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Date Title Author
Jun 20, 17 VIDEO: Masai Ujiri pre-draft media session Blake Murphy
Jun 20, 17 Masai Ujiri presser notes: Raptors prepared in any direction, not giving much away Blake Murphy
Jun 20, 17 Draft Week Mailbag: George scenarios, Fultz fallout, draft bigs, and more Blake Murphy
Jun 20, 17 Raptors Weekly Extra Podcast, June 20 – Draft Preview Pt. 1 Blake Murphy
Jun 19, 17 Report: Kyle Lowry had been ‘grumbling about dissatisfaction,’ things sounded bleak in mid-May Blake Murphy
Jun 19, 17 Recalibrating for draft week Blake Murphy
Jun 19, 17 Raptors Weekly Podcast – Dreaming of PG Blake Murphy
Jun 18, 17 Sunday Open Thread RR
Jun 16, 17 Free agent mini-camp notes: Honeycutt, Inglis, and York highlight Day 2 Blake Murphy
Jun 15, 17 Free agent mini-camp notes: Jenkins, Early, Hunter headline loaded Day 1 Blake Murphy
Jun 15, 17 Raptors announce Summer League schedule Blake Murphy
Jun 13, 17 Draft Workout Notes: Thornwell, Bacon, lead Tuesday Group Anthony Doyle
Jun 12, 17 Raptors Weekly Podcast – How each Raptor can improve RR
Jun 9, 17 Raptors renounce rights to DeAndre Daniels Vivek Jacob
Jun 7, 17 Draft Workout Notes: Hayes, Anigbogu, and Jeanne Highlight Group Matt Shantz
Jun 6, 17 Draft workout notes: Iwundu, Robinson lead Tuesday group Anthony Doyle
Jun 6, 17 Hawaii will play host to Raptors Vivek Jacob
Jun 5, 17 Draft workout notes: Senior Day at Raptors Pre-Draft Workouts Spencer Redmond
Jun 5, 17 Raptors Weekly Podcast – New era, old problems RR
Jun 3, 17 Weekend Open Thread Zarar Siddiqi
Jun 2, 17 Report: Casey and DeRozan met with Lowry this week Blake Murphy
Jun 2, 17 Report: Raptors, Amir Johnson have mutual interest in a reunion Blake Murphy
Jun 1, 17 Lucas Nogueira is good, so where does he fit? Blake Murphy
May 31, 17 The Darkest Timeline Louis Zatzman
May 30, 17 Draft workout notes: Caleb Swanigan impresses as process trudges on Blake Murphy
May 29, 17 How do you define culture? Vivek Jacob
May 29, 17 Raptors Weekly Podcast – Draft preview RR
May 27, 17 Weekend Open Thread Blake Murphy
May 26, 17 Checking in on Nando De Colo and DeAndre Daniels Blake Murphy
May 25, 17 Raptors receive 2018 2nd-round pick for Weltman; can’t trade with Magic for a year Blake Murphy
May 25, 17 AUDIO: Dwane Casey says he’ll be coaching Raptors next year, talks culture reset Blake Murphy
May 25, 17 Updated draft rankings following withdrawal deadline Blake Murphy
May 23, 17 Draft workout notes: Justin Jackson leads Canadian-heavy group Blake Murphy
May 23, 17 VIDEO: Masai Ujiri talks Jeff Weltman departure Blake Murphy
May 22, 17 Magic hire Raptors’ GM Jeff Weltman as president of basketball operations Blake Murphy
May 22, 17 Draft workout notes: Brooks and Ojeleye headline intriguing session Blake Murphy
May 22, 17 Raptors Weekly Podcast – Same characters, different culture RR
May 20, 17 Long Weekend Open Thread Blake Murphy
May 19, 17 Offseason Mailbag: Villains, Serpents, and a whole lot of free agent scenarios Blake Murphy
May 19, 17 Raptors Season Recap RR
May 18, 17 DeMar DeRozan named to All-NBA Third-Team Blake Murphy
May 18, 17 Draft workout notes: T.J. Leaf gets stretch-four audition Blake Murphy
May 18, 17 VIDEO: Masai Ujiri accepts Honorary Doctorate from Ryerson Blake Murphy
May 17, 17 Draft workout notes: Lydon, Alkins, and Ennis headline opening session Blake Murphy
May 16, 17 Raptors ready for draft season Blake Murphy
May 15, 17 Raptors Weekly Podcast – Decisions, decisions Blake Murphy
May 13, 17 Weekend Open Thread Blake Murphy
May 12, 17 Kyle Lowry declines 2017-18 player option Blake Murphy
May 12, 17 RR Roundtable: Looking ahead to the offseason Blake Murphy
May 12, 17 RR Roundtable: Looking back on the 2016-17 season Blake Murphy
May 12, 17 This Raptors’ Era Matters Matt Shantz
May 12, 17 Raptors Weekly Extra Podcast, May 12 – Offseason preview Blake Murphy
May 11, 17 Raptors offseason not all difficult with decisions on Powell and VanVleet looming Blake Murphy
May 11, 17 The Case Against Serge Ibaka RR
May 10, 17 Does a ‘culture reset’ necessitate a coaching change? Blake Murphy
May 10, 17 The Case for Patrick Patterson Louis Zatzman
May 9, 17 VIDEO: Masai Ujiri end-of-season press conference Blake Murphy
May 9, 17 Masai Ujiri presser: Raptors need ‘culture reset,’ style change, everything on table Blake Murphy
May 9, 17 Kicking the Tires Anthony Doyle
May 9, 17 10 Things You Should Do Now That the Raptors Are Out Katie Heindl
May 9, 17 ‘Right’ path for Raptors might be a matter of perspective Blake Murphy
May 8, 17 VIDEO: Locker clean-out day interviews Blake Murphy
May 8, 17 Locker clean-out: Casey, Tucker, and Ibaka reflect, look ahead Blake Murphy
May 8, 17 Locker clean-out: Kyle Lowry will opt out, hasn’t thought beyond that Blake Murphy
May 8, 17 Locker clean-out: DeRozan thinks Raptors are close, won’t interfere with Lowry Blake Murphy
May 8, 17 What Did We Learn? Alex Gres
May 8, 17 Is Being Good, Good Enough? Cameron Dorrett
May 8, 17 Raptors don’t go down quietly, but they go down nonetheless Blake Murphy
May 8, 17 Morning Coffee – Mon, May 8 Sam Holako
May 8, 17 Raptors Weekly Podcast – Player grades for 2016-17 Blake Murphy
May 7, 17 Raptors-Cavaliers Game 4 Reaction Podcast – The end was inevitable Blake Murphy
May 7, 17 Post-game news & notes: Raptors can’t take step forward; Lowry could look West Blake Murphy
May 7, 17 Quick Reaction: Cavaliers 109, Raptors 102; Cavaliers win series 4-0 Anthony Doyle
May 7, 17 Pre-game news & notes: Kyle Lowry sits, P.J. Tucker starts Blake Murphy
May 7, 17 Pressing Pause Anthony Doyle
May 7, 17 Gameday: Cavaliers @ Raptors, Game 4, May 7 Blake Murphy
May 6, 17 Practice news & notes: Raptors facing elimination; Lowry ‘probably doubtful’ for Game 4 Blake Murphy
May 6, 17 The mental game Shyam Baskaran
May 6, 17 Raptors put up better fight, find themselves up against ropes anyway Blake Murphy
May 6, 17 Morning Coffee – Sat, May 6 Sam Holako
May 6, 17 Raptors-Cavaliers Game 3 Reaction Podcast – The merciful end is near Blake Murphy
May 5, 17 Post-game news & notes: Raptors liked their fight, promise more Sunday Blake Murphy
May 5, 17 Quick Reaction: Cavaliers 115, Raptors 94; Cavaliers lead series 3-0 Sam Holako
May 5, 17 Norman Powell returns to Game 3 after ankle injury scare Blake Murphy
May 5, 17 Pre-game news & notes: Lowry active but not starting; Valanciunas starts; Tavares given DPOY trophy Blake Murphy
May 5, 17 How do you measure respect? Vivek Jacob
May 5, 17 Shootaround news & notes: Lowry a game-time call, soft play ‘stops tonight’ Blake Murphy
May 5, 17 Stay Open Katie Heindl
May 5, 17 Judgement Night: A Double-Edged Moment of Truth Mike Nelson III
May 5, 17 Gameday: Cavaliers @ Raptors, Game 3, May 5 Tamberlyn Richardson
May 4, 17 Practice news & notes: Lowry misses practice, questionable for Game 3 Blake Murphy
May 4, 17 Dealing with Disappointment Anthony Doyle
May 4, 17 Let them bang their heads against the wall if they want to Blake Murphy
May 4, 17 Raptors run off the court in Cleveland, fall in 0-2 hole…again Blake Murphy
May 4, 17 Morning Coffee – Thu, May 4 Sam Holako
May 3, 17 Post-game news & notes: ‘We should be embarrassed, we should be angry’ Blake Murphy
May 3, 17 Raptors-Cavaliers Game 2 Reaction Podcast – Blown the #%$@ out Zarar Siddiqi
May 3, 17 Quick Reaction: Raptors 103, Cavaliers 125; Cavaliers lead series 2-0 Spencer Redmond
May 3, 17 Kyle Lowry returns to Game 2 after ankle injury scare, then exits Blake Murphy
May 3, 17 Pre-game news & notes: Powell and Patterson draw into starting lineup Blake Murphy
May 3, 17 Lessons in anticipation from the 905 for The 6ix Vivek Jacob
May 3, 17 Shootaround news & notes: ‘I think we’ll probably do something different’ Blake Murphy
May 3, 17 Gameday: Raptors @ Cavaliers, Game 2, May 3 Blake Murphy
May 3, 17 Raptors Need A Reset On Their Rotations Spencer Redmond
May 3, 17 Talking Raptors Podcast – S4 E18 – Round Two Nick Reynoldson
May 2, 17 Practice news & notes: ‘If it was easy, everybody would do it’ Blake Murphy
May 2, 17 Timely Adjustments Anthony Doyle
May 2, 17 Raptors can’t hesitate in making lineup changes Blake Murphy
May 2, 17 Hello Darkness, My Old Friend Louis Zatzman
May 2, 17 Morning Coffee – Tue, May 2 Sam Holako
May 1, 17 Post-game news & notes: Raptors ‘wouldn’t use the word dominate,’ Smith hurts thumb Blake Murphy
May 1, 17 Raptors-Cavaliers Reaction Podcast – Dominated in Game 1 (again) Zarar Siddiqi
May 1, 17 Quick Reaction: Raptors 105, Cavaliers 116; Cavaliers lead series 1-0 Cameron Dorrett
May 1, 17 Pre-game news & notes: Valanciunas returns to starting lineup Blake Murphy
May 1, 17 Shootaround news & notes: Lowry feeling better, LeBron looking to avoid layoff lag Blake Murphy
May 1, 17 Raptors-Cavaliers Mailbag: Rotations, assignments, priorities, and more Blake Murphy
May 1, 17 Gameday: Raptors @ Cavaliers, Game 1, May 1 Blake Murphy
May 1, 17 Raptors Weekly Podcast – Cavaliers series preview Blake Murphy
May 1, 17 Morning Coffee – Mon, May 1 Sam Holako
Apr 30, 17 Practice news & notes: Feeling great about yourself Blake Murphy
Apr 30, 17 Raptors-Cavaliers Series Preview: Outside perspectives & reader poll Blake Murphy
Apr 30, 17 Raptors-Cavaliers Series Preview: Raptors Republic Roundtable Blake Murphy
Apr 30, 17 Raptors-Cavaliers Series Preview: Q&A with the enemy Blake Murphy
Apr 29, 17 Practice news & notes: Bracing for challenge of LeBron, 905ers recalled for last time Blake Murphy
Apr 29, 17 A TMNT guide to Kyle Lowry Vivek Jacob
Apr 29, 17 Morning Coffee – Sat, Apr 29 Sam Holako
Apr 28, 17 There’s no ‘I’ in team, but there is a ‘W’ in we Vivek Jacob
Apr 28, 17 To Hell With Blowing It Katie Heindl
Apr 28, 17 Nervous scenes from a championship celebration Blake Murphy
Apr 28, 17 Seizing the Moment Anthony Doyle
Apr 28, 17 Raptors 905 to hold championship celebration Friday at noon at Celebration Square Blake Murphy
Apr 28, 17 Raptors close out Bucks early in most Raptors way imaginable Blake Murphy
Apr 27, 17 Post-game news & notes: Raptors ‘knew it wasn’t going to be easy,’ because it never is Blake Murphy
Apr 27, 17 VIDEO: Bruno Caboclo ties career-high with 31 points in D-League Championship Blake Murphy
Apr 27, 17 Raptors-Bucks Game 6 Reaction Podcast – Win at all costs Zarar Siddiqi
Apr 27, 17 Schedule for first 4 games of Raptors-Cavaliers released Blake Murphy
Apr 27, 17 Raptors assignees lead Raptors 905 to D-League Championship Blake Murphy
Apr 27, 17 Quick Reaction: Raptors 92, Bucks 89; Raptors win series 4-2 Spencer Redmond
Apr 27, 17 WATCH: DeMar DeRozan Monster Dunk Kills off Milwaukee Zarar Siddiqi
Apr 27, 17 Halftime Thoughts, Game 6: Halfway Home Zarar Siddiqi
Apr 27, 17 Pre-game news & notes: Can the Raptors finally close a series out early? Blake Murphy
Apr 27, 17 What We Have Anthony Doyle
Apr 27, 17 Breaking Down the Toronto Raptors 1st Quarter Offense in Game 5 Cooper Smither
Apr 27, 17 Odds Are in Toronto’s Court – Maybe Too Far In RR
Apr 27, 17 Noon Coffee – Thu, Apr 27 Sam Holako
Apr 27, 17 What potential Bucks adjustments could change for Game 6 Blake Murphy
Apr 27, 17 Gameday: Raptors @ Bucks, Game 6, April 27 Vivek Jacob
Apr 26, 17 Practice news & notes: Lowry’s ‘body’s fantastic,’ 905ers keep 3 assignees Blake Murphy
Apr 26, 17 Game 5 Mailbag: Bucks adjustments, Cavaliers look-ahead, and more Blake Murphy
Apr 26, 17 Fred VanVleet has gone from undrafted to Mr. Popular Vivek Jacob
Apr 26, 17 Becoming the playoff Norm Shyam Baskaran
Apr 26, 17 Morning Coffee – Wed, Apr 26 Sam Holako
Apr 26, 17 Talking Raptors Podcast – S4 E17 – Get Bucked. Nick Reynoldson
Apr 25, 17 Raptors 905 even D-League Finals, set up winner-take-all Game 3 on Thursday Blake Murphy
Apr 25, 17 Raptors 905’s Tavares and Toupane named to All-NBA D-League teams Blake Murphy
Apr 25, 17 Practice news & notes: Treating it like a Game 7; VanVleet joins 905 for Game 2 Blake Murphy
Apr 25, 17 The Centerpiece Anthony Doyle
Apr 25, 17 Game 5: On Dwane Casey, DeMarre Carroll, and the Raptors’ Ceiling Louis Zatzman
Apr 25, 17 Raptors Take 3-2 Series Lead Over Bucks With Game 5 Victory Spencer Redmond
Apr 25, 17 Morning Coffee – Tue, Apr 25 Sam Holako
Apr 24, 17 Post-game news & notes: Norman Powell Podium Game Blake Murphy
Apr 24, 17 Raptors-Bucks Game 5 Reaction Podcast – Norm Shears the Deer Zarar Siddiqi
Apr 24, 17 Quick Reaction: Bucks 93, Raptors 118; Raptors lead series 3-2 Matt Shantz
Apr 24, 17 WATCH: Norman Powell Destroys Thon Maker, Post-Game Interview Zarar Siddiqi
Apr 24, 17 Norman Powell at the Half: First Five Minutes of Third are Key Zarar Siddiqi
Apr 24, 17 Pre-game news & notes: Kyle Lowry and Khris Middleton will both play Blake Murphy
Apr 24, 17 Raptors Rotation Changes Key In Game Four Victory Spencer Redmond
Apr 24, 17 The Emotional Roller-Coaster Andrew Thompson
Apr 24, 17 Shootaround news & notes: Lowry has stiff back, Joseph and Middleton under the weather Blake Murphy
Apr 24, 17 No Pain, No Gain Alex Gres
Apr 24, 17 Gameday: Bucks @ Raptors, Game 5, April 24 Tamberlyn Richardson
Apr 24, 17 Breaking Down the 4th Quarter Defense in Game 4 Cooper Smither
Apr 24, 17 Raptors Weekly Podcast – Embracing the playoffs Blake Murphy
Apr 23, 17 Raptors 905 drop Game 1 of D-League Finals Blake Murphy
Apr 23, 17 Practice news & notes: Momentum vs. the curse of complacency, Game 6 time in question Blake Murphy
Apr 23, 17 Norman Powell answers the call with pivotal Game 4 performance Blake Murphy
Apr 23, 17 The ‘Change is Good’ game Cameron Dorrett
Apr 22, 17 Post-game news & notes: Raptors take back control with Powell adjustment, DeRozan bounce-back Blake Murphy
Apr 22, 17 Raptors-Bucks Game 4 Reaction Podcast – Advantage Toronto Zarar Siddiqi
Apr 22, 17 Quick Reaction – Raptors 87, Bucks 76 Gavin MacPherson
Apr 22, 17 DeMar DeRozan Post-Game on TNT: “It won’t happen twice” Zarar Siddiqi
Apr 22, 17 Pre-game news & notes: Norman Powell starts, Jonas Valanciunas to bench Blake Murphy
Apr 22, 17 Raptors 905 vs. Rio Grande Valley Vipers: Series Preview Blake Murphy
Apr 22, 17 Gameday: Raptors @ Bucks, Game 4, April 22 Blake Murphy
Apr 21, 17 Practice news & notes: Antetokounmpo is ‘not bad’ and also ‘really good’ Blake Murphy
Apr 21, 17 Ripping Off Our Rookies: A Lament Katie Heindl
Apr 21, 17 Game 3 Mailbag: Starting lineup changes, Stackhouse, Archie is bad, and more Blake Murphy
Apr 21, 17 The Talking Raptors Hotline Barry Taylor
Apr 21, 17 Where’s the Ball Movement? Cameron Dorrett
Apr 21, 17 Delon Wright Highlights in Game 3 vs Bucks Zarar Siddiqi
Apr 21, 17 FULL-COURT STRESS: Raptors Buck-le Under Game 3 Pressure Mike Nelson III
Apr 20, 17 Post-game news & notes: Raptors get ‘asses busted’ in an ‘ambush’ they expected Blake Murphy
Apr 20, 17 Raptors-Bucks Game 3 Reaction Podcast – WTF was that? Zarar Siddiqi
Apr 20, 17 Quick Reaction: Raptors 77, Bucks 104 Anthony Doyle
Apr 20, 17 Halftime Thoughts – Raptors/Bucks Game 3 – We’re getting killed (including Halftime Podcast) Zarar Siddiqi
Apr 20, 17 Raptors 905 D-League Finals schedule released Blake Murphy
Apr 20, 17 Pre-game news & notes: No Jurassic Park viewing party for Game 3 Blake Murphy
Apr 20, 17 Shootaround news & notes: Raptors looking to take home-court back Blake Murphy
Apr 20, 17 Personalized Mantras for Every Raptor to Repeat in Game 3 Katie Heindl
Apr 20, 17 The Team On His Back Gavin MacPherson
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VIDEO: Masai Ujiri pre-draft media session

Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri held his usual pre-draft media availability on Tuesday, during which he, of course, didn’t reveal a whole lot. You can read more here. And here’s the video:

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Masai Ujiri presser notes: Raptors prepared in any direction, not giving much away

Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri held his annual pre-draft media availability at BioSteel Centre on Tuesday, and it went about how most surely expected: Ujiri gave little away, but spoke with confidence as to his team’s preparedness for most any scenario that could arise in the coming weeks. What follows are some quick notes and quotes from the session.

Draft

  • On the draft’s importance: “With the way the new CBA is going, constructed, I feel that player development is something we have to pay attention to, so whatever young players or draft picks we have we have to pay attention to it. You never know when you’re going to hit with that or something pans out that will help your team in any kind of way. I want to say 23 is an asset but we concentrate on finding that player, the best possible player that we can, where we are picking.”
  • On a potential draft-and-stash: “We are comfortable either way.”
  • On keeping and using the pick: “Yeah, you know, today I feel comfortable. We’re in battling it out.”
  • On whether there’s room for another prospect: “Seventeen…We can have as many, to me it doesn’t bother me as long as we’re making progress and they’re getting better.”

Kyle Lowry & the league landscape

  • Lowry had just left the facility. He and Ujiri have been in contact, and while they can’t talk specifics of a contract, Ujiri sounds confident that Lowry wants to stay.
  • More specifically, on Lowry: “Form what he tweeted yesterday, yeah,, I think we are comfortable. Any direction we are going, I think we are prepared, that’s what I should say. We are very well prepared after studying it for a couple of months after the season has been over. I think we’re excited about our free agents and it goes the other way, we are excited, too. We have to prepare for all of that.”
  • On Bruce Arthur’s report“Well, he’s been a part of our organization and he says he wants to come back. Listen I know there is speculation … we all have ups and downs. There are times when he has been down and there are times when we are down. It happens to every team, every player. People go through it. This is rumour season and everyone is going to make a big deal out of everything. I know what Kyle has told me. Kyle has been here working out and he actually just left. I know what he has been telling me and I can only believe what he tells me, not the famous sources. We will see how that goes.”
  • On the current NBA chaos: “With all of these things going around, you make calls, you listen to calls and you see what fits your team. Leading up to the draft and on draft day, that’s another deadline that we work with on our side. Things will shake up a little bit and we’ll see how it affects the Raptors.”

Assorted

  • The Raptors had eight players in for the week last week, working out and playing together. The team’s quite excited about some of the player development. Jakob Poeltl and Pascal Siakam were in working out as Ujiri spoke.
  • On David Griffin being out in Cleveland: “It’s BS, by the way, how a guy like – I don’t know what goes on inside Cleveland and their organization, but for them to go to three straight finals and a guy doesn’t get that job, I don’t know, man. I have to speak up for our fellow GMs. I know the coaches would., I think they did a great job the last three years.”
  • On whether or not shooting can be developed: “I think Serge Ibaka is one of the best 3-pooint shooters as a big in the NBA. I would say he learned to shoot the three. When I knew him in Africa, he couldn’t shoot a two, and now he’s a 3-point shooter. So I think guys can become 3-point shooters. It’s a lot of work, but I think they can.”
  • Ujiri said he’s made a decision on the vacant general manager position but is sitting on it right now (likely until after the draft). He’ll have an announcement in the coming days. The guess here remains Bobby Webster.

So again, not a lot of useful information, but continued assurances that the team has a plan that we’ll see unfold in the next couple of weeks.

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Draft Week Mailbag: George scenarios, Fultz fallout, draft bigs, and more

We’re all basically sitting on our hands until draft night, or until the rumor mill shines a light on the Raptors (it probably won’t), so I figured an #RRMailbag to pass the time was a reasonable idea. We’ll continue to try to do mini-mailbags when time allows during the offseason, at least until they draw repetitive. You can find all of the previous editions of the mailbag here, if, for whatever reason, you wanted to read old mailbags.

Before we go ahead: A reminder that we have a Patreon page at patreon.com/RaptorsRepublic. If you appreciate the content we produce, want to support RR, and have the means to do so, any contribution is greatly appreciated and will help us continue to do what we do (and try to do even more). You can also follow me on Twitter for, uhh, tweets, and on Facebook for all of my writing/podcasting/radio stuff. Validate me. You can also ask me questions at any time using #RRMailbag, and I’ll be sure to include them in the next mailbag, no matter how long between.

Alright, let’s get this money.

Draft & Rumor Mill

Interest? Absolutely. Masai Ujiri has done well to continue improving the team while maintaining a strong asset base in part for the unlikely event a star becomes available and the Raptors can make themselves a player. The idea of landing George, even on a rental, would be intriguing to them, really maximizing the window for the current core, all but assuring Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka would stay (if the Raptors wanted both, which they surely would), and making Toronto a more legitimate threat to the Cavaliers, if not the Warriors. They’d also acquire George’s Bird rights, and while George-to-LA has a ton of steam and certainly makes sense (the idea of the player with the league’s best shoe landing in a massive market where it would get a huge push is a fun side-story, by the way), that fifth year and extra money is a big deal when push comes to shove.

Interest, however, is not the same as it being realistic. Going up and down the league, it’s hard to figure the Raptors could offer a package that makes them anywhere near the favorite, unless the Pacers are enamored with Jonas Valanciunas (which they might be, but Myles Turner projects best as a center, not in a pairing with a hulking interior center, particularly on defense). The Raptors don’t have a lottery pick or a high-value future pick to dangle, nor do they have the sort of blue-chip prospect that can get these deals done, and the Pacers are reportedly after a prospect, a pair of picks, and salary filler. The Cavaliers could probably acquire more assets by way of routing Kevin Love somewhere else, and the Lakers could put a swift end to things if they feel threatened enough about 2018 to send an asset out to get George a year early.

It’s fun to think on, though.

Honestly, I’d pretty much offer anything that doesn’t include DeMar DeRozan (Lowry and Ibaka are free agents, and I’m ruling out a sign-and-trade here because it wouldn’t make a world of sense). So the Pacers could have their choice of prospect (Norman Powell or Delon Wright, or one of last year’s rookies), picks (the Raptors have a first and second in every draft in perpetuity), and salary filler (Valanciunas is the only name that really works, unless the Raptors could somehow find a third team to take on DeMarre Carroll). The structure of any offer would likely be Valanciunas+prospect+two picks, and I’d be fine with any iteration of that, really (I’d probably try to protect any pick from 2019 onward, mind you). Unfortunately, Valanciunas-Powell-No. 23-2019 first probably doesn’t get it done, even for a rental of George, unless the Pacers really like Valanciunas.

(A note here: Powell is awesome and, at the league minimum, is a huge bargain and an attractive trade chip. I’m not giving him a ton of value in this trade scenario, though, as the Pacers would be rebuilding under a deal like this, and Powell is a restricted free agent at the end of 2017-18. Basically, the discount on his contract matters less in a rebuilding trade scenario, because the Pacers would be in line to pay him eight figures by the time they’re good again. He’s an important chip still, but the pending RFA status colors things a bit.)

My initial reaction to the trade of the No. 1 pick was that it wouldn’t have much of an impact on Lowry’s free agent situation. There are a few reasons for this, namely that I’m not convinced Philly was ever more than a leverage destination for Lowry. The pieces lined up, so it made sense to use the specter of a move there to increase his value, but Lowry’s timeline doesn’t match up well with the Sixers’ timeline, there’s no assurance Philly will be good while Lowry is still great, and so on. Even if he was legitimately interested in returning home, Fultz doesn’t change much for me – he’s 6-foot-4 or 6-foot-5, can play off the ball, is a strong shooter, and can likely defend some twos, and Lowry has plenty of experience playing alongside other guards. Philly also just needs talent regardless of immediate fit, and Fultz figures to be a pretty flexible building block. (That the Sixers intend to have Ben Simmons initiate a lot of the offense still speaks to this a bit.)

The bigger factor for me is that Bryan Colangelo said Monday that the Sixers will keep their cap flexibility in tact for 2018, when they can make a splash in a deeper free agent pool that better lines up with their timeline for contention. This always seemed more logical, anyway, but Colangelo confirming as much is helpful. (It also helps the Raptors by taking one public suitor for Lowry out of the discussion – appreciate you, Bryan.)

https://twitter.com/The_6ix_man/status/876869244524400642

You and I talked about this on Twitter, but for those unaware: At one point in May, Ivan Rabb had mentioned he had a workout coming up in Toronto. He was not, however, among the names that ended up visiting, and the Raptors had no off-site workouts this time around (or so I’m told). But with this process, things can change fairly quickly with factors like health, fatigue, logistical issues, and draft stocks, and there are usually a handful of players who have their schedules shaken up. In the case of the Raptors, they had a pair of potential first-round picks wind up missing a workout due to some combination of these factors, and another (Ike Anigbogu) who only did the interview portion due to injury. There was also a workout scrapped entirely late in the process.

These things happen. Luckily, the workouts are just a small part of the entire process. It’s unfortunate to not get a particular player in, but the team will still have plenty of information from college scouting, other interviews, the combine, pro/agency days, research, and so on.

Under Ujiri and company, the Raptors have pretty clearly shown they’ll take who they feel the best player available to them is, regardless of perceived fit or what the consensus rankings or mock drafts may say. Norman Powell didn’t necessarily fill a need, but they liked him. They followed the Delon Wright pick by signing Cory Joseph. They drafted a pair of bigs last year when they already had some young, interesting bigs on the roster. The player development side is all about talent acquisition and maximization, and so I think the Raptors will approach things from a best-player-available standpoint, up to a certain degree. Chad Ford is fond of talking about “draft tiers,” where teams will group prospects they like a fairly similar amount and then pick for need within those tiers if multiple players are left for them. In other words, they won’t reach down a tier just to get someone who fits better – there’s no sense leaving talent on the table, and rosters are too fluid to accurately project your specific needs when the rookie is eventually capable of contributing – but they’ll factor in fit and position if they’re choosing between players they like a roughly equal amount.

Now, which specific bigs they may be enamored enough with to disregard their overstock on bigs is unclear. They don’t really tip their hand in that regard. But they do already employ Jonas Valanciunas (25, with three years remaining on his deal), Jakob Poeltl (21, No. 9 pick a year ago), Pascal Siakam (23, No. 27), and Lucas Nogueira (24, one year from restricted free agency), and would like to retain Serge Ibaka (on what would be a medium-to-long term, high-priced deal). On the surface, it doesn’t look like picking a big makes sense. Again, though, they’ll look for the best talent available to them, and this draft is pretty deep with intriguing bigs, particularly where the Raptors might be picking.

In terms of those specific names, the Harry Giles question is one I can’t answer given a lack of access to his medical information. There’s obviously lottery-level talent there, but how likely a return to full health and a return to form is, that’s a question I can’t really answer. His agent also controls his destination a bit by way of access to medical information. Justin Patton has a really wide draft range owing to the apparent lack of athleticism to back up his size, and I’m not sure he’s an ideal fit with the way the Raptors want to play, however talented. At this point I’m not even sure Patton being there at No. 23 would be considered slipping, because team’s opinions are going to vary a lot with him. Jarrett Allen, I would imagine, is thought of highly enough that if he were around at No. 23, you grab that talented a player and worry about roster balance later – he’s pretty consistently considered a top-20 talent here, and with the 905 existing, the Raptors probably wouldn’t worry too much about him needing a year or two of seasoning.

The two names I’ve come back to a lot who figure to probably be available when the Raptors pick are Semi Ojeleye and Jordan Bell. I know Ojeleye probably doesn’t count as a big here since he’s a combo-forward. Bell, I like a lot, even if some might think he’s a bit of a reach at No. 23. Ike Anigbogu is intriguing if he slips, but his late green room invite suggests that probably won’t be the case. Jonah Bolden is really intriguing to me, too, as a guy I saw a lot of a year ago but much less so this year. The one name I really don’t want in that range is Tyler Lydon, if he counts as a big. I don’t have a strong opinion on Anzejs Pasecniks either way, he’s kind of right in the middle in that group (I mention him because I know you’re talking yourself into him). This is a brief response, but I’ll probably have a full ranking out on Thursday.

Raptors offseason

I’m going to assume I’m understanding your assumptions here: Serge Ibaka is retained, he’s played primarily at center (where he’s much better off at this point, rebounding be damned), the Raptors are trying to win now, and Jonas Valanciunas is shopped in order to try to lessen the luxury tax bill and because of the planned usage for Ibaka. This, by the way, is my guess for how things would play out if Lowry opts to return.

The first matter is finding somewhere for Valanciunas, which isn’t easy. As I’ve written a bunch, it’s not necessarily a dig on Valanciunas, who is worth his deal in a vacuum, plays (and accepts) his role quite well, is an elite screen-setter, and is literally never discussed reasonably by his supporters or detractors. Valanciunas is a fine young center and a useful piece. But he’s a poor fit with the way the Raptors seem to want to play on the defensive end, he’s somewhat redundant if Ibaka is retained given the cache of young bigs also on the roster, and because he’s useful, he potentially offers the most financial flexibility without simply giving something away. The issue here is that the market for centers is pretty flooded and recent precedent suggests the Raptors wouldn’t get “fair” value for the Lithuanian. I don’t have a good answer for “who,” mostly because it’s very early in the offseason (and in part because the draft is deep on bigs, confusing things further).

If they find a home for Valanciunas, yes, it would be nice to get another power forward. They would still be able to cobble together minutes there – Ibaka would still play there as needed, Pascal Siakam should be a bit better in Year Two, and if the team retained P.J. Tucker or Patrick Patterson, there’s another option there. The draft has a few interesting combo-forwards or combo-bigs in that range, too, though you can’t really pencil a late-first rookie for contributions out of the gate. If they look to add at the position, it will have to be through the draft or bargain hunting – the Raptors will have moved Valanciunas for tax relief in this scenario, meaning they’ll be looking at the mini-mid-level to add a piece, which doesn’t even get you into the Patterson tier of fours on the market.

A lot of assumptions here. Please keep in mind the response to questions is just scenario analysis.

I would add Siakam to your list of bigs, too, as I’m a believer that he’s best off as a five, too, even though he can obviously play the four as well. You need five bigs over the course of a season, but it would seem an inefficient distribution of resources in the modern NBA to employ three true centers and two power forwards who can also play center, three of whom are first-round picks on their rookie deals and another two of whom would be under big contracts. And that’s before mentioning that the draft has a lot of interesting bigs where the Raptors are set to select.

Basically, I don’t think there’s a scenario in which it makes sense to retain both Ibaka and Valanciunas. From there, I think you can carry the other young bigs without much issue thanks to the presence of the 905 and how inexpensive their deals are.

As for the point guards, I’m more comfortable with some redundancy there given how much each player has shown the ability to play in multi-guard lineups, how important even moderately effective shooting is, and the fact that Joseph and Wright would probably stand as interesting in-season trade chips if further balancing was needed own the line. It’s entirely conceivable one of them moves before then, and Joseph may be the Raptors’ best means of landing a shooter on the trade market, but you’re fine with four guards on a 15-man (0r 17-man, as it were) roster.

I really have to hand it to Jeff. The number of times he’s asked about or tweeted about Brady Heslip is exceeded only by the number of threes Heslip hit this season. And look, Heslip is great – he’s very likely the best shooter in the world not in the NBA, he improved noticeably as a point guard with the 905 this season, and he seems like the kind of guy the two-way roster spots that are coming was designed for. The reality, though, is that Heslip has been an elite shooter forever, and he’s now 27 and still hasn’t gotten a look from an NBA team. He was available to the entire league all season long. And, probably most important for his NBA prospects, the 905 moved him to the bench in the postseason in part for defensive reasons at the one (his scoring punch off the bench factored in, too, to be fair).

I understand why you ask so often, though. In the modern NBA, you’d think a high-volume sharpshooter would have a spot at the end of a bench. Maybe the expansion to 17 (15 and two one-thirds?) roster spots this year gets him a look. From Heslip’s perspective, there will be substantial contract offers overseas to weigh heavily, too. He’s such an interesting test case for where the line is in terms of having one elite NBA skill but not getting a chance.

I think we’re maybe assuming a little too much about the reasoning behind Masai Ujiri’s decision here. Ujiri has very rarely hesitated to do anything – he’s come into organizations and made sweeping changes, he’s dealt players shortly after re-signing them, he’s tweaked coaching staffs promptly, and so on. To ascribe his continued commitment to Casey to some sort of flaw within Ujiri that he hasn’t exhibited anywhere else is probably an attribution error. The reality is that Ujiri evaluated the situation, had faith that Casey can make some system tweaks, and decided to give it another year (alternatively, maybe he just didn’t like the coaching options available on the market, or some confluence of factors). I’m not sure I agree with the decision entirely, but that’s not the same as thinking there’s some flaw with Ujiri’s process that’s led to a decision I’m not one thousand percent behind.

Were it to wind up being true that Ujiri had some hesitation in moving on from Casey, rather than simply deciding he’s the best person for the job, then it would be more weakness than strength. Rigidity isn’t particularly flattering in an ever-changing environment. But again, I don’t believe that to be the case here.

It’s not really a realistic scenario. As I’ve written about a bunch, the Raptors will have next to know recourse for replacing Lowry if he leaves. If Lowry walks and even two of the other three free agents are retained, the Raptors are looking at only the mid-level exception to play on the free agent market, and that probably doesn’t get you Patty Mills unless you’re the Spurs. If the Raptors let all four free agents walk, they could find their way to about $20 million in cap space, but the more cap space you carve out, the less sense it will make to spend it on a veteran rather than taking a flier on a young player. Basically, if Lowry leaves, the succession plan at point guard is going to be what they have with maybe one mid-level addition, which is a big part of why the “they can be just as good or better without Lowry” arguments don’t hold much water (that, and the fact that he’s their best 3-point shooter, highest-volume 3-point shooter, and best creator of threes for others as the team looks to add more threes to their offense).

Anyway, in another offseason, it’s a fun thought experiment, toying with different “replacement” levels and costs. But the Raptors are capped out even without Lowry, a big part of his leverage.

Raptors miscellaneous

Is Bruno Caboclo better than DeMarre Carroll right now? No. And he probably won’t be to start next year, either.

This isn’t meant as a dig at Caboclo, who is still young and in the development stage of his career. Caboclo has taken some really nice strides on the defensive end of the floor, and as he continues to fill out (and grow), I think he’s probably pretty close to being an NBA-level defender at the forward positions. His individual defense improved a lot this year, as did his team defense, particularly in help-and-recover or help-the-helper scenarios, some of the tougher things to iron out once a raw player tries to get past “use my length wildly.” Overall, though, Caboclo needs to come quite a ways on offense. He has a nice stroke, but his 3-point shot hasn’t fallen with a ton of regularity in a fairly large sample, his ball skill isn’t close to an NBA level, and opponents would load up off of him and then scramble out to him beyond the arc, forcing him to put the ball on the floor. There remains room for optimism with Caboclo, even in the nearer-term, but his role for 2017-18 probably tops out as occasional bench player with some continued D-League time.

It’s also a bit of a vote of tepid confidence in Carroll. Carroll’s fallen on hard times, to be sure, and I understand the dissipated patience in him returning to his Hawks-caliber self. At age 30 with the injury history he has, he might not ever get back there. But Carroll’s also a bit removed from real injury now, and the team has talked up their faith in his ability to get back at least somewhere closer to his previous form. They have to say that, obviously, but an offseason without a recovery to worry about (and the requisite time off it necessitated) should be good for him. He’s still a decent defender against some player types and his 3-point shooting should regress closer to his career norm.

