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NBA Derrick Rose

Playoff Expectations For The Knicks In The Upcoming Season

By Francis Paul

The New York Knicks are coming off one of their worst seasons in franchise history and with that being said, changes were going to come. New York has made a ton of offseason moves to try and turn this team around.

Right before the NBA draft, New York made news by trading for former MVP winner Derrick Rose. In the trade, the Bulls sent Derrick Rose, Justin Holiday and a 2017 second round pick to the Knicks for Robin Lopez, Jose Calderon and Jerian Grant. Right now this trade will help the Knicks win more games, however, this does not help them in the long run unless Rose can find his old form. The old Rose would definitely pay off long term, but he has had a lot of injuries so we don’t know if he can be the player of four years ago or not.

In free agency New York signed Joakim Noah to a four year $72 million deal. As a big, Noah can defend, he knows the game and is one of the better passing bigs in the game, but just like Rose, Noah has had his health concerns as well. Since the 2014 season, Noah has struggled to stay in the lineup due to injuries. However, I think Noah can be a leader on this team and can help guys like Porzingis to develop. This is definitely an upgrade that will help New York, but it’s not a sure thing that will take them over the top.

The Knicks also signed guard Courtney Lee for four years and $40 million. In my opinion, this is a great move for the Knicks. Lee is a solid player to bring off the bench who can give you some scoring because he can shoot the three-ball effectively. He won’t be the main guy New York runs their offense through, but he will open the floor for the rest of the team.

Another important signing for the Knicks was bringing in Brandon Jennings for one year at $5 million. Even though New York is a big market there will be less stress for him there as he will be coming off the bench in a backup role to Rose and he won’t be the primary scorer. However, once again this signing is a huge risk because if he can’t be healthy, someone else will have to step and fill his void. Jennings has missed most of the last two years due to a ruptured Achilles.

Lastly the Knicks brought back Lance Thomas for four years and $24 million. This was quietly a good move for New York. Last season he was arguably the best defender on the team and Thomas drained nearly 40 percent of his three-point shots. At 28-years-old he is still developing and working on his game and with the rise of the salary cap, this was a cheap signing for the Knicks.

The Eastern Conference is going to be a dog fight. Cleveland will be the favorites going into the season as they are the defending champs. Indiana improved their roster by adding Jeff Teague, Thaddeus Young and Al Jefferson. The Toronto Raptors, even though they lost Biyombo, still have their core together and Boston made a big move by signing Al Horford. That’s a big signing for the Celtics because they were in need of a quality big man. So when you look at the Knicks, they will be right in the pack with a bunch of very good teams.

Even though the Knicks did not get a sure-fire big name, this is a team that could make their first playoff appearance in three years. All these changes show they are ready to win now.

 

 

Francis PaulFrancis Paul is an aspiring freelance NBA journalist who has previously published on Vavel.com

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

 

 


NBA Houston Rockets Dwight Howard

What No One Is Saying About Free Agent Dwight Howard

By Bill Ingram

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

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

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

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

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

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

1) The Houston Rockets

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

2) The Dallas Mavericks

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

3) The New York Knicks

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

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

 

 

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

(Reposted with permission from More Than Basketball)

 

 

 



 

NBA Toronto Raptors DeMar DeRozan

Raptors Fans Needn’t Worry About DeMar DeRozan

By Michael Hobson

The talk in Toronto is constant as is the concern. The Raptors need to at least get out of the first round, if not advance to the conference finals, for star shooting guard and upcoming free agent DeMar DeRozan to re-sign with the club. I believe the talk, and the concern, is unwarranted.

When a discussion ensues, whether in the media or among the Raptor faithful, about the possibility of DeRozan fleeing Toronto I think back to that somewhat dark spring afternoon shortly after Kyle Lowry’s failed shot to win the seventh game versus the Brooklyn Nets two springs ago.

In the post game press conference DeRozan, when asked about Lowry’s free agency, said that he respected his teammate and that he wouldn’t offer any advice, it was Lowry’s decision to make. But then DeRozan uttered the now famous three words in answer to question of if he thought Lowry to leave. DeRozan answered, “Why would he.”

It wasn’t a question, it was a statement.

DeRozan would have been shocked if Lowry had left Toronto. Free agents talk about situation, about place, about possibilities and about contention when discussing landing spots. They want to be comfortable, they want to like the city, and mostly they want to contend for a title. Lowry found that all his questions and concerns were answered by staying with Toronto.

I believe DeRozan comes to the same conclusion this summer.

In fact DeRozan has an even stronger pull to Toronto. While Lowry bounced around the league, drafted by Memphis and traded to Houston before landing in Toronto, DeRozan was drafted, developed and became a star in Toronto.

The Raptors are going to pay DeRozan this summer. It may not be the absolute maximum considering the Raps may need a few dollars to either re-sign Bismack Biyombo or go out and sign another free agent, but DeRozan will be paid. The Raptors can offer more years and more money than any other team and since DeRozan is still young — he will be 27 in August — the Raps will have no qualms in offering the five year max.

So DeRozan can make his money in Toronto meaning:

  1. He won’t go elsewhere for the coin.
  2. He can continue to play for an up and coming contender that is enjoying the best regular season in franchise history.
  3. He can stay in the one city he has known his entire adult life and for the franchise that has turned him into a two-time all-star and a member of the US Olympic team.

DeRozan cannot find all those attributes in any other city.

Now there are those who possess an inferiority complex when it comes to an American athlete playing in Canada. The one concern is that DeRozan will go home to Los Angeles and take over from Kobe Bryant as the centerpiece of the Lakers franchise. That may have been an appealing scenario when he was a teenager playing high school and then college basketball in the LA area, but DeRozan is an adult now with ties to the Toronto community. DeRozan has a fiancée and a daughter of nearly three who has grown up in Toronto.

As well the Lakers are rebuilding with a team that rivals the Raptor squad from DeRozan’s sophomore season. The Lakers are a mess. Just ask former Raptor Lou Williams who would have loved a return to Toronto, but did not receive an offer and instead took the best available deal and signed with the Lakers. Los Angeles, with several young players on the roster, will be rebuilding for years.

The Lakers are in a similar situation to the Raptors when DeRozan came into the league. He played one season with Chris Bosh who left after the season to play with friends in Miami. DeRozan saw and lived through the Bosh lies to both the organization and the community about a willingness to stay when in fact Bosh had colluded with Dwyane Wade and Lebron James eighteen months previous for the trio to join forces in Miami. The Raptors were left in the dust with nothing to show for having drafted and developed an NBA star. Toronto managed just 22 wins in that first post-Bosh season.

DeRozan still talks about the difficulties of the rebuild. He talks constantly about having endured the tough times and that the organization has finally made it to the other side. Would he be willing, entering his prime years, to start over again? Not likely.

A new coach was brought in the next year — present coach Dwane Casey — and the team began to restructure around DeRozan. This is DeRozan’s seventh season in the NBA and, judging by the team’s record, his finest. No matter what happens in the playoffs — even if the club is upset in the first round — DeRozan will stay with his good friend Lowry and continue to help push the Raptors toward a championship.

Will DeRozan leave this summer? Why would he.

