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NBA Sacramento Kings DeMarcus Cousins

Raptors Depth Wore Down The Kings In Toronto

In a game the Sacramento Kings only led for 15 seconds, the Toronto Raptors raced out to a 29-19 first quarter lead and never looked back, their depth and their defense wearing down their former teammates and rivals.  Head Coach Dwane Casey used every available player on his roster at some point during this game and only two of his players were on the court for over 30 minutes in the 99-87 victory at the Air Canada Centre.

“Yes it did,” said Casey about his depth wearing down the Kings.  “I thought Chuck Hayes came in and gave us a boost.  Like I always say, he has that old man’s strength in the post and does an excellent job.  I thought Patrick Patterson gave us a lift and then Terrence (Ross) came in and did what he usually does – knock down shots. John Salmons (had a) calming effect handling the ball, making shots out of our pick-and-roll.”

The Raptors had 5 players score in double-digits and Amir Johnson got stuck on 9 points and 9 rebounds after picking up 4 personal fouls.  Ross led Toronto with 18 points on 6 made three-pointers.

The Kings let Toronto blow this game open with 8 turnovers in the third quarter as the Raptors outscored them 29-19 for the second time in the game.  Garbage time arrived early and the fourth quarter began to resemble a practice session for Valanciunas to test out the post moves he had been working on before the game with Jamaal Magloire.

“I thought we were awful tonight,” said Head Coach Michael Malone.  “The first and third quarter, I thought our starting group was not ready to play.  They outscored us 58-38 in those two quarters and thank goodness for the guys on the bench who came back in, in that second quarter and got us back in the game a little bit.  Defending in the second quarter was the only quarter that we defended in, held them to 30 percent.  Then we come out in the third quarter and that same starting group turned the ball over 8 times for 9 points, allowed them to shoot over 50 percent from the field and puts the game out of reach.  Guys on the bench came in, in the fourth quarter and just played hard, competed and cut it to 10 points late, but that obviously is not indicative of the kind of game that it was.  The game was not that close.”

The Kings were led by DeMarcus Cousins with 24 points, but the big man didn’t have much positive to say about the evening’s performance.

“We had plenty of chances tonight to fight back into the game and actually make it a game,” Cousins said.  “I don’t think we played together and it showed and really hurt us.  It hurt us on the offensive end and the defensive end, all that being said, that helped Toronto get a win tonight.”

Rudy Gay, who struggled offensively shooting 5-13 for 15 points in his first trip back to Toronto since being traded, confirmed Cousins’ analysis.

“We weren’t making plays for each other and it showed on the stat sheet,” Gay said.  “Proof is in the pudding.”

Former Raptors forward Quincy Acy was greeted with a loud scream of, “Quincy we love you” from the somewhere in the back of the lower bowl, but he didn’t get a shot and missed both of his free throws in just under 10 minutes of action.  Aaron Gray was the only Kings player with a DNP-CD after his name.

Former Raptor Reggie Evans made his first trip to Toronto after being traded by the Nets to Sacramento and scored 8 points on 3-4 shooting while collecting 10 boards.  He did go 2-10 from the free throw line, but in Reggie’s case, it would be hard to blame that on anything except he’s a poor free throw shooter.

With the victory, the Raptors match last season’s win total and move to 34-26 on the season, a full game up on the Bulls for third place in the Eastern Conference and 4 games ahead of the Nets for the Atlantic Division lead.  Both Chicago and Brooklyn lost on Friday.

The Raptors looked like the 4 days off between games did them a world of good and they’ll need their energy with a back-to-back on the road against the Timberwolves and Nets starting on Sunday.

The Kings head to Brooklyn to warm up the Nets on Sunday for the big Atlantic Division battle the next night.

Check out our Raptors Game Info page.

 

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.

 

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Can A Modified Lottery System Solve The NBA Tanking Problem?
The current system is basically fair.  It just over motivates undesirable behavior.  A simple solution would be to reduce to incentive to get worse by making small changes in a team’s position in the standings mean less.  The current lottery odds create the opposite effect.

Acy and Gay

Kings At Raptors: Some Good Guys Return Gay, Acy, Gray

It was a franchise changing trade when the Toronto Raptors sent Rudy Gay, Quincy Acy and Aaron Gray to the Sacramento Kings for Greivis Vasquez, John Salmons, Patrick Patterson and Chuck Hayes.  The Raptors went from lottery level to the third floor before anyone could fully grasp what was going on, but the players who left were all good guys during their stay in Toronto and they deserve the fans respect for their efforts on their return.

Toronto was off to a rough start, 6-12 and losing games they should have won, but all that was about to change.  The affected players didn’t play against the Lakers in December as the trade was being finalized with the league office and the short-handed Raptors unexpectedly won.  It was a precursor for what was about to happen, Toronto went 1-1 waiting for their new teammates to arrive and 9-2 immediately thereafter as Head Coach Dwane Casey inserted his new players into the rotation off the bench and chemistry was born.  The Raptors are 27-14 since that afternoon in Los Angeles.

Gay was the key player in the deal and he was doing his best in Toronto, but the Raptors were trying to get him to do more than he ever had before and it just wasn’t working out.

“It is a lot different,” said Gay shortly before the trade. “(It is) just adding a new dynamic to my game.  I welcome the challenge.  There is no reason (I can’t do this), but obviously this team needs to score too and that is something I have been doing for a long time.  It is not like Coach is trying to change my game, he is just trying to help me get better.”

It wasn’t getting better.  While he was in Toronto, Gay was shooting a career high 18.6 shots per game and hitting them at a career low rate of 38.8 percent from the field.  Maybe things would have turned around if Gay had more time or maybe the Raptors were just demanding more than Gay had to give, but in Sacramento, Gay flipped the switch and is taking the fewest number of shots since his rookie season (15.5) and sinking half of them.

The biggest guy on the Raptors, Gray has been a team player since he signed in Toronto as a free agent in 2011.  Always willing to do whatever was asked of him, never complained and ready to help the young guys eager to take his minutes, Gray was the kind of veteran that any team could use that sits on the edge of the rotation patiently waiting for when he was needed and on one of the dark days of losing seasons past, Gray even got “MVP” chants from the home crowd – once.

“I have had a few experiences in my career (and I am) just trying to help as much as possible, especially going through pick-and-roll coverages and knowing what they are going to see,” Gray said at the start of this season.  “It is just the type of person (I am). I am not the type of guy who wishes for other people on my team to do bad so I can succeed. I want to see everyone do well. This is my seventh year in the league. It is a blessing. I am thankful for everything that I have and I just want to see that kind of success for other guys.”

