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Date Title Author
Sep 1, 14 Raptors Weekly Podcast, September 1, Diametrically Opposed Play Zarar Siddiqi
Aug 30, 14 DeRozan scores 6 points in USA’s 114-55 Rout of Finland Zarar Siddiqi
Aug 30, 14 Jonas Valanciunas With Strong Showing at FIBA vs Mexico Zarar Siddiqi
Aug 28, 14 Breaking it Down: The Raptors’ Clutch Playbook William Lou
Aug 27, 14 The Raptors and The Lean Startup Zarar Siddiqi
Aug 25, 14 Raptors Weekly Podcast, August 25 – Leiweke Hates the 9-to-5 Zarar Siddiqi
Aug 23, 14 [OFFICIAL]: DeMar DeRozan makes Team USA William Lou
Aug 21, 14 Tim Leiweke to leave MLSE by 2015 William Lou
Aug 21, 14 What is the benefit of continuity? William Lou
Aug 21, 14 VIDEO: DeMar DeRozan leads Team USA in scoring with 13 points William Lou
Aug 20, 14 Beyond the Raptors: New York Knicks Sam Holako
Aug 19, 14 Reports: Bruno eating 6,000 calores per day, Tim Leiweke leaving? William Lou
Aug 19, 14 Yakkin’ About The Raptors: Brainstorming Kevin Durant Bars For Drake Blake Murphy
Aug 19, 14 Terrence Ross Throwing Down at Seatle Pro AM Sam Holako
Aug 18, 14 Raptors Weekly Podcast, August 18 – All-Time Frustrating Team and Tired Camels Zarar Siddiqi
Aug 17, 14 Highlights: Jonas Valanciunas Dominates New Zealand with 15 Points in Fourth Zarar Siddiqi
Aug 15, 14 The problem with #WeTheNorth William Lou
Aug 14, 14 Report: Raptors reach 1-year agreement with Jordan Hamilton William Lou
Aug 14, 14 William Lou asks: Who is Lou Williams? William Lou
Aug 13, 14 Toronto Raptors 2014-15 Schedule – Live Thread Zarar Siddiqi
Aug 13, 14 What’s Your Starting 5? forumcrew
Aug 13, 14 Key Adjustments Needed Despite Majority Roster Returning for Raptors Zarar Siddiqi
Aug 13, 14 Raptors looking to add Rochester RazorSharks as D-League affiliate William Lou
Aug 12, 14 VIDEO: Jonas Valanciunas drops 19 points, 8 rebounds against Australia William Lou
Aug 12, 14 DeMar DeRozan’s Value as a Free Throw Shooter RR
Aug 11, 14 ESPN summer forecast projects Raptors to win 3rd seed with 47 wins William Lou
Aug 11, 14 Drake’s First Contribution to the Raptors: A $25,000 Fine Zarar Siddiqi
Aug 11, 14 Raptors Weekly Podcast, August 11 – DeMar’s Getting Low Zarar Siddiqi
Aug 10, 14 Highlights: Jonas Valanciunas – 20 points vs Finland Zarar Siddiqi
Aug 9, 14 Raptors Second Round Pick DeAndre Daniels to Play in Australia Zarar Siddiqi
Aug 8, 14 How will the Love-for-Wiggins trade impact the Raptors? William Lou
Aug 7, 14 DeRozan’s new handles Sam Holako
Aug 7, 14 Why doesn’t Terrence Ross attack the basket? William Lou
Aug 6, 14 Toronto Raptors 2014-15 Pre-Season Schedule Announced Zarar Siddiqi
Aug 6, 14 Mild Musings on Guard Lineups Zarar Siddiqi
Aug 5, 14 A totally scientific assessment of #KDtoTORONTO2016 William Lou
Aug 4, 14 Raptors Weekly Podcast, August 4 – Solo Effort Zarar Siddiqi
Aug 3, 14 Raptors officially sign Lucas Nogueira Zarar Siddiqi
Aug 1, 14 Raptors Fans and the Galvanization of the ACC Zarar Siddiqi
Aug 1, 14 Morning Coffee – Fri, Aug 1 Sam Holako
Jul 31, 14 Q&A with Chris Faulkner of Grizzlies Bear Blues on James Johnson William Lou
Jul 30, 14 Report: Raptors Sign Will Cherry Zarar Siddiqi
Jul 30, 14 So You Drove the Ball to the Net. What next? Zarar Siddiqi
Jul 29, 14 Summer Mail Bag Vol. 1 – Amir vs. 2Pat, 2015 Free Agents William Lou
Jul 28, 14 Raptors Weekly Podcast, July 28 – Morgan Time Zarar Siddiqi
Jul 26, 14 VIDEO: DeMar DeRozan jumps over Kyle Lowry for the alley-oop slam William Lou
Jul 25, 14 [Pic] Amir Johnson Shaved His Head Zarar Siddiqi
Jul 25, 14 10 Questions Basketball Analytics Needs to Answer Zarar Siddiqi
Jul 24, 14 Terrence Ross throws down a 360 dunk in the Philippines Sam Holako
Jul 24, 14 Jonas Valanciunas’ Roadmap to NBA Legitimacy Zarar Siddiqi
Jul 24, 14 ICYMI: Lou Williams Can Spit Sam Holako
Jul 23, 14 The New James Johnson’s Potential Impact on the Raptors Zarar Siddiqi
Jul 21, 14 Ushering in the Golden Generation of Canadian Basketball William Lou
Jul 21, 14 Raptors Weekly Podcast, July 21 – Eastern Conference Preview Zarar Siddiqi
Jul 19, 14 Reports: Diante Garrett Waived, Dwight Buycks likely signs in Europe William Lou
Jul 19, 14 Report: Raptors Waive Dwight Buycks Zarar Siddiqi
Jul 18, 14 Summer League: We Like Where He Strokes It Tim W.
Jul 18, 14 [GIF] DeMar DeRozan’s evolution through shot-charts William Lou
Jul 18, 14 The Raptors and the NBA’s Shooting Revolution – the Nylon Calculus Shot Charts RR
Jul 17, 14 ICYMI: Lucas Nogueira Chases Luke Hancock Down For The Dunk Sam Holako
Jul 17, 14 Audio: Dwane Casey Summer League Interview Zarar Siddiqi
Jul 17, 14 Recap: Buycks and Bruno shine, Summer League is strange William Lou
Jul 16, 14 LVSL Game Thread: Raptors vs. Rockets William Lou
Jul 16, 14 Raptors 2014-15 Projected Wins forumcrew
Jul 16, 14 Can the Raptors Compete for the #1 Seed in the East Next Season? forumcrew
Jul 16, 14 Talking Raptors Podcast, July 16 – Summer League Barry Taylor
Jul 16, 14 Morning Coffee – Wed, Jul 16 Sam Holako
Jul 16, 14 Raptors play Rockets in LVSL Wed at 8:30, date with Wiggins awaits RR
Jul 15, 14 Breaking: Drunk Driving Charges Against Jonas Valanciunas Dropped Zarar Siddiqi
Jul 15, 14 ICYMI: Caboclo Welcomed to Summer League Sam Holako
Jul 15, 14 Scouting Report: Say Ayy to Bebe Nogueira William Lou
Jul 15, 14 Morning Coffee – Tue, Jul 15 Sam Holako
Jul 14, 14 Summer League: Raptors Shoot 30%, Commit 30 Turnovers, Lose by 31 to Mavericks Zarar Siddiqi
Jul 14, 14 What’s Next For The Raptors? Tim W.
Jul 14, 14 Raptors Weekly Podcast, July 14 – Stonewalling and Summer League Zarar Siddiqi
Jul 14, 14 Morning Coffee – Mon, Jul 14 Sam Holako
Jul 13, 14 Summer League: Raptors 79 Nuggets 110 Sam Holako
Jul 12, 14 Welcome Back, LeBron James Zarar Siddiqi
Jul 11, 14 Raptors win LVSL opener, Bruno looks much closer than “2 years from 2 years away” Blake Murphy
Jul 11, 14 Summer League Game Thread: Bruno debuts RR
Jul 11, 14 Summer Tweetbag Volume 1: KD in TO, Making the pieces fit, and more Garrett Hinchey
Jul 10, 14 Report: Raptors Interested in Anthony Morrow Zarar Siddiqi
Jul 10, 14 Raptors Update: Salary Cap, Roster and Rotation Blake Murphy
Jul 10, 14 Press Conference: Raptors Announce Kyle Lowry Signing, Bebe Coming, And More Zarar Siddiqi
Jul 10, 14 Report: James Johnson Returns to Raptors Zarar Siddiqi
Jul 10, 14 Summer School Tamberlyn Richardson
Jul 10, 14 3 reasons why the Greivis Vasquez deal makes sense William Lou
Jul 10, 14 Morning Coffee – Thu, Jul 10 Sam Holako
Jul 9, 14 Breaking: Greivis Vasquez Re-Signs with Raptors – $13M/2yr Deal Zarar Siddiqi
Jul 9, 14 PHOTO: Bruno Caboclo officially signs William Lou
Jul 9, 14 Landry Fields: Last Shot for the Man with No Shot Zarar Siddiqi
Jul 9, 14 Morning Coffee – Wed, Jul 9 Sam Holako
Jul 8, 14 Report: Andray Blatche Meeting Raptors in Vegas Zarar Siddiqi
Jul 8, 14 Jonas is Lithuanian dancing machine Sam Holako
Jul 8, 14 Getting creative with the mid-level exception William Lou
Jul 8, 14 Morning Coffee – Tue, Jul 8 Sam Holako
Jul 7, 14 Raptors Waive Julyan Stone Zarar Siddiqi
Jul 7, 14 Woj: De Colo off to Russia to play for CSKA Moscow Blake Murphy
Jul 7, 14 Bruno, Kabongo headline Raptors Summer League roster (schedule within) Blake Murphy
Jul 7, 14 Raptors Weekly Podcast, July 7 – Dominating Free Agency Zarar Siddiqi
Jul 5, 14 Report: CSKA Moscow Offer Nando De Colo $4 Million/2 Year Deal Zarar Siddiqi
Jul 5, 14 Toronto Raptors Salary Cap Update – Post-Patterson Signing, Novak Trade Blake Murphy
Jul 5, 14 Morning Coffee – Sat, Jul 5 Sam Holako
Jul 4, 14 Report: Steve Novak Traded to the Jazz Sam Holako
Jul 4, 14 Report: Raptors, Patrick Patterson agree to 3-year, $18 million deal William Lou
Jul 4, 14 Report: DeAndre Daniels Likely Off To Europe Zarar Siddiqi
Jul 4, 14 Toronto Raptors Salary Cap Review – Post-Lowry Signing Blake Murphy
Jul 4, 14 Morning Coffee – Fri, Jul 4 Sam Holako
Jul 3, 14 Roundtable Reaction: Kyle Lowry & Free Agency Sam Holako
Jul 3, 14 Kyle Lowry: King of the North Sam Holako
Jul 3, 14 Morning Coffee – Thu, Jul 3 Sam Holako
Jul 3, 14 Lowry re-signing: Remember to savor this moment William Lou
Jul 3, 14 Photo: Kyle Lowry Wearing Purple Raptors Uniform Zarar Siddiqi
Jul 2, 14 Breaking: Kyle Lowry Signs 4 year, $48M Deal With Toronto Raptors Zarar Siddiqi
Jul 2, 14 Patrick Patterson and Greivis Vasquez Free Agency Update Zarar Siddiqi
Jul 2, 14 Why Kyle Lowry will take his sweet time William Lou
Jul 2, 14 Morning Coffee – Wed, Jul 2 Sam Holako
Jul 1, 14 Raptors Free Agency Recap: The Kyle Lowry Saga With a Touch of Greivis Vasquez Zarar Siddiqi
Jul 1, 14 2014 Raptors Summer League Roster – Early Preview Zarar Siddiqi
Jul 1, 14 Morning Coffee – Tue, Jul 1 Sam Holako
Jun 30, 14 The Decision – Latest on Lowry: He’ll Take a “Few Days” to Make His Decision William Lou
Jun 30, 14 Report: Raptors among 5 teams interested in Vince Carter William Lou
Jun 30, 14 Developing: Kyle Lowry Watch is ON with Stein, Grange, Aldridge (no more $14.5 million offer) Zarar Siddiqi
Jun 30, 14 Mighty Woj: Expect Ujiri to bid on Lowry at midnight (5pm Grange update: Lowry’s staying) William Lou
Jun 30, 14 The Caboclo Acquisition: Raptors Bet on Bruno Tamberlyn Richardson
Jun 30, 14 Raptors Pick Up 2014-15 Option on Tyler Hansbrough Zarar Siddiqi
Jun 30, 14 Raptors Weekly Podcast, June 30 – Caboclo Tease, Totally Not Jose Calderon Zarar Siddiqi
Jun 30, 14 Morning Coffee – Mon, Jun 30 Sam Holako
Jun 29, 14 OFFICIAL: John Salmons traded for Lou Williams and Lucas Nougeira William Lou
Jun 29, 14 Bruno Caboclo Situation Parallels Tracy McGrady Zarar Siddiqi
Jun 28, 14 ESPN: “Most likely Heat’s #1 choice will be Kyle Lowry” Zarar Siddiqi
Jun 28, 14 Raptors Extend Qualifying Offers to Patrick Patterson, Greivis Vasquez and Nando De Colo Zarar Siddiqi
Jun 28, 14 2014 NBA Draft Report Card – All The Analysis Tim W.
Jun 28, 14 10 Things We Learned About Bruno Caboclo on Saturday Zarar Siddiqi
Jun 28, 14 On Bruno Caboclo and Mysteries Prospect
Jun 28, 14 Morning Coffee – Sat, Jun 28 Sam Holako
Jun 27, 14 Ric Bucher Apologizes for Ridiculous Lowry Rumours Sam Holako
Jun 27, 14 It’s Time To Embrace Toronto’s Oddball Drafts Tim Chisholm
Jun 27, 14 ICYMI: Masai Ujiri Post-Draft Press Conference Sam Holako
Jun 27, 14 Bruno Caboclo the Latest Raptors Draft Pick to Raise Eyebrows, Which is Cool Zarar Siddiqi
Jun 27, 14 Chad Ford hates the Raptors draft Sam Holako
Jun 27, 14 Doc Is In Podcast, June 27 – Draft Reaction – They Call Me Bruno Steve Gennaro
Jun 27, 14 Morning Coffee – Fri, Jun 27 Sam Holako
Jun 27, 14 Why you should calm down about the Caboclo pick William Lou
Jun 27, 14 Recap of Dwane Casey’s Post-Draft Press Conference Zarar Siddiqi
Jun 27, 14 Raptors draft Xavier Thames with 59th pick, trade to Brooklyn Garrett Hinchey
Jun 26, 14 Raptors draft Bruno Caboclo 20th overall Garrett Hinchey
Jun 26, 14 Caboclo Tweets, let the lovin’ begin Garrett Hinchey
Jun 26, 14 Raptors draft DeAndre Daniels 37th overall Garrett Hinchey
Jun 26, 14 You call that a rumour? This is a rumour. Garrett Hinchey
Jun 26, 14 The 2014 Running Draft Diary Andrew Thompson
Jun 26, 14 Stein: Raptors In Hunt for No 22 Pick to get Tyler Ennis Zarar Siddiqi
Jun 26, 14 Pre-Draft News, Rumours, Predictions and More…. Tim W.
Jun 26, 14 Toronto Raptors and Canadian Prospects Poised To Make History at 2014 NBA Draft Tamberlyn Richardson
Jun 26, 14 Morning Coffee – Thu, Jun 26 Sam Holako
Jun 25, 14 Trade Idea: John Salmons for Omer Asik? William Lou
Jun 25, 14 Talking Raptors Podcast, June 25 – Offseason Jibberish Nick Reynoldson
Jun 25, 14 Toronto Raptors Draft History Over Last Decade (With Hindsight) Zarar Siddiqi
Jun 24, 14 Who Should The Raptors Take? Tim W.
Jun 24, 14 Morning Coffee – Tue, Jun 24 Sam Holako
Jun 23, 14 Masai Ujiri: We’re going “full force” after Kyle Lowry Zarar Siddiqi
Jun 23, 14 Source: Masai Ujiri to Use Draft Picks, But Might Trade Them…Or Not Zarar Siddiqi
Jun 23, 14 Raptors Weekly Podcast, June 23 – Payne Points and Circular All-Stars Zarar Siddiqi
Jun 20, 14 The Kyle Lowry Contingency Plan William Lou
Jun 20, 14 Dr Is In Podcast, June 20 – Pardon The Interruption Steve Gennaro
Jun 19, 14 Prospecting: Clint Capela Tim W.
Jun 19, 14 Morning Coffee – Thu, Jun 19 Sam Holako
Jun 18, 14 Brace Yourself, Kyle Lowry Could Leave Zarar Siddiqi
Jun 17, 14 Report: Kyle Lowry to the Heat? William Lou
Jun 17, 14 Prospecting: Jerami Grant Tim W.
Jun 16, 14 3 More Thoughts to Fill Another Column William Lou
Jun 16, 14 Morning Coffee – Mon, Jun 16 Sam Holako
Jun 13, 14 3 Assorted Thoughts on a Friday William Lou
Jun 13, 14 The Dr Is In Podcast, June 13 – The Real 2.0 Big Board Steve Gennaro
Jun 13, 14 Morning Coffee – Fri, Jun 13 Sam Holako
Jun 12, 14 Prospecting: James Young Tim W.
Jun 12, 14 Morning Coffee – Thu, Jun 12 Sam Holako
Jun 11, 14 Report: Raptors interested in Euroleague’s Damjan Rudez William Lou
Jun 11, 14 Remembering 2013-14: Waking up from a dream William Lou
Jun 10, 14 Video: DeMar DeRozan Working on Handles and Pull-Up Jumper Zarar Siddiqi
Jun 10, 14 Prospecting: Shabazz Napier Tim W.
Jun 9, 14 Raptors Coming to Montreal and Vancouver Zarar Siddiqi
Jun 9, 14 Monday Morning Roundtable: Gasol, Draft, Small Forwards William Lou
Jun 9, 14 Raptors Weekly Podcast, June 9 – Muscle Spasms Zarar Siddiqi
Jun 9, 14 Morning Coffee – Mon, Jun 9 Sam Holako
Jun 8, 14 VIDEO: Landry Fields as Nicki Minaj as Nightmare Fuel William Lou
Jun 8, 14 Learning From the Pacers Mistakes forumcrew
Jun 7, 14 Morning Coffee – Sat, Jun 7 Sam Holako
Jun 6, 14 Bucher: Gasol to Raptors Make Toronto a Contender forumcrew
Jun 6, 14 Assuming linear development is a risky proposition Blake Murphy
Jun 6, 14 Dr Is In Podcast, June 6 – Big Board 2.0 Steve Gennaro
Jun 6, 14 Morning Coffee – Fri, Jun 6 Sam Holako
Jun 5, 14 Prospecting: K.J. McDaniels Tim W.
Jun 5, 14 Morning Coffee – Thu, Jun 5 Sam Holako
Jun 4, 14 Doing Nothing is an Option Zarar Siddiqi
Jun 3, 14 Draft Workout Audio: Nick Johnson, Jordan Clarkson, Russ Smith Zarar Siddiqi
Jun 2, 14 Raptors Weekly Podcast, June 2 – Memory Suppression Zarar Siddiqi
Jun 2, 14 Morning Coffee – Mon, Jun 2 Sam Holako
May 31, 14 Weekend Open Thread RR
May 31, 14 Quotes/Audio from Draft Workouts and Masai Ujiri Zarar Siddiqi

Raptors Weekly Podcast, September 1, Diametrically Opposed Play

September is upon us so we got about a month’s worth of these podcasts before we can start talking some Raptors ball. Until then, though, the duty is to analyze and over-analyze whatever’s happening in Spain and what’s going through idle minds.

Part 1:

  • DeRozan and Team USA
  • Valanciunas and Team Lithuania

Part 2:

  • Is Hakeem Broke?
  • Raptors All-Clutch Team
  • Raptors All-Choke Team
  • NBA League Pass
  • Balls and Streams

Grab the iTunes feed or check us out on Stitcher on Android. There is also the plain old feed. You can also download the file (30:14, 29 MB). Or just listen below:

DeRozan scores 6 points in USA’s 114-55 Rout of Finland

OK, Team USA just beat Finland 114-55 (box). Someone hasn’t taken such a beating since I destroyed Sam in one-on-one at the RR tournament.

DeRozan went 1-6 for 5 points and went 3-4 from the stripe with 4 assists and three steals. He missed an open corner three to start, and then did some ball-handling where he facilitated PnRs and got a couple assists. Got a bit of run in the fourth quarter with the game well in hand, and executed one of those step-in twos which he clanked. He also tried a lob pass which went south.

On one instance, he got killed by a screen (no communication on it) and had a late contest which led to FTs. He tried another lob to Drummond, which despite being of sub-par quality, was finished off by Drummond. I thought he made some pretty sweet runs in transition but was looked off, with teammates opting to shoot threes, since this became an exhibition game quite fast. To cap his night he missed an open corner jumper.

All in all, he wasn’t really needed and his dribbles looked better, and he appeared to be a willing passer in two-man situations. He’s still looking to drive and get to the line, but is measuring up his move more carefully then before, and using his dribble to set up his attack a bit better.

That’s all I got.

Jonas Valanciunas With Strong Showing at FIBA vs Mexico

Jonas Valanciunas – 8-8 FG, 17 points, 5 rebounds in 22 minutes.  Final score: Lithuania 87, Mexico 74 – box. I caught a bit of this game online and he operated out of the post quite a bit, knowing Mexico didn’t have the personnel to handle him inside. The same comment from the warmup games holds: he’s showing very little hesitation in any move he makes.

Here’s a game highlight pack which shows Valanciunas scoring, picking up an offensive, foul, clenching fists on the bench, and celebrating. What makes the video special is the tune played in the background. DeMar plays later tonight.

Breaking it Down: The Raptors’ Clutch Playbook

Tie game with less than a minute left. What play do the Toronto Raptors turn to?

Fun fact: The Raptors were a league-best +195 in the fourth quarter last season. That’s 32 points better than the San Antonio Spurs, who ranked a distant second, and 63 better than the lowly third-place Miami Heat. If my memory is correct, the Heat and Spurs didn’t accomplish very much in 2013-14.

Much of that differential speaks to the Raptors’ depth, and Dwane Casey’s unwillingness to concede games. Most teams elect to play their bench units for the start of the fourth quarter in an effort to rest their the starters. The Raptors had the luxury of capitalizing with two starter quality pieces — Patrick Patterson and Greivis Vasquez — and DeMar DeRozan’s superhuman ability to endure strenuous workloads. Put two and two together, and fourth-quarter comebacks were something of a specialty for the Raptors. They had a fair bit of luck on their side.

Oddly enough, despite their overall fourth-quarter dominance, the Raptors were actually quite average offensively in “clutch” (+/- 5 points, less than 5 minutes left) scenarios, ranking just 13th in Net Rating. Depending on how you manipulate the clutch goalposts, the Raptors fared a tad better or a bit worse, but for the most part, the general theme was that the Raptors’ were a pretty average squad late in games.

In particular, the Raptors shot just 35.1 percent from the field with under a minute left in close games. That made me wonder, which clutch plays worked, and which ones didn’t?

Worked: Sidelines inbound to Amir Johnson

For this post, I looked at 97 clutch plays by the Raptors with the designation of clutch meaning with the score within 5 points under a minute left. Feel free to peruse the video yourself by clicking though this link.

The Raptors pet play in the clutch involved an sidelines inbound to Amir Johnson. The inbounder would input the ball, and look to run towards the middle with Johnson facilitating out of the high-post. From there, Johnson had multiple options at his disposal which made the play difficult to defend.

Variation 1: Hand-off, pull-up

The play starts with Terrence Ross setting a down screen on the player (Kemba Walker) defending the inbounder. Lowry inputs the ball to Johnson and uses the down screen from Ross while flashing to the top of the key. Johnson then turns for a hand-off, setting a second down screen in the process. It’s a thing of beauty when run correctly.

The strength of this play is two-fold. First, Lowry is a fantastic shooter from above the break. Second, the suddenness of the play tends to catch opponents off-guard. Forcing Lowry’s defender to run through two down screens in quick succession creates a lot of drag, which basically ensures that Lowry to be open unless everything is switched. Even if everything is switched, the play still yields a mismatch with Amir’s man on Lowry.

Variation 2: Fake hand-off

Just as with the first play, the ball is inbounded to Amir and the inbounder flashes to the ball, but Amir drives intead of making the handoff, hoping to catch opponents off-guard. This works especially well when the defense anticipates the hand-off, and the big shades towards the inbounder.

In the clip above, Udonis Haslem defends the play correctly until the last second. He doesn’t cheat towards DeMar and stays with Amir step-for-step. The key to the play is the element of surprise, but of course, a little luck helps too. Given that the Heat struggled on the glass, it was a smart play-call to place the two Raptors bigs in the paint at the time of the shot. Amir misses, but Jonas Valanciunas is positioned on the doorstep, and easily collects a putback.

Variation 3: Blatant fouling

Hey, John Salmons could use all the help he could get. Amir deserves two assists on this play.

Failed: Isolations for DeRozan

Oddly enough, the Raptors’ best one-on-one scorer was also its worst option in the clutch last season. DeRozan connected on just 33.6 percent of his field-goals, giving way to this Red Wedding-inspired shot-chart. Note that the vast majority of his attempts came from the dreaded mid-range area.

Shotchart_1409172277147Yes, he shot 4-for-29 from the right side of the court

This is not to say that DeRozan isn’t clutch, because the existence of “clutch” altogether is nebulous at best. There’s context to consider. DeRozan was almost always covered by the opposing team’s best defender(s). Even though he largely struggled to score for himself, DeRozan at least soaked up valuable defensive attention of which could have been deployed elsewhere. The results were what they were, but it wasn’t just DeRozan at fault. For example, the playcalls for him weren’t great either.

Variation 1: Basic Isolation

Nothing to see here. DeRozan gets the inbounds and everyone clears out. He then tries to beat his man one-on-one, and it just didn’t work whatsoever.

There’s so much to critique on this play. First, why isolate DeMar and give him nothing to work with? Why not at give him a screen, and hope for a switch? Okay, bringing Joakim Noah onto DeMar might not actually help all that much as compared to Jimmy Butler, but then at least spread the floor. Note how Salmons, Lowry and Hansbrough are all crowded in the same quadrant of the court, with none of the three posing as actual threats to score. It’s hard to blame DeMar too much for this one.

Variation 2: Giving DeMar the ball in optimal matchups

To be fair to Casey and his coaching staff, the straight isolation sets for DeMar were rare. Take the play below for example. DeRozan receives two screens and ultimately ends up in a battle with Swaggy P, who is a pretty terrible defender. All in all, it’s not a bad playcall.

This one is on DeRozan. He cuts too close to the ball, which allows Swaggy to catch up to the play after being momentarily slowed by screens. DeMar tries to attack baseline, but Pau Gasol alertly leaves Chuck Hayes to protect the basket. DeMar then resets, but instead of hitting Hayes with the pass when he’s in a bad spot (note that Hayes has Ross wide open with an easy swing pass,) DeMar takes an ill-advised contested shot.

As a whole, DeRozan’s skills may not be best suited for the role he was given. He’s at his best when he’s attacking the basket. He is fantastic at drawing fouls and has the ability to finish at the rim through contact. However, teams often anticipate this and clog the paint, which takes away DeMar’s strength. The consequent leaves players open, but Patterson is the only stretch four on the roster, so defenses aren’t sacrificing very much to guard the rim. Altogether, play-calling can only do so much — they can’t substitute for a player’s skills. DeRozan falls victim to this.

Worked: Lowry in the backcourt

This one was by far my favorite. I only saw two examples of this play, but it’s rather ingenious in its simplicity. The ball is inbounded to Lowry in the backcourt, and he charges head-first to the basket, aided along by a high screen from Johnson. This gets Lowry going one-on-one with Johnson’s defender, whose only option is to back up to the basket with his hands in the air.

I’m a fan of the play because there are easy outs built in. The primary defender on Lowry in this play is Amir’s man (Paul Millsap), and when Lowry is in full gallop, it’s hard for any big man — even a mobile four like Millsap — to deny penetration. It’s also hard to send help on the play because the Raptors put three-point shooters in the corners (left: Steve Novak, right: DeRozan). Even if Lowry’s layup doesn’t fall, Amir is able to crash the glass with a small (Lowry’s man) vying for the boxout. Plus, with Lowry’s ball-handling ability, he can keep his dribble and reset if the matchup isn’t right. The play is extremely simple, but it’s effective.

The Raptors and The Lean Startup

Leiwekaayyyy! The man is gone. Spent a couple years in town, shook people down and is now heading out. What’s his legacy in Toronto? He hired the big-named Brendan Shanahan for the Leafs because everything he does is BIG. He got Drake to shine the Raptors brand with golden pixie dust, which was right after he fired Bryan Colangelo before he even took on the job. He hijacked Masai Ujiri backed to Toronto and rode the Rudy Gay-trade to #WeTheNorth, and somewhere in between managed to win the 2016 All-Star game sweepstakes and get approval to build a brand new practice facility on city land, despite the Ford brothers pompously objecting. He didn’t just take care of the “big” sports either, and got TFC out of obscurity and at least back into the conversation of being a proper MLS club by signing well-fitting free-agents at prices that make statements.

Tim Leiweke did a lot in a short amount of time, and may be if he got along with his bosses at Bell and Rogers, and the MLSE board, he could’ve done more. The Raptors are on the up-and-up from an on-court product perspective, and their reputation around the league has improved. Certainly, Drake, the All-Star game, the Kevin Durant rumours, and the home crowd in the playoffs have all helped in recovering a reputation that was arguably at an all-time low under the wavering leadership of Bryan Colangelo, who will be remembered as the Donald Rumsfeld of MLSE: all lies.

Leiweke has resuscitated the Raptors in his short tenure.  The club wasn’t exactly in need of life support, but they most certainly had their legs broken, jaw busted, and spleen split open before Leiweke arrived on the scene with a gold-crusted first-aid kit. Though he’ll fall short of his promises to execute a carefully orchestrated parade that would culminate with him taking a wind-aided, sine curve piss from the top of the CN Tower, pound-for-pound, Leiweke has been one of the most influential personalities the Raptors have ever employed.

As well as the Raptors have done and as high as the organization is on the pungent smell of hope, there is a bubble here that could potentially burst if the on-court product fails to live up to expectations. In an increasingly competitive East the strategy of bringing back all free-agents is a safe one which counts on 1) improvement based on continuity, and 2) tactical ability to counter adjustments teams will make. If both hold true, the Raptors should be able to at least meet the required levels of success to pass the enthusiasm and good feels to the following season. The minimum threshold for a relatively successful season, in my view, is a first-round win. It would be the first time in 14 years the Raptors would have won a playoff round, and would at the very least endorse the steps Leiweke has taken, while planting even more seeds of enthusiasm on their way to the All-Star game the following year.

If things fall by the wayside and disaster strikes for whatever reason, there’ll definitely be a sourness around the club, except that a pivot is much easier to make due to the Raptors salary structure. The Raptors will be owing $47M in salary for the 2015-16 season, and will have plenty of assets to make moves. Fast-forwarding another year, they only have $30M in guaranteed contracts. The idea of having shorter time windows where a product is tested, feedback received, and adjustments made is much preferable to committing a big percentage of the cap to two or three players over a long period of time. That model is close to being obsolete and is being replaced by a shorter feedback loop which, based on intelligent cap management, allows room for tinkering without long-term risk. Basically, the opposite of what the Knicks have been doing for the last 15 years.

This whole thing reminds me a little of the Lean Startup: Idea -> Build -> Product -> Measure -> Data -> Learn.

The way I see it, the Raptors have finished the first iteration, and started iteration two. Here’s how it plays out:

  1. Iteration One
    • Idea: Instead of a Rudy Gay iso-heavy offense, let’s create a socialist structure based on chemistry and ball-movement
    • Build: Pull Rudy Gay trade, install guys like Patrick Patterson and Greivis Vasquez as rotation players. Free Terrence Ross
    • Product: A team that conforms to the idea
    • Measure: Let’s see how the team performs post-trade and in the playoffs
    • Data: Good enough to take the Nets to 7-games
    • Learn: Need more defense at the wings; need scoring off the bench; Kyle Lowry is legit; Build around DeMar DeRozan
  2. Iteration Two
    • Idea: Address what we learned in Iteration One.  Let’s swing for potential in the draft, take care of the wing defense on the cheap, and give another shot to the same group
    • Build: Get James Johnson for the defense part, swing for the fence with Bruno Caboclo; get Lou Williams for scoring
    • Product: ?? This is where the Raptors are, they’re about to form the product in the first half of next season

I like the model as long as you retain the ability to pivot, and that requires a lean cap structure which Ujiri has done a masterful job of creating.  In fact, this might be the only model that can work for small-market teams who are forced to try different formulas and combinations until they find a winning one.  Having movable assets of all different sizes and shapes is what will breed success in the new NBA, and this will be even more relevant in the post-2016 CBA.  Second-round picks, partially guaranteed expiring contracts, trade exceptions, protected first-round picks, front-loaded contracts, mid-level exception splits and other kinds of investment vehicles are becoming increasingly critical to being relevant in the NBA.  Ujiri may not have made loud free-agent signings, or pulled off big summertime trades, but he’s positioning the Raptors in a way that allows him to hedge his bets while having the assets to make a significant move, as long as he sees it taking the Raptors to the next level.

It’s all about remaining competitive in the short-term while retaining the option to change in the medium-term, provided you’re in line with long-term success.

Raptors Weekly Podcast, August 25 – Leiweke Hates the 9-to-5

Blessed is any news so we thank DeMar DeRozan and Tim Leiweke, who both took different steps to get the headlines on this weeks’ Rapcast, which sees Andrew, Will and myself usher in the final week of August.

Part 1

  • DeMar DeRozan makes Team USA
  • What’s his role on the team?
  • Canada Basketball future
  • Is Wiggins the type who’ll play for his country?

Part 2

  • Tim Leiweke leaves MLSE
  • His legacy – what he did well and what he did hilarious
  • Article referenced in the Globe and Mail National Post

Part 3

  • Analysis of Love/Wiggins trade

Grab the iTunes feed or check us out on Stitcher on Android. There is also the plain old feed. You can also download the file (36:51, 35 MB). Or just listen below:

[OFFICIAL]: DeMar DeRozan makes Team USA

Despite not playing in Friday’s exhibition game against Puerto Rico, DeRozan survived the final round of cuts.

It’s late, so this post will be short. Toronto’s very own DeMar DeRozan has indeed made Team USA. DeRozan joins Jonas Valanciunas as the only members of the Toronto Raptors participating in the upcoming FIBA World Cup in Spain.

For all the hand-wringing about DeRozan’s lack three-point shooting or defensive prowess, USA Basketball director Jerry Colangelo and head coach Mike Krzyzewski must have seen things differently. At the start of training camp in Las Vegas, it was expected that Kevin Love, Blake Griffin, Kevin Durant and Paul George would factor into the team’s plans. Therefore, players like Kyle Korver and Chandler Parsons — those with skills befitting of a role player — were valued. DeRozan only appeared in one of three exhibition games, but he impressed in his lone game against the Dominican Republic, posting 13 points (on 6-0f-9 shooting), five rebounds and six assists.

However, with each of Griffin (back injury), Durant (rest), Love (rest) and George (leg injury) withdrawing their candidacies, the value of shot-creation likely increased, making DeRozan’s skillset — ability to play the wing, create in the pick-and-roll, draw fouls — more appealing. It should be noted that Team USA is apparently looking to mostly rely on a eight-man core to shoulder the bulk of minutes, but the tournament leaves little time for rest (Team USA will play five games in six days in the preliminary round), meaning all 12 players should all see the floor at some point.

As an aside, I’d like to use this space to congratulate DeRozan. While I’m breaking the erudite code of being an impartial journalist, I think it’s important to take account of how far DeRozan has come. After seeing him struggle through his first four mostly uninspired seasons, I was among the doubters. Never would I have thought that within a year’s time, DeRozan would qualify for both the All-Star team and Team USA. He certainly still has his flaws, and for long-time watchers of DeRozan like myself, we’ve been conditioned to count his flaws and see him for what he’s not, but in looking back, DeRozan has surpassed even the loftiest of expectations. Lots of players talk the talk about hard work and being committed to improving. DeRozan has actually gone out and done so. Speaking as a fan, that’s the type of attitude and leadership I want on the Raptors. Congrats again, DeMar!

Team USA’s final 12-man roster looks as follows (can you tell they’re worried about Spain?):

rosterCover photo credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Tim Leiweke to leave MLSE by 2015

This time it’s been confirmed by the organization.

So much for “100 percent untrue.”

As relayed by the Toronto Star, MLSE CEO Tim Leiweke will be leaving his role with the organization by Jun. 30, 2015, or when a new successor is named.

If the earlier reports are to be believed, a myriad of factors might be at play with his decision. There’s hints about the brutal weather being a factor, as well as the possibility to latch on with a potential NFL group looking to relocate to Los Angeles.

The news is certainly a disappointment, as Leiweke’s work with the Raptors has been mostly positive. While it’s unclear as to how much hands on impact he really had on the day-to-day operations, he did bring on Masai Ujiri and Drake, won the 2016 NBA All-Star game bid, and launched a highly successful media campaign.

What is the benefit of continuity?

Masai Ujiri brought the band back together. Is that a good thing?

The Eastern Conference, as compared to its Western counterpart, saw a fair bit of shuffling this offseason. In addition to a trio of All-Stars — Derrick Rose, Brook Lopez, Al Horford — returning from injury, seven of the eight playoff teams (and Cleveland) underwent major makeovers.

Atlanta will have a revamped perimeter and a healthy Al Horford. Charlotte shed Josh McRoberts but added Noah Vonleh, Marvin Williams and Lance Stephenson. Brooklyn lost two rotation pieces in Shaun Livingston and Paul Pierce. Washington snagged Pierce to replace Trevor Ariza. The Bulls lost out on Carmelo Anthony, but won the Pau Gasol sweepstakes and Derrick Rose is on the mend. Indiana lost both Stephenson and Paul George. The Heat lost LeBron James, but plugged holes by inking Luol Deng and McRoberts. And, of course, the Cavaliers sunk everyone’s battleship by landing LeBron and (eventually) Kevin Love.

Why even bother? The East is ours.

By contrast, the Raptors were the only playoff hopeful that stood pat this offseason. Raptors GM Masai Ujiri elected to re-sign Patrick Patterson, Greivis Vasquez and Kyle Lowry, but save for some minor adds, the 2014-15 Raptors projects to look very similar to the previous iteration.

There was logic behind each transaction. Vasquez, Lowry and Patterson were all key cogs in the post-Gay squad that went 42-24, a record besting the East over that stretch. Lowry returns as the team’s leader, Patterson reclaims the floor-stretch half of the platoon at power forward, and Vasquez is back to lead the second unit.

Not adding anyone of significance isn’t the whole story. There’s also something to be said about addressing needs. Ujiri didn’t acquire anyone significant, but he did try to plug holes using his limited budget. The playoffs exposed the need for a wing stopper; enter James Johnson. Ball-handling was also an issue to the point where John Salmons had to play the seventh-most minutes last season. Lou Williams reprises that role, and fits nicely alongside Vasquez. If the Raptors get anything from Bebe Nogueira or Bruno Caboclo, that’s gravy.

But for the most part, the biggest advantage the Raptors had over their shuffle-happy competitors is continuity. Aside from the Wizards, every other playoff team drastically changed their team structure.

Rose and Pau should command nearly 50 percent of possessions when they’re on the floor. Charlotte brought in two new starters, including a ball-dominant Stephenson to replace an excellent facilitator in McRoberts. Brooklyn goes from being a smallball team to a plodding post-oriented squad. Atlanta adding Al Horford means they can no longer field five three-point threats. The Pacers’ entire playbook went out the window. Teams rarely click right away. There will be some growing pains.

That’s where the Raptors should theoretically have an edge. Eight of the top-nine in minutes played last season — DeMar DeRozan, Lowry, Jonas Valanciunas, Amir Johnson, Terrence Ross, Vasquez, Patterson and Tyler Hansbrough — have been retained, with the lone substitution being Williams for Salmons. The team should have the schemes down pat. Lowry knows that if he’s running the fast break, Terrence Ross will flash to the corner for an open triple. Amir knows to hand-off and screen after DeRozan tosses him the rock in the high-post.

The same applies in the locker room. The guys all know each other, and there’s no need to awkwardly suss out a pecking order. DeRozan and Lowry are the leaders, it’s their team. If someone steps out of line and Lowry calls them out for it, no one will bat an eye.

We never made big moves. We just win.

I can’t speak with any authority as to how much continuity really matters. The obvious example is the San Antonio Spurs, but that’s the outlier not the norm. With all due respect, the Raptors’ foundation isn’t nearly as solid as the Spurs’ for reasons that should be obvious. And for every team-oriented championship squad like the Spurs or Pistons, there’s a superstar-laden winner like the Heat or Lakers.

But having a per-established culture and system has to inherently hold some value, even if it just translates to two or three extra wins to start of the season. In the Eastern Conference, where the homogenous set of sub-contenders — Raptors, Wizards, Hornets, Hawks, Heat — aren’t ostensibly distinct in terms of talent, every win should count for something. In that respect, perhaps Ujiri not rocking the boat with a splashy acquisition is his biggest addition of all.

VIDEO: DeMar DeRozan leads Team USA in scoring with 13 points

Did DeRozan book a spot on Team USA with a 6-for-9 shooting performance?

Nothing is guaranteed, but DeMar DeRozan saw extended playing time on Wednesday in the USA’s 105-62 victory over the Dominican Republic. In 23 minutes of play (second to Damian Lillard in court time), DeRozan scored 13 points on 6-of-9 shooting from the field, and chipped in with five rebounds and game-high six assists. His efforts, in part, can be seen below.

Currently, Team USA has 16 players on the roster, and rumors are that final cuts for the upcoming FIBA World Cup (starting Aug. 30) will be made by week’s end. DeRozan faces staunch competition at the wing, but his scoring ability suddenly becomes more valuable in the absence of Paul George and Kevin Durant. While DeMar doesn’t have the defensive and three-point shooting tools to excel as a role player, DeMar has the ability to drive and score the ball, which is somewhat of a rare commodity apart from the point guards on USA’s roster.

Beyond the Raptors: New York Knicks

In the first instalment of this series, we look at the teams of the Atlantic division, and get a sense for the teams that the Raptors play a combined 16 times while jockeying for home-court advantage in the 1st round of the playoffs. First off is the Knickerbockers.

Even if the hiring was expensive and questionable, GM’s across the league let out a collective groan when Dolan gave Phil Jackson that ridiculous deal to run the Knicks. He’ll only be working every two months out of three, not travel much, and attend games as he sees fit, but you know he wont be managing the Knicks like a fantasy team making optimizing moves like picking up Mike Dunleavy for a week because he plays one more game than Terrence Ross…or trading for Bargnani after a 54 win season and a ECF loss to the Pacers. We all chalk that up to Ujiri being Ujiri, but how many GM’s would have made that trade at that cost?

For Raptors fans, this isn’t so big a deal anymore since Ujiri has done nothing but clean up and improve this team since he got here; 12 more months of Hayes and Fields will work itself out considering the cap space we get at the end of the season.

The times are a changing, and with them, we have to assume the Atlantic will only get more competitive as you don’t spend that kind of money on a president and not expect improvement.

They already have a top-10 player in the league, a few promising youngsters, and finally able to see the light of day after a decade of mismanagement.

Off-Season Transactions

IN OUT
Phil Jackson Mike Woodson
Derek Fisher Jim Todd
Kurt Rambis Darrell Walker
Jose Calderon Herb Williams
Shane Larkin Tyson Chandler
Samuel Dalembert Raymond Felton
Quincy Acy Shannon Brown
Travis Outlaw Jeremy Tyler
Cleanthony Early
Jason Smith

 

So maybe we can’t totally write-off Phil. You question how much he paid to install a puppet-coach (always thought those came cheap), but turning Chandler into Dalembert and Smith at half the cost AND getting Calderon for Felton PLUS two 2nd rounders in the draft…that’s a damn good trade.

A lot happened in that single transaction: you shed the team of Felton’s fat (literal and figurative); avoid watching Chandler decompose for another season while in theory replacing his production; and you actually receive two 2nd rounders. All the while masterfully managing the cap with respect to short and long term contracts.

All that remains is keeping this team competitive enough in the short term, while adding key pieces, to keep Melo from forcing his way out of town. Moving that contract becomes less and less difficult as basketball related income increases year-over-year and the salary cap rises, but the older Carmelo gets, the harder that conversation gets.

That’s what we know and can decipher, but to try and get a better sense for this team, I had a long conversation with David Vertsberger (you can follow him on Twitter: @_Verts) of Knickerblogger about this team:

One of the most polarizing moves the Knicks made was hiring Phil Jackson to right the ship. What sense are you getting about how he is settling into his new role (new coach, Carmelo contract, etc.)?

For me, it’s a bit too early to get a good grasp of Phil Jackson’s tenure as President of Basketball Operations. One thing that concerned me was Jackson’s process (not the actual hiring, but the process) of hiring Fisher. He fixated on Steve Kerr for weeks, with the few other names coming up in conversation also being former co-workers of Jackson at one point or another. It seemed as if he didn’t extend his search beyond his inner circle, something that reminisces of poor Knicks leadership of the past. There was plenty to like, though. With many players losing tons of trade value in the 2013-14 season and the team’s financial situation in a complete bind, Jackson still managed to be considerably active during the offseason. But again, we still have a ways to go in regards to getting an accurate reading on the Zen Master.

Ignoring the boring Fisher questions of his ridiculous contract and an absolute ceiling of Jason Kidd IMHO (you see what I did there)….actually I can’t ignore this: give me something that will make Raptors-fans happy that he will be coaching the Knicks instead of anyone else that was available.

Hmm. I like the hire, so this is a bit difficult. I guess Raptors fans can be happy that the Knicks are probably going to run a semi-antiquated offensive system in the triangle? Sure, let’s go with that.

Doesn’t that sort of semi-antiquated system fit Calderon and Melo very well though?

Hard to find a system that Calderon couldn’t fit in, but I’d argue that putting Melo in a system that’s high on mid-range shots and post-ups is taking away from his improved catch-and-shoot game. Adding a deadly three-point shot turned Anthony into one of the best stretch fours in basketball, but it looks like Fisher’s plan is to have him play the three this season. I’d prefer the Knicks milk the hell out of their lone All-Star’s talents this season, not have him settle for 18-footers and get blown by defensively.

Which could be a big concern considering Calderon is also a poor defender. While Dalembert and Smith can easily replace Chandler’s production on offense at half the cost, probably, replacing everything he does on defense will be a challenge (altering shots, precise rotations). How are the Knicks going to cope with his loss? Please start your answer with “Bargnani will be looked to to…”

Tyson Chandler was not 2012 Defensive Player of the Year Tyson Chandler last season. He wasn’t even sometimes-Defensive Player of the Year 2013 Tyson Chandler. And he was still the Knicks’ best defender by a mile. And now he’s gone. A fun exercise is asking overly optimistic Knicks fans to name this team’s best defenders. Iman Shumpert is always, and correctly, the first name that comes up. The second? Take your pick! Samuel Dalembert, Cole Aldrich, Pablo Prigioni… You catch my drift. How are the Knicks going to cope with Tyson’s loss? Not sure they can. If he remained healthy, he might have been able to keep them out of the bottom five in the league in defensive efficiency this season. Without him? It’s going to get ugly. Also, in regards to Bargnani, did you hear he’s a former first overall pick? He’s a big that can shoot. Your team should trade for him.

Stretch fours are all the rage I hear…man that trade hurt you guys. It was so lopsided that we all were waiting for the catch; even days afterwards we thought it would be rescinded, amended, anything really. Speaking of Bargnani, after only one year of him, do you see him getting another contract in the NBA?

I don’t know, can I just respond with this? (Yeah, some team will be silly enough to think they can salvage him, but I figure he’ll sign overseas for a bigger contract.)

It’s telling that failing to trade him this summer, all Phil Jackson could muster to talk him up around the league was “We have a couple of guards he likes to play with, Jose (Calderon) and Pablo (Prigioni), and I think he’s going to be a surprise and a pleasant one for our fans,” but I digress…going back to Carmelo as a devastating stretch four; I get they have a system they want to implement, but forcing a system and not playing to their best players strengths feels like the only tool Phil has in his belt is a hammer and every problem looks like a nail.

Well, we’ve yet to see the Knicks play a game yet, so I don’t want to jump to any sort of conclusion like that one. But yes, Jackson is notorious for wanting things done his way, which is understandable considering he’s had a bit of success in the game of basketball. Like I mentioned before, some of what he’s done resonates with what’s hurt this franchise in the past. But I’d like things to play out a bit more before we label Jackson.

Impressive amount of restraint for a Knicks fan; you guys are usually good for aggressive knee-jerk reactions to everything. So lets talk about things that we can answer, namely the Knicks line-up. Top to bottom, there isn’t a lot of talent, and even in a weak East, it will be quite tough to make the playoffs. Discuss…

I don’t think the Knicks are making the Playoffs. It’s not impossible, but it’ll take a good amount of things to go their way. The new system will have to be implemented quickly, not an easy task when you have the triangle offense. New York will have to stay relatively healthy, while teams above them suffer major injuries. The Knicks will be fighting with Brooklyn, Indiana and Detroit for that eighth and final spot. They have to flat-out be better than all three of those teams, which won’t be easy. They have no defense, so shooting their way past the competition is their only means of making the postseason. In a new offense, with possibly less spacing if Melo plays the three, I don’t see it.

And Carmelo must have known this signing that contract. Barring any trades that net them real value for Bargnani and Ama’re, they are going to play out their contracts and just walk, opening up ~$33m in salary. With the other free agents, the Knicks should be around the $40m mark with nine roster spots to fill. At this point, unless they can move a combination of Calderon, Smith, Shump, Hardaway (who else has value?) for a second fiddle to Melo, they have, what, ~$16m+ to fill nine roster spots (if my guerrilla math is not totally off-base). The bright side is that there are quality free agents, and players with player-options next year, but why come to a fringe playoff team with a franchise player who will be on the wrong side of 31 before he will see his next playoff game? How long can Carmelo possibly wait for help before he Denvers his way out of New York? Knee-jerk God-dammit!!!

‘ll say this about next summer: It’ll be a real test of what’s really changed in this front office. Old Knicks teams would overpay for a guy like Greg Monroe if they couldn’t find a strong running mate for Anthony. A smart team would not splurge all of their cap space away, but sign low-risk high-reward deals, short-term movable contracts, try and gather assets, maybe have another go at it in 2016 or get a second All-Star through a trade. Which side of the fence will the Knicks be on? We’ll have to wait and see.

Oh right, knee-jerk. Um. Drake’s softer than my pillow.

…and Carmelo? How patient is he? All his peers have championships or competing for one…

C’mon, if he really cared about winning as much as he says he does, he wouldn’t have re-signed with the Knicks in the first place. This summer was his moment to putting winning in front of everything else. I’m sure it was still a factor for him, but money/family/location won Melo over.

So he plays out this season, see’s Cleveland fail because they need a third star to beat the Spurs/OKC/LAC, forces his way to Cleveland for Waiters/picks/parts, then wins? Is that what we can expect?

You’re not getting a typical Knicks fan overreaction answer out of me, Sam. Stop baiting me.

Over/under on games won?

36.5 I would say. And I’d take the under.

Finish this sentence: “This season will be a success for the Knicks if they …”

This may seem like cop-out or sappy answer, but to me, after last season’s egregious display… I just want the team to play like they give a shit for 82 games. For a team that had championship aspirations last season, they showed so little fight, so little will and disgusting amounts of complacency even when in the hunt for the eighth seed. That 51-point quarter the Lakers dropped on New York? Happened in the final stretch of the season, when the Knicks should have, what’s it called… competed for a Playoffs spot? So that’s it for me. Win 40 games, 30, 20, whatever, just give it your all for 82 nights. Make me feel proud of the team I’m cheering on, even if they’re a pile of dung. That’s a success in the shadow of last year.

I couldn’t break the kid…

Next up: Brooklyn Nets

Reports: Bruno eating 6,000 calores per day, Tim Leiweke leaving?

A few news tidbits to pass along on an otherwise gorgeous Tuesday afternoon in Toronto.

1. Raptors have Bruno Caboclo (205 pounds) on a special diet

Let’s not read too much into this. Most pro-athletes are on ridiculous diets to bulk up or slim down. For the record, 6,000 calories is equivalent to more than 15 McDonald’s Junior Chicken sandwiches, and given that Bruno is just 19 years old, it’s not entirely impossible that he’s meeting his quota by chowing down on some McDicks.

2. Tim Leiweke might flee for warmer weather

There’s conflicting reports on this, but CBC’s Elliot Friedman (and other outlets too) is reporting that Tim Leiweke is looking to leave Toronto and return to Los Angeles. Word is, it has to do with weather. That makes sense — after all, who moves from Los Angeles to Toronto? It’s almost always the other way around.

 

 

Leiweke flatly denied the rumor, so there’s that too. I’d elaborate and update the story, but I’m on my way to work. Sam, Zarar or Blake will be around to pass along relevant information as they emerge.

Just as a passing note, losing Leiweke will certainly be a huge downer for the Raptors and MLSE. In only a year’s time, the Raptors have greatly improved in standing, both on the court and in terms of public perception. He helped bring Masai Ujiri back to the franchise, got us hooked on that Drizzy Drake and won the bid for the 2016 All-Star game. Most importantly, his skills as an account man rivaled that of Roger Sterling and Pete Campbell combined, as evidenced by the acquisitions made by TFC, Maple Leafs and Raptors. Let’s hope it’s just a rumor.

Just talked to Tim Leiweke re: rumours he’s leaving MLSE: “It’s not true. 100 per cent not true. I’m fully committed to the season at hand.”

Yakkin’ About The Raptors: Brainstorming Kevin Durant Bars For Drake

Raptors HQ has a new chief in Steven Lebron, and while we here at RR already know him well (and we ain’t scared, homie), we thought this a good chance to try some back-and-forth between the sites. It is mid-August, after all, and we still have to sacrifice at the altar of the content gods. On this instalment, we try our best to move on from a very awkward Nathan For You intro into a conversation about Game 7 against Brooklyn, the whole Kevin Durant tampering thing, and more. Enjoy. (PS. this entire series is inspired by the Yakkin’ posts over at The Classical)

Alex Wong (aka. steven lebron): Just to be clear. I’ll be tucking you in.

Blake Murphy: Let me be clear, Alex. I will tuck you in. Also, this.

A: Do you know what I’ve been doing lately, probably because it’s August: thinking about that Terrence Ross steal. I think I’m over the Game 7 loss, and I’ve decided to narrow down my memory of that series to that one play and to take all the happiness and joy from that one single moment.

B: I’m unable to do that. When I think back, the only thing that really pops up is the final play of Game 7, where it was drawn up for the wrong side of the floor. I know it doesn’t really matter considering Miami awaited anyway, but what if the play is drawn up correctly, and Kyle Lowry drove right? Patrick Patterson is diving on his stronger side, Ross maybe doesn’t forget he’s supposed to be in the corner, and it ends differently. Or it doesn’t. If ifs were fifths, and all. I should be over it, but man, it still stings.

A: Do you really think that it didn’t matter? I mean, first seven game series win in franchise history? I feel like the city would have been really something in the second round, a kind of nothing to lose attitude against Miami, a weird we’re-going-to-be-eliminated-but-let’s-celebrate-anyways vibe. Also, great breakdown of that last play, to be honest I was in a fetal position on my dog’s bed at that point, I just wanted to press pause on that Ross steal. I’ve bounced around the idea of having someone (with a lot of time, and owes me a ridiculous favor) to edit the series to look like we won it right there, some real delusional shit.

Aside from that last play, I think about Game 3 — the Patterson free throws or even Game 6, which was kind of a throwaway. Or if Amir hadn’t fouled out in Game 7. Or if Ross was better in the series. Okay, I lied, I’m totally still thinking about this.

B: I only mean it didn’t matter in a super-macro way as in: what’s sports, anyway. It mattered to me, clearly. I watched the game a second time the next morning, on my birthday. I dragged myself through that series a bunch. They tied through seven games, basically. You can literally go through the series and pick out ten things either way that could have swung it. Unfortunately, I can’t just tip my cap: Fuck Brooklyn, forever.

A: Okay, enough of the past, are you in on this Kevin Durant to Toronto in 2016 conversation? Do you not want to talk about it at all? Would you like to get roped into it because we’ve never even been in the conversation for the top free agent on the market?

B: Umm, of course I want to talk about it. It’s going to be the greatest. It’s not going to happen, and the whole thing is hilarious and kind of ludicrous, but if there’s even a one percent chance it could happen then why not have some fun with it? As long as people don’t actually think he’s coming and plan as if that’s the case, I don’t see the harm in wild hypotheticals

A: For me, I think it’s absurd to think that Drake can influence a free agent like Durant to choose Toronto for anything other than basketball reasons. Remember when Jay Z and Mikhail Prokhorov tried to recruit LeBron in the summer of 2010, and ended up with this? I’ve come around on the whole Drake-as-ambassador thing. I think it’s great for the credibility of the team and the city.

But then I remember Drake making fun of Jay Z for eating fondue and how Durant is part of Roc Nation Sports!!! No way the Raptors even get a meeting in 2016. Trust me, rappers have long memories (as I ignore the fact that Jay made up with Nas after everything he said on Ether). But no, let’s keep talking about how Greivis Vasquez was Durant’s high school teammate and how he grew up wanting to be a Raptor.