 

 

Michael Hobson, Sports columnist and author
Follow him on twitter @mhobson12

 

 


NBA Toronto Raptors head coach Dwane Casey

Raptors Should Pay The Fine And Stand-up Against Bad Officiating

By Michael Hobson

There are far too many games in the NBA when it appears as if the officials still think the Toronto Raptors are among the dregs of the league. Too many times when officials give the benefit of the doubt to the opponent and too many times when officials seem to take personal delight in penalizing the club. This may be a complaint that could be made by all teams, but it seems as if the league has absolutely no concern with the fact that their in-game officials typically favor some teams.

The NBA decided, a few years ago, to publicly announce their findings on calls in the final two minutes of games that finish within five points. In essence the league doesn’t want to micromanage their officials, but it seems the league tip-toes around any issue or issues involving their officials.

Is it because they have a hard time finding willing participants – those willing to enter the hotly contest zone of an NBA court? That can’t possibly be when so many quality people are out there looking for work, but when fans look around and see so many mediocre officials being promoted to lead official it makes us wonder.

For instance, how does someone like Marc Davis become a lead official when he has proven time and time again he isn’t qualified to even be on the court?

There is little doubt that certain officials carry grudges against certain teams. Remember when Joey Crawford was suspended for acting unilaterally and handing out technicals to the San Antonio Spurs and, specifically, Tim Duncan a few years ago? This was one of the very few instances when the league stepped in to reprimand one of its officials and only when it became blatantly apparent. Crawford tee’d up Duncan while the future hall-of-famer was on the bench not even talking to the officials.

This brings me to Jason Philips — one of those officials, along with Michael Smith, who should not be allowed anywhere near a Toronto Raptor game. Each time Phillips officiates a Raptor game the officials bend toward the opposition. The Raptor players, coaches, in fact everyone associated with the organization, knows that a Phillips game means tough sledding and they are going to have to fight because of bad officiating to win the game.

But the game against the Houston Rockets may have been their Tim Duncan moment when it comes to Phillips. With eight minutes remaining in a tight game Phillips whistled Raptors coach Dwayne Casey for a technical—the reason; Casey had stepped onto the court.

“He (Phillips) said I was on the court to call a play,” said Casey after the game. “I was not talking to the official whatsoever. I’ve never seen that called in all my years. He said I was warned, but there was no warning.”

Casey also said, “I’ve seen coaches go all the way to almost half court to call a timeout. So this was totally new to me.”

As well Casey said, “If you’re going to call it you have to call it both ways. The other coach was on the court throughout the game.”

What Casey didn’t say but what is apparent to everyone in the organization is that Phillips has some kind of grudge against Toronto. There have been a number of instances over the years when a Phillips officiated game turns toward the opposition. Like a bad cop harassing individuals for personal gain, Philips takes it upon himself to make Toronto games miserable for the Raptors.

What has the league done about this fact? Nothing. Why? Because the league does almost nothing to reprimand its officials. So what happens if an official gets away with either favoring a particular team or making calls against a particular team? The behavior continues. The league’s general apathy concerning their officials is the main reason why there is a burgeoning mediocrity of NBA officials. Bad officials are kept in the game long enough to become lead officials simply because they’ve been in the game long enough.

I have pointed out many instances over the years where I believe NBA officials favor the opposition over the Raptors. It is a rare occurrence when Toronto gets a favorable whistle.

Now, it is usually a sign of bad sportsmanship and whining to blame officials for losses, but what if it’s true? What if the slight of the officials bends toward one team? The Raptors are not experienced enough yet to ignore the bad whistle , even though they know going into games, especially those officiated by Phillips, that the game will be tilted toward the opposition. As such the bad calls slowly begin to affect their demeanor and their normal aggression softens. They know any contact will be deemed a foul against them.

Raptors president and general manager Masai Ujiri is a good company man. He loves the NBA and respects its leadership. As such he is loathe to criticize the league on any issue. He’s been fined twice in the past two years for uttering profane language in public during the playoffs, but that was done simply to motivate his team and their fans. He was fined because it caused the league a certain amount of embarrassment.

It would seem that bad language is embarrassing to the league but bad officiating is not.

At some point the Raptors are going to have to say enough. They have to insist the league keeps bad officials with personal grudges, like Jason Philips, away from their games. If the league refuses, then the Raptors should criticize game officials when those grudges surface during games like the Houston game.

Coach Casey always uses the line, “I like my money,” when asked about poor officiating, but nothing changes. Someone in the organization has to make a public statement condemning the poor officiating. They need the public to be aware that they are “mad as hell, and they are not going to take this anymore!”

 

 

Michael Hobson, Sports columnist and author
Follow him on twitter @mhobson12

 

 


Is Ronald Roberts The Raptors 905 Leader?

By Michael Asiffo

Raptors 905 power forward Ronald Roberts Jr. has had an impressive D-League campaign so far this season. He is currently averaging a sensational 15.3 points and 12.7 rebounds per game on 58.5% shooting. His stats are very impressive, especially when you consider Roberts’s undersized stature at 6’8. This impressive showing by Roberts has given him a steady job on the Raptors 905 club as one of the team’s best players. However, that is not the end goal Roberts has envisioned for himself. The big man sees his role on the 905 as something more.

905 Roberts Jr. & Bruno Caboclo

“My role is to be a leader because it is my second year playing pro,” Roberts said. “There’s a couple guys here who just came out of school and I played in the D-League last year.”

While the whole quote shows the maturity of Roberts at this stage of his career, the first seven words that Roberts said are the most important. Every good team, at every level, needs a leader. It is also a big bonus if that leader is as productive for his team as Roberts is for the 905.

Roberts not only fills up the stat sheet, but brings intensity for the club as well. Things like energy level and being vocal on defense are not quantifiable, but Roberts has shown these actions on the court in every game he has played for the 905 this season. To many basketball pundits, those actions are essential to showing leadership qualities. In other words Roberts looks like his leadership style is a leading by example style.

“I definitely lead by just action,” Roberts said. “By just playing with energy and just playing hard and encourage my teammates to follow.”

While it is unknown if Roberts could actually be a great leader due to the team being in its infancy state, there have been some really positive signs for the Raptors 905 fans to look towards penciling him in.

“Ron is a play hard energy guy,” said Raptors 905 coach Jesse Mermuys.

These five words are very important because it highlights the most interesting thing about Roberts. Roberts is a talented player. At 6’8, to average a double-double is impressive. However, the most impressive part of Roberts’s game is that he still plays with intensity. It is cliché to say, but more often than not, if one of the best players on the team brings intensity the rest of the team follows suit. That is what will make Ronald Roberts a leader on 905.

So, it is established that Ronald Roberts has the leadership qualities to become the Raptors 905’s new leader, but what does this mean in the big picture. Big picture, it most likely means that Roberts will be the face of the 905 this season. That may come as a shock to many people considering that this is a team that features Bruno Caboclo and Delon Wright, but Roberts right now plays in such a way where he galvanizes his team the best. That is not to say that Wright or Caboclo do not galvanize the team, but it does speak to how well Roberts is playing. Regardless of what happens, the development of Roberts as a player and possible leader will be fun to watch.

 

 

Michael Asiffo1

Freelance reporter Michael Asiffo is an up and coming journalist who covers the Raptors 905.

