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Top 4 teams in the NBA Eastern Conference 3-28-2017

So Who’s The Best In The NBA East Now?

It’s finally happened, the Cleveland Cavaliers have surrendered first place in the Eastern Conference with their 10th loss in 18 games since the All-Star break. The idle Boston Celtics assuming the half game lead on the back of an 11-6 run over the same period.

However, it isn’t safe to just assume the Boston Celtics are now the best team. The Washington Wizards and Toronto Raptors have their own claims to make and the defending NBA Champion Cavaliers aren’t about to give props to anyone else reports ESPN senior writer Ramona Shelburne,

“That’s fine,” Cavaliers star LeBron James said when informed Boston had passed Cleveland in the standings with the 103-74 loss. “It matters more that we play better basketball than where we’re at. If that results in the 1, 2 or 3 seed, we need to play better basketball. That’s all it comes down to. I’m not worried about anything.”

Boston may temporarily hold down first place, but there are other measures that can indicate which team is currently the “best.” (NBA.com team stats)

NBA Eastern Conference net rating

The Raptors can lay claim to the best defensive rating and best net rating of the top four teams in the East, however, what is equally interesting is the Cavaliers terrible defensive rating. Only the Nets and Knicks are worse defensively than Cleveland this season.

The ESPN Basketball Power Index (BPI), a measure of team strength developed by the ESPN Analytics team, confirms the Raptors position at number one in the East. (Noting four teams in the West rank ahead of Toronto.)

However, the Raptors best argument for the strength of their team might come from focusing on just the games since the All-Star break. Notably, this period matches the concerns about the once heavily favored Cavaliers.

In the end, LeBron James and the Cavs have one stat they can hold over the three other teams challenging them in the East. In head-to-head games this season, the Cavs hold winning records over each of them.

It is going to take a lot to shake the confidence most of the talking heads will have in the Cavaliers ability to bounce back and play better once the postseason kicks off. The excuses relating to injuries and chemistry won’t count for much then and a LeBron James led team always makes it to the NBA Finals? Except for maybe this tidbit from the Celtics ESPN home page.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the Celtics are in sole possession of the best record in the Eastern Conference this late into the season for the 1st time since the end of the 2007-08 season, when they won the title.

In the meantime, the Celtics are now favored to finish first in the East, but the Raptors can claim they are playing better, own the season series with the Cs and are the hotter team heading down the stretch. However, the best team won’t be known until the playoffs.

 
 

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

 
 

NBA Toronto Raptors GM Masai Ujiri

Raptors Sitting In The Catbird Seat For The Playoffs

By Frank McLean

The Toronto Raptors return home Monday night to the Air Canada Center sitting in the catbird seat to start their stretch of their last nine games before the playoffs with a four game home stand against the Orlando Magic and an old friend Terrance Ross.

The Raptors officially punched their ticket to NBA playoffs for a franchise record fourth straight season on the back of their 94-86 win over the Mavericks in Dallas Saturday night which also was their fifth straight win in a row.

Schedule wise the Raptors are sitting in a great spot. Eight of their last nine games are against teams with a record blow .500. On the final night of the season they play in Cleveland against the Cavaliers the only team with a record better than .500 and if the game means nothing to the defending champions you can bet your life it will be another night of rest for Lebron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love.

The Raptors have a great opportunity to improve their lot in the Eastern Conference standings with this soft schedule heading into the stretch drive.

They sit fourth at 44-29 3.5 games back of Cleveland and Boston who are tied for first and a game back of Washington who is sitting third.

The goal is to try and avoid a match-up with Cleveland until the third round which would be the conference championship. What helps is that they have the tie breaker with Washington so third place is realistic. They just have to keep winning.

Another benefit of winning five straight is that they have a seven game lead over the fifth place Atlanta Hawks and unless they really hit the skids over these final nine games they pretty well have home court advantage in the first round locked up. Home court was something three weeks ago that wasn’t a sure thing.

The Raptors are hot at the right time which is saying something since they have not had the heart and soul of their offense Kyle Lowry since the all-star break because of a wrist injury.

The three teams in front of them all have some sort of weakness.

First let’s look at the defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers who are struggling to play defence right now. They are just 5-5 in their last 10-games. They dominate at home with a 28-8 record, but struggle away from Quicken Loans Arena and are barely over .500 at 19-17.

The Boston Celtics did not make any moves at the trade deadline which made General Manager Danny Ainge the target of the wrath from Celtics Nation. They have had trouble rebounding all season, but they are riding a four game win streak because they have been carried on the back of guard Isaiah Thomas. Thomas scored 30-points Sunday in a win at home against Miami.

And last you have the Washington Wizards who will have barely seen the US capitol city they live in this month. They started off in Cleveland Saturday night their last 10-games of the regular season with their second five game road trip this month which finish’s with the last four games on the west coast against the Lakers, Clippers, Utah and Golden State in that order.

And when they are done with that road trip they only play two of their final five games at home.

As you can see, evidence points to the Raptors having a golden opportunity to move up in the standings and somewhere in their last nine games they hope to get Kyle Lowry back in the lineup.