The Raptors would probably prefer to find a home for Carroll to save on luxury tax, but that’s unlikely to happen without paying a team to take him. Instead, they may be left hoping for the best, treating the $30.2 million still owed to him as a sunk cost, and seeing if he can capably transition to a bench role if he doesn’t have a bounce-back to start the season.

(This is assuming the Raptors try to remain competitive. Were they to blow it up, yeah, Caboclo probably has a huge role.)

The easiest way off the treadmill is to stop trying to move forward altogether. It hurts, but if the Raptors want to break free from a continued existence in the league’s meaty second tier, the easiest path to doing so is to move backward into a lower tier. That is, tanking, or “rebuilding” if you prefer a less objectionable turn. It would look something like this, and it would be painful. The path to moving forward off of the treadmill just isn’t really there without a franchise-altering prospect, significant salary cap flexibility, or obvious trade assets for a star.

Taking a big step backward isn’t palatable for some. For others, it’s the only reasonable approach forward. Both sides have a legitimate, justifiable case for their preference. If the craziness of the last week has shown anything, it’s that there are good arguments for both sides. The Sixers cashing in some assets for an even brighter near-term future shows just how exciting a rebuild can be as it rounds into form, and how much optimism there can be if things break even remotely right. The Celtics and Sixers both being set up to strike a few years down the line (or sooner) is a reminder that Cleveland or otherwise, there will almost always be a top team in your way when you’re ready. The mess that is the Cavaliers is a reminder that there’s value in staying ready to strike in the now, because the league’s power balance can change on a moment’s notice.

The NBA is hard. Being on the treadmill is a place a lot of teams would love to be. There’s value in it, especially when you a) have never been there before, and b) haven’t been there that long, really. There’s no certainty trying to get off won’t just have you back in the same spot a little later down the line, anyway. But maybe it does. Again, your mileage (get it?) on a treadmill will vary, and there’s no right or wrong way to feel.

I’m going to use the best individual seasons of Raptors here. What I mean is: I can’t take Tracy McGrady’s best season with the Magic or Rockets. I’m only grabbing the best Raptors at those snapshots in time. And to be clear, I’m not building this team to be just the best eight players, I’m building it specifically in an attempt to try to beat this Warriors team.

PG: Kyle Lowry, 2015-16
SG: DeMar DeRozan, 2016-17
SF: Vince Carter, 2000-01
PF: Donyell Marshall, 2003-04
C: Chris Bosh, 2007-08
Guard: Jose Calderon, 2007-08
Wing: Doug Christie, 1996-97
Big: Antonio Davis, 2000-01

You could probably go with Damon Stoudamire’s 1996-97 season in Calderon’s place, but I opted for shooting over non-disasters on defense. I might not even with Mike James’ ether season, or Lou Williams’ Sixth Man year, given the need for scoring. You could go with Amir Johnson in 2012-13 or 2013-14 in Davis’ place, too. What gets really tough with the Raptors is that after the fairly obvious Lowry/DeRozan/Carter/Bosh inclusions, you’re dealing with players who either didn’t sustain that level too long (Marshall), are mostly one-way players (Calderon), don’t fit the matchup (Jonas Valanciunas), weren’t who they’d become yet (McGrady), and so on. Don’t sleep on how insane Marshall’s 2003-04 was, by the way.

I think you could go a lot of different ways with this. Interested to hear other people’s top-eight.

Non-Raptors miscellaneous

False. I’m all for poking fun at Isaiah Thomas, but this is a few steps too far. Thomas is too legitimately good, and has and will sustain it too long, for the shady James Ellsworth comp. Now, if you wanted to give Thomas a comparison of a cruiserweight who had a short-lived and unsuccessful run at the top (think Chris Sabin in TNA, or even Rey Mysterio when not opposite Eddie Guerrero), I’m all for that. But our hate-hard cross-sport comps have to at least be somewhat fair. I thought way too long about who is deserving of the Ellsworth nod and came up empty. I can hate hard, but not that hard.

https://twitter.com/Cam_From_Canada/status/876976608115961856

Now here is a guy worthy of an Ellsworth comp. I’m not sure what’s next for Rougned Odor, and I’m going to make the smart career move and censor myself here about all things Texas Rangers.

I’m done season one! Eric and I will probably discuss it on the Raptors Reasonablists podcast later today (with better audio quality, I hope – sorry). I’ve liked it. It’s not surprising, given my affinity for other Rob Thomas shows, his naming tropes, his recurring actors, and so on. I think, understandably, me watching Veronica Mars for the first time now, way after, at age 31, lessens it’s resonation a bit compared to those who had an earlier attachment to it, but it’s quite good. I really liked the way they paced and structured the big storyline over the course of the season while using the individual episode arcs to build a really strong “universe” for the series. By the end of the season, as characters weave back in and out, the show plays off itself and it’s canon really well. I started season two, and while I’ve heard it’s not as good, I could see that elaborate universe helping carry a less encapsulating overall storyline. (I need more Wallace basketball storylines though.)

Anyway, thanks to you and Eric for pushing it on me. It’s a nice follow up to last summer’s first watch of The OC.

The annual Raptors Republic 3-on-3 tournament is shaping up to be pretty awesome. There will be a post on it later this week opening up slots for sign-up. As a bit of a teaser, there will be four teams represented by Toronto/Raptors-adjacent media. As for bracketing, I’m always torn on how to do this: To force those feuds or hope they play out naturally. Last year, I organized the group stage blind (no team names) based on self-ratings and size to try to create the most even playing field…but then I didn’t get to break Reynolds’ ankles or dunk on Woodley. I think this year I’ll make sure I get to go against at least one of Will & The Defeated, Alex Wong, or theScore crew.

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

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Raptors Weekly Extra Podcast, June 20 – Draft Preview Pt. 1

The Extra returns with a pair of guests to begin previewing Thursday’s draft.

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Report: Kyle Lowry had been ‘grumbling about dissatisfaction,’ things sounded bleak in mid-May

Just under two weeks from the beginning of free agency, the NBA is going haywire with news and rumors. Things have been mostly quiet with the Toronto Raptors, but the incomparable Bruce Arthur may have changed that in his column in The Toronto Star on Monday evening.

In writing about the Raptors’ position in an Eastern Conference-in-flux, Arthur provides some pretty striking – and yet-to-be-reported – details on the free agency of one Kyle Lowry. Lowry will become an unrestricted free agent on July 1 after declining to exercise his player option, and Arthur’s reporting from early in the offseason paints a pretty worrisome picture for those hoping the Raptors retain their point guard.

From Arthur:

Kyle Lowry is a free agent, and multiple league sources say the all-star point guard has been grumbling about dissatisfaction with the Raptors for months. As of mid-May other teams were being told Lowry had “zero interest” in returning to Toronto, even if the Raptors offered a maximum five-year deal. Which since the club had no intention of offering a five-year deal probably made Lowry’s declaration easier to make.

There’s a ton to unpack here.

  • “grumbling about dissatisfaction with the Raptors for months” – This isn’t all that surprising. Lowry doesn’t exactly hide his emotions well, or even attempt to, and it was plainly obvious that he was upset with how the season ended. You can even trace it back further than that, to before the trade deadline, when Lowry made not-so-veiled comments about the need for better adjustments, or in his contentious justification of playing through his injury at the All-Star break. Lowry is generally cantankerous, and his heart-on-his-sleeve approach can’t always be taken at face value in the immediate term. This isn’t the end of the world.
  • teams were being told Lowry had “zero interest” in returning to Toronto” – Okay, this is a much bigger deal. Again, Lowry is Lowry, so these proclamations have to be taken with a grain of salt, and mid-May would have been the peak of Lowry’s dissatisfaction. That’s before Dwane Casey and DeMar DeRozan went to Oakland to meet with him, before there was any chance of a cooling-down period after the end of the playoff run, and so on. The NBA landscape has changed, too, with Philadelphia and the Clippers in particular seeming like less likely destinations than they maybe were a few weeks ago. There’s also some chance there’s a modicum of posturing here as Lowry, short on leverage destinations, works to maximize his earnings. Still, hearing this is pretty striking, and it’s not the greatest of signs.
  • “as of mid-May” – Again, this is the most important part of what Arthur is reporting, and a piece of context that seems to be getting lost on Twitter.
  • “the club had no intention of offering a five-year deal” – This is probably the most important of the notes Arthur provides. If the Raptors aren’t willing to offer a fifth year – a reasonable position given Lowry’s age, injury history, and potential salary – then negotiations become a lot more narrow. The Raptors can offer more over four years than any other team still, but the financial advantage shrinks significantly without a fifth year to dangle. It’s also the first we’ve heard from Toronto (non-Woj division) beyond the fairly standard “we’d like to have him back” stuff. It’s interesting, and may be indicative that the Raptors have a cap on just how all-in they’re willing to go in terms of trading future flexibility to maximize the current window.

If this all seems incredibly negative, there’s more context that settles things down a bit. Again, this is what Arthur was hearing about what Lowry was saying. Things have shifted some since as the league gets some semblance of its market, and Lowry himself told TSN 1050 last week that he loves “everything about this city,” putting it on par or above every other NBA city. That’s the city, not necessarily the franchise, and it’s a public proclamation versus a private one. Again, grains of salt and all. In wrapping up, Arthur also provides that the Raptors are “used to it by now” with respect to Lowry’s mercurial approach to things.

For additional context, here’s Adrian Wojnarowski on The Vertical Podcast last week (Woj is close with Lowry and almost always has Lowry news first, historically):

They’d like to bring back both of them. I think that it may be more of a – it’s going to be a negotiation – it’s not a question of do we want him, do we not want him, it’s gonna be what number are we bringing them back? It’s free agency, and guys can look around. I’ve had this conversation with Kyle a few times. He’s talked to me about what it would mean to, you know, he made his career in Toronto. Toronto’s the place where he became an All-Star, it’s the place where he established roots, and stopped being a journeyman in the league. He knows that if he signs another deal in Toronto and plays his career out here, he’s gonna be a guy who’s gonna have his number retired there and he’s going to have a post-basketball life in Canada, if that’s something that he wanted. He’s a popular player there. So there’s lots of reasons for Kyle to stay, but again, it gets back to, what’s the number?

There’s also this, from Lowry himself, in response to the tweetstorm that followed Arthur’s article:

What, exactly, to make of all of this is unclear, and if it feels like there’s more to the story that will likely come out, that’s almost surely the case. The truth is probably that neither side knows for sure yet exactly what will happen on July 1, with the league landscape threatening to shift dramatically before free agency even opens, and Lowry’s own market still unclear. If Chris Paul stays in L.A., Bryan Colangelo is earnest in saying the Sixers want to keep their cap space for 2018, and the Spurs aren’t interested, as reported, Lowry is pretty thin on alternative destinations that can offer a combination of money and competitiveness.

Houston is probably the single biggest threat now, a pretty perfect basketball fit and a team that can find its way to the necessary cap space without too much difficulty without sacrificing their attractiveness to Lowry. Whether there’s interest on either side is unclear, and again, things change so quickly that another team could wind up looking like a reasonable fit. The Raptors still probably remain the most likely single destination, but they might not be favored against the field as a whole.

Nothing is clear, because it’s not really supposed to be right now. Lowry loves the city but wants to win and wants to be paid handsomely. The Raptors want to keep Lowry and remain competitive but only at what they feel is a good price that doesn’t sacrifice too much down the line. This is what free agency is, and in this particular case things seem especially touchy because both sides have legitimate reasons to continue together or go separate ways, and because the current air of inevitability in the league (shaky though it may now seem in the East) colors things in a peculiar way.

So, I guess, make of it all what you will.

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Recalibrating for draft week

So, that was some NBA weekend. The No. 1 pick is being traded within the Atlantic Division, Paul George could be on the move, and the NBA’s 365-day-a-year chaos machine continues to churn out entertainment.

From the Toronto Raptors perspective, not a lot of this resonates in a material way. George being on the market is fun to think on, but even on a one-year rental, the Raptors probably can’t make an offer competitive enough to beat the market (there are some three-way scenarios they could maybe get involved in, mind you). The Sixers-Celtics swap doesn’t necessarily make a dramatic difference, either – the Celtics keep their war-chest well-stocked and the 76ers continue to look dangerous in the not-so-distant future, but both of those things were true anyway, there’s just a shift in asset timeline. If nothing else, it’s a reminder that there will always be someone in your way, but whether that makes blowing things up more or less justifiable is a matter of personal perspective. And as for the impact on Kyle Lowry’s free agency, I actually don’t see the deal making a huge difference – while the Sixers now have a point guard, he’s 6-foot-5, Lowry’s played off the ball a ton, too, and Philly can make a more compelling case that they’ll be good soon. I don’t think Lowry going there is exceptionally likely, but I don’t think the odds have changed dramatically here.

Again, it’s been fun, but nothing has happened that’s all that tangible for your Raptors. After a few mostly quiet weeks, things figure to heat up now. The NBA Draft takes place on Thursday, with media availability with president Masai Ujiri on Tuesday to further set the table for that, and free agency and Las Vegas Summer League will follow in short order. The biggest questions facing the Raptors trickle from one big free agency decision, but for the present week, it’s all eyes on the draft board.

As usual with the Raptors, it’s a little difficult to get a handle on what they may be thinking. We know based on management precedent that the Raptors care not for consensus rankings and won’t shy away from taking their guy, whoever that may be at No. 23. They’ve tepidly talked of potentially trading into the second round for another pick, too. There’s always the chance the pick could be moved, as well (more on that later this week). Not only is the usual quiet out of the Raptors camp difficult to shine light on, but the team picking so late in the first round means that rumors are mostly scarce right now, and that a whole lot hinges on how a very wide-open draft plays out before their pick. The spread on some prospects, particularly after the top six or top 11 or 12 (depending on who you ask, this draft falls off after a certain point and remains good but with varying opinions on who belongs in the next class) makes it especially hard to peg down who could be available.

What we do know is that the Raptors brought in 51 players for pre-draft workouts. It’s just one small part of the entire draft process, but it’s the one we get the most information on. As always, the Raptors only have a certain amount of control over who they could bring in and when – lottery picks aren’t going to work out for a team with the No. 23 pick, travel and logistics factor in, a few players pulled out with injury, and so on. Unlike last year, the Raptors have not held an off-site workout, though they have attended some agency-run pro/camp days. (There are occasionally rumblings of private workouts, as there were last year, but that doesn’t seem to be the case for Toronto this time around). And again, those single-day workouts are just a sliver, an intimate but not necessarily predictive part of a vast information-gathering process. It’s nothing worth fretting about or trying to get clear answers from.

Still, it’s all we know. Here’s a look at the 51 players the Raptors brought in to BioSteel Centre:

Player Date Note Average High Low
Ike Anigbogu 17-May Interview only 20.4 15 28
T.J. Leaf 17-May 29.1 20 40
Semi Ojeleye 17-May 32.3 20 71
Tyler Lydon 17-May 33.7 17 49
Caleb Swanigan 17-May 34.1 27 45
Johnathan Motley 18-May 47.7 35 99
Dillon Brooks 18-May 49.6 38 77
Devin Robinson 22-May 50.0 36 94
Wesley Iwundu 22-May 50.1 23 105
Jonathan Jeanne 22-May Medical condition 50.1 15 93
Tyler Dorsey 22-May 51.6 42 73
Kyle Kuzma 22-May 53.0 43 89
Sindarius Thornwell 22-May 53.8 41 80
P.J. Dozier 7-Jun 54.8 38 105
Damyean Dotson 23-May 60.1 55 70
Kobi Simmons 23-May 61.1 45 82
Dwayne Bacon 23-May 64.6 51 105
Nigel Hayes 23-May 71.6 59 80
Kennedy Meeks 23-May 72.9 36 92
Isaiah Briscoe 23-May 84.4 67 105
Isaac Humphries 30-May 85.3 49 105
Troy Caupain 30-May 96.3 44 105
Antonius Cleveland 30-May 96.7 85 105
Austin Nichols 30-May 96.9 74 105
Chance Comanche 30-May 100.1 88 105
T.J. Williams 30-May 103.0 98 105
Justin Jackson 17-May Withdraw N/A N/A N/A
Rawle Alkins 5-Jun Withdraw N/A N/A N/A
Jonathan Williams 5-Jun Withdraw N/A N/A N/A
Markis McDuffie 6-Jun Withdraw N/A N/A N/A
MiKyle McIntosh 6-Jun Withdraw N/A N/A N/A
Dylan Ennis 5-Jun N/R N/R N/R
Jeremy Hollowell 5-Jun N/R N/R N/R
Rashawn Thomas 5-Jun N/R N/R N/R
Tyler Cavanaugh 5-Jun N/R N/R N/R
Xavier Rathan-Mayes 6-Jun N/R N/R N/R
Sebastian Saiz 6-Jun N/R N/R N/R
Nate Britt 6-Jun N/R N/R N/R
Scoochie Smith 6-Jun N/R N/R N/R
Matt Jones 7-Jun N/R N/R N/R
Jordan Matthews 7-Jun N/R N/R N/R
Matt Thomas 7-Jun N/R N/R N/R
Justin Tuoyo 7-Jun N/R N/R N/R
JJ Frazier 7-Jun N/R N/R N/R
Quinton Hooker 7-Jun N/R N/R N/R
Hassan Martin 13-Jun N/R N/R N/R
Paul Watson 13-Jun N/R N/R N/R
Kasey Hill 13-Jun N/R N/R N/R
Luke Fischer 13-Jun N/R N/R N/R
Seth Allen 13-Jun N/R N/R N/R
Naz Mitrou-Long 13-Jun N/R N/R N/R

Notable here is that, compared to earlier posts like this, several of the names the Raptors worked out have climbed the rankings. Some have fallen, too, but a handful of the “unranked” names people gave the “Who He Play For” treatment to in our draft write-ups have since started appearing on top-100 lists. That doesn’t mean they’re on the radar at No. 23, of course, but it does suggest that the wide net the Raptors have cast in this process to potentially unearth some undrafted free agent gems are gathering momentum.

As a look back, here are our workout notes from each session. (As a side-note, no player came in for a second workout this year.)

  • May 17: Dylan Ennis, T.J. Williams, Rawle Alkins, Jeremy Hollowell, Rashawn Thomas, Tyler Lydon
  • May 18: T.J. Leaf, Tyler Cavanaugh
  • May 22: Tyler Dorsey, Kobi Simmons, Dillon Brooks, Semi Ojeleye, Markis McDuffie, Jonathan Williams
  • May 23: Isaiah Briscoe, Xavier Rathan-Mayes, Justin Jackson, MiKyle McIntosh, Sebastian Saiz, Jonathan Motley
  • May 30Nate Britt, Scoochie Smith, Damyean Dotson, Antonius Cleveland, Caleb Swanigan, Austin Nichols
  • June 5Matt Jones, Jordan Matthews, Matt Thomas, P.J. Dozier, Justin Tuoyo, Kennedy Meeks
  • June 6Wesley Iwundu, Devin Robinson, J.J. Frazier, Quinton Hooker, Hassan Martin, Paul Watson
  • June 7Kasey Hill, Troy Caupain, Nigel Hayes, Kyle Kuzma, Ike Anigbogu, Jonathan Jeanne, Luke Fischer
  • June 13: Sindarius Thornwell, Seth Allen, Naz Mitrou-Long, Dwayne Bacon, Chance Comanche, Isaac Humphries

Here’s an updated look at the rankings from Chad Ford of ESPN, DraftExpress, The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor, and Joshua Riddell, plus Kevin Pelton‘s statistical rankings. If a player was not ranked by Ford, DX, or Riddell, they received a 105 (O’Connor’s rankings only go to 60). Pelton’s rankings were weighted less in the average, and some players did not have sufficient statistical data for him to give a ranking to.

Rank Player Ford Express O’Connor Riddell Pelton Average High Low
1 Markelle Fultz 1 1 1 1 4 1.3 1 4
2 Lonzo Ball 2 2 3 3 1 2.3 1 3
3 Jonathan Isaac 6 9 5 4 2 5.6 2 9
4 Jayson Tatum 4 4 2 7 28 6.9 2 28
5 Josh Jackson 3 3 6 2 34 6.9 2 34
6 Dennis Smith 8 7 8 9 6 7.8 6 9
7 De’Aaron Fox 5 5 4 5 38 8.4 4 38
8 Malik Monk 7 6 7 8 32 9.8 6 32
9 Zach Collins 9 17 15 6 5 11.0 5 17
10 Lauri Markkanen 10 8 13 13 13 11.2 8 13
11 Frank Ntilikina 11 10 9 10 23 11.4 9 23
12 OG Anunoby 13 14 11 16 7 12.8 7 16
13 Donovan Mitchell 15 11 10 14 25 13.9 10 25
14 John Collins 16 12 20 17 12 15.8 12 20
15 Luke Kennard 14 13 12 26 31 17.9 12 31
16 Jarrett Allen 18 18 19 11 35 18.6 11 35
17 Justin Patton 21 28 14 15 21 19.7 14 28
18 Ike Anigbogu 19 15 28 19 22 20.4 15 28
19 Anzejs Pasecniks 26 21 17 24 33 23.2 17 33
20 Terrance Ferguson 17 24 24 30 23.8 17 30
21 Jawun Evans 30 29 22 12 37 24.8 12 37
22 Isaiah Hartenstein 29 19 44 20 24.9 19 44
23 Harry Giles 12 26 31 29 42 26.4 12 42
24 D.J. Wilson 28 23 18 27 47 26.6 18 47
25 Tony Bradley 22 40 30 28 9 27.7 9 40
26 Justin Jackson 25 16 26 25 78 29.1 16 78
27 T.J. Leaf 20 36 40 22 26 29.1 20 40
28 Bam Adebayo 23 34 27 23 50 29.3 23 50
29 Derrick White 41 25 25 32 43 32.1 25 43
30 Semi Ojeleye 34 20 21 35 71 32.3 20 71
31 Josh Hart 37 51 35 21 8 32.9 8 51
32 Tyler Lydon 33 22 49 39 17 33.7 17 49
33 Caleb Swanigan 32 27 32 40 45 34.1 27 45
34 Ivan Rabb 24 30 33 49 48 35.6 24 49
35 Jordan Bell 31 35 29 37 69 37.0 29 69
36 Mathias Lessort 49 32 41 34 40 39.1 32 49
37 Monte Morris 36 61 60 18 3 39.2 3 61
38 Alec Peters 39 31 58 44 16 40.0 16 58
39 Frank Jackson 27 33 37 69 39 41.2 27 69
40 Jonah Bolden 40 44 16 52 68 41.3 16 68
41 Thomas Bryant 50 37 48 55 18 44.2 18 55
42 Cameron Oliver 48 55 38 50 41 47.0 38 55
43 Sterling Brown 45 45 34 59 58 47.1 34 59
44 Johnathan Motley 35 39 43 48 99 47.7 35 99
45 Edmond Sumner 38 54 57 36 73 49.2 36 73
46 Dillon Brooks 43 38 54 77 49.6 38 77
47 Devin Robinson 46 49 36 47 94 50.0 36 94
48 Wesley Iwundu 54 53 23 43 105 50.1 23 105
49 Jonathan Jeanne 93 42 33 15 50.1 15 93
50 Tyler Dorsey 44 47 42 73 52 51.6 42 73
51 Frank Mason 42 41 50 62 83 52.6 41 83
52 Kyle Kuzma 47 43 46 58 89 53.0 43 89
53 Sindarius Thornwell 59 57 45 41 80 53.8 41 80
54 P.J. Dozier 53 52 51 38 105 54.8 38 105
55 Alpha Kaba 61 66 53 30 55.7 30 66
56 Davon Reed 57 62 39 76 53 57.9 39 76
57 L.J. Peak 84 46 47 31 105 57.9 31 105
58 Jaron Blossomgame 62 50 59 42 100 58.4 42 100
59 Aleksandar Vezenkov 87 65 51 11 59.6 11 87
60 Damyean Dotson 55 59 56 70 61 60.1 55 70
61 Kobi Simmons 52 76 45 82 61.1 45 82
62 Chris Boucher 56 86 65 24 62.6 24 86
63 V.J. Beachem 66 67 55 64 64 63.1 55 67
64 Dwayne Bacon 51 74 52 61 105 64.6 51 105
65 Andrew White 71 68 53 57 85 64.8 53 85
66 Luke Kornet 77 69 71 27 65.9 27 77
67 Vlatko Cancar 105 56 46 56 67.1 46 105
68 Nigel Hayes 64 80 77 59 71.6 59 80
69 Derrick Walton Jr. 68 73 105 14 72.3 14 105
70 Kennedy Meeks 63 92 82 36 72.9 36 92
71 Kadeem Allen 73 64 67 105 73.3 64 105
72 Nigel Williams-Goss 74 58 81 88 73.4 58 88
73 Melo Trimble 70 84 78 54 74.0 54 84
74 Eric Mika 60 82 105 57 78.7 57 105
75 Isaiah Hicks 58 60 105 105 78.7 58 105
76 Jamel Artis 75 91 60 105 79.6 60 105
77 James Blackmon Jr. 82 83 105 29 81.3 29 105
78 Jake Wiley 105 63 74 87 81.6 63 105
79 Alberto Abalde 105 48 105 55 81.6 48 105
80 Malcolm Hill 76 105 80 51 81.9 51 105
81 Wesley Alves Da Silva 86 94 68 82.7 68 94
82 Malcolm Hill 105 79 83 51 83.6 51 105
83 Rolands Smits 105 77 66 92 84.0 66 105
84 Isaiah Briscoe 67 71 105 105 84.4 67 105
85 London Perrantes 105 105 56 63 85.0 56 105
86 Jeremy Morgan 83 105 105 10 85.1 10 105
87 Isaac Humphries 79 90 105 49 85.3 49 105
88 Amile Jefferson 72 105 72 105 86.1 72 105
89 Ognjen Jaramaz 105 75 79 95 87.6 75 105
90 Paris Bass 65 105 105 70 88.6 65 105
91 Marko Guduric 105 105 63 75 88.7 63 105
92 Ben Moore 99 105 54 105 79 89.4 54 105
93 Peter Jok 69 87 105 105 89.6 69 105
94 Marcus Keene 78 105 105 60 90.9 60 105
95 Kris Jenkins 81 105 105 62 92.0 62 105
96 Antonio Blakeney 80 96 105 86 92.6 80 105
97 Justin Robinson 105 105 105 19 92.7 19 105
98 Derek Willis 105 105 105 20 92.9 20 105
99 Amida Brimah 105 70 105 95 93.6 70 105
100 George de Paula 105 72 105 94.0 72 105
101 Michael Young 105 81 105 83 95.0 81 105
102 Youssoupha Fall 90 105 105 66 95.1 66 105
103 Ilimane Diop 105 105 75 97 95.3 75 105
104 Moses Kingsley 89 105 105 72 95.7 72 105
105 Kenan Sipahi 88 105 105 76 96.0 76 105
106 Troy Caupain 105 105 105 44 96.3 44 105
107 Antonio Campbell 105 105 105 46 96.6 46 105
108 Antonius Cleveland 96 85 105 105 96.7 85 105
109 Austin Nichols 92 105 105 74 96.9 74 105
110 Deonte Burton 105 78 105 105 97.3 78 105
111 Zak Irvin 85 105 105 96 98.0 85 105
112 JaJuan Johnson 105 93 105 85 98.7 85 105
113 Tidjan Keita 105 89 105 99.7 89 105
114 Chance Comanche 105 88 105 105 100.1 88 105
115 Simon Birgander 92 105 105 100.7 92 105
116 Jabari Bird 91 105 105 105 101.0 91 105
117 Przemek Karnowski 100 97 105 105 101.3 97 105
118 Sidy Dijtte 105 95 105 105 102.1 95 105
119 Nedim Buza 98 105 105 102.7 98 105
120 James Birsen 97 105 105 105 102.7 97 105
121 Ismael Bako 105 99 105 103.0 99 105
122 T.J. Williams 105 98 105 105 103.0 98 105
123 Trevor Thompson 105 100 105 105 103.6 100 105

Those are just rankings, though, and don’t necessarily tell us who the Raptors could be choosing between at No. 23. If you’re looking at mock drafts to get a handle on things, a few notes to keep in mind: the Raptors rarely leak, and few ever nail their actual picks; this draft is particularly wide open and subject to fluctuation outside of the lottery; and analyses have shown that while Chad Ford nails the most picks correctly, DraftExpress boasts the most accurate mocks overall, and those two are a fair margin above the rest of the field.

And so in addition to the rankings, here are a look at the players Ford and DX both have mocked as going outside of the lottery and who at least one mock has going sometime in the first round, which should give us a rough range of who the Raptors could be looking at when on the clock (though again, they have shown they’ll make a perceived reach based on their own board over what the market/league says, as they should).

Player Ford DX
Harry Giles 15 17
Ike Anigbogu 17 22
T.J. Leaf 18 20
Jarrett Allen 19 15
Bam Adebayo 20 18
Justin Jackson 21 16
Justin Patton 22 19
Anzejs Pasecniks 23 23
Tony Bradley 24 2nd
Frank Jackson 25 2nd
Isaiah Hartenstein 26 30
Terrance Ferguson 27 27
D.J. Wilson 28 24
Jordan Bell 29 2nd
Tyler Lydon 30 28
Semi Ojeleye 2nd 25
Derrick White 2nd 26
Ivan Rabb 2nd 29

We’ll have more coverage over the course of the week, including coverage of Ujiri’s availability, a column or two on strategies for the pick in general, and a mailbag (you have to tweet me the Qs though, not leave them in the comments, as it’s much easier for formatting that way). In the meantime, I’m curious to hear where people land on the names that could be available at No. 23, who has moved up or down your theoretical boards, if the other moves around the NBA change your opinion on strategy, and so on.

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Raptors Weekly Podcast – Dreaming of PG

Host William Lou is joined by Harsh Dave to discuss this week in Raptors news.

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Sunday Open Thread

It’s been another slow week on the Toronto Raptors front. A quick review:

Draft workouts: The Raptors held what may be their final session, pushing the total number of players worked out to 51. This one was headlined by Sindarius Thornwell.

Free-agent mini-camp: Looking ahead to Summer League, training camp, and the Raptors 905 season, the Raptors brought in 24 free agents of varying degrees of intrigue to check in on their progress and see if they may be able to unearth a diamond in the rough. There were three sessions over two days, and you can catch up on them here and here.

Summer League schedule: That’s coming up real soon. Don’t expect as heavy an NBA contingent as last year to be sent by the Raptors. (Here’s the full NBA LVSL schedule.)

Podcast: Will continued doing his thing.

Like I said, slow-ish week. But things will start heating up soon. With the NBA Finals now in the books, attention turns to Thursday’s draft, and the start of free agency will follow hot on the heels of that, with Las Vegas Summer League. There are major, franchise-altering questions facing the Raptors this summer, and there will finally be some semblance of clarity of direction in the coming weeks.

Of course, the result of the NBA Finals calls into question how much the near-term matters. The Eastern Conference fought tooth and nail for the right to challenge an apparently faltering Cleveland Cavaliers team, and the Cavaliers proved a sleeping giant, ultimately steamrolling the rest of the field. But hey, maybe LeBron James slows down with age, a trade doesn’t work out, injury strikes, or whatever – keeping the window open to take advantage of any Cavaliers slippage is a worthwhile endeavor. And just making the finals is a huge step for many, many franchises.

But then you run into the Golden State Warriors, who never looked particularly vulnerable, swept a superior Western Conference, and dispatched of the Cavaliers in five games. It was a competitive series, sure, especially over the last few games, and James and company can never be counted out. In the grand scheme, though, it would seem the title window for a team in a position like the Raptors is quite firmly closed for the immediate term, barring a substantial change in the NBA landscape. The Cavaliers will probably somehow come back even better (despite Paul George downplaying certain rumors), and the Warriors are in a position where they should at least be able to maintain their “probably the best team ever assembled” level, even if free agency costs them a piece.

Maybe this sounds defeatist, but the market agrees. Go to place a bet at an online casino, and the message is pretty clear: It’s the Warriors, and then everyone else. They’re currently favored versus the field, which is insane for this time of year. They may be the biggest preseason favorite of all time when the season opens. That presents an air of inevitability to the season, or, if you’re of a different perspective (or riskier portfolio), an opportunity to put your money where your mouth is and cash in in a serious way on a team like the Raptors, going off at anywhere from +8000 to +15000 right now.

Regardless of odds, the contrasting ideals about how the Raptors should approach the summer remain the same. There’s value in remaining just good for a while longer, but the diametric preference to kick the can down the line with better odds at an eventual championship sometime later is justifiable, too. We’ve covered all of this in depth. The nice thing is, next week will finally start providing some answers rather than seeing us just ruminate on the same questions.

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Free agent mini-camp notes: Honeycutt, Inglis, and York highlight Day 2

The Toronto Raptors are holding a two-day, 24-player free agent mini-camp at BioSteel Centre this week, casting a wide net in their continued search for information, diamonds in the rough, or organizational depth. Like with the pre-draft workouts, these may or may not materialize in meaningful roster action, but it never hurts to check in on the development of intriguing young players and learn more about them in the process.

On Day Two, the third practice session over the two days, the Raptors ditched most instructional pretence and just rolled

“What’s crazy is we have just a 10-minute practice,” Gabe York explained. “It’s 10 minutes and you go over four or five plays, and the rest is just playing basketball. You play four to five 10-minute games and you just try to win those games. I think we ended up 4-6, so we didn’t make it. You know how to play basketball, you know how to play the game, so they put you out there and they wanna see how well you can do after 10 minutes of skill and instruction.”

With three sessions crammed in and prior knowledge of each of the players, the Raptors feel fairly comfortable that the mini-camp has served its purpose. With a Summer League roster to fill out, potential camp invites to issue, and two-way contracts to dangle, there’s some growing clarity in terms of how the lower-end moves of the offseason could play out from here.

“I think so,” Raptors director of player personnel Dan Tolzman said. “I think it will be this matched with, depending on how slides through the draft undrafted, free agent sort of stuff. There’s a lot of guys – I told the group afterwards there was too much talent. It’s going to be hard decision to pare it down and pick some guys. Same position and equal talent it’s going to come down to as a group we will sit and kick and the names around and see where we go from there. But it was  really impressive collection of talent here.”

There may not be any immediate news from here. The Summer League roster won’t be finalized until a few days after the draft, and some of the players in attendance have already committed elsewhere for Las Vegas. There are a few offseason steps left to take and dominos to fall. But the last two days have been a success, it would seem.

Player Notes

Here’s the full list of players who attended the workout:

Name Position Height College COUNTRY Last Team
Zach Auguste Forward 6-4 Notre Dame USA Turkey
Alec Brown Forward 7-1 Green Bay USA D-League
Murphy Burnatowski Forward 6-7 Colgate Canada Cyprus
Will Davis Forward 6-8 UC Irvine USA D-League
Cleanthony Early Forward 6-7 Wichita State USA D-League
A.J. English Guard 6-4 Iona USA Germany
Quincy Ford Forward 6-8 Northeastern USA D-League
Tyler Honeycutt Forward 6-8 UCLA USA Turkey
R.J. Hunter Guard 6-5 Georgia State USA D-League
Damien Inglis Forward 6-8 France France D-League
John Jenkins Guard 6-4 Vanderbilt USA D-League
Geron Johnson Guard 6-4 Memphis USA Lebanon
Walt Lemon Guard 6-3 Bradley USA Greece
Alfonzo McKinnie Forward 6-8 Wisc. – Green Bay USA D-League
Malcolm Miller Forward 6-7 Holy Cross USA Germany
Patrick Miller Guard 6-1 Tennessee State USA D-League
Xavier Munford Guard 6-2 Rhode Island USA Spain
Stefan Nastic Center 7-0 Stanford Yugoslavia (Canada) NBL Canada
Lamar Patterson Guard 6-5 Pittsburgh USA D-League
Norvel Pelle Forward 6-10 St. John’s Antigua Italy
Dyshawn Pierre Forward 6-8 Dayton Canada Germany
Jalen Reynolds Forward 6-10 Xavier USA Italy
Adam Smith Guard 6-1 Georgia Tech USA Italy
Gabe York Guard 6-3 Arizona USA D-League

Rather than diving in on all 24 players at once, I figured the more prudent approach would be to cover 12 here and 12 yesterday.

Alec Brown
2016-17: LVSL with Suns; 10.7 PPG, 5.2 RPB, 1.9 BPG, 47.6 FG%, 36.4 3FG% in D-League, 6 games in Spain

A second-round pick of the Suns in 2014, Brown got three Summer League looks before the team opted to renounce his rights. Rather than return overseas, where he had played the season prior, Brown tried his hand at the D-League (though he ultimately returned to Spain for a highly effective six-game stretch, too). What he showed there is more or less the book on him: He can stretch the floor from the center position and protect the rim at the other end. Whenever a player combines those two skills, he’s going to stay on the radar for a long time. The Raptors are pretty deep at the five, but the 24-year-old remains an intriguing prospect regardless of depth chart.

Will Davis
2016-17: 9.7 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 1.1 BPG, 61.2 FG% in D-League

After going undrafted out of UC Irvine in 2015, Davis spent a year playing a smaller role in Greece, a season that seemed to help improve his game. When he returned stateside for a try at the D-League last year, Davis proved efficient around the bucket and a presence at the rim on defense. The former Big West Defensive Player of the Year rediscovered some of the shot-blocking that made him intriguing despite being a 6-foot-8 center, and he probably put himself in position for his first Summer League look this year. Bigs sometimes develop a little more slowly, and at 24, Davis could be ready to take the step to starting in the D-League or cashing in with a more substantial overseas deal.

A.J. English
2016-17: LVSL with Warriors; 14.4 PPG, 2.9 RPG, 3.5 APG, 40.8 FG%, 35.5 3FG% in Italy/Germany

The son of former Raptors assistant Alex English, A.J. went undrafted out of Iona a year ago and  opted to split his first pro season between Italy and Germany. A three-time First-Team All-MAAC player, English continued to look the part of interesting combo-guard prospect, putting up strong assist numbers by European standards and showing a steady hand from the FIBA line. He wasn’t exceptionally efficient scoring the ball overall, but there was nothing to show he wasn’t the scoring and playmaking threat he was in his last three years of college. The key for English will be showing it against higher-end competition, something a second Summer League stint could give him the opportunity to do.

Tyler Honeycutt
2016-17: LVSL with Mavericks; 8.5 PPG, 6.8 RPG, 1.9 APG, 1.0 SPG, 41.2 FG%, 30.6 3FG% in Turkey

One of the more recognizable names on the workout list, the former No. 35 overall pick of the Kings has been out of the NBA for four years now. Still just 26, Honeycutt’s eschewed the D-League the past few years in order to not only cash in with larger overseas contracts, but to facilitate his growth and maturity, something that may have been lacking in his initial two-year, 24-game NBA stint.

