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NBA Toronto Raptors Kawhi Leonard playoffs 2019

Raptors Win With Grit And Grind Defense Again

Somewhere former Raptors head coach Dwane Casey is wondering why he isn’t still running this current roster loaded with grit and grind defensive players who truly don’t need a great scoring effort to win games.

New head coach Nick Nurse was brought in as part of the talent and culture change the Raptors thought they needed to advance past the second round of the playoffs and in keeping with the new offensive-oriented NBA, Toronto has been a high-flying, high-scoring, three-point shooting squad that often buried their opponent with offense during the regular season on route to 58 wins, but that isn’t how they’ve been winning games in the playoffs.

The Raptors held Orlando to just 89 points and 38.5 percent shooting from the field in four straight wins to eliminate the Magic in five games. Their wins over Philadelphia were equally impressive defensively holding their opponent to 92.5 points and 40.9 percent shooting. Losses to Philly gave up 107 points on average and 45.7 percent shooting.

After that tough seven game series against the 76ers in which Toronto fell behind 2-1 to lose home court advantage and now facing a tougher opponent in the Bucks who took the first two games in Milwaukee, bouncing-back has been key to the Raptors getting this far.

“Physicality, defense and great communication,” Nurse replied to how his team keeps bouncing-back the day after losing game two to the Bucks. “Our coverages get executed. There’s just no slippage. We’re just on point. We’re into bodies. We’re moving our feet. It’s a great team defense.”

It’s been the Raptors formula for success in the postseason and it was on full display during a game three grind-it-out double-overtime win over the Bucks in Toronto.

“I think just in general, we played with a much tougher mindset,” Nurse said after game three. “I thought we were kind of gritty and we didn’t really have much choice.

“We are pretty gritty on D… That gives you a chance no matter how well you shoot it (on offense).

After giving up an average 116.5 points on 43.2 percent shooting in Milwaukee, the Raptors held the Bucks to just 37.3 percent shooting and 96 points prior to overtime in game three. Toronto only shot 39.2 percent themselves, but this is a formula they can win with, especially with Kawhi Leonard leading on offense and defense.

“I think first of all, his (Kawhi Leonard) defense was probably the biggest key of the game,” Nurse said. “Not only did he just play good, but he made some huge plays with some steals and rip-aways and breakaways.

“Offense was hard to come by there for both teams.”

Just put all those coach’s comments about missing shots and creating more open looks in the trash where they belong. Keeping offense “hard to come by” was how Nurse turned the 76ers series around and it remains his team’s best chance at beating the Bucks.

 

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

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Norman Powell

It’s Do Or Die For The Raptors In Game 3

Since quite literally no team in the NBA comes back from being down 3-0 in a playoff series, it’s do or die tonight in Toronto for the Raptors in Game Three of the Eastern Conference Finals.

Describe things any way you want, the Raptors who were unable to solve the Bucks in Milwaukee must win at home if they hope to make this interesting. It can be argued that a playoff series hasn’t started until a team wins on the road, but in this case, the series will be all but over if the Bucks can win a game in Toronto and it’s up to Raptors head coach Nick Nurse to figure out a new game plan.

To state the obvious, things haven’t been working and changes are going to be match-up driven according to Nurse ahead of game three.

“(The Bucks) start a super big line-up,” Nurse explained.

“I think there will be some line-up changes.

“Some other guys have emerged in this series.”

Nurse wasn’t about to drop any hints as to what these changes may be, but when questioned by Pro Bball Report about the effectiveness of one Norman Powell off the bench, Nurse relented.

“(Powell) will get more minutes tonight,” Nurse admitted. “He’s been good at both ends.

“He’s fast, athletic, he’s played aggressive. You’ll see a little bit more of him.”

However, the possibility of change hasn’t got the Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer’s attention.

“(The Raptors) can make a couple of changes,” Budenholzer conceded, but. “Unless they are taking Kawhi Leonard out of the line-up, our guys will be prepared.”

Bud is probably right, but the biggest change Nurse wants to see is everyone on the court hitting shots and playing harder.

 

 

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

 

 

 

Kawhi Leonard at the free throw line 2019 playoffs

Raptors Kawhi Leonard Makes History In Game 7 Win

By Frank McLean

It took 18-years for it to happen again, the Toronto Raptors and the Philadelphia 76ers to hook up one more time in a game seven of an Eastern Conference Semi-Final.

Every Raptors fan remembers the last one, May 20th, 2001 at then named First Union Centre where Vince Carter had the last shot of the game which if he made it would have put the Raptors in their first conference final against the Milwaukee Bucks.

As we all know Carter’s shot hit the rim and rolled out. The Sixers won. They went on to face the Bucks in the eastern final and then lost to the Lakers in the finals, but for Raptors fans they have felt that the bad karma this team has faced in the postseason would have been different if Carter had just made that shot.

Of course that’s just revisionist history but for the diehards of the red and white that’s what Sunday night at the Scotiabank Arena is all about.

Turns out the fans were right. Hollywood could not have written a better script.

Game tied 90-all with four-pint-two seconds left in regulation time Kawhi Leonard with no time left hits a jumper from the top left hand corner inside the three point line. The basket bounced four times on the rim before it went in the hoop and the Scotiabank Arena became bedlam.

Leonard became the basketball version of Joe Carter who broke Philadelphia sports fans hearts with his three run homer in the bottom of the ninth in game six of the 1993-World Series that gave the Blue Jays the World Championship over their beloved Phillies.

And let’s not forget Doug Gilmour who scored a game winning goal in the playoffs in 1993 in the third overtime against the St. Louis Blues.

Leonard’s winner ranks right up there in the sporting lore of the City Of Toronto.

Leonard took the Raptors and carried them on his back for the entire series. The winning shot game him 41-points for the game in which he scored 15-of his points in the fourth quarter. It was his second 40-plus point game in the series (45 in game one) and his average for the series was 34.8-points.

“I knew it was game seven,” Leonard said. “I didn’t want to leave no shots in my mind, I just wanted to go out and leave it on the floor. This could have been my last game of the season and I would have had to wait four or five months to make another shot. I was going to leave it on the floor tonight just trying to will us there to win.”

Leonard had never made a game winning shot at the buzzer before he said after the game, which is something rather hard to believe. “I have never made a game winning shot like that it’s a blessing and something I will look back on.”

After the game a rather horse Raptors coach Nick Nurse thought the Leonard shot was going in.

“It looked like it was going in, it looked like it was going in the whole time for me,” Nurse said. “I thought it was a nice lucky bounce. I thought we were very unlucky for most of that game.”

Nurse was right they were a little lucky. The Raptors gave up leads in the third and fourth quarter and had to fight a scrap all night just to get the game to a 90-all tie.

Speaking of fighting and scraping that was Kyle Lowry’s MO the whole night.

He sat out most of the first quarter after getting two quick fouls to start the game. Then in the second quarter his left thumb popped out after fighting for a rebound with the Sixers James Ennins III.

