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The Magic Is Back With The Lakers

By Frank McLean

I’ve written many times about how the New York Knicks, one of the NBA’s marquee franchises, is a complete mess thanks to an owner who has no idea of what he is doing.

On the west coast another marquee franchise the Los Angeles Lakers have slumped into a poorly run lottery team since the passing of their owner Jerry Buss.

When the elder Buss passed away in 2013 the team was left in the hands of his two children, daughter Jeanie who would look after the business end of the operation and his son Jim who would take care of the basketball end of things.

Jeanie has done well keeping the business end of the operations going fine as the team is still a powerful brand regardless that it doesn’t show up in their win-loss record.

But the win-loss record is the problem and that’s where Jim comes in. The team stinks and instead of acting like an owner and hiring people who know what they are doing, he is running the show and has run the team into the ground.

Look at last season. Instead of trying to make the team better, it was all about the Kobe Bryant retirement tour and the celebration of a guy who’s best days were behind him.

He also began a feud with one of the all-time greats in the history of the Lakers history, Magic Johnson.

Johnson, who had a small ownership piece of the Lakers, became critical of the way Jim Buss was running the team. He didn’t like the hiring of Mike D’Antoni as coach in 2012. He thought they should have brought back Phil Jackson. He was also irked that they didn’t sign any high profile players.

“I’m going to say it again: I love Jim Buss. He should just be the owner, like his dad was just the owner,” Johnson said in an article in December 2015. “Let’s go back with facts, so I can back this up with facts: 27 wins a couple years ago (2013-14), 21 wins last year (2014-15). Three summers now, we haven’t signed anybody. I am backing this up with facts. We haven’t signed any superstar. We’ve had cap space. We had cap space last summer. We’re going to have more this summer.”

Jim Buss fired back in a USA today feature.

“Magic Johnson going nuts on me? It’s like, ‘Really, dude? My dad made you a billionaire almost. Really? Where are you coming from?”

Johnson left the organization becoming a part owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers and becoming a face of their ownership group.

That all changed on Thursday as Jeanie Buss brought back Johnson to be an advisor to her in all areas of business and basketball.

“We are thrilled and honored to add Magic’s expertise and abilities, and I look forward to working alongside him,” Jeanie Buss said about the hiring in a Lakers press release.

“Everyone knows my love for the Lakers,” Johnson said. “Over the years, I have considered other management opportunities, however my devotion to the game and Los Angeles make the Lakers my first and only choice. I will do everything in my power to help return the Lakers to their rightful place among the elite teams of the NBA.”

Ever since the death of the elder Buss there has been a power struggle between the siblings.

Jim Buss said in 2014 that if the Lakers are not a championship team by the summer of 2017 he would step down. A championship is not going to happen this year, the Lakers are second last in the Western Conference and will be a lottery team.

The Johnson hiring by Jeanie is a step in the right direction. It looks like she is slowly taking over the full operation of the team and she did say last year that she expects her brother to fulfill his promise – at that time.

“Jim is calling the shots,” Johnson said, via the Orange County Register‘s Mark Medina. “I want him to understand I’m just here to lend advice. I’m not here to be anything but just give you some basketball knowledge.”

For now, Johnson will be able to help greatly as an advisor and will be show those in charge of the team how a championship team is run. He should know, he was there in their glory days. It’s a no brainer.

The NBA is poorer when its marquee franchises like the Lakers, Knicks are suffering.

The Jeanie and Jim power struggle was like one of those 1980’s prime time soap operas Dallas or in this case Dynasty. It’s going to take a while for the Lakers to be a contender again. The hiring of Johnson and Jim Buss eventually stepping aside is just a start.

 

 

 

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 Los Angeles Lakers D'Angelo Russell, Julius Randle & Jordan Clarkson

Lakers, Knicks, Pelicans And Jazz Are Better Than Their Records

The top teams of last season remain the top teams through the first full month of this year, so after April maybe nothing changes, but last year’s Lottery Teams in Los Angeles, New Orleans, Utah and New York look a lot better and the early signs point to the Lakers, Pelicans, Jazz and Knicks being playoff teams this season.

As of the end of November NBA teams have played 16 to 20 games and the early rust or lack of chemistry has started to fade. The revamped Warriors and the consistent Cavaliers remain the best in the league with the Clippers, Spurs and Raptors not so far behind. These five sit atop their respective conferences and are the only teams in the Association with winning records against opponents with a .500 record or better.

Expanded NBA Standings 11-30-2016

This early in the season the NBA standings can be misleading as teams will not have all faced the same level of competition, so one way to level the playing field is to look at records against opposition that are .500 or better.

The big changes atop the conferences are the better than expected start from the Clippers who aren’t underperforming this year and the modest, but expected, decline by the Thunder sans Kevin Durant. However, the Thunder are just one of two teams with a .500 record against winning clubs, the other team being the surprising Lakers.

Only those wearing purple and gold colored glasses had pegged the Lakers as a playoff team prior to this season and their youth may yet betray them, but the 9th place Lakers (10-10) are 6-6 vs teams with a .500 record or better and the losses that have kept them below the playoff line were against the Mavericks (3-14), Timberwolves (5-13) and the improving Pelicans (7-12).

In contrast to the Lakers, the Grizzlies and the Trail Blazers are above the playoff line thanks to a very soft schedule and going 8-2 against sub .500 teams.

The oft injured Pelicans dug themselves a deep hole to start the season by going 0-8, but they’ve started digging themselves out by starting to win against .500 or better teams. They’ll need to stop losing to the sub .500 crowd (1-5) like the recent loss to the Mavericks, but this team should soon be a lot better than their 7-12 record.

The Knicks currently reside in 9th place in the East, right where some of us thought they’d end up, but they’ve had a tough schedule to start the season and going 6-8 versus teams that are .500 or better and 3-1 against sub .500 clubs suggests this is a playoff team if injuries don’t derail them.

The NBA is just starting to round the quarter pole of the season, so a lot of things can still happen to improve or decimate a team’s fortunes, but the early trends suggest that while the top of the league may be stagnant, there could be big changes to the rest of the playoff picture before this is over.

 

 

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 Golden State Warriors Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson

NBA Western Conference’s Best Starting Lineups 2016-17

By Danny Thompson, Full Court Press Radio

In the Western Conference this year we all know what the Golden State Warriors have done with their signing of Kevin Durant to the already dangerous team they had in place. But the real question is who is after them in the best starting 5’s list? Well here are my opinions

1. Golden State Warriors – Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green and Zaza Pachulia

Reason – Is there a real reason why they wouldn’t be number 1? I’m going to give one reason why, 4 of the top 20 players in the entire league are in this starting 5.

2. San Antonio Spurs – Tony Parker, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge and Pau Gasol

Reason – They lost a lot of defense at the center spot with Tim Duncan retiring, but insert one of the most skilled big men in the league’s history in Gasol. Add him to Aldridge, arguably one of the best two way players in Leonard, the sharp-shooting Green plus the always dangerous Tony Parker and the Spurs are right back in business.

3. Los Angeles Clippers – Chris Paul, J.J. Redick, Wesley Johnson, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan

Reason – The number 2 spot was all theirs until the Spurs signed Gasol. Jordan established himself as one of the best in the league last season (1st team All-NBA selection) and his ceiling continues to grow. Paul and Griffin are in contract years, so you already know what kind of years their going to have. Redick has always been so consistent. Now if this team can add a replacement for Johnson, then they could be a serious challenger to be the best unit in the entire NBA.

4. Memphis Grizzlies – Mike Conley, Tony Allen, Chandler Parsons, Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol

Reason – Parsons brings a very athletic wing to go along with the same 4 guys that have been in Memphis for it seems like forever. He brings a lot of what Rudy Gay would have provided when he was in Memphis. The real question is, can he stay healthy? Two major injuries in the last 2 seasons puts up a serious red flag. Otherwise Memphis hit a home run in the offseason. This unit is really dangerous.

5. Utah Jazz – George Hill, Gordon Hayward, Joe Johnson, Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert

Reason – Utah is my pick to be the biggest sleeper in the entire league. Johnson adds another solid shooter and closer to this group. Hill will provide a steady and solid starting point guard until Dante Exum is ready to take the job over and Hayward just fills stats sheets. Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert have the potential to be the best power forward-center combination not named Blake and DeAndre in the Western Conference.

6. Portland Trail Blazers – Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum, Evan Turner, Al-Farouq Aminu and Mason Plumlee

Reason – Portland adds Evan Turner’s all-around skill which should allow Lillard and McCollum to have more freedom to play off the ball. Aminu quietly had a solid season and if Plumlee can continue his play that he showed in the playoffs (7.0 ppg 11.8 reb and 4.8 ast) then this ranking might be a bit too low.