 

 

 
 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors ACC

Why The Blue Jays Really Can Re-sign David Price

Hitting dingers, but not getting dinged: A look at taxation of professional baseball players in Canada  by Adam Scherer, Partner Tax
(Reprinted with permission)

“The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball.” – Terrence Mann (Field of Dreams)

Another baseball season approaches, and for the first time in 20 years there is much optimism and excitement surrounding the only Canadian team in Major League Baseball (MLB) – the Toronto Blue Jays.

This optimism stems from some key off-season acquisitions, which bring new blood and more talent to the team. While sports fandom was abuzz with excitement, many media outlets (mostly those south of the border) picked up on that other “constant through all the years”- taxes. They seemingly love to point out that players moving from Miami to Toronto are going to take extreme hits to their wallets.

It is very easy for these sports pundits to simply compare federal, provincial and state tax rates and sensationalize the differences. Those differences do make for great headlines. For example, in Ontario, home province of the Blue Jays, the top combined federal and provincial tax rate is a staggering 49.53%. By comparison, in the pre-fiscal-cliff world when the acquisitions took place, a combined U.S. federal and Florida personal tax rate sat at only 35%.That’s a mind-blowing 14.53% difference! On a $100 million contract, could that mean that a player who is traded from the Florida Marlins to the Toronto Blue Jays is now paying $14.5 million more in taxes?

That’s how it looked to a lot of people… but looks can be deceiving.

In actual fact, the math is not so simple. Let’s take a closer look at how baseball players are really taxed in Canada.

To illustrate, assume that the traded player remains a non-resident of Canada and a resident of the United States. Most players leave their families and belongings behind in the U.S. and come to Toronto only long enough to play out the baseball season. They then return home to the U.S. for the off-season.

Residency can be a complicated topic due to the mobility of professional athletes, and is beyond the scope of this article. (more on this topic in the future)

Canadian tax rules state that a non-resident is taxable in Canada if he is employed here – specifically, if he performs any of his duties in Canada. That means that a player from any club that plays games in Canada is subject to Canadian taxation, whether he is a member of the New York Yankees or Toronto Blue Jays. Does that mean every time MLB players come to the Rogers Centre for road games that they have tax bills to pay to the Canadian government? Happily for them, no. A tax treaty between Canada and the U.S. exempts players of U.S. teams from paying taxes on those games.

By the same token, a U.S. resident on a Canadian team who performs a portion of his duties outside of Canada would not be subject to Canadian taxation on those days. So, a Blue Jays player does not pay Canadian taxes on income he earns for games he plays outside of Canada – effectively, road games and spring training.

The Blue Jays spend roughly 45% of their time in Canada. Therefore, a U.S.-resident Blue Jay pays tax to Ontario and Canada on only 45% of his total employment income.

The player gets credit for the taxes he paid to Canada when he files his U.S. return – so he avoids double taxation. Effectively, a Blue Jays player ends up paying the higher of the two tax rates between Canada and the United States (factoring in his U.S. state of residence) on his “home game” income.

The comparison of a player’s tax burden does not stop with the home game vs. road game factor. Other significant factors come into play. Employees in Canada are very restricted on the expenses they can claim against their income. This is not the case for athletes in the U.S., who can claim agent fees and training expenses as deductions against their income. Agent fees generally run at least 3% of a player’s income – potentially a big number! This further inflates the Canadian tax burden as compared to that of the United States.

But countering this effect is the United States’ vastly increased tax rates, which came into effect in January 2013. The U.S. now has a top federal rate of 39.6% and a Medicare tax rate of 2.35%. While Canada’s social security costs are marginal (Canada Pension Plan and Employment Insurance premiums) and less than their corresponding taxes in the United States (FICA), there is no meaningful Canadian equivalent to the Medicare tax that exists in the United States. Further, an employee of a U.S. organization pays this Medicare tax on his entire income (including the other 55% of his income – the equivalent of his road appearances).

Rising U.S. tax rates and steep Medicare costs significantly narrow the gap between Canadian and U.S. taxes for professional athletes. There may also be other ways for athletes to reduce their Canadian tax bill. This may involve restructuring their contracts to receive a signing bonus. (Signing bonuses get preferential tax treatment under the tax treaty between Canada and the United States.)

Ignoring contract restructuring and using all the variables described above, we computed that the tax bill for a player who is a resident of Florida and moves from the Marlins to the Blue Jays with $100 million left on his contract is only an additional $2.7 million, over the life of the entire contract. It is a significant number, but it is far lower than the $14.5 million some sports reporters would have us believe.

For comparative purposes, if that same player was traded to a team in California, instead of Canada, he would actually be worse off financially! In that case, he would pay an additional $3.5 million in taxes. A move to a team in New York State (where tax rates are similar to Toronto) would cost the player an additional $2.5 million in taxes – assuming that player does not want to live in a swanky Manhattan condo, where city taxes would cost him a further $1.7 million.

Florida and other non-taxed states such as Texas are only a few examples where large tax discrepancies may exist when a player is traded to a Canadian team. However, as illustrated above, the added tax costs for a player moving to the Blue Jays would be no different than if he moved to the Dodgers or the Mets.

While the trade from Florida may cost a player $2.7 million in taxes, the players who came to Toronto this offseason from San Francisco and New York are likely no worse off than before – and may be even better off financially.

The bottom line is that it is time to eliminate taxes as a potential reason for athletes staying away from Canada. Baseball players should focus on factors other than taxes when deciding to play here: a beautiful and lively city with fine restaurants and nightlife, and playing meaningful baseball games all summer long in a stadium packed with the best fans in baseball. Those things will help curb any costs.

 

Adam SchererAdam Scherer is a partner in Crowe Soberman’s Tax Group and co-leads their Sports & Entertainment service offering. Click here for more information or follow Adam on Twitter at @sobermantax.

 

 

 

Tristan Thompson with superfan MoVernie

Are The Raptors Waiting For Tristan Thompson To Come Home?

By Michael Hobson

Two seasons ago the Cleveland Cavaliers were a lottery team. They had the first overall pick which they used on Andrew Wiggins and the Toronto Raptors were involved in a tense playoff match with the Brooklyn Nets. Among the two thousand or so fans outside in Jurassic Park watching game seven on the big screen was the Cavs Tristan Thompson. A local boy — he was born and raised in the Toronto suburb of Brampton — Thompson had grown up as a Raptors fan. Now Thompson is a restricted free agent and the Cavs are having a hard time signing him to an extension. Could it be because Thompson harbors a desire, like LeBron James, to come home?

This past season, which saw the Cavs go to the NBA Finals, was Thompson’s coming out party. LeBron insisted the Cavs sign Thompson to a long term contract and it appeared it would occur, especially since LeBron’s agent is also Thompson’s agent. But something happened during negotiations. The Cavs thought they had an agreement on a five year $80 million extension however issues arose that have put contract talks on hold.

What issues occurred? Nobody knows since nobody’s talking, but it is interesting to note that Thompson has consistently rejected signing long term deals with Cleveland.

The Cavs offered a four-year $52 million deal before the season began — which Thompson rejected, purportedly to wait for the off-season and bank on his ability to increase his value with his play. He succeeded. Thompson was a valuable performer during the Cavs playoff run; he was offered more money and more years. Yet Thompson still has not signed.

