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NBA Toronto Raptors Kyle Lowry

Raptors Kyle Lowry Has A Sore Back And A Double Tech

Toronto was set for an easy night when the Wizards All-Star point guard John Wall couldn’t play because of a sprained shoulder, but unfortunately the Raptors All-Star point guard Kyle Lowry ran onto the court with a massive wrap looking suspiciously like an ice-pack on his lower back during the pregame warm-ups and that should have been taken as a clue that the home team’s advantage wasn’t going to be all the big after all.

“He’s had some soreness in his back,” Raptors head coach Dwane Casey responded to Pro Bball Report’s query after the game.

Lowry didn’t look right in his 12 minutes of action against the Wizards. He went 0-4 from the field, leaving his layups short, even below the rim and it didn’t take long before he started taking his frustration out on the referees. While he had a bit of a case about non-calls, it did look like he was trying to get thrown out despite the protestations from his head coach.

“I thought it was unfortunate,” Casey said. “People have said worse than that. They’ve said worse, far worse than what he said to the official.”

Casey is probably right that the official should have just walked away, but it looked like Lowry was trying to get ejected and it probably felt that way to the official as well.

Later it was discovered Lowry was using a heating pad rather than ice. It would be safe to assume he was trying to loosen up those stiff sore muscles in his lower back prior to the game.

Unfortunately this isn’t the first time Lowry has suffered through back problems. At the end of the 2014-15 season he missed nine games with back spasms and admitted or not, his back was obviously still bothering him in his very rough first round playoff series with these same Wizards.

A sore back really isn’t anything all that usual in the NBA, but it can become a concern if things don’t improve and it isn’t something that can just be ignored. A sore back hurts and affects your ability to do just about everything, just ask anyone who has ever had one.

Now that the issue has been brought to light, it is something everyone concerned about the Raptors fortunes should be paying attention to.

 

 

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

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Kyle Lowry

Can Kyle Lowry Get Back To Playing Like An All-Star?

Anyone in Toronto could easily make the argument that the Raptors would have kicked off the 2017-18 season 6-1 or 7-0 instead of 4-3 if Kyle Lowry was hitting shots, but just like last season, the All-Star point guard is having trouble finding the bottom of the net early on.

“I got to make them,” Lowry said after a disappointing loss to the Warriors. “I am not shooting a great percentage right now, but I’m going to keep shooting. At the end of the day I know my shots are going to fall. Every shot I took tonight felt good and was in and out, but it happens.”

If Lowry had of been hot from three instead of brick-laying a 2-8 in San Antonio and 1-8 at Golden State, the Raptors would have been the talk of the NBA right about now.

However, slow starts are not anything new for Lowry. Last year he shot 28.6 percent from three over the first nine games before turning things around to hit over 43 percent the rest of the way, earn his third All-Star nod and share top spot in the East with Isaiah Thomas by averaging 3.2 three-point makes a game for the season.

The best news for Lowry as he figures things out is the Raptors have been on a six game Western Conference road trip, the Toronto Maple Leafs continue getting most of the local media attention and the World Series was a huge distraction. It’s likely few fans in Toronto have even noticed.

After that tough shooting night against the Warriors things were looking up for Lowry as he shot 3-7 from three and laid a triple-double on Lakers rookie Lonzo Ball and then a double-double while shooting 3-6 from three in Portland in a pair of Raptors road wins. Unfortunately Lowry and the rest of his teammates then laid an egg (Lowry going 1-5 from deep) in a very disappointing loss to the Nuggets.

“We didn’t play well,” Lowry said after the loss in Denver. “I put a lot of the blame on myself.”

The end result for Lowry has been he’s still shooting under 32 percent from three and just over 37 percent from the field on the season. The Raptors are lucky to have two wins in five tries on this road trip with their best player still trying to find some consistency.

The good news has been Lowry’s shooting woes haven’t impacted the rest of his game. If anything, the veteran point guard has been playing harder as evidenced by his grabbing rebounds at a rate that’s better than a lot of forwards. Hauling in 5.7 rebounds per game tops anyone on the Raptors not listed as a center.

If the effort continues, there’s a good chance Toronto return from this long road trip salvaging a 3-3 record against Western Conference teams.

So if Lowry can find the range on his three-point shot by the time the Raptors start a three game home stand on November 5th, there’s a decent chance no one will even remember or care about his early season shooting struggles again this year.

 

  

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

 

 

 

 

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

The Best Big 3s In The NBA East

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

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

Your Big 3s for this season are:

Boston Celtics – last year 53 wins

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

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

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

Cleveland Cavaliers – last year 51 wins

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

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

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

Toronto Raptors – last year 51 wins

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

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

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

Washington Wizards – last year 49 wins

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

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

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

The Best?

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

Best Scoring Big 3

1st: Cavs 74.3 points

2nd: Raptors 64.5 points

3rd: Celtics 61.1 points

4th: Wizards 59.6 points.

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

Best Rebounding Big 3

1st: Cavs 22.4 rebounds

2nd: Raptors 16.8 rebounds

3rd: Celtics 15.4 rebounds

4th: Wizards 13.7 rebounds

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

Most Big 3 Assists

1st: Cavs 16.5 assists

2nd: Wizards 15.7 assists

3rd: Celtics 14.3 assists

4th: Raptors 11.8 assists

Best Big 3 Field Goal Percentage

1st: Cavs 48.2 percentage

2nd: Wizards 47.8 percent

3rd: Celtics 47.4 percent

4th Raptors 46.9 percent

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

Best Big 3 Three-point Shooting

1st: Cavs 7.3 makes at 37.2 percent

2nd: Wizards 5.9 makes at 39.3 percent

3rd: Celtics 5.8 makes at 39.2 percent

4th: Raptors 5.2 makes at 38.5 percent

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

Wild Card

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

Conclusion

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

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

 

  

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

 

 

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry

ESPN Flip Flops On Whether Raptors Will Win 50 Games

In perhaps the most obvious face saving move ESPN could make after their Summer Forecast had the Toronto Raptors going 47-35 next season and ending up in a fourth place tie, they produce a panel that flip flops on that doubtful prediction.

Chris Forsberg, ESPN.com: As long as Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan are healthy, the Raptors have a chance for 50 or more wins in an underwhelming East.

Chris Herring, FiveThirtyEight.com: unless injuries get in the way like they did last season — when Lowry missed 22 games and DeRozan missed 12 — it’s hard to see how the Raptors don’t approach, or eclipse, the 50-win mark yet again.