7. Houston Rockets – Patrick Beverley, James Harden, Trevor Ariza, Ryan Anderson and Clint Capela

Reason – This is a typical Mike D’Antoni lineup. Harden, Ariza and Anderson will let it fly from arc, Capela will grab all of the rebounds and Beverley will just be solid but not spectacular. Mind you this isn’t D’Antoni’s Phoenix style 7 seconds or less, but they could score just as many points as them. Look for Harden and the Thunder’s Russell Westbrook to fight for the scoring title.

8. Oklahoma City Thunder – Russell Westbrook, Andre Roberson, Kyle Singler, Ersan Illyasova and Steven Adams

Reason – If it was my choice Victor Oladipo and Enes Kanter would be in the starting lineup, but with not having enough quality talent on the bench, you have to spread the wealth. Westbrook with this lineup could still surpass the 18 triple-doubles that he had last season. Adams is turning into a very good center and Roberson has shown signs of improvement each season he’s been in the league. Illyasova and Singler both bring solid outside shooting to this group.

9. Minnesota Timberwolves – Ricky Rubio, Zach LaVine, Andrew Wiggins, Gorgui Dieng and Karl-Anthony Towns

Reason – We all know how special Towns and Wiggins are in the present and in the future. They are going to be dynamic and spectacular. As far as the other 3 guys in the lineup, that remains to be decided. Ricky Rubio has outstanding court vision but he can’t hit a jumpshot. Zach LaVine is talented, but can he play shooting guard? Dieng is a solid interior defender and matches well with Towns, but can he develop an offensive game to match? But we can all agree that this is the team everyone will be watching on NBA League Pass this year.

10. Dallas Mavericks – Deron Williams, Wesley Matthews, Harrison Barnes, Dirk Nowitzki and Andrew Bogut

Reason – In the game of Father Time vs. All-Time great, Dirk is starting to lose the battle. This could be his last year being a franchise player. Now the real question is can Wesley Matthews regain his 2014-2015 season form in time to help out Dirk. Deron Williams days as being a top level Point Guard are over with and Andrew Bogut has to stay healthy. The big signing of Harrison Barnes leaves one to hope that he lives up to the contract.

11. Denver Nuggets – Emmanuel Mudiay, Gary Harris, Danilo Gallinari, Kenneth Faried and Nikola Jokic

Reason – Solid group of 5. Nothing spectacular and each of them knows their roles and play them very well. Mudiay has the chance to really standout especially if he cuts down on the turnovers. This could be the year in which Gallinari breaks the 20 point per game club.

12. Sacramento Kings – Darren Collison, Ben McLemore, Rudy Gay, Willie Cauley-Stein and DeMarcus Cousins

Reason – Cousins is so talented but hopefully that new coach Dave Jorger will get the best out of him and the rest of this group. McLemore needs to find the tools that made him at lottery pick a short time ago. Collison is very underrated at the point guard spot.

13. Phoenix Suns – Brandon Knight, Eric Bledsoe, P.J. Tucker, Alex Len and Tyson Chandler

Reason – So many guys not playing should be the real story. Honestly, this lineup might not make it out of November because Devin Booker is ready to breakout and be a star. With Knight and Bledsoe on the roster it’s going to be a real problem getting him minutes right away. Both rookies (Dragon Bender and Marquese Chriss) aren’t ready to be starters, so Alex Len has to play out of position for the time being.

14. New Orleans Pelicans – Jrue Holiday, Tyreke Evans, Solomon Hill, Anthony Davis and Omer Asik

Reason – The only reason why this unit isn’t last is because Anthony Davis is one of the top 5 players in the entire league. Ideally, Buddy Hield will join this group and move Evans and Hill into the frontcourt with Davis at Center. New Orleans better find a center quick because Asik is the worst starting center in the entire league.

15. Los Angeles Lakers – D’Angelo Russell, Jordan Clarkson, Luol Deng, Julius Randle and Timofey Mozgov

Reason – Well, it was a hard decision between spots 12-15 but someone had to be in this place. Russell, Clarkson and Randle will be solid players in this league but Deng is a bit older and is the perfect placeholder until Brandon Ingram explodes on the scene in L.A. But Mozgov better return to form to bring this unit out of last place.

 

 

Danny Thompson is the Creator and Host of NBA Full Court Press Radio and Lead Columnist of FULL COURT PRESS RADIO.

Check out more from Danny here.
Reprinted with permission.

 

 

 



 

NBA Los Angeles Lakers Timofey Mozgov

Buyer’s Remorse Coming Soon After NBA Free Agent Signings

Sure the NBA Salary Cap has gone up by over $20 million and it’s expected to go up by another $20 million over the next five years, but that doesn’t justify some of the contracts being handed out early in free agency this summer. $20 million per year contracts are still going to be about a fifth of your team’s salary cap space, buyer’s remorse is going to be a common theme in the not too distant future.

Brooklyn Nets

The Brooklyn Nets are hardly going to be alone after this summer as a team that is trying to take a massive risk on completely unproven players. In just the latest of “What were they thinking?” moves by NBA teams with too much money burning a hole in their GM’s pocket, the Nets have given an offer sheet to the Trail Blazers restricted free agent Allan Crabbe at $75 million over four years.

You can be forgiven if your next question is Allen who? The 24-year-old Crabbe has played three NBA seasons, started a career total of 17 games and last year he “broke out” to average 10.3 points and 2.7 rebounds. He can shoot the three-ball and has nice numbers for developing player to come off your bench, but paying $19 million a year for a reserve player you hope is going to turn into a starter doesn’t constitute taking a calculated risk, it’s more like rolling the dice and needing double sixes to win.

This offer sheet appeared just as offers to free agents were starting to look sane again.

The Nets are also reported giving an offer sheet to Miami Heat restricted free agent guard Tyler Johnson at $50 million over four years that is back end loaded at $18.9 million for year three and $19.6 million for year four.

Johnson has only two years in the NBA under his belt and averaged 8.7 points and 3 rebounds in just 36 games played with the Heat last year. Maybe the Nets will get lucky and Miami will match? If not, the Nets could have around $40 million tied up in two unproven young players a couple of years from now. These two guys had better look like All-Stars in the not too distant future.

Washington Wizards

The Wizards are going to pay the soon-to-be 30-year-old center Ian Mahinmi $16 million a season for four years. They do know his career averages are 5.1 points and 4.3 rebounds?

Mahinmi did “break out” to average 9.3 points and 7.1 rebounds as a full-time starter for the first time in his career with the Pacers last season, but have the Wizards heard that Marreese Speights just signed for the veteran’s minimum?

Houston Rockets

Ryan Anderson was a hot commodity in free agency. The career backup stretch-four has played starter’s minutes when he wasn’t hurt and this suspect defender can fill the net from the outside. However, missing games is the norm for Anderson and the Rockets are betting $80 million over four years he’ll play enough to earn his paycheck.

Anderson has missed 96 games over the last three seasons and he was coming off the bench for the lowly Pelicans – Do the Rockets know something no one else does?

Orlando Magic

The Magic are tried of losing and they wanted to change the culture of their team. Well, Bismack Biyombo will help with that and he’s getting paid up to $18 million a year to make it happen.

Biyombo was really good in home games with the Raptors and filled in nicely when starter Jonas Valanciunas was injured. However, the offensively challenged Biyombo averaged 5.5 points and 8 rebounds. He gives a team rim protection and boards, but that’s a lot of money for a player best suited to split the minutes at center with someone that can score.

Los Angeles Lakers

The Lakers needed veteran help, but their options were limited as few players were willing to take their money, so the made the fading 31-year-old Luol Deng an offer he couldn’t turn down, four years and $72 million.

Deng is a good locker room guy and mentor for a young team that isn’t expected to win, but as this team develops its talent, that deal is going to look very expensive. Deng’s scoring average has dropped for three years in a row as he gets slower and more perimeter oriented.

Piling on the future hit to the Lakers salary cap space is another four year deal that will pay the 30-year-old journeyman center Timofey Mozgov $16 million a season. Do the Lakers know Mozgov career averages are 6.9 points and 5 rebounds and that’s about what they should expect next year?

Portland Trail Blazers

The Trail Blazers are a team on the rise and adding a 28-year-old veteran like Evan Turner does make sense, but did they have to pay him $75 million over four years?

A career 10 point 5 rebound 4 assist wing, Turner is versatile and experienced, but the only time he has put up the big numbers that might justify a $19 million a year salary was on a really bad 76ers team. On good teams, he has reverted to the mean or a little less.

