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NBA Kings Bruno Caboclo and Rockets Clint Capela

Remember When The Raptors Took Bruno Caboclo Over Clint Capela?

Sometimes the risks a team takes in the NBA draft really can come back to bite you years later and in Toronto there may be no better example than when the Raptors took a flyer on Bruno Caboclo instead of the more proven young prospect Clint Capela.

It isn’t easy drafting in the twenties and a team doesn’t expect to get a player as good as Capela has turned out to be for the Houston Rockets who took the 20-year-old center five picks after Raptors president Masai Ujiri selected Caboclo, but the analysis from his own Director of Scouting Dan Tolzman at the time has proven to be beyond accurate.

“(Capela) is a big time vertical spacer which is guys that can catch alley-oops – it is like a different kind of spacing on the floor,” Tolzman said after Capela’s predraft work out in Toronto. “You have the corner three shooters who space it out for the bigs and you got guys like him that kind of drop into the short corner area and because they are so deadly with catching alley-oops it makes the defense worry about them more than worry about penetration. So he is a guy that can really do that and he can really run the floor well for a big. He changes ends really well and I think that his athleticism and length and the fact that he is so young too, it’s pretty intriguing with his potential.

“One of the main things that (Capela) is so good at is defending the pick-and-roll. He uses his quick hands and his length and he gets in a nice defensive stance. He really jumps out and hedges ball handlers. It is one of things that if he has any skill that could get him in a game early in the NBA it will be (his) pick-and-roll defense.”

Capela has proven he has plenty of skill at both ends of the court and will be in for a huge pay day as a restricted free agent this summer. Caboclo, on the other hand, will be lucky to find another NBA team to take a flyer on him for next season.

The Raptors knew Caboclo wasn’t NBA ready when they drafted him and the plan was to develop the 18-year-old prospect from Brazil with almost no competitive experience at any level in the NBA D-League, but things didn’t exactly go as hoped.

“Bruno is a tough one because I think I want to almost blame myself for bringing him too soon to our team,” Ujiri responded to Pro Bball Report when asked about his project player last summer. “We wanted to see his development and it’s the price we pay. The price I pay.

“I wanted to see his development and it’s almost like he’s gone thru college on our team.”

It was a $7 million mistake in terms of tying up cap space over four seasons as Caboclo struggled with his consistency in the D-League and never showed any level of confidence or competency at the NBA level. He may end up owning some Raptors 905 records as he did have seven blocks in a game and he showed flashes of hope as a long lanky “3-and-D” combo forward with above the rim hops, but he could never put it all together for any length of time even in the D-League.

“He’s hearing me over there yelling go at him. (Caboclo) can do everything, it’s not that he can’t do anything, he can do everything so it’s about giving him the confidence to know that we want him to do it,” Raptors 905 head coach Jerry Stackhouse said last summer.

But the confidence never came and Ujiri finally moved on at the trade deadline last February.

“It was difficult for us because I thought it was just time. We tried to, we started the process a little late, which is something we failed at but I think we will learn from,” Ujiri said after trading him to the Kings.

If you remember, the Raptors didn’t want to draft Caboclo at 20, they had their sights set on a young Canadian point guard Tyler Ennis who the Suns scooped up two picks ahead of Toronto leaving Ujiri to debate if he should risk his first round pick on the second round talent he liked in Caboclo. It’s a decision, in hindsight, he’d obviously like back.

It’s a lot easier to like the raw prospect taken in the second round that does their development in Europe instead the one of taking a spot on an NBA roster.

Fortunately Ujiri did learn from that blunder and in subsequent drafts he took Delon Wright at 20 in 2015, Pascal Siakam at 27 in 2016, and OG Anunoby at 23 last year. None of these picks were “flyers.” However, it has to be hard watching Capela, who averaged a double-double (13.9/10.8) with 1.9 blocks for Houston this season and repeated that performance in 17 playoff games thru to the Conference Finals (12.7/11.6 and 2.1 blocks) and realizing he could have been yours.

 

 

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

For The First Time Raptors Are Favorites In The East

It’s time to put those bizarre misleading thoughts about the Raptors fading in the playoffs to bed. Toronto has never been favorites to get out of the NBA’s Eastern Conference previously and just maybe that’s because they’ve never finished first in their conference before – ever.

Also this is the first time Kyle Lowry isn’t heading into the postseason with a nagging injury and DeMar DeRozan, who gets lots of flak for not living up to playoff expectations despite averaging over 20 points per game  in each of the past four postseason runs, has undeniably gotten better this year.

As Jackie MacMullan says in  ESPN’s playoff preview,

Having spent time in Toronto last weekend, the unease surrounding the Raptors’ fan base is palpable. They are worried about losing Game 1 (again).

Enough already. DeRozan has submitted an All-NBA season, becoming a more efficient player, expanding his range to the 3-point line, and finally — finally! — tuning out the naysayers.

Fans in Toronto need to remember it’s the Maple Leafs who have disappointed them for over 50 years and it was the Raptors that got to the Conference Finals two years ago.

The goal this season, however, is to finally get out of the East and they’ve dominated Eastern Conference teams during the regular season by a margin of 40 wins to just 12 losses and outscored those teams by an impressive +10.2 points.

The next best team in the East against their own conference has been the Cavs with 35 wins, but they’ve been just getting by with a points differential of +2.6. Arguably the 76ers have looked better in their 34 wins against the East at +4.7 points and should be the favored team to advance to the Conference Finals against Toronto.

More impressive and perhaps more important is Toronto has been absolutely dominant at home this season with an NBA best 34-7 record at the Air Canada Centre where they’ve rolled over Eastern Conference rivals, winning 23 and losing just 3 times. In the process, they’ve outscored teams from the East by a confidence-destroying average of 13.3 points.

The other Eastern Conference teams with a home court advantage this season have been the 76ers (21-5, +9.0) and, wait for it, the Heat (20-6, +5.0). The Cavs were 19-7  and +1.6 vs the East at home. (A cynic might say the Raptors didn’t mind losing the last game of the regular season in overtime to Miami.)

If those fans still having doubts can’t remember, Toronto has crushed the teams in the East most likely to challenge a Raptors run to the NBA Finals at home.

The surging 76ers lost 128-94 and 102-86 in Toronto,

The fourth place Cavaliers were destroyed 133-99 at the ACC, and

The currently injured Celtics lost 111-91 and 96-78 when they came visiting.

The Raptors were not as good on the road as at home, but they still set a franchise record for wins away from the ACC at 25-16  and were 17-9 vs the East.

Those other contending Eastern Conference teams looked a lot better in their own buildings vs the Raptors. The 76ers earned a split, the Cavs held on for a couple of hotly contested wins and the Celtics took two in their own building.

Fortunately for the Raptors, by finishing first in the East and second overall in the NBA, the only team they won’t have home court advantage over is the Rockets out West.

