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Date Title Author
Jul 21, 18 DeMar DeRozan says goodbye to Toronto, Canada Blake Murphy
Jul 21, 18 What the Kawhi Leonard Raptors Are Capable Of Oren Weisfeld
Jul 20, 18 PHOTO: Kawhi Leonard is here Blake Murphy
Jul 20, 18 Raptors make Lorenzo Brown, Chris Boucher signings official Blake Murphy
Jul 20, 18 Masai Ujiri press conference notes & quotes Blake Murphy
Jul 20, 18 Raptors signing Chris Boucher to training camp contract Blake Murphy
Jul 20, 18 VIDEO: Masai Ujiri post-trade press conference Blake Murphy
Jul 20, 18 DeMar DeRozan was the shoe that stopped fitting Vivek Jacob
Jul 20, 18 Canada to play September FIBA qualifier in Laval Blake Murphy
Jul 19, 18 Raptors adding Sergio Scariolo to coaching staff Blake Murphy
Jul 19, 18 The Modern Raptors Anthony Doyle
Jul 19, 18 Far from nothing: A shallow dive into Kawhi Leonard’s advanced stats Colin Connors
Jul 19, 18 Is the Kawhi trade worth the risk? Tim W.
Jul 19, 18 VIDEO: Siakam posts 38-15-11 in Drew League game Blake Murphy
Jul 19, 18 Kawhi Arrival a Test for Raptors’ Culture Joshua Howe
Jul 18, 18 Late-night Kawhi Leonard notes and social media round up Blake Murphy
Jul 18, 18 You Make This Trade Ten Times Out Of Ten Tim Chisholm
Jul 18, 18 READ: DeRozan’s Loyalty to Raptors Was Admirable Blake Murphy
Jul 18, 18 Raptors make Leonard-DeRozan swap official Blake Murphy
Jul 18, 18 Raptors Reaction Podcast – They really traded for Kawhi Leonard Blake Murphy
Jul 18, 18 Report: Raptors to acquire Leonard and Green for DeRozan, Poeltl, and a 1st Blake Murphy
Jul 18, 18 Report: Raptors reach agreement for Kawhi Leonard trade Blake Murphy
Jul 17, 18 Report: Lorenzo Brown re-signing with Raptors Blake Murphy
Jul 16, 18 Windhorst: Raptors may be in ‘driver’s seat’ in Kawhi Leonard talks Blake Murphy
Jul 16, 18 Raptors waive Alfonzo McKinnie Blake Murphy
Jul 16, 18 Devil’s Advocate: Why Kawhi Leonard is worth it Colin Connors
Jul 16, 18 Raptors Weekly Podcast – Scoops from Summer League Blake Murphy
Jul 16, 18 Raptors-Cavaliers LVSL Reaction Podcast – Eliminated by the Cavs Blake Murphy
Jul 15, 18 Summer League Raptors eliminated by Cavaliers, obviously Blake Murphy
Jul 15, 18 Raptors-Hornets LVSL Reaction Podcast – Rawle’s redemption Blake Murphy
Jul 14, 18 Alkins leads Raptors to Summer League quarterfinals with OT win against Hornets Blake Murphy
Jul 13, 18 Raptors withdraw qualifying offer for Malcolm Miller Blake Murphy
Jul 13, 18 Summer League reading Blake Murphy
Jul 12, 18 Summer Slam: RR’s 3on3 Basketball Tournament Is Back – Sign Up Now! Blake Murphy
Jul 12, 18 Rumors and the Raptors Anthony Doyle
Jul 12, 18 Raptors-Nuggets LVSL Reaction Podcast – Cue the comeback Blake Murphy
Jul 11, 18 Big 2nd-half comeback against Nuggets lands Raptors 1st win of Summer League Blake Murphy
Jul 11, 18 Raptors 905 promote Chad Sanders to general manager Blake Murphy
Jul 11, 18 Would relaxed Gambling Laws benefit Canadian Sports? RR
Jul 10, 18 Summer School: Grading the Raptors at Summer League so far Colin Connors
Jul 10, 18 Raptors Weekly Podcast – Dreaming on Kawhi Blake Murphy
Jul 9, 18 Raptors fall to 0-3 in Summer League with loss to Thunder Blake Murphy
Jul 9, 18 Raptors-Thunder LVSL Reaction Podcast – Promising signs from OG Blake Murphy
Jul 9, 18 Malcolm Miller dislocates shoulder, done for Summer League Blake Murphy
Jul 9, 18 Raptors add Nate Bjorkgren to staff Blake Murphy
Jul 9, 18 Talk and Action Anthony Doyle
Jul 8, 18 Raptors comeback falls short, Timberwolves pull back away late Blake Murphy
Jul 8, 18 Raptors-Timberwolves LVSL Reaction Podcast – Hard to watch Blake Murphy
Jul 6, 18 Raptors-Pelicans LVSL Reaction Podcast – Pelicans drop ice-cold Raps Blake Murphy
Jul 6, 18 Raptors drop Summer League opener to Pelicans Blake Murphy
Jul 6, 18 VIDEO: Raptors make Fred VanVleet signing official, plus presser Blake Murphy
Jul 6, 18 Summer League Patreon Mailbag: The tax, a window in the East, becoming a heavyweight, and more Blake Murphy
Jul 5, 18 July 6 Free Agency Open Thread: Moratorium ends at noon Blake Murphy
Jul 5, 18 2017-18 Toronto Raptors Player Reviews Blake Murphy
Jul 5, 18 Player Review 2017-18: Alfonzo McKinnie Blake Murphy
Jul 4, 18 July 5 Free Agency Open Thread Blake Murphy
Jul 4, 18 Canada Day long weekend offers glimpse of Raptors dream Vivek Jacob
Jul 3, 18 July 4 Free Agency Open Thread Blake Murphy
Jul 2, 18 July 3 Free Agency Open Thread Blake Murphy
Jul 2, 18 Canada blows out U.S. Virgin Islands, finish first round of qualifiers 5-1 Blake Murphy
Jul 2, 18 FIBA Europe Qualifiers Wrap: Valanciunas, Lithuania dominate; Poeltl sits with foot infection Blake Murphy
Jul 2, 18 July 2 Free Agency Open Thread: LeBron heads West, Warriors land Cousins Blake Murphy
Jul 2, 18 Making the case for going all in on 2018-19 Colin Connors
Jul 2, 18 Raptors Weekly Podcast – FVV’s bet paid off William Lou
Jul 1, 18 Canada tweaks roster for Monday FIBA qualifier Blake Murphy
Jul 1, 18 Report: Raptors re-signing Fred VanVleet to 2-year, $18M deal Blake Murphy
Jun 30, 18 July 1 Free Agency Open Thread: VanVleet is back, LeBron signs with Lakers Blake Murphy
Jun 30, 18 Air Canada Centre officially becomes Scotiabank Arena Blake Murphy
Jun 30, 18 The Raptors Should Never Trade DeMar DeRozan Oren Weisfeld
Jun 29, 18 Canada avenges loss to Dominican Republic, takes control of group Blake Murphy
Jun 29, 18 Raptors announce Summer League roster: Who and what you need to know Blake Murphy
Jun 29, 18 Raptors add Chris Boucher to Summer League roster Blake Murphy
Jun 28, 18 Canada announces 12-man roster for FIBA qualifiers Blake Murphy
Jun 28, 18 Raptors to host preseason games in Vancouver and Montreal Blake Murphy
Jun 28, 18 DeRozan ranks 14th in jersey sales, Raptors 8th as team Blake Murphy
Jun 28, 18 Player Review 2017-18: Malcolm Miller Colin Connors
Jun 27, 18 Raptors tender VanVleet, Miller, De Colo qualifying offers; Nogueira to become UFA Blake Murphy
Jun 27, 18 Raptors Free Agency Primer: Cap sheet, assets, exceptions, and more Blake Murphy
Jun 26, 18 Raptors to host Melbourne United in preseason Blake Murphy
Jun 26, 18 Player Review 2017-18: Norman Powell Blake Murphy
Jun 25, 18 Dwane Casey wins NBA Coach of the Year; full Raptors award voting results Blake Murphy
Jun 25, 18 Report: Raptors add Adrian Griffin to staff Blake Murphy
Jun 25, 18 Fuquan Edwin, 2 others added to Raptors’ Summer League roster Blake Murphy
Jun 25, 18 Raptors Weekly Podcast – Looking ahead to free agency Blake Murphy
Jun 23, 18 Weekend Open Thread Blake Murphy
Jun 22, 18 The UDFA’s left on the market worth pursuing Colin Connors
Jun 22, 18 Report: Giddy Potts joining Raptors at Summer League Blake Murphy
Jun 22, 18 Quiet Draft Night puts focus on Free Agency Anthony Doyle
Jun 22, 18 Report: Raptors bringing Andrew Rowsey to Summer League Blake Murphy
Jun 22, 18 Report: Raptors agree to camp deal with Rawle Alkins Blake Murphy
Jun 22, 18 VIDEO: Bobby Webster post-draft media availability Blake Murphy
Jun 22, 18 Top undrafted free agents Blake Murphy
Jun 22, 18 Raptors stand pat on draft night Blake Murphy
Jun 21, 18 NBA Draft Open Thread Blake Murphy
Jun 21, 18 Draft Day Mailbag: How to move in, who to move out, and more Blake Murphy
Jun 21, 18 Final 2018 Draft Rankings Blake Murphy
Jun 21, 18 Draft Day rumor/open thread: Raptors ‘open for business’ Blake Murphy
Jun 21, 18 Draft day hub: Workout list, rankings, podcasts, and more Blake Murphy
Jun 20, 18 VIDEO: Webster, Mahlalela media availability Blake Murphy
Jun 20, 18 Webster & Mahlalela media availability notes & quotes Blake Murphy
Jun 20, 18 2017-18 Player Review: Lucas Nogueira Katie Heindl
Jun 19, 18 Raptors Weekly Podcast – Speculation SZN Blake Murphy
Jun 19, 18 Jama Mahlalela named Raptors 905 head coach Blake Murphy
Jun 19, 18 Potential 2nd-Round Steals for the Raptors to Chase Colin Connors
Jun 19, 18 2017-18 Player Review: Masai Ujiri Tim Chisholm
Jun 18, 18 Barrett, Nembhard added to Canada camp roster; Raptors denied permission on Finch; other news & notes Blake Murphy
Jun 18, 18 2017-18 Player Review: Lorenzo Brown Colin Connors
Jun 15, 18 Weekend Open Thread Blake Murphy
Jun 15, 18 2017-18 Player Review: C.J. Miles Josh Weinstein
Jun 15, 18 Raptors Weekly Extra Podcast, June 15 – Raptors’ pick-less draft preview Blake Murphy
Jun 14, 18 Nick Nurse introductory press conference notes & quotes Blake Murphy
Jun 14, 18 VIDEO: Nick Nurse introductory press conference Blake Murphy
Jun 14, 18 Raptors name Nick Nurse as new head coach Blake Murphy
Jun 14, 18 Draft workout notes: Kalamian to Clippers, Pinson and Gabriel headline group of 6 Blake Murphy
Jun 14, 18 2017-18 Player Review: Delon Wright Oren Weisfeld
Jun 13, 18 Canada announces training camp roster ahead of FIBA Women’s World Cup Blake Murphy
Jun 13, 18 Healthy Prognosis Anthony Doyle
Jun 13, 18 Anunoby among first 5 names for Raptors’ Summer League roster Blake Murphy
Jun 13, 18 This Isn’t About Nick Nurse Katie Heindl
Jun 12, 18 Raptors’ Summer League schedule revealed Blake Murphy
Jun 12, 18 Report: Raptors hiring Nick Nurse as head coach Blake Murphy
Jun 12, 18 Raptors Reaction Podcast – Nick Nurse named head coach Blake Murphy
Jun 12, 18 2017-18 Player Review: Malachi Richardson Colin Connors
Jun 12, 18 Raptors Weekly Extra Podcast, June 12 – Sliding doors Blake Murphy
Jun 11, 18 Report: Pistons hire Dwane Casey, Raptors search down to Nurse and Messina Blake Murphy
Jun 11, 18 Raptors Weekly Podcast – Will we finally decide on a head coach? Blake Murphy
Jun 9, 18 Report: Grizzlies add Jerry Stackhouse to staff Blake Murphy
Jun 9, 18 Weekend Open Thread Blake Murphy
Jun 8, 18 2017-18 Player Review: Pascal Siakam Colin Connors
Jun 7, 18 VIDEO: Raptors get brutal Game of Zones treatment Blake Murphy
Jun 7, 18 76ers, Colangelo parting ways Blake Murphy
Jun 7, 18 Love and Raptors: An anniversary road trip RR
Jun 6, 18 Draft workout notes: 6 players work out, coaching odds, no Raptor untouchable Blake Murphy
Jun 6, 18 2017-18 Player Review: Jonas Valanciunas Vivek Jacob
Jun 5, 18 DeMar DeRozan wins PBWA Magic Johnson Award Blake Murphy
Jun 5, 18 Report: Raptors interviewed Sarunas Jasikevicius for head coaching job Blake Murphy
Jun 5, 18 The Direction the Raptors Take Should Dictate their New Head Coach Oren Weisfeld
Jun 4, 18 Raptors Weekly Podcast – Not all was lost Blake Murphy
Jun 2, 18 Weekend Open Thread Blake Murphy
Jun 1, 18 Open Gym Ep. 28 Blake Murphy
Jun 1, 18 The Case for Big Change Anthony Doyle
May 31, 18 DeRozan, Ibaka, and Siakam to participate in NBA Africa Game Blake Murphy
May 31, 18 2017-18 Player Review: OG Anunoby Josh Weinstein
May 30, 18 Watch: True North documentary series Blake Murphy
May 30, 18 2017-18 Player Review: Jakob Poeltl Vivek Jacob
May 29, 18 2017–18 Player Review: DeMar DeRozan Joshua Howe
May 28, 18 Raptors Weekly Podcast – What’s next? Blake Murphy
May 28, 18 Canada announces training camp roster ahead of FIBA qualifiers Blake Murphy
May 26, 18 Report: Raptors interviewed Messina, Udoka this week Blake Murphy
May 25, 18 Talking Raptors Podcast – S5 EWhoCares – Mr. Regular Season Nick Reynoldson
May 24, 18 DeMar DeRozan makes All-NBA Second Team Blake Murphy
May 24, 18 Draft workout notes: 6 players visit, Casey a target of Pistons, and more Blake Murphy
May 24, 18 2017-18 Player Review: Fred VanVleet Katie Heindl
May 23, 18 2017-18 Player Review: Serge Ibaka Blake Murphy
May 22, 18 2017-18 Player Review: Kyle Lowry Anthony Doyle
May 21, 18 Raptors Weekly Podcast – Meet the candidates Blake Murphy
May 18, 18 Long Weekend Open Thread Blake Murphy
May 17, 18 End-of-Season Mailbag Part 2: Raptors’ offseason scenarios Blake Murphy
May 16, 18 Casey, VanVleet among NBA Awards finalists Blake Murphy
May 16, 18 Report: Bucks land Budenholzer Blake Murphy
May 16, 18 End-of-Season Mailbag Part 1: Raptors’ coaching search Blake Murphy
May 15, 18 Proof of Concept Anthony Doyle
May 14, 18 Report: Raptors, Bucks in pursuit of Budenholzer; in-house candidates to interview this week Blake Murphy
May 14, 18 How many truths will Masai Ujiri and the Raptors confront? Vivek Jacob
May 14, 18 Raptors Weekly Podcast – What’s next after Dwane Casey? Blake Murphy
May 14, 18 Morning Coffee – Mon, May 14 Zarar Siddiqi
May 12, 18 Dwane Casey’s letter to Toronto Zarar Siddiqi
May 12, 18 Morning Coffee – Sat, May 12 Anthony Doyle
May 11, 18 VIDEO: Masai Ujiri press conference Blake Murphy
May 11, 18 Ujiri post-Casey press conference notes: ‘Hardest thing I’ve done in my life’ Blake Murphy
May 11, 18 Raptors Reaction Podcast – Dwane Casey gets canned Blake Murphy
May 11, 18 Raptors fire Dwane Casey Blake Murphy
May 11, 18 RR Roundtable: Looking ahead to the offseason Blake Murphy
May 11, 18 RR Roundtable: Looking back on the 2017-18 season Blake Murphy
May 11, 18 Morning Coffee – Fri, May 11 Anthony Doyle
May 10, 18 Trio of Raptors 905 players invited to G League Mini Camp Blake Murphy
May 10, 18 Key dates for Raptors offseason Blake Murphy
May 10, 18 The Raptors need to answer the right questions Anthony Doyle
May 10, 18 Morning Coffee – Thu, May 10 Anthony Doyle
May 9, 18 VIDEO: Ujiri, Casey end-of-season press conferences Blake Murphy
May 9, 18 Masai Ujiri end-of-season media: No tanking in the cards, maintains belief in what’s being built Blake Murphy
May 9, 18 Draft workout notes: Kostas Antetokounmpo headlines 1st official session Blake Murphy
May 9, 18 Dwane Casey end-of-season media: Raptors close to getting over mental hurdle, hasn’t been told he’s out Blake Murphy
May 9, 18 Dwane Casey named NBCA Coach of the Year Blake Murphy
May 9, 18 Morning Coffee – Wed, May 9 Anthony Doyle
May 8, 18 VIDEO: Locker clean-out day interviews Blake Murphy
May 8, 18 Locker clean-out: Lowry calls coming up short ‘a wasted year’ Blake Murphy
May 8, 18 Locker clean-out: DeRozan calls this ‘lowest feeling I’ve had,’ credits Casey for growth Blake Murphy
May 8, 18 Locker clean-out: Miles talks chemistry, VanVleet talks shoulder, Casey status up in the air Blake Murphy
May 8, 18 Searching for Meaning Anthony Doyle
May 8, 18 Raptors end season on the worst note imaginable as Cavs complete sweep with blowout Blake Murphy
May 8, 18 Morning Coffee – Tue, May 8 Anthony Doyle
May 8, 18 Post-game news & notes: ‘The last 3 years have been rough for us’ Blake Murphy
May 8, 18 Raptors-Cavaliers Game 4 Reaction Podcast – Reflections on the sweep Blake Murphy
May 7, 18 Quick Reaction: Raptors 93, Cavaliers 128; Cavaliers win series 4-0 Josh Weinstein
May 7, 18 DeMar DeRozan ejected from Game 4 for Flagrant-2 Blake Murphy
May 7, 18 Pre-game news & notes: Lue calls potential Casey firing ‘absurd,’ Raptors start small Blake Murphy
May 7, 18 Raptors could clean up plenty on defensive end for Game 4 Blake Murphy
May 7, 18 What is the significance of Game 4? Zarar Siddiqi
May 7, 18 Gameday: Raptors @ Cavaliers, Game 4, May 7 Cameron Dorrett
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DeMar DeRozan says goodbye to Toronto, Canada

DeMaf DeRozan penned a wonderful post to Toronto on his Instagram post on Saturday.

Gonna miss this guy. (Sorry for the brevity – I’m on the road today and this is DeMar’s time to talk, not mine.)

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What the Kawhi Leonard Raptors Are Capable Of

It feels wrong to do this. It really does. Less than 72 hours after the Toronto Raptors shipped out DeMar DeRozan for Kawhi Leonard I’m writing a column about what this new Raptors team might look like. It feels wrong because I haven’t fully digested the fact that DeRozan is gone, nor have I decided how I feel about the trade that shipped out the most loyal superstar the Raptors have ever had for a player coming off a mysterious injury who reportedly has no interest in playing for Toronto. These things happen and it takes time to let the emotions pass in order to make objective judgements; considering DeRozan helped me fall in love with the sport of basketball, I’m not ready to do that just yet. Instead, I’m going try to put my love for DeRozan on the backburner as I imagine the endless possibilities this new Raptors team represents.

First a confession I share with many Raptors faithful: If the Raptors ran it back this season, regardless of their head coaching change, I wouldn’t have cared about the regular season. How could I be expected to sit through another meaningless regular season when we all saw what happened last year after the Raptors won the East? With this trade — and specifically with Leonard being a Raptor — the regular season just got interesting again. The Raptors with Leonard are a very interesting and exciting team; A young, versatile, defensively swarming team with the deepest roster in the East and new head coach who seems eager to prove himself. Furthermore, for the first time in franchise history, assuming Leonard is healthy, the Raptors will have the best player on the court every time they face an Eastern Conference opponent (or anyone not named LeBron James or Kevin Durant). It’s the first time the Raptors have had a player of Leonard’s calibre, and despite it likely only lasting one year — perhaps because of it — Raptors fans are have a reason to be excited again.

Roster Depth

With the additions of Leonard and Danny Green, a 3-and-D veteran with championship pedigree, the Raptors all of the sudden possess one of the deepest, most versatile, and most defensively intimidating rosters in the league. As currently constructed the Raptors have “two point guards (Lowry, VanVleet), four 3-and-D wings (Green, Wright, C.J. Miles, and Norman Powell), three versatile forwards (Kawhi, Anunoby, and Siakam), and two traditional big men with 3-point range (Ibaka and Valanciunas).” New head coach Nick Nurse will have a ton of pressure on him to maximize the roster by making the correct lineup adjustments throughout the regular season and playoffs; something Dwane Casey got fired for his inability to do.


Photo courtesy of Blake’s work at theathletic.com.

It will be interesting to see how Nurse distributes the minutes throughout the lineup and how heavily he relies on the young players compared to the veterans. Given Nurse’s history of developing these young players and the extra offseason they’ve now had to get bigger and better, it seems likely that he will count on them even more than Casey did.

Given the disappointing season and playoffs Serge Ibaka just had, I’d like to see him come off the bench where he will have the opportunity to regain his confidence by feasting on lesser big men. That would pave the way for a more versatile starting lineup of Lowry, Green, Leonard, OG, and Valanciunas that can switch almost everything on defense and space the floor offensively. A bench mob of VanVleet, Wright, Miles, Siakam, and Ibaka will scare the crap out of opposing coaches, likely forcing them to stagger their star players’ minutes more than they would generally like to. Additionally, given the fact that Leonard will usually guard the opponents’ best offensive weapons, Nurse will have even more room to experiment with lineups without worrying too much about being torn apart defensively.

Defense

Leonard is a two-time Defensive Player of the Year, three-time First-Team All-Defense, and quite possibly the best perimeter defender the league has ever seen. Add him and Danny Green, a decent defender himself, to a roster already composed of defensive stewards like Lowry, Wright, Powell, Siakam, and OG and what do you get? A long and athletic team with high basketball IQs and the ability to switch at almost every position.

Considering the demise of the Raptors at the hands of LeBron James has come year after year because the Raptors didn’t have a defensive superstar who could slow down the league’s best offensive weapons, Leonard is exactly what Raptors faithful have been asking for (and much, much more). Leonard will swarm the top options in the East including Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Ben Simmons, John Wall, Bradley Beal, and every other superstar who has lit up the Raptors in the past. Leonard’s presence will also take pressure off the rest of the roster by giving them easier defensive assignments, which will a key part of keeping guys rested and energized down the stretch. One season removed from having the fifth best defensive rating in the league, albeit one that fell off dramatically in the playoffs, the Raptors just got a whole lot better on that end of the floor.  

MVP Kawhi

Leonard is mysterious. Nobody knows what he wants in his career, let alone if he is going to show up to training camp in Toronto. But if Leonard buys into the opportunity to be the face of one of the best and biggest franchises in basketball, if he wants to be the go-to scoring option on a winning team, he may regain his MVP candidacy before we know it. 

We already know what Leonard can do on the defensive end, but his offensive potential was never truly realized as a Spur. The precedent for running the offense through Leonard is awe-inspiring: When Pop funnelled more of the offense through Leonard in the 2017 playoffs he “averaged 27.7 points and 4.6 assists during his 12-game run,” Kevin O’Connor points out. “Over this stretch, 40.6 percent of Leonard’s plays came in the pick-and-roll. He was typically dominant as a scorer and showed flashes of greater upside as a playmaker. The Raptors could cast Leonard in this role, and we might witness him undergo a drastic change.”

Nurse will be responsible for unlocking Leonard’s offensive upside while keeping him rested enough to be himself on the defensive end of the floor. If Nurse can manage that, and if Leonard thrives in both roles, who’s to say he won’t be in the MVP conversation by years end?

Expectations

So, what are the realistic expectations for Kawhi Leonard and the Raptors? Leonard has one year remaining on his contract, so despite the rumblings that he might not be ecstatic about coming to Toronto this is a contract year for him. Assuming he plays and fully buys into the system the Raptors have what it takes to not only win the East, but to come out of it too.

Getting past Boston in a playoff series will be hard, but the Celtics has never match up well against the Raptors. Considering the Raptors depth and the fact that Kawhi will be the best player on the court in a potential series, anything could happen. Is a finals run and MVP consideration enough for Kawhi to stay in Toronto?

As Shae Serrano writes:

YES. Look, think on it like this: Let’s say Kawhi shows up and he’s healthy and ready to start collecting additions to his necklace of human teeth that I’m almost certain he’s always wearing underneath his jersey. He does that, and jumps back into the MVP conversation, and Toronto is instantly in a position to challenge for the Eastern Conference title. And let’s say that Philly regresses a little bit (a very real likelihood), and that Kyrie Irving does or says something nuts in Boston that sends them into just enough of a tailspin that they stumble in the playoffs. (“I’ve spent a lot of time studying bees these past few months. I feel connected to them. They understand me, and I understand them. Which is why I would like to be traded next season to Charlotte, which I’m told has many hornets, if not literal bees. Thank you.”) Toronto, behind the strength of Kawhi’s dominance, thunders its way into the Finals. And the Raptors lose to the Warriors, sure, but it doesn’t matter. He’s drunk off the success of the season (Defensive Player of the Year, legitimate MVP candidate, All-NBA First Team selection, first Finals appearance for his new franchise). And so he’s sitting there staring at a possible future that includes multiple trips to the Finals over the next five or seven years, and he knows the Warriors will eventually fall apart and LeBron will eventually stop being LeBron and when that happens … I mean … why couldn’t the Raptors win a title or two under Kawhi’s tenure? And if he gets drawn in by that idea, then who knows? Maybe he’d stick around. (Or, maybe less complicated than all that: He shows up to Toronto, goes down a snowy hill on an inner tube, and is like, “Snow is good,” and then signs an extension.)

It’s possible Leonard stays in Toronto and signs an extension. It’s much more likely he doesn’t. Regardless, the Raptors have one year to convince Leonard that the city of Toronto and the Raptors organization are the best possible fit for him. It won’t be easy, but don’t put it past Masai Ujiri. Nobody thought he could get Leonard until he did.

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PHOTO: Kawhi Leonard is here

Kawhi Leonard is in Toronto and even almost smiled for a photo with Masai Ujiri and Bobby’s Webster posted to the Raptors’ social accounts Friday.

It still counts.

In seriousness, it’s definitely a positive that initial conversations seem to have gone well enough to even get to this point. Leonard is a Toronto Raptor, and things are on their way to being figured out.

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Raptors make Lorenzo Brown, Chris Boucher signings official

Photo credit: Trung Ho / TrungHo.ca

The Toronto Raptors announced Friday that they have signed Lorenzo Brown to a one-year contract.

The news was first reported by Shams Charania, and we’ve got your breakdown here, plus a note that Brown’s contract is only partially guaranteed.

The Raptors also announced that they’ve signed Chris Boucher to a training camp deal, and we have you covered on that here.

This brings the roster to 14, and there are surely more additions and tweaks to come. Boucher will be a part of a group of players trying out for the final roster spots and who is perhaps in the Raptors 905 plans, while Brown slots in as a fourth point guard or extra wing depth, depending on where you prefer to slide him and Delon Wright on a very versatile depth chart. Teams can have up to 20 players under contract during the offseason and throughout training camp, so don’t take moves like Boucher as certainties that roster spots are now spoken for, especially since his does not come with a guarantee.

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Masai Ujiri press conference notes & quotes

Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri held a press conference Friday to discuss the team’s acquisition of Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green.  Some relevant notes and quotes follow, with video here.

An opening statement:

First off, I want to not only apologize to DeMar DeRozan for maybe a gap of mis-communication but also to acknowledge him and what he’s done with the Raptors, for this city, for this country. There is no better to what this kid has done. We appreciate him, I promise you that we’re going to celebrate him in the best possible way we can as long as I’m here.

It’s one of the tough things of this business because we are, we want to win and I have to do everything in this organization to get us to a championship level. But there’s also the human side to this business and that’s the part I really struggle with the most and that’s what’s most difficult. There’s excitement but not only excitement but there’s also, I’m a loyal person and you build relationships in this business over the years and you have relationships with players, with people, and the human part doesn’t make it easy at all. But I understand sports, sports is about winning and I have a mandate to win and that’s what I want to do, is win, to win a championship, (put) the Toronto Raptors in a position to win a championship.

But I really do acknowledge there’s not measurement for what DeMar DeRozan has done for this organization. Also Jakob Poeltl. We drafted him and there’s a closeness to kids that you draft and you have certain relationships. Those guys will be missed and I do acknowledge everything that they’ve done here. That being said, is one to the next chapter with the Raptors and we’re excited to welcome Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green to our home. Hopefully, on paper, we feel we have a team that can compete in the East and maybe hopefully compete for a championship in this league. That’s why we play, that’s why we play sports, to win and play for a championship. We’re really exited bout this, getting a top-five player in the NBA into our fold and hopefully, this will elevate us.

On what he’s apologizing to DeMar DeRozan for:

DeMar has done so much for this organization. I think when you are in my position, you always want to be open with what you can do. Maybe I should have handled it a little bit better.

I had a conversation with DeMar at Summer League and I really want to leave it at that. We spoke and I spoke to him. I think maybe my mistake was talking about what we expected going forward from him. Not necessarily talking about a trade but what I expect from him going forward and I think that’s where the gap was, because in my job I always have to assume that I’m going forward with the team that I have. If there was a miscommunication there, I do apologize to DeMar and his family and his representation. It’s not what I meant. These things come and go, opportunities come and go and we have to react, in my position, and I had to react at this time.

After every season, I meet with all the agents of the players, or Bobby does, and I did meet with DeMar’s representation. For me, it was to lay out what all the options are. When I met with Aaron at Summer League, I think maybe my mistake was saying there was nothing imminent at the time. I apologize to them if it was a mistake. At the time, we were fourth on the ranks of trying to get anything done and I didn’t see anywhere the talks were going, and that’s the message I delivered. It’s my job to talk about our team as it is. That’s my job every year, and they would acknowledge that I do that with them every year.

On why this was worth the risk:

All I’ll say is without all this medical drama that there is, we have no chance of talking to a player like that. Zero. You have no chance. He would be signed to a new, and we wouldn’t have a chance to get him. This is why we have a chance, this was the risk that we are taking. We’ve looked at some of the medicals as soon as the deal was done and the rest will depend on the physical that will be done shortly.

We’ve been doing this for how many years? You can’t keep doing the same thing over and over again and when you get a chance to get a top 5 player – which isn’t very often – I think you have to jump on it. I think we’ve given a chance to his team, we tried to build it up as much as we can but at this point, ,we got to this level, this opportunity came in front of us and we had to jump on it.

I understand DeMar. He was unbelievably loyal to us. I’ve never seen anything like this. It’s one of those things why I will not be doing this one day. The human part of this business is to me what it’s all about. He has no fault. Our team is just not at that level. We keep pounding on the same thing over and over again. I think if we look at ourselves honestly, we have to do something different. Even if it wasn’t this, we have to do something different. I take responsibility for that. But I haven’t got that sense from Kawhi Leonard or his people. We’re going to give him that chance when we meet him face to face.

On how to fell Kawhi Leonard on Toronto:

That’s my job and I think that’s why I’m in this seat is to try and figure that part out. I’ve had conversations with Kawhi, with his agent, with his uncle and everything has gone well. I’m look forward to meeting with them face-to-face. That’s our responsibility, is to figure it out and to make them as comfortable as possible and, on his part, hear more on what he wants in our team, in the future, and go from there. I take responsibility for that and I’m confident. I think we have a good game plan and we’ll see how that goes.

I think there’s a lot to sell here. Our team, our culture, our city, our ownership, we have everything here except a championship, in my humble opinion. I don’t think we lack anything in this city. We have great fans, we have a great organization,we have a great following, I think we have a great country. There is something about this place that reaches out to the whole world and we’re proud of that and we’re going to continue to sell that. Hopefully it’s an appeal, not only to him but to more NBA players.

On the contact with Leonard so far:

He didn’t express a lack of interest about playing in Canada to me. A lot of these things are everybody has their own opinion about everything. I know firsthand. I dealt with this kind of a situation in my first job as a rookie, so I know firsthand how these things work and how they don’t work. I understand with DeMar, he was unbelievably loyal to us. I’ve never seen anything like it. (inaudible) The human part of this business, to me, is what it’s all about. He has now faults, our team is just not at that level and we keep pounding on the same thing over and over again. I think if we look at ourselves honestly everybody knows (inaudible) that we had to do something different, even if it wasn’t this. We had to figure out something different. I take responsibility for that. I haven’t gotten that sense from Kawhi Leonard or his people and I’m going to give him that chance when we meet face-to-face.

I’ve talked to him a couple of times, and Bobby has talked to him and his representatives. I didn’t get a sense of any negativity or anything different other than just wanting to know me and us better and looking forward to meeting face-to-face.

Notes

  • Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green were not yet in Toronto but are expected to take their physicals within the next couple of days.
  • Masai Ujiri had yet to speak with Kyle Lowry and acknowledged he may be upset, though
  • He deferred to Bobby Webster on other moves that may be coming, saying they’re happy with where the team’s at but also that they’ll explore options to improve still. The buzz is that they’d also like to shed some salary, which isn’t surprising given how deep into the tax they are now.
  • DeMar DeRozan did not appear to take the apology well, unpinning the I Got Us tweet and posting this on his IG story:

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Raptors signing Chris Boucher to training camp contract

The Toronto Raptors are signing Chris Boucher to a training camp contract, Shams Charania of Free Agency reports.

This would seem likely to be an Exhibit 10 contract, given Charania is not reporting it as a guarantee. UPDATE: Raptors Republic has learned it is an Exhibit 10 deal. As a refresher, an Exhibit 10 contract is a one-year, non-guaranteed NBA contract that will bring the player into training camp to compete for a roster spot. Failing that, the team has the option to convert the contract to a two-way contract or, if the player is cut, clears waivers, and agrees to join Raptors 905 as an Affiliate Player, he’ll receive a $50,000 bonus to supplement the $35,000 G League salary. The immediate focus will be making the roster out of camp, but there are options available to continue Boucher’s development within the organization if he doesn’t.

Boucher joined the Raptors for Las Vegas Summer League after being waived by the Golden State Warriors following their NBA Championship victory. An undrafted rookie in large part due to a torn ACL suffered late in his 2016-17 season at Oregon, Boucher was on a two-way deal with the Warriors, working his way back to health with Santa Cruz and eventually making one NBA appearance. That appearance was an historic one, as he became the record-setting 14th Canadian to play in the NBA in the 2017-18 season.

The Warriors have been fairly clear that they’d like to use their two-way slots on players who could potentially contribute at the NBA level like Quinn Cook did this year – they signed Damion Lee shortly after, who fits the profile and is already a member of the Warriors’ extended family – and Boucher isn’t quite there yet. He would probably be able to play some spot minutes as an entropic small-ball five like a skinnier Lucas Nogueira from recent years, but the 25-year-old could use some additional development time to work on his body, his perimeter game, and his team defense. He’ll likely get the chance here, either whether on assignment with the Raptors or as a full-time 905 member.

I wrote about Boucher’s circuitous path to this point for Vice Sports last week, and it’s nice that he’ll get to take the next step on that journey close to home and with a chance for a real developmental summer while healthy. The question becomes how much you can get out of a 25-year-old prospect, and there’s a lot to like about Boucher’s game that makes him worth trying to develop, even at his advanced age. The Raptors have done well enough on the development front to think they’re in a better position than most to find out, and Boucher likely opted to come to Toronto due to a combination of that track record and their proximity to home.

Those who watched Summer League saw how quickly Boucher can make his imprint on a game, particularly with hit shot-blocking – he blocked 13 shots in 83 minutes in Vegas, blocked 8.4-percent of opponent 2-point field-goal attempts when he was on the floor as a G League rookie while still working his way back to full health, and had a ludicrous 11.8-percent block rate over two seasons at Oregon. He has tremendous instincts around the rim for timing his jumps and recognizing space around the rim, and while his block opportunities sometimes come from him initially being out of position (his ability to pick up schemes effectively limited his role early in Vegas and with Canada ahead of FIBA qualifiers), he can make up for his mistakes in a hurry with his length, anticipation, and bounce. He’s also looked like a better rebounder than his positional size might suggest, perhaps to the extent that Nick Nurse is right in seeing Boucher as a slender center rather than a long and switchy power forward.

Boucher also impressed on the offensive end in Vegas and with Canada in their training camp prior to that, and a number of teammates in both events were surprised at his polish inside. If Boucher’s 3-point shot can come along to where he’s a legitimate pick-and-pop threat – he was 4-of-11 in Vegas and hit 34.4 percent from the college line but was only 11-of-50 with Santa Cruz – he could become the fifth player in a frontcourt even without adding a ton of bulk. He needs to try to add some, clearly, as his 200-pound listing might even be a little generous for his 6-foot-10 height and 7-foot-4 wingspan, he just has skills that he can contribute with right now, too. The Raptors won’t call on him for that early on, as they have three players on the roster capable of playing center and three capable of playing power forward, and they can take their time bringing around the finer points of his game and letting him impact games with his obvious strengths in the meantime.

This is a fun addition that could provide depth at the center position at the NBA level or add an intriguing piece to watch with Raptors 905, or, depending on how his contract shakes out and what else the team does this summer, both.

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VIDEO: Masai Ujiri post-trade press conference

Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri held a press conference Friday to discuss the team’s acquisition of Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green.  The video of the presser is below.

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DeMar DeRozan was the shoe that stopped fitting

Kyle Lowry sat at the table by himself, at a stage where the backdrop served as a constant reminder that someone was missing. It was Game 3 of the Toronto Raptors’ Eastern Conference Semifinal showdown with the Cleveland Cavaliers, his team having just lost in the most excruciating way.

“I’m kinda lonely, I’m really lonely right now,” Lowry said when asked about the absence of his backcourt mate DeMar DeRozan. “I am, I miss my guy.”

Some in Toronto did as well, while others were ready to crucify. In what was effectively an elimination game since no team has ever overcome an 0-3 deficit in the NBA playoffs, DeRozan shot 3-for-12 from the field, got to the line just twice, and finished a game-worst minus-23 in 28 minutes.

This was supposed to be his time and the Raptors’. Coming off a season in which he finally started catching up with the philosophy of the modern game and started shooting more threes, averaged a career-high in assists and seemingly scored when he wanted, this was a dud at the worst possible moment.

Just two weeks prior he was Neo from The Matrix. In that moment, he was the same old Deebo from The 6ix.

The goals were lofty no doubt, no Eastern Conference team had defeated LeBron James for seven straight years coming into this series. But with that goal remaining the same, and chance after chance being blown, President of Basketball Operations Masai Ujiri had had enough. The trade of Toronto’s longest tenured player and captain for a superstar who reportedly held no desire to come north tells a story in itself.

It may be harsh on DeRozan, a man who gave his absolute all to the franchise and thought he earned the right to see the journey through, but this was a decision based on basketball and business, not emotion and whim. It’s a big slap in the face of a man who wanted nothing more than to be the guy for the Raptors, but the cold hard truth is there are only about 10 of those guys in the league right now.

On Dec. 18, 2004

The Toronto Raptors traded Vince Carter to the New Jersey Nets for Alonzo Mourning, Eric Williams, Aaron Williams and two first-round selections before a game against the Indiana Pacers.

“He was to Canada what Michael Jordan was to the Bulls,” former Raptor Donyell Marshall said upon learning of the trade. This version, though, was no Half-Man, Half-Amazing. After averaging a career-high 27.6 points in 2000-01 while putting the Raptors on the map at the 2000 Slam Dunk Contest, Carter’s presence on the court during the 2004-05 season became a tired exercise of on-court brooding, scoring just 15.9 points per game on 41.1 percent shooting from the field.

Carter didn’t want to dunk anymore. The deterioration in his play suggested he didn’t want to try to be his best self anymore and he admitted as much in an interview with John Thompson. In the end, he just didn’t want to be a Raptor anymore.

The franchise’s first superstar went on to thrive with the Nets, averaging 27.5 points, 5.9 rebounds and 4.7 assists in the remaining 57 games of that season and even dumping his former Raptors team out of the playoffs on one occasion.

He was Toronto’s truest love, so as fate would have it, his cut was the deepest. Damon Stoudamire, Tracy McGrady and Chris Bosh made strong impressions, but Mighty Mouse was rooted for in the way that we all do for underdogs, Carter’s cousin was cool in the way sidekicks are but never truly beloved, and Bosh, well, for all his terrific play, his biggest fault seemed to be that he wasn’t a showman. Not like Vince.

To be fair, no one could. Carter will likely go down as the greatest dunker who ever lived and made the highlight reel so often every game seemed like must-see TV. They say that when trading an All-Star or superstar, it’s impossible to receive equal return. There’s usually some negativity behind pursuing that trade in the first place, and suitors use that leverage to drive their cost down. The baggage that Carter brought to the table that season along with the incompetence of then general manager Rob Babcock led to the deepest of cuts and no one to call for help.

That’s why when Bosh left, it felt like it was coming. He didn’t have to say a word because of the paths those before him had already taken, but a DeRozan fresh off his rookie season did.

On June 28, 2010

DeRozan said he had us when the city wasn’t ready to let stars be us anymore. It was easier to root for the Matt Bonners, Jose Calderons and Amir Johnsons of the world. They were seemingly the ones who could appreciate Toronto for what it was, or at least weren’t big enough to sweat the small stuff.  To the big timers,  the city was too cold, the customs lines were too long, and there was no ESPN. DeRozan was a kid from Compton who idolized Kobe Bryant, surely Los Angeles would come calling at some point. Why open up to only be hurt again?

DeRozan wasn’t good at much besides dunking, but he knew how to work so that’s what he did. Year after year, he came back better, stronger, smarter. He was doing it for a mother who once thought she might never have a child and a father with health concerns of his own. The first few years, he left fans divided. The 2010 and 2011 dunk contests were a nice step towards relevance, but he was still a long way from reverence. When DeRozan signed his first extension worth $40 million over four years, critics came hard at then general manager Bryan Colangelo. His handles were too loose, his shot too inaccurate, and his defense too lax.

The investment, though, wasn’t just in the player, but the man he was becoming. His desire and will to be his best self was impossible to ignore and he steadily immersed himself in Toronto’s community. He created ‘DeMar’s Slam Dunk Book Club’ to promote literacy and became an ambassador for lupus (his mother’s disease). Not once did he flinch at the responsibility of being the leader of the franchise.

On court, his relationships told as much about the player as the person. First, there was Sonny Weems and Calderon. Then, there was head coach Dwane Casey and best friend Lowry. Everything was authentic, and so began the Raptors’ culture of hard work and chemistry. 20-ish win seasons became 40-ish and playoffs, then 50-ish and expectations.

The first playoff series in five years and that famed F*** Brooklyn moment was a deafening awakening of Raptors fans both inside what was formerly known as the Air Canada Centre and Jurassic Park. Lowry was denied on the final shot that could have sent them to the second round, but as he inconsolably lay on the floor, his best friend was right there with him.

DeRozan worked harder again through the offseason, but a groin injury derailed his early season progress and, despite Lowry’s best efforts, threw the Raptors into a hole that eventually proved inescapable. The 2016 postseason looks a breakthrough on the surface with the franchise’s maiden voyage to the Eastern Conference Finals, but it was much more a narrow escape. Like DeRozan, the resumé showed better than the performance.

On July 14, 2016

“I am Toronto,” was declared in triumph by DeRozan. The ninth overall pick in the 2009 NBA Draft felt he had officially won the city over , signing a five-year, $139 million extension with the Raptors without taking a single meeting with another team.

“My whole goal since I first got here was to make this whole city and this whole country be known. It’s like we always got the short end of the stick. I always took pride and passion in wanting to change that.”

It truly was a special moment for the franchise and for him. It was entirely conceivable that the Raptors were starting to figure it out. That much like the series against the Miami Heat, Toronto had pushed and prodded for six games until the entire dam broke in Game 7. DeRozan started his 2016-17 season fresh off an Olympic gold with Lowry and the momentum of the previous playoff appearance and the summer in Rio de Janeiro spurred him (no pun intended) to a start that was challenging Michael Jordan’s records. It was truly remarkable.

Then, the 2017 playoffs came. DeRozan had very good games, but also very bad games against the Bucks. King James then felt no need to show any mercy and beheaded the Raptors in four. Lowry’s injury hurt, but DeRozan could do nothing to stem the tide. Cue the culture change and what, in retrospect, became the core’s final shot at redemption.

DeRozan took on more ball handling, less scoring and more passing with aplomb, helping preserve Lowry’s body while also unlocking a new dimension to his game. After being challenged to do so by the front office, more three-pointers came as well. After an incredible surge in December and January, though, his numbers hit a sharp decline the rest of the way.

For years, Lowry shouldered too much of the burden, and his game suffered for it in the playoffs. They asked DeRozan to take on the load instead, and the way his numbers declined from February is interesting at the very least. He battled through depression, visited his ailing father in his downtime, and by season’s end, had seemingly redeemed a family that was once broken.

With the top seed in the conference secured, it was about finishing the job. There were positives to take from the Wizards series, but the Fred VanVleet injury possibly hurt more than it should have. Game 1 against Cleveland will forever remain a what-if, but unlike 2016, the Raptors weren’t going to leave anyone with fool’s gold. Swept by the weakest LeBron team imaginable, the writing was truly on the wall.

On July 18, 2018

DeRozan was traded along with Jakob Poeltl and a top-20 protected first-round pick to the San Antonio Spurs for Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green. And with that, Toronto did to him the one thing his actions showed he would never do to us. Thanks for helping us get here, but we can take it from here.

It was a trade that needed to be done, but it’s understandable why it feels a little dirty to celebrate. He worked day after day to help bring the Raptors to this point, only to get traded for someone who could take them over the top. The ceiling of his game meant the clock was bound to strike midnight at some point. If not now, then in a couple of years when the Raptors would clearly have struggled to commit to another extension.

DeRozan surely feels a little abandoned right now, and he’ll know that as much as he loved the Raptors, they didn’t quite feel the same way. It is a most Raptors thing to feel that way and that makes him the quintessential Raptor.

He built his entire Toronto career on the back of doing all the things that Carter became hated for not doing, and it became the greatest career a Raptor has ever had. The all-time franchise leaderboard and mixed feelings of fans over this trade despite acquiring a top-five player shows that. The success of the past five seasons shows that. Now, it’s time for a championship, and when it comes to making that a reality, the truth strikes again.

The shoe never quite fit.

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Canada to play September FIBA qualifier in Laval

Photo credit: Trung Ho / TrungHo.ca

Canada Basketball will be headed to Laval when FIBA qualifiers resume with second-stage games in September.

The program announced Friday that their Sept. 13 home game against Brazil will be held at Place Bell in Laval, with tickets going on sale July 20 at noon through Ticketmaster. The game will tip off at 7:30 ET.

Canada will also play a pair of home games in February as part of the next round, with the location still to be determined.

The team enters the second qualification round at 5-1 with a +153 point differential and will need to finish in the top three of the six-team group that includes Dominican Republic, Brazil, Venezuela, Chile, and U.S. Virgin Islands. The best fourth-place team between the two remaining pools will also qualify, making it seven teams from the Americas headed to the 2019 World Cup. From there, Canada would have a chance to qualify for the 2020 Olympics as well.

The schedule for the second round is as follows, with Canada’s home games in bold:

Sept. 13 – Canada vs. Brazil
Sept. 16 – Canada at Chile
Nov. 30 – Canada at Venezuela
Dec. 3 – Canada at Brazil
Feb. 21 – Canada vs. Chile
Feb. 24 – Canada vs. Venezuela

It’s expected that the September games will have at least some participation from the program’s NBA talent, while the four in-season qualifying games will once again rely on G League and non-EuroLeague international players, who helped the team go 3-1 in the last round without NBA assistance.

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Raptors adding Sergio Scariolo to coaching staff

The Toronto Raptors are adding some international flair to their coaching staff.

Sergio Scariolo, the head coach of the Spanish national team, is expected to join Nick Nurse’s staff once he can come to an agreement with the Spanish national program, Raptors Republic has learned. Scariolo has made his desire to head to the NBA known to former Raptors forward Jorge Garbajosa, who is the president of the Spanish Basketball Federation, according to multiple Spanish outlets. Scariolo’s latest deal with the program was supposed to make him the head coach through the 2020 Olympics, and the new FIBA qualifying procedures will likely preclude him from doing both jobs on a full-time basis. The meeting is expected to be a formality, according to Ryan Wolstat of the Toronto Sun, which convinced me to hit publish.

As noted here during Las Vegas Summer League, Scariolo was among a handful of international candidates Nurse spoke with in the last few weeks. That list also included Andrea Trinchieri, who Nurse met with while visiting Jonas Valanciunas overseas and who came to Toronto for an interview. Scariolo was around the Raptors in Vegas both observing and interviewing. (Scariolo and Trinchieri are said to be dramatically different personalities, so both being involved in the process must have been a fun wrinkle.)

In Scariolo, the Raptors add a coach with a wealth of experience. The 57-year-old Italian has been a head coach since 1989 when he got his start in Italy following a handful of years as an assistant. In the time since, he’s coached nine different professional clubs including TAU Ceramica and Real Madrid, winning two Spanish League championships, two Spanish Cups, one Italian League Championship, and Coach of the Year awards in both Italy and Spain.

Most recently, he was the coach of Laboral Kuxta in Spain, but since 2015 he has focused exclusively on the Spanish national program, where he’s serving for the second time. Under Scariolo, Spain won the 2009, 2011, and 2015 EuroBasket tournaments – he is one of only four coaches to win three or more EuroBasket tournaments and the only won since 1995 – earned a bronze in 2017, won silver at the 2012 Olympics, and won bronze in 2016. Spain boasts the world’s No. 2 ranked senior men’s basketball program, behind only the United States, and Scariolo has had his fingerprints all over that success.

It goes without saying, but Scariolo comes with a tremendous reputation in international circles, and his presence in Vegas didn’t go unnoticed. He’s said to be as bright as you’d expect from a Nurse hire and carries himself with a charismatic energy that’s helped foster buy-in at the international level. He’s also run a very fun and dynamic offense with the Spanish national team, utilizing some zone principles, a lot of pick-and-roll iterations, and creative use of bigs in transition. While Nurse figures to run a collaborative bench that doesn’t necessarily shoehorn roles, Scariolo could be tasked with more offensive responsibility opposite Adrian Griffin, who ran the defense in his most recent stops.

This may fill out the Raptors staff, as Nurse has now added Scariolo, Griffin, and Nate Bjorkgren. The Raptors lost three coaches this summer in Dwane Casey, Rex Kalamian, and Jerry Stackhouse, and with Nurse sliding into Casey’s spot and Jama Mahlalela moving to Raptors 905, there were at least three openings on the NBA bench. Those have been filled, though further juggling of responsibility – and perhaps more back-of-bench additions – could be in the works, too.

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The Modern Raptors

Last season, the Raptors took a shot at changing the team without changing the roster. Sure, they brought in CJ Miles and rebuilt the bench, but the goal was to adapt to a modern NBA, become more of a versatile team that shot more threes, while retaining the personnel that had built their success. To their credit, it worked, mostly. They won a franchise record 59 games, and shot the fourth most three-pointers in the NBA. The offense was one of the best in the league, but there were signs of the old Raptors at critical points during the season. Late game execution that would devolve into isolations without passing, and in the playoffs that reared it’s head again, and ended with the sweep at the hands of LeBron, for the second year in a row.

The trade of DeMar DeRozan for Kawhi Leonard, as well as the replacement of Dwane Casey with Nick Nurse, the architect of that new offense, was a statement by Masai Ujiri that the plan was solid, but the personnel was wrong. The Raptors saw that in order to run a modern offense, you need a modern roster, and they went out and built that this summer.

As much as DeRozan will go down as one of the greatest Raptors in history, the truth of it is that his limitations often dictated the ceiling of the team. He wasn’t a switchable defender, because he had a tendency to force unnecessary off-ball switches, and in a modern offense he became a player that opponents could help off of, as the Cavaliers did frequently in the playoffs, because he’s not a reliable threat from three-point range. His game was more suited to the old Raptors, and he was great in that role, but the team had made the decision to leave that playstyle behind and it made the fit awkward.

The modern NBA is about teams that can switch defensively to avoid mismatches as well as provide outside shooting threats at all positions to keep pressure on the defense and open up space for ballhandlers. This new Toronto team is built to excel at those things. Danny Green is one of the best perimeter defenders in basketball, and he might be the Raptors’ third best guy on the wing, with Kawhi and OG Anunoby on the roster. They have Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet and Delon Wright at point guard, each of whom brings a lot to the table at that end of the floor. Pascal Siakam and Serge Ibaka can do different things defensively, with Ibaka, despite slowing down some since his athletic peak, still being a strong shot blocker and Siakam’s quickness and ability to switch onto smaller players. Even Jonas Valanciunas, despite his issues at times with pick and rolls, can be a solid interior defender and has improved his rotations significantly in recent years.

On the offensive end of the floor, the Raptors will put heavy pressure on defenses to not ignore anyone by bringing shooting across the floor, and that will open up space for their guards to work, as well as for Jonas Valanciunas’ scoring in the paint. This team will be able to play a quicker offense with more passing and exploit defensive mistakes at more positions than years past. The lineup versatility is immense, and they’ll be able to keep pressure on the defense with Kyle Lowry, Kawhi Leonard, Fred VanVleet and Delon Wright all more than capable of creating space off the dribble and finding the right lane to get a good shot for the offense.

Last year the Raptors brought the promise of a culture change through modernizing the way they played to adapt to the direction the NBA was going, but this trade was the fulfillment of that promise, this trade was a clear statement of the direction the Raptors want to be headed.

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Far from nothing: A shallow dive into Kawhi Leonard’s advanced stats

Well, it happened. Kawhi Leonard is a Toronto Raptor.

Due to the uncertainty of the move and the mixed emotions that come with moving a player of Demar DeRozan’s tenure/character, many north of the border seem to have soured Leonard already. However, a word of caution: considering how important Oklahoma Cities’ fans and culture were in making Paul George fall in love with the city last year, Canadian public opinion will have to change if there is any hope at retaining Leonard, and soon.

Earlier this week, I made the case for acquiring Leonard almost out of obligation as I assumed the rumors weren’t rooted in much truth. In making that case, I briefly touched on how Leonard’s advanced stats capture his talent more than his counting stats do, but I didn’t really do that argument its justice as there is far more to his all-time-great impact. It really can’t be overstated how rare of an opportunity it is for a player of this caliber to become available. So, with the poor optics of the move and the conflicting emotions of all parties involved put aside briefly, let’s get basketball nerdy for a minute and discuss how special of a player Leonard truly is.

Offense

While touted most vociferously for his defense, Leonard’s impact is possibly even better on the flashier side of the ball. While at 25.5 ppg, 48.5% FG, and 38% 3FG in 2016-17 his counting stats are already impressive enough, his steady improvement since entering the league has elevated him to unthinkable levels off efficiency as he has addressed virtually every hole in his game.

Per Synergy Sports, in Leonard’s last two healthy seasons he finished in the 96th and 99th percentiles for offensive points per possession. That level of efficiency is almost unheard of with a superstar’s usage. Leonard attains such statistical bliss through his diverse skillset as his healthy scoring diet prevents him from relying too much on certain skills which frees him from developing any predictable “crutch” on offense. Despite being the first option, Leonard always takes the best option available as he can score efficiently from any level. It’s no accident that in 2016-17 the Spurs offense dropped from 112.6 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor to a paltry 102.6 with him off of it. That’s essentially the difference between the 1st and 27th ranked offenses from that year (per Zach Lowe).

Furthermore, any argument that Leonard’s offensive success is a product of San Antonio’s system is vehemently false. While the Beautiful Game Spurs are every basketball purist’s “one that got away”, recent iteration’s of the Spurs have stopped playing such egalitarian basketball for a reason: Leonard is that good. In his last healthy season, when the basketball world was losing their minds over how James Harden and Russell Westbrook were “doing it on their own”, Leonard may have done more, and more efficiently.

Per FiveThirtyEight, according to the Championship Leverage index, Leonard’s ability to carry a mediocre Spurs roster in 2016-17 to an elite 61 win offense may have created an even greater winning impact than either of Westbrook or Harden that season. Leonard reached that mark by being above both MVPs in points per possession in pick and roll, while also falling slightly between the two in points per possession for isolation (per Synergy Sports). Certain teams provide more spacing than others, but that kind of do-it-yourself ability exists in a vacuum. It works anywhere.

Defense

OK, I lied earlier when I said he might be better offensively. Honestly, there’s no real way to know, but cmon, any casual fan who watched a Spurs game the last five years can tell how dominant he is on that end of the floor. NBA Teams don’t gameplan to keep opposing wing players on the weak side for entire offensive possessions for just anyone, only all-timers get that kind of treatment, and Leonard most certainly is one.

There are plenty of statistics to quantify Leonard’s impact as every year he is one of the league leaders in everything from steal rate to defensive win shares but the most telling stat comes per Andy Bailey, who found, for perimeter players, Leonard ranks second all-time in career defensive box plus minus trailing only Andrei Kirilenko. As polarizing as the other stars in the league are, you’d be hard-pressed to find another with even half Leonard’s defensive resume.

Don’t expect him to slow down in that regard either. In nine games this season, despite looking 80% of himself at best, Leonard was on pace for career highs in both steal and block rate (per Basketball Reference). In fact, his steal rate would have led the league by a mile. Stats like this tend to remind you that despite his greatest achievement of Finals MVP coming four years ago, Leonard is only now hitting his prime at 27, and likely hasn’t even reached his ceiling.

Overall

Dominating both sides of the ball as Leonard does generates astronomic catch-all advanced stats. While a lot of these are confusing just know they all are trying to answer the same question: who creates a winning impact? And virtually everything from Win Shares to Real Plus Minus to Five Thirty Eight’s 9 category mess answers that question with a similar group of 4-5 guys at the top; Kawhi always among them—if not at the top.

The most encouraging stat in capturing Leonard’s absurd two-way impact comes from John Hollinger’s famous Player Efficiency Rating (PER), which had Leonard tops in the league as he tore through the 2017 playoffs, his last healthy stint, after being only third in the regular season. That ability to ramp it up in the playoffs is a welcome sight for Raptors’ fans who’ve had no such fortune in the past (save Norman Powell, sometimes).

Moving on from DeRozan was a difficult decision and the optics are undoubtedly disagreeable, but the Raptors obtained a legit superstar in every sense of the word. It may take some time for fans to like him, but the Raptors most certainly got more than a little bit of nothing.

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Is the Kawhi trade worth the risk?

