in games decided by 10 or more points.

It’s to Boston’s advantage to hold Toronto under a 100 points while the Raptors will be trying to ramp up the pace. The contrast in styles should make for a great game.

For some unknown reason TNT has chosen not to show the battle for first in the East on Tuesday night and have opted for the fourth place Wizards (30-22) versus the eighth place 76ers (25-25).
 

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

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry

Raptors Inch Closer To First As Celtics Slump

The Raptors made up ground on the front running Celtics without picking up a ball on Tuesday night as Boston extended their slump to four losses in a row by losing to the Lakers 108-107. Toronto also benefited by a Spurs beat down of a Cavs team in disarray 114-102.

After tonight, standings in the East are:

  1. Celtics     34-14     – – –
  2. Raptors   31-14   -1.5
  3. Cavaliers 27-19    -6
  4. Heat          27-20   -6.5

It doesn’t get any easier for the Celtics in the short term. They still have three more games on this Western Conference road trip and will face the Clippers on the back-to-back, then a trip to Golden State and finish off in mile-high Denver.

The Cavs had a team meeting before the game that apparently had no impact on anybody. Losers of 10 of their last 13 games, things are looking bad for Cleveland right about now.

It was already a good night in Toronto before the conclusion of these two games. The Raptors Kyle Lowry was announced as an NBA All-Star for the fourth consecutive season. He will be joining fellow four-time All-Star DeMar DeRozan at Staples Center February 16-18 in the 67th edition of the NBA All-Star Game.

 

 

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

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Masai Ujiri

Can The Raptors Go Undefeated In December?

If the Toronto Raptors want to keep up with the Celtics and Cavs in the East they need a run. Boston had an early 16 game winning streak and Cleveland hasn’t lost in their past 12 outings, but Toronto’s brutal schedule has turned and it’s time to make hay if the Raptors want to keep pace with ESPN’s preseason favorites.

Optimism heading into December should be high. Only two of the teams Toronto will face had a winning record at the start of the month although they do have to face one of them twice. It’s a 14 game stretch that should turn into a pile of Ws.

 After beating the Pacers on December 1st, the Raptors next seven games include the Grizzlies, Clippers and Nets plus home-and-homes against the Suns and Kings. Combined these opponents have barely won a third of their games. Losing to any of them, even on the road, would be a huge disappointment.

If they sweep thru this riff-raff, the Raptors will be on a 10 game winning streak, but then they’ll face a Charlotte team that’s always given them trouble. The Hornets have struggled with injuries and haven’t looked good this season, but a Raptors win over the Hornets, especially on the road, has never been easy.

Then it’s a home-and-home against the surprising +.500 76ers. The Raptors crushed Philadelphia at the Air Canada Center in October by 34 points, but that was with a DNP-CD Joel Embiid. It’s going to be tough to win both ends of this series.

After Christmas the Raptors should able to take care of Dallas and Atlanta, but they’ll face a real test against an OKC team that has been very good at home even if their overall record has been beyond disappointing.

A safe prediction for December would be 10-4 giving Toronto a very respectable 23-11 record  (67.6 winning percentage) at the end of the calendar year. However, a good result would be 12-2 and if this team plays up to their full potential with no letdowns, there is no excuse for not coming away 14-0 and heading into 2018 on a 16 game winning streak that matches what the Celtics were able to do.

 

 

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

 

 

 

NBA Celtics Marcus Morris and Wizards Markieff Morris

Morris Twins Assault Trial Starts Monday

The Washington Wizards and Boston Celtics may not have long to wait to find out if and when they may have the services of Markieff and Marcus Morris this season. Jury selection is complete and their assault trial stemming from an incident a couple of years ago in Phoenix is set to start on Monday as described by Terell Wilkins and Adrian Marsh on azcentral.com.

Opening statements are scheduled to begin Monday in the aggravated assault trial of NBA players and identical twins Markieff and Marcus Morris, along with another man charged with them.

Two other defendants, Julius Kane and Christopher Melendez, chose to avoid trial and instead pleaded guilty on Wednesday to two counts of aggravated assault

The twins were playing for the Phoenix Suns at the time of the incident and the team quickly got out from under the potential issue by trading both players, so the ramifications basketball-wise now fall squarely on the two Eastern Conference teams vying for a top four seed in their conference.

Police say Erik Hood (the victim) identified the Morris twins as being part of the group that attacked him to the point of unconsciousness after hearing rumors that Hood had been sending “inappropriate” texts to their mother, Thomasine Morris.

While the facts of the case are yet to be determined in court and the Morris twins insist they were not part of the group that attacked Hood, the repercussions of a guilty verdict are serious. Nik DeCosta-Klipa on Boston.com provides a very detailed outline of the case and the potential implications for the players and their teams.

University of New Hampshire sports law professor Michael McCann noted that, under Arizona state law, the felony assault charges against Morris carry “a maximum prison sentence of 3.75 years and a presumptive sentence of 2.5 years.”

Given that Morris’s criminal history includes just one citation for misdemeanor battery, McCann says its unlikely he would receive “anywhere near the maximum sentence,” but could very well still face “some time behind bars or at least a suspended sentence, probation and required community service.”

Even a conviction not involving actual jail time is likely to elicit a response from the NBA and a suspension of 10 games or more.

