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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

 

 

 

NBA Philadelphia 76ers head coach Brett Brown talks to the media after the game 5 loss to the Raptors in Toronto

Has Brett Brown Coached The 76ers Out Of The Series?

Prior to the start of the second round playoff series between Philadelphia and Toronto, 76ers head coach Brett Brown was emphatic he wasn’t going to coach scared. This would be a strength vs strength event with his team’s superior rebounding holding off one of the NBA’s best on the fast break. Even after getting run out of the gym in game one, Brown doubled-down on his strategy of crashing the glass and pushed his guys to make the Raptors work even harder on defense.

“We have to be better offensively,” J.J. Redick said after game one. “We were significantly better when we passed twice or more. So we have to realize this may not be a first option offense for us. We may need to be able to get to the second side, second third options to break down their defense.”

The strategy worked and the 76ers took the next two games dominating on the glass, impacting the Raptors scoring and head coach Nick Nurse was forced to change his rotations. Since acquiring Marc Gasol at the trade deadline, the big Spaniard had been sharing time Serge Ibaka at center, but in order to wrest control of the boards back from Philly, Nurse had no choice but to put them on the floor together.

“We were looking were looking at some options of how to combat the problems we were having and that obviously entertained that Serge (Ibaka) and Marc (Gasol) would be playing together,” Nurse said after game four.

“It seemed to help their rebounding,” Brown said prior to game five. “I think a lot of people don’t really understand, I believe, the history that Marc and Serge have together with the Spanish National Team.”

With the boards even and the Raptors taking away the 76ers advantage in second chance points, Toronto had eked out a road win in Philly setting up Brown for the game five coaching disaster that was about to befall him in Toronto.

“If I was the coach, I wouldn’t even show the film,” Jimmy Butler said after game five. “Just move on. We got our ass kicked.”

In game five the Raptors finally won the battle of the boards 42-37, were +10 in second chance points and a worrisome +25 in fast break break points. Everything went wrong for the 76ers foreshadowed by Brown going way off script in his pregame comments.

“I would like it to be faster,” Brown said. “I think that when you look at what we do, when you look at the regular season and the success we had running and Ben Simmons strengths and the group that we have that you would would like the pace to be greater.

“Ben is gifted in that area. We have shown we are capable of playing that style.”

The Raptors couldn’t be happier to see a 76ers team trying to run with them. Brown has no one to cover Pascal Siakam in a fast paced game and the result of trying is almost guaranteed to produce a result like game one when the Raptors forward easily scored 29 points on them.

Then in an about face of the stated strategy that got Brown wins in games two and three, the 76ers coach started promoting a take the first shot available mantra.

“One of the things I tell my team, if you have a good look probably that will be the best look we are going to get this possession,” Brown said. ” There is an element that all coaches come into that pass-is-king, good-to-great, you have a good shot, he has a great shot. (BUT) in the the playoffs, I have learned is, or believe in, at times the best look and it could be the first look is the one you should probably take.”

In sports it can help to have a short memory, but you might want to remember what worked last week?

The 76ers trying to run with the Raptors is a bad strategy no matter how Brown tries to slice it and the concept of making Toronto work on defense instead of “taking the first shot” was what turned things around in game two.

Maybe there is nothing left Brown can do if the pairing of Gasol and Ibaka has taken away his team’s advantage on the glass, but feeding the Raptors transition game by jacking up the first available shot and trying to run with them is a formula for getting embarrassed.

Hang the crushing game five defeat in Toronto right where it belongs. On a coach trying something he knew wasn’t going to work. But the series isn’t over. The Raptors advantage has not been overwhelming when Brown has stayed with his team’s strengths.

 

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 Serge Ibaka

Did The Raptors Solve The 76ers In Game 4?

The second round playoff series between the Raptors and 76ers is a battle of contrasting strengths. Where Philadelphia has been a top rebounding team all season and is the undisputed leader on the glass in the playoffs, Toronto is known for their transition offense that runs on turnovers, misses and makes and neither team was going to back away from what has worked for them.

Thru the first three games Philly had owned the glass, collecting over 55 percent of the total rebounds, averaging four more offensive boards and dominating second chance points by a total of 25. Toronto had 20 more fastbreak points over those first three games, but they were down 2-1 in the series and head coach Nick Nurse wasn’t enjoying getting beaten up on the glass.

“The biggest thing was the rebounding,” Nurse admitted. “It just felt like we were getting pushed around a little bit in the last two games (games two and three) around the glass.

“We were looking were looking at some options of how to combat the problems we were having and that obviously entertained that Serge (Ibaka) and Marc (Gasol) would be playing together.”

Just how desperate was Nurse to fix this rebounding problem? Well, in the four games thus far the pairing of Gasol and Pascal Siakam playing 96 minutes together was only netting the Raptors 47.2 percent of the boards and perhaps even more concerning, the pairing of Ibaka and Siakam was leading the Raptors to only 44.3 percent of the available boards. Say what you want about the issues of rebounding with “small line-ups” on the floor. Toronto was getting pushed around with two bigs on the court.

“Serge is not really a center,” Kawhi Leonard observed. “He’s a power forward.

“We did a good job at working on it at practice the last two days (after game three) and those guys (Gasol and Ibaka) spaced out the floor well, got to their spots.”

Nurse played Ibaka and Gasol together for 23 minutes in game four and the combination helped the Raptors garner 54.5 percent of the rebounds during their time together. It helped Toronto stay even with the 76ers on the glass for the game, wiped out the 76ers advantage in second chance points and the Raptors still were a +7 in fast break points.

“Tonight we just had more athleticism and size and it just looked that way and looked like the rebounds were affected by that,” Nurse said after game four.

“I think it was a size advantage for us believe it or not.”

This has been a series of coaches going with their team’s strengths, making adjustments and counter adjustments.  Now it’s up to 76ers head coach Brett Brown to find the next move.

Nurse found a way to counter his adversary’s biggest advantage in game four. If the 76ers can’t out-rebound the Raptors and continue to give up points on the fast break, it’s hard to see Philly stealing another game in this series. But Brown isn’t one to coach scared.

 

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.

 photo credit Larry Millson

 

NBA Philadelphia 76ers Jimmy Butler

76ers Adjust First Vs The Raptors To Win Game Two

By Frank McLean

No doubt about it, the pressure was on the Philadelphia 76ers as they headed into game two of their second round playoff series with the Toronto Raptors Tuesday night.

The last thing they wanted to do was head back home down two games to none and having to still win a game in Toronto where Scotiabank Arena has been their personal hell.

Including their loss in game one the Sixers had lost 14-straight games in the 416-area code.

That came to an end with the Sixers on top 89-94, in a game that was a throwback to old time playoff basketball, rough and physical. A game, especially in the first half, looked like the main event on Monday Night Raw being played under South Philadelphia Street Rules.

The win is was what Sixers coach Brett Brown called “one we gutted out.”

