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NBA Toronto Raptors DeMarre Carroll PJ Tucker Serge Ibaka Patrick Patterson collage

Magic Have Four Raptors On Their Radar This Summer

In the oops of all oops, an agent of an Orlando Magic player inadvertently tweeted out a list of the guys the team would like to target this summer by trade or in free agency and it looks like four current Toronto Raptors players are squarely in their sights.

CBS Sports NBA captured the image before the Magic realized what they’d done and Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel reported on the team’s embarrassment.

Magic general manager Rob Hennigan said the lists are “not indicative of plans” and were “simply listing options, including some of which other teams have inquired about.”

Orlando Magic tweet

Included on the lists are the Toronto Raptors DeMarre Carroll, P.J. Tucker, Patrick Patterson and Serge Ibaka.

This lists are long and undoubtedly very preliminary, but they do give an idea of what the Magic could be going after in draft day deals and in July. This isn’t April 1st, are we sure this was an accident?

 

 

 

NBA Orlando Magic Terrence Ross

Terrence Ross Exceeding Expectations With The Magic

By Frank McLean

Terrence Ross made his return to Toronto with his new team the Orlando Magic and even though for Ross it’s still “a little strange” being a member of the Magic, his new head coach Frank Vogel is happy to have him.

“He has played beyond expectations,” Vogel said when Pro Bball Report asked him about the short time Ross has been a member of the Magic.

Vogel has always been a big fan of Ross, having played the Raptors three to four times a year during his previous gig as the head man in Indiana. Vogel knew that Ross, when he’s hot, can be as deadly a shooter as anyone in the NBA.

Ross is entrenched in a special spot in the Raptors record book as one of only two players to have a 50-plus point game in franchise history when he tied Vince Carter’s 51-point record against the Los Angeles Clippers three years ago.

During his four and a half years in Toronto Ross was a key man coming off the bench for Raptors coach Dwane Casey. In Orlando, he has been in the starting line-up every night.

“I have always been high on Terrence when we played him when I was with the Pacers,” Vogel said. “I know what he can do and a lot of guys when you come into a new system you can exceed your expectations or fall short and Terrence has definitely exceeded my expectations in terms of being a high character guy and fitting in well.

“His transition was seamless,” Vogel added. “He picked up everything very, very quickly on both ends of the floor. And he fits this style of play that we are trying to implement.”

The deal the Magic made sending power forward Serge Ibaka to Toronto for Ross signalled a change in their style of play from the start of the season.

In the off season the plan was to go big and play a physical style of basketball. They signed Bismack Biyombo to a 70-million plus contract in which he has turned into a backup center and they acquired Ibaka from Oklahoma City to join Nikola Vucevic to form a modern day version of smashmouth basketball.

As a result third year power forward Aaron Gordon was moved to small forward and it did just not work out the way the Magic had planned so they decided to change their philosophy midway through the season.

Putting Gordon back at power forward and having Ross at small forward is working out better for the Magic.

“Offensively it’s not just a catch and shoot game. The memories I have of him (Ross) are drilling those corner threes when we were over helping on DeMar and Kyle,” Vogel said. “We have really been able to put the ball in his hands in the dribble-handoff game and off screens. Not only is he knocking down shots but he’s making plays off the bounce. He’s a dynamic play-maker when he’s going downhill towards the basket and making good decisions with the pass.”

The changes the Magic have made will not put them in the playoffs this season. Vogel said the goal now for this group is to win as many games as they can down the stretch to give them a good taste in their mouth as they take off for a long summer offseason and come to training camp in October on a positive note.

One thing for sure Ross will be a key part in a Magic team that will be gunning for a playoff spot next season and the Magic are happy they have him.

 

 

   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 Terrence Ross

Raptors Give Terrence Ross A Fresh Start With The Magic

By Frank McLean

When the Toronto Raptors sent Terrence Ross and a first round draft pick to the Orlando Magic for big power forward Serge Ibaka, they gave their promising young wing a chance at a fresh start. An opportunity to realize his obvious potential without an All-Star standing in his way.

During my days covering the Toronto Blue Jays, the hall of fame general manager Pat Gillick would always tell us that you always have to give up something good to get something good back whenever you make a trade.

Ross in his five years in Toronto was definition of being a hot and cold player. A player Raptors head coach Dwane Casey put a lot of time and effort into developing and showed a lot of faith in despite the inconsistent results.

He is a 38-percent three point shooter lifetime and when he is good he is real good. Like the night a few years back when he scored 51-points against the Los Angeles Clippers tying the franchise record for points in a single game with Vince Carter.

Then there are nights when you watch him and he struggles. Nights when he couldn’t put a jump shot into Lake Ontario from the shore.

Struggling to become a consistent NBA player has been something that didn’t change during his five years in Toronto.

One of the reasons he wasn’t traded sooner by the Raptors was the fear that if he was moved the light might finally come on and the potential that was always there would come to fruition and Ross would become the All-Star he was projected to be.

“As you watch our team play, it’s no secret that sometimes we struggle to make shots, and I think his ability to do just that intrigues us,” Magic general manager Rob Hennigan said last week when acquiring Ross. “His age, his contract are all things that we feel are positives and strengths for us. As Terrence gets situated here, I think his ability to stretch the floor, his ability to score will help our team. I think it’ll help our team at both ends of the floor.”

Ross knows that the skill sets he brings to the table will  help the Magic.

“My shooting, my athleticism and defense. I think I can try to help with that when it comes to the wing position,” Ross told the Orlando Sentinel in an interview last week. “I’m really just looking forward to playing with the guys, getting to know the team, getting to know the city, and just playing hard for them.”

“I had a great time in Toronto. I spent five good years there and grew a lot. The city accepted me and I have a lot of memories. But I’m ready to take the next step in my career, and I’m looking forward to the opportunity to play for Frank Vogel and play for the Magic and play for the city. I’m just excited about all this.”

Ross made his Magic debut Thursday night at home against the Portland Trail-Blazers where the Magic blew an 11-point fourth quarter lead in an eventual 112-103 loss.

It looked like Ross put the proverbial dagger in the Trail-Blazers when he hit a three pointer with 9:07 left in the fourth to give the Magic a 91-80 lead and then they imploded.

As Magic coach Frank Vogel told me in a conversation we had during the Magic’s recent visit to Toronto “we have to learn how to win” and that showed Thursday night.

Ross started and played 33 minutes, going 4-17 from the field for 13 points and 5 rebounds, so maybe Ross isn’t the one player the Magic need to put them over the top and make them a consistent playoff contender, but he is a start.

Then on Saturday night against the Hawks Ross played 35 minutes and shot 10-15 from the field for a game-high 24 points as the Magic won 105-86 as if to emphasize his potential.

Ross’ long term spot in the rotation hasn’t been decided yet. He may continue to start or he could come off the bench like he did with the Raptors, but one thing is sure Ross is getting a second chance with the Magic and he is going to make the most of it.

 

 

   

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.

 

 

 

Indiana Pacers Frank Vogel 2016 NBA playoffs

Magic Coach Frank Vogel Faces A Reality Check

By Frank McLean

Serge Ibaka was traded from Orlando to Toronto on Valentine’s Day as the slumping Magic were forced to face a reality check. Even new head coach Frank Vogel couldn’t turn this collection of mismatched talent into a playoff team.

A highly successful and respected head coach, Vogel had an instant impact with the Pacers, turning the team around in the second half of the 2010-11 season and leading them to the postseason, however, his first season with the Magic hasn’t gone so smoothly.

Vogel had landed on his feet with in Orlando after his contract was unexpectedly not renewed by the Indiana Pacers. On May 5th just after the Pacers had lost Game Seven of their first round series with the Toronto Raptors, Pacers President of basketball operations Larry Bird announced they were not going to renew Vogel’s contract saying that the team needed “a new voice to lead the players.”

People around the NBA couldn’t figure this out. In his six years with the Pacers he had 250-181 record taking the team to playoffs in five of those six years and getting to the Eastern Conference Finals twice.

Last year he took a Pacers team with less talent than the Raptors to seven games in the first round of the playoffs almost pulling off the upset. So you figured it was a no brainer that he would bring Vogel back, but Bird decided to make a change.

Talking to Vogel when the Magic were in Toronto recently he told me he had no idea that Bird was not going to bring him back and that he was as surprised as anyone about the decision. But with his track record you knew he would not be out of work long and as it turned out it was less than three weeks.

Vogel has his work cut out for him in Orlando. Currently. they sit in 14th place in the Eastern Conference well back of the Detroit Pistons for the eighth and last playoff spot and it was highly unlikely they would make the post-season prior to trading away their best player, starting power forward Serge Ibaka, for the Raptors backup wing Terrence Ross and a draft pick.

