Last 200 articles shown.

Date Title Author
Jul 6, 15 Report: Raptors Interested in Corpse of Carlos Boozer Zarar Siddiqi
Jul 6, 15 Raptors Summer League Roster Announced Zarar Siddiqi
Jul 6, 15 Power Forward Prospects forumcrew
Jul 6, 15 Raptors Weekly Podcast, July 6 – Greeting DeMarre, Courting LaMarcus, and Grieving Amir William Lou
Jul 5, 15 Cory Joseph to sign reported 4-year, $30-million deal with Raptors Zarar Siddiqi
Jul 5, 15 Report: Spurs withdraw qualifying offer for Cory Joseph, Raptors expected to ‘kick the tires’ William Lou
Jul 5, 15 Lou Williams signs with the Lakers, Raptors’ bench looks questionable William Lou
Jul 4, 15 Raptors ink Bismack Biyombo to a cheap, short-term deal Sam Holako
Jul 3, 15 News and Rumors: Raptors sign Delon Wright, linked to Will Bynum William Lou
Jul 3, 15 Greivis Vasquez thanks fans in classy farewell letter William Lou
Jul 3, 15 Why the Raptors will never win the bidding wars Andrew Thompson
Jul 3, 15 Report: Dallas Sign Wesley Matthews, Ending Raptors Pursuit Zarar Siddiqi
Jul 2, 15 DeMarre Carroll: “I play with a log on my shoulder” Zarar Siddiqi
Jul 2, 15 Kings Join Wesley Matthews Race; Mavs Think DeAndre Jordan is Key Zarar Siddiqi
Jul 2, 15 An ode, a few parables and a heartfelt thank you to unsung hero Amir Johnson William Lou
Jul 2, 15 Report: LaMarcus Aldridge Unlikely to Choose Raptors Despite Meeting Going ‘Well’ Zarar Siddiqi
Jul 2, 15 Moving Forward in Free Agency With Trust Matt Shantz
Jul 1, 15 Let’s get weird: Raptors ‘locked in battle’ for Wes Matthews, and why I’m on board Blake Murphy
Jul 1, 15 DeMarre Carroll: Raptors promised larger offensive role Blake Murphy
Jul 1, 15 Free Agency Opening Night Live Blog, Q&A Blake Murphy
Jul 1, 15 Goodbye Amir! forumcrew
Jul 1, 15 BREAKING: Amir Johnson Signs with Celtics Zarar Siddiqi
Jul 1, 15 Early Analysis of DeMarre Carroll Signing Zarar Siddiqi
Jul 1, 15 ALL THE SOURCES: Raptors Meeting with Wes Matthews Zarar Siddiqi
Jul 1, 15 Report: Raptors to renounce rights to Amir Johnson Kiyan Sobhani
Jul 1, 15 Welcome DeMarre Carroll forumcrew
Jul 1, 15 BREAKING: Raptors sign DeMarre Carroll Scott Hastie
Jul 1, 15 Canada Day Vibes: Raptors’ Road To Redemption Michael Holian
Jun 30, 15 LaMarcus Aldridge would be one of the best signings in franchise history Kiyan Sobhani
Jun 30, 15 Report: Raptors Hire Jerry Stackhouse as Assistant Coach Zarar Siddiqi
Jun 30, 15 BREAKING: Thunder Trade Luke Ridnour to Toronto Zarar Siddiqi
Jun 30, 15 Can Raptors Recruit LaMarcus Aldridge ? forumcrew
Jun 30, 15 Report: Wes Matthews drawing interest from Raptors William Lou
Jun 29, 15 Report: Bismack Biyombo on Raptors Radar Zarar Siddiqi
Jun 29, 15 Raptors extend qualifying offer to Nando De Colo William Lou
Jun 29, 15 Report: Raptors to meet with LaMarcus Aldridge William Lou
Jun 29, 15 Raptors to hire Rex Kalamian as assistant coach Kiyan Sobhani
Jun 29, 15 Raptors Weekly Podcast, June 29 – Offer Sheets For Everyone Zarar Siddiqi
Jun 28, 15 Raptors905 Press Release and Logo Leaked; Looks Better Than Raptors Logo Zarar Siddiqi
Jun 28, 15 Report: Raptors Interested in 6’9″ SF Al-Farouq Aminu Zarar Siddiqi
Jun 28, 15 No Matter What DeMar DeRozan Makes, the Questions Remain the Same Zarar Siddiqi
Jun 27, 15 Report: “Whispers circulate” that DeMar DeRozan will seek max deal (worth $25.3 million) next summer William Lou
Jun 27, 15 So what was Greivis Vasquez all about? Zarar Siddiqi
Jun 26, 15 Who’s Delon Wright? forumcrew
Jun 26, 15 Ujiri makes “Wright” decision as Raptors build with flexibility in mind William Lou
Jun 26, 15 Raptors Select 6’4″ UCLA Senior SG Norman Powell with 46th Pick Zarar Siddiqi
Jun 25, 15 Quotes: Dwane Casey on Delon Wright – “It was unanimous” Zarar Siddiqi
Jun 25, 15 BREAKING: Toronto Raptors Select Delon Wright with 20th Pick Zarar Siddiqi
Jun 25, 15 BREAKING: Greivis Vasquez Traded to Bucks For Future 1st and 2015 2nd Round Pick Zarar Siddiqi
Jun 25, 15 We Think The Raptors Will Draft One of These Four Players Tonight Zarar Siddiqi
Jun 25, 15 The Doctor Is In – Pre-Draft Podcast – What Should the Raptors do? Steve Gennaro
Jun 24, 15 Report: Raptors secure D-League team for next season; will be named ‘Raptors905′ William Lou
Jun 24, 15 A look back on a week of rumours heading into tomorrow’s draft Kiyan Sobhani
Jun 23, 15 Ujiri speaks: ‘We’re open for business,’ D-League, second-round picks, ‘Greivis says a lot of things’ William Lou
Jun 23, 15 Report: Raptors pursuing Rex Kalamian, Andy Greer for assistant vacancies William Lou
Jun 22, 15 Report: Timberwolves, Rockets interested in Greivis Vasquez William Lou
Jun 22, 15 Raptors Weekly Podcast, June 21 – Live at Summer Slam Zarar Siddiqi
Jun 21, 15 Weekend 3-on-2: Learning from the Warriors, the sky isn’t falling and mysterious Bruno William Lou
Jun 20, 15 Five Things the Raptors Could do with the 20th Pick in the 2015 NBA Draft Zarar Siddiqi
Jun 18, 15 Three Low Key Unrestricted Free Agents That Could Help Zarar Siddiqi
Jun 17, 15 Report: Kings, Lakers, Knicks and Nets to Pursue Lou Williams Zarar Siddiqi
Jun 17, 15 Dwane Casey: “The day of the centers has gone by”, and what it means for Jonas Valanciunas William Lou
Jun 16, 15 Casey On Board With Small Ball Philosophy of the NBA Finals forumcrew
Jun 16, 15 Interview with 2016 Draft Prospect George Lucas de Paula Matt Shantz
Jun 15, 15 Report: Spanish national team head coach Sergio Scariolo turns down Raptors’ assistant offer William Lou
Jun 15, 15 Raptors Weekly Podcast, June 15 – TSN = Tom Sterner Network Zarar Siddiqi
Jun 12, 15 Tom Sterner Breaks Silence; Says Nice Things Zarar Siddiqi
Jun 12, 15 The Doctor Is In Podcast, June 11 – Happy Happy, Joy Joy Steve Gennaro
Jun 11, 15 Remember Tyrus Thomas? He’s on the Raptors Now, Sort Of Zarar Siddiqi
Jun 11, 15 Raptors need to build and develop with ‘playoff basketball’ in mind William Lou
Jun 10, 15 For Those Who Want To Keep Our Core And Add To It forumcrew
Jun 10, 15 Revisiting the Season: The Worst Games of 2014-15 William Lou
Jun 9, 15 Dwane Casey speaks: ‘I wasn’t worried about my job, never have been, never will be’ William Lou
Jun 9, 15 Revisiting the Season: The Best Games of 2014-15 William Lou
Jun 8, 15 Raptors Weekly Podcast, June 8 – JV Over Tristan All Day Zarar Siddiqi
Jun 5, 15 Raptors to possibly add Jerry Stackhouse to coaching staff Kiyan Sobhani
Jun 5, 15 Are Raptor Fans Too Willing To Settle? Tim W.
Jun 4, 15 Raptors Offseason Primer: Cap, Assets, more Blake Murphy
Jun 3, 15 The Dr Is In Podcast, June 3 – Weighing in on DeMar Steve Gennaro
Jun 2, 15 Tom Thibodeau’s Available…Just Sayin’ Zarar Siddiqi
Jun 1, 15 Raptors Weekly Podcast, June 1 – Would you trade DeMar DeRozan for _______? Zarar Siddiqi
May 29, 15 Weekend 3-on-2: Free agency, D-League affiliate, Thibodeau, Williams and AmirTV William Lou
May 29, 15 There has never been a better time to rebuild than right now. forumcrew
May 27, 15 Raptors D-League Team to be Based out of GTA in Upcoming Season Zarar Siddiqi
May 27, 15 Pictures: NBA and Raptors Unveil Toronto 2016 All-Star Logo Zarar Siddiqi
May 27, 15 3 Things Jonas Valanciunas needs to work on this summer William Lou
May 26, 15 Freestyle Raps: Featuring Tristan Thompson Michael Holian
May 25, 15 What will be Masai’s next move? forumcrew
May 25, 15 Raptors Weekly Podcast, May 25 – You’re Too Damn Cool Zarar Siddiqi
May 23, 15 Terrence Ross undergoes surgery to remove bone spurs from left ankle William Lou
May 23, 15 The Raptors Are NOT Young forumcrew
May 22, 15 Report: MLSE to Appoint John Cassaday as Tim Leiweke’s Successor Zarar Siddiqi
May 22, 15 The Doctor Is In Podcast, May 22 – Live Mock Draft Steve Gennaro
May 21, 15 An early look at draft prospects available around No. 20 Blake Murphy
May 20, 15 Video: A Tribute to Tom Sterner #Memories #Love Zarar Siddiqi
May 20, 15 Should the Raptors Give the DeRozan/Lowry Combo Another Shot? Zarar Siddiqi
May 19, 15 Raptors Make Terrible Mistake By Firing Tom Sterner … forumcrew
May 18, 15 Raptors Fire Assistant Coach Tom Sterner Zarar Siddiqi
May 18, 15 Raptors Fire Assistant Coach Bill Bayno Zarar Siddiqi
May 18, 15 Raptors Weekly Podcast, May 18 – “That wasn’t us” Zarar Siddiqi
May 17, 15 Weekend Mailbag: Williams, Casey, offseason moves and how we treat athletes William Lou
May 16, 15 Q&A With Jack Armstrong Kiyan Sobhani
May 15, 15 Terrence Ross’ Rant forumcrew
May 15, 15 Three Raptors with NBA Futures That Will Likely Change RR
May 14, 15 Report: Raptors pursuing Monty Williams for assistant head coach William Lou
May 14, 15 The Real Raptors Big Board + The Dr Is In Podcast, May 14 Steve Gennaro
May 14, 15 Casey’s Return, and What it Means for Kyle Lowry Matt Shantz
May 14, 15 Morning Coffee – Thu, May 14 Sam Holako
May 13, 15 Potential explanation for retaining Dwane Casey: Toronto is not a great destination William Lou
May 13, 15 Dwane Casey’s returning for a 5th season a justifiable hold Blake Murphy
May 12, 15 Report: Raptors to Fire Assistant Coaches; Retain Dwane Casey (Update: Snitch in Locker-Room) Zarar Siddiqi
May 12, 15 Potential Trade Targets Tim W.
May 11, 15 Terrence Ross Calls out Fake Raptors “Fans”; Urges Them to Remember Sorry History Zarar Siddiqi
May 11, 15 Raptors Weekly Podcast, May 11 – It’s Langston Galloway’s Fault Zarar Siddiqi
May 10, 15 What Happened? (Raptors Offense) forumcrew
May 10, 15 O former Raptors, where are thou? William Lou
May 9, 15 A Case for Retaining Dwane Casey Zarar Siddiqi
May 8, 15 Raptors at a crossroads with DeMar DeRozan William Lou
May 8, 15 Raptors Weekly Extra Podcast – Checking in on DeAndre Daniels Zarar Siddiqi
May 7, 15 Trade, Keep, Release (Part 2) Tim W.
May 6, 15 Why are Raptors fans so quick to turn on Kyle Lowry? William Lou
May 6, 15 Trade, Keep, Release (Part 1) Tim W.
May 6, 15 Morning Coffee – Wed, May 6 Sam Holako
May 5, 15 Masai Ujiri’s Honeymoon Period Over; Time to do Some Work Zarar Siddiqi
May 4, 15 Raptors Weekly Podcast, May 3 – Humblebragging Zarar Siddiqi
May 2, 15 It’s Not Just the Raptors Who Ponder Jonas Valanciunas’ Future Zarar Siddiqi
May 1, 15 The Doctor Is In Podcast, May 1 – Six Degrees of Masai Ujiri Steve Gennaro
May 1, 15 Jack Armstrong on Kyle Lowry forumcrew
May 1, 15 The balance of change and continuity moving forward Kiyan Sobhani
May 1, 15 Morning Coffee – Fri, May 1 Sam Holako
Apr 30, 15 Raptors’ planned foray into D-League an overdue necessity Blake Murphy
Apr 30, 15 The Silver Lining Tim W.
Apr 29, 15 Playoff Sweep Ruins Ujiri’s Pitch To Free Agents Tim Chisholm
Apr 29, 15 What happens this off-season? (Bragging Rights Edition) forumcrew
Apr 29, 15 Wednesday talking point: Wither thou, Kyle Lowry? Garrett Hinchey
Apr 29, 15 Morning Coffee – Wed, Apr 29 Sam Holako
Apr 28, 15 A Letter to the Raptors forumcrew
Apr 28, 15 Masai Ujiri media session: Mum on Casey, no knee-jerk reactions, confidence in Lowry William Lou
Apr 28, 15 The most important question for the offseason: Who are the Raptors? William Lou
Apr 28, 15 Ujiri: Raptors Approved to buy D-League Team; Could Happen for 2015-16 Zarar Siddiqi
Apr 28, 15 More Quotes – Things Have Gotten Messy In A Hurry Ryan McNeill
Apr 28, 15 What Kind Of Day Has It Been? Andrew Thompson
Apr 27, 15 Dwane Casey Returning? Tim W.
Apr 27, 15 Notes and Quotes: Kyle Lowry Hints at Internal Issues; Everybody Wants Everybody Back; James Johnson Most Talented Player Zarar Siddiqi
Apr 27, 15 Raptors’ season ends in disappointment amid high expectations Blake Murphy
Apr 27, 15 Raptors Having a Fire…Sale?? Matt Shantz
Apr 27, 15 Raptors’ Season Comes To a Bitter End, The Fat Wizard Has Sung Michael Holian
Apr 27, 15 So who’s available and who should we target? forumcrew
Apr 27, 15 Morning Coffee – Mon, Apr 27 Sam Holako
Apr 27, 15 Dwane Casey: I Have No Regrets on Strategy Zarar Siddiqi
Apr 26, 15 Game 4 Reaction Podcast: #WeTheHumiliated Zarar Siddiqi
Apr 26, 15 Media roundup: Patterson says loss was “embarrassing”, Lowry says he was “unsatisfactory” William Lou
Apr 26, 15 Quick Reaction: Wizards 125, Raptors 94 – “It’s over. It’s over.” William Lou
Apr 26, 15 Game 4: Live Pre-game Kiyan Sobhani
Apr 26, 15 Video: Blake Murphy on CTV News Previewing Game 4 Zarar Siddiqi
Apr 26, 15 A chance is like a picture, it’d be nice if we just take it Blake Murphy
Apr 26, 15 Can We Finally Have THE Talk? Tim W.
Apr 26, 15 Gameday: Raptors @ Wizards, Game 4, “The (1st) 1 in 1-111″ Blake Murphy
Apr 26, 15 Morning Coffee – Sun, Apr 26 Sam Holako
Apr 25, 15 Notes and Quotes: Raptors Cancel Shootaround for Game 4 Zarar Siddiqi
Apr 25, 15 Effort Isn’t Enough, Raptors Lose Game 3 Andrew Thompson
Apr 25, 15 Breaking It Down: Four Crunch Time Failures Handling Marcin Gortat Screens Zarar Siddiqi
Apr 25, 15 A disappointment William Lou
Apr 25, 15 Morning Coffee – Sat, Apr 25 Zarar Siddiqi
Apr 25, 15 Game 3 Reaction Podcast: Washington Twists the Knife Zarar Siddiqi
Apr 24, 15 Quick React: Raptors 99, Wizards 106 Matt Shantz
Apr 24, 15 Terrence Ross…His One Good Play Matt Shantz
Apr 24, 15 Game 3: Live Pre-game Kiyan Sobhani
Apr 24, 15 Notes and Quotes: All the Raptors got on the Plane Zarar Siddiqi
Apr 24, 15 Toronto Raptors Seek To Rediscover Chemistry – Gut Check Time Tamberlyn Richardson
Apr 24, 15 Game Day: Raptors @ Wizards, Game 3 Garrett Hinchey
Apr 24, 15 Morning Coffee – Fri, Apr 24 Sam Holako
Apr 23, 15 Off-Day Mailbag: Looking Forward, Looking Back Blake Murphy
Apr 23, 15 Raptors Struggle To Tame Team Arrogance Tim Chisholm
Apr 23, 15 What Our GM Needs to Really Re-evaluate. forumcrew
Apr 23, 15 Kyle Lowry’s Dip Not Just in Form, but Focus Zarar Siddiqi
Apr 23, 15 Talking Raptors Podcast, April 23 – Playoff Edition with Curt Russo Barry Taylor
Apr 23, 15 Morning Coffee – Thu, Apr 23 Zarar Siddiqi
Apr 22, 15 Don’t go quietly into that good night, Raptor fans Garrett Hinchey
Apr 22, 15 Notes and Quotes: Kyle Lowry’s OK, Everything Else is Not Zarar Siddiqi
Apr 22, 15 Breaking it Down: The Wizards score 13 times in 15 trips Blake Murphy
Apr 22, 15 Game 2: The Widening Gyre Andrew Thompson
Apr 22, 15 Everybody Relax forumcrew
Apr 22, 15 Morning Coffee – Wed, Apr 22 Sam Holako
Apr 22, 15 Notes and Quotes: Game 2 Aftermath Be Depressing (Lowry Hurt) Zarar Siddiqi
Apr 21, 15 Game 2 Reaction Podcast: Washington with All the Answers Zarar Siddiqi
Apr 21, 15 Game 2 Quick Reaction: Wizards 117, Raptors 106 – Obliterated Zarar Siddiqi
Apr 21, 15 Hope and Expectations Heading into Game 2 Michael Holian
Apr 21, 15 James Johnson Is Unlikely To Play Big Minutes Against Washington Wizards Ryan McNeill
Apr 21, 15 Gameday: Wizards at Raptors – Game 2 William Lou
Apr 21, 15 Jonas and Greivis make the cut in latest ‘Shaqtin’ A Fool’ Kiyan Sobhani
Apr 21, 15 Morning Coffee – Tue, Apr 21 Sam Holako
Apr 20, 15 Notes and Quotes: James Johnson a Hot Topic Amidst Lou Williams 6th Man Win Zarar Siddiqi
Apr 20, 15 Raptor Game Day Playoff Texts Tim W.
Apr 20, 15 Adaptation: Evolve or Die Andrew Thompson
Apr 20, 15 BREAKING: Lou Williams wins Sixth Man of the Year William Lou
Apr 20, 15 Playing James Johnson an obvious adjustment for Game 2 Blake Murphy
Apr 20, 15 NBA Playoffs – Game #2: Wizards @ Raptors forumcrew
Apr 20, 15 Morning Coffee – Mon, Apr 20 Sam Holako
Apr 19, 15 Masai Ujiri Fined $35K by NBA for Obscene Language Zarar Siddiqi

As per SAUCES, the Raptors are interested in the corpse of Carlos Boozer.

The Raptors may have address the PG and then some, shored up the SF, but they have gotten weaker at the PF with the loss of Amir Johnson, so it makes sense they start looking into fixing that. One of the avenues they’re considering is digging up Carlos Boozer’s grave, who was last interred at Staples Center under the watchful eye of the LA Lakers.

Boozer is an unrestricted free-agent who made $3.25M last season. He played 71 games last season and averaged 11.8 points and 6.8 rebounds in 24 minutes as the Lakers played a ton of garbage games where the outcome didn’t matter. Boozer is 33 years old and hails from Germany (betcha didn’t know that).

Boozer could be a serviceable presence off the bench, but it’s hard to see him being the starting answer at PF in any sort of configuration. Don’t get me wrong, he’s had a useful career and could still probably contribute on the offensive end. The question you have to ask is that given all the defensive efforts the Raptors have made this off-season, does it really make sense to inject a poor defender like Boozer in the middle?

Mobility is the name of the game here, and it looks more and more like the Raptors are trying to play GSW East ball, and Boozer simply doesn’t fit. Again, if he’s in a limited capacity supplying “veteran leadership”, fine, and even there I have to suspend my disbelief that he’s able to provide even that.

Delon Wright, one of the Scrubb brothers, DeAndre Daniels, Lucas Noguiera and Bruno Caboclo “headline” the list. Remember, this is a tournament-style competition that, though still horrible to watch, will not make your eyes bleed.

The games are held between July 10-20 in Las Vegas.

At this point there appears to be one very important void to fill still. Masai might have to get a little creative now with the lack of cap space still available. Who are some options at this point?

The pod takes on the developments of the last week head-on.
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BOOM!

And for contract terms, see below. The fourth year will be a player option, reports Brian Windhorst of ESPN.

The power forward spot may be the Raptors’ most pressing need, but that’s not stopping Masai Ujiri from strengthening the point guard position, which is now surely shored up with the addition of Canadian Cory Joseph. This also means that Luke Ridnour’s two percent chance of staying with the team is gone, and he will surely be either released, or traded, by July 11th, which is when his contract becomes guaranteed.

In giving Joseph this deal, the Raptors have pretty much ate into most, if not all, of their remaining cap room. Raptors cap guru Dan Hackett (DanH in the forums) says that the Raptors will have $4 million left in cap room if Joseph and Carroll’s deals are both backloaded. So, it looks like the Raptors will need to go bargain hunting to snag a third power forward. A trade is more likely.

The number looks high now, but the deal will become miniscule in Years 2 and 3. It works out to 8.3 percent of the cap in 2016-17 and 7.4 percent in 2017-18. That’s when Joseph should be hitting his prime, which could make this contract a bargain.

Joseph, the four-year veteran, was drafted by the Spurs with the 29th pick in the 2011 draft, and averaged a career-high 6.8 points and 2.4 assists in 18 minutes last season, making the backup point guard his own in the Spurs’ socialist system.

Joseph would be expected to battle Delon Wright for backup duties here in Toronto, and both offer a little something different. He had a strong shooting season last year when he hit 36 percent of his threes. Joseph can also slash into the defense and use his quickness to get to the basket and a good finisher around the hoop for a 6-foot-3 guard. Again, much like DeMarre Carroll and Atlanta, the Raptors are importing players from very good systems, and it’s tempting to project their numbers forward, but keep in mind that these moves that the constraint to the Raptors success now becomes Dwane Casey and his ability to manage players who have proven to be productive while remaining efficient in previous stops. Similar to Carroll, 94 percent of Joseph’s threes were assisted last season. Compared that with Kyle Lowry at 58 percent.

The Canadian angle can’t be understated here. The organization tried to acquire Tyler Ennis on draft day last year, and have now finally succeeded getting another Canadian into the regular rotation. This will mark the first time the Raptors will have a Canadian-born player on the active roster in the regular season, and there’s plenty of marketing opportunities to play. Knowing how MLSE and the TV broadcasts work, expect the point of Joseph’s nationality to be mentioned ad nauseum.

That being said, cultivating a connection with Canadian basketball is something Ujiri has stressed in the past. He has now made good on a promise he made four months past.

“There’s no doubt in my mind, during my time, even if my time [with the Raptors] is short, there will be a Canadian player on the Toronto Raptors,” Ujiri said.

(Via Eric Koreen, National Post)

Without all that, Joseph brings more than his passport. He made good strides last season and showed a very good ability to drive the ball after finding seams – 39 percent of his shot-attempts last season were at the rim. The Spurs were also +6.6 points per 100 possessions with Joseph on the court, owning mostly to his defensive advantage over a hobbled Tony Parker.

It goes without saying that Joseph will have a bigger role here in Toronto. Assuming that he continues to develop his jumpshot, Joseph should time playing in two point guard units with Kyle Lowry — a favorite of Casey’s. Joseph upped his averages to 13.2 points, 4.5 rebounds and 3.6 assists in 34.6 minutes across 14 games as a starter.

Contributions to this post were made by Zarar Siddiqi and William Lou.

With the loss of Greivis Vasquez and Lou Williams, the Raptors could use some backcourt help in the form of Cory Joseph.

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The reward for a Sixth Man of the Year campaign: 3-year, $21-million deal and a chance to chuck alongside Kobe and Swaggy.

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In a low-cost, low-risk move, Masai-ah has plucked Biyombo off the wire for a two-year $6mil deal:

Not clear if there is an option on his second year, but you have to love this get since the team gets a low usage, defensive-minded workhorse (albeit raw) center who doesn’t need the ball to be effective. Lowry and DeRozan can continue to dominate the ball on offense, he doesn’t take any touches away from Valanciunas’, the second unit has a rim protector, and the shift to small-ball looks to be in full swing.

Playing him alongside Jonas is also an interesting proposition, giving JV the luxury of a mobile, athletic, rim protector, who wont get in his way, and who actually compliments him very well.

The offensive drawbacks are many (can’t shoot free throws, no ability to get his shot off, can’t step out and hit the mid-range, a pick-and-roll zero), but most concerning is his total lack of dunking highlights over his short career. Athletic freaks should have at least one, right?

But that’s not why we got him, his ability to defend the rim is near-elite; something we haven’t had…ever:

bismack-blocking-shots

Note that he ranked 17th in blocked shots in only 20 minutes a night.

With the increasing cap, his addition costs the team next to nothing, and affords him the chance to settle into a role that doesn’t demand of him what being drafted seventh overall did with Charlotte.

Solid get by Masai. Solid

UPDATE: According to some folks in the know, Raptors signed Biyombo with their mini-mid-level exception, so there is no impact to their cap space; looking even better now.

Greivis Vasquez thanks the organization, the city and the fanbase for two great seasons.

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The offseason is off to a good start for the Raptors. The front office closely guarded their cap room and future flexibility at the trade deadline and has so far put it to good use, signing Demarre Carroll and pursuing Wes Matthews, who ultimately appears to have chosen Dallas over the Raptors (and the bags of money thrown at him by the disastrous Sacramento Kings). The Raptors being considered a real destination in free agency with their signing of Carroll, discussions with Matthews and their meeting with LeMarcus Aldridge is emblematic of this summer’s new free agent trend of good players seemingly more interested in going to locations with solid foundations where they are a good basketball fit, instead of considering market size, location or glamour. The Los Angeles Lakers and New York Knicks have swung and missed on everyone they’ve sought after with their considerable cap space. This kind of trend simply hasn’t happened before in the NBA. Players are flocking to a combination of long-term security, the best basketball situation and the most possible money.

Toronto has always had an impossible time getting free agents because it’s a cold weather city, outside the USA and off of the mainstream radar (and TNT/ESPN broadcast schedule). The policy had long since been for Toronto to overpay free agents, or even their own players, as the only way to tempt them to come/stay north. But all that seems to have suddenly changed, with teams like Toronto and Milwaukee being genuine free agency players because of their recent success, solid foundations, positions in the Eastern conference and the pitches of their smart management teams. The Raptors entire pitch is no longer an offer to overpay. The irony is, even with cap space, the thing holding the Raptors back this and next year, all things considered, might be their inability to overpay.

The Wesley Matthews case is a good example. Matthews is reported to have been offered an annual salary of $16 million over four years from the Sacramento Kings of Comedy. He turned that down for a $13 million annual deal from Dallas over four years. It’s just a good business decision to hitch your wagon to Mark Cuban and the Dallas Mavericks instead of the dumpster fire of a franchise in Sacramento. But it’s an incredibly bad business decision to leave an astounding $12 million dollars on the table! The thing is, the two offers probably end up being for essentially the exact same amount of money. California has one of the highest state income tax rates in the US, while Texas has no state income tax. So despite the variance in salary, it very well may be that Matthews takes home the same amount of money at the end of the day. Trust me, this would have been made very clear in Dallas’ pitch to Matthews. There is also no state income tax in Florida, and the Miami Heat have been bringing a finance expert to all of their major free agent pitches for years to explain to players how they’d make a little bit more, even by taking a little bit less, to come and play in Florida. It goes a long way towards helping to build a super team, and it was an instrumental factor in Riley and the Heat’s pitch to Lebron 5 years ago. This ties back in to the Raptors because players coming to play in Toronto are bound to pay income tax to both the Canadian government as workers here and income tax back home as well. It’s the inverse scenario of Texas and Florida. If Matthews is offered $13 million by Dallas, Toronto has to offer well in excess of that amount just to offer him the same amount. In a salary capped league, that’s very difficult to do.

$15 million is a lot of money to pay Demarre Carroll, but there are several teams who in all likelihood would have offered him that same money, especially in light of the salary cap set to explode over the next few years. The Raptors actually got lucky then, that they paid market value for Carroll instead of a premium. It’s also why their pursuit of LeMarcus Aldridge was probably always a mirage. Multiple teams will offer Aldridge max money, and even if the Raptors did that, our max money is ultimately less annual money than what the other teams are offering. The whole reason that the salary cap exists is to create parity and make it so that small market teams aren’t disadvantaged competing against big names like New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and Miami. It clearly isn’t doing that in this case and is, in fact, making it a tough uphill fight for the Raptors because of their international location. It only seems fair that the league should consider some sort of flexible cap exception for the Raptors allowing them a small amount of extra cap space to compensate for the amount of money it’s players will immediately lose in tax dollars to the Canadian government. It would only be fair, but unfortunately, I can’t see this happening, and I definitely don’t see this happening before the next CBA.

The Raptors have often had to search off the beaten path for free agents, looking for the diamonds in the rough, overseas talent and smaller names. That they are now in the mix for bigger names is exciting, and the result of everything smart on and off the court that team management has done over the last few years. But being in the mix for bigger names means you’re bidding against competitors, and the Raptors are going to have to learn how to make one hell of a pitch, because cap space being equal, they are never going to be able to outbid anyone.

Wesley Matthews has signed with the Mavericks, and in the end the Raptors finished third in the race to get him.  The Kings made a ‘huge’ offer but were rebuffed as Dallas upped the years to four, which was the main advantage being offered by the Raptors.

In hindsight, this may be a move best not made as Matthews is coming off an Achilles tendon injury, and was looking to make closer to $12M a year, which by all accounts would be a bit of a risk to spend on a position where the Raptors already have DeMar DeRozan.

Focus now turns to addressing the power forward position (assuming DeMarre Carroll’s a three) from what’s left of a thinning free-agent pool. Some notable options at four include Jordan Hill, Brandon Bass, Luis Scola, and Darrell Arthur. It might be that Masai Ujiri will have to look to the trade market to see if he can address the position, and see if he can raise the talent ceiling on this team beyond DeRozan and Lowry.

To me, the off-season had three todos:

  1. Find a starting SF
  2. Find a starting PF
  3. Ensure that DeRozan and Kyle Lowry are not your two best players heading into next season

So far, it’s 1/3 in my books.  Still early, but you have to think everything will be sorted out in a few days given the rate at which transactions are happening.

DeMarre Carroll was on TSN 1050 and talked about a few topics.

On the free-agent process and how things transpired:

I had 8 teams call me, and actually the Raptors were the very first team, and they gave me a great impression.

They came to my house at 10 PM, and I had four other teams: Detroit, Phoenix, and New York. The Raptors were the first team to come in, they blew me away with their presentation, they told me about the fan base, they told me about the city, they told me about how my family was going to live there. Last but not least, they told me about the team and I feel I can help this team in a lot of areas.

What he brings to the Raptors:

Defense. I think defensively I got to be the anchor. It has to start with me, my energy, my grittiness, my grit and grind, and everybody can jump on the bandwagon.

The year before the last the Raptors were a really good defensive team, I think last year they kind of fell off. I’m just trying to get Raptor fans something to get us [past the] first round.

On whether he still plays with a chip on his shoulder:

I don’t play with a chip on my shoulder, I play with a log on my shoulder. I feel like I’ve been through a lot, I’ve had a lot of obstacles [to overcome]. I wasn’t given, when first coming into the NBA, a silver platter. I was going to have to work throughout my whole career, my whole life. Once I got into the NBA, I knew I had to start from scratch and [get to] where I am today.

In a different interview (auto-playing video), he also spoke about the Hawks’ passiveness in trying to re-sign him:

“Atlanta, they made a semi-push but not as hard as I thought they would,” he told HuffPost Live’s Marc Lamont Hill. “I had four other teams making the big push.”

“They [the Hawks] really didn’t even really come with too much, according to my agent,” he added, noting his agent conducted most of the negotiations without him. Carroll eventually agreed to a deal with the Toronto Raptors.

“I know Toronto came into house and they did a good job of presentation and it kind of wowed me and my family away,” he concluded.

The Raptors are in hot pursuit of SG Wesley Matthews, and their offer of a greater number of years and a sign-and-trade for Portland aiming to reduce Matthew’s asking rate below $15M doesn’t appear to be getting the job done.

Dallas and Sacramento are the primary two competitors. While the Kings’ on and off-court situation is assumed to be unattractive, it simply means that they’ll have to throw bigger money at Matthews to land him, and they’ve created the cap space to do just that.

Dallas’s approach is a little different.  The Mavericks are trying to land DeAndre Jordan, and feel that if they do so, Matthews will follow.  Despite the frenzied opening two days of free-agency which has seen mediocre players get big money, Matthews is apparently willing to wait it out and see if Dallas is in fact able to land Jordan. If so, Dallas is confident of their approach to Matthews:

Once again, the Raptors angle here is an extra year to make it a four-year deal at around $11-12M, while executing a sign-and-trade with Portland to make the numbers work (the Raptors are ~$9M under the cap which is not enough to land Matthews).   Here’s the Raptors cap situation:

The Raptors are apparently contemplating a lineup of Matthews at SG, DeMar DeRozan at SF, and DeMarre Carroll at PF, which would beg the question: what is Jonas Valanciunas’ role in such a lineup?

To Amir Johnson, my favorite Raptor of all time.

(more…)

David Aldridge is reporting something that we all kind of suspected:

Aldridge is likely to choose either the Spurs or Suns.  The former presents a real chance of winning, and the latter apparently impressed in their meetings as they brought Tyson Chandler along.  Also, Phoenix has great weather.

This was always going to be highly unlikely for the Raptors, but just having the Raptors name mentioned in these kind of free-agency discussions is a positive. Not a huge thing, but at least a step in the right direction.  This is important after the playoff exit the Raptors had, which had seemingly washed all the shine off the recent successes of making the post-season two years in a row (granted, in the East).

The ‘get’ of DeMarre Carroll and the pursuit of Wes Matthews lend a bit of credibility to the franchise as well.  Mind you, that in this free-agency period there are a lot of players mediocre/somewhat above-average getting overpaid, and that appears to be a byproduct of the new CBA, and not actual overpayment.  It’s hard for me to digest this bit, but the math adds up here so I’m going to go with it.

What on earth happened yesterday?

Canada Day allowed for me to have the day off and to spend it largely following all of the free agency madness that took place. Despite all of that I still feel as confused as ever…like it was all a half dream of sorts that I can only remember pieces of.

Could there have been a more enjoyable first day? Absolute insanity, followed by an information hangover.

And what of the Raptors? The rumors were flying at a speed that I have never seen before, and yet it was an out of nowhere announcement from DeMarre Carroll on Twitter and Instagram that rightfully made the biggest news.

Carroll immediately became the highest paid free agent contract in Raptors history, while also providing the Raptors with a high level wing who can contribute on both sides of the ball. Outside of the unrealistic options available in free agency (LeBron, Butler, etc.), DeMarre was the top wing on the market and jumped at the opportunity to come to Toronto, passing up previously scheduled meetings with other teams (New York Knicks being one of them).

This news was immediately preceded by a plethora of Spurs moves (trading Tiago, re-signing Green, and meeting with LaMarcus Aldridge) that sent fear into the heart of Raptor fans who had been hoping for Aldridge to call Toronto home this coming season.

Years of training have caused Raptor fans to expect the worst, and many began to worry that Toronto would fail to sign any impact free agents despite being able to easily access over $22 million in cap space.

And then there was DeMarre.

No one had reported of Toronto’s meeting with DeMarre ahead of time. No one seemed to know that Masai Ujiri and company had made the trip to Atlanta to court, and no one knew that they had secured one of the top free agents the team has ever had.

Carroll gives the Raptors some much needed wing defence, while also having shot 39.5 percent from three last season. His shooting percentage jumps to 44.1 percent when taking the corner three.

While it’s very important to consider how DeMarre fits in Toronto, the more pressing question at the moment is “What’s next?”

In the days ahead Toronto has meetings scheduled with former (?) Portland Trail Blazers’ LaMarcus Aldridge and Wesley Matthews.

Aldridge is this summer’s most sought after Power Forward and had already had meetings with the Los Angeles Lakers (rumors say that he was less than impressed), the San Antonio Spurs (the current consensus favourite…it’s the Spurs!), the Houston Rockets (he was impressed by their analytics), and the Phoenix Suns (who apparently walked away as the current co-favourite, in part due to their acquisition of Tyson Chandler earlier in the day).

Matthews (who is in the process of recovering from a torn Achilles this past year) meanwhile has met with the Dallas Mavericks (who seem to be pursuing anyone and everyone this summer) but is said to have some interest in joining Toronto.

The finances for both are tricky. Without trading away any current players, Toronto can clear roughly $9.6 million in cap space (waiving all of their cap holds, including waiting Lou Ridnour’s non-guaranteed contract). Not nearly enough room for Matthews (rumored to want $15 million per year) or Aldridge ($18.9 million max contract).

The space could be created for either player if needed though. Trading Patterson without returning salary would create the needed space for Wes, while trading both Patterson and Ross could (as an example) create the room to sign Aldridge to a max contract.

Despite the challenges attached, Ujiri still has plenty of options available to him in terms of how he builds the roster moving forward. One such rumor shows the type of out of the box thinking that Ujiri could be considering:

Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, Wes Matthews , DeMarre Carroll, and Jonas Valanciunas…an odd but intriguing lineup possibility. It would provide the team with what should be a substantially improved defence, capable shooting, and low post scoring.

The worry here would easily be Carroll’s ability to hold up at power forward over the length of an entire season. The above line-up would be a great unit to run with for stretches of each game, but likely isn’t a full time solution.

The roster isn’t complete yet. Some financial flexibility remains, a few valuable trade assets are currently on the roster, and free agent meetings remain with both Aldridge and Matthews. The Raptors have always been an afterthought to most of the league, and this has been particularly visible in the acts of free agents each summer…yesterday felt different, and the hope is that today continues that trend with another major free agent decision.

Can Masai shock the world and land Aldridge? Could he convince Matthews to take less than his desired $15 million to compete in the Eastern Conference?

We may be just a few hours away from knowing. One thing is for certain though; the Raptors finally have a General Manager who has earned the trust of the fan base, and Masai Ujiri is bringing credibility to Toronto.

In Masai we trust.

The Toronto Raptors chase of Wesley Matthews is still on. It wasn’t a bluff to drive down DeMarre Carroll’s price. They didn’t hold a pre-scheduled meeting out of good faith. The Raptors are legitimately in on Matthews as a third wing, for a salary expected to fall in the (admittedly vague) $12-15-million range.

And according to Marc Stein of ESPN, Matthews’ options have narrowed to the Raptors and the Dallas Mavericks, who he says are “locked in battle” for the Portland Trail Blazers unrestricted free agent.

The language of other reports floating around suggests that meetings have already happened, with the Raptors trying to drive down Matthews’ desire for $15 million annually by offering a fourth year. DeMar DeRozan is said to have been involved in pitching Matthews, trying to sell him on an intriguing three-wing lineup that would see DeRozan at the two, Matthews at the three, and the 6-foot-8, 210-pound Carroll at the four.