In the team’s last two playoff runs they ran headlong into the heavily favored Cleveland Cavaliers and LeBron James. The fact the Raptors lost to those Cavs teams wasn’t a surprise to anyone and those who claim Toronto underachieved are simply being disingenuous. However, those days are past.

This is the Raptors year. They finished second overall in the NBA and were a dominant team all season, especially on home court and even more so against the East. If they lose to an Eastern Conference team this time, they’ll deserve the criticism. They are the deserving  favorites and anything less than an NBA Finals appearance will be a huge disappointment in Toronto.

ESPN’s Kevin Arnovitz concurs,

After several seasons of residing in the league’s upper-middle class, the Raptors asserted themselves in 2017-18 as the team to beat in the Eastern Conference.

The Raptors have tasted the conference finals, so anything short of an NBA Finals appearance would qualify as a disappointment, especially as the Eastern Conference’s No. 1 seed.

 

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 DeMar DeRozan

DeMar DeRozan Gets Some MVP Love From The Western Conference

While the Houston Rockets James Harden is the run-away leader for the NBA’s MVP award this season, Pelicans head coach Alvin Gentry singled out the Toronto Raptors DeMar DeRozan as another worthy candidate. Gentry acknowledges that despite a great season his own star Anthony Davis isn’t even in this race. As it should be, it’s all about winning.

Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle quotes Gentry as saying,

“In my opinion, (James Harden) is the MVP of the league,” Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said. “It’s not even close, really, what he’s doing with his team and the numbers he’s putting up.”

“He’s been fantastic. He’s been unbelievable,” Gentry said of Davis. “I think the only difference in him not being heavily, heavily in the conversation is obvious we haven’t had the type of season that a Houston has had or a Toronto has had, you know with (DeMar) DeRozan and those guys.

“We just don’t have the wins that those teams have and I think that’s the difference in where he is on the scale of MVP as opposed to Harden or DeRozan.”

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Jonas Valanciunas and DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry

Raptors Move To Number One In NBA Power Rankings

It isn’t easy for We The North to get much recognition south of the border, but after completing the season series sweep over the Western Conference’s first place Houston Rockets on Friday night, the Toronto Raptors are getting some much deserved praise.

In John Schuhmann’s Week 22 Power Rankings on NBA.com the Raptors rose two places to head the list at number one.

The Raptors got a signature win on Friday, outscoring the Rockets, 45-27 from 3-point range, with their defensive scheme keeping Houston’s threes in check and with Kyle Lowry making seven of his nine attempts from beyond the arc.

This season, both in Cleveland and in Toronto, feels much different. But we’ll just have to wait until April or May before this drama unfolds. For now, the Raptors are No. 1 and the Cavs most definitely are not.

Over at Sports Illustrated ,  Rohan Nadkarni also bumped the Raptors from the third spot to first overall.

Week 22 of the NBA season is here, and we’re seeing a shake-up at the top of the Power Rankings.

The Rockets have been bumped from the top spot after Toronto ended their 17-game win streak.

The Raptors have won eight in a row and nine of their last 10. It’s not too late for Drake to re-make the “God’s Plan” video and add one scene of DeMar DeRozan holding up the Larry O’Brien Trophy.

Over at FiveThirtyEight.com, the CARM-ELO ranking system still has the Rockets first with the Raptors a close second. Both teams are given a 60 percent chance at representing their respective conferences in the NBA Finals.

ESPN Power Rankings have left the Raptors in third place behind the Rockets and Warriors choosing to ignore the recent losses by those teams and the Raptors NBA best 15-1 record since February 2nd. Occasionally it feels necessary to remind ESPN that the NBA has a team in Canada.

Despite seeing their 17-game winning streak come to an end against the Toronto Raptors, the Houston Rockets are in no danger of losing their No. 1 position in the NBA Power Rankings. And even after back-to-back losses without Stephen Curry, the Golden State Warriors still call their familiar No. 2 spot home for now.

While the Rockets were winning 17 in a row, the Raptors, almost unnoticed,  were almost as unbeatable and with the streak stopper against the Western Conference leader on Friday night, Toronto earned the top spot in the NBA and SI Power Rankings.

 

 

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

 

 

 

NBA Houston Rockets James Harden and Toronto Raptors DeMar DeRozan

Raptors A Slight Favorite Over The Rockets

In what has to be viewed as the biggest game of the 2017-18 season to-date, the Eastern Conference’s first-place Toronto Raptors face the Western Conference’s first-place Houston Rockets at the Air Canada Centre tonight.

ESPN affiliate FiveThirtyEight.com gives the home court Raptors a slight 0.5 point advantage and  a 52 percent chance of winning.

Toronto (47-17) clinched a playoff spot this week with their sixth win in a row by beating Detroit 121-119 in overtime and holds a two game lead over second place Boston. The Rockets (51-13) hold a slim half game lead over the Warriors thanks to an impressive 17 game winning streak.

The Raptors defeated the Rockets in Houston 129-113 way back in November and a series sweep would send a strong message to the few remaining doubters about just how good the team north of the border is this season.

The Air Canada Centre has been a tough place for opponents to steal a win. The Raptors have the best home record in the NBA at 27-5 where they pile on the points at 112.8 per game and outscore their opponents by a league best 11.9 points.

However, the Rockets are a league best 26-7 on the road this season, scoring 111.8 points and winning easily by a front-running 8.9 points in their opponents’ buildings.

It’s the NBA’s leading scorer and MVP front runner James Harden vs the Eastern Conference Player of the Week DeMar DeRozan and the NBA’s best bench. This should be a good one.

 

 

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

 

 

 

NBA Houston Rockets Ryan Anderson

Which NBA GM Will Risk Their Career On Ryan Anderson?

The Houston Rockets want to trade for the Knicks Carmelo Anthony in the worst way. The only problem seems to be they want to off load Ryan Anderson and the $61 million remaining on his contract to do it and for perfectly obvious reasons, New York isn’t interested. So, is there another NBA GM willing to risk their career to help facilitate this trade?

Other than the season-ending neck injury in 2013-14 and the typical 10-20 games he’s missed each season since then, Anderson is a reliable stretch-four. Sure he rebounds like a guard and his defense is suspect, but he does stretch the floor.

Last year he averaged 13.6 points per game, right about his career average, but is that enough production for a $20 million per year player? How many first round draft picks should a team with salary cap space be demanding to absorb a contract of this – even by today’s standards – massive proportions that doesn’t go away for three years? It’s hard to imagine just one first round pick would be enough for a third team taking on what would be almost certainly be considered a salary dump.

A big problem is the Rockets traded away their 2018 first round draft pick to the Clippers when they acquired Chris Paul and the Knicks were thinking they deserved a draft pick as part of this trade, not give a pick away to be rid of Melo.

