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NBA San Antonio Spurs LaMarcus Aldridge and Toronto Raptors Jonas Valanciunas

Raptors Should Just Go For It This Season

Already deep in luxury tax territory and unsuccessfully looking to dump contracts even at the expense of potentially getting worse, Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri should be looking to do more than just being a top four team in the Eastern Conference. He should got for it and take his shot at getting to the NBA Finals.

As Basketball Insiders senior writer Joel Brigham reported recently, overall the East has gotten weaker with Jimmy Butler, Paul George and Paul Millsap heading west. The top four in the East aren’t about to change, although maybe things between the top teams could become at least a little more interesting.

Cleveland, Boston, Toronto and Washington look almost certain to keep their top-four status in the conference simply by bringing back the same players they had a year ago. Add Milwaukee to that conversation, too

Chicago, Indiana and Atlanta all made the playoffs last year but each will vie for the conference’s worst record next season after losing their stars

Boston took the first steps towards becoming more competitive with the Cavs by getting Gordon Hayward’s commitment for next season. Although they still have more moves left to create the needed cap space to sign Hayward and they’ll probably want to do something about carrying four small forwards that all need to play next season.

Expect the Wizards to match anything restricted free agent Otto Porter signs on July 6th.

The Raptors will bring back starters Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka, but have lost rotation players P.J. Tucker and Patrick Patterson to free agency and are rumored to be looking to dump salary because of luxury tax concerns.

All three of these pretenders will be competitive during the regular season, but unless they have another major move up their sleeve, no one is going to give them more than a puncher’s chance at knocking off a healthy Cavs squad in the playoffs.

The Celtics with Isaiah Thomas, Al Horford and Gordon Hayward still need rebounding and they have the trade pieces to go get a difference maker. Of course the Celtics with Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum and Brooklyn’s 2018 first round draft pick could choose to tread water as a 50-win team while their young guys develop instead?

Built around John Wall and Bradley Beal, the Wizards will have continuity and if they can find some offense off the bench, it can be argued they don’t need anything else, but they really need that bench to step up.

The Raptors are built around Lowry, DeMar DeRozan and Ibaka, but like the Celtics, they need another impact player if they are going to be more than pretenders in the East.

(Players shown in the positions they would like to play)

The Raptors could make do with the players they have, even if it isn’t practical luxury tax wise. Delon Wright has the size to play on the wing. DeMarre Carroll can play both forward spots and Ibaka can play power forward (like he has for most of his career.) But this isn’t the best use of team resources.

The favored move seems to be to find a team to take on Carroll’s salary to solve the luxury tax issue, but this doesn’t help re-balance the roster or help move the needle of the team’s outlook for next season.

No, Ujiri needs to go big if this team is going to be significantly better than last season. He needs to add an impact player, preferably while reducing his luxury tax position.

Once teams can actually start signing free agents on July 6th and reality sets in around the league, trade season can start in earnest and there is one multiple-time All-Star rumored to have shopped around at the draft because he wasn’t happy, the Spurs LaMarcus Aldridge.

The almost 32-year-old five-time All-Star power forward wasn’t named to the All-Star team for first time since 2012 last year. He posted his lowest scoring (17.3 points per game), fewest field goals made (6.9) and worst rebounding numbers (7.3) since his rookie season way back in 2006-07. However, he was still an impact player and as has been a big man trend, he added a three-point shot and hit 41 percent of his 56 attempts last season.

In addition to Aldridge being unhappy, general manager R.C. Burford isn’t going to have star point guard Tony Parker to start the season, if at all. It doesn’t look like free agency is going all that well either besides the return of Patty Mills, so an aging Spurs team could use some young ready-to-go players for next season.

If the Raptors sent Jonas Valanciunas, Cory Joseph and Lucas Nogueira to the Spurs for Aldridge, the Raptors would get another impact player who can shoot plus shave $4.5 million off their payroll, and the Spurs would get to fill some holes with a young starting center, a backup point guard they know well and a young developing big man.

The Raptors tax situation becomes a lot more palatable and the players fall into roles they prefer/fit.

If Aldridge can re-gain his All-Star form of a year ago, which should be a lot easier in the NBA East, Toronto would at least get a second look as a potential competitor for the Cavs come playoff time.

At this point in early July, nothing is set in stone, however, expect the Celtics to make a move to address those rebounding concerns, look for the Wizards bench to improve and the Raptors will do … something.

Ujiri created a three-year window with the contracts of DeRozan, Lowry and Ibaka, so he may as well go for it this year if he can and there may be no better opportunity to snag an impact player than the situation in San Antonio with Aldridge. That is unless Danny Ainge beats him to it.



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

ESPN Wasting No Time To Forget Toronto Exists

It took no time at all for ESPN to forget Toronto even exists as they forecast the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors will meet in the NBA Finals again next year.

Sure the Cavs and the Dubs are heavy favorites no matter what any other team does this summer, but what the ESPN Forecast panel is predicting can only be called bizarre and insulting.

The third place 51-win Raptors don’t even get a sniff ahead of the Bucks team (4.4%) they eliminated from the playoffs, a 49-win Wizards team (2.2%) who they took two of three games from during the regular season or the dysfunctional Pistons (2.2%) who didn’t even make the playoffs.

This panel are either making a ton of assumptions about the inability of Raptors president Masai Ujiri to keep the key pieces of his roster together or, more likely, they just forgot Toronto has an NBA franchise.

The assumptions required to believe the Celtics will win the East next season are not any easier to make happen than those required for the Raptors to be back in the top three of the Eastern Conference.

The Wizards largely face the same challenges this summer that they faced last summer to take another step.

The Bucks are an up and coming team, but do they break thru next year?

The Pistons? Stan Van Gundy wouldn’t predict his team wins the East next year.

It might not be easy for the US based ESPN to remember “We The North” exists, but they could at least look at last year’s standings for some background info before forecasting next year.

There is no one in Toronto that shouldn’t take the Pistons being given a better chance than the Raptors to win the East as anything but a huge insult. Even the Hawks, Bulls, Pacers and Heat should be questioning how the Pistons are getting more respect from ESPN than they are.



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 Washington Wizards Brandon Jennings / New York Knicks

Why The Knicks Fell Apart This Season Phil Jackson

By Frank McLean

Thursday night the Washington Wizards hosted the New York Knicks for the NBA’s latest version of guaranteed win night which is what a team gets when they host the Knicks.

The Knicks didn’t disappoint as they lost 106-103 to drop their season record to 30-wins and 49-losses leaving them with only three more agonizing games left in their regular season schedule for their battered and bruised fans back in New York City.

If you remember back on December 22nd the Knicks were 16-13 and they looked like they were on their way to their goal of making a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

So what went wrong? How did the train fall of tracks?

Before Thursday’s night’s game the Wizards Brandon Jennings weighed in on what went wrong with the New York media saying that once the Carmelo Anthony trade rumors started from Phil Jackson in January it all fell apart.

Jennings started the season with the Knicks after signing a deal with the club in the offseason.

After playing just 58-games averaging 8.6-points a game he was waived by the Knicks on February 27th and then signed with the Wizards on March first for the remainder of the season.

Anthony as we all know has a no trade clause in his contract and it’s known that Jackson was actively trying to move Anthony before the trade deadline. Jennings said that it definitely was bothering Anthony.

“It definitely took a toll, I think, on the team. Because it wasn’t even about basketball anymore, it was more about what was going on with Melo,” Jennings said. It was one of the wildest situations he has been in during his eight seasons in the league.

Jennings added that it was “cool” playing with Anthony, but went on to say that Anthony had “a lot of pressure on him dealing with stuff with Phil.”  Jennings went on to say that it just wasn’t fair what Anthony had to go through.