The Raptors have, by my rough estimate, $9.6 million in cap space if they waive Luke Ridnour and renounce the rights to all of their free agents, including Lou Williams. That’s not enough to get Matthews done, but it may be close enough – Toronto could almost surely find a trade taker for Terrence Ross in a salary dump (we’ve all grown tired, but he’s a young player on a rookie scale deal who can hit threes), and Portland’s weird pseudo-hyper-rebuild could make them amenable to a sign-and-trade.

As for Matthews’ fit…you know what? Let’s get weird. Sure, playing Carroll at the four would leave Toronto susceptible in the post against some match-ups, but he’s a tough defender who’s proven capable of guarding hybrid forwards in the past. And there’s value in having three wings on the floor who can switch assignments and cross-match quickly. Matthews is a plus-defender, DeRozan is roughly average and a smart decision-maker, and Carroll’s quite effective. Those three on the floor together, in Dwane Casey’s aggressive scheme, switching plenty, may not hurt the team on the defensive end much at all. And offensively, it could quickly help turn the Raptors from an isolation-heavy, north-south only offense – albeit an effective one – into a more fluid, team-oriented attack. Matthews and Carroll are both strong outside shooters, Carroll and DeRozan move well without the ball, and both Matthews and Carroll are coming from aesthetically-pleasing (and highly effective) offensive systems.

The addition of Carroll and chase of Matthews signal that the Raptors want to move toward a different, and quite frankly better, style of play, and they’re willing to pay the market premium for players who can shoot and defend.

Matthews does those things, to be clear, and while $15 million may seem a bit of a reach, that’s the market the Raptors are operating in. Like with the Carroll deal, $15 million today will seem like roughly $11 million next season, and if the Raptors can negotiate Matthews down even lower, then great. And it’s worth remembering that DeRozan, while likable and a big part of the recruiting process, will likely opt out to hit unrestricted free agency next summer. Carroll and Matthews making, say, $28 million combined doesn’t seem absurd with the cap spiking, DeRozan potentially leaving, and both players contributing at both ends of the floor.

Since going undrafted out of Marquette in 2009 (shout out to Marquette for consistently producing the toughest dudes in the NBA), Matthews has built himself into a roster player, a quality rotation piece, and now a core piece. He averaged 15.9 points, 3.7 rebounds, 2.3 assists, and 1.3 steals this season, knocking down 38.9 percent of his long-range looks, and the Blazers were 5.3 points per-100 possessions better with him on the floor. Advanced stats back up his value, too – he ranked above-average at both ends of the floor by ESPN’s Real Plus-Minus and was eighth among shooting guards in RPM-based Wins Above Replacement.

The biggest concern with Matthews isn’t fit, but the Achilles injury that ended his 2014-15 season. While Matthews is already back in the gym and is known to be an incredibly hard worker – and prior to his injury, one of the league’s true iron men – the recent track record of players returning from an Achilles injury is spotty at best. Matthews is 28 years old and ranks 18th in regular season minutes played since entering the league, so the tread is somewhat low on the tires. On a four-year deal, with a high-character player and one of the most respected sports science teams in the league, that seems to be a risk the Raptors are willing to take.

Now there’s just the matter of beating out the Mavericks and noted super-recruiter Chandler Parsons. The league’s most handsome man is known to be an ace at luring free agents, and if the Mavericks land DeAndre Jordan, Matthews will probably think long and hard about going to Texas, where the taxes are friendly and the organization has a strong track record of doing what it takes to compete. The Sacramento Kings are also said to be chasing Matthews, armed with fresh new cap space and a plan to add either Rajon Rondo or Monta Ellis, plus Matthews, to their Rudy Gay-DeMarcus Cousins core. How you view that threat will depend on how you view a Rondo/Ellis-Matthews-Gay-Cousins core in the West. It’s not bad, but there’s no telling Vivek won’t just blow it up after a 1-2 start.

If Dallas can’t land Jordan, it’s hard to see what could sell Matthews – it’d be Parsons, Dirk Nowitzki, an excellent head coach in Rick Carlisle, and not a whole lot else. With the core in place, and in the Eastern Conference, the Raptors probably stand as a more attractive destination for a player looking to make a run beyond the first round of the playoffs. That’s not to get ahead of myself by any means, but the West is hell, and the Raptors would be much better with Carroll, Matthews, and Delon Wright in the fold.

I understand that the fit is going to weird some people out. It’s committing appreciable resources to multiple wings when the team only has one power forward (plus James Johnson) and one center (plus Bebe) on the roster. Landing a marquee four would have been great, but who’s available? Paul Millsap’s gone. LaMarcus Aldridge probably isn’t coming. Kevin Love is gone. Off the top of my head, there’s Josh Smith, David West, Brandon Bass, Carlos Boozer, Jordan Hill, Ed Davis, Thomas Robinson, Darrell Arthur, Kyle O’Quinn. Your mileage is going to vary with a lot of those names, and it’s not a flashy class by any means. I like Arthur and O’Quinn as potentially cheap fliers, Robinson may have some upside, and I think we all still love Boss Davis. But if it’s a choice between Matthews at this price or someone from that grouping and roster filler, I’ll take the higher end talent every time.

It’s worth remembering, too, that there are 48 minutes in a game. Matthews averaged 33.7, Carroll 31.3, and DeRozan 35. If the team wants to better manage the workload of their players, and they should, the funky DeRozan-Matthews-Carroll lineup is one that could be deployed strategically, for small runs, without requiring either player to see a serious minutes cut. Look at the following minutes-allocation scenario (assuming Ross is moved to create room):

PG: Lowry 30, Wright 18
SG: DeRozan 34, Matthews 10, Powell 4
SF: Matthews 22, Carroll 22, Powell 4
PF: Carroll 10, Patterson 25, Johnson 8, Backup PF signing TBD 5
C: Valanciunas 33, Patterson (let’s get weird!) 5, 3rd string signing TBD 10

That’s really, really quick off the top of my head. It’s sloppy and not well-though out, but it’s an illustration that having three wings doesn’t mean Carroll is a full-time power forward by any means. Casey and his staff could play the match-ups, play the flow of the game, and lessen the load on key players so that the entire team doesn’t look exhausted come late March. It’s entirely workable, and the three-wing lineup could be a lot of fun, versatile on defense, and tough to contain in the open court the other way.

The most important thing for Raptors fans to remember, I think, is that talent is what’s most important. The Raptors don’t have their free pick of the free agent market to neatly find square pegs for square holes, and waiting for the opportunity to do so risks winding up with far inferior players. In the modern NBA, where versatility, fluidity, and positional indeterminacy are growing increasingly more valuable, talent is what matters. Smart two-way players, particularly those with amorphous roles and positions, will never be tough to fit into a lineup or a rotation.

Get the talent, figure the rest out later. That’s the strategy the Raptors should be employing, and it seems to be the course Masai Ujiri has set this ship on. Fuck positions, let’s get weird.

The Toronto Raptors came correct on term and salary to sign unrestricted free agent DeMarre Carroll to a four-year, $60-million deal on Wednesday. But it wasn’t just cash money that the Raps put in front of the second Junkyard Dog in franchise history.

In an interview with HuffPost Live on Wednesday, Carroll revealed that the Raptors offered him a larger role in the offense:

I’m’a take my family up north. Hopefully it’s not too cold for us.

I think the biggest factor for me was the role on the team. Basically, Masai came in, coach Dwane Casey came in, told me I’m (gonna) have a bigger role. They wanna involve me more in the offense. You know, defense, that’s my calling card, but they want me to play a lot of offense, too. I’ve never had a team really come at me and make offense be a focal point, too

And you know, the family, the city. Watching them on TV and seeing their fan support, they really influenced me, too. And obviously the money, too.

He also noted that the Hawks weren’t very aggressive, making it clear that if the team was going to sign both Carroll and Paul Millsap, the former would have to take a paycut. The Raptors, meanwhile, were at Carroll’s home early and clearly impressed him with their presentation.

In terms of expanding his role, it will be…interesting. The Raptors need to vary their offense more and put a higher premium on moving the ball around the floor, and adding additional weapons can help to that end.

But Carroll had 82.7 percent of his baskets assisted on last season, playing for the league’s most assist-happy team. The Raptors were near the bottom of the league in potential assisted field goal percentage, and utilizing Carroll will require somewhat of a change in philosophy. Perhaps the signing of Carroll, the jettisoning of Greivis Vasquez, and a quiet rumor mill for unrestricted free agent Lou Williams suggest the Raptors will be a more democratic and aesthetically pleasing offense in 2015-16.

Here’s hoping it doesn’t mean funneling isolations to Carroll, who averaged 12.6 points and 1.7 assists and hit 39.5 percent from outside but has shown little as a shot creator. More than two-thirds of Carroll’s field goal attempts came without a dribble and he was largely ineffective in the rare instances he dribbled three or more times. Carroll pointed out that his handle and his pick-and-roll management are sharper than he’s given credit for – he’s yet another Raptor with a criminally low turnover percentage – and said he’s working on improving his post game, an important consideration if the Raptors play him at the four some.

Caroll’s usage was a career-high 16.9 percent last season and he responded with career-best efficiency marks, and the Raptors have to hope his efficiency can continue improving – or at least maintain – if his usage climbs even higher.

It’s important to remember here that there’s no language in the contract the Carroll has to get X number of isolations and post ups and so on. The Raptors are surely genuine in telling him they’d like to use him more, which is a worthwhile experiment given how much he’s improved year by year. But even if he never becomes a secondary ball-handler or wing facilitator, Carroll’s outside stroke is legitimate and his defense among the very best perimeter players in the league. Anything he provides beyond 3-and-D is going to be a pleasant surprise.

The great thing about the Toronto Raptors under Masai Ujiri is that news comes out of nowhere. Not only is it a lot of fun that way, it also lends credence to the idea that he knows what he’s doing and runs an incredibly tight ship. There are always leaks, and the Raptors continuing to surprise speaks to a front office operating under a consistent and well-understood voice and mission.

As a blogger – and a news writer in my day job – it sucks. It makes things impossible to prepare for, and it makes the Raptors’ news cycle entirely reactionary instead of proactive. Which is fine, and still fun, it just requires something like an opening day live post so we can sort through the mess of rumors and notes that may or may not come this evening.

I’ll be hanging around here until about 11, or whenever the Raptors sign Aaron Craft and my heart explodes out of ecstasy.

Wednesday Night News

Not much doing so far, but Carroll said in an interview that the fan-base and a larger offensive role were keys in his decision to sign with the Raptors. Those quotes and quick analysis can be found here.

*The Raptors are said to be “locked in battle” with the Dallas Mavericks over unrestricted free agent Wesley Matthews. Read more about that throughout this post and in our story evaluating the potential of a DeRozan-Matthews-Carroll wing grouping. In short: It could work, but it will be weird. Weird is fun. Weird is good. Embrace the weird. And I’m all for acquiring the best talent available and figuring out fit after the fact, if the deal is right – positive-EV is positive-EV, and rosters and roles are fluid.

*The Raptors’ pursuit of Matthews may be slowed some, as the Sacramento Kings have unloaded salary to chase Matthews, Rajon Rondo, and/or Monta Ellis.

What We Already Knew

*The biggest news to begin free agency was that the Raptors had unexpectedly secured a meeting with free agent power forward LaMarcus Aldridge. A max-contract player and four-time All-Star, Aldridge would stand as perhaps the biggest free agent signing in franchise history. Aldridge is favoring the Spurs, was impressed by the Suns and Rockets, didn’t like what the Lakers were selling, and still has meetings with Toronto, Dallas, and New York. The Raptors would seem to still be lightly in the mix, and there are paths to carving out a sign-and-trade that may work, but Aldridge seems a bit of a long-shot following the signing of DeMarre Carroll.

*Oh, yeah: The Raptors signed Carroll to a four-year, $60-million deal. Zarar broke the signing down and here’s my quick take: This is a good deal, and I like it a lot. Carroll fills several needs – shooting, versatile perimeter defense, toughness – and I’m fine with paying him nearly to age 33. His player type doesn’t age poorly, and the Raptors have a terrific sport science team to allay any concerns about Carroll’s late-season injuries. Carroll has a terrific backstory and it’s nice to see a hard-working player finally carve out a payday for himself. And don’t scoff at the money – $15 million is a lot, but it’s not a major premium above market value, and the rising cap situation will make $15 million seem more like $11 million from 2016 and beyond. That’s not to say money should be thrown out without regard for future flexibility, but evaluating Carroll’s deal under old-market expectations would do yourself and your evaluation a disservice. It’s perhaps a slight overpay, but if you like the player and fit – and I do – it’s entirely justifiable.

*The Raptors may not be done at just Carroll. With a charge led by DeMar DeRozan, the Raptors have a meeting scheduled with Wesley Matthews where they’ll reportedly try to sell him on a DeRozan-Matthews-Carroll triumvirate. Matthews’ injury history is a shade more worrisome than Carroll’s, as the bounce-back rate from Achilles injuries is uninspiring in recent years, but he would be another solid two-way addition. With 96 minutes to split between the shooting guard and small forward, plus the potential for three-wing smaller lineups, Matthews can fit. The Raptors would almost surely need to work a sign-and-trade or unload salary to land him – he’s said to want something in the neighborhood of Carroll’s deal, though there may be some wiggle room there. It seems weird, but weird is good.

*Luke Ridnour is surprisingly still a Raptor. I did my best to briefly explain why he was dealt four times in a week and what he means to the Raptors. He could impact any sign-and-trade scenario for Aldridge or Matthews.

*Amir Johnson signed a two-year, $24-million deal with the Boston Celtics. There’s no way around the fact that this kind of stinks as a fan. But it’s entirely justified – $12 million was too much for Johnson on this team, even if the second year is a team-friendly non-guaranteed that stands as a major trade chip next summer. And Johnson deserved the chance to cash in, in a place where he can help lead a group of young bigs and continue to receive meaningful playing time for a potential playoff team. There’s a great “Goodbye Amir” thread in the forums, and allow me this brief tangent: Amir’s the man. Few Raptors have ever embraced being Raptors like he has, and few have truly made Toronto their home as he did. He’s fourth in franchise history in games played, eighth in minutes, third in rebounds, second in blocks, first in field-goal percentage, fourth in win shares, and so on. All of that is important, and he was criminally underrated for the first several years of his tenure, but I doubt a year or two from now fans will remember the help defense, the pick-and-roll finishing, or the ridiculously effective screens. The image of Amir laughing, Raptors logo shaved in his head, arms full of Drake albums, doing the Zombie walk is the one we’ll think of.

Canada Day Q&A

I opened the floor on Twitter to some questions. I’ll answer them throughout the night. It’s better to get at me on Twitter because I’ll probably check that more frequently than the comments. Keep checking back.

Because it was the playoffs. And then the draft. And now free agency. And I’ve had bachelor parties out the wazoo. And weddings. And trying to cram in time with Jen before she took off for the summer. I was here that one day you came by looking for Josh but I was asleep and didn’t hear the door. Miss you, too, Fab.

I wouldn’t worry about it too much yet, not until the rest of the offseason plays out. If the roster finished like this, Wright backs up 1/2, Ross backs up 2/3, and Johnson only sees some time as a reserve combo-forward. A lot can still happen, but Johnson’s going to get crunched, for sure.

Probably not full-time. It’s asking a lot of his body and entering the year without a more traditional power forward would show an uncharacteristically narrow focus and ignorance of the value of flexibility. I’d expect the team to add at least a backup-quality power forward, though I think they’d be OK starting Patterson.

Value for the money is a tough way to phrase it. Cap space isn’t made equal, and if the Raptors felt their space this summer was more valuable than next, and best spent on a second-tier guy early rather than missing out on a top guy and being left with their…you know, in their hands, then it’s tough to fault. Based on the current market, the worst thing you could say about Carroll’s deal is that it’s a slight overpay and a bit of an injury risk, but I’m not in that camp. It’s a good deal, and short of Matthews, I’m not sure I see another free agent that’s a better fit at the price.

Yup, it’s possible, but it’d take some gymnastics. The Raptors would need to renounce all of their rights, waive Ridnour, trade Patterson and probably still make a move or two at the margins. Right now by some back of the napkin math, they could get to about $9.7 million in cap space, so they’d need to clear about $9 million to sign him into cap space or send out some salary in a sign-and-trade.

As far as I can tell, Aldridge didn’t cancel any meetings. It could be a short one as a courtesy, but he didn’t make meetings just to fluff teams. He wanted to hear what the Raptors had to say, and the very WORST that can be said about it is that it was a worthwhile long-shot. It sends a really nice message to the rest of the league that Toronto is a viable destination for a max player.

Amir Johnson is Christian. Criminally underrated for most of his WWE tenure, he left to take a chance at being appreciated like a star in a slightly worse situation (TNA). That’s not entirely fair to Amir or the Celtics, but it’s the best I could come up with AND leaves the window open for an Amir victory lap.

A lot to unpack here. I wouldn’t necessarily say Matthews means DeRozan’s gone – DeRozan is reportedly a part of the pitch. Ross going back in a sign-and-trade or heading elsewhere in a subsequent deal would make sense, though. But it’s not a certainty by any means – you’ll need four or five wings in the course of the season.

There are a ton of free agents still. If Carroll’s the only Wednesday deal that gets done, they have a need for a quality power forward, a backup center, and a third point guard. I think after the weekend, I’ll double back with a look at the remaining names and search out my “2015 Aminu,” who I’ll bang the drum one all offseason.

I like Cory Joseph a lot but he’s superfluous with the Wright pick. O’Quinn’s actually still a nice flier as a backup center, I think he’s got some upside left to grow into. Given those options, I’d probably take Matthews, but I’d understand someone thinking Harris is a better buy on the upswing versus Matthews in his prime years off injury.

Hell. Yes. I’d love to see it – and more so with Matthews inserted for Johnson – at least for small stretches. Patterson isn’t ideal as the small five, and Amir Johnson would have fit that role nicely, but I think it’d be passable for very small stretches. Even with Jonas Valanciunas at the five, a three-wing lineup could prove effective. I’m all for trying anything, and three switchable wing defenders is a nice option to have.

Maybe, but with the contract Millsap signed, I’m not sure luring him from Atlanta was ever all that realistic. 3-and-D guys are at a real premium (even Kyle Singler got 5/25), so “3-and-D wing, a solid third big, and maintained flexibility” might be more realistic.

Best I can figure – and Dan Hackett will correct me for tweaks if I’m wrong – is that the Raptors could work their way into $9.7 million in cap space by waiving Ridnour and renouncing everyone’s rights. (Note: Delon Wright will almost surely sign for 120% of scale but until that point, his cap hold is just scale. It also assumes the latest report of a cap jump to $69M (nice) is accurate.) Here’s what I’ve got:   rapscap

Getting hot up in The 6.

You’re getting realllllly complicated here. I think that’s beyond what’s realistic, though in strictly mathematics terms, I think it’d be possible. Waive Ridnour, renounce all rights, and find a taker for Ross, and that gets you the approximate $12M for Matthews. You’d have to lose at least one of Lowry or DeRozan or get incredibly creative, and you’re asking a lot from Portland. So, yeah…this ain’t happening.

Off the top of my head: Josh Smith, David West, Brandon Bass, Carlos Boozer, Jordan Hill, Ed Davis, Thomas Robinson, Darrell Arthur, Kyle O’Quinn. Your mileage is going to vary with a lot of those names, but it’s not a flashy class by any means. I like Arthur and O’Quinn as potentially cheap fliers, Robinson may have some upside, and I think we all still love Boss Davis. But uhh, there’s not going to be a flashy play here.

Nope, I don’t think so. They haven’t given up depth so much here – they’re a little thin in the frontcourt but they have a pair of solid guards, three or four useful wings, and starting post players. There’s work to be done but the Raptors’ cap sheet is far from top-loaded. And it’s July 1.

I like West for the toughness, leadership, and mid-range game, but if he walked away from a $12-million option, that tells me he’ll be priced out of a comfortable range for Toronto. At the mid-level, he could be a solid addition. And Matthews…well, yeah, the Achilles recovery history isn’t great. But he’s already back in the gym and everyone speaks the world of his work ethic.

Not at all, man. It may have been a long-shot, but look at what happened with Phoenix – they had an unrealistic meeting and are now thought to be in the mix. And it sends a nice signal to future free agents, because a max-level free agent considered Toronto a year after Kyle Lowry decided to stay here. It doesn’t hurt.

I don’t think making a splash for the sake of it ever makes sense, and it doesn’t seem Ujiri’s style. Stars move the needle and taking swings at them is always worthwhile, but I don’t believe Toronto’s in a spot to pass on the second-tier guys to play for a superstar, if that’s what you mean. As long as a move is positive-EV, I’m on board with it, and I’m all for adding talent and figuring out fit after the fact.

They’re a tough comparison given that their games aren’t really similar. Losing Amir sucks as a fan – he’s been the heart of the Raptors and the favorite player of hardcore fans for years. His time had come here, I think, and I’m glad he’s been able to cash in with a young team he’ll be able to help push forward. Carroll should be a fan-favorite, too – his story is awesome and he’s a hell of a worker.

Thanks for serving us all these years and wearing your heart on your sleeve.

It’s an end of an era in Toronto as Amir Johnson has left the Raptors for the Celtics.

Johnson’s rights were renounced so the Raptors could have enough room to sign DeMarre Carrol.  The Raptors could have theoretically still pursued Johnson but given the rumours that Caroll might be playing power forward, and Dwane Casey being a new fan of small ball, Johnson was the odd man out.  He’s now managed to secure a very lucrative, albeit short-term, deal with with the Celtics that sees him almost double his annual salary for the next two seasons. A bit surprised he chose a division rival and a team we hate, but you got to follow the money and chances are there weren’t that many teams throwing money around.

Johnson has been a loyal servant to the club, playing six seasons and being part of some very painful times, and some good times.  Last year he averaged 9.3 points and 6.1 rebounds in 26 minutes of play, and finishes his Raptors career averaging 8.8 points, 6.3 rebounds in 25 minutes while featuring in 586 games for the club. He’s fourth in the franchise’s all-time games played behind Morris Peterson, Jose Calderon, and Chris Bosh.

[Forum Thread: Goodbye Amir Johnson]

Johnson signed a 5-year, $34-million deal in 2010, which was seen as over-payment at the time, but as the cap grew and Johnson became a core part of Toronto’s defense, the deal was considered a bargain. Johnson was injury-riddled the last two seasons but continued playing through the pain, which many thought was detrimental to him and the Raptors defense.  He remains an effective pick ‘n roll player who has improved his finishing tremendously, and developed a respectable mid-range jumper which is effective when open.

Under Dwane Casey last season, Johnson’s key offensive strength, playing the roll man on the pick ‘n roll, wasn’t utilized to good effect, and here’s hoping he regains his touch with the Celtics.  Johnson was a big part of the local Raptors community, and endeared himself to the city and country.  He played hard, and there’s nothing negative to be said about a consummate professional, who an hour ago wished all Canadians on Canada Day:

https://twitter.com/IamAmirJohnson/status/616319577010515968

Amir Johnson – all the best, and thank you!

This is big. About as big as a splash you could’ve realistically expected the Raptors to make.

It’s early and more moves are on the horizon, but let’s take a moment to break down this signing while we keep an eye on the developing Wes Matthews story.

The Money

A four-year $60/M deal makes him the current highest paid player on the roster, and is about $2-3M per year more than what most analysts had him pegged at. However, this is not a huge overpay because you’re getting a guy who is in the prime of his career, and you have to factor in Canadian taxes to some degree. He turns 29 in July, which means the Raptors will have him till he’s 33 years old. The first three of those years will arguably be his prime, and after that his contract becomes an asset. Comparatively, Tony Allen at 33 is still near the top of his game, and has a similar 3-and-D role on the Grizzlies.

Under the projected cap for the 2016-17 season ($108M), Carroll’s salary will account for 14% of the cap. In comparison, Kyle Lowry today accounts for 18% of the cap, so Carroll’s deal isn’t exactly blowing the Raptors cap apart, and he’s probably in the right future salary pecking order given his talent.

This also sets some precedent for what someone like DeRozan might command, who probably sees himself taking up at least 5% more of the cap than what Carroll takes, ball-parking it at about $20M/season starting in 2016-17, which I’m sure he’d find reasonable.

After renouncing Amir Johnson, assuming they renounce Lou Williams and counting cap-holds for Delon Wright, other roster spots, and assuming they’ll waive Luke Ridnour, the Raptors would have about ~$9M to splurge on free-agents. This makes the LaMarcus Aldridge signing unlikely, unless it’s a sign-and-trade, which is possible and might be a way of Aldridge to say “thank you” to his former employers.  On the other hand, Wes Matthews remains a target.

The Player

Carroll is the perfect 3-and-D guy for any team – he’s long, athletic, has a great compete-level, and plays sound defense, while hitting the open jumper. He is essentially what we wanted Terrence Ross to become. His offensive game has developed considerably in the two years in Atlanta, as he’s able to take defenders off the dribble, often surprising them with his quickness.

He’s a good finisher at the rim, is keen on slashing without the ball, and can defend positions 2-4 in most lineups, and could even play the PF. A blend of versatility, hustle, and talent, Carroll is a player that any team can find a use for, and the Raptors have snatched themselves a player, albeit a role player, who can secure the small forward position in the foreseeable future.

Carroll is a combination forward which Dwane Casey can insert in a variety of lineups, which he loves to do. If small ball is the way forward, a guy like Carroll is the perfect fit. Carroll averaged 12.6 points, 5.3 rebounds in 31 minutes last season, while shooting 39.5% from three and 49% from the floor.  Here’s his shot-chart, which is the right kind of color:

Shotchart_1435775514080

Carroll’s also a good rebounder who likes to crash the glass and doesn’t sit idly by.  For example, 55% of his rebounds were within 6 feet of the rim, so he does like to come down and compete for the boards instead of waiting for them.  He’s moves well without the ball and is a solid cutter to the rim, and it’s one of the reasons why he gets open looks around the basket where he’s shooting a ridiculous 61%.

[Forum Thread: All Things DeMarre Carroll]

The Challenge

It’s critical to note that Carroll only flourished in Atlanta under a very organized offensive system, predicated on ball movement and team play. He shot 36% and 39% from three in the two seasons there, and complemented Atlanta’s other versatile players. His shots weren’t forced but were a product of a system that didn’t rely on isolation basketball and individuals solely creating shots.

In a Toronto offense which last year was low on assists, lower on ball movement, and very isolation heavy, a man of Carroll’s skill-set could find himself lost as he meanders on the three-point line while a defender’s sticking to him as DeRozan over-dribbles on the strong side.  For a guy who had 83% of his made field-goals assisted, he’s coming into an offense that was third-last in assist rate, so you can see what the challenge here is going to be.

The Raptors got a good player, but the responsibility of keeping him productive falls on Dwane Casey, who is entirely unproven in dealing with role players and constructing efficient lineups.

Impact on Roster

Assuming he’s playing the three, this relegates Terrence Ross to the bench effective immediately, which is good for the Raptors and could be the same for Ross. The swingman will now have a firm role coming off the bench rather than being switched in and out of the lineup constantly. He’ll have a more defined set of responsibilities, more offensive freedom playing in the second unit, and it’s up to him to make the most of it, before his contract situation comes into play starting next summer ($3.5M followed by a QO of $4.8M).

James Johnson could also find his minutes even further reduced (if not traded).

Assuming he’s playing the four, he could be a Draymond Green-type player, as he loves hitting the glass, can space the floor and has very quick drives from the top of the key, covering a lot of ground with each step.  If Wes Matthews signs, the Raptors just might be becoming a poor man’s GSW, assuming the coaching staff can keep up (biggest risk right now).

The Raptors wanted to address defense and shooting this summer, and this signing covers both angles.  Combine this with Delon Wright’s signing, and the talk of Wes Matthews, and it appears that the Raptors are aggressively trying to solve these two key problem areas very early in free agency.

Perception

This is a big ‘get’ for the Raptors, and further debunks the myth of Toronto being a wasteland for free-agents. The fact that LaMarcus Aldridge even setup a meeting (granted, only to remind them that they selected Andrea Bargnani over him), and the Carroll signing, sees Toronto being further viewed as a viable destination for free agents. Some GMs are salty, but then again I love tasting tears.

Eat your heart out, Raptor fans.

Basically, Matthews wants $15 million and the Mavericks are offering him $12 million.  That’s essentially the difference right now.  Even if they renounce Lou Williams, considering cap-holds for empty roster spots, Delon Wright, and Nando De Colo, the Raptors have about $9M left in the tank.  They would have to swing a sign-and-trade to get Matthews and the key play by the Raptors could be the length of the deal offered. They’re offering a four-year deal which is what they got Demarre Caroll at, a player of a similar age.

Apparently, the role being pitched here is the starting shooting guard, with DeRozan moving to the three and Carroll at the four.  After bulking up their shooting with Carroll, if the Raptors are able to sign Matthews who shoots 39% from three, it would make the the Raptors an excellent shooting team with 3/5 positions being deadly marksmen.

Shortly after DeMarre Carroll’s announcement on Twitter, Brian Windhorst tweeted that the Raptors will be doing some shifting in order to accommodate Carroll.

This should be no surprise. The Raptors won’t be planning on going over the cap by re-signing Amir Johnson. But if this report is true, then Masai is more willing to go over the cap to re-sign Lou Williams. In this case, if Amir eventually does re-sign, it won’t be for an amount that causes the Raptors to exceed the cap.

This signing came out of nowhere. Regardless, let’s welcome Toronto’s newest addition.

DeMarre Carroll is a Toronto Raptor.

(more…)

First and Foremost, a Canada Day Toast:

To all those who had the foresight to book Thursday and Friday off, enjoy your long weekend. But either way, today is a much needed break from the work-week grind for all of us. It’s also a time to celebrate, spend time with family and friends, while feeling proud to be Canadian. Well, minus the shame of the environmental and health destruction that the irresponsible development of the Oil Sands provides. Just a reality check, this is the Republic after all.

Canada’s sports scene is no stranger to that sense of pride, regardless if opinions are like you know what. On the mainstream level, we may play the background more often than not, but does that really matter when each city’s passion can rival any fan base out there?

Toronto, for the most part, is viewed as the enemy through the rest of the country’s eyes. Yet in the big picture, we have each other’s back (or so I hope), even if you live in Montreal or Ottawa. A special shoutout to Vancouver is in order, as the NBA would be a better place if two Canadian franchises were still roaming the hardwood.

As of this article’s publishing, NBA Free Agency has been live for nine hours. Canada Day aligning on the calendar is nothing new, but can still offer up a chance to keep the good vibes flowing. Time will tell if that’s just false hope rearing its ugly head or perhaps the Raptors actually land a few quality pieces. Free Agency is about to send the basketball world into chaos, as a result, opening up the trade market even further. Two avenues that will prove to be pivotal stops on the Raptors’ road to recovery.

Now, let’s get this party started.

NBA Free Agency

“We’re Open For Business.”

Those magic words are what every fan of a squad in need wants to hear, and by all accounts, Masai Ujiri isn’t just giving the media empty soundbites. The unexpected LaMarcus Aldridge news undoubtedly adds an entire new dimension of possibilities, even if Toronto seemingly sits as the long-shot to score Portland’s force in the middle.

It’s difficult to keep our imagination in check, the jolt this team would receive from an Aldridge addition is a tantalizing one. A mobile, dual-threat Power Forward (if only) who thrives equally in the post as well as from mid-range (it still has a place in today’s game). The Raps’ 26th overall ranking in total rebounding would welcome an instant makeover with open arms, less plotting in the interior would give K-Low and DeRozan some much needed room to breath, and the pressure on Valanciunas to become a focal point would be alleviated. Alright, alright, I’ll snap out of it.

If the Raps do in fact hold the least appeal among potential suitors, we still made his shortlist, which in itself can only help the luring of other quality names. Every time we think about what could have been, the 2006 draft becomes increasingly painful. I usually applaud GM’s for taking risks on what they believe in, but the margin of error made by selecting Andrea Bargnani over Aldridge has haunted this organization ever since. I’ll cut Colangelo some slack, however, as 19 players selected in that first round are currently not suiting up in the NBA, even our “beloved” Kyle Lowry was passed over until 24th overall. But i digress, let’s get back to the business at hand.

You can add a couple names to the rumour-mill mix. Bismack Biyombo’s shot-blocking presence and rebounding prowess offer an intriguing and helpful skill-set. But when another Blazer, Wesley Matthews, joins the discussion, we proceed to stand at attention. Terrence Ross is running out of chances to prove his worth, while Matthews immediately stretches the floor in a way Ross apparently will never be able to do. This presents a chance to kill the waiting game. Matthews’ supposed clean bill of health by the start of next season is an encouraging sign, but an Achilles injury does leave room for hesitation. Especially considering the likely asking price.

If the Raps’ brass are intent on forcing the T-Ross issue, Matthews and other candidates such as Khris Middleton, and to a lesser extent, Iman Shumpert, open the door for the elephant in the room to poke its head out earlier than originally thought. DeMar DeRozan is sure to opt out of his final-year player option heading into the 2016-17 season, and attaining unrestricted status to boot. At that point, thanks to the league’s impending new TV deal, the cap will have increased to a level where contracts will reach new heights. Whether it’s a max-deal or not, DeRozan is about to seriously cash in. The question is, will MLSE and Masai be the ones handing him the paperwork?

Is DeMar a max-player? Well, that isn’t necessarily the main talking point moving forward. Unworthy players will “earn” max-dollars (or close to it) with more regularity as we go. It’s becoming the nature of the system. Now, while it’s within Toronto’s reach to shell out in back to back years, the Raps’ could get proactive and deal DeRozan as soon as this offseason when the return would be at it’s strongest. The odds are slim, but you can’t rule out a roster overhaul.

Speaking of changes.

usa-today-8480802.0

New Blood:

Let’s put it in reverse and go deeper into Draft night, an evening that shed some positive light on this organization. The script has yet to be written, but when a team says goodbye to one of their more inconsistent and one-dimensional members, while at the same time welcoming a potential aid to a major weakness, not to mention topping off their first-round picks over the course of the next two years to make a grand total of four, it should be deemed as a success.

Greivis Vasquez was an important part of the Raptors’ movement, but proved to be expendable over time. Vasquez deserves recognition, though, the spark and clutch element he supplied to a stagnant group was at times invaluable. Still, there’s only so many times a player can dodge questions about their presence on the defensive end before a franchise decides to pull the plug. Boosting the available cap space in the process made this transaction a no-brainer. This city wishes GV luck, but nice doing business, Milwaukee.

Enter Toronto’s first-round pick. The 6’6″ defensive-minded Point Guard from the Utah Utes, Delon Wright. Winner of the Bob Cousy Award for the NCAA’s best at the position. How many times have opposing guards broken down the Raps’ perimeter defense with relative ease? A massive flaw in the this team’s “system”.

The book on Wright suggests poor shooting with a troublesome jumper and just 29.9% from downtown in his senior year. But it also advocates for a stat-stuffer with exceptional anticipation at both ends, and the knack for getting to the rim. Opportunity is ripe for Wight to be handed meaningful minutes off the hop, even if he’s relegated to backup duties.

Wright does face a learning curve, but if the upside comes to fruition, that script could include a chapter where Lowry doesn’t fulfill all four years of his recently signed contract.

This is not a Bruno scenario. All signs point to Wright’s calm demeanour and polished mindset. At least now with the Raps’ newly founded 905 D-League squad, we’ll be able to witness first hand if Bruno’s nervous hands and deer-in-headlights disposition have progressed. That 905 logo, however, feel free to insert Kramer’s “Don’t look at me, I’m hideous” line, here.

At the risk of using the most overused reference of all-time, Bruno literally may have been “Two years away from being two years away”. A disappointing thought, but he still owns plenty of potential to prove something to his critics, as flashes (in very small doses) of intangibles have been on display. How he fits in the Raps’ current state of affairs is up in the air. Which brings us the road presently travelled.

Lowry Casey

Future Fireworks?

The league has evolved to a point where life behind the arc, efficiency on the pick-and-roll, and the ability to drive the lane take precedence above all else. This is not groundbreaking intel, as less emphasis on the traditional big has been brewing ever since Damon Stoudamire was coming off screens by Carlos Rogers. But what will happen if the offseason proves to be a bust? What if the value added to the roster is minimal at best, can the status-quo learn from their shortcomings?

The four left standing in the playoffs (Warriors, Cavs, Hawks, Rockets in case you’ve been on vacation) were the same four who finished the regular season in the top five of 3-pointers made (per game and total), and in the top seven of 3-point attempts (per game and total). The good news is the Raps reside an encouraging 9th and 8th respectively (per game and total).

The discouraging part is the majority of those threes were jacked up with no discipline. The separation begins when those top four also occupy the top ten in assists (per game and total), while the same category showcases Toronto’s indecisive ball movement as they ISO-lated themselves to the point of 22nd overall status (per game and total).

Wild and disorderly attempts only breed a lack of box-out fundamentals, and a lack of box-out fundamentals leads to poor position, poor position makes for inadequate rebounding, inadequate rebounding morphs into easy transition buckets the other way, and easy transition buckets the other way calls for yours truly to throw his TV off his balcony.

What if Amir Johnson and Lou Williams are both re-upped? That notion only lends itself to the same old story. An encore presentation of last year’s bitter disappointment cannot repeat itself. We can’t relive Lowry’s gambling problem, the James Johnson roller-coaster, Dwane Casey’s somewhat-forced misusage of JV, or the lethargic vibe this team gives off in general. Hell, Patrick Patterson, despite his flaws, might have been the only player who served up what he’s supposed to on a nightlly basis.

Just because “small ball” has risen to the forefront, it doesn’t mean the backseat positions will ever dissolve. But, if you can’t manage the mentality, or acquire the players to help the new-school NBA work for you and not against, this team will self-destruct by the All-Star break. And we’re hosting the event.

If Aldridge chooses his hometown of Texas, or decides on California, there’s more where that came from. Toronto as a free agent destination is gaining a bit of traction. As for redemption, all we can do is just sit back and enjoy the ride. Keep the faith?  Definitely, maybe.

Happy Canada Day, Cheers.

What an eventful 24 hours it’s been. We always knew that the rumor mill would start spinning heading into July; but who would have thought it would spin as fast as this.

The calm before the storm..

A relatively quiet front in the rumour department was met by a surge of breaking news yesterday. It started with the hiring of Rex Kalamian, and escalated when the Raptors announced they’re extending the qualifying offer to Nando De Colo. It then peaked when Shams Charania dropped the LMA bomb, and got even more interesting when Wesley Matthews’ name was thrown into the mix.

Amidst all that, the Raptors acquired Luke Ridnour and got linked with Bismack Biyombo. Oh, and apparently Jerry Stackhouse will be unveiled within the next week or so.

Undoubtedly, the LaMarcus Aldridge bit trumps everything for now.

The excitement of the Aldridge rumor initially started because the source was completely legit, and the rumor was then confirmed by Marc Stein of ESPN. Since the news broke out yesterday, it’s been made clear that the Raptors aren’t the only team on Aldridge’s radar – not that that should be of surprise to anyone.

The official list is as follows.

Firstly, it’s important to note that if Masai did somehow pull this signing off, Aldridge would probably go down as the third best Raptor of all-time, and potentially the most important acquisition since Charles Oakley. Ergo, he would be the key piece needed to take the Raptors to the next level.

Aldridge would slot directly into the four spot – which works out perfectly for him as he hates playing at the five – and would compliment Jonas well. Raptor fans should know well how much it can sting playing against a player of Aldridge’s caliber. In two games against the Raptors last season, he averaged 11.5 rebounds and 23.5 points on a scorching 57.6% shooting.

To break it down even further to prove how insanely good LaMarcus Aldridge is, I’ll shift your focus to this year’s playoffs. He torched the Rockets in the post-season, punishing them from the mid-range and inside. Aldridge had back-to-back 40-point games in that series.

Imagine if the Raptors had that kind of weapon on their roster in the post-season. That’s no ordinary weapon, folks. That’s one of the best power forwards in the league, abusing one of the best teams in the Western Conference.

Aldridge gets a knock from critics because he’s known to shoot a lot of mid-range shots, and his True Shooting % is just 52.8% (41st among NBA power forwards). Although, that’s not something that overwrites his overall output. Aldridge’s PER of 22.85 ranks third among NBA power forwards behind Blake Griffin and Anthony Davis. While he’s not known for being a defensive juggernaut, he’s still solid in that department. His size and length allow him to protect the basket even against the NBA’s elite big-men, and he’s quick on defensive rotations – jumping out to open shooters on the perimeter. Ergo, if Aldridge is matched-up against a stretch four, he won’t be exposed much. Likewise, he can take advantage of teams playing small-ball at the four by posting them up or shooting over them.

