PO mentality: Dwane Casey said before this game, “We’ve got to come in with our hard hats on, playing with a purpose, playing with a sense or urgency. A pissed off mentality … At some point we got to say, ‘Ok, enough.’” … and the Raptors were out-hustled, out-worked, and outscored 58–39 in the first half. Way to respond to the coach. Raptors didn’t show any fight until midway through the third.
If you spent your Valentine’s alone, watching this game, then I am very sorry for you. Your night was sad and deeply unsatisfying. If you were annoyed to miss this game because of the societal pressures to buy some useless sentimental crap from Shoppers Drug Mart and then go out for an expensive dinner just because it’s February 14th and Hallmark is really good at marketing, well, rejoice! Because even if you forgot to try and make reservations until the afternoon of and your girlfriend or boyfriend seemed passive aggressively annoyed all night because of the long wait for a table at a second-tier restaurant because they’re not an idiot and know it’s because you completely forgot to make a reservation or, worse still, forgot about Valentine’s day altogether, at least you didn’t have to watch that embarrassing horror-show of a loss against the Bulls.
Maybe if you give Lowry and DeRozan more of a break during games, they can give you a little more at the end of the close ones that the Raptors have been blowing lately. But they’ll almost definitely give you more through April, May and, if you’re lucky, June. That is, after all, when the games really matter.
As for the games now? It doesn’t not matter, but this is the time to struggle a little bit and to get a little angry and to have ideas and to remember, if you needed to, that isolating DeRozan does not win a lot of games. The Raptors should start playing good basketball again. I’m getting worried too, but they will start playing good basketball again.
They’ll get over this, and once they do, one would really like to think they’ll be better for it. If not, we can worry about bigger stuff then.
“I think as we’ve watched our team play over the course of the season, clearly something’s amiss,” Magic general manager Rob Hennigan said. “And we’re all frustrated by the way our team’s performed to date, and we felt like it was necessary to try to shake things up somehow, someway.”
Magic officials concluded that they had to trade Ibaka before the Feb. 23 NBA trade deadline or risk losing him for nothing in free agency in July. Ibaka gave the Magic no assurances that he intended to re-sign with them.
“My main focus is getting back to where we were last year and capitalizing on that,” said Powell. “I’m not really focused on individual success so it’s all about the team. It’s still a bittersweet feeling for me, in my first season, to make it all the way to Eastern Conference Finals, and be two games away. It’s tough. So that’s my focus.”
Should the Raptors accomplish that feat this season, many will look to Ibaka’s addition as a major part of that success. But Powell’s expanded role, and the added benefit that his backcourt mates will reap as a result, will likely be a significant factor even if that goes unnoticed and unheralded. Powell will still focus on the work and the consistent chance to prove it pays off.
And you get the feeling that he wouldn’t have it any other way.
Assuming health for the rest of the Raptors’ season, this should add more versatility to what Dwane Casey is able to do with his rotation. Toronto has been missing the interior presence of Bismack Biyombo this season. That’s caused them to be much more reliant on Jonas Valanciunas, who is an offensive force but not the back line defender Toronto craves. Lucas Nogueira has been a nice rotation big, but Ibaka gives the Raptors the versatility to play big or small.
If Ibaka’s rim protection struggles were a product of the apathy of being in Orlando, being back on a contender could turn back the clock for him. Let’s say that happens right away in Toronto. He’s invigorated by “We the North” chants and poutine. That allows the Raptors to go small without sacrificing anything on the offensive or defensive ends.
Throw Ibaka at the 5 with DeMarre Carroll and DeMar DeRozan as the 4 and the 3, respectively. Then you can either go with the dual-point guard lineup of Kyle Lowry and Cory Joseph, or you pair Lowry and Norman Powell together.
“We just didn’t play hard, honestly,” Kyle Lowry said after the game in yet another hushed locker room, something that is becoming the norm for this team. “We just have to figure out a way to do it consistently. Right now we’re a way below .500 team, we’re playing really bad basketball, it’s crazy right now. We went from this to that.”
Normally a tilt with the Bulls ends in dejection and a lot of head shaking. This time it was so one-sided at the half, the only expected emotion was disgust of the internal variety.