Section 7 of the current NBA collective bargaining agreement mandates a minimum 10-game suspension for any player convicted of a violent felony

the commissioner has the right to punish players for lesser convictions

In the current environment, the NBA would likely feel compelled to suspend the Morris twins on admission of guilt to a misdemeanor charge or even on the settlement of a civil suit.

Hood reportedly suffered “a broken nose, a large knot on the back of his head and abrasions,” according to police records, and later identified Kane and the Morris twins as three of the five people involved in the attack.

In October 2016, Hood’s lawyers also filed a civil lawsuit against the Morris twins and the three other defendants, seeking compensatory and punitive damages.

The Morris twins are very good basketball players with important roles on their respective teams. They’ve even suggested this incident would never have gotten to trial if it weren’t for their minor celebrity status.

However, the media reports over the past couple of years do seem to confirm this isn’t a nothing incident exaggerated by an overzealous police force and piled on by the media. It’s understandable why the Suns didn’t want to have to deal with the issue.

This trial could be over before training camps open, so no one in Boston or Washington is expected to be waiting long to find out if this is a serious matter that could impact their team this season or just an annoying public relations problem.

 

 

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

 

 

 

NBA Cleveland Cavaliers Jae Crowder

Is Jae Crowder The Jewel Of the Cavs – Celtics Trade?

Jae Crowder had to be included in the Celtics trade for Cavs star Kyrie Irving. Isaiah Thomas is on a bargain contract and they needed Crowder’s salary to make the trade math work, but before next season is over, he could be seen as the jewel of deal.

Crowder produced for the Celtics last year. Second in points scored during the regular season with 999, ahead of Al Horford’s 952 points and the best three-point shooter on the team averaging 39.8 percent on 5.5 attempts. Crowder was a two-way player who could hit the three and in today’s NBA that’s one valuable guy.

He was seen as a throw in when Boston got him in a trade with Dallas in 2014, but he became so much more than that as described by Basketball Insiders Jesse Blancarte. 

At the time, Crowder was 24 years old and his career-statistics up to that point didn’t give much reason to believe he would become such a valuable contributor down the road. However, Crowder became exactly that in his time in Boston and now takes his talents to the Cavaliers – a team that is still looking for ways to bridge the gap with the Golden State Warriors.

Crowder has been seen by some as a throw in again this time around, but he could be the difference-maker the Cavaliers need to challenge the best in the West in the Finals.

With so many cutters and relentless passing, the Warriors exploited every one of LeBron and his teammates’ mistakes on defense during the Finals. Injecting a versatile defender like Crowder could have made a significant difference in that Finals matchup.

The Cavaliers could now use a lineup including J.R. Smith, Crowder, James and Tristan Thompson, which should be formidable and could maybe make up for the defensive shortcomings of point guards Isaiah Thomas and Derrick Rose.

The Cavs new forward isn’t a one season wonder either. He got his opportunity to play starter’s minutes in Boston and he produced across the board over the past two seasons. Celtics head coach Brad Stevens let him play and Crowder rewarded his confidence with offensive production and a rapidly improving jump shot.

Crowder should find his offensive opportunities improved in Cleveland playing with a superstar who likes to set up his teammates in LeBron James and other shooters opposing defenders can’t leave in Smith, Love, Korver and Frye. The high powered offense of the Cavs should give Crowder even more opportunities to show off his complete game.

Crowder is one of those players who makes his team better in a number areas that are hard to notice, which is why it’s easy to overlook how significant of an addition he is for Cleveland.

While he may become a jewel on the court, he’s an even more valuable addition to the money-losing Cavs in the front office.

Now on the team with the highest payroll in the NBA and an estimated luxury tax bill approaching $60 million for the upcoming season, Crowder will likely be the only player in Cleveland averaging double-digit scoring that doesn’t have an eight figure salary. He earns a bargain $6.8 million this year and $7.3 million and $7.8 million in the following two seasons. He may be the best bargain not on a rookie contract in the entire league.

With Thomas looking for $30+ million a season next year and Irving demanding a $200+ million max extension the year after that, it’s players like Crowder who make those kinds of deals work under a punitive luxury tax system.  A real jewel of an acquisition.

 

  

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 LeBron James and Boston Celtics Kyrie Irving and Toronto Raptors Kyle Lowry and Washington Wizards John Wall

The Best Big 3s In The NBA East

No one could say this summer in the NBA has been boring and it’s been big name players from the Eastern Conference making most of the noise. But the dust has settled, those big names have found new homes and the best Big 3s in the NBA East remain on the best teams from last season.

There was only four wins between the first place Celtics and the fourth place Wizards last year and in the 2017-18 regular season no one should be expecting it to have gotten any easier for the best in the East despite the player movement.

Your Big 3s for this season are:

Boston Celtics – last year 53 wins

Three current or former All-Stars: Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward and Al Horford.

Fourth? Marcus Morris averaged 14 points, 4.6 rebounds, 2 assists and shot 33.1 percent from three last season with a dysfunctional Pistons squad.

Last year the Celtics best 3 was Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley and Al Horford with Jae Crowder as a fourth, but as Horford is the only returning starter, chemistry could take quite a while to develop.

Cleveland Cavaliers – last year 51 wins

Three current All-Stars: Isaiah Thomas*, LeBron James and Kevin Love.