Gray has a bigger role in Sacramento, but not a big role.  Gray is the immoveable mountain of a man who will knock you down and can’t be pushed off the block.  It’s just the league has changed and Grey is not the player that can cover the more mobile athletic centers many teams employ now.

Acy was becoming a crowd favorite in Toronto, a genuinely nice guy with off the charts energy to spare.  The trade has been good for Acy.  He is part of the rotation, averages 15 minutes per game and gets to play the hustle role that fits him.

“My game is high energy,” Acy said early this season.  “It is not just based on that I am an offensive rebounder or a defender, I can do anything to provide a spark.  That is my main thing, just to put some life into the team whenever I can, whenever they need it.

“Energy is my skill.  No matter who I go against, I am going to bring my all-out energy.  There are a lot of people with different skills in the league and my skill is to bring energy and I can’t let anybody have more energy than me or be better than me at my skill.”

Acy provided a spark for the crowd at the Air Canada Centre earlier this season when things were not going as well.  He should be remembered with some enthusiasm.

The players that left Toronto were well-liked, but there is still a game to be played and when these two teams met in Sacramento, the Raptors were not ready and Gay and the Kings took it from them.  Something Casey has been reminding everyone for almost a week now.

Sacramento is better with Gay in the lineup, 16-21 with Gay and 5-13 the day before the deal went down.  That’s not the same as the Raptors improvement, but the Kings can score and between DeMarcus Cousins, Isaiah Thomas and Gay, they have 3 players averaging over 20 points per game.  They can bury the unwary in points.

The Raptors are playing for playoff seeding and the Kings are playing for pride.  If Toronto takes them lightly, they will lose to them again, but its unlikely Casey is going to let that happen this time.

 

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

 

Check out the latest about the returning former Raptors from before they left the team:

TOR_Gay_Rudy
Raptors Demanding Still More From Rudy Gay
Earlier this season, Gay found himself in the unusual position of playing a lot of small ball. Often moving up to the power forward spot and being required to provide more of a big man presence with rebounding and blocks. As the season progressed and the Raptors fell to dead last in assists across the league, Head Coach Dwane Casey asked Gay to add facilitator to his list of duties.

TOR_Acy_Quincy
Quincy Acy: Bringing Life To The Raptors
The Toronto Raptors sophomore Quincy Acy looked to be buried pretty deep on the back end of Head Coach Dwane Casey’s roster at the start of this season, but for the past 5 games, this self described energy guy has been bringing life to games at times when his teammates have needed a lift.

TOR_Gray_Aaron
Raptors Aaron Gray: A Coach-In-Waiting
Walk into the Raptors dressing before any of the games over the past couple of seasons and the odds are you will see journeyman center Aaron Gray sitting opposite the big TV screen watching their opponent’s last game. Ask almost any of the younger players hanging around the room who has been helping them out and Gray’s name comes up a surprising number of times.

NBA Sacramento Kings DeMarcus Cousins

CHEATED Raptors Lose As Lowry Ejected On Made 3-Pointer

It is going to be awfully hard to convince anyone in Toronto that the Raptors were not given the shaft by the NBA’s referees in Sacramento.  With 25.5 seconds left in the game and the score 105-99 Kings, Kyle Lowry nails a three-pointer but gets called for an offensive foul as the rookie Ben McLemore runs into his legs, then Lowry gets called for the technical running away from the scene.  A play that – aside from the fact that it was a rookie running into a veteran – should been a defensive foul turned into a 5 point swing in favor of the Kings on a brutal end-of-game refereeing error.

You can watch the play for yourself here: Kyle Lowry called for offensive foul at end of Kings-Raptors

If Head Coach Dwane Casey manages to avoid the standard $25,000 fine for criticizing the referees after this game, he will have shown a remarkable level of restraint.

The short end of the stick from the referees in Sacramento wasn’t just at the end of this game.  The Kings are the NBA highest fouling team averaging 23.3 personal fouls per game, but somehow in this contest, the referees decided the Kings had suddenly found discipline and were not reaching in on every single drive to the basket and jump shot – which of course wasn’t true – and only the Raptors, who hold down third spot on that list, were guilty of anything.  Toronto was called for 35 personal fouls to 23 for Sacramento and the Kings got to enjoy 51 free throw attempts – more than double the Raptors 24 – as a result of some very uneven-handed refereeing.

There is no guarantee that the Raptors could have completed the comeback if Lowry had made a four-point play and closed the gap to 105-103, but the bizarre call by the referee decided this game in favor of the Kings without giving the Raptors that opportunity.

This was a home-coming of sorts for the 4 players the Raptors acquired from the Kings and the rest of the Raptors were obviously distracted by their former teammates who were now on the other side.  As a result, Toronto did not start this game out well and took most of the first quarter before they started playing at even a modestly acceptable level, but they seemed to be a man short throughout the first half as the Kings lived at the free throw line and nearly all of their 67-52 point first half lead could be attributed to the extra 15 free throw attempts they were given.  Toronto didn’t help themselves much either though as they uncharacteristically turned the ball over 10 times.  At the half, 4 Raptors players had been saddled with 3 personal fouls each.

“I just thought our whole disposition – we are out hugging, hanging and giving high-fives and all that – this is a business,” Casey said.  “I didn’t think our disposition from start to finish was in the fight mode, the hungry team mode.  We haven’t done anything and I’ve been repeating this – we haven’t done anything in this league yet to come at and play in second gear until we try to turn it on.”

Toronto turned it on in the second half to eventually out rebound the Kings 44-41, score more field goals 36-32 and hold the Kings to under 40 percent shooting, but they couldn’t stop the onslaught by the Kings 6th, 7th and 8th men in the grey shirts who put them back on the free throw line 23 more times in the second half.

“When you give up 65 points on second chance points and free throws, you aren’t going to beat too many people,” Casey said. “We did everything we possibly could to do it (in the second half).”

With the Raptors down 20 to start the fourth quarter, Casey turned to the veteran Steve Novak for some offense and the three-point specialist rewarded him with 12 points in 12 minutes and Toronto closed to within 5 points with 3:15 left as the Raptors went on a 21-6 run.  Toronto wasn’t able to get closer than 5 points, however, as somewhat appropriately for this strangely refereed game, the Kings made their final 9 points from the charity stripe to win 109-101.

Three Toronto Raptors players were fouled out by the uneven hand of the referees.