Free Agency Is Always A Little Crazy

There are plenty of free agent deals out there besides these that could generate some buyer’s remorse in the not too distant future. However, high profile guys are always going to be paid by some team based on what the CBA permits regardless and it’s getting hard to criticize any $10 million salary in a $94 million salary cap world, but $20 million for a journeyman or a prospect? Can buyer’s remorse be all that far 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 Indiana pacers Boston Celtics Portland Trail Blazers Evan Turner

NBA Free Agency Deals – They Must Be Mad List

Salaries of NBA players in free agency were going to go up this summer. We knew this. The Salary Cap rose by over $20 million, so teams had more money to spend and the current collective bargaining agreement between the players and the owners splits revenues about 50/50.

Most of the deals agreed to only look expensive when compared to past seasons, so don’t get your shorts in a knot over most of those big contracts being handed out, that’s just the new reality. They’ll be even bigger next summer.

However, that doesn’t mean every deal made was a good deal. This summer is no different than past summers in that respect. Some teams just can’t stop themselves.

New deals on the “What were they thinking – they must be mad” list include:

Los Angeles Lakers
Luol Deng 4-years $72 million
Timofey Mozgov 4-years $64 million
Jordan Clarkson 4-years $50 million

The Lakers headed into free agency suggesting they’d be prudent and cautious, then Mitch Kupchak lost his mind. So much for protecting salary cap space for next year’s really impressive crop of big name free agents.

Luol Deng at 31-years-old is in obvious decline. He’ll give you what he’s got and he’ll be a good veteran, but at $18 million per season …. really?

Do the Lakers know Timofey Mosgov is a career 6.9 point 5 rebound center?

The Jordan Clarkson deal is steep, but it’s for your own young player putting up good stats on a bad team, so you have to hope the GM knows what he’s doing in this case. (Not feeling all that confident right about now.)

Utah Jazz Joe Johnson 2-years $22 million

The 35-year-old Johnson’s stats have been in steady decline for 4 straight seasons – even taking that slightly better 24 game stint in Miami into account. He’s probably a nice steadying influence on a young team, but get used to the 40 percent shooting he was putting up for the Nets as that’s his reality and it’ll continue to get worse.

New Orleans Pelicans Solomon Hill 4-years $48 million

Hill averaged 4.2 points and 2.8 rebounds with the Pacers last season and the only saving grace to this contract is Hill’s age. Hopefully he’ll get better – a lot better.

Portland Trail Blazers Evan Turner 4-years $75 million

So the list of top flight free agents wasn’t all that long this year, but that’s no reason to spend $19 million per season on a 10 point 5 rebound 4 assist guard like Evan Turner. This veteran will help Portland, he’s not a bad player or an unknown quantity, but he’s not a front line starter either and he’s getting paid like one.

Orlando Magic D.J. Augustin 4-years $29 million

$7 million per season isn’t big money under the new salary cap, but it’s money that should still get you a solid rotation player – a sure thing and D.J. Augustin is anything but a sure thing. Augustin’s impact on NBA rosters has been up and down like a toilet seat. Solid in Charlotte, awful in Indiana, nice in Chicago, Toronto cut him, okay in OKC, nice in Denver, couldn’t shoot again in his second stint in OKC. The Magic had better hope he’s a fit in Orlando because he’s theirs for the next 4 years.

The Tempting to Dump On Them List

New York Knicks Joakim Noah 4-years $72 million

If Joakim Noah is physically okay, no one will be laughing at the Knicks for this deal. If they got it wrong again? Everyone will be – “I told you so!”

Atlanta Hawks Kent Bazemore 4-years $70 million

$17.5 million per season just seems like a lot for a solid “3-and-D” wing who’s just okay at shooting the long ball and his three-point shooting percentages have been dipping in each of the past two seasons. Is betting on a 27-year-old to take their game up another notch reasonable?

Memphis Grizzlies Chandler Parsons 4-years $95 million

The Mavericks felt a little burned after giving Parsons a max deal to steal him away from Houston two years ago. Will The Grizzlies feel the same way two years from now?

Conley, DeRozan, Drummond, Beal, Batum, Whiteside, and Fournier grab headlines because of the massive size of their pending new contracts, but these players were always going to get paid based on what the CBA permitted. The numbers are big, but no one should have been surprised.

If your team didn’t make a list, don’t worry. It’s still early in the process. However, the longer things go, the more likely any deal that gets signed will look like a good deal – for the team.

 

 

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 Paul Saini
Instagram:  @fylmm.lifestyle and  @paul_saini

 

 

 


 

NBA Los Angeles Lakers Mitch Kupchak

Lakers Lower Expectations For Next Season

General manager Mitch Kupchak dumped a huge dose of reality on Lakers fans heading into free agency. The “A” list free agents will not be beating a path to Los Angeles in July – unless it’s to visit the Clippers. ESPN’s Baxter Homes quotes Kupchak as saying,

“It might not be different.”

Just like last summer, there is no reason to believe the free agents that might be able to lift the Lakers out of the NBA Draft Lottery are coming any time soon, so Kupchak is advising the fans to be satisfied with a young team that is fun to watch.

“I think what we’d like to do is put together a group of players that are growing, that are fun to watch and they improve as the season goes along — clearly, with the intent to keep the interest of our supporters, our fans, our partners, our season-seat holders. You do have to win games.

“But as long as the team is fun to watch, our fans and our partners can see a team that’s growing and getting better as the season goes along, I think that’s the barometer that’s best for us.”

Look for the Lakers to add some moderately priced veteran leadership to help keep the young guys on track and protect the team’s future flexibility so Kupchak (or whoever is guiding the ship next season) can take advantage of a deeper free agent pool next summer.

 

 

 



 

NBA D-League Mississauga Raptors 905 Jesse Mermuys

Raptors Lose 905 Head Coach Jesse Mermuys To Walton’s Lakers

Jesse Mermuys was nothing less than a fantastic head coach with the NBA D-League Mississauga Raptors 905 last season. However, the Toronto Raptors are beginning to feel the heat as other NBA teams want what they have and are willing to poach what staff isn’t nailed to the floor in the Air Canada Center.

Luke Walton has to wait until the NBA Finals are over before he can join the Lakers, but he couldn’t land a better assistant coach for a young team, someone who knows the NBA D-League talent and is ready to help with this year’s NBA Draft than Mermuys.

Mermuys was a popular assistant coach with the Raptors as well and the Raptors young players like Delon Wright, Norman Powell, Lucas Nogueira and Bruno Caboclo raved about how much he helped them to develop this past season.

His 905 players showed remarkable progress as well with two 905 players picked up by NBA teams for the balance of the season after he turned their games around and forward Ronald Roberts getting offers that he had to turn down after getting hurt.  Greg Smith was signed by the Timberwolves and Axel Toupane went to the NuggetsThe Bucks have recently invited Roberts to their NBA Summer League team.

One of Mermuys biggest success stories was turning the podding out-of-shape 7’5 Sim Bhullar into a useful and effective center in the run-and-gun D-League. It’s an all to familiar story in the NBA. An imposing big man with the natural gifts to succeed that can’t seem to get it together at the next level. Bhullar might just make it to the NBA next season and he’ll have Mermuys to thank for it.

Outgoing, positive, easy to relate to and open, Mermuys is a perfect fit on a rebuilding Lakers team. The Raptors are going to miss him.

 

 

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 Los Angeles Lakers coach Luke Walton

Luke Walton Is The Right Man For The Lakers

By Frank McLean

The Los Angeles Lakers have picked the right man to be their new head coach, a former Lakers player and current Golden State Warriors assistant coach Luke Walton. They hope he will be the start of bringing a once proud franchise back to respectability.

The formal announcement was made Friday after Lakers president Jim Buss and GM Mitch Kupchak met with Walton in Oakland and spent six hours on Thursday interviewing him for the job. However, that was just a formality, the Lakers wanted Walton and the only head coaching job Walton really wanted was the Lakers job. It took less than 24 hours for the Lakers to make up their mind.

It’s a big loss for the Warriors having Walton go back to Hollywood, but when you have good assistant coaches in any sport it’s expected that someday they will be offered a chance to run their own teams by other organizations.

“I left the meeting thinking it went well,” Walton said following the Warriors practice on Saturday. “Obviously didn’t think it would get done that quickly.”

Walton became the next hot assistant coach to get a head coaching gig in the league based on his handling of the Warriors during Steve Kerr’s absence at the start of the season.

“He is such a big part of our culture and so much fun to be around,” Kerr said. “He’s going to be fantastic.”

