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NBA Toronto Raptors Masai Ujiri

Raptors Masai Ujiri Is Sweating His Big Move

Has anyone in Toronto ever seen the Raptors president Masai Ujiri sweat? Well after returning from Africa this morning and immediately heading down to Scotiabank Arena for a press conference about the big move that sent fan-favorite DeMar DeRozan to the Spurs for Kawhi Leonard, the usually steadfast Ujiri was sweating the details in front of the media.

This wasn’t the first time Ujiri has sent someone he knows well and respects packing, but this time it took a toll. From the apologies to the explanations to admitting maybe he misled DeRozan unintentionally, Ujiri has never bobbed-and-weaved so much in front of the media in Toronto and maybe ever.

“When I met with (DeRozan’s agent) at Summer League maybe my mistake was saying there was nothing imminent at the time. At the time we were fourth on the ranks of trying to get anything done and I didn’t see anywhere the talks were going,” Ujiri explained.

“It’s my job to go to these guys and talk about our team as it is. That’s my job every year.”

Understandably it’d be hard to tell a star player his name had come up in trade talks. Especially if you believed those talks weren’t going anywhere, but as Ujiri later admitted, the he believed Raptors as constructed would be stuck in the same spot they’d been for a while now and that wasn’t good enough anymore.

Ujiri should be sweating over this move. Leonard wasn’t at this press conference that was in essence about him and the best Ujiri could say was his new star would be here “soon” and based on the reporting rules for traded players, soon should have been “today.”

The Raptors got the best player in this trade and added a badly needed veteran wing player in Danny Green, the team got better on paper – a lot better, but Ujiri was still sweating.

Maybe everyone in Toronto should be sweating until Ujiri can put Leonard in front of the media for a photo shoot in his new jersey.

 

 

 

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 president Masai Ujiri

Toronto The CHEAP Can’t Find The Raptors A Head Coach

Being a fan of the Toronto Raptors can be a frustrating experience. The team is located in one of the biggest markets in the NBA with some of the highest ticket prices and their owners, Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, make nothing but money off this franchise. But they’re CHEAP and thru a succession of owners they’ve always been cheap and one can’t help but wonder if this is affecting their search for a head coach.

To put things in perspective, in February 2018 Forbes updated their financial information about the franchise. The current owners, media giants Bell Canada and Rogers, have seen the value of the Raptors increase by $1 billion since they purchased it in 2012. The team has annual revenues of $250 million and operating profits over $50 million. This team can afford to spend a lot more money on management, coaches, and players than they do currently.

However, you’d never know it from how the team behaves every single summer.

At the end of every disappointing season and ahead of every hopeful reboot, the Raptors GM will insist that he has the full support of ownership to spend above the NBA’s Luxury Tax threshold and every summer that same GM will go thru amazing gyrations to stay below the Tax line.

Last summer president Masai Ujiri managed to dump the salaries of DeMarre Carroll and Cory Joseph on other teams and let P.J. Tucker and Patrick Patterson walk in free agency to make sure he could stay out of the Tax by filling in the back end of his roster with minimum salary players. While the young guys they kept performed at a high level during the regular season, potential playoff success was sacrificed on the alter of profits (and player development.)

Knowing this team’s history, it’s very hard not to wonder if head coach Dwane Casey was released after setting a franchise record for wins in the regular season using a roster that had eight players with two years or less of NBA experience because he was looking for a reasonable extension to his contract.

One is also left to wonder if Mike Budenholzer, the new head coach in Milwaukee, a team with less than half the Raptors gate receipts, is there instead of Toronto over money?

The Raptors ended the 2017-18 season as a first place team, but they head into the off season in the same position as last summer and the concern in Toronto should be, will Ujiri spend his time looking for ways to dump players’ salary to stay under the Luxury Tax threshold again as Toronto The Cheap or look for moves to retain their position with opponents like the Celtics and 76ers expected to be significantly better next season?

Ujiri’s willingness to spend on coaching could be a big indicator of this team’s direction. Hiring a cheaper rookie head coach may not be the sign Raptors fans want to see.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

Bud Or Bust? The Best Head Coach Prospects For The Raptors

It wouldn’t be hard to argue that the best bench boss currently available on the open market in the NBA is the Raptors former head coach Dwane Casey. He took a laughingstock of a franchise and molded them into one of the top teams in the Association over the past five years. However, for his own reasons, president Masai Ujiri made the decision to avoid the lame-duck coach issue for next next season by firing Casey instead of extending him.

It isn’t going to be easy finding a new head coach with a better record than Casey.

