“Sacramento took us to the woodshed out at their place last time,” he said. “Took our guys out and fed them, and then beat them the next night. “We owe them something coming in here.” The fraternization aspect of the NBA is unique to North American pro sports. There are relatively few players — 15 to a roster is the fewest of any of the big four leagues — and players tend to have known each other since they were teens. They hang out and play pickup games in the summer, they are each other’s best friends and confidantes, best men at weddings, godfathers to children. There is a kinship that runs deep. It is also a matter, in no small way, of age. The Raptors and Kings who hung out that night are relative youngsters, some have yet to develop all of their competitive instincts or truly understand that a “friend” may stand in the way of wins and, who knows, future earnings or success.
The challenge for Casey and the Raptors’ coaching staff will be in managing the rotation, loosening it enough to give the guards a breathier – together or separately – without sacrificing important games. “That’s the hard thing,” Casey acknowledged following Wednesday’s practice. “We’ve got to buy them a few minutes here and there but every possession – not only every game, every quarter [but] every possession – is meaningful.” “When you start looking at scoring, we hit a drought the other night against Golden State right before the fourth quarter but we were just trying to buy minutes for those guys off the floor. It’s a catch-22.” DeRozan is fourth in the league, averaging just over 38 minutes per game, behind only Carmelo Anthony, James Harden and Kevin Durant while Lowry is 14th, logging roughly 36 a night. Amongst NBA duos, only Houston’s pair of Harden and Chandler Parsons as well as Golden State’s Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson play more.
Toronto ranks just 15th in the NBA in defensive rebound percentage and gives up too many offensive rebounds and points in the paint. Though the defence has been strong for months now, much of the good defensive work gets undone by shoddy work on the boards. “We have to get those rebounds once we do get (defensive) stops. Some of it is DNA, we’re going to keep continuing to drill it, drill it, drill it, but I know rebounding is almost like shooting, some rebounders are born and its natural to have a first reaction the ball,” Casey said. “We’re trying to create that, but it’s hard to do. I don’t want to put it all on the bigs … (but) our guards are doing a good job of rebounding, our bigs have to be quick to the ball, anticipate the ball.” With better rebounding the priority for the players, starting with Friday’s game against Sacramento, Casey said the coaching staff has a priority as well — spelling the team’s stars as much as possible.
Colangelo had been left to dangle in the wind, with ownership unwilling to make a call on his future. Having already admirably waited a year on Jonas Valanciunas, of course he was going to pursue a big-name player with the months ticking away on his contract. Why did MLSE allow him to is the big question, given his tenuous future. Simply put, MLSE made a mistake. Not enough thought was given to the impossibility of getting Gay to mesh with DeMar DeRozan, a player who also liked the ball in his hands and had limited range. Or to how adding one of the league’s highest-paid players would impact the team’s financial picture moving forward. Sure, Leiweke wasn’t around to give a sober second thought at the time, but why didn’t anybody else provide it? What was the rush and why was Colangelo given the power to make such an important call when Cope, for one, like a member of the previous board, was far from sold on Colangelo?
Since Salmons played his first game for Toronto, the Raptors have scored 6.5 more points per 100 possessions than they have allowed when he has been on the floor. Most of that is due to his defensive contributions, as the second unit has been particularly excellent on that end of the floor. The Raptors have allowed just 96.8 points per 100 possessions while Salmons has played, a figure that would be good enough for second overall in the league, behind only Indiana. Yet, his influence extends beyond that. “I think it was the Atlanta game here at home,” coach Dwane Casey said of the Feb. 12 game against the Hawks. “We were struggling offensively. He made a point, saying, ‘Don’t let our offence dictate our defence.’ He was exactly on the money. He just said that out of the blue in the locker room to the players, at halftime. That was a huge statement coming from a player. Usually coaches have to say [that].”