The Raptors are sitting in the catbird seat. They have their destiny in their own hands and all they have to do is keep winning, something the schedule maker has made a doable task.

Somewhere quietly behind the scenes, Raptors president Masai Ujiri is smiling.

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Serge Ibaka

Whiteside And Ibaka To Miss Raptors At Heat On Thursday

Both the Raptors and Heat managed to win their respective games on Tuesday night, but both teams are expecting key players won’t be available when they clash in Miami on Thursday says Barrie Jackson of the Miami Herald.

Whiteside’s availability this week very much in jeopardy after 13 stitches were required to close a gash between the middle and ring fingers of his right hand, an injury that happened when he sliced his hand against the backboard as he attempted to block a shot by Suns power forward Marquese Chriss with 2:08 left in Miami’s 112-97 win.

The last time Whiteside had a laceration on his right hand, almost exactly two years ago, he missed three games

Toronto figures to be without Serge Ibaka, who was ejected Tuesday after exchanging punches with Chicago’s Robin Lopez.

Serge Ibaka’s one game suspension has been confirmed.

 

 

Projecting The NBA East Playoff Seeding

Down to a dozen games to go and only three spots seem to have been settled when it comes to playoff seeding. Cavs, Celtics and Hawks appear to have locked in their current postseason rank and everyone else with a chance is still battling for position.

The Cavaliers only have a game and a half lead over the Celtics for first and ESPN projects they’ll finish two games ahead at the end of the regular season. Unless coach Lue goes a little overboard on this “rest” concept, only road games in San Antonio and Boston should really present a test to the team everyone has pegged as returning to defend their NBA title. Of course they’ll likely punt a few games unless Boston is really pushing them.

And Boston’s relatively easy schedule just might give them that opportunity to push the Cavs all the way to the end of the regular season. If it wasn’t for those recent unexpected losses to the Suns, Nuggets and 76ers, the ESPN prediction of a 7-4 run to the finish would look unreasonably conservative.

The Wizards will be doing well to finish out the last 12 games going 6-6. Losers of their last two games, they play 5th place Atlanta and last place Nets before heading out on a brutal five game road trip book-ended by Cleveland and Golden State.  They might need to win out in April to go 6-6. Fortunately it looks like the Hawks are too far back to pass them for 4th.

ESPN has Toronto passing the Wizards for 3rd place and if they win the games they are supposed to, the Raptors will be better than the projected 8-4 over their last 12 games and be ready to pounce on any unexpected major slippage by the Celtics for 2nd.

The real battle for playoff seeding begins at 6th and runs through 10th place. Someone isn’t going to make it who thinks they should.

The Pacers are trying to set some kind of bizarre record for alternating wins and losses (now at 14 games of a loss followed by a win) and if they can keep it up, they should grab one of the three remaining playoff spots. However, they have a tough remaining schedule, so the 5-7 ESPN prediction seems reasonable and could be bad news. A 41-41 record might not be enough for a playoff spot.

Milwaukee is hot and got hot at the right time, but Giannis Antetokoumpo turned an ankle and if he misses the usual two weeks, all bets are off on how the Bucks finish out the regular season. With Antetokoumpo, the ESPN prediction of going 6-7 seems ultra-conservative, without him, it might be generous.

The Pistons are in a tie with the Heat now and forecast to still be tied at the end of the regular season. Detroit needs to make hay from now to the end of March when they have seven winnable games because they aren’t making up any ground in April.

The Heat have won a home-and-home against the Cavs in March and then beat Toronto, but they face a tough schedule to the end of the regular season with Toronto twice more, Boston, Detroit, Washington twice and the Cavs again. They’ll have to perform without their third best scorer in Dion Waiters who might miss the rest of the regular season with an ankle injury.

The Bulls have the schedule to make up ground, but they haven’t been playing well and have lost Wade for the season.

The Hornets have a tough schedule ahead of them and just don’t seem to have anything left in the tank.

Playoff seeding 6th thru 8th is decidedly undecided.

 

 

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 Cleveland Cavaliers J.R. Smith

Injuries Could Play Havoc With The NBA Playoffs

So the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors are a sure thing to meet in the NBA Finals? You sure? It seems like no one thinks either team is headed for an early exit – yet, but both teams could be in for a tougher time in the first two rounds of the playoffs than anyone anticipated and if their sidelined All-Stars aren’t back to 100 percent by the Conference Finals, all bets should be off on a three-peat in the NBA Finals.

But it’s not just the top two teams in each conference with issues. Injuries have hit a number of other teams this year hoping to make some noise in the postseason and if they aren’t aren’t back by now, optimistic assessments about how soon and how good key players will be aside, teams are worried – not that there’s much they can do about it now.

Golden State Warriors – Kevin Durant

An MCL sprain and bone bruise in his left knee that’ll be reassessed at the end of March. No worries, he’ll be back for the playoffs, right? Maybe, but in the meantime the Dubs are 0-2 without him and the Spurs are just 3 games back.