In our conversation Vogel told me that it’s not just one thing about the Magic’s game right now that needs fixing.

“It’s a little bit of everything, not good enough offensively, not good on defense. I haven’t been satisfied with our effort on a consistent basis. We don’t have three all-stars on our team and it’s been disappointing and I have challenged our guys to correct it.”

“Effort is not the guys are not trying to make hustle plays. (It’s) losing focus and attention to detail, it’s all those things that I consider effort in my book. They are running hard they are playing hard, (but) you got to be your best every time you step on the floor.”

The first thing the Magic did in the offseason to start correcting their defensive problems was, unfortunately, to trade Ersan Ilyasova, Victor Oladipo and Domatas Sabonis for Ibaka. A trade that has now netted them just a late first round pick and Ross. Then they signed the Raptors free agent backup center Bismack Biyombo to a four year $70-million deal.

In hindsight, but foreseeable, the moves pushed power forward Aaron Gordon out of position to small forward and left the team light on guards and heavy on big men. Vogel was going to have his work cut out for him trying to win with this roster. At least the acquisition of Ross does help address the need for better guard depth.

From the start, Vogel wanted his team to copy the work ethic on defense that Biyombo brings to the table in his communication skills and commitment and that’s something the Magic can continue to build on.

“It’s part of building that culture. It takes time to establish time to implement those habits”, Vogel said about learning from Biyombo. “To play on the defensive end not just communicate but to commit.”

When you wrap everything up Vogel is trying to do with the Magic what all the other 29-coaches in the NBA are trying to do with their team and that’s make them winners.

“Winning is a competitive response. We have to figure out with this group how to win. We win games and then the next time out we respond with a poor performance and I have challenged them to fix that.”

Regardless of what further changes happen with the Magic, the Pacers loss should still be the Magic’s gain in regards to Vogel. His track record proves that sooner before later, Vogel will straighten out the Magic.

 

   

DeMar DeRozan & Frank McLeanVeteran journalist Frank McLean has covered nearly every Raptors game in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. He has seen it all. The good, the bad and the really bad and he is one of the very few journalists in Toronto that has kept coming back for more.

 

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Serge Ibaka

Raptors Pres. Masai Ujiri Lands Serge Ibaka On His Terms

The Toronto Raptors President Masai Ujiri can be a frustratingly patient executive when it comes to making a move that seems inevitable, but as has become the norm, in the end he got the Magic’s leading scorer Serge Ibaka on his terms. A deal for Ibaka was always dependent on price.

 

Magic GM Rob Hennigan took a huge risk trading for Ibaka in the summer sending Ersan Ilyasova, Victor Oladipo and 2016 11th overall draft pick Domantas Sabonis to OKC seven months ago. He knew if things didn’t go as hoped, the Magic had just acquired what would become a very desirable free agent in just a year.

Ujiri also had designs on trading for Ibaka last summer, but he wasn’t willing to match or beat Hennigan’s offer and in the end, he’s acquired the three-time All-NBA Defensive First Team power forward for the player believed to be in the offing previously, Terrence Ross.

While Ibaka isn’t the shot-blocking savant he was earlier in his career, he has become the scoring “3-and-D” big man every NBA team now needs to compete at the highest level.

It’s not like Ibaka was “struggling” with the slumping Magic either. The 27-year-old Ibaka led his team with 1710 minutes, 846 points, 83 made three-point field goals, a 54.7 eFG% and 90 blocks. A young veteran in his 8th NBA season, Ibaka will provide an instant impact at both ends of the court for his new team.

The Magic didn’t come away with nothing in this deal. Ross is in the first year of a very reasonable three-year contract that will pay him $10.5 million over each of the next two seasons. The 26-year-old wing is an effective three-point shooter who can be a high flyer around the rim, a creator and an opportunistic defender when he’s at his best. The Raptors have been waiting for four years to see Ross become the consistent elite scorer his natural ability indicates is there. The change of scenery might do him good.

This move represents a solid acquisition for Toronto. Another team’s leading scorer, solid defender and best rim protector who been a role player on a very good team in the past. Ibaka should fit in quickly with little disruption.

However, for the Raptors to “win” this trade Ibaka can’t be just a rental. Ibaka is the kind of player every team needs in today’s NBA. Re-signing “Air Congo” should be a top priority in the summer and indicate the days of squeezing nickels at MLSE is over. One can only hope.

 

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 Orlando Magic Serge Ibaka vs Toronto Raptors Pascal Siakam

Magic Forward Serge Ibaka Trade To Raptors Hinges On Price

There has been a lot written about the possibility of the Toronto Raptors acquiring the pending Orlando Magic free agent power forward Serge Ibaka by the NBA trade deadline. As things stand now, this isn’t about to happen unless something changes.

That the slumping Magic are trying to salvage something from the high risk move of acquiring Ibaka by trade in the summer has become increasingly more obvious as the losses pile up, but the only way GM Rob Henningan can recoup anything close to what he gave up is to try and create a bidding war. To that end, the Raptors, Wizards, Celtics, Pacers, Rockets, Trail Blazers, Spurs and Heat have all been mentioned in a process that feels a lot like a GM trying to maximize value.

The Raptors being singled out because it is believed the Magic outbid them for Ibaka in the summer.

Hennigan’s problem is he gave up Ersan Ilyasova, Victor Oladipo and 2016 11th overall draft pick Domantas Sabonis for Ibaka seven months ago and if anything, Ibaka’s value has dropped since then. The Raptors and any other NBA team should be reluctant to provide an equivalent haul of talent for a pending free agent with less than 30 regular season games remaining.

Serge Ibaka’s 2016-17 salary is $12.25 million.

One possible scenario would see Terrence Ross ($10 million salary), a young player like Delon Wright ($1.6 million salary) and a first round draft pick heading back to Orlando, but that seems like a lot for a potential rental.

From a Raptors perspective, something along the lines of Jared Sullinger ($5.6 million), Delon Wright ($1.6 million) and either Bruno Caboclo or Pascal Siakam to make the trade math work. It’s a discount to what Orlando paid that Hennigan would probably feel is too hard to swallow, but they got Ibaka’s services for over half the season.

Neither scenario likely gets a deal done, but time’s a wasting. The Raptors need a boost for the postseason and Hennigan will look pretty foolish if Ibaka walks away in the summer and he left anything of value on the table now.

The biggest risks to a deal getting done are Hennigan sticking to his demands, another team is willing to part with more than Raptors president Masai Ujiri, and Ujiri finding a more reasonable trade partner elsewhere. Ibaka isn’t the only player in play.

What would you give up for a potential rental of Ibaka?

Are the Raptors just too cost conscious and risk averse to get the big deal done that might make this team a contender?

 

 

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 Phoenix Suns Tyson Chandler and Toronto Raptors Jonas Valanciunas

The Raptors Missing Veteran Voice Could Be On The Suns

The Raptors on-court defensive play calling has gone somewhat silent in Toronto this season with the veteran Luis Scola helping out in Brooklyn and backup center Bismack Biyombo anchoring the Magic’s defense and it shows. There’s a lack of proven depth, but that missing veteran voice could be on an imploding Suns team that should be on everyone’s NBA trade deadline radar.

“P.J. Tucker has been in the headlines recently, with his name surfacing in trade rumors and Jared Dudley tweeting about his lockdown defense,” reports Basketball Insiders Michael Scotto.

Suns coach Earl Watson, “It’s all on intensity, passion, toughness and a lot of heart. He plays with that every time he touches the court. He’s one of our best players. To me, he’s the most underrated defender in our league, especially on isolations. I think our isolation defense kind of speaks for itself because of him.”

The 31-year-old Tucker is making trade rumor headlines today, but the Suns will be rebuilding, again, and there are other players that could help a team like Toronto as well.

Everyone knew the Raptors got real young real fast in the event anyone in the rotation was hurt. At the beginning of the year President Masai Ujiri had hung onto prospect Bruno Caboclo, injured sophomore Delon Wright, the very promising sophomore Norman Powell and added three rookies in Jakob Poeltl, Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet. The only “old guys” in Toronto are Kyle Lowry (30) and DeMarre Carroll (30).

The Raptors started out hot, going 22-8 to start the season, and the current 8-12 collapse coincides perfectly with a knee injury to their best big man defender Patrick Patterson who missed 10 of those games and has been hobbled until very recently in his return. Then as Patterson gets his legs back under him, DeMar DeRozan tweaks an ankle and the slide gets worse.

A team that has counted on mediocre defense and unbelievable offense this season has shown they have no one to replace either of these two players for even brief periods. Not even Kyle Lowry putting up +30 points a night can compensate.