  • A five-time coach of the month and the 2018 NBCA coach of the year.
  • Five straight years in the postseason and an appearance in the Eastern Conference Finals.
  • Three straight 50+ win seasons and a record of 320-238 (a 57.3 winning percentage) over his seven seasons in Toronto.
  • And the team’s two All-Stars, Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, are strong supporters of his coaching.

The only knocks on Casey might be the facts,

  • He’ll be 62-years-old at the end of his contract next season and maybe Ujiri didn’t want to extend him into his mid-sixties?
  • He got swept out of the second round of the playoffs by LeBron James in each of the past two years?

However, it’s a good time to be looking for an NBA head coach. There is what seems to be an endless pool of assistant coaches deserving a chance at the big chair and three of them are in Toronto right now. Ujiri has a choice of two recently let go head coaches that have been to the Eastern Conference Finals in the last five years. Then there’s the laundry list of guys with jobs in the media that could possibly be talked into going behind the bench if Ujiri wants someone with a higher profile and other former head coaches who’d like another big payday.

Bud or Bust?

However, for the Raptors, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski says they are talking to the recently available former Hawks head coach Mike Budenholzer and it’s a two-way battle with the Bucks for his services.

For a coach that has been around the league since 1996, Budenholzer won’t be 49-years-old until August and after 17 seasons in the Spurs organization, he was a top head coaching prospect when the Hawks nabbed him in 2013.

Budenholzer inherited a team that had been to the postseason for six straight years before he arrived in Atlanta, but had only one 50 win season and hadn’t gotten out of the second round.

With the Hawks, he was,

  • A two-time coach of the month and the 2015 coach of the year.
  • Made four straight postseason appearances until this past year’s tank job.
  • One 60 win season.
  • Credited with getting more out his roster than expected.

The Hawks made the decision to part company because,

  • Apparently Budenholzer didn’t want to coach a rebuilding team or isn’t the right guy for a long tour with an NBA Lottery team?
  • He got swept out the playoffs twice by LeBron James? and things weren’t getting any better.

Budenholzer is a respected head coach and he’d be a solid replacement for Casey, even if his record doesn’t quite measure up and he started from a better base.

He’d be a new voice, a coach the players should accept as knowledgeable and the transition should be relatively smooth. Whether Budenholzer can move the needle beyond what Casey was able to do over the past five years, however, is definitely a ‘to be determined.’

Why not Smash-Mouth Frank?

The Indiana Pacers former head coach Frank Vogel was known for coaching a physical style of “smash-mouth” basketball, a style that Raptors president Masai Ujiri has made a point of admiring on more than one occasion and Toronto knows Vogel well from the seven game first round playoff series in 2016 when the seventh place Pacers took the 56 win Raptors to the brink of any early postseason exit.

Vogel was inexplicably released by the Pacers after losing to Toronto in 2016 and was immediately picked up by the incompetent Magic who stuck him with terribly constructed roster. He was released by Orlando at the end of this season.

The 44-year-old Vogel was an assistant with the Celtics, 76ers and Pacers for eight years before being promoted to the head coaching job with the Pacers during the 2010-11 season. He turned that season around, making the playoffs and ending a string of four consecutive trips to the Draft Lottery.

Vogel had a very good run with the Pacers,

  • A four-time coach of the month.
  • Postseason appearances in four of five seasons, only missing the year Paul George was out with a broken leg.
  • Had two consecutive trips to the Eastern Conference Finals (2013 and 2014)
  • In three playoff series against LeBron James, Vogel had a record of 7 wins and 12 loses.

The type of roster Vogel was most successful with is no longer in vogue, but this is a bright, young head coach who’d be well ahead in terms of the nuances of coaching NBA players over just about any rookie head coach. He got his players to play hard for him and he took a no-name roster, aside from Paul George, to a conference finals – twice.

It would be really interesting to see what he could get out of a roster as strong as Toronto’s. He may have the highest upside of anyone available.

Rookie Head Coach Prospects

If you are going to look outside your own organization for a new head coach, it would be hard to argue against stealing someone from the Popovich coaching tree. Becky Hammond and Ettore Messina are getting a lot of mentions as coaching prospects, but if the Raptors are going to go the rookie route, they’d probably be better served by staying in-house with the assistant coaches they know very well.

NBA D-League champion (2017) head coach with the Raptors 905, two-time NBA All-Star Jerry Stackhouse had a long playing career (1995-2013) has only been coaching since 2015, but he’s made an impact and made no secret of the fact he was hoping to get some interviews for NBA head coaching jobs after his G League season ended.