How good would a Warriors – Thunder matchup look in the first round if the Dubs can’t hold onto first in the West and KD is still watching from the sidelines mid-April – which is very possible. Russell Westbrook would only be slightly better motivated to triple-double his way into the second round vs GSW.

Cleveland Cavaliers – JR Smith, Kevin Love

The Cavs showed their true feelings about whether Smith and his broken thumb could be counted on for the postseason by quickly trading for Kyle Korver and the move has worked. Smith or no Smith, the Cavs got that covered.

They also showed their true feelings about Kevin Love’s “minor” knee surgery – is there a stranger term than “minor surgery”? They cut a young prospect to sign a waived 32-year-old Andrew Bogut who averaged 3.0 points in 26 appearances for the Lottery-bound Mavericks.

Sure Love could be back in the 4-6 week time horizon that would make him available for the playoffs and the Cavs are hoping that happens, but there are no guarantees and it’s unlikely he’ll return right away as the same 20 point 11 rebound power forward he was before the injury.

Bogut doesn’t replace Love and it’s a certainty the Cavs will not be as good without their starting power forward or trying to play Love as he goes through the inevitable soreness and conditioning issues that come with knee surgery no matter how “minor.”

Toronto Raptors – Kyle Lowry

Lowry had wrist surgery to remove “loose bodies” that were causing swelling and pain and is expected back in time for the postseason, however, a month or more without the East’s leading three-point maker and the Raptors are going to have to adapt fast to hold onto home court advantage for the playoffs.

The team made big additions defensively with Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker prior to the trade deadline and now have both Patrick Patterson and Delon Wright back from injury, so they added depth just in time to compensate, but without their All-Star point guard, the Raptors aren’t the same threat they were earlier in the season. They are hoping for a very speedy and full recovery or this could be a return to the quick postseason exits of a couple of years ago.

Denver Nuggets – Kenneth Faried

After missing most of February with a severely sprained ankle, now the veteran forward has been out with back spasms and could miss another week? It doesn’t sound serious other than the 8th place Nuggets have been relying on the short-handed Trail Blazers to play worse than .500 ball to stay ahead of them.

Other notables include: Miami Heat Justus Winslow (shoulder), Minnesota Timberwolves Zach LaVine (torn ACL), Milwaukee Bucks Jabari Parker (torn ACL), New York Knicks Joakim Noah (knee surgery), Orlando Magic Jodie Meeks (thumb surgery), Philadelphia 76ers Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid among others, Portland Trail Blazers Festus Ezeli (knee), Even Turner (broken hand), Ed Davis (torn labrum), Sacramento Kings Rudy Gay (ruptured Achilles).

It’s hard to win without players your team was counting upon at the start of the season and it gets even harder in the playoffs. A last second return mid-April shouldn’t fill one with confidence either.

A Cavs vs Dubs rematch in the NBA Finals? Possible, but injuries aren’t making what seemed like a sure-thing in October nearly as likely.

 

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

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Terrence Ross

Raptors Give Terrence Ross A Fresh Start With The Magic

By Frank McLean

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

   

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

 

 

 

NBA Cleveland Cavaliers Kevin Love

NBA East Opens Up: Surgery For Love, Ibaka To Raptors

Never say the NBA season is a forgone conclusion. Big changes can happen and in an instant what seemed like a sure thing can be thrown into doubt. The certainty of the Cleveland Cavaliers defense of their title in the NBA Finals took a massive hit as Kevin Love underwent knee surgery just as the Toronto Raptors filled their gapping hole at power forward by trading for “Air Congo” Serge Ibaka.

Cavaliers forward and 2017 NBA All-Star Kevin Love underwent arthroscopic surgery to remove a loose body from his left knee this morning at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City. His return to play is estimated at approximately six weeks.

“I would love to be able to tell you that he’ll miss three games and be back,” general manager David Griffin told the Cleveland Plain Dealer. “But I can’t right now because we don’t know.”

“Always concerned when guys are going down,” Lue told the Cleveland Plain Dealer about Love. “And we’re already limited as it is. Definitely concerned.”

– NBA News

The Toronto Raptors issued a similar statement last year about DeMarre Carroll. Carroll did return in time for the postseason, but it wasn’t until December of this year that his knee fully healed. There are no certainties when a player goes under the knife.

Love is averaging 20 points and 11.1 rebounds for the Cavs.

The Raptors have played the Cavaliers close over the past two seasons, losing 4-2 in six games in the Eastern Conference Finals last year and losing their three regular season games to the Cavs this season by an average of 3.6 points, 110.3-106.7. Love torching the Raptors for 21.7 points and 12.3 rebounds. His production isn’t going to be easy to replace.

The Raptors, currently mired in a 4-10 slump that can be traced to injuries to DeMar DeRozan and Patrick Patterson, will get a big boost from the acquisition of Serge Ibaka. Ibaka was leading the Orlando Magic with 846 points, 83 made three-point field goals, a 54.7 eFG% and 90 blocks and will slide seamlessly into a starting power forward spot in the Raptors rotation that head coach Dwane Casey hasn’t found anyone to fill on an effective basis.

