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NBA Toronto Raptors P.J. Tucker and Serge Ibaka

What The Raptors Rotation Could Look Like Next Season

There are plenty of clues coming out about what the Toronto Raptors rotation could look like next season. President Masai Ujiri isn’t exactly trying to hide what he believes in and the direction he will be taking his team.

When doing the rounds with his corporate masters recently. (The Raptors are owned by Rogers and Bell who control Sportsnet and TSN respectively.) He did his best to clarify his comments about “culture change” and any perceptions regarding head coach Dwane Casey and his All-Star point guard Kyle Lowry.

“Our culture is pretty good,” Ujiri told Tim and Sid on the Fan 590 just to set the tone for the entire interview.

“I am the problem solver here,” Ujiri said in regards to re-signing Lowry (and just about anything else.)

“I am confident (coach Casey) can pull those things off.”

As he has said since the beginning of his tenure as president (and general manager), Ujiri believes in developing his own talent and it is something he is doubling down on under the new CBA.

“The new CBA means a lot of players are going to stay where they are at,” Ujiri explained. “That’s just how it works. The way (the CBA) is constructed a lot of teams are going to have the ability to keep their own players. So we have to figure out ways with our own players.

“Drafting and developing our players is a high priority for us. We have to develop from within.”

There aren’t any false hopes about Paul George or Jimmy Butler arriving in Toronto anytime soon.

Ujiri is confident Lowry will re-sign with Toronto and not without a lot of justification. The Raptors and coach Casey made Lowry a three-time All-Star, his best friend is DeMar DeRozan, and they will pay him $30 million plus a season to stay.

He is equally confident about Serge Ibaka and more than few media reports suggested Ibaka wanted to be traded to Toronto. Ujiri has the checkbook to re-sign Ibaka to a $100 million plus contract as well. P.J. Tucker almost came out and said if Lowry comes back, he’s coming back.

It shouldn’t take a leap of faith to figure out what type of ‘culture change’ Ujiri wants. He has always wanted a ‘tougher’ team and absolutely no one can ignore the need to have an excess of three-point shooting today.

Fortunately, the Raptors got a glimpse of what their future could look like in their first round series with Milwaukee.

On opening night, the Raptors starting line-up should look like this:

PG Kyle Lowry 22.4 ppg, 7.8 3FGA, 41.2% 3FG
SG DeMar DeRozan 27.3 ppg, 1.7 3FGA, 26.6% 3FG
SF Norman Powell* 15.6 ppg, 4.1 3FGA, 39.7% 3FG
PF P.J. Tucker** 5.8 ppg, 2.5 3FGA, 40% 3FG
C Serge Ibaka** 14.2 ppg, 4.5 3FGA, 39.8% 3FG

* Powell as a starter in 18 games last season
** Tucker and Ibaka as a Raptor after the All-Star break

A three-guard lineup of Lowry, DeRozan and Powell tore thru the Bucks in the postseason and represents the direction the NBA is headed but with a toughness that fits with coach Casey’s preferred style of play.

NBA Toronto Raptors Norman Powell and Kyle Lowry

Powell will guard bigger players and was effective as a rookie guarding Paul George last year which is no small feat. It’s time to put Ujiri’s player development to the test and insert Powell into the starting rotation from day one.

NBA Toronto Raptors PJ Tucker

Tucker is just plain nasty. A combo forward who can guard either spot against anyone, just putting him into the starting rotation could be considered a culture change for the Raptors.

“The most dirty, rugged, nasty (person) you’ll ever see,” Tucker describes himself.

It looked like Ibaka had lost a step during the playoffs, but that’s only if you forget he was playing on a sore left ankle. Prior to that Ibaka was switching out onto guards and stuffing them at the three-point line. He represents a huge improvement in mobility and versatility over a traditional center like Jonas Valanciunas.

This is a starting lineup that stretches the floor and can panic defenses trying to simultaneously guard the three-point line and the paint. Even DeRozan should be expected to improve on last season’s three-point shooting over the summer. No one should be surprised if he’s hitting 33 percent or more of his open threes next year.

Who backs up these starters isn’t even close to being decided, except for some obvious things Ujiri must be considering. Cory Joseph and a group to be determined including possibly one or more not even on the roster yet.

NBA Toronto Raptors Cory Joseph

There will be battles for minutes off the bench and Ujiri could/should be looking to make moves to create opportunities for some of his young guys to develop or just to get a little closer to the luxury tax line. Bringing back Lowry, Ibaka and Tucker will put the Raptors $15-25 million into the tax unless Ujiri can shed some salary.

As much as Ujiri wants to develop his own guys, this may the time to sell high on Jonas Valanciunas and the unproven but very real possibility of him developing a three-point shot. With a salary of just $15.5 million and two years left on his deal, Valanciunas will have value on the trade market.

The temptation to keep DeMarre Carroll around will be high as his trade value is suspect. Although injuries have prevented him from showing what he can do in Toronto thus far, he remains a decent three-point shooting forward in a league where three-point shooting forwards are in demand. However, if Ujiri could move his $14.8 million in salary, it would really help lower the luxury tax bill. (Even if next year is finally the season he starts without being hindered by injury.)

Moving Valanciunas and potentially Carroll opens up minutes for last year’s rookie center Jakob Poeltl and forward?/center Lucas Nogueira.

Poeltl impressed as a rookie and seems poised to take a big step next season assuming Ujiri opens up a spot in the rotation for him. He doesn’t have any range on his shot, but he rebounds, has soft hands and good mobility for a big man. In keeping with Ujiri’s mantra of developing his own players, this is one guy that needs to play.

It probably hasn’t gone unnoticed by Ujiri or Casey, but Nogueira had a team fifth best plus/minus of +3.1 points last season. Sure he lost the few minutes that were available at center to Poeltl after the All-Star break trades, but Casey made a concerted effort to try him out at power forward and those efforts weren’t completely in vain. NBA Toronto Raptors Lucas Nogueira

Look for Nogueira to be battling it out for minutes at the four (and maybe the five). Pascal Siakam, who started 38 games at power forward for Toronto last year but has a questionable jump shot, possibly a player to be traded for, or even the Raptors draft pick (if it’s someone like UCLA’s T.J. Leaf) could be in the mix at the backup four spot.

If Carroll is traded, the Raptors could be thin at small forward. Tucker can play both forward spots, but this could quickly become a big hole. It wouldn’t be a shock if Ujiri traded for a small forward prospect as no one will be planning on Bruno Caboclo being ready to play in the NBA next season – hoping maybe, planning, not a chance.

Backup guard is potentially the most interesting spot. NBA Toronto Raptors Fred VanVleet and Cory Joseph

Cory Joseph will continue backing up Lowry and as his three-point shooting was dramatically better up until the All-Star break last season, look for Joseph to solidify his hold on the role by coming into training camp after another summer of improving his shooting.

Delon Wright looked good after coming back from injury late last season, but he has competition from a potentially better three-point shooter in Fred VanVleet. Wright has more versatility than the undersized VanVleet and showed potential guarding the wing, but Casey hasn’t shown any reluctance to playing Joseph and VanVleet together. This could be the best and most predictable battle for minutes on the roster.

The Raptors starting lineup will be good, better than last season and another 50+ win campaign will be expected, but as Ujiri has said, that isn’t the goal.

“If we are just going to be stuck in second, third, fourth every year and some years we are disappointed in the playoffs and some years we are happy – that’s not the goal,” Ujiri stated. “The goal is to win a championship.

“The way we have played hasn’t worked the past three, four years to take us to the highest level and it’s one of those things we have to figure out a way.

“I hate losing to those guys (the Cavaliers). It drives me crazy.”

To get past the Cavs, it will take more than a better starting lineup and developing young players while the Cavs boast the highest payroll in the NBA doesn’t make it any easier.

Ujiri has to find a way via trade or a big step in the play of one/some of his young guys, but it has to be consistent with what he believes in. A copycat move isn’t going to work against LeBron James in the East or the Warriors in the West.

“We are not saying we are going to change completely to the way another team plays or copy another team.”

Ujiri has to find his own blend of grit, toughness and three-point shooting. Someone(s) out of Powell, Poeltl, Nogueira, Wright, VanVleet, Caboclo, a rookie, or an undervalued trade prospect had better take a huge step forward or next year will be another year Ujiri doesn’t get past the Cavs.

Although Ujiri really didn’t say anything new during his recent media tour, (if anything the Raptors president has been consistent since day one), in case you missed it, you can listen to Ujiri on Tim and Sid here.

 

 

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 Toronto Raptors DeMar DeRozan Serge Ibaka Kyle Lowry 2017 collage

Basketball Insiders Think Raptors Will Stay The Course

Options for Raptors president Masai Ujiri next season are limited and his best scenario will be to stay the course says Basketball Insiders editor Steve Kyler in his look at the future in Toronto.

