Tag Archives: Serge Ibaka

You are here: Home / Archive
NBA Toronto Raptors Serge Ibaka

Raptors Have An Old Fashioned Enforcer In Serge Ibaka

Basketball might look like a non-contact sport to the uninitiated and basketball fights more often resemble rough horse-play than anything else, but intimidation can be very real in the NBA and toughness is still a valuable and necessary commodity. While the Raptors have toughness in players like Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet and Jonas Valanciunas, they have an old fashioned enforcer in Serge Ibaka.

“It is very important when you are a team where you think you want a championship one day or you are a team with an opportunity to go far in the playoffs, you have to have toughness,” Ibaka told Pro Bball Report. “You have to because in the playoffs things get ugly, things get tough, that’s why you need toughness.”

Ibaka has only been with the Raptors since last year’s trade deadline, but he’s already been in two fights where, gasp, real punches have been thrown in anger. Ibaka was ejected last season in March for exchanging blows with the Bulls Robin Lopez and this season in January for throwing punches with James Johnson of the Heat.

“It’s good,” Fred VanVleet explained to Pro Bball Report. “You want to have a tough guy quote en quote or enforcer and Serge has kind of taken that on himself to do that. Obviously we’d like him to save his money sometimes, but sometimes it’s needed and he kind of walks that line of when it’s needed and when it’s not.”

“It’s important in the league where we are now, people oughta to know, because people like to attack the weak(er) people,” Ibaka said. “If they know this guy’s nice or he’s weak, they are always going to come (after) you. (You need) a guy out there who if you go after (a teammate), he’s going to respond and that gives you a better chance for people to respect you out there.

“On a team you always need someone like that who is going to be there for his teammates, stand up for his teammates.”

The three-time NBA All-Defensive First Team player from 2011-2014 who led the NBA in blocks from 2010-2014 has seen his game evolve under the pressure for big men to hit the three-ball, but he still likes to mix things up in the paint.

“He does way more than just try to be an enforcer out there and you saw that tonight with his shooting, spacing the floor and obviously his defense that we depend on him for,” VanVleet said.

With three games remaining in the regular season, Ibaka is second on the Raptors in blocks with 94, rebounds with 469, and, perhaps unsurprisingly, in personal fouls with 203. But as VanVleet wants us to remember, Ibaka is third on the Raptors in scoring at 12.8 points per game, fourth with 106 made threes while shooting a respectable 35.9 percent and fourth with 372 made field goals shooting a solid 48.4 percent.

Ibaka has evolved to become more than just a paint-bound player, defensive specialist and sometime enforcer and the media adverse big man would like people to know he’s not the same guy off the court that you see treading line between toughness and hot head on the court.

“It’s hard because people really don’t know (me). They think this is how you are,” Ibaka said. “Sometimes people off the court they can’t look at (me) differently. That’s the hard part. You don’t want people to think about you off the court like that.”

 

 

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

 Featured image courtesy of Larry Millson

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors win no 57

Raptors Crush Pacers To Secure First Place In The East

The Toronto Raptors built an 18-4 lead before the visiting Pacers knew what hit them as they held visitors to 5 points below their previous worst this season of 38 at the half and 10 points below their prior low of 83 for a game this year as Toronto cruised to a new franchise record for wins in a season at 57 and secured first place in the Eastern Conference with the 92-73 win.

The Pacers couldn’t buy a bucket all game as no one in the starting lineup made more than two field goals and Indiana shot a season low 29.9 percent as a team.

“(The Raptors) defense has been solid, there offense has picked up. They have put together a bench that is playing very well,” said Pacers head coach Nate McMillan prior to the game. “They have put themselves into a position to have this kind of success.”

The Raptors defensive-minded power forward Serge Ibaka was red hot from the start, scoring 10 first quarter points and finishing with a season-high 25 points on 10-13 shooting while matching his career best of five made three-pointers. No one else scored more than 12 points on either team.

“(Ibaka) is a weapon,” head coach Dwane Casey said. “He has developed that like a lot of players that go through the league. They develop the offensive end. He is a definite three-point shooter.”

The victory also established a new franchise record for wins at home (33) with one home game remaining against Orlando on Sunday.

DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry played 28 minutes each and finished 12/5/8 and 9/5/9 respectively as Casey didn’t have to rely on his All-Stars to get the job done on this night.

“There is a sense of gratification of watching the growth of the program,” Casey said. “(The) development of the program from scratch and building it to the number one seed in our conference.”

However, Casey is thinking about the start of the playoffs a week from now and, unlike some other coaches, is more worried about keeping his guys ready to play than giving them any significant time off.

“That’s bull crap,” Casey said about resting guys. “We may give a guy some time, but we can’t think rest, we got to think rhythm. If you’ve been around the last couple of years, you’ve seen what shutting guys down a few games does to your body. We may rest a guy maybe a few minutes or a game, but there won’t be anybody who is going to take the rest of these next three games off because we just now in these last couple of games got a sense of rhythm.”

The Raptors don’t want to face another slow start in the first round of the playoffs.

On another note, the Raptors affiliate, Raptors 905, defeated the Erie BayHawks in the G League Eastern Conference Final 118-106 led by two-way contract player Lorenzo Brown with a game-high 28 points. The 905 will head to Austin, Texas to defend their G League Title on Sunday April 8th at 7:00 p.m. Game Two will be at the Hersey Centre in Mississauga on April 10th with Game Three, if necessary, back in Austin on April 13th.

 

 

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 Lucas Nogueira and Jonas Valanciunas

16 Blocks Shows Why The Raptors Will Be A Force In The Playoffs

The Raptors blocked a season high 16 shots in their 114-110 win over a desperate Nuggets team still clinging to the hope of a playoff berth and reminded everyone Toronto is still a top five defensive team.