The puzzle Sixers coach Brett Brown had all day Sunday to try and figure out was what to do with Kawhi Leonard.

Leonard in game one had one that was for the ages, even for him with 45-points and 11-assists. Pascal Siakam added 29-himself so combined with Leonard they duo combined for 74-of the Raptors 108-points scored in game one.

Game two Leonard scored-35 and Siakam added-21 for only a combined-56 points which gave the Sixers a better chance of keeping the score close before they were able to build up a 19-point lead at one point in the game.

Brown thought that the Sixers defence was as good as it could be but what he couldn’t believe was that with the amount turnovers his team committed that they led at halftime.

“The clear problem was our turnovers, if you looked at the first half and said we had 13-turnovers at the end of the second period, in Toronto, in the Eastern Conference semi-final game two, what do you think the score should be? If you limit our turnovers where they got 18-points off I think our spirit was just fine which led to good first half.”

What Brown did to change the look of the Sixers defense was to put Joel Embiid on Siakam and Ben Simmons on Leonard.

Brown after the game couldn’t say enough about Leonard who kept the Raptors in the game who had to deal with Ben Simmons on him the whole night.

When it came to Embiid, no one was sure until about ten minutes before the game if he could play. It wasn’t his knee bothering him this time but a bad stomach that had him spending most of his Monday in the bathroom.

Yep he actually gutted this game out so to speak.

But what really made the difference for the Sixers in game two compared to game one was the offensive brilliance of Jimmy Butler. He was a workhorse playing 43-minutes scoring-30 and grabbing 11-boards.

General Manager Elton Brand picked him up in November from the Timberwolves just for that purpose to be that game changing player come playoff time.

“He was JAMES Butler”, Brown gushed in his post- game comments.

“He was the adult in the gym. I get excited by the volume of three’s he puts up (4-for-10), he was a rock that willed us in certain situations.”

After the game the Raptors Kyle Lowry said that they now have to make adjustments as this series now shifts to Philadelphia for the next two games and that this is what happens in the playoffs.

So now the spotlight is on Nick Nurse and his staff to make adjustments.

Leonard scored-35 points and in game one-45 and is averaging-40 for the first two games of the series. The key is to find a way to free up Siakam so he can take a little of the load of the load off Leonard.

The Raptors could have and maybe should have won game two.

They missed a lot of shots like down three with a minute left in the fourth quarter when Danny Green missed a 25-footer which would have tied the game and who knows what way the game would have gone.

But in the end full marks to Brett Brown and his coaching staff. The pressure was on not go down two nothing in the series and they figured a way to win one and go home with a split.

It’s now the Raptors turn to make adjustments.

 

 

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 Philadelphia 76ers Ben Simmons

76ers To Focus On Offense To Improve Defense In Game Two

Things didn’t go as planned for 76ers head coach Brett Brown in game one of his team’s second round playoff series with the Raptors, but he was dead serious when he said he wasn’t coaching scared. He likes his team’s offense and based on the comments from practice on Sunday, the focus will be on doing offense better to improve his squad’s defense.

“Adjustments rule the day,” Brown said at practice. Not that he was about to give away any secrets, but not to worry, his players were very talkative.

“We didn’t move (the ball),” Ben Simmons explained. “It’s not on them. It’s on us. Passing the ball and moving, cutting, slashing. We just got to be more consistent in moving the ball and passing.”

In a way it makes sense. The Raptors thrive in transition off of turnovers, missed shots and even made shots, but if Brown can find a way to make his opponents work harder on defense, those fast breaks and just plain fast offensive sets could be just a little tougher to execute.

“In game one there were too many missed baskets by us that was leading to their transition and getting out in the open court,” Tobias Harris said. “The biggest thing for us on the offensive end is to make them work for everything they have out there.”

Now that’s an honest assessment by the 76ers. The Raptors turn defense into offense as well as anyone in the Association. Philadelphia can’t afford to let Toronto run them out of the gym by setting the Raptors up for fast breaks.

Not surprisingly, the 76ers purest shooter didn’t like what he saw offensively in game one either.

“We have to be better offensively,” JJ Redick said. “Their defense was fantastic last night. We were significantly better when we passed twice or more. So we have to realize this may not be a first option offense for us. We may need to be able to get to the second side, second third options to break down their defense.”

Therein lies the rub for this recently thrown together starting unit where every player can put up 20 or more points on any given night. Sacrifices will have to be made. Good shots passed up to give someone else a better shot and all those other postseason clichés that are sometimes true. Coach Brown will have his work cut out for him.

The biggest thing standing in Brown’s way may be….

“I played okay,” Simmons said and most of his teammates could’ve said the same thing…. except they lost.

 

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 Danny Green

Does Defense Still Win In The Playoffs?

After a regular season in which every team in the NBA averaged over 100 points per game, every team in the postseason was over 110 and no team was even close to holding their opponents under 100 points on average, it would have been fair to question if defense could still win in the playoffs?

Pay attention and it looks like it’s still possible to play winning defense in the postseason of this new high scoring NBA.

Thru the Sunday night games of the second round, defense stands out. The best at opponent’s field goal percent, points allowed and defensive rating are making noise.

 …………………….opp FG%        Def. Rating     Points Allowed    (Record)

  1. Celtics              39.0                      94.6                   91.4                       (5-0)
  2. Raptors           38.9                      96.2                    92.5                       (5-1)
  3. Bucks               41.6                      99.8                 100.8                       (4-1)
  4. Rockets            41.6                    100.5                   98.8                       (4-2)

Boston has held their opponent’s under 100 points in four of their first five games and stunned the Bucks in game one of their second round series by keeping The Greek Freak and company to just 90 points. The Celtics have sent a message, this once mighty defensive team has their defensive intensity is back and the Bucks had better adjust quickly.

In Toronto fans have been lulled into thinking that with the defensive-minded coach Casey in Detroit and his offensive assistant coach Nick Nurse now in charge that defense wasn’t a focus of this year’s team. Apparently not.

“(The Raptors) have two defensive players of the year,” 76ers head coach Brett Brown said in Toronto prior to game one. “Think about that in Kawhi (Leonard) and Marc (Gasol). And you have a first team all-league defender that I coached for I don’t know how many years in Danny Green. And we haven’t even talked about Kyle (Lowry) and (Pascal) Siakam that is taking off. So defensively this is elite.”

Brown isn’t wrong. Lowry leads the playoffs with 8 charges drawn, 12 loose balls recovered and is second with 21 defections.  Siakam has contested an NBA best 44 three-point attempts in the postseason. Coming off the bench in limited minutes, the almost-forgotten-at-times Serge Ibaka has the fourth most box outs.

After the 76ers 108-95 game one loss to Toronto that was only that close because of over four minutes of garbage time, Brown reflected further on the Raptors defense.

“You got to give credit to Marc Gasol,” Brown said. “He was the defensive player of the year for a reason. I thought Serge came in and did a good job athletically making it difficult for Joel (Embiid).