How does a team with two returning 3x All-Stars not win 50 games in the East this year?

Put in a call to Captain Obvious, he’s being paged by ESPN.

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Kyle Lowry, Serge Ibaka and C.J. Miles

Myth American Athletes Pay More Tax In Toronto Could Come True

It wasn’t all that long ago Crowe Soberman (actual tax experts) blew away the myth American athletes pay more tax in Toronto than their counterparts playing in the United States. At least it wasn’t true in the major markets located in New York and California where players paid virtually the same as in Toronto despite the uneducated bleating from some of the talking heads in the US and Canadian sports media. Unfortunately things never stay the same and recently things have gotten worse for all high income earners in We The North.

Co-leaders in the Sports and Entertainment Group Adam Scherer and Jeffrey Steinberg updated the Crowe Soberman articles of a couple of years ago to reflect the changes.

For starters, the Prime Minister of Canada has wielded his tax sword and raised rates in Canada by 4%.

Canada’s top rate of tax of 53.5% versus 39.6% (US) Federal, plus state

From a tax perspective, states with no income tax (i.e., Texas) will yield the lowest overall tax result

Playing in Ontario is now the worst

followed closely by California

It sounds bad, but on closer inspection, despite the significant change in Canadian tax rates, things haven’t really got all that much worse yet.

If one follows the rationale provided by the tax experts in some detail and then skips to numbers provided as there is no way someone who isn’t expert in these matters will have a chance at actually doing it themselves, it has only gotten slightly worse for those athletes playing north of the border.

Playing in California (and by inference New York), American athletes will only cough up about one percent less in taxes than Toronto. While one percent can represent hundreds of thousands of dollars to a big NBA star like say the Raptors Kyle Lowry or DeMar DeRozan, it isn’t going to affect their decision about where to play.

The bigger savings are in the tax free states such as Florida or Texas which can cut about four percent off the taxes of a Toronto player in Crowe Soberman’s example. That’s over a million dollars a year for player like Lowry or DeRozan and it’s possible that would be enough to get some stars to change their minds about where to play.

The good news for fans in Toronto is players are still, for the most part, picking where they want to go based on winning, ownership, coaching, and lifestyle. Players continue to give up money for other factors all the time. Remember, it costs a lot more in tax to play in California over Texas and the Warriors aren’t exactly having any trouble getting the biggest names in their sport to re-up or switch teams to play there.

However, there remains a dark tax cloud on the northern horizon as Scherer and Steinberg point out.

cuts to Medicare and personal tax rates seem to be (US President Donald Trump’s) personal goal

So far Trump hasn’t been able to get out of his own way during his first year in office and that’s good news for Toronto’s professional sports franchises, but that isn’t something teams can count on over the rest of his first term. A significant cut to the top US personal tax rate could change a slight disadvantage into a significant problem, so as usual, Canada’s neighbor to the south could turn a myth into a reality overnight.

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

#NBA Toronto Raptors Kyle Lowry DeMar DeRozan CJ Miles Serge Ibaka

Are We Underestimating The Toronto Raptors Again?

Coming off back-to-back 50-plus win seasons and in an Eastern Conference that’s bleeding talent West, is everyone underestimating the stand pat Toronto Raptors again?

The Raptors will head into the 2017-18 NBA season with their All-Star core of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan intact, but with no outside huge free agent signings or trades bringing in new big time talent, this team has gotten a collective yawn for what they’ve done in July.

There’s no argument here about the less than exciting off season in Toronto. The big news has been Lowry didn’t bolt for the West with everyone else and Serge Ibaka really did want to come to Toronto as reported at the trade deadline in February.

Their other trade deadline acquisition, P.J. Tucker, we hardly got to know you, opted for Houston early in free agency and president Masai Ujiri didn’t even try to re-sign the defensively talented but offensively frustrating Patrick Patterson. Important role players to be sure, but hardly irreplaceable and the lack of off season excitement continued.

The addition of a real three-point threat in veteran wing/forward C.J. Miles was a solid acquisition, but not a star.

Ujiri’s summer has been all about getting below the Luxury Tax threshold while trying not to take a step backwards and in that narrow context, no one is arguing with the result, but in the disappointment of not trying to make the team dramatically better by spending more, did Ujiri succeed in putting together a roster that is better than last season?

In short, painfully, yes.

Two of Ujiri’s biggest off season moves were salary dumps.

  1. DeMarre Carroll, don’t let the door hit you on the way out, took two draft picks to get the Nets to take him and,
  2. Cory Joseph, who’ll be missed mostly because he’s a nice Canadian kid who everyone liked.

These moves cleared the space below the luxury tax threshold to sign the Pacers very solid three-point shooting veteran free agent Miles and make no mistake, Miles at forward will be light-years ahead of what Carroll gave the team over the past two seasons.

Small forward and backup point guard

Carroll: 72 games, 26.1 minutes, 8.9 points, 3.8 rebounds, 4.4 three-point attempts per game at 34.1 percent and a whole lot of missed or poorly played games due to injury. “3-and-D” was more like iffy D and no 3 as the expensive forward rehabbed as he played.

Miles: 76 games, 23.4 minutes,10.7 points, 3 rebounds, 5.4 three-point attempts per game at 41.3 percent. An overall better journeyman forward at half the price of Carroll. The Raptors finally have a player that’s among the NBA’s best at the corner three-ball.

At backup point guard, it was just time to let the young guys move up a step by sending Joseph to another team,

NBA Toronto Raptors backup PG stats 2016-17

Joseph’s only faults were he made more money than either Delon Wright or Fred VanVleet and while the two guys playing behind him were getting better, Joseph hadn’t really improved since being signed two summers ago.

It’s not for sure, but the Raptors are probably a better team with Wright backing up Lowry.

Power forward

It’s easy to forget Ibaka was only part of the Raptors for 23 regular season games and Lowry was injured for almost all of them. The full impact of having Ibaka on the roster has yet to be seen.

It’s also easy to forget that the Raptors played most of last season without the power forward a 50-win team should have in their starting lineup. Rookie Pascal Siakam undoubtedly got a lot out of starting 38 games for the Raptors, but substituting in Ibaka is like an order of magnitude improvement.

The Raptors went 16-7 in the regular season with Ibaka and Lowry just trying to play himself back into shape over his last three games. The record says a lot about what Ibaka added to his new team. The likelihood of Toronto having a 50-win season without Lowry for a month and a half wasn’t very good.