1.  Attacking the free agent market to get better next next season isn’t an option as Ujiri has no real cap space to work with again this summer.

even if the Raptors said no thank you to all of their free agents, they would enter the off-season with $24.188 million in cap space. Said differently, that’s not even room for one max free agent.

2. Kyle Lowry will re-sign with the Raptors. For lots of reasons other than just the money. Lowry loves his life in Toronto and considers DeMar DeRozan “family.” Besides, there just aren’t many landing spots out there for a 31-year-old All-Star point guard that wants to win and get paid.

As much as people want to speculate about the future landing spot for Lowry, the likely outcome of the situation is he re-signs in Toronto on a whopper of a contract.

3. Serge Ibaka wanted to be traded to Toronto and the Raptors have done everything they could to make Ibaka love the move. Over and over again Ibaka has said he wants to play more at center and coach Casey accommodated him and not just to make Ibaka happy. Ujiri wants changes and Ibaka is the kind of change (a stretch-five that blocks shots) this team is looking for. Expect Ibaka to be back on a new $100 million plus contract.

Raptors president Masai Ujiri had been after Ibaka in trade for some time. Most in NBA circles believe that Ibaka made it clear to the Magic the only team he wanted to land with was Toronto

4. Patrick Patterson is likely the odd man out in free agency. He’s a “3-and-D” power forward that seems to get hurt every season and then loses his stroke. The Raptors would like to keep him as a backup power forward if the price is right, but the risk in free agency is he gets priced out of his value to Toronto.

As good as Patrick Patterson has been for the Raptors, he may be priced too high if they can reach deals with Lowry and Ibaka.

5. P.J. Tucker is a guy Ujiri acquired to fill a gaping hole at combo-forward and he impressed big time during the postseason. The Raptors want him back, but Tucker made it really clear after the season he wants to come back only if the Raptors are keeping their big name free agents – especially Lowry.

P.J Tucker has said he’d like to be back with the Raptors and his price tag might be reasonable enough to work even if the Raptors pay out big money to Lowry and Ibaka.

6. Ujiri will be active in the trade market, if not right away in July, later in the summer as teams are trying to fill holes in their rosters or ahead of the trade deadline. Moving one of his big contracts like DeMarre Carroll would make paying the luxury tax bill from re-signing his own free agents much less painful.

the situation becomes easier if the Raptors can off-load a bigger contract that no longer fits the plan going forward

Even Jonas Valanciunas could be on the block if the goal is to start Ibaka at center and let the cheaper Lucas Nogueira and  Jakob Poeltl compete for the backup center role.

As much as Jonas Valanciunas has meant to the Raptors, moving his $15.46 million salary would solve more problems for the future than he does as a player.

The Raptors are a 50 win team that been to the postseason four straight years and to stay on the radar in hockey-mad Toronto, that’s pretty much the floor and Ujiri knows it. The Raptors will “try to change the culture,” but they aren’t going to tank to do it. At least not voluntarily.

Look for head coach Dwane Casey and his two All-Stars, Lowry and DeRozan, to be back in Toronto again next season putting together another 50 win season and hoping they’ve found the magic (Ibaka) that can take them up another level. As Kyler explains, they don’t have much choice.

Be sure to check out all of Kyler’s analysis here.

 

 

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 head coach Dwane Casey

Raptors Coach Dwane Casey Isn’t Going Anywhere, Deal With It

By Frank McLean

I might be turning into an old crotchety sports writer, but I have had enough of the trolls on social media and sports radio callers which former New York Daily News writer Bob Raissman used to call “The Valley Of The Stupid”.

I don’t mean to ruin your day, but Toronto Raptors head coach Dwane Casey is the least of the Raptors problems. He is not going anywhere.

The cries of Casey has got to go have been loud and clear since the loss in game one and a couple of questionable efforts in the Milwaukee series, but he is not the problem.

In the six years he has been in Toronto he has coached this team to three Atlantic Division titles, four straight trips to the playoffs and a 261-215 regular season won-loss record which is a .548 winning percentage.

And let’s not forget the last two years the team has won back to back 50-win seasons.

His body of work earned Casey a three year 18-million dollar contract extension which means with 12-million dollars roughly left to be paid out, he ain’t going nowhere.

The players like Casey which in this day and age in the NBA is the most important thing that coach has to earn for job security. The team has not given up on him, the effort is there on the court, it’s just that this group as a whole is not good enough to dethrone Cleveland and that’s not Casey’s fault, he did not put the roster together, that’s Masai Ujiri’s mess and we will talk about that at a later date.

If the players don’t like coach, especially the team superstar, he is at the unemployment office.

Ask David Blatt who was run out of Cleveland by the Cavaliers real General Manager and President of Basketball Operations LeBron James.

And Casey has not given up on his team either, he made that clear on Saturday in his daily media availability. He still thinks they are close to making a legitimate run at Cleveland. He hasn’t gone John Torterella on his guys.

“I like our team, it’s the most talented team we’ve had but it does take time when you are trying to integrate those pieces those pieces together and timing.”

The problem is how close is this team to Cleveland and Casey says that he is not sure.

“If and when it’s hard to say, if is a huge word in that situation because this group hasn’t had a training camp or time together to against him (a roster with Ibaka and Tucker) but I like this group we have the right pieces in place.”

Now if you can find someone who can coach better than Casey go out and get him. But the only guy I can think of would be Greg Popovich and if he leaves the San Antonio Spurs it will either by retirement or he passes away to the great basketball court in the sky while he is still employed there.

Any other coach with a similar resume to Casey would be a lateral move, and don’t say that maybe a different voice is needed. Some moves need to be made on the roster and that will happen by necessity or by players leaving by free agency.

You saw what happened in Indiana this year after Larry Bird did not renew the contract of Frank Vogel, the Pacers regressed.

In six years there Vogel ran up a 250-181 regular season record and five playoff appearances. His crime with Larry Bird was that he had the nerve to give Paul George a three minute breather in their playoff games against the Raptors.

Vogel was out of work about two weeks before the Magic hired him and if Casey left Toronto he would be employed before June. There are a lot of bad NBA teams that would jump at him.

Dwane Casey should not be fired, he is not the problem and there is nobody better out there.

Now the roster that’s another story.

 

 

   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.

  Featured image courtesy of Larry Millson

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors head coach Dwane Casey

Raptors Playing For Pride On Sunday

By Frank McLean

Toronto Raptors head coach Dwane Casey said all the right things after Game Three, Sunday’s game against the Cavs is for pride. You don’t want to end your season at home.

So if I’m Casey I put on my Dr. Phil hat and my speech is… okay guys we have won four games in a row before right so it’s not so hard right.

Sam Mitchell used to drive me nuts during his time coaching with the Raptors. During his media scrums because was always using the saying, “it is what it is guys”, to describe whatever predicament the team was going through at a particular time.

Heading into Sunday’s fourth game against the Cleveland Cavaliers in this Eastern Conference Semifinal, which the Cavaliers have made the Raptors look like the victims of a drive by shooting, “it is what it is for the Raptors.”

The Raptors have to win four straight games to go to the Eastern Conference Final for a second straight year which after watching how the Cavaliers carved up the Raptors in the first 1:52 of the fourth quarter in Game Three with a quick 8-2 run that tuned into 20-3, well it just showed that the Raptors are not in their class.

So if you are Dwane Casey what is your motivational speech to his teams?

During the regular season the Raptors had four-four game win streaks along with two three game streaks and a pair of six game win streaks, but in those win streaks they didn’t have to play four consecutive games against the Cavaliers.

Casey also needs to let his team know exactly what he said about them to the media in his post-game thoughts after Game Three.

“I’m still proud of our guys, I think we have a lot of fighters in that locker room. We came up short, but I do like how they responded. I loved the way DeMar DeRozan responded after they killed him saying that he couldn’t score.”

Casey has got to make sure that he has not given up on them because you know human nature after you have been beat like the Raptors have been beat you might give up on yourself.

Meanwhile over in the Cavaliers locker room they don’t seem to be taking for granted that they have this Game Four locked up and a sweep in their pockets.

LeBron James said after game three that the most important thing is to come out on Sunday and play their game.

“Our coaching staff once again will give us a game plan and it is up to us to go out and execute. It is a quick turnaround game on Sunday, we do not to be thinking about sleep or getting rest. We need to be thinking about what we need to do to execute defensively and offensively coming into Sunday.”

Now you can hope, and if you are one to grasp at straws, you can hope that the 3:30 start and maybe Toronto’s outstanding nightlife might make the Cavaliers a little hung over and a soft spot to beat-em. But I doubt it.