“It just popped out,” Lowry said after the game. “It was loose making it hard to pass the ball. But we won the game and I can rest it.”

And Lowry’s thumb issue makes the last play of the game for Leonard’s winning shot even more amazing.

Nick Nurse described the play this way.

“We ran Kyle off the first option and then Kawhi looped under there (the basket) and he get’s it (the ball) and the top and it’s his call what to do.”

So now is the bad karma broken? Well time will tell that one.

Just like 2001, if the Raptors had won that game seven, it’s the Milwaukee Bucks and a chance to play in the Eastern Conference Finals.

But for one night let’s enjoy what will be one of the three greatest endings of a post season game in Toronto sporting history.

Leonard’s game winning shot, Carter’s World Series winning homer and Gilmore’s winning goal.

I was lucky I was in the press box and got to cover all three of these gems.

 

 

DeMar DeRozan & Frank McLeanVeteran journalist Frank McLean has been covering the Raptors in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. 

photo credit Larry Millson

 

 

 

Toronto Raptors head coach Nick Nurse

Can A Nicked-Up 76ers Run With The Raptors?

The second round Eastern Conference playoff series between the 76ers and the Raptors kicks off Saturday night in Toronto with some rather obvious questions about a nicked-up squad from Philadelphia that will need to find a way to run with one of the NBA’s best fast break teams.

“(Fastbreaks are) one of the areas that we have great respect for the Toronto team in how they run after misses,” 76ers head coach Brett Brown said ahead of game one. “Just the commitment running after misses and they are unique in that they run after makes.”

Back up forward Mike Scott played the fifth most minutes (118) of anyone on the 76ers in their first round playoff series win over the Nets and while no one is mistaking the 30-year-old journeyman for an All-Star, he is the kind of player that can make a big difference off the bench and as a fill-in starter if necessary.

But Scott has plantar fasciitis in his right foot and that’s a pretty solid explanation for why this deadly three-point threat only hit on 26.1 percent from three in the first round of the playoffs. A bruised heel has him missing at least the first game of the second round, but it wouldn’t be fair to expect him to be running with Pascal Siakam or even to expect he’ll be 100 percent again until after the summer.  The 76ers will definitely miss a healthy Scott.

It’s no secret that budding superstar Joel Embiid is playing on a sore knee and has already sat out one game of the playoffs, but the 76ers need his imposing presence and he knows it.

“It’s still not there. It’s still trying to get better,” Embiid said at shootaround Saturday in advance of Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against the favored Raptors. “But that’s an issue that’s going to be there at least all playoffs until I actually get some real time to get some rest and work on myself. …

“But, we did a good job managing it. Obviously I only averaged about 24 minutes last series, so this one I’m definitely going to need way more than that.” from ESPN

“It’s hard because I’m known for playing through anything and pushing, pushing it,” Embiid said. “And in some situations like Game 3, I couldn’t go because it was too much. But like I said, I just got to keep managing it and see how I feel and then go from there.”

Toronto isn’t going to slow the game down because the Sixers are down a key reserve or Embiid might want to protect a sore knee. Head coach Nick Nurse has emphasized the fast break all season and isn’t about to change now.

“(The fastbreak) is part of who we are and it’s usually a lot harder to do in the playoffs,” Nurse responded to Pro Bball Report prior to game one. “The sprint back effort by everybody playing in the playoffs is better than it is in the regular season.

“We want to get it out and attack and even if you can’t complete those long passes to Pascal, you still want to get it out there and run. It stretches the defense and somebody has to go back with him.

“Maybe it takes somebody off the boards.

“Maybe it opens up driving lanes in transition.

“Maybe we don’t get the long pass, but we get to stretch them and open up the paint somehow.”

Now as coach Brown reminded everyone, the 76ers were the top offensive rebounding team during the first round of the playoffs and he isn’t going to play scared. So look for a contrast in styles that should make for an exciting series and a battle of coaching prowess.

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Norman Powell and Kawhi Leonard

The Magic Are Who We Thought They Were

By Frank McLean

After watching the way the Toronto Raptors handled the Orlando Magic Tuesday night in game two of their first round Eastern Conference playoff you would never have thought that the Magic were one of the best teams the last two months of the NBA regular season.

The Magic, 20-31 on January-31st, went on a 22-9 tear to finish the regular season and grab the seventh spot overall in the conference standings.

They also won their last four games and 11 last 13 overall and made the Amway Arena a tough place for visitors, winning their last nine home games.

But after stealing game one on Saturday in Toronto with a three point win, the Raptors led wire to wire to walk away with a 111-82 win in game two. It was a beat down where the Raptors made the Magic look like the New York Knicks. Leading by as much as 34-points, it was a pure blowout.

Magic head coach Steve Clifford was at a bit of a loss about the way their offense struggled. He credited it to bad decision making and that his team wasn`t moving the ball, and that it was sticking due to the Raptors good defense, but what upset him the most was his ball club looked like it did back in October and November.

The Raptors defense has taken Magic center Nikola Vucevic right out of this series with their constant double teaming of him, but Clifford called him a smart guy and that he knows he will figure it out.

A big difference for the Raptors was All-Star Kyle Lowry finally scored a point. In fact Lowry had 22 points with four rebounds and seven assists compared to the zero points he put up in game one.

“I made some shots,” Lowry said after game two. “I was being more aggressive when I was going downhill. I watched film and it showed, I needed to be more aggressive.”

“That’s him at his finest,” Raptors head coach Nick Nurse said about Lowry.

“Tonight he was charging up the floor and pushing the ball past, shooting, driving, kicking, making steals, hands on everything, rebounding, he was doing it all. That’s a big performance for him, I’m really happy for him.”

Another big difference was Nurse taking the limits off superstar Kawhi Leonard.

People were questioning why he was given so few minutes in game one after taking 22 games off in the regular season mostly for “load management”.

Nurse said after the game that there are no more limits as to how many minutes Leonard gets in a game.

“I took him out after a 12-minute stretch at the end of the third, and I told him he had a two minute rest and he is going back in, and he said he was ready now. So I think he is ready to play as many minutes as he can handle, and he can handle as many minutes as the game calls for.”

Nurse had to make one of those decisions on Leonard early in game two which is why coaches are paid the big bucks in the NBA. Just 2:30 into the first quarter Leonard picked up his second of two of the quickest personal fouls I have seen him get all season.

If this was a typical regular season game he would be sitting till at least midway through the second quarter, but Nurse kept him in there.

“I guess I had a decision to make there,” Nurse said. “I think at that point we were off to a good start and we were imposing our will in he game, and I figured I would roll the dice so our will could continue to be imposed.”

Nurse was rewarded with a dominating 37 point effort from Leonard.

So after two games of this best-of-seven series we have seen the good and bad of the Magic and the good and bad of the Raptors. 

Game three Friday night in Orlando should be quite the show.