The Raptors block the second most shots per game of any team in the NBA at 6.1 and they do it as a collective. No one on the Raptors is in the top 15 for blocked shots this season, even though Serge Ibaka leads the team at 1.3 blocks. It’s guys like Lucas Nogueria who blocks an insane 8.7 percent of opponents’ two-points attempts in the very limited minutes that he is on the floor. The surprising Jakob Poeltl who already has 96 blocks this season, and even the guards chip in. Backup Delon Wright at half a block per game is sixth in the NBA among point guards.

In the game against the Nuggets, Ibaka, Jonas Valanciunas and Kyle Lowry, the starting point guard, had four blocks each. Nogueira had three blocks in seven minutes. Poeltl blocked one shot.

With no obvious dominant shot blocker in the regular rotation, Toronto has the ability to make any opponent’s attempt at the rim an adventure as they’ve swatted away 460 shots this season – and the season isn’t over yet.

The recipe for success in today’s NBA has been to shoot threes or layups and relegate the midrange to a distant third choice and it’s a change the Raptors finally embraced this season. After finishing last season as a bottom 10 team in three-point attempts and makes, this year they are third in both categories.

However, in what may be an even more difficult feat to accomplish in today’s three-ball happy NBA, the Raptors lead the Association in allowing the fewest three-point attempts (25) and makes (9). No where was this feat made more evident than when the Raptors held the NBA’s more prolific three point takers (42.5) and makers (15.5) the Houston Rockets to 9-27 from three in the Raptors 108-105 win on March 9th. It was the only setback the NBA’s first place overall team has faced in their past 28 contests.

The Eastern Conference’s first place Raptors have alternated wins and loses since their 11 game winning streak was snapped by the Thunder 10 days ago as the team has looked like what can only be described as tired. However, they have three full days off before their next tilt against a surging but injury riddled Celtics team in Boston.

After Boston the Raptors re-visit the Cavs who outscored them 132-129 a week ago and then play the Celtics at the Air Canada Center where the crushed the Cs 111-91 in February. These games will test Toronto’s ability to ramp up their vaunted three-point and rim defense against the best the East has to offer and show they will be a force in the playoffs this year.

 

 

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 Raptors Serge Ibaka and Cavaliers Isaiah Thomas

The NBA Shows Its Disrespect For Toronto Yet Again

So the Toronto Raptors Serge Ibaka gets a one game suspension for almost fighting and the Cleveland Cavaliers repeat offender Isaiah Thomas just gets fined for actually decking Andrew Wiggins with a vicious hit to the throat. But no one should actually be surprised. That’s just the usual lack of respect the NBA shows for its only team not in the USA and the overt favoritism towards certain other clubs.

Both Serge Ibaka and James Johnson got suspended for one game each after being ejected for nearly fighting in a game at the Air Canada Centre on Tuesday night. Both players threw what could be viewed as “hostile” elbows in a heated pushing match that, as usual in the NBA, never actually evolved into a fight.

While almost fighting in the NBA is risking a suspension and the punishment isn’t all that usual, Ibaka’s been in fake fights before,  but it’s hard to ignore the kid gloves treatment the league office chose to use in Thomas’ case.

This isn’t the first time Thomas lost his temper and tried to take the head off his unsuspecting opponent. As reported by A. Sherrod Blakely in NBC Sports Boston in April 2016, he’s done this before.

The Celtics got a bit of good news on Saturday with the NBA deciding to not suspend Isaiah Thomas for his first quarter run-in with Atlanta’s Dennis Schroder in Boston’s 111-103 Game 3 win on Friday night.

“I knew what I did,” said Thomas who added that he had not spoken with any league officials regarding the incident. “A slower version would like I looked at him and tried to hit him. If I tried to hit somebody I would have hit them.”

Replays showed Thomas connecting with Schroder’s head while running up the court.

After the play, Thomas had to be restrained by teammate Jared Sullinger.

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Shame on the NBA for buying into Thomas hitting an unsuspecting opponent in the head with what should be called a punch an accident for a second time.

Ejected for the fourth time in his career, Thomas showed no remorse and denied doing anything wrong. Tell it to the video!

Thomas said after the game that it was inadvertent and that he was going for a steal. – ESPN

No one in Toronto really wants to believe the NBA uses a double standard when it comes to Toronto, but the examples just keep on coming.

On Thursday when the Cavaliers visit Toronto for the teams first tilt of the season, Thomas will be in the lineup and Ibaka will be in street clothes and the NBA doesn’t see anything wrong with that.

 

 

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 Pascal Siakam

Is Raptors Pascal Siakam Better Than A NY Unicorn?

The Raptors second year forward Pascal Siakam was pressed into the starting lineup against the New York Knicks on Friday night in Toronto when Serge Ibaka was forced to rest a swollen knee, but the NY unicorn Kristaps Porzingis wasn’t exactly catching a break because the Raptors veteran missed the game. Siakam owned his more highly touted opponent all night on both ends of the court and just maybe it shouldn’t have come as such a surprise.

Playing head-to-head for 31 minutes Siakam got up into Porzingis’ space to hold him to 2-11 shooting and a minus 9 points with three turnovers. It was no contest. Siakam leaving his opponent in the dust on fast breaks and drives to the hoop to shoot 6-11 himself in addition to dishing 4 dimes.

On this night at least Siakam was a lot more impressive than NY’s unicorn and that’s something going up against a player who’s averaging almost 28 points per game.

After the game Porzingis admitted Siakam was giving him trouble per ESPN

“He’s long and he was able to stab at the ball pretty good when I was playing in the post,” Porzingis said.