It is playoff time and party time comes when Adam Silver hands the Cavaliers the championship trophy in June.

But upsets do happen in sports. Saturday’s Kentucky Derby was not run on paper. 20-horses went to the gate and ran a race.

Maybe the Raptors can win one maybe two, but they have to win four straight. It is what it is. Game Four is all about playing for pride.

 

 

   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 Jonas Valanciunas

It Took A Lot For Casey To Wake Up Jonas Valanciunas

Through the ups and down of the Toronto Raptors three previous playoff runs under head coach Dwane Casey one thing remained constant, Jonas Valanciunas (“JV”) stepped up and played big, but not now. It took a lot for Casey to get JV to wake up and play up to his potential this year.

In Valanciunas’ first 23 playoff games prior to this year he averaged a double-double 12.4 points and 10.2 rebounds on 57 percent shooting. He was a force and a go-to-guy when DeMar DeRozan and/or Kyle Lowry were struggling.

This year was a different story. JV was sent to the bench shooting 37.5 percent from the field after his team went 1-2 in their first three games against Milwaukee. Casey could use the excuse that the matchup with Bucks backup center Greg Monroe was better, but Milwaukee’s starting center was a rookie, so it would have been reasonable to expect more.

In hindsight it was unfortunate Valanciunas bought the excuse and willingly went to the bench. It would have been better if he’d bristled at the demotion.

After getting past the Bucks with a 3-0 run and JV coming off the bench, Casey put Valanciunas back in the starting lineup in Game One against the Cavs and to put it bluntly, JV stunk.

It wasn’t easy to tell Valanciunas he’d be coming off the bench for Game Two with the undersized Tristan Thompson starting for the Cavs, but Casey had to do something to shake Valanciunas out of his malaise.

“I think the hair is up on the back of his neck a little bit,” Casey said prior to Game Three. “A little teed off that he is coming off (the bench). My hat goes off to him cause he has been starting the entire year and because of matchup situations and trying to win the series he has had to come off the bench.

“He is still one of the top centers in the league and it takes a lot for him to come off the bench. He is trying to show everyone I’m not a backup center in this league. Which he’s not. He’s just doing it for the fact that we needed that matchup in the last series and also we tried to take advantage of that in this series.”

Finally the demotion to backup center in Game Two woke JV up and he led Toronto in scoring with 23 points in just 20.2 minutes.

“He’s a good player on the low post,” Cavaliers head coach Tyronn Lue said prior to Game Three. “Uses his shot fakes well, gets to the basket, can make a jump shot, but they play thru Kyle and DeMar a lot, so that being said, he’s a third option on his team. What he did in the last game is a little different than what he did in the past. He did make some shots last game.”

He make some shots in his next game as well. Back in the starting unit because he earned it, Valanciunas was second in scoring on the Raptors with 19 badly needed points on 8-10 shooting.

In his first seven games this postseason, Valanciunas averaged 8.9 points on a disappointing 46.8 shooting, but since being woken up by Casey that’s jumped to 21 points on 78.3 percent.

The improved play from Valanciunas hasn’t been enough for the Raptors to steal a win from the favored Cavs, but at least the team has looked better than in Game One and that could matter in what is likely the final home game of the year for Toronto on Sunday.

“We are going to show what we are made of,” Valanciunas said about Game Four. “We are going to come in and give up or we are going to come in and fight. It doesn’t matter if we win or lose, we need to come here and fight and leave everything on the court.”

Welcome to the fight JV. Game Four is all about pride and we’ve seen how well JV and the Raptors can play when their backs are against the wall.

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

Jurassic Park Toronto Raptors

Raptors Fans Need To Step It Up In Game Five

Maybe it isn’t safe to even passively call out your own fans, but head coach Dwane Casey has asked the Raptors fans to step it up in Game Five.

“Yesterday’s environment (Saturday in Milwaukee), it was a hostile environment,” Casey said. “I hope our fans are the same way against them, the way they were against us. They were on us. I mean it was loud (at) the game.

“Our hard play helped us in the second game there, but the first game, it was very loud, it was one of the loudest. I think Portland a few years ago, when I was in Dallas a few years ago was loud, San Antonio was loud, even in Seattle and Utah, but Milwaukee was really really loud in game one at their place.

“We have a great crowd too, but that crowd was hot. Hopefully our crowd will come out (Monday) night and be the same way, which I know they will.”

If Casey wanted to make a bolder message, he would have compared this year’s Raptors playoff crowd to those of the past three years when the Air Canada Centre was full and deafening long before tip off and throughout each game.

Jurassic Park too used to be full and heavily featured inside the ACC because of the overflow crowds, but not this year.

“Have you been here before?” DeMar DeRozan said last year when asked about the ACC crowd. “We got our home crowd energy to feed off.”

The Toronto Raptors previously enjoyed a significant home court advantage inside the Air Canada Centre and outside Gate Five in Jurassic Park. It was loud inside and loud outside, so loud in fact that even the Raptors used to struggle with the noise level in every playoff at home in the Dwane Casey era. Visiting teams couldn’t help but notice the crowd impact.

By comparison crowds inside the building for the first two games this year showed up late and sat on their hands until the in-game announcers told them to cheer and Jurassic Park crowds looked suspiciously light, especially if you compared them to the crowds for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

For the first time in living memory, Leafs fans have been louder than Raptors fans and that shouldn’t sit well with the faithful. The Raptors fans used to be the biggest part of their home court advantage in the postseason.

Casey’s right, it is time for Toronto Raptors fans to get back in the game. Getting out-cheered by Milwaukee should be embarrassing.

 

 

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

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Norman Powell

Raptors Coach Casey Has All The The Right Buttons Pressed

In his Game Five preview, Basketball Insiders David Yapkowitz has the Toronto Raptors taking a 3-2 series lead over the Milwaukee Bucks on Monday night as head coach Dwane Casey has all the right buttons pressed against this less experienced foe.

The playoffs are all about adjustments, and Dwane Casey definitely made some big ones that got the Raptors right back in this series.

Benching Jonas Valanciunas was a move that paid off.

Serge Ibaka excelled at center.

Powell hit all three of his (three-point) attempts and kept the Bucks defense on their heels by staying aggressive.

A smaller but effective move that also paid off was Casey’s decision to play Delon Wright more than Cory Joseph.

The Bucks, on the other hand, have their work cut out for them if they want to steal another game on the Raptors’ home court.

Be sure to check out the full preview.

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Overlooked has been Ibaka playing on a sore ankle, something that has definitely been affecting his jump shot and perimeter defense, but should be getting significantly better with each passing day.

Playing big with both Valanciunas and a hobbled Ibaka on the floor at the same time didn’t work against the longer more athletic Bucks, but Casey’s Game Four rotation neutralized much of what Milwaukee had been using to take advantage of their more experienced and higher seeded opponent.

 

  Featured image courtesy of Larry Millson

 

NBA Milwaukee Bucks

Raptors Looked Lost And Confused In Milwaukee

This was supposed to be a first round series featuring the playoff tested and experienced Toronto Raptors taking on a young Bucks team with two rookies in their starting lineup, but it was the Raptors veterans who looked lost and confused in Milwaukee.

“We just look like we don’t know what the hell we are are doing,” Jonas Valanciunas explained postgame. “We just gave up from the start of the game.”

Toronto shot 4-18 in the first quarter of Game Three to get behind 32-12 and things didn’t improve from there as the Raptors dropped a 104-77 contest they were never in.

“It starts with us, myself self as a coach as far as having them ready to play in a hostile environment” Raptors head coach Dwane Casey said trying to deflect blame away from his players. “They ambushed us. There is no aspect of our game that we executed whatsoever.”

However, there is no excuse for not being ready to play in a hostile environment for the Raptors veterans. Except for P.J. Tucker, they’ve all been here before multiple times. They knew or should have known what to expect.

This hasn’t been a good series for the Raptors starting center. Valanciunas (10 points/ 8.7 rebounds) has been unexpectedly taken advantage of by the Bucks rookie “stretch” center Thon Maker (50% 3FG) and the usually favorable matchup with Greg Monroe (16 points/ 8.7 rebounds) hasn’t gone so well either.

An efficient and effective beast in the postseason in his past three trips, this year Valanciunas has been getting rushed into bad shots on offense, shooting 37.5 percent from the field in the series, and schooled at the other end, boasting a plus/minus of -8.3 points in 22 minutes per game. Unfortunately for the Raptors, he hasn’t been alone.

Among the Raptors veterans, only Serge Ibaka (45.9% shooting) and DeMarre Carroll (54.5% shooting) are hitting shots at better than 37.5 percent. Ibaka is making an impact, but Carroll doesn’t play enough or shoot enough mostly because the guy he is guarding, Kris Middleton (16.7 points), is second in Bucks playoff scoring.

