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NBA Toronto Raptors DeMarre Carroll

JYD 2.0 Raptors DeMarre Carroll Has Just A Week To Get Ready For The Playoffs

By Frank McLean

Much to the relief of Raptors management and of course the always in panic mode Raptors Nation, DeMarre Carroll returned to the Raptors line-up Thursday night against his old teammates with the Atlanta Hawks.

It didn’t matter that the Hawks won the game 95-87. The Raptors are using this last five game stretch that started Thursday night to get the team focused and ready for the playoffs. A goal in which the franchise is looking at the second round or better.

The Raptors Junk-Yard-Dog 2.0, Carroll has been out of the line-up since January 3rd after having arthroscopic surgery on his knee and last night he played 14 minutes, scored five points with one rebound and was a plus two. It was the most important 14 minutes any Raptor has played on the court this year.

“He gave us energy,” Raptors head coach Dwane Casey said after the game. “He was on a minute limitation. He gave it to us defensively, he made a big shot but it’s just going to take time. We don’t expect him to come out and change the world right off the bat.”

“I just wanted to come out and play a few games before the playoffs and let myself know that even though I have a little swelling (in the knee) I can still play through it and I can still play at a high level,” Carroll said in his post game comments. “For a short stint I think I did what I had to do and that’s all I can ask for.

“The biggest thing is mental. Me going on that world tour with the doctors (a couple of weeks ago) and understanding that I can’t do no harm to it, it’s kind of gave me a relaxed sense so if I do see some swelling then I know I can play through it. That’s all I wanted, just to know that I could play through it without causing more damage.”

With only four games left, starting with Friday’s home game against Indiana, the goal is to bring Carroll along slowly Casey was saying before Thursday’s game.

“We are going to start incorporating him in a bit as we go in these last few games and try and get him some game conditioning. It’s totally different than practice and our practices have been such that they have been situational, not a lot of five-on-five so this will give him an opportunity to get some testing in with that knee.”

One thing about Carroll is that he can play with pain better than most athletes.

In last year’s playoffs he injured his left knee during the Hawks second round series against the Washington Wizards and kept playing during the rest of that series and in the conference final against the Cleveland Cavaliers.

After the playoffs ended Carroll admitted to the Atlanta media that he was suffering with a turf toe injury.

The jewel in Raptors president and general manager Masai Ujuri’s remake of the roster, Carroll is on the first year of a four year 60-million dollar contract that he signed with the team in the off season. If the Raptors are going to have a long playoff run, Carroll’s defensive skills will be needed, it’s why he was brought in and he’s a definite upgrade over Amir Johnson.

The Raptors JYD 2.0 has but a week to get ready for the games that matter.

 

 

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 Brooklyn Nets DeMarre Carroll

Raptors DeMarre Carroll Expected Back In Two Weeks

It’s a lot later than we were led to believe, but it now looks like the Toronto Raptors DeMarre Carroll will be back in about two weeks from now.

 


Carroll had arthroscopic surgery on his right knee in the first week of January with expected return in 6-8 weeks.  He had missed nine games between December 7-22 with a right knee contusion.

While Carroll has been seen walking around the Air Canada Centre and the team’s practice facility and working out, it’s assumed the team is being cautious with their $60 million man who they acquired to help take them by the first round of the playoffs this season.

Toronto has exceeded expectations without Carroll’s help this year and is on a franchise record setting 56 win pace.

 

 

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

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Jonas Valanciunas, DeMarre Carroll, Kyle Lowry & DeMar DeRozanIt’s Time For Toronto To Board The Raptors Bandwagon

Toronto currently has a 13-5 record against teams in the East holding down a playoff spot and to put those Western Conference blowhards in their place, the Raptors are 9-3 against playoff teams in the West. 64 games into a season, your record is no longer a fluke.

 

 

NBA Brooklyn Nets DeMarre Carroll

Raptors DeMarre Carroll Out Indefinitely After Right Knee Surgery

The Toronto Raptors announced on Wednesday that forward DeMarre Carroll had arthroscopic surgery this morning on his right knee. The procedure was performed by Dr. David Altchek at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City. Carroll’s status will be updated as appropriate.

Carroll missed nine games between December 7-22 with a right knee contusion and more recently sat out Monday’s game at Cleveland with a swollen right knee. He had been dealing with planter fasciitis earlier in the season as well.

No timetable for his return has been given.

This is a significant blow to the Raptors, but represents a big opportunity for reserves Cory Joseph, Terrence Ross and James Johnson as the team only has limited proven depth outside of their top 10 players.

The 21-15 Raptors have 14 wins and 9 losses with Carroll in the lineup this season.

 

Powell & Wright webDo The Raptors Have Too Many D-League Prospects?

For all intents and purposes, GM Masai Ujiri gave head coach Dwane Casey a 10 man roster with which to work this season.

NBA Brooklyn Nets DeMarre Carroll

Raptors DeMarre Carroll Returns To Atlanta

By Frank McLean

You figure DeMarre Carroll had December 2nd circled on his calendar.

That’s the night the NBA schedule maker has the Toronto Raptors taking on the Hawks in Atlanta, where Carroll spent the last 2-seasons before signing a 4-year 60-million dollar free agent deal with the Raptors this past summer.

Talking at practice Tuesday before the Raptors headed to the airport for their flight to Atlanta for Wednesday night’s game with the Hawks, Carroll said he just wants to get a win and get back to Toronto.

DeMarre Carroll

“Atlanta gave me a great opportunity to be where I’m at now,” Carroll said. “They (the Hawks) gave me the opportunity to expand on my game and show everybody how I play. So, I think it’s a great feeling just going in there.”

“I’m a competitor, and it’s just another game for me,” Carroll added. “Once you get caught up in all that emotional stuff, I just want to go in there man, and play like it’s another road game. I’m sure it’s going to be a great atmosphere and I’m sure it’s going to be a great game”.

Last year the Hawks had as loaded a starting-five as anyone in the Eastern Conference with Carroll at small forward along with Al Horford, Paul Millsap, Kyle Korver and Jeff Teague.

But when you are in a league with a salary cap and luxury tax, there comes a time when you realize you can’t keep everybody, so Carroll became the odd man out in Atlanta.

Millsap was the player the Hawks made a big priority to keep and he has been one of the best players in the league during the first month of the season, so you can’t argue with their logic. Meanwhile Carroll was the main piece in GM Masai Ujiri’s rebuild of the Raptors this past off season.

Ujiri was waiting at Carroll’s door as the clock struck midnight on July 1st to make sure they got their man before any of the other 29-teams got to him first. Carroll and his family just got back from a holiday in Aruba when Ujiri and his friends were waiting for him. After a night’s sleep the Raptors were first up with their pitch and they got their man.