*If Thomas doesn’t start the season on time, one-time MVP Derrick Rose will fill in.

Fourth? Jae Crowder averaged 13.9 points, 5.8 rebounds, 2.2 assists and shot 39.8 percent from three last year with the first place Celtics.

Toronto Raptors – last year 51 wins

Two current All-Stars: Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan and Serge Ibaka.

Note: Ibaka was acquired at the trade deadline last season. Toronto has four of last year’s five starters since the All-Star break.

Fourth? C.J. Miles averaged 10.7 points and 3 rebounds in 23.4 minutes with the Pacers last season and was acquired for his three-point shooting of 41.3 percent.

Washington Wizards – last year 49 wins

One current All-Star: John Wall, Bradley Beal and Otto Porter.

Fourth? Markieff Morris averaged 14 points, 6.5 rebounds, 1.7 assists and shot 36.2 percent from three last season.

Note: The Wizards are the only team from last year’s top four in the East to return all five starters. They should look good right out of the gate.

The Best?

Based on the players individual stats from last season, the new Big 3s add up like this:

Best Scoring Big 3

1st: Cavs 74.3 points

2nd: Raptors 64.5 points

3rd: Celtics 61.1 points

4th: Wizards 59.6 points.

Note: If Rose replaces Thomas, the Cavs Big 3 averages 10.9 fewer points based on last year’s production which would still be good for second best.

Best Rebounding Big 3

1st: Cavs 22.4 rebounds

2nd: Raptors 16.8 rebounds

3rd: Celtics 15.4 rebounds

4th: Wizards 13.7 rebounds

Note: The Cavaliers, Raptors and Wizards all have above average rebounders outside of their top four players. The Celtics had the second worst rebounding differential in the East last season and have done nothing to improve the situation this summer.

Most Big 3 Assists

1st: Cavs 16.5 assists

2nd: Wizards 15.7 assists

3rd: Celtics 14.3 assists

4th: Raptors 11.8 assists

Best Big 3 Field Goal Percentage

1st: Cavs 48.2 percentage

2nd: Wizards 47.8 percent

3rd: Celtics 47.4 percent

4th Raptors 46.9 percent

Note: If Rose replaces Thomas, the Cavs Big 3 field goal percentage would be better based on last season.

Best Big 3 Three-point Shooting

1st: Cavs 7.3 makes at 37.2 percent

2nd: Wizards 5.9 makes at 39.3 percent

3rd: Celtics 5.8 makes at 39.2 percent

4th: Raptors 5.2 makes at 38.5 percent

Note: If Rose replaces Thomas, the Cavs Big 3 makes 3 fewer threes a game.

Wild Card

The Milwaukee Bucks have their own potential Big 3 in Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jabari Parker and Kris Middleton, except for the fact the 22-year-old Parker tore his ACL and may not be back until after January.

Conclusion

If Thomas doesn’t miss too many games, the Cavaliers Big 3 looks to maintain their level of dominance over the rest of the Eastern Conference, but even if he doesn’t return to his prior form, Cleveland still has a Big 3 that will compete with the rest of the best.

The East has four teams with Big 3s that should lead their respective clubs to over 50 wins next season. But has anything really changed?

 

  

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Cavaliers and Celtics trade Isaiah Thomas and Kyrie Irving

Cavs Cold Feet Could Be Good News For Raptors And Wizards

So the Cleveland Cavaliers are either getting a case of cold feet or just looking for an opportunity to extort another asset from the rival Celtics, but either way, this could be good news for the Toronto Raptors and Washington Wizards.

The Cavs rookie general manager Koby Altman had already fleeced the Celtics by nabbing both the 23rd pick of the 2016 NBA draft, rookie center Ante Zizic plus the the rights to the Brooklyn Nets’ 2018 first round pick in the Isaiah Thomas for Kyrie Irving trade.

Altman only got that much because Thomas wasn’t ready to play when the trade was made. He had seen the medical reports before Friday’s physical. He knew Thomas and the Celtics had agreed on rest and rehabilitation instead of surgery. If he’s seen as having second thoughts now or even just asks for more assets, he may as well just call an already upset and potentially fragile Thomas a liar or a fool to his face.

Worse, backing out now, as is Altman’s right, means he’ll have to deal with an even bigger problem when he faces a very unhappy Irving whose trade value just crashed, doesn’t want to be there and likely believes, with cause, Altman just screwed with him.  This wouldn’t end well.

Joe Vardon on Cleveland.com reports,

The Cavaliers are indeed pausing to consider a “concern that we have” regarding Isaiah Thomas’ right hip

the team is conducting a “very deep and thorough review process” on Thomas

The Cavs’ options, ostensibly, would be to void the trade, which in Cleveland’s case would mean taking Irving back after a tumultuous breakup and sending away a potential lottery pick.

If the rookie GM was on the ball, he’d be out there squashing this speculation and assuring Thomas they want him in Cleveland – even if it wasn’t true.

Sometimes good business is making sure your assets aren’t going to be mad at you after you’re done.

Don’t believe for a minute NBA players aren’t influenced by the articles they read, ESPN talk show speculation and social media. Altman needs to get out ahead of this.