It’s looked like a Raptors brickfest out there except from the young guys Delon Wright (50%), Norman Powell (50%), and rookie center Jakob Poeltl (42.9%).  The guys who weren’t supposed to play much are the only players with a plus in the plus/minus stat and it could be argued Wright has noticeably outplayed Cory Joseph, Poeltl has been more effective than Valanciunas, and Powell has been more aggressive offensively than Carroll.

“We’ll make changes,” Casey said. “We made changes going into the second half, but whoever goes in has to go in and make a difference.”

It isn’t easy making changes to a starting lineup when these are the guys who got you here, but the Raptors can’t afford to get run out of the building by the Bucks aggression in Game Four on Saturday. If this lineup, this rotation can’t adjust, Casey has to try something new.

“They just came out really aggressively and took (away) our easy points, took our normal rhythm shots, they took our rhythm away from us,” Valanciunas said. “They were into the ball, into people, not letting (us) screen easy.”

News flash, the playoffs aren’t supposed to be easy. The cliche ‘hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard’ is true and the Raptors know it.

“Whoever plays the hardest is going to win the series,” P.J. Tucker said. “Nobody (should) got to hype you to go out and play hard. This is what we do. If you don’t have the moral (fortitude) to go out and fight in the NBA playoffs, then this ain’t the job for you.”

Ignore DeRozan going 0-8 in Game Three and ignore coach Casey’s promise of, “as a staff we have to do a better job of finding ways of opening and space for us to score.” The Raptors didn’t lose Games One and Three because the Bucks out-schemed them. The Bucks are winning because they are playing harder, pure and simple.

“We got to forget the plays, forget everything and come out with energy,” Valanciunas said. “Come out willing to play basketball, not Xs and Os, hard school basketball.”

“I still believe we can win the series,” Kyle Lowry said. “It ain’t over. It just sucks right now. It’s terrible right now. It’s a terrible feeling the way we just got our asses beat. So we better pick it up or it’s going to be a terrible feeling again.”

If the Raptors players Casey puts on the court don’t play harder and tougher from the start, no amount of game planning is going to prevent another terrible feeling after Game Four.

 

 

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 Toronto Raptors head coach Dwane Casey

It’s Time To Give Raptors Coach Dwane Casey His Props

Coaches may be hired to be fired in professional sports, but not all of the time and not by all of the teams in the NBA anyway. Good teams value consistency, know how hard it is to win and by those measures, it’s time for everyone in Toronto to give Raptors head coach Dwane Casey his props. Things have never been this good or good for this long for the team previously slagged as being best represented by the soft cuddly children’s Barney the dinosaur.

An extensive ESPN panel recently rated all the NBA’s head coaches and tagged Casey as the eighth best and that’s a far cry from the never ending stream of fan experts on social media that have been trying to convince anyone who would listen that Casey can’t coach and a few in Toronto’s mainstream media that should know better.

We asked our ESPN Forecast panel to rate every team’s coach. In particular, we asked the voters to rate each coach on his guidance and leadership in terms of how it affects overall on-court success, both in the short and long term.

NBA head coaches

The Raptors are about to head back to the postseason for an unprecedented fourth season in a row with home court advantage in the first round.

Before Casey, this organization’s best previous run was three trips to the postseason season in a row and only one-time with any real expectations of doing anything. Last season this team went to the Eastern Conference Finals and there are reasonable expectations they can get back there again this year.

Casey will hold the franchise’s top four records for wins in a regular season after the 2016-17 season ends with 48-34 in 2013-14, 49-33 in 2014-15, and 56-26 in 2015-16. The team is at 46-30 with six games remaining this year assuring they’ll do better than the 47-35 records held by Sam Mitchell in 2006-07 and Lenny Wilkens in 2000-01. He passed Mitchell (156-189) for the most wins by a Raptors head coach almost two years ago. In his six seasons with the Raptors, he already has a 256-214 record and he’s the only Raptors head coach with an overall winning record while with the team.

However, a winning record shouldn’t be the only method of evaluating a head coach. The respect of his players is critical to success on the court and after the season is over. Quickly, players your team has drafted or traded for will become free agents and no one wants to re-sign with a coach they don’t respect. If you’re good, you can get paid almost anywhere.

“The one thing that I respect about coach Casey is his being consistent,” DeMar DeRozan said after losing Game seven in the first round of the playoffs to the Nets in 2014. “He’s been the same Dwane Casey since he’s been here. Preaches the same things. Told me to stick with the same principles and it worked. Everything he said came together like he said it would. You got to respect coach Casey he never changed. You can go in his office, knock on his door and talk to him. You can text him, he’s a players’ coach. He’s a great dude. You can talk to him about any situation.

“It feels great because you don’t question if your head coach tells you something. You going to listen because he’s not just saying something just to say it. He’s not going to tell you something just to do it. There’s a reason why. Once you respect a man’s word like that, you going to work for it.”

Those words weren’t just words and those feelings extended beyond DeRozan. Proof came later that summer when Kyle Lowry signed a team-friendly four-year deal when the consensus was he could get more money elsewhere. Lowry didn’t really even bother to look. Mid-season acquisitions Patrick Patterson and Greivis Vasquez also re-upped with Toronto on team-friendly deals.

It was a pattern that was going to repeat itself in the future even after a devastating first round loss to the Wizards in the first round of the playoffs the very next year. The Raptors players still believed in their head coach.

“I know Casey has a lot of flak,” said DeRozan after getting swept out of the first round of the playoffs by the Wizards in 2015. “Casey is a great coach. I got to give him credit. He pushes day in and day out.

“I would like to assure (the fans) that it is definitely not (going in the wrong direction). We will be better next year.”

At the end of the 2015 season, Lou Williams signed with the Lakers, but he made it obvious he wanted to return to Toronto. Unfortunately, the Raptors needed their cap space to sign Cory Joseph. Amir Johnson had spent six seasons in Toronto going overboard as a voluntary team ambassador. He loved it in Toronto and wanted to stay, however, the Celtics made him an unexpectedly huge offer he couldn’t refuse and the Raptors couldn’t match.

Then with a year still remaining on their rookie deals, Terrence Ross and Jonas Valanciunas signed team-friendly extensions a year ahead of the well-known biggest increase in the NBA Salary Cap in league history, potentially, scratch that, with near certainty they were leaving a boatload of money on the table.

At the end of the 2016 season DeRozan had his chance to leave and as the second leading scorer in the Eastern Conference, he had his choice of destinations including his hometown Lakers, but he wasn’t even remotely interested in leaving Toronto and told anyone that would listen the same.

Bismack Biyombo said he wanted to stay as well, but no one was surprised when he took the $70 million offer from the Magic the Raptors couldn’t match. Biyombo does nothing to hide how much he misses playing in Toronto on his return visits to the Air Canada Centre. There was (still is) a lot of love and respect between Casey and Biyombo.

Part of the change in the perception of the Raptors as a place to play came as result of winning. Part of it came from president Masai Ujiri’s deft methods of dealing with NBA players. But, none of that would have worked if the players didn’t like playing in Toronto for their head coach.

If all you care about is winning, then you have to give Casey his props. He’s the winningest coach in Raptors history and with his next victory, he’ll have averaged 50+ wins a year over the past four seasons. Only Scott Brooks, Gregg Popovich, and Doc Rivers can make the same claim. (Steve Kerr will get there next season.)

If your evaluation is based on getting players to buy-in, then you need to look no further than the Raptors two three-time All-Stars Lowry and DeRozan. Neither of these players were All-Stars before Casey arrived and neither wanted to leave when they had their chance.

You can’t trick NBA players into thinking you know how to coach (for all those in Toronto’s social media that believe they know better.)

ESPN putting Casey into the top 8 of current NBA head coaches isn’t even a stretch. The real question is, how did they get him this low?

 

 

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 Dwane Casey

Are The Raptors Showcasing Players For A Trade?

Over the past month Raptors head coach Dwane Casey can be excused for going deeper into his bench than he’d like with all the injuries he has been forced to contend with, but that doesn’t explain why he’s back to going 11 or 12 men deep in tight winnable games against subpar competition. His substitutions recently beg the question, are the Raptors showcasing players for a potential trade?

All those extra bodies sure didn’t help Toronto pull out wins against the Magic, two recent losses of 114-113 and 102-94, or the Timberwolves, a 112-109 loss. Even Casey admits it’s hard to play so many guys.

“It’s hard to play so many guys,” Casey said after the win over the Clippers on Monday. “I know everybody wants to see everybody play, but it’s hard in a rotation to try and get our rotation back.

“Really, realistically we are only going to be able to play 9, possibly 10 max as the year goes on when everybody is healthy.”