“I think it was just a roller coaster, an emotional roller coaster for him this year with everything he had to deal with, which isn’t fair,” he said. “For a player to wake up every day and you’re hearing trade rumors and you might be gone and this and that. It was like a two-week span where everybody was hitting your phone about Melo leaving.”

Jennings has a point. The Knicks were in Toronto playing the Raptors in January just a couple of days after the first Anthony to be traded out of New York started when a story came out attributed from a former Jackson colleague that Anthony has to go because he can’t play the triangle offense.

By the time the Knicks came back to Toronto in March you could see that the rumors had taken their toll in the locker room and on the court.

Other factors have to be considered too. The roster mix just didn’t fit, they couldn’t play a simple defense and the fact they couldn’t or wouldn’t play the triangle.

But Jennings hit it on the head that once the Anthony trade rumors started that pretty well killed their season.

Of course the rumors won’t go away as speculation has it that the Knicks will pursue a trade in the offseason and Anthony has hinted he may agree to one.  Meanwhile things have worked out well for Jennings.

When he was waived by the Knicks it was a mutual parting of the ways by both parties.

“I’m on my contract year so I didn’t want to go home in April,” Jennings said about the matter. “I have a chance to go to the playoffs, so I’m really excited about that.”

Who wouldn’t be excited (to leave the Knicks this season)?



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





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

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

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

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

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

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

NBA Eastern Conference net rating

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


Projecting The NBA East Playoff Seeding

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Playoff seeding 6th thru 8th is decidedly undecided.



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

  Featured image courtesy of Larry Millson



NBA East

Playoff Contenders And Pretenders In The NBA East

As NBA teams prepare for New Year’s celebrations, their coaches and general managers have to start facing up to some tough realities. Are they playoff contenders or pretenders in the East? Is it time to tank for the best possible NBA Draft Lottery ticket or go all in for one of the readily available last four playoff spots?

Currently there are eight teams fighting for the last four playoff spots in the Eastern Conference: Hawks, Wizards, Knicks, Bulls, Bucks, Pacers, Magic and Pistons and the 12th place Pistons are only three games back of the fifth place Hawks. Whoever can get and keep their act together over the final 40-odd games left in the season is in.

Just for perspective, ESPN Eastern Conference predictions have the Hornets, Celtics, Raptors and Cavaliers at better than 95 percent certainty of making the postseason. Although only the Raptors and Cavs are given any chance at advancing to the NBA Finals. Miami, Brooklyn and Philadelphia are already relegated to just playing out the string. ESPN also provides Strength of Schedule and the usual standings details to help round out where the teams in the East stand.

NBA East

The teams, their opponents, the fans or anyone else for that matter is under no obligation to just accept ESPN’s predictions. These eight teams are so close that the right move could solidify, boost or reverse (if the tank is in) the fortunes of any one of them.

Atlanta Hawks – ESPN 6th

The Hawks have made the postseason in each of the past nine seasons and if any organization has shown they can pull out the stops necessary to get back there again, this is it.

This team is full value for their .500 record. They have shown an ability to beat anyone, like the Raptors and Cavs and then lose to anyone as they did to the Timberwolves and Magic recently.

With fully half of this roster expected to hit free agency in July, one might expect the Hawks to do the rational move and cash in a high value player who will be tough to keep for a very mediocre team to get future assets, but pending free agents haven’t produced much in trade talks in recent years and it’ll be easier to just try to ride this group to a 10th in a row postseason appearance.

At this point, it wouldn’t be safe to go against the ESPN prediction.

Washington Wizards – ESPN 9th

The Wizards have reversed a terrible start to the season, but they did it playing a somewhat soft schedule that included a couple of wins over the Nets in December.

The best arguments for not just blowing up this roster are the two wins over Milwaukee and the wins over Charlotte and Detroit this month, all of whom ESPN has finishing ahead of Washington.

The Wizards financially committed to winning this season and should be actively looking for trades over the next six weeks to upgrade their roster, especially that terrible 29th ranked (worse than the Nets) bench. It wouldn’t take much to keep them solidly in the playoff picture.

If the Wizards don’t make a move, ESPN has got this prediction right.

New York Knicks – ESPN 10th

Will the Knicks break the hearts of their long suffering fans once again? Probably and it isn’t hard to see why. It’s challenging to project any team giving up nearly 108 points per game making the playoffs.

They are getting outscored by their opponents by the second biggest margin in this group of eight teams. They can’t beat good teams and the much anticipated string of injuries to this rather brittle roster has yet to really happen.

It’s easy to see the Knicks trying to turn draft picks into players that could help now and it might work – for this season, but hasn’t this organization had it’s fill of being taken advantage of by other teams for possible short term gain?

The Knicks making the postseason would be a real “feel good” story. However, the competition for one of those spots might just be too tough unless a few of their competitors decide to tank.

Chicago Bulls – ESPN 8th

Underachievers sums up the Bulls season and it might just cost head coach Fred Hoiberg his job, but if that happens, just throw out the ESPN prediction of 8th place. This team would be headed back to the Lottery and looking to retool for next year.

The Bulls have enjoyed the easiest schedule in the NBA and they are blowing it. Worse, they don’t seem to know why things aren’t going better and can benching Rajon Rondo in the second half of games really be the answer? Throw out the all the fancy ESPN stats on this one, since beating the Cavs on December 2nd, they’ve lost to every team that matters to go 5-10.

If any team needs to make a deal, the Bulls are it and they have assets other teams should be interested in. Assuming management can keep its focus, but this is one team that seems destined to return to the Lottery.

Milwaukee Bucks – ESPN 5th

A young Bucks team hasn’t fared so well thru a rough patch in the schedule, but they still hold the largest points differential of the teams in the group while playing the second toughest schedule. A 7-8 December includes losses to the Spurs, Raptors and Cavs twice.

Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker are the present and the future of this team and any tinkering with this roster has to take these two future (all?)-stars into account. Plus Kris Middleton could return from his hamstring injury after the All-Star break, so the pressure is off in terms of needing to add another impact player.

Sorry Greg Monroe, but the Bucks aren’t under any pressure to move you, but if any team has a point guard they’d like to swap for a big man?

This team is going to the postseason.

Indiana Pacers – ESPN 11th

Tied with Chicago for the easiest schedule in the NBA, a team featuring Paul George should be competing with Toronto for second place in the East instead of owning a spot in the Lottery. There were consequences to shaking up the roster and firing the head coach after what should have been considered a successful season last year.

A team that used to be known for playing big is getting crushed on the glass to the tune of almost 12 offensive rebounds given up and a rebounding differential approaching 5. Add that to the third worst bench in the NBA and what’s become a middle of the road starting group, and even a superstar isn’t going to save you.

A trade for a shooting guard that could score would help as would a big that could rebound, but the Pacers don’t have a lot to offer in return. Unfortunately, ESPN’s prediction of 11th place is looking to be rock solid.

Orlando Magic – ESPN 12th

Apparently someone forgot to mention that the NBA is a guard driven league these days?

The Magic have trouble scoring, they aren’t much of a three-point threat and they could use upgrades at both guard spots. Other than that, this team could be really good. Maybe a trade would help?

Bringing in Serge Ibaka on an expiring deal without the guard play necessary to get the most out of him could easily turn this into a terrible trade for the Magic when he walks away in free agency in July. So sooner rather than later, the Magic have to either trade Ibaka to get something back or trade someone else to get the help needed to turn this sinking Titanic around in hopes of convincing Ibaka to re-sign.

Either way, go with the ESPN prediction. The Magic’s plan for this season didn’t work.

Detroit Pistons – ESPN 7th

Stan Van Gundy is a really good coach, but even he seems flustered by the play of this group. Although, playing the second toughest schedule in the NBA could do that to a team expected to finish somewhere between 5th and 8th before the season began.