It’s not like Ujiri hasn’t been aware of the situation. Reports of him going hard after Paul Millsap and Serge Ibaka have been out there since July and right up to now, but the price has been unpalatable for the risk of acquiring a player that could walk away as a free agent in the summer.

Adding another “star player” might not be necessary either. A team that won 56-games last season and was on track to exceed that before Patterson was hurt is more in need of a tweak than a homerun.

The Suns thought they’d be better than this or they wouldn’t have signed the now 34-year-old Tyson Chandler to a 4-year $52 million deal in July 2015, but while that was a big number then, $13 million a year now is nothing special. Tyson has lived up to expectations too. The Suns might suck, but he doesn’t as one the best rebounders in the NBA (4th) collecting 22.9 percent of the available boards (better than Jonas Valanciunas at 8th).

Tyson is a veteran leader, a guiding voice on defense, and someone who has the respect of Raptors head coach Dwane Casey. If Ujiri could pry the combination of Tucker and Chandler out of Phoenix, his team’s shoddy defense would have received a major upgrade.

However, the Suns aren’t going to part with these players for nothing.

The Timberwolves offered Shabazz Muhammad for Tucker, a league source told Basketball Insiders. 

The Raptors have assets the Suns should be interested in, young players, picks and contracts that haven’t fulfilled their promise to make the trade math work. There is a deal to be made here if Ujiri wants to make it and it will almost undoubtedly be less painful than trying to pry Ibaka out of Orlando (although he’ll probably keep trying on that front).

 

 

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

 Featured image courtesy of Larry Millson

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors head coach Dwane Casey

Is A Trade The Solution To Toronto Raptors Olay Defense?

By Frank McLean

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what do the Raptors do to correct the problem?

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

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

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

If they go the trade route where do you go?

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

DeMar DeRozan & Frank McLeanVeteran journalist Frank McLean has covered nearly every Raptors game in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. He has seen it all. The good, the bad and the really bad and he is one of the very few journalists in Toronto that has kept coming back for more.

  Featured image courtesy of Larry Millson

 

 

 

NBA Orlando Magic Nikola Vucevic

Raptors Should Target Magic Center Nikola Vucevic

Raptors president Masai Ujiri has openly stated more than once he likes to develop his own young talent, but at some point the goal has to become winning and despite the recent slide, Toronto could be as close as one solid player away from upsetting the favorite Cavaliers in the East this year. That player could be Magic center Nikola Vucevic and there is every indication that he’s available.

“If there is one team that really has to look at the NBA trade deadline seriously it’s got to be the Toronto Raptors,” said Basketball Insiders editor Steve Kyler. “They are one player away from being legitimate challengers in the Eastern Conference.

“Let’s face it, they are not the challenger they would like to be and let’s face it, they could be. They got some assets they could move and the window is not going to be any more open for the Toronto Raptors than it is right now.”

The Magic are having a very disappointing season, the recent 114-113 win over the Raptors in Toronto notwithstanding. Vucevic, who put up 25 points and 10 boards (in a showcase effort?) in Toronto, has been bumped in and out of the starting lineup because, despite general manager Rob Hennigan’s best intensions this past summer, the Magic are a poorly constructed team. Too many quality big men needing minutes and too few quality guards to spread the floor and set up the bigs.

Sending out guard Victor Oladipo for pending free agent power forward Serge Ibaka last summer and signing free agent center Bismack Biyombo seemed like good ideas at the time, but it took minutes away from Aaron Gordon in a crowded frontcourt and left the Magic with a backcourt that’s suspect and unfortunately plagued by injury problems.

“The Magic are probably working the phones now and just seeing what’s available out there and if they find a right fit, then I think they ultimately make a move to help get their team some additional scoring power,” Basketball Insiders Cody Taylor said.

Re-signing Ibaka has become a career-saving necessity for Hennigan as pending free agents just don’t return much in trade during the season, so getting the most possible for Vucevic has become the best way out of this self-inflicted jam.

Fortunately for Henningan, Vucevic is tailor made for solving the rebounding allergic Celtics biggest problem and almost certainly would vault Boston ahead of Toronto this season and possibly beyond. That in itself should be enough to rattle Ujiri (it would certainly rattle the fan base), but the Raptors need to solve their own rebounding issues this season and they need to add another reliable scorer to the All-Star duo of DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry if they want to advance their own cause.

That’s good news for the Magic. Henningan should be able to get value back for his double-double center despite the bargain contract he’s on.

Now in his sixth NBA season, the 26-year-old 7′ Vucevic has recorded a team-high 20 double-doubles during the 2016-17 campaign and now has 178 double-doubles during his NBA career. Bounced in and out of the starting lineup this season, he has 10 double-doubles off the bench and is averaging 14 points and 9.7 rebounds.

“We asked (Vucevic) for a while to come off the bench, but he’s back in the starting lineup,” Magic head coach Frank Vogel said. “He’s a team player, (has) a great attitude putting the team first when we asked him to do that. Back in the starting lineup, we are running more offense thru him.

“He has responded to me asking him to improve on the defensive end. For the most part this year, he’s been really good (on defense).”

Vucevic is known for his offense, but to get ‘smash-mouth basketball’ Vogel to compliment him on his defense is either a significant change or an overt sales job.

“Vucevic is a handful for anybody,” Raptors head coach Dwane Casey said. “He is so talented, so skilled with the basketball that he causes a problem for everybody. He’s not your typical back to the basket center. He’s going to face you first and if you don’t react properly, he’ll knock down a jump shot, so you got a multitude of things you got to guard. The face-up game, plus the back-down game, plus he has a very dominant left hand. He can use that left hand as well as his right.”

A scorer throughout his NBA career, Vucevic has added three-point range to his jump shot this season, averaging one deep attempt per game and hitting on 31 percent of them. Of course in Toronto, he went 3-4 from three as the Raptors failed to guard him standing just outside the three-point line at the top of the arc. It seems every center in the NBA is being looked as a potential floor-stretcher and Vucevic, at least, has legitimate range on his jump shot and should be able to become proficient.

“All centers now are kind of migrating out there (three-point line),” Casey said. “It’s the next evolution of centers. Lucas (Nogueira) is migrating out there and JV (Jonas Valanciunas) is migrating out there. I think that’s going to be the new wave. That’s the new thing with the NBA now.”

In Toronto, Nogueira has shown three-point potential in a handful of attempts, but Valanciunas is still working on hitting a consistent jumper at any range. Right now it’s just Patrick Patterson at power forward and an inconsistent DeMarre Carroll in small lineups. The Raptors could really use another big man to stretch the floor.

The hope in Toronto was the Hawks would part ways with All-Star power forward Paul Millsap, but with Atlanta now just one game back of the third place Raptors, the slim possibly of snagging the Hawks soon-to-be free agent have become even more remote. The Magic’s own soon-to-be free agent Ibaka would be a similar catch, but it would be very tough to part ways with the talent the Magic is going to want back in return for what could easily become a very short term rental.

Vucevic is a lot younger and cheaper than Millsap and unlike Ibaka, he has two years remaining on his contract after this season. In the two seasons prior to this year, Vucevic averaged 18.8 points and 10 rebounds. For a Raptors team in need of someone who could pick up some of the rebounding load and be a legitimate third scoring option, he seems to fit the bill.

Vucevic has 62 career games with 20+ points and 10+ rebounds, six career 20-point/20-rebound games and two career 30-point/20-rebound outings.

There’s nothing like having a player show up in your building and rub your team’s current deficiencies in it’s face. It would become especially painful for the Raptors if Vucevic was doing was he does for the (now) second place Celtics instead of the struggling Magic.

 

 

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 Orlando Magic Bismack Biyombo 2016

The Impact Of Bismack Biyombo Is Still Helping The Raptors

By Frank McLean

Bismack Biyombo makes his first appearance Sunday at the Air Canada Centre since he left town in the off season after signing a huge free agent deal worth $72-million over four years with the Orlando Magic.

You can’t blame the guy for taking the money and running to Florida’s Gulf Coast area after making around $3-million in his one season with the Raptors. He got the contact that has set him up for life, which is not bad for a guy who makes his living as an energy guy coming off the bench, a rebounder who struggles as a shooter from the field and the foul line.

His numbers from his one year in Toronto and his half a year in Orlando haven’t changed much. In Toronto he averaged 22-minutes a game, 5.5-points, 8.0-rebounds and 1.6 blocks. In Orlando in 47-games it’s 24.5 minutes, 6.3-points, 7.7-rebounds and 1.3 blocks.