“The way Toronto guards, they really scramble well. They aren’t afraid of attacking penetration.”

The Raptors have held their opponent to under 100 points in five straight games.

In the Warriors-Rockets series, Houston had been playing better defense than their more highly-touted opponent and as a result had an easier route to the second round. But maybe Golden State got the wake-up call as they beat the Rockets 104-100 in game one with defense, holding Houston to 41.9 percent shooting from the field. Not that Houston wasn’t doing a good job defensively on everyone not called KD.

Defense is back in a big way and the easy scoring of the regular season is in the rear view mirror.

 

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

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

For The First Time Raptors Are Favorites In The East

It’s time to put those bizarre misleading thoughts about the Raptors fading in the playoffs to bed. Toronto has never been favorites to get out of the NBA’s Eastern Conference previously and just maybe that’s because they’ve never finished first in their conference before – ever.

Also this is the first time Kyle Lowry isn’t heading into the postseason with a nagging injury and DeMar DeRozan, who gets lots of flak for not living up to playoff expectations despite averaging over 20 points per game  in each of the past four postseason runs, has undeniably gotten better this year.

As Jackie MacMullan says in  ESPN’s playoff preview,

Having spent time in Toronto last weekend, the unease surrounding the Raptors’ fan base is palpable. They are worried about losing Game 1 (again).

Enough already. DeRozan has submitted an All-NBA season, becoming a more efficient player, expanding his range to the 3-point line, and finally — finally! — tuning out the naysayers.

Fans in Toronto need to remember it’s the Maple Leafs who have disappointed them for over 50 years and it was the Raptors that got to the Conference Finals two years ago.

The goal this season, however, is to finally get out of the East and they’ve dominated Eastern Conference teams during the regular season by a margin of 40 wins to just 12 losses and outscored those teams by an impressive +10.2 points.

The next best team in the East against their own conference has been the Cavs with 35 wins, but they’ve been just getting by with a points differential of +2.6. Arguably the 76ers have looked better in their 34 wins against the East at +4.7 points and should be the favored team to advance to the Conference Finals against Toronto.

More impressive and perhaps more important is Toronto has been absolutely dominant at home this season with an NBA best 34-7 record at the Air Canada Centre where they’ve rolled over Eastern Conference rivals, winning 23 and losing just 3 times. In the process, they’ve outscored teams from the East by a confidence-destroying average of 13.3 points.

The other Eastern Conference teams with a home court advantage this season have been the 76ers (21-5, +9.0) and, wait for it, the Heat (20-6, +5.0). The Cavs were 19-7  and +1.6 vs the East at home. (A cynic might say the Raptors didn’t mind losing the last game of the regular season in overtime to Miami.)

If those fans still having doubts can’t remember, Toronto has crushed the teams in the East most likely to challenge a Raptors run to the NBA Finals at home.

The surging 76ers lost 128-94 and 102-86 in Toronto,

The fourth place Cavaliers were destroyed 133-99 at the ACC, and

The currently injured Celtics lost 111-91 and 96-78 when they came visiting.

The Raptors were not as good on the road as at home, but they still set a franchise record for wins away from the ACC at 25-16  and were 17-9 vs the East.

Those other contending Eastern Conference teams looked a lot better in their own buildings vs the Raptors. The 76ers earned a split, the Cavs held on for a couple of hotly contested wins and the Celtics took two in their own building.

Fortunately for the Raptors, by finishing first in the East and second overall in the NBA, the only team they won’t have home court advantage over is the Rockets out West.

In the team’s last two playoff runs they ran headlong into the heavily favored Cleveland Cavaliers and LeBron James. The fact the Raptors lost to those Cavs teams wasn’t a surprise to anyone and those who claim Toronto underachieved are simply being disingenuous. However, those days are past.

This is the Raptors year. They finished second overall in the NBA and were a dominant team all season, especially on home court and even more so against the East. If they lose to an Eastern Conference team this time, they’ll deserve the criticism. They are the deserving  favorites and anything less than an NBA Finals appearance will be a huge disappointment in Toronto.

ESPN’s Kevin Arnovitz concurs,

After several seasons of residing in the league’s upper-middle class, the Raptors asserted themselves in 2017-18 as the team to beat in the Eastern Conference.

The Raptors have tasted the conference finals, so anything short of an NBA Finals appearance would qualify as a disappointment, especially as the Eastern Conference’s No. 1 seed.

 

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

 

 

 

 

Cleveland Cavaliers LeBron James

Can Cavs Hold Onto Third In The East?

The battle for third place in the NBA East is tighter than anyone could have imagined. The Cavaliers, 76ers, and Pacers are crowded together with just one game separating third from fifth. So, can the Cavs hold on?

Cleveland 45-30, 7-3 in their last 10 games

7 games remaining:

At home: Pelicans 43-32, Mavs 23-52, Raptors 55-20, Wizards 41-33, Knicks 27-49

On the road: @Philly 44-30, @NY 27-49

Philadelphia 44-30, 9-1 in their last 10 games

8 games remaining:

At home: Hawks 21-54, Nets 24-51, Cavs 45-30, Mavs 23-52, Bucks 39-35

On the road: @Charlotte 34-42, @Detroit 34-40,  @Atlanta 21-54

Indiana 44-31, 7-3 in their last 10 games

7 games remaining:

At home: Warriors 54-20, Hornets 34-42

On the road: @Sacramento 24-51, @Clippers 41-34, @Denver 40-35, @Toronto 55-20, @Charlotte 34-42,

It’s obvious the Pacers have the toughest schedule and should be more worried about holding off the Wizards …. unless they want to slip into sixth place to avoid the 4/5 matchup in the first round of the playoffs which might not be all that bad of an idea.

Washington (41-33) still has to face the Rockets, Cavs and Celtics, so their road isn’t all that easy either.

Between the Cavs and 76ers, who each have 30 losses to this point, the 76ers have the significantly easier schedule and they’ve been red hot since losing to the Pacers two weeks ago. However, it wouldn’t come as that big of a surprise if the winner of their game vs the Cavs at Philips Arena decides who gets third.

The overhanging question about Cleveland’s season will probably be answered by the games against New Orleans, Toronto and Washington immediately before the big game against Philly. If the Cavs don’t take at least two of these three, the game at Philips might just be being played for pride.

If you have to speculate on who will finish third thru fifth in the East, right now it looks like 76ers, Cavs and Pacers in that order. Raptors and Celtics should plan accordingly.

 

 

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 Fred VanVleet and Philadelphia 76ers Markelle Fultz

How Long Can 76ers Markelle Fultz Hide Behind Ben Simmons?

The Philadelphia 76ers give up a lot to draft Markelle Fultz first overall in this year’s draft, but so far he’s been almost invisible playing in the shadow of last year’s first overall pick Ben Simmons who, by the way, is still a rookie.  In three games off the bench it would be hard to describe Fultz’s play as as anything more than uninspiring begging the question, how much longer can he hide behind Simmons’ success in a city that isn’t exactly known for being patient or understanding?

