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NBA Toronto Raptors Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan

What Should The Raptors Do About Kyle Lowry?

So the bromance between Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan in Toronto is over, at least it’s over on the court and if Lowry is upset about how the Raptors treated his best friend, no one should be surprised. It’s a situation that doesn’t appear to be getting enough attention and leads to the obvious question, what’s next?

For the Raptors, the best situation is Lowry embraces his new teammates Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green, believes he has the potential to get to an NBA Finals for the first time in his career and accepts what everyone says, (whether they mean it or not) that the NBA is all about winning and it’s a business.

The problem being, Lowry would be nearly impossible to replace, although a few weeks ago the same thing might have been said about DeRozan.

A four-time All-Star point guard who takes over seven three-pointers a game, hits on 40 percent of them and is one of the league leaders in drawing charges every season is a rare player and he’s paid like one. An NBA top 10 salary of over $30 million annually with two years left on his deal, but he’ll be 33 next spring and injuries haven’t been his friend over the last three seasons. The Raptors finally started to manage his minutes down last year and that’s a trend his new head coach Nick Nurse will have to continue if he wants his All-Star to survive another long NBA regular season unscathed.

In the short term the obvious move for president Masai Ujiri is to give Lowry some space to process what’s happened and then try to get a handle on just how much long term damage has been done to their relationship and whether or not Lowry can put this all behind him in time for training camp? Unfortunately with Dwane Casey now coaching in Detroit, Ujiri doesn’t have the obvious best person to smooth things over.

In the near term, don’t expect anything more than avoidance of the issue by Lowry in the media. There is no upside personally or professionally for Lowry to say anything right now.

However, Ujiri can’t just sit idly-by hoping everything works out. Just like he did with DeRozan, he’s obligated to see if he can improve his roster or at least have a viable backup plan just in case he sees an impending disaster coming.

So don’t think Ujiri isn’t getting prepared. No roster needs four point guards heading into training camp and with the signing of the perfectly serviceable Lorenzo Brown, Ujiri has set up a situation where he could trade one if an opportunity presented itself.

The Raptors could go into next season with the roster as currently constructed. Jonas Valanciunas and Serge Ibaka could split minutes at center, OG Anunoby and C.J. Miles can soak up minutes at both forward spots and Norman Powell will be fighting for time on the wing. Nurse already has a viable 10-11 man rotation if Ujiri does nothing more this summer.

However, Toronto could use another serviceable big man just in case and if Lowry was traded, Nurse will need a really good three-point shooting guard coming back at the very least.

If Ujiri pulls the trigger on another blockbuster this summer, it would shock the NBA world. They weren’t even supposed to be in the running to get Leonard (more like the team being used to drive the price up). However, there’s always another GM somewhere who believes his roster is just one All-Star away from getting over the hump and will pay dearly for the player they believe is the missing piece.

The type of deal Ujiri might pursue would be a trade of Lowry for the Nuggets shooting guard Gary Harris (4 years $74 million guaranteed) and Mason Plumlee (2 years $27 million remaining). Plumlee as the overpaid but serviceable center as trade ballast. Harris as the undersized young three-point shooting guard with enough of an injury history that Denver might just consider letting him go in order to get the All-Star point guard they’ll need to make the playoffs in the NBA West.

It would be a trade that has all the earmarks of the DeRozan for Leonard swap, just the other way around, but it’s a move that could be sold in both markets and work out for both teams and it’s the type of move Ujiri will have to look for if he decides he can’t bet on his near term future with Lowry in the fold.

For now, there’s no reason for Ujiri to panic. The best scenario is for Lowry to buy in and lead the Raptors again next season. But that doesn’t mean the Raptors aren’t out there quietly pursuing every option and looking at every opportunity just in case they have to do something about Lowry.

 

 

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 Raptors DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry and Cavaliers LeBron James

Raptors Look Confused After Game Two Loss To The Cavs

Take last night’s box score from the Cavs at Raptors game and only look at the Toronto half. The Raptors must have won? It’s all good, good enough for a victory and the Raptors looked plenty confused after a Game Two loss that wasn’t even close.