Center

The move that didn’t happen was the departure of Jonas Valanciunas. In a league moving away from traditional centers, it’s still important to have one just in case you need an answer to a player like the Bucks Greg Monroe.

Valanciunas may or may not ever fully adapt to the changing ways in the NBA, but as he showed in the Milwaukee series, when you need a big traditional center, you had better have one.

Heading into his sixth NBA season, Valanciunas can probably average a double-double in 24 minutes as a starter or a reserve, so while he’s likely still an available trade piece, Ujiri isn’t about to just give him away.

“We believe in JV’s talent. I want everybody to know that,” Ujiri said. “You can say the style of play in the NBA is going in one direction, but we also believe in offensive rebounding and he’s really good at that.

“We are not trying to give JV away.”

The Rest?

Maybe everyone just forgot? But last year the Raptors had seven guys on rookie deals and the veteran Ujiri signed for depth (as a starter), Jared Sullinger, effectively ended his season before it started with a broken foot. Proven depth was almost nonexistent for the 51-win Raptors.

This year Ujiri could have 10 guys on rookie deals, but,

  1. Lucas Nogueira is in his fourth season and played in 57 games last year.
  2. Norman Powell is in his third season and will be fighting for a deserved spot in the starting rotation. He’s not a rookie or just a “young guy” anymore.
  3. Wright looks ready to takeover at backup point guard. In fact, he looked ready last year.
  4. Jakob Poeltl deserves more run, but as long as JV is around, there aren’t many minutes.
  5. It’s possible the NBA G League Finals MVP Pascal Siakam took a big step over the summer. He’s played in 55 NBA games and seems to have the potential to stick around long term.
  6. As is often the case, there is some excitement over new rookie OG Anunoby, but predicting what you’ll get out of any rookie is a crap shoot.

The Raptors are deeper than last year because the young players from last year gained some real experience and are expected to be better.

As Basketball Insiders 

While the Celtics added the top available free agent and the Cavaliers appear to be unraveling at the seams, the ever-reliable Raptors just kept things exactly the same.
All in all, the recapture of Lowry and Ibaka likely won’t lead to an NBA Finals appearance anytime soon, but it’s a strong indication that the franchise’s newfound success will continue until further notice.

Unless the Cavs implode, no other team in the NBA East including the Celtics will be given a shot at making an NBA Finals appearance, so it’s hard to argue with 

 

 

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

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Kyle Lowry

Kyle Lowry Comes Home To The Raptors

Kyle Lowry got his salary and president Masai Ujiri got his term as the Toronto Raptors re-acquired their free agent All-Star point guard on a three-year $100 million deal.

It’s more money per year than most analysts were expecting Lowry could command, but it only commits Toronto to Lowry until age 34 when he should still be still playing his best basketball. A compromise to be sure that matches the contract terms of DeMar DeRozan (player option) and Serge Ibaka.

Ensuring no one had any doubt after the fact that Toronto was where he wanted to be, Lowry posted “Home” on The Players Tribune.

When I had to make my free-agency decision, there was a lot going through my head, a lot of roads my mind was traveling down. Family, first and foremost, and what’s going to make them happy, and give them the best life. Basketball, of course, and where I’d like to play for these next several years. And then there was also the gut-check aspect — just what I was feeling in my heart.

But for me, at the end of the day, this was an easy decision. And all of those roads … they all led me back to the same place: home.

They all led me back to Toronto.

The ability to re-sign All-Star DeMar DeRozan last summer and All-Star Kyle Lowry this summer is something Raptors would have been hard pressed to even imagine before the Masai Ujiri era started in Toronto.

Add in Serge Ibaka agreeing to re-up for another three years and there is almost a semblance of hope that this organization will not slide back into another long dark stretch as an NBA Lottery team with little hope every time a key free agent has the option to leave.

Ujiri can get good players to re-up in Toronto and he can do it on reasonable terms. Now if only he could get his corporate masters at MLSE to open the vault and let him spend the kind of money that needs to be committed to have more than a ghost of a chance at reaching the NBA Finals. But, maybe, one thing at a time.

 

 

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

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry

Jrue Holiday Signing Sets A Floor Under Kyle Lowry

The Pelicans didn’t waste any time getting veteran point guard Jrue Holiday to commitment to stay long term in New Orleans with a five-year deal that could pay upwards of $150 million. Don’t think the Raptors Kyle Lowry hasn’t noticed, he’s better than Holiday, so that deal sets the floor.

The 27-year-old Holiday averaged 15.4 points, 3.9 rebounds, 7.3 assists, 1.5 steals and shot 35.6 percent from three point range. He’s good, but not Kyle Lowry good.

Lowry is older at 31-years-old, but he is the heart and sole of the Raptors and one of the top offensive guards in the Association. He averaged 22.4 points, 4.8 rebounds, 7.0 assists, 1.5 steals and shot an outstanding 41.2 percent from three.

Lowry is four years older, but don’t tell him that. He still sees a long career ahead and if it’s durability that comes into question, Holiday has averaged 51.5 games played per season over the past four years, while Lowry has averaged 71.5 games over the same period.

President Masai Ujiri knows what he’s got in the combination of DeMar DeRozan and Lowry. These guards have led the Raptors to home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs for four years straight and that has meant a lot of extra money in the pockets of team owner Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment.

Last summer DeRozan re-signed for five years and $137.5 million with a player option in year five. That has to be the ceiling Ujiri would like to get to, but that maybe optimistic in light of what Holiday got.

Lowry is a proud and competitive guy. Taking less money than a player he knows he’s better than is going to be hard to swallow and Ujiri knows it.

The two sides met last night and the odds are they will come to a new deal in short order and it’s likely neither side ends up being 100 percent happy, but don’t worry about Lowry. The great grandkids he can’t imagine yet won’t be missing any meals.

 

 

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 Serge Ibaka and Masai Ujiri and Kyle Lowry

Canada Day Is A Referendum On The Raptors

As Canada celebrates it’s 150th year as a Country on July 1st, free agency opens and the Toronto Raptors face a referendum as an NBA franchise where players want to be and where a very wealthy ownership group is willing to spend … or not. The big party in the North may dominate the local news coverage for a time, but there will be no hiding from the results of the referendum on the Raptors.

The Raptors, finally, for the first time in franchise history, are a very good team, maybe not a genuine NBA Finals contender yet, but a real Eastern Conference Finals contender that with a little or a lot of luck (bad luck luck on the Cleveland Cavaliers part) could have snuck into the NBA Finals in each of the past two years.