Now don’t get me wrong. A player with Biyombo’s knack for rebounding is a valuable piece that is needed when a general manager is putting together his 15-man roster.  But 72-million over four years for a guy that mainly rebounds is obscene and it shows that with the salary cap rising each year thanks to ESPN and TNT’s television money that teams are overpaying for talent when they try and find it through the free agent route.

Biyombo’s influence in his one year in Toronto was felt in more ways than just the numbers on a box score. It was with the guy who has taken over his minutes on the floor and that’s Lucas Nogueira.

Nogueira was reflecting on that after Saturday’s practice with the media and he let everybody know that he’s not Biyombo’s replacement.

“I am never going to replace Biz,” Nogueira was saying. “The city loves him. I personally love him too and I am so thankful for what he did for us. I can block five shots a night like I did on Friday, but I’m never going to replace Biz. I do think I have the hardest job in the league trying to replace Bismack because he made a huge impact here.”

Nogueira did say though that Biyombo was his mentor.

“Of course he was my mentor,” Nogueira said of Biyombo. “He changed my habits. He made me become a better professional and he made me see how it was important to take practice seriously and take my basketball life seriously. In life sometimes you only get one opportunity and if you don’t take it seriously you might not get another one. He made me realize that. That’s the reason I say he was my mentor when he was here. His level of professionalism made me a better professional.”

Nogueira is averaging 21.3-minutes a game, but in the month of January it’s up to 25-minutes which shows the coach Dwane Casey has the confidence to use him more.

“He has done an excellent job of protecting the rim, blocking shots and doing what we need him to do in the paint,” Casey said. “He’s doing an excellent job of catching the ball out of double teams and quarterbacking, making teams pay when they do blitz Kyle (Lowry) and DeMar (DeRozan) and that’s what we needed. That’s a plus that Biz didn’t give us. He was strictly a defensive plus. Lucas gives us that guy who can quarterback, kick it out, he’s a huge target with great hands so he gives that to us on the offensive end as well.”

Casey did say that there is a missing link from the way the Raptors played defense last year to this year that Biyombo brought that he wished they picked up on.

“I wish one thing rubbed off more from Biz and I think it did but they seem to have forgotten it without Biz being around. It’s talking loud and confidently. And not just Lucas, but all of our centres — (Jonas Valanciunas), Jakob (Poeltl), and Pascal (Siakam). Talk loud and with confidence and that is what Biz brought. He brought an energy, but he rubbed off on those guys.”

As you can see, Biyombo’s influence is still being felt on the Raptors.

The Orlando Magic is a young struggling rebuilding team and new coach Frank Vogel is hoping Biyombo can have a big influence there as well and he has a massive four year contract to do just that.

 

 

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 OKC Thunder Serge Ibaka

Trade Possibilities To Get The Raptors To The NBA Finals

If you listen to Raptors president Masai Ujiri and head coach Dwane Casey, Toronto has everything they need to compete with the Cleveland Cavaliers right now. They don’t need a trade to get to the NBA Finals, but the biggest fly in that ointment (aside from losing to the Cavs three-times already this season) is the fact that this team has three rookies and four more players still on their rookie deals, so when Patrick Patterson went down with a sore knee, Casey has been forced into scramble mode to replace him.

“We’re guessing,” Casey said after the win over the Lakers. “I am telling you right now we’re guessing. We are trying to find that combination.”

Seemingly invisible to the “experts” that follow the NBA is the fact that Patterson is the lynch pin that makes two of the top three best five man units in the NBA work. A fact that isn’t lost on Casey.

“Things that Patrick does well in his offensive approach, in his defensive approach, are huge,” Casey said.

Ujiri will only be able to trade Patterson to upgrade his roster by ripping him from Casey’s cold, dead fingers.

To solve what should be temporary problem, Casey has been trying more minutes for rookie forward Pascal Siakam, playing Lucas Nogueira at power forward despite his young big man still trying to figure out what to do at center, giving DeMarre Carroll a turn at the four and even just flat out going with small ball, but the results have been mixed.

The Raptors might find an in-house solution to Patterson’s absence and in the process prove Ujiri right about this team having all the pieces they need, but it’s more likely Toronto finds out their lack of depth catches up to them a bit and their “solutions” need more seasoning before they are truly ready to take this team to the next level.

Almost forgotten, Toronto does have a potential solution in Jared Sullinger assuming he gets back before the All-Star break and rounds quickly into the rebounding and stretch-four/five big man they thought would be available before breaking his foot in the preseason. But, Sullinger isn’t expected to be the “third star player” many think will be necessary for Toronto to get by the Cavs in the Eastern Conference Finals.

However, the potential for acquiring that “third star” seems to be developing if Ujiri is willing to take the big risks necessary to take his team to the next level this season.

Raptors Trade Bait

Terrence Ross, 5th year, 6’7 wing, 20.8 min., 10.8 points, 2.3 rebounds, 1.1 steals, 41.2% three-point shooter, $10 million salary plus 2 more years

Norman Powell, 2nd year, 6’4 guards/wing, 14.7 min., 6.3 points, 1.7 rebounds, 0.8 steals, 40% three-point shooter, $0.9 million on rookie deal

Ross and Powell are equally deserving and in each others way backing up DeMarre Carroll ($14 million and 2 more years remaining). There just isn’t enough minutes to go around, so Ujiri needs to pick two guys to go forward with. What would make things really interesting is if the Raptors believe they could run with Ross backing up Powell at small forward?

Pascal Siakam, rookie, 6’9 forward, 18.2 min., 33 starts, 5 points, 3.7 rebounds, 0.5 steals, 0.8 blocks, $1.2 million on rookie deal

Ujiri hates to part with “his guys,” but Siakam was never supposed to be a starter in Toronto as a rookie.

Jared Sullinger (injured) $5.6 million expiring, Delon Wright (injured) $1.6 million rookie deal, Jakob Poeltl $2.7 million rookie, Fred VanVleet $0.5 million rookie, Bruno Caboclo $1.6 million 3rd year prospect.

Both Sullinger and Wright are expected to return sometime in January.

Lucas Nogueira was going to be the limited minutes reserve center before Sullinger was injured and it’ll be challenging to take away his minutes once Sullinger returns. He’s improved so rapidly this season that he may have become almost unavailable.

As much as Jonas Valanciunas seems to be a somewhat insignificant part of this team’s success during the regular season, that’s only “seems to be.” JV turns into an indispensable monster in the playoffs. If would take a lot to even get a response.

Atlanta Hawks – Paul Millsap, $20 million, 2017-18 P.O. $21.4 million

The Hawks have reason to believe Millsap will opt out at the end of this season and reason to fear he’ll look for better opportunities elsewhere in free agency, but Millsap is the player that makes the Hawks a playoff team this year and that would make it a 10-year continuous stretch run in the postseason. Plus Atlanta ranks in the bottom half of the NBA for attendance despite their long term success, so it isn’t going to be easy to give up Millsap without a significant return.

Toronto would have to send back at least $15 million in salaries to make this trade and it shouldn’t be expected that Atlanta will be easy to deal with. They need a power forward, small forward and/or a guard.

A package of Ross, Sullinger and Wright would be intriguing, assuming Atlanta can be convinced both Sullinger and Wright will be able to play soon. Toronto has the Clippers protected 2017 first round draft pick to use as a sweetener. As much as the Hawks will want a boatload of talent back, the Raptors have to find a way to mitigate the risk that Millsap walks away in July.

The unspoken issue with Millsap is he’ll be 32-years-old in February and looking for a new long term deal worth upwards of $150 million as a free agent in seven months.

Sacramento Kings – DeMarcus Cousins, $17 million, 2017-18 $18 million

If you believe the press clippings, everyone wants Cousins, but there are two issues. One, the Kings haven’t shown any interest in trading him and two, he is a potential chemistry disaster anywhere he goes.

The Raptors acquired Patterson from the Kings and if you read between the lines, he hated it there and there was one very big reason for it. Unless Cousins’ teammates from TEAM USA, Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, say otherwise, there is little chance the Raptors would even entertain bringing “the best center in the game” to Toronto.

Assuming Lowry and DeRozan give their blessing and the Kings change their mind, the cost is going to be steep. Jonas Valanciunas, Norman Powell, Delon Wright and a couple of first round draft picks for openers.

Acquiring Cousins is the ultimate high risk high return move and if, stress if, the Kings make him available, there will be significant competition.

 Orlando Magic – Serge Ibaka $12.3 million

The Magic traded a pretty good scoring guard to get the pending free agent Ibaka and as of now, they could really use a wing that can score from the outside in the worst way. A backup point guard with a future that could set up their bigs would be very useful too.

Orlando should be motivated to do something. In 12th place, but only 1.5 games out of 8th, the season seems salvageable and on the brink of collapse at the same time. It should be safe to assume that no playoffs equals no chance of re-signing Ibaka.

