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OKC Westbrook and Durant

Raptors Expect To Face Russell Westbrook In Toronto

Russell Westbrook was given the night off in Cleveland on Thursday so the Thunder could avoid playing their star guard in back-to-back games when they came to Toronto and played the team that snapped their 13 game home winning streak back in December.

Westbrook returned from knee surgery just under a month ago and the Thunder has been limiting his minutes. It is far more important for Oklahoma City to get to the postseason rested and healthy than worry about whether they end up in first, second or third place in the Western Conference.

Point guard isn’t the Thunder’s only concern. Starters Kendrick Perkins and Thabo Sefolosha are not expected to return until the regular season is almost over. In their absence, the results have been inconsistent. The Thunder have defeated Houston and Chicago, but split a pair of games with the struggling Lakers.

When the Raptors defeated the Thunder earlier in the season, there were no excuses. Westbrook and Kevin Durant led their team in scoring, but they just shot 13-33 with 11 turnovers between them. They may have something to prove in Toronto.

The Raptors will be short-handed heading into Friday’s game as well. Patrick Patterson is still resting a sore elbow and Jonas Valanciunas didn’t play last game because of a stiff back. Amir Johnson played last game on a sore ankle, but he rarely takes time off to heal.  Valanciunas did warm up with his team on Wednesday, so it’s possible he’ll be ready to go in this one. Toronto will need him.

On paper, the 49-18 Thunder (heading into Thursday’s action) shouldn’t have anything to worry about from the 38-29 Raptors. With Westbrook and Durant, the star power decidedly belongs to Oklahoma City. If the Raptors get into a shootout with this team, things will get ugly pretty fast. Toronto’s best chance at the unlikely season series sweep over the Thunder will come at the defensive end of the court. If the Raptors can hold this high powered offense in check and turn them over like they did earlier this season, they’ll have a chance.


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:

Kings Quincy Acy: From Energy Guy To Offensive Threat
“I am on the court for more minutes (now),” Acy said. “So I get a chance every now and then to shoot a jump shot and stuff like that. From the opening (game), (Malone) encouraged me to take (the shot), but obviously not to force anything.”

Former Raptors Forward Ed Davis Grounded in Memphis

“Even though I am not playing right now,” Davis said. “If I see something on the court, I’ll tell (Randolph) or Marc – the double team is coming from the baseline or the double team is coming from wherever. I have a great basketball mind myself, so we help each other. I can see a lot of things that they are not seeing because they are out there on the court so I try to help them as much as I can as they help me.”



Raptors Reclaim First In The Atlantic Division

Put the call to Tank Nation on hold, after 25 games, the Raptors have reclaimed first place in the Atlantic Division and this time it wasn’t because they defeated the deliberately bad Philadelphia 76ers.  Toronto went into the hottest team in the NBA’s building and walked out with a hard fought 104-98 victory.

The league leading Oklahoma City Thunder had just defeated the Spurs 113-110 in San Antonio on Saturday to extend their unbeaten streak to 9 games and they were typically laying down double-digit beatings on every team they faced during this stretch.  Not to mention, the Thunder were 13-0 at home before tonight.  The chances of a Raptors victory looked slim indeed.

This game didn’t go according to script right from the beginning, however.  The quick 4-0 Thunder advantage vanished as quickly as it appeared as the 2 teams traded the lead several times and it was Toronto that ended the quarter on 4 points by Kyle Lowry to go up 25-21, Lowry leading all scorers with 9 points.

The scoring pace became frenetic in the second quarter, but surprisingly, the Raptors kept pace with the Thunder’s offensive prowess to outscore them 37-35.

OKC_Durant_KevinToronto took a 62-56 lead into halftime and built on it early in the third quarter, but with the score 68-57, the Raptors suddenly went cold.  The Thunder went on a 24-4 run to seemingly take control of this game over their pesky weaker opponent and took an 11 point lead into the final frame.  Durant and Westbrook taking over with 11 and 10 third quarter points, respectively.