All that is in jeopardy on July 1st as the Raptors have four key rotation players entering unrestricted free agency which means the players will decide where they want to play next season and all president Masai Ujiri can do is offer them a contract and try to talk them into coming back.

Three-time All-Star Kyle Lowry, three-time NBA All-Defensive first team big man Serge Ibaka, and veteran ‘3-and-D’ combo forwards P.J. Tucker and Patrick Patterson will decide if they want to play in Toronto next season.

ESPN currently puts the odds of the Raptors winning an NBA Title at 80:1, behind the Bucks and Timberwolves, tied with the Heat, Pelicans and (are they crazy) 76ers. It’s obvious how ESPN believes the referendum on the Raptors will turn out.

However, ESPN is better known in Canada for seeming to forget Toronto even has an NBA franchise. Attempts in recent years by the Raptors to keep their own free agents have gone pretty well.

Lowry was traded to the Raptors in the summer of 2012 and had to fight his way into the starting line-up. A cranky player with a huge chip on his shoulder who always seemed to be in conflict with head coach Dwane Casey, Ujiri got Lowry to re-up in free agency during the summer of 2014 on a team friendly contract.

All that’s happened with Lowry since then is he’s become an All-Star on a playoff team that’s been to the Eastern Conference Finals and is desired and respected around the league. DeMar DeRozan has become his best friend and their families are tight, so ESPN, explain exactly why he’s not re-signing again this summer?

Patrick Patterson came to Toronto in a trade deadline deal in 2013 and re-signed with the Raptors on a very team friendly contract in 2014. After bouncing around the league in unpalatable situations, all he’s done in Toronto is go to the playoffs every year and play for a head coach that obviously supports him.

There is a risk if the Raptors re-sign their other three free agents that Ujiri doesn’t have a big enough budget to re-acquire Patterson, but it won’t be because Patterson doesn’t want to be in Toronto.

Ibaka and Tucker were 2017 trade deadline moves, so it’s harder to make a call about how badly they want to return, however, all indications are they are interested and they were key pieces of Casey’s rotation.

However, wanting to return and re-signing these unrestricted free agents may not coincide unless Ujiri really does have the ability to commit the Raptors to a massive increase in payroll next season. While he may not have to outbid other teams, he can’t insult these guys with below market bids either.

This referendum is as much about the Raptors ownership group being willing to spend the money they have and can easily afford to invest in these players as it is about Raptors free agents interest in playing for Toronto.

In light of other recent news, this referendum could have bigger implications than just whether some key players are back or not.

The Knicks have finally addressed the disaster that was Phil Jackson and the New York media has focused in on Masai Ujiri as the executive who could put this storied franchise back on track.

Ignoring the fact Ujiri is still under contract to the Raptors and the Knicks would have to: a) ask for permission to talk to him; b) pay some serious compensation in draft picks and dollars; and, c) bribe Ujiri to leave with an outrageous contract, this isn’t an impossible scenario.

Imagine Ujiri is handcuffed by the Raptors ownership and the promised budget that is supposed to allow him to pay significant luxury tax dollars next season isn’t there. His free agents walk, the Raptors are thrust into a rebuilding program, and Ujiri is seriously embarrassed with what he was forced to offer players he has built close relationships with.

In one act of putting profits ahead of winning and player relations, the Raptors turn back the clock and once again become a team players can’t wait to leave.

What has been a very stable Raptors franchise over the past four years: general manager, coach Casey, Lowry and DeRozan could all be at risk. This is one referendum the Raptors can’t afford to lose.

 

 

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

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Kyle Lowry and P.J. Tucker and Serge Ibaka

Six Things The Raptors Should Do This Summer

The Toronto Raptors have won over 50 games in back-to-back seasons for the first time in franchise history and both times they were easily eliminated in the playoffs by the Cleveland Cavaliers. Everyone is predicting another Cavs – Dubs rematch in the NBA Finals again next year, so, in that light, what are six things the Raptor should be doing this summer?

President Masai Ujiri says the goal is to get past the Cavs and win an NBA championship, but to be blunt, every NBA GM says they want to win a championship and almost none of them have any reasonable expectation of accomplishing it next season or even in the foreseeable future.

By any historical measure, Toronto has nothing to be upset about. This team has succeeded on the court while Ujiri has handicapped his head coach with quite literally half a roster of inexperienced, inexpensive players under development. The building is sold out and the organization is raking in the cash from 16 home playoff dates over the past two postseason runs. But for injury, the Raptors could have easily set a fourth consecutive record for franchise wins in a season last year.

This summer will be different. The team has four key unrestricted free agents that they should have no trouble hanging onto if Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment (MLSE) will open their checkbook, but that would end the days of modest payroll and huge profits. What the Raptors should do for their fans and will do for their corporate masters may not be on the same page.

1. Re-sign Kyle Lowry (31-years-old), unrestricted free agent

Everything this summer for the Raptors revolves around re-signing Lowry. If Ujiri screws this up, the rest of free agency will quickly circle the drain.

The Raptors need to get the best deal possible and hopefully that’s in the order of four years and $120 million, but if if takes five years and $150 million plus to get it done, well, it’s time the Raptors started spending some of that money they’ve made off of their loyal fans.

2. Re-sign Serge Ibaka (28) and P.J. Tucker (32), unrestricted free agents

Ujiri said he traded for these two players at the trade deadline in February in order to get their Bird Rights. Well the only reason you need a player’s Bird Rights in free agency is so you can go over the salary cap to re-sign them, so get it done.

This is no time to cheap out. Ibaka wants to be in Toronto, but he isn’t going to take a below market deal, so offer Ibaka five years and $100 million. Tucker said he was looking for fit in his next contract and Lowry would be a big factor in determining that, but he’s 32-years-old, offer Tucker three years and $25 million and be prepared to go higher.

Failure to re-sign Ibaka and Tucker means Ujiri gave away a young three-point shooter in Terrence Ross, a first round draft pick and two second round draft picks for nothing.

3. See what the market says UFA Patrick Patterson’s (28) value is

Over the past four years the Raptors have played better as a team with Patterson on the court, but he has proven to be an unreliable offensive threat who seems to get hurt at the worst time and his limited offense takes a holiday after returning from injury.

Patterson didn’t do himself any favors in the playoffs over the past two seasons either as this career average 36.8 percent three-point shooter fired 30.2 percent from deep over his last 30 postseason games.

