“You look at it: a third-place team. I think our guys have played hard. I think we do have some good young talent on the team,” Ujiri said. “On the other side, you also look at what some people call a not-so-good Eastern Conference. Tons of players are injured. How do you judge or how do you evaluate?” That does not mean Lowry, Terrence Ross, Jonas Valanciunas and even DeMar DeRozan, the only Raptor currently signed through 2016, are guaranteed to be Raptors for another half-decade. Ujiri said he had conversations that he could re-visit in the summer, and that does not seem like empty talk. Ujiri’s mandate is to build a long-term contender; he will have to figure out who can be part of that success sooner rather than later. He will have to assess Lowry soonest of all, of course. The point guard will be an unrestricted free agent after this year, and was nearly traded to New York shortly after the Gay trade. By not dealing him, the Raptors open themselves up to the possibility that he will leave for no return at all, even though there does not figure to be a huge market for point guards this off-season.
“People are going to say it’s a contract year, but in our opinion the kid has played all out and he has given it his all,” Ujiri said of Lowry. “Kyle has adjusted. We set some good rules and had good talks with him (at the beginning of the season). He was up front with us and we were up front with him … and he is living up to his part and I think we have lived up to our part too and that’s how you build partnerships and we’ll see how he grows.” It’s no secret that the Lowry the Raptors had for the vast majority of last season was a mere shadow of the player he has been this season. Part of that has been health. Maybe even a large part is simply health, but the transformation has been far more than just physical. Look no further than Lowry on the bench this season. He’s up and cheering on his teammates and actively involved in everything going on in the game. Simply put, he’s a much better teammate this season than he was last. He’s pulling people aside and both instructing and encouraging them when mistakes are made or assignments are missed. Lowry has always been a guy who cares a lot of about winning, but he has taken that caring to another level this year.
At first glance the Austin Daye for Nando De Colo trade that’s reportedly just gone down reeks of a Colangelo move, trading just for the sake of looking busy. That’s what happened last year when BC ridiculously decided to trade a second-round pick to the Phoenix Suns for Sebastian Telfair. (I’m still mad about this one.) But based on salary reports, the move could actually have some off-the-court benefit before even getting to the on-the-court part, saving Toronto a few hundred thousand dollars next season. Daye wasn’t going to play unless 80 per cent of the team was suddenly vaporized by aliens so if you can move a piece like that for at least a bit of cap space, all good. And wait, there’s more! De Colo might actually play for Toronto this year. He’s averaged only 4.3 points and 1.2 assists in 26 games for the Spurs this season, but he’s only in his sophomore campaign and as a 6-5 point guard, might represent an upgrade behind Greivis Vasquez for the Raptors’ third-string PG role.
For Ujiri, the evaluation process has been muddled by his team’s unexpected success since the Rudy Gay trade in December and the porous Eastern Conference in which they’ve experienced said success. The result of that appraisal was somewhat inconclusive. Ujiri is still unsure what he has in the East’s surprising third seed but their recent play – and most importantly the chemistry they’ve developed – has piqued his interest enough to buy them more time. “You pray and you hope for chemistry and I think we found it a little bit,” he stressed. “We said we were going to give these players a platform and they would dictate where we go and to be fair, I think we’ve also tried to live up to our part of the bargain here and they have, too.”
Some may have hoped for a bigger deal, in which a player like Luol Deng would have been acquired, but it is clear that GM Masai Ujiri was A: hesitant about disrupting the chemistry of an up-and-coming team, and B: didn’t want to give up any future assets in a win-now move. As it is, the Toronto Raptors are neither better nor worse off, which given the hopes for the playoffs is just fine by me. Ultimately though, the team’s success will not be measured by how this season ends, but by how well the team plays for years to come.
There really isn’t a lot of mystery as to why the Cavaliers have been winning some games lately, the quality of their opposition notwithstanding, this team is finally playing some defense. Cleveland has surrendered 101.5 points per game on average this year, but for 5 games in a row, they have held their opponents to under 100 points and over the current 6-game winning streak, points against are averaging 93.7. Now that’s something Head Coach Mike Brown can build on. Interestingly, the Cavaliers have been without starting center Anderson Varejao for the past 4 games because of a sore back and he isn’t expected to play on Friday in Toronto. However, interim general manager David Griffin acquired the 76ers center Spencer Hawes at the trade deadline and it’s possible all of the necessary steps will have been completed in time for him to play his first game for the Cavaliers against the Raptors.
This is obviously a blow for the Cavaliers. Without Waiters and Miles, it’s hard to see how the Cleveland defense will be able to matchup consistently with Raptors best two wings, All-Star DeMar DeRozen and Terrence Rose. With Waiters and Miles out, this likely means an uptick in minutes for Jarrett Jack and possibly for Matthew Dellavedova. As for Varejao, this may mean that newly acquired center Spencer Hawes sees extended minutes in his first game as a member of the Cavaliers.
“We’re being a little more consistent with our defense, knowing that if we miss a shot or two we can get a stop and believe that somebody is going to make a play for us at the other end of the floor,” coach Mike Brown said. “Just the belief more than anything else.” All five Cleveland starters scored in double figures in Wednesday’s 101-93 win over Orlando, led by point guard Kyrie Irving’s 22. Irving also had seven rebounds and seven assists for the Cavs, who led by 15 after one quarter and never trailed. “We’re just coming together as a team and we’re enjoying the game out there more,” Irving said. “There are a lot more smiles and a higher level of competitiveness. We’re having fun, but we’re also competing. That’s what you want from everybody on the team.”
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