“When I say they blew me away, they came in and they was real,” Carroll said when he was introduced to the media in early July. “In the NBA, you can get so many teams and so many GM’s and coaches come in and tell you things that really don’t come true. But they came in, they was real with me, they told me what they thought of me, what they was thinking of me, and there wasn’t anything outrageous, like me being the next LeBron James or me being the next Kevin Durant. It was just me coming in being the junkyard dog, being a blue-collar guy and just coming in to help this team.”

And that’s what Carroll has brought to the Raptors. His blue collar work ethic was a major factor in him keeping LeBron James in check in their win over the Cavaliers last week. It’s the type of player the Raptors have been lacking for a long time and you know head coach Dwane Casey is glad to have him.

“I’m not in (the Hawks) locker room,” Casey said Tuesday, “I don’t know how they miss him, if they do miss him or whatever, they’re still a very talented team, top-to-bottom.”

“We’re glad we have DeMarre Carroll.”

So don’t believe Carroll when he says it’s just another game. Deep down you know he wants to show Atlanta they made a mistake in letting him go, that’s just human nature. It will be interesting to see what numbers he puts up on the stats sheet when these two teams face off Wednesday night.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

Carroll & Ujiri with ball closeup compressed

This Is Why The Raptors Got DeMarre Carroll

By Frank McLean

If there was ever a reason to wonder why when the clock struck midnight on July 1st Raptors president and general manager Masai Ujiri and his staff were waiting at DeMarre Carroll’s front door to offer him a contract to play in Toronto, on Wednesday night you saw why. Carroll’s strong defensive ethic kept LeBron James and his Cleveland Cavaliers in check in a 103-99 win.

Toronto Raptors DeMarre Carroll

The Cavaliers lost in Toronto for the first time in 6 years when they had James in the line-up. Carroll held James to 24 points, 6 rebounds and 8 assists on 6-16 shooting from the field . When you keep James under 30 points in a game, you usually have a chance to win.

One of the reasons the Raptors could not get out of the first round of the playoffs the last two years is that they never had a player who could make life difficult for their opponent’s star player. Carroll was nowhere near the team’s high scorer in the game. He had 12 points with 3 rebounds in 40 minutes of work. But being a pain in James butt all night stood out.

In his post- game comments you could tell Carroll loves to battle with the best players in the NBA as he described how he kept King James fighting for every point he could get.

“You try and find that gnat on a summer day when you are eating that barbecue,” Carroll said. “You know what I’m talking about? And it’s in your face and you can’t get it out. That’s all I was trying to be man. He’s a great player, you can’t stop him, you can only slow him down that’s what I tried to do”.

But it wasn’t just Carroll, he made sure to give credit to the rest of the team.

“We were talking, everybody was helping each other and that’s what you ask for in a team,” Carroll said. “The same thing you do on the offensive end, when you pass the ball to your teammates and set them up is the same thing you do on the defensive end. If we keep doing that I think the future is bright for us.”

This Raptors rebuild was for success in the playoffs. Watching Wednesday night’s game you could see what was missing when the team was dumped four straight by the Washington Wizards in the first round last season, a defensive player who can stop the other teams star from beating you. And let’s not forget what else the Raptors acquired in their summer rebuild and that was roster depth.

With starting center Jonas Valanciunas out with a broken hand for 6 weeks in comes Bismack Biyombo filling in with a 32 minute effort scoring 11 points and adding 12 rebounds. Raptors head coach Dwane Casey couldn’t say enough about Biyombo.

“He set the tone for us defensively,” Casey said. “Protecting the paint, talking, being physical, being a deterrent at the rim and that was big for us as far as protecting the paint”.

It was just one game, beating James at home, but Casey says the team won’t get caught in one game.

“We’re excited about the win no question,” Casey continued. “But we can’t go over the moon and lose our focus and lose sight of continuing to improve in a lot of areas”.

And that is the theme of the rest of the rest of the regular season, continuing to improve. Not to keep harping about it, but this team was built for a long playoff run. The regular season will be used to keep improving as team, especially defensively, get a good seeding and hopefully home court in the first round of the playoffs.

Wednesday night was the first example of what type of team Masai Ujiri was trying to put together in the summer. Sometime in mid-April we should see the finished product.

 

 

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 Toronto Raptors DeMarre Carroll

Toronto Raptors DeMarre Carroll Talks About His Injury

The Toronto Raptors haven’t looked like the same team since DeMarre Carroll started experiencing a foot problem. Even before he was forced to sit out by his coaches and his agent, the pain in his foot had ruined his jump shot and taken some of the energy out of his game. There is no way to avoid the hurt when it starts in the foot.

Friday night’s game against the Pelicans was his first game back after missing three in a row.

“I feel way better than I did before,” Carroll said prior to the game against New Orleans. “It’s just one of those things. Rest may help some guys, I think it helped me. It is just one of those things you just got to stay on top of. We’ll just take it one day at a time.

“I always want to be on the court. If it was up to me, I would have still been playing, but I think coaches and training staff, my agent they basically made the decision for me. They told me I need to think about the long term, but I’m the type of guy that doesn’t want to sit down with any type of injury.

“It was a very kind of unique pain, a sharp pain any time I tried to shoot a jumper – pain, when I jump – pain. So it was one of those kind of things. Sometimes I could see the ball like three feet away from me and I couldn’t run and get it because of the pain.

“I didn’t say nothing about it because I’m not going to say nothing about it. I think they kind of figured it out when I was in the locker room and every time I got dressed I was walking on my tip toes cause I didn’t want to put my foot down. Trainer was, enough is enough.”

To get better, Carroll had to stop using his foot completely.

“Keep my feet up and put a split on it, a split cast,” Carroll explained. “I didn’t travel to Philly. My wife, she did a good job doing everything for me. She took the dogs out. She raked the leaves. That’s a good wife. I think I owe her a good dinner.”

In hindsight, something was obviously wrong with Carroll during the Raptors recent road trip. A usually reliable jump shooter, Carroll shot just 8-33 over his last three games before being sidelined and his solid three-point shooting dipped to just 1-8. That foot must have been hurting a lot for his shot to fall off that much. Hopefully, that’s all behind him now.

 

 

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 DeMarre Carroll

Raptors DeMarre Carroll Credits Kyle Korver For His 3-Point Shot

Without Lou Williams and Greivis Vasquez, a lot has been made about the Toronto Raptors loss of three-point shooting heading into this season. However, any concerns may have been overblown. The free agent acquisition of DeMarre Carrol added a player who has been hoisting more than 4 three-point shots per game over the past two seasons and has been picking up pointers from none other than three-point specialist Kyle Korver.

DeMarre Carroll - cropped

“Three-point shooting has been my forte for the past two years,” Carroll told Pro Bball Report. “That’s something I really took upon myself to try and get better at and become one of the top three-point shooters. You know I had a teacher in Kyle Korver, so that’s not too bad of a teacher. So, I just have to continue to keep shooting the ball, keep doing my mechanics and let the rest take care of itself.”