From a Raptors perspective, it would be nice to re-sign Patterson to another cheap three-year deal to continue coming off the bench, but like Bismack Biyombo last summer, expect Patterson to get paid a lot more elsewhere than he’s worth to Toronto.

Get ready to say bye-bye to a great guy in July.

4. Trade DeMarre Carroll

Despite not living up to some very high expectations or his contract, Carroll has done nothing wrong in Toronto and it’s likely his knee will finally be 100 percent and he’ll return to being an effective ‘3-and-D’ combo forward next season.

It’s just, at 31-years-old in July, after two disappointing seasons in Toronto, he’s in the way of younger players and it’s time to move on and potentially help a different (younger?) team that needs what he should still be able to bring to the table.

Ujiri can’t expect much back and he might have to include him in a larger deal just to move him. However, the Luxury tax savings alone should make a trade for nothing back worthwhile from a corporate standpoint. From a team standpoint, he should be able to do a little better.

5. Trade Jonas Valanciunas

Valanciunas can probably improve his jump shooting dramatically and within a couple of years become that trailing three-point threat on the fast break who is left wide open. However, he’ll never be decent runner and his lack of quickness will continue to challenge him when guarding on the perimeter.

Given 30 minutes a night, JV can almost guarantee a double-double average, so he should have solid trade value as one of the top rebounders in the NBA on a percentage basis and a still improving player on offense.

Unfortunately for Valanciunas, if the rookie Jakob Poeltl continues improve over the summer and Ibaka is re-signed, Poeltl should be able to just take JV’s minutes at a much lower cost.

To fit with the direction Ujiri seems to be taking this team, he needs to get back a more mobile big man with a better jump shot or a solid ‘3-and-D’ forward.

6. Reduce The Number Of Prospects On The 15 Man Roster

While there should be no objection to Ujiri drafting the injured small forward OG Anunoby with the 23rd pick in June, there should be huge concerns about heading into the 2017-18 season with eight players still on their rookie deals.

Of those eight players,

As the most sure-fire young player on the Raptors, Norman Powell is ready to take on a much bigger role this season. Depending on what other moves Ujiri makes this summer, Powell could be starting. He’s earned it.

Jacob Poeltl needs a spot in the rotation somewhere as he is far too good to get anything out of being sent back to the Raptors 905.

Ujiri needs to decide if it’s going to be Delon Wright or Fred VanVleet assuming the third string point guard duties next season. Both are promising young players, but he needs that roster spot to improve the team’s depth elsewhere. So, pick one.

Between Bruno Caboclo, Pascal Siakam, Lucas Nogueira and Anunoby, Ujiri needs to start making decisions about who he believes in and who he is just hanging on to out of hope. At least one of these guys should be available in trade to make room for a more NBA ready player or just simply to grease a trade.

The Raptors have two new quasi-roster spots available (total 17) on two-way deals this season that don’t count against the salary cap. Use them and get the prospects on the 15-man roster down to a more manageable number.

Conclusion

The Raptors need to follow the plan Ujiri created when he traded for Ibaka and Tucker at the trade deadline this past season. Everything follows from there.

Whether the roster Ujiri manages to put together will be good enough to get past the Cavs or not, Raptors fans deserve the best team possible, even if that squeezes MLSE’s profits.

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Masai Ujiri and Kyle Lowry

Kyle Lowry Still Working Out At Raptors Practice Facility

This is the “silly season” in the NBA as unsubstantiated rumors are everywhere ahead of the draft and free agency and the notably quiet Toronto Raptors are not immune. While unrestricted free agent Kyle Lowry has been rumored to be unhappy and heading home to Philadelphia to play for the 76ers or somehow joining the over the cap Spurs in San Antonio, the All-Star point guard has been working out at the Raptors practice facility in Toronto.

“Kyle (Lowry) has been here working out and he actually just left (the practice facility),” Raptors president Masai Ujiri told the media on Tuesday. “I know what he has been telling me. I know I believe what he tells me, not the famous sources.”

After a recent article in the local media, Lowry felt compelled to respond.

“(Kyle Lowry) has been a part of our organization and he says he wants to come back,” Ujiri said. “I know speculation. We all have ups and downs. There are times when he’s been down. There are times when we are down. It happens to every team, every player. People go thru it. This is rumor season and everybody is going to make a big deal out of (everything).”

At the end-of-season media availability Lowry was asked if he’d be back next season and he diplomatically ducked the direct question, but he did say something that pertains directly to what’s happening today.

“I’ll be here (in Toronto) until June 14th, until (his son Carter’s) last day of school,” Lowry said. “So we’ll be here enjoying, once it gets a little bit warmer, enjoying this great weather.”

Not only is it a week later than necessary to be in Toronto, it’s only 10 days until free agency opens up and apparently he’s been hanging around with the Raptors the whole time.

While there are no guarantees and Ujiri admits, “there are probably five different scenarios we’ve looked at” heading into the draft and free agency, the longer Lowry sticks around in Toronto, the easier it is going to be to get his commitment to stay.

When Lowry was an unrestricted free agent three years ago, he received interest from the Heat, Lakers, Rockets and Mavs, but held off until the morning to meet with the Raptors and supposedly turned down more money from other teams. His reasons then are the same reasons he should be expected to re-up in Toronto once again.

“I don’t make a decision if I don’t have the support of my family. It just doesn’t happen,” Lowry said.

“Our locker room everyone pretty much everyone has young guys, young kids and we get a chance to talk about your kids and we get a chance to take a break from basketball and know that life is bigger than just basketball. Life is more about your family, your kids and it always makes you smile.”

In reality, nothing has changed over the last three years except maybe his relationships with his teammates have gotten stronger.

 

 

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

 

 
 

NBA Toronto Raptors Kyle Lowry and P.J. Tucker and Serge Ibaka

Raptors Should Be Judged By Luxury Taxes In 2018

Whether or not a team in the NBA East is serious about being an NBA Finalist will be judged by Luxury Taxes next season and the Toronto Raptors are not an exception. A willingness to pay the tax has been a long standing test of the resolve to win in Toronto and and elsewhere, and it’s a test that has left the fans wanting most of the time.

The Cavaliers are already committed to being a tax team next season with seven open roster spots still to fill in the summer. As much as the Cavaliers are winning now because of LeBron James, having the highest payroll in the NBA and a willingness to pay huge Luxury Tax bills has tipped the scales heavily in their favor. If an Eastern Conference team wants to compete with the Cavs, trying to do it on the cheap is laughable.