The Pistons have played 20 games against teams with a .500 record or better. The Bulls have only played 12, the Wizards 13, and the Hawks and Pacers 14. Van Gundy has his excuse for being in 12th place at 15-20 on the season (not that he’s using it.)

A middle of the road group of starters is supported by the East’s 4th best bench, so slipping into a playoff spot is well within reach and Van Gundy isn’t above rolling the dice on a trade. Although, all the Pistons may need to do is to wait on the schedule to turn in their favor and they’ll meet or exceed ESPN’s prediction.

In Summary,

Contenders: Hawks, Bucks, Pistons

Pretenders: Knicks, Pacers, Magic

Let’s Make A Deal: Wizards, Bulls


Who do you think can grab one of the final four playoff spots in the East?

Which teams pull the trigger on a deal – to make it? – or tank?



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 playoffs Cleveland Cavaliers Lebron James - Kyrie Irving - Kevin Love

Who Has The Star Power In The NBA East?

The NBA is a star driven league and the teams with the biggest stars seem to inevitably make it into the playoffs and the best on to the NBA Finals. However, no star is big enough to do it on their own, they need help on the level of the top 100 NBA players as described by SI.com’s Ben Golliver and Rob Mahoney. SI might not be 100 percent right on their selections, but be assured, if a team doesn’t have more than it’s share of talent from this list, their playoff aspirations could be in trouble.

Eastern Conference teams with significant top 100 depth are:

Cleveland Cavaliers (5 players on SI’s top 100)

Assuming a deal eventually gets done with J.R. Smith (96th), the Cavs have SI’s number one ranked player in the NBA, LeBron James backed up by Kyrie Irving (25), Kevin Love (30) and Tristan Thompson (52). This returning starting five averaged an impressive 81.1 points and 31.1 rebounds.

Somehow it doesn’t seem fair that James gets to play with this much depth until one checks out the Warriors who have four players ranked in the top 20.

Boston Celtics (5 players on SI’s top 100)

The free agent acquisition of Al Horford (18th) gives the Celtics a top 20 player to play with Isaiah Thomas (45), Jae Crowder (53), Avery Bradley (72) and Amir Johnson (86). However, this likely starting five only averaged 74.1 points and 24.7 rebounds combined last year. The Celtics might just miss last season’s number 4 scorer and SI snub ranked in the “next 25” Evan Turner. Horford replaces Boston’s top rebounder and fifth leading scorer Jared Sullinger who signed with Toronto.

Orlando Magic (5 players on SI’s top 100)

It may come as a surprise, but the Magic really are a better and deeper team than last year’s 35 win squad, albeit with perhaps more depth at the 4/5 than usual? The acquisition of Serge Ibaka (42) fits in nicely with the smash-mouth style of new head coach Frank Vogel as does free agent Bismack Biyombo (91). They join Nikola Vucevic (75), Evan Fournier (95) and Aaron Gordon (99). A starting five Elfrid Payton, Fournier, Gordon, Ibaka and Vucevic averaged 65.5 points and 28.1 rebounds combined last year.

Orlando could be a playoff team, but with no star in the top 40, depth can only carry a team so far.

Toronto Raptors (4 players on SI’s top 100)

The Raptors top ranked players all played on last year’s 56 win team led by Kyle Lowry (14), DeMar DeRozan (46), Jonas Valanciunas (62) and DeMarre Carroll (73). SI snub Cory Joseph just missing the cut. Toronto’s starting lineup will include Sullinger from the Celtics replacing the 36-year-old Luis Scola. This anticipated starting lineup averaged a Cavaliers-like 78.8 points and 31.3 rebounds combined. Lowry is ranked as the third best player in the East and should be expected to carry his team far again this season.

Charlotte Hornets (4 players on SI’s top 100)

The Hornets live or die on the back of Kemba Walker (33), but he has help from Nicolas Batum (43), Marvin Williams (65) and Cody Zeller (94). Micheal Kidd-Gilchrist made the next 25 snub list despite only playing 7 regular season games last year. These five players averaged 68.9 points and 29.5 rebounds combined.

Washington Wizards (4 players on SI’s top 100)

No one ever said the Wizards didn’t have talent. John Wall (17), Marcan Gortat (55), Bradley Beal (58) and Ian Mahinmi (76) all make SI’s top 100. The presumed starting lineup includes Otto Porter and Markieff Morris with 74.5 points and 29.3 boards combined.

Atlanta Hawks (4 players on SI’s top 100)

This team doesn’t feel like a playoff contender, but Paul Millsap (15), Dwight Howard (34), Kyle Korver (70) and Kent Bazemore (90) indicate there’s still something here. Dennis Schroder takes over from Jeff Teague to lead this group at point guard, their combined averages were 62.6 points and 31.8 rebounds.

In a 30 team league, a middle of the pack team should have at least three players from SI’s list and five Eastern Conference teams do.  Teams hitting this mark include:

Chicago Bulls feature Jimmy Butler (16), Dwyane Wade (32) and Robin Lopez (82) plus three more in the next 25, Taj Gibson, Nikola Mirotic and Rajon Rondo, so maybe they are better than average?

Indiana Pacers feature the resurgent Paul George (9), Jeff Teague (57) and Thaddeus Young (66) plus two snubs in Monta Ellis and Al Jefferson. George is ranked as the second best player in the East, so expect the Pacers to be in the middle of the playoff pack rather than the middle of the conference.

Milwaukee Bucks have Kris Middleton (39), Giannis Antetokounmpo (48), Greg Monroe (63) plus Jabari Parker in the next 25. (Note: Middleton is expected to miss the next 6 months due to injury)

Detroit Pistons rely on Andre Drummond (29), Reggie Jackson (54) and Tobias Harris (77). Head coach Stan Van Gundy might be the real star in Detroit.

In theory Miami had Hassan Whiteside (35), Goran Dragic (61) and Chris Bosh (37), however, Bosh failed his preseason physical so maybe the Heat can stop pretending they can even be an average team this season?

The star power in the East suggests Cleveland remains unchallenged with Toronto, Boston and possibly Indiana fighting it out for next best. However, the depleted Hawks with four players in the top 100 may not be as badly off as anticipated if they can find the chemistry needed to keep their 9-year postseason run alive.

It should be noted that the Knicks are one of just three Eastern Conference teams to have less than three players on SI’s top 100 list as Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah fell into the snubbed category. The East and the West each have 50 players in SI’s top 100.



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 Los Angeles Lakers Timofey Mozgov

Buyer’s Remorse Coming Soon After NBA Free Agent Signings

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

Brooklyn Nets

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

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

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

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

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

Washington Wizards

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

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

Houston Rockets

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

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

Orlando Magic

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

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

Los Angeles Lakers

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

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

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

Portland Trail Blazers

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

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

Free Agency Is Always A Little Crazy

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



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





Team Canada Andrew Nicholson

Wizards Take Canadian Free Agent Andrew Nicholson

The Orlando Magic didn’t extend a qualifying offer to power forward Andrew Nicholson briefly giving the Toronto Raptors the possibility of putting another Canadian player on their bench. However, from an ever shrinking pool of free agent talent, the Washington Wizards grabbed the stretch-four with a four-year $26 million offer for themselves.

Nicholson was on the outs in Orlando last season and for the first time in his NBA career, he didn’t get a single start with the Magic. However, in the 56 games he did play in, he averaged 36 percent from three-point range on a 114 attempts and pulled in a solid 22.8 percent of the available defensive boards.

In the current free agent frenzy, $6.5 million per season for a developing stretch-four actually looks kind of cheap.