So why is Casey playing 11 or 12 guys? Who is this “everybody” who wants to see everybody play? It’s kind of vague, especially when the only person who could possibly convince Casey to go deeper into his bench than he’d like is his boss, president Masai Ujiri.

In Minnesota, with the Raptors up by just 6 points and 1.6 minutes left in the 3rd quarter, Casey brings in a 10th man in Jared Sullinger. In theory it cost the Raptors nothing. In practice it sent Jonas Valanciunas, who was shooting 7-7, to the bench and helps limit him to just 26 minutes in a game where he was very effective.

So maybe Casey was just trying to get Sullinger some playing time as there is still hope the big guy can get into playing shape in time for the postseason? But, it wasn’t doing anything to help the Raptors win this game. Sullinger went 0-2 for 0 points, 2 rebounds, 1 assist and 2 turnovers in 6 minutes. Not that it would be reasonable to expect a guy coming back from injury to produce much in 6 minutes after sitting on the bench for the first half.

Then about 5 minutes into the fourth quarter, Casey subs in Norman Powell for the first time in the game as an 11th man. At this point both Cory Joseph and Terrence Ross had done a reasonable job off the bench and could have stayed in the game/ one would have stayed in the game in a tight rotation.

Powell has earned playing time during his limited number of appearances as a starter this season, but to bring him off the bench midway thru the 4th quarter without a good reason produced an almost inevitable result. Ice-cold Powell went 0-0 from the field with just a turnover to prove he was there.

“We got to have 7 or 8 guys,” Casey said postgame in Minnesota. “If we can’t play 9, we can’t play 9, but 7 or 8 who are going to play hard together.”

To whom is Casey’s message directed? He been saying an effective rotation is 8 or 9 players and maybe 10 since he arrived in Toronto, so his comments are consistent. No one in the media seems to be disagreeing with him either. This isn’t the Lottery team he started with in 2011. If he wants to put winning ahead of player development and rehabbing injuries, he isn’t going to get a lot of flak from the press.

The possibility of an inconsistent rotation has been there since the start of the season when Ujiri let several veterans walk and added three rookies to an already young roster. It’s really hard for young players to develop sitting on the bench and stints in the NBA D-League can only help so much. Unfortunately, player development and deep playoff runs are not compatible goals.

If as Casey says there are aspirations of becoming a championship contender, then at some point, preferably soon, the Raptors need to settle on a tight rotation that can win games.

If what’s been going on has been a show to help Ujiri upgrade the roster for the postseason, it would certainly help explain the inconsistencies between what their head coach says he needs to do and what he’s been doing lately.

 

 

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 head coach Dwane Casey

Is A Trade The Solution To Toronto Raptors Olay Defense?

By Frank McLean

Olay, olay, olay, olay, the question Toronto Raptors head coach Dwane Casey was asking after Sunday’s loss to the Orlando Magic was “Where did their defense go”?

The Raptors lost the game 114-113, but as the old saying goes, ‘The score was not indicative of the way the game went.’ The best way to describe the way they played defense was like a bull fighter, an olay defense.

After leading by nine points at the end of the first quarter the Raptors trailed by nine at half time after allowing the Magic to go on a 21-2 run in the final 5:45 of the half. The Magic run put the Raptors in a large hole to try and comeback from in which they ran out of time and lost by just one point.  

The lack of defense was the frustrating part of this game for the Raptors who should not have lost like this to a bad Magic team.

No disrespect to the Magic who came into the game 18-30, but they did have the riot act read to them on Saturday by their coach Frank Vogel after they as he said “didn’t show up” for their game Friday night in Boston where the lost by 30.

After the game Casey was lamenting that he couldn’t find five guys who could defend and as a result had lost six of their last seven games.

The answer to the problem might be over in the Magic locker room with Bismack Biyombo. The Raptors have yet to find a consistent replacement for him and yes that is a factor to why they are struggling with their defense.

Biyombo went on with the local media Sunday on what went right for the Raptors last year.

“I don’t think we play for any other reason than to find a way to get three stops out of four possessions and I think that’s what made us to be a great defensive team last year. I understand that the whole team relied on me to guide them. (Jonas Valanciunas) is a great player and I’m sure that they’ll find a way. Lucas (Nogueira), they are all great players, I know they (took) a step back, but you can only hope before the playoffs they can find a way to catch up to that because when the playoffs start, that’s when things really matter and I can only hope for them to get better.

“They have enough to get it done”, Biyombo added. “Hopefully they get to repeat the same thing that we did last year or go further, because the fans here deserve it more than anything. They came out, they supported the team every night, they bring the great energy and you’ve got to work with them, they work with you.”

So what do the Raptors do to correct the problem?

Well with the trade deadline coming up do they make a trade or look at a solution within?

Jarred Sullinger was brought in over the offseason to fill Biyombo’s role on the roster, but he is working himself back into game shape after a foot injury in the first preseason game kept him out the first two months of the year.

Lucas Nogueira is trying to grow into the role, but he is still green and is a work in progress.

If they go the trade route where do you go?

Nikola Vucevic of the Magic could be available. He had a 25-and-10 game Sunday going three-for-four behind the three point arc. It’s believed he was put back in the starting line-up for the purpose of showcasing him.

And of course there is DeMarcus Cousins of the Sacramento Kings. He is a powder keg for sure with an explosive personality and a noted coach killer.

At the NBA D-League Showcase last week I came across my sources with the Kings organization. They said they thought Cousins could thrive with the Raptors for two reasons.

One, Dwane Casey is a respected coach that Cousins would not try to push around.

And two, he played with DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry with USA Basketball at the Olympics and he respects their leadership and their spot in the Raptors locker room.

Regardless, the defense has to be fixed or a long playoff run could be jeopardy.

 

 

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.

  Featured image courtesy of Larry Millson

 

 

 

NBA Coach of the Month for December 2016 Dwane Casey

Raptors Dwane Casey NBA East Coach Of The Month For December

Toronto Raptors head coach Dwane Casey has been selected as Eastern Conference Coach of the Month for December. This is the fourth time in four seasons Casey has won the award, being honored previously for December 2013, November 2014 and January 2016.

Toronto finished December with a 10-4 record (second in the East) and averaged a conference-best 112.1 points with a +11.1 point differential. The Raptors scored 100+ points in 11 consecutive games during the month (December 2-23) and became the first team in NBA history to make at least 12 three-pointers while shooting .400 percent or better from behind the arc in eight consecutive games (November 23-December 8). Toronto also finished the month ranked second defensively holding opponents to 101.1 points per game.

The Raptors set a franchise-record by winning seven straight road games (November 23-December 26), including five games during the month of December. The Raptors rallied from a 14-point deficit December 9 at Boston for their largest comeback win of the season (101-94). The team then held Orlando to an opponent season-low for points during a 109-79 victory December 18. The Raptors earned their sixth straight road win 104-98 on December 23 at Utah and set the franchise-record with their seventh victory December 26 at Portland with a 95-91 decision.

Casey is the longest serving coach in franchise history, leading the team through 427 games during six seasons with Toronto. He is also the winningest coach in team history with 233 victories and has improved the team’s win total in five consecutive seasons, including a franchise-best 56 wins in 2015-16.

Last season Casey was the recipient of the Professional Basketball Writers Association Rudy Tomjanovich Award, which honors a coach for his cooperation with the media and fans, as well as his excellence on the court.

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Jared Sullinger

Raptors Building A Defensive Wall With Jared Sullinger

The Toronto Raptors are genuinely excited to land the Boston Celtics free agent starting power forward/center Jared Sullinger, but questions immediately came up about how the 6’9 270 (cough cough) lb big man would fit in defensively on the Raptors. Toronto lost last year’s big defensive deterrent in the paint Bismack Biyombo to free agency and Sullinger isn’t exactly known for blocking shots.

President and general manager Masai Ujiri sees the Raptors adapting their defense to fit with Sullinger’s strengths.

“Defensive rebounding and building a wall,” Ujiri responded to Pro Bball Report. “I know Biyombo was a shot blocker, but we will probably have a different type of defense now with a big wall there and sometimes now you might not get that shot blocked, but (Sullinger) will stand in front of you and you’ll know he’s there.”

Sullinger isn’t a direct replacement for what Biyombo brought to the Raptors last season. Both players are among the elite in rebounding, but where Biyombo was a deterrent at the rim on defense, Sullinger has the ability to put up a lot of points and just maybe that will give head coach Dwane Casey a little more flexibility as he can play Jonas Valanciunas or Patrick Patterson with Sullinger and not lose his floor spacing, paint presence or defensive rebounding. Raptors fans will remember Sullinger’s 25 point 20 rebound game against Toronto.