The biggest beneficiaries of Altman’s apparent indecision will be/ may already be/ the Raptors and Wizards who are both bringing back the cores from last season’s teams and if the Cavs and Celtics are in disarray, could find nothing to stop them from going on big early season runs in a weakened Eastern Conference that their rivals will not be able to overtake.

The only saving grace in all of this for Altman is if his medical team believes Thomas won’t be ready to play this season and the Celtics were trying to pawn off damaged goods on them. But if that’s the case, he should have just rescinded the trade on Friday.

Anyone missing David Griffin right about now?

 

  

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

 

 

 

 

NBA Boston Celtics Al Horford and Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward 2017

Danny Ainge Plays Fantasy Basketball With Celtics Players

Most teams would tell you chemistry matters. That building around a core of players creates an identity and long term success. So when the Boston Celtics finally got back to the Eastern Conference Finals after four years of not getting past the first round of the playoffs, it was a surprise when president of basketball operations Danny Ainge blew the team up in order to play a real life version of fantasy basketball.

The Celtics will start the 2017-18 season with just one returning player from last season’s starting lineup plus three young guys they hope are ready for bigger roles, but ditching 11 guys hasn’t meant the Celtics are intending to tank.

Ainge added talent he believes will make his team better than last year and the direction came from the top as Chris Villani indicated in the Boston Herald after the Celtics traded away another two starters in Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder to acquire the Cavs Kyrie Irving.

“We are really excited about the trade, although it’s bittersweet to let somebody go like IT, let somebody go like Jae,” (Celtics co-owner Wyc) Grousbeck said. “Kyrie is a transcendent talent, and we are excited to put him together with Gordon Hayward, Al Horford, Marcus Smart, we want this team to go for banner 18 and we need to get the best possible players to do that, and that’s what we are trying to do.”

(The four returning players from 2016-17 in bold)

Those trying to sell the Celtics based on the team’s culture and history should realize the best player returning from last year, Al Horford, has only been with the team for one season and the new “big 3” in Boston that now includes Irving and Hayward have never played together before. This triumvirate will need to work some things out.

In terms of chemistry, this new starting lineup will likely also have to figure out how to incorporate newcomer Marcus Morris and one of second year wing Jaylen Brown or fourth year guard Marcus Smart into a starting role at shooting guard.

Other additions, Shane Larkin and Aron Baynes, aren’t an improvement over anyone the Celtics had last season and only further complicate things, plus there’s five rookies on guaranteed contracts and other than this year’s third overall pick Jayson Tatum, they’re all big question marks.

Guerschon Yabusele 16th pick in 2016, Semi Ojeleye 37th pick, Abdel Nader 58th pick, undrafted Daniel Theis, plus a couple of camp invitees fighting for the 15th roster spot.

Head coach Brad Stevens is going to have has hands full at the start of this season just deciding on who’s in his rotation and how best to incorporate everybody.

While there’s hope things come together quickly in Boston or at least before the end of the regular season, the real objective of all these fantasy basketball moves was long term success.

“We got bounced pretty hard last year in the playoffs, and then those guys got bounced pretty hard after that,” Grousbeck, referencing the Cavs and Irving losing to the Warriors in the finals, told reporters this morning at the topping off ceremony for the Celtics’ new training facility, the Auerbach Center at New Balance World Headquarters in Brighton. “So we didn’t feel we were at the top, we didn’t feel we were where we wanted to be, so that’s what you do when you run a team, you do what you have to do to try to get better.”

No one should doubt the start of the season would go a lot easier with Thomas, Avery Bradley and Crowder still in the starting lineup and at least of couple of last year’s veteran big men in the mix to provide some stability. Even the Celtics owner isn’t so blind with pride as to predict an easy transition to the new roster.

“I am not going to make any predictions about that, I think we are in a good positions to present Celtic pride well,” (Grousbeck) said. “We have a good, up-and-coming team, a strong team, a young team, with more youth on the way. So we want to be good for a sustained period of time and it starts now.”

All of these moves represent a risk. Will Hayward make the Celtics better than keeping Bradley? Does flipping Thomas and Crowder for Irving improve the team this year and beyond? How many teams have enjoyed playoff success with five or (gasp) six rookies on the roster?

If Boston gets off to a slow start no one should be surprised. Grousbeck said, “I am not going to make any predictions” with good reason. This team, this group of players has never played together before. It is going to take time to recreate the chemistry of last season. This is about being better long term, so don’t hold your breath or read too much into what happens straight out of the gate.

The Celtics have allowed Ainge to make bold moves with their roster just like a fan in a fantasy basketball draft at the start of the season and there will be fans of other teams wishing their owner(s) and management was brave enough do the same.

 

  

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 Kyrie Irving

Cavs Fleece Celtics In Trade For Kyrie Irving

Sometimes you just have to tip your hat as the Cleveland Cavaliers new general manager Koby Altman pulls off a blockbuster trade for his disgruntled All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving by fleecing the Boston Celtics for All-Star point guard Isaiah Thomas, 3-and-D forward Jae Crowder and the 23rd pick of the 2016 NBA draft, rookie center Ante Zizic plus the the rights to the Brooklyn Nets’ 2018 first round pick as reported on NBA.com.