Lowry led the Raptors with 21 points, 7 rebounds, 8 assists, a steal and 2 blocks before fouling out of the game with his 6th personal foul.  He also picked up 2 technical fouls.  Chuck Hayes picked up 6 personal fouls in just 17 minutes and Greivis Vasquez had 6 fouls in 26 minutes as the grey shirts dominated this contest.

DeMar DeRozan, who was hacked more times than he could remember, had 18 points on 5-17 shooting and 7-7 from the charity stripe.  He uncharacteristically picked up 4 personal fouls and a frustration technical foul.  Jonas Valanciunas achieved a 12 point 11 rebound double-double, but was limited by foul trouble all game.  He had 5 personal fouls.

DeMarcus Cousins led all scorers with 25 points aided by 9-14 from the free throw line.  He also had 10 boards, a steal and 2 blocks.  Rudy Gay had 24 points, 10 rebounds, 4 steals and 1 block on 7-17 shooting as he was gifted 10 extra points from the line.  Isaiah Thomas was the biggest beneficiary of the grey shirts as they sent him to the stripe 16 times where he made up for his 4-12 shooting from the field to score 23 points.

If the referees had swallowed the whistle instead of calling an offensive foul on Lowry and let the three-point basket stand, much of the angst of an unevenly called game would have quickly dissipated.  Sometimes the calls just don’t go your way.  However, fouling out a veteran on a made basket off a play involving a rookie is so out of character for the NBA that it is almost unforgivable.  That call is just never made – especially if it is going to impact the outcome of a game.  If a ‘what were you thinking’ call isn’t made by the league office to this refereeing crew, something is seriously wrong – unless of course we are about to witness the disappearance of star calls, veteran calls, rookie calls, most favored team calls and no-calls at the end of games – and that’s just not very likely.

Check out our Game Info page and Pregame Report.

 

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.

 

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Don’t Worry About The Raptors Amir Johnson
“It seems like I can’t have a couple bad games, but I’m fine, I’m fine,” Johnson said recently.  “I try to give 100 percent every time I go out there – every night.  There may be little nicks or little injuries on me, but I still go out there and try to give it my all, but I feel like I’m fine.”

NBA Toronto Raptors Rudy Gay

How The Raptors Can Beat The Kings

It would be a mistake to think there are any easy wins for the Toronto Raptors on a 5 game Western conference road trip and even the last place Sacramento Kings are a team that can trip up the unwary visitor. Plus, this will be a game filled with emotion for both sides, whether they wish to acknowledge it or not, and the energy gained from playing against the team that just traded you is a knife that cuts both ways.

SAC_Patterson_Patrick

“We have to treat like another game,” Patrick Patterson said. “Treat it like it’s another game on the schedule and don’t try to blow it up too big. Even though we are going back there, even though we do know the circumstances and yeah, they did trade us. (I have) great relationships with the guys on that team and so forth. We can’t overlook that opponent, we just have to treat it like it is anybody else and go into that game strong-minded and focused.”

Patterson is saying all the right things and good luck with treating like it’s just another game on the schedule – something that almost never happens under these conditions.

On December 8th, the teams announced Rudy Gay, Aaron Gray and Quincy Acy would be heading to Sacramento for Greivis Vasquez, Chuck Hayes, John Salmons and Patterson and since then, both teams can claim it has worked out. The Raptors are 20-10 without Gay and in first place in the Atlantic Division. The Kings are 10-15 with Gay, who has missed 3 games with a sore Achilles and didn’t play for 2 games with the Kings while the trade was being finalized. The Kings were 5-13 pre-trade, so they have played much better with him – including the games he has missed according to Head Coach Michael Malone.

“The way we are right now, we are an offensive team,” Malone said recently. “We have had DeMarcus (Cousins) and Rudy Gay out and have put up 120 points, 117 points, so offense is never going to be a problem for the team aside from the turnovers, but the defense, that is such a different mentality for these guys and just try to pound that rock everyday and understand the importance of it.”

The Kings have scored over 110 points 8 times since the trade and over 120 points twice. They are averaging 101.6 points per game on the season and shooting over 45 percent from the field. Gay has been a big contributor to their offense, shooting 53 percent from the field since he arrived compared to just 38.8 percent while he was in Toronto. In his last 4 games, Gay has averaged 23.8 points on 56.5 percent shooting to go with 6.8 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 2.3 steals, however, the Kings are 1 win and 3 losses over that stretch.

There is rarely any defense played by Sacramento, unfortunately. On the season, they rank 28th for points allowed (103.8) and opponents’ field goal percentage (46.5). Since the trade, they have given up over 110 points 13 times and over 120 points 4 times and their record is 11-19. They finally broke a 7 game losing streak by beating the worst offensive team in the NBA (the Bulls) 99-70 at home.

The Raptors are 2 wins and 1 loss on the road trip and won easily over the Jazz on Monday 94-79. The confidence level in the Raptors locker room is high.

SAC_Vasquez_Greivis“It gave us a lot of confidence to (head) to Sacramento – which is a game I am looking forward to,” Vasquez said. “In Sacramento, it was not good at all, the chemistry and now, here, we just clicked. It is just fun to watch. We just want to play with each other. We have such great chemistry.

“You are always looking forward to playing against the team that traded you. It is funny, I try not to take it personal, but more than that, it is about winning. At the end of the day, whether I play well or I don’t play well, I just want to come back to Sacramento and (move on to) L.A. with a win. It is all about winning.”

Giving up 96.4 points per game, the Raptors are the NBA’s fourth ranked team in that category and they are ninth ranked for opponent’s field goal percentage at 44.6 percent. Toronto is a middle-of-the-pack offensive team averaging 99.3 points per game. Head Coach Dwane Casey hangs his team’s fortunes on their defense and at this point and everybody has bought in.

The Raptors can beat the Kings by being who they are. A defensively conscious team that limits their turnovers, finishes off defensive stands with the rebound, shares the ball and plays under control at the offensive end of the court. While they are still a young team and subject to lapses in discipline, the 4 players acquired from the Kings have played a huge role in stabilizing the rotation and picking up the young guys when they get out-of-sync. It will be very important that the 4 former Kings keep their emotions in check during their first visit back to Sacramento.

 

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.

 

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TOR_Lowry_Kyle

NBA Players of the Week: Raptors Lowry and Suns Dragic
The Toronto Raptors’ Kyle Lowry and the Phoenix Suns’ Goran Dragic today were named NBA Eastern and Western Conference Players of the Week, respectively, for games played Monday, Jan. 27, through Sunday, Feb. 2.