But it all could be a tease. If there’s one thing Raptor fans have learned over the past 20 years, it’s to not get your hopes up. Aldridge will be meeting with other teams, and according to the ever-reliable Adrian Wojnarowski, the Raptors are not the favorites to swoop the Blazer star.

Woj TV Bomb?

A video posted by @mbrawley1 on Jun 29, 2015 at 8:25pm PDT

So what’s the pitch?

It’s not all doom and gloom. Fact: LaMarcus Aldridge shortlisted the Raptors, and not the other way around, which means he has interest in Toronto. But, the competition is stiff.

This won’t come down to money. Aldridge will get the max from whichever team he ends up with. The Raptors are going to have to pitch this city as if their life depended on it. Does his mom have a say? Offer her a nice Rolls Royce and a condo next to the most prestigious bingo hall in the 6ix. Drake will undoubtedly have a hand in this, since the Raptors have no actual basketball-related salesmen on the Pop/Duncan/Parker level. Is Drake on tour? Skype him in. Make sure Aldridge knows he’ll have VIP access to the best clubs on a nightly basis and he’ll be hanging out with ILoveMakonnen.

OK – maybe the last bit wouldn’t help at all. But the rest? Totally valid suggestions.

It needs to be made clear to Aldridge that he would be the star in Toronto. This would be his team. In a wobbly Eastern Conference, Aldridge would have an easier path to the Finals. He would be put on a pedestal, worshiped by a country, and voted in as a starter in the all-star game for years to come.

There is another interesting pitch: The Raptors could acquire his good friend and current teammate Wesley Matthews – but that would require a shake-up of sorts. If the Raptors were to sign both, they’d be near-crippled financially and would need to dump a contract or two. According to Tim MacMahon, Matthews’ devastating injury won’t stop him from asking for big money – somewhere in the 15m range.

Wesley Matthews is a great player who would be a terrific upgrade over Terrence Ross at the three. He’s a better defender, and a better shooter too. He would be the glue that could fit all the pieces together. If Aldridge would see that as an incentive, it would be worth even moving DeRozan or Lowry for. If it came down to that, Lowry might be the more expendable due to age and the abundance of quality point guards in the Association.

Paving the way..

What no one has talked about is what this acquisition would actually do for the image of the franchise, and what it would do to lure the most heralded free agent in 2016 – Kevin Durant.

A thought like that requires an imaginative mind, but you’re not going to attract someone like KD unless you already have a cornerstone like Aldridge already on the roster. A team with Aldridge and Durant would be an automatic contender coming out of the Eastern Conference.

Regardless of whether Masai lands Aldridge or not, the fact that Aldridge has shortlisted the Raptors as a destination means the franchise has taken a positive turn in the Leiweke / Ujiri era.

The rumours were swirling before, and it looks like it’s done:

This comes on the heels of the Raptors hiring Rex Kalamian to fill the other coaching position.  So, Kalamian and Stackhouse in, Tom Sterner and Bil Bayno out.  That should round out the assistant coaching staff.

Stackhouse, a two-time All-Star (2000, 2001) was a UNC-product who played 18 NBA seasons and was at times a prolific scorer, though often considered iso-heavy.  His best season came in 2000-01 when he averaged 29.8 points for the Pistons, in a season where he led the league in FGAs (he loved shooting). He last played in 2012-13 for the Nets and averaged 4.9 points in 37 games.

Stackhouse has ties to the GTA as he’s created an AAU club basketball team, the Stackhouse Elite.  That team is coached by another former-Raptor, Jermaine Jackson.

Stackhouse is easily the most established player turned assistant coach the Raptors have had in recent years, this after flirting with Jamaal Magloire and Alvin Williams. The Raptors who don’t have much of a veteran presence in the locker room, are looking at the coaching bench to provide that, and the team could benefit from Stackhouse’s years of experience. Here’s hoping he has the young ones’ ear.

Stackhouse and myself do share a common trait, in that we’re both former vegetarians.  My stint lasted a full month, as I couldn’t take the abuse from my family who ridiculed me for my life choices.

Here’s Stack at his best:

As per Twitter in the knows:

Here’s what’s happening with Ridnour:

  1. The Memphis Grizzlies acquired Ridnour from the Orlando Magic on Wednesday in exchange for Janis Timma, a second-round pick in the 2013 NBA draft.
  2. The Grizzlies then acquired Matt Barnes from the Charlotte Hornets for Luke Ridnour, who was then later sent to Oklahoma City.
  3. Oklahoma City then traded him to Toronto, who take Ridnour into cap space, and the Thunder get a $2.85M trade exception out of it.

You could view this as the PG position for next season being sorted out, with Ridnour and Wright battling for the backup guard duties, or you could see it as a move to create some cash in exchange for helping out OKC get a traded player exception. He has a non-guaranteed deal of $2.75 M for next season, which becomes guaranteed on July 11, so he’s basically a trade chip for anyone willing to free up some space. Basically, if the Raptors were to acquire salary in a trade (or sign-and-trade, ahem, Aldridge), a guy like Ridnour could be part of a deal as Portland would release him and create immediate cap space.

Tomislav Zubcic was drafted #56 in the 2012 NBA Draft, and was a three-point shooting big man who was considered a good pickup at that stage in the draft. However, he hasn’t developed enough for the club to pry him away from his Croatian side, Cedevita Zagreb, who he’s been with for 9 years.

Again, this is a win-win situation, as the Raptors have a few options here:

  1. Keep him till training camp or beyond as competition for Wright
  2. Use him (or specifically, his $2.75 M non-guaranteed contract) as a trade chip as part of a package
  3. Just waive him and pocket the change you got from OKC

Ridnour is an NBA journey man who has played for seven teams, with the Raptors potentially being the 8th:

Season Tm G GS MP FG% 3P% eFG% FT% TRB AST STL TOV PTS
2003-04 SEA 69 6 16.1 .414 .338 .453 .823 1.6 2.4 0.8 1.2 5.5
2004-05 SEA 82 82 31.4 .405 .376 .450 .883 2.5 5.9 1.1 1.8 10.0
2005-06 SEA 79 77 33.2 .418 .289 .445 .877 3.0 7.0 1.6 2.1 11.5
2006-07 SEA 71 58 29.5 .433 .353 .468 .805 2.3 5.2 1.2 2.2 11.0
2007-08 SEA 61 5 20.0 .399 .296 .428 .857 1.5 4.0 0.6 1.3 6.4
2008-09 MIL 72 50 28.2 .403 .350 .447 .869 3.0 5.1 1.3 1.8 9.6
2009-10 MIL 82 0 21.5 .478 .381 .528 .907 1.7 4.0 0.7 1.3 10.4
2010-11 MIN 71 66 30.4 .468 .440 .528 .883 2.8 5.4 1.3 2.2 11.8
2011-12 MIN 53 53 33.0 .440 .322 .485 .891 2.7 4.8 1.1 1.8 12.1
2012-13 MIN 82 82 30.2 .453 .311 .493 .848 2.5 3.8 1.0 1.6 11.5
2013-14 TOT 61 14 18.7 .385 .343 .442 .654 1.6 2.9 0.5 1.1 5.0
2013-14 MIL 36 12 21.2 .384 .368 .441 .684 1.7 3.4 0.6 1.3 5.7
2013-14 CHA 25 2 15.1 .389 .300 .444 .571 1.4 2.2 0.4 0.8 4.0
2014-15 ORL 47 0 14.5 .426 .317 .483 .857 1.4 2.0 0.4 0.8 4.0
Career 830 493 26.1 .431 .349 .474 .862 2.3 4.5 1.0 1.6 9.3
5 seasons SEA 362 228 26.6 .415 .335 .451 .855 2.2 5.0 1.1 1.7 9.1
3 seasons MIN 206 201 31.0 .454 .358 .502 .871 2.7 4.6 1.1 1.9 11.7
3 seasons MIL 190 62 24.0 .434 .367 .483 .875 2.2 4.3 0.9 1.5 9.2
1 season ORL 47 0 14.5 .426 .317 .483 .857 1.4 2.0 0.4 0.8 4.0
1 season CHA 25 2 15.1 .389 .300 .444 .571 1.4 2.2 0.4 0.8 4.0
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 6/30/2015.

Thoughts? You guys think we have enough to entice LaMarcus to come to Toronto next season?

The Raptors are in the hunt for a pair of Trail Blazers.

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As per Rick Bonnell, beat reporter for the Charlotte Observer, the Raptors may be in the hunt for freshly released unrestricted free agent, Bismack Biyombo:

Caution to the wind, though:

The 22-year old Biyombo’s $5.2M qualifying offer was declined by Charlotte, making him an unrestricted free agent. Why would the Raptors be interested in him? Well, they need rim protection which Biyombo provides at a half-decent rate (2.9 blocks PER36), though he has disappointed given his wingspan, size and jumping ability.

Biyombo hasn’t shown much since the 2011 draft, which is when he was picked seventh ahead of Klay Thompson, Kawhi Leonard, Kemba Walker, Brandon Knight and Nikola Vucevic. His saving grace used to be his rim-defense, when in 2013-14 he held opponents to 40.1% at the rim, however, last year that number ballooned to 54.8% as Biyombo’s timing in defending players was borderline comical.

Biyombo lost out to Jason Maxiell in Charlotte’s rotation and the problems have been lack of effort, and simply not ‘getting’ it.  He has no offensive game, no jumper, and is basically an athletically gifted man who doesn’t know how to play basketball.  How horrible of an offensive player is he – he hit one shot outside the paint all season!

If your’e into wingspan, though, he’s your guy.  The 6’9″ PF/C has a ridiculous 7’6″ wingspan, except that he doesn’t really know how to play help defense so what good is it really? The only argument you could make for him getting minutes in a Raptors lineup is if Toronto is looking to replace Tyler Hansbrough with a similar sort of player, except that Hansbrough’s a better offensive player. Ouch.

In other, much less exciting news, the Raptors have made a play to retain the rights to Nando De Colo.

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IT’S ALL HAPPENING (MAYBE)

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From Adrian Wojnarowski:

After coaching stints with the Kings, Wolves, Nuggets, 76ers, Clippers, and Thunder, the Raptors would be Kalamian’s 7th NBA stop in about 20 years. Kalamian was a huge part of OKC’s offensive philosophy, and he specializes in player development and game preparation – all three of which the Raptors could use in a big way.

Something noteworthy: Kalamian was also an assistant coach under Dwane Casey when the latter was the head coach in Minnesota.

Steve Gennaro from The Doctor Is In podcast returns to the pod along with Andrew Thompson and we talk what happened and didn’t happen on draft night.  There’s the analysis of the Delon Wright and Norman Powell picks, plenty of DeMar DeRozan contract talk, analysis of Al-Farouq Aminu, loads of free agency stuff, and lot more.

Part 1

Part 2

  • What does asking for the max really mean for DeMar DeRozan?
  • Is DeRozan worth the “max”, what NBA tier is he in? Can he make it to the next tier?
  • Would paying DeRozan big money hinder our ability to sign other players?
  • DeMar DeRozan – the cards on the table – what do we do with him?
  • Next moves Ujiri has to make
  • Who’s available in free-agency?
  • Do we need Al-Farouq Aminu, as rumoured?
  • Raptors 905 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 (54:00, 65 MB). Or just listen below:

offersheet

As per @sportslogosnet, the logo for the new Raptors D-League franchise, Raptors905, has been leaked, and it looks like so:

dleaguelogo

This is pretty terrible, and something a drunk teenager experimenting with MS Paint could kick out in a couple of minutes.  However, it is simple and symmetrical which means it’s already better than the new Raptors logo, which continues to compete with watermelons around the world for the title of Soggiest Watermelon Ever.  Let’s checkout some Twitter reaction to this thing:

In addition to this, the press release the Raptors have prepared has also been leaked:

press

Logos aside, let’s just be happy with being able to follow players like Bruno Caboclo, Bebe Nogueira, DeAndre Daniels, and Normal Powell more closely this season.

Update: We have the picture of the guy who’s designing these logos:

guywhodesignedlogo

As per David Aldridge, the Raptors will be meeting with Al-Farouq Aminu:

The 5-year veteran small forward was with Dallas last season and averaged 5.6 points and 4.6 rebounds in 74 games.  The Wake Forest product was the 8th pick in the 2010 NBA draft, and has been a bit of an offensive disappointment, but has made his mark defensively at the position.  He’s a solid defender and rebounder, but beyond that doesn’t bring you anything else.  He can’t shoot, doesn’t have an offensive game and is essentially a hustle-guy who is capable of making good cuts to the rim.  He’s got good size at 6’9″ for the three, and would be the best defensive player on the team if signed.

This would also put into question James Johnsons’ role for next season. Johnson is as good a man-defender as Aminu, a worse rebounder, a better offensive player, but the bottom line is that neither can shoot.

Aminu declined a player option which would pay him $1.1M next season, this after signing a two year deal with the Mavericks last summer.

Here’s a scouting report from a New Orleans blog from last year which pondered on whether to keep him or not before he bolted for Dallas.  There’s also a pretty solid article from Upside Motor which chronicles Aminu’s fit with the Mavericks, and how best to integrate 3/4 tweeners like him.  The reason Dallas went for him is summarized in this little piece from the article:

And fortunately for Aminu, he couldn’t have found a better fit than the Dallas Mavericks for his skills. Being placed next to Dirk Nowitzki — the premier floor spacer in the NBA last season from the front court — should be a massive bonus for his career. He’ll be allowed to simply wreck havoc on the offensive glass and make cuts to the rim (his 1.31 points off of cuts last season was in the top 15 percent of all NBA players) while Nowitzki and Chandler Parsons help to space the floor. Even Tyson Chandler’s pick-and-roll heavy game will help the Mavericks’ spacing when Aminu is on the floor, and it’s going to be a huge help to his career. Aminu is a bigger, better version of what Jae Crowder has brought to the Mavs last season, and he’ll be a welcome addition.

You can certainly afford to have him on the roster as long as the rest of the lineup is capable of efficient offense, and shoots a lot of jumpers, as that’s the environment where a guy who loves to crash the boards can thrive.  So, maybe interest in a free-agent like this is indication that the Raptors want to continue to play “small ball” and focus on perimeter shooting, while providing some rebounding insurance through a guy like Aminu.

As for his offense, if you’re not of the faint of heart, take a look at his shooting zones – yeah, this guy’s all defense, and not anything else.

AlFarouqAminuShotChart

His Basketball Reference Page

His NBA.com Page

No matter what kind of pay bump DeMar DeRozan is looking for, the question remains the same: is he a top-two man on a championship, or at least an NBA Finals team?

First up, it doesn’t matter what a player makes, it’s what percentage of the cap that they’re using.  Assuming MLSE’s a pretty rich organization that’ll stay above the cap and close to the tax, it’s best to think of resource allocation in relative than in absolute terms.  Everyone in the NBA is about to get pay increases so there’s no point moaning about why a guy like Goran Dragic could make $20M a season in his next contract, it’s whether Goran Dragic is the highest paid (and thus implying the best) player on his team that is the question.  Or in our case, DeMar DeRozan.

DeRozan is currently due to make $10.1M next season and assuming the cap stays what it is at $63.1M, it accounts to 16% of the cap.  By comparison, LeBron James makes $20.6M which is 39% of the cap.  This is a world I understand, because James is probably four times the player DeRozan is and this reflects that valuation.

This is all in the current world. The rumour from yesterday had it that in the new world of an increased cap, DeMar DeRozan’s agent might be taking a crack at getting him the max at $25.3M.  In a world where the cap is projected to be at $108M (at least), this accounts to 23% of the cap.  Hmm, not as ridiculous as it sounds, does it? If you’re of the belief (and many fans are) that DeRozan is currently a steal at $10M a year, then you can’t possibly be upset about him taking up 7% more of the cap than he is now, assuming even marginal increases in his game.  He just happens to get the benefit of a raise after being “underpaid”, and the NBA ushering a new salary cap at the same time.  That’s all.

Assuming that this isn’t just an agent negotiating tactic and they do in fact seek the max, the $25.3M number only sounds huge in context of the current cap because that would make him the most expensive player in the league…in today’s salary cap, which is a false comparison.

Currently, Tier 1 players take about 30-35% of the cap on their respective teams, and if DeRozan even gets the $25.3M he’s supposedly asking for, the 23% that it would amount to is still pretty low if you consider him a Tier 2 player. It’s if he’s a Tier 3 player that you start questioning whether that’s how much you want to pay him, and whether it reduces your overall flexibility.

And that’s the question – what tier of NBA talent does DeMar DeRozan fit in?  His limitations and strengths have been talked about ad nauseum on this site, so there’s no point diving deeper into that.  The point to ponder here is that whether Masai Ujiri can pull another Bryan Colangelo, and sign DeRozan to a deal that can prove a bargain in the long-term relative to his protected skill-set.  If he’s able to give DeRozan a $6M pay raise to $16M, and sign him to a 4 year contract, you would have to consider that a great deal for the Raptors under the new salary cap.  I can feel you cringing at the idea of paying DeRozan, a severely limited player, that kind of money but I’ll appeal to your mathematical sense and urge you to think of it in terms of cap percentage.  This is a league where a guy like Doug Christie would’ve made $12M a year. I’d even argue that paying DeRozan $20M is a decent deal because that’s still only 18% of the new projected cap!

This conversation isn’t about how much DeRozan should make, it’s about whether he’s the type of player that could be a top two or three player on a championship team.  That’s what’s going to drive Masai Ujiri’s decision on whether to ink him to a new deal or ship him and avoid another Chris Bosh situation.  Either Ujiri believes that DeRozan is the guy that can up his three-point percentage to over 36%, become at least a 70th percentile defensive player, and is able to consistently adopt a play making role rather than be a black hole.  He ended the season on a hot shooting streak, had stretches where his assist numbers were extremely impressive, and even had games where his defensive presence was the difference in winning and losing.  It’s about consistency with him and though his effort is consistent, his game is not.

He’ll be starting his 7th NBA season in October, and will be 26 at the time.  Players generally hit their prime between 27-30, so it’s not impossible to suggest that he’s got another couple gears in him that could see him hit an All-NBA level.  To make that call, though, you have to look at the incremental improvements he’s made every summer, and that’s when you identify slightly improved ball-handling, a slightly improved mid-range game, slightly improved defense, and that’s the theme here: slightly.

He hasn’t made a real jump in his career yet, and Ujiri’s toughest analysis will be whether he sees DeRozan making a jump or two to justify his place in a lineup that hopes to compete for a championship, irrelevant of what he makes, because everyone including DeRozan knows he’s not a “30-40% of cap” player.  It’s not like he’s asking to be paid like the best player on the team, it’s whether Ujiri even wants him on the team.

The fear of every Raptors fan right now is that we might be backing the wrong horse, and opening up the door for another Chris Bosh era, where we tirelessly fall short because our best player isn’t good enough and the GM is hell bent on pairing him with lesser talented players hoping the sum of the parts is greater than the whole.  This is where I think the difference between Masai Ujiri and Bryan Colangelo lies, the former has the honest sense to call a spade a spade, and he has to believe that that even if he pays DeMar DeRozan his supposed asking rate, the buck doesn’t stop there and better players need to be acquired in order to be taken seriously, even in the East.  Given the new salary cap and the numbers being bandied about, that’s still possible even if we pay DeRozan more than what he “deserves”.

Decisions, decisions with DeMar DeRozan.

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It all began when the Raptors, in an attempt to throw the season away, acquired three expiring contracts in the form of Patrick Patterson, John Salmons and Greivis Vasquez as part of the Rudy Gay trade. The plan was to tank and if it weren’t for these three seeming nobodies, the entire outlook of this franchise may have been different. Not sure if better or worse, but definitely different.

Of the three, Greivis Vasquez was the piece that, even at the time of the trade, you might have thought had a real future with the club. Lacking a second point guard, he was a proven commodity that could secure the reserve guard position, and offered a different blend of offense than Kyle Lowry. His history of leading the league in assists (no small feat), and superior size at the position indicated that he was capable of generating offense, while also running the team responsibly. The tandem of Lowry and Vasquez reminded one of the T.J Ford/Jose Calderon duo, who in 2007-08 were one of the most potent 1-2 punches at the position (only to be destroyed by Jameer Nelson in the playoffs).

As streaky, frustrating, and thrilling as his offense has been the last season and a half, it wasn’t that which led to Vasquez being shipped away.  Lack of offensive efficiency isn’t something that gets you in Dwane Casey’s doghouse, not when you have DeMar DeRozan and Lou Williams gobbling up minutes. His pull-up threes in transition and long-twos after a quick screen early in the clock didn’t kill the Raptors, because he had the sense to reduce the volume of his shots when they weren’t going in. There’s something to be said for self-awareness, and nobody can say that Vasquez dominated the ball and reduced the overall efficiency of the offense.

On offense, when he was good, he was really good. When he was bad, he was moderately bad and knew when to stop.

It didn’t help him that the Raptors didn’t play a lot of pick ‘n roll, despite having two guys in Amir Johnson and Jonas Valanciunas who are capable roll men. Running the pick ‘n roll while seeing over the defense on account of his size is what Vasquez’s strength as a point guard is, and when that wasn’t available to him, he looked to generate his offense through means which often seemed inefficient. The isolation-heavy Raptors offense essentially froze out Vasquez’s skill-set and forced him to be a spot-up shooter, which he’s not great at since his shot requires time to release.

It’s not a surprise that during his first half-season his assist rate was 29.5%, which is excellent, and in his second season it dipped to 23.9%. That’s not because Vasquez suddenly forgot how to pass, it’s because the Raptors offense went away from team-oriented basketball to feeding Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan possession after possession. When he did play with the subs, he played with Lou Williams – a ball-dominant high-usage player that forces the other four players on the court to watch him. That is not a situation where a PG can be successful.

Vasquez’s issue was his defense, he remains a horribly immobile defender that simply can’t defend 95% of players at either guard position. The only time he’s able to check someone with a half-measure of success is when it’s a slower player who he’s able to body up using his frame. The problem is that there aren’t many slower guys than him in the league.

He wasn’t entirely at fault for his defense as his coach did him no favours. Dwane Casey’s reluctance to consistently make offense/defense subs meant that Vasquez found himself in unfavourable positions in critical stretches of play, often being on the court and guarding a guy that he had no business being near of. Checking Tyreke Evans up top with the game on the line is probably the most blatant example that comes to mind. These situations enflamed fans and painted him in a much harsher light than he deserved.

The Raptors defense bleeds points because key players like DeRozan, Lowry, and Jonas Valanciunas are highly questionable defenders, and play in a scheme ill-suited for their defensive abilities under a coach that can talk defense but hasn’t shown that he can walk it. Having Vasquez as part of the setup compounds the coaching and personnel issues, and if you go by the theory that you’re only as strong as your weakest link, the Raptors certainly have strengthened their weakest link, except the chain remains fragile.

The acquisition of Delon Wright adds up because Masai Ujiri loves big defensive PGs, evidenced by him giving Julyan Stone a chance twice. If Wright is indeed the official backup PG next season, and there’s no reason he can’t be given how many minutes Lowry plays, the defense will improve simply because the point-of-attack was strengthened. The move does leave the bench threadbare for offense, and I don’t believe Lou Williams will return, so it does present Masai Ujiri additional work to do because as of this moment, the best offensive bench player is Patrick Patterson, a guy who can’t create for others and needs his shot created for him most of the time. That’s assuming Amir Johnson returns in the same capacity, and if not, then Patterson would start and the honor would go to James Johnson. Yikes.

From a purely basketball point-of-view, I’m a bit sad to see Vasquez go because I did feel he could have contributed more in an organized setup. At the same time, the move improves the Raptors defensively, gives them even more cap room to work with. The assets checkbox has been ticked, so has the cap room one. The question now becomes what does Ujiri does with that room? Fix the barren bench? Wait for next summer when there are more free-agents available? Make trades where you’re taking expensive players into space? Exciting times, and plenty of possibilities.

Come check out and discuss our the newest Toronto Raptor.

Three takeaways from Thursday’s draft.

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The second-rounder for this year is Norman Powell from UCLA, an under-sized shooting guard. You can add him to the Raptors905 D-League roster ASAP, where he can join Daniels, Caboclo, and Bebe in a fantastic game of HORSE. This pick was acquired from Milwaukee earlier as part of the Vasquez deal.

It’s another senior being drafted by the Raptors, who have made it clear that although they’re preaching a youth movement of sorts, they’d want to bypass the development time by drafting more mature players, and at 22 years old and 4 years of college experience at a legitimate basketball school, Powell has that.  He’s considered a tough player with a strong center of gravity, and known to be a disciplined defender, which goes with the theme of the night (trade Vasquez, draft a defensive PG, and now this).

Don’t really know that much about him, here’s a DX snippet:

A tough, athletic shooting guard from San Diego,Norman Powell‘s solid four year career at UCLA came to an end at the hands of Mark Few’s Gonzaga Bulldogs, after the Bruins made a surprising run to the NCAA Tournament Sweet 16. A consensus top-50 recruit in the high school class of 2011, Powell struggled to find his footing during first two years in Westwood playing a minor role offensively and seeing his playing time dry up for stretches.

Powell’s campaign for the 2015 NBA Draft started with a strong showing at the 2014 adidas Nations experience, where he, and a number of other high level college prospects, attended as a counselors. Standing 6’4 with a 215-pound frame and a massive 6’11 wingspan, Powell’s physical tools and aggressiveness helped him stand out among a group that included Stanley Johnson,Terry Rozier,Montrezl Harrell, andFrank Kaminsky. A tremendously explosive leaper with great speed and unique strength for a guard, Powell was dominant at times competing against his peers, showcasing his game in front of scouts and gaining significant momentum heading into his senior year.

I suppose a broken clock is right twice a day. The Raptors have picked my man, Delon Wright – a 6’6″ senior PG from Utah, with the 20th pick and he will play backup point guard as suggested here this morning.  He’s the brother of Dorell Wright.

This is a great pick, because in one night the Raptors have completely changed their backup point guard position and upped their defense. Wright is the best defensive point guard in the draft, and even though he can’t shoot (yet), he’ll provide a different variety of offense at PG. His style very much keeps the defense on its toes, and he is a very good ball distributor who uses his size to good effect. Some DX notes:

Wright has excellent size for a point guard at 6-5, albeit with just an average 6-6 ½ wingspan and 179 pound frame. He uses his height to his advantage tremendously as a passer, where he surveys the floor over the top of the defenses, and can make pinpoint passes to cutters and spot-up shooters, primarily in pick and roll and drive and dish situations.

From an athleticism standpoint, Wright is unique, as he is not particularly quick or explosive by traditional standards, but rather relies on a very herky-jerky style that helps keep defenders off balance. Wright plays at a variety of different speeds, changing directions frequently with slithery ball-handling moves and crafty footwork. His distinct pace and shifty style of play makes him difficult to guard, as he utilizes a variety of different Eurostep moves, ball-fakes and other deceptive techniques from his huge bag of tricks—helping him draw fouls at a very nice rate.

Wright’s best attribute from a NBA standpoint is likely his defense. He has quick feet, excellent instincts and a scrappy nature, putting outstanding pressure on the ball. His instincts for getting in the passing lanes and overall timing for making plays off the ball is extraordinary, helping him average an outstanding 2.6 steals per-40 minutes pace adjusted in his two seasons at Utah, with a ton of blocks and rebounds thrown in for good measure.

Wright’s anticipation skills are off the charts, and he does it without gambling in the passing lanes excessively, but rather by simply sniffing out when to help out teammates, and when to make a reflexive play as a sort of free safety. He’s big enough to guard either backcourt spot, which gives his team coveted positional flexibility that is very much in demand in today’s NBA. ‎

The biggest concern about Wright’s transition to the NBA revolves around his outside shooting. He made just 38 of 126 attempts the past two seasons (30%), and is especially limited as an off the dribble shooter. Wright’s pull-up jumper is virtually non-existent at this stage, as he sports a low and slow release on his shot, and gets little to no elevation, which makes it difficult for him to create separation from defenders. His hesitance to shoot off the dribble is something that better defenses scouted and were able to take advantage of consistently the last two years, sagging way off him, going underneath screens on the pick and roll, and generally mucking up Utah’s offense.

Below is some video. Keep in mind that he’s a senior who has played four full years of college basketball, and doesn’t require the development time other prospects would need. He’s certainly a ‘now’ pick rather than a D-League stash. Initial reaction is that Ujiri has made the most of this pick and done very well to solve one particular defensive hole in the rotation.

You can read Dwane Casey’s reaction here.

WOJBOMB:

What does this mean? The Raptors are short a point guard and Tyus Jones, Jerian Grant, and the guy I picked earlier today, Delon Wright is still available. Look for the Raptors to draft a PG.

The move gives the Raptors an additional $6.6M in cap space this off-season, inching them upto $36M.

Needless to say, this is an excellent haul from a very poor defensive player, even though the Clippers pick is likely to not be great. The L.A. Clippers’ 1st round pick to Milwaukee is protected for selections 1-14 in 2017, 1-14 in 2018 and 1-14 in 2019; if the Clippers have not conveyed a 1st round pick to Milwaukee by 2019, then the they will instead convey their 2020 2nd round pick and 2021 2nd round pick to Milwaukee.

The Raptors also acquired the 46th pick in this draft, so look forward to them filling up their D-League team some more.

This immediately is an addition-by-subtraction move in terms of defense. More to follow, for sure.

Some more reaction and info:

Here’s the official RR prediction for tonight’s 2015 NBA draft.

Kevon Looney, PF, 19 years old, 6’9″, 222 lbs, Freshman, UCLA

He’s 19 years old but can be thought of as a “contribute now” type player, because of his defensive versatility and three-point shooting. In a league where stretch fours are becoming more and more valuable, he’d be a nice complement off the bench. Though he doesn’t have the greatest quickness, I still think he could get by playing at the three in Dwane Casey’s chaotic lineups where he’ll be able to press on high-screens and still be able to get back (something Patterson, Hansbrough, and Johnson all struggled with). At worst, he’d be in the local D-League where the Raptors can keep a close eye on him.

DX Note:

Defensively, Looney shows nice versatility, often playing at the top of UCLA’s zone and covering ground nicely on the perimeter, contesting shots impressively with his long reach. His lateral quickness is solid, and he’s able to get in a low stance, which aids him in keeping smaller players in front of him. He’s much more limited as a post-defender at this stage, where his average frame and lack of strength is not a good combination. While he’s clearly a competitive player, he can get pushed around relatively easily at this stage, which may be an issue for him in the NBA early on in his career.

Delon Wright, PG, 23 years old, 6′ 6″, 181 lbs, Senior, Utah

I remember when everybody coming out of college used to be around this age. Having played four years in college, Delon Wright requires less breaking-in time and could easily fill a void as the Raptors third-string point guard, a position they haven’t fielded in some time. Not blessed with the quickness of someone like Dennis Schroeder, Wright uses legit basketball moves to get into lanes and surveys well to make the right pass. He’s got a very herky-jerky style (almost like T.J Ford way back when), and uses hesitation moves to get going. Defensively, he uses his height well to block the offensive player’s view, and though the wingspan isn’t great, there’s a lot to be said for getting someone of his size and maturity level onto the roster.

DX Note:

Wright’s best attribute from a NBA standpoint is likely his defense. He has quick feet, excellent instincts and a scrappy nature, putting outstanding pressure on the ball. His instincts for getting in the passing lanes and overall timing for making plays off the ball is extraordinary, helping him average an outstanding 2.6 steals per-40 minutes pace adjusted in his two seasons at Utah, with a ton of blocks and rebounds thrown in for good measure.

Wright’s anticipation skills are off the charts, and he does it without gambling in the passing lanes excessively, but rather by simply sniffing out when to help out teammates, and when to make a reflexive play as a sort of free safety. He’s big enough to guard either backcourt spot, which gives his team coveted positional flexibility that is very much in demand in today’s NBA. ‎

Montrezl Harrell, PF, 21 years old, 6’8″, 253 lbs, Junior, Louisville

Here’s a guy who could’ve been picked in the first round last year but decided to stick around for his junior season. He’s a very different type of PF than Looney, one who relies on motor and hustle. He’s going to make his mark in the NBA on defense, and there are a lot of Kenneth Faried comparisons already being made (though he’s an even poorer defensive rebounder than Faried). He’s got athleticism, length, and strength, and in my view could easily replaced Tyler Hansbrough as that type of player on the roster. His offensive game isn’t much to talk about, but do you really want to bring in a guy who needs shots? He does gamble on defense, and is often over-aggressive which means he’s termed as an undisciplined defender. Don’t matter, at that age and that experience, there’s plenty of room to grow and he’s certainly a willing defender. The red flag here is that he can’t really shoot (did hit a few threes last year) and he’s not the stretch four that Looney would be.

DX Note:

Harrell’s relentless nature, combined with his quick second jump makes him a very solid presence on the offensive glass. He averaged 3.9 per-40 offensive rebounds for his career, despite his lack of height, as he often seems to simply want the ball more than his opponents, and will go well out of his area to pursue it.

Defensively is where Harrell figures to make his mark at the NBA level, as he has a relentless motor to go along with strong physical tools (length, strength, athleticism), and will often be seen sacrificing his body and diving on the floor for loose balls, not being afraid of anyone or trying anything to get the job done.

Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, SF, 6’7″, 211 lbs, Sophomore, Arizona

He can’t shoot and gets a deer-in-the-headlights look on offense, but he can dominate defensively. So, there’s your trade-off.  He can matchup with most NBA wings, and has the frame, strength and quickness to give them trouble.  Making a pick like him basically concedes that you’ll be drafting a role player, and the chances of him amounting to a great offensive talent are very low. If you’re looking for NBA-readiness, this is the guy to pick because he could come in tomorrow and matchup with Bradley Beal or Joe Johnson in the playoffs.

DX Note:

Hollis-Jefferson was one of the best defenders in college basketball, and will need to make his mark on this end of the court at the next level as well. While he guarded multiple positions in college, he was best matched up against wings, where he can match their quickness and bother them with his strength and wingspan. He is locked in on this end of the court, taking pride in shutting down the opponent’s best scorer. He moves his feet well to stay in front of dribble penetration and can finish the play with a strong contest of the shot, blocking 1.1 shots per 40 minutes pace adjusted.

My personal pick: Delon Wright.  The Raptors need a point guard more than they need another flawed wingish player, and though Looney and Hollis-Jefferson have defensive potential and the former can shoot the three, they’re not going to fill the void that exists at SF, only paper over the cracks.  I get drafting a role player, but at this point, you need to maximize the return on this pick and get someone who adds a little different look to your offense and defense.  With Vasquez on the last year of his deal, Wright could be promoted to a backup next season at a cheap rate.

Who will the Raptors will pick? Montrezl Harrell to replace Tyler Hansbrough.

Shoutout to Sauga City.

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“If a player is being picked 20th – I hate to say it like this – there’s something they lack,”

– Masai Ujiri

There is perhaps a hidden message in the above quote. Sure, every year there are rumblings about an effort to move up the draft in order to acquire better talent, but by now the fans must roll their eyes when they hear the suggestion. The Raptors, in their near 21-year history, have never moved up the draft.

What Ujiri spews is invariably true. In the past 34 years, only four players have been drafted at #20 and gone on to become an all-star – Larry Nance, Zydrunas Iglauskas, Zach Randolph, Jameer Nelson. Of the other 30 picks, only a handful have become serviceable NBA players. Paul Pressey, Donatas Motiejunas, Evan Fournier – all solid players. The rest of the crop is littered with players like Alexis Ajinca, Kareem Rush, Renaldo Balkman – and the like. Last year’s 20th pick, Bruno Caboclo, is almost undisputedly the most raw player in the entire Association. There’s no telling which way he’ll sway. But there’s enough sample size to endorse Ujiri’s theory.

But Masai Ujiri’s tenure thus far in Toronto has been as cautious as they come. If the organic growth phase is truly over, it’s hard to envision the big changes. At this point, it seems like tweaks with the role players are more probable than any tinkering with the core of the team.

Two names that keep popping up are Amir Johnson and Lou Williams. Michael Grange reported yesterday that both of those players probably won’t be resigned. If that’s the case, Masai will have his hands full trying to replace two vital roles in the team.

Tristan Thompson’s name has surfaced frequently. Without looking at the money aspect, Thompson would be a great fit. He’s not as polished offensively as Amir, but he has age (and health) on this side. But there are reasons why acquiring Thompson won’t (and probably shouldn’t) happen. Thompson will be looking for a max contract or somewhere close to it. While he’s a solid player, he hasn’t earned that kind of money yet, and his reputation was inflated in a playoff series where he out-rebounded a Warriors’ team who’s tallest player for large stretches was Draymond Green.

Thompson has upside, but you can’t throw around max deals based on future potential.

An interesting player who comes to mind: Ed Davis. He’s even more limited than Tristan Thompson offensively, but he’s a solid rim protector and will be infinitely cheaper. The problem with that suggestion: Dwane Casey would never play him, and he’s not someone that could be slotted in as a starter to replace Amir. Like Thompson, he also wouldn’t stretch the floor and would probably need to be slotted in as a back-up center and paired with Patrick Patterson.

Another scenario worth exploring: Perhaps Masai Ujiri doesn’t need to find a direct replacement for Amir at all. With the league transitioning into a small-ball era, Patrick Patterson might be ready to don a starting role at the 4, which would mean that Ujiri can find a cheaper alternative for someone to be Patterson’s back-up.

With the risk of being flamed, I’m intrigued about the possibility of bringing Anthony Bennett home. Everyone’s aware by now that Vasquez publicly announced the Wolves and the Rockets are interested in his services, but a quick glance at both those rosters shows there really isn’t a viable trade to do with either of those teams.

Bennett is an option though, especially if the Wolves throw in a pick with it. It’s a low-risk deal. Does he just collapse and forever fall into the NBA’s basement with all the home-town pressure on his shoulders if he comes to Toronto? It’s a thought that will cross everyone’s mind. But the flip-side is that he really can’t get any worse, and maybe he’ll be motivated to play in Toronto.

I mean, surely this version of Anthony Bennett lies latent somewhere, ready to be uncovered. If he doesn’t pan out – you lose Vasquez, and his 6.6 million dollars comes off the books while Anthony Bennett would get sent to the Raptors’ future D-league team.

Losing Vasquez is not cataclysmic in the least. Talent-wise, the point-guard position is the most stacked position in the league. Acquiring another solid point-guard like Greivis Vasquez won’t be too strenuous a task.

The Corey Joseph to Toronto rumours would be just beautiful if they turned into fruition. But the Raptors will be fighting against an entire Association for his services.

In reference to Grange’s article which was talked about earlier, it’s interesting to note that he throws around the possibility of Tyson Chandler or Demarre Carroll – both of whom would need to be overpaid for if they were acquired. This is, perhaps, the most frightening scenario. Acquiring veteran pieces to a young team in a semi-rebuild make sense if you do it right. Washington did it with Paul Pierce and that turned out pretty well for them. But to bring in Pierce, all they had to do was sign him to a two-year deal worth 11 million. Such a move won’t necessarily cripple your future. But bringing in someone like Tyson Chandler could be somewhere in the 13 million / year range. He’ll also be 33 by the time the season starts.

That move reeks of Bryan Colangelo

If the Raptors are going to overpay for one of those two, Carroll would be a more interesting option, as ‘3+D’ players are hot commodity these days. He’s about five years younger than Chandler, and would be a huge upgrade over Terrence Ross at the 3.

We are just a stone’s throw away from draft night. In the next 24 hours, some things will be made more clear. It’s going to be an interesting month ahead.

General manager Masai Ujiri spoke Tuesday morning about being “open for business,” the D-League, the draft and Greivis Vasquez’s comments.

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Having struck out on several other candidates, the Toronto Raptors’ search for willing assistants presses onwards. Next up: former Thunder assistant Rex Kalamian and former Bull assistant Andy Greer.

This report comes from TNT’s David Aldridge, by way of Sportsnet.

There’s not too much information about the two candidates. Greer served under Tom Thibodeau’s last season and was a long-time favorite of Jeff Van Gundy’s, following him through stops in New York and Houston. Greer also has a background in scouting and player evaluation with the Portland Trail Blazers.

Kalamian coached five seasons with the Thunder before getting released. He was responsible for game preparation and player development. The second note should catch your attention as the Thunder have produced an endless line of young talent. However, Kalamian was also involved in the Thunder’s offensive planning, which consisted mostly of isolation sets for their star players. Granted, the system worked to great effect, but that speaks to their enormous talent. Kalamian also has an background in scouting.

The Raptors have two coaching vacancies dating back to mid-May, when Bill Bayno and Tom Sterner were dismissed.