   

DeMar DeRozan & Frank McLeanVeteran journalist Frank McLean has been covering the Raptors in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. 

photo credit Larry Millson

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Kyle Lowry

Predictable Raptors Game One Loss Proves Nothing

By Frank McLean

They say in life the only two things that are certain are death and taxes. If you are a fan of the Toronto Raptors you can add that the basketball team you cheer for will lose the first game of a playoff series.

On Saturday the Orlando Magic came to Toronto and knocked off the Raptors in game one of their Eastern Conference first round series 104-101. The Raptors now sport an all time record of 2-14 in the opening game of a playoff series in franchise history.

Now if you are a Raptors fan you can ask a couple questions.

First, what the heck happened to Kyle Lowry?

Lowry had another playoff game where he couldn’t hit Lake Ontario if he was taking jump shots from Lakeshore Boulevard.

He had zero points in 34-minutes of playing time. Zero for seven from the field, six of those attempts came from behind the three point line. He was also zero for two from the foul line.

He did add seven rebounds and eight assists, but if he made just two field goals, two stinking field goals, they probably win the game.

Lowry won’t put up a shooting stinker like that again in this series.

Second, some average player on the opposing team looks like a superstar.

Guard, and former Raptor D.J. Augustin, who averaged 11.7 points in the regular season, had a monster game one with 25 points.

Augustin will come back down to earth.

If you were paying attention over the last two months, you would have seen that the Magic where going to be a pest to whomever they would play if they got into the playoffs, and if you’ve been watching the Raptors in the postseason since their inception, you’d know they’d find a way to screw up game one.

But losing game one in the opening round of the postseason has meant nothing since the Raptors first 50-win season three years ago.

 

DeMar DeRozan & Frank McLeanVeteran journalist Frank McLean has been covering the Raptors in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. 

 

 

How Fast Can The Raptors Pascal Siakam Up His Game?

With only 10 games remaining in the regular schedule, the Toronto Raptors sit neatly wedged two games behind the Bucks and two games ahead of the Warriors for second place overall and head coach Nick Nurse is “not really putting a ton of emphasis on the results” of his remaining games. What he is emphasizing is the continued development of his emerging star Pascal Siakam.

The soon-to-be 25-year-old Siakam is high on everyone’s list as the Association’s most improved player this season and the surprise second leading scorer on the Raptors at 16.6 points per game is being pushed to do even more despite leading his team in minutes played by over 300 and virtually everyone else on the roster getting time off this season. But, there’s no rest coming for Spicy P as Nurse wants to keep expanding his game.

“Pascal, he’s as fresh as a daisy,” Nurse told Pro Bball Report in Toronto this week. “He’s a young guy and started (his) playing (career) late and has low miles on that motor he’s rolling with.

“We want to keep him in rhythm. I want to keep expanding his game. Get him in more situations to handle the ball, post-ups, start the offense, turn him loose a little bit and some play calling, ISO plays.

“That kid is continuing to grow and we need to see how much he can grow in another month.”

Siakam was getting noticed for his high motor two years ago as a rookie and that’s still a huge reason for his success, but he’s been showing off the P Skills version of his nickname all season and it’s been earning him a steadily increasing role.

Last year as a 20 minute per game backup, Siakam shot the three, but not very effectively at 22 percent and passed the ball, but without a huge impact at 2 assists per game. The potential was obvious, but it was mostly against backups. This year he took the starting power forward spot and he’s never giving it back.

With the blips expected of a developing three-point shooter, Siakam has been effective from beyond the arc at 35 percent, deadly from the corner shooting 40 percent and that alone would have been enough to garner him a lot of attention. Add in his progression in distributing the ball and decision making and it’s easy to understand why Nurse is pushing him to do more.

Thru 10 games in March Siakam is averaging 4.4 assists and Nurse is “turning him loose” to initiate offense and as seen in OKC, putting the ball in his hands with the game on the line. And Siakam has a long rope as he gets his chance to show what he can do. There was no push-back when Siakam ran into a charge with a second left in OKC on Wednesday night instead of dishing to an open Fred VanVleet in the corner. That was precisely the in-game experience Nurse wants Pascal to get in these remaining 10 regular season games because in the postseason teams are likely going to be trying to get the ball out of Kyle Lowry and Kawhi Leonard’s hands in crunch time and Siakam could be the deciding play-maker.

The Raptors G-League Finals MVP of two years ago is upping his game faster than anyone anticipated. The only question may be, can he develop fast enough to become a star in this year’s playoffs?

 

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

  

 

 

Toronto Raptors head coach Nick Nurse

Raptors Plan On Coasting Into Second Place

Outside of the red hot 9-1 Spurs and Rockets, who are very motivated currently, there seems to be a lot of coasting towards the postseason going on in the NBA these days and the Toronto Raptors aren’t any different as they coast towards a second place finish.

“For the last 12-14 games, (I’m) not really putting a ton of emphasis on the results,” said Raptors head coach Nick Nurse recently. “We want to play well. We want to pick off wins when we can get them, but I don’t think anybody can get caught up in the results.”

Three loses behind the first place Bucks and 4 losses ahead of the third place 76ers and only 11 games remaining, the Raptors are pretty much locked into their playoff seeding. Throw in the fact their first round opponent probably won’t be set until the last week of the regular season and Nurse doesn’t have a lot to use as motivation.

“It is a challenge,” Nurse admitted. “You can look around the league and it’s kind of going around a little bit. I think you are seeing mixed results all over the place.

“”It is a little bit difficult to focus.

“”I’m happy as always to get a look at some other guys and figure out where they are going or where they are not going.

“For now, (the rotation) is 10 or possibly 11. I’m okay with it now.

“I just want to keep finding guys minutes, continue to polish and expand our defensive coverages.”

So don’t look for Nurse to start tightening up the rotation or reacting to losses to teams the Raptors have no business dropping games to. Like last season, Toronto will be coasting towards the playoffs with 55-60 wins a sure thing and next to nothing to motivate them beyond just don’t get hurt.

 

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 Chris Boucher

Raptors Have Nothing To Offer Buyout Candidates

In what appears to be an historically deep buyout market the Toronto Raptors have nothing to offer players looking to showcase their skills in the hopes of getting that new deal in July. Toronto is solid thru their top seven, Norman Powell, signed to a long term $42 million deal, has gotten his game back on track, they are not going to bench sophomore OG Anunoby as his development is important to the future of the franchise, and even Patrick McCaw seems to have earned a little of head coach Nick Nurse’s confidence on defense. It’s no wonder buyout players aren’t rushing to sign up in Toronto.

Then there’s president Masai Ujiri’s deep commitment to the luxury tax that filling the four mandatory roster spots with cheap help would improve and it’s hard not to believe that isn’t a major consideration. A fact proven by Ujiri adding two Raptors 905 G-League players to his roster.

Now the Raptors like Miller and keep giving him looks and Boucher has been a pleasant surprise, but neither of these players move the needle in Toronto even slightly, they will help Ujiri with his tax bill though. Besides, Boucher is fun to watch as he has the potential to do everything from blocks and steals to rebounds and threes if he can figure out the NBA game. Miller was hurt most of this year so even his G-League stats aren’t very enlightening.