The Celtics are happy with the trade. Thomas was demanding a max contract next summer and to put things bluntly, he was a defensive hole in Boston’s defense that division rival Toronto walked thru with ease last season. However, in Celtics President of Basketball Operations Danny Ainge own words, he gave up a lot in Jae Crowder that will immediately help the Cavaliers this season and going forward in part because of his very team friendly contract.

“Jae’s toughness was contagious for our team. He improved his skills each year, but it’s his energy and fight that will be remembered,” said Ainge.

Crowder was one of the Celtics better defenders and at 39.8 percent, one of their best three-point shooters. He’ll fit in perfectly on the Cavaliers and with LeBron James finding him opportunities to score this season, he’ll undoubtedly produce more than last year’s 13.9 points per game.

The Celtics wanted Irving because he is an elite offensive player with two full years (plus a player option) left on his deal at about $20 million per season.

“Kyrie is one of the best scorers in the NBA. He has proven that on the biggest stage, the NBA Finals, the last three years,” said Ainge. “He’s been an NBA Champion, an Olympic Gold Medalist, and a four-time All-Star. For all he’s accomplished, we think his best years are ahead of him.”

Irving is all of what Aigne gushed over and at 6’3, he is harder to abuse defensively than the diminutive 5’9 Thomas. However, Thomas averaged 28.9 points per game last year compared to 25.2 points from Irving, so James shouldn’t feel like he’s lost anything in terms of scoring with his new guard.

The other players Aigne give up in this deal were surplus to the Celtics. Crowder was standing in the way of this year’s third overall draft pick Jayson Tatum and last year’s third overall draft pick Jaylen Brown. His departure opens up minutes for two players the Celtics are justifiably very high on.

However, the Celtics fixing their overstaffed roster to make room for rookies and sophomores doesn’t preclude the Cavs from walking away as the big winners in this deal.

They get a year with Thomas before he can enter free agency at the same time as the tight-lipped James, so if James isn’t re-signing next summer, they can start the rebuild phase with three additional desirable and controllable young pieces in Crowder, Zizic and the Nets draft pick.

In the meantime, the Cavs head into the upcoming season without an unhappy Irving and a replacement at guard in Thomas that shouldn’t diminish their chances at returning to the NBA Finals plus a hard working 3-and-D forward that should improve their slim chance at getting past the Warriors in the West.

“This trade needed to include both players and assets that we felt strongly could help us continue to compete for championships and we believe it does,” said Altman. “We look forward to Isaiah, Jae and Ante joining us and also felt that the unprotected first round pick in the deal was very important for us and our future as well.”

The Celtics can only be described as heading into the season as a big question mark. A roster that was first in the East with 53 wins will start the year without four of their top six scorers from last season and only four returning players in Al Horford, Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown and Terry Rozier.

While the additions of Gordon Hayward and Irving are impressive, any team with this many changes to key rotation players can’t be expected to get off to a fast start. It’s going to take time for this group to learn to play together and gel as a unit.

A rough start to the 2017-18 season should be anticipated in Boston with the Cavs looking like they completely fleeced the Celtics on this trade.

 

  

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 Kyrie Irving and Boston Celtics Isaiah Thomas

Cavs Talking Trade Kyrie Irving For Celtics Isaiah Thomas

ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski is reporting the Cleveland Cavaliers are in talks to trade Kyrie Irving to the Boston Celtics for Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder and Ante Zizic.

The big question in this trade is, who got better?

My money is on the Cavs, big time. Who do you got?

 

 

 

NBA Boston Celtics Jae Crowder and Utah Jazz Gordon Hayward

Celtics Pursuing A Sign And Trade For Gordon Hayward

The Celtics still don’t have enough salary cap space to sign Utah Jazz free agent Gordon Hayward to the max contract they promised, so they’ve been running around looking for someone to take on Marcus Smart, Jae Crowder and/or Avery Bradley and leave them with enough room to complete the deal as reported by Ramona Shelburne and Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN One of the better options, if the Jazz and Hayward will agree, would be a sign and trade for one of the players they are trying to move and possibly some of the other “assets” the Celtics could be forced to dump.

The Boston Celtics have been aggressively trying to create enough salary-cap room … by discussing trades involving Marcus Smart, Jae Crowder and Avery Bradley

The Jazz and Celtics discussed on Wednesday the possibility of including Crowder in a sign-and-trade agreement for Hayward

The amount the Celtics are short could be as low as $300,000 if they can jump thru enough less painful flaming hoops than giving away one of their players that has actual real trade value.

even if the team renounced the rights to Jonas Jerebko, James Young and Gerald Green, waived Jordan Mickey, left 2016 first-round pick Guerschon Yabusele in Europe this season and traded Demetrius Jackson’s partially guaranteed contract and Terry Rozier, Boston … is still about $300,000 short of his max.

From a practical standpoint, when teams know you are trying to dump a contract to create room to complete another deal, they are going to take advantage, but Boston does have the assets to grease just about anything if they want to.

A trade with a third team to create space or a sign and trade with the Jazz can accomplish the same thing. This will just come down to finding the “best” way to get it done.

 

 

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 San Antonio Spurs LaMarcus Aldridge and Toronto Raptors Jonas Valanciunas

Raptors Should Just Go For It This Season

Already deep in luxury tax territory and unsuccessfully looking to dump contracts even at the expense of potentially getting worse, Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri should be looking to do more than just being a top four team in the Eastern Conference. He should got for it and take his shot at getting to the NBA Finals.