Carroll didn’t come into the NBA as a long distance threat. Over his first four seasons he only attempted 95 three-point shots and he connected on a dismal 28.4 percent of them. However, things were about to change when he joined up with Korver and the Atlanta Hawks. To fill the role of a “3-and-D” specialist, Carroll needed a crash course in long range shooting and he got it.

That first month in Atlanta looked pretty rough from the three-point line. Carroll hoisted 3.4 three-point attempts per game and only connected on 30.6 percent of them, but he didn’t give up on it and learned the lessons necessary that have turned him into a reliable long range threat.

“I think the biggest thing is confidence and repetition,” Carroll said. “I go in the gym at night and get up a lot of shots. When I see it go through the net, I always think the next one is going through the net. My biggest thing is to just keep shooting. You might have some games go 1-5, but the next game you might have 5-5. So the biggest thing for me is the shots you don’t take you already missed in my mind. The biggest thing for me is to just keep shooting.”

Carroll shot 37.9 percent from deep after November 2013 and the next season he shot 39.5 percent from beyond the arc on over 300 attempts. He kept shooting and he hasn’t stopped.

Through his first five games in Toronto, Carroll has taken up right from where he left off in Atlanta hoisting 22 three-pointers and connecting on 8 of them. Toronto has moved Terrence Ross and his three-point shooting to the bench and the Raptors are averaging 20 long range bombs and connecting on 39 percent which puts them comfortably in the top half of the Association for three-point makes. Maybe the Raptors should send Korver a thank you card?

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Jonas Valanciunas and Bismack Biyombo

Toronto Raptors Are Built To Dominate On The Glass

The Toronto Raptors have jumped out to a quick 3-0 start and while there has been the typical early season sloppy play and rough edges, it has become apparent this team has been built to dominate on the glass. Last year head coach Dwane Casey was often frustrated by his team’s inability to finish off a strong defensive stand with the rebound, so president and general manager Masai Ujiri made the moves necessary to give his coach what he needed.

Dwane Casey why at 905

“Bismack (Biyombo) brings a lot. Jonas (Valanciunas) is doing a heck of a job on the boards. (Luis) Scola quietly is doing a heck of a job on the boards, he’s tough as nails in the paint and also DeMarre Carroll, he gets in there and bangs it up,” Casey explained. “We have added some good rebounders on our team.”

Good is something of an understatement, the Raptors have added superior rebounders at positions of need and they got a nice early season test of what to expect. Indiana, Boston and Milwaukee are supposed to be challenging for Toronto’s spot as a top four team in the Eastern Conference, but the Raptors handled them easily and dominated these early season challengers 49.7 to 37 on the glass.

Toronto has been undersized at starting small forward since the big Rudy Gay trade of two seasons ago and it was probably never completely fair to ask a very young and undersized Terrence Ross to try and keep the bevy of bigger and more experienced starting small forwards off the glass. The veteran presence of Carroll not only gives the Raptors a superior defender at his position, it gives them someone who can successfully fight for position to either box out his man or grab the rebound himself.

Through three games, Carroll is averaging 5.3 rebounds per game and grabbing 10 percent of the available defensive boards which is right around what should be expected. Last year Ross averaged 2.8 rebounds, but he is more effective than that now that he’s coming off the bench as a shooting guard.

In recent history Casey was forced to rely on Amir Johnson to play a lot of minutes at center and while Johnson was effective defensively, he was undersized and his rebounding rate of 13.3 percent last season was part of the reason Toronto all too often gave up second chance points. Ujiri addressed the need for a backup by signing Biyombo and the offensively challenged center hasn’t disappointed.

Biyombo is averaging 7 boards in 17 minutes off the bench as this energizer-bunny pulls in better than 20 percent of the available rebounds at both ends of the court. He still has issues finishing around the basket and his very high personal foul rate reminds one of a young Amir Johnson, but his physical aggressive play is effective and securing rebounds while Valanciunas gets a breather hasn’t been as big a concern.

It came as a surprise to some, but by starting Scola and Valanciunas together, this year’s version of the Raptors isn’t rebounding challenged any more. Valanciunas leads his team with 11 rebounds per game and Scola is second at 8. Both players are rebounding the heck out of the ball at the defensive end and not surprising to anyone that has followed Scola’s career, the big Argentine forward is pounding the offensive glass as well.

It’s early days, but Scola seems to be pushing the younger Valanciunas to be more active on the boards as anything Valanciunas doesn’t aggressively go after, Scola barrages in to take. This activity on the glass as a team was something that was missing last season, but it’s been there in spades so far this year.

Ujiri addressed an obvious team weakness this summer by bringing in players that could help Casey’s team finish off those defensive stands with the rebound and so far it’s been paying off. The Raptors have gone from 26th in rebounding last year to seventh currently and sport a league best +12.7 rebounding differential. It’s early and this team’s resolve on the boards will be tested during a couple of tough road trips in November, but if it’s real, rebounding effort is something that should travel well.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Carroll Joseph Scola

This Season’s Toronto Raptors Are Bigger, Better, Tougher

Without an All-Star free agent signing this summer, the Toronto Raptors have flown beneath the star-crossed vision of most NBA analysts heading into this season. However, president and general manager Masai Ujiri made his moves to once again to incrementally make his team bigger, better and tougher. No one is going to push around a Ujiri built team.

While the safe number to project the Raptors at in the Eastern Conference is fourth and a few truly star-blinded talking heads have them in sixth, this team has improved on the roster that won a franchise record 49 games last season. It is very reasonable to set this year’s expectations higher and if one is optimistic, much higher.

Put those “the Eastern Conference is better” comments in perspective. Those same words are spoken every year and the NBA just doesn’t do that. Old players got older, new players still have to learn the game and the cycle continues.

Last season the Raptors starting lineup consisted of Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, Terrence Ross, Amir Johnson and Jonas Valanciunas. This year, the Atlanta Hawks starting small forward DeMarre Carroll replaces Ross in the starting unit and the very durable Luis Scola replaces the often hurt Johnson.

The Raptors upgrade at starting small forward alone should be enough to raise expectations for this team. Carroll is the big physical small forward head coach Dwane Casey has been begging for these past two seasons. The junkyard dog, three-point shooter and defensive glue-guy of the Hawks represents a major upgrade.

TOR_Carroll,DeMarre

“I am going to come out and be the Junkyard Dog,” Carroll said.  “I actually told Demar that now you don’t have to fight with those big guys like LeBron James and Kevin Durant no more. You can just go out there and take this team to the promised land.”