I’m in on talking about this until it actually feels like we have a chance. Then I want to back off because it’s going to get a little too real. I don’t need feelings involved.

B: Agreed. A lot of parallels you can draw to real life where the low-stakes investment is fun but if it gets too real, it’s too real. Drake’s involvement has never really been for me, anyway, it’s just kind of fun to joke about and clown on.

I’m a big fan of his music, but as people who are heavily involved with the team, we’re not exactly the on the fence fans who will be drawn in a little more by a celebrity. If he helps drum up interest, by all means. And I can’t wait for the rap referencing the fine. Suggested line: “Only thing finer than my girl is 25 from the commish / That ain’t nothin’ just one less Rolex for the wrist.”

A: I came up with a couple bars too. I think Drake needs to fire a couple bars that go: “KD loves Toronto he needs no reminding/ I talked to Silver, I’m all about the linings/ It’s all love, you know KD is my guy/ we the north, not even Pac survived after he said Fuck Brooklyn, all hail to Masai/ We’ll get a couple assets from the Knicks, you know the routine/ laugh about the view from the six with Leiweke over some poutines.”

B: I don’t know about a whole verse. A line here and there is a bit more subtle, maybe the new album art with shouts to Durant somehow. I do love that Silver Linings line though, that’s fire. Maybe we should just release a track?

A: Let me clear some room in my Dropbox and we’ll make it happen. Another thing you should know: I put some money on the Raptors to win the East at 30-1, and did you know I’m totally going to be biased in my opinion and any analysis this season because of it. Do you see a scenario where they can come out of the East, assuming Cleveland and Chicago are healthy?

And Atlanta. For some reason, I think Atlanta is going to be really good this season.

B: Assuming health? No, they can’t get out of the East. They would need the Cavs to not mesh well and Derrick Rose to come back well below 100 percent. You can make a case that neither of those teams are a sure bet to stay healthy (it’s tenuous for Cleveland), and if that’s the case you can begin to craft a path, but it’s a stretch, man. 30-to-1 is great odds and I don’t fault you for laying money down, but I think there’s a clear one-two in the East, and then the Raptors are in a wider second tier scrapping for the third seed.

A: This is why I never win when I gamble. I like to make bets for good conversation. First impressions on the just released schedule for next season?

B: Eh, I don’t look into it too much. The four national games — nine if you count NBA TV, which some do but you really shouldn’t — is an awesome nod to the work the franchise has done and the reputation the fanbase has carved out. It sounds cheesy, I guess, but for real, if you’re reading this, you helped the team get those national games.

Other than that, there’s not much to complain about. Via Ed Kupfer, the Raptors actually have things slightly in their favor in terms of games against teams on back-to-backs and games with more rest than their opponents. Also, they start the season with a pretty heavy home schedule. So, not a lot to complain about.

I know you’re based in New York now some of the time. Any games you’ve already circled as ones you may try to get back for?

A: Well, it sucks they have that huge home stand right off the bat. I guess I’m not complaining that I’m going away for ten days in November to Italy with my wife for an unofficial honeymoon), but I was hoping to schedule a trip back to Toronto around a homestand where I could come back for two weeks.

I’ll probably just play it by ear and come back when it makes more sense later in the season. And of course, assuming things don’t go absolute haywire and we make the playoffs, I plan to come back and soak in the Jurassic Park vibe. It’s always nice — and so rare — to see a Toronto fan base that’s actually optimistic.

I went to the playoff games in Brooklyn this past season, but it obviously would not compare to being in Toronto.

B: It’s a beautiful thing, man, and it could make for a beautiful season. Keep in mind, though, that to hope is to risk pain.

A: Alright, I’m tucking this conversation in. Talk to you soon, my man.

Terrence Ross Throwing Down at Seatle Pro AM

Raptors Weekly Podcast, August 18 – All-Time Frustrating Team and Tired Camels

Recorded in the wee hours of Monday morning, Andrew, Will and myself hold your hand as we walk you through the abundance of Raptors news while extolling and trolling through the following subject matter, which is capped off by naming of the Raptors All-Time Frustrating team.

Part 1:

  • Schedule Analysis – Advantage Raptors?
  • Jonas Valanciunas is devouring people in International ball
  • NBA being all whiny and inconsistent about fining people

Part 2

  • Jordan Hamilton makes it even in training camp
  • DeMar DeRozan registers a DNPCD with Team USA
  • Amir Johnson doesn’t have a contract

Part 3

Grab the iTunes feed or check us out on Stitcher on Android. There is also the plain old feed. You can also download the file (52:48, 51 MB). Or just listen below:

Highlights: Jonas Valanciunas Dominates New Zealand with 15 Points in Fourth

No children were hurt during the filming of this video. Only Kiwis who now know what it feels like to have the wrath of Jonas Valanciunas struck down upon you.

The problem with #WeTheNorth

We’re Canada’s basketball team, not a basketball team for Canadians.

The Toronto Raptors capped off arguably their most successful season in franchise history four months ago. An surprisingly upstart team led by breakout campaigns from Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan set a franchise-high in wins, pushing the team into the post-season for the first time in six years. The squad came within a Lowry floater away from winning their second-ever playoff series, nearly upsetting a well-stocked Brooklyn Nets team in the process. By all accounts, it was a very good year.

This offseason, general manager Masai Ujiri successfully retained all of his key free-agents, including highly sought-after point guard Kyle Lowry. Although Lowry ultimately ended up with a deal nearing full market value, there’s something to be said for a star opting to remain in Toronto long-term. As much as anything else — perpetual losers, where Vince Carter started his career — star players leaving in droves is a cursed insignia stitched into the team’s fabric. In that regard, Lowry’s return is a loose strand, symbolizing the hopeful unraveling of the Raptors’ patchy history.

And yet, with so much hard-earned momentum on its side, many fans (captained by members of the media) remain ardent in another chase altogether, shamelessly angling for fantastical moves to acquire Andrew Wiggins. Blow up the squad to land Wiggins. Trade picks for Anthony Bennett, or Tyler Ennis, or Andrew Nicholson, or Corey Joseph? Why not take a flyer on Melvin Ejim or Myck fucking Kabongo? When will Maple Jordan come home like LeBron James?

It’s nauseating.

Put aside for a second that Wiggins is largely unattainable. Who cares about the harsh realities of the CBA when the flimsy narrative of Wiggins coming home is so easy to parlay? Who cares if the franchise is building towards a perpetual contender reliant on continuity and a team-first identity? Why doesn’t Masai deal three-fifths of the starting lineup for Wiggins? Hey, not sure if you knew, but Wiggins is Canadian, eh?

I get the fascination with Wiggins, I really do. If your argument is that this current team has a limited ceiling, and that it lacks a pivotal transcendent talent, it makes some sense to trade for Wiggins. There isn’t a clear-cut future All-NBA caliber player on the team, and while youngsters like DeMar DeRozan and Jonas Valanciunas could conceivably reach that level in due time, Wiggins boasts A-grade prospect cache and boundless athleticism. The physical foundation for a future star is there.

And yes, it would be exciting to have a home-grown star leading Canada’s only team. Unlike previous episodes with Chris Bosh and Carter, Wiggins’ ties to Canada should grant the Raptors a leg up in negotiations for once. If Lowry sticking around is a loose thread in checkered fabric, Wiggins developing into a full-fledged superstar in Toronto would be a red-and-white satin spreadsheet to cover up the hideous identity of old.

But where I get off the boat is when fans go overboard with the second idea. It’s one thing to hope for a rebuild, but Wiggins’ talent alone doesn’t account for the fervor of trade speculation. There’s almost no talk from fans in the acquisition of Jabari Parker or Joel Embiid — two players of roughly equivalent draft standing. Fans want Wiggins because he’s Canadian first and foremost. His talent comes second.

That’s my beef with the fetish for Wiggins — the Raptors are Canada’s basketball team, not a basketball team for Canadians. The franchise exists to eventually win championships, not to act as a safe refuge for Canadian basketball players. It’s not up to the Raptors to be the face of Canadian basketball or inspire Canadian youngsters to try their hands at the sport. That’s what Canada Basketball is for. The Raptors are an NBA team and the goal of NBA teams is to win NBA games.

If the thinking behind a play for Wiggins — or whichever Canadian player — is that he’s the best option to help the Raptors win, make the move. I don’t care if he’s Canadian, American, Spanish, Brazilian, Argentinian, Chinese, Haitian, Jamaican or a dude from the Monstars; if he can help the Raptors win, I’m all for it. Citizenship be damned.

Report: Raptors reach 1-year agreement with Jordan Hamilton

This is the second time Masai Ujiri has made a move to sign Jordan Hamilton

According to a report from RealGM’s Shams Charania (a fairly reputable reporter), the Toronto Raptors have reached a one-year agreement with forward Jordan Hamilton.

The 23-year-old small forward was drafted 26th overall in 2011 by the Dallas Mavericks, and was dealt on draft day to the Denver Nuggets in a three-way trade. Raptors GM Masai Ujiri oversaw the deal, and it appears he has now inked Hamilton for a second time.

Hamilton boasts career averages of 5.8 points. 2.8 rebounds and 0.8 assists in 13.3 minutes per game across parts of three seasons. On a per-36 minute basis, those translate nicely to 15.6 points, 7.5 rebounds and two assists, which is more than respectable. His career PER averages out to 13.9, which is approximately league average.

Based on my personal observations on Hamilton, he reminds me of a discount version of Boston Celtics forward Jeff Green. Like Green, Hamilton has great size for the position of small forward, standing at 6-foot-7 weighing 220 pounds. He also boasts a perimeter-oriented game, having attempted 46.2 percent of his career field-goal attempts from three-point range, of which he sunk at a respectable 35.8 percent clip.

This move, however, would bring the Raptors’ roster to 16 for next season. There are currently 14 guaranteed contracts on the roster, with only point guard Will Cherry’s deal as potentially unguaranteed. Given that this is the second time Ujiri has acquired Hamilton, it’s safe to guess he’s big on Hamilton’s potential. However, head coach Dwane Casey previously noted the team’s need for a third point guard, so it’s unclear as to which faction will win out. Ultimately, it’s a matter of the 15th man on the roster, meaning it’s largely inconsequential.

The possibility also exists for the team to use the stretch provision open another roster spot, but that seems unlikely. Landry Fields would be the most likely candidate if such a move is to be made. It’s also possible that a trade is the endgame here. The possibilities are endless in accommodating this bit-move.

Here’s a highlight reel of Hamilton’s rookie season. Hey, it’s the offseason so what else are you going to do with your lunch break?

UPDATE – 11:50 p.m. - Ryan Wolstat confirms deal is unguaranteed, training camp battle likely ahead

 

William Lou asks: Who is Lou Williams?

I’ll never get over how weird this name thing is.

For the most part, it’s been something of a dull summer for the Toronto Raptors.

While other teams in the conference made sizable roster moves — Chicago landing Pau Gasol, Charlotte nabbing Lance Stephenson, Cavaliers signing James Jones — the Raptors largely stood pat. General manager Masai Ujiri doubled-down in betting on chemistry and development, electing to re-sign Kyle Lowry, Patrick Patterson and Greivis Vasquez. Save for the addition of James Johnson, the eight-man rotation is mostly unchanged from last season.

The conversation of whether or not it was smart for Ujiri to stand pat will be had on another day. Clearly, he felt confident in the team’s current core to compete, and opted to make marginal improvements elsewhere. The gamble on Johnson is a perfect example — if he’s the player he was for Memphis last season, the Raptors land themselves a big perimeter stopper on the cheap.

The same practice of marginal improvements also applies to his other notable offseason acquisition, that of Bebe Nogueira and Lou Williams, which came by way of the Atlanta Hawks in a trade for John Salmons. I touched on Bebe (wow that sounds awful) in a post earlier. This here is a profile for my namesake Lou Williams.

lou-williams-back

Age: 27

Position: Combo guard

Stats profile: 10.4 points, 2.1 rebounds, 3.5 assists in 24.1 minutes per game

Nickname: Sweet Lou

Twittersphere nickname: LouTrillVille

Williams is a scorer, first and foremost. He likes having the ball in his hands, and despite being undersized by weight (175 pounds) and height (6-foot-2), Williams has a large wingspan which coupled with his ball-handling and quickness, allows him to be an effective scorer.

With Williams, there’s a point to distinguish between isolation scorer and ball-hog. While Williams isn’t the most inclined to pass out of a double-team — preferring instead to take side-leaning floaters — he has posted eight-straight seasons with an assist percentage of over 20 percent. In comparison, DeRozan’s career-high is 18.9 percent, which came last season. Williams’ mark ranked 53rd last season, which is far from good, but for a score-first combo guard, it’s reassuring that he does occasionally set up others.

The second thing to note is scoring efficiency. Williams isn’t a good shooter from the field (shot chart below), but by shooting a decent number of free-throws (36.3 FT rate) and three-pointers (46.9 3PTA rate), Williams manages to notch his true-shooting percentage to just above league-average. Last season, Williams only shot 40 percent from the field and 34.2 percent from deep, but he still managed a TS% of 54.7. For an off-the-bench, isolation combo guard, scoring at an league average rate is useful. We’re not dealing with Alan Anderson, for example.

shot chart

Shot chart courtesy of Nylon Calculus

This brings us to how Williams scores his points. Quite simply, he’s the prototypical bench scorer. In an interview with Basketball Insiders, Williams disclosed what the team expects of him.

They just want me to be in shape, they want Greivis [Vasquez] and I to come off the bench and give them energy, score the basketball and play with excitement

Williams mostly makes his living in the pick-and-roll, which accounted for over a third of his possessions last season, according to Synergy Sports. Of his 182 possessions, Williams pulled up for three approximately a third of the time, connecting on 42.2 percent of his tries. On the whole, he scored 0.88 points per pick-and-roll, which ranked 34th last season.

Before rupturing his ACL, Williams used to challenge shot blockers with the occasional dunk. His play lasts season was far more conservative, as he opted instead to finish his drives with floaters and running jumpers. It’s an alright shot, and allows Williams to finish at a respectable rate. He sunk 47.1 percent of his tries from 3-t0-10 feet, and surprisingly netted 67.2 percent between 0-3 feet, though that could in-part be inflated to his propensity to leak out for Corey Brewer-esque cherry-picked buckets.

Williams makes it work in the pick-and-roll with craftiness. He’s has great ball skills and he’s quick, which permits him to get by defenders. He also has a subtle herky-jerky change of pace game, which also helps in drawing fouls. He averaged 4.5 free-throw attempts per 36 minutes, a mark that ranked 29th amongst guards last season, besting the likes of Mike Conley, Tony Parker and Reggie Jackson. He knows how to leverage his skills to draw contact, then sell it effectively. Being slight also helps in that regard.

Williams also doubles as a spot-up shooter, which in-part helps him to thrive in two-point guard lineups, something he should see plenty of in Toronto alongside either Lowry or Vasquez. He attempted 98 spot-up three-pointers in Atlanta’s three-point happy scheme last season, connecting on a respectable 36.7 percent. The season prior, Williams knocked down 50.8 percent (31-for-61). His true ability on spot-ups likely sits somewhere in-between.

In two-point guard lineups, Williams should serve as an effective outlet after an initial pick-and-roll. He likes to attack off the dribble or simply launch threes from above-the-break. He should reprise the role filled by Salmons last season, only he can, y’know, play NBA basketball.

However, offensive capabilities aside, Williams struggles on defense. It’s a two-pronged problem — he’s both undersized and inattentive. He’s serviceable in on-ball scenarios, having forced turnovers on over 20 percent of his pick-and-roll defensive possessions, but he really can’t defend spot-up scenarios, allowing an alarming 1.1 points per possession.

The off-ball thing is a worry because he spends a fair amount of time trailing behind two-guards, getting lost in screens and whatnot. Almost a third of his defensive possessions last year came via spot-up, of which he allowed opponents to connect on 48.8 percent of three-point tries. Take the play below for example. What is he thinking helping out on a Rubio drive, when there’s a help defender in Gustavo Ayon rotating over to protect the rim? His curious decision gives up a wide open corner triple.

Nine years into his professional career, the defensive issues won’t correct themselves, especially given Williams’ declining athleticism. For what it’s worth, he says he doesn’t even think about his knee 90 percent of the time, but having suffered a serious injury just 18 months ago, his durability will always be a question. If he’s having to trade pull-ups for forays to the basket, he’ll unfortunately blend into the blase of jumpshooters that currently paints the squad. Like with any guard, Williams is most effective when he operates in an even mix of drives and spot-ups.

And if his health does fail him, the Raptors are only tied to him for a year, making this season a test-trial for both him and the franchise. If he steps in and provides the Raptors with a much-needed fourth ball-handler while keeping his heat-checks in tow, he’ll net himself a lucrative deal — either here or elsewhere — to continue gunning. If he instead becomes a black hole who no longer sinks enough triples to offset his low field-goal percentage, the Raptors could easily sever their ties. It’s a gamble that could pay dividends for a roster looking to improve on its previous standing.

Oh, and he’s from the ATL, so you know he can spit that fire. Look for Williams’ latest verse to drop in Full Court Press, Vol. 1 which also features fellow NBAers Shawn Marion, Iman Shumpert, Charlie Villanueva and Stephen Jackson.

Toronto Raptors 2014-15 Schedule – Live Thread

The schedule is released at 6pm tonight, and so far all we know is that the home start time is now 7:30pm instead of 7, which just pushes everything out by half an hour, and in my opinion is plain silly.  But, as long as it means more dinner specials being ordered at the ACC, that’s really what matters.

So as we wait for the schedule, here’s some thing we generally look out for and come 6pm, I’ll just fill in the blanks – let me know if I’ve missed any key events.

UPDATE: 6PM EST

NBA.com releases schedule, but ESPN’s is much better formatted (scroll down for full schedule too).  You can also download the schedule as a CSV file or, better yet, subscribe to it via iCal (which work with Google Calendar as well).

  • The Raptors play Miami, Indiana, Washington, and Milwaukee three times each next season.
  • Raps are on TNT versus Chicago on Nov 13, a Thursday
  • ESPN games are @ Charlotte April 8. Charlotte @ Toronto April 15
  • NBA TV Schedule: v DEN Dec 8, v SAS Feb 8, at NOP Feb 23, v HOU Mar 30, at MIA  April 11
  • Busiest months are November and January with 16 games each
  • 19 back-to-back games (last year we had 18) – 7 of the 19 are road back-to-backs.

Games by Day:

  • Sunday: 13 (7 home, 6 road)
  • Monday: 11 (6 home, 5 road)
  • Tuesday: 10 (2 home, 8 road)
  • Wednesday: 17 (11 home, 6 road)
  • Thursday: 2 (2 home, 0 road)
  • Friday: 19 (10 home, 9 road)
  • Saturday: 10 (3 home, 7 road)

The official dot com broke some info down too and here’s ESPN’s excellent NBA-wide breakdown.

What? When?
Season Opener Oct 29 at home vs Atlanta
First Road Game Nov 1 in Orlando
US National TV TNT: v Chicago on Nov 13, ESPN:  @ Charlotte on April 8, v Charlotte on April 15
Nets v Raptors Rematch in Toronto Dec 17
Nets v Raptors Rematch in Brooklyn Jan 30
Longest Roadtrip 1 6-game road swing between Dec 22-Jan 4: Chicago, Clippers, Denver, Portland, Golden State, Phoenix
Longest Homestand 7-game homestand between Nov 7 and Nov 21 – Washington, Philly, Orlando, Chicago, Utah, Memphis, Milwaukee
Second-Longest Homestand 6-game home-stand between Jan 8 and Jan 18: Charlotte, Boston, Detroit, Philly, Atlanta, New Orleans
Western Swing 1 3-game trip between Nov 30-Dec 3: Lakers, Kings, and Utah
Western Swing 2 Par of the 6-game roadtrip between Dec 22-Jan 4
Christmas Schedule 5-day break between trip to Chicago (Dec 22) and trip to Clippers (Dec 27) between
New Years Schedule Raps don’t play on NY Eve or NY Day – NY starts in GSW on Jan 2
All-Star Break Schedule 9-day break for the Raptors with nothing between the Washington game on Feb 11 and in Atlanta on Feb 20
Season Ending Schedule Season ends on April 15 at home vs Bobcats, preceded by a trip to Boston
Andrew Wiggins Return March 18 – long ways away
Vince Carter Return Nov 19
Chris Bosh Return Mar 13
Jose Calderon Return Dec 21
Andrea Bargnani Return Dec 21
Rudy Gay Return Jan 28
Kevin Durant in Toronto Nov 4
LeBron James in Toronto Dec 5
The Champs, San Antonio Spurs in Toronto Feb 8
Date Opponent Time
Wed, Oct 29 vsAtlanta 7:30 PM
Sat, Nov 1 @Orlando 7:00 PM
Sun, Nov 2 @Miami 6:00 PM
Tue, Nov 4 vsOklahoma City 7:30 PM
Wed, Nov 5 @Boston 7:30 PM
Fri, Nov 7 vsWashington 7:30 PM
Sun, Nov 9 vsPhiladelphia 7:00 PM
Tue, Nov 11 vsOrlando 7:30 PM
Thu, Nov 13 vsChicago 8:00 PM
Sat, Nov 15 vsUtah 7:30 PM
Wed, Nov 19 vsMemphis 7:30 PM
Fri, Nov 21 vsMilwaukee 7:30 PM
Sat, Nov 22 @Cleveland 7:30 PM
Mon, Nov 24 vsPhoenix 7:30 PM
Wed, Nov 26 @Atlanta 7:30 PM
Fri, Nov 28 vsDallas 7:30 PM
Sun, Nov 30 @Los Angeles 9:30 PM
Tue, Dec 2 @Sacramento 10:00 PM
Wed, Dec 3 @Utah 9:00 PM
Fri, Dec 5 vsCleveland 7:30 PM
Mon, Dec 8 vsDenver 7:30 PM
Tue, Dec 9 @Cleveland 7:00 PM
Fri, Dec 12 vsIndiana 7:30 PM
Sun, Dec 14 @NY Knicks 7:30 PM
Mon, Dec 15 vsOrlando 7:30 PM
Wed, Dec 17 vsBrooklyn 8:00 PM
Fri, Dec 19 @Detroit 7:30 PM
Sun, Dec 21 vsNY Knicks 3:30 PM
Mon, Dec 22 @Chicago 8:00 PM
Sat, Dec 27 @Los Angeles 3:30 PM
Sun, Dec 28 @Denver 9:00 PM
Tue, Dec 30 @Portland 10:00 PM
Fri, Jan 2 @Golden State 10:30 PM
Sun, Jan 4 @Phoenix 8:00 PM
Thu, Jan 8 vsCharlotte 7:30 PM
Sat, Jan 10 vsBoston 7:30 PM
Mon, Jan 12 vsDetroit 7:30 PM
Wed, Jan 14 vsPhiladelphia 7:30 PM
Fri, Jan 16 vsAtlanta 7:30 PM
Sun, Jan 18 vsNew Orleans 3:30 PM
Mon, Jan 19 @Milwaukee 8:00 PM
Wed, Jan 21 @Memphis 8:00 PM
Fri, Jan 23 @Philadelphia 7:00 PM
Sun, Jan 25 vsDetroit 7:00 PM
Tue, Jan 27 @Indiana 7:00 PM
Wed, Jan 28 vsSacramento 7:30 PM
Fri, Jan 30 @Brooklyn 7:30 PM
Sat, Jan 31 @Washington 7:00 PM
Mon, Feb 2 vsMilwaukee 7:30 PM
Wed, Feb 4 vsBrooklyn 7:30 PM
Fri, Feb 6 vsLos Angeles 7:30 PM
Sun, Feb 8 vsSan Antonio 7:00 PM
Wed, Feb 11 vsWashington 7:30 PM
Fri, Feb 20 @Atlanta 7:30 PM
Sat, Feb 21 @Houston 8:00 PM
Mon, Feb 23 @New Orleans 8:00 PM
Tue, Feb 24 @Dallas 8:30 PM
Fri, Feb 27 vsGolden State 7:30 PM
Sat, Feb 28 @NY Knicks 7:30 PM
Mon, Mar 2 @Philadelphia 7:00 PM
Wed, Mar 4 vsCleveland 7:30 PM
Fri, Mar 6 @Charlotte 7:00 PM
Sun, Mar 8 @Oklahoma City 7:00 PM
Tue, Mar 10 @San Antonio 8:30 PM
Fri, Mar 13 vsMiami 7:30 PM
Sun, Mar 15 vsPortland 7:00 PM
Mon, Mar 16 @Indiana 7:00 PM
Wed, Mar 18 vsMinnesota 7:30 PM
Fri, Mar 20 @Chicago 8:00 PM
Sun, Mar 22 vsNY Knicks 4:00 PM
Tue, Mar 24 @Detroit 7:30 PM
Wed, Mar 25 vsChicago 7:30 PM
Fri, Mar 27 vsLos Angeles 7:30 PM
Mon, Mar 30 vsHouston 7:30 PM
Wed, Apr 1 @Minnesota 8:00 PM
Fri, Apr 3 @Brooklyn 7:30 PM
Sat, Apr 4 vsBoston 7:30 PM
Wed, Apr 8 @Charlotte 7:00 PM
Fri, Apr 10 @Orlando 7:00 PM
Sat, Apr 11 @Miami 7:30 PM
Tue, Apr 14 @Boston 7:30 PM
Wed, Apr 15 vsCharlotte 8:00 PM

What’s Your Starting 5?

For some of you, its clear as day as to who your starting 5 for the Raptors would be for next season. For others, its still up for debate. Who do you have in your starting 5 next year?

Key Adjustments Needed Despite Majority Roster Returning for Raptors

Third seed. That seems to be the general consensus where this team will finish next season. Right on top of the craptastic Atlantic division which now features a slimmed down Carmelo Anthony who, despite losing a brick-ton of weight, will no doubt use his new-found shape to execute even more pointless jab-steps before launching a jumper that’ll make Phil Jackson wish he was smoking a peace pipe in Montana while Jeanie Buss belly-danced to the tune of Black Magic Woman.

The loftiness of the Raptors aspirations do appear to have a hard ceiling, with the Bulls forming the popcorn part and the Cavaliers the brand new shingles.   Most Raptors fans are quite comfortable with this, knowing in their heart of hearts that though the Raptors are a good team, they’re not that good.  It’s much like settling for a job that pays above the median salary but well below what the executives make. It’s a good feeling where you want to pat yourself on the back, buy a barbecue, and perhaps even start a family where the kids’ names all start with the same letter.  That’s where the Raptors are,  snug in the top half of the Eastern Conference, perched up like a gargoyle just below two other gargoyles.

Not so fast, though.  There are threats in the conference which make that third seed look like a bit of a trap.  I’m sure I don’t need to remind the esteemed reader that both times the Raptors finished third in the conference, they lost, once because Jose Calderon couldn’t weigh a pass, and the other because Paul Pierce forgot to trim his fingernails.  If you look at the teams that are likely to be 4-8, it’s a shuffle between Miami, Atlanta, Washington, Charlotte, and one of Brooklyn, Indiana, and New York.  There are no guarantees in the first batch, and the second isn’t even worth talking about since they’re just prey for Chicago and Cleveland.

If the goal of next season is to climb out of the first round, the Raptors will have to beat a pretty good team.  Miami is obviously going to be decent, though I do think they’re going to get off to a slow start, mostly due to the shock of realizing that Chris Bosh is now their cornerstone.  Atlanta was fantastic last season and had firm grasp of the third seed right up until Al Horford tore his pectoral muscles like a dry twig.  Washington actually won a playoff round and arguably have the best backcourt in the East, the fastest with-the-ball end-to-end guard in the league, an experienced frontline, and can match the Raptors for that oh-so-special intangible of chemistry.  Charlotte, well, Charlotte could be had, and I’m thinking Charlotte becomes last year’s Washington for the Raptors where the Raptors would be angling to want to face them in the playoffs.

I have little doubt the Raptors will win the Atlantic and finish with home court, but even getting that far and throwing yourself into the playoff mix as described is going to be tough.  Why? Because teams aren’t going to let the success of last year simply repeat without doing something about it.  Adjustments, is where I’m going with this.  You got to make them as you grow older and realize that you can’t scale two steps at a time, and so do other teams when they face the Raptors.

The first adjustment teams will make is to test DeMar DeRozan’s jumper.  The 39% he shot between 10-16 feet is not going to cut it, or at least, shooting that percentage from that area isn’t going to net him 8 FTAs per game.  Teams will make him prove that he can shoot it before allowing him to drive.  The two wings that shot more FTs than him, Kevin Durant and James Harden, shot 44% and 46% from that range, and that’s probably where DeRozan will need to take his game to, in order for his drive game to open up, which Greg Mason talked about yesterday.  His tighter handles may yield him more blow-buy opportunities, but ultimately it’s his jumper that’ll need to improve.

Kyle Lowry will be game-planned for more than ever.  The man has enough talent to score against most defenses so I’m not worried about him getting his points – he has enough of a first-step, reads the defense well, and is physically able to bump off defenders to create space for a shot, even if he’s a tad bit off-balance.  Watching the tape, he was simply not respected enough as a three-point shooter last season.  Teams tended to cheat off him, especially in two-guard lineups allowing him to settle in behind screens for jumpers that he drilled at a 38% clip from three.  They will close him down more which doesn’t bother me much because his drive game is good enough to negotiate that.  Last year he took a whopping 6.3 threes a game, which was 2.2 threes more than the year before.  Long story short, he took more threes than he’s ever taken and hit them very efficiently, and if I noticed that, you can bet that NBA scouts did.  A reduction in 3FGAs is a certainty, it’s whether Lowry can compensate for that loss in points through other areas that’s going to be key.

Terrence Ross shot close to 40% from three last season and 54% of his shots were threes (Random comparison: 64% of Kyle Korver’s shots were threes and he shot 47%).  Having two guys like DeRozan and Lowry on the floor helps Ross tremendously, because there’s only so many players you can game-plan for.  Ross came into last season shooting only 33% from downtown in his rookie year, so he wasn’t considered a three-point threat for a big chunk of the season, with defenses  testing his shot more than seriously contesting it.   Given his success last season, you would think that that will change a bit, and as William Lou mentioned, he may be capable of the drive-and-punish more than he’d led us to believe.  One thing which is known is that he’s going to be treated like a three-point shooter coming into next season and will have to put the ball on the floor more than he has so far in his career.  Much like Sam at the Rail, Ross now likes to park himself in the corner, eye the game from a wide angle, and pounce when opportunity presents.

From a bench standpoint, Patrick Patterson’s preference to step-out for a the mid-range jumper, and Greivis Vasquez’s inclination for the floater, are now known more than ever.  What’s comforting as a Raptors fan is that both these guys are smart basketball players who can adapt to what a defense is giving you rather than continually forcing their game.  In truth, it’s one of the reasons I really like this team: there aren’t any dumb guys like Jamario Moon, Joey Graham, Andrea Bargnani, etc., that try to fit a square peg in a round hole without stopping to think, ‘Hey man, I’m trying to fit a square peg in a round hole’.

From an offensive setup, teams will try to get the ball out of Lowry hands and force DeRozan or Ross to initiate the offense.  Casey could respond by promptly inserting Vasquez, but it remains to be seen how sustainable a strategy that is, and it also depends much on what Lou Williams has to offer (Will’s got a thunderf**k of an article about him tomorrow).   My comfort-level in watching the offense run though DeRozan has increased because he’s shown he’s capable of either making the right pass and, other than the playoffs, gives the ball up when he needs to.  He’s may not ever be a point-forwardish ball-handler like Scottie Pippen or Kevin Durant, but he knows how to prevent the ball from being stuck (again, other than the Nets series).

Ross happens to have a tighter dribble than DeRozan and will find himself in positions where he’s going to be asked to more than just catch-and-shoot, which accounted for 52% of his shots last season.  He averaged 1.7 drives per game and 1 assist in almost 27 minutes a game.  Those are not flattering numbers, and to be fair, his role was strictly catch-and-shoot last year.  As his game evolves, the next step for him is to use that soft, feathery release in a pull-up or floater, because he has enough of a first step that he can evade a defender to get into the 7-12 feet range on either side of the court.  Rather than having to rely on Vasquez to move Lowry off the ball, it would be a tremendous luxury for Dwane Casey to have Ross be a ball-handler.  It should be noted with a fountain pen that James Johnson is an adept ball-handler as well, and could be used similarly, but simply doesn’t stretch the floor as Ross does.

Much like this lump on my chest, the defense is difficult for me to diagnose.  The Raptors were 5th in the NBA in January and February, but fell to 17th in the final quarter of the season, and finished the season at a respectable 10th place.  That poor defense carried over into the playoffs which didn’t bode well, and serves as a mild warning heading into next season.  On that front, James Johnson should help.  How the overall defense changes also depends on Bebe Nogueira’s impact off the bench and whether his rim-defense can start fast breaks (like JaVale McGee) , or whether his pick ‘n roll defense can force guards to pick up dribbles and cause short-clock situations.

At the very least, the Raptors have to improve their defense of the corner three, which they were bottom-third in defending from a percentage perspective in that miserable last quarter of the season where teams shot over 42% from the corners.  When you think about it, that three is a by-product of the opposition moving the ball well, usually after some amount of dribble penetration. As the season wore on, guys like DeRozan and Lowry paid the price for playing a career-high in minutes with 38.2 and 36.2, respectively.  This partially led to a leaky perimeter defense both in the later stages of the season and the playoffs, which lends some credence to the idea that their minutes should be monitored rather than being played to death as if Tom Thibodeau was head coach.   Ideally, you’d like to bring down DeRozan and Lowry’s minutes to around 32, which would mean they’re fresher for when it counts, and are also able to go harder on defense the time they’re on the court.  Obviously, the Spurs model of everyone playing under 30 minutes is ideal, but the Raptors may not have the depth to pull that off.

Heading into next season, there are tweaks to be made and preventive measures needing to be taken.  Most of all, let not the familiarity of the roster make us believe that key adjustments aren’t required.

Raptors looking to add Rochester RazorSharks as D-League affiliate

This is great news. No more sending guys like DeAndre Daniels to Perth, Australia.

It’s 2 a.m. so this is a short report. According to Time Warner Cable News in Rochester, the Toronto Raptors are looking to enter into an agreement with the Rochester RazorSharks. From the report:

The Rochester RazorSharks basketball team is in talks with the NBA’s Toronto Raptors, according to sources within the RazorSharks front office, who said the Raptors are looking for a NBA Developmental League affiliate.
The keys to note are the following. The Raptors are currently co-affiliated with the Fort Wayne Mad Ants team along with 12 (!!!) other teams. Currently, Rochester is not a part of the D-League, so the Raptors’ push looks to be adding the RazorSharks into the fold. It makes sense geographically, as Rochester is just a 50 minute flight from downtown Toronto.
For more on why the Raptors should acquire a D-League affiliate, read Blake Murphy’s excellent breakdown.
Editor’s note: the original headline read “Razorbacks”. Apologies for the oversight. No more blogging at 2 a.m.

VIDEO: Jonas Valanciunas drops 19 points, 8 rebounds against Australia

The Aussies boast the likes of Aron Baynes and former Raptor David Andersen.

But Jonas has little regard for those minions. He continues his dominant performance in international ball, scoring 19 points while grabbing eight rebounds. If someone could link to the boxscore of this game in the comments below, that would be appreciated. I can’t, for the life of me, find it.

 

UPDATE: Jonas scored 19 points on 6-of-7 shooting from the field and 7-of-8 from the line. He also drew 7 (!!!) fouls in just 26 minutes of play. Props to commentor imvaid for hunting down the boxscore.

 

 

DeMar DeRozan’s Value as a Free Throw Shooter

Ed’s Note: This article is written by Greg Mason, who is a regular guest on The Doctor Is In Podcast.  Follow Greg on Twitter at @VotaryOfHoops.

A few weeks ago I wrote a shooting breakdown of the Raptors using the Nylon Calculus shooting charts. In the piece I was fairly critical of DeRozan’s high volume mid-range game.

I realized soon after the post hit the site that I sold DeRozan short by failing to bring a major part of his game into the discussion: free throw shooting.

A good 3-point shooter is sexier than Shakira’s gyrating hips in today’s analytics-driven game. In addition to the obvious fact that 3s count for more than 2s, good shooters also space the floor and open driving lanes to the basket. This is good and well but one important fact has been obfuscated by the love of the 3 ball: getting to the free throw line is actually more valuable than shooting a three. On this subject Andrew Johnson notes: “In the NBA last year, players made just under 36% of the 1766 three pointers taken, for an average of 1.078 points per three point attempt. Players made 75.6% of their free throw attempts for 1.51 points per shooting foul drawn on a two shot. And for those doing the math at home, yes 1.51 is greater than 1.078.”

This brings us back to DeRozan. While I still feel that his game would be well served by cutting down on long mid-range jumpers, part of the high volume, low efficiency critique waged against him is mitigated by the fact that DeRozan is among the league’s best at getting to foul line and making free throws. Last week Zarar offered up ways that DeRozan can improve driving to the basket and noted that DeRozan is 20th in the league in drives per game and 12th in points per drive. While DeRozan is likely too singularly focused on getting to the free throw line when he drives, his ability to get to the stripe nevertheless provides a hell of a lot of value to the team.

Last season DeRozan was 4th in the league in FTM per game behind only Love, Harden and Durant. He not only got to the line frequently, he also converted at an 82.4 % clip. Notably, DeRozan has improved at getting to the free throw line each year in the league. Last season he beat his previous career highs in free throw attempts and makes by 203 and 164, respectively. As you see below, DeRozan also got better at getting to the free throw line as the season went on:

GP FTM FTA FT%
October 1 0.0 2.0 0.0
November 14 5.0 6.1 81.4
December 14 5.2 6.7 77.7
January 15 6.5 8.3 78.4
February 12 7.8 9.2 85.5
March 16 8.1 9.3 86.6
April 7 7.9 9.1 85.9

He not only increased his attempts and makes per game, he also improved his percentages. By the time the playoffs rolled around, DeRozan was a veritable monster at the line. DeRozan led the playoffs in FTM per game by a wide margin at 10.1 makes per contest. Russell Westbrook was the next closest challenger at 7.6 FTM per game. Even more impressive, DeRozan improved his free throw shooting to 89.9% in the playoffs.

Another particularly impressive feature of DeRozan’s game is his ability to get to the line when it matters most. Per 82games.com, DeRozan was 5th best in the league at 18.5 free throw attempts per 48 minutes in clutch time last season. Clutch is defined here as any stat accumulated in the 4th quarter or overtime, with less than 5 minutes left, where neither team is ahead by more than 5 points.

Last season DeRozan was fouled on 16.4 % of his field goal attempts. In the clutch, however, DeRozan increased his already impressive rate of drawing fouls to 21.5%. This was a major jump from the 2012-2013 season where DeRozan was fouled on 13.7 % of his FGA and 14.6 % of his FGA in the clutch.

As a team the Raptors had the 7th-most FTA in the league last year. What’s significant there, aside from the high PPP value of getting to the line, is that teams across the league shot about a 5 percent lower eFG% after ‘stopped ball’ events such as made baskets, turn overs, fouls and time outs.

As we see, getting to the free throw line is valuable to a team in many ways. It’s not only a highly valuable shot in terms of points per possession. It also puts other teams into foul trouble and stops the ball, which enables teams to get back into their defensive sets and cuts down on fast break points allowed. Dean Oliver, author of Basketball on Paper and the first person to be hired as a full-time statistical analyst by an NBA team, determined that getting to the foul line frequently is one of the four most important keys for success in team basketball along with shooting a high eFG%, limiting turnovers and grabbing offensive rebounds.

DeRozan’s FG% this season was a less than desirable 43 percent. His true shooting percentage (53.2%) however, which takes into account two-point field goals, three-point field goals and free throws, was his highest since his rookie season and only a hair below the 53.89% league average. There are certainly downsides to DeRozan’s hyper focus on getting to the foul line such as taking bad shots in an effort to draw fouls and a tunnel vision which sometimes prevents DeRozan from finding open teammates and disrupts the flow of the game. Having said that, if we think about DeRozan’s offensive game holistically and take the time to appreciate the multi-faceted value of getting to the free throw line, we gain a more well-rounded understanding of what DeRozan brings to the Raptors.

ESPN summer forecast projects Raptors to win 3rd seed with 47 wins

The queen bee (no, not Lorde nor Lil’ Kim) has spoken. Now what say you in this hive of worker bees?

Every summer, the fine execs at ESPN try their best to fill the haunting void between the end of free-agency and the start of the preseason. For the most part, their solution is all-NFL, all-the-time, but they do cater to die-hard basketball fans as well. For those of us who prefer the elegance of putting leather balls through 10-foot hoops rather than the savagery of watching 300-pound humans smash into one another without reproach for humanity, the mothership offers Summer Forecast, which aims at predicting team standings, award winners, etc etc. As is the rule of sports media, if you can’t break news, generate discussion. This is the latter (though ESPN is just one Woj away from corralling the former).

An esteemed panel of 210 writers and analysts were polled, and their responses were aggregated to generate the forecasts. Laying our cards on the table, Raptors Republic’s very own Blake Murphy’s vote was counted, so direct your ire towards him. Without further ado, here’s where the Raptors ranked (full post here).

Overall Record: 47-35, First in Atlantic Division, Third in Eastern Conference

Feel free to discuss below. We’ll have our own write up on how the East will shake out next season in the coming weeks. The Raptors Weekly crew of myself, Andrew and Zarar touched on the subject a few episodes back. We also ranked the Raptors third.

[crotch grab: RaptorsHQ]

Drake’s First Contribution to the Raptors: A $25,000 Fine

Drake’s comments on his OVO event were:

“My brother Kevin Durant was kind enough to come to the show tonight and watch us,” Drake said to his audience. “I just want him to see what would happen if he were to come play in Toronto.”

Here’s video of the whole thing:

The NBA would have likely let this slide hadn’t Drake been officially part of the Raptors organization in his role as Global Ambassador where his primary duties include attending games whilst trying hard to look absorbed. As it stands, this is clear tampering. RR does find it funny that the NBA comes down hard on this but doesn’t have a problem with players blatantly colluding (ahem, Miami) to form partnerships. Something’s amiss.

Read William Lou’s analysis of KD in Toronto.

Raptors Weekly Podcast, August 11 – DeMar’s Getting Low

The pod motors along with Will and myself taking you through slim pickings in a diabolically masterful fashion.  How we filled up 33+ minutes while slicing this baby into three parts will remain one of the greatest mysteries of our time.

Part 1:

  • Wiggins for Love is unofficially official which means #UnleashWiggins
  • Brian Scalabrine is coming home
  • What’s the deal with Eric Bledsoe?

Part 2:

  • DeMar DeRozan’s chances of making USA team – Rudy and DeMar reunite
  • Better DeRozan rest or get some USA experience?
  • How does it affect his training camp?
  • The “evidence” of DeRozan working on his handles

Part 3:

  • Jonas Valanciunas played vs Finland and played well
  • DeAndre Daniels is off to Australia
  • Jays talk

Grab the iTunes feed or check us out on Stitcher on Android. There is also the plain old feed. You can also download the file (33:50, 32 MB). Or just listen below:

Highlights: Jonas Valanciunas – 20 points vs Finland

Raptors Second Round Pick DeAndre Daniels to Play in Australia

According to a report in the Herald Sun (Australian site), Raptors second rounder DeAndre Daniels will be joining the Perth Wildcats. The report states:

Almost a year to the day after signing James Ennis, who has returned to the US to play with the Miami Heat, the Wildcats have pulled off a similar coup by landing Daniels.

“I’m going to Australia for four months, a long vacation, and I’m going back and will be with the Raptors,” Daniels was quoted as saying.

“I’m just going to go out there and not look at it as a negative, but look at it as a positive.

“I’m just going to go out there and get better.”

The 6’8″ Junior from UConn had a decent showing in the Vegas summer league (recent interview here). Daniels 10 points, 6.2 rebounds, and .4 steals while shooting 36% from the floor in the Vegas summer league. He also shot 26% from three, while taking 23 threes in the five games.

Here’s his Twitter.

How will the Love-for-Wiggins trade impact the Raptors?

Is Andrew Wiggins two years away from two years away from being a Raptor? (No)

On Thursday morning, the NBA’s oracle Adrian Wojnarowski reported that the Cleveland Cavaliers and Minnesota Timberwolves had agreed to a trade, in which Cleveland would send Andrew Wiggins, Anthony Bennett and a protected first to Minnesota for Kevin Love.

The deal itself is nothing short of historic. Trading a 25-year-old superstar in his prime is almost as crazy as severing two back-to-back first picks in one fell swoop. And yet, the deal makes sense for both teams. Love joins LeBron James to form the most formidable team in the Eastern Conference, while the two prospects gives Minnesota a foundation in which to build on for the future. Both teams got what they wanted.

But this is a Raptors site, and being that it is such, we don’t care about the well-being of the Timberwolves, nor Cavaliers. Minny squandered over a decade of Kevin Garnett and Kevin Love, while the Cavaliers inexplicably lucked into four (!!!) number one overall picks in the span of 11 years, over which time they’ve landed LeBron twice. TWICE! Fuck the Cavs, and to a lesser extent, fuck the Timberwolves as well.

That being said, this deal does pose both short and long-term implications for our beloved Dinos. How could it not? The trade will see a title contender in the East get even stronger, while Maple Jordan and his disappointing side-kick Maple Bill Wennington (wait…) flock Westwards.

close

Short term: the crack in the Raptors’ window has closed (entirely)

Had the Cavaliers just rolled into the season with LeBron, Irving and a rag-tag cast of spare parts, I could have been convinced the Raptors had a shot to maybe win a game or two against them in the playoffs. It could have been argued that LeBron might have needed more time to gel with his teammates, and that their ball-starved offense would fail to mask their non-existent paint defense. If that were the case, the Raptors’ superlative chemistry and depth had a fighting chance.

But then again, one team had LeBron. And now they have Love.

I realize that the general opinion on Love’s abilities is somewhat divided. Some believe him to be a perpetual loser who pads his stats and plays James Harden-esque defense. Others believe Love makes up for his lack of rim-protection by being a phenomenal rebounder, and is an uniquely talented force on offense. One of those two groups is dumb (hint: it’s the first.)

If you have any doubts about the new holy trinity in Cleveland, answer me this: say LeBron runs a pick-and-roll with Love. LeBron’s too dangerous when he drives, so the opposing big sags back in the paint while LeBron’s man shades him towards the help. But then LeBron pops a pass to Love, who slipped the screen and is now wide open above-the-break. However, the defense is alert, and another defender on the wing quickly rotates over to Love so he can’t get the shot off. Love sees this, and being the gifted passer that he is, he alertly swings it over to Irving, whose man rotated over to Love. Now Irving is headed to the basket with a full head of steam and no one in front of him. Meanwhile, Love has a mismatch and LeBron is crashing the glass. Oh, and Mike Miller and another three-point shooter is parked in either corners, so send help at your own peril.

Good luck.

Barring any injuries (which is the biggest chink in Cleveland’s armor), the Cavaliers should run away with the Eastern Conference. Derrick Rose and Pau Gasol joining the Bulls is somewhat interesting, but aside from them, no one else is close, and that includes the Raptors. DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry is a cute tandem, but come on.

WIGGINS

Long Term: OMG Raptors can haz Wigginz?

If I’m not mistaken, here’s how the theory of how this helps the Raptors’ chances of landing Wiggins in the future: Wiggins wouldn’t have passed on a chance to play with LeBron in Cleveland, but now that he’s on the shitty Timberwolves, he’ll want out! His contract runs out after four seasons which means…OMG WIGGINS TO RAPTORS IN 2018!

Except, that assumes Wiggins hates playing in Minnesota/loves the Raptors so much that he turns down a max extension in year three, and again in year four, signs his qualifying offer for year five just to reach unrestricted free-agency, and then sign a smaller maximum with the Raptors at that point. If that’s the path he chooses, his agent should never represent another client ever again.

If anything, the move to Minnesota affords Wiggins more room to grow. All three of LeBron, Waiters and Irving boasted usage rates over 25 percent last season, which is a complicated way of saying Wiggins would have never saw the ball in Cleveland. In Minnesota, he gets to cut his teeth without respite — it’s not like the Timberwolves are contending anytime soon. He’ll have a point guard in Ricky Rubio who is willing to spot him the ball, and in rather spectacular fashion (Rubio even made Derrick Williams look good!) Under the guidance of an above-average coach in Flip Saunders — or whomever he bills as his replacement — Wiggins can live the life of a regular lottery-selected rookie. He can fly without fear of falling.

And if Wiggins does indeed pan out like the superstar many think he’ll become, why would he turn down tens of millions to jump ship to Toronto? Who knows how the Raptors will look in four years? Will they have enough cap room to accommodate Wiggins? Who else will still be on the team? Or if he’s a bust, why would the Raptors want him? Or more importantly, ask yourself when was the last time a number one pick (who didn’t bust) took the fast-track to unrestricted free-agency to sign elsewhere under the last two CBA’s? Go ahead, I’ll wait.

The likelier path for Wiggins to land in Toronto would have been if he stayed on Cleveland, and saw his stock diminish from not having the ball. Then, provided that the Raptors had something of value to the Cavaliers, they could have worked out a trade. Of course, the Cavs were smart and quickly dealt for Love, an asset worth more than anyone currently on the Raptors (except Bruno, because y’know, Brazilian KD). That window has closed too.

But hey, Bennett is probably up for grabs. Anyone interested in him?

DeRozan’s new handles

Why doesn’t Terrence Ross attack the basket?

This is Terrence Ross, owner of two NBA slam dunk trophies.

This is Kenneth Faried, a power forward who has at least 30 pounds on Ross. Colloquially known as “the Manimal”, Faried is as much — if not more — of an athletic marvel as Ross. On a fateful night in January, the two players collided on a fast-break. This was the ensuing result:

Which brings me to my premise — why doesn’t Terrence Ross attack the basket?

Let’s add some context. Last season, Ross averaged just 1.7 drive field-goal attempts per game, which ranked well outside the top-100. On those drives, he scored just 2.1 points per 48 minutes placing him among fine company in Andrea Bargnani and Kirk Hinrich.

The simple rebuttal is that Ross doesn’t drive because his role in the offense is to spot-up. That certainly explains half the story, as his average of 1.7 drives per game did rank similar to spot-up shooters like Courtney Lee and DeMarre Carroll. But Ross isn’t a run-of-the-mill shooter. Go ahead, watch that Faried dunk again.

Rather, the answer might be even simpler — Ross just isn’t good at attacking the basket.

First off, Ross really can’t attack the basket going left because he heavily favors his right hand. He’s actually not a bad ball-handler (with either hand) for a wing, as he can reasonably navigate around defenders using his quickness to offset his slightly high dribble. But, when he does drive left, he tends to pull-up instead of dribbling all the way to the hoop because he’s not a good finisher with his left hand.

This is the typical outcome when Ross goes left:

He also tends to get tunnel vision when he does drive. Ross doesn’t receive very many touches (less than 30 per game), but he averaged less than two assists per 100 possessions last season, an impossibly low figure for a wing player.

Take this play, for instance. The Magic’s defense plays it well, and stays with him to the point where he’s trapped in the paint. But instead of kicking it out to Amir Johnson for an open jumper, or just resetting by using Amir as the release valve, he takes an ill-advised fadeaway. To his credit, he nailed the shot, but process trumps results. Ross rarely creates for anyone when he does attack.

And lastly, Ross is sometimes timid when he attacks, which is strange because his athleticism should allow him to finish over-top opponents. He loves settling for the elbow jumper even when he has a driving lane. Again, this isn’t a Kyle Korver-type — Ross has the tools to finish overtop rim-defenders, or at least draw contact in his attempts.

The reliance on elbow jumpers is a problem for two reasons. One, it’s not a good shot to take. To his credit, Ross doesn’t attempt too many, but that circles back to the central thesis about his driving. He’s also just not great at sinking them, albeit the sample size to draw conclusions from is rather small. The problem does seem to trace back to his rookie season too, however, as he shot a combined 19-for-61 (31 percent) from the elbows in 2012-13.

Shotchart_1407303909929Ross’ 2013-14 shot chart

Two, Ross almost never draws fouls on mid-range pull-up attempts. Unlike his teammate DeMar DeRozan, who catches plenty of attention from referees, Ross’ jumpshot simply doesn’t yield foul shots. As a whole, Ross averaged the second-fewest number of free-throw attempts on a per-36 minute basis among all guards last season. That’s a problem for the Raptors’ offense, and it’s inflexibility puts pressure on the Raptors’ offensive schemes.

Take the play below, which unfolds much like the first GIF. The Thunder overload on DeMar’s drive, as he draws the bulk of defensive attention. When his screen play with Hansbrough produces nothing fruitful, he’s forced to reset by swinging it over to Ross. It’s an extremely basic action that almost every organized basketball team employs.

The action creates a rare one-on-one opportunity for Ross to breakdown the smaller Reggie Jackson, who to his credit, is in perfect position to help. Had Jackson reacted a second slower, Ross would have likely took the open three. But Jackson is alert, and is positioned smartly at the nail, allowing him to closeout on Ross without needing to leave his feet. But the reality is still that a defender was on the move, and Ross should had him dead in the rights, provided he could get past him.

And yet he didn’t, which speaks to a larger problem. Once the defense was able to snuff out DeMar or Lowry’s initial action, the ball would have to swing to Ross — who can’t really drive, nor distribute — which is a huge win for the defense. The Raptors then face a choice between reseting with half a shot-clock, or have Ross try to create. This is an easy choke point, something the Nets fully exploited to their advantage in the playoffs. It even helps explain why John Salmons played so much. He could at least get into the paint and create movement in the defense, albeit to a limited degree.

Improving his dribble-drive attack should be Ross’ next step in his development. There are plenty of wings that can spot-up, but they’re also limited in what they can do. Opposing defenses, especially in playoff series, exploit every weakness they can. Ross already got a taste courtesy of the Nets. Not only will it help Ross stay effective in the face of close-outs, it would also give the Raptors’ attack another dimension.

Ultimately, the onus falls on Ross to improve. The physical tools are there: he’s quick, he’s explosive, and his ball-handling skills are promising. It’s up to him to develop the next part of his game — driving, drawing fouls, hitting the open big when defenders collapse — just like his idol Kyle Lowry did. When Lowry first started, he could barely shoot threes. All he did was drive hard to the basket hoping for contact. He evolved to the point where last season, he was the second-best standstill three-point shooter in the league. If Ross were to take a similar step, the Raptors stand take a huge leap forward. Here’s hoping he does so we can see more of this next season:

Toronto Raptors 2014-15 Pre-Season Schedule Announced

The Raptors have announced their pre-season schedule in image format:

The venues are obviously of note with games being played in Vancouver, Wichita, and Montreal. From an opponent perspective, we play Maccabi Haifa who actually beat us at the ACC on an Anthony Parker jumper over Mo Pete. I’m an idiot.  

Mild Musings on Guard Lineups

Kyle Lowry and Greivis vasquez arguably form the best 1-2 PG combo in the league, making the point the Raptors’ strongest position. Unlike other formidable (relatively speaking, here) PG combos like T.J Ford and Jose Calderon in 2007-08, this lineup’s effectiveness isn’t so much when one backs the other up, but when they play together.

Playing Vasquez at the point and Lowry either at the off-guard or as a third guard has a couple key benefits. First, it puts Lowry in better catch-and-shoot positions. Instead of shooting and driving off the bounce, he gets to read the play and position himself to receive a pass, which, being a point guard himself, gives him the best sense of where to be so that the pass for a driver like DeRozan or Vasquez is made easier. It’s no surprise that he was second in catch-and-shoot percentage on the team, only behind Steve Novak.

stats

For a Raptors team that was 18th in three-point field goal percentage, having a switch like this on the team is a luxury for Dwane Casey, and also gives Lowry a break from ball-handling duties and the responsibility of running the offense.

The other key benefit of this is that it opens up Lowry’s drive game. He was second on the team in production from drives at 4.1 points per game (on 6.2 drives per game), both behind DeRozan. The reason for this isn’t that he’s blowing by defenders in one-on-one situations. By being played off the ball and possessing a great set-shot opens, the floor opens up for him, in particular as defenders run at him for close-outs. He’s fearless on his drives and given a step, he’s capable of taking it all the way.

From Vasquez’s point of view, he’s getting an extra shooter on the floor while being guarded by a weaker wing defender. Chances are that if DeRozan is on the floor and all things being the same, the defense is likely to put the third-strongest wing defender on Vasquez, and given the latter’s 6’6″ frame, it’s easier for him to make passes over the defense. We saw this in the Nets series when DeRozan was being guarded by Anderson, Lowry by Johnson, and Vasquez by Livingston.

Dwane Casey increasingly used the two-guard lineup as the season wore on, which meant that the lines between the bench and starters was blurred when it came to point guard play. Casey now has an option to take this a step further and give this lineup even more time. Last season a Lowry/Vasquez lineup played a total of 159 minutes (about 13 quarters).   I’ve always liked this setup because it results in ball-handlers who also happen to be willing passers, meaning the ball does not get stuck.  If this lineup is played with Valanciunas, it means Vasquez – a great pick ‘n roll player – can play a two-man game with Valanciunas while having the floor spaced by Lowry and perhaps Ross, with Patterson ready to step out.  That is a potentially very effective ensemble.

Where Lou Williams fits into this is interesting  because I wonder if Casey sees him as a primary ball-handler, because if he does, then it could mean more time for a Vasquez/Lowry setup with Williams manning the point in a more defined role as a backup PG.  Williams, when healthy, is an excellent ball-handler but not a great distributor.  His career AST/TO is 2.2 which is not terribly worse than Vasquez’s 2.6, it’s his shot-first style that Casey could see as being undesirable in a backup point guard.  He also happens to have significantly more experience playing the off-guard than the point.