“The basketball I.Q. is the biggest thing for me,” Ujiri said. “I love to talk about the picks he sets which will be great for our guys. He stretches the floor and he can play the four and the five.

“To be limited (by the salary cap) and to get a guy like this without having to move anybody, it fell in our lap. We got extremely lucky and we are extremely excited.”

“(Sullinger) is going to be our starting four guy,” Casey said on Sportsnet 590 The Jeff Blair Show. “Our goal is to get him and JV (Jonas Valanciunas) to mesh offensively and defensively.

“He has an opportunity to step in and solidify the power forward position.

“He is going to be able to play not only the four position, he is going to bounce over to the five. It is up to us to mesh he and JV and Patrick (Patterson) and our other bigs in that situation to get that rotation solidified.”

While there is absolutely nothing wrong with Sullinger’s skills, effort or all around play, weight issues have haunted him since he was drafted and he needs to get in better shape if he’s to take full advantage of his opportunity in Toronto.

“Jared is going to have to get out and guard some of the Kevin Loves of the Association and move his feet if guys like Chris Bosh comes back and guard guys out on the perimeter and he’s done that,” Casey said. “I’ve watched a lot of film on him and his charge – and he said it yesterday in his press conference – and it’s no secret that he has to get into the best condition of his career.”

The Raptors were lucky to get Sullinger. The Celtics had made him a restricted free agent and didn’t pull their qualifying offer until nearly all of the money available in free agency was gone. Sullinger was left to choose between playing for money on a bad team and taking the Raptors Mid Level exception to play in a winning situation. He chose winning and that says a lot about what’s important to this young man.

“It’s a winning situation,” Sullinger said. “If you look at history, you look at Masai’s track record, you will understand that those (other) offers were nice, but at the end of the day it’s all about winning and open opportunity and I see an open opportunity and I also see winning and that’s what made it a no-brainer.”

 

 

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 Bismack Biyombo and DeMar DeRozan

Six Things The Toronto Raptors Should Do This Summer 2016

The Toronto Raptors stated goal three years ago was to become relevant this past season. Mission accomplished. Now the goal is to build on their Eastern Conference Finals appearance and president and general manager Masai Ujiri has his work cut out for him. There are things he should do and things he must do if his team is to be better than the 56-win 2015-16 version.

Ujiri has already completed one of his top priorities by getting head coach Dwane Casey’s name inked to an extension, but as both parties were anxious to get something done, this didn’t come as a surprise.

“I think that’s very easy for us to figure out, that’ll be done in our sleep, I think,” Ujiri said shortly before the contract extension was announced.

When it comes to adding players, however, the summer of 2016 will not be like last year. This time Ujiri isn’t working with an abundance of salary cap room, counting first round draft picks and salary cap holds, he is basically working with no space at all. It’ll take every trick in the book to get what should be done accomplished this time.

1. Continuity

Ujiri signed up for the first stage in continuity by re-upping Casey, but there is more to it than that.

Continuity has played a big part in the Raptors success. Giving Casey the reins with a consistent message of defense first helps to keep this team focused beyond the court – in the draft, in free agency and with trades. Ujiri believes in acquiring players that fit with his head coach, players who will go with the program and accept the roles assigned to them. This team should – nay must – continue down the same path this summer.

Whomever Ujiri decides to add to this roster, they need to be a fit with Casey’s program.

2. The Draft – Up or Out

The Raptors hold the 9th and 27th picks in the 2016 NBA Draft and as Ujiri said at the end of the season, this team doesn’t need to add any more players that aren’t ready to help the team right away. He needs to make a move.

“I don’t know if it’s a draft where we can get somebody that will come and impact our team right away,” Ujiri said two days before the draft.

He’s right of course and Ujiri’s admitted they are talking to other teams about trading one or both of their draft picks. While it might not be possible to fully complete a trade at the draft if players under contract are involved, the Raptors should be looking to trade up or out of this draft.

It’s been reported that the Celtics, Suns, Timberwolves, Pelicans and Kings are all trying to trade their (better) lottery picks, so trading up and getting a player Casey could use in his rotation off the bench is a real possibility.

The Raptors need a high potential forward that Casey can develop in the NBA (as opposed to the D-League). Ujiri should be trying to move up to get Washington power forward Marquese Chriss or California forward Jaylen Brown.

3. Bring Back Bismack Biyombo

Bismack Biyombo was a free agent steal last summer, but like all good things, eventually you got to pay up to keep them. Biyombo, backing up Jonas Valanciunas, gave the Raptors two players who were dominant on the glass and made it possible for Toronto to win the battle of the boards most nights. Biyombo also covered for Valanciunas when the Raptors starting center was injured and the team just kept on winning.

There have been some crazy numbers thrown around about how much Biyombo will be able to command in free agency, as high as $17-20 million, but for a player with very limited offensive skills, that’s too high even this summer. However, he will command a salary north of $10 million per season even with the promised hometown discount to stay with his mentor – the Raptors GM Ujiri.

Biyombo says Ujiri told him he’d find a way to bring him back and anyone who follows the team should know if Ujiri says he’ll do something, it happens. The price will be a player or players that will have to be traded to create the salary cap space necessary.

4. Bring Back DeMar DeRozan

DeMar DeRozan says he’s coming back and the salary cap math says Ujiri has little choice but to make it happen as Toronto won’t have the room to go after anyone better. It may cause some fans to gag on paying DeRozan as much as $26.6 million per season, but his salary cap hold is just over $15 million, so with the right timing, Ujiri can do what he needs to elsewhere as long as DeRozan is last to ink a contract.

The longest serving Raptor in the organization, DeRozan is a huge part of the continuity that has created the current run of success and as the second leading scorer in the Eastern Conference, it isn’t a stretch to say DeRozan has earned a max deal. Besides, no one should be even slightly surprised if DeRozan leaves a little money on the table to re-sign with Toronto. He wants to be there and that’s important in a city that has struggled to hang onto it’s All-Stars in the past.

5. Be Willing To Let Go

Ujiri is loath to let any young player he’s developing escape, but with salary cap restrictions and an NBA roster size capped at 15 players, eventually push comes to shove and decisions have to be made.

Between Bruno Caboclo, Lucas Nogueira, Delon Wright and Norman Powell, only Powell cracked Casey’s rotation last season and he earned it. Powell’s style of play and skill-set fits with his head coach. The other guys may develop, but on a team looking to get back to the Eastern Conference Finals, that’s too many guys you really don’t know if they’ll be ready to help if needed.

If the Raptors end up drafting a player, then one of Caboclo, Nogueira or Wright need to be moved out. It wouldn’t be such a bad idea to move out one just to create room to add another veteran.

It’s time to re-evaluate Terrence Ross’ future with the Raptors. Ujiri signed him to a modest (under a $94 million salary cap) extension last summer starting at $10 million per season in July, so in a league looking for long range shooting, this career 38 percent three-point threat isn’t overpaid. However, he may have just lost most of his minutes to Powell next season.

Ross is an obvious trade candidate to create the salary cap space needed to retain Biyombo or as an attractive chip in a bigger deal. If only Ujiri can let him go.

6. Bring Back James Johnson

James Johnson has his supporters in the Raptors fanbase and when DeMarre Carroll was injured (twice), Johnson filled in and helped keep the 56-win season on track.

The 29-year-old combo forward has never been as good as he thinks he is and as a result, he brought a history of conflict with coaches past and present, but he’s matured and accepted his role in his latest (second) stint in Toronto.

Ujiri will likely have to rescind his rights early in the process as the Raptors work at completing more important deals, but bringing back Johnson with one of the minor exceptions or even a veteran’s minimum contract would likely pay dividends for the Raptors next season.

Guys get hurt, Johnson is versatile and stays ready to play. Every good team that goes deep in the playoffs needs guys like him on their bench and Johnson is a known quantity.

This summer is not like the summer of 2015. The Raptors are coming off a successful playoff run that didn’t include all of their best players firing on all cylinders. A healthy version of last year’s team should be noticeably better in 2016-17.

Continuity is the key, so retaining Biyombo and DeRozan should be the top priority. This team was second in the Eastern Conference and lost in six games in the Conference Finals with a banged up Carroll, Valanciunas and Lowry. Imagine what they could accomplish if they can get to next April with everyone back and healthy?

 

 

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.

 

 

 

Cory Joseph scrum 2015Six Things The Toronto Raptors Should Do This Summer 2015

The NBA All-Star Game is coming to Toronto in February and the Raptors want to be taken seriously – perhaps for the first time in franchise history.

 

 


NBA Toronto Raptors Masai Ujiri and Dwane Casey

I Told You Coach Casey Would Be Back, Raptors GM Reminds Media

Raptors president and general manager Masia Ujiri told the media head coach Dwane Casey would be back next season before the playoffs began and you’d think those click-bait producers would have been tired of second guessing the GM by now. If Ujiri says something, he means it.