As Basketball Insiders senior writer Joel Brigham reported recently, overall the East has gotten weaker with Jimmy Butler, Paul George and Paul Millsap heading west. The top four in the East aren’t about to change, although maybe things between the top teams could become at least a little more interesting.

Cleveland, Boston, Toronto and Washington look almost certain to keep their top-four status in the conference simply by bringing back the same players they had a year ago. Add Milwaukee to that conversation, too

Chicago, Indiana and Atlanta all made the playoffs last year but each will vie for the conference’s worst record next season after losing their stars

Boston took the first steps towards becoming more competitive with the Cavs by getting Gordon Hayward’s commitment for next season. Although they still have more moves left to create the needed cap space to sign Hayward and they’ll probably want to do something about carrying four small forwards that all need to play next season.

Expect the Wizards to match anything restricted free agent Otto Porter signs on July 6th.

The Raptors will bring back starters Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka, but have lost rotation players P.J. Tucker and Patrick Patterson to free agency and are rumored to be looking to dump salary because of luxury tax concerns.

All three of these pretenders will be competitive during the regular season, but unless they have another major move up their sleeve, no one is going to give them more than a puncher’s chance at knocking off a healthy Cavs squad in the playoffs.

The Celtics with Isaiah Thomas, Al Horford and Gordon Hayward still need rebounding and they have the trade pieces to go get a difference maker. Of course the Celtics with Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum and Brooklyn’s 2018 first round draft pick could choose to tread water as a 50-win team while their young guys develop instead?

Built around John Wall and Bradley Beal, the Wizards will have continuity and if they can find some offense off the bench, it can be argued they don’t need anything else, but they really need that bench to step up.

The Raptors are built around Lowry, DeMar DeRozan and Ibaka, but like the Celtics, they need another impact player if they are going to be more than pretenders in the East.

(Players shown in the positions they would like to play)

The Raptors could make do with the players they have, even if it isn’t practical luxury tax wise. Delon Wright has the size to play on the wing. DeMarre Carroll can play both forward spots and Ibaka can play power forward (like he has for most of his career.) But this isn’t the best use of team resources.

The favored move seems to be to find a team to take on Carroll’s salary to solve the luxury tax issue, but this doesn’t help re-balance the roster or help move the needle of the team’s outlook for next season.

No, Ujiri needs to go big if this team is going to be significantly better than last season. He needs to add an impact player, preferably while reducing his luxury tax position.

Once teams can actually start signing free agents on July 6th and reality sets in around the league, trade season can start in earnest and there is one multiple-time All-Star rumored to have shopped around at the draft because he wasn’t happy, the Spurs LaMarcus Aldridge.

The almost 32-year-old five-time All-Star power forward wasn’t named to the All-Star team for first time since 2012 last year. He posted his lowest scoring (17.3 points per game), fewest field goals made (6.9) and worst rebounding numbers (7.3) since his rookie season way back in 2006-07. However, he was still an impact player and as has been a big man trend, he added a three-point shot and hit 41 percent of his 56 attempts last season.

In addition to Aldridge being unhappy, general manager R.C. Burford isn’t going to have star point guard Tony Parker to start the season, if at all. It doesn’t look like free agency is going all that well either besides the return of Patty Mills, so an aging Spurs team could use some young ready-to-go players for next season.

If the Raptors sent Jonas Valanciunas, Cory Joseph and Lucas Nogueira to the Spurs for Aldridge, the Raptors would get another impact player who can shoot plus shave $4.5 million off their payroll, and the Spurs would get to fill some holes with a young starting center, a backup point guard they know well and a young developing big man.

The Raptors tax situation becomes a lot more palatable and the players fall into roles they prefer/fit.

If Aldridge can re-gain his All-Star form of a year ago, which should be a lot easier in the NBA East, Toronto would at least get a second look as a potential competitor for the Cavs come playoff time.

At this point in early July, nothing is set in stone, however, expect the Celtics to make a move to address those rebounding concerns, look for the Wizards bench to improve and the Raptors will do … something.

Ujiri created a three-year window with the contracts of DeRozan, Lowry and Ibaka, so he may as well go for it this year if he can and there may be no better opportunity to snag an impact player than the situation in San Antonio with Aldridge. That is unless Danny Ainge beats him to it.

 

 

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 Boston Celtics Gordon Hayward

Gordon Hayward Admits He’s joining The Celtics

So what we were waiting for was Utah Jazz free agent Gordon Hayward to write a thank you piece in The Player’s Tribune. Hayward and his agent could have saved all of us a lot of grief if they just said this upfront instead the, in hindsight, bizarro response that was handed out.

After seven years in Utah, I have decided to join the Boston Celtics. – Gordon Hayward

Would it have been so hard to say we’ve made a decision and will be announcing it later today?

Okay, that’s done. Maybe this unlocks a few more options and gets free agency and the trade market into full swing.

 

NBA Boston Celtics Gordon Hayward

What’s Next After Gordon Hayward Picks The Celtics?