Could Thompson be forcing the Cavs’ hands? Could he be angling for an opportunity to sign with the Raptors? Toronto has made numerous changes this off-season but the one hole they have yet to fill is starting power forward. Are they waiting until Thompson’s contract negotiations are finalized before making a decision on who should fill that role?

Thompson could go the Greg Monroe route. Monroe was not happy in Detroit and asked the Pistons to trade him after the 2013-14 season. The problem for Monroe was that at the time he was a restricted free agent just like Thompson is now. Not wanting to stay in Detroit and not having the leverage to force a trade Monroe signed a one year deal and then this off season became an unrestricted free agent. Monroe signed with Milwaukee.

Thompson could follow the same path and sign a one year deal with Cleveland. He would then be an unrestricted free agent after next year when the salary cap is expected to rise substantially. Toronto would certainly have the cap room to sign Thompson to a long term deal. But Thompson may be pushing the envelope this year, not wanting to wait another season to sign with his home town team.

For their part the Raptors could have signed Thompson to an offer sheet, but being restricted, the Cavs would have the right to match and they likely would. The Raptors have obviously decided not to make the contract offer, knowing the Cavs would match and eliminate any chance of acquiring Thompson, unless through trade, for the length of the contract.

The Cavs are well over the salary cap and over the luxury tax threshold as well. Cleveland’s ownership has shoved all their chips into the middle and are going for it all. Cleveland re-signed all their major free agents and will be paying heavy into the luxury tax for many years unless they dump contracts. The Cavs have been forced into this situation in order to keep their franchise player happy. The Cavs want a title. Cleveland has not one professional sports title since the football Browns won the NFL title in 1964 and, with LeBron, their time is now.

Cleveland is further ahead than Toronto. The Cavs are among the favorites to win next year’s title and went to the Finals while the Raptors are coming off a disappointing post season of four straight losses in the opening round. Cleveland wants to win the title while the Raptors are simply seeking some post-season success. Winning a round would be satisfactory to Raptors fans but would be a major disappointment for Cleveland.

It would seem that Thompson’s best route is to follow Greg Monroe’s path and sign a one year contract with Cleveland. He would then have all options available to him next off-season and wouldn’t be restricted.

In the meantime the Raptors wait. The best options to fill their starting power forward spot are gone unless they go the trade route.

Could a trade be worked out between Cleveland and Toronto for Thompson? Certainly, but I have a hard time believing the Cavs would simply surrender and move Thompson.

The Cavs do have some roster duplications. They have two starting centers in Timofey Mozgov and Anderson Varejao. If they re-sign Thompson, they will have two starting power forwards along with Kevin Love and this is where Thompson’s concern for playing time enters the picture. The Cavs signed Love to a monstrous five year deal meaning Love will be the starting power forward in Cleveland for the next five years leaving Thompson to come off the bench. Thompson obviously views himself as a starter, and rightfully so.

But the Cavs are being greedy. They want it all, at least for next year, and are willing to pay through the nose to ensure their chances at winning the title. If it means paying big money to a back-up then so be it. The difficulty for Thompson is that coming off a successful post-season run his value may never be higher. It may actually sink next year if he is coming off the bench and playing limited minutes and of course there is always the injury concern.

Thompson wants his future to be settled now. The Raptors would love to have Thompson on their team. For both to realize their dreams of a union they may have to wait one more year. Cleveland will not let Thompson go; they have his rights for one more year and fully intend to exercise those rights. They don’t care about Thompson’s wishes; they only care about winning a title. And keeping LeBron happy.

 

Michael Hobson, Sports columnist and author
Follow him on twitter @mhobson12

 

 

warming-up Tristan Thompson by MoVernieA Door Opens For The Raptors To Pursue Tristan Thompson

If the Cavaliers all-but-in-name general manager Lebron James isn’t insisting on Tristan Thompson’s return and simply wants to win as many NBA Championships as possible, he may have looked at the Cavs roster and realized his team needs some more depth – preferably players that aren’t as old as dirt and might actually be useful at some point.

 

 

 

We The North - web

Top Key Things Raptors Fans Need To Know When Heading To A Playoff Game

By Vernon Chang

Last season, Raptors Nation made a name for themselves as NBA fans from around the world witnessed how die-hard, crazy, passionate Raptors fans were inside the Air Canada Centre as well as outside the ACC (a.k.a. Jurassic Park). Rain or shine, Raptors fans were in abundance and wild. In fact, they will travel to the opponents’ arena and support their beloved Toronto team.

I was grateful to attend all 4 home Raptors playoffs games last year as I am entering my 10th year as a Raptors season ticket holder. As a season ticket holder, one of the perks is guaranteed playoff tickets.

Although watching Raptors playoffs at the ACC can be fun, it can also take a toll on our body as a spectator. It’s important that we are ready for the Raptors playoff, especially if the team is aiming to last more than one round. You need to be refreshed and energized at full force, especially when the Raptors are playing every other night, whether it’s away or at home.

Below are some of the top 10 things MoVernie would like to share with other Raptors fans so they can be better prepared for the upcoming playoff series:

Movernie pic inside the ACC

1) Save up & bring your money

Playoff tickets are relatively more expensive than regular season games. When there is a high demand and limited supply of tickets, you have to be prepared to shell out money to overpay for the playoff tickets. On top of that, you need to spend on parking, fuel, pre-game drink and meal, food and drinks during the game, post game drink and meal and you may want to buy near Raptors gear too.

2) Know your Raptors Playoff Schedule

Unlike regular season when most weeknights the Raptors tip off time is at 7:30 pm or during weekend when games starts at 3pm or 6pm, the playoff schedule is a different breed. There are lots of factors involved such as which playoff match do the TV Stations want to broadcast first? Is the venue available without any conflict of interest with other concerts? You sure don’t want to mess up the time or date of the playoff game. Make sure you check the time and date online at Raptors.com.

Movernie and fan

3) Buy & wear Raptors gear to show your love of the team

During playoffs, everyone wants to show how much they love their Raptors, be prepared to buy new Raptors tees, jerseys, car flags, cape and all the other gear that you can possibly think of. Trust me, when you wear something Raptors related, you get to meet new Raptors fans along the way. You will more united with everybody. It feels extra special when you are the game wearing your beloved team’s gear.

Movernie

4) Bring your voice

Your boss or colleagues will know if you went to the playoffs game by not by hearing your voice the next day because there is absolutely no way you will not be cheering or screaming your lungs out. With 20,000+ Raptors fans chanting non-stop, you will join the fun. Learn to conserve your voice, drinks lots of water, drink lemon water or whatever methods that you find effective. Remember, you will need to get your voice back every other game.

Movernie and Stephen Brotherston

5) Bring your mental toughness and be able to handle to your emotions

NBA playoffs is an exciting game. The game is not over until the last whistle is blown. You should bring mental toughness with you to the game. Last year, Raptors were leading the Brooklyn Nets by 23 points at one point, a quarter later, with 5 minutes left in the game, the Nets climbed all the way back to tie the game. These roller-coaster emotions are part of the game and you have to find a way to compose yourself. Hence, I always urge people with a weak heart to not watch the playoff games live, just to play it safe.

 

6) Have lots of sleep and refresh yourself whenever you can

Heading to a playoff game takes a lot of your energy, time and effort. Although a game lasts around 2.5 hours, but it takes almost the entire of your day. You have to get ready, dress up, eat, drink, travel to the ACC, celebrate or reload with food and drinks after a long day cheering your team, then head home, you definitely need to refresh and be able to recharge.