“I sat here, I know everybody thought I was BSing when I said coach deserves to be the coach here,” Ujiri said at his season end presser.

“I’ve had discussions with his agent. I think that’s very easy for us to figure out, that’ll be done in our sleep, I think.”

Well not everybody thought Ujiri was BSing, it just makes for better click-bait. There is no one in the Toronto media that should be able to honestly say they don’t believe Ujiri means what he says after three seasons of consistency in the big chair.

Ujiri told the media Coach Casey has been tremendous for the Raptors at his pre-playoffs availability.

“I think Coach (Casey) has done a great job,” Ujiri said 20 games ago. “He’s been phenomenal. Whether it’s reading games or adjustments or just growth overall as a coach.

“I don’t know if we can base (anything) on what we do in the playoffs. We hope we are going to do well, but to us, you fail, you stand up, and you go back out (and) fight just like we did last year.

“Coach Casey deserves to be the coach. That’s 100 percent. I stand by that. He deserves to be our coach in the future because he’s put in the work to bring winning to our program.”

Winning a franchise record 56 games and setting a new franchise record for wins in a season for the third year in a row is an amazing accomplishment. No one has to like a coach or a player or a GM, but you are going to look long and hard to find another team that has progressed like the Raptors have under Casey.

Casey did make it easier for Ujiri to live up to his word by winning that first round playoff series with Indiana. His kiss on the top of Casey’s head after Game Seven and shouting “There goes that monkey” illustrated just how big the relief of finally winning a playoff series was, but this franchise was headed in the right direction before that. Casey had already earned a new contract. Playoff success just means he likely earned a bigger one.

It also provided an opportunity to take a shot back at the doubters. The predictions by the Toronto Sun of Casey’s imminent demise had the the Raptors lost their first round series to the Pacers brought out a “Don’t poke the bear” response from Casey after his team won.

“First of all, I want to see everybody’s stories that they wrote before the game,” Casey said. “I already told Bruce, back in Kentucky you want to make sure that that bear is dead laying there. If you want to poke it, you better make sure he’s dead.”

Neither Casey nor Ujiri are ones to hold a grudge with the media, they just aren’t above poking fun at them when the opportunity presents itself.

“I believed in this team is what I said before we went into that (Pacers) series,” Ujiri said. “You kind of know from your guys what you’ve gone through the whole regular season. You’ve been in fights and battles with them. I don’t know what the outcome is going to be. You really know where you can rely on them. Honestly, we knew this from these guys. They showed it to us the last three years. It’s why we keep going and going and trying and giving them the best opportunity and putting them in the best place that we can.”

Ujiri wanted Casey back, Casey wants to be back and the players definitely want Casey back. Like Ujiri says, “that (new contract) will be done in our sleep.”

 

 

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 Dwane Casey

Improbable Raptors Have Beat The Cavs And The Referees

By Frank McLean

What was considered improbable five days ago has happened, the Toronto Raptors have tied their Eastern Conference Final with the Cleveland Cavaliers at two games apiece.

The two wins the Raptors pulled off at home in the looney bin known as the Air Canada Centre has shown once again the resilience of these players that started in training camp in October and has extended to the first four games of what is turning into an epic Eastern Conference Final.

The fact that the Raptors in the last two games have not only had to play the Cleveland Cavaliers but the National Basketball Association referees and the feudal system that they operate on makes it even more amazing.

We take you back to the fourth quarter of Game Three Saturday night when the Raptors did not go to the free throw line once in the entire fourth quarter.

Afterwards in his postgame comments Raptors head coach Dwane Casey made it known three times that officials need to be consistent in their calls and he couldn’t understand how a team could not go to foul line for an entire quarter.

As a result of his comments the league fined Casey $25,000 for expressing an opinion that was not appreciated.

So what happens in the first half of Game Four?

The Cavaliers did not get whistled for a personal foul in the entire first quarter and they did not get a personal foul called against them until four minutes or so into the second quarter. The Raptors did not get to attempt a free throw in the entire first half, which going back to the fourth quarter of Game Three, meant they went three straight quarters without seeing the free throw line.

This is the way the NBA game officials operate. As far as I’m concerned the crew led by Monty McCutchen was sending a message to stop the bitching and that we can fix you.

Now I’m not saying they were trying to fix the game in Cleveland’s favor, but what I’m saying is that from what I have seen in the 21 years covering the league is that these guys – if they don’t like you – will try and to use their influence to effect the outcome of the game.

Let’s be honest here, if you think any team in the NBA, no matter what their won-loss record, can go three quarters without fouling anyone, then you believe in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy.

Now things got better in the second half, as the Raptors shot 14-19 from the free throw line, but it was the best scoring night ever from DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry combining for 67 points that meant the old Raptors are back.

What also has helped is that the Cavaliers three-point shooting has come back down to earth. In Games Three and Four, they were a combined 27-82 behind the arc.

Also Kevin Love’s disappearance, going 5-23 in Games Three and Four, and not playing in the fourth quarter Monday either because he was hurt from stepping on a referee’s foot or because he has just stunk for someone on a $100 million contract?

Regardless of what has been thrown at them, the Raptors have taken advantage of Cleveland’s mistakes they have used it to win two games in a row.

However, Cleveland still has the home court advantage, so the Raptors have to win a game in Northeast Ohio and they haven’t won a game in Quicken Loans Arena this season.

Which means that they probably have to do it Wednesday night and they will likely have to do it against both the Cavaliers and the NBA’s inconsistent officiating.

 

 

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.

 

 

 


 

Toronto Raptors Bismack Biyombo

Cavs Dahntay Jones Suspended, Raptors Coach Casey Fined

With respect to Game Three of the Eastern Conference Finals between the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Toronto Raptors, Kiki VanDeWeghe, NBA Executive Vice President, Basketball Operations announced the following disciplinary actions on Sunday.

Cavaliers guard Dahntay Jones has been suspended one game without pay for striking Toronto Raptors center Bismack Biyombo in the groin. The incident occurred with 17.6 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter of the Raptors’ 99-84 win over the Cavaliers in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals on May 21 at Air Canada Centre. Jones will serve his suspension on Monday, May 23 during Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals.

 

 

Raptors head coach Dwane Casey has been fined $25,000 for public criticism of officiating. Casey made his comments during the postgame press conference following the Raptors’ 99-84 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals on May 21 at Air Canada Centre.

 

 

 

 


NBA Toronto Raptors Jonas Valanciunas, Luis Scola, Kyle Lowry

The Raptors Lack Of Depth Is Showing

When you are going up against a team that has the highest payroll in the league and was in the NBA Finals last year, any deficiencies are going to be exposed and the Toronto Raptors started this season trying to build on their recent success with five players expected to spend a lot of time in the NBA Development League. It was never expected to take much for their lack of depth to start showing.

Just like in the regular season, Raptors head coach Dwane Casey has been juggling line-ups throughout the postseason due to various issues and injuries to his starters. While unexpected opportunities to play were a benefit to the team before the postseason, missing a starter or two as the competition ramps up in the playoffs isn’t as easy to work with.

“Our rhythm is off offensively because of our starters,” Casey said at shootaround prior to Game Two against the Cavaliers. “The guys that were with that (second) group are now starters. That’s one issue and so we are going to try to remedy that with different rotations, getting different guys in there to make sure we make up for that offensively because we do have some guys out of position.

“That happened in the second quarter (of Game One vs the Cavs), end of the first, start of the second last game.”

Early in the postseason Casey inserted Patrick Patterson in place of Luis Scola who had started all season. Patterson was playing more minutes off the bench than Scola during the regular season and Scola seems to have lost the shooting touch that made him so effective from three-point range this year, but Patterson’s shooting and defense has been badly missed in the second unit. Patterson’s absence from the second unit was noticeable long before Game One in Cleveland.

Then in the second round Jonas Valanciunas was hurt and Bismack Biyombo got the start. Another change and another hole when Casey goes to his bench.

Even losing rookie Norman Powell could be having an effect. He eventually took the starting small forward job when DeMarre Carroll was injured during the season, but fell out of the rotation altogether in the second round of the playoffs trying to guard Dwyane Wade and Joe Johnson. His energy is missing and could be a logical addition to play bigger minutes with Casey’s second unit in Game Two.

The easy and obvious change for Casey to consider is to return Scola to the starting unit and hope his veteran can give him 15 minutes of defense on Kevin Love. That way Patterson can bolster the second unit while still giving him 30 plus minutes and closing out each of the quarters.

The other benefit of returning Patterson to the second unit is it may help get Cory Joseph out of his funk. Joseph hasn’t looked good since the second unit was shaken up.