The Raptors just got the best player in franchise history.

And it’s not even close.

If he’s healthy, which he’s reported to be, Kawhi Leonard is the best two-way player in the NBA and a top 3 player. The Raptors have never had a player on this level before.

Vince Carter was a spectacular scorer whose impact on basketball in Canada is still being felt 15 years after he was traded away, but he was a mediocre defender and injuries prevented him from achieving the heights predicted for him after his second and third season.

DeMar DeRozan’s love for and loyalty to Toronto endeared him to Toronto Raptor fans, but in the end he was really a poor man’s Vince Carter and had taken the Raptors as far as he could with him as their best player.

Like DeRozan, Chris Bosh’s talent level made him more suited to be a supporting player than a franchise player.

That’s not the case with Leonard.

Leonard already has a Finals MVP, two Defensive Player of the Year awards and was a regular season MVP runner-up. And he just turned 27. If the Raptors can convince Leonard to stay, they’ll finally have a legitimate franchise player who can lead the team to the Finals.

IF they can convince him to stay.

Of course, that’s the problem with this trade. The Raptors are trading away a fiercely loyal All-Star, in DeRozan, for a player who doesn’t even appear to want to come to Toronto and can leave for nothing next summer.

This is a HUGE risk.

The question is, is it worth it?

Back when I was a regular writer for the Raptor’s Republic, I was critical of a team I felt was simply another version of the Joe Johnson/Al Horford era Atlanta Hawks; a team with enough talent to win lots of regular season games, but didn’t have the top-tier talent to be a real threat in the playoffs. Despite leading the East with 59 wins, the DeRozan-lead Raptors once again couldn’t get past the second round of the playoffs. Although the roadblock known as LeBron James will be playing in the West next season, the Celtics and Sixers have already surpassed the Raptors as favourites to win the East, and rightly so.

Something more than just firing the Coach of the Year needed to be done if the Raptors wanted to be anything more than a perennial good-but-not-great team that would simply end up being playoff doormats for the real contenders in the East.

And that’s where Kawhi comes in.

An MVP calibre player still in his prime rarely comes on the trade market. The last two players on this level, still in their prime, that became available and were traded (not in a sign and trade) were probably Kevin Garnett and Charles Barkley. That goes back 25 years. That’s how rare this is. And both Garnett and Barkley took their new teams to the Finals in their very first year (with Garnett winning a Championship).

It’s safe to say it’s worth trading for a player of this calibre. So why didn’t any other team come up with a legitimate offer for Kawhi?

Well, the Lakers feel they’re in a position of power with Kawhi anyway, since he’s already expressed a desire to play in Los Angeles. And with LeBron now a Laker, it’s a far more attractive destination than the Clippers next summer when Kawhi’s a free agent. Plus, with all the new signings, they actually didn’t have the contracts to be able to match Kawhi’s, unless the Spurs inexplicably took on Luol Deng’s contact or changed their mind on Lonzo Ball (or more precisely, his father).

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VIDEO: Siakam posts 38-15-11 in Drew League game

Look, we don’t always post Drew League and Crown League highlights here because single highlights are generally best saved for social media, but when one of the Bench Mob scores 38 points with 15 rebounds and 11 assists in a Drew game, it warrants passing along the highlights. Sorry this is a few days late, but it took forever for the highlights to hit YouTube.

Damn. DeMar DeRozan was there, by the way, IG storying some of the game and making fun of Siakam for missing with his left. DeRozan was playing later in the day, as was Delon Wright.

Back to Siakam, there was also this from some recent UCLA workouts:

Summer is treating Siakam well once again, it seems.

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Kawhi Arrival a Test for Raptors’ Culture

It’s been two months since Dwane Casey was fired as the Toronto Raptors’ head coach, and any Raptors fan worth their salt will tell you that the move signalled the end of an era.

In 2011, Toronto hired Casey away from the then-champion Dallas Mavericks to try and bring a fresh defensive mentality to a lowly Raps club featuring a 22-year-old DeMar DeRozan. The team went on to win 23 games and finished with the 14th-best defense in the league, an improvement on the previous season’s ranking of dead last.

A season later, and the Raptors acquired Kyle Lowry in a deal with the Houston Rockets. The defense suffered a little but the offense improved, and Toronto found themselves winning 34 games. Then, in the offseason of that same year, Toronto let go of former general manager Bryan Colangelo and hired away Masai Ujiri from the Denver Nuggets.

And the rest, as they say, is (summarized) history.

With Masai at the helm and Casey continually finding ways to squeeze more out of the players on his roster, the Raptors improved season after season, culminating in a spectacular 59-win journey in 2017–18 that saw them rank second in offense and fifth in defense.

By this point, the Raptors believed themselves to have built a sustainable, positive culture that could endure a potential shakeup. They had changed Lowry’s mind, for example, from when he had first arrived on the scene (Lowry was not thrilled about being traded to Toronto) and helped him blossom into a much better player than many anticipated. They had won more games every single season since Casey arrived, and they had just managed to pull off a so-called culture reset that saw the team change their playing style significantly while holding onto the same core pieces.

As is detailed in this wonderful piece written by Josh Lewenberg last season, the Raptors even changed up how they went about dealing with practices, travel, and their strength and conditioning programs, asking for more accountability and better communication from everyone in the organization, not just the players. Lowry himself noted that the adjustments worked, and that everything felt “more team-oriented.”

It shouldn’t be a surprise, then, that the Raptors felt confident enough in the culture they built to make changes. With the team getting swept by the Cleveland Cavaliers in the playoffs, management chose to fire Casey with the knowledge that, while Casey had been instrumental in shaping the organization from a macro perspective (e.g. getting guys to buy in and desire playing for him), he had also shown flaws concerning the micro aspect (e.g. having C.J. Miles guard LeBron James in the playoffs) of things. So Nick Nurse was hired into this theoretically cemented culture, aiming to tweak the micro aspects of this already very good team.

All of that changed, however, with the news that Toronto had managed to swing a deal for Kawhi Leonard, the disgruntled San Antonio Spurs superstar. Suddenly, the franchise’s main focus is no longer tweaking a familiar roster—no, now it’s about proving itself to a free-agent-to-be perennial MVP candidate who, at the moment, would supposedly like nothing more than to be donning a purple and gold jersey.

This upcoming season, most assuredly, will be the ultimate litmus test for just how potent the team’s culture (seven years in the making) truly is.

Thankfully, that’s a lot of time for the Raptors to fully envelop Leonard within said culture and convince him that Toronto is the place to stay. The best way to do that? Remind him that winning is fun.

As constructed, the Los Angeles Lakers aren’t winning a title next season. They might not even make the Western Conference Finals. Add Leonard to that mix and they’d certainly be more competitive, much more of a threat to teams outside of the top two. But Golden State still reigns supreme, and Houston isn’t too far behind, assuming they re-sign restricted free agent Clint Capela.

Joining the Lakers at this point is about the lifestyle, and about their hopeful future. James joined that team mostly for the former reason, and if that’s all Leonard wants out of the next few seasons, then there will be no stopping his move there. But the 27-year-old is smack in the middle of his prime, and it would be disingenuous to assume at this point that he isn’t interested in winning basketball games.

The Raptors are built to win basketball games, and they’re built to win them now, making them a perfect fit for a player looking to maximize the best years of his career. As aforementioned, Toronto just won 59 games last season, and from a roster standpoint, they didn’t give up too much in the Leonard trade. In fact, they could roll out a starting lineup of Lowry, OG Anunoby, Leonard, Serge Ibaka, and Jonas Valanciunas next season, a lineup that, with DeRozan in Leonard’s place, boasted an 11.2 net rating. Swapping Leonard in, replacing the scoring and adding vastly improved defense, almost seems unfair.

Boston will still be the favourite for many pundits and fans to come out of the East next season, and rightly so, but Toronto is now at least in the mix. They are a team that, in a top-heavy, LeBron-less conference, has never had a better chance of making The Finals. If they manage to succeed in that goal, it could factor into Leonard’s decision of whether to stay or not come the summer.

One really doesn’t have to look too far to find an example of a similar situation that turned out well for the team pitching themselves to a star who had supposedly made his mind up to leave upon arrival: Oklahoma City and Paul George.

George, like Leonard, was reported to have plans to leave the Thunder after being traded to them last offseason in order to join the Lakers. But after forming a bond with teammate Russell Westbrook and discovering that he liked the city and even the basketball situation (despite the Thunder barely making the playoffs and losing in the first round), he opted to stay and re-signed with them to an admittedly shocking four-year, $137 million contract.

Obviously George and Leonard are different people, and so what worked for one might not work for the other. Even so, it does offer an extra smidgen of hope that re-signing Leonard is not out of the realm of possibility.

The Raptors are also in the driver’s seat in terms of what they can offer Leonard financially. He will certainly opt out of his player option for 2019–20, making him an unrestricted free agent. Toronto can then offer him a contract up to five years, $190 million—if Leonard were to leave for a team with cap space instead, he would only be eligible to receive up to four years, $141 million.

When you think about it, the Raptors are in quite a good spot, and even if an established culture, the ability to win now, and money aren’t enough to sway him from bolting to Los Angeles, then Toronto will enter a worst-case scenario that isn’t really that bad.

Whether people recognize it or not, the Raptors were on course for an inevitable rebuild anyway. Leonard leaving would result in that rebuild starting a year early, which isn’t a big difference. Toronto managing to keep most of their young guys after the deal is also a nice bonus, and so the team has a few strong building blocks for the future even if things don’t pan out the way they’d like. All in all, this trade is absolutely, unreservedly worth the risk.

Now, two of the pillars who worked relentlessly to establish a great culture in Toronto are gone in Casey and DeRozan (who is not pleased—the aftereffects of his departure are worth keeping an eye on). Nothing is for certain, and there are no crystal balls to prognosticate with. But maybe, just maybe, the Raptors are right, and the culture they constructed with those two guys will be enough to change Leonard’s mind about leaving.

After all, this wouldn’t be the first time the franchise surprised people.

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Late-night Kawhi Leonard notes and social media round up

A few notes have trickled down over the course of the day that weren’t worth their own posts, so here’s a quick roundup.

Leonard warming on Toronto?

According to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN on Sportscentre tonight, league sources indicate that Kawhi Leonard has begun warming to the idea of Toronto.

He does not have much choice, of course. Masai Ujiri has been in contact with Leonard, and while Leonard’s camp put up a strong front before the trade, he’s now in a position where it’s in his best interest to report and find a fit for the time being. Were Leonard to refuse to report, the Raptors could begin fining him for up to the entire amount of his contract, and there is language in the CBA that would put Leonard in peril of losing his unrestricted free agent status if he held out all year.

Regardless, the sell job from Ujiri and company has begun in earnest, to convince Leonard to play ball not only now but perhaps down the line. Initial conversations have been positive, according to Bruce Arthur of the Toronto Star, and the earlier talk that Leonard had no interest in playing in Toronto was quieted down. Brian Windhorst had reported on the radio earlier that no physical had been completed yet, but it seems likely the Raptors and Leonard’s camp can work towards a resolution soon, perhaps with a press conference coming later this week.

Cash heads to Toronto

Zach Lowe notes that the Spurs are also sending $5 million to the Raptors in the deal, which will help off-set some of the cost of Leonard’s trade kicker. The Spurs are responsible for paying Leonard’s kicker but it counts against the Raptors’ team salary for cap and tax purposes, and the net effect of the trade bumped Toronto’s tax bill by $7.4 million based on my estimates, barring further cost-cutting moves. Getting almost the maximum allowable cash from the Spurs to help cover some of that cost should the Raptors remain deep into the tax and maybe even if they want to continue to add, though they’re already projected well into the luxury tax as is with 13 players under contract.

Raptors title odds improve

Not that it means much in the current Golden State Warriors landscape, but the Raptors’ NBA title odds shifted from 60-to-1 to 18-to-1 today, a significant move that gives them the sixth-best odds in the league. I’d expect that line to move further tomorrow, as the conference and division lines were very slow to react to today’s news.

Xavier Thames

I have no idea if this is even worth posting, and I never thought Xavier Thames would come back into our lives, but here goes. Back in 2014, the Toronto Raptors selected Thames with the 59th pick in the draft, immediately selling him to the Brooklyn Nets. On Wednesday, I caught word that he’d arrived in Toronto on a flight, and I began trying to piece things together.

Thames, you might recall, was red-shirting at San Diego State when Kawhi Leonard was there in 2010-11. Both are also from California and are only a few months apart in age, likely meaning they spent time playing against each other before landing at SDSU. In the pre-draft process in 2014, Thames mentioned that he spoke with Leonard leading up to the draft, calling him “one of my good friends” and joking “We both kind of have the same personality but he’s way more quieter than me. He barely talks.” That a friend of Leonard’s has shown up in the city is at least interesting.

Despite never cracking the NBA, Thames has carved out a solid career as a pro. He’s spent time in Spain, Macedonia, Israel, Greece, and New Zealand, adding a Macedonian championship to the Mountain West Player of the Year on his trophy shelf. Last year, Thames averaged 13.4 points, 2.8 rebounds, 2.2 assists, and 1.4 steals over 42 games, and while he didn’t shoot very efficiently – he’s never been a high-percentage scorer from anywhere on the floor – his ability to defend and get to the free throw line made him a valuable piece. In between those stops, Thames has also played 66 G League games across parts of two seasons, averaging 8.2 points, 2.5 rebounds, 2.8 assists, and one steal with a 50.9-percent true-shooting mark. He was last there in 2015-16 with Fort Wayne, who still hold his rights.

A 6-foot-3 guard with good lateral quickness and a nose for the ball, Thames projected as a potential defensive plus in the NBA but never quite rounded out his offensive game enough as a lead guard or off-ball threat to really get back on the radar, though he did appear in Summer League twice.

This is likely nothing. Maybe Leonard wants a friend around for the transition, or maybe bringing Thames into the Raptors 905 fold could be a move down the line, though sources indicate that’s not currently in the plans. Maybe Thames is just coming through for Crown League on Friday. In any case, I thought I should pass it along, as Leonard has very few known associates and one of them just arrived in the city.

Perhaps more interesting here is that the pick used on Thames had been a part of the return from the Andrea Bargnani along with Jakob Poeltl, who was a key piece of the Leonard deal. All things are connected.

Players say their goodbyes

It’s been an emotional day on Raptors social media. Here are some of the goodbyes from players:

Content wrap-up

More to come tomorrow.

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You Make This Trade Ten Times Out Of Ten

Let’s start by saying this: If Masai Ujiri could have won with a club led by Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, he would have gladly kept them together. If the Raptors could have achieved their goals without a super-duper star, Ujiri would have happily let it ride with what he had until everyone sailed off into retirement. Unfortunately, no matter how much depth Ujiri added to the roster, the top-line talent wasn’t enough to get through teams that had better top-line talent. Basketball is a strong link sport, where superstar talent has a disproportionate effect on winning, and so if you want to win, eventually you have to go out and get a superstar. 

With that in mind, Ujiri traded away the most loyal star that the Raptors have ever had (in a reportedly unnecessarily cold manner) in an attempt to secure one of the few true superstars in the NBA. When healthy and engaged, Kawhi Leonard is a perennial MVP and DPOY candidate, and even if he bolts Toronto a year from now in free agency, it was worth trading for him because when you have a chance to employ one of the best players in the NBA, you do it and figure out the rest later. These players are so scarce and so valuable, when you have a chance to employ one, you take it and then work like hell to keep him. 

Credit goes to Ujiri for managing to secure Leonard for DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl, and a heavily protected first round pick — a package that would appear to be on the weak end of what suitors in LA, Boston, and Philadelphia could have offered. It’s a smattering of assets that allows the Raptors to lose Leonard a year from now without feeling like they set themselves back in an eventual rebuild. Keep this in mind: the Raptors were probably not going to be able to keep pace with Boston and Philadelphia with a core of Lowry and DeRozan, and with DeRozan possessing an early termination option in his contract in the summer of 2020, the Raptors would have been very wary of signing him up for another tour of duty at max (or near-max) money. If that’s true, then Ujiri would have had to have been looking for an opportunity to trade DeRozan for value before that happened, meaning he was basically in an eighteen-month window where DeRozan was likely getting traded regardless. Getting a year to pitch a player of Leonard’s calibre on staying with the Raptors is about as good a return as you’re going to get for DeRozan, and that is not a slight to the player that DeRozan has become. The Raptors now have a Finals MVP that is currently in his prime, and if you want to play for real in the NBA, that’s the kind of player that you need. 

We can put it in even starker terms, too: 30 of the last 38 NBA titles have been won by Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, LeBron James, and Steph Curry. If you don’t have a true superstar player, you have a hard ceiling on how high you can rise in the NBA. You’re either trying to get a guy as good as that, or you’re playing for second place. 

That’s about as cold an analysis as one can put on Wednesday’s transaction. It ignores DeRozan’s unfaltering dedication to Toronto and the Raptors organization. It ignores the possibility that Leonard doesn’t even report to the Raptors. It ignores the fact that Ujiri felt the need to keep DeRozan in the dark on this transaction. It ignores the possibility of the perception of the Raptors backsliding in NBA circles. It ignores the effect trading DeRozan will have on Lowry. It ignores the fact that a first-time NBA head coach will be largely responsible for compelling Leonard to stay beyond one season. It ignores the possibility that Leonard is too injured to return to being a top-flight player. It basically ignores all of the context that surrounds this trade, which no doubt several very talented writers will break down in the coming days. 

And you know what? None of it really matters when it comes to evaluating this trade. What’s the likeliest worst case scenario (because Leonard not reporting would cost him a lot of money, and remains unlikely): Leonard pouts through a year of Raptors basketball, and the team kick-starts a rebuild one year earlier than expected. They’ll take some reputational damage for ditching a loyal player, which isn’t nothing, but those sorts of things don’t tend to have lasting effects on well-run franchises. These are not non-risks, they’re just not the kinds of risks that should put a damper on this trade, because the potential upside — no matter how unlikely — is that high. Even if you operate from the assumption that Leonard leaves next summer, I still think this trade is a success because Ujiri went for it, he had a true superstar on his roster and will make his best effort to keep him. We know what the ceiling for Lowry-DeRozan is, we’ve seen it, but we have no idea what the Lowry-Leonard ceiling is, and it’s worth seeing what it is if the team is planning to head into rebuilding anyway in the next one-to-two years. 

Now, it’s obvious that that is not how Ujiri wants this to play out. Paul George eschewing expectations and staying in Oklahoma City — and not decamping for Los Angeles — no doubt gave Ujiri a glimmer of hope that he can actually make this work in Toronto. To do that he’ll need to not only seduce Leonard, but Leonard’s handlers, the group that played no small part in his rift with San Antonio. He’ll need to sell Leonard on the virtues of playing in a weak Eastern Conference, a conference where he could well be the best player. He’ll need to sell Leonard on the cache of young players that have been assembled, and hope that Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby take big steps forward this season. He’ll need to help form a bond between Leonard and Lowry, and hope that Lowry is still engaged enough to play along. That’s a lot, and in these early hours after the trade became official, most think it’s too much to reasonably expect. 

A lot of the skepticism comes from just how silent Leonard has been for the last several months. His estrangement from the Spurs was almost entirely chronicled by Gregg Popovich and ‘people familiar with Leonard’s thinking.’ The word is that he has no interest in playing for the Raptors, much like he had no interest in playing for the Spurs. However, we act like he spent the whole season on the run from San Antonio, when in fact the deep rifts really didn’t start to emerge until pretty late in the season, and were no doubt exacerbated by Popovich’s snark and Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili’s comments in the press. We have no idea what Leonard’s feelings are versus what the feelings his people want out there. This is a lot of mystery surrounding a player that was hardly free with his emotions when he was still talking to the press. Given that, it is no wonder that most observers are negative about his state of mind regarding this trade. However, if one of his issues with San Antonio and his standing in the NBA was that he wasn’t featured enough as an endorser, quitting on one team and not reporting to another are not exactly the kinds of things that has major corporations lining up to be aligned with your brand. 

Still, for now the Toronto Raptors have acquired one of the best players in the NBA. The kind of player that you have to have to be real threat in this league, a fact not lost on a Raptors club that has been bounced by one man (swept twice) in the last three years. In a league dominated by top-shelf talent, you either have it or you don’t. The Raptors now have a top-five player, one that is arguably the best player in the east, with an All-Star point guard, and a strong stable of young talent to surround him with. On paper, it’s the best team the Raptors have ever had. 

Even if they’ll still probably be rebuilding that team twelve months from now. 

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READ: DeRozan’s Loyalty to Raptors Was Admirable

I normally don’t make a post just to link to my outside content here at RR, but I got up in my feelings and wrote a thing about what DeMar DeRozan has meant to the Toronto Raptors and to the fan base over at Vice Sports. I figured I’d share here given the weight of this move and that I’m sure others have thoughts to share on DeRozan as well.

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Raptors make Leonard-DeRozan swap official

The Toronto Raptors and San Antonio Spurs have made their blockbuster deal official.

The Raptors are sending DeMar DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl, and a protected 2019 first-round pick to the Spurs for Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green, per a release from each team.

You can catch up with our initial reaction here, our reaction once the return was known, and Will’s reaction podcast.

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Raptors Reaction Podcast – They really traded for Kawhi Leonard

Host William Lou reacts to the Kawhi news from the boonies.

Grab the iTunes feed or check us out on Stitcher on Android. There is also the plain old feed or just listen below:

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Report: Raptors to acquire Leonard and Green for DeRozan, Poeltl, and a 1st

The Raptors are acquiring disgruntled San Antonio Spurs star Kawhi Leonard, according to a report from Adrian Wojnarowski. The Raptors will send out DeMar DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl, and a top-20 protected 2019 first-round pick. They’ll also receive Danny Green.

The news was first reported by Shams Charania, Adrian Wojnarowski, and Chris Haynes early Wednesday morning. We have a full reaction here, although that was prior to knowing the return.

Knowing the return now, the deal looks like a more justifiable move – the Raptors landed a former MVP candidate in Leonard and a very useful two-way rotation piece in Green, and while giving up DeRozan is all kinds of difficult, they kept their two highest-upside young players in OG Anunoby and Pascal Siakam and only surrendered one draft pick. Raptors president Masai Ujiri is swinging for the fences here, and the optics are not great, but he’s maintained the most important potential pieces of the next core (Siakam, Anunoby, Fred VanVleet, and the team’s 2021 first-round pick), so there isn’t quite as much future sacrifice as initially anticipated. Being able to hang on to both Anunoby and Siakam is huge, not just for the team’s future long-term potential but for how they stack up this season, when both players figure to be key rotation pieces and complementary defensive pieces alongside Leonard.

There are still a lot of complications here, namely that Leonard reportedly doesn’t want to play in Toronto. The risk here is immense, both that Leonard walks at the end of 2018-19 and heads to the Los Angeles Lakers and that Leonard doesn’t return to his previous form after almost an entire year off due to a mysterious quad injury. At his best, Leonard was perhaps the second-best player in the NBA, and these are the type of risks necessary when such a rare talent becomes available on the market at a depressed price. I went into this much more in the piece linked above, but the Raptors could basically only get into Leonard talks under a certain set of circumstances where adding him would be complicated. Ujiri is betting on his ability to sell Leonard on staying and, failing that, the benefit of maximizing one year of the team’s window versus having DeRozan for the next two, or perhaps three.

At his best, Leonard is the best player the Raptors have ever had. He is a highly efficient scorer, a solid secondary playmaker, and a strong shooter, and he is the league’s best perimeter defender when healthy. It can’t be overstated just how good he is. Even after playing just nine mediocre games last year, he projects in nearly the 100th percentile for player impact next season. Whether he can return to that level is a major if given the nebulous nature of his rehabilitation and how he looked in limited action last year. Flipping a player of DeRozan’s caliber for an MVP candidate is a lot easier a sell than flipping him for a lower-end All-Star, obviously. The Raptors are betting big that Leonard can return to full form. If he does, they’ll be right there with Boston as the class of the Eastern Conference, employing its best player. If he looks hampered or, worse, sacrifices money by deciding not to report (this seems unlikely), this will look like a shakier bet. Given how much is on the line here, the Raptors seem confident that he’ll be something close to the Leonard that had the Golden State Warriors on their heels two postseasons ago and has the most legitimate claim to being a star-stopper in the NBA.

Getting Green in the deal was necessary mostly from a financial perspective to make the trade math work, but it’s a nice addition nonetheless. Green hasn’t been quite the player he was from 2011-2013 the last few years, but he remains a solid 3-and-D wing who will be a boon to the team’s perimeter defense and add even more shooting. He probably slots in on the lower end of the team’s rotation and projects as especially useful against some postseason opponents that will require a greater emphasis on individual defense and spacing. He should fit the team’s transition game, too, either as a starter or reserve. Green’s projection for 2018-19 grades him as a solid rotation piece, and his $10-million contract expires after this season, offering the Raptors some additional flexibility. (That they’ve cleared a lot off of their books for next summer and 2020 in this deal should not be underestimated; the Raptors are set up even better now for a quick pivot to the younger core, and they figure to have loads of cap space in 2020 and 2021 if Leonard walks.)

The cost, obviously, is large. DeRozan has had the best Raptors career of any player to ever wear the uniform and is one of the most beloved athletes the city of Toronto has had the last…forever. Reports are that he’s quite hurt by the deal after being told he wouldn’t be dealt, and there’s a real risk in trading away the first star who consistently wanted to stay, represent the city and the franchise, and put them on his back. I wrote about this more in the earlier piece and will probably reflect upon it in a stand-alone piece later, but dealing DeRozan is very hard from a P.R./fan/loyalty perspective. He’s meant a ton to the franchise, and it doesn’t feel great, even if it makes sense. It feels a little dirt, to be honest, especially if the reports of him being lied to are true. He deserves better than that, even if loyalty is strictly imaginary in sports.

And it’s not as if DeRozan has fallen off. He was Second-Team All-NBA last year after once again improving against all odds, and he was probably the best piece available to the Spurs if they were committed to remaining competitive, even if the fit is incredibly awkward. He is a high-volume, moderate-efficiency scorer who’s improved dramatically as a playmaker, and the Spurs have shown they can get more out of minus-defenders than other teams. He’s a four-time All-Star and holds every meaningful record in Raptors franchise history. Those things do not happen by accident. Leonard at his best is a meaningful upgrade – he’s a more efficient scorer, an elite defender, and has an outsized positive impact on team-level performance where DeRozan has never really moved that particular needle in a positive direction – but DeRozan is a great piece for San Antonio to get back in a bad situation, and if Leonard walks after a year, the loss of DeRozan will hurt.

Poeltl and the 2019 pick are a fair sweetener to get the deal done. The No. 9 pick in 2016 – and yes, the Andrea Bargnani trade tree now connects to Leonard – Poeltl has already established himself as a high-end backup center and could project as a solid starter. It’s unclear if there’s much upside beyond that, though with two years left on his rookie-scale deal and with a ton to like from an awareness, IQ, and fundamentals perspective, that’s still a really valuable piece to have. Solid is the perfect word for Poeltl, who has improved as a finisher around the rim, contests well on the other end of the floor, and has good mobility on both sides of the ball, either as a defender in space or as a roll-man (he has great screen-setting mechanics, as well). The Raptors are surely happy that Poeltl is the young piece they gave up – he was the most tradeable outside of maybe Delon Wright given the accessibility to replacements at center (hi again, Lucas Nogueira) and Serge Ibaka’s ability to play some center – and the Spurs are probably likewise happy to have a very Spurs-feeling center in the fold. He’ll be missed in Toronto, as he was extremely well-liked within the organization and within the team’s young core. Two great friendships have died today.

The 2019 pick, protected for the top 20 or it becomes a pair of second-rounders, makes sense as a throw-in. It would be nice to have the asset and the inexpensive player that comes with it, but it figures to be in the late 20s and the Raptors were able to hang on to more valuable assets by including it. Not surrendering a 2021 pick, even a protected one, is big, as that draft class figures to possibly be a double-cohort with immense depth if the age restriction is removed from the draft. Even if it’s not, the Raptors maintaining their primary asset base for beyond 2019 is a big deal; they’ll enter 2019-20 with VanVleet, Anunoby, Siakam, and all of their picks moving forward, plus either Lowry and Leonard, Lowry and a ton of future cap flexibility, or that same cap flexibility and a return for Lowry. This deal is primarily about 2018-19, and the return allows Toronto to keep a strong focus on what happens after this window if things don’t work out, which is a nice down-side assurance.

All told, this is a win for the Raptors if you can get past the DeRozan discomfort and believe Leonard can rebound. Jacob Goldstein’s projections give the Raptors eight additional wins from the deal, and they’re now projected to win 62 games by his model. On paper, they’re either better or even with the Boston Celtics and a step ahead of the Philadelphia 76ers until we see how those teams grow with health and more experience. The Raptors are betting they can make a run to the finals for 2018-19, and the quantitative analysis here suggests they very well can. There are just some very large assumptions – and some very bad optics – to get around in feeling comfortable with that.

How you feel about the trade probably comes down to your risk preference and your feelings on DeRozan, and I wouldn’t begrudge anyone feeling that the DeRozan aspect isn’t worth the risk. In pure basketball terms, the deal is a good one, but this is not going to be taken as a pure basketball trade given all the ancillary factors. If nothing else, the greatest fear – that the Raptors would mortgage the future to make this move – should be assuaged. There are surely more moves to come from here, too. This is a big risk, and the aggressive move that will define Ujiri’s tenure after years of more conservative management. If it hits, the Raptors could be finals-bound, something that’s more likely today than it was yesterday.

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Report: Raptors reach agreement for Kawhi Leonard trade

The Toronto Raptors are finalizing a deal to acquire Kawhi Leonard from the San Antonio Spurs, according to a report from Adrian Wojnaroski and Chris Haynes of ESPN.

Shams Charania reported early Wednesday that the sides were in serious talks, saying that a framework built around DeMar DeRozan had been agreed to and that “only a snag in final discussions could prevent completion.” Wojnarowski reports that the sides have been discussing the deal for week, though the specifics of a trade aren’t outlined in any report. DeRozan, one of the team’s young players, and at least one pick would seem to be the return necessary to get a deal done and prevent Boston, Philadelphia, or the Lakers from stepping in and poaching Leonard with a better offer. Zach Lowe further reports that the quality of offers has varied a great deal, so it’s hard to know exactly how much Toronto is giving up here.

UPDATE: Wojnarowski reports that an agreement has been made in principle and a trade call is expected later today. The parts are still unknown, but it’s bigger than Leonard-for-DeRozan. He also adds that the trade has been close for days.

Multiple reporters, including Charania and Haynes, have said that Leonard has “no desire” to play in Toronto, which could complicate the final stages of a deal.

It seems likely that the Raptors would at least want the chance to speak with Leonard and his camp, even if they will not give assurances as to any commitment beyond 2018-19, when he can be an unrestricted free agent and is believed to be a certainty to head to one of the Los Angeles teams. If Leonard is as cold on the idea as it sounds, it makes it more likely that this is strictly a rental. Wojnarowski adds that Masai Ujiri will not be getting any assurances, and that this is a bit on his ability to sell Leonard on Toronto. It’s a big risk – Leonard is already walking away from the super max that only the Spurs can offer by asking for a trade, and so while the Raptors will acquire his full Bird rights in a deal and will be able to exceed the cap to re-sign him next summer, there’s little indication he’ll do anything but head west. The Raptors will be able to offer a five-year deal worth about $190 million based on current estimates, while another team could only offer an estimated $141 million over four years.

That risk should, in theory, limit Toronto’s willingness to pay here in terms of picks and prospects. Including one of the young core and the team’s 2019 first-round pick is reasonable, and while the Spurs will likely have pushed for OG Anunoby or Pascal Siakam, Toronto is probably pushing for Delon Wright or Jakob Poeltl. Including a 2021 pick – in what could be a double-cohort draft year as the age rule is possibly eliminated – without heavy protections would seem a big risk. So, too, would be adding a third asset to go along with DeRozan and whatever else is in play here. Every additional piece surrendered now is worth it if Leonard ultimately stays. If he doesn’t, it’s one additional piece the team doesn’t have when they pivot to the next core, something that would almost have to happen in the summer of 2019 if Leonard walked and DeRozan was no longer around.

These are the gambles Ujiri and company have to weigh, and they’re not easy. Leonard, though, was a top-five player when he was last playing, and the reason this all gets considered is because players of that ilk almost never become available. Toronto is not landing a top-five player in free agency, and drafting one requires a full-scale rebuild or good fortune or both. At his 2016-17 peak, Leonard is worth almost any package. He was a Most Valuable Player candidate, perhaps the best perimeter defender in the NBA (finally, a LeBron Stopper as James heads out of the conference), and a player who heavily tilted playoff games against the Golden State Warriors. The 2016-17 version of Leonard would be the best player to ever play for the Raptors, and pairing him with Kyle Lowry and the remainder of the core would make Toronto if not a favorite then a co-favorite to make the NBA Finals out of the Eastern Conference, a conference in which Leonard would be the best player.

Whether Leonard is still that player is a major question mark. A mysterious quad injury limited him to just nine games last year. That’s an unfair sample, but he did not look like quite the same Leonard in that stretch. He’s now 27 and coming off of a year in which he barely played and wasn’t even around an NBA facility for large portions of it. If Leonard is only 80 percent of his old self, that’s a big difference – Toronto can sell off major pieces for a top-five player and justify it, something that becomes dicier if Leonard is going to return as “just” an All-Star in the top-25 range. That the Raptors probably aren’t going to know until training camp (assuming Leonard reports, which he has about 20 million reasons to do) clouds this further. (For what it’s worth, Leonard’s projections even after the down year still have him in nearly the 100th percentile for impact, worth about eight more wins than DeRozan if healthy by Player Impact Plus-Minus.)

These are not the assurances you get when a player of this caliber hits the market and has his trade value depressed by uncertainty. The Raptors could basically only get into the Leonard discussion with the same confluence of factors that make it difficult to evaluate. Were he healthy or open to re-signing somewhere other than L.A., the asking price would be bid much higher, and Toronto would be out of the running. They exist in a thin gap between not having enough and being the only team willing to pay.

For a player as good as Leonard, you have to consider the gamble. Until we know the return, it will be hard to evaluate. If Anunoby is in the deal with multiple picks or with another prospect and a pick, it’s going to look like an awful lot of the near- and long-term future sacrificed for one shot at Leonard. Even then, Ujiri can likely justify it given Leonard’s stature and how valuable that one year with him could be. This team has a competitive window that closes, or at least shifts, in 2020 at the latest, and Ujiri would essentially be cashing in 2019-20 chips for a better chance in 2018-19. Given where Philadelphia and Boston are headed, the aging curve of Lowry, DeRozan, and Serge Ibaka, and a very clean team cap sheet in 2020 and beyond that would make a quick post-Leonard rebuild (or retool) possible, that’s not an unreasonable gamble. One season with peak Leonard is more likely to deliver a finals appearance than two seasons without him, and that’s really what this comes down to. That might be what it comes down to for you once the return is known, too, though risk aversion and comfort with Leonard’s reported ill-desire to play in Toronto will be factors as well.

One thing that is not really up for debate is that DeRozan’s inclusion in a deal is difficult. DeRozan himself has been made aware of it, and he took to Instagram late in the night, writing in a three-part post “Told one thing & the outcome another. Can’ trust em. Ain’t no loyalty in this game. Sell you out quick for a little bit of nothing…Soon you’ll understand…Don’t disturb…” His frustration is potentially stemming from a meeting in Las Vegas where, Haynes reports, he was told he wouldn’t be traded. If that’s the case, this is a risky move on the Raptors’ part for their future reputation with star players and perhaps agents, as, while nobody around the league has any false ideas about the level of “loyalty” around the league from the team side, DeRozan is one of the few players who has been steadfast in their commitment to a single franchise, from “I got us” to “I am Toronto” to not taking free agent meetings with any other team. Trading him is understandable and justifiable, but doing wrong by him in the way being reported is an uncomfortable look for a franchise that’s been building a lot of reputational equity the last few years. Ujiri is said to have informed DeRozan himself last night, and DeRozan and Lowry have since talked as well.

There’s little denying how much DeRozan has meant to the organization. Drafted ninth overall in 2009, Toronto has watched DeRozan beat every expectation, break through every perceived ceiling, and become the most storied Raptor of all time in terms of longevity, commitment, and team success. He’s coming off of a Second-Team All-NBA season in which he continued an assault on the team’s record books, and he, Lowry, and Jonas Valanciunas share the most playoff success in team history. At every turn, DeRozan has been an excellent member of the franchise and the greater Toronto basketball community, and losing the one star who has consistently wanted to stay – who has represented the team and city well, been an advocate for mental health, fought hard through personal issues, been a strong leader, and always come back somehow bettering his game – is hard to take. DeRozan has been far more than the Raptors had any business dreaming on back in 2009, and seeing him go is difficult.

Hard things are hard, though, and the Raptors aren’t going to land Leonard without giving up something big. San Antonio apparently prefers to remain competitive right now rather than rebuild, and DeRozan is the best win-now piece that would have been available to them. He’s a four-time All-Star, and while his fit next to LaMarcus Aldridge is beyond weird in 2018, the Spurs could run a sort of counter-culture offense here and see what sticks. The Spurs could also unload another player on Toronto to help with their cap sheet, as the deal as constructed figures to save Toronto more than $7 million for 2018-19. That could be a big factor up against the luxury tax, but you don’t go all-in for Leonard and then worry about the tax; the Raptors can take on a bad salary to lessen the return they’re sending out, or alternatively use that space to land another complementary piece and make up some of the depth being lost here. That could all be a part of the “final discussions” ongoing here.

From Toronto’s perspective, two years (and a player option after) of DeRozan and sweetener is the price of a one-year upgrade in Leonard. For all the good DeRozan provides, he’s consistently been a negative in the postseason, where his defensive shortcomings are magnified and opposing defenses gameplan to abandon him on the perimeter and clog up the paint. The Raptors have been better for years in the playoffs with DeRozan on the bench than on the court, and while those samples can be noisy in isolation, there is a fairly consistent pattern (that doesn’t hold for Lowry despite occasional shooting struggles). Leonard is a far more versatile piece on offense, given his shooting ability (he’s not quite the secondary playmaker DeRozan was, but his skills in that regard are sharp) and hyper-efficiency for his scoring load, and his status as an elite defender should raise both Toronto’s floor and ceiling. Again, he’s a top-five player if he’s healthy.

That’s an if, though, and finding out – for one year, with no assurance it continues – is going to cost the Raptors the face of the franchise and more. Mileage is going to vary. Landing a legitimate superstar is not easy.

It’s probably worth pressing pause here until a return is known and this reaches the finish line. It’s impossible to evaluate until we know what’s going back. This appears to be a thing that is really happening, and it’s time to start sorting through some feelings and firing up 2016-17 Leonard mixtapes to remember just how good a player the Raptors might be getting here. Now it’s on the Raptors and Spurs, and Leonard’s camp, to push through the end-gate, and, uhh, convince Leonard this is a better situation than he seems to be thinking.

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Report: Lorenzo Brown re-signing with Raptors

Lorenzo Brown used the opportunity the Toronto Raptors gave him and turned it into a sustained shot at sticking in the NBA. According to a report from Shams Charania, Brown will sign a one-year deal to return to the Raptors for 2018-19. Raptors Republic has learned that Brown’s deal is only partially guaranteed.

With the team set to play two point guards plenty and Brown and Delon Wright both capable of sliding to the shooting guard position, the Raptors will have ample depth at a position they’ve always valued depth at quite highly. This also provides some depth if a point guard were to be moved in another deal at some point this summer. No idea what you might speculate on from that, though.

The Raptors had Brown on their roster as a two-way player for the 2017-18 season, and the savvy veteran point guard earned himself G League Most Valuable Player honors and a conversion of his contract to an NBA deal at the end of the season so that he would be playoff eligible. In converting him, the Raptors also rendered him an unrestricted free agent this summer, and after four partial NBA seasons and five in the G League, it’s great to see Brown make good on the grind and land a guaranteed deal here. He’s a strong fit for the organization’s culture and grew as a leader last summer in the same L.A. workouts he’s likely to pick up with again this offseason, featuring the tam’s younger players.

I wrote about Brown’s excellent 2017-18 season for The Athletic here, and you can read his player review here.

The 27-year-old Brown appeared in 14 games for the Raptors, totaling 139 minutes, and got into four playoff games. As a Raptor, Brown owned a strong small-sample net rating and impressed the team with his decision-making and his defense. A 6-foot-5 and with sound instincts and a good motor, Brown can work as sort of a Wright Lite on the defensive end, slithering around screens and using his length to keep point guards in front of him. In 77 career NBA games, Brown has averaged 3.1 points, 1.6 rebounds, two assists, and 0.6 steals, and while he hasn’t shot the ball well – a 41.9 true-shooting percentage – those are noisy small samples and he’s shown he can be more effective in the G League. Statistically, Brown projects as roughly replacement level by Player Impact Plus-Minus, but the Raptors think his 3-point shot is better than the numbers, skewed by a heavy percentage of “grenade” threes when asked to make something late in the clock, would suggest, which would push his game a little higher. Without that shot, his upside is limited to that of a third point guard, and if it comes along he has enough tools on both ends of the floor – as a ball-handler who can get to the rim and spray out to teammates and as a solid on- and off-ball defender – that he could be leaned on for more.

This past season, Brown took on an immense role for the 905, leading the G League in assist percentage and ranking in the 91st percentile for individual offense, per Synergy Sports. He won’t be eligible to provide Raptors 905 depth without agreeing to an assignment, but this is an NBA move and not a 905 move, anyway. After five tours of the G League and four partial NBA seasons, Brown finally has an NBA home.

This pushes the Raptors roster to 13, leaving them with at least one spot to fill for the regular season, plus their two two-way slots and possibly a 15th man. Teams can have up to 20 players on the roster until the start oft he regular season, so it’s possible a handful of names are brought in to compete for those final spots.

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Windhorst: Raptors may be in ‘driver’s seat’ in Kawhi Leonard talks

I’ve been a little hesitant to post some of the updates out there on the Toronto Raptors’ reported interest in Kawhi Leonard, not because I don’t think it’s legitimate – it very much is, as it would be for any top talent potentially available on the trade market – but because a lot of the smoke was based in speculation and hypotheticals rather than reporters saying “hey, this is what’s happening.” That stuff is still very much of value, especially when it comes from Zach Lowe and Brian Windhorst and Tim Bontemps, I just kind of think it’s unfair to aggregate their opinions and own speculation, because those things tend to get run with as something other than what they are.

On today’s Lowe Post, though, Lowe and Windhorst got a little more specific in talking about the Leonard market and the Raptors in particular. And it’s certainly interesting.

After a quick aside about the apparent non-specific weirdness of the Raptors’ coaching search, the conversation turns to Leonard and Windhorst offers the following about Toronto:

I think they’re in the driver’s seat for Kawhi because I think the Lakers have given up, the Sixers have given up. And with the Nets, Bulls and Hawks spending their cap space, it makes it harder to assemble a multi-team trade. I think the Raptors are in the driver’s seat.

Lowe then built on that point by saying that despite some waving off the Raptors-Leonard rumors because of the shifting Vegas odds (which were taken as a bit too much evidence), the possibility is very real. Here’s the money Lowe quote:

If you think it’s a joke, you should probably re-calibrate your expectations.

Lowe, by the way, said he’d offer DeMar DeRozan, Pascal Siakam, and a first-round pick, while Windhorst (hilariously) demanded OG Anunoby as the podcast went off the air.

The sense I got in Las Vegas the last week, which Will and I went into on the podcast, was that the Vegas odds were very much a market over-reaction. That said, their interest was and is still very real. This is an MVP-caliber player at his peak. It’s difficult to judge from outside without access to Leonard’s medical information (a big question mark) and without knowing how open his camp might be to at least discussing a future in Toronto (probably easier to ascertain), but with a defined window and the potential assets to get a deal done without stripping the team entirely of depth and their future, the Raptors are one of a small number of teams that make sense for Leonard, even on a perceived rental. There are very real risks, in terms of health and performance and flight risk. It would need to be weighed carefully, especially if the asking price extends past a certain point. Still, players like Leonard hit the market so infrequently, and it’s worth a long discussion.

Colin went into the pros and cons a bit more this morning, and I went deep on the idea with Eric over at The Athletic last week if you want more of my take.

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Raptors waive Alfonzo McKinnie

The Toronto Raptors will waive Alfonzo McKinnie, according to a report from Shams Charania of Yahoo.

The Raptors have until Wednesday at 5 p.m. ET to officially waive McKinnie to make sure his contract cleared waivers ahead of a July 20 guarantee date. Beyond that date, McKinnie would have been locked in for a guaranteed minimum contract for the 2018-19 season.

McKinnie used his opportunity at Las Vegas Summer League last year to earn a two-year deal with a $100,000 guarantee and impressed enough throughout the summer and training camp to beat out K.J. McDaniels for the Raptors’ 14th and final (at the time) roster spot. He never got the chance to prove that he could play at the NBA level, though, appearing in 14 games for a total for just 53 total minutes. He’ll leave the Raptors with the fourth-fewest minutes ever for a Raptor who lasted at least a full season on the roster, ahead of Nathan Jawai, Aleksandar Radojevic, and Sean Marks.

That doesn’t mean McKinnie didn’t have a good year. As covered in his season player review, his already stout defense took another step forward in heavy time with Raptors 905, to the point that he was a key piece at that end of the floor for the league’s best defense and eventual runner up. With the size and rebounding ability to play power forward and the quickness to guard most threes, McKinnie profiled as an interesting 3-and-D piece with some real transition juice and a fun tool on the offensive glass. The lack of “3” in that equation likely doomed him here. His 3-point percentage improved from 30.8 percent to 32.6 percent (including the postseason) in the G League this year, hardly enough of a jump. There are some encouraging signs within that number – McKinnie bumped from the 25th percentile to 42nd percentile as a spot-up shooter and hit 33.8 percent of his looks from the corners – and the lack of consistency there put him on the bubble heading into Summer League.

There, McKinnie turned in a disappointing few games, shooting 5-of-26 on threes. He shot just 26.2 percent for Summer League as a whole, averaging 7.5 points and 4.5 rebounds. He has a tremendous story and was really well-liked in the organization for his hard work and culture fit, but at a certain point you have to hit shots.

Now 25, McKinnie becomes a sacrifice in the name of flexibility, as these end-of-roster spots often dictate with their churn. Rather than lock into McKinnie, the Raptors can now explore a number of other names for that spot, and a handful of players in Vegas looked more intriguing over the small sample, including some on the wing. McKinnie will almost surely be able to catch on somewhere for a training camp invite or an Exhibit 10 contract, and the Windy City Bulls would be glad to have him back with their G League program if he winds up re-entering the player pool (the Bulls own his G League rights, not the 905). There’s still a lot to like in his profile, and he can really defend, he just didn’t shoot well enough to warrant extending the experiment in Toronto longer on a guarantee.

The move trims the Raptors’ roster to 12 and leaves them with three open roster spots and their two two-way contracts available to them. (There is no cap/tax benefit here, by the way, as all minimum contracts are treated the same for luxury tax purposes, and McKinnie was therefore no cheaper or more expensive than another option; I’d expect them to only roster 14 plus the two two-ways again this year for tax reasons.) The roster can even expand as large as 20 over summer and preseason, so you could see a number of players signed to compete for those final spots in training camp, similar to last year when several players competed for the final spot(s) that eventually went to McKinnie.

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Devil’s Advocate: Why Kawhi Leonard is worth it

Alright, as Anthony outlined last week, the Raptors are (supposedly) involved in talks for Kawhi Leonard, so whether we want to be or not, we’re in this room now. Get used to it.

Obviously, there’s no denying that the risk is enormous. There’s a very distinct possibility that the Raptors could say goodbye to the face of the most successful era in franchise history and their top young assets only to have “Kawhi’s camp” not even grant them a meeting next summer. Additionally, from an on-court perspective, it’s quite possible Leonard comes back from his mysterious quad injury closer to this season’s nine-game iteration than his prior robot-sent-from-the-future self. Still, with all that said it’s a risk they might have to take.

In reading discourse on Twitter about a potential deal, it seems recency bias has taken hold of many. Raptors fans have attempted to argue that a Demar DeRozan-centred Leonard swap is a loss for Toronto based upon the certainty of Derozan’s situation, while plenty of pundits have compared the Raptors situation to that of the Oklahoma City Thunder and Paul George last summer. Though both DeRozan and George are stars in their own right, it seems the NBA community has forgotten something: Leonard is on another level.

As a refresher, before this injury-riddled season, Leonard was the unquestioned alpha dog on both ends for 67 and 61 win teams in the loaded west, he was back-to-back undisputed first team all-NBA, he finished top three in MVP voting in consecutive years, and he owned the crown of the top perimeter defender in the league with nary a challenger in sight. And that was all before the age of 26.

That kind of two-way impact makes Leonard a consummate advanced stats darling—and from an all-time perspective. Per Andy Bailey, Leonard is top eight in the three-point-era in career win shares per 48 minutes. For those who don’t quite understand all that, just know the entire top 10 is riddled with the James’s, Jordan’s, and Johnson’s of NBA lore. In fact, when considering only the playoffs Leonard jumps all the way up to third, trailing only Jordan and James, right in front of Johnson. Safe to say he’s in rare company.

If Leonard can recapture his previous magic he’d instantly become the top player in the eastern conference (sorry Giannis) and put the Raptors on par with the Celtics to win the east. So with all due respect to the DeRozans and Georges of the NBA world, there are all-stars and there are superstars— Leonard is the latter. That is the kind of talent the Raptors haven’t in their history come close to fielding, and the chance may never come again.

As much as the NBA at-large has woken up to Toronto as an upper-echelon playing situation, perception still maintains that it isn’t a destination. That is why the possibility of acquiring a player of Leonard’s caliber shouldn’t be discussed so flippantly. Generally, the only means to acquire someone of that talent is through the draft– which is a crapshoot at times– or free agency (and they ain’t coming). So, I am not speaking in hyperboles when I say this is a once-in-a-franchise opportunity. As frightening as the question marks are, they are the only reason the Raptors are even in the picture.

Under normal circumstances, a franchise would need to sell the farm to acquire such a player, but Leonard’s unique chemistry/injury situation depresses his value just enough to turn off the teams with a farm to sell (Philly, Boston, etc.). Additionally, wanting to stay competitive backs the Spurs into a strange corner as they don’t want the usual “get all the young assets we can for him” rebuilding package that can take years of asset hoarding to acquire. San Antonio’s desire to remain competitive puts the Raptors at an advantage as the Spurs value the much-maligned 2nd team All-NBA DeRozan far more than 75% of the NBA (don’t forget just last month there was talk of DeRozan being moved for essentially the #4 or #5 pick and an albatross contract).

In a similar tune, the young assets the Raptors would have to part ways with in such a deal may be at an all-time high in value. For better or for worse, one of the NBA scouting department’s Ten Commandments, it seems, is that the unknown is always better. Regardless of the difficulty in projecting the probability of a player hitting their theoretical ceiling, teams will always place value in the slim possibility of a prospect “popping” as they can sell potential to their ownership and fans.

As great as OG Anunoby, Delon Wright, Jakob Poeltl, or Pascal Siakam are, none are blue-chippers. If they were to ever be moved, it would be wise to do it in the near future before scouts begin seeing them as the player they are instead of the player they could become. Treating any as “untouchable” before showing anything of undeniable star substance in the league would run the risk of repeating the Cavaliers-JJ Hickson situation of 2010. Moving off of one or two of the young guns, no matter how likeable they are, shouldn’t be a deal breaker by any means.

Lastly, in response to those who think it’s too risky to jeopardize what the Raptors have built for a possible rental, consider that management has intentionally put an escape hatch two years away as essentially the entire core comes off the books after the 2019-20 season. If Leonard were to leave after a year the Raptors would essentially just start their scheduled rebuild a year early and could sell off their other key players on expiring deals for younger assets. Admittedly, they would be starting that rebuild with less assets than initially planned, but as I said before, none are blue-chippers, and at least they can say they really went for it.

As Raptors’ General Manager Bobby Webster declared during summer league, the Raptors goal is nothing short of a championship. While this era has thrilled, it has yet to produce anything more than a fake contender. Acquiring Leonard this summer, hoping that his chemistry issues are endemic to San Antonio, and betting on the Raptors organizational culture (and the extremely weak eastern conference) convincing him to stay, while risky, is the only means to start on a path towards that goal. Otherwise, they’re stuck treading water with their slim chance of winning the east getting slimmer each year. Plus, if Leonard did stay, his presence could be enough to finally convince a star to come north in 2020 and create an eastern counter to Golden State’s then aging core.

It’s all quite hypothetical, and there’s a great deal of risk involved, but a healthy Leonard is worth it. If the price is right, I say take the shot. It may never come again.

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Raptors Weekly Podcast – Scoops from Summer League

Host William Lou is joined by Blake Murphy to reflect on Las Vegas Summer League.

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Raptors-Cavaliers LVSL Reaction Podcast – Eliminated by the Cavs

Host William Lou returns to the reaction podcast assignment with Colin Connors to recap Raptors-Cavaliers in Summer League action.

Grab the iTunes feed or check us out on Stitcher on Android. There is also the plain old feed or just listen above:

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Summer League Raptors eliminated by Cavaliers, obviously

Raptors 68, Cavaliers 82 | Box Score

Get your jokes in. The Cleveland Cavaliers have eliminated the Toronto Raptors in the playoffs. It’s Las Vegas Summer League, sure, and LeBron James wasn’t around to do the deed. Still, you know there will be some Nick Nurse/Dwane Casey/generic Raptors-Cavaliers jokes. It’s inevitable, and it’s your last chance until at least April and probably for a few years. Have at it. Sigh.

Anyway, the game. As has been the case for the bulk of this tournament, offense was at a premium early on. That spoke well of Toronto’s defense, which was playing as it has when the team’s been at their best in Vegas, forcing three turnovers in the opening four minutes. Shot-making was hard to come by the other way, though, until Malachi Richardson hit a tough corner three to break a 2-2 dead heat nearly three minutes in. The gates opened a bit from there, as Rawle Alkins hit a three of his own and the Cavaliers got a pair of threes from John Holland and an and-one from Collin Sexton.

Legs in jumpers soon started to look as tired as you might expect with a sixth game in 10 days, and the sound of balls clanking off the rim – my favorite song – became the soundtrack. A Scoochie Smith triple pushed Cleveland ahead for the game’s first semi-meaningful lead, with an Alfonzo McKinnie finish through traffic and the now-customary Giddy Potts and Chris Boucher sparks off the bench helping keep Toronto around. Boucher became the first Raptor to cross the one-basket barrier in the game at the end of the quarter, keeping the early deficit at just four after a frame.

Boucher was the story again early in the second, as he finished off a really nice Alkins dump-off after timing a slide into space well around the drive, then pinned a Dakota Mathias attempt to the backboard, then made a nice post move for a dunk. Boucher’s dominance helped lead an 11-2 run across the quarters, putting Toronto back ahead until Sexton scored on a missed travel and Billy Preston followed it up by getting back to the line (a Summer League staple; dude has shot 30 percent this week but still has decent numbers because he’s shot a bunch of free throws). The tail end of the quarter was more back-and-forth with a heavy tilt toward defense – great on-ball energy and some shaky offensive decision-making were both on Toronto’s ledger – and Richardson and McKinnie did their best to keep the non-Boucher offense afloat. Toronto took a two-point lead into halftime despite shooting just 41 percent overall and 29 percent on threes, a testament to that defensive effort.

The Cavs had to play without Sexton for a few minutes to start the half as he had an eye-poke looked at, and that contributed to the game’s continued offensive ineptitude just a while longer. Cleveland would tie the game early on when Alkins got called for a tough foul late in the shot clock, and Holland and Marcus Lee quickly helped extend it, with Holland in particular having a great night of shot-making. The Raptors continued to struggle from all over the floor, and a 15-0 Cleveland run flipped the script from all five earlier games, Toronto faltering as the game went on rather than slowly finding a groove and playing better later. Scoring just two points over nearly eight minutes is just a tough way to hang in a game, you know? Boucher would finally break the 1-of-15 slump by finishing a lob from Marquis Teague, but the damage was done – the quarter ended 21-4, the Cavs taking a commanding 15-point lead into the fourth.

Things continued going off the rails, as the Raptors went two minutes without scoring atop this quarter, including quite a Preston block. McKinnie broke the slump with free throws, and then Nick Nurse called for a full-court press, leading to an easy bucket underneath off of a turnover. Potts promptly added a triple and then a mid-range jumper, and while that helped Toronto get close to back within single-digits, Potts felt it a bit too much and missed his next two jumpers off the bounce. The pressure continued to pay dividends, Potts hit another three, and a nice inbound play got McKinnie free throws in the post to keep staying around the 11-point mark.

Time was not in their side as the clock ticked below four minutes, and a beautiful Sexton scoop-and-one put Cleveland back ahead 15 and effectively ended things. Boucher still had the chance to wrap up his strong tournament with another foul drawn on offense and then a charge drawn the other way to cut it to 10, and he’d then foul out (elimination games have a cap of six, not 10), letting Cleveland take it home with an 82-68 final.

This caps an up-and-down Summer League for the Raptors, one that saw them start out poorly with three shaky showings with moderately improving process and then begin to put things together over the last three. On Sunday, it was a matter of an unspeakably bad offensive quarter outweighing any positives and, with four players sitting out, perhaps some fatigue setting in. Overall, it wasn’t quite the performance the Raptors have turned in with loaded rosters in recent years, but there was enough forward progress and strong individual play to come away feeling good about the Vegas fortnight. And it’s the last basketball we’ll get until Canada qualifiers in September, so I hope you soaked it in.

Notes

  • Yes, we’re copping my Raptors 905/Team Canada recap format here with half-gamer, half-notes. I figure it lends itself better to games like these where people might not be as concerned about the game-flow as the actual player performances.
    • As always, yes, all Summer League caveats apply. The context of the tournament needs to be recognized. That doesn’t mean information can’t be pulled from it – positive signs are allowed to breed optimism, and negatives can help inform the rest of a player’s offseason. Take it for what it is, and enjoy.
  • RAPTORS NOTES: Chris Boucher was the best all-around Raptor in this one despite an errant 3-point shot, as he finished with 18 points, eight rebounds, and four blocks. Really good second half of the tournament for him.
    • Rawle Alkins had four steals and two assists to atone for a 1-of-8 night…Malachi Richardson struggled with his shot and only had one assist to four turnovers but I actually thought he made some nice reads in the pick-and-roll…Alfonzo McKinnie once again had a tough shooting night, though he had six rebounds and two steals…Giddy Potts was 4-of-14 and 2-of-10 on threes.
    • INJURIES: OG Anunoby sat this one out for rest again. Same deal as yesterday, just being safe at the end of a compressed week. Most teams do this with key players by the second week of Summer League every year…Jordan Loyd sat with back spasms, pushing him to 2.5 games missed in the tourney due to the issue…Fuquan Edwin missed a sixth consecutive game with a left knee injury…Malcolm Miller is done for Summer League with a dislocated shoulder.
    • IN ATTENDANCE: I don’t know, I’m back in Toronto now.
  • CAVALIERS NOTES: John Holland had a very nice 23 points on 15 possessions…Collin Sexton had 16 points with eight assists and looked better as the tournament went along…Cavs fans are definitely going to get ahead of themselves with Billy Preston at times this year…Scoochie!
  • UP NEXT: The Raptors are now eliminated and done in Las Vegas, while the Cavs move on to the semi-finals.
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Raptors-Hornets LVSL Reaction Podcast – Rawle’s redemption

Host William Lou and Colin Connors return to the reaction podcast assignment to recap Raptors-Hornets in Summer League action.