Stackhouse has presence, players like him, and he already has built relationships with virtually every young player on the Raptors roster. It’s a big move from the G league to the NBA and a lot of the things Stackhouse was able to do in Mississauga won’t fly in Toronto. However, spend just a few minutes with him and you’ll believe Stackhouse will be an NBA head coach and a pretty good one at that, so maybe you can just ignore all the things he doesn’t know yet?

NIck Nurse has been with the Raptors for five years and gets a lot of the credit for this past year’s offense. He’s 50-years-old, everyone in the organization and on the roster knows him, it’d be an almost seamless transition and maybe the offense would go up another notch with him running the show?

With over two decades in the NBA, Rex Kalamian has been a highly respected assistant with the Thunder and Raptors over the past nine years. He doesn’t get the same level of attention as Stackhouse or Nurse, but the organization knows him well and he’ll get his chance to make an impression before the team decides what to do.

While the Raptors have well qualified assistant coaches deserving of consideration, this team’s experience with rookie coaches should have them looking for someone with a lot more experience.

Others?

Here’s hoping the Raptors don’t get so desperate as to consider Stan Van Gundy, David Blatt, Monty Williams, Steve Clifford or Mike Brown.

Former coaches and current TV analysts Sam Mitchell, Mark Jackson, Kevin McHale,  and Jeff Van Gundy all have their good points, points that hopefully they’ll keep making from a broadcast studio.

 

 

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

Raptors Masai Ujiri Is Ruthless When It Comes To His Vision

Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri is a “nice guy,” as nice and polite a person as you are going to meet, but he’s proven himself to be ruthless when it comes to his vision for his team. No one survives in his organization solely on merit, you have to fit into his plan or you’re out.

Casey built his reputation by fleecing the Knicks in the Carmelo Anthony trade as the Nuggets GM and as a result came to the Raptors as the Executive of the Year in 2013.

In his first big move with the Raptors, Ujiri fleeced the Knicks in the Andrea Bargnani trade in which he got a future first round draft pick (Jakob Poeltl). During the season, he unloaded (arguably) his team’s best player, Rudy Gay on the Kings. He then tried to unload Lowry on the Knicks, but owner James Dolan stepped in because the burn from the Bargnani deal was still fresh and Ujiri had to backtrack on tanking, but he proved no player is safe if they don’t fit his vision.

It’s easy to forget Greivis Vasquez and Ujiri were friends when Vasquez was shipped out to Milwaukee for a second (Norman Powell) and a future first (OG Anunoby) round draft pick. Even friendship is no protection from being dumped in a good deal.

Then there’s the case of Lou Williams. Third in scoring at 15.5 points per game, Williams won the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year Award with the Raptors and Ujiri completely ignored him during free agency that summer despite William’s pleas from the wilderness that he’d like to return.

Ujiri traded away Terrence Ross who the Raptors had invested significant and painful “development” minutes in the failed 2014 and 2015 playoffs. The team needed three-point shooting, but Ujiri decided Ross wasn’t going to be the guy.

In a move that hurt locally, Ujiri traded away Cory Joseph from the “6” to create the salary cap space to sign journeyman three-point threat C.J. Miles. It was a good move in terms of pushing a culture change on the Raptors, but that was ruthless.

In many ways firing Casey was the equal in ruthlessness to anything Ujiri has done before and he did it a politely as possible.

“I just want to use this opportunity to thank Casey and his family for a great time that he has given us the last 7 years in the organization, the last 5 years I have worked with him,” said Raptors President Masai Ujiri as he announced his head coach wouldn’t be back for next season.

The winningest coach in Raptors franchise history with 320 wins to 238 loses, a franchise record 21 wins in the postseason, and the team’s only coach to ever win fifty games (56, 51, and 59 wins) in a season, the 2018 N.B.C.A. Coach of the Year was fired only a couple of days after Ujiri said this about him.

“I believe in Dwane Casey,” Ujiri said. “I believe in the work he has done.”

Ujiri should believe in Casey. Casey has always worked with whatever collection of talent Ujiri has given him, played the style of basketball Ujiri wanted and turned the franchise around from one of the NBA’s easiest home courts for visitors to get a win at and into the team with the most wins at home last season.

Where Casey wasn’t necessarily the top on-court tactician among NBA coaches, he got all of his players to believe in his system and buy into the roles assigned to them and it’s the lack of that skill that usually gets coaches fired.

Many put the blame on Casey’s team getting swept out of the playoffs by the Cavaliers in the second round twice and a lack of playoff success was undoubtedly a factor, but when you are dealing with a guy as ruthless for his team as Ujiri, there’s bound to be a better reason than merely losing to LeBron James.