NBA Toronto Raptors Rudy Gay

Was Rudy Gay Sabotaged In Toronto?

If a coach and an organization are supposed to put their players into situations where they are most likely to succeed, the former Raptors forward Rudy Gay could perceive, in hindsight, his 10 months in Toronto as an attempt to sabotage his reputation and career.

The Raptors knew who they traded for when then President and General Manager Bryan Colangelo acquired Gay in January and the team did little or even nothing to replicate the situations where Gay had been most successful in Memphis.

Almost from the beginning, Head Coach Dwane Casey put Gay into situations where the forward had little experience.  The Raptors went small – a lot, playing Gay significant minutes at power forward.  Gay struggled in that role last season and he struggled even more in his new role this season.

Last season in Toronto, at small forward Gay had a 52.2 effective field goal percentage and a 21.2 PER. At power forward, he had a 37.9 effective field goal percentage and an 11.0 PER.  More minutes at power forward only meant worsening numbers and a perception Gay was failing this year.

Gay went into the summer looking to add weight and change his game to be more effective in the paint, but the Raptors small ball experiment continued even after it had become obvious the change in roles was a failure.

“I try to use my strength and quickness to get around and get to the ball,” Gay said early in the season. “I just want to help the team. It hasn’t been by shooting lately, so I have to get down there and get our team extra possessions.”

“I think it is mostly mental.”

It was less mental than physical.  As the star player on the Raptors, Gay saw more double-teams in Toronto every game than he would have seen playing beside Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol in a month with Memphis.  Defenses collapsed around Gay and those ‘easy’ shots at the rim were almost always through traffic and over multiple defenders.

With three ‘star’ players used to finishing plays rather than creating for others in Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan and Gay, plus big men that needed to be setup in order to score, the Raptors offense often stagnated – the ball appearing to stick – a lot.  As the team’s assist totals sank to the bottom of the league, Casey demanded Gay to take on another role he was unfamiliar with – that of point forward or facilitator.

“He is our star player,” Casey said. “So he is going to have to have a lot of roles. Leader, point forward, rebounder, defender, in the end, he’s our guy and we have to roll with him.”

How Casey described Gay’s roles was accurate.  It wasn’t reasonable, but it was true.  The Raptors needed Gay to perform all of those roles, he just never had to before.  Gay didn’t shy away from trying either.

“It is a lot different,” Gay said. “(It is) just adding a new dynamic to my game. I welcome the challenge.”

“There is no reason (I can’t do this), but obviously this team needs to score too and that is something I have been doing for a long time.  It is not like Coach is trying to change my game, he is just trying to help me get better.”

Unfortunately, putting the ball into the hands of a player to initiate the offense, who has always been asked to score, only made the ‘sticking’ issue seem even more obvious.  In the past, Gay’s wasn’t expected to be looking to move the ball along or find the better option or make the pass that would lead to the pass for an easy bucket.  It would have been a shock if Gay had morphed his game quickly and easily into that of a point forward.

It was never reasonable to expect Gay to become a power forward, point forward or perhaps even a team’s star player based on the role he was most successful at in Memphis.  Gay had his best seasons as the second or third scoring option on a team with two All-Star big men that kept the attention off of him, big men that defenders did not leave to double or triple team Gay in the paint or on the perimeter.

However, the experiment being run by the Raptors using Gay wasn’t intended to sabotage his image.  Gay is being paid first option All-Star money.  The Raptors new President and General Manager, Basket Operations Masai Ujiri had to find out if Gay was worth his contract and he didn’t have a lot of time to figure it out.  The Raptors did not want to be laying out $19.3 million next season for a scoring small forward that wasn’t, as Casey described, ‘Leader, point forward, rebounder, defender’ plus a reasonably efficient scorer.

Gay is still a supremely talented player and playing as a second option behind the Kings star big man DeMarcus Cousins should help bring his numbers back towards his career averages.  The Kings are taking a lot of flak for taking on Gay’s contract after it was dumped by the Grizzlies and dumped again by the Raptors, but give Kings General Manager Pete D’Alessandro some credit for knowing who he just acquired.  If he puts Gay into situations where he is most likely to succeed, Gay should produce like he did in Memphis.  Then the only issue is the size of Gay’s contract and it should be pointed out, it’s not our money.

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 Rookie Watch 12/2/2013

Week 5 of the NBA season is in the books and where Michael Carter Williams continues on the same path, his team is losing games and other rookies are starting to show signs of improvement. Plus, another rookie that missed the early part of the season is playing now and might just challenge our leader over the course of the next month. There remains lots of room for movement in our Rookie Watch List.

PHI_Carter_Williams_Michael1. Michael Carter-Williams, Philadelphia 76ers
14 GP, 17 points, 39.3%, 5.4 rebounds, 7.1 assists, 3.1 steals, PER 18.5

It was just another typical week for Carter-Williams as he scored in double-digits each time out and recorded his fourth double-double of the season in a loss to the Pelicans. The only blemish on this rookie is his team’s 1-5 record since he returned from injury.

Orlando Magic Media Day2. Victor Oladipo, Orlando Magic
16 GP, 11.3 points, 42%, 3.9 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.8 steals, PER 12.7

After a huge home-and-home series against the HEAT last week, Oladipo carried the momentum forward averaging 17 points, 3.3 rebounds, 4 assists, 1.7 steals and 2 blocked shots in 3 games this week. At this pace, it won’t be long before he will be seriously challenging for top spot on our watch list.

Oladipo had 5 steals in the win over the 76ers on Wednesday and 3 blocks in the loss to the Spurs Friday. Our expectations going forward have just gone way up for this rookie.

Utah Jazz Media Day3. Trey Burke, Utah Jazz
6 GP, 11.2 points, 36.6%, 3.5 rebounds, 3 assists, 0.8 steals, PER 13.1

The ninth pick in the draft, Burke played in his first NBA game a week ago Wednesday and in just his second week, he started putting up some starting point guard worthy numbers as helped the Jazz to triple their number of wins this season – the Jazz beat Chicago on Monday and Phoenix on Saturday for wins number 2 and 3.

Burke averaged 15.7 points on the week, scoring 20 points in Phoenix, a very impressive start to his NBA career.