 

7) Arrive early to the game

There are a lot of festivities outside the ACC that you don’t want to miss out. Those are great activities for you and your family and friends to do. Also, you don’t want to stuck in the traffic. Instead you want to be early so you can be calm and have your train of thought ready for the game. Moreover, MLSE often gives away free tees or other giveaways at the ACC so you want to arrive early to grab them.

Movernie cell phone

8) Fully recharge your smart phones and cameras

During the playoffs you will encounter meeting lots of new Raptors fans, so you need to have your smart phones fully charged so you can take selfies with your friends and family. You will also be taking lots of pictures during the game. You also will be busy tweeting and uploading photos on Facebook and Instagram. The last thing you need is a phone that has 1% battery left.

Movernie at SOCO Bar

9) Find your Raptors Headquarters

A lot of Raptors fans will head to a pub or restaurants before and after the game to catch up with their friends who are sitting at different sections of the building.

Some of the popular hotspots include the Real Sports, E11ven, Hoops Sports Bar & Grill, St. Louis Wings, Jack Astors and Loose Moose, just to name a few popular joints near the ACC.

A new hotspot that I highly recommend and is gaining lots of ground lately is SOCO Kitchen + Bar and Char No. 5 Whisky Bar located inside the newest hotel in Toronto called Delta Toronto. There are a lineup of TV Screens inside the SOCO Kitchen + Bar along the bar area. They served some of the best cocktails and top notch food items for you to enjoy the game. Char No. 5 serves a wide variety lists of whiskey and a TV screen that shows the game as well. Delta Toronto, located just 1 block from the ACC is my choice of watching the Raptors playoffs game.

The Raptor & Stripes with fans by MoVernie

10) Remember To Have Fun

There is nothing as intense as a Raptors playoff game, whether you are inside the ACC, outside watching the big screen in Jurassic Park or taking in the game at your favorite Headquarters. Win or lose these games are a blast.

 

Movernie pic of NOISE banner

 

Did I miss anything else? Do you have any suggestions of your own when heading the playoff games? Feel free to share your suggestions or your experience in the “comment” section below.
MoVernie is outta here! Go Raptors!

 

 

Tristan Thompson with MoVernieFreelance journalist MoVernie (Vernon Chang) has been enthusiastically covering the Toronto Raptors and numerous other media events in the Toronto area since 2007. Be sure to check out MoVernie Lifestyle On The Move.

 

 

 

DeMar, wife & child at presser by MoVernieDeMar DeRozan Brings Kiara and Diar To All-Star Book Program Event

By Vernon Chang
DeMar said, “It’s definitely important that you guys were able to open your imagination, you know, educate yourself at an early age, see the bigger picture out there in the world, you know, read books and expanding your mind, learn something new every single day.”

 

 

 

DeMar, wife & child at presser by MoVernie

DeMar DeRozan Brings Kiara and Diar To All-Star Book Program Event

By Vernon Chang

Today, the Toronto Raptors All-Star, DeMar DeRozan, along with the Executive Director of First Book Canada, Tom Best hosted a Press Conference to promote DeMar’s All-Star Book Program initiative. The Press Conference was held at the Air Canada Centre, Toronto Raptors Practice Court.

Before DeMar came onto the practice court to greet the media, a large groups of students and their parents along with the teachers from their respective schools were on hand to witness this special occasion. First Book Canada is an organization that provides access to new books for children in need. First Book has contributed on books and educational resources to programs and schools serving children from low-income families throughout Canada.

 

DeMar Book program crowd shot by MoVernie

DeMar, along with his wife, Kiara Morrison and his beloved daughter, Diar started his special DeMar DeRozan All-Star Book Program last year to which they have donated thousands of books. DeMar and his family decided to continue with this program for the second year in a row.

Tom Best, the Executive Director of First Book Canada said, “We are all about access to books for kids, everywhere, across the country. Last year, we gave away over 800,000 books to children from coast-to-coast.”

Best continued “But I can tell you one of the greatest joy of my life about this program was about a year ago when we were approached by DeMar’s team about setting up a reading book club for kids across the GTA. We were asked to select 10 books, across 10 schools, you may get the idea that the number “10” is very important in this program and it’s sure is. And 10-year old kids were selected from schools that were across the GTA, in fact, this year, we have expanded much beyond that, but we are so proud about this program largely because it gives us an opportunity to give to the children the outstanding books written by Canadian authors which this year, the selection is top notch.”

After Tom Best and other committee members made their speeches, DeMar addressed his vision and his reasons for setting up this special program.

 

DeMar book program group shot by MoVernie

DeMar said, “It’s definitely important that you guys were able to open your imagination, you know, educate yourself at an early age, see the bigger picture out there in the world, you know, read books and expanding your mind, learn something new every single day.”

One touching and cute moment was when First Book Canada presented a gift basket (full of books) to DeMar’s daughter Diar so that she can also become a great reader and learn new things. A youth from the organization presented the gift to Diar and Diar simply used her two strong little arms grabbed the gift bucket nicely with a smile on her face.

Tom Best said “She is as strong as her dad, she has the DNA”, and laughter broke out.
DeMar Book program presentation shot by MoVernie
After the press conference, all the youth from the 10 schools joined DeMar and his family for a group picture. DeMar, not only an all-star, a great athlete, a great family man but also a great person with a BIG heart, giving back to the community and doing his part to bring a better future for the younger generation.
 

Tristan Thompson with MoVernieFreelance journalist MoVernie (Vernon Chang) has been enthusiastically covering the Toronto Raptors and numerous other media events in the Toronto area since 2007. Be sure to check out MoVernie Lifestyle On The Move.

 

 

Terrence Ross shooting warmups Paul Saini FYLMM

The Enigma That Is The Toronto Raptors Terrence Ross

Guest Feature

Terrence Ross has been described as a key piece to the Toronto Raptors future, a guy who can help take the Raptors to the next level, however, up to this point, he has failed to really earn that status. A highly skilled player in his third year, Ross seems to be behind in his development compared to his teammate Jonas Valanciunas. More was expected from the enigma that is Ross this season.

Up until recently, Ross had mostly been playing at small forward with shooting guard DeMar DeRozan and by using Ross at the three spot, the organization is implying that he is already at a good enough level to play out of position. This would be the right thing to do as a team going forward, if Ross had actually shown any signs of improvement.

However, Ross’ offensive stats are down across the board from last year and he has essentially been on a downward trend since the anomaly that was his 51 point game against the Clippers. Ross’ free throw attempts are down, his field goal percentage is down and his catch and shoot percentages have also decreased.

Ross is supposed to be a floor spacer because of his 3 point shooting and he has shown that he can bring that to the table. He takes about five three-point shots a game and makes almost two, but for a guy with that much athleticism, it makes you wonder why he does not put the ball on the floor more and try get to the free throw line. This might be due to the fact that Ross doesn’t dribble efficiently with either hand, especially in a way that would allow him to create scoring opportunities for himself. He only rarely dribbles into the lane for a pull up jumper or a little push shot. His offensive game just hasn’t grown significantly since his sophomore year and this is a concern for a 24 year old player even if he still might have a lot of upside.