SAC_Salmons_JohnAs Head Coach Dwane Casey did in the overtime win over Dallas, the fourth quarter became John Salmons’ time.  With the 12-year veteran wing Salmons initiating most of the offensive sets and regularly defending Kevin Durant, it was the Raptors turn to control the game.  Within 5 minutes, Toronto had cut the lead to 2 points and with just over 6 minutes to go, they started a 10-0 run to go up 98-93.

TOR_Valanciunas_JonasThe Thunder didn’t fold and Durant tied the game on a three-pointer with 1:39 left, but it was the Raptors that scored the final 6 points to escape with the win.  The play of the game was a Jonas Valanciunas block on a driving Westbrook with 28 seconds left and Amir Johnson diving on the floor to secure the rebound and call timeout.  Casey made the right play calls at the end and when Johnson and Lowry made their free throws after getting fouled to stop the clock, this game was over.

The Thunder went as far as Westbrook and Durant would take them.  In the final quarter, the Thunder was outscored 29-14 as their 2 stars combined for just 7 points.  For the game, Durant had 24 points on 5-16 shooting, 8 rebounds and 3 assists, but turned the ball over 6 times.  Westbrook had 27 points, 9 rebounds, 5 assists and 5 turnovers.

The Raptors hadn’t lost on the road since the Rudy Gay trade and were looking for their first 4 game road winning streak since 2002.  Casey incorporated 3 of the players he received from Sacramento into his rotation and this team hasn’t looked the same since.

Lowry, who has been playing his best basketball since his arrival, had another big game with 22 points, 7 rebounds, 9 assists and 4 steals.  He has been deadly playing off the ball with either Greivis Vasquez or Salmons in fourth quarters.

TOR_Johnson_AmirJohnson collected his fifth double-double in the past 9 games with 17 points and 13 rebounds as he is becoming an impact power forward under Casey.  Valanciunas, with 13 points, 6 rebounds and 2 fourth quarter blocks continues to figure things out and is developing into the post threat and defender this team needs.  DeMar DeRozan had his second poor shooting game in a row with 17 points on 7-20 from the field and he will have to get used to some extra attention from defenses in this new rotation.  Salmons had 14 points, 3 rebounds and 2 assists, but his impact is better reflected by the +22 points differential while he was on the court.

Raps BannerThe first place Raptors moved 1 game ahead of Boston with an 11-14 record after the Celtics lost to Indiana and fell to 12-17.  Brooklyn at 9-17 is 2.5 games back.  Toronto is a different team on the road where they are now 7-6 on the season.  They have also played surprisingly well against the West and sport a 5-6 record against the supposedly superior conference.  Toronto is 1 of just 4 teams in the East to be outscoring their opponents on average this season.

The Raptors move on to play San Antonio on Monday.

The Thunder play Christmas Day in New York against the Knicks.

Check out our Raptors 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.


Raptors (10-14) at Thunder (22-4): Pregame Report

At 22-4, the Oklahoma City Thunder enjoy the best record in the NBA and they are coming off a 113-110 victory over the Spurs in San Antonio on Saturday. The 10-14 Toronto Raptors only rationale for hope on the road against a team this good is the Thunder might be tired – probably not.

OKC_Westbrook_RussellWith All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook leading the charge, MVP candidate Kevin Durant scoring at will from anywhere on the court and Serge Ibaka guarding the rim and averaging nearly a double-double, the Thunder don’t lose to sub-.500 teams on the road and they haven’t lost to anyone at home yet. This team just doesn’t play down to the level of their competition very often, if ever.

However, the Raptors haven’t lost on the road since the Rudy Gay trade, running up a 3-0 streak away from the Air Canada Centre after beating a veteran Mavericks team in Dallas. Team chemistry has been better since the 3 newcomers from Sacramento were inserted into the rotation.

SAC_Vasquez_GreivisGreivis Vasquez, Patrick Patterson and John Salmons have made an immediate and positive impact on the Raptors. They will give the Raptors second unit a chance against the Thunder’s reserves. Toronto’s challenge will be to still be in the game by the time the Thunder has to go to their bench.