Grab the iTunes feed or check us out on Stitcher on Android. There is also the plain old feed or just listen above:

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Alkins leads Raptors to Summer League quarterfinals with OT win against Hornets

Raptors 87, Hornets 84 (OT) | Box Score

It was the Rawle Alkins Game.

It seems as if each year at Las Vegas Summer League, some Toronto Raptor has a big breakout. That hasn’t been the case uniformly across the tournament this year, with several names instead having big quarters or big moments. Alkins had one himself in the second half of the team’s opener. On Saturday, though, Alkins turned in the best individual performance of any Raptor in the tournament so far outside of maybe OG Anunoby, scoring five points in a two-minute overtime and 25 overall to lead the Raptors to an 87-84 victory over the Charlotte Hornets, sending them through to the next round.

The luster for this one was taken off a little before tip-off with the news that Anunoby would sit for rest, an entirely reasonable decision that bumped Alfonzo McKinnie back into the starting lineup and gave the team a longer look at some of the wings on the roster. It was Alkins who impressed first, scoring off of an offensive rebound, and Malachi Richardson pulled up for a three over a screen to help stop an early Charlotte run. Toronto did a nice job getting into the ball and staying aggressive to force turnovers, but their inability to finish possessions – losing a shooter after gambling, allowing an offensive rebound, fouling in transition – gave the Hornets too many windows to open up a lead.

Luckily, the scoreboard got unplugged and the score was erased. After a lengthy delay, the score was tragically restored and the Raptors found themselves once again playing from behind early. Richardson and Alkins continued to carry the spark, with the former coming up with a nice steal and the latter dumping off to Shevon Thompson for an easy bucket (he’d have another great post feed later that didn’t get converted) and then finishing a tough one himself in close, helping Toronto hang around. They took some time to get over the hump, staying at a possession or two’s length due to some fouling issues – Chris Boucher was guilty of the crime of the wonderful crime of trying to swat everything, even on the perimeter – as the benches began filtering in. Miles Bridges then tried to end the tournament with a wild, out-of-control self-alley-oop, and while he missed, another second chance for Charlotte neutralized a Giddy Potts shooting spark and kept the Hornets ahead four after a quarter.

The Raptors were able to break through and take their first lead early in the second, opening on a 9-0 run thanks to a balanced attack that included two Jordan Loyd drives, Boucher feeding Alkins for a three, and Richardson getting to the line. Bridges then hit the floor in pain in a worrisome moment that affirmed why Anunoby was sitting, and the Raptors continued rolling along without their Summer League star. A lot of the success was driven by extra effort on defense and in transition, helping make up for some pretty shaky finishing in close and occasionally curious shot selection. The teams swapped the lead back and forth late in the frame, and Bridges’ eventual return (thankfully) saw him throw down a big dunk to help Charlotte keep things tied up at 37 heading into the break.

Charlotte brought a nice energy to start the third, matching Toronto’s on the defensive end. They weren’t able to match Toronto’s shooting, though, and another Alkins three pushed the Raptors to 50 percent from outside and kept them even in a fast-paced start to the half. Bridges got a chance to show off his hops once again by finishing off a lob pass from former Raptors 905 point guard (and Loyd’s high school teammate) Shannon Scott, and some turnover issues kept the Raptors from getting any sort of momentum to pull ahead. The lead continued changing hands throughout the quarter, and consecutive threes from Potts and Alkins opened the floor up for Potts to fullback-dive his way to the rim. Boucher followed with a nice play at each end of the floor, and the Raptors found themselves up four heading into the fourth.

Were it not for Bridges, the Raptors probably could have pulled away more than they managed to, even as he got offensive fouls for, like, jumping too high, I think. Dwayne Bacon picked Bridges up with some smooth offensive plays, too – he was likely even better, just less flashy – and Charlotte kept hanging around within striking distance. Boucher had a really up-and-down stretch flashing a lot of his intrigue and the factors that currently limit him, and a missed put-back attempt highlighted an imprecise few minutes for the Raptors as a whole that cost them their control over the end-game scenario.

Coming out of a break with under five minutes to go, Bacon stuck another mid-range jumper, edging Charlotte ahead. He’d then draw a foul on a mid-range pull-up, and a turnover the other way helped Charlotte complete an 8-0 run, and suddenly that same back-and-forth was the Raptors trying to get back to even once again. Alkins checked back in and provided a spark once more, and around some continued turnover issues and Bacon clogging Toronto’s defensive arteries, the Raptors tied things up with under a minute to go after a Boucher offensive rebound set up an Alkins drive. Toronto wound up with the ball and 5.9 seconds left coming out of a timeout, giving the world a first look at a clutch Nick Nurse out-of-timeout call. The Raptors inbounded into the backcourt to quickly bait Charlotte’s foul to give, and the real play came with 4.0 on the clock. Nurse curiously had McKinnie inbound into the backcourt to Teague, who failed to get off a running three, forcing overtime.

The two-minute Summer League overtime format is merciful, and so after Bridges and Alkins traded scores, an Alkins pull-up three with 31 seconds left felt like a potential dagger. Charlotte drew a quick foul to cut the lead to one but couldn’t keep Boucher off the glass for free throws, and a last-ditch triple to force a second overtime missed long, sending Toronto to the quarter-finals.

“Yeah, man. I didn’t want to go home,” a drenched and panting Alkins said on the broadcast. “It’s not over yet. We were 0-3, but now it’s playoff basketball.”

The Raptors will now play Cleveland on Sunday at 6 ET with a berth in the semi-finals on the line. For how bad they looked in the first three games, this has been quite a two-game turnaround, and whatever happens from here, the Raptors deserve a ton of credit for continuing to fight and eventually finding their ways to a high-energy defensive formula that appears to be working for them. And hey, no LeBron on these playoff Cavs.

Notes

  • Yes, we’re copping my Raptors 905/Team Canada recap format here with half-gamer, half-notes. I figure it lends itself better to games like these where people might not be as concerned about the game-flow as the actual player performances.
    • As always, yes, all Summer League caveats apply. The context of the tournament needs to be recognized. That doesn’t mean information can’t be pulled from it – positive signs are allowed to breed optimism, and negatives can help inform the rest of a player’s offseason. Take it for what it is, and enjoy.
  • RAPTORS NOTES: Rawle Alkins continued to show why the Raptors moved so swiftly to bring him in after the draft, scoring 25 points on 18 possessions, hitting five threes – a supposed weakness in his profile still – and providing his trademark on-ball defense…Malachi Richardson continued a strong tournament, too, scoring 14 points and providing active hands in passing lanes…Shevon Thompson didn’t play late but had 12 points and seven rebounds in 17 minutes…Giddy Potts had two more threes and 10 points in total…Chris Boucher shot 1-of-5 and had some defensive lapses but also scored seven points with eight rebounds and three blocks in 24 minutes.
    • Alfonzo McKinnie had a rough outing, shooting 1-of-9 with five fouls and two turnovers…Codi Miller-McIntyre shot poorly again, posting a zero-point game that undersold his contribution with five rebounds and five assists.
    • INJURIES: OG Anunoby sat this one out for rest. There’s nothing to see here; it would be a fifth game in nine days for him, and sitting him accomplishes the dual goal of avoiding a Delon Wright redux and getting an extended look at some of the wings on the bubble. Most teams do this with key players by the second week of Summer League every year…Jordan Loyd left at halftime with back spasms. He missed the Vegas opener with the same issue and has been plagued by them through an otherwise impressive camp…Fuquan Edwin missed a fifth consecutive game with a left knee injury…Malcolm Miller is done for Summer League with a dislocated shoulder.
    • IN ATTENDANCE: I don’t know, I’m back in Toronto now.
  • HORNETS NOTES: Dwayne Bacon needed 32 possessions to get there but his 28 points were still impressive…Miles Bridges shot 5-of-20 despite the highlights he produced…Joe Chealey had 14-9-4 in a support role.
  • UP NEXT: The Raptors now take on Cleveland in the quarterfinals at 6 ET on Sunday.
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Raptors withdraw qualifying offer for Malcolm Miller

Photo credit: Trung Ho / TrungHo.ca

The Toronto Raptors announced Friday that they have withdrawn the qualifying offer they had extended to Malcolm Miller.

By withdrawing the qualifying offer, the Raptors will lose the right to match any offer sheet Miller signs. The benefit of doing so is that Miller now no longer has the option of signing the qualifying offer, which would have guaranteed him $50,000 on a two-way contract for 2018-19. He is now an unrestricted free agent rather than a restricted one, though the Raptors will still hold Non-Bird Rights on Miller, allowing them to exceed the cap to sign him to slightly more than the minimum.

That seems unlikely, at least for the time being. On Monday, Miller dislocated his right shoulder in the third quarter of a Summer League. After landing hard, Miller clearly knew something was wrong, and when an MRI came back worrisome, he flew to Los Angeles to see a specialist. Miller has since been back around the Raptors in Las Vegas wearing a sling, but context clues suggest the injury may be more serious than a dislocation. The concern would be whether there’s a tear in the labrum, something that could require surgery and come with a recovery timeline that could extend into early 2019 (perhaps they could benefit from anabolicenergy.me)

The dislocation is a terrible break for a player who was on the precipice of the NBA. A successful first foray into the two-way contract environment, Miller was a major contributor on a Raptors 905 team that went to the G League Finals and also contributed to the parent club Toronto Raptors, even starting a couple of games toward the end of the year. In Summer League as a restricted free agent, Miller seemed a likely candidate to earn a contract from the Raptors, perhaps similar to the one-year guarantee and second unguaranteed year that some other two-ways made good like Derrick Jones Jr. have signed as restricted free agents. Miller showed himself to be an NBA-caliber player, and breaking through that door will now be put on hold.

Where he goes from here is unclear. If he winds up needing several months to recover, he’ll miss the chance to fight his way onto a team through training camp. It would potentially be too big a risk for a tax-strapped team like the Raptors to sign him now and wait, but perhaps it’s something they can explore as he nears a return to health. The 905 could also try to secure his G League rights, allow him to rehab there, and then re-evaluate when he’s healthy. And, of course, Miller is a free agent, so another team could make a play to bring him in, believing the upside at the back end of the year would be worthwhile.

Whatever the case, this is really unfortunate. Miller had a great season, has been a fine addition to the Raptors’ organization from a culture perspective, and has now suffered a major Summer League injury for the second year in a row. The safe bet is that he’ll be back in this position again soon, but he’s likely lost an opportunity to enter the season on an NBA deal, something that was very much on the table before Monday.

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Summer League reading

Hey, folks. I’ve been out in Las Vegas at Summer League all week and, as I set for a red-eye home in a few hours, I wanted to share some of the content I’ve put up elsewhere during the week. There’s more to come, but probably nothing until Monday outside of recaps.

Raptors Republic

Recaps

News

Other

Vice Sports

Dime Magazine at Uproxx

The Athletic (20% discount here)

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Summer Slam: RR’s 3on3 Basketball Tournament Is Back – Sign Up Now!

It’s that time of year again: Time to come out and dunk on the Raptors Republic crew. The (sixth!) annual RR tournament is back

The Details:

What: Summer Slam – The 3-on-3 Basketball Tournament

When: August 19, 2018, at 9:00 AM

Where: Mattamy Athletic Centre – 50 Carlton St, Toronto, ON M5B 1J2, Canada (venue website, Google Maps)

Cost: The cost per team is $175, transferable to [email protected]

How to Sign Your Team Up

  • Step 1: Send $175 via Email Money Transfer to [email protected] (make sure to send your email as well, and set the password as raptors). This will reserve a spot for your team, after which we’ll follow up directly with you to get jersey sizes etc.
    Step 2: Fill out the form below.

Rules and FAQs

  • This is a 3-on-3 indoor basketball tournament with one substitute allowed, for a maximum four people per team.
  • There are slots for 16 teams, and we can’t expand beyond that, so sign up quickly. This is on a first-come, first-serve basis. Four are already spoken for by teams from the Raptors’ online community.
  • Each team will play 3 games in a round-robin format (ends around 11), and a minimum of one-game in the knockout round (starts right after). Each team guaranteed to play at least four games.
  • Games are 3-on-3 in the half-court, and use a running clock of 15 minutes. They are refereed.
  • You must be 18 years of age or older to participate in the tournament.
  • You must have proper basketball shoes (no running shoes or sneakers are allowed).
  • This is a tournament for all skill-levels and if history is any indication, it’ll follow the normal distribution.  There will be some really good teams, some not-so-really good teams, and some in between. Historically, nobody gets dominated in all of their games, there will be a nice mix. Most of all, though, everyone is guaranteed to have a lot of fun and meet great people.
  • All participants receive a Raptors Republic reversible-mesh jersey.
  • Questions? Email [email protected]

Once again, you can get your team in by paying $175 via Email Money Transfer to [email protected] (be sure to provide your email, and set the password as raptors), and please fill out the form below once you’ve paid.

Pre-registered teams from the Raptors community
1. Raptors Republic (Blake Murphy)
2. The Defeated Pod (William Lou)
3. Locked On Raptors (Sean Woodley)
4. theScore (Joseph Casciaro)
5. Raptors HQ (Dan Reynolds)

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Rumors and the Raptors

It’s been a quiet summer for Masai Ujiri and the Raptors thus far, with teams unwilling to trade out of the draft, and no cap space to speak of, bringing back Fred VanVleet, while important, was the only move they made in free agency to this point. Fans hoping for larger scale change with the organization have been left wondering what magic can be worked in the trade market, and the league as a whole has been quiet on that front, with most moves seemingly waiting for an ending to the Kawhi Leonard saga, one that the Raptors seemed to not be involved in. Other teams simply have too many trade assets to send out in bringing back the former Finals MVP, and with his apparent desire to join the Lakers and free agency just a year away, it seemed a foregone conclusion that he would eventually end up there.

In the last week though, there have been several reports that the Raptors are a team to watch in the Kawhi sweepstakes. First, Zach Lowe brought them up in his weekly column, then Brian Windhorst made an appearance on Sportsnet590 with JD Bunkis and also said that the Raptors were a team to watch, although it wasn’t nearly a done deal. It’s hard to say how much all of this means, as the Raptors front office typically likes to keep things close to their chest until they have an announcement to make, and the rumors have abounded with the Leonard situation, so it could simply be trying to keep the story moving. Also, none of these reports have called it anything near a done deal, and those talks could simply never develop close to that point.

However, the reported stories say that the Lakers have been unwilling to attach any of their best young players in a trade for Kawhi, and the Celtics’ and Sixers’ offers have been similar, which opens the door slightly for another team to enter. With impending free agency for Leonard, teams are unwilling to give up too much in an offer, for fear he might not stick around and overpaying for a rental could damage the long-term prospects for a young team.  The Raptors seem to be on the verge of a rebuild just two to three years out, and may not be as concerned about that as other organizations, perhaps making them willing to take the risk of overpaying for a rental in order to try to convince him to stick around.

What would such a trade look like? It would most likely begin with DeMar DeRozan, the Raptors wing who fits best to fill out the salary of the trade, and at 28, the All-NBA wing could be seen as a player who can help the Spurs remain relevant. The Raptors would then add one or two of their younger players, and at least one draft pick, to fill out the offer and take back another salary from the Spurs in the process to match. Something like DeRozan, Norman Powell, Jakob Poeltl, Delon Wright and a future first round pick for Kawhi and with the Raptors taking back Pau Gasol’s salary as well works under the cap, and might make sense for both sides.

This allows the Spurs to have some younger assets in the trade to develop as well as remaining more competitive in the immediate future, and the Raptors would become immediately one of the top contenders in the Eastern Conference, with Kawhi sliding into DeRozan’s offensive role as a primary creator, but with his shooting and defensive presence as well, he’d bolster the Raptors offense with the ball in the hands of other players as well as helping maintain their defensive consistency next to OG Anunoby, who the Raptors would surely prefer to retain in such a trade. Leonard is the type of franchise-changing talent who can propel the Raptors forward, with him looking like one of the best in the league prior to his injury. With a successful season around the new core, it’s possible the Raptors could convince Kawhi to stick around past the first season.

That said, this is still all more smoke than anything real, although there is a lot of it. There’s enough out there to be reasonably sure that the Raptors have spoken to the Spurs about a trade, but the status of those talks is completely unclear, and it’s impossible to know whether things will ever progress past this point. It probably wouldn’t be advisable to go out and buy yourself a Leonard jersey yet, but it’s worth, as Windhorst and Lowe have said, keeping an eye on. Masai Ujiri and Bobby Webster have both said that the Raptors’ goal is nothing short of a championship and Kawhi is the type of talent who can put that into play.

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Raptors-Nuggets LVSL Reaction Podcast – Cue the comeback

Host William Lou and Colin Connors return to the reaction podcast assignment to recap Raptors-Nuggets in Summer League action.

Grab the iTunes feed or check us out on Stitcher on Android. There is also the plain old feed or just listen above:

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Big 2nd-half comeback against Nuggets lands Raptors 1st win of Summer League

Raptors 85, Nuggets 77 | Box Score

Things finally clicked for the Toronto Raptors.

After an 0-3 round robin run at Las Vegas Summer League where the flashes of progress they kept showing struggled to materialize in on-court success, a day off to practice and collect themselves proved valuable. So, too, did a fresh start environment, the 29th-place round robin finish firmly behind them as the elimination portion of Summer League got underway. They would draw the undefeated Denver Nuggets, a good test of both their resolve and the steps forward they’ve taken in a week’s time.

It took a little longer than maybe hoped, but the Raptors got there. When they did, they blew the doors off, going on a monster run across the third and fourth to upset the Nuggets 85-77 on Wednesday. It was, without question, the best the group has looked in Vegas, with a couple of notable individual performances from Giddy Potts and Chris Boucher and a tremendous defensive effort up and down the roster.

“I think you could see, even in the losses, the growth coming,” head coach Nick Nurse said. “We just had such a long way to go to start, but I thought you saw flashes in each game. Maybe it was only eight minutes the first night and 12 the second night and 18, but we were finally pushing, and when you’re trying to get to a full game, it takes a lot for a lot of young guys.”

The game started out just as ugly as all of Summer League has been for the Raptors so far. It’s probably a bad sign that seven minutes into the game, Shevon Thompson was the only Raptor on the scoreboard, having put in a pair of post hooks and a free throw while everyone else missed from all over the floor or, worse, turned the ball over. Denver is a dangerous team in transition, and Malik Beasley and Monte Morris were more than happy to take advantage. Even when the Raptors could get back to contest in transition, defensive rebounding became a problem, and the Nuggets had a number of put-backs after strong initial stands in the paint.

Things looked bleak with an early 11-4 hole that led to a Nurse timeout, and some rotation tweaks provided a spark. One of the hold-overs from the starting lineup, Malachi Richardson, started a run with a corner three, and Alfonzo McKinnie and Potts followed suit with respective threes. Meanwhile, Boucher provided some solid minutes outside of not knowing one inbound play, contesting a number of shots at the rim for three blocks in the quarter and finishing a dump-off inside. A Potts buzzer-beater drew the Raptors even at 19 to end the quarter, a dramatic turnaround from where it looked like things were headed.

That momentum was fleeting. Boucher air-balled a three to open the second, and Denver got out on a 6-0 run that required another quick timeout. Again, it seemed to help. OG Anunoby got on the board with a tough shot out of the timeout to shake off an 0-for-4 first, then drove left with a nifty move for another, and the defense ratcheted up to force a shot-clock violation and a couple of late-clock heaves. Anunoby then drew the Raptors even with an and-one in transition, only for Beasley to end the mini-run with a thunderous baseline dunk and then another off of a stolen swing pass.

Beasley then hit a long two on an inbound play after Thompson had blocked a three out of bounds, and Richardson cared not for such rudeness. That led to both players, uh, goofing around on an inbound and receiving an inexplicable double-technical as they both laughed. Kennedy Meeks then got a chance for revenge against his old squad, hitting a smooth baseline jumper (and looking in terrific shape, down around 260, he says). The second ended with both teams trading buckets, including an Anunoby corner three to give him 12 in the quarter. Never was it enough to give the Raptors their first lead since the game’s opening bucket, though, and only another Boucher block at the buzzer kept Toronto within six at the half.

“I thought OG really settled into the game,” Nurse said. “We’ve given him license to go and do some things. Go play off the dribble a lot more, never be afraid to take any shot on the 3-point line. And you saw us post him a little bit more. A little bit midway through the game I said let’s get back to moving it, take what comes instead of some of the isolation stuff and we’re fine with that, we’re trying to grow him.”

Jordan Loyd got the nod to start the third in place of Rawle Alkins, and the improved defense from late in the first half carried over despite Denver making some inefficient looks. The imprecision on offense remained the bigger problem, with another swing pass being picked off, Anunoby fumbling a tough pass on a cut, and the team being a little slow to get into their sets and losing precious clock. Another errant drive-and-kick, this time from Anunoby, got Beasley out in transition again, and the Nuggets were out to their biggest lead at 11. The team fought off frustration, and Anunoby exhausted, and kept plugging, very slowly chipping back with a steady run to the free-throw line late. It was enough to get the margin to a very manageable two points entering the fourth.

That same aggression charging to the paint continued to pay dividends, with McKinnie finally putting the Raptors ahead at the stripe. Denver would go more than three minutes without scoring to start the quarter – Boucher deserves a world of credit – and another Potts triple pushed the Raptors ahead by six and sent Denver scrambling to a timeout. It did little to slow the Raptors, as Alkins promptly through a transition lob to Boucher and the Nuggets bench responded by picking up a technical.

“I was just trying to do what I have to do,” Boucher said. “I’ve been a shot-blocker my whole life. I was just trying to focus on that. I felt like we needed energy, so as soon as I came off the bench, I knew I had to get a couple rebounds, and defensively, get blocks, just to get my energy going.”

The Raptors smelled blood and took off from there, with Boucher drilling a three, Codi Miller-McIntyre throwing a lob to Anunoby for a one-handed jam, and Potts hitting another three. Out of nowhere, the Raptors were up 17, and not even another Beasley dunk could derail their momentum. Denver got back within as close as 12, and Anunoby put any thought of a late comeback to rest with a great contest on a jumper, a one-handed flush at the other end, and a block along the baseline for good measure.

“Yeah, it’s coming back,” Anunoby said of his explosiveness. “I think I’m just gonna wake up one day and it’ll be 100. I think I’m 100 right now but I’m sure I can do more.”

Morris went off late and made the final score respectable, if unthreatening in the closing moments. Whatever happens from here, this is surely a nice affirmation after a tough week of work, rewarded with a day off in Las Vegas before practice resumes Friday and the tournament continues Saturday.

Notes

  • Yes, we’re copping my Raptors 905/Team Canada recap format here with half-gamer, half-notes. I figure it lends itself better to games like these where people might not be as concerned about the game-flow as the actual player performances.
    • As always, yes, all Summer League caveats apply. The context of the tournament needs to be recognized. That doesn’t mean information can’t be pulled from it – positive signs are allowed to breed optimism, and negatives can help inform the rest of a player’s offseason. Take it for what it is, and enjoy.
  • RAPTORS NOTES: OG Anunoby shook off a cold start to finish with 22 points on 21 possessions…Giddy Potts was the offensive highlight, hitting four threes to put up 14 points in 22 minutes. He and Chris Boucher were tethered together, each posting +20 marks. Boucher was the defensive highlight, grabbing six rebounds with six blocks and two steals, and he added 12 points, including a pair of threes, for good measure…Alfonzo McKinnie had his best game of the tournament, too…Codi Miller-McIntyre had a team tournament-high 11 assists.
    • Rawle Alkins had a rough one, finishing 1-of-9. He at least brought some strong energy at both ends.
    • INJURIES: Fuquan Edwin missed a third consecutive game with a left knee injury…Malcolm Miller is done for Summer League with a dislocated shoulder.
    • IN ATTENDANCE: The Raptors’ brass were in attendance outside of Masai Ujiri (who was obviously off trading for Kawhi Leonard, given DeMar DeRozan’s Instagram, right?), but Norman Powell is the only player from the parent club still left in Vegas…Jamal Murray was sitting at half court, bumping me to second most notable 519 product at Cox Pavilion. Nikola Jokic and Long-Time Future Raptor Kenneth Faried were there as well…Dwane Casey caught most of his old team’s game. I got the chance to catch up with Casey earlier in the week, which was nice.
  • NUGGETS NOTES: Malik Beasley and Monte Morris combined for 40 points on 39 possessions, a nice volume on decent efficiency in a game where Denver only scored under a point per-possession.
  • UP NEXT: The Raptors now take on Charlotte in the second round of the playoffs, which are single-elimination from here. That game will go down at 3 PT/6 ET on Saturday, with the Raptors continuing on if they win and heading home if they lose.
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Raptors 905 promote Chad Sanders to general manager

Raptors 905 announced Wednesday that they have promoted Chad Sanders to the role of general manager.

“As much as the 905 has a hand in developing our young Raptors on the court, it plays equally as large of a role in the development of our up-and-coming staff members. Chad becomes just the latest in an already long line of Raptors staffers to utilize the 905 to move up within our ranks,”said Dan Tolzman. “After just one season as a member of our team, Chad showed us he was capable of taking on this challenge, and with his previous experience at the college and international levels, we’re confident that he will do an exceptional job with the 905 program.”

Sanders joined the organization in 2017-18 as the team’s manager of basketball operations. Prior to joining the 905, he was a member of the Dominican Republic national program for six seasons, eventually working his way up to direction of operations and then general manager. During that time, Dominican Republic rose from 27th to 17th in the FIBA men’s world rankings. He was also the general manager of Leones de Santo Domingo, winning a title there in 2016.

A University of Kentucky grad, he was a basketball manager under both Tubby Smith and Billy Gillispie as well as a graduate assistant under John Calipari. Still just 31, he continues a trend of the Raptors’ organization under Masai Ujiri skewing quite young in decision-making positions.

Sanders takes over the role from Dan Tolzman, who has risen to assistant general manager and vice president of player personnel on the Toronto Raptors side. Tolzman has been the team’s general manager for it’s entire existence, helping build the program and swiftly guide them to a G League Championship and then another finals berth.

The job Sanders is taking on is not an easy one, as the consistent tumult of the G League offers a number of challenges. After a year of interacting with him, the impression I’ve gotten is that he’s entirely capable and ready to take the reins.

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Would relaxed Gambling Laws benefit Canadian Sports?

For many fans there’s one clear way that their favourite sports are made even more exciting – it’s when they also have some money riding on the outcome. In fact, over the last few years, sports betting has become nearly as important for some as the action itself and winning a tidy sum while seeing a favourite team or individual player do well adds to the pleasure immeasurably.

But what many Canadians may not realise is that, strictly speaking, betting on most sports is technically against the law. We say “technically” because the whole subject is quite a grey area and involves legislation that has never been updated for the digital age.

Up until the 1960s all gambling was illegal in the country but an addition to the Canadian Criminal Code permitted certain forms to be introduced as long as they were administered by provincial governments.

To this day, this is the only form of gambling that is officially permitted and it is an offence for any Canadian national to market or offer betting services to other countrymen and women. But what is not covered is whether it’s legal for foreign operators based in other places around the world such as Gibraltar, Malta and the United Kingdom to offer betting services online.

So, operating in this so-called grey zone, it’s estimated that Canadians wager around $4 billion a year with offshore operators, compared with the $500 million a year that goes on province-run sports lottery games.

It’s a huge amount of money so it’s no surprise that many have been wondering why the government hasn’t seen the opportunity to take whatever steps that may be necessary to bring the activity into the mainstream and start raising revenue by taxation, some of which could even be fed back into the sports themselves.

There has even been a move by the NDP MP Brian Masse to introduce a private member’s bill to remedy the situation by legalizing non-parlay betting and allowing the government to tax the revenue that it raises. Of course, this wouldn’t simply relate to sport betting, it would also allow the government to tap into the huge sums being wagered at online casinos too.

Masse’s argument may well have been strengthened recently by the US Supreme Court’s ruling in which it was voted 6-3 to allow sports betting nationwide. This came as a result of a challenge by New Jersey to the 1992 Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, arguing that Congress had exceeded its authority in passing the Act.

Among the bodies opposed to its repeal were the NFL, NBA and MLB who asserted that it could bring corruption into their sports. But one only has to look to the UK for a very good counter argument to this fact. In recent times the British have really taken sports betting to their hearts with a reported £9.518 billion being spent on it each year but with no lapse in professional standards within the sports themselves.

With all this in mind, the arguments for greater liberalisation of sports betting in Canada do seem compelling. It would clarify the law, generate valuable income for the nation and increase enjoyment for fans immeasurably. So, everyone really would be a winner!

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Summer School: Grading the Raptors at Summer League so far

Okay, it’s been ugly. There’s no ignoring that. The summer Raptors have yet to come within single figures of any opponent at the Las Vegas showcase and the basketball has been borderline unwatchable at times, but such is life at summer league—the games don’t really matter. What Raptors fans should be paying attention to is the growth of the young guys the front office has invested in, no matter how sparse it’s been.

Before getting started, a general rule of thumb to focus on when evaluating at summer league is to put far more stock into player’s struggles than their successes. Any fringe-NBA chucker with a few go-to moves can get 20 at summer league, but if a player can’t create space, defend, or score against the much weaker competition, it’s trouble.

OG Anunoby – 13.7 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 1 apg, 2.3 TOpg, -38; Grade: B

Coming into summer league, fans were chomping at the bit to finally see Anunoby in a feature role for the first time in his young and promising career, but so far it seems as though the decision by the coaching staff to limit his perimeter creation this season was justified. In the first 1.5 games Anunoby played primarily at the three (although positions are arbitrary at SL) and he was noticeably out of his comfort zone as he shot around 20% from the field with five turnovers. His handle looked shaky, he struggled in the poorly spaced isolation opportunities given to him, and it was clear his feel in the pick-and-roll is still in its infancy (understandable as he ran almost none in college and only 17 last season where he was 4th percentile in efficiency, per Synergy Sports).

However, in addition to his usual rebounding, solid defense regardless of position, and above-average three-point spacing, Anunoby did show some great flashes playing out of mid-post and scoring versus larger players. These flashes were enough for Raptors coach Nick Nurse to switch Anunoby to the 4 almost full-time for the next six quarters (burying Alfonzo McKinnie on the bench to do so) and it paid off. Anunoby responded with a noticeable uptick in production scoring more than triple the points (32) on far superior efficiency (42%) with only two turnovers. Onlookers could see that Anunoby’s had refined instincts in the more natural role.

While Anunoby’s struggles on the perimeter aren’t an end-all-be-all on any future feature role by any stretch, it does show that his forthcoming evolution will likely be more in a secondary scorer role (attacking off the catch once the defense has shifted, etc), and that the young Kawhi Leonard, fetish-like, comparisons need to be tempered for the time being. However, his impressive play at the 4 is very encouraging for Raptors fans as it opens up an endless array of shooting-heavy and switchable small ball lineups. This past season Anunoby only played 24% of his minutes at the four (per Basketball Reference), but I’d be surprised if that didn’t change as Nurse is known for his innovative nature and likely isn’t afraid to experiment to find Anunoby’s best role rather than putting him in the 3 and D box. It hasn’t been exactly what fans wanted but OG has grown in Vegas. Don’t expect that to stop.

Malachi Richardson – 13.7 ppg, 1.3 apg, 1.3 rpg, 1.3 TOpg, 43% 3FG, -31; Grade: C+

I wrote last month about how this summer league is life-or-death for the former first-round pick Richardson, and so far he has managed to stay alive. Through three games he is shooting 43% from three on a relatively difficult shot selection and has shown flashes of improvement on in individual defense. However, those flashes have been a little too rare for a third-year player in this environment as Richardson has consistently got beat on closeouts, struggled in pick and roll coverages, and lost his man off the ball in a habit of lackluster team defence. Additionally, his production has been relatively limited in all areas outside of catching and shooting or pulling up going left. With the quantity of reps he’s had in the G-League to this point you’d like to see him more comfortable as a secondary ball handler given his mediocre size for a wing, but that hasn’t been the case thus far.

Richardson’s hot streak has managed to buy himself some more time on the better side of the NBA fringe for now, but considering he’s JR Smith streaky, then it’s reasonable to assume scouts aren’t much weight into this sample. Unless Richardson shows more in the next few games in the less visually appealing aspects of his game then this stretch may be the closest he sniffs to a redemption arc.

Alfonzo McKinnie – 5.3 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 14% 3FG, 25% FG, -28; Grade D

Unfortunately, what could have been his chance to finally prove himself as a no-doubt 15 man roster player has yet to go as planned for McKinnie. He’s had two 0-for games from 3 with plenty of troubling misses and hasn’t been able to assert himself on the defensive end (especially against bigger players) despite physically being one of the top wing prospects on that end in Vegas.

Perhaps the most discouraging part of his overall performance thus far is his shot selection as McKinnie has repeatedly killed the Raptors offensive flow by forcing up tough contested three’s in mid-early shot clock situations. Additionally, despite his tantalizing physical tools, McKinnie has struggled to get to the rim with consistency. His inability to use his NBA-level frame to get deep enough for high percentage finishes has forced him to settle for difficult floaters that are outside of his skill set. These floaters were oft chosen over kicking out to open shooters as he fails to see the floor once he puts his head down.

This poor play caused Nurse to reduce his role drastically as he registered only 9 minutes in Monday’s game despite coming into Vegas as only one of three players with a real roster spot last season (Blake noted that he’s dealing with an ankle sprain). If McKinnie doesn’t put together a more fundamentally sound effort and rediscover his 3 and D potential in the next few games he will likely find himself outside the NBA bubble come July 20, when his contract can become guaranteed.

Malcolm Miller – 4.0 ppg, 2.0 rpg, 26.7% FG, 16.7% 3FG, -24; Grade: D

Similarly to McKinnie, this was possibly the final step in Miller’s long-awaited journey to the NBA. I wrote earlier this month about Miller’s prototypical 3 and D potential coming into summer league, but unfortunately, the most important part of that formula, the three, has been uncharacteristically poor. Miller’s shot has looked flat and he has failed to register much offensive creation besides his usual unselfish activity cutting and crashing the glass. Additionally, despite performing well (but not well enough to make an impression) on the defensive end against frontcourt players and from a scheme perspective, Miller has struggled in switches against quick guards like Frank Jackson and Phil Pressey.

The disheartening part is that Miller left Monday’s game with a dislocated shoulder so, unlike his running mate McKinnie, he won’t get a chance to leave a positive lasting impression in Vegas. Based on his positive signs with the main club this year Miller will almost certainly covet a training camp invite from some team, but unfortunately, his stock likely plummeted during his time in Vegas.

Rawle Alkins – 7ppg, 4 rpg, 1.67 apg, 1 TOpg, 37.5% 3FG, +16; Grade: B

Overall, Alkins has arguably been the Raptors effective player outside of Anunoby as his minutes have generally mirrored the summer Raptors best stretches in Vegas. Defensively, Alkins is as good as advertised, as his stocky frame and surprising athleticism allow him to switch (and confidently defend) essentially anyone 1 through 4. Although he has looked lost at times in terms of team defense– and had multiple three’s banged in his eye because of it– Alkins is still only a rookie so he gets slightly more leash on that end of the floor for now. The main thing is that he continues to show progress thinking the game on that end of the floor as his tools are quite promising.

Offensively, Alkins has shot the three well (which is vital when projecting his NBA role) but you can only put so much stock into a single digit sample size. Outside of that, he has failed to show much of an in-between game or elite-level handle, but there have been flashes where Alkins used his strong frame to power his way to good finishing angles at the rim (although he’s blown a few too many of them). Additionally, he had the Raptors best (and arguably only) real highlight of summer league. He’s no Fred VanVleet, but the Raptors have a player with this UDFA pickup.

Honorable Mention

Shevon Thompson, Grade: C+ – To a select few Raptors’ junkies Thompson is one of the main young prospects, and for stretches this weekend he’s looked the part. Unfortunately, there have also been plenty of stretches where he looked like Javale McGee in Roy Hibbert’s body as his patented glass hands betrayed him constantly on offense, and defensively, he struggled against switches and fouled on a concerning percentage of post ups and rebound battles. Still, Thompson is a solid pick and roll threat, and his wingspan has forced a lot of guards to toss grenades around the rim. It’s possible that he plays his way into a two-way and fills the third centre role in spurts next season.

Codi Miller-McIntyre, Grade: B- –Despite being a relative non-shooter, and looking reckless at times (2 TO per game), there have been more than a few stretches in Vegas where Miller-McIntyre has looked like the best Raptor on the court.  His first step has generated much of the Raptors, otherwise dreadful, offense as his first step allows him into the paint regularly to finish, pull-up, or dump off. Additionally, at almost 3 steals a game he has been the Raptors best perimeter defender outside of Anunoby, although he needs to learn to pick his spots better when he gambles. After two years of floating around Europe, the Wake Forest product looks more composed and ready for the heightened level of play than ever has (despite being not quite ready yet). If this play continues he could be a sneaky-good Lorenzo Brown replacement on the 905– so long as this three game stretch isn’t an aberration.

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Raptors Weekly Podcast – Dreaming on Kawhi

Host William Lou is joined by Asad Alvi to break down another week in Raptors basketball.

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Raptors fall to 0-3 in Summer League with loss to Thunder

Raptors 82, Thunder 92 | Box Score

The Las Vegas Summer League Toronto Raptors are not off to the best of starts. For the third time in four days, the Raptors got behind early and fought hard to dig out of a hole that was simply much too big, the encouraging signs of progress for some individuals still not connecting for team-level success. It is what it is, really, with Summer League results not meaning the world but winning always a priority and a preferred outcome and, for the first time in years in Vegas, the Raptors not doing it with aplomb.

There was a red herring early on, as the Raptors actually turned in a good opening salvo. OG Anunoby drilled a corner three, Shevon Thompson picked up an on-ball steal and clear path foul, Malachi Richardson finished a drive through hard contact, and a starting lineup with four new pieces had some solid bounce out of the gate. Rawle Alkins made good on his chance to start with great energy, too.

“We just thought we wanted a really bit more of a combination of our wings, more of our standstill shooters and a little bit more of our drivers in combination, rather than playing OG, Malcolm, Malachi and Alfonzo all together,” Nick Nurse said. “They’re kind of all similar and we wanted to play at least two smaller, or guys who can get into the paint a little bit more and (Alkins) really made a big difference for us.”

That dissipated fairly quickly as some simple misplays set in. Thompson couldn’t connect on a nice dump-off from Alkins, nobody could keep P.J. Dozier in check, and the Thunder pulled off a four-point play when they grabbed an offensive rebound on a Dakari Johnson missed and-one conversion. The Toronto offense hit the skids as the bench began filtering in, and some bad luck – Alfonzo McKinnie tipping a pass in the lane right into a Deonte Burton mid-range jumper, Augusto Lima getting blocked and having it bounce off of him out of bounds – struck. Even when Anunoby hit another three to cap a strong quarter, Kevin Hervey responded in kind, helping the Thunder take a 31-21 lead at the end of one. The Raptors shot well enough from outside to keep pace, they just happened to shoot worse inside the arc (4-of-11) and let the Thunder get too many second chances.

Nurse tried Jordan Loyd out at the point guard position in the second, and Loyd rewarded the faith with a pretty solid quarter undercut by poor shot-making around him. There was also some Summer League weirdness, with the Thunder picking up two quick defensive three-second calls and a double foul being called right before Loyd was hammered at the rim with no whistle. Chris Boucher got an opportunity, too, and offered a mixed bag, showing some interesting defensive agility and missing a few help rotations. Hervey and Dozier both stayed hot and Rashawn Thomas joined them, and soon the Thunder were out ahead by 18.

If there was a light in this game, it was the response late in this quarter, as the Raptors ratcheted up the defensive intensity and quickly started chipping out of the enormous hole. Alkins had a great block on a Terrance Ferguson drive, Codi Miller-McIntyre continued his strong showing with a take for a foul and then a steal and coast-to-coast layup, and Richardson took a second chance to the paint for free throws. Another Anunoby triple cut the lead to 10, and when the Thunder counter-punched, the Raptors went haywire in the closing seconds – Miller-McIntyre scored late, Alkins stole in the inbound and fed Anunoby for a dunk, and then the Raptors stole the inbound again and nearly scored again, their halftime deficit sitting at 11 instead.

“I think we know what intensity we need to have but it’s about being able to do it over the course of the game instead of spurts,” Miller-McIntyre said. “I think we did it the last two games, we play a certain way and you’ll see a certain type of intensity out of us and we’ll get within 10 points and then it’ll fade out. It’s about we know what to do but trying to do it over the course of the game.”

The defensive focus carried over to the third, as neither team scored for several possessions. The physicality led to a testy moment where the teams had to be separated under the Thunder basket, as Anunoby shoved Johnson after a block for a jump ball, leading to words being traded and matching technicals.

“Yeah, I mean, it was fun. It’s always fun playing a physical game,” Anunoby said.” We just didn’t play as well as we wanted to.”

Both took a turn trying to hurt the other on the scoreboard, Johnson getting to the free-throw line and helping pick up eight fouls on Thompson (!) and Anunoby hitting his fourth triple of the game. Toronto had some nice individual efforts throughout the quarter – this was the most engaged I’ve seen Richardson as a defender, and Giddy Potts got to show his range and shot-blocking (!) ability – but they couldn’t make any headway with the score due to some plain unsightly shot-creation and shot-making.

The Thunder lead had extended out to 20 entering the fourth, leaving the Raptors in a similar situation to their first two games. That is, a deflating one. Hervey was getting wide open for threes, Burton threw down a monster dunk, and Toronto looked to be more or less out of it. They play the final minutes with good reason, though, and a fun lineup with Loyd alongside Miller-McIntyre in the backcourt got the Raptors out on a 13-3 run to open the fourth, quickly cutting the lead to a more manageable 10 points with six minutes to play.

That rough 10-point marker continued to be a barrier, even when Anunoby tried to block a shot right through that barrier and into press row along the baseline. Frustration seemed to set in from there, as one Raptor let out an audible curse after a tough Ferguson bucket, Anunoby lost the handle on an offensive rebound, and fatigue led to some sloppy turnovers. Like that, the Toronto push subsided and Oklahoma City was back ahead comfortably. The closing minutes weren’t without encouraging signs, as Boucher made a nice contest at the rim and stroked an above-the-break three and Alkins had a terrific second-jump effort to tip in his own miss, those moments just didn’t do anything but get the final score down to 92-82.

Spirits still seemed high enough outside of the Miller injury to where the team thinks they’re making progress and moving in the right direction. They’ll have to do so from a hole on the wrong side of the playoff bracket from here, and they’ve got at least two more games to get a win under their belts and break through as a collective.

Notes

  • Yes, we’re copping my Raptors 905/Team Canada recap format here with half-gamer, half-notes. I figure it lends itself better to games like these where people might not be as concerned about the game-flow as the actual player performances.
    • As always, yes, all Summer League caveats apply. The context of the tournament needs to be recognized. That doesn’t mean information can’t be pulled from it – positive signs are allowed to breed optimism, and negatives can help inform the rest of a player’s offseason. Take it for what it is, and enjoy.
  • RAPTORS NOTES: OG Anunoby had his best all-around game of the tournament, scoring 19 points, hitting four threes, blocking a pair of shots, and grabbing six rebounds…Malachi Richardson continues to impress far more than he did with Raptors 905, scoring 17 points on 5-of-12 shooting here…Giddy Potts lit it up in his 15 minutes, hitting four threes for 15 points…Rawle Alkins shot poorly but was the only Raptors starter with a positive plus-minus…Codi Miller-McIntyre has been the best non-roster surprise of the week. He finished with 8-4-8 and five steals.
    • Shevon Thompson picked up eight fouls in 18 minutes and finished a team-worst minus-13. He at least grabbed a team-high seven rebounds…Alfonzo McKinnie went 0-for-5 in nine scoreless minutes, though he’s hobbled a bit right now…Jordan Loyd missed all five attempts as well but played a pretty solid game otherwise.
    • INJURIES: Fuquan Edwin missed a third consecutive game with a left knee injury…Alfonzo McKinnie is playing through a sprained ankle…Malcolm Miller left the game late in the third quarter with a dislocated shoulder.
    • IN ATTENDANCE: Fred VanVleet and Norman Powell were here for this one to support the guys, as well as the bulk of the front office and Larry Tanenbaum.
  • THUNDER NOTES: C
  • UP NEXT: The Raptors now await the final round robin standings to come down to see where and who they play on Wednesday on the 0-3 chunk of the bracket. They’ll practice tomorrow.
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Raptors-Thunder LVSL Reaction Podcast – Promising signs from OG

Host William Lou returns to the reaction podcast assignment to recap Raptors-Thunder in Summer League action.

Grab the iTunes feed or check us out on Stitcher on Android. There is also the plain old feed or just listen above:

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Malcolm Miller dislocates shoulder, done for Summer League

Malcolm Miller is going to hate Las Vegas Summer League at this rate. A year after missing the event after badly spraining his ankle in a practice, Miller once again finds himself on the sidelines for the Toronto Raptors.

Miller hit the floor hard trying to contest a shot in transition in the third quarter of Toronto’s game against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Monday. He immediately knew something was wrong, yelling an obscenity and coming up with a limp right wrist. After a quick evaluation, it was determined that Miller has a dislocated right shoulder.

Obviously, he’s done for the day, and this could spell an end to his Summer League.

UPDATE: Miller is done for Summer League.

A restricted free agent, Miller struggled a bit in three games so far. The Raptors, including head coach Nick Nurse, remain high on him, but this is an ill-timed injury and an even worse-timed mini-slump given he’s in the hunt for a home for 2018-19 right now. Still, it would seem he’s done enough to warrant a training camp look, from the Raptors or someone else, assuming his shoulder injury isn’t too serious.

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Raptors add Nate Bjorkgren to staff

The Toronto Raptors are adding Nate Bjorkgren to their coaching staff, Raptors Republic and Ryan Wolstat of The Toronto Sun have learned.

Bjorkgren actually finished the 2017-18 season as an advanced scout for the Raptors and had a long-standing relationship with new head coach Nick Nurse. Bjorkgren was an assistant under Nurse with the Iowa Energy of the G League back from 2007-11. Nurse was actually in Bjorkgren’s wedding party, so this friendship goes beyond just coaching.

Prior to landing with the Raptors, Bjorkgren was an assistant with the Phoenix Suns and a head coach with Bakersfield, Iowa, Santa Cruz, and Dakota.

A fellow Iowa native, Bjorkgren has a solid reputation as a player development coach and should fit right in with the Raptors’ development system. He’s been around during recent camps and throughout Las Vegas Summer League, so the transition is already well under way. It’s not immediately clear where on the bench hierarchy he’ll slide with Adrian Griffin added, several holdovers from the back of the bench still around, and another addition or two likely to come.

Nurse has also been interviewing international head coaches for a position on his staff, and it seems likely another addition will be made shortly.

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Talk and Action

When Nick Nurse was announced as the new Raptors head coach, the common complaint would be that it would simply be more of the same for the team, after all, Nurse served on Dwane Casey’s staff and many thought that he’d simply be a different voice for the same strategies that had struggled in postseasons past. It was Nurse’s offense that had found success during the year last year, but he wasn’t known for his defensive strategies.

Also, with a first-time NBA head coach, there was some reason for concern that he wouldn’t be able to command the locker room, that he’d defer to the All-Stars at the top of the roster instead of addressing concerns with DeMar DeRozan’s lackluster defense, or his tendency to fall into old habits and force his own offense, for better or worse, late in games or in the postseason. In an interview with SiriusXM NBA Radio on Friday, Nurse appeared to be trying to put some of those concerns to rest, with comments about the direction he wanted to go going forward.

There are certainly reasons for skepticism here, to start with. A new head coach has reasons to want to shake things up and make his mark on the team, and the easiest way to do so with the Raptors is to call out the obvious playoff struggles. DeRozan’s defensive issues are a hot button among the fan base, and one that inspires frequent debate, with good reason. There are limitations forced on a team by a star player who dominates the ball and struggles defensively, you need to surround that player with guys who don’t need the ball in their own hands, as well as who are able to provide answers defensively to the questions that DeMar can’t answer, and in the playoffs, that dynamic has been tough for the Raptors to solve. Against Cleveland this season, the offense cratered with him on the floor, due to his ball dominance, and the Cavaliers frequently attacked him on the other end and found success.

Nurse’s comments also appear to nix the idea of a trade, with DeRozan heading outbound, this summer. It’s certainly possible that still changes as the summer goes on and if an opportunity presents itself, with many reports out there that no one on the Toronto roster is untouchable as they search for moves to help the organization take the next step, but it’s hard to believe that Nurse would be talking so openly about changes he wanted from DeMar if he thought that he wasn’t going to be building a team around the All-Star. This could mean that a trade was never something the team was truly considering, or it could just mean that the returns were never what the team was hoping for and they couldn’t find an amicable deal that provided them with sufficient returns to justify moving a player they’d marketed as the face of the franchise. Even for those who preferred a move, as I made the case for a month ago, understood that this outcome was possible and perhaps even expected, because trading DeMar was never going to be an easy proposition.

With that in mind, Nurse’s DeMar comments break down into two parts. First, his talking about them needing to be average when they aren’t great is important. This is simple, and a really important point. It’s not so much that DeMar has never had positive moments in the playoffs, it’s about the gap between his good and bad performances, and how hard it is for the rest of the roster to account for what they may or may not be getting from their leader. Simply closing that gap allows the rest of the team to know what’s expected of them on a nightly basis and makes it easier for the role players to find their role, and know what they need to do in order for the team to succeed.

The second part of his comments are the more interesting ones, and the portion that’s inspired the most conversation. Nurse spoke on asking DeMar to guard tougher matchups throughout the season, and needing him to improve his defensive game, and holding him accountable when he doesn’t put in the work on that end of the floor. It’s always been a fair criticism of DeMar that for a player known so much for his work ethic, he falls asleep at that end of the floor and loses his assignment, and can often be caught out of position. Against the Cavaliers, he allowed George Hill to get to the cup with ease when given that matchup, and also allowed JR Smith and Kyle Korver to frequently find space for open jumpers when asked to guard them.

The complicated part here though is that DeMar is also a 28-year old player with 9 seasons and 22,000+ minutes of experience in the league, and players that far into their careers don’t often change who they are. He’s not going to become an All-Defense player, and expecting that is setting yourself up for disappointment. DeRozan is who he is, for better or worse, and as much as Nurse might want to change that, it’s unlikely he will. Asking for more commitment, and attempting to hold him accountable, might simply end in a conflict between star and coach, and coaches rarely win those fights in this league. Dwane Casey, as good as he was as a coach, didn’t hold DeRozan, or his backcourt mate Kyle Lowry, accountable when they had defensive lapses, and allowed them to freelance on offense while expecting more from the other players on the roster, expecting them to provide defensive value to earn their offensive touches. Even with a change at the helm, it might not be possible to un-ring that bell.

Which brings me to my final point about those comments from Nick Nurse, which is to say that he also has a reputation for being extremely smart. Those comments didn’t come out of nowhere, they wouldn’t have been a surprise to the organization. Nurse knows all of these things, he knows that DeMar likely won’t mold his game into something new to account for the demands of a rookie coach, knows that his All-Stars have had free reign for the last 5 years, and also knows that those strategies have provided unprecedented success for the Raptors organization. Nurse would also, then, know that if this fails, it’s on him for trying to rock the boat. That is, unless he has the green light from upstairs to make these changes.

These comments weren’t likely an indication that the Raptors will be remade in the new coach’s vision, that the players will become something entirely new. But they may have been drawing a picture of what the Raptors want to be, and a sales pitch for the next core, whether that’s this season, next year, or two years down the line, when the Ibaka and Lowry contracts come off the books and DeRozan can opt out of his contract. A pitch that the Raptors intend to be a team with defensive buy-in across the roster, and if they can’t get that from this group, they’ll find a group that will. Nurse is an interesting coach with a great reputation, but he’s not a miracle worker.

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Raptors comeback falls short, Timberwolves pull back away late

Raptors 92, Timberwolves 103 | Box Score

Summer League isn’t supposed to be pretty. The Toronto Raptors are playing to that expectation so far, dropping a second game in a row on Sunday, this one a 103-92 decision to the Minnesota Timberwolves that they clawed back to bring in reach and then watched flutter away in the fourth quarter. It was similar to Friday’s opener in a lot of ways, though the Raptors did themselves more of a favor with their shooting here, sunk instead by an inability to hold on to the ball, both on offense and around their own rim.

The game looked like an extension of Friday early on, and both the Raptors and Timberwolves looked very much like teams playing the early game in Las Vegas. The sides would combine for 12 turnovers to just 11 made field goals in the first quarter, and that the Wolves controlled the game despite not hitting a field goal for the bulk of the frame speaks volumes. We should have known this was coming when each team committed a back-court violation on their second respective possessions of the game.

It wasn’t all bad, despite the low aesthetic value. No quarter is going to be all bad when Tryggvi Hlinason is involved. Malcolm Miller and Alfonzo McKinnie hit the glass well, McKinnie was able to leak out in transition off of a stop for a dunk, and OG Anunoby was having an impact on just about everything defensively. There was just a lot of good followed by bad, like Augusto Lima having a nice block and then losing the handle on a dive pass, or McKinnie missing a tough floater after an Anunoby steal and then air-balling a three off of a great Anunoby find in semi-transition. Some over-eagerness moving the ball led to some sloppy turnovers and a couple of tough recoveries, with some “good” mistakes mixed in, like Rawle Alkins feeding a tough transition pass through to Miller for a save and finish, emblematic of some solid off-ball work for the Raptors. Codi Miller-McIntyre gave the Raptors a look at a lead late with a late-possession three, but a Malachi Richardson turnover and an inbounding turnover helped Minnesota hold a two-point edge after one.

Nick Nurse leaned on a deep rotation from there, getting nearly everyone involved by halftime. Again in the second, there were flashes, like Richardson’s trademark lefty step-back three or Anunoby initiating in the pick-and-roll and showing some good instincts, the finishing just left a lot to be desired. Issues on the defensive glass also set in, and some of Friday’s foul trouble set back in as Toronto tried to strike the right balance between increased aggression on the ball and sending Minnesota to the line too often. Minnesota was smart in picking their spots in response, with Amile Jefferson and Keita Bates-Diop in particular standing out with their heady play and helping build a seven-point halftime lead.

“I thought it was a loose-ball issue today,” Nurse said. “A lot of rebounds, kind of 50/50 – I’m not even sure some of them were 50/50, they might have been 60/40, 70/30 in our favor – and we weren’t coming up with them. They were a little scrappier than we were, kept some possessions alive.”

Jordan Loyd got the starting nod for McKinnie in the second half, and initially the biggest change it produced was sliding Anunoby to the four. After a scoreless first half, Anunoby scored nine points in the third, bullying a post-up in to start the quarter and later unleashing a nice spin move one-on-one and hitting a corner three on a nice Miller swing. Anunoby also navigated a side pick-and-roll trap well, though he missed on the resulting drive, and relocated well for a dump-off bucket after sending a wild drive-and-kick pass.

“It was a great spin move,” Nurse said. “We’re here to see if he’s got a little post game and he’s got a little iso game. And I thought he made some nice moves, he made a couple tough shots. I thought he was unlucky on a couple others, and then a couple of them weren’t so good. We’re trying to throw it out there, see what it looks like, and then see where we take it from there.”

The Raptors spent the third flirting with a come back in large part thanks to Anunoby’s efforts, and their shooting finally came around late to help the cause. Richardson caught fire with a couple of threes and a tough banked-in runner, and Loyd showed why the Raptors brought him back for a second consecutive Summer League by hitting a couple of jumpers and generally playing a heady brand of basketball. Alkins also had a big dunk driving baseline that was  a lot of fun. Bates-Diop tried to end a Raptors mini-run with an anti-momentum three as a trailer, and Richardson responded with another three of his own and the Raptors edged ahead by two entering the fourth.

“Malachi was pretty decent today, right?” Nurse said. “He’s got a quick trigger, he’s got some size. We’re really working hard on him with being more than just a gunslinger, but at least he’s that.”

Minnesota counter-pushed early in the fourth, opening with an 8-0 run by once again finding the seams Toronto’s aggression provided. Alkins was perhaps a little too eager in passing lanes, and Nurse began tinkering with his bench mix to try to stabilize things. Miller-McIntyre came through with another clock-beating three to end the drought, but continued foul trouble got in the way – Miller picked up a fifth, and Toronto was flirting with the penalty before the halfway mark of the quarter. The shuffling led Nurse to try dual small point guards with Andrew Rowsey and Giddy Potts, and Shevon Thompson drew the call at center and rewarded the faith with a nice floater in the lane to pull back within one.

The Raptors flirted with taking control when Anunoby drove for a dunk, and Minnesota answered right back with a run of their own. Bates-Diop hit another big three, Anunoby missed a corner three and got blocked on a late pull-up two, and then Bates-Diop capped a great night with another three, this one a back-breaker. Anunoby did manage to attack for a nice bucket in response, it was just a little too late with the Raptors down 10 and only two minutes to go. A banked-in Potts three briefly kept the hope alive, with time eventually doing what time does and slowly extinguishing all hope (and, uh, Jefferson putting Minnesota back ahead 11 in the closing minute). Potts tried to fight that inevitability with a huge dunk attempt that drew back rim and a foul, and that was about the end of it.

Toronto’s backs are against the wall now as much as a Summer League team’s can be. They’re 0-2 and haven’t looked particularly sharp on offense in either game, shooting 49 percent here and 44 percent on threes but coughing the ball up 19 times to undercut themselves and harm their defense. Nurse has talked about the desire to finish with more shooting possessions than opponents, and the Raptors aren’t doing that so far thanks to the turnover and fouling issues. The shots they have taken have varied in quality, with dribble penetration to kick-start things at a premium. There are enough positive signs to think things can click with another day of reps under their belts tomorrow, and there’s still plenty of window for a player or two to step up and stand out. Monday should be interesting in that sense, especially with everyone except Chris Boucher and Fuquan Edwin having already been given a chance to show something.

