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NBA Toronto Raptors P.J. Tucker and Serge Ibaka

What The Raptors Rotation Could Look Like Next Season

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NBA Toronto Raptors Norman Powell and Kyle Lowry

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

NBA Toronto Raptors PJ Tucker

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

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

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

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

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

NBA Toronto Raptors Cory Joseph

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

  Featured image courtesy of Larry Millson

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors DeMar DeRozan Serge Ibaka Kyle Lowry 2017 collage

Basketball Insiders Think Raptors Will Stay The Course

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Serge Ibaka

Tucker And Ibaka Make Toronto A Deep And Nasty Team

Trade deadline deals for Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker have made the Raptors a deep nasty team and pushed the resurgence of the stand pat Boston Celtics back another season. At least that seems to be the conclusion of Basketball Insiders Cody Taylor, ESPN’s Zach Lowe and Adrian Wojnarowski on The Vertical Podcast Trade Deadline Special.

Basketball Insiders – Adding Tucker figures to be a move designed to shore up its perimeter defense. He’s now likely their best defender against LeBron James should the Raptors match up again with the Cleveland Cavaliers in the postseason. By making this move now, the Raptors were perhaps the biggest winners of the trade deadline.

ESPN – Toronto swooped in for both Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker, forming a deep, nasty, versatile team that should end up better than Boston even if the Raptors can’t catch up in the standings. It feels like a missed opportunity for Boston to have some fun this season.

The Vertical – Toronto is the team that has made the upgrades. They have struggled here in the latter part before the All-Star break. They have some ground to make up, but just defensively, their ability now against Cleveland in the postseason, Boston in the postseason, they have really helped themselves more than any other team. Certainly in the Eastern Conference.

Raptors president Masai Ujiri pulled the trigger at the trade deadline big-time this season and made the biggest improvements to his roster of anyone in the East. A team that went 22-8 to start the season and then fell apart under the weight of relatively minor injuries to Patrick Patterson, DeMar DeRozan and DeMarre Carroll just got a big boost to their rotation.

“I love this about these two guys added to the group we have, it helps us with toughness,” Ujiri said.

Gone from the rotation is Terrence Ross, quite possibly in the midst of his best season ever, but still maddingly inconsistent and too often failing to live up to his talent. Also gone is the team’s big 2016 free agent addition Jared Sullinger who was still trying to regain his form after missing most of this season with a broken foot, so he won’t be missed on the court.

Inbound is the proven veteran Ibaka, known for his defense and rim protection (90 blocks this season). He should instantly step in as the Raptors starting power forward and second best three-point shooter as well as someone that can score in the paint. Ibaka was leading the Magic with 846 points this season which would put him third on the Raptors, right about where he is expected to be as a scoring option in Toronto and in a role he was very familiar with in OKC.

The upgrade Ibaka brings can’t be overstated. Out of necessity, rookie Pascal Siakam has started 38 games at power forward for Toronto this year averaging 4.8 points and lots of mistakes on defense. He looks like a player with high potential, but he’s got a lot to learn.

The Raptors were thin on the wing to start this season and after trading Ross and prior to acquiring Tucker, they were potentially one injury away from disaster. Tucker likely comes off the bench and his style of play should earn him a super-sub role much like the one Patterson has earned with his tough defense and acceptable three-point shooting. Tucker isn’t a great three-point threat, but he’s good enough to keep defenses honest and good enough on defense to make a difference at the end of games.

“I love his toughness,” Ujiri said about Tucker. “He can defend. He can defend multiple positions. He can shoot the corner three and toughness, we needed to become a tougher team and I think this helps us.”

Also, the injury woes appear to be over for now at least.

Patterson is expected to play in the first game back after the All-Star break and it seemed like the team was holding him out a few extra games just to be sure he’d be ready for the stretch drive to the playoffs. He’ll return to a bench role where he’s been a super-sub in Casey’s rotation.

Carroll was still playing on a sore knee to start the season, but by early January the knee felt good and he was starting to put up some really nice numbers. Then a kick to the head by Pascal Siakam set him back, but he’s since re-found his shooting touch and his confidence and similar to the seven games stretch before the knock on the head, he has averaged 12.5 points, 6.3 rebounds and 1.3 steals while shooting 46.4 percent from three over his last half-dozen games.

A turned ankle cost DeRozan a couple of weeks and the Raptors scoring seemed to be sitting out with him, but now he’s back and he’s fine.

Casey has been wanting to tighten up the Raptors rotation and with his new additions, it should come together relatively quickly.

Starting:

Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, DeMarre Carroll, Serge Ibaka, Jonas Valanciunas

Subs:

Cory Joseph, Norman Powell, P.J. Tucker, Patrick Patterson, Lucas Nogueira

Bench:

Fred VanVleet*, Delon Wright, Bruno Caboclo, Pascal Siakam*, Jakob Poeltl*
(* rookies)

Potential closing lineup:

Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, Tucker/Carroll, Patterson, Ibaka

With a full line-up at his disposal, this is the deepest, most talented and toughest roster Ujiri has ever handed head coach Dwane Casey. However, Ujiri has a word of caution.

“Everything always looks pretty on paper,” Ujiri said. “Now we have to go out and play.”

Ujiri has bought into the concept that this team is close and in a very competitive East, the opportunity to knock off the favorite, but short-handed, Cavaliers is there. He felt the Raptors owed it to their fans, coaches and players to give it their best shot right now.

“The way the East is situated, there’s Cleveland at the top and then there’s 5,6,7 teams that could catch steam at any time and momentum and then whoever does it at the right time, then maybe you find yourselves there,” Ujiri said. “We want to give ourselves the best shot to be there.”

Ujiri has a knack for knowing what to do and then getting it done without sacrificing the things he believes in. Things like keeping and developing his own young players, but still giving his team a chance to win. With the acquisition of Tucker and Ibaka, Ujiri has made the Raptors tougher, deeper and potentially a little nastier just in time to see if this is a group that can go deep into the playoffs and worth becoming a luxury tax team this summer.

 

 

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

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan

Raptors Ujiri Tells DeRozan and Lowry To Think About Championships

Toronto Raptors All-Stars DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry are coming off career years and team President Masai Ujiri wants them to set their goals higher, to start thinking about championships as reported by Lauren La Rose on CBC Sports.

“What an unbelievable year for both of them,” Ujiri said of the duo. “They’re All-Stars, they get to the Eastern Conference Finals, they’re Gold medalists.

“When I texted with them and we talked about the championship, that’s where their minds should be, to be set. They’re building themselves to be that caliber of players. They should start thinking about competing to the highest level.”