DeRozan is back and playing well and Patterson is day-to-day. The Raptors lost backup wing Terrence Ross in the trade for Ibaka, but sophomore Norman Powell is ready to step in to fill that role and many who follow the team believe Powell should have been ahead of Ross in the rotation already.

If the Raptors can stay healthy, the addition of Ibaka should give pause to anyone thinking the Cavaliers march to the NBA Finals is still a sure thing. The Celtics, Wizards and Hawks should also believe their chances of representing the East in the NBA Finals just took a big leap forward as well.

Things just got interesting again in the East.

 

 

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

 

 

 

NBA Orlando Magic Serge Ibaka vs Toronto Raptors Pascal Siakam

Magic Forward Serge Ibaka Trade To Raptors Hinges On Price

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

 Featured image courtesy of Larry Millson

 

 

 

NBA Phoenix Suns Tyson Chandler and Toronto Raptors Jonas Valanciunas

The Raptors Missing Veteran Voice Could Be On The Suns

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

 Featured image courtesy of Larry Millson

 

 

NBA Orlando Magic Nikola Vucevic

Raptors Should Target Magic Center Nikola Vucevic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

 Featured image courtesy of Larry Millson

 

 

 

 

 

NBA San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich

Spurs Plan On Interrupting Cavs Vs Warriors Part Three

By Frank McLean

It’s not a secret that NBA fans and those in the management offices at ESPN in Bristol, Connecticut want a Cleveland Cavaliers versus Golden State Warriors for a third year in this year’s NBA Finals.

With both teams being the winner of one of each of the last two finals you can imagine the ratings bonanza the rubber match would be for the self-proclaimed “World Wide Leader in Sports”.

Well don’t tell that to San Antonio Spurs coach Greg Popovich.

Making their annual visit to Toronto this week Popovich said he’s not ready to concede to the Warriors the Western Conference title for a third straight year regardless if they have added some guy named Kevin Durant.

“You do the best you can to take advantage of whatever weaknesses or strengths they might have. You have to go against their weaknesses, try to figure out what their strengths are and take’em away,” Popovich said about taking on the Warriors. “And that’s what this is all about. So the challenge is what makes it exciting. If you’re of the mindset that where you say what’s the point, then you’re in the wrong business.”

So Popovich is not going to sit down and kiss the Warriors championship rings and why should he?

Since he took the job in 1999 the Spurs have won five NBA championships, averaged 55-wins per season and are on pace for a second straight year of 65-wins.

When you see Popovich as a grumpy old coach in a wrinkled sports coat and khaki pants when he is interviewed on television, in most part it’s an act. When you ask him thoughtful questions he will give you thoughtful answers.

He is also humble.

His peers in the NBA, and that include Raptors coach Dwane Casey, feel that Popovich is not just the best coach in the NBA, but all of sports.

Popovich’s stock answer when you say this to him is that he had Tim Duncan for a long time and that made him look good. Popovich knows that if you don’t have good players a coach is not going to look smart. That’s something every coach I have ever come across well tell you, if you don’t have the horses, you aren’t going to win.

His theory of coaching a game is pretty simple and it explains how he lasted almost 20-years in the same job.

“The game starts and you play the game, you do your best. You make adjustments, make substitutions, get certain groups on the court, call timeouts, yell and scream and beg and love and be crazy and then you win or you lose and then what happens? You go to dinner. Sometimes the best part of the evening.”

He also had high praise for Dwane Casey who each year on the job has gotten his team to win more games than the previous year. Raptors fans may not want to hear this, especially with the club on a five game losing skid and social media is calling for his head as a result.

“It is difficult (to do that),” Popovich said. “You’ll see people have two good seasons or one, it goes down for two or three and then maybe it comes up a little bit and then the owner fires him. That seems to be the deal. But to sustain it and to sustain it and do better every year is a difficult thing. And what Casey’s done here is implemented a culture and a system. It doesn’t happen immediately, but as you all know by now, they’ve bought in, everybody knows what the deal is. He’s going to be consistent, he’s going to be demanding, he’s going to be fair.”

It’s too bad Popovich and the Spurs only come to Toronto once a year. Like I said, when you get Popovich engaged, he is one of the best quote machines in the league.

And as far as I’m concerned he is one of the best coaches in all of sports. The only person who comes close to him is in the NFL and that’s Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots who has won four Super Bowls in six appearances and is heading for his seventh appearance in the big one during his tenure there.

I’m sure the Warriors wish they only had to deal with Popovich and the Spurs once a year.

 

 

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 Patrick Patterson

Dog-Days Of January Stink For The Toronto Raptors

By Frank McLean

The month of January is the beginning of a new year. It’s a time of hope, a new beginning as we start a new year with a clean slate so to speak and we try and not make the same mistakes that we did in the previous year. In reality, the dog-days of January stink.

After all the excitement of a December holiday season with family and friends and ringing in of the new year, January is a like a lump of coal you hope wasn’t in your Christmas stocking. The formerly red hot Raptors went 6-7 after Boxing Day.

January is one giant party-pooper. The weather is cold and damp and cloudy. Daylight hours are short and it’s still pitch dark before 6pm. It’s called the blahs and we all get it.