With the Pan Am Games right around the corner, Venezuelan point guard Greivis Vasquez has been rather busy with media tours. As one of the premier athletes representing his country in this summer’s competition, Vasquez will be front and center in his NBA home of Toronto.

Which is why this comment a tad awkward. (Here’s a link to the original tweet in Spanish).

Vasquez made a number of passive-aggressive comments regarding his role throughout the season, but he was a consummate professional. It’s no great secret that the addition of Lou Williams undercut his responsibilities. Williams nabbed Vasquez’s role as Sixth Man and transformed the look and style of the bench. Vasquez’s numbers tumbled as a result, although some of that is on him as well. He had a down shooting year as compared to 2013-14.

After the season, Vasquez was one of the team’s harshest critics. But he made some excellent points. He said that the team needed to rethink its offense to something with more balance and he told the Toronto media to stop asking about Paul Pierce.

Vasquez is on the books for $6.6 million next season, which is a fair price for the 28-year-old. He’s still a rather serviceable backup guard with the ability to play both 1 and 2, so there’s no reason why Masai Ujiri would want to dump his salary for the sake of cap space. But given his price and production (including some truly, spectacularly awful on-ball defense), expecting a huge return is unrealistic. The Rockets have an obvious need at point guard and the Timberwolves could use some Ricky Rubio insurance, but Vasquez isn’t necessarily valuable enough to fetch significant pieces in return.

However, liquidating Vasquez’s salary will give the Raptors even more cap flexibility this summer. They’re already close to freeing up max cap room and Vasquez’s departure could conceivably bump their cap room to over $24 million (I gotta double check the math there). However, with Lou Williams also drawing significant interest in free agency, having Vasquez doubles as insurance.

Vasquez averages 9.5 points, 3.7 assists and 2.6 rebounds in 24.3 minutes per game last season. He shot 37.9 percent from deep and posted a PER of 12.6.

(dap to Canis Hoopus)

UPDATE: If the Raptors do move Vasquez to the Timberwolves, it’s unlikely that the Raptors will take Anthony Bennett in return, although the salaries do match. Bennett is eminently available, probably because he’s been one of the worst players in basketball since he was drafted.

First up, congrats to The Hustlers for winning the tournament!

We took the mic down to the Raptors Republic Summer Slam tournament and talked Raptors with Blake Murphy and a bunch of Raptors fans who had plenty to say about all things Raptors.

Blake Talk:

  • Dwane Casey lame duck head coach
  • Lou Williams off – do we feel sad?
  • Amir Johnson – do we want him back?
  • Jonas Valanciunas and Casey’s comments about big men
  • Draft talk – Blake gives his target pick

Fan Talk

  • Who do we want in free-agency?
  • Disappointed we didn’t get Thibodeau?
  • Can we win the East with DeRozan or Lowry?
  • What’s DeMar DeRozan’s best-case NBA projection?
  • Patterson and Vasquez review

Nick Reynoldson from Talking Raptors:

  • Talks about his floater
  • Adjustments to make in the second half of the tournament
  • Barry Taylor’s defense
  • Team’s laughing at other teams

More Fan Talk

  • Playoff exit was surprisingly surprising
  • Team’s still good enough, need to pepper it with pieces
  • Need for defensive small forward, one not named James Johnson

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 (28:46, 34 MB). Or just listen below:

Welcome to the Weekend 3-on-2, a monthly (maybe) feature that looks at three positive and two negatives with the Raptors and the NBA at large.

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It’s only Day 3 and I’m a bit “Ramadan’d out”, yet through pangs of hunger and hallucination, I can’t help but think about the upcoming draft.

The Raptors have the 20th pick, it’s not high enough to get anyone excited, yet not low enough for anyone completely not to care. The last time the Raptors had the 20th pick they picked Kareem Rush from Missouri in 2002, who got flipped on draft night for the brutal Chris Jefferies, and Lindsey Hunter who had a cup of coffee with the franchise. Side note, I once saw Kareem and his brother Jamaal Rush play in Kansas City, MO. Jamaal was the better player, but he also liked weed, and weed got the better of him before he got to the NBA.

They also selected Morris Peterson in the 2000 draft with the 21st pick, and we know how that turned out. At 16 in 2005 they selected Joey Graham, who ended up having the body of an NBA player, but alas, the skill-set of a D2 player. There was also the 17th pick in 2001 when the Raptors picked Michael Bradley, who was a bad pick at the time, and remains so till today. There was Roy Hibbert at 17 as well, who the Raptors traded alongside T.J Ford to the Pacers for Jermaine O’Neal, eventually paving the way for “those 13 games” by Andrea Bargnani. Finally, there’s Bruno Caboclo who was picked at 20 last year.

There’s something to be said for having the 20th pick as long as you acknowledge that there’s a higher chance for this to turn out to be nothing than something. So what can the Raptors do with this pick? Well, I see five main options and remember, if the Nuggets and Knicks have poor seasons next year, the Raptors will get a lottery pick out of it, so they could look to flip this one and bank on the one likely coming next year.

1. Find a role player

The best hope is that this pick might fetch you an established role player, and here I’m referencing guys like Mario Chalmers, Danilo Gallinari, or Jason Thompson. Even to get these guys, the 20th pick alone might not suffice and you’d have to throw in another player, unless you’re willing to eat a contract like, say, Trevor Ariza, who’s coming off a poor shooting year in Houston.

Generally, you’re going to has-beens using this approach because other teams would’ve already given these guys a shot and dismissed them, so you have to take your chances that their previous shortcomings were due to lack of fit than talent.  The Lance Stephenson to Clippers deal is a good example of this.  That’s fine, though, since a lot of times players have to go through a couple teams to find where they’re most suited to play.  The Lou Williams acquisition might be a good example as that’s where a player came to a situation where they were the coach’s wet dream, and “over-produced” compared to previous seasons.

This is probably the most plausible scenario of what should happen with this pick, as Ujiri tries to strike the balance of youth and veterans. Certainly, someone like Ariza would be invaluable from a defensive standpoint and give Dwane Casey a legitimate 3-and-D guy.

2. Draft a commodity, knowing they’ll never be great

The Raptors can pick a high-effort, NBA-readyish player who can contribute now. This generally means either drafting three-point shooting or rebounding/hustle. Here you’re looking for someone with college experience (so Kevin Looney’s out) who has a motor, works hard, has zero effort issues, and is willing to bust a gut (so, basically the opposite of Terrence Ross). Someone like Montrezl Harrel (projected 24th), who despite being undersized, could be a contributor at PF. He’s played three years in college hoping to inch his draft stock up to the first round, and appears to have done it. He can make defensive plays and isn’t just a brute-force player like Hansbrough, so he might be worth a look, or at least, his type could be considered. The problem here is that he can’t shoot, and if Casey’s bent on smaller lineups, that’s a necessity.

For those of you wanting to get Kenneth Faried for some reason, try following Bobby Portis (projected 17th) from Arkansas. At 6’10”, he has the size and is renowned for having a great motor. The three-year college experience means that he won’t need as much development time as prospects usually do, and could step in now. He’s also an improved finisher at the rim which is a byproduct of college experience. He can’t shoot either, but would provide that mobile defensive presence that Casey wants Valanciunas to turn into, and relies on Hansbrough and Patterson to bring.

Drafting such players is very different than taking a swing like Bruno Caboclo. You pretty much concede that they’re not going to turn into NBA stars, and set your expectations accordingly. This isn’t about finding a diamond in the rough, it’s about finding something that works.

3. Upgrade your best player

Long shot here: try to package it along with whoever it takes to get someone better than DeRozan and Lowry, even if it means shipping one of the two. This is very hard difficult to accomplish because DeRozan and Lowry’s value isn’t high enough, and the 20th pick isn’t enough of a bait to entice someone to give up a ‘Tier 2’ NBA player. Realistically, you’d have to part with Jonas Valanciunas if you have a hope in getting someone like Ty Lawson (not that we’d want him, just saying that if you want to get a Lawson-caliber player, you’d have to part with a Valanciunas-caliber player).

And that’s the problem – the pick isn’t high enough to fetch you any complementary pieces on its own, and creating a package with fringe guys like Terrence Ross, James Johnson, or Greivis Vasquez isn’t going to move the needle. Patrick Patterson might be the guy you’d have to include in a package if you’re hoping to tease a GM in love with stretch-fours, but the Raptors and Casey value Patterson too much to include him, and rightfully so.

4. Trade up

Trading into the lottery is easier said than done. This requires knowing exactly who you want, knowing what teams around you are going to do, and then striking a mutually beneficial deal between other clubs, hoping that your pick projections are accurate and you’re actually going to get the player you want.  There’s too much coordination at play here for this to happen.  There’s also the issue of assets that comes along, as the Raptors would have to part with someone actually useful to move up 6 spots, and I’m not talking about Vasquezish type players.

5. Swing for the fences…again

It’s hard seeing the Raptors pulling another Bruno Caboclo, though now with a D-League team to dump their prospects in, it’s not an impossibility. With free-agency looking like it’ll be competitive, it just doesn’t make sense to ‘waste’ a pick in the near-term, as it wouldn’t be the best utilization of resources. Perhaps if we were in tank-mode this would’ve been viable, but with the team looking to “build on the fly”, a draft-and-stash doesn’t compute.

The Raptors Republic 3-on-3 Tournament is on Sunday!

The Raptors aren’t going to be signing a top-tier free-agent, let’s come to accept that and not have any more wet dreams of Jimmy Butler coming our way.  We’re also unlikely to get second-tier free-agents (hell, we can’t even get a half-decent assistant coach).  It’s best to turn our attention to the bottom end of the barrel, the soggy tomatoes, the mushy bananas, the almost-expired milk…you get where I’m going with this.

Without further ado, here are three free-agents that may not be sexy, but could be just as effective.

Mike Dunleavy, 6’9”, 34 years old, Small Forward – $3M

Dunleavy is old and slow, yet retains a skill-set that any team can find a use for.  A career 38% three-point shooter, he shot over 40% last year from downtown with the Bulls in Tom Thibodeau’s underrated offense.  Dwane Casey allegedly has a desire to spread the floor, and if James Johnson isn’t cutting it, then Dunleavy certainly can.   Defensively, Dunleavy has good 100.4 rating, and has historically been a disciplined defender.  He doesn’t gamble, sticks to the plan (assuming there is one), and has a reputation of being a sturdy, professional and consistent presence.

The downside is that he’s 34 and giving him minutes would be counter to any youth movement the Raptors may be undertaking.  The 15-year veteran doesn’t have the swagger or shot-making ability of Paul Pierce, but would provide a senior presence in the locker room, and a tangible threat on the court, both of which the Raptors could find room for.  He could be used in a variety of offensive schemes because he’s a great cutter to the rim, spreads the court, and is an able passer with strong fundamentals (always looking up).

Dunleavy made $3M last season in 63 games, and all indications are that they Bulls are interested in retaining him.  Giving Dunleavy a one or two year deal above his current rate could entice him away.

Marco Belinelli, 6’5″, 29 years old, Shooting Guard – $2.87M

The former Raptor was on the fringes of the NBA after leaving Toronto, but has rejuvenated himself with stops in Chicago and San Antonio.  He’s now primarily a three-point shooter with 49% of his attempts coming from downtown, and he’s hitting them at a 37% clip.  The challenge with Belinelli integrating into this Raptors team is role definition. In his previous two stops he’s had a very specific role defined for him by Greg Popovich and Tom Thibodeau, which has helped him use his specialized skills to good effect.

In Toronto, there is unlikely to be such specification for him and he could revert to being what he was in his first stint – a loose cannon liable to take a bad shot at any given moment.  Whereas with Dunleavy you don’t have to worry about that, Belinelli has enough flash in him that he could just turn into Lou Williams-lite (a bad thing).  Defensively, he’s improved his discipline but remains laterally challenged.  In San Antonio, there’s a defensive setup in place and personnel behind him that excuse his defensive deficiencies, not so much in Toronto.

Though a more experienced player than Terrence Ross, it’s hard to see him providing much more than the beleaguered Raptors swingman, even though Belinelli isn’t a direct replacement.  He would be a replacement for Lou Williams, provided you’re willing to sacrifice some offense for a likely more disciplined player with a better outside shot, all at a cheaper rate than the current SMOTY.

Kosta Koufos, 7’0”, 26 years old, Center, $3M

Here’s Masai Ujiri’s Denver connection playing a part in this article.  Koufos has carved himself a name as a reliable, unflashy, underrated backup center.  Ujiri acquired Koufos as part of the Carmelo Anthony deal from Minnesota, and a year later signed him to a contract extension.  Clearly, he thinks highly of the center who since then has only improved, and was a bargain at $3M.

Like Jonas Valanciunas, Koufos can stay healthy for a man his size despite playing a physical game. He’s very strong down low, and is quicker than you might think, often surprising players with his activity underneath the rim.  He’s got a hook which he can finish in traffic and under contact, and is a good finisher at the rim.  He’s more decisive than Valanciunas on offense, but isn’t anywhere close to the offensive talent, but has a rebound rate comparable to the Lithuanian.  Koufos is an excellent rim-protector with opponents shot only 38.5% at the rim against his defense in the playoffs, which he upped from 46.9% in the regular season – both good numbers.

His defensive rebound percentage of 25.4% would be higher if he was part of any other team but the Grizzlies, seeing how Zach Randolph and Pau Gasol gobble up their faire share of rebounds.  He’s primarily a put-back guy, with those accounting for 31% of his offensive touches, followed by pick ‘n rolls at 22%, and post-ups at 16%.  His mid-range game is between the 3-10 foot range (45%), and beyond that he’s awful.

Overall, he offers a more physical style of play than Valanciunas, without needing touches to survive, but I’m sure if signed, Raptors fans will lament and complain about Koufos “not getting enough post-ups”.  Having Valanciunas and Koufos on the roster would allow any coach to look to the bench without having to sacrifice rebounding.  The problem might be that teams like Boston have shown great interest in the big man, and it’s likely that he sees himself as a starter in the league, and there’s going to be a team out there that can offer him that opportunity along with a healthy raise.  Being an understudy of Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph is also seen as a big bonus, which his future employer will undoubtedly benefit from.

It seems winning the Sixth Man of the Year has its benefits.

As per reports, Lou Williams is expected to get strong interest for multiple clubs, meaning that despite the mutual interest Williams and the Raptors have shown, the Raptors may simply be priced out on an item that isn’t worth getting into a bidding war on.

Williams earned $5.4M last season and is set to receive a hefty raise.  The talk is that Williams could command a three-year deal in the range of $27 million or four years for $35 million, which the Raptors could match, but really, why would they? Williams, as well as he performed last season, had the benefit of a high usage rate, carte blanche in terms of what he could do on offense, and absolutely zero supervision.  It really was a dream contract year for a player that’ts ball-dominant, borderline selfish, and a great but inconsistent shot-maker.

Williams posted a usage rate of 27%, which was second only to DeMar DeRozan, and averaged 15.5 points on 40% shooting.  In the playoffs, his percentage plummeted to 31% as defenses tried a little bit harder to contain a very simplistic style of play and player, and were quite successfully at it.

The problem with Williams is that he simply can’t play with DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, because it significantly reduces the size of your lineup, and concedes a tremendous amount of defense.  Your sixth man has to be able to play with your starters, and Williams can’t do that because you already have the ball-dominant DeRozan, and Kyle Lowry on the court.  He works great when Dwane Casey’s managing the game using hockey lineups with the bench willing to collect rebounds, but as evidenced in the playoffs, not so much in real world situations.

Good luck to Lou Williams, but if we start paying his caliber of player $8-9M a year, and he continues playing in the same manner he did last season, this franchise is in deep trouble.

Casey’s comments regarding the state of the NBA spells trouble for Jonas Valanciunas.

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Small ball is catching on so much in the NBA that even Dwane Casey agrees with it.

*George Lucas du Paula withdrew his name from the 2015 NBA Draft yesterday.  He will remain in Brazil to improve his game and raise his draft stock for the future.

Tell me if you’ve heard this one before: a little (relatively) known Brazilian NBA Draft prospect attempts to make a run at a first round selection due to his incredible physical measurements and raw skill that could one day make him a significant player at his position.

It was just a year ago that the Toronto Raptors surprised the basketball world by selecting Bruno Caboclo with the 20th overall pick.  It was so shocking that it was obvious that Adam Silver had not practiced/learned how to pronounce his name ahead of the draft.  He was a complete mystery and came from beyond left field to everyone outside of the Raptors draft room.

With his minimal play through his rookie season (another reminder of the need for teams to have their own D-League affiliate) the average NBA fan still only knows Bruno as the player who is now one year away from being two years away.  Thanks, Fran Fraschilla.

Despite all of that though, Bruno is a reminder that the NBA Draft can still surprise you.  Every team comes to the draft with particular goals/priorities, one of which is to look for prospects who have a high ceiling as a player.  For many teams it isn’t a matter of what can you do for me now, it’s what can you potentially become in the years to follow.  Development then becomes a key attribute for a team with this specific goal in mind.  The Houston Rockets did it exceptionally well this past year with Clint Capela, who went from struggling in the D-League to playing crucial minutes in the NBA playoffs.

This brings us to the 2016 NBA Draft (why’d you defer, George!!) and a young Brazilian point guard named George Lucas de Paula.  His measurements alone are enough to make the casual draft analyst dream about what he could be as a player, and more than enough for Jay Bilas to get drunk.  At the 2015 NBA Draft Combine George Lucas measure out at 6’5.5” in shoes, with an insane 7’0” wingspan, a standing reach of 8’8”, while weighing 197lbs with a 6.7% body fat.  This doesn’t even include the fact that his hands look like he is wearing a catcher’s mitt (10 inches wide and 9 inches long).

Although it remains to be seen what he will look like when the 2016 draft rolls around, it is his potential as a player that could push de Paula into the first round.  His raw skillset was on full display when he participated in the 2015 Nike Hoop Summit in April.  Here is what DraftExpress wrote about George after day 4 of the event:

“…the flashes of talent he displays at times is undeniable, particularly on defense, where his incredible physical tools makes him an absolute terror, but also with his shooting and passing as well. He seems to know how much of an unfinished product he is in an interview we conducted with him, and talked repeatedly about the things he still needs to work on, mostly discussed above.”

According to George, the Nike Hoops Summit was a bit of a mixed bag but was one that he generally enjoyed.  “Overall it was a good experience for me.  Spending the week on the court with the best players in the world of my age and each one of them with different backgrounds was a good environment to learn from all of them.  I found all of those guys are very talented; it is a matter of who has had previous experience on participating in events like this one.  Experience really counts in this case because it is a much different style of play than we are used to on our own teams.”

This is one of the big assets to de Paula as a player…he’s very aware of where he is at in his developmental stage.  He knows that he is raw, and he knows how hard he needs to work to develop, but he can also see what he could become.  He has a goal in mind.

So what type of player does de Paula want to be?  “I see myself as a point guard who can score and love to assist.  I have the tools to defend bigger and smaller guys.  I can be that international flavor on the NBA running style of play.”  The team that drafts him will go a long way in helping to see this dream become a reality, and George hopes to one day be drafted by a team that will take the time to develop him the right way.  “I hope to find a good environment for my development as a professional athlete because I have a lot to improve on my game.  I have the tools to make it in the NBA, I just need one opportunity.”

The player that de Paula most readily compares himself to is Deron Williams, which considering his current status in the NBA is a bold choice.  Deron no longer looks like the worldbeater he once was and it’s easy to forget that many once debated whether it was he or Chris Paul who was the top point guard in the NBA.  Williams brought the size and strength that a smaller point guard cannot easily provide.  His length and vision was once a devastating force, and de Paul hopes to bring this same intensity.  “This is something you can’t teach.  Either you have it or not.  I can find open guys on the court.”

His stats from Brazil don’t jump off the page and he was limited in both minutes and games played for Pinheiros/Sky of the NBB, but he is also quick to point out that these stats are misleading for a young player such as himself.

“I would like everyone to understand one thing: NBB is a pro level basketball in Brazil.  As a young prospect like myself, participating or dressing up in the Pinheiros’ Pro Team is a bonus for me.  They put me there to get experience.  It is a natural thing, I won’t get minutes there.  My team is the U19 where we were National Champion last season.  This year of 2015 will be my last player for the U19…I also played for the U22 Pinheiros team.  It is a developmental league created by the NBB league to develop young players.  At the U22 league last season we went to the Final Four and finished fourth.  We went to the Finals with a 30-2 record but we were beat by a team that all guys were 21 (close to 22) years old.  We had guys as young as 17.  Only 2 guys in our square were 19 years old.  We actually did pretty good.  You can watch me perform on the U19 and U22 games where I am the starting point guard on both.”

de Paula could be a terror due to his size, length, and court vision.  As a late first round pick, or an early second round pick, he could be the steal of the draft in a few years.  Any team that wants to run a heavy switching defense would be wise to take a look at a point guard with the height of a small forward and the length of a center.

George de Paula may be nothing more than an enticing dream of what he could one day become…but missing out on his type of potential could be a scenario that will keep many General Manger’s up at night.

Now we just have to wait another year to see where his NBA journey begins.

Swing and a miss for Masai Ujiri in his pursuit of filling Dwane Casey’s assistant staff.

(more…)

You might remember Tom Sterner as the former Sr. Halftime Interviewer for the Raptors.  He was dismissed after four years of service to the club and Dwane Casey had the following to say about the assistant coaching dismissals:

Did we make mistakes as a coaching staff? Yes. Did we make mistakes as an organization and players making mistakes as players? Yes. We all do. We all are accountable for everything that goes on, but again, big picture, we’re going in the right direction from where we started last year.”

Chemistry on the staff is important. Consistent philosophy, coaches that are energetic and positive, that are willing to work with our young players, to get them better.

Not saying that the guys who left were ‘that’ as far as putting the blame on anyone. The buck stops with me as far as that is concerned.

A positive approach, fitting into our culture that we’re building is huge.

Today Tom Sterner was asked about his experience in Toronto, and listening to the man, you’d think he was a two-term president signing off on his last day in office:

It’s refreshing to know that you had a part in it. The fact that we took a team that really was kind of at the bottom. We took this team through two [bad] seasons and then in the third season we obviously had the success that we did in terms of getting the Raptors back into the playoffs, which is just a tremendous accomplishment for Coach Casey. I mean you talk about a guy with passion, a guy who works hard. His work ethic’s unparalleled in the NBA. He drove everybody – staff, players, front office, everybody to the success that theyve had. So, Coach Casey, everybody should feel really fortunate to have him in Toronto. I know it didn’t end the way we wanted it to this year, but back-to-back division championships, getting into the playoffs – the Raptors will be in great shape again for next year.

I can’t say enough about the organization. Larry Tanenbaum – unbelievable owner, unbelievable owner. I just felt fortunate to be able to work in Toronto for the past four years. So I just want to wish everybody good luck.  And the fans…they talk about Golden State fans, forget it, the Toronto fans are the best. They’re the best in the NBA, theyve got Golden State beat. I worked in Golden State and there’s nobody better than fans in Toronto, Canada.

Keep in mind that Sterner is looking for his next job, and this is fairly standard post-firing speak because the last thing you want to do in any profession is slag your previous employer. I don’t know what exactly Tom Sterner’s responsibilities were last season, but it’s hard for me to believe that his firing will move the needle in any direction.

The Raptors are apparently looking at former players to fill assistant coaching positions, and maybe his dismissal was just making some room. The Raptors had six assistant coaches on staff last season, and that doesn’t even count whatever Jamaal Magloire does.

Good luck to Sterner, hope he pulls an Austin Daye and wins a title next year.

Steve and his brother Mike talk NBA Finals, LeBron’s legacy, Tristan Thompson, free agents, the positive of the Raptors roster as-is, and assistant coaches.  And in all cases, it’s happy and light.

(more…)

Checking out the scene on Twitter while at a stop light, I saw this little news story go by. What should have struck me was that the unfortunately named Carleton-based Scrubb brothers got invites to a Raptors-organized free-agent camp, but then I remembered what became of Myck Kabongo and I suppressed my hopes.

There was a familiar NBA name on there, and it was Tyrus Thomas. You might remember Thomas from his days with the Bulls when he was drafted 4th overall by the Blazers, and then flipped to Chicago where he spent four years learning how to not shoot and frustrate everyone. He was a bit of a bruiser in his day, and you might even liken him to Tristan Thompson minus the effort, desire, agent, or…did I mention effort? Thomas was the 2000’s version of Keon Clark minus the bong and no jumper. That’s the key part, really, the jumper bit. He was an above-average rebounder, a below-average defender, and an above-average shot-blocker.

If you’re following me so far you might’ve guessed that he was a little hard for executives to pin down, because he had all the physical tools to be a very effective player, but never quite put it together, and rumour had the problem was between his ears (referring to his brain, not an ear infection).

And so here we are nine years after he was drafted and 28-year old Tyrus Thomas pops up on the Raptors free-agent camp roster. This after undergoing a serious-sounding problem of dealing with a cyst on his spinal cord that was compressing his nerves, and made him “not feel like myself.” He started his comeback in the D-League earlier this year, and still feels the sting of being amnestied, “After I was amnestied, I felt I was left for dead, as far as the NBA world was concerned,” Thomas said.

Here’s to Thomas being the Hassan Whiteside we don’t pass on.

Here’s the full roster courtesy Raptors.com (I swear, they put it up as an image and not a table). The camp is today and tomorrow.

It’s a tired trope and it’s repeated ad nauseum. But it’s true: the playoffs are a different animal.

(more…)

Something to consider this summer.

The Raptors’ beleaguered head coach speaks on the Fan 590 for the first time since their year-end presser.

(more…)

From “we want Bruno” to “we want James Johnson”. It was a roller coaster of emotions.

(more…)

The trio is back as there’s surprising consensus on Tristan Thompson versus Jonas Valanciunas; Terrence Ross is at it on Instagram again, and there’s the run-of-the-mill Faried-for-Ross trade talk. The following topics anchor the pod, but there’s so much more.

Part 1

  • Jordan vs LeBron
  • Should the Raptors bring back Lou Williams?
  • Kenneth Faried for Terrence Ross and 20th pick

Part 2

  • Is Tristan Thompson better than Jonas Valanciunas?
  • Masai’s most difficult decision this summer
  • Terrence Ross calling out neckbeards on Instagram
  • We know Masai Ujiri’s best move so far (I think), what’s his worst?

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From Doug Smith’s blog earlier today:

Jerry Stackhouse.

The former player has already been in Toronto to chat with Raptors officials as the search for people to replace the departed Bill Bayno and Tom Sterner.

It’s not a done deal by any stretch, I was cautioned, but there is a Dallas connection between Stackhouse and Casey and Stackhouse strikes me as just the kind of tough, “I don’t give a crap” kind of long-serving former player who might be able to show the likes of DeMar DeRozan and Terrence Ross some tricks of the trade.

Apparently the Raptors are intrigued by adding former players to the staff, and Stackhouse could be an easy snatch given his link to an AAU team in Toronto and his ties with Dwane Casey.

It’s an interesting prospect if true that may not have a significant impact either way. He does have experience as an NBA analyst for the Pistons – which means nothing – and his supposed influence on players like DeRozan and Ross could be counter-intuitive, given that his career is the epitome of iso-ball.

Let’s just say that it would be much more exciting if the Raptors were linked with Steve Nash or Chauncey Billups.

Fun fact: Apparently Stackhouse is a retired vegetarian.

I recently had a discussion with another Raptor fan on Twitter who brought up a number of arguments I’ve heard far too many times before. And they all can be boiled down to the belief that the Raptors have no chance of ever winning a title, so should basically aim low and forget about striving for excellence.

And it breaks my heart every time I encounter this attitude.

Perhaps it’s the fact that only one NBA team over the last 20 years have had fewer playoff appearances than the Raptors1: The Golden State Warriors, who are currently three wins away from winning an NBA title. Perhaps it’s because in those seven playoff appearances, the team has gotten beyond the first round just once. Perhaps it’s the fact they have more sub-.500 seasons than plus-.500 seasons and have never been able to hit the 50 win mark, a fact that only one other NBA franchise can lay claim to over the last 20 years. The Washington Wizards.

1. New Orleans actually has appeared in fewer playoff games, but have only been in existence for 13 years. Washington have also appeared in just 7 playoffs in the last 20 years, but have made it past the second round three of those times.

Yes, the same Wizards who just swept the Raptors in the playoffs.

So maybe it’s somewhat understandable some Raptor fans have a rather pessimistic view of the future of the team. Add the fact that none of Toronto’s major sports franchise have had much success over the last two decades and you’re got a breeding ground for the hopeless and cynical.

blue-jays-world-series-6

I don’t share this attitude. Perhaps it’s the fact that I fondly remember walking down Yonge Street with thousands of other Blue Jay fans the night they won the first of their back-to-back World Series. It could be due to the fact that I was a hard-core Detroit Pistons fan when they won their first two NBA titles. Maybe it’s the fact that I’ve also been a Spurs fan before and during one of the longest and most successful eras for a franchise in professional sports. I simply don’t share that despondent view, despite also being a Raptor fan. I know what it’s like to cheer a team that has won it all.

“NOT EVERY TEAM CAN WIN A TITLE”

In the last 30 years in the NBA, only eight franchises have won a title. In the last 60 years, that number is just sixteen. Considering there are currently 30 teams in the NBA, that means nearly half have never won a title. Those seem to be fairly overwhelming statistics. To many fans, it seems that it’s just a handful of franchises that even have a chance at building a championship team. If you’re not one of those select few, then you’re just out of luck.

And while it’s true that only eight franchises have won titles during the Raptor’s 20 year existence, seventeen different franchises have made it to the Finals during that time. And shockingly, in the last 20 years, twenty four different NBA franchises have made it to the Conference Finals. The only teams that haven’t are the Washington Wizards, Charlotte Bobcats, New Orleans Pelicans, Milwaukee Bucks, Los Angeles Clippers and Toronto Raptors.

Let me just restate that. In the last 20 years, only six NBA franchises have NOT made it to the NBA Conference Finals.

Now, admittedly, a few of those teams, like the recent Atlanta Hawks, had no real shot at winning an NBA title, but it should make one realize that building a real contender isn’t just for franchises like the Lakers or Spurs.

“STARS ALWAYS LEAVE THE RAPTORS”

For some pessimistic fans, the previous statistic only strengthens their belief that Toronto will never win a title. And they’ll point to the fact that stars simply don’t want to stay in Toronto.

Damon Stoudamire left. So did Tracy McGrady and Vince Carter and Chris Bosh.

The problem with this often held argument is that none of these players left because the Raptors play in Toronto. All left for very good reasons that had nothing to do with where the franchise is situated.

Stoudamire left after his idol and mentor, Isiah Thomas, was forced out of ownership and off the team. After Isiah left, Stoudamire felt betrayed and wanted nothing to do with the current ownership, so demanded a trade.

Tracy McGrady left because of what he felt was lack of respect from coach Butch Carter, who McGrady felt stifled his development, and to escape the VERY long shadow of his cousin Vince Carter, who looked like the future face of the league.

vcbosh

Carter sulked his way out of town after the team went from a near contender to a perennial lottery team, and year after year of mismanagement. Keep in mind that Rob Babcock was the GM of the Raptors at the time Vince asked for a trade. Quite possibly the worst GM the league has seen. And this was AFTER Carter re-signed once, already.

Chris Bosh gave the Raptors seven years to build a contender, with the team making the playoffs only twice in those seven years, and missing the playoffs his last two. And the team’s biggest acquisition during that time was Hedo Turkgolu and the biggest draft pick was Andrea Bargnani.

While Bosh and Carter certainly left in ways that hurt the fans, it’s hard to blame them for wanting out. They left poorly managed teams that missed the playoffs more than they made it and seemed to be getting worse. Players don’t need a team to be a contender to stay, but they need to see positive progress and that was missing for the teams Bosh and Carter were on.

McGrady and Stoudamire’s cases were unique and had little to nothing to do with where the franchise was located.

“WE NEED TO HOLD ONTO THE GOOD PLAYERS WE HAVE”

Related to the previous argument, this is brought up when someone suggests trading away a talented Raptor player. The feeling seems to be that the Raptors should be thankful for any good players the Raptors have and that means not trading them away.

This is the case against trading Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. It was also the case against trading Andrea Bargnani before public sentiment went against him as much as it did.

The problem is that if you really want to build a contender, you can’t be worried about keeping any decent player you can get your hands on. You need to be choosy about which players to keep and which to trade away.

Golden State trading away the team’s leading scorer, in Monta Ellis, in 2012 was an important step to build the contender that is now in the NBA Finals. It’s not about keeping the best players you can. It’s about making sure the players you have are the right ones.

“I JUST WANT TO SEE THE RAPTORS WIN A PLAYOFF SERIES OR TWO”

This is the ultimate argument for building a competitive, but not a contending, team. And it’s also the ultimate example of defeatism. Aim low and you won’t be disappointed.

The Atlanta Hawks are often brought up as the perfect example of what the Raptors should aim for. The problem is that the Hawks should be considered a bit of a failure. While they did win 60 games and make it to the Conference Finals, that win total was inflated due to playing in one of the worst conferences in the history of the league. And while the did make it to the Conference Finals, they struggled against every team they faced and showed in the Conference Finals that they simply were nothing close to a contender. If they were in the West they would have been bounced in the first round, no matter who they faced.

Like the Raptors’ Atlantic Division titles, the Hawks regular season success is meaningless if it doesn’t translate into playoff success. And the problem with aiming to be the Atlanta Hawks is that it means that falling short means a quick first round exit like the one we just saw.

No one achieved anything worthwhile by aiming low.

It is early June. The NBA Finals are about to start., The NBA Draft is still weeks away, and the Toronto Raptors own the No. 20 pick, likely to net a solid but unspectacular prospect and nothing to get excited about.

These are the pre-dog days dog days. We’re in a lull, the draft and free agency will give us a quick boost, Las Vegas Summer League will do the same, and then we’ll convince ourselves to invest heavily in the various FIBA continental Olympic qualifying tournaments. Life could be worse, but the next couple of weeks will make it tough to come up with Raptors-relevant content.

What I’m trying to say is: I have no idea what to write about when tasked with doing so right now.

That tweet led to some pretty decent light suggestions and some fun twitter interactions, but I’m left uninspired. And so we’ll do a somewhat brief offseason primer today. But first, a minor concern. Bruno Caboclo may be getting too cool.

Tudo Isso faz parte da vida. Força pra subir,coragem na descida. #EnuncaMaisVoltou

A photo posted by Bruno Fernandes (@brunofive) on

Let’s hope his basketball development comes along as quickly as his development as a burgeoning pop culture icon has.

Offseason Primer
Note: All cap data comes courtesy of Sham Sports, Basketball Insiders, and my own calculations based on information from CBAFAQ.com where applicable.

Some of what follows will be in less detail than is necessary for a thorough understanding and/or more detail than is necessary for a cursory understanding. Apologies if I haven’t correctly navigated that middle-ground.

Contracts
The Raptors have a pretty straight-forward cap sheet entering the offseason.

Unrestricted Free Agents: Amir Johnson ($7M), Landry Fields ($6.25M), Chuck Hayes ($5.96M), Lou Williams ($5.45M), Tyler Hansbrough ($3.33M), Greg Stiemsma ($915,243)

Restricted Free Agents: None

Non-guaranteed Deals: None

Also off the Books: Will Cherry ($25,000), Marcus Camby ($646,609)

Cap Sheet
Having those expiring contracts doesn’t necessarily give the Raptors cap space. Until their rights are renounced, players have cap holds, which count for the purposes of the salary cap to prevent teams from signing a bunch of free agents with cap space and then signing their own guys. In many cases, ordering signings in that way can still be beneficial, but for the Raptors, they may need to renounce some rights to clear up ample space.

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

table1

Obviously, that’s terrible, and the team is going to look nothing like that.

It seems a safe bet that if they need the space, the Raptors would renounced the rights to De Colo, Stiemsma, Pietrus, Fields, and Hayes without much concern. Williams and Johnson are less certain propositions – if the team intends to sign either, expect a deal to come early, so their cap hold would turn into their actual salary amount, which in both cases should result in a decrease in cap hit. Hansbrough is a bit uncertain, too, but let’s assume the team is going to move on from him.

To be thorough, the Raptors have Bird rights on Williams, Johnson, Fields, and Hayes, Early Bird rights on Hansbrough and De Colo, and Non-Bird rights on Stiemsma and Pietrus.

In reality, the team will only renounce rights once they have to, or the cap holds disappear when a player signs elsewhere.

Let’s also add in the salary for the No. 20 pick. Picks almost always sign for 120 percent of scale, but until the contract is signed, only the scale amount counts on the books.

table2

This is the table from which the Raptors are making decisions for next season. As you can see, they don’t have cap space in this scenario – they can only carve that out by renouncing the rights to Johnson and Williams, or by signing them to deals below their cap holds.

For illustrative purposes, assume the Raptors want maximum cap space. We’ll renounce Johnson and Williams, and from there we also need to add rookie minimum contract cap holds to bring the roster up to 12 players.

table3

In this scenario, the Raptors have just shy of $15 million in cap space, using current cap projections. That’s a sizable amount and should put them in the conversation for most free agents. It’s possible they could unload a piece to clear further space if they wanted to get in to max-contract territory (about $21.7M for a 10-year veteran, $18.6M for a 7-9-year vet, and $15.5M for younger players).

Tables 2 and 3 are what you should be looking at when playing around with the roster for next season. There are a few other considerations to make, too.

Picks
The Raptors own the No. 20 pick in the draft but will send their second-rounder to Atlanta as a part of the Lou-Bebe-Salmons deal.

They also owe their 2016 second-round pick (likely to Memphis but possible to Utah). Otherwise, they own all their own future picks.

They are also owed a juicy 2016 first-rounder – thanks a lot, Andrea Bargnani! – which will come from either the Knicks or Nuggets, whichever pick is worse (meaning a less valuable pick, not a worse record).

As much as picks may be assets, the fact that the salary cap is set to explode but the rookie wage scale won’t adjust until at least 2017 makes first-round picks an incredibly valuable proposition for the immediate future. It’d be tough to pry a pick from me without an impact player being involved, were I in Masai Ujiri’s shoes. (I’m not, for the record.)

Draft Rights
The Raptors own the draft rights to DeAndre Daniels, who had a solid season in the Australian league and figures to play stateside this season if things go well. My instinct is that the team would prefer him to spend the season in the D-League – on a $25,000 D-League contract rather than as an NBA roster player on assignment. Daniels would have to agree to that setup. If he doesn’t, and he wants to try his hand in the NBA, the Raptors have to offer him at least a non-guaranteed minimum contract, a risky play for Daniels to sign.

The Raptors also own the draft rights to Croatian big man Tomislav Zubcic (2012) and U.S. forward DeeAndre Hulett (2000). Zubcic remains underwhelming in Croatia and Hulett was never anything more than a footnote – while these rights mean little, they also cost little, and in the event the Raptors wanted to do make a trade for cash or as a salary dump, these rights can be used as “consideration” (both teams need to send something to the other in a deal).

Cash
The league allows teams to send out and receive up to $3.3M per season. The Raptors have sent and received $0, so those full amounts are available to them.

Trade Exceptions
$2.36M – expires June 30, from Lou-Bebe-Salmons deal
$3.45M – expires July 10, from Novak deal

Other Exceptions
The Raptors own their Bi-Annual exception so long as they stay less than $4M above the luxury tax line (after using it). It allows them to sign a player above the salary cap with a starting salary of $2.14 million, and they can add a second year at $2.24 million, too (so a two-year, $4.38M deal is available).

They’re also likely to have the non-taxpayer mid-level exception. Again, so long as they’re less than $4M above the tax after using it. This can be split among multiple players, but if they wanted to use it all in one place, they could offer a $5.46-million starting salary and a four-year, $23.3-million deal at maximum.

From there, the team can sign any number of players to minimum deals, with deals for veterans of more than three years service only counting at the two-year service minimum for accounting purposes (to prevent veterans from getting frozen out over marginal salary amounts).

Wrap
That’s a lot to sort through. The front office doesn’t have an easy job, and putting this together is a stressful endeavor because I know there are a handful of fans out there who will jump on any poor wording, misinformation, or key point missed. This is meant to be a pretty high-level preview of what the Raptors are working with entering the offseason, and I’ll do my best to nail a salary cap situation down to the penny once free agency is set to open. It’s also a little rushed, which I hate admitting, but it is what it is.

The key points you need to know:
*The Raptors could conceivably carve out max money or close to it.
*They probably shouldn’t trade their picks without landing an impact player.
*The mid-level exception may wind up being a big piece of the offseason.
*I have absolutely no idea what direction Ujiri may go in.