TOR_Lowry_KyleOver the past month, Kyle Lowry has been playing his best basketball since he arrived in Toronto. DeMar DeRozan’s game is maturing and he is averaging a team best 21.5 points per game on the season. Amir Johnson has 4 double-doubles in his last 8 games in which he averaged 18.1 points and 9.1 rebounds. However, the Raptors are starting 2 second year players in Terrence Ross and Jonas Valanciunas and they will be in tough matchups against Durant and Kendrick Perkins.

The Thunder beat the Raptors 104-92 the last time these 2 teams met. Westbrook scored 23 points, Durant had 22 and Ibaka 19. The Raptors were led by the departed Alan Anderson’s career high 27 points. Johnson had 19 points, Lowry 10 and DeRozan scored 11 points on 4-16 shooting.

The Raptors have a chance – albeit a slim chance – to win 4 in a row on the road for the first time since 2002. From a positive viewpoint, this team has played up to their competition in almost every game this season (and down to the level of their competition as well unfortunately). Don’t expect the Raptors to just mail this one in.

The Thunder are on the longest active winning streak in the NBA right now at 9 games and they would be beyond mad at themselves if it ended in front of their home fans to a sub-.500 team from the NBA’s weak Eastern Conference.

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 11/04/2013

The first week of the NBA season is in the books and a handful of rookies have made their presence felt. It is still early, but our list kicks off with some young players that will be getting the opportunity to showcase what they have this season.

1. Michael Carter Williams, Philadelphia 76ers
3 GP, 20.7 points, 46.8%, 4.7 rebounds, 9.0 assists, 4.3 steals, PER 29.3

Jrue Holiday who? The 11th overall pick Williams has kicked off the season with two 20+ points 10+ assists double-doubles and the 76ers are a ridiculous 3-0 to start the season. This rookie is hitting 47.1 percent of his 5.7 threes per game. Someone should let him know that rookies are supposed to take time to adjust – they are definitely not supposed to be the Eastern Conference Player of the Week!

2. Victor Oladipo, Orlando Magic
4 GP, 13.8 points, 43.8%, 5.3 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 1.8 steals, PER 14.1

The supposedly terrible Magic are 2-2 and Oladipo has been the genuine athletic freak of nature he was advertised to be. The Magic chose well with the 2nd overall pick. Seeming to get stronger each game out, Olapido laid a 19 point, 6 rebound, 4 assist game on a very veteran Nets team Sunday.

3. Vitor Faverani, Boston Celtics
3 GP, 11 points, 57.1%, 7.7 rebounds, 3.3 blocks, 1.0 steals, PER 21.1

The undrafted 25-year-old Brazilian was signed to a 3-year deal by the Celtics this summer and as the only true center on the team, he should get some run this season. An older rookie, Faverani hasn’t looked out-of-place in the starting lineup. He had a monster game of 12 points, 18 rebounds and 6 blocks against the Bucks, but Head Coach Brad Stevens limited his minutes against the bigger Pistons front court on Sunday.

4. Nate Wolters, Milwaukee Bucks
3 GP, 10 points, 36.7%, 2.3 rebounds, 6.7 assists PER 13.4

The Bucks took Wolters 38th overall and if both Brandon Knight and Luke Ridnour weren’t sidelined by nagging injuries, it’s unlikely anyone would have heard of him yet this season. However, Wolters has been playing big minutes and producing like a lottery pick for the Bucks. He dished 10 assists in his first start against Toronto on Saturday. Wolters will likely drop way down the depth chart once Knight and Ridnour return, but don’t think the Bucks haven’t noticed their unexpected find.

5. Steve Adams, Oklahoma City Thunder
3 GP, 4.0 points, 44.4%, 5.0 rebounds, 0.7 blocks, PER 14.1

The Thunder drafted Adams 12th overall and it didn’t look like there would be any minutes for the young center on this deep roster. However, Head Coach Scott Brooks has managed to find 16.7 minutes per game for Adams and it’s been the veteran Kendrick Perkins who has been thinking out loud about the need to seek greener pastures. Adams’ best game so far was an 8 point 8 rebound effort against the Timberwolves. This kid is worth paying attention to.