While no one should ever be surprised by an off the wall decision from an NBA GM, taking on a contract like Anderson’s is usually something one would expect the Knicks would do and they’ve already said no. The Nets got a first, a second and dumped a small contract back when they absorbed DeMarre Carroll and his $30 million remaining over two years from Toronto. They are going to want a lot more to fit the bulk of Anderson’s contract into their remaining space.

Trading Anderson to a team over the cap means the Knicks have to want the players another GM was willing to give up. It’s almost certain, that’s just shifting the problem further out and for maybe the first time in a long while, the Knicks aren’t going to be the team that gets fleeced.

When you sign a one-dimensional stretch-four to an $80 million contract, generally speaking, he’s yours, right to the end. If the Rockets really want Melo, unless they can find a (few) GM(s) willing to risk his career to help out, they are going to have to dig a little deeper and sacrifice some players other teams might actually think are on good contracts.

Daryl Morey is really going to earn his salary working this deal.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_inside

 

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

 

 

Knicks Carmelo Anthony trade 2017

Can Raptors Be A Third Team In A Carmelo Anthony Trade?

There are still a few options/ long shots out there for Raptors president Masai Ujiri to make a move before the season starts, but perhaps none more exciting than attempting to squeeze into the rumored Carmelo Anthony to the Rockets or Cavs trades as a third or fourth team, assuming the Knicks might be interested in Valanciunas?

According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the Knicks aren’t all that interested in older players with years left on their contracts and that has stalled out the process as all sides are looking for partners to facilitate a deal.

the Knicks and Rockets are confident that they have a willing third-team trade partner

The fourth team was needed to move a particular player contract that neither the Knicks nor Rockets could or would accept in the deal

The Knicks’ front office has been privately saying that the organization’s marching orders are now focusing on players 25 years old and younger

Three team deals are tough enough, but adding a fourth team dramatically boosts the complexity and likelihood nothing gets done. However, Toronto has a 25-year-old starting center they’ve been rumored to be shopping and an apparent motivation to reduce payroll that should make the Raptors easier to deal with.

(using the ESPN trade machine)

A move like this wouldn’t change the direction Ujiri is taking, but it would help re-balance the roster, cut $8 million off the payroll this year and $16.5 million next season.

It’s pure speculation, but the 32-year-old 6’8 Trevor Ariza could be the perfect veteran to mentor the Raptors young forwards and upgrade the team’s starting unit.

In New York, where nothing ever seems to go their way, landing Eric Gordon and Valanciunas for Carmelo Anthony should be seen as hitting one out of the park. (At least it shouldn’t be viewed as embarrassing.) Assuming Dolan can get over the fact he’s been burned by trading with Ujiri in the past?

In the extremely unlikely event the Cavaliers would entertain a trade including their conference rivals, the Raptors would almost certainly be interested in doing a deal.

There is a lot of motivation on the Knicks, Rockets and even the Cavaliers to find a way to make a very difficult trade happen. They might just have to swallow hard and allow a team like Toronto to squeeze in there to get it done.

 

 

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 New York Knicks Carmelo Anthony

Phil’s Gone, Knicks Carmelo Anthony Puts Himself In Play

Now that Phil Jackson is gone, Carmelo Anthony took the biggest impediment to trading him off the table putting himself in play. Adrian Wojnarowski reports Melo will waive his no trade clause for Houston or Cleveland, the two teams closest to knocking off the dynasty in Golden State.

The Cavaliers have desperately been searching for another star to play beside LeBron James. What James has got has got him to the NBA Finals for three straight years, but realistically, he can only expect to beat the Dubs with what he’s got if something goes seriously wrong for his rival.

The Rockets went all-in by trading for Chris Paul, but to beat the Warriors, they are going to need a third superstar scorer and Melo could give them a real chance.

The Knicks want to go young and need draft picks, something that both teams should be willing to part with. The big issue is going to be finding enough salary to send back to make the trade math work with Anthony’s $26.2 million salary.

To get young guys and picks, the Knicks are going to have to absorb a big ticket player they probably don’t want as well, but, with a little luck, they’ll be able to flip the player(s) they don’t want elsewhere by the trade deadline.

After all, the Knicks are rebuilding, so what’s the rush. They just need to get some assets that can fit for the long term as the dump an asset that obviously doesn’t fit and is finally willing to leave.

 

 

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

As Raptors Dither, P.J. Tucker Joins The Rockets

The Raptors wanted P.J. Tucker back next season and they made the 32-year-old a high-ball offer of $33 million over three years, but he opted to take less money and join former Clippers superstar Chris Paul in Houston with the Rockets. As the Raptors dither with free agent Kyle Lowry, president Masai Ujiri couldn’t get done what Tucker really wanted fast enough.

The Raptors didn’t give up much to get Tucker at the trade deadline in February, but this was a guy Ujiri really wanted back. A veteran with a physical presence that isn’t always easy to find. While Tucker doesn’t do much for a team on the stats sheet, he does make an impact on the court.

It really looks like Tucker’s decision was all about going with the sure thing. At the locker clean out media availability, Tucker made it pretty clear he wasn’t coming back unless the team re-signed Kyle Lowry.

“I think fit is everything,” Tucker said about his impending free agency. “I want to go to a team I can help push to the next level.”

“I look to be a piece going towards something. It’s not just the money. It’s a bunch of things that goes into it and seeing where I fit.

“You got to let (free agency) play out.”

Faced with making a decision to join a very good Rockets team that has Paul committed to playing there next season versus agreeing to return to a Raptors team that still hasn’t been able to come to terms with Lowry or Serge Ibaka, it wasn’t all that hard a decision to make when the dollars are this close.

 

 

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

 

 

 

NBA Houston Rockets James Harden and OKC Thunder Russell Westbrook and Cleveland Cavaliers LeBron James

Three Is The Key As Small Ball Rules The NBA

The traditional center in the NBA might not be dead, but unless he can hit a three, small ball rules and he’ll be sitting on the bench in the fourth quarter.

“That’s what the game is going to,” Raptors head coach Dwane Casey said. “The days of boom, boom, boom, pound it, pound it, pound it (are over) – you can do it two or three times, but as the game goes on they are going to send bodies, send traps off cutters, traps baseline and it’s clogged up and you’re not going to get anything done.”

The 51-win Raptors were in the bottom third of the league averaging 8.8 made threes on 24.3 attempts and improving on those marks will be a top off season priority.

This year the NBA averaged 9.7 made threes on 27 attempts with Houston leading the charge at 40.3 three-point attempts and Cleveland (33.9), Boston (33.4), Brooklyn (31.6) and Golden State (31.2) rounding out the top five.

It wasn’t all that long ago the leading scorer in the NBA wasn’t expected to ever hoist a three-ball, but today every single player in the top 25 averages more than one three-point attempt a game as do 94 percent of the top 50. More players are firing threes every year and more of them are firing with at least acceptable efficiency.