Tom Thibodeau certainly has his issues. As per Jerry Reinsdorf, he’s a control freak who doesn’t appreciate input from anyone else even when it’s wrapped in softer terms like ‘feedback’.  Thiobodeau doesn’t know the meaning of compromise, and Sam Smith suggested it might be due to him not having a wife or kids, two entities which force you into both.  He’s known to drive his players into the ground, not just during games but in hard practices, which when you’re winning 60 games is great, not so much when you’re struggling and injury-riddled.

There are some parallels to be drawn between Thibodeau and Casey, the obvious one being that both are supposed to be coaches that prioritize defense over all else.  The difference is that whereas Thibodeau’s teams embody the talk, Casey’s merely pay lip service to it.  Even if you normalize it by considering the talent disparity between the Bulls and the Raptors, you can at the very least say that Thibodeau is far more intransigent when it comes to defense than Casey, who’s willing to let it slide as long as the offense is punching above its weight class.

Where Casey is perceived as being as stubborn due to his insistence on playing a style that clearly wasn’t conducive to the team, Thibodeau can’t be charged with that crime.  His sins lie elsewhere.  He’s stubborn about dedicating countless hours to detailed game preparation no matter who the opponent, bent on imposing his personality on the team, and when he sees that his standards of preparation aren’t being met, his response is to turn the screws and demand excellence from his team.  This comes at the expense of having forged a personality that is best seen as hard-line, and worst as irresponsible.

In today’s player-dictated league, that means he’s not exactly a “player’s coach”.  Depending on how you see that, it could be a positive, or a huge negative.  Casey, on the other hand, is the player’s coach as long as the player is a ‘star’ on the team. Casey’s far more forgiving and easy to please, casual with the media, and doesn’t seem to mind if you fire his assistant coaches and hire others for him.  That act alone would have been seen as sacrilege by Thibodeau.

A coach that sees bad defense as a non-starter is all too common, in fact, there are zero coaches in the league that won’t preach a defense-first approach.  The difference between Thibodeau and them is that he means it, and isn’t afraid to implement it through hard measures even if comes at the expense of player backlash.  Perhaps that was a sign of inexperience and not being fully aware of the nuances of today’s NBA where player power reigns supreme.

A Thibodeau-Toronto fit is a curious one. Consider this theory: when you evaluate a position, you always consider its past performance, present production, future potential, cost, and culture-fit.  If you consider the coach to be a position on the team like no other, and were to stack Thibodeau against Casey in these categories, he wins out in past performance, present production, and arguably future potential as a coach.

The cost of replacing Casey with Thibodeau would be high, since the Raptors would have to pay out Casey’s year and the cost of getting Thibodeau would be upwards of $6M, even though he’s collecting a nice little severance package from the Bulls worth over $9M.

Gauging culture fit is interesting, because Casey’s strong suit has been instilling a culture, if not of accountability across all players, then at least of effort across everyone.  This is accentuated by what was there before Casey joined the Raptors, when regular season games were hard to watch.  Granted, those teams had Andrea Bargnani play a big role, and whenever he was on the court it just looked like the whole team was tanking it.  This is also Thibodeau’s strong suit but you can argue that this isn’t exactly where the Raptors need help and is an area where Casey’s doing just fine.  Call it even here.

If the Raptors were to bring in Thibodeau, I feel it would be an upgrade because Thibodeau has shown greater tactical flexibility, especially in the face of injuries. His orchestration of a heavily team-oriented Bulls offense (11th in NBA) last season was nothing short of impressive, and is made even more so by the injuries suffered to key players like Joakim Noah and Derrick Rose.  He created a motion-heavy system which was beautiful to watch, utilized Noah’s passing game, got production out of an aging Pau Gasol, and had his three-point shooters over-perform.  This came with the defense not slipping, and sticking to 11th in the league.

The Chicago fans’ view on Thibodeau isn’t very nostalgic as they accuse him of lineup mismanagement, failure to rise to the big occasions, using particular players as a crutch, and overplaying starters.  What they fail to give weight to is a 65% winning rate over that span, including a winning percentage of 57% against the West this previous season.  Thibodeau’s teams aren’t flat-track bullies. Their failure to come out of the East in years where there has been an opening to do so shouldn’t be an indictment on a first-time head coach that won four playoff series in five years.  Compare that to the previous 12 years in Chicago when the team only won a single playoff round.  Oh, and compare that to the Raptors who have won a singular round in their 20 years!

What Thibodeau’s next team will also benefit from is the learnings of his first head coaching experience.  You rarely get things right the first time, and Thibodeau will come out of Chicago knowing how to manage the front office better, have a better understanding of how to deal with players, the media, and just about everything else (that’s something Dwane Casey benefitted from after his relatively quick dismissal from Minnesota).  As pointed out in the last Raptors Weekly podcast, there are a couple things you can guarantee about Thibodeau’s text team: they’re going to improve considerably on defense, and will never be under-prepared for the occasion.  Both to-do list items for the Raptors.

There does exist the uncomfortable question of control, which Thibodeau has known to seek and of course, him holding a grudge (e.g., not drafting Draymond Green).  I wonder if he’ll mellow out a little in his next stint, and be more amiable to work with.  Personally, I think he will just because he’s a smart guy and he knows that he’ll have to adapt if he wants to stay employed and not go the way of one-and-done coaches.  The flip side of the coin is whether Masai Ujiri is a a person who would even entertain having a potential firecracker as a head coach.  Dwane Casey is someone he can easily control, not just because of his contract situation but because of his malleable personality, I’m not sure the same can be said about Thibodeau.  That perception alone could trump any coaching advantage that Thibodeau would bring, which is unfortunate, for the Raptors.

Amidst some audio issues, Andrew and I talk about the D-League team situation, Tom Thibodeau, and what DeMar DeRozan would fetch on the market by playing a name game.
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Welcome to the Weekend 3-on-2, a monthly (maybe) feature that looks at three positive and two negatives with the Raptors and the NBA at large.

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Why you say? Click and read on.

After revealing that the Raptors were in negotiations with the NBA about a D-League team, Tim Leiweke revealed that the team will be coming out of GTA next season:

The importance of a D-League team can’t be overstated, and this is great news for basketball fans in the city, who may just get to see Bruno Caboclo play 25 games next year as part of the squad.

Possible locations could be Mississauga’s Hershey Center, Brampton’s Powerade Center, or any one of the other arenas across the GTA.

I’m certainly looking forward to an annual Raptors-vs-their-D-League affiliate game – call it the James Naismith Cup 2. Look forward to seeing DeAndre Daniels there next season, as he’s already in Toronto working out with the younger guys:

Kudos to Tim Leiweke for getting another thing done as he’s heading out the door.

Founded in 20111, the NBA Development League features 17 teams, so this would be the league’s 18th and first in Canada. The D-League season is made up of 50 regular-season games plus a postseason and runs from November to April. The current teams in the league are: Austin Toros, Bakersfield Jam, Canton Charge, Delaware 87ers, Erie BayHawks, Fort Wayne Mad Ants, Idaho Stampede, Iowa Energy, Los Angeles D-Fenders, Maine Red Claws, Reno Bighorns, Rio Grande Valley Vipers, Sioux Falls Skyforce, Santa Cruz Warriors, Springfield Armor, Texas Legends and Tulsa 66ers.

Prediction: Disenchanted Raptors fans after exruciating losses will now make jokes like, “F**k this, I’m done with these posers, I’m about to go buy a Mississauga Mayhem jersey!”

Here it is:

allstarlogotoronto

Some info about the logo:

The logo design pays tribute to the iconic CN Tower, the tallest free-standing structure in the Western Hemisphere and the crown jewel of Toronto’s skyline.

The logo, designed in collaboration with the Raptors, integrates the CN Tower silhouette with the team’s red, white and black colors.  Additional secondary logos include a signature NBA “star” logo inside a dynamic maple leaf and an All-Star toque logo, featuring a clawed star, which pays tribute to the popular accessory worn during Canada’s winter months.

Play making, lateral quickness and honing an 18-footer should top Valanciunas’s offseason to-do list.

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With the inevitable clash between Cleveland and Golden State closing in (seeing Houston fight back last night was fun to watch, though), and as much as we all enjoy receiving our basketball fix, each passing episode of the NBA Playoffs ultimately leaves an empty feeling within the Raptors’ fan base. Or rather the continuation of the lingering disappointment from Toronto’s first-round exit.

For the most part, the postseason has been competitive and highly entertaining (minus a couple no-shows in each series, T.O. included), but it also serves as another reminder that the Dino’s didn’t earn their keep when it truly mattered the most. It’s hard to imagine any player on the Raps’ roster channeling their inner DeMarre Carroll in the effort department. Depressing, indeed.

Are we somehow supposed to take comfort in the fact that the assistants have been fired? Nothing suggests franchise advancement like backing the man who was in charge of overseeing the ones you’ve just let go. Prepare for yet another season of evading post-game questions, sugar-coating poor play, and in-game adjustments that leave plenty to be desired. A puzzling state of affairs to put it mildly.

Ujiri, while undoubtedly still residing in this city’s high regard, has now left the door open to criticism that could begin to fester. Brian Burke was once the chosen one, there was a time when Alex Anthopoulos could do no wrong, hell, even Bryan Colangelo was treated like royalty at one point. But like clockwork, Toronto’s multiple personality disorder has a knack for turning ugly in a hurry. To kill any growing notions, the summer stage is Masai’s platform.

What’s next? 

Well, time can aid our wounds. The offseason always owns potential to lay the groundwork for a renewed sense of optimism. However, we all know to keep that hope at arm’s length with an asterisk forever handy.

Fellow writers of the Republic have hit the ground running. Zarar’s take on the state of this squad’s backcourt, Blake and the Doctor’s coverage of the upcoming draft, and William’s recent edition of the mailbag. All of which provide a great jumpstart to the proceedings.

This contribution to the offseason festivities comes in the form of surveying the Free Agent landscape, and the call for a concerted effort to attain a difference maker.

The list of free agents this summer is rather deep, for a comprehensive guide to the possible movers and shakers, check out the useful page over at Hoops Hype. For the purposes of this article, let’s check in on the highlights.

At the risk of wishful thinking, how about we start with some dream scenarios and work our way down from there. With unrestricted, restricted, and player option designations attached.

Hey, if we’ve learned anything through recent events, anything is possible. Media personalties and Twitter trolls alike actually claiming Steph Curry’s daughter was an annoying distraction, the Leafs actually landing the whale named Babcock, or CBS having nerve to dismantle David Letterman’s historic set just days after his last show.

Jimmy Butler

Tier 1: Dare To Dream, But Stranger Things Have Happened 

  • Unrestricted: Marc Gasol, LaMarcus Aldridge, DeAndre Jordan
  • Restricted: Kawhi Leonard, Jimmy Butler, Draymond Green
  • Player Option: Kevin Love, Monta Ellis, Goran Dragic

Let’s not even hint at All-NBA first teamer, Marc Gasol, or All-Defensive first teamer, Kawhi Leonard. There is no reason for either to jump ship and simply a fantasy from Toronto’s standpoint. But two outside shots could be in the form of Butler and Green, the first and second place finishers respectively for the league’s Most Improved Player Award.

Green could very well be an NBA champion by the time Free Agency rolls around, and Butler is a rising star in a prime location. Nevertheless, neither sit atop the food chain within their squads. That’s debatable when analyzing the Bulls’ power structure but with D-Rose’s inconsistent health impacting Chicago’s chances on a yearly basis, along with the now reported rift between the two, Butler could be longing for a fresh start.

Interior help, an upgrade on the wing, passion, grit, and two-way capabilities are what’s sorely lacking in this town, and morphing into top-dog status can entice even the best of candidates. Despite numerous suitors to be, the possibilty remains that T.O.’s camp will pony up and force one of these clubs to decline their matching privileges.

Overly optimistic?

Seven of these nine marquee players are currently employed by perennial powerhouses, one of whom is most likely taking his talents to Hollywood, and the remaining two (Ellis and Dragic), fill positions already held by the Raps’ “leaders”. MLSE’s wallet also looms as a wildcard.

Masai’s master plan remains somewhat of a mystery. Believing in the core on camera is good for business, but a different blueprint could exist behind closed doors. At the moment, nobody is safe from packing their bags.

Unfortunately all of the momentum previously created by this franchise has come to a screeching halt, as two steps back have quieted the noise of the 2013-14 season. Crossing the border was already in question for the majority of players, and everyone involved with this team didn’t do themselves any favours by shrinking the free agent allure.

On to something a little more practical.

Tier 2: Somewhat Realistic Additions

  • Unrestricted: Greg Monroe, Paul Millsap, Omer Asik
  • Restricted: Tobias Harris, Khris Middleton, Iman Shumpert
  • Player Option: Al Jefferson, Roy Hibbert, Brook Lopez, Paul Pierce

What did that nixed Kyle Lowry trade consist of again? A package of Felton, Metta World Peace, and one of either Shumpert, Tim Hardaway Jr. or a 2018 1st-rounder. Thank you for your ineptitude, James Dolan. Reports did surface that Toronto wanted the pick instead of either Shumpert or Hardaway, but back then the timing wasn’t right, whereas the here and now is ripe to jump on a player like Shumpert and what he brings to the table at both ends.

This tier represents help in areas of need without necessarily mortgaging your entire bankroll. Yes, even Pierce. He’s hated on for a reason, and mentality wise, the savvy vet and potential Hall Of Famer is a perfect fit.

I get it, he’s been the enemy for two straight years, but if he forgoes retirement and actually suits up in Toronto, every bit of this city’s distain will immediately transform into elation. Especially since it would mean this team still owns a win-now philosophy.

The more costly commodities of Millsap, Monroe, Jefferson, and Lopez would all be welcomed with open arms. Though investing in underrated skill-sets such as Hibbert’s defense (when he feels inclined to do so), Asik’s rebounding and shot blocking, and the across the board habits of Harris and Middleton could stretch the Raps’ dollar even further. With Asik offering the easiest route as the most attainable unrestricted asset.

Now, it’s the headliner’s turn.

Toronto

Tier Tristan: The Main Objective 

It’s time for that aforementioned priority signing, and look no further than Brampton, Ontario native, Tristan Thompson. Who as far as the Raptors should be concerned, belongs in a tier all to himself.

If the cat wasn’t out of the bag as his young career has progressed, his current postseason run, specifically over the course of his last 8 games (57% from the field mixed with 11.5 boards), has showcased his current and future worth. His Free-Throw clip just touches 56%, but 34 attempts over that same span is an encouraging sign of disruption.

Increased opportunity has put him into the mainstream discussion, as his just under 27 regular season minutes per game have risen to now four straight contests eclipsing the 40-mark. Kevin Love’s injury opened the window, but it’s hard to argue Thompson wasn’t going to enter the spotlight either way eventually.

A number of obstacles stand in the way of the Raps’ scoring such a prize:

  • The seemingly inevitability of Love opting out leaving Thompson and his restricted status that much more important to the Cavs’ organization.
  • A major role moving forward with a team on the verge of the NBA Finals.
  • The fact that LeBron James has found a new best friend. His backing of Thompson is reaching new heights.
  • He can start collecting his chips and head to the cashier as his payday looms large. There will be no offer below the already turned down $52 Million over four years.

Not since Jamaal Magloire, has a Canadian born player suited up in a Raps’ uniform. And to kick it old school, this city will always remember Magloire’s rise from Eastern Commerce Collegiate (with partner in crime Colin Charles) to the University of Kentucky, and eventually playing for the Raps in 2011.

Wait a minute, Magloire went from consultant/ambassador to assistant coach. Watch your back, Jamaal!

It was too late for Magloire to make an impact in the final stages of his career, but this is an opportunity to acquire a player who’s just getting started. Hailing from Toronto in itself doesn’t make Thompson’s case, on court decisions are far more important. But the bonus it provides doesn’t hurt the cause either, especially when the hometown approach is this team’s primary selling point. Scratch that, it’s their only selling point. Still, it’s certainly a strong one.

The potential for Andrew Wiggins becoming a member of this organization essentially exists as a pipe-dream. At the very least, it will have to wait until after his first lucrative long-term contract. Thompson represents the next best thing, yet on a different level.

But production and willingness to do the dirty work speaks for itself. The money that can be saved by letting the likes of Amir Johnson and Lou Williams walk (the 6th-man of the year is expendable), can aid the existing cap space for taking a shot at Thompson’s price tag.

One can only hope Toronto’s brass wants to sure up their pick-and-roll chaos, while attempting to put an end to the Raps’ rebounding embarrassment, not to mention eliminating its hero-ball existence. Thompson can only accelerate the process, and transform into one of this city’s next leaders on the hardwood.

Make it happen, Masai.

Given that MU has decided to retain coach Casey to the dismay of most fans, what is coming next? The next move will be a sort of tell re tanking option vs. re-tooling in win now mode. Thoughts?

Long-time reader and commenter, yertu damkule, joins the podcast to talk a range of topics from Andrea Bargnani to Bebe Noguiera, and all that’s in between.
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Not much to see here. Terrence Ross underwent surgery in California on Saturday to remove some bone spurs from his left ankle, the team announced. According to TSN’s Josh Lewenberg, Ross played through the injury late in the season.

There is no timetable for Ross’s return, but he should be fine before next season starts. His status for the Seattle Pro Am, however, will most likely be in question.

Ross posted a picture of his foot in a boot on his Instagram account on Saturday morning.

Thanks to everyone who wished me a speedy recovery. Ima be all right 👌👌👌

A photo posted by Terrence Ross (@3tross1) on

Like everyone else, Ross struggled in the playoffs, averaging seven points per game on 37.9 percent shooting from the field. He was an unreliable contributor on offense and woeful on defense. Perhaps that could be attributed to his injury. Let’s hope that is the case.

We keep being referred to as a “young” team, but are we really?

MLSE is reportedly close to finding Tim Leiweke’s replacement, and it will be John Cassaday, former CEO of Corus Entertainment. The MLSE board will hold discussions next week to confirm John Cassaday as its new president and CEO.

Cassaday ran Corus Entertainment, the Toronto based television broadcaster which owns several stations such as YTV and Teletoon, along with radio stations such as 102.1 the Edge, and Q107. He stepped down from that post in March after 16 years.

Tim Leiweke is set to depart on June 30, exactly two years to the day since when he was hired. Leiweke on arrival spoke about rejuvenating the Raptors (another interview) and then demoted/fired Bryan Colangelo after another lottery season. He then hired Masai Ujiri after a short search.

Whereas Leiweke came from a sports background, Cassaday’s history is much different and more diverse. From a Raptors perspective, he inherits a situation far different than Leiweke did, when enthusiasm was low with the team struggling.  Though the playoff sweep has left many fans disenchanted, you’d have to think it’s very unlikely that Cassaday could spark executive-level changes for the Raptors.

It should be noted that Cassaday reportedly wasn’t the first choice as MLSE had apparently contacted NHL Chief Operating Officer John Collins, who rebuffed their advances.

The Doctor and the crew present the live mock draft and welcome newcomer Dave Hendrick.

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I love draft season. Chalk it up to being a fan of a team that has spent far more time in the lottery than the playoffs, or baseball fandom that’s heavily rooted in prospect watching, or just a general preference for speculating on the hypothetical over analyzing the actual. Whatever the reasons, I love draft season.

By some combination of good fortune and good timing, my day job around this time last year turned into primarily preparation for the NBA Draft. I’m an NBA news editor at theScore, and last year saw me tasked with writing scouting reports on likely first-round picks and, to pull the curtain back some, pre-writing posts for draft night that would allow us to get news and alerts out in a timely manner. It was a blast, and by the time the draft rolled around, I could have told you more than you wanted to know about most prospects.

I did not even have a draft night post – let alone a scouting report – prepared for Bruno Cabcolo.

That is to say, as much as we may prepare and speculate and read Chad Ford and DraftExpress and so on, there’s never any telling what’s going on behind closed doors at the Air Canada Centre or in the mind of Masai Ujiri.

That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t speculate, hypothesize, and make our own cases for players the Toronto Raptors should take at No. 20 this year. Draft time is a ton of fun, and even if the horse you pick is the wrong one (shameful admission: I liked Jerryd Bayless better than Russell Westbrook back in the day despite being a UCLA fan), occasionally having a correct evaluation or opinion feels great (shameless plug: I was extreme;y high on Kevin Love in that same draft, hated Jonny Flynn, loved K.J. McDaniels last year, and so on).

The purpose of this article is to lay out who you can realistically be looking at and discussing with the Raptors set to pick at No. 20.

There’s always the possibility they move up (though your scenarios of using Terrence Ross or Jonas Valanciunas just to move up in this draft are incredible examples of poor asset management and misevaluation of the value of draft picks), they move down (not sure I see the point with this class), or move the pick entirely (a poor cap-management decision because of the table below but a justifiable competitive one with Bruno Caboclo and Bebe Nogueira set to be de facto rookies next season).

The most likely scenario, as always, is that the Raptors hold steady and pick 20th. That’s not a terrible place to be in this draft. While it’s not the greatest class in recent memory, it appears to be good-to-great at the top and run about 20-25 players deep. There’s a pretty steep drop-off not long after where the Raptors will pick, making reaching somewhat tenuous and the likelihood of a precipitous fall from a top name somewhat unlikely.

I’ll be heading up our draft coverage at theScore again this season, and I spent the whole of March on the college basketball beat rather than the NBA beat. I think I’ve got a solid handle on the top-30 or -40 prospects in the class, and I’ve even tried my hand at a mock draft for the first time (it has the Raptors getting Montrezl Harrell). The nature of the coverage is such that I probably won’t be able to drop a ton of draft stuff here at Raptors Republic, but allow me to set the table for our discussions to come.

Forget about it

The following players are all consensus top-15 picks, in that ESPN’s Chad Ford, DraftExpress’ Jonathan Givony, and CBS Sports’ Sam Vecenie all have them going in the top-15 in their most recent mocks. A five-pick slide isn’t unheard of, but each of these names should securely be off the board by the time Toronto picks.

Karl-Anthony Towns
Jahlil Okafor
D’Angelo Russell
Emmanuel Mudiay
Kristaps Porzingis
Willie Cauley-Stein
Justise Winslow
Mario Hezonja
Stanley Johnson
Myles Turner
Frank Kaminsky
Devin Booker
Trey Lyles

The fact that 13 names are near-consensus top-15 picks kind of speaks to the tiers in the draft. The first four names there are a clear first tier, the next four are a second, and from there things start to jump around a little more, getting into team needs and skill preference and upside-versus-floor debates.

Unlikely to be around

The following players are off the board by No. 20 in most mocks but could conceivable slide during the pre-draft process. You can hope they fall if you really like them, but don’t start building free agency plans around the team having secured one of these names.

Kelly Oubre – At this point, the best potential combination of shooting and defense available, though he hasn’t always shown it consistently. He could be a better Terrence Ross, or Terrence Ross, or a worse Terrence Ross.

Sam Dekker – A versatile, high-motor, high-character ball of energy, he’d be in the group above if teams had faith he can hit the NBA triple. Not sure where, exactly, he’d fit, but these are the type of guys you can put on most rosters and find a role for them.

Kevon Looney – Was once as high as No. 6 in Ford’s mock and could be a quality defender who can space the floor a bit. The upside here would be too good to pass up if he slides.

Tyus Jones – The analytics crowd seems to like the mistake-free, high-IQ guard, especially if his 3-point shot carries over to the next level. He wouldn’t be a swing for the fences but he seems a safe bet to at least be a quality PG2.

Bobby Portis – Were he to slip, I think he’s a nice fit. He’s a power forward who does everything well, nothing poorly, and nothing at an elite level, save for his reportedly obscene motor. He’s believed to be the most sure thing to be a rotation player in the NBA, even if he may not ever sniff an All-Star Game. At No. 20, that’d be a major win.

The core group to argue about

Occasionally these players are mocked to be going higher or lower, but they’re generally falling in the 15-25 range and are worth discussing.

Guards

Cameron Payne – If you want Lou Williams back, skip over the guards here. If Williams walks and/or the team can find a home for Greivis Vasquez, drafting a PG2 or potentially a combo-guard for the bench makes sense. Payne wouldn’t fit the combo-guard role, as he’s somewhat undersized at the one, but he’d be a solid backup point guard. He can really score, has the makings of an outside shot, and he gets the “crafty” and “pure” tags from Ford. He’s the least likely of these three to be around, it seems.

Jerian Grant – Grant would fit the combo-guard role off the bench well, but his penchant for ignoring his own shot in favor of over-passing would make him a nice remedy to the sometimes-frustraing Williams role. He’s a better defender and passer than Williams and a capable penetrator, but his outside shot is still shaky enough that he’s not a sure-fire lottery pick. Notre Dame’s offense was not dissimilar to the basic pick-and-roll schemes the Raptors run, and at 23, he’ll hit the NBA ready to contribute.

Delon Wright – If fans want a different look from a backup combo-guard, Wright is it. He can capable guard both spots and isn’t a great outside shooter, basically the opposite of the Williams-Vasquez duo. He rebounds well, gets to the line, and piles up steals. Like Grant, he’s 23, and the consensus seems to be that Grant’s got a slightly higher upside, but Wright seems a good bet to carve out a backup role.

Bigs

Montrezl Harrell – Were I to guess who Raptors’ fans would choose from these nine games, given a poll, Harrell’s the guy. He measured well enough and is strong enough that he could see some time as a backup center, brings defense and rebounding to replace what the team will likely lose from Amir Johnson and Tyler Hansbrough, plays above the rim, and is the type of hard-nosed, all-out player Raptors fans love. Like I said, I had him going to Toronto in my mock, and I think getting a clear rotation player who can help on defense this late would be a win.

Robert Upshaw – The Raptors have Bebe and Bruno, and opted for Greg Stiemsma over Hassan Whiteside (and others) in large part because developing three players on a 15-man roster seems impossible. Maybe a D-League franchise will change that thinking, but if it doesn’t, it’s hard to see Upshaw fitting. He measures incredibly well and has an obvious upside at centre, but he got kicked out of two programs and seems like he’ll need to be brought along slowly.

Christian Wood – A bit of a project at 19, Wood shot up boards somewhat late in the season after making huge statistical jumps as a sophomore. He apparently didn’t interview all that well and there are questions about his commitment and conditioning, but he’s a fantastic athlete and could be a quality two-way player with some effective player development.

Wings

Rondae Hollis-Jefferson – Were the team not somewhat starved for shooting as is, this would be my guy. He may still be by the time June 25 rolls around. Short of Cauley-Stein, Hollis-Jefferson is the most clear defensive addition I think a team could make. He can guard every position except for center, tested as an incredible athlete, and is great in the open floor. He can’t shoot a lick, but this late, I think getting a clear one-way asset is still a positive, and he’s going to be very, very good as a defender.

Justin Anderson – Can he shoot? Anderson’s numbers were all over the place from outside because of a torrid streak and then a wrist injury, but it sounds as if most teams are non-believers in his outside game. Without that, he’s kind of an RHJ-light, not quite as good or as versatile defender and someone who will need to eat on offense off of put backs, back cuts, and broken plays.

R.J. Hunter – Can he do anything but shoot? Hunter’s length portends some defensive potential but right now his one clear skill is the ability to put the ball in the basket. I’m not sure that’s a need the Raptors have, even if he would be one of the team’s best shooters. I’m less high on Hunter than most, though, it seems.

Might be a reach

I could understand fans talking themselves into Jordan Mickey (shot-blocking), Chris McCullough (upside, if patient), Michael Frazier (shooting), Terry Rozier (Kyle Lowry Lite), George Lucas de Paula (Kawhi Leonard-like length at point guard), or a couple of other names, especially since the Raptors don’t have a second-round pick and we know Ujiri will go off-board. That’s totally fair, but this group is generally considered to be roughly where the drop-off happens, so don’t fall too in love.

Making assistant coaches scapegoats is the easy part of Masai Ujiri’s summer, and there are far more crucial decisions ahead for a GM that finds himself at a crossroads, where depending on how he fares, he could be a genius or the next Bryan Colangelo.

One of them is whether to give Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan another shot.

DeRozan and Lowry both showed that they can put up individual numbers as long as they remain ball-dominant, and it’s no surprise that were at their best when the other was out. Lowry has always grappled with being a system guy in an offense, and his premature departure from previous stops has come down to personality clashes or lack of fit. In Toronto, he’s been afforded carte blanche and made the most of it, but now that the shine has worn off, what lies beneath the surface is proving to be eerily familiar.

Lowry’s desire to “rescue” the team by taking over the offense is applauded when he hits a pull-up three down 1 with 2 minutes left, but when the same shot doesn’t fall, it reeks of selfishness and speaks to the lack of a reliable offensive system. Individual offense can carry you in the regular season, but in the post-season it needs to be of remarkable quality to even move the needle. We saw better players like Derrick Rose, Chris Paul, and Mike Conley fail to carry their teams on their own in the playoffs, and it’s foolhardy to think Kyle Lowry could use his brand of individual offensive to lead the Raptors to even moderate playoff success. You need to be operating at LeBron James and Stephen Curry-levels for one man to carry you in any significant manner in the post-season.

Injury-riddled in the second half of the season (mainly due to minutes mismanagement), injury is a concern for Lowry, in not so much that he’ll miss extended periods, but that he’ll be playing at 80% because of his pride and his Amir Johnson-mentality of pushing through. The Raptors will (hopefully) be trying a different system next season, and at 30, Lowry will have to learn anew, and this time he may be asked to play a role where he’s a piece of the puzzle rather than the central focus. The jury is out whether he’s able to abide by that constraint.

His backcourt partner, DeMar DeRozan, is a shooting guard who can’t shoot. He’s shooting 43% and 41% in the last two seasons, and 30% and 28% from three, respectively. He’s got a TS% of 51%, which is quite low and would be a lot worse if it weren’t for his FT attempts. The book is out on the six-year veteran, and though his brief stretches of point-forward play fill you with some hope that he can be a creative force, the sample size says he’s a black hole on offense.

His long-exposed weakness of being susceptible to lanky wings playing him tight has shown little sign of alleviation over the years. Whether it be Otto Porter Jr. or Tony Allen, DeRozan remains a fairly easy player to clamp down on when the opposition in keen on it, and if there’s anyone that would most benefit from a fresh approach to offense, it’s him. Lacking a shot and a quick drive, he’ll invariably look for a hard pull-up which defenses will invite him to take until he hits them at a steady clip, which he hasn’t – he shot 35% between 16-feet and the three-point line (i.e., the long two) which was also his most-taken shot accounting for 34% of all field goals attempted. That is a sign of a player being dared to prove he can shoot and simply being unable to.

Combine Lowry’s desire for the ball, and DeRozan’s need for it, and you’re left with a serious question to answer: can these two ever be part of a team-oriented offense that doesn’t use one-on-one play as a serious crutch. In the second half of 2013-14 (post-Gay trade), both DeRozan and Lowry played well. Sure, they failed in the post-season when the opposition was tuned in, but at least in the regular season they fared well. A big part of that was due to Patrick Patterson and Greivis Vasquez being very productive, and Casey playing a good combination of starter/bench lineups.

This season we saw hockey shifts, Patterson’s role reduced to a three-point shooter, Vasquez taking a step back, and Lou Williams being a giant black hole on offense. This translated to the infectious bench-driven ball-movement that was present the season before being overwritten by one-on-one play, which the coach didn’t recognize as a problem only because early results were positive.

Now that we’ve seen the good and bad side of Lowry and DeRozan, the question becomes how you make them efficient parts of a team. The first step in doing so, if Ujiri is even inclined to do so, is to ensure that DeRozan develops a three-point shot this summer. Without that, the Raptors are in big trouble and DeRozan will continue to be two tiers below where he needs to be for the Raptors. Only once DeRozan is at least a 35% three-point shooter, can you start designing offensive sets where he can legitimately serve as an off-the-ball threat. We talk about summertime assignments for younger players like Bruno Caboclo and Terrence Ross, but those pale in comparison to how important it is for DeRozan to take his shooting up a level. If he’s unable to produce this level of efficiency, then the Raptors may as well just ship him while his value is relatively high (at least compared to what it could be in a year).

If Ujiri chooses to give Lowry and DeRozan another shot, the former’s summertime assignments include 1) getting his head around how to guard his position at an average level, and 2) ingrain himself with the new offense the Raptors will be running, so that he can become a part of it rather than the standard-bearer. It’s noteworthy to mention that every other coach has failed at this.

This is all if you decide to keep the two. If you want to make more than cosmetic changes to the roster, Ujiri will have to package one of them for a bigger player. DeRozan is the one that has a greater chance of intriguing teams because of his work ethic, ability to get to the FT line, and age. Despite his shooting issues, there will be interested parties with enough floor spacing that’ll welcome DeRozan in the hopes that he can improve his shooting to average levels.

DeRozan has a player option of $10.1 million for 2015-16, which he will opt out of, essentially making this his contract year. That comes with an associated decline in market value since he becomes a rent-a-player who never fetch you much.

Kyle Lowry is a tougher proposition to move. He’s got $36 million owing on his deal, is hitting 30, has a reputation of being uncoachable, plays a position he can’t defend, and happens to be playing one of the most stacked positions in the league. He’s got a track record where his welcome wears down, and GMs have enough of a sample size where they’re likely to point to the player than the circumstance as the problem.

The reality is that any real Raptors shake-up will involve shipping one of these two, because replacing Terrence Ross, Amir Johnson or even Jonas Valanciunas, are peripheral changes that don’t change the core of this team, especially if the head coach remains the same.

Why? One of the only things to look forward to next season was Sterner’s halftime spots. Those are irreplaceable. Damn you Masai. Damn you to hell.

Will finally shows his face on the pod to talk assistants getting canned, Terrence Ross blowing up (on Instagram, not on the court), and whether Jonas Valanciunas belongs in the middle-ages.

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Time to fill the haunting void by emptying out the mailbag.

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Yesterday I had a chance to speak with Jack Armstrong on the phone as he was driving home from a golf trip. I’ve transcribed the phone interview for you below. He had some interesting things to say about where the organization is headed, and in particular how he feels about Kyle Lowry.

Kiyan: Eric Koreen published an article recently where he drew similarities between this team and the team that won the Atlantic Division in 06-07′. The following season, they regressed and lost to Orlando in five games. Panic ensued and the Raptors made some acquisitions (JO -> Marion -> Turkoglu) that perhaps hindered their long term growth. Koreen stated the Raptors can’t fall into that trap again. Do you think there’s a parallel here, and if so, how can the Raptors avoid it?

Jack: Back then there was a greater sense of urgency as you wanted to hold on to Chris Bosh, and in order to keep a foundational player around, you’ve got to continue building a winning vibe. With all due respect to the guys they currently have on their roster now, there’s not a guy on the roster who’s as good as Chris Bosh. So I think that Masai at the trade deadline knew that this was far from a finished product, and decided to punt rather than go for first down. So I think he said ‘okay, let it breathe, let’s see how this season pans itself out, let’s see how this team performs in the playoffs, and then we’re open to any / all moves that come out’.

I think the approach taken was the right approach. You don’t want to start building on a foundation that you’re not convinced in or don’t believe in yet.

People forget that the assistant GM at the time you mention was Masai Ujiri. So again, he has a pretty good sense of what took place, and he doesn’t want history to repeat itself again. I think he has a pretty good sense of this roster, and as crazy as it sounds, I think what happened against Washington might end up being a blessing in disguise, because it gives you an even greater understanding that this isn’t a group to build on top of. There are some pieces that are good to keep, and there are some pieces that could potentially be hazardous for you.

I think it’s been a great two year run. It’s been a lot of fun. Yes, it was disappointing getting swept by Washington, but when you look at the totality of the two years, it’s time now, based on what you learned from that, to go in a different direction. Does it have to be dramatic? No. But I think you’re going to have a different team next year.

Kiyan: How drastic do you think the change will be?

Jack: I think we might see 5, 6, or 7 new faces.

Kiyan: Was it the right decision to keep building this team with Dwane Casey coming back?

Jack: I think #1, when you look at the day Dwane Casey was hired, then you look at it today, with this being his team still – is the Raptors organization in a better place now than it was prior to when he was hired? I would say: Absolutely. Is there still steps that need to be taken? Sure. But does the guy deserve to be fired for coming in and basically improving the situation every year?

When you look at the 20 year history of the Raptors, he’s the best coach they’ve ever had. So before you make that decision, I think you need to let the process breathe.

He’s done a really good job. Perfect job? No. But who does? I think what’s happened is, you’ve had an opportunity to reflect and say ‘okay, there’s things that you could have done better, but do you still believe in the Mayor?’. As a former coach, and having been around the Raptors on a daily basis, not only in Dwane’s time, but for 17 years, I see a good guy who’s a good leader, who deserves the benefit of the doubt.

Will there be modifciations to what he does, the staff, the appraoch, and things you need to improve on? Yes, absolutely. But at the end of the day, I think you’ve got to look at the entire picture and say ‘okay, we’ve got a contractual obligation to him for next year’, so if he was a strong enough leader 12 months ago, what has changed so dramatically in that time?

I do think that the defense has to improve, and there’s a lot of things that have to get better – no doubt. But when all is said and done they (Raptors management) still believe in him, and I absolutely believe in him too. And I’ll say this: I’m convinced that if Paul Pierce was on the Raptors and not on the Wizards, the Raptors are potentially playing game 6 tonight against Atlanta. I mean, that has nothing to do with Randy Wittman or Dwane Casey, that has everything to do with having the right veteran leader in the room, and it’s pretty evident to me – and was pretty evident to me for a few months during the regular season where I’ve stated this publicly on many occasions – the Raptors lack a veteran player in leadership, and that was pretty evident on the back end of the season. It’s not like Dwane Casey didn’t try to bang the drums and say ‘fellas, this approach is going to blow up on us’. But players think they have the answers, and there’s not a player in there that says ‘hey, you know what? Coach is right’. And that’s what Randy Wittman has that Dwane Casey doesn’t.

Kiyan: Why is there such a need for change in the assistant coaches? Is there something going on behind the scenes that we’re unaware of?

Jack: You know it’s pretty common stuff, it happens all the time. When you have a season where you get swept, you look at every area of the organization and say ‘this has to change, or that has to change. I need a different voice in this spot, or a different approach in that spot’. It happens. So does it point to a greater problem? I don’t think so. What it points to is that if there is a potential opportunity in the market to get people to help your organization because you feel that that’s what the team needs, then you go ahead and do it.

I really don’t know if any of the assistant coaches are leaving or not. I have a high degree of respect for all of them, and I hope they’re all back. If in fact, (only) one or two of them are back, then I’m sure it’s been determined that there was a need for a change for whatever reason. I sense though, that there is no issue in terms of a problem or a disconnect whatsoever.

Kiyan: You’ve stated publicly before that you did not like the way that Kyle Lowry handled himself in the post-season presser. Is he a problem?

Jack: I think he needs to mature.

I think he can be stubborn, They’ve (the organization) tried to find that middle ground with him, but there are certain people that you try to give the middle ground to, and they want more than the middle ground. There comes a point where (you have to realize) Kyle Lowry is not a good enough player to hire a coach, and he’s not a good enough player to fire a coach.

He’s a player, and he’s a good player. I think he’s been a tremendous positive story for the Raptors the last few years, and he’s been a tremendous positive story in the NBA. But we’re not talking Lebron James or Magic Johnson here. We’re talking about a good to very good player who needs to run the team and be a more positive voice of leadership in the room, and I was very disappointed in how Kyle handled the post-season press conference.

I’m sorry, I think there were a lot of times in the last few years that (speaking) as a former coach, I’m sure there were moments that Dwane Casey was not pleased with something that Kyle Lowry did or said, and was still publicly very respectful and supportive of him. And in my opinion, when your boss goes out of his way to always sing your praises and to be an advocate for you, I think in turn, you owe that the opposite way to him.

This is not a one-way street. There’s give and take.

I go back to what I said: He’s a wonderful player and I have a ton of respect for his game. At the same time, I think his job is to play, and play well – and he didn’t play well down the stretch.

His job is to be a positive supportive leader and a conduit – a point guard who is a direct reflection in a positive sense of what the leadership of the head coach is. And that to me has got to be a partnership.

All of us who have been in friendships and relationships, marriages or whatever know that nothing is perfect. But ultimately you’ve got to work through that stuff. I think it’s been a pretty good relationship and a pretty good marriage between the two. There’s going to be moments when it gets pretty testy, and I think that’s good, you need that. But in no way shape or form can you say ‘well, it’s more his fault than my fault’.

The organization gave you a long term contract, and the highest paid contract on the team, so much has been given, but much is expected. Your job is to produce. And you know what? You didn’t.