Toronto scored 110 points, shot an impressive 54.3 percent from the field, put up 30 three-balls and hit 40 percent of them. They out-rebounded the Cavs by one, got one more assist and only turned the ball over a very respectable 11 times. Their two All-Starts combined for 45 points on 18-33 shooting and sixth-man Fred VanVleet found his offensive touch with 14 points while hitting on 4-7 three-point attempts. Even rookie OG Anunoby was playing some solid defense on LeBron James, not that you’d know it from the King’s stat line.

“We were searching, just trying to find somebody, something to get faster, get more points on the board,” head coach Dwane Casey said. “We were searching for offense, searching for spacing, searching for a lot of things.”

“It’s not over, we just got to take it one game at a time, (and) go from there” DeMar DeRozan forced out after the game.

“We need more effort, way more effort,” Kyle Lowry said searching for answers. “We got to play harder, somehow, someway.”

Toronto went into the break up two points 63-61, but it all fell apart in the second half when they couldn’t stop James who scored 27 of his 43 points over the final two quarters. The Cavs put up 67 second half points on 67.5 percent shooting from the field to go up 18 points on Raptors by the end.

Second year forward Pascal Siakam and Anunoby were in James’ face on nearly every shot he attempted, but he still made 13-19 after the half, mostly of the improbable variety.

“Tonight all the shots over his right shoulder, the step-backs, the fade-a-ways, the one where he hit the moon-ball over his right shoulder and came back with the next possession and hit one over his left shoulder from the free throw line, that was special,” Kevin Love said about James’ performance. “That was something that you get accustomed to, you kind of get used to, but tonight was in that fashion. I don’t know if, it’s my fourth year here, I’d seen that out of him, so it’s special.

“When he went over his right shoulder and then went over his left shoulder, he said when he got the mismatch he would do that. He actually called his shots this morning. That’s just one of the examples I could use about how locked in he was during the entire shoot-a-round knowing what was at stake for us.”

Cavaliers head coach Tyronn Lue was almost prophetic during the pre-game media availability when hoped for a big scoring night from his team.

“Each team tries to take away what each team does best, so the team who scores 130 this series, they got hot and played really well,” Lue responded to Pro Bball Report’s query. “I don’t see the 130 point games, but if so, I hope it’s us.”

The Cavs were hot in Game Two with the 128-110 victory and the confused Raptors were at a complete loss as to how to stop the barrage.

 

 

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

Do The Raptors Want To Win 60 Games?

By Frank McLean and Stephen Brotherston

Do the Raptors want to win 60 games? There are two schools of thought about rest versus rust and even about taking the risk of getting hurt in a “meaningless” contest. It’s easy to hear what you want to hear from the players and coaches at this time of year.

McLean:

The plan now for the rest of the way until the playoffs start this weekend for the Toronto Raptors is to work on things that have slipped in their game lately and give some rest to their starting five so they are fresh for what is expected to be a long playoff run.

Sunday night in their win over the Orlando Magic at the Air Canada Centre Jonas Valanciunas took the night off while Lucas Nogueira filled in for Jonas and Norman Powell took DeMar DeRozan’s spot.

But you know what they say about the best laid plans.

Powell, in the first few minutes of the game, came down on his knee and limped in pain to the locker room. The good news is that he came back and scored 13 points.

Nogueira ended up with hamstring tightness and Fred VanVleet ended up with back tightness. So if the Raptors team bus on its way to the airport to leave for Monday’s game in Detroit stopped at an all night Staples and got some bubble wrap no one would be surprised.

After Sunday night’s game with the Magic, the Raptors have just two meaningless games left before the playoffs start. The NBA won’t let you cancel games, so the real goal is to not let anybody get hurt.

But don’t worry, Dwane Casey has a plan to keep this team sharp so that they are ready to go for game one of the playoffs.

“Just execution, attention to detail,” Casey was saying before Sunday’s game. “You’ve got examples all around the league where teams underestimate teams around the league that are so-called playing for the lottery, whatever they’re playing for, a rebuild, playing young players, giving young players minutes. Those young players are showing 29 other teams that they can play, too. They have their individual reasons why they come in and compete. If you let them get going and get confident, they can be beat. We want to work on some little things. We’ll sprinkle some things that we want to use next week every now and then in.”

Casey also want’s to make sure his second unit, a.k.a. THE BENCH MOB, gets back to form.

“I don’t know how well they have played. I mean they have played better but it’s not with the same execution and timing and speed that they had been playing with previously. So getting them back up to speed to where they have been playing execution wise offensively and defensively. These next three games are great opportunities for these guys to play.”