These signings will allow Ujiri to sign players to 10-day contracts and save even more off the tax, so the previously reported Ben McLemore deal can go forward and Ujiri shouldn’t have any problem getting a second 10-day guy on the books before his two week grace period to get back to 14 warm bodies expires.

McLemore, however, is worth a hard look as he brings the one skill everyone knows the Raptors need to upgrade. Over the last five seasons, he’s been shooting the three-ball at 36 percent and in very limited minutes this year he was hitting on 41.5 percent. McCaw is 0-5 from three with Toronto, so maybe McLemore has a chance to steal his minutes?

There are lots of players with NBA experience available in the buyout market who could be important depth pieces on the Raptors if they don’t mind filling the third string role on an already deep team. It’d be nice to see at least one of them in Toronto for the stretch drive and what should be a long playoff run.

 

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 Ben McLemore

Raptors Jump Thru Hoops To Sign 10-Day Contracts

The Toronto Raptors are working overtime to get their roster back above the league minimum 11 players and eventually to the 14 guys they must have under contract within two weeks.

However, the first reported moves president Masai Ujiri has in the works post trade deadline are 10-day contracts for their own 905 wing Malcolm Miller and former Kings guard Ben McLemore, but those guys can’t be signed until Ujiri gets his roster back in compliance with league rules.

Since the Marc Gasol trade appears to have been finalized, the only way Ujiri can be in compliance with the league minimum 11 contracts is if the Greg Monroe trade is still in process. Fortunately the Nets really aren’t going to care if this trade takes another couple of days for all the requirements to be finalized.

However, Ujiri still needs 12 guys on his roster to be able to sign 10-day contracts, so there are some more hoops he’s going to be jumping thru to get these deals done. Basically, he has to sign two players for the rest of the season first.

Expect player news from north of the border to remain very busy over the next few days.

 

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 Masai Ujiri

Should Raptors Go All-in On Anthony Davis?

If one pays attention to Raptors president Masai Ujiri he’ll tell you he’s doesn’t just look at what’s best today, he has to look five years down the road as well, but the Anthony Davis sweepstakes represent an all-in opportunity that could elevate one team from pretender to NBA Championship contender in one swoop.

There will be competition for Davis, but both of the obvious favorites, the Celtics and the Lakers, have previously kept their hands in their pockets, unwilling to give up their hard-earned accumulated assets even for moves that could radically improve their franchises. They’ve just watched as other teams have traded for Paul George, Kawhi Leonard and Jimmy Butler and maybe they’ll just watch as other teams pursue Davis too?

As Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer says,

New Orleans has options right now. The Lakers, Knicks, Bucks, and Raptors are expected to make trade offers for Davis ahead of the deadline, according to multiple front-office sources.

but the Pelicans will be taking the best offer regardless of their star player’s wishes, like the Pacers and Spurs did before them.

Take the Raptors, for example. If Raptors president Masai Ujiri were to theoretically acquire Davis for an offer including Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby, and other assets, they’d immediately become the favorites in the Eastern Conference. Maybe they even win it all and both Kawhi Leonard and Davis commit long term to form a potential dynasty in Toronto. Even if Davis’s agency prefers him to play in Los Angeles

Davis, above all else, wants to win. “Anthony wants to be traded to a team that allows him a chance to win consistently and compete for a championship,” Paul told ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. It’s hard to foresee him leaving a team that makes a title run.

No one should be surprised if the Rockets, Nuggets, 76ers and Pacers make a play for Davis as well.

Years of going nowhere, 13 total playoff games in six seasons, and no prospects for a meaningful postseason again this year would harden any perennial All-Star’s desire to play for a winner and the Raptors have been to the playoffs for five straight years with a conference finals appearance and finished the regular season second overall in the NBA last year.

Adding Davis to a deep Raptors roster would move them from conference finals contender to heavy favorite, so Ujiri can argue adding Davis to Kawhi Leonard improves his chances of keeping both players.

However, it’ll cost Ujiri a big part of of those assets he’s accumulated for the future and some of his assets that his team has been winning with right now.

NBA Raptors Pelicans

Perhaps the even riskier piece the Pels are likely to demand and get would be a future first round draft pick that would most likely be conveyed after the contracts of both Leonard and Davis have expired.

Ujiri showed us he was willing to gamble when he sent the very loyal DeMar DeRozan to the Spurs for Leonard who could leave after this season. So, maybe he’d gamble again? It does seem out of character for the Raptors president, but with big risks can come big returns… then there’s the lessons learned from the Brooklyn Nets experience and no one wants to go thru that.

 

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

  

 

NBA Toronto Raptors C.J. Miles

Can C.J. Miles Be The Raptors Three-Ball Savior?

Outside of Danny Green, the Toronto Raptors haven’t looked good hoisting the three-ball this season. The hope is that as Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet “feel better” they’ll round back into form, but it was C.J. Miles that president Masai Ujiri acquired last season who was supposed to be the volume difference-maker in a new style of play where Toronto shoots over 30 threes a night.

When Miles was acquired from the Pacers after the 2016-17 season, he had shot better than 41 percent on over five three-point attempts per game and he was going to be expected to shoot more in fewer minutes with the Raptors. He did it too, but his shooting percentages reverted back to his historical average of about 36 percent from three. That’s good, but not great. Useful, but not scary.

This season we’ve been led to believe Miles has been playing sore/hurt and that’s why his minutes, three-point attempts and success rate are all way down from last year. So when he returned to the rotation after barely seeing the court after Christmas and hit on 10 of 20 three-point attempts in his last four games, the cry of “he’s back” began to ring out, but do the Raptors really have their badly needed three-ball savior in Miles?

It’s hard to know.

Miles is a savvy vet, an excellent locker room presence and a contributor on offence, but is asking the nearly 32-year-old wing/undersized forward to turn around a sagging three-point attack really fair? It might have seemed so at the start of the 2017-18 season, but no one should be buying into it now.

The best the Raptors have seen from Miles came during last year’s playoffs when he hit on a career postseason best 42.2 percent of his three-point attempts, but he accomplished that taking two fewer three-point attempts per game than in the regular season in three more minutes and that’s not what Toronto needed from him. On a team evolving, like the rest of the Association, into a group that has to shoot the three to succeed, Miles must be a volume three-point threat in as few minutes as possible and maybe, just maybe, that’s asking too much.

If Miles is truly back to 100 percent healthy and no longer too sore to get his legs into his shot, we will see a guy that can shoot 6+ threes in 20 minutes or less at a rate better than 35 percent. He’ll help them during the regular season win as many or more games than last year, but that has never been the goal of a team investing 35 million luxury tax dollars while trying to convince Kawhi Leonard to re-up in July.

If Ujiri can find a trade to improve his team’s three-point proficiency, now’s the time.