“Cory is not playing instinctively,” Casey said. ” The way he normally plays. He is thinking way too much.”

Joseph would almost certainly play better surrounded by the guys he was used to playing with during the regular season. He wouldn’t have to think so much, he’d know where his guys would be and what they can do.

No matter what Casey decides, his options are limited. Bruno Caboclo won’t dress. Valanciunas is still injured. Lucas Nogueira or Delon Wright would be desperation moves and Jason Thompson, while a veteran, just hasn’t played that much. As Casey likes to remind everyone, the Raptors are a work in progress.

A better effort is expected from Toronto in Game Two, however, there is only so much Casey can tweak with his rotation. The Raptors aren’t carrying a wealth of playoff tested veterans on the back end of their bench. To do that, you need to build your roster more like the Cavaliers.

 

 

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 Dwane Casey

Are You Ready To Believe In Raptors Head Coach Dwane Casey Now?

By Frank McLean

With the Toronto Raptors in the Eastern Conference Finals, are you ready to believe now?

So how did this happen? How did the Raptors finally go from pretender to contender?
It was one man, Dwane Casey.

“I still don’t think he gets a lot of the credit that he (Casey) deserves,” DeMar DeRozan said at shootaround in Cleveland. “He stuck to everything since day one. Casey hasn’t changed one bit. When you have a coach like that (who) sticks to what he thinks is right, it gets you here years later.”

What a difference 15 years makes.

Unlike game seven of the 2001 Eastern Conference Semi-Final in Philadelphia, no one on the Raptors had to attend their college graduation ceremony on the morning of what was then the biggest game in franchise history.

The seventh game 15 years later in Toronto with a different opponent, the Miami Heat, had no drama off the court. All of it was on the court and that’s what it should have been.

But who saw this happening, a fourth quarter blow out win which finally sees the 21-year old franchise making it to the conference finals and just four wins away from a shot at their first appearance in a championship final.

Maybe that’s getting a little carried away, but it’s a fact the Raptors are just four more wins away from a chance to play for the Larry O’Brien trophy. The words Toronto Raptors and NBA Champions have never been used together without people rolling on the floor with laughter.

Sunday’s 116-89 win finally moved this franchise from Canada from the punch line of a bad joke to a legitimate NBA contender. They made the final four and in the United States the way they look at sports no one takes you seriously until you are one of the final four teams standing. And with the NBA being a United States based league having just one team in another country, making the final four is the only way Canada is going to get any attention.

When Casey was brought to Toronto by former President and General Manager Bryan Colangelo in 2011 he was fresh from winning an NBA Championship as an assistant coach for Rick Carlisle’s Dallas Mavericks. He brought 16 years of NBA coaching experience with him including a year and a half as the head man in Minnesota. He knew the ingredient that makes you a contender in the NBA is defense first.

He also brought the patience to never deviate from the program and a belief in the players on his roster.

It showed right from the beginning of the playoffs against Indiana with the struggles of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. The shooting woes of the two Raptors guards was so well documented that a whole forest of trees was cut down to supply enough newsprint for sportswriters to write that these guys have to go.

Lowry was in the slumps of all slumps, he couldn’t make a basket and DeRozan well he just isn’t a playoff performer and if the Raptors sign him to max contract the person who does that should be fired or so said Toronto’s media naysayers.

Then duo combined for 63 of the Raptors 116 points in the Game Seven win over Miami. The winning formula for a Raptors has been, if the duo combine for 40 or more points, the Raptors win. “Empty the clip,” as Lowry explained earlier.

Every time you asked Casey about Lowry and DeRozan he would tell you that he never doubted they would get out of their funk and that “players like them don’t forget how to score, it’s like riding a bike you don’t forget how to do it.”

Casey will not sit on his laurels though and in his postgame comments Sunday he is still keeping his eye on the prize so to speak.

“I’m not a sentimental person,” Casey said. “For this program, from where we were to where we are, it’s important. We did what we set out to do. Again, we’re not done yet. I know what it’s like to win a championship and I’m not saying we can do that, but I think this group is hungry and never, say never. I know one thing our guys will compete and that’s all you can ask at this time, play hard, lay it all on the line for 48 minutes, no matter who is out there.

“Personally, it’s rewarding to see for our coaching staff, but we still have a series to go in the Eastern Conference.”

Also kudos have to go with current Raptors basketball head Masai Ujiri who could have let Casey go when he came on board. It’s the right of any new boss in sports to come in and bring in their own people. He didn’t and that’s a credit to Ujiri who saw that he already had his man to run the bench.

But like Casey said it’s not over yet, the next chapter is the Cleveland Cavaliers.

The pundits have this being another Cavaliers four game sweep and yes with this Raptors team being battered and bruised and missing their big man in middle Jonas Valanciunas, it’s going to be a lot tougher to go up against LeBron James.

The Cavaliers are on mission, they have unfinished business against the Golden State Warriors.

However, coach Casey will have his team ready to play with their usual defense first game plan and I wouldn’t bet on a four game Cleveland sweep.

Not with Dwane Casey running the show.

 

 

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 Masai Ujiri kisses Dwane Casey

Raptors Coach Casey Reminds Doubters Don’t Poke The Bear

The Toronto Raptors did what was expected of them by the rational followers of this team, defeating a tough Indiana Pacers team in Game Seven and advancing to play the Miami Heat in the second round on Tuesday back at the Air Canada Centre. An ecstatic president and general manager Masai Ujiri kissed head coach Dwane Casey on the head just after his coach reminded the doubting local media they should make sure the bear is dead before they poke it.

“First of all, I want to see everybody’s stories that they wrote before the game,” Casey said. “I already told Bruce, back in Kentucky you want to make sure that that bear is dead laying there. If you want to poke it, you better make sure he’s dead. I think everybody wrote the Raptors off and gave us up for dead, but that locker room is full of fighters and scrappers and guys that are really getting into it. Again, as I told them it’s a marathon, but I’m happy for those young men in there. I read some of the stuff, now only here but around the Country about how Indiana was going to win and the Raptors were going to do this. I love that because I think our guys use that as motivation, use it as fuel to fight, to scrap.”

Bruce Arthur, who Casey was pointing out had wrote, “Sunday is a referendum”

However, prior to the game Steve Simmons of the Toronto Sun was suggesting Casey would be fired with a loss in Game Seven.

Dwane Casey understands the tightrope walk he is on and how wobbly Game 7 has made his future. He is all too aware of the business of his game and how quickly perception can change.

Lose and maybe he gets the Bruce Boudreau treatment, the see-you-later handshake, fired after five seasons of increasing wins and, with them, expectations.

Ignoring the massive backlash the Raptors ownership, primarily Rogers, would face if they had the nerve to mess with another of their sports properties management teams after what has gone on with the Blue Jays this season, the Sun’s Ryan Wolstat piled on, talking about the fate of certain players in addition to predicting Casey and even Ujiri’s possible demise.

Despite Ujiri’s pre-playoff vote of confidence and playing down of expectations, it is impossible to imagine Casey would be back, even though he deserves to be.

– there is no doubt it will be a referendum.

On DeMar DeRozan. On Kyle Lowry. On Dwane Casey, Terrence Ross and even Masai Ujiri

Sportsnet’s Micheal Grange asked the question without answering it,

Tomorrow night matters.

It matters for all kinds of reasons. Casey’s contract is up and DeRozan will be a free agent this summer

If the Raptors fall short again what follows will be an extraordinary test of Ujiri’s vision and patience.

To say there was no pressure on Casey and the Raptors players would be beyond misleading, the pressure of Game Seven was intense and Ujiri didn’t just kiss Casey afterwards, he was heard shouting, “There goes that monkey.” Until a team wins a seven game playoff series, they haven’t done it. The Raptors should be better in the future because of this win.

Coach Casey has won more games each season since he took over five years ago and for the first time in franchise history, the Raptors won more than 50 games in a season and finished higher than third place in their conference. Things have never been this good for basketball in Toronto, so not surprisingly, Ujiri made it unequivocally clear that Casey would be back next season no matter what happened in the postseason and he was pleased with the progress of his team.

After taking a team to a completely unforeseen 56 win regular season, you’d think the guy would have earned a little slack and a lot of respect from the media that covers him. Ujiri has always said what he meant, and meant what he said. Win or lose, Casey’s job wasn’t on the line in Game Seven against the Pacers.

Winner of the Professional Basketball Writers Association 2015-16 Rudy Tomjanovich Award, which honors a coach for his cooperation with the media and fans, as well as his excellence on the court, Casey has a good relationship with the local media. He can poke the media bear and get away with it because of the effort he puts into being available and cooperative. Sometimes it hard to figure out why the media wants to poke back?

 

 

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