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

Is Hope All That’s Left For The Raptors?

By Frank McLean

After Tuesday night’s second game 117-106 loss to the Washington Wizards all that seems to be left is hope. Hope that something will turn in the Raptors favor.

You hope that the Raptors can find something to stop the Wizard’s two headed monster of John Wall and Bradley Beal. The two guards combined for 54-points and 19-assists and 17-of those assists came from Wall. You hope Wall had a career night and that he doesn’t have any more 26-point 17-assists nights left. You hope the Raptors can find a way to make it tougher for Wall to get the ball to Marcin Gortat and Otto Porter under the basket as the duo combined for 31-points between them.

You hope that the Raptors can find some of that miracle water from Lourdes for Kyle Lowry. Lowry has been in foul trouble in both games, fouling out in game one, and picking up another four in game two. He has also scored a grand total of 13-points in two games. He looks like numerous parts of his body are hurting, and based on how Lowry plays that is not a surprise.

You hope the Raptors of last year show up, you know the team that always fought and willed its way to a win will come into Washington looking for a fight. This is something that has even perplexed head coach Dwayne Casey who had this to say on Wednesday.

“I want to kick somebody and get up in somebody’s chest,” Casey said “You’re going to knock me on my butt? I’m going to knock you on your butt.”

Casey keeps saying that there is another level you got bring to your game come playoff time and you want to knock the other guy on their butt. Casey is from the old school of basketball and that old school thinking hasn’t changed. If you think it’s changed, just watch the highlights of the first two games because that’s exactly what the Wizards are doing and the Raptors are not.

The fight was not there Tuesday night. Twice in game the Wizards came back and swatted the Raptors to the floor as they tried to comeback. Down 31-26 after the first quarter, the Wizards led 60-49 at the half. The Raptors opened the third quarter on a 12-3 run to cut the deficit to 2-points. Then Wizards head coach Randy Wittman called a time out and they came and outscored the Raptors 34-14 in the 8:30 of the frame and went into the fourth up 22-points. Thus bringing me to the next hope, you hope that Randy Wittman becomes well Randy Wittman.

When you talk to people who cover the Wizards on a regular basis they tell you that this team can’t handle good fortune and somewhere Randy Wittman will make a dumb move here a dumb move there and all of a sudden this series will be tied 2-2 heading back to Toronto. That’s starting to look hard to believe because he did something right in that third quarter timeout that gave the Wizards the win right then and there.

Don’t forget this Wizards team went into Chicago during the first round last year, beat the Bulls on their home court in the first two games and pulled off an upset first round win.

The last hope is that numbers do lie from time to time. Since the NBA changed the first round of the playoffs from a best of five to a best of seven in 2003 only four times has a team down 0-2 after the first two games have gone on to win the series. Worst of all, unlike Major League Baseball and the National Hockey League, no team has ever lost the first three games of a best of seven and then won four straight to take the series.

That’s why Friday is a must win.

So as we said all that’s left for the Raptors and their fans is hope. Hope that somehow they can at least figure out a way to win a couple of games in this series as being swept four games would be unthinkable for team that started the year with a different kind of hope. The kind of hope that 24-7 start to the regular season brought.


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.






Wizards Need To Win Ugly, Raptors Need To Run

The Washington Wizards won game one of their first round match in Toronto against the Raptors by playing ugly and taking advantage of their size on the glass and in hindsight Head coach Randy Wittman let slip the offensively challenged Wizards best strategy for handling the high scoring Raptors.

“You have to play to your strength defensively,” Wittman said. “It’s going to be a pretty game or it’s going to be an ugly game and if it’s ugly you have to win defensively.”

It got about as an ugly an offensive performance by both teams as Wittman could have hoped for with neither team shooting over 40 percent from the field.

Raptors Head coach Dwane Casey knows playing ugly is not a winning strategy for his team.

“We don’t want to win ugly,” said Casey right before game two. “We want to run. We want to get the pace up, get the tempo up. We want to shoot better and the way we shoot better is to get up the floor, run up the floor, get to our spots quickly and initiate our offense. It doesn’t necessarily mean to shoot quickly, but initiate our offense quickly where we are not fighting the shot clock – get the ball moving quicker than the shot clock, get it across half court quicker moreso than than playing at a midlevel pace. I am not saying that we walked it up (last game), but we weren’t running the way we normally run and the Wizards defense had something to do with that. They did a good job of getting back in transition other than the two guys who were crashing the glass.”

So game two is expected to come down to a battle of styles. Can the Wizards slow down the Raptors by continuing to play ugly or can Casey’s players get out and run? The winner of this series will come down to which team can impose their style of play on the game.



TOR DeRozan Lowry Williams

All Is Not Lost In Toronto

By Frank McLean

Just before game one on Saturday afternoon Washington Wizards head coach Randy Wittman told his team this, which in hindsight now looks pretty prophetic.

“You have to play to your strength defensively,” Wittman said. “It’s going to be a pretty game or it’s going to be an ugly game and if it’s ugly you have to win defensively.”

Well that summed up the 48-miunutes plus the extra 5-minutes of overtime as the Wizards were 93-86 winners.

The Wizards wanted this game more and it showed at the glass as they outrebounded Toronto an unbelievable 61-48. Worse were the offensive rebounds as Washington scooped up 19 boards off their own missed shots. The Wizards were ready to get down and dirty under the basket while the Raptors were not.

On Sunday Raptors head coach Dwayne Casey already was working on the adjustments for Tuesday’s pivotal game-2.

“We need to make some adjustments and we will”, Casey said. “But we’re not going to scrap the offence and go to a different offence.”

The game was winnable for either team since the shooting was ice cold by both all afternoon. The Wizards shot only 39-per cent to the Raptors 38-percent. But again Wittman’s emphasis on defense showed with Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan and Lou Williams held together to just 26-per cent shooting night from the field.

Lowry had the toughest afternoon of every one. He was just 2-10 from the field and only made to the foul line 4-times going 3-4. What made it worse was he fouled out in the fourth quarter and he had to take some schoolyard sarcasm from Wizards guard Bradley Beal. As Lowry walked off the court Beal gave him a “bye bye” taunt like David Spade used to do on Saturday Night Live.

“We have to get out and get in transition and shoot the shots we normally take,” Lowry told the media Sunday. “For me, I have to start off the game with a faster pace and getting up and down a little bit more.”

However, it’s those darn rebounds that have driven Dwayne Casey and his coaching staff nuts all season, but all is not lost. Yes the Raptors lost home court advantage by losing Saturday’s game, but if they head to Washington tied for games 3-and-4 if they can still do this.

Toronto needs to concentrate on not letting Washington get any offensive rebounds. If they miss a shot, knock them on their butt and drive to the hoop more. It seemed on Saturday the Raptors offense was content to fire jump shots. And they need to remember you lost the first game to Brooklyn last year and won the second, don’t panic, no one said this was going to be an easy 4-game sweep by either team.



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.




DeRozan and Pierce

Raptors To Face Wizards As Hawks Punt Game To Bulls

Don’t say no one saw this coming. The Toronto Raptors easily defeated the Hornets 92-87 to claim a franchise record 49th win and the Atlanta Hawks punted an 18 point lead in the third quarter to lose to the Bulls 91-85. The gift from the visitors gave Chicago third place in the Eastern Conference and means the first place Hawks avoid a likely second round matchup with the Bulls. Instead, the Hawks will get the winner between the fourth place Raptors and the fifth place Wizards in the second round.