The Toronto Raptors are going through their own period of January blah’s right now and it showed Friday night in Charlotte where they suffered their biggest margin of defeat this year, a 34-point beat down by the Hornets.

The score was 113-79 and the 79-points the Raptors put up, as well as the 33.7-per cent field goal percentage, were season lows.

After a big month of December where the Raptors put up a 10-4 record, they head into Sunday night’s home game against the Phoenix Suns with more losses than all of last month.

“Yeah, we’ve been in a little funk lately,” Kyle Lowry said after Friday’s game. “We’re not playing on all cylinders right now.

“I just think it’s that time of year. No excuses at all. There’s just this mental fatigue, a little bit of travel fatigue, but no excuses. I think we might have done something like this, maybe, about this time last year? I don’t know, I’m not sure, but it happens. As a team we will figure a way out of it.”

There is something to what Lowry said. It is that time of year, the mental and travel fatigue.

The calendar we use in everyday life says we are in the middle of the first month of the beginning of the year. On the basketball calendar it says they are at the half way point.

As we hit the middle of January teams are at the midway point of the regular season schedule. Teams can see the All-Star Game on the horizon where they get a nice five day break featuring no games, no practices, and a chance to walk away from the grind and recharge their batteries before they hit the stretch drive before the playoffs.

Right now, those playoffs that seems like light years away from happening.

That five day break is four weeks away which is not that far off, but in the case of the Raptors counting Sunday’s game there are still 14-games to play before they can rest.

Now this is where Raptors coach Dwane Casey has to do his best coaching job to help his team “keep their eye on the prize” so to speak. Keep the team focused and keep a little midseason funk from turning into a long losing streak.

Casey knows where the problem is.

“Right now we’re going through maybe a week of bad offensive shooting,” Casey said on Friday about how the last week went. “Against it still says nothing about your defense. That’s when your defense has to pick back up. Your defense has to carry you until your offense comes back around. You go through that during the season. The most important thing is we stay together, stay positive. Everybody goes through it. It’s not an excuse. We have to fight our way out of it. It’s up to us.”

Casey hit the nail on the head in his comments that everybody goes through this. Every team in the NBA goes through a cold streak during the season regardless if they are playoff contender or not.

If talk to the coaches of the other 29-teams in the NBA they will all tell you that, yah my team is starting to think about the break coming up and I have to work harder to keep them focused.

Just like school kids waiting for the winter break to come and week away from school. NBA players are no different.

The Raptors are going through their own January blahs right now. This is a very focused group of players in their locker room and the leadership in their will not let this slump fester.

So don’t panic Raptors nation.Their body of work over the last two seasons have shown that there is too much talent on this team for it to last long. With five of their next six games at the Air Canada Centre, things should turn around quick.

 

 

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 head coach Dwane Casey 2016

Raptors Can Set A Mid-Season Franchise Win Record This Weekend

It may not feel like the Toronto Raptors are better than last year, but after enduring the toughest schedule in the Eastern Conference to start the 2016-17 season, this team, at 25-13, is headed into the softest possible stretch of games with an opportunity to set a mid-season record for wins at the half-way mark.

Toronto has an opportunity to tie the record for the most wins through 41 games in team history with home victories Friday vs. Brooklyn (8-30) and Sunday vs. New York (18-22) and still have a game in hand. The Raptors had 27 wins through the first 41 games of the 2014-15 campaign.

After beating Boston on Tuesday, the Raptors have four consecutive games remaining against weak Atlantic Division opponents and the Raptors are 6-0 against their division rivals this year. Better, the Raptors have won five straight games versus Brooklyn and have an opportunity to match the team-record for consecutive wins against the Nets on Friday. They have also won four games in a row over the Knicks, so reaching the 27 win mark the fastest in team history on Sunday is something they should definitely accomplish.

Then the opportunity to break the franchise record at the halfway point in the season with their 28th win comes in Brooklyn on Tuesday.

After beating up on the Nets, Knicks and Nets again, the Raptors face the 76ers (11-25), Hornets (20-19) and then can look for some revenge against the Suns (12-27). The result should be a seven game winning streak that takes this team to a never before seen 31-13 mark before matching wits with the Spurs at the ACC on January 24th.

ESPN continues to project the Raptors to set a new franchise record for wins in a season at 57, marking the fifth year in a row head coach Dwane Casey will have led his team to a higher win total. ESPN also continues to project the Raptors as the most likely team in the East to win an NBA Title – sorry Cavs.