Notes

  • Yes, we’re copping my Raptors 905/Team Canada recap format here with half-gamer, half-notes. I figure it lends itself better to games like these where people might not be as concerned about the game-flow as the actual player performances.
    • As always, yes, all Summer League caveats apply. The context of the tournament needs to be recognized. That doesn’t mean information can’t be pulled from it – positive signs are allowed to breed optimism, and negatives can help inform the rest of a player’s offseason. Take it for what it is, and enjoy.
  • RAPTORS NOTES: Jordan Loyd was the most impressive Raptor on the day, scoring 17 points in 24 strong bench minutes and staying within his role really well. He also dished three assists…Malachi Richardson’s offensive upside was on full display with a 4-of-5 mark from outside and 15 points…Codi Miller-McIntyre had another nice showing with 10 points on 4-of-5 shooting and a team-high four assists…Shevon Thompson has been the team’s best big through two games and had 10 points, six rebounds, two steals, and a block in just 17 minutes.
    • It was a mixed bag for OG Anunoby again, as he shot 5-of-15 and had three turnovers but showed glimpses off the dribble, led the team in rebounding for a second game in a row, and dished three assists…Malcolm Miller was uncharacteristically a non-factor…Alfonzo McKinnie struggled shooting once again…Rawle Alkins had a very quiet follow-up to his breakout Vegas opener, playing just eight minutes.
    • INJURIES: Fuquan Edwin sat with left knee soreness once again…Jordan Loyd was active after missing the opener with back spasms.
    • IN ATTENDANCE: Basically the entire Raptors front office was in attendance, right up to Bobby Webster, Masai Ujiri, and Wayne Embry….Fred VanVleet was in attendance to support, not wearing sleeves of course because it’s heavyweight season. DeMar DeRozan was here, too…Nick Nurse sang a lot passionately to both national anthems before the game.
  • TIMBERWOLVES NOTES: Jared Terrell is already making the Wolves look smart for grabbing him on a two-way deal as an undrafted free agent. The Raptors worked him out before the draft. He had 13 here on 6-of-9 shooting…I wrote about Amile Jefferson at the G League Showcase and he got a two-way deal soon after. Minnesota would be smart to try to keep him in the fold again as a depth big. He plays a very smart game and is an elite defensive communicator…Keita Bates-Diop was downright awesome. Very smart player, and his jumper was falling here. He finished with 24-11-2-1-2 and was the best player in the game.
  • UP NEXT: The Raptors next play Monday, tipping off against the Oklahoma City Thunder at 3:30 ET.
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Raptors-Timberwolves LVSL Reaction Podcast – Hard to watch

Host William Lou returns to the reaction podcast assignment to recap Raptors-Timberwolves in Summer League action with Colin Connors.

Grab the iTunes feed or check us out on Stitcher on Android. There is also the plain old feed or just listen above:

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Raptors-Pelicans LVSL Reaction Podcast – Pelicans drop ice-cold Raps

Host William Lou returns to the reaction podcast assignment to recap Raptors-Pelicans in the team’s Summer League opener.

Grab the iTunes feed or check us out on Stitcher on Android. There is also the plain old feed or just listen above:

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Raptors drop Summer League opener to Pelicans

Raptors 77, Pelicans 90 | Box Score

Nick Nurse’s head coaching tenure with the Toronto Raptors is out to a disastrous start. Okay, that is probably a step too far, but the Raptors’ Summer League squad he’s leading did not make the best first impression in Las Vegas on Friday, losing their tournament opener 90-77 to the New Orleans Pelicans.

It wasn’t quite as bad as that final score suggests, and while the Pelicans led more or less start-to-finish and spend the entire second half up about 20, the Raptors’ process was at least in the right place, which is what you’re looking for in this environment. The execution, though, needs a lot of work. The Raptors shot 33 percemt for the game, 8-of-34 on threes, and despite good individual efforts and some nice signs of aggression in passing lanes and with rotations, the defense allowed the Pelicans to live at the line. Again, not all bad, just not the best of starts, and these Summer League games run random enough that no conclusions should be taken away from the shaky first step.

Those hoping for Summer League to be an OG Anunoby showcase got the start they wanted, as Anunoby opened the scoring with a corner three and followed it up by driving for a left-handed bank shot, plus a foul. He wasn’t quite that dominant from there, but it was a nice tone-setter, and the other starters – Malcolm Miller, Alfonzo McKinnie, Marquis Teague, and Augusto Lima – settled in around him. Teague and Lima already have a nice pick-and-roll chemistry, with Lima setting some beautiful Euro screens and filling space well, while McKinnie drilled a pair of above-the-break threes, another positive sign.

Were it not for extreme foul trouble on the defensive end, the Raptors may have started pulling away. As it was, Cheick Diallo was a problem on the drive and the Pelicans rumbled to the rim with good aggression, and Miller and McKinnie both picked up three fouls early (good thing for the 10-foul limit in Las Vegas). The bench offense sputtered a little bit, too, outside of Malachi Richardson’s trademark one-dribble lefty step-back, and a buzzer-beating corner three put New Orleans ahead five at the end of a quarter.

The foul trouble persisted into the second, as Frank Jackson orchestrated a steady Pelicans attack. Otherwise, the defensive effort was solid. Shevon Thompson was a nice presence in the paint and effortful saving rebounds, while Anunoby and Miller continued to show why they’re well-regarded defensive prospects. A few stops allowed the offense to get running, which worked when Codi Miller-McIntyre was attacking the rim but not when the Raptors shot from outside, as they ran pretty cold, with air balls from Miller and Miller-McIntyre highlighting that struggle.

The Raptors were producing solid looks with a drive-kick-swing approach head coach Nick Nurse preaches, they just weren’t dropping for anyone, particularly Anunoby, who struggled with his handle some, too. Toronto’s points, then, came the hard way, with Thompson working the offensive glass, Richardson driving the baseline hard to draw fouls, and Lima dump-offs producing free throws. There weren’t nearly enough of those tough buckets, and a 0-of-7 mark on threes in the quarter – combined with great performances from Diallo and Walter Lemon Jr. – left them in a 20-point halftime hole.

“It was like textbook early, and we didn’t make any,” Nurse said. “Really textbook, extra passes, balls were there, and just nobody was making ’em. And that kinda gets into you a little bit.”

Things didn’t get much better out of the break, as Anunoby continued to struggle with his handle as a primary initiator and the lead hung in the low 20s. The defensive intensity was at least there, with Miller contesting well on the drive, Anunoby doing well to create havoc in help when engaged, and Rawle Alkins picking up a steal almost immediately upon checking in for the first time. Shortly after, Alkins was emblematic of the Raptors being in their own way a bit with their finishing, as he led the break and unleashed a beautiful cross move only to miss the layup, and his teammates would follow by missing two more chances on the same possession. The fouls kept rolling in, too, with the Raptors reaching 23 team fouls through three quarters to keep them down 19 entering the fourth.

“Defensively, I liked it, we were a little handsy, I thought we were a little bit unfortunate. We wanna play physical and I think we had 30 fouls or something like that, really high,” Nurse said. “But again, for me at this stage, we wanna start off aggressive, which means we’re gonna get called for a bunch of fouls. We’ll back off and adjust that as we go. I’ve always thought it was easier to back off from aggression than to play soft and press up into it.”

The nice thing about Summer League action is that there’s always the potential for a quick comeback, especially if an opponent starts to go to its bench. The Raptors pushed to find that tipping point with a lineup with a lot of speed and length, but the Pelicans answered an early three with a transition look of their own and Toronto maybe started to press a bit with their shot selection. When Trevon Bluiett hit his sixth three of the game with Richardson draped all over him late in the clock, the idea of a comeback was more or less put to rest. The close-out was mostly without anything notable, but Miller-McIntyre and Richardson at least had solid showings down the stretch and Alkins atoned for the missed layup with a big-time reverse on the break.

“We’re gonna be just fine here in Summer League,” Nurse said. “I like the group a lot, we’ve worked extremely hard, and our legs will come back to us here at some point and we’ll play a little better.”

They’ll get another day of practice and then have their chance to improve with two more round robin games Sunday and Monday.

Notes

  • Yes, we’re copping my Raptors 905/Team Canada recap format here with half-gamer, half-notes. I figure it lends itself better to games like these where people might not be as concerned about the game-flow as the actual player performances.
    • As always, yes, all Summer League caveats apply. The context of the tournament needs to be recognized. That doesn’t mean information can’t be pulled from it – positive signs are allowed to breed optimism, and negatives can help inform the rest of a player’s offseason. Take it for what it is, and enjoy.
  • RAPTORS NOTES: Rawle Alkins was probably the most impressive of any Raptor, scoring 12 points with six rebounds and a team-best +14 in 14 minutes…Codi Miller-McIntyre had nine points and five dimes in the best showing of any point guard…Alfonzo McKinnie matched Alkins with a team-high 12 points and added five rebounds, but he took 18 shots to get there.
    • Malcolm Miller (0-of-7), OG Anunoby (3-of-11) and Malachi Richardson (3-of-11) all struggled shooting. Anunoby had a team-high seven rebounds, at least, and Richardson showed good aggression when the team was trying to come back late.
    • INJURIES: Jordan Loyd (back spasms) and Fuquan Edwin (left knee soreness) both sat out.
    • IN ATTENDANCE: The Raptors had nearly a full staff in attendance for the opener, with really only Masai Ujiri and Bobby Webster (still en route from the Fred VanVleet presser) notable in their absence. Also in attendance were DeMar DeRozan, C.J. Miles, Pascal Siakam, and Delon Wright. DeRozan even joined the broadcast for a bit, while the others spent time working as baseline photographers.
  • PELICANS NOTES: Cheick Diallo had a monster game for the Pelicans and was too much on the roll for just about any Raptor. Outside of a badly air-balled three, this was a great showing. He finished with 13 and 10…Walter Lemon Jr. showed a lot of aggression, which was needed…Trevon Bluiett hit 6-of-8 on threes…Frank Jackson went down with what appeared to be a left ankle injury and had to be helped to the locker room.
  • UP NEXT: The Raptors next play Sunday, tipping off against the Minnesota Timberwolves at 3 ET.
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VIDEO: Raptors make Fred VanVleet signing official, plus presser

The Toronto Raptors held a press conference Friday to announce the re-signing of point guard Fred VanVleet.

““We all know Fred’s personal motto is ‘Bet on Yourself.’ We know that Fred is no gamble – he’s hardworking, dedicated, and smart, and has been fantastic for us,” Raptors President Masai Ujiri said in a release. “We’re thrilled he’ll be a big part of the Toronto Raptors for seasons to come.”

We’ve got you covered with the details of VanVleet’s deal here, and you can see video of his press conference below.

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Summer League Patreon Mailbag: The tax, a window in the East, becoming a heavyweight, and more

With the offseason upon us, I figured it was once aain time to offer those who support the site via Patreon the smallest of gestures, in the form of an #RRMailbag. Now, I realize this is a fairly silly gesture, given I have never once not answered a mailbag question from any reader yet, but the wonderful people who support us deserve something other than my very conditional love and appreciation. We really, really appreciate your support.

You can find all of the previous editions of the mailbag here, if, for whatever reason, you wanted to read old mailbags. In this case, some of the more recent ones might actually still be free agency relevant, so have at it.

Before we go ahead: A reminder that our Patreon page can be found at patreon.com/RaptorsRepublic. If you appreciate the content we produce, want to support RR, and have the means to do so, any contribution is greatly appreciated and will help us continue to do what we do (and try to do even more). You can also follow me on Twitter and on Facebook for all of my writing/podcasting/radio stuff. You can also ask me questions at any time using #RRMailbag, and I’ll be sure to include them in the next mailbag, no matter how long between (using the hashtag helps make sure I won’t lose track of the question over time, so do that).

Alright, let us get on with it.

From Eyal: How are we going to make the Fred VanVleet contract work cap-wise? Are we leaning towards dipping into the tax? Will this mean we give up more picks to dump salary? Did we have any possibility of signing Randle? That contract looks golden.

The Raptors will be operating this offseason as a luxury tax team, which means they only have a few routes to add salary beyond the $125.7 million they had committed to just 11 players entering free agency. In VanVleet’s case, they’ll use “Early Bird rights” to do so. Early Bird rights allow a team to exceed the cap to re-sign one of their players for up to 105 percent of the average salary from the league year prior (an estimate). Using that number, the Raptors can offer VanVleet a starting salary of $8.8 million with an eight-percent raise in the second year of the deal ($18.47 million total).

The Raptors also have access to the taxpayer mid-level exception, a couple of trade exceptions, and the minimum exception, but as explained in the free agency primer, the Raptors won’t use the non-taxpayer mid-level exception or bi-annual exception, as those would trigger a hard cap. That probably wasn’t getting you close enough for Julius Randle, who got the full non-taxpayer mid-level (two years, $18 million) to land in a really good situation in New Orleans. To get him, the Raptors would have either had to unload a bunch of salary first (getting below the hard cap after his signing) or execute a complicated sign-and-trade where they also shed salary.

An exception like the Early Bird doesn’t get you out of the luxury tax implications, nor do any of the other exceptions the Raptors may use to add pieces. The Raptors are currently well into the tax, deep enough (the third-highest payroll in the NBA at this moment) that I doubt they’ll be able to avoid it this year. Which is fine. You can’t hope to stay competitive for a sixth year in a row without eventually dipping in there, and they have deep pockets. Technically, they could attach a pick to a big salary and start getting creative to avoid it – they shouldn’t do this unless it’s also a talent upgrade, after surrendering four picks in the last 18 months and two just to unload money last summer – but realistically any payroll-reduction moves will be designed to lessen the tax hit rather than avoid it entirely.

From Andrew: Why do think the Norm Powell trade didnt happen before July 1st? He’s the 11th guys and the Raps are 10 deep.

There probably just wasn’t a hot market for him that night. In fact, the entire market was frozen – the last four drafts averaged 12.3 players under contract moved per-draft, whereas this draft had zero (!) – as teams tried to figure out how names like Paul George, Kawhi Leonard, and LeBron James would shape the summer market. It also hurt that so few teams projected to have meaningful cap space, so even if a team really believed in a Powell bounce-back (and I think those teams exist), it was a tough ask to eat into their space to get him, even if the asset cost was zero. I’m still a little surprise a team with limited cap space but well below the tax didn’t take the chance while he was cheap for salary matching, absorbing a young two-way wing for free without using an exception, but it’s definitely a buyer’s market for teams with financial flexibility.

From here out, the Raptors would probably need to take back salary to unload Powell. Only two teams currently have enough cap space to absorb him outright (a few more could get there), but those teams should prioritize that space by giving offer sheets to young restricted free agents with upside or by renting it out to teams who need to dump a contract, extracting picks or prospects for their trouble like the Nets a year ago. What the Raptors could do, in theory, is send Powell to a team for a player making, say, $5.3 million to Powell’s $9.4 million. That team, assuming they’re not a tax team, could take on that additional salary in a straight swap, and while the Raptors couldn’t, they could structure the deal separately on their end, absorbing Player X into the Cory Joseph trade exception. I’m not sure specifically what $5.3-$6.5- million players, to give a range, would fit that criteria from a team that wants to bet on Powell, but it would allow a team to take the Powell risk with some cost offset while also saving the Raptors a bundle after tax payments are considered.

Of course, the tax is calculated on the day of Game 82, so there’s also the path where the Raptors stay whole, try to recoup Powell’s value by playing him when the season opens, and re-evaluating closer to the trade deadline whether he’s the piece to go, another piece has to go, or they can swallow a gargantuan tax bill to make a finals run.

From Manny: My question for you is to do with the luxury tax. I understand the reasons for the Raptors wanting to remain below it, but I find that a lot of your prognostications relate to how the Raptors can achieve that, as opposed to how they can improve from a basketball standpoint. They were a 59 win team last year (yes, they flamed out against LBJ) and it’s got to be worth something to win the Eastern Conference. Are you not in agreement with Eric (from his July 2nd article) that this coming year is the ideal time to be paying a tax bill? MLSE does not penny pinch with TFC/Leafs, I doubt they would with the Raps.

From Chris: With LeBron out of the east, is TO running it back the right move?

Very fair question, and I sometimes feel dirty evaluating moves through the lens of the luxury tax because A) it tends to treat players strictly as assets, and B) it’s really only a team-centric view of things and isn’t always what fans want to read. The goal, though, isn’t to suggest this is what the team should be doing, but to inform as to why they’re doing the things they’re doing. Last year it was a heavy focus of some of my pieces because the Raptors were razor-close to the tax line, and I knew they wanted to avoid it (with good reason: not only did they not have to pay the tax, saving money for the other years of this competitive window, they’ll also receive up to $2.2 million in tax payments from tax teams last year, money they can funnel into this year’s budget).

This year, I won’t operate quite like that. I still think it’s important to note, and there’s probably one cost-cutting move coming at some point. But the Raptors will be a tax team, and they should be a tax team given how open the East is and now narrow their remaining window is with this core. I’m definitely in agreement with Eric, and with what Connor wrote here the other week, and in fact was in favor of the all-in approach even before LeBron ducked out, because there’s no escape hatch built into this core until 2o19, anyway. I’d understand them pausing at giving up future assets right now (especially picks, which offer cost control for multiple years and help you spend at the top of the roster), but I’d be surprised and disappointed if they operated from here strictly as a team that wants to duck the tax. This is maybe their last kick at the can in this iteration, and it would make no sense to ride it this far and run it back so many times without making one last real push.

From Peter: I would love to get your thoughts on whether the Raptors can make it to the finals this year and if so, what they need to do or what needs to happen with certain players/positions on the Raptors?

Absolutely, they can. They’re not the favorite by any means, and would probably come in second or third depending on how you feel about the 76ers taking the next step. Still, the East is wide open, Toronto has more playoff experience than any team in the conference they’ll go up against, they’re already built with their depth to win a lot of regular-season games, and the hope is that the offseason changes better equip them for the necessities of the playoffs rather than “just” being a regular-season team. I’d understand people being cautious about buying into the Raptors once the playoffs roll around, but strictly on paper there’s no way they’re not firmly in the conversation to make a finals run as the East is currently constructed.

Unfortunately, a lot of “what needs to happen” is changes to the minutiae come playoff time (smarter rotations, more defensive versatility, continued growth and dynamism in the offense, young players stepping up with experience in the moment). In terms of roster construction, they could certainly use another shooting and another multi-position defender at the three/four. I don’t think you’re getting both of those things in one player with the exceptions the Raptors have available to them, but Malcolm Miller or Alfonzo McKinnie or any of the number of wings in Summer League could break through in the other final roster spot, and some intriguing names figure to fall through to the taxpayer mid-level or veteran minimum ranges. I’d probably prioritize that defensive versatility over the shooting, as contradictory as that seems to a Nick Nurse offense, simply because the Raptors already have a few problematic defenders you don’t want to be playing together and I’m not sure another offense-first piece would see much menaingful rotation run.

And Kawhi. They should get Kawhi.

From Chris in Montreal: If GSW loses both Steph and Boogie to ankle issues who do you think wins the championship and how many NBA fans, executives and players are praying for injuries (to GSW) to make this season interesting?

I would never hope for injuries in any circumstance. I would guess there are a few people around the league who don’t feel the same way. (An aside: I actually think the Warriors would still be the heavy favorites without DeMarcus Cousins, and maybe even still the favorites if Steph Curry were hurt; they still have three All-Stars and an MVP and a Finals MVP and a bunch of other cool stuff.)

If the Warriors were to suddenly be vulnerable to upset, I think Houston probably still stands the best chance even after losing Trevor Ariza, assuming they manage to retain Clint Capela and add a wing or two (and Lucas Nogueira, obviously). Boston, Philadelphia, and Toronto in some order are probably the three next-best teams (I’m not a believer in the current Lakers being more than a second-round team this year, barring a trade), and you’d have to give the edge to Boston given their youth, talent, returning players, and flexibility to make meaningful additions from here. Yes, I threw up in my mouth admitting that.

From Ian: The league is really, truly in this sort of paused upheaval right now, with a ton of short-term deals, and a lot of movement seemingly waiting on Kawhi and others. Obviously the internet is constantly churning out rumours, but do you know if there’s anything actually concrete happening on the Raptors trade front? Are these hypothetical DeRozan deals I see tweeted out based on anything being leaked, or is it just frustrated Raps fans ready for a shakeup?

The Raptors are, as usual, operating pretty quietly. Real Gs move in silence like lasagna, as it were. The general takeaway with the Raptors and rumors/leaks the last few years has been roughly as follows. Prior to a move, if something is coming out it’s almost definitely coming from an agent or an opposing team, and it’s always necessary to think of who benefits from that specific packet of info getting out to find the source. If something does come from the Raptors themselves, it’s likewise necessary to think ‘why now,’ given how infrequently it occurs. After the fact, the Raptors are a little more forthcoming with information, and you’ll often see beat guys fill in a lot of the color of a story or process or move in the days that follow (I think that’s fairly normal, as the risks of that information getting out are minimized once something is completed).

Having said that, the rumblings that everything is on the table for the Raptors this summer are accurate. And this isn’t sourced, necessarily, because they’ve been pretty open about it publicly, too. Nobody is untouchable, nor should they be. That doesn’t mean that moving one of the stars is likely or that Serge Ibaka is outbound or anything like that, it simply means they’re exploring all options and aren’t going to leave a stone unturned after banging their heads against the wall the last few postseasons.

The specific DeRozan frameworks you see out there are just people spinning their wheels, though – Raptors Twitter has run with a few ideas, some of which gain popularity, and then you’ll hear national reporters theorize about potential what-if packages, which can sometimes get aggregated into reporting where it’s just analysis. That’s just part of the madness of this time of year. I don’t think you’d ever hear about a real framework the Raptors were close on until after a deal, though. Maybe someone guesses close or guesses right in their own speculation, but the Raptors under Masai Ujiri have never shown an inclination to leak details at that level.

Some variation from Peter, Ian, and Adam: Which Raptor do you think we can expect to see the most real growth from over the next 2-3 years? / How would you rank the team’s under-26 players? Do you see JV as a long-term piece for us or anyone else? I feel he slowly keeps improving, though I doubt the quickness ever comes to him on D.

I actually wrote about this from a strictly statistical perspective at The Athletic on Thursday, so I’ll answer more subjectively here.

Were I to rank the Raptors players 26-and-under in terms of upside over the next two-to-three years, I would do so as such: OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet, Jonas Valanciunas, Delon Wright, Jakob Poeltl, Norman Powell, Alfonzo McKinnie, Malachi Richardson. Were he not an RFA, Malcolm Miller would slot in around Poeltl, who I know some will think is low there but who I see having a very high floor but maybe not tremendous upside in the immediate future (relative to the other names). Anunoby is unquestionably the best of the prospects, Siakam was a 3-point shot from being the Raptors’ third-best player for half of last season, VanVleet might already be a starting-caliber point guard.

Valanciunas is still young-ish for a center at 26, and even though it feels like he’s been the same player forever, he showed marked improvement across the board last year. I think he has plenty of good NBA years ahead of him, though I’m not sure he’ll factor in to Toronto’s plans beyond his 2019-20 option year (right now it certainly looks like he’ll pick that up). Obviously, his defensive upside is capped a little bit by agility, and it will be interesting how he fits the more aggressive approach Nick Nurse says is coming, but he’s still a very, very useful player, and one who is still trending upward. He was a legitimate salary dump candidate this time last year, and he’s played his way to where I don’t think the Raptors would trade him without a meaningful basketball return.

From Eyal: Why are we having so much trouble finding quality assistant coaches?

I’m not sure it’s so much a problem finding them but the nature of trying to add multiple high-level assistants at once. In the case of Chris Finch, that’s Nick Nurse’s guy, but the Pelicans declined to let him go. There’s not much the Raptors can do about that, short of surrendering a pick (ugh). Sarunas Jasikevicius would have been awesome, too, and Nurse was really in favor of adding him to the bench, per a source, but Zalgiris gave Jasikevicius a substantial raise to stick around and get another year of experience as a head coach (EuroLeague/Lithuania isn’t quite the NBA, but even Nurse has spoken to how valuable that experience is as an eventual assistant). Again, not much you can do there. And Adrian Griffin is a really good hire I’m surprised they were even able to get. He comes with a decade of experience and a terrific reputation at the team and player level, and he got way more than the sum of the parts out of Oklahoma City’s defense the last few years (all due respect to the god Andre Roberson).

That there are still two openings on the front of the bench is perhaps a little worrisome, I will concede, and I’ll have my eyes out at Summer League for any new faces around. As I suggested in an open thread this week, it wouldn’t be surprising to me if Nurse’s time with Jakob Poeltl and Jonas Valanciunas during FIBA qualifiers was also a mini-coaching search, with Sergio Scariolo and Andrea Trinchieri as potential names. Nate Bjorkgren and Matt Brase are two other names to watch as that search unfolds, and Patrick Mutombo could be ready for a promotion to the third assistant’s chair, which would shift one of the two remaining vacancies to the back row of the bench (perhaps for another internal promotion).

All of this is to say, the lack of assistants in place isn’t ideal but isn’t the end of the world so early in the offseason.

From Miles: My question is if you have any book recommendations for someone who wants to learn more about the strategy of the game or the advanced stats involved in basketball. Something like the equivalent of Moneyball or The Book (by Tom Tango) for baseball fans.

There probably isn’t as definitive a book as Tango or Moneyball, but there are some really good options out there for helping expand your understanding of the game or push the way you think of it. Betaball by Erik Malinowski is great and probably the closest thing to a Moneyball-adjace basketball book. (Breaks of the Game is the gold standard in story-of-a-season writing but isn’t analytical, by the way; a must-read.) In terms of something close to Tango, Chasing Perfection by Andy Glockner is a good one I read recently, Basketball on Paper by Dean Oliver is probably the OG of that niche, and any of Stephen Shea’s books on Amazon are worth a purchase if you want to really nerd out (he is awesome).

I’ll also just note that reading a lot about baseball and football analytics, sports betting, and how data is used in the non-sports world all helped when I was writing almost primarily about analytics (across all sports) in 2012-2013 and attending Sloan and things like that. Thinking Fast & Slow, for example, is a must-read if you’re into this type of analysis and thinking.

From Eric in Osaka: How do I get Matt Jackson arms?

Just gotta get a regular pumpski in wherever you can, good brother. Personally, I need to cut down a bit on reading novels – or switch to light ones – but nothing a little extra #HotelPump can’t fix while I’m on the road. Excited to get back for another #BrotheredOutSelfie.

As a reminder, if you appreciate the content we produce, want to support RR, and have the means to do so, we’ve started a Patreon page at patreon.com/RaptorsRepublic. Any contribution is greatly appreciated and will help us continue to do what we do, and try to do even more.

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July 6 Free Agency Open Thread: Moratorium ends at noon

I’m on my way to Las Vegas for Summer League for the third year in a row, and I had a funny interaction with a customs agent on my way through security. Upon hearing the purpose of my visit, she asked if I was playing in Summer League. I tried to politely laugh and say no, and she said, “I thought maybe you shoot threes.” Which, yeah, that’s a great response. I absolutely do not shoot threes – or shoot any shots, actual or metaphorical – unless I absolutely have to, but she had no way to know that. I must just look like someone with a smooth stroke.

Anyway, all of that is to say three things:

  • I’ll be in Vegas covering Summer League once again, so expect the same content as from the last two summers. Will is going to have post-game reaction podcasts, too, and I think Colin is going to get his feet wet with some breakdowns.
  • We’re getting close to finalizing details for the annual RR 3-on-3 tournament. We’re a little behind on that front due to a necessary venue change, but expect a sign-up post soon and a tournament in mid-to-late August.
  • There is absolutely nothing free-agency related to talk about.

On that last note, today will be the last open thread of free agency. We always end them on the day the moratorium is lifted, and it seems especially timely this year given how little has happened, that the Raptors are expected to announce the Fred VanVleet signing Friday, and that I can’t imagine a weekend open thread during Summer League a week into free agency would do much for everyone. I’ll update this with signings throughout the day, and after today we’ll only hit you with the Raptors stuff.

Yesterday’s thread has an updated list of free agents and exceptions, by the way.

RAPTORS MOVES

RESOURCES & REQUIRED READING

If you haven’t yet, go and read my free agency primer, which goes into a lot of the details about the Raptors’ cap situations and what they can and can’t do. I’ve also written a bunch on cap specifics and the offseason in general. Hopefully somewhere within these links is an answer to any question you may have:

As a quick refresher, this is what the Raptors’ cap sheet looks at right this second:

To help calibrate for free agency, here’s a chart containing all of the maximums and exception amounts, based on the new $101,869,000 salary cap (note that for the minimum salaries, those deals can run longer if cap space is used, but they max out at two years if a team is using the minimum player salary exception):

Here are a few other very useful resources:

RAPTORS RUMORS

A reminder: There is a ton of information to sort through this time of year. Some of it will be legitimate, some of it will be misinformation. Always consider the source, their track record, and why a player/agent/team may want information out in the world.

Thursday

  • To come…

Wrap-up so far

  • Everyone is saying encouraging things about the coaching and philosophy change at Vegas practices so far.
  • There hasn’t been much outside of the Fred VanVleet deal, save for continued rumblings that everything – and everyone – is on the table for the Raptors.
  • They were also said to have expressed interest in Ersan Ilyasova, who wound up back in Milwaukee for the 20th time on a three-year, $21-million deal the Raptors couldn’t beat on money or situation (Ilyasova still lives there).
  • As I noted on Twitter earlier this week, Nick Nurse was overseas with Jonas Valanciunas and Jakob Poeltl as they participated in FIBA qualifiers. A random guess: He was also there speaking to some international coaches about joining his bench. Nurse was very in favor of adding Sarunas Jasikevicius to his staff, per a source, before Jasikevicius opted to stay in Lithuania with a major raise, and he’s stated his preference for experienced hands. Sergio Scariolo, Spain’s national team head coach, was linked to the Raptors earlier in the process. Another name to watch might be Andrea Trinchieri, who earned rave reviews for making the most of a small-budget situation with Brose Bamberg, similar to how Nurse first earned his reputation in England. Trinchieri also has a pretty robust resume, having won titles in Russia, Italy, and Germany, winning Coach of the Year three times across those levels and EuroCup. He’s also a free agent. Nate Bjorkgren and Matt Brase are two other names to watch as that search unfolds.

REPORTED AGREEMENTS/CLOSE – FRIDAY

The following deals have either been reported as done or in the finalization stages. Until noon on July 6, nothing is absolutely locked in (remember DeAndre Jordan?), but if it’s on this list, it’s done per a reporter on the trusted list.

Re-sign

  • Ian Clark, Pelicans, 1 year, $1.8M (Michael Scotto)

New homes

  • Zach LaVine, OFFER SHEET with Kings (Bulls have 48 hours to match), 4 years, $80M (Shams Charania)
    • THE BULLS HAVE (Adrian Wojnarowski)
  • Kyle Anderson, OFFER SHEET with Grizzlies (Spurs have 48 hours to match), 4 years, $37.2M (Adrian Wojnarowski)
  • Tony Parker, Hornets, 2 years, $10M (Nic Batum and Adrian Wojnarowski)
  • Kyle O’Quinn, Pacers, 1 year, $4.5M (Shams Charania)

Trades & Other

  • Dallas waived Kyle Collinsworth (Shams Charania)

Deals from Sunday-Thursday
The following deals were reported prior to Friday.

  • Chris Paul, Rockets, 4 years, $160M (Adrian Wojnarowski)
  • Devin Booker, Suns, 5 years, $158M extension (expected this weekend) (Adrian Wojnarowski)
  • LeBron James, 4 years (3+PO), $153.3M (Klutch Sports)
  • Nikola Jokic, Nuggets, 5 years, $148M (Adrian Wojnarowski)
  • Paul George, Thunder, 4 years (3+PO), $137M (Adrian Wojnarowski)
  • Aaron Gordon, Magic, 4 years, $64M (Shams Charania)
  • Kevin Durant, Warriors, 2 years (1+PO), $61.5M (Shams Charania)
  • Will Barton, Nuggets, 4 years (3+PO), $54M (Chris Mannix and Chris Haynes)
  • Derrick Favors, Jazz, 2 years (2nd unguaranteed), $36M (Shams Sharania)
  • Dante Exum, Jazz, 3 years, $33M (Adrian Wojnarowski)
  • Jerami Grant, Thunder, 3 years (2+PO), $27M (Adrian Wojnarowski)
  • Avery Bradley, Clippers, 2 years (2nd low guarantee), $25M (Shams Charania)
  • DeAndre Jordan, Mavericks, 1 year, $24M (Marc Stein)
  • Doug McDermott, Pacers, 3 years, $22M (Adrian Wojnarowski)
  • Ersan Ilyasova, Bucks, 3 years (3rd unguaranteed), $21M (Adrian Wojnarowski)
  • Julius Randle, Pelicans, 2 years (1+PO), $18M (Adrian Wojnarowski)
  • Fred VanVleet, Raptors, 2 years, $18M (Shams Charania)
  • Joe Harris, Nets, 2 years, $16M (Adrian Wojnarowski)
  • Trevor Ariza, Suns, 1 year, $15M (Shams Charania)
  • Tyreke Evans, Pacers, 1 year, $12M (Shams Charania)
  • Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Lakers, 1 year, $12M (Chris Haynes)
  • J.J. Redick, 76ers, 1 year, $12M (Adrian Wojnarowski)
  • Marco Belinelli, Spurs, 2 years, $12M (Adrian Wojnarowski)
  • Aron Baynes, Celtics, 2 years (1+PO), $11M (Shams Charania)
  • Rudy Gay, Spurs, 1 year, $10M (Shams Charania)
  • Rajon Rondo, Lakes, 1 year, $9M (Sam Amick and Adrian Wojnarowski)
  • Glenn Robinson III, Pistons, 2 years (1+TO), $8.3M, (Shams Charania)
  • Mario Hezonja, Knicks, 1 year, $6.5M (Adrian Wojnarowski)
  • Seth Curry, Blazers, 2 years (1+PO), $6M (Adrian Wojnarowski)
  • Anthony Tolliver, Timberwolves, 1 year, $5.8M (Shams Charania)
  • Dwight Howard, Wizards, 1 year, $5.4M (Jared Weiss)
  • DeMarcus Cousins, Warriors, 1 year, $5.3M (Shams Charania and Adrian Wojnarowski)
  • Dirk Nowitzki, Mavericks, 1 year, $5M (Shams Charania)
  • Lance Stephenson, Lakers, 1 year, $4.5M (Shams Charania and Chris Haynes)
  • Nemanja Bjelica, 76ers, 1 year, $4.4M (Jake Fischer)
  • Raul Neto, Jazz, 2 years (2nd unguaranteed), $4.4M (Adrian Wojnarowski)
  • Ed Davis, Nets, 1 year, $4.4M (Adrian Wojnarowski)
  • Nerlens Noel, Thunder, 2 years (1+PO), $3.3M (Shams Charania)
  • Derrick Jones Jr., Heat, 2 years, $3.2M (Ira Winderman)
  • Elfrid Payton, Pelicans, 1 year, $2.7M (Adrian Wojnarowski)
  • Jeff Green, Wizards, 1 year, $2.5M (David Aldridge)
  • Amir Johnson, 76ers, 1 year, $2.4M (Adrian Wojnarowski)
  • Raymond Felton, Thunder, 1 year, $2.4M (Adrian Wojnarowski)
  • Jose Calderon, Pistons, 1 year, $2.4M (Chris Haynes)
  • JaVale McGee, Lakers, 1 year, $2.4M (Chris Haynes)
  • Gerald Green, Rockets, 1 year, $2.4M (Mark Berman and Shams Charania)
  • Derrick Rose, Timberwolves, 1 year, $2.4M  (Adrian Wojnarowski and Shams Charania)
  • Ryan Broekhoff, Mavericks, 2 years (2nd unguaranteed), $2.4M (Shams Charania and Michael Scotto)
  • Omri Casspi, Grizzlies, 1 year, $2.2M (Adrian Wojnarowski)
  • Michael Carter-Williams, Rockets, 1 year, $1.8M (Adrian Wojnarowski)
  • Mike Scott, Clippers, 1 year, $1.7M (Adrian Wojnarowski)
  • Kevon Looney, Warriors, 1 year, $1.6M (Chris Haynes)
  • Nik Stauskas, Blazers, 1 year, $1.6M (Chris Haynes)
  • Luke Kornet, Knicks, 1 year, $1.4M (Marc Berman)
  • Isaiah Briscoe, Magic, TBD, TBD (Adrian Wojnarowski)
  • Brad Wanamaker, Celtics, 1 year, $838K (Adrian Wojnarowski)
  • The Pacers released Al Jefferson
  • The Lakers renounced Julius Randle
  • The Wizards claimed Thomas Bryant off waivers from the Lakers
  • The 76ers acquired Wilson Chandler, a 2021 second-round pick, and the right to swap 2022 second-round picks from the Nuggets for “minimal” cash consideration. (Shams Charania, Adrian Wojnarowski, and Jake Fischer)
  • The Nets will buy out Dwight Howard once that trade becomes official after the moratorium
  • Houston is waiving Aaron Jackson (Shams Charania)
  • Detroit is waiving Dwight Buycks (Michael Scotto)
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2017-18 Toronto Raptors Player Reviews

Our player review series has wrapped up. Because it rolled out over the course of a couple of weeks, I thought it made sense to drop them all in a hub for those who missed them along the way.

The Starters

Kyle Lowry

DeMar DeRozan

OG Anunoby

Serge Ibaka

Jonas Valanciunas

The Bench Mob

Fred VanVleet

Delon Wright

C.J. Miles

Pascal Siakam

Jakob Poeltl

The Depth

Norman Powell

Lucas Nogueira

Alfonzo McKinnie

Malachi Richardson

Lorenzo Brown

Malcolm Miller

The Leadership

Dwane Casey

Masai Ujiri

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Player Review 2017-18: Alfonzo McKinnie

Photo credit: Trung Ho / TrungHo.ca

You can keep up with all of our player reviews here.

Right around this time a year ago, the put-back dunks started.

Alfonzo McKinnie was on the doorstep of the NBA, closing in on what would be the closing of one chapter of a tremendous basketball odyssey. From an unheralded prospect to Luxembourg’s second division to G League All-Star the year prior, McKinnie was in Las Vegas Summer League with the Toronto Raptors, trying to get over that last – and most difficult – hump. And he did so, exciting fans with thunderous dunks on offensive rebounds in consecutive games, turning in a strong overall performance, and ultimately earning a $100,000 guarantee for training camp that he eventually turned into a full-time roster spot, beating out K.J. McDaniels for the Raptors’ 13th-man role.

The issue with the Raptors being so locked in to a very successful top 12, though, was that McKinnie never really got a chance in that role. This is a good problem to have at the team level, of course, where 10, maybe 11 players filled their roles admirably, the team was fortunate with injuries, and their depth wings were rarely called upon. From a wider organizational perspective, it’s a little more difficult. They identified and developed a prospect they like in McKinnie, but he was already coming off of an All-Star season in the G League. There was plenty of room for improvement there, he just never got to test what he already was against NBA competition. He played just 55 minutes despite sticking on the roster all season, topping out at nine minutes in an early-season blow-out loss in Denver and only appearing in a game decided by single digits once, a three-minute cameo against New Orleans.

McKinnie got to show nothing at the NBA level. And that’s fine, in a sense. The Raptors were very deep and McKinnie was a development project, a 25-year-old who hadn’t yet been under the guidance of an NBA staff and who could still use G League time to take a step forward. It’s hardly a lost season for McKinnie, who earned an NBA salary all year and improved as a player and prospect in the process. The issue the Raptors face as a result is that they still haven’t gotten a look at McKinnie against NBA competition, which would have been nice given the decision they have to make on him soon.

McKinnie’s minimum contract for 2018-19 guarantees on July 20, and while a minimum deal for an intriguing wing prospect is, on the surface, an easy bet, the Raptors are in a tough luxury tax situation and can’t afford to guarantee someone they don’t know for sure is in their plans. They figure to use a few minimum contracts to fill out the roster, and the Summer League team is loaded with intriguing wings. McKinnie having a late guarantee date offers the Raptors some flexibility, and he could essentially be in a competition with Malcolm Miller, Rawle Alkins, Jordan Loyd, Fuquan Edwin, and more. For those others, maybe a training camp competition is in the cards (Loyd has a EuroLeague deal). For McKinnie, there is a greater urgency, as Toronto’s decision on him as to come within a week of the end of Summer League.

The Raptors know him and his game well at this point, and they saw him take strides as a member of Raptors 905’s run to the G League Finals. Comparing McKinnie’s two G League seasons does his growth a bit of a disservice. Like with Miller, his numbers didn’t necessarily pop or jump. Instead, a player already playing at a high G League level got better at the elements of his potential NBA role – the Raptors don’t need McKinnie to run pick-and-roll, they need him to knock down threes and defend like hell.

Consider the latter firmly accomplished. At 6-foot-8 with a 6-foot-9 wingspan, McKinnie has the size to play either forward position, and at 215 pounds he’s quick enough to guard some twos. The 905 leaned on him heavily as a small-ball power forward – they gave him more perimeter opportunities on offense to grow his game there, but he was mostly a four/three defensively – and his defensive metrics improved. Most notably, all of the tools and effort McKinnie showed as a G League rookie in 2016-17 materialized in actual production this time around. According to data from Synergy Sports, McKinnie jumped from the 48th percentile to the 81st percentile as an isolation defender and from the 52nd percentile to the 85th percentile as a defender overall. That’s a major jump in a decent sample, and it’s backed up in the team’s performance, as McKinnie played a large defensive role on the G League’s best defense.

It’s the “three” part of 3-and-D that remains a question. Nobody can argue that McKinnie is a monster threat in transition and on the offensive glass thanks to his high-end speed and elite athleticism (he ranked in the 90th and 78th percentile as a transition weapon the last two years). It was McKinnie’s 3-point shooting that always stood as his swing skill, though, with the Raptors seeing some DeMarre Carroll in his game if he, too, could find his stroke a little later in his career. For a while, McKinnie showed good progress, flirting with the high-30s early in the season and even knocking down some above-the-break looks. By the end of the year, his number was back roughly where it was a year prior, his mark having improved from 30.8 percent to 32.6 percent (including the postseason). There are some encouraging signs within that number. McKinnie bumped from the 25th percentile to 42nd percentile as a spot-up shooter, an important bump to respectability, and he hit 33.8 percent of his looks from the corners (more than half his attempts coming above the break hurt his overall number).

Still, that’s the area McKinnie is going to need to show consistent growth to warrant his deal guaranteeing. The Raptors know he can be an elite G League defender and didn’t get the chance to see whether that could hold up against NBA competition. If they’re confident it can – and they should be, with McKinnie already having put in some serious work on his body this offseason – it then becomes a matter of projecting whether his offensive game can expand beyond transition and cleaning up misses, as spacing and playmaking figure to be important skills for a Nick Nurse-run team. Vegas won’t produce a great sample for 3-point shooting, increasing the leverage on each of McKinnie’s attempts.

And so here he is, a year after the put-backs started raining down and he earned himself an NBA contract, once again trying to turn a strong Summer League showing into another chapter in his basketball story.

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July 5 Free Agency Open Thread

Raymond Felton and Amir Johnson. That’s it. With all due respect to Johnson, who is a long-time favorite and among the best humans out there, that is a profoundly underwhelming day of signings early in free agency, even on the American holiday for July 4. Sure, it’s usually the quietest day of the moratorium, but two deals at the veteran minimum? Last year, there were seven deals on July 4, including the Gordon Hayward blockbuster and Patrick Patterson heading to Oklahoma City. This was next to nothing. And hey, it’s fine. The heavy lifting was done July 1 and 2, and the rest of the free agent class isn’t exactly worth approaching super-aggressively. I’m sure U.S. reporters appreciated the day mostly off. Maybe even Woj had time for a BBQ instead of whatever NASA-issued meal replacement pills he normally exists on.

With such a quiet day heading into the end of the moratorium, I thought it was worth a look at some interesting free agent facts so far (based on my own tracking, so apologies if they’re off a bit):

  • There have been 53 non-rookie deals given out.
  • Only 12 have been for $25 million or more in total, and only 10 have that much guaranteed.
  • There have been 34 one-year deals.
  • Eight teams still have cap space, but only Atlanta and Sacramento currently have $10 million or more.
  • Five teams, including the Raptors, are already into the luxury tax.
  • There are the following exceptions out there (teams with the non-taxpayer can opt to use the tax-payer to avoid the hard cap):
    • Room: ATL, DAL, IND, PHX, SAC
    • Taxpayer MLE: DEN, OKC, TOR
    • Non-taxpayer MLE: BOS, CHA, CHI, CLE, DET (partial), HOU, LAC, MEM, MIA, MIL (partial), MIN (partial), NY (partial), ORL, POR (partial), SA (partial), UTA (partial)
    • Bi-Annual: BOS, CHA, CHI, CLE, LAC, MIL, MIN, NO, NY, ORL, POR, SA
  • The following notable free agents still remain, courtesy Jeff Siegel of Early Bird Rights, sorted by former team (“None” indicates there are no rights held on them by their old team):

Team Player FA Type
ATL Malcolm Delaney UFA
None Isaiah Taylor UFA
None Tyler Cavanaugh UFA
ATL Damion Lee UFA
None Jahlil Okafor UFA
None Dante Cunningham UFA
None Quincy Acy UFA
BOS Marcus Smart RRFA
BOS Greg Monroe UFA
BOS Jonathan Gibson UFA
BOS Shane Larkin UFA
CHA Treveon Graham UFA
CHI Noah Vonleh UFA
CHI Zach LaVine RRFA
CHI David Nwaba RFA
CLE Rodney Hood RRFA
None Dirk Nowitzki UFA
None Aaron Harrison UFA
DAL Yogi Ferrell RFA
DEN Devin Harris UFA
DEN Richard Jefferson UFA
DET James Ennis UFA
DET Jameer Nelson UFA
GSW Nick Young UFA
GSW Zaza Pachulia UFA
GSW Patrick McCaw RFA
GSW David West UFA
HOU Clint Capela RRFA
HOU Tarik Black UFA
HOU Joe Johnson UFA
HOU Luc Mbah a Moute UFA
None Al Jefferson UFA
None Joe Young UFA
None Trevor Booker UFA
LAC Montrezl Harrell RFA
None Brook Lopez UFA
None Channing Frye UFA
None Isaiah Thomas UFA
None Tyler Ennis UFA
None Travis Wear UFA
None Andre Ingram UFA
MEM Mario Chalmers UFA
None Omari Johnson UFA
MIA Wayne Ellington UFA
MIA Jordan Mickey UFA
MIA Udonis Haslem UFA
MIA Dwyane Wade UFA
MIA Luke Babbitt UFA
MIL Jabari Parker RRFA
MIL Shabazz Muhammad UFA
MIL Jason Terry UFA
None Cole Aldrich UFA
MIN Jamal Crawford UFA
MIN Amile Jefferson UFA
MIN Marcus Georges-Hunt UFA
MIN Aaron Brooks UFA
NOP Jordan Crawford UFA
NOP Ian Clark UFA
NYK Kyle O’Quinn UFA
NYK Jarrett Jack UFA
NYK Michael Beasley UFA
OKC Josh Huestis UFA
None Nick Collison UFA
OKC Corey Brewer UFA
None Shelvin Mack UFA
ORL Arron Afflalo UFA
None Marreese Speights UFA
None Alex Len UFA
None Alan Williams UFA
None Tyler Ulis UFA
POR Jusuf Nurkic RRFA
POR Shabazz Napier UFA
POR Pat Connaughton UFA
None Vince Carter UFA
None Bruno Caboclo UFA
SAS Tony Parker UFA
SAS Kyle Anderson RRFA
SAS Davis Bertans RFA
SAS Bryn Forbes RFA
SAS Joffrey Lauvergne UFA
TOR Lucas Nogueira UFA
TOR Lorenzo Brown UFA
UTH David Stockton UFA
WAS Tim Frazier UFA
WAS Chris McCullough UFA
WAS Ramon Sessions UFA
WAS Ty Lawson UFA

Hopefully today’s a little more interesting, and then Friday we get Summer League action. We’ll update the thread throughout the day, as usual.

RAPTORS MOVES

RESOURCES & REQUIRED READING

If you haven’t yet, go and read my free agency primer, which goes into a lot of the details about the Raptors’ cap situations and what they can and can’t do. I’ve also written a bunch on cap specifics and the offseason in general. Hopefully somewhere within these links is an answer to any question you may have:

As a quick refresher, this is what the Raptors’ cap sheet looks at right this second:

To help calibrate for free agency, here’s a chart containing all of the maximums and exception amounts, based on the new $101,869,000 salary cap (note that for the minimum salaries, those deals can run longer if cap space is used, but they max out at two years if a team is using the minimum player salary exception):

Here are a few other very useful resources:

RAPTORS RUMORS

A reminder: There is a ton of information to sort through this time of year. Some of it will be legitimate, some of it will be misinformation. Always consider the source, their track record, and why a player/agent/team may want information out in the world.

Wednesday

  • To come…

Wrap-up so far

  • There hasn’t been much outside of the Fred VanVleet deal, save for continued rumblings that everything – and everyone – is on the table for the Raptors.
  • They were also said to have expressed interest in Ersan Ilyasova, who wound up back in Milwaukee for the 20th time on a three-year, $21-million deal the Raptors couldn’t beat on money or situation (Ilyasova still lives there).
  • As I noted on Twitter earlier this week, Nick Nurse was overseas with Jonas Valanciunas and Jakob Poeltl as they participated in FIBA qualifiers. A random guess: He was also there speaking to some international coaches about joining his bench. Nurse was very in favor of adding Sarunas Jasikevicius to his staff, per a source, before Jasikevicius opted to stay in Lithuania with a major raise, and he’s stated his preference for experienced hands. Sergio Scariolo, Spain’s national team head coach, was linked to the Raptors earlier in the process. Another name to watch might be Andrea Trinchieri, who earned rave reviews for making the most of a small-budget situation with Brose Bamberg, similar to how Nurse first earned his reputation in England. Trinchieri also has a pretty robust resume, having won titles in Russia, Italy, and Germany, winning Coach of the Year three times across those levels and EuroCup. He’s also a free agent. Nate Bjorkgren and Matt Brase are two other names to watch as that search unfolds.

REPORTED AGREEMENTS/CLOSE – THURSDAY

The following deals have either been reported as done or in the finalization stages. Until noon on July 6, nothing is absolutely locked in (remember DeAndre Jordan?), but if it’s on this list, it’s done per a reporter on the trusted list.

Re-sign

  • To come…

New homes

  • Nemanja Bjelica, 76ers, 1 year, $4.4M (Jake Fischer)
  • Isaiah Briscoe, Magic, TBD, TBD (Adrian Wojnarowski)

Trades & Other

  • Houston is waiving Aaron Jackson (Shams Charania)

Deals from Sunday-Wednesday
The following deals were reported prior to Thursday.

  • Chris Paul, Rockets, 4 years, $160M (Adrian Wojnarowski)
  • Devin Booker, Suns, 5 years, $158M extension (expected this weekend) (Adrian Wojnarowski)
  • LeBron James, 4 years (3+PO), $153.3M (Klutch Sports)
  • Nikola Jokic, Nuggets, 5 years, $148M (Adrian Wojnarowski)
  • Paul George, Thunder, 4 years (3+PO), $137M (Adrian Wojnarowski)
  • Aaron Gordon, Magic, 4 years, $64M (Shams Charania)
  • Kevin Durant, Warriors, 2 years (1+PO), $61.5M (Shams Charania)
  • Will Barton, Nuggets, 4 years (3+PO), $54M (Chris Mannix and Chris Haynes)
  • Derrick Favors, Jazz, 2 years (2nd unguaranteed), $36M (Shams Sharania)
  • Dante Exum, Jazz, 3 years, $33M (Adrian Wojnarowski)
  • Jerami Grant, Thunder, 3 years (2+PO), $27M (Adrian Wojnarowski)
  • Avery Bradley, Clippers, 2 years (2nd low guarantee), $25M (Shams Charania)
  • DeAndre Jordan, Mavericks, 1 year, $24M (Marc Stein)
  • Doug McDermott, Pacers, 3 years, $22M (Adrian Wojnarowski)
  • Ersan Ilyasova, Bucks, 3 years (3rd unguaranteed), $21M (Adrian Wojnarowski)
  • Julius Randle, Pelicans, 2 years (1+PO), $18M (Adrian Wojnarowski)
  • Fred VanVleet, Raptors, 2 years, $18M (Shams Charania)
  • Joe Harris, Nets, 2 years, $16M (Adrian Wojnarowski)
  • Trevor Ariza, Suns, 1 year, $15M (Shams Charania)
  • Tyreke Evans, Pacers, 1 year, $12M (Shams Charania)
  • Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Lakers, 1 year, $12M (Chris Haynes)
  • J.J. Redick, 76ers, 1 year, $12M (Adrian Wojnarowski)
  • Marco Belinelli, Spurs, 2 years, $12M (Adrian Wojnarowski)
  • Aron Baynes, Celtics, 2 years (1+PO), $11M (Shams Charania)
  • Rudy Gay, Spurs, 1 year, $10M (Shams Charania)
  • Rajon Rondo, Lakes, 1 year, $9M (Sam Amick and Adrian Wojnarowski)
  • Glenn Robinson III, Pistons, 2 years (1+TO), $8.3M, (Shams Charania)
  • Mario Hezonja, Knicks, 1 year, $6.5M (Adrian Wojnarowski)
  • Seth Curry, Blazers, 2 years (1+PO), $6M (Adrian Wojnarowski)
  • Anthony Tolliver, Timberwolves, 1 year, $5.8M (Shams Charania)
  • Dwight Howard, Wizards, 1 year, $5.4M (Jared Weiss)
  • DeMarcus Cousins, Warriors, 1 year, $5.3M (Shams Charania and Adrian Wojnarowski)
  • Dirk Nowitzki, Mavericks, 1 year, $5M (Shams Charania)
  • Lance Stephenson, Lakers, 1 year, $4.5M (Shams Charania and Chris Haynes)
  • Raul Neto, Jazz, 2 years (2nd unguaranteed), $4.4M (Adrian Wojnarowski)
  • Ed Davis, Nets, 1 year, $4.4M (Adrian Wojnarowski)
  • Nerlens Noel, Thunder, 2 years (1+PO), $3.3M (Shams Charania)
  • Derrick Jones Jr., Heat, 2 years, $3.2M (Ira Winderman)
  • Elfrid Payton, Pelicans, 1 year, $2.7M (Adrian Wojnarowski)
  • Jeff Green, Wizards, 1 year, $2.5M (David Aldridge)
  • Amir Johnson, 76ers, 1 year, $2.4M (Adrian Wojnarowski)
  • Raymond Felton, Thunder, 1 year, $2.4M (Adrian Wojnarowski)
  • Jose Calderon, Pistons, 1 year, $2.4M (Chris Haynes)
  • JaVale McGee, Lakers, 1 year, $2.4M (Chris Haynes)
  • Gerald Green, Rockets, 1 year, $2.4M (Mark Berman and Shams Charania)
  • Derrick Rose, Timberwolves, 1 year, $2.4M  (Adrian Wojnarowski and Shams Charania)
  • Omri Casspi, Grizzlies, 1 year, $2.2M (Adrian Wojnarowski)
  • Michael Carter-Williams, Rockets, 1 year, $1.8M (Adrian Wojnarowski)
  • Mike Scott, Clippers, 1 year, $1.7M (Adrian Wojnarowski)
  • Kevon Looney, Warriors, 1 year, $1.6M (Chris Haynes)
  • Nik Stauskas, Blazers, 1 year, $1.6M (Chris Haynes)
  • Luke Kornet, Knicks, 1 year, $1.4M (Marc Berman)
  • Brad Wanamaker, Celtics, 1 year, $838K (Adrian Wojnarowski)
  • The Pacers released Al Jefferson
  • The Lakers renounced Julius Randle
  • The Wizards claimed Thomas Bryant off waivers from the Lakers
  • The 76ers acquired Wilson Chandler, a 2021 second-round pick, and the right to swap 2022 second-round picks from the Nuggets for “minimal” cash consideration. (Shams Charania, Adrian Wojnarowski, and Jake Fischer)
  • The Nets will buy out Dwight Howard once that trade becomes official after the moratorium
Click to comment

Canada Day long weekend offers glimpse of Raptors dream

Photo credit: Trung Ho / TrungHo.ca

It was just over an hour past noon on Sunday when all hell broke loose on Toronto social media. Word got out that prized free agent John Tavares would be signing with the Maple Leafs, and as you can imagine, a city yearning for a championship for its most famous team, began dreaming their biggest dreams.

As the press conferences played out, talk heads gave their takes, and writers filed their stories, there’s probably one image that has become tattooed to memory (at least mine anyway) more than any other.

Tavares, lying in bed as a child about a couple of decades ago, smothered by a Maple Leafs pillow, blanket and sheets.

It’s an image all sports fans can relate to, not just athletes. The undying passion for your favourite sports team. Sure, the Leafs haven’t won a championship since 1967, but it’s the love of the game that has fueled the Canadian talent pool we’ve seen in ice hockey for generations.

On Friday in Toronto and Monday in Ottawa, basketball showed that it’s starting to take a similar path. The number who have given to the sport over years in the hope that it can one day make a meaningful difference has steadily grown, with the presence of Canadians never felt more than it is today. Outside of the United States, it is the most well represented country in the league.

Jamal Murray and Andrew Wiggins are still very young, Tristan Thompson and Cory Joseph have championship rings. Kelly Olynyk and Trey Lyles continue to expand their contributions, while Dillon Brooks is looking to build on a strong rookie campaign. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Justin Jackson will look to follow in his footsteps.

Some of those players were named to the Team Canada roster to help qualify for the FIBA World Cup next year, and they were given the rare opportunity to represent their country on home soil.

“It’s awesome, we know that that opportunity doesn’t come very often,” Olynyk said after a resounding 97-61 win over Dominican Republic that allowed them to take complete charge of their group. “Hopefully it’ll come more often now, with the changes in the format and stuff. Just to bring this back to the city where a lot of us grew up and are from, even the country that we’re from. Give back to these fans who’ve supported us our whole lives, give back to the country that’s given us this opportunity to do what we do away from it. It’s special.”

Basketball’s international governing body, FIBA, implemented the changes since 2017 to provide fans the opportunity to see their national side play. Now, it would help if national broadcasters would actually pick up the rights to showcase the team for those who don’t make it out to the arena, but that’s a topic for another day (shouts to DAZN for streaming it for free).

Olynyk’s words bled loyalty to a country, but one can’t help but wonder when that loyalty will spill over on a franchise level, and the chance to represent the Toronto Raptors. After all, they are the only NBA team in the country, and the idea that at some point some kid will be draped (if he isn’t already) in nothing but Raptors gear and hopes to be the difference maker for a franchise looking for its first championship doesn’t seem too far fetched.

Steve Nash is the best player to have ever come out of this country, and while he never played for the Raptors, he did come close, even if it was in the latter stages of his career. Joseph may not have quite the game or resume that Nash does, but he’s spoken on multiple occasions about how much playing for the Raptors has meant to him. FIBA qualifiers, whether it be the World Cup or Olympics, will provide NBA players with very limited opportunities to play on their home court, but the Raptors, that’s a different story altogether.

American kids long grew up wanting to play for either the Celtics or Lakers. Even the Knicks of yore had their appeal. The best player in the league for almost the past decade felt obligated to bring a championship to his city and break a 52-year drought. Sure, player power is at a new height where loyalty seems to be the last thing on their minds, but that’s where being Canada’s only team could come in handy.

The basketball following in the country, though still relatively small, is growing. The improvement in talent and — above all — winning is what will inspire kids to continue the tradition.