The Toronto Raptors are coming off a 56 win season that saw them just two wins away from representing the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals and they head into this season with an upgrade at starting power forward as the Celtics leading rebounder Jared Sullinger steps in to replace the 36-year-old Luis Scola.

Both DeRozan and Lowry were Eastern Conference All-Stars for the second time in their careers last season. DeRozan (23.5 points per game) only trailed LeBron James for the scoring lead in the East. Kyle Lowry ranked as the third best player in the Eastern Conference in Sports Illustrated’s top 100 NBA players and he was noticeably better than the Cavs Kyrie Irving in this summer’s run to Olympic Gold in Rio.

While the Cavaliers will significantly outspend the Raptors again this season, only the width of the gap is left to be determined when the Cavs finally get J.R. Smith inked to a new contract, their advantage may not be as insurmountable as it’s perceived to be. Cleveland took first place in the East last season with just one more win than Toronto. It is only the presence of LeBron James that makes this team stand out in their Conference.

Head-to-head Toronto won the regular season series with Cleveland last year 2-1, taking two close games in Toronto and getting blown out at the Q. The Conference Finals took a similar turn with Cleveland winning two blowouts at home, then losing two blowouts at the Air Canada Centre before finally putting the underdogs away in Games Five and Six.

Unfortunately the Raptors were without the services of a healthy Jonas Valanciunas for the first four games against the eventual NBA Champion Cavaliers and Valanciunas only saw limited run in the final two games and it mattered.

More than even the points the Raptors starting center was putting up in the playoffs before he was hurt, Valanciunas did shoot 7-9 for 15 points in 36 total minutes over the final two games against the Cavs, Toronto missed his rebounding as Cleveland hammered Toronto on the boards 255 to 210 over the six game series. Valanciunas was averaging 15 points and 12.1 rebounds per game in the playoffs before he was hurt.

It should be noted the Raptors were bailed out on the glass at home by monster performances from Bismack Biyombo who grabbed 40 rebounds total in Games Three and Four of the Conference Finals.  Unfortunately Biyombo only averaged 4.3 rebounds over three games in Cleveland.

However, where the Cavaliers are a veteran laden team, the Raptors are still building. Toronto’s anticipated nine man rotation this season averages just 5.3 years of NBA experience and the balance of the roster will have two years or less in the league.

“We have 10 players who are 25 years and younger. We are a growing team,” said Ujiri.

“Many things have to come together, but you had what we had last year.”

Toronto is going to have to be very lucky on the injury front or some of these young guys will need to take big steps in their development over the course of the coming season if the Raptors are going to challenge the Cavaliers when it counts in next spring’s playoffs. Unless of course Ujiri has something up his sleeve to add some proven veteran help by the trade deadline.

 

 

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 Jared Sullinger

Raptors Building A Defensive Wall With Jared Sullinger

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

 

 


 

NBA Toronto Raptors Masai Ujiri

Will Raptors GM Masai Ujiri Pull Off Another Miracle This Summer?

It was almost funny when Raptors president and general manager Masai Ujiri asked the media for ideas to improve his roster this summer, this guy hasn’t needed anyone’s help at team building since he fleeced the New York Knicks in the Carmelo Anthony trade as the GM in Denver just over five years ago. What everyone in Toronto wants to know now is what rabbits (impact players) can Ujiri pull out of his hat for a team that made it to the Eastern Conference Finals but is so far over the anticipated 2016 NBA Salary Cap (counting cap holds) that landing a notable free agent from another team to take his squad to the next level seems remote.

As Basketball Insiders editor Steve Kyle said in a response to a query about the Raptors making a big splash,

Not sure there is a big splash to be made… They are going to struggle to keep this team together, let alone add to it.

The Raptors want to hold onto both of their own impact free agents, Bismack Biyombo and DeMar DeRozan, but while DeRozan has a manageable cap hold of just $15 million and will be easy to fit in even with a max dollar contract, the Raptors don’t hold Biyombo’s Bird Rights so they’ll have to clear cap space to keep him.

Kerr is right, the Raptors can’t keep everyone on the 2015-16 roster. If Ujiri keeps Biyombo, and there’s every indication that it’s a priority, then he’ll have to trade/dump a player like Terrence Ross or Patrick Patterson to create the salary cap space to re-sign him. Even if Biyombo gives him the promised hometown discount, someone in the current rotation won’t be back next season.

The thing is, no one foresaw the previous moves Ujiri has been able to pull off during his tenure as a GM ahead of time and it’s almost a sure thing he’s got something up his sleeve for this summer.

Ujiri seems cautious, deliberate and thoughtful when it comes to the art of making a deal. The Knicks know this all to well. However, he has taken big risks when it comes to pushing his team over the top. In his last big move for the Nuggets he brought in Andre Iguodala for two players and two draft picks and Denver set an NBA franchise record with 57 wins that season.

His first big move in Toronto three years ago was to fleece the Knicks again by getting three draft picks including New York’s 2016 first round pick (9th overall) for the oft-injured Andrea Bargnani. It seems like Knicks owner James Dolan doesn’t even want his executives to answer Ujiri’s phone calls anymore.

Ujiri turned the Raptors fortunes from soft, weak lottery team fodder to Atlantic Division Champs in his first big trade before the calendar turned on his initial season with Toronto. Rudy Gay, along with Quincy Acy and Aaron Gray were foisted onto the Sacramento Kings for Chuck Hayes, Patrick Patterson, John Salmons and Greivis Vasquez. The Kings looked better but still weren’t competitive. The Raptors became a team that could win and salvaged a fading season to win a franchise record 48 games.

The next summer Ujiri struck again, taking advantage of a Hawks franchise that’s allergic to Luxury Tax by sending them the easily waived contract of John Salmons and getting soon-to-be 2014-15 NBA Sixth Man Lou Williams. It became a stop-gap-move for the Raptors as Williams wasn’t the best fit with a defensive-minded head coach, but Toronto set a new franchise record with 49 wins because of Williams’ offense. It could be argued in hindsight that Williams pushed head coach Dwane Casey out of his comfort zone and helped him grow as a coach, but is Ujiri really that good?

Think back to the days of Tim Leiweke’s arrival in Toronto, the announcement of the NBA All-Star Game for this city and what seemed like a three-year plan to peak on the court when the bright lights of the NBA would be focused on the Raptors. Two years later in the summer of 2015, Ujiri camped out on Bismack Biyombo and DeMarre Carroll’s doorsteps on the eve of free agency, swooped in on the Spurs Canadian free agent Cory Joseph, picked up veteran Luis Scola and the Raptors franchise changed again.

Ujiri used his close bond with Biyombo to convince the defensive-mined backup center from the Congo to take a contract for about half of what similar players were getting that summer and it worked out in spades for both of them. Biyombo proved he is one of the top young defensive centers in the NBA during the regular season and the playoffs and especially when he got his chances to start. He played so well that Ujiri is going to get a headache trying to re-sign him this summer even with both parties working hard to get a deal done.