As great as things were a year ago, even though you’ve lost game 7 to the Nets, it was a love-in at the end of the season. But a year later, expectations change and things happen, but you’ve got to stay consistent.

Maybe there are times where I speak my mind too much.

I was very disappointed in how Kyle Lowry handled (the post-season presser). If I were his coach, I’d bring him in and rip him a new one.

I feel pretty confident that he’ll figure it out.

It’s not like you throw him out. He’s a terrific player, he’s the heart and soul of your team. He has so many good attributes. All I’m going to say is that you go through this, and it’s all part of the evolution and growth / maturity of a player. And he’s still evolving.

Should the Raptors write Kyle Lowry off? Absolutely not. These are things that happen as part of the whole process. Guys get frustrated with losing, they’re mad and angry. They claim to want to put it all on their own shoulders, but they’ll only put it on their own shoulders first to a certain degree, then they want to find other places to put it rather than saying ‘hey, it’s truly on me’. It can’t be lip service, you’ve got to walk your talk.

They need him to play better next year over the long haul of the season. And he was sensational in the first half of the season. He was not good, he was great. They need that from him on a more consistent basis, and he’s capable of it.

Kiyan: Out of all the broadcasters that work for the Raptors, you’re probably known most for speaking your mind. When Lowry hears these comments from you, does it affect your relationship with him?

Jack: It doesn’t bother me. I have a good relationship with Kyle. I think I’m a generally overwhelmingly positive person. If I’m saying 98% great things about you – and in my case it’s usually 99% – and if there’s a 1% where I state what I’m seeing, than I hope you’re man enough to say ‘hey, y’know what? Anytime I’m doing x, y, z; this guy’s going out of his way to give me credit for it, this is the reality of someone who calls it like it is’.

Would I want to coach a Kyle Lowry? Absolutely. And that’s my point. This is a temporary issue, and not a permanent issue – a temporary reaction to frustration and failure. I was disappointed with how he handled it, but when I look at Kyle Lowry and his time with the Raptors, it’s overwhelmingly good. So now it’s at a moment where you hope he learns / grows from it, the organization learns / grows from it, and he comes back and is prepared to have a full season that he’s capable of having.

Kiyan: Where are the Raptors in the rebuild process now? Does the playoff sweep mean the Raptors have relapsed further into a rebuild, and does having the all-star game in Toronto next year force Masai to build a good team for next season?

Jack: That’s an interesting question, that I don’t know the answer to. I think the benefit that Masai has is that they’re in the Atlantic Division. So whatever they do, they can still maintain a relatively competitive standing in the division that they’re in.

I’ll say this: Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan are in the primes of their career. This is not a young team. I don’t buy into that whatsoever. Jonas Valanciunas and Terrence Ross are going into their fourth year, they’re the only two guys that are young and even play.

These guys (Lowry and DeMar) are in the prime of their career, I can’t see a rebuild with those two guys. DeMar DeRozan has lost enough in his career, he wants to keep going.

Bottom line is – and I think I’ve said this enough times and I firmly believe it – they need a starting small forward, and they need a starting power forward.

And I’m not saying Terrence Ross can’t be a good player, I think he can be, but I don’t think he’s a starting three man in the NBA right now. I think he’s (better suited) to be on a really good team coming off the bench.

I think Amir Johnson has given them some great years. At the same time, I think he would again be better suited to be on a really good team coming off the bench. If you wanted to keep Amir Johson and he’s your starting four man, then you absolutely have to improve what you have at the three spot.

You can get away with a Matt Barnes because you’ve got Blake Griffin, Chris Paul, a shot-maker in Reddick, and a shot-blocker / rebounder in DeAndre. But if you don’t have ‘off the charts’ guys in two or three spots, then you have to have a better player in that spot.

I think they know exactly where their holes are, now they have to decide how they’re going to go about putting it together. I feel confident in Masai and Dwane, that they know their issues, and now it’s about how many of them you can address.

Kiyan: I think it’s clear what the holes that need to be filled are. Having said that, since you said we may see 5-7 new faces, do you have any hints or names of players going out or coming in?

Jack: The reality is that you have a bunch of guys who are free agents. That’s why I’m saying there’s a potential for change in the roster because of that. But in terms of potential names out there, so much of it is going to come down to how you plan to utilize the draft and things like that. So to me, I think it’s a lot of moving pieces that we’re not really going to have a sense of until late July.

But for me to project if they’re going to go after Paul Milsap or Draymond Green, or this guy / that guy, who knows? A lot is going to depend on budgets and how they decide to use their money, what is the priority, or if you can even get a guy. It’s one thing to have money, it’s another thing to be able to get a guy. In particular, with the way the labour agreement / tv deal is going to unfold, everybody is going to have money. So you can manage your cap beautifully, and think you’re going to be in a good position market-wise to throw money around, and now suddenly your competition for those players is a lot more steep than what it would’ve been. So the recruitment part gets a little harder.

They have some areas that have to be addressed. But the good thing is they’re coming off back-to-back franchise record seasons…. They’ve totally recaptured their fan base, and they’re in a positive position… And they do have the all-star break coming in. So I think they’re in a really good position to recruit, and I think they’re in a really good position to keep a guy or two. They’re in a better position now than they were maybe in past years.

Kiyan: Do you have any input on the rumour that would potentially land Monty Williams in Toronto as an assistant coach?

Jack: I have no idea. I’m sure Monty is going to want to see if he can kick the tires in Orlando, Denver, Chicago. I think he’s going to want to exhaust every opportunity as a head coach before he even considers an opportunity as an assistant. I think Monty did a really good job in New Orleans. He’s coaching in a tougher conference and had a significant amount of injuries. I don’t think there’s a lot of guys in the NBA calling their agents asking to be traded to New Orleans.

He had more losses than wins, but I think he had a tougher job than others. I think he did a pretty job there and I feel pretty confident that he can get another head coaching job in the league, and I think he feels that way as well. I’m sure he feels a lot like Dwane Casey did when he got fired after a 20-20 start in Minnesota. And from the day Dwane Casey was fired until now, what have they done as an organization? Have they ever again been 20-20? My point is, you look at the job Dwane Casey has done in his four years with the Raptors, being given that second opportunity, I think the people of Minnesota know now they actually had a really good coach that they gave up on too soon. I think that Monty will have another chance somewhere else, and he’ll carry himself the same way. He’ll prove that he’s really good at what he does.

Sure, if you’re an organization like Toronto or wherever, and a guy like that is available and is not a head coach at that time and he’s looking to stay on the bench, then I’m sure there will be a lot of teams that are interested in Monty Williams.

It’s like when you look at Nate McMillan, Sam Mitchell, Lawrence Frank, Alvin Gentry – guys like that that have been head coaches – there’s so many guys like that that are on good benches.

It’s been a couple days now since Ross went public via social media with his thoughts, so just curious to see what you the fans think.

Old man Paul Pierce once said that the Raptors don’t have the “it” factor that would push Toronto deep into the playoffs. Well, after the Wizards took Kyle Lowry and company to the woodshed, no one’s questioning Pierce’s words any more.

So what’s next for the Raptors? Should they blow the team up and move forward with a near unrecognizable lineup from what they had a season before? With that said, let’s take a look at three Raptors that could move this offseason.

Kyle Lowry. It’s no secret Lowry was almost exiled to the New York Knicks last year before James Dolan called off the deal. That turned out to be a blessing in disguise for Toronto, as Lowry led the Raptors to a franchise-best 49 wins this past regular season. But all those wins can’t hide the fact that Lowry fizzled in the playoffs, as he averaged just 12.3 points on an ugly 31.6% shooting in the first round series against Washington. At this point, it’s fair to say that Lowry isn’t the player that will take the Raptors into the next level. At 29 and with a laundry list of past injuries, Lowry must be one of the guys GM Masai Ujiri is contemplating of trading this coming offseason.

DeMar DeRozan. Look, DeRozan can score on a variety of ways. He can create his own shots, and score a truckload of points. The problem is that he also takes a lot of bad shots. In other words, DeRozan is a highly inefficient go-to scorer that is risky to have for a championship contender like Toronto. His field goal shooting percentage has gradually dwindled over the past three seasons. In the 2012-2013 season, he shot 44.5% from the field. Then the season after, he shot 42.9%. Last season, he managed to be even worse with a Nick Young-certified 41.3 FG%. DeRozan has two more seasons on his contract with a 2016-2017 player option. Don’t be surprised if Ujiri deals him away, too. Back in April, basketball betting site TopBet had the Raptors at +5000 to win the 2015 NBA Championship. Will they fare better or worse in 2016?

Landry Fields. We might never see Fields in a Raptors jersey ever again. Landry impacted the team that spent $8.5M last season to see him warm the bench. In exchange for that sum of money, Landry played for nine games and averaged a meager 1.8 PPG.  Expect Fields to wound up somewhere else next season, as he’s clearly not the type worth retaining.

This week on The Doctor is In with Phdsteve, we continue our draft coverage with the introduction of our Raptorscentric big board. It’s an annual tradition now at Raptors Republic and has been featured in the past on the main ESPN.com website. There is a rumour floating that Chad Ford bookmarks it every year on his iphone. In fact , the big board has become so popular that most sites now post their own version of the big board, but the original and best big board sits right here!

Joined by my brother Mike (who knows college basketball), Greg Mason (the brain from the south), and Blair Miller from The Fifth Quarter Blog we explore what the Raptors might will should do with the #20 pick overall.

Give the pod a listen and check our accompanying write-ups of our choices below.

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 (55:13, 53 MB). Or just listen below:

In last week’s Dr. Is In podcast 6 Degrees of Separation we each took a turn explaining who we might like to see the Raptors take at #20. By the end of the podcast we came to a consensus that Louisville Power Forward and Junior, Montrezl Harrell, would be a great pick. Mock drafts across the internet heard the podcast and made the appropriate adjustments. Harrell now sits as the primary choice for the Raptors on many mock drafts. He remains the consensus choice of the #wwroundtable.

However, the World Wide Round Table brings together some of the sharpest minds in NCAA Basketball and we are never simply satisfied with consensus. So each one of us decided to look deeper, beyond Harrell, and find a player who would be available at #20 and whom the Raptors would do well to select. Here are our choices.

And don’t forget:

If you want to play daily fantasy NBA vs the roundtable be sure to sign up at http://raptorsrepublic.com/fanduel

Throughout the playoffs you can play against all 4 of us in a 6 person tourney. $2 entry. Top 3 take $. Sign up today and check my twitter feed for daily links to play!

Don’t forget to visit Blair’s site The Fifth Quarter Blog and follow him on Twitter @TFQuarter. You can also follow Greg @votaryofhoops and Mike @michaelgennaro on Twitter.

The Big Board

Kentucky's Trey Lyles waves after the team's 78-39 win over West Virginia in a college basketball game in the NCAA men's tournament regional semifinals, Friday, March 27, 2015, in Cleveland. Kentucky advanced to face Notre Dame in the regional finals Saturday. (AP Photo/Aaron Josefczyk)

Trey Lyles, F, Freshman

Kentucky, 6-10, 235 lbs

Draft Express :: ESPN

Pick by Michael Gennaro, @michaelgennaro

As I put on my Masai Ujiri cap, I know that he will not pick the player that I would (Harrell), even though he is exactly what the team needs – seasoned, hungry, energy, a beast on the boards. Ujiri only sees potential and upside at the expense of the present.

So with upside in mind, Ujiri at 20 picks Trey Lyles from Kentucky. Upside and Kentucky polish will go a long way and I don’t think that Ujiri can pass up on the combination if Lyles is there at the 20. Had it not been for the best college prospect team assembled in history (7 of the 9 Kentucky players will probably be drafted), Lyles would have been a lottery pick. His production in the platoon system of Kentucky hurt his stock as he would have averaged a double-double on almost any other school in the nation. He played most of the time at the 3 (also a hole for the Raps) but has the size at 6’10” and a wingspan at almost 7’4” to guard 3s and 4s. I spoke of acquiring through free agency Brandon Bass on last week’s pod, and Lyles projects to be a similar player to Bass, a perimeter power forward that can guard 3s and 4s. He has a soft touch around the basket but can shoot mid-range jumpers with consistency, 39% this season. He can set screens very well, which will help in the Raps guards in their drive and dish games and improve the offense.

A lot will be said about his defensive deficiencies, like elite quickness and explosiveness for someone his size. As well as a lack of size itself. His rebounding numbers were average at best, but don’t let that fool you. Lyles spent much of the season guarding 3s, while Karl-Anthony Towns and Willie Cauley-Stein played inside. The fact that he averaged 5 rebounds a game while playing much of his 23 minutes a game with both those monsters on the floor, shows that he has the ability to get rebounds (C-S avg’d 6.4 rpg while KAT Avg’d 6.7 rpg by the way). He also crashes the offensive glass, something the Raps are sorely missing. This is aided by the fact that he has a high basketball IQ and knows where to be on the floor and make space for himself on offense. He can handle the ball well for someone his size. He also runs the floor well and shoots FTs at an almost 74% clip. Here is what we know. He is a skilled inside-outside big man with good footwork and offensive skills that will translate at the NBA level. He can make turnaround jump shots, but also has good ball handling skills and can put the ball on the floor and get past slower defenders. With practice he can extend his range to the 3pt line and become a solid stretch 3/4. But his lack of size might be a problem at the next level.

He needs to put on some muscle as right now he measures 235lbs and will have trouble keeping bigger 4s out of the paint. He didn’t block too many shots in college, but did average almost one a game, and would probably have more had he not been guarding 3s. He had trouble defensively at times and needs to develop a strong work mentality on defense. But in the right system, and playing the right position, can help that. His lateral quickness when guarding 3s will be tested, and he has shown to play poor defense against quicker players – like Sam Dekker of Wisconsin who was able to get past him with ease in the Final Four. His defense will scare many GMs, but his upside will intrigue and he has the ability to be a solid rotation player. But can he stay on the floor long enough, and can he play lockdown D. With his upside and length, I don’t think Ujiri passes up on Lyles if he is on the board, even if Harrell is there with him. His eyes are always on the future and on potential. And the overwhelming reason he gets picked by the Raps, is that Lyles was born in Saskatoon, has played for Canada at the FIBA under 19 championships, and Ujiri reaaaaallllllyyyyyyy wants to add some Canadiana to the team.

anderson

Justin Anderson, G, Junior

Virginia, 6-6, 227 lbs
Draft Express :: ESPN

Pick by Greg Mason, @votaryofhoops

I’m going with the 6’6” swing man from Virginia here. I know he’s not the sexiest pick and that there’s some overlap with James Johnson but I think his skills will transfer well to the pro level. First of all he’s a very good, versatile defender from the squad with kenpom’s top ranked adjusted defensive rating. He’s a solidly built 230 pounds with a 6’11” wing span and can thus defend the two-four positions. Another thing that I really like about his game is his 3-point shooting ability. He shot 45 percent from three-point range on 104 attempts this season. This could be fool’s gold considering he was about a 30 percent shooter from deep coming into his junior season but he totally reworked his mechanics last offseason and so far the results have been promising. You’ll have to listen to the pod for a more in-depth take but that’s a taste to pique your interest

grant

Jerian Grant, G, Senior

Notre Dame, 6-5, 202 lbs
Draft Express :: ESPN

Pick by Blair Miller, @TFQuarter

It’s tough to find a true immediate impact player as low as 20 in the draft, but I think Notre Dame point guard Jerian Grant could slide that far, and he’s a great antidote to the lethargy that Ross and Greivis Vasquez bring to any small ball lineup for Toronto – a personnel group that is proving to be more and more important in order to contend with the elite teams in the NBA.

Grant is a leader, and a workhorse that played over 37 minutes per game last season for the Irish. His three-point shooting needs work (31.8% last season), but that’s a common knock on athletic guards coming out of college – one which scores of current and former superstars have overcome with hard work. What doesn’t need work is his playmaking ability, with 6.6 assists per game, despite playing alongside another pro-caliber guard in teammate Demetrius Jackson. While shouldering most of the ball handling duties for Notre Dame, Grant turned the ball over on just 14% of his possessions during the 2014-15 regular season, and was a lethal distributor and shot maker during the NCAA Tournament.

A 6’5” guard who is able to make the right decisions in the pick-and-roll is exactly what Toronto needs right now. Regardless of how many fans and front office personnel are willing to admit it, the team is plagued by awful (can we say shitty? Let’s say shitty) shot selection in the pick-and-roll, which is a death knoll for contemporary offenses. It’s unclear whether Grant could coexist with Kyle Lowry. It’s also unclear that Lowry is the medium-to-long term answer for Toronto. He’s undersized, his weight goes up and down like an EKG reading, and he’s the guiltiest of the handful of bad shot culprits on this team. Assuming Grant is already savvy enough to address this problem is too optimistic. But even as a sizeable upgrade to Vasquez in a “similar” role as a one/two guard he’s a tantalizing option – even if his defense can be as flat-footed as Vasquez’s at times.

Oh, and I know I already mentioned his leadership skills, but let’s go back there. Grant has a strong, take-over-the-room personality – one that is both accountable and leads by performance and work ethic. Toronto needs this, Raptorland. Badly. To have a chance to address this issue with a playoff-low first round draft pick is a pretty sweet position to be in.

looney

Kevon Looney, F, Freshman

UCLA, 6-9, 220 lbs
Draft Express :: ESPN

Pick by Steve Gennaro, @therealphdsteve

Is anyone ever really surprised that I like a prospect from UCLA? However, putting my personal bias aside, there is no good reason why Raptors fans should get excited about the team taking Looney at #20, because there is no good reason as to why he would be available. He was a five-star recruit out of high school (as a point guard by the way) who came to UCLA, grew several inches, played out of position for an entire season, led all freshman in the NCAA in rebounding (including top prospects from Kentucky and Duke), miraculously took UCLA to the tournament, and then guided them to the Sweet 16 while having to wear a Westbrook-type mask for the tournament with a fractured face. Dude can flat out ball.

And yet at this time of year all kinds of small and intricate details can cause a person’s draft stock to drop. For Looney, the negative focus seems to be on his frame being too small to play the 4 at the pro level, his inability to score with consistency in college, his perceived lack of lateral quickness, and the ever famous UCLA player question “just where does he play at the pro level?” (see: Westbrook, Afflalo, Shabazz, LaVine, etc.) The truth is that while UCLA is the greatest school in NCAA history, they tend to “coach down” their talent and make them look very ordinary in a system that highlights team play and not individual skill sets.

However, Looney’s frame is not wire thin but actually well positioned to add 20 pounds. He is 6-9 and while he may still continue to grow, he will certainly grow into his body and become much more comfortable with his new size. He can play the 4 like he did at UCLA, but would make an excellent 3 at the pro level. His rebounding is elite (and that is a skill set that always transfers well to the pro game) and his shooting stroke is pretty. In fact, when you combine his shooting ability with his top flight ball handling skills, you end up with the potential for a point-forward who could also be an excellent pick n’ pop player. Looney in a back court with Lowry and DeRozan would cause other teams to suffer defensively against the Raptors in trying to pick their poison if the offense were to be built around movement and of course high volume shooting! He can be a solid wing defender at the pro level, a fantastic rebounder at the small forward position, and he has superstar potential. At the 20th pick that is more than you can ever ask for, and if it’s available, which it very well could be, it’s a no brainer.

The first offseason domino that was expected to fall will actually remain standing, as Dwane Casey will reportedly return to start a fifth season as head coach of the Toronto Raptors.

After the Raptors limped to the finish line with a regular season record of just 25-25 in 2015 and closed the year with an embarrassing first round sweep at the hands of the Washington Wizards, many expected Casey to be relieved of his duties this offseason. By all accounts though, Casey will be returning to Toronto and will simply have some new assistants to help him along.

Whether you agree with the decision or not is beside the point. The decision has already been made. By all accounts there will be no press conference or formal announcement made (you don’t generally announce that a coach who is already under contract will be returning). Masai Ujiri and Casey will simply go about their business moving forward and prepare for the upcoming season together.

The question now moves from “What do we do with Casey?” to “What does Casey’s return mean in regards to the roster construction?”

Toronto played an ugly, isolation heavy offense and somehow managed to parlay it into the third most efficient regular season offense in the league at 108.1 points per 100 possessions. Only the Los Angeles Clippers and Golden State Warriors scored at a better rate than Toronto. Even though it wasn’t pretty to look at, and got exposed in the playoffs by a solid defensive team in Washington, the Raptors were a great scoring team in the regular season.

The bad news is that the Raptors needed their offense to be elite as it was their defense that failed them horribly. The Raptors had the 23rd worst defense in the NBA, allowing 104.9 points per 100 possessions. The Brooklyn Nets were the only team with a worse regular season defensive record that still managed to make the playoffs.

This mark is unacceptable for a coach who prides himself on his defensive principles. Casey got stubbornly focused on his strategy to rotate and switch on defense, despite it clearly not working with the roster at hand. This is not to say that the strategy can’t be an effective one, but merely to say that Casey didn’t have the horses to run his desired defense.

With that being the case, one of two things will likely happen moving forward:

  1. Casey, or one of his new assistants, envisions a way to adapt his defensive philosophies to better fit the roster that he is provided.
  2. Ujiri shapes the roster at least in part around Casey’s stylistic vision.

My personal belief is that Casey’s return is another indication that significant roster changes may be on deck.

No one would shape an entire roster around a lame duck coach with just one guaranteed year remaining on their contract, let alone a coach without a significant track record of success, but Ujiri will still likely try to provide Casey with some players who better fit his system (see: long and athletic).

As strange as it sounds, bringing back Casey actually gives more credence to the idea of trading Kyle Lowry. The two have notoriously butted heads at points throughout their tenure together, which culminated in some less than glowing comments from Lowry in his season ending interview.

“I respect Casey as a man,” Lowry deadpanned. “He’s a hell of a guy. At the end of the day, like I said, it’s not my choice, not my decision. At the end of the day, yeah, if he’s the coach, I’m a player. I’ve said that a couple of years now. At the end of the day, whoever the coach is, if he’s the coach, then I’ll be back playing for coach Casey.”

Lowry didn’t let up when he added: “There’s a lot of things you can say (publicly), but there’s a lot of things internally that probably need to be fixed. ”There is noticeable tension in Lowry’s words and it’s hard to get around it. The two have issues that they will need to be resolved. If they can’t be resolved, or if there are concerns about Lowry moving forward, then a trade might be the best route for everyone.

Why is this important?  Lowry will be turning 30 during next season, plays a style of basketball that could at times be described as reckless, is coming off of his first All Star appearance, and may never have greater value than he currently does. In March Bill Simmons ranked Lowry 16th in his annual NBA Trade Value column. This ranking is easily too high (he was two spots ahead of Kawhi Leonard…pure insanity) but does give a good idea of the type of value that Lowry has around the league.

Would Sacramento trade Darren Collison, Sauce Castillo, and their 5th overall pick (Willie Trill Cauley-Stein or Justise Winslow) for Lowry (the Bill Simmons special)? Or would Utah, who desperately wants their young core to make the playoffs next season, be willing to move someone like Dante Exum for that chance?

We don’t know for sure, and can’t foresee what trades will be available, but calls will assuredly be made if the burned bridges can’t  be rebuilt by Casey and Lowry.

How did we get here?  I just never would have guessed we’d get to a point where Dwane Casey could have greater security moving forward with the Raptors than Kyle Lowry.

Is The Toronto Raptors First ‘Drake’ Jersey On Its Way? | Uproxx

The FADER, per ESPN’s earlier story, reports that a black-and-gold uniform will be one of the alleged four permutations for the Raptors’ complete redesign next season. The colorings make sense since they match most of Drake’s OVO merchandise offerings. Outside that, they’re relatively bland—no funky accents or designs decorate them. But Drizzy fans should temper their excitement for the time being. The FADER’s article cites ESPN report as the source for the news; however, Paul Lukas’ report (taking some of its information from leaks that first surfaced on SportsLogos.net in February) never explicitly states these are Drake unis — only the fact that the Raptors’ kits will undergo a complete redesign.

Toronto Raptors fans should hope decision to keep Dwane Casey is an honest chance for coach to put his stamp on team | National Post

It seemed as if Ujiri was setting things up so that he could replace Casey with his own coach. It is hard to think of any great coach-general manager combinations that were the result of inheritance rather than choice. Yet, Ujiri is open-minded — in  his first interview with the National Post after taking the Raptors job, he mentioned how Denver reporters and columnists were constantly speculating that he would fire incumbent coach George Karl, which ultimately did not happen on his watch — and Casey is a survivor. Ujiri made the franchise-altering Rudy Gay trade, the Raptors came together, Casey led them to top-10 efficiency on both ends, and the team won its second division title in history. After last season, Ujiri gave Casey a new two-year contract, with a team option for a third. Now, Casey is back in his position of two seasons ago. With Tuesday evening’s reports that Ujiri will bring Casey back, pushing for some changes to the coaching staff, Casey will almost surely need to surpass expectations, whatever they wind up being following Ujiri’s off-season maneuvering, to last beyond next season. He has done it before, so do not bet against him. Stasis will not be good enough. That is clear.

Raptors bringing back Dwane Casey as head coach | Toronto Sun

As multiple reports have indicated, there has been discussion about shaking up a staff that includes Bill Bayno, Nick Nurse, Tom Sterner, Jesse Mermuys and Jama Mahlalela (director of sports science Alex McKechnie also is an assistant coach), but what is not being said out loud is that nothing has yet been finalized and maintaining the status quo is also a possibility. Casey has one guaranteed year remaining on his contract, plus a team option. Two years ago, after Casey’s second season at the helm, Sterner was the lone holdover of the original staff as Casey’s good friend and lead assistant Johnny Davis did not have his contract renewed. Micah Nori, Eric Hughes and Scott Roth also moved on. Not long after that, Nurse was brought on board to direct the offence, Bayno and Mermuys followed, primarily in player development roles (Bayno worked closely with Jonas Valanciunas, who took major strides, but still needs time) and Mahlalela was promoted to assistant coach.

Raptors smartly halt coaching carousel | Sportsnet.ca

I’m not convinced Casey is the man to lead the Raptors to a title. And given Ujiri’s noncommittal stance at the year-end press availability (“everyone will be evaluated”) it sounds like neither is he. I am convinced, however, that the way this season ended does not provide enough data to make that decision. The truth is, Casey was coaching a squad featuring injury-laden top-end talent, and the total talent level of the roster wasn’t anywhere near with the top teams in the league. What were the realistic expectations? The answers to coaching questions aren’t black or white—they’re grey. And it’s in the grey where GMs earn their money, discerning which numbers are fool’s gold and which are golden nuggets.

Raptors looking to tweak coaching staff | Toronto Star

The sources did not indicate who Toronto might be pursuing or which assistants may be quietly seeking new opportunities. It was expected general manager Masai Ujiri would be looking for an older, more experience aide to Casey, who would have to sign off on any changes before they take place. There was never a legitimate chance that Casey, who has led the Raptors to successive Atlantic Division titles, the best back-to-back seasons in franchise history and consecutive playoff appearances, wouldn’t be back for his fifth season as the team’s head coach.

Report: Raptors coach Dwane Casey will return, staff might not | CBSSports.com

It’s fair to assume that, with Casey returning, general manager Masai Ujiri will try to shake up the roster. Williams, beloved big man Amir Johnson and several bench players are hitting free agency in July. While Ujiri has shown plenty of patience with team-building, it would be quite a surprise if he brought the whole band back again.

Feschuk: Lowry has to prove he can lead amid adversity | TSN

Toronto Star columnist Dave Feschuk joins Macko and Cauz to touch on Dwane Casey’s reported return, and the questions surrounding Kyle Lowry.

Feschuk: Masai seriously considering tanking next season, trading Lowry | RealGM

Masai told me he may have to take a step back (lottery) next season in order to get better long term

2015 NBA Draft Combine Prospects the Toronto Raptors Must Watch Closely | Bleacher Report

With so much uncertainty surrounding the roster and how it will take shape in 2015-16, Ujiri would be wise in avoiding drafting another long-term project for the end of his bench. Brazilian Bruno Caboclo, who was taken at No. 20 last year and proclaimed to be “two years away from being two years away” by ESPN’s Fran Fraschilla, fills that quota nicely. What the Raptors need is someone who can step in right away and fill a role, whether it be as a defense-stopper, rim protector or rebounder—areas the team noticeably struggled in.

I can haz yo linkz??! [email protected]

As compared to the other vacancies around the league, the Raptors’ mess isn’t exactly an ideal landing spot.

(more…)

Holster your vitriol.

By all accounts, it looks as if Dwane Casey will be the head coach of the Toronto Raptors to begin the 2015-16 season. Reports surfaced Tuesday that after being noncommittal on his status immediately following the season, the Raptors are set to retain Casey and potentially alter his supporting staff.

This, despite a disappointing second half of the season and a downright embarrassing performance in the first round of the NBA playoffs, one that left the Raptors naked as to what they really are at this juncture. Casey was a part of the problem in the series and with the team’s poor defense all season, but he wasn’t the only problem, and his retention is at least justifiable, if somewhat frustrating.

The decision will make Casey just the second Raptors head coach to man the helm for a fifth season, and it all but assures he’ll pass Sam Mitchell as the franchise’s all-time winningest coach. With a 154-158 record in four seasons, Casey not only has the best winning percentage in franchise history but trails Mitchell by two wins, if such things matter to you.

He’s also been behind the bench for the two best regular seasons in the history of the franchise, with this season’s 49-win mark likely making his ouster a tough sell. The roster is not one of a 50-win team or an Eastern Conference contender, and the league sees that. Making Casey the fall man for a disappointing finish risks sending the wrong message about loyalty, something that’s been tough for the organization to receive and something they can ill-afford to short-change others with.

In terms of the fan base, firing Casey may actually be a positive public relations move, sending the message that complacency is not an option, and that mediocrity won’t be tolerated, even if said mediocrity isn’t mediocre relative to the woeful bar the franchise has set over the last two decades. By the end of the playoffs, fans wanted Casey’s head, and a coaching change would be an easy sell in Toronto. It would probably also be an easy sell internally, as Casey has only one guaranteed year left on his deal (plus a 2016-17 team option) at what amounts to peanuts for MLSE (his salary is in the $4-million range).

In keeping Casey, general manager Masai Ujiri is saying a few things about the state of the franchise.

Formost, he doesn’t believe Casey was the sole issue last season, a correct evaluation. The roster isn’t exactly brimming with elite talent, and while the depth was improved a great deal over the previous season, luck caught up with the team in the form of fatigue and injuries, and it prevented them from maintaining their strange, ethereal chemistry over the long haul. They don’t possess a single great defender, their lone serious 3-point threat is the least consistent defender on the planet, their best scorer does so while welcoming difficult shots, and their de facto superstar appears as if he’d be best utilized and preserved at 30 minutes per game.

The roster needs – and will almost certainly receive – tweaking at a minimum, and in keeping Casey, Ujiri may be sending a signal that tumult should be anticipated. Were the team to over go significant roster changes, perhaps with their timeline for high-end competition being altered (a step back to take one forward, as it were), then making the coaching change now isn’t entirely necessary. It would be nice to build with a new coach from Day One, but it’s possible Ujiri’s offseason plans would preclude the Raptors from competing for a desirable coach, or it’s possible Ujiri doesn’t desire any of the available (and willing) coaches out there.

Scott Skiles makes a lot of sense on paper but could get competitive looks from Orlando or Denver; Monty Williams just got the axe, and while his suit game is steady proper, he just got fired for not getting enough out of an Anthony Davis-led core; Tom Thibodeau would probably take the New Orleans job if he left Chicago; Alvin Gentry and Scott Brooks could be available, and I love the former, but it’s not like either is an obviously substantial upgrade. There’s also a non-zero chance that the options better than Casey, particularly Thibodeau, want control of basketball operations, a la a Stan Van Gundy or Doc Rivers, something Ujiri doesn’t seem the type to concede. Each of those names, save for maybe Williams, is probably a better coach than Casey, but if Ujiri has a target in mind, wants to conduct a more thorough search, or simply wants to fix the roster first in order to find the coach that best suits the talent, hanging on to Casey is fine. That’s all it is – fine – but it’s fine.

There’s also a chance that Ujiri values coaching continuity with personnel changes coming, and in keeping Casey another season while tweaking the roster and his staff, the culture that’s been building can carry forward, the schemes refined, and the support pieces improved. Tom Sterner seems likely to go as the last coaching vestige of the Bryan Colangelo era, and so help me god if he’s fired, I will rage. He’s the most electrifying man in hoops entertainment, and I’m the biggest of the millions…and millions of Sternerites. I’d go to war were he my advocate, and he could turn a granola bar into A Beast Incarnate. Bill Bayno and Nick Nurse were Ujiri hires but haven’t exactly overwhelmed, and other assistants could be shuffled. Steve Kerr succeeded this season in large part because he realized that the value of a strong staff outweighed the potential cost of strong threats to his job, power, and authority, and Ujiri may force that attitude on Casey, perhaps even installing a potential heir on the bench.

By giving Casey a stay of execution, Ujiri could curry further control over the day-to-day of the team. I don’t mean to say Ujiri wants to coach – he surely doesn’t – but a lame duck Casey with a stern warning of the thin ice he’s on may be more amenable to coaching to the organization’s goals. This is a minor matter but again, if Ujiri can’t find his guy externally yet, it’s possible he feels he can get more out of Casey next season with a less secure job status and a better staff.

To be clear, Casey was an issue this season, and his removal would have been just as justified as his retention.

His defensive scheme doesn’t quite fit the personnel and he was painfully slow to adjust his strategy to the players at his disposal, and he allowed an effective but tenuous offense to exist as-is because there was little immediate reason to change it. In the playoffs, he was incredibly stubborn, refusing to use James Johnson in a matchup he was brought in specifically for, ignoring adjustments to some basic Wizards sets that they used ad nauseam, and failing to create much of anything outside of the team’s drive-and-hope-to-get-fouled offense. He was far more flexible in last year’s Brooklyn series, and his performance against the Wizards was incredibly disappointing.

Casey’s reputation on defense may be overstated. He’s known as a bit of a defensive mind, but the Raptors have finished 12th, 22nd, ninth, and 23rd in defense under him. He deserves credit for making chicken salad of chicken shit in 2011-12, when the franchise was admittedly tanking, and last season, when he molded a top-10 defense amid heavy turnover and without strong defenders. But averaging a league-average finish on defense over four seasons isn’t all that impressive, and while I like his scheme for some teams – the Milwaukee Bucks run essentially the same defense far more effectively – he needs to grow more flexible.

Jonas Valanciunas has improved, bit by bit, and can be a useful defender when used properly, but the back line of a defense where ball-handlers are intentionally funnelled to the middle is not the right role for him. His reads are slow, he jumps too easily, and he loses his peripheral vision when someone drives north-south in his direction. Part of that issue is the Raptors lacking the perimeter defenders to lessen the burden on the helpers and the centre, but unless that issue is corrected at the roster level, Casey needs to make his system more conservative.

Offensively, Casey’s actually had more success than one might think. The Raptors have been 25th, 14th, ninth, and third in offense under Casey, and while this year’s group didn’t do so in an aesthetically pleasing way, they could really fill it up. He needs to get far more creative for the team to improve or even hold steady at a top-10 standing. The Raptors were dead last in the percentage of field goal attempts that would have been assisted this year, and relying on one-on-one ball and free throws come playoff time just isn’t a tenable strategy. Advanced scouting hurts, and whistles tighten up, plus it appears to be downright exhausting for the team’s best players.

Casey actually has a few pet plays that are effective – Loop 4 is simple but difficult to guard when the Raptors have Ross and either a second point guard or Patterson on the floor – and he occasionally busts out a clever ATO that opponents don’t see coming. But they don’t see it coming in large part because Casey’s content to let his scorers just try to score, a strategy that only works until it doesn’t and has cost Raptors fans several collective heads of hair.

Despite his shortcomings, keeping Casey isn’t the end of the world. I know there are going to be some who can’t understand how that playoff performance didn’t cost him his job, but Ujiri is not evaluating this team on four games. If his desired choice isn’t immediately obvious or available, continuity is an acceptable play, especially if Casey is strongly nudged in the direction of the changes he needs to make.

Plus, these reports suggest the current plan is to keep Casey. MLSE has the pockets to swallow his 2015-16 season if a better candidate presents himself or Ujiri changes his mind later in the offseason. The team’s timeline for eventual contention does not, I believe, include the 2015-16 season as a potential title run year. It’s going to be another building season and frustrating though it may be, leaving Casey at the helm for it is entirely acceptable.

As per Twitter people, the Raptors have decided to retain Dwane Casey and instead clean-up their assistant coaches:

Ah, so it was the assistants all along. I bet it was Jesse Mermuys who made the decision not to matchup with Paul Pierce, and I’m almost positive it was Tom Sterner that was at the heart of the Raptors defensive scheme being horrible in the regular season, and league-worst in the playoffs.

All jokes aside, this certainly seems like blame-shifting to the assistants as per the Leafs model and Carlyle. Granted, they’ve probably been poor but who really knows what happens behind the scenes?

I like the phrasing of management “suggesting” changes to the assistant coaching staff, as these are generally picked by the coach. If this is the case, then it certainly sounds like Masai Ujiri’s making some decisions on behalf of his coach, who at this point doesn’t have much leverage when it comes to making a stand.

Isn’t it weird how a poor second-half followed by a 4-game sweep can completely wipe the optimism that you’d think be generated from a 49-win season?

Update:

Damn, this is not exactly a tightly run ship. I just presumed that those coaches would have already known by now, but it turns out this is leaked information that even the soon-to-be-fired don’t know.  Having said that, you don’t need to be a genius to put two and two together and figure there’s going to be a house-cleaning, given some of the coaching failures of this season.

Here are the six assistant coaches:

  1. Nick Nurse, Assistant Coach
  2. Bill Bayno, Assistant Coach
  3. Jesse Mermuys, Assistant Coach
  4. Tom Sterner, Assistant Coach
  5. Jama Mahlalela, Assistant Coach
  6. Alex McKechnie, Assistant Coach/Director of Sports Science

My money is on everyone but Alex McKechnie and Tom Sterner getting the sack.

The one consensus among Raptor fans (and media) about what to do with the roster this summer is that there is no consensus. Ask one fan and they’ll tell you to trade the entire roster. Ask another person and they’ll tell you the Raptors just need a coaching change, and they’ll be alright. As usual, the truth is probably somewhere in between.

In my last couple of columns, I looked at what should be done with both the starters and the bench. It caused some debate.

Trading the team’s two leading scorers might seem counterproductive for a team that had just won a franchise record 49 games, but the goal isn’t to win 49, or so, games and possibly get to the second round if everything goes right. And when your two best players make poor decisions, aren’t efficient scorers and are not great defenders, then mediocrity is basically the most you can hope for.

If the Raptors hope to build a team that strives to be more than what we’ve seen so far in their 20 year history, they need to get high IQ players who score efficiently, pass the ball and play defense. So the idea is to trade away players that either don’t fit the mould, or are more valuable as trade bait, and acquire players who do fit the mould.

Unfortunately, most of these types of players can be difficult to find, and harder to pry away. Ultimately, it would be nice to try and find a James Harden-type player that will immediately make your team a near-contender, but I’m not sure there’s anyone out there like that right now. And there are no real superstars, or near superstars, available for a trade.

That does NOT mean I’m suggesting the Raptors tank and go after a superstar in the draft. The chance for that has likely come and gone, for now. What they need to do is try and find some young talent that may be still be struggling finding their NBA legs, but has the talent and desire to overcome it, or one that is losing out in a numbers game (either sitting behind more experienced and talented players or in a team salary crunch). There are a few players that fit this description out there, and these are the players I will look at.

Just to be clear (and to head of one complaint), I am not suggesting the Raptor make the trades I list. I am simply including these trade possibilities to give an idea of what might be required to trade for each player. I’ll leave it up to each of you to decide whether it’s worth it.

TYLER ENNIS (Milwaukee)

The Raptors were famously set to draft Ennis last year at 20 before Phoenix snatched him up two spots before that. Ennis was basically an insurance policy if Eric Bledsoe ended up not re-signing, but then the Suns went out and signed another insurance policy in Isiaah Thomas, pushing Ennis even farther down the depth chart.

A trade to Milwaukee at mid-season did give Ennis a little more playing time, but he was still stuck behind a young point guard who was entrenched in the starting lineup, as well as the more experienced Jerryd Bayless. It didn’t help that Ennis struggled.

To be honest, there’s not a whole lot in his advanced stats to point to in order to make a case for Ennis. He shot poorly, turned the ball over a lot and struggled adjusting to the speed of the NBA. You really have to go back to what you saw before this season to see why Ennis might be a good gamble.