“As the game went on, we still were struggling finding our rhythm and finding the best positions to attack from. It was just a rough night for us.”

“I thought he did as good a job as you can do against Porzingis, who is a very dynamic offensive player,” Casey said.

At the start of the season Siakam was the odd man out in head coach Dwane Casey’s rotation as the Raptors had too many forwards and not enough minutes to go around. However, injuries got him three quick starts in a row and the second year forward performed so well that Casey has created minutes for him ever since.

In his four starts coming against the Warriors, Lakers, Trail Blazers and Knicks, Siakam has averaged 14.3 points on 66.7 percent shooting from the field, 4 rebounds, 2.3 assists, a block and 1.3 steals and the Raptors have been a +7 points with him on the court. He hasn’t been making decisions about playing time easy on Casey as his regulars return to the lineup.

The Raptors selected Siakam 27th overall in 2016. It’s starting to look like president Masai Ujiri has found the Raptors another overlooked and underrated gem in the draft.

 

 

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, Serge Ibaka and C.J. Miles

Myth American Athletes Pay More Tax In Toronto Could Come True

It wasn’t all that long ago Crowe Soberman (actual tax experts) blew away the myth American athletes pay more tax in Toronto than their counterparts playing in the United States. At least it wasn’t true in the major markets located in New York and California where players paid virtually the same as in Toronto despite the uneducated bleating from some of the talking heads in the US and Canadian sports media. Unfortunately things never stay the same and recently things have gotten worse for all high income earners in We The North.

Co-leaders in the Sports and Entertainment Group Adam Scherer and Jeffrey Steinberg updated the Crowe Soberman articles of a couple of years ago to reflect the changes.

For starters, the Prime Minister of Canada has wielded his tax sword and raised rates in Canada by 4%.

Canada’s top rate of tax of 53.5% versus 39.6% (US) Federal, plus state

From a tax perspective, states with no income tax (i.e., Texas) will yield the lowest overall tax result

Playing in Ontario is now the worst

followed closely by California

It sounds bad, but on closer inspection, despite the significant change in Canadian tax rates, things haven’t really got all that much worse yet.

If one follows the rationale provided by the tax experts in some detail and then skips to numbers provided as there is no way someone who isn’t expert in these matters will have a chance at actually doing it themselves, it has only gotten slightly worse for those athletes playing north of the border.

Playing in California (and by inference New York), American athletes will only cough up about one percent less in taxes than Toronto. While one percent can represent hundreds of thousands of dollars to a big NBA star like say the Raptors Kyle Lowry or DeMar DeRozan, it isn’t going to affect their decision about where to play.

The bigger savings are in the tax free states such as Florida or Texas which can cut about four percent off the taxes of a Toronto player in Crowe Soberman’s example. That’s over a million dollars a year for player like Lowry or DeRozan and it’s possible that would be enough to get some stars to change their minds about where to play.

The good news for fans in Toronto is players are still, for the most part, picking where they want to go based on winning, ownership, coaching, and lifestyle. Players continue to give up money for other factors all the time. Remember, it costs a lot more in tax to play in California over Texas and the Warriors aren’t exactly having any trouble getting the biggest names in their sport to re-up or switch teams to play there.

However, there remains a dark tax cloud on the northern horizon as Scherer and Steinberg point out.

cuts to Medicare and personal tax rates seem to be (US President Donald Trump’s) personal goal

So far Trump hasn’t been able to get out of his own way during his first year in office and that’s good news for Toronto’s professional sports franchises, but that isn’t something teams can count on over the rest of his first term. A significant cut to the top US personal tax rate could change a slight disadvantage into a significant problem, so as usual, Canada’s neighbor to the south could turn a myth into a reality overnight.

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Serge Ibaka

Can Raptors Serge Ibaka Finally Get An All-Star Nod?

The Raptors Serge Ibaka is the model for an ideal modern big man in today’s NBA. A 6’10 three-time All-Defensive First Team player that can effectively stretch the floor, guard the three-point line, score in the post and protect the rim with the best in the Association. So is this the year he can finally get recognized with an All-Star nod?

Over his career Ibaka has put up enough points to be the second/third scoring option on a good team and in the changing NBA game, he has a real chance to put up big numbers in the depleted Eastern Conference with the Toronto Raptors.

It helps a lot that most of last year’s Eastern Conference All-Star forwards aren’t going to be around.

Former Bulls All-Star Jimmy Butler is playing in Minnesota. Pacers superstar Paul George will be balling out with the Thunder. Paul Millsap has departed Atlanta and headed west to Denver. And the Knicks Carmelo Anthony is working really hard to get moved to Houston this season and has probably suffered enough damage to his image to make an 11th All-Star nod unlikely anyway.

Only three of the East’s All-Star forwards are expected back and only the West’s All-Star Gordon Hayward has come East, so there’s four or five open spots and Ibaka is a solid contender if not a lock for one of them.

Raptors president Masai Ujiri wanted Ibaka badly at the start of last season, but in a move that no one understood he was massively outbid by then Magic general manager Rob Hennigan’s career ending gamble to overload Orlando with defensive-minded power forward/centers and it might have cost Ibaka his first real chance to be an All-Star.

Ujiri was eventually able to get his man at his price at the NBA trade deadline and although he couldn’t have known it at the time, the acquisition helped keep Toronto a top three seed in the Eastern Conference despite the unanticipated loss of Kyle Lowry to injury for 20 games.

While Ibaka was an outstanding regular season addition to the Raptors on offense and defense and Ujiri was able to get him to re-up this summer for three more seasons, Ibaka wasn’t about to rest on his laurels or his guaranteed $65 million three-year deal.