On the opposing end Ross initially made his mark as a potential defensive stopper, however, that just hasn’t been there this season. Not for lack of effort, but Ross seems just a bit slow laterally, defensively at least. He is struggling to contain dribble penetration, he isn’t really good at chasing shooters off screens, and does not use his athleticism to rebound consistently or contest shots effectively. Ross is a slightly below average defender at this point and when your other wing player is DeRozan, you need a defensive stopper beside him.

President and General Manager, Basketball Operations Masai Ujiri has a big decision to make. Ross is showing warning signs of becoming a draft bust, especially considering that he was chosen over Andre Drummond and only two spots behind a guy like Damian Lillard, who is the same age, and has improved his game every single year. Ross may not be as talented as those players, but he still has a lot of talent, and could be much more than just a ‘3-and-D’ guy. However, at this point, he is still struggling to establish himself as a defensive player. It is frustrating for the fans and the organization because Ross shows glimpses through his inconsistency.

Ujiri’s solution could be shopping Ross with a pick because, if this team wants to take the next step, a player who can produce on both ends at the starting 3 spot is vital. When your best player in Kyle Lowry turns 29, and the conference seems to look wide open for the next 2-3 years, it might be smart to improve as fast as you can.

 

 
Gerald Baffour is a young freelance writer who constantly has basketball on the brain. He doesn’t believe in having a voice unless it sounds like Hubie Brown.

photo credit Paul Saini Fylmm.com

 

 

Landry Fields

Monique’s Hot NBA Links for 11-05-14

Monique’s hot links about the Raptors for Wednesday November 5 are:

 

Fields still struggling to live up to his deal by Sportsnet’s Eric Smith

I don’t think we can turn Landry Fields around. He will be traded for whomever to a team he fits or needs his expiring contract. – Monique

 

 

Monique LawrenceMonique Lawrence is a well known fixture at Toronto Raptors games and in the on-line community. Pro Bball Report is proud to present her daily finds and strong opinions about the NBA and the Raptors. You can keep up with Monique on facebook or at NorthernUprising on twitter.

 

 

Ross and Amir Johnson

Monique’s Hot NBA Links for 11-04-14

Monique’s hot links about the Raptors for Tuesday November 4 are:

 

Toronto Raptors’ Amir Johnson, in his 10th NBA season, is the ‘heart and soul’ of his team by Eric Koreen, National Post

Amir’s contract is up at the end of the year.  If I were Masai, I would give him all the money for 5 years at the least.  If not, then hearts will be broken in Toronto.  – Monique

 

RAPTORS’ ROSS REBOUNDING FROM PLAYOFF FUNK, a Sportnet video

It’s the third season for Jonas Valanciunas and Terrence Ross and I expect Ross to step up the most.  A lot is on him.  I love that he added muscle as it will help him a lot on the court.  Let’s hope he can learn from his playoff struggles last year. – Monique

 

 

Monique LawrenceMonique Lawrence is a well known fixture at Toronto Raptors games and in the on-line community.  Pro Bball Report is proud to present her daily finds and strong opinions about the NBA and the Raptors.  You can keep up with Monique on facebook

 

 

 

 

 

DeRozan & Family by MoVernie

DeMar DeRozan And His Fiance Put Smiles On Raptors Fans

The Toronto Raptors All-Star DeMar DeRozan loves Toronto a lot. He always finds the time to meet and greet his fans despite his heavy NBA schedule. Two months ago, he launched a book reading program, donating 3,000 books that were distributed to students from low income areas in and around Toronto as part of the DeMar DeRozan All-Star Book Program.

Recently, DeRozan and his sponsors, Klipsch (famous for headphones), were on hand at the Future Shop, Dundas Square location, where the young star had a meet and greet with his fans. Some of them actually started lining up in the cold at 6 am in the morning. They couldn’t just get a wristband ahead of time and walk around, they had to stay in line until the autograph session at 4:30pm. Now that’s respect and dedication!

Crowd shot prior to DeRozan autograph session by MoVernie

As they waited, they got excited. Although when they got their items autographed, they were a bit disappointed that the organizer wouldn’t allow them to pose for a photo with DeRozan. Nevertheless, they all said it was still worth the time to see their All-Star, especially with the Raptors heading into the playoffs. These are hard core fans and they deserve a shout out for their dedication.

Fans with DeRozan signed ball by MoVernie

One thing that is becoming obvious about DeRozan is how much he loves his family. Everywhere and every time there is a public event, he will bring along his fiance Kiara Morrison and his 11-month-old daughter Diar. The Raptors young star has grown up and become quite the family man.

DeRozan signing autographs by MoVernie 2

 

MoVernie (Vernon Chang) has been covering events in Toronto, including the Toronto Raptors, since 2007. You can contact MoVernie on Facebook or read the MoVernie Lifestyle on the Move blog.

Ujiri basketball web

Raptors Should Only Trade For Players Who Want To Come

The trade deadline is fast approaching and the Toronto Raptors are one of the teams mentioned as possible active players on Thursday. President and General Manager, Basketball Operations, Masai Ujiri is known as someone who is always looking to upgrade his roster and other executives around the league will be hoping this is true again.

The key to building a team that will compete every season for a top spot in the Eastern Conference and eventually challenge for the Larry O’Brien trophy is the bring in the right players. By right players that means those who actually want to play and stay in Toronto for longer than the rest of the remaining season.

This is what Ujiri has to discern when discussing any player with any other executive around the league. Names have been thrown around as to whom the Raptors’ brass are interested in. Tim Hardaway Jr. from the Knicks gets mentioned as does Jeff Teague of the Hawks, but one name keeps popping up on every NBA insider trade rumor list is Rajon Rondo.

The Boston Celtics are in full rebuild mode and now a healthy Rondo could bring back the youth and the draft picks they desire. Of course many Raptors’ fans would love to see Rondo running the show at the Air Canada Centre, but does he actually want to play in Toronto? According to ESPN’s Chris Broussard, Rondo isn’t too fond of continuing his career north of the border.

 

Rondo has one more year left on his contract which will pay him almost $13 million.  Common sense would indicate that if Ujiri brings in Rondo it will be strictly as a rental player until he demands to be traded away.  Rental players usually are acquired when a team is one step or one player away from making that next level in the playoffs. The Raptors should end up winning the Atlantic Division and may even get into the second round of the playoffs.  There, most likely, they will meet the Miami Heat and Rondo will not be the catalyst that helps the Raptors win that series. So if Rondo is strictly a rental player, why give up anyone on your own roster to bring him in? The current roster is good enough to make a run at the second round. The Celtics are interested in multiple draft picks and probably want Kyle Lowry and others to make a deal happen. Toronto has a much better chance at getting Lowry to stay in Toronto.

Without a guarantee that Rondo will be a happy Raptor and stay in Toronto longer than this season, this trade really doesn’t have a shot at getting done. Ujiri is here for the long haul and losing valuable pieces for someone who might not want to be here isn’t in the best interest of the team.

Does the team want to get better at the trade deadline? Of course!  Is it better to keep Lowry’s name out of trade talks? Probably, but if the Raptors trade anyone, the players who come here should want to be in Toronto and be happy to stay if everything works out.

Freelance Writer Shahab Khan covers the Toronto Raptors and the entire NBA. Shahab is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association. You can follow his thoughts on twitter @SchoolboyShebe.