Toronto gave Patrick Patterson every opportunity to become the stretch-four in their starting unit, but in the end it was the Amir Johnson-like play of Luis Scola that won over Casey. The good news is Scola has always been a far superior rebounder to Johnson and one of the Raptors biggest holes last season was an inability to secure the defensive boards. With both Valanciunas and Scola under the rim, those days of the starting unit getting killed on the glass should be over.

TOR_Scola,Luis

“I like what Scola brought, similar to what Amir brought last year,” Casey said. “He is a team defender. A smart defender. He is is where he is supposed to be. He knows the system. He knows the rotations. I don’t know if you would call him a defensive stopper or a defensive juggernaut, but it is not going to be easy. He is not going to make life easy for the offensive player.”

It doesn’t hurt that Scola may be the first player on the Raptors in a while who is truly comfortable in the post, knowing when to take advantage of smaller defenders and being a willing passer out of a double team or simply to a teammate who is in a better position to score.

“Luis has been playing the game forever,” Bismack Biyombo said. “He has the experience. He has a better knowledge of the game than I do and a lot of do in this room. Also, Luis passes the ball a lot more than shoots, so I love him for that.”

While Johnson was deservedly a fan favorite and did more for the team’s public relations off the court than anyone else – period, he was equally well known for his bad ankles. Johnson played large portions of every season through injuries that hobbled his abilities at both ends of the court. Scola, on the other hand, has been an NBA iron-man. It seems like he’s never hurt.

Ujiri’s moves this summer didn’t just benefit the starting unit. The reserves got a boost as well.

Cory Joseph has made his reputation as a gritty defensive-oriented point guard. While no one should complain about last year’s backup Greivis Vasquez’s effort or positive vibe, no one is lauding his defensive prowess either. Joseph simply fits the way Casey wants his team to play better.

It doesn’t hurt that Joseph comes from the NBA Champion Spurs program and started 33 games for the Spurs over the past two seasons or the fact he is a Canadian either.

TOR_Joseph,Cory

“On the Spurs nobody gets anything handed to you,” Joseph said. “It helped me a lot. I’ve had to work for everything that I’ve got.”

It seems everyone has been impressed with what Biyombo has been able to show with the Raptors thus far. It shouldn’t come as a surprise, Toronto didn’t really have a backup center last season and a true rim protector who can set screens and rebound effectively has been a missing ingredient for a while.

TOR_Biyombo,Bismack

“I think his offensive rebounding is elite, blocking shots he’s elite, defensive rebounding is going to get better and as a defensive player, he is really a solid defender,” Ujiri said. “We needed more physicality with our team, a screen-setter, a roller, somebody that will always challenge and put a body on guys and that’s what Biyombo does.”

Biyombo is the typical NBA big man who was drafted too young and only just started figuring things out towards the end of his rookie contract. Ujiri knew what Biyombo could do, however, and the Bobcats free agent was his very first call once the July Moratorium ended – even before he called Carroll.

Biyombo is still young, but he does things the Raptors couldn’t do last year and is someone they desperately needed to have on their bench.

One other move that should pay off for Ujiri was the move he didn’t make. Ross wasn’t shipped out of town after a sub par third season, rather, Ross was moved to the bench where he can continue firing up his effective three-point shot and hopefully develop some of the other aspects of his game against other teams’ second unit guys. With Joseph and Biyombo coming off the bench as defensive players, Casey will need the offensive firepower of Ross and Patterson and they should have big years. At the very least, that expiring contract should light a fire under Ross.

From the moment he arrived in Toronto Ujiri wanted to change the culture and the image of the Toronto Raptors. His team wouldn’t be known as soft and it’s a reputation he has been steadily chipping away at. This year’s additions of Carroll, Scola, Joseph and Biyombo are yet another step in that plan to become bigger, better and tougher. The Air Canada Centre has stopped being a place other teams expect to get an easy win or find a soft opponent and expectations are on the rise.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

Carroll & Joseph 2

Toronto Raptors Can Look Down Blue Jays Way For Inspiration This Year

by Frank McLean

Right now in Toronto all the excitement is for baseball’s Toronto Blue Jays who went from a 50-51 record in July to break out and win the American League’s East Division crown. Something they haven’t done since 1993.

Looking down Blue Jays Way and across York Street to the Air Canada Centre the Toronto Raptors are hoping lightning strikes twice and they can provide the same excitement to the city the baseball team has.

The reason for the Blue Jays turnaround was a makeover in the off season by their general manager Alex Anthopoulos, who signed free agent catcher Russell Martin for his defense and the face of a proven post season winner. Picking up Erik Estrada and during the season, David Price, Ben Revere and Troy Tulowitzki didn’t hurt either.

The Raptors did a remake of their own over the summer. Getting swept four games straight in the first round of the playoffs will do that. Raptors president and general manager Masai Ujiri started with the free agent signing of DeMarre Carroll. He is their Russell Martin, a winner who can play solid defense and provide clutch rebounds. He also brought in free agent Cory Joseph from the San Antonio Spurs, a graduate of the Greg Popovich school of winning NBA Championships. Proven winners both of them.

Throw in draft picks Delon Wright and Norman Powell plus the pickup of free agents Bismack Biyombo and Luis Scola and Ujiri has changed the whole dynamic of this team.

For the Blue Jays, the change you could see even on television was that not only were they winning in the second half off the season, but they were having fun with it. Everybody was supportive. The new players were able to fit in.

With the Raptors in the beginning of their training camp in Burnaby, BC this week you can see that Carroll is fitting in. He was the main cog in the remake, replacing fan favourite and class act Amir Johnson.

Earlier this week Carroll told the media at training camp, “This is a very easy team to join. We’ve got a lot of young guys. It’s kind of like a college team. A lot of these guys joke a lot. They’re cool. We sit around and talk.”

That camaraderie is one of the big reasons the Jays have turned the corner.

Watch how the young pitchers sit in the dugout and talk to Price and Mark Buehrle during a game asking questions about how you play the game. Always talking baseball, that’s how young players develop in any sport and that dynamic is starting to show at Raptors training camp.

Carroll doesn’t just talk about the game to those who want to listen, he also leads by example.

“I don’t go out there and say, you do this you do this”, Carroll said. “I just show them more than telling them. I think that’s the big thing I got to do.

“Once I do get more familiar with them maybe I can be like, you do this.”

If Carroll can help speed up the development of the Raptors younger players by showing them how to be professionals on and off the court, that will be a bigger plus in getting this new look team to jell and maybe even ‘BE A CONTENDER’.

But let’s not forget about Cory Joseph. He has only been in the league for just four seasons, but he has something very few players with that much time in the NBA has – AN NBA CHAMPIONSHIP RING.

When you play for Greg Popovich and the Spurs, you learn the right away and there is right way and a wrong way to play the game. In San Antonio, if you don’t play the game the right way, you don’t play.