The Hawks must have decided they wanted to play Toronto in the second round instead of Chicago as seldom used John Jenkins, Elton Brand and Austin Daye played the entire fourth quarter combining to go 0-8 from the field and scoring just 1 point. Reserves Mike Muscala and Shelvin Mack soaked up most of the remaining minutes and shot 4-10 to put up 9 points in a 13 point quarter. With this unit on the floor to close out the game, the Hawks went over 4 minutes without scoring a point to give up the lead and then only managed to score 7 points over the final 5 minutes of the game. The Bulls scored 21 points over the final 12 minutes to pull out the win.

It’s not like the Hawks were forced to go deep into their bench. No starter played more than 27.2 minutes and none in the fourth quarter. Al Horford had 14 points and 7 rebounds shooting 7-10 from the field in 22 minutes. Jeff Teague shot 5-11 for 10 points in 22.7 minutes and Dennis Schroder had come off the bench to score 21 points in 16.7 minutes, but he was quickly sat down in the fourth quarter after hitting an early three-ball. The Hawks got what they wanted in this game in every sense of the word – Practice, rest and no possibility of seeing the Bulls again before the Eastern Conference Finals.

In Toronto the Raptors lead by as many as 17 points and never really lost control of this contest from the tip. Head coach Dwane Casey stuck with a tight nine man rotation, only giving Lou Williams the night off to rest. Kyle Lowry worked on his long ball and defense, finding the range from beyond the arc six times as he scored a game high 26 points. Jonas Valanciunas practiced his post moves on Bismack Biyombo and scored 18 points on 9-11 shooting. The Raptors got in the work they needed at both ends of the court in preparation for the postseason.

Prior to the game, there was a story that the fifth place Wizards Paul Pierce had said the Raptors don’t have ‘it’ which created a lot of interest from the Raptors players. At the end of the Raptors-Hornets game, the Bulls were still playing and DeMar DeRozan suggested Pierce had better hope for the right outcome or he’d find out what the ‘it’ is.

“Paul Pierce, he always got to say something,” DeRozan said. “He said something last year. He just got to say something. Just let him talk. I could care less what he says. He just better to hope that Chicago – however it has to work – win or something so he won’t see what the it is.”

The Raptors played against Pierce (with the Nets) last year in the first round of the playoffs. There is nothing like a genuine rivalry between players to spice up a playoff series and we have the Hawks to thank for making it happen.


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.




Rose and Teague

Hawks To Choose Between Raptors And Bulls Tonight

The Atlanta Hawks will almost certainly get to decide who they will face in the second round of the NBA playoffs on the last day of the regular season. A loss to the Bulls puts Chicago in third place and headed to a second round matchup with the Cavs. A Hawks win likely hands the Raptors third and puts the Hawks on a collision course with the Bulls in round two.

The Toronto Raptors will be going for a franchise record 49th win in front of their home crowd against a listless Hornets team that’s lost five in a row including an 18-point loss to Toronto a week ago. The final score flattered the Hornets. The Raptors had held them to just 45 points over three-quarters and coasted in for the win.

Even if Toronto rested their starters tonight – which isn’t expected – the Hornets aren’t likely to put up enough of a fight to matter.

Atlanta will even have the benefit of knowing if the Raptors have tied the Bulls with 49 wins about an hour before their own game at the United Center has finished – not that they should care. The first-place Hawks have no reason to be playing any of their starters later than midway through the third quarter and that’s if they don’t just decide to rest their entire starting unit. They have every reason to be protecting their key players from possible injury at this point. They are not going to become ‘rusty’ between now and the weekend.

A cynic might suggest the Bulls and Raptors have been carefully working their way towards the three, four finish that now seems likely. Chicago hasn’t fared well against the Hawks and while the Raptors won three of four against Atlanta that hasn’t even slowed the speculation that Tom Thibodeau’s Bulls will be tougher postseason opponent.

Waiting in the wings to mess with whatever ‘plans’ Atlanta may have in pre-selecting a second round opponent is fifth place Washington.

The Raptors swept the Wizards this year and took three of four last season. No matter how much love Washington gets from the TV analysts, the Raptors haven’t seemed to notice they aren’t suppose to just plain own the Wizards.

Last season the Bulls drew the Wizards in the first round and couldn’t stop them from scoring. This year they split the regular season 2-2, but were outscored by an average of 2.2 points per game. The Bulls have solid reasons to go all out for the win at home tonight in order to avoid going to Washington.

The NBA tries to get every game that matters on the final day of the regular season to end at the same time to avoid teams picking their postseason opponent, but with the Raptors and Bulls, it probably isn’t going to matter.

It would be a shock if Toronto didn’t win its’ franchise record 49th game in front of the home crowd leaving things up to the game between Atlanta and the Bulls to determine if Chicago winds up in third – but it’s probably just up to Atlanta.

Unless the Hawks really want to set up the possibly of a second round tilt against the Chicago, they have no reason to try and send a message to the Bulls tonight as giving their key players at least some time off has far more value. The Bulls on the other hand have every reason to want to go out with a win in front of the home crowd and that probably suits Atlanta just fine.



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.





John Wall by Paul Saini

March Madness About College Teams Winning Vs The NBA

As Kentucky rolls undefeated through the US College ranks and into the NCAA tournament there has been a certain amount of inevitable madness to follow – maybe it’s just March? Spring fever?

Dan Patrick was almost certainly poking fun when he asked Wildcats Alum and current Washington Wizards All-Star John Wall, “Could Kentucky compete with any team in the NBA this year?” Wall responded quickly with, “No!”

However, Patrick wouldn’t let it go and followed up with, “If I put them against the Sixers would Kentucky make a game of it?” To which Wall responded, “We lost to the Sixers – No.”



This blatantly crazy assertion that some talented college kids with no professional experience could somehow hang with or even defeat any NBA team comes up every time a College program manages to put together a roster that has several likely NBA draft picks. To put that in perspective, imagine just how terrible an all-rookie NBA team would perform and then fill out half the roster with players that probably won’t even get an NBA Summer League invite.

It’s not that the Wildcats don’t have future NBA players or future potential All-Stars. There is a good chance Kentucky has three players selected in the top 15 of the 2015 NBA Draft and four in the first round. They could even have three or four players taken in the second round of the draft if they decide to enter.

However, that doesn’t make up a roster that is going to compete with the tanking Sixers, woeful Timberwolves or even the last place Knicks. Few college players can step straight from the amateur ranks into the pros without learning a lot of lessons from the school of hard knocks. The NBA is not a league dominated by its rookies.

No matter what level of success the Wildcats enjoy during the Tournament, the draft stock of their top players will remain high and if they go undefeated, these players are pretty much just fulfilling expectations at this point. It’s going to be a fun NBA Draft to watch if you’re a Kentucky fan, but speculation, even in fun, that the Wildcats or any College team could defeat an NBA team shouldn’t leave your local drinking establishment.

Congratulations to the 34-0 Kentucky Wildcats on winning their conference tournament. They have enjoyed an impressive season.



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.




Wall Lowry Irving

Can The Cavaliers Survive The Early Season Test?

It isn’t easy putting together a team with a lot of new faces and some big time offensive players that hadn’t played together before, the NBA schedule is unrelenting. However, the 5-4 Cavaliers looked like they had found some rhythm by winning 4 games in a row until a woefully bad Nuggets team upset them in Cleveland in front of some very disappointed fans on Monday.

It isn’t going to get any easier either. On Wednesday the Cavaliers face the always disciplined and dangerous San Antonio Spurs right before a key Eastern Conference match up back-to-back against the Wizards and the Raptors starting Friday night in Washington. That 4 game winning streak could easily be followed by a 4 game losing streak if the Cavaliers aren’t firing on all cylinders and soon.

The test of rookie Head Coach David Blatt’s Cavaliers doesn’t end Saturday against the Raptors. The Wizards come to Cleveland next Wednesday either full of confidence or looking for revenge.