Season highlights after 38 games:

  • DeMar DeRozan scored a season-high 41 points January 10th during Toronto’s 114-106 victory over Boston for his third straight game with 35+ points. He is the first Raptor to record three consecutive games with 35-or-more points since Vince Carter.
  • Jonas Valanciunas set career highs for total rebounds (23) and offensive rebounds (11) January 10th vs. Boston. He also grabbed season-high 12 defensive boards. Valanciunas collected 10 rebounds in the fourth quarter becoming the first Raptor since Reggie Evans in 2010 to record 10 rebounds in a quarter.
  • According to the Elias Sports Bureau, DeMar DeRozan (41 points) and Jonas Valanciunas (23 rebounds) became the first duo in team history to record 40+ points and 20+ rebounds in the same game.
  • Kyle Lowry leads the NBA East with 126 three-pointers made, 20 more than Kemba Walker. This season he became the first player in team history to finish a game shooting 6-for-6 on three-pointers.
  • DeMar DeRozan leads the East in scoring with 1071 points, 83 more points than Isaiah Thomas. He is second in free throws made (287) to Jimmy Butler (320).
  • The Raptors lead the East in scoring at 110.7 points per game
  • Toronto has the best road record in the East at 12-7

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

FIBA Team Canada Anthony Bennett

Canadian Anthony Bennett To Join Fenerbahce In Turkey

Former number one overall NBA draft pick from Canada Anthony Bennett will join FIBA club team Fenerbahce In Turkey after bring cut by the Brooklyn Nets earlier this week as reported by Sportando.

Bennett was originally drafted by the Cavaliers in 2013 and traded the next summer along with Andrew Wiggins to Timberwolves for Kevin Love as part of a three-team deal. He was waived by Timberwolves the next summer and signed as a free agent by the Toronto Raptors. The Raptors waived him in March and he was signed as a free agent by Brooklyn in July.

Bennett played in 23 games with the Nets before being waived on January 9, 2017. He had played in 151 games and 1,905 total minutes averaging 4.4 points and 3.1 rebounds in the NBA over parts of four seasons.

As a freshman at UNLV in 2012-13, Bennett averaged 16.1 points and 8.1 rebounds.

The biggest winner out of this move may be Canada Basketball as Bennett will learn the FIBA game ahead of this summer’s international play.

 

 Featured image courtesy of Larry Millson

NBA Brooklyn Nets Brook Lopez

Is The Stretch-5 Brook Lopez An Answer For The Raptors?

There doesn’t appear to be much of a market for the 28-year-old Brook Lopez, but this new stretch-5 version of the Nets center deserves a second look and the Toronto Raptors should be asking if he is the answer to their need for another big man capable of impacting today’s game?

Once upon a time not so long ago Lopez was an NBA All-Star, one of the top scoring centers in the entire league and top-10 at blocking shots, but that year was sandwiched in-between a couple of injury shortened seasons and Lopez really still hasn’t fully recovered his reputation, even though he’s played over 70 games in each of the past two seasons and has only missed three games this year.

This season Lopez is averaging 20.1 points, 5.1 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 0.5 steals and 1.7 blocks. His assists are up nicely and his rebounds are down, but part of that is from hanging out more on the perimeter where he is firing 5.2 three-point attempts and connecting on 36.4 percent of them. On corner threes his average jumps to 45.8 percent. He is one the best shooting stretch-5 true centers in the NBA this year and he gets blocks too.

It been suggested by ESPN’s Marc Stein that all Brooklyn wants is a couple of first round draft picks in return for Lopez. The Nets (foolishly) traded their future to the Celtics for a chance at becoming a contender that never happened and now they don’t even have the assets to rebuild. Not that any NBA team feels the need to bail them out of this mess of their own making, but to poach an asset for cheap? A GM has to listen.

Part of the problem is Lopez makes $21.1 million this year and $22.6 million next year, but unlike so many of the other potential impact players being talked about (Paul Millsap, Serge Ibaka), at least he is not just a rental.

Unfortunately his contract means most teams will have to send back at least $16.1 million in salaries and it isn’t likely the players going back would all be on expiring contracts and of limited value. This will become something resembling a real trade if the Nets can get two first round draft picks out of it as well. At least a GM knows the Nets interest is sincere. The Nets, unlike the Hawks, really are playing for nothing. The need to tear down and rebuild right now is very real.

But how would Lopez fit on the Raptors with Jonas Valanciunas entrenched at starting center and Lucas Nogueira doing a respectable job backing him up. Well the Raptors have been unexpectedly experimenting with Nogueira playing along side of Valanciunas in order to provide some needed shot blocking, speed and athleticism and it seems to be working. The two big men provide an effective paint deterrent and a difficult match-up for opposing teams. This gives head coach Dwane Casey options.

Casey could look to splitting the minutes at center between Valanciunas and Lopez depending on the match-up. A traditional rebounding center in Valanciunas and a stretch-5 in Lopez who would finally give the Raptors an effective countermove when the Cavaliers go small with the 6’11 Channing Frye stretching the floor. Nogueira and Patrick Patterson splitting the minutes at power forward would give the Raptors a rotation of four big men, two of whom can stretch the floor, that few teams could match.

If Raptors president Masai Ujiri believes Lopez has made the leap to becoming a stretch-5 and that’s the missing piece in his team’s rotation, this is a deal that needs pursuing. The Raptors need more offense to contend.

It would take a combination of Terrence Ross ($10 million), Jared Sullinger ($5.6 million) and one of Bruno Caboclo, Delon Wright, Pascal Siakam or Fred VanVleet to make the trade math work. Undoubtedly, which young player gets thrown in would determine how many draft picks Ujiri might part with. Like with any trade Ujiri has gotten involved with, if the price got too steep, he would walk away.