The reason for change probably comes down to simple math for most teams. A player that can hit on 33.3 percent of their threes, in theory, scores just as effectively as someone putting down half of their two-point attempts. Trading twos for threes is a good bet.

No where was the power of small ball lineups firing up three-pointers more obvious than in this year’s postseason.

The only conference finals team that wasn’t one of  the top five regular season three-point shooting teams was San Antonio and they led the NBA in three-point shooting percentage (39.1).

The Rockets led the postseason with 38.5 three-point attempts, but it was the Cavaliers leading in three-point makes (14.2). Houston (12.8 makes) barely edging out the better shooting Celtics (12.7) and Warriors (12.7).

In the NBA Finals, the Cavs shot 13.2-34.6 (38.2%) from three and the Dubs were 14.2-37.2 (38.2%) and the defense was actually pretty good. No team in the NBA should be under any delusions that an NBA Finals appearance is going to be realistic if your team can’t keep up from beyond the arc.

The trend towards small ball and an ever increasing number of three-point attempts isn’t going anywhere. If anything, next season NBA teams will average over 10 made threes a game on over 30 three-point attempts. The days of controlling the game by pounding the ball in the paint are over, at least for now.

 

 

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

 

 

Raptors Jonas Valanciunas Is Working On A 3-Point Shot

Even Raptors traditional center Jonas Valanciunas has been hunting down 15 foot jump shots in games and practicing his three-pointers in warm-ups.

 

 

NBA D-League Mississauga Raptors 905 Pascal Siakam

Pascal Siakam Leads Raptors 905 To Game Two Victory In Finals

Toronto Raptors rookie forward Pascal Siakam recorded an impressive 32 point, 10 rebound double-double at the Hershey Centre on Tuesday night in a 95-85 Mississauga Raptors 905 win that tied the NBA D-League Finals at one game apiece with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers.

“(Siakam), he played big time,” 905 head coach Jerry Stackhouse said. “At the end of the game Pascal especially, he just showed that he can pretty much put us on his back and willed the game for us.”

The game quickly became a battle between Siakam and the Houston Rockets rookie from Gonzaga 6’10 forward Kyle Wiltjer who led the Vipers in defeat posting his own double-double of 25 points and 12 boards.

A closely contested first quarter set the tone for the evening, Raptors 905 holding a slight 23-22 advantage after the opening 12 minutes.

Siakam established himself early, scoring 9 points while adding 2 rebounds and 3 steals in the first. Chris Johnson and Darius Morris both posted 7 points for the Vipers.

Assignee Rockets rookie point guard Isaiah Taylor was injured just 3:13 into the first quarter and did not return.

Raptors 905 created some separation in the second frame, outscoring the Vipers 31-22 in the quarter. Siakam once again paced the 905 with 11 points for a 20 point, 6 rebound first half, while Brady Heslip contributed eight points in the period. Wiltjer increased his first half totals to 13 points and 6 boards by scoring 8 points in the quarter.

Raptors 905 led 54-44 at the half.

Wiltjer almost single-handedly kept the Vipers in the game, scoring 10 points for Rio Grande in the third quarter and narrowing the 905 lead to six heading into the fourth.

The Vipers continued to battle back and tied the game 81-81 at the 4:28 mark of the fourth quarter, but the Raptors 905 responded with a 7-0 run to regain control of the contest and close the game strong.

Toronto Raptors assignee Bruno Caboclo, who was almost invisible on offense for most of the contest, grabbed a man’s rebound under the hoop and then spun around for the impressive slam on the other side of the basket to push the lead to 86-81 with 3:30 left and he helped maintain the advantage with less than two minutes to go with an unexpected drive to the hoop and smooth floater.

Caboclo finished with 6 points, 5 rebounds, a steal and 4 blocked shots. Just the way coach Stackhouse drew it up.

“(Caboclo) has to make his mark for us on the defensive end,” Stackhouse said pregame. “That’s where I think he has a chance to be special.”

Raptors assignee Fred VanVleet had a big impact throughout this game defensively and running the offense, scoring 16 points on 7-18 shooting, grabbing 7 rebounds and dishing 9 dimes.

“All of our guys played well,” Stackhouse said. “Bruno (Caboclo) gave us some big buckets down at the end, big rebounds, big dunks.

“Everybody made timely plays. Fred (VanVleet) made some timely plays. Brady (Heslip – 11 points) made some timely shots for us. EJ (Singler – 15 points) made a big shot for us.”

Vipers guard Darius Morris had a big night with 19 points, 4 rebounds and 7 assists. A 2011 second round pick of the Lakers, Morris has played in the NBA for the 76ers, Clippers, Grizzlies and Nets. Forward Chris Walker shot 6-6 from the field for 13 points in 12.5 minutes of action. Rockets rookie center Chinanu Onuako had 3 points, 10 rebounds, a steal and 2 blocks.

Coach Stackhouse may face one of classic challenges of coaching NBA D-League games in his next contest. The Toronto Raptors will be playing Game Six of their opening round playoff series with the Milwaukee Bucks at the same time as his 905 will be facing off against the Vipers.

If Raptors head coach Dwane Casey wants to dress the 13 players permitted in the NBA, Stackhouse will be missing one of his assignees (Caboclo, Siakam or VanVleet) from the big club in his big game.

“I believe in our group,” 905 head coach Jerry Stackhouse said prior to the game. “I know they are competitors and they are going to respond. When we went on the road (in Game One), (the Vipers) took care of business, they did what they are supposed to do to give themselves a chance. Now what we worked hard all season, we have home court advantage. We have two games at home (in a best of three series) to ultimately get to the glory these guys deserve.”

The D-League Championship will be decided Thursday evening back at the Hershey Centre in Mississauga at 7pm.

 

 

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

 

 

NBA Houston Rockets James Harden and Oklahoma City Thunder Russell Westbrook

Harden Or Westbrook Cause Co-MVP Is A Cop Out

By Lindsay Dunn

In NBA history there has never been co-MVPs and the Houston Rockets James Harden and Oklahoma City Thunder Russell Westbrook shouldn’t be the first.

Almost a year to the date of his last NBA game Kobe Bryant is making headlines again. When asked about the current MVP race in the NBA Bryant said, “We might see our first co-MVPs this year.”

Or not. Maybe we should start handing out “Participation Awards” too! Co-MVP is a cop out.

This isn’t a conversation that just started this year because the ‘Black Mamba’ said it on ESPN Sunday. This is a conversation that has been going on for years. In 2015 it was debated that James Harden and Steph Curry should get co-MVP honours. In 2010 fans argued that Dwyane Wade and LeBron James should share the award. It’s not a new conversation and it’s not a debate that will end this year.