The following week the challenge continues as the Cavaliers face the Raptors again, this time in Toronto after playing in New York the night before. The Knicks beat Cleveland on opening night and they are in desperate need of another win. The Raptors are expected to win the Atlantic Division and have been very tough on their home court this year.

The schedule only gets more unrelenting after this. Next up for the Cavaliers is their third back-to-back in three weeks, each time facing the Raptors in the second game. Cleveland visits Brooklyn on Monday December 8th ahead of facing the Raptors back in Cleveland the next night.

That’s San Antonio, Washington twice and Toronto three-times over the next 11 games. Make no mistake, there will be messages sent as a result of these games. The Cavaliers need to achieve at least a split with Washington and Toronto. A sweep by either the Wizards or the Raptors will boost their confidence and their perception as potential contenders around the league. A sweep of both teams by the Cavaliers will confirm everyone’s expectations that Cleveland can figure things out and is a favorite to appear in the Eastern Conference Finals.



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.



Amir Johnson closeupCan the Raptors Become An Unstoppable Force?

“Once we all get on the same page, I think we’ll be unstoppable,” Johnson said. “Right now we got guys that are lifting other guys and that is definitely helping us out. There are going to be days where our second unit comes in gives us a lift and finishes the game for us.”



TOR DeRozan and Lowry

Raptors Set A Franchise Record With Win Over Wizards

The Toronto Raptors are 5-1 to start a season for the first time in franchise history as they took the Washington Wizards out behind the woodshed for a good old-fashioned butt-whooping.

“It was a good old-fashioned butt-whooping,” confirmed Head Coach Randy Wittman after the game.

Washington started out missing 10 of their first 11 shots and only scored 35 points in the first half as the Raptors cruised to a 24 point half-time lead that they rode to the 103-84 victory.

Terrence Ross played his best game of the young season, scoring 18 points and DeMar DeRozan had a game high 25 points, but the night belonged to Kyle Lowry. Fresh off a 35 point performance against the Celtics, Lowry recorded his first triple-double of the season with 13 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists.

Not one of the Wizard starters were able to score in double-digits. They shot 36 percent from the field as a team.

It was a dominant defensive performance by the Raptors, the first time Toronto has looked in sync defensively for an entire game this season.

Raptors Republic: Quick Reaction: Wizards 84, Raptors 103 by Zarar Siddiqi concluded:

The Wizards shot 30% in the first half, and it’s not because they were missing shots. The Raptors D was intact, and you could tell they’d made a concerted effort to start the game better. The intensity, for the first time all season, was there to start the game.

ESPN recap: Lowry leads Raptors past Wizards 103-84 noted:

Each of Washington’s starting five scored in single digits. Garret Temple was 0 for 6 from the field, and Nene went 2 for 11. Paul Pierce was 3 for 11 and John Wall went 3 for 13. Marcin Gortat was the most efficient, going 3 for 7.

Amir Johnson, returning from a sore foot, left the game because of his sore foot, but he suggested he would try it out in practice on Saturday as he didn’t re-injure it during the game. Jonas Valanciunas returning from a sore hand played 29 minutes and had 9 points and 9 rebounds.

The Raptors finished last season with a franchise record 48 wins and have started this season with a franchise best 5-1 record. They play six more games at home before their next road trip with what should be only be Chicago and Memphis standing between them and a clean sweep.



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.



Chuck Hayes by Paul Saini cropped (Fylmm.com)Raptors Are Winning The Grind Early This Season

“It’s a grind. It’s a marathon. You can’t wear your emotions on your sleeve in this profession because it will eat you up.”



Tyler Hansbrough Media DayRaptors Tyler Hansbrough Is Doing More With Less

“Last year at times I would get caught up and sometimes there is a fine line between being an energy guy and overdoing it,” Hansbrough said.



James Johnson scrumWhy Raptors James Johnson Isn’t The Same Guy This Year

“I am definitely not (the same guy),” Johnson said. “Going down to the D-League, developing different skills and developing my confidence and my all-around game really helped me out and knowing that you can’t take this league for granted because you can be out of it at any minute.”




DeRozan and Wall

Who’s Better: Toronto Raptors or Washington Wizards?

Two franchises that made some noise last season are being touted as potential Eastern Conference Finalists if things go their way, but who’s better, the Toronto Raptors or the Washington Wizards? There are arguments to be made for both teams, but it might be easier to let the numbers speak for themselves.

Last year Toronto was 48-34 compared to the Wizards record of 44-38 and the defensive minded Raptors held teams to a league seventh best 98 points per game versus the ninth ranked Wizards at 99.4 points surrendered. The Raptors also held an advantage at the offensive end of the court were they scored 101.3 points per game to 100.7 for the Wizards, a stat that was only emphasized by Toronto’s slower pace. The Raptors also outrebounded their opponents on average 42.5 to 41 while the Wizards broke even on the boards.

Toronto took the season series 3-1 with the only Wizards victory coming in a triple overtime game of attrition that saw three Raptors and two Wizards foul out. Over the four games, Toronto outscored Washington by an average of 6.5 points on 49.5 percent shooting from the field, netting over 107 points per game. Washington simply had no answers about how to stop Toronto from scoring. Somewhat unexpectedly, however, the Wizards owned the boards, averaging five more rebounds per game. They were just not able to finish at a high enough rate, shooting 44.6 percent from the field.

Both teams can argue they improved over the summer and a position-to-position comparison illustrates just how closely matched the two teams are heading into this season.

Point Guard – slight edge Toronto

John Wall was a first time All-Star in 2014 and has put up some of his best numbers against Toronto. He averaged 25.3 points on 53.3 percent shooting and 6 assists over 4 games last year, but his +/- of -5.8 points is just slightly better than his team’s -6.5 points.

Kyle Lowry had a career year in Toronto and he played big games against the Wizards. He averaged 18.3 points and 10.3 assists while hitting 9-19 from three-point range.

Lowry averaged 2.9 more assists per game against Washington than his season average and Wall averaged 2.8 assists fewer, wiping out Wall’s scoring advantage and putting this matchup at a draw.

With both teams starting point guards averaging about 40 minutes per game against one another, the backup position might not seem as important.

Andre Miller is 38 years-old and only played in two games against Toronto, but he is their best backup and averaged 21.9 minutes, 3 points and 5 assists. 27-year-old Greivis Vasquez joined Toronto mid-season and played three times against Washington averaging 25.7 minutes, 13.3 points and 5.7 assists.

The point guard battle will continue to a great one, but the Raptors backup situation gives them the edge at this position.

Shooting Guard – Toronto

DeMar DeRozan was first time All-Star in 2014 and against Washington he averaged 21.3 points, 4.3 rebounds and 4.5 assists which was right around his season averages, but at 48.4 percent shooting from the field, he shot almost 6 percent better than against the rest of the league.

Bradley Beal didn’t enjoy his usual offensive success against Toronto, averaging just 12.3 points on 30.2 percent shooting, 5.5 rebounds and 4 assists. His season average was 17.1 points on 41.9 percent from the field.

Toronto acquired Lou Williams in the summer as a backup guard. He averaged 10.3 points and 28.6 minutes against Washington last year.

Martell Webster likely backups up Beal at shooting guard and could also pick up minutes backing up small forward. He averaged 8.8 points in 33.3 minutes against the Raptors last season.

Hands down, the Raptors owned the shooting guard position in games against Washington.

Small Forward – slight edge Washington

The Wizards lost Trevor Ariza, but replaced him with the 36-year-old Paul Pierce. Except for the age factor, Pierce would be a big upgrade. He can still score, although he did play a lot of power forward for the Nets to avoid the quicker wings like Toronto has. Pierce was very effective against the Raptors last year, averaging 30.8 minutes and 19.8 points.