There are few players that are truly plausible trade targets where the team with the star has to take virtually anything that’s remotely reasonable, but the Nets are that team. It’s a team in a situation Ujiri has been able to bend to his advantage in the past.

Rumors are beginning to surface that the Nets are considering parting ways with their franchise cornerstone in Lopez, and Lopez (fantasy) owners should be rooting for that outcome. He’s skilled enough to have solid value regardless of his uniform – Rotoworld Jan 8 – 3:34 PM.

Lopez scoring 20 points per game is nothing new and aren’t skilled big men that can shoot the prized possessions in today’s high scoring NBA?

 

 

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

Toronto Raptors Need To Add More Offense To Contend

It was bad enough in the NBA East before the Cleveland Cavaliers traded for three-point marksman Kyle Korver, but now more than ever you need incredible offense to contend for a spot in the NBA Finals and even the Toronto Raptors averaging an East leading 110.6 points per game don’t have enough.

NBA EAST

No team in the East is holding opponents under 100 points per game and only three teams in the West are, but teams in the West are still giving up 104.7 points per game and they are scoring (105.4) at an even higher clip than the East’s inflated numbers.

The NBA is now a high-scoring, three-point shooting, defense-second league. You don’t stop players like Russell Westbrook (31.2 points), Anthony Davis (29.1 points), James Harden (28.2 points), DeMarcus Cousins (28.1 points), Isaiah Thomas (28 points), or DeMar DeRozan (27.8 points), you outscore them or you fail. This year traditional scoring leaders like LeBron James (26.2), Kevin Durant (25.9), Stephen Curry (24.8), Kyrie Irving (24.3) aren’t even given much of a chance at a scoring title. You need more.

Cavs Nation on Facebook

The Warriors got theirs. They lead the NBA at 117.5 points per game with three players that can’t be stopped averaging over 20 points per game. The Cavs have their own triumvirate averaging over 20 per game, a bevy of shooters and a strangle hold on first in the East.

Most teams are lucky to have one reliable 20 point scorer and the Raptors with DeRozan and Kyle Lowry are blessed with two, but even two isn’t going to be enough these days. When it seems like everyone that matters is giving up over a 100 points except the Spurs (97.5), you are fighting a trend that no defensive scheme is going to overcome – unless maybe you have a Kawhi Leonard on your team.

When you are leading the East in scoring, adding more offense doesn’t necessarily seem like the right solution, but the Raptors have been most often getting beat because they can’t always keep up in today’s shoot-out oriented NBA.

After an October anomaly, he Cavs have beaten Toronto 121-117 and 116-112 and as noted, Cleveland just added more firepower. The Warriors won by 127-121 and 121-111. Then losses to Clippers 123-115, Hawks 125-121, Bulls 123-118 and Rockets 129-122 only serve to illustrate what’s going on in the NBA.

Maybe Raptors head coach Dwane Casey is right that his team doesn’t need to do anything, but that’s except when it comes to the Cavs. It’s only reasonable to expect Cleveland to continue adding to their firepower between now and the last day to add players eligible for the postseason. The team Toronto can’t keep up with on the scoring front is going to add more scoring.

President Masai Ujiri has made it pretty clear the Raptors won’t sell off their young assets for short term gain. It’s been reported he tried to land Paul Millsap and Serge Ibaka last summer and in all likelihood is still trying, but the price has to right. Otherwise, the fallback position of the Raptors and apparently even their closest competitor, the Celtics, is to wait this thing out and see what develops on what are still very young and developing teams.

They can always just wait on LeBron James to get old?

 

 

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

Featured image courtesy of Paul Saini
Instagram:  @fylmm.lifestyle and  @paul_saini

 

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Kyle Lowry

Raptors Crash And Burn On A Back-To-Back Again

The Toronto Raptors must believe the NBA schedule makers like to engage in some kind of sick humor, there have been some brutally tough back-to-back sets for Toronto in the first half of the season. Cavs on the road followed by the Warriors at home in November being the best-worst example.

Then Sunday’s game against the Rockets marked the shortest turnaround time between games for the Raptors this season at 22 hours. Toronto played at 8 pm ET game in Chicago on Saturday and then tipped off at 6 pm ET at home the next night. The Raptors lost in overtime to the Bulls and then faded in the fourth quarter against the Rockets to lose both ends of a back-to-back for the fourth time this season.

No team likes to use the schedule as an excuse and back-to-backs were not an issue for the Raptors last season, finishing with a record of 20-14, but this year hasn’t gone so well and at 6-8, most of their losses this season have come as a result of these challenging sets.

It’s not the “ordinary” back-to-backs that are hurting the team. The Raptors have won both ends of Hornets/Knicks, Lakers/Hawks and Timberwolves/Celtics. It’s the combination of games against elite teams and/or the teams that have historically given the Raptors trouble where disaster has struck.

Toronto has lost both ends of the back-to-backs against @Cavs/Dubs, @Kings/@Clippers, @Dubs/@Suns, and @Bulls/Rockets.