“For the first time I am spending my summer working on my defensive game,” Ibaka responded to Pro Bball Report. “Of course working on offense too, in the summer working on my shot, my three-point shot and working on my post game, but I am focused working on my defense.

“It’s just the way the game is played now. I am working on guarding one, two, three, four, five. (That’s what) I am focused on this summer.”

For Ibaka to earn his first All-Star honors, Toronto has to get back to being a top 10 offensive and defensive club and based his 23 regular season games with the Raptors last season, he is just the player needed to make that happen.

It appears most of the people that follow the NBA have already forgotten that the Raptors were on a 56-win pace in the first half of last season with rookie Pascal Siakam in the starting lineup. The improvement next season with Ibaka starting instead of Siakam will be dramatic and dramatic is what gets a player into the All-Star Game.

Even with the high powered offense of Lowry and DeRozan plus veterans DeMarre Carroll and Jonas Valanciunas, the Raptors starting unit was a net minus 2.9 points with Siakam in the group. It wasn’t his fault, the rookie wasn’t supposed to start, but Ujiri had a team full of young players so when his free agent stop-gap Jared Sullinger broke a foot, Siakam was pressed into the rotation ready or not.

Ibaka is the leading active player in blocks per game per basketball-reference.com and last season he was second (39.1%) only to Channing Frye (40.9%) among the East’s power forwards and centers in three-point shooting percentage. He was sixth in three-pointers made in this group.

Ibaka got up the most three-point shots per game (4.5) of his career with the Raptors last season and that will be a focus with the team next year. He will also get to spend more time playing center in small ball lineups which should give him more opportunities to protect the rim.

This season head coach Dwane Casey will have the option to start the better three-point shooting C.J. Miles or the up-and-coming Norman Powell in the place of the disappointing Carroll as well as Ibaka instead of Siakam, so the expectations from his starting unit will be high. The expectations from Ibaka will be the highest of his career and the competition for that All-Star forward spot may never be this thin again.

  

 

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

 Featured image courtesy of Larry Millson

 

 

 

 

#NBA Toronto Raptors Kyle Lowry DeMar DeRozan CJ Miles Serge Ibaka

Are We Underestimating The Toronto Raptors Again?

Coming off back-to-back 50-plus win seasons and in an Eastern Conference that’s bleeding talent West, is everyone underestimating the stand pat Toronto Raptors again?

The Raptors will head into the 2017-18 NBA season with their All-Star core of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan intact, but with no outside huge free agent signings or trades bringing in new big time talent, this team has gotten a collective yawn for what they’ve done in July.

There’s no argument here about the less than exciting off season in Toronto. The big news has been Lowry didn’t bolt for the West with everyone else and Serge Ibaka really did want to come to Toronto as reported at the trade deadline in February.

Their other trade deadline acquisition, P.J. Tucker, we hardly got to know you, opted for Houston early in free agency and president Masai Ujiri didn’t even try to re-sign the defensively talented but offensively frustrating Patrick Patterson. Important role players to be sure, but hardly irreplaceable and the lack of off season excitement continued.

The addition of a real three-point threat in veteran wing/forward C.J. Miles was a solid acquisition, but not a star.

Ujiri’s summer has been all about getting below the Luxury Tax threshold while trying not to take a step backwards and in that narrow context, no one is arguing with the result, but in the disappointment of not trying to make the team dramatically better by spending more, did Ujiri succeed in putting together a roster that is better than last season?

In short, painfully, yes.

Two of Ujiri’s biggest off season moves were salary dumps.

  1. DeMarre Carroll, don’t let the door hit you on the way out, took two draft picks to get the Nets to take him and,
  2. Cory Joseph, who’ll be missed mostly because he’s a nice Canadian kid who everyone liked.

These moves cleared the space below the luxury tax threshold to sign the Pacers very solid three-point shooting veteran free agent Miles and make no mistake, Miles at forward will be light-years ahead of what Carroll gave the team over the past two seasons.

Small forward and backup point guard

Carroll: 72 games, 26.1 minutes, 8.9 points, 3.8 rebounds, 4.4 three-point attempts per game at 34.1 percent and a whole lot of missed or poorly played games due to injury. “3-and-D” was more like iffy D and no 3 as the expensive forward rehabbed as he played.

Miles: 76 games, 23.4 minutes,10.7 points, 3 rebounds, 5.4 three-point attempts per game at 41.3 percent. An overall better journeyman forward at half the price of Carroll. The Raptors finally have a player that’s among the NBA’s best at the corner three-ball.

At backup point guard, it was just time to let the young guys move up a step by sending Joseph to another team,

NBA Toronto Raptors backup PG stats 2016-17

Joseph’s only faults were he made more money than either Delon Wright or Fred VanVleet and while the two guys playing behind him were getting better, Joseph hadn’t really improved since being signed two summers ago.

It’s not for sure, but the Raptors are probably a better team with Wright backing up Lowry.

Power forward

It’s easy to forget Ibaka was only part of the Raptors for 23 regular season games and Lowry was injured for almost all of them. The full impact of having Ibaka on the roster has yet to be seen.

It’s also easy to forget that the Raptors played most of last season without the power forward a 50-win team should have in their starting lineup. Rookie Pascal Siakam undoubtedly got a lot out of starting 38 games for the Raptors, but substituting in Ibaka is like an order of magnitude improvement.

The Raptors went 16-7 in the regular season with Ibaka and Lowry just trying to play himself back into shape over his last three games. The record says a lot about what Ibaka added to his new team. The likelihood of Toronto having a 50-win season without Lowry for a month and a half wasn’t very good.

Center

The move that didn’t happen was the departure of Jonas Valanciunas. In a league moving away from traditional centers, it’s still important to have one just in case you need an answer to a player like the Bucks Greg Monroe.

