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2017 NBA free agents Raptors Patrick Patterson and Timberwolves Shabazz Mohammad and Warriors Ian Clark and Pacers Jeff Teague collage

Some NBA Free Agents Your Team Can Actually Get

There is no more exciting time for most teams and most fans than NBA free agency, but it can quickly become the most disappointing couple of weeks in the off season when you strike out.

If a team is going to put all their focus into hitting a home run, they had better have a really good idea about why that player is going to choose them over all of those other opportunities because as you wait, the next best options are coming off the board.

Here’s our list of getable free agents that if you act fast, you just might just lock up before the competition realizes what happened.

Point Guard

Jeff Teague, Pacers UFA, 29-years-old

2016-17, 15.3 pts, 4.0* rbs, 7.8* asts, 1.2 stls, 35.7% 3FG

* career best

A former one-time All-Star, reliable starting point guard who has only played one year with the Pacers. While other teams are wasting their efforts pursuing Kyle Lowry and George Hill, impress Teague and solve your point guard issues.

Micheal Carter-Williams, Bulls UFA, 25-years-old

2016-17, 6.6 pts, 3.4 rbs, 2.5 asts, 0.8 stls, 23.4% 3FG

The 2014 NBA ROY saw his minutes slashed in Chicago and made an unrestricted free agent this summer, but if your team is out of cap space and not planning on a postseason run, giving this big point guard another second chance might not be such a bad idea. He was an 11/5/5 player with 1.5 steals for the Bucks two seasons ago.

Shooting Guard

Dion Waiters, Heat UFA, 25-years-old

2016-17, 15.8 pts, 3.3 rbs, 4.3 asts, 0.9 stls, 39.5% 3FG

It was a breakout season for Waiters and teams will have their eye on the possibility of stealing him from the Heat as his current team doesn’t hold his Bird Rights. Strike fast with a big offer while Miami is focused on Gordon Hayward and you might just steal him.

Ian Clark, Warriors UFA, 26-years-old

2016-17, 6.8 pts, 1.6 rbs, 1.2 asts, 0.5 stls, 37.4% 3FG

The Warriors only hold Clark’s early bird rights, so this is one player you can outbid a luxury tax sensitive team for. He put up those numbers in less than 15 minutes a game. It’s time he got his chance to show everyone what he’s made of.

Small Forward

Shabazz Muhammad, Timberwolves RFA, 24-years-old

2016-17, 9.9 pts, 2.8 rbs, 0.4 asts, 33.8% 3FG

While the Timberwolves are busy gloating over the acquisition of Jimmy Butler and looking for the next piece of the playoff puzzle, Shabazz is kind of sitting on the outside looking in, but this a solid young defensive wing who could become a real steal if, as the expression goes, “the lights come on” with a change of scenery.

Luc Mbah a Moute, Clippers UFA, 30-years-old

2016-17, 6.1 pts, 2.1 rbs, 0.5 asts, 1.0 stls, 39.1% 3FG

The Clippers are in trouble and only hold Mbah a Monte’s early bird rights, so pile on and pick apart the carcass. This guy went from a defensive forward to a  much more valuable ‘3-and-D’ forward last season and there is a lot of teams that could use him coming off the bench.

Power Forward

James Johnson, Heat UFA, 30-years-old

2016-17, 12.8 pts, 4.9 rbs, 3.6 asts, 1.0 stls, 1.1 blks, 34% 3FG

A non-bird free agent means the Heat have to use salary cap space to re-sign him, thus making James Johnson a great target for other teams. A breakout season that James should be crediting to the tough love he got in Toronto – the place where he finally figured out how and when to shoot the three-ball without it being embarrassing.

Patrick Patterson, Raptors UFA, 28-years-old

2016-17, 6.8 pts, 4.5 rbs, 1.2 asts, 37.2% 3FG

While the Raptors are distracted by Kyle Lowry, Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker, Patterson should be an easy target and a reasonable contract.

The ‘3-and-D” Patterson is one of those glue-guys who makes other people around him better even if he isn’t filling the stats sheet while doing it.

Center

Dewayne Dedmon, Spurs UFA, 27-years-old

2016-17, 5.1 pts, 6.5 rbs, 0.6 asts, 0.8 blks

Dedmon played 17.5 minutes a game for Pop last season and that alone should put this guy on your radar.  The Spurs don’t hold his bird rights either, so he is very getable.

Zaza Pachulia, Warriors UFA, 33-years-old

2016-17, 6.1, 5.9 rbs, 1.9 asts, 0.8 steals

If your team needs an infusion of toughness, grit, nastiness, Pachulia can still bring it. Culture change in a 6’11 don’t give a crap how it gets done center. The Warriors don’t hold his bird rights.

 

If your team is on the cusp and has a load of salary cap space to burn, sure take a run at Hayward, Blake Griffin, or Paul Millsap. Not sure any of those big name free agents are using your team as anything more than a free lunch and a means to extract a better contract from someone else? Then move down a tier and get a player that can actually help move you closer to your goals before someone else gets them.

 

 

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 Jonas Valanciunas and DeMarre Carroll

Should The Timberwolves Now Go After Carroll And Valanciunas?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

 

 

Cleveland Cavaliers LeBron James and JR Smith

Few Options Left For Cavs Free Agent J.R. Smith – But Not None

The Luxury Tax challenged Cleveland Cavaliers left sharp-shooter J.R. Smith hanging out in the breeze until practically every other option was gone last summer and despite General Manager David Griffin assertion that, “I think the good news is J.R. wants to be here and we want J.R. back,” they are doing it again.

The Cavs cheaped out on Smith last summer when they got him back for just $5 million, but the soon-to-be 31-year-old has his ring now and this is his last chance a big NBA contract. It’s no wonder the multi-year deal at $10 million per season as reported by Basketball Insiders’ Steve Kyler hasn’t gotten it done.

League sources said that Smith and his camp were not overly concerned about reaching a deal, with a belief that the Cavs have put a multi-year offer in the $10 million per year neighborhood on the table weeks ago. They added that Smith and his advisors have been looking for a slightly bigger offer and that waiting things out was simply about leverage and trying to get a slightly better deal.

Like last year, the issue in Cleveland is with LeBron James new deal, they are already into Luxury Tax territory and signing Smith to a $10-15 million per season deal is going to cost near double that.

If Smith is going to get something close to market value for a veteran three-point shooter with a career average over 42 percent from beyond the arc, he needs to find someone willing to offer more. The bigger issue is his agent has to convince the handful of teams with sufficient salary cap space to make an offer that they aren’t just being used as leverage. Smith has to at least look like he’s willing to jump off the Championship bandwagon to get the payday that will make his career.

It shouldn’t be that hard. Smith’s career earning are “just” $45.5 million. He should at least double that with his next contract.