“It’s definitely night and day,” Olynyk said about Canadian basketball. “We’ve come a long way, but you wouldn’t be here without going through all the stuff you went through when I was starting the program 10 years ago, it’s big. The success of the women and the younger guys is unbelievable to see. Basketball in this country is still on the rise, we’re turning out products every single year.”

Arguably the hottest of those products is R.J. Barrett, who showed glimpses of his potential with several strong drives to the rim. He finished tied for the team lead in scoring against Dominican Republic and was third with 13 points in 19 minutes against the U.S. Virgin Islands. He will set off to Duke to take his game to another level, before making the leap to the NBA and playing for whoever is willing to #GrinandBarrett.

Does he hold a desire deep down to be the one who does something special for the Raptors? Maybe, maybe not. Others will come along who won’t be quite like him but with their own seemingly sky-high ceilings and as long as the Raptors are the only Canadian NBA team, that same hope will be maintained.

For years, the Raptors have looked feeble against the biggest free agent suitors but their winning culture has steadily seen them narrow the gap. Being unconventional with Drake as a global ambassador or just having one of the best cities the league has to offer has its perks, but being the country’s only team is as unique as it gets. If there’s one thing this Canada Day long weekend showed, it’s that there’s nothing these guys love more than playing in their own backyard.

Click to comment

July 4 Free Agency Open Thread

The insanity of the start of free agency appears to have died down some. We went a full day without a ridiculous Lakers or Warriors signing, and there’s a sense that the league seems to be re-calibrating in the wake of such a major shake up out of the gate on July 1. That, or a market that projected to be very cool initially and looked quite temperate in the opening hours has, as expected, grown quite frigid.

To wit, of the 51 deals that have gone down (excluding rookie signings), only 12 have been for $25 million in total or more, and two of those contain unguaranteed portions. What’s more, 32 of those deals have been one-year contracts or contracts one side can opt out of after one year, a move that could be mutually beneficial as teams look to roll cap space over to 2019 and players look to re-enter what should be a much friendlier market as the over-spending of 2016 starts to come off of the league’s books. There have been big deals, sure, and even some bad ones. All told, though, the initial flurry perhaps confused that the market really hasn’t proven robust. Even Fred VanVleet’s two-year, $18-million deal already looks like a smart bet by the point guard, given that not a single restricted free agent has received an offer sheet.

This could all play in Toronto’s favor a bit. They don’t have a lot of financial flexibility without making a trade, even if they decide to lean a little more all-in than they already were in the post-LeBron Eastern Conference landscape. Short of a trade, they have the taxpayer mid-level and minimum deals to offer, and a cold market could improve the relative value of those deals on the market if Toronto can sell the situation well. That might mean looking outside of their three free agents – Lucas Nogueira, Lorenzo Brown, and Malcolm Miller – or retaining one and adding another piece, or shaking up the back end of the bench on the discount market altogether. It makes sense that they’ve waited to make that splash until the market-open frenzy dissipated.

RAPTORS MOVES

RESOURCES & REQUIRED READING

If you haven’t yet, go and read my free agency primer, which goes into a lot of the details about the Raptors’ cap situations and what they can and can’t do. I’ve also written a bunch on cap specifics and the offseason in general. Hopefully somewhere within these links is an answer to any question you may have:

As a quick refresher, this is what the Raptors’ cap sheet looks at right this second:

To help calibrate for free agency, here’s a chart containing all of the maximums and exception amounts, based on the new $101,869,000 salary cap (note that for the minimum salaries, those deals can run longer if cap space is used, but they max out at two years if a team is using the minimum player salary exception):

Here are a few other very useful resources:

RAPTORS RUMORS

A reminder: There is a ton of information to sort through this time of year. Some of it will be legitimate, some of it will be misinformation. Always consider the source, their track record, and why a player/agent/team may want information out in the world.

Tuesday

  • As I noted on Twitter yesterday, Nick Nurse was overseas with Jonas Valanciunas and Jakob Poeltl as they participated in FIBA qualifiers. A random guess: He was also there speaking to some international coaches about joining his bench. Nurse was very in favor of adding Sarunas Jasikevicius to his staff, per a source, before Jasikevicius opted to stay in Lithuania with a major raise, and he’s stated his preference for experienced hands. Sergio Scariolo, Spain’s national team head coach, was linked to the Raptors earlier in the process. Another name to watch might be Andrea Trinchieri, who earned rave reviews for making the most of a small-budget situation with Brose Bamberg, similar to how Nurse first earned his reputation in England. Trinchieri also has a pretty robust resume, having won titles in Russia, Italy, and Germany, winning Coach of the Year three times across those levels and EuroCup. He’s also a free agent. Nate Bjorkgren and Matt Brase are two other names to watch as that search unfolds.

Wrap-up so far

  • There hasn’t been much outside of the Fred VanVleet deal, save for continued rumblings that everything – and everyone – is on the table for the Raptors.
  • They were also said to have expressed interest in Ersan Ilyasova, who wound up back in Milwaukee for the 20th time on a three-year, $21-million deal the Raptors couldn’t beat on money or situation (Ilyasova still lives there).
  • It really seems like maybe some of the like was waiting for the market to re-calibrate following the Lakers madness and the first wave of signings. It’s been boring from an Eastern Conference perspective.

REPORTED AGREEMENTS/CLOSE – WEDNESDAY

The following deals have either been reported as done or in the finalization stages. Until noon on July 6, nothing is absolutely locked in (remember DeAndre Jordan?), but if it’s on this list, it’s done per a reporter on the trusted list.

Re-sign

  • Amir Johnson, 76ers, 1 year, $2.4M (Adrian Wojnarowski)
  • Raymond Felton, Thunder, 1 year, $2.4M (Adrian Wojnarowski)

New homes

  • To come…

Trades & Other

  • To come…

Deals from Sunday-Tuesday
The following deals were reported prior to Wednesday.

  • Chris Paul, Rockets, 4 years, $160M (Adrian Wojnarowski)
  • Devin Booker, Suns, 5 years, $158M extension (expected this weekend) (Adrian Wojnarowski)
  • LeBron James, 4 years (3+PO), $153.3M (Klutch Sports)
  • Nikola Jokic, Nuggets, 5 years, $148M (Adrian Wojnarowski)
  • Paul George, Thunder, 4 years (3+PO), $137M (Adrian Wojnarowski)
  • Aaron Gordon, Magic, 4 years, $64M (Shams Charania)
  • Kevin Durant, Warriors, 2 years (1+PO), $61.5M (Shams Charania)
  • Will Barton, Nuggets, 4 years (3+PO), $54M (Chris Mannix and Chris Haynes)
  • Derrick Favors, Jazz, 2 years (2nd unguaranteed), $36M (Shams Sharania)
  • Dante Exum, Jazz, 3 years, $33M (Adrian Wojnarowski)
  • Jerami Grant, Thunder, 3 years (2+PO), $27M (Adrian Wojnarowski)
  • Avery Bradley, Clippers, 2 years (2nd low guarantee), $25M (Shams Charania)
  • DeAndre Jordan, Mavericks, 1 year, $24M (Marc Stein)
  • Doug McDermott, Pacers, 3 years, $22M (Adrian Wojnarowski)
  • Ersan Ilyasova, Bucks, 3 years (3rd unguaranteed), $21M (Adrian Wojnarowski)
  • Julius Randle, Pelicans, 2 years (1+PO), $18M (Adrian Wojnarowski)
  • Fred VanVleet, Raptors, 2 years, $18M (Shams Charania)
  • Joe Harris, Nets, 2 years, $16M (Adrian Wojnarowski)
  • Trevor Ariza, Suns, 1 year, $15M (Shams Charania)
  • Tyreke Evans, Pacers, 1 year, $12M (Shams Charania)
  • Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Lakers, 1 year, $12M (Chris Haynes)
  • J.J. Redick, 76ers, 1 year, $12M (Adrian Wojnarowski)
  • Marco Belinelli, Spurs, 2 years, $12M (Adrian Wojnarowski)
  • Aron Baynes, Celtics, 2 years (1+PO), $11M (Shams Charania)
  • Rudy Gay, Spurs, 1 year, $10M (Shams Charania)
  • Rajon Rondo, Lakes, 1 year, $9M (Sam Amick and Adrian Wojnarowski)
  • Glenn Robinson III, Pistons, 2 years (1+TO), $8.3M, (Shams Charania)
  • Mario Hezonja, Knicks, 1 year, $6.5M (Adrian Wojnarowski)
  • Seth Curry, Blazers, 2 years (1+PO), $6M (Adrian Wojnarowski)
  • Anthony Tolliver, Timberwolves, 1 year, $5.8M (Shams Charania)
  • Dwight Howard, Wizards, 1 year, $5.4M (Jared Weiss)
  • DeMarcus Cousins, Warriors, 1 year, $5.3M (Shams Charania and Adrian Wojnarowski)
  • Dirk Nowitzki, Mavericks, 1 year, $5M (Shams Charania)
  • Lance Stephenson, Lakers, 1 year, $4.5M (Shams Charania and Chris Haynes)
  • Raul Neto, Jazz, 2 years (2nd unguaranteed), $4.4M (Adrian Wojnarowski)
  • Ed Davis, Nets, 1 year, $4.4M (Adrian Wojnarowski)
  • Nerlens Noel, Thunder, 2 years (1+PO), $3.3M (Shams Charania)
  • Derrick Jones Jr., Heat, 2 years, $3.2M (Ira Winderman)
  • Elfrid Payton, Pelicans, 1 year, $2.7M (Adrian Wojnarowski)
  • Jeff Green, Wizards, 1 year, $2.5M (David Aldridge)
  • Jose Calderon, Pistons, 1 year, $2.4M (Chris Haynes)
  • JaVale McGee, Lakers, 1 year, $2.4M (Chris Haynes)
  • Gerald Green, Rockets, 1 year, $2.4M (Mark Berman and Shams Charania)
  • Derrick Rose, Timberwolves, 1 year, $2.4M  (Adrian Wojnarowski and Shams Charania)
  • Omri Casspi, Grizzlies, 1 year, $2.2M (Adrian Wojnarowski)
  • Michael Carter-Williams, Rockets, 1 year, $1.8M (Adrian Wojnarowski)
  • Mike Scott, Clippers, 1 year, $1.7M (Adrian Wojnarowski)
  • Kevon Looney, Warriors, 1 year, $1.6M (Chris Haynes)
  • Nik Stauskas, Blazers, 1 year, $1.6M (Chris Haynes)
  • Luke Kornet, Knicks, 1 year, $1.4M (Marc Berman)
  • Brad Wanamaker, Celtics, 1 year, $838K (Adrian Wojnarowski)
  • The Pacers released Al Jefferson
  • The Lakers renounced Julius Randle
  • The Wizards claimed Thomas Bryan off waivers from the Lakers
  • The 76ers acquired Wilson Chandler, a 2021 second-round pick, and the right to swap 2022 second-round picks from the Nuggets for “minimal” cash consideration. (Shams Charania, Adrian Wojnarowski, and Jake Fischer)
  • The Nets will buy out Dwight Howard once that trade becomes official after the moratorium
Click to comment

July 3 Free Agency Open Thread

Alright, so, things have certainly picked up in the Western Conference. The Los Angeles Lakers are surrounding LeBron James with Lance Stephenson, Rajon Rondo, and JaVale McGee, among others, Julius Randle darted for New Orleans as a result, and the Golden State Warriors responded to all of this by signing DeMarcus Cousins for $5.3 million. It’s crazy, even if all of it makes sense in its own way. For the Lakers, no, those deals don’t look like great complements, but James made a four-year commitment and a series of one-year, mid-salaried deals are great trade chips and keep the sheet clean for 2019 in case they can’t trade for Kawhi Leonard before then. Cousins is coming off a major injury, spent his whole career losing, and opted to do a partial season post-rehab where he can play a smaller role, get back to 100 percent, and still compete. The logic is clear, even with a big financial risk, and the blame here shouldn’t go on him but on poor handling of the salary cap spike (in part due to players refusing cap smoothing).

It all certainly makes the West look more interesting – and definitely funnier and wilder – than the East, which has been far quieter and now seems to be fairly wide open. The Celtics are the betting favorites and still have a lot of assets to play with. The 76ers are on the rise, the Bucks have Giannis Antetokounmpo, and a number of other teams are well-positioned to compete for wins into the high-40s. Most of them have been unheard from, working at the margins or waiting for the market to re-calibrate after the chaos of the first two days.

The Toronto Raptors, meanwhile, have been hardly a whisper outside of locking Fred VanVleet up. Their offseason was always likely to either start early or late in terms of meaningful changes, with draft night looking like a potential trade window and the moratorium probably cooling any major trade talks until later this week (although that wasn’t the case last year). The Raptors don’t have a lot of free agent work to do, armed with just the taxpayer mid-level exception and three free agents (Lucas Nogueira, Lorenzo Brown, and Malcolm Miller), and so they may be sitting back and waiting for bargains to slide through the first major wave of signings or for teams that miss out on key targets to re-establish interest in a trade for one of their pieces. It might be quiet a bit longer – their big moves outside of re-signing their own players last summer came after the moratorium lifted – though as we’ve seen, things can heat up in a hurry.

Again today, we’ll update this thread with relevant news and rumors as they pertain to the Raptors, as well as any deals that get reported at the bottom of the page. Give the July 1 and July 2 open threads a look over for some relevant cap details and all of the weekend’s Raptors rumors.

RAPTORS MOVES

RESOURCES & REQUIRED READING

If you haven’t yet, go and read my free agency primer, which goes into a lot of the details about the Raptors’ cap situations and what they can and can’t do. I’ve also written a bunch on cap specifics and the offseason in general. Hopefully somewhere within these links is an answer to any question you may have:

As a quick refresher, this is what the Raptors’ cap sheet looks at right this second:

To help calibrate for free agency, here’s a chart containing all of the maximums and exception amounts, based on the new $101,869,000 salary cap (note that for the minimum salaries, those deals can run longer if cap space is used, but they max out at two years if a team is using the minimum player salary exception):

Here are a few other very useful resources:

RAPTORS RUMORS

A reminder: There is a ton of information to sort through this time of year. Some of it will be legitimate, some of it will be misinformation. Always consider the source, their track record, and why a player/agent/team may want information out in the world.

Monday

  • To come…

Wrap-up from the weekend

  • There wasn’t much outside of the Fred VanVleet deal, save for continued rumblings that everything – and everyone – is on the table for the Raptors.
  • They were also said to have expressed interest in Ersan Ilyasova, who wound up back in Milwaukee for the 20th time on a three-year, $21-million deal the Raptors couldn’t beat on money or situation (Ilyasova still lives there).
  • It really seems like maybe some of the like was waiting for the market to re-calibrate following the Lakers madness and the first wave of signings.

REPORTED AGREEMENTS/CLOSE – TUESDAY

The following deals have either been reported as done or in the finalization stages. Until noon on July 6, nothing is absolutely locked in (remember DeAndre Jordan?), but if it’s on this list, it’s done per a reporter on the trusted list.

Re-sign

  • Devin Booker, Suns, 5 years, $158M extension (expected this weekend) (Adrian Wojnarowski)
  • Dante Exum, Jazz, 3 years, $33M (Adrian Wojnarowski)
  • Avery Bradley, Clippers, 2 years (2nd low guarantee), $25M (Shams Charania)
  • Raul Neto, Jazz, 2 years (2nd unguaranteed), $4.4M (Adrian Wojnarowski)
  • Kevon Looney, Warriors, 1 year, $1.6M (Chris Haynes)

New homes

  • Tyreke Evans, Pacers, 1 year, $12M (Shams Charania)
  • Dwight Howard, Wizards, 1 year, $5.4M (Jared Weiss)
  • Jeff Green, Wizards, 1 year, $2.5M (David Aldridge)
  • Michael Carter-Williams, Rockets, 1 year, $1.8M (Adrian Wojnarowski)

Trades & Other

  • The 76ers have acquired Wilson Chandler, a 2021 second-round pick, and the right to swap 2022 second-round picks from the Nuggets for “minimal” cash consideration. (Shams Charania, Adrian Wojnarowski, and Jake Fischer)
  • The Nets will buy out Dwight Howard once that trade becomes official after the moratorium.

Deals from Sunday-Monday
The following deals were reported over the weekend.

  • Chris Paul, Rockets, 4 years, $160M (Adrian Wojnarowski)
  • LeBron James, 4 years (3+PO), $153.3M (Klutch Sports)
  • Nikola Jokic, Nuggets, 5 years, $148M (Adrian Wojnarowski)
  • Paul George, Thunder, 4 years (3+PO), $137M (Adrian Wojnarowski)
  • Aaron Gordon, Magic, 4 years, $64M (Shams Charania)
  • Kevin Durant, Warriors, 2 years (1+PO), $61.5M (Shams Charania)
  • Will Barton, Nuggets, 4 years (3+PO), $54M (Chris Mannix and Chris Haynes)
  • Derrick Favors, Jazz, 2 years (2nd unguaranteed), $36M (Shams Sharania)
  • Jerami Grant, Thunder, 3 years (2+PO), $27M (Adrian Wojnarowski)
  • DeAndre Jordan, Mavericks, 1 year, $24M (Marc Stein)
  • Doug McDermott, Pacers, 3 years, $22M (Adrian Wojnarowski)
  • Ersan Ilyasova, Bucks, 3 years (3rd unguaranteed), $21M (Adrian Wojnarowski)
  • Julius Randle, Pelicans, 2 years (1+PO), $18M (Adrian Wojnarowski)
  • Fred VanVleet, Raptors, 2 years, $18M (Shams Charania)
  • Joe Harris, Nets, 2 years, $16M (Adrian Wojnarowski)
  • Trevor Ariza, Suns, 1 year, $15M (Shams Charania)
  • Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Lakers, 1 year, $12M (Chris Haynes)
  • J.J. Redick, 76ers, 1 year, $12M (Adrian Wojnarowski)
  • Marco Belinelli, Spurs, 2 years, $12M (Adrian Wojnarowski)
  • Aron Baynes, Celtics, 2 years (1+PO), $11M (Shams Charania)
  • Rudy Gay, Spurs, 1 year, $10M (Shams Charania)
  • Rajon Rondo, Lakes, 1 year, $9M (Sam Amick and Adrian Wojnarowski)
  • Glenn Robinson III, Pistons, 2 years (1+TO), $8.3M, (Shams Charania)
  • Mario Hezonja, Knicks, 1 year, $6.5M (Adrian Wojnarowski)
  • Seth Curry, Blazers, 2 years (1+PO), $6M (Adrian Wojnarowski)
  • Anthony Tolliver, Timberwolves, 1 year, $5.8M (Shams Charania)
  • DeMarcus Cousins, Warriors, 1 year, $5.3M (Shams Charania and Adrian Wojnarowski)
  • Dirk Nowitzki, Mavericks, 1 year, $5M (Shams Charania)
  • Lance Stephenson, Lakers, 1 year, $4.5M (Shams Charania and Chris Haynes)
  • Ed Davis, Nets, 1 year, $4.4M (Adrian Wojnarowski)
  • Nerlens Noel, Thunder, 2 years (1+PO), $3.3M (Shams Charania)
  • Derrick Jones Jr., Heat, 2 years, $3.2M (Ira Winderman)
  • Elfrid Payton, Pelicans,1 year, $2.7M (Adrian Wojnarowski)
  • Jose Calderon, Pistons, 1 year, $2.4M (Chris Haynes)
  • JaVale McGee, Lakers, 1 year, $2.4M (Chris Haynes)
  • Gerald Green, Rockets, 1 year, $2.4M (Mark Berman and Shams Charania)
  • Derrick Rose, Timberwolves, 1 year, $2.4M  (Adrian Wojnarowski and Shams Charania)
  • Omri Casspi, Grizzlies, 1 year, $2.2M (Adrian Wojnarowski)
  • Mike Scott, Clippers, 1 year, $1.7M (Adrian Wojnarowski)
  • Nik Stauskas, Blazers, 1 year, $1.6M (Chris Haynes)
  • Luke Kornet, Knicks, 1 year, $1.4M (Marc Berman)
  • Brad Wanamaker, Celtics, 1 year, $838K (Adrian Wojnarowski)
  • The Pacers released Al Jefferson
  • The Lakers renounced Julius Randle
  • The Wizards claimed Thomas Bryan off waivers from the Lakers
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Canada blows out U.S. Virgin Islands, finish first round of qualifiers 5-1

Photo credit: Trung Ho / TrungHo.ca

Canada 99, U.S. Virgin Islands 69 | Box Score

Canada wanted to leave nothing to the imagination or chance with a pair of rare home games in the new FIBA World Cup qualification format. They did exactly that, closing out a two-game home set with an emphatic 99-69 victory over the U.S. Virgin Islands to finish the first round of qualification at 5-1 and punch their way through to the second round. As it was Friday, Canada took a bit of time to find their groove and let the home crowd begin to fuel them, eventually finding the extra gear a deep and talented player pool affords them over a lot of their first-round competition.

It took Canada a minute to get going, and the Virgin Islands opened the scoring to get into an early comfort zone on the offensive end, hitting four jumpers in a row in the opening minutes. Dillon Brooks eventually ended the mini-drought, and Canada had their offensive footing under them. R.J. Barrett made a couple of nice takes early on, Dwight Powell filled in space well with savvy cuts and dives (and his third impossible finish on bad lob passes in this quadrant of games), and despite USVI’s hot shooting, Brooks pulled Canada back even before the halfway mark of the quarter with a steal and finish the other way. Like with Friday’s game, Canada’s focus was clearly on pushing off of any misses or turnovers, and that pressure helped bend the visitors’ defense. Barrett had another nice moment finishing a Powell dime, Cory Joseph canned a smooth three, and as the Virgin Islands cooled off from the floor (and the free-throw line, where they couldn’t punish Andrew Nembhard for fouling a 3-point shooter), Canada gained just a bit of separation. Were it not for a bit of a casual approach for stretches on offense and a cold 2-of-8 stretch from long-range, Canada should have been up more than the four points they were.

As he did in the fourth quarter Friday, Phil Scrubb set the tone for the second with a quick bucket, and Brady Heslip followed closely behind with a triple. Some nice defensive pressure let them attack a scrambled defense, and Scrubb hit a three to continue his takeover of the quarter in his old city. Bennett had a nice stretch, too, sending USVI to a timeout down 10 with a three as the trailer in transition. Out of the timeout, Joseph unleashed a filthy spin move that looked like it would be the highlight of the half, but Barrett had other plans, picking up a steal and feeding Kelly Olynyk with a ridiculous behind-the-back pass in transition for a dunk. It was terrific. It also kept USVI at arm’s length, helping take Canada into the break ahead 46-34, with nine different players scoring and all 12 seeing the floor.

The doors blew off from there, with Canada opening the third on a 9-0 run in under two minutes to take a commanding 20-point lead. Similar to the last meeting between these sides and even Friday’s game against the Dominican Republic, Canada’s talent edge simply began winning out, the expanded sample of possessions highlighting the quality gap as time went along. That’s fairly normal for FIBA qualifier-level action and hasn’t always been a staple of Canada’s performance, so it was at least nice to see them keep a foot on the gas in a game where the point differential very much matters. Brooks tried to punctuate the emerging blow-out with an accidental And-1 style layup and then a dunk attempt that required a hard foul, and Joseph and Olynyk continued the strong play that’s come to be expected from them in these events. Canada was up 24 as they began to go to the bench, turning the reins back over to Scrubb and Khem Birch to keep up their solid afternoons. Nembhard closed things out with a nice transition bucket off the glass, pushing the lead out to 27 entering the fourth.

The fourth was fairly rote from there, although Joseph’s continued dominance and the stellar play of Powell were worth noting. The teens also had some good moments together. By the end, the lead had swelled to 30, with four players scoring in double-figures (Olynyk led with 14) and all 12 players getting on the board for at least three points. They shot 55 percent as a team, even hit 9-of-27 on threes by the end, had a huge rebounding edge, and for a second game in a row had an assist number well into the 20s. It was thorough.

Like Friday, this was exactly the performance you were looking for from Canada. The offense was tremendous, their pace of play was great running off of turnovers and rebounds, and outside of some hot shooting out of the gate for USVI, Canada’s defense came as advertised. They can only beat the teams in front of them, and with the exception of the first meeting with Dominican Republic much earlier in the year, they’ve done so resoundingly, leaving little doubt that they’re one of the favorites to qualify for the 2019 World Cup as the next round gets under way in September.

Notes

  • The victory gives Canada the top spot as Group D comes to a close. It doesn’t matter all that much other than to determine the schedule for the next round of qualification – every team will play three home and three away games against the teams moving on from Group B – but it’s nice to finish at 5-1 and have the confidence of winning the group.
  • Records also carry over, meaning Canada will begin Group F in first place, for whatever that’s worth. At 5-1 with a +153 point differential, they’ll enter Group F with the tie-breaker over Dominican Republic and the best point differential in the group. Dominican Republic, Brazil, and Venezuela could all enter at 5-1 if they win their respective games late today, but Canada’s point differential will be significantly higher to begin the round.
    • Canada will play Brazil, Venezuela, and one of Chile or Colombia (likely Chile) in the next round of qualifiers, playing each team once at home and once on the road. The location of home games is still to be determined, and Group B still has games to play later today to determine who Canada will play and when.
    • Those qualifying windows come Sept. 13-17 (NBA players should be available, college players won’t be), Nov. 29-Dec. 3 (likely no NBA or NCAA players), and Feb. 21-25 (again, no NBA or NCAA players). Canada managed just fine (3-1) in the in-season qualifying quadrants last time around without NBA and NCAA (and EuroLeague) players, and while the difficulty will be ratcheted up here a bit, the depth of the program should have them in pretty good shape.
    • If Canada can take both September games, they’d be 7-1 with a great shot of having their qualifying mostly sorted out. Even failing that, Canada only has to place in the top three in this six-team group (or have the best record of either fourth-placed team in the two groups), and they’ve put themselves in a really good position to qualify if they continue playing to form.
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FIBA Europe Qualifiers Wrap: Valanciunas, Lithuania dominate; Poeltl sits with foot infection

A pair of Toronto Raptors spent their Canada Day week/weekends suiting up for their national programs in FIBA 2019 World Cup Qualification. Here’s a quick look at how they performed.

Jonas Valanciunas – Lithuania

This marks the eighth consecutive summer in which Valanciunas has suited up for the Lithuanian senior team and the 12th summer in a row overall in which he’s played for his country, a remarkable streak. He spends the bulk of his offseason training at home in Lithuania, anyway, but it’s still cool to see him go out and represent his country in games that don’t matter a whole lot in the grand scheme – Lithuania went 4-0 in their in-season qualification games and had Group C in the European qualification bracket largely locked up already. Records carry over to the next qualification round, though, and Valanciunas once again answered the call for Lithuania, turning in two solid games

Lithuania d. Poland, 79-61

Valanciunas was able to flash some new skills off in this one, dishing three assists and blocking three shots in just 24 minutes. Those are areas the Raptors will be looking for continued improvement from the 7-footer in, particularly the playmaking, and it’s encouraging that he was able to turn the tremendous attention he commands into assists, considering how poor the guard play around the Lithuanian bigs is (though they were surprisingly 7-of-16 on threes in this game, normally a huge issue for the program). Valanciunas also did his usual Valanciunas things, picking up 11 points on 4-of-8 shooting, grabbing seven rebounds, and posting a plus-10. Domantas Sabonis led the way with 17 points and a plus-11 in 22 minutes.

Lithuania d. Hungary, 73-50

The big news here was Valanciunas unleashing a 3-point attempt from the top of the arc in the game’s opening moments. That’s old hat for Raptors fans at this point, but it was the first time he’d ever attempted a three in a FIBA senior men’s event, so it’s notable that he now has something of a green light with the national program. Missing it made it no less fun. Insider the arc, Valanciunas was just too much for the Hungarian defenders, and there were a couple of second-quarter plays where defenders just kind of bounced off of him in the post. He did run into a bit of trouble with a pair of early fouls and a pair of early turnovers, but it mattered little as Lithuania began a slow pull-away across the second and third quarters. Valanciunas would only be needed for 16 minutes in this one, scoring an efficient 15 points on 6-of-8 shooting with five rebounds, two blocks, and a plus-6 mark in his cameo.

From here

Lithuania makes it on to the next round of European qualifying, finishing atop Group C at a perfect 6-0 with a whopping +160 point differential. They’ll now move on to a six-team Group J to play six more games (with records carrying over), with the top three teams from that group qualifying for the 2019 World Cup. Lithuania will enter Group J in command of the table, as every other team has already lost at least two games and is at least 90 points behind in differential.

Jakob Poeltl – Austria

It was a much bigger deal for Poeltl to be able to suit up for Austria, as they were in desperate need of victories. Poeltl is also the only NBA player in Austrian basketball history, so the opportunity for him to play for the senior team for the first time in really meaningful games – he appeared in four pre-qualifiers last summer, averaging 20 points in 25 minutes on 69-percent shooting, important games but in an environment where their barrier to move on was quite low – is a big one. Austria went winless in their four in-season qualifiers without Poeltl, and they would have to at least beat Georgia and likely go 2-0 to make it to the next round of qualification.

Germany d. Austria, 85-63

Poeltl got into early foul trouble that seemed to take him off of his game, picking up two almost immediately and then a third late in the first half as Austria fell behind 14. He bounced back with a very strong third quarter, scoring seven points to momentarily bring Austria back within single-digits, only for Germany to pull back ahead. In the end, the talent gap was just too extreme – Austria really doesn’t have a lot of talent around Poeltl, although they did do a nice job of taking care of the glass around Poeltl’s modest presence there – and even a fine final line for the Raptors center had Austria on the wrong end of a 22-point defeat. Poeltl finished with 11 points, three rebounds, a block, and a -10 mark in 21 minutes. It was a disappointing first outing given how dominant Poeltl normally is for Austria in these events, but Germany is good and the quick whistle clearly took him off his game a bit.

Georgia d. Austria, 98-73

Poeltl sat this game out due to an infection in his foot, according to a statement from the team doctor on the Basketball Austria website. Poeltl himself took to Facebook, writing “Unfortunately I won’t be able to play tonight against Georgia because of an infection. I will support the Austrian national team from the bench. #JP42.” There is no immediate timetable for a return to play or any specific details on the infection. As has been the case throughout qualifiers, Austria just doesn’t have the pieces to compete without Poeltl, and Georgia cruised to the victory here. It sucks that Poeltl is dealing with a foot issue, but at least he didn’t get in a brawl and throw a Kinshasa, right?

From here

Austria finishes the first round of qualifiers at 0-6, so they’re done here. With their elimination from World Cup qualification, Austria will next play in EuroBasket 2021 pre-qualifiers, jumping right into the second round of those at a date still to be determined.

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July 2 Free Agency Open Thread: LeBron heads West, Warriors land Cousins

Fred VanVleet is returning on a two-year, $18-million deal. With one fell swoop, the Toronto Raptors took care of the biggest – or at least most predictably large – piece of their offseason. It’s a good deal, even if it further tightens the team’s financial situation. VanVleet being back is important.

What happens from here is hard to peg down. The Raptors will remain active on the trade market, both in attempts to make the team better and shed salary. It seems likely that any salary-shedding moves might have to wait until a few days into free agency until teams with the space to facilitate such a deal have a better sense of how they’ll be using their financial flexibility. A more dramatic change could come at any time, as both the Paul George and Ricky Rubio trades came within the first 36 hours or so of free agency last year. Really, we’re just sitting and waiting right now.

The Raptors still have Lucas Nogueira (UFA), Lorenzo Brown (UFA), and Malcolm Miller (RFA) as outstanding free agents and the team only has 12 players under guaranteed contract. None of these items carry Day One level importance, necessarily, though cheap work at the margins is welcome any time. July 1 saw 32 deals agreed upon totaling $1.0135B, with a B, in salary, hardly the cap crunch that was predicted. There will be bargains for the patient in the mid-level ranges and maybe at the minimum.

Again today, we’ll update this thread with relevant news and rumors as they pertain to the Raptors, as well as any deals that get reported at the bottom of the page. Give the July 1 open thread a look over for some relevant cap details and all of yesterday’s Raptors rumors.

And yeah, LeBron James is a Los Angeles Laker. With JaVale McGee and Lance Stephenson and Rajon Rondo, no less. That’s still taking time to process. For what it’s worth, the Warriors remain NBA Championship favorites followed by the Celtics and Lakers, so it’s Boston getting the initial Eastern Conference bump here. Boston and Philadelphia are both said to still be in on Kawhi Leonard, even though his preference (and L.A.’s) would be for him to become a Laker. The Raptors were already setting up to compete once again, and this only reinforces that as a prudent aim. Whether that increases their luxury tax appetite or simply keeps them on the same “anything on the table” path to improvement is unclear. The East is open, though. So we’re starting a fresh thread a few hours early to work through all of this.

Oh, and DeMarcus Cousins is a Warrior.

RAPTORS MOVES

RESOURCES & REQUIRED READING

If you haven’t yet, go and read my free agency primer, which goes into a lot of the details about the Raptors’ cap situations and what they can and can’t do. I’ve also written a bunch on cap specifics and the offseason in general. Hopefully somewhere within these links is an answer to any question you may have:

As a quick refresher, this is what the Raptors’ cap sheet looks at right this second:

To help calibrate for free agency, here’s a chart containing all of the maximums and exception amounts, based on the new $101,869,000 salary cap (note that for the minimum salaries, those deals can run longer if cap space is used, but they max out at two years if a team is using the minimum player salary exception):

Here are a few other very useful resources:

RAPTORS RUMORS

A reminder: There is a ton of information to sort through this time of year. Some of it will be legitimate, some of it will be misinformation. Always consider the source, their track record, and why a player/agent/team may want information out in the world.

Monday

  • 3:30pm: It’s been extremely quiet but at least we had the Canada game. Seems like teams and agents are maybe recalibrating with the new landscape after last night’s insanity.

Wrap-up from Sunday

  • There wasn’t much outside of the Fred VanVleet deal, save for continued rumblings that everything – and everyone – is on the table for the Raptors.
  • They were also said to have expressed interest in Ersan Ilyasova, who wound up back in Milwaukee for the 20th time on a three-year, $21-million deal the Raptors couldn’t beat on money or situation (Ilyasova still lives there).

REPORTED AGREEMENTS/CLOSE – MONDAY

The following deals have either been reported as done or in the finalization stages. Until noon on July 6, nothing is absolutely locked in (remember DeAndre Jordan?), but if it’s on this list, it’s done per a reporter on the trusted list.

Re-sign

  • Derrick Favors, Jazz, 2 years (2nd unguaranteed), $36M (Shams Sharania)
  • J.J. Redick, 76ers, 1 year, $12M (Adrian Wojnarowski)

New homes

  • DeMarcus Cousins, Warriors, 1 year, $5.3M (Shams Charania and Adrian Wojnarowski)
  • Julius Randle, Pelicans, 2 years (1+PO), $18M (Adrian Wojnarowski)
  • Rajon Rondo, Lakes, 1 year, $9M (Sam Amick and Adrian Wojnarowski)
  • Seth Curry, Blazers, 2 years (1+PO), $6M (Adrian Wojnarowski)
  • Anthony Tolliver, Timberwolves, 1 year, $5.8M (Shams Charania)
  • Nerlens Noel, Thunder, 2 years (1+PO), $3.3M (Shams Charania)
  • Mike Scott, Clippers, 1 year, TBD (Adrian Wojnarowski)
  • Jose Calderon, Pistons, 1 year, $2.4M (Chris Haynes)

Other

  • The Pacers released Al Jefferson
  • The Lakers renounced Julius Randle
  • The Wizards claimed Thomas Bryan off waivers from the Lakers

Trades

  • To come…

Deals from Sunday
The following deals were reported Sunday.

  • Chris Paul, Rockets, 4 years, $160M (Adrian Wojnarowski)
  • LeBron James, 4 years (3+PO), $153.3M (Klutch Sports)
  • Nikola Jokic, Nuggets, 5 years, $148M (Adrian Wojnarowski)
  • Paul George, Thunder, 4 years (3+PO), $137M (Adrian Wojnarowski)
  • Aaron Gordon, Magic, 4 years, $64M (Shams Charania)
  • Kevin Durant, Warriors, 2 years (1+PO), $61.5M (Shams Charania)
  • Will Barton, Nuggets, 4 years (3+PO), $54M (Chris Mannix and Chris Haynes)
  • Jerami Grant, Thunder, 3 years (2+PO), $27M (Adrian Wojnarowski)
  • DeAndre Jordan, Mavericks, 1 year, $24M (Marc Stein)
  • Doug McDermott, Pacers, 3 years, $22M (Adrian Wojnarowski)
  • Ersan Ilyasova, Bucks, 3 years (3rd unguaranteed), $21M (Adrian Wojnarowski)
  • Fred VanVleet, Raptors, 2 years, $18M (Shams Charania)
  • Joe Harris, Nets, 2 years, $16M (Adrian Wojnarowski)
  • Trevor Ariza, Suns, 1 year, $15M (Shams Charania)
  • Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Lakers, 1 year, $12M (Chris Haynes)
  • Marco Belinelli, Spurs, 2 years, $12M (Adrian Wojnarowski)
  • Aron Baynes, Celtics, 2 years (1+PO), $11M (Shams Charania)
  • Rudy Gay, Spurs, 1 year, $10M (Shams Charania)
  • Glenn Robinson III, Pistons, 2 years (1+TO), $8.3M, (Shams Charania)
  • Mario Hezonja, Knicks, 1 year, $6.5M (Adrian Wojnarowski)
  • Dirk Nowitzki, Mavericks, 1 year, $5M (Shams Charania)
  • Lance Stephenson, Lakers, 1 year, $4.5M (Shams Charania and Chris Haynes)
  • Ed Davis, Nets, 1 year, $4.4M (Adrian Wojnarowski)
  • Derrick Jones Jr., Heat, 2 years, $3.2M (Ira Winderman)
  • Elfrid Payton, Pelicans,1 year, $2.7M (Adrian Wojnarowski)
  • JaVale McGee, Lakers, 1 year, $2.4M (Chris Haynes)
  • Gerald Green, Rockets, 1 year, $2.4M (Mark Berman and Shams Charania)
  • Derrick Rose, Timberwolves, 1 year, $2.4M  (Adrian Wojnarowski and Shams Charania)
  • Omri Casspi, Grizzlies, 1 year, $2.2M (Adrian Wojnarowski)
  • Nik Stauskas, Blazers, 1 year, $1.6M (Chris Haynes)
  • Luke Kornet, Knicks, 1 year, $1.4M (Marc Berman)
  • Brad Wanamaker, Celtics, 1 year, $838K (Adrian Wojnarowski)
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Making the case for going all in on 2018-19

Alright, it happened. This is not a drill.

So, with the Raptors biggest deterrent, in Lebron James, out of the east for the foreseeable future, where do they go from here? Well, as TSN’s Josh Lewenberg reported in a series of tweets, it appears as though the Raptors plan on keeping the band together for at least one more kick at the can, and personally, I think it’s a no-brainer. Here’s my case:

The East Will Never Be This Poor Again

While the complaints have grown louder this offseason about how the Raptors will never get over the hump relying on second-tier stars in Demar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, fans need to keep one thing in mind: the east is a second-tier conference. And now more than ever.

With Lebron’s departure, 13 of the top 14 on ESPN’s NBA player rankings prior to this season now reside in the west. The lone wolf remaining in the east is Giannis Antetokounmpo, with John Wall being the only other player in the top 15 (that hasn’t aged well). In fact, the lack of competitive balance this year had Ben Golliver of Sports Illustrated referring to the east as “triple A” and the west as “the show,” and that was before number 23’s move.

Many would point to the up and coming Sixers, and Celtics as the argument against keeping the current core together, but the lack of continuity as well as the injury risk for each of those teams must be considered.

For the Sixers, although this year looked like the start of a long run of deep playoff appearances, there is no guarantee they will be as fortunate from a health standpoint as they were this year. Relying on injury-prone stars such as Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid runs the risk of losing out on playoff success should even one go down with yet another long-term injury at any point past Christmas. Additionally, their youth relative to the rest of the league was on full display in their second-round series against the Celtics. Despite being favored (heavily, at that) by virtually all projections before the series, the Sixers looked outclassed by the undermanned Celtics as coach Brad Stevens made them pay for seemingly every miscue on either end of the floor.

Unless the Sixers manage to pull a rabbit out of a hat and land Kawhi Leonard this summer, there’s no reason to believe the Raptors couldn’t take them down in a seven-game series this coming season; especially when you consider that they took the season series 3-1 this past year, outscoring the Sixers by an average of 12.75 points through those four games. However, as Brett Brown made clear when he kept it real with the media after the draft this year, the Sixers are “star hunting” so it may not be long before they are the team in the east. The Raptors best chance at taking down this sleeping giant is clearly this season before they can make a splash in free agency, and before their young stars truly learn how to coexist.

For the Celtics, many of the same questions apply despite most perceiving them as the inevitable eastern champion this upcoming season. While the injury concerns surrounding the Sixers are largely theoretical as of now, the Celtics’ risks are far more concrete. Namely, their two biggest stars, in Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward, are coming off of major injuries.

While many assume that Hayward will be able to return to form based on Paul George’s recovery to within spitting distance of his prior self following the same injury, there’s no way to know for sure. To enlarge the sample size to greater than one, former Louisville player Kevin Ware infamously suffered the same injury years ago and returned a shell of former self, eventually transferring out to a mid-major due to his vastly reduced impact.

For Irving, his injury concerns might be as concerning considering how chronic his issues seem. After missing the last third of this season due to a bacterial infection in his kneecap, Kyrie has now played above sixty games in only three of his seven seasons and has been unable to finish the year in two of the last four. Although his most recent procedure should supposedly be the end of issues with that troublesome left knee, that’s what is said about virtually any surgery undergone by a star— there are no guarantees.

The question also remains as to how the suddenly star-studded Celtics will gel. The young guys (Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, and Terry Rozier) are far more talented than their expected roles will allow them to be, and their established veterans (Al Horford, and the aforementioned Irving and Hayward) have yet to register a single full game together. It seems unlikely that there will be any sort of “too many cooks in the kitchen” issues considering Stevens’ ability to stagger lineups and maximize his players but as I said before: there are no guarantees.

Additionally, considering the Raptors handily dismantled the C’s in their lone matchup with all hands on deck– save for Hayward– this past season, it begs the question of whether the Celtics really are more talented (at least right now). Both Brown and Tatum will become terrors in this league but the consistency isn’t there yet, and the rest of their stars, while sensational, fall closer to the DeRozan and Lowry’s of the world than the Durant and Curry’s. The decline is coming for both Horford and Hayward as they age, and Irving is still yet to make a first or second All-NBA team despite all of his playoff heroics. In a few years the Celtics will almost certainly be the class of the east (especially once they get Anthony Davis, but they can’t talk about that yet), but for now, the playing field is far more even than most analysts are willing to admit.

Lastly, while not near as threatening, both the Wizards and Bucks will likely be spinning their tires for yet another year based on their recent moves. For the Wizards, a trade for Demarcus Cousins seems less likely by the day, and with Alex Len supposedly on pace to become their man in the middle this year, the ever-present dysfunction may get worse (if that’s possible). For the Bucks, fit concerns remain amongst their core and their recent signing of Ersan Ilyasova means that a meaningful upgrade at any position seems unlikely. So, unless Antetokounmpo can make yet another leap this year then the Bucks (and Wizards) will likely be among the middle class yet again.

Asset Inflation

While no one enjoys looking at players as pieces on a chess board, it is difficult not to considering how successful moves of that nature tend to play out. For example, as painful as it was for Celtic’s general manager to trade Isaiah Thomas last summer there is no doubt that he maximized Thomas’ value in that deal. As heartless as those types of moves are in the moment they consistently set franchises up for continued success, so long as they have a solid culture in place.

As previously mentioned, many have made the case for pulling the plug on the Raptors core this offseason, but it needs to be considered that the value of that core took a meaningful hit after they were undone four straight times by the Cavaliers. Therefore, as much as some fans would like it, this summer would not have been the best time to sell their largest assets.

If the Raptors manage to replicate a large part of their regular season success this past season and make a deep run in next year’s comically poor east playoffs then it stands to reason that the value of the Raptors most tradeable assets will noticeably rise. Additionally, considering Masai Ujiri has purposely planned to cap the life of this team at two years from now, all the Raptors key players will be far more sought-after next offseason when teams would only need to commit a single year to their inflated salaries. If the Raptors can get back some coveted young pieces in those deals then it sets them up as a player in 2020 free agency when the Greek Freak comes off Milwaukee’s books (but we can’t talk about that yet either, so shh).

For the Sake of Legacy

Over recent years many a comparison has been drawn between this Raptors team and previous east teams that were consistently embarrassed by James in May. However, with James out of the picture, a more favorable comparison is within their grasp: the early 2000’s Nets.

While they were never close to winning either of the finals they appeared in, making the finals was an accomplishment in and of itself for those Nets teams. Despite only winning low 50’s in games each of the two years, the Nets managed to run the table in the playoffs against a mediocre east field and be forever enshrined as a finals team. The competitive balance between conferences at the time was arguably worse than the current iteration the league is experiencing as in 2002 four teams in the west won 57 games or more, while the Nets were the only team in the east to surpass the 50 win threshold (and barely did). Although many remember the infamous Kings of that season fondly, the other non-finals western powers of that year (Mavericks and Spurs) have largely been forgotten, while those Nets teams are still discussed and remembered affectionately today. In fact, many would argue that those Nets teams were Jason Kidd’s greatest achievement, despite a storied career outside a New Jersey uniform.

If the Raptors manage to come out of the east this year, even if they get smashed in the finals, they can take some solace in knowing they won’t fade to black like so many east teams have the last decade because of James. It may not be the legacy Raptors fan’s dreamed of when DeRozan and Lowry were at peak of powers, but it’s a legacy all the same. I’m sure the early 2010’s Pacers, Bulls, and Hawks would have relished at such a chance.

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Raptors Weekly Podcast – FVV’s bet paid off

Host William Lou is joined by Katie Heindl to discuss the start of free agency.

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Canada tweaks roster for Monday FIBA qualifier

Photo credit: Trung Ho / TrungHo.ca

Canada Basketball will make a small tweak to their FIBA qualifying roster for Monday afternoon’s game against the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Raptors 905 guard Aaron Best will be joining the team, drawing in for Tommy Scrubb.

The logic here could go a few different ways. Head coach Jay Triano mentioned during camp that he’d select a roster focused on their opponents rather than what’s necessarily the team’s best 12, and this could be geared a little toward USVI as a specific opponent compared to Dominican Republic, who Canada beat handily on Friday. It could also be a way of rewarding more than just 12 players for their commitment and participation in the program, allowing more players to gain valuable international experience – Best played in two in-season qualifiers earlier in the process and figures to be available again for the next round. This also makes Canada guard-heavy, with Dillon Brooks the closest thing to a small forward (not that traditional positions matter quite as much here with a smaller opponent and the perimeter skills of some of Canada’s frontcourt players).

Scrubb played three minutes in Friday’s game, hitting a three, grabbing a rebound, and dishing an assist.

The game against USVI matters significantly since records carry over to the next qualification phase, but Canada beat USVI by 29 last time out and has an even stronger roster this time. Canada enters Monday’s game atop their group and could enter the second round of qualification atop that table with a victory Monday.

I wrote about the Raptors 905 connection to the Canada Basketball program here.

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Report: Raptors re-signing Fred VanVleet to 2-year, $18M deal

The Toronto Raptors’ most important free agent is staying at home.

Fred VanVleet has agreed to re-sign with the Raptors on a two-year, $18-million deal, according to a report from Shams Charania.

This is, honestly, a really great deal for both sides. The idea of a two-year bridge contract to get VanVleet to unrestricted free agency in a better market in 2020 was something that seemed especially possible once the Phoenix Suns, ostensibly his likeliest suitor, used their cap space on Trevor Ariza. It’s perhaps a bit surprising that the Raptors went to the full maximum they could offer VanVleet given that they won’t be getting an inexpensive third and fourth year on the contract, and this maintains a ton of cap flexibility for 2020 an 2021, and the Raptors will have full Bird rights on VanVleet when he re-enters the market at age 26 in 2020. This also prevents VanVleet from exploring the restricted free agent market further, where a team could have offered the full four-year non-taxpayer mid-level exception or, in a few unlikely cases, still managed to back-load an Arenas Provision offer for VanVleet that would have been hard for Toronto to match without eroding significant 2020 or 2021 cap space.

READ MORE: VanVleet re-signs, as jump in cap projection offers Raptors some relief

VanVleet is also worth the $9 million (technically, I believe his two-year maximum is $18.5 million if the Raptors are using his Early Bird rights to sign him; using the non-taxpayer mid-level exception would hard-cap them). It seems like a big number for a backup point guard on a team deep with expensive backcourt pieces, but it’s an entirely reasonable price for what VanVleet brings to the table.

He’s still just 24, and while the bulk of his value rests in intangibles, it takes all of a few plays watching him to understand how he helps drive Toronto’s success. Foremost, VanVleet is a hyper-intelligent player on both ends of the floor, with his defensive anticipation and toughness helping make up for a relative lack of size and his composure and savvy on offense helping settle what’s often a very inexperienced group around him. He also possesses deep range on his 3-point shot, which has allowed him to seamlessly play with Kyle Lowry or Delon Wright, working both on and off the ball. He drilled 41.4 percent of more than three 3-point attempts per-game last year and ranked in the 84th percentile as a spot-up shooter, per Synergy Sports, and if he can improve his finishing around the rim – he shot just 56.5 percent there, which was in the 14th percentile for point guards, per Cleaning the Glass – his upside can shift even higher. He gets to the restricted area very well for someone without high-end burst, as his savvy in the pick-and-roll has helped him find a great balance with any of the team’s centers, something not all of their guards can boast. He ranked in the 92nd percentile, per Synergy, in points per-possession with assists included, which is remarkable for a sophomore.

All told, he was among the league’s very best bench players last year and established himself as one of the league’s top back-up point guard. That he finished third in Sixth Man of the Year voting was not simply a product of Toronto’s Bench Mob – VanVleet drove that performance a great deal and also helped drive the performance of others when he played alongside them, ranking first on the team and fourth in the entire NBA in net rating. His counting stats were fairly modest because he played just 20 minutes per-game, and 8.3 points and 3.2 assists undersell his value to the team. To wit, he graded out well by just about any advanced metric, and because he’s coming back into the exact same role, barring other major changes, it’s fairly straightforward to project him to succeed once again next year. Player Impact Plus Minus, for example, is the most robust metric on VanVleet and had his three-year worth with the Raptors at nearly $42 million, with the 40th-best 2018-19 predictive PIPM in the league. Even pricing in some grains of salt or some 3-point regression (I’m not sure that’s necessary), VanVleet projects to be quite solid from here, and maybe even better than that.

Metrics aside, this is a continued bet on a player the Raptors identified as their type of guy back before the 2016 draft. He’s become a locker room leader and a carrier of the team’s culture, his hard-working, bet-on-yourself mentality defining the ethos of the entire young core along with Norman Powell. There is genuine value in making your players feel valued and showing them that sort of light at the end of the grind, and showing VanVleet respect with a sizable offer right out of the gate is a prudent move. In rewarding his ascension from undrafted free agent on a small, $50,000 training camp guarantee to a full-fledged piece of the core, the Raptors are once again displaying that they’ll reward their own, even if financial complications come with a deal.

And there are some financial complications, to be sure. VanVleet’s $8.24-million first-year salary pushes the Raptors well into the tax, with a current estimate of $23.6 million in tax payments if they filled out the roster with minimum contracts from here. This could signal that the Raptors believe they can find a home for Powell or one of the team’s other high-priced players in a bit of a salary dump, and they have plenty of offseason to figure that out, though they’ve killed some of their leverage here by getting the VanVleet deal done early. That’s likely worthwhile – VanVleet was always going to be a major priority, and the league would have known the Raptors need to shed salary to re-sign him, anyway. There’s also not a great sense of urgency, as the Raptors could theoretically lessen their tax bill in-season, too. There’s work still to be done this offseason, and it seems unlikely VanVleet returning is the start of the full 11-man rotation coming back in tact.

For now, they’ve got their guy, and they’ve got him out of the gate in free agency. This is a big day for the Raptors and, obviously, a huge one for VanVleet. Objective analysis aside, it’s great to see a player and person like VanVleet be rewarded for the bet on himself and all of the hard work to get to this point. He’s been among the easiest Raptors to root for since arriving, and now he’ll remain a big part of the remainder of this competitive window Masai Ujiri and company have built through what appears to be a potential 2020 pivot.

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July 1 Free Agency Open Thread: VanVleet is back, LeBron signs with Lakers

The NBA got ahead of the start of free agency on Saturday by providing us with salary cap information ahead of the July 6 lifting of the moratorium. And hey, there’s a modicum of good news for the Toronto Raptors ahead of a summer where they’ll be quite strapped for cash: The cap came in higher than expected.

The salary cap for the 2018-19 season has been set at $101,869,000, nearly a million dollars higher than the original projection. There is a corresponding bump in the luxury tax line, too, at $123,733,000, as well as the luxury tax apron at $129,817,000. None of these are massive bumps, but considering the Raptors are already into the tax with just 11 players on guaranteed contracts and with Fred VanVleet sitting out there as a restricted free agent who could command $8.64 million in Year One of a new deal, every penny – or $700,000 worth of them – makes a big difference, especially with the escalating luxury tax penalties the deeper you go. (The cap is also now projected higher in 2019-20, when the Raptors could use the extra tax break again, and that makes it project as if they’ll have good flexibility in 2020 and 2021 depending on what they do this summer and next.)

Toronto will still be in tough. They have little flexibility to add without making a major trade of one of their core pieces or dumping a salary for nothing in return, and even if they do that, they figure to only be small free-agency players. VanVleet is their biggest focus, with their three other free agents – Lucas Nogueira, Lorenzo Brown, and Malcolm Miller – likely coming far down the priority list as early-offseason luxuries the Raptors might not want to jump on early. How the next few days and weeks play out should be really interesting and will say a lot about Masai Ujiri’s stomach for aggression after years of fairly savvy but ultimately conservative roster management. It might not end up exciting. It will probably make us all anxious, at least.

For now, consider the open thread a means of discussing all the insanity. It’ll be updated regularly.

RAPTORS MOVES

RESOURCES & REQUIRED READING

If you haven’t yet, go and read my free agency primer, which goes into a lot of the details about the Raptors’ cap situations and what they can and can’t do. I’ve also written a bunch on cap specifics and the offseason in general. Hopefully somewhere within these links is an answer to any question you may have:

As a quick refresher, this is what the Raptors’ cap sheet looks at right this second:

To help calibrate for free agency, here’s a chart containing all of the maximums and exception amounts, based on the new $101,869,000 salary cap (note that for the minimum salaries, those deals can run longer if cap space is used, but they max out at two years if a team is using the minimum player salary exception):

Here are a few other very useful resources:

RAPTORS RUMORS

A reminder: There is a ton of information to sort through this time of year. Some of it will be legitimate, some of it will be misinformation. Always consider the source, their track record, and why a player/agent/team may want information out in the world.

Sunday

  • 8:08pm: Again, not Raptors related, but LeBron James is a Los Angeles Laker. That makes the Eastern Conference look wide open, and would certainly suggest the Raptors should continue competing, as they appear set to do. Wow. This is wild.
  • 6:25pm: What a surprisingly quiet afternoon after the chaotic start.
  • 1:10pm: John Tavares signed with the Leafs. I wonder if this impacts Raptors’ coverage in the main Canadian media outlets at all…
  • 12:25pm: I updated some of the Raptors’ cap stuff over at The Athletic and explained what the jump in the salary cap and luxury tax could mean for the Raptors now and moving forward.
  • 11:45am: This isn’t Raptors-related but it’s tangentially related, so, uhh, the 76ers got a meeting with LeBron James’ people today, per Woj. That’s certainly interesting.
  • 10:35am: Fred VanVleet has re-signed with the Raptors on a two-year, $18-million deal.
  • 8am: Nothing happened over night. Like, seriously, nothing. My news-breaker column didn’t move in the 4.5 hours of sleep I decided to grab (don’t worry, I had alarms set every 90 minutes just in case). This afternoon should pick up.
  • 2:20am: Gery Woelfel reports that the Raptors were among the teams that expressed interest in Ersan Ilyaosva before he landed back in Milwaukee. This isn’t all that surprising given that Ilyaosva was identified as a potential buyout target, too, and would add shooting and toughness in the frontcourt. The Raptors really couldn’t top the $7M per-year he received from Milwaukee, where he’s maintained a home even after leaving the Bucks. Toronto will probably make a calls on a number of players in this tier, gauging their interest at the non-taxpayer mid-level or even minimum amounts.
  • 2:15am: None of the news-breakers have tweeted in a while. Get some sleep.
  • 12:45am: The Suns signing Ariza to a 1/15M deal takes one of the biggest potential VanVleet suitors out of the race, or at least out of the cap space to sign VanVleet to any kind of deal Toronto couldn’t comfortably match. It’s a tough break for VanVleet’s market but a positive for the Raptors, who may now have more leverage in trying to get VanVleet signed long-term at below the full mid-level amount.

Pre-midnight

  • It doesn’t really require re-reporting at this point, but it’s an open secret that everything is on the table for the Toronto Raptors. That might mean prospects and picks are available, it likely means Serge Ibaka and Norman Powell are widely available, it could mean Jonas Valanciunas is on the market again, and, hard though it may be to see playing out, it means Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan are no longer untouchable. This isn’t noise or speculation. The Raptors are evaluating every means of getting better this summer. That doesn’t mean trading a star or unloading a salary is necessarily likely, just that nothing has been ruled out.
  • Phoenix is considered to be the primary threat to pluck Fred VanVleet away. Not only do they have the money to throw a back-loaded Arenas Provision deal at VanVleet that could be tough for the Raptors to stomach matching, he would fit in really well with where they are on the building curve and what type of player and leader they need as they try to re-establish some semblance of a coherent path forward. VanVleet should have other suitors, too – I’d be surprised if Orlando doesn’t call, and if Charlotte is going to move Kemba Walker, he’d make some sense – but the Raptors will also likely try to give him an offer early on that precludes him from even testing the offer sheet route.

REPORTED AGREEMENTS/CLOSE – SUNDAY

The following deals have either been reported as done or in the finalization stages. Until noon on July 6, nothing is absolutely locked in (remember DeAndre Jordan?), but if it’s on this list, it’s done per a reporter on the trusted list.