So, as we chug through summer it’s these kinds of thoughts that pop in and out my mind.  I’d be very keen on seeing a Raptors lineup which has three guards, a stretch four in Patterson, and someone like Valanciunas and Bebe out-gunning their check up and down the court.  We tried to play this style of ball with Andrea Bargnani at times with horrible results, I happen to think now we have the players to pull it off.  I’m not suggesting we’re Phoenix East, just that there’s another dimension to our offense than the traditional 2-2-1 setup.    The Raptors have enough versatility at each position that I’d even go far as suggesting that this could be their competitive edge.

A totally scientific assessment of #KDtoTORONTO2016

Zarar is getting the day off, meaning you’re stuck with an incredibly strange figment of my wretched imagination. You’ve been warned. Don’t read this if you’re not prepared to have your time wasted.

Kevin Durant is a professional basketball player. Sometimes professional basketball players are freed of the shackles of exploitative labor restrictions and are permitted to choose their employer. A number of professional basketball employers would like to employ Durant when he finally earns the freedom to change employers in 2016.

You see, Durant happens to be very good at professional basketball. Perhaps the best, even, according to complicated boxscore aggregate formulas like PER. He also happens to be young, perpetually healthy and extremely gifted at threading basketballs through basketball hoops.

He also once did this to the Toronto Raptors, which broke my heart for a night, for I love the team too much and myself too little. I would like that to never happen again. The Toronto Raptors would like to ensure that he never does that again. This can only be achieved by contractually obligating him against future infractions through lucrative employment.

But as would every other team in the league (except the Timberwolves, who presumably prefer Klay Thompson). Other teams offer glitz, glam, and most importantly, other professional basketball players, so the Raptors face a modicum of resistance in their chase. But their odds aren’t nil, which thereby necessitates an entirely scientific inquiry into quantifying said chance. You can trust my findings. I have earned multiple science credits from a respectable higher institution, and I’m on basketball twitter a lot. I got this.

- 53% – Greivis Vasquez plays here

Here’s an actual series of texts exchanged by Vasquez and Durant, of which came to my possession via my imagination.

Vasquez: Sup bro! Haven’t talked to you since high school. Whassup??

Durant: nm

Vasquez: Word! Congrats on that MVP trophy by the way!

Durant: thx

Vasquez: Cool, cool. Man, we’re like best friends. You’re now the captain of #TeamVasquez. Congrats bro!

Durant:

Vasquez: So…wanna play for the Raptors?

Durant: …nah

Vasquez: :*(

Vasquez: Pls

Vasquez: Pls…

+ 10% – Durant was a fan of the Raptors as a child

Our childhood experiences shape our lives in unexplained ways. I was once stuck in China with my family on vacation, and stumbled onto Raptors Republic out of sheer boredom. Now I’m littering these pages with mindless rambles.

Will Durant follow a similar path to fulfilling his childhood dreams? Presumably he already has, what with the fame, fortune and that super-cool BBVA commercial to his name. But there’s one thing left on the career bucket-list: play for his childhood favorites in the Toronto Raptors.

Durant was 12-years-old when the Raptors won their first and only playoff series in 2001. Lenny Wilkens was the coach, and the Raptors were a team on the rise. The paint was anchored by Antonio Davis and Charles Oakley, while their attack was supplied by a perimeter combo of Morris Peterson, Vince Carter and Alvin Williams. Save for a clanked corner triple by some dude in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals, the Raptors enjoyed arguably their most successful season ever.

Soaking in every second was a pre-pubescent Durant. There, at his local school playground, a purple-clad gangly teenage practiced shimmying his shoulders before rising up to shoot, repeating the ritual for hours on end until his craft was perfected. His goal was to not miss that shot when it came time for him to fire.

- 400% Vince Carter is not the Toronto Raptors

Yeah, let’s be honest. Durant wasn’t a Raptors fan. He liked Vince Carter, just like every other fan with eyes in 2001. You did too, before he unceremoniously left. And now that he’s gone, and snubbed the franchise in leaving, it looks bad on both sides. Now no one cares about the Raptors. It’s sad but true.

+ 25.8% – Brazilian Kevin Durant is here

Durant’s probably tired of the narrative surrounding his career, that being he’s the only consistent superstar leading the charge in Oklahoma City. He’s their leading rebounder, second in assists, their best go-to-player and he’s even become a strong defender. He does everything.

Here in Toronto, Durant can take the load off and defer to his clone Bruno Caboclo. What’s that? Time’s expiring and someone needs to sink the game-winning basket? Pass it to Bruno. Or, someone needs to shut down LeBron for a possession. No problem, put Bruno on it. Durant needs a towel? Get one for Bruno too. He’s exhausted from not being able to play basketball at an NBA level just yet.

+ 3.7% – Bebe is also a member of the Raptors

Hey, he’s probably better than Kendrick Perkins.

+ 416% – Drake is from Toronto

No word of a lie, Drake might be the Raptors’ best chance of landing Kevin Durant, who is clearly a fan as he showed up to OVO fest on Monday. The Toronto-born hip-hop artist is a huge name in the business of sports and entertainment and while he can’t necessarily give Durant an NBA ring, nor the national spotlight, Drake can certainly grant Durant connections unthinkable to plebeians like you and I. This ain’t the same kid who used to take the Acura at 5 a.m. to go shoot Degrassi up on Morningside. We’re talking about a man who turned innocent lint-rolling into an IKEA-sponsored fad.

Overall: + 2.5% chance Durant comes to Toronto

Real talk: Toronto is most likely not atop Durant’s wish-list in 2016. He basically has his pick of the entire league, and if so, will he really want to come here? He could, say, join LeBron in Cleveland. Or, become the king of New York by signing with either the Knicks or the Nets. Ditto with the Clippers or Lakers in Los Angeles.

At the crux of it all, Durant is like most superstars. He’ll want to win, and be marketable while doing so. Durant has the opportunity to follow in the footsteps of LeBron as the template for modern mega-athletes. As two examples, LeBron owns a small stake in a huge soccer club in Liverpool F.C., and reportedly earned $30 million in stock holdings alone in Apple’s recent acquisition of Beats by Dre. Winning and finding a place in championship lore is important, but that’s a fantasy world that’s perpetuated by mindless fandom. Making money like LeBron, and reaching his stature is a real possibility for Durant. He’ll go for that.

And that’s why Drake, and to a less obvious degree Tim Leiweke are the Raptors’ best recruiters. It won’t be childhood nostalgia or Greivis Vasquez that lures Durant. He’ll only be drawn to powerful figures, capable of catapulting him to the rarefied heights of Kobe Bryant and LeBron James, be it through on-court success or through upper-class connections. As Stringer Bell once said, “there’s games beyond the fucking game.” That’s why a 12-year-old Durant shimmied his shoulders from dusk till dawn — so he could play in that game.

Raptors Weekly Podcast, August 4 – Solo Effort

Everyone may be gone for the long weekend, not me, though. I’m binge watching Netflix and recording pods that are “so low” in news that Will Cherry makes the headline.

Part 1:

Part 2:

  • Looking at the depth – strongest and weakest positions
  • Jonas added weight?
  • Bench scoring
  • Paul Jones and the play-by-play

Grab the iTunes feed or check us out on Stitcher on Android. There is also the plain old feed. You can also download the file (15:15, 15 MB). Or just listen below:

Raptors officially sign Lucas Nogueira

Man, in that picture above he looks like this guy:

Just woke up from a lazy nap to see that the Raptors have signed Lucas Noguiera (fingers crossed spelling is right, typing this on a phone).  This takes the roster to 15 and sets the team up for the season.

Bebe had a mild summer league where he looked good in flashes, moved well defensively, and appeared to have some value. He was acquired as part of the Salmons deal, so basically everything he does is a bonus.

He will make $1.47M next season and 1.54M the year after as part of the rookie scale.

Here’s the depth chart:

PG: Lowry, Vasquez, Cherry
SG: DeRozan, Williams
SF: Ross, J. Johnson, Fields, Caboclo
PF: A. Johnson, Patterson, Hansbrough
C: Valanciunas, Nogueira, Hayes

Back to bed, more later. Hey, it’s the long weekend.

Raptors Fans and the Galvanization of the ACC

The Raptors are working hard on their brand identity through Drake, the All-Star game, bringing purple back, and all that jazz.  The #WeTheNorth differentiator worked for the playoffs, but then again the playoff atmosphere of any Toronto sports team has never been a problem. It’s very easy to drum up support and enthusiasm when an often crappy team makes the post-season, and that’s even more so the case in a success-starved city like Toronto.  You could have had the Better Marriage Blanket infomercials playing before and after the game on TV and the ACC, and we’d still have the support we enjoyed.  Getting people excited about the playoffs requires very little creativity from the MLSE marketing and promotions staff because it just happens, pretty much, automatically.  It’s what you do in the regular season that matters.

Going along with being different and hailing from the “north” (even though Minneapolis is north of Toronto), the Raptors have the chance to truly make their home support something different and unique.  So far the arena production consists mostly of distracting people from watching the game on every possible occasion.  The regular season basketball experience is hardly immersive, and unless it’s a tight game late, or one of those rare games that holds tension, it’s frankly quite blah.  Keep in mind that I’m speaking from a hardcore basketball fan perspective, not from a family of four going out to the Raptors game because the Dad’s boss gave away his tickets on account of his wife leaving town and his mistress becoming available.

At the very least, there needs to be a Raptors supporters group, much like TFC has, which is very similar to most soccer clubs.  These are often run in association with the club, usually at an arms-length.  The Raptors could benefit from such an organized initiative on a few fronts – improved home support, fan engagement, player perception, NBA differentiation, and more.  The closest thing that’s ever happened to this are shitty gimmicks like the 416-zone where boisterous fans are stashed away where they’re least heard from. The old Sprite Zone section was a good idea, but in never graduated to a lower-bowl version, likely due to financial reasons.

Most NBA teams have atmosphere issues which they simply accept because stirring the financial pot rarely makes sense.  To suggest the Raptors allocating somewhat-prime real estate in the arena to a supporters group, who receive the tickets at a reduced price and guarantee that, say, 95% of seats never go empty, would be unheard of.  An organized group owning and making that space their own would result in an emotive atmosphere backed by clever chants, loud noise, and a permanent mini-spectacle.  This would be great for the club and if organized well, a differentiator much stronger than a hashtag.  Of course, these are just random thoughts, a half-baked idea, but I feel that there’s something in it.

I was in Italy last year and I happened to attend a Serie A match in Rome where AS Roma were hosting Napoli.  The entire north end of the stadium was covered in flags, flares, smoke, and intense noise for the majority of the game.  That entire section is essentially run by supporter groups.  I don’t know the details, but when I looked at something like that and compared it to the NBA, I felt a little sad.  We have fans in Toronto that are equally passionate about the sport, perhaps even more so, but their isn’t a permanent, highly visible avenue where they can channel that energy. That’s waste.

Social media hasn’t really helped.  If anything, it’s hurt because people are Instagramming and Tweeting at games more often than watching it. I’m with Mark Cuban on this one: anything that distracts from the game in front of you is a bad thing.  I’m surprised that there hasn’t been any social media setup which unifies the fans at the game, i.e., instead of taking selfies of your pimpled face with hot-sauce dripping from your mouth, there needs to be an app/whatever which organized and galvanizes the fans at the arena.  For example, imagine if the entire ACC crowd, in the middle of a regular season game and at the same time, started a DeMar DeRozan chant similar to this:

That would be awesome.  I don’t offer any concrete solutions, and only want to point out that:

  1. There is a lot of passion, energy, and enthusiasm that many Raptors fans bring to the game that stays locked in.
  2. If more passionate fans were allowed affordable access to the lower bowl, the atmosophere would improve
  3. Having #1 and #2 done in an organized manner is important, otherwise it’ll be chaotic

That’s basically it – your thoughts are welcome.  I can’t believe I managed to get through a whole post without mentioning Dwight Buycks or Will Cherry…oh shit…

Morning Coffee – Fri, Aug 1

Wanted by Many, Kyle Lowry Forges New Bond with Raptors Team He Almost Left | Bleacher Report

Lowry was never supposed to be arguably the most sought-after free agent this offseason after James and Anthony. He was never supposed to be the initial focus of Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey, who, on July 1 at 12:01 a.m.—just one minute after free agency began—was in Lowry’s hometown of Philadelphia sitting down with him for a face-to-face meeting. And he was never supposed to be the dream starting point guard for the Miami Heat and Los Angeles Lakers, who were hot in pursuit, according to a source close to the situation. You see, Lowry was only a first-round draft pick away from being traded to the New York Knicks in mid-December. It was this close to happening.

Kyle Lowry says Raptors weren’t immediate favorites in free agency | Distinct Athlete

“[The Raptors] weren’t always the favorite, but Masai wanted to get the deal done, and it made it a lot easier,” Lowry said in Las Vegas recently after a workout. “[Miller and I] approached it as a business and so did [the Raptors]. At the end of the day, I didn’t wait for [the other teams]. I wanted to make my decision for myself.”

Toronto Raptors coach feared losing Kyle Lowry to Miami Heat | FanSided

As Pat Riley mentioned on Wednesday, he spoke to free agents with the belief that LeBron James was returning to the Heat, so it’s understandable why Casey was nervous, despite Miami’s financial limitations. Instead, both James and Lowry didn’t sign with the Heat. In what could have been an offseason in which Miami put together a Big Four, they will leave it with just a Big Two in Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.

Most Underrated Player on Every NBA Team Heading into 2014-15 Season | Bleacher Report

Patrick Patterson is the definition of a solid rotation player in today’s NBA. He can shoot threes, defend multiple positions and serve as a steadying influence in the locker room. Patterson did all of thsoe things well enough after joining the Toronto Raptors via the Rudy Gay trade to earn himself a three-year deal worth upwards of $18 million dollars this summer. As a Raptor, Patterson poured in 9.1 points and 5.1 rebounds while nailing 41.1 percent of his threes.

NBA Predictions 2014-15: Win-Loss Projections for Each Team, Post-Free Agency | Bleacher Report

The Toronto Raptors aren’t just a destination for overlooked players to go to anymore. Kyle Lowry re-signing, Greivis Vasquez never showing any desire to go elsewhere and the acquisition of an underrated contributor like James Johnson all saw to that. Now, the Raptors are poised to continue what they started after Rudy Gay played his last game for Toronto on Dec. 6 and was subsequently traded to the Sacramento Kings.

Nav Bhatia honored by United Sikhs Organization in Washington DC | CanIndia NEWS

Nav Bhatia known not only as the superfan for his love of the Toronto Raptors and Owner of both Mississauga & Rexdale Hyundai dealerships, he is also recognized for his community involvment. On July 26 2014 Mr Bhatia was an honouree at the United Sikhs Gala for his continuous hard work and dedication to the Sikh community.

What does Grizzlies Guard Will Cherry Bring To The Raptors? | Pro Bball Report

Cherry had an “an undeniable defensive presence” and was “vital for an offense in college” according to Myron Medcalf of ESPN, however, he sprained his wrist prior to the start of his senior college season and on his return, he broke his foot causing him to miss seven games. His scoring dropped by 3 points per game, his field goal percentage fell from 45 percent to 40.3 percent and his three-point shot vanished going from 38.3 percent as a junior to 26.3 percent as a senior. After going undrafted in 2013, the 6’1 Cherry joined Canton in the NBA D-League where he averaged 11.9 points on 45.2 percent shooting, 3.9 rebounds, 5 assists and 1.5 steals. His three-point shooting improved to 30.1 percent. His efforts earned him a spot on the Cavaliers NBA Summer League team where in 5 games he averaged 12.8 points, 4 rebounds and 3 assists in 25.2 minutes. He shot 52.1 percent from the field, 23.5 percent from beyond the arc and had two 21 point scoring games.

Raptors news is sparse this time of year; send me anything PUHLEASE!!! [email protected]

Q&A with Chris Faulkner of Grizzlies Bear Blues on James Johnson

Five of your most deep-seated questions regarding newly re-acquired forward James Johnson.

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Chris Faulkner is the managing editor of Grizzly Bear Blues, your one-stop-shop for all things Memphis Grizzlies. Follow him on Twitter on @FaulknerMemphis.

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1. After averaging 20+ minutes a game from December to February, Johnson barely played in the month of March, averaging just 11.3, with four DNPs. What happened there?

Chris: To start I’ll say that his playing time didn’t dip due to fans calling for it — he was a monster hit in Grizz Nation and a lot of people were expecting to see more of him as the season progressed instead of less. There were several things that played into it: the return of Tony Allen from injury, Dave Joerger’s dedication to Tayshaun Prince and JJ’s penchant for chaos all immediately pop into my head.

2. How would you rate his perimeter defense? In Toronto, Johnson was often over-active, conceding defensive stances and opting to bite on pump fakes. Does that still apply?

Chris: I’d say that over-active is still a fairly active description of Johnson just because he seems to want to affect every single play on the court. But he’s probably matured in that regard compared to his first Toronto stint, doing a pretty solid job against a lot of elite wing players not named LeBron or Carmelo. I can’t confirm this 100%, but he very likely led the league in blocked 3PA last season. He also had a knack for getting into foul trouble albeit not from biting on pump fakes.

Will’s note: The fact that Johnson is jumpy isn’t always a bad thing. He is still over active, as Chris notes, but he’s also a freak athlete, possessing tremendous size and athleticism. According to Synergy Stats, opponents shot 18-of-64 (28.1 percent) from three when guarded by Johnson in spot-up situations last season, owing in great part to plays like these:

3. He posted a career high in true-shooting percentage last season, grading out to over average for the first time. Was it a systems thing? If so, how did Dave Joerger optimize his offensive performance?

Chris: Johnson did a great job of getting to the free throw line and executing the shots last season (13% higher than his career avg). Most of his offense was created by himself, angling in from the perimeter and using his freak athleticism to slice through multiple defenders. And the rest was usually generated from his activity on the offensive boards. If you want to get the most out of JJ you need other perimeter threats on the court to open up the lanes because he’s not going to give you much in terms of jump shooting.

Will’s note: Here’s a great little play-breakdown from Grizzly Bear Blues on a curl-action play Joerger ran for Johnson last season. Although their offense only graded out to average (15th in OffEff), it was only propped so high by Joeger’s strict coaching, which included running a strong mix of sets. Transitioning from Memphis, to Toronto’s more fluid system is a bit of a worry, but Casey doesn’t necessary need to play him, which should act as a deterrent against poor decision-making.

4. Something every Raptors fan wants to know: Joe Johnson single-handedly knocked Toronto out of the playoffs, as he averaged 22 PPG on 52.3 FG%, mostly because he’s Jesus Christ (and also because the Raptors simply couldn’t guard him). Could James guard Joe, and other similarly large wings?

Chris: If James were in absolute peak physical condition he might be able to hang with Joe Johnson, but you’re more likely to get better results matching him up on an athletic PF rather than a SG with better lateral speed. He could give him a good look out on the arc — it’s the paint that would concern me on that matchup.

Will’s Note: Okay, maybe he doesn’t have Paul George’s quickness on the perimeter, but Joe Johnson didn’t beat the Raptors with quickness — he did it with post-play. Remember how the Raptors had to double-team him every time down the court? And remember how every time he drew a double-team, he kicked it out until the Nets eventually found an open three-point shooter, or a slasher? They won’t need to double with James Johnson. Check out his work in the post in the post below. He’s strong, he shades well, and he doesn’t leave his feet for the block, opting to hold his position instead. For the record, that’s LeBron James, Anthony Davis (x2) and Blake Griffin in the video.

5. In your opinion, is Johnson’s attitude something of concern? His reputation isn’t the greatest, and there was the (now dismissed) domestic assault charge earlier this year.

Chris: His attitude would have to leave a least a few lingering worries, but he got along with everyone in Memphis very well and always presented himself as a team player. He’s an intense person so that’s inevitably going to provide some intense moments, both good and bad.

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For more on James Johnson and his potential impact on the Raptors, check out Zarar’s piece on the matter.

Report: Raptors Sign Will Cherry

That’s the Raptors third string point guard right there.  The 23-year old attended McClymonds High in Oakland, then played 116 games for the Montana Grizzlies in Division I, before going undrafted in 2013.  Then he played on the Pelicans summer league team in 2013, before doing the same for Cleveland this summer.  Last season he was with the Canton Charge of the D-League.

His DX profile doesn’t stay much but on the evidence of watching him at Summer League he’s a quick little guard at 6’0″ who can distribute the ball in spots and has that herky-jerkyness about him that is reminiscent of T.J Ford.  He’s unlikely to get too many minutes and is here entirely for injury purposes.  He does play some aggressive defense and you can see Dwane Casey using him in situations where full-court pressure might be warranted.

His shooting stats won’t blow you away – 45% in D-League and only 30% for three.  He’s here for his defense and ball-handling, that’s about it. He averaged 11.6 points and 4.5 assists in 30.3 minutes per game.

If Lucas Nogueira’s contract is bought out, this would bring the Raptors roster to 15.

NBADraft.net sums up his strengths and weaknesses:

Strengths: Tough player who prides himself on his defense … Good on-ball defender … Great in the passing lanes, one of the premier theft artists in the NCAA during his time at Montana … Very good nose for the ball, contributed on the glass well for a PG … Played big minutes through most of his career while mostly guarding the other teams best player … Has some penetrating ability offensively … Got to the line quite a bit, aggressive … Cut down fouls by a nice margin as a senior … Showed improvement as a passer, gets his teammates involved … Showed leadership qualities, led the Griz to two straight NCAA Tournament berths out of the Big Sky … Solid quickness with and without the ball … Wiry strong, not afraid of contact, competitor

Weaknesses: After seemingly improving as an outside shooter as a junior, struggled greatly as a senior, particularly from 3 point range … Turned the ball over at a very high rate … Despite the recent success of Damian Lillard, the Big Sky does still tend to bring up question marks surrounding ones level of competition faced … Sat out teams first 7 games with a broken foot, than missed some more time when he reinjured the foot in early March … Relatively small and can have trouble with size, particularly on the offensive end … Has struggled when facing NBA level PG opponents during his time at Montana

It’s a two-year minimum salary deal, so $507,336 and $845,059 (thanks, DanH).  No word on whether the second year is guaranteed, highly doubt it.  Here are some highlights, courtesy of commenter DDD:

So You Drove the Ball to the Net. What next?

Here I am waiting in the lobby as my car’s getting an oil change and I remember that I got to write something for this Wednesday.  If it weren’t severely off-topic, I would write, in great detail, about how the early-30s salesman is hitting on the young cashier without success.  He’ll probably go home still thinking about her, whereas she’ll be out with her 20-something friends at a Boston Pizza in the suburbs “living it up” and Instagramming the whole experience, filters intact and the camera angles tailored to hide her lesser features.  Maybe I’m too quick to dismiss the feasibility or the potential of this union – maybe she should pause and cater to the advances made, and contemplate what, in the grand scheme of things, this chap has to offer.  A steady income at the very least, maybe even a house, and most certainly a car.   Something to think about, though he’s likely married.

Back to basketball and I’ve got to thinking about driving the ball.  On observation alone you are likely to make a case that DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry are the two main drivers of the ball on the Raptors.  You would be right as DeRozan ranks 20th in the league in drives per game at 7.2 and Lowry sits at 35 with 6.2 drives per game.  A drive here is defined as “any touch that starts at least 20 feet of the hoop and is dribbled within 10 feet of the hoop and excludes fast breaks”. Not surprisingly, Ty Lawson, Tony Parker, and Monta Ellis are the top drivers of the ball in the NBA.   That’s all well and good, but what is the effectiveness of those drives?  If you look at how many points their respective teams get from their drives, the same three lead the pack again.  OK, so these players drive a lot and their teams reap the benefits.  Simplistic stuff.

Where things get interesting from a Raptors perspective is when we consider points per drive, i.e., irrespective of how many drives a player makes, how many points per drive does their team get out of it? Among players who drive more than five times a game, Lowry ranks fourth in the NBA getting his team 1.27 points per drive.  That’s only behind Kevin Durant (1.45), LeBron James (1.32) and James Harden (1.29).   This, at the very least, indicates that Lowry driving the ball is hugely beneficial to the unit.  The difference  between him and, Durant and James is that when the latter two drive, they tend to finish at the rim at a much higher percentage than Lowry (Lowry is at 50%, whereas Durant and James are at 59% and 64%, respectively).  That’s acceptable because Lowry is a smaller player who will look to pass more often than try to finish among the trees.

DeRozan is 12th at 1.22 points per drive.  DeRozan, on average, drives one more time than Lowry and has a lesser yield.   Why? Partially because he shoots 48.7% on drives which is slightly lower than Lowry’s 50%.  You might have also surmised that this is because he doesn’t pass well out of drive situations.  Assists alone aren’t a good indicator of a player’s effectiveness in these situations because in most cases the defense makes the initial rotation, and it’s the second rotation they fall short on, which is what the “secondary assists per game” stat tell us (basically, a hockey assist).  Kyle Lowry is at 1.5 hockey assists per game (18th) whereas DeRozan is at 0.8 (86th).  Keep in mind that it’s awfully difficult for shooting guard’s to keep this stat high, for instance, the first non-PG to appear on the list is Gordon Hayward at 27th, followed by LeBron James at 28th , both at 1.3.

In the absence of a statistic correlating drives with hockey assists, if we focus on this aspect of the offense, i.e., what DeRozan does after he drives, it may be a constraint we can exploit to good effect.  DeRozan is already excellent at getting himself to the paint, it’s what he does next, or what the court setup allows him to do next, that can be examined here.  I found that when he got to the lane, he often had one outcome in mind: getting to the FT line.  It’s a solid strategy and it carried the Raptors last year as he averaged a 8 FTs which was good for 7th in the NBA.  To elevate his game, though, Dwane Casey has to structure the court in a way that there are multiple outcomes on his drives and that they don’t do or die solely on the basis of him getting to the FT line.

Adding a slasher like James Johnson will help in this regard because he provides a moving option on the court, which is what Landry Fields was supposed to be.  Throwing Lou Williams into the mix should also help in terms of court-spacing and a full year with Patrick Patterson – excellent at presenting himself – should help in this matter.  What the Raptors have here is a great weapon that attracts and collapses a defense.  Last year I thought the Raptors did the bare minimum in taking advantage of such a skill, and next season they have to make this a focal point because as DeRozan gets stronger and gains more experience, his ability to attract defenders will only improve.  It’s what he does next that’ll heavily influence the Raptors offense.

Summer Mail Bag Vol. 1 – Amir vs. 2Pat, 2015 Free Agents

Answering your questions to fill the haunting void that is the offseason.

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If you ever want a topic to be broached on this forum, send me an email at [email protected] or on Twitter @william_lou. Thanks for your help.

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oo7: How different do we play with 2Pat at the 4 instead of Amir?

This is a great question. Thanks to their relatively even playing time distribution (28.8 MPG for Amir Johnson, 23.3 for Patrick Patterson), there’s actually data we can use to answer this question.

For the most part, the stats back up the eye-test. Amir is the defense-first half of the platoon, while Patrick Patterson is the offensive sparkplug. The Raptors attempt more three-pointers, shoot more free-throws and shoot a higher three-point percentage while the starting unit (Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, Terrence Ross and Jonas Valanciunas) plays with Patterson, but in comparison, rebounding, turnovers and assists suffer.

johnson pattersonUnits measured in Net (own – opponent) per 100 possessions. Data from basketball-reference.

What’s more interesting, however, is how those numbers came to be. The biggest difference is the trade-off between three-pointers and free-throws. The jump in three-pointers is obvious — Patterson is a stretch-four — but the big change in free-throws attempted is a bit perplexing.

My theory is that Amir is the superior defender (3.13 vs. 1.10 defensive RPM), and therefore concedes less foul shots to the opponent. This is corroborated by data from nbaWOWY, which shows that opponents shot 0.303 free-throws per possession while Patterson was on the floor, while Amir conceded 0.244. On a shallower level, Amir also has a higher free-throw attempt rate.

But despite conceding more free-throws, Patterson helps the cause by increasing the rate of free-throws attempted by his teammates. Valanciunas, Lowry, Ross and DeRozan all post a higher free-throw attempt rate with Patterson as opposed to Amir, which likely traces back to Patterson’s floor-stretch abilities. With Patterson drawing an opposing power-forward to the perimeter, there are less defenders clogging up the paint, making the onus on opposing centers to rotate and contest shots, which often leads to fouls called.

mcHappy: Post Gay trade, didn’t Raps have best record of eastern team versus west?

Not entirely sure about how their inter-conference record stacks up, but their post-Rudy Gay trade record against the West was 15-7. As a whole, I feel that Raptors’ post-Gay record is not being fully appreciated. With Gay, the Raptors held a record of 6-12. In the 64 games after he left? 42-22. Here’s how that record stacked up as compared to the rest of the NBA.

  • 4th in win-percentage (65.6 percent)
  • 1st in Eastern Conference win-percentage (closest was the Heat at 62.9)
  • 5th in plus-minus
  • 9th in Offensive Efficiency (second in East)
  • 9th in Defensive Efficiency (fourth in East)

Arbitrary end-points in the schedule are often abused and massaged in sports media to accentuate rises and falls. It’s often an irresponsible practice, as meaningless snap-shot of randomness fails to capture what’s real.

However, in the Raptors’ case, there was an inciting incident — Rudy Gay (30.8 USG, 46.8 TS%) was dealt for three productive players and John Salmons. That’s real. And what’s more impressive, the turnaround came mid-season, and the team had to adopt an entirely new offensive scheme. It wasn’t a mirage. The Raptors were legitimately great for almost four-fifths of a season.

So having said all that, here’s a pro-tip: Vegas has the Raptors as 25-to-1 odds to win the East. It might make for a cheap hedge bet, in case that’s your thing.

puffer: How about a look at the assistant coaches. Who actually does what?

I don’t have any insider access, so this is really just a research project on my part. As per their official team page, the list of Raptors assistant head coaches are listed below. Their responsibilities, as described by Ryan Wolstat of the Toronto Sun, are listed thereafter.

  • Nick Nurse – offensive coordinator (likes up-tempo, credited with the three-point shooting game)
  • Bill Bayno – player development (worked particularly with Jonas Valanciunas)
  • Jesse Mermuys – player development
  • Tom Sterner – defensive coordinator
  • Jama Mahlalela – player development

Mack North: Who are some of the realistic attainable free agents the Raps can sign in ’15 or ’16?

If my estimations are correct, the Raptors should have approximately 18 million in cap room next season, which is just about the amount needed to offer a free-agent the 30% maximum (there’s different tiers, as described in section 16 in Larry Coon’s CBA FAQ). The list of available notable free-agents that fit that bill are as as follows:

Smalls Wings Bigs
Rajon Rondo Arron Afflalo Paul Millsap
Goran Dragic Luol Deng (P) Al Jefferson (P)
Tyson Chandler
Roy Hibbert
Marc Gasol
DeAndre Jordan
Kevin Love (P)
LaMarcus Aldridge

Out of the aforementioned names, it seems implausible that the Raptors acquire any of the names marked in red. While it would be nice to bolster the front-court with a player like Love or Aldridge, they’re likely settling in more visible locales, or markets closer to championship contention.

Personally, I think grabbing a player like Paul Millsap for three seasons for $45 million would be a great deal. He’s the embodiment of the modern four — able to play inside-out, mobile on defense, can shoot threes, can pick-and-roll, facilitate out of the high post — he’s a well-rounded player. He averaged 17.9 points, 8.5 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game last season, with an above-average TS% and a PER of 19.8. He’s best suited as a second or third option, but with Lowry and DeRozan stacking the hierarchy, he slots nicely into the team.

And in 2016, there’s a dude name Durant, and another named LeBron available. I say the Raptors should try those two.

kopite91: How the Kevin Love saga affects the Raptors.

Easy. If he goes to Cleveland, they become the team to beat in the East. If he goes to Boston, they’re a dark horse to improve mid-season with a trade for some real wing or a defense anchor in the paint. Otherwise, it doesn’t affect the Raptors at all.

If your idea wasn’t broach here, there’s a chance it’s been pocketed, and will be touched on down the line. Thanks for the questions. As always, shoot me an email or tweet me anytime.

Raptors Weekly Podcast, July 28 – Morgan Time

Sam and Zarar deal with the Will Cherry news head-on, and pay an ode to Morgan Freeman in the form of LeBron’s letter.  There may be zero Raptors news out there, but we can’t stop, won’t stop, podcasting.

Part 1:

  • Will Cherry thang – he’ll change your life
  • NBA warning DeRozan and Co. – nobody’s going to jail
  • Bebe’s readiness – he’s not
  • Andray Blatche is still around – won’t be coming to Toronto, though
  • Sam’s fantasy strengths – he has none

Part 2:

  • NBA flirting with All-Star break format – Silver’s on point
  • The FA Cup-style tournament in the middle of the NBA season – do it
  • The 8th seed playoff tournament – get ‘er done
  • The draft wheel – never going to happen
  • Frank Caliendo reading LeBron’s letter in Morgan Freeman’s voice – gold
  • LeBron’s new number is his old number – who cares
  • Raptors angle in the Kevin Love trade discussions – big stretch

Part 3:

  • Summer league thoughts  - horrible
  • Myck Kabongo – disappointing
  • NBA season opener – not surprising

Grab the iTunes feed or check us out on Stitcher on Android. There is also the plain old feed. You can also download the file (26:03, 25 MB). Or just listen below:

VIDEO: DeMar DeRozan jumps over Kyle Lowry for the alley-oop slam

Wow.

Just, wow.

[Pic] Amir Johnson Shaved His Head

Yeah, we know it’s a slow day, so whatever.  Here you go.  Amir Johnson’s shaved head. Deal with it.  Source is Instagram.

10 Questions Basketball Analytics Needs to Answer

Basketball Analytics, aka, different ways to tell us information that we already sort of know. From PER, to WS48, to plus/minus, to real plus/minus, to shot charts, to shot charts with smaller dots, to David Berri, to John Hollinger, to whoever the latest dude is who figured out you could enter basketball data in R and get it to spit out stuff. It’s all been quite fun and worthy of a few clicks here and there, but when are you guys actually going to tell us something useful? I mean, actual useful information that can be actioned and not just casually and sparingly glanced over in a long-form article only to be forgotten a week later.

Here are a few basketball problems that need addressing, or at the very least, should be talked about more:

Risk of Injury
Tell me when a player is likely to be injured, and tell me early. Figure out what his bone density is, what force (mass times acceleration) his joints can take, and then relate that information to his on-court movements to project how long he’ll last. For example, you can tell that the way Derrick Rose players he’s prone to injury – quantify that for every player, preferably before he’s drafted.

Effort Measure
Come up with a mathematical way of measuring effort without falling back to vanilla statistics like distance ran and speed. Figure out what the player’s “capacity” is using tests, and then determine how much of that capacity he’s using during different parts of the game. Pro Tip: If Andrea Bargnani isn’t dead last in this category, your work is wrong.

Grading the Coach
We measure players a lot, we don’t measure coaches enough. Much like how baseball is a game of probabilities, so is basketball, the math just happens to be a little more complex then pitching a lefty against a lefty. At the very least, there needs to be a binary indicator of whether the coach made the statistically correct move in late-game situations. For example, given the inbounder, the four other offensive guys on the court, the side at which the ball was being inbounded, the time on the clock, the score in the game, the venue, is it a statistically correct decision to not pressure the inbounder and sag?

Quantifying High Basketball IQ
We got an IQ test, how come we don’t have a basketball IQ test? All the data is there and it’s a question of sifting through it. Any decision on the court can be – based on all the other happenings on the court – retrospectively graded as right or wrong. A player with a highest basketball IQ might make the highest percentage of good decisions, as opposed to bad ones. I want to see if Landry Fields is what he’s cranked up to be. Or Matt Bonner for that matter.

Floor Stretchability
This idea that having John Salmons camp out by the fire in the corner means he’s stretching the floor needs to be validated. How much does a person’s reputation and past/in-game performance influence the defense’s opinion of him? How many threes does James Johnson have to hit before he causes a shift in the defense? By what factor does a particular player stretch the floor and how does his in-game play change that factor? I would think this is a straightforward one to figure out.

What is the Perfect Free Throw?
Based on a person’s height, what’s the ideal release point, force, angle, trajectory? Figure it out for every player and give them their particulars – watch them shoot 90%+. Seriously, I’m shocked that there are professional basketball players that shoot 50% from the free-throw line, that’s got to change.

Strategic Technical Fouls
Profile a player to determine what series of events cause them to pick up a technical. Then try to replicate that sequence in hopes of throwing him off his game. This can be extended to essentially influencing a player’s mental state negatively through pure basketball play. And poking them in the right places when nobody’s watching.

Figuring out Full Court Pressure
Teams get burned by full court pressure all the time. In the hopes of forcing a turnover, they end up creating a hole in the defense which ironically puts the offense at an advantage. Given a set of offensive players, their approximately positions, and the inbounder and ball-handler, there has to be an optimal defensive configuration that is most likely to cause a turnover while minimizing risk of defensive breakdown. Figure that out. As a bonus, come up with suggested defensive configurations which increase the chance of causing a turnover, while understandably increasing risk of defensive breakdown.

Optimizing Minutes Played
What is the ideal rest pattern for a player so that they can last an 82-game season and the playoffs? If they’re extended in one game for 44 minutes, how should that influence their playing time in the next game so as to not cause harm over the course of, say a roadtrip. Obviously, a player’s body needs to be analyzed, then correlated with the type of movements on the court, the pressure exerted, the effort expended, and likely a host of other factors. Put them all together, shake the box, and out you get a number telling you how many minutes DeMar DeRozan should be playing on the second night of a back-to-back having played 42 minutes the night before.

Psychological State
Players have money, money gets you shiny things, it also brings distractions and problems, which can influence a player’s on-court state of mind. Remember Keon Clark? Yeah, money did him no good. There’s got to be a way to measure a player’s psychological state before a game, and then see what, if any, impact that has on his game. Once you got that, adjust lifestyle to tune psychological state, thus improving his game. I’m talking girl problems, alimony, size of posse, everything. That all affects a player’s psychological state.

So there you have it – some questions that I always ask myself, knowing that very well that I can’t answer them, so maybe #analytics can?

Terrence Ross throws down a 360 dunk in the Philippines

Jonas Valanciunas’ Roadmap to NBA Legitimacy

Do you need a dominant big man to win the NBA title? The Heat’s two titles say otherwise, but they remain an exception due to having LeBron James, much like Michael Jordan’s Bulls who won with Luc Longley in the middle. The Spurs (Tim Duncan), Lakers (Shaquille O’Neal), Heat without James (Shaquille O’Neal), Detroit Pistons (Ben Wallace, a 4-time DPOY) and Dallas Mavericks (Dirk Nowtizki) have had dominant front-court players who are arguably the best at their position.

History has shown that you can make do without them, but you better have transcendental wing players – we’re talking first-ballot Hall of Famers – if you don’t. Obviously, the Raptors in their quiet but hopeful quest for a title (or at the very least, an Eastern Conference crown) don’t possess either. They do have good players at every position and are allegedly constructed to rely on defense first with Dwane Casey at the helm, yet they lack that one player who dominates his position.

When you examine the roster and see which player has the potential to get there, the debate can possibly boil down to DeMar DeRozan, Jonas Valanciunas, or if you’re really hopeful, Terrence Ross. I’m not going to add Kyle Lowry to that list, because as great as he’s been, he’s a known quantity in the league that may very well improve, but whose ceiling is probably known and it’s not at Chris Paul-levels.

DeRozan may very well elevate his offensive game to Kobe Bryant-levels, though entering his sixth year it’s probably a long-shot, but I remain hopeful mostly because he has been working very hard over every summer. The enigma here is Jonas Valanciunas, whose projection remains very difficult to make because despite having performed well, it’s hard to pin down just what his go-to strengths are. He’s done many things very well, and yet I remain stumped as to what part of his game can be scaled to reach a dominant level.

There’s already strong evidence that his sense for the game is excellent. Other than occasions where he’s caught unaware of patrolling guards trying to swipe at him, his positional awareness with and without the ball is very good. His hesitation on the mid-range jumper aside, Valanciunas knows what areas on the court he needs to be in to get his points. Take this play for example, where he reads the Patterson drive and shifts from the baseline to the middle, which makes all the difference:

His highlights are littered with this sort of subtle, intelligent play which is found lacking in big men at his stage of development. No matter how impressive this sort of game awareness is, this alone cannot turn him into an elite player, one that could be the center-piece of a title winner. Excelling in these areas means that you’re going to have an NBA job for years to come, not make the All-Star team year in and year out. More than anything, it means that he can make reads which is fundamental to future success. Without this baseline understanding of how the game is played, a player, no matter how talented, will be destined to be a by-stander than an active participant as the action happens.

This is especially true for big men because as guards continue to dominate the ball, big men are relying more and more on making themselves useful on offense through their off-the-ball movement than simply waiting for the ball to be passed to them. Those days – the Patrick Ewing days – are long gone.  In fact, even Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol are starved for touches these days.

Pick ‘n roll play is another area where Valanciunas is exceptional, and one where he hasn’t been involved nearly enough given his capacity for the play. What is not talked about enough is that Valanciunas is equally proficient at the play from either side of the court. His aforementioned positional awareness and tendency to find the seam without picking up an offense foul is greatly underplayed. As long back as when he was in Europe did Valanciunas show that he was a capable option in two-man situations. Take this skill over to the NBA where there’s a defensive three-second rule prohibiting defenses to clog up the paint easily, and this becomes a major advantage of Valanciunas. Take for example this play where he’s set a great screen, rolled well, shielded the ball, and brought it to the other side for a layup.

I’m not going to dwell on his jumper much, because that is a matter of practice. A mid-range jumper might be the easiest aspect of his game to enhance because his shooting motion is adequate, he’s hit 34% of his mid-range shots last year (down from 41% his rookie year), which is not great but enough to build on.

It’s his back-to-the-basket game that can take him from being a good player to a great one. If he develops this section of his arsenal and his jump shot improves linearly and becomes average, a projection like Pau Gasol doesn’t sound like total madness. The good news is that it certainly appears that he’s got the mentality and foundational moves to be a good post-player. His up-and-under, turnaround, spin, and hook shots are of good quality, and that’s all in addition to his excellent (and I can’t overstate this) finishing ability from every angle near the rim – the man simply knows when to use glass, and when to not, which alone has proven to be a downfall of many a big man. Here’s a great move against Zach Randolph, which leaves you wanting for more:

The bad news is that he currently plays on a very guard-dominant team and has a relatively short leash. Take a look at his front-court touches per game, which basically eliminates the case where he touches the ball when in-bounding after made baskets.

front

You see that he’s behind players like Terrence Ross, Patrick Patterson, and John Salmons – this needs to change. The verdict on his passing isn’t out yet, and the Raptors need to test just how capable he is and whether he’s able to play a role similar to Josh McRoberts when he was in the high-post in Charlotte, or even Tyson Chandler or Dirk Nowtizki in Dallas – because, if Valanciunas excels at that, the Raptors socialist offense takes itself to a whole new level.

There’s another area of his game where he’s improving at a steady rate, and that’s transition. He looks to beat his man down the court, notably in the first half of games. He may not do it against mobile big men like Chris Bosh, but if he spots someone like Marcin Gortat checking him, he’ll make the push to get down after missed baskets. Something small, but important to note.

His defense is probably a topic for another post, and I’ll be the first to admit that he’s far from being astounding in this category. As a rebounder, he tends to get caught watching the play and doesn’t know when to switch from ball-defending mode to rebound-positioning mode, which leaves him susceptible for giving up offensive rebounds. If you tell Valanciunas that his #1 job out there is rebounding, he’s able to get the job done to a high degree of quality because he’ll basically shut off any help-defense sense that he has and focus entirely on positioning and likely beat out his man. It’s finding the right balance that he hasn’t mastered yet.

What the Raptors have here is a plant that needs water, lots of it.  There were some reports that next year would be the one where Dwane Casey would finally hold Valanciunas accountable and make him pay for his lapses.  I feel that that’s a very unwarranted approach for two reasons: 1) He already gets the hook when he plays badly so accelerating that hook would be harsh, and 2) He’s shown enough in a limited offensive role that he deserves to be a larger part of the offense, and with that come growing pains where a heavy hand may not be the best approach.

Valanciunas, entering his third season, still needs time and patience.  He hasn’t been afforded the zero-pressure seasons that DeMar DeRozan or Chris Bosh had where they developed their individual games in meaningless seasons.   He’s had to do his development entirely within a team setup and that will invariably slow it down, again, especially for his position.  What the Raptors have here is pure potential, and more importantly, a player that has already validated many an assumption made when he was drafted.  Give the man time, he’ll shine.

ICYMI: Lou Williams Can Spit

The New James Johnson’s Potential Impact on the Raptors

James Johnson, the most underwhelming and, at the same time, understandable signings made this summer. Ujiri dipped into his back pocket for spare change, threw it in the air, and out of the bushes leaps James Johnson to snuff the pack of quarters before they even hit the ground. There’s your defensive specialist for you, there’s the guy that’ll stop next year’s Joe Johnson, and that’s the guy that’ll push Ross for minutes.

For a $2.5 million salary, a player of Johnson’s caliber is about what you’re going to get and that’s not necessarily a bad thing, given the constraints Ujiri was operating under. Over the last couple years Johnson has matured into a different player than what Raptors fans may remember from his time between 2010-12. He remains a horrendous three-point shooter, shooting a woeful 25% while taking a career-high 1.7 threes per game last season, meaning the rumours that he’s here for his floor stretchability are vastly exaggerated (even from corner positions as seen below).

He remains a player who will only be as good as the system he plays in. Put him in a situation where he’s allowed freedom on offense, and he’s liable to kill you with his propensity to look for his shot, like he did under Sacramento’s lax playbook. Put him in a defined role, like Memphis did, and you get a player that moves very well without the ball, has a very serviceable pump-fake, and can finish while contested, at least when he’s attacking from the right side of the rim. Despite being a poor three-point shooter, there is one area on the court where he’s above the league average and that’s on the right wing. If the Raptors are able to position him on the court well, he may be able to space the floor just a little, but it’s not something you can count on. In that sense, he’s very much like Landry Fields, a guy whose offense you cannot rely on but whose defense can be valuable. The following play against the Spurs is a good example of the type of off-the-ball movement that Johnson has improved in over the last year:

Comparing him to John Salmons, he’s a worse three-point shooter but moves better without the ball. He’s more liable to cut to the rim from the weak-side than Salmons (partially because he’s now realized that he’s a bad shooter) , and is physically stronger than the latter when facing contact or pressure.

Where Johnson beats out the incumbent Fields and the departed Salmons is his defense. Once he realized and accepted that no matter how much he tried, it wasn’t his offense that was going to cut him an NBA cheque, Johnson made a concerted effort to focus on the defensive side of his game, where his 6’9” frame comes in handy, and was greatly helped in this regard by Memphis’s defensive setup.

With Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph manning the paint behind him, Johnson was able to play tight defense on the perimeter, knowing that there was cover waiting in case he was beat. His long arms, good stance in isolation situations, and ability to play the correct angles was an asset to Dave Joerger’s 8th ranked defense which was comfortable funnelling drives to the rim. Applying pressure on the perimeter knowing that there’s a second line waiting is a comforting thought for a coach, and a formula that the Thunder follow to good effect with a healthy Serge Ibaka. Memphis takes that approach to the extreme.

This is not to discount Johnson’s defensive qualities, he affords his coach the luxury of slowing down an opposing threat without having to structure the whole team’s defense around it. Though the narrative has been played out, the Raptors against Joe Johnson and the Nets was a good example for a need for this type of player. We saw how valuable a defensive asset Trevor Ariza was to the 7th ranked Washington defense as he guarded three positions on his way to disrupting offenses. Even he benefited from having a strong defensive frontcourt to bail out any over-commitments on the perimeter, now he departs to Houston where Dwight Howard plays a similar role. Something tells me Ariza knows what to seek out in a team to make himself appear better.

Back to Johnson, though, in Toronto he’s going to have to adjust his game to be less aggressive on the wing since the Raptors don’t have the rim-protection Memphis does. Instead of blocks and at-rim contests, the Raptors (who were 23rd in blocks) rely on wing players stepping inside and big men stepping out to pick up charges and divert play. It’s a strategy that relies much more on timing, team communication, and game awareness, rather than pure athletic ability and reach. As much as Johnson’s defensive value is in covering key offensive players in one-on-one situations, it’s how he fits into this fluid Raptors defense that will ultimately determine whether he’s successful or not.

Johnson should also, at the very least, influence Raptors practices very positively. One of my major peeves in the Bryan Colangelo era was the lack of depth at key positions, which meant that practices for players like Chris Bosh and Jose Calderon were a relative breeze. Adding a lengthy defensive player like Johnson into the mix means players such as DeMar DeRozan and Terrence Ross will have to work that much harder in practice, thus getting more out of them. Once Rudy Gay was traded there wasn’t any real competition for Ross on his way to the starting lineup. While this helped get Ross more playing time and develop faster, it also meant that he didn’t have to look over his shoulder much which led to him getting a little lackadaisical at times. Johnson isn’t going to uproot Ross, but he will make him fight for his place harder than a combination of Salmons and Fields would, which in turn should fuel Ross’s engine that bit more.

The Raptors have a rotation where they don’t need to hide many players on defense, which makes lineup construction that much easier for Dwane Casey.  The only players you can make a case for being bad defenders are Greivis Vasquez and DeMar DeRozan.  The former can pose problems on account of his size, while the latter, well, the latter is a bad defender whose offensive value far exceeds his defensive shortcomings.  Replacing Salmons with the seven-year younger and two inches taller Johnson means that the Raptors rotation has improved defensively, affording Dwane Casey options.  Johnson’s size and rebounding would lend itself well to small-ball lineups, or in situations where defensive pressure needs to be increased.  Presently, the best Raptors defensive lineup is Kyle Lowry, Terrence Ross, James Johnson, Amir Johnson, and possibly, Jonas Valanciunas or Bebe Nogueira, depending on if you’re looking for rebounding or shot-blocking.  Conditional on how far along Ross is with his offense, that is a lineup that could be used to change games from a defensive standpoint without sacrificing too much offense.

James Johnson is the very definition of exploiting a constraint –  a small tweak that could have a large impact.  This James Johnson isn’t about what the previous James Johnson was about:

“Playing defence, being an opportunity scorer, just doing the little things. Every day, practice hard and try to get our guys to the next level with team defence. I’m just more mature about my game. I’m doing the little things, finding my niche nowadays. Getting opportunity to score when I can and if not, don’t worry about the offensive end.”

Defense? Opportunity scorer? Practice hard? Team defense? Little things? Niche? Don’t worry about the offensive end? Those are phrases you never would’ve associated with James Johnson 2010-12.

Ushering in the Golden Generation of Canadian Basketball

Quotes from Day 2 of Canada Basketball’s practice at the Air Canada Center.

The Golden Generation of Canadian Men’s Basketball isn’t here yet, but it’s on the way.

With names like Tyler Ennis, Tristan Thompson, Andrew Nicholson, Kelly Olynyk, Nik Stauskas, Anthony Bennett and Andrew Wiggins selected in the first round of the NBA draft over the last three years, it’s hard not to be excited for Canada’s basketball future. At this rate, the day will soon come when Canada has to say no to an NBA player. Imagine that.

Excitement for basketball in Canada is reaching a precipice. Coupled with the recent success of the Toronto Raptors, the nation is starting to take notice, bringing newfound intrigue, and expectation for the incoming class of youngsters. It’s all about what comes next  — everyone is excited about the future.

Only, the future isn’t here yet. It’s on the way, but that’s a process. Before dreams of Ennis throwing alley-oops to Wiggins becomes a reality, they’ll first have to learn how to play and win together. It’s a process.

And the process is being shepherded along by the team’s longstanding veterans and coaching staff. The organization currently stands at a low, having failed to qualify for the FIBA World Cup this summer, but their heads hang high with their sights firmly set on the future. They’re all pulling in the same direction — towards becoming one of the best teams in the world.

They’ll take their first step starts this summer, when the Canadian Men’s National team embarks on an 11-game exhibition tour across Europe. They’ll take on five of the world’s top-15 ranked teams in Spain, Turkey, Serbia, Slovenia and Angola.

“We want to play the best competition in the world,” said head coach Jay Triano. “We’re going to learn a lot of lessons while we’re over there, but that’s what these players need. We need to learn the international game, and that’s why we’re playing these games this summer.”

“It’s all about the experience,” says general manager Steve Nash. “It’s about as good of a tour as you could possibly imagine, playing against great teams. It’s an awesome tour for these guys to gain a lot of experience and to see what the benchmark is for top-level international basketball.”

It’s not just Nash and Triano leading the way for Canada’s future stars. Veterans like Carl English are lining up to take on leadership roles, helping to walk the talk put forth by coaches and management.

English is a mainstay in Canada’s system. His service traces back to 2000, and was a member of the 2009 roster that finished fourth in the FIBA Americans championship. Although he is only 33-years-old with plenty left in the tank, English is embracing his role as the wise sage on the squad.

PJT-CanadaBball-1.jpg

“I’m very vocal. I think a big part of being a leader is keeping everybody together, keeping everybody positive – every practice, not letting things get you down,” said English. “You can be a leader on those things alone and having a positive attitude. And sometimes, it’s not always good to hear your coach speaking. If your peers hear it from you, and from each other, they tend to be more accountable.”

He also wasn’t shy to set the bar high for himself, and the future members of Canada’s team.

“I say is that our goal for 2016 is to become a top-10 team. I’m not afraid to say that the next one could be beyond my time, but I’ll be very disappointed if these guys aren’t a medal team. They’re a fantastic team, and every year there’s more guys coming. If you just take the class now, the last five years, and give them five years to grow together, it’s going to be fabulous.”

Ranking in the top-10 and medalling will be a tall task. Currently, the team ranks 25th in the world and finds themselves on the outside looking in. National programs like the USA, Spain and Argentina have set the standard for international men’s basketball, and it’s one English would like to see his team reach.

Like everyone, English is excited about the incoming crop of talent in the pipeline, and although age may catch up to him before any podium finishes does, English is more than happy to help guide the team along.

In his eyes, English envisions the team adopting a team-oriented identity, with the team boasting a strong 12-man roster. He cited the San Antonio Spurs as an example.

“The example here is San Antonio. Everyone’s talking about Miami vs. San Antonio. They beat Miami because they’re the best team, and that’s what we’re trying to be. We want to have guys – when you’re playing 10 times in 11 days, guys cant play 35 minutes. No one does that at the international level, not even the Dream Team.”

And for up-and-comers like Dwight Powell and Kelly Olynyk are listening intently, trying to learn from every experience.

“It’s really a blessing,” Powell opined. “The amount of knowledge [the coaching staff] have to impart on us is unlimited and it’s our responsibilities as players to act like sponges and soak up as much as we can. They’re really mentors.”

“Build on coming together, chemistry, build that chemistry as much as we can,” said Olynyk about the team’s upcoming tour.

But no matter the talent on the roster, ascending to the top of the basketball hierarchy will be difficult. The international game vastly differs from the NBA game, or even the NCAA game. With the prevalence of zone defense and the heavy emphasis on three-point shooting, the experience will be “eye-opening”, as Triano notes.

“For some of these guys, it will be eye-opening, to see how passionate their fans are in their countries, and how fine-tuned these teams are. Because the World Championships, in a lot of these countries, is bigger than the Olympic games where more teams participate and more teams have the opportunity to compete.”

And that’s why their upcoming exhibition tour is important. It’s about a young team getting their feet wet as they look to take their first step. And before they take the leap expected of them, they’ll have mainstays like Nash, Triano and English to help them along.

The schedule for their upcoming 11-game tour can be found here. Final roster announcements to come.

Raptors Weekly Podcast, July 21 – Eastern Conference Preview

Free-agency’s winding down, the roster’s are taking shape and the major pieces in the East are set. The pod takes a moment (well, more than hour to be precise) to examine the state of the Eastern Conference with an analysis of every single club, right from the depths of darkness to the summit of glory. Tune in as Andrew, Will, and Zarar take you through a journey starting at Luke Ridnour and ending at LeBron James. There’s also deep analysis mention of the Dwight Buycks and Diante Garrett waivers.

Teams are grouped in six categories and the individual and average predictions are below:

  1. The Walking Dead
  2. Tough Outs
  3. The Losers
  4. Stuck in the Middle
  5. Up and Coming
  6. The Contenders
# William Zarar Andrew Average
1 Cleveland Chicago Cleveland Cleveland
2 Chicago Cleveland Chicago Chicago
3 Toronto Washington Toronto Toronto
4 Miami Toronto Charlotte Washington
5 Washington Atlanta Washington Charlotte
6 Atlanta Charlotte Atlanta Atlanta
7 Charlotte Miami Miami Miami
8 Indiana Indiana Brooklyn Indiana
9 Brooklyn Detroit Indiana Brooklyn
10 New York Boston New York New York
11 Detroit New York Detroit Detroit
12 Milwaukee Brooklyn Boston Boston
13 Boston Orlando Orlando Milwaukee
14 Philadelphia Milwaukee Milwaukee Orlando
15 Orlando Philadelphia Philadelphia Philadelphia

Grab the iTunes feed or check us out on Stitcher on Android. There is also the plain old feed. You can also download the file (1:07:06, 64 MB). Or just listen below:

Reports: Diante Garrett Waived, Dwight Buycks likely signs in Europe

Masai Ujiri is shuffling around the end of the bench.