When Ennis started his season at Syracuse, he was not a heralded prospect and not a whole lot was expected of him. But despite being a freshman, Ennis lead Syracuse to a 28-6 record, which included a 25-0 start to the season, and was a semi-finalist for the Naismith College Player of the Year. He plays with a maturity beyond his years (his father is a coach) and is the rare pass-first point guard who understands how to make his teammates better.

Ennis would be a good gamble because he likely wouldn’t cost a whole lot (maybe Terrence Ross, who would be insurance for restricted free agent, Khris Middleton), and chances are good he will make big improvements once he adjusts to the league.

Possible Trade:
Terrence Ross for Tyler Ennis (and possibly Miles Plumlee)

DENNIS SCHRODER (Atlanta)

Just to add fuel to the fire that is hating Bryant Colangelo, the year he traded the Raptors’ draft pick for Kyle Lowry, they were drafting 12th. Oklahoma (who ended up getting the pick from Houston) selected Steven Adams, who is looking like a very good pick, but they could have also chosen Giannis Antetokounmpo (15th), Gorgui Dieng (21st), Rudy Golbert (27th) or Dennis Schroder (17th)1. This is why it’s always dangerous to trade away first round draft picks. Too many times they come back to haunt you.

1. Don’t feel too bad, though. Boston selected Lucas Nogueira at 16, ahead of Schroder, Dieng and Golbert. Nogueira has played fewer minutes (and games) than any other player drafted in the first round, save one. A guy San Antonio drafted to stash overseas.

Coming into the draft, Schroder was called the German Rajon Rondo for his pass-first and defensive mentality. He had a horrible first year (similar to Ennis) that saw him unable to hit the basket and struggle adjusting the the speed of the NBA. This year saw marked improvement in every area, and he became a big part of Atlanta’s success this year, backing up All Star Jeff Teague.

Prying Schroder away from Atlanta might be difficult, but their struggles in the playoffs and what happens in the offseason might have a huge bearing on how open they are to making moves. They struggled more than they should against the 8th seeded Brooklyn Nets and are currently tied 2-2 with the Wizards, who finished 14 games behind them in the regular season.

If Atlanta loses Millsap to free agency, they might be in the market for a player like Patrick Patterson. Otherwise, DeMar DeRozan might be a possible asset to use.

Possible Trades:
Patrick Patterson and Greivis Vasquez for Dennis Schroder, Thabo Sefolosha and Mike Scott
DeMar DeRozan for Dennis Schroder, Thabo Sefolosha, Mike Scott and Brooklyn’s first round pick

DANTE EXUM (Utah)

Exum might possibly be the most polarizing player on this list. People either love his potential or see him as a bust. He came into the league with very little experience and a whole lot to live up to. It shouldn’t be a surprise at all that he struggled in his rookie season. And boy did he struggle. Exum, the fourth pick in the draft, shot just .349 from the field, had a horrible assist-to-turnover ratio and finished the season with a PER of just 5.6 (less than half of Terrence Ross).

Considering his experience, I would have been shocked if he hadn’t struggled, though. Bruno Caboclo might have more experience than Exum (okay, not really, but there isn’t a huge amount of difference). Exum was rated so high based on potential, not on his play. He’s very athletic, has good instincts on both ends of the court and has the physical attributes to be a great defensive player.

Exum is the perfect example of gambling on potential. Exum still has a good chance of becoming a star, but he could also never adjust to the massive leap in talent and speed he’s used to and be a bust. I think it will be closer to the latter, and a chance to grab a player like Exum is appealing.

Utah has some nice young pieces and ended up with a much better record than most people expected. They’ve got a great defensive front court, but lack scoring punch, so might be very interested in someone like DeMar DeRozan.

Possible Trade:
DeMar DeRozan for Dante Exum, Alec Burks, Trevor Booker and swapping of first round picks.

NIK STAUSKAS (Sacramento)

Nik Stauskas was a nice player during his freshman season at Michigan, but wasn’t a guy who most would have pegged as a future lottery pick. Then he went out and made over his body, worked on his weaknesses and came back as Michigan’s best player.

Stauskas is never going to win a dunk contest (like Terrence Ross) but he’s a cerebral player who is a gym rat, is much more athletic than he appears and has a great shot that seemed to be missing for most of his rookie season.

The Kings are in an hurry to compete and may not have time to wait for Stauskas, who was a bad fit to begin with (at one point they were talking about turning him into a point guard). Given some time to develop, Stauskas is the perfect shooting guard for the new NBA, and has a lot of similarities to Klay Thompson.

The Kings are in need of upgrading at several positions, one of which is point guard. Darren Collison played better than many expected, but he’s still a below average point guard and Sacramento might love the possibility of acquiring Kyle Lowry, who is the perfect George Karl player.

Possible Trade:
Kyle Lowry for Nik Stauskas, Carl Landry/Jason Thompson and Sacramento’s first round pick

HARRISON BARNES (Golden State)

Raptor fans know Barnes far too well as the player they just missed out on by winning an otherwise meaningless game at the end of the 2012 season, allowing a tie with Golden State (which was settled with a coin toss). The Warriors selected Barnes and the Raptors took Terrence Ross.

Now, Barnes was never as good as his early hype. He had a mature game in high school, but never exhibited any elite skills that would make you think he could become an elite player in the NBA. He is talented, though, and has an all-around game that is being somewhat overshadowed in Golden State. And he could end up being pushed out if Draymond Green ends up getting the money he’s expected to. Barnes will be up for an extension and as their fifth most important player in the starting lineup, he could be moved to save money.

Barnes is NOT James Harden, but he’s in a similar situation. And that could mean he’s available for the right price. The problem is that Toronto has few pieces the Warriors would want, unless the Raptors agree to take on David Lee’s gargantuan contract, which is enough to give anyone pause. Either that or a third team would need to be brought it.

Possible Trade:
Patrick Patterson, Terrence Ross, James Johnson and Greivis Vasquez for Harrison Barnes and David Lee

AARON GORDON (Orlando)

Orlando surprised a lot of people by taking Aaron Gordon with the 4th pick, ahead of some players who were a little more heralded. He didn’t put up gaudy numbers at Arizona and doesn’t quite have a true position, at this point. He’s a little undersized for the 4 and is lacking a consistent jumper to play the 3. But he’s an energy player who has a much higher basketball IQ than one would expect from a high flyer like Gordon.

Gordon has the potential to be a high impact player, but he’s not a good fit for Orlando. Orlando doesn’t take a lot of threes and are fairly average at making it. That means spacing is often a problem, which means there’s not much room for Gordon to do what he does best, which is cut to the hoop.

While his position is still uncertain, Gordon is another player that would be a good gamble and might be expendable for Orlando. What Orlando might want in exchange is unclear, however. They don’t need a player like Lowry or DeRozan, and while they could use Patrick Patterson, the Raptors would have to throw in much more to get a deal done.

Possible Trade:
Patrick Patterson, Greivis Vasquez and Terrence Ross for Aaron Gordon, Luke Ridnour and Channing Frye

TERRENCE JONES/CLINT CAPELA (Houston)

Houston is on the verge of losing in the second round to a much more talented L.A. Clippers team that has highlighted Houston’s weaknesses. Jason Terry has played far better than he should, considering he’s 37 years old and was simply not supposed to be starting for the team at point guard, but he’s not much of a defender, which has allowed the Clippers do beat them despite missing Chris Paul for two games and having him hindered when he did return.

Patrick Beverly is a very good defender, but isn’t really much of a starting point guard. They could really use an upgrade here. And that’s where the return of Kyle Lowry could come in.

Lowry might be a little too ball dominant to play alongside James Harden, but if he can adjust they could form a scary backcourt.

Terrence Jones is similar to Patrick Patterson, a muscular stretch four, but he’s two years younger, a better rebounder and defender, and isn’t as allergic to the paint as Patterson is. In Houston’s offense, Jones’ job is simply to space the floor, but he’s got talent and could be an asset that will rise in value if the Raptors acquire him and give him more responsibility.

Capela was a possible draft target last year, but Ujiri ended up going with Caboclo, instead. Capela is raw but has a lot of defensive potential and has actually played some big minutes in the playoffs, so that’s very encouraging. He’s much farther along than the Raptors’ defensive center project.

Possible Trade:
Kyle Lowry for Terrence Jones, Clint Capela, Corey Brewer and Kostas Papanikolaou

Terrence Ross has taken to Instagram to call out “fans” who have criticized the Raptors and called for change after their meek playoff exit.

To all the raptor “fans” who think we need to trade everyone or get rid of this and that, I’d just like to remind yall, technically speaking this team is the best team Toronto has ever had. Yeah we didn’t have the greatest play off run, but we had a hell of a season. An just 5 years ago, this franchise wasn’t even making it to he play offs. Our performance this year in the post season was inexcusable but non the less we are a good team. Some of yall acting like unless we won the championship, the season was a waste. It wasn’t. We are still taking steps forward to try and bring a ring home for YALL. We still are going to put the work in to get there it just takes time. So bare with us because we will only get better. #WETHENORTH

I do get where he’s coming from, some reactions to the playoff loss have been drastic, but I would have suggested that he let things simmer down and let the Wizards playoff humiliation fade into memory before making any further posts.

These comments would also carry a little more weight if they came from DeMar DeRozan or Kyle Lowry, who carried this team this year, but coming from Ross, one of the biggest under-performers this year, they sound silly.

Dwane Casey’s job isn’t the only case on file in this week’s pod, which identified an unlikely cause for the Raptors horrific playoff failures.

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Like what happened? Seriously? Did Casey have a lobotomy? Was he hypnotized by opposing coaches? Has he been led astray by front office?

Checking in on the status of your former Raptors.

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When I play Madden NFL I have a tendency to ignore all logic and trust my gut. Problem is that my gut is usually wrong. Unfortunately, that has never prevented me from trusting it or even casting a dubious glance towards said gut.  After all, it’s my gut and me not trusting it is a sign that I don’t trust myself, and that doesn’t sit right with me.  Consciously, I know that I’m ignoring all sound evidence by going for it on 4th and 35 on my own 10 yard line in a tie game late in the fourth, but some stupid part of me tells me that this is totally a good idea even though it’s failed me every single time, except for maybe that one time.

That’s basically Dwane Casey right there. Ignoring all logic and trusting his gut.  Now, it’s easy to pile on Casey at this point, but is there a case(y) (heh) to be made that he should stay and at least see out his deal.  I don’t know, my gut tells me there isn’t but logic says we need to look at it a little closely.

The #1 positive of him staying is continuity, that is, if you subscribe to the theory that continuity is worth something.  It’s worked out great for the Spurs and Greg Popovich, probably not so much for the Thunder and Scotty Brooks who should have been fired a long time ago.  Casey staying put means that he gets to work with the players more, and maybe instill some semblance of a defensive mentality in them. Wait, wait! Don’t close the window and browse away.  If you’ve read this far, may as well stick with me.  Maybe Ross’s regression and Valanciunas’ lack of progression are just growing pains that Casey always had in his mind.  Sort of like taking one step back to take two forward, and next year they’ll take two forward.  I know I’m reaching, but maybe?

I also believe that firing a coach after he led you to a 49-win season will be looked down upon across the league, especially for a franchise like Toronto that, let’s face it, has been utter, utter garbage for decades.  No matter what happened in the playoffs, a 49-win season is progression on many levels and, like Sam Mitchell, Dwane Casey may at least deserve to have a crack at the start of next season to see if he’s found his way.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like firing Casey will dissuade coaches from coming to Toronto, after all, there are only 30 head coaching jobs, it’s just that it may not reflect well on the franchise overall.  Kind of like when they fired Sam Mitchell only to replace him with Jay Triano, which was like firing the McDonalds manager who didn’t wash his hands, and replacing him with the cashier who hasn’t bathed in a month.

Dwane Casey also appears to have a good relationship with DeMar DeRozan, who he’s simply never called out at any point.  DeRozan could go 0-24 with 14 turnovers and Casey would commend him for shooting until he made one, even though he never made one.  If you believe DeRozan to be a cornerstone/franchise player, introducing a large variable in the relationship between star and coach might be too risky.  Now, DeRozan’s a very coachable young man who I think would listen to any coach, but for the sake of argument, it is a risk that you introduce.  I thought Casey might have had a great relationship with Lowry too, but Lowry’s end-of-season comments suggesting “things internally that probably need to be fixed” issues and Casey pointing out Lowry’s weight, suggest things aren’t so rosy, but hey, overall the players seem to like Casey and that’s got to count for something.

Lastly, if not Casey, then who? Jeff Van Gundy? Mark Jackson? Scotty Brooks? The infatuation with Van Gundy is all nostalgic because he hung on to ‘Zo’s legs in that fight and always looks like he finished the graveyard shift at an actual graveyard.  Mark Jackson might have some good ideas, but his personality tends to wear on players and, based on his commentary, appears to be very aggravating, especially when Jesus makes an appearance during the halftime speech.  And as for Scotty Brooks, if you thought Dwane Casey didn’t have an offensive playbook…

Now, it’s romantic to think the Raptors can find their version of Brad Stevens, an astute coach who can grow with the team and has some fresh ideas.  The problem is that the Raptors are in NBA purgatory – they’re not rebuilding with enough commitment to afford to give a youthful fresh coach a chance to learn and grow with a young core, but aren’t good enough to steal away a top-tier coach (e.g., Clippers and Doc Rivers).  I don’t know what Masai Ujiri’s coach scouting network looks like, or even if he has one, but keep in mind that he’s never actually hired an NBA head coach.  The only thing he ever did was extend George Karl and did the same with Dwane Casey.  When hiring head coaches, Ujiri is about as experienced as you and me, and there don’t appear to be any wise old Wayne Embryish heads in the Toronto Raptors organization right now.  BTW, can’t #analytics tell us who to hire? Maybe this guy should look into that.

Let’s also not forget that Dwane Casey has installed a giant rock in the locker-room. If he’s gone, that rock will have to be moved because it would simply be too awkward.  It would be like if your co-worker who was fired had posted picture of his 5-year old daughter’s drawings in the lunch room, and they never took it down resulting in some disconcerting moments as you waited for your lunch to hear in the microwave.  What would happen to that rock? Would it be auctioned on eBay? Dumped in a landfill? Promoted to assistant coach? That last one is a serious option, so Jesse Mermuys better watch out because his job is about to be threatened by an inanimate object.

Have a nice weekend.

Tough decisions lay ahead with DeMar DeRozan, who is likely one year away from becoming a free agent.

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DeAndre Daniels was the 37th pick in the 2014 draft out of UConn, and after playing a bit of summer league was shipped to Australia on a one-year deal.  Chris Robinson from the Sunday Times joins me from Perth to give us an overview of the Australian league, and what DeAndre Daniels has been upto, and whether he’s NBA-ready.

Talking points:

  • Australian league overview
  • Quality compared to Europe
  • NBA players currently there
  • Expectations of Daniels when he joined
  • His progression as a player
  • Strengths and weaknesses
  • Is he NBA-ready?
  • Impact of Raptors potentially new D-League team on Daniels?
  • Daniels’ motor
  • Former Raptors from Australia
  • Australians in the NBA
  • Raptors talk
  • NBA playoff 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 (30:34, 29 MB). Or just listen below:

After going through the starters, the second part will take a crack at the bench and head coach.

First off, there seems to be some confusion (surprise!) over the recommendations. Think of it this way: Regarding the starters, I would actively pursue trades for both Lowry and DeRozan, but if no decent trade was available, then I would keep them until a decent deal became available. For Valanciunas and Ross, I would NOT actively pursue a deal for them, but if another team approached me with a good offer, I would consider it. For Amir, I would re-sign him only if the deal made financial sense (you can’t trade Amir as he’s an unrestricted free agent and he’s not good enough to warrant a sign-and-trade).

In other words, the recommendations are my preferences for each player. Are we clear?

Also, can we stop using the excuse that DeRozan or Lowry should be kept because they’re the best players on the team. This was the EXACT same argument people made for keeping Bargnani and Rudy Gay. Being the best player on a mediocre team is like winning the Atlantic Division in a season where the next team was below .500. The ‘not trading a player because they’re the best player on the team’ argument only works when that player is a top 10 (or so) player. Not when they’re borderline All Stars.

LOU WILLIAMS: Release

Let me say outright I was surprised when Williams won the 6th Man of the Year Award. Until I looked at the competition. This has to be one of the worst years for 6th men in a while. No one really stuck out with a great season. Williams did average 15.5 ppg and hit some big shots, but he also shot poorly from the field and only averaged what he did because he shot the ball every chance he could and took just as many cringe worthy shots that missed in crunch time as he hit. More, actually.

Masai Ujiri got a great deal when he traded a bunch of spare parts for Williams, who Atlanta seemed to have given up on. Williams reverted to pre-injury form and ended up scoring the most of his ten year career, good for third on the team. What Ujiri should have done was to turn that into something else before the trade deadline, which he obviously didn’t do.

The problem with one-dimensional chuckers like Williams is that they’re high-risk high-reward style of game is fine when it’s spread out over an entire 82 game season, but in the playoffs, when you need to minimize mistakes and every possession counts, guys like Williams become a detriment and usually see their playing time plummet (possibly the best reason to trade Lowry and DeRozan).

Plus, I can see him demanding in excess of $7 million a season, which is too much.

GREIVIS VASQUEZ: Keep*

Now before everyone has a stroke, you need to understand why. Vasquez is obviously not the answer at PG. His defense is poor and he would be a below average starter. But if Lowry is traded, the Raptors need a replacement, and Greivis can be it. For now. Having a replacement also means you don’t have to worry about getting a PG back in a trade. You can simply worry about getting the best return, and not a position of need.

The other reason to keep Vasquez is that starting him has a chance to increase his trade value, and if a good deal can be found before the trade deadline, then you jump on it.

Why keep Vasquez over Lowry? Two reasons. The first is that Lowry is the more valuable asset and will fetch more on the trade marker. The second is that Vasquez only has one year left on his contract, so this isn’t a long term marriage.

*Keeping Vasquez is contingent on trading Lowry. If Lowry isn’t traded, for one reason or another, then Vasquez needs to go.

Things To Work On: Lateral mobility

PATRICK PATTERSON: Trade

Offensively, Patterson would seem to be a very complimentary player to play next to Valanciunas, because he can space the floor and hit the three. Unfortunately, reality told a different story. Patterson and Valanciunas didn’t play a ton of minutes together, but when they did, it usually didn’t go well. Having both Patterson and Valanciunas on the floor together exposed the team defensively and they weren’t nearly as good offensively together as you might think.

While Patterson is a pretty good 3 point shooter, and a very good mid-range shooter this year, he doesn’t bring a whole lot else to the table. He’s average, at best, on defense, a below average rebounder and gets to the line at a rate that would only make Terrence Ross proud. And no, it’s not just the way Casey used him. He’s always been like that.

I must say, I don’t completely understand the love many Raptor fans have for Patterson. He’s a decent bench player, but he could only start if surrounded by much better players and a great defensive center. In fact, he’s simply a darker and more muscular version of Matt Bonner. Before you argue, click the link and see just how similar Patterson is to Matt Bonner at the same point in his career.

Don’t get me wrong, Matt Bonner is a nice player, but he’s a luxury for a team that still lacks an identity and players to build around. Patterson is more valuable as trade bait to the Raptors, where he could return a young prospect or be added to a deal for a better player.

Possible Targets: Cleveland, Houston, Memphis, Sacramento and Golden State (if Draymond Green leaves).

JAMES JOHNSON: Keep

Now, without me being behind the scenes, I have no idea what transpired to make Johnson lose his spot in the rotation. That makes it difficult to really understand if keeping Johnson would be bad for the team, but I’m going to make the assumption that if Ujiri feels what he did was unforgivable, then he’ll be gone. Otherwise, I don’t see any reason not to keep him on for the last year of his contract.

Johnson had a good year, but there were definitely valid reasons why Casey didn’t end up playing him more, even when Johnson wasn’t glued to the bench. Johnson is a good defensive player who can defend three positions, but he also isn’t much of a shooter which made playing alongside DeRozan and/or Valanciunas difficult. Thankfully, Johnson has finally come to realize this and barely shoots beyond 3 feet, which is why his field goal percentage is so high.

Johnson also isn’t a great rebounder, especially for his size and physical skills, and it’s why you can’t really play him at the PF position for very long. So he’s stuck between being not a good enough shooter to be a small forward and not a good enough rebounder to be a power forward. Basically, the definition of a tweener.

Still he’s the best defensive player on the team and he’s got no trade value, so you might as well keep him.

Things To Work On: Shooting, keeping mouth shut.

TYLER HANSBROUGH: Keep

If Hansbrough wants to return to the Raptors as their third power forward at a reduced rate, then I don’t see a reason to say no. He’s a decent rebounder and defender who isn’t afraid to throw his weight around the paint and do some damage. He actually had his best shooting season of his career, by far, but that’s not saying much since he’s got a career .439 field goal percentage. Not great for a guard, horrible for a big man. What saves him is he gets to the line at a phenomenal rate for a guy who you probably want to shoot the ball.

Unfortunately, while he’s been a poor shooter during the regular season, he’s been atrocious in the playoffs, and not just shooting the ball. If the Raptors hope to make noise in the playoffs next season, then Hansbrough probably isn’t the best guy to have playing for you. Otherwise, I would say if he agrees to a minimum contract (or slightly above) then he’s worth asking back.

Things To Work On: Putting the ball in the basket, not sucking in the playoffs

LANDRY FIELDS: Release

I think it’s too bad Fields didn’t work out because he’s one of the few high IQ players on the team and if not for the presence of James Johnson, probably would be worth keeping around. As it is, he just would duplicate many of the strengths and weaknesses Johnson has.

It’s hard to say whether or not Fields will stick in the league unless his shooting stroke returns to some semblance of what it was, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him resurface somewhere due to his intangibles. And unfortunately the Raptors lack many of those intangibles.

CHUCK HAYES: Release

An undersized big man who lost out in a numbers game never made much of an impact on the Raptors. And it’s probably time to move on an find a bigger backup center.

GREG STEIMSMA: Release

After watching him play 17 games with the Raptors, I have no idea what his strengths are. That’s probably not a good thing.

BEBE NOGUEIRA: Keep

Played a total of 23 minutes, but is tall and has great hair.

Things To Work On: Playing more, other skills

BRUNO CABOCLO: Keep

Perhaps the crack about him being two years away from being two years away was more accurate than we thought.

Things To Work On: Being able to get minutes in the D League

DWANE CASEY: Release

So much has been written about him here and other places, but I think Casey has actually become underrated. He definitely has his flaws, and those flaws make parting ways a necessity, but fans are beginning to blame him for everything now. While he must bear a lot of the blame for both playoff exists, so must the players and Ujiri, who kept the team together. I’ve already pointed out why a team comprised of Lowry, DeRozan and Valanciunas is not only poorly constructed, but destined to perform poorly in the playoffs.

Raptor fans were talking about Casey as Coach of the Year in December, and in a few short months turned him into the worst coach in the league. In reality, he’s somewhere in between.

While Casey definitely has his strengths, the team’s collapse in the playoffs, Valanciunas and Ross’ lack of development, and the lack of development of his coaching skills over his tenure as the head coach of the team make it impossible for me to believe he won’t be replaced.

Fans that expect replacing him and then adding a power forward and small forward will turn this team into a contender are in for a rude awakening, if that’s what Ujiri decides to do. Casey will end up leaving the team as the most successful coach in Raptors’ history, which tells you all you need to know about their history.

Next week, I’m going to look at the players the Raptors should be targeting trades and even what could be offered for those players. So stay tuned….

“How did we end up here … this place smells like balls.” 

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(This article ended up longer than expected, so is being split into two parts)

After admitting you have a problem, and then realizing you have to do something about it, the next thing is to start to figure out what to do.

Now let me cut one argument off at the pass. When I suggest trading a player, I don’t mean at all costs (unless I say so, and I don’t see anyone on this roster who fits that category). Obviously you want a fair deal, but if there isn’t one out there then you don’t do it. But you jump on the first good trade.

KYLE LOWRY: Trade

Yes, he’s an All Star. Yes, he’s the emotional leader of the team. Yes, he single handedly won quite a number of games for the Raptors. He’s also all the things discussed here, which makes trying to build around him an exercise in futility. And it’s not just me saying this. CBS’s Matt Moore and James Herbert go into detail about the problems with the Raptors roster on the latest Eye On Basketball podcast and discuss both Lowry and DeMar DeRozan.

At 29, with his mentality and body type, keeping Lowry simply doesn’t make sense for a team in need of a major facelift. He’s got talent, that’s for sure, but the Raptors aren’t in a position to try and continue to make it work with him. A team that relies on him too much will have to put up with his inconsistency, and the Raptors’ lack of real talent means he will continue to be relied on heavily.

The challenge with trading Lowry is that his trade value is probably not very high after a disappointing second half of the season and poor playoffs. That’s not to say you can’t try. The problem with keeping him until his trade value goes up is that it then becomes tempting not to trade him. Especially if the team is playing well at the time. This is exactly what happened when Ujiri was set to trade him to the Knicks after the Rudy Gay deal. The team started clicking and winning and any plans went out the window.

Possible Targets: Sacramento, New York, Indiana, Lakers, Dallas, Houston

DEMAR DEROZAN: Trade

Let’s be clear here. I think trying to build around DeRozan is a monumentally bad idea. Worse than trying to build around Bosh, but not nearly as bad as trying to build around Bargnani. This franchise’s insistence on building around players that simply aren’t good enough is astoundingly frustrating. DeRozan is a quality shooting guard in a league with a dearth of quality shooting guards, but he should not be anything more than a third option (at best) on a good playoff team.

While DeRozan has averaged at least 20 ppg the last two seasons, he does so with a variety of inefficient shots. Just because you can score 20+ ppg doesn’t mean you should. DeRozan had the 10th highest Usage Percentage in the league, but wasn’t close to being the 10th most productive player on offense. And before you argue that he’s simply taking what the offense gives him, this is the same argument people used for Bosh and Bargnani’s inefficient offense. Players always revert to what they’re most comfortable doing, and with DeRozan that’s long jumpers. That’s what he’s always done.

Take a look at his shooting numbers:

DeMar DeRozan Shooting

The only season he didn’t shoot the vast majority of his shots from 16-20 feet was his rookie season, when he was the 5th option. While you expect percentages to drop with more responsibility, his percentages have dropped mostly because he’s simply shooting more from places he shouldn’t be. The only thing that allows him to be as efficient a scorer as he is is his ability to get to the line, something that was taken away in the playoffs by Washington.

Here are three other shooting guards’ shooting numbers:

Monta Ellis Andrew Wiggins Jimmy Butler

(Stats courtesy of basketball-reference.com)

The first one is Monta Ellis, who has always had the reputation of a low efficiency gunner. He’s actually a more efficient scorer than DeRozan, despite the fact he’s almost as bad from three as DeRozan is (they actually had almost identical percentages this year).

The second one is Andrew Wiggins, who came into the league with similar strengths and weaknesses that DeRozan did. Wiggins was surprisingly decent from three, until it went south after the All Star break, and was far less efficient on his long jumpers, but still was able to shoot with far more efficiency because he took the majority of his shots where he could do the most damage: Within three feet.

Jimmy Butler is the third one. In Butler’s rookie season he was an even worse three point shooter than DeRozan, but improved enough that he’s now above average. What makes him efficient, though, is that he takes a third of his shots at the basket, compared to DeRozan, who takes less than 20% of his shots there. And Butler is a far superior defender, as is Wiggins.

While DeRozan has made improvements in his game every season, he’s still not a good shooter and a negative on the defensive end. At this point I don’t think Ujiri would even hesitate trading DeRozan for James Harden, Klay Thompson, Andrew Wiggins, Jimmy Butler, Giannis Antetokounmpo or even Bradley Beal (a more efficient scorer, better shooter and better defender).

DeRozan not being a top five shooting guard certainly isn’t a reason to trade him, but what is a good reason to trade him is that his offense is incongruous with anyone who doesn’t shoot well from three, especially Jonas Valanciunas (both players played better when the other was off the court). While it’s certainly possible to surround DeRozan with mostly three point shooters to take advantage of his strengths, he’s simply not good enough to warrant doing so, which was the case with Bosh and Bargnani.

WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 3: DeMar DeRozan #10 of the Toronto Raptors shoots against Kevin Seraphin #13 of the Washington Wizards during the game at the Verizon Center on January 3, 2014 in Washington, DC. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2014 NBAE (Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images)

So the best option is to trade him while his value is as high as it is (with a decent contract).

Possible Targets: Charlotte, Detroit, New York, Memphis, Phoenix, Utah

JONAS VALANCIUNAS: Keep

There’s no denying that Valanciunas has not progressed as most hoped he would. He’s also a bit of a statistical conundrum. Some advanced stats love him while he does poorly with others. He’s got the highest PER on the team (a very good 20.6), the third highest Offensive Rating on the team and the best Defensive Rating among rotation players, but the team is actually worse when he’s on the floor. Quite a bit, actually.

This says a couple of things. You can’t pick and choose what stats to look at, even advanced stats, and Valanciunas has probably not been put in the best situation, either through teammates that don’t compliment him or an offense that doesn’t take advantage of his strengths. Or in Valanciunas’ case, both.

And while he’s become a very good rebounder (11th in the league in rebounds per 100 possessions) and efficient scorer (8th in the league in True Shooting Percentage), he also has trouble getting the tough rebounds and is a black hole on offense. In fact, his assists per 100 possessions has actually gone down each of his three seasons and it’s not as if it was high to begin with. Watching him react against double teams is like watching “that guy” you play with at the rec centre try and bring the ball up the court on a fast break. You know something bad is going to happen, you just don’t know exactly what.

While his defense is not as bad as it appears, because he’s too often put in a bad situation by the perimeter players, he’s nowhere close to being good enough to anchor a defense. He’s not always where he should be and is slow to react. It seems as though the extra muscle he’s packed on has slowed him down too much and reduced what little explosiveness he had to begin with.

He’s certainly not afraid of hard work and his slow development isn’t for lack of trying. This alone makes holding onto him a good idea.

Probably the most important thing in Valanciunas’ favour, though, is the fact that he’s just 22 and has been in the league just 3 seasons. Although it’s becoming more and more difficult to see him developing into a top player in the league, giving up on him now would be VERY premature. Unless another team makes an offer you can’t refuse, although I don’t see that happening.

Keeping Valanciunas is not the only decision you have to make regarding him. This summer he is eligible for an extension, so the question is whether you want to extend one, or wait until next summer when he becomes a free agent and the market decides. Personally, I would offer somewhere in the $10-12 million per season range and if he declines, then wait until he becomes a restricted free agent. That amount isn’t outrageous for a 7 footer with his skill set and in line with what other similar big men are making. Especially considering the expected rise in salaries that will come with the higher salary cap in the next few years.

Things To Work On: Mobility, decision-making, defense, jumpshot

AMIR JOHNSON: Keep

Amir Johnson is clearly on the decline, and it’s a shame. In his prime, he was a guy any team would absolutely love to have and a coach’s dream. He works hard, doesn’t need the ball and does whatever he’s asked to do. And, when healthy, he’s a very efficient offensive player, good defender and a decent rebounder. Unfortunately, his willingness to do all the dirty work, no matter what the cost, has taken it’s toll and this past season has been one of the least productive of his career.

With his mobility hindered, his help defense, usually a strength, suffered, and that could have been one of the main reasons for the Raptor’s drop off in defense. It used to be that Amir had trouble playing heavy minutes because of foul trouble (he’s gone from 6.3 fouls per 36 minutes, in his first season with the Raptors, to 4.1 this past season). Nowadays he has trouble playing big minutes because of physical limitations.

So why should the Raptors keep him?

First off, let me be clear that I would only bring him back for a two or three year deal at a similar or slightly lower figure than he’s making right now. Barring a major physical turnaround, it’s hard to imagine him being a starter, anymore, and he probably shouldn’t be paid like one. Even if he doesn’t start, he’s the type of veteran influence you want around young players, especially your big men.

And if he does get back to his normal self, then all the better.

Things To Work On: Health

TERRENCE ROSS: Keep

Fans will often take for granted that young players improve every season when that’s not always the case. And Ross is the perfect example.

After a sophomore season that saw him become the Raptors’ full time starter at small forward, with a burgeoning defensive game and solid three point shot, the athletic Ross seemed poised for a bright future that was highlighted by a franchise-tying record 51 point game. Unfortunately, this season saw regression on both ends of the court, culminating in him being taken out of the starting lineup when the team started to struggle.

Ross still shot above average from beyond the arc, but he seemed to forget what made him a good defender last season and became almost allergic to the paint, resulting in the lowest free throw rate on the entire team (excluding Bruno Caboclo, who failed to take one free throw all season). Ross’ FTA/FGA ratio of .074 is even lower than Kyle Korver, who barely sets foot inside the arc on offense, and Danny Green, who I’m sure has been told never to dribble the ball and only shoot from 3. Not getting to the line isn’t a huge problem for a complimentary player like Ross, but he better bring other valuable skills to the table. Korver is possibly the best shooter in the league. Green is one of the best defenders. Ross was 55th in the league in three point shooting (behind Chris Bosh) and often looked disinterested on defense.

At this point, Ross has little trade value, so keeping him and hoping he realizes how close he is to being out of the league is probably the best course of action. Worse case scenario, Ross continues to regress and the Raptors can simply part ways next summer. Best case scenario, he bounces back and the Raptors can either trade him before the deadline or see what the market is for him when he becomes a restricted free agent. Like Valanciunas, Ross is eligible for an extension this summer, but unless we see a huge turnaround at training camp, I don’t see the point in offering him one.

Things To Work On: Playing hard, defense, shooting, finding out where the paint is.

Tomorrow we’ll look at the bench players and head coach, Dwane Casey.

Amir Johnson: Is It Time To Part Ways? | Hoops Habit

We’ve had some great years with Amir Johnson. He’s been through it all with Toronto and given us all he’s got. It will be difficult to see him go. And yet there it is, the writing on the wall.

The big man is home! Can’t keep his hands to himself either. #thosearemine #ouch

A photo posted by Emily Behrman (@baby_behrman) on

Terrence Ross: When Potential Clouds Reality | Raptors HQ

There’s no getting around the fact that Ross is one of the most athletically-gifted 2’s or 3’s in the league. He’s not a brute of a man with muscles on top of muscles, but he can jump out of any building and run the floor with the best of them. That’s what makes the downward spiral he’s on all the more maddening, though. He doesn’t get it. And I don’t mean the “it” that Paul Pierce was referring to prior to the massacre that was the Washington Wizards series. I mean the “it” that clicks in your head, opens your eyes and makes you see things for what they are and what they need to be. Ross is complacent. Setting up camp on the perimeter and being a three-point marksman—if you can even call him that—is his bread and butter. Unfortunately, that’s all he’s really bringing to the table. He’s a one-trick pony.

Poll: What should the Raptors do with Terrence Ross? | Raptors HQ

The Raptors have been here before with young players. This is a team that invested years in Andrea Bargnani and Joey Graham. That hoped for the best from Yogi Stewart. While Ross has shown more talent than the latter two (and more energy than Il Mago), they all share a similar removed sense of passion; there’s a distinct lack of fun in their games. With Ross–former dunk champion, owner of a 51 point game–the game can look so easy for him. At other times, it looks like he’d rather be somewhere, anywhere, else. Like his teammate Jonas Valanciunas, Ross is entering the final year of his rookie contract. The Raptors are coming to a decision point: extend him, offer the qualifying offer, or let Ross go into free agency.

I can haz yo linkz??! [email protected]

If you’re of the mind that DeMar DeRozan’s game is limited to the extent that he can’t be built around, Kyle Lowry’s about to get over-the-hill, Jonas Valanciunas won’t turn into the All-Star we were promised, and Terrence Ross is Chris Jefferies in disguise, then you’re probably not very happy and might want to hit the reset button.  Except, what is the next reset button, and is there a need to hit one?

A year ago Masai Ujiri tried to hit that switch by trading away Rudy Gay, only for the team to defy all odds and, in a stroke of sheer luck, come out looking better than ever.  Plans changed and a team that had admitted it was tanking was now taking a ‘wait and see’ approach. Now, after a year and a half of “seeing what he’s got”, Ujiri is at a crossroads of whether to hit that button again, or go with the flow and tinker the roster with James Johnsensque signings as he did last year.  Or does he double-down and go after a big name free-agent (e.g., DeAndre Jordan) and see if that’s what’s missing from his current core.

In a summer where the Celtics, Lakers and Knicks have cap-room, competition for top-tier free-agents will be fierce, and coming off a whimpering first-round exit, the pitch can’t possibly be strong no matter how many #WeTheNorth tags you slap on the PowerPoint deck, and it doesn’t even matter if you have Drake narrate it.  So, let’s leave the option of strengthening significantly via free-agency aside for a bit, and talk about that reset button and what it might look like.

Is it trading DeMar DeRozan? Off-loading Kyle Lowry for youth? Or, is it cleaning under the covers by upgrading the likes of Amir Johnson, Tyler Hansbrough, and Greivis Vasquez.  Upgrading the bench would certainly improve the team, for example if the Raptors are able to add those elusive veterans that could help build a team spine that doesn’t break at the first sign of pressure.  Adding a Paul Pierce-type (not many around), or even a Boris Diawesque player could add some steel to the personality of this team, though I’m yet to be convinced whether that’s the margin between a first-round humiliation and progression in the playoffs (especially in a conference where the Celtics, Pacers, Bucks, and Nets aren’t going away).

You can forget the draft route, the 20th pick isn’t anything to write home about, and is best viewed as trade-filler in a package.  Given that they already have Bruno Caboclo and Lucas Nogueira taking up two roster spots and firmly glued to the bench in the name of a half-hearted youth movement, it doesn’t add up that the Raptors would draft a player adding to the backlog of players who don’t get playing time.  There’s always a chance where you get a rookie later in the round (e.g., Clint Capela at 25th) who comes in to produce, but the chances are low.  Don’t forget, there’s also DeAndre Daniels stashed somewhere in Australia to consider.  All in all, you could improve a tad bit via the draft, though it’s unlikely to be the margin between getting whooped in the first round, and charging into the second.

There’s also the development and progression of young talent that seems to elevate teams – Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, these are all examples of teams reaching a higher plateau through organic development rather than frenzied free-agency signings or major trade.  The Raptors, no disrespect to their youth (well, some disrespect), don’t appear to have the base talent that time can cultivate into stars.  Jonas Valanciunas is in line to be a decent NBA center, DeMar DeRozan will always be considered a good player in the league, and Terrence Ross is in line to be taking a bus from Idaho to Iowa in a couple years.  The chances of these guys alone taking the team to the next level, especially under a rigid coach like Dwane Casey, is minimal.

This leaves the trade route the most likely avenue if Masai Ujiri decides to either, blow it all up, or add to what’s here – and what’s here did give result in some memorable moments.  I don’t buy the “GMs fear to answer Masai Ujiri’s call in fear of getting fleeced” BS and if you recall, that’s the same type of nonsense that was spewed about Bryan Colangelo way back when.  GMs will gladly answer Ujiri’s phone call, except that what he has to say might not interest them.

Let’s get one thing straight – there is nothing Ujiri can do to add a tier 1 player to the team, because to get a tier 1 player, you either have to 1) have your own tier 1 player to deal, or 2) find an unhappy superstar you can acquire for a boatload of assets who is somehow enamoured by your situation (think Dwight Howard to Lakers).  Ujiri doesn’t have the former, and there are no latter situations in the league, and even if there were, Toronto would be nowhere at the top of their list because of the state the team is in.  It needs to be said that DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, combined with the Raptors state, don’t have the gravitational pull to attract a top tier player.

The likely option here is to do a near-term lateral move to pacify the fans and season seat holders, hoping that it projects to an upward move in a year or two.  Examining the roster and seeing what’s missing, you’ll find too many areas that need to be addressed:

Backup center: There’s zero rim-protection or interior defense, even if you move Amir Johnson to the bench and then over to center for a few minutes a game, it’s not enough.  Maybe Lucas Noguiera amounts to something next year, though evidence points to the contrary unless his  D-League stint is supposed to mean something.

Defense at point guard: Kyle Lowry has regressed into an irresponsible defender whose gambling appears to be endorsed by his coach, and his backup is a guy who takes an hour and a half to shuffle his feet.

Small forward: It says a lot about the state of this position when James Johnson is being hailed as the saviour.  Terrence Ross has been a huge disappointment, and can’t be counted on to provide even marginal scoring or defense.

Power forward: Amir Johnson laboured the entire year, and Patrick Patterson, who concedes rebounding, most likely starts next season.  This leaves Tyler Hansbrough as the backup PF which is a scary thought.