Re-sign

  • Chris Paul, Rockets, 4 years, $160M (Adrian Wojnarowski)
  • Nikola Jokic, Nuggets, 5 years, $148M (Adrian Wojnarowski)
  • Paul George, Thunder, 4 years (3+PO), $137M (Adrian Wojnarowski)
  • Kevin Durant, Warriors, 2 years (1+PO), $61.5M (Shams Charania)
  • Will Barton, Nuggets, 4 years (3+PO), $54M (Chris Mannix and Chris Haynes)
  • Jerami Grant, Thunder, 3 years (2+PO), $27M (Adrian Wojnarowski)
  • Fred VanVleet, Raptors, 2 years, $18M (Shams Charania)
  • Joe Harris, Nets, 2 years, $16M (Adrian Wojnarowski)
  • Aron Baynes, Celtics, 2 years (1+PO), $11M (Shams Charania)
  • Rudy Gay, Spurs, 1 year, $10M (Shams Charania)
  • Dirk Nowitzki, Mavericks, 1 year, $5M (Shams Charania)
  • Derrick Jones Jr., Heat, 2 years, $3.2M (Ira Winderman)
  • Gerald Green, Rockets, 1 year, $2.4M (Mark Berman and Shams Charania)
  • Derrick Rose, Timberwolves, 1 year, $2.4M  (Adrian Wojnarowski and Shames Charania)
  • Luke Kornet, Knicks, 1 year, $1.4M (Marc Berman)

New homes

  • LeBron James, Lakers, 4 years (3+ETO), $153.3M (Klutch Sports)
  • DeAndre Jordan, Mavericks, 1 year, $24M (Marc Stein)
  • Doug McDermott, Pacers, 3 years, $22M (Adrian Wojnarowski)
  • Ersan Ilyasova, Bucks, 3 years (3rd unguaranteed), $21M (Adrian Wojnarowski)
  • Trevor Ariza, Suns, 1 year, $15M (Shams Charania)
  • Marco Belinelli, Spurs, 2 years, $12M (Adrian Wojnarowski)
  • Glenn Robinson III, Pistons, 2 years (1+TO), $8.3M, (Shams Charania)
  • Ed Davis, Nets, 1 year, $4.4M (Adrian Wojnarowski)
  • Omri Casspi, Grizzlies, 1 year, $2.2M (Adrian Wojnarowski)
  • Nik Stauskas, Blazers, 1 year, $1.6M (Chris Haynes)
  • Brad Wanamaker, Celtics, 1 year, $838K (Adrian Wojnarowski)

Trades (only including trades since the draft)

  • To come…
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Air Canada Centre officially becomes Scotiabank Arena

The Air Canada Centre is no more.

In a move announced back in August, the home of the Toronto Raptors is now named Scotiabank Arena.

The re-naming ends a 19-year run for the ACC and comes at a hefty reported price tag for Scotiabank, who will have to be patient as fans and media transition to calling the venue by its new, proper name. The ACC has a lot of brand built into it despite the relative lack of success of the teams playing there compared to, say, SkyDome before it became Rogers Centre, and it will take time and perhaps coercing to shift what the general public refers to it as. Scotiabank did pay a reported $800 million over 20 years for the rights – a near 1000-percent increase in annual naming rights value – and maybe that extra income stream will help facilitate greater success for its tenants. I’m trying to be optimistic about a largely meaningful but moderately inconvenient sentimental change, clearly.

The Air Canada Centre signage was being removed earlier Saturday.

“For the past 18 years, Air Canada Centre has not only been home to the Maple Leafs and Raptors, it has also hosted hundreds of the most popular concerts and events in the industry, helping contribute to Toronto’s well-deserved reputation as one of the top sports and entertainment destinations in the world,” MLSE chairman Larry Tanenbaum said in an August release. “We are grateful to Scotiabank for their continued support and this expanded partnership as we look ahead to what we expect to be 20 of the most exciting years in Toronto sports and entertainment history.”

Scotiabank will also remain the official banking partner of the Leafs, per a release, and Scotiabank will expand its partnership with MLSE Foundation. The two sides intend to collaborate with SCENE on some promotions, as well, and there are plans for an MLSE Incubator at the Scotiabank Digital Factory.

There’s not a lot to sort through here, really. It’s a corporate shift from one branded partnership to another, and a very lucrative one. This is simply a matter of C.R.E.A.M., with the small cost of all of us having to remember to make the written and verbal adjustment by the time the 2018-19 season rolls around.

By the way, the first event on the schedule for the newly named arena is a GOT7 concert on Tuesday. Not exactly The Tragically Hip, who were the first concert at the ACC in 1999, but to each their own (the first actual event their was Leafs-Canadiens).

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The Raptors Should Never Trade DeMar DeRozan

Flashback. It’s January 22, 2006. You’re in a downtown Toronto bar when a Toronto Raptors game comes on. You didn’t go to the bar to watch the game — no one does — but it came on while you were eating and your eyes naturally peered over to watch your hometown team play the Los Angeles Lakers. Jose Calderon dribbles the ball up the court and runs around pointless screens for 20 seconds before passing the ball to Matt Bonner, who takes a contested three. It clunks off the front of the rim. Kobe Bryant rebounds the ball jumps out to a fast break before hitting an uncontested jumper. Kobe scores a career-high 81 points in the game. It will be remembered for a very long time, and not in the good way if you’re a Raptors fan. Life is not good.

Flash forward. It’s March 7, 2018. You’re sitting at the same bar you sat at 12 years earlier, this time purposely to watch DeMar DeRozan and your hometown Raptors fight for the No. 1 seed in the East against a desperate Detroit Pistons team vying for a playoff spot. Blake Griffin is doing everything to help the Pistons win, but franchise star DeRozan and the Raptors won’t go down easily. First, DeRozan dunks all over 6-foot-8, 240 pound Anthony Tolliver to tie the game at the end of regulation. Then, in overtime, he grabs a rebound, storms down the court and attacks the lane before throwing a perfect outlet pass to undrafted sophomore Fred VanVleet, who drains the corner two with 1.1 remaining. Raptors win and DeRozan puts up 42 points and the game-winning assist. Trump is president, but otherwise life is good.

To me, it’s clear: Life with DeRozan > Life before DeRozan.

Some fan bases won’t understand just how important one player can be to a team, a city, and a country in the modern NBA because they have the luxury of routing for an already established franchise; one that was established by players in previous generations who paved the way. For that reason and more there is a growing consensus that the Raptors should blow it up and trade DeRozan, the only franchise star they’ve ever had. There are even rumblings that he is on the trading block. I understand the sentiment behind trading DeRozan considering he is our best player and represents the most trade value on the market. We might even be able to get an established star or an intriguing prospect for him. But the situation the Raptors are in makes it more complicated.

The Raptors are not the Boston Celtics, a team that can have no loyalty and maintain a passionate fan base no matter how good they are. The Celtics had the luxury of trading away cult hero Isaiah Thomas last summer because past stars like Bill Russell, Larry Bird, and Kevin McHale who spent their entire careers (a combined 39 years) with the Celtics, establishing the franchise to a point of no return. The Raptors are different. The Raptors have never had a franchise player as good as DeRozan; at least none that wanted to stay in Toronto. The Raptors are not even an established franchise. Despite everything DeRozan, Kyle Lowry, and Dwane Casey have done for the team in the past few years they have still never been to the NBA Finals, never retired a jersey, and never had a star player stay with the team for his entire career. In DeRozan they can have their cake and eat it too.

If the Raptors want to trade away established veterans like Lowry, Serge Ibaka, and Jonas Valanciunas in order to acquire assets and build for the future I understand that. Afterall, bringing back the same team that got swept by the Cleveland Cavaliers last year will likely result in disappointment once again, especially in an improved Eastern Conference. But in order to keep the Raptors fan base tuned in, a fan base that remembers when Andrea Bargnani was the team’s best player and doesn’t want to go back to the dark years, the organization needs some resemblance of the team that made them relevant. Without DeRozan this becomes a whole new Raptors team. A younger one with more upside, sure, but also one that will be bad for a long time without the franchise player millions of Canadians have come to love and respect.

In fact, one reason Canadians have come to love and respect DeRozan is due to the loyalty he has exhibited to the city of Toronto and the Raptors organization. When his previous contract was up for extension in 2016, DeRozan made it clear that he wanted to stay in Toronto and resigned a max extension without the drama that usually materializes when a star player is up for an extension. To trade him after he displayed that rare kind of loyalty would shine an ugly light on a Raptors franchise that is trying to become a lauded player destination.

Another reason Canadians look up to DeRozan has to do with his compassionate and courageous personality. Although he might be more shy and introverted than many professional athletes, DeRozan has become an advocate for mental health awareness by speaking out about his own depression, opening the floodgates for professional athletes to talk about their illnesses and seek help. His work towards breaking down the stigma around mental illness has already had an impact and will continue to inspire future generations not just in the NBA, but in professional sports in general.  

The fact that Toronto gets to claim such a compassionate athlete and potentially retire his jersey as the first Raptor to play his entire career in Toronto could go a long way in helping establish the Raptors franchise and basketball in Canada.

On top of all the intangibles — the things help establish a franchise that has been irrelevant for most of its history but don’t help you win basketball games — DeRozan is also a very good basketball player who is just 28-years-old and improving every year. Fresh off his best campaign to date where he averaged 23.0 points and 5.2 assists on 45.6 percent shooting, DeRozan improved his efficiency while taking steps forward both as a facilitator and a three-point shooter. It was his impressive play that allowed DeRozan to finish eighth in MVP voting and helped the Raptors win 59 games and claim the No. 1 seed in the East for the first time in franchise history. Although his shortcomings are highlighted every postseason, DeRozan is a professional and a gym rat who has proven he will do everything it takes to help his team win a title. Eventually this team is going to be built around someone else — I don’t think DeRozan can be the best player on a championship team — but if DeRozan continues improving his ability to space the floor and play defense he will be valuable in any system.

Because buzz words like ‘veteran,’ ‘leader,’ and ‘professional’ are thrown around so often to describe NBA players they often lose value, but DeRozan is as professional as a franchise player gets. He may not be the most outspoken or active leader in the league, but DeRozan has earned respect from his peers and is looked up to by his teammates. Younger players who are still in the early stages of their development and are unfamiliar with the league look to DeRozan for advice and attempt to emulate his work ethic and career trajectory. For a team that looks likely to rebuild and get younger in the near future, that kind of leadership is invaluable.

People often say there is no loyalty in sports. DeRozan would disagree. Now the Raptors have the power to prove DeRozan right. No matter what trajectory Masai Ujiri decides to take this Raptors team, DeRozan is an invaluable asset that will help the team win games while maintaining a strong culture admired throughout the league. If that’s not enough for the Raptors to keep DeRozan, what is?

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Canada avenges loss to Dominican Republic, takes control of group

Photo credit: Trung Ho / TrungHo.ca

Canada 97, Dominican Republic 61 | Box Score

Sometimes, things are as simple as the better team asserting that edge. It doesn’t always go that way – upsets happen, they play the games for a reason, and so on – but the way things look on paper usually look that way for a reason. It’s been hard to trust that with the Canadian men’s senior team over the last few decades, as their success at the international level has occasionally failed to live up to the growing talent level. The hope as Canada enters what they believe is their golden age is that the hurdle is behind them, that their player pool is deep enough, and that their talent is high-end enough to avoid any AmeriCup-like lapses moving forward.

“There’s a lot of talent here. We’ve just got to put it together,” said Cory Joseph.

Enter R.J. Barrett, Andrew Nembhard, and maybe the best roster Canada’s put forward for an international event. Barrett led a group of six Canadians who scored in double-figures as Canada opened up a lead quickly, weathered a push-back from Dominican Republic, and ultimately pulled away for an emphatic 97-61 victory in Toronto on Friday.

This felt good, especially coming in front of my family and friends. A crazy environment, I loved being a part of it,” Barrett, who scored 14 points with six rebounds, said.

Canada eased into the game a bit early on, missing a couple of threes out of the gate to set an expected tone with what would be a cold shooting start to the night. After the Dominicans opened the scoring with a triple of their own, Kelly Olynyk got Canada right back on the board with a transition three that seemed to settle the home side down and encourage them to push the pace off of Dominican misses. That wound up the story on the offensive end for Canada, as despite forcing just a single first-quarter turnover, Joseph and Barrett were able to push the pace against a scrambling defense without getting too risky.

“Well this team leads the FIBA Americas in creating turnovers. That was a big thing for us,” head coach Jay Triano said. “Credit Andrew and Phil Scrubb and Cory mostly for just making sure we didn’t turn the ball over. We couldn’t be sloppy against this team.”

Joseph had a great takeover stretch, too, hitting a pair of off-dribble jumpers and taking one to the rim for a team-high six points in the frame. The only real sticking point for the Canadians was some foul trouble, as they got into the penalty with over two minutes left and let the visitors chip a seven-point lead down to two. Melvin Ejim responded with a three, Nembhard threw Khem Birch a lob and then scored a pair of buckets on his own, and Canada had stabilized some with a 25-21 lead.

They rode the momentum for a few minutes from there, threatening to put things out of hand in the second quarter. They were perhaps a little over-eager around the rim and on the glass for a stretch, but the Dominicans matched by missing a couple of easy finishes and Canada was able to get comfortable with a lead flirting with double-figures. Some fun Nembhard-Barrett minutes saw Barrett respond to missing a three by taking a hard drive baseline to draw a foul, and he’d later show that same desire to fix mistakes by putting back a third effort after a blocked dunk.

“I think if you were to have watched, I don’t know if you would know they were teenagers the way that they played,” Triano said.

Meanwhile, Birch wound up on the right end of another outlet for a dunk, this time from Joseph, and a Barrett and-one in transition put Canada up 14 and gave the teenager a game-high nine first-half points. Were it not for a few sloppy minutes late in the quarter punctuated by some truly awkward Olynyk minutes and a Birch own-goal, the Dominicans would have found themselves in a bigger hole than the 12-point one they entered halftime looking to climb out of.

Canada finally found that groove with a bit more precision out of the break and got a couple of lucky bounces in their favor, too, like a Joseph lob to Dwight Powell getting deflected only for Powell to stick a ridiculous finish. The lead once again swelled to 17 despite continued cold shooting – Dillon Brooks was 1-of-8 and 1-of-5 on threes to this point – before Rigoberto Mendoza answered with a three, the Dominican’s slight edge from outside their lone advantage. Canada’s defensive effort was the real difference throughout, and outside of Joseph getting a layup blocked on a post-turnover Barrett outlet, they did a great job converting that defense into offense with a major edge in points off of turnovers and fast-break points. Once again, the shooting kept the visitors close, their deficit shrinking as small as eight when Dagoberto Pena made the team 5-of-7 from outside for the quarter. A breakneck back-and-forth over the last few minutes gave D.R. new life,  and Barrett provided just a little more breathing room with a tough finish to end the frame ahead 11.

Phil Scrubb opened the fourth by breaking a shooting drought with a corner three, and Powell followed with another tough finish on a tipped lob for an and-one. At a certain point, Canada’s talent edge should have been expected to put things away, and the Dominican’s commendable effort and shooting could only do so much once Canada’s shooting came around. An Ejim triple pushed the lead to 20 a few minutes in, and a his bucket out of a D.R. timeout capped a 13-0 run. Canada’s defense didn’t allow for much of a counter-punch, and a personal 5-0 run for Brooks – with some great play from Powell and a massive dunk from Olynyk – stretched things out to 27. Brooks added another three, and the close-out of the rout was fairly rote from there.

“I think we finally hit a three. We had good looks throughout most of the game, and I think it was Phil Scrubb hit one, and that kind of just started everything,” Triano said. “We spread the floor, Dwight Powell was excellent screening and rolling and creating space, and he got a couple dunks, they have to respect that. We gotta make threes. We finally made one and I think that just gave us a belief that we could do that. Make a couple of those, then they start closing out, we’re able to attack the rim. I think we finally just made a shot, to be honest.”

This is a great step for Canada in the FIBA qualification process. Not only did they show definitively that they now have the player pool to hold a rela talent edge in the Americas zone, they avenged an earlier qualifying loss to the Dominican Republic and won by a large enough margin to secure their place at the top of Group D if they take care of business Monday.

It’s important. We had lost a couple months ago and came back. Canada Basketball is on the rise,” Barrett said.

It would be tough for Canada to have made a better statement or take greater advantage of a Toronto home game the new qualifying procedure allows for.

Notes

  • Over at Dime on UPROXX, I wrote about R.J. Barrett, a “Mad Max” nickname, and the maniacal competitiveness that’s made him a top prospect and the new face of Canadian basketball.
  • Canada’s second team, made up of the cuts from training camp and a handful of other players who had been around camp for scrimmages and exhibition games, beat China 92-79 in an exhibition game earlier Friday.
    • The team included: Kaza Keane, Luguentz Dort, Adika Peter-McNeilly, MiKyle McIntosh, Marc Trasolini, Owen Klassen, DyShawn Pierre, and Grant Shephard, with DNPs for Manny Diressa (Back tightness), Junior Cadougan, and Daniel Mullings.
    • Keane led the way with 27 points and seven assists, while Peter-McNeilly scored 19 and Pierre had 18.
    • I don’t have a full box score for Thursday’s exhibition, but I’m told Lugventz Dort dropped 30 in it.
  • DAZN, who hold the broadcast rights to these FIBA qualifiers, put the game on their Facebook Live page for free, which I thought was a nice gesture on their part. It’s still crazy that neither TSN nor Sportsnet picked up this round of FIBA games and instead let them fall to DAZN.
  • The Ricoh Coliseum crowd was solid but probably not as loud as the program would like to see moving forward. Triano credited the crowd for bringing a good energy but said the team will need bigger and louder crowds as the new FIBA qualification procedure takes hold and these home games take on greater importance. There was not an official attendance number as of this writing.
    • Among those in attendance were Tristan Thompson and Mark Cuban.
  • Anthony Bennett has been dealing with an ankle issue but was the lone DNP on the Canada side due to a rotation decision more than the injury, with four bigs ahead of him on the depth chart against a team that played four-out quite often. Canada has the option to tweak their roster by Sunday afternoon for Monday’s game.
  • Canada will host U.S. Virgin Islands on Monday afternoon in Ottawa. While Canada has taken control of Group D with the win over D.R. and the tiebreaker, and USVI have already qualified through to the next round by beating Bahamas this week, this game remains important. Records carry over to Group F in the second qualification round, including things like point differential, so both teams will still have plenty of incentive to show well. For Canada, there is an opportunity to improve to 5-1 and own the best point differential of any of the teams moving on to Group F, which would be a nice leg up starting that round at the top of the table.
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Raptors announce Summer League roster: Who and what you need to know

The Toronto Raptors announced their roster for the 2018 Las Vegas Summer League on Friday. The roster is as follows:

NO. PLAYER POS HT WT BIRTHDATE PRIOR TO NBA/HOME COUNTRY NBA EXP.
1 Rawle Alkins G 6-5 220 10/29/1997 Arizona/USA R
3 OG Anunoby F 6-8 232 7/17/1997 Indiana/England 1
25 Chris Boucher F 6-10 200 1/11/1993 Oregon/Canada 1
32 Fuquan Edwin F 6-6 213 9/17/1991 Seton Hall/USA R
15 Tryggvi Hlinason C 7-1 260 10/28/1997 Valencia (Spain)/Iceland R
6 Augusto Lima C 6-10 235 9/17/1991 UCAM Murcia (Spain)/Brazil R
18 Jordan Loyd G 6-4 210 7/27/1993 Indianapolis/USA R
34 Alfonzo McKinnie F 6-8 215 9/17/1992 Wisconsin-Green Bay/USA 1
13 Malcolm Miller G-F 6-7 210 3/6/1993 Holy Cross/USA 1
11 Codi Miller-McIntyre G 6-3 205 6/1/1994 Wake Forest/USA R
20 Giddy Potts G 6-2 220 8/8/1995 Middle Tennessee/USA R
22 Malachi Richardson G 6-6 205 1/5/1996 Syracuse/USA 2
30 Andrew Rowsey G 5-11 180 6/18/1994 Marquette/USA R
12 Marquis Teague G 6-2 180 2/28/1993 Kentucky/USA 3
27 Shevon Thompson C 7-0 242 6/10/1993 George Mason/Jamaica R

The Summer League team will be coached by Nick Nurse himself.

Their schedule for the tournament is as follows:

  • Friday, July 6 – 12pm PT vs. New Orleans (ESPNU)
  • Sunday, July 8 – 12pm PT vs. Minnesota (NBA TV)
  • Monday, July 9, 12:30pm PT vs. Oklahoma City (NBA TV)

From there, teams will be bracketed based on record and point differential. Every team is guaranteed at least five games in total, so the Raptors will be in Vegas until at least July 13 and possibly as late as July 17 if they make a run to the championship.

Coaches

Nick Nurse: Following in the footsteps of a few other first-time NBA head coaches, Nurse has made the decision to coach the Vegas squad himself, surrounded by a still-developing staff. This makes a ton of sense on several fronts, and it’s a great sign of Nurse’s desire to hit the ground running that he’s opted to do so. While Nurse has head coaching experience, it’s been several years since he was in the driver’s seat, and five or six games of reps ahead of the preseason should help him shake any rust off with the process of calling the shots himself. It’s also a good way to help build chemistry within the staff ahead of the regular season, and for him to begin developing a rapport with a number of Raptors who are on the Vegas roster. It should also give us a glimpse into the kind of tweaks and experiments Nurse has planned – it’s still too early for wholesale changes, and Nurse doesn’t have the personnel here he will in Toronto, but this should be a nice peak into his thinking for the year ahead.

Raptors

OG Anunoby: This is a great opportunity for Anunoby, who is probably a little too advanced for the Vegas stage impact-wise but who hasn’t had the chance to play a featured role as he will here yet. Anunoby missed all of Summer League last year following knee surgery and was relegated to strength and conditioning work and set shooting. He also didn’t see any time with Raptors 905, immediately jumping into the NBA rotation. Here, the team can funnel more possessions his way to expedite his development and experiment with his face-up game and ability to create in the pick-and-roll. Last summer, Pascal Siakam wowed with the progress he’d made in a similar opportunity, and Anunoby will get his first chance to make a case for a larger share of the offense here. This might be the team’s biggest window yet into just how much higher Anunoby’s offensive ceiling can push than was originally expected before the 2017 draft.

Malachi Richardson: This will stand as an interesting look at the Raptors’ player development incubator. So far, they’ve been the ones identifying, signing/drafting, and developing talent, and they’ve had a great deal of success. Richardson is the first real piece they haven’t had their fingerprints all over, and how he’s progressed since coming over from Sacramento’s woeful development setup at midseason will be worth monitoring. If he suddenly looks like a potential NBA player – he has not, through two years, looked the part with any consistency – then the Raptors’ confidence in their ability to develop distressed prospect assets could grow, providing more market opportunity moving forward. Richardson has great size for the two and a sweet-looking stroke, so his progress will be a matter of conditioning and beginning to think and read the game at a higher level within the Raptors’ system.

Alfonzo McKinnie: With a July 20 guarantee date on his deal – essentially a team option for the minimum for 2018-19 – perhaps nobody has more to lose at Summer League than McKinnie, who turned his audition here last year into an NBA contract with a sizable guarantee. His progress stagnated a little bit this past season, as he spent the bulk of his time with Raptors 905 and didn’t take a major step forward as an outside shooter, the one biggest skill he needs to discover to stick as a 3-and-D weapon in the NBA. There’s still plenty to like, as McKinnie is hyper-athletic, a solid defender at either forward position, and an absolute hawk on the offensive glass or in transition. There’s not a lot of downside to locking in a minimum-salaried 25-year-old, so his goal here will be showing enough shooting and playmaking progress to warrant keeping him over the flexibility of an open roster spot to sign a different minimum player.

Malcolm Miller: It’s possible that Miller and McKinnie are in a bit of a competition here (and maybe through Rawle Alkins in, too) as the team looks to fill out the back of the roster with versatile wings. Miller got the chance to show he can excel in the role he’ll be asked to play in the NBA last year, proving the best individual defender on the 905 and even stepping into some starts with the Raptors. He’s put on a bit of weight with the aim of adding power forward to the list of positions he can guard capably (he’s more combo-wing than combo-forward right now despite his positional size and length) and has been developing his left hand so he can become a more multi-faceted perimeter player on offense. He’s the best shooter of any wing that will be on the fringes of the roster, and how he’s progressed with some legitimate offseason – he missed the bulk of last summer following ankle surgery – could determine how quickly he’s scooped up as a restricted free agent.

Raptors 905

Shevon Thompson: A stand-out with the 905 last year, Thompson left most people wondering why the heck he was available for next to nothing on the trade market early in the year. Dude was just sitting at home when the 905 called to trade for his rights, having come back early from Lebanon in part because access to a gym was limited on non-game days and he wanted to keep developing. He came to the game a little late, playing high school ball in Jamaica and then doing the junior college circuit before landing at George Mason, and so even at 25, there would seem to be some upside still to tap into here. What the Raptors are intrigued by becomes obvious quickly when watching him – Thompson is 6-foot-11 with a 7-foot-5 wingspan and 9-foot-3 standing reach, has a quick first step, a decent post game, and great hands to set up explosive finishes around the rim. He has room to grow as a defender, both in the individual sense and within the team concept, but he was one of the G League’s leaders in rebound rate, field-goal percentage, defensive rating, and win shares per-48 minutes, earning him an invite to the G League Mini Camp a few weeks back and this Vegas invite.

Fuquan Edwin: The summer roster has a bit of an identity with all of these versatile potential 3-and-D wings and Edwin fits the mold. Like Thompson, the 905 picked him up in-season, and he quickly became a Jerry Stackhouse favorite. Edwin posted the third-best steal percentage and second-best defensive rating in the G League last season, and Synergy Sports graded him out as an above-average isolation defender thanks in part to his 6-foot-8 wingspan and ability to slide down to power forward if the 905 needed to get small. He also hit 37.3 percent of his threes, including 41.5 percent from the corners, and was a weapon in the 905 transition game, as well. Edwin will turn 27 by the time the preseason rolls around, and he’ll be looking to show he can add more to his role card beyond spot-up threes and individual defense to try to earn an invite to camp.

Undrafted free agents

Rawle Alkins: The Raptors didn’t end up trading into the draft but immediately scooped up someone who was projected as a bubble first-round pick (average ranking of 39, high ranking of 20) as an undrafted free agent. The deal hasn’t been made official, but Alkins is signing an Exhibit 10 deal with the Raptors, meaning he’ll be in camp competing for a spot and, failing that, the team can convert him to a two-way contract or give him a $50,000 bonus if he stays with Raptors 905 long enough. Summer League is a first opportunity for Alkins to make his case that the G League bonus isn’t a necessary consideration, and he fits the ethos here as another potential 3-and-D wing. Even with some stagnation in his sophomore year (in part due to a broken foot), he impressed, hitting 35.9 percent on four threes per-game, providing excellent individual defense, and earning All-Pac 12 Honorable Mention. All the tools are there – he has a 6-foot-9 wingspan and is 217 pounds, good size for the two, and he blocked shots, grabbed offensive rebounds, and got to the line well for his position – but he’s not a finished product as a team defender and will need to show he can do more than hit a middling percentage of open looks on the offensive end.

Andrew Rowsey: Every Marquette player is tough, and when you’re a 5-foot-11 point guard trying to make the NBA, that’s going to have to be true. Rowsey took a bit of a roundabout path to get to this point, ultimately taking a big step forward in his senior year and averaging 20.5 points and 4.8 assists. Most notable in Rowsey’s profile is that he hit 40.8 percent on threes over his college career, taking nearly 1,000 attempts. That’s a heck of a skill to get your foot in the door, and so even as a very undersized point guard and 24-year-old rookie, he would seem worth a look as a potential Raptors 905 lead guard. There, he’d have time to continue developing as a playmaker, working on his finishing to make up for his size, and showing that smart and tough defense can translate to a certain floor, if not a defensive ceiling.

Giddy Potts: Like Rowsey, Potts can really shoot, with deep range that should comfortably extend to the NBA 3-point line. He, too, hit over 40 percent of his threes in his college career, knocking down 41.7 percent of nearly 700 attempts. Potts isn’t exactly big for the position at 6-foot-2, but he’s build like a fullback (220 pounds), and that should help him defensively and as a finisher as he begins his professional career. The problem might be that he’s a two, and he’d be undersized for that position if his point guard skills don’t develop to where he can play the one full-time at the next level. He’s only 22, so there’s time for him to put those pieces together, and a season with the 905 where he has the ball in his hands plenty would probably help to that end if he can’t blow any teams away with his shooting in Vegas.

Tryggvi Hlinason: The Icelandic Sheep Farmer gets his opportunity! The 20-year-old 7-plus footer went undrafted earlier this month, but he was actually on the radar a number of places. ESPN, Sports Illustrated, and The Athletic all had him ranked in their top 70 prospects and the APEX, ESPN, and Kevin Pelton models all ranked him in the top 60. That’s a really interesting piece to add late in the Summer League process, and Hlinason will surely be looking to impress to earn a training camp invite or even a two-way contract. Playing in the Icelandic league two years ago, Hlinason averaged 11.6 points, eight rebounds, and 2.7 blocks in 28.9 minutes and shot 65.2 percent from the floor. He even attempted three threes! The general consensus seems to be that there’s a lot to like here, he just needs a lot more time playing against good competition, and a season of small minutes with Valencia this year didn’t provide much of a look (he played 188 minutes total and just 90 in EuroLeague). He’s a good finisher and a great screen-setter, protects the rim well, and is reasonably mobile for a 7-footer, he’s just pretty raw creating anything for himself and is said to be hesitant shooting sometimes because of it. It should be really fun to see how he measures up against stiffer competition and whether he looks like a reasonable bet for G League or two-way development. Jonas Valanciunas spoke highly of him, too, after he dropped 19 against Lithuania. This is fun.

Other free agents

Chris Boucher: Waived by the Warriors after a rookie season on a two-way deal last year, Boucher has finally put the torn ACL that cost him a slot on the 2017 NBA Draft behind him. Boucher looked great at training camp with Canada and in exhibition games against China, flashing a lot of the shot-blocking and rim-protection instincts that make him such an interesting prospect and building on a really strong close to his G League season (he averaged 17 points, 11 rebounds, and three blocks over his last few weeks with Santa Cruz). While he’s a little on the older end at 25, he still possesses a lot of theoretical upside given how raw he is and how late he found his way to competitive basketball. He’ll need to add a lot of strength and continue to add range to a jump shot he only occasionally unleashed in the G League, but at 6-foot-10 with a 7-foot-4 wingspan and tremendous anticipation as a defender, there’s a lot to like here. He has more perimeter skill and interior scoring touch than he’s maybe gotten credit for, too, and Vegas will be a good opportunity to see how that can translate to the Raptors’ system and with a number of teammates who will fit the uber-energetic style Boucher employs.

Marquis Teague: Almost any time you can bring a former first-round pick into Summer League, you jump at the chance. It wasn’t that long ago that the Bulls picked Teague 29th overall, and even though that was back in 2012, Teague is still just 25. He’s had trouble sticking in the NBA, playing 91 games with three teams including three with Memphis this year, but a full-time return to the G League this year after a season split between Israel, Russia, and Fort Wayne allowed him to show marked improvement. In 47 games with the Memphis Hustle, he averaged 17.6 points and 6.1 assists, most notably hitting 42.7 percent of his 3-point attempts. He’s now hit 37.3 percent on over 400 career G League threes, likely a better barometer of his shooting than a scattered 10-of-45 NBA sample. The question for Teague with the Raptors will be whether he can run the offense capably and get those around him involved effectively, as the Raptors don’t figure to ask him to carry the scoring load himself. A good Summer League could be what Teague needs to get a camp invite, or even a contract, from an NBA team with a need for experienced guard depth that still has some upside.

Jordan Loyd: Loyd was actually in Summer League with the Raptors last year, too, impressing with how he slid into a role fairly seamlessly and produced despite not hitting well from outside. I actually even wrote about him finding that balance between trying to show to land a job and also trying to show he can play a defined role. Rather than return for a second G League season last year, Loyd played for Hapoel Eilat in Israel, where he averaged 17.4 points and hit 39.9 percent on nearly five 3-point attempts per-game. That’s the skill that makes him an intriguing prospect – he hit 34.2 percent in his G League rookie year in 2016-17 – along with strong secondary playmaking skills from the shooting guard position. The fact that the Raptors brought him back points to them being high on him, and with a good showing here, it wouldn’t be a surprise if the Raptors try to get him in the 905 system for further development as a 3-and-D weapon (he was All-Defense as a senior at Indianapolis), should he be open to returning to the G League over playing another year overseas.

Codi Miller-McIntyre: A third point guard for the roster, Miller-McIntyre offers something different from the sharpshooters in Potts and Rowsey. At 6-foot-3 with an impressive dunking resume, Miller-McIntyre is much more scorer than shooter. He never shot better than 32.6 percent on threes over four years at Wake Forest and hasn’t touched that mark in two pro seasons in Belgium and Russia, but the lack of an outside shot hasn’t kept him from being a premiere bucket getter. In 34 games last year, he averaged 16 points on 54.4-percent true-shooting, scoring well from the mid-range, at the rim, and at the free-throw line. Synergy Sports graded him as an 89th-percentile isolation scorer in the Russian league, an impressive mark just about anywhere, and he dished nearly eight assists per-game. The Raptors probably won’t be asking him to score a ton on his own given how many talented wings (and NBA investments) they’re bringing to Vegas, so it’s that playmaking growth Miller-McIntyre would be well-served to show off.

Augusto Lima: The pipeline of Brazilian centers carries on! Lima isn’t quite Bebe, but he’s 6-foot-10 and has had a really solid professional career so far. Canadian basketball fans might also remember him putting up strong performances against Canada in the AmeriCup and Tuto Marchand in recent years. At the pro level, Lima’s rights are technically property of Real Madrid but he’s been loaned out for consecutive seasons, first spending 2016-17 under Sarunas Jasikevicius – Lima is the player who left the team for the birth of his child and who Jasikevicius defended vociferously for doing so – with Zalgiris and winning a Lithuanian title in the process (plus getting valuable EuroLeague experience), then splitting 2017-18 between three teams. He finished the year with UCAM Murcia, with whom he won a Spanish championship in 2015-16, and averaged 8.9 points, 6.8 rebounds, and 0.9 blocks in just 19.6 minutes across time in Lithuania, China, and Spain while shooting 58.2 percent.

ROTATION

It’s silly to try to peg things down like this (in terms of depth and what position a lot of these fluid wing/forwards will play), but here’s how the roster shapes up in rough strokes:

PG: Teague, Potts, Rowsey, Miller-McIntyre
SG: Richardson, Alkins, Loyd
SF: Anunoby, Miller, Edwin
PF: McKinnie, Boucher
C: Thompson, Hlinason, Lima

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Raptors add Chris Boucher to Summer League roster

The Toronto Raptors have added even more intrigue to their roster for Las Vegas Summer League, as Raptors Republic has learned that Chris Boucher will be joining the Raptors for the summer tournament.

Boucher was waived by the Golden State Warriors earlier this month following an abbreviated rookie season on a two-way contract. Undrafted out of Oregon in part because of a torn ACL suffered in March, the Warriors quickly scooped Boucher up as a free agent and brought him in-house to rehabilitate. By January, he was able to get on the floor with the Santa Cruz Warriors of the G League, and late in the year he’d become the record-setting 14th Canadian to play in the NBA in a single season.

During his 20 games with Santa Cruz, Boucher was able to show a lot of what made him an intriguing prospect over his last two years at Oregon despite being far older than most prospects (Boucher is already 25, as he found his way to basketball in Quebec late and did three years across two junior colleges). In 22.2 minutes, Boucher averaged 11.8 points on a reasonable 52.5-percent true-shooting and chipped in 7.5 rebounds and 2.2 blocks. His shooting range is still a major work in progress – he hit one in a recent exhibition game with the Canadian senior men’s national team – as he was just 11-of-50 from outside and shot 61.8 percent at the free-throw line. He also needs to add a ton of weight, as he’s listed at 6-foot-10 with a 7-foot-4 wingspan and just a generous 200 pounds. Even still, he’s incredibly long and athletic, possesses remarkable shot-blocking timing and instincts, and has some nascent perimeter skills on the offensive end.

In hanging around Canada’s training camp this week, multiple teammates mentioned Boucher’s play unprompted, and with several Raptors-adjacent bodies around the national team (Nathaniel Mitchell, Jack Sikma, a pair of Raptors 905 players), word getting out probably didn’t hurt. While it’s the ability to alter and block shots that first stands out about Boucher, a few people I spoke to were surprised at just how far his offensive game has come. That’s important at the national team level, where he’s likely to play center, and downright paramount to his NBA potential, where his lack of size might preclude him from playing the five for significant minutes for a while still. (You could definitely play him as a stretchy, switchy center, and he has solid rebounding instincts, but you’ll be giving up some interior presence outside of help at the rim.)

As far as potential two-way contracts go, Boucher seems like an ideal candidate even at his aged. He has a lot of tools, both physically and skill-wise, and would represent a similar developmental experiment to Kostas Antetokounmpo (who the Raptors worked out) and Bruno Caboclo, just with a tighter timeline and with a more advanced starting point. He’s raw, in other words, but not incredibly so, and it’s not entirely unreasonable to expect he could contribute depth minutes in the frontcourt if he can add size over the summer and stay healthy early in the year. Failing a two-way deal, it’s possible Boucher could be amenable to a camp deal and a term with Raptors 905, though it might take some convincing, as he’s likely to have other offers at the NBA level.

Boucher adds a real element of intrigue (and Canadiana!) to the Summer League roster, which now looks as follows:

PG: Potts, Rowsey, Miller-McIntyre
SG: Richardson, Alkins
SF: Anunoby, Miller, Edwin
PF: McKinnie, Boucher
C: Thompson, Lima

The Raptors will likely release the full Summer League roster later today.

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Canada announces 12-man roster for FIBA qualifiers

Canada Basketball released their final roster for this week’s FIBA qualifiers on Thursday. Head coach Jay Triano and staff had some very tough decisions to make with 17 deserving names at what was said to be a very competitive camp, and they waited pretty close to the 24-hour buzzer before their first game to make their decisions.

The most notable inclusions on the list are R.J. Barrett, the teenage phenom who was maybe the team’s best player across two exhibition games in British Columbia earlier this week, and Andrew Nembhard, who was a standout with the U-18s. They’ll be joined by NBA players Khem Birch, Dillon Brooks, Cory Joseph, Kelly Olynyk, and Dwight Powell as well as Euro standouts Melvin Ejim and Brady Heslip, the Scrubb brothers, and Anthony Bennett.

The five cuts from the camp roster were Raptors 905 players Kaza Keane and Aaron’s best, Olivier Hanlan (dealing with an ankle sprain), Andrew Nicholson, and Chris Boucher. The full roster is as follows:

Name Position Height Hometown Current Club
R.J. Barrett Guard 6’7″ Mississauga, ON Montverde Academy (Florida)
Anthony Bennett Forward 6’8″ Toronto, ON Maine Red Claws (G-League)
Khem Birch Centre 6’9″ Montreal, QC Orlando Magic
Dillon Brooks Forward 6’7″ Mississauga, ON Memphis Grizzlies
Melvin Ejim Forward 6’6″ Toronto, ON BC UNICS (Russia)
Brady Heslip Guard 6’2″ Burlington, ON Trabzonspor (Turkey)
Cory Joseph Guard 6’3″ Toronto, ON Indiana Pacers
Andrew Nembhard Guard 6’4″ Aurora, ON Montverde Academy (Florida)
Kelly Olynyk Centre 7’0″ Kamloops, BC Miami Heat
Dwight Powell Forward 6’9″ Toronto, ON Dallas Mavericks
Phil Scrubb Guard 6’3″ Richmond, BC Fraport Skyliners (Germany)
Tommy Scrubb Forward 6’6″ Richmond, BC S.S. Felice Scandone (Italy)

There is a ton to like here. Canada is maybe a little thin on the wings, but they’re loaded with international experience, have a very deep frontcourt, and have one of the best guard corps they could have hoped for in this window. This isn’t a best-case scenario roster looking ahead to a potential 2019 World Cup berth. It is, however, a near best-case for a June/July qualifying window and one of Canada’s deepest rosters ever and their best since at least the 2015 AmeriCup (you can fairly easily argue this one is better). (As an aside, both Jamal Murray and Tristan Thompson are considered possibilities to join the team for September qualifiers, when Barrett and Nembhard would seem unlikely to be available.)

These 12 players will host the Dominican Republic at Ricoh Colisseum in Toronto on Friday and then host the U.S. Virgin Islands in Ottawa on Monday.

Both games are part of the first round of qualifying for the 2019 FIBA World Cup. Canada is 3-1 in the opening qualification round so far and has punched a ticket through to the next stage (which begins in September), but they’ll want to avenge their lone loss in Group D so far, a disappointing defeat at the hands of Dominican Republic. Canada will likely be looking to hang a victory of 12 or more points on D.R. so that they can take over top spot in their pool. Records carry over into the second stage, and these are the programs first home games in a long time, so they’re understandably hungry to make a statement in each. (Bahamas is the other team in Canada’s group; Canada has already beaten them twice.)

The top three teams in each group of four advance to the next round, where three of the top six in each pool (plus a seventh team) will advance to the 2019 World Cup.

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Raptors to host preseason games in Vancouver and Montreal

Canada is once again hosting NBA preseason action outside of Toronto.

The Toronto Raptors will host a pair of preseason games outside of the city this year, visiting Vancouver and Montreal. Details are as follows:

  • Sept. 27, Rogers Arena, Vancouver – vs. Portland Trail Blazers
  • Oct. 10, Bell Centre, Montreal – vs. Brooklyn Nets

Tickets for both will go on sale on July 14.

“One of the many great things about being Canada’s team is that we get a chance to bring the game we love to different parts of the country, and to connect with our fans, whose support is so important to us throughout the season.  It’s also an opportunity for us to enjoy these spectacular cities – we’re really looking forward to our time in Vancouver and Montreal,” Raptors president Masai Ujiri said in a release.

This continues the NBA Canada Series that began back in 2012 and has seen 11 preseason games to date played in five different Canadian cities other than Toronto. Vancouver will be hosting a preseason game for a fourth time as part of the series, Montreal for the fifth. This marks the first games since 2016, as the Raptors played the entirety of their preseason schedule in the U.S. and Toronto a year ago. (Prior to 2012, the NBA played a number of other exhibition games in Canada, they just came outside of the NBA Canada Series banner.)

The Raptors will also host Melbourne United of Australia’s NBL on Oct. 5. A full training camp and preseason schedule (with locations) is expected by early September, but this gives us a pretty good idea that the Raptors will once again be hosting training camp out west and beginning their exhibition schedule there. The game in Montreal could be the team’s final or penultimate preseason game (last year’s finale was Oct. 13).

It’s always really great when the Raptors can spread the brand and the game around the country. I know there are a number of cities (hi, St. John’s!) that would love to get a game in the future, too, and so it’s good to see the Raptors remain committed to the NBA Canada cause, even just in other major cities for this year.

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DeRozan ranks 14th in jersey sales, Raptors 8th as team

DeMar DeRozan’s career-year had an impact on more than just the Toronto Raptors’ on-court performance. On the tail of an All-NBA Second Team performance, DeRozan debuted on the NBA’s top jersey sales list for the period from April to June, ranking 14th. The full list is as follows:

  1. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors                
  2. LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers                    
  3. Kyrie Irving, Boston Celtics                                
  4. Kevin Durant, Golden State Warriors                  
  5. Ben Simmons, Philadelphia 76ers                       
  6. James Harden, Houston Rockets                         
  7. Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics                             
  8. Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers                          
  9. Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder      
  10. Klay Thompson, Golden State Warriors              
  11. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
  12. Chris Paul, Houston Rockets
  13. Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors
  14. DeMar DeRozan, Toronto Raptors         
  15. Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans

The Raptors also ranked eighth in merchandise sales as a team

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Player Review 2017-18: Malcolm Miller

You can keep up with all of our player reviews here.

Photo credit: Trung Ho / TrungHo.ca

Lost in all the excitement of the Utah Jazz’s mid-season 180 from mediocrity to quasi-contender was the emergence of undrafted swingman Royce O’Neale. Due to Thabo Sefolosha and Rodney Hood (as always) going down to injuries, O’Neale was thrust into the rotation by necessity, but by January his naturally complementary style had proven itself as much a part of the Jazz’s winning formula as anyone not named Donovan Mitchell or Rudy Gobert.

Rival executives were frustrated, to say the least. They themselves had rounded out their rosters with established names (on way bigger deals) who couldn’t fill the complementary “3-and-D” wing role as well as O’Neale. The 3-and-D wing had become arguably the hottest commodity in the league, save for superstars, and the Jazz managed to find a legit ready-made contributor at 6-foot-6 with a 6-foot-10 wingspan for a bargain just because he only averaged 8 ppg in Europe the year prior? It stumped them. Why couldn’t they find someone like this in the draft? Why is it so difficult to develop a player like this? Where do you find these guys?

Enter Toronto Raptors two-way player Malcolm Miller, 6-foot-7 with a 7-foot wingspan and career 39% mark from three.

Theoretically, playing a 3-and-D style should be child’s play for most established NBA wings. All you have to do is take open shots and defend your butt off all game. Nothing more, nothing less. Unfortunately, all too many players try and fail for the same reason: the mental aspect.

Being a 3-and-D player is about playing within yourself. That shouldn’t be so hard. However, the biggest challenge met in trying to play this style is knowing what is “within yourself.” Nearly all the young prospects that teams try to mold into this archetype have been the best players on their team their entire life—and they damn well know it. It isn’t easy for a player who has spent years building up an ironclad ego to justify their high usage playing style to, all of a sudden, take a step back and accept that all the flash in their game – all the fun stuff – needs to go.

The best analogy I’ve heard for this whittling down of skill set is that of a pencil-case. Each skill a player has is its own coloured pencil, and to keep each one sharp they need to work that skill daily. Their step back, spin move, and hesitation pull-up are all bright and flashy coloured pencils, say purple, blue, and red. Conversely, their catch and shoot three, awareness to make the extra pass, and defensive fundamentals – the things that make a 3-and D player – are all relatively dull colours, say white, grey, and black. To become a capable 3-and-D player, like O’Neale, a player must keep the dull ones sharp – dangerously sharp at that – and let all the others become blunt. Not entirely blunt, as any player needs to pull out their do-it-yourself kit from time to time, but far blunter than any prideful gym-rat’s conscience would allow. That’s taxing mentally. Many try and fail, but far more don’t try at all; they love their purple, blue, and red pencils too much.

That is why it is easier for a player like Miller, who was barely top 500 (!!) in the nation his senior year, to adjust his skill set than it is for a former first-round pick. It is easier to build a player up to that secondary role than it is to sculpt their game down to it. And regardless of who you are, it takes time. Both Miller and O’Neale had to spend two years overseas or in the G-League forgetting how to care about getting the shine before finally earning a shot in the league.

After going undrafted in 2015, Miller spent his first professional season with the Boston Celtics’ G-League team, the Maine Red Claws, and was arguably a more complete player offensively in that one season than he was this past year with the 905. Per Synergy Sports efficiency data, Miller was more efficient in pick-and-roll, isolation, and posting up with the Red Claws. However, teams are far more interested in Miller now than they were two years ago. Why? Because they don’t need him to be good at that stuff. They’ve already got their stars for that.

In those two years, Miller improved offensively in only one area, the area the NBA wanted him too: His spot up efficiency. He jumped from being in the 63rd percentile up to the mid 70’s. Although that doesn’t seem like much, it is essentially the difference between an average shooter and one that can contribute in the league. That isn’t surprising when you look at Miller’s shot now compared to two years ago. It’s smoother, he gets it off faster, his release is higher, and he moves better without the ball. Miller’s jump shot had been a work in progress since his freshman year at Holy Cross where he only hoisted 20 total threes the entire season, so two years of high-level reps can make all the difference.

This progression as a complementary player continued when he was given some run with the 905’s parent club this past year after OG Anunoby went down with an injury. Miller wasn’t flashy, he didn’t put up big numbers or have any highlight plays, he did what he was asked: Play his role. He took open threes, beat closeouts for layups, and defended like his NBA life depended on it (which it did). Nothing more, nothing less.

Although it wasn’t exciting to watch, Miller was effective with the Raptors as he finished in the 89th percentile for offensive efficiency and the 97th percentile for defensive efficiency for those 12 games (per Synergy Sports). The highlight of his tenure came against Indiana, when Casey entrusted him as the primary defender on All-NBA guard Victor Oladipo. It was clear that Miller’s combination of length and quickness bothered Oladipo, as he finished a meager 4-of-11, with plenty of uncharacteristic bad misses and reckless turnovers. Performances such as this one are the reason fans were so surprised (and disappointed) when the front office elected to leave him off the postseason roster in favour of Lorenzo Brown. Although he likely wouldn’t have made a huge difference, his unique defensive skill set may have made him an intriguing LeBron-defending placeholder when Anunoby left the court.

Although a game like Miller’s looks passive at times, that is expected as a 3-and-D player. In talking about the epitome of their kind, Trevor Ariza, Zach Lowe described him as vital to the Rockets success, and yet, “easy to miss.” The style itself is built upon passivity. The ball never sticks with them. They provide enough spacing for the stars to do their thing, and they can hold their own when switched onto virtually anyone on the court. They’re the cog that allows the machine to run.

When I spoke to Miller’s former teammate in Alba Berlin (and Team Canada legend) Carl English about Miller, English said he believed Miller can be a “great defensive player” in the league due to his desirable combination of length and basketball IQ. Additionally, he pointed to Miller’s “wonderful work ethic” as the reason for his growth over the last two years, and suggested he would be a great addition to any organization this offseason. That’s high praise from someone who knows firsthand how difficult it is to break into the league.

If you watched the draft past the lottery on Thursday you saw plenty of teams go fishing for a young 3-and-D prospect that could contribute right away on a cost-controlled deal. If Miller has an impressive summer league, don’t be surprised if another team realizes what they’ve been looking for has been under their nose this whole time and steals him away.

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Raptors tender VanVleet, Miller, De Colo qualifying offers; Nogueira to become UFA

It’s finally here: My favorite annual post.

The Toronto Raptors announced Wednesday that they have tendered Fred VanVleet, Malcolm Miller, and Nando De Colo qualifying offers. All three are set for restricted free agency,

This was entirely expected, as the qualifying offer amounts for each is tiny. As I explained in the cap primer earlier today:

This is the first time the Raptors have had a marquee restricted free agent in some time, with Fred VanVleet’s status being the team’s biggest offseason focus. To keep his rights in restricted free agency, the Raptors will have to tender him a $1.7-million qualifying offer. VanVleet is free to sign that one-year deal, but with a free agent of his stature, it’s mostly a book-keeping note that will give the Raptors the option to match any offer sheet VanVleet signs elsewhere. I did a deep explainer on VanVleet’s restricted free agency here, but to summarize briefly: The Raptors can use their Early Bird rights to offer him up to 105 percent of the league-average salary on a four-year deal, which would pay him up to $36.9 million over four years. He can sign for more elsewhere (four years and an estimated $74.4 million) but is subject to the Gilbert Arenas provision that would back-load the deal and give the Raptors the opportunity to swallow hard and match. This is going to be really interesting, especially with the Raptors already into the tax and any VanVleet deal carrying luxury tax payments with it (unless they can unload a salary).

Malcolm Miller’s qualifying offer is simply a two-way contract with $50,000 guaranteed, and it’s somewhat of a no-brainer to tender it to him since he won’t sign it and it will give the Raptors the option to match any offer sheet he signs elsewhere. With Miller probably only looking for a guaranteed minimum deal, it’s possible Miller winds up back in Toronto as versatile wing depth.

And yes, that Nando De Colo. The Raptors still own his rights in restricted free agency (and his Early Bird rights), even though he’s playing on a multi-year deal with CSKA Moscow (it reportedly has one year left with no NBA out). If the Raptors want to retain his RFA rights, they’ll need to issue him a $1.83-million qualifying offer by June 30, one that will stay on the books all summer (note that I used his cap hold amount rather than his $1.83-million qualifying offer) unless the Raptors rescind his rights. This is mostly just a bookkeeping note – De Colo isn’t coming over, but if their offseason maneuvering allows, the Raptors may be able to maintain his rights and keep him on the books through the summer. In an offseason in which they don’t figure to have cap space, anyway, there’s little cost to issuing him a qualifying offer to retain his rights.

Lucas Nogueira, however, did not receive a qualifying offer, and as such he’ll be an unrestricted free agent on July 1. This was something I expected, as I wrote in the primer:

The question is much tougher with Lucas Nogueira, who carries a $4.1-million qualifying offer that he’d very likely sign. With the Raptors in a tough tax spot and employing two other centers (three if you want to include Serge Ibaka), it seems likely that they’ll non-tender Nogueira, making him an unrestricted free agent. If they do, they’ll still hold Nogueira’s Bird rights and will be able to exceed the cap to re-sign him, they just won’t have the right to match any offer he signs elsewhere. It would be great to have Nogueira back on the cheap, but risking a $4.1-million salary for a third center, plus the tax penalties that would come with adding such a deal, is a luxury the team can’t afford, especially with how inexpensive the back end of the center market usually is in free agency.

By declining to tender Nogueira an offer, the Raptors have lost the right to match any offer sheet that Nogueira signs. They’ll still hold his Bird rights and can exceed the salary cap to re-sign him, but he’s free to sign elsewhere without the Raptors having right of first refusal. While that’s a tough pill to swallow for a very useful center, Nogueira’s qualifying offer was $4.1 million, and there was simply far too much risk that Nogueira would sign it and be on the books for that amount. Given the tough luxury tax situation the Raptors are in this summer, a third-string center at $4.1 million – even if that’s a reasonable value for what Nogueira brings – was too great a luxury to be able to risk.

Nogueira’s market probably won’t yield $4 million annually – depending on how things go, he may end up in the minimum contract pile, which would be a ludicrous value for his upside – and he would have been smart to sign the qualifying offer, collect the one-year (potentially) above-market salary, and re-enter the market as an unrestricted free agent next summer. As it stands, he’ll do so this summer, likely hoping for a multi-year guarantee and a promise of rotation minutes somewhere.

The Raptors can technically still tender Nogueira an offer until Friday, but it seems unlikely at this point.

I wrote more about these qualifying offer decisions a while back, if you need more background.

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Raptors Free Agency Primer: Cap sheet, assets, exceptions, and more

It’s time. While everyone else is getting ready for their Canada Day (or July 4) long weekend, the basketball world will be at the starting line of the 2018-19 season, champing at the bit to strike first in free agency while navigating a very tight summer cap environment league-wide. Free agency begins at the stroke of midnight late Saturday/early Sunday, and with it we venture further into the New TV Money Era, where a lucrative national rights deal has pushed the NBA’s salary cap from $70 million in 2015-16 to an estimated $101 million this coming season.

This year marks a major leveling off, and the Toronto Raptors are hardly the only team that will be feeling the crunch of that cap plateau after a few summers of willful spending. To wit, last year’s salary cap was originally estimated at $103 million and came in at $99 million, and this year’s latest estimates have it falling between $101 million and $102 million. That stagnation keeps the luxury tax and luxury tax apron figures similarly depressed, which is a big deal considering most contracts rise steadily over the life of the deal – while DeMar DeRozan, for example, has a nice smoothed salary structure, both Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka signed deals with nearly eight-percent annual increases, meaning they’ll take up a larger chunk of the cap as the cap rises by just 2-3 percent.

With big money committed to those three, Jonas Valanciunas, and now Norman Powell (whose extension kicks in July 1), president Masai Ujiri and general manager Bobby Webster enter a second consecutive offseason where unloading a salary will be a necessary part of the plans. This also comes while they aim to keep restricted free agent Fred VanVleet on what should be a sizable deal, meaning they’ll once again be trying to fill out the back of the roster with inexpensive pieces, a tougher task this year since they didn’t have a draft pick. There are means of clearing cap space, and the Raptors at least have the proper rights and exceptions to afford them some flexibility they haven’t always had in prior years. The Raptors are also in a unique position this year of being an almost certain luxury tax team for the first time since 2004, and where last year moves were aimed at ducking the tax, this year’s moves will probably focus more on lessening the overall tax bill instead (unless they’re really going to strip things down or deal a star, which are possible outcomes).

All of this will require some careful salary gap gymnastics. Luckily, the Raptors’ front office is well-staffed to execute such machinations, with Webster being a former league cap adviser, Ujiri possessing a strong track record of landing bargain fliers (albeit overpaying established pieces), and a strong player development staff making sure the inexpensive back end is ready to contribute where the offseason agenda may leave a hole. Still, it won’t be easy, and something on the roster will surely have to give.

What follows is an explanation of the contract situations and cap rules that the Raptors face right now. This is the fifth year in a row I’ve done this post in the hopes of helping readers understand why certain moves can or can not happen, and how they may come to pass. The league has a new collective bargaining agreement as of last year, so this year should be a little easier to navigate since it’s not Year One of a new document. Some of it will be in less detail than is necessary for a thorough understanding and some of it will be in more detail than is necessary for a cursory understanding (apologies if I haven’t correctly navigated that middle-ground) – if you have any questions, tweet them to me @BlakeMurphyODC or email them to me at [email protected], and I’ll do a follow-up post explaining certain rules or scenarios.

Note 1: All of the exact exception amounts and a lot of the assumptions within are based on the projected percentage increase in the salary cap. We won’t know the real numbers until free agency actually begins and the league sets the official cap for 2018-19. Right now, we’re working on an assumption of $101-102 million for the cap and $123 million for the tax.

Note 2: All salary data and cap info comes courtesy of Basketball InsidersCBAFAQ.com, or my own calculations based on the CBA document. (Yes, I read the entire thing last summer because we didn’t have CBAFAQ yet. I don’t recommend it.) Also, a thanks as always to Daniel Hackett, who I have probably clarified some of this stuff with at some point as we figured out the new climate last year and the finer details this year.

Contracts, holds, and explanations

Contracts
The Raptors have the following contracts on their books for 2018-19:

That is…a lot of salary already committed. It’s $125.7 million, to be exact, which is already above the $123-million projected luxury tax line. Even before filling out the roster – teams must have 14 players when the season starts, and there’s an artificial “incomplete roster charge” that goes against the cap to get a team to 12 players (to prevent teams from circumventing the cap by stripping the roster entirely) – the Raptors are into the tax, and they’re obviously missing one pretty important name from that cap sheet in Fred VanVleet.

A small note here: I increased the salary amounts for Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan slightly over the amounts you’ll find elsewhere publicly. This is because Lowry – and maybe DeRozan, depending on which initial reporting of his contract you go with 0 have unlikely incentives built into their deals, which I explained in greater detail last summer. Essentially, unlikely bonuses only matter in the tax and tax apron calculations, not actual salary cap number calculations. However, because Lowry achieved one of his unlikely bonuses – making the All-Star team while playing in at least 65 games – that will now be classified as a “likely” bonus and count toward the team’s cap number. (That was worth $200,000 last year; I’ve escalated it slightly here in line with the increase in Lowry’s total incentive amount, to $215,000, but that was actually incorrect and it will remain at $200,000 for next year.) I’ve also assumed here that the small unlikely bonus for DeRozan has been achieved, given he started in the All-Star Game and made All-NBA Second Team, though it’s possible that his unlikely benchmark is something loftier (MVP, First Team, etc). I will not be assuming DeRozan’s unlikely bonuses outside of this exercise, at least until I can confirm their existence beyond loose reporting.

These are small assumptions that don’t matter a ton at this point and that we should have clarity on when the part of the offseason rolls around where we’re projecting a tax figure.