 

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

  

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors C. J. Miles

Five Big Moves For The Toronto Raptors

The Toronto Raptors residing at or near the top of the NBA all season have been gaining respect in the numerous weekly power rankings as the Association’s best team, and in the ESPN midseason forecast, they have become the heavy favorites to represent the East in the NBA Finals. So what big moves are worthy of President Masai Ujiri’s consideration to a roster that is already deep and about to get veteran center Jonas Valanciunas back from a thumb injury around the end of the month?

Having swept the season series from a Golden State team that is still forecast to three-peat as NBA Champions, Ujiri could believe standing pat is good enough, but those wins came against a “struggling” Warriors squad that had yet to play a game with DeMarcus Cousins, so just maybe they haven’t seen the best from Curry and company. There’s also a real risk one or more of the Bucks, Pacers, 76ers, or Celtics find a way to further boost their roster by the trade deadline.

The Raptors, as good as they are, reside in the bottom half of NBA teams when it comes to three-point percentage and they shoot a lot of threes. Last year’s gunner C.J. Miles is apparently injured, mired in a terrible season and has lost his job to Norman Powell leaving a huge gap at forward for a floor spacer that would be very nice to fill.

As reluctant as Ujiri has been to part with any of his young developing talent, his team’s chances in the postseason would be greatly enhanced with another rotation worthy veteran or two, especially proven defenders that can hit the three. Raptors that should be available include: Malachi Richardson ($1.5m expiring UFA), Greg Monroe ($1.5m expiring UFA), and Miles ($8.3m, plus a player option). All these could be moved with virtually no impact. Plus there’s Norman Powell ($9.4m, in the first year of a four year deal) who would be nice to move, if anyone was willing to gamble on his development. Delon Wright ($2.5m expiring RFA) or OG Anunoby ($2m, with a year left on his rookie deal) should be available if Ujiri gets a player back to fill their spot in the rotation. The reality is, other than Valanciunas, the Raptors bench hasn’t exactly been firing on all cylinders with any consistency this year.

Ujiri also has a couple of trade exceptions ($2.45m and $2.95m), but any players added without sending salary out adds $3.25 per $1 in luxury tax (ouch). He also has the full taxpayer MLE.

The safer (and cheaper) moves are to tinker around the edges of head coach Nick Nurse’s rotation as other teams face the reality that playoffs aren’t in their future and then, maybe, to watch for more interesting options to begin to open up. However, in terms of sweeteners to get a deal done with a rebuilding team, Ujiri is rather limited having traded a top 20 protected first round draft pick to the Spurs in the Kawhi Leonard deal. He can dangle late second rounders… for what they’re worth? So, if the Raptors want a significant upgrade in talent, one of Ujiri’s young players may have to go.

Some “Safe” Options

Knicks Noah Vonleh

Knicks Vonleh ($1.5m expiring UFA) for Raptors Richardson plus a 2nd round pick

The Knicks undoubtedly will hope to get more for a young power forward reclamation project (and they might) who seems to have finally found a three-point shot (41.1%) and is gaining some respect as a defender, but as an unrestricted free agent that will likely command more than they’re willing to invest, getting something for the future via trade now should look enticing for a team trying to win the draft lottery.

Vonleh would be a good fit as Pascal Siakam’s backup and be considered a “big move” in hindsight if he can earn his minutes on a team actually playing for something. At the very least, Vonleh can provide Nurse an option if OG Anunoby struggles with his three-point shot or defense against bigger forwards. The Raptors are thin at the four.

Bulls Bobby Portis

Bulls Portis ($2.9m, expiring RFA) for Raptors Richardson, Monroe and two 2nd round picks

Portis has missed most of this season do to an assortment of injuries, but he should be ready to play and the 6’11 power forward brings an aggressive attitude, a high motor, has some three-point shooting and is a solid rebounder. He can also be a handful to coach/manage. He sent teammate Nikola Mirotic to the hospital after punching him in the face at the beginning of last season.

It’s hard to judge what the Bulls can command for a player like Portis, and they’ll probably hold out for a first round pick until they can’t do better than seconds, but at his best, Portis can be impactful, at his worst, Nurse might pull out what’s left of his hair. Portis is worth the risk… might even be worth considering Wright as the trade bait?

Wizards Jeff Green

Wizards Green ($1.5m expiring UFA) for Raptors Richardson plus a 2nd round pick

The Wizards season is over, except for Bradley Beal piling up stats, so they may as well start off-loading some of those veterans that won’t be back next season.

Now in his 12th season, the combo forward Green defines veteran presence and is even shooting the three-ball at a half decent clip (36.8%). He would be a useful player to have on the bench of just about any playoff team, so the Wiz certainly won’t miss him.

Some Going-For-It Options

Wizards Otto Porter, Tomas Satoransky, and Jeff Green

Wizards Porter ($26m plus a year plus a player option), Satoransky ($3m expiring RFA), and Green ($1.5m expiring UFA) for Raptors Powell, Fred Van Vleet, Miles, and Anunoby.

Instantly upgrading the Raptors three-point shooting with the “3-and-D” forward Porter (39.2%), guard Satoransky (39.2%) and forward Green (36.8%), Toronto gets the bench they need for the postseason and the Wizards off load Porter’s huge contract for some much more manageable options as they hope to engage in a quick rebuild with John Wall’s $170m deal about to kick in next season.

Porter’s contract is a risk as he’ll likely be backing up Kawhi Leonard and Pascal Siakam, at both forward spots, but if there was ever a highly skilled player being underutilized by his team, Porter is probably it. He can be a difference-maker for the Raptors this postseason and future salary cap consequences be damned.

It won’t be easy to give up VanVleet, but the Raptors don’t really have a better option to make up the needed salaries to land a big contract like Porter.

Timberwolves Robert Covington and Anthony Tolliver

Timberwolves Covington ($10.5m plus three more years) and Tolliver ($5.7m expiring UFA) for Raptors Powell (or Miles), Richardson, Monroe and Anunuoby.

The T-wolves never planned on trading All-Star Jimmy Butler for the All-NBA Defense First Team Covington and a young Dario Saric (who has another year on his rookie deal), but with an imploding season, their hand was forced. Unfortunately, their fortunes haven’t changed, their veterans on expiring deals aren’t likely to return and the “3-and-D” 28-year-old Covington fits better on a team ready to win now. The possibility of acquiring a high-potential prospect like Anunoby should get the T-wolves attention.

Covington has been shooting the three at 37.2 percent and the 33-year-old Tolliver has be hitting on 39.5 percent, so they are just what the Raptors need off the bench.

The only “fly-in-the-ointment” is Covington’s ankle bone bruise which could take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months to heal. If there isn’t a reasonable timetable for his return by the trade deadline, there’s no prospect of a deal.

It would be really nice from a Raptors standpoint to add the former 76er to their roster for the playoffs assuming he’s good-to-go. Covington’s as close to the “missing piece” as Ujiri is likely to find.

 

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

Raptors Rise And Fall With The Kyle Lowry Three-Ball

The Toronto Raptors hot start to the season has been showing some cracks lately as, once again, this team’s success rests in the hands of their four-time All-Star point guard Kyle Lowry.