SAC_McLemore_Ben4. Ben McLemore, Sacramento Kings
15 GP, 8.8 points, 37.1%, 2.7 rebounds, 0.7 steals, PER 10.7

McLemore has continued his habit of disappearing after big games, but when he has it going, he has been pretty impressive. After 4 days off, McLemore scored 14 points against the Clippers, but 2 days later, his shot is off and Marcus Thornton quickly took over after McLemore had gone 1-5 from the field. There is lots of potential in this rookie if he can find some consistency.

BKN_Plumlee_Mason5. Mason Plumlee, Brooklyn Nets
14 GP, 6.9 points, 68.6%, 3.5 rebounds, 0.6 steals, 0.6 blocks PER 17.9

Plumlee has been taking advantage of his opportunities with the Nets to quietly put up some decent numbers. He may be a lone bright spot in a season marred by injuries and unexpected losses in Brooklyn.

The run-a-way leader among rookies who have attempted over 1 shot per game in field goal percentage, Plumlee had his best shooting game of the season on Friday in Houston going 7-8 from the field for 16 points to go with his 6 rebounds in 28 minutes.

It’s worth noting, Plumlee hasn’t made a shot further than 5 feet from the basket, but he knows his range and has only tried 5 shots further out.

Just missing the cut:

Tim Hardaway Jr., New York Knicks

Nate Wolters, Milwaukee Bucks

Kelly Olynyk, Boston Celtics

Vitor Faverani, Boston Celtics

Steve Adams, Oklahoma City Thunder

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Detroit Pistons

It’s a long season that is just getting underway. If you think we have over looked or overrated a rookie, let us know in the comments below.

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

PHI_Carter_Williams_Michael

NBA Rookie Watch 11/25/2013

Week 4 of the NBA season is in the books and Michael Carter Williams returned from injury to continue his assault on the opposition. There remains lots of room for movement in our Watch List, however, as the rookies see their opportunities arise and disappear.

1. Michael Carter-Williams, Philadelphia 76ers
11 GP, 17.3 points, 40%, 5.7 rebounds, 7.4 assists, 3 steals, PER 19.5

Since his return from injury, Carter-Williams has averaged 17 points, 6.7 rebounds, 6.7 assists and 4 steals. He was just 2 boards shy of a triple-double in the 76ers win over the Bucks as he put up 12 points, 8 rebounds, 11 assists and 5 steals before fouling out. He followed that game up with 29 points and 7 steals against the Pacers on the road. No other rookie is even close.

Orlando Magic Media Day

2. Victor Oladipo, Orlando Magic
13 GP, 12.3 points, 38.6%, 4.1 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 1.7 steals, PER 11

Oladipo averaged 18.5 points, 5.5 rebounds, 3 assists, 2.5 steals and a block in home-and-home series against the HEAT this past week. He has been hitting the three-ball at a reasonable clip, but still needs to improve his two-point shooting. Turnovers remain his biggest concern. He turned the ball over 9 times against Dallas a week ago Saturday and then 8 times in the first game against the HEAT. The Magic aren’t going anywhere, however, so they can indulge the price of Oladipo’s development. This rookie will continue to see big minutes.

SAC_McLemore_Ben

3. Ben McLemore, Sacramento Kings
13 GP, 8.8 points, 37.4%, 2.8 rebounds, 0.5 steals PER 10.7

McLemore has been making a habit of disappearing after big games and in his 4 games this week, he sort of did it again. After dropping 19 points and 5 rebounds on the Suns in Sacramento, he had 8 points and 5 rebounds the next night in Phoenix and almost disappeared completely against the Clippers 3 days later. Then he hit 3 three-pointers against the Lakers for 15 points in a bounce-back effort in the same building the next night. In all it was a solid week for the rookie shooting guard, but some consistency would be nice. McLemore continues to shoot well from deep, but poorly overall, however, as long as the Kings aren’t playing for anything, he should continue to get lots of court time to work things out.

Boston Celtics Media Day

4. Vitor Faverani, Boston Celtics
15 GP, 5.9 points, 44.4%, 5.3 rebounds, 1.3 blocks, PER 14.5

Faverani has been taking a back seat to Jared Sullinger lately and his reduced minutes are beginning to take their toll. Even with Kelly Olynyk out for about the next 2 weeks, Faverani hasn’t seen any uptick in playing time. He still can be productive in short shifts as he proved against Atlanta on Saturday with 11 points, 5 rebounds and a block in 14 minutes, however, it seems Head Coach Brad Stevens would like someone else to step up and take even these opportunities away from him. It will be interesting to see what happens when Olynyk gets back.

Milwaukee Bucks Media Day

5. Nate Wolters, Milwaukee Bucks
12 GP, 7.5 points, 38.9%, 2.9 rebounds, 4.7 assists, 0.8 steals PER 11.9

Both Brandon Knight and Luke Ridnour returned to the lineup on Saturday and Wolters could consider himself lucky to get 9 minutes. The Bucks are 2 wins and 10 losses to start the season and while none of this is Wolters fault, it is hardly a surprise that Head Coach Larry Drew put his 2 veteran point guards back in the rotation as soon as he could. Wolters has been a steady performer who has our attention, however, baring another key injury or unforeseen circumstance, this is likely the last we will see of him in the top 5 of our watch list.

Just missing the cut:

Steve Adams, Oklahoma City Thunder

Kelly Olynyk, Boston Celtics

Mason Plumlee, Nets

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Detroit Pistons

Tim Hardaway Jr., New York Knicks

Missing:

There are several top draft picks who have yet been able to leave an impression, so there is plenty of room for movement in our top 5. Look for Utah’s Trey Burke to make a push now that he is back in action.

It’s a long season that is just getting underway. If you think we have over looked or overrated a rookie, let us know in the comments below.

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

Kings DeMarcus Cousins Gets Max Extension

The mercurial DeMarcus Cousins was selected fifth overall by the Sacramento Kings in 2010 based of his seemingly unlimited talent and presence at the center position and he has been all of that.  Cousins has also been a handful to manage, but when a player is this dominant at their position, a team has little choice but to work through the apparent maturity issues.

Players drafted in 2010 are eligible to sign a contract extension that would start in the 2014-2015 season immediately after the final option year of their rookie deal is completed.

According to Larry Coon’s Salary Cap FAQ, the maximum salary a player with 0-6 years experience in the NBA can sign for is $13,701,250 (25 percent of an adjusted salary cap) plus raises of $1,027,594.  There are exceptions to the maximum of course and typically when rookie extensions are signed, the maximum salary payable will not be known until next July and the contract accommodates that.

Jason Jones and Ailene Voisin of The Sacramento Bee have reported Cousins has reached an agreement with the Kings on a new maximum deal estimated at $62 million over 4 seasons.