Casey was entering the final year of his contract with the Raptors this summer. A contract that would make him 62-years-old at its conclusion and it’s been suggested his agent was looking for an extension in years and dollars reflective of Casey’s record. This isn’t speculation and you don’t need a source to know this. Casey’s agent would be derelict if he wasn’t doing this and no coach and few teams want to be on an expiring contract during the regular season as it creates a veil of uncertainty that can be very distracting.

Ujiri had a decision to make. Does he commit to a coach that his two All-Stars, DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, genuinely like and respect, but would be 66-years-old at the conclusion of a reasonable four year extension or does he dip into what looks like a very promising pool of free agent coaches for the next guy to lead his team for the another long stretch.

It was time to get ruthless once again. Avoid the lame-duck coaching scenario, dodge the possibility of committing to a coach into his mid-sixties and find the next leader for his players.

Ujiri wasn’t about to tip his hand about why Casey was fired or what he’s looking for in his next head coach. The Raptors are careful about their own image and trying to make sure every departure happens on good terms, but rationalizing why the move had to happen now isn’t that challenging. Ujiri is just plain ruthless when it comes to what’s best for his 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.

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri

The Raptors Are Done With Free Agency For Now

As Raptors fans watch the remaining NBA free agents sign cheap veteran minimum deals they might be wondering why president Masai Ujiri hasn’t picked up a depth piece of his own, however, if one looks at the numbers, the Raptors are done with adding guaranteed contracts thru free agency for now.

 

The minimum salary for a 10-year NBA veteran is $2.3 million this year declining to $1.3 million for a player with one-year’s experience.

When asked recently, Ujiri said he might be looking at adding a couple of non-guaranteed players just before the official announcement of the Kennedy Meeks signing that brought the total number of players under contract to 15.  (Malcolm Miller is signed to a two-way contract that doesn’t count against the NBA roster.)

Alfonzo McKinnie, who impressed during NBA Summer League, only has a $100,000 guarantee and Meeks salary isn’t guaranteed, so, in theory at least, Ujiri could create $2.7 million below the luxury tax line and that is enough room to sign one 10-year NBA veteran to a minimum deal, but at this point that seems very unlikely.

It is more likely that Ujiri repeats the pattern of previous summers and finds up to four more undrafted players to invite to training camp on partially or non-guaranteed deals.

The one outstanding move that could create significant space to sign another free agent would be to trade Jonas Valanciunas in an unbalanced deal. However, after apparently shopping his starting center at the draft and not finding a deal to his liking, the ever patient Ujiri made it clear he wan’t unhappy just keeping his big traditional center around.

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

None of what Ujiri has said precludes trading Valanciunas. It’s just the Raptors are not giving him away. Just like with the Cory Joseph trade, they need and want value back one way or another.

Ujiri put a lot of effort and expended future assets he covets to get the Raptors below the luxury tax threshold in July. No one should be expecting he’s about to risk going back over the line just to sign some journeyman free agent that isn’t going to move the needle on the season and likely takes playing time away from some of his young prospects already on the roster.

For all intents and purposes, expectations are the Raptors are done with free agency for now. The ever patient Ujiri will sit on his hands and wait for an opportunity he believes will make a real difference.

 

 

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 Brooklyn Nets Quincy Acy

Suns Or Nets Could Take On A Raptors Salary Dump

If as it appears Raptors president Masai Ujiri is looking hard for a way to dump salary, then his best and possibly only options are with the Nets and Suns, but it’s going to cost him. When everyone knows you are desperately trying to move a player, they are going to demand a pound of flesh.

Neither the Nets nor the Suns are under any delusions about where their respective franchises currently stand, but they do have salary cap space and they know that can be a very valuable commodity to a team like Toronto.

Maybe they take on DeMarre Carroll’s two years and $30 million, but not without a nice sweetener like a first round draft pick or a young player still on his rookie deal.

Ujiri can look elsewhere for unbalanced trades for the more desirable Cory Joseph or Jonas Valanciunas, but those will likely be “basketball trades” as opposed to straight salary dumps and when it comes to moving Valanciunas, he’ll want to stick that young man out West. Ujiri wouldn’t want his starting center coming back to embarrass him twice a year at home in the Eastern Conference.

In dealing with the Nets, Ujiri could ask for the feel good move of requesting forward Quincy Acy and his $1.7 million non-guaranteed deal back. Acy was a popular player in Toronto three season ago for his hustle and the 26-year-old has shot 40 percent from three on 139 attempts over the past two years, so maybe he’s worth another look.