Just missing the cut:

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Detroit Pistons, 8th overall pick

Ben McLemore, Sacramento Kings, 7th overall pick

Kelly Olynyk, Boston Celtics, 13th overall pick

Tim Hardaway Jr., New York Knicks, 24th overall pick


Anthony Bennett, the Cleveland Cavaliers number 1 overall pick is only playing 13.3 minutes per game has scored 2 total points.

Otto Porter, the Washington Wizards number 3 overall pick has a strained right hip flexor and hasn’t played yet.

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.

Ranking The Top Five NBA Western Conference Teams

Ranking the top five NBA Western Conference teams just got a little harder than usual this season. The Lakers are not going to be in this group at the start of the season and it is worth noting that change all on its own. The Clippers are and don’t expect Lakers fans to be all that happy about it. However, there are more changes than just the rise of the Clippers and the fall of the Lakers. The top five in the West is under renovation.

Every team faces risks and even the best in the West can have their season disrupted by unforeseen circumstances, but these teams are pretty deep and unless they lose a key star player for a significant number of games, they should be able to hold onto solid playoff spot fairly easily.

The Top Five

1. Los Angeles Clippers – 56-26 last season, projected 62-20

The Clippers are better than last season. 28-year-old Jared Dudley is an excellent replacement for last season’s 33-year-old starting small forward Caron Butler, equivalent but younger. J.J. Redick is a big upgrade over the former starting shooting guard Willie Green. Plus, five of the Clippers top six scorers from last season are back, so this team has continuity.

However, the Clippers will win more games because they upgraded their head coach. Doc Rivers has the respect of everyone associated with the NBA. Concerns about being out-coached are gone and if top-flight coaching really does make a difference, adding 10 percent more wins to last season’s total shouldn’t even be a stretch. Look for the best team in Los Angeles to compete for the best record in the NBA again this season.

2. Oklahoma City Thunder – 60-22 last season, projected 58-24

The Thunder are contenders to reach the Western Conference Finals for the third time in four years, however, this season like last season, they are going to face some serious competition.

The team had question marks about their ability to dominate the West after losing James Harden to the Rockets and those questions were compounded by the loss of Kevin Martin to the Timberwolves this summer, however, they will still coast through the regular season fairly easily on the backs of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.

This team is still deep and talented and has assets to trade if the young players Steve Adams and Jeremy Lamb are not quite ready for prime time in backup roles. Any slippage from last season will be slight.

3. San Antonio Spurs – 58-24 last season, projected 54-28

One day Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili are going to pack it in after long and successful NBA careers. Unfortunately for their Western Conference rivals, that time hasn’t arrived just yet. Neither of these players are going to be better than last season, but this resilient Spurs team that looks a lot like last year’s NBA Finalist has to be the favorite to win their division once again. They are the team no one wants to meet in the playoffs.

The only reason to project fewer wins than last season is the Spurs best players are getting older. Father-time catches up to everyone eventually.

4. Houston Rockets – 45-37 last season, projected 54-28

The Rockets have joined the list of serious contenders to advance to the Western Conference Finals because they won the Dwight Howard sweepstakes. Two bona fide big-time All-Star players has been the formula to contend in the NBA and the combination of Harden and Howard is as legit as it comes.

Last season Howard played with a bad back in bad situation and he still led the league in rebounding and was fifth in blocks. Assume Howard will arrive in Houston with something to prove.

Houston still has a situation to sort out with Omer Asik as last year’s starting center is not a power forward, but Asik is a very tradable asset, so this problem is not a bad problem to have.

5. Golden State Warriors – 47-35 last season, projected 51-31

No one is going to mistake the Golden State Warriors for a defensive juggernaut, but last season Head Coach Mark Jackson got a decidedly better effort on defense out of his offensive-minded players and the Warriors won 24 more games than the year before and got to the Western Conference Semi-Finals.

The Warriors defense just took a huge step forward with this summer’s acquisition of Andre Iguodala. Jackson will be able to pair Iguodala on the wing with either Harrison Barnes or Klay Thompson and give opposing offenses a look this team hasn’t been able to show for years.

Andrew Bogut looks like he will be ready to start the season and re-create his big defensive presence from last season’s playoff run and Jermaine O’Neal can help out defensively as long as Jackson doesn’t have to rely on him for big minutes.