It isn’t hard to see when the Raptors are in trouble. Their three-ball isn’t falling and when the usually reliable Lowry tries to step in and provide some long range help, his shots go astray as well. Lowry is putting up six threes on average, win or lose, but in wins, he hits on 43.2 percent and in losses he only sunk two in 24 tries or 8.3 percent.

“Missed a couple of shots,” Lowry said after the OT loss in Boston. “I got to play better.

“Shooting the ball pretty bad lately. So I got to find a way to get a rhythm.”

Even with a 12-4 record and sitting top 10 in three-point makes and attempts, Toronto isn’t a great three-point shooting team. They hoist an impressive 33.6 three-point attempts per game and make a respectable 11.2 threes, but even in wins they only shoot a pedestrian 36.8 percent and in losses that plummets to a terrible 24.4 percent. There’s a temptation to give the opposition some credit for great perimeter defense, but that would be a mistake. The eye test says, when the Raptors shoot poorly, it’s mostly on themselves.

Watching the Raptors in losses is frustrating. A team that averages 118.7 points in wins puts up nine fewer points in losses and doesn’t look like they could put the ball in the ocean from beyond the arc. If Lowry and company could hit threes at the same lukewarm pace they sink them in wins, they’d put up about 13 more points and most if not all of those Ls would be Ws.

It’s early days in the 2018-19 season and most teams are going thru some kind of struggle to get in shape, find their shooting touch, and/or create or re-create some team chemistry. The hot start Raptors came out the gates with is largely on the shoulders of Lowry and when he’s off his game, it shows.

Outside of Danny Green and the injured Norman Powell, no one on the Raptors is hitting threes at the rate expected over the entire season. Minor injuries and unfortunate distractions have undoubtedly hurt the Raptors rhythm.

However, even as the rest of the crew finds their stroke in the weeks ahead, the guy putting the most pressure on opposing defenses from deep is still going to be their starting point guard. Higher expectations based on a significantly upgraded roster aside, this team still rises and falls with Lowry.

 

 

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 Masai Ujiri

Is Raptors President Masai Ujiri On The Hot Seat?

By Frank McLean

The expectations for the Toronto Raptors as they start the 2018-2019 NBA season are the highest they ever have been and it had nothing to do with their season starting the same day pot became legal in Canada.

After being eliminated for a third straight year by LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, team President Masai Ujiri knew that something had to give.

Changes had to be made and they were.

With James leaving the Eastern Conference and taking his talents to Southern California and the Los Angeles Lakers, the excuse that as long as James was in the east nobody else has a chance to win was gone.

First it was the big trade, a no brainer sending DeMar DeRozan and Jakob Poeltl and a 2019 protected first round draft pick to San Antonio for Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green.

One of the reasons this team struggled in the playoffs was opponents knew how to stop the Raptors and shutting down DeRozan or his other sidekick at guard Kyle Lowry pretty much did the trick.

Leonard is a superior defender and a major offensive threat BUT… and there is always a BUT. He only played nine games last year for San Antonio because of a quad injury and a shoulder injury. Is he able to stay healthy for an 82-game schedule?

Also he has a year left on his contract and the word around the league is he wants to play in his home of Los Angeles.

The other move was dumping the longest serving head coach in franchise history Dwane Casey.

Seven years, three straight 50-plus win seasons, 320-wins 238-losses all time and coming off a franchise high 59-win regular season and as a reward, the NBA coach of the year award.

BUT… And as we said there is always a BUT, a 21-30 record in the postseason, one appearance in the conference finals and zero appearances in the NBA Finals.

So Ujiri promoted Nick Nurse, who the last five years was one of Casey’s assistants running the offense to his first head coaching gig in the NBA.

Big gambles for a team that thinks they are good enough to win the east and take a shot at a NBA title.

For Ujiri the option of a coaching change is something he has kept in his back pocket since he took over as President. Casey was hired by his predecessor Bryan Colangelo and any new General Manager or President gets a chance to hire their own coach before you can fully review their job of building a winner.

Casey was winning, so there was no need to make a change except for a losing postseason record and the way the Raptors seemed to wave the white flag and surrender against Cleveland every time.

In acquiring Leonard the Raptors have never had a player of his ability before in their 24-year history. A top-10 player, who some may argue is a top five player in the league.

Also if you are Ujiri these moves are not just to make the team better, which he has been obsessed with since he arrived here five years ago. But he has to answer eventually to for the team’s lack of playoff success.

When Ujiri replaced Colangelo five years ago he was hired by former MLSE President Tim Leiweke.

Now Ujiri answers to a different boss running the MLSE board, Michael Frisdhal. With this being his sixth season running the ball club it’s make the conference finals or bust for this team and if they don’t the next move could be Ujiri.

Will know in six months if this all worked.

 

 

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

 

 

NBA Spurs DeMar DeRozan vs Raptors Kawhi Leonard

Is The Better Scorer DeMar DeRozan or Kawhi Leonard?

The current title of greatest ambassador and scorer in Raptors history belongs to DeMar DeRozan. His name will be etched into the franchise record books beside games played, minutes played, field goals, free throws and points scored into the foreseeable future. No Raptors player has committed more towards his adopted city and franchise both on and off the court.

However, president Masai Ujiri traded in the face-of-his-franchise for, perhaps, the best two-way player in the game. A two-time defensive player of the year, four-time All-Defensive team selection and an NBA Finals MVP, Kawhi Leonard has earned the tag of best defensive player and best perimeter defender in the Association in this year’s annual GM poll  again, but no one who follows the NBA isn’t aware of his offense that elevated his status to back-to-back All-NBA First team in 2016 and 2017.

As great an offensive powerhouse as DeRozan has been in Toronto, there should be some question about how even he stacks up against Leonard’s offense and there is good reason to believe that under head coach Nick Nurse, Leonard is going to be given the freedom to take his scoring to another level.

“I am still trying to keep it a little free,” Nurse responded to Pro Ball Report about Leonard’s offense. “I want him to feel like he can go inside and post if he feels like it, if he feels the matchups there. If he wants to play screen and roll if he feels it. If he wants to bring it up the floor, all those things. He can really do all that stuff so we want to let him do all that stuff.

“We want him to be aggressive. He is a team player. He has to knock off some rust. In that first (preseason) game he was a little not aggressive enough and we talked to him a few days in there let’s be a little more aggressive in your offense and turn him loose a little bit.”

If the Raptors want to entice Leonard into staying in Toronto, in addition to a deep postseason run, there may be no better way to stroke his ego than helping him win an NBA scoring title and a shot an an MVP.

Since Leonard missed most of last season and DeRozan’s best offensive output was two years ago, a head-to-head comparison from 2016-17 may shed some light on which player is the better scorer.

NBA Toronto Raptors DeMar DeRozan vs Kawhi Leonard

 

While DeRozan got opportunities early in his career to dominate the Raptors offense when the team he was on politely sucked, Leonard was developed in a Spurs organization that had higher expectations and he didn’t average double-digit shot attempts until his fourth season. Maybe that’s why he shot so much better than DeRozan from both two and three point range initially, but it’s a trend that continued even after the Raptors evolved into a 50-win team and Leonard had to shoulder a much bigger piece of the Spurs offense.