Carroll played in last year’s Eastern Conference Finals and Ujiri was looking for an experienced player he knew could fill a role on the Raptors. In hindsight the signing shouldn’t have come as such a surprise. Ujiri had signed Carroll as a free agent in 2011 when he was the GM in Denver.

Carroll was injured for much of the regular season and struggled with injuries during the playoffs, so his impact on the season wasn’t as big as anticipated. However, the rational was sound and the impact on the team’s culture was there. Ujiri signed Carroll because he fit with how Casey wants to play – maybe the full benefit will show up on the court when Carroll returns healthy next season.

The Spurs couldn’t sign free agent LaMarcus Aldridge without giving up their rights to Joseph and Ujiri pounced on the opportunity. Joseph is a young up-and-coming point guard who plays defense and let the Raptors All-Star Kyle Lowry play off the ball on offense and on the weaker of the opposition’s guards on defense. A great addition who is expected to continue to get better for several more seasons.

The 36-year-old veteran power forward Luis Scola was better than anticipated. He hit 55 more three-pointers during the season than he had connected on during the rest of his NBA career combined providing a badly needed stretch four to start games in limited minutes. Scola couldn’t always give the Raptors what they needed on the court, but he was a positive influence on a relatively young team that was trying to establish a winning culture.

This summer is bound to be different as Ujiri doesn’t really have any wiggle room with his team’s cap situation.

NBA Toronto Raptors salary & cap holds 2016

There’s so little wiggle room that pursuing free agents other than DeRozan and Biyombo looks like a pipe dream. However, Ujiri has shown an ability to make the most out of every situation.

There will be deals made in Toronto this summer. Draft picks and/or young prospects that can be moved. Rotation players that could be traded to help take this team to the next level. It’s even possible Ujiri brings back someone like James Johnson or Jason Thompson as a key reserve to stabilize the rotation if and when someone gets hurt (again) and it should not come as a surprise if Euroleague MVP and restricted free agent Nando De Colo somehow finds his way back to Toronto.

The only thing that can be taken from Ujiri’s history is he’s an opportunist who is ready to take advantage of things that in hindsight might/should have been foreseeable. So, what’s out there that Ujiri can pounce on this off season that will look like another miracle move?

 

 

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

 

 

 


 

NBA Toronto Raptors Masai Ujiri and Dwane Casey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

 

 


NBA Toronto Raptors GM Masai Ujiri

Raptors Search For A Power Forward Dragging To The Deadline

The standard noise in the days leading up to the NBA trade deadline is general managers will only let their obvious trade targets go if other teams “blow them away.” The premise being their non-All-Star who wasn’t a lottery draft pick should somehow command an All-Star player or premium lottery draft pick in return – PLEASE, everyone knows that’s not going to happen. Then there’s the player on the expiring deal and no matter how good they are, the team getting them faces the same risk as the team trading them, so how high does one value a short term rental?

Thus the search for the player who everyone knows is on the market and could possibly help a team inevitably drags out to the final days or even the final minutes before the NBA trade deadline shuts this all down until after the playoffs.

In Toronto, general manager Masai Ujiri has said openly that he is looking for a power forward to boost his team’s chances in the postseason.

“We understand that there is a window in the NBA now”

“that power forward position has always been a position that we need to get better.”

As ESPN’s Marc Stein said in a video on Tuesday morning,

“Toronto is definitely a team to keep an eye on.”

“Look for Toronto to try and get a power forward. They’ve been chasing. They’ve been talking to all kinds of different teams, Kenneth Faried, Thaddeus Young, they’ve talked Phoenix both about Markieff Morris and P.J. Tucker. Ryan Anderson in New Orleans is another one.”

Those are some the most most common names that have been bandied about as Ujiri really is talking to everyone about anyone that could possibly help his team at the forward spot.

What is Toronto likely to be offering in trade?

Ujiri is expected to tie his own hands with his continuing desire to develop his own talent and that is likely to protect him from making a bad deal.

The Raptors own the New York Knicks first round draft pick in June and it’s going to be a lottery pick. Even though the Raptors have four first round picks over the next two seasons, Ujiri values draft picks highly and that pending lottery pick could net him Canadian guard Jamal Murray who is playing for Kentucky where head coach Dwane Casey is an alumni. Now that’s going to be a tough asset to let go of. Toronto’s own first round draft picks over the next two seasons, expected to be in the mid-twenties, shouldn’t be so hard to extract though.

The Raptors are expected to make DeMar DeRozan their big free agent signing in July, so their All-Star shooting guard isn’t going anywhere.

Both Jonas Valanciunas and Terrence Ross were extended this summer making their contracts subject to the NBA’s “poison pill provision.” They would be very difficult to trade, but not impossible, although trading either of these players has never seemed to be on Ujiri’s mind.

It should be noted that Luis Scola is playing on a one-year deal and can’t be traded without his consent as he would lose his Early-Bird rights (NBA CBA FAQ #100). Since Scola signed with Toronto for a shot at a deep run in the playoffs, getting that permission doesn’t seem likely.

It’s obvious head coach Dwane Casey trusts “3-and-D” power forward Patrick Patterson’s defense despite the low offensive output that can be expected on a consistent basis. Patterson is mature for his age, reliable, and usually plays more like a 30-year-old veteran than a 26-year-old who is still developing many aspects of his game. Unfortunately for Casey and Patterson, he has the only contract over $5 million that Ujiri might entertain trading. As in any deal, you got to give something of value to get something of value.

Ujiri’s other obvious trade asset from Casey’s rotation is forward James Johnson. Johnson has settled into a tenth man role whose highest value to the Raptors is as an injury replacement. He has proven to be a very valuable fill-in for DeMarre Carroll and can step in for any of the Raptors wings or big men if needed. It’s been a long tough road for Casey to get Johnson to this point where he accepts his role and is productive in it without becoming sullen or a distraction. This is a guy worth keeping around next season to cover off the inevitable injuries that happen to every team every season.

Other general managers have likely noticed the change in Johnson’s attitude as well and this very versatile forward could be the “value” veteran Ujiri has to include to get a deal to happen.

Toronto also has five players that have spent time in the NBA D-League this season: rookies Delon Wright and Norman Powell, sophomores Bruno Caboclo and Lucas Nogueira and Canadian prospect/project Anthony Bennett. They will have little to no impact on how this season turns out for Toronto and as much as Ujiri values young talent, if they are needed to get the player he wants, they’re gone.

Who’s out there associated with the Raptors at the deadline?