Valanciunas may or may not ever fully adapt to the changing ways in the NBA, but as he showed in the Milwaukee series, when you need a big traditional center, you had better have one.

Heading into his sixth NBA season, Valanciunas can probably average a double-double in 24 minutes as a starter or a reserve, so while he’s likely still an available trade piece, Ujiri isn’t about to just give him away.

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

“We are not trying to give JV away.”

The Rest?

Maybe everyone just forgot? But last year the Raptors had seven guys on rookie deals and the veteran Ujiri signed for depth (as a starter), Jared Sullinger, effectively ended his season before it started with a broken foot. Proven depth was almost nonexistent for the 51-win Raptors.

This year Ujiri could have 10 guys on rookie deals, but,

  1. Lucas Nogueira is in his fourth season and played in 57 games last year.
  2. Norman Powell is in his third season and will be fighting for a deserved spot in the starting rotation. He’s not a rookie or just a “young guy” anymore.
  3. Wright looks ready to takeover at backup point guard. In fact, he looked ready last year.
  4. Jakob Poeltl deserves more run, but as long as JV is around, there aren’t many minutes.
  5. It’s possible the NBA G League Finals MVP Pascal Siakam took a big step over the summer. He’s played in 55 NBA games and seems to have the potential to stick around long term.
  6. As is often the case, there is some excitement over new rookie OG Anunoby, but predicting what you’ll get out of any rookie is a crap shoot.

The Raptors are deeper than last year because the young players from last year gained some real experience and are expected to be better.

As Basketball Insiders 

While the Celtics added the top available free agent and the Cavaliers appear to be unraveling at the seams, the ever-reliable Raptors just kept things exactly the same.
All in all, the recapture of Lowry and Ibaka likely won’t lead to an NBA Finals appearance anytime soon, but it’s a strong indication that the franchise’s newfound success will continue until further notice.

Unless the Cavs implode, no other team in the NBA East including the Celtics will be given a shot at making an NBA Finals appearance, so it’s hard to argue with 

 

 

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

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Serge Ibaka

Serge Ibaka Returns To The Raptors

After the Magic traded Serge Ibaka to the Raptors at the trade deadline, it came out that Toronto was the only destination the big man had indicated he would re-sign with next summer and apparently he will. Adrian Wojnarowski reports Ibaka has agreed to a team friendly three year $65 million deal.

If anyone is still wondering why a deal with Kyle Lowry hasn’t been put to bed yet, look no further than the number of years Ibaka got.

President Masai Ujiri did get a very favorable deal with Ibaka.

 

 

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

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Serge Ibaka and Masai Ujiri and Kyle Lowry

Canada Day Is A Referendum On The Raptors

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Kyle Lowry and P.J. Tucker and Serge Ibaka

Six Things The Raptors Should Do This Summer

The Toronto Raptors have won over 50 games in back-to-back seasons for the first time in franchise history and both times they were easily eliminated in the playoffs by the Cleveland Cavaliers. Everyone is predicting another Cavs – Dubs rematch in the NBA Finals again next year, so, in that light, what are six things the Raptor should be doing this summer?

President Masai Ujiri says the goal is to get past the Cavs and win an NBA championship, but to be blunt, every NBA GM says they want to win a championship and almost none of them have any reasonable expectation of accomplishing it next season or even in the foreseeable future.

By any historical measure, Toronto has nothing to be upset about. This team has succeeded on the court while Ujiri has handicapped his head coach with quite literally half a roster of inexperienced, inexpensive players under development. The building is sold out and the organization is raking in the cash from 16 home playoff dates over the past two postseason runs. But for injury, the Raptors could have easily set a fourth consecutive record for franchise wins in a season last year.

This summer will be different. The team has four key unrestricted free agents that they should have no trouble hanging onto if Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment (MLSE) will open their checkbook, but that would end the days of modest payroll and huge profits. What the Raptors should do for their fans and will do for their corporate masters may not be on the same page.

1. Re-sign Kyle Lowry (31-years-old), unrestricted free agent

Everything this summer for the Raptors revolves around re-signing Lowry. If Ujiri screws this up, the rest of free agency will quickly circle the drain.

The Raptors need to get the best deal possible and hopefully that’s in the order of four years and $120 million, but if if takes five years and $150 million plus to get it done, well, it’s time the Raptors started spending some of that money they’ve made off of their loyal fans.

2. Re-sign Serge Ibaka (28) and P.J. Tucker (32), unrestricted free agents

Ujiri said he traded for these two players at the trade deadline in February in order to get their Bird Rights. Well the only reason you need a player’s Bird Rights in free agency is so you can go over the salary cap to re-sign them, so get it done.

This is no time to cheap out. Ibaka wants to be in Toronto, but he isn’t going to take a below market deal, so offer Ibaka five years and $100 million. Tucker said he was looking for fit in his next contract and Lowry would be a big factor in determining that, but he’s 32-years-old, offer Tucker three years and $25 million and be prepared to go higher.

Failure to re-sign Ibaka and Tucker means Ujiri gave away a young three-point shooter in Terrence Ross, a first round draft pick and two second round draft picks for nothing.

3. See what the market says UFA Patrick Patterson’s (28) value is

Over the past four years the Raptors have played better as a team with Patterson on the court, but he has proven to be an unreliable offensive threat who seems to get hurt at the worst time and his limited offense takes a holiday after returning from injury.

Patterson didn’t do himself any favors in the playoffs over the past two seasons either as this career average 36.8 percent three-point shooter fired 30.2 percent from deep over his last 30 postseason games.