Also there is a Spurs way to act off the court as well. When was the last time you saw a member of the Spurs in trouble with off the court actions. You don’t and Joseph is bringing that culture with him to Toronto. Just like Carroll, he is another leader by example.

It’s going to be a long process and the Raptors will start that long road on Sunday with their first preseason game in Vancouver at GM Place against the Los Angeles Clippers. Management and fans can only hope that these changes bring a long post season run and the Raptors can capture that same excitement the Jays have brought to Toronto and all of Canada alike.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

Carroll and Scola

How The Toronto Raptors Became A Free Agent Destination

This summer the Raptors talked a coveted free agent from the best regular season team in the Eastern Conference into cancelling the rest of his scheduled meetings and committing to Toronto on the first day after the July Moratorium. Now that’s something you won’t remember hearing before. So how did Toronto suddenly become a free agent destination?

In an interesting Grantland article, Good Charlotte? The Hornets and the Sliding Scale of NBA Mediocrity, Zach Lowe nails the biggest fear of NBA franchises and their fans. Charlotte is too good to tank, but not good enough to escape mediocrity and every summer they risk losing their hard won talent to other teams that provide better opportunities.

Batum’s people have already made noise about how much Batum would like to play in Toronto

Lowe goes on about how Toronto appeals to international players, it does and it should. Central Canada has always had that feel of being somewhere in-between the typical US city and a more cosmopolitan and safer European locale. Lots of American born players like to visit Toronto in the summers, it’s a fun place to go as a tourist, but in the end, just about every NBA player wants to be on a franchise that can win a chip, if not now, at least the ultimate goal should seem possible.

A chance at a Championship was the not so subtle explanation 35-year-old NBA veteran and top international player Luis Scola gave as to why he’s in Toronto now. A chance to play on a good team that he could envision getting to the Championship before he’s done playing.

“To me it was also important that I could be on a team that is strong, a good place (standings) team with chances to grow and hopefully chase a ring at some point down the line, but also be a part, be important on the team and I felt that this was the situation (here),” Scola explained upon his arrival in Toronto.

In order to get a very good veteran player with options to pick your franchise, teams are either going to have to open the vault or be seen as a winner and just opening the vault doesn’t always work. The Raptors are back-to-back Atlantic Division champions that surpassed their old franchise record for wins last season – don’t for a minute believe those facts have gone unnoticed by players around the NBA.

President and General Manager Masai Ujiri’s big signing was, of course, the 60-win Atlanta Hawks starting small forward DeMarre Carroll. It happened fast and Carroll, with the Pistons waiting in the hotel lobby, immediately cancelled the competition. The opportunity to play beside a couple of All-Stars on a winning program was just too much to pass up.

“We got a deal done,” Carroll explained. “But Detroit was in the hotel waiting to have their meeting. I felt kind of bad to call those teams and tell them I wasn’t going to visit.

“I drooled at the mouth just to play alongside guys like Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. Those two All-Star guys, they bring a lot. It was really just deciding to be able to come to a winning program and to help this team as much as I can.”

Players like Lowry and DeRozan have raised the profile of the Raptors with what they have accomplished on the court and they’ve boosted Toronto’s chances of landing free agents by letting everyone know they like it there. A year after-the-fact, it’s easy to forget Lowry was very recently being courted as a free agent, but he opted to stay amid rumors of better financial opportunities elsewhere. A winning team and a comfortable environment go a long ways when negotiating a contract.

“From food to different activities for me and my family,” Carroll said. “So, I feel like this was the best opportunity for me and my family. I know my wife in Atlanta, she didn’t get out a lot, but I think just walking around the city here, she loves it. She likes everything there is to do here. Happy wife, happy life.”

Toronto also lost some free agents this summer, but it wasn’t like what has happened in prior years. This time, the Raptors let them walk, and it came as a surprise. The NBA Sixth Man award winner Lou Williams has admitted surprise on several occasions that the Raptors didn’t even try to get a deal done with him. He gave every indication of liking it in Toronto and wanting to return. Amir Johnson got big money to sign with the Celtics, but there were no indications Toronto even tried to get him back and the very popular Johnson was open in his desire to return.

“I would love to come back,” Johnson told Pro Bball Report at the end of the season. “My daughter was born and raised here so I would love to stay just because my family is here.”

In the end there is nothing subtle about why Toronto’s fortunes in attracting NBA free agents have improved. The team is winning and winning attracts winners. Then all those nice amenities the city provides can help close the deal.

 

 

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

 

 

Amir Johnson closeupAmir Johnson Wants To Re-Sign With The Toronto Raptors

In his sixth season in Toronto, Amir Johnson is about to become an unrestricted free agent for the second time in his NBA career and he has strong personal reasons for wanting to re-sign with the Raptors. Toronto has become home for his family and family is everything to him.

 

 

Carroll Joseph Scola

Toronto Raptors Set To Aggressively Rebound This Season

Last season the Toronto Raptors could score the ball. Their 104 points per game was fourth best in the Association. Their defense was better than it appeared as well, but all too often this team failed to secure the rebound. At 14.2 second chance points allowed, the Raptors were tied for third worst in the NBA. President and General Manager Masai Ujiri had seen enough and retooled his roster to aggressively rebound this upcoming season.

For a division winner, Toronto’s rebounding was pathetic and ranked 26th out of 30 teams and their failure to grab boards came mostly at the defensive end – Ouch! It should be a lot easier to secure a loose ball or rebound after the other team shoots and Toronto did claim 73.3 percent of the defensive boards, but in the NBA, that mark was only good for 25th place and that truly stinks.

Surprisingly, the Raptors rebounding woes didn’t emanate from the starting unit. Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, Terrence Ross, Amir Johnson and Jonas Valanciunas pulled in 52.1 percent of the available boards when they played together. Individually these players rebounding rates (shown in parenthesis) totaled up to 54 percent with the guards Lowry (7.8) and DeRozan (7.6) doing a good job, center Valanciunas (19.1) among the league’s best, Johnson (13.3) well below average and Ross (6.2) doing little on the glass out of position at small forward pulling up the rear. The lineup was a bit of mishmash, but it worked from a rebounding perspective. Sliding in James Johnson (10.8) into this unit in place of Ross happened fairly often, but only bumped their rebounding rate from 52.1 to 52.9 percent. (stats source NBA.com and basketball-reference.com)

The preferred starting unit also had a positive points-differential while they were on the floor together of +2.6 and that sounds pretty good until one remembers the Raptors as a team were +3.1 points better than their opponents on average last year.

The dilemma faced by Head Coach Dwane Casey was his second unit didn’t rebound as well, but they dominated other teams’ second units in the extreme. Greivis Vasquez, Lou Williams, James Johnson, Patrick Patterson and Tyler Hansbrough had a points-differential of +17.7, so even though they only collected 49.2 percent of the available rebounds, it hardly mattered. This group hustled and outperformed what might be expected individually as Vasquez (6.3) and Williams (4.3) are not good rebounding guards, Patterson (11.6) is a poor rebounding power forward and Hansbrough (14.4) was playing out of position at center.