“Surprisingly you could be right and it’s hard to say that in our city. There’s not much forgiveness or wiggle-room (in Philly) and I say that with affection,” said 76ers head coach Brett Brown about Fultz ahead of his team’s blowout loss in Toronto. “Last night Markelle steps to the free throw line and makes two free throws and the fans recognize him, reward him. I think Markelle’s growth might not be as under the microscope perhaps if he didn’t have some of these other things with Joel (Embiid) and Ben (Simmons) especially, but we all pay attention and I think that he’s handled it with a certain amount of grace. Like he doesn’t get too rattled, he’s a gamer. He’s aware of all the things and we are trying to get his shoulder right with the shot and all that, but we’ve seen some good things with him getting to the rim and making plays. We can see why he was the first player chosen.”

As of now, from the outside looking in, it really isn’t all that easy to see why Fultz was chosen first, but that’s after a very small sample size.

In three games coming off the bench, playing against other teams’ second and dare it be mentioned, third string, Fultz hasn’t shone. He’s averaging 7.3 points on 34.8 percent shooting, 2.3 rebounds and 1.3 assists in just under 20 minutes per game and he’s struggled where he was expected to do well.

In Toronto against the second string his offense was stifled and the Raptors ran up the score, but in fairness fans should be able to live with that from a rookie for a while.

However, what happened when he was facing the Raptors undrafted diminutive second year point guard Fred VanVleet who played most of last season in the D-League isn’t so easy to look past. In 11 minutes, a lot of it in garbage time with Toronto’s third string unit on the court, Fultz shot 0-2, was blocked once, had just a single rebound and a single assist matched up against his very unheralded counterpart. The Raptors like VanVleet, but watching him hold this year’s first overall pick to a -1 head-to-head is a little more than they have any right to expect.

Once again Fultz wasn’t the story on this night as Simmons absorbed all of the available sunlight in a 34 point beat down in his team’s third straight loss by putting up 18 points, 10 rebounds and 8 assists. But how much longer can he hide behind Simmons positive vibe?

Keith Pompey of The Inquirer suggests Philly fans are ready to start panicking and he blames things on a sore shoulder affecting Fultz’s ability to shoot the three-ball.

Right now, the injury is taking on a life of its own. One that has a portion of Sixers fans panicking and second-guessing the team’s decision to trade up two spots to select him first overall in June’s NBA draft.

“It’s not to the point where it’s affecting other parts of his game,” coach Brett Brown said.

“It’s not an excuse for me,” Fultz said of the new (free throw) release. “I just go out there and do what I got to do.”

Free throws and jump shots should be the least of his worries. Maybe the concern about the 76ers guard should be about getting blocked six times in three games this year. This rookie has a lot to learn before he’ll look like the future star he was projected to be at the draft.

The theme from the 76ers in Toronto was they were looking forward to an easier opponent in Detroit on Monday night after facing the Wizards, Celtics and Raptors in their first three games. (Who was the idiot that thought a team as young as the 76ers would be in fourth place at the end of the 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 Cleveland Cavaliers Kyrie Irving

The Best Trade The Cavs Can Make For Kyrie Irving Is?

So the Cleveland Cavaliers want a king’s ransom for Kyrie Irving or so says ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and that’s certainly where they should open the bidding, but that may not be the best trade the Cavs can or should make for their All-Star point guard. Long term, it may not even be in the team’s best interests.

The Cavaliers want a package that resembles the 2011 Nuggets-Knicks deal for Carmelo Anthony — young players, win-now veterans and draft picks.

As long as LeBron James is on the team, the Cavs will be the favorites to come out of the East. The only issues with that are James can be a free agent next summer and isn’t promising anything, plus even with Irving or a “replacement” veteran, no one gives the Cavs a chance against the Warriors in the NBA Finals.

Dan Gilbert or whomever is making decisions in Cleveland this summer needs to start thinking outside the box they put themselves in or Gilbert will be cutting a check for $75 million to the NBA to cover his luxury tax bill and still end up second best with some people looking at the Cavs as really being the league’s fourth best team.

The right deal probably isn’t something that helps the Cavs tread water and a little something extra for the future. Cleveland needs to be bolder than that.

The Philadelphia 76ers are planning a return trip to the postseason after five years of being terrible and president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo has added enough veteran pieces to his very young team to give them hope. Adding Irving would put them firmly in the playoff picture and greatly accelerate “the process.”

This is the trade the Cavs should make:

Cavaliers trade Kyrie Irving ($18.9 million) and Channing Frye ($7.4 million)

76ers trade Markelle Fultz ($7 million), Jahil Okafor ($5 million), and the draft rights to the 25th pick Anzerjs Pasecniks.

The 76ers have $15.1 million in practical cap space to absorb the extra salary according to Spotrac and the trade will save the Cavaliers $55 million in luxury tax next season.

(Note: Fultz can’t be traded until August 7)

For the Cavs, it’s a gamble to not get a veteran player back, but it’s as good a bet as a GM could make with Derrick Rose available in case it takes Fultz a while to figure out the NBA game.

Trading a young successful former number one overall pick who wants out for this year’s high potential number one overall pick is a great long term move. And Gilbert has already spent a fortune betting on short term moves. It’s time he got some LeBron insurance to protect his franchise just in case.

In Philadelphia, the playoff drought will be over and Irving gets his wish, a team to lead. The 76ers will not just be a team to watch because of all that young talent, they’ll be a team that’s expected to be competitive with playoff teams now and any “process” looks a lot sweeter while you’re winning.

 

 

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

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

 

 

 

NBA center Amir Johnson former Pistons Raptors Celtics

Former Raptors Big Amir Johnson Gets Paid Again

No one in Toronto blamed Raptors fan favorite Amir Johnson for taking $24 million from the Boston Celtics two years ago and the popular big man has found himself another big pay day this summer. The Philadelphia 76ers have used some of their excess cap space to give Johnson another $11 million for next season.

Johnson saw his minutes decline in Boston last season to average just 20.1 while his production dropped to 6.5 points and 4.6 rebounds. However, the 30-year-old is known as a great teammate, community ambassador and willing mentor, so he should fit in well on a very young 76ers team.

76ers president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo had traded for Johnson in 2009 when he ran the show in Toronto. Johnson has played for the Pistons, Raptors and Celtics.

 

 

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 GMs Celtics Danny Ainge and 76ers Bryan Colangelo

The 76ers Process Is Over But The Celtics Is Just Starting

By Frank McLean

It was deal that has been speculated to happen over the last few days and it officially became a fact on Monday as the Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers made a deal which lets the two teams flip spots in the first round of Thursday’s NBA draft.

The Celtics, who had the first pick overall thanks to being the beneficiary of bad deals made by the past management of the Brooklyn Nets, flipped spots with the 76ers who were to pick third.