Walton took over the defending champions and led them to a 39-4 record while Kerr was recovering and they won their first 24 games of the season in a row setting a new NBA record for wins to start a season.

As you know the Warriors set an NBA record with a 73 win regular season, but none of this would have happened without Walton’s ability to be the glue that held everything together.

I had a chance to meet Walton in December when the Warriors made their annual appearance in Toronto to face the Raptors. At the time the Warriors had yet to lose a game to start the season. He wasn’t wound up like a cheap watch like many coaches would be during a run like that. After Walton had his pregame media availability he was in the locker room making a peanut butter sandwhich and casually talking with anyone who walked into the room.

He had his team the same way, loose. They were sitting at their locker stalls just waiting for any member of the media who wanted to talk to them.

Walton spent eight years as a player with the Lakers, so you know the bright lights of “Tinsletown” won’t affect him.

However, when he starts training camp this coming October, one reality will set in and that’s Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson won’t be coming through the locker room door and that Kobe Bryant fellow has walked into the sunset of retirement. These aren’t your father’s Los Angeles Lakers anymore.

In that six hour interview the Lakers management had to sell Walton on what the plan is to rebuild this Lakers squad, the players they plan on going after and such to go with the young players they have now. Every coaching job has its challenges.

“The one here (in Golden State) was trying to take a good team that already had established themselves and trying to make them great,” Walton said. “The team in L.A., we need to go down there and build a foundation. We’re in the beginning years of that.”

One thing you will see, the Lakers will become the Southern California version of the Warriors, a high tempo guard oriented offense with lots of three-point shot attempts.

Walton will stay with the Warriors until there season ends and then take over the Lakers job in the offseason.

The Lakers got this hire right. They brought in a good young coach who already knows how to win championships. Now it’s up to the Lakers to find players to go with what Walton wants to do and bring the Lakers back to respectability.

 

 

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 Atlanta Hawks Al Horford Paul Millsap & Jeff Teague

It’s Just The Calm Before The NBA Trade Deadline Storm

Unlike the NHL trade deadline which is typically a day long snooze-fest of calm, in the NBA, a storm is the norm and this year won’t be any different. Huge names like Dwight Howard, Kevin Love, Al Horford, Blake Griffin and Carmelo Anthony are swirling in the trade winds and it won’t surprise anyone if a truly big name player changes teams by Thursday at 3 pm.

Plus, there are a boatload of very good NBA players who will be waiting on a trade deadline phone call as well. A sample of the names being tossed around includes:

  1. Hawks Jeff Teague, Thabo Sefolsha, and everyone else in Atlanta,
  2. Nets Thad Young and unlikely but possible Brook Lopez,
  3. Hornets Nicolas Batum and Al Jefferson,
  4. Bulls Taj Gibson and Pau Gasol,
  5. Cavaliers Timofey Mosgov,
  6. Nuggets Danilo Gallinari and Kenneth Faried,
  7. Rockets Ty Lawson,
  8. Pacers George Hill,
  9. Clippers Lance Stephenson,
  10. Lakers Brandon Bass and just about everyone else,
  11. Grizzlies have already traded Courtney Lee,
  12. Heat Chris Anderson traded, Hassan Whiteside available,  plus someone else to get below the luxury tax line
  13. Bucks Greg Monroe and Michael Carter-Williams,
  14. Timberwolves Kevin Martin, plus someone please take Nikola Pekovic
  15. Pelicans Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson,
  16. Knicks Jose Calderon,
  17. Magic already dumped Tobias Harris’ contract, Channing Frye is still in play,
  18. Suns Markieff Morris and P.J. Tucker,
  19. Kings Rudy Gay, Kosta Koufas, Ben McLemore  and more,
  20. Spurs Danny Green (those rumors have to be some kind of joke?),
  21. Raptors Patrick Patterson,
  22. Jazz Trey Burke

It’s getting hard to keep up and it’s about to get worse. Most of the names being bandied about will never come close to being traded, but as past deadlines prove, more than enough big deals will happen to keep trade deadline day very interesting indeed.

Interesting deals that happened last year,

  1. Nets trade Kevin Garnett for Thaddeus Young
  2. Nuggets traded Arron Afflalo and JaVale McGee and got Will Barton
  3. Pistons in a multi-team multi-player deal turned Kyle Singler into Reggie Jackson
  4. Heat in a multi-player deal traded two first-round picks for Goran Dragic
  5. Bucks traded Brandon Knight for Michael Carter-Williams, Tyler Ennis and Miles Plumlee.
  6. Thunder turned Reggie Jackson into Enes Kanter and Kyle Singler

It was a wild and woolly NBA trade deadline last year. It’s is going to be just as exciting this time around.

 

 

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

 

 

 

NBA Houston Rockets Dwight HowardNBA Trade Deadline Teams Motivated By Money

For teams that are underachieving, deals motivated by money become a very real possibility. The luxury tax provisions of the 2011 Collective Bargaining Agreement are enough to give any general manager reason to pause. It has to be worth it to pay the tax.

 

 

NBA Lakers Kobe Bryant

Remembering The Call: Kobe Bryant’s 81 Point Night

By Frank McLean

With the Kobe Bryant farewell tour heading well into its third month, let’s take a look at the biggest night of his career which will always be tied into the lore of the Toronto Raptors.

Los Angeles Lakers Kobe Bryant

Ten years ago on Sunday January 21st, 2006 at The Staples Centre, Kobe Bryant had the best offensive night of his 20-year career by scoring 81 points against the Raptors in a 122-104 comeback Lakers win.

The game was significant because to this day it’s the second best offensive performance in NBA history.

The record, which probably will never be broken, is held by the late Wilt Chamberlain who on March 2nd 1962 as a member of the Philadelphia Warriors scored 100 points in a 169-147 win over the New York Knicks. Before you ask, that game was played in the regulation 48 minutes, there was no overtime played. I guess they didn’t play defense in the early 60’s?

What make’s Wilt’s night that much more special is that it came long before the three point line was ever invented, but let’s not take anything away from Kobe and his night. He beat the Raptors all by himself.

The Lakers were down 63-49 at halftime and Kobe had already scored 26 points. Then at one point in the third quarter the Lakers were trailing by 71-53, however, Kobe went nuts scoring 55 points in the second half to finish with the 81.

Recently when the Lakers were in town I talked to members of the Raptors and Lakers broadcasters who were courtside that night to give their take about the game.

Doing the play-by-play on Sportsnet that night was Chuck Swirsky who now is the radio voice of the Chicago Bulls.

“First it was a Sunday night game where there were no A-listers (celebrities) at the game, ” Swirsky said. “It was a pedestrian game. The Lakers didn’t have their A-list dressed but then Kobe got hot. I mean he got to the foul-line 20-times, he was attacking the rim. We didn’t trap him, didn’t throw any different unique defense at him. We had Matt Bonner guarding him, Mo Peterson. We had (Chris) Bosh on top of him. We had Mike James, Jalen Rose. You name it we threw everything at him it was just phenomenal.”

Leo Rautins was doing color with Swirsky that night and he says the Lakers needed everything that Kobe gave them that night.

“Normally when you have a big game like that a lot of it is window dressing, but that 81 they (Lakers) needed every one of those points, ” Rautins remembered. “They were getting killed, Kobe had a big first half and nobody else did anything. It was one of those things where you let him get his and see what happens. But he kept getting his and kept getting his and the next thing you know it was 81 points. The last 10 or 15 points were window dressing and the rest of it was much needed for them.”

Paul Jones was doing the play-by-play on the radio for the FAN590 and he says that a few weeks before the Raptors game against Dallas Kobe was having no problems scoring points.

“When I think back a couple of weeks before, he had a game where he had 62 points after three quarters, ” Jones said. “They were blowing them out and Phil Jackson said no you sit down we don’t need you. That night they needed every point from him and once he got going I mean he hit the 50 point mark so quickly I turned to Eric (color man Smith) and said 70 tonight? We didn’t think he could keep that pace up.”

Stu Lantz who for the last 29 years has done color commentary on Lakers television and at one point radio also said you could see something special was ready to take place in the second half.

“It was early in the second (half) and I started thinking I was going to see something special but I had no idea how special it was going to be, ” Lantz said. “I just couldn’t envision anybody in this day and age going for 81 points, but he had that ability to get into those types of zones, and if the opposition didn’t take the ball out of his hands he could do that to teams.”

Lakers radio play-by-play man John Ireland was there that night as well. He wasn’t the play-by-man for the team at that time, but was covering the game for KCAL-9 television in Los Angeles. He was amazed by the Raptors strategy.