Last season, Cousins led the Kings in points and rebounds averaging 17.1 points, 9.9 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 0.7 blocks and 1.4 steals in 30.5 minutes per game.  Cousins got to the free throw line an average of 5.6 times per game, but it is his own rate of personal fouls at 3.6 per game that limits his minutes.  Cousins also led the NBA with 17 technical fouls last season and was second in the league with 3 flagrant fouls and 4 ejections.

Ranking The Worst Teams In The NBA

As NBA teams rush towards the start of training camp in about two weeks, certain teams have already made it obvious that ping pong balls in the Draft Lottery will be more important than wins.  Other teams may not be ready to admit it, but it seems fairly obvious they will be joining the battle for the best possible draft pick next June as well.  After all, this may be the most impressive draft class since LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade went in the top five back in 2003.

Our top five teams in the East are the Bulls, HEAT, Nets, Pacers and Knicks and our top five in the West are the Clippers, Thunder, Spurs, Rockets and Warriors.   Our playoff hopefuls of Pistons, Raptors, Hawks, Wizards, Bucks and Cavaliers in the East and Grizzlies, Nuggets, Timberwolves, Mavericks, Trail Blazers and Pelicans in the West are going to fight it out for the last three playoff spots in their respective conferences and no one in these groups should be expected to obviously tank the season until after their record says this isn’t going to be their year.

Some of the lottery bound teams have just too much talent to reach the bottom while others have been taking steps to ensure they’ll have a chance to compete for dead last.  However, it is organizations that decide to tank and even on really bad teams, the players still want to win.  There are no guarantees that a team’s best laid plans will work in either direction.

 

Too Good To Reach The Bottom

8. Boston Celtics – 41-40 last season, projected 33-49

Boston didn’t have to let Head Coach Doc Rivers out of his contract and trade Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett if they were going to take steps to ensure a return to the playoffs this season.  The Nets believe Pierce and Garnett make their team a contender and the Nets are right.  However, the Big Three era in Boston was over.  Point guard Rajon Rondo will miss the start of the season and probably a lot more before his rehab is done.  This team will likely be relying on rookie point guard Phil Pressey and a rookie center Kelly Olynyk.  There is little value to the Celtics in watching Boston’s veterans get minutes ahead of Jordan Crawford or MarShon Brooks.  It shouldn’t even surprise anyone if rookie Brazilian big man Vitor Faverani gets minutes ahead of Kris Humphries.

Boston is rebuilding and they have done nothing to hide that fact.  Their new rookie Head Coach Brad Stevens received a long term deal so he wouldn’t have the pressure of trying to win straight away.  The organization has collected six first round draft picks to use or trade over the next three years.  No one should expect the Celtics to be rebuilding for long, but they are rebuilding this season.

The Celtics have too much talent to reach for the bottom, but they can ensure themselves of a top 8 draft pick in June without overt tanking and that is a strategy this organization will be comfortable with.

7. Sacramento Kings – 28-54 last season, projected 32-50

The Kings made some nice additions this summer.  Rookie shooting guard Ben McLemore is an uber-athlete with amazing hops, long reach and three-point shooting range.  Greivis Vasquez is a big point guard with decent scoring ability and a willingness to pass the ball.  Luc Richard Mbah a Moute is a solid defender at either forward spot.  However, these positive changes are not going to change anyone’s opinion about the Kings this season.

Center DeMarcus Cousins is the player that could move this team from the lottery to playoff contender and everyone is waiting for him to grow up and do it.  While that is probably not a fair expectation this season, if Cousins finds his maturity and McLemore is as good a rookie as his natural gifts suggest, this might be the last season the Kings can be left out of the playoff conversation for a while.

6. Los Angeles Lakers – 45-37 last season, projected 29-53

The Lakers only made the playoffs last season on a herculean effort from Kobe Bryant to drag a talented dysfunctional team kicking and screaming out of the lottery where their play suggested they deserved to be.  Videos of Bryant running on an anti-gravity treadmill in August only serve as a stark reminder that last year’s savior is not going to be there on opening night October 29th against the Clippers.  Unfortunately, Bryant’s Achilles tendon rehab program isn’t the only question mark on the Lakers’ season.

Pau Gasol is still in Spain rehabbing his knees after having surgery and stem cell injections in May and another big concern is the surgically-repaired plantar fascia tear in his right foot from last season.  Maybe Gasol will be fully recovered for the start of the year and maybe he can get through this season without missing too many games, but at 33-years-old, seeing will be believing.  One could choose to ignore that the 39-year-old Steve Nash has been nursing a bad back for years, but at the end of July, the point guard was still dealing with nerve issues resulting from last season’s fibula fracture.  How well Nash can perform this season is anyone’s guess.

Dwight Howard is gone and for all the complaints, he still led the NBA in rebounding last season and was second on the Lakers in scoring.  Metta World Peace was amnestied and the Lakers best defensive player after Howard was also fifth in scoring.  One would be hard pressed to say any of the off season additions have made the Lakers a better team than last year.

If Bryant comes back early and plays like he did at the end of last season and Gasol and Nash are healthy enough to perform at a high level, then this team will be in the playoffs.  It would take a lot of nerve or purple and gold colored glasses to predict that was going to be the case.

5. Charlotte Bobcats – 21-61 last season, projected 28-54

It was a surprise when the Bobcats signed free agent center Al Jefferson to a 3-year $40.5 million deal, after two seasons of beyond bad, targeting dead last in the NBA had become expected.  This team will at least be more fun to watch this season.

A starting lineup of Kemba Walker, Gerald Henderson, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Cody Zeller and Al Jefferson only averages 23-years-old and while there is plenty of firepower, it will be matched by mistakes at the other end.  This team is still under development, but with the veteran Jefferson to anchor center and put up a few more points, the development process should become a lot more positive and the light at the end of the tunnel will no longer be assumed to be an oncoming train.

The Battle For Last

4. Utah Jazz -43-39 last season, projected 26-56

When the Jazz let Jefferson, Paul Millsap, Mo Williams and Randy Foye leave, took back a boat load of salaries no one wanted for 5 future draft picks, and added two 2013 first round draft picks to this season’s roster, the message was clear.  The Jazz were tired of mediocrity and the rebuild was on.

It was time to see what Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter and Alec Burks could do in starting roles and if the rookie Trey Burke could be this team’s point guard of the future, but everything the Jazz did this summer was about the future and wins are going to be tough to come by.