Possible Destinations

Brooklyn Nets estimated cap space $18.5 million

The Nets need to win games, if for nothing less than to stop Boston from getting another top five lottery pick from them. Boston can swap first round draft picks with Brooklyn next June and Boston outright owns the Nets 2018 pick.

Adding a veteran to this thin team would help them win a few more games. Offer J.R. something close to $18 million for one year and watch the Cavs choke on it.

Denver Nuggets estimated cap space $18.4 million

Denver is a team that should be looking to the future and handing the starting shooting guard spot to the 21-year-old Gary Harris, but if they have playoff aspirations/fantasies for this season, then J.R. would take their veteran talent level up a notch.

Minnesota Timberwolves estimated salary cap space $13.3 million

The Timberwolves should believe they are close to being a playoff team. Maybe they are not quite there yet, but their young talent is poised to take another step and a veteran from an NBA Championship team who could play significant minutes off the bench might just be the stabilizing factor that puts them over the top.

Wait – was that J.R. Smith and stabilizing factor used in the same sentence? The Cavs J.R. has not been the Knicks J.R. and he’s over 30-years-old now. If J.R. wants to help a young up-and-coming team get over the hump and play with some very talented future stars … the Cavs might just buy this move and match what the T-wolves could pay before discussions get too serious.

Philadelphia 76ers estimated cap space $30 million

Sure the 76ers could pay J.R. more money than he could turn down, but he wouldn’t be happy here very long and this doesn’t look remotely like a fit.

Phoenix Suns estimated cap space $15 million

The Suns underperformed – again, and their talent level suggests that despite the vast array of very confusing moves by the head office, this team should win a lot more than 23 games.

There would be an issue about where exactly J.R. would fit in this team’s rotation, not that such issues seem to have been much of a deterrent to acquiring players in the recent past.

Utah Jazz estimated cap space $12.5 million

With the additions of George Hill and Joe Johnson, this 40 win team is going to be fighting for a playoff spot. J.R. Smith would almost certainly put them in the postseason picture and make an already dangerous looking group that much more ready to challenge the “big boys” in the West.

The Cavs wouldn’t want to lose J.R. to a 4-year $50 million offer, but if they let things play out to save a few bucks off the Luxury Tax bill, it’s a realistic possibility the Jazz could sell the veteran three-point shooter that he’s wanted in Utah.

As LeBron James said when he announced his new deal, “Let’s get J.R. done. It’s that time.”

 

 

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.

 

 

 

Ball On My Mind is holding a Hold Your Own Showcase & Create Your Own Mixtape Event August 26 – 28, 2016 for high school age basketball players in the greater Toronto area with Chris Hemphill, scout with NC Preps in association with Rivals.com (One of the largest American Scouting Services in the US).
Spaces are limited. Registrations after August 12th will be accepted based on availability.

 

 

 

 


 

NBA OKC Thunder Serge Ibaka

Two Big Moves To Make The Raptors Real Contenders

As we watch the Golden State Warriors dismantling the highest priced opponent in the NBA, it’s easy to forget just how good LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers really are. Sure they could be looking at what might be considered major tinkering this summer, but the Cavs are the “Beasts of the East” and the Raptors as constructed will still be considered just the next best team despite their youth and success this year.

President and general manager Masai Ujiri Ujiri has performed nothing less than miracle moves since his arrival in Toronto. An opportunist par excellence, he’ll need what might look like another miracle or two this summer in order to get his team over the hump against a Cavs team that will always be the heavy favorite as long as King James sticks around.

Ujiri needs to make a big splash like he did as the Nuggets GM when trading for Andre Iguodala. A second or third tier star player who can take a good team to the next level, but the NBA draft comes first, so player oriented trades might have to wait.

Heading into this year’s draft, Ujiri is preparing to select 9th and 27th overall, but even he was adamant that his team can’t afford to get any younger. He needs to trade up, trade out, and/or trade some of young guys he already has stashed on his roster. There is only so much room for players under development on a Conference Finals team and the Raptors already have too many.

Trade target Minnesota Timberwolves

Ideally Ujiri would talk the Lakers into trading the number two pick in the draft for the 9th, 27th, Terrence Ross and one of Delon Wright or Lucas Nogueira, but those kinds of deals are rare – even if the Lakers have so many holes in that roster that they should seriously consider it.

However, Minnesota, who picks at five, has been looking for what Ujiri could offer for years and now they are actually ready to take advantage of the shooting they’ve been seeking.

Proven three-point bomber Terrence Ross and the 9th pick for the Timberwolves 5th pick gives Minnesota a shooter ready to stretch the floor next season for all those young athletic guards.

For the Raptors, it’ll let them target SF Jaylen Brown, PF Marquese Chriss or Canadian guard Jamal Murray, any of whom are likely more NBA ready with a higher upside than a player they’ll be able to get at 9th. Plus, this move would free up the salary cap space to re-sign Bismack Biyombo.

Trade target Oklahoma City Thunder

Once again Thunder GM Sam Presti will be feeling the heat and he can see it coming. Kevin Durant likely signs a 1+1 contract that will earn him $35 million per season a year from now. Russell Westbrook is a free agent next year and likely signs a similar deal to Durant and will be inking +$35 million two years from now. Then, like James Harden, Jeff Green and Reggie Jackson before him, Serge Ibaka will be a free agent next summer and Presti must know by now, he isn’t getting three players on big contracts in OKC, he needs to re-jig his roster again.

Ibaka needs a change of scenery. His once feared percentage of shots blocked in 2011-12 is now half of what it once was and his scoring, rebounding and three-point shooting has dipped noticeably in each of the past two seasons as well. However, he’s still putting up good numbers for a starting power forward and it shouldn’t be hard to convince oneself he’ll bounce-back big in a contract year.

Therein lies Presti’s biggest problem, if he doesn’t make his move during this summer, he knows players on expiring deals are fetching nothing at the trade deadline and a good season by Ibaka likely prices him right off the Thunder roster in free agency.

Durant should be expected to re-sign this summer only to be a free agent again next summer with Westbrook. Presti needs to have a roster these guys can feel comfortable coming back to or the 2017-18 Thunder could be a lottery team with no big stars.

If he is willing to take the risk that could elevate the Raptors from pretenders to contenders, Ujiri could solve Presti’s problem.

Patrick Patterson and Nogueira for Ibaka straight up with the possibility of the 27th 2016 first round draft pick being put on the table should get Presti’s attention.

However, Raptors head coach Dwane Casey will be reluctant to let Ujiri trade Patterson for anyone as the 27-year-old stretch-four is a key part of Toronto’s solid perimeter defense. Also, Patterson made 46 more threes than Ibaka last year and he hit them at a much better percentage.

Still, even Casey would have to admit Ibaka is the better offensive player, rebounder and rim protector. This deal would only be possible because Patterson is the much cheaper version of a “3-and D” power forward and once again Presti is looking for ways to pay Durant and Westbrook true max money while surrounding them with the complimentary talent the Thunder can afford to hang onto.