So Gordon Hayward has picked the Celtics according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and will rejoin his college coach Brad Stevens, but that’s not the end of this story. Not by a long shot. As things sit, Boston doesn’t have the salary cap space to sign Hayward to a max deal as described by ESPN,

Boston would now need a series of transactions to create cap space for Gordon Hayward. The Celtics would have to pull the qualifying offer on Kelly Olynyk, renounce free agents Jonas Jerebko, James Young, Gerald Green and waive the contracts of Jordan Mickey and Demetrius Jackson (or trade). The Celtics would be left with $27.6M in room and likely need to move the contract of Terry Rozier or Marcus Smart. Trading Rozier would have the Celtics short $1M of a max salary a lot.

Bobby Marks, ESPN

Now Hayward’s agent has replied to the news saying no deal has been finalized, so maybe the details are still up in the air, but as noted by Rick Kamla during NBA Summer League, if Hayward was rejoining the Jazz, he would have just said that.

(The article on ESPN has since been edited to reflect Hayward’s agent’s comments.)

The Celtics will look very different next season. Gone will be veteran centers Amir Johnson, Tyler Zeller, Kelly Olynk, stretch four Jonas Jerebko and second year big Jordan Mickey.

Al Horford will be the last big man standing with NBA experience and a team that couldn’t rebound the ball might struggle to ever see another board.

Still on the roster are small forwards Jae Crowder, Jaylen Brown and this year’s third overall draft pick Jayson Tatum. Even if Hayward is moving to power forward, something has to give and fast. There wasn’t enough minutes to go around at his position before he got there.

And sure Hayward at 6’8 could possibly play a combo forward role in the new small ball NBA, but with Horford averaging 6.6 rebounds and Hayward coming in averaging 6.1 rebounds, the Celtics could well become the worst rebounding team in NBA history. Another move has to be in the cards on this front as well, doesn’t it?

It wouldn’t make sense to just DNP-CD Brown or Tatum next season and the Celtics need a veteran big man. So, the obvious fix is to dangle the team friendly contract of Crowder and see just how good the offers are coming back.

A starting caliber big man or rotation ready young center or power forward with a nose for the ball would go a long ways to re-balancing this guard and wing heavy lineup and president of basketball operations Danny Ainge has the extra pieces already on his roster to land a very good player.

Gaining Hayward’s commitment to sign can only be the first step in putting the Celtics into contention for the NBA Finals next season. If ESPN’s Bobby Marks has his math right, Ainge has to dump $3 million in salary and then, from a practical standpoint, he has to find somebody(s) that can rebound.

 

 

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 GMs Celtics Danny Ainge and 76ers Bryan Colangelo

The 76ers Process Is Over But The Celtics Is Just Starting

By Frank McLean

It was deal that has been speculated to happen over the last few days and it officially became a fact on Monday as the Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers made a deal which lets the two teams flip spots in the first round of Thursday’s NBA draft.

The Celtics, who had the first pick overall thanks to being the beneficiary of bad deals made by the past management of the Brooklyn Nets, flipped spots with the 76ers who were to pick third.

The Celtics also get for helping the 76ers either a first-round pick in 2018 or 2019. If the Los Angeles Lakers hold a pick between number two and five next season, Boston gets that one. If not, Philadelphia will send Boston either its own first-rounder in 2019 or Sacramento’s first-rounder that year which the Celtics hold the rights to.

This deal is all about the 76ers trying to build a contending team right now while the Celtics stockpile more draft picks to use to get players that can help them – now?

For Celtics basketball boss Danny Ainge he now has something to offer teams to get a player that can go with Isaiah Thomas and Al Horford and help them keep the number one seed in the Eastern Conference. Maybe a phone call to the Indiana Pacers for a one year rent a player like Paul George.

TNT reported over the weekend that George told the Pacers that when his contract runs out next season he plans on leaving and going to play for his hometown Los Angeles Lakers. The Pacers would be wise to trade George now and get something for him now instead of losing him for nothing in free agency.

Like the Raptors and Wizards, the Celtics are looking for the piece to challenge Cleveland for the Eastern Conference title and Golden State for the NBA title.

“This is certainly a trade that is under the microscope more than others,” Ainge said Monday. “But we’re not afraid of that.”

After Monday’s trade the Celtics have SEVEN! First round picks over the next three drafts and that includes Thursday night’s draft.

For the 76ers, well they will get the first pick overall for the second straight season and this time they hope they will get a player that can play.

Last year’s pick Ben Simmons did not play a game a game last season after breaking a bone in his foot. The player it seems they want this year is guard Markelle Fultz of the University of Washington.

Fultz has just one year of college experience. He averaged 23.2 points, 5.7 rebounds and 5.9 assists in 25 games standing out on a team that finished 9-22 and lost its final 13 games. He led the Pac-12 in scoring and finished sixth among all Division One players and led all freshman in scoring.

“We are very pleased with the outcome of this trade, which puts us in the enviable position of selecting first overall in consecutive draft years,” 76ers president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo said. “History suggests that number one has the greatest odds of producing franchise level talent and we are confident that this year’s draft class has that very potential.”

Here’s my take on the trade if you are the Raptors.

For the 76ers, if they draft Fultz, it’s a start but they will not be a playoff factor this year or next year and probably not the year after that.

Fultz joins a core of young potential stars, Jahlil Okafor and 2017 Rookie of the Year finalists Joel Embiid and Dario Saric. But they need players that can help this team contend and that’s going to take about three years to acquire.