Terrence Ross started to figure things out in his sophomore season and appropriately started in 62 games. He only averaged 22.5 minutes and 9.5 points against Washington and was used primarily as a three point shooter, but he did shoot 47.1 percent from deep on the Wizards and 40.2 percent from three-point range as a starter on the season.

At backup, Washington should be using their 2013 third overall draft pick Otto Porter, if they will trust him enough to play over Webster – they should. Porter did nothing against Toronto, but it could be argued, he wasn’t given a chance.

Toronto re-acquired the 6’8 defensive forward James Johnson to give them some athletic muscle at small forward. If Ross struggles against bigger small forwards, Johnson is a player with the size and speed to give older or slower players like Pierce problems.

Pierce gives Washington the early season edge, but this isn’t the slam dunk it would have been a few years back and he can’t really play more than 30 minutes a night. The younger more athletic Raptors may win this position back and they should own it when Pierce goes to the bench. Pierce will not have gotten any quicker over the summer and the Wizards are deathly thin on the wing unless Porter steps up.

Power Forward – Toronto

The Wizards are deep at power forward and Nene Hilario is a proven veteran. He put up a decent 14 points and 6.3 rebounds in 30.3 minutes in 3 games against the Raptors, but he shot a terrible (for a big man) 42.5 percent from the field.

Toronto is similarly deep at power forward and Amir Johnson had the edge on Nene last year. He averaged 31.7 minutes, 15.3 points and 6.3 rebounds, but Johnson was an efficient 68.4 percent from the field.

The Wizards acquired DeJuan Blair and Kris Humphries to backup up the four/five spots and they’ll help. Against Toronto, Blair averaged 6 points and 5.5 rebounds in 19.4 minutes and Humphries averaged 8 points and 6.3 rebounds in 20.3 minutes last year.

Patrick Patterson is a physically imposing stretch four who averaged 26.6 minutes, 11 points and 4.7 rebounds on 63.6 percent shooting and 57.1 percent from three-point range against the Wizards. Tyler Hansbrough plays strictly in the paint and averaged 16.4 minutes, 5.7 points and 4 rebounds versus Washington.

Johnson outplayed Nene last season, but the Raptors big advantage at power forward was off the bench where the Wizards did not have an answer for Patterson and it looks like they still don’t.

Center – Washington

The 30-year-old Marcin Gortat enjoyed playing against Toronto. He shot 7 percent better from the field and averaged 3 more points to put up 16.3 points and 9 boards on 61.1 percent from the field.

Raptors sophomore center Jonas Valanciunas was overmatched by Gortat in 2013-14. He averaged 8.8 points and 8.5 rebounds on 45.7 percent shooting – down 2.5 points and 7.4 percent from the field from his season averages.

While Valanciunas appeared to take big strides during the playoffs and while playing for Lithuania this summer, he has a lot of ground to make up against Gortat.

In reality, not a lot has changed for the Raptors and Wizards from last season. Both teams added some needed bench strength, but both teams are counting on the continued development of their young players in order to take another step this season.

Wall and DeRozan have made their first All-Star teams, but the winner of this matchup will come down to the development of Beal and Porter in Washington versus Ross and Valanciunas in Toronto. For now, Washington may have shot themselves in the foot by not playing Porter more last season.


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.



Lowry and WallRanking The Top Five 2014-15 NBA Eastern Conference Teams



Irving and Rose

Ranking The Top Five 2014-15 NBA Eastern Conference Teams

There is change coming to the anticipated top five teams in the NBA Eastern Conference for 2014-15. Teams that stepped up unexpectedly last season are looking for more, player movement during the summer will have a huge impact and risks abound all around the Conference. However, make no mistake, the top five teams in the East this season will finish with better overall records than the top five did last year.

As always, injuries, hidden agendas and plain old fashioned luck will impact the final standings and being first during the regular season doesn’t always mean much in June.

The Top Five

1. Cleveland Cavaliers – Projected 57-25, last season 33-49

CLE_James and Love

Ignore everything about the last few Cavaliers seasons, the King has returned and the expectations LeBron James brings with him are in Cleveland.

It shouldn’t surprise anyone if the Cavs get off to a relatively slow start, most of the roster has turned over and it will take time for James, Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters and Kevin Love to get used to sharing the ball. However, barring injury, the Cavaliers should easily reside in first place.

The risk in Cleveland is the injury history of Irving, Love and Anderson Varejao. Depth could become an issue and first place will be tough to hold onto if the injury bug bites too hard.

2. Chicago Bulls – Projected 54-28, 48-34 last season

CHI Rose and Gasol

Derrick Rose is back and Pau Gasol was a huge addition, but the Bulls have question marks all over this season and falling short of second place remains a distinct possibility.

The risks for Chicago this year are pretty much the same as last season.

Rose, who couldn’t find any offensive rhythm in 10 games last season and had a nightmare offensively in Spain, may have lost a step – yeah think! Rose looked okay on the court right up until he had to do something with the ball during the World Cup. That Rose will lead the Bulls to last season’s record. They need him to be the “old” Rose to contend.

Pau Gasol replaces Carlos Boozer and that’s a big upgrade in size, passing and rim protection if he can stay healthy, but both Joakim Noah and Gasol have experienced foot problems in the past and this big upgrade requires them to stay reasonably healthy. At least in Gasol’s case, he looked fantastic at the World Cup and was arguably the best player in the tournament.

The Bulls will miss Luol Deng if they end up in a Conference Final with the Cavs, but they can count on Head Coach Tom Thibodeau to keep Chicago competitive no matter what obstacles they face.

3. Toronto Raptors – Projected 52-30, 48-34 last season

TOR Ross and Valanciunas

Toronto went on a 54-win pace after the Rudy Gay trade in early December last season and the team returns to the court with the same starting five, two key backups, two key reserve big men to cover injury concerns and added sixth man Lou Williams and defensive forward James Johnson.

The Raptors strengths heading into this season will be team chemistry, depth and a massive chip on their shoulders from a feeling that they aren’t respected. Toronto doesn’t have the star power of Cleveland or Chicago, but they believe in themselves and like last season, the whole might be a lot better than the sum of the parts.

A net +3.5 points per 100 possessions was the best in the East after Miami and Indiana last year and suggests this team may be underestimated, however, they are a young team counting on the continued development of both Terrence Ross and Jonas Valanciunas as they head into their third seasons and that team chemistry can be a fickle thing.

4. Washington Wizards – Projected 48-34, 44-38 last season

WAS_Wall_ John

The Wizards were inconsistent last season and probably should have sported a better record, but with another year under their belt, it is reasonable to expect they will.

Paul Pierce is a solid replacement for Trevor Ariza from a leadership standpoint and the team added depth at the big man positions with Kris Humphreys and Juan Blair. The only real question marks revolve around whether this team will start investing playing time in guys like Otto Porter or Glen Rice Jr. as they should.

Like Toronto, Washington kept their core together and should get off to a fast start. If the Bulls and Cavs struggle early, the Raps and Wiz will be more than happy to fight for first in the East.

5. Charlotte Hornets – Projected 46-36, 43-39 last season

Kemba Walker Charlotte Bobcats Media Day

The Hornets (as Bobcats) impressed last year with a tough defensive style and some badly needed offensive punch from Al Jefferson. This team tasted the playoffs and they’ll be back.

Kemba Walker has evolved into the clutch scorer and leader he was at the end of his college career and with the addition of the veteran Marvin Williams and last season’s triple-double leader Lance Stephenson, the Hornets are a dark horse team that could be a lot better than anyone expects.

There will be battles for minutes in Charlotte, roles to be defined and some very young big men who probably aren’t ready for the demands that will be put upon them. It’s hard not to see Charlotte making roster moves during the season, but once they get their team chemistry straightened out, they could be scary good.