TOR_Lowry_Kyle

For Ujiri And The Raptors Chemistry Is Key

The All-Star break has come and gone and the unofficial start to the second half of the season begins tonight in Washington for the Toronto Raptors. The Raptors have an opportunity to put space between themselves and the Wizards in the Eastern Conference standings.

While the players are focussed on the remaining thirty games, President and General Manager, Basketball Operations Masai Ujiri is always focussed on improving the team in the short term without losing sight on his and the ownership’s long term plans. Ujiri was brought in to build a perennial top end team eventually challenging for a spot in the NBA Finals and that will determine whether he makes a deal in the upcoming days.

With the trade deadline fast approaching, charges on Ujiri’s phone must be climbing as executives around the league are clamouring for a chance at landing point guard Kyle Lowry. Lowry, who was on the market earlier in the season, has not only turned his game around, but also the fortunes of the team. Ujiri won’t publically come out and say it, but most around the league know that even with his All-Star calibre play, Lowry is still available. What entices executives around the association is Lowry’s expiring contract and the thought that he might end up being too expensive for the Raptors to keep him in Toronto.

Ujiri has always preached that the keys to building a team, a successful team, is chemistry.  This was evident when he was discussing the Rudy Gay trade and the team’s turnaround with TSN’s Josh Lewenburg, stating that finding that balance could be hit or miss.

“We try to study [but] we’re not geniuses,” Ujiri admitted. “You have to get lucky sometimes and I think we were lucky. It kind of came together in terms of chemistry.”

It’s not a secret that Ujiri loves to wheel and deal. He did the same as the general manager in Denver, helping the team have one of its most successful seasons after the trade of Carmelo Anthony. The Nuggets surprised many and that led to Ujiri being named Executive of the Year by the Association.  Slowly, we are now understanding what drives Ujiri when building a franchise. He loves the initial success, but always does it with a view to the future. Most importantly, when bringing in a player he not only looks at stats, but also looks at how that player will fit on the court, in the locker room and off the court with the franchise. He might state that he got lucky with chemistry in the Gay to Sacramento trade, but he knew exactly what he was getting in return in terms of ability and in terms of personality by bringing in John Salmons, Chuck Hayes, Patrick Patterson, Greivis Vasquez.

So will Ujiri be active at the trade deadline? It would take a fortune teller to know if a deal can get done, but the phone lines in and out of the general manager’s office at the Air Canada Centre will be busy the next few days. If an acquisition does occur, you can be sure it will be one of quality on and off the court.

Freelance writer Shahab Khan covers the Toronto Raptors and the entire NBA.  Shahab is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association. You can follow his thoughts on twitter @SchoolboyShebe.

Lakers Insider Dave McMenamin: Cautious Optimism

Searching for some insight into a Los Angeles Lakers team facing an uncertain present and future, Toronto journalist Kevin Rashidi contacted ESPNLosAngeles.com Lakers insider Dave McMenamin to ask him about the Lakers preseason, roster, and what to expect this season.

Kevin: What is your overall impression of Lakers roster heading into this season? How does this roster compare to last season?

Dave McMenamin: I have reserved optimism for this season, mainly because it just can’t get any worse than last year. There won’t be a mid-season coaching change. There won’t be kowtowing to a player for fear of losing him in free agency. There won’t be haphazard strings of DNPs for players as the coach tries to make evaluations without the benefit of a training camp. Yes, they lost a lot of talent in Dwight Howard, Metta World Peace, Antawn Jamison and even Earl Clark. But they added players who willingly took pay cuts to be with the team and should have added some resolve to want to make up for last year’s disaster.

Kevin: Is there anyone on the Lakers roster during preseason who has really stood out – good or bad?

Dave McMenamin: Chris Kaman. I already liked the Kaman signing because one, they were getting a former All-Star center at a major discount and two, both Pau Gasol and Jordan Hill haven’t been the most reliable of big men in recent seasons when it comes to health, so Kaman provided ample insurance against an injury to those two. Where I was surprised was how well he played in the starting lineup with Gasol once Wes Johnson went out with that foot trouble. Through the Lakers’ first six preseason games, he averaged 11.2 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.6 assists while shooting 51.1 percent and did all of that in just 21.6 minutes per game.

Kevin: How have Steve Nash and Pau Gasol looked during preseason?

Dave McMenamin: For Gasol, who came into camp saying that he might need some time to get back into the swing of things, it has been a pleasant surprise. He said that he feels as good physically as he has in three years and his on-court production has reflected that. For Nash, who came into camp saying that he had fully recovered from the hip and groin injuries that plagued him at the end of last season, it’s been a letdown. A lingering ankle injury has sabotaged his preseason production and Mike D’Antoni even suggested that Nash could be in and out of the lineup all season long because of injuries. I think Nash will get back to normal — he cares too much not to — but I came into the year thinking he had a shot of turning back the clock a bit. I’m not so sure now.

Kevin: Are there any concerns about the durability of Steve Nash and Pau Gasol? Do you believe these two players carry a heavy load for 82 games?

Dave McMenamin: Of course. It’d be foolish not to be concerned after seeing the way their bodies have broken down in recent seasons. I guess the comfort in that concern is that the Lakers went out and added Jordan Farmar to give Nash some relief and have options in Kaman and Robert Sacre to back up Gasol with a post guy or Johnson and Shawne Williams and Ryan Kelly to back him up with a stretch guy, so they’ve hedged their bets in case Nash and Gasol have difficulty.

Kevin: What do you believe is reasonable to expect from Kobe when he does return? Do you think expectations of Kobe are being set too high or too low?

Dave McMenamin: Reasonable? You have to throw “reasonable” out the window when evaluating Kobe. Was his dunk in Brooklyn last year “reasonable”? How about those 3s he splashed to win that game against the Raptors? Or making two free throws with a torn Achilles? Was any of that reasonable? I think the best thing to do with Kobe is to set your expectations aside and just watch what he does. He’s bound to make it worth your time to tune in, for better or for worse.

Kevin: There are a lot of Lakers players on expiring contracts. Do you think this is in preparation for an in season trade or are a number of these players on season long tryouts and likely salary cap space next summer?

Dave McMenamin: More of the latter. I was watching “Open Court” on NBA TV the other day and Ernie Johnson asked Isiah Thomas if the Pistons decided to walk off the court and not shake the Bulls’ hands before Game 4 of their 1991 playoff sweep or during the game. All of the other panelists jumped down Ernie’s throat immediately. Why would Detroit decide that before the game? That would be planning for defeat. The only way the Lakers would bring on players one on-year deals with the specific purpose of making them easier to deal in mid-season trade, was if they went into the year thinking about tanking. They went after one-year guys so they could try to be major players on the free agency market in the summer of 2014.

Kevin: Is this a playoff team if Kobe Bryant can’t play like he did last season for a significant number of games?

Dave McMenamin: Probably not. They’ll need Kobe to be at least an 80 percent proximity of the player he was last year for about 80 percent of the Lakers’ games if they want to have a shot (that goes for Gasol and Nash too).

Kevin: What are the LAL fans hopes and expectations for this season?