Raptors are Ahead of Schedule

Ujiri and Casey are quick to point out their program is ahead of schedule. They didn’t expect the Raptors to be in the Eastern Conference Finals this quickly, but they can’t put that Genie back in the bottle now. Expectations have been set. Their players are ahead of projections, so now Ujiri has to look at what he can do to take his team to the next level.

For three years in a row Ujiri has pulled off the unexpected trade or signing that has elevated his team. Nothing less than that is expected this summer.

 

 

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

 

 

 


 

NBA D-League Mississauga Raptors 905 Greg Smith

Raptors 905 Loses Greg Smith To The Timberwolves

Another one bites the dust. Raptors 905 head coach Jesse Mermuys must be doing a really good job as his team has just lost another player to the NBA. Center Greg Smith is being called up to the Minnesota Timberwolves on a 10 day contract.

The Raptors 905 had just found out Axel Toupane is heading to the Denver Nuggets on a 10 day contract to make this the second player about to leave for nothing on the same day.

Smith has played in parts of the last four NBA seasons with Houston and Dallas totaling 131 games. He has averaged 4.2 points and 3.4 rebounds in 12.5 minutes over that period.

With the 905 this season, the 25-year-old Smith has averaged 12.6 points, 8 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 1.1 steals in 27.6 minutes over 17 games.

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

NBA Orlando Magic Aaron Gordon

Aaron Gordon Was Pure Magic At The NBA Slam Dunk Contest

It’s been said that there are no more dunks left to do, but Magic power forward Aaron Gordon absolutely blew everyone away with what is quite possibly the most difficult and spectacular dunk ever seen at an NBA Slam Dunk Contest. Gordon used Magic mascot Stuff the Magic Dragon with amazing effect several times to illustrate his athletic and creative flair to raise the bar once again at what can be at times the premier event at NBA All-Star weekend.

In the dunk of the night, Gordon jumped over Stuff the Magic Dragon, who is almost as tall as the 6’9 Gordon, in spectacular fashion that defied probability. Completely clearing Stuff with his legs parallel to the floor, Gordon reached beneath his legs to grab the ball out of Stuff’s raised hands and windmill the ball over his own head to complete the impossible sequence with a slam through the hoop. The only disappointment being the judges didn’t give him a score of more than 50.

“Going under both legs. Yeah, so I knew I wanted to do that because it was just different,” Gordon said after the contest. “I knew it hadn’t been done in an NBA Dunk Contest. So I think all four of my initial dunks had never been done in an NBA Dunk Contest before. So I think that was my goal, and I did it.”

Watch the highlights of the dunk contest on the NBA Youtube channel,

The event continued into extra innings as Zach LaVine and Gordon traded scores of 50 until the judges undervalued Gordon’s final dunk as both competitors were forced into displays that they couldn’t have planned on using but remained spectacular.

“Out of my first four dunks, I think potentially I could have won,” Gordon continued. “It could have gone either way. Zach’s an incredible dunker, he went through the legs from the free throw line. That is insane.

“If I knew it was going to be like that, I would have prepared better and we would have been here dunking all night, going back 50 after 50 after 50 after 50. We would have been here all night. I didn’t know it was going to be like that.”

LaVine earned his scores of 50, by any prior dunk contest standards his dunks were perfect. However, Gordon took things to another level and the judges didn’t have a means to give him the higher scores he deserved.

Watch the entire dunk contest here,

After that display, no one will be suggesting the dunk contest is past it’s prime now, but next year’s crop of participants may have a near impossible standard to match – or will they? Apparently we’ve been writing off this event as “it’s over” far too easily before.

“I kind of did a lot of dunks there, man. I don’t know how many more I’ve got,” Gordon said. “I’ve got a year, yeah. In Charlotte, yeah, if they want me to come back, I probably will. I’ve got a year to get my dunks ready.”

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

Timberwolves coach Sam Mitchell

Former Raptors Head Coach Sam Mitchell Is Back Where He Belongs

by Frank McLean

One nice thing about the Raptors taking on the Minnesota Timberwolves in a couple of preseason games this past week was a chance to catch up with former Toronto Raptors head coach Sam Mitchell.

Between 2004 and 2008 Mitchell accumulated a won-loss record of 156-189 and for the moment anyway, the 156 victories is the most of any Raptors head coach. He’s also the only Raptors coach to win NBA coach of the year honours.

Current head coach Dwane Casey is only 3 wins behind in second place at 153 and should pass Mitchell sometime in the first 10 to 15 days of the upcoming season.

After Mitchell was let go by the Raptors he became one of us in the media. This was a bit of a surprise because if you got to know Sam like we did in the media, he was a bit of a character with us. We were never sure if he liked us or just put up with us because it was part of job description as an NBA coach who has to interact with the Fifth Estate on a daily basis. He always was willing to take a playful jab at you if he thought your question was not up to par.

Mitchell was quite good in his work on TV with TSN and NBA TV. He was natural in front of the camera doing his game commentary. He was enjoying the television work. It’s a lot easier than pacing the sidelines nightly in the NBA and when the game was over you didn’t take the game home with you.

Mitchell admits when you ask him that he knows he has a better understanding of what we do on a day to day basis. But the coaching bug came a calling. His old coach with Timberwolves Flip Saunders convinced Mitchell that he belonged in coaching and not on TV.

So Mitchell joined his old coach in Minneapolis last season as a Timberwolves assistant. Unfortunately Saunders had to take a leave of absence near the end of the regular season to undergo treatment for cancer, but fortunately for the Timberwolves, an experienced NBA head coach was on the staff to step in and keep things going while Saunders recovers.

It’s not the way Mitchell wanted to comeback as an NBA head coach, but he is embracing the second chance to be the head man again. You can see the gleam in his eye as he is back doing what he loves to do and that’s coaching and teaching.

“There were things about it I missed being around the guys,” Mitchell said when he was in Toronto last week. “When you are doing media, you’re around, but you are not around the players. It’s just different being around these young guys.”

When you listen to Mitchell talk about being back with the players you see that it keeps him feeling young.

“The energy that you feed off watching them, it’s fun to watch them grow. Just to be around them and watch them (the players) get on the bus in the morning when we’re on a road trip and the things they have. The hairstyles, you miss that kind of stuff.”

Young this team is. Ricky Rubio, Karl-Anthony Towns, Zack LaVine and Andrew Wiggins make this the NBA’s youngest team and they are going to have nights where they are going to get beat and beat bad. But Mitchell is up to the task to get these guys to be the top flight pro players they are projected to be. He’s back doing what he is meant to do.

The Timberwolves are lucky he’s there to keep their program going until Flip Saunders is back running the organization.

 

 

Frank McLean - small sizeVeteran 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.

 

 

 

Karl-Anthony Towns

Is Karl Anthony Towns The Final Piece For The Timberwolves?

by Frank McLean

The Minnesota Timberwolves are the definition of a team in rebuilding. They have been stockpiling young talent for the past couple of seasons to try and compete in the NBA’s tough Western Conference.