When Ross replaced James Johnson in the second unit (again a common occurrence), the second unit with three poor rebounding guards in it saw their rebounding rate plummet to 46.5 percent, but they still maintained a +16.4 points differential. During the regular season, it was the Raptors reserves that often picked up the starters and carried this team to a win.

Unfortunately, as Toronto found out as they were being swept out of the playoffs, after the regular season ends your opponent’s second unit either doesn’t get to play much or they are pretty good and the Raptors got exposed. Toronto’s best five-man unit was Lowry, DeRozan, Ross, Hansbrough and Valanciunas. They grabbed 0.88 rebounds per minute and had a points-differential of +5.5. Maybe Casey should have stuck with this lineup longer. His successful regular season second unit was both outscored (-5 points-differential) and hammered on the glass (0.4 rebounds per minute).

The four free agents Ujiri brought in to replace Vasquez, Williams, Amir Johnson and Hansbrough are all superior rebounders and while it should be obvious the improvements don’t add up in a straight line, the Raptors are going to rebound the heck out of the ball now.

In the starting unit:

SF (+3.5): DeMarre Carroll (9.7) replacing Ross (6.2)

PF (+4.2): Luis Scola (17.5) replacing Amir Johnson (13.3)

A starting unit that could already rebound well gets stronger, plus it should be better both offensively and defensively.

In the second unit:

PG (+1.2): Cory Joseph (7.5) replacing Vasquez (6.3)

SG (+1.9): Ross (6.2) replacing Williams (4.3)

C (+3.6): Bismack Biyombo (18) replacing Hansbrough (14.4)

If the second unit gels as well as last season’s group, their scoring punch may still drop, but their defense and rebounding will improve and if Ross can keep firing three-balls at the same rate as last year, the Raptors might not enough miss Williams’ scoring quite as much as one might think. At the very least, the three new guys expected to come off the bench should be able to grab more boards than their predecessors.

There have been concerned voices raised about Scola replacing Amir Johnson in the Raptors starting lineup. Unfortunately, Scola has played most of his NBA career in the Western Conference, but the Argentine big man has been a Team Canada killer over the years, so one might think he’d be a little better known in Toronto. Scola is a pro’s pro and a lot better scorer and rebounder than Johnson. The numbers prove what the eyes have seen.

The arrival of Carroll on the other hand leaves no one in any doubt that the Raptors starting unit just got a major boost on the boards, on defense and in scoring. This is a proven young veteran with All-Star type impact replacing a developing kid who is still figuring things out.

Taken as a whole, Ujiri’s changes to the Raptors rotation have made his team tougher and they should be expected to aggressively rebound 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.

 

 

 

Carroll & JosephThe Rise Of The Toronto Raptors

In many ways comparing Carroll to Williams is the entire thrust of Ujiri’s summer moves. Ujiri wanted a tougher team, better rebounding and defense, a team that was more in tune with the strengths of his head coach.

 

 

 

Carroll & Joseph

The Rise Of The Toronto Raptors

A couple of years ago the Toronto Raptors were mired in a five year slog through the NBA Lottery. They were soft and easy pickings for the rest of the league. Virtually the very first thing incoming President and General Manager Masai Ujiri wanted to do was change that perception.

Changes came two summers ago and perhaps the biggest signal Ujiri didn’t want his team pushed around anymore was the signing of free agent Tyler Hansbrough. While “Psycho T” wasn’t a franchise changing talent, he was the type of player Head Coach Dwane Casey wanted and needed to start developing a new tougher persona on the court.

Ujiri will admit to an element of luck over the past two franchise record setting seasons. It seems like every move he’s made has taken the Raptors one step closer to being the type of team he wanted to build on his arrival. This summer’s blue collar moves should be considered a major leap forward in the rise of the Raptors.

In the simplest of terms, Ujiri has exchanged the outbound Lou Williams, Greivis Vasquez, Amir Johnson and probably the still unsigned free agent Tyler Hansbrough for the inbound Cory Joseph, DeMarre Carroll, Luis Scola and Bismack Biyombo.

On a simple combined basis,

The four outbound players averaged 9.5 points, 3.6 rebounds, 1.9 assists and 22.6 minutes

The four inbound players averaged 8.4 points, 5.2 rebounds, 1.4 assists and 22.4 minutes.

Neither Williams nor Vasquez are known for their defense and they both saw a lot of minutes on the court. Johnson and Hansbrough are two-way players, but Johnson was often hampered by ankle problems and Hansbrough is limited offensively. Neither forward provided much rim protection and both were forced to play out of position at center far too often.

All of the inbound players are known for their toughness and defense. Joseph already has a reputation as one of the better defensive guards in the league. Carroll anchored the perimeter defense for the 60-win Hawks. Scola remains a solid two-way player and Biyombo averaged more blocks than all four of the outbound former Raptors combined and he did it in less than 20 minutes per game.

Head-to-Head

Backup point guard: Joseph vs Vasquez

Vasquez averaged 9.5 points, 2.6 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 24.3 minutes. He shot 40.8 percent from the field and 37.9 percent from three.

Joseph averaged 6.8 points, 2.4 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 18.3 minutes. He shot 50.4 percent from the field and 36.4 percent from three.

Adjusting for minutes played, Vasquez still scored slightly more points, but his field goal percentage was so dramatically lower than Joseph’s that it wasn’t worth it. Not only is Joseph a significantly better defender, he has also been a lot more efficient offensively.

Expect Joseph to see a major increase in minutes played this coming season, his scoring is about to take a significant leap.

Forward: Scola vs Johnson

Johnson averaged 9.3 points, 6.1 rebounds, 1.6 assists and 26.4 minutes. He shot 57.4 percent from the field. He could hit the long ball, but didn’t take enough of them to matter.

Scola averaged 9.4 points, 6.5 rebounds, 1.3 assists and 20.3 minutes. He shot 46.7 percent from the field. He didn’t take or make many three-pointers.

While Johnson and Scola have surprisingly similar numbers, Scola did it in 23 percent less time. Even at 35-years-old, the crafty veteran remains strikingly more effective scoring and efficient on the glass. Taking down 25.6 percent of the available defensive rebounds last season, Scola was close to top-10 rebounder Kevin Love’s 26.3 percent. Johnson only grabbed 17.3 of the available defensive boards and rebounding was a big problem for Toronto last year.

The Raptors will miss Johnson’s offensive efficiency and overall team presence, but he just didn’t score enough points often enough to take advantage of his offense. Scola should provide a similar kind of veteran stability to the team and his durability should prevent his presence from disappearing like Johnson’s did a little too often. Johnson has only played in all 82 games once in his career. Scola has only failed to play in every game twice.