Even if this implausibly young starting lineup exceeds all expectations, this team has almost no depth and will suffer immeasurably if any starter is missing games, but developing this core and adding another top draft pick next season is absolutely the right way to go.

3. Orlando Magic – 20-62 last season, projected 25-57

The Magic have done an exceptionally good job of rebuilding out of the ashes of their Dwightmare.  Just Hedo Turkoglu and Jameer Nelson remain from the team that went to the 2009 NBA Finals and 2010 Eastern Conference Finals with Dwight Howard and neither player’s contract is guaranteed past this season.

Last season Nikola Vucevic, Maurice Harkless, Andrew Nicholson showed they were part of the future and the second overall 2013 draft pick Victor Oladipo is a potential future All-Star guard.  The rebuilding isn’t done and another high draft pick in 2014 is definitely in the plans, but the Magic are on the right path.  They just might have trouble winning the race to bottom with the young talent they have already collected, but maybe not?

2. Phoenix Suns – 25-57 last season, projected 20-62

The Suns didn’t win a lot of games last season and based on the moves they made this summer, that number is going to drop.  The Suns traded veteran wing Jared Dudley for Eric Bledsoe and flipped Caron Butler for a pair of young prospects from the Bucks.  Luis Scola was traded for Gerald Green, Miles Plumlee and a protected 2014 first round draft pick.  Then the team ended the Michael Beasley experiment.

While Bledsoe is a great asset to pick up, the Suns already have a starting point guard in Goran Dragic and this series of moves alone should help the team compete for dead last.  The clincher was replacing 12-year veteran head coach Alvin Gentry with the rookie Jeff Hornacek.  The coaching move was not unexpected and Hornacek could prove to be the right choice, but as a rookie coach in a tough situation, it wouldn’t be reasonable to expect him to add any wins to the record this season.  The Suns gave Hornacek a 4-year deal in recognition of the work ahead.

The Suns have some nice young assets on this roster and a few valuable veterans that could be moved before the trade deadline.  New Suns General Manager Ryan McDonough should be busy this season.

1.  Philadelphia 76ers – 34-48 last season, projected 18-64

76ers fans have a facebook page called Winless For Wiggins that references the team’s 1972-1973 season where the 76ers lost 20 games in a row and won a total of just 9.  It is hard not to believe that the goal in Philadephia this season is very different.

 

Of course no team can go winless for an entire season, but the Bobcats did keep their win total to 7 games two years ago, even though that was taking tanking to an unnecessary extreme.  Last place is achievable with double-digit victories.

Veteran Head Coach Doug Collins got this team to overachieve for two of his three seasons in Philadelphia, but he has been replaced by rookie Head Coach Brett Brown who received a 4-year deal.  Everyone knows this rebuild is going to take time.

This roster is young, suspect and ideal for tanking.  Veteran Jason Richardson is unlikely to play this season after knee surgery.  The team dumped All-Star Andre Iguodala for nothing but wishing and hoping last summer and traded All-Star Jrue Holiday for the injured 2013 sixth overall draft pick Nerlens Noel.  The 19-year-old Noel is considered to be a future building block player, but the emphasis on the word future can’t be strong enough.

Rookie point guard Michael Carter-Williams will be leading this team that still features Evan Turner, Thaddeus Young, Spencer Hawes and a cast of suspects.  However, this cast couldn’t hold their season together with Collins coaching and Holiday running the show.  An almost Winless For Wiggins season might just be in the cards.

Risks and Obstacles

The race to the bottom is not an easy one to win.  Your own players are not going to cooperate.  However, by stripping out key players and coaches and then emphasizing the rookies and developing young players, it is possible to make a strong push for last overall.  With all the talent available in the 2014 NBA Draft, a lot of teams will have ping pong balls on the brain around All-Star weekend and this year’s race has the potential to get pretty ugly in the second half.

Who do you think finishes in the bottom 3 in the NBA?  Which one of these teams out tanks the others to win the most ping pong balls?  Can any of these teams be a playoff contender this season?  Let us know in the comments below.

Stephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre.  A member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association, Stephen is the editor and publisher of Pro Bball Report.  You can follow Stephen on twitter @stevesraptors

Welcome To NBA Tank Nation

Wiggins presser2The 2014 NBA Draft is one the most anticipated drafts since the Cavaliers took LeBron James in 2003. There are just as many potential superstars available next June. This draft is so enticing that some NBA fan pages are actually promoting going winless next season just to have a chance at a game changing player like Andrew Wiggins – 76ersWinlessFor Wiggins.

The usual suspects expected to tank for Wiggins include Orlando, Charlotte, Phoenix and New Orleans, although there is still time to change their minds and both Charlotte and New Orleans are doing things that will add wins next season. These teams have been overtly joined by Utah, Philadelphia and possibly by the “I think thou dost protest too loudly” Boston Celtics. After Friday’s announcement by Dwight Howard that he’s taking his talents to the great income tax free state of Texas, the Lakers may soon be on this list as well. It’s not too late to join this exclusive club for other NBA franchises and you can believe there are fans of certain teams that are wondering why their club isn’t on board yet.

Reasons for tanking the 2013-2014 season extend beyond the unusually deep and franchise changing draft next summer. July 2014 could see a jaw dropping list of available free agents if certain players opt out of their contracts. It will still be impressive if just the players on expiring deals are there.

Just some of the best players who can decide if they would like to be free agents next summer include:
ETO – early termination option, PO – player option

LeBron James – ETO
Dwyane Wade – ETO
Carmelo Anthony – ETO
Chris Bosh – ETO
Zach Randolph -PO
Rudy Gay – PO
Tim Duncan –PO
Amar’e Stoudemire – ETO
Andrea Bargnani – ETO

Some of the notable players on expiring contracts this season are:

Kobe Bryant
Paul Pierce
Dirk Nowitski
Luol Deng
Paul Gasol
Andrew Bogut
Danny Granger
Ray Allen
Vince Carter
Marcin Gortat
Shawn Marion
Emeka Okafor
Caron Butler
Metta World Peace

Just to tease some teams, there could be some pretty impressive restricted free agents available as well:

DeMarcus Cousins
Paul George
John Wall
Greg Monroe
Derrick Favors
Avery Bradley
Lance Stephenson
Eric Bledsoe
Evan Turner
Larry Sanders
Ekpe Udoh

These lists do not represent every free agent expected to be available in July 2014, that list would just keep going and going and going. Hoopsworld keeps a reasonably comprehensive and up-to-date list of all the possible 2014 NBA free agents. If there ever was a year to clear salary cap space, this is it and those teams that can combine the ability to land a franchise changing rookie with one or more franchise players could be setup for a long run of success.