Ross and Siakam and/or Wright for Ibaka and Mario Hezonja would help to re-balance both teams rosters. The Magic should be able to squeeze a draft pick out of Toronto as well.

Orlando Magic – Nikola Vucevic $11.8 million, plus two years averaging $12.5 million

A starter sent to the bench, Vucevic was a significant double-double machine before this season when the Magic screwed up their big man rotation. He’s not seen as a star, but he averaged 18.7 points and 9.9 rebounds over the past two seasons. As a center with some stretch-five potential (30 percent from three on 0.8 attempts this year), the 26-year-old should draw interest for his current and longer term potential.

Ross and Siakam for Vucevic and Hezonja would re-balance both teams rosters. Not nearly as exciting as acquiring Ibaka for Toronto, but cheaper, more practical and less risky going forward.

Philadelphia 76ers – Nerlens Noel $4.4 million, 2017-17 Q.O. $5.8 million

The 76ers are motivated, but the market is soft for this oft-injured young big man who has fallen out of a terrible 76ers rotation.

Noel could be an impact player right away, despite some obvious concerns. He can block shots, rebound and finish at the rim, if he can learn to accept coaching and accept a role that’s likely less than he wants and less than it will be in a few years, then he’s a guy worth taking a risk on. Noel’s image problem is likely as much a creation of his untenable situation as anything he’s done.

The hard part is figuring out if he moves the needle and who the Raptors would be willing to give up to get him?

Patience

There’s still seven weeks until the NBA trade deadline and the Raptors have yet to see what Sullinger can bring to the table. If he can get in game-shape fast enough, he might just sell Ujiri on standing pat. Toronto’s rebounding and starting unit concerns this season should end with Sullinger’s return.

Then there’s the list of teams in the East who will have to decide soon if they are contenders or pretenders and what to do about it. Players who are not on anyone’s radar at the beginning of January could be hot topics in a couple of weeks.

If Ujiri makes a move now, it has to be for a player he would want no matter what shakes out later on and the move that seems to have the highest probability of happening that could actually move the needle for Toronto is to make a hard push for Ibaka.

 

 

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 East

Playoff Contenders And Pretenders In The NBA East

As NBA teams prepare for New Year’s celebrations, their coaches and general managers have to start facing up to some tough realities. Are they playoff contenders or pretenders in the East? Is it time to tank for the best possible NBA Draft Lottery ticket or go all in for one of the readily available last four playoff spots?

Currently there are eight teams fighting for the last four playoff spots in the Eastern Conference: Hawks, Wizards, Knicks, Bulls, Bucks, Pacers, Magic and Pistons and the 12th place Pistons are only three games back of the fifth place Hawks. Whoever can get and keep their act together over the final 40-odd games left in the season is in.

Just for perspective, ESPN Eastern Conference predictions have the Hornets, Celtics, Raptors and Cavaliers at better than 95 percent certainty of making the postseason. Although only the Raptors and Cavs are given any chance at advancing to the NBA Finals. Miami, Brooklyn and Philadelphia are already relegated to just playing out the string. ESPN also provides Strength of Schedule and the usual standings details to help round out where the teams in the East stand.

NBA East

The teams, their opponents, the fans or anyone else for that matter is under no obligation to just accept ESPN’s predictions. These eight teams are so close that the right move could solidify, boost or reverse (if the tank is in) the fortunes of any one of them.

Atlanta Hawks – ESPN 6th

The Hawks have made the postseason in each of the past nine seasons and if any organization has shown they can pull out the stops necessary to get back there again, this is it.

This team is full value for their .500 record. They have shown an ability to beat anyone, like the Raptors and Cavs and then lose to anyone as they did to the Timberwolves and Magic recently.

With fully half of this roster expected to hit free agency in July, one might expect the Hawks to do the rational move and cash in a high value player who will be tough to keep for a very mediocre team to get future assets, but pending free agents haven’t produced much in trade talks in recent years and it’ll be easier to just try to ride this group to a 10th in a row postseason appearance.

At this point, it wouldn’t be safe to go against the ESPN prediction.

Washington Wizards – ESPN 9th

The Wizards have reversed a terrible start to the season, but they did it playing a somewhat soft schedule that included a couple of wins over the Nets in December.

The best arguments for not just blowing up this roster are the two wins over Milwaukee and the wins over Charlotte and Detroit this month, all of whom ESPN has finishing ahead of Washington.

The Wizards financially committed to winning this season and should be actively looking for trades over the next six weeks to upgrade their roster, especially that terrible 29th ranked (worse than the Nets) bench. It wouldn’t take much to keep them solidly in the playoff picture.

If the Wizards don’t make a move, ESPN has got this prediction right.

New York Knicks – ESPN 10th

Will the Knicks break the hearts of their long suffering fans once again? Probably and it isn’t hard to see why. It’s challenging to project any team giving up nearly 108 points per game making the playoffs.

They are getting outscored by their opponents by the second biggest margin in this group of eight teams. They can’t beat good teams and the much anticipated string of injuries to this rather brittle roster has yet to really happen.

It’s easy to see the Knicks trying to turn draft picks into players that could help now and it might work – for this season, but hasn’t this organization had it’s fill of being taken advantage of by other teams for possible short term gain?

The Knicks making the postseason would be a real “feel good” story. However, the competition for one of those spots might just be too tough unless a few of their competitors decide to tank.

Chicago Bulls – ESPN 8th

Underachievers sums up the Bulls season and it might just cost head coach Fred Hoiberg his job, but if that happens, just throw out the ESPN prediction of 8th place. This team would be headed back to the Lottery and looking to retool for next year.

The Bulls have enjoyed the easiest schedule in the NBA and they are blowing it. Worse, they don’t seem to know why things aren’t going better and can benching Rajon Rondo in the second half of games really be the answer? Throw out the all the fancy ESPN stats on this one, since beating the Cavs on December 2nd, they’ve lost to every team that matters to go 5-10.

If any team needs to make a deal, the Bulls are it and they have assets other teams should be interested in. Assuming management can keep its focus, but this is one team that seems destined to return to the Lottery.

Milwaukee Bucks – ESPN 5th

A young Bucks team hasn’t fared so well thru a rough patch in the schedule, but they still hold the largest points differential of the teams in the group while playing the second toughest schedule. A 7-8 December includes losses to the Spurs, Raptors and Cavs twice.

Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker are the present and the future of this team and any tinkering with this roster has to take these two future (all?)-stars into account. Plus Kris Middleton could return from his hamstring injury after the All-Star break, so the pressure is off in terms of needing to add another impact player.

Sorry Greg Monroe, but the Bucks aren’t under any pressure to move you, but if any team has a point guard they’d like to swap for a big man?

This team is going to the postseason.

Indiana Pacers – ESPN 11th

Tied with Chicago for the easiest schedule in the NBA, a team featuring Paul George should be competing with Toronto for second place in the East instead of owning a spot in the Lottery. There were consequences to shaking up the roster and firing the head coach after what should have been considered a successful season last year.

A team that used to be known for playing big is getting crushed on the glass to the tune of almost 12 offensive rebounds given up and a rebounding differential approaching 5. Add that to the third worst bench in the NBA and what’s become a middle of the road starting group, and even a superstar isn’t going to save you.

A trade for a shooting guard that could score would help as would a big that could rebound, but the Pacers don’t have a lot to offer in return. Unfortunately, ESPN’s prediction of 11th place is looking to be rock solid.

Orlando Magic – ESPN 12th

Apparently someone forgot to mention that the NBA is a guard driven league these days?

The Magic have trouble scoring, they aren’t much of a three-point threat and they could use upgrades at both guard spots. Other than that, this team could be really good. Maybe a trade would help?

Bringing in Serge Ibaka on an expiring deal without the guard play necessary to get the most out of him could easily turn this into a terrible trade for the Magic when he walks away in free agency in July. So sooner rather than later, the Magic have to either trade Ibaka to get something back or trade someone else to get the help needed to turn this sinking Titanic around in hopes of convincing Ibaka to re-sign.

Either way, go with the ESPN prediction. The Magic’s plan for this season didn’t work.

Detroit Pistons – ESPN 7th

Stan Van Gundy is a really good coach, but even he seems flustered by the play of this group. Although, playing the second toughest schedule in the NBA could do that to a team expected to finish somewhere between 5th and 8th before the season began.

The Pistons have played 20 games against teams with a .500 record or better. The Bulls have only played 12, the Wizards 13, and the Hawks and Pacers 14. Van Gundy has his excuse for being in 12th place at 15-20 on the season (not that he’s using it.)