Just about every forward option out there comes with some shortcoming or baggage. Slam dunk trades are hard to come by, although Ujiri has put together some impressive winners as a GM.

  • Pelicans Ryan Anderson, expiring $8.5 million salary

Deadly and reliable three-point shooter whose defense is suspect. He could start if Casey can find a way to hide him on defense.

  • Nets Thaddeus Young, contract has 3 more years remaining,  $11.2 million salary (15% trade kicker)

Young is having a career year on the glass averaging 15.1 points and 9.1 rebounds. An upgrade at starting power forward for Toronto. No three-point game.

  • Nuggets Kenneth Faried, contract has 3 more years remaining,  $11.2 million salary

Undersized energizer bunny power forward. A Ujiri guy who rebounds and blocks shots, but defense? Has taken 12 three-point shots over his five seasons.

  • Suns Markieff Morris, contract has 3 more years remaining,  $8 million salary
  • Suns P.J. Tucker, next season non-guaranteed, $5.5 million salary

The Suns players could be looked at like a package or individually. Morris has pending unresolved legal troubles and has a strong, seemingly immature personality. Tucker is no shrinking violet either.

This pair of players could be franchise changing. It’s just hard to know if the change will be positive or not. High risk, high return is possible. Let’s just say they are very intriguing.

  • Bulls Taj Gibson, contract has 1 more year remaining,  $8 million salary

Gibson is a better rebounding version of Patterson, but without the three-point shot. This sounds like something the Bulls would be more interested in than Toronto.

  • Bulls Pau Gasol, player option for next season, $7.5 million salary

Rumors about Gasol are hard to come by, but if the Bulls see their playoff chances slipping away due to the multiple injuries – and they should. It’s time to cash in on Gasol before he walks away for nothing in July.

  • Hawks Al Horford, expiring $12 million salary
  • Hawks Kent Bazemore, expiring $2 million salary

Rumors about the Hawks blowing this team up abound and if they’re true, getting value back for pending free agents will be a top priority before the trade deadline.

Ujiri would have to be salivating about the prospects of playing All-Star power forward Al Horford beside his old teammate DeMarre Carroll in the playoffs. Bazemore could be the filler to get Ujiri to consider trading an asset(s) that wouldn’t otherwise be on the table.

When Atlanta is looking for teams that should be willing to pay the most – take the biggest risks trading for players who could walk in July – Toronto has to be at the top of their list.

  • Other teams

Toronto is well known for running a tight-lipped organization. The trade rumors don’t leak out from there. However, where last year Ujiri was saying, “my phone is always on,” this year he’s pretty much admitting he’s the one making the calls.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise if Ujiri gets a deal done at the trade deadline this year and neither should it be a surprise if he does a deal no one saw coming.

 

 

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

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Masai UjiriRaptors GM Masai Ujiri Confirms He Wants A Power Forward

With just over a week before the NBA trade deadline, Toronto Raptors president and general manager Masai Ujiri confirmed what everyone has been speculating about, he’s looking for a power forward at the trade deadline.

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Masai Ujiri

Raptors GM Masai Ujiri Confirms He Wants A Power Forward

With just over a week before the NBA trade deadline, Toronto Raptors president and general manager Masai Ujiri confirmed what everyone has been speculating about, he’s looking for a power forward at the trade deadline.

“We understand that there is a window in the NBA now, but I think that patience sometimes matters, but we’ll see what comes up at the deadline,” Ujiri said on “The Starters” Wednesday in Toronto.

In response to team needs Ujiri said, “In the power forward position, we addressed the three, but unfortunately DeMarre Carroll got hurt and hopefully we get him back by the end of the season, but that power forward position has always been a position that we need to get better. We understand that so we’ll try and figure that out whether that’s now or in the summer.”

 

 

The list of potential trade targets is fairly long: Nets Thaddeus Young, Pelicans Ryan Anderson, Suns Markieff Morris and/or P.J. Tucker, Nuggets Kenneth Faried, and even the Hawks Al Horford. Then there will be potential buy out candidates like the Celtics David Lee to consider post trade deadline and how about the Raptors own NBA D-League All-Star Ronald Roberts Jr.?

The list is likely to get even longer as teams begin to accept the fact that what they’ve got isn’t working, changes are needed and the trade deadline is coming up fast.

In Toronto, a lot could hang on just how fast DeMarre Carroll can get back in action. Carroll is a combo forward and if he’s healthy enough to play big minutes, the best Raptors lineups this season have been some version of small ball. Sliding Carroll to the four with three guards and a big was always envisioned as this team’s best chance of taking things to another level, so Ujiri could, once again, opt for patience to see what he’s got already.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

Ujiri basketball web

Masai Ujiri Calls In From Africa To Talk Hoops (Audio)

Toronto Raptors President and General Manager called in from South Africa to discuss what he has been up to and talk a bit about Bismack Biyombo.

 

Masai Ujiri 7-30-2015
 

 

 

 

West and Williams

Raptors GM Ujiri Throws A Curve To Open Free Agency

So all that noise about the Raptors meeting with free agent power forward LaMarcus Aldridge turned into smoke as President and General Manger, Basketball Operations Masai Ujiri was actually meeting with the Hawks small forward DeMarre Carroll first and the Raptors GM wasted no time in getting a deal done. Well done Ujiri, the best moves are often the ones no one saw coming and are done and put to bed before anyone can mess them up.

The timing almost seems suspicious. No sooner had the Spurs finished jumping through all the flaming hoops required to make Aldridge a max offer including sending Tiago Splitter to the Hawks for salary cap space than Carroll is tweeting he had come to a deal with the Raptors.

So the Raptors won’t be adding a current All-Star power forward to their lineup this season, instead they finally have a real solution at small forward. However, what hasn’t changed is the team still hasn’t solved its rebounding and rim protection issues. Ujiri isn’t finished yet, although the salary cap space to go after free agents with is starting to get low.

Toronto can likely still put together about 10 to 12 million in cap space and still has their $5.4 million Mid-Level exception and $2.1 Bi-Annual exception to go after free agents, plus they have trade exceptions of $6.4 million and $2.4 million. (No you cannot combine exceptions with anything)

Those trade exceptions could become become particularly useful if another team (like the Spurs) needs to dump salary in a hurry to clear salary cap space in order to sign a free agent and GMs tend to like having them around during the season just in case an opportunity crops up.

Toronto has the option to bring back Six-Man Lou Williams and that possibility has to be tempting. Williams wins teams games when he’s hot and can carry a team while coming off the bench. However, Ujiri has to question if that would be the best use of his limited cap space, especially with a veteran power forward still on the market and looking to join a winner.