The teams best set up to go WinLessForWiggins and attack free agency next summer include:

Charlotte Bobcats – ready to go.

Orlando Magic – setup up to do both.

Utah Jazz – joined Tank Nation and cleared the decks for next summer.

Philadelphia 76ers – just need to dump a little more talent and they are there.

Phoenix Suns – ready, but could use a salary dump.

New Orleans Pelicans – recent moves may have taken them out of this race.

Dallas Mavericks – have the potential to join the club.

Detroit Pistons – would find it easy to get on board.

Los Angeles Lakers – tweak the roster and tell Kobe to rehab next season and they can do it too.

Boston Celtics – did half the job, hired a college coach and just need to finish the work they started.

Toronto Raptors – would need to dump a couple of key players to have a shot at tanking.

Sacramento Kings – may not do it on purpose, but wouldn’t find it hard to join.

Washington Wizards – have the potential, but probably too good to tank.

Milwaukee Bucks – will probably have trouble with the tanking aspect.

Should your team go WinlessForWiggins and create salary cap space for the 2014 free agent class? Let us know in the comments below and tell us how you feel about NBA teams joining Tank Nation.

Stephen Brotherston has covered the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre since 2009. A member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association, Stephen is the editor and publisher of Pro Bball Report.

Where Are The Raptors Going In Free Agency?

Ujiri webIt has been a quiet start to free agency for the Toronto Raptors, but this should not have come as a big surprise. The Raptors were technically a luxury tax team as of July 1st when the NBA failed to approve the trade of Andrea Bargnani to the Knicks on June 30th and delayed the transaction until after the moratorium ends on July 10th. Even post trade the Raptors will be solidly above the salary cap and limited to offering the mid-level and bi-annual exceptions to free agent prospects. They were not going to be actively pursuing the available top tier guys after midnight on Monday morning.

MLSE President and CEO Tim Leiweke provided the first clues about where the Raptors might be headed earlier in June. Leiweke didn’t want to hear about 18 years of Raptors futility ever again.

“I inherited, I didn’t create,” Leiweke said. “I think it’s time for this organization once and for all to stop spinning and just do our job and if we do our job with the right people and create the right environment, I won’t have this conversation (about futility) again.”

The “right people” was 2013 NBA Executive of the Year Masai Ujiri who Leiweke convinced to come to Toronto and turn the Raptors prospects around. Ujiri had a very successful three year stint running the basketball side of the Denver Nuggets and he sees a similar challenge in Toronto.

“Why can’t I change it,” responded Ujiri to the Raptors situation. “It’s not all bad. There is plenty good about it. There are plenty of attractions. It is almost like when I went into the Denver situation. It is our job to make it better. It is our job to make it good. It is our job to create a winning environment. That is why I am here.”

However, other than stating a preference for using young guys to fill out the back end of his roster, Ujiri has been more than just a little cryptic about his future plans for the franchise.

“One of my philosophies is to grow young players – to develop young talent and maybe the back end of our roster has to be young guys that grow,” Ujiri said. “After we have analyzed this team, I think you guys (the media) will figure out the direction we are going.”

With his first big roster move, Ujiri sent Andrea Bargnani to the Knicks for what amounts to a backup combo forward and draft picks in what could be described as getting better by subtraction or a rather effective salary dump with benefits. This gives us a pretty good idea about where Ujiri will be taking this franchise in July.

It was former boss Bryan Colangelo who suggested the Raptors would be able to add talent on the cheap this summer because of the changes being implemented in the CBA for the coming season. That opportunistic approach is being followed by Ujiri now, but what are the Raptors needs?

Post Knicks trade, the Raptors roster will resemble this:

Point Guard: Kyle Lowry

Shooting Guard: DeMar DeRozan, Terrence Ross

Small Forward: Rudy Gay, Landry Fields, Steve Novak

Power Forward: Amir Johnson, Quincy Acy

Center: Jonas Valanciunas, Aaron Gray

Marcus Camby and Quentin Richardson from the Knicks are likely to be traded or bought out before they arrive in Toronto. Linas Kleiza is an amnesty candidate, but even if he is held onto as an expiring contract for trade purposes, his knees have kept him out of the lineup for much of the past three years.

The Raptors did not pick up the option on John Lucas making backup point guard the top priority and with Bargnani traded to the Knicks and Camby an unwilling mentor/backup, another big man is a close second.

Casey has made it clear he wants to add toughness and there will be players who won’t get paid what they are worth this summer. In the free agent pool, there are a couple of big men the Raptors could use one of their exceptions on. Samuel Dalembert is a superior rebounder and shot blocker who could fall through the free agent cracks and Jason Maxiell is a likely overlooked veteran who can provide defensive rebounding and shot blocking. There will be plenty of opportunities to acquire talent after the initial free agent flurry has run its course.

However, being opportunistic means taking advantage of other teams needs and issues. The Clippers really do need a shooting guard and the Raptors are willing to part with DeMar DeRozan if the trade fills a team need. The Eric Bledsoe trade rumors may be premature, but it really depends on what other moves Doc Rivers makes happen in Clipperland next week.

Sacramento currently has seven guards on their team and even if Tyreke Evans leaves in free agency, the Kings will have to seriously look at moving someone.

The Pelicans acquired Jrue Holiday in a trade at the draft making Greivis Vasquez surplus to their needs and they have until July 5th to release Robin Lopez or his $5 million salary over each of the next two years becomes fully guaranteed. The Pelicans have a lot of free agent irons in the fire and this could give the opportunistic Ujiri the chance to pick up a couple of young talents on the cheap.

The surprise factor in Toronto could come in the form of a bigger deal. Leiweke has opened MLSE’s massive wallet and given a green light to spend luxury tax dollars if Ujiri can acquire the player or players that would make the Raptors championship contenders. It just doesn’t look like that deal is out there for the Raptors at the moment.

So the Raptors appear to be on the same building plan they were following when Colangelo was running the show, just under new management. The biggest difference is Casey will get his “tough guys” to help build a more defensive oriented team and Ujiri likes to fill out the back end of his roster with young players he can develop. Where the team goes in free agency will depend on what opportunities are created by other team’s moves and a little more patience will be required before Ujiri lets us know what the Raptors will look like next season.

Stephen Brotherston has covered the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Center since 2009. A member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association, Stephen is the editor and publisher of Pro Bball Report.