On draft night the Timberwolves took a 19-year-old center from the University of Kentucky named Karl-Anthony Towns. The team already had 20-year-old Canadian superstar forward Andrew Wiggins and another 20-year-old in guard Zach Lavine. And don’t forget Spanish sensation Ricky Rubio, this is team that full of what ESPN’s Dick Vitalle would call “Diaper Dandies”.

When you look at this group it gives the team a core to build a possible long term contending run in the league around. Towns, is the finishing piece of the Timberwolves version of a core-four as some will call it. Not unlike what the New York Yankees did years ago when they built a long championship run with their core-four of young talent named Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, Andy Pettite and Mariano Rivera. The Timberwolves seem to be building their basketball team a similar way.

Towns is made to be ready to make his mark a little faster than Wiggins, Lavine and Rubio as he comes out of the University of Kentucky, which has as unique a college basketball program as you will find the NCAA.

Head coach John Calapari is one of, if not the best recruiter of high school talent in the United States. His Wildcat teams are consistently in the hunt for the SEC championship and NCAA championships on a roster of players mostly made up of freshmen who leave after one year for the NBA draft.

Calapari has a knack of getting kids ready in just one year for the NBA draft. It’s a one year crash course to get you ready for the pros. In Towns only year at Kentucky he averaged 21.1 minutes, 10 points and 6.7 rebounds per game, putting him in the top 10 of draft eligible players this past summer.

When asked, Towns gives all the credit for being in the NBA after one year of college to Calapari and the coaching staff at Kentucky getting him ready.

“It just shows how great a coach and a coaching staff we have (at Kentucky) the fact of the matter is we get to speed up the process,” Towns said. “It’s probably the best program in the world they get us ready for the pressure and for this moment (the NBA). They did a great job of getting us all ready.”

A benefit of being drafted by the Timberwolves is the fact that you get to be a part of a course call NBA 101. This one is taught by Andre Miller, Tayshaun Prince and of course Kevin Garnett, which Towns says it is giving him lessons in leadership just by have these three players mentoring him.

“I’m just blessed, not many times you have vets on your team but having vets that are very talented, very willing teammates teaching you how to be true professionals,” Towns said.

This is a young team, but when the core of your team is aged between 19 and 22 you are going to get beaten up lots of nights in the NBA.

Many players have come into this league too young and after 3 or 4 four years of losing and losing bad they don’t develop into the top flight NBA players they were selected to be. Towns is a 19-year-old center playing against grown men. He is going to get beat up. It’s part of the learning experience playing center in the NBA.

However, with Garnett, Miller and Prince in the locker room, Towns and the rest of the core-four have people to lean on when things get tough, and believe me for the next couple of years things will be tough. But when you look at Towns, not only do you see a wide eyed rookie, but someone who is very articulate and when you walk away after talking to him you think the kid is going to be all right.

This Timberwolves team is going to lose somewhere in the neighbourhood of 60 games this year. However, they are going to be fun to watch. The young talent will get better. There are veteran players in the dressing room for these kids to lean on and Towns is the final piece of the puzzle for this team, now they just got learn and get better.

Give this team two full seasons to grow and Timberwolves will be back in the playoffs for sure.

 

 

Frank McLean - small sizeVeteran 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.

 

 

 

Luis Scola Jonas Valanciuns Bismack BiyomboMust See New Look Raptors Finally Make Their Toronto Debut

The Patrick Patterson, Luis Scola battle for the starting spot at forward is getting interesting to watch. And don’t forget home town boy Anthony Bennett, who pulled off dunk against the Lakers this past Thursday night that raised a few eye brows. Bennett is getting a chance to show off what he can do at forward with James Johnson being slowed by injury.

 

 

 

Anthony Bennett scrum

Should The Raptors Grab Anthony Bennett?

The Minnesota Timberwolves are buying out former number one overall draft pick Anthony Bennett and unless some team has $5.8 million they don’t want, he’ll be an unrestricted free agent shortly and available to sign for the NBA minimum salary. Bennett is from Toronto and played for Team Canada this summer, so should the Raptors make an attempt to grab him to fill the 15th and final spot on their roster for this season?

 


Ideally Bennett would play for a team with minutes available at the power forward spot and as of right now that isn’t Toronto. Actually at this late stage of the off season, one could argue that situation isn’t anywhere, but as Kelly Scaletta in Today’s Fastbreak points out, Bennett is not a worse choice than what a handful of teams are likely to be using in their rotation this season.

Sam Hinkie is always willing to take a gamble, and the Sixers have the cap space to absorb his contract if he’s waived. The only other team that can do that is the Portland Trail Blazers.

The Atlanta Hawks could look for a replacement for Mike Scott if he ends up in prison.
The Charlotte Hornets are woefully thin at the 4.
Bennett wouldn’t be any worse than Charlie Villanueva with the Dallas Mavericks.
Bennett fits the Los Angeles Lakers’ rebuilding situation.
The New York Knicks could conceivably claim him.
The Phoenix Suns have been looking to deal Markeiff Morris. Signing Bennett could give them more options.
And the Sacramento Kings are always willing to do the unorthodox.
The Toronto Raptors are a bit thin at power forward, and would benefit from bringing in the Canadian.

There is a lot of speculation in any list of potential landing spots for Bennett, but the fact a list isn’t that hard to draw up suggests he should land somewhere and what he accomplished this summer with Team Canada may help shake the “bust” label as would only having to pay him a minimum salary.

Bennett played 19 games for Team Canada and looked pretty good doing it. He performed best at the Pan Am Games in Toronto against what could be best described as the “B” National Teams. The “A” Teams wouldn’t show up until the FIBA Americas in September, but Bennett did okay in that tournament as well. Over Canada’s 19 games Bennett averaged 10.5 points on 57.4 percent shooting and 36.8 percent from the (closer) FIBA three-point line, 6.9 rebounds and 1.2 assists. Head coach Jay Triano described him as being in the best shape and health he has seen him in and no one could argue with the observation.

At the FIBA Americas Canada had their full complement of NBA players and Bennett’s minutes dropped from 26.8 per game at the Pan Am games to 16.8 as he was clearly out-competed for minutes by teammates like Kelly Olynyk, but he still showed an ability to run the floor, play hard and make a solid contribution. Bennett continued to play pretty well averaging 7.6 points, 5.4 rebounds and 1.2 assists in those limited minutes.

At this point no one is going to argue the Cavaliers overreached in 2013 when they drafted him first overall. At the time Bennett was coming back from injury and most people believed he was a back end of the lottery selection. Injuries continued to plague his first two NBA seasons, although in his limited opportunities he was posting about 12 points and 8.5 rebounds per 36 minutes, so maybe those National Team numbers are confirming what’s possible if an NBA team is willing to develop him?