“The thing that stands out about that game, Sam Mitchell the coach of the Raptors at the time refused to double team Kobe, ” Ireland remembered. “If you go back and watch that, and I have talked to Jalen Rose about this, they were begging Sam to double-team Kobe. But they just kept changing the look they wanted to take the ball out of Kobe’s hands, but Sam was stubborn and he wouldn’t do it. I said to the guy sitting next to me that if they don’t take the ball out of Kobe’s hands he’ll score 70 points. I was 11 points short.”

There you have it five different perspectives of what happened the night Kobe drops 81 on the Raptors.

Me, well I only saw the first half. I went to bed. I had an early morning appointment and I figured the Raptors had the game won. I went to the fridge and got out the “Salami and Cheese” like Swirsky used to say.

I’m very thankful that someone invented “You Tube”.

 

 

Frank McLean - small sizeVeteran 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.

 

 

Kobe Bryant

The Decline of Lakers Kobe Bryant Is Just Sad To Watch

By Frank McLean

Every athlete’s wish is that when it’s time to walk away from the game they love, they will leave it on their own terms and no one has to tell them “Hey Man You Don’t Have It No More”. Watching the decline of the Los Angeles Lakers future Hall of Fame superstar Kobe Bryant right before our eyes each night is just sad.

Ted Williams did it right. The great Boston Red Sox outfielder in his final at-bat of his career hit a home-run, rounded the bases in Fenway Park touched home plate and headed for the tunnel to clubhouse and never returned to the diamond again. Everybody wants to exit the stage the way “The Splendid Splinter” did.

The last thing you want to remember a hall of famer by is that he stayed too long and becomes a shell of what he once was. That’s what’s going on in Los Angeles right now with Kobe Bryant.

Kobe Bryant looking back

Father time and injuries have caught up to the “Black Mamba” and you find out what Superman must have looked like when he found that pile of kryptonite and lost all his superpowers. Bryant has had in the neighbourhood of 23 different injuries in his 20-year NBA career which started in his teens and now is probably coming to an end at age 37.

You could see he was lost when you watched Tuesday night while the Lakers got throttled by the Golden State Warriors to set the NBA record for consecutive wins to start the season. The Lakers lost 111-77.

This was the type of game which Bryant used to shine in, when the national spotlight was shining on the Lakers. Instead the spotlight was burnt out as he went 1-for-14 shooting. Worse it was the second time this year Bryant has put up a 1-for-14 effort in a game.

Meanwhile Stephen Curry of the Warriors, who has a style of play would have fit perfectly with the old Showtime Lakers, went 10-for-21 and scored 24 points. Curry had the type of game Bryant used to play.

Lakers head coach Byron Scott is in tough spot with Bryant going from a one-time teammate to his boss. Scott in his comments at practice the day after the Warriors let on that he is going to let Bryant find his own way back to being the old Kobe Bryant.

“I’m letting him try to find it for himself,” Scott said. “He’s been doing this for a long time. I’m not so much worried about Kobe. I am concerned about his shooting percentage and shots so far, but so far as knowing him the way I’ve known him and how long he’s played in this league, I’m not worried about him finding it.”

Scott also went on to say that he does not plan to diminish Bryant’s role on the team.

“I haven’t thought about reducing his role. I think his role is pretty defined for us right now, so is his minutes.”

There is an old saying that numbers never lie. Here is what Bryant is doing. He is leading the team by averaging 16.4 shots per game which is more than his 15.2 points and he is second on the team averaging 30.5 minutes per game. Most 37-year-olds, if they are still playing in the NBA, don’t usually play 30 minutes a game.

Many pundits think the minutes are taking a toll on Bryant, but Scott doesn’t buy that.

“Maybe it is, but my opinion, watching him, I don’t think so,” Scott said.

When you listen to Scott you just wonder if he just does not want to admit what everyone else sees is that Bryant is losing it. He’s not just your average coach when it comes to Bryant, he went through the NBA wars with him as a teammate. The sad thing is, whether you are fan or a reporter, you hate to see the greats in any sport finish up not being the “MAN” they once were.

The Lakers make their only appearance in Toronto on December 7th and it’s probably the last time Kobe Bryant plays an NBA game in Canada. The fan in me wants to remember the Kobe Bryant who would come to Toronto once a year and hit last second buzzer beater shots to win games.

I just hope he doesn’t show up and drop another 1-for-14 from the field and maybe he has one last Ted Williams game in him. That’s what this fan/reporter is hoping.

 

 

Frank McLean - small sizeVeteran 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.

 

 

 

Are Knicks And Lakers Being Used And Abused?

Pretty much all is fair when millionaire players are extracting their next massive contract from billionaire owners during free agency, but are the once powerful Knicks and Lakers being used and abused during the process this time around?

The sympathy level from the other 28 NBA teams for New York and Los Angeles is probably close to negative as LaMarcus Aldridge, DeAndre Jordan, Greg Monroe and others make the circuit with stops including the Knicks and Lakers that were apparently only for show.

There was a time when these two historic franchises could toss money at big name players and they’d come. The Lakers with a lot of success afterwards, the Knicks not so much, but in both cases, big names came willingly to their respective franchises. But not this time.

The reasons should be obvious. The Knicks were second last in the East with 17 wins last season while the Lakers were second last in the West with 21 wins and neither team headed into free agency looking like they were about to rebound into the playoffs next season.

It’s a tough sale to convince star free agents to come and save your franchise. They can get paid to go help a winning program get better and winning still counts in the NBA. The lifestyle of the big city will only carry things so far and was never the be-all and end-all for every player to begin with, Carmelo Anthony’s desires notwithstanding.

Also, these two teams stars may have had their own impact on some free agents decision-making process as well.

While Anthony has shown he can play effectively with other All-Stars on the US Men’s National Team, in New York this prolific scorer has a reputation as a black hole. The ball goes in, but it doesn’t come back. If a star player feels they need the ball in their hands to be effective, playing with Anthony may not be their first choice – whether that’s fair to think or not. The mystery surrounding how Phil Jackson is going to build around Anthony really doesn’t help matters either.

Kobe Bryant has created his own reputation of late with Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol leaving town. Bryant will retire in a year. Why not just wait until the Lakers have an insane amount of cap space in 2016, their rookies have proven themselves or not, and the culture can truly move on from the Phil Jackson/Jerry Buss/ Bryant era? There are plenty of other suitors out there this summer that don’t have these question marks.

Both franchises can still help themselves this summer. Solid role players from free agency and potential off season trades could establish the direction the franchises are headed and start building a base for next summer. Some kind of realistic plan would be good.

 

 

Or they could just tread water and hope things get better?

 

 

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.

 

 

 

Should The Toronto Raptors Bring Back Ed Davis?

Ed Davis was a popular player on some truly terrible Toronto Raptors teams from 2010 to 2013. An athletic big man that could rebound, block shots and finish around the rim, but wasn’t changing the fact his team couldn’t win. Traded away in a last ditch effort to save then President and General Manager Bryan Colangelo’s job, Davis has bounced from Memphis to the Lakers and is expected to decline his NBA minimum salary player option for next season to become an unrestricted free agent for the second time. So, should the rebounding challenged Raptors attempt to bring him back?

There are a lot of free agent big men available this year and Toronto has to make decisions on Amir Johnson, Tyler Hansbrough, Chuck Hayes and Greg Stiemsma before looking at the numerous possibilities available.

The issue with Davis in Toronto and elsewhere hasn’t been his production. His per 36 minute numbers have averaged right around 12.1 points, 10.6 rebounds, 1.7 blocks and 0.9 steals in each of his five NBA seasons with three different teams and his average minutes bouncing between 15 and 24. This past season in Los Angeles was his best season and the analytics looked good, but it really wasn’t out of line with what he’s done in the past and the old hard to shake ‘soft’ label continued to follow him.

SB Nation, Silver Screen and Roll, Free Agent Forecast: Ed Davis raises some all too familiar observations:

Jameson Miller: Davis has had a great year in limited minutes on an awful team, so valuing him accurately comes with all sorts of potential pitfalls and caveats.

Trevor Lane: He is a fantastic player but his shortcomings limit his usefulness. His slim frame kills his effectiveness as a center by making it tough for him to stand his ground defensively against bigger players, while his complete lack of a jump shot makes it difficult to play him at power forward.

Davis has looked at his best on bad teams that were willing to give him minutes. What should concern his next team looking to invest more than the NBA minimum contract the Lakers handed to him is what happened in Memphis. The Grizzlies gave him a good look, but after January 2014 he only averaged 11 minutes per game interspersed with numerous DNPs. Then Memphis let him walk as a free agent at the end of the season.