 

 

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

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Serge Ibaka and Masai Ujiri and Kyle Lowry

Canada Day Is A Referendum On The Raptors

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri and GM Bobby Webster

Knicks Dump Phil Jackson, Want Raptors Steady Masai Ujiri

By Frank McLean

A very quiet week at the Toronto Raptors Biosteel Centre practice facility became chaotic Wednesday morning after it was announced that the New York Knicks were finally coming to their senses and dumping Phil Jackson as their President of Basketball Operations.

So how does that affect the Toronto Raptors you might ask?

Well, minutes after the Jackson story became official Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical reported that Madison Square Garden was hiring former MLSE boss Tim Leiweke as an adviser and then reported that the Knicks were interested in hiring the Raptors basketball guru Masai Ujiri to take over the Knicks, regardless that Ujiri still has four years remaining on his current contract.

So by 9am both of Toronto’s all sports radio stations and the social media word was going nuts with the story.

Then about a half hour later the Raptors finally announced how Ujiri was restructuring his front office based on the departure of former General Manager Jeff Weltman to the Orlando Magic.

So the front office will look like this.

Assistant General Manager Bobby Webster, who has been considered for GM jobs with other orgainizations, will now be the General Manager and the guy who will have to sit down and re-sign Kyle Lowry, PJ Tucker, Serge Ibaka and Patrick Patterson.

Dan Tolzman, who was the player personnel guy and the man behind the success which is the NBDL’s Raptors-905, moves to Assistant General Manager.

And Keith Boyarsky moves from analytics to Vice President of Basketball Strategy and Research.

Much to the surprise of the assembled media Ujiri made a brief statement about the promotions, but before he was asked he stated he would not comment on the news of the day because he did not want to steal the thunder from Webster, Tolzman and Boyarsky’s day.

“Today is all about Bobby Webster, he deserves it,” Ujiri said. “Also Dan Tolzman and Keith Boyarsky who we promoted. It’s their day. Everything that we have done in this organization and going forward, they have contributed in every way that they could and have been a big part of it. So today is about Bobby, congratulations.”

After he introduced Webster he disappeared.

The timing of the press conference was strange because usually we (in the media) get a notice of a press conference a day before so news outlets can plan for staffing it. We knew Ujiri was not in a hurry to announce the moves, but this seems like the Raptors were trying to put out a fire.

The last paragraph in the announcement stated that Webster, Tolzman and Boyarsky will all report to Ujiri. Was that a hidden message? Well, probably not hidden.

At 32 Webster becomes the youngest GM in the NBA and he made it clear that yes he knows he is young.

“I know I’m young and I’m younger looking,” Webster said to much laughter in the room. “I know the circumstances that got me here and I know I will continue to grow.”

He also credited the leadership support from MLSE’s Larry Tannenbaum and the Board of Directors for having the confidence to put him in this position.

For a 32-year old, Webster has a resume that would make you think he is older than what his birth certificate says.

He started with the Orlando Magic, then spent seven years in the NBA office in New York City where Masai Ujiri plucked him for the Raptors.

At the NBA he was the Associate Director of Salary Cap Management. Helped the league’s Labor Relations Committee negotiate the CBA with the Players Association and advised all 30-teams on salary cap management, luxury tax planning, contact negotiations and trade proposals.

As you can see, he has the experience to step into the GM’s job.

But with all the noise out of New York City about Ujiri leaving for the Knicks a question to him if he thinks he will be working for Ujiri might put a stop to the speculation.

“When you see the special relationship everyday between Larry (Tannenbaum) and Masai it’s clear that he is happy to be part of it.”

When the question of the four free agents came up Webster said it will be addressed when it is the appropriate time and that contract talks with agents are,  “not as crazy as people think. You sit down and talk basketball.”

When it was all done the speculation of Ujiri leaving was still there like the proverbial 500-pound gorilla in the room. So, until he addresses the issue yes or no, it won’t go away.

My take is I think this is a lot of hot air out of New York. People there can’t understand why anyone would not want to work there. They think it’s the center of the universe.

The Knicks are as a dysfunctional operation as there is in all of professional sports. Ujiri loves Toronto and countless times he has stated that. He has a good thing with the Raptors why would he want to go?

Who could forget his heartfelt re-introduction to the local Toronto media back in the summer of 2013. “I’m home,” Ujiri almost sighed.

And if he was leaving the Raptors, would he have been allowed to make the moves that he did on Wednesday.

Folks he is not going anywhere. It’s hard to imagine Tannenbaum ever giving Dolan permission to even just talk to Ujiri.

“We believe in Masai and Masai believes in us,” Webster said.