The only obvious risk in Golden State is how well Stephen Curry’s ankles hold up and he only missed 4 regular season games last year.

Risks and Obstacles

The top five teams in the West are all deep enough to deal with reasonable injury risks and still compete for home court in the first round of the playoffs and aside from the Memphis Grizzlies, it would be a surprise if any of the other teams in the Western Conference were able to bump them into the sixth spot or lower. However, each team faces the real possibility that key players will miss games to known injury concerns and if this happens at the wrong time, their regular season standing will be affected.

Anyone in our top five could end up first in the West if the breaks go their way, however, pushing the Clippers and the Thunder out of the way is probably too big a hill to climb.

Who do you think will put forth the effort it takes to be first in the NBA Western Conference at the end of the season? Which one of these teams do you think gives up home court in the first round of the playoffs? Can any other team crack the top five in the West? Let us know in the comments below.

The muddled middle of teams competing for a playoff spot at 6, 7 and 8 will be available for discussion soon.

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

NBA Summer League Headliners

The Orlando Summer League has wrapped up and day three in Las Vegas is on Sunday, so there have already been some stories worthy of a quick mention.  Remembering that Summer League usually tells us more about what a player isn’t ready to do at the next level than actually being able to project these results onto the coming season, there have been some performances that have impressed.  Here’s a selection.

Thunder’s Reggie Jackson had everything going his way in a game against Detroit on Tuesday as he scored at will against the Pistons dropping 35 points.  Jackson only played in a game and a half after getting cut above the eye, but apparently, he doesn’t need to be here.

The Celtics made a draft day move to grab the 13th pick, Kelly Olynyk and he made summer league look easy.  18 points, 7.8 rebounds, 1.8 steals, the seven-footer with athleticism and shooting range was pretty much having his own way in Orlando.

The Thunder’s Jeremy Lamb was just the scoring lead in Orlando, but he did it with some pretty brutal shooting.  39.1 percent from the field and 6-22 from three-point range is not what a returning NBA player should be doing at this level.  Dwight Buycks on the other hand, turned a pair of very good Summer League games with the Thunder into an NBA contract with the Raptors.

Point Guard Ian Clark made a big impression on the HEAT averaging 16 points on 49 percent shooting, so much so that they asked him to join their Las Vegas squad.  Unfortunately, Clark had already committed to the Warriors for Las Vegas.

Returning Piston Andre Drummond put up perhaps the biggest performance in Orlando.  15.5 points, 14.8 rebounds, 2.5 steals and 2 blocks is what a team hopes to see out of their lottery pick from the prior year’s draft.

Las Vegas is just underway, but already there have been some big performance.

Point guard Andrew Goudelock played the last two seasons with the Lakers and is trying to catch on with the Bulls.  He put up an early tournament best 27 points on 9-15 shooting to go with 4 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 steals.  If you have seen him play in the NBA, you would know he doesn’t belong in Summer League, but he needs a job.

John Jenkins returns to the Hawks Summer League team after a typical rookie season and he did what he was supposed to do.  He shot 11-23 from the field to score 24 points and he added 6 boards and 3 assists.

Austin Rivers didn’t have the easiest rookie season with the Hornets – now Pelicans, but his first game in Las Vegas was dominate.  8-15 from the field, 24 points, 7 rebounds, 6 assists and a steal, now that’s doing it right for someone in Summer League for a second time.

One can be forgiven if they don’t remember Jeff Taylor of the Bobcats last season.  The rookie had typical rookie numbers in a forgettable season on a forgettable team.  Taylor was the Bobcats leading scorer on Friday with 24 points on 9-17 shooting and made an unexpected drive starting behind the three-point line to posterize the Spurs Aron Baynes.

Point guard Stefhon Hannah used his three years of D-League experience to shoot 8-11 from the field and 4-6 from deep to score 23 points in his first game with the Select team on Saturday.

The Toronto Raptors returning rookie Jonas Valanciunas missed Summer League last year due to commitments with the Lithuanian National team, but he put on a dunk fest for the fans in Las Vegas Saturday.  The seven-footer hit on 8-10 from the field for 23 points in 26 minutes to go with 7 boards in another dominating performance by a player who played in the NBA last season.