A middle of the road group of starters is supported by the East’s 4th best bench, so slipping into a playoff spot is well within reach and Van Gundy isn’t above rolling the dice on a trade. Although, all the Pistons may need to do is to wait on the schedule to turn in their favor and they’ll meet or exceed ESPN’s prediction.

In Summary,

Contenders: Hawks, Bucks, Pistons

Pretenders: Knicks, Pacers, Magic

Let’s Make A Deal: Wizards, Bulls

 

Who do you think can grab one of the final four playoff spots in the East?

Which teams pull the trigger on a deal – to make it? – or tank?

 

 

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 Terrence Ross

Magic Want A Scorer, Should Raptors Listen?

The 9-12 Orlando Magic are exploring the trade market for a scorer according to Josh Robins of the Orlando Sentinel and the move shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. This team created a logjam with their big men that forced players out of position and it seems like they have no one to go to when they need a bucket. The Raptors on the other hand are filling the net on a nightly basis, but they have taken a big step back in the rebounding department, so just maybe these two teams should talk?

It’s been obvious for a while that the moves Magic general manager Rob Hennigan made this past summer have had a significant adverse effect on his one-time 19 point 10 rebound starting center Nikola Vucevic who head coach Frank Vogel recently bumped from his starting lineup. While Vucevic is still grabbing double-digit rebounds, his minutes have been reduced and his scoring is down by a third from last year and Vucevic is likely the Magic’s best trade asset by far.

The Magic have plenty of big men needing minutes at the four/five spots with the additions of Bismack Biyombo, Serge Ibaka and Jeff Green and the odd man out has primarily been budding potential future superstar Aaron Gordon who has looked uncomfortable playing out of position at small forward. Trading away one of the bigs to create minutes for Gordon just seems to make sense and with the low value assigned to players with expiring contracts, Vucevic with two more seasons after this one left on his deal may be the only big man Hennigan can swap for a player that can help now.

The Raptors have scoring and if anything, their scoring as been increasing with each passing week and with a 14-7 record, they are a solid second place team in the East on track for another +50 win season. However, this season is starting to take on some of the flavor of two years ago when the scoring came easy, the defense was good, but they couldn’t finish off opponent’s misses with a defensive board and it cost them big time in the playoffs.

Toronto is better than two years ago, but they are getting outrebounded on average and it’s one of the reasons the Cavaliers are still just a little bit better. Toronto is a -0.3 on the boards, but in three games against the Cavs they are -3.4 rebounds and in losses, all with the potential to have been wins, those extra possessions given up matter.

With Sullinger on the shelf with an injury that, in fairness, has an unpredictable return date, Toronto only has Jonas Valanciunas who is reliable on the glass (19.1 percent of the available rebounds). Patrick Patterson, Lucas Nogueira and rookie Pascal Siakam have not been good rebounders, grabbing between 11.2 and 12.4 percent of the available boards.

The obvious scorer on Toronto that should grab Hennigan’s attention would be Terrence Ross. Ross holds the Raptors high water mark for points in a game at 51 and this year he’s expanded his game beyond a three-point threat and is making much better decisions driving the ball, pulling up and using the midrange. At least for the moment, it looks like Ross has finally figured everything out and is becoming the player envisioned when he was drafted five years ago.

If you are looking for scoring, Ross’ value is high and it isn’t going to be easy for Ujiri to let him go. However, the Raptors have their own mini-logjam on the wing with the return of a healthy DeMarre Carroll. Second-year wing Norman Powell has been putting up offensive numbers that rival Ross when he gets a chance to play and there’s a good argument that Powell’s defense is better. Coach Casey keeps looking for reasons to put Powell on the court because he’s earned more minutes, unfortunately minutes are hard to find and as Carroll rounds into form, they’ll get even more scarce.

The mystery in Toronto is whether or not president Masai Ujiri is satisfied with another year developing young talent without any real expectations of getting past Cleveland in the playoffs? Another Eastern Conference Finals appearance would still be pretty satisfying, but are the Raptors really that far behind the team they took to six games in the postseason last year?

Ujiri can stand pat. He has good young talent that will keep getting better, but his (likely) stop-gap measure to cover the loss of Bismack Biyombo’s rebounding broke his foot in the the preseason and as well as the rookie Siakam has played, he’s not going to rebound well enough to replace the more experienced Sullinger – at least not this year.

And then there’s the three-point shot the 26-year-old Vucevic appears to have discovered this season that should garner some serious attention.

The contracts of Ross and Vucevic are very similar and both players would fill an immediate need on the other team. Maybe Ujiri and Hennigan should talk.

 

 

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 Orlando Magic Nikola Vucevic

Is It Time For The Magic To Trade Nikola Vucevic?

The Orlando Magic are facing a big man dilemma of their own making that has had many people wondering if it was time time to trade their productive center Nikola Vucevic while his value was still high.

The Magic’s first big move this summer was a trade for Serge Ibaka. Then they signed Jeff Green for one-year and $15 million and finally they added Bismack Biyombo for four-years and $72 million. They also signed their 2016 second round pick, center Stephen Zimmerman, to a three-year partially guaranteed deal and the obvious question became, how was new head coach Frank Vogel supposed to make this work and what about the high-flying third-year forward Aaron Gordon?

The now 6 win 11 loss Magic have lived up to the preseason concerns. They are 26th in scoring at 92.1 points per game and middle of the pack defensively allowing 98.9 points. Sure an injury to Jodie Meeks took away some of Vogel’s scoring punch, but this is a team that’s dead last in three-point shooting effectiveness at 31.4 percent and painfully dead last at shooting from two-point range as well. If Vogel can’t find someone who can score, the Magic will be out of the playoff race before Christmas.

Apparently no one told the Magic that Vucevic and Ibaka both like to take the majority of their shots in the midrange and both players have seen their shooting percentages drop this year. They are also playing fewer minutes than they are used to as Vogel has to find time for his $72 million backup center Biyombo (5.1 points and 7.9 rebounds is about the same as in Toronto). Green has been stinking things up as well, shooting 32.8 percent.

It wouldn’t be fair to lay all of the Magic’s problems at the feet of these big men, the team isn’t getting a lot out of Elfrid Payton (11 points), Aaron Gordon playing out of position at small forward shooting 37.6 percent, D.J. Augustin (41 percent), or C.J. Watson (21.9 percent). Even leading scorer Evan Fournier (17.6 points) is shooting just 42.5 percent from the field. When the offensively challenged Biyombo has your team’s second best shooting percentage (46), something needs to change.

It shouldn’t have come as a surprise when Vogel shook up his starting lineup and it equally shouldn’t have been a surprise when it didn’t matter as reported by SB Nation’s Zach Oliver.

“Every time you make the changes guys are out there with different teammates and the chemistry gets altered a bit. So, sometimes you make a change to plug one hole and you create another hole by doing so,” said Vogel.

“We’re 30th in offense; I want to explore some new combinations in the same nine guys being in the rotation.”

That new combination saw Vucevic bumped from the starting lineup for the first time this season and as the big man who has had to sacrifice the most as the result of the Magic’s changes, he wasn’t happy.

“I spoke to Frank [Vogel] about it last night, and obviously I wasn’t happy with the decision they made,” said Vucevic. “I didn’t think that there was a reason for me to go to the bench, but it’s coaches decision. All I can do is control what I can control, which is when I’m on the court, play to the best of my ability and help the team win. Stay professional and whatever is going on, I’ll keep giving my best and give them my full effort.”

Both Ibaka and Green can leave as free agents after this season and if the Magic want to keep either of them they need to turn things around and fast. Even in a season where his scoring is down from 18.2 points last season to just 12.1 points this year, Vucevic is likely Magic general manager Rob Hennigan’s best trade asset as a double-double big man with two more seasons after this one at just $12.5 million per year.

Orlando has enjoyed a soft schedule to-date with 12 of their 17 games played against sub-.500 teams, so it’s hard to see how the Magic can turn around this season without making some changes. Hennigan needs to give Vogel a chance to fix his big man rotation and find a guard and/or a wing that can make shots.

Coming out of USC, Draft Express saw the young 7-footer with inside and outside potential playing at either the power forward or center spot. So, what can Hennigan get to fix his rotation for Vucevic?

 

 

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 playoffs Cleveland Cavaliers Lebron James - Kyrie Irving - Kevin Love

Who Has The Star Power In The NBA East?

The NBA is a star driven league and the teams with the biggest stars seem to inevitably make it into the playoffs and the best on to the NBA Finals. However, no star is big enough to do it on their own, they need help on the level of the top 100 NBA players as described by SI.com’s Ben Golliver and Rob Mahoney. SI might not be 100 percent right on their selections, but be assured, if a team doesn’t have more than it’s share of talent from this list, their playoff aspirations could be in trouble.