From a Raptors perspective, it would be nice to re-sign Patterson to another cheap three-year deal to continue coming off the bench, but like Bismack Biyombo last summer, expect Patterson to get paid a lot more elsewhere than he’s worth to Toronto.

Get ready to say bye-bye to a great guy in July.

4. Trade DeMarre Carroll

Despite not living up to some very high expectations or his contract, Carroll has done nothing wrong in Toronto and it’s likely his knee will finally be 100 percent and he’ll return to being an effective ‘3-and-D’ combo forward next season.

It’s just, at 31-years-old in July, after two disappointing seasons in Toronto, he’s in the way of younger players and it’s time to move on and potentially help a different (younger?) team that needs what he should still be able to bring to the table.

Ujiri can’t expect much back and he might have to include him in a larger deal just to move him. However, the Luxury tax savings alone should make a trade for nothing back worthwhile from a corporate standpoint. From a team standpoint, he should be able to do a little better.

5. Trade Jonas Valanciunas

Valanciunas can probably improve his jump shooting dramatically and within a couple of years become that trailing three-point threat on the fast break who is left wide open. However, he’ll never be decent runner and his lack of quickness will continue to challenge him when guarding on the perimeter.

Given 30 minutes a night, JV can almost guarantee a double-double average, so he should have solid trade value as one of the top rebounders in the NBA on a percentage basis and a still improving player on offense.

Unfortunately for Valanciunas, if the rookie Jakob Poeltl continues improve over the summer and Ibaka is re-signed, Poeltl should be able to just take JV’s minutes at a much lower cost.

To fit with the direction Ujiri seems to be taking this team, he needs to get back a more mobile big man with a better jump shot or a solid ‘3-and-D’ forward.

6. Reduce The Number Of Prospects On The 15 Man Roster

While there should be no objection to Ujiri drafting the injured small forward OG Anunoby with the 23rd pick in June, there should be huge concerns about heading into the 2017-18 season with eight players still on their rookie deals.

Of those eight players,

As the most sure-fire young player on the Raptors, Norman Powell is ready to take on a much bigger role this season. Depending on what other moves Ujiri makes this summer, Powell could be starting. He’s earned it.

Jacob Poeltl needs a spot in the rotation somewhere as he is far too good to get anything out of being sent back to the Raptors 905.

Ujiri needs to decide if it’s going to be Delon Wright or Fred VanVleet assuming the third string point guard duties next season. Both are promising young players, but he needs that roster spot to improve the team’s depth elsewhere. So, pick one.

Between Bruno Caboclo, Pascal Siakam, Lucas Nogueira and Anunoby, Ujiri needs to start making decisions about who he believes in and who he is just hanging on to out of hope. At least one of these guys should be available in trade to make room for a more NBA ready player or just simply to grease a trade.

The Raptors have two new quasi-roster spots available (total 17) on two-way deals this season that don’t count against the salary cap. Use them and get the prospects on the 15-man roster down to a more manageable number.

Conclusion

The Raptors need to follow the plan Ujiri created when he traded for Ibaka and Tucker at the trade deadline this past season. Everything follows from there.

Whether the roster Ujiri manages to put together will be good enough to get past the Cavs or not, Raptors fans deserve the best team possible, even if that squeezes MLSE’s profits.

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Kyle Lowry and P.J. Tucker and Serge Ibaka

Raptors Should Be Judged By Luxury Taxes In 2018

Whether or not a team in the NBA East is serious about being an NBA Finalist will be judged by Luxury Taxes next season and the Toronto Raptors are not an exception. A willingness to pay the tax has been a long standing test of the resolve to win in Toronto and and elsewhere, and it’s a test that has left the fans wanting most of the time.

The Cavaliers are already committed to being a tax team next season with seven open roster spots still to fill in the summer. As much as the Cavaliers are winning now because of LeBron James, having the highest payroll in the NBA and a willingness to pay huge Luxury Tax bills has tipped the scales heavily in their favor. If an Eastern Conference team wants to compete with the Cavs, trying to do it on the cheap is laughable.

The new CBA gives teams a significant advantage with their own talent, but it makes many of the old tricks of the trade teams like the Lakers used to pull to add talent from other teams more difficult or even completely offside.

Raptors president Masai Ujiri traded for Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker in February as much to acquire their “Bird” rights this summer as to add talent for the stretch drive and the playoffs. Now he’ll be tested by the tax if he wants to keep them.

NBA Toronto Raptors salaries 2017-18

There are many people in Toronto who will look at the numbers and think Kyle Lowry is gone. They won’t believe Ujiri really wants to keep his All-Star point guard when the team can likely remain a non-tax paying playoff team by re-signing Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker and letting Lowry walk.

However, no team is a serious conference finalist contender without at least an All-Star candidate point guard. Not in a point guard driven league.

Alternatively Ujiri could look to dump the salary of Jonas Valanciunas and/or DeMarre Carroll to significantly lower his Luxury Tax commitment, but to compete against the Cavs, he needs veterans in his rotation. Veterans like Valanciunas and Carroll, but not necessarily these specific players.

One advantage of bringing back one’s own free agents and keeping what he’s got is it gives Ujiri a bigger pool of players with which to use in the trade market. He might not keep a player for an entire season, but having a $15 million salary on the roster you could live without could be what’s needed for that big trade deadline deal.

That’s the old trick the Lakers used to great success in the past that can still work, hanging onto a big salary they didn’t need in order to use it as trade ballast in a big trade during the season.

With Ibaka back and Jakob Poeltl looking ready to take on a backup center role, Ujiri can shop Valanciunas and maybe acquire the three-point shooting wing or forward he needs.

If Ujiri is comfortable with a three guard lineup of Norman Powell, DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, then he could look to swap Carroll for a less expensive backup. Although, if Carroll can get and stay healthy, he could be the answer as an expensive three-point shooting backup combo forward. It’s only money….