Even at 34-year-old, West is still a superior rebounder and a tough physical force anywhere inside the three-point line. He’d fit on a Coach Casey led team like a hand in a glove. The only question is, after turning down a $12.7 million option year with the Pacers, would West take three-years and $25-30 million from the Raptors? West is pretty much precisely the missing veteran presence the Raptors need next season.

Of course, Ujiri could look at spreading his remaining salary cap space over several players instead of just one, although it would be difficult to generate the same impact.

It should be obvious Ujiri came to free agency with plan. This ride isn’t over yet in Toronto.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

DeMarre Carroll - croppedRaptors Land Hawks Free Agent DeMarre Carroll
Apparently Raptors GM Masai Ujiri wasn’t including Terrence Ross when he kept saying he wanted to keep giving his guys a chance to show what they could do as on the first day of free agency he committed the bulk of his available salary cap space to land the Hawks unrestricted free agent small forward DeMarre Carroll with a four-year $60 million offer.

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Masai Ujiri

Raptors Ruthless GM Masai Ujiri Has Targeted Free Agency

Toronto Raptors President and General Manager, Basketball Operations Masai Ujiri recent success has come through trades and team chemistry and while his deals have looked pretty good, Ujiri hasn’t had to be all that ruthless to get things done – until now. However, Ujiri knows he still needs to upgrade the talent on his roster if the Raptors are to ever develop into contenders and he has targeted free agency to get the job done.

Immediately prior to the NBA Draft Ujiri had approximately $18 million in salary cap space before cap holds and that was just barely enough to go after a single max contract free agent with less than seven years of NBA experience – typically someone just coming off their rookie deal with few exceptions. That was pretty limiting so the Raptors GM made the very tough and completely unexpected decision to ship out a player he knows well and likes to Milwaukee for cap space and picks.

“We wanted to have some flexibility, open up a little bit of space and just to keep our options open as we go into free agency,” Ujiri said. “Draft season is over now and now it’s free agency.”

“I want to thank Greivis (Vasquez). What a great kid. I’ve known for many years. It’s one of the toughest things I’ve ever done is speak to Greivis after you’ve made the trade. I tell you what, it’s not easy.

“I say with all honesty he did a great job for us, but it’s time to part ways. For me, this is the business. We slowly started growing here and we want to build your team and sometimes you are stuck with contracts and you are coming to a time when you have to make some decisions, but that’s the business it comes with while we do it and we are going to go out and face it and try and make the best decisions we can make.”

This was the sign the media, fans and free agents needed to see. In order to acquire the talent the Raptors needed to take the next step and be taken seriously in the NBA, Ujiri had to be ruthless enough to move out players he liked, were talented and had contributed to the past success of his team.

Now Ujiri heads into free agency with $24.6 million in salary cap space before cap holds and the flexibility to make a serious offer to just about any free agent he believes could help his team. It should be assumed Ujiri didn’t trade Vasquez away without knowing who that free agent target or targets are. There’s a plan here that should become very obvious fairly quickly after free agency opens on July 1st.

Trading Vasquez away to create salary cap space provides us another glimpse into what Ujiri is thinking. In order for the trade to have created value in free agency, a ruthless Ujiri has to be willing to rescind his rights to re-sign Amir Johnson, Lou Williams, Tyler Hansbrough and his other free agents. These were popular players that did a good job, but if Ujiri is going after a free agent that will upgrade the talent on his roster, most if not all of his own free agents will not be back next season.

It looks like there is going to be a few tears and a lot of excitement in Toronto this July.

 

 

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

 

 

 

TOR DeRozan Lowry Valanciunas

Is Raptors GM Masai Ujiri Ruthless Enough To Become Great?

Raptors President and General Manager, Basketball Operations Masai Ujiri has admitted several times now to being too complacent at the trade deadline and has suggested the Raptors are open for business now. The timing couldn’t be better. This is anticipated to be as wild an NBA Draft night as anyone can remember, but is Ujiri ruthless enough to risk change and give his team a chance to become great?

Big trades have already started to happen and trade rumors with apparent substance are rampant as teams debate the value of draft prospects and scramble to prepare ahead of a huge attractive free agent class. The only thing that is certain in the NBA this summer is uncertainty.

More than three-quarters of the rumors are pure smoke and all leaks should be taken with a grain of salt until they’re confirmed. GMs really do discuss lots of possibilities, it doesn’t mean they were ever interested in following through. At the trade deadline there were rumors that both Terrence Ross and Jonas Valanciunas were available – albeit at a very high price and Ujiri admits he really wasn’t looking all that hard.

However, new rumors have Ujiri expanding the pool of players he’d consider trading to even include his All-Stars. It sounds more like the typical bait-and-switch tactic used in opening up trade discussions, but the rumor being spread by Sheridan Hoops Joe Kotoch likely means there is some serious trade fishing going on in Toronto.

According to several executives I spoke with, the Toronto Raptors are actively exploring trades for All-Star guard Kyle Lowry, former All-Star DeMar DeRozan and even Jonas Valanciunas, who is up for an extension this summer. According to these sources, Raptors GM Masai Ujiri wants to blow up this roster because he believes it has reached its ceiling, even in the weak East.

Anyone who has been paying attention to what Ujiri has been saying and doing in Toronto over the past year-and-a-half knows the blow up phase ended after the unexpectedly successful trade with Sacramento, however, it’s equally obvious the rebuilding phase isn’t over yet either.

Ujiri’s dilemma is the Raptors can likely win the Atlantic Division for the third time in a row by sticking with the guys he’s got and bringing back last year’s Sixth-Man award winner Lou Williams and the very popular Amir Johnson. However, that hasn’t been a formula for getting out of the first round of the playoffs. If Ujiri wants his Raptors to take another step, he’ll have to be a lot more ruthless than that.

Being ruthless on draft night means being willing to trade his precious 20th overall draft pick and in his own words “packaged with something else” in order to get something back of real value. The biggest value Ujiri can offer will get back to the trade deadline rumor of Valanciunas and Ross, either of those young players together with a first round draft pick should return a difference-maker. It takes nerve to trade a young player who could blossom somewhere else to get the player or draft pick you believe can elevate your franchise, but that’s what a GM is supposed to be able to handle.

NBA free agency opens up in July and Ujiri’s ability to be ruthless will once again become obvious. Last summer he took the obvious and appropriate steps of focusing on his own free agents and made sure Kyle Lowry, Greivis Vasquez and Patrick Patterson were re-signed. This summer, if he’s ruthless enough, Williams, Johnson and Tyler Hansbrough will have to be left hanging while Ujiri tries to land a free agent or two that can elevate the Raptors prospects for the future. It doesn’t mean none of them will be back, it just means there are better prospects available in free agency this time and Ujiri needs to be ruthless enough to pursue the better prospects first.