The Celtics also get for helping the 76ers either a first-round pick in 2018 or 2019. If the Los Angeles Lakers hold a pick between number two and five next season, Boston gets that one. If not, Philadelphia will send Boston either its own first-rounder in 2019 or Sacramento’s first-rounder that year which the Celtics hold the rights to.

This deal is all about the 76ers trying to build a contending team right now while the Celtics stockpile more draft picks to use to get players that can help them – now?

For Celtics basketball boss Danny Ainge he now has something to offer teams to get a player that can go with Isaiah Thomas and Al Horford and help them keep the number one seed in the Eastern Conference. Maybe a phone call to the Indiana Pacers for a one year rent a player like Paul George.

TNT reported over the weekend that George told the Pacers that when his contract runs out next season he plans on leaving and going to play for his hometown Los Angeles Lakers. The Pacers would be wise to trade George now and get something for him now instead of losing him for nothing in free agency.

Like the Raptors and Wizards, the Celtics are looking for the piece to challenge Cleveland for the Eastern Conference title and Golden State for the NBA title.

“This is certainly a trade that is under the microscope more than others,” Ainge said Monday. “But we’re not afraid of that.”

After Monday’s trade the Celtics have SEVEN! First round picks over the next three drafts and that includes Thursday night’s draft.

For the 76ers, well they will get the first pick overall for the second straight season and this time they hope they will get a player that can play.

Last year’s pick Ben Simmons did not play a game a game last season after breaking a bone in his foot. The player it seems they want this year is guard Markelle Fultz of the University of Washington.

Fultz has just one year of college experience. He averaged 23.2 points, 5.7 rebounds and 5.9 assists in 25 games standing out on a team that finished 9-22 and lost its final 13 games. He led the Pac-12 in scoring and finished sixth among all Division One players and led all freshman in scoring.

“We are very pleased with the outcome of this trade, which puts us in the enviable position of selecting first overall in consecutive draft years,” 76ers president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo said. “History suggests that number one has the greatest odds of producing franchise level talent and we are confident that this year’s draft class has that very potential.”

Here’s my take on the trade if you are the Raptors.

For the 76ers, if they draft Fultz, it’s a start but they will not be a playoff factor this year or next year and probably not the year after that.

Fultz joins a core of young potential stars, Jahlil Okafor and 2017 Rookie of the Year finalists Joel Embiid and Dario Saric. But they need players that can help this team contend and that’s going to take about three years to acquire.

Now the Celtics, they have a ton of bargaining chips to make themselves championship contenders with the seven first round draft picks. This has to make the Raptors, Wizards and Cavaliers concerned with the make-up of their current rosters.

If Danny Ainge can get veteran talent to go with what he has that just might be enough for them to win the East outright and get a shot at Golden State or Houston.

However, the one thing the Celtics doesn’t have is rebounding, but they have the chips now and it’s up to Ainge to cash them in.

 

   

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

 

 

 

 

NBA OKC Thunder Serge Ibaka

Trade Possibilities To Get The Raptors To The NBA Finals

If you listen to Raptors president Masai Ujiri and head coach Dwane Casey, Toronto has everything they need to compete with the Cleveland Cavaliers right now. They don’t need a trade to get to the NBA Finals, but the biggest fly in that ointment (aside from losing to the Cavs three-times already this season) is the fact that this team has three rookies and four more players still on their rookie deals, so when Patrick Patterson went down with a sore knee, Casey has been forced into scramble mode to replace him.

“We’re guessing,” Casey said after the win over the Lakers. “I am telling you right now we’re guessing. We are trying to find that combination.”

Seemingly invisible to the “experts” that follow the NBA is the fact that Patterson is the lynch pin that makes two of the top three best five man units in the NBA work. A fact that isn’t lost on Casey.

“Things that Patrick does well in his offensive approach, in his defensive approach, are huge,” Casey said.

Ujiri will only be able to trade Patterson to upgrade his roster by ripping him from Casey’s cold, dead fingers.

To solve what should be temporary problem, Casey has been trying more minutes for rookie forward Pascal Siakam, playing Lucas Nogueira at power forward despite his young big man still trying to figure out what to do at center, giving DeMarre Carroll a turn at the four and even just flat out going with small ball, but the results have been mixed.

The Raptors might find an in-house solution to Patterson’s absence and in the process prove Ujiri right about this team having all the pieces they need, but it’s more likely Toronto finds out their lack of depth catches up to them a bit and their “solutions” need more seasoning before they are truly ready to take this team to the next level.

Almost forgotten, Toronto does have a potential solution in Jared Sullinger assuming he gets back before the All-Star break and rounds quickly into the rebounding and stretch-four/five big man they thought would be available before breaking his foot in the preseason. But, Sullinger isn’t expected to be the “third star player” many think will be necessary for Toronto to get by the Cavs in the Eastern Conference Finals.

However, the potential for acquiring that “third star” seems to be developing if Ujiri is willing to take the big risks necessary to take his team to the next level this season.

Raptors Trade Bait

Terrence Ross, 5th year, 6’7 wing, 20.8 min., 10.8 points, 2.3 rebounds, 1.1 steals, 41.2% three-point shooter, $10 million salary plus 2 more years

Norman Powell, 2nd year, 6’4 guards/wing, 14.7 min., 6.3 points, 1.7 rebounds, 0.8 steals, 40% three-point shooter, $0.9 million on rookie deal

Ross and Powell are equally deserving and in each others way backing up DeMarre Carroll ($14 million and 2 more years remaining). There just isn’t enough minutes to go around, so Ujiri needs to pick two guys to go forward with. What would make things really interesting is if the Raptors believe they could run with Ross backing up Powell at small forward?

Pascal Siakam, rookie, 6’9 forward, 18.2 min., 33 starts, 5 points, 3.7 rebounds, 0.5 steals, 0.8 blocks, $1.2 million on rookie deal

Ujiri hates to part with “his guys,” but Siakam was never supposed to be a starter in Toronto as a rookie.

Jared Sullinger (injured) $5.6 million expiring, Delon Wright (injured) $1.6 million rookie deal, Jakob Poeltl $2.7 million rookie, Fred VanVleet $0.5 million rookie, Bruno Caboclo $1.6 million 3rd year prospect.

Both Sullinger and Wright are expected to return sometime in January.

Lucas Nogueira was going to be the limited minutes reserve center before Sullinger was injured and it’ll be challenging to take away his minutes once Sullinger returns. He’s improved so rapidly this season that he may have become almost unavailable.

As much as Jonas Valanciunas seems to be a somewhat insignificant part of this team’s success during the regular season, that’s only “seems to be.” JV turns into an indispensable monster in the playoffs. If would take a lot to even get a response.

Atlanta Hawks – Paul Millsap, $20 million, 2017-18 P.O. $21.4 million

The Hawks have reason to believe Millsap will opt out at the end of this season and reason to fear he’ll look for better opportunities elsewhere in free agency, but Millsap is the player that makes the Hawks a playoff team this year and that would make it a 10-year continuous stretch run in the postseason. Plus Atlanta ranks in the bottom half of the NBA for attendance despite their long term success, so it isn’t going to be easy to give up Millsap without a significant return.