One of the good things to come out of Sunday’s game was C.J. Miles who has been in a bit of a shooting slump as the season winds down scored 22 points and was 5-10 from the three point line. That’s where he makes his money and the Raptors need him to be consistent from there for them to have any post season success.

So let’s get the week over and start the weekend so the playoffs begin and let’s hope no one gets hurt before the real games begin.

Brotherston:

The Raptors have a chance for 60 wins and coach Casey wants it. He doesn’t want 60 at the risk of injury and he is going to gives certain players a day off, but it’s a goal he values going back to his days as an assistant coach in Seattle from 1994 to 2005.

“It does (mean something to win 60),” Casey said prior to the game against Orlando. “I think in Seattle we won (60) three times and it’s a milestone. I think it’s something that you want to accomplish. It’s not the end-all. We’d like to do it. Probably not at the expense of overplaying players, but it’s important.

“There are very few times in your organization’s history or time that you have an opportunity to win 60 and it’s kind of a good mark to have along with winning your conference.”

Kyle Lowry just hates to lose and will have to be told to sit down if Casey thinks he needs a rest over the next two games.

“I’m playing,” Lowry said emphatically after the win over the Magic. “I haven’t been playing as many minutes this year so it’s a little bit different for me. I don’t need the rest.

“I just want to play.

“First of all, winning is always important. Every game we play. We can’t worry about this, that and the other. Every single night from the first game of the season we play we can’t worry about (getting hurt). That’s how we got to approach it.”

The Raptors will get at least a couple of days off between the end of the regular season and the start of the playoffs, so unless someone is nicked-up, getting a day off is more of a nice thing to get rather than a needed break. However, Casey, who plans to keep using a 10+ man rotation in the postseason, doesn’t want anyone to get hurt now. It’s just, as Lowry points out, not something he can really worry about.

Maybe Casey makes Lowry and Serge Ibaka take the night off on the back-to-back in Detroit, but he’ll still expect his players to go for the win. After the season is over, reaching 60 wins for the first time in franchise history will have been a goal worth achieving.

 

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.

 

 

 

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 and Kyle Lowry

Raptors Inch Closer To First As Celtics Slump

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

After tonight, standings in the East are:

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Delon Wright and Fred VanVleet

Raptors Counting On Delon Wright And Fred VanVleet

There’s a reason why teams like to carry three point guards that they aren’t afraid to play and with the Toronto Raptors All-Star Kyle Lowry out with a bruised tailbone, they’ll be counting on Delon Wright and Fred VanVleet to pick up the slack.

Head coach Dwane Casey hasn’t been shy about playing the third year Wright and the second year VanVleet significant minutes this season and the real sticking point may come when he’d like to be running out his three point guard lineup that’s produced some interesting results. However, in the process, he’s gotten these two young guards as ready as possible to cover in Lowry’s absence.

The season-to-date stats for Wright and VanVleet are as encouraging as they are misleading.

Wright has averaged 21.2 minutes over 26 games having missed a stretch do to a shoulder injury and he’s averaged 8.8 points on 50.9 percent from the field, 2.9 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 1.2 steals and 0.6 blocks. He’s as comfortable running the point as playing off the ball and has even soaked up minutes as a small forward. Versatile should be his middle name and he is really at his best when he looks to score, although he prefers to facilitate.

VanVleet has appeared in all 38 games averaging 17.9 minutes, 6.3 points on 39.4 percent shooting, 2 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 0.8 steals. He sees a surprising amount of time in fourth quarters and isn’t afraid of the big moments.

Both players have been getting significantly better as the season has progressed and during the team’s current five game winning streak:

Wright has averaged 13 points on 59.1 percent shooting from the field and 54.5 percent from three, 5.6 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 1.8 steals and 1.0 blocks in 25.4 minutes.

VanVleet has averaged 9 points on 44.7 percent shooting from the field and 46.2 percent from three, 1.8 rebounds, 2 assists and 0.6 steals in 18.9 minutes.

The Raptors are hoping the trend continues as both players will be expected to carry a heavier offensive load until Lowry gets back.

The Raptors can’t expect to replace an All-Star with a couple of young guards no matter how well they’ve been playing lately and there is no way to know if they can play as well for extended minutes without Lowry’s veteran presence. There can be no question both Wright and VanVleet have looked better playing with Lowry on the court beside them.