The soon-to-be 26-year-old did average 8.3 points, 7.6 rebounds, 1.2 blocks and 23.3 minutes while shooting an impressive 60.1 percent from the field with the Lakers – although 96 percent of his shots were within 10 feet of the rim. Davis has done enough to be noticed in a crowded field of free agent big men this summer and could be a nice addition off the bench in the right situation.

Toronto might be that situation – maybe. Ideally Davis would be playing beside a stretch-four/five with the physical presence needed to not get pushed around in the paint by bigger players, someone like the Raptors Patrick Patterson or Amir Johnson. It isn’t an easy call and Toronto may be able to find better options, but if Davis can convince Head coach Dwane Casey that he could help the Raptors rebound better, then there could be a role for him on the roster.

Davis should attract a little more attention in free agency this summer than he did in 2014 when he had little choice but to accept the Lakers minimal offer, but he really didn’t show any more potential this past season than he did when he was in Toronto. Davis’ agent still has a sales job to do in order to get his client a better deal. In the end it may come down to choosing between more money and a smaller role in a better/winning situation.

 

 
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.

 

 

 

Should Kobe Bryant Let James Harden Start The All-Star Game?

It should be obvious to even the most ardent Kobe Bryant fan that the 16-time All-Star and future Hall-of-Fame guard is no longer the dominant player he once was. Coming back from two serious injuries at 36-years-old has left Bryant a shell of his former self, but that hasn’t stopped his legions of supporters from voting en masse to make him an All-Star starter once again at the expense of the NBA’s leading scorer James Harden.

It was only two years ago that Bryant was scoring 27.3 points per game at 34-years-old and leading the All-Star vote getters with 1,591,437 votes. Father time seemed to have passed him by, but that is a battle every pro athlete eventually loses and as Bryant went down in a crumpled heap at the end of that season, everything was about to change.

Last season Bryant made a triumphant return in December, but it only lasted six games before another injury ended his campaign. However, it didn’t stop fans from voting him to a starting job in the All-Star Game with just under a million votes. James Harden, who was the Western Conference’s top scoring guard last season, got the starting job in Bryant’s place.

All-Star balloting by the fans is acknowledged to be a popularity contest and Bryant remains very popular, but it isn’t based on anything he is doing this season. Bryant’s Lakers are a dismal 12-27 and while Bryant is scoring 22.7 points per game, he is taking almost 21 shots to do it. A field goal percentage of 36.9 is by far the worst of his career. Still Bryant leads Harden by over a 170,000 votes in the latest returns despite Harden leading the NBA in scoring on the 27-11 third place Rockets.

Even Lakers head coach Byron Scott is worried about Bryant. Scott has taken to giving Bryant games off to rest, but even that isn’t helping. Recently Bryant had the game off before facing the Clippers and he was held to 2-12 shooting in a 25 point loss. Then he had two more games rest before returning to shoot 3-19 at home versus the HEAT in a three point loss. Bryant taking all four of the Lakers shots in the final minute and making only one of them.

Recent play has brought speculation from Yaron Weitzman of SB Nation that the Lakers might shut Bryant down after the All-Star Game to hopefully get the most out of their aging star next season when he is set to earn $25 million in the final year of his current contract.

While there are no plans to do so right now, Lakers head coach Byron Scott acknowledged Sunday that the team may consider sitting Kobe Bryant down at some point later on in the season.

“He’s a basketball player that’s played a lot of years so I have to be a little concerned about that,” Scott said. “That’s the reason that I’m taking such precautionary measures and making sure he doesn’t play so many games. I want him to be right, not only for this season but for next season as well.”

The fans have a right to vote for any player they want to see start in an All-Star Game. In 2011, Yao Ming got the nod after missing the entire season before and only playing in five games that year. Bryant’s situation is not that severe. He should be able to play in the All-Star Game if he so chooses.

However, his current season is not what Bryant expects of himself or what most fans expect from their All-Star starting guard. It would seem to be appropriate for Bryant to let Harden start in his place again this year and if the Lakers really are going to shut Bryant down for the season after the All-Star Game, maybe it’s time for him to just let someone else have his spot on the All-Star roster.

Note: All-Star balloting doesn’t close until January 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.

 

 

 

Toronto Raptors Should Trade For A Rebounder

President and General Manager, Basketball Operations Masai Ujiri should be forgiven if he chooses to sit on his hands through the NBA trade deadline. His Eastern Conference leading team is exceeding all expectations and will be instantly improved once DeMar DeRozan returns from his groin injury – which could happen any day now. However, rebounding has been an issue all season and Ujiri would be remiss if he wasn’t looking to add some frontcourt help on the glass.

The bane of Head Coach’s Dwane Casey’s defense has been giving up offense rebounds after a tough defensive stand. The Raptors are 26th in the Association at grabbing available defensive boards at 72.7 percent. Only the guard heavy Suns and the offensive-minded Mavericks are worse among +.500 teams. The Wizards are top five in defensive rebounding at 77.2 percent of available defensive rebounds and the Hawks and Bulls grab better than 74 percent. These are teams Toronto will have to beat if this season is going to go as well as the early indications suggest it might.

Big men that can rebound and provide some rim protection are always in demand, but looking around the league, there are some trade targets Ujiri could go after if he is willing to part with some of his future oriented assets. Also, Toronto has players on expiring contracts that could provide matching salaries in a deal.
 
Kevin Garnett, Brooklyn Nets
 
It might seem crazy to rent the 38-year-old Garnett for the rest of the season, but he leads the NBA in defensive rebounding percentage at 33.5 and is currently a top 10 rebounder per minute. No one should question his passion to win and the impact he would have on a young team like Toronto.

Garnett doesn’t come without some risks and he should be a polarizing figure in any debate about who the Raptors should target. However, his expiring deal shouldn’t command a high price and he is best suited to a backup center role and that meets the Raptors needs for this season.
 
Brandan Wright, Boston Celtics
 
The Raptors were interested in the 27-year-old 6’10 athletic forward/center when he signed with Dallas two summers ago as a free agent. His rebounding numbers are average, but his shot blocking is superior. Wright is efficient offensively and he has the kind of long reach and big hops that seems to attract Ujiri.

Boston doesn’t seem interested in keeping Wright, but they are not under any to pressure to move him either. The Celtics will likely hold out for a future oriented asset in return and Wright will be an unrestricted free agent after the season. His $5 million salary makes a trade relatively straightforward if Ujiri is willing to part with a draft pick or a rookie?
 
Jordan Hill, Los Angeles Lakers
 
When the Lakers claimed center Tarik Black off of waivers, they may as well have fired off an email to every GM that they now have a big man available to trade. The most likely available target, Jordan Hill, has a $9 million deal and a team option for $9 million that would probably have to be picked up to get a trade done.

The 27-year-old 6’10 center is starting for the woeful Lakers, but would probably look better coming off the bench against other backups. He is long, bouncy and plays with energy and he is a solid defensive rebounder that grabs about 20 percent of the available defensive boards. In Toronto, only Valanciunas has better numbers on the glass than Hill.

It’s tough to know what the Lakers would want in return. They should be rebuilding and the acquisition of Black suggests that might be the direction the team is heading. Toronto does have an ‘extra’ first round draft pick in 2016 if Ujiri wants a specific player badly enough and one look at the Lakers roster suggests players like Landry Fields and Tyler Hansbrough would actually help them.
 
Bismack Biyombo, Charlotte Hornets
 
At 22-years-old, Bismack Biyombo is still young, raw and coming to the end of his rookie deal in Charlotte. He is playing 14.4 minutes a night and earning $3.9 million. The Hornets will have to make him a $5.1 million qualifying offer this summer or risk losing him for nothing in free agency. There is a deal to made here if another team wants him.

Biyombo isn’t going to score much and it’s likely he never will. He’s 50 percent from the free throw line as well. However, he rebounds the heck out of the ball. Top 5 in rebounds per minute grabbing over 25 percent of the available defensive boards and over 15 percent at the offensive end, Biyombo does what no one else on the Raptors can except Valanciunas. He is also blocking 7.7 percent of opponent’s two-point shots while he is on the court. This kid provides rim protection and takes away opponents’ second chance opportunities.

On a team that is at the top of the league in scoring, a shot blocking rebounder could look pretty good coming off the bench.
 
Players to keep an eye on:
 
Nuggets JaVale McGee had tibia surgery last year and is out with leg soreness, but if he comes back in time, he is a player Denver might give up assets to move along. He makes $12 million next season and appears to have lost his job to Timofey Mozgov, but he is an active player and very good rebounder when 100 percent healthy. There will be rumors about all the Nuggets big men if they keep losing at the current rate.