Toronto would have to send back at least $15 million in salaries to make this trade and it shouldn’t be expected that Atlanta will be easy to deal with. They need a power forward, small forward and/or a guard.

A package of Ross, Sullinger and Wright would be intriguing, assuming Atlanta can be convinced both Sullinger and Wright will be able to play soon. Toronto has the Clippers protected 2017 first round draft pick to use as a sweetener. As much as the Hawks will want a boatload of talent back, the Raptors have to find a way to mitigate the risk that Millsap walks away in July.

The unspoken issue with Millsap is he’ll be 32-years-old in February and looking for a new long term deal worth upwards of $150 million as a free agent in seven months.

Sacramento Kings – DeMarcus Cousins, $17 million, 2017-18 $18 million

If you believe the press clippings, everyone wants Cousins, but there are two issues. One, the Kings haven’t shown any interest in trading him and two, he is a potential chemistry disaster anywhere he goes.

The Raptors acquired Patterson from the Kings and if you read between the lines, he hated it there and there was one very big reason for it. Unless Cousins’ teammates from TEAM USA, Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, say otherwise, there is little chance the Raptors would even entertain bringing “the best center in the game” to Toronto.

Assuming Lowry and DeRozan give their blessing and the Kings change their mind, the cost is going to be steep. Jonas Valanciunas, Norman Powell, Delon Wright and a couple of first round draft picks for openers.

Acquiring Cousins is the ultimate high risk high return move and if, stress if, the Kings make him available, there will be significant competition.

 Orlando Magic – Serge Ibaka $12.3 million

The Magic traded a pretty good scoring guard to get the pending free agent Ibaka and as of now, they could really use a wing that can score from the outside in the worst way. A backup point guard with a future that could set up their bigs would be very useful too.

Orlando should be motivated to do something. In 12th place, but only 1.5 games out of 8th, the season seems salvageable and on the brink of collapse at the same time. It should be safe to assume that no playoffs equals no chance of re-signing Ibaka.

Ross and Siakam and/or Wright for Ibaka and Mario Hezonja would help to re-balance both teams rosters. The Magic should be able to squeeze a draft pick out of Toronto as well.

Orlando Magic – Nikola Vucevic $11.8 million, plus two years averaging $12.5 million

A starter sent to the bench, Vucevic was a significant double-double machine before this season when the Magic screwed up their big man rotation. He’s not seen as a star, but he averaged 18.7 points and 9.9 rebounds over the past two seasons. As a center with some stretch-five potential (30 percent from three on 0.8 attempts this year), the 26-year-old should draw interest for his current and longer term potential.

Ross and Siakam for Vucevic and Hezonja would re-balance both teams rosters. Not nearly as exciting as acquiring Ibaka for Toronto, but cheaper, more practical and less risky going forward.

Philadelphia 76ers – Nerlens Noel $4.4 million, 2017-17 Q.O. $5.8 million

The 76ers are motivated, but the market is soft for this oft-injured young big man who has fallen out of a terrible 76ers rotation.

Noel could be an impact player right away, despite some obvious concerns. He can block shots, rebound and finish at the rim, if he can learn to accept coaching and accept a role that’s likely less than he wants and less than it will be in a few years, then he’s a guy worth taking a risk on. Noel’s image problem is likely as much a creation of his untenable situation as anything he’s done.

The hard part is figuring out if he moves the needle and who the Raptors would be willing to give up to get him?

Patience

There’s still seven weeks until the NBA trade deadline and the Raptors have yet to see what Sullinger can bring to the table. If he can get in game-shape fast enough, he might just sell Ujiri on standing pat. Toronto’s rebounding and starting unit concerns this season should end with Sullinger’s return.

Then there’s the list of teams in the East who will have to decide soon if they are contenders or pretenders and what to do about it. Players who are not on anyone’s radar at the beginning of January could be hot topics in a couple of weeks.

If Ujiri makes a move now, it has to be for a player he would want no matter what shakes out later on and the move that seems to have the highest probability of happening that could actually move the needle for Toronto is to make a hard push for Ibaka.

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

NBA Philadelphia 76ers Nerlens Noel

76ers Nerlens Noel Is On The Raptors Radar

Rumors about the pending availability of 76ers power forward Nerlens Noel have been circulating all season as the logjam of power forwards and centers in Philadelphia becomes ever more acute. According to Basketball Insiders Editor Steve Kyler, the Raptors are one of very few teams looking at the 76ers big man.

The Philadelphia 76ers have conceded that center Nerlens Noel will not be part of the rotation going forward

While there is some urgency to getting the public dispute resolved, there is not a sense that a trade is close.

There are a couple of teams to watch on the Noel front, the biggest being the Toronto Raptors. It is unlikely that the Raptors mess with their team chemistry in moving a core player, but if the 76ers want some of the Raptors’ young players or non-core parts, Toronto would have interest in Noel, according to sources close to the situation.

The power forward/center was on the All-Rookie First team in 2014-15 and averaged 10.5 points, 8.1 rebounds, 1.8 steals and 1.7 blocks in his first two NBA seasons, however, he lost his place in the rotation to Joel Embiid and Jahil Okafor this year.

The issues with Noel have been injuries, some bad press about his work ethic (may or may not be true) and losing his spot in the rotation to guys that were drafted after him. Clutch Points Arlos Sara quotes a podcast on The Vertical, 

“Nerlens Noel in Philly, the research teams have done on him is not good. They don’t get good reports back on their intel, how he’s carried himself there, of his habits. It’s not a great return. There are teams willing to do the deal and bring him in, but they don’t want to give up much.”

Other teams know the 76ers are dealing from a position of weakness and with Noel in the final year of his rookie deal, any team trading for him could lose the big man to an unpalatable offer this summer when he enters restricted free agency.

Toronto could use an upgrade at power forward over the rookie Pascal Siakam, although the very athletic power forward will be tough to let go because of his obvious potential as a rim protector.

If the 76ers are willing to take a couple of the Raptors young players currently out of the rotation, president Masai Ujiri will have trouble saying no and rolling the dice on Noel. Otherwise, the 76ers are likely to be looking elsewhere.

 

 

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 Philadelphia 76ers Bryan Colangelo

76ers Would Like Their Process To Be Like The Raptors

After four consecutive trips towards the bottom of the NBA standings by the Philadelphia 76ers, “Trust The Process” could be about all a jaded fan has left to hold onto, but the vibe and the feel surrounding this team is starting to change. They’d like their journey to start resembling that of their division rival Toronto Raptors who similarly spent five seasons in the NBA Lottery before climbing back to respectability in a process of their own.

“(The Raptors) are a really good example. I respect the path they have taken to be in this position and to watch them play in the Eastern Conference Championship last year and be as competitive as they were,” 76ers head coach Brett Brown said. “They are still sort of young and growing. I think it is an excellent example for us. I think Bryan Colangelo deserves a lot of credit for being a significant part of that.”