CHICAGO — It’s hard to imagine a current member of the Toronto Raptors who has the potential to benefit more from today’s trade than Norman Powell.
The second-round pick who has worked his way into the hearts and minds of Raptors fans everywhere with his gutsy, two-way play in just over a year and a half should see his court time bolstered substantially.
It comes at a significant personal price though for Powell, who was very close with Terrence Ross, the only loss from the roster in the trade for Serge Ibaka. Ross is a guy Powell leaned on tremendously for guidance as his NBA career was getting started.
But the move brings with it the risk of high expectations. The downside is failing to meet them. At this point, Ujiri and general manager Jeff Weltman and the rest of the Raptors management team are off the hook. They’ve done their job. It’s hard to imagine another playoff team making as significant of an addition before the Feb. 23 deadline. The price was right and the timing was right.
If this group fails over the next two months? Then things can get really crazy and they would be able to justify a teardown rather than reinvesting in a core that doesn’t look like it can win big.
Now the heat lamp shifts elsewhere. Lowry and DeRozan made their dissatisfaction with the Raptors direction known in recent days, and while Ujiri says their comments Sunday didn’t precipitate the deal, it’s safe to assume they lent urgency to getting something done before the all-star break.
But these Raptors had been playing all season with a one-legged DeMarre Carroll and a collection of young big men that made Patrick Patterson indispensable, and Ujiri decided that the team deserved a shot at success, at an acceptable price. At the draft Oklahoma City had asked for the No. 9 pick, Norman Powell, Cory Joseph and Patterson for Ibaka. The Raptors passed. As the teams talked last week, Orlando’s price looked similar to what Atlanta wanted for Paul Millsap last month: Patterson, Ross, a first-round pick and a young player. The Raptors weren’t interested. They waited.
And with Ross and Powell to choose from, and an extra first-rounder from the Clippers, the path opened up. The Raptors can now roll out a lineup of Lowry and DeRozan, a suddenly sharpshooting Carroll, Ibaka — shooting 38 per cent from three-point range this year — and Jonas Valanciunas. And when teams go small, Ibaka can play centre and switch pick-and-rolls, the way Bismack Biyombo did last season.
“It starts with our leaders, me and DeMar,” Kyle Lowry said after the Raptors were listless and effort-free for almost three entire quarters. “We have to figure it out, find ways to push our teammates to be better and push ourselves to be better.”
Or maybe it starts higher up the food chain.
“This game is tough. If you’re not ready mentally, physically ready to start the game and be in a tough mindset, the game gets away from you quick, and we weren’t ready to play,” coach Dwane Casey said. “I take the blame for that, not having the guys jacked up and ready to play the first half.”
The move also clears salary from the cap this summer. Ross’ $10.5 million disappears, as does the cap hit associated with the pick. It will be the lesser of the two picks this summer, which right now projects around a $1.5 million cap hit. So that clears about $12 million from the books, a good start on clearing enough room to re-sign Ibaka and Kyle Lowry (and maybe Patrick Patterson) without paying an incredible amount of taxes.
That was the big question floating around last night, even before Masai dropped his “I still have my phone” line on the masses gathered at the Biosteel Centre.
There are those in the organization who were whispering last night that they think there’s one more move to be made and there are people on the bench who think that it’s definitely needed.
No question there’s a roster imbalance still, they have four point guards and three centres, at least one too many of each, especially when you consider that Dwane held out the chance that Ibaka could guard some fives and the fact Patterson plays there in pinch.
They have expiring contracts (Sullinger and Patterson) that might be attractive, they have young kids who don’t make any money but who have some promise and that glut of point guards.
No names were really associated with what’s to come; the dream list would be two players long: Denver’s Wilson Chandler and Phoenix’s PJ Tucker but I don’t know what they could offer either organization to pry them away.
But know this: Masai’s not done trying. His line may have been a throwaway but people I talked to before and after the game figure he’ll double-down to make one more transaction before the Feb. 23 deadline.
Gonna make for a fun-filled few days in NOLA, I bet.