The NBA may as well just given the Raptors a couple of nights off and the Ls with the Cavs and Warriors on a back-to-back – thanks for nothing. The loss to the Kings in Sacramento was the infamous time running out despite time still on the clock game as Terrence Ross hits the game-tying buzzer-beater that wasn’t. Losing the next night in L.A. to a very good Clippers team wasn’t a surprise after that. Playing a second back-to-back set that includes the high-scoring, high-tempo Warriors before January is just cruel. Then there’s the Bulls, who Toronto had lost nine games in a row to heading into that game. Putting the high-scoring Rockets as their next opponent 22 hours later virtually guaranteed the Raptors were going to run out of gas.

The Rockets were “just” the fourth team currently ranked in the NBA’s top-10 for win percentage the Raptors have faced on the second night of a back-to-back with the opponent resting the night before – Golden State, L.A. Clippers, Boston and Houston. The Raptors will potentially face this same situation with the Bulls again before the NBA All-Star Break February 14-15 when they play in Chicago, then home to take on Charlotte in Toronto 22 hours later.

Maybe head coach Dwane Casey could’ve squeezed out a couple more wins by punting the fourth quarters of the games against the Cavs or Dubs in the first game of those back-to-back sets, but he would have been giving up the measuring stick against the competition that really matters in May and June. And even after the toughest schedule in the NBA’s Eastern Conference according to ESPN, the Raptors still hold down second place at 24-13.

 

 

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 Atlanta Hawks Paul Millsap

Paul Millsap To The Raptors Could Be Next

It could be a franchise changing move if Raptors president Masai Ujiri can find a way to bring the Hawks Paul Millsap to Toronto and there more than a few people out there that believe it’s a real possibility.

It not like the Hawks weren’t considering just such a move this past summer.

The Hawks would be looking for as much as possible in return for the All-Star, but his expiring contract should limit just how far teams will go to get a potential rental. The situation should eliminate any team that doesn’t believe acquiring Millsap will make them a contender this year.

ESPN’s Brian Windhorst: “I was talking to an executive just yesterday about a potential Toronto-Atlanta trade and he was like, ‘If they can get two assets out of it, then Atlanta would have done a good job.’ The two assets are Patrick Patterson and Terrence Ross. If he were Toronto, he wouldn’t offer more than Patterson and Ross.”

This will continue to be the hot story in the NBA until the Hawks overtly pull Millsap off the market.

 

 

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 Atlanta Hawks Paul Millsap

There’s Smoke For A Paul Millsap To The Raptors Trade

Old saying, ‘where there’s smoke, there’s fire’ and there’s a ton of smoke suggesting the Atlanta Hawks will trade All-Star Paul Millsap with the most probable destination being the Toronto Raptors as discussed on ESPN Radio Truehoop Podcast on January 3rd (at about the 28 minute mark).

The discussion opens with the idea Toronto sends Patrick Patterson, Terrence Ross, Jakob Poeltl and Delon Wright for Paul Millsap and Kris Humphries suggesting that trade would give Toronto the advantage over Cleveland in the playoffs.

It was noted that Atlanta has developed a reputation for asking for “the moon and the stars” in trade talks and not getting anything done.

Brian Windhorst: “I was talking to an executive just yesterday about a potential Toronto-Atlanta trade and he was like, ‘If they can get two assets out of it, then Atlanta would have done a good job.’ The two assets are Patrick Patterson and Terrence Ross. If he were Toronto, he wouldn’t offer more than Patterson and Ross.”

“There is absolutely a bad taste on the mouth after losing Al Horford for nothing. And that’s something they don’t want to get burned twice.”

Of course nothing precludes the parties from expanding the trade, especially if the Hawks become more future oriented and are looking for pieces to rebuild with rather than maintaining a playoff seed for this season. The Raptors are loaded with young players and draft picks if the Hawks want to head in that direction.

It should also be noted that Raptors president Masai Ujiri has a reputation for being the fleecer rather than the fleeced. It’s the Hawks who are feeling the pressure in this situation and unless they can drum up a number of competing bids for the expiring contract of Millsap, they aren’t going to get “the stars and the moon” and getting burned by another All-Star leaving in free agency for nothing will push them to make a deal happen.

The more solid trade for a Raptors team looking for a clear-cut advantage over the rival Cavaliers would be along the lines of Ross, Sullinger, Wright and a first round draft pick for Millsap. Both Patterson and Sullinger are on expiring deals, so if the Hawks are looking to rebuild, it shouldn’t matter to them, but Patterson is a key defensive cog on Toronto’s second unit. Patterson matters to Toronto.

The Truehoop panel had no trouble coming up with alternative destinations for Millsap, but the most motivated potential trade partner should be the Raptors. Of course, if Atlanta stalls, Ujiri may have other equally interesting options.

 

 

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 OKC Thunder Serge Ibaka

Trade Possibilities To Get The Raptors To The NBA Finals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Raptors Trade Bait

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Orlando Magic – Serge Ibaka $12.3 million

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Patience

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

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

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

 

 

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