Now the Celtics, they have a ton of bargaining chips to make themselves championship contenders with the seven first round draft picks. This has to make the Raptors, Wizards and Cavaliers concerned with the make-up of their current rosters.

If Danny Ainge can get veteran talent to go with what he has that just might be enough for them to win the East outright and get a shot at Golden State or Houston.

However, the one thing the Celtics doesn’t have is rebounding, but they have the chips now and it’s up to Ainge to cash them in.

 

   

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

 

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Kyle Lowry DeMar DeRozan Pacers Paul George Raptors PJ Tucker and Serge Ibaka

Pacers Star Paul George Puts Himself In Play

Pacers star Paul George has been rumored to be wanting out of Indiana for some time now, but with no action forthcoming from general manager Kevin Pritchard, he decided to put himself in play. He made sure “The Reliable Source” for NBA rumors Adrian Wojnarowski knew he wanted out of town and couldn’t be talked into re-signing next summer.

Make no mistake, the “rumor” and timing was deliberate. By making it seem likely he’ll only be a rental until next season when he can bolt to L.A. as a free agent, teams won’t give away the farm to get him and rebuilding teams won’t even look at the possibility. Plus, less than a week ahead of the NBA draft, good teams with a chance to contend for the conference finals might be willing to part with a prospect and a late first round draft pick and under the circumstances, that’s more than generous.

Pritchard might be hoping the Lakers would ante up some of that young talent, but thanks to Wojnarowski, they’d look like idiots for giving away anything of value for a player they can sign for nothing in a year.

If anyone thinks Boston is going to give up the talent they fleeced the Nets for to take a risk on a rental, they should think again.

The Clippers should be interested in taking a run at acquiring George as it would help them re-sign their own free agents Chris Paul and Blake Griffin and remain relevant in the West. Not having a first or second round draft pick this year doesn’t help their chances though.

The Cavaliers may be temporarily in panic mode (that should pass), but the reality is, unless the Pacers are in love with Kevin Love, they’ll have trouble coming up with a package that Indiana would be interested in.

The Raptors should be the most motivated to take the risk and they do have some young prospects and a first round draft pick. President Masai Ujiri hates giving away any of his young talent, but for a chance at George, it should be possible to convince him to relinquish something Pritchard believes has value in a rebuild.

If Ujiri can re-sign his own free agents (and he believes he can), the Raptors could have a starting lineup of:

Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, Paul George, P.J. Tucker, and Serge Ibaka.

That just might be good enough to win Toronto first place in the East during the regular season and let the chips fall where they may in the playoffs.

At the very least George has significantly upped the potential for excitement at this year’s draft.

 

 

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

 

 

 

NBA Houston Rockets James Harden and OKC Thunder Russell Westbrook and Cleveland Cavaliers LeBron James

Three Is The Key As Small Ball Rules The NBA

The traditional center in the NBA might not be dead, but unless he can hit a three, small ball rules and he’ll be sitting on the bench in the fourth quarter.

“That’s what the game is going to,” Raptors head coach Dwane Casey said. “The days of boom, boom, boom, pound it, pound it, pound it (are over) – you can do it two or three times, but as the game goes on they are going to send bodies, send traps off cutters, traps baseline and it’s clogged up and you’re not going to get anything done.”

The 51-win Raptors were in the bottom third of the league averaging 8.8 made threes on 24.3 attempts and improving on those marks will be a top off season priority.

This year the NBA averaged 9.7 made threes on 27 attempts with Houston leading the charge at 40.3 three-point attempts and Cleveland (33.9), Boston (33.4), Brooklyn (31.6) and Golden State (31.2) rounding out the top five.

It wasn’t all that long ago the leading scorer in the NBA wasn’t expected to ever hoist a three-ball, but today every single player in the top 25 averages more than one three-point attempt a game as do 94 percent of the top 50. More players are firing threes every year and more of them are firing with at least acceptable efficiency.

The reason for change probably comes down to simple math for most teams. A player that can hit on 33.3 percent of their threes, in theory, scores just as effectively as someone putting down half of their two-point attempts. Trading twos for threes is a good bet.

No where was the power of small ball lineups firing up three-pointers more obvious than in this year’s postseason.

The only conference finals team that wasn’t one of  the top five regular season three-point shooting teams was San Antonio and they led the NBA in three-point shooting percentage (39.1).

The Rockets led the postseason with 38.5 three-point attempts, but it was the Cavaliers leading in three-point makes (14.2). Houston (12.8 makes) barely edging out the better shooting Celtics (12.7) and Warriors (12.7).

In the NBA Finals, the Cavs shot 13.2-34.6 (38.2%) from three and the Dubs were 14.2-37.2 (38.2%) and the defense was actually pretty good. No team in the NBA should be under any delusions that an NBA Finals appearance is going to be realistic if your team can’t keep up from beyond the arc.

The trend towards small ball and an ever increasing number of three-point attempts isn’t going anywhere. If anything, next season NBA teams will average over 10 made threes a game on over 30 three-point attempts. The days of controlling the game by pounding the ball in the paint are over, at least for now.

 

 

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

 

 

Raptors Jonas Valanciunas Is Working On A 3-Point Shot

Even Raptors traditional center Jonas Valanciunas has been hunting down 15 foot jump shots in games and practicing his three-pointers in warm-ups.