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NBA Toronto Raptors Kawhi Leonard

Takeaways From Watching The Rusty Raptors v Blazers

It’s only fair to say, never read too much into any preseason game. The coaches and the players treat them as practice and/or tryout sessions, but there were some takeaways to be gleaned by watching your rusty Raptors beat up on the Trail Blazers 122-104 in Vancouver.

Serge Ibaka as starting center.

Don’t assume the starting center job is Ibaka’s just yet, but it makes sense. What makes even more sense is Ibaka, Jonas Valanciunas and Greg Monroe didn’t play together. Who ends up playing center with which unit will be a question of fit and effectiveness, but we got a solid clue about how head coach Nick Nurse sees these three players in his rotation.

Valanciunas looked like a player fighting for his job and he impressed.

CJ Miles as starting power forward.

Well maybe not, but that was a very veteran starting five Nurse threw out there in his first preseason game as a head coach. Miles could start, but it probably means OG Anunoby, who had the night off for personal reasons, is a good bet to be your starting power forward when the season starts.

Miles shot 2-3 from three and looks ready to go. Nurse will have him slotted into the rotation somewhere.

Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green looked a little rusty.

No surprise the two former Spurs looked a little rusty, but it wasn’t hard to look past the 1-9 three-point shooting they combined for and see a dominant offensive force coming soon to Toronto.

While Green was barely noticeable in the starting unit as he deferred to Kyle Lowry and Leonard, he stood out with the second unit after half without hitting a shot. He brought a strong veteran presence to a younger group.

The second unit is ready to go.

Fred VanVleet (3-4 from three), Pascal Siakam (13 rebounds), Delon Wright (a blocked shot) look ready to pick things up where they left off at the end of last season. The Raptors bench is going to terrorize opponents again this year.

Norman Powell had a good game.

It’s hard to know if there is anything Powell can show in preseason to crack Nurse’s rotation until someone gets hurt, but he looked good in Vancouver hitting 2-3 three-point attempts and playing an overall solid game.

 

Nurse gave his starters and key reserves 15-20 minutes of playing time and they worked up a good sweat. His reserves are ready for the season now and the starters worked off a bit of the rust and showed signs of developing some chemistry. It was a solid start to the preseason and a good night for the fans in Vancouver.

 

 

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 Kawhi Leonard and Masai Ujiri and Danny Green 2018 media day

Raptors Are Finally Serious About A Championship Run

In the end, winning in the NBA comes down to money. Either a team is willing to spend what it takes to compete for a championship or they aren’t. Period, end of story and Raptors president Masai Ujiri has finally, reluctantly, admitted that this is how things are done.

According to Spotrac, the Raptors head into training camp with the league’s third highest salary commitment and a potential Luxury Tax bill exceeding $50 million.

“I think it’s even more important to say, to give props to our owners,” Ujiri responded to Pro Bball Report at Media Day. “They’ve given us this opportunity and that’s not the easiest thing to do, but I think it shows a commitment to winning.”

And it’s about time. After making Ujiri jump thru hoops to avoid paying Luxury Taxes in previous seasons, ownership has allowed the Raptors to hold onto their depth, add talent and take risks that could significantly add to payroll next year. This is what it takes to compete for a championship and come next July, this is what it will take to convince a superstar player like Kawhi Leonard to re-sign with their team.

“If you go by history and you go by numbers, I think there are very very few teams that have ever done it without this kind of commitment,” Ujiri admitted.

It may not be easy to be heard over the hype coming out of Boston, but the Toronto Raptors are finally, yes finally, serious about going on a championship run this season. With a payroll that rivals the NBA Champion Golden State Warriors, this organization has, for the first time, put their massive financial resources behind their team.

No longer is the goal to merely end the embarrassment of being one of the NBA doormats (2008-2013), making the playoffs, winning 50 games in the regular season or even finishing first in the East.

Money talks and BS walks and the Raptors are finally spending to win this season.

 

 

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

  

 

NBA Toronto Raptors DeMar DeRozan

A Cold Wind Of Change Blows Thru Toronto

A new air mass arrived in Toronto on Tuesday and with the more pleasant temperatures came a cold wind of change for the Raptors. The always ruthless Masai Ujiri has shipped the face of his franchise to San Antonio.

Thanks to ESPN’s WOJ, we now know All-Star DeMar DeRozan, promising young center Jakob Poeltl and a top-20 protected draft pick has been traded for two-time Defensive Player of the Year Kawhi Leonard and “3-and-D” veteran wing Danny Green.

Maybe everyone in Toronto should have seen this coming. The face of the franchise had been BENCHED numerous times this past season in the fourth quarter because the soon-to-be Coach of the Year Dwane Casey had much better defensive options in his young second unit and offense was only rarely an issue for this team in their run to first place in the Eastern Conference. It was sold as rest, but that wasn’t always easy to accept.

DeRozan has earned his popularity with the fan base since being drafted ninth overall in 2009 and being thrust into the spotlight with the departure of Chris Bosh the next summer.

 

NBA Spurs DeMar DeRozan

 

DeRozan holds franchise records for regular season games played (675), minutes (22,986), field goals (4716), free throws made (3539), and points (13,296). In the playoffs, where DeRozan often gets flak, the All-Star never averaged less than 20 points and in his 51 career playoff appearances, he averaged 21.9 points.

Loyal to a fault and an excellent franchise ambassador, a frustrated DeRozan wrote on his Instagram page Wednesday morning,

“Be told one thing & the outcome another. Can’t trust em. Ain’t no loyalty in this game. Sell you out quick for a little bit of nothing… Soon you’ll understand… Don’t disturb…”

But as previously noted, Ujiri is ruthless.

On a pure talent basis, Ujiri won this trade by a landslide. A healthy Leonard is arguably the second best player in the NBA with an all-around game that even LeBron James couldn’t claim this early in his career.

Leonard can do it all. From guarding the best player on the other team in today’s game 1-thru-5, to shooting the three (career 38.6 percent), hitting over 53 percent of his two-point shots and hitting a much higher percentage from the mid-range than even the mid-range assassin DeRozan. Leonard can control a game like only the historically elite in the NBA have done.

Of course there’s a downside or the Spurs would never have considered trading Leonard and it’s really hard to “win” a trade with San Antonio, buyer beware.

Aside from the FACT Leonard can opt out of his contract after this season and would rather be in L.A., this petulant 27-year-old sat out most of last season with pain that his team thought he could/should play thru.

Quad (thigh), calf, ankle, shoulder, both hands, right eye, jumper’s knee, a disturbing number of games due to illness and rest have all impacted on Leonard’s availability over his seven seasons in the NBA as he’s missed over 150 games

But the risk is manageable. Green is a very serviceable veteran wing on an expiring contract and if Leonard leaves after a year, Ujiri will have cleared over $30 million off his payroll and escaped the Luxury Tax after just one season. Lowry and Ibaka will then be on expiring deals and the rebuild can begin in earnest. If Leonard is healthy and happy, Ujiri could end up the real NBA Executive of the Year no matter who gets the award. From a GM perspective, it’s a no lose situation.

It was a cold, calculated and ruthless move to trade a popular face-of-the-franchise who wanted to be a Raptor-for-life, but that’s who Ujiri is. If you’re an owner, he’s the executive you want. If you’re a fan of DeRozan, Ujiri just stabbed him in the back and his fans in the heart.

 

 

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