Concerns should only arise if Ujiri starts dumping salary just to get below the tax line.

Toronto was third in NBA attendance last season and the fans deserve to see their team willing to spend in order to put the best roster possible on the court. The Raptors have made a lot of money as a non-tax paying team over the past four years, they can afford to pay to keep talent for themselves or to use as trade bait.

Maybe $100 million in Luxury tax is over the top, but $40-50 million isn’t. This team should be judged by their willingness to make a big commitment to paying the tax in 2018. Otherwise, Ujiri is only pretending to want to compete for a championship. (The unlikely fleecing of another GM out of a star on a cheap contract notwithstanding.)

 

 

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

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors P.J. Tucker and Serge Ibaka

What The Raptors Rotation Could Look Like Next Season

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NBA Toronto Raptors Norman Powell and Kyle Lowry

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

NBA Toronto Raptors PJ Tucker

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

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

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

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

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

NBA Toronto Raptors Cory Joseph

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

  Featured image courtesy of Larry Millson

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors DeMar DeRozan Serge Ibaka Kyle Lowry 2017 collage

Basketball Insiders Think Raptors Will Stay The Course

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Serge Ibaka

Serge Ibaka Is Giving Raptors A Playoff Big Three

With all the focus on the amazing boost second year guard Norman Powell has given the Raptors in their first round playoff series against the Bucks, it is easy to look past what Serge Ibaka has not so quietly been doing as part of the veteran Big Three in Toronto.

Playing on an ankle injured in Game One of the series that was still sore in Game Five, Ibaka hasn’t missed a shift and is third in minutes played (29.4) and points scored (14) behind the Raptors All-Stars Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. He also leads the Raptors in blocked shots (2.4) by a wide margin and has been strong on the defensive glass grabbing a quarter of the available boards.

It was a surprise he came back in Game One after getting hurt and playing in Game Two was never a sure thing.

“I woke up this morning and I didn’t know,” Ibaka said after Game Two. “It was a bit tight and it wasn’t 100 percent if I was going to (play). After a couple of hours, I just said I am going to try to go and if I can’t move, I’ll just ask coach to take me out.

“I knew how important this game was to our team, so I just kept working to give everything.”

After seeing limited action and shooting 1-7 in the first half, Ibaka’s ankle loosened up in the second half as he played over 22 minutes and carried the Raptors to the victory scoring 13 points on 5-8 shooting, grabbing 4 boards, dishing 6 dimes and blocking 2 shots.

Unfortunately a strong second half in Game Two didn’t mean Ibaka was back to 100 percent and he struggled in Games Three and Four, but back in Toronto for Game Five, things were about to change.

“(My ankle) is still a little sore,” Ibaka told Pro Bball Report in an exclusive after Game Five. “But it is getting better, getting stronger. I feel it is getting a lot better than the last couple of games. A lot better tonight.”

Ibaka played a strong Game Five, second in scoring with 19 points on 8-10 shooting, 6 rebounds, 3 assists, a steal and 3 blocked shots in just 24.7 minutes as he split time at center with Jonas Valanciunas.

There was joy in Ibaka’s game again as his ankle didn’t betray him as he lifted off for a block or a jump shot.

“The (bad) ankle is on my left and the left ankle is where I jump off of the most,” Ibaka explained. “So now it is feeling better, more loose and I feel more comfortable and confidence.’

That is bad news for the Bucks who have enjoyed some measure of success at stopping DeRozan and Lowry, but as it showed in Game Five, run out of defensive options if Powell and Ibaka are going to contribute significantly on offense as well.

However, Ibaka sees himself as a defensive leader and he takes more pride in stopping his opponent than scoring on him. When Ibaka is on his defensive game and playing on a good wheel, the Raptors defense has been very good.

“We got some quiet guys, so we need some people that speak up and defense is my job,” Ibaka said. “At the five, I see everything, so I have to make sure we are on the same page. Sometimes it is tough. Sometimes in the heat of the moment you can lose the strategy on defense and it is my job to remind my teammates how we are to play every time.

“When the team is winning, everybody looks good,” Ibaka explained. “My job is help my teammates, to do whatever it takes for us to get a “w” and then everybody looks good.”

Even playing on a bad ankle, Ibaka has been able to be the third star player teams search for when trying to make a deep postseason run. If that ankle has improved further from Game Five, the Raptors ability to put the Bucks behind them should be assured.

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Serge Ibaka

Raptors Serge Ibaka Was Injured In Game One Vs The Bucks

When it happened the Toronto Raptors Serge Ibaka just lay there on the hardwood after attempting a jump shot in Game One as the Bucks ran back down the court and he didn’t move until the play stopped. It looked bad at the time. Anything from an ankle to a knee or worse as Ibaka had to be helped up and it took more than one serious attempt to get him on his feet.

Somehow he managed to finish the game, but eventually Ibaka had to admit he was injured on the play.

“Tough, it would be tough,” Ibaka said when asked if he could have played on Monday. “Don’t really think (I could play). But I’ve been there before, this is not the first time I’ve sprained an ankle. I did it before, things can be changed and tomorrow I can be 100 per cent.

“It’s getting better, better than two days ago. It’s day-by-day. Actually I woke up today a lot better, I’m walking perfect, so hopefully tomorrow I’m going to wake up and feel more better and be ready to go.”

The best news may in how Ibaka finished Game One playing on what we now know was a bad wheel. With the Raptors going a 4-17 ice-cold shooting in the fourth quarter, Ibaka, the lone starter to hit a shot, scored 5 points on 2-3 from the field.