“I think for me, what it’s always kinda been is my maturity,” Honeycutt said. “Going through Sac and not really playing a lot, having new coaches come in, and not really having a controlled environment. So going overseas and growing a little bit, learning the European system which, a lot of the NBA is turning into playing multiple positions.”

One other thing Honeycutt looked to add to his game was improved low-post scoring, taking a page out of Shaun Livingston’s book as a larger wing. With more pick-and-roll responsibility overseas to help develop his handle and playmaking, the added threat of posting up guards on switches or cross-matches could make Honeycutt an even more intriguing offensive piece. No, he still hasn’t developed a steady 3-point shot or proven efficient in a large role abroad, but he’s comfortable in a role that may be fairly similar to his projection as an NBA bench piece, which could make the transition easier if he can catch on.

Damien Inglis
2016-17: LVSL with Pelicans, camp with Knicks; 12.9 PPG, 6.9 RPG, 3.4 APG, 1.0 SPG, 45.4 FG%, 25.4 3FG% in D-League

Perhaps the most interesting prospect in the workout from a raw template perspective, Inglis was a really fun draft-and-stash pick when the Bucks took him 31st overall in 2014. Of course, they didn’t stash him, instead asking the then-19-year-old with trying his hand at the NBA without the benefit of a D-League affiliate or a full offseason (due to injury). Inglis has struggled to find a consistent footing ever since, robbed of some of his early development time. The Bucks have done a good job developing youth without an affiliate, sure, but between injuries and a general lack of playing time, there’s still not a great sense of what Inglis is or could be. Considering he measured with a 7-foot-3 wingspan and nearly 9-foot standing reach, already weighs in at 240 pounds, and was a borderline first-round pick, it’s worth continuing to track his development, particularly if the Raptors (or 905) think they can help bring along the 22-year-old’s 3-point shot.

Geron Johnson
2016-17: 24.2 PPG, 8.7 RPG, 6.2 APG, 2.0 SPG, 48.8 FG%, 16.1 3FG%

After playing his way from the NJCA to a community college to Memphis, Johnson went undrafted but got a camp look from the Rockets in 2014. Still just 24 here three years later, Johnson spent a year in the D-League before playing a pair overseas, and it would be interesting to see how progress shown in Lebanon translates against some fringe NBA-caliber competition, because the numbers alone are staggering across the board. Johnson has been dominant in lesser leagues, and while he’s still short the necessary 3-point stroke to round out his offensive game, he could be an intriguing D-League point guard, a spot the 905 may or may not wind up needing help this year, depending on how the Raptors’ roster situation shakes out.

Alfonzo McKinnie
2016-17: 14.9 PPG, 9.2 RPG, 51.0 FG%, 30.8 3FG% in D-League

The clear owner of the best story at the minicamp, McKinnie famously once paid $150 to try out for his hometown Windy City Bulls. From there, he earned a camp invite, made the roster, and played his way to the D-League All-Star Game and D-League Elite Minicamp. As the D-League grows in prominence, these stories pop up, but few can boast this degree of ascension. The next step for McKinnie, then, would be to get a camp invite from an NBA team (or even a Summer League one), and he’s surely shown enough to this point to earn just that. The 24-year-old can guard either forward spot, has at least show-me range out to the corners, and is a terrific rebounder for 6-foot-8. He might need another year of continued seasoning, but given how much he’s shown in a year, an NBA team might be willing to use a two-way spot to see how this plays out.

Patrick Miller
2016-17: LVSL with Bulls; 16.2 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 4.9 APG, 1.3 SPG, 47.5 FG%, 31.9 3FG% in D-League

After four years at Tennessee State, Miller spent a season abroad before opting for the D-League the past two seasons. Splitting time between Texas and Sioux Falls this year, his 3-point stroke regressed in a larger sample but the rest of his game, most notably his ability to get to the line and create for others, continued to develop. Now 25, it’s unclear if Miller would settle for a third consecutive season being a quality D-Leaguer, but it’s likewise unclear if he’s shown quite enough shooting as a scorer or playmaking as a lead-guard to land firmly on the NBA radar. A second turn in Summer League would seem fairly certain if he wants it, at least.

Stefan Nastic
2016-17: 17.5 PPG, 8.0 RPG, 1.8 APG, 54.8 FG%, 22.0 3FG% in Canada (NBL)

A late addition to the workout after someone else dropped out injured, the Serbian-Canadian out of Stanford presents a physical presence for the other centers in attendance to bang against. Five years with the Cardinal saw Nastic earn All-Pac-12 Honorable Mention and make the NIT All-Tournament Team in his senior season, when his role and numbers took a significant step forward. He spent his first pro season in the Adriatic League before returning to Canada to play for the Orangeville A’s of the NBL last year, where he scored with notable volume and even flashed some 3-point range. He wouldn’t be the first Canadian to make the jump from the NBL to the 905. Thornhill, stand up.

Norvel Pelle
2016-17: LVSL with Heat; 6.9 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 2.3 BPG, 64.3 FG% in Italy

It’s been an interesting path to this point for Pelle, who had originally signed with St. John’s as the No. 1 center in the 2011 recruiting class but never got on the floor due to academics. He bounced between prep schools and entered the 2013, and then 2014, NBA Draft (the Raptors worked him out), but apparently couldn’t show enough just in workouts to land a selection. He played sparingly over parts of two D-League seasons before heading overseas, where he’s been monstrously efficient around the basket and as a shot-blocker, turning away a ludicrous 13.8 percent of opponent 2-point attempts while on the floor this season. That number would be impressive at the local YMCA, let alone in a decent Italian environment. The 24-year-old stands 6-foot-11 with some nice bounce, and given his production in a small role overseas, you’d have to think he’s on the radar for a second Summer League look and a D-League spot. There’s a lot to like.

Jalen Reynolds
2016-17: 12.4 PPG, 8.2 RPG, 1.1 APG, 1.1 BPG, 60.4 FG% in Italy

The Raptors are getting their second look at Reynolds in a short amount of time, as he was a part of their pre-draft workout process a season ago. Ranked inside Chad Ford’s top-100, Reynolds ultimately went undrafted and spent last season in Italy, where he was quite efficient. This time last year, he was an overaged junior who was trying to show more than his numbers at Xavier did, and the fact that he produced more in a professional league should be fairly encouraging. At 6-foot-10 and 232 pounds, Reynolds has the body to bang in the post (I remember Brice Johnson talking about Reynolds hitting him pretty hard after last year’s workout), though he hasn’t shown much in the way of range at any level yet.

Gabe York
2016-17: OSL with Hornets; 15.8 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 3.7 APG, 1.3 SPG< 43.6 FG%, 36.1 3FG% in D-League

An All-Pac-12 Second-Teamer in his senior year at Arizona, York went undrafted but had a strong Summer League showing, kicking off a pretty strong first professional season. Opting to stay close to the NBA in the D-League, York was one of the league’s more prominent scorers, continuing to show deep range and an ability to get his own shot while also taking strides as an initiator of offense for others, something he didn’t always get the chance to do with the Wildcats. That skill, and his defense, will be important, but he’s well aware of what keeps him on the NBA radar.

“I think everyone knows that it’s just shooting, shooting the ball at a high level,” York said of his performance. “I’ve shot 40 percent for a career at college, shot 86, 87 percent from the free-throw line. So teams know what they’re gonna get: It’s gonna be 40 percent, 86-87 percent. I didn’t even shoot the ball well here today or yesterday, but I played defense really well and tried to effect the game in ways that I know how to.”

One person who definitely knows what York can bring is 905 head coach Jerry Stackhouse, who York believes was instrumental in him landing here for the mini-camp.

“Yeah, I had Jerry Stackhouse come up to me personally and tell me ‘Hey, I need you to come see me in the summer,'” York said. “I didn’t really think anything of it, I thought he was just saying congratulations on a good game. My agent, sure enough, calls me and tells me you have a minicamp with the Raptors, and I know for a fact it’s 100 percent on Jerry Stackhouse. He definitely got me this offer.”

In fairness, York lighting up the 905 (he had a 31-5-5 outing against them in January and scored 19 in another meeting) probably got him on their radar on its own merit. Don’t expect York with the Raptors in Vegas, though – he’s already committed to the Hornets and Lakers for Orlando and Las Vegas Summer Leagues, respectively.

Assorted

  • As a reminder, the draft takes place on June 22. The Raptors do not have any more draft workouts currently scheduled, having worked out 51 players already. As a reminder, the workouts are just one part of the process, so don’t look too much into who was/was not here.
    • The adidas EuroCamp was also last weekend in Italy, for those looking ahead to 2018 and beyond.
  • Raptors president Masai Ujiri is expected to speak to media sometime next week (likely Tuesday), regardless of if additional draft workouts are added.
  • Several Raptors have been around town and the BioSteel Centre this week, and even worked out together between minicamp sessions yesterday. Among them are Norman Powell, Bruno Caboclo, Lucas Nogueira, Delon Wright, Fred VanVleet, Jakob Poeltl, and Cory Joseph. There could be more, too, those are the only ones I’m able to confirm. (Patrick Patterson is also in town, but whether he’s worked out here is unclear given his free agent status.)
  • I’ll be posting some things on my Instagram story throughout the process, if you want to follow along there, too.
    • Included: R.J. Hunter, down two, drawing a foul on a championship-winning 3-point attempt. Not included: Him going 1-of-3 at the line.
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Free agent mini-camp notes: Jenkins, Early, Hunter headline loaded Day 1

The Toronto Raptors are holding a two-day, 24-player free agent mini-camp at BioSteel Centre this week, casting a wide net in their continued search for information, diamonds in the rough, or organizational depth. Like with the pre-draft workouts, these may or may not materialize in meaningful roster action, but it never hurts to check in on the development of intriguing young players and learn more about them in the process.

“It gives us a chance to kind of check in on guys that we’ve been interested in for years, since coming out of college, and just tracking them from afar,” Raptors director of player personnel and Raptors 905 general manager Dan Tolzman said. “It gives us a chance to bring them back in, see how they’re doing and what process they’ve made and see how they’re doing.”

The Thursday-Friday summit includes some pretty interesting names, too, even if they may not be on the NBA radar. With Las Vegas Summer League around the corner and a roster to fill out, plus a Raptors 905 team potentially facing the usual D-League roster overhaul in the offseason, some of these players could register within the organization in the coming months. The introduction of two-way contracts could expand the market for fringy (“Quad-A”) style prospects, too, particularly those who possess certain skills the Raptors are after (it’s little coincidence that there are some dead-eye shooters in the group).

“I think this is a pretty important summer to kind of hold a camp like this and approach it from all angles of summer league, two-ways, guaranteed contracts, everything,” Tolzman said.

The morning’s session was a long one, starting at 8 a.m. with some players not getting in until late the night before. They’ll do it again later today, and then have a final session tomorrow. It’s a lot of ball in short order, and a nice window into not just the skill development but the mental preparedness and stamina of the players as they grind it out, some for the fourth or fifth time in the last few weeks.

Player Notes

Here’s the full list of players who attended the workout:

Name Position Height College COUNTRY Last Team
Zach Auguste Forward 6-4 Notre Dame USA Turkey
Alec Brown Forward 7-1 Green Bay USA D-League
Murphy Burnatowski Forward 6-7 Colgate Canada Cyprus
Will Davis Forward 6-8 UC Irvine USA D-League
Cleanthony Early Forward 6-7 Wichita State USA D-League
A.J. English Guard 6-4 Iona USA Germany
Quincy Ford Forward 6-8 Northeastern USA D-League
Tyler Honeycutt Forward 6-8 UCLA USA Turkey
R.J. Hunter Guard 6-5 Georgia State USA D-League
Damien Inglis Forward 6-8 France France D-League
John Jenkins Guard 6-4 Vanderbilt USA D-League
Geron Johnson Guard 6-4 Memphis USA Lebanon
Walt Lemon Guard 6-3 Bradley USA Greece
Alfonzo McKinnie Forward 6-8 Wisc. – Green Bay USA D-League
Malcolm Miller Forward 6-7 Holy Cross USA Germany
Patrick Miller Guard 6-1 Tennessee State USA D-League
Xavier Munford Guard 6-2 Rhode Island USA Spain
Stefan Nastic Center 7-0 Stanford Yugoslavia (Canada) NBL Canada
Lamar Patterson Guard 6-5 Pittsburgh USA D-League
Norvel Pelle Forward 6-10 St. John’s Antigua Italy
Dyshawn Pierre Forward 6-8 Dayton Canada Germany
Jalen Reynolds Forward 6-10 Xavier USA Italy
Adam Smith Guard 6-1 Georgia Tech USA Italy
Gabe York Guard 6-3 Arizona USA D-League

Rather than diving in on all 24 players at once, I figured the more prudent approach would be to cover 12 here and 12 tomorrow.

Zach Auguste
2016-17: LVSL/camp with Lakers; 12.8 PPG, 8.0 RPG, 59.7 FG% in Turkey

Undrafted out of Notre Dame, Auguste probably could have parlayed a D-League season into an NBA call-up if his overseas performance is any indication. Reports toward the end of the Turkish season had multiple NBA teams interested in the 6-foot-10 power forward, and his presence on the free agent workout circuit isn’t at all surprising. That Auguste is represented by the same agent as Ronald Roberts and Jarrod Uthoff points to a familiarity with the organization, and at 23, Auguste still has a lot of upside (especially if a team thinks he can play some center, since he’s not much of a floor-spacer at the five). He also has some terrific hair going on, with a yellow/orange strip through it. He’s among the most interesting names that attended the workout, which is saying a lot.

Murphy Burnatowski
2016-17: 13.1 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 2.3 APG, 1.3 SPG, 46.9 FG%, 33.8 3FG% in Cyprus

Burnatowski made it so I wasn’t the only person representing the 519 at the workout session on Thursday, as the Kitchener native was given a chance to show his stuff against some less experienced but more heralded competition. Undrafted out of Colgate in 2014, Burnatowski has been plying his trade overseas, most recently in Cyrpus, where he’s been able to develop at least show-me range from 18 feet and out. Since  he’s just 6-foot-7 but profiles as a combo-forward, he’ll need to continue to hone that skill, something he might be able to do with the 905 if they want some additional Canadian flavor this season. His ability to move the ball could fit well off the bench there.

Cleanthony Early
2016-17: 10.0 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 1.0 BPG, 49.5 FG%, 43.3 3FG% in D-League

Perhaps the most familiar name on the roster sheet, the former No. 34 overall pick of the Knicks has 56 games of NBA experience under his belt. He never really got off the ground in two seasons, owing in part to missing significant development time after being sho.. Hoping to stay close to a call-up, the 26-year-old opted for the D-League instead of a season abroad, but didn’t debut until January and wound up playing just 14 games in total. He’s an interesting case, because while he’s older than most of the players here and was already an older prospect at draft time, a good deal of his development time has been eaten into. The biggest question might be whether the 3-point shot he flashed as a teammate of Fred VanVleet and then again in a small sample with Santa Cruz last year is legitimate or not.

Quincy Ford
2016-17: LVSL/camp with Jazz, camp with Pelicans; 4.6 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 1.5 APG, 34.2 FG%, 28.1 3FG% in D-League

Undrafted out of Northeastern last year, the Second-Team All-CAA wing earned a Summer League look from the Jazz and brief training camp invites from the Jazz and then the Pelicans before landing in the D-League. A five-year senior, Ford is already 24 and struggled a fair amount in the D-League. The counting stats are underwhelming, to be sure, but the bigger concern was a drop in 3-point percentage, a skill he’ll need to demonstrate with some consistency in these workouts (he had one solid season from long-range in college and a few average ones, and has been a decent free-throw shooter, so it might be there). Ford went down with an apparent injury late in the final game, but hopefully he’ll be OK to continue the minicamp.

R.J. Hunter
2016-17: LVSL/camp with Celtics, 3 NBA games with Bulls; 18.1 PPG, 2.6 RPG, 3.3 APG, 1.2 SPG, 38.6 FG%, 31.8 3FG% in D-League

Once the highest profile name in this group, the former No. 28 pick has had a tough go over two NBA seasons. His immense collegiate success hasn’t carried over, with the Celtics taking the nearly unprecedented step of waiving him after just one season and the Bulls only keeping him on for two months after that. Known most for his shooting (despite a really poor junior year from long-range), it’s not a skill that’s translated with any consistency yet, and Hunter will need to show he can do more than just spot-up or pull-up in these sessions, anyway. The pedigree and stroke are nice, and Hunter’s still just 23, but if the team is going to take a flier on a shooter, there may be options with a more well-rounded game, some defensive chops, or even just a proven NBA stroke.

John Jenkins
2016-17: Camp/4 NBA games with Suns; 20.9 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 1.9 APG, 45.7 FG%, 38.6 3FG% in D-League

Of all the players working out this week, there’s the sense that Jenkins is the closest to having a meaningful impact at the NBA level. That’s probably because he’s been relatively close to doing so since being the No. 23 pick in 2012. No, it hasn’t really worked out with consistency – Jenkins has played for three teams over five seasons and totaled only about one season’s worth of minutes – but he’s at least displayed he can do the one thing he’s best known for: Shoot. Jenkins has hit 36.4 percent of his NBA threes after being a lights-out marksman at Vanderbilt, and while his preseason and Summer League numbers haven’t shone. he’s knocked down 36.1 percent of a high volume of D-League looks over 33 games (across four seasons) there. That’s a steady mark, and over time Jenkins has added enough to his game to perhaps supplement his potential role beyond just “specialist.”

“He’s one of those guys, he’s so close to sticking and being a rotation guy in the NBA just because of what he does and how he effects the game,” Tolzman said. “It’s always – guys are that close, to bring them in and get to know them a little closer and see what they can do, just get as comfortable with as many of those on-the-cusp players as we can.”

Jenkins also happens to be ineligible for a two-way deal due to his experience, and that changes his focus a little bit relative to some of the younger guys in the workout.

“I think everybody is different,” Jenkins said. “For me, I’ve been in the league. It’s my sixth year in the league so for me it’s trying to get on a camp or even get a guaranteed deal. Everybody’s different. Everybody’s different ages. For me, I’m probably little different, I’m probably one of the oldest guys here so I’m looking to possibly get in a camp deal or get a guaranteed deal.”

Whether the Raptors have the roster space and flexibility to even offer a guaranteed NBA deal is yet to be seen, but Jenkins would seem to be a reasonable candidate if that’s the approach they take to adding some shooting on the cheap.

Walt Lemon
2016-17: 13.1 PPG, 3.7 RPG, 3.3 APG, 4.2 FG%, 20.3 3FG% in Greece

For god’s sake, Lemon, we’d all like to flee to The Cleve. But free agents can’t just choose to join LeBron James and company, and so the Bradley product is left to work the free agent circuit after another year overseas. Prior to that, Lemon had spent a year abroad and then a year in the D-League. Despite that pro experience and four years at college, he’s still just 24. That could make him worth a look in Vegas, where the Raptors could need guard depth depending on which of their youngsters they send. He’ll have to show some development on his long-range shot, though, something he’s only shown for brief flashes during his career.

Malcolm Miller
2016-17: LVSL with Celtics; 6.8 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 50.5 FG%, 38.5 3FG% in Germany

On the radar of the Celtics in back-to-back seasons after going undrafted out of Holy Cross, the 6-foot-7 Miller will look to build on a solid, if quiet, season in Germany, where he was fairly efficient in a smaller role. This, compared to a year prior in the D-League, when he shot nearly 50 percent overall and nearly 40 percent on threes in a much more substantial position. Still just 24, Miller would almost certainly be a boon for Raptors 905 but could be aiming higher, and he’ll probably be trying to parlay a decent Summer League showing into a two-way deal. There’s a fair amount to like with the length (7-foot wingspan), bounce (he can touch nearly 12 feet jumping), and stroke, particularly if he can add enough bulk to profile as a stretch-four.

Xavier Munford
2016-17: Camp with Clippers;18.5 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 5.3 APG in D-League; only played 25 minutes in Spain

It remains perplexing that Munford didn’t receive an NBA call-up late this season. Throughout the year, he was one of the better point guards in the D-League, he was solid in a brief stint with the Grizzlies in 2015-16, and the Clippers, who knew him well, probably could have used him at some point. Whatever the reason, the 25-year-old remains on the hunt for an NBA gig, and him leaving the D-League in February to land an overseas deal suggests he may not be game for a fourth D-League season, at least not without a two-way deal to sweeten the pot. Munford didn’t repeat a strong shooting season from 2015-16, which may be the sticking point for some teams, but he’s a quality floor general and a solid defender. Even a few years removed from college, he feels like the type of player the two-way deals were designed for.

Lamar Patterson
2016-17: LVSL with Hawks, camp with Kings, 5 NBA games with Hawks; 24 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 4.5 APG, 2.0 SPG, 43.2 FG%, 34.6 3FG% in D-League

Man, was there ever some talent at this workout. Patterson is yet another recent NBA player, a second-round pick in 2014 who did a draft-and-stash year overseas before landing with the Hawks for parts of two seasons. Already 25, the Hawks apparently saw enough to bring Patterson into Summer League three times and re-sign him on several occasions (seriously, go look at this transactions page), but not enough to secure him long-term. The five-year senior spent the time between NBA stints with Reno in the D-League last year and was a moderately efficient volume scorer, getting to the rim and the free-throw line at will and taking a small step forward as a 3-point shooter. It’s a common thread here, but it’s that 3-point shot the Raptors could be looking for at the end of their bench, and Patterson will need to show continued growth with it to round out his resume.

Dyshawn Pierre
2016-17: LVSL with Pacers; 14.4 PPG, 7.8 RPG, 2.8 APG, 1.0 SPG, 48.7 FG%, 29.0 FG% in Germany

CanCon alert! The Whitby native went undrafted out of Dayton a year ago and opted to lay internationally instead of in the D-League. That seemed to work out, and he had a pretty successful year, though his 3-point shooting continued a five-year annual decline since his freshman season, a fairly major concern. At 6-foot-6, Pierre has some positional versatility but will need that 3-point stroke to become consistent at either forward spot. The Raptors haven’t shied away from that in the past, and Pierre brings enough other things to the table to make him an intriguing D-League prospect, should he be willing to go that route. You can never have too many local products with the 905, especially when they come with the track record Pierre has.

Adam Smith
2016-17: 23.6 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 2.4 APG, 1.0 SPG, 46.1 FG%, 41.5 3FG% in Italy

I want him to land with the 905 so badly so I can make Invisible Hand jokes all year. What wasn’t invisible – look at this segue potential! – was his scoring in Italy, where he filled it up to a substantial degree with pretty strong efficiency. He’s still never shown a ton as a playmaker, never averaging more than 2.14 assists over four college seasons with three teams, but he’s got the somewhat-undersized scoring guard role down pat. The 905 like John Jordan, their most tenured player, but if he’s not game for a third D-League season in a row, Smith could be a candidate to slide into that microwave man role (Jordan’s defense in that spot, despite his size, might be tough to replace though).

Assorted

  • The free agent camp continues later tonight with a second session, and then a third session tomorrow. There will be media availability tomorrow, and we’ll cover the remaining 12 names then.
  • As a reminder, the draft takes place on June 22. The Raptors do not have any more draft workouts currently scheduled, having worked out 51 players already. As a reminder, the workouts are just one part of the process, so don’t look too much into who was/was not here.
    • The adidas EuroCamp was also last weekend in Italy, for those looking ahead to 2018 and beyond.
    • Raptors president Masai Ujiri is expected to speak to media sometime next week, regardless of if additional draft workouts are added.
  • Bruno Caboclo, Norman Powell, Delon Wright, and Patrick Patterson are all presently around town, and Caboclo, Jakob Poeltl and Lucas Nogueira were working out at BioSteel Centre today. There may be more, too, but those names have been active on social media or were around. Caboclo was doing Pilates earlier in the day.
  • I’ll be posting some things on my Instagram story throughout the process, if you want to follow along there, too.
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Raptors announce Summer League schedule

The Toronto Raptors announced their schedule for Las Vegas Summer League on Thursday. The schedule is as follows:

Fri. July 7 – 6 p.m. ET vs. New Orleans, NBA TV – Cox Pavillion

Sat. July 8 – 6:30 p.m. ET vs. Minnesota, NBA TV – Thomas & Mack Center

Mon. July 10 – 8 p.m. ET vs. Denver, ESPNU – Cox Pavillion

The Raptors will get at least two more games, but the schedule will depend on seeding. Teams seeded 9-24 will play July 12, while teams seeded 1-8 and the winners from the 9-24 games will play July 13. There’s a July 14 schedule date for losing teams needing a fifth game, and then the quarters, semis, and finals will run July 15, 16, and 17.

The Raptors are yet to announce a full roster for Summer League, but that will likely happen sometime shortly after next week’s NBA Draft.

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Draft Workout Notes: Thornwell, Bacon, lead Tuesday Group

Tuesday the Raptors brought in another group of prospects for scouting prior to the draft and summer league. This group includes 4 players ranked in the Draft Express top-100, but none of them ranked above Sindarius Thornwell at 57th. Most of this group likely falls into players the team is looking at for possible undrafted prospects for summer league and training camp invitations, but there is definitely some interesting talent here.

The Raptors have done very well developing talent with the 905 and identifying solid prospects during the summer league, with Fred Van Vleet contributing to the team down the stretch run of the season this past year, and they’ll likely be trying to identify similar players again during the process.

PLAYER NOTES

Here’s the full list of players who attended the workout:

Name Position Height College
Sindarius Thornwell Guard 6-5 South Carolina
Seth Allen Guard 6-1 Virginia Tech
Naz Mitrou-Long Guard 6-4 Iowa State
Dwayne Bacon Forward 6-5 Florida State
Chance Comanche Forward 6-10 Arizona
Isaac Humphries Center 7-0 Kentucky

Sindarius Thornwell

Draft Express Ranking: 57th

Thornwell is an intriguing prospect, with a deadly shooting stroke, having hit 39.2% of his three point shots as a senior at South Carolina. He’s a little small for a shooting guard at just 6’3″, but he makes up for that with a 6’10” wingspan. A player who worked hard throughout his college career, and has helped make up for the fact that he isn’t an explosive athlete. With spot-up skills and an impressive ability to get to the free-throw line, he’s a versatile offensive option who could certainly be an attractive prospect late in the draft. He also is an extremely capable rebounding guard, which helped in college as he was at times used as a small-ball forward to space the floor.

With his height and wingspan, there might be an urge from some to compare him to Norman Powell, but the two players have significant differences. Powell was not an exceptional shooter in college, and his game was predicated on his athleticism. On the other hand, Thornwell comes into the draft as an outstanding shooter who doesn’t possess the same athletic abilities. On the other hand, they are both players who can be depended on to work hard at both ends of the floor.

Seth Allen

Draft Express Ranking: unranked

Allen is another guard who showcased a sweet stroke in college, and might be able to interest a NBA team through that skill. Shooting 44.1% from downtown as a senior in college, Allen also hit several massive shots including a game-winner with 3.8 seconds remaining to give the Hokies a big win over Clemson. He possesses solid athleticism and an ability to create his own shot off the bounce, but as a player who is definitely more a shooting guard than a point guard, his size at just 6’1″ is a liability for him moving to the professional game.

Naz Mitrou-Long

Draft Express Ranking: unranked

The Canadian guard Mitrou-Long will definitely bring some interest north of the border given his roots in Mississauga. He’s an older prospect at 23 years old already, and there are concerns about injuries he’s had as a college player, but while healthy, he’s shown considerable skills at both guard positions with both solid passing and shooting abilities. He did struggle sometimes streakiness in his shooting, and could be seen to lapse defensively at times, but his shooting stroke definitely could be interesting moving into the summer.

Dwayne Bacon

Draft Express Ranking: 74th

Bacon profiles as a scoring guard, and showcased that in college. He scored with ease in transition given his size and a 6’10” wingspan, and managed 17.2 points per game in college despite shooting just 33.3% from long range. He was, however, a solid free-throw shooter, which bodes well that he may yet be able to develop a long distance stroke as a professional, and showed skill getting to the free throw line and attacking off the dribble, also scoring well as the ball handler in the pick and roll. While Bacon recently completed just his Sophomore season at Florida State, he is an older prospect at 21-years old.

There are definite concerns with him going forward, as he struggled as a playmaker at the collegiate level and could be inconsistent on the defensive end, but given his physical strength and frame, Bacon is definitely worth a look as a prospect.

Chance Comanche

Draft Express Ranking: 90

Comanche has a frame that makes him look immediately like a NBA player, standing at 6’10” with a 7’2″ wingspan, he also has great footspeed for his size and is a good athlete for his size. The biggest concern with him going into the draft and forward past that is that he hasn’t yet filled out his frame and at 21 years old, it remains to be seen whether he can put on enough bulk to be effective as a professional player. He has good defensive instincts and with his athleticism can definitely be an impact player on that end, and had a great game as a freshman against current Raptor Jakob Poeltl, which included two big second-half blocks against Poeltl in that game.

Isaac Humphries

Draft Express Ranking: 91th

Humphries didn’t see much court time at Kentucky, getting lost in the big man rotation, so it’s hard to glean much from his two years there. He’s probably the least interesting prospect in this group for me, as a slow-footed big man who doesn’t possess great athleticism. He did shine as a rebounder whe

ASSORTED

  • The Raptors will be holding pre-draft workouts over the next two days.

*A NOTE ON THIS PROCESS: We’re going to hear a lot of names rumored or reported to be coming in/meeting/working out/etc. I’m not always going to pass them on, especially this early in the process. A lot of it is due diligence and doesn’t mean a ton, and they’re also just low-value posts (“Rumor: Player X to work out”). Sometimes there will be (good) reasons the team doesn’t want the names public or a player can’t come in (Visa or scheduling issues). If anyone does visit and there’s media availability, we’ll have you covered. Obviously, feel free to comment and discuss those rumors (Hoops Hype is a good source for rumor aggregation) in the comments/forums, I just may not always throw a post up. Closer to the draft, as we get into second workouts or if someone outside of Toronto’s range visits, that information becomes a little more important.

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Raptors Weekly Podcast – How each Raptor can improve

With all due apologies, there’s nothing else going on in Raptors land so this episode is just one rambling solo.

(more…)

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Raptors renounce rights to DeAndre Daniels

The Toronto Raptors have renounced the rights to their 37th pick from the 2014 draft, DeAndre Daniels.

Daniels had stints in Australia and, most recently, Italy, but struggled to crack the Raptors 905 rotation. Injuries have plagued his career, as our very own Blake Murphy detailed a couple of weeks ago.

This move makes sense, since he was unlikely to earn one of the two two-way contracts that can be earned per the new CBA. Both the player and the franchise can now move on, but for those of you that want to wonder “what if,” Nikola Jokic was picked 41st, Dwight Powell 45th, and Jordan Clarkson 46th that year. Hindsight is wonderful.

Bruno Caboclo was Toronto’s other pick that year, so you know, no pressure.

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Draft Workout Notes: Hayes, Anigbogu, and Jeanne Highlight Group

Wednesday marked the latest step in the Raptors’ lead-up to the 2017 NBA Draft.  Today’s Draft Workout at the BioSteel Centre brought an intriguing mixture of talent and size, and should be a satisfying sight for any draft fans that have been waiting for some bigger names to come to Toronto.  The first seven workouts saw a total of two players ranked in the Draft Express top-30, today brought us two on it’s own.

The Raptors have clearly made an effort in recent years to use their workouts to scout potential second rounders and undrafted players.  The draft process is a key opportunity for team’s to evaluate players for the future, or to gain knowledge and build relationships for possible summer league and training camp invites.

When reviewing the latest round of mock drafts online, the variance for where players are expected to fall is incredibly wide.  Some players are viewed as potential first rounders by some pundits, and undrafted by others.  The Raptors therefore have to cast a wide net in their efforts to evaluate potential picks.

Today brought a little of everything, but the big names that could be given consideration when the Raptors are on the clock at 23 are likely Ike Anigbogu and Jonathan Jeanne.

PLAYER NOTES

Here’s the full list of players who attended the workout:

Name Position Height College
Kasey Hill Guard 6-1 Florida
Troy Caupain Guard 6-4 Cincinnati
Nigel Hayes Forward 6-7 Wisconsin
Kyle Kuzma Forward 6-8 Utah
Ike Anigbogu Forward 6-10 UCLA
Jonathan Jeanne Forward 7-1 France

Kasey Hill

Draft Express Ranking: Unranked

At one time Kasey Hill was an All American and was the 8th best prospect in his high school class, but now he is a prospect that Draft Express hasn’t written about since September 2014.  Kasey will also be turning 24 in December, putting him on the very high end of the draft age spectrum.

In all likelihood, the Raptors simply needed a guard to facilitate during today’s workout scrimmages.  At 6’1, with a 6’4 wingspan and muscular build, Hill’s best attribute is his speed.  Draft Express (circa 2014) also mentions his good explosiveness, which would have been a good tool when evaluating the mobility of today’s workout bigs.

Troy Caupain

Draft Express Ranking: Unranked

Unlike Kasey Hill, Troy Caupain was not highly regarded coming out of high school, but they would now be viewed as the same level of prospect.  The main difference here is that Caupain has a little more size and length (6’3.5 with a 6’7 wingspan), but is not as explosive an athlete as Kasey.

What he does provide is speed and strength.  Troy was used by the Bearcats both on and off the ball, and was often used to space the floor.  While his 32.5 percent from beyond the arc doesn’t jump off the page, Troy was enough of a threat to keep defenses honest when playing in a spot up role.

Nigel Hayes

Draft Express Ranking: 73

Here is where things start to get interesting.  Despite likely going undrafted, and at best possibly being a mid-second round selection, I love the Raptors taking a look at Nigel Hayes.  He was at one time viewed as a first round pick when playing alongside of Frank “Better Than 4 First Round Picks” Kaminsky and Sam Dekker, which makes one realize how long he has been at Wisconsin.

At 6’7 and 254 lbs, and an over 7’3 wingspan, Hayes certainly has the physical components to match up against NBA Power Forwards in more traditional line-ups, or as a potential small ball center.  And while finding the next Draymond Green is a likely a fools errand (let’s face it, that guy is just special in the way he thinks the game too), Hayes’ measurements are almost identical to Draymond’s pre-draft measurements. except for the extra 18 lbs that he brings to the table over Green.

So let’s get it out of the way right now: Nigel Hayes is not going to be Draymond Green.  He is just physically built like him in a lot of ways.

What gives me hope for Hayes it the way he excelled as a third option when playing with Dekker and Kaminsky.  Any team that gets Hayes as an undrafted player will not be looking for him as a player who dominates the ball.  He will be there for rebounding, defense, and energy.

The biggest weakness for Hayes right now is his shooting.  If he can develop into a stretch-four, or even a stretch-center in small ball line-ups, he suddenly becomes a very intriguing option off a team’s bench.  In recent years the Raptors have shown a confidence in their ability to develop a player’s shooting mechanics.  This is most notable in the success of Norman Powell who was criticized during his draft for lack of shooting, but is also something they are working on with Delon Wright, Pascal Siakam, and Jakob Poeltl.

Hayes should be a prime target for any team if he were to go undrafted, and could be a great option for one of Toronto’s two-way contracts.

Kyle Kuzma

Draft Express Ranking: 43

This dude can score, as he demonstrated in the 5-on-5 portion of the NBA Draft Combine.  Kuzma put up 20 points, 5 rebounds, and 2 assists in 20 minutes of combine action.  He also hit 4-of-5 shots from deep, and could help the Raptors when it comes to their shooting woes.

Kuzma has good size for a power forward (6’9, 223lbs, 7’0 wingspan), but will need to develop on the defensive side of the ball to have a long career.  While strong workouts could push him into the late first round, in all likelihood he will fall somewhere in round two.

Ike Anigbogu

Draft Express Ranking: 15

In terms of ranking, Anigbogu may be the top ranked prospect to work out for the Raptors at this point, and has a good chance of not being available when Toronto picks at 23.  While he is a mixed bag when it comes to production and current skill level, there are few doubting the raw tools that he brings to the table.

Anigbogu is an explosive athlete and brings a constant energy to the court.  Check out what Draft Express had to say about him in April:

The intrigue with Anigbogu starts with his excellent frame, standing 6’10” with long arms, an excellent standing reach, and a strong lower body. He’s also quick on his feet, fast off the ground, changes direction well, has a very quick second jump, and brings a consistently high energy level, providing him with many of the attributes that NBA teams look for in the modern NBA big man. Those physical tools provide Anigbogu with a strong starting point, allowing him to make an impact even as his overall skill level catches up.

Anigbogu brings almost all of the physical tools that you can want to the center position, but the skillset has a long way to develop before he can be a consistent contributor.

Like all prospects at this time of year though, it is easy to find a workout video of Anigbogu draining jumpshots in the controlled setting of a mostly empty gym.

As presently constructed, it’s tough to see how Anigbogu would fit on the Raptors.  With Jonas, Poeltl, and Bebe under contract currently, and the possibility of re-signing Ibaka, minutes at center would be at a premium.  As is always the case when it comes to the draft though, taking the best player available and figuring out fit later is the best route to go, as depth and roster construction can change so quickly.

*Ike did not workout today.  Was brought in for an interview and a physical. (Source, Josh Lewenberg)

Jonathan Jeanne

Draft Express Ranking: 19

Jeanne currently has some weight issues, as in he doesn’t have enough of it.  At just 207 lbs it is tough to see him contributing at any point in the immediate future, but could be worth a long term gamble for a team that is willing to wait.  At 7’2, with a 7’6.5 wingspan, and a 9’5 standing reach (seriously, 9’5!!), he certainly has the body to add some extra weight/strength and would be a big benefactor from an NBA training regimen (added 20 lbs over last year).

Much like Kuzma, Jeanne had an excellent showing in the 5-on-5 section of the combine, putting up 14 points (7-9 shooting), 9 rebounds, 3 blocks, and 2 steals in just 26 minutes.  This was all the more important considering Jeanne left his team in France to participate in the combine.

What makes Jeanne so interesting is the versatility he brings to the offensive end.  Draft Express wrote the following after his performance in the combine:

Jeanne did a great job all Combine long of setting screens and rolling to the basket. Despite not having much bulk, he has great timing and knows how to use his body to create space and give his guards the right angle to penetrate and deliver the ball around the rim. His freakish length gives him the ability to finish around the basket without barely needing to jump, as evidenced by the 71% he shot from 2-point range in Chicago. He has reliable hands, strong footwork, and excellent body control maneuvering around the paint, to go along with soft touch and the ability to use both hands around the basket. He ran the floor hard both days, made some interesting passes, and even knocked down a handful of mid-range jumpers, including one impressive pull-up, demonstrating a much higher level of skill than you typically see from a 19-year old 7-footer.

His physical tools are a sign of the defensive force that he could become, but he is functionally just a long and agile body at the moment.  It may take some in the D-League, but he could develop into something special.