Toronto is bringing in four players to tryout for their 15th roster spot: Shannon Scott, Ronald Roberts, Axel Toupane and Michale Kyser. It will be fun to watch them compete for a better payday than the Raptors 905 D-League team will be able to offer, but no one realistically expects to find a player who cracks the Raptors rotation and, if signed, doesn’t spend most of the season in Mississauga. Bennett may still be best described as a project, but he’s a project who is ahead of the four players Toronto is bringing to training camp for a look.

The Raptors have been reluctant to sign Canadian players who they don’t believe are ready to contribute right away in the past and that’s fair. It could be hard for a coach to play another developing player – like say Bruno Caboclo – with the crowd chanting for a Canadian to get those minutes. This isn’t an easy decision, but it’s one that deserves consideration. If Bennett wasn’t a Canadian and had just gone through a similar summer with some other National Team, not trying to add him on the cheap as the 15th man would seem like missing a low risk opportunity.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

Anthony Bennett scrum

Timberwolves Anthony Bennett Finds His Game With Team Canada

It’s been an interesting summer for the Timberwolves Anthony Bennett. Playing a lot of undersized “center” for Team Canada, the 6’8 Bennett seems to have found his game. At the very least he’s been active and effective and those aren’t phrases that have been thrown around a lot with his name attached until recently.

Steve Nash 2015“I think the game is played with a lot more versatility these days,” Team Canada general manager Steve Nash said. “I think it’s very common for teams to play smaller, quicker, more mobile, more versatile at both ends of the floor. Obviously Anthony has a lot of versatility. He can play multiple positions.”

Jay Triano scrum compressed“(Bennett) has arguably been our highest energy guy in practice,” head coach Jay Triano said. “I don’t really try to classify who’s a four and who’s a five, who’s a center and who’s a power forward. We ask our first big down the floor to be the guy who occupies space and looks for something in transition and with his speed and the way that he runs, he is usually the first guy down the floor. Now if you want to call that the four or the five then you can give it a number, but I told him not to worry about numbers, be the first guy down (and) rebound the crap out of the ball. Get it every time that it’s available. I said that will keep you on the floor longer, that will let other people see what type of skills that you have and he has a lot of basketball skills.”

Without a doubt, at both the Pan Am Games and the Tutu Marchand Cup, Bennett has rebounded the crap out of the ball and picked up his share of double-doubles.

The Cleveland Cavaliers should never have taken the Canadian big man first overall in the 2013 NBA Draft. He was coming off an injury and no one except Cleveland thought he would go that high. After a brutally disappointing rookie campaign, the Cavs managed to foist him onto the Timberwolves as part of the Kevin Love trade where things went only marginally better. Bust is a word most often associated with Bennett over his first two seasons, but injuries and competition of playing time have played a big role in that.

He has only averaged 54.5 games and 14.3 minutes in his first two NBA seasons, so the 4.7 points and 3.4 rebounds should be understandable – not that there’s a whole lot of sympathy out the for a first overall draft pick earning over $5 million a season. For the teams he has played for, those results still hurt.

What might signal things could get better is his per 36 minute averages of 11.9 points and 8.6 rebounds. The Cavs couldn’t have got their scouting so wrong that there isn’t actual talent here – assuming he can get and stay healthy.

“The body is healthy,” Triano said after watching Bennett working out with Team Canada. “He is as fit as he’s ever been. He is in great shape.”

At the Pan Am Games in Toronto, Bennett was a major factor in Canada winning their first ever medal at this tournament. Averaging 15.6 points on 56 percent shooting and 9.4 rebounds in 26.4 minutes over the five games, Bennett was the mobile big man Coach Triano envisioned he could be. Bennett even hit on 5 of his 14 three-point attempts, but it was his activity and team-leading rebounding that made him so effective.

In Puerto Rico at the Tuto Marchand Cup, Canada went undefeated and Bennett put in another couple of double-double performances over the four games as he averaged 11.5 points and 7.5 rebounds in 23.8 minutes. Bennett led his team in rebounding once again.

Bennett has looked good with Team Canada this summer, but that doesn’t mean the trade rumors are about to go away or that Minnesota is about to go small and versatile with Nikola Pekovic, Karl Anthony-Towns, Gorgui Deng, Nemanja Bjelica and Adreian Payne all needing minutes. However, for perhaps the first time since Bennett was drafted, we got a taste of what he can do and could become.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

Anthony Bennett - croppedTimberwolves Anthony Bennett To Play Center For Canada

 “(Bennett will) probably (play) the four and the five,” Triano said. “I don’t mind him playing the five spot, especially if Andrew Nicholson is spreading the floor as a stretch four. He has got that ability where he, depending on who he is on the floor with, he can be a guy who can stretch the floor or he can roll and do damage inside.”

 

 

Anthony Bennett - cropped

Timberwolves Anthony Bennett To Play Center For Canada

Minnesota Timberwolves Anthony Bennett is in Toronto preparing for the Pan Am games with Team Canada and Head Coach Jay Triano suggested this 240 lb 6’8 forward isn’t a three, he’s planning to use him at center in certain lineups.

“(Bennett will) probably (play) the four and the five,” Triano said. “I don’t mind him playing the five spot, especially if Andrew Nicholson is spreading the floor as a stretch four. He has got that ability where he, depending on who he is on the floor with, he can be a guy who can stretch the floor or he can roll and do damage inside.”

After watching the very similarly-sized and skilled Golden State Warriors Draymond Green do amazing things to the Cavaliers in the NBA Finals, imagining Bennett in that role suddenly gets a lot easier to believe.

It has been a rocky start to Bennett’s NBA career. Shoulder surgery just before the 2013 NBA draft followed by being taken first overall by the Cavaliers in a move that, in Bennett’s words on twitter, “I am just as surprised as everybody else.”

A one-and-done at UNLV, Bennett showed the makings of a do everything forward at the next level. He could rebound, shoot the three and finish around the basket. He didn’t seem to have many weaknesses, but no one saw him as the number one pick and that notoriety has hung a bust label around his neck that on-going injury problems have made impossible for him to shake.

Not surprisingly, Bennett had shoulder issues at the start of his first NBA season – no kidding – and right knee, then left knee problems later on. He only played in 52 games for the Cavs, but seemingly got a second chance when he was traded to the Timberwolves in the summer. A promising first month to the 2014-15 season quickly tailed off and then his year was trashed by leg and ankle injuries. It’s been rumored Minnesota would like to trade him.

There are signs hidden in the numbers that Bennett is better than his bust-like first impressions. He was grabbing a respectable 20.2 percent of the available defensive boards while he was on the court in his first two seasons and that solid three-point shot he had in college is showing signs of reappearing. It isn’t easy adjusting to the NBA after just one-year of college and it had to be a lot harder trying to do while constantly rehabbing injuries, but Triano believes those days may be behind Bennett.