It had become apparent that numerous top draft picks wasn’t going to be enough to revive the 76ers chances, so in April after some direct interference by the NBA head office, the 76ers went out and hired an executive who had successfully started the process of turning around a losing franchise before. Two-time NBA Executive of the Year Bryan Colangelo.

Colangelo had a long run of success with the Phoenix Suns, although some people might (mistakenly) be giving a lot of that credit to his Dad, but what happened in Toronto is all his doing, the good, the bad, and the rebuild.

Maybe it was luck, the type of luck the 76ers would lovingly embrace, but Colangelo made the off season moves during his first year in Toronto that reversed a four-year slide and immediately made the Raptors a playoff team. Some bad luck, bad coaching moves, an infamous first overall draft pick in Andrea Bargnani and the disastrous free agent signing of Hedo Turkoglu can be blamed for the Raptors quick reversal of fortune, but the 76ers should be secure in knowing Colangelo can identify talent.

The Raptors team that just went to the Eastern Conference Finals has Colangelo’s fingerprints all over it. From current head coach Dwane Casey, to the draft picks of DeMar DeRozan, Jonas Valanciunas and Terrence Ross, to the trade for Kyle Lowry, the Raptors rebuild might have taken too long for Colangelo to see it through to the end, but the result of the process looks pretty solid.

Success in Toronto probably wouldn’t have happened if incoming president Masai Ujiri hadn’t kept things together and built on what came before him. Ujiri kept the best of what Colangelo was able to do, maintained a strong element of consistency and added to the process rather than changing course.

“I look at this team (Toronto) and they have been able to keep it together,” Brown said. “I think there is a culture of defense. There is a culture of good people and I think those cornerstones are part of most successful teams.”

Toronto showed patience in the face of demands from the fanbase to get better faster and the 76ers are going to face the same challenges going through the development process with their young stars.

“You go from growing to developing to winning is when those guys develop into guys making winning plays,” Raptors head coach Dwane Casey said. “Some guys take longer to develop. It takes time. There is no magic wand where you can rush the process. It’s how hard guys work, how hard they commit to the program and Philadelphia is doing it the right way. They are committed to the program. Brett Brown is one of the bright basketball minds in the league as far as teaching, developing, growing.

“(The 76ers) have a course. They are growing. They are sticking to it and we started out here doing that. We flipped it a little bit and made some moves to accelerate the process so to speak.”

Colangelo has already started making moves to reverse his team’s fortunes, but there is no way to force the growth of Nerlens Noel, Joel Embiid, Jahil Okafor or Nick Stauskas. Rookies Dario Saric and Ben Simmons (once he’s cleared to play) will be behind this group in experience and only time will fix that. Additional trades to bring in veterans to ease the big man logjam are undoubtedly in the 76ers future, but these can’t be forced either. Doing things right takes time.

“But again, there are no set number of years that you can say, (for example) in year two we should be here because you don’t know how fast those players are going to develop,” Casey said. “If you have a philosophy and a belief system that you have that should help you win eventually, you have to stick to it. If you are flip-flopping every year with every number that you read or suggestion you go with, you are not going to be very successful. You can’t just change every day or every week or every month with the wind.”

Despite being an active GM, Colangelo showed a lot of patience during his rebuild of the Raptors and not every move he made worked out. But, if anything, he stuck to his core and kept looking for the right additions. Things didn’t happen overnight and he didn’t get to finish the job, but if the 76ers can follow the same process, there is no reason they can’t end up on the same path as Toronto.

 

 

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 Philadelphia 76ers Ben Simmons

76ers Are Cursed: First Overall Pick Ben Simmons Breaks His Foot

So much for worrying about the Philadelphia 76ers having too many big men and not enough minutes to go around. This team is cursed. The NBA’s 2016 first overall draft pick Ben Simmons has a broken bone in his right foot and it goes without saying, he’s out indefinitely.

This is just the latest in a string of setbacks for the 76ers as they try to rebuild from the ashes of recent disastrous/deliberately tanked seasons.

Sixth overall pick in 2013 6’11 Nerlens Noel missed his first season with a torn ACL. Third overall pick in 2014 7′ Joel Embiid missed his rookie season because of a stress fracture to his right foot and has yet to play a game because of foot surgeries. Then their third overall pick in the 2015 NBA draft 6’11 Jahil Okafor managed to get six games past the All-Star break before his season was prematurely cut short by season ending knee surgery.

What Simmons has suffered is typically called a Jones fracture and history says it can be a tricky injury to overcome. Other NBA players who have gone through this condition include: Kevin Durant, Brook Lopez, Glen Davis and Rasheed Wallace just to name a few. It hasn’t been that uncommon for complications or even a second surgery to be required.

The 76ers seem to living under a dark cloud these past few years.

 

 


 

 

NBA Philadelphia 76ers GM Bryan Colangelo

76ers Have Big Men And Guards Available To Trade

Philadelphia 76ers new president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo is trying to save his team from yet another embarrassingly bad NBA season, but he’s got a problem. Too many big men and too many guards for a 15 man roster and more coming every day this summer. RealGM Wiretap quotes Colangelo as saying,

“There’s no question you can look at our roster and say we have some unbalance. We’re top heavy. We have some good talent there.”

“We have to figure out what we’re going to do with everybody.”

“We’re not going to make a bad deal just to make a deal. I think we can be a better basketball team if we can distribute that talent better. Maybe take one of those assets and address other needs on the roster. I think right now it’s best to say we like all of them, we want to see if we can make the most out of each of them. At the end of the day, the reality says one has to go at some point but only when the deal is right.”

The 76ers have big men Jahil Okafor, Nerlens Noel, Joel Embiid, Richaun Holmes plus veteran Carl Landry and now 2014 draft pick Dario Saric coming in. Plus 6’10, let’s pretend he’s a small forward, first pick overall Ben Simmons.

Colangelo needs to make a trade, but he also needs to get something of value back if he’s to move one of his high potential young bigs.

Colangelo feels like the League is trying to poach a prospect for next to nothing and he’s probably right, but if he holds out for a while, there will be a team willing to give up a useful player and/or picks for Okafor or Noel.

However, Colangelo’s problems don’t end with the bigs. In a flurry of signings to get someone that might be able to set up his young developing core of big men, he now has too many guards as well, but this problem should be a lot easier to resolve.

Jarryd Bayless, Sergio Rodriguez and Gerald Henderson will give Colangelo’s team some badly needed veteran depth. Rookie Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot needs some playing time as does sophomore T.J. McConnell, the presumptive starter. Hopefully Nik Staukas remembers how to shoot the three-ball. Fortunately? Kendall Marshall, Robert Covington, Hollis Thompson and even forward Jerami Grant all have non-guaranteed deals if Colangelo needs to create room – which he does.