Two pieces of news to pass along. First, Diante Garrett was waived by the team, along with fellow point guard Dwight Buycks.

Furthermore, Buycks is likely on his way out of the NBA, as a number of European clubs are in hot pursuit.

First off, this leaves the Raptors’ roster at 14, assuming Bebe Nogueira and Bruno Caboclo sign and play this season, while DeAndre Daniels waits overseas. The Raptors are either in the market for a veteran center, or a third point guard, which Dwane Casey revealed earlier this week.

Second, the finances. Waiving Buycks and Garrett shaves a little over $1.7 million off the books, which puts the Raptors’ even further from the luxury tax. A full breakdown, penned by resident cap (wannabe) expert Blake Murphy can be found here.

Garrett was acquired by the Raptors in the Steve Novak-to-Utah trade. His contract was fully unguranteed, meaning the Raptors could cut him without financial cost. The same for Buycks, although the deadline on his deal becoming guaranteed was tomorrow.

My personal feeling is that the roster is pretty much set. There’s not nearly enough money to bring in an impact free-agent, and quite frankly, there isn’t an open job on the roster that needs to be filled. The Raptors are two-deep at each position, and have a number of interchangeable players who can fill multiple voids.

Therefore, the most likely outcome is for Masai to sign a player to the veteran minimum –  a point guard or center — and to keep costs to a minimum. It’s best to keep some leeway from the luxury tax line, maintaining flexibility for a potential trade.

Report: Raptors Waive Dwight Buycks

https://twitter.com/ShamsCharania/status/490522125988397057

According to that guy, Buycks has been released which, to be fair, is a pretty obvious course of action to take.  With the Raptors already fielding Lowry, Vasquez, and Lou Williams at the point, Buycks has become dispensable.  Any chance that the guy might have had of making the team probably went down the drain when he approached summer league as a shoot-first tournament instead of trying to quarterback the team. There was some hope of him making the team after Nando De Colo left for CSKA Moscow, but clearly it wasn’t enough.

Given that Williams isn’t a true point guard, it puts a little bit of pressure on Casey to make sure that Vasquez is indeed backing up Lowry instead of playing with him in a two-guard lineup.  Perhaps DeAndre Daniels has shown enough to warrant Bucyks’ spot? We’ll see.

He was due $1.15 million if not released which now comes off the cap. Chances are Daniels can be had for the minimum if the Raptors choose to go that route.

Buycks averaged 3.1 points and 0.7 assists in 14 games last season while playing 10.4 minutes.  RR wishes Dwight Buycks the best of luck in his future endeavors, as he was more or less benign.

Summer League: We Like Where He Strokes It

For those of you that thought that losing in the playoffs meant you were done, we bring you the Las Vegas Summer League, where the Raptors lost in the playoffs against Houston, but then, for some reason, played again today.

Summer League games aren’t always the most beautiful thing and this game didn’t try and rock the boat. For those of you who missed this game, let me just run down a few numbers to give you an idea of what you missed.

- This was the second-lowest scoring game of the Las Vegas Summer League, only being saved from being the worst on a three in the last seconds of the game.

- The Raptors and Clippers shot a combined 34.7% from the field.

- The Raptors shot 13% (3-23) from three, only to be eclipsed by the Clippers who shot 10% (1-10). Although, perhaps the Clippers should be applauded for taking fewer threes considering they weren’t hitting. Hard to say, 13% is better than 10%, but 9 misses is better than 20 misses.

- Both teams combined for 6 assists in the first half.  Six in twenty minutes.

- The Raptors “won” by outscoring the Clippers 64 to 60.

The Spurs-Heat this was not.

There was almost no flow on offense and obviously little passing. Too many guys trying to force things. This is the problem with Summer League play. Most players are trying to impress, and so they want to standout, but when you try and standout, you often end up going away from the team concept. It’s a catch-22.

For those that actually care about the game, the Raptors were losing up until midway through the second quarter when they went on a 16-0 run and stayed ahead the rest of the game.

For most fans, the interest in Summer League is focused on individual play. This is a chance for us to see rookies in a professional setting, and evaluate players who may or may not have a chance at making the roster.

This game gave some of the players who hadn’t had seen much action previously some playing time. Scott Machado got a chance to start with Buycks sitting out this game. TJ Bray disappeared in his first start. And Myck Kabongo got a chance to see some extended minutes for once. We also might have seen the last of Hassan Whiteside, who also sat out the game.

1. Whiteside certainly has the physical tools to play in the NBA, and even showed a few skills, but he’s the prefect example of a player who is simply not mentally on an NBA level. He’s got a low basketball IQ, let’s his emotions get the better of him and, at 25 years old, has shown little improvement since he left college.

BRUNO CABOCLO

Without any big name rookies in attendance, there was a lot of discussion about Bruno, and one of the Barry boys and the other commentator had a lot of nice things to say about him when they weren’t talking about Rick Fox’s scarf and, well, they talked a lot about Fox’s scarf for some reason.

The best comment was when Barry said, and I quote, “We like where he strokes it”, when talking about Bruno’s form on his shot (and not his length). He obviously caught the double entendre and backtracked a little, but that might have been the highlight of the game.

While Bruno didn’t shoot well, especially from three, he continues to impress with his potential. He’s still got a LONG way to go, but continues to have a big impact on the defensive end and shows flashes of an offensive game that is probably still three or four years away.

Bruno seemed to start the game with a slightly different mindset and looked to initiate a little more, but mostly failed miserably. He dribbled out the shot clock twice and one play, where he was isolated on the wing, was uncomfortable to watch as he fumbled the ball and then proceeded to dribble out the clock.

He also tends to fall for a pump fake WAY too often, especially considering a guy with his length shouldn’t even need to leave his feet. He also coughs up the ball under pressure, which is probably why I counted only a few times when he dribbled the ball more than twice.

Still, for the youngest player on the court and a guy who no one had heard of just a few weeks ago, Bruno impressed as much or more than anyone on the court. He doesn’t shy away from contact, has good form (despite not hitting in this game), and can be a game changer on the defensive end. On the very next play after the failed isolation attempt, Bruno used his length and anticipation to steal a pass and dribble the length of the court for a layup.

He played a team high 33 minutes and was a big reason why the team won.

The more I watch Bruno, the more I like Ujiri’s selection of him at 20. While no one should expect anything from him next year, I would say he’s definitely got more potential than anyone who was selected later and, at the very least, can become a good defensive player who can hit the three.

BEBE NOGUEIRA

Bebe got to play extended minutes and did show some things, but he also showed he’s got a lot of work to do.

He looked about a foot taller than anyone out there, and he’s not a stiff. With his physical tools, he’s got a chance to have an NBA career, but there are a few things that might prevent that.

Bebe might be the longest player in summer league (that’s just a guess, but he’s got 9’6 standing reach, so I think it’s probably a good guess), but he’s only got three blocks in five games. He should have gotten twice as many without even leaving his feet. And therein lies the problem. While Bebe is a willing defender, he’s not a particularly good one. Well, some of the time he is, but for a guy as agile as he is, opposing players seem to go around him almost at will at times. He’s not good at defending pick and rolls and will over-commit far too often.

And while he ended up getting 10 rebounds against the Clippers, there were far too many times when a smaller player came out of the pack with the rebound instead of Bebe. And considering the number of misses in this game, I guarantee there were more than ten rebounds available for Bebe.

Bebe’s got great size, yes, but he simply doesn’t use it enough. He is active, but doesn’t always play very smart. Now, apart from the physical tools, Bebe is a willing, if not always pinpoint passer. He’s actually got a decent drive to the hoop for a player his size, and finishes fairly well around the basket.

He’s a project, but he’s a project worth gambling on.

Funniest incident of the game: While running up the court, Bebe apparently asked the ref if he could stop and tie his shoe. Do they stop games in Brazil for that?

DeANDRE DANIELS

Daniels was the leading scorer (15 points), rebounder (14 rebounds) and shot blocker (2 blocks) for the game, and definitely played fairly well.

He was active on the boards and on defense, but he did take 15 shots to score those 15 points, so it’s safe to say efficiency was not a strong suit. There were a number of times when Daniels seemed to have blinders on and forced the action rather than pass to an open teammate. It’s like he knew this was the last game to impress the Raptors and wanted to show something, but showing he could pass would have been something.

MYCK KABONGO

I was anxious to see Kabongo get some burn and was happy to see it happen. Kabongo has always had a reputation as a great ball handler and good passer, but his big weakness is his lack of a jumper, and all of that was on display in this game. Kabongo outplayed starter Machado, even dishing out a game-high 3 assists (?!?!?!). He showed some sneaky moves around the basket and was able to get into the lane almost at will.

But that jumpshot.

He’s been away from Texas University for more than a year and he obviously hasn’t spent enough time on his jumpshot. He was 0 for 3 from three and not one of them was close, even airballing one.

I still was impressed enough with him that I would like to see the Raptors bring him into training camp. He’s actually 22, which is older than I thought, but he’s got talent.

CHRIS DANIELS

Daniels has no real shot at catching on with the Raptors, but since he was the ONLY Raptors to actually hit a three (he went 3-6) which I thought was worth mentioning.

ELI HOLMAN

In just 12 minutes, Holman actually looked like a fairly decent prospect. He’s not tall but showed a good post game and grabbed four boards in his limited time.

That’s it for Las Vegas. Next up, training camp. In three more months.

[GIF] DeMar DeRozan’s evolution through shot-charts

Piggy-backing off Greg Mason’s work.


DeMar DeRozan making improvements to his game, year after year, has become the defining narrative of his career. His love for the city, coupled with his reputation as a gym rat, has rightfully endeared him to many fans. And while he’ll never play a style of basketball that perfectly aligns with the analytical axioms of efficiency, DeMar has improved many aspects of his game, especially with respect to getting to the free-throw line, and facilitating offense.

But his shooting, strictly speaking, remains largely unchanged. There’s still work left to be done.

Shot charts courtesy of Nylon Calculus, yet another excellent blog on the Hardwood Paroxysm network. 

The Raptors and the NBA’s Shooting Revolution – the Nylon Calculus Shot Charts

Ed’s Note: This article is written by Greg Mason, who is a regular guest on The Doctor Is In podcast, and while the pod is on hiatus till the new season, Greg takes a look at how the Raptors fare in the brand new Nylon Calculus shot charts.  Follow Greg on Twitter at @VotaryOfHoops.

Thanks in large part to the analytics movement, shooting is at a premium in the league now more than ever. Look no further than the Channing Frye signing for evidence as to how much teams value guys who can space the floor and create lanes to the rim. Successful teams make a lot of shots at the basket and they make a lot of threes. San Antonio and Miami led the league in shots made within 5 feet, 382 and 311, respectively (the Raptors made 109 shots, good for 12th), and both teams finished in the top 5 in 3 point field goals made. Teams who couldn’t space the floor, see Detroit and Utah, were a train wreck. The Raptors were slightly better than middle of the pack as shooters last season. They finished 13th in the league in 3FGM and 15th in 3FG%.

This week Austin Clemens (@AustinClemens2) of Nylon Calculus (part of the Hardwood Paroxysm network) compiled VERY cool and HIGHLY addictive shot charts of every player from the 1996-1997 season forward.

Kyle Lowry:

  • Good shooter despite impediment of carrying around onions larger than Oliver Miller’s plate at the country buffet, (46 % of FGA were 3s)
  • Career highs last season in 3P% (38), FGA, FGM and PER (20.1)
  • Excels from the deep wings, loves that fake drive, step back three
  • Poor from mid-range and right corner, almost never shoots from mid-range on right side
  • Finishes well in the paint, struggles a bit right at the rim

Kyle Lowry Nylon Calculus Shot Chart

DeMar DeRozan:

  • The narrative about DeRozan’s game is generally confirmed by the shot chart
  • Very good in the paint, good from right corner (small sample size)
  • Shoots A LOT of long mid-range jumpers, 36.2 % of FGA were between 16 feet and 3 point arc
  • Career best 30.5 3P% , still well below league average
  • Favors left side of the floor

DeMar DeRozan

Terrence Ross:

  • Likes the 3 ball: 39.5 3P%, 54.3 % of his FGA last season from beyond the arc
  • Really likes the left corner and deep right wing
  • Not nearly as effective from deep left wing and right corner
  • Explosive athlete but lanky and doesn’t love contact. Better finisher in the paint than expected

Terrence Ross

Amir Johnson:

  • Mr. Efficiency
  • Very good in the paint, 73 % of his shots within 10 feet or less
  • Impressive mid-range shooter, 58.6 % from 10-16 feet
  • Worked the 3 ball into his game this season. Though he was above league average in certain spots shot only 30.3 3P% for the season

Amir Johnson

Jonas Valanciunas:

  • Big J, that left side baseline jumper isn’t working out so hot for you, brother! 37 % shooter from 10-16 feet.
  • Generally pretty good in the paint. The little running hook in front of the basketball was the one major trick in his arsenal and the shot chart shows that it was pretty darn effective.
  • Jonas is working with Hakeem the Dream this summer and I, for one, am freaking excited. (Man crush alert)

Jonas Valanciunas

Greivis Vasquez:

  • His shot chart is EXACTLY what you would expect.
  • Gravy V is money when he shoots those runners in front of the rim and somewhat of a disaster on his wild drives to the right side of the basket
  • I expect his percentages to improve this season with some additional scorers on the second unit. Won’t be forced to carry such a heavy offensive burden.
  • He’s a good 3 point shooter (38%) but surprisingly weak from the corners

Greivis Vasquez

Patrick Patterson:

  • Patterson has found a home. Fills much needed role of ‘stretch-4’ on the team. 31% of FGA were from beyond the arc.
  • 41 3P% as a Raptor, excels from left corner and deep right wing
  • Mixed bag from mid-range. Much better from left baseline. 46% from 10-16 feet

Patrick Patterson

Lou Williams:

  • Not exactly a model of efficiency, but will provide a much needed scoring option off the bench
  • Not a terrible 3-point shooter (34% career) but he should probably stop shooting from the left side of the court altogether
  • Can drill the right corner 3, most of team prefers left corner
  • Good shooter from straight on. Likes the runner.

Lou Williams

James Johnson:

  • Thank God he can play defense
  • Sweet neck tattoos, skilled martial artist, big wing defender, terrible 3-point shooter
  • 26.6 % career shooter from beyond the arc
  • Shot scorching 78 % (3% of total FGA) from 10-16 feet, but most of his mid-range game consisted of long 2s (7.5% of FGA), where he shot a meager 26%

James Johnson

Tyler Hansbrough:

  • Great job, Tyler.

Tyler Hansbrough

Landry Fields:

  • Injuries have derailed Fields’ shot and his confidence, perhaps irrevocably
  • Just look at the drop off in his shooting from his rookie to sophomore years. He was a guy who shot 39% from beyond the arc his rookie season (2.7 attempts per game) to 26 % his second year.
  • The Raptors then decided to give him $20 million dollars. He’s shot 19 threes in his two seasons in Toronto; down slightly from the 340 that he shot his first two seasons in New York.
Landry Fields
Landry Fields

Chuck Hayes:

  • 6’5 center who can’t jump is predictably horrid in the paint
  • We’ll always have that gorgeous 22-foot runner though

Chuck Hayes

Final thoughts:

I’m skeptical that DeRozan will ever become a league average 3-point shooter, but he’s proved me wrong before. One thing that he can certainly work on this season is cutting down on mid-range jumpers. The Raptors are essentially a slightly above average shooting team in the league. There are several guys on the team who can stroke the three at a respectable clip (Lowry, Vasquez, Ross, Patterson) but they lost their one elite shooter when they sent Novak to Utah for salary relief purposes. They’ve added two below average shooters in Williams and Johnson and lost Salmons who was wretched inside the arc but among the best three point shooters on the team. Bruno has a nice shot and his go-to move so far in summer league has been the step back three (lessons from Lowry already?) but I don’t expect him to be a rotation guy at this juncture in his career. Simply put, on paper the Raps are a worse shooting team than they were last season but probably not in a particularly meaningful way. If they shoot well and create the requisite space for driving lanes to the basket, the personnel by-and-large does a good job of finishing in the paint.

Data for this article was provided by basketball-reference.com.

ICYMI: Lucas Nogueira Chases Luke Hancock Down For The Dunk

Audio: Dwane Casey Summer League Interview

Dwane Casey joined Rick Kamla and Brent Barry during the Raptors/Rockets game, which Will has recapped along with key portions of the interview. Below is the full audio of the Casey interview where he touched on a number of topics included Bruno Caboclo, Jonas Valanciunas, Kyle Lowry and even Dwight Buycks.

Recap: Buycks and Bruno shine, Summer League is strange

Bruno and Buycks looked good. The team did not.

In their first elimination game of Las Vegas Summer League, the Toronto Raptors somehow turned a 56-30 lead at halftime to 93-77 loss to the Houston Rockets. Like this recap, this game wasn’t pretty.

Game Recap

Call it a collapse, call it a breakdown, call it a tale of two halves. It’s hard to overstate how poorly the team played in the second half, scoring just 21 total points while allowing 63. The Raptors had a chance to advance to the next round and face the Cleveland Canadian Cavaliers but they blew it.

Of course, you’re probably overreacting if you read anything into the outcome of the game. This, in a nutshell, is summer league basketball. This is why the scores, and quite frankly, the stats don’t matter. It’s a hodge-podge of randomly assorted players playing against an equally disjointed squad. There’s no coaching, there’s no plays being called, and it’s hardly anything more than a dry-run test environment for teams to see their young prospects in action.

But if you’re type that needs an answer for everything, settle on this one: the Raptors couldn’t make the first-pass to initiate their offense in the second-half. With the Rockets changing their strategy to pressuring, double-teaming and hard-showing on the ball, the Raptors’ ball-handlers couldn’t deliver the first pass out of pressure to punish the defense. The bigs didn’t exactly do a great job setting screens to create space either, but it’s summer league. It’s easy to play pressure defense, it’s much harder to nail down timing on the attack.

With the loss, the Raptors move onto the consolation round, meaning they have at least one game left before we waive goodbye to Bruno, Bebe and co. If you find yourself upset at the outcome, heed the wise words of Ricky Rubio: “change your face, be happy, enjoy it!” It’s a silly pick-up game.

Bruno Watch!

  • 12 points, 3-of-7 shooting, 2-of-6 from deep, two rebounds, a steal, four turnovers

Bruno had a nice bounce-back game, showing just enough flashes to keep us intrigued. Some of the same issues with lack of aggressiveness reared its ugly head, culminating in a lack of physicality, but that’s to be expected. Not only is he extremely young and undersized, he also doesn’t speak any English.

Onto the positives. Bruno’s decision-making on offense looked good, drifting over to the right spots on the floor. He often waded over to the weakside corner, and with the help of Dwight Buycks’ delivery, he found himself open for a number of looks. During the third quarter, Dwane Casey revealed on-air that the corner three is Bruno’s favorite shot, and it showed during the game.

We also caught a glimpse of Bruno’s ball-handling. He certainly rates as below-average in that regard, as his gangly arms and general weakness makes dribbling around perimeter defenders an awkward endeavor, but Bruno wasn’t shy. I counted two instances where he tried to drive. He was fouled on both occasions, including this smooth and-one.

Defensively, the results were somewhat mixed. It’s clear that he really cares, and works hard on defense, but he’s over-aggressive at times, which sometimes leaves him out of position. It also doesn’t help that the language barrier doesn’t allow him to react to other players’ play-calls, and he is sometimes lost in the shuffle. However, with his 7-foot-7 wingspan, Caboclo is always a threat to contest the shot. When he learns how to harness his skills in an actual system, there’s the makings of an Tayshaun Prince-type defender in Bruno’s gangly frame.

“Bruno Watch” Watch

I respect NBA TV. A lot of people shit on the network, but I think they produce great content. Open-court, The Starters, Inside stuff — good shit.

But they need to drop it with the Bruno Caboclo narratives. Instead of trying to assess his performance as a player (as they do with most players on the court), play-by-play commentator Rick Kamla repeatedly circled back to the echo chamber that is Fran Fraschilla’s now infamous draft-day declarations. “Two years away from being two years away”. “Brazilian Kevin Durant”. He’s a huge project and a gamble.

And again, I want to clarify that it’s probably a directional order given by the producers, rather than lazy narration from Kamla, but he just kept recycling the same three topics. To their credit, his broadcast partner Brent Barry played it down, calling the comparisons to Durant ridiculous and unfair. Same with reporter David Aldridge, who generally backed Masai Ujiri’s draft decision.

But the NBA TV production crew just wouldn’t quit. They literally played a highlight reel from Durant’s rookie season, then led with the question”so what do you think?” Talk about setting the bar for expectations high and bar for intelligent conversation low. All in all, not a great day for an usually excellent broadcast company.

rpssWho needs Patrick Patterson and Terrence Ross when you have floor-spacers like Chuck Hayes and Landry Fields?

Bebe Doing the Little Things

  • Two points, four rebounds, three assists, one steal, one block, zero turnovers

The numbers don’t look like much. Like every game to date, Bebe wasn’t prioritized in the offense, functioning as mostly a screen-setter. His ball-screens were good, freeing up Buycks to pick apart Houston’s defense. He finished with a team-high +12 for a reason. He was effective.

Bebe also demonstrated good passing vision with three well-earned assists to his name. His assists came from the mid-high post, where he found open cutters for easy looks at the rim. Once video from the game becomes available, I’ll link to a few of his dimes.

As I discussed in the scouting report, Bebe’s strength right now is his length, which is really showing up on defense. He remains diligent in contesting shots while staying near the rim. He also collected a highlight-worthy chasedown block. Keep following the Tyson Chandler blueprint, kiddo!

Dwight Buycks, professional point guard

Buycks received plenty of flack for his lack of leadership over the first three summer league games. His refusal to pass, especially to rolling bigs, cramped the Raptors’ offense, and made him look selfish.

In truth, summer league is not the place for a passing point guard to shine. It’s hard to run plays when there are none. Isolation drives or banal point-to-wing passes off a ball-screen is preferable to a likely turnover in the pursuit for the right pass. Buycks wasn’t as poor as he looked.

The process wasn’t much different for Buycks today, but he did end up with 24 points and four assists. It was unfortunately coupled with eight turnovers, but he fared better in the passing department. He hit a rolling Bebe in-stride and thrice found Bruno open in the corner for three.

Highlights from Dwane Casey’s In-game Interview

On Bruno

“‘Two years away from being two years away’ is not true. He’s probably one year away from getting to work, and the main thing he needs to do is get stronger.

He’s athletic enough, he has the wingspan at 7-foot-7. He’s got to learn to use what he has. He’s a tough kid…he’s intelligent.”

“He’s from humble beginnings. He is hungry. That’s one great thing, and why Masai was so high on him because he knew how hard this young man was going to work.

We worked yesterday, [the players] practiced for like an hour-and-a-half, and he and I stayed there for another hour working on shooting, ball-handling drills, corner threes, catching it one dribble on the floor and up. He will stay there as long as you will, so he’s a coach’s dream from that standpoint.”

On Lowry’s free-agency

“Not only the Rockets [were interested], but Miami was sniffing around…Lakers were calling.

You never know, but he had always said that he wanted to be in Toronto, that he wanted to continue what we started as far as our growth was concerned because finally, this was his team…now he finally has his team.”

On the need of a third PG

“We do need a third point guard. Dwight [Buycks] is one of the guys we’re looking at…he knows he’s on stage right now.”

On Jonas Valanciunas

“Rebounding is key. He needs to do a better job on both ends, offensive boards, defensive boards.

He’s working on his running, and he’s going to be working out every day in Los Angeles.

[Asked to give a statline prediction] “14 points, 10 rebounds.”

On DeMar DeRozan

“Gary Payton is working with him.”

LVSL Game Thread: Raptors vs. Rockets

Because who wants to see Drake host the ESPYs (I do).

The Raptors (1-2) will take on the Rockets (1-2) at 8:30 PM tonight. Apparently it’s a playoff game, and the winner of tonight’s esteemed tussle will earn the opportunity to square off against the mighty Canadian Cavaliers.

But first, before we start fantasizing about a match-up between Canadian Andrew Wiggins and Brazilian Andrew Wiggins (Bruno), our Jurassic squad must eliminate the Rockets in order to stave off extinction.

The mighty Rockets boast a few fringe names, such as Donatas Motiejunas, Nick Johnson and Isaiah Canaan. Expect lots of three-point shooting (what else would you expect from a Morey-built squad?), as the team attempted 29 triples out of 64 total shots in their last contest against the Nuggets. That’s a whopping 45.3 percent, for those who don’t have a calculator handy.

Meanwhile, our Brazilian-heavy squad features the three-headed behemoth of Bebe Nogueira, Scott Machado and Bruno Caboclo. All in all, they’re not all that great at basketball at this point, but I feel comfortable with my favorite team trotting out three Brazilians better at their craft than World Cup pariah Fred is at soccer. Fred is pictured below imitating Brazilian fans’ reactions to him playing soccer.

Feel free to discuss the game in the comments. A full recap will go up sometime tonight after the game. It starts at 8:30 PM.

HALFTIME UPDATE

Raptors up 56-30. Bruno has 12 points on 3-of-5 shooting. Buycks killing it with 16 points on 8-of-9 shooting, also has three assists. He’s actually being a point guard for once, which is nice. Looks like we’re headed to a match with the Cavaliers. This should be fun.

FINAL UPDATE

Welp. Spoke too soon. The Raptors somehow lost 93-77. Find out how they did it in my recap.

Raptors 2014-15 Projected Wins

If you enjoy the discovery and communication of meaningful patterns in data, then you’ll enjoy this discussion posted by RR member DanH on our forums.

Can the Raptors Compete for the #1 Seed in the East Next Season?

With the Eastern Conference maybe becoming a little more balanced with the off-season acquisitions so far, do the Raptors still stand a solid chance in becoming the #1 seed after the regular season?

Talking Raptors Podcast, July 16 – Summer League

Nick and Barry run down what’s happening in summer league and on summer vacations as the Raptors enter LVSL’s playoff rounds.

Grab the iTunes feed or check us out on Stitcher on Android. There is also the plain old feed. You can also download the file (25:54, 24 MB). Or just listen below:

Morning Coffee – Wed, Jul 16

A more mature James Johnson ready to win with Raptors | Toronto Sun

“It was a crazy road for me but you learn a lot from your mistakes and I felt like Masai and the rest of the Raptors felt the same about the situation and feel the same way about my play and what I can bring to this team,” the 27-year-old small forward said. “I still have a lot to prove but them signing me for two years and giving me this boost of confidence, I’m just going to work my hardest to help us go further than what we did last year.” His return begs the question what has changed in two years? The answer is plenty on both sides.

Raptors: Returning forward James Johnson buries hatchet with coach Casey | Toronto Star

“It never was bad, we had our bumps, but that’s war,” Johnson said. “It’s a war out there when we’re playing a game and sometimes you say stuff that you regret or you say stuff that you don’t really mean. “Dwane Casey is a great guy and I feel like he realizes that and we’ve moved forward from where we were at. We had a great conversation and I’m just ready to win and I know he is.” Johnson returns to the Raptors following stints in Sacramento and Memphis. The 27-year-old Wyoming native averaged 7.4 and 3.2 assists while with the Grizzlies last season.

Lewenberg: Meet Nogueira, the other Brazilian Raptor | TSN

“It’s contagious, infectious,” coach Dwane Casey said of Nogueira’s personality. “He’s sharp and witty, which is a good thing in this league because it’s such a frustration-filled league and it can get you down and you can’t let it happen as a young kid. You’ve got to learn, bounce back and get ready for the next play.” Asked about his perspective and approach, things that have helped him stand out early in his Raptors tenure, Nogueira credits his upbringing. He grew up in Rio de Janeiro. He was adopted. His family has supported him and has taught him positive values. His siblings are much older, his brother is 38, his sister 40. He’s the youngest, hence the nickname, Bebe. “It started in Brazil,” Nogueira said of the moniker, insisting he has no preference between that and his first name, Lucas. “My family, they called me Bebe. I grew up with Bebe all my life. I don’t care [if you call me that] because everyone says it, my mom says it.”

Toronto Raptors: Summer League Highlights Need Of D-League Franchise

In the upcoming season, Toronto will share the Fort Wayne Mad Ants with 12 NBA teams, but 17 others currently have an exclusive affiliation consisting of either outright ownership of a D-League franchise, or what’s known as a ”hybrid” affiliation, which allows the NBA team to essentially run the basketball operations of its D-League partner without actually owning it. If the Raptors owned a D-League franchise, Ujiri could send Caboclo there in order to gain some valuable playing time while the Brazilian developed under the tutelage of coaches hired by the organization. And for a young player like Caboclo who is both new to the NBA as well as North America, the structured environment would often mirror daily life as a pro and give the rookie an opportunity to slowly wade into the NBA waters. But the concept is far from perfect, and the current rules state that anyone sent down to the D-League would still cost Toronto a roster spot on the team’s two-man inactive list. Also, only players within their first three years of NBA service can be shipped to the D-League without consent from the player and the union, and everyone counts as a hit on the salary cap. While the system has its faults, only a financial commitment from Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, who own the Raptors, stands in the way of a D-League franchise, and it’s no secret that MLSE has the cash to make it happen.

Raptors’ Bruno Caboclo mini meltdown shows how much he cares | Toronto Sun

The Raptors love that Caboclo wants to dominate, to do a bit of everything, but recognize that is not yet possible, so the trick is getting through to him that he needs to be patient. “Today was more about getting back to being a defender and someone that can help us role-wise, instead of trying to be the hero and trying to put it on his shoulders to try to win the game for us,” Mermuys said. “He’s not there yet. We love the fact that he wants to be there and he was trying to be there but he’s not there and so now let’s try to go out and get inside his role to do what he can to help the team.” For head coach Dwane Casey, this is all part of the process, and he would much rather have a player that is committed and is emotionally invested, than the numerous wastes of talent that dot the league. “It is (a good thing) because it shows he cares. He wants to play well, he wants to play better. I told him, ‘this is a marathon, not a sprint,’” Casey said.

OT: Bruno Caboclo | RealGM

My bad if you guys think this should be on the Raptors thread but that’s not my territory and I think theres some discussion that can be had. I went to summer league today to watch the Knicks game and got to catch the Raptors game afterwards. The rookie that they drafted was doing pretty well throughout the game. Around the 3rd quarter he got posterized badly by CJ Fair and then got a tech for pushing another player in frustration. I was sitting close to courtside on the opposite end and after that dunk happened and I was paying attention to him. He walked straight to the bench and asked to be subbed out and I kid you not he was crying like a little boy until the end of the game. Like tears running down his face that he kept wiping off with a towel. You might be able to catch it on the game replay. I think this says alot to GMs that want to draft these 18/19 year old players that have upside. They have all the potential in the world but maybe they just arent emotionally ready to play with the “big boys”. He was doing solid before that moment, but after that it just took him right out of the game.

Send me Raptors-related links: [email protected]

Raptors play Rockets in LVSL Wed at 8:30, date with Wiggins awaits

In the first knock-out round of the Las Vegas Summer League tournament, the 1-2 Toronto Raptors will play the 1-2 Houston Rockets at 8:30 p.m. ET on Wednesday.

Perhaps of more interest to Raptors fans is that a win would send Toronto through to Friday, where an 8:30 p.m. (ET) date with Andrew Wiggins and the Cleveland Cavaliers would await.

Breaking: Drunk Driving Charges Against Jonas Valanciunas Dropped

You might recall that Jonas Valanciunas, on a cold April night, was charged with drunk driving.  The short of it was that he went to a local drive-thru, had empties in the back, which caught the eye of the drive-thru attendant, who informed the cops, who showed up at his house and arrested Valanciunas.  It’s almost like a nursery rhyme if you say it a few times fast.

The “crown” (if you’re American it means the government), has now decided that there’s no hard evidence here to convict Valanciunas and that that lawyer money is best spent elsewhere, perhaps funding a subway line or something.  Young Jonas should consider himself lucky that this has gone away because and hire himself a driver right away. This sort of thing sticks on your record like a dead fly, not that he’ll ever need to apply for a job only to get rejected because of this but still, yeah…something.

He had apologized at the time:

“I apologize to the organization, my teammates, my family and my fans, and regret any negativity this incident has brought upon them.”

To make further amends, he followed it up with a monster performance against Philly (reaction post) after which he had apologized again:

ICYMI: Caboclo Welcomed to Summer League

Give the man a point for contesting; and give him three for standing up to Eric Griffin for getting up in his business after the fact. Him contesting out on the break like that speaks volumes about the type of player he is trying to be. The more I see of him, the more I like him, and the more it’s obvious that he wouldn’t have lasted till 37.

Scouting Report: Say Ayy to Bebe Nogueira

Get to know the Raptors’ newly acquired Brazilian center.

Not much is known about Lucas “Bebe” Nogueira. His one NBA moment came on draft day, when a classic struggle between man’s afro and a Celtics hat gave rise to this glorious photo. It was wonderful.

Beyond that, Nogueria is something of a mystery. Here’s what we know.

Bebe was drafted 16th overall by the Boston Celtics, then traded on draft day to the Hawks. He was then stashed overseas in Estudiantes of the Spanish ACB, where he had played since 2009. He was born in 1992 (like Jonas Valanciunas) and is currently 21 years old.

Last season, Nogueira suffered a bout of tendinitis in his knees, which forced him out of action for a few months. He was permitted to rehab his knees in Atlanta under the watch of the Hawks’ medical staff. He also reportedly pulled his hamstring sometime after returning, and missed three weeks. By all accounts, those issues are now behind him.

We also have Nogueira’s physical measurements. The center stands at 7-feet, and boasts a 7-foot-6 wingspan, of which combine to give him a standing reach of 9-foot-6, which is only six inches short of the hoop. In Eurocamp 2013, Nogueria weighted in at 220 pounds. Oh, and he plays center.

But his age and measurements only tell us so much. It doesn’t shed any light on his abilities as a player. For that, I have perused various scouting reports and watched as much video of him as I could find. Here’s my scouting report on Bebe.

Strengths

In a word, Bebe’s entire game is predicated around his length. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, especially considering his reach and wingspan, but until he develops more tangible skills, he’s primarily a shot-blocker/put-back player.

Rim-protection

  • Key statistic: 3.5 blocks per 36 minutes last season

Bebe’s length translates best to his shot-blocking ability, but length alone doesn’t equate to 3.5 blocks per 36 minutes, not unless your name is JaVale McGee. Bebe has a good sense of timing, and understands how to make his tools work in his favor.

Most impressively, Bebe is good at contesting shots without jumping. Again, that trails back to his 9-foot-6 standing reach, but he’s also disciplined enough to not bite on shot-fakes, perhaps because he doesn’t need to.

For example, take this play from the Raptors’ July 11th VSL game against the Lakers. Nogueira loses the ball, sprints back in transition, and doesn’t try for the flying chasedown block. He stays on his feet for the most part, and uses his length to contain.

Mobility in defending pick-and-rolls

The modern NBA is nothing like the grind-it-down, post-up battles that headlined the late-eighties and early-nineties. Today’s game is played on the perimeter, dictated stylistically by spacing. Every play opens with a pick-and-roll, and it’s paramount for today’s bigs to effectively hedge and recover on defense. Luckily, it’s an area in which Bebe has shown promise.

The clip below, which spans three defensive possessions, gives a snapshot of Bebe’s defensive instincts. On the first, he hedges hard, and forces the ball-handler into having to make a difficult pass to the roll man which results in an easy steal. On the second, Bebe matches his man step for step, and flusters him with his arms. His man eventually trips, and the possession ends in a turnover. On the third, Bebe sags back in coverage instead of hedging, and backpedals, placing himself in optimal position to guard both the ball-handler and the big.

Nogueira possesses two key physical determinants of pick-and-roll defense in length and lateral quickness. He’s not a Serge Ibaka type who relies on power and his leaping abilities to snuff out pick-and-rolls. Rather, he is laterally quick, gets into position and uses his length to contain well (something Ibaka also does, just for the record). With more coaching and experience, there’s no reason why Bebe won’t be effective in deterring the league’s staple play.

Weaknesses

Bebe’s main weakness is quite literally that — he’s really weak. From the eye test alone, Bebe looks bigger in VSL than he did in his time at Estudiantes, but he is still slight. He’s also doesn’t have much of an offensive skillset aside from put-backs and alley-oops. His weaknesses are discussed below.

Lack of Strength

This counts as something of a general flaw. His lack of strength bleeds into most aspects of his game — in rebounding, in post-defense, in rim-runs on offense — everything.

Being slight onto itself isn’t a death sentence. He’s young and it’s entirely possible that he bulks up, especially with the help of an NBA training staff. However, it’s not a promising sign that he’s naturally only filled out to so much. I’m no doctor, but I’m pretty sure there’s an ideal weight range for each person’s frame, especially if said person is aiming to play a grueling 82-game season against a sea of opposing giants.

Rather, it’s the symptoms of being slight that worry me about Bebe. As I discussed on this week’s edition of Raptors Weekly, many skinny players succeed in spite of their size, but it’s often because they don’t shy away from physicality. Take Tayshaun Prince, for example. For most of his career, Prince has weighed less than his shadow, but he managed to be an excellent wing defender in his prime by being physical, meaning he never shied from contact. He knew he was going to get knocked over, but it didn’t stop him from crashing boards or bodying up.

Perhaps it’s just a lack of experience, but I see a similar issue with Bruno Caboclo and Bebe. They’re both gangly youngsters composed of naught more than skin and bone, but more concerning, they don’t seem willing to bang. It’s less of an issue for a wing player like Bruno, but Bebe will face his fair share of post-ups and rim-runs, even as a token back-up center. A bulkier frame and mindset will go a long way.

Skip to 8:04 of the video below. The video by DraftExpress, highlights how Bebe’s lack of strength affects his play. Given his length, Bebe should still be a fine post-defender, but he will concede ground unless he bulks up a bit more.

Rebounding

  • Key statistic: 8.9 rebounds per 36 minutes

This is mostly a product of observation, rather than statistical analysis (8.9 rebounds per 36 minutes is fine), but Nogueria tends to rely on his length to rebound.

The process evidently worked for him in Europe, but the bigs there tend to be less athletic on the whole, and quite frankly, it’s a different environment for rebounding. Almost every European team employs a floor-stretching four, which leaves the bulk of rebounding responsibilities to centers and wings. It’s not necessarily a feat that Bebe was able to grab boards there. That’s what he should have done.

It’s a matter of process over the results. Bebe doesn’t rely on box-outs to grab boards. He spreads his long arms and tries to reach for loose balls before they fall any lower. The analogy here is that he’s more JaVale McGee than Kenneth Faried. The drive to attack the glass just isn’t there. If it’s a battle between him and Reggie Evans for a loose ball, Evans is going to win out. Once again, it tracks back to the physicality issue.

Lack of post-up game

There’s not much to say other than he doesn’t really have one. He seems to prefer setting a ball screen, then rolling to the basket hoping for a lob-pass, rather than moving to the block, and calling for the ball. On the rare chance that he does post-up, he prefers to face-up and rely on his semi-functional jumper. He looks to have a right-handed hook shot, but that’s about it for a post-up game.

Rather than a weakness, I’d preface this point by calling it a limitation instead. Not every big needs to be a complete player like Hakeem or Duncan. If everything pans out for Bebe, he’ll be a bigger version of Amir Johnson, or perhaps Tyson Chandler. Pick-and-roll, mobility and defense will be his calling card.

Obligatory NBA Comparison

Every scouting profile needs a mindless comparison to an existing NBA player, so let’s dub a “Brazillian __________” tag on Bebe. Or, rather, let’s do something more sensible, and peg a target for him to aspire to. Given his length and mobility, I’d personally like Bebe to mimic Tyson Chandler.

Before I go on, I want to reiterate that it’s merely goal for him to become Chandler, who is a one-time Defensive Player of the Year. It’s not an expectation. If he ever reaches Chandler’s level of excellence, I’d be ecstatic. In his prime, Chandler was a dominant defensive presence who was a force in the pick-and-roll. The chances of any player replicating Chandler’s career is slim.

My reasoning is largely rooted in the similarities in their physical profiles, that being skinny centers who are mobile. Chandler has obviously filled out over his 13 years in the league, but he remains lean for a center. Consider a comparison of their measurements:

 comp

The measurements indicate that the physical tools are there, but application is another matter altogether. Chandler is also a vocal leader, something like a defensive quarterback, and a good rebounder. It’s a hopeful thought rooted in physical building blocks and a shared skillset.

In terms of next season, I’m confident that Bebe can be sufficient in his role as back-up center. He should eventually work up to around 15 minutes per game towards season’s end, mostly mopping up spare minutes against opposing benches. I believe he’ll struggle on the glass, so perhaps a bench pairing with Tyler Hansbrough could mask some deficiencies.

Personally, in terms of development, I’m hoping to see signs of improvement in the little facets of the game. Can he function in Dwane Casey’s pick-and-roll defenses? Does he have the sense of timing and awareness to defend at the NBA level? Can he set screens? To that regard, having a mentor like Amir Johnson is a great place to start for Bebe. There’s potential replacement in a 7-foot body laying in wait.

Note: this was written prior to Monday’s shitshow against the Mavericks.

Morning Coffee – Tue, Jul 15

Rough game for Raptors rookie Caboclo | Toronto Sun

Caboclo, quietly fuming previously due to the lopsided score, bolted right to the bench furious and crushed while teammate and fellow Brazilian Lucas Nogueira gave him some words of encouragement. Later, we found out that the communication barrier also might have struck, with Caboclo believing he had been ejected from the game, according to TSN1050. It is hard not to appreciate how much all of this means to Caboclo, the youngest player in the draft, who Toronto selected 20th overall. He is a competitor. But he’ll need to get used to being jammed on, something Nogueira said he would make clear at the team’s hotel. “I have played six years in Spain, signed my first contract when I was 15 years old, so I have a little experience, so I try to explain and show to Bruno because he was in Brazil and he is 18 years old,” Nogueira said. “He is so sad and mad because he is young. In Brazil you don’t have athletic players like C.J. Fair and other guys. In Brazil nobody dunk on him there, because he is big and he’s athletic. So he can’t believe that dunk … I will try to talk to him and say, ‘Bruno, never give up, come on man, NBA is worse than summer league.’ He’s out of luck because he plays on same team as Terrence Ross and DeMar DeRozan. ‘You out of luck, be careful in practice, everyone will dunk on you. It’s normal, it’s the NBA.’”

Flat Effort From Raptors Results In Lopsided Summer League Loss | Raptors Blog

In their second game in as many days, the Raptors came out flat to start and allowed the Nuggets to race out to a 32-15 lead after the opening quarter. With summer league coach Jesse Mermuys going deep into his bench throughout the game, Toronto couldn’t slow Denver’s Gary Harris (game-high 33 points) and Quincy Miller (23 points on 5-for-9 shooting, including 4-for-5 from beyond the arc). After a solid first-day debut, Raptors rookie Bruno Caboclo finished with 11 points, three rebounds, an assist, steal and turnover and six personal fouls. Playing a game-high 29 minutes, Caboclo shot 3-for-10 from the floor and 1-for-6 from beyond the arc. Despite the off-shooting performance, Caboclo continues to intrigue, particularly on the defensive end of the floor where his 7-foot-7 wingspan seems to allow him to cover the entire floor in the blink of an eye. Second round draft pick DeAndre Daniels finished with 12 points on 5-for-10 shooting, looking much more comfortable than the day before. Dwight Buycks also bounced back from a rough outing on Friday to lead the Raptors with 21 points.

NBA Summer League: Mavs Destroy Raptors 88-57 | The Smoking Cuban

The Mavs held the Raptors to a summer league low 57 points. While Dallas played solid defense, this was more an indictment on how terrible Toronto played offensively. Toronto shot 30 percent from the field and that’s after they heated up in the fourth quarter.

Patrick Patterson was eager to stay with Raptors | Toronto Sun

“Toronto was always one of my top choices as far as coming back,” Patterson said. “The fans and organization and the team and the friendships I have with these guys — I didn’t want to leave. I didn’t want to give those up, so there was no real uncertainty or doubt. It was all about coming to the right terms and getting everything situated.” Barring a trade, Patterson will be here for another three years at a total of $18 million. Like anyone with an interest in the game, Patterson has been tracking the coming and goings throughout the league in this off-season of change. But he likes the approach the Raptors are taking. Augment what you have, but, for the most part, stick with what brought you success a year ago. “I look at it like we’re building,” Patterson said. “We have something special here, something positive. We have a great coaching staff, a great organization, great leadership, and great players. We have guys who are hungry and willing to learn and get better every single day. I’m glad that we’re all staying together and with the success we had last year hopefully we can build on that and have an even better year.”

Patterson hopes Raptors can continue winning by keeping band together | The Globe and Mail

“I was happy at the end of the day we were able to come to great terms – more thrilled that everyone’s coming back from last year, pretty much,” Patterson said Monday. “[We] still have that core group of guys that we can build on and have another successful year.” The Raptors’ turnaround began in December when they acquired Patterson, Vasquez, John Salmons and Chuck Hayes from the Sacramento Kings for Rudy Gay, Aaron Gray and Quincy Acy. They went 41-22 the rest of the season, winning the Atlantic Division before losing in seven games to the Brooklyn Nets in the first round of the playoffs. Along the way, Patterson averaged 9.1 points and 5.1 rebounds a game as an integral part of Toronto’s bench. In a statement announcing the deal over the weekend, general manag er Masai Ujiri said the Raptors were “very pleased with what Patrick brought to us both on the court and in the locker-room last season.”

Patrick Patterson Sees The Raptors With More Than 48 Wins | Pro Bball Report

“Hopefully winning more than 48 games, being able to build on that, (having) a different mindset knowing what we are capable of, knowing what this team can do,” Patterson said. “Our resiliency, ability to battle and never give up no matter what the deficit is, no matter what the circumstances are. Our ability to stay together as a unit, as a family, depend upon one another. Build all that together, embrace the new guys and embrace the new situation and just get off to a good start.” Toronto found team chemistry after the Rudy Gay trade in December, a fleeting mysterious ingredient that allows teams to be better than the sum of their parts and it didn’t just happen. The four players that came in from Sacramento parked their egos at the door and wanted to win at all costs and that attitude defined the Raptors for the rest of the season. “We have no egos on this team,” Patterson insisted. “Everyone buys into their role. Everyone wants to do whatever it takes to win. Whether it’s someone who hasn’t been playing and they come into the game off the bench, they provide (something), whether it’s defense, offense, scoring, rebounds. It just seems like everybody knows their role, everyone accepts their role, everybody embraces their role. There are no egos, no problems. We all know what we have to do on the court to get better. It is just a beautiful thing when everyone does that.”

Nogueira Thrilled For New NBA Opportunity With Raptors | Toronto Raptors

While Nogueira and fellow Brazilian Bruno Caboclo didn’t know each other prior to both becoming Raptors the two are now spending plenty of time together as Nogueira has worked to help Caboclo with his English. Nogueira knows what it’s like to join a team and have to deal with a language barrier. “We stay together for breakfast, lunch and dinner every time,” Nogueira said. “Sometimes I try to help him in English, where to position (himself) on the court. He is very talented, has great potential. He has one very good thing, he listens to the coaches and the staff. I think he will be a very good player in the NBA. “He has a great wingspan. It’s hard finding guys like him, same height but have big wingspan. He’s so athletic, so I like when he tries to make dunks and rebound or cut or go to the rim.” Nogueira said the bulk of his English learning came from time spent with his teammates in the locker room over his six seasons playing professionally in Spain.

Raptors: DeRozan gets some recognition for just doing his job well and quietly | Toronto Star

“He is one of the best wing players in the NBA so he belongs in that group,” was how Dwane Casey put it. “It’s a great experience for him to work against the best players in the league in a training camp setting. “Also it’s great for the Raptors organization to be represented in such a unique forum.” That it is. I think the thing that’s impressed me about DeMar since he first arrived in town as a very quiet, very shy teenager is how humble he is, how businesslike, how he doesn’t seem to want to attract too much attention. He does his job, gets better at it every year and lets the results speak for themselves. Sure, he has his moments, I remember a night in Minneapolis last year where he dropped a big Eff You on the Timberwolves bench after making a big shot and he did it once at home, too. But overall? He’s a great, humble kid who just works at his craft and it’s nice to see him recognized and the wrong done him a few months ago corrected.

The Raptors Are Taking The Leap | VICE Sports

The Raptors are without a true superstar, but they’ve accumulated enough young talent on their roster that there’s the possibility one of the core players can make that leap. Valanciunas is one possibility. In just his second season in the league, he put up 14.5 points and 11.3 rebounds per 36 minutes. His instincts on the defensive end are improving, but his offensive game is still a work in progress. Ross had a horrendous debut in the playoffs. But in the regular season, he shot 39.5 percent from three, and has flashed the potential to be an athletic two-way threat on the floor. Most likely, both Valanciunas and Ross become above average players in this league, or at the very least serviceable rotation players. But they could be more than that. There’s time, there’s a chance. Ujiri is smart enough to realize that even though his team surprised everyone last season, the league is such that to truly field a championship roster, you need a superstar. Roster building is a complicated exercise for general managers to navigate, with the salary cap and luxury tax penalties, not to mention any financial restrictions your team’s owners may place on you. You can build an adequate roster that can compete in the Eastern Conference, but if the end goal is the title, history suggests you need to find that superstar.

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Summer League: Raptors Shoot 30%, Commit 30 Turnovers, Lose by 31 to Mavericks

Raptors 57, Mavericks 88 – BoxForum Game Thread

Back in the old country I was once changing the tire on my bike, and one of loose spokes shot out, narrowly missing my eye. I considered myself a lucky man. Until I watched this game, which is what I imagine it would’ve felt like if that spoke was an inch to the left.

The Raptors summer league team has one pressing issue: it does not consist of a point guard that is willing to pass, though it’s possible there isn’t one in Vegas entirely. See, guys like Bruno Caboclo and Bebe Noguiera aren’t, yet anyway, players that can thrive in freelance and 1v1 situations, and need some help setting up. Nobody is quite willing to do that so you’ll undoubtedly come upon possessions, like it happened on Monday, where Caboclo is essentially launching pull-up threes because that’s really all he can do at this point in his young career.  Nine of his ten shots were threes and he ended up going 3-10 for 12 points including seven turnovers, which ranged from offensive fouls to dribbling off of his foot.

We saw him try to drive, in both directions surprisingly, and the results were far from impressive. He has the strides to get past his defender (which was Ivan Johnson at times) and runs into trouble quickly when he has a decision to make. He probably could’ve used his length and elevation to get a few high-percentage shots off on the drive, but whether that thought even crossed his young mind as an option is unknown. What’s undeniable is his length – he’s easily the lankiest and longest guy on the floor, sometimes comically. When he does learn to put that length to use, say playing a passing angle or two, getting in a proper defensive stance and, you know, actually defending, things will turn for him. For now, he’s getting his feet wet much like a kid entering a chilly swimming pool. Until this guy just pushed him in.

Caboclo drifted on the perimeter for most of the game and rarely cut inside, perhaps knowing that none of the point guards have the requisite skill to make a decent pass. If you happened to chance upon watching this game, all you saw on display was Caboclo three-point shooting – a relatively quick release that is unblockable on account of his height. The slashing aspect of his game was missing, and at one point I just wanted him to go one-on-one against whoever was guarding him but he’s too new/shy to do that just yet.  He’s an athlete who’s learning to play basketball.  Fact.

Poor Bebe Nogueira, ain’t nobody passing him the ball and to be fair, rightfully so. He made honest cuts to the basket, set good screens from which he slipped using good form, but never even caught a whiff of the ball despite cutting out a Marouane Fellaini-type figure on the court. He’s got the length, he’s got the size, he’s got the movement, unfortunately for him the application on offense was missing because he needs to be fed to score. Much like Caboclo, he was missing on defense and looked a little bored from the outset. The one time he got the ball in the post he tried a well-intentioned dream-shake which ended up looking like he was twerking the defender. Another time he caught the ball as part of a broken play and stared at it like it was some sort of rare metal. There was a also a third time where he hilariously threw it out.

Marouane-Fellaini-of-Ever-001

It was not the best of games from Nogueira as reflected in his barren box (1-4 FG, 2 pts, 3 reb in 21 min). He did continue to show good movement, and any observer would surmise that he’s worthy of a few minutes here and there, if for no reason other than because of his constant motion and willingness to come out and help up top.

As we trudged through this foul-ridden affair (which is the last thing you want a summer league game to be), it dawned on me that the most impressive Raptor was possibly DeAndre Daniels. He’s got a slow release from three which I doubt would come off as-is in a real game, but here he got a few shots off and nailed a couple. Defensively, he was the most active of the players you’re interested in and displayed good footwork in 1v1 situations, and was also the only Raptor who tried to play some team defense – i.e., passing lane, help, etc. The issue I see with him making the roster this year is that there’s no one skill or ability that he particularly shines at and a year or two in the D-League or Europe might develop a marketable skill or two. Certainly, sitting on the end of an NBA bench is probably the worst thing for his hopeful NBA career.

I spent a lot of time shaking my head at Canadian Myck Kabongo, who has managed to combine the erraticness of T.J Ford with the indecision of Joey Graham, whilst possessing the instincts of a bowling ball.  None of the point guards showed anything worth of a comment here, and my expectations weren’t even that high. Forget ball movement or a functional offense, I realize that’s too much to ask of a band of scallywags, all I ask for is a proper entry-pass and maybe a bounce-pass that didn’t look like a hard-hit shot to second base. Forget organizing a set, just get to the frontcourt without the whole offense looking pear-shaped. Tsk, tsk for Robson and Shurna whose first priority is to shoot on sight of rim.  Note that Dwight Buycks didn’t play, not that it would’ve mattered.

The guy that I did enjoy was Hassan Whiteside (nice play here).  I’m going to go ahead and say this guy will get an invite to training camp on account of being 7-foot tall and weighing in a legitimate 260lbs.  He played hard while playing like he’s 260lbs, ran the floor, and moved his feet well on defense for a guy his size. He was recently released from the Lebanese Basketball League  which is about as low as you could get.  I imagine he’s worth an invite just so you have a big body in practice to bang against.  If we didn’t have power forwards coming out of the wazoo, I’d also say take a chance on former-Hawk Ivan Johnson.

As for the game, the Mavericks have some vets on the roster and the Raptors are pretty green.  This was never a contest with the Mavericks’ physical presence overwhelming the Raptors inside, and their defensive pressure killing us outside.   The Raptors had 30 turnovers in this game, compared to the Mavs’ 19, making for some rather ugly basketball.  The Raptors also shot 30% which, once you apply the summer league exchange rate, is like shooting 18%.

Good riddance to the game – the guys got a good run in, no one looked particularly impressive, and the best thing to happen here is that Caboclo and Bebe got a little more exposure to North American basketball. The usual applies to both: put some weight on, gain some strength, become more coordinated and learn to use their physical advantage to gain a basketball one. Guys like Solomon Alabi never made it, guys like JaVale McGee did. Let’s see what happens.

What’s Next For The Raptors?

With all the free agents re-signed (and one added) the Raptors’ roster looks to be pretty much set. They will have fourteen of fifteen roster spots accounted for (after waiving Dwight Buycks, which they are expected to do before his contract becomes guaranteed on July 20th, and officially signing James Johnson), and are right up to the luxury tax threshold.

Ujiri has been able to re-sign Kyle Lowry, Patrick Patterson and Greivis Vasquez to respectable deals, considering the market, but the only addition to the roster, outside of the draft, was James Johnson, who is on his second tour of duty with the Raptors.

[Also Listen: Raptors Weekly Podcast, July 14 – Stonewalling and Summer League]

While they only have a few players that are dramatically overpaid (Landry Fields, Chuck Hayes and Lou Williams, depending on how much he regains his pre-injury form), and none of them have offensively bad contracts, they are also slowly running out of low-priced assets. Only Jonas Valanciunas and Terrence Ross are on rookie contracts1. The fewer lower priced assets, the more difficult it is to make trades to upgrade the roster.

1. At this point, neither Bruno Caboclo or Bebe Nogueira can be considered assets, since it may be a while before either are able to even contribute to the team.

Some fans were expecting (or hoping for) the Raptors to use the full MLE (approximately $5.3 million) or one of the other exceptions the team still has on an impact veteran, but that would have taken the team above the luxury tax threshold. And while fans may feel whether or not ownership is willing to pay luxury tax as an indication of just how committed ownership is to winning, the problem with going over the threshold too early in the process is that it limits the team’s ability to improve.

Brooklyn went beyond the tax threshold like they were a contender, but they weren’t, and their ability to improve the roster is now so limited that they’ll likely not be able to improve much until 2016, when Joe Johnson’s offensively large salary will come off the books.

Even Miami’s roster languished after a couple of years over the threshold until they started having to take chances on gambles like Michael Beasley and Greg Oden because they didn’t have the means to compete for impact free agents and were restricted in trades possibilities.

Right now, the Raptors are a good team. They have talent and depth. And with the East as weak as it is, there are many who feel that now is the time for the Raptors to try and take advantage and make a run.

While the Raptors are a good team, in the East they are still behind Cleveland, Chicago (with a healthy Rose) and Indiana (it’s far too early to pronounce them dead). Washington could leapfrog the Raptors with the signing of Paul Pierce and Charlotte should also take another step forward. Brooklyn2 and Miami3 also might not be quite done yet, although the buzzards are circling. Ujiri doesn’t have a good enough roster to rest on his laurels and expect this roster to grow into an elite team. There simply isn’t enough high-level talent there.