“The body is healthy,” Triano said after watching Bennett working out with Team Canada. “He is as fit as he’s ever been. He is in great shape. He still does all the things, he’s an energy player. He has a great skill-set. He can do a little bit of everything. He can make plays. He can put the ball on the floor. He can rebound the ball for us and that’s the big thing for (Team Canada) right now. We want him to rebound the ball for us. He will find ways to score. It will come out of our offense.”

Playing for Team Canada this summer at the Pan Am Games and later at the Olympic qualifying tournament in Mexico is another second chance for Bennett. An opportunity for him to show that he is healthy and all those great things scouts noticed about in college are still there and can translate to the NBA. And maybe, just maybe NBA teams will stop thinking about Bennett as a combo or small forward. Bennett is a big man and sometimes the best place for a big man is at the center spot.

 

 

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.

 

 

Brady Heslip walkingShould Raptors Give Canadian Brady Heslip a Camp Invite?

As Raptors GM Masai Ujiri seems to be the process of looking for training camp invitees that will likely end up with Raptors 905 in Mississauga, maybe he should take a look at Brady Heslip? After all, those defensive specialists the Raptors have been lining up could use a really challenging offensive player to work against and the Raptors new D-League team will need someone that can score.

 

 

Wiggins and Bennett

Why Wiggins Matters To Canada

By Frank McLean

The much awaited visit of this season’s top pick from June’s NBA Draft, Canadian Andrew Wiggins, finally occurred Wednesday night at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto. There was a buzz in the building as the local boy came home to play his childhood heroes, the Raptors, for the first time in a regular season game.

The anticipation from waiting to see the next generation’s superstar was palatable as many Canadians view Wiggins as “The Next One”, a player who will ascend to the throne currently occupied by King  James.

Wiggins leads all rookies in scoring averaging 15.7 points per game. He is fourth in steals with 1.08 per game and fifth in rebounding at 4.3 per game. His stats line has given him the top rookie award for the months of November, December, January, February and chances are he is the morning line favourite to cop the award in March too.

Wiggins was one of only eight players the Timberwolves dressed in Toronto as his young team has been ravaged by injuries. Once again, he showed flashes of the pure athletic ability that the basketball gods gave him, but you can see he is starting to hit the rookie wall. It’s something all first year NBA players must work through.

When you play in the NCAA and you are lucky enough to make to the final game of the NCAA Tournament, you play 40-games tops and game number 40 in the NBA is often the magic number that the back-to-back nights and the four games in five nights hits you, but you have to hand it to the kid, he wants to play in all 82 games.

“He wants to play all 82 games,” Wolves coach Sam Mitchell said. “He’s a rookie and he is learning to get mentally tough. Learning how to push through this is part of the process, I’m proud of him, of his effort”.

That’s high praise from Mitchell who does not hand out compliments to rookies easily. Afterwards in the post game media scrum, you could not wipe the smile off Wiggins face.

Before the game he and fellow Canadian teammate and 2013 first overall draft pick Anthony Bennett met Prime Minister Stephen Harper who had made the trip from Ottawa to see Wiggins play live.

“It was great,” Wiggins said. “It’s like meeting the President.”

That’s what made this such a special night for Canadian basketball. Twenty years ago when I started covering the NBA if someone told me that Canadians would be first overall draft picks in the NBA I would have thought they were crazy. Now Canadian Prime Minister Harper has just met with two Canadians chosen first overall in the NBA Draft playing for the same team.

There are 28 Canadians playing in this year’s NCAA basketball tournament. So, there are many more basketball playing Canucks coming and that means there are going to be more nights of Canadian superstars coming to Toronto very soon.

 

 
Frank McLean - small sizeVeteran 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.

 

 

PHI_Young_Thaddeus

Rumors Of Raptors Interest In Wolves Thaddeus Young

Hold off the shock, the Minnesota Timberwolves are rumored to be looking for somewhere to trade forward Thaddeus Young. Young makes $9.4 million this season and has an Early Termination Option on $9.97 million for next year. The 26-year-old is in his 8th NBA season and has been a solid performer going back to his second year in the league. His stats are down currently, but that’s easily blamed on his situation. There will be a ton of rumors surrounding Young until a deal gets confirmed.
 


 

Why this young veteran is even on the sad sack Wolves is something of a mystery, but the rumors of potential interest from Toronto shouldn’t be. The Raptors know this former Sixers forward well and he might just be the fix they are looking for to shore up their lineup.
 


 

Young can play either forward position and was expected to play small forward coming out of college. At 6’5.75” tall without shoes and a 34.5” no step vertical jump, he is undersized to play with the big men, but quick and athletic enough to create matchup problems for power forwards. He has, however, always wanted to play small forward, but only intermittently has he been given the chance.

CBS Sports Matt Moore described Young’s desire to get back to his natural position.

Thaddeus Young has resisted playing power forward for years. Dating to 2008, he wanted to play what he feels is his more natural position at small forward for Philadelphia. He has size advantages at small forward and the athleticism to hang at that spot. But his coaches have always leaned toward dropping him at the 4.

Philly.com’s Michael Kaskey-Blomain describes Young’s versatility

Young can do a lot of it all, and his biggest value may be in his versatility. He has played small forward and power forward. He has been in a reserve role and has been a starter for the Sixers. This combination of skill, experience and versatility could be very valuable in today’s NBA, and the right team could really benefit from what he brings to the table.

In many ways Young is a version of the Raptors James Johnson with a better (not great) jump shot and range out to the three-point line. Where Johnson is going to get you more blocks, Young is adept at getting steals. Both players prefer to get their points close to the rim. The Raptors have little need for another power forward – especially an undersized athletic power forward, but with Terrence Ross’ play of late, a young veteran small forward like Young could get their attention – if they believe Young can play small forward.

Raptors President and General Manager, Basketball Operations Masai Ujiri has seen enough of Young to make an informed decision about his value to the Raptors and Head Coach Dwane Casey shouldn’t have any trouble forming an opinion about whether Young would fit on his roster or not.

It isn’t clear cut if Toronto would make a suitable landing spot for another combo forward, but Ujiri likes versatility. It just doesn’t seem like the Raptors are about to rush into anything and Young may not be on the market all that long.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

James Johnson warming up by Paul Saini FylmmToronto Raptors James Johnson Gets Serious

“When you are winning everyone is having fun and when you are losing, it’s time to get back to the serious page of doing things the right way, staying locked-in in the locker room and just doing the little things right,” Johnson said.

 

 

 

Nash and Holiday

Ranking The Bottom 5 Of The NBA Western Conference

The NBA Western Conference remains a tough place to play heading into the 2014-15 season. There is no easy route to the playoffs and there will be a few teams jealously looking East again this season.

However, most of the teams dragging up the rear will be better and win more games – the rebuilding Timberwolves being the obvious exception. Look for the bottom 5 to make life uncomfortable for franchises in the tier just above them and to bring down the win totals of the playoff bound teams in the West this season.

As usual injuries, hidden agendas and plain old fashioned luck will impact the final standings.