Rockets Terrence Jones will be out for 4-6 weeks with nerve damage in his leg and when he gets back, it looks like recently acquired Josh Smith will be his team’s main man at power forward – for now and in the future. His return should coincide with the trade deadline, so if the Rockets feel they have a need, he is an attractive trade asset.

Ujiri has options to look at during the season. The bigger question in Toronto revolves around messing with some very effective team chemistry and keeping one’s powder dry (salary cap space available) for the July free agency period. However, when a team is doing this well and has a legitimate shot at reaching the NBA Finals, Ujiri has to look at what’s available. The future is unpredictable. The opportunity to go far in the playoffs may not be there again next 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.

 

 

 

Amir Lowry and DeRozanToronto Raptors New Year’s Hopes And Wishes

A GM’s job is never done and the Raptors have hopes and wishes for the New Year. Fortunately, outside of a couple of possible roster tweaks, the Raptors best chance at a dramatic improvement is already in their own locker room. It isn’t often a team can hold onto first place in the conference while their only All-Star is out of action for over a month. However, their biggest wish is for their fans to vote Kyle Lowry onto the All-Star team.

 

 

Landry Fields - croppedThe Toronto Raptors Landry Fields Showcase

Fields has the highest salary of any player on the Raptors who isn’t part of the regular rotation and that big expiring contract could make him a key piece in any trade President and General Manager, Basketball Operations Masai Ujiri might make in an attempt to upgrade the team’s roster for the postseason and beyond.

 

 

TOR DeRozan Lowry ValanciunasRaptors No. 1 In Attendance But Not In All-Star Voting

After 30 games, 17 of them at home, the Toronto Raptors lead the NBA in attendance at 334,624, but their fans just aren’t getting the job done in the All-Star voting. In the early All-Star ballot returns, Toronto doesn’t have any players even close to being voted into the big game.

 

 

 

Raptors at Lakers – The Postgame Show With Co-host James Borbath

Join Pro Bball Report Editor Stephen Brotherston and Dino Nation’s James Borbath as we discuss the aftermath of the Toronto Raptors road game in Los Angeles against the Lakers. The video podcast will start shortly after the conclusion of the game. (about 12 midnight ET)

Submit questions during the Postgame Show on the Google Hangout or at anytime prior to or during the Show on twitter using the hash-tag #PBRPost @stevesraptors @DNBorby

Google Event page: Join the Google Hangout

or watch on Youtube here.

Pregame Ramble:

With 13 wins already, the Toronto Raptors will finish off November with the most wins in any month of the franchise’s history no matter what happens tonight in L.A., however, at 7-0 versus teams under .500, the Raptors should be feeling pretty confidence of the win over the 3-13 Lakers.

Toronto will be minus their All-Star DeMar DeRozan who is out indefinitely with a torn left adductor (thigh) tendon. He could be out for several weeks or even longer if surgery is required, but as Kyle Lowry said, “next man up.”

Toronto’s backup guards Lou Williams and Greivis Vasquez have shot a combined for a 49.2 percent from the field, 45.4 percent from three-point range and 83.3 percent from the charity stripe over the last three games while contributing 30.6 points off the bench. They are the next men up in Toronto.

Future Hall-of-Fame guard Kobe Bryant leads the league in scoring at 26.4 points per game, but he’s taking 23.1 field goal attempts which is twice as many as any of his teammates and he’s shooting 38.8 percent from the field. However, the Lakers truly are a collection of parts thrown together at the last minute and it’s hard to blame Bryant for trying to will his team to victory.

Toronto has to take their opponent seriously tonight as the Lakers have split the last two season series with the Raptors 1-1. They must ignore the records and come ready to play if they hope to get out of L.A. with a win.

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

Williams and KobeRaptors Finish Franchise’s Best Month Ever Against The Lakers

The Lakers are off to a terrible start and currently reside at the bottom of the Western Conference at 3-13. However, they have faced one of the NBA’s toughest schedules to-date and have picked up wins against Charlotte, Atlanta and Houston (yes, that’s all of their wins), so they are likely better than most of the other non-playoff teams in the West.

 

 

TOR James Johnson Vasquez and WilliamsCan The Toronto Raptors Win Without DeMar DeRozan?

However, recent history suggests the Raptors may not have as much to worry about as some other teams in the Association that do not sport Toronto’s depth. Since the Rudy Gay trade last December that brought in current Raptors Greivis Vasquez, Patrick Patterson and Chuck Hayes, Toronto has been on an unbelievable roll – by local standards anyway.

 

 

 

Raptors Finish Franchise’s Best Month Ever Against The Lakers

With 13 wins already, the Toronto Raptors will finish off November with the most wins in any month of the franchise’s history. The most Toronto had reached previously was 11 in March 1999, January 2002 and again in January 2014. They will also lose the fewest number of games in the opening month (Oct./Nov.) of a season (6 in 1999.)

The 13-3 Raptors will roll into Los Angeles to face the Lakers on Sunday minus their All-Star DeMar DeRozan who is out indefinitely with a torn left adductor (thigh) tendon. He could be out for several weeks or even longer if surgery is required, but as Kyle Lowry said, “next man up.”

The Lakers are off to a terrible start and currently reside at the bottom of the Western Conference at 3-13. However, they have faced one of the NBA’s toughest schedules to-date and have picked up wins against Charlotte, Atlanta and Houston (yes, that’s all of their wins), so they are likely better than most of the other non-playoff teams in the West.

Future Hall-of-Fame guard Kobe Bryant leads the league in scoring at 26.4 points per game, but he’s taking 23.1 field goal attempts which is twice as many as any of his teammates and he’s shooting 38.8 percent from the field. However, the Lakers truly are a collection of parts thrown together at the last minute and they are just as likely to defer to Bryant as he is to try and dominant the offense. Unsurprisingly, the Lakers haven’t shown a lot of team chemistry, but if they find any, this squad would quickly become that much more dangerous.

The first-place Raptors have a three game lead over both Washington and Chicago. They are 4-2 against the top-eight teams in the East with wins against Washington, Milwaukee, Atlanta and Cleveland. Toronto is 2-1 against the top-eight teams in the West with wins against Memphis and Phoenix. They are 7-0 against teams under .500 this season.

Toronto’s backup guards Lou Williams and Greivis Vasquez have shot a combined for a 49.2 percent from the field, 45.4 percent from three-point range and 83.3 percent from the charity stripe over the last three games while contributing 30.6 points off the bench. Vasquez finally starting to find the form he had with Toronto last season and Williams fitting in like he has never played anywhere else. Their timing couldn’t have been better as these two players will be expected to pick up a lot of the slack during DeRozan’s absence. They are the next men up in Toronto.

The good news for the Raptors is when DeRozan missed three games last season, Toronto went 3-0 and Vasquez led the team in scoring as a starter in one of those games. There is no reason for the team’s confidence to be shaken because of their All-Star’s absence and this year the Raptors are a deeper squad.

The players on these two teams know each other well:

  • Ed Davis was drafted by the Toronto in 2010 and played there until 2013.
  • Xavier Henry and Greivis Vasquez were teammates in Memphis (2010-11) and New Orleans (2011-13).
  • Jeremy Lin and Landry Fields were teammates on the Knicks (2011-12). Lin played with Patrick Patterson in Houston (2012-13).
  • Jordan Hill and Chuck Hayes were on the Rockets (2009-10 and 2010-11). Hill was teammates with Kyle Lowry and Patterson in Houston (2010-12).
  • Carlos Boozer and James Johnson were teammates in Chicago (2010-11).
  • Nick Young and DeMar DeRozan both attended USC.

The Lakers have split the last two season series with the Raptors 1-1. Toronto has to ignore the records and come ready to play if they hope to get out of L.A. with a win on Sunday.

 

 

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.

 

 

TOR James Johnson Vasquez and WilliamsCan The Toronto Raptors Win Without DeMar DeRozan?

DeMar DeRozan has a torn adductor tendon (thigh), it’ll be a lot longer than just a few games, so how will GM Ujiri react? Can Vasquez, Williams and Johnson fill the gap?

 

 

Lakers Entertaining Kobe Bryant Asks Why So Sensitive?

Pretty much as everyone expected, the Lakers were blown out by 18 points in their home opener, but that doesn’t mean there was nothing to see. In the fourth quarter Kobe Bryant sticks his nose into Dwight Howard’s face as the big man tried to clear space with his elbows to make a clean pass and the fans got a bit of excitement in a game that was never in doubt.

Los Angeles Times Mike Bresnahan quoted Bryant as saying,

“I think it’s fantastic,” Bryant said. “Elbows are part of the game. Trash-talking is part of the game. I don’t know where the NBA became so sensitive.”