What doesn’t get done at the draft or in free agency can sometimes be accomplished with a summer-time trade and Ujiri has proven to be very adept at the art of the deal. This time, however, to get a player or players that can help, he isn’t going to be able to move an asset he doesn’t want. This time, he’ll have to move a player he likes.

It wasn’t that long ago that winning 48 games looked like a pipe dream in Toronto, but now a team with no chance of contending in the East is almost as unacceptable as returning to the lottery. Expectations have grown and if Ujiri is going to fulfill those expectations, complacency isn’t going to cut it. Only a willingness to be a little ruthless is going to get the job done now.

 

 

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

 

 

 

Hansbrough Johnson Williams

Should Raptors GM Masai Ujiri Stay The Course?

Toronto Raptors President and General Manager, Basketball Operations Masai Ujiri has some big decisions to make heading into this off season. He could keep his draft pick, re-sign free agents Lou Williams, Amir Johnson and Tyler Hansbrough and in all probability stay atop the Atlantic Division with 48+ wins again or he could use some of his assets and his salary cap space in an attempt to take his team to another level.

There will be a lot of pressure to do something to get better after being swept in the first round of the playoffs. The Raptors fan base is getting decidedly restless just two years after their team stopped being one of the easiest touches in the NBA and started winning on a regular basis. Suddenly, the likelihood of a three-peat as Atlantic Division winners isn’t going to be enough to generate much excitement in Toronto.

However, Ujiri could make the case for staying the course. His team looked almost unbeatable before DeMar DeRozan was injured early last season and missed over 20 games. An offensive juggernaut with enough defense to be effective that Kyle Lowry was able to carry for a spell without his backcourt partner before he ran out of gas. After that it took DeRozan over a month to find his game again and a worn-down Lowry never fully recovered and couldn’t turn it back on for the postseason. Even with the adversity, Ujiri’s boys still set a new franchise record for wins in a season.

Almost overlooked, but definitely noticeable, was the stagnation of Terrence Ross, inexplicable until Ross had surgery to remove bone spurs in his ankle after the season. If Ujiri still believes in his young ‘3-and-D’ wing, his need to makes moves in order to get better is greatly diminished.

Ujiri believes strongly in building through the draft and developing the talent on his own roster and if he chooses to stay the course, he will have a winning program again next season. However, the question remains, should he?

It is going to be hard to convince anyone that staying the course will produce a result better than a second round playoff exit and if the team doesn’t improve internally or the injury bug bites again, a quick first round exit would be just as likely next April as it was this time around.

A move merely to placate the fans is never a good idea, however, this summer is expected to have a very active trade market and has numerous gettable free agents worth targeting that could upgrade the talent on the Raptors. Staying the course and tinkering around the edges would feel like stagnating. This isn’t the summer to do nothing.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

Joseph Monroe ThompsonSix Things The Toronto Raptors Should Do This Summer

The end of the Toronto Raptors season was in a word – deflating. After a promising 24-8 start, Toronto went 25-25 the rest of the way and played like a .500 team in the playoffs, falling four straight to the Wizards. So what should the Raptors do this summer?

 

 

 

Caboclo and Nogueira

Can The Raptors Afford To Stay In The 2015 Draft?

This is beginning to feel like déjà vu all over again and the predraft workouts haven’t even started in Toronto yet. Last year the Raptors had targeted Canadian Tyler Ennis with the 20th overall pick, but the Suns swooped in at 18 to ruin that plan. This year Canadian Trey Lyles is coming off an impressive freshman season with Kentucky, but most mock drafts have him going in the teens just ahead of where Toronto picks at 20 once again.

President and General Manager, Basketball Operations Masai Ujiri will expound on the merits of developing one’s own players and the importance of draft picks whenever the topic comes up, however, what doesn’t get much discussion is the fact that the back-to-back Atlantic Division winners are all full up with players that aren’t quite ready for prime time.

 


 

The goal in Toronto is to become relevant in the NBA. They aren’t trying to become a feeder team for the NBA D-League. Carrying a couple of players like Bruno Caboclo and Lucas Nogueira who could use development time on the ‘farm’ team isn’t a big deal for the Raptors 15-man roster, adding a couple more could prove to be detrimental if the team ran into injury trouble during the season. A team trying to earn home court in the first round of the playoffs should have a veteran like Chuck Hayes sitting on the end of the bench rather than some late first round draft pick with almost no NBA experience.

Two project players are enough, three is a stretch and four suggests a team that really isn’t all that concerned about winning.

Ujiri could try trading up in the draft. There players in the lottery who could potentially be in the rotation of a winning team right away. However, trading up is always a difficult proposition.

DEN_Faried_KennethHe could trade out of the draft. There are players rumored to be available on draft night who could help the Raptors now and in the future – Kenneth Faried for example. A first round draft pick is often the price it takes to make a deal like that happen.

Alternatively, Caboclo, Nogueira and/or even the rights to DeAndre Daniels could be moved to make room for another rookie, but something has to give. Unless Ujiri can convince people that the guys who weren’t good enough to even dress for most games last year have improved enough to fight for a rotation spot on a Division winner and that just doesn’t seem likely.

It won’t take that long to find out what Ujiri has in mind. The NBA draft is on June 25th and should provide the usual list of surprises. Free agents can be signed on July 9th and NBA Summer League in Las Vegas kicks off on July 10th.

Aside from the Raptors apparent commitment to develop Caboclo, nothing else Ujiri does with the prospects he controls should come as a surprise. The biggest surprise would be that they are all still with the Raptors at training camp.

 

 

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

 

 

 

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Raptors Opted For Player Evaluation Over Playoff Success

Toronto Raptors President and General Manager, Basketball Operations Masai Ujiri slipped in the reason of his team’s lack of playoff success. Just like last season, he opted for player development and evaluation.

“I feel good about (standing pat at the trade deadline), Ujiri said. “We made it based on just throwing these guys out there and really seeing, giving them that opportunity because the questions you guys would be asking me now if you got a veteran or some kind of player (would be) well – Jonas did not play so much or this person (Ross?) did not play so much and so we don’t know him. I didn’t want to be put in that situation because I want to know our players and I think this opportunity gave us – (including) the playoffs and not doing anything gave us the opportunity to know our players. To really really know and study them – what they can do, what we feel maybe what they may be able to do and stop guessing really because at the end of the day we have to make really good decisions on them like the questions that have been asked about extensions and stuff. You want to know what they can do rather than guess.”

Last year it was Head coach Dwane Casey explaining the importance of playing then second year players Terrence Ross and Jonas Valanciunas during the seven game playoff series with the Nets. This year it was Ujiri’s call at the trade deadline to stand pat rather than bolster a roster that was badly in need of a kick in the butt, but Ujiri does have a point. The Raptors have to know – not guess – what to do when discussing extensions to the rookie deals of Ross and Valanciunas this summer. Sometimes player development and finances are going to trump winning.