The new CBA gives teams a significant advantage with their own talent, but it makes many of the old tricks of the trade teams like the Lakers used to pull to add talent from other teams more difficult or even completely offside.

Raptors president Masai Ujiri traded for Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker in February as much to acquire their “Bird” rights this summer as to add talent for the stretch drive and the playoffs. Now he’ll be tested by the tax if he wants to keep them.

NBA Toronto Raptors salaries 2017-18

There are many people in Toronto who will look at the numbers and think Kyle Lowry is gone. They won’t believe Ujiri really wants to keep his All-Star point guard when the team can likely remain a non-tax paying playoff team by re-signing Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker and letting Lowry walk.

However, no team is a serious conference finalist contender without at least an All-Star candidate point guard. Not in a point guard driven league.

Alternatively Ujiri could look to dump the salary of Jonas Valanciunas and/or DeMarre Carroll to significantly lower his Luxury Tax commitment, but to compete against the Cavs, he needs veterans in his rotation. Veterans like Valanciunas and Carroll, but not necessarily these specific players.

One advantage of bringing back one’s own free agents and keeping what he’s got is it gives Ujiri a bigger pool of players with which to use in the trade market. He might not keep a player for an entire season, but having a $15 million salary on the roster you could live without could be what’s needed for that big trade deadline deal.

That’s the old trick the Lakers used to great success in the past that can still work, hanging onto a big salary they didn’t need in order to use it as trade ballast in a big trade during the season.

With Ibaka back and Jakob Poeltl looking ready to take on a backup center role, Ujiri can shop Valanciunas and maybe acquire the three-point shooting wing or forward he needs.

If Ujiri is comfortable with a three guard lineup of Norman Powell, DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, then he could look to swap Carroll for a less expensive backup. Although, if Carroll can get and stay healthy, he could be the answer as an expensive three-point shooting backup combo forward. It’s only money….

Concerns should only arise if Ujiri starts dumping salary just to get below the tax line.

Toronto was third in NBA attendance last season and the fans deserve to see their team willing to spend in order to put the best roster possible on the court. The Raptors have made a lot of money as a non-tax paying team over the past four years, they can afford to pay to keep talent for themselves or to use as trade bait.

Maybe $100 million in Luxury tax is over the top, but $40-50 million isn’t. This team should be judged by their willingness to make a big commitment to paying the tax in 2018. Otherwise, Ujiri is only pretending to want to compete for a championship. (The unlikely fleecing of another GM out of a star on a cheap contract notwithstanding.)

 

 

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 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 Kyle Lowry

Kyle Lowry Credits Coach Casey For His Development

Kyle Lowry owes a lot to head coach Dwane Casey and the Toronto Raptors for his current run of success and elevated status in the NBA. As a pending free agent, this three-time All-Star was not headed down the path of becoming a max player before being traded to “We The North” and it almost didn’t work out.

Memphis gave up on him after two and a half seasons and got a late first round draft pick back. Houston traded him to Toronto for a future first round draft pick and the Raptors tried to send him to the Knicks when president Masai Ujiri was in the failed process of blowing up his roster during Lowry’s second season in Toronto.

Luckily for Lowry and the Raptors, the Knicks meddling owner James Dolan stepped in to squash the trade after everyone thought it was a done deal. It’s hard to imagine how things could have gone well for the young brash Lowry in the dysfunction junction that is New York.

Instead of experiencing the revolving management and coaching door Dolan has created, Lowry listened to Ujiri and Casey, put the giant chip on his shoulder down and had a career year with the Raptors, leading his team to their first playoff berth in five seasons.

“Me and coach (Casey) we’ve had our ups and downs, but it’s been great,” Lowry said after the current season ended. “Coach Casey has allowed me to become a three-time All-Star. He’s helped me. He’s allowed me to be the player I’ve become. He’s allowed me to have a voice. He’s allowed me to grow. He has allowed me a lot of things and in that sense he’s been great to me.

“Of course we are going to butt heads. I think most coaches and point guards butt heads because they want to be better. They want to push each other to be better, but he has helped me tremendously.

“He has let me be me. He has let me grow to become a leader, a better leader, a better man, a better basketball player. Coach has always been in my corner, he has always had my back. So, at the end of the day, I think our relationship has grown from here to here.”

Before his arrival in Toronto, no one, absolutely no one, envisioned Lowry ever becoming an NBA All-Star. There was a lot of anger and frustration clouding Lowry’s view of the NBA. He didn’t think coaches believed in him or supported him and from his perspective, he wasn’t wrong, but once he believed the Raptors believed in him, he changed – on the court and in the off season. He earned those All-Star nods with hard work and a new attitude. An attitude that comes from your coach believing in you.

“(Casey) allows us to make mistakes,” Lowry explained. “He allows us to have a say in anything we are doing and he doesn’t hold us back. He wants us to go out and get better. He is pushing us to come back next year better and if you prove you can do something, he’s not going to stop you doing it.

“I remember the first year I was here, I’d shoot pull-up threes and he’s like, ‘what the hell are you doing?’ But, I proved I could do it, so he’s like, ‘shoot-em every time.’

“He’s a guy that you prove you can do it, he’s going to allow you to do it. He wants you to do it.”

While after eight seasons DeMar DeRozan is the face of the franchise, this now Lowry’s team. Lowry is the leader, the go-to-guy when things get tough and in a three-point shooting happy NBA, Lowry has evolved into one of the best long range threats in the Association. He appreciates everything the team and the community has done for him over the past five years.

“The city has been amazing to me,” Lowry said. “They have supported everything I’ve done. They have always had my back. When I try to give back to the community I don’t do it for anything but to give back to the community because they supported me. I want to support the communities that supported me. This place has been nothing but supportive thru the past five years.”

His teammates are hoping the support of the management, coaches, fans and themselves has been enough to keep their All-Star point guard in Toronto next season.

 

 

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

  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 DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry

Can The Raptors Win A Game Without Kyle Lowry?

By Frank McLean

As we head to Game Three of this Eastern Conference semifinal between the Raptors and the Cleveland Cavaliers with a banged up Kyle Lowry questionable to play, why does it seem that the next two games of this series are going to be the last two games this season for the Raptors? Maybe the answer is obvious.

First LeBron James has stepped up his game. He has been an obsessed individual.

74-points and 16-rebounds is what James has combined for in the first two games. He has made this series look like a handicap match where the Raptors have five players on the floor and the Cavaliers have just one guy… James.