Any of those players on non-guaranteed contracts could be the tweak Colangelo needs to get the player(s) he’d want back for one of his big men.

Thompson has averaged 39.1 percent from three-point range over three seasons. Marshall has averaged 4.9 assists over four seasons with four different teams and shot 37 percent from three. Jerami Grant shows potential as a ‘3-and-D’ combo forward.

Based on what Colangelo has been doing, he like to get an experienced young wing that could stretch the floor and help with the development of his young big men.

The 76ers are so far below the NBA’s minimum salary that they can take back just about anything in additional salary. They can and probably will help out somebody needing to dump a contract, but that’s not the priority. Colangelo needs to get this Philadelphia experiment rolling forward. He needs to make basketball trades that help his team to start getting better this season and beyond.

Make him an offer – please.

 

 

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 Philadelphia 76ers Nik Stauskas

76ers Coach Brown Gives Nik Stauskas His Chance

By Frank McLean

When you are a second year player in the NBA, chances are you are not going to get the minutes you need to develop into a regular player. That’s why they invented the NBA-DL. However, if you are Nik Stauskas of the awful 1-25 Philadelphia 76ers, you are going to get a lot of time to develop because you are on a team looking for anybody that plays any sort of game that resembles professional basketball.

The Mississauga Ontario native is getting his chance in the “City Of Brotherly Love”.

After spending two years with the University of Michigan in one of the toughest conferences in NCAA hoops, the Big 10, he came out early and was drafted in 2014 by another terrible organization, the Sacramento Kings.

No one can figure out on that draft night why the Kings took Stauskas in the first place. They already had a glut of guards and in the end that affected his development as he got very little playing time in the California state capital.

The 76ers picked up Stauskas in an off season trade and when you talk to head coach Brett Brown he loves the kid and that he has kind of made him a special project. The goal is to make Stauskas a two way player so that he can have a long NBA career.

NBA Philadelphia 76ers head coach Brett Brown

This is what Brown said in Toronto before their game Sunday night about Stauskas.

“Were always challenging him to guard and play defense to want to grow him into a two way player. I did think about it coming back to Canada in his own right he is getting better, doing everything we are asking of him”.

“Two-way play is the way around the NBA,” Brown added. “You get to be a two way player, he is getting better defensively and a good pick and roll player. I like him coming off the bench, he can score he’s young. Every time I look at him and talk to him I see he’s young now and how much upside I think he has.”

That’s high praise from a guy who spent a long time being an assistant coach for Greg Popovich and Stauskas is putting in the work.

“I just go out there and focus on working hard rather than scoring,” Stauskas was saying Sunday night. “If you focus on working hard, I feel like that stuff will come, scoring will come, the rhythm will come and all that. Just have to be patient with it.”

And that’s the lesson Brown has been pounding into him.

As a whole, none of guards on this 76ers team can shoot with any consistency, especially behind the three point line. In a game last week in Brooklyn the 76ers guards went a total of 0-for-22 behind the three point line.

“I tell him all the time, you want me to coach you hard and he responds,” Brown said.

His numbers show improvement. In Sacramento last year he got into 73 games averaging 4.4 points a game and was just 36 percent behind the three point line. Going into Sunday’s game in Toronto his scoring average was up to 8.2 points per game, but the three point shooting has slumped to just 28 percent.

But when you talk to Brown and other people around the 76ers they think they got something in Stauskas and when you are on a team that’s 1-25 the only way to go is up.

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

NBA Philadelphia 76ers head coach Brett Brown

NBA’s Dysfunction Junction, The Philadelphia 76ers

By Frank McLean

It has been a whirlwind couple of weeks for the Philadelphia 76ers who now hold the title of the worst run franchise in professional sports, at least in North America.

If you remember on US thanksgiving night rookie center Jahlil Okafor was arrested for an altercation outside a night club in Boston. Then a week later he is pulled over by police in Philadelphia for driving his car over 100-miles per hour over the Ben Franklyn Bridge.

NBA Philadelphia 76ers Jahlil Okafor

That was two weeks ago.

Last week the 76ers hired the head of USA Basketball Jerry Colangelo to become a special assistant to the basketball team. His job is to help clean up the mess made over the last two years by GM and President of Basketball Operations Sam Hinke.

Ok, now a move like this seems simple enough. The 76ers were 19-63 in 2013-2014, finished 18-64 last year and after their loss in Toronto Sunday night, they have started the season off with a 1-24 record.

Well the stories of how Colangelo was offered a job with the team have been different depending on whom you talk to.

My sources around Philadelphia basketball told me that a number of smaller market NBA teams went to NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and asked him to intervene in the 76ers operations and get someone in there who could make this club competitive.

The 76ers don’t sell tickets when they come to their towns, and at home have the 5th worst attendance in the whole league.

I was told Silver did not want to be seen to be involved in this, but he had others in the league office arrange for the Colangelo move.

Meanwhile Colangelo said when he was introduced to the media the league had nothing to do with this. But then a few days later he tells a Phoenix radio station that Silver and 76ers owners begged him to take the job.

Well that’s the last two weeks.

On Monday 76ers head coach Brett Brown confirmed reports to Bob Cooney of the Philadelphia Daily News that they have been talking to former NBA head coach Mike D’Antoni about joining his staff as an assistant.

Brown said that talks with D’Antoni and the hiring of Colangelo are not related and getting back to Coach Brown, he is the only person who you can honestly say has nothing to with the making of this mess.

Yes, after Sunday’s loss in Toronto Brown’s record since the start of the 2013-2014 season is 38-131, but when you talk to people who cover this team on a daily basis they tell you the same thing, he has no talent to work with.

On most nights center Okafor works the floor like a center is supposed to do. He distributes the ball to his team’s shooters. Problem is his shooters can’t make baskets.

Here’s an example from December 10th game in Brooklyn,

Isaiah Canaan, Robert Covington, Nik Stauskas and Hollis Thompson went 0-for-22 behind the three point line.

That is not Brown’s fault.

On Friday Brown was given a contract extension that keeps him in Philadelphia through to the 2018-2019 season.

Normally a coach who only has 30-some odd wins in two seasons doesn’t get to keep his job. But in this case everyone knows how can you judge the man until you give him some NBA players to work with.

Having a chance to talk to Brown before Sunday’s game in Toronto he told me he really enjoys his job in the City of Brotherly Love.

“I feel great,” Brown said. “I like my job in Philadelphia. I want to begin to start winning. We want to begin to start growing the program, reward the fans of Philadelphia see some wins, see some progress.”

Brown is the guy that can do this. You see the sincerity in his eyes when you talk to him. He is one of more decent people I have met in over 21 years covering the NBA and when you talk to other people in the NBA they all having nothing but great things to say about his ability to coach people. Brown right now might be the only viable asset in an organization where the cupboard is bare.

One thing for sure, when see how things have deteriorated in Philadelphia, it makes you forget about last year’s Dysfunction Junction, the New York Knicks.

 

 

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