Unrestricted Free Agents
The Raptors have the following unrestricted free agents, with their cap holds and rights types highlighted:

Yes, that’s Jason Thompson still kicking around from 2015-16. It’s pretty meaningless given that it seems like his NBA career is over, and the Raptors could simply renounce his rights if they needed the cap space that the cap hold is taking up. Book-keeping wise, it remains simply because there’s no impetus to renounce those holds until you need to, and the Raptors will be operating as an above-cap team again this offseason.

Clearly, the Raptors don’t have a lot of salary coming off of the books. Lorenzo Brown is their only unrestricted free agent (for the time being), an agency afforded him because the Raptors converted his two-way contract to an NBA deal at the tail end of last season (otherwise he would have been restricted coming off of his two-way deal). Like with Thompson, there’s little reason to remove Brown from the books even if he wasn’t in the plans, though they have no recourse to retain him if he signs elsewhere looking for a guarantee.

(Until the rights to those players are renounced, the players have cap holds noted in italics, which count for the purposes of the salary cap to prevent teams from signing a bunch of free agents with cap space and then signing their own guys. In many cases, ordering signings in that way can still be beneficial, but for the Raptors, it will be largely irrelevant this year. The cap hold is removed if the Raptors renounce the rights or the player signs a new contract, in Toronto or elsewhere.)

The usefulness of lower cap holds isn’t much in play for Toronto here, and in this case the Raptors don’t hold Bird rights or even Early Bird rights on Brown. Full Bird rights allow a team to exceed the salary cap to re-sign their own player up to the maximum contract, while Early Bird rights allow a team to exceed the cap to re-sign their own player for up to 175 percent of his previous salary or 105 percent of the league-average salary the year prior, whichever is larger. More on Early Bird rights shortly. Non-Bird rights, like the Raptors have on Brown, aren’t particularly helpful – the Raptors could exceed the cap to re-sign Brown for up to 120 percent of the minimum salary, but Brown doesn’t figure to command more than the minimum if he’s retained, anyway.

Restricted Free Agents
The Raptors have the following restricted free agents, with their cap holds highlighted:

This is the first time the Raptors have had a marquee restricted free agent in some time, with Fred VanVleet’s status being the team’s biggest offseason focus. To keep his rights in restricted free agency, the Raptors will have to tender him a $1.7-million qualifying offer. VanVleet is free to sign that one-year deal, but with a free agent of his stature, it’s mostly a book-keeping note that will give the Raptors the option to match any offer sheet VanVleet signs elsewhere. I did a deep explainer on VanVleet’s restricted free agency here, but to summarize briefly: The Raptors can use their Early Bird rights to offer him up to 105 percent of the league-average salary on a four-year deal, which would pay him up to $36.9 million over four years. He can sign for more elsewhere (four years and an estimated $74.4 million) but is subject to the Gilbert Arenas provision that would back-load the deal and give the Raptors the opportunity to swallow hard and match. This is going to be really interesting, especially with the Raptors already into the tax and any VanVleet deal carrying luxury tax payments with it (unless they can unload a salary).

The question is much tougher with Lucas Nogueira, who carries a $4.1-million qualifying offer that he’d very likely sign. With the Raptors in a tough tax spot and employing two other centers (three if you want to include Serge Ibaka), it seems likely that they’ll non-tender Nogueira, making him an unrestricted free agent. If they do, they’ll still hold Nogueira’s Bird rights and will be able to exceed the cap to re-sign him, they just won’t have the right to match any offer he signs elsewhere. It would be great to have Nogueira back on the cheap, but risking a $4.1-million salary for a third center, plus the tax penalties that would come with adding such a deal, is a luxury the team can’t afford, especially with how inexpensive the back end of the center market usually is in free agency.

Malcolm Miller’s qualifying offer is simply a two-way contract with $50,000 guaranteed, and it’s somewhat of a no-brainer to tender it to him since he won’t sign it and it will give the Raptors the option to match any offer sheet he signs elsewhere. With Miller probably only looking for a guaranteed minimum deal, it’s possible Miller winds up back in Toronto as versatile wing depth.

And yes, that Nando De Colo. The Raptors still own his rights in restricted free agency (and his Early Bird rights), even though he’s playing on a multi-year deal with CSKA Moscow (it reportedly has one year left with no NBA out). If the Raptors want to retain his RFA rights, they’ll need to issue him a $1.83-million qualifying offer by June 30, one that will stay on the books all summer (note that I used his cap hold amount rather than his $1.83-million qualifying offer) unless the Raptors rescind his rights. This is mostly just a bookkeeping note – De Colo isn’t coming over, but if their offseason maneuvering allows, the Raptors may be able to maintain his rights and keep him on the books through the summer. In an offseason in which they don’t figure to have cap space, anyway, there’s little cost to issuing him a qualifying offer to retain his rights.

I wrote in greater detail about these qualifying offer decisions a few weeks back.

Non-guaranteed Deals
The Raptors have the following non-guaranteed deals:

Alfonzo McKinnie’s minimum contract becomes fully guaranteed for the year on July 20 and is fully non-guaranteed before then. Essentially, this works as a team option they have to decide on by the time Summer League rounds out, and McKinnie will be looking to show he’s worthy of sacrificing that modicum of flexibility in Las Vegas. He’s a nice piece, with versatile defense and a ton of open-court speed, so with the Raptors looking to fill out the bench on the cheap, he makes a fair amount of sense. The team could, however, decide that keeping that roster spot open for other targets is more valuable than keeping McKinnie in the fold.

One note to make in the new CBA is that players on non-guaranteed contracts now count for only their guaranteed amount in the outbound salary part of trades, not the full non-guaranteed amount. This doesn’t matter much for low-salaried players like McKinnie who wouldn’t bring much salary back, anyway, but it could come up if, the Raptors wind up signing someone with a significant non-guaranteed year at the tail end of the contract.

Rawle Alkins has been signed to an Exhibit 10 deal (a one-year, non-guaranteed minimum deal with an option to convert to a two-way contract and up to $50,000 in bonus if he is cut and spends enough time with Raptors 905), but Exhibit 10 bonuses do not count for the purposes of the team salary calculation. Two-way contracts, if and when the Raptors give them out, also don’t count in the team salary calculation.

Justin Hamilton
The Raptors acquired Justin Hamilton in last summer’s DeMarre Carroll trade and used the stretch provision to spread his $3-million cap hit out over three seasons. He will therefore count as $1 million against the cap and tax this year as dead money.

Off the Books
K.J. McDaniels and Nigel Hayes were both on the books at one point last year, McDaniels for a $100,000 guarantee and Hayes for a pair of 10-day contracts. Both players are off the books, as they were waived during the season. The Raptors hold no rights to either player.

Draft picks
The Raptors did not have a first-round draft pick, so there is no cap hold on their books for a first-round pick. If they had, the cap hold for first-round draft picks would be equal to 120 percent of the rookie scale amount for that draft slot. (This is because in almost all cases, first-round picks sign for 120 percent of scale.) Any future picks are unlikely to be any different, but if they signed for less, his cap number would decrease accordingly. Once a first-round pick signs his deal, he can’t be traded for 30 days.

Second-round picks don’t come with a cap hold and aren’t beholden to the rookie scale, but the Raptors don’t have one of those to worry about here, either.

Two-way contracts
With Lorenzo Brown having been converted to an NBA deal and Malcolm Miller set for restricted free agency, the Raptors will have both of their two-way roster spots open (technically, they’ll have to renounce their rights to Miller or wait until he signs an NBA deal somewhere to use the second slot). On one of these deals, a player will receive a higher  GLeague salary for their time spent in the  GLeague and a prorated amount of the NBA minimum while in the NBA. Time in the NBA is capped at 45 days during the regular season, plus any time before the start of  GLeague training camp and after the conclusion of the G League regular season. These players are not eligible for the NBA playoff roster, though the team will hold the option to convert the two-way contract to a regular NBA contract at the minimum (for that player’s service time) at any point. Last year, both Brown and Miller saw ample NBA time and earned something close to their two-way maximum salaries (an estimated $370,000 for last season).

The big picture

Here’s how the Raptors’ cap sheet looks at present:

As constructed, this is not particularly useful. It shows the Raptors’ total salary and expenditures with all of the players still on the roster, as well as all five NBA cap holds. Not only is that 17 players, it’s a completely useless approach to take for planning purposes, as we can make some broad assumptions to narrow our focus here. The reason I start there, though, is twofold: First, because it lays out the entire “official” cap sheet, which I feel is an important step. Second, because it illustrates just how quickly the luxury tax can ratchet up the team’s total salary expenditure.

A note on the luxury tax
I couldn’t decide if the luxury tax calculation was worth including in this post or not. The tax is charged on an escalating marginal basis, such that the first $4,999,999 is taxed at $1.50 per dollar, and the tax increases for each subsequent $5-million block. (In this example, the Raptors would be paying $3.25 in luxury tax per-dollar on the last $4.4 million in salary, as this snapshot has them into the fourth of five tax tiers.) It’s basically an escalating penalty the further over the tax you go, to where trimming, say, $9.6 million could wind up saving the team significantly more depending on which tax block they sit in at the time. We’ll go into some of these scenarios in the coming weeks as we update the cap sheet. A note: The luxury tax owed is calculated based on the roster for Game 82, so the Raptors could conceivably enter the season well into the tax and get under it later in the year. As for the “repeater tax” that introduces harsher penalties as teams stay in the tax too long, the Raptors don’t have to be incredibly concerned – they ducked the tax in 2017-18, and even though they project to be a tax team again in 2019-20, their 2020-21 and 2021-22 cap sheets are pretty clean, to where it seems unlikely they’ll be in the tax three of the next four years plus an additional year after that for the penalties to take hold in.

Back to the big picture
Again, the cap sheet above isn’t all that helpful for offseason planning, because, well, there’s no way they’re going to rival the largest payroll of all time. We can pretty safely remove Nando De Colo and Jason Thompson from our accounting here for simplicity, as De Colo will eventually let his qualifying offer expire and Thompson is irrelevant to the team’s situation – there is no chance the Raptors aren’t operating as a cap team (they would have to shed over $27 million and renounce all their holds just to get below the cap, and another chunk further for that to be useful space). Here’s what the cap sheet looks like in a more relevant sense:

They’re still way over the cap. From here, we’re going to focus on the luxury tax number, since we’ve shown the actual cap number won’t matter much to the Raptors. They are operating as an above-cap team this summer.

For illustrative purposes, this is what the cap sheet would look like if they renounced the rights to all of their free agents including Fred VanVleet, and let Alfonzo McKinnie’s deal guarantee. They could cut McKinnie in this scenario, but even a rookie minimum is charged to the tax at the rate of a second-year veteran minimum, so there would be no gain for tax purposes, as you see with the additional two minimum contracts to bring the roster to 14. (Also note that I bumped McKinnie’s number to the two-year minimum since we’re now focusing on the tax number rather than the cap number; that’s a small change designed by the league to prevent teams from favoring rookie minimum players over veteran minimum players, so every minimum counts the same for tax purposes and the league foots the difference for veterans.)

This is a pretty reasonable outcome, were the Raptors willing to let VanVleet walk. They spend nearly $8 million on tax, have a clear 10-man rotation with Norman Powell sliding in for VanVleet, have four inexpensive players fill out the third string (perhaps those two are Malcolm Miller and Lorenzo Brown for continuity’s sake, or Rawle Alkins makes the team), and then maybe leverage their two-way slots again to create a de facto 15th man between them like they did last year. It wouldn’t be the worst outcome, though it sure would be anti-climactic, and the Raptors would probably still be working to unload a salary throughout the offseason to get that remaining $5.2 million under the tax.

At the same time, it seems quite unlikely they’re willing to let VanVleet walk. If we assume VanVleet commands the full four years and $36.9 million the Raptors can offer him out of the gate, suddenly the tax situation looks quite dire again:

Adding $8.24 million for VanVleet’s first year salary has resulted in a $22-million jump in total spending because all of that money is coming in the second and third tier of the luxury tax penalty, given the Raptors’ other commitments. This is why it seems likely the Raptors will try to unload someone in order to make retaining VanVleet more palatable. As one more example – we could go into every different scenario with Serge Ibaka, Jonas Valanciunas, or whomever being traded instead – here’s what it would look like if the Raptors can find a home for Powell and then re-sign VanVleet.

Unloading Powell saved $25 million in this example.

The luxury tax apron
You’ll notice that in all of these graphics there is an “apron” cell, which refers to the NBA’s luxury tax apron. The luxury tax apron sits $6 million above the luxury tax line and acts as a hard cap in certain scenarios. Teams can exceed it, but doing so takes some options off of the table. You can not, for example, acquire a player in a sign-and-trade or use the full mid-level exception. Doing either of those things “triggers” the hard cap, as the Raptors did last summer, meaning under no circumstances during the year could they ever exceed that apron amount.

Complicating matters is that for the purposes of calculating the luxury tax apron, all unlikely bonuses count (the league has to assume every penny will be realized, otherwise teams could not-so-accidentally end up above the apron after bonuses are realized). For Toronto’s accounting, this means Lowry’s unlikely bonuses count, pushing his salary amount to $33,333,334 instead of the $31,215,000 we’ve assumed throughout this exercise. The Raptors don’t have to count those bonuses toward their internal luxury tax projections, but it matters if they wind up in a scenario where they trigger the hard cap or for a few other reasons.

Passing the $129-million marker in salary does the following:

  • You can’t acquire a player in a sign-and-trade
  • You can’t use the Bi-Annual Exception
  • You can only use the smaller, Taxpayer Mid-Level Exception
  • You lose some of the protection of the Gilbert Arenas Provision

The first three notes aren’t huge deals, as the Raptors probably aren’t in the market to acquire major salary, anyway. Losing the ability to acquire via sign-and-trade limits flexibility, sure, but the smaller mid-level isn’t all that big a deal if they’re that far into the tax since they won’t want to spend that much and the bi-annual exception will probably be pocketed in favor of minimum-salaried players filling out the roster. The fourth note sounds big given VanVleet’s status as an Arenas Provision controlled player, but luckily the Raptors hold his Early Bird rights and could use those, rather than their full mid-level exception, to match an offer sheet.

The Raptors would probably like to stay below the estimated $129-million apron for flexibility’s sake, and they may use that as a soft internal cap of sorts as they navigate the offseason. I would like to dive into this more, but this article is already exceptionally long and it’s probably worth saving some of the apron implications for scenario analysis once the offseason begins playing out.

Exceptions

There are sometimes scenarios in which it makes sense for a team to stay above the cap, not that the Raptors have a choice here. By doing so, teams open themselves up to the non-taxpayer or taxpayer mid-level exception and potentially the bi-annual exception if they’re below the tax apron. Here’s a quick look at the salary cap exceptions available to the Raptors.

Note: All of the exact exception amounts are based on the projected percentage increase in the salary cap. We won’t know the real numbers until the weekend.

Get under cap
If the Raptors go under the cap by renouncing multiple free agents and trading away a ton of salary, they’ll have the following:

Cap space: Depends on how many free agents they lose/renounce, but this is woefully unrealistic
Room mid-level exception: $4,436,200 (one- or two-year deals with a 5-percent raise; can be split between players)

Stay above cap, below tax apron
If the Raptors stay over the cap as outlined but below the tax apron (after using the exception in question), they’ll have the following:

Cap space: $0
Non-taxpayer mid-level exception: $8,616,150 (up to a four-year deal, with raises of 5 percent of the first-year salary; can be split between players)
Bi-annual exception: $3,372,250 (one- or two-year deals with a 5-percent raise; can’t be used two years in a row; can be split between players)

As a side-note, if a team uses the Bi-Annual Exception, the apron becomes a hard cap the team can’t cross for the rest of the season. You can only use the Bi-Annual Exception once every two years. If they use more than $5,192,000 of the non-taxpayer mid-level exception, the apron becomes a hard cap.

Stay above cap, reach tax apron (this is likely how the Raptors will operate)
If the Raptors stay over the cap as outlined and an exception would push them above the tax apron, they’ll have the following:

Cap space: $0
Taxpayer mid-level exception: $5,321,800 (up to a three-year deal, with raises of 5 percent of the first-year salary; can be split between players)

The Raptors would also have the minimum player salary exception, which allows you to exceed the cap to sign players on veteran minimum deals, in any of these cases.

Trade Exceptions
The Raptors have the following trade exceptions:

  • DeMarre Carroll, expires July 13, $11,800,000
  • Cory Joseph, expires July 14, $6,125,440
  • Bruno Caboclo, expires Feb. 8, $2,451,225

Trade exceptions allow a team to take back salary without sending any out in return, for up to the amount of the exception plus $100,000. They can not be combined together or combined with players to add extra salary; they’re stand-alone tools. The Raptors aren’t in a position to take on much salary, but these could still be helpful for structuring trades so they’re effectively multi-part deals.

Trade Rules

One small note with the Raptors figuring to be a tax team, or at least operate as one early in the offseason, is that teams above the luxury tax operate under different trade rules. Luckily for us, they’re simplified: A tax team can only take on up to 125 percent of their outgoing salary in a trade, plus $100,000. This is less flexibility than non-tax teams have.

Assets

Picks
The Raptors own all of their own future first-round picks and all of their own second-round picks from 2019 onward. Teams can trade picks up to seven years in advance but can’t trade first-round picks in consecutive future seasons (this strictly applies to picks in the future tense, so even though the Raptors traded their 2018 pick, that’s in the past now, and so they’re eligible to trade their 2019 pick).

Draft Rights
The Raptors own the draft rights to DeeAndre Hulett from back in 2000 and Emir Preldzic from 2009, whose rights they acquired in the Cory Joseph trade last summer. Hulett was never anything more than a footnote, and while Preldzic is a wholly capable international player for Galatasaray in Turkey, he’s not at all NBA relevant.

These rights mean little, they also cost little, and in the event the Raptors wanted to acquire someone for nothing (think Luke Ridnour for Tomislav Zubcic in 2015, or the Joseph-Preldzic deal that facilitated the C.J. Miles signing), these rights can be used as “consideration” (both teams need to send something to the other in a deal).

Cash
The league allows teams to send out and receive up to a certain amount of cash in aggregate each cap year. This amount spiked from $3.5 million to $5.1 million for last year, but the jump projects as much more modest this time around. Based on current estimates, the Raptors will have about $5.23 million to include in trades for the cap year beginning July 1.

Wrap

That’s a lot to sort through. The front office doesn’t have an easy job, and putting this together is a stressful endeavor because I know there are a handful of fans out there who will want even more detail/explanation and some who thought this was too in-depth for what a general fan needs. This is meant to be a pretty high-level preview of what the Raptors are working with entering the offseason (that is: not a complete scenario analysis), and I’ll do my best to keep updating with new posts as the team’s salary cap situation changes over the next few weeks.

The key points you need to know:

  • There is not a ton of projected cap space on the market this summer, to where it could be fairly unfriendly outside of top names and reasonable MLE targets. That could mean more short deals as players look to re-enter a friendlier market down the line (some clarity on the NBA’s timeline for potential gambling revenue might help).
  • The Raptors won’t have salary cap space and will likely be operating as a tax team, limiting their options for adding pieces outside of savvy trades. It’s not ideal, but it’s workable. It means the Raptors are far more likely to be active retaining their own free agents and empowering minimum-contract players to step into roles than landing a big, or even medium, fish.
  • The Raptors can get creative by trading players away, so a lot of additional scenarios are on the table in theory. They require trading major salaries, though, and that’s either unlikely (Ibaka), hard to find a workable basketball trade for (Valanciunas), or potentially franchise-altering (Lowry and DeRozan). Any really creative offseason scenarios hinge on one of the big four salaries on the team moving out, either in a cost-cutting move or, more likely, in an actual basketball trade.
  • This could all be even messier next summer. Coolcoolcool.

If you have any questions, tweet them to me @BlakeMurphyODC or email them to me at [email protected], and I’ll do a follow-up post explaining certain rules or scenarios.

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Raptors to host Melbourne United in preseason

The Toronto Raptors are getting back into the NBA global exhibition pool, as they’ll host Melbourne United in a preseason game this year.

As part of the NBA’s partnership with Australia’s National Basketball League (NBL), five Australian teams will travel to the United States and Canada to play a total of seven exhibition games against NBA teams during the 2017-18 preseason. Toronto and Melbourne United will square off on Oct. 5 at what will then be named Scotiabank Arena (formerly the Air Canada Centre as of later this week).

The Toronto-Melbourne game will be an interesting international showcase, as both Canada and Australia set or matched records for NBA players from the respective countries in 2017-18 (14 for Canada, eight for Australia). This also continues the Raptors’ strong tradition of spreading the game, as they’ve taken part in the NBA Global Games initiative abroad, run the NBA Canada Series around the country some years, and hosted international opponents on a number of occasions.

The rest of the Raptors’ preseason schedule is yet to be announced. Last year, the regular season began on Oct. 17 with the Raptors wrapping up their preseason schedule on Oct. 13. The dates and location of their training camp are yet to be announced (last year camp opened Sept. 26 in British Columbia). That’s usually an early September announcement.

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Player Review 2017-18: Norman Powell

You can keep up with all of our player reviews here.

This was supposed to be Norman Powell’s year.

It was supposed to be his opportunity, earned over the past two seasons by way of coming through emphatically and unexpectedly, over-delivering on his draft status as a second-round pick, swinging playoff series in consecutive years, and making DeMarre Carroll seem superfluous enough to be the chosen cost-cutting measure, even at the cost of two draft picks. Before the season, the Toronto Raptors planted their flag further in the stock of Powell, signing him to a four-year, $42-million extension that will kick in on July 1, a reward for the hard, culture-establishing work he’d put in as the team’s latest resident grinder and undervalued asset made good. Around the same time, they anointed him a starter, a job he’d been pushing for and occasionally filling in on for the past two seasons. This was it, the work rewarded financially and in responsibility, the grind finally understood and realized.

Things did not go as they were supposed to. Powell struggled out of the gate, was sent to the shelf with a hip injury, and was supplanted in the starting lineup by rookie OG Anunoby, who never relinquished the role and likely never will. Most notably, his extension – entirely reasonable at the time and seemed to have limited downside for a young two-way wing with playmaking ability – now looks like a minor albatross the Raptors will have to try to unload this summer. If they don’t, they run the risk of losing Fred VanVleet in restricted free agency or being stuck with an exorbitant luxury tax bill for a team that tops out as finals fodder, all to keep a player who pencils in as the team’s 11th man once again, should nobody else be unloaded. The extension still seems a fair enough bet, given that Powell and Josh Richardson were remarkably comparable at the time they signed identical extensions and Richardson now looks like a steal on that same contract, but it obviously hasn’t worked out the way either side had hoped.

What, exactly, went wrong remains unclear. There are two popular explanations, neither of which carries a ton of weight in isolation.

The first is that the hip injury Powell suffered early in the year was a bigger issue than initially believed. Powell only missed four games, but it certainly seems plausible that a thriving Raptors’ 10-man rotation in his absence pushed him to try to make it back quicker than was maybe best. Powell is a grinder through and through, and playing through injury seems like something that would be in his makeup, especially with an injury that’s based on pain tolerance rather than the healing of structural damage. Given how important the hip is to a number of basketball actions and its connection to other key body parts – Powell already has a bit of a strange gait, and as we’ll see, there aren’t great skill-related reasons for his decline – a lingering hip issue could reasonably hurt performance. It’s perhaps a little too forgiving of Powell to assume a November injury cost him his productivity for an entire season. It’s more understandable if the rush to get back, coupled with pressing after returning to a bench role and trying to make up ground in some way, is considered.

Which brings up the second popular explanation, which is that Powell’s struggles were largely psychological. This is something I’m hesitant to ascribe performance to in general. It’s simply taking too large a step into the psyche of strangers and it’s too often used as a crutch when we can’t figure out an explanation otherwise. For his part, Powell shot down the idea of a mental blockage all season long, saying that he trusted the work he was putting in and that he still believed he could produce at a high level. If there was a psychological impact, maybe it was because of a third consecutive season of role uncertainty – Powell thrived in an up-and-down role without issue in his first two years, but preparing for life as a starter and then having to find his place as the odd-man out either with the starters (in those occasional and weird late-second quarter stints) or with a Bench Mob that had a great flow without him (he filled in well for C.J. Miles but not for Delon Wright, with the pieces not fitting as well like that) may have proven difficult.

Whatever the case, there’s little denying that Powell’s performance fell off. On a raw statistical basis, it was the cratering of his 3-point shooting that stood out the most. A non-shooter in college, Powell impressed with a 40.4-percent mark on small volume as a rookie and then a respectable enough 32.4-percent mark as a sophomore. This year, though, he shot more than ever and hit just 28.5 percent. It wasn’t a matter of more difficult shots, either, as he shot 28.9 percent on “wide open” threes, 31 percent on catch-and-shoot threes, and 28.8 percent from the corners. Exacerbating matters, his finishing remained shaky, as he shot just 58.6 percent at the rim. He was never particularly strong here (57 and 58.7 percent in his first two years), and it’s tough to shoot so poorly there (27th percentile, per Cleaning the Glass) when you do so well getting there (66th percentile, and even that was the lowest of his career). His assist rate ticked upward, at least, but it was accompanied by a spike in turnover rate, too, eroding some of his growth as a facilitator.

Defensively, he remained firmly above average for his position in block and steal rate but became exceptionally foul-prone for a perimeter defender. He also had his worst defensive rebounding season. According to Synergy Sports, the normally rugged Powell ranked in just the third percentile as an isolation defender, though he at least remained effective guarding the pick-and-roll ball-handler. To drop from 79th percentile to third percentile in isolation defense – no matter what you think of Synergy’s play or assignment classification effectiveness – is dramatic. All told, he graded out by Synergy as an average defender and well below-average offensive player, and other metrics would back that up. ESPN’s Real Plus-Minus had Powell ranked 89th among 92 small forwards this season (he played much more shooting guard, just don’t let DeMar DeRozan hear that), and RPM graded him as a moderate defensive negative and a huge offensive liability. Player Impact Plus-Minus, a catch-all metric I like better than RPM, had him 516th out of 541 players to play in the league last year, agreeing on the offense/defense split.

It all makes for a complicated evaluation, because despite the data – PIPM’s predictive metric for 2018-19 has essentially given up on Powell after being moderately warm on him entering this year – I still believe in Powell as a player. Maybe part of this is that I was very much in on Powell from the 2015 pre-draft process, believing his defense would translate and his jumper could come along with some fine-tuning. I’ve also seen pretty closely how hard he works (my first time ever speaking to him, I had to wait long after a preseason practice in 2015-16, as he was working out way later than everyone), with both the Raptors and the 905, and hear his teammates rave about his offseason work ethic. He’s also just 25. But really, what sticks with me is a common refrain from baseball analysis that once a player displays a skill, he owns that skill. That’s not perfectly translatable to basketball. A slide in athleticism can have a much more pronounced impact in the NBA, for example. At the same time, Powell just turned 25 and should only be starting to enter the peak of his aging curve. He doesn’t thrive on “old” skills, either – the things that made him successful in his first two years are still largely there, at least if you believe in his 3-point shot (if you combine all of his NBA-length threes at every level since graduating, he’s at 33.2 percent on 614 attempts).

Whether the Raptors believe in Powell still might not matter. The idea of moving him and his contract is based primarily on the team’s cap sheet, VanVleet’s free agency, and the likely untradeability of the only worse contract on the roster (Serge Ibaka). If there’s another team out there that believes in Powell enough that they’ll take the four-year, $42-million risk – possibly sending back a smaller salary to offset some of the cost – the Raptors will move him. It’s a reasonable enough gambit for a team light on cap space that wants to make more than one addition via the mid-level exception and sees value in a young-ish wing with two-way potential, if he can figure it out and get back on the right track. Given what his first two years looked like and his reputation as a tireless worker, I’m betting he does just that. I don’t have to risk $42 million on it, though.

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Dwane Casey wins NBA Coach of the Year; full Raptors award voting results

The NBA’s second annual end-of-season award show was held on Monday night, and there was some Toronto Raptors-relevant content. Yes, it’s silly that these regular season awards are being given out more than two months after the regular season ended, and there’s little enough engagement that an MVP finalist isn’t even on hand at the event, but these awards matter for pride, for bonuses, and for legacies. It’s also a nice opportunity to reflect on what was a terrific regular season for some Raptors.

Dwane Casey wins NBA Coach of the Year

Former Toronto Raptors head coach Dwane Casey was named the 2018 NBA Coach of the Year. Casey received 39 first-place votes (six different coaches received first-place votes) and was included on 82 total ballots.

Casey thanked the writers for voting him before dapping up Quin Snyder, Brad Stevens, the rest of the NBA’s coaches, and his wife, who he called the “head coach of our family” as she laughed on camera (it was very cute). Casey also thanked a number of Raptors by name for helping build what the Raptors have become, including Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeROzan, and Jonas Valanciunas. And yes, of course he got a joke in about being fired as Coach of the Year, as he should have. It was a pretty great acceptance speech and exactly what you’d expect from Casey.

“If you get fired – I did recently, I don’t know if you knew that, after winning Coach of the Year – you always doubt yourself a little bit,” he said. “‘Do you want to do this?’…Then I met with Tom Gores…(And) all you want is an owner that believes in you.”

The case for Casey was pretty clear, as he led the Raptors to their fifth step forward in the last six years with a franchise-record 59 wins, a top-five offense, a top-five defense, a top-three net rating, and the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference. His regular season performance, which included a dramatic shift in the team’s playing style, is difficult to assail, and his job security was instead sunk by another underwhelming postseason showing for the team. This is a regular season award, though, and it’s tough to imagine Casey having done a better job in the regular season over the last half-decade. He is truly the best coach in Raptors franchise history, and this is a deserved feather in his cap no matter how things turned out at the end of the season.

Casey finished fifth in Coach of the Year voting a season ago, as well. He was also named the National Basketball Coaches Association’s Coach of the Year earlier this spring, awkwardly right around the time the Raptors opted to let him go. Casey, of course, landed in a nice fit with the Detroit Pistons, while the Raptors have hired his former assistant Nick Nurse to replace him. This is all a little awkward to navigate with the now-reigning Coach of the Year changing teams and all, but such is life in a business oriented largely on postseason results and where sustained regular season success has a built-in shelf-life.

VanVleet doesn’t win Sixth Man of the Year

Lou Williams was named the NBA’s Sixth man of the Year, as largely expected. He edged out Eric Gordon of the Houston Rockets and the leader of the Raptors Bench Mob, Fred VanVleet. VanVleet placed third in the voting with 64 points and one first-place vote, comfortably behind the other two and just narrowly ahead of Will Barton.

VanVleet was the engine of the Raptors’ league-best bench, providing leadership, playmaking, shooting, and hard-nosed defense. His counting stats – 8.6 points, 3.2 assists, 55.6-percent true shooting – pale compared to Gordon and Williams but few players helped their teams win like VanVleet, who ranked first among reserves and fourth among all players in net rating. Were the award handed out strictly on impact, VanVleet would have been difficult to argue against. As it stands, Williams had gaudier counting stats and VanVleet will instead take a finalist nod and a well-earned reputation as one of the league’s best young point guards into restricted free agency, where he should bring home something a little weightier than an award. Bet on yourself, indeed.

Williams at least gave him a “shout out to Fleet out there in Toronto.” Williams, by the way, has called this summer his “farewell tour to the clubs,” and this is a heck of a way to kick things off.

Other Raptors receiving votes

  • Most Valuable Player: DeMar DeRozan placed eighth in Most Valuable Player voting, receiving one third-place vote and appearing on 13 other ballots. Chris Bosh placed seventh in 2006-07, which remains the high-water mark in the voting in Raptors history, with DeRozan landing second here. DeRozan also joined Bosh earlier in the offseason by becoming just the third Raptor (along with Vince Carter) to earn All-NBA Second Team honors. It was a tremendous year for DeRozan, it just also happened to be a very competitive year int he MVP voting, and his late-season tail off (and defense) likely kept him from topping Bosh here. DeRozan also received one fifth-place vote last year.
  • Sixth Man of the Year: In addition to VanVleet, Jakob Poeltl also received one third-place vote.
  • Most Improved Player: DeRozan also placed ninth in MIP voting, while VanVleet finished 13th and Pascal Siakam finished 25th with one third-place vote.
  • Executive of the Year: Masai Ujiri finished fifth here, earning four first-place votes and four third-placed votes.
  • Teammate of the Year: Kyle Lowry finished 10th in voting here, earning 25 first-place votes (players vote on this so there were far more ballots; each team submits one finalist).
  • Other: No Raptors received Defensive Player of the Year or Rookie of the Year votes.
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Report: Raptors add Adrian Griffin to staff

Nick Nurse has hired his first assistant.

After being rebuffed in their attempts to land Chris Finch and Sarunas Jasikevicius as lead assistants, the Toronto Raptors are adding Adrian Griffin to the team’s coaching staff, according to a report from Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports.

Griffin comes to the Raptors with a wealth of assistant coaching experience in the NBA, immediately becoming one of the most seasoned voices on the staff. After finishing up a nine-year career as a tough defender in 2008, Griffin immediately went into coaching, joining the Milwaukee Bucks as an assistant. From there, he moved to the Chicago Bulls, where he was let go in a move that was derided as somewhat nonsensical at the time, then the Orlando Magic and, most recently, the Oklahoma City Thunder. In all, he has a decade of NBA experience already at age 43.

In Oklahoma City, Griffin was Billy Donovan’s top lieutenant and de facto defensive coordinator (the Thunder have been above average at that end two years in a row despite middling defensive personnel, at least once Andre Roberson went down), and it would stand to reason that he’ll take a similar post in Toronto. At each stop, he’s been well-regarded by both those around the league and each team’s star players (Jimmy Butler raves about him), earning a reputation as a strong players-coach. That he has experience with USA Basketball only adds to his resume working with All-Stars, which he’ll be doing with the Raptors in Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. Since as far back as 2014, Griffin has been considered a head coach in waiting, and he’s received a couple of interviews, so despite Griffin lacking head coaching experience, this seems like a really solid addition.

The Raptors lost Dwane Casey (Pistons), Jerry Stackhouse (Grizzlies), Rex Kalamian (Clippers), and Jama Mahlalela (Raptors 905) from the front row of their bench this offseason, as well as D.J. Bakker (Pistons) from their video coordination staff. The back row of the bench and most of the support staff (Patrick Mutombo, Jim Sann, Jamaal Magloire, Eric Khoury, Alex McKechnie, John Goodwillie, and others) remain with the organization.

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Fuquan Edwin, 2 others added to Raptors’ Summer League roster

Photo credit: Trung Ho / TrungHo.ca

The Toronto Raptors are elevating another Raptors 905 player within the organization, as Raptors Republic has learned that Fuquan Edwin will be joining the team for Las Vegas Summer League.

Edwin joins Shevon Thompson as members of the 905 to earn the invite, continuing a trend of the Raptors rewarding 905 stand-outs the following summer. In 2016, Davion Berry and E.J. Singler earned the nod with Singler eventually getting invited to NBA training camp, and last year saw Goodluck Okonoboh and Will Sheehey get a look in Vegas. Both Edwin and Thompson had strong enough G League seasons as mid-season acquisitions to earn invites to the G League Mini Camp in Chicago earlier this offseason, and both should be on the radar for training camp invites with a strong showing in Summer League, whether with the Raptors or another organization.

The 905 picked Edwin up as an in-season waiver claim as he re-entered the G League player pool after a partial season in Finland. Edwin quickly found a role as a two-way wing specialist and earned the trust of head coach Jerry Stackhouse for a handful of end-of-game scenarios, plus a few starts toward the end of the year. An All-Defensive G League Team player in 2014-15, Edwin quickly got back to his ball-hawking ways to help fuel the 905 transition game, posting an elite steal percentage of 3.6 percent (good for third overall) and ranking second in the entire league in defensive rating. Synergy Sports graded him in the 61st percentile as a man defender, a solid mark given he often drew tough assignments and guarded as many as four positions in a given game. At 6-foot-6 with a 6-foot-8 wingspan, Edwin has the requisite size to be a versatile defender at the next level, particularly if he can add a bit more bulk to his 215-pound frame.

He also has the “three” part of 3-and-D largely down, to the point that it was a bit curious he was even available to the 905. Edwin was a solid, if unspectacular, shooter at Seton Hall but knocked down 40 percent of his threes as a G League rookie in 2014-15 and 37.3 percent of them this past season with the 905. Synergy ranked him in the 57th percentile as a spot-up shooter – he hit 41.5 percent of his corner threes – and the 67th percentile in transition, where his open-court speed was a factor. His decision-making sometimes left a little to be desired and he has a hair trigger, but there’s plenty to like in a more defined role. Edwin should fit in with how the Summer League team projects to play, as the roster is heavy on speed and wing versatility.

Also joining the Raptors in Summer League will be Codi Miller-McIntyre and Augusto Lima, per Clevis Murray and David Pick, respectively.

Miller-McIntyre is a 6-foot-3 point guard who can really get up and offers a different look from Giddy Potts and Andrew Rowsey, the other two lead guards confirmed for the roster. Where those two are shooting specialists, that remains the weakest part of Miller-McIntyre’s game – he never topped 32.6 percent on threes in four seasons at Wake Forest and shot 23.7 percent in his first pro season in Belgium and 31.9 percent in Russia this past year. What he can do is score in a hurry, though. In 34 games with Parma Basket Perm this season, he averaged 16 points on 54.4-percent true-shooting, making up for his lack of shooting with an ability to get to the rim and to the free-throw line, ranking in the 89th percentile as an isolation scorer in the VTB United league, per Synergy. He also averaged nearly eight assists per-game, possibly pointing to further growth as a playmaker since he was a Demon Deacon.

Lima is a 6-foot-10 center from Brazil whose rights belong to Real Madrid but who has played all over the last two seasons, both on loan and as he jumped to other leagues. He spent 2016-17 with Sarunas Jasikevicius’ Zalgiris squad, winning a Lithuanian title and playing in the EuroLeague, where he featured as a part-time starter and regular rotation piece. The year prior, he won a Spanish championship with UCAM Murcia. This past season, he was loaned to Besiktas, eventually opted to go play in the Chinese league, then landed back with Murcia at the end of the year. Across his three stops, he averaged 8.9 points on 58.2-percent shooting with 6.8 rebounds and 0.9 blocks, all in 19.6 minutes. Canadian basketball fans might remember him from AmeriCup and Tuto Marchand action, too, as he’s had some nice games against the Canadian squad.

Here’s how the roster stands right now:

PG: Potts, Rowsey, Miller-McIntyre
SG: Richardson, Alkins
SF: Anunoby, Miller, Edwin
PF: McKinnie
C: Thompson, Lima

The full roster will likely be released later this week.

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Raptors Weekly Podcast – Looking ahead to free agency

Host William Lou is joined by Joe Wolfond to preview free agency following the draft.

(more…)

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Weekend Open Thread

Just dropping a new thread for commenting for the weekend. It was a very busy and still largely uneventful week, and this coming week figures to be a lot noisier in meaningful ways. It’s exciting and a little nerve-racking.

Have a great weekend, everyone.

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The UDFA’s left on the market worth pursuing

Although it ended up being a relatively tame night for Raptors fans, relative to expectations, there was one minor piece of news following the draft as the Raptors signed undrafted free agent Rawle Alkins to a training camp deal. Despite not being as sexy as having the bragging rights to say you were drafted in the second round, it holds essentially the same weight as neither contract guarantees much of anything. In fact, many would argue that going undrafted is the better option as players are given their pick of the litter rather than being stuck on a non-guaranteed with a team you didn’t choose. One of the NBA’s best-kept secrets is that plenty of agents tell teams not to draft their guy if he falls past pick 45 so that said agent can handpick their destination.

Whether it is Kent Bazemore, TJ McConnell, or the Raptors own Fred VanVleet, it is far from unheard of to see an undrafted player make a serious impact in the league. Acquiring such players is oft what separates the league’s great organizations from the rest, and Alkins is likely just the first domino to fall.

By this time, the majority of the coveted undrafted free agents (UDFA’s) have already been scooped up. Usually as a result of handshake agreements made before the draft by agents to put their player in an ideal situation should worst come to worst. It’s the Woj/Shams firestorm of tweets following the draft that only junkies really pay attention to. With all that said, there are a few intriguing prospects left unsigned that might warrant a look by the Raptors.

Guys the Raptors worked out

Wenyen Gabriel, Kentucky
Mean Prospect Ranking: 73rd

At 6-foot-9 with a 6-foot-11 wingspan and 40% from three, Gabriel is an intriguing prospect, to say the least. A former 5-star recruit, Gabriel had some enticing moments during his two years at Kentucky. However, his lack of lateral quickness and inability to create any meaningful shot for himself or another (per Basketball Reference, his TO rate was triple his assist rate—oof!) caused scouts to sour on him. Still, there is a lot to like about the 21-year-old.

Namely, his unique combination of size and shooting make him a perfect fit for today’s game if he manages to become passable in other areas. Due to his 8-foot-11 standing reach, he has an extremely high (and aesthetically pleasing) release that is difficult to contest regardless of the defender’s size. Additionally, he has a surprising 36.5-inch vertical, which, when coupled with his size, allows him to alter plenty of shots around the rim. If Gabriel is able to improve as a perimeter defender he could become a quality 3-and-D power forward relatively quickly; so long as he isn’t asked to do much else.

Marcus Lee, Cal Berkeley
Mean Prospect Ranking: 60th 
(but unranked a lot of places)

Some may remember Lee from his time at Kentucky where he wasn’t allowed to do anything on offense save for catch lobs and put back misses. After sitting out a year to transfer to Cal in order to show the other aspects of his game, it appears as though John Calipari was correct in limiting his role. Lee struggled with the increased role on offense (his turnover rate was double his assist rate) and failed to become the defensive anchor many believed he could be (9th percentile defensively, per Synergy Sports). Regardless, at 6-foot-10 with a 7-foot-3 wingspan and a 39-inch vertical, the upside that saw him in the mid-second round in 2016 mock drafts remains.

Besides, Lee never projected as any sort of creator or defensive juggernaut in the first place. With the ability to stay with guards on switches, defend the rim, tip dunk, and catch lobs, he was only ever seen as a quasi-Jordan Bell prospect. If the Raptors are able to acquire him, a few years being baptized by fire in the G League may smooth out many of his issues with decision-making and defensive awareness. If his basketball IQ is able to improve, he could theoretically be an ideal rim-running five in today’s league.

The Guy(s) they didn’t work out

Kenrich Williams, TCU
Mean Prospect Ranking: 38th

Considering plenty of mocks (including Kevin Pelton’s lauded statistical projection) had Williams going in the first round, it’s more than likely that his agent purposely had him go undrafted so he could choose his team. At 6-foot-8, 40% from three (on high volume), and with elite rebounding for his size along with decent playmaking skills, he is easily the most sought after UDFA on the market.

Williams’ most apt comparison is P.J. Tucker, as they are both glue guys who can defend two-through-four (Tucker through five), knock down shots, make the right play, and use their body to corral rebounds they have no business getting. Williams has been improving steadily each year at TCU to refine his guard skills as he moved from a full-time power forward to a 3/4 tweener during his three years. This should prove as an asset in the league, as his ability to do the little things coupled with his experience playing both down low and on the perimeter allow him to fit seamlessly into any lineup. If he chooses the Raptors, he theoretically could fit in perfectly as OG Anunoby’s backup on both ends of the floor.

Considering that this section originally was supposed to have two other players in it (Jaylen Adams and Trevon Duval) and both have been signed in the time it took to write this article, then it is safe to say that Raptors fans shouldn’t have to wait long to see if they make a move. UDFA’s are the easiest way for a capped out/no pick team like the Raptors to improve; I’d be surprised if they stayed quiet.

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Report: Giddy Potts joining Raptors at Summer League

I’m not sure Dan Tolzman slept last night. After the Toronto Raptors couldn’t move into the draft on Thursday, they’ve moved quickly to sign Rawle Alkins and add a pair of names they worked out in the pre-draft process to their Summer League squad. The first was Andrew Rowsey, and Michael Scotto of The Athletic now reports that Giddy Potts will be joining the team, as well.

Not only is “Giddy Potts” a tremendous name, he brings a similar elite skill as Rowsey with deep range on large volume. He, too, was unranked in all of the top-100/top-60 lists I canvassed. Here’s what I wrote about Potts when the Raptors had him in for a draft workout:

That name, though. Potts can really shoot the ball and has range beyond the college arc, making it a fairly projectable skill. He knocked down over 40 percent of a high volume of threes as a senior at Middle Tennessee this year and shot 41.7 percent over a four-year career that provided a 686-shot sample. There’s almost no doubt he can shoot it at the next level, and he shows some flashes of being able to add a little more with his ability to create for himself and strong rebounding numbers for a 6-foot-2 guard. He didn’t look the part of point guard, mind you, and didn’t really get to the line, so he might be in a weird position and role limbo until he develops further. The 22-year-old will probably look to show he can be a real point guard through these workouts and Summer League, and his shooting will help him get a foot in the door.

It seems as if Rowsey and Potts could be in a bit of a competition to turn the Summer League roster spot into a training camp invite, as whatever happens with the point guard position this summer, the Raptors will likely want at least one player – either via two-way contract or G League affiliate player – helping provide point guard depth with Raptors 905. Potts is a remarkably good shooter with range well beyond the college 3-point line, can create his own shot off the dribble, and contributes beyond just scoring, as he he’s a plus rebounder for a point guard and uses his 220-pound frame well to account for a relative lack of size. He doesn’t have all of the requisite point guard skills honed quite just yet – he’s more scorer than lead guard – but there’s certainly enough here to warrant a longer look at Las Vegas to see how his ability to score can translate and whether the Raptors can turn him into more of a natural point man.

The Raptors’ Summer League roster now stands at eight:

PG: Rowsey, Potts
SG: Richardson, Alkins
SF: Anunoby, Miller
PF: McKinnie
C: Thompson

Last year’s full Summer League roster came out late in June, so look for more names in the coming days.

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Quiet Draft Night puts focus on Free Agency

It was expected to be a big, chaotic draft night this year, with a lot of speculation over how some of the picks would play out, and many of the teams with high picks said to be soliciting trade offers, looking to move bad contracts. This type of draft usually bodes well for the teams on the outside looking in, as the Raptors were this year, having traded their first round pick in the trade to move DeMarre Carroll’s contract to the Brooklyn Nets a year ago, and their second round pick gone to Phoenix in the trade to acquire PJ Tucker at last season’s trade deadline. Still, if there were moves to be made, Masai Ujiri should’ve been able to find a way in, to help jump-start the Raptors big summer and find a way to set up their next moves.

That’s not what this draft was though, at the end of the night. Not a single player currently under contract was traded during the course of the night, and while there were trades, they were solely in the format of draft picks changing hands. Without a pick in the draft, and with the team likely looking to not find themselves in this situation in future seasons, that left them watching as events unfolded. While it’s easy as a Raptors fan to be unhappy with the result, a draft where the team didn’t gain any assets, or shed any contracts, if the trades simply weren’t there, and it appears on this night they weren’t, it’s hard to argue that it was a missed opportunity.

The good news is, this isn’t the end of the summer, and free agency is just a week and a half away. The Raptors definitely have some things to address this summer, with a looming large luxury tax bill if they intend to keep Fred VanVleet, who the team has been vocal about wanting to retain. Beginning to address that at the draft would’ve been a great place to start, and would’ve potentially allowed the team to add players on rookie-scale contracts, but it’s not required in order for the Raptors to have a successful summer.

However, being unable to begin the process at the draft does add pressure to free agency. Whether it’s moving out one of the larger contracts and changing the makeup of the roster, finding a taker for Norman Powell’s deal, or looking for another avenue to reduce the future luxury tax burden, there is now added pressure to make that next move quickly once free agency begins in July, because there will be other suitors for VanVleet, and until they address the longer-term salary issues, they might be reluctant to commit to re-signing him. Once he signs an offer sheet, the Raptors will have just 48 hours to decide on matching, and it would be a big loss if they ended up seeing him leave because they didn’t clarify how they were reducing the burden to retain him quickly enough.

It’s hard to grade the draft as a failure for the Raptors, because they didn’t fail, the moves simply weren’t there to be made. Other teams weren’t trading players for draft picks either, and it seems that this year the teams with the picks just weren’t interested in those moves. But it does feel like an opportunity lost to start the summer early, and hopefully one that can be made up for in the coming weeks, as the organization finds it’s direction for next season.

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Report: Raptors bringing Andrew Rowsey to Summer League

The Toronto Raptors were active in the hours after the NBA Draft on Thursday. Not only did they ink Rawle Alkins to a camp deal, they also added Andrew Rowsey to their Summer League roster, according to a report from Ben Steele of the Journal Sentinel.

Rowsey is a name the Raptors have had their eye on throughout the process, as he was in for a pre-draft workout a few weeks back. Here’s what I wrote about Rowsey at the time:

Has Marquette ever produced a player that doesn’t get the “toughness” tag when they enter the draft? The 5-foot-11 point guard, who landed in Marquette for two years after two seasons with UNC-Asheville, continues that trend. He also took a major step forward in his senior year, jumping from 11.6 points and 2.3 assists to 20.5 and 4.8, respectively. Even as a fourth-year player in his second year in the more competitive conference environment, that’s a notable jump. He also rounded out his college career with a 40.8-percent mark on nearly 1,000 3-point attempts, so you can see what the Raptors were looking for up and down this particular workout. A former Big East Sixth Man of the Year and All-Big East Honorable Mention, Rowsey also has the “prove em” backstory the Raptors tend to gravitate towards. Of course, he’s a little small, will probably struggle in traffic at the next level, and will turn 24 before the draft, so he comes with the same caveats every player the Raptors have worked out does, given they don’t have a pick.

While there’s clearly enough to like for a Summer League invite – most notably the elite shooting touch – Rowsey wasn’t on the draft radar for most public sources. Of the 14 draft rankings I used to create a draft database, Rowsey didn’t rank in the top 100 of a single one. That’s not a big deal, and adding to the Vegas squad doesn’t need to follow the list of top available undrafted players. It’s Summer League, where you’re looking to learn more about players and potentially identify training camp invites or Raptors 905 targets. Rowsey could likely slot in as a quality G League point guard, where his size limitations would be a little muted and his solid defense can play up. Smart, careful point guards are helpful there, too, and his tremendous range is such a defined skill that it will always be worth seeing if the toughness aspects can carry over to the next level.

Adding Rowsey brings the likely Summer League roster to seven.

PG: Rowsey
SG: Richardson, Alkins
SF: Anunoby, Miller
PF: McKinnie
C: Thompson

Last year’s full Summer League roster came out late in June, so look for more names in the coming days.

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Report: Raptors agree to camp deal with Rawle Alkins

The Toronto Raptors have moved quickly to land an undrafted free agent. The team has agreed to a training camp deal with Rawle Alkins, according to a report from Jeremy Woo of Sports Illustrated.

UPDATE: Raptors Republic has learned Alkins’ deal is an Exhibit 10 contract. That means he’ll have a camp invite and a chance to make the roster, and that the Raptors hold the option to convert his deal to a two-way contract. Failing either of those outcomes, Alkins will have a guarantee of up to $50,000 if he agrees to become an affiliate player with Raptors 905 (in addition to the G League salary) and stays there long enough.

Alkins is a name who has been on the Raptors’ radar for some time now. When he tested the draft waters in 2017, the Raptors brought him in for a pre-draft workout, both to get an intimate look at him and to establish a scouting baseline against which to evaluate his development. Alkins ultimately decided to return to Arizona for a sophomore season, and while that didn’t help his draft stock – he was ranked as a fringe pick a year ago but mocked to be in the second round and went undrafted here in 2018 – the Raptors obviously saw enough growth to want to bring him into their development incubator.

It’s not terribly difficult to see why, even though the 20-year-old Alkins didn’t take much of a step forward in his second go-around as a Wildcat. The numbers remain fairly impressive – he averaged 13.1 points, 4.8 rebounds, 2.5 assists, and 1.3 steals while hitting 35.9 percent on four 3-point attempts per-game, all roughly in line with his freshman year, and Alkins’ small uptick in responsibility saw him earn Honorable Mention All-Pac-12 honors. This, despite missing nine games at the start of the year due to a broken foot that reportedly kept him at something below 100 percent most of the season.

From a tools perspective, Alkins has the type of 3-and-D potential the Raptors seek with these potentially undervalued assets. He only stands 6-foot-4 but possesses a 6-foot-9 wingspan and is 217 pounds, making for solid size at the two-guard or as a wing in general. He’s used that size well to haul in offensive rebounds and get to the line, he blocks shots well for a perimeter player, and is a strong on-ball defender in general. He has great lateral quickness that allows him to stay in front of ball-handlers, changes direction well, and was one of the best defenders in college basketball according to Synergy Sports data. On the shooting side, his release is quick and smooth, which is important since the bulk of his offense will probably come spotting up or running the floor in transition.

Alkins likely slid out of the draft due to a combination of his tools not quite materializing in elite production and because it’s unclear what he’ll do at an above-average level on the offensive end in the NBA, especially if he winds up just a so-so shooter. He’s a little sloppy creating for himself, doesn’t have the elite free-throw rate to reliably project 3-point shooting growth, isn’t a great shooter on the move, and plateaued in most offensive categories. At the defensive end, his off-ball and team-level defense aren’t anywhere near where his individual defense is, and there could be a learning curve guarding in a more complex NBA environment where opponents will force him to make more reads and decisions. A lot of these perceived weaknesses have to do with consistency of approach and application, and the Raptors have done well turning far more raw players into producers.

All told, there’s a lot to like here. He has good positional size, a track record of strong individual defense in a major conference, is the type of “motor” guy teams love on the undrafted pile, and his some shooting reliability from profiling as a potential 3-and-D weapon. Given how valuable those are, how scarce good wing players are in general, and the holes the Raptors may have to fill in the rotation if their offseason breaks in certain directions, Alkins seems like a worthwhile name to bring into the system.

Looking around the league, feelings on Alkins seem pretty mixed, though getting him undrafted is unquestionably good value. My amalgamation of 14 different draft rankings saw him ranked No. 40 in the draft, and I saw him as high as No. 20 (Jonathan Tjarks of The Ringer) and now lower than No. 57 (one of ESPN’s analytic models). His average rank was 39.1, making him the second-best undrafted free agent in my database after Kenrich Williams.

From here, Alkins will likely suit up for the Raptors at Las Vegas Summer League. It’s possible the actual signing is delayed until later in the summer, and it’s not immediately clear if Alkins has signed a standard camp invite deal or an Exhibit 10 and, flowing from there, whether he’s a candidate for the NBA roster, a two-way contract, or a potential stint as a Raptors 905 affiliate piece (Alkins would be a defensive monster at the G League level and could benefit from the extra touches he’d receive there to round out his offensive edges). A lot of that could be determined by how the offseason plays out. For now, he’s in the system and will be under the Raptors’ purview for the most important summer of his career, where he’ll have a chance to compete with Malcolm Miller, Alfonzo McKinnie, and others for position on the team’s wing depth chart.

As far as making moves after failing to get into the draft, this is a nice start.

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VIDEO: Bobby Webster post-draft media availability

The Toronto Raptors were unable to move into the draft Thursday. General manager Bobby Webster did his best to explain here:

Here’s a quick look at some of his quotes:

You probably have to ask the other teams to be honest. I think we had a few things early, a few things in the middle and a few things late. I think we thought they were close, but you don’t really know...I don’t think one player got traded tonight. I don’t know if something’s going on around the league and people are a little hesitant with personnel and just wanted to do draft picks tonight and we didn’t have a draft pick so we got shut out.

‘We were thinking this has to be the first time in history that one actual player under contract hasn’t gotten traded. Maybe some uncertainty with salaries, where things are headed. I couldn’t really tell you right now. Ill probably have a better answer in the morning.

New head coach Nick Nurse was at the BioSteel Centre to discuss the draft beforehand, too:

Underwhelming day!

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Top undrafted free agents

At the end of the 2018 NBA Draft, there were still a handful of interesting names available. As always.

We don’t know how the Raptors will have ranked these guys, but this exercise two years ago revealed Fred VanVleet as a potential target of the team ahead of Las Vegas Summer League and last year pointed to Kennedy Meeks, so I’m deeming it worthwhile again. The Raptors, after all, will have Summer League spots to fill, and at least one two-way contract slot could make sense for an undrafted free agent. There are some decent fliers are out there.

Here are the top names still available, based on our weighted composite top-100 rankings:

Rank Prospect Workout Position School Age Avg High Low Ranked
38 KENRICH WILLIAMS PF TCU 24 38.8 20 63 13
40 RAWLE ALKINS SG Arizona 21 39.1 20 57 14
45 TREVON DUVAL PG Duke 20 43.6 31 55 14
46 XAVIER COOKS G/F Winthrop 23 44.0 44 44 1
49 GARY CLARK PF Cincinnati 24 45.6 26 61 13
53 MALIK NEWMAN PG/SG Kansas 21 50.0 35 71 11
60 BRANDON MCCOY C UNLV 20 55.5 17 92 8
63 BONZIE COLSON PF Notre Dame 22 57.4 33 79 10
65 D.J. HOGG SF/PF Texas A&M 22 59.0 38 84 8
66 ALLONZO TRIER SG Arizona 22 59.2 39 85 10
67 KEENAN EVANS PG Texas Tech 22 59.7 33 75 10
68 TIM BOND G/F Eastern Michigan 23 60.0 57 63 2
69 MARCUS LEE 1 PF California 24 60.0 60 60 1
71 DESONTA BRADFORD G ETSU 22 62.0 62 62 1
73 JORDAN MCLAUGHLIN PG USC 22 64.0 64 64 1
74 THEO PINSON 1 PG/SG North Carolina 23 64.9 50 95 7
75 ALEKSA ILIC PF Buducnost 22 65.0 65 65 1
76 TRYGGVI HLINASON C Valencia 21 66.8 34 85 6
77 AARON EPPS C LSU 22 67.0 67 67 1
78 DARYL MACON G Arkansas 22 67.5 47 88 2
79 KEENAN SIMMONS SF SIU Edwardsville N/A 68.0 68 68 1
80 ETHAN LEE F Central Arkansas 23 69.0 69 69 1
82 YANTE MATEN PF Georgia 22 70.3 42 88 7
83 TYLER DAVIS C Texas A&M 21 70.3 51 81 3
84 KAISER GATES SF Xavier 22 70.5 44 97 2
85 AJDIN PENAVA PF Marshall 21 71.3 48 98 7
86 DONTE GRANTHAM SF Clemson 23 71.6 62 85 5
87 DAKOTA MATHIAS 1 SG Purdue 23 71.7 46 89 6
88 JAYLEN ADAMS PG St. Bonaventure 22 72.2 32 96 6
89 BRYANT CRAWFORD PG Wake Forest 21 72.7 47 87 6
90 JORDAN BARNETT SF Missouri 23 73.0 58 88 2
92 WENYEN GABRIEL 1 PF Kentucky 21 75.2 64 91 5
93 MARCUS DERRICKSON SF Georgetown 22 75.4 67 85 5
94 ISAAC HAAS C Purdue 23 75.8 55 92 6
95 ELIJAH BRYANT G BYU 23 76.0 72 80 2
96 TYLER RAWSON F Utah 23 76.0 76 76 1
97 JARED TERRELL 1 G Rhode Island 23 76.5 66 87 2
98 DORAL MOORE C Wake Forest 21 76.6 65 86 5
99 JAYLEN BARFORD SG Arkansas 22 77.2 64 92 6
100 ZACH THOMAS F Bucknell 22 77.5 74 81 2

Note: Alonzo Trier, Malik Newman, and Theo Pinson have already landed with the Knicks, Lakers, and Nets, respectively, per Shams Charania. Gary Clark has landed with the Rockets, per Chris Haynes.