Wednesday was a crazy day, what will Thursday bring?

 

 

   

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 Jonas Valanciunas and DeMarre Carroll

Should The Timberwolves Now Go After Carroll And Valanciunas?

Thirteen years as a Lottery Team would weigh on anybody and the Minnesota Timberwolves new president of basketball operations and head coach Tom Thibodeau didn’t sign up to run this team last year with the intention of extending that streak. He proved that in spades at the 2017 NBA Draft by trading potential future stars Kris Dunn, Zach LaVine and the number 7 pick Lauri Markkanen for Bulls All-Star Jimmy Butler and the number 16 pick Justin Patton.

The Timberwolves instantly got better, but if Thibs is serious about making an impact in the postseason next April, he still needs some playoff proven veterans help to get his remaining highly talented crop of young players to the next level and Toronto Raptors starters DeMarre Carroll and Jonas Valanciunas could become available because of Luxury Tax concerns.

Star Tribune’s Sid Hartman reported on the desperation for change by owner Glen Taylor at the end of the season,

“(Thibodeau) needs some players that will come off the bench and keep us going and not give up the lead,” he said. “I think he would say if he can get some guys with experience that would be helpful, so he can mix them in with our young guys during those substitution times. I think that will be a priority.

“We could also always use another big guy. If we back up a year and we were hoping that Pek [Nikola Pekovic] would be part of that and be a big, strong guy that would come in and take minutes off, so Karl [-Anthony Towns] didn’t get beat up so much and play so many minutes.”

Pek is officially done and last year’s attempt at veteran stability with players like Cole Aldrich (8.6 mpg), Jordan Hill (6.7 mpg), Omri Casspi (17.1 mpg) and Lance Stephenson (on two 10 days, 11.2 mpg) didn’t work.

However, even after the draft night trade, Thibodeau still has a ton of cap flexibility to sooth that burning desire to win now.

The Wolves will have Pekovic’s contract numbers off the books for next season, and because he did not play this season, his contract is covered by insurance, so that means their current salary cap should be in the $66 million range (prior to the Butler trade).

It wasn’t going to be easy attracting quality free agents to a team with a losing record let alone a mind-blowing 13-year losing streak and there is no pretending Minnesota is anything like New York, L.A. or Miami. So, just like the deal with the Bulls, the best way for Thibs to get what he needs is most likely to be accomplished by way of another trade.

Enter the Toronto scenario. Raptors president Masai Ujiri says he wants to re-sign free agents Kyle Lowry, Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker, but to do so would put his team deep into Luxury Tax territory with no guarantee they’d be able to escape the Eastern Conference currently owned by LeBron James. A tax bill of $45 million plus is a steep price to pay if you’re fighting for second best in your conference.

However, Ujiri could almost wipe out that tax bill if he could get one of Valanciunas or Carroll off of his books and a trade involving both players with the right asset back could give him the “culture change” he’s looking for next season as well.

While there is no chance the Timberwolves are going to part with another one of their young stars, Minnesota does have a player the African-born Ujiri would almost certainly be interested in, Senegal’s 27-year-old Gorgui Dieng.

Deng’ offensive production has stalled at about 10 points per game over the past three seasons as has his rebounding at about eight boards, but the power forward/center is known for his defense and has started to show he just might have an effective corner three-ball. It’s not hard to see him fitting into the “culture” Toronto is trying to build.

It shouldn’t be too hard to convince Thibs to trade the guy Dunking  With The Wolves George Rinaldi sees as a sixth man instead of a T-wolves starter in the future.

Dieng is producing decent basketball when needs be, but in all honesty, would perfectly suit a bench player.

What Dieng offers is a solid defensive player, able to knock down mid-range shots on a regular basis, and give a significant number of rebounds per game.

Just the chance to add a couple of starters like Valanciunas and Carroll from a team coming off four consecutive trips to the postseason and back-to-back 50-plus win regular seasons should be enough to get Thibs rushing to try and do a deal. The Twolves would go from being too young to win last season to a team with veteran depth.

The 25-year-old Valanciunas is a legit 7′ traditional center who can start, but actually played his best basketball coming off the bench in this year’s playoff run. He has consistently been in the top 10 for rebounding percentage in the NBA and produced a consistent 12 points and 9-plus rebounds in 26 minutes over the last three years. His contract is similar to Dieng’s four-year deal and has two more seasons plus a player option left.