DeRozan, the two-point assassin, has never shot from midrange as effectively as Leonard and as much as the Raptors tried to develop deep range on DeRozan’s jump shot (that has nothing obviously wrong with it), he’s still an unreliable sub-30 percent three-point threat. Leonard, on the other hand, can’t be left unguarded beyond the arc and is especially deadly from the corner.

None of this is to say DeRozan isn’t an elite scorer. It’s just the numbers suggest Leonard is better and the real test of any scorer comes in the postseason where some players take their game to another level and some can’t.

NBA Toronto Raptors DeMar DeRozan vs Kawhi Leonard playoffs

Contrary to popular opinion, DeRozan hasn’t played badly in the postseason, he just didn’t step up his game. He has averaged over 20 points per game in each of his five postseason runs, but what happened in 2016-17 and his career playoff shooting percentages are a pretty good measure of how he’s done versus the regular season and his fans can only cringe a little.

Leonard on the other hand has been a playoff beast. He has flat out upped his offensive production under pressure and that’s been a key missing ingredient in Toronto over the past five years.

And the early indications in preseason are Leonard is about to take his game to another level.

“He’s definitely more vocal than he’s ever been on and off the court,” Danny Green said after practice. “It looks like he feels comfortable. It looks like he feels at home. He’s talking to guys, he’s leading by example. In the huddles, he’s chiming in, saying what he feels, saying his opinion.

“He’s leading vocally more than ever before.”

An engaged Leonard assuming a leadership role is going to have a huge year.

Who’s the better scorer between All-Stars playing on different teams in different conferences under different coaching styles isn’t an easy thing to measure, but the numbers suggest the Raptors didn’t just get a massive upgrade on defense by trading DeRozan for Leonard, they have picked up the better scorer as well. And if Nurse can set Leonard free on offense and get him to lead, there’s no telling just how far the Raptors newest star can take 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.

  

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Kawhi Leonard

Takeaways From Watching The Rusty Raptors v Blazers

It’s only fair to say, never read too much into any preseason game. The coaches and the players treat them as practice and/or tryout sessions, but there were some takeaways to be gleaned by watching your rusty Raptors beat up on the Trail Blazers 122-104 in Vancouver.

Serge Ibaka as starting center.

Don’t assume the starting center job is Ibaka’s just yet, but it makes sense. What makes even more sense is Ibaka, Jonas Valanciunas and Greg Monroe didn’t play together. Who ends up playing center with which unit will be a question of fit and effectiveness, but we got a solid clue about how head coach Nick Nurse sees these three players in his rotation.

Valanciunas looked like a player fighting for his job and he impressed.

CJ Miles as starting power forward.

Well maybe not, but that was a very veteran starting five Nurse threw out there in his first preseason game as a head coach. Miles could start, but it probably means OG Anunoby, who had the night off for personal reasons, is a good bet to be your starting power forward when the season starts.

Miles shot 2-3 from three and looks ready to go. Nurse will have him slotted into the rotation somewhere.

Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green looked a little rusty.

No surprise the two former Spurs looked a little rusty, but it wasn’t hard to look past the 1-9 three-point shooting they combined for and see a dominant offensive force coming soon to Toronto.

While Green was barely noticeable in the starting unit as he deferred to Kyle Lowry and Leonard, he stood out with the second unit after half without hitting a shot. He brought a strong veteran presence to a younger group.

The second unit is ready to go.

Fred VanVleet (3-4 from three), Pascal Siakam (13 rebounds), Delon Wright (a blocked shot) look ready to pick things up where they left off at the end of last season. The Raptors bench is going to terrorize opponents again this year.

Norman Powell had a good game.

It’s hard to know if there is anything Powell can show in preseason to crack Nurse’s rotation until someone gets hurt, but he looked good in Vancouver hitting 2-3 three-point attempts and playing an overall solid game.

 

Nurse gave his starters and key reserves 15-20 minutes of playing time and they worked up a good sweat. His reserves are ready for the season now and the starters worked off a bit of the rust and showed signs of developing some chemistry. It was a solid start to the preseason and a good night for the fans in Vancouver.

 

 

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 Greg Monroe

The Raptors Battle For Minutes Will Be At Center

Raptors president Masai Ujiri has assembled the deepest, most experienced and most talented group of players of his reign in Toronto. Even with new head coach Nick Nurse suggesting he’ll play a deep rotation of 10 or 11 guys, there will be a battle for minutes that extends beyond the preseason and the it’s guys in the center facing the toughest challenge.

“We’re deep man,” Kyle Lowry said after practice in Vancouver. “There’s some competition going on right now.

“We haven’t gotten to the point yet to figure out minutes.”

But perhaps the most ominous thought crossing Lowry’s mind if you’re a center was,

“You can play Pascal (Siakam) at the five.”

Don’t think for a minute the other big guys on the Raptors don’t know the direction the NBA has been headed in for a while now and that a smaller uber-athlete like Siakam can steal minutes at the center spot.

Heading into camp with two former Spurs deservedly slotted into starting lineup and Greg Monroe the logical replacement for Jakob Poeltl at center in the second unit, coach Nurse is going to be forced into some tough decisions.

NBA Toronto Raptors

*  Kawhi Leonard’s minutes are from 2 seasons ago. There is some legitimate debate about whether Ibaka, Siakam or Anunoby should start at power forward.

There’s 240 available minutes and if Nurse would stick with a 10-man rotation, his decisions could become a lot easier, but this isn’t going to be easy.

1. Miles is a prolific three-point shooter in short minutes and there’s almost no chance he isn’t going to be part of the rotation.

2. Last year Dwane Casey found minutes for Norman Powell who has a $40 million contract, but Nurse isn’t going to find that task so easy this year unless the injuries pile up.

3. All of Valanciunas, Monroe and Ibaka are expecting significant minutes at center this season…. oops

Getting past Valanciunas will start at center and Nurse will have trouble cutting his minutes any further than Casey did last year, Monroe expects to be the backup center and Ibaka thinks he’ll be playing more in the post. Add in this team is expected to shoot more threes than ever before and will be more perimeter oriented, something has to give.

“Obviously it’s just coming in with the second group playing backup center,” Monroe explained. “I knew what I was coming into. That’s what I was expecting.”

“I spoke to the coach,” Ibaka said. “He wants me to be in the paint, offensive rebound. He wants me to protect the paint. That’s something I always loved to do.”

It’s worth remembering Monroe was really good in Boston playing with an elite team and Ibaka has almost been begging to be allowed to protect the rim as he did for the Thunder when he was a All Defensive First Team player instead of a three-point shooter.

However, if Nurse decides a small ball lineup with Leonard, Anunoby and Siakam plus a couple of guards gives him his best defense and a run-it-down-your-throat offense, minutes for the more traditional big guys are going to be even harder to find.