2. If Billy King is still GM of the Nets by this time next year, then it’s proof he’s some sort of wizard. The thought of King having incriminating evidence only works until you realize that Russian owner Mikhail Prokhorov would simply have King “disappear” rather than keep him on. The Nets are in real danger of not making the playoffs next year and Atlanta has the right to swap picks in next year’s draft. They’ve got few tradable assets with any real value and won’t be under the cap again until 2016. The two teams that might be in the absolute worst position right now both reside in New York.

3. Pat Riley may have been able to keep Miami a playoff team (maybe) by all the new signings and bringing back Chris Bosh and, possibly, Dwyane Wade, but does anyone see a long term plan here? Is the idea to wait two more years and then try and sign Kevin Durant? And how long before Chris Bosh’s new contract becomes and albatross around the neck of the franchise? Two years? A month? I understand wanting to show him loyalty, but at what cost? Literally?

And the NBA isn’t a fifteen team league residing east of the Mississippi. It’s made up of thirty teams, and any team that hopes to contend needs to be measuring itself against the better teams in the West.

GOOD IS THE ENEMY OF GREAT

While the Spurs showed the advantages of roster stability, it’s much easier to keep a roster stable when you’ve got three Hall of Fame players on the roster and are title contenders every year. No one should want to go back to Bryan Colangelo’s free-wheeling days with the Raptors, but that doesn’t mean you have to stick with a roster that simply isn’t at an elite level.

When you’re playing poker, you don’t stick with a pair of sixes when you know that other players have better hands.

Ujiri will have to upgrade the roster at some point if he truly wants the team to compete for a title and not just be competitive.

There are various ways for him to do it:

THE DRAFT

Obviously the team can improve through the draft, but this year’s has passed and it’s unlikely the Raptors will be drafting in the lottery for a while, unless Ujiri decides to blow things up, which is doubtful. Caboclo has some potential, and the more I see him the more I like the pick, but you’re far, far more likely to find a role player in the latter half of the draft than a star.

INTERNAL DEVELOPMENT

The Raptors have one of the youngest rosters in the league, with Lowry being the oldest starter and he just turned 28 in March. Valanciunas is barely 22 years old with Ross not being much older, and DeRozan is a year older than him. And that doesn’t even include Bruno Caboclo, who won’t even turn 19 until September.

DeRozan is just 24, but he’s been in the league five years already, and while he’ll likely improve due to his work ethic, most guards tend to start peaking after their fifth year.

Ross may have announced himself to the league when he went for 51 points, but he simply doesn’t have the tools to be much more than a very good role player. And while Ross could end up being an excellent “three-and-D” wing player and a valuable contributor, it’s difficult to see him being anything more than that.

Valanciunas is the player with the highest ceiling, but after two seasons expectations for him have started to become a little clearer. He’s got the potential to be a good offensive and defensive player, but he simply hasn’t exhibited a feel for the game, on either end, to expect him becoming an elite scorer or defensive player.

Of course, this is why Ujiri took a flier on Caboclo in the draft. A team in need of internal development needs to raise the ceiling as much as possible, but he’s way too young and raw to even start thinking about what his future might be like.

The rest of the team, while young, is pretty much what they are. Lowry had a career year, but is 28 and is in his prime right now. Amir may be extending his range on his jumpshot, but he’s pretty much the same player he was when he first became a Raptors, except he’s fouling less.

The Raptors can become a better team without adding outside talent, but they’ll need more than internal development before they can think of becoming one of the elite teams.

FREE AGENCY

Bryan Colangelo may have been the master of the trade (or at least that was his reputation), but it was free agency that he always seemed to think would be what would turn the Raptors into contenders. When he first took over the team, he added Anthony Parker and Jorge Garbajosa as lynchpins for the team’s return to the playoffs.

And when they needed another infusion of talent, Colangelo did everything he could in order to have the cap space to sign Hedo Turkoglu.

Needless to say, free agency has been a mixed bag for the Raptors during their NBA tenure. When Turkoglu remains the team’s biggest free agent acquisition, that says a lot about the team’s ability to sign free agents. This isn’t a Toronto problem, though. One just has to look around the league today to see the danger of trying to build through free agency.

Houston struck out with just about everyone, from Carmelo to Bosh and now have settled on bringing Trevor Ariza back for another go around, which is only slightly better than the Nets, when they were still in New Jersey, striking out on LeBron, Bosh, Amare and Boozer and overpaying Travis Outlaw, only to amnesty him a couple of years later. It’s arguable whether or not they have even improved their roster after letting Jeremy Lin go to clear cap room and then deciding not to match Chandler Parsons offer sheet by Dallas.

Charlotte went all in on Gordon Hayward, giving him a max offer-sheet only to see Utah re-sign him, and I’m not sure which team is better off because of it. The Hornets then turned to Marvin Williams, paying him the same as Amir Johnson will be making this season which is probably not the best use of cap space.

Chicago looked like the favourite for Carmelo, and then had thoughts about going after Wade and ended up settling on an aging Pau Gasol and hope his recent decline will be halted (or at least slowed) by playing on a winning team again.

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I know a lot of Raptor fans have high hopes for signing Kevin Durant when he will becomes a free agent in 2016, but they’ll be bidding against half the league (at least) including his current team, the Thunder, and his hometown team, the Wizards (who will have plenty of cap room then), as well as, most likely, Miami, New York, the Lakers, Dallas and San Antonio. And that’s only counting the heavy hitters.

One big problem that is rarely discussed with having a free agent as the cornerstone of the franchise is you’re relying on a player who has already shown a willingness to leave a team if the situation is not optimal. Miami rented LeBron James for four years, but when he saw himself surrounded by a roster that he didn’t was feel good enough to continue to compete for a title, he felt no loyalty towards the organization that signed him away from another team.

While Bosh re-signed with the Heat, they had to pay him the max to do it after he had all but decided to sign with Houston if James left.  Expecting to wait on Wiggins is an exercise in extreme patience, considering there’s little reason to believe he will even be a free agent until 2021. That’s simply too far in advance to even contemplate planning for.

What free agency is good for is to fill holes in a roster that already has most of the pieces in place. That’s how San Antonio became the deepest team in the league and how teams like the Clippers and Portland are attempting to get to the next level. Free agency is a good place to find role players, but beware of trying to find stars there.

TRADES

The final way to improve a roster is through trades.

There’s a reason players, especially on non-contenders, are commonly referred to as assets. As I said earlier, the Raptors are a good team but in order to improve the roster and try and build a legitimate contender, Ujiri (or the fans) can’t get too emotionally attached to any player on the roster.

Because the team lacks an elite player, there isn’t a player on the team that should be off limits in a trade. Not DeRozan, Lowry, Ross, Amir or even Valanciunas4.

4. While I don’t think Valanciunas is untouchable, due to his age, potential and the fact he plays such a difficult position to fill with a quality player, he’s the last player on the team I would consider trading and it would have to be for a guaranteed great player.

The way to build through trades is to buy low and sell high. Find undervalued players and trade away players whose value is at it’s highest. Unfortunately, Raptors history is full of doing the complete opposite.

Andrea Bargnani was kept far, far too long until an overpaid three point shooter and a couple of conditional second round picks seemed like a steal for him. Vince Carter was traded a year too late. And the Raptors gave up a second pick in the draft, who went on to win Defensive Player of the Year and is still playing in the league today, for a 36 year old whose best days were behind him, only to trade him away for basically nothing three years later5.

5. You won’t find many Raptor fans who didn’t love the trade for Charles Oakley (as well as a similar one for Antonio Davis), and it did certainly help them in the short term, but Glen Grunwald mortgaged the team’s future and it eventually came back to bite him in the ass. And he tried the same thing in New York only to see it also eventually fail.

While Raptor fans would obviously like to see trades like the Clippers did for Chris Paul, or what Houston did for James Harden, it’s uncommon that elite players come on the market, and it’s even rarer that those players don’t end up choosing their destination.

No one is going to trade for Kevin Love if he doesn’t express and interest in re-signing with them. Before LeBron James went back to Cleveland they weren’t in the running for Love, yet now they’re a favourite.  But that’s not to say trades aren’t a viable option to improve a roster. One just has to look at the Rudy Gay trade to see that.

The goal should be to find players who are undervalued for some reason. Indiana traded away a 31-year old Dale Davis for a 21-year old Jermaine O’Neal who couldn’t get off the bench in Portland. Even Toronto got Kyle Lowry at a discount. It’s always a gamble, and sometimes it doesn’t pay off, but it can pay off huge at times. O’Neal went on to play in six All Star games and appear on three All NBA teams. Davis was a decent veteran presence in Portland, but was nowhere near the player O’Neal became.

Anthony Bennett had one of the worst rookie seasons for a number one pick in NBA history, but surgery and other medical problems caused him to come into training camp overweight and Cleveland handled him extremely poorly, basically destroying any confidence he might have had. We’ve seen in the summer league how an in-shape Bennett could play, and he might be someone that could be had in a trade.

Of course there are other undervalued players out there that the Raptors should be looking at, like Terrence Jones or Perry Jones.

ARMCHAIR GM TIME

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If there was a time for the Raptors to try and trade for Andrew Wiggins it would be right now. Draft picks like Wiggins are available so rarely it would be a crime for them not to go for it.

LeBron James choosing to go back to Cleveland might end up being the most fortunate thing to happen to Toronto. I realize that Cleveland’s new coach, David Blatt, recently stated that Wiggins won’t be traded, but that should be taken with a grain of salt. A trio of James, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving would give any team a run for their money. Wiggins looks like he could be a special player, but Love IS a special player right now, and the Cavaliers won’t have to wait a few years for him to develop. James will turn 30 next season and I’m not sure Dan Gilbert would be comfortable waiting for Wiggins to turn into the player many assume he will.

As for Minnesota, they would definitely take Wiggins back if offered, but from what I gather Flip Saunders isn’t thrilled with the prospect of a) losing more games and waiting two or three more years to make the playoffs and b) gambling that Wiggins will turn into an elite player. While Cleveland doesn’t have an All Star that they would be willing to part with (Irving obviously isn’t going anywhere), Toronto does.

If the Raptors can facilitate a trade, giving up DeRozan, Amir (to Minnesota) and possibly Terrence Ross (and his rookie contract going to Cleveland) and get back Wiggins and either Bennett or Tristan Thompson (with the other going to Minnesota), as well as agree to take back Kevin Martin and possibly another oversized contract from Minnesota to sweeten the deal, the Raptors become a younger team with a higher ceiling. And they are still able to compete for a playoff spot6.

6. And this trade also doesn’t prevent the Raptors from trying to sign Durant in 2016. In fact, Wiggins would be a better fit beside Durant than DeRozan would be, as Wiggins can handle the tough defensive wing assignments, something DeRozan wouldn’t be able to do.

Minnesota can continue to compete for a playoff spot and get back a legitimate All Star in return for Love, and are able to hit the ground running next season with a deeper team.

Cleveland gets Love and a new superstar team, but also Terrence Ross, a young shooter who can play defense on an affordable contract and someone who would compliment James and Irving.

Would trading three-fifths of the starting lineup of a 48 win team for a rookie who hasn’t played a minute in the NBA and a few role players be a major gamble? Sure. But great teams become great through either incredible luck (like San Antonio missing the playoffs three times in 30 years and happen to win the lottery two of those times when David Robinson and Tim Duncan were available) or by taking huge risks (like Jerry West trading a top ten center in his prime for a rookie selected 13th in the draft AND trading away decent players for nothing on the off chance Shaquille ONeal would leave a contender in order to sign with his team), or a combination of both.

Trading away a well-liked and respected All Star in DeRozan, an efficient, athletic big man who loves the city in Amir, and a nice young prospect in Ross, for Wiggins and whoever else they would get would definitely be a risk. But it’s a risk I think the Raptors need to try and take.

Raptors Weekly Podcast, July 14 – Stonewalling and Summer League

Free agency discussion aplenty with summer league fighting it for air time – just prevails in the form of Bruno Caboclo and Bebe Nogueira talk, and we’ll let you figure out who the Keon Clark reference was applied to.  There’s James Johnson’s return, Greivis Vasquez getting paid, Julyan Stonem, Dwight Buycks, and, oh yeah, LeBron talk.  The bullet point summary is below, the glorious audio right underneath it.

Part 1:

  • Greivis Vasquez contract reaction – good deal or overpayment?
  • Kyle Lowry press conference reaction – I proved Toronto can re-sign their free-agents
  • James Johnson signing reaction and affects on chemistry
  • Johnson’s shooting – hot areas on the court
  • Carlos Boozer GIFs
  • Summer League – Bruno Caboclo assessment
  • Can Caboclo realistically contribute next season?

Part 2:

  • Summer League – Bebe Noguiera assessment
  • Bebe Noguiera NBA comparisons
  • Can Noguiera contribute next season?
  • Is Dwight Buycks trying to get fired?
  • Can anyone other than Bebe or Caboclo make it to training camp?
  • Ode to Julyan Stone

Part 3:

  • P.J Tucker and Patrick Patterson
  • Chris Broussard’s confirmation
  • Twitter and the infatuation with spreading misinformation
  • LeBron James re-signs
  • Houston hilarity
  • Paul Pierce to Wizards

Grab the iTunes feed or check us out on Stitcher on Android. There is also the plain old feed. You can also download the file (48:38, 47 MB). Or just listen below:

Morning Coffee – Mon, Jul 14

Toronto Raptors rookie Bruno Caboclo still has much to learn despite showing signs of promise | National Post

“I love that people said he’s two years away from being two years away,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said after the team’s second game, on Saturday. “Those people don’t know anything about basketball if that’s what they think.” In the two games, Caboclo averaged 11.5 points on 8-for-17 shooting, averaging a team-high 28 minutes per game. At summer league, however, the numbers are kind of meaningless; the overall feeling, particularly with a kid who has not sniffed this level of competition at this workload, is more important.

Raptors’ Bruno Caboclo doesn’t lack confidence | Toronto Sun

“He’s not a soft kid. He’s a tough kid,” said Raptors head coach Dwane Casey. “He’s a young man that’s hungry … He’s not going to step in next year and be in the rotation — I hope he is, but I don’t think so. His growth pattern is going to require patience. (But), he has so much to work with from the offensive side and defensive side.” But against fellow rookies — even older ones — Caboclo is already showing he belongs. “This is no surprise for me. We were confident that he could play at this level,” said Resende, who found Caboclo a little over two years ago while representing another player in the same area. “He had a talent. All we had to do was guide him in the right direction to be here. He followed every step of the (two-year) plan.”

Greivis Vasquez excited to make his mark in Toronto | Eh Game – Yahoo Sports Canada

Vasquez, makes no bones about his competency as a go-to guy and while it seems he will continue in the same role as a backup, he looks forward to playing on the first unit alongside Lowry as he did at times last season. “Me and coach Casey got a good relationship, open communication,” Vasquez said. “He can talk to me, he knows what I can do. I am not afraid of minutes. I am a starting point guard. I know at times I am going to play with Kyle. You have to be ready when your name is called.” As for any potential issues regarding an ankle injury that he played through last season, Vasquez is hoping his off-season conditioning will prevent any further problems. “I hired my own trainer, (he is available) to work with me 24/7, our team has probably has the best training staff in the NBA so I am not really afraid of my ankle,” he said. “Even if my ankle has hurt (in the past), I never missed games. I have two years to prove to anyone that I have no health problems.”

Send me any Raptors-related links: [email protected]

Summer League: Raptors 79 Nuggets 110

If you didn’t catch the game, consider yourself lucky. Not only was this a summer league game, the Raptors were outclassed from the tip-off. The commentators talked about everything other than the Raptors, and when they did, they concentrated on Caboclo being taken out of nowhere and how they call him the Brazilian Durant. Overall, I liked what I saw from Caboclo and Daniels, and think that Buycks looks less impressive than he did last summer; he can’t be getting lazy after a year on the Raptors.

 

 

Game Notes

Overall

  • Nogueira doesn’t seem to have the right instincts to be a center in the NBA; he looks like he’s just happy to be here and that things will work out (they might, cause he’s a seven footer, but he needs to give more effort). He’s going to need to at least to appear to work harder while on the floor. I was super disappointed.
  • Buycks needs to do better; yes he’s getting his, and his box looks full, but the guy didn’t distinguish himself against guys trying to make the league, and was badly outplayed (though they weren’t on each other for most of the game) by rookie Gary Harris, who might just be my favourite player in the draft.
  • Speaking of Harris, the guy was making big boy moves, taking good shots, and hitting them. I realize he’s playing against boys, but you want your guys running the floor with the others at summer league which is why I’m disappointed with Buycks.
  • Caboclo looks closer to contributing at a high level in the league than Buycks does; in fact, he didn’t look like he was four years away from anything and will be nice in limited minutes this year. He moves well, is athletic, his length can disrupt passing lanes, his shot isn’t terrible; we’ve seen much worse players in the league who people thought would have staying power (Joey Graham). In the short term, he just needs to put on some weight. In fact, his biggest barrier to success is being labelled the Brazilian Durant…how the hell do you shake that????
  • Daniels was intense, and worked hard the entire game. He looked like he was there to learn, improve, and make the Raptors as soon as possible. Exactly what summer league is about.
  • Reggie Miller is the worst thing that’s happened to broadcasting. Dude is so boring I watched the game on mute.

1st Quarter

  • Bruno late to contest a layup at the rim
  • Buycks with a lazy penetration and kick; turnover…didn’t run back the other way
  • Caboclo hits the corner three
  • Caboclo with a steal, then draws foul on the other end on the break
  • Zero pressure on the perimeter; Denver is popping threes and sticking them at will
  • Bebe does not have a nose for rebounding; that afro is distracting all of us
  • Buycks out of the timeout with a pull up three in motion; looked legit…hopefully not an anomaly
  • Buycks with another lazy layup; gets swatted at the rim after a wide open lane
  • Gary Harris looks nice; playing within himself, owning Buycks, making smart plays #jealous
  • Raptors perimeter defense is ridiculous; at least 6 threes have been put up without much of anything trying to affect them
  • Schurna shoes shoots like my sister; not as accurate
  • Denver finishes the quarter with a three at the buzzer; Caboclo rotated to contest, but was late

2nd Quarter

  • Kabongo already looking better than Buycks and he’s only dribbled the ball three times
  • I change my mind, he’s pretty bad, but doesn’t have the excuse Buycks does
  • #4 on the raptors got man handled off the rebound from the foul shot (he had position) #sigh
  • Bruno had an hour to get position on #15, but failed, and got dinged with the block
  • Raptors give up the rebound on the missed free throw again
  • Caboclo needs to gain 30lbs of muscle to be something in the league
  • Buycks with the open trey in the corner
  • Bruno needs to work on setting pics
  • Another three from Denver
  • Ujiri looks really bored; picking at his fingers (not even tapping away on his phone)
  • Will be surprised if Buycks gets signed this season by someone
  • Plain white t-shirts seem to be the gear of choice of NBA players sitting on the sidelines
  • Gin and tonic time; this game isn’t watchable sober 55-27 Denver
  • My cold, gluten free pizza is much more interesting than this game; I have no idea what is going
  • Thankfully this game is half-done

3rd Quarter

  • Caboclo making his early in the quarter offensive push
  • Buycks doesn’t box out his check (who shot a three), let him grab his own rebound inside the three point line
  • Raptors marking the Nuggets to put the ball on the ground and forcing bad shots
  • 8-2 Raptors run to start the quarter
  • Raptors making a bigger effort on the defensive boards; at least 3 guys collapse and go for the ball while Buycks flashes down the court
  • Caboclo making himself available and getting the ball in nice spots around the rim to make things happen (ally-oop layup on the semi-break)
  • Caboclo gets the ball in the corner, hesitates, puts the ball on the baseline and gets to the rack for the layup +1
  • Caboclo on display this quarter; handles are better than his jumper
  • Nogueira with a one-handed ally-oop layup as the quarter came to a close; that was bloody pretty

 4th Quarter

  • Nuggets open up the game after a couple back-to-back threes on weak Raptors possessions
  • This game has been over for most of the quarter; no one really doing anything of note on the Raptors side

Welcome Back, LeBron James

LeBron James comes back to Cleveland. What does it mean for the Raptors? The same as what it means for any other pseudo-contender in the East such as Washington, Atlanta, Chicago, essentially any team with two half-decent players peppered with above-average role players. In simple terms, the Heat got weaker and the Cavs stronger. The Raptors, along with most other Eastern Conference sides, were somewhere between the two and after yesterday’s transactions (assuming Bosh and Wade re-sign), could either remain where they are, surpass both, or fall below both.

Anyone seeing an advantage here would be thinking that the Raptors surpassed Miami, and that the road to the Eastern Conference title got easier now that there’s one less team above them. That’s naive thinking since Miami will remain a threat which will have more playoff and championship experience than the Raptors, and #WeTheNorth should remember the value of that. Cleveland will take it’s time to gel, as admitted by James himself, so you might bet on the Raptors having an advantage against a Cavalier team that’s still finding itself. However, the Raptors against the James-led Cavaliers, previous to his move to Miami, were a shocking 3-19. My bet is that the Raptors and Cavaliers will remain within three games of each other in an East that will be more bunched up than ever before, except that the bunching will now happen between the 1-5 seeds, rather than the 3-7. With no clear-cut contender in the conference, up-and-coming teams newly blooded by their playoff experiences of last year have to view the Eastern summit more attainable than ever.

Last year the Raptors were 2-1 against the Cavs and 0-4 against the Heat. Assuming we hold our own against the Cavs, we could repeat the 2-1 series win, and you’d think that the Heat will be weakened enough that the Raptors could steal a couple games, so let’s say 2-2. That’s two more wins then last year, taking us to 50! It’s all great news until you realize that most teams will be viewing the situation similarly. The Raptors closing the margin on Miami and having the margins closed by Cleveland indicates a tighter conference race, not the Raptors surging ahead of either by a neck.

Over the long-term, depending on how the Carmelo Anthony situation plays out, it brings even greater parity to the East, a conference where five games separated the 3rd to 7th seeds. Last year an Indiana-Miami Conference Final was a foregone conclusion, whereas currently, the top two seeds are pick ‘em at best. A lot can change between now and the start of the season, but the early returns suggest a higher number of tight games, not just due to Cleveland improving but the likes of Washington, Charlotte, Atlanta rejuvenating themselves. A lack of a dominant team will mean that all three division races will be up for grabs along with the conference title.

The Raptors after having chosen not to tank and having re-loaded this off-season find themselves in a position where they’re primed to poise a threat in an Eastern conference that’s no longer top heavy. This becomes a horse race more than ever: pace yourself and stay with the pack for the bulk of the season, and surge ahead when it counts.

Some thoughts on LeBron James returning. It’s obviously great for Cleveland because you want to see “small market” teams thrive, and this certainly punctuates the point made by a season where three of the final four teams came from smaller cities. Not enough credit is being given to the CBA that the lockout has yielded, with people tending to focus on the rather dubious collusion talk instead of paying testament to the healthy but restrictive rules that are forcing teams and players to make tough decisions.

There’s a sense of justice in the whole affair with a wrong being righted, albeit four years later. James’ decision is very well explained in his open later, and marks a rare occasion where an athletes sense of responsibility to his community has manifested on such a bright stage. Usually, such homesickness is dealt with by hosting a basketball camp, a charity golf tournament, or a countless measure of good-hearted initiatives that keep the player grounded to his roots. James has taken that to a whole new level.  The intense hate he garnered four years ago seems to have dissipated into mild annoyance, primarily due to him being so good that no levels of hate can penetrate or affect him, so why waste the energy? It also helps that far more unpleasant characters such as Dwight Howard have emerged to put ‘The Decision’ into greater context.

From a basketball point of view, his decision carries less pressure. The move to Miami was to avoid leaving a legacy akin to great players who never won a title, players like Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing, Karl Malone, John Stockton, Bernard King, Reggie Miller and so many more. Players who were, by all accounts, great yet failed to get over the hump and win what really matters. Now that that has been sorted out, he can return to Cleveland to his “dream job”. If he fails to win there, he’ll be credited for doing the right thing when he could’ve had more of the same in Miami. If he wins it, he’ll be hailed a rightful hero.

When he was in Cleveland he was pure talent that didn’t know what it took to win, often imploding when resolve was required. In Miami he’s learned those nuances thanks to a big assist from Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh, and most of all the tutelage of Pat Riley. He returns now as a winner who knows what the right pass is, what the body language should be when adversity hits, how to react to teammates when they’re falling short, how to support and be supported, how to approach the 48-minute game as a marathon and not a sprint, when to exert and when to step back. He was the tutor in Miami and now becomes the teacher in Cleveland.

The beauty of this story also revealed some of the ugliness of sports journalism. Fuelled by Twitter, fans’ impatience, and an intense desire to appear as someone in the know, so-called journalists release ambiguous information in the hopes of appearing half-right, and then later revise their stance once more information is known. Click-bait and ads fuel the internet economy and a story like this preys on the eager and bored, enticing them to consume misinformation, conjecture, and speculation. The reveal of the story came via Lee Jenkins (complete back story of how he landed it) of Sports Illustrated, not ESPN, Yahoo, or any of the outlets that fans are glued to, hitting F5 or scrolling down to refresh. The look of shock on Chris Broussard and Brian Windhorst’s face as they spoke on ESPN after priceless. James has chosen a relative unknown to break his story in essay format so that he’d have an “opportunity to explain myself uninterrupted”. It was flawless execution.  You could make a good argument that the only thing better might have been if he had announced, you know, a set time where he would reveal where he’d be going, thus putting the massive speculation and shooting in the dark to relative rest.

The backdrop of next season is being set and the story lines are more intriguing than ever. Other than Philadelphia and Brooklyn, the competition is likely to improve, making this a season where nothing is given. Everything is earned.

Raptors win LVSL opener, Bruno looks much closer than “2 years from 2 years away”

Let’s start here: This was a Summer League game. They matter little, and the Toronto Raptors played against a Los Angeles Lakers team that did not start top pick Julius Randle, instead boasting only Kendall Marshall, Jordan Clarkson (a pre-draft favorite of mine who looked terrific Friday), Rodrigue Beaubois, Kyle Murphy and DeAndre Kane as conceivable NBA players. This was not a strong opponent, and the situation has been systematically designed for young players to work on their games in a risk-free environment.

All of those are reasons to love LVSL from a development perspective, and while it’s necessary to take any performances with cubic meters of salt, it’s also the perfect place for a player like Bruno Caboclo to start his NBA journey.

Caboclo, as you surely know, was the Raptors’ No. 20 selection in this year’s draft, a pick that shocked many considering his limited professional and international experience. “He’s two years away from being two years away,” ESPN analyst Fran Fraschilla famously said on draft night, as the panel labeled O Escolhido as “the Brazilian Kevin Durant.” (A quick aside: some have reached out on Twitter suggesting we try to kill the BKD name. That’s not happening, but it’s part of why I’m pushing O Escolhido so hard. It’s Portugese for The Chosen One and sounds cool as hell.)

The book on Caboclo was that he was all length and athleticism, and that his development into a useful NBA player would take some time. Instead, it took about four minutes.

Okay, so that was just one move, but it’s an impressive one and serves as a nice jumping-off point for Caboclo’s debut evaluation. We’ll get to others shortly, but I think I’m safe in assuming most want to hear about Caboclo first.

He was…impressive. Again, Summer League, and all necessary caveats, but this was decidedly not a player who looked “two years away from being two years away.” Was he the best player on the floor? Of course not. Was he one of the five or six best? Probably, and considering he doesn’t turn 19 for another two months, that’s something to be excited about. Optimism should always be kept in check, and I’m sure we’ll be accused of fuelling the hype train, but I’m being honest when I say this: I walked away from Caboclo’s debut far more intrigued and excited than I entered it.

His clearest path to making an impact is on the defensive end, where his near 7-foot-7 wingspan can be an appreciable tool. That kind of a wing span on a player under 6-foot-10 playing the three or the four jumps out at you as you watch, and it clearly confounded Lakers players on several occasions. His length allows him to make gambles on the defensive end that other players aren’t afforded, specifically when it comes to reaching in as a player drives by – that’s something Caboclo flashed good timing with, and something he can do safely since he can reach in more aggressively than most without leaving his man. It also allowed him to look like a wacky inflatable arm-flailing tube man when guarding someone in a face-up situation, something that maybe won’t be effective against savvier players but can at least disrupt proceedings.

Perhaps most impressively, Caboclo showed solid instincts as a help defender. His length and reach are such that he has major potential as a shot-blocker on the wing, and if he can capably help on drives (and again, his length will let him close back out to his man in the corner with a hand up more effectively than most), those should come. He altered several shots and forced a couple of passes at the rim in a help role. It wasn’t all sunshine and lollipops, however, as Caboclo learned right away that being a good help defender will occasionally mean getting put on a poster.

On the offensive end, the team didn’t ask Caboclo to do a whole lot. The first play of the game saw Caboclo lose his man on a cut, corral a pass and score a layup, a nice icrebreaker for him to be sure. He also hit the above step-back three early on and nailed another late in the game, right after getting crammed on, finishing the game 2-for-2 on triples and 5-of-7 overall for 12 points.

The team didn’t task him with dribbling much – his touches came primarily as a cutter or spotting up – but he did drive once for a layup off-glass. It wasn’t pretty, and Caboclo’s handle is understandably raw, with a high, looping dribble. He also tallied three turnovers, though one was probably the passer’s (I believe Dwight Buycks, but don’t quote me) fault, dishing to Caboclo on a bounce as he cut into traffic. He racked up five fouls in his 24 minutes, too, which is to be expected as he gets a feel for the speed and angles of the NBA game.

Overall, it’s really tough to be anything but excited from this outing. The turnovers, fouls and handle are concerns, but they’re concerns you’d have with most rookies, anyway, and ones that are more than understandable given his experience level. The bigger takeaway here is that Cabcolo can already do some things well – frustrate passing lanes, provide help defense, and shoot the ball. It’s unclear how much he’ll be relied on when the season gets under way and whether more experienced offensive players could take advantage of his inexperience, but we’re so early in the development path here that it’s okay to look mostly at the positives.

This was a really, really good first step.

Think it’s a one-game blip? You can see more video on Caboclo here.

The 2018 NBA Most Valuable Player was not content with his debut, mean-mugging like the boss he has following the game.

Think it’s just Raptor bias? Here’s an encouraging take from outside our echo chamber:



Since we’re already 1,000 words deep just from O Escolhido and nobody actually cares about the flow of the game, we’ll go through the notables, player by player.

Bebe Nogueira
While it wasn’t quite on Caboclo levels, I also walked away impressed with parts of Nogueira’s game. Let’s start with what he has shown he can do already: hit the 18-footer, pass in the pick-and-roll, dive hard enough to draw a defender. He can be an asset in the pick-and-roll already, and as he learns post moves and more intricacies beyond “pass, shoot or dive,” he could be a solid piece on that end. He shot 4-of-4 for 10 points in 20 minutes.

Here’s what he couldn’t do: read the floor very well on offense. He had four turnovers quickly, and I counted at least two that were just poor passing decisions, once trying to thread a needle that wasn’t there and once trying to pass cross-court, LeBron James style, from the block. He’ll (hopefully) learn what he can and can’t do in that regard, but a young big man is almost always going to come with turnover issues.

Now, the enticing part, what he could eventually do: Nogeuira has strong defensive instincts, and at a long 7-feet, there’s obvious potential here on the defensive end. He showed an ability to trap ball-handlers above the 3-point line in the pick-and-roll, and his recoveries into the lane were about as crisp and timely as you’d hope. He was also in the right position to block shots as a help-defender on multiple occasions. The issue, then, is that Nogueira doesn’t seem nearly as confident defensively as he does offensively, which is backwards. Several times he was in the right spot at the right time to make a play, but either kept his arms down or didn’t make a play on the ball, limiting himself to being just a body in the way.

Again, it’s one game, and all caveats apply, but it was evident why Nogueira was the No. 16 pick as a long-term project just one year ago.

DeAndre Daniels
Well, you don’t have to ask Daniels to shoot. That seems to be the only thought crossing his mind at all times on offence. While it didn’t fall much on Friday – he shot 2-of-8, though he hit 2-of-5 threes – and his release is very deliberate, he’s got some stones, at the very least. The odd time he put the ball on the floor, his handle looked better than I remember from U-Conn, and he hit the boards really hard on the defensive end.

I’m still on board with the Euro-stash plan for Daniels for a year to help him refine his game and continue his growth on defense (which is tough to evaluate in this one given the competition).

Dwight Buycks
If he wasn’t already a lock to be waived by July 22 when his contract becomes guaranteed, he tried his darndest on Friday. Buycks does some things well – he’s aggressive, he has a quick first step and a tight handle, and he likes getting to the rim. Unfortunately, he’s already 25 and still has no semblance of what he should and should not do as the initiator of a team’s offense. I don’t think it’s a case of him trying too hard to keep his job, either, because he played like that whenever he got run this past season, too. Overall he shot 4-of-12 in 28 minutes, scoring 14 points and dishing five assists with just two turnovers, but his 12 attempts mostly came at the expense of the team’s offense, and he played matador on defense too often (he was bullied in the post by Marshall and lost his man in transition at least two times).

Scott Machado
Sigh. This is my dude, and he disappointed. 12 minutes with LVSL reserves is a tough evaluation window, but Machado dishes two dimes, missed two shots and somehow managed five turnovers. It wasn’t what I had hoped to see from a guy I’ve liked a lot as a potential PG3 since college.

Myck Kabongo
Kabongo was a DNP-CD, with nothing apparently wrong keeping him out of the lineup. It’s possible the Raptors want to get long looks at Buycks, Kabongo and Machado separately rather than splitting minutes each game. I know some fans want Kabongo, but it’s worth keeping in mind he averaged less than 10 points a game in the D-League last season and didn’t stand out in last year’s Summer League, either.

The Others
Hassan Whiteside – He is enormous, he flashed a bit of range and he’s active, if a bit out of control, on defense. 11 rebounds and a pair of blocks in 17 minutes could get him a longer look later in the tourney.

Marcus Lee – UCLA what’s good! Lee didn’t fill the stat sheet in his 18 minutes but worked hard on defense and looked a better passer than I expected. Still, three points isn’t going to get you a job.

John Shurna – If this dude was Canadian, every reader would be clamoring for him on the team now. He shot 6-of-9 and hit a ridiculous 5-of-8 on threes, good for a team-high 21 points in 24 minutes. Dude can shoot, that’s for sure.

T.J. Bray – 12 points with three triples in 22 minutes. Poor man’s Shurna, move on. (Seriously, these two combined for 33 points with 8-of-11 long-range shooting in 46 minutes!)

Darington Hobson – Like Lee, he didn’t stand out as a positive or a negative.

The Raptors play again tomorrow night at 6 p.m. We’ll have coverage, but it won’t be me. Hopefully it’s someone more efficient with their words.

Summer League Game Thread: Bruno debuts

It’s time. 6 p.m., Raptors and Lakers, LVSL, the Bruno debut. Discuss.

Summer Tweetbag Volume 1: KD in TO, Making the pieces fit, and more

Aside from the usual scuttlebutt and the handful of transactions that dot the landscape every so often (and I hope we’ve got that covered to everyone’s satisfaction here at RR), the dog days of summer can be a difficult time for an NBA writer to find something to, well, write about. Scheduled for a column this morning, I found myself lacking in inspiration for something novel.

So, in the interests of saving you another thousand words of me gushing about the team’s culture change and why Toronto is, in fact, the greatest basketball city on god’s green earth, I did what any self-respecting scribe would do: I passed the buck to the readership, putting out a call on Twitter for what you’d like to see me write about.

Luckily (and to your own credit – you guys are awesome), Twitter came through in spades. There were so many responses, in fact, that I figured it’d be better to simply answer them all, rather than pick one or two. Borne out of that: the first Raptors Republic Tweetbag.

It’s a practice I’ll likely continue through the summer months, so if you have any other burning questions you’d like me to address, hit me up @garretthinchey, ignore that ugly mug of mine on the profile pic (bonus: Blake still hasn’t given up on the Aaron Gray thing. He sent me a Gchat last week congratulating me on signing with the Pistons) and let me know.

Let’s get to the Tweets!

On paper, I’d certainly say it’s a step in the right direction. By all accounts, Johnson is a more than capable defender, and certainly a large enough body to give players like Johnson trouble (he’s listed at 6 foot 9 and just a shade under 250). Johnson isn’t the answer – nobody you’re going to be able to sign for $2.5 million per is – but he’s certainly capable of providing Landry Fields-esque D on bigger wings. The upshot to Fields, obviously, is that Johnson is a semblance of an offensive threat, which means that he’ll actually be able to stay on the court for long stretches of time. If Masai wasn’t going to get a “perfect” veteran option – someone of the Luol Deng/Trevor Ariza variety – then the next best thing is to get a cheap option with upside. Johnson is certainly that. Plus, he’ll team with Tyler Hansbrough to scare the sh*t out of opposing teams if things get nasty.

I think Ujiri is still holding out hope that Terrence Ross will eventually evolve into the wing stopper this team desperately needs, and with the team almost capped-out, it didn’t make sense to break the bank on a major replacement. Short-term, Johnson will certainly improve the team’s defensive capabilities in that area. Their outlook long-term, though, largely depends on Ross’ development (or whatever we can get for him, should he end up not being a part of the team’s plans in the end).

Per NBA.com/stats, In terms of net rating per 100 possessions, the top three five man units for the Raptors last year were:

Vasquez/DeRozan/Ross/Patterson/Valanciunas (13.9)

Lowry/DeRozan/Ross/Patterson/Valanciunas (7.6)

Lowry/DeRozan/Ross/Johnson/Valanciunas (3.3)

Interesting, hey? It’s tough to glean too much information from a simple stat like this – and admittedly, this is the kind of question that deserves a full column (written by someone smarter than me), but there are a few takeaways here. The first one relates to the first question – perhaps Ross isn’t so impotent at defending other teams’ wing options as the hivemind collectedly decided post-playoffs. The second is that this team thrives on floor spacing – simply replacing Johnson with Patterson leads to a dramatic increase in net rating, demonstrating the value of having a pick-and-pop big man that other teams actually have to chase out to the 3-point line.

Finally, though, don’t get too hung up on these numbers. That first unit up there is the one that usually ends up in against the other team’s benches, which is when the Raptors often found themselves stretching leads in the second quarter last season. Unquestionably, the team’s starting five is its most effective five-man unit until proven otherwise – that positive net rating against opposing starters at the beginning of games and in crunch time is far more impressive than the gaudy V/D/R/P/V number you see up there, which has a much smaller sample size.

TL:DR – from a purely analytical standpoint, the team’s top seven in pretty much any order is pretty damn good.

It’s tough to say at this point – don’t forget that this core only had 18 games short of a full season last year. That said, giving the group a chance to gel over a full season will undoubtedly pay dividends. It’s going to be exciting to see if the coaching staff comes up with some new wrinkles in their floor spacing offence – I’m particularly excited to see how Lou Williams fits as another offensive option that should give the Raps a damn exciting three-guard rotation to manoeuvre around DeRozan.

Will we improve? Undoubtedly. However, the East is going to get better, too – Boston and Cleveland will certainly be better, Brooklyn gets Brook Lopez back, Atlanta gets Al Horford back, and Chicago gets Derrick Rose back – and we haven’t even gotten to Carmelo or the big three. Don’t fool yourselves into thinking that a net zero in record this year is a disappointment. Assuming other teams are a bit luckier with injuries, a 48 win season this year is far more impressive than what the Raptors managed last year.

Which one? Bruno? DeAndre Daniels? I think my favourite thing about the Raptors’ draft haul this year (and I’m throwing Bebe in there as well) is that we literally have no idea what to expect. There is no sure thing here, no hole they’re expected to plug. The slate is clean, both in terms of expectations and potential. My advice this year regarding the Brazilians is to strap yourselves in and enjoy the ride – it’s going to be a bumpy one, but you might as well enjoy the scenery while we’re on the way. I mean, who knows what the hell the destination is?

On a practical note, neither of the Brazilians will be expected to contribute immediately based on the way the lineup is shaking out, which should be great for their development, assuming they have the right attitude. Best case, Bruno and Bebe kick ass. Worst case, they need more time to develop, and the team is built to allow that right now, which is great.

Vegas summer league tips off today, too, so keep your eyes peeled for that if you just can’t wait to see these guys on the court (like me). Raptors play today, tomorrow, and Monday, with two more games TBD.

Ooh, that’s a tough one. Fields and Hayes aren’t going to live up to their contracts, no matter how well they play, so any move involving either one of them is going to involve an asset leaving with them – a future pick, or someone like DeAndre Daniels. We had to give up a second-round pick to get rid of Novak’s deal, so use that as your benchmark. With both contracts expiring next year, I’d imagine the chances of this happening are minimal at this point, lest Ujiri have a much larger move lined up (and you never know). Potential landing spots would be teams looking to get to the cap floor like Philly or the Bucks, or teams that have proven themselves willing to take on these contracts in return for future assets, like the Celtics. If this happens, I’d expect it would be closer to the deadline. Again, though, Masai gonna Masai. You never know.

Re: Patterson starting – count me as one of the people who hopes he’ll grow into the role, but Amir Johnson is a chronically underrated player who has tons of value on both ends of the floor. I’d imagine that it won’t be happening this season, but as the five-man numbers from above show, his floor spacing is immensely valuable. He’d do well to try and pick up the little things from Amir if he wanted to eventually usurp his starting spot – though, as Blake pointed out in his column recently, I’d imagine their time will be close to a 50/50 split this season.

I’m interested to see how the Lou/Vasquez pairing will operate this season. Both players are very similar offensively in that they love spot-ups/floaters/operating in the paint generally. It’ll largely depend on how Lou Williams shot comes along as he continues to recover from ACL surgery – though if Vasquez is clearly the better shooting option, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him operating off the ball in this lineup. Remember, though, this isn’t hockey – one of the more exciting things about this team this year is how many different combinations the Raptors can throw together with their guards. Expect to see Vasquez/Lowry, Williams/DeRozan, and even Williams/Lowry against shorter or offensively deficient guard pairings pretty regularly this season, rather than a straight starters/bench swap.

Jonas has been working with Hakeem Olajuwon, gearing up for the World Cup with the Lithuanian National Team, and teaching the Raptors Dance Pak a few moves. Ross has been working out in LA with Amir and DeMar and taking Instagram pictures of dogs on a treadmill.

See my above answer, and the link to Blake’s column (he, admittedly, is a much better resource for this than me). The short answer: as much as they prove they can handle, with no real expectation for either of them to play major minutes until they’ve shown they’re ready. To management’s credit, the team’s depth is solid enough to accommodate that.

Don’t get your hopes up, everyone. Admittedly, it’s two years away, and the prospect is absolutely tantalizing, but until this team proves it’s a true championship contender, landing a player like KD in the prime of his career is a long shot, Vasquez or no Vasquez. That said, the way this team is structured will give them the opportunity to not only be a player in 2016 free agency, but next summer, too –  and when it comes to less major markets like Toronto, being prepared for the possibility is all you can do. I mean, nobody thought Houston would end up with Howard and Harden except for Daryl Morey, and look what happened.

The fact that we’re even having that conversation is damn awesome, though, and all credit to Masai and his management team for putting together a team of young, moveable assets on reasonable deals. Things are good in Raptorland, people. Like Will said, remember to savour the moment.

(Also, who needs him? We’ve already got the Brazilian KD right here, right?)

Report: Raptors Interested in Anthony Morrow

Anthony Morrow, eh? I have a friend who insists he has the most fundamentally sound shot-release in the NBA. We often debate this and I counter with Jamario Moon, mostly because I want to piss him off. Given the earlier report of the Raptors signing James Johnson, it’s hard to see where Morrow would get minutes. I asked RR resident salary cap expert and owner of the most gorgeous beard ever, Blake Murphy, what the Raptors could pay him and he said:

Last year Morrow made $1.03M with the Pelicans, so the Raptors could conceivably afford him. Glancing briefly at the shooting guard depth-chart we have DeMar DeRozan, and then Lou Williams. Hey, what? We only have two shooting guards and one of them really isn’t a shooting guard? Well, looks like we’ve found a slot for Morrow. He also happens to be a ridiculous three-point shooter, shooting a whopping 43% for his career and is coming off a season where shot 45%. That’s right, 45%. That’s like, more than what half the team shoots from two-point range.

So, before we dismiss this rumour as guff, I say this actually might make some sense on a cerebral level, especially if we, by some miracle of God, manage to off-load Landry Fields’ contract (I kid, he’s a nice guy). The Raptors also happen to have a bit of a hole at the backup C where we’re one Valanciunas injury from seeing Chuck Hayes haunt our nightmares on a regular basis, so this observer might suggest that that is more of a concern, as sexy as Morrow’s release may be.

Raptors Update: Salary Cap, Roster and Rotation

The roster is taking a pretty clear shape, with 14 names now more or less locked in. As after all signings, it’s worth taking a look at where the team stands in terms of its roster, rotation and salary cap situation.

All salary data comes via Sham Sports, except in the case of reported deals, where assumptions are stated. Help sorting through exceptions and the like comes via Larry Coon’s CBA FAQ.

Cap Sheet
Because terms are not publicly disclosed, we’re left to make a few assumptions about deals that are worth noting before we get into the numbers.

Assumptions
*Kyle Lowry’s contract is structured 12-12-12-12 (his first year salary could be as low as $11.25M or as high as $14.1M)
*Patrick Patterson’s contract is structured 6-6-6 (his first year salary could be as low as $5.58M or as high as $6.49M)
*Greivis Vasquez’s contract is structured 6.5-6.5 (his first year salary could be as low as $6.265M or as high as $6.755M)
*James Johnson’s contract is structured 2.5-2.5 (his first year salary could be as low as $2.445M or as high as $2.56M)
*Dwight Buycks’ $816,482 salary will be waived before the July 22 guarantee date
*Diante Garrett’s $915,243 salary will be waived before the season
*Bruno Caboclo has been signed at 120 percent of the rookie scale ($1.46M), not 100 percent. The team tweeted he was signed “to rookie scale contract” but that wording is somewhat vague, and teams give players 120 percent almost 100 percent of the time.
*Ditto for Bebe Nogueira, who it sure sounds like is coming over this season.
*DeAndre Daniels is headed to Europe for the season, which sure sounds like Plan A right now.

The Books
Given all of those somewhat safe but not perfect assumptions, here’s what I have the books looking like at present:

Player Cap Type Amount
Kyle Lowry Free Agent Contract $12,000,000
DeMar DeRozan Contract $9,500,000
Amir Johnson Contract $7,000,000
Greivis Vasquez Free Agent Contract $6,500,000
Landry Fields Contract $6,250,000
Patrick Patterson Free Agent Contract $6,000,000
Chuck Hayes Contract $5,958,750
Lou Williams Contract $5,450,000
Jonas Valanciunas Contract $3,678,360
Tyler Hansbrough Contract $3,326,235
Terrence Ross Contract $2,793,960
James Johnson Free Agent Contract $2,500,000
Bruno Caboclo 120% of Rookie Scale $1,458,360
Bebe Nogueira 120% of Rookie Scale $1,762,680
Marcus Camby Buyout $646,609
SUBTOTAL 14-man roster $74,824,954
SALARY CAP ROOM $63,065,000 -$11,759,954
LUXURY TAX ROOM $76,829,000 $2,004,046

Can they still add?
Technically, the Raptors can still add salary despite being over the salary cap. Johnson will eat into a chunk of their mid-level exception since he came in above the bi-annual exception, meaning the Raptors have the following exceptions to use:

Remaining mid-level exception: $2.805M
Bi-annual exception: $2.077M
Trade exceptions: I believe the Raptors have a $1.22M exception from the Andrea Bargnani deal and a $4.58M one from the Rudy Gay deal, the former of which expires today. There may also have been one created in the Steve Novak deal that would be good for one year, thought I can’t confirm for certain.

Will they still add?
Probably not. With just $2M in breathing room beneath the tax, the Raptors have a scary hammer that could fall on them – use the MLE or BAE (aww) to cross the tax line, and an $80.829M “hard cap” is placed on the team until next July, meaning they can’t go a dollar above that amount or acquire players in a sign-and-trade. There’s always the possibility the team is okay crossing the tax line and trying to get beneath it later, but it seems likely the budget has now shrunk to $2M to fill the final roster spot.

What’s the absolute most money they could have beneath the tax?
All those assumptions we made earlier? Let’s flip them – everyone, including the rookies, has signed for the absolute minimum first-year salary given the parameters of their deals. The team also uses the stretch provision on both Landry Fields and Chuck Hayes. That would all clear an additional $10M, leaving the Raptors with still no cap space but $12.77M to add pieces before they hit the tax. They couldn’t just go out and sign someone with that money (they’d still be limited to exceptions and trades) but that’s how much they could theoretically add. This is an insane scenario, and is only included for fun.

The Roster
So here’s how the roster looks at 15:

PG: Kyle Lowry
G: Greivis Vasquez, Lou Williams
Wing: DeMar DeRozan, Terrence Ross, Bruno Caboclo
F: Landry Fields, James Johnson
PF: Patrick Patterson, Amir Johnson, Tyler Hansbrough
C: Jonas Valanciunas, Chuck Hayes, Bebe Nogueira

That’s a weird way of classifying players, I guess, but the Raptors have a handful of versatile pieces who can play multiple positions, meaning looking at things in the standard five-position way doesn’t help all that much. That’s not a bad roster, and even if you don’t agree with some of the dollar amounts on the signings, it’s a slightly deeper one than last year and one that, if the development plans move forward as hoped, will be better, too.

As for the 15th spot, if the team uses it they could really justify using it on any position now. Nogueira has filled the third center spot and Johnson fills the “big wing” need, and even if you want to look at things by traditional position, there’s no obvious hole that needs shoring up. You could convince me another point guard, at the minimum, would be nice Lowry injury insurance, but I wouldn’t call it a need given that Lou Trill can play some one in a pinch (Scott Machado could be the Brazilian Westbrook to Bruno and Bebe’s Brazilian KD and Ibaka).

PG: Lowry, Vasquez
SG: DeRozan, Williams
SF: Ross, Caboclo, Fields, J. Johnson
PF: Patterson, A. Johnson, Hansbrough
C: Valanciunas, Hayes, Nogeuira

The Rotation
Let’s take a look at who may get what kind of minutes given the team’s current construction.

Starters
Lowry – played 36.2 MPG last season, team would probably like that to be a shade below 34. (72 games x 34 MPG = 2,448)
DeRozan – played 38.2 MPG last season and is 4th in the NBA in minutes since 2010-11. This HAS to come down, maybe to the 36 range. (78 games x 36 MPG = 2,808)
Ross – played 26.7 MPG last season, a number that increased late in the year but dropped for the playoffs. 30 a night seems a good progression. (78 games x 30 MPG = 2,340)
A. Johnson – played 28.8 MPG last season but spent most of the year banged up and might be well served by having this scaled back to about 25, where he spent 2010-2012. (75 games x 25 MPG = 1,875)
Valanciunas – played 28.2 MPG last season after 23.9 as a rookie. With his foul rate declining and his game improving, 32 a night seems a realistic goal. (78 games x 32 MPG = 2,496)
Total: 29 games missed, 11,967 minutes

Key Reserves
Vasquez – played 21.5 MPG as a Raptor last season but saw that edge up late in the year and jump to 27.1 for the playoffs. Given how well he and Lowry play together, 25 a night (the bulk of the PG-SG backup minutes) seems right. (75 games x 25 MPG = 1,875)
Patterson – played 23.3 MPG as a Raptor last season but bumped to 28.4 in the playoffs. An even split at the four between he and Amir is a good plan, giving him 24 a night. (72 games x 24 MPG = 1,728)
Total: 17 games missed, 3,603 minutes / 46 games missed, 15,570 minutes

Other Rotation Pieces
Williams – cleans up leftover minutes at both guard spots, averaging about 12.7 minutes. That seems low, but it’s all that’s available so long as Lowry and Vasquez are healthy.
J. Johnson – fills in at both forward spots, averaging about 18 minutes.
Fields – grabs the final minutes at the three, averaging 10 minutes but only getting in a bit over half the games. That would still be more than he played last year.
Bruno – grabs the final minutes at the three and a few at the four. We’re talking Buycks/Stone minutes here though.
Bebe – more or less the same, but at center.
Hansbrough – clean-up time at the four and some undersized five, but I can’t imagine he sniffs the thousand minutes he got last year.
Hayes – fills in those final minutes at the pivot.

What I’m saying is…
These all seem like a bunch of conservative estimates, right? Well, that’s the entire minutes base allocated right there, as shown in this quick and dirty table. The big difference between this and reality is that injuries will happen and we can’t predict who they’ll happen to.

PG PG SG SG SF SF PF PF C C
lowry 2448 derozan 2600 ross 2340 amir 1500 valanciunas 2496
vasquez 975 vasquez 900 derozan 208 pat 1728 amir 375
williams 513 williams 436 jj 842 jj 508 hayes 400
fields 410 hansbrough 150 hansbrough 500
caboclo 136 caboclo 50 bebe 165

The point with that stupid exercise was basically to show that the team is already cutting into minutes for a lot of guys as currently planned, which speaks to the improved depth. It also, however, means decisions of win-now against development, and possibly passing on adding a 15th man.

Again, those are really rough assumptions, they’re not meant to do anything but show the minutes crunch on a roster when you don’t assume more than a handful of short-term injuries.

Press Conference: Raptors Announce Kyle Lowry Signing, Bebe Coming, And More

It’s Zarar here….taking you through this…live stream here - also here via Sportsnet.  Updates are in reverse-chronological order, so…start from the bottom.

11:06 – That’s a wrap.  Thanks for joining RR.  One other news, the Raptors are working on a buyout with Bebe Nogueira who will be joining the Raptors this summer league – it’s around $820K.

11:05: What’s next for him as a leader? Lowry says, “We’re about to hop on a plane, go to Vegas.  Have a dinner tonight.  Talk to the guys”

11:04: ”I didn’t want to be in a position where I was waiting on someone.  You have to be comfortable in your own skin.”  When asked if the interest served as validation of his skill and abilities, says yes.

11:02: Lowry interview – asked whether he even seriously considered other teams – “There were definitely times where it wouldn’t be Toronto.  That’s just the process….there were pros and cons to other places, and there were pros and cons here.  This was the best situation for me.” – There were more positives here.

10:58: Commercial break on Raptors TV.

10:57: “This summer, we brought back the young players and [will continue] to grow…there’s a growth process for us  where we continue to give young players chance to grow”.  Very impressed with all the young players so far and say they’re all “getting better”

10:56: Ujiri was in Vegas. Saw DeRozan and Ross, and they’re putting in a lot of work. Very impressed with that.  Lowry has already put in work this summer and Ujiri is impressed by him already.

10:54: Ujiri: I have to do the work.  You have to put that brand there.  Players don’t like losing situations…we’re going to go through hard times, and there are bumps on the way…we’re going in the right direction.  We got good, young players…most of our guys are coming back…playing here is something players will look at and go ‘that’s cool, it’s cool to play in that city’”

10:52: Ujiri interview here now – “We are blessed to be in this situation.  [Lowry]‘s been blessed.  To make a decision a day after free-agency start says a lot about Lowry and the team, city, and country”  All the questions being asked of Ujiri scream of an inferiority complex.

10:51: Photo-op time. That’s about it.  Individual interviews now. Devlin mentions Lowry’s charges taken for some reason.

10:49: Lowry’s talking about continuity of bringing the same core back.  Gives the Spurs as an example of importance of continuity.

10:47: Lowry: “It doesn’t matter which city you’re in, what country you’re in.  If you win, players will come.”

10:46: Ujiri: Everything was straight-forward.  Couple minutes after speaking Kyle, I get a text from Lowry saying, “Do I need to call any players?”   It was great….I wish I had more money to sign players.

10:45: Lowry: ”The driving factor [for re-signing] was winning.  I knew the money was going to come.”

10:44: Ujiri: “It’s my team’s responsibility to build a brand here where we create a platform for winning. Players want to win and want to be be treated well.  We treat players well. It’s about winning.”

10:43: Ujiri asked about Free Agents snubbing Toronto.  Makes comparison to Chicago etc., says “I’d rather live here”

10:42: “I’m not done.  I got bigger plans.  I’m only 28.  I’ve got plenty of years left in the tank.  This is just the start.”

10:41: Talked to DeRozan every day – says he was a brother and a huge part of coming back here. Talked about the importance of having a brotherhood on the team. It obviously played a big part in him coming back.

10:40: Didn’t think about this a week before free-agency started.  It was easy to come back here.  Masai made it easy.  I didn’t want to wait for anyone else to make a decision.  I was ready for day one.  That’s how easy the process was.

10:38: Is glad that he “I have a city and country that I can call his own – I’m proud to be a Toronto Raptor”.

10:37: “I’ve been thinking about the process for a long time.”   Says the organization is “first class”, gives everyone props and gives the Raptors credit for keeping people “in the loop”.  ”People say Toronto can’t sign their own free-agents.  I just proved that wrong”  Thanks his family and calls the Raptors a “family atmosphere”.

10:34: Lowry speaking now on the podium.  ”This is awesome…The fans who come here today at 10 in the morning the way the season ended..it’s unbelieavable.  Jurassic Park was unbelievable….I personally want to thank you guys for the support you’ve given me the team, and the organization”.

10:32: “This is awesome”, says Ujiiri.   Gives Tim Leiweke and Larry Tannenbaum props for creating an environment where signings like Lowry can happen.  Calls Lowry a “changed man”, a “bulldog”, and someone who can “stand up as a man, one day after free-agency started” and make this decision.  ”It’s the beginning. I know he signed a new contract.  It’s the beginning of something good that will happen to the Toronto Raptors”.

10:31: OK, now Ujiri is introduced and now he’ll speak.

10:30: Ujiri introduced by Devlin….Uh-oh, Devlin screwed up a little, announced him too early..had to announce Kyle Lowry, now he announces Kyle Lowry.  Lowry introduced.