Co-MVP’s are not new in the professional sports world either. In 2004 Peyton Manning and Steve McNair shared the Associated Press NFL Most Valuable Player award. Both of their teams finished with the same record and each player individually had impressive seasons. Three times in NFL history there has been a tie for MVP.

It’s not unheard of for an NBA award to go to two athletes either. The Rookie of the Year Award has been shared more than once. In 1995 a baby faced Grant Hill and Jason Kidd shared the trophy. In 2000 Elton Brand and Steve Francis shared the award and in 1971 Dave Cowens and Geoff Petrie split the honors.

However, that was for the easily bruised egos of some rookies. This year it’s two former veteran teammates seeing their names being thrown back and forth for the big prize. They know the game and can live with the results.

“I just play, man,” Westbrook told the Houston Chronicle when asked about the MVP race. “I go out and play every night and play at a high level like I do every single night and try to help us win. I’ve been knowing James since he was little, and we both grew up in California. Being here, it’s a blessing to be able to have people you grow up with in the NBA. It’s something you don’t take for granted and friendships are something I don’t take for granted. James is a good friend of mine, and I am a good friend of his. Obviously, I know he’s playing well and his team is doing well, but I know he competes every game.”

Here is a look at their numbers after 73 games played:

FG%: Westbrook 42.3%, Harden 44.8%
3PT%: Westbrook 33.4%, Harden 35.2%
FT%: Westbrook 84%, Harden 84.8%
REB: Westbrook 10.5, Harden 8.0
AST: Westbrook 10.4, Harden 11.3
TO: Westbrook 5.3, Harden 5.8
PTS: Westbrook 31.4, Harden 29.4
Triple Doubles: Westbrook 37, Harden 19

Westbrook (#1 overall) and Harden (#2 overall) are one-two in the NBA scoring race and an off the charts triple-double feast. Harden leads the NBA in assists with Westbrook in third. The are also both also destroying the NBA turnover records (oops). Harden leading the charge with 428, Westbrook trailing with 392. The next careless leader this year is John Wall, almost 100 turnovers behind Westbrook with 296. Harden overtaking George McGinnis’ 1974-75 single season ABA record of 422 turnovers.

A big difference in the two players claim on the MVP title is their team’s overall performance. Harden has helped the third place Rockets to 51 wins so far while Westbrook’s sixth place Thunder lags far behind with 42 wins.

There are clear differences in each player’s game, leadership and team, so it shouldn’t be any more difficult than in past seasons to pick a winner.

With Westbrook and Harden dominating the headlines on an almost daily basis with highlight reel worthy performances, it’s easy to forget that at 32-years-old LeBron James may be having the best statistical season of his career. Kawhi Leonard is enjoying an outstanding season offensively and defensively on a much better team. Then, least we forget, 2015 and 2016 MVP Stephen Curry and the Warriors, they own the Thunder and Rockets.

There are no rules for this award and the case for sharing it isn’t any more compelling than it has been in the past. This isn’t “Little League”, there is only room for one MVP.

 

 

Lindsay DunnLindsay Dunn has been a TV sports and entertainment reporter for the past decade. She is currently based in Toronto and covers the local scene including the Toronto Raptors and Raptors 905. Follow her on Twitter @LindsayDunnTV

 

 

 

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 San Antonio Spurs Tim Duncan

Ranking the NBA Western Conference 2016-17

By Danny Thompson, Full Court Press Radio

The Western Conference went through a season in 2015-2016 where they had one team break the all-time wins record with 73. Another team won 67 games and two more teams had over 50, but none of those teams brought home the Larry O’Brien trophy. So with the defending conference champion Golden State Warriors adding some guy named Kevin Durant. Can anyone in the West keep up with them?

1. Golden State Warriors

Key Additions- Kevin Durant, Zaza Pachulia and David West
Key Losses- Harrison Barnes, Festus Ezeli, Leandro Barbosa and Andrew Bogut

Outlook – Let’s be honest here, the Warriors could have re-signed everyone and still would have been in this spot. They won 73 games and finished one game short of winning their 2nd consecutive championship. So what do they do? They go out and add one of the top 5 players in the NBA in Kevin Durant to a team that has the 2 time MVP in Stephen Curry and All-Stars Klay Thompson and Draymond Green. The real question is, can they find the same type of chemistry on this roster that they had last year?

2. San Antonio Spurs

Key Addition: Pau Gasol
Key Losses: Tim Duncan and Boris Diaw

Outlook – Well it had to happen eventually, Tim Duncan retired this summer after a stellar career in San Antonio. I’m not going to take up this entire space by talking about his career, but even though he didn’t have his best season ever, you have to mention how big of a loss it will be. Not to mention they lost Boris Diaw’s versatility as well. So how does R.C Buford and the front office fix that problem? You go out and sign future Hall of Famer Pau Gasol to replace Timmy. Problem solved, now can Golden State stop the best frontline in the NBA in Gasol, LaMarcus Aldridge and Kwahi Leonard? One can only hope that we get this matchup in the Western Conference Finals.

3. Los Angeles Clippers

Key Addition- Brandon Bass
Key Loss- Jeff Green

Outlook – The Clippers get this spot by default. Oklahoma City lost Durant and no one else in the West behind them made a splash to pass them for this spot. They made some questionable contract choices (Austin Rivers), but they brought back Jamal Crawford and brought in guys like Bass, Raymond Felton and Marreese Speights for depth. The real question is with Blake Griffin and Chris Paul being potential free agents next summer, can they make a deal for one of them and still remain a top player in the West? Decisions, Decisions, Decisions in Los Angeles.

4. Portland Trail Blazers

Key Additions- Festus Ezeli and Evan Turner
Key Loss- Gerald Henderson

Outlook – Portland did a lot of re-signing of their main core guys like C.J.McCollum, Allen Crabbe, Meyers Leonard and Maurice Harkless to extensions over the last few weeks. Then they brought in swingman Evan Turner and big man Festus Ezeli to a team that has Damian Lillard leading the way. Portland surprised a lot of people last year (Including this writer right here) and made the 2nd round of the playoffs. They will not be surprising this year, but one can only wonder if can they be even better than they were last year? Head coach Terry Stotts will have this team at peak form come playoff time.

5. Utah Jazz

Key Additions- George Hill and Joe Johnson
Key Loss- Trevor Booker

Outlook – Yes, finally, the Jazz will make it back into the playoffs and this time they are dangerous. Joe Johnson provides a late game closer to go along with Gordon Hayward. Veteran point guard George Hill, allows Dante Exum to ease back into the NBA after missing last year with an ACL injury. The Jazz have so much young talent on this team and a top 7 Head Coach in Quinn Snyder, this is the year that all of the stars align in Utah. I didn’t even mention yet that they have Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors in the frontcourt.