Eastern Conference teams with significant top 100 depth are:

Cleveland Cavaliers (5 players on SI’s top 100)

Assuming a deal eventually gets done with J.R. Smith (96th), the Cavs have SI’s number one ranked player in the NBA, LeBron James backed up by Kyrie Irving (25), Kevin Love (30) and Tristan Thompson (52). This returning starting five averaged an impressive 81.1 points and 31.1 rebounds.

Somehow it doesn’t seem fair that James gets to play with this much depth until one checks out the Warriors who have four players ranked in the top 20.

Boston Celtics (5 players on SI’s top 100)

The free agent acquisition of Al Horford (18th) gives the Celtics a top 20 player to play with Isaiah Thomas (45), Jae Crowder (53), Avery Bradley (72) and Amir Johnson (86). However, this likely starting five only averaged 74.1 points and 24.7 rebounds combined last year. The Celtics might just miss last season’s number 4 scorer and SI snub ranked in the “next 25” Evan Turner. Horford replaces Boston’s top rebounder and fifth leading scorer Jared Sullinger who signed with Toronto.

Orlando Magic (5 players on SI’s top 100)

It may come as a surprise, but the Magic really are a better and deeper team than last year’s 35 win squad, albeit with perhaps more depth at the 4/5 than usual? The acquisition of Serge Ibaka (42) fits in nicely with the smash-mouth style of new head coach Frank Vogel as does free agent Bismack Biyombo (91). They join Nikola Vucevic (75), Evan Fournier (95) and Aaron Gordon (99). A starting five Elfrid Payton, Fournier, Gordon, Ibaka and Vucevic averaged 65.5 points and 28.1 rebounds combined last year.

Orlando could be a playoff team, but with no star in the top 40, depth can only carry a team so far.

Toronto Raptors (4 players on SI’s top 100)

The Raptors top ranked players all played on last year’s 56 win team led by Kyle Lowry (14), DeMar DeRozan (46), Jonas Valanciunas (62) and DeMarre Carroll (73). SI snub Cory Joseph just missing the cut. Toronto’s starting lineup will include Sullinger from the Celtics replacing the 36-year-old Luis Scola. This anticipated starting lineup averaged a Cavaliers-like 78.8 points and 31.3 rebounds combined. Lowry is ranked as the third best player in the East and should be expected to carry his team far again this season.

Charlotte Hornets (4 players on SI’s top 100)

The Hornets live or die on the back of Kemba Walker (33), but he has help from Nicolas Batum (43), Marvin Williams (65) and Cody Zeller (94). Micheal Kidd-Gilchrist made the next 25 snub list despite only playing 7 regular season games last year. These five players averaged 68.9 points and 29.5 rebounds combined.

Washington Wizards (4 players on SI’s top 100)

No one ever said the Wizards didn’t have talent. John Wall (17), Marcan Gortat (55), Bradley Beal (58) and Ian Mahinmi (76) all make SI’s top 100. The presumed starting lineup includes Otto Porter and Markieff Morris with 74.5 points and 29.3 boards combined.

Atlanta Hawks (4 players on SI’s top 100)

This team doesn’t feel like a playoff contender, but Paul Millsap (15), Dwight Howard (34), Kyle Korver (70) and Kent Bazemore (90) indicate there’s still something here. Dennis Schroder takes over from Jeff Teague to lead this group at point guard, their combined averages were 62.6 points and 31.8 rebounds.

In a 30 team league, a middle of the pack team should have at least three players from SI’s list and five Eastern Conference teams do.  Teams hitting this mark include:

Chicago Bulls feature Jimmy Butler (16), Dwyane Wade (32) and Robin Lopez (82) plus three more in the next 25, Taj Gibson, Nikola Mirotic and Rajon Rondo, so maybe they are better than average?

Indiana Pacers feature the resurgent Paul George (9), Jeff Teague (57) and Thaddeus Young (66) plus two snubs in Monta Ellis and Al Jefferson. George is ranked as the second best player in the East, so expect the Pacers to be in the middle of the playoff pack rather than the middle of the conference.

Milwaukee Bucks have Kris Middleton (39), Giannis Antetokounmpo (48), Greg Monroe (63) plus Jabari Parker in the next 25. (Note: Middleton is expected to miss the next 6 months due to injury)

Detroit Pistons rely on Andre Drummond (29), Reggie Jackson (54) and Tobias Harris (77). Head coach Stan Van Gundy might be the real star in Detroit.

In theory Miami had Hassan Whiteside (35), Goran Dragic (61) and Chris Bosh (37), however, Bosh failed his preseason physical so maybe the Heat can stop pretending they can even be an average team this season?

The star power in the East suggests Cleveland remains unchallenged with Toronto, Boston and possibly Indiana fighting it out for next best. However, the depleted Hawks with four players in the top 100 may not be as badly off as anticipated if they can find the chemistry needed to keep their 9-year postseason run alive.

It should be noted that the Knicks are one of just three Eastern Conference teams to have less than three players on SI’s top 100 list as Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah fell into the snubbed category. The East and the West each have 50 players in SI’s top 100.

 

 

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.

 

 

 


 

Cleveland Cavaliers LeBron James

Experts Rank The 2016-17 NBA East

It seems like months since an NBA team has made a move that wasn’t anticipated or mattered, so how the NBA East was ranked really shouldn’t have changed much since the end of July when ESPN forecast the standings for 2016-17. Recently Basketball Insiders Joel Brigham and Steve Kyler threw caution to the wind and talked thru their ranking of the Eastern Conference and Pro Bball Report has come to its own conclusions about where this season is headed.

1. Cleveland Cavaliers, last year 57-25

ESPN – Cavaliers
Joel Brigham, Basketball Insiders – Cavaliers
Pro Bball Report – Cavaliers

Even with the Cavs three-point leader J.R. Smith still unsigned for 2016-17, any team LeBron James is on remains the undisputed favorite in the East. Besides, no one believes the 31-year-old Smith really has any other option but to re-sign with the Cavaliers.

2. Toronto Raptors, last year 56-26

ESPN – Toronto/Boston tied
Joel Brigham, Basketball Insiders – Raptors
Pro Bball Report – Raptors

Don’t undersell a 56 win season. ESPN tends to overestimate the impact of the loss of backup (stress backup) center Bismack Biyombo on Toronto who Kyler suggests might have the worst hands in basketball and ESPN ignores the challenge Boston will face with the loss of their best rebounder in Jared Sullinger to Toronto. The Celtics may have picked up a few wins with the veteran savvy of All-Star Al Horford, but a really bad rebounding team got worse this summer. Boston is still going to struggle getting the ball back after playing their brand of stellar defense again this season.

3. Boston Celtics, last year 48-34

ESPN – Toronto/Boston tied
Joel Brigham, Basketball Insiders – Pacers
Pro Bball Report – Celtics

Kyler likes the Celtics here, disagreeing with his senior writer on this pick as he is not sold on the Pacers coaching change and he’s got a point, Frank Vogel is a superior coach. However, everyone seems to agree that the top four teams in the East are the Cavs, Raptors, Celtics and Pacers. It’s easy to like the Celtics here.

4. Indiana Pacers, last year 45-37

ESPN – Pacers/Pistons tied
Joel Brigham, Basketball Insiders – Celtics
Pro Bball Report – Pacers

After watching Paul George in the first round of the playoffs, it’s easy to say the Pacers are back and they have a superstar that can carry the team. The Jeff Teague for George Hill move is likely a wash, but acquiring Thaddeus Young is an upgrade and if Al Jefferson can get his game back on track, the Pacers will be one of the tougher teams in the East. Replacing Frank Vogel with Nate McMillan remains a head scratcher?

5. Detroit Pistons, last year 44-38

ESPN – Pacers/Pistons tied
Joel Brigham, Basketball Insiders – Bulls
Pro Bball Report – Pistons

Basketball Insiders seems to think that as many as 12 teams in the East could have 40 or more wins in 2016-17, although a couple of teams are likely to fall short of expectations. Like last season when 10 teams had 40+ win records, the battle for the last four playoff spots is going to be fierce. The Pistons are building from a solid base with a fiery head coach known for getting the most out of his guys (at least for a few years). All the rest have issues to overcome and the Pistons continuity should give them the edge.

6. Chicago Bulls, last year 42-40

ESPN – Hawks
Joel Brigham, Basketball Insiders – Wizards
Pro Bball Report – Bulls

ESPN hangs their hat on the acquisition of Dwight Howard to save the Hawks, but that’s not a limb everyone is going to be willing to climb out on. In Chicago the combination of Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade should be enough to get the Bulls back in the postseason picture and it’s hard jumping on a Wizards revival bandwagon before seeing them play a game.