Ranking The Bottom 5

11. New Orleans Pelicans – Projected 39-43, last season 34-48
New Orleans Pelicans Media Day
The mash unit that is the Pelicans has the talent to grab a better record and possibility even challenge for a playoff spot, if – and it’s a big if – everyone comes back from injury as good as before and the injury bug doesn’t bite anywhere near as hard as it did last season.

Jrue Holiday is returning from a stress fracture in his right leg. Eric Gordon is returning from knee surgery. Tyreke Evans hopes to be returning from knee surgery and Ryan Anderson is hopeful of making a comeback from his neck problems. Now that’s a fine looking foursome in just about any team’s rotation, if they can actually play.

The potential of Anthony Davis becoming a bona fide superstar continues to give the Pelicans hope, but even he missed 15 games last season. If New Orleans can stay healthy, look out, but the only kind of luck this franchise has experienced recently has been bad luck.

12. Sacramento Kings – Projected 34-48, last season 28-54
TOR_Gay_Rudy
The Kings were a much better team after the trade with Toronto that landed them Rudy Gay. They won 38 percent of their games with the new lineup. Even losing Isaiah Thomas’ 20 points per game this summer probably doesn’t hurt them as Darren Collision and Ramon Sessions will add a badly needed level of maturity to this roster. Like last season, Sacramento will not have problems scoring points this year either.

Everyone continues to wait on DeMarcus Cousins to grow up and become the dominant center his natural ability says is in him. His time on Team USA this summer should help him, although his immaturity still showed through at inappropriate times and at 24-years-old, it’s time that stopped.

13. Los Angeles Lakers – Projected 33-49, last season, 27-55
LAL_Bryant_Kobe
It’s hard to know what to make of the hodge-podge of talent Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak has put together other than this group of players should win more games than last year. A group of cast offs that other teams had believed in before – generally with good reasons – and two aging superstars returning from injuries in Steve Nash (40) and Kobe Bryant (36) could surprise people on any given night.

For the Lakers to have a good season, good as in challenge for a playoff spot, Nash needs to stay healthy and be a dime generating machine that can nail three-pointers like in the good old days. You shouldn’t be holding your breath, but it would be nice to see. Then Kobe has to be able to score like before and still have enough left to play some defense.

There is a very good chance the Lakers become an exciting enough offensive team that they are fun to watch and Bryant resembles some of what fans pay good money to see. However, it is hard to believe this collection of players can find the chemistry needed to win enough games in time to be relevant.

14. Utah Jazz – Projected 29-53, last season 25-57
Utah Jazz Media Day
The very young Jazz are another year older and wiser. Still too young and inexperienced to be a significant threat on most nights, they will win more games than last season.

The starting lineup of Trey Burke, Alec Burks, Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter will keep the opposition honest as they continue to improve.

15. Minnesota Timberwolves – Projected 22-60, last season 40-42
Cleveland Cavaliers Media Day
Kevin Love is gone and the Timberwolves are loaded with young exciting potential superstar level talent. If Minnesota can develop Andrew Wiggins, Zach LaVine, Anthony Bennett and Gorgui Deng into the players they are envisioned as becoming and can retain them long term, the future looks bright.

For this year, Ricky Rubio, Kevin Martin, Corey Brewer, Thaddeus Young and Nikola Pekovic are the guys the Timberwolves will need to turn to for wins. Hopefully, Head Coach Flip Saunders doesn’t let winning get in the road of player development.

Risks and Obstacles

The Pelicans could be treading water waiting for injured players to return or just round back into form and the Lakers appear to be waiting until next season, but both teams have talent if everything breaks in their favor. Plus, everyone has been waiting for the Kings to figure things out and play up to their talent level long enough to put them into the show-me category. Now these situations are not usually a formula for success, but the teams bear watching.

The Jazz and Timberwolves are in true rebuild mode and expectations are low. However, they have young exciting talent and in Minnesota’s situation in particular, their head coach can move the win total up or down significantly.

 

Who do you think finishes last in the West? Which one of the teams in the bottom 5 will be first to overtly start tanking the season? Can any of these teams exceed expectations and make the playoffs? Let us know in the comments below.

 

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.

 

 

Griffin and Chandler
Ranking The Top Five 2014-15 NBA Western Conference Teams

 

Harden and Lillard
Ranking The Middle Of The NBA Western Conference Pack

 

 

Eric Bledsoe Phoenix Suns Media Day

Timberwolves Looking To Offer Eric Bledsoe The Max

In an interesting development, the Phoenix Suns restricted free agent point guard Eric Bledsoe is being courted by the Minnesota Timberwolves. Bledsoe has been holding out for a max deal that the Suns have justifiably been reluctant to offer, however, Fox 10 News Phoenix Sports Anchor Jude LaCava’s sources say a deal is in the works.

As Minnesota does not have the salary cap space to make a max offer to Bledsoe outright, a sign-and-trade would have to be worked out with Phoenix. Timberwolves reporter Jerry Zgoda for the Star Tribune days he hasn’t heard any indication about how a deal might go down.

As the Timberwolves already have Ricky Rubio, J.J. Barea and Mo Williams under contract, a sign and trade involving one of their point guards would make sense if Phoenix is interested.

Bledsoe has been hanging around in free agency all summer looking to get the deal he wants and with 10 days to go before training camps open, there appears to be some serious interest at his price.

 

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.

 

 

Andrews Wiggins presser by MoVernie

Timberwolves Free Dunk Contest With Wiggins And LaVine

The Minnesota Timberwolves know how to sell a rebuilding program to their fans as they heat up training camp with “Dunks After Dark” at 11pm on Monday September 29 headlining their high flying rookies Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine.

 

 

This free event at Bresnan Arena in the Taylor Center on the campus of Minnesota State University will be covered by NBA TV and steamed live on Timberwolves.com

 

 

 
 

Blatche and Barea

FIBA World Cup Studs From Day 5 J.J. Barea And Andray Blatche

As Team USA and Spain rolled to their fourth consecutive wins, Wednesday’s biggest studs were found in a battle between Puerto Rico and the Philippines as J.J. Barea and Andray Blatche fought to keep their team’s slim hopes of advancing beyond group play alive for another day.

Team USA found themselves in garbage time early, so Head Coach Mike Krzyzewski spread the minutes around during the 35 point blowout win over the Dominican Republic. Spain’s three-headed monster of Pau Gasol, Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka were far too much for France to deal with, but they shared the wealth and no one stood out on the stats sheet in the 88-64 win even if all of France’s big men looked overmatched.

Puerto Rico defeated the Philippines 77-73 on hot hand of the Timberwolves Barea who went on a personal 10-3 run that put his team up by five points late in the fourth quarter. Barea’s 30 point game was tops among all players on Day 5. As has been the case throughout group play, the Nets free agent power forward Blatche led the Philippines with his fourth consecutive double-double as the big man scored 25 points, grabbed 14 rebounds, blocked 2 shots and had a steal, however, as usual, it wasn’t enough and the Philippines fell to 0-4 and out of contention for the next round.