6. Memphis Grizzlies

Key Addition- Chandler Parsons
Key Losses- Matt Barnes and Lance Stephenson

Outlook – The big story in Memphis was the re-signing of Conley to the richest contract in the league’s history. The number is still mind-blowing at this point, but now it’s time for him to earn it. Last season it seemed like every key player in Memphis was hurt as some point. They are finally healthy, All-Star Marc Gasol, Conley and newly added Chandler Parsons will help new Head Coach David Fizdale ease his transition to the main spot in Beale Street. Gone are the days of Grit and Grind in Memphis, but this team won’t be an easy out come playoff time.

7. Oklahoma City Thunder

Key Additions- Victor Oladipo and Ersan Illysova
Key Losses- Kevin Durant, Dion Waiters, Serge Ibaka and Randy Foye

Outlook – As much as I don’t want to put them here, the Thunder still have Russell Westbrook (For Now). As long as he’s still in Oklahoma, the Thunder are a playoff team. Westbrook should have an MVP season and if you think 18 triple doubles were something, wait until this year. Now they have some BIG questions: Can Steven Adams can continue the play from his playoff run last year? Can Victor Oladipo be the 2nd scoring option and be light years better than Dion Waiters? Most importantly, can Enes Kanter live up to the contract that he signed last season? If the Thunder can answer yes to all of these questions, then they will be back in the Playoffs. If they can’t, the Russell Westbrook trade rumors will be at the highest level possible.

8. Houston Rockets

Key Additions- Ryan Anderson, Eric Gordon and Nene
Key Losses- Dwight Howard and Terrance Jones

Outlook – Well this should be one of the most entertaining teams in the NBA. New Head coach Mike D’Antoni has the perfect superstar to be the focal point of his team in James Harden. This team is loaded with shooters and athletic guys. The reason why the Rockets can’t be a contender is because Harden isn’t the best and most willing defender in the NBA and that could be a serious problems on that side of the ball. But the Good News is that Clint Capella will be in the top 10 in rebounding this season and with Harden, Anderson, Gordon and Trevor Ariza, the Rockets will lead the NBA in 3 pointers made as a team.

9. Dallas Mavericks

Key Additions- Harrison Barnes and Andrew Bogut
Key Losses- Chandler Parsons, David Lee and Zaza Pachulia

Outlook – Mark Cuban strikes out again this summer on attracting a major free agent to pair with Dirk Nowitzki, but he took Harrison Barnes away from Golden State. If Barnes can live up to his potential, the Mavericks could be on to something special. But what should scare Mavericks fans is that Barnes did go missing for major stretches over the past 2 seasons. But now that he doesn’t have to be in most cases a 4th option on offense, this could be the year the “Black Falcon” can finally soar. This will be the team that gets in the playoffs if Oklahoma City decides to trade Westbrook or if Houston can’t outscore teams or any of the previous teams on the list has a major injury. It would be nice to have Dirk have one more deep playoff run.

10. Denver Nuggets

Key Additions- None
Key Losses- D.J. Augustin

Outlook- Denver really didn’t do anything this summer besides re-signing Darrell Arthur, Mike Miller and drafting combo Guard Jamal Murray in the NBA Draft. The Nuggets are one of those teams that when you look at the roster, you see a lot of solid NBA players, but there isn’t one of them currently that screams out superstar. That’s why the Nuggets can’t break into the playoff list as of now. Now if they send a few of those solid pieces (Danilo Gallinari, Kenneth Faried and one of the 3 big men they have) for a player like Russell Westbrook or Blake Griffin, then we can talk about meaningful games in April and May.

BTW- Will Barton is extremely fun to watch.

11. Minnesota Timberwolves

Key Addtions- Jordan Hill and Cole Aldrich
Key Losses- Tayshaun Prince

Outlook – This is the most exciting team in the NBA, point-blank. Not Golden State, not Houston and not even Cleveland. Minnesota is the place if you need to watch only one team all of next season. Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins are the franchise building blocks and rookie Kris Dunn could make the Wolves become the 1st team in the NBA’s history to have 3 consecutive Rookie Of The Year winners. No team has a better core under the age of 25 (Wiggins, Towns, Zach LaVine, Shabazz Muhammad, Dunn, Ricky Rubio and Georgi Dieng), than Minnesota. But that is also the reason why I can’t put them in the playoffs just yet. Even though Tom Thibodeau is the brand new head coach and he’s the best defensive coach in the league, it’s going to take one more year before these Pups become Wolves and cause serious damage in the NBA.

12. Sacramento Kings

Key Additions- Aaron Afflalo and Matt Barnes
Key Losses- Rajon Rondo, Marco Belinelli and Quincy Acy

Outlook – The good news is that the Kings have one of the Top 6 players in the entire league in DeMarcus Cousins and he looks slimmer and in great shape playing for Team USA. After that, there isn’t much good news. The bad news is that there isn’t much around Cousins in Sacramento. Rumors are that Rudy Gay wants out and the only solid player they have returning is Darren Collison. They didn’t help themselves in the Draft and Kings fans are still waiting on Willie Cauley-Stein and Ben McLemore to finally live up to their potential. Adding Afflalo and Barnes will provide veteran help and fill the shooting guard and small forward spots, but without a direction for this roster, new coach Dave Joerger will be in for a long year.

13. Phoenix Suns

Key Additions- Leandro Barbosa and Jared Dudley
Key Losses- Jon Leuer and Mirza Teletovic

Outlook – Phoenix has a bunch of players at the same positions and it’s going to be interesting to watch Head coach Earl Watson try to put it all together. They ended up with two top 8 picks in the NBA Draft, but they drafted two guys that play the same position in Dragon Bender and Marquese Chriss. Then they drafted Tyler Ulis making the Suns the only team in the NBA with five or more backcourt players from the same college (Kentucky). They have breakout superstar candidates in Devin Booker and Alex Len as the building blocks of a very good team. Now if they could move either Eric Bledsoe or Brandon Knight to get that wing player they need, could they jump back into the playoffs? Knight and T.J Warren for Rudy Gay sounds really nice doesn’t it?

14. New Orleans Pelicans

Key Additions- Langston Galloway, Solomon Hill and E’Twan Moore
Key Losses- Ryan Anderson, Eric Gordon and James Ennis

Outlook- Normally I would say that a team has an idea and an identity of how they are going be shaped and I don’t really know what the Pelicans are doing? They lost sharpshooters Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon to Houston and replaced them with Hill, Galloway and Moore for about the same amount of money. I’m not sure if that is considered an upgrade or even a swap of similar talent. From the looks of things, unless Tyreke Evans, Jrue Holiday and rookie Buddy Hield can put up All-Star numbers, whatever superstar Anthony Davis does will be for nothing. This could be the worst team in the Western Conference, but Davis alone puts them one spot up from the bottom.