Center: Biyombo vs Hansbrough

Hansbrough averaged 3.6 points, 3.6 rebounds, 0.2 blocks and 14.3 minutes. He shot 52.1 percent from the field.

Biyombo averaged 4.8 points, 6.4 rebounds, 1.5 blocks and 19.4 minutes. He shot 54.3 percent from the field.

Often playing out of position at center, Hansbrough was the Raptors second best offensive rebounder (11.6 percent) and defensive rebounder (tied at 17.3 percent) after Jonas Valanciunas. However, he was never a rim protector and earned his minutes as a physical energy guy.

Unfortunately for Hansbrough, Biyombo is an energy guy as well and has been the better rebounder (13.7 percent offensive, 22.6 percent defensive boards). Both players are expected to do dirty work for the second unit, but the 7’6 wingspan of Biyombo just gives him a natural advantage that Hansbrough’s effort can’t make up for. Biyombo can legitimately play both the center and power forward spots, rebound and block shots.

Wing: Carroll vs Williams

Williams averaged 15.5 points, 1.9 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 25.2 minutes. He shot 40.4 percent from the field and 34 percent from three. Williams attempted 5.6 three-pointers per game.

Carroll averaged 12.6 points, 5.3 rebounds, 1.7 assists and 31.3 minutes. He shot 48.7 percent from the field and 39.5 percent from three. He attempted 4.3 three-pointer per game.

So it’s not entirely a fair comparison, but while Carroll is taking Terrence Ross’ spot in the rotation, Ross will be sliding back to assume Williams’ place – assuming Ross can hold off both Joseph and rookie Delon Wright for minutes.

In many ways comparing Carroll to Williams is the entire thrust of Ujiri’s summer moves. Ujiri wanted a tougher team, better rebounding and defense, a team that was more in tune with the strengths of his head coach.

This revamped roster will play tough defense. They won’t get beaten up on the boards like last year’s squad and they still have enough three-point firepower with the additions of Joseph and Carroll to stretch the floor again this season.

As much as Williams and Vasquez could win the Raptors games with scoring, this summer’s additions only give back a little of that offensive potential for a whole lot more at the other end. The Toronto Raptors have taken another big step forward under Ujiri’s direction.

 

 

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.

 

 

Carroll & Ujiri with ball closeupDeMarre Carroll Is The Start Of A Raptors Blue Collar Era
“We need to get better,” Ujiri said. “Obviously we were going to address some of the things that we don’t do so well and rebounding was one of them, so hopefully we can get better at that with guys that are tough-nosed and have a nose for the ball.”

 

 

 

Carroll & Ujiri with ball closeup

DeMarre Carroll Is The Start Of A Raptors Blue Collar Era

The Toronto Raptors reversed direction this summer, going back to what worked two seasons ago when they were a top-10 defensive team. In many ways President and General Manager Masai Ujiri is following his own advice and building a team around the strengths of Head Coach Dwane Casey. Casey is a blue collar coach and targeting DeMarre Carroll with the first visit in free agency signaled the Raptors were serious about starting a blue collar era.

“I want to use this opportunity to thank Greivis Vasquez, Lou Williams and Amir Johnson, they were phenomenal for us,” Ujiri said. “We just decided to take another route and it was really hard letting those guys go because they really contributed to the success of this team the last couple of years.

“But, we want to add players that are going to fit different roles and what we feel that we haven’t done so well and hopefully these (new) guys do.”

Two seasons ago, Toronto outrebounded their opponents by 1.5 boards a game while holding them to just 98 points on route to 48 wins. This past year’s 49-win Raptors were fourth in scoring at 104 points per game, but their points differential actually shrunk from the year before and they were getting outrebounded by a board per game. Toronto was getting hammered on the glass by the better teams. The difference between the two versions of the Raptors showed up in the postseason where Toronto was swept in four games this past April.

“We need to get better,” Ujiri said. “Obviously we were going to address some of the things that we don’t do so well and rebounding was one of them, so hopefully we can get better at that with guys that are tough-nosed and have a nose for the ball.”

At the draft the Raptors added mature two-way defensive minded guards in Delon Wright and Norman Powell. In a very blue collar free agency, Ujiri set his sights on and acquired Carroll, Bismack Biyombo, Cory Joseph and Luis Scola. There is not a weak link on the glass or at the defensive end in the group.

“Masai did a good job trying to bring in that toughness adding myself, Cory Joseph, Luis Scola,” Carroll said. “He’s done a good job of creating some perimeter defense.

“I am going to come out and be the Junkyard Dog and do the little things that are going to help this team get over the hump. I am a blue collar guy trying to help my team win by any means necessary.

“Finally the blue collar guys are getting a little recognition.”

The 27-year-old Carroll found his game over the past two seasons in Atlanta becoming a key cog in the Hawks first ever 60-win season as a proficient ‘3-and-D’ forward. Carroll did all the dirty work, guarding the opponent’s best wing or forward and helping to create opportunities for Kyle Korver and his team’s scorers at the other end.

“The most I can help this team is on the defensive end and really play offense secondary,” Carroll explained. “At the same time, I really do want to be one of the best two-way players in the league.

“I actually told Demar that now you don’t have to fight with those big guys like LeBron James and Kevin Durant no more. You can just go out there and take this team to the promised land.”

Carroll came by his ‘Junkyard Dog’ status the hard way. He has faced many disheartening obstacles in his life and persevered through hard work and determination.

“I’ve been through a lot of obstacles in my life,” Carroll said. “From being shot in college, to having my liver condition, for an organization to take me under their wing and bring me here and look at me as a true part of this team, it means a lot.

“I always believed hard work is a talent. When I was in elementary school and middle school, I wasn’t the brightest kid in the class, but I did all the extra credit, I did all my homework and I reached the same goal as maybe the smartest person in the class and that’s how I feel on the basketball court.

“I don’t take nothing for granted. Every time I step on the court, I play my hardest because this game is never promised to you.”

In Ujiri’s first summer in Toronto he promised the Raptors would no longer be viewed as one of the NBAs softest teams or a weak opponent that visitors to the Air Canada Centre could look at with an easy road win in mind. This summer he kept that promise. Every opponent will expect to be in for a fight when they visit the blue collar Toronto Raptors in 2015-16.

 

 

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

 

 

 

Amir Johnson and DeMarre Carroll

The Remake Of The Toronto Raptors Has Begun

By Frank McLean

July 1st, 2015 will be remembered as the day the remake of the Toronto Raptors began. It was a day of addition and subtraction. The addition is forward DeMarre Carroll from the Atlanta Hawks.

Carroll is a surprise addition in that the word on the street was that the Raptors were setting their sights on LaMarcus Aldridge of the Portland Trailblazers. But Carroll was someone who definitely fits the criteria of this Raptors rebuild to improve defense.