10:27: Matt Devlin is the MC.  He’s bigging up the fans.  Says that NBA found out on Jurassic Park how great the fans are.  People gathered seem a little confused but applaud anyway.  This is gold.  Franchise-record 48 wins and all are brought up.  Devlin reminds us just how long it was since the Raptors made the playoffs, fans gathered don’t want to be reminded of all that…let’s get to the point, here.

10:26: Masai Ujiri and Kyle Lowry walked into the bulding.  Jones is making a wedding analogy with Lowry being the bride, etc. It’s got me all hyped.  Can I be best man?  They’re playing the #WeTheNorth video

10:24 – Paul Jones is talking about the importance of length in an NBA player with Sherman Hamilton. Both are trying to explain the Bruno Caboclo pick in terms that a 5-year old can understand.  Jones says Caboclo comes from a “difficult background” .  I’m assuming he grew up in the Brazilian slums, which by all accounts are not a nice place.  So, good on Caboclo.

Report: James Johnson Returns to Raptors

It’s a 2-year deal and Ryan Wolstat has some details:

Johnson inked a two-year deal, worth about $2.5 million US a season, slightly more than the $2.077 million bi-annual exception, since other teams were sniffing around him. Johnson revived his flagging NBA career with a strong 52 game stretch in Memphis last season.

This is the wing defender that you guys wanted and you got him, and this also marks the end of the Vince Carter return talk.  For what it’s worth, Johnson was half-decent after he was shipped to Sacramento, making some fans even regret letting him go.  Johnson was acquired in 2010-11 as part of a late first-rounder and then shipped out in 2011-12 as part of moves that only Bryan Colangelo ever understood.

A first-round pick (16th) of the Chicago Bulls in 2009, Johnson spent last season with the Grizzlies where he averaged 7.4 points, 3.2 rebounds and 18 minutes in 52 games.

Johnson is best known for having facial expressions like these:

jamesjohnsonface

The Raptors depth at Small Forward is now Terrence Ross, Landry Fields, and James Johnson.   Depending on how you rate Bruno Caboclo, throw him in there as well.  RR Prediction: Fans will be begging for Dwane Casey to play Bruno Caboclo over James Johnson in the name of player development by mid-November.

 UPDATE 11:08 (William)

I hate to be a stickler on this, but Johnson was charged with domestic assault, although the case has was dismissed. Something to consider. The deal is reportedly 2-years, $5 million. It’s unsure as of yet if both years are fully guaranteed.

Summer School

Just over two months ago fans begrudgingly left the Air Canada Centre following a nail-biting last second loss which ended our beloved Toronto Raptors season.

Since then we’ve joyfully watched as Canada’s young talent has begun to forge an identity of their own in the NBA, and keenly kept abreast of GM: Masai Ujiri’s off season actions. The latter producing arguably  the most important free agent retention in franchise history when Kyle Lowry elected to return to Toronto, forgoing what many cited as greener U.S. pastures.

As many of our recent articles have reflected, Ujiri has continued to demonstrate deftness at offloading contracts to create cap space, draft prospects with potential and pick up youth via trades. With news yesterday Greivis Vasquez had joined Kyle Lowry and Patrick Patterson by coming to terms with the club, Ujiri has essentially taken care of all the mandated retention priorities.  Now he’ll work to fill in weaknesses and add depth through free agency or trades. Note: Raptors announced James Johnson will return to the team.

With an eye to the plethora of activity already in the books, the next priority is individual player growth. It’s often said a player learns the game on court, but growth occurs in the off season when players apply that knowledge by focusing on improving the weaknesses in their game.

Without doubt each team member was given a tailored list of homework for the off season to address this objective. Considering the 29 other teams are implementing these same summer practices I pondered where the Raptors could gain an advantage over their competition.

To that end, I decided to look at some playoff teams to create a list of items the Raptors can directly apply or learn from.

Brooklyn Nets:  Let’s face it, this series was about as close as it gets and the Raptors inexperience likely cost them Game 1 and definitely contributed to Jonas Valanciunas’ nerves in Game 7.  Fortunately the core group now has this series under their belt and will build from it. Brooklyn definitely had the upper hand with veteran experience; however it was the play of Joe Johnson which gave the Nets their greatest advantage. In truth players like Johnson, LeBron James and Kevin Durant are oddities in the Association who pose defensive problems for any team.  In my opinion the area the Raptors can learn from specifically in this series is movement.  Too often the Raptors not only stopped moving the ball when Brooklyn blocked lanes, but more importantly the players stopped moving.

Lessons:

  • A good complement of veteran experience goes a long way.
  • Team drills focusing on running routes and using multiple screens
  • Team drill focused on ball movement (note: see Spurs drill below)

 

Charlotte Hornets: While Charlotte had the fifth best 3-point shooting in the playoffs they made the fewest attempts. Ironically, though this squad produced strong defensive efforts they had the fewest rebounds in the playoffs while facing a team who boasted a small front court. Granted, Al Jefferson’s injury played into this deficiency, yet the biggest mistake Charlotte made was not fully optimizing their advantages.

Lessons:

  • Depth is important especially when a key cog gets injured
  • Make the most of your advantages

 

Chicago Bulls:  Without Derrick Rose the Bulls were limited offensively. News Joakim Noah was suffering from an injury the entire post season coupled with their lack of overall offensive weapons explains why they lost. The fact that Chicago still made the past two playoffs and continued to battle while missing stars is a testament to their coach and the teams’ mindset. Assuming Rose returns healthy this season and Chicago lands a free agent or two expect them to contend as one of the Eastern Conference leaders.

Lessons:

  • Commitment to excellence.
  • The Raptors demonstrated last year they won’t ever give up on a game, so emphasis this season is to not let this area of focus slip.

 

Dallas Mavericks: Considering Dallas pushed the eventual NBA champions to a seventh game speaks to their overall quality. Vince Carter performed like a youthful version of himself winning Game 3 with an eerily similar shot to the one he missed as a Raptor in 2001. Areas the Mavericks excelled in were offense and coaching.  Rick Carlisle continues to demonstrate he is the heir apparent to Gregg Popovich which is evident in his game plans, continually getting players to perform above their previous standards and his ability to make quick in-game adjustments.

Lessons:

  • Coaching exercise: review other teams’ tapes to build quick in-game responses and examine options of how other teams resolve issues. The lessons learned from these tapes needs to be applied throughout the season so the young Raptors gain familiarity with the different methods.
  • Toronto needs multiple players who can handle the ball to create their own shots: Team exercise – ball handling drill.

 

Indiana Pacers:  When I was young I remember my Grandfather telling me “You can study perfection, but you can learn more from your mistakes.” Perhaps the Pacers were the best example of this in the post season. While the Raptors benefited from team chemistry, Indiana, who was earmarked as the likely Eastern Conference Champions, completely fell apart as soon as the locker room became dysfunctional.

Lesson:

  • No amount of money or star players can guarantee a championship, but one malcontent can spread like cancer.

 

Miami Heat: I said all year Miami would not three-peat and whether you believe it’s a personal dislike, luck or an educated guess the fact remains they were ousted. Miami had arguably the easiest path to the finals facing a hobbled Bobcat team, a tired veteran Brooklyn team coming off a tough series vs. Toronto and an Indiana team conducting their own oil and vinegar test. Facing the Spurs we experienced déjà-vu as James looked like he was back in Cleveland. More apparent was the disappearance of Bosh’s post game and Dwayne Wade’s inability to provide consistent scoring each game despite his curtailed regular season schedule.

Okay, so you’re asking yourself how exactly this translates to the Raptors; simply put its consistency. There were a number of games this season where Toronto gave up big leads or had to fight back from huge deficits. It was repeatedly pointed out the Raptors needed to provide a consistent 48-minute effort and this series earmarks why. By mastering this skill it allows the bench more playing time which leads to their growth, on court gelling and comfort level while also allowing for the starters to get valuable rest.

Lesson:

  • A 48-minute effort will reap benefits in growth, health and on-court chemistry

 

Oklahoma City Thunder:  Had Serge Ibaka not been injured and out the first two games of the series the Thunder could just as easily be this years champions. Although the Raptors have pinpointed blocking as a specific area requiring improvement, this series demonstrated how much that basic fundamental can affect wins and losses.

Lesson:

  • Specific drill for all players on mastering the mechanics and timing of shot blocking

 

Portland Trailblazers:  Damian Lilliard’s last second game winner and series clincher pointed out a key lesson for all young teams. Although the box score shows 20 personal fouls each, the Rockets were getting the benefit of some questionable calls, especially late in the contest. The worst call came when Lillard grabbed a rebound in the dying seconds of the fourth quarter and the refs whistled him for being out of bounds (replays showed he was clearly in bounds). Terry Stotts was able to calm his troops who buckled down on defense to get the last shot and for me what ranks as the best shot of the playoffs.

Lesson:

  • As much as we all get annoyed by the zebras at times, the only way a young team can break through is to play through adversity via consistency. It’s a given some players and teams have earned their reputations, so until you’ve earned yours the only way to succeed is through maintaining composure and consistent effort.

 

San Antonio Spurs: The NBA is a trendy association, so just like many teams shifted to small ball and looked to feature multiple stars following Miami’s success, expect to see teams attempting to adopt the team ball success of San Antonio this season. Something that stood out for me in the post game championship celebration was Tony Parker discussing a passing drill the Spurs do in practice (the ball must move 12-times before a shot is taken). Given the Raptors success paralleled games where they had high assist totals this would be an excellent exercise for the team. The other specific area Toronto can adapt from the Spurs is their offensive player movement.

Overall this finals and the Champion Spurs produced what should be considered  mandatory viewing for every Raptor;  it was an offensive clinic on fundamental basketball and quite literally a thing of beauty.

Lessons:

  • 12 passes before shot drill
  • Drill stressing player movement
  • Repeated viewing of the series by all coaches and players (learning through osmosis)

 

Tomorrow the Vegas Summer League begins and we’ll get our first opportunity to see the Raptors top draft pick Bruno Caboclo and fellow Brazilian teammate Lucas “Bebe” Nogueira in action.

In addition the tournament will showcase several Canadians making their NBA debuts:

  • Andrew Wiggins and Dwight Powell (Cleveland)
  • Tyler Ennis (Phoenix)
  • Nik Stauskas, Sim Bhullar, Nick Wiggins (Sacramento)
  • Khem Birch (Washington)
  • Myck Kabongo (Toronto)
  • Melvin Ejim (San Antonio)
  • Jordan Bachynski (Charlotte)
  • Brady Heslip (Minnesota)

Enjoy the Vegas action and if you’re suffering from basketball withdrawal remember training camp is less than three months away.

3 reasons why the Greivis Vasquez deal makes sense

My late-night two cents on the matter.

Late Wednesday night, it was reported that the Toronto Raptors and point guard http://www.raptorsrepublic.com/2014/07/10/3-reasons-greivis-vasquez-deal-makes-sense/Greivis Vasquez had agreed upon a 2-year, $13 million deal. From all accounts, it appears both years of will be fully guaranteed.

For critics of the move, resource allocation is the sticking point. Generally speaking, paying $6.5 million to the backup point guard isn’t good asset management, especially when he has a solid incumbent ahead of him in the lineup. With many other weaknesses on the roster, it could be argued that the Raptors’ limited resources should have been allocated elsewhere. With respect to that line of thinking, I really see no argument. It’s a lot of money.

There’s also the perspective that Vasquez’s play, onto itself, is not worth the money. Again, that’s not something I necessarily want to argue against either. While it’s true that Vasquez is a solid player, I doubt his on-court production dictates a lavish figure of $6.5 million. Vasquez posted a career high true-shooting percentage last season, yet his assist numbers dropped (which makes sense given the change in role), which yielded a league-average PER of 14. $6.5 million is a lot to pay for league average production, especially considering Vasquez’ play is likely worse than his PER given his defensive shortcomings.

But I do think this deal made sense for the Raptors. Here are three reasons.

1. He’s great in two-point-guard lineups with Lowry

This should be evident to whomever watched the Raptors’ playoff series against the Brooklyn Nets. With the Nets’ choosing to aggressively blitz pick-and-rolls, Vasquez’ ability to serve as a secondary ball-handler in 2PG lineups was the only counter the Raptors’ had. During the regular season, the two-man combo of Lowry and Vasquez posted a team-best +17.6 points per 100 possessions.

In part, the reason why the pairing works is because Lowry and Vasquez have complementary skills. Vasquez is taller, standing at 6-foot-6, which allows him to more easily thwart blitzing pick-and-roll coverages as he can pass over-top bigger defenders. It also works well because the two are both good ball-handler capable of driving and shooting threes. With the help of an effective screen to start the action, Vasquez or Lowry always have the option of making a point-wing pass to the other to set up one-on-one scenarios off the bounce. Ball-handling and therefore attacking off the dribble was something the Raptors’ lacked. Vasquez fills that need.

2. It’s a player, not a car

There’s a fallacy in the way some fans assess transactions in the NBA. It’s different from any other market.

For example, consider the purchase of a car. For the most part, you look around at various websites, you visit dealerships, you weigh pros and cons and ultimately, you take the best deal on the table. That’s how the marketplace works, where competition leads to an optimal outcome.

The player market isn’t nearly as abstract. It’s different because they’re less interchangeable. Some fundamental aspects are the same, in that you do your due diligence, look up his stats, watch some film, talk to his coaches, and make an informed decision, but for the most part, there’s only one player that really fits each need. Every car can drive you to work. Not every player can fit on your team.

It can be argued that for the price, Vasquez isn’t the best fit. But considering his play last season, especially down the stretch when his health improved, it’s hard to argue that an upgrade could have come elsewhere, especially considering the Raptors were already over the cap. If Vasquez was let go, the money for his replacement would have come out of the exceptions, or via trade, both of which could have cost more. Essentially, the opportunity cost (what the Raptors are giving up) in retaining Vasquez was likely lower than any other option, and so they kept him.

3. Need vs. Luxury

Strictly speaking, the Raptors didn’t need to reinforce a position of strength. With Lou Williams and Kyle Lowry in place, next year’s team didn’t need any help at the point. Williams can handle the ball, and is a decent creator when pressed into duty. He’s a good option for 10 minutes a game at the point, which is really all he needed to provide with Lowry soaking up 32, and a third-string guy taking 6. The Raptors’ didn’t even need more help at the two, as DeMar DeRozan is a minute-sponge, ranking third in total minutes played last season. Plus, Williams can also play the two as well, albeit he’s undersized. There wasn’t a pressing need for Vasquez on the roster.

In that regard, Vasquez is a luxury, but luxuries aren’t bad. Not only does he provide an upgrade at the point and an alternative look with 2PG lineups, Vasquez also provides depth, both in terms of the team’s style of play and as injury insurance.

First, Vasquez gives the team a different look. Lowry and Williams are both great ball-handlers, but they’re undersized. Vasquez counters that dynamic by being big, while being able to handle the ball. Similarly, at the two, DeRozan is bigger, but can’t consistently hit threes and his handles are somewhat limited. Again, Vasquez provides a different look. It gives Casey more options and more counters to throw at opposing defenses.

And second, it’s good to have more depth on the roster as a hedge against injury. Lowry was great last season, but an under-appreciated aspect of achievements was his ability to avoid injury. With his hard-nosed style of play — driving into the paint, creating contact, drawing charges — Lowry is liable to get injured, and if he were ever to go down, the Raptors’ have a contingency plan in Vasquez, who can hold down the fort for stretches at a time.

To recap, the deal wasn’t necessarily good, nor bad. In the abstract, it’s an overpay for Vasquez’s abilities, but he fits a number of needs for the franchise, and serves as insurance. Like most transactions made by Ujiri, there was some good sense behind it.

Morning Coffee – Thu, Jul 10

Raptors re-sign point guard Greivis Vasquez | Toronto Sun

Vasquez got paid well – $13 million U.S. over two seasons, according to Yahoo! Sports – after emerging as a key sparkplug down the stretch last season. Vasquez averaged 9.5 points and 3.7 assists as a Raptor, shooting 38.9% from three, including a stellar 44.8% in 30 games following the all-star break. The Sun reported last Friday that a multi-year deal was close after sources said it was a lucrative offer and both sides were confident, but Vasquez and agent Arn Tellem were not ready to sign until the offer came up a little bit, which it did Wednesday. The short term made the deal palatable for Toronto, since the team should still have considerable cap room the next two summers.

Greivis Vasquez Agrees to a 2-Year, $13 Million Deal With the Raptors | Raptors HQ

It’s likely that Vasquez was looking for a longer deal with the Raps, and the high salary was necessary compensation for the short length of the deal. Vasquez is essentially on a two-year audition, with a ton of incentive to perform well to secure a longer deal post-2016. Financial considerations aside, it’s worth emphasizing that Vasquez played a crucial role in a very successful Raptors season — both from a production stand-point and chemistry-wise. Bringing him back was a priority for the franchise, especially considering his versatility — he can run the point as a back-up and share the floor with Kyle Lowry, playing off the ball. There are also legitimate concerns, considering his history, his size, and how hard he plays, about Lowry’s health. If he goes down for any length of time, having a competent point-guard to steer the ship will be crucial.

Have Toronto Raptors’ Offseason Moves Created Logjam at Point Guard Position? | Bleacher Report

Still, there’s bound to be some concern over whether and how Toronto can effectively and efficiently manage its backcourt minutes—especially with three players who’ve logged their fair share of starter’s minutes. Unless, of course, general manager Masai Ujiri viewed the Vasquez signing as a much needed insurance policy. Looking at Lowry’s injury history, the fear isn’t entirely unfounded: During his eight-year NBA career, the onetime member of the Memphis Grizzlies and Houston Rockets has only twice logged more than 75 games in a single season. And while Lowry’s missed just 17 tilts the last two seasons, the Raptors simply can’t afford to have their best player out for significant stretches, even in a historically woeful Eastern Conference. Vasquez, by contrast, has been the quintessence of stability, missing just 22 games in four seasons, with a good number of those being rookie-year DNPs.

Report: Vasquez reaches agreement with Raptors | Sportsnet.ca

With this deal reportedly being made and the Lowry and Patterson deals having already gotten done, Raptors GM Masai Ujiri appears to have completed the most pressing items his off-season checklist. This move, coupled with rookie Bruno Caboclo’s signing earlier on Wednesday, as well as the trade with Atlanta for Lou Williams and Lucas “Bebe” Nogueira and the reported Steve Novak trade that will clear up some cap space will see the Raptors’ salary for next season at approximately $67.2 million, almost $4 million over the new salary cap, but still $9.6 million under the luxury tax threshold, meaning the team could still conceivably add a piece using the full $5.3 million mid-level exception.

Greivis Vasquez Re-Signs with Raptors: Latest Contract Details and More | Bleacher Report

It’s been rough, but this is one of those years I’ve got to keep grinding and keep working. I’ll be a restricted free agent [this summer] and we’ll see what happens. It’s just the business. At first Sacramento was talking about building a future with me and then all of a sudden I get traded. If I’m going to get traded [again] it’s going to be this year because I am going to be restricted. I am going to have to sign with somebody and find myself a home.

Lewenberg: Raptors bring back Vasquez on eve of free agency | TSN

“It would be heartbreaking if I don’t come back,” Vasquez said in his memorable exit interview the day after Toronto’s postseason elimination. “I’m an emotional guy, so I really embrace, I’m really committed to the team, to the city, to this franchise.” Although a $6.5 million annual salary is on the high end for a backup point guard, the Raptors value Vasquez as more than that and the reasonable two-year term allows them to maintain their flexibility leading up to the summer of 2016. Vasquez has proven himself a capable starter in the league, averaging career-highs of 13.9 points and 9.0 assists while finishing second in Most Improved Player voting with New Orleans in 2012-13. Not only can he co-exist with both newcomer Lou Williams and Lowry in the backcourt, but he serves as insurance if the latter were to miss time with an injury.

Greivis Vasquez Reaches 2-Year Deal with Raptors | Pro Bball Report

“Masai (Ujiri) has known Greivis for a long, long time,” Head Coach Dwane Casey said. “He has known him ever since he was a young kid. He has stones. He is confident. He is a kid you are not afraid to put in any situation because of his confidence. “I love him and that’s the culture you want to develop is having guys like that who want to be here and want to be a part of the community, who want to be a part of a winning organization.”

Dowry For Lowry: Kyle Lowry And The Toronto Rebuild | The Sports Quotient

Lowry’s team improved: the Raptors scored a sizzling 108.8 points per 100 possessions post the Gay trade, a mark that would have ranked fifth in the league behind only the high powered (and high salaried) Spurs, Heat, Rockets, Clippers and Nets. Unsurprisingly, Toronto’s offensive surge led to wins. The club went 7-12 before the trade and 38-22 after it, finishing third in the East, when many thought the Gay trade had signaled an organizational restructuring (AKA tanking). Lowry and the Raptors took Brooklyn to seven games in the first round of the playoffs, a series that included a 36-point hot shot exhibition by KL.

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Breaking: Greivis Vasquez Re-Signs with Raptors – $13M/2yr Deal

That’s the WojBomb, here’s Greivis’ reaction:

This was in the making for some time now with Vasquez himself professing his love for the Raptors time-and-time again, and multiple reports suggesting that the Raptors were close to a deal.

The $6.5M/yr is higher than the mid-level exception (~ $5M) and by comparison, is higher than what fellow backup-guard Shaun Livingston got with Golden State ($5.3M/yr). The deal appears to be a compromise on the part of both parties – Vasquez was likely seeking a longer deal (at least three years) but Ujiri has chosen to pay a slightly higher amount over a shorter period of time. The deal is likely to satisfy Vasquez who gets a good two years to prove his mettle and seek a longer deal at the age of 29. Coincidentally, Vasquez is now set to become a free-agent at the same time as his good friend Kevin Durant in 2016, so read into that what you will.

Much like Patterson, it became clear that the Raptors would have to offer more than the mid-level exception as there a number of teams dangling that offer in front of free-agents, so the amount comes as little surprise. The deal is more than double his qualifying offer of $3.2M, and though I’m quite happy with the re-signing, you have to wonder just what the competition here was since there were no reports (other than a flaky one linking him to the Bucks) that any team was about to sign him to an offersheet. However, you have to give Masai Ujiri the benefit of the doubt and consider this a proactive move before the competition got hot as teams got desperate.

The Raptors are over the cap and depending on how the Lowry, Patterson and Vasquez deals are structured, they’ll still have the mid-level exception available to them. It is unlikely to be the full mid-level of $5M but somewhere north of $4M should still be available to sign one more player. Blake will follow up with this info a bit later.

The signing marks Ujiri executing a clean sweep of his three major free-agents within nine days of free-agency starting, which is highly efficient to say the least. It means that the Raptors can, to a man, bring back the core group of players from last year with some sprinklings in the form of Bruno Caboclo, Bebe Nogueira, Lou Williams and whoever else they’re going to sign with the MLE. The Raptors have kept their chemistry intact and improved their athleticism and bench-scoring without handing out unreasonable contracts. All the players they’ve re-signed are now set to play the prime of their careers in a Raptors jersey, which pales in comparisons to the mass re-signings in the summer of 2001.

Vasquez will resume his duties as the backup point guard, only this time there will be legitimate backcourt help in the form of Lou Williams, who will give Dwane Casey easy opportunities to mix-and-match with Lowry and Vasquez, because of his ability to play both backcourt positions. After being acquired as part of the Rudy Gay trade, Vasquez averaged 9.5 points and 3.7 assists with the Raptors in 2013-14. These numbers were more or less on par with his career. More importantly, he provided an effective contrast to Kyle Lowry, giving defenses a much different look than the bowling-ball style of Lowry.  Vasquez had an excellent playoff run where he increased his production to 10.1 points and 5.1 assists, and was one of the only backcourt players other than Lowry that negotiated the Nets’ pressure defense effectively.

His 6’6″ frame allows him to pass over pressure and be an effective pick ‘n roll player, especially in late shot-clock situations. Vasquez is definitely lacking on the defensive end and happens to be inflicted with slow feet and poor lateral movement, but unlike Jose Calderon which many will draw parallels with, his frame allows him to step back against quicker guards, making him less of a liability.

The continuity that we all feared would not materialize with three major free-agents is now guaranteed. The signing also sends a message to the league that the Raptors can retain key free-agents, not because they’re paying more, but because they have a desirable basketball situation.

Good stuff.

For more analysis of the deal, check out William Lou’s 3 reasons why the signing made sense

PHOTO: Bruno Caboclo officially signs

He’s now richer than 99% of us.

#SomosDoNorte indeed.

Landry Fields: Last Shot for the Man with No Shot

The Raptors have a mid-level available and have two ways to spend that money: sign a backup big or sign a wing defender. Anyone choosing to spend it on a wing is very likely assuming that Landry Fields is a complete write-off in terms of on-court production. I would be inclined to say that that’s a tad bit on the hasty side except that evidence accumulated over the last two years firmly suggests that he’s about as useful as a screen door on a submarine.

Nobody’s quite expecting Landry Fields to start averaging 11 points on 50% of shooting as he did during his rookie season in New York. Upon joining the Raptors he played through injuries which forced him to alter his release, and by the time he got through his elbow and wrist surgeries, his shot-mechanics included a hitch which even he can’t tell is a problem or a desired motion in his release. From a three-point shooting standpoint, he’s a complete disaster. After shooting 39% in his rookie season, he went down to 26% the year after that (‘Melo effect had something to do with that), to 14% in his first season with the Raptors to 0% last year. That’s right – 0%. He missed all five of the threes he took in 30 games. The nil percentage isn’t as telling as the 5 attempts from downtown he attempted, which goes to show just how shot (get it?) his confidence is when it comes to the long ball. From a PER36 minute point of view, he’s gone from attempting 3.1 threes in his rookie year to 0.6 last season. That’s a man who does not want to shoot.  From being a “3-and-D” man, he’s now become a “Maybe-some-D-when-healthy” man.

Despite his offensive failings there is redemption available for Fields, because as a long-armed 6’7″ wing, he’s an able defender who knows how to use his length to, if not disrupt, play the correct angles in one-on-one and team defense situations. His approach towards Joe Johnson in Game 2 in the Nets series was a perfect example of how he can influence a game defensively. He’s also a consistent team defender because he doesn’t gamble and sticks to his cover, which makes Dwane Casey’s aversion to using Fields even more perplexing. Perhaps Casey feels that Fields’ lack of three-point shooting garners such little respect on the offensive end that defenses can play off of him without fear of paying for it, which is an extreme stance but founded in some reality.

Accepting that Fields is a shooting void, there is a grassroots movement that believes that Fields is someone who can play off the ball and punish defenses with his movement. That, I find, is more fantasy than reality. Partially, it has to do with injury because other than wrist and elbow issues, Fields often suffers from back spasms which keep him nailed to the bench, and when he play, hamper his movement where he’s more of an idle bystander than an active participant in the offense.  As a fan, it’s this backdoor-cutting, baseline screening, weak-side moving Fields that we’d like to see – at a bare minimum – on offense. If he’s unable to even do that, then he truly represents Marcus Camby-levels of dead salary.

Masai Ujiri and Dwane Casey have to, I would think, have a view on Fields that is more or less agreeable with this piece, because his lack of playing time (even in situations that warrant skill that he supposedly has) speaks volumes to just how little confidence management has in his abilities. He is on the roster because he remains an immovable contract. For a GM that was able to shift monumentally hideous contracts like Andrea Bargnani and Rudy Gay, it says something when Landry Fields remains on the roster.  On a closer look, though, you could make a case that when it comes to value-for-money, Fields is worse than Bargnani or Gay, which is a feat on its own.

Fields is, depending on where you’re getting a numbers, likely to make $8.5M (Hoopshype) next year as part of the “poison pill” deal that Bryan Colangelo signed him to.  It is very likely that he becomes a John Salmons-type asset at the deadline for a team looking to dump salary.   Even the idea of playing him just to showcase him doesn’t hold water because the likelihood of him impressing a team to the point where his basketball value surpasses his contract value is very low.  Until the deadline, the Raptors have to find some use for him and given the current making of the roster, Casey is forced to play him unless Bruno Caboclo or DeAnde Daniels find their way in front of him.  The former will get a chance, the latter might not make it to training camp.  Assuming his back is functional and that his shot remains a hot mess, this version of Landry Fields can still provide some sort of defense at the expense of offense.   He’s essentially in line to be a slightly worse version of John Salmons on offense, but a slightly improved version of Salmons on defense.

The Raptors can still make use of Fields in a mix-and-match lineup which has enough shooting on the floor.  For example, a lineup of Vasquez/Lowry, Williams/DeRozan, Patterson, Fields and Hayes/Nogueira has enough shooting from three positions on the court, allowing Fields to stay on the court.  He could conceivably play 10-15 minutes in a structure similar to this while being used situationally, and sometimes hilariously like the time Dwane Casey used him for a total of 14 seconds in Game 7 in two stints of 7 seconds each.   This sort of lineup is difficult to sustain if Fields continues to be a void on offense.  Teams will catch on to what the Raptors are doing at which point the importance of Fields’ movement is magnified, and so far he hasn’t shown that he can consistently be the intelligent, off-the-ball player that he’s often drummed up to be.

The good news for Raptors fans is that Fields truly hasn’t been 100% at any point in his Raptors career.  The bad news is that his wrist and elbow injuries might have decimated his shot, and his back injuries might have negated his defensive presence.  The reality is that there’s no motivator in professional sports like the contract year, which is what Fields is coming upon.  You have to hope that when given a chance – and he will get a chance – he’s able to contribute. Whether it be spelling DeRozan defensively against a tough cover, punishing teams for overplaying one of our guards, or out-rebounding his man on account of his length, he needs to do something.

The fear is that he possesses no discernible skill that will allow him to stay on the court, let alone make Dwane Casey think of creative ways to get him into the lineup. The hope is that his teammates do enough on offense allowing Fields to hide and become one of the better wing defenders on the team.  There aren’t many instances of where this happens in the league, as defense-first players like Thabo Sefolosha, Trevor Ariza, Tony Allen etc.,  all have at least one thing they do well on offense.  Fields, unfortunately, hasn’t been able to demonstrate this which makes it very difficult for Dwane Casey to plan for him, reducing him to what we saw last year: a very situational player.

I never begrudged Fields because you can’t blame a man for taking the money handed to him.  I don’t even begrudge him for his tenure here, because he’s been marred by injury and has had his confidence shattered.  Following him on Twitter, he’s a nice enough guy who, by all reports, is a hard worker and consummate professional.  All one can do for Landry Fields is hope he pulls through, stays injury-free, and gets his offensive game going, both for the Raptors sakes and his long-term NBA career.  At 26 years of age, he still has one shot to get it right. Let’s hope he takes it.

Morning Coffee – Wed, Jul 9

Raptors’ Tim Leiweke explains ‘We The North’ mentality | USA Today

We have a marketplace that is booming right in front of us and we have to become that team they all relate to. We have to be that team they want to play for, and we have to be that team they want to follow. That’s the challenge we have right now. We haven’t even scratched the surface. We’re the only team in an entire nation. Think about that for a second. We’re the only true international team in the NBA. For a league that has built itself and has become brilliant because of its international appeal, we are the only international team in the whole league and we’re proud of that. We as a country are beginning to produce meaningful great players within this league. The Vince Carter impact is now being felt based on the influence that man and that team were at getting kids to want to play basketball at the highest level. We have an awakening in a Canada. One of the two fastest growing sports Canada is now basketball. If you add all of that, you have to look at the NBA and the Raptors and says it’s one of the great growth stories in all of professional sports. … The uniqueness of the Raptors is we are our Canada’s team.

2014 NBA Free Agency Rumours: Raptors to Meet With Andray Blatche | Raptors HQ

I get it to a certain extent. Blatche, when properly motivated can be a match-up nightmare due to his size, length, and touch around the hoop. He’s not exactly the rim protector I think the club still needs, but he could probably be had for a very fair price, helping to back up Toronto’s big man spots all the while leaving some precious cash to address wing or guard depth. The Raptors have a slew of versatile players now and Blatche as a basketball player (and I stress this latter part) fits the bill. But man, aren’t there any other options out there?

Andray Blatche to meet with Toronto Raptors on Wednesday – ESPN New York

Report: Raptors to meet with free-agent C Blatche | TSN

Report: Andray Blatche to meet with Raptors in Las Vegas – CBSSports.com

Raptors Waiting Patiently In Free Agency | Pro Bball Report

Both or neither of these players could fill a role on the Raptors next season. It’s really a question of fit at this point. Toronto could use a veteran like a slightly younger and healthier John Salmons to backup Terrence Ross and a taller shot blocking version of Chuck Hayes to fill in behind Jonas Valanciunas at center. However, Ujiri will have to be patient to find what he wants. He’ll only be offering a limited backup role and Ujiri needs to know if the player he brings in will accept it. Ross and Valanciunas are not about to lose their starting positions or minutes next season. It’s not just Toronto that is moving cautiously through the free agent waiting period. The entire process has become the ‘LeBron & Melo Show’ as so many potential transactions hang on where these two stars choose to play next season.

Kyle Lowry Is Worth Every Dollar of His New Deal with the Toronto Raptors | numberFire

He scored more than Deron Williams. He shot as accurately as Damian Lillard. He averaged more assists and fewer turnovers than Kyrie Irving. His 3.02 assist-to-turnover ratio was even better than the likes of noted assist gurus Rajon Rondo (2.97), Steve Nash (2.77), and Ty Lawson (2.72). He grabbed more boards than every NBA point guard not named Michael Carter-Williams. He stole the ball just as many times per game as Mike Conley, the previous year’s leader in total steals and All-Defensive honoree (second team). On the more advanced metric side, he was 8th in the entire league in offensive win shares (8.4), 8th in total win shares (11.7), and 10th in win shares per 48 minutes (.197). He was 10th on our NBA Player Rankings with a nERD score of 10.7.

Send me your Raptors-related links: [email protected]

Report: Andray Blatche Meeting Raptors in Vegas

Andray Blatche is meeting the Toronto Raptors in Vegas. The crude plan concocted by Blatche is rather devious. He plans on making his case for inclusion on the Raptors roster to Masai Ujiri in private. As Ujiri has declined all meeting requests, the stealthy Blatche, RR has learned, will be tailing Ujiri from a distance. When the Raptors GM enters the washroom and uses a urinal, immobilizing himself briefly, Blatche’s plan spurs into motion. Sources have learned that Blatche plans to slide into the urinal next to Ujiri, and negotiate a contract somewhere in the range of four cheeseburgers a month to the full mid-level exception.

Stay tuned to RR for this developing story which makes little sense from a basketball-fit, personnel-fit, personality-fit, or just any kind of fit point of view. Blatche, a decent scorer, remains a lazy player who RR has little interest in having on the roster, especially since we already have Patrick Patterson who does more or less the same thing except without looking like he’s bored to death and entirely uninterested.

Blatche is 27 years old and averaged 11.2 points and 5.3 rebounds in 22 minutes with the Brooklyn Nets last season where he made $1.4M. If nothing else, he would come cheap.

Jonas is Lithuanian dancing machine

Getting creative with the mid-level exception

Shopping at the thrift shop with a $100 bill.

Over the last eight days, our beloved general manager reeled off an impressive, if not extensive series of moves. We here at RR would like to think that we covered every transaction from every angle (we even wrote 2.5 articles on Nando de Colo), but in case you missed it, here’s a list of everything that’s happened over the last week:

The flurry of moves leaves the roster at 12, or 13 if Greivis Vasquez re-signs with the Raptors. That figure assumes that both Brazilian rookies will be signed, and that Dwight Buycks and Dionte Garrett are waived. For more on the state of the roster, and the status of their financial situation, check out Blake’s little run-down.

With the 12/13 players in place, the roster has two holes left to fill — Joe Johnson insurance big wing defender and backup center. Let’s address each position separately.

Backup Center

In my opinion, neither need is particularly pressing, especially the back-up center spot. Not only should Jonas play slightly over 30 minutes a game, there are a number of worthy back-ups in Chuck Hayes (everyone’s new favorite whipping man) and Bebe Nogueria. There should only be around 16 minutes per game to mop up for those two, and don’t forget, Amir Johnson can begrudgingly fill in at center if need be.

Also, the need isn’t exactly pressing. Defense wasn’t really an issue for the Raptors, especially not at the rim. The Raptors boasted the 9th best defense overall, 10th best rebounding rate, and the 11th lowest opponent field goal percentage at the rim. There’s room for improvement, but for the most part, that will fall on the shoulder of Jonas to continue developing. Any upgrades made for the 16 minutes per game he’s out will be marginal.

Nevertheless, here are a few worthwhile candidates (in the Raptors’ price range) to consider:

  • Chris “Birdman” Andersen
  • Emeka Okafor
  • Ekpe Udoh
  • Nazr Mohammed
  • Jason Smith
  • Cole Aldrich

Wing Defender

Many of us are over-reacting to the events that transpired in the playoffs — Joe Johnson posting up, then drawing double-teams single-handedly eliminated the Raptors — but there aren’t that many gigantic wings left in the league. And the few that do exist — the LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony’s of the world — no one can reasonably guard anyway. At least, not to any appreciable extent without some serious cap room to make a run at the Luol Deng’s or Andre Igoudala’s of the world.

Rather, we forget that for the most part, the two-headed small forward tandem of Terrence Ross and John Salmons managed just fine last season, at least on defense.

Consider Celtics forward Jeff Green, who is listed at 6-foot-9, 235 lbs. In the three games after the Rudy Gay trade (he would count as a large wing defender), Green averaged 11.7 points per game against the Raptors, shooting 36 percent from the field (he averaged 16.9 points on 41.2 percent shooting on the season). Or, the case of Pacers forward Paul George, who averaged 16.3 points per game on 37 percent shooting against the Raptors after Gay left. The problem isn’t as bad as it seems. We’re making too much of boogeymen.

And don’t forget the team is still trying to develop it’s players, and it just so happens that their last two first-round draft picks, those being Terrence Ross and Bruno Caboclo, both play on the wing. Bringing in a stop-gap guy directly takes floor-time away from the youngsters. Development is like an iceberg, where most of the work is unseen, skills honed from hours in the gym. But we fans can only track their improvements with their in-game performance. They need time too.

But of course, the argument can be made that a big wing defender is needed in the playoffs, especially if LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Joe Johnson are still in the East when the dust settles on the offseason. If so, here are some names in the Raptors’ price range (affordable using the full mid-level exception)

  • Marvin Williams
  • Vince Carter
  • Wes Johnson
  • Xavier Henry
  • Ivan Johnson
  • P.J. Tucker
  • Al-Farouq Aminu
  • Richard Jefferson
  • Hedo Turkoglu (LOLOLOLOL)
  • John Salmons (LOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOL)

Using the Mid-Level to our advantage

Given that the Raptors should be freely able to use the full mid-level exception ($5.3 million), either need can be adequately filled in the meantime. A number of free-agents have already been inked to the mid-level this offseason, including Spencer Hawes and Josh McRoberts.

Ordinarily, players signed to the mid-level are inked to four-year deals starting at the full base amount, with incremental 4.5 percent raises every year. However, given that the Raptors’ don’t have a pressing need at either position, I think the the team would be best off maintaining as much flexibility as possible.

My solution is this: find a worthwhile player, and sign them to a two-year deal worth $11 million. The first year should be the maximum allowable using the mid-level, and the second year should be partially guaranteed, worth 104.5% of the first year’s salary. Basically, the idea is to recreate the what Orlando did with Ben Gordon, only with a better player.

Obviously there are hurdles to this. First, any player agent should be able to see through the facade and understand that it’s effectively a one-year deal. Many middling free-agents crave security, Second, it would put the Raptors close to the luxury tax, which would handcuff their ability to facilitate trades during the season.

But if executed correctly, there are benefits to consider on both sides.

From the player’s perspective, a big one-year payout could be tempting to a player looking to rehab their value around the league (Al-Farouq Aminu) or for veterans on their last stop before calling it quits (Vince Carter).

For the team, it would allow the team to plug a hole with a short-term stop-gap, while maintaining flexibility going forward. It also gives the team a trade asset next offseason, a la John Salmons. Remember, the price for a one-year cash-dump this season was a first-round pick.

And before you start, this would not work with Trevor Ariza, Chandler Parsons or Luol Deng. All three players will get in excess of $9 million next season.

So what do you think? My pick would be Marvin Williams.

Morning Coffee – Tue, Jul 8

Kyle Lowry Is Worth Every Dollar of His New Deal with the Toronto Raptors | numberFire

He scored more than Deron Williams. He shot as accurately as Damian Lillard. He averaged more assists and fewer turnovers than Kyrie Irving. His 3.02 assist-to-turnover ratio was even better than the likes of noted assist gurus Rajon Rondo (2.97), Steve Nash (2.77), and Ty Lawson (2.72). He grabbed more boards than every NBA point guard not named Michael Carter-Williams. He stole the ball just as many times per game as Mike Conley, the previous year’s leader in total steals and All-Defensive honoree (second team). On the more advanced metric side, he was 8th in the entire league in offensive win shares (8.4), 8th in total win shares (11.7), and 10th in win shares per 48 minutes (.197). He was 10th on our NBA Player Rankings with a nERD score of 10.7.

Raptors took Bruno Caboclo on wingspan and a prayer | Toronto Star

“Length gives you a chance,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey says. “In a lot of ways.” With that in mind, the chance of unheralded Toronto draft pick Bruno Caboclo making a quicker transition from unknown Brazilian teenager to NBA player may be accelerated simply because of the makeup of his body. At six-foot-eight, he’s about average height for an NBA player, so there’s nothing really special about that. But he also has a wingspan that measures about seven-foot-six from fingertip to fingertip, and that is among his most intriguing characteristics. Length can make up for any number of skills that need to be developed and fine-tuned. Long players deflect more passes, protect the rim better, are more able to get off shots that cannot easily be blocked . . . it can be a huge benefit. “With guys who are challenged developing lateral quickness or physical strength length helps, especially defensively,” said Casey. “Bruno will eventually add to our defensive length.”

Bruno Caboclo’s progress – how to turn him from prospect to Raptor – Raptors Rapture

“How are you gonna keep ‘em down on the farm/after they’ve seen Par-ee?” popular post-Great War song, c.1919 – If we want Bruno to bust his hump, the best way is to show him the NBA’s excitement, then give him a few months of long bus rides to places like Bakersfield, CA, Tulsa OK, and Reno NV. Once he’s seen how the other half lives (travel on chartered jets; stay at the best hotels in the hottest cities), then had it taken away, he’s going to do everything he can to return.

Minor Raptors moves as waiting continues and what’s the best free agent ending? | Toronto Star

While I was trying to hammer out this item , the HOTH cut ties with Julyan Stone, lost Nando DeColo to Russia and finalized the IT’S ONLY SUMMER LEAGUE roster. Tiny moves and necessary ones but it underscores that there is still plenty of work for Masai to do before we can determine whether this free agency period has been a success.

Raptors Newest Rookie Prospect Lucas Nogueira | Pro Bball Report

Nicknamed Bebe, Nogueira is from Sao Goncalo, Brazil and has been playing for Asefa Estudiantes in Spain. He joined the Junior team in 2009 before moving up to play in the Spanish ACB league in 2011-12. Typical of how European teams develop young players, Nogueira had to fight for minutes and he only averaged 13.6 minutes and 16.6 minutes over the past two seasons respectively. He did, however, make an impact by blocking shots and finishing at a very high percentage around the rim. Last season he shot over 70 percent from the field and his 1.6 blocks translates to almost 4 blocks per 40 minutes. His ability to be effective in the paint was on full display with the Hawks at the 2013 NBA Summer League where he averaged 6.4 points on 62.5 percent shooting, 6 rebounds, 1.2 steals and 2.4 blocks in 21.8 minutes.

Raptors Free Agency Thoughts

Patrick Patterson another former Rocket found a nice role with the Raptors as their stretch four shooting 41% from 3 point land in 47 games with them. In todays NBA big men that can shoot are a premium especially ones with his athleticism. This contract is interesting because at 3 years and $18 million initally your like wow $6 million a year for a backup power forward but when you think about it down the line this will be a nice trade asset Masai Ujiri can use as part of a trade to land a bigger fish if the opportunity presents itself. In a season and a half this contract may be a hot commodity as Patterson will be a coveted expiring contract along with the fact that he can shoot from three and give teams size inside. I initially thought it was a little much but he’s a guy the Raptors are going to need to help space the floor, provide depth and an asset to use down the road in a trade.

Raptors Waive Julyan Stone

The writing was on the wall. Kyle Lowry re-signing, the acquisition of Lou Williams, the allocation of Dwight Buycks to summer league, and the rumours the Greivis Vasquez would return. There simply isn’t enough room on the roster for a fourth string point-gurad, and so that was that when it came to Julyan Stone.

Stone was owed $948,163 in unguaranteed money, but now that he’s waived he comes off the cap entirely. He was part of the Denver roster where he caught Ujiri’s eye on account of his 6’6″ frame for a PG. The Raptors picked up Stone last training camp and this is likely the longest profile ever done on him.

Woj: De Colo off to Russia to play for CSKA Moscow

Nando De Colo has rejected the Toronto Raptors’ $1.8M qualifying offer and elected to sign a reported two-year, $4.1M deal with CSKA Moscow, according to the Don mega:

 

This was largely expected in some form, if not CSKA than somewhere else, and it was possible the Raptors would have rescinded the offer shortly anyway to clear him off the books. The cap implications of the move are explained in the post linked above, as it was already assumed he was gone.

De Colo joined the Raptors at the trade deadline after being acquired from the San Antonio Spurs for Austin Daye (who now has an NBA Championship ring, which is all kinda of unfair). He appeared in 21 games, averaging 3.1 points, 1.3 rebounds and 1.6 assists in 9.2 minutes. He wasn’t exactly ineffective, but between his inability to know down mid-range jumpers and defend any position, he really didn’t move the needle all that much.

He probably would have caught on somewhere as a third string combo-guard, but it’s unlikely he could have received $4 million guaranteed.

The Frenchman, now 27 years old, will return overseas to play for the Russian powerhouse CSKA Moscow. Before coming over to San Antonio, De Colo spent several seasons with Valencia in Spain and played in the French league prior to that. If you’re really itching to see him again, he’ll be a reserve guard for the French national team at the FIBA World Cup in late August.

Should this be the end of De Colo’s NBA career, he’ll leave having played 119 games, averaging 3.8 points, 1.8 rebounds and 1.7 assists with an 11.8 player efficiency rating. He also appeared in six playoff games, totaling four points, five rebounds and two assists in 18 minutes. Because this franchise is the best, De Colo will leave ranked 140th in minutes as a Raptor with 193. I’m stretching here…this is very, very inconsequential.

Bruno, Kabongo headline Raptors Summer League roster (schedule within)

The Toronto Raptors have announced their roster for the Las Vegas Summer League, and it’s a pretty good one, with several intriguing names listed.

Schedule
The Raptors will be guaranteed four games in Las Vegas, only three of which are currently scheduled. A lot of games from the tournament will be broadcast on NBA TV and the rest can be viewed via a $15 online package. The full tournament schedule can be found here, and the Raptors’ schedule is as follows:

Friday, July 11 - 6 p.m. ET vs. Lakers
Saturday, July 12 – 6 p.m. ET vs. Nuggets
Monday, July 14 – 6 p.m. ET vs. Mavericks
Wednesday, July 16 or Thursday July 17 – Elimination round game
Saturday July 19, Sunday July 20, Monday July 21 – Quarters, semis, finals, if qualified.

Roster
As mentioned, the Raptors roster is quite intriguing. Obviously, the big draw is always the rookies and the team’s own young players, but the “fillers” are interesting this year. Here’s how it breaks down, courtesy of the Raptors Media Relations account and “second time in four days making a difference in someone’s life” Eric Koreen (assistant coach Jesse Mermuys is coaching, by the way):

Raptors Players
Bruno Caboclo
– No. 20 overall pick, 2014. Obviously, we’re all incredibly excited to see what he looks like on the court. It will be equally interesting to see how the Raptors use him, and whether they have a very clear set of tasks they have him working on or if they’re letting his length and athleticism dictate what he does in the flow of the game. All eyes on Bruno.

Bebe Nogueira – No. 16 overall pick, 2013, acquired from Atlanta. Nogueira may have the most to gain in this tournament, as he reportedly wants to come to the NBA this year and the Raptors could use a third center. He’s huge, and incredibly long, averaging a block every 10 minutes in the Spanish ACB league this season. He’s still raw, as you’d expect from a 21-year-old international big, but he has reportedly made appreciable strides since the time he was drafted and it would be great to see him show something at both ends and earn a back-end rotation spot.

DeAndre Daniels – No. 37 overall pick, 2014. While it’s been suggested Daniels could be headed to Europe to further work on his game, showing something here could move him into the plans as a contingency for wing depth if the team strikes out on mid-level free agents. Daniels can shoot the three and has shown potential as a defender, though the latter could be tough to prove in this setting without elite competition.

Dwight Buycks – Roster player, non-guaranteed contract until July 22. He’s almost surely a goner on his guarantee date, but he was a standout in the Summer League last year, and maybe lightning will strike twice and he’ll make the team think twice about risking losing him. Realistically, Buycks is auditioning for the rest of the league here, so expect him to look for his.

Conspicuous by his absence
Julyan Stone is not on the roster, which almost surely means he’ll be waived Monday, after which his contract would become guaranteed. It’s no surprise that Jonas Valanciunas isn’t playing, but I thought they may give Terrence Ross some run here to work on his handle.

Canadian alert!
Myck Kabongo will join the team. The former Texas Longhorn went undrafted last season and did little for the Miami Heat in Summer League or the San Antonio Spurs in the preseason, ultimately playing out the season with the Austin Toros of the D-League (9.2 pts, 3.9 rbs, 4.7 ast, 37.9 3FG%). He’ll probably be given a look as a 15th-man type, and the passport surely helps, but he hasn’t looked an NBA player yet.

Names you may recognize
Scott Machado – A personal favorite, Machado went undrafted in 2012 despite being an assist machine at Iona, eventually signing with Houston and spending most of the year in the D-League. He was later waived and grabbed by Golden State, who even used him in the 2013 playoffs. Last season, he failed to break camp with Utah and instead split the year between the D-League and France. There’s little question he can create for others, but he struggles to score and isn’t a great spot-up shooter.

Hassan Whiteside – The 2010 second-round pick of the Sacramento Kings has 19 NBA games to his credit, but all that really matters for him is that he’s 7-foot. That kind of size is always worth keeping an eye on, but I’m skeptical that his past two years in the Lebanese and Chinese leagues would have helped his development much. He’s still only 25, and he was Finals MVP and Defensive Player of the Year in China in 2013 but, you know, there’s probably a reason he was available, and it starts with him being ineffective in the D-League less than two years ago.

Malcolm Lee – With 35 games of NBA experience, Lee will be one of the more seasoned players on the roster. A 2011 second-round pick of the Bulls, the wing averaged four points, 1.9 rebounds and 1.5 assists with the Timberwolves over 2011-12 and 2012-13. I literally can’t find any info (D-League, EuroBasket, Wikipedia) on what Lee did for the 2013-14 season after being waived by the Wizards, though he attended that huge Nets free agent camp a month back.

Doron Lamb – Lamb was just waived by the Magic after a season in which he played 53 games, averaging 3.6 points and hitting 40 percent of his threes. That last point will be the draw with Lamb, as he shot 48.6 percent from downtown over two seasons at Kentucky and is 50-for-127 (39.4 percent) over 100 NBA games. That’s elite skill is what got him drafted in the second round in 2012, but he’ll need to show he can do literally anything else.

Darington Hobson – 2010 second-round pick by the Bucks who played fives game with them in 2011-12, he averaged 15.4 points, 10.5 rebounds and 3.3 assists in the Israeli league this season, impressive numbers for a wing. He was decent in the D-League the season before, too, but has a but of Dominic McGuire in him in the sense that he can pass and rebound from the wing but can’t score.

Names you probably shouldn’t know
T.J. Bray – Undrafted senior out of Princeton; wing; averaged 18.1 points, 4.8 rebounds and 5.2 assists as a senior while shooting better than 40 percent on threes.
Chris DanielsFormer TNA X-Division champion Former Texas A&M player who has spent the past few summers in Vegas; 7-foot center; played in the Lebanese league last season.
Sam Dower – Undrafted senior our of Gonzaga; undersized center; averaged 14.2 points and 7.2 rebounds in 271. minutes as a senior.
Eli Holman – 6-foot-9 center currently playing for the Heat in Orlando Summer League; was undrafted as a senior out of Detroit in 2012; averaged 13.5 points and 9.4 rebounds in Turkey this season.
John Shurna – Undrafted out of Northwestern in 2012 despite leading the Big Ten in scoring; forward; averaged 11.7 points and shot 37.9 percent on threes in the ACB this year.

What Does It All Mean?
Well, nothing really. Life doesn’t mean anything.

In reality, though, the Raptors don’t have a lot of room to be auditioning players for roster spots. If we assume Bruno and Bebe crack the roster and Greivis Vasquez is retained – that’s thought to be coming soon – then there are only two roster spots left. One of those would surely be ear-marked for the mid-level exception (and probably/hopefully a wing with size), and while the team could easily have room left beneath the tax to sign a 15th player, doesn’t it seem more likely it would be used on a veteran rather than a third young player to develop along with #BrunoAndBebe?

Looking at the roster, though, the Raptors are clearly evaluating three areas: a third point guard (Buycks, Kabongo and Machado) on the cheap, a third center (Nogueira, Whiteside, The Fallen Angel), and shooting (Daniels, Lamb). I’m not sure there’s a need for another guard if Vasquez is retained or the need for another center if Nogueira cracks the team, but it’s good to have options and evaluate these kind of players (plus, you know, you have to roster a whole team), especially if the team doesn’t think it needs a 13th ready-to-contribute veteran body with that final roster spot.

Raptors Weekly Podcast, July 7 – Dominating Free Agency

Flying high are we all, we being Andrew, Will and yours truly on a Raptors Weekly that celebrates Kyle Lowry’s re-signing and mourns Nando De Colo’s imminent departure. In between all that is the Bachelor, Andrew’s Alan Anderson moment, Greivis Vaquez and fond farewells to John Salmons and Steve Novak, and tons more.

Part 1:

  • Kyle Lowry signing reaction
  • Beating out the competition – teams in play
  • What it means for this franchise
  • Ujiri’s performance
  • Fair deal or overpayment?
  • Will he repeat his performance from this ‘contract year’?

Part 2:

  • Patrick Patterson signing – 3yr/18M  - fair deal for a guy who has played half a season?
  • Comparisons with other signings
  • Tyler Hansbrough option, PF work done?
  • John Salmons trade – something out of nothing
  • Bebe – chance at playing time and summer league
  • Favourite John Salmons moment

Part 3:

  • Vasquez rumours – interest from Milwaukee
  • Lou Williams – what this means for Vasquez, if anything
  • Nando De Colo offered a contract by CSKA Moscow
  • Sonny Weems is still there
  • Team Vasquez and the Bachelor
  • Result of the Steve Novak trade
  • Full Mid-Level Exception available – how to use it?
  • Alan Anderson shares a moment with Andrew
  • Carmelo Anthony – Lakers, Bulls, Knicks interest
  • Miami Heat – struggling to find any takers for their offers

Grab the iTunes feed or check us out on Stitcher on Android. There is also the plain old feed. You can also download the file (43:03, 41 MB). Or just listen below:

Report: CSKA Moscow Offer Nando De Colo $4 Million/2 Year Deal

The Raptors had tendered a qualifying offer of $1.8M to Nando De Colo, which you might have thought would be enough since the man is currently a borderline NBA player looking to stay on a roster. Things have shifted now that De Colo is being offered a €3 million deal by CSKA Moscow (Sonny Weems plays there), which works out to about $4.07M USD, and big tax breaks. The reported deal gives De Colo a higher amount over a longer period of time.

The Raptors are unlikely to offer De Colo more money upfront, given that they have higher priorities like signing a backup center.  However, since they actually tendered a QO to him, there is definitely an interest in keeping him.  To read more about the Raptors cap situation, check out Blake’s latest post on the matter. If De Colo signs with the Russian side, his cap hold equal to the amount of his qualifying offer will disappear from the cap and the Raptors will relinquish all rights.

With the Raptors last year, De Colo played 9 minutes per game and averaged 3.1 points, 1.3 rebounds, and 1.6 assists. He was acquired at the trade deadline for luckiest NBA champion, Austin Daye.

Toronto Raptors Salary Cap Update – Post-Patterson Signing, Novak Trade

It was just one day ago that I did a deep dive into the Toronto Raptors’ salary cap situation to try and make heads or tails out of what is permanently a murky situation. The CBA, it ain’t child’s play.

Because the offseason is the best, that cap review was relevant for all of about seven minutes. Since then, the Raptors have signed Patrick Patterson to a three-year, $18 million deal (#2Pat4Sure6Mill) and traded Steve Novak to the Utah Jazz, along with a second-round pick, for Diante Garrett, who they will waive.

So, let’s update. I’ll move through things a little faster this go-‘round, since we went deep with explanation in the last one.

All salary data comes via Sham Sports, except in the case of reported deals, where assumptions are stated. Help sorting through exceptions and the like comes via Larry Coon’s CBA FAQ.