15. Los Angeles Lakers

Key Additions- Luol Deng and Timofey Mozgov
Key Losses- Kobe Bryant, Brandon Bass and Roy Hibbert

Outlook – The Lakers are going to be better than last year which is a good thing. D’Angelo Russell and Jordan Clarkson form a solid 1-2 punch in the backcourt and Julius Randle was a double-double machine last year. They drafted Brandon Ingram with the 2nd overall pick in the NBA Draft and he has all the makings of a franchise player in the next season or two. Now they went out and overspent on Mozgov in hopes that he will return to the 2015 playoff form that he had with the Cavaliers. They are adding pieces and at least they aren’t Brooklyn Nets bad. The good news is the young talent will have a great teacher in new Head coach Luke Walton. Now if they can just not give away all their pieces for Russell Westbrook, then the future will be bright in the City of Angels, but it’s going to take some time.

 

 

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

Check out more from Danny here.
Reprinted with permission.

Featured image courtesy of Vernon Chang @MoVernie

 

 

 


 

NBA Golden State Warriors Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson

NBA Western Conference’s Best Starting Lineups 2016-17

By Danny Thompson, Full Court Press Radio

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

Check out more from Danny here.
Reprinted with permission.

 

 

 



 

NBA Los Angeles Lakers Timofey Mozgov

Buyer’s Remorse Coming Soon After NBA Free Agent Signings

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

Brooklyn Nets

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

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

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

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

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

Washington Wizards

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

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

Houston Rockets

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

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

Orlando Magic

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

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

Los Angeles Lakers

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

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

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

Portland Trail Blazers

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

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

Free Agency Is Always A Little Crazy

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

 

 

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

 

 

 



 

NBA Houston Rockets Dwight Howard

What No One Is Saying About Free Agent Dwight Howard

By Bill Ingram

How times have changed for Dwight Howard. It wasn’t that long ago that he was believed to be the key to winning an NBA championship. He helped lead the Orlando Magic to the NBA Finals in 2009 and appeared to be headed for superstardom and regular appearances in the NBA’s Big Show. Unfortunately, his career hit a snag (or at least a Brendan Haywood elbow) when a back injury caused him to miss a huge chunk of the 2011-12 season. It turned out to be his final season in Orlando.

The Magic built a beautiful, state-of-the-art arena for him, they fired an outstanding head coach for him, and then, sensing his lack of loyalty, they traded him to the Los Angeles Lakers.

Heralded as the next dominant force in LA, another Shaquille O’Neal to pair with Kobe Bryant, Howard would spend just one season with the Lakers. The pressure of playing in LA and the constant pressure from Bryant to work harder and play better seemed too much for Howard, who managed just 17.1 points and 12.4 rebounds per game in a disappointing season for LA, which ended with a 0-4 sweep at the hands of the San Antonio Spurs in the first round of the playoffs.

Despite his struggles, Howard was the biggest name in free agency during the summer of 2013. He talked to a number of the interested teams, but ultimately chose Houston, where Chandler Parsons and James Harden had been heavily recruiting him for months. The Rockets, too, heralded Howard as the championship harbinger, with fans talking about him as the second coming of Hakeem Olajuwon.

Once, again, however, Howard fell short of expectations. It wasn’t entirely his fault, of course, as the Rockets’ dysfunctional front office gave him an unproven head coach in Kevin McHale and shoot-first, shoot-second co-star in James Harden, whose unwillingness to feed Dwight the ball was matched only by his unwillingness to play defense. Howard’s play became every more uninspired, going from 18.3 points per game in his first year to 15.8 in his second and then 13.7 in his third.

So what’s next for Howard? He has the ability to opt out in July, and it’s extremely likely he will do so. Yet no one considers him a top free agent target, with Kevin Durant, LeBron James (also option), Andre Drummond (restricted) and even former Rockets point guard Mike Conley considered to be more desirable. With that in mind, we take a look at the best options for Dwight as he looks to get his career back on track.

1) The Houston Rockets

The first option, of course, is the Rockets, who would like to have him back and can pay him the most money. Mike D’Antoni is now in place as their head coach, and there’s a chance that he could have the same kind of impact on Dwight as he had on Amar’e Stoudemire, who was a force to be reckoned with in D’Antoni’s offense in Phoenix. That’s a stretch, though, as D’Antoni couldn’t squeeze that kind of play out of Dwight when they were both with the Lakers. Of course, there’s still the matter of Harden’s lack of team play, but the bigger issue is at point guard. The Suns had one of the best floor leaders of all time in Steve Nash, and no matter who the Rockets sign or acquire this offseason they will not have a Nash-esque floor leader when the ball goes up on the 2016-17 season. What’s most likely is that Dwight will leave $23.2 million on the table in Houston and take radically less to play elsewhere.

2) The Dallas Mavericks

Mavericks owner Mark Cuban was less than impressed when Howard refused to even meet with the Mavs before singing with the Rockets. A strong argument could be made that the Mavs were closer to competing for a championship with Dwight in the mix than Houston was. The aforementioned Parsons has been in Dallas and still recruiting his friend, as he did in Houston three years ago. More importantly, for Dwight to return to prominence he has to change his game and there is no one better equipped to do that than Mavs head coach Rick Carlisle. No coach in the league is as good at analyzing a player’s strengths and weaknesses and using that analysis to maximize their effectiveness. He would ask a lot of Dwight, both on the court, in practice and in the locker room. He would demand that Dwight put himself second, become a good teammate and transform his game to be more than a dunker. He would demand that Dwight play hard on both ends of the court regardless of his touches. He would also make sure Dwight got plenty of touches in the right places. Like Houston, Dallas offers tax incentives that add to their overall attractiveness for a free agent. The Mavs aren’t contenders with Dwight in the mix, but they are far better than the Rockets would be with D2 back in uniform.

3) The New York Knicks

Most recently the Knicks have emerged as strong suitors for Dwight, and they have a solid case to make. Carmelo is still in his prime and one of the most prolific scorers in the NBA. He isn’t quite as inattentive to the defensive end as Harden, and he is a bit more willing to pass than Houston’s black hole. Derrick Rose is not the player he was before the knee injuries, but he is still a very capable floor leader and would make sure Dwight got plenty of looks right at the rim. Kristaps Pozingis had a stellar season and is reminiscent of the power forwards who benefitted from playing alongside Dwight in Orlando. The Knicks can also bring back elite shooter Arron Afflalo, giving Dwight plenty of options on the perimeter and therefore a little space to operate in the paint. Of course, there are issues in New York, too. If Dwight can’t get his attitude right or get his game back, he would struggle under the media scrutiny that comes from playing in the NBA’s largest media market. If Rose continues to struggle, the Knicks can’t just rely on Dwight or Carmelo to carry them. Finally, if Carmelo doesn’t play enough defense or pass enough for Dwight, their locker room will implode. It’s not a perfect fit, but there is interesting potential in New York.