Thought of as one of the NBA’s best defenders on the perimeter, Carroll is also dangerous from 3-point territory hitting on 39.5 % of his shots behind the arch. He gives the team toughness at the small forward position.

The Carroll signing fits the improve defense theme of draft night too as the clubs first round pick of a both-ends-of-the-court point guard Delon Wright of Utah and second round pick of Norman Powell of UCLA fit the bill.

Carroll was arguably the Atlanta Hawks best performer in this past spring’s playoffs. He had 7-games of 20-or-more points and 5 games of 8-or-more rebounds. Unfortunately he injured his knee in the first game of the Eastern Conference Final versus the Cleveland Cavaliers, which affected his shooting ability and pretty well contributed the Hawks demise.

If the Raptors had him this year, you know they would not have bowed out 4-straight to the Washington Wizards.

Carroll does not come cheap. USA Today confirmed with one of their league sources that the deal is worth 4-year 60-million dollars and that would make the Carroll contract the most expensive free agent contract in Raptors history. (NBA rules state that any free agent signings cannot be made official until midnight on July 9th.)

The subtraction is that of forward Amir Johnson.

Reports Monday afternoon had Johnson inking a 2-year deal for 24-million dollars with the Boston Celtics. That’s not bad for a player who has been playing hurt with bad ankles the last couple of seasons and struggles to stay healthy enough to play 60-games a season.

In his 6-seasons in Toronto he became one of the city’s all time fan favorites in any of the major pro sports teams. A friend of mine who just moved to Toronto this past year and is a big basketball fan asked me what the big deal is with Johnson and why do the fans love him. I told my friend that Toronto fans love the underdog over the superstars, the guy with limited abilities and a big heart.

When it came to hockey’s Toronto Maple Leafs no one was bigger than Tie Domi when it came to being a fan favorite. His limited hockey skills were made up with his David versus Goliath attitude and when the few times he actually put the puck in the net you would have thought the Leafs won the Stanley Cup.

Raptors fans knew how much pain Johnson played in with the bad ankles. When he made a big rebound and slam dunk they knew that it didn’t come easy and the roar of the crowd was always a little louder than others. That’s why they loved him.

Johnson was a guy who never turned down an autograph request from a fan. For us in the media he always had time for us even if we had a dumb question.

He loved the fact the Toronto was one of the safer places you could live in compared to most big cities in the United States. With a young family that was most important. He actually told us media hounds one night in a postgame scrum that his all-time favorite store to shop in was Canadian Tire.

“There’s nothing like that in the States” Johnson said.

He became one of us, because when you talk to Raptors fans they are still bitter the way Damon Stoudamire, Vince Carter and Tracy McGrady couldn’t leave Toronto fast enough thinking the grass was greener playing with a US based team. That’s why they loved him.

It was tough decision for GM Masai Ujiri to let him go. Not only did the fans love Johnson, but there was not one employee of the Toronto Raptors that has a bad word to say about him.

But Ujiri could not let his heart stand in the way of making this basketball team better. He hinted that days before the draft when he brought up being swept in the first round of the playoffs meant changes were coming. This is why GMs are paid big bucks to make the tough decisions. He needed younger healthier players, cue DeMarre Carroll.

Ujiri is familiar with Carroll and knows what he’s getting. When Ujiri was running the Denver Nuggets he once brought him in as a training camp invitee. Although he had waive him later during the season, GMs have long memories and his body of work in Atlanta makes him a fit for this Raptors team.

Meanwhile in Boston, Celtics GM Danny Ainge and Coach Brad Stevens get a veteran player in Johnson who will be an extra coach to guide a very young club to next level. He will be a mentor to a young team about the ways of life in the NBA, the same way Kevin Garnett was at one time for Doc Rivers when he was the coach. Just don’t expect him to be a bully like Garnett, there will always be a hug with every tough love lecture from Johnson.

He won’t have to start games. All the Celtics should want from him is to come off the bench and give the starters a break. That will help with the wear and tear on a bum ankle.

So the remake has begun in Raptorsland. The team right now has just-under 8 million dollars left in cap space. If they can make a minor trade they just might be able to get it to around 10-million.

The Raptors are a better team now than they were the night the Washington Wizards ended their season. There is still more to be done in this rebuild and it will be fun to watch.

 

 

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.

 

 

Amir Johnson closeupAmir Johnson Wants To Re-Sign With The Toronto Raptors

“I would love to come back,” Johnson said. “My daughter was born and raised here so I would love to stay just because my family is here, but we’ll see what happens at the end of the season. Family is always the key to everybody’s moves. You do what is best for your family. Family is everything.”

 

DeMarre Carroll - cropped

Raptors Land Hawks Free Agent DeMarre Carroll

Apparently Raptors President and General Manager, Basketball Operations Masai Ujiri wasn’t including Terrence Ross when he kept saying he wanted to keep giving his guys a chance to show what they could do as on the first day of free agency he committed the bulk of his available salary cap space to land the Hawks unrestricted free agent small forward DeMarre Carroll with a four-year $60 million offer.

 


 

Carroll is a huge get for the Raptors Ujiri. Called a “Junkyard Dog” in college, Carroll is a Coach Casey style player, someone known for playing hard on every possession. At 6’8, Carroll has the size to play against the bigger small forwards in the NBA, something the Raptors have been lacking in their last two playoff appearances and with a 39.5 three-point field goal percentage, he can stretch the floor. Actually Carroll has proven to be a lot more than just a “3-and-D” guy as he has shown he can fill it up from the mid-range and in close just as well.

“The first thing about DeMarre that we all see, before he was here and now that he’s here, is just that he’s a great competitor,” said coach Mike Budenholzer (via Draft Express). “He’s one of the ultimate competitors in our league. He plays so hard on every possession. That’s probably more important than anything, as basic and fundamental as it may seem.”

In Atlanta, Carroll hasn’t been a huge stats guy, averaging just 12.6 points, 5.3 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 1.3 steals and 31.3 minutes last season. However, he is just the kind of “glue-guy” or team player that should fit into the type of team Ujiri has been trying to build. In some ways, Ujiri is acknowledging the Raptors can’t compete for the big name free agents – at least not yet – and must continue to build along the same lines that created the Atlanta Hawks recent success.

With the move, the Raptors go from suspect depth on the wing to extremely solid if not elite with DeMar DeRozan and Carroll starting and Ross and James Johnson backing them up. However, Ujiri still has a fairly big hole a power forward unless the team intends to play small ball all season.

The advantage of acquiring Carroll is Ujiri can afford to sacrifice some offense at power forward in favor of rebounding, shot blocking and screen setting and that opens up a lot of alternatives in free agency and potential trades.

 


 

 

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.