The Caveat: It’s time for some gaaaaaaaaame theory! Maybe Hennigan knew exactly what he was doing when he gave up the at-the-time highly regarded Victor Oladipo and the newly drafted, also highly regarded Domantas Sabonis. Maybe Serge was never supposed to be a building block and was just a distraction from Hennigan’s real plan. Maybe Terrence Ross was the target all along. Maybe this is just the first in a multipart plan to immediately rebuild the Magic roster with a series of daring deadline moves that gives Frank Vogel all the tools he needs to challenge in the Eastern Conference.
Psych. I know one Magic fan. His name is Kevin Clark, and he is saying words like “sad” and “horrifying.” Orlando is a junkyard of old parts — D.J. Augustin, Jodie Meeks, C.J. Wilcox, Jeff Green — rusting on top of what were once-hyped younger players like Elfrid Payton, Mario Hezonja, and Aaron Gordon, the latter of which is basically the only thing of value the Magic possess. The Raptors or Clippers pick is likely to fall outside of the prime talent pool of this year’s draft. Hennigan better have a next move here, because otherwise he’s not going to be around to use the pick. Orlando has no discernible direction or identity.
The Raptors are facing impending luxury tax complications however. They have $76,749,940 committed to nine guaranteed contracts this offseason, but that doesn’t include Lowry, Ibaka, or Patterson’s upcoming free agency. Lowry, about to turn 31, is eligible for a tier three max contract of five years, $207,060,000 (!!!!!), one that he will almost certainly get (or close to it). Pair that with either Patterson or Ibaka netting a sizable deal and the Raptors will already eclipse the $122 million luxury tax threshold. The Raptors will likely have to tinker with their roster, shedding either Valanciunas or Carroll this offseason, but that task comes secondary to Toronto’s primary motivator in this deal, which is to improve short term.
There are also issues of course re-signing Ibaka, as we don’t know his actual age, and his athletic regression doesn’t do anything to quiet that worry. But even if Ibaka is just a rental for the Raptors the price is still more than justifiable.
The Raptors’ 17th-place defense is at its most vulnerable around the basket. They rank in the top 10 of opponent field-goal percentage at the basket, but they’re allowing more of those looks per game than any other team.
Bigs have carved them up when operating near the bucket. The Raptors are 29th in roll-man defense, and they’re similarly ineffective when guarding against cuts (19th) and off screens (22nd).
Ibaka is a deterrent in many of these problem areas—someone who, unlike Toronto’s other bigs, forces offenses to adjust before ever attacking.
Opponents are shooting 52.9 percent when challenging him at the rim, an uncharacteristically high number. Orlando’s clunky rotations force almost everyone to defend out of sorts; dating back to 2013-14, Ibaka had never allowed a point-blank success rate higher than 45.1 percent.
Though he has never been the ideal pick-and-roll defender and isn’t the middleman you want switching onto evasive ball-handlers, Ibaka does a nice job of preventing off-ball cuts. If Toronto allows fewer looks at the rim and posts a defensive rebounding better than their 26th-ranked mark (75.1), he’s done his job.
While Ibaka will help the offense, that’s not the major reason for this trade. Casey is a defense-first coach, and his team has let him down on that end all year. The most important part of Ibaka’s job description will be protecting the rim, containing pick-and-rolls and defensive communication. The Raptors will ask him to switch onto smaller players and recover to shooters the way he did last May for the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference finals. They hope that he’ll be doing that in the Eastern Conference finals against the Cavaliers.
Consider this 5-man unit: Lowry, DeRozan, DeMarre Carroll, Patterson and Ibaka. Throw Cory Joseph or Norman Powell in Carroll’s place if you’d prefer. This is a lineup built for 2017: smart, athletic, versatile and able to defend the paint. It will also likely be how Casey chooses to finish most games.
For Raptors president Masai Ujiri, this is the biggest acquisition of his tenure. When he arrived in the summer of 2013, he inherited Lowry, DeRozan and Valanciunas. All three of them have re-signed or extended their contracts — no small thing! — but Ujiri has chosen to tinker with the composition of the supporting cast rather than drastically changing the core. This is a break with that trend: Ujiri is making a big bet on Ibaka, as the plan is clearly to re-sign the big man (and Lowry) long-term in July.