The Raptors acquired the now 30-year-old Carroll from the 60-win Atlanta Hawks two summers ago and although the “3-and-D” combo forward missed most of his first season in Toronto due to knee problems and he’s taken a lot of flak from the fan base for not living up to early high expectations, he can still space the floor, hit threes and play defense the right way. He played 72 games last season and he would be the poster-boy for the type of veteran that could help stabilize a young team like the T-wolves. He has two years and $30.2 million left on his contract.

While simply moving Carroll’s contract into Minnesota’s cap space would largely solve’s Ujiri’s tax problems this year and give Thibodeau his veteran on a short two year leash, the larger deal could do more for both teams. One team trying to get to where Toronto is now and the other team trying to find a way to take the next step without setting new franchise records for luxury taxes.

There will be a lot of opportunities for these two teams to look at after free agency opens up in July, but signing free agents is tough and it often isn’t easy finding a motivated trade partner you aren’t competing with.

 

 

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

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri

Eight Is More Than Enough Raptors On Rookie Deals

I get young players are gold under the current CBA and Raptors president Masai Ujiri wants to develop his own guys, but if he drafts and keeps his pick at 23 tonight, that will make eight players on their rookie deals taking up roster spots and eight is more than enough. It’s way too many for a playoff team.

“With the way the new CBA is constructed, I feel that player development is something that we have to pay attention to,” Ujiri said. “So whatever young players or draft picks we have, we just have to pay attention to it and you never know when you hit with that or something pans out that can help your team in any kind of way.

“We are really open-minded when it comes to this pick. It’s not very often when you see in the 20s where guys come up and contribute right away.”

The Raptors have been a 50-plus win team in each of the last two seasons and expectations are a lot higher than they were in the past. However, a team loaded with guys on their rookie deals isn’t winning 50 games, so how many of these guys can Ujiri squeeze into a 15-man roster?

“17, I think now with the (new) two-way contracts, we can squeeze in 17,” Ujiri responded to Pro Ball Reports query. “It’s where our team is. I think the most important question is how many of these guys are contributing to your team and we feel that even the rookies we had had points in time in the season (where) they contributed. They are getting better, so we can have as many, it doesn’t bother me as long as we are making progress and they are getting better.”

Well, you got to give Ujiri props for being consistent. It’s frustrating to watch a raw rookie like Pascal Siakam start at power forward for half a season because an injury took out the team’s only viable option while a veteran like James Johnson was let escape to Miami on a cheap deal to make room – in reality to make room to add three rookies.

But that is one way to build a team and as long as the team is winning 50-plus games, it’s hard to argue that in the long term it isn’t going to produce better results. Unfortunately, in the NBA, the long term is usually three years or less under the current CBA and over the next three years, James Johnson would have been the better player to have.

The Toronto Raptors are one of only a handful of NBA teams that doesn’t leak everything that’s going on to the media. Ujiri has a plan for his team and when he has executed in the past, those deals have looked pretty good all the way to downright thievery.

This draft is loaded with high profile trade targets and teams actively looking to deal. What Ujiri is up to won’t come out until it’s nearly or completely done, but hopefully his plan includes turning some of those young assets on rookie deals and/or his draft pick into a veteran player that can advance the Raptors a step closer to the ultimate goal – escaping the East and competing at the NBA Finals.

Eight guys on rookie deals is more than enough and there could be 10 if Ujiri doesn’t trade somebody. Could someone ask Ujiri to walk back that statement about 17.

 

 

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 president Masai Ujiri

Don’t Look For A Savior For The Raptors In The Draft

By Frank McLean

In case you missed it, and it’s been in all the newspapers, Thursday night is draft night in the NBA, but the Toronto Raptors aren’t looking for a savior when it’s finally their turn.

The Toronto Raptors are picking 23rd and I look back at a conversation I had with team president Masai Ujiri at this time last season. He said to me that when you are picking in the 20’s you probably are not going to get a player that will be an impact player for you. Now if you are in the top five or ten spots in the draft, in other words you are a dreaded lottery pick, then you are going to get the guy.

In the case of last year’s picks, Jakob Poeltl and Pascal Siakam, they did play a small part when needed this past season, but they were not anywhere near the main reason for the team’s success or failure.

So if you are looking for the next great Larry Bird three point shooter the team desperately needs, or an impact player that can put them past Cleveland and give them a chance to compete with Golden State for a title, forget it. It won’t be coming through the draft tonight.

Two days after the Raptors were eliminated by Cleveland, Ujiri sat down with the media and told us quite clearly that he didn’t know why he was talking to us because he had nothing to say, but give him a month and he would.

On Tuesday at a pre-draft get together he had a lot to say, but really said nothing.