And here’s a look at the list of undrafted players who the Raptors worked out in the pre-draft process. Only one (Kostas Antetokounmpo) was selected, so there are names available the team surely likes.

Rank Prospect Workout Position School Age Avg High Low Ranked
69 MARCUS LEE 1 PF California 24 60.0 60 60 1
74 THEO PINSON 1 PG/SG North Carolina 23 64.9 50 95 7
87 DAKOTA MATHIAS 1 SG Purdue 23 71.7 46 89 6
92 WENYEN GABRIEL 1 PF Kentucky 21 75.2 64 91 5
97 JARED TERRELL 1 G Rhode Island 23 76.5 66 87 2
110 MARCUS FOSTER 1 PG/SG Creighton 23 83.0 77 87 3
121 DARIUS THOMPSON 1 G Western Kentucky 23 90.0 90 90 1
124 DESI RODRIGUEZ 1 SF Seton Hall 23 92.5 88 97 2
132 ALAN HERNDON 1 F Wyoming 23 N/A 0 0 0
132 GIDDY POTTS 1 G Middle Tennessee 22 N/A 0 0 0
132 JOE CHEALEY 1 G Charleston 22 N/A 0 0 0
132 JAIRUS LYLES 1 PG UMBC 22 N/A 0 0 0
132 NANA FOULLAND 1 C Bucknell 22 N/A 0 0 0
132 JACOBI BOYKINS 1 G/F Louisiana Tech 23 N/A 0 0 0
132 CAMERON REYNOLDS 1 F Tulane 23 N/A 0 0 0
132 KASSIUS ROBERTSON 1 G Missouri 24 N/A 0 0 0
132 ANDREW ROWSEY 1 G Marquette 24 N/A 0 0 0
132 JUSTIN TILLMAN 1 F VCU 22 N/A 0 0 0
132 HAYDEN DALTON 1 F Wyoming 22 N/A 0 0 0
132 ZACH LOFTON 1 G New Mexico State 26 N/A 0 0 0

Note: Cameron Reynolds and Theo Pinson are signing with the Kings and Nets, respectively, per Shams Charania.

Will any of these wind up on the roster in Vegas or, like VanVleet, earn a spot with the main team? It’s way too early to figure. The Raptors have done well by undrafted free agents in recent years, have earned a strong reputation for player development, and have a solid situation to offer undrafted free agents. That should give them a leg up landing the players they like over the next two weeks, even if there’s not a clear path to NBA playing time just yet.

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Raptors stand pat on draft night

The Toronto Raptors opted not to buy or trade into the 2018 NBA Draft on Thursday night.

Unless there’s a deal still in the works that will see draft rights to a player traded at a later date – entirely possible given the cap complexities sometimes involved with trades and the options that open up July 6 – any Raptors’ rookies for 2018-19 will come via the undrafted free agent market.

It will be interesting to hear if the Raptors explain this as an unwillingness to pay for a pick in a draft where they felt names they liked would slide or whether the teams dangling second-round picks were demanding too much in terms of future assets to move in. They’ll surely say they like the young core they have and believe in their ability to land and develop undrafted talent, which is justified. Finding out just how much money changed hands on some of the other second-round pick deals will be interesting, given the Raptors had the full $5.1-million allotment to use here.

It’s notable that most of the second round picks that were dealt on Thursday came at the cost of a pair of second-round picks, which would have further stripped out the Raptors’ draft (and asset) chest. And whether it’s a good or a bad thing (likely neutral given the difficulty of arranging workouts without a pick), only one of the players the Raptors brought in for workouts was selected (Kostas Antetokounmpo), so there should be a number of undrafted names they’re interested in – if they can snag one or two undrafted players that they had on their internal draft board, that might be as good to them as surrendering assets to move in (although, again, that cash expires, and so it may have been worthwhile to be sure). It was also just a weirdly quiet night, with no roster players being traded for the first time in recent memory (there were 49 in total over the last four drafts).

It should be an interesting couple of days as Summer League rosters begin to get filled out and two-way deals and Exhibit 10s and NBA contracts for undrafted players start getting signed.

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NBA Draft Open Thread

We’re refreshing with a new thread for the draft since our earlier open thread is about 10 hours hold and 130 comments deep.

To catch you up quickly:

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Draft Day Mailbag: How to move in, who to move out, and more

There is probably not a need for another mailbag right now. We just did a two-part end-of-season mailbag (here and here) back in mid-May, and aside from now knowing Nick Nurse will be the team’s head coach for 2018-19, not a lot has changed. Same big questions, same vague answers, same sense of impatience and existential dread (non-basketball related). But it’s draft day, so why not re-focus a bit, right?

You can find all of the previous editions of the mailbag here. You can ask me questions at any time using #RRMailbag Twitter, and I’ll be sure to include them in the next mailbag, no matter how long between (unfortunately, it’s too much to keep track of Qs from the comments, so Twitter/email is preferred).

Before we go ahead: A reminder that we have a Patreon page at patreon.com/RaptorsRepublic. If you appreciate the content we produce, want to support RR, and have the means to do so, any contribution is greatly appreciated and will help us continue to do what we do (and try to do even more). You can also follow me on TwitterFacebook, and Instagram for all of my writing/podcasting/radio/whatever stuff. Validate me.

Let us.

Raptors at the draft

I think this is the first mailbag in the last five that doesn’t have a Kawhi Leonard question, to be honest. Which I totally understand – even if a trade for an extra superstar seems incredibly unlikely, you still want to figure out the best package you’d be willing to offer and how it measures up. The chances of landing both an elite player and a lottery pick are exponentially low – and might be counterintuitive since it would probably require sending out both Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan to accomplish – but hey, throw a third and a fourth team in there and see what sticks. (There is actually a three-team deal that would land Leonard in Toronto that I could squint and see being close-ish, but salary matching is more difficult now that Rudy Gay has opted out, and it was always an incredible long shot.)

And hey, if people weren’t going to fire off trade ideas for a Devil’s Advocate/Reality Barometer, what purpose would I serve this time of year and in February? None. I am purposeless. So let’s hear ’em.

There seems to be some real disagreement on this one in asking around. Personally, I see a 25-year-old wing who’s shown to be a solid defender and who possesses the ability to create his own shot, and who has at least flashed an ability to knock down catch-and-shoot corner threes, and think he should have value. The four-year, $42-million extension that kicks in July 1 is now an overpay, but young, two-way wings with controllability rarely go out of style, and it’s not as if Powell would need that much of a course correction for the $9.6 million he’ll make in 2018-19 to be back within a reasonable salary for him. Despite what the advanced numbers showed this year – and they showed him being among the worst rotation players in basketball – I still believe Powell is an NBA rotation player with upside if the 3-point shot comes back.

Working in Toronto’s favor is that Powell only counts for $1.5 million for salary matching until July 1, meaning they could unload him to a number of suitors without having to take much on. If the Raptors were purely motivated to get off of his contract, an enterprising team facing a summer in which they don’t have meaningful cap space might be able to poach him for pennies on the dollar, simply eating the contract and sending back a second-round pick or the draft rights to Johnny Jabronie or whatever. That would give the team Powell at a low asset cost and preserve their mid-level exception. What’s more, if teams wait until July 6, they might be able to attach a contract in a deal for Powell (when he counts for $9.6 million), which would have the effect of lessening the fiscal impact of trading Powell for Toronto but also numbing the cost of a team taking on his deal.

With all of that considered, I’m confident the Raptors could find a home for Powell. The unfortunate reality, though, is that Powell is a distressed asset and the league knows the Raptors have a tax crunch, limiting their leverage. It seems unlikely you’ll get a major asset back for him, and in that sense, his “trade value” is fairly low.

The collective bargaining agreement requires that in a trade, every team involved sends something out and receives something back. That doesn’t have to just be players, though – teams can trade picks, the draft rights to players, or cash to satisfy this condition. So an NBA team is able to just send cash considerations in a trade. Each cap year, the CBA dictates a total amount teams can send and receive in aggregate, and this year that amount if $5.1 million. The Raptors are yet to use any of it, so they’re able to send out up to $5.1 million in trades between now and July 1. All it requires is another team being willing to accept cash for one of their draft picks, which happens a couple of times every season (and even more if a future second is included in a deal).

I think they’re trying. For an organization with deep pockets like MLSE, an expiring $5.1-million cash allotment is a pretty big asset. It’s still real money and likely comes from a bigger-picture budget the Raptors are operating with that includes future luxury tax payments (here’s an area where the Raptors skirting the tax for 2017-18 and receiving a tax disbursement from the tax-paying teams has real consequences), and so it has to be balanced against spending elsewhere for the coming year. Still, it’s a meaningful asset.

Here’s what I wrote about the analysis of buying a pick last week:

For the Raptors, it becomes a matter of figuring out the surplus value they can get from that pick…In a draft that projects as quite flat once it gets to the deep 20s and extends well past the second-round cut-off, it also seems likely the Raptors could wait to play the undrafted free agent market and still get players they like. In a strictly analytical sense, then, their willingness to pay for a pick should be the additional surplus value they think the pick would return over the top undrafted free agent, accounting for things like projected salary and contract type (two-way, two-years a la Fred VanVleet, using part of the taxpayer mid-level exception to tack on a third year a la Norman Powell, etc.) and the projected value of that player’s restricted free agent rights at the end of the deal. In less analytical terms, the Raptors simply have to decide whether real cash dollars that they won’t get to use again is worth the difference between second-round guy and undrafted guy, assuming second-round guy even gets drafted, which is hard to peg down this year.

In other words, they’ll likely try, but they’ll hit a point in negotiations where they’d probably be better off just grabbing the best undrafted player and earmarking that money in the budget for tax payments or use of the 2018-19 cash allotment that resets July 1.

Those seem like reasonable enough targets, for sure. To be honest, though, we don’t really have a sense of who the Raptors are interested in. They brought in so few names because they don’t have any picks, and while they might tell us something – hello, Theo Pinson! – there are also likely a lot of guys the Raptors are intrigued by who didn’t come in. Kostas Antetokounmpo seems the type to be high on their boards, and a number of the names they brought into Toronto are ranked within the team’s top 60 despite public opinion being a little less high on them.

Here’s what I wrote about trying to learn from the pre-draft process last week:

Primarily, that’s meant the Raptors’ staff has spent a good portion of the last few weeks on the road. With a finite number of workout dates around the NBA Draft Combine blackout days and the draft, the Raptors have prioritized larger scouting events that take the task of getting players to Toronto out of the equation. In addition to the combine in Chicago, the Raptors have attended agency showcases in Los Angeles, Las Vegas, New York, Chicago, and Miami, plus the NBA Global Camp in Italy (with a quick stop in to Lithuania to interview Sarunas Jasikevicius).

Those are imperfect environments, with workouts not in their control and interview time at least a little scarce. Still, it’s better than nothing and allows the Raptors to cast a wide net. The Raptors conducted more interviews at the combine this year than they normally do — they’re usually aggressive in this regard, anyway — knowing it would be hard to get players in.

Not only do they want to cast that net wide because of the potential for them to make a draft night trade, but the back end of the draft is considered to be relatively flat. That is, it’s a little hard to nail down what the second round might look like with less separation between picks and that part of the draft will likely come down to team preference and fit. Maybe the player you want requires you to secure a mid-second rounder? Maybe he slides out of the draft altogether?

In other words, the Raptors definitely have targets out there, and while the two dozen or so names they brought in might tip their hand, we’re dealing with a serious lack of information here in trying to figure out who they might like. Personally, I like the three names you mentioned (I have a strong Canadian bias, of course), Pinson, Khyri Thomas, Jarred Vanderbilt, Devon Hall, and a handful of others in the second to undrafted range. This draft is heavy on guys I’m intrigued by but not in love with, which might just be a byproduct of me having to cast such a wide net in draft prep this year (since the Raptors don’t have a pick range for me to focus in on) and therefore getting to catch up a little bit on a lot of guys rather than going super deep on a smaller handful of names.

It’s going to be pretty tough. In terms of a straight player-for-pick swap, I’d guess OG Anunoby is probably the team’s only prospect that can get you there straight up, and I’d find it hard to believe the team likes more than a small number of guys in this draft better than they like Anunoby. Were the Raptors’ cap sheet a little cleaner, it would be possible to wiggle in while giving up less in raw asset value to take on bad salary, but they’re not really in a position to do so unless A) their appetite for the luxury tax this year and next is larger than anticipated, or B) a motivated top-10 seller is willing to move terrible salary for plain bad salary. What might need to happen, then, is for the Raptors to make two separate deals, first flipping an asset for a lower first-round pick, then using that lower first-round pick to help move into the top 10 (so that the team trading the pick is moving down rather than out of the draft entirely). In all of these scenarios, Memphis’ willingness to move off of No. 4 to unload Chandler Parsons is relevant, though that is a downright terrible deal and I’m having trouble coming up with a framework that would make sense for Toronto. The Clippers could be a factor, too, with two lottery picks.

Of course, the discussion of moving into the top 10 is a little different if you’re willing to trade one of the team’s stars.

Trading stars

I’d pick against it happening at the draft. It’s always safer to bet on a deal not happening than one happening, especially one of that magnitude. A lot of frameworks for DeMar DeRozan make more sense on July 6, anyway, when there’s a bit more cap flexibility league-wide for the purposes of trades (this is where you’ll see trades reported or teams select players and then trade their draft rights shortly after). With that said, there are some interesting three-team ideas that you could kick around involving DeRozan and teams in the lottery.

In general, I think the team is earnestly looking at every possible means of improvement, and DeRozan is probably the team’s best chip for fundamentally changing the core and remaining competitive, both because he presents a bit of a stylistic bottleneck on both ends and because he probably has the highest trade value of any of the team’s higher-salaried players. My feelings on this are pretty complicated, though. As I wrote in the last mailbag:

It’s going to be tough. On several fronts. It’s going to be tough to get fair value for him, first of all, given how few teams have the requisite cap flexibility to take him on without sending out bad salary. It’s going to be tough to sell the fanbase on dealing the face of the franchise and one of the only stars who chose to stay, too. Loyalty on both sides is a little overstated in sports, but DeRozan has absolutely embodied that, and for a franchise that’s lacked it for so long and has a fanbase that largely reveres DeRozan,  one of the three best Raptors ever, it’ll be difficult to move on from him. That’s not sound reasoning in isolation for making or not making moves, and so we come to it also being tough to imagine any DeRozan trade getting the Raptors over the hump, anyway. If they admit that just reaching the finals is their championship, then sure, but a DeRozan trade isn’t likely to make them legitimate contenders.

Understanding all of that, a DeRozan trade would probably have to satisfy one of three criteria:

  • Provide significant financial relief not just to help clear the books for 2020 but to give the team more flexibility the next two years. This likely means getting back a slightly lesser player on a smaller contract.
  • Return an asset that can help now while also continuing to build for the Raptors transitional era in 2019 or 2020. Whether that’s a young player still establishing himself or strong pick equity is a matter of market (I’d think a young player is easier to come by than a top pick in this draft), and this would likely require the Raptors to take real salary back to sweeten things and make the math work. This is probably the return I’m most skeptical about being available on the market – if a team is going to dangle a top-five pick in a strong draft, they’re going to have a lot of offers, and DeRozan (with his contract) might not be enough without taking on some bad salary in return. It’s also the least certain of the scenarios to see the Raptors improve or sustain next year, given the volatility of rookies (and the limited likelihood they’d open up significant financial flexibility in such a deal).
  • Make the Raptors the favorite to come out of the East. This is almost impossible given where Boston and Philadelphia and wherever LeBron James ends up are heading, but if you’re going to trade one of the all-time faces of your franchise, it better take you to another level now or help get you there in the future.

Satisfying even one of those criteria could be difficult, and you’d also need to make sure DeRozan is fine with the landing place and it’s not a bad situation. You can trade a player of that stature who has carried himself like he has, but you still have to at least try to do right by him if you’re both moving on. A DeRozan trade, then, is fun (if painful) to think about, but in my eyes seems unlikely to be “worth it” in the end given the team’s ceiling regardless and how much he’s meant to the franchise.

My opinion hasn’t really changed since then. You can trade DeRozan, and you should definitely be exploring it, but it has to be a pretty clear step in the right direction now or for a year or two down the line to sell it. It’s probably not worthwhile if you’re shuffling deck chairs. If Luka Doncic is sitting there, or some salary relief, a quality role player, and another pick? Absolutely, take a long hard look. I’m skeptical the right kind of deal presents itself tonight.

The Kyle Lowry situation is a little more straightforward. Given his age and salary, he is perhaps a little tougher to trade, but he’d also pretty seamlessly fit on about 30 rosters in the NBA given his style of play. The issue with dealing Lowry, even with strong point guard depth, is that you’re almost surely taking a step backward, and you’re probably not getting fair market value for his talent because of his contract (and again, you’re maybe taking on some bad money). You can sell me on improving via a DeRozan deal; if Lowry is dealt, that’s a tougher sell, and in that case I probably think it makes sense to also deal DeRozan and accept taking a short-term step-back to set yourself up for 2020-ish.

An email from Dave: Do you think the Raptors have reached what I’ll call the BlueJays turning point? The trade for Tony Fernandez / Fred McGriff being equivalent to Lowry / Derozan trade. As a necessary step in getting to the finals? Secondly would a sign and trade for Paul George work? Would this be enough to change the on court demeanor and add some edge? Would love to hear your thoughts.

I answered most of this one above. I don’t think it’s necessary – I’m a little skeptical about the Raptors reaching the finals with this core, anyway, given where the East is heading – but I think they’ve reached the point with this group where they can’t be committed to inertia and stability, because five years is a long time to bang your head against the wall. Changing coaches was a big step toward that end, and I really think they should explore roster changes, I’m just not sure the market is going to present the type of opportunities that will make those explorations bear fruit.

As for Paul George, a trade for him would require a sign-and-trade in July, and most rumors suggest George has already honed in on either staying in OKC or landing with the Lakers. So you’d have to sell him on Toronto and then find a deal that works under the cap and works for the Thunder logically, and that’s a tough one unless they really like DeRozan.

I do, yeah. I don’t think it’s the slam dunk that some in the Raptors community seem to be assuming. DeRozan has playoff limitations but he’s also a reasonably efficient high-volume scorer and draws more defensive attention than anyone on the roster, and I don’t think it’s safe to assume simply spreading his usage to other parts of the roster will be a net plus, even considering efficiency and defense. Everything would get harder for everyone else on the floor without DeRozan, save for playoff-type environments where defenses load up on non-DeRozan ball-handlers to leave him alone beyond the arc, and you can never rule out DeRozan coming back even better. At the same time, DeRozan is a limiting factor in how the team plays offensively and is their worst (or second-worst) rotation defender, both of which are real issues as the team looks to shift style and grow more dynamic, no matter how wonderful a person and player DeRozan is. As I outlined above, I think the set of circumstances where the Raptors deal DeRozan and improve immediately are pretty slim, but when you factor in age, the back end of the window, versatility in the playoffs, and so on, you can see it. Landing a quality role player who can soak up some of the minutes/touches and play better defense, then shifting some of that responsibility to the other young players, plus picking up a draft asset…you can get there.

Yeah, I’d need more back in that deal, or a third team looped in. The Parsons deal is super toxic, to where I’d probably only be willing to take it on if you ended up with No. 4 and another rotation asset, whether it’s from Memphis or a third team (the Clippers?). Complicating matters is that the Grizzlies reportedly want to move down, not out, so the Raptors would either need that third team or would need to pick up a first in a separate trade (Jakob Poeltl might have enough value to land a mid-first), then revisit with Memphis. The Parsons contract…woof.

It doesn’t work straight up without a third team or the Clippers sending out more salary (adding Boban Marjanovic makes it work, and he and Tobias Harris are best buds). The logic for the Clippers would be that they receive a home-grown superstar to sell to the L.A. market, remain competitive, and remain relevant within the Los Angeles basketball landscape, which is something they allegedly really care about. DeRozan is really good, and a return home – probably with his own Nike shoe to celebrate the occasion – would be an easy sell, plus be enough to keep the Clippers pretty good and maybe help convince DeAndre Jordan to stick around. They also have two lottery picks, and if they don’t have the appetite for a proper step back and rebuild (this is Doc Rivers, after all), using at least one of those picks to try to upgrade your talent base makes sense. For the Raptors, Harris would be a really nice piece (he’s criminally underrated and adds some versatility at both ends), but unless a guy they really like is sliding to the back of the lottery, I’m not sure they’d deem this enough of a return, even with Harris and Marjanovic (or whoever) coming off the books at the end of 2018-19.

Yes. I addressed this above a bit, but I think he’s less likely to go than DeRozan given age, contract, trade value, and the reasons you’d be trading one of your stars. If Lowry isn’t on the roster in November, I think the Raptors have probably shifted in a slightly different direction than they’ve said they’re going.

I’m still struggling to find a home for Ibaka in trades that doesn’t see the Raptors end up taking on an even bigger contract for a more useful piece (like Nic Batum), and I’m not sure they’re willing to do that. I think at this point you’d probably have to pay with a pick in a straight-up unloading, and the Raptors probably aren’t going to be willing to do that again this summer. So, you either explore a swap of bad contracts, hope you can use Ibaka in a bigger framework, or accept him for what he is – a useful rotation piece who is overpaid and was over-used last season. That’s not a terrible thing to have if you consider the contract a sunk cost and don’t manage his role around his dollar amount.

Raptors in free agency

I don’t know if I could identify one individual player’s spot they need to upgrade, but I think it’s pretty clear that forward is a position of need. If Fred VanVleet returns, the team is flush at the point, and even with Lucas Nogueira likely outbound, they’ll have strong center depth with the option to play Serge Ibaka over a position. It’s the wing, and particularly the forward position, where they’re thin, then – DeMar DeRozan played about half his time at the three last year, OG Anunoby can play some four, and C.J. Miles had a really nice season but was probably over-leveraged at times (at least alongside DeRozan) in the postseason. Adding another piece to that wing mix – or rehabilitating the confidence and value of Norman Powell – would shore up the team’s weakest spot. Were I targeting something in free agency or trade, it would be a three/four or three/two type who can provide some more matchup flexibility. I don’t think you approach the summer with one guy’s role in mind to upgrade, though, you just see if you can add talent through any means. (There’s also the cloud of one of the bigger names moving, which would shuffle the depth chart and render this exercise moot.)

It’s a little hard to say until we see how draft night goes and how the Fred VanVleet situation trickles down, but at the most, the Raptors will probably have the taxpayer mid-level exception to spend. They also have the bi-annual exception available to them. Neither of those figures to land you a major name in a weaker free agent class, though the general lack of cap space around the league could make Masai Ujiri’s salesmanship an asset here. Personally, I don’t see the Raptors adding one beyond the bi-annual exception amount given their likely luxury tax bill – think a third center if Lucas Nogueira walks, or potentially a third point guard if VanVleet is out – but if you want to look into the $5-million range, there are some reasonably attractive names. Wayne Ellington would be an absolute best-case scenario (there’s almost no way he makes that little), while there are depth fliers like Mario Hezonja, Tyreke Evans, Ed Davis, Rudy Gay, and players in that range who might end up willing to take the MLE. Even these names might be aiming too high, though we’ll have a better idea of that market in a week or so. (Kyle O’Quinn, Seth Curry, James Ennis, Luc Mbah a Moute, Quincy Acy, and Mike Scott are other names that might be worth a look. I don’t know, it’s early to figure price ranges.)

NBA and non-NBA miscellaneous

To be completely honest, this is probably the least prepared I’ve felt for a draft since maybe 2012. For a few years after that, I was theScore’s draft coverage lead, and the 2013-2015 drafts were probably the sharpest I’ve been with this stuff. In 2016, the Raptors had two first-rounders, so I was scouring everywhere for intel on anyone who might be a first-round pick. Even last year, the early exit let me catch a pretty wide net catching up on video. This year has been tougher – the Raptors not having a pick has made narrowing my research focus more difficult, and the lack of DraftExpress content has made a rapid catch-up more difficult. The end result is that I feel like I know “enough” about a really large number of prospects (the draft is super flat and there are 133 names to consider when I aggregated in 14 different rankings from around the web) but I’m not as intimately enamored with anyone the way I was with, say, OG Anunoby last year.

With all of that said, I have Jaren Jackson Jr. and Luka Doncic at one-two on my hypothetical draft board, and I don’t really care if that runs against the DeAndre Ayton consensus. Ayton is a really nice prospect, but Doncic is historically unique as a prospect in statistical and quality of competition terms and Jackson Jr. might be one of the highest-upside defensive prospects in the draft in years. I have other names I like. From a strictly Raptors perspective, I’m always a Best Player Available believer, especially when the team already has strong depth and a number of deals could be on the table this summer. Get the guy you think is the best and work the rest out later. If that means a flier on Kostas Antetokounmpo, if it means trying to teach Theo Pinson to shoot, if it means adding another combo-guard and playing three-guard lineups a lot, whatever. Get talent where you can. That should be the logic at the top of the draft, too, and I think Doncic and Jackson Jr. are going to be the best players from this class.

I think it’s a really fun wrinkle for The Basketball Tournament, and the fact that you can have a walk-off bucket is pretty amazing. I don’t think it’s a legitimate option for the NBA at any point down the line – it’s a lot of change for not a major material change in the length and strategy of the end-game – but I’d love to see it trialed at Summer League, where overtime is a scheduling hassle and largely unnecessary and where the environment is a more fun, casual, lower-stakes place for things like a walk-off bucket or a giant score sign. It’s a really cool gimmick and some good forward thinking from Elam.

The NBA will have to try to do their best to legislate around such a double-cohort, but I have no idea what they might be able to do to protect against it. If you eliminate the one-and-done rule, there will be a draft year where there’s the regular crop of prospects plus the first class of high-school eligible picks. In terms of teams loading up for that draft, the built-in protection there is that it will be difficult to acquire extra draft assets commensurate with the double cohort – teams will know at least a little in advance when the change is coming, and picks for that year could become more tightly guarded as a result. There’s also an argument that a deeper draft would make the middle-tier picks less valuable on the market in relative terms since there’s more talent to choose from later, and the NBA should absolutely add a third round of the draft by this point to help further absorb the prospect spike and continue to build the G League system as a true in-house development pipeline.

Absolutely. The fourth installment of the now-storied Kazuchika Okada-Kenny Omega series of matches was the single best wrestling match I’ve ever seen. And while I’m hesitant to go back to that well as soon as Wrestle Kingdom again, here’s betting that Okada finally losing the title sees him respond by truck-sticking the G1 Climax tournament and going undefeated through it.

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Final 2018 Draft Rankings

Draft day is finally here, which means all of the rankers we know and love so much have finalized a final top-60 or top-100, and we can look at those rankings to once again recalibrate heading into the big night. The reason to rely on the rankings of experts, at least as a baseline, is that they’re, well, experts. The people whose work I’ll cite below focus on college ball and the draft as their primary gig, and while I personally love to watch the NCAA and spend a lot of time once the playoffs end trying to catch up with video and reading and talking to people around the league, they’ve all spent far more time, tracked the prospects for years in some cases, and will have the benefit of more in-person viewings, meetings, and impressions from within the NBA. There’s nothing wrong with knowing what you don’t know and letting the expertise of intelligent people guide your own research. (Or so I tell myself.)

The big takeaway from tracking these rankings over the last few weeks is that there remains a ton of volatility and a wide range of opinions on most prospects. Considering how wide open the draft is – “flat” if you prefer, especially outside of the lottery – that stands to make things quite unpredictable. It seems likely that some will see several picks (or undrafted players) as really undervalued, as well as the opposite. For Toronto, without a pick, this presents a real opportunity either to buy in and land someone they like or to roll the dice that players they like slide undrafted altogether.

To help give an idea of who the Raptors looked at, here’s a refresher on the 21 names they brought in to BioSteel Centre who are still in the draft (two pulled out). It’s just a small part of the process and doesn’t at all mean this is the list they’re drawing from, especially given how difficult it was to get players in without a pick. Instead, the Raptors will rely on their season-long scouting, agency camps, their work at the combine, and so on. Still, the names they brought in might at least tip us to their thinking at least a little. Here’s the list, and where those players show up on different rankings, if at all (links to follow):

Prospect Workout Position School Age Ranked (of 14) High Low Mean
MARCUS LEE 1 PF California 24 1 60 60 60.0
KOSTAS ANTETOKOUNMPO 1 SF Dayton 21 6 31 90 62.3
THEO PINSON 1 PG/SG North Carolina 23 7 50 95 64.9
DAKOTA MATHIAS 1 SG Purdue 23 6 46 89 71.7
WENYEN GABRIEL 1 PF Kentucky 21 5 64 91 75.2
JARED TERRELL 1 G Rhode Island 23 2 66 87 76.5
MARCUS FOSTER 1 PG/SG Creighton 23 3 77 87 83.0
DARIUS THOMPSON 1 G Western Kentucky 23 1 90 90 90.0
DESI RODRIGUEZ 1 SF Seton Hall 23 2 88 97 92.5
ALAN HERNDON 1 F Wyoming 23 0 N/A N/A N/A
GIDDY POTTS 1 G Middle Tennessee 22 0 N/A N/A N/A
JOE CHEALEY 1 G Charleston 22 0 N/A N/A N/A
JAIRUS LYLES 1 PG UMBC 22 0 N/A N/A N/A
NANA FOULLAND 1 C Bucknell 22 0 N/A N/A N/A
JACOBI BOYKINS 1 G/F Louisiana Tech 23 0 N/A N/A N/A
CAMERON REYNOLDS 1 F Tulane 23 0 N/A N/A N/A
KASSIUS ROBERTSON 1 G Missouri 24 0 N/A N/A N/A
ANDREW ROWSEY 1 G Marquette 24 0 N/A N/A N/A
JUSTIN TILLMAN 1 F VCU 22 0 N/A N/A N/A
HAYDEN DALTON 1 F Wyoming 22 0 N/A N/A N/A
ZACH LOFTON 1 G New Mexico State 26 0 N/A N/A N/A

As a look back, here are our workout notes from each session. (As a side-note, no player came in for a second workout this year, at least not that was noted publicly.)

And here’s an updated look at the rankings from around the web. I amalgamated these from ESPN, The Ringer, The Stepien, Sports IllustratedThe Athletic, and multiple draft models. In all, I included 14 sources in coming up with a high, low, and mean ranking. These are measures of player quality, not mocks. There are 131 names that showed up on a qualitative ranking (and a bunch more I cut that only showed up on statistical models). Here you go:

Rank Prospect Workout Position School Age Ranked (of 14) High Low Mean
1 LUKA DONCIC PG Real Madrid 19 14 1 4 1.6
2 JAREN JACKSON JR. PF/C Michigan St 19 14 2 5 2.9
3 DEANDRE AYTON C Arizona 20 14 1 7 3.6
4 TRAE YOUNG PG Oklahoma 20 14 2 10 5.4
5 MARVIN BAGLEY III PF/C Duke 19 14 1 14 5.9
6 WENDELL CARTER JR. C Duke 19 14 1 19 7.1
7 MOHAMED BAMBA C Texas 20 14 3 12 8.0
8 MICHAEL PORTER JR. SF/PF Missouri 20 14 4 26 8.4
9 MIKAL BRIDGES SF Villanova 22 14 5 15 9.1
10 MILES BRIDGES SF/PF Michigan St 20 14 4 19 9.8
11 SHAI GILGEOUS-ALEXANDER PG/SG Kentucky 20 14 6 20 12.4
12 ZHAIRE SMITH SF Texas Tech 19 14 8 17 12.9
13 ROBERT WILLIAMS C Texas A&M 21 14 11 20 14.9
14 COLLIN SEXTON PG Alabama 19 14 8 25 15.6
15 KEVIN KNOX SF/PF Kentucky 19 14 7 25 16.4
16 MITCHELL ROBINSON C N/A 20 13 9 35 19.9
17 TROY BROWN SG Oregon 19 14 7 32 19.9
18 KEVIN HUERTER SG Maryland 20 14 11 39 19.9
19 DE’ANTHONY MELTON PG/SG USC 20 13 12 32 20.2
20 LONNIE WALKER SG Miami FL 19 14 13 46 21.0
21 DZANAN MUSA SF Cedevita 19 13 8 39 21.7
22 JACOB EVANS SG/SF Cincinnati 21 14 13 36 23.1
23 JOSH OKOGIE SG Georgia Tech 20 14 13 51 26.9
24 KEITA BATES-DIOP PF Ohio St 22 14 15 46 28.8
25 ELIE OKOBO PG Pau-Orthez 21 14 14 73 29.6
26 CHANDLER HUTCHISON SG/SF Boise St 22 14 16 60 30.9
27 DONTE DIVINCENZO PG Villanova 21 12 19 45 31.3
28 SHAKE MILTON PG/SG SMU 22 14 16 53 32.1
29 JALEN BRUNSON PG Villanova 22 14 22 47 32.7
30 LANDRY SHAMET PG Wichita St 21 14 18 51 33.6
31 GRAYSON ALLEN SG Duke 23 14 24 49 34.4
32 KHYRI THOMAS SG Creighton 22 14 24 53 34.9
33 JEVON CARTER PG West Virginia 23 14 17 55 35.1
34 BRUCE BROWN JR. SG Miami FL 22 14 21 65 36.1
35 MELVIN FRAZIER SF Tulane 22 13 18 52 36.9
36 AARON HOLIDAY PG UCLA 22 13 17 57 37.4
37 JEROME ROBINSON PG Boston College 21 13 17 58 37.5
38 KENRICH WILLIAMS PF TCU 24 13 20 63 38.8
39 JARRED VANDERBILT SF Kentucky 19 14 16 66 38.9
40 RAWLE ALKINS SG Arizona 21 14 20 57 39.1
41 MORITZ WAGNER C Michigan 21 13 18 58 39.5
42 GARY TRENT JR. SG Duke 19 13 18 63 40.0
43 ANFERNEE SIMONS SG Team Breakdown 19 11 28 56 40.3
44 KEVIN HERVEY SF Texas Arlington 22 13 23 51 41.9
45 TREVON DUVAL PG Duke 20 14 31 55 43.6
46 XAVIER COOKS G/F Winthrop 23 1 44 44 44.0
47 OMARI SPELLMAN PF Villanova 21 13 28 57 44.2
48 DEVONTE’ GRAHAM PG Kansas 23 13 29 54 45.6
49 GARY CLARK PF Cincinnati 24 13 26 61 45.6
50 RAYMOND SPALDING PF Louisville 21 11 24 61 47.0
51 ISAAC BONGA SF Frankfurt 19 11 27 60 47.3
52 RODIONS KURUCS SF/PF Barcelona 20 9 38 72 49.9
53 MALIK NEWMAN PG/SG Kansas 21 11 35 71 50.0
54 VINCE EDWARDS SF/PF Purdue 22 11 31 73 51.0
55 DEVON HALL SG Virginia 23 13 28 80 51.3
56 CHIMEZIE METU PF/C USC 21 13 29 84 53.2
57 JUSTIN JACKSON SF/PF Maryland 21 13 28 69 53.9
58 HAMIDOU DIALLO SG Kentucky 20 13 37 86 54.5
59 TONY CARR PG Penn St 21 11 37 70 55.2
60 BRANDON MCCOY C UNLV 20 8 17 92 55.5
61 ISSUF SANON PG/SG Olimpija Ljubljana 19 5 41 70 56.6
62 SVIATOSLAV MYKHAILIUK SG Kansas 21 9 37 94 57.1
63 BONZIE COLSON PF Notre Dame 22 10 33 79 57.4
64 ALIZE JOHNSON PF Missouri St 22 9 30 83 58.2
65 D.J. HOGG SF/PF Texas A&M 22 8 38 84 59.0
66 ALLONZO TRIER SG Arizona 22 10 39 85 59.2
67 KEENAN EVANS PG Texas Tech 22 10 33 75 59.7
68 TIM BOND G/F Eastern Michigan 23 2 57 63 60.0
69 MARCUS LEE 1 PF California 24 1 60 60 60.0
70 ARNOLDAS KULBOKA SF Capo D’Orlando 20 8 46 79 61.8
71 DESONTA BRADFORD G ETSU 22 1 62 62 62.0
72 KOSTAS ANTETOKOUNMPO 1 SF Dayton 21 6 31 90 62.3
73 JORDAN MCLAUGHLIN PG USC 22 1 64 64 64.0
74 THEO PINSON 1 PG/SG North Carolina 23 7 50 95 64.9
75 ALEKSA ILIC PF Buducnost 22 1 65 65 65.0
76 TRYGGVI HLINASON C Valencia 21 6 34 85 66.8
77 AARON EPPS C LSU 22 1 67 67 67.0
78 DARYL MACON G Arkansas 22 2 47 88 67.5
79 KEENAN SIMMONS SF SIU Edwardsville N/A 1 68 68 68.0
80 ETHAN LEE F Central Arkansas 23 1 69 69 69.0
81 GEORGE KING SF Colorado 24 6 60 91 69.7
82 YANTE MATEN PF Georgia 22 7 42 88 70.3
83 TYLER DAVIS C Texas A&M 21 3 51 81 70.3
84 KAISER GATES SF Xavier 22 2 44 97 70.5
85 AJDIN PENAVA PF Marshall 21 7 48 98 71.3
86 DONTE GRANTHAM SF Clemson 23 5 62 85 71.6
87 DAKOTA MATHIAS 1 SG Purdue 23 6 46 89 71.7
88 JAYLEN ADAMS PG St. Bonaventure 22 6 32 96 72.2
89 BRYANT CRAWFORD PG Wake Forest 21 6 47 87 72.7
90 JORDAN BARNETT SF Missouri 23 2 58 88 73.0
91 THOMAS WELSH C UCLA 22 4 48 91 73.3
92 WENYEN GABRIEL 1 PF Kentucky 21 5 64 91 75.2
93 MARCUS DERRICKSON SF Georgetown 22 5 67 85 75.4
94 ISAAC HAAS C Purdue 23 6 55 92 75.8
95 ELIJAH BRYANT G BYU 23 2 72 80 76.0
96 TYLER RAWSON F Utah 23 1 76 76 76.0
97 JARED TERRELL 1 G Rhode Island 23 2 66 87 76.5
98 DORAL MOORE C Wake Forest 21 5 65 86 76.6
99 JAYLEN BARFORD SG Arkansas 22 6 64 92 77.2
100 ZACH THOMAS F Bucknell 22 2 74 81 77.5
101 ELIJAH STEWART SG USC 23 3 68 84 78.3
102 TREVON BLUIETT SF Xavier 23 3 71 90 79.0
103 ALEKSANDAR LAZIC SF/PF Mega Bemax 22 4 50 94 79.8
104 DENG ADEL SF/PF Louisville 22 6 59 90 80.0
105 B.J. JOHNSON G/F La Salle 22 1 80 80 80.0
106 BILLY PRESTON PF Igokea 21 6 68 90 80.8
107 MALIK POPE SF San Diego St 22 4 67 98 81.0
108 JOHNATHAN WILLIAMS F Gonzaga 23 1 81 81 81.0
109 JEFF ROBERSON SF Vanderbilt 22 1 82 82 82.0
110 MARCUS FOSTER 1 PG/SG Creighton 23 3 77 87 83.0
111 KENDRICK NUNN G Oakland 22 2 74 92 83.0
112 JEFFREY CARROLL SF Oklahoma St 24 3 73 96 83.7
113 COREY SANDERS PG Rutgers 21 3 78 95 85.3
114 ANGEL DELGADO C Seton Hall 23 1 86 86 86.0
115 THOMAS WILDER G Western Michigan 23 2 76 97 86.5
116 J.P. MACURA SG Xavier 23 4 53 99 86.8
117 JOCK LANDALE C Saint Mary’s 23 4 71 100 87.0
118 BRAIAN ANGOLA-RODAS G/F Florida St 24 1 87 87 87.0
119 ANAS MAHMOUD C Louisville 23 3 85 93 88.3
120 DREW EUBANKS C Oregon St 21 4 80 99 89.3
121 DARIUS THOMPSON 1 G Western Kentucky 23 1 90 90 90.0
122 MIKYLE MCINTOSH SF/PF Oregon 24 4 83 94 90.3
123 YUTA WATANABE SF Geo Washington 24 3 82 96 90.3
124 DESI RODRIGUEZ 1 SF Seton Hall 23 2 88 97 92.5
125 KELAN MARTIN F Butler 22 1 93 93 93.0
126 JAE’SEAN TATE F Ohio St 22 1 93 93 93.0
127 ROB GRAY G Houston 24 1 94 94 94.0
128 JOEL BERRY PG North Carolina 23 2 95 95 95.0
129 CHRIS WRAY F Mt. St. Mary’s 24 1 97 97 97.0
130 HERVE KABASELE KASONGA C Breogan 22 1 100 100 100.0
131 TERRY LARRIER F Connecticut 22 1 100 100 100.0
132 ALAN HERNDON 1 F Wyoming 23 0 0 0 N/A
132 GIDDY POTTS 1 G Middle Tennessee 22 0 0 0 N/A
132 JOE CHEALEY 1 G Charleston 22 0 0 0 N/A
132 JAIRUS LYLES 1 PG UMBC 22 0 0 0 N/A
132 NANA FOULLAND 1 C Bucknell 22 0 0 0 N/A
132 JACOBI BOYKINS 1 G/F Louisiana Tech 23 0 0 0 N/A
132 CAMERON REYNOLDS 1 F Tulane 23 0 0 0 N/A
132 KASSIUS ROBERTSON 1 G Missouri 24 0 0 0 N/A
132 ANDREW ROWSEY 1 G Marquette 24 0 0 0 N/A
132 JUSTIN TILLMAN 1 F VCU 22 0 0 0 N/A
132 HAYDEN DALTON 1 F Wyoming 22 0 0 0 N/A
132 ZACH LOFTON 1 G New Mexico State 26 0 0 0 N/A

A live thread will go up shortly, and we’ll track any major rumors, mocks, or changes in perception there throughout the day (these rankings won’t be updated).

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Draft Day rumor/open thread: Raptors ‘open for business’

Throughout the day, I’ll continue updating this thread with the latest rumors, deals, and mock drafts. Check back often. The draft starts at 7. Here’s the hub for all of our draft content, and a final ranking list.

Mock Drafts

  • Every year, we updated the mocks throughout the day. Since the Raptors don’t have a pick this year, we won’t be doing that unless they acquire one. Here’s Jonathan Givony’s latest, though.

Other Raptors news and rumors

Thursday rumors…

  • 3:45pm: Michael Scotto of The Athletic adds the following note to what we already mostly knew:
    • “Lastly, keep an eye on the Toronto Raptors and Houston Rockets as teams that have expressed interest in trading into the middle of the first round of the draft. Toronto is open for business on its roster.”
  • 1:05pm: Michael Grange of Sportsnet confirms our general expectation that all four of the team’s high-priced players – Lowry, DeRozan, Ibaka, and Valanciunas – are available for the right offer. Nothing new here, and it’s worth remembering that each would probably mean a slightly different set of approaches to the coming offseason, from sheer salary dumping to taking a real step back (something the team continues to say they’re not interested in).

Prior to Thursday…

  • Everyone is available on the Raptors’ roster. This has been reported multiple places and more or less confirmed by Masai Ujiri and Bobby Webster. They may not be shopping specific names, but they’re looking at every possible angle to improve the team.
  • Yes, that includes moving into the draft. They’ve been similarly open that they’d like to move into the draft if the price is right, which only makes sense.
  • It’s been kind of a weird year for the Raptors, not only because they don’t have a pick but because their approach has been obvious enough that they can just admit it: They’re looking at everything. It’s earnest when they say as much, and it’s taken some of the reporting power away from the situation. As always, it’s worth remembering that the Raptors generally don’t leak information, and if any Raptors-adjace rumors are getting out there (hi, Shai), a moment to consider the source and the reason that information might be getting out is warranted. That doesn’t mean it’s not good information, just that it’s out there for a reason.

Non-Raptors news and rumors

Thursday rumors...

  • 3:45pm: The Lakers are among the teams that have called on Kawhi Leonard, per Shams, though the Spurs basically sound like they’re in “just send us your offers” mode.
  • 2:15pm: Dwight Howard is getting bought out, which isn’t much of a surprise. Guess his fart jokes didn’t play in the Nets group chat. Literally nothing else is going on.
  • 1:00pm: There’s really just a lot of posturing and speculation in that No. 3-14 range. Smoke screen season.
  • As a non-rumor reminder: Picks can be traded until 2 p.m. today. After that, teams have to do the silly dance where they select the player themselves, then trade the draft rights to said player.

Prior to Thursday…

  • A quick run down of the trades that have already been made or reportedly agreed to:
    • The Hornets trade Dwight Howard to Brooklyn for Timofey Mozgov, two second-round picks, and cash, per multiple sources Wednesday
    • The 76ers trade the No. 39 pick to the Lakers for a 2019 second-round pick and an undisclosed amount of cash, per Woj on Wednesday night
  • And a run down of some rumors:
    • Honestly, it’s been quiet and noisy at the same time. Basically, every pick seems available except No. 1, and the smoke signals are all over the place. There seems to be a lot of potential traction upward and downward. Making heads or tails of what’s real and what’s posturing is difficult.
    • The Grizzlies might be the most notable in that group, as Jonathan Givony reports that they have seven suitors for the No. 4 pick. They’re looking to trade down – not out – as a means of unloading Chandler Parsons’ salary.
    • Maybe Kawhi Leonard is on the move!
    • Look, it’s draft day in a wide open draft year, and the rumor mill has been oddly non-specific this time around. Today’s going to be a mess of wonderful surprises.

Keep checking back throughout the day!

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Draft day hub: Workout list, rankings, podcasts, and more

Here’s everything you need to keep you prepared for draft day in one convenient location.

Open thread

Draft day rumor/open thread

Workouts

The following players worked out for the Raptors, sorted by the date they visited with a link to their workout notes:

Rankings

A final look at rankings around the NBA Draft universe

Mailbags

A draft-day mailbag

Podcasts

Part 1 – Previewing a pickless draft with a professional scout

Part 2 – William Lou sorts through speculation

Other

Bobby Webster talks draft – notes and quotes

Bobby Webster talks draft – video

Potential 2nd-round targets from Colin

Other Resources

The work of  Jonathan Givony, the guys at The Stepien, Jeremy Woo, Sam Vecenie, Jesse Fischer, and other is invaluable.

Elsewhere

What the pre-draft process has looked like for the Raptors without a pick

How the Raptors might be able to move into the draft

Which Raptors are the most and least likely to stick around

Non-draft, a profile on new Raptors 905 head coach Jama Mahlalela

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VIDEO: Webster, Mahlalela media availability

Toronto Raptors general manager Bobby Webster and new Raptors 905 head coach Jama Mahlalela spoke with media at BioSteel Centre on Wednesday. You can check the relevant news and notes out here, or watch the sessions yourself below.

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Webster & Mahlalela media availability notes & quotes

Toronto Raptors general manager Bobby Webster and new Raptors 905 head coach Jama Mahlalela spoke with media at BioSteel Centre on Wednesday. We’ll post video once it’s up, but in the meantime, here are the relevant notes and quotes.

Bobby Webster

On the process without a pick:

I think from the start it was very similar which is let’s canvas all of college, international basketball, some of the high school stuff for guys that are eligible and really get a sense for them earlier in the year. Obviously not having them in there and having a little bit more of a personal touch puts a little bit of a question mark, but I think we’re very comfortable with our process and our early season looks at guys.

On rumors they want to pick up a lottery pick:

It’s always tough. We always say you fall in love with your picks at this time of year so it’s hard to get rid of them. We’ve been in the opposite situation where we’ve had a lot of picks and we haven’t moved them so we’re constantly trying to get in, we’re probing and asking the right questions as far as what it would take to get in and that’s just part of our daily due diligence.

Yeah. I think there’s always, every year picks are traded so, I think I said earlier this week, you’re always trying to find the biggest gap between what you can give up and what you can get back. There’s different ranges, difference variances, but that’s what we’re looking for.

On the trade value of the team’s young pieces:

There’s definitely interest in, there’s always interest in those young guys because they’ve proven themselves. This year was a big year for all of them. As far as is it easy to replicate I think that’s the task we’re all faced with in management, can you have a right mix of veterans and young players to kind of have sustained success in the NBA.

Jama Mahlalela

An opening statement:

I just wanted to thank everyone here at MLSE and with the Raptors specifically. It’s an amazing opportunity for myself and for my family. We are really looking forward to this, to be in Mississauga, and to coach the 905 team, it’s just tremendous. So as we move forward into this, as we figure out the summer and our first game, we are just really thankful as a family and really thankful for the time we’ve spent here, but also the connections we have between the two programs.

On why he wanted the job, and what he’s looking forward to:

I think the one is making real leadership decisions. I think when you’re the assistant coach, you can kind of make suggestions, but to make the actual decision, that final decision that has consequence, for me is a challenge that I really want to sort of grow in. So for me, that’s the main step there.

Yeah, I think that once there was some change with Coach Casey, everything was sort of up in the air to a certain extent, so you’re not sure where you’re gonna land. When we hired Coach Nick, that really sort of changed the game in terms of having someone who I know really well. Then it just became a discussion of what is the best step for me. And in discussion with the front office and with him, this is just such a great growth opportunity that projects my career forward, so to me it was a no-brainer to take this on.

On what a Jama Mahlalela team looks like:

I think that’s our players play with energy. I want them to have an energy when they play on the floor, they need to be active, they need to be diving for loose balls, they need active hands. To me, if they play with energy and effort, the rest of the stuff we can figure out over the course of the season. But that’s the type of player I want to play for our team.

I think I’m someone who is people first. I really listen to people. I want to get to know my players first and once I know them I can really start to develop a coaching strategy around that person. I am a trained teacher and an educator so for me it’s about learning and the different ways taht we all learn and I think finding the right learning style for each of my players. Then give them passion and give them energy and create a coaching staff that also passion and energy so each day they come to work they feel an energy in the gym and they want to work to get better.

On the Raptors-905 bridge:

Yeah, we’ve had really good conversations. I think that’s one of the most exciting parts for me is that we have such a good working relationship. I think there’s gonna be a real lock-step between the Raptors team and the 905 team in terms of what we’re running offensively, how we’re guarding defensively, but also just our vision. I think there’ll be a connection between the coaching staffs that is exciting, and I think we’re maybe even gonna bridge new territories in terms of the connectedness between our two teams.

As a side note, Mahlalela will not be coaching the Summer League team. It’s unclear who will be handling that responsibility, but it sounds as if Nick Nurse wants to have a hand in it. Whether he coaches it himself or uses one of his new assistants, Patrick Mutombo, or some combination from the staff, there will be a heavy Raptors’ coaching presence in Las Vegas.

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2017-18 Player Review: Lucas Nogueira

You can keep up with all of our player reviews here.

When I picture Bebe this summer its sitting behind a drum kit, alone. He picks up the sticks and rolls them across a snare, making a little ra-ta-ta-ta, the beginning of a drumroll. He’s content, but he’s lonely. He misses his band.

The big story around Lucas Nogueira this offseason is going to be whether or not the Raptors resign him. It’s fair to make a case for keeping him. He’s an earnest player and dedicated in his mentality to the team, if not to the game itself. His attention could hone to moments of pointed sharpness this season but they weren’t sustainable. One minute he was there, plucking the ball off the glass for a rebound and gently placing it in the basket, the boon of a 8” wingspan writ really large, but the next his attention had shifted to something just beyond the court. A wayward first riff in the ubiquitous crunch time blasting of ‘Crazy Train’ being played over the ACC’s speakers? Unknown. But he wanders, then snaps back into it a half second too late, with the ball already on the move down the court, away from him.

That’s why I think the focus on Bebe this summer should be toward something that means a lot more to him—we gotta find this guy a band.

Nogueira is a drummer. He used to play bass, going so far as to sign up for lessons but he put it aside when it demanded too much of his time. Not to draw conclusions but this sort of reminds me of his approach to basketball. Anyway, he’s a drummer. He used to play in a samba band called Connection. Last summer, I want to say a hazy hot Wednesday in July, Bebe and his band turned up at a bar in Leslieville to play. Bebe was pretty happy, by all accounts, something he’s since come out and said. But one of the members of the band had to move back to Brazil, and would it be wild to equate this loss of his band to his lack of concentration in the court? Probably, obviously they aren’t really related.

But imagine this: When it comes time to dole out Nogueira’s contract, why not consider the great music dynasties of some of the cities he could go to? D.C. has a decent jazz scene, in New York there’s everything. Orlando and Sacramento, the two traditional contract offloading grounds of the Raptors, likely don’t have the best scenes. Orlando is proximal to Miami, at least, where there’s got to be a better samba scene than Toronto.

Picture it, his next first gig could be at halftime at his next homecourt arena. He’s there behind the drums and he’s smiling that huge grin we all know and love, the kind that comes with a wayward dunk or connecting with a pass that he was meant to catch and then dunking. He’s proud. He’s purposeful and intent. He’s going to totally shred.

Or better still, maybe in Sacramento, he’s jamming along the river and people passing by are like, Is that? It couldn’t be. Shouldn’t he be at practice? And he should be, but bless him, he’s probably getting more airtime shredding the skins. In Orlando—ok this is harder—he is cornered by some Disney executives who have wandered out of their corporate box during a game and they’ve heard he knows how to play drums. Come and play at the park! They’ll insist. And he’ll show up the next day and he’ll say he’s there to play in the Magic Band he heard about and someone at the ticket stand will tell him, Sir, MagicBands are the wristbands people buy for all-access to the park.

Is music Bebe’s first passion? Will basketball be his first passion after he’s left it for music and decides wait, my first passion was basketball? Truly tough to say. But a hunch that’s not that hard to ground is that Bebe is probably not coming back. A lot of room is going to be needed to hang onto the assets the Raptors really want, like Fred VanVleet and Bebe’s kind of replacement, Jakob Poeltl. There’s no doubt Nogueira would continue to improve next season if he stayed, maybe more under Nick Nurse and the rotational experimentation he’s already said is his big priority, but it would most likely be in fits and starts.

So let’s use the rest of the time he has here in the city to get him some gigs, maybe some complementary passes to Jazz Fest and whatever weird shows are happening at Echo Beach. I think Marilyn Manson is coming in August? Bebe loves rock, he’s said so himself. I’m sure between all of us we can pool enough together to at least buy him a three hour session at Rehearsal Factory.

One thing is for certain, the first time Bebe comes back to Toronto with whatever franchise he ends up at, the standing ovation he’s going to get will be one thousand times better than whatever Nickelback got, one of Bebe’s favourite bands, whenever they last played the arena. Anyway, I miss him already.

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Raptors Weekly Podcast – Speculation SZN

Host William Lou flies solo while discussing the various bits of speculation on the Raptors ahead of the 2018 NBA Draft.

(more…)

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Jama Mahlalela named Raptors 905 head coach

Jama Mahlalela is set to become the third head coach in Raptors 905 history, the Toronto Raptors announced Tuesday.

With Nick Nurse being named the Raptors’ head coach and Jerry Stackhouse departing for the Memphis Grizzlies, a shake-up was bound to take place. Nurse has spoken incredibly highly not only of the experience he gained coaching at the G League level but also of a development system’s importance overall, and he likely worked to sell Mahlalela on this being a good move for both coach and organization. Mahlalela has been methodically working his way to this point for most of his adult life at this point.

“We are very excited to add Jama as our new head coach,” said Raptors 905 general manager, Dan Tolzman. “After proving himself as an assistant on the Raptors staff, having an opportunity to run his own team is a major step in his development as a coach. Jama has played a big part in developing our young Raptors core, and we look forward to him continuing to do so from the Raptors 905 sideline. He is an example of what homegrown talent can achieve in this growing global game.”

“I am excited and grateful for the wonderful opportunity to coach the Raptors 905 team,” said Mahlalela. “I am eager to share my passion for the development of this sport with our young players and hope to use my previous experience as a Raptors assistant coach to reinforce and strengthen the connection between the two programs. My family and I would like to extend our sincere thanks to Masai Ujiri, Bobby Webster, Dan Tolzman, Larry Tanenbaum and the entire ownership group.”

After five years starring at UBC – he won a Canada West title and had an award named after him “in recognition of excellence in areas of selfless dedication, leadership, and spirit” – Mahlalela began working for the NBA Cares program out of school and working as an assistant coach at the University of Toronto. I had a chance to meet him in 2008 when he was still a part of that program, and it’s the same enthusiasm and positivity he showed then that has been the trademark of his coaching career. In 2006, he joined the Raptors as a part of their community development team, helping lead clinics and academies around the country while also running international exchange camps between Toronto and his native Swaziland to promote youth engagement and AIDS prevention. In 2009, he was named the director of basketball operations for NBA Asia, overseeing league youth clinics and programs.

Eventually, the Raptors made Mahlalela their director of player personnel, then a player development coach. Last season, he moved to the front row of the bench as Dwane Casey’s de facto No. 3 assistant, a role that includes gameplanning for opponents while also keeping up player development work. Mahlalela has honed a sort of specialty in player development, and he’s been trusted to run the team’s draft and free agent workouts for years, as well as share the Summer League coaching duties the last two years (it stands to reason he’ll coach, or at least co-coach, the Summer League team again here).

Even back before Stackhouse agreed to take the 905 job in 2016-17, Mahlalela seemed like a smart candidate for the position, so him taking the job here is not at all surprising. Nurse and the Raptors are believers that the role is important in a coach’s development – Stackhouse and Jesse Mermuys spoke well of the opportunity, too, before moving further up the NBA bench upon leaving the role – and this will give Mahlalela his first extended experience calling the shots on his own. He would seem a natural fit given the path he’s taken, his time working in player development, and his unrelenting energy and positivity. The program seems to once again be in pretty sound hands, and Stackhouse left behind a few strong assistants like Nathaniel Mitchell and Nicki Gross who could help make the transition seamless if they return.

There are surely more tweaks to the staff to come. Moving Mahlalela to the 905 means Nurse essentially has an empty front row, with his own seat abandoned, too, and Rex Kalamian outbound. Nate Bjorkgren would seem a good bet, but the New Orleans Pelicans were not willing to grant permission for the Raptors to hire Chris Finch, who also seemed a natural fit. Nurse has a wide network of contacts from his time coaching overseas, in the G League, and as an NBA assistant, and he’ll surely be looking to beef up what’s become a somewhat inexperienced staff amid the turnover.

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Potential 2nd-Round Steals for the Raptors to Chase

In recent years, due to the evolution of the 24-hour NBA news cycle, the draft has become one of the largest exercises of groupthink in existence. Every year teams let rotation-quality players slip through their grasp due to preconceived not