“We knew we were going to get punched in the face,” Ujiri admitted. “And I say it again, it’s not all doomsday for us. We are really happy with the base.”

So just how happy is Ujiri with his two third year players? Apparently, pretty happy.

“We are extremely excited,” Ujiri said. “I think sometimes as we say, do we look at what (Ross and Valanciunas) do and what they do well. I think we sometimes tend to criticize what they don’t do and sometimes when you are internal and you look at those players, we have to concentrate on what they can do well and can we get any better.

“They know our system. They are growing with our system. They have been smacked in the face a little bit. They are young, so it’s something we are going to seriously take a look at. We love their upside.”

Not everyone is as excited about Ross as Ujiri is or as confident in Ross’ defense as the sales job Casey was dealing during the post season, but their comments do provide some insight into how the Raptors view their young wing.

“Everybody says when is Terrence going to get to the line?” Ujiri said. “Well, you know what, Terrence is a great shooter. He fell back on defense a little bit, but we felt that he started getting it back together.”

Ross can be a bit hard to get excited about. The kid has a lot of talent, but he doesn’t often show a lot of confidence and more was expected in his third season. Valanciunas, on the other hand, was showing improvement – enough improvement that just maybe Casey should have taken off the kid gloves and let his developing center face just a little more adversity.

“(Valanciunas) is a huge part of our team,” Ujiri said. “We can criticize Jonas all we want and it’s a big discussion we are going to have with Coach and the staff (about) how he was used. Those guys are hard to find. You can scout around the world and try to find a ‘Jonas’ and pick guys like that (but) it also takes time.

“We feel that he got better rim protecting. His feet got a little bit better. He got more confident in the post. He got better rebounding defensively. It’s gradual with big guys. It takes time and he is going to be a big part of our building.

“There’s upside. It takes a while. You guys know me, there’s no knee jerk reaction here. I am going to be patient. That is going to be our nature of building here.”

No knee jerk reaction has been a Ujiri mantra since his arrival in Toronto. The Raptors GM strongly believes in developing his own players and building a team over time. Last year’s success and this season’s high expectations were undoubtedly a year or two ahead of schedule.

It isn’t easy and it wasn’t comfortable watching the Raptors fail to get out of the first round of the playoffs two seasons in a row and getting swept by Washington was painful for even the ever patient Ujiri. However, even in hindsight the Raptors GM would have made the same decision at the trade deadline. He had to know – not guess – where his two third year players were in their development. There is just too much money at stake when negotiating extensions to their rookie contracts this summer and a bad decision could haunt the Raptors for the next five years.

 


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 GM Masai Ujiri

Raptors GM Masai Ujiri Issues Apology For Saying A Bad Word

So that’s two years in a row Raptors President and General Manager, Basketball Operations Masai Ujiri has slipped up by using an inappropriate ‘bad’ word during a playoffs pregame rally with Raptors fans outside of the Air Canada Centre. The League might be unhappy with him (doubtful, they love publicity), but the thousands of screaming fans were loving it. Ujiri apologized to those with sensitive ears once again. You can hear what he said and read his apology here.
 

From Youtube Christopher Principe

 
“People want me to say something about Paul Pierce, but we don’t give a sh*t about ‘It’,” Ujiri shouted.
 

STATEMENT FROM TORONTO RAPTORS PRESIDENT AND GENERAL MANAGER MASAI UJIRI

“I have the deepest respect for Commissioner Silver and the NBA, and while showing passion for our team and fans I will choose my words more ‎carefully in the future so as not to indicate otherwise.

“I apologize and have acknowledged the fine with the Commissioner. I consider the matter closed and our sole focus is on the playoffs.”

NBA Communications Group

Toronto Raptors General Manager Masai Ujiri has been fined $35,000 for using obscene language in a public setting on Saturday, April 18 prior to the Raptors’ playoff game against the Washington Wizards, it was announced today by NBA Commissioner Adam Silver. In addition, the Toronto Raptors organization has been fined $25,000.

 

The fine does seem pretty excessive for a ‘colorful’ word that isn’t religious or targeted towards any particular group of people. Are we really that sensitive these days?

 

 

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.

 

 

 

Javale Mcgee cropped

Who Is Waiting For A 76ers JaVale McGee Buyout?

The ink was barely dry on the paperwork that sent Nuggets center JaVale McGee to the 76ers when the questions about a possible buyout began to surface. For all intents and purposes, it looks like the 76ers bought themselves another first round draft pick by acquiring McGee and they did it with money they were going to have to spend anyway as they were way below the CBA mandated minimum required payroll.
 


 

McGee is 7’ center with a 7’6 wingspan who is better known for being made fun of on Shaqtin’ A Fool, but he hasn’t even been seen there much recently as injuries and illness kept him out of all but 5 games last year and caused him to miss all but 4 of his team’s past 40 games. The good news is he made it back for two games at the end of January and a cameo just before the All-Star break, so it’s possible he might be able to contribute something over some part of the rest of the season. However, his acquisition didn’t exactly make a big impression on Head Coach Brett Brown.
 


 

Thanks to a four-year deal negotiated with then Nuggets general manager Masai Ujiri, McGee is on the books for $11.25 million this season and $12 million next year which makes a financially advantageous buyout of his contract possible. As previously noted, this was money the 76ers were going to have to spend anyway because their payroll was so low. It is pretty hard to imagine a role for McGee on the very young 76ers. He certainly isn’t going to get any of the minutes allocated to Nerlens Noel this year or Joel Embiid next season.

However, there are teams that could use a shot blocking big man assuming McGee is actually healthy enough to play.
 


 

Raptors President and General Manager, Basketball Operations Masai Ujiri knows the good and the bad a healthy McGee could provide. In his one full healthy season under Ujiri’s watch, McGee averaged 9.1 points, 4.8 rebounds, 2 blocks in 18.1 minutes and those are pretty useful type numbers for a backup center.

The NBA’s Playoff Eligibility Waiver Deadline is March 1, so the 76ers have about 10 days to decide if they want to buyout McGee while he would still be eligible to be on a playoff roster. Assuming the big man is ready to play, there should be several teams waiting to pounce.

 

 

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

 

 

 

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Toronto Raptors Are Under No Pressure To Deal

As the trade deadline approaches Toronto Raptors President and General Manager, Basketball Operations Masai Ujiri remains under no pressure to make a deal.  His team sits comfortably 2.5 games ahead of Chicago to hold second place overall in the Eastern Conference and 14.5 games in front of Brooklyn for the Atlantic Division lead.  With 29 games remaining, the Raptors magic number for winning the division is 15 – in other words, this race has been over for a while.