With high potential on both sides of the ball, and great mobility for his size, it’s easy to see why team’s are intrigued about Jeanne’s ceiling.  If you want to get excited about Jeanne, check out this interview/workout video.  On a related note, Jeanne is currently Chad Ford’s selection for Toronto at 23 in his latest mock draft.

Besides, Bruno could use another long-armed friend to hang out with.

ASSORTED

Dan Tolzman had stuff to say:

  • The Raptors will be holding pre-draft workouts over the next two days.

*A NOTE ON THIS PROCESS: We’re going to hear a lot of names rumored or reported to be coming in/meeting/working out/etc. I’m not always going to pass them on, especially this early in the process. A lot of it is due diligence and doesn’t mean a ton, and they’re also just low-value posts (“Rumor: Player X to work out”). Sometimes there will be (good) reasons the team doesn’t want the names public or a player can’t come in (Visa or scheduling issues). If anyone does visit and there’s media availability, we’ll have you covered. Obviously, feel free to comment and discuss those rumors (Hoops Hype is a good source for rumor aggregation) in the comments/forums, I just may not always throw a post up. Closer to the draft, as we get into second workouts or if someone outside of Toronto’s range visits, that information becomes a little more important.

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Draft workout notes: Iwundu, Robinson lead Tuesday group

The Raptors brought in six players for a pre-draft workout today, once again mostly composed of seniors, with two players projected in the late second round and the remainder of the group expected to go undrafted.

Wesley Iwundu and Devin Robinson headline the group, both wing players with solid size and length who showed solid shooting ability in college, and they both have intriguing defensive potential as well. It’s easy to see how the Raptors would be interested in these two prospects, as they look like potential steals late in the draft, as players with defined skillsets as well as upside.

PLAYER NOTES

Here’s the full list of players who attended the workout:

Name Position Height College
Wesley Iwundu Guard 6-7 Kansas State
Devin Robinson Forward 6-8 Florida
J.J. Frazier Guard 5-10 Georgia
Quinton Hooker Guard 6-0 North Dakota
Hassan Martin Forward 6-7 Rhode Island
Paul Watson Forward 6-7 Fresno State

Wesley Iwundu

Draft Express Ranking – 53

Iwundu comes into the draft after four years with Kansas State, and his physical tools have impressed throughout his college career. A big guard with playmaking skills and defensive versatility, he also managed to hit 37.6% of his three point shots in his senior year, showing improvement in his perimeter game from struggles as a sophomore and junior.

With a 7’1″ wingspan and 36″ vertical, Iwundu will also have some positional versatility as a pro, being someone who showed definite ball-handling and passing ability in college and may be able to be used as a playmaker at the professional level. He also showed talent drawing contact and getting to the free throw line. Despite that, he struggled creating his own shot off the bounce during the first three years in college, and reworked his shot mechanics going into his senior year, and it showed with improved numbers from the field and long distance.

Iwundu may still need to add some muscle to his frame, but there is definite upside here and if he can continue to improve his perimeter shooting there could be a place for a player with his skills in the NBA.

Devin Robinson

Draft Express Ranking- 51

Robinson is the youngest player in this group as a junior, and much like Iwundu, he fits the direction the league is headed. A strong forward with plus-wingspan and defensive ability, he also showed improved outside shooting in his 3rd season at Florida, hitting 39.1% of his long range shots on 3.1 attempts per game.

While there are a lot of similarities between Robinson and Iwundu physically, they won’t play the same position in the pros, with Robinson lacking Iwundu’s playmaking ability and mostly being relegated to transition and spot-up opportunities in college. He also at times struggled with consistency defensively, although when he was engaged he looked the part of a versatile stopper ably guarding multiple positions.

He has slipped in the draft rankings due to the issues with consistency on defense and playmaking, but with his athleticism and outside shooting, Robinson should find his way into the second round of the draft and could be a solid win for a team drafting there.

J.J. Frazier 

Draft Express Ranking- Unranked

Frazier was a prodigious scorer at George throughout his four seasons there, averaging 18.8 points per game as a senior and also showing solid playmaking ability while grabbing 1.8 steals per game. While not an overly efficient outside shooter, he did show the ability to make the three-point shot as well. An undersized point guard at just 5’10”, he’s not expected to be drafted this summer, but could be a summer league prospect or end up on a G-League roster for next season.

Quinton Hooker

Draft Express Ranking- Unranked

Coming into the summer as a senior from North Dakota, Hooker isn’t listed on any mock drafts or prospect rankings. The 6’0″ guard from North Dakota showed impressive range as a college player, taking 6.1 three point attempts per game and making 42.6% of those. While he lead his squad to the NCAA tournament and scored 25 points in their first round game against Arizona, including shooting 5-8 from long distance, that was the end of the road for both an overmatched North Dakota team as well as Hooker’s college career. With his proficiency from long-range, it’s understandable why teams would want to take a look at him this summer.

Hassan Martin

Draft Express Ranking- Unranked

Martin had an impressive finish to his college career, after the Rhode Island team came into the NCAA tournament facing off against the 6th seeded Creighton Bulldogs and managed the upside, and Martin contributed 12 points and 8 rebounds to the victory. An athletic forward with impressive shot blocking ability, he averaged 2.4 blocks per game as a senior, with four 6+ block games in his college career. His defensive ability, despite his smaller frame for a big man, makes him an intriguing prospect despite not being ranked on prospect lists.

Paul Watson

Draft Express Ranking- Unranked

A big guard at 6’7″, Watson, like the three prospects above him on this list, comes into the draft unranked on any lists. During his first three years at Fresno State he showed some shooting ability, including shooting 37.9% on 3.7 attempts per game as a freshman. However, in his senior year he regressed to just 34.1%. If a team believes that the potential is there for him to be a plus shooter, he may make an intriguing project with his size.

ASSORTED

  • The Raptors will be holding pre-draft workouts over the next two days.

*A NOTE ON THIS PROCESS: We’re going to hear a lot of names rumored or reported to be coming in/meeting/working out/etc. I’m not always going to pass them on, especially this early in the process. A lot of it is due diligence and doesn’t mean a ton, and they’re also just low-value posts (“Rumor: Player X to work out”). Sometimes there will be (good) reasons the team doesn’t want the names public or a player can’t come in (Visa or scheduling issues). If anyone does visit and there’s media availability, we’ll have you covered. Obviously, feel free to comment and discuss those rumors (Hoops Hype is a good source for rumor aggregation) in the comments/forums, I just may not always throw a post up. Closer to the draft, as we get into second workouts or if someone outside of Toronto’s range visits, that information becomes a little more important.

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Hawaii will play host to Raptors

The Hawaiian Islands and AEG Facilities announced that two NBA preseason games on Oct. 1 and 3, to be played between the Toronto Raptors and Los Angeles Clippers.

Both games will be played at the Stan Sheriff Center at the University of Hawaii. In case you’re wondering “why Hawaii?”, the Clippers are conducting their entire 2017 Training Camp at the university’s campus.

Remember, under the new CBA agreement, the preseason will be shortened by a week, with the regular season set to start in mid-October, a week or so earlier than usual.

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Draft workout notes: Senior Day at Raptors Pre-Draft Workouts

The Raptors hosted a pre-draft workout this morning at the BioSteel Centre, six players were in attendance, five of them seniors, most of them projected to be on the outside looking in come draft night. Although a lot of these players aren’t projected to go in either the first and second round of this years draft, they all have interesting skill sets, and could be a good indicator of what the Raptors are potentially looking for come draft night.

The most intriguing player worked out today was South Carolina’s P.J. Dozier, who’s long 6’7 frame, mixed with his ability to play the point guard position, is a player to watch out for in the second round of this years draft. He has a very raw offensive skill set, and could present himself to be a bit of a project on that end of the floor.  However he has great defensive upside, and the threat to posing a major mismatch both ends of the floor. Dozier is the kind of project you would love to take on in the late second round.

PLAYER NOTES

Here’s the full list of players who attended the workout:

Name Position Height College
Matt Jones Guard 6-4 Duke
Jordan Matthews Guard 6-4 Gonzaga
Matt Thomas Guard 6-4 Iowa State
PJ Dozier Guard 6-5 South Carolina
Justin Tuoyo Forward 6-8 Chattanooga
Kennedy Meeks Forward 6-9 UNC

Matt Jones

Draft Express Ranking – Unranked

The senior out of Duke, finished his college basketball career this year with an impressive resume, including a National Championship. In his final year at Duke, Jones was playing close to 33 minutes a game, averaging 7 points, shooting 39% from the field, and 34% from three on close to four attempts per game. His usage in his final year dropped to 12% (a NCAA career low), along with his TS% to 51%.

Although he is unranked on most draft boards currently, he possess a lot of interesting skills. Jones is a strong defensive player, showing the ability to guard multiple position on the perimeter, he has a very Norman Powell-esque build standing 6’4 with a 6’8 wingspan, and has a pretty decent shooting stroke from deep.

Recently, at the Portsmouth basketball invitational (a postseason camp held for NCAA seniors), Jones put on a scoring clinic to go along with his strong defense. He averaged 17.3 points, pulled down an impressive amount of offensive rebounds, and shot a nice 41% from three. In the final game of the tournament, Jones scored 22 points, with the game winning buzzer beater from deep. This showing definitely helped Jones’ draft stock out, but he is most likely someone we will see in the Summer league or G-League next year, rather than walking across the stage at draft night.

Jordan Matthews

Draft Express Ranking- Unranked

Matthews played his first three season of college basketball with the University of California. He was known throughout his college career as being a knock down shooting threat. In his first three years he made 201 three pointers to the tune of 41%, he also made 21 more threes than twos in his first three years.

Matthews made a big decision after his junior year. He finished his degree in three years, and graduated in the summer from the University of California. After he graduated, he  transferred to Gonzaga for his senior year as a graduate transfer, citing differences with head coach Cuonza Martin, and the desire to play deeper into the tournament. Matthews completed an astounding 6 classes in a 12 week summer semester, and focused on basketball his final year.

Matthews was no different in his senior year. Knocking down a ton of threes, shooting 39% from three on 5.6 attempts per game, more than double the amount of two pointers he took. Matthews is a fearless scorer from deep, and quickly forgets about the previous missed shot. While this might be a great mental skill, it can also be a problem at times. His shot saw some good and bad stretches this year, and if you look at his game logs he would have a four game stretch where he shot close to 50% from three on 5 attempts per game, and then have a couple games where he would go 3/9, and 2/7. Consistency is probably key here, but Matthews is another guy who we might see in Summer League or the G-League as a elite knockdown shooter.

Matt Thomas 

Draft Express Ranking- Unranked

Just like the other two names mentioned above, Matt Thomas is another senior guard who can shoot it very efficiently from deep. In his final two years at Iowa State, Thomas shot an impressive 43% from three, on close to six attempts per game. He is yet another player who attempts more than 50% of his shots from behind the arc in college, and served as Iowa State’s primary scorer in his final two years. But much like the other two players, Thomas is not ranked to go in either rounds of the NBA draft as of right now, and it’s very unlikely his name will be called on draft night.

P.J. Dozier

Draft Express Ranking- 50

The combo guard sophomore out of South Carolina projects to be a very interesting second round pick. A former Mr. Basketball in South Carolina, Dozier turned down multiple offers from big time programs to play for his hometown team. Standing 6’7, Dozier has the skill set to play the point guard position, averaging 22.8% AST% in his Sophmore year. With a wingspan reaching 6’11, a 40” vertical jump, and an extremely slim 201lb weight, he possess a body that when fully grown into could be a very effective ball handler, and versatile defender at the NBA level.

Defense is one of Dozier’s best skills. His ability to switch onto guarding multiple positions, his length makes it easy for his to get into passing lanes, and has the quicks and vertical to defend shots at the rim.

While he shows signs of being a plus defender, and has a very interesting frame, he needs to prove he isn’t a liability on the offensive end. Dozier is still listed as a combo guard, although he can be a good facilitator. He doesn’t have the greatest handles yet, and might be suited to work off the ball early on. His shot mechanics are by far his greatest weakness entering the draft, as he shot 28.5% from three on 3.9 attempts per game, and 59.7% from the free throw line on 3.7 attempts per game last year. He is however pretty good at finishing close to the basket, shooting 45% on 9.1 two point attempts per game.

Offensive skills like shooting and dribbling are something that can be developed over time, things like wingspan, smart defense, and upside are not teachable. Dozier will be an interesting player to look out for in the second round of the draft.

Justin Tuoyo

Draft Express Ranking- Unranked

After playing in his first year at VCU, the strong power forward Tuoyo transferred to Chattanooga. The 6’10 senior is a defensive presence down low, blocking close to 3 shot per game, with his 7’0 wingspan, his timing at the basket makes opponents fearful of coming down into the low post. His strength in the low post, allowed him to pull down 9.1 rebounds per 40 minutes. Defense is Tuoyo’s best skill set, but offensively he doesn’t have the ability to stretch out his shooting to the three point line, and does a majority of his damage from the high post and down. Tuoyo is a high-motor player, it will be interesting to see how his defensive skill set transfers to the next level.

Kennedy Meeks

Draft Express Ranking- Unranked

If you watched the National Championship game this year, you probably recognize Kennedy Meeks’ name. In his 22 minutes in the final NCAA game of the year, Meeks was a key contributor scoring 7 points, and pulling down 10 rebounds, 4 of them being on the offensive glass. Meeks at 6’9 played centre in college, but with his size it’s more likely he will play power forward with his skill set. On offense, Meeks does all his work inside, only attempting one three point shot all season. He shot an impressive 55% from the field in his senior year, and pulled down a very impressive 9.5 rebounds per game. Meeks is another strong defensive presence, and will most likely be playing onto a Summer League team this year.

ASSORTED

  • The Raptors will be holding pre-draft workouts over the next two days.

*A NOTE ON THIS PROCESS: We’re going to hear a lot of names rumored or reported to be coming in/meeting/working out/etc. I’m not always going to pass them on, especially this early in the process. A lot of it is due diligence and doesn’t mean a ton, and they’re also just low-value posts (“Rumor: Player X to work out”). Sometimes there will be (good) reasons the team doesn’t want the names public or a player can’t come in (Visa or scheduling issues). If anyone does visit and there’s media availability, we’ll have you covered. Obviously, feel free to comment and discuss those rumors (Hoops Hype is a good source for rumor aggregation) in the comments/forums, I just may not always throw a post up. Closer to the draft, as we get into second workouts or if someone outside of Toronto’s range visits, that information becomes a little more important.

Follow – @Spenred

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Raptors Weekly Podcast – New era, old problems

Host William Lou invites Louvens Remy on the podcast to discuss this week’s list of mostly mundane Raptors topics.

(more…)

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Weekend Open Thread

Lot of stuff went down this week…not really, but a lot is about to happen very soon, and the calm before the storm is the idea that signing Amir Johnson is somehow a great idea.

I’m not thrilled about this because I don’t like rehashing things, and there’s also a reason why we didn’t re-sign Amir Johnson.  However, you have to look at that rumour in the context of what else we got going on at PF and right now that what else is Patrick Patterson, whose Snapchat efficiency has exceeded his three-point one, which is not a good sign.  The positive side of him being absolutely atrocious in the playoffs is that we can sign him at minimum wage, if we even want to.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Weekend Open Thread
By Zarar Siddiqi

It's the weekend!

Friday, June 2, 2017

Report: Raptors, Amir Johnson have mutual interest in a reunion
By Blake Murphy

Come home, buddy.


Report: Casey and DeRozan met with Lowry this week
By Blake Murphy

Somebody gotta photoshop Norm's head in here.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Lucas Nogueira is good, so where does he fit?
By Blake Murphy

The affable Brazilian has a place. Is it in Toronto?

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

The Darkest Timeline
By Louis Zatzman

Stay the course. Enjoy winning. Avoid the darkest timeline.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Draft workout notes: Caleb Swanigan impresses as process trudges on
By Blake Murphy

There's a lot to like with Swanigan.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Raptors Weekly Podcast - Draft preview
By RR


How do you define culture?
By Vivek Jacob

This will be one wild summer in Toronto.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Weekend Open Thread
By Blake Murphy

Draft workouts mercifully resume Tuesday.

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Report: Casey and DeRozan met with Lowry this week

That whole thing about DeMar DeRozan not influencing Kyle Lowry’s free agent decision in any way? It may be true in the spirit that the BFFs meant it, but it may not be completely earnest in the sense that the All-Star backcourt may still discuss basketball matters and figure out a way the Toronto Raptors can move forward with the pair together.

To wit, Chris Haynes of ESPN reports that DeRozan and head coach Dwane Casey visited Lowry in the Bay Area this week. Specifics are mostly unclear, though Haynes passes along that part of the intention was for Casey to “expose his players to the NBA Finals culture.”

If nothing else, this pretty clearly shows that the Raptors intend to retain Lowry, if he’ll stay, and that Casey and DeRozan will play a part in convincing him. (It also pretty strongly suggests Casey will be at the helm next year.) It’s possible that Casey, DeRozan, and Lowry were discussing the specifics of the potential “culture reset” that president Masai Ujiri had mentioned, and other ways the team can improve without much wiggle room in free agency and with LeBron James still existing.

Norman Powell was also at Game 1 of the NBA Finals and reportedly attended the meeting. That could just be because he lives and trains in the area, but Lowry and DeRozan are fond of Powell, and he could be a bigger part of what they want to do next season if everyone stays together.

Whatever the case, we won’t know much on the Lowry front until July 1. Lowry isn’t going to tip his hand and hurt his own market, and the Raptors aren’t going to publicly announce they’ve moved on until Lowry signs elsewhere. If Lowry returns, everything falls from there, including what could be a loose handshake deal with Serge Ibaka, the futures of P.J. Tucker and Patrick Patterson, and any subsequent tweaking the team needs to do to cut their luxury tax bill and improve the roster. Everything flows from Lowry, which is why meetings like this taking place a month before free agency begins – and just weeks after the season ended – are notable.

Sorry to not add much context here, but it’s nothing we haven’t covered before and I gotta get outta here. As a programming note, this is the last you’ll hear from me until June 14. Everyone else will be holding it down in my stead. Hope you all have wonderful weekends/weeks/fortnights/whatever.

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Report: Raptors, Amir Johnson have mutual interest in a reunion

Two years ago, the Toronto Raptors lost one of the most beloved players in franchise history to free agency. After six formative years with the organization, Amir Johnson left to cash in on a well-deserved raise with the Boston Celtics. At the time, it hurt, because the fan base and organization had both grown up with Johnson, from cast-off after-thought to relevancy. At age 27, Johnson was right to sign a two-year, $24-million deal the Raptors simply couldn’t afford to match, and the parting of ways was a happy, amiable one.

On his way out, Johnson left a loving, heart-felt note:

The overwhelming response – including this from our own William Lou – was reciprocation. When Johnson wrote “see you later,” the door was very clearly open for the Raptor-headed, Zombie-walking, Young Gunz member to eventually make a return. (Where you at, Sonny Weems?) Well, it might be more realistic than these “maybe somewhere down the line when we’ve both grown up” usually are.

According to a report from Sean Deveney of Sporting News, there is “mutual interest in getting Johnson back onto the Raptors’ roster this summer.”

Now, there are a lot of dominoes that would have to fall, and a lot of specifics to sort out, before we can really make sense of this. From the Raptors’ perspective, the priority is keeping Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka, and if they do that, they can probably only offer Johnson the $5.19-million taxpayer mid-level exception. That would be a step down in salary for Johnson, who, at age 30 and with plenty of injury red tape, might want to maximize his earnings on what could be a final long-term deal. (For those tweeting that this would make sense at the veteran’s minimum, you can probably let go of that. Johnson is coming off of a $12-million salary, hasn’t had a bad season in forever, and is only just beginning the decline years of the big-man curve. Even if he takes a haircut on salary for a good situation, there will be at least a handful of teams competing to land him at a reasonable salary.) The Raptors could work their way to the mid-level exception by either moving on from one of their marquee free agents or unloading salary in a trade, but those considerations will probably be made in isolation (read: to trim the luxury tax bill) more than just to make room for Johnson.

If Johnson were to return, the Raptors would add a smart, veteran piece to a still-young frontcourt rotation, allowing Johnson to play a bit of a mentor role. He was always heralded as a terrific teammate and was a consummate member of the Toronto community, and you can never have too many of those players. Johnson remains effective, too, having started 153 games over the last two regular seasons for a quality Celtics squad. He averaged 6.9 points, 5.5 rebounds, 1.7 assists, and 0.9 blocks in 21.4 minutes in those games, shot 58 percent from the floor, and continued to flash the Summer Three (!!!) at a decent clip despite his trebuchet release. By advanced metrics (Win Shares, Box Plus-Minus, VORP, Real Plus-Minus), Johnson remained about as effective as he was in Toronto, when he earned raves as a sort of no-stats All-Star (he and Patrick Patterson can battle for that honor in this era, though Patterson has the plus-minus edge).

There are still limitations to Johnson’s game, of course. Despite missing only 24 games over the last six seasons in total, he frequently deals with knee and ankle issues. He’s probably best deployed at center defensively now, but is a below-average rebounder for that position (it should be noted that he’s continued to play well alongside another big, so this might not be a huge deal given the fluidity of positions now). He’s a supremely low-usage player, but that’s a good thing anyway, given what his role would be in Toronto and how much he’s improved as a playmaker (the answer: a lot) without losing any of his trademark efficiency (Lucas Nogueira just broke his franchise record for true-shooting percentage, and he needs to win it back). Johnson’s even remained a fairly effective rim protector, with a 3.4-percent block rate and a 47.7-percent opponent field-goal percentage at the rim when he was defending (almost identical to Nogueira’s mark from this season).

All told, Johnson remained one of the better under-the-radar impact players in the league, and the Celtics were 9.3 points per-100 possessions better with him on the floor this season. Same as it ever was with Johnson.

The complicating factors, then, become not only Johnson’s salary – he can probably command the full mid-level at least, and seek term – but what the Raptors’ frontcourt will look like next year. Jonas Valanciunas, Jakob Poeltl, Lucas Nogueira, and Pascal Siakam are all under contract, Ibaka and Patterson are unrestricted free agents, and the Raptors have moved toward playing small more often, with DeMarre Carroll or P.J. Tucker (also a free agent) seeing time at the four, too. Johnson also doesn’t fit what would appear to be the team’s biggest need (shooting), and he’d stand to eat up basically their biggest (and only) chip in adding via free agency.

Still, this is easy to get excited about. The future of Patterson is pretty murky, it’s hard to get a feel for what Tucker may do, and it seems incredibly unlikely that both Ibaka and Valanciunas will share the same roster next year. There are going to be changes, and seeing how Johnson fits at this exact snapshot in time ignores how much things may change over the next few months. He is a quality player and an excellent fit for the culture, and if the Raptors could lock him up with whatever mid-level exception they end up possessing, that’s a nice piece of business. Again, everything is kind of up in the air until the first big dominoes fall, but it’s easy to see several paths in which Johnson coming back as a flexible rotation big and veteran presence is a quality move.

And yeah, the love for Johnson maybe skews this a bit. He’s one of the most well-liked players in the history of this team, a candidate at either big-man spot in the Favorite Raptors Lineup game, and the fact that he lasted through the hard times and was around as they turned good colors things. There’s not really a problem with that, though, and having another fan-favorite to provide some energy for the Air Canada Centre can’t hurt. Plus, as outlined, Johnson is still quite good, too. Sometimes the play for the heart can also be the right basketball move.

There’s a lot still to figure out for the Raptors this summer, and where Johnson might fit is a little lower down the list. Maybe it ends up making sense around $5 million, maybe it doesn’t. There are probably more scenarios you can concoct where it’s a no than a yes, and again, there are so many big-picture questions to answer before there’s any clarity on the middle or back end of the roster.  But it’s a heck of a fun rumor to close out a slow week either way. See you later.

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Lucas Nogueira is good, so where does he fit?

In mid-November, Lucas Nogueira hid his face in a towel inside the Toronto Raptors locker room. On the surface, it looked like he was just wiping sweat away after a shower didn’t fully take. In reality, though, Nogueira needed a moment to dim the thousand-watt smile that was betraying just how much this game had meant to him.It had been Nogueira’s fourth strong game in a row, and after teammates had hugged him on the court, they were now clowning him as his scrum started. In a season full of big moments, it was one of the more touching, the degree to which teammates have believed in and rooted for the affable Brazilian on full display.

Fast-forward to the first round of the playoffs, and Nogueira’s most notable post-game moment was far more somber. After Norman Powell had yet another series-swinging performance, Nogueira asked Powell earnestly how he stays ready, how he can deal with the mental ups and downs of sitting in wait for an opportunity for long stretches, and shake it all off and perform when needed.

That these nights happened in the order they did underscores another season that grades somewhere between disappointing and frustrating for Nogueira, and it starts all the way back in training camp. It probably starts two training camps prior to that, really, when an injury sidelined him and rendered him a co-14th/15th man with Bruno Caboclo for his rookie NBA season, despite having enjoyed notable success internationally. In the year between, Nogueira was meant to compete with Bismack Biyombo for the backup role, but Nogueira suffered another camp injury, and Biyombo, well, everyone knows what he did with that backup spot. At least 2015-16 offered a brief glimpse of what Nogueira could offer, with the 7-plus-footer stepping up big in a small handful of games before falling injured again.

So this past fall, Nogueira set out to lock down the backup role again, this time opposite lottery pick Jakob Poeltl. Nogueira had a strong offseason, came to camp stronger, and outperformed the rookie. With a few days left in camp, it was all but plain that Nogueira had won the backup role. He looked good. Naturally, he once again suffered a minor injury, and it wouldn’t be until the team’s sixth game of the season that Nogueira took his presumed job back.

When he did, Nogueira was about as good as the Raptors could have possibly hoped. Blessed with ridiculous length, Nogueira provided a reasonable facsimile of Biyombo’s rim protection, mimicked Jonas Valanciunas’ role as a bone-crunching screen-setter (he was third in the NBA in screen assists per-minute), and provided the team’s ball-handlers, Kyle Lowry in particular, with an easy lob target. Nogueira also managed to flash a modicum of range and, most importantly to the Raptors’ offense, was easily their best-passing big, maybe even their best-passing non-All-Star. Nogueira’s ability to read the floor quickly and willingness to pass out of 4-on-3 scenarios made him a valuable two-way piece, even if there were still some clear weaknesses (he’s not an elite rebounder, is susceptible to being bullied in the post, and while he was the team’s best high-waller in the side pick-and-roll, his length can’t always make up for foot speed defending larger swaths of space in the middle of the floor, though he does manage to hedge without sacrificing the rim).

Nogueira was so good, in fact, that with injuries to the power forward position, head coach Dwane Casey opted to start Nogueira at the four alongside Valanciunas. It was a move borne of necessity, sure, but for a player who’d struggled to maintain the trust of a coach and who, on paper, doesn’t look much like a power forward, it was a big vote of confidence. That duo didn’t have to play together long enough for it’s obvious long-term weaknesses to be exposed, and they ended the year as a fun and surprisingly useful short-term footnote. Nogueira even capably slid back into his backup role after that experiment came to a close.

What Nogueira couldn’t deal with, though, was the acquisition of Serge Ibaka. Or so it seems. It’s difficult to ascribe, in retrospect, a reason for Nogueira’s poorly timed struggles, but after a shaky game entering the break, Nogueira came out of All-Star week with a pair of poor showings in a row. Center minutes were now at a premium, with Ibaka better off spending minutes at the five, Valanciunas still firmly in the rotation, and Poeltl proving capable of filling in when a third center was needed. That momentary blip in Nogueira’s season allowed Poeltl to grab a bit of a stranglehold on the few minutes that were available behind the starters, and to his credit, the rookie proved steady. Poeltl led all rookies who played at least 500 minutes in Win Shares per-48 minutes, showed advanced basketball IQ and play-reading at both ends of the floor (those offensive rebounds!), and did enough things well without taking much off the table. There weren’t many occasions on which he swung games, but in that role, Casey came to prefer the floor of Poeltl, and the developmental benefit to playing him, over Nogueira’s ceiling. From Feb. 27 on, Nogueira appeared in just seven games, playing almost exclusively garbage time.

That Nogueira never got another chance is both completely understandable and endlessly frustrating. From Casey’s perspective, the backup center position was meant to be fluid all year. And Poeltl, a player the team is very high on, was really solid. There were only brief windows in which you could capably argue Poeltl had lost the spot. And arguing that a player deserved another chance over someone who was performing mostly fine is tough. Nogueira’s also quite inconsistent, both on the court and off, and by his own admission can struggle to stay completely dialed in when not firmly in the mix. Casey probably would have gone to him if necessary at some point, but that opportunity didn’t arise in the season’s final two months. (There were much, much better arguments for giving Nogueira another chance in the Milwaukee series, when his length and passing would have been a nice antidote to some of what the Bucks were doing, and in the Cavaliers series, where upside was all that really mattered.)

All told, Nogueira’s third season was still mostly a success. He played more than ever before, averaging 4.4 points, 4.3 rebounds, and 1.6 blocks in 19.1 minutes over 57 games. He shot 66 percent from the floor and shattered the Raptors’ franchise record for true-shooting percentage (68.2) depending on where you draw the minutes cut off (he played 1,088). His usage was cripplingly low, sure, and he turned the ball over way too often when he did get it, but his ability to finish on the dive and  draw fouls in the paint rendered him a positive. He also blocked 7.2 percent of opponent 2-point field goals while on the floor, second only to Joel Embiid among players with 500 minutes played (and better than even Biyombo’s mark the year prior), and opponents shot just 47.9 percent at the rim when Nogueira was defending, a really strong mark.

Nogueira’s impact looks even better by advanced metrics. Yes, they can be noisy in small-ish samples, and they’re not a proper tell-all. Purely to be descriptive, though, the Raptors played extremely well with Nogueira on the floor – he trailed only Fred VanVleet and Patrick Patterson on the team in Net Rating, he was fourth on the team in Win Shares per-48 minutes, and second to only Kyle Lowry in VORP and Box Plus-Minus (the drop-off from Nogueira to anyone else is extreme). Patterson draws well-deserved raves for being a no-stats all-star of sorts, but Nogueira was right there with him, or higher, in most metrics. League-wide, the big-man ranked top-50 in Win Shares per-48, top-20 in Box Plus-Minus, and top-5 at the position in Real Plus-Minus. That he did all of that without scoring much speaks to his unique value, with NBA Math showing he not only ranked 35th in total points added but was in the top-20 in providing value outside of points (these are counting stats, so his ranks in a muted role are even more impressive). Again, none of this is the proverbial mic drop, but that almost every metric suggests that Nogueira was a valuable piece for a long stretch of the season helps confirm what the eye-test showed for most of the year (and that Casey himself confirmed by closing games with Nogueira quite often when he was still in the rotation).

It would seem, then, that Nogueira was underutilized, like his good pal James Johnson the years prior. Like with Johnson in 2015-16, though, it’s at least easy to understand the reasons behind the usage (Johnson was ineffective and jumped by Powell, dealt with plantar fasciitis, and his conditioning waned; there are no such excuses for Johnson’s 2014-15 usage). But like with Johnson, there is a growing feeling that Nogueira might end up thriving elsewhere, either from a fresh start or change of scenery, or just because his role moving forward with the Raptors is unclear.

Whatever lane the Raptors take, it’s hard to see where Nogueira fits. If Ibaka returns, he’ll likely be eating minutes at the center position. In the unlikely event that both Ibaka and Valanciunas are back, there are precious few minutes at center to go around, and Nogueira would be fighting with Poeltl and Pascal Siakam for leftovers. If just one of Ibaka or Valanciunas are back, Poeltl probably has the inside track on the backup spot, by force of inertia and because the team invested the No. 9 pick in him and have him under contract for longer. (Nogueira, meanwhile, is a year from restricted free agency, and it would seem somewhat unlikely the team will re-invest with an extension prior to Oct. 31. That doesn’t mean he won’t be back, just that the Raptors may not want to commit beyond his $2.95-million salary for 2017-18 at this point.) And if the Raptors blow things up, Nogueira is still incredibly interesting at just 24, but would be competing with Valanciunas (maybe), Poeltl, Siakam, and perhaps the No. 23 pick (that area of the draft is rich with bigs this year) for development time.

It puts the Raptors and Nogueira in an interesting position. Nogueira’s salary is a little more than you’d want to pay a third center, but Nogueira is a good third-string center, and unloading him just to move him wouldn’t provide nearly enough luxury tax savings to matter much relative to other pieces. It’s possible Nogueira is attractive enough, given his age, length, and unique skillset, to return an asset, but teams may balk at paying too much ahead of restricted free agency, when a good season would mean Nogueira is far more expensive in 2018. Keeping Nogueira would almost certainly be the best way to proceed from a sheer asset-management perspective, but it almost feels wasteful – the team doesn’t owe Nogueira an opportunity or a fresh start, but he’s at least earned another chance to compete for a meaningful role, because he was really good in one.

There isn’t an easy answer here. As a professional, Nogueira has to take a page out of Powell’s book and use the lack of a clear opportunity as the offseason motivation to force an opportunity in training camp. That sort of mental growth, plus a little strength in the lower half, might be the biggest pieces of development Nogueira needs to hone this summer. It’s going to be a tough road to take minutes from the incumbent center depth chart. Nogueira has shown for significant stretches that he can play well enough to do just that.

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The Darkest Timeline

There is no risk inherent to the Raptors staying the course. If the Raptors re-sign Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka and make another run at home-court advantage in the playoffs, the future involves winning, even if it doesn’t include winning the highest prize. That is a good future, if not the one many fans crave. The team would amass much-needed respect from the American market. Furthermore, team ‘risk’ is pushed several years down the road, when all sorts of contingent factors (drafting well, retaining and developing guys like Norman Powell) can mitigate any future slippage to the team that comes with paying an aging Lowry league-leading money.

On the other hand, blowing the team up comes with a different iteration of risk and reward. The risk of tanking is inherent in the strategy: losing seasons. Teams lose not just games, but also fans, money, respect around the league, capital with agents, and more intangibles. The 76ers have been bitten by each of those plague-rats during The Process. The justification for tanking is a potential championship. However, the only recent example of a team that successfully tanked in the process of winning a championship is the 1999 San Antonio Spurs, who already had a league-defining talent in David Robinson when they threw away the 1997 season. Drafting Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili during non-tanking years didn’t hurt the team’s future, either. That was two decades ago.

More recent tank-jobs have been less successful. Orlando is a disaster, with its best asset not even on the roster yet. Sidebar: what would Aaron Gordon even fetch on the open market right now? Certainly not a lottery pick. Phoenix has talent, especially in Devin Booker, but it has a mismatch of talented but raw pieces and no clear path to future success. Philadelphia is currently heralded as a tanking success, without even a winning season to show for its troubles. What does it say about the Sixers if their franchise-defining talent in Joel Embiid can’t even define 35 games a season?

Don’t be so sure Philadelphia will turn into a league powerhouse. Amassing talent is no sure-fire prediction of entry to the playoffs, let alone a championship. Minnesota has collected incredible talent, with one of the league’s brightest future stars in Karl-Anthony Towns, but it has continually failed to make the playoffs. Tanking guarantees nothing, and Philadelphia has already had to shed assets for cents on the dollar (Nerlens Noel) due to impending financial gridlock for unproven yet talented players.

This brings us to the Toronto Raptors. The Raptors must base their offseason decisions around timelines. Do they continue to push for the present, knowing their current status as roadkill for the Cavaliers and Warriors? Even if the Cavaliers lose some role players due to financial realities, such as Deron Williams or Kyle Korver, who’s to say that they couldn’t just re-stock with more ring-chasers? Perhaps a David West shall the Cavs seek.

If the Raptors wait out the present and tank their upside into the future, the team’s timeline pushes 3-5 years down the road. The 2020s ought not to be the realm of Lebron James, and the Warriors certainly won’t be able to afford to keep their core together that long. Who knows which juggernauts will contend in the 2020s, which allows the imagination to thrive thinking of the potential stranglehold a re-charged Raptors can put on the league. But is that realistic? Let’s look at what would have to happen.

The Brightest Timeline

The Raps couldn’t re-sign any of their current free agents; all are for the present, not the future. Furthermore, DeMar DeRozan (Mr. 3rd team all-nba!!) is too good to allow a team to tank. He would have to be traded. Anyone thinking the Celtics would part with a Nets pick is dreaming; DeRozan could fetch a lottery pick, but it would have to be the right landing spot. Phoenix could offer 4th overall pick and Eric Bledsoe (plus cap filler in the form of Brandon Knight), but that is a best-case scenario that most likely wouldn’t happen. A more likely trade would involve Sacramento swinging for relevancy and offering one of their two lottery picks + cap filler (Rudy Gay (!) and Kosta Koufos would work).

If the Raptors renounced all of its free agents, the team would be left with a little over $20 million in cap space, which is enough to take a flier on a potential role player with upside. Maybe Masai Ujiri can overpay for an RFA to lure him to Toronto, but the key word there is overpay. Only one year after re-signing a star on a slight discount who – for the first time in the franchise’s history – chose to stay in Toronto on his first unrestricted dip into free agency, Toronto would be overpaying for guys with potential high upsides. In this scenario, 20 million might be able to afford one of Otto Porto Jr., Nerlens Noel, Kentavious Caldewell-Pope, or Tim Hardaway Jr. One those players might fit the tanking timeline and allow the team to lose for a few years while becoming a core player in a championship squad down the line. Then again, in a market in which Timofey Mozgov makes 16 million a year, would 20 million really steal away any of those players from their respective teams?

Even if all above the above took place, would the Raptors have a star that can compete with Giannis Antetokounmpo in the 2020s? Let’s look at a best-case scenario depth chart:

PG: Eric Bledsoe, Delon Wright

SG: Norman Powell

SF: Otto Porto Jr.

PF: Jonathan Isaac, Pascal Siakam

C: Jakob Poeltl, Lucas Nogueira

This team would also be buoyed by their high picks in the 2018 and 2019 drafts (a result of tanking). This is a dream scenario; let’s also give the Raps Luka Doncic or Canadian-born RJ Barrett! Is that a championship team?

This is total fantasy (hey, it’s pre-draft offseason for me, I have nothing better to do…), but I don’t think that is the depth chart of a league powerhouse. At best, it has the same ceiling of the 2015-6 Raps: Eastern Conference Finals. Guys like Antetokounmpo and Markelle Fultz will rule the East in the future. No matter how the Raptors build their team, Boston will have more assets going into the 2020s. The Raps even reaching the Eastern Conference Finals in the future assumes high-end development for guys like Bledsoe, Isaac, and Doncic. But not everything will break right. Now let’s look at the flip-side.