Salary cap – $63.2M, Luxury Tax – $77M

On The Books – Guaranteed Contracts and Marcus Camby
Kyle Lowry – $12M(Technically, his first year salary could be as low as $10.725M or as high as $13.425M, but we are assuming a straight 12-12-12-12)
DeMar DeRozan – $9.5M
Amir Johnson – $7M (only $5M is guaranteed, so the Raptors could clear $2M by waiving him by Jan. 10)
Landry Fields – $6.25M (using the stretch provision could knock this to $2.083M over three years)
Patrick Patterson – $6M (Technically, his first year salary could be as low as $5.575M or as high as $6.475M, but we are assuming a straight 6-6-6)
Chuck Hayes – $5.96M (using the stretch provision could knock this to $1.987M over three years)
Lou Williams – $5.45M
Jonas Valanciunas – $3.68M
Tyler Hansbrough – $3.33M
Terrence Ross – $2.79M
Marcus Camby – $646,609 remaining on buyout (even if Camby returns, as he reportedly hopes to, the Raptors would not receive any relief on this number in any realistic scenario)

Non-Guaranteed Deals, Rookies and Cap Holds
Greivis Vasquez – $3.2M qualifying offer ($5.38M cap hold if QO rescinded)
Nando De Colo – $1.83M qualifying offer ($1.9M cap hold if QO rescinded)
Julyan Stone – $948,163 if on roster past Monday
Dwight Buycks – $816,482 if on roster past July 22
Diante Garrett – $915,243 with no guarantee date (his deal would be guaranteed on Jan. 10)
Bruno Caboclo – $1.22M cap hold ($1.46M his likely salary at 120% of scale)
Bebe Nogueira – $1.47M cap hold ($1.7M his likely salary at 120% of scale)

The Cap Sheet, July 5, 11 a.m.
Regardless of what could happen or what assumptions we’ll make later, this is what the cap sheet currently looks like for the Raptors:

Player Cap Type Amount
Kyle Lowry Contract $12,000,000
DeMar DeRozan Contract $9,500,000
Amir Johnson Contract $7,000,000
Landry Fields Contract $6,250,000
Patrick Patterson Contract $6,000,000
Chuck Hayes Contract $5,958,750
Lou Williams Contract $5,450,000
Jonas Valanciunas Contract $3,678,360
Tyler Hansbrough Contract $3,326,235
Terrence Ross Contract $2,793,960
Marcus Camby Buyout $646,609
SUBTOTAL GUARANTEED $62,603,914
Julyan Stone Non-guaranteed $948,163
Diante Garrett Non-guaranteed $915,243
Dwight Buycks Non-guaranteed $816,482
SUBTOTAL ROSTER $65,283,802
Bruno Caboclo Draft Pick Cap Hold $1,215,300
Bebe Nogueira Draft Pick Cap Hold $1,468,900
Greivis Vasquez RFA Qualifying Offer $3,203,780
Nando De Colo RFA Qualifying Offer $1,828,750
SUBTOTAL SALARY CAP $73,000,532

You could also pencil in DeAndre Daniels, the second-round pick who may or may not play in Europe this season but is tough to account for financially since he has no cap hold and no rookie scale to follow for a contract (he can negotiate whatever). He’s a bit of a wildcard, but the assumption, which will make more sense shortly, is that he won’t be with the team.

The Raptors have $62.6 million in contracts guaranteed to 10 roster players, meaning once cap holds are accounted for (even if they renounced everyone other than those 10, minimum roster charges for the final two roster spots would add over $1M on the books), the team has no “cap space.”

That does not, however, mean they don’t have the flexibility to add pieces around these 10 names.

What the Cap Sheet Really Looks Like, July 5, 11 a.m.
Stone, Buycks and Garrett are almost surely gone. Let’s also assume that Caboclo is going to play in Toronto, as has been stated, and that Bebe is coming as well (this has been hinted at). We’ll assume they get 120 percent of scale because everyone gets 120 percent of scale, with very rare exceptions. If you think the Raptors would risk pissing off players by going less, feel free to knock a couple hundred K off the salaries for the rookies.

Anyway, this is what the books “really” look like, for the purposes of figuring out how much room the team has to operate:

Player Cap Type Amount
Kyle Lowry Contract $12,000,000
DeMar DeRozan Contract $9,500,000
Amir Johnson Contract $7,000,000
Landry Fields Contract $6,250,000
Patrick Patterson Contract $6,000,000
Chuck Hayes Contract $5,958,750
Lou Williams Contract $5,450,000
Jonas Valanciunas Contract $3,678,360
Tyler Hansbrough Contract $3,326,235
Terrence Ross Contract $2,793,960
Bruno Caboclo 120% of Rookie Scale $1,458,360
Bebe Nogueira 120% of Rookie Scale $1,762,680
Marcus Camby Buyout $646,609
SUBTOTAL 12-Man Roster $65,824,954
TAX ROOM NO CAP SPACE $11,175,046
Nando De Colo RFA Qualifying Offer $1,828,750
Greivis Vasquez RFA Qualifying Offer $3,203,780
TBD Mid-Level Exception $5,305,000
TBD Bi-Annual Exception $2,077,000

With the 12 names assumed to be on the books, the Raptors have a hair over $11M to work with to stay under the cap.

How Can They Use That Space?
Vasquez – They’re free to sign Vasquez to whatever deal they like without concern for the cap, since they have his Bird rights. Rumors have Vasquez earning in the $5M range, but assume the range is $4-6M to be safe.

De Colo – Personally, I think De Colo is as good as gone and the team will rescind his QO as soon as a Vasquez deal is done. There’s a minor risk he would sign a $1.8M qualifying offer, and while that’s not a killer salary, the Raptors don’t have the room – roster or financial – to simply allow him to do so.

Mid-Level Exception – The team is free to use the full mid-level exception as a team that’s over the cap and a non-taxpayer. There is a minor concern, however, if Vasquez comes in around $6M, that the combination of the MLE and Bi-Annual Exception (BAE for short, because you gotta show those veterans love) would push the Raptors above the tax line. That would mean that the “apron” (roughly $81M) would become a hard cap for the Raptors that they would be unable to cross for the entire season. That’s a very minor concern given the roster and financial realities for this team, but it’s worth noting.

Anyway, the MLE can be split between multiple players or used on a single name. Contracts can be up to four years long, starting at $5.305M in year one and, if raises are maxed, totalling $22.7M. A three-year full MLE with full raises would total $16.64M. The BAE can’t exceed a two-year deal, meaning if it’s used entirely on one player (almost always the case), it would be either a one-year, $2.077M deal or a two-year, $4.25M deal.

Playing With Vasquez+MLE Assumptions
So, they have 12 players if the rookies sign on, and it sounds as if a Vasquez deal is getting done. In that case, here’s what the roster looks like by position:

PG: Lowry, Vasquez, Williams
SG: DeRozan, Ross, Vasquez, Williams
SF: DeRozan, Ross, Fields, Caboclo
PF: Johnson, Patterson, Fields, Hansbrough
C: Valanciunas, Hayes, Nogueira

I placed players in multiple positions there, but let’s get a different look:

Guards: Lowry, Vasquez, Williams
Wings: DeRozan, Ross, Fields, Caboclo
Bigs: Johnson, Patterson, Valanciunas, Hayes, Hansbrough, Nogueira

The team is fairly set with three capable ball-handlers and, whether or not you like the names that follow the three primary frontcourt players, there are at least a lot of interior names. But damn, do they need another wing, or what?

I know, I know, Williams and Vasquez can play the two, and the Lowry-Vasquez look was often a great one. That’s fine, and I’d be content with that being a core strategic element entering the season. However, the wing rotation is still painfully thin – an injury to Lowry, DeRozan or Ross would mean Fields and even Caboclo are being relied upon fairly heavily. If the team wants to use the full MLE to add another wing, preferably one with size, then the most they can offer Vasquez is $5.8M in year one, which would have to be considered the absolute high end of his range.

Player Cap Type Amount
Kyle Lowry Contract $12,000,000
DeMar DeRozan Contract $9,500,000
Amir Johnson Contract $7,000,000
Landry Fields Contract $6,250,000
Patrick Patterson Contract $6,000,000
Chuck Hayes Contract $5,958,750
Lou Williams Contract $5,450,000
Jonas Valanciunas Contract $3,678,360
Tyler Hansbrough Contract $3,326,235
Terrence Ross Contract $2,793,960
Bruno Caboclo 120% of Rookie Scale $1,458,360
Bebe Nogueira 120% of Rookie Scale $1,762,680
Marcus Camby Buyout $646,609
Greivis Vasquez RFA Deal $5,000,000
TBD Mid-Level Exception $5,305,000
SUBTOTAL 12-Man Roster $76,129,954
TAX ROOM NO CAP SPACE $870,046

Again: The Raptors should have room beneath the tax line to re-sign Vasquez and use the full MLE. That would leave them with a roster of 14 and possibly enough room to sign a 15th on a minimum deal. It’s also possible they have more room than we think based on the structure of deals for Lowry and Patterson, but those are unsafe assumptions. The key here is that the team has room for a reasonable Vasquez deal (unless you find a $5M AAV unreasonable, which you’re within your rights to) and use of the MLE.

Wing Targets
Unfortunately, there aren’t many great wing targets available in the MLE price range (the team could always make further moves to carve out space, or make a trade for a wing, but we’re in free agent mode here). Here are some names that intrigue me that could be in the budget:

Al-Farouq Aminu – He can’t shoot and he seems a bit of a head case, but he can be a great defender and is an elite wing rebounder. As for this makeup issues, well, he’s been coached by Vinny Del Negro and Monty Williams, so who knows how much of that is situational.
Shawn Marion – My guess is he stays in Dallas anyway, but he’d fit the defensive hole on the team perfectly.
Marvin Williams – It ain’t sexy but he can play some defense, hit the three and is still just 27.
Evan Turner – Not for basketball reasons, this would just be hilarious.
Brandon Rush, Chris Douglas-Roberts – Far less at the high end than some other names but would come cheap.
P.J. Tucker – I’m not sure the MLE would be enough that Phoenix wouldn’t match, but it’d be interesting to try as they angle to make a big splash.
Francisco Garcia – Would definitely help with spacing and he’s not a bad defender.
Mike Miller, Richard Jefferson, Rashard Lewis – Can’t see these guys signing for perceived non-contenders.
Vince Carter – Duh.

Those are just off the top of my head. Any other options you like?

Morning Coffee – Sat, Jul 5

Toronto Raptors get some insurance with Patrick Patterson signing | National Post

Patterson was very effective in the post-season, too — one of the few Raptors who was a positive contributor, more or less, in all seven games. He averaged 10.4 points and 6.7 rebounds per game against the Nets, shooting 54% from the floor. Patterson also provides some insurance at power forward for Amir Johnson. Johnson, who will be entering his sixth season with the Raptors and 10th in the league next year, has battled chronic ankle injuries over the last few seasons, and is entering the final year of his contract. Patterson and Johnson were excellent playing with each other. And if Patterson keeps his three-point shooting close to his Toronto level, he is an ideal match for the emerging Jonas Valanciunas, at least in theory. “Every guy wants to start in the NBA,” Patterson said of his impending free agency after the season ended. “So having the opportunity to start and having a bigger role and more pressure and more responsibility would be appealing. But like I said, as long as I’m playing, as long as I’m comfortable, as long as I’m happy, as long as I’m involved in the team and have a positive role, I’m happy.”

Raptors reach deal with Patterson, Vasquez signing close | Toronto Sun

The team is willing to pay up in order to keep last year’s 48-win squad together and is banking on continued improvement from its young core. Patterson is just 25, Vasquez 27, Lowry still 28, DeMar DeRozan just 24 and Jonas Valanciunas and Terrence Ross just 22 and 23, respectively. Patterson had drawn interest from the Phoenix Suns and Orlando Magic, but Toronto would have had the right to match any offer, as was the case with Vasquez. Toronto is not without risk in bringing back Patterson and Vasquez. Patterson has been inconsistent throughout his career and is on his third team. If he plays like he did as a Raptor, it’s great value, if performs as he did in Sacramento, or somewhere in between – not as much.

Raptors re-signing Patrick Patterson to three-year, $18 million contract | ProBasketballTalk

After shooting just 0-for-5 on 3-pointers his first two NBA seasons, Patterson has developed into a solid stretch four, making 37.4 percent of his shots beyond the arc the last two seasons. His salary might be slightly on the high side, but he earned this by really working on his game.

Lewenberg: Raptors agree to terms with Patterson, trade Novak | TSN

“As far as I’m concerned, keeping our core group going forward, with Kyle Lowry, Greivis Vasquez and Patterson and Nando, those guys are priorities for us,” the Raptors’ GM had said. “And if you want to build, I think a team where we have young players, we have to build continuity. When free agency comes, we have to attack our guys first.” With that goal in mind the next order of business will be retaining Vasquez, also a restricted free agent, expected to be done soon. In an effort to create the cap space required to complete a deal with the back-up point guard and perhaps add another piece while maintaining future flexibility and avoiding luxury tax penalties, the Raptors have also traded veteran sharpshooter Steve Novak to the Utah Jazz, reports Yahoo Sports. Toronto will send a future second-round selection to the Jazz as a sweetener and take back the non-guarantted contract of guard Diante Garrett, who will be immediately waived, in order to unload the $7.2 million Novak is owed over the next two years.

Patrick Patterson, Raptors agree to 3-year, $18 million deal | CBSSports.com

While not much of a rebounder or rim protector, Patterson is a solid, smart two-way player and a luxury to have as a backup behind Amir Johnson. Considering how well he shot the ball, it’s a mild surprise he didn’t get a more lucrative or longer contract. It might have helped that he wanted to come back and build on last year. “It was great here,” Patterson said at his end-of-season media availability in May. “Developed strong relationships with the staff, the organization, my teammates, embraced the city and the fans. Overall I had a great time. Out of all the stops I’ve been to, Houston and Sacramento, this is by far the best.”

Is Patrick Paterson the Next Amir Johnson | RealGM

Let me first say, I love Amir Johnson – he is the Udonis Haslem of this franchise and I hope next summer we can retain him for a reasonable term and price On to Patrick Paterson 4 years ago around this time of the year the “decision” happened. Chris Bosh left the franchise and Amir Johnson’s extension at $6m a year seemed like a huge overpayment… Patrick Paterson came to us as a throw in, just as Amir Johnson did. A diamond in the rough trade so to speak. PP fits perfectly with this lineup, he’s young, and he plays the stretch 4 perfectly which is ultimately the fit we need beside JV. I think we need to gamble on Patrick Paterson that he will earn his contract, just like Amir Johnson.

Toronto Raptors: Patrick Patterson Contract Grade | HoopStuff

With the Raptors’ 18 million dollar investment in Patterson, they now have an incredible young core of DeMar DeRozan, Kyle Lowry, Jonas Valanciunas, Patrick Patterson and Terrence Young all signed for at least 2 more seasons and if they continue to develop, they could be a powerhouse in the Eastern Conference if they are able to add one more big piece. They happen to have a lot of cap space next offseason where they can find that piece, but for now, resigning Patterson should help keep them in the middle of the East next season. With Patterson and Vasquez (who they also need to resign), the Rudy Gay deal gave them 2 excellent role players.

Toronto Raptors trade Steve Novak to Utah Jazz | FanSided

The Toronto Raptors, as we saw this past season, are one of the up-and-coming teams in the NBA, and they’d like to keep it that way. To stay successful, you have to make some moves in the offseason, and they’ve certainly done that. Following their recent re-signing of guard Kyle Lowry this past week, they’ve now hit the trade market, sending Steve Novak to the Utah Jazz.

NBA Trade: Utah Jazz trade Diante Garrett to Toronto Raptors for Steve Novak and a future pick | SLC Dunk

If you do the math (and I did, keep reading) this is a financial win for the Raptors who take back Diante Garrett and his non-guaranteed contract. They are likely to waive him and his hulking $915,243 price tag. If they don’t they will be getting a consummate professional who can be a solid back up at the point guard and shooting guard spots. He’s a good defender and makes his threes. If anything, he’s insurance for Kyle Lowry, Lou Williams , and Greivis Vasquez . Or an assurance that Vasquez is out. Either way it’s a solid trade for the Raptors who were on the verge of being tapped out of flexibility and stuck as middle playoff team. Now they can make moves again or signings to keep improving. For the Jazz this is less about getting better than it is about maintaining their commanding lead in flexibility over the rest of the league. Novak appears to be allosteric competition against the ideas of Marvin Williams (who has a bunch of teams after him right now), Malcolm Thomas, and Erik Murphy on their Summer League team (Diante too, but oh well…) and the theory that they are face up, stretch bigs is still just a theory. Novak is the proof of concept. Novak is cheaper than Marvin will be, but $1.681 million more than keeping both Malcolm Thomas and Erik Murphy.

Raptors Are Almost Done With Free Agency – Sort Of | Pro Bball Report

De Colo is a bigger question mark. If Ujiri wants to add a veteran wing through free agency – say Vince Carter for example – he will have to rescind De Colo’s qualifying offer to free up a roster spot or eat (waive) one of his guaranteed contracts. De Colo is even standing in the way of simply adding second round draft pick DeAndre Daniels unless Ujiri can pull off a two-for-one trade. This is quite possibly the real reason the Raptors Plan On Sending DeAndre Daniels To The D-League.

1 Burning Question for Every NBA Team Entering Weekend 1 of 2014 Free Agency – Toronto Raptors | Bleacher Report

As far as free agents are concerned, the Toronto Raptors are almost done. They re-signed Kyle Lowry to a four-year, $48 million deal and brought Patrick Patterson for three years and $18 million. Greivis Vasquez is the only one of note who hasn’t come back, though he and the Raptors are closing in on a deal, per Ryan Wolstat of the Toronto Sun. To make the money work more easily, GM Masai Ujiri will send Steve Novak and a second-round pick to Utah, according to Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski. That doesn’t mean, though, that the Raptors will be done after that. Ujiri is a dealmaker by trade and figures to keep his line open in the event that another executive wants to chat.

Send me any Raptors-related link: [email protected]

Report: Steve Novak Traded to the Jazz

Woj is on it:

More as this develops

Update 1

He’s being flipped, along with a 2nd rouder, for the unguaranteed contract known as Diante Garrett (~$900k) who is about to lose his job.

According to my back of the envelope calculations, this gives Masai more money to work with this offseason. With only Gravy left to sign, looks like he’s going shopping for a small forward; hopefully :)

Update 2

The important numbers to understand as per the chart below:

~$7.6m away from the luxury tax (see sheet 1)

So, for example, they can sign Gravy to a $4.5m deal, and still have the entire mid-level exception to play with #noddingheadinagreeance

Then, he can pull Nando’s QO (~$1.8m), cut Buycks (~$800k) and Stone (~$950k), then win the internet with another ~$3.5m shaved off the books (see sheet 2)

normal

Report: Raptors, Patrick Patterson agree to 3-year, $18 million deal

The price for three-point shooting in this market is too damn high.

If the report by Jeff Goodman is true, of which it might not because no other major NBA reporter has yet confirmed the deal, then it looks like the Raptors have retained power forward Patrick Patterson for the near future. Our Raptors Republic’s #sauces confirmed the signing, and noted that the deal is fully guaranteed.

In Patterson, the Raptors net themselves a high-quality stretch-four. Although he’s best suited to a bench role — which is where he will most likely play as Amir Johnson’s platoon partner — Patterson brings more than just shooting. He’s also a decent defender with smart passing instincts. The three-year deal will carry through until Patterson is 28 years of age. He averaged 8.5 points and 5.3 rebounds in 23.5 minutes per game in 63 games played last season between the Kings and Raptors.

The size of the Patterson deal holds ramifications for the Raptors’ fiscal sheet. By my calculation, the situation reads as below. The Raptors, if they’re looking to duck the luxury tax, have approximately $7 million left to re-sign Greivis Vasquez and find a potential upgrade on the wing. They could, of course, pull Nando de Colo’s qualifying offer, but that carries penalties as well. For more on the Raptors’ financial outlook, check out Blake Murphy’s post.

cao

For what it’s worth, Ryan Wolstat of the Toronto Sun speculates that Greivis Vasquez’ deal isn’t far behind.

Earlier in the year, I took an in-depth look at Patterson’s game, and predicted 3-years, $12 million as his next contract. However, given the escalating price of shooting in this season’s market (Jodie Meeks signed 3-years, $19 million, Ben Gordon signed 2-years, $9 million), the price isn’t all too egregious. The deal also spans three seasons of Patterson’s prime, and he was a restricted free-agent, so those details surely factored into the price as well.

As for the depth chart, Patterson figures to slot in at his usual position behind Amir Johnson, providing much-needed injury insurance and a floor-spacing influence. Depending on what happens next offseason when Amir Johnson’s contract runs out, Patterson could even slot in as his future replacement. If Bruno and Bebe are signed, the Raptors’ roster numbers 13.

Report: DeAndre Daniels Likely Off To Europe

This somehow escaped us this morning – Daniels could be off to Europe:

Second-round selection DeAndre Daniels, a combo forward who helped lead Connecticut to an NCAA championship in April, also is in the mix and currently is in Los Angeles working out with Caboclo, DeRozan and Johnson, but Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri has indicated Daniels will be stashed in Europe for a year to get some much-needed playing time.

DeAndre Daniels’s was selected with the 37th pick in the draft – to know more about him, check out his DX profile, excerpt below:

Although his release isn’t ultra-quick, he has a high release point on his shot, which coupled with his size allows him to get his jumper off from a very difficult vantage point for defenders to contest. He was effective both with his feet set and off the dribble this season, and has the added bonus of being able to hit difficult turnaround jumpers from the mid and low-post over either shoulder, something UConn head coach Kevin Ollie utilized frequently as the season moved on.

Daniels played a variety of roles and positions for UConn this season, seeing time at small forward, power forward and even at center in small doses depending on the matchup, something that’s possible thanks to his superior size and length. Although his defense was very inconsistent for most of the season, he showed great potential down the stretch when he was fully engaged and dialed in, showing the ability the lock down perimeter players and big men alike with his long reach and solid footwork. He shows nice timing as a shot-blocker, allowing him to average a solid 2+ blocks per-40 minutes in each of his three seasons at UConn, sometimes recovering nicely to make a play at the rim even after getting beat off the dribble.

Here are some DeAndre Daniels YouTube Highlights:

Toronto Raptors Salary Cap Review – Post-Lowry Signing

The Toronto Raptors re-signed Kyle Lowry. This is good. Very good, even. Everyone seems happy. More on that momentarily, but first let’s check in with how this changes things on the ever complicated books.

As with all things CBA related, it is difficult for a non-Deeks, non-Coon layman to be 100 percent certain in what they are writing. I’m generally confident I have a good hold on the important pieces and notes, but there’s always a non-zero chance notes include an imperfect interpretation, or that additional wrinkles (“loopholes,” if you will) are possible. NBA general managers are, with a few exceptions, smarter than me.

But let’s give it a shot, because there are a handful of ways the Raptors can still add to the players under contract. Let’s start with them.

All salary data comes via , except in the case of reported deals that are not yet official. Help sorting through exceptions and the likes comes via Larry Coon’s CBA FAQ.

Marcus Camby – Camby is still on the books for $646,609 this season.
Kyle Lowry – While it’s possible, perhaps even likely that Lowry’s deal is structured with a lower starting salary that escalates over the life of the contract, we will assume he is earning $12 million in each of his four seasons.

Under guaranteed contract
Lowry – $12M
DeMar DeRozan – $9.5M
Amir Johnson – $7M (technically only $5M of this is guaranteed, but I’m unclear when the guarantee date is)
Landry Fields – $6.25M
Chuck Hayes – $5.96M
Lou Williams – $5.45M
Steve Novak – $3.46M
Jonas Valanciunas – $3.68M
Tyler Hansbrough – $3.33M
Terrence Ross – $2.79M

Under non-guaranteed contract
Julyan Stone – $948,163 if on roster past July 7
Dwight Buycks – $816,482 if on roster past July 22

Cap holds
Bruno Caboclo – $1.22M
Bebe Nogueira – $1.47M
Patrick Patterson – $4.32M ($7.76M if qualifying offer rescinded)
Greivis Vasquez – $3.20M ($5.38M if qualifying offer rescinded)
Nando De Colo – $1.83M ($1.90M is qualifying offer rescinded)

Current Cap Sheet

Player Cap Type Amount
Kyle Lowry Contract $12,000,000
DeMar DeRozan Contract $9,500,000
Amir Johnson Contract $7,000,000
Landry Fields Contract $6,250,000
Chuck Hayes Contract $5,958,750
Lou Williams Contract $5,450,000
Steve Novak Contract $3,445,947
Jonas Valanciunas Contract $3,678,360
Tyler Hansbrough Contract $3,326,235
Terrence Ross Contract $2,793,960
Marcus Camby Buyout $646,609
SUBTOTAL GUARANTEED $60,049,861
Julyan Stone Non-guaranteed $948,163
Dwight Buycks Non-guaranteed $816,482
SUBTOTAL ROSTER $61,814,506
Bruno Caboclo Draft Pick Cap Hold $1,215,300
Bebe Nogueira Draft Pick Cap Hold $1,468,900
Patrick Patterson RFA Qualifying Offer $4,319,474
Greivis Vasquez RFA Qualifying Offer $3,203,780
Nando De Colo RFA Qualifying Offer $1,828,750
SUBTOTAL SALARY CAP $73,850,710

Salary cap – $63.2M, Luxury Tax – $77M

What this table shows is that the Raptors have some flexibility left to add pieces, but it’s going to take a bit of creativity and/or signing the RFAs to reasonable deals.

Ways to clear space
*Nogueira’s cap hold would come off the books if he and the team submitted paperwork indicating he will play overseas next season.
*Patterson, Vasquez and De Colo could all sign elsewhere or have their qualifying offers revoked and their rights renounced.
*Stone and Buycks could be waived, with their rights subsequently renounced (if that step is even necessary when you waive a player).
*Officially sign Caboclo at 80 percent of rookie scale (the figure in the table is the rookie scale, but teams can sign players to deals 80-120 percent of that figure).

Max “cap space”
If the Raptors took all of those steps to clear space, they would have $61,265,161 in player salary committed to 11 players (I’m including Caboclo here, but at 100 percent scale). That would leave them with, obviously, almost no cap space ($1.43M after the cap hold for a 12th roster spot at the rookie minimum). If I’m understanding the CBA FAQ correctly, to prevent loopholes the Raptors would effectively have no cap space. That dollar amount still matters for later tax calculations, but even at $1.43M under the cap the Raptors would effectively be left with only exceptions to sign players.

There is little incentive, then, for the Raptors to take all of these steps just to be “under the cap.” Lowry’s deal, the Williams acquisition and the Hansbrough guarantee effectively closed out any relevant cap space.

Do the Raptors have exceptions?
As a non-taxpayer, the Raptors will have the full Mid-Level exception at their disposal (this starts at $5.31M but can be split between players). They also have the $2.08M bi-annual exception at their disposal, plus a $1.22M trade exception that expires on July 10 and a $4.58M trade exception that expires on Dec. 9.

In order to stay below the luxury tax, the Raptors could only use $15.73M in total beyond the 10 players under contract and the Bruno. That’s a good amount for four players. They could conceivably pay Vasquez and Patterson a combined $10.4M, still have the full mid-level, forgo a 15th roster spot and still be under the cap, although precariously close to it. (They could also split the mid-level across two players and have a full 15, or bring Nogueira over – assuming 100 percent of scale – and have $8.96M for Vasquez and Patterson, plus the mid-level.)

If you’re starting to see that this can get complicated, well, yeah. There are a lot of balls in the air right now, and so much of the cap and tax machinations depend on the timing of moves as much as the actual moves that get made. The Raptors have some flexibility, which is obviously a good thing, but they no longer have enough room where Vasquez, Patterson, Nogeuira and a mid-level player are all realistic together, unless the market for the RFAs is significantly less than it would seem early in the moratorium period.

Realistic Scenarios

Player Cap Type Amount
Kyle Lowry Contract $12,000,000
DeMar DeRozan Contract $9,500,000
Amir Johnson Contract $7,000,000
Landry Fields Contract $6,250,000
Chuck Hayes Contract $5,958,750
Lou Williams Contract $5,450,000
Steve Novak Contract $3,445,947
Jonas Valanciunas Contract $3,678,360
Tyler Hansbrough Contract $3,326,235
Terrence Ross Contract $2,793,960
Bruno Caboclo 100% of Rookie Scale $1,215,300
Bebe Nogueira 100% of Rookie Scale $1,468,900
Greivis Vasquez RFA deal $5,000,000
Wing Player X Mid-Level Exception $5,305,000
Big Man Y Bi-Annual Exception $2,077,000
Marcus Camby Buyout $646,609
SUBTOTAL 15-Man Roster $75,116,061
TAX ROOM NO CAP SPACE $1,883,939

Personally, I think Patterson is more a priority given team needs than Vasquez, but the market for him also sounds like it’s heating up, and Vasquez is an important chip in uniting Brazilian Kevin Durant with American Kevin Durant. Given that Vasquez and Patterson don’t have dissimilar market values, you could easily pencil Patterson into the Vasquez spot and change “Big Man Y” to “Guard Y” or one of Buycks/Stone/De Colo.

Of course, one trade could blow this all up, or the Raptors could lose both Vasquez and Patterson, leaving them to scramble to split the mid-level or use a trade exception to fill out the roster.

It’s important to keep a wider time-frame in mind for any deals, however, as the Raptors have kept things quite tidy moving forward and they’ll surely want to keep that flexibility. Keep in mind that the cap and tax are both expected to climb over the next few seasons, with the 2015-16 cap currently projected at $66.5M and the tax projected at $81M.

Player Status 2015-16 Status 2016-17
Kyle Lowry Contract $12,000,000 Contract $12,000,000
DeMar DeRozan Contract $9,500,000 Player Option $9,500,000
Steve Novak Contract $3,750,001 UFA See Ya
Jonas Valanciunas Contract $4,660,482 RFA PAID
Terrence Ross Contract $3,553,917 RFA TBD
Bruno Caboclo Year-2 100% $1,270,000 Year-3 100% $1,324,700
Lucas Nogueira Year-2 100% $1,483,100 Year-3 100% $1,546,900
TOTAL $36,217,500 $24,371,600

Assorted Thoughts on the Moves Thus Far
I haven’t been very present around RR in the past few weeks, thanks in part to the NBA Draft being a project of mine at work, baseball writing commitments, moving, and so on. I just wanted to get down a few words on the three main moves of the offseason so far.

Bruno – I was, like everyone, shocked on draft night. I had pre-written 70 draft posts for the players that appeared on either Chad Ford’s or DraftExpress’ final mock. I expected some off-board names in the second round, but I did not think we’d get one in the first round. Well, we did, and it’s Bruno.

The more I think on the pick, the more I like it. Not in the sense that I have any clue whether Caboclo’s going to be a good NBA player, but because of what it says about Masai Ujiri and the organization. There were players I liked at No. 20 – K.J. McDaniels will be the one that got away – but none of them were franchise-changers. Caboclo probably isn’t, either, but the Raptors are exactly the type of team that should be swinging for upside with every single move. I’m a proponent of “best talent available” in the draft, and Ujiri took this a step further with “best upside available,” so I can’t really argue.

The franchise is clearly ready to embrace variance as a necessary means of improving the team’s talent level. I can get behind that at a strategic level. At a fan level, this is going to be really fun.

Lou Trill – This was a pretty straight-forward deal. We saw the cap ramifications above, but look at the deals guards have gotten in the market so far – the Raptors took that would-be cap space and turned it into a one-year mid-level exception deal for Lou Williams, something that no longer appears possible on the open market. And they got an intriguing prospect – and terrific hashtag (#BrunoAndBebe) – for agreeing to the swap. This was a smart, low-risk, high-flexibility move that netted a prospect to boot. That’s a win, and if Williams can regain his 2011 form in year two after ACL surgery (not a given), it could be an important one.

KLOE – This is wonderful. I talked about it a bit in the group post, but I’m very, very happy to have Kyle Lowry back with the Raptors, and at a relatively fair price, too. Sure, there are concerns, as always. Lowry could get grumpy again, he could put on weight, his body could break down, he could lose a step and no longer be as effective finding tight spaces or pulling up off a screen. Those are concerns, but they’re going to be concerns with any free agent who is 28 or older and not LeBron James.

In terms of price and term, this is completely fine. For Lowry, he can walk away after three years, at age 31, with plenty of time to chase a ring still. I had actually considered whether a fifth year from Toronto would even be preferable to a three-year deal for Lowry, and the fourth-year option makes perfect sense for that reason. The team now has a three-year window where the downside should be that of a playoff team, and the flexibility on the books is such that there’s still room for improvement.

More importantly, the team has its avatar back for the 2014-15 season. I think that’s very, very important. This is a team that was built on chemistry and synergy, and losing the engine could have been a major loss. He’s also the emotional heart of the team, cheesy as that may sound, and he grew into a role as a leader and an on-court extension of Dwane Casey well. I don’t doubt there will be stumbles or even blow-ups, because guys who care as much as Lowry are going to have those. But that desire to win so badly is this team’s identity, and it’s now in place for at least the start of next season, when only success will ensure it carries forward.

If you’re MLSE, too, you’re ecstatic to have Lowry back. More than any other player during the playoff run, the city and casual fans seemed to embrace Lowry (and it’s really not hard to see why). He’s not a top-flight marketing option or anything, but he’s the player the casual fans who joined on late in the year surely identify as The Guy, and his career path to date fits in really well with the team’s othering marketing campaign. If it’s us against the world, well, it’s been like that for Lowry for a long time, and he just chose to be with us rather than with the greater them. That’s huge.

TL; DR on Lowry:

Morning Coffee – Fri, Jul 4

With Kyle Lowry signed, Toronto Raptors look to return free agents Greivis Vasquez and Patrick Patterson | National Post

After the season ended, Ujiri emphasized the concept of continuity. “I don’t think there’s any risk [in spending money on chemistry],” Ujiri said at the time. “I’ll announce it here: We’re going to go through hard times. You have to expect them. We’re going to bump heads. Our job is to figure it out and move forward. The players, I think, understand that, and that’s why you want to always get guys who put basketball first and compete. Those are the kind of guys that we have.” The message was clear: Ujiri wanted Lowry back, and he wanted restricted free agents Greivis Vasquez and Patrick Patterson, the team’s two most important reserves, back, too. He wanted them back at a fair price, but he wanted them happy. Now, Ujiri might have to test just how important that is to him. Factoring in Lowry’s new deal and the rookie contracts for both 20th-overall pick Bruno Caboclo and Lucas “Bebe” Nogueira, acquired in the Lou Williams trade, the Raptors have committed nearly US$62-million to 12 players next year. The Raptors could use the “stretch provision” to waive a player such as Steve Novak or Landry Fields, but that, more or less, is the reality for the Raptors. Ujiri retains the right to match any offer given to Vasquez or Patterson, but doing so could prove costly.

Raptors can now turn their attention to supporting cast | Toronto Sun

Patrick Patterson, Greivis Vasquez and Nando de Colo each are restricted free agents, meaning the Raptors can match any offer, within three days of the offer being officially tendered by another club. The team also has the $5.35 million non-tax-payer mid-level exception and a $4.58-million trade exception from the Rudy Gay deal to spend, but cannot bring everybody back and use an exception (let alone two) without going over the luxury tax line. Patterson and Vasquez would eat up most of the $14 million in available space by themselves. Retaining Patterson is more crucial, since de Colo can be retained for cheap and since Williams can play a bit of point guard, even if he is ideally an undersized scoring guard. The Raptors would prefer to see Patterson and Vasquez — their two top reserves during a stunning 48-win season — come back on reasonable deals, but the mid-level and trade exceptions at least provide an opportunity to come up with a backup plan.

Raptors Are Going After Vasquez And Patterson Next | Pro Bball Report

“Greivis is one of the best teammates you can have,” Ujiri said. “It’s a business and we are going to make a business decision. Greivis is closest on our team to Tyler Hansbrough, it’s crazy, everybody loves the guy. He is very close with Kyle. As competitive as he is, he figures out a way to be competitive with his team. We want to get something done. He is one of those pieces on the team where you know that he is always going to be a great teammate and is going to go out and compete.” The impact of a player like Vasquez on the court and in the locker room shouldn’t underestimated. He believes in himself and his teammates. Vasquez believes his team will win in pretty much any situation and his belief is outwardly visible. His outgoing nature permeates the locker room. He is a happy, positive, and uplifting influence and teams need a guy like him on their roster. He’ll be back.

Kyle Lowry is now the soul of the Toronto Raptors with generous but reasonable deal | National Post

Forget the suitors who might be able to offer a more immediate path to a championship — Houston, who had offered him a deal, or Miami, who had expressed interest — and forget the allure of playing for the Lakers in the Kobe Bryant’s last days. Lowry agreed to sign a four-year, US$48-million contract. It might be more than the Raptors expected to pay Lowry during the season, but compared to the first two days of free agency, where excesses were spent on decidedly marginal players, it is a reasonable deal for both player and team. Lowry will turn 32 by the end of the deal, if Lowry opts into the fourth and final year. By most projections, he is currently at the tail end of his peak. Still, if he can stay healthy, the contract slots him in to the group where he belongs. It is the same contract Ty Lawson got from the Denver Nuggets last year. That makes sense. Although Lowry has been in the league longer than Lawson, both are point guards who have never been all-stars or on all-NBA teams, but are right on the cusp of that level. Lowry should have received more consideration to receive both honours this year, but for a variety of reasons, he was ignored on both counts.

 

 

Re-signing Lowry means Re-signing Hope | Raptors Watch

Luckily for Lowry, there was that third, rather rare option. The team that’s got an All-Star, young assets, a veteran coach, a fairly deep bench, future projects, a present and future window and that’s in the weaker East. Toronto. And thus Lowry decided to stay. This is a good sign of things to come for the Raptors. There were two other franchises trying their best to steal Lowry away and they came up short to another that’s been a laughing stock for so many years. Why did he do it? Because he sees something in Toronto that he couldn’t get in the other places. A good contract, a good team with players and a coach he likes and the potential to get back to the playoffs and take a playoff series for the first time since *Bosh was in town. Who’s to say that this won’t mean future players will do the same? They may look more seriously at why Lowry decided to stay and realize that they too want to continue pushing a now-winning franchise forward.

Raptors: With Lowry signed, Amir Johnson’s wonky ankles next big worry | Toronto Star

The Raptors won’t lose Johnson to free agency — he’s got a year left on his contract and isn’t going anywhere — but having a contingency plan in place is a must as they continue to navigate free-agency waters. It’s why, according to league sources, the Raptors have already had preliminary conversations with their own restricted free agent, Patrick Patterson, and are willing to wait for the market to calm before looking for the defensive-minded physical wing presence they need. Johnson has decided against off-season surgery on his ankle and will try to strengthen it through exercise and rehabilitation. It might be a gamble given his penchant for tweaking it and it’s why Toronto is looking for frontcourt insurance as much as anything. It also would have factored into the decision to pick up the final option year of Tyler Hansbrough’s contract.

Is DeAndre Daniels going to help Toronto Raptors? | Raptors Rapture

DeAndre’s defense is solid, but no more. He’s active, and blocks shots at a respectable rate. His lack of strength allows his opponents to get to “their” spot seemingly at will, which makes them more dangerous. I haven’t seen evidence of great rebounding instinct, but he boxes out reasonably well, and that’s half the battle. While we might imagine DeAndre is more ready than Bruno to crack the lineup, I think that’s a remote possibility as of this writing. He needs a solid summer league performance, and many hours in the weight room, before he’s truly ready to challenge the incumbent small forwards. What’s more likely is him getting a training camp invitation following an active summer, then a season at Bakersfield with the Jam. DeAndre helped his team win the NCAA championship, so he’s no stiff. He will need to find a skill he can build his career on, as he’s OK at everything and great at nothing currently. I like the pick, but I’d be very (pleasantly!) surprised if he were to emerge as anything more than a rotation-grade SG/SF.

Daniels Ready To Get To Work With Raptors After NCAA Title Run | Toronto Raptors

The 6-foot-9 forward is in Los Angeles, training hard with some of his new Raptors teammates and coaching staff. After his second session of the day, Daniels laughs easily and is extremely personable, despite the long day in the gym. “It’s great,” he said. “It’s good to see guys early, come out, get to play with them. Just talking with guys like Amir [Johnson], DeMar [DeRozan], listening to them and doing whatever they tell me to do because these guys have been in the league for a long time. It’s so great to get out here early, get our workouts in and then head out to [Las] Vegas for Summer League.” Daniels grew up in Los Angeles and has been familiar with Johnson and DeRozan since his high school days. In addition to working out with his vets, Caboclo arrived in L.A. Tuesday.

Roundtable Reaction: Kyle Lowry & Free Agency

What were your first thoughts on the signing?

Tim Chisholm: I was impressed with how Masai Ujiri handled this whole situation. He expressed a strong desire to re-sign Lowry, yet despite his public optimism, he didn’t overextend the organization to bring him back. He made an offer, below what many thought he’d have to pay, refused to cave on a fifth year to the deal, and got him back on day two of free agency. As much as Lowry coming back is huge news for an organization with abandonment issues, the fact that Ujiri held firm to certain principles suggests a maturity to doing business that this club has rarely demonstrated in the past. That, more than anything, is what impressed me when the news broke last night.

Blake Murphy: This is fantastic. Forget whether the dollar figure actually represents Lowry’s actual worth – it’s close enough that it doesn’t really matter, since the Raptors retained him. If you’re of the mind Toronto has to overpay to keep players, you should be tap-dancing at this price. If you think Lowry should have signed a team-friendlier deal, get real. I’ve seen very little criticism, which is a miracle considering this is, after all, the internet, and I think that speaks to how close to “fair” on both sides this deal lands. Most importantly, however, the team has it’s avatar, it’s heart, it’s soul back, for at least three more years, and he’s chosen to stay. This is enormous.

William Lou: I was shocked and surprised. With all the rumors floating around of the Lakers, Rockets and Heat pursuing him, I was prepared for the worst. I figured the Raptors would either have to overpay to keep him, or lose him to a team like the Rockets (who I believe could have offered him up to $12 million before shedding Lin’s deal). It was a pleasant surprise. I wrote out my raw, uncut, emotive reaction last night.

Garrett Hinchey: Sweet, sweet relief, which I suppose doubles as euphoria in Raptor fan vernacular. As much as returning to Toronto seemed the obvious, rational decision for Lowry, years and years of disappointment have conditioned me to expect the worst (and those continuous Lakers/Heat/Rockets rumours coming from the US media didn’t help, either). Short term, the signing means the Raptors will field, more or less, the same unit that won 48 games last season. Long term, this is a sign that the change in culture we all felt last year was this franchise truly turning the corner, and not just a blip on the radar.

Nick Reynoldson: This is an actual text message I sent when I first heard the news.
“F$#% YAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA SON! SUCK IT MIAMI.”
Then I finally uncrossed my fingers and toes.

Barry Taylor: I became very emotional. I’m 36 years old and have no kids. I’m sure this is what it must feel like when your child first tells you they love you.

Zarar Siddiqi: Holy shit! We beat out big name teams to keep Lowry – probably the first time a player has chosen the Raptors for their basketball situation, and not pure money.

How do you rate it against some of the other deals for guards that were signed in the last two days?

Tim: There really isn’t any comparison. Not only was the Jodie Meeks signing laughable and the Avery Bradley signing a little uncomfortably high, but in the past those were exactly the types of deals that were getting attached to the Raptors. Those kinds of “who were they bidding against?” overpays that made it so hard to take the Raptors seriously as a sustainable winning club. With Lowry, the club had publicly-acknowledged competitors and still refused to engage in an over-the-top bidding war. I would say that the only guard deal that Lowry rates on par with is Shaun Livingston, a guy that made maybe a million or so more than a team would have wanted to pay but ultimately fits enough of a need justify the price.

Blake: You serious, bro? Avery Bradley got 4-32, Ben Gordon got 2-9, Darren Collison got 3-16, Jodie Meeks got 3-20, and it’s probably only going to get crazier as team’s strike out on the top names. Lowry is now paid like a top-10 point guard, yes, but he also signed for roughly fair value when the market is determining that fair value is no longer a thing that exists.

Willie: didn’t think the mid-tier market for shooting would affect Lowry. He was in a different class of free-agents. Lowry was only in play for teams with hopes to contend, without a point guard, that also had major cap room. It was a bidding war between a select handful of teams, meaning the market was different. That being said, Lowry’s deal is much better value than Meeks for $19 million or Ben Gordon for $9 million.

Garrett: Are you serious? You mean the Ben Gordon and Jodie Meeks cash-splosions? I think GMs around the league are breathing a sigh of relief looking at Lowry’s deal, which may be a tad higher then the Raptors had hoped, but was certainly within the scope of fair market value, given the other craziness we’ve seen this offseason. Shawn Livingston’s deal, like Lowry’s, was a slight overpay, but you can’t compare the two – one is an effective backup combo guard, the other is a borderline all-star and franchise leader. Unless Lowry gains a hundred pounds or breaks both legs and both arms, there’s no way the Raptors regret this deal from a cash standpoint. There are far worse sins than paying a $10 million player $12 million.

Nick: I think its a fair deal. He got what he deserved. You can’t really compare it to the other deals that have happened so far. Some of them have been insane. I’m looking in your direction Ben Gordon. Four years, $48 million is great as long as Lowry doesn’t celebrate the pay day too much this summer and come back fat.

Barry: I was unaware there were other point guards in the league.

Zarar: Fair deal. It’s not so much about what guys like Livingston and Gordon got, it’s what Houston offered and what Miami was prepared to.

Where does Lowry rank on the list of all-time Raptors alpha-dogs?

Tim: It depends on how we’re ranking them. In terms of pure quality of play it would  be third, behind Vince Carter and Chris Bosh. However, if we’re ranking on a more abstract scale that takes into account things like personality, fit within the city/team, and a willingness to embrace the Raptors over more publicized suitors, then he could well surpass Carter and Bosh in time, so long as the wins keep coming. He bought a lot of goodwill last night, and that might well mean more to this fan base than all of the All-Star berths achieved by Toronto’s prior superstars.

Blake: I don’t know. It’s been two years, one of them mostly a write-off. He’s safely in the top-five in terms of “player quality” alpha, but he may be the most representative of the team at that point in time than any player in franchise history. That’s why I always refer to him as the team’s avatar…I’m not sure how he ranks as an “alpha dog,” but he’s right near the top for most representative leader of a team.

Willie: I’m not great with the Raptors’ history, so I’ll leave this to the old-timers (looking at you, Zarar). Lowry is as headstrong as Jarryd Bayless, only he’s actually good at NBA basketball. So there’s that?

Garrett: TBD. In my heart, he’s number one, just because he chose to spend his prime here in Toronto, rather than bolt when paydays – and southern markets – came calling. On the court, few teams take on the personality of their leaders the way the Raptors follow Lowry. But I still say we don’t know exactly where Lowry will land on this list yet – it’ll depend on the pieces they put around him and if they’re willing to buy into his leadership style and attitude, which can both be his greatest strength and weakness. If he can take this team to the Eastern Conference Finals, he’ll be a god in this city.

Nick: Number 2 behind Vince and I’m confident he will continue to close that gap.

Barry: I can’t think of a better leader in franchise history. Everyone else left when given the option.

Zarar: Slightly ahead of Antonio Davis as #1.

Who gets paid next? Vasquez? Patterson? Both?

Tim: Patterson. The team’s offence really sputtered last season when he messed up his elbow and had to sit out. Having bigs that can stretch the floor are key for basically any team in today’s NBA, but on a team with a driving point guard like Lowry and a shooting guard without a three-point shot, the floor spacing Patterson provides is doubly important. Plus, the market is just going to be hotter for Patterson than for Vasquez, but the Raptors remain in the drivers seat with both because they are restricted free agents. As of right now, I expect both to be back, but Patterson has to be the priority.

Blake: I think this means Vasquez is done. I’m not 100 percent on that, not even 60 percent, but I think the acquisition of Lou Williams to backup both guard slots – even if it was primarily about Ay Bay Bay and not Lou Trill – points to the team having a clear Plan B if Vasquez wants anything close to the Bradley/Collison/Meeks deals. This team is structured in a flexible manner right now, and while Vasquez would be great to bring back, the team wades into risky territory giving both he and Patterson – a more clear need and a more scarce resource on the market – deals with appreciable AAV and/or term.

Willie: They can pay both. With Lowry and Lou Williams (still weird) in place, Masai Ujiri now has more leverage over Greivis Vasquez. Patterson is a necessary piece, especially considering how Amir Johnson’s body is breaking down before our eyes. As long as they avoid paying the luxury tax, I’m entirely on-board with signing both. I’d prefer to sign both to 2-year deals, if possible.

Garrett: Patrick Patterson should be Ujiri’s next priority. The market for guards, as we’ve spoken about, has been set insanely high, while the market for Patterson has yet to heat up. I feel like the rest of the league is undervaluing him significantly (why in the hell would you pay Channing Frye $8 million when you could pay a younger, more versatile Patterson half that?) and the Raptors would be wise to strike while the league’s smartest front offices are holding out for bigger fish. I’d love to see Vasquez back, and think in the end, he will be as well, but stopgap replacements (Jameer Nelson?) are more plentiful than young stretch big men. #Bringback2Pat

Nick: Both would be amazing but the Priority has got to be Patterson. I feel like he’s got another level to his game that he will reach in the near future. Get 2Pat then go after Vasquez. We’ll find Greivis in an OVO sleeping bag outside of Masai’s office just waiting. 

Barry: Spend money to keep Patterson. Based on the way Grevais has been tweeting this off season he’ll sign for a ball boy wage.

Zarar: Neither – Patterson will sign with Orlando, Vasquez could be considered surplus to requirements since Lou Williams is here, especially if he gets a big offersheet.

Who else should the Raptors be targeting?

Tim: I still like the fit for Vince Carter on this team, even after the Lou Williams acquisition. The Raptors need a bigger wing, could use a veteran presence there, too, and Carter brings reliable three-point shooting and above-average passing to the mix, as well. Viewed dispassionately (a near impossibility when discussing as subject as volatile as Carter in Toronto), isn’t Vince Carter the player an ideal fit in Toronto’s wing rotation? I say yes. They also need rim protection, but the club may feel adding Bebe Nogueira helps enough in that arena.

Blake: They still need a big wing who can help out on defense. DeAndre Daniels might be that and he might not be, but it would be nice to have a body to join he and Landry Fields competing for that role. There are any numbers of lower-tier wings on the market who won’t make a big splash but could shore up the depth in an area of weakness, but what tier the Raptors can shop in depends on Vasquez and Patterson, because I doubt this is a team that spends into the tax. I’d say Evan Turner on a reclamation project but that doesn’t fit the need, I just really want to talk to him. Maybe the Raps can Pop the Tolli? I don’t know, so much depends on how much they have to spend.

Willie: Assuming Vasquez and Patterson return, the Raptors will have 14 bodies on the roster. If Nando de Colo signs his qualifying offer, the roster is set at 15. There also wouldn’t be any more money left. That leaves the roster as is, unfortunately. A larger wing defender would be nice. Here’s hoping Landry Fields’ returns to form. I’d expect help to come via trade during the season.

Garrett: Vince Carter will be a popular answer here among some fans, but in my mind, the team would be very wise to steer clear. This team’s biggest strengths are chemistry and identity, and as much as he fits in from an on-court standpoint, there is literally no way Carter won’t be a distraction next season as fans decide whether to embrace him or not and the team celebrates its 20th season. Furthermore, Vince is used to being the alpha-dog in Toronto, and it’s a huge gamble as to whether he’d be willing to cede the locker room to a much younger Lowry and DeRozan. I’d prefer someone like Al-Farouq Aminu, who is still young, is a capable wing defender, and doesn’t come with nearly the baggage (or the price tag) that Carter would.

Nick: Luol Deng for the right price would be an amazing piece for this young team… Vince Carter would be great as well (I just threw up in my mouth). That was the hardest sentence i’ve had to write this year. It’s hard to say what the atmosphere would be for him if he did return and how/if that would effect his play… I know it would take me a long time to get used to and God help twitter if he has a stretch of bad games… lets just stick with Luol Deng.

Barry: Short term role players. Save the cap space for KD in 2016.

Zarar: Luol Deng.

Kyle Lowry: King of the North

Kyle Lowry: King of the North

Source: @caseybannerman

Morning Coffee – Thu, Jul 3

Raptors sign free agent point guard Kyle Lowry to four-year extension | Toronto Sun

The Raptors had been extremely confident after meeting with Lowry and representative Andy Miller earlier this week. However, one member of the organization said that as confident as the franchise was at retaining Lowry, until he actually signed on the dotted line, no one could rest easy. They can get some sleep now, even if nothing can become official until midnight on July 10, when the NBA’s needlessly long moratorium period finishes. Attention can now shift to retaining restricted free agents Patrick Patterson and Greivis Vasquez, both of whom were acquired in the Gay trade. The Raptors can match any offer. Vasquez has said he would be “heartbroken” not to return, but Lou Williams was recently acquired in a deal with the Atlanta Hawks and there are only so many back-court minutes to go around. Patterson enjoyed his stay, but has been less committed to a return. Lowry was an unrestricted free agent, available to the highest bidder and Patterson, for one, had made it clear he wanted him back. “He sacrifices his body on every single play and he plays with a lot of heart and passion,” Patterson said. “If Toronto wants to get better in the future, have someone to build around and be the key, the glue for the basketball team, what better person to start with than Kyle?”

Raptors send message to NBA with Lowry deal | Sportsnet

The deal includes an out after three seasons for Lowry and makes him the eighth-highest point guard in the NBA this coming season. It is more than the Raptors originally wanted to pay. As it was clear that Lowry was the primary engine behind the Raptors surprising 48-34 season the hope was that they could get Lowry on a relatively short three season deal worth $30 million. By the time Lowry had led them to the playoffs for the first time in five seasons while averaging 17.9 points/7.4 assists/4.7 rebounds and finishing eighth in the NBA in WinShares – a catch-all measurement of overall on-floor contributions – it was clear his price had gone up. Even then the Raptors were hopeful they could get Lowry signed for four years and $11 millon. But when the NBA’s free agency period opened July 1 at midnight there were teams competing for his attention. Foremost among them was the Houston Rockets, who offered Lowry the chance to return to his previous NBA home and join a lineup featuring Dwight Howard, James Harden and possibly Carmelo Anthony. That they would likely have needed to convince the Raptors to participate in a sign-and-trade deal – probably centred around Rockets point guard Jeremy Lin and a future draft pick – made it unlikely as the Raptors were not going to help facilitate Lowry leaving. They needed to send a message to the NBA that they could keep their own players.

Kyle Lowry Agrees to a 4-Year, $48 Million Deal to Stay in Toronto | Raptors HQ

This was a big moment for Ujiri and Tim Leiweke. The front office has made a conscious effort to shake off the image of the Raptors as being a feeder club that is unable to retain its stars once they’re able to test the waters of free-agency. There was always a danger that the perceived need to be aggressive — to change the image of the club — could lead to the organization overpaying Lowry. But the team has struck a good balance here between sending out the message that it’s willing and able to keep its stars (Lowry’s still going to be making good money) but that it’s not willing to compromise the future by doing so. It’s also worth nothing that the salary-cap is set to increase over the next few years and if Lowry does decline at the back-end of his contract, his salary won’t seem like such a big hit on the cap overall.

Common sense prevails as Raptors lock up Lowry | Toronto Sun

Lowry gives this team its edge. He’s not Kevin Garnett getting in a guy’s face and using intimidation to get an opponent off its game. He’s not Kevin Durant either with that elite skill level that teammates expect will carry them to victory. No, Lowry is a competitor plain and simple. He has skill and he can get nasty in his own way, but most of all it’s his will to win and his confidence that has taken this Raptors team to another level. You see it throughout the lineup. Whether it was staring down the Minnesota bench in a game he took over or any other number of nights, DeRozan had a swagger this year that he has not had in the past. Part of it obviously was the success the team was having but a big part of it was what Lowry brought. You can call it bulldog or pitbull, but Lowry gave this team a fight and belief in itself it didn’t have before.

Lewenberg: Lowry agrees to new deal with Raptors | TSN

“I love this place,” he continued. “I love the situation. It’s simple as that.” For that very reason his return was hardly in doubt, though Raptors’ fans are generally conditioned to hope for the best and fear for the worst. The Raptors’ front office, coaching staff and even Lowry’s teammates remained confident a deal would get done throughout the process but he did have other viable options to consider, given his desire to compete for a championship and his status as this summer’s most coveted point guard. Bringing him back, amid the long-time perception that players don’t want to be in Toronto, is a major coup for a Raptors’ franchise that is determined to change their culture under the leadership of Ujiri and MLSE boss Tim Leiweke.

Kyle Lowry is set to stay in Toronto with a four-year contract, which sounds about right | Ball Don’t Lie – Yahoo Sports

The Toronto Raptors are taking a calculated gamble, one that seems perched about partway between “trade an endlessly-chucking Rudy Gay for a series of expiring contracts” and “draft a kid nobody has heard of with the 20th pick in the draft.” The team is rewarding point guard Kyle Lowry, who has yet to make an All-Star team, with a four-year, $48 million extension. The agreement was first reported by Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski. Lowry should have made the Eastern All-Stars last season, his best NBA campaign thus far. He coupled dogged play on both sides of the ball with a willingness to listen and not break the plays sent out by coach Dwane Casey, who was also working in the final year of his contract. The worst case scenario is that Lowry will relent to his old ways now that he’s finally cashed in on a major payday, and that the leader of the sometimes whisper-rich Raptors will cut off the team’s ascension. The best case scenario? The Raptors are paying a borderline All-Star guard through his prime, someone they can rely on to act as the face of the franchise while pushing the team’s younger players into bigger and better things.