However, that doesn’t mean Ujiri hasn’t been active in discussions with other general managers around the Association. The Raptors goals exceed merely taking the pathetic ‘Titanic’ Division crown, they have hopes and aspirations in the postseason as well.

As Ujiri told the Toronto Sun’s Mike Ganter,

“We haven’t done anything yet,” Ujiri cautioned. “I don’t want to call out the conference, I can’t do that, but it’s the measuring stick and I think we have to keep that in mind.”

If the Raptors truly want to challenge for first place in the Eastern Conference or a chance to contend for a spot in the Conference Finals, Ujiri needs to find a way to accelerate his team’s development and he knows the the surest way of accomplishing that would be a trade.  It might seem quiet right now, but when it comes to the trade deadline,  it isn’t over until it’s over.

“I never know what to expect. Sometimes it’s quiet until the last minute.”

However, Ujiri has a stated preference for developing his own young talent and when a team has demonstrated the level of cohesiveness and chemistry of the Raptors, any change has to be carefully thought through. It’s always possible to make things worse.

He discussed his fascination with team chemistry with the Toronto Star’s Doug Smith.

“The only thing I’m fascinated with is chemistry,” the Raptors general manager said in a wide-ranging interview in his corner office this week. “For me, that just beats everything because it’s what you dream about in team sports.”

Ujiri has talked about the process of getting better in the past and he understands the risks in trying to accelerate the process – not that he hasn’t done just that in the past like when he brought Andre Iguodala to Denver in the final year of the 76ers All-Star’s contract.

“Everybody gets excited, and sometimes we try to take too many steps forward but here we’re not like that, that’s not how I am.”

This year the Raptors have a lot of trade grease – three first round draft picks over the next two years, rights to unsigned players recently taken in the draft’s second round, multiple players on expiring contracts, useable trade exceptions and available cash, but the player everyone is talking about is third year wing Terrence Ross.

As Ujiri very recently told Sportsnet’s Michael Grange, Ross remains a player the Raptors would prefer to hang onto.

“I would be shocked if we did something with Terrence,” Ujiri said Tuesday night. “Trust me. I can’t tell you more how I totally don’t think that would happen before Thursday.”

That doesn’t mean Ross, and virtually every other player on the Raptors and other teams, hasn’t had his name bandied about in trade discussions.  It’s trade deadline season, that’s what GMs do, but Ujiri restates the obvious, the Raptors aren’t desperate.

“We’re a young, good team. I don’t think we’re that great of a team, but we’re learning how to play and how to win so we have to give them that opportunity,” said Ujiri. “Do we have holes? Yes, but I don’t think now is the time to get desperate to fill them.”

Desperate, no, opportunistic, undoubtedly, Ujiri resides in that comfortable position of a GM whose team is exceeding expectations on the court and ahead of where most everyone would have placed his team’s development.  Yes he sees the opportunity in a weak Eastern Conference, but that’s not an excuse to trade short term gain for long term potential.  Toronto isn’t a player away from an NBA Championship just yet.

That doesn’t mean Raptors fans should look past the trade deadline as if nothing can happen in Toronto. No one should be saying anything like that. The trade deadline puts pressure on teams that feel the need to make deals and what looked improbable on Monday can suddenly look a lot more plausible on Thursday morning.  Deadlines do that.

If Ujiri has shown anything in his tenure as an NBA GM it’s that he isn’t afraid to make a deal.  It isn’t over until it’s over – 3 pm ET Thursday.

 

 

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

 

 

 

TOR Ujiri and Leiweke

Toronto Raptors Approach $1 Billion Value Thanks To GM Ujiri

Bell Canada and Rogers Communications have reasons to smile about their investment in Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment. Sure the NHL’s sad-sack Toronto Maple Leafs are in the tank again, but the NBA’s Toronto Raptors value has exploded since they purchased the MLSE sports empire a couple of years ago. The Raptors franchise, barely worth a half a billion last year according to Forbes, is now worth upwards of $920 million. (Forbes values MLSE’s Maple Leafs at $1.3 billion.)

The change in the Raptors fortunes have come lockstep with the improvements on the court resulting from the changes implemented by President and General Manager, Basketball Operations Masai Ujiri. The Raptors went from a five year playoff hiatus to Eastern Conference Atlantic Division Champions last season and are on target to win over 50 games for the first time in franchise history this year. It also didn’t hurt that the NBA’s Los Angeles Clippers recently sold for $2 billion.

Gerrit De Vynck on BNN quotes Dave Hopkinson, chief commercial officer of MLSE, Phil King, president of BCE’s (Bell) sports and entertainment programming, and Scott Moore, president of Rogers’ Sportsnet TV channels.

“The feeling right now is that the Raptors have arrived,” Hopkinson said.

The Raptors’ share of revenue within Maple Leaf Sports is growing in proportion to the Leafs, Hopkinson said, declining to give specific numbers. He credits the team’s success to its general manager, Masai Ujiri.

The team’s fans have given back, doubling merchandise sales, giving the Raptors the fifth-best attendance in the 30- team league and selling more new season tickets than any club except LeBron James’ Cleveland Cavaliers, Hopkinson said.

The NBA is a TV as opposed to gate driven league. Of the Raptors estimated $151 million in revenues, only $47 million comes from gate receipts according to Forbes. This bodes well for both Rogers (Sportsnet) and Bell (TSN) as one of the primary reasons for their investment in MLSE was for radio, TV and internet content.

Average games are netting 320,000 viewers, up 60 percent from the same time last year and on track for a record for the team, said King.

Last year’s play-off games even rivaled some play-off hockey games in viewership. “That was unheard of before,” he said.

A low rating for a Leafs game is about a million viewers, said Moore.

In reality, the Raptors are undervalued at $920 million. The NBA has signed a new $24 billion National TV deal that essentially triples the amount of national TV money going to each team starting in 2016. Local TV numbers remain skewed by the continued tendency of the hockey-centric Sportsnet and TSN to feature NBA basketball on secondary cable channels that have limited viewership, so basketball has a lot of room to grow by just making the games more accessible. If the Raptors continue as a winning organization, more games will appear on basic cable channels, viewership will rise and local TV revenues will expand well beyond current trends.

The Raptors improving financial fortune is good news for the team’s fans. Increasing revenues and a higher franchise value makes investments in the team and its players easier to approve at the Board level. It’s possible MLSE would even pay the NBA’s onerous luxury tax (as opposed to just saying they would) in order to acquire the players that could take this team on deep playoff runs that would further boost their owners’ TV revenues. This could be one case where spending money to make even more money works.

 
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.