The Darkest Timeline

The Raps trade DeRozan for the 10th pick and filler with Sacramento (more realistic than 4th and Bledsoe with Phoenix). Maybe Malik Monk is still available at 10. Washington matches the Raps’ offer for Porter Jr., but Toronto can pull a guy like Hardaway Jr. off the market for 20 million (again, more realistic). Finally, even if the Raps tank in 2017-8, they will most likely fail to haul in the #1 pick; they could achieve at most a 25% chance. The odds are unlikely that they would draft a franchise player. In this scenario, the shiniest prospect the Raptors would draft or sign could be Malik Monk. Could the next generation’s Eric Gordon (maaaybe CJ McCollum) lead the Raptors to the promised land?

Furthermore, by trading DeRozan, the Raps would throw away any momentum the team has gained since it failed to re-sign Vince Carter. In 2004, Alonzo Mourning refused to play for the Raptors after being traded to Toronto. Trading DeRozan would move the team closer to those days of disrespect from American-born NBA players. The darkest timeline would see the Raptors engaged in an extended, Tantalus-style rebuild, during which the glimmering championship mirage would continually slide a few years out of reach. Picture the corniest sign outside of your local bar: Free Beer Tomorrow. Coincidentally, this would be the most likely result of a Raptors rebuild.

Do you remember the Chris Bosh years? I do, and they were sad. They were sad, in part, because the team had a star surrounded by garbage. The Raps were never good enough with Bosh to win a playoff series. Charlie Villanueva + Mike James + Joey Graham = bad memories. The blockbuster additions to the team were always busts, including Jermaine O’Neal, Shawn Marion, and Hedo Turkoglu. I wanted my favourite sports team to win, and the rare game in which they prevailed was a treat. I didn’t want another high draft pick (Primo, Pasta, and Sauce…), but just a winning season. The Raptors are finally giving me good memories. The last thing I would have expected was that when the salad days finally came, the team would consider plunging back into the salad-less dark ages. Stay the course. Enjoy winning. Avoid the darkest timeline.

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Draft workout notes: Caleb Swanigan impresses as process trudges on

The Toronto Raptors held their latest set of 2017 pre-draft workouts with media availability on Tuesday, the first workout they’ve held in a week. There will be nearly a week between workouts again, which seems odd but is just kind of the flow of things at this time of year. Between scheduling (two players had to pull out of this workout), agents, and other means of scouting (adidas Eurocamp is next week, for example), there’s not a sense of urgency to have a workout every day. As a reminder, last year the Raptors didn’t work anyone out until June 1 and still managed to work out 59 players by the time the draft rolled around. It’s a long process, and these workouts are just one part of it, with a lot to come.

The gap around this particular workout is interesting, though, especially considering at least one of the attendees Tuesday would seem to be in the mix at No. 23. If you’re to believe rankings, maybe that number is one, but the Raptors generally buck convention in that regard.

“We actually see some of these guys around our pick,” director of player personnel Dan Tolzman said. “I think the general consensus online isn’t always what the teams themselves think. From our team needs and fits and that sort of stuff, we kind of block out all of the mock drafts. Range is kind of an eye of the beholder thing in this business, and I think that’s kinda how we approach the draft more than what everyone else thinks of guys.”

Also notable from this workout is that multiple attendees have some flags in their off-court profiles, which speaks to the depth of the draft process outside of these sessions. Teams have to get information beyond any headlines associated with players, and the interviews likely carry a lot more weight in those instances. So, too, do conversations with others who know the players or situations in question.

“I think the background research is by far the most important,” Tolzman said. “Usually when you’re digging around and trying to learn about guys, people are usually pretty honest, so you get a pretty good feel for who these guys are as people.”

The Raptors have generally valued quality people in their organization above all else, so learning about the person behind the player is probably one of the most important ends they’re looking to serve over the next three-and-a-half weeks.

Player Notes

Here’s the full list of players who attended the workout:

Nate Britt Guard 6-1 UNC
Scoochie Smith Guard 6-2 Dayton
Damyean Dotson Guard 6-5 Houston
Antonius Cleveland Forward 6-6 Southeast Missouri
Caleb Swanigan Forward 6-8 Purdue
Austin Nichols Forward 6-9 Virginia

Nate Britt
Chad Ford Rank: Unranked, DraftExpress Rank: Unranked

When four years at UNC aren’t enough to get you any draft buzz, you’re probably headed for a career overseas. The NBA draft workout process can still be instructive, though, and if Britt has his eyes on continuing to develop under the tutelage of an NBA team, perhaps the D-League is an option. Raptors 905 point guard Shannon Scott, a more established collegiate player, followed a similar route two years ago before increasing his international pay-day. Wherever he lands, the 23-year-old Britt still has a lot he needs to show – in four seasons, he never once shot better than 38.4 percent from the floor, and while his role vacillated a bit, he was firmly a veteran safety net guard by the end of his time with the Tar Heels. At 6-foot-1 and 175 pounds without the benefit of a 3-point shot (he hit 33.5 percent for his career), there’s nothing here that suggests NBA-level mobility.

Scoochie Smith
Chad Ford Rank: Unranked, DraftExpress Rank: Unranked

Don’t call him Dayshon. Scoochie Smith, who is probably better known for the interesting nickname his grandfather gave him more than anything, is an interesting point guard prospect out of Dayton, one who got a few eyes on him with a 25-point showing in a loss in this year’s NCAA Tournament. That capped a nice senior season for the 22-year-old, who averaged career highs of 13.8 points, 4.5 assists, and 1.6 steals while shooting career-best marks of 46.8/38.8/77.2. As a fourth-year player at a high-major, that’s what he’s supposed to do. Still, armed with a dangerous handle, a solid 3-point stroke, and a 6-foot-4.5 wingspan (around a small-ish 184-pound frame) that helped make him one of the better defenders in the Atlantic 10 (he led the conference in Defensive Win Shares), Smith should be able to carve out a solid career internationally, unless he opts for the D-League route in hopes of impressing a suitor with his floor generalship and shooting.

And hey, maybe the 905 and Smith can co-brand some gear.

Damyean Dotson
Chad Ford Rank: 58, DraftExpress Rank: 64

The Raptors need shooting. So after he hit 44.3 percent of a massive volume of threes as a senior at Houston, Dotson warrants a longer look. The 23-year-old came to his stroke a little late, having shot just 32.3 percent over his two seasons at Oregon, but a redshirt year to move to Houston seemed to work. He took a lot of threes, took them from deep, and backed up his improvements in percentage with strong free-throw shooting, generally a positive indicator. All told, he was fifth in Division I in catch-and-shoot scenarios, per Synergy (via DraftExpress). With a fluid transition game and a lethal stroke, there’s an obvious need filled as things currently stand, if that’s a priority for the Raptors at all, as the Raptors probably wouldn’t ask Doston to create for himself much, anyway.

The question, then, becomes what else Dotson can do, and whether his defense can grade high enough for him to earn the potential 3-and-D label. The jury seems a bit out, because despite good use of his length and quickness on the ball, he’s not a complete package at that end. DraftExpress notes that he’s less polished off the ball, closing out wildly or losing his check on cuts. He’s athletic, to be sure, and rebounded well (6.9 per-game) for a wing. He also measured with a 6-foot-9 wingspan at the combine and an 8-foot-5 standing reach at the Portsmouth Invitational, so there’s a bit more size to play with than 6-foot-5 would suggest, even if he still needs to fill out. The mileage for teams may vary, which is why he’s mostly considered a second-round prospect by rankings.

The biggest concern with Dotson may not be on the court. His transfer from Oregon was not to do with basketball but following a dismissal for involvement in alleged sexual assault. It’s not within the scope of these workout notes posts to dive into something like that, but it’s certainly something the Raptors would look into if they give him more serious consideration.

Antonius Cleveland
Chad Ford Rank: Unranked, DraftExpress Rank: Unranked

If you can’t beat ’em, draft ’em. That seemed to be the popular “Cleveland” joke on Twitter when I tweeted out the workout list last night. Obviously, the masses haven’t been watching their Southeast Missouri games. For shame. If they had, they’d see that Cleveland has been a somewhat complicated case, improving as a scorer on a per-game basis over his four seasons, with his senior year marking his most efficient yet. Even with a drop in rebounding, that’s notable.

What complicates things, though, is that the 23-year-old only took 215 threes over his four years, so even with a 38.4-percent mark as a senior, the Raptors will want to get an intimate look at the mechanics and repeatability of his stroke – he only shot 28.8 percent on threes for his career, and he’s a poor free-throw shooter, usually a bad sign (as a shooting comparison, Norman Powell shot a slightly higher percentage on a much higher volume of threes at UCLA and was a significantly better free-throw shooters). He impressed Tuesday, though, breaking Semi Ojeleye’s previous high-score in the workout finishing drill, a mix of stamina and shooting.

You might be able to chalk Cleveland’s 2016-17 success up to his age in a mediocre conference, but there may be some remaining upside since Cleveland got a bit of a late start (he didn’t play much until his final year of high school, as he was nearly a foot shorter at 5-foot-8).

Caleb Swanigan
Chad Ford Rank: 37, DraftExpress Rank: 30

One of basketball twitter’s favorite draft prospects, Swanigan was reportedly on the fence about entering the draft but seems a pretty safe bet to get drafted now that he’s opted to stay in. While most rankings have him outside of the first round (usually the 30-to-45 range), a few people I spoke to think he’s one of the more near-term prospects in that large group of bigs with wide draft ranges outside of the lottery. Essentially, even at 20, Swanigan should be ready to contribute sometime relatively soon, which is his drawing point over some other bigs in that range who may have a higher ultimate upside with a significantly lower floor. Depending on which way the Raptors go this summer, that might make Swanigan an intriguing prospect. The Raptors don’t need another big right now, of course, but as we’ve talked about here plenty, looking at need-at-this-moment is not how the Raptors will (or should) approach things.

“A lot of what he does and brings to the table translates pretty well to the NBA,” Tolzman said. “You have to kind of get him in certain situations against certain players to where you get an idea of what he can do at the NBA level. In college a lot of times he was the biggest, strongest guy that was pushing guys around and doing what he wanted to. You have to kind of imagine it and see him against more of the NBA bigs and try to figure out, is what he’s doing gonna translate. I think that he showed us a lot today, and just from following him pretty closely over the last couple years, we’re pretty comfortable with what he’s doing to have success at the next level.”

Swanigan is coming off of a strong sophomore season that saw his production spike across the board. He averaged 18.5 points and knocked down 44.7 percent of his threes (with strong free-throw shooting to back it up), hauled in 12.5 rebounds per-game, and improved dramatically as a playmaker, averaging 3.1 assists and generally looking the part of a potentially fluid, functional part of a modern offense. He graded well defensively despite low shot-blocking numbers, too, and despite the fact that there are concerns about his body and athleticism. It’s that same Zach Randolph-adjace body that makes him such a problem on the glass and such a unique offensive piece, though, with the combination of size, length, shooting, and touch fairly rare. He measured 6-foot-8.5 with a 7-foot-3 wingspan, 9-foot standing reach, and 246 pounds at the combine, some terrific marks given the skill level at play here, too, and he showed well in the Raptors’ finishing drill, somewhat rare for a player of his size.

“Trying not to focus on it,” he said of his shooting. “I’m trying to focus on my competing and things like that. Just go with my form, shoot the ball, shots gonna fall some days, some days they might not. So you gotta put your hat on something that you can do every day…Biggest thing, just playing with that motor.”

He’ll also bring some experience, both on the court and off of it. Swangian’s played internationally for the U.S. in junior FIBA events, has dealt with some very serious hardships growing up, and lost over 100 pounds at one point, speaking to his work ethic.

“I think it’s definitely the type of thing you look for in a guy,” Tolzman said. “He’s clearly working on improving not only as a player but physically. He’s got some drive, it’s obvious that he’s not content with just being the player he used to be. He’s trying to transform himself into the types of guys that have success at the next level. To see the strides he’s made the last couple of years is pretty remarkable.”

Really, there’s a ton to like with Swanigan. Players with this much size and length don’t often boast shooting and skill, too, and even if he’ll have speed or athletic limitations at the next level, it’s pretty plain to see why some see Swanigan filling a role not too far down the line.

Austin Nichols
Chad Ford Rank: 104, DraftExpress Rank: 99

Getting a read on where Nichols is at in his development is tough. After two years at Memphis, Nichols opted to transfer to Virginia (which worked out after a bit of a legal battle), where he played all of 16 minutes before being dismissed. Prior to his dismissal, he had also been suspended a game for violating Virginia team rules. So in Nichols, there’s a 22-year-old prospect who has 16 minutes of game action to judge from over the last two years. He also didn’t attend the combine. Even as a former top-15 recruit, there’s an awful lot of difficulty projecting from a two-year old sample. There’s a reason he’s still sniffing around top-100 lists, though, as a 6-foot-9 power forward who flashed some developing range at one point. He was also a heck of a shot-blocker at Memphis, turning away 3.4 shots per-game as a sophomore. He’s also a quality rebounder, has some ball skill, and earned rave reviews for his feel for the game and his effort levels.

Given what he once potentially profiled as, it makes sense that the Raptors want to take a look. He’s almost definitely a guy that would need a D-League season to continue his development, though. Unfortunately, Nichol was injured fairly early in Tuesday’s session, so the Raptors didn’t get an extended look once again.

Assorted

  • As a reminder, the draft takes place on June 22. We’ve got a long way to go.
    • The adidas Eurocamp also goes down June 9-11, if you’re looking ahead to future drafts.
  • The Raptors have draft workouts scheduled for Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of next week. Someone else will be covering them in this space.
  • I’ll be posting some things on my Instagram story throughout the process, if you want to follow along there, too.

*A NOTE ON THIS PROCESS: We’re going to hear a lot of names rumored or reported to be coming in/meeting/working out/etc. I’m not always going to pass them on, especially this early in the process. A lot of it is due diligence and doesn’t mean a ton, and they’re also just low-value posts (“Rumor: Player X to work out”). Sometimes there will be (good) reasons the team doesn’t want the names public or a player can’t come in (Visa or scheduling issues). If anyone does visit and there’s media availability, we’ll have you covered. Obviously, feel free to comment and discuss those rumors (Hoops Hype is a good source for rumor aggregation) in the comments/forums, I just may not always throw a post up. Closer to the draft, as we get into second workouts or if someone outside of Toronto’s range visits, that information becomes a little more important.

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How do you define culture?

For a press conference that was deemed useless (b.s., to be exact) by its subject on May 9, one quote grew legs and has carried for almost a month now. With each passing day, what Masai Ujiri meant when he said, “After that performance, we need a culture reset here,” has become harder to understand.

Dwane Casey told TSN1050 radio that he has received assurances that he will remain the head coach and has attended the team’s pre-draft workouts per usual. Ujiri has confirmed he has every intention of re-signing Kyle Lowry, and Toronto’s other franchise cornerstone DeMar DeRozan is already locked into a long-term deal. With three of the most influential components of the team all set to return, how does the culture reset?

Before looking at what can be gained through change, here are the benefits of keeping things the same:

A winning culture

This seems the most prideful aspect to maintain, one where the franchise continues to churn out 50+ wins and be a top-four seed in the conference. This builds equity with the upper echelon of players in the league, as well as those savvy vets that offer more in intangible value than on-court prowess.

To Ujiri’s credit, he made it clear during the press conference that his preference is to tackle the LeBron James problem head-on and not run away like cowards. A lot of that will come down to Kyle Lowry’s decision to stay or go, but the mindset is admirable.

In suffering these beatdowns at the hands of the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Raptors have ascended to the point where they can test themselves against the best in high leverage situations and figure out what works and what doesn’t. As we learned this past season, there is not much to be taken from playing the Cavaliers during the regular season. If the Raptors are truly going to become an elite team, they need to learn from the lessons being doled out to them in the postseason.

In getting outscored by 102 points from the three-point line over the course of four games, the Raptors have received a cold splash of water to their faces with regard to an aspect of their offense that is sorely lacking: volume three-point shooting.

A buying culture

To steal from soccer terminology, this Raptors offseason can help set up the Raptors as a “buying club.” Tottenham Hotspur are a perfect example of what Toronto’s basketball franchise is trying to become. Tottenham have long been known as sellers, a good team that could never quite challenge for the title as players would make their name at the club before finding better suitors. In the Premier League era (since the ’92-’93 season), they have finished as high as fourth and as low as 15th in a 20-team league. Over the past two seasons, the footballing Spurs have finished third and second and will be considered strong contenders for the Premier League crown next season.

In the past, they’ve lost players like Michael Carrick, Luka Modric, and Gareth Bale to the likes of Manchester United and Real Madrid, but now look likely to keep players of the ilk of Harry Kane, Hugo Lloris, and Dele Alli.

Lowry, Serge Ibaka, P.J. Tucker, and Patrick Patterson are all free agents, and the best teams find a way to keep their players. Toronto has been a “selling club” for far too long with the likes of Damon Stoudamire, Tracy McGrady, Vince Carter, and Chris Bosh all leaving for greener pastures, and the re-signing of Lowry and Ibaka will add a level of stability to the franchise unseen before. The MLSE would be shelling out more than they ever have for the Raptors in this scenario, which would show just how much they value winning.

Offensive culture

With or without Dwane Casey, the offense has to change. There needs to be more ball movement, more player movement, and more three-pointers. The team and its staff needs to recognize that their philosophies from the regular season aren’t transferable to the playoffs, and they need to find strategies that can do so.

One quote that concerned me slightly from Ujiri’s press conference was when he was asked if the team needed to follow the three-point path that has become the new vogue of the NBA. “I don’t like to follow what everybody is doing and I always feel that there’s a way to do it different, you know, because this is going to run out and someway somehow, there’s going to be another way to play.” Unless the league changes its rules, the three-point shot isn’t going anywhere and is here to stay. The analytics are too obvious to ignore, and it’s definitely something that needs to be embraced as it isn’t going to “run out.”

Whether it needs to be done to the degree that the Houston Rockets do it is another question entirely.

Drafting culture

The Raptors have had good, but not great results in drafting over the past few seasons. After not having a choice to make in 2013, they picked Bruno Caboclo 20th and DeAndre Daniels 37th in 2014. The next year was a home run with Delon Wright at 20 and Norman Powell at 46, before last year’s selections of Jakob Poeltl 9th and Pascal Siakam 27th.

The next couple of years will be decisive for Caboclo, while Daniels will likely never put on a Raptors uniform (a bit of a gut punch in hindsight, with the likes of Nikola Jokic, Dwight Powell, and Jordan Clarkson all still available). Poeltl looks a solid player, but like most big men that prefer the interior and lack a jumper, could have his ceiling capped based on the demands of today’s court geometry. Siakam looks as though he could be a solid rotation piece, and one can only hope that earning the D-League Finals MVP will only aid his development.

One thing that stands out with these six draftees, is a lack of shooting. Norman Powell has done exceedingly well to shake that tag off to become the most dependable source of 3-pointers in the 2017 playoffs, but that probably speaks more to the team’s overall struggles from that mark. Caboclo looks the best shooter of the lot after that, but it remains to be seen if he will actually get to that level.

The Raptors may already be changing their drafting perspective in this regard, as they worked out both T.J. Leaf and Tyler Lydon recently, two guys that project to be stretch fours in the NBA.

Huskies culture?

This is a blow-it-up scenario. If Kyle Lowry leaves for what he perceives to be a better opportunity, there is no sense in paying up for any of the other free agents. It would perhaps even serve the Raptors best to trade DeRozan and initiate a complete rebuild.

With that being said, a Raptors history where they have won a playoff round in just three of their 22 seasons and have hung their hat on division banners isn’t the most compelling. A full rebuild would be the perfect time to changeover to the Huskies completely, and start anew. There is already history with that name having played the first ever NBA game, and there could potentially be a cultural impact across the country as well.

There are many Raptors fans who have complained about the attention the Maple Leafs and Blue Jays get in comparison, and maybe it’s time to accept that if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. The blue and white schemes of those teams resonate across the country, and might bring a greater sense of attachment for those outside of Toronto. Those two teams have won championships too, so maybe some of that luck can rub off on the basketball franchise in the long term. A re-branding would also mean syncing the Huskies with the ‘We the North’ slogan, a much more logical pairing compared to the Raptors that are just extinct.

One of the downsides would be bidding farewell to the beloved Raptor, but I’m sure Powell would be happy to serve up Apollo for a rallying cry.

Yea I don’t mind the camera #selfieking

A post shared by ApolloThePomsky (@apollothepomsky) on Jan 21, 2017 at 3:11pm PST

Yes, I am aware that Apollo is a Pomsky and not a Huskie, but how could you not root for this?

With what I’ve brought up only representing a fraction of the decisions Ujiri needs to contemplate, it’s fair to say that this will be one wild summer in Toronto, one that could change the perception of this franchise forever.

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Raptors Weekly Podcast – Draft preview

Host William Lou is joined by Dane Belbeck (@zdane7) to discuss Dwane Casey staying put and the upcoming 2017 NBA Draft.

(more…)

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Weekend Open Thread

After a somewhat eventful week, we’ll turn things over to an open thread for the weekend. Feel free to just discuss/debate whatever. There’s a ton to talk about, but we’ve talked about most of it already. This is just a fresh comment section, really. Have a great weekend, everyone.

News

Podcasts

Columns

Outside Writing

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Checking in on Nando De Colo and DeAndre Daniels

There isn’t a whole lot tangible going on with the Toronto Raptors right now, at least not that we haven’t touched on already somewhere. I’m kind of regretting doing an 8,000-word mailbag rather than splitting it into smaller parts, or pocketing some of the questions for articles later. I also burned some bigger-picture juice at Vice and The Athletic this week. My bad (but please go read my big feature on Jerry Stackhouse).

One question that I’ve been asked a bunch on Twitter, though, is something I’m not sure I’ve addressed enough in an article. So for some light Friday content, let’s check in on three players the Raptors hold rights on but who aren’t currently in or around the NBA.

The Raptors still own Nando De Colo’s rights in restricted free agency. So what?

Toronto acquired Nando De Colo at the trade deadline in 2014, to that point a very uncharacteristic move for Masai Ujiri. On the surface, it mostly looked like roster balancing – De Colo, then 26, added some depth at either guard position while costing only Austin Daye, who had proven entirely superfluous and played sparingly. Down the stretch, De Colo would appear in 21 games for the Raptors, averaging 3.1 points and 1.6 assists in 9.2 minutes. It was underwhelming, as his entire two-year turn in the NBA was, and he saw just four minutes in the team’s seven-game series against the Brooklyn Nets.

From there, De Colo returned overseas, landing with CSKA Moscow. Because the Raptors had tendered him a qualifying offer that summer, they retained his NBA rights even though he had opted to play elsewhere. Each summer since, the Raptors have extended him a qualifying offer, he’s let it expire to stay in Russia, and the Raptors’ rights roll over. This can and will continue until De Colo either opts to return to the NBA, in which case he’d be a restricted free agent and the Raptors would have an inside track on signing him, or until the Raptors fail to extend him a qualifying offer or renounce his rights. Since the Raptors would only do that in a scenario where they’re trying to maximize every dollar of cap room (De Colo comes with a cap hold each offseason), they’ll continue to extend De Colo these qualifying offers until an offseason that looks drastically different from the last few. This summer, the Raptors wouldn’t even need to consider taking De Colo off the books unless they blow things up, as they don’t figure to have cap space in any scenario but that one, anyway.

The situation is worth monitoring, though. In the time since De Colo left, he’s continued to grow his game, turning himself into perhaps the best guard not currently in the NBA (Sergio Llull and Milos Teodosic, and maybe some others, would have arguments). Last year, De Colo helped lead CSKA Moscow to a EuroLeague championship, earning EuroLeague MVP (and EuroLeague Final Four MVP) honors. De Colo and CSKA couldn’t quite repeat this year, but they made it back to the EuroLeague Final Four, and De Colo earned his second consecutive All-EuroLeague First Team. CSKA have also won consecutive VTB United League championships in Russia and are in the semifinal once again (De Colo has a chance at three-peating as VTB MVP, as well). Between VTB and EuroLeague, De Colo averaged 18.3 points and 4.4 assists this year, shooting 53.8 percent overall and 42 percent on threes. He’s also been a large part of France national teams that have medalled at three consecutive EuroBasket tournaments

His success has been resounding. That this was within him isn’t all that surprising. De Colo dominated in 11 D-League games over his two NBA seasons, and it seemed like a situation where there simply wasn’t enough opportunity for him to continue growing in a small NBA role. He’s also paid quite handsomely to star on a EuroLeague power, probably more (or at least comparable) to what he’d make as an NBA backup. It’s tough to fault him.

If De Colo ever wanted to make the jump back to the NBA, there would figure to be at least a handful of teams interested, and the Raptors could be among them. The sticking point presently is that De Colo has two more years remaining on what was reported to be a three-year, 10-million euro (about $11.1M US at the current exchange) deal with no NBA out clause. NBA teams are capped on the amount they can contribute to a player’s buyout without it counting against the cap, and so if CSKA wanted to play hardball, De Colo would have to really want to make the leap. He’ll be 32 when that deal runs out, so while it’s fun to track his progress and remain curious about a potential NBA (and Raptors) return, it would seem off the table until De Colo begins the backside of his career.

Does DeAndre Daniels still exist?

Three years ago, the Raptors used the No. 37 pick on DeAndre Daniels, a lanky forward out of U-Conn who had just turned in a terrific NCAA Tournament. It was considered a bit of a reach at the time and remains a somewhat curious pick in retrospect. Hey, it’s the second round, these things happen, and Daniels has had immense misfortune on the injury front.

After a Summer League, the Raptors sent him to Australia where he could play a larger role, as the Raptors didn’t yet have a D-League team. Around injuries to his eye and elbow, Daniels put up decent numbers but with low efficiency, with really only his rebounding standing out. He was set to return to the Summer League squad in 2015 but suffered a Jones fracture, costing him almost all of what would have been his second pro season. He joined Raptors 905 late last year, but really only ever got to the rehabilitation stage, playing minimal minutes over eight games and looking as rusty as you’d expect after almost a year off. This past summer, a minor injury and a deep Summer League roster bumped him out of the Las Vegas rotation entirely, and Daniels opted to head overseas rather than do another D-League year (he would not have been susceptible to getting plucked by another team, but he would have also made a bare-bones salary).

Daniels latched on with Dinamica Generale Mantovana in the Italian Serie A2 league, Italy’s second-tier league. Mantovana finished 19-16 overall, losing in five games in the first round of the playoffs. But Daniels was solid, leading the team in rebounding, blocked shots, and player efficiency rating. And he stayed healthy the entire season! In 35 games, Daniels averaged 13 points, 6.6 rebounds, and 1.1 blocks, shooting 50.3 percent overall and 39.3 percent on threes. All told, it was an encouraging season, statistically and health-wise, though it’s hard to effectively translate those numbers or Daniels’ progress without the benefit of film (or seeing how much weight he’s been able to add).

It would seem unlikely that Daniels factors into the Raptors’ plans any longer. At 25, Daniels appears to be only a good international player, and unless there’s been some major skill and body development underlying the production, that might be what his career is from here. That’s respectable and could be quite lucrative, so Daniels perhaps wouldn’t be open to a return to the D-League and a chance to catch on somewhere. It’s tough to say without speaking to him directly, but a lower salary and no chance for another NBA team to grab him would leave a lot on the table. Conversely, it’s unclear whether Daniels remains enough of a prospect to warrant one of the two-way contracts that will be introduced this year, deals that could see players earn salaries competitive with international leagues while also allowing for D-League (or G-League, rather) development.

Whether or not Daniels is on the Summer League roster or not should be telling. The Raptors retain his NBA draft rights, but the longer he’s away from the program, the more his rights become a form of currency rather than anything of tangible value.

(What I mean by this: In any NBA trade, both teams have to send something, and so often NBA draft rights will be swapped to satisfy that condition, even though the team has little use for them. The Raptors have previously done this with such luminaries as Edin Bavcic, Albert Miralles, and Remon Van de Hare, and acquired and then swapped the rights to former European dunk champion Georgios Printezis. Along with Daniels, the Raptors also presently own the NBA rights to DeeAndre Hulett.)

Wait, whom, in the blue hell, is DeeAndre Hulett?

DeeAndre Hulett was the No. 47 overall pick in the 2000 NBA Draft. After entering and then withdrawing in 1999, the College of the Sequoias product (a Division III school), by way of Las Vegas of the IBL, apparently impressed Glen Grunwald and the Raptors enough to take a flier. At the time, Hulett was only 19, and the last measurement of him shows 6-foot-7 and 225 pounds, decent size fr the wing. He had averaged 8.4 points over 56 games in the IBL as a teenager, shooting 50.1 percent. It is…difficult to find much more information than that. From scouring the internet, it appears at one point he was playing professionally in the Dominican Republic and Mexico, and he was a seond-round pick of Greenville in the 2001 NBDL draft but never played. According to an article from 2010 I found, he appears to coach basketball in Caro, Michigan.

Anyway, Hulett is 36 now, but the Raptors retain his draft rights. There’s no need to renounce them at any point – the Atlanta Hawks hold draft rights on a player dating back to 1986 – and if a trade ever materialized where the Raptors needed to acquire something without sending anything real out, they could use Hulett’s rights (they did this the other summer by sending the rights to Tomislav Zubcic for Luke Ridnour, for example).

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Raptors receive 2018 2nd-round pick for Weltman; can’t trade with Magic for a year

Jeff Weltman is doing the Toronto Raptors one more favor. Kind of.

The Orlando Magic hired Weltman, previously the Raptors’ general manager, away this week, making him their president of basketball operations. As Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical reports, the Magic will send the Raptors a 2018 second-round pick as compensation. Wojnarowski adds that the bump in title and “significant pay raise” the Raptors gave Weltman at this time last year was enough leverage to land the pick.

UPDATE: The Raptors have confirmed the move.

The Magic own both their own pick and the Los Angeles Lakers’ second-round pick next year, and the Raptors will receive the lower (least favorable) of the two selections. Since the Raptors don’t own their own second rounder thanks to the P.J. Tucker acquisition, this refills their future draft pick stock, both as useful assets and trade currency. That pick should be pretty useful, considering the Lakers and Magic both figure to be fringe playoff teams at best, barring dramatic ascensions.

There’s a good chance the Raptors just landed a pick in the mid-to-late 30s for an outbound executive, which, while Weltman is a big loss, is a nice piece of business. The last time Masai Ujiri (and Weltman) had a pick in the second round, they landed Norman Powell, for example. His track record selecting in the second round is spotty, as is nearly every executives, but it’s a really nice asset to have, better than their own pick likely would have stood to be.

The Raptors are in the process of replacing Weltman, and Wojnarowski reports that assistant general manager Bobby Webster is the leading candidate, as we originally speculated here. The 32-year-old Webster, whom the Raptors plucked from the NBA league office in the summer of 2013, has been considered a rising front office star around the league for some time. While initially a salary cap expert and vice president of basketball strategy, he’s grown to lend a hand on the scouting and personnel side as well, and last summer’s restructuring seemed at least in part aimed to keep Webster on an upward track to prevent losing him. Dan Tolzman would likely figure to assume Webster’s role as assistant general manager in the event Webster moves up another rung.

Ujiri spoke about Weltman’s departure with media on Tuesday.

UPDATE II: In an interesting additional note, Shams Charania of The Vertical reveals that a provision in the deal will prevent the Raptors and Magic from trading players with each other until the end of the 2017-18 season. It’s probably language that wouldn’t matter all that much, anyway, but it precludes Ujiri and Weltman from leveraging their friendship for a calendar year. As Matt Moore put it, “they built a Masai Ujiri firewall.” This is probably mostly nothing, but it’s at least a little telling that it got put in writing (perhaps by the NBA, not the Magic).

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AUDIO: Dwane Casey says he’ll be coaching Raptors next year, talks culture reset

Toronto Raptors head coach Dwane Casey joined Naylor & Landsberg on TSN 1050 on Wednesday to reflect on the 2016-17 season and look ahead to 2017-18. Normally we wouldn’t pass along a radio interview, but notable within is that Casey says president Masai Ujiri has assured him he’ll be coaching the team next year.

You can check out the interview here. Casey also talked more about the “culture reset” on Sportsnet 590 yesterday.

This isn’t surprising, necessarily. Ujiri gave Casey a somewhat tepid vote of confidence at his season-ending media availability but was clear that system changes would need to be made. For his part, Casey seemed to embrace those publicly. That he’s remained around the team throughout the pre-draft process should have been telling.

Anyway, just passing along in case anyone was still wondering as to Casey’s status. I already wrote about this a ton, and it’d be exhausting to do so again. Tl;dr – I don’t really get how this fits with talk of a culture shift, but Casey’s a fine coach.

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Updated draft rankings following withdrawal deadline

Wednesday marked the deadline for underclassmen to withdraw from the 2017 NBA Draft, and with that deadline came the news that Justin Jackson will return to Maryland for a sophomore season. Jackson worked out for the Raptors on Tuesday and is one of five (out of 20) players the team has worked out who decided to withdraw, joining Rawle Alkins, Johnathan Williams, MiKyle McIntosh, and Markis McDuffie.

Here’s who the Raptors have worked out to date:

Player Date Note
Dylan Ennis 17-May
Jeremy Hollowell 17-May
Rashawn Thomas 17-May
Rawle Alkins 17-May Withdraw
T.J. Williams 17-May
Tyler Lydon 17-May
T.J. Leaf 18-May
Tyler Cavanaugh 18-May
Dillon Brooks 22-May
Jonathan Williams 22-May Withdraw
Kobi Simmons 22-May
Markis McDuffie 22-May Withdraw
Semi Ojeleye 22-May
Tyler Dorsey 22-May
Isaiah Briscoe 23-May
Xavier Rathan-Mayes 23-May
Justin Jackson 23-May Withdraw
MiKyle McIntosh 23-May Withdraw
Sebastian Saiz 23-May
Johnathan Motley 23-May

As a reminder, there is still a ton of process yet to come. Last year, the Raptors didn’t hold an official workout until June 1 and still managed to work out 59 players. That they’ve already managed to bring in 15 players still in the draft is a nice jump-start, and they’ll continue workouts Tuesday. And, of course, the pre-draft workouts are only one part of the entire scouting and decision-making process, so the list of names that do ultimately come in aren’t worth fretting too much over. But it’s the part of the process we’re privy to, and so we do what we can with it.

Following the in/out deadline, here’s an updated look at the rankings from Chad Ford of ESPN, DraftExpress, The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor, and Joshua Riddell. (Where the rankings still had players who have since withdrawn, I just slid everyone up a ranking. Players who did not received a rank of 105 for the sake of averaging.)

Rank Player Ford Express O’Connor Riddell Average High Low
1 Markelle Fultz 1 1 1 1 1.0 1 1
2 Lonzo Ball 2 2 3 3 2.5 2 3
3 Josh Jackson 3 3 4 2 3.0 2 4
4 Jayson Tatum 4 4 2 7 4.3 2 7
5 De’Aaron Fox 5 5 5 5 5.0 5 5
6 Jonathan Isaac 6 9 8 4 6.8 4 9
7 Malik Monk 7 6 6 8 6.8 6 8
8 Dennis Smith 8 7 7 9 7.8 7 9
9 Zach Collins 9 12 13 6 10.0 6 13
10 Frank Ntilikina 11 10 10 10 10.3 10 11
11 Lauri Markkanen 10 8 14 13 11.3 8 14
12 Donovan Mitchell 15 11 11 14 12.8 11 15
13 OG Anunoby 13 14 9 16 13.0 9 16
14 Jarrett Allen 18 17 18 11 16.0 11 18
15 Justin Patton 21 21 12 15 17.3 12 21
16 Luke Kennard 14 16 16 26 18.0 14 26
17 John Collins 16 20 19 17 18.0 16 20
18 Ike Anigbogu 19 15 27 19 20.0 15 27
19 Justin Jackson 25 13 25 25 22.0 13 25
20 Terrance Ferguson 17 22 21 32 23.0 17 32
21 Jawun Evans 30 27 23 12 23.0 12 30
22 Harry Giles 12 33 22 29 24.0 12 33
23 Jonathan Jeanne 26 19 15 36 24.0 15 36
24 Rodions Kurucs 33 18 17 30 24.5 17 33
25 D.J. Wilson 28 29 20 27 26.0 20 29
26 Bam Adebayo 23 37 26 23 27.3 23 37
27 T.J. Leaf 20 26 46 22 28.5 20 46
28 Isaiah Hartenstein 29 23 43 20 28.8 20 43
29 Semi Ojeleye 35 28 24 39 31.5 24 39
30 Andzejs Pasecniks 36 30 37 24 31.8 24 37
31 Jordan Bell 31 32 30 41 33.5 30 41
32 Ivan Rabb 24 25 31 55 33.8 24 55
33 Tony Bradley 22 40 47 28 34.3 22 47
34 Derrick White 44 31 29 35 34.8 29 44
35 Josh Hart 39 50 35 21 36.3 21 50
36 Caleb Swanigan 32 34 38 45 37.3 32 45
37 Tyler Lydon 34 24 55 44 39.3 24 55
38 Monte Morris 38 66 40 18 40.5 18 66
39 Mathias Lessort 52 36 41 38 41.8 36 52
40 Alec Peters 42 35 50 49 44.0 35 50
41 Frank Jackson 27 41 36 76 45.0 27 76
42 Johnathan Motley 37 39 52 54 45.5 37 54
43 Devin Robinson 49 48 33 53 45.8 33 53
44 Wesley Iwundu 57 53 28 48 46.5 28 57
45 Kostja Mushidi 41 56 48 43 47.0 41 56
46 Edmond Sumner 40 54 56 40 47.5 40 56
47 Jonah Bolden 43 43 58 48.0 43 58
48 Thomas Bryant 53 38 44 62 49.3 38 62
49 Arnoldas Kulboka 62 55 49 31 49.3 31 62
50 P.J. Dozier 56 51 42 49.7 42 56
51 Kyle Kuzma 50 42 42 65 49.8 42 65
52 Sterling Brown 48 57 32 66 50.8 32 66
53 Cameron Oliver 51 59 39 56 51.3 39 59
54 Frank Mason 45 44 69 52.7 44 69
55 Dillon Brooks 46 52 60 52.7 46 60
56 Sindarius Thornwell 63 61 45 46 53.8 45 63
57 Jaron Blossomgame 66 49 54 47 54.0 47 66
58 Kobi Simmons 55 62 50 55.7 50 62
59 L.J. Peak 92 45 34 57.0 34 92
60 Tyler Dorsey 47 46 80 57.7 46 80
61 Dwayne Bacon 54 58 51 68 57.8 51 68
62 Davon Reed 60 76 34 83 63.3 34 83
63 Alpha Kaba 65 71 59 65.0 59 71
64 Damyean Dotson 58 64 77 66.3 58 77
65 V.J. Beachem 70 75 53 71 67.3 53 75
66 Andrew White 75 77 64 72.0 64 77
67 Vlatko Cancar 105 60 51 72.0 51 105
68 Kadeem Allen 77 69 74 73.3 69 77
69 Aleksandar Vezenkov 95 70 57 74.0 57 95
70 Nigel Hayes 68 73 84 75.0 68 84
71 Luke Kornet 81 67 78 75.3 67 81
72 Nigel Williams-Goss 78 63 89 76.7 63 89
73 Viny Okouo 83 65 86 78.0 65 86
74 Borisa Simanic 84 90 61 78.3 61 90
75 Chris Boucher 59 105 72 78.7 59 105
76 Eric Mika 64 74 105 81.0 64 105
77 Isaiah Hicks 61 78 105 81.3 61 105
78 Melo Trimble 74 92 85 83.7 74 92
79 Jamel Artis 79 105 67 83.7 67 105
80 Jake Wiley 105 68 81 84.7 68 105
81 Isaiah Briscoe 71 80 105 85.3 71 105
82 Alerto Abalde 105 47 105 85.7 47 105
83 Amile Jefferson 76 105 79 86.7 76 105
84 Rolands Smits 105 83 73 87.0 73 105
85 Kennedy Meeks 67 105 91 87.7 67 105
86 Wesley Alves Da Silva 94 94 75 87.7 75 94
87 Malcolm Hill 80 105 88 91.0 80 105
88 London Perrantes 105 105 63 91.0 63 105
89 Elie Okobo 86 84 105 91.7 84 105
90 Egemen Guven 97 97 81 91.7 81 97
91 Antonio Blakeney 88 85 105 92.7 85 105
92 Paris Bass 69 105 105 93.0 69 105
93 Isaac Humphries 87 88 105 93.3 87 105
94 Marko Guduric 105 105 70 93.3 70 105
95 Derrick Walton Jr. 72 105 105 94.0 72 105
96 Cyrille Eliezer-Vanerot 105 72 105 94.0 72 105
97 Peter Jok 73 105 105 94.3 73 105
98 Laurynas Birutis 100 79 105 94.7 79 105
99 Nik Slavica 98 82 105 95.0 82 105
100 James Blackmon Jr. 90 91 105 95.3 90 105
101 Malcolm Hill 105 87 97 96.3 87 105
102 George de Paula 105 81 105 97.0 81 105
103 Marcus Keene 82 105 105 97.3 82 105
104 Ilimane Diop 105 105 82 97.3 82 105
105 Tolam Gecim 85 105 105 98.3 85 105
106 Deonte Burton 105 86 105 98.7 86 105
107 Ognjen Jaramaz 105 105 87 99.0 87 105
108 Kris Jenkins 89 105 105 99.7 89 105
109 Chance Comanche 105 89 105 99.7 89 105
110 Michael Fusek 105 105 90 100.0 90 105
111 Jeremy Morgan 91 105 105 100.3 91 105
112 Zak Irvin 93 105 105 101.0 93 105
113 Zou Yuchen 105 93 105 101.0 93 105
114 Diego Flaccadori 105 95 105 101.7 95 105
115 Kenan Sipahi 96 105 105 102.0 96 105
116 Gytis Masiulis 105 96 105 102.0 96 105
117 Matrynas Echodas 105 98 105 102.7 98 105
118 Austin Nichols 105 99 105 103.0 99 105
119 Laurynas Beliauskas 99 105 105 103.0 99 105
120 Jaylen Johnson 105 100 105 103.3 100 105

We’ll have more draft coverage when the Raptors resume workouts next week.