Backup shooting guard: Lou Williams should be off and if he isn’t, it means our offense will be just as flagrant in the regular season, and choke just as hard in the playoffs, especially under Dwane Casey.  Williams’ departure will mean a void in scoring off the bench, and with no offensive system to generate efficient points from arbitrary pieces, Ujiri has to look to fill this void.

Coaching: Dwane Casey was exposed as being inflexible and stubborn during the regular season, and the playoffs only confirmed that view as the “defensive-minded” coach produced the worst defense in the post-season.  Him and his staff should be seen as a major obstacle to overcome if this team wants to reach the next level.  Either he has to dramatically improve, or he needs to be replaced with someone who can adapt to the changing game, or at least has some idea of how best to implement a system that suits his players, while improving them as individuals.

It’s very unrealistic to think that all these issues can be addressed in one summer, and maybe this is exactly where Ujiri planned to be at this point in his reign.  He’s taken good stock of this roster and has a very good understanding of what he has and doesn’t have in his hands, and it’s now time to actually get on that Blackberry Passport and do some real work.

Maybe a shrewder GM wouldn’t have needed a year and a half to come to the conclusions he has now, but let’s afford him the benefit of the doubt, and I for one certainly can’t blame him for halting his tank job once the team starting winning after the Gay trade – it was just too curious of a situation to halt.  So far it’s all about riding the wave of one lucky trade, his next moves are what will define him as a GM.

Photo Credit: Ron Chenoy, USA TODAY Sports

Zarar and Tim W chat it up as Tim finally gets a chance to tell you ‘I told ya so’, but this time he’s got answers that don’t involve driving a tank through the ACC.

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Nobody will blame you if you find yourself second-guessing just where Jonas Valanciunas fits into the Raptors big picture.  The big man seems to constantly sway between being the future centerpiece of this team ahead of DeMar DeRozan, and trade bait for a modern-day center who can play in the “new” NBA, whatever that means.

He’s had a string of performances where one is convinced that the Raptors offense is best suited to go through Valanciunas, because of his ability to get high-percentage shots near the rim.  That feeling is quickly offset when, in the next game, you see a pesky guard double him three times in the exact same way and cause three turnovers, and you’re left wondering where Valanciunas’ awareness and IQ went, why he is so robotic, and why he can’t adjust his moves to account for the defense.

Then there are occasions where, despite having strong scoring and rebounding numbers, he’s been relegated to the bench with the loose, unproven theory being that he’s a negative on defense.  On closer inspection, you realize that his guards are letting him hung out to dry, with his mobility and interior defense against penetrators being tested which he’s failing at.  Despite being a good rim-protector against other centers, the coverage he provides against guards who are rampaging towards the rim ends up earning him a bench seat.

The frustration and confusion surrounding Valanciunas comes from three angles.  First, it’s that he tends to disappear in games, where he should have a greater influence on account of his size alone, for example in the last two playoff series where was a complete dud.  Regardless of whether plays are being called for him (they’re not), his activity levels tend to fluctuate and he cuts a forlorn figure on the court, who looks a step out of position each time. When he’s anonymous defensively, is when his offensive troubles are compounded and he’s missing put-backs and chippies that he should easily finish, creating a vicious circle of confidence loss.  It’s not helped that, unlike Ross, Lowry, DeRozan, or Patterson, he has to look over his shoulder because when he’s not performing there are playing time consequences for him (not so much for others).

The second is that despite showing that he can be a potent offensive threat, Dwane Casey simply hasn’t been able to establish Valanciunas as a piece that other teams have to worry about, despite the Lithaunian showing enough to warrant further inclusion in the team’s offense.  Whether it be mismanaged playing time, odd substitution patterns, commitment to going small even when it’s failing, Casey has struggled to get the most out of Valanciunas.  And if a coach’s responsibility is the maximize the production given a set of resources, this is an area where Casey has largely failed when it comes to the third-year center.  A usage rate which is more than 9% behind team leader, DeMar DeRozan, continues to surprise given the imbalance in the Raptors offense, which is third in the league in pull-up threes, second in pull-up jumpers, and is second in taking shots with 18 or more seconds on the clock.  It boils down to Dwane Casey wanting to play a faster style of basketball which doesn’t fit Valanciunas who prefers being set up from an organized half-court set.

Finally, and most alarmingly, is that Valanciunas’ development has slowed down, or at least, he hasn’t resolved issues that he should be past at this point in his career.  With the caveat that big men take longer to develop and come to their final form, Valanciunas’s progression from promising rookie to potential All-Star has a hit a roadblock.  The situations which were troublesome for him in his rookie year, continue to be at the end of his third year.

He hasn’t progressed in how he reacts to being quickly double-teamed, and looks panic-stricken if a guard is in his vicinity (that is, if he even notices him).  His passing continues to be non-existent in all situations.  Kicking out from the post, elbow reads, and hi-lo sequences are in very short supply, and the only pass he makes at a somewhat average level is when he’s driving to left-to-right for a hook and passes it back to the top of the key (love how he thinks he’s faking the defense out by looking at the rim whilst making the pass).  His positional awareness has improved slightly, but he still finds himself picking up too many fouls by contesting for rebounds with his arms rather than his feet. In short, it’s very hard to pinpoint just what he’s learned from the Raptors, and if anything, his international play is where you see Valanciunas display something new.

The combination of promise he’s shown along with the sense of frustration he evokes have many of us wondering what his true potential is in today’s NBA.  He’s not as imposing as DeMarcus Cousins, isn’t the passer Joakim Noah is, doesn’t have the strength of Dwight Howard, will never be a stretch center, and doesn’t have the defensive mobility of Tyson Chandler, and perhaps may never get to those levels.  He doesn’t warrant a full offense run around him, but at the same time is getting the short end of the stick given his production.

In Valanciunas’ perfect world, the Raptors would be tanking right now and he’d be getting 35 guaranteed minutes and affordance to make mistake after mistake, while he learns some basic elements of the game, ideally under a coach with a track record of player development.  Obviously we’re not tanking, so the setting for his development isn’t there (something that was afforded to DeMar DeRozan).  Based on the evidence of three years under Casey and his staff, his development appears to be going at a very slow rate, with Valanciunas often being singled out in press conferences and interviews as a culprit in a horribly flawed defensive setup.  As the Raptors mull over offering him an extension, or picking up his $4.6M qualifying offer, his agent just might advise him to consider alternatives, if not for money’s sakes, then simply to find him an environment where he’s getting consistent, predictable minutes.

Valanciunas has also remained injury free player despite carrying a sizable frame and going up against the strongest players on the court.  He’s missed three games in the last two years, having played 81 and 80 games, respectively.  His ability to stay healthy and the glimpses he’s provided in his first three years will undoubtedly attract a suitor who would be willing to pay anywhere in the $8-10M dollar range, which would be a bargain deal given the upcoming cap increase.  As much as the Raptors have a decision to make on what to do with Valanciunas, which should also consider whether Casey even wants to bother dealing with an entity he’s shown he has little idea on how to manage, it just might be that it’s Valanciunas who opts for a situation where he’s trusted and respected.

This week on The Doctor is In with Phdsteve, we place our draft coverage on hold for a week with the release of our annual big board coming next Friday.

Joined by my brother Mike (who knows college basketball), Greg Mason (the brain from the south), and Blair Miller from The Fifth Quarter Blog we branch out to explore the marketplace and play a game that really can help divert you away from hours of real work!  It’s called 6 Degrees of Separation: How to get out of the 1st round and while Raptors Republic builds an iPhone app to play this game, here are the simple rules (listeners and readers are encouraged to post their ideas in the comments section below)

6 Degrees of Separation: How to get out of the 1st round

Assuming the Raptors brass grant Ujiri the chance to spend maximum money in 2015, you have almost 80 million dollars (projected cap $66.5 million and tax threshold $81.0 million) to build a 2015 roster that wins 50+ games in the East and at LEAST 1 round of the playoffs.  And because continuity and chemistry are important to team success, you only get to make a MAXIMUM of 6 moves/ changes to the existing roster.

But there are some caveats:

  1. For arguments sake, we will all use http://hoopshype.com/salaries/toronto.htm as official for $ and years.
  2. You can go over the salary cap but only within league rules (ie/ using Bird rights)  see Larry Coon for any cap related issues, but its simple this season since there are no buyouts, no qualifying offers, and no team or player options to worry about.
  3. You can sign FAs or RFAs within the CBA form this ESPN list BUT you must pay fair market value + a premium for being a Canadian team
  4. You have your first round pick #20 that comes with a cap hit of approximately $1.3 million that you must wither use or deal but there are NO second round picks this year.
  5. You can trade players but all trades must be verified by the espn.com trade machine  and must also be verified by logic (just because it works in the trade machine does make it a legitimate trade)
  6. You have to fill all 13 roster spaces

NOTE:

You start with 49 million already committed to the books and 10 rosters spots already filled (this includes the #20 pick):

Jonas ($4.66)
Lucas ($1.82)
2Pat ($6.27)
James Johnson ($2.5)
Bruno ($1.27)
DeRozan ($9.5)
Lowry ($12)
TRoss ($3.55)
Vasquez ($6.6)

And the #20 pick (cap hold $1.3)

Don’t forget to visit Blair’s site The Fifth Quarter Blog and his download his weekly podcast. Follow him on Twitter @TFQuarter

You can follow Greg on Twitter @votaryofhoops and my brother Mike @michaelgennaro

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 (01:09, 58 MB). Or just listen below:

We know some of you guys don’t like Jack around here, but he makes some good points and provides a different POV on the season and team. Thoughts?

Amidst a calamitous end to the season, there’s been a flood of op-eds from writers all around. Many people – fans and writers alike – have a sense that Masai is about to blow this team up. While it’s true that everyone is expendable at this point, no one really has any idea what’s about to happen as much as they try to gain admission into Masai’s tight-leashed decision-making World which rarely leaks.

Each team has a different path to development, but there is a way to gauge what your next move should be by judging what successful teams in recent memory have done.

Comparing the Toronto Raptors’ brand of basketball to any of the other 15 teams in the playoffs puts everything into perspective. There is not a single team in this year’s post-season that had the same failure in executing basketball fundamentals than Dwane Casey’s Atlantic Division winning team.

Starting the rebuild from the head-coaching position seems like the most logical first step.

Dwane Casey is a tremendous human being and one of the best assistant coaches around – but a head coach who can lead a developing NBA team and take them to the next level, he is not.

To be more specific about what Dwane Casey is actually doing wrong, you can first look at offensive execution. The Raptors are stagnant on offense with little movement. The Raptors are a team riddled with great shooters, right? This is the reason given for a gung-ho isolation-based movement-deprived offense which somehow leads to a surprising lack of rebounding despite three-four other offensive players on the court knowing that the ball handler is about to shoot the ball.

Inexcusable. To prove just how flawed the reasoning for this offensive ‘scheme’ is, look no further than the Golden State Warriors who posses by far the best shooting backcourt in the NBA. The Raptors’ ability to shoot and drop buckets of points from the perimeter essentially is completely trumped here. Yet, Golden State – who can probably iso the hell out every offensive possession if they wanted to – are one of the most unselfish teams in the NBA.

I can’t emphasize this enough. One of the greatest offensive backcourts in the history of the NBA is statistically the third least selfish team in this year’s playoffs. The Warriors’ 26.3 assists per game are good for third best in this year’s post-season.

Their regular season numbers are even better as they ranked first in that category with 27.4 apg which led to great looks all over the floor and saw them shoot 47.8% from the field – also a league best. Sure, you get some wild shots within the ‘flow of the offense’ from Steph Curry who pulls up and takes contested transition threes as if they were lay-ups – but that’s him. Curry has the green light to do it because he’s incredible at doing so.

Go down the list of assist leaders and you’ll see the correlation between being good and moving the basketball. Atlanta was second, the Clippers third. Boston – the anomaly that finished the season incredibly strong since the trade deadline and impressively squeezed into the postseason without much talent – came fourth.

You have to go really far down to find the Raptors. Scroll past the Pistons, Nuggets, Bucks, Pacers, Nets, Knicks, and Lakers and you’ll spot the Raps at 20th in the league in apg.

There are stats that might back-up Dwane Casey’s green light for offensive freedom from the perimeter given that the Raptors did shoot 45.5% from the field this season which is above league average. But, at that point you’re settling for mediocrity and refusing to be better just because something is somewhat working.

In this case, why change, and not continue to let Dwane Casey develop? It’s true that the Warriors were not a contender last season. They were extremely fun to watch but didn’t have what it takes to take the next leap. But the team wasn’t blown up, they continued to develop, and now have a more than legit chance to win the championship. And that’s not because the competition is weak, it has to do with the Warriors being historically good.

Why the leap? You’re probably already shouting the answer at this point: A head-coaching change.

Sure, the Warriors could have stuck with Jackson who won 51 regular season games in a tenacious Western Conference. They could have let him develop and learn from his mistakes after finishing 20 games above .500.

But Jackson wasn’t going to change or adapt in order for that team to leap from good to great. There is no indication Dwane Casey is any different. Casey just about justifies every bad decision he makes. He has justified the Raptors’ lack of ball movement attributing it to the Raptors’ ability to hit shots within the flow of the offense. He’s justified benching James Johnson when the Raptors struggled to defend the perimeter and had issues rebounding, labeling Johnson a ‘match-up player who’s time will come’.

His time? Never came.

Casey also justified his extreme use of small ball stating “If I had Tyson Chandler, he probably wouldn’t be in the game… It’s no disrespect. It’s just the style of play.”

Similarly Mark Jackson had issues – albeit different ones. Steve Kerr came in and brought the best out of Golden State’s backcourt – allowing Curry to come off screens more and taking him out of the play-making point guard role. The Warriors’ offense is a thing of beauty, everyone is always moving – a sharp contrast to what the Raptors are doing. Their defense is also gorgeous. Sure, in Green and Bogut they have players who can defend like Raptor players can only dream of, but the effort is key. The Warriors are extremely quick in their defensive rotations and are basically at their spots before the ball is even moved.

The Warriors went from a good coach to a great one, and you can see what it did for their team. Hence the coexistence between change and continuity. One major change while the core of the team continues is about as sound as you get.

What’s up with this Dubs’ love-fest anyway? The Raptors aren’t on their level, clearly. The point is that the Warriors play the right way and stick to fundamentals: Effort and ball movement. Those are both within any NBA team’s grasps, and it starts with the head coach. The Raptors’ rotations are a defensive mess. It’s bewildering that on every single possession, the Wizards got everything and anything they wanted to as the Raptors cluelessly scrambled around the court.

It would be really interesting to see what a next-level coach would do with Jonas’ usage rate. I feel like he’s undervalued within the offensive system, but I’ve already touched on that enough, plus Zarar is throwing a Jonas article your way later today.

Don’t ask me just who that next head coach is, because only Masai knows, and there’s no use to speculate. Off the top of my head, Thibs would be a dream if it’s true he’s not going to stick around in Chicago past the post-season. Then again, who knows? Maybe Masai keeps Casey on for the remainder of his contract.

I’ll leave you with this fantastic analysis of the Raptors’ collapse which Coach Nick published yesterday.

And We Bid You Goodnight: The Toronto Raptors Know Themselves | Hardwood Paroxysm

In the beginning, it didn’t look like this – a premature end that creates an uncertain future – was the Raptors’ destiny. Early on, the Raptors were a good basketball team, or at least were semblance of one, and started 24-7, albeit against a poor schedule. It came on the heels of the Raptors accidently getting better after trading Rudy Gay halfway through last season, which sort of caused the team to go somewhat in this season in the first place. Lowry, for a time, was arguably the best point guard in the East-and ultimately started in the All-Star game. Some of the problems that would later doom the Raptors – poor defensive rotations, a sometimes lack of spacing, etc. – were there but Toronto hid them and tried to make room for the youngsters who needed time to figure themselves. Conversely, the strong start to the season gave Toronto a chance to evaluate what it had and figure out what this roster didn’t have. That time is now gone. Exactly when it all came apart is a hard moment to define, but it ultimately doesn’t matter. Whatever went wrong with Toronto – whether it was DeRozan missing a long stretch of the season, Lowry being hurt/worn out or some combination of the two – the Raptors as we know them right now are extinct.

Ranking Toronto Raptors’ Biggest Priorities for 2015 NBA Offseason | Bleacher Report

Experience brings confidence. Confidence breeds character. There’s more to acquiring a veteran than just finding the first “old guy” on the waiver wire. It has to be someone with something of value, whether it’s as a leader in the locker room or that missing ingredient on the floor. David West, an unrestricted free agent for the Indiana Pacers, is a perfect example of someone Ujiri should be targeting. He’s a savvy post player who can knock down mid-range jumpers, work for rebounds and get physical on the defensive end. West is also battle-tested in the postseason with 73 appearances.  That’s the type of player guys like Terrence Ross and Jonas Valanciunas can look to for guidance and leadership. That’s not to say they couldn’t find that from someone already on the team, but the respect West has earned over the course of his 12-year career can’t be ignored.

Details murky on where Raptors-affiliated team would fit in NBA D-League | Toronto Star

“We have had ongoing dialogue with the team and we will continue to explore those possibilities,” NBA Development League president Malcolm Turner said in an emailed statement Wednesday to the Star. The D-League, as it’s referred to, kicked off in 2001 and just completed its 14th season. The league has grown from eight teams to 18 competing this season, divided into four divisions: Atlantic, Central, Southwest and West. More than 30 per cent of current NBA players have spent time in the lower tier circuit, according to the D-League. Seventeen D-League teams are either owned by an NBA club or exclusively linked with one. The 18th minor league team, the Fort Wayne Mad Ants, is the sole independent operation, meaning it doesn’t have to make decisions based on the interests of a single NBA team and are more catered to on-court success than player development. The Mad Ants have 13 NBA affiliates including the Raptors.

Toronto Raptors announce D-League team in plans | Raptors Rapture

Let’s assume the Buffalo Bombers (I dunno – suggest a name! Buffalo as a location is a relatively easy choice, but maybe Syracuse or Rochester make more sense) begin play next season. The Raptors would have emergency help close to hand in case of a rash of injuries, which is something we’re overdue for. Masai would be able to assess not only young players, but promising coaches, and even trainers and dieticians (no, I’m not kidding – you can’t talk about great organizations without factoring in these people. You need a starting place for aspiring capologists, analytics gurus, and advance scouts to boot).

What’s Next for the Toronto Raptors? | Basketball Insiders

In a world where teams change coaches as often as players change their sneakers, patience is a virtue that has worn thin, particularly in the contemporary NBA. As the Raptors ponder what went wrong in a season that seems to have ended far earlier than they thought it would back in December, it will be extremely interesting to see whether Ujiri opts to double down on his core by re-signing his key free agents, or whether he will channel his inner Danny Ainge and start a proactive demolition project, believing that the current cast of characters he has assembled in Toronto has already peaked and played to their ceiling. By the looks of it, especially in today’s NBA, nobody should be caught off guard if it ends up being that these current cast of Raptors soon find themselves broken and extinct.

Playoff Problems: The Regression of Kyle Lowry | Raptors Rapture

Lowry averaged 17.8 points, 6.8 assists and 4.7 rebounds per game throughout the season. He shot 41% from the field and 34% from long distance. He was the team’s leader in assists and their second highest scorer after DeMar DeRozan. During the playoffs, he averaged an ugly 12.3 points, 4.8 assists and 5.5 rebounds per game. He shot 31% from the field and 21% from 3-point range. His very presence on the court for the Raptors was negative, since his defence wasn’t much better than his offence. Perhaps the most telling statistic is his PER value, which measures per-minute production, standardized so that the league average is 15. During the regular season, Lowry earned a 19.3, only to plummet all the way down to 7.9 during the playoffs.

Trouble In Toronto: Analyzing The Wizards’ Domination Of The Raptors | The Sports Quotient

Fast-forward just one year later and the Toronto Raptors are a dysfunctional mess. Once again, they were a one-and-done in the playoffs, but at least last year they were competitive. This year, they were pushed around and shredded by a hapless Wizards offense (103.7 offensive rating, 22nd in the league) that had been stagnating since theAll-Star break. During the four-game sweep, Toronto’s defense gave up point totals of 93, 117, 106 and 125 points per game (an average of 110.25 for those of you keeping score at home) to a team that scored 98.5 per game during the regular season.  Toronto’s struggles on the defensive end of the floor wasn’t just a fluke, they were actually one of the worst defensive teams in the league this season. Their defensive rating as a unit was 107.7 (25th out of 30 teams), and they gave up 2.1 more points per 100 possessions relative to the rest of the league. During the Washington series, Toronto was unable to contain John Wall in any way, shape, or form. A gimpy Kyle Lowry was no match for his quickness, and he did a wonderful job driving into the lane and kicking out to open shooters.

I can haz yo linkz??! [email protected]

Finally, at long last, the Toronto Raptors are working in earnest to leverage MLSE’s financial might and the developmental opportunities afforded teams through the D-League.

General manager Masai Ujiri revealed at his end-of-season media availability on Tuesday that the MLSE board has approved the purchase of a D-League team and that the franchise is hoping they can have an exclusive affiliate in place for the 2015-16 season.

“I wish I could say,” Ujiri said of a timeline. “We’re pushing. We’re hoping, I should say. Not pushing, we’re hoping.”

That timeline seems somewhat unlikely – D-League commissioner Malcolm Turner said at the D-League Showcase in January that expansion is expected, but not for next season. That could obviously change, and with other east coast franchises (the Orlando Magic are one) looking to make D-League inroads, it’s possible the feeder system would be amenable to growing from 18 to, say, 20 on short notice.

“As Masai said yesterday, the Raptors have expressed interest in acquiring an NBA Development League affiliate,” Turner said this week, as relayed by the award-winning Raptors media relations department. “We have had ongoing dialogue with the team and we will continue to explore those possibilities.”

It certainly doesn’t hurt that the Raptors have long been thought to have a potential partner in the Rochester Razorsharks of the PBL.

To be clear, the Raptors already have use of the D-League without owning their own team. Kind of. You’ll likely recall Bruno Caboclo and Lucas Nogueira being sent down for assignments to the Fort Wayne Mad Ants at times this season. But the current setup isn’t at all conducive to successful development for the Raptors. The Mad Ants have the best mascot in sports, but it’s not a great place to send young players, through no fault of Fort Wayne’s.

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Stripes could use time in the D-League to develop an NBA body like Nightmare Ant.

There are three types of D-League affiliation: Straightforward ownership (exclusive “parent clubs”), hybrid setups (the team is financially independent but the exclusive NBA team runs basketball operations), and independent (which applies only to Fort Wayne). Eight NBA teams own and operate their own affiliate, nine have exclusive hybrid relationships…and then the Raptors and 12 others share the Mad Ants.

The issues with sharing an affiliate with 12 other teams are obvious. Foremost, the Raptors have no control over basketball operations. Practices, player development, in-game rotations, strategy, style of play, and what, particularly, a player may work on in games is surely suggested – and Fort Wayne is likely to comply as best they can to maintain a positive working relationship with the teams and league – but the Mad Ants are run independently and have to serve the interests of 13 teams. It’s not unreasonable to picture their basketball operations staff feeling like Peter Gibbons, answering to eight bosses without a clear idea of how to prioritize the needs and messages of each.

The assignments from this season speak to this, as Caboclo’s time in the D-League was a farce. Given his limited experience and exposure to the NBA game, simply practicing for a year and sitting on the bench with knowledgeable players and staff was likely more than enough to move him along the development curve, but it probably would have behooved the team to get a semi-regular look at him in game action to see how film study and skill work were translating. While I didn’t necessarily expect the D-League to be a huge part of his development, to call the opportunity for him to play actual basketball a missed one would be an understatement.

Here’s what I wrote about Caboclo’s potential development before the season:

What that means is that Caboclo’s development will lean heavily on the value of practices and instruction from the coaching staff. For a player as raw as Caboclo is, that’s not the worst reality – he has a great deal to learn still, from physical fundamentals to just learning more about the game of basketball. A de facto redshirt season at age 19 is still a major and expeditious step in his development. The team just needs to be careful that he doesn’t get lost in the shuffle as the schedule ramps up and full practices become somewhat less frequent.

For 17 NBA teams, this wouldn’t be all that big a deal. For more than half the league, sending a player like Caboclo to the D-League is a realistic and potentially fruitful option. With an exclusive affiliation, those 17 teams would be afforded the opportunity to send Caboclo down to their farm club, where he would receive instruction from coaches and staff that the parent team has put in place. Come game time, the parent club could manage his minutes and role from afar, trusting that an organization with staff all their own would have the interests of the team and player foremost in mind.

That doesn’t entirely rule out the value of a D-League assignment for Caboclo (or Bebe Nogueira, for that matter). It would still represent more in-game playing time than he’s likely to get with the Raptors, after all. Unfortunately, the Raptors would have far less control of the situation than is ideal. Fort Wayne has to keep the interests of 13 teams in mind, and juggle development time for assignees from all of those parent clubs. That’s a difficult task, and it’s unclear exactly how much the Raptors will trust the Mad Ants with their No. 20 overall pick.

Caboclo played 62 minutes over his seven D-League games, playing more than 10 minutes in a game twice. Outside of his very first appearance – a somewhat encouraging 13-point, seven-rebound game – his role wasn’t dissimilar from the one he played with the Raptors. As it turned out, the loose D-League affiliation was a problem, and the Raptors didn’t seem to trust it as an option for Caboclo (or Nogueira, who played 80 minutes over four games there).

It’s not surprising, then, that Ujiri seemed ecstatic about the chance to further develop Caboclo through the D-League in his sophomore season, when on-court performance will take on a greater importance:

With Bruno and Bebe on the scale of maybe, by measuring them in terms of where we wanted them to be, putting on weight, nutrition and learning english, I think that stuff went very well. I think the part where we struggled was playing and exposure. The D-League didn’t work out so well for Bruno, it worked out well for Bebe, but unfortunately, he got dinged up a little bit.

Our plans, for me they are exciting now, because we’ve just been approved by our board to purchase a D-League team, which is huge for us and this franchise. I’m super-excited about that. Which means we’re going to be able to send, if this works out, we are in advanced talks with the NBA and trying to figure out where this is going to be and when this is going to be. But we’ve crossed a lot of the big barriers and hurdles. We’re really excited about this. Which means Bruno’s going to get an opportunity, Bebe’s going to get an opportunity, whoever our rookie is this year is going to get an opportunity. How you want to build a front office, a coaching model, this D-League team for us, eventually, is going to be something we want to use as our guinea pig right. Something you want to do tests and experiment and give opportunity. We are really excited about this and I think that’s going to enhance Bruno’s development next year. The summer is big for him. He went from 207 to 220. I just said that with him and he said 221. We’ll see how he develops in the summer. Same with Bebe.

I’ve been writing about the Raptors’ need to get an exclusive D-League affiliate for years now, and it’s a shame that the previous management regime either didn’t see enough value in player development or didn’t read the long-obvious tides of change for the way the league develops prospects. Here’s how I explained the advantages of being an exclusive parent club last April:

Now, say the Raptors were exclusively affiliated with a hypothetical D-League team – the Vancouver Nashes of the West Division or the Thornhill Wigginses of the East Division – and sent Buycks down. Once with the D-League team, Buycks would be practicing and playing with coaches and players selected by the Raptors organization, ones who would be operating a system that closely mirrors the parent club’s. That means Buycks’ practice and game time comes in a setting very similar to Toronto, and his role could even be controlled as such (for example, there’s probably little sense in “developing” Buycks as a 20-shot-a-game scoring guard, even if he’s the best player on that team). The left hand knows what the right is doing.

Beyond just a greater control over players on assignment (and don’t forget that the D-League training staff would also be put in place by the parent club, so rehab assignments are far safer), an exclusive affiliation also affords the franchise other benefits. Coaches can be developed, for example, and if the team saw Nick Nurse or Bill Bayno as a future head coach, they may opt to see how they handle the franchise’s D-League team (that’s actually where they found Nurse). Training staff and other personnel can be developed. More data can be collected from a biomechanic standpoint, as D-League players can wear GPS units in-game, which NBA players can only do in practice. Teams can experiment with new philosophies and strategies.

Another potential advantage not mentioned there is the chance to grow the brand nationally, though it’s unclear if that will be a consideration for the franchise. The Toronto Star reports that the Raptors have had preliminary discussions about using Mississauga’s Hershey Centre and fans have suggested Vancouver, Montreal, and Ottawa as potential homes on Twitter. I think geographic proximity should be a greater priority than branding, otherwise Vancouver would be a natural choice. The GTA, Montreal, Rochester and Buffalo make sense at first blush, but there are a lot of factors that go into such a decision.

At media day before the season, I asked general manager Masai Ujiri if the organization regretted being slow to the punch with respect to the D-League. It was a poorly phrased question – Ujiri scoffed at the word “regret” before kindly answering my actual inquiry – considering the timing of the front office changeover. Still, it was retrospectively short-sighted of the previous regime, and Ujiri expressed that the franchise has an interest in exploring that potential competitive edge further moving forward.

There was little excuse for a team with the resources of the Raptors to have been behind the curve – in the words of our global ambassador, “Better late than never, but never late is better” – and now the first step has been taken. The Raptors will purchase an exclusive D-League affiliate sometime soon, and they’ll have far better means with which to develop players, coaches, strategy, technology, staff, and more as a result. The 2015-16 season may be too aggressive (I hope I’m wrong and Turner changes his tune) but it’s happening soon, and regardless of specifics, it’s a major step in the right direction fro the future of the franchise.

Believe it or not, the humiliating sweep the Raptors experienced was probably the best thing for this franchise. The worst thing would have been for a competitive series against a Washington team that still has plenty of work to do themselves (starting with getting a new coach). A competitive series might have simply masked the inadequacies of the roster and had the same effect that the winning streak after the Rudy Gay did; delayed the inevitable. Again.

Grantland’s venerable Zach Low did a breakdown of the winners and losers of the playoffs and included a few rather scathing paragraphs about the Raptors, including this bit:

We know what the Raptors are now: a cute regular-season team that can no longer sustain strong two-way play, and that followed up two Atlantic Division titles — hang those banners next to the Bon Jovi one! — with exactly zero playoff series wins. Masai Ujiri knows, too, and he always suspected; he admitted to me in December that the Raps’ ascension within a weak Eastern Conference might be fool’s gold, and he wisely resisted win-now moves at the trade deadline.

Zach Lowe, Grantland

Raptor fans hate when American reporters bash their team, but it’s hard to argue with him on this one. And if Ujiri had a suspicion in December that the team was not nearly as good as their record, it should have been confirmed by the trade deadline after coming back to earth in January. One might wonder why he didn’t try and turn someone like Lou Williams or Amir Johnson and their expiring contracts into something of value instead of losing them for nothing or overpaying them to stay.

But this isn’t about what Ujiri could or could not have done. It’s about what has been done and what should be done.

While fans, writers and even management can make all kinds of excuses, this team was not built or designed to succeed, especially in the playoffs.

The NBA is always evolving not just on the court but off it. That keeps things interesting, but also makes it a challenge to plan too far ahead. At one time, having a bruising power forward who would stay in the paint was the norm. Now, Draymond Green is projected to make eight figures because he’s a power forward who can step out and hit the three while guarding multiple positions.

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Spacing has become more and more important as defenses get more and more sophisticated and players become longer and quicker. Players who can’t hit the three are becoming obsolete. Amir Johnson knew it, which is why he kept working on extending his range until he became a 40% three point shooter this year, the only real one on the team1. Of course, the time it took him to actually shoot the ball meant the ball couldn’t really be swung to him for a three within the offense. He would generally only shoot it if his man dared him to.

1. Landry Fields’ 1 for 2  or Bruno Coboclo’s 2 for 3 from three don’t count.

Amir had to extend his jumpshot in order to be able to play with Jonas Valanciunas and not completely kill the team’s spacing. The problem is that moving Amir away from the basket took him away from what he does best, grab offensive rebounds and score around the basket. The spacing was much better with Patrick Patterson, who is a much better (and quicker) three point shooter, but the defense suffered when both he and Valanciunas were on the court together. Patterson has his strengths, but he doesn’t have the defensive impact Amir does, although Amir’s failing body is lessening the difference, but not in a good way.

The Spurs are successful with two traditional big men, in Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter, but they won the Championship last year due in large part to the play of Boris Diaw, an older, slower version of Draymond Green. Splitter played less and less as the playoffs went on in favour of Diaw who ended up averaging more minutes in the playoffs than the offensively limited Splitter.

To make matters worse, for the Raptors’ spacing, DeMar DeRozan is a lot of things but a good three point shooter is not one of them. He’s a career .275 shooter from beyond the arc and shot only slightly above that this season. He’ll go through short periods where he’ll shoot well (he shot a respectable .375 from three in the playoff series against Washington), but on the whole he’s not consistent enough to stretch the defense and create space for his teammates.

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DeRozan’s biggest problem is he’s simply not a modern shooting guard. He can’t shoot from outside and his offense consists of isolations and postups. Add the fact that he’s still a negative on defense, and you’ve got a player difficult to fit into a winning system. And playing with a paint-bound Valanciunas, who simply isn’t good enough to cover his mistakes on defense, is not exactly a recipe for success. Worst of all, he’s simply not an efficient scorer, despite getting to the line at a high rate, in large part due to his willingness to force shots he shouldn’t.

DeRozan is a hard worker and wants desperately to win, but his flaws make that a difficult proposition, especially if he’s expected to be your first or second option. The Raptors have tried to force an offense around a player who wasn’t worthy in the past, and it didn’t end well. We saw in the playoffs against Washington the problems with relying too heavily on DeRozan.

It is true that Dwane Casey is partly to blame for not being able to come up with a better offensive scheme to take advantage of DeRozan’s strengths and hide his weaknesses, but the best NBA offenses today rely on perimeter players who can stretch the defense and move well without the ball, neither of which are strengths of DeRozan.

Speaking of Casey, there seems to be a line of thinking among many fans that replacing him with a better coach and changing a few pieces is all the team really needs2, but that continues to ignore the flaws and limitations of the core of the team. And it goes beyond DeRozan, Amir and Valanciunas.

Nov 26, 2014; Atlanta, GA, USA; Toronto Raptors head coach Dwane Casey (L) talks to guard Kyle Lowry (7) against the Atlanta Hawks during the second half at Philips Arena. The Raptors won126-115. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
2. A common refrain among fans, now and in the past, is to get a “name” coach, as if that will solve the problems of the roster. Stan Van Gundy couldn’t overcome Detroit’s poorly constructed roster, and even waiving Josh Smith couldn’t make them a .500 team. Sacramento’s record was relatively similar before and after George Karl was hired. There are some coaches that do better with less talent and some coaches do better with more, but few coaches do well with a flawed roster that doesn’t fit well together.

Acquiring Kyle Lowry, three years ago, was a bit of a gamble considering his checkered past and physical limitations (he’s a little small and not super quick). After a bit of a rocky start, he eventually became the emotional leader of the team and the main reason for their early success this year. His decline mirrored the team’s and showed just how important he was to the team’s success.

And that’s the problem.

In his nine year NBA career, Kyle Lowry has not been able to play consistently well over one entire season. His best overall season was last year, but he struggled early which may have cost him his first All Star selection. While he made it this year, it was solely based on his early play because he often looked like a below average starter after the All Star break.

It’s true he may have been struggling with injuries, but this shouldn’t be a surprise. His style of play and the fact that he’s not always been the most dedicated at keeping his body in shape means injuries are going to be the norm. The fact that he also just turned 29 should also be a bit a concern. Some players can play well into their 30s, but slower, undersized point guards who aren’t always in the best shape tend to go downhill pretty fast past 30 (Deron Williams is just a year older than Lowry).

This goes beyond just the physical, though. One of Lowry’s great strengths is that he plays with a chip on his shoulder, but that’s also one of his biggest weaknesses. Lowry thinks he’s Chris Paul, but he’s not. While his ferocity and arrogance can often help a team, his tendency to try to do too much and take bad shots is only one of the reasons he’s apparently been at odds with just about every coach he’s had, including Casey.

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One of the most important things a point guard needs to do is make good decisions, and when you let your emotions get the better of you, that often doesn’t happen. Lowry actually has a good assist to turnover ratio, but where he struggles with his decision making is shooting the ball and on defense. Lowry’s a career .417 shooter and too often falls in love with the long ball. While he did show he could be a positive on defense last year, his gambling during the Washington series was a good example of how much he can hurt the team defensively.

I recently had a discussion with someone on Twitter who felt that because Lowry, DeRozan and Valanciunas were above average starters, that was good enough reason to keep them. But if there is one thing that Raptor fans have learned over the years it’s that a player’s importance isn’t measured by how “talented” he is. Rudy Gay was the most talented player on the Raptors’ roster since Chris Bosh, but the team played better without him.

Building a great team is not always about getting the best players but the right ones. And it’s hard to argue that the Raptors currently have the right ones. The silver lining is that Ujiri should now be compelled to do something about it.patrick-patterson-lou-williams-amir-johnson-demar-derozan-kyle-lowry-nba-dallas-mavericks-toronto-raptors

The perceived challenge for any general manager in Toronto has always been the fact that Toronto is a far off place in a distant country with an obscure culture and an unknowable tax code. Toronto gets talked about as though it were some exotic land, even though it has more in common with New York and Chicago than Milwaukee or Minnesota has.

Of course, the problem with Toronto has never really been the city. The city has acted as a convenient scapegoat for the real reason that Toronto has had trouble attracting and retaining noteworthy NBA players: losing.

When it comes to on-court success, the Raptors have one of the worst track records in the NBA, highlighted again this week when they once more failed to win a seven-game series, instead succumbing listlessly to a lower-seeded Washington Wizards team in four games.

The fallout from that series is going to have far deeper repercussions than it seems like anyone wants to talk about right now. People are obsessed with using these Playoffs as a referendum on the past; this past season, Dwane Casey’s past transgressions as a coach and Masai Ujiri’s past decisions as a roster builder. The past, though, is in the past, and the real ramifications that Toronto’s postseason embarrassment will have is on the future — namely Toronto’s longstanding issue of attracting coveted talent to their beleaguered franchise.

After all, if you’re a popular free agent, or a trade target for multiple teams, what is it about the Raptors that would have you excited about signing up? What about that organization says that it’s worth a multi-year investment as a player over the several other options that they’ll have? One can crow about how poorly the Lakers have fared since Phil Jackson left, but that’s still a braintrust that has built Champions, whereas no one in Toronto has ever done so much as win a seven-game series (that includes Casey and Ujiri, by the way, in their respective positions as head coach and general manager).

Look at how readily the Raptors players cast blame for the failures of the club once the season unceremoniously concluded. No one was exactly selling the narrative that that was a locker room people should be clamouring to join. There was finger-pointing, there was coach-killing and there was a general refusal on anyone’s part to truly shoulder blame. They may feel like they are only a piece or two away from making some noise, but they did a terrible job of selling what they have on those course-altering pieces. Looking at the sniping coming out of that Monday afternoon would give anyone pause about signing up to join that foxhole.

Then there is the coach. Externally anyone can see he struggles with designing systems that thrive in the postseason. You can fault the roster construction all you want (and there is a lot of fault to put there) but the Raptors were ripped to shreds in two of their postseason contests and dispatched in two others. A fourth seed should not look worse than an eighth seed, regardless of the roster makeup, especially not when a good chunk of the problems came from tactical errors like where the team was getting shots from and how the pick-and-roll coverages would work.

Casey leaned hard on one-on-one isolation play on offence, insisting that his players were best suited to that kind of basketball. He offered that same explanation when trying to describe his decision making process that led to the abominable offence he had DeMar DeRozan and Rudy Gay executing early last season. On the one hand you can understand why a coach would want to play to his players’ strengths, but on the other hand if you don’t force players out of their comfort zone they’ll never grow, either individually or as a part of a unit. Against Washington his philosophy was thrown against a wall and beaten as the Wizards routinely coaxed the Raptors into taking terrible shots and the team had little-to-no viable structure lean on when the going got tough. Instead they’d react with a series of isolation opportunities for DeRozan, Lowry or Lou Williams — as though that was the great elixir that would settle down a fumbling offence.

That proclivity also begins to address the internal issues that Kyle Lowry hinted at as a part of his ‘read between the lines’ season-ended presser. The players were clearly not united in how Casey ran this club, and I’ve heard that most of that unrest came from a division between the guys Casey gave a limitless leash to on offence versus the guys that wanted to see more discipline and structure. Casey spoke about wanting to see more ball movement, but then did nothing to stop DeRozan from eating up entire possessions pounding the ball a