Toronto Raptors: Kyle Lowry Contract Grade | HoopStuff

Yes, this is a pricey contract, but there were a number of teams going after him and if 12 million per season is the amount they had to pay to keep their star point guard, then it was money well spent. Lowry was one of the most coveted free agents on the market, but more vitally to the Raptors, is one of their 2 best players, 1 of the 2 guards in their 2 star guard starting five along with All Star 2-guard DeMar DeRozan. These 2 are the foundation of this team, are the 2 players responsible for taking them to the playoffs and almost the 2nd round and they had to keep their duo together.

Kyle Lowry agrees to 4-year, $48 million contract to stay with Raptors | SBNation.com

With so much seemingly going right in Toronto, it’s not surprising that both sides want things to continue. While Lowry could’ve discussed deals with other teams, including one rumored suitor in the Miami Heat, returning to the Raptors seemed practically inevitable once the two sides showed interest in a deal. While Lowry has had a reputation for bumping heads with his coaches in the past, issues never arose with Dwane Casey in Toronto. He fit nicely next to the team’s wing rotation featuring DeMar DeRozan and Terrence Ross, plus he could have another nice complement next season if Lou Williams is healthy. In 2013-14, Lowry averaged 17.9 points, 4.7 rebounds and 7.4 assists while shooting 42 percent overall and 38 percent from three. He’s also considered a solid, physical defender and helped spearhead the team’s improved defense last season.

Kyle Lowry agrees to four-year extension to stay with Raptors | New York Post

Raptors coach Dwane Casey has called point guard Kyle Lowry “our engine, our spirit, our toughness.” Well, the tough, spirited engine is staying in Toronto. Lowry and the Raptors have reached agreement on a four-year free-agent contract extension worth $48 million with an opt out after the third season, the point guard’s agent, Andy Miller, confirmed Wednesday night.

I still want any Raptors-related link: [email protected]

Lowry re-signing: Remember to savor this moment

I’m three drinks deep. Give me a microphone and a soapbox.

I want you to think back to where you were when the news broke. Maybe you saw it on Twitter. Maybe you caught it here. Perhaps your favorite award-winning sports app passed along a push-alert. Your buddy might have texted you. Or you might have caught it on the late-night re-runs of Sportscenter. No matter what the circumstance, remember it. Treasure it in your mind and lock it in a safe place.

I was at work when I saw Adrian Wojnarowski’s tweet flash across Tweetdeck. I literally shrieked. I have a strange job where watching sports merits financial compensation rather than grounds for dismissal. It’s my job to repackage breaking news and provide unbiased analysis. I couldn’t do it. An all-consuming feeling of happiness washed over me, making me hot and flustered. I clicked Woj’s profile to make sure it was actually him, and not yet another impostor. I gathered myself enough to write this incredibly one-sided piece with a shit-eating grin on my face. It’s been almost three hours since and it has not come off. I’m afraid it’ll stay like this.

I know it won’t. There’s a karmic balance with sports fandom. With a normal team, there’s an accompanying low paired with every high. Call it the Newton’s third law of sports. Teams contend for a title, then wholly fall apart, only to rebuild itself and propagate the cycle.

The process is broken for Raptors. Any slight twinge of happiness is immediately smacked down by tragedy and disappointment. Think 2006-07 then the years thereafter. Think Vince leaving for essentially nothing. Think picking Bargnani first overall. If the Raptors were a novel, its author would be Fyodor Dostoevsky. Or George R.R. Martin. Every season ends with a repeat of the Red Wedding.

Shit like this doesn’t happen to the Raptors.

And yet it did, which is why most fans are borderline euphoric. It’s the jarring feeling of shock that something actually broke right for the franchise. It shatters the numbing self-loathing that comes with devotion to this squad. It pierces through the thick cloud of pessimism, which looms at all times waiting to drench us in a cold shower, leaving us with nothing but pneumonia and a pair of players named Williams. This is new.

I’m not naive enough to dive head-first into a sell-job of culture change and a brighter day. I’m too skeptical, as I suspect many of you are. Acting aloof affords us protection against the let-downs. Pessimism after the fact is somehow better than shock and disappointment.

It’s imperative that we remember to cherish these moments, especially if you’re a glass-half-empty fan like myself. The whole reason sports exist is to give us something to cheer for, something to hang our emotions on. We’re feigning the comfort of an actual relationship by bonding to a specifically patterned jersey. With this team, it’s not a happy marriage  by any means, but try to make room for love. The draining, emotive, self-flagellating nature of the pairing should make moments like these extra special. Having Lowry pick us over attractive alternatives in the Lakers, Rockets and Heat? That’s like the team putting down the remote, scooting down the couch and snuggling up for once. It’s not time to bicker about right or wrong. It’s time to close our eyes and cherish the moment.

This is why we do this at all.

Photo: Kyle Lowry Wearing Purple Raptors Uniform

From his Instagram:

This ain’t Amir jersey y’all!! Lol….. it’s for the 2014-15 season cause Toronto will be my home city

Breaking: Kyle Lowry Signs 4 year, $48M Deal With Toronto Raptors

BOOM! BOOM! BOOM!

The Raptors have beaten out the Heat, Lakers, Houston and probably a bunch of other teams to retain Kyle Lorwry – the marquee free-agent PG this off-season. The Raptors had met with Lowry on Tuesday, which was after that greasy Rockets GM and Kevin McHale had tried to turn Lowry’s head. Made no matter. The Raptors $12M/yr offer, which includes an ETO for Lowry after three years, was enough to get the deal done.

It took a little longer than it needed to, which made fans nervous, but Lowry has chosen the Raptors despite being offered similar money from Houston. This goes to show you his faith in a) the organization, b) his teammates, and c) the city. Losing Lowry would have been devastating, no matter what the Raptors received in a S&T, and his return means that the Raptors can pick up where they left off from last season, rather than start anew at the point. The Raptors have now set themselves up a window of contention for at least three years in the East, with DeRozan and Lowry leading the charge. The key guys are there, the role players are there as well, and if further small but right moves are made (e.g., Lou Williams), the Raptors just might find themselves competing for the East.

The early signing of Lowry also bodes well in retaining other free-agents, namely Greivis Vasquez and Patrick Patterson, who have to see this re-signing as a signal of intent from the Raptors. Most of all, though, from a fans perspective it feels awesome to beat out top-level competition without overpaying Lowry. In the past this franchise has always had to compensate for their basketball situation by overpaying for talent, and this signing hopefully marks a fork in the road where the Raptors basketball situation was more attractive than other teams, and ultimately made Lowry’s decision for him.

Congratulations to Masai Ujiri for pulling this one though. Unlike Bryan Colangelo who gambled with Chris Bosh and lost, Ujiri’s decision to stay put during the season has paid off as he retains his prized free-agent in the face of fierce competition.

Lowry averaged 17.9 points, 7.4 assists, 4.7 rebounds, 1.5 steals last season – all career highs.  Now the question is whether this was a contract year bump, or Lowry turning the page and finding himself as a player.  Time will tell, and a huge factor will be Lowry’s offseason and what his shape is in training camp.  Watching Lowry last season, it certainly doesn’t seem like he’s the type of player that will give anything less than 100% (never has in his career), and we hope that this big-money contract motivates him to excel further and prove why he’s deserving of the money.

After starting his career in Memphis in 2006, and then being shipped to Houston in February 2009, Lowry was acquired by Bryan Colangelo in July 2012 for a first-round draft pick (which turned out to be Steven Adams).  Safe to say that that was a very good deal.

Very happy time to be a Raptors fan.

Big ups to @WojYahooNBA – what a reporter?!

UPDATE 1: Salary Cap Impact

Sam taking over for Zarar (who is currently sucking his thumb in bed with a big smile on his face)

Below is the Raptors cap situation:

Player 2014/2015
DeMar Derozan $9,500,000
Lou Williams $5,450,000
Amir Johnson $7,000,000
Landry Fields $6,250,000
Kyle Lowry $12,000,000
Chuck Hayes $5,958,750
Steve Novak $3,445,947
Jonas Valanciunas $3,678,360
Tyler Hansbrough $3,326,235
Patrick Patterson $4,319,474
Marcus Camby * $646,609
Terrence Ross $2,793,960
Greivis Vasquez $3,203,780
Nando De Colo $1,828,750
Julyan Stone $948,163
Dwight Buycks $816,482
Bruno Caboclo $1,134,500
Lucas Nogueria $1,371,200
TOTAL $71,166,510
Cap room -$7,966,510
Luxury Tax room $5,833,490

 

What’s key to note is that with Lowry’s deal on the books, the Raptors have an additional ~$5.8mill to offer both Vasquez and Patterson on top of their qualifying offers. Factor in that both Buycks and Stone have unguaranteed contracts (a total of $1,764,645), and the Raptors can top off both Vasquez and Patterson, potentially, while avoiding the tax.

Update 2: Framing This Achievement

by: Sam Holako

This is a big deal. It’s a really big deal. Not only did Masai get Lowry’s blood signature on a contract, he did so convincingly, sending a signal around the league that:

  1. This team means business
  2. Toronto is a premier destination
  3. The Raptors look out for their own

Lowry wanted to stay here, but he was heading into his prime; coming off an all-star calibre season; a blocked shot from the 2nd round; and a rehabilitated image that had the rest of the league tripping over themselves to sign him. It says a lot that he chose a young up and coming team over championship caliber squads that he literally would have been the final piece on.

What shouldn’t be lost here is that Lowry’s been locked up just two days into free agency, giving Masai & Co. plenty of time to shift gears in dealing with both Vasquez and Patterson. With the cap impact bright as day, Ujiri can sit back and let the market dictate the price for both players, knowing that there is probably enough money in the bank to pay a market rate for both. Ben Gordon’s ridiculous contract (2yr/$9m) has me a bit concerned at what Vasquez could demand, but Zarar pegged his market at ~$3.7m, and with Ujiri’s ability to get up over $5m, we should be good. Patterson too, but I’m less concerned with him for some reason.

Update 3: Next Steps

by Sam Holako

It makes too much sense to bring Vasquez (and Patterson) back for it not to happen. While Patterson’s stretch abilities are crucial, I’m much more comfortable with the Raptors going into the season with Hansbrough, Hayes, and Novak being over extended than De Colo and a potentially crippled Williams pantomiming at the point. Fortunately the money should be there for both, and assuming they both come back, the Raptors can field a rotation of:

Point Guard: Kyle Lowry, Greivis Vasquez, Nando De Colo
Shooting Guard: Terrence Ross, Lou Williams, Nando De Colo
Small Forward: DeMar DeRozan, Landry Fields, Steve Novak, Tbd Wing (you really don’t think Fields and Novak are an answer to any serious question, do you?)
Power Forward: Amir Johnson, Patrick Patterson, Tyler Hansbrough
Center: Jonas Valancuinas, Chuck Hayes, Lucas Nogueira*

Still not ECF caiber, but you get a starting calibre wing in there, move Ross to the bench, and we’re really cooking…Deng would look NICE here!

Also worth considering is the importance of the Lou Williams trade, and it’s impact on both Buycks and Stone. I would be VERY surprised to see those two in the lineup (we might get another glimpse of them in summer league, because, why not?) come training camp considering their deals can be cut at a whim at no cost and all savings; that’s just a win.

If Ujiri decides not to use the ~$5.8m, then the full mid-level becomes available. I wont pretend to know what that means, but it’s worth keeping in your back pocket. William will shed some light on that later.

Patrick Patterson and Greivis Vasquez Free Agency Update

The Arizona Central reports that the Suns and Patrick Patterson have been in contact:

The Suns also have made contact with or been contacted by at least 12 other free agents. That includes unrestricted free agents Pau Gasol, Trevor Ariza, Luol Deng, Spencer Hawes, Danny Granger, Ed Davis, Marvin Williams and Josh McRoberts and restricted free agents Gordon Hayward, Chandler Parsons, Isaiah Thomas and Patrick Patterson. That does not necessarily mean the Suns are interested in all of them.

Patterson would be a pretty good fit in Phoenix’s system that values versatile players. He would very likely be introduced in a bench role if it comes to that.  Phoenix has plenty of cap space to offer Patterson a lucrative deal, even after completing a signing of one of the big name free-agents.

Also:

Starting role?

As for Greivis Vasquez, the Raptors are apparently worried that deals like Ben Gordon’s ($9M/2yr) might price them out of Vasquez and Patterson:

A price tag of $4.5M, which is what Gordon got, is about $1.3M over the qualifying offer of $3.2M tendered to Vasquez.  This would make you think the Raptors valuation of him, as I alluded to yesterday, is somewhere around $3.7M.

Why Kyle Lowry will take his sweet time

It’s not personal, it’s just business.

Kyle Lowry and his agent are going to wait a few days before making a decision. Of course they are.

For those who don’t speak the language, allow me to translate: it’s a bidding war. Make us your best offer. $12 million? Top that. Add an extra million per season. Throw in a fifth year. Promise you’ll add more pieces. Make me the center of your marketing strategy.

Lowry isn’t a diva, but he know he can have anything he wants. He’s sitting pretty with all the cards in his hand. Excess demand meeting short supply is literally the basis of professional sport. Lowry is irreplaceable. He holds the high ground in negotiations.

The Rockets need him because he’s their best bet at improving the team. Not only does he perfectly fit the team’s need for a defensively sound point guard with three-point accuracy and leadership, their other options are longshots at best. LeBron’s opt-out is nothing more than a flirtatious come-on to the league. Too many teams are in the hunt for Carmelo. There’s no need for Luol Deng, especially if they intend on keeping Chandler Parsons. Marcin Gortat is already off the table. The Rockets only need a power forward who could stretch the floor, or a floor general. As far as free-agents go, that’s just Lowry. The core is clearly talented enough to challenge for a title. Adding Lowry would be the final piece.

Meanwhile, Lowry’s other main suitor, that being the Raptors, are all-in. Not only has the notoriously silent organization reiterated on multiple occasions that Lowry is their main target, he’s a cornerstone in their grand re-branding plans. The team kept Lowry last season because the team generated too much positive momentum. Their brilliant #WeTheNorth marketing campaign was rushed forward a season with the idea of the team’s success being permanent. The 2016 All-Star game is around the corner. The city is now expecting success from the Raptors for once. That karma is hard to earn, especially from a city populated by notoriously fickle fans.

There’s the on-court factors as well. Take Lowry off the team, and what is left? Is the team appreciably better than, say, the Cleveland Cavaliers? The team built its new-found identities around Lowry’s strengths and skills. DeRozan operates off a pick-and-roll, gets doubled, makes the point-to-wing pass to Lowry, who then could shoot from the wing — of which he is excellent at — or drive to the hoop and hit the open man. Dwane Casey’s playbook is not complicated by any means, but it does center around Lowry. Take him away, and it’s back to the drawing board with no telling what the results will bear.

Finally, look at the recent Salmons-for-Williams deal in the big picture. While it’s great that Ujiri turned cap room into a useful rental and essentially a first-round pick, it also sacrificed what little cap room the Raptors could have opened. The same applies to the team choosing not to waive Tyler Hansbrough. As it currently stands, if Lowry leaves while Vasquez and Patterson re-sign for a little more than their qualifying offers, the team will have no cap room. There’s no Lowry replacement to be had using the Mid-Level Exception. Not at point guard, nor any other position.

Lowry has the Raptors, and to a lesser extent, the Rockets by the balls.

If a dumb blogger like me understands this, surely Lowry’s representation does as well. The carefully scripted quibble about wanting to win a championship is smart. That’s all posturing. It creates more position for Lowry because the Raptors understand their position relative to contenders like the Rockets and Heat. It shifts more power to Lowry, and moreover, the comment itself is impervious to backlash. Who can critique a player for wanting to win?

At the end of the day, Lowry is more likely to land in Toronto than anywhere else. Not only can the Raptors offer the most money, it’s also a situation he likes. He’s too blunt of a person to speak anything but his mind. Without prompt, he’s shown love to the city on multiple occasion, never falling short of praise each time. “I love this place. I love the situation. It’s simple as that.” Those were Lowry’s words back in May.

But that doesn’t mean he’s going to pass up a chance to get his, and nor should he. Only a scant percentage of players reach even B-level free-agent status, and it would be foolish not to capitalize. Lowry has been fairly underpaid his whole career, earning just $29 million to date. This next contract could easily double that if he and his agent play it correctly.

And this current situation — where the Rockets and Raptors are bidding against each other with the threat of the Heat and Lakers looming in the background — is perfect. It’s just enough bidders to which Lowry could not only pick his destination, but also dictate the terms. There’s enough fear in both Daryl Morey and Masai Ujiri’s hearts.

So in the meantime, Lowry and his agent will continue to sit while the bidding plays itself out. There’s no rush. Unless Parsons signs a an offer sheet or the Rockets favor their chances of landing Carmelo, the equation will remain the same. All Lowry needs to do is wait. The best offer will come in due time.

Morning Coffee – Wed, Jul 2

Raptors have stiff competition trying to sign Kyle Lowry | Toronto Sun

Lowry, deemed too much of a distraction just two years ago by the Rockets and sent to Toronto for a first-round pick and Gary Forbes then, is now on the Rockets’ wish list. According to reports, though, a second go-round in Houston is not in the cards for Lowry. The team would require a sign-and-trade to fit him into its complex plans and Raptors’ Masai Ujiri is not about to facilitate that. Ujiri, like the rest of the NBA seems to, covets Lowry and wants him back in Raptors colours. It was Ujiri and his head coach Dwane Casey who were next up in Philadelphia filling in Lowry’s afternoon hours. Waiting in the wings and not yet granted an audience according to a report from Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski were representatives from both the Los Angeles Lakers and Miami Heat. Lowry apparently needed some time to digest the first two visits before any more pitches were made.

Raptors waiting on Lowry after productive meeting | Sportsnet

The Rockets are a curious suitor in that their GM, Daryl Morey, traded Lowry away for what ended up being the 12th pick the 2013 draft in part because Lowry and Rockets head coach Kevin McHale were in constant conflict. It was shedding that reputation as being a difficult player to coach that has been perhaps his most important accomplishment in Toronto and has set him up for a career payday. But landing him in Houston at the kind of money sources say he’s expecting — nothing less than $40 million over four years, even in income tax-friendly Texas — would likely require the Raptors to facilitate a sign-and-trade, a non-starter for the Raptors unless Lowry tells them he absolutely won’t play for them anymore, which is far from the case.

HOOP365 Free Agent Profile: Kyle Lowry | HOOP365

Since Lowry has timed his career year with his entry onto the free agent market, it’s also likely that he just hit the apex of his potential dollar-per-production efficiency. Many teams have been in pursuit of his services, and I for one am surprised that the Raptors are offering Lowry a long-term contract valued at twice the annual total of his previous deal. Most General Managers certainly feel no obligation in retaining players acquired by a previous regime, so Ujiri must see significant and hard-to-replace value in Lowry’s game. Lowry demands the ball in his hands at all times as an offensive player. The play that the Raptors ran most often for Lowry was a pick-and-roll, which accounted for 38.5% of Lowry’s offensive possessions. Amir Johnson, one of Lowry’s cohorts in the Raptors starting lineup, is one of the best screen-setters in the league, and their frequent collaborations were astoundingly efficient. As a ballhandler in the pick-and-roll, Lowry is a master at reading the defense and using the disruptive event of the screen to his personal advantage. Lowry is adept at using either “side” of the screen to do whatever it takes to keep his defender off-balance — and Lowry is almost immediately in the key whenever his man slightly falters off-balance. Defending Lowry’s pick-and-rolls requires a total team concept. The defender who is guarding the screener — usually Johnson or Jonas Valanciunas – must not sag back to prevent penetration. Lowry is too adept at leading his own defender right into the screen, and can create a wide-open shot for himself if help isn’t coming.

Has Livingston Set The Market For Greivis Vasquez? | Pro Bball Report

It’s been reported that Shaun Livingston has come to terms on a three-year $16 million free agent deal with the Warriors which should set the market for above average backup point guards who can start if necessary and make an impact at important parts of a game.

Masai Being Masai | The Sideline Sports

Masai Ujiri miraculously turned an expiring contract into a decent bench scorer and an asset that might turn out to be good. Just like he turned Rudy Gay’s massive contract into a couple good role players and an expiring, just like he turned cancer Andrea Bargani’s corpse and his absurd contract into a future first round pick and two second round picks. I’m almost at a point where I would trust whatever move he makes. You want to draft some 18 year old Brazilian who is so raw that he’s two years away from being two years away? YOU GO FOR IT MASAI.

Send me your Raptors-related links: [email protected]

Raptors Free Agency Recap: The Kyle Lowry Saga With a Touch of Greivis Vasquez

You can check out the free agency live update thread to get the taste of how it went down and all the links/tweets/etc from the last two days, but here’s the gist of it: the Raptors are nowhere close to signing Kyle Lowry.

Lowry has met with the Houston Rockets including Kevin McHale and Daryl Morey, the former who he has very much patched things up with, and they can offer him money in the $12M range. This happened in the early hours of Tuesday morning. The Raptors, including Masai Ujiri and Dwane Casey, met him during the day and presented their offer. There has also been reportedly been a bid from the Lakers but details of that are very unclear and there hasn’t been a face-to-face meeting with them.  The latest is that he’s going to take some time to mull things over, which doesn’t bode well for the Raptors because all it does is give other teams time to sweeten their offers and present more doors to Lowry.

The Miami Heat have been telling FAs that they have $12M to spend, which if you believe them, puts them on par with what the Raptors have been rumoured to offer (~$12M). The latest reports, though, say that the Heat have not progressed in talks.   There was even some talk of the Raptors adding a fifth year to sweeten the deal, but that’s just that, talk.  Where we stand presently is somewhere here: Lowry has cash offers similar to what he got from the Raptors from teams that are closer to a championship than the Raptors are.  That is the bottom line.  There was a sense of confidence amongst us that the Raptors would be the only team to give Lowry his pending “big pay day”, which is turning out to be false.  He has interest from teams who are working very hard to create room to accommodate him, or will have room if a sign-and-trade is executed.

Houston was rumoured to be interested in a sign-and-trade for Lowry which – and I don’t want to sound doom-and-gloom here – could potentially be the Raptors best course of action.  At the end of the day, if Lowry wants to be elsewhere and get paid, it’s in the Raptors best interest to get whatever they can in return, much like Bryan Colangelo did with Chris Bosh.  The Raptors are not going to be able to lure Lowry based on what they can offer financially alone, and nor should they.  The last thing you want is a player who is on your roster just for financial reasons.   Looking at the Houston PG lineup of Patrick Beverley, Isaiah Canaan, and Jeremy Lin, if the Raptors are able to squeeze Berverley and a pick out, it would be sound business considering Lowry’s unrestricted status.

Obviously, all that is Plan B and Plan A remains to bring Lowry back.  There’s some talk of the Raptors potentially pushing the $14M mark to retain him and how that would be bad for the long-term.  I call that hogwash.  If a player can play, sign him up.  He’s never going to be a cap-crippling player and barring injury, will always have value.  In a league where contracts like Rashard Lewis and Rudy Gay have no trouble moving around, I find it hard to be too concerned that an under-30 Lowry is the reason our salary situation will be busted.  My view is that when you have talent, you do whatever it takes to retain it, especially considering the positions of the Raptors draft picks in the coming years.

There is no news on the Greivis Vasquez front except that Shaun Livingston signed a $16M/3yr deal, which works out to $5.3M a season.  Does that set the bar for Vasquez?  The Venezuelan made $2.15M last season and if Livingston, who you might consider a more versatile player albeit has injury concerns, maxes out at $5.3M, what does that mean for Vasquez?  The Raptors hope that any offer Vasquez signs is between the two numbers, making it around $3.7M which would be a reasonable rate for him.

The last we heard from Vasquez was after he received his qualifying offer:

“I’m happy with my qualifying offer, but more than that, I want to sign a multi-year deal with Toronto. So hopefully everything is taken care of, beginning tonight because free agency starts at 12 o’clock tonight. So I really hope that we get a good deal and I can be in Toronto for a few years or hopefully my whole career.”

If Vasquez is “happy” with his qualifying offer of $3.2M, then a rate of $3.7M would be a boon for him, especially over multiple years.  What Day One told us is that nobody is dying to sign Greivis Vasquez, as there were literally no reports about him at all, so the competition the Raptors are facing for him could be manageable.

Going back to the Lowry front, I really feel that this is more than just about a free-agent.  The Raptors have been historically awful are retaining their big free-agents and here we are the crossroads yet again.  I feel that signing Lowry is critical to sending out a message to the rest of the league that Toronto, as Tim Leiweke purports, is a world-class city with world-class franchises that should not have any trouble attracting players.   This is about the stature of the Raptors franchise as much as it is about retaining Lowry.  If we’re able to retain the best free-agent PG against competition from Miami, Houston, and the Lakers, that would send out a very strong message.

Part of me thought that having put Lowry on the block in December might come into play here, and that might be a sticking point for Lowry.  However, if Houston, who actually traded him, have the balls to come back and offer deals, then the Raptors have nothing to worry about on that front.

I do like the confidence the Raptors have in their approach of Lowry. The latest reported stated that the Toronto camp felt a measure of confidence since “he knows us, and we know him”.  Every report thus far has talked about how confident the Raptors are that they can keep Lowry despite interest from big clubs.  I’m not sure if their confidence stems from the amount offered, the situation in Toronto, or simply knowing Kyle Lowry, one just hopes it’s not unfounded.  The Raptors “sources” that keep talking about this confidence also tend to iterate that they have an alternate plan in place if things work out.  I don’t know what that looks like, except that it’s not as good as Lowry actually re-signing.

2014 Raptors Summer League Roster – Early Preview

This is as per HoopsHype. Both Brazilian picks are slotted to be there and so is Canadian Myck Kabongo, who returns to summer league to seek another shot at an NBA roster. There’s no DeAndre Daniels listed in the report but one would assume he’s very likely to be there, unless the Raptors have other arrangements for him. The Raptors are regular participants in the Vegas Summer League and over the years have gotten a couple roster players from there, the most notable of which might be Jamario Moon. RR will have complete coverage of summer league including dreary post-game reports, speculative analysis, all aimed at filling you with hope that one of these guys could become the next Smush Parker. Of course, we’ll also be monitoring the progress of the Brazilians while paying a particular eye to all things wingspan-related.

Player POS HT DOB FROM YRS
Bruno Caboclo F 6-8  09/21/95 Brazil R
Eric Griffin F 6-8 05/26/90 Campbell R
Myck Kabongo G 6-1 01/12/92 Texas R
Scott Machado G 6-1 06/08/90 Iona 1
Lucas Nogueira C 7-0 07/26/92 Brazil 0
John Shurna F 6-9 04/30/90 Northwestern R

Morning Coffee – Tue, Jul 1

Raptors Edge Closer to Locking-up Lowry | Raptors HQ

The offer to Lowry is expected to be in the $12-13 million range, which according to TSN’s Josh Lewenberg, would make him the 7th highest paid point-guard in the NBA next season. The Raps have made re-signing Lowry their number one priority this summer — as they definitely should — and $12 million per year is more than the Miami Heat, the Raps biggest competition for Lowry’s signature, can offer. Again, nothing can be done until midnight, and even then an agreement can only be made in principle. Check back later for more news. Update: Houston Rockets general manager, Daryl Morey, is reportedly meeting with Lowry tonight. His sales pitch will probably go something like this: Hey Kyle, I know that we traded you and that you and McHale didn’t get along, but hey, that was in the past. We can’t offer you much money, and Melo is actually our number one free agent target, but still. Hold off making any decisions until Melo makes up his mind, okay? The Raptors brass are meeting with Lowry at some point later today (I’m going to bed).

Lowry wouldn’t be wise to turn down Raptors | Sportsnet

It has been building for months, since Ujiri challenged Lowry to mature into his talent rather than allow a reputation as being tough to work with turn him into a $2-million a year player. The Raptors’ out-of-nowhere 48-win season and thrilling playoff series against the Brooklyn Nets helped, as did the chemistry on the first NBA team where Lowry was the undisputed leader. Now he stands to get paid accordingly. At Lowry’s end-of-season press conference he couldn’t have been more effusive about his experience with the Raptors. He did his best to sound like he’d be willing to listen to offers elsewhere, but ultimately he couldn’t play it down the middle. “It’s very difficult, but at the end of the day it’s still a business and you have to be a businessman for the situation that you’re in,” Lowry said the day after the Raptors lost Game 7 to the Brooklyn Nets at the ACC. “But I am very happy. This has been one of the best seasons I’ve had through and through. Best coaches, teammates, [executives]. It’s been great. I am happy. Without a doubt, I can say I’m happy.”

Report: Houston Rockets Making Early Push to Reunite with Kyle Lowry | Bleacher Report

With those championship aspirations in mind, it’s hard not to think that the Rockets could emerge as front-runners in due time. A potential Lowry reunion would give the Rockets tremendous depth at point guard, particularly when you consider that Patrick Beverley is on the books at an unguaranteed $915,243 for next season, according to ShamSports. With the Rockets apparently dreaming of a one-two punch capable of hounding opposing ball-handlers for 48 minutes, it’s already abundantly clear that Morey intends to keep his foot on the gas as free agency gets underway.

Getting you ready for NBA free agency | Toronto Sun

KYLE LOWRY, TORONTO, 28, PG, 20.1 PER Suitors: Toronto; Miami; L.A. Lakers Priorities: Being on a contender; Getting paid Skinny: Raptors willing to break bank to bring back top player and can offer most money and longest term. But while Lowry has always been underpaid, he also has never been on a contender and is eager to win. The question for Toronto is would they regret giving Lowry huge money? Was his phenomenal season partly fueled by his desire for a massive payday? Will he return in peak shape again? Can they afford to let another star get away, especially one who powers the offence and gives the squad its tough identity?

Nikola Vucevic vs. Jonas Valanciunas – Who is the better current and long term prospect? | NBADraft.net

It’s Jonas hands down. Vucevic is 2 years older. Jonas already has playoff experience. Part of the reason Vucevic has better numbers is due to being on a worse team. Jonas is on a playoff calibur team and is a better overall defender. If you look at this logically, Jonas would have higher numbers if he were in ORL because the team is not as good overall. Likewise, if Vucevic were to go to TOR his numbers would go down because of Lowry, Derozan, etc. I like both players overall and this is not to say Vucecvic is not a good player because I really like him. I would however take Jonas over him without hesitation.

The Toronto Raptors, Moving Forward

One thing that The Raptors desperately need as of right now, is some help at both the small forward and power forward position. No offense to T.Ross or Amir Johnson, both are great players, but they currently are not at the level of skill needed to be on a starting lineup on a championship caliber team. This is a large part in why I believe Gasol, Diaw, and Granger would fit in great with the Raptors lineup, as the team has no consistent force in their respected positions. Ideally, The Raptors would aim to acquire either: Gasol and Diaw, Gasol and Granger, or just Gasol. Gasol, although coming with the larger salary out of the three, would undoubtedly create the largest impact. Averaging 17.4 points, 9.7 rebounds, and 3.4 assists last season, Gasol would play as a consistent threat in the key, forcing opponents to play on their heels, and giving a bit more space for DeRozan and Lowry to work with on the outside. While Diaw and Granger may not the best players at the Small Forward position, they would be the most affordable and ideal veteran role players available at the position.

A free-agency sampler: 11 sensible deals that could work | NBA.com

Bruno Caboclo, the 18-year-old, 205-pound Brazilian that Toronto took with the 20th pick overall in the first round. Caboclo has only been playing basketball for a few years, spending the last two playing for Pinheiros, a team in Sao Paolo. To say he was a relative unknown, not just to most of the ESPN team broadcasting the Draft, but to longtime NBA folk, would be an understatement. “We just didn’t have enough information on him,” one veteran team executive said over the weekend. When ESPN’s Fran Fraschilla, the former college coach who excels at evaluating international players, got off the line of the night about Caboclo — “he’s two years away from being two years away” — the derision came soon after, from far and wide. But go back and read that paragraph above again. Caboclo was a “relative” unknown. Not completely unknown. There were people, smart people, whose job it is to know where every good basketball player or prospect in the world is, who knew about Bruno Caboclo, knew h

The tracking of a basketball Big Foot – Sportsnet.ca

The Decision – Latest on Lowry: He’ll Take a “Few Days” to Make His Decision

Keep refreshing the page. Updates dropping every few minutes.

The last post is giving me issues in the CSS editor, so I’m moving it here. To recap tonight’s events:

  • Raptors very confident they can keep Lowry
  • Offers will start from the $12 million per year range
  • Conflicting reports on whether or not Lowry has signed (probably not)
  • Ujiri will present Lowry with offer shortly after midnight
  • Rockets also in on Lowry, would need to resolve their ‘Melo thing first
  • Yahoo Sports misreported on Lowry’s starting salary bid at $14.5 million
  • Oh, and the Raptors are reportedly interested in Vince Carter too. Read that here.

UPDATE 11:32

A quick peak at the Raptors’ up-to-date cap situation. Find the data here. DanH, if you’re out there, could you double-check this? Thanks man.

cap situationUPDATE 12:07

So let’s strike the Lakers off the list. Lowry needs security and money.

UPDATE: 12:13

Houston can’t offer Lowry a salary on par with the Raptors’ until they find a taker for Jeremy Lin. Looks like with LeBron calling audibles, Lowry is their plan B. We should be worried about this. Houston is much closer to a championship than the Raptors are.

Yeah, Lowry is definitely Houston’s plan A. Perhaps the talk of pursuing James/Melo was a smokescreen. Lowry fits so perfectly there. Floor general who can shoot threes, pass and play defense? Yikes. I’m officially worried. They can offer him over $10 million as of now.

And Lowry is no longer at odds with Rockets head coach Kevin McHale. They reconciled their differences. Here’s an excerpt:

I really respected Kevin McHale. I wish I would have had an opportunity to play for him longer. The things he was teaching me, well, I didn’t understand right away. When you get away from someone, though, see it from the outside looking in, you go back and think, ‘Damn, I could’ve learned some more things from the guy

UPDATE 12:32

Let’s hope this is Lowry’s response to the advances from Houston’s advances:

UPDATE 12:36

Does this put you at ease? No? Didn’t think so.

UPDATE 12:41

Rockets meeting with Lowry right now.

UPDATE 12:44

I have no idea who this reporter is, or if he’s credible. With Woj having already reported on the situation, he’s clearly got a source inside the situation. Nevertheless

UPDATE 12:46

S0…we should just all go to sleep? Nah.

Also, Rashard Lewis? Is this a back-up for Patrick Patterson? Is he even better than Steve Novak at this point?

 

UPDATE 12:51

We’re building an awesome team for the year 2005.

UPDATE 1:45

Great. We’ll be at this all day. Someone else will tag in for me tomorrow morning, I hope. I’m going to bed.

UPDATE 1:49

No. Shit. Was that even worth a tweet? I need sleep. Also, Kyrie signed a max deal. Sweet. Your move, Dion Waiters. Watch your back.

UPDATE: 2:03

Your list of princes:

 

Officially #loggingoff now. No one has signed Lowry yet. Miami and Toronto will meet with Lowry tomorrow. Houston already has. Check back tomorrow morning. We’ll have everything covered (maybe).

8am Tuesday Update (Zarar)

He’s heard what Houston has to say, now it’s Ujiri’s time to shine. My only thing is, Lowry knows we tried to trade him, wonder if it’ll play in his decision?

8:40am update

Just some housekeeping here. Grange admits that the info reported earlier was wrong. He’s now saying what Woj is saying. Maybe he fell for this.

UPDATE – 2:40pm

The more this goes on, the less likely we have to worry about Miami. Houston the main threat.

UPDATE: 4:41 (Tim W.)

Things are coming fast and furious. The latest….

No confirmation of that just yet, but that seems to be the story people are running with at the moment. It would back up this story…

What this means for Kyle Lowry and the Raptors is anyone’s guess, but it does mean that the Heat will, in principle, have enough money to make a competitive offer to Lowry, and not ask him to take a discount. That said, if they sign Lowry for $12 million, they have very little to spend on the center position:

It would seem to me that it would make more sense to spend on Gortat, rather than add to their point guard position.

UPDATE: 4:50PM (Zarar)

Houston want a sign-and-trade. How nice of them to give us something in return. F*** off.

UPDATE: 5pm (Zarar)

Woj has published an article detailing the Lowry situation:

Miami president Pat Riley has been pushing for a sit-down meeting with Lowry, but Lowry is taking time on Tuesday afternoon to consider his next step in the process. Lowry met with Toronto general manager Masai Ujiri and coach Dwane Casey on Tuesday afternoon in Philadelphia after meeting with Houston GM Daryl Morey and coach Kevin McHale in the early morning hours.

So the ball is in Lowry’s court – the Raptors have made their offer, Lowry has listened and is now debating while Pat Riley tries to get his oily hands in there. This is one of those moments which reflect whether the Raptors do really have the stature that Leiweke and Ujiri purport they do. Big free agent. Big teams on the hunt. Can the Raptors pull through? Stay tuned.

UPDATE 8:45 PM (Zarar)

Marcin Gortat has signed a 5yr/60M deal with the Wizards, and you got to be thinking that Lowry would command more. Then again, this league is thin at the C and heavy at PG, so you never know. Still, though, a precedent has been set and Lowry has to be thinking he’s more valuable to Toronto than Gortat is to Washington.

In other news, Shaun Livingston has signed a 3yr/$16M deal with the Warriors which comes to $5.3M, which is what you think someone like Greivis Vasquez could command. Again, precedents being set.

UPDATE – Tuesday 10:17 PM – Zarar

There you have it, we need to wait a few more days before he makes up his mind. Maybe he’s just buying more time, maybe he’s stalling, maybe he wants to see all of what’s out there. Bottom line is that the decision to stay with the Raptors isn’t as clear-cut as we’d hoped it was. At this point, you have to think that other opportunities are teasing him enough that this could go either way.

UPDATE – Tuesday, 11:16 PM – Zarar

The Heat are easing off, apparently, or haven’t gone full force. Not sure what the LA offer is or if they’ve even met with Lowry. Very cold on the LA front, right now it’s between the Rockets and Raptors.

END OF POST – WE’LL PICK THIS UP ELSEWHERE

Report: Raptors among 5 teams interested in Vince Carter

A break from your Kyle Lowry-induced nail biting.

According to a report from Tim MacMahon of ESPN Dallas, the Toronto Raptors are among five teams in pursuit of Vince Carter. You might have heard of him. Best player in franchise history and all that. The other teams interested are the Trail Blazers, Thunder, Heat and Mavericks.

This isn’t really a new development, as a report came out two months ago about this very union. Given the other names involved, the Raptors would probably have to overbid to hook Vince. But if that’s the case, we’d be going over the tax, and that makes no sense when we already have depth on the wing. And it’s not like he can start at small forward either.

So, it’s probably not happening. Back to Lowry watch. Read this link for a deeper breakdown of how Vince would fit in Toronto.

Actually, in thinking about this once more, a sign-and-trade of Vasquez for Carter might make some sense. Lou Williams (not me) will slot in at backup PG, then Vince fills minutes on the wing. Dallas gets someone who is competent at point guard. I’m not a fan of that deal really, but it could happen. Just an idea from my end.

TL;DR: Raptors one of five contenders chasing Vince. We don’t need him, and he’s too expensive. Move on.

Developing: Kyle Lowry Watch is ON with Stein, Grange, Aldridge (no more $14.5 million offer)

BOOM!

 

 

Marc Stein from ESPN is reporting that the Raptors appear to be quite confident of locking up Kyle Lowry at $12M/year. This is on the heels of Michael Grange reporting that it’s “just about a done deal”:

This is coming on the heels of the Might Woj reporting that the Raptors would tender an offer at midnight. If the deal is signed at the reported $12M, would the Raptors have enough money to match any offers for Greivis Vasquez? Or would they be willing to go into the tax? This does put the Lou Williams acquisition into greater context. It’s a little unbelievable if Lowry signs without even listening to another team, but for our sakes, I hope he does exactly that.

The reported $12M is well and beyond anything Miami can offer him – even with a S&T they could offer a max of ~$8M, and that would mean neglecting all their other needs. To put in perspective, Lowry has a career earnings of $28.8M over his 8-year career. Under the reported deal, he would eclipse that in a little over two years. That kind of a pay bump would be hard to resist, no matter what Miami offers in terms of LeBron and Friends. Lowry also has to be thinking that, at 28, even if he signs a 4-year deal, he’ll have enough in the tank to go ring-hunting at 32 years of age if he hasn’t gotten one by then.

8:06 Update: Josh Eberley of DimeMag is reporting that Lowry has signed an extension, after being unable to resist the urge of being the #1 guy on the team (little does he know that Bruno Caboclo is going to take care of that soon enough):

8:16 Update: David Aldridge is reporting that Ujiri will present an offersheet at midnight:

8:46 Update: Apparently the Rockets want to make a pitch too if they can’t land ‘Melo. Nothing to worry about here, because Lowry would never go back to Houston. Would he? Blake Murphy will have an analysis of the Raptors cap situation once the numbers are a bit more clear, for now though, the off-season is off to a fantastic start.

10:14 Update (William is taking over): Josh Lewenberg just said on TSN1050 Radio that the Toronto Raptors’ offer will be the first one presented to Lowry at midnight. Not really a surprise, but it’s something.

10:31 Update

So that’s a bit crazy. You know, like eating a whole pack of magic mushrooms crazy. But hey, if the goal is to keep him, and this is the price, perhaps it’s not so bad. Having Lowry eat up such a huge chunk of money would leave little for Vasquez and Patterson. We shall see. If Lowry does net that figure (and it would be insane for him not to), Lowry would become the 6th highest paid PG in the league next season (Jeremy Lin technically has him beat, but his is a poison pill).

The upside is, it would certainly price Lowry out of anyone else’s range. However, the bad news is that it would be overpaying. While it’s possible for the Raptors to structure a front-loaded deal. Correct me if I’m wrong, but the Raptors could drop 7.5% off the first year’s salary every season, and make it something like: $14.5, $13.4, $12.33, $11.24 million, which comes down to $51.47 million over four years. That’s not that insane, but it’s still pretty nuts.

10:48 Update

Sweet. I just did all that calculating for nothing.

Mighty Woj: Expect Ujiri to bid on Lowry at midnight (5pm Grange update: Lowry’s staying)

Chill out guys, Masai Ujiri has a plan.

It would be wise to listen to Adrian Wojnarowski’s words, for they oftentimes come true. And he makes a lot of sense here. Why?

Miami and Houston don’t actually have enough cap room as of yet to bid on Lowry. The Heat would first have to forgo the Big 3′s bird rights, or have all three re-sign at lower prices immediately, before they have any useable cap room. For Houston, they’re waiting to bid on other superstars first, so Lowry’s down their list of priorities. The Rockets also need to find a taker for Jeremy Lin’s poison pill’s contract. Time is on the Raptors’ side here.

Of course, there are also other suitors to consider. Teams like the Lakers, Mavericks and Hawks have holes at point guard and enough cap room. They could conceivably chase Lowry too. So, we’re not out of the woods until he actually puts pen to paper.

Then again, the Raptors like Lowry, Lowry likes the Raptors, the Raptors have the money, opportunity and stability that Lowry’s never had before. As they say in the freshman mixer, “when you get a yes, you go home.”

5pm update

Apparently they’re very close and Miami won’t even get a chance to officially entertain Kyle Lowry.

https://twitter.com/alexfan590/status/483743685377789952

The Caboclo Acquisition: Raptors Bet on Bruno

Though 2014 was projected as the deepest draft in years it could just as easily have been described as the draft of uncertainty.

Three prospects from 3 different countries were heralded as franchise changers, but no one could mutually agree on the top pick.

In the next tier were more quality prospects and more questions. Two players within this group sat at opposite ends of the spectrum: Australian point guard Dante Exum perhaps benefited from a lack of exposure while Julius Randle suffered from over exposure.

Additionally, there was a group of young budding athletes projected as future stars (Gordon/Vonleh).  While others had excelled in college, yet left uncertainty if they could perform in the NBA or had already reached their ceiling (Napier).

But it was the Raptors selection of Bruno Caboclo at 20 that sent reporters, social media and the fan base into a frenzy. The question was simply: who?

Raptors GM: Masai Ujiri and his staff had worked tirelessly to secure home grown talent Tyler Ennis, but Chicago’s action to move their 16th and 19th picks ironically to the team Ujiri had left for Toronto may well have set the dominoes in motion for Phoenix to steal Ennis.  Reports said Caboclo had a guarantee from the Raptors at 37, however Toronto heard rumblings *4 other teams were interested in acquiring Caboclo prior to that.

* The Starters: Tas Melas reported Oklahoma City and San Antonio were both interested and Ryan Wolstat tweeted Utah and Phoenix were hot after Caboclo and would have selected him with their next picks.

Prior to posting this article I decided to wait for Saturday’s press conference just to see if my initial instincts shifted (they didn’t).

Ironically, Ujiri touched on a similar point to my thoughts below, so I’m not sure if that means I’m thinking like a G.M. or it was just a fortunate coincidence. Regardless, here was my preliminary response to the frenzied reaction of the trade:

Question: What do the following players have in common with Bruno Caboclo?

  • Donatas Motiejunas
  • James Anderson
  • Alexis Ajinca
  • Jason Smith
  • Renaldo Balkman
  • Julius Hodge

Answer: They all were selected 20th in the NBA draft in the last 10 years.

I’m sure most fans would agree players such as Ibaka, Batum, Dragic, Pekovic, Asik, Arenas, and Ginobili are all better talents than the listed players. Amazingly all of them were drafted after 20 and were considered projects or chances.  In fact the first 5 names on this second list were drafted in 2008. For the most part these 5 have outperformed many of the picks selected before them.

The point is, when it comes to drafting a prospect certainly skill and ceiling are factors but equally important is the player’s drive. It’s why so many teams consider intangibles like motor, basketball I.Q. and the player’s commitment to improve.

I get why some of the Raptor faithful get anxious especially given duds like Caboclo’s countryman Rafael Araujo .  To those fans let me remind you of Oden, Beasley, Porter, Yi, Flynn, Morrison and Thabeet who were all selected in the top six of their drafts.

Past Raptor picks Damon Stoudemire (Rookie of the Year) was not a popular choice and many were disappointed we selected Terrence Ross over Austin Rivers.  The bottom line is drafting isn’t an exact science and sometimes you swing for the fences and get lucky.

As fans we want the best for our team especially after their most recent success, but remember it’s the current nucleus that got the team there.  Let’s return to December; how many of you thought the Rudy Gay trade signaled the Raptors entry into tank mode? Well, in fairness I didn’t, but I’m the eternal optimist.  Keep in mind Ujiri landed in management due to his prowess in scouting.

Yes the Bruno Caboclo pick surprised virtually everyone on the set of the draft, the media and the fan base, however as highlighted above he was on several other teams’ radar. Given there was interest from the Thunder and Spurs we can assume this wasn’t a complete wild card pick. Kenneth Faried wasn’t as high on most GM’s lists either and he made Ujiri look brilliant.

The next step for Caboclo will be heading to Los Angeles where several players are spending their off season. Assistant Coach and player development specialist Jesse Mermuys is also living there to assist the players in their individual off season homework. Caboclo will undoubtedly be given an extensive list of areas to focus on, meet his new teammates and more importantly be shown the work ethic required by team leaders Johnson and DeRozan in order to succeed in the NBA.

Brazilian Basketball player Bruno Caboclo drafted 20th over all by the Raptors arrives on Porter Airlines  from Newark NJ at Billy Bishop Airport in Toronto. Toronto Star reporter Isabel Teotonio (in Red) talks to Bruno as he arrived.

As mentioned, I had wanted to see our new recruit prior to finalizing this piece and I’m glad I waited. In live footage we are treated to the young colt sinking three consecutive 3-point shots and 3 consecutive free throws. Immediately you see his length, basketball body (albeit one he needs to grow into and add muscle) and his raw potential. An excerpt from Open Gym provides some additional insight.

In his first media throng Bruno Caboclo definitely looks as young as his 18 years; however there is a certain endearing quality to him. In his best English he responds to questions of what he can bring to the team (3 & D), his favorite player (Durant) and how he feels about the ESPN correspondents over repeated 2 and 2 assessment. This last question draws a quick look at the interpreter for verification of what he heard.  He replies this is probably accurate, but stresses he intends to work hard to lower that timeframe.

As news broke late Sunday, Ujiri had traded John Salmons to Atlanta for Lou Williams and Lucas “Bebe” Nogueira it reminded me of Valanciunas first year with the club. At that time Linas Kleiza was a teammate who offered Jonas another Lithuanian speaking teammate.  If Nogueira remains with the club this would be a similar situation.  Side Note: For those feeling Ujiri whiffed on fulfilling specific needs of the team this acquisition offers a solid option at shooting guard in Lou Williams and potentially explains why the Raptors didn’t select either Canadian center Bachynski or Bhullar or invite either to summer league since this deal may already have been in the works.

When speaking to reporters Ujiri submits he knows the pick wasn’t popular but takes the stance that Caboclo is a long shot he was willing to bet on.  Then he masterfully uses the ESPN timeframe comment and stretches the terms out to five years. In one fell swoop he has flipped the script to remove any pressure from Caboclo’s timetable to meet specific deadlines as well as state he doesn’t care if it’s a popular decision, rather it’s simply his job and part of that is taking chances on talent.

Let’s face it there are no guarantees when it comes to the draft.  Just as the Raptors are taking a calculated risk, so too are the Sixers with Joel Embiid who could suffer a similar fate to Greg Oden or be plagued perennially with foot injuries like Brooke Lopez.

Though we really only have the brief footage we saw in Bruno’s introduction Saturday (and some grainy Youtube footage), there are a few stats which stand out to solicit some excitement regarding his upside. There’s the fact Caboclo’s estimated reach is measured at 7’7” that’s more than highly touted Noah Vonleh. There is his ability to hit the 3 pointer with ease and his propensity to want to play defense. Above all there are the reports from interviews in his native Brazil where he speaks to wanting to be the best player in the NBA and wanting to make his family and country proud. That and the fact he is just 18 point to Ujiri and Casey’s excitement.

Sure, Caboclo may never pan out and may never play significant minutes or contribute. On the other hand, he might be one of those rare talents who exceed expectations, matures rapidly and becomes the missing piece in our core group.  For those who are still unsure, remember Nic Stauskas went from being a player not even projected to be drafted to being selected eighth or the much hyped Joel Embiid who, up until four years ago hadn’t even played basketball.

Personally, I’ll take my chances on a prospect with unlimited raw talent over a bench player who might not even play or translate to the pros. I’m betting on the odds of Caboclo succeeding based purely on his obvious potential, what appears to be a drive to  make it  and our development staff who’ve worked wonders with the core youth on the Raptors.  If and when he does I’ll add another jersey to my collection. I’m just hoping we can convince the Marketing department to put his first name on it too because come on, how cool would a jersey with the name Bruno on it be?

Raptors Pick Up 2014-15 Option on Tyler Hansbrough

The Raptors have exercised the $3.3M option on Tyler Hansbrough for 2014-15.

Hansbrough made $3.2M last season and averaged 15.3 minutes in 64 games, while starting 4. His final year was partially guaranteed at $1M, which makes this an understandable signing from a financial perspective since the cost of a decent replacement would cost more than $2.2M. He averaged 4.9 points and 4.5 rebounds, and saw his minutes decrease with the acquisition of Patrick Patterson in December as Dwane Casey preferred the more versatile Patterson in a stretch-four capacity. With the future of Patterson uncertain, the move ensures that the Raptors are at-least two-deep at power forward next season. Newly acquired Lucas Nogueira, Jonas Valanciunas, and Chuck Hayes would round out the big man rotation.

You might have been forgiven for thinking that the Raptors may decline the option to free up more money for Kyle Lowry, Patrick Patterson, and Greivis Vasquez, but Ujiri clearly feels that Hansbrough is a rotational player, albeit a situational one. Hansbrough was 24th in the NBA in fouls per minute, which appears shockingly low given his style of play and disregard for rules. He’s 28 years old and although he was one of the greatest college players in the modern era, his NBA game remains confined to the role of a garbage man who plays with a tremendous amount of heart and hustle.

There is no word on whether the Raptors will pick up options on Dwight Buycks ($816,482) and Julyan Stone ($948,163). Assuming the Raptors exercise the $7M option on Amir Johnson, their guaranteed money for next season will be $48 million. However, considering cap-holds of Caboclo, Nogueira, Lowry, Vasquez, De Colo, and Patterson, the number balloons to $69.4M. The NBA salary cap is set to be approximately $63.2M.

Here’s a chart of the Rudy Gay trade impact (no way William Lou out-does me):

tyler-hansbrough-rudy-gay-trade-chart-stats

 

Raptors Weekly Podcast, June 30 – Caboclo Tease, Totally Not Jose Calderon

A packed pod with Andrew, Tim, Will and myself as we look back on draft night and into the near and distant future. Unfortunately for us, the last thing John Salmons did was mistime his trade so there’s no discussion of Johnny Fish but there’s everything else, including Russian thuggery.

Part 1

  • Jason Kidd news
  • Historic week in Bucks history
  • Bruno Deboclo reaction
  • ESPN overreaction
  • The whole “moving down” approach and its feasibility
  • A Vancouver story from years past

Part 2

  • Targeting Tyler Ennis
  • His coach’s comments on his NBA-readiness
  • Should we be disappointed that we didn’t get him?
  • Jose Calderon comparisons for Tyler Ennis
  • Zach Lavine reaction
  • What’s the worst city to play in the NBA?
  • NBA projections for Bruno Caboclo

Part 3

  • Ric Bucher rumour and apology
  • Brain Windhorst hate – his Kyle Lowry reports
  • Would Miami’s acquisition of Shabazz Napier (LeBron’s favorite player) cool off their interest in Lowry?
  • Sixers strategy – genius or madness?
  • Should we envy the Sixers? Or is that crazy?
  • Andrew Wiggins’ introduction in Cleveland
  • Nik Stauskas playing point guard?
  • Four Canadians drafted in first round
  • Leo cutting in during the draft
  • Predictions: percentage chance of Kyle Lowry staying

Grab the iTunes feed or check us out on Stitcher on Android. There is also the plain old feed. You can also download the file (38:11, 37 MB). Or just listen below:

Morning Coffee – Mon, Jun 30

Toronto Raptors add capable Lou Williams in trade with Atlanta Hawks | National Post

Williams provides the Raptors some extra backcourt depth in case either Kyle Lowry or Greivis Vasquez leaves in free agency. That was not the primary motivator for the Raptors behind the trade — they are simply trying to use Salmons’ unique contract to obtain an extra asset, or in this case, two. Williams is not a classic point guard, in the way Lowry and Vasquez are. However, he could run the offence in a pinch, and gives the Raptors a little bit more flexibility should one of Lowry, an unrestricted free agent, or Vasquez, for whom the Raptors can match any offer, leave the team.

Are Raptors Preparing for Kyle Lowry’s Departure by Acquiring Lou Williams? | Bleacher Report

Once the Williams-Salmons trade is finalized, the Raptors will have around $40 million in committed salaries. Should they exercise Amir Johnson’s $7 million team option, that figure will rise to $47 million—still a full $16 million shy of the projected salary cap. That’s where things get a bit tricky. It’s certainly possible that a rival team in need of backcourt depth will trump the $3.2 million qualifying offer currently on the table for Greivis Vasquez, who emerged as a key part of Toronto’s rotation despite his ostensible role as Lowry’s primary backup.

Raptors, Hawks agree on trade | Toronto Sun

Only $1 million U.S. of Salmons’ salary is guaranteed, while Williams has one year and $5.45 million remaining. Atlanta now has considerable money to spend to enhance its roster, while Toronto could still stay under the luxury tax, even if free agents Kyle Lowry, Patrick Patterson and Greivis Vasquez are retained, though spending the mid-level exception as well likely would not be possible. With Williams in the picture though, Vasquez might become a casualty, if Lowry is convinced to stay, even though Vasquez is a far more traditional point guard.

Raptors trade prudent move at many levels | Toronto Star

But the possibility does exist that the top two point guards from a year ago could be gone (although I think it would kill Greivis to leave) and the prudent thing to do is find a way to protect yourself. Williams may not be all that great but he is an NBA veteran and that has to be a bit soothing at the very least as the Raptors go into a very important off-season stretch. I guess you could also see Williams as, perhaps, an asset to be flipped if things work out the way some want and both Lowry and Vasquez come back. His contract is expiring, he does have some game left and perhaps once the zaniness of the first 10 days of free agency ends, there’d be a need for him somewhere in the league. I don’t know about Bebe, he is interesting young big and you can’t have too many of them but there are buyout issues with Estudiantes and he fits perfectly with what Masai’s long-stated intentions are, gathering bits for the future and future growth. I do think Masai needs some kind of credit for getting this deal done; yes, it helps the Hawks clear some cap room and might allow them to pursue a top-end free agent but the Raptors got some useable bits for someone who wasn’t going to be here anyway.

Report: Raptors Trade Salmons to Hawks for Lou Williams and Lucas Nogueira | Raptors HQ

It’s not a perfect trade, as Williams could be a bust and Nogueira, who apparently has a decent-sized buyout from his Spanish team, may not be over for another season. But there’s not much downside here for the Dinos. Williams only has a year left on his deal so it’s a small rental if he doesn’t perform like his 2010-2012 self, and it enable the Raps to keep their mid-level exception in all likelihood. (We’ll see what happens with Lowry, Patterson, Vasquez etc.) It’s a pretty solid move for the Hawks too. While I’m surprised they threw Nogueira into the deal, they can now waive Salmons so that they’d only be on the hook for $1M of his $7M salary. (Sidebar, WHY IS JOHN SALMONS BEING PAID $7 MILLION DOLLARS FOR THIS UPCOMING SEASON???!!) That gives them another piece of cap room and it looks like they’ll have enough to go after a big-name free agent if they so desire. Best of all though… BEBE AND BRUNO.

First impressons of Raptors draft pick Bruno Caboclo | Toronto Sun