There is an element of toughness to Ibaka. If he has anything to give, the Raptors will get it on Tuesday.

 

 

 

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 DeMarre Carroll PJ Tucker Serge Ibaka Patrick Patterson collage

Magic Have Four Raptors On Their Radar This Summer

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

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

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

Orlando Magic tweet

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

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

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Serge Ibaka and PJ Tucker

Raptors Now Have Best Defense In The East

In a season that seemed to be slipping away from the Toronto Raptors at the All-Star break, things changed in a hurry after President Masai Ujiri brought Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker on board.

Prior to the break Toronto had the NBA’s 16th defensive rating, 8th in the Eastern Conference, at 106 points allowed per 100 possessions. Their hold on 4th place was tenuous and the mood in the locker room was a desperate cry for help.

“Something got to give, something got to change,” Kyle Lowry said after a one-point loss to the Pistons. 

“Help is always beneficial,” DeMar DeRozan said. “I never looked at help as a negative thing. If help is an option, why not?”

Help arrived and despite All-Star Kyle Lowry being lost after wrist surgery to remove “loose bodies,” the Raptors season turned around and the success has been built on defense.

In games Post All-Star break the Raptors sport an NBA’s 2nd best defensive rating of 100.9 points allowed per 100 possessions, best in the East by 1.8 points better than Boston.

“The two guys our front office added, P.J. and Serge, are two excellent defenders,” head coach Dwane Casey said. “We are doing nothing different. Our coverages are the same. It’s different people and those two men bring the energy, the toughness.

“For the first time that I’ve been in Toronto that we have two guys in the huddle that are talking defense. Usually guys are talking, how can I get my shot, how can I get touches. Those two guys are coming in talking about defense and that’s what you got to have cause the game in the playoffs is going to slow down.”

Casey has always been known as a defensive-minded head coach, but he hasn’t always enjoyed a roster with multiple defensive-minded players. So far, giving the coach the types of players that fit his preferred style of play has worked out pretty well.

Help has arrived and the Raptors can now lay claim to the best defense in the East. How good will this team look when they get the East’s top three-point threat (3.3 made threes per game) Kyle Lowry back?

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Serge Ibaka

Not Rocky, Serge Ibaka Should Keep His Day Job

It wasn’t quite the ‘The Malice at the Palace,’ but the altercation between Toronto Raptors Serge Ibaka and Chicago Bulls Robin Lopez will be talked about for weeks to come. Although, just maybe, as fighters, Serge and Robin should hang onto their day jobs.

On Tuesday night the Raptors were looking to break an 11 game losing streak against the Bulls and until the 3rd quarter it looked like they were going to make it 12 in a row.

Jimmy Butler hit a three-pointer with just under four minutes left in the third quarter and Ibaka collected the ball. This is when things got heated between the two. Ibaka apparently hit Lopez with an elbow beneath the basket which Lopez was not a fan of and slammed the ball out of Ibaka’s hands. The ol’ one -two punch ensued which resulted in both players being ejected. After the players separated Raptors assistant coach Jamaal Magloire and Bulls forward Nikola Mirotic ‘got into it’ resulting in technicals for both teams.

The NBA announced on Wednesday that both Lopez and Ibaka would get one game suspensions without pay for throwing punches at one another. Magloire was fined a cool $15,000 for pushing Mirotic.

“What happened is we were playing physical basketball and he got frustrated,” said Ibaka postgame. “That thing happened where you just start pushing each other, like always happens when there’s contact, and then he throws a punch. You know, like a man, I had to defend myself. I’m not just going to be out there and watch a man like him punch me and just walk away. I had to defend myself. So that’s what happened.”

As for Lopez’ take, “Things got heated, we exchanged a few words and it kind of went from there. I’m not too surprised that it escalated. It happens sometimes.”

The exchange of punches itself looked more like a fight out of the WWE where they try and make it look like they hit the other wrestler but completely miss. The fight did cause an uproar in the Air Canada Centre. Anyone that could stand in the stadium was standing and were chanting, ‘Let’s Go Raptors.’

“If something like that doesn’t get your energy going and your competitive spirit going than I don’t know what will,” Fred VanVleet said after the game.

Cory Joseph echoed a similar feeling, “It gave us energy. Obviously we didn’t want Serge to fight, but it gave us that spark we needed.”

The fight not only got fans involved, but the team as well. Prior to the fight the Raptors were trailing the entire game, then late into the fourth quarter they went on a 15-0 run and took the game to OT where Toronto sealed the win 122-120.

“It got us going,” DeMar DeRozan said post game. “The crowd got into it, our fans love things like that, especially with it being a hockey city.”

In the locker room the players were talking about the fight just as much as the fans. When Ibaka was giving his postgame scrum Lucas Nogiera yelled, ‘What’s up Mike Tyson.’ A few moments later when DeMar DeRozan was giving his postgame interview you can hear Jonas Valanciunas yelling, ‘Way to fight Serge!’

If anybody was wondering who Robin’s brother and fellow NBA player Brook Lopez was rooting for, it may surprise you, “Maybe we’ll get a grudge match, who knows? I’m pulling for Ibaka, though.”

However, these players should stick to their day jobs. They would make horrible boxers.

“I don’t think that Serge Ibaka has a malicious bone in his body. He’s a competitor, so is Lopez,” Raptors head coach Dwane Casey said. “I don’t think either one of them will go down as ‘Rocky’ or anything like that.”

Fans in a hockey city may be surprised that a “fight” worthy of two minutes for roughing on the ice will result in Ibaka sitting out on Thursday night when the Raptors play the Heat in Miami as he serves a one game suspension. Lopez serves his “fighting” suspension when the Bulls host the Detroit Pistons at United Center.

 

 

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 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.