Risks and Obstacles

Miami, Brooklyn and Atlanta could all say, what about me? They are not going to be bad teams. Actually, as a group, the playoff teams in the East this season should all sport better records than last year’s crop. All that means to the top five is don’t falter because there is someone waiting to take your spot this time.

At the end of season, Cleveland should prevail. In Chicago, Rose will prove to either be back to his old self or not. The Raptors young players and team chemistry will have taken them another step or not. The Wizards will know if they can find some consistency and Charlotte will have discovered if they can blend Stephenson into their group to become a potential (future) contender.

Who do you think will put forth the effort and has the luck it takes to be first in the NBA Eastern Conference at the end of the season? Which one of these teams do you think gives up home court in the first round of the playoffs? Can any other team crack the top five in the East? 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.



Irving and Rose

How Big Are The Cracks Atop The NBA Eastern Conference?

Are there cracks in the evolving power the Eastern Conference expects to bring to the upcoming NBA season?

The Cleveland Cavaliers do have a Big Three. The Chicago Bulls will have Derrick Rose when training camps open. The Toronto Raptors were on a 54-win pace after the Rudy Gay trade last December and they got better over the summer. The Washington Wizards expect their young stars to take another step and the Miami HEAT are protesting the disrespect they’ve been receiving since LeBron James left.

Still, doubts remain.

Cleveland Cavaliers

CLE Irving and Varejao

Barring injury, the Cavaliers will bring as much firepower to the court as any team in the East for quite some time. They might look a lot like the HEAT did in 2010 for a month or two, but once James, Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters and Kevin Love figure out how to share the ball, buckets are going to fall like rain in Cleveland. Tristan Thompson and Anderson Varejao give the Cavs rebounders that can play some defense and Mike Miller plus Shawn Marion were solid veteran additions.

However, barring injury is not a phrase that should be thrown around lightly with the Cavaliers.

Irving hasn’t been able to avoid injury since before college and after Irving, the Cavs point guard situation is highly suspect.

Varejao will be the big high energy defensive pest and second chance man that James didn’t have in Miami and possibly the missing piece between contending and winning, but he’s been a huge injury risk in each of the past four seasons and the 34-year-old Brendan Haywood – who didn’t play last season and isn’t expected to be ready for training camp – can’t do what Varejao does.

Love has an injury history worthy of note as well, but he played 77 games last year.

The Cavaliers have depth issues and several of their important additions are a little long in the tooth, however, even if Irving misses parts of the season and Varejao breaks down again they could still be good enough to contend in the East, but without those two players, they won’t be very convincing.


Chicago Bulls

Chicago Bulls Media Day

If you watched Derrick Rose struggle to score on the wide open jump shots and easy routes to the basket his Team USA teammates were force-feeding him for nine games in Spain, then your expectations for the start of the 2014-15 season will have already been tempered. The good news was Rose moved well and could still play defense, the bad news, Rose was a liability on offense.

The Bulls are not a true contending team unless Rose can find at least a modest portion of his old offensive game. The Bulls struggle badly enough to score, they can’t afford to turn down shots in order to setup Rose – this has to work in the other direction.

The World Cup did provide some good news for Chicago. Pau Gasol carried Spain and didn’t falter even when his teammates couldn’t produce. As long as those old nagging injuries don’t reoccur, the Bulls have someone they can run their offense through very effectively.

The Bulls will be good – with or without a Rose that can score – Head Coach Tom Thibodeau will make sure of that. However, if Rose can find enough of his old form to be effective and Gasol can stay healthy, the one-and-done team of last season should be fighting it out with Cleveland in the Eastern Conference Finals. If not, this year’s Bulls will end up looking a lot like last year’s Bulls.


Toronto Raptors

TOR Ross and Valanciunas

The Toronto Raptors were a team underdevelopment last year, but somehow Head Coach Dwane Casey got a starting unit with two sophomores to win the most games in a season of any starting five in their team’s history. The Raptors were on a 54-win pace for three-quarters of last season with the starting five and two key reserves that are returning this year.

Expectations are high in Toronto and the Raptors are getting some notice south of the border, but expectations are tempered. Terrence Ross and Jonas Valanciunas will start and are only heading into their third NBA season. DeMar DeRozan is a very young All-Star and their leader, Kyle Lowry, is only 28-years-old. This team is young and to progress past last season’s accomplishments requires them to have improved over the summer.

However, the strength of the Raptors last season and now is their depth.

Backing up Lowry at point guard is Greivis Vasquez. Vasquez led the NBA in assists with New Orleans in 2012-13 and is as confident a player as there is in the NBA.

Coming off the bench behind DeRozan this season will be the instant offense of the nine-year veteran Lou Williams. Even coming back from injury with the Hawks last year, Williams averaged double-digits in scoring off the bench, he is a proven sixth man.

The Raptors got exposed at small forward by the Nets Joe Johnson when both John Salmons (since traded) and Landry Fields went down with back injuries. So they re-acquired James Johnson to give themselves some size and athleticism to match up against the league’s bigger wing players.

Patrick Patterson returns as a physically imposing stretch four to back up Amir Johnson and both Tyler Hansbrough and the veteran Chuck Hayes provide that fourth (and fifth) big man that most teams could find a use for.

Not expected to contend, the Raptors are waiting in the wings if the Cavs or Bulls run into difficulties. They are also so young that how they’ll finish out the season is difficult to project.


Washington Wizards

WAS_Wall_ John

John Wall looks like a point guard who is ready to make his mark any time now and maybe that time is now?

The Wizards have good players at every position and solid backups. They really seemed to underachieve during the regular season last year as they struggled to find consistency, but they’re close. Bradley Beal should take another step. Paul Pierce should provide some missing leadership or maybe its mentorship. They have solid big men, an All-Star guard and a potential future All-Star guard, however, they haven’t invested in the development of their 2013 third overall draft pick Otto Porter and the sophomore could be the future for the Wizards at small forward.

Last year the Raptors took a chance on their sophomore lottery pick Terrence Ross that – at least from what he had shown during games – wasn’t earned, the Wizards should seriously consider doing something similar. Like Toronto, no one expects the Wizards to come out of the East this year, so an investment in player development isn’t unreasonable, but it could cost them a few wins.


Miami HEAT

The HEAT have put on a brave face since James left town and snagging Luol Deng in free agency was as good of a replacement as one could reasonably be expect, but Dwyane Wade isn’t “Flash” anymore and his knees are not suddenly going to get better and Chris Bosh can’t replace James either, so the HEAT won’t be a contender.

Anyone expecting an easy game in Miami is going to be in for a thrashing. They have talent, coaching and when Wade is feeling good, a superstar level talent. However, after four trips in a row to the NBA Finals, this season will not in any way resemble the recent past.

Indiana Pacers

After losing Lance Stephenson to free agency, when Paul George went down for the season, the Pacers started getting the thanks for coming treatment before training camps even opened and they should and they should relish it. If George can come back in a year, a trip to the lottery could become a 1996-97 Spurs-like reload season.

The Pacers have a chance to dip into the lottery sandwiched between 50+ win seasons – at least that thought could make this year a little easier to take.


There are risks associated with the top teams in the NBA’s Eastern Conference. No longer can one take comfort in the surety of a two team race between the Pacers and the HEAT, their situations have changed for the worse. The Cavs may get off to a slow start and do face injury risks, but with James on board, they are going to be very good. The Bulls don’t really know what they have in Rose and the tags of contender or pretender will largely fall on his shoulders. The Raptors and the Wizards should perform as expected and if nothing untoward happens to the top teams, the East could boast four 50+ game winners this season – and it’s about time too!


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.