At the end of the day, for Dwight to get his game back on track and return to the ranks of the NBA’s elite, he’s going to have to put his ego aside and start fresh. It’s going to take the right environment, the right coach, the right co-stars for that to happen, and the one place where all of those factors exist is in Dallas. The Mavs have had trouble landing their free agent targets, but there are plenty of reasons why they should land this one. It’s not a championship waiting to happen, but there are enough intangibles to make Dallas worth watching with D12 in the mix.

 

 

Bill IngramVeteran NBA journalist Bill Ingram has 14 years of experience in the public education setting, specializing in behavior management, and 17 years of experience covering the NBA.

(Reposted with permission from More Than Basketball)

 

 

 



 

NBA Houston Rockets Dwight Howard and James Harden

Rockets Are An Uncomfortable Team For Raptors To Play

The tandem of James Harden and Dwight Howard make the Houston Rockets an uncomfortable team to play for the Toronto Raptors and despite the Rockets underachieving season, they defeated the Raptors in Toronto 113-107 a couple of weeks ago.

“It is definitely a tough match-up,” Luis Scola said at shootaround. “This is a team that is uncomfortable for everybody to play. They play very uptempo. They shoot a lot of threes. They got two players that are very different, very special. Harden was an MVP candidate last year. He plays in a very particular way trying to go to the line all the time and very effective in all of the things that he does. Then Howard (is) a big center.”

Over his career Harden has averaged 24.3 points, 6.2 assists and gotten to the free throw line 10.3 times against Toronto. He is as dangerous an offensive player as the Raptors are likely to see. All Howard has done to Toronto in 12 seasons is average 21.1 points, 11.8 rebounds and 2 blocked shots. The big center may not be as dominant as he once was, but he can still cause a lot of problems in the paint.

In their last meeting Harden went off for 40 points, 14 assists and took 19 free throws. Howard got his Raptors average 21 points, 11 rebounds and 2 blocks.

“(Harden) also had 14 assists (last time). You can’t let him have both,” head coach Dwane Casey said at shootaround. “(It’s) one or the other. He’s going to score. He is one of the top scorers in the the league, but you can’t let him have his points and then set people up for lob dunks – they had six lob dunks – lose people in transition, he found those, so that’s what you can’t do is give him both and that’s what we got to eliminate is one or the other. Either take him out totally or make sure we stay at home with the other shooters and scorers and not let him have 14 assists.

“The key is containing the ball, staying matched up in transition. A lot of their threes came in transition, so by halfcourt you got to know who you are guarding.”

The Rockets were 13-29 from three-point range in Toronto and that is taking “uncomfortable” to an unacceptable level.

Houston is on a three-game losing streak having dropped games to the Hawks, Thunder and Jazz and have split their last 10 games 5-5 to allow Utah to tie them for the last playoff spot in the West.

The Raptors are in a battle for first in the East, trailing the Cavaliers by just one game in the loss column.

Defense, or more accurately a complete lack of defensive focus is Houston’s problem. They are the fourth highest scoring team in the Association at 105.9 points per game. Unfortunately, they are the 28th ranked team in opponent’s scoring, giving up 106.8 points. The Raptors will be able to get anything they want at the offensive end of the court. All Toronto should have to do is hold the Rockets to their season average in scoring and the Raptors should walk out of the Toyota Center with a victory.

 

 

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

 

 

 


NBA Houston Rockets Dwight Howard and James Harden

Houston Rockets Haven’t Thrown In The Towel Yet

By Frank McLean

This is not what the Houston Rockets had in mind when the regular season started way back around the end of October.

Coming off a playoff run that saw the Rockets make it all the way to the Western Conference Final against the eventual NBA champion Golden State Warriors, great things were expected for 2015-16.

But things fell off the rails fast.

They started the season 4-7 and as a result they fired head coach Kevin McHale only to replace him with his assistant JB Bickerstaff.

Forward Donatas Motiejunas missed the first 20 games with lower back pain and then he missed another 15 games in January with the same back problem. Observers of the Rockets will tell you his absence hurt the team during the first half of the season.

One other thing that put the Rockets behind the eight ball was a trade with the Denver Nuggets in the summer where the Rockets gave up four players and a 2016 lottery protected pick and cash for Ty Lawson and Denver’s second round pick in 2017.

Lawson didn’t fit in with the Rockets who ended up placing him on waivers in March.

Sunday night when the Rockets visited Toronto and came back from a 10 point half time deficit, you saw a Rockets team that is not ready to throw in the towel. They are hell bent to make it to the playoffs and make a decent run.

History shows that teams with a low seeding can win a championship in the NBA, the Rockets won a Larry O’Brien trophy as a sixth seed once.

“You got to get hot at the right time,” said Rockets forward Corey Brewer. “I played in Dallas and we won a championship as a seventh seed. It’s all about getting hot at the right time. Now we got to start playing our best basketball. It hasn’t been the year we wanted to have but we still can get there.”

JB Bickerstaff told his team after the All-Star break that it was a new season and a fresh start. After Sunday’s win in Toronto they are 4-4 since the break and are sitting at 31-32 in the eighth and last playoff spot in the West, a game and a half up on a tough Utah Jazz squad.

“There is a lot of games left,” Bickerstaff said. “We have got to take advantage of opportunities. We can’t keep letting opportunities slip past us.

“Every game is a new challenge. Utah is a good team and they are capable of running off a few games in a row so if we can put a string of wins together we can hang on to the eighth spot that’s our focus right now.”

One thing that Bickerstaff will tell you is that they have beaten some of the best teams in the NBA. You can add Toronto to list of wins against the LA Clippers, Oklahoma City, Portland and San Antonio. The Rockets believe they can compete with the best. Coming into Toronto and rubbing out an 18 point deficit in the fourth quarter against a team that had won 12 straight in their home court shows that.

“20 games here and it’s all about the wins,” Rockets guard James Harden said after the Toronto win.

“One game at a time,” said center Dwight Howard. “One step at a time and go from there. Be consistent with our effort. Play consistently and string some wins together.”

What made the win so special for the Rockets was that they didn’t get into their Toronto hotel room until four am. They had lost a tough one in Chicago the night before 108-100 and this was just another set of an NBA high 22 back-to-back games they have on their schedule.

They found a way down 10 points at half time and snuck out with a six point win.

If they hang on to the eighth spot, their opponent in the first round of the playoffs will be either Golden State or San Antonio, but with all that has happened this season don’t tell these Rockets they can’t win in the playoffs. From the way they are playing right now, they are not ready to throw in the towel yet.

 

 

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

 

 

 

NBA Atlanta Hawks Al Horford Paul Millsap & Jeff Teague

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

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

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

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

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

Interesting deals that happened last year,

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

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

 

 

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

 

 

 

NBA Houston Rockets Dwight HowardNBA Trade Deadline Teams Motivated By Money

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