Bryant knew exactly what Howard was doing, Howard knew exactly where Bryant’s nose was and neither player was in any more danger from the physical play than they were from the trash-talking afterwards. The referees gave Bryant a foul, Howard a flagrant one and each player a technical – no biggie, but Bryant was right, when did the NBA become so sensitive?

After 18 seasons, Bryant probably knows the answer, it was always sensitive on the court in the heat of the moment, but afterwards and especially in this case, what occurred was mostly just entertaining.

Los Angeles Lakers Media DayThe real event to be sensitive about was Lakers Julius Randle broken right leg in what looked like a fairly typical collision that could put the rookie out of action for the rest of the season. That was very real. What Bryant and Howard were doing was just two veterans that know each other well horsing around with zero future implications.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

Teague Lowry Valanciunas HorfordRaptors Pregame Bullets Podcast – Vs Hawks 10-29-2014

Video podcast – The Atlanta Hawks visit Toronto to open the Raptors 20th NBA season on Wednesday night. The Hawks owing the longest consecutive streak in the postseason among Eastern Conference teams at 7 years and the Atlantic Division winning Raptors hoping to build on last season’s unexpected success.

 

 

 

Ranking The Bottom 5 Of The NBA Western Conference

The NBA Western Conference remains a tough place to play heading into the 2014-15 season. There is no easy route to the playoffs and there will be a few teams jealously looking East again this season.

However, most of the teams dragging up the rear will be better and win more games – the rebuilding Timberwolves being the obvious exception. Look for the bottom 5 to make life uncomfortable for franchises in the tier just above them and to bring down the win totals of the playoff bound teams in the West this season.

As usual injuries, hidden agendas and plain old fashioned luck will impact the final standings.

Ranking The Bottom 5

11. New Orleans Pelicans – Projected 39-43, last season 34-48
New Orleans Pelicans Media Day
The mash unit that is the Pelicans has the talent to grab a better record and possibility even challenge for a playoff spot, if – and it’s a big if – everyone comes back from injury as good as before and the injury bug doesn’t bite anywhere near as hard as it did last season.

Jrue Holiday is returning from a stress fracture in his right leg. Eric Gordon is returning from knee surgery. Tyreke Evans hopes to be returning from knee surgery and Ryan Anderson is hopeful of making a comeback from his neck problems. Now that’s a fine looking foursome in just about any team’s rotation, if they can actually play.

The potential of Anthony Davis becoming a bona fide superstar continues to give the Pelicans hope, but even he missed 15 games last season. If New Orleans can stay healthy, look out, but the only kind of luck this franchise has experienced recently has been bad luck.

12. Sacramento Kings – Projected 34-48, last season 28-54
TOR_Gay_Rudy
The Kings were a much better team after the trade with Toronto that landed them Rudy Gay. They won 38 percent of their games with the new lineup. Even losing Isaiah Thomas’ 20 points per game this summer probably doesn’t hurt them as Darren Collision and Ramon Sessions will add a badly needed level of maturity to this roster. Like last season, Sacramento will not have problems scoring points this year either.

Everyone continues to wait on DeMarcus Cousins to grow up and become the dominant center his natural ability says is in him. His time on Team USA this summer should help him, although his immaturity still showed through at inappropriate times and at 24-years-old, it’s time that stopped.

13. Los Angeles Lakers – Projected 33-49, last season, 27-55
LAL_Bryant_Kobe
It’s hard to know what to make of the hodge-podge of talent Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak has put together other than this group of players should win more games than last year. A group of cast offs that other teams had believed in before – generally with good reasons – and two aging superstars returning from injuries in Steve Nash (40) and Kobe Bryant (36) could surprise people on any given night.

For the Lakers to have a good season, good as in challenge for a playoff spot, Nash needs to stay healthy and be a dime generating machine that can nail three-pointers like in the good old days. You shouldn’t be holding your breath, but it would be nice to see. Then Kobe has to be able to score like before and still have enough left to play some defense.

There is a very good chance the Lakers become an exciting enough offensive team that they are fun to watch and Bryant resembles some of what fans pay good money to see. However, it is hard to believe this collection of players can find the chemistry needed to win enough games in time to be relevant.

14. Utah Jazz – Projected 29-53, last season 25-57
Utah Jazz Media Day
The very young Jazz are another year older and wiser. Still too young and inexperienced to be a significant threat on most nights, they will win more games than last season.

The starting lineup of Trey Burke, Alec Burks, Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter will keep the opposition honest as they continue to improve.

15. Minnesota Timberwolves – Projected 22-60, last season 40-42
Cleveland Cavaliers Media Day
Kevin Love is gone and the Timberwolves are loaded with young exciting potential superstar level talent. If Minnesota can develop Andrew Wiggins, Zach LaVine, Anthony Bennett and Gorgui Deng into the players they are envisioned as becoming and can retain them long term, the future looks bright.

For this year, Ricky Rubio, Kevin Martin, Corey Brewer, Thaddeus Young and Nikola Pekovic are the guys the Timberwolves will need to turn to for wins. Hopefully, Head Coach Flip Saunders doesn’t let winning get in the road of player development.

Risks and Obstacles

The Pelicans could be treading water waiting for injured players to return or just round back into form and the Lakers appear to be waiting until next season, but both teams have talent if everything breaks in their favor. Plus, everyone has been waiting for the Kings to figure things out and play up to their talent level long enough to put them into the show-me category. Now these situations are not usually a formula for success, but the teams bear watching.

The Jazz and Timberwolves are in true rebuild mode and expectations are low. However, they have young exciting talent and in Minnesota’s situation in particular, their head coach can move the win total up or down significantly.

 

Who do you think finishes last in the West? Which one of the teams in the bottom 5 will be first to overtly start tanking the season? Can any of these teams exceed expectations and make the playoffs? Let us know in the comments below.

 

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.

 

 

Griffin and Chandler
Ranking The Top Five 2014-15 NBA Western Conference Teams

 

Harden and Lillard
Ranking The Middle Of The NBA Western Conference Pack

 

 

Raptors Get Seduced Into A D’Antoni Game

Coach Casey’s defensive-minded Raptors were seduced into a pretty Coach D’Antoni style of play and it cost them a winnable game at the Air Canada Centre on Sunday afternoon.  The Lakers outscored the Raptors 112-106.

TOR_Casey_Dwane“It is easy to do,” Casey said.  “They are coming down shooting the shot.  Things are easy, it seems easy, so you get seduced into that game.”

 

Toronto, who had held opponents below 90 points on average over the past 10 games, had the Lakers on their heels in the second and third quarters, but let leads of 19 points and 17 points slip away as the usually pace-conscious Raptors were quite literally tricked into having fun.  Toronto hoisted an unconscionable 90 shots and forgot about their defensive identity.

“Our personality wasn’t into the game today,” Casey said.  “We got caught up into the spread the floor, draw and kick shoot the three – shoot the quick three and we can’t win that way.  We are not built that way.  That is not our identity.

“We didn’t get defense in the game.  That was the thing about the whole night.  (We) played their game up and down.  It was pretty, but we didn’t get defense in the game and that allowed those big runs and that is not who we are.”

What was happening to the Raptors was obvious from the opening tip.  The Lakers want to play streetball and its fun.  Almost immediately the Raptors fell into the trap and were seduced by the fast-flowing easy-scoring style that the Lakers like to play and have some personnel who are very good at it.

Nick Young, who has never seen a shot he didn’t like, went off for 29 points as the Raptors let their defense slide.  The softer than usual defense also led to a lot of step-slow foul calls against the Raptors who put the Lakers on the free throw line 28 times.  Casey making the unusual comment that his team took some ‘bonehead’ fouls.

Toronto out rebounded the Lakers 47-31, hit on 48.9 percent of their shots and only turned the ball over 13 times, but they are not going to win many games against any team in the NBA playing the style of game they were seduced into this afternoon.  Casey knows his Raptors are not going to out-talent their opposition very often.

“We have to be a grind it out (team),” Casey said.

SAC_Vasquez_GreivisProps should go to the Raptors bench who scored 35 points, played some defense and were better than the opposition.  Greivis Vasquez had 11 points, 5 rebounds and 8 assists and was a +15 while he was on the court.

 

The Lakers road trip moves on to Chicago for Monday.

The Raptors face their arch nemesis – the Bobcats – in Charlotte on Monday.

Check out our Raptors Game Info page and Pregame Report.

 

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.

 

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“Coach Clifford is big on defense,” Zeller said. “We won a lot of games just playing defense. We won a lot of games that haven’t been pretty, but they go down as wins still, so that has been big for us all year and hopefully we can keep that up.”