He is the best player in basketball hands down. He can take a team in money games, and the playoffs are money games, put them on his back and just win.

In last year`s fifth and six games of the conference finals, after the Cavaliers let a two game lead slip away by losing Games Three and Four in Toronto, he took control of things and made sure that there would be no Game Seven.

He carried that over to the first two games of this year`s series.

And let`s not forget he led that comeback in the NBA Finals where they were down 3-1 to Golden State and they won the next three to give the city of Cleveland their first sports championship since the 1964 NFL Browns.

Just ask DeMar DeRozan about James in the first two games if this series.

“He is a lot more aggressive, you just see a different fire, hunger in him this time around, as it should be,” DeRozan said comparing this year`s version of James over last year`s.

The other reason why it looks like this is going to be a short series is the possible absence of Kyle Lowry who injured his ankle pretty bad Wednesday night.

Lowry is listed as questionable which pretty well means if this was January he would not be playing at all.

“Kyle is our driving force, our point guard, our leader,” DeRozan was saying at Thursday`s practice. “So for us not to have him anything close to 100%, it would be difficult on us. But next guy, everybody else gotta do something a little bit more to fill whatever void it is he can’t fully do out there on the court.”

Next man up has always been the Raptors mantra during Dwane Casey`s time as the Raptors head coach and he emphasized that on Thursday.

If Lowry can`t answer the bell for Game Three, Pickering, Ontario`s favorite son Cory Joseph would get the start and at least he is playoff tested from his days as a San Antonio Spur where he did get a championship ring.

Casey is hoping for that.

“I thought Cory Joseph was a bright spot Wednesday night, the confidence he played with, the force he played with, the way he shot the three ball,” Casey said. “It’s huge. Because we need every one of ’em. But with (Lowry) questionable, that’s why you have 15 on the roster. All year long, we’ve always had the next man up mentality. So I have all the trust and confidence in the world. Cory, of all the people on our team, has won a championship. So he’s been there, he knows how hard it is.”

Regardless if Lowry plays or not, the 64-thousand dollar question is can the Raptors pull off a pair of wins at home like they did last year against the Cavaliers where they were in the exact same two-games to nothing hole.

First DeMar DeRozan can`t have another five point game like he did in Game Three. Last year in Game Three and Four in Toronto he had a pair of 32-point games to lead the Raptors to wins.

But other Raptors on Wednesday missed good looks as well and Casey talked about that matter.

“The blitzing on DeMar, there are opportunities there where we have to score, and we got to make sure we take advantage of them, be shot-ready and be prepared when it hits your hands to be ready to shoot it and take it. It’s pretty simple. It’s nothing different than we have done all year.”

On playing better defense Casey said, “We got to take away something. Right now they are doing what they want to do to our defense and that is unacceptable and we can do better. There is a level of defensive focus and intensity and physicality that we got to get to and can get to and will get to.”

All the right things were being said on Thursday and you expect that of a professional basketball team. Can the Raptors rally together and win a game against the Cavaliers is something we won`t find out until sometime after 7pm on Friday.

 

 

   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 Milwaukee Bucks Jason Terry and Greg Monroe

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 Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan

Raptors Kyle Lowry Bounces Back In Game Two Win

By Frank McLean

In his pre-game comments to the media before game two Tuesday night Raptors head coach Dwane Casey was still lamenting about the lack of enthusiasm he felt his team had in that 97-83 loss.

“We have got to play with enthusiasm,” Casey said. “I don’t think we were tired (Saturday night) if guys are tired then we will get them a (break).”

There was no questioning the Raptors effort in game two as they walked out with a 106-100 win though it did go down to the wire.

Even though the experts had the Raptors winning this best of seven series four straight, maybe five games at the most, the Bucks are not going to walk away and die and they showed that as they had a couple of shots to tie or win the game with 30-seconds or so left.

Two corrections the Raptors made from game one resulted in this win.

First they were able to free up Kyle Lowry and let him do what he does best and that’s shoot the basketball.

The Bucks played great defense in game one. They let DeMar DeRozan get his 27 points and Serge Ibaka get his 19, but the focus was on Lowry who usually can chip in with 22 or 23. Lowry only scored four points as they took him out of his game.

In game two the trio of Lowry, DeRozan and Ibaka had 22, 23 and 16 for 61 of the Raptors 106 points in the game. That’s the key to beating Toronto, you can’t stop all three, but if you take one of the trio out of the game you got a shot.

“I just went out there and played,” Lowry said after the game. “I went out there tried to make my shots and be aggressive. I got to the foul line nine times. I got aggressive early and went out there and played.”

Casey was never worried if Lowry was going to bounce back because he has coached him now for five years he knows what he has.

“He’s human,” Casey said about Lowry. “Everyone has a night like that (Game 1) and we can’t panic every time a guy has a tough night. This is a tough league, Milwaukee is a very tough grind it out type team and they are going to make it hard on you.

“It’s his competitive edge. He’s a guy that competes. Through the years where I have been in the trenches before and he always bounced back. It’s just who he is, he is a fighter, a competitor and I just knew he wasn’t going to be satisfied the way he played in the first game.”

The second correction the Raptors had was with their defense. They concentrated on keeping the “Greek Freak” Giannis Antetokounmpo in check.

His final numbers were outstanding, 24-points, 15-rebounds and seven assists, but he had to earn every last one of them. Every time he drove through the paint at least two defenders were draped all over him not letting him take over the game like he did in game one.

He played 42-minutes but he just wasn’t a factor.

Khris Middleton, who Casey called the Bucks X-factor before the series, scored-20 but it just wasn’t enough.

The Bucks did fight even with all the adjustments the Raptors made and they were only down two-points (100-102) with just 57-seconds left when P.J. Tucker missed a pair of free throws.

Down four points with nine seconds left after Kyle Lowry hit a 20-foot jumper, the Bucks still had life with it being two possession game, but Malcolm Brogdon missed on a long three-point attempt.

The point is this Bucks team that was supposed to be a push over are far from it.

Yes the Raptors should win this series but to do so they are going to have to make more adjustments and as long as they make the right one’s they will be all right.

 

 

   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 DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry

Game Two Belongs To The Raptors

As bad as Toronto has been at Game Ones in the opening round of the NBA Playoffs, currently at 0-9, this team has, more often than not, found the next contest more to their liking and against Milwaukee on Tuesday, Game Two at the Air Canada Centre belongs to the Raptors and they had better deliver.