The Suns free agent Hamed Haddadi is looking for a contract and he has been showing his value at the World Cup. On Wednesday he led Iran past Egypt 88-73 with a 23 point 15 rebound 1 steal 2 block effort that kept his team’s very slim hopes of advancing to the next round alive. It was Haddadi’s second double-double and second plus 20 point game as he has averaged 18 points and 10.5 rebounds on a team that doesn’t offer him much support.

The Pelicans new center Omer Asik put up 22 points, 8 rebounds, 2 steals and a block to help propel Turkey past Finland 77-73.

Pacers veteran forward Luis Scola led Argentina in scoring for the fourth consecutive time with 21 points and 14 rebounds in a 81-46 dismantling of upstart Senegal who had just won two games in a row for the first time ever at this tournament.

The Spurs free agent Aron Baynes keeps showing flashes of why this young big man should be able to land an NBA contract again this season as he led Australia past Mexico 70-62 with a game-high 21 points to go with 5 boards and 3 blocked shots.

Other Notables:

Angola’s Roberto Forte 21 points
Brazil’s Marquinhos Vieira 21 points
Croatia’s Bojan Bogdanovic (Nets) 20 points
Lithuania’s Adas Juskevicius 20 points

Check out all of the leading scorers at the FIBA World Cup 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.

 

 

Pau Gasol and Dieng

FIBA World Cup Studs From Day 3 Pau Gasol And Gorgui Dieng

It was a short schedule of games at the 2014 FIBA World Cup in Spain on the Labor Day holiday Monday, however, Bulls Pau Gasol and Timberwolves Gorgui Dieng put up some huge numbers in big wins for Spain and Senegal.

The Bulls Pau Gasol used his second dominate performance of the tournament to help Spain lay an 82-63 beating on Brazil. Gasol had 26 points, 9 rebounds and 3 blocked shots. Spain has won their first three games by an average of 28.7 points.

Senegal knocked off previously unbeaten Croatia 77-75 using a monster 27 point, 8 rebound, 3 assist, 1 steal and 2 block effort from the Timberwolves 24-year-old center Gorgui Dieng. In three games, Dieng has averaged 22 points and 11.7 rebounds. Behind the efforts of their young star, Senegal has their first two wins at this event since 1998. Croatia was led by the 76ers first round draft pick Dario Saric with 15 points, 4 assists and 6 rebounds and the Nets Bojan Bogdanovic with 15 points and 3 rebounds.

The Phoenix Suns free agent center Hamed Haddadi scored a tournament high for the day of 29 points in Iran’s 83-70 loss to Serbia. Haddadi has interest from the Knicks and the Pelicans in the NBA for the upcoming season. Nemanja Bjelica of Fenerbehce Ulker had an 18 point 10 rebound double-double for Serbia.

Pacers forward Luis Scola scored 19 points to lead Argentina in scoring for the third day in a row as his team knocked off the Philippines 85-81. The Nets free agent Andray Blatche recorded his third double-double in 3 days with 14 points, 15 rebounds, 2 steals and 2 blocks in the loss.

Nikos Zisis got hot from outside hitting on 4-5 three-point attempts to score 19 points and lead unbeaten Greece past Puerto Rico 90-79. The former New York Knicks and Denver Nuggets forward Renaldo Balkman had 23 points, 5 rebounds and 4 steals and Timberwolves Jose Juan Barea had 21 points in the loss.

France beat up on Egypt 94-55. Egypt is 0-3 and has lost by an average of 32.3 points per game. No studs here.

Check out all of the leading scorers at the FIBA World Cup 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.

 

 

Brady Heslip by MoVernie (edited)

Can Canadian Brady Heslip Make The Timberwolves?

Canadian guard Brady Heslip isn’t the typical college player expected to make an NBA roster. He wasn’t drafted, he wasn’t even ranked in the top 100 by most mock draft boards. However, he earned a shot at making the Minnesota Timberwolves roster this summer at NBA Summer League and while playing for Team Canada.

 

 
He’s old for a rookie at 24 and he’s undersized for a shooting guard at 6’2, however, Heslip brings more to the NBA than the typical immature early entry candidate teams usually take out of the draft. Heslip can score and he’s proven it against some of the best playing for Team Canada over the past two summers. Seeing Heslip tryout for Team Canada for the FIBA Americas tournament last summer, it would have been easy to assume he’d be cut. There were bigger guards available to play, but he earned a spot on the roster and he wasn’t just a twelve man. Heslip was often a surprising impact player.

In in final year at Baylor, Heslip made 3.1 three-pointers a game shooting 46 percent from deep and Minnesota decided to give him a look at Summer League.

 


 

Heslip wasn’t about to waste this opportunity and in his final two games he averaged 15.5 points and made 7-10 three-points attempts.
 

 

After getting noticed in Las Vegas, Heslip brought that shooting with him to Team Canada for the summer where the undersized guard led his team in scoring on 4 occasions. 14 points against Georgia, 16 points versus Croatia, 18 points on Serbia and a 22 point effort in the final game against Angola. He also scored 11 points against Spain. Heslip was Team Canada’s floor spreader and the opposition left him at their own peril.

 

 

“Hopefully we can show off some of those guys while we are on that (11 game European) tour and get them employed,” Canadian Head Coach Jay Triano told Pro Bball Report. “It’s happened in the past. I think back to the 2000 Olympics and guys that played in the Olympics got jobs because of how well we did in the Olympics and they got better contracts.”

“(The players) get to be seen. If it opens up opportunities for our players to keep playing and become employed as basketball players then it’s a great trip.”

Currently there isn’t a spot for Heslip on the Timberwolves 15-man roster, however, with all the moves that the team has made recently, it isn’t hard to imagine how an opportunity to make the roster could happen. It will be an uphill battle to go from not being drafted to making an NBA team, but Heslip has been able to impress coaches before and earn himself a chance to play. He just might be able to do it 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.

 

 

Andrews Wiggins presser by MoVernie

Andrew Wiggins In Toronto For Endorsement Deal And Video

 

The NBA’s 2014 first overall draft pick Andrew Wiggins visited his Alma Mater in Toronto, Glen Shields Public School (Concord, Ontario) on Monday to formally announce a major new endorsement deal with Canadian based BioSteel Sports Inc.

Andrews Wiggins Biosteel presser by MoVernie

 

BioSteel is a sports drink producer whose products are in wide use among both professional and amateur athletes. They were the first Canadian company step up and sign Wiggins to an endorsement contract.

 

Team BioSteel also includes NHL All-Star Carey Price, NFL All-Pro Dez Bryant and Blue Jays pitcher Brandon Morrow. Their products are often found at pro sports camps.

 


Wiggins filmed a commercial for Biosteel while he was at Glen Shields Public School.