Someone(s) may not be very happy and Nurse’s job distributing minutes could be even tougher than it first appears.

It almost feels obvious that Lowry wants to play more minutes than he did last season and if the Raptors want to retain Leonard, he gets as many minutes as he wants too. As a pending free agent Leonard needs to show he’s 100 percent back, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise if the team’s new superstar is playing more minutes than he did in San Antonio.

Anunoby had a solid rookie campaign and has starter or better potential. The team has to want to see more from him this season in a bigger role. Then there’s impressive way Siakam plays. He’s a Nick Nurse-style big man and should be expected to earn the right to be on the court more than last year.

Not forgetting VanVleet got Sixth Man of the Year votes last year because of how well the Raptors offense ran with him on the court. Fresh off signing a new deal, he deserves a bigger role too.

The players on the Raptors very impressive second unit from last season are going to be tough to keep off the court.

Toronto can play almost any style out there. They can play big and slow or very fast. They have guys that can dominate in the paint as much as that happens in today’s game or they can stay on the perimeter and bomb away with threes. But all that versatility and depth comes with it’s own set of problems.

Training camp and preseason are easy, but once the games start to count and coach Nurse starts playing the way everyone believes he is the most comfortable, the real battle for minutes at the center spot is going to show up.

 

 

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 Kawhi Leonard and Masai Ujiri and Danny Green 2018 media day

Raptors Are Finally Serious About A Championship Run

In the end, winning in the NBA comes down to money. Either a team is willing to spend what it takes to compete for a championship or they aren’t. Period, end of story and Raptors president Masai Ujiri has finally, reluctantly, admitted that this is how things are done.

According to Spotrac, the Raptors head into training camp with the league’s third highest salary commitment and a potential Luxury Tax bill exceeding $50 million.

“I think it’s even more important to say, to give props to our owners,” Ujiri responded to Pro Bball Report at Media Day. “They’ve given us this opportunity and that’s not the easiest thing to do, but I think it shows a commitment to winning.”

And it’s about time. After making Ujiri jump thru hoops to avoid paying Luxury Taxes in previous seasons, ownership has allowed the Raptors to hold onto their depth, add talent and take risks that could significantly add to payroll next year. This is what it takes to compete for a championship and come next July, this is what it will take to convince a superstar player like Kawhi Leonard to re-sign with their team.

“If you go by history and you go by numbers, I think there are very very few teams that have ever done it without this kind of commitment,” Ujiri admitted.

It may not be easy to be heard over the hype coming out of Boston, but the Toronto Raptors are finally, yes finally, serious about going on a championship run this season. With a payroll that rivals the NBA Champion Golden State Warriors, this organization has, for the first time, put their massive financial resources behind their team.

No longer is the goal to merely end the embarrassment of being one of the NBA doormats (2008-2013), making the playoffs, winning 50 games in the regular season or even finishing first in the East.

Money talks and BS walks and the Raptors are finally spending to win this 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.

  

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Greg Monroe

Greg Monroe Signing Shows Raptors Are Serious This Time

As reported by Yahoo Sports Shams Charania, the Toronto Raptors will be signing Greg Monroe to what looks like an NBA veteran’s minimum contract. It’s a solid acquisition for a contending team looking for big man depth and it shows the Raptors are serious this time.

Last year Toronto finished with the second best overall regular season record in the NBA at 59 wins, but no one saw that coming and Raptors president Masai Ujiri should be included in that group. If he had, he’d of given his now former head coach Dwane Casey one or two more veterans to ease the pressure on a very young and inexperienced roster that, unfortunately, completely fell apart in the second round of the playoffs against a veteran Cleveland Cavaliers team.

The overachieving 2017-18 Raptors roster featured just five veterans in Kyle Lowry (11 seasons), DeMar DeRozan (8 seasons), Serge Ibaka (8 seasons), C.J. Miles (12 seasons), and a 25-year-old Jonas Valanciunas (5 seasons).  The rest of the crew started the season with three years or less in the Association including 3 rookies and three players with barely a year under their belts and more G-League experience between them than NBA time. If the very inexperienced OG Anunoby, Fred VanVleet, Pascal Siakam and Jakob Poeltl, hadn’t put up surprisingly strong seasons, it’s unlikely there would have been anything noteworthy about last year.

It’s been a summer of change in Toronto, in no small part because the 59 win regular season created expectations that were crushed in the playoffs. Casey was quickly fired, the long time face of the franchise DeRozan was traded and roster changes worthy of making the entire NBA community stand up take notice have happened. This year the Raptors have veteran depth to go with their young talent and that depth has been further bolstered by the addition of Greg Monroe.

The four returning vets from last year, Lowry, Ibaka, Miles and Valanciunas, have another year under their belts and Ujiri has added superstar Kawhi Leonard (7 seasons), Danny Green (9 seasons) and now Greg Monroe (8 seasons). That’s seven proven veterans to go with two fourth year guards in Delon Wright and Norman Powell plus the breakout young  guys Anunoby, Siakam and VanVleet. Depth, including experienced depth, isn’t going to be an issue in October. There’s 12 players who will be looking for minutes in new head coach Nick Nurse’s rotation.

Guards: Lowry, VanVleet, Wright, Powell

Wings: Leonard, GreenAnunoby, Miles

Big men: Ibaka, Valanciunas, Siakam, Monroe

Reserves: Malachi Richardson, Lorenzo Brown*, Chris Boucher*
(*non-guaranteed contracts)

With the Monroe signing, the Raptors are getting very close to being $20 million into the league’s luxury tax and that’s not a place anyone anticipated Ujiri to ever get to, so it would  not come as a surprise if the Raptors president has another move up his sleeve to reduce the burden. But, keeping this group together would send a strong signal that the Raptors are going all-in to land this franchise’s first ever NBA Finals appearance.

However, unless Ujiri makes another move or two, Nurse is going to have some tough decisions coming out of training camp. One or even two of the veterans and/or quality young guys are going to find themselves in the limited role of an injury-replacement player this season.

A 2010 lottery pick, Monroe put up a 15.9 point, 10.2 rebound, 2.1 assist season with the Pistons in 2014-15 that snagged him a three-year $50 million contract from the Bucks that, unfortunately, he never really lived up to.

Historically, one of the issues with Monroe has been a fairly blunt response when his team wasn’t living up to expectations. The big man has given off a fairly strong vibe that he believed he’s better than his teammates in the past. Now maybe at 28-years-old he’s matured. Maybe playing for three different teams last season after getting waived by the terrible Suns has helped him appreciate being in the NBA and just maybe being left hanging in free agency until August after a productive three month stint with the Celtics has put him in the right frame of mind to fill whatever role his coach assigns him to.

There should be no doubt Monroe can help a contending team, whether he’s in the regular rotation or just filling in as an injury-replacement player. This is a solid signing by the Raptors that could keep this team on pace for yet another franchise record for regular season wins and might just bail them out if a big man gets hurt in the postseason.

 

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.