7. Charlotte Hornets, last year 48-34

ESPN – Hornets
Joel Brigham, Basketball Insiders – Knicks
Pro Bball Report – Hornets

Yes the Hornets lost Al Jefferson, Jeremy Lin and Courtney Lee, but this team lives and dies on the play of Kemba Walker and as long as he returns 100 percent from his August knee surgery, the Hornets should be back in the mix for a playoff spot. Kyler’s assertion that this team can’t put together back-to-back winning seasons notwithstanding. Unfortunately, the popular Knicks are a team built to break their fans’ hearts.

8. Orlando Magic, last year 35-47

ESPN – Wizards
Joel Brigham, Basketball Insiders – Detroit
Pro Bball Report – Magic

Kyler acknowledges the Magic, among others, can win 40 games, although it will likely take 44 wins again this season to make the playoffs in the East. The Magic have issues to overcome, but talent isn’t one of them. This team will rise or falter on new head coach Frank Vogel’s ability to get the most out of what he’s got and just in case you haven’t been paying attention, betting against Vogel hasn’t been a good idea.

9. New York Knicks, last year 32-50

ESPN – Knicks/Bulls tied
Joel Brigham, Basketball Insiders – Magic
Pro Bball Report – Knicks

On paper the Knicks should be fifth in the East like Kyler suggested, unfortunately at this point in their careers some of the Knicks best players have joints that seem to be made of paper. If Derrick Rose, Brandon Jennings, Carmelo Anthony and Joakim Noah can stay on the court, the Knicks can stay in the playoff picture and be a threat in the postseason. Based on recent Knicks luck, that’s a lot to ask for.

10. Washington Wizards, last year 41-41

ESPN – Knicks/Bulls tied
Joel Brigham, Basketball Insiders – Bucks
Pro Bball Report – Wizards

A lot of people want the Wizards to figure it out. Wall and Beal are an exciting pair when they are healthy and don’t appear to hate each other (ok, hate is a little strong, but there are issues here). The Wizards are just one year away from a 46 win season, but that feels like ancient history now and if things aren’t going well by Christmas, changes will need to be made. Maybe Scott Brooks can save this motley crew, but we’re not convinced.

11. Atlanta Hawks, last year 48-34

ESPN – Bucks
Joel Brigham, Basketball Insiders – Hornets
Pro Bball Report – Hawks

Two seasons ago the Hawks were a 60 win team that made it to the Eastern Conference Finals, but since then DeMarre Carroll, Jeff Teague and Al Horford have moved/been moved on and Kyle Korver has had his 35th birthday. The Hawks are good enough to win 40 games, but that record will still end a nine year run as an Eastern Conference playoff team. There’s no love for the Hawks chances from Basketball Insiders. ESPN putting the Hawks in sixth feels like a lot of wishful thinking.

12. Milwaukee Bucks, last year 33-49

ESPN – Heat
Joel Brigham, Basketball Insiders – Hawks
Pro Bball Report – Bucks

The Bucks appear to have improved somewhat from last season, but so much of their success will hinge on the development of Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker and getting a collection of talent that doesn’t quite seem to fit to play better.

13. Miami Heat, last year 48-34

ESPN – Magic
Joel Brigham, Basketball Insiders – Heat
Pro Bball Report – Heat

The Heat’s Big Three are no more. LeBron James left for Cleveland last year. Wade bolted for Chicago this summer and Chris Bosh may or may not ever play again. Add to this to the loss of Luol Deng and Joe Johnson and the Heat are rebuilding – whether they admit to it or not. The only real question outstanding is if Miami is willing to move out the 30-year-old veteran Goran Dragic for young players and a draft pick or do they stay the course and hope for better than the rationally expected outcome?

14. Philadelphia 76ers, last year 10-72

ESPN – 76ers/Nets tied
Joel Brigham, Basketball Insiders – 76ers
Pro Bball Report – 76ers

A very young and inexperienced roster of top NBA draft picks with veterans Sergio Rodriguez, Jerryd Bayless and Gerald Henderson providing some badly needed leadership that should enable this team to double last year’s win total.

15. Brooklyn Nets, last year 21-61

ESPN – 76ers/Nets tied
Joel Brigham, Basketball Insiders – Nets
Pro Bball Report – Nets

It wasn’t easy to field a team that was worse than last year’s Nets, but with a little work (salary dump), the Nets made it happen. And the Celtics can swap first round draft picks with Brooklyn in June and own the Nets 2018 first round pick. This is what basketball purgatory looks like.

 

 

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 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 Orlando Magic Andrew Nicholson

Should The Raptors Add Canadian UFA Andrew Nicholson?

So you’d like to add a stretch-four to your roster? Well, they’ve become a hot commodity in the NBA these days, however, the Orlando Magic has just passed on keeping Canadian power forward Andrew Nicholson and if Raptors president and general manager Masai Ujiri believes Nicholson’s improved three-point shooting and rebounding is part of a trend, he’s worth a hard look.

Nicholson has struggled to get minutes and more recently even just crack the rotation on a Magic team that has obviously been moving in another direction for some time now. However, the changes in Orlando have been coming just as Nicholson seems to finally be putting it all together.

The stretch-four only played in 56 games with the Magic last season, but he averaged 36 percent from three-point range on a 114 attempts and except for a brutal shooting month in January, he would have shot better than 39.5 percent.

His defensive rebounding was markedly better than in his first three seasons as well. The 6′ 9.5″ 250 lb forward pulled in a solid 22.8 percent of the available defensive boards.

For the first time in his NBA career, he didn’t get a single start with the Magic. He also played less than 15 minutes per game on average, but his per 36 minutes numbers illustrate significant improvement at 16.8 points, 8.8 rebounds, 5 three-point attempts and a block.

Nicholson will be an under the radar free agent this summer. He isn’t likely to be on any team’s priority list to contact on July 1st. However, that means teams with limited salary cap flexibility – like the Toronto Raptors – will have a legitimate shot at signing him to a deal that fits their situation.

Think of Nicholson like Bismack Biyombo last summer. A young big man with four years of NBA experience who isn’t given a qualifying offer by his team and needs to go somewhere he’ll be given a chance to show what he can do. The Raptors don’t have the flexibility to land a big name free agent (unless they are willing to sign at a huge discount), so it’s the lower profile players Ujiri will likely be forced to look at in order to bolster his roster for next season.

 

 

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

 

 

 


 

NBA Orlando Magic Andrew Nicholson

Raptors Can Close To Within One Game Of The Cavs

The Miami Heat did the Raptors a big favor on Saturday in Miami by demolishing the visiting Cavs 122-101 and Toronto needs to take advantage at home against the 29-39 Orlando Magic on Sunday in order to close to within a single game of the heavily favored front runners.

The recurring theme out of Cleveland this season has been this team gets tired and as reported on ESPN after the game, LeBron James is getting a little concerned.

“I think the pace, we couldn’t keep up with it tonight,” James said. “Whether it was our fifth game in seven nights, we couldn’t keep up with their pace.”

ESPN’s Brian Windhorst followed up with,

“The way they’ve beat us here is a little concerning if we face them [in the playoffs],” James said after Saturday’s loss. “I think we’ll be ready for it more. We didn’t play [up to our] potential. We didn’t play our game. We let them play their game, and they took it to us.”

With the Heat hanging around the three, four, five hole, facing them in the postseason is a very real possibility for the Cavaliers.

However, the second round of the playoffs probably shouldn’t be uppermost in James’ mind. Since “the team” fired coach David Blatt with a 30-11 record on January 22, the Cavs have gone 19-9 under new head coach Tyronn Lue. Apparently “being tired” wasn’t a coaching problem.

Playing the role of Captain Obvious, Lue said, “We need to start getting up for these games.”

The Raptors have split the season series with Orlando 1-1 and this young team has talent that can explode for points at any moment. Victor Oladipo scored 45 points on the Cavs Friday night.

Take the Magic lightly and the 47-21 Raptors could waste this opportunity. Toronto can’t afford to punt any games if they hope to catch the 49-20 Cavaliers for first in the East.

Notes:

  1. Team Canada forward Andrew Nicholson plays for the Magic.
  2. Center Nikola Vucevic has missed the past seven games with a groin strain.
  3. Elfrid Payton (elbow) has missed the last five games.

 

 

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, Kyrie Irving and Toronto Raptors DeMar DeRozan, Kyle LowryCan The Raptors Catch The Cavs For First In The East?

Catching the Cavs will be tough and the race could be over soon if the Raptors are the team to stumble over the next couple of weeks, but if they can hang in there somehow, it’s the Cavaliers who’ll be tested. First place in the East could be up for grabs right up until the last week of the season.