He and his staff have evaluated the team, but like those big time poker players you watch on afternoon sports television, he kept his cards secret because he has plans, however, deep down until Thursday night arrives, he’s not sure what they will be.

“I think this is why you wait and go through the process of evaluating your team,” Ujiri said on Tuesday.

“One day it’s quiet, the next day it’s noisy. That’s just how the NBA works. With all these things going around, you make calls you listen to calls an you see what fits your team. Leading up to the draft and on draft day, that’s another deadline that we work with on our side. Things will shake up a little bit and we’ll see how it affects the Raptors.”

Any changes that the team will make all hinges on what Kyle Lowry decides on, staying with the Raptors or moving on in free agency.

Stories came out this week that Lowry doesn’t want to stay in Toronto. Ujiri says that’s not so, but he and his staff have come up with five different ways they can go as an organization should the veteran guard leave.

“I think we are comfortable,” Ujiri said. “Any direction we are going, I think we are prepared, that’s what I should say. We are very well prepared after studying it for a couple of months after the season has been over.

“I think it’s a good time for us. Looking at the league, looking at where everybody is and all the action, hey, we are in this thing to compete and to get better so we’ll see where it takes us.”

So in a nutshell don’t expect any miracles Thursday night. The draft will not solve any of their problems. It will hinge on Kyle Lowry’s decision.

There is a plan, but no one will know what it is until Ujiri implements 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.

 

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Kyle Lowry and Chicago Bulls Jimmy Butler

Could Jimmy Butler Push Raptors GM Ujiri Into Action?

It’s already been a busy and interesting trade market ahead of the NBA Draft on Thursday and apparently the Bulls Jimmy Butler is out there stirring the pot by trying to convince Raptors free agent Kyle Lowry to come and join him in Chicago instead of Butler trying to find another All-Star to play with in a different city. This could be just the impetuous needed to stir Raptors president Masai Ujiri into action at the draft.

Back in Toronto Ujiri is pretty confident his unrestricted free agent point guard will re-up with the Raptors on July 1st and he should be. Lowry has been hanging around the team since the season ended and Ujiri talked to him at their practice facility this week.

However, even Ujiri admits it’s his job to convince Lowry to want to re-sign with the Raptors – not that it should all that hard to convince Lowry that playing with his best friend DeMar DeRozan for the next four years is the right decision.

But don’t discount the fear even the remote possibility of Lowry changing his mind could cause. Sure Ujiri says he’s ready for five different scenarios this summer, but the ones that don’t include Lowry aren’t the ones he wants to entertain.

The duo of Lowry and DeRozan led the Raptors to an impressive 56 win season in 2015-16 and they were 28-13 at the halfway point last year when they went into a slide exasperated by a 3-5 stretch where DeRozan only played one game (that he shouldn’t have) book-ended with 0-3 and 1-3 marks. Then Lowry went down after the All-Star break until April 5th and only the additions of P.J. Tucker and Serge Ibaka kept the regular season win total over 50.

Ujiri knows the Raptors are a 50-plus win team with Lowry and DeRozan on it and they should be able to beat the franchise win record set in 2015-16 if he can hang onto Ibaka and Tucker – and there’s the crux.

If Lowry jumps ship, Ibaka and Tucker become doubtful and those scenarios that resemble a rebuild become very possible. It could be as diverse as going for 60 wins versus tanking for the Draft Lottery.

So how does Ujiri “guarantee” Lowry has no better landing spot than the one he is inclined to go for anyway. The answer seems simple. Upgrade the roster beyond just bringing back Ibaka and Tucker and there is an obvious trade target.

Almost every NBA analyst out there (and it’s a long list) is now convinced the Pacers are trying to move Paul George and his expiring contract by the draft because he’ll walk away for nothing next summer.

NBA Indiana Pacers Paul George

Indiana is doing their best under difficult circumstances to create a market and will take the best deal available from wherever it comes and it’s assumed they covet young players, draft picks and no long term commitments.

Potentially, the Raptors could fill those requirements and they probably don’t have to worry about anyone outbidding them with a Lottery pick. All Ujiri has to do is make a couple of those seven players still on their rookie deals he seems to love available and put his 2017 draft pick on the table.

For what could be a one season rental, giving up young talent and a pick is a big haul for the Pacers and a steep price for any team, but if it guarantees the Raptors can keep their All-Star point guard from jumping ship, they should just live with it.

Ujiri doesn’t really need to keep all seven guys he still has on their rookie deals plus add another rookie for next season – Does he?

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Masai Ujiri and Kyle Lowry

Kyle Lowry Still Working Out At Raptors Practice Facility

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

 
 

NBA Toronto Raptors 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.