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Draft workout notes: Justin Jackson leads Canadian-heavy group

The Toronto Raptors held their latest set of 2017 pre-draft workouts with media availability on Tuesday, with a group that included three players with Canadian passports. As a reminder, the organization has never drafted a Canadian, and only two have even suited up for the team. For at least one day, it had some benefit to the players involved.

“That always helps because guys are more inclined to help you, talk to you and motivate you,” Justin Jackson said. “That really helped.”

What wasn’t immediately clear was whether Jackson, the most notable of the Canadian names, would stay in the draft. Tomorrow is the deadline for early-entry candidates to withdraw, and of the 20 prospects the Raptors have worked out, two have already pulled their names out of consideration. Changes to the draft process have made gathering information like this much easier for players, and the Raptors are happy to play a part in helping the players make the right career decisions.

“If they’re in the mix at all for the next couple of years, I think it’s good for them to kind of get a judge on where they are in the process,” Raptors director of player personnel Dan Tolzman said. “There’s no better feedback than the professionals on our side that can really help them at least get an idea of what they need to work on and how close they are…I’ve had a couple tough conversations already on that. It’s just a matter of a lot of times, they’re not looking for any sort of false indications of where thye’re at, they would like to have as honest of feedback as they can, because these are tough career choices”

Their role is not entirely altruistic, however. While the pre-draft workout process can come off as a bit confusing for how wide a net teams will cast, the Raptors are looking at more than just candidates for the No. 23 pick with these sessions. Usually that means looking at potentially undrafted players to bring in for Summer League, training camp, or Raptors 905, but for underclassmen who may be back in the draft process again in the future, it’s a nice way for the Raptors to guide their own scouting and evaluations moving forward.

“We try to bring in a few guys that interest us in terms of seeing where they’re at, set a baseline for what they’re at now and then watch them next year with that in mind,” Tolzman said. “And then when we bring them in next year, if they go through that process again, we’ll have a much better idea of kind of the trajectory they’re on development wise and see how they’re growth grows.”

So maybe Jackson’s a name to watch for 2018, instead. We’ll know by tomorrow, anwyay.

Player Notes

Here’s the full list of players who attended the workout:

Isaiah Briscoe Guard 6-1 Kentucky
Xavier Rathan-Mayes Guard 6-4 Florida State
Justin Jackson Forward 6-6 Maryland
MiKyle McIntosh Forward 6-7 Illinois State
Sebastian Saiz Forward 6-7 Ole Miss
Johnathan Motley Forward 6-8 Baylor

Isaiah Briscoe
Chad Ford Rank: 79, DraftExpress Rank: 90

How much do you believe in the Kentucky bump? Over the last few years, Kentucky’s top players have seemingly done much better in the NBA than even their draft stock would suggest, pointing to the sacrifices the players need to make on consistently deep and talented teams. That hasn’t entirely held true for their lesser draft prospects, though, and Briscoe falls in that class as someone generally ranked outside of the top 60 (he tested the waters only to withdraw last year).

At 21, Briscoe’s already big for the point guard position, and it’s that strength that allows him to penetrate, invite contact, and create for teammates, and his 6-foot-9 wingspan should help him guard at the next level even without elite athleticism, particularly if he sticks at the point. The issue for Briscoe is that he can’t really shoot – he was 22-of-96 on college threes and is a mediocre free-throw shooter – and his inconsistencies were somewhat glaring under the bright lights of the NCAA Tournament. He might be worth developing to see if the shot comes along, but he’s probably going to wind up an undrafted free agent consideration at most.

Xavier Rathan-Mayes
Chad Ford Rank: 136, DraftExpress Rank: Unranked

Scarborough, stand up. After redshirting his true freshman year, Rathan-Mayes hasn’t quite been able to build on his ACC All-Freshman nod in 2014-15. His numbers have tailed off, his role has decreased, and most notably, his 3-point shot hasn’t really come along like some who saw him as a potential wing prospect had surely hoped. On the bright side, Rathan-Mayes has improved as a playmaker, averaging a career-best 4.8 assists as a junior this year, and he remains an effective pick-and-roll scorer.

That point guard development could be his saving grace, because Rathan-Mayes doesn’t quite measure large enough or profile well enough athletically to be a true two-three at the next level – he may be best off as a big combo-guard rather than a smaller wing. Already 23 years old, there may not be a lot of perceived upside left in Rathan-Mayes, but if the team’s looking ahead a bit, a locally produced ball-handler is something the 905 could probably use.

Justin Jackson
Chad Ford Rank: 38, DraftExpress Rank: 31

Notable for far more than just his passport, the East York Justin Jackson (don’t get him confused with UNC’s Justin Jackson, who probably won’t be around at No. 23, during this process) stands as perhaps the most likely player, right now, to be the first Canadian the Raptors ever draft. He’s even suited up for Canada internationally on multiple occasions, most recently in the Under-19 FIBA World Championships in 2015. While he’s been a little under the radar this season and considered a potential withdraw candidate (DraftExpress has him mocked in the 2018 draft, and Jon Rothstein reports he’s expected to return to Maryland), the 20-year-old checks a lot of boxes for the Raptors organization if he stays in.

“I’d probably say it’s a bit easier because I have something to fall back on if things didn’t go well,” Jackson said of his decision. “Truthfully, I’m hearing a whole bunch of different things, it’s kind of mixed right now. I really got to sit down, discuss with my family, my circle and really try to figure things out.”

Standing 6-foot-7 with a 7-foot-3 wingspan and already weighing in at 219 pounds (he dropped about 10 pounds from last year’s BioSteel All-Canadian Game), Jackson has great size for the three and may even profile as big enough to play some four. DraftExpress’ Jonathan Givony even seems to think he could see some time as a super-small five, and that kind of versatility is priceless in the modern NBA. With good athleticism, huge hands, and a willingness to invite contact at either end, Jackson should be able to work his way to becoming a plus-defender. Offensively, his ability to stretch the floor a bit is his primary weapon, as he shot 43.8 percent both inside and beyond the arc this year (he did not shoot particularly well in the Raptors’ finishing drill, though, coming up short on a lot of his threes).

“He’s a player that’s very intriguing because he’s got so many things going for him in terms of size and positional size and athletic ability and God-given intangibles that you don’t find on  a lot people,” Tolzman said. “So with all of that, he’s got some work to do, skill-wise, but that’s what we’re here to do, to evaluate to see how far along is he, how much work, what kind of development stuff…It’s a good early look at him and he’s very talented and he’s going to be an intriguing player to watch if ends up going back. He’s going to be a very highly scouted in college basketball. But if he stays in too he’s a guy that’s going to be discussed in our room, for sure.”

He’s still more of a perimeter or pick-and-pop player on that end, and his statistical production was somewhat muted – 10.5 points and six rebounds – but there’s a lot to like as he gains experience and irons out some of the inconsistencies that comes with a developing feel for offense.

MiKyle McIntosh
Chad Ford Rank: Unranked, DraftExpress Rank: Unranked

While it’s nice to have a third Canadian in a single workout, the Pickering native isn’t really on the draft radar. McIntosh put together a nice junior season at Illinois State, though, and should have proved a strong test for Jackson in the workout environment. At 6-foot-7 and 234 pounds, McIntosh has the body to bang, and he can step out and hit the three a bit, having knocked down 36.3 percent of his long-range attempts the last two seasons. McIntosh also picked up his play against stiffer competition, averaging more points against power conference teams than non-power conference teams over his three years. The 22-year-old has the option to withdraw from the draft, and if he does so, he’s expected to become a graduate transfer who could attract the attention of some major programs.

Sebastian Saiz
Chad Ford Rank: Unranked, DraftExpress Rank: Unranked

Because he’s a Spanish forward, commenters are, by law, required to compare Saiz to Jorge Garbajosa. The passport is about where the similarities end, though – Garbajosa never tried to pull off tinted goggles in a game, and for that reason, Saiz’ ceiling is much, much higher (Saiz suffered a detached retina and wears the protective eyewear as a precaution). In reality, Saiz might be destined for a solid overseas career rather than an NBA one, as the Ole Miss product isn’t really on the draft radar despite a strong senior season in which he averaged 15.1 points and 11.4 rebounds. At 6-foot-8 and 245 pounds with a 7-foot-5.5 wingspan, Saiz is one heck of a rebounder, but without a 3-point shot (he finally started shooting it this year, hitting 28.8 percent of his attempts) or the requisite youth or inexperience to suggest upside (he’ll be 23 less than a month after the draft), he’s not a substantial prospect. He’s got some game, though. And those goggles.

Johnathan Motley
Chad Ford Rank: 39, DraftExpress Rank: 40

Can a power forward who checks off every box except the “stretch” designation land himself in the first round here in 2017? That’s a question Motley is going to try to answer in the affirmative, in large part by showing teams he can shoot better than the 9-of-33 he hit from long-range as a junior this year. Motley’s draft process was almost halted by a meniscus injury that required surgery in April, but he returned to practice earlier this month and reportedly shot well at the combine. If he can show improved range or mechanics with some consistency – he showed a decent face-up game at times in college – that limits his primary weakness and could allow his strengths to shine.

And the list of strengths is long – the 22-year-old is a large, physical presence, with a 7-foot-4 wingspan, 238-pound frame, and 6-foot-9 measurement in shoes. He used that size to strong effect this year, averaging 17.3 points, 9.9 rebounds, and 1.1 blocks while shooting 52.1 percent and even chipping in 2.3 assists, a nice piece of development from a game-reading standpoint. He’s a capable defender, an elite rebounder, and a quality finisher, particularly on the roll. The question becomes whether a team sees him as eventually being able to slide to the five or shoot the ball a bit more, questions that will determine whether he’s a late-first flier or a second-round lottery ticket.

Assorted

  • As a reminder, the draft takes place on June 22. We’ve got a long way to go.
  • Rawle Alkins and Markis McDuffie, who each worked out for the Raptors in the last week, have withdrawn from the draft.
  • There are no public workouts scheduled until next Tuesday. As a reminder, it’s still very early in the process – if I recall correctly, the Raptors didn’t even hold one of these sessions until June last year and still managed to work out 59 players.
    • “We’re only very early in the process but they’ve been really competitive and the players have really put themselves in a position to play well for us,” Tolzman said.
  • The Knicks are interested in P.J. Tucker, according to Ian Begley of ESPN. That will be an interesting test of money versus the chance to contend for Tucker, as he could probably command up to the mid-level exception if he isn’t bothered by landing on a middling team.
  • I’ll be posting some things on my Instagram story throughout the process, if you want to follow along there, too.

*A NOTE ON THIS PROCESS: We’re going to hear a lot of names rumored or reported to be coming in/meeting/working out/etc. I’m not always going to pass them on, especially this early in the process. A lot of it is due diligence and doesn’t mean a ton, and they’re also just low-value posts (“Rumor: Player X to work out”). Sometimes there will be (good) reasons the team doesn’t want the names public or a player can’t come in (Visa or scheduling issues). If anyone does visit and there’s media availability, we’ll have you covered. Obviously, feel free to comment and discuss those rumors (Hoops Hype is a good source for rumor aggregation) in the comments/forums, I just may not always throw a post up. Closer to the draft, as we get into second workouts or if someone outside of Toronto’s range visits, that information becomes a little more important.

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VIDEO: Masai Ujiri talks Jeff Weltman departure

Masai Ujiri spoke with media after the Toronto Raptors’ pre-draft workout at BioSteel Centre on Tuesday. The topic, naturally, was that Ujiri has lost his lead lieutenant, general manager Jeff Weltman, who became president of the Orlando Magic on Monday.

“I think he has paid his dues. An unbelievable person, a great basketball mind, and the time has come,” Ujiri said. “We all have to live with it. It’s sad sometimes but I think eventually it was going to happen somewhere, somehow. I tried to fake it with the G.M. title last year and give him a raise and everything but it didn’t fake anyone out I guess. But a phenomenal opportunity for an unbelievable person.”

Ujiri and Weltman have worked together for years now, with Weltman helping Ujiri land his first NBA job and Ujiri making the hiring of Weltman a condition of his employment with the Raptors. It’s an interesting dynamic now, one Ujiri thinks will help with potential dealings between the teams in the future, rather than making for an awkward situation. For now, though, Ujiri has lost his right hand and a close friend and colleague, which makes it tough to look, immediately, at the positive of growing your organization’s talent and seeing them get promotions elsewhere.

“You hope that you can continue to build and help people get opportunity. That’s my hope. That’s one thing,” Ujiri said. “But I don’t look at it like that. I look at it like a great loss to the organization.”

As far as a succession plan, it sounds as if Ujiri will look to fill the role internally, with Bobby Webster and Dan Tolzman, along with Teresa Resch and maybe some others, taking on different roles and more responsibility in a shake-up. He didn’t close the door on the possibility of bringing someone else in, though.

“I hate to say it on camera and in print, we’ve got great guys here,” Ujiri said. “They are phenomenal. Guys will raise their level. We’ll be creative in what we do, whether it’s bringing in somebody or raising a couple of these guys. These guys are good.”

Ujiri only spoke about Weltman and not the draft or free agency. Here’s the video:

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Magic hire Raptors’ GM Jeff Weltman as president of basketball operations

The first loss of the offseason for the Toronto Raptors is a big one, and it comes off the court.

The Orlando Magic are hiring Jeff Weltman as their president of basketball operations, according to a report from Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical. Weltman had been serving as general manager of the Raptors, having come over initially as the vice president of basketball operations and eventually assistant general manager, with his hire standing as one of president Masai Ujiri’s first moves upon arriving in Toronto. Prior to his time with the Raptors, Weltman was an assistant G.M. with the Milwaukee Bucks for five seasons, and worked in the Denver Nuggets’ and Los Angeles Clippers’ front office before that.

UPDATE: THe Magic have made it official.

In Orlando, Weltman will have some serious work to do. The Magic were reportedly interested in Cleveland Cavaliers general manager David Griffin, too, but “became further engaged” with Weltman as the process wore on, per Wojnarowski. Weltman will need to hire a general manager sometime soon, then embark on either fortifying a roster of ill-fitting parts or restarting an arrested rebuilding project. Either way, Terrence Ross should factor in prominently.

There’s ground to make up for the Raptors, too, as Weltman had been serving in his role with the team despite interviewing with Orlando. His imprint is all over the team the last few years, and losing him during the draft process and ahead of a pivotal offseason for the team is difficult. He was also a great counterpart to Ujiri, and the pair had a strong, effective working relationship together, with a sort of yin-and-yang balance, personality wise. At least if another trade opportunity between the teams materializes, Ujiri and Weltman already have a strong rapport.

The Raptors have a deep front office and lean on collaborative decision-making, and they still maintain their primary leader in Ujiri. The succession plan is not immediately clear, but they should be able to hold steady, even with a loss as big as Weltman. Around this time last year, Ujiri dropped G.M. from his title to free the spot for Weltman, a move that seemed aimed to keep the intelligent, hard-working executive in-house a while longer. The Pyrrhic problem with becoming a strong, well-respected organization, though, is that other teams will want your people eventually, and there’s only so much you can do to keep them for so long. There are only so many jobs in the league, and the bump to the role of president with autonomous decision-making power (and probably more money) in Orlando is a really good opportunity for Weltman, and a well-deserved one. (It’s also one that comes with five years of security, per ESPN’s Brian Windhorst.)

It does open up the G.M. position, and while Ujiri remains the final voice in the front office, this could be an opportunity to promote the fast-rising Bobby Webster to the position in order to keep him from being plucked soon down the line, too. Webster was originally brought over from the league office and was touted as a salary cap expert, and has since grown into a consensus future G.M. candidate. Dan Tolzman, who’s been instrumental on the development side of the organization and has been with Ujiri for years, could be in line for a larger role as well. Both have been a big part of turning the Raptors into what they are today, and both were (or are) bound to ascend, in Toronto or elsewhere, at some point. Teresa Resch could factor into a shakeup, as well, and there are a few names with the 905 who could come up to help fill roles if need be.

There are enough good, capable people in the organization for everyone to take a bump up the ladder and the team still feel confident, so long as they continue to find and develop more good people at the back end.

Best of luck to Weltman in Orlando. More as the Raptors announce a plan in the coming days or weeks.

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Draft workout notes: Brooks and Ojeleye headline intriguing session

The Toronto Raptors held their latest set of 2017 pre-draft workouts with media availability at BioSteel Centre on Monday, and it was well worth the staff losing their long weekend. The Raptors brought in the most loaded group of prospects they’ve had yet, and it’s tough to imagine there will be a more interesting six-pack than this the rest of the way. No, it’s not loaded with lottery picks, but getting as many as four potential draftees in for a single workout with only the No. 23 pick in hand is a nice piece of personnel work.

“The group of guys today was very competitive,” Raptors director of player personnel Dan Tolzman said. “A lot of similar traits in what they are going to bring to the NBA level. We kind of brought them in thinking it would give us a nice look at all their different types of skill sets in a similar position.”

It also meant for some nice individual matchups within the team-level workout, providing each interesting prospect with a counterpart that could help test, push, and illuminate. Even if some of these names aren’t in consideration for the first-round pick, the Raptors have some mobility and have done well securing undrafted free agents, something that’s at least on the radar with the introduction of the new hybrid two-way contracts.

“It’s in the back of the head,” Tolzman said. “We don’t have a second-round pick right now but we have shown that we are always able to get back in if we need to. It’s not so much looking at some of these guys as potential two-way guys. It’s more of who are the guys we liked in college that we are interested in and they bring something to the table that we could see fit in what we do…It’s something we will consider when we get there but we don’t really at this point know how we are going to address that or who we are going to fill them with yet.”

As I’ve written a bunch, that’s something to keep in mind with these workouts. Information is never not valuable, so even if a guy comes in and maybe isn’t in the mix at No. 23, a lot can still happen to make the process worthwhile. And hey, it’s not as if the Raptors haven’t surprised before, anyway. Monday had some names worth digging deeper on.

Player Notes

Here’s the full list of players who attended the workout:

Tyler Dorsey Guard 6-3 Oregon
Kobi Simmons Guard 6-3 Arizona
Dillon Brooks Forward 6-5 Oregon
Semi Ojeleye Forward 6-5 SMU
Markis McDuffie Forward 6-8 Wichita State
Johnathan Williams Forward 6-8 Gonzaga

Tyler Dorsey
Chad Ford Rank: 50, DraftExpress Rank: 48

Perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that Orgeon’s run to the Final Four produced a handful of interesting draft prospects, but with eyes landing on Dillon Brooks and Dylan Ennis here north of the border, Dorsey may slide under the radar in this workout despite being perhaps the best NBA prospect on the team (apologies to the injured Chris Boucher). After measuring 6-foot-4.5 at the combine, Dorsey is firmly in combo-guard territory, though his wingspan (6-foot-5) and weight (183 pounds) are a little on the smaller end for the two. Tweener is no longer really a negative term in the NBA, and if teams look at Dorsey as a point guard who can spend some time off-ball and guard some bigger players (think Delon Wright), then his lack of obvious position won’t be that big a deal.

And it probably shouldn’t be, with everything else the 21-year-old can bring to the table. The athleticism is obvious and comes easy, and it’s helped him become one of the best slashers in college basketball and a plus defender for the Ducks. He also knocked down 41.6 percent of a large volume of threes over his two years with Oregon, which bodes well. The lack of time with the ball in his hands makes it tough to project him as a lead initiator at the next level, but he reportedly looked good as a creator at the combine, and he brings the kind of experience the Raptors like, having suited up with Greece internationally and as an older sophomore. If someone doesn’t take a stab at Dorsey in the second round and he doesn’t cash in over in Greece, he’d be an interesting development piece.

Kobi Simmons
Chad Ford Rank: 60, DraftExpress Rank: 65

Simmons didn’t measure quite as large as advertised at the combine, but at 6-foot-4.5 and with a 6-foot-6 wingspan, he’ll be just fine at point guard and, like Dorsey, might even be able to slide over as he adds size. There’s time for that, as Simmons is a pretty slender 19-year-old, but strength is going to be an issue out of the gate, which could stand to limit the effectiveness of his elite slashing early on in his career. Since Simmons is more scorer than distributor at this point, that’s a concern. So, too, is the fact that he fell out of Arizona’s rotation in the NCAA Tournament thanks to some shaky decision-making and generally ineffective play. Any team drafting him – likely in the second round – is doing so on upside, though, and his length, explosiveness, and defensive chops make him an intriguing prospect (he’s also apparently doing well extending his range). His parents also named him Kobi Jordan Simmons after, you guessed it, Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan, so this stuff is in his blood (his uncle played professionally, too).

Dillon Brooks
Chad Ford Rank: 49, DraftExpress Rank: 55

Brooks makes it two Canadians from Oregon to come in and workout during the first week of the process, and he should catch attention for more than just his passport. While the Mississauga native is mostly considered a potential second-round pick right now, showing some consistency on his 3-point stroke in workouts could go a long way for him. Brooks knocked down 40.1 percent of his triples as a junior and is a strong free-throw shooter, but the Raptors will be looking for repeatability in his mechanics if they’re going to project it out to the NBA 3-point line. Brooks needs that shot as part of his profile, as it’s his offensive versatility that’s most attractive at the next level – he can get into the paint and use his strong frame to finish through contact, make the smart pass to keep the offense moving, and if he can also spot up, he’s a nice fit for what the Raptors have lacked some on the wing (he was also among the country’s best isolation scorers, if you’re not a fan of the culture reset talk).

“Dillon is a guy, who you all know, brings so much passion to the table,” Tolzman said. “Whatever the doesn’t offer skill, talent wise he makes up for just with his winning plays and outplaying his opponents. I think he has shown he can score and defend and do all the things you look for energy-type guys and he brings that.”

He’s a less certain defensive prospect, though, at just 6-foot-6 with the same wingspan and a build that confuses whether he should be a two, three, or four. Again, tweener isn’t a bad word anymore, and he might be able to switch across multiple positions, but he’s not exceptionally athletic (improving his lateral quickness is one of his primary focuses right now), so it will have to be a combination of strength and smarts that carries him at that end. He’s certainly setting the bar high in terms of versatility, anyway.

“I feel like I’m a fast-paced, getting up and down, trying to out-work the opponent at all costs,” Brooks said of his strengths. “Playing three spot and stretching out to the four, like Draymond.”

Semi Ojeleye should have been a really, really nice test for him in this setting. Brooks draws raves for his leadership and personality, too, and so today really could have been a big day for him in either direction as the Raptors got a more intimate look.

Semi Ojeleye
Chad Ford Rank: 37, DraftExpress Rank: 28

Likely the most popular name of the process so far in our comments section, it’s easy to see why the SMU product might check off some boxes for the Raptors. He’s a 22-year-old junior, providing the sort of help-now maturity Toronto has leaned toward in recent drafts, even if his actual college playing experience was somewhat limited. He also earned accolades for his schoolwork (he was a national honor society member and had a perfect GPA in high school), work in the community (he was a NABC Good Works Team nominee), and work ethic (SMU coach Tim Jankovich said he’s never seen a player work harder). The Raptors are a people-first organization, and the well-educated, well-read Ojeleye seems a natural fit in that regard.

“What I am off the court plays into what I am on the court, for sure,” Ojeleye said. “I think you miss shots or someone makes a bad play, I think who you are shows in that moment. So I think that helps me, who I am, I think they see that, I think they know that.”

On top of being mentally ready, he’s among the most physically ready players in the draft, too. And he can really shoot it, with a pretty stroke that saw him knock down 42.4 percent of a high volume of threes after a redshirt year following his transfer from Duke. That transfer may confuse things a bit, though, as it made Ojeleye an older prospect who could physically dominate some of his competition. He played little as a Blue Devil before that, though he did produce more statistically in games against power conference opponents, at least. There’s also some noise in his strong season, too, as some metrics weren’t in agreement with the eye-test about his defense, which may play into the confusion about his ultimate position.

“I’m kinda positionless right now. Everybody asks me that question: Am I a three or am I a four?” Ojeleye said. “I think as far as defense, I can guard the three and the four, so I can play with multiple lineups. And offensively, as I get more comfortable on the perimeter, I can play the three, and I already know how to play the four, so as teams teach me what to do, I think I’ll be more versatile.”

Tweener can be as much a positive as a negative now, and really, it’s easy to see what the Raptors could fall in love with. A 6-foot-10 wingspan and 241-pound frame, an elite max vertical jump, and some of the best agility and speed scores at the combine all speak to the clay the team would be molding with. They believe deeply in their development staff, and like Pascal Siakam a year ago, the Raptors may see Ojeleye as undervalued because of his age but still with plenty of untapped upside. And he would seem to fit perfectly from a culture standpoint.

On top of everything else, Ojeleye also set the 2017 workout high in the Raptors’ finishing drill, which sees players sprint the length of the floor for two-and-a-half minutes shooting catch-and-shoot threes, pull-up threes, and layups. This is not something a 240-pound forward is supposed to dominate in, and yet Ojeleye has set the new high-water mark, scoring 44 points to end his day.

“You know, I didn’t shoot the ball too well when we played live,” Ojeleye said. “I feel like I’m a good shooter and I think it showed in that drill. So just stay mentally poised and know that when you do something well, it’ll eventually show up in the workout.”

Markis McDuffie
Chad Ford Rank: 151, DraftExpress Rank: Unranked

After striking gold with one undrafted Wichita State player a year ago, could the Raptors look to land another? Fred VanVleet’s former teammate turned in a really nice sophomore season for the Shockers, taking on a larger share of the offense in the team’s transition year of sorts. The 19-year-old averaged 11.5 points and hit 35.5 percent of his threes, steps forward from a more muted role in his freshman season. At 6-foot-8, McDuffie might eventually be able to build himself into a stretch-four prospect of sorts. That will probably come down the line, though, as McDuffie seems like a candidate to withdraw from the draft if he doesn’t have a sense he’ll be drafted. Given the improvements he made this year and how his performance sustained against elite quality of competition, he’ll be an interesting name as a junior. And he’s already got the quote game ready for Toronto.

Jonathan Williams
Chad Ford Rank: Unranked, DraftExpress Rank: Unranked

Like McDuffie, Williams hasn’t signed an agent and could withdraw from the draft for another season at Gonzaga. It will probably be a tougher cal for Williams, who turns 22 today and might not have the upward mobility as a fifth-year senior (he transferred from Missouri to Gonzaga and had to sit out a season as a result). Last year, Williams had a nice season with the Bulldogs, averaging 10.2 points and 6.4 rebounds while shooting 59.2 percent from the floor. He even hit 16-of-40 on threes, giving him a 36.5-percent mark for his three-year college career, albeit on a low volume. That will be an important skill to show more of in the workout environment, because the rest of Williams’ profile suggests he’s firmly a power forward, and adding “stretch” to that tag would be big for his eventual stock. It will be interesting to see if a decent NCAA Tournament (he posted 19-and-8 with three blocks in the Elite 8 and shot 25-of-45 for the tournament) and strong workout season convinces him to go pro or not.

Assorted

  • As a reminder, the draft takes place on June 22. We’ve got a long way to go.
  • “Semi,” by the way, is short for Jesusemilore. Ojeleye’s full name is Jesusemilore Talodabijesu Ojeleye. Obviously, if the Raptors draft him, you’ll be expected to be able to spell that correctly in the comments.
    • I’ve mentioned this in comment threads elsewhere, but I’m really high on Ojeleye, in general and particularly for the Raptors.
  • Dillon Brooks was able to spend the weekend at home in Mississauga and play with his 70-pound, nine-month-old rottweiler Zeus. Jealous.
  • Norman Powell was at BioSteel working out.
  • Maryland’s Justin Jackson, another Canadian, headlines Tuesday’s workout group.
  • I’ll be posting some things on my Instagram story throughout the process, if you want to follow along there, too.

*A NOTE ON THIS PROCESS: We’re going to hear a lot of names rumored or reported to be coming in/meeting/working out/etc. I’m not always going to pass them on, especially this early in the process. A lot of it is due diligence and doesn’t mean a ton, and they’re also just low-value posts (“Rumor: Player X to work out”). Sometimes there will be (good) reasons the team doesn’t want the names public or a player can’t come in (Visa or scheduling issues). If anyone does visit and there’s media availability, we’ll have you covered. Obviously, feel free to comment and discuss those rumors (Hoops Hype is a good source for rumor aggregation) in the comments/forums, I just may not always throw a post up. Closer to the draft, as we get into second workouts or if someone outside of Toronto’s range visits, that information becomes a little more important.

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Raptors Weekly Podcast – Same characters, different culture

Host William Lou spouts off in a solo podcast as he reacts to Masai Ujiri’s radio appearances. (more…)

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Long Weekend Open Thread

After a pretty slow week of nothing but pre-draft workouts and some hardware for DeMar DeRozan, we’ll turn things over to an open thread for the long weekend. Feel free to just discuss/debate whatever. There’s a ton to talk about, but we’ve talked about most of it already. This is just a fresh comment section, really. Have a great three-day weekend, everyone.

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Offseason Mailbag: Villains, Serpents, and a whole lot of free agent scenarios

I wasn’t sure if I was going to do an early offseason #RRMailbag. For one, I figured it’d be too large and we’d push close to the 7,000-word record (update: we broke it, this is 8,200 words, which is why it’s unedited). For another, the commentary around the team was pretty negative at season’s end. And most of all, the answer to a lot of the pressing offseason questions is “I don’t know, but here’s what I would do,” which probably isn’t as helpful as predicting what the team might do. So the answers that follow will have some Ifs and scenario breakdowns, but the Raptors themselves give the impression they don’t know where exactly they’re headed yet, so the best we can do is lay out the possibilities. I also timed the call for questions early on a Monday so I wouldn’t take four days to put this together. Alas, they always take a while. I did, however, go back and dig up some questions I’ve been asked fairly often, even if I already answered them on Twitter, as I figure if one person is asking, others may have the same question.

We’ll try to do mini-mailbags when time allows during the offseason, at least until they draw repetitive. You can find all of the previous editions of the mailbag here, if, for whatever reason, you wanted to read old mailbags.

Before we go ahead: A reminder that we have a Patreon page at patreon.com/RaptorsRepublic. If you appreciate the content we produce, want to support RR, and have the means to do so, any contribution is greatly appreciated and will help us continue to do what we do (and try to do even more). You can also follow me on Twitter for, uhh, tweets, and on Facebook for all of my writing/podcasting/radio stuff. Validate me. You can also ask me questions at any time using #RRMailbag, and I’ll be sure to include them in the next mailbag, no matter how long between.

Alright, let’s get this money.

(Note: I originally made this intentionally terrible photo shop for the header image but it was too stretched out. Disappointing when your terrible esoteric photoshops are rendered even more uesless.)

Common non-mailbag questions

Does Kyle Lowry opting out mean he is negotiating with teams for 2018-19 and will be with the Raptors next season? Or does opting mean he doesn’t have to play the last year of his contract? Or something else?

Kyle Lowry is a free agent as of midnight on July 1. His option was for the 2017-18 season, and he had until seven days after the Raptors’ elimination to choose to exercise it. The Raptors still hold his full Bird rights in free agency, but he can go anywhere he’d like for next season now. So when people talked about Lowry’s four-year deal or having X number of years left, they were including the option year. We’ll run into this again with DeMar DeRozan, who holds a player option in the last year of his new contract, too.

For clarity, this is a little different than the options the team holds on their young players. Those options, which need to be exercised by Oct. 31, are for the following season. Basically, with rookie-scale contracts, the team has to make those decisions very early, while veteran options are usually closer to the end of the relevant year. So when the team eventually exercises options on Delon Wright, Jakob Poeltl, and Pascal Siakam this fall, those will be for 2018-19.

Should the Raptors let Lowry go and use the money on a different free agent / Who do you like in free agency if Lowry walks?

This is perhaps the biggest complication with Lowry’s impending free agency: If Lowry walks, the Raptors don’t actually have any means of replacing him on the market. The Raptors are in a position to retain Lowry and their other free agents because they hold Bird rights, which allow them to exceed the salary cap to keep them. But they don’t have those rights on other free agents, and so they’ll lack the space to sign any marquee name.

To wit, even if the Raptors renounced the rights to all four of their unrestricted free agents, they’d only project to have roughly $20 million in cap space, not enough to chase a star and maybe not even enough to chase a second-tier point guard. No stars are incoming to replace Lowry, at least not via the money saved by not signing him.

And that’s assuming the Raptors don’t re-sign Serge Ibaka, P.J. Tucker, or Patrick Patterson. Those players have cap holds that essentially eat the Raptors’ theoretical cap space, and if any of them are re-signed, they’ll eat into real cap space. Basically, the Raptors will only be free agent players if all four free agents walk. Otherwise, you’re looking at trades, development, and one of the mid-level exceptions (depending on where salary lands) to fortify the squad.

Do you think Coaching Rumor X is related to Dwane Casey and the Raptors?

I mean, maybe? There is going to be a ton of coaching movement over the next couple of months, and you’ll drive yourself crazy trying to figure if each is related to the Raptors. They keep things pretty quiet – I got the Patrick Mutombo news last year but that’s rare – and the honest truth is Toronto probably doesn’t know yet which way they’re heading with the staff.

Can the Raptors sign-and-trade Lowry (or Serge Ibaka, or whomever) to recoup assets while losing the player?

I feel like I’ve written about this a bunch of times already, but let me re-hash: The newer two collective bargaining agreements essentially killed the sign-and-trade option as most people seem to remember it. When Chris Bosh left, for example, the Raptors recouped a pair of picks by using the sign-and-trade, which benefited the Raptors, Bosh, and the Miami Heat.

But the newer versions of the CBA no longer allow a player to get a fifth year using the sign-and-trade, nor can they get the larger annual raises the team with their rights can offer. So in the case of Lowry, his contract in a sign-and-trade would be the exact dollar amount as if he signed somewhere else without it. There is absolutely no financial benefit to Lowry to going this route. If Lowry wants to go to Philadelphia, the 76ers can sign him using cap space. There’s no sense in them surrendering an asset to the Raptors if there’s no benefit to them or Lowry.

The sign-and-trade tool, now, is really about expanding a player’s potential destinations. If Lowry (or Ibaka, or whoever) wants to go to a team that can’t sign them into cap space, then a sign-and-trade becomes an option for that team. The Raptors have to play ball and be amenable to that, and they’d likely ask for compensation in return. The player would be impartial, financially. So the sign-and-trade is useful for flexibility, but because it doesn’t change the contract a player can get, it’s really not as important a weapon as it used to be. The Raptors can’t really bank on getting anything back – basically, they can charge the going rate to eat salary, otherwise the acquiring team could just dump a contract elsewhere for cheaper to clear the requisite cap space.

Raptors offseason

They didn’t, so apologies that I didn’t get to this question. I don’t think it would have made much of a difference. With how guard-heavy the draft is at the top and how big a need Philly has there, they were probably going to use at least one of their picks on a guard, and they were going to have a need at the position still. Maybe landing Markelle Fultz would have made chasing Lowry slightly less likely, but Lowry can play off ball and rookie point guards need help anyway.

It’s a really difficult decision, one I’ve written about a ton already. I’m a Trust the Process person in general, but I think I’d probably keep the core and make a coaching/system change.

There’s just too much equity that’s been built the last while, and too big a risk of turning away from the best run in franchise history only to wind up spending years in the wilderness again just trying to get back to this point. I’d move Serge Ibaka to center, if he’ll stay, keep Patrick Patterson if his value’s taken a hit, shop Jonas Valanciunas (for his sake and for luxury tax reasons), use the draft pick, and hope some of the young players can take a step forward. You don’t have much financial wiggle room to add in this scenario, so I’d be on the lookout for a trade that nets a shooter. Dwane Casey doesn’t deserve to lose his job in a vacuum, but I’d probably make a change there just to try something new. The Raptors still wouldn’t be a serious threat to the Cavaliers like that, but I’m a believer there’s real value in staying good for an extended period.