Josh Akognon played briefly with the Mavericks last year, but doesn’t have a guaranteed deal, so Summer League matters to the 5’ 11” point guard.  Akognon led his team with 22 points on 8-14 shooting on Saturday.  He’s motivated.

The Trail Blazers 10th pick, C.J. McCollum had a nice start to his professional career in Las Vegas.  The rookie went 9-19 for 22 points, 3 rebounds, 4 assists, a block and a steal.  Next step for the guard is to reduce his turnovers from 4 the next time out.

Anyone who saw John Henson play for the Bucks last season will have noticed this guy is on a pogo stick, as thin as a rail and probably tougher.  Henson had 19 points on 7-10 shooting to go with 13 rebounds, a steal and 3 blocks for a Summer League double-double.  Padding his stats at this level shouldn’t be a surprise.

Other notable performances from the first two days in Vegas include Kent Bazemore, Cory Joseph, Reggie Bullock, Dominique Jones, Markieff Morris and on and on.  The important thing for these guys is to build on this.

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.

Best Raptors Moves Available Now

Masai UjiriThe Toronto Raptors will have moves available to them on July 10, just after or in conjunction with the trade of Andrea Bargnani to the Knicks. That trade gave them assets, better assets than many people thought were possible for the dented-can that was Bargnani. The fallout from the moves other teams have been making during the July moratorium equals opportunity for President and General Manager, Basketball Operations Masai Ujiri and the time to start cutting those deals is now.

Kendrick Perkins, Oklahoma City Thunder, $18.6 million over 2 years

Raptors Head Coach Dwane Casey wants toughness and players don’t come any tougher than Kendrick Perkins. Perkins would anchor the Raptors defense and be an excellent mentor for Jonas Valanciunas.

The Raptors could trade incoming Steve Novak and Marcus Camby to the Thunder. Novak would thrive playing beside so many players that demand a double team and Camby wants to play for a contender, plus Camby’s contract isn’t guaranteed after this season. There are strong indications Perkins no longer fits in Oklahoma City, but he’d be a great fit in Toronto.

Omer Asik, Houston Rockets, $16.7 million over 2 years

DeRozan webIf the Rockets win the Dwight Howard sweepstakes, a race they are slightly favored in, young center Omer Asik becomes a very expensive backup with limited opportunities to play. He will find himself on the trade market fairly quickly. With Bargnani traded, the Raptors need another big man and Asik could be the long term solution towards getting a formidable front court rotation. After clearing out their roster to make room for Howard, the Rockets could use some depth in return.

The Raptors could send Terrence Ross, Novak and Aaron Gray along with the first round draft pick they acquired from the Knicks to Houston for Asik to provide youth, shooting and a backup center. Camby and Gray are available if the Rockets want to stick with potentially expiring contracts. Even DeMar DeRozan should be available if the Rockets want more scoring.

Robin Lopez, New Orleans Pelicans, $10.4 million over 2 years
Greivis Vasquez, New Orleans Pelicans, $2.1 million ($3.2 million qualifying offer next year)

Both of these young players had break out seasons last year, albeit on a very bad team. However, they are the kinds of young developing prospects who could step into roles on the Raptors and make the team immediately better. Greivis Vasquez averaged 13.9 points and 9 assists last season. Robin Lopez blocked 5 percent of the two point shots attempted while he was on the floor.

With the acquisition of All-Star point guard Jrue Holiday, Greivis Vasquez is available and the 6’ 6” point guard would fit in well at both guard spots in the Raptors rotation. The Pelicans have also made a big-time offer to restricted free agent Tyreke Evans that would put Vasquez even deeper on their depth chart. Lopez is going to lose even more minutes to rookie sensation Anthony Davis and the cheaper Jason Smith this season.

For Vasquez, Novak and New York’s two second round draft picks would fill a gaping hole in the Pelicans rotation, plus get them a couple of future assets. Raptors have pieces the Pelicans should be interested.