Dave McMenamin: I’m not sure where the fans stand. The sense I get from my interaction with fans on Twitter is they feel refreshed by this group of players and are already enjoying this underdog group with funny personalities like Kaman and Nick “Swaggy P” Young. Lakers fans are fickle though. They live in the shadow of 16 championship banners and going into each season expecting a ring, not hoping for one.

Kevin: What do you believe the Lakers management’s goals are for this season?

Dave McMenamin: The management wants to win as much as it can in the moment and in the long term. That means that if at some point this season it looks like a successful 2013-14 campaign just isn’t feasible, their goal will be to give the team the best chance to rebound going forward, a.k.a. stripping down the roster to win as few games as possible to improve their ping pong ball chances with that 2014 draft pick of theirs.

McMenamin has cautious optimism for the Lakers this season tied to the health and production from Nash, Gasol and more importantly Bryant to start the season, but with the real possibility of going into tank mode if playoffs are not reasonably attainable. However, the Lakers present course seems to be clear, this season will be more about next season even if everything goes right.

Kevin Rashidi is a freelance journalist who assists Pro Bball Report with day-to-day activities and searches for exclusive interviews with the NBA personalities and players fans want to hear from. Kevin can be contacted on Twitter at @KevinRashidi

Canada Defeats Jamaica In Basketball Classic

Poster for Canada v Jamaica by MoVernieAfter numerous days of practice at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, the Canadian Senior Men’s National basketball Team finally got into game action against Team Jamaica on Thursday. Canada won a tight, exciting, physical contest by a score of 81-72. The two-game series, which wraps up on Saturday at 7pm, is called the Jack Donohue International Classic. Named after coaching legend, Jack Donohue, the classic was first hosted in 2005. It is being used as a tune-up for FIBA Americas Championship, where four nations will play to earn the right to represent their countries at the 2014 FIBA World Cup.

Team Canada standing pregame by MoVernieThe match began slowly as both teams were trying to get into their offensive and defensive rhythms. Early on, both sides couldn’t hit their shots, but as the tempo of the game picked up, Canada motored to a 29-21 first quarter lead, highlighted by a powerful dunk from Cavaliers Tristan Thompson.

The Jamaicans responded in the 2nd quarter, fuelled mainly by Jamaica’s Adrian Uter, who scored 15 of his team-high 16 points in the game’s first 20 minutes. At half-time, Team Canada was only ahead by two points at 44-42.

The third quarter remained a see-saw battle with both teams exchanging baskets. The play was physical. There were plenty of aggressive screens being set, plus some outright pushing and blocking. The physicality peaked when 6’9” Canadian Andrew Nicoholson from the Orlando Magic got tangled up with 6’9” Jamaican Samardo Samuels who played for the Cavaliers last season. The exchange was heated, but teammates from both sides quickly stepped in to prevent it from escalating further.

The tangle between Nicholson and Samuels gave Canada a major lift and the Canadians pulled away to built a large lead. Canadian Head Coach Jay Triano’s nephew Brady Heslip scored 12 of his 18 points in the fourth quarter to lead Canada to victory. Levon Kendall of Vancouver, B.C. contributed 16 points. Thompson led Canada in rebounds with 8.

After the game, Triano was happy with the victory, but he knows there is still plenty of work to be done, especially for the NBA players such as Thompson, Nicolson and Cory Joseph who need to make the adjustment to International Rules.

“You can see Tristan was a bit frustrated out there,” Triano said. “(He is) still trying to learn the International rules, but he will figure things out, veterans guys who have lots of international experience will help our young groups of guys.”

Future college, NBA and Team Canada star, Andrew Wiggins, elected not to participate on the roster this summer so that he can spend more time preparing for his freshman season with University of Kansas, but he was on hand with his family to show his support and observe the team’s style of play. Wiggins will be part of the Team Canada’s program going forward.

“Those guys are part of our pool players,” Triano said. “They’re part of Canada Basketball moving forward. Obviously, I’m happy they’re here and they’re a part of this team.”

Jamaican Head Coach Sam Vincent knows his team needs more practice and time to gel, but he knows where the issues are and will address them with the team. One of his team’s weaknesses tonight was the lack of rebounding as several of his big men are not currently with the team.

“We know we lost in the rebounding category tonight. We have a number of seven footers who aren’t with our team yet and we would love to have them to win some rebounding battles out there,” Vincent said.

Old Maple Leaf Gardens by MoVernieBoth teams get the night off on Friday and they will play again on Saturday, August 10, tipoff at 7pm at Ryerson University’s Mattamy Athletic Centre. Tickets are still available and you can more details at www.basketball.ca

Check out the BoxScore of the game here.

Media credential by MoVernieMoVernie (Vernon Chang) has been covering events in Toronto, including the Toronto Raptors, since 2007. You can contact MoVernie on Facebook or read MoVernie on the BLOG.

NBA Toronto Raptors Jonas Valanciunas

Not Just Raptors Media Love Valanciunas

Searching for an independent and objective opinion about Jonas Valanciunas, the Raptors 21 year old center from Lithuania, Toronto journalist Kevin Rashidi contacted well-known CBSSports.com NBA writer and AWolfAmongWolves.com contributor Zach Harper.

Kevin: What impressed you the most out of Jonas Valanciunas tonight?

Zach Harper: I loved his physicality. It wasn’t just that he was more aggressive or looked comfortable. Jonas was noticeably more physical and seemed to want to push everybody around. He’s kept his mobility and seemed balanced at the same time. It was against weaker competition but he dominated.

Kevin: On TV he seemed noticeably bigger, was that the case in person and do you think that will help him take that next step as a player?

Zach Harper: He was definitely bigger than I remember him. I heard murmurs of anywhere from 8 to 15 pounds. It will definitely help him as long as he continues to carry the weight well. If he keeps getting bigger, he could hurt his mobility and develop knee issues. For now, it should help considerably.

Kevin: What would you say is his ceiling as a pro?

Zach Harper: Borderline All-Star. If we’re going with a more historical player comparison, I’d say Antonio Davis when he was at his best with the Indiana Pacers. Maybe as a more modern reference, we could reach for Tyson Chandler.

Kevin: 5 years from now, who’s going to be better established in the league, Andre Drummond or Jonas Valanciunas and why?

Zach Harper: I think Drummond will probably be the more impactful player, but I’d take Valanciunas because he’s more than twice the free throw shooter Drummond is. As long as Valanciunas continues to progress on offense, I think he’d be the pick.

Be sure to check out more on Valancuinas’ new physicality with Zach Harper on CBSSports.com

Valanciunas is a skilled seven-footer with a nice jump shot and a desire to operate in the low post. At his peak as an All-Star, Antonio Davis was a 13.7 point, 10.1 rebound, 1.9 block forward/center that played solid defense. When Valanciunas was drafted, Raptors executive Maurizio Gherardini described him as a young Tyson Chandler with good feet suggesting Valanciunas had the same potential, but wasn’t going to face the injury-related setbacks Chandler has over his career.

In Toronto it is very tempting to project Valanciunas above and beyond these two very good NBA players. If the young Lithuanian center can develop his game to the reach Harper’s assessment, the Raptors will have the impact big man they were looking for when they drafted him 5th overall in 2011.

Kevin is a freelance journalist that assists Pro Bball Report with day-to-day activities and searches for exclusive interviews with the NBA personalities and players fans want to hear from. Kevin can be contacted on Twitter at @KevinRashidi