But I am, like, 55/45 on this. The scenario in which they blow it up is just as justifiable, and while the day-to-day would be a lot less enjoyable, it would renew optimism about eventually getting where the team wants to go. There are tear-down measures available, some good young pieces on the roster, and a landscape in which there may not be many teams tanking for very interesting 2018 and 2019 drafts.

I don’t mean to be wishy washy, but as I outlined here, there are good arguments for either approach.

Where are we getting that Lowry is sharply depreciating? Prior to his wrist injury, Lowry was having perhaps his best season yet, and was a down-ballot MVP candidate again based on most advanced metrics. Everything we have to measure a player’s impact on a team still suggests Lowry is the team’s most important and impactful player, even if DeRozan often feels like the star because he’s the most important scorer.

You can definitely make an argument for moving on from Lowry and pivoting to a restart, but saying Lowry’s already started declining is disingenuous. In general, diminutive point guards age quite poorly, so the back end of the deal would definitely be concerning, and it’s a massive, flexibility limiting decision to re-sign him. As you mention, though, Ujiri hasn’t often let players go for nothing, and I still think the team will lean toward keeping him if he wants to stay (a major if).

If Lowry walks, the Raptors almost certainly have to tear things down. A DeRozan-Ibaka core is first-round fodder, and the argument for keeping the core together falls apart if the ceiling and floor are suddenly both lower. Don’t let a 14-7 record against a soft schedule with middling offense confuse that the Raptors wouldn’t be nearly as good without Lowry. Joseph is fine, but he’s not Lowry, and he can become a free agent after next year, too. You also can’t go after another star, because you still don’t have meaningful cap space. In my opinion, the direction hinges entirely on Lowry – if he goes, any argument for staying the course gets really, really thin.

I think Lowry returning would mean you can keep Ibaka if you choose you want to, at least. Ibaka probably won’t be able to find a better competitive situation in his price range, at least among teams that need a big like him and have cap space. The big thing with him could be moving Valanciunas, as Ibaka’s been pretty clear he enjoys playing center at this point (and he’s much better suited to play there, anyway). You probably have to choose between Tucker and Patterson for luxury tax reasons, and who you choose will come down to price, what you do with the rest of the roster positionally, and whether Tucker decides he wants to ring-chase at a discount somewhere else. Lowry returning puts you in the driver seat to approach the other free agents how you’d like. But I can’t really put a percentage on it, given all the players just speak in generalities about their plans and priorities.

Reasonable? Sure. But it all depends on Lowry. Playoff confidence is probably some function like this:

Playoff Expectation = (Lowry return expectation) + (Lowry leave * Sneak in with rest of core) – (Lowry leave * Blow it up)

So depending on how you feel about those things, adjust playoff expectations accordingly.

I would imagine Ujiri has pretty close to unlimited leash with MLSE. He is a great leader and has their full trust and support. And MLSE is not going to turn their back on consistent success. You don’t really lose your job as team president for consistently being good and making moderate playoff runs, even if you spend a bit into the tax to do it. The value of the Raptors’ brand will continue to grow like that. Ujiri’s leash would only stand to become a question if the Raptors got bad accidentally or an intentional move to being bad stretched on too long.

The issue with dealing DeRozan is going to be that the draft happens nearly two weeks before free agency. The Raptors won’t know for sure what Lowry is doing, and so they won’t know for sure if they’re even willing to shop DeRozan (and you probably need to keep it very quiet if you do). You could come up with hypothetical scenarios, or maybe you get lucky and Lowry tells you his intentions ahead of time, but the most likely case is that if you end up dealing DeRozan, you’re dealing him for actual prospects and future picks rather than doing it in time to hold the actual pick in this year’s draft.

I think people’s expectations are a little out of line if they’re looking at a top-five pick for him, though. DeRozan is great, but the 76ers and Lakers have been bad for a long time now to get those picks, and they probably aren’t willing to cash them in at the first sign of a star. I can’t see Philly being interested in DeRozan in general, given his poor fit with the rest of their young core. The Lakers make more sense since Magic Johnson probably wants a star, DeRozan is from L.A.,  and Nike would be ecstatic, but he’s not a great fit with Luke Walton’s vision for basketball, the team is probably going to add yet another young guard in the draft.

I’m not sure what a reasonable expectation is for a DeRozan return. He’s a three-time All-Star, an elite scorer, improves every year, and is a consummate teammate, but he’ll be 28 this offseason, is owed a ton of money (roughly 27 percent of the cap) over the next four years (the final year a player option), is a minus defender, and it’s unclear how well he’d do if he weren’t the focal point of the offense. He’ll have a market, because he’s very good. I just don’t know if a top pick is reasonable. Something like a young player, a salary-matching contract, and a pair of future firsts might be a fair baseline to work from.

This is kind of the issue with DeRozan – he might be too good for the Raptors to truly tank with. If he’s your starting point, plus the few decent young pieces they already have in place, they’d be liable to win 30 games, which doesn’t really do the trick. You’re not tearing things down for another Terrence Ross pick. You do it all the way, or you don’t do it at all.

With so few teams in tank mode looking ahead the next year or two, there’s a pretty clear path to be among the worst teams quickly. Brooklyn doesn’t own their pick, so they have no incentive to tank. Ditto for the Lakers. The Wolves and 76ers are now firmly in trying to move upward mode. The Knicks, Kings, and Mavericks will probably never accept a proper tank. Other than maybe Orlando and Phoenix (and the Suns are a question mark), there’s a tanking “vacuum,” as Zach Lowe called it, right now. But that almost certainly requires unloading DeRozan to take advantage of fully.

I don’t think so, no. In a scenario where Lowry, DeRozan, and Ibaka are all gone, the Raptors figure to be a fun and exciting team but probably not a particularly good one. The young pieces just don’t have a lot of experience in major roles yet, the team would be fundamentally shifting how they play, and even if things broke right for all of the prospects, you’re still looking at a major step back. It would be weird to be rooting for them but also in the back of your head hoping they win less than 25 games, so I guess it’d be a lot of hoping for a lot of one-point losses. But no, I don’t really see an accidental way this team minus two All-Stars and other veteran pieces mistakes its way out of a mid-to-high lottery pick.

I’m pretty resigned to the fact that if Ibaka comes back, it makes sense to try to move Valanciunas. The pairing didn’t work particularly well together, largely because Ibaka isn’t really a power forward anymore. With Poeltl and Nogueira both around, it wouldn’t make a lot of sense to invest $35 million-plus in Ibaka and Valanciunas, and getting the Lithuanian a fresh start and a better fit would probably be best for both player and team (luxury tax considerations). Tucker’s situation is a lot harder to figure because it’ll come down to whether the Raptors remain competitive and whether he decides to stay as a result or still chase a better chance at a title elsewhere. I’d put the odds of all three being on the roster pretty low.

I doubt it. In that article linked in the tweet, I went into some potential ways the Raptors could trim salary, including unloading Valanciunas or Joseph. Unloading Carroll is likely going to cost you a first-round pick or one of the prospects, and the team would probably deem that poor asset management.

They’re certainly talking up a return to form for Carroll, who’s already into his offseason workouts rather than taking any extended time off, and the value play, if luxury tax allows, might be to let it play out and see if he can’t increase his value. If they tear things down, I think Carroll sticks around as a veteran leader and value-rehabilitation project, for sure. If the Raptors try to remain competitive, the salary will continue to look like a bit of an albatross, but the market may not give them any choice but to hope for the best (using the Stretch Provision really doesn’t seem like a Ujiri move, especially since it would only lessen the tax hit, not free up real space).

I’d say Valanciunas is the most likely to go, just because he has the combination of biggest cost savings and actual value. The center market is flooded and Valanciunas’ player type might not be in high-demand, but he’s a good, young player, bigs peak late, and his contract really isn’t that bad, especially if the sense is he’ll decline his player option in two years. Carroll is going to cost you something to unload, and while you could move Joseph in a heartbeat, he doesn’t free up very much financial flexibility. From a roster-building standpoint, moving Valanciunas opens up the most for you.

I could see Joseph outbound if Lowry stays, by the way, but I think it would be in an actual basketball trade rather than a salary dump.

I think they’ll keep it. Ujiri likes to keep the back half of the roster flush with development pieces, and he’s really been talking up how important player development will be in the new collective bargaining agreement, where it’s tougher and tougher to land talent from outside the organization. While the Raptors already have seven players on entry-level deals, four of those can become restricted free agents next summer and will get more expensive as a result, so using the pick and developing another player will allow them to continue filling out the last few spots with inexpensive projects. It’s a smart strategy, fiscally and to maintain a pivot foot if they ever opt to blow things up and don’t want to start completely from scratch.

As for what they’ll use it on, your guess is as good as mine. They’ve shown that they’ll go well off-board with their picks and that they’ll take the player they deem to be the best available regardless of perceived short-term fit, so from there it’s a matter of figuring out who they may like. It’s too early in the process (they’ve only had two in-house workouts) to judge. They surely don’t know yet, either. I don’t think, though, that they’ll dial in on “shooter,” “stretch four,” or anything specific like that. They’ll evaluate the entire package.

The one extra consideration here is, of course, what direction the team heads in. If they bring everyone back, the pick could come into play to unload a salary in trade, and if they use it, they’ll probably lean toward an experienced, mature player who might be able to help if called upon. If they tear things down, I think the Raptors would be more open to swinging for the fences with a higher-risk, higher-reward pick.

Unfortunately, Nando De Colo has two years left on his deal with CSKA Moscow. The Raptors hold his restricted free agent rights if he ever decides to return, but his contract reportedly has no NBA buy-out clause, which means CSKA could play hardball in letting him go. NBA teams are capped in the amount they can contribute to a buyout without it counting against the cap, so De Colo would have to be willing to pay his own way out of his deal. Considering his salary there is comparable to what he’d make in the NBA (I believe his deal was three years, 10 million euros) and he’s a superstar overseas, it would seem unlikely he’d want to bolt any time soon. This probably isn’t a real consideration until 2019, when De Colo will be 31.

There isn’t really a good way of predicting things like this. You can look at teams that have cap space and may need a center and are competitive, but things change so quickly and players make odd choices sometimes. You’d think Ibaka wants to stay in a competitive environment, and he’d probably lean toward a warmer climate and multicultural city, but really, money might talk at the end of the day. Looking at teams that might be willing and able to pay his asking price and have somewhat of a frontcourt need, Dallas stands out, as do the Rockets (they’d have to shed some salary), Bucks (if Monroe opts out), Timberwolves (fun!), Spurs, Kings, and Heat. But again, things change really quickly. Forced to guess, I’ll say Dallas, but that’s my default for a lot of second-tier free agents.

You don’t, really. If the team keeps three of the free agents and even unloads one large salary, they’re going to be left using the smaller mid-level exception to add a piece in free agency, and that’s just not going to get you a useful shooter who isn’t strictly a specialist (an Anthony Morrow type). They’d be hoping on some internal development from their shooters (like Powell), maybe using one of the hybrid spots on someone who can occasionally come in and provide that skill (Heslip, though it’s unclear if he’d be willing), or they could try to maybe swing a Cory Joseph for a wing shooter, since they have the point guard depth to withstand that loss. Kyle Korver and J.J. Redick aren’t walking through that door.

It’s tough, which is why I’m a little skeptical the talked-up system changes are going to produce a high volume of threes, anyway.

There definitely are, though I don’t think the Raptors will narrow in on any one skill unless it’s as a sort of tiebreaker between fairly equal prospects. They’ve shown in the past that they won’t shy away from perceived non-shooters if they can identify mechanical tweaks that could be made to the shot, and some talent developers believe shooting is among the most teachable skills. Still, it’s the team’s clearest need, and if they were to decide it’s a priority over length, quickness, overall upside, or whatever, a few names stand out.

Semi Ojeleye probably tops my draft board of guys who might be available to the Raptors right now, and while there’s some disagreement on whether his entire game will translate, he shot 42.4 percent on threes and 78.5 percent at the free-throw line this year. T.J. Leaf and Tyler Lydon, offense-first shooters at the power forward spot, have already come in and worked out. Terrance Ferguson has a much prettier stroke than his 3-point percentage would suggest. Luke Kennard could conceivably slip. Dillon Brooks and Frank Mason would be low-upside reaches, but are considerations if the Raptors somehow landed a second-round pick. And here’s a name to file away because I think he’s going to move up draft boards over the next few weeks: Justin Jackson, the Canadian version from Maryland.

I’m pretty sure this question is just kidding, but it’s an interesting thought experiment now that we know George didn’t make an All-NBA team, limiting Indiana’s potential ability to retain him past 2018. If George wants to go to L.A. as everyone seems to think (hot take: he has the best shoe in basketball and him going to the Lakers would make it among the most popular eventually), the Pacers will probably once again explore dealing him. It would make more sense to get younger and put other pieces around Myles Turner, but if they decided they wanted to remain competitive now, maybe a star-swap would entice them if they’re getting someone on a longer deal. I’m skeptical, though, and it’s hard to figure what direction they may be heading with their power structure in flux, anyway. This is probably also one of those cases where even if it’d be an interesting deal for both sides, neither would pull the trigger. You’re really walking away from one of the best players in franchise history to roll the dice on another star? Anyway, Indiana probably says no first.

Raptors miscellaneous

By the end of this season, Valanciunas was in pretty terrific shape. He wasn’t at his best early on, but he got there. The issue with asking him to trim down is that this kind of who he is now – for years he focused on adding strength and size, and while he’ll definitely tailor his workouts to getting quicker, actually getting smaller might not be realistic any longer. He’s a big dude. He’ll aim to get quicker this summer, for sure, but he might not come in lighter. I do think his development will inform just how much they ask Poeltl and Siakam to bulk up – the Raptors are focused far more on functional size and strength than a number on the scale at this point.

There were a number of things at play here. Later in the season, the loss of Lowry hurt huge, obviously. Even in that 14-7 stretch, the Raptors were only an average offense. For some time before that, a sustained stretch of cold 3-point shooting hurt them. Come playoff time, it was a combination of what we’ve seen the last few years: Teams sold out to slow down the stars, at least one of them wasn’t particularly healthy, and the role players, after a full season of not doing a ton, couldn’t quite step up with a greater load on their shoulders. Like Ujiri talked about at the end of the year and many have been pointing out for years, there’s something about the drive-oriented attack that slows down in the playoffs. I do think it was fine to try it again this year without a significant change, because there was enough noise (matchup and injury) the three seasons prior to make it hard to conclude decisively, but at some point, the caveats all fall away, the sample grows, and you find yourself talking about a culture reset without a real clear idea of what that will entail.

It must be tough, for players, staff, and Ujiri, for something to work fantastically over 328 regular season games and then fail consistently over 41 playoff games.

I don’t think I would if I were in Ujiri’s position, no. I don’t think Casey deserves to lose his job. He’s a good coach, and he’s been a major part of the best stretch in franchise history. I’m also not sure the blame for the system falls entirely on him when it’s based around the team’s personnel. But if the team blows things up, I don’t really see a 60-year-old Casey being the right choice to lead a youth movement, at least not outside of one year to kind of transition things over to a new coach. And if they try to stay competitive, even if Casey is willing and able to tweak his system, it’s just a really hard sell for me, bringing back exactly the same group once again. I’m torn, because Casey is a good person and leader and has played the hand he’s been dealt fairly well, but I’m skeptical you can undergo a “culture reset” when literally every single piece is the same.

This is a pretty big consideration, yeah. Rex Kalamian and Nick Nurse are both well-respected assistants who have been rumored to have interest elsewhere in the past, both as lead assistants and possibly as potential head coaches. Kalamian is a sharp defensive mind who players really like, and Nurse has plenty of success outside of the NBA and a deep offensive playbook. If you promote one to head coach, you might risk losing the other. If you bring in an outside hire or promote Jerry Stackhouse, maybe they look for other positions. But heck, that could happen if Casey stays, too – they’re both really good, and one of the risks of having a consistently strong organization is that people will want to poach your people. This also assumes a lot about Kalamian and Nurse and their goals. It’s a consideration from the organization’s perspective, for sure, but how it’d shake down is tough to read, at least until the summer’s coaching rumor mill starts in earnest.

I’m not sure anyone is to blame as “the problem,” but as noted above, I agree that the system has been built around those players. It’s kind of a chicken-or-the-egg thing, where Lowry and DeRozan are such terrific one-on-one attackers that the system is designed to put them in those positions, but the system being designed that way leads to a somewhat redundant mismatch-attack approach. And it’s been kind of hard to argue with, anyway – the Raptors’ offense has been very good in the regular season, the two All-Stars are great in their roles, and it’s not as if the team has the personnel to be fundamentally different, anyway – there aren’t many high-volume shooters or creators, which again could be why the system is the way it is or a product of the system itself.

Basically, there’s a ton of uncertainty in trying a new approach with the same pieces. It’s still a worthwhile endeavor, but there are going to be some growing pains. DeRozan is who he is, and he improves every year, but he’s not suddenly going to become a knock-down threat from above the arc, and you don’t want a player of his skillset hanging out in the corner, anyway. Lowry is a more adaptable piece as a playmaking pick-and-roll point guard who can also spot up off the ball. The real onus will fall on the team’s role players to step into larger roles effectively, because there aren’t many paths to bringing in offensive reinforcements.

As much as has been made about the team’s need for more shooting, I’d say it’s defense by a significant margin. DeRozan hit 40 percent of his threes from the corner this year, which is a nice step even though he won’t be there much, and it’d be great if he improves above the arc so opponents have to respect him more while stationary. But he’s on the move most of the time, anyway, and I’m not sure tweaks in the system are going to have him standing around catching and shooting, anyway. Defensively, there’s so much room for improvement, and while it’d be subtler than the addition of the 3-point threat, it would probably help normalize some of those extreme on/off splits the team has with DeRozan. Given how often and how much he improves each year, I think it’s reasonable to expect him to take a step forward in at least one of these areas this year.

I don’t really know how to put a number on how I feel about advanced stats. Sadly, there’s not yet an advanced stat for that. In general, I am always in favor of having more information. Some of the metrics we have available are really useful for pushing analysis in a certain direction or confirming what we’re seeing with our eyes. I would never look up Real Plus-Minus or VORP and drop it as a discussion-finisher, but I think things like lineup data, on-off numbers, and our best attempts at catch-all player value metrics are at least useful for forcing us to ask questions about what we’re seeing and how we’re looking.

Lowry and DeRozan are a great example – DeRozan looks like the best player on the floor and has the gaudiest numbers, but for years, a suite of metrics have suggested that Lowry’s a more important piece for the team’s success. So while those numbers don’t necessarily answer any debate, they can at least push you to look for different things on the court, question why it may be that Lowry’s impact is more pronounced, and so on. Nobody should use only advanced stats, obviously, but I think ignoring new, rich information is making a pretty risky assumption about our ability to evaluate 10 moving parts in real time.

I’m not going to do a full article today, because I’ve been writing about it all year and it’s just too much for the scope of the mailbag. As far as the non-Raptors roster players on the 905, the names you’ll be looking at this offseason are probably Brady Heslip, E.J. Singler, and Will Sheehey. I could see some combination of those three (and maybe C.J. Leslie and Yanick Moreira, if they don’t cash in overseas) earning Summer League invites, and one of them might even be on the radar for one of the hybrid two-way spots next year. None of the players who weren’t called up (Edy Tavares and Axel Toupane are gone) figure in to the 15-man roster at this point, but until we see how teams and agents are going to treat those two-way spots, those guys can probably consider themselves in at least a loose competition for them. This all depends on them deciding to stay, though, because most of the 905ers would stand to make more overseas, particularly if they’re not in line for a hybrid spot.

Heslip is the best shooter in the world not in the NBA. But that’s been the case for a couple of years now, and no NBA team has given him a shot. He was free to be called up by anyone all year, even as he hit the second-most thees in D-League history. He’s 26, and even though he was great this year, improved a lot as a point guard, and Stackhouse is his biggest fan, the 905 moved Heslip to a bench role in the postseason for defensive purposes (part of it was surely to balance the scoring with Toupane gone, too, but point guard defense was the primary concern). I think Heslip has a shot to catch on with a hybrid roster spot somewhere, where he could help at the D-League level and then come up on occasion when a team’s light on shooting. Failing that, he can make star money overseas, so he’s in a good position either way.

Caboclo definitely is not getting cut. The team picked up his option for next year, and they’re going to see this experiment through the four years. His growth this year was pretty pronounced, and even if the season-long box score numbers don’t show it, he got a lot better. He’s already to the point of being a quality defender, both man-to-man and in the team context, and his additional size (still a focus for this offseason) mean he’ll probably be able to handle a full-time move to power forward at some point. He remains a very, very interesting defensive prospect who isn’t all that far away at that end of the floor. Offensively he has further to go, with a nice-looking 3-point stroke still not dropping as much as you’d like and the other elements of his game grading as pretty inconsistent.

His final two games in the D-League Championship are worth going back and watching. In those outings, you really saw what the Raptors saw in Caboclo and why they remain high on his chances of eventually contributing to an NBA team. He was, if not the best, one of the best players on the floor for either team. It’s easy to forget because he’s been a Raptor for so long, but Caboclo’s still one of the two-dozen youngest players in the NBA, and even counting his D-League, Summer League, and preseason minutes, he’s about as experienced as a college sophomore. They’re not going to pull the plug early, especially when he’s something close to on the track they had envisioned (people joke about the two-years-away thing, but it always was a long-term plan).

This is probably a better question for someone who is specifically a draft expert, like the guys at DraftExpress, but I think they’d be pretty high up there. It’s just too hard for me to translate NBA and D-League performance backward to college. Best I’ve got: A year ago, the Raptors had Poeltl higher on their board than most and were thrilled to get him at No. 9. Given what he showed at the NBA level, how he improved, how high his IQ is at both ends of the floor, and the fact that bigs peak later anyway, he’d probably be a top-20 pick. Whether or not he’d land in the lottery would probably depend on how different teams view juniors versus higher-upside picks, but Poeltl was essentially considered bust-proof last year, and he showed why. Caboclo is a tougher case, but picture a red-shirt sophomore combo-forward standing 7-feet with a nearly 8-foot wingspan, a 33-percent mark on a high volume of NBA threes, a strong performance in some of the biggest games of the college season and quality defense. The age would scare some off, but that’s definitely an intriguing prospect. The team feels like he’d be something close to a lottery pick. Three years in, you kind of have to separate that they drafted him at No. 20 (sunk cost fallacy, my dudes) and just look at him for the prospect he is today.

I don’t think so, no. The All-Star competition is usually loaded enough that non-superstars on bad teams don’t really have a shot at getting in. Look at how tight it was this year just for Lowry to get in, and he was playing at an all-world level at that point in time. Every year there are a handful of deserving guys that get left off, and often team success seems like an unofficial tiebreaker or barrier to entry except in the most extreme of cases. I don’t think any of the kids would stand much of a chance until the Raptors rounded back into being decent once again.

I would guess Delon Wright, Fred VanVleet, Pascal Siakam, Jakob Poeltl, and the No. 23 pick are there for sure. Bruno Caboclo has to give his permission since he’s been three times already, but I’d imagine he’s a participant, too. I don’t really see the point in sending Norman Powell again, but if he’s itching to play and the team doesn’t mind the risk, they have the right to send him. Lucas Nogueira won’t be there. Filling out the roster would be some combination of 905 players, potential training camp invitees, and undrafted free agents, and maybe Drew Crawford again, but guessing who this far out is difficult – last year, most of the 905ers ended up playing for other Summer League teams because the Raptors’ team was so loaded. Heslip, Singler, Sheehey, and Moreira are probably in the mix if things stay the course, but a lot can change in the next two months.

I guess it depends how we measure improvement. If it’s strictly a percentage better, I’d guess Caboclo, just because he has the largest gap between current level and ultimate potential. But even improving a lot might not be meaningful for the NBA level just yet. From that perspective, I could see Powell taking yet another step forward with how hard he works, and playmaking should probably be the biggest focus there. In terms of relevance to their role next year, the shooting of Wright and Siakam are probably the most important individual skills any player will be working on this summer.

I don’t have a full list, but I know you can add Norman Powell to that as well. Powell ran his first camp in San Diego last year and it sounds like it’ll be a staple moving forward. Fred VanVleet (Illinois) and Delon Wright (Utah) are also holding camps, and Pascal Siakam had at least discussed the idea of holding one in Cameroon with Joel Embiid and Luc Mbah a Moute at some point. Maybe Jakob Poeltl will join Wright, too. And there could be some other things we just don’t hear about. The team doesn’t send releases out about these things, so just keep an eye on players’ social media if you’re interested in knowing more.

This is an interesting question I don’t have the answer to. A lot of jersey stuff appears to be in flux with the coming change to Nike. That goes doubly for the Raptors, who used six different jerseys this past season, two more than the usual number. Whether they’ll carry the Huskies, Chinese New Year, and OVO jerseys all over to the new brand is unknown but probably unlikely. Personally, if I had to choose, I’d keep the Huskies, and the league would probably allow for a Chinese New Year option anyway. With Drake’s contract with the team up and the OVO association being a little quieter this year, I’d guess that’s the jersey that falls off.

This is a big concern. As a fellow big-booty haver, I need someone on the team to look up to in that regard. Maybe they can bring Chuck Hayes back from Denver as a scout? I’ll have to scour the draft boards for who has the type of backside the Raptors need.

Riverdale and Wrestling (and other miscellaneous)

They’ve tweaked the CBA a handful of times now to try to prevent it, but you’re never going to be able to legislate out good fortune. LeBron James was born in Akron, and that – and some lottery luck and expert management of salary cap exceptions – opens up a lot for Cleveland. The Warriors’ dynasty was made possible almost entirely because of Steph Curry’s wonky ankles and the resultant below-market deal. Those aren’t the traditional big-market teams, so the league probably actually sees this three-year stretch as a partial victory.

The only solution I have for increased parity is a strict hard cap (and draft picks becoming free agents immediately upon entering the league), which the players’ union and the richer teams would never agree to. Economically, it’s the way to balance the playing field. Even then, though, you can’t take away the agency of players or the luck factor.

I sleep a bit more, yeah, but I’m not really a very good sleeper, anyway. I do catch up on TV, at least.

This is Nos. 1 through 3.

I had to Google who this was. I feel like my music tastes are pretty well-established online, this is quite the off-board pull. I hope for your sake they make a quick comeback, though.

I got way more bothered by this than I should have. Clearly, Netflix and The CW knew all along that they were intentionally withholding Jughead eating burgers, a central tenet to his character. Look, you can have a lot of creative license with characters, but Jughead better be eating some goddam burgers. It’d be like re-writing Batman and taking the bats out of his origin story. When they left burgers out of the first 12 episodes, my wheels were spinning that it could be intentional, with an aim toward a secret burger addiction storyline in Season 2. Burgers falling out of his locker or backpack, and all that. Instead, Jughead randomly and subtly ate a burger at the Southside cafeteria, and then we get this trolling video.

Wasted opportunity, guys.

Also (/extremely “female Ghostbusters!” voice), stop trying to sexualize Jughead. (I kid. Just have him eat burgers.)

Will never came back with his Riverdale questions, so let me use one from Chris to sell you on the show…

Now that Season 1 has concluded and the whole thing is on Netflix, I strongly recommend watching Riverdale. Yes, on the surface it looks campy and convoluted, and guess what? It is! But if you go in with that kind of expectation and prepare yourself for a decent but entertaining show that makes for great discussion fodder with friends, then it’ll be a huge win. It’s really entertaining.

And F.P. Jones is that dude. Serpents 4 Lyfe.

It’s a pretty damn good cover. You’d think it would mask any smell pretty well, at least. My questions are two-fold: Wouldn’t the drugs being all sticky be a bit of a risk? And if the Blossoms are the producers of the syrup, how does it not raise a red flag when deliveries come in? Why are they keeping the drugs on the family property instead of shipping the syrup elsewhere, where the drugs are then hidden? It seems circuitous and unnecessarily risky to make your home the warehouse and the factory. Los Pollos Hermanos had a better set up, in my humble opinion.

If we’re ranking drug fronts, I’m not sure what tops the list, but I do know the worst: When I lived in Kingston, there was a candy store that was open until like 3 a.m. Nobody is eating candy after the bar with warring shawarma options on either corner, and they definitely don’t need to be open after serving hours.

Oh, I’m here for a spot of bother. Over the last year or two, “The Villain” Marty Scurll has quickly become one of my favorites outside of WWE and in general. It starts with the character work, which is basically unmatched. Everything Scurll does on the mic and in the ring contributes to his character, which is that of an unapologetic bad guy doing whatever he wants, because he’s the best and he can. The look really amplifies this, with Scurll’s well-dressed but dark-and-garish look – complete with beaked mask, top hat, and trademark accessory-cum-weapon umbrella – really making him seem unique (And like a big deal – he just inked a big deal with one of the top suit brands in the U.K.). The in-ring work is strong, too – you can’t become this buzzy a prospect without it anymore – and all of his mannerisms and actions feed back into the gimmick.

If there’s an issue with Scurll, it was perhaps that a “Villain” character was getting too popular (the old “you’re too good not to cheer, and also your merchandise is amazing” issue, coupled with the woop-woop in his theme to sing along too). Joining Bullet Club could exacerbate that issue, as they’re the most over heels in recent memory (and oh boy, the merch sales). Still, Scurll hasn’t deviated from his character – he’s still a bad guy doing bad guy things and (mostly) getting away with it because he’s too good to be stopped. As long as he sticks to that, it’s not his fault if the crowd leans toward him regardless of position on the face-heel spectrum.

If you were to list the non-WWE prospects likely to be snatched up and succeed in WWE over the next few years, Scurll would be pretty close to the top. An incredible start to the NJPW Super Juniors will only push him higher.

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

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Raptors Season Recap

The 2017 NBA season is over for the Raptors, with the Toronto outfit succumbing to a playoff semi final defeat at the hand of the in-form Cleveland Cavaliers. Despite plenty of strong team and individual performances across the season, it became clear that the Cavaliers had more class and maybe even a bit more in the tank, with back to back wins across four home and away games. They are now into the finals, leaving the Raptors to pick up the pieces and regroup ahead of next season.

It has been a bumpy ride for the raptors in post-season after they just about managed to make it into the playoffs for the first time in the history of the franchise. A strong third place finish in the Eastern Conference allowed them to progress, taking on the Milwaukee Bucks in the quarters. Their first playoff appearance didn’t start off well, with an 83-97 defeat in a frantic game at the Air Canada Centre. The series was very close at one point, with the Bucks taking a 2-1 lead but the Raptors put in a couple of shifts away from home to end up winning the series 4-2. The Raptors were stopped in their tracks however, as the Cavaliers showed true class in the semi final fixtures, winning four in a row including a thrilling 103-125 home win at the Quicken Loans arena.

The Raptors season was overall very successful, with the team finishing above 50 wins for the second season in a row and in 2nd place in the Atlantic Division. The spread out playing schedule seems to be helping almost everyone at the moment and there were very few games where the Raptors scored under 100 points. The Raptors also travelled well this year too, with plenty of away wins and no real spells of poor form across the season.

Two names come instantly to mind when discussing Raptors MVPs for the season, with Shooting Guard Demar Derozan and Point Guard Kyle Lowery both stealing the show night after night. Lowery finished on an impressive 22.4 points per game average and plenty of rebounds and three pointers. He will have plenty of eyes on him in pre-season and has been a strong attacking player no matter who the opposition is. He did miss a block of games mid-season, but this didn’t stop him from putting in a solid performance when he was on court.

Demar stole the show however, with a career high of 27.3 ponts per game and an average of five rebounds per game. He has been in contention for league MVP multiple times throughout the season and found solid consistency in gameweek 1.

The Cavs will face either Boston or Washington in the conference finals and if they manage to maintain form, then it’s either the San Antonio Spurs or the Golden State Warriors in the NBA finals. The odds on the Cavs are looking pretty good at the moment, but Golden State might just have the firepower and form to dispatch anyone in their path.

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DeMar DeRozan named to All-NBA Third-Team

A career season for DeMar DeRozan has resulted in some well-deserved respect, coming in the form of end-of-season hardware.

DeRozan was named to the All-NBA Third-Team, the league announced Thursday. The All-NBA teams were announced ahead of the June 26 league award show due to their potential impact on contracts in the summer, though that issue does not apply in the case of DeRozan.

In earning All-NBA honors, DeRozan joins Kyle Lowry (2015-16, 3rd Team), Chris Bosh (2007, 2nd Team), Vince Carter (2001, 2nd Team; 2000, 3rd Team) as the only Toronto Raptors to do so. The highest a Raptor has ever finished in MVP voting is seventh (Bosh, 2007), a mark DeRozan probably won’t hit, though he’ll likely get a handful of fifth-place votes.

The All-NBA teams were as follows:

First
Russell Westbrook
James Harden
LeBron James
Kawhi Leonard
Anthony Davis

Second
Steph Curry
Isaiah Thomas
Kevin Durant
Giannis Antetokounmpo
Rudy Gobert

Third
John Wall
DeMar DeRozan
Jimmy Butler
Draymond Green
DeAndre Jordan

Based on voting totals, DeRozan was the last guard in, earning four second-team votes and 50 third-team votes, good for 62 points. That narrowly beat out Chris Paul (49) and was comfortably ahead of Kyrie Irving (14), Klay Thompson (14), and Damian Lillard (12). Lowry did not receive any votes.

There will surely be some who quibble with DeRozan’s inclusion, which is fair given the heated field he was battling within. There were a lot of really, really good guards this year, and the fact that the Raptors had a better net rating with DeRozan off the floor than on, and that DeRozan is a minus defender, can help craft a case against him. If you’re a believer that 60 games is enough to qualify here, Paul and even Lowry have arguments for inclusion (the fact that Durant was voted in but Paul seemed to be punished for missing time is curious to me). Opinions will vary on what the unofficial playing-time cut-off is here, and DeRozan appearing on only 54 of 100 ballots speaks to that. I don’t think I’d be able to bring myself to get too worked up about any of the six guards, Paul, or Lowry winding up with the six spots. They were all great, and close, and there’s no set criteria to work within here.

DeRozan’s case was always going to come down to a split between himself, Paul, and the other guards listed, and him getting the nod here speaks to Paul’s missed time but also to DeRozan’s incredible season. In taking yet another step forward offensively, DeRozan averaged  27.3 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 3.9 assists, doing so more efficiently than in years past. DeRozan posted a 55.2 true-shooting percentage that comes up short of only his rookie campaign, had a career-best player efficiency rating of 24, turned the ball over in a career-low nine percent of possessions, and did all of this with a ridiculous 34.3-percent usage rate, by far the highest of his career.

Everything we know about efficiency tells us it’s harder and harder to maintain as usage ratchets up, so DeRozan sustaining and even improving as his role grew really speaks to his improvement in his eighth NBA season. That DeRozan gets better each year is no longer surprising, but at the same time it is. Without a consistent 3-point shot – he did shoot 40 percent on 50 attempts from the corners – and with limited defense, the ceiling would appear to only be so high for DeRozan, yet he nudges it higher with each passing year. While his assist numbers didn’t increase, it may have been DeRozan’s playmaking that took the biggest step forward, with his ability to navigate the pick-and-roll amidst heavy pressure improving noticeably. That proved important, too, because with DeRozan’s phenomenal post-up game, smooth mid-range attack, and ability to get to the free-throw line nearly at will, opponents spent the season selling out to get the ball out of his hands.

When it comes to the offensive end of the floor, few can boast as strong a regular season as DeRozan. That he helped keep the Raptors afloat through Lowry’s absence, when the team went 14-7 and DeRozan took over as the team’s primary initiator, likely solidified his case. It helped bookend his season with incredible stretches of offensive dominance, too, as DeRozan had started the season a house afire. As a result of his success, he was named Player of the Week on four occasions during the regular season and made his third All-Star Game, earning the nod as a starter for the Eastern Conference.

DeRozan also became the Raptors’ franchise leader in games played, minutes played, and points. It was truly a remarkable year for the former No. 9 pick, who continues to solidify himself as one of the best and most important players in Raptors history.

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Draft workout notes: T.J. Leaf gets stretch-four audition

The Toronto Raptors continued their 2017 pre-draft workouts with media availability on Thursday, and they’ve wasted little time focusing in on a player that could be in the mix at No. 23, and getting him in for an intimate two-man workout. Generally, the Raptors run two- and six-man workouts, and the two-man sessions allow the team to dig in deep on a player, even if that’s not necessarily the intention or even their choice.

“That’s more of an agent decision,” Raptors director of player personnel Dan Tolzman said. “It’s more of the way his workout schedule worked out and trying to fit in certain teams getting looks at him. It’s just kind of the way it worked out for us getting an opportunity to see him…You get a better chance at sort of taking a long look at who he is development-wise, where he’s at, and getting ready for skill-based parts of the game and what he’s got to work out.”

There are limitations to a smaller setting, though, as the team can only work players out in skill or small-group drills. The amount of action that can simulate game situations is at a premium here, and the team has to extrapolate some from what they see in unrepresentative workouts.

“It’s almost tougher in some ways because you don’t get to see how as much live-action decision making. It’s a little tougher to get a feel for the player that he really is,” Tolzman said. “t’s not nearly as competitive as a setting where you see a guy getting in, mixing it up, getting physical, that kind of thing. You have to kind of look through the stained glass and picture him doing different things based on what you’re seeing here and hopefully get a read on it.”

Last year, these smaller sessions focused on the No. 9 pick, and even then it was difficult to lock some prospects down. Agents sometimes don’t want their players working out outside of their perceived draft range for what it could signal, and they definitely want to control the workout environment as much as possible. It’s while you’ll see top prospects hold their own workouts, limit who they workout for, or do agency-led workouts. Now that the Raptors only have the No. 23 pick, it could be even harder to bring high-end players in. There’s understandably the cloud of tearing things down, and what it could mean in terms of Toronto’s draft warchest by June 22, but agents aren’t going to have top-10 picks work out for teams on speculation. Luckily, pre-draft workouts are just one part of a very large and in-depth process, so if the Raptors move up or a lottery pick slides, the Raptors can still be prepared.

For now, they’ll focus on the No. 23 pick, and that means drilling in on anyone projected close to the lottery who will come in. There’s a ton of variance in rankings and mock drafts outside of the top 15 or so, so pegging down who may be available will be difficult. That means when you get a chance to get someone in that range into BioSteel Centre, you dig in as best you can.