“It’s like deja va all over again,” Kyle Lowry said. “It’s the first to four. That’s what it is and we just have to go out there and take care of Game Two.”

Going from a bad NBA Lottery Team when Raptors head coach Dwane Casey first arrived to a playoff team and recently an Eastern Conference Finals contender happened faster than expected, but those expectations can’t be rolled back now.

Making the playoffs has become nothing special, so unlike the last three years, even the crowd at the Air Canada Centre showed up late and sat on their hands until they were told to do something. It felt like a regular season game in the building.

“The expectation of our program, where we started is definitely where we are now and it’s not going to end,” Casey said. “Each year you try to improve, get better, go further. The expectations have changed more so.”

After getting smacked in the mouth three years in a row on the opening afternoon of the NBA playoffs by a lower seeded team, one could be forgiven for thinking Lowry and DeMar DeRozan would have been ready for the physicality, intensity and often unfriendly whistle of the postseason.  But after a solid second quarter where the Raptors took a 5 point lead, Lowry shot 1-7 and DeRozan shot 1-8 and the pair only scored a single point in the fourth quarter as Milwaukee pulled away.

“The second half was abysmal,” Casey said. “We didn’t play with any pace, any movement. All of that led to tough shots, challenged shots.”

The Bucks were very physical with both of the Raptors All-Stars and a regular season whistle likely would have allowed them to live at the line in the second half, but the Bucks, with two rookies in their starting lineup, played as aggressively as the referees would allow and the Raptors didn’t respond in kind.

“They played hard longer than we did,” Casey said. “I thought they played with more force for longer than we did.”

Fortunately for Toronto, stepping up in Game Two is something this team and their stars has done before.

The Raptors came back in Game Two against the Nets in 2014 behind a 30 point effort from DeRozan and Jonas Valanciunas stepped up with a double-double 15/14.  Last year against the Pacers Lowry had the near triple double with 18/7/9 and Valanciunas stepped up big again with 23/15 in the victory.

It’ll take a big game from from at least one of the Raptors All-Stars and someone else to pull out a Game Two win over Milwaukee.

“We missed a lot of shots we normally make,” DeRozan said. “We have to understand that we can’t let that affect us.”

“I just have to play better,” Lowry said. “No if ands or buts about it. I have to play better.”

Perhaps the biggest disappointment in Game One was the Bucks didn’t do anything the Raptors weren’t prepared for. Toronto had faced the Bucks four times this season, gone 3-1 and knew exactly what to expect from this long lanky team and their star Giannis Antetokounmpo.

“I was expecting everything,” DeRozan confirmed. “It’s on us, we don’t have any excuses. They have one (win) and it’s on us to take advantage of the next game at home.”

“They did everything we expected and they did it well,” P.J. Tucker said. “We missed shots. We didn’t get back on defense.”

And the Bucks are under no delusions that the Raptors can’t play better.

“They are a very talented team,” Bucks head coach Jason Kidd said. “Going through the process of the good and the bad, you look at DeRozan and Lowry, the core has been together so they’ve seen everything and understanding that, they’re very talented and they’re well coached. Casey is going to have these guys ready to go.”

Game Two at home belongs to Toronto. It’s up to them not to give it away.

 

 

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

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors DeMar DeRozan

Raptors Lowry And DeRozan Stumble In Game One Again

Game One of the NBA playoffs hasn’t been friendly to the Toronto Raptors All-Stars Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan and things didn’t go any better this year against the underdog Milwaukee Bucks in the usually friendly confines of the Air Canada Centre. The duo stopped scoring heading into the final frame and the Bucks walked off with the 97-83 win. This is the fourth opening playoff series in a row the Raptors duo of Lowry and DeRozan have failed to win Game One at home.

“We expected it,” Raptors head coach Dwane Casey said about the Bucks defense. “Spacing, how we were attacking the pick and roll, we were expecting it. Couple of times they blocked a shot at the rim, but you have to expect that. Now the next time has to be in the dunker area to drop it off. All those things we didn’t execute.

“There is no excuse. I don’t know if we played hard enough to deserve to win, I thought they outplayed us. They played hard longer than we did. I thought they played with more force for longer than we did.”

Lowry shot 2-11 for just 4 points and DeRozan was 7-21 for 27 points on the night, but the pair combined to score just 1 point in the fourth quarter as the Raptors were outscored 22-13 over the final 12 minutes.

“We miss a lot of shots that we normally make,” DeRozan said. “We didn’t get over 20 (points) in the quarters in the second half. That’s not like us. We shot 36 percent. We got to understand that we can’t let that affect us.”

However, failing to score in Game One of the playoffs is nothing unusual, over the past four years. Lowry is averaging 11 points on 27.5 percent shooting and DeRozan 17.5 points on 28.8 percent from the field, significantly below their playoff averages of 18.7 points and 21.5 points respectively prior to this game.

“I have no clue,” DeRozan said about the Raptors Game One problems. “If I had an answer maybe we would have pulled it out tonight.

“We got to understand, we make it hard on ourselves.”

The Raptors found the length of the Bucks challenging, but like in prior Game Ones, it was the elevated physical play and loose playoff whistle that seemed to catch them off guard and that was a surprise that shouldn’t have happened considering this is the fourth time they’ve been thru this.

“I thought the guys did a really good job of using their length,” Bucks head coach Jason Kidd said. “I thought they competed. I thought (rookie) Thon (Maker) made some great plays there in the third quarter, blocking shots when Lowry got to the basket or DeRozan got to the basket.

“I thought Moose (Greg Monroe) did a great job too in the pick and roll, knowing they were going to put him in the pick and roll and he was up for it this evening.”

The Bucks did compete and outplay their hosts in three of the four quarters. With two rookies in Kidd’s starting lineup, that shouldn’t have happened and shouldn’t be repeated in Game Two on Tuesday night in Toronto.

“They did everything we expected and they did it well,” P.J. Tucker said. “We missed shots and gave them a bunch of fast break points. We already knew that’s what they thrive at. We didn’t get back on defense and that turned into them getting a win.”

The NBA playoffs are underway, but for the fourth season in a row, the Raptors didn’t hear the starting gun and dug themselves yet another hole to climb out of.

Leading scorers:

Bucks: Giannis Antetokounmpo 28 points, Malcom Brogdon 16 points.

Raptors: DeRozan 27 points, Serge Ibaka 19 points.

Bucks bench outscored the Raptors bench 28-19.

 

 

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.