Next man up, opportunity knocks and a whole other list of clichés. The Raptors have no choice but to count on their two young point guards. All those minutes Casey has been been giving them this season is looking like it was a pretty good idea right about now.

 

 

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

 Featured image courtesy of Larry Millson

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Kyle Lowry

Raptors Kyle Lowry Could Be Out For A Week

It looked bad, but the scary injury Kyle Lowry sustained in overtime when the Nets Quincy Acy undercut his legs as the Raptors All-Star point guard was snagging a key rebound has been listed as day-to-day.

 

 

Rotoworld reports:

Today’s update, including the fact that Lowry’s X-rays came back negative, certainly qualifies as good news.

Lowry is considered day-to-day and could be back in the lineup by the end of this week.

In what seems to be a recurring theme this season when it comes to big games, the timing of this injury couldn’t be worse for NBA fans.

This week the 28-10 Raptors are scheduled to face the 26-14 Cavaliers on Thursday and the 33-8 Warriors on Saturday. So much for trying to get a better read on where the NBA Eastern Conference’s second place team fits among the league’s elite.

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Kyle Lowry

Raptors Making Kyle Lowry Rest That Giant Chip He Carries

By Frank McLean

The Kyle Lowry we have watched in his time as a Toronto Raptor has been a little ball of hate. Standing six-foot-one he is a guard who after 11-years in the NBA still plays with a gigantic chip on his shoulder still thinking that he has to prove to everyone that he deserves the accolades he’s earned.

Now that style of play has endeared him to his fans and Raptors management, but he has had trouble staying healthy for a full season and come playoff time needle on the gas tank is in that red spot on the gauge telling you that you better get to a gas station fast because you are just about to run out.

After signing a three year 100-million dollar contract extension this past summer, which 93-million is guaranteed, the Raptors want to be able to keep him fresh, limit the injuries and get some playoff bang for the buck they signed him to.

Now this isn’t something new. Lowry was talking about this earlier this week after a practice in a conversation with the media. “It’s something we’ve been working on. We talked about it the last three years. Now we’re doing it.”

Coming into Wednesday night’s home tilt against Charlotte Lowry had only played 37-minutes in a game twice. Last year he did that in 12 of the team’s first 19 games and he’s averaging almost five fewer minutes a game than last season.

A major factor for the team being able to cut Lowry’s minutes has been the play of Delon Wright, before he separated his shoulder and Fred VanVleet which has resulted in Raptors head coach Dwane Casey not being afraid to use his duo of backup guards in games.

So as the team hit the quarter pole with their 20th game of the season against Charlotte, Lowry’s statistical numbers were noticeably lower to start the year.

He’s dishing dimes as per usual, but his scoring has been way down. It’s not for a lack of playing hard as he is one of the league’s leaders at drawing charges and his rebounding is second best on the Raptors.

Lowry though has not been happy with his start of his season.

One thing Lowry was saying is that they still haven’t figured out how many minutes a game he will play.

“Me, personally, I don’t know it. I’m either gonna play or I’m not,” Lowry said. “I think the coaches have done a great job with it. I don’t know how many minutes I’m averaging, but I can definitely tell the difference with being given more rest. I’m feeling fresh. I’m feeling good. At the same time, when I’m playing a lot of minutes I get a little bit of a rhythm.”

“Nobody’s really playing huge minutes,” Casey said about how much Lowry will play. “Now, we’re going to have the right to extend those minutes if we need Kyle Lowry or we need DeMar DeRozan in a game but we don’t want to make it a habit.”

And yes there won’t be a set number of minutes here for Lowry because there are going to be night’s where bench players get into foul trouble or injuries may dictate that he will play more, but in the end this strategy will help come playoff time.

A healthy Lowry will be needed if this team is going to get back to the conference finals. We have seen in past playoff’s when Lowry is injured, opponents just key on DeMar DeRozan and can take away the Raptors offense from the guard position. Then teams can key on Serge Ibaka and down goes the entire offense.

Kyle Lowry is what New York Yankees slugger Reggie Jackson used to say about himself, “he’s the straw that stirs the drink”.

Come playoff time it’s hoped Lowry will still have plenty of gas in the tank and that there won’t be a need to find the nearest gas station.

 

   

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 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