The Pelicans can make Robin Lopez a free agent on July 5th by buying out his contract for $500,000, but they would rather get something back for the young center than just turn him into an unrestricted free agent. The Raptors could pursue a trade for both Lopez and Vasquez or wait for Lopez to be bought out. A trade would make more sense for both teams.

Note: The Kings may try to swing a sign and trade with Evans to acquire Vasquez and/or Lopez, however, the Pelicans know the Kings are not likely to match and they may be able to get additional assets for these players elsewhere.

Evan Turner, Philadelphia 76ers, $6.7 million ($8.7 million qualifying offer next year)
Spencer Hawes, Philadelphia 76ers, $6.6 million

Andrew WigginsThe 76ers fans have bought into tanking for the 2014 NBA Draft and have a WinlessForWiggins Facebook page that says it all. Michael Levin, SB Nation Liberty Ballers believes 76ers President and General Manager Sam Hinkle needs to finish the job he started by trading Jrue Holiday for Nerlens Noel.

“You don’t cut the head off a chicken and call it a day. You’ve got wings, legs, breasts, and thighs all just waiting to be devoured. The headless chicken, while visually symbolic of a host of erstwhile Sixers-related metaphors, is a half measure. No more half measures.”

“Everyone can be traded – Arya Stark. Andrea Bargnani actually netted the Raptors three picks. They received things for him. It’s something that bears repeating as we enter the desperation part of the offseason for some teams.”

Levin is correct, the 76ers are too good as constructed to assure themselves of a top pick in next year’s draft and without their point guard, the franchise isn’t going to rebuild all that quickly either.

Evan Turner is the kind of rebounding defensive guard that Casey’s style of play demands. His game still needs a lot of polish, but he’s young and has potential to get a lot better. Spencer Hawes is a jump shooting center, but he can block shots at a decent rate and is a good defensive rebounder. He would be ideal coming off the bench in Toronto.

The Raptors should be willing to part with DeRozan to do this deal. DeRozan can score, he is improving and he has a manageable long term contract. He has also shown that he isn’t going to carry a team by himself and has a lot of work to do at the defensive end. The Raptors could add in Ross, Gray and New York’s future first round draft pick and possibly a second round pick and give the 76ers a roster with future potential that is designed to tank next season. If the 76ers are not interested in DeRozan, Camby and Novak are available for improved tankability.

Tyler Hansbrough, Indiana Pacers, Unrestricted Free Agent

It didn’t take long after the Pacers agreed to a new contract with David West before Tyler Hansbrough’s qualifying offer of $4.1 million was pulled. That had to sound like opportunity knocking to Casey in Toronto. There isn’t another young forward that plays as tough as Hansbrough in the NBA.

Hansbrough wants to start and there was no chance of that ever happening in Indiana. In Toronto, that’s somewhat doubtful as well, but Casey could promise “Physco T” that he would be a 30 minute per game rotation player and have a chance to earn the right to be on the floor at the end of games.

There are not a lot of free agents out there to be the “tough guy” Casey wants, but Hansbrough is one of them.

Nate Robinson, Chicago Bulls, Unrestricted Free Agent

Nate Robinson had to take a veteran’s minimum offer from the Bulls last season, but the diminutive point guard might have been the best value signing in last year’s free agent class. Robinson accepted the coaching of Tom Thibodeau, fit into Chicago’s defensive schemes and at times, carried them on offense. Robinson plays tough and with an edge. Toronto might not have the bright lights Robinson sought earlier in his career, but we witnessed a much more mature and effective player in Chicago and the Raptors could use his grit and flash next season.

Myck Kabongo, Undrafted Free Agent

Ujiri keeps talking about developing young players on the back end of his roster and how important it is that basketball keeps progressing in Canada. Myck Kabongo should have been a second round draft pick in June and has the potential to develop into a decent NBA player. The Raptors should just sign the young Canadian to a minimum deal and send him to the NBA D-League until he is ready.

This story isn’t over and there will be more opportunities developing for the Raptors as teams commit to a tanking strategy or sign expensive free agents and need to move out talent.

This list isn’t exhaustive. Let us know the players you believe will be available in free agency or by trade that would help the Raptors improve next season in the comments below.

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.