Player Notes

Here’s the full list of players who attended the workout:

Tyler Cavanaugh Forward 6-9 George Washington
T.J. Leaf Forward 6-10 UCLA

Tyler Cavanaugh
Chad Ford Rank: Unranked, DraftExpress Rank: Unranked

A five-year senior out of George Washington (after two years at Wake Forest), Cavanaugh is mostly here to help test Leaf. That’s a big nod of respect, though, and it’s a role Stefan Jankovic was used in by the Raptors last year (multiple times) and helped put him firmly on the radar heading into Summer League. Despite being somewhat of a non-prospect on most rankings lists, Cavanaugh is working out all over the place, with this standing as is fourth of nine workouts he already has locked down for the early portion of the process. What Cavanaugh can bring as a sort of tester of other forward prospects is a big body with an outside stroke, someone who can really test a player’s defense inside and out. That’s immensely valuable to a team like the Raptors wanting to measure Leaf on his perceived weaknesses.

From Cavanaugh’s perspective, this is a great chance to show he’s more than workout fodder and that his offense – particularly his shooting – can carry over to the next level. Cavanaugh averaged 18.3 points and 8.4 rebounds this season, and he shot 41.2 percent on a high volume of threes over his two seasons with the Colonials. Cavanaugh lacks in length with a 6-foot-9 wingspan that matches his height, but he’s solidly built and at age 23 is the type of mature, seasoned player the Raptors have been drawn to n recent history. Frontcourt players who can shoot are always worth a close look, and Cavanaugh even narrowly defeated Leaf in the “finishing drill” at the end of the session, one that mixes shooting and an ability to fight through fatigue.

T.J. Leaf
Chad Ford Rank: 20, DraftExpress Rank: 26

There is a non-zero chance that Leaf ends up being the highest-ranked player the Raptors are able to bring in for a workout. There’s a pretty wide range of feelings about Leaf, with some rankings placing him anywhere from a bubble lottery pick to a late-first rounder. The lack of consensus comes from some conflicting elements in Leaf’s profile, namely that while he has a world of offensive tools and is by all accounts a very heady player, he really can’t defend much. Leaf is somewhat small at just 222 pounds and with a 6-foot-11 wingspan that barely outstrips his height, and he’s not particularly quick, though he does have some nice bounce on the move. He was susceptible to being posted, and until he gets a year or two of NBA strength training under his belt, that’s not going to change much.

“I’m not the best defender right now,” Leaf conceded. “So if they wanna put me in defensive drills and help me get better, it’s great. It only gets me better, so I’m game for that…I think every team I go to knows what I can do. They’ve watched my games, they’ve done their homework, nothing’s gonna surprise them. So they just wanted to get me in and I think get a feel for me. A lot of that I think is how hard you work.”

While the defense is a work in progress, Leaf can really score, and that’s something the Raptors found themselves needing last year. As a freshman, he averaged 16.3 points and knocked down 46.6 percent of his threes, shooting 61.7 percent overall. He was one of the most efficient scorers in college basketball, and he did it in a premium conference (and he feasted in nine games against non-power conference teams). He’s also a really strong passer for the position, so he might project as more than just a spot-up threat. He can score pretty much anywhere, and while his volume of threes was fairly low, the stroke looks like it will extend out. In general, the greater space the NBA game provides should help him thrive, and the team raved about Leaf’s feel.

“I think you saw a lot in this playoffs,” Leaf said of his fir with the Raptors. “Adding another guy who can score the ball from three levels. You have guys like DeMar and Kyle that can do that. But adding another guy that can do that and having teams having to run him off the line, and a guy who can penetrate and kick for others and make others better would add another dimension for them.”

Leaf also comes with the sort of pedigree the Raptors like, having been born in Israel while his father was playing professionally there. He grew up in California from there, but he’s suited up for Israel in Under-18 international events in the past (after being cut by USA Basketball), lending some additional experience, and his father transitioned from player to coach, keeping Leaf around the game full-time.

“Oh, totally. You can tell he plays the right way, not only in this setting but scouting him so much,” Tolzman said. “When it’s a decision-making and team-oriented basketball, he’s elite at that. Always seems to make the right passes, finds himself in the right spot. I think a lot of that probably comes from being around the game at such a young age and having the fundamentals kind of engrained in him of how to be an effective player maybe when you don’t always have the ball in your hands. He’s a classic example of he doesn’t need to be dominating the ball to have an impact on the game.”

And again, his freshman year really couldn’t have gone much better, with Leaf earning an All-American honorable mention and a First-Team All-Pac-12 nod. How the Raptors ultimately feel about him will probably come down to how he interviewed and how well his defense held up in the intense one-on-one setting.

Assorted

  • As a reminder, the draft takes place on June 22. We’ve got a long way to go.
  • Bruno Caboclo was at BioSteel working out earlier in the day.
  • Canadian Dillon Brooks will headline Monday’s workout. There’s a session scheduled for Tuesday as well.
  • Leaf is not wearing Big Baller Brand, by the way, but “hopefully Lonzo hooks it up.”
  • I’ll be posting some things on my Instagram story throughout the process, if you want to follow along there, too.

*A NOTE ON THIS PROCESS: We’re going to hear a lot of names rumored or reported to be coming in/meeting/working out/etc. I’m not always going to pass them on, especially this early in the process. A lot of it is due diligence and doesn’t mean a ton, and they’re also just low-value posts (“Rumor: Player X to work out”). Sometimes there will be (good) reasons the team doesn’t want the names public or a player can’t come in (Visa or scheduling issues). If anyone does visit and there’s media availability, we’ll have you covered. Obviously, feel free to comment and discuss those rumors (Hoops Hype is a good source for rumor aggregation) in the comments/forums, I just may not always throw a post up. Closer to the draft, as we get into second workouts or if someone outside of Toronto’s range visits, that information becomes a little more important.

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VIDEO: Masai Ujiri accepts Honorary Doctorate from Ryerson

Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri received an Honorary Doctorate from Ryerson University on Wednesday. Here’s a video of his speech from that event. I haven’t checked it out yet, but Will assures me it’s very good.

Masai Ujiri Speech on his Honorary Doctorate from Ryerson University from Kweku Esia Kuma Essien on Vimeo.

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Draft workout notes: Lydon, Alkins, and Ennis headline opening session

The Toronto Raptors held their first set of 2017 pre-draft workouts with media availability on Wednesday, and they aren’t wasting time getting to names that could be available when they select at No. 23.

Unfortunately, the process this time around may be a little more difficult. There is a giant cloud of uncertainty hanging over things, and with the draft taking place nearly two weeks before the start of free agency, the Raptors have some guesswork to do in terms of how a player might fit not only the roster but the team’s timeline.

“It is what we deal with. You almost have to keep the two things separate,” director of player personnel Dan Tolzman said of the draft and free agency. “You approach the draft with what you expect your roster to look like and how they’ll fit in. But almost every year when it comes down to draft night, you end up thinking to yourself, ‘Who is the most talented player on the board regardless of how they fit on the roster?’

“From there, talent almost always trumps positional need when it comes to the draft. If you’re able to get someone that doesn’t really fit what you’re expecting, then you have the summer to see how it lines up and how to make it work.”

That last quote is telling about the team’s approach to things in general. It’s going to be really hard to peg down what the Raptors are thinking, and they haven’t by any means been beholden to consensus in the past.

Over the coming weeks, a lot of the names they bring in will be getting worked out for due diligence for potential Summer League or training camp invites, maybe even two-way contracts down the line, or for Raptors 905. Each workout usually contains one-to-three legitimate options for the pick and a handful of others the team wants to get to know for varying reasons, including to help test the higher-profile names (Norman Powell and Pascal Siakam both famously endeared themselves to Toronto by playing well against higher-regarded prospects). The net could be cast especially wide this year with the draft feeling very wide open outside of the top 15 or so and the Raptors having a bit of a penchant for going off-board.

As a refresher on these workouts, don’t get too riled up, if you can manage. They’re just one part of the process, there are a lot of them, they serve more ends than just the No. 23 pick, and teams generally can’t bring in higher-ranked players if they don’t have a high pick. You can’t live and die with these. It’s just one element, and we cover them in detail because it’s the only public element.

Player Notes

Here’s the full list of players who attended the workout:

Dylan Ennis Guard 6-2 Oregon
T.J. Williams Guard 6-3 Northeastern
Rawle Alkins Guard 6-5 Arizona
Jeremy Hollowell Forward 6-8 Georgia State
Rashawn Thomas Forward 6-8 Texas A&M C.C.
Tyler Lydon Forward 6-9 Syracuse

Dylan Ennis
Chad Ford Rank: Unranked, DraftExpress Rank: Unranked

The Raptors like mature, experienced prospects. Nobody has maturity and experience like Ennis, the Brampton native with five years of college ball under his belt and one of the oldest prospects in recent draft memory at age 25. He’s not letting that get in his way at this time of year.

“Obviously the league is great players,” he said. “No matter if you’re 19 or 25, if you’re one of the better players, then somebody’s gonna find you. I just get into these workouts, do the best I can, work as hard as I can, and be the best competitor out there.”

Ennis bounced from Rice to Villanova (with a red-shirt season between) to Oregon (with a red-shirt fifth year) during his NCAA career, and his final season was his best one as he helped lead the Ducks to the Final Four. A knock-down shooter on a solid number of threes, Ennis is used to playing alongside another guard and working on- or off-ball. He averaged 10.9 points, 4.4 rebounds, and 3.1 assists working in tandem with Payton Pritchard in the backcourt and ceding ball-handling duties to fellow Canadian Dillon Brooks for stretches. His journey has given him a wealth of experience, in other words.

“I’ve been around. There’s a lot of guys who go to college and go straight to the league, and they haven’t been through the things I’ve been through,” he explained. “I’ve came off the bench, I know how to deal with that. I’ve been a starter, I know how to deal with that. I know how to play off the ball, I know how to play on the ball. And I’m experienced. I know what the coach (is) gonna want, I’m an extension of the coach on the floor. So instead of being older, I’m more experienced than a lot of guys.”

The brother of NBA point guard Tyler Ennis, on whom the Raptors were quite high a few years ago, Dylan Ennis probably isn’t on the draft radar but would make for a nice lead guard for Raptors 905 if he opts not to cash in overseas.

(And yes, he hit up his brother plenty for advice on the process.)

T.J. Williams
Chad Ford Rank: Unranked, DraftExpress Rank: Unranked

Williams is an almost impossible case to figure after emerging as a star for Northeastern following three years in a very limited offensive role. As a senior, Williams averaged 21.4 points and 5.3 assists, good numbers that held up even against high-major competition. The issue, of course, is that he didn’t face much of it, and projecting a senior leap season for a 22-year-old in a middling conference is difficult. He does have some things the Raptors might like, though, and they’ve shown they’ll look past mediocre shooting numbers if they believe the jumper can be worked on mechanically. Williams measured with a 6-foot-8 wingspan, for example, among the larger measurements for a point guard, and his body already looks the part of an NBA player at 211 pounds. The 905 have wanted for point guard play for their entire existence now, so maybe he’s on the radar there.

Of all the unranked seniors in today’s workout, Williams probably has the closest line to relevance next year. He also had the best hair at the workout, which is saying a lot given Ennis’ colors.

Rawle Alkins
Chad Ford Rank: 57, DraftExpress Rank: 70

The Raptors could figure to need wings this summer, and despite measuring under 6-foot-4 in shoes, Alkins boasts the size to help with a 6-foot-9 wingspan and one of the largest max vertical jumps at the combine or Portsmouth (40.5 inches). At 223 pounds, Alkins is already a physical player, and while that often leads to him trying to out-muscle defenders rather than finessing his way to the paint, he’s a great finisher when he manages to get there. He also knocked down 37 percent of his threes as a freshman and shot 73.3 percent from the line, indicating he has some notable potential as a shooter. He’ll need that, of course, especially if teams see him as more of a two than a three. More than anyone in this workout, Alkins requires some projecting, as he’s still just 19 and was fairly inconsistent this season. Alkins stood out at the combine against strong competition, and those closer to the draft process say he’s improved a great deal as a defender over the course of the year.

https://twitter.com/Iam_RawleAlkins/status/864604433392574465

If the Raptors like the character and think those improvements can continue, a strong, physical wing defender would be a nice addition to the development program, though they may have to hope he slides undrafted and becomes a two-way contract candidate. For what it’s worth, Alkins spent longer than any of the other prospects talking with Dwane Casey after the workout ended.

Jeremy Hollowell
Chad Ford Rank: Unranked, DraftExpress Rank: Unranked

After two years at Indiana, Hollowell transferred to Georgia State to help absorb some of those sweet, sweet R.J. Hunter touches that had been abandoned. The search for a home he’d be a priority in worked well, and his numbers spiked across his final two years, peaking with averages of 15.2 points and 5.9 rebounds this season. Hollowell wasn’t the most efficient of scorers and was a shaky 3-point shooters on a large volume of attempts, but his free-throw success and 3-point volume suggest it’s a skill that could improve over time. Unfortunately, Hollowell didn’t measure exceptionally if teams are going to look at him as a combo-forward, and if they’re looking at him as a small forward, he’ll have to work out exceptionally well.

Rashawn Thomas
Chad Ford Rank: Unranked, DraftExpress Rank: Unranked

A four-year senior out of the Southland Conference, it’s hard to get a good feel for how to translate Thomas’ production as a senior. It’s great that he showed progress, and spikes in assist rate, steal rate, and 3-point shooting suggest he may have figured some important things out. At 22, though, he’d have to show that there’s still growth in his profile. The Raptors haven’t shied away from four-year players in the past, and at 6-foot-8 and 230 pounds with at least a show-me 18-footer (Thomas was 14-of-37 from the college 3-point line), there’s some potential for Thomas to prove himself as an undersized shotblocker who can do a little more, too. It’s just going to take a lot of proving – Thomas didn’t play particularly well in games against high-major or power conferences, and his wingspan (7 foot) and standing reach (8-foot-9.5) were good, not great, for the position.

Tyler Lydon
Chad Ford Rank: 36, DraftExpress Rank:24

Oh, so your team struggled with shooting from role players in the playoffs? Enter Lydon, who knocked down 40 percent of his threes over two seasons at Syracuse and was very efficient scoring in general in his secondary role. Lydon’s kind of tough to figure in that sense, as it’s hard to project high efficiency from a muted role, especially since he’s already 21. He has some post-up skill against smaller forwards, and he can put the ball on the floor with some explosiveness, and even if those don’t come, he can shoot the hell out of the ball. Syracuse’s zone-heavy defense doesn’t make things any easier on that end, either, as Lydon was productive as a shot-blocker but isn’t currently strong enough to defend in the post at the next level, and there are some concerns about his ability to guard threes on the perimeter.

“I think I went out and I thought I played pretty well,” Lydon said. “At the end of the day, I think I can handle the ball a lot better than people think. I know that coming from Syracuse, a lot of people question my defense, so that’s something I know right off the bat I’ve gotta work on and get better at. And my strength, and everything. But I feel like I can come in and make an impact.”

His strengths and weaknesses sound a lot like another prospect the Raptors liked last year in Jarrod Uthoff, who wound up landing with the Dallas Mavericks after a 905 stint. Lydon won’t slide out of the draft, though. Workouts figures to be a big part of the process in learning how Lydon responds outside of Syracuse’s system and determining whether he can be a role player or something bigger.

Assorted

  • As a reminder, the draft takes place on June 22. We’ve got a long way to go.
    • The adidas Eurocamp also goes down June 9-11, if you’re looking ahead to future drafts.
  • Yes, Dwane Casey was in attendance. So, too, was Jerry Stackhouse, both lead assistants, and pretty much everyone else from within the organization. It was all hands on deck. Jama Mahlalela ran the workout, as he did last year.
  • Lydon might get along well with Jonas Valanciunas, as he’s apparently a big hunter.
  • It is really, really hard not to root for Ennis after talking to him. He’d be such a phenomenal fit with the 905 if he can’t land on an NBA roster.
  • I don’t have a full list yet, but T.J. Leaf headlines tomorrow’s workout. The Raptors also have workouts scheduled for Monday and Tuesday.
  • I asked Tolzman the hard-hitting question “Who are you drafting?” He doesn’t know yet. I tried, guys.
  • I’ll be posting some things on my Instagram story throughout the process, if you want to follow along there, too.

*A NOTE ON THIS PROCESS: We’re going to hear a lot of names rumored or reported to be coming in/meeting/working out/etc. I’m not always going to pass them on, especially this early in the process. A lot of it is due diligence and doesn’t mean a ton, and they’re also just low-value posts (“Rumor: Player X to work out”). Sometimes there will be (good) reasons the team doesn’t want the names public or a player can’t come in (Visa or scheduling issues). If anyone does visit and there’s media availability, we’ll have you covered. Obviously, feel free to comment and discuss those rumors (Hoops Hype is a good source for rumor aggregation) in the comments/forums, I just may not always throw a post up. Closer to the draft, as we get into second workouts or if someone outside of Toronto’s range visits, that information becomes a little more important.

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Raptors ready for draft season

Tuesday night marks the NBA Draft Lottery, and while it won`t have a tangible impact on the Toronto Raptors (at least not directly), it does mark the unofficial tip-off of draft preparation season. Coming out of the NBA Draft Combine last week in Chicago (shouts to Jerry Stackhouse and Jesse Mermuys, coaches at the event) – check all of the measurement and drill results here – the Raptors will begin their pre-draft workout process on Wednesday at BioSteel Centre.

Pre-draft workouts generally entail an interview portion, physicals, and then drills and games of varying matchups and intent. Most of these sessions aren’t open to media and the team keeps a tight lip about who does or doesn’t impress, but you can still come away with a feel of where they’re looking or what they may be trying to do. Last year’s workouts were colored by the quest to bring in potential top-10 picks with the No. 9 selection in hand, and none of the presumed top-eight wound up visiting Toronto. With only the No. 23 pick this time around, the Raptors could once again struggle to bring in lottery-tier talent, even with a wide-open class outside of the top 15 or so, and even with the specter of the Raptors potentially rebuilding and thus looking to acquired a pick or move up.

Luckily, this is only a part of the process. The Raptors’ scouts have been all over the country on and off throughout the college season, converged on the combine, and will surely attend private or agency-run camps in the coming weeks. The adidas Eurocamp looms soon, too. And then, of course, there are secret or accidentally secret workouts, like when Toronto met with Jaylen Brown (allegedly) last year or worked out Jakob Poeltl and Pascal Siakam, among others, in Buffalo. Yes, last year I spent weeks at BioSteel only for the team’s two picks to be players who weren’t even at those sessions. It’s still valuable time spent, and you get a sense from players and team personnel alike how the Raptors treat the proceedings.

The team’s draft history may point a certain way, too. If nothing else, it’s clear that Masai Ujiri and company value maturity in their prospects. Delon Wright and Norman Powell were both four-year seniors, and Jakob Poeltl and Pascal Siakam had two years of college under their belts plus the added growth of being international players in those situations. Ujiri also isn’t afraid to go international, nor is he afraid to reach – Powell and DeAndre Daniels were both fringe picks he selected in the early-mid second round, Bruno Caboclo was an immense reach, and Siakam was safely considered a second-rounder. There’s something to be said for this given how finite draft picks are – if you like a guy, you only get one, maybe two shots to select him, and you have to weight floor, projectability, upside, and skill scarcity accordingly.

Here’s a quick look back at Ujiri’s history when working as a part of a team’s draft decision-making core.

2016 – Raptors
Jakob Poeltl (#9)
Pascal Siakam (#27)

2015 – Raptors
Delon Wright (#20)
Norman Powell (#46, acquired in trade)

2014 – Raptors
Bruno Caboclo (#20)
DeAndre Daniels (#37)
Sold pick (#59)

2013 – Nuggets/Raptors (Ujiri was Toronto’s GM at this point and the Raptors had no picks, but he left Denver on May 31, so he still would have had a hand in Denver’s scouting/draft lead-up, if not the selections)
Traded pick (#27)
Erick Green (#46, acquired in trade)
Joffrey Lauvergne (#55, acquired in trade)

2012 – Nuggets
Evan Fournier (#20)
Quincy Miller (#38)
Izzet Turkyilmaz (#50)

2011 – Nuggets
Kenneth Faried (#22)
Jordan Hamilton (#26, acquired in trade)
Chukwudiebere Maduabum (#56, acquired in trade)

2010 – Raptors (assistant GM)
Ed Davis (#13)
Solomon Alabi (#50, acquired in trade)

2009 – Raptors (assistant GM)
DeMar DeRozan (#9)

2008 – Raptors (director of global scouting)
Traded pick (#17)
Nathan Jawai (#41, acquired in trade)

This doesn’t necessarily inform how Ujiri, Jeff Weltman, and company will approach this draft. The question that kind of hangs over everything is what direction the Raptors are even going in. If they’re ultimately going to blow things up, maybe swinging for the fences with the highest upside player is the right approach. Maybe they’re extremely aggressive in moving up. If they’re going to try to be good again, maybe the pick is dangled to try to help unload a bloated salary. Maybe it’s once again used on a mature piece that could help if absolutely needed and would otherwise be tabbed for one or two years of development with Raptors 905.

One thing Ujiri generally hasn’t done is draft for a short-term need, so those looking for shooting at No. 23 may or may not need to look elsewhere. Rosters and situations are simply too fluid to worry much about near-term fit, with Wright looking like he plugged a hole for all of a week and Siakam looking completely superfluous in the short-term until injuries struck. In fact, if there’s one common thread in Ujiri’s recent drafts, it’s that he appears to believe shooting can be learned and developed – not a single one of their picks in the last three drafts came advertised as an above-average shooter, and Wright, Powell, and Siakam all needed mechanical work on their shots. It will be interesting to see if that element of the strategy changes at all as the team talks up a need for more modernization in the offense, or if the focus still falls on length, speed, and defensive versatility above all else.

The Raptors don’t have a second-round pick, by the way, having sent it to the Phoenix Suns in the P.J. Tucker deal. They’ll also select 23rd because they owned the better of the picks between themselves and the Clippers, with the lesser going to Orlando from the Serge Ibaka acquisition. As a side-note, best I can tell, first-round picks won’t be eligible to sign two-way hybrid contracts, so if the Raptors use the pick and it’s not a draft-and-stash, the player will be on the roster and on the books for $1.65 million (120 percent of scale).

Heading into the draft, here’s what the Raptors’ roster looks like:

PG
Under contract
Cory Joseph, Delon Wright
Non-guaranteed
Fred VanVleet
Unrestricted free agent
Kyle Lowry

SG
Under contract
DeMar DeRozan
Non-guaranteed
Norman Powell

SF
Under contract
DeMarre Carroll, Bruno Caboclo
Unrestricted free agent
P.J. Tucker

PF
Under contract
Pascal Siakam
Unrestricted free agent
Serge Ibaka, Patrick Patterson

C
Under contract
Jonas Valanciunas, Jakob Poeltl, Lucas Nogueira

Other
Nando De Colo (RFA rights, signed in Russia two more years)
DeAndre Daniels, DeeAndre Hulett (draft rights)
No. 23 pick, 2017
All 1st-round picks, 2018 onward
All 2nd-round picks, 2019 onward

And coming out of the combine, here’s a look at the prospect rankings from Chad Ford, Draft Express, and The Ringer (you had to be on the top-60 on all three sites to make this table; players in bold rank 23 or lower and 23 or higher on at least one list):

Player ESPN DX Ringer Average
Markelle Fultz 1 1 1 1.0
Lonzo Ball 2 2 3 2.3
Josh Jackson 3 3 2 2.7
Jayson Tatum 4 4 5 4.3
De’Aaron Fox 5 5 7 5.7
Malik Monk 7 6 4 5.7
Jonathan Isaac 6 9 6 7.0
Dennis Smith 8 7 8 7.7
Lauri Markkanen 10 8 10 9.3
Frank Ntilikina 11 10 9 10.0
Zach Collins 9 12 11 10.7
OG Anunoby 13 14 13 13.3
Jarrett Allen 14 11 15 13.3
Terrance Ferguson 16 15 17 16.0
Justin Patton 19 17 14 16.7
Ike Anigbogu 18 18 16 17.3
Luke Kennard 15 20 19 18.0
Donovan Mitchell 22 21 12 18.3
Justin Jackson 25 13 18 18.7
Harry Giles 12 27 21 20.0
John Collins 21 16 29 22.0
TJ Leaf 17 22 28 22.3
Ivan Rabb 24 23 22 23.0
Bam Adebayo 23 34 20 25.7
Rodions Kurucs 32 19 26 25.7
Jawun Evans 28 26 24 26.0
D.J. Wilson 27 32 25 28.0
Isaiah Hartenstein 30 24 31 28.3
Jonathan Jeanne 34 35 23 30.7
Caleb Swanigan 31 29 35 31.7
Semi Ojeleye 36 28 36 33.3
Tyler Lydon 33 25 45 34.3
Tony Bradley 20 37 52 36.3
Hamidou Diallo 35 38 39 37.3
Josh Hart 39 44 32 38.3
Jordan Bell 50 42 30 40.7
Monte Morris 38 49 38 41.7
Justin Jackson 54 46 27 42.3
Andzejs Pasecniks 55 30 42 42.3
Devin Robinson 58 39 34 43.7
Alec Peters 42 31 59 44.0
Mathias Lessort 49 33 50 44.0
Johnathan Motley 37 40 58 45.0
Thomas Bryant 47 36 54 45.7
Kostja Mushidi 40 50 51 47.0
Sindarius Thornwell 41 58 44 47.7
Dwayne Bacon 56 53 41 50.0
Wesley Iwundu 60 47 43 50.0
Edmond Sumner 44 51 57 50.7
Cameron Oliver 43 54 56 51.0

We’ll have coverage of each pre-draft workout as best we can. They’re currently scheduled for Wednesday, Thursday, Monday, and Tuesday, with more surely to follow.

Anyone stand out to you as potentially available at No. 23 and who has piqued your interest?

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Raptors Weekly Podcast – Decisions, decisions

Host William Lou is joined by Vivek Jacob to discuss the busy offseason ahead.

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Weekend Open Thread

After a busy week of press conferences, scenario analysis, opinion shouting, and more, we’re taking the weekend off. There might be some stuff you haven’t caught up on, so I’m posting it all again below.

I can’t promise I’ll get through all of the comments, but if there are any specific questions/angles/scenarios you want to see covered in the coming weeks, drop a note there @ me on Twitter and we’ll try to do our best.

Also, feel free to just discuss/debate whatever. There’s a ton to talk about. Have a great weekend, everyone.

News

Podcasts

Columns

Outside Writing

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Kyle Lowry declines 2017-18 player option

Kyle Lowry has declined his player option for the 2017-18 season, according to his agency, ASM Sports.

This is hardly news, but Lowry informing the Toronto Raptors of his decision was a formality that required wrapping up within seven days of the conclusion of the Raptors’ playoff run. Lowry said at locker clean-out day Monday that this was coming, and in pedantic terms, he didn’t even have to take this step – the option would have just expired un-exercised Sunday (yes, this note is included just for Dan Hackett)

With Lowry standing to earn far more than the $12-million value of his option for next year, an opt-out was always something close to a certainty, barring injury. Like with DeMar DeRozan a year ago, Lowry declining his option says little about his intentions for the offseason and only informs that he likes more money compared to less money. The Raptors will still own his Bird rights, allowing them to exceed the salary cap to re-sign him and offer him more term and money (five years and $205 million based on current estimates) than any other team (four years, $149.9 million).

What happens from here is one of the most interesting storylines facing the Raptors this offseason. I wrote about it in more detail at Vice the other day. It’s not straightforward, and arguments for or against retaining him are a matter of perspective.

The Raptors hold a major edge should they want to retain Lowry, as they can offer that fifth year on a deal as well as larger annual raises, meaning his potential contract for staying stands to be about $55.1 million more than if he signs elsewhere. If money is the deciding factor for Lowry, the Raptors can offer him more of it than anyone else, even if it’s at slightly less than his maximum contract – they’d have that entire $149.9M-$205M band to negotiate within and still have the edge, whether it be on a larger four-year max ($158.4M) or on a five year sub-max (something smoothed out, like $35M annually for $175M). And like DeRozan, Lowry may or may not be willing to take a small haircut on the annual price to help maintain team flexibility and maximize his total earnings over five years (DeRozan signed for about 91 percent of his max).

But Lowry may not want to stay. He seemed frustrated at times with the ceiling the Raptors have been bumping into for a couple of years, and there has been an unspoken on-and-off tension that appears to exist between Lowry and head coach Dwane Casey. However much all parties involved downplay it, it went noticed. It seems unlikely that Masai Ujiri would take kindly to an ultimatum on that front, but Lowry can make the case that it doesn’t make a lot of sense to run things back without a change behind the bench (and there have been rumblings that his camp suggested as much to the Raptors before he re-signed last time around).

Lowry is fiercely competitive and has been adamant over time that he only measures things by championships, and how he evaluates Toronto’s chances versus those of other potential situations could weigh in. So, too, could his friendship with DeRozan, who provides a sort of insulation around the oft-prickly point guard. DeRozan has said he won’t get involved, like Lowry didn’t get involved with DeRozan’s free agency beyond being there as a friend.

There’s also no certainty about what Toronto’s plans for the offseason are, and if their aim is to take a step back, Lowry may not be in the plans. It would make little sense to re-up a 31-year-old point guard to a long-term, big-money deal if the aim is to compete a couple of years down the line rather than in the short-term, and Lowry’s free agency could say a lot about Toronto’s intentions to maximize their current window again or punt the remainder of the LeBron James era. If the Raptors want to remain competitive and take another run at the Cleveland Cavaliers, Lowry more or less has to stay – he’s been immensely important to the team over the last couple of seasons, he remains one of their two best players, and his departure could potentially make it more difficult to retain other free agents. There’s also the matter of Toronto not having anywhere near the space to replace him – at point guard or in terms of talent elsewhere on the roster – even if he leaves.

If Lowry and Toronto are no longer a match, his summer will be interesting. Outside of Chris Paul, he’s the best point guard on the market, and there will be a number of teams who could be looking for an experienced All-Star to fortify their roster. If Lowry’s not as worried about near-term competition as he’s let on, maybe his hometown Philadelphia 76ers present an option. It’s worth noting here that under the current collective bargaining agreement, sign-and-trades are somewhat archaic and don’t stand to benefit a player financially (a sign-and-trade no longer allows players to receive the fifth year or larger raises on a deal that they’d receive for staying, so sign-and-trades are only a tool for flexibility of landing spot, not to help the player earn more), so they’re probably only on the table if Lowry wants to end up somewhere without cap space and the Raptors are willing to facilitate for an asset in return.

We won’t know more until July 1 beyond rumblings. A reminder: Lowry is close with Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical, and Woj has always had almost every relevant scrap of Lowry-related information. If it’s not coming from Woj, or maybe Marc Stein, be careful with the source and who may be giving them their information (might rhyme with Shyman Shmaschmangelo).

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RR Roundtable: Looking ahead to the offseason

With postmortem week coming to a close, we wanted to get a pulse on where all of our writers are at heading into what could be a long, eventful offseason. Part two looks ahead to some complicated scenarios for the summer.

The Raptors can go a number of different routes this offseason. There’s no right or wrong answer, really. What is your preference: Blow it up, bring everyone back, or somewhere in between?

William Lou: I’m fine with bringing everyone back without going into the luxury tax, but I’m beginning to talk myself into a rebuild if Lowry walks. To be clear this would be a massive loss and an unfortunate case of asset mismanagement, but taking a step back to reevaluate and to accumulate more young talent could be exciting. Plus you wouldn’t have the weight of Lowry’s contract hanging over your head for the next five years. This is borderline slander and I feel awful for suggesting it.

Anthony Doyle: I trust Masai whatever he decides, and I would be ok with either blowing it up or bringing everyone back. I think in this case everyone probably means everyone except Patterson, for luxury tax reasons, but that’s still preferable to me than the in-between, because taking a step back without a rebuild doesn’t help you short-term or long-term, it just keeps you afloat.

Matt Shantz: I go back and forth on this matter, but the one option I don’t feel open to is running everything back. If Ujiri decides to gives this team another opportunity as presently constructed, I at least look at changing Casey to see if a new system can impact the bottom line. At the moment, if I have to pick, I would blow it up. Let Lowry walk and hope for to acquire an asset or two in a sign-and-trade (repeat for Ibaka), and guage the value of DeMar around the league. It actually makes me emotional to consider trading DeRozan after the loyalty he has shown, but there is no reason to half-ass it and get stuck winning 32-ish games.

Tim Chisholm: I’m somewhere in between. I loathe the knee-jerk reaction to blow things up, it demonstrates such an ignorance for how hard it is to construct a competitive 50-win team. I think that there are significant areas of concern that the team must address, but that doesn’t mean you have to toss everything aside to address them. Yes, it’s hard work, and it may not play out exactly as people hope, but that’s the game behind the game, and I think doing the hard work (rather than blowing it up) is the smart way to go.

Alex Gres: I’ll just say I’m not jealous of Masai’s job this offseason. If I had to say, I’d let Ibaka, Patterson, Lowry (that one hurts) and Casey go, keep DeRozan (I believe he’s adaptable and can adjust to a different system if asked, and we need an All-Star Raptors lifer in the franchise) and resign Tucker. If possible, try to trade Joseph, Valanciunas and Carroll for younger guys/picks/cap room. Otherwise, run with the young guys and compete for a 7th/8th seed. Now while that sounds like a useless in-between, it keeps a competitive spirit within the team and essentially places the same ceiling on them as the last 4 years in the playoffs but without the weight of expectation. Also, there have been a number of franchise altering players selected in the 10-15 range in the draft (George, Leonard, Giannis) in the last decade, so a draft pick in that range can be just as valuable as a top 5 pick at times, coming without a high lottery pressure.

Cameron Dorett: Sadly, I’d like to see them blow it up. We accomplished all we could with this core, and it was a great ride. Yet as we saw with Milwaukee and are seeing with Washington and Boston, the Raptors’ opponents are only getting better. The NBA is unlike any other league in that the parity between good and great teams is larger than any other sport, it’s time for the Raptors to try and build a great team.

Vivek Jacob: Do NOT go in between. Either re-sign Lowry, Ibaka, and Tucker to keep trying, or re-sign none and trade DeRozan. Being in the middle is the worst option in my opinion. Losing Lowry and keeping DeRozan would make the Raptors much like the Hawks or Pacers, neither here nor there.

Louis Zatzman: Somewhere in between. Bringing everyone back is unrealistic due to the luxury tax bill, but so too is blowing it up. If you don’t trade DeMar DeRozan, you’re still too good to tank, so what’s the point? Furthermore, what are the optics of trading the first home-grown star who chose to stay with the team?

Shyam Baskaran: Not to be boring, but I’ll take the easy way out and say something in-between. It just makes the most sense to me. Tearing this apart has some potential long-term advantages, but in the short-term it squashes a lot of what has been achieved and puts this team on a trajectory that I don’t think a lot of fans want to see right now. Bringing everyone back would be clearly be a mistake given what we saw to end the season. So I think bringing the true core pieces back is something Masai will aim to do, but in the process he’ll take a long, hard look at all of the supporting cast members since there are so many question marks around them.

Katie Heindl: Don’t blow it up. The logic of blowing up what you already worked so hard to establish to what, suck for years and maybe rely on a once-in-a-lifetime draft pick? We’re already up to our necks in rookies—god bless ‘em. I’d rather have a team who wins and wants to win and is fun to watch play together than an organization in flames just bailing water ‘til the next break comes along. Here’s who I want to stay: Lowry, Tucker, every rookie.

Spencer Redmond: Somewhere in between probably. If the Raptors shed some cap space, promote some of their younger pieces from “developing” to “role players”, and bring some of their notable free agents back, they could have a really strong core entering next season. The Raptors have a lot of directions they could go, retooling some of their roster, but keeping the core probably makes them a better team. I really trust the current front office to make the correct decisions, and if something like a rebuild were to happen I’m pretty confident in their ability to execute a roster makeover correctly.

True or False: Kyle Lowry will be a Raptor in 2017-18. True or False: Kyle Lowry should be a Raptors in 2017-18.

William Lou: True. True. If he wants to stay on a four-year deal, you keep him.

Anthony Doyle: To both statements, true. I think it really is up in the air, but it’s something like 60/40 in favor of him being a Raptor right now. To the second question, if the team isn’t completely blowing it up, you have to bring him back. He’s been simply too essential to the team’s success to think you can find the same level of winning without him, regardless of the late-season performances where he was hurt.

Matt Shantz: False, and false. This really does suck, but I’m currently of the opinion that a change in direction is needed. With that said, I’d be happy to have Lowry back and will miss him if he leaves. I’m guessing he ends up in returning to Houston to play alongside Harden, and to run the team when he sits. Feels like a good fit and the Rockets could open up the space needed with relative ease. Once again, this sucks and is hard to consider.

Tim Chisholm: He might be, but I honestly don’t know if he should be. Lowry has been maybe the best Raptor ever, but I don’t know if he and DeMar are compatible players. The fact that they are both ball-stoppers and questionable defenders puts a lot of pressure on other parts of the roster, and his age is worrisome, as is his injury history. However, he’s still really good, and not easily replaceable. I can see Ujiri keeping him and dealing with the longterm later, but the emotional part of me might be ready to move on.

Alex Gres: Will be: False. Should be: True. As a floor general and catalyst for the recent surge of the franchise, Kyle Lowry will forever hold an honourable place among the greatest Raptors. And so, it would be nice to reward his achievements with another big contract. Yet, it’s probably not the right thing to do. This issue has been beaten to death, but the fact remains – he hasn’t had a KLOE playoffs performance in any of the four postseasons in TO, and the likelihood of him having one wanes with every year that passes. A four year maximum for the Philly product would force the franchise to relive this season again and again like some 1408-inspired horror film. The first time is great, the second time is alright, the third? Well, you know.

Cameron Dorett: True. False. Lowry has already expressed interest in heading West, but at the age of 31 how do you turn down the (inevitable?) contract the Raptors give him?

Vivek Jacob: Kyle Lowry will be a Raptor. I’d like to think the extra money the Raptors can offer will make the difference. He should be a Raptor in 2017/18. Taking two consecutive beat downs from Cleveland and calling it quits doesn’t sit well with me. Keep fighting and try to get closer.

Louis Zatzman: Kyle Lowry should be a Raptor in 2017-18. If you re-sign a player over 30, you are paying for a few bad years at the end of the contract, but Lowry will offer enough value in the first few contract years to offset that cost. What’s the alternative? Becoming an 8th seed and adding more talented-but-not-star-level youth to the 905? Whether he will be a Raptor, I have no clue.

Shyam Baskaran: True and true. I believe in Masai, and I believe he won’t let recency bias influence even 1% of a decision he makes. 8 months ago, we all wanted Lowry back no matter what it cost. And a couple of untimely injuries, (luckily nothing career-threatening) isn’t going to stop that. Lowry likely has 2-3 all-star years left in him, and the value of those years given all of the moving parts in the Eastern Conference is hard to predict right now. You don’t let a talent like that walk, and if Ujiri had a bad feeling, I think Lowry would’ve been traded by now. The guy is the heart and soul of this thing, so if you don’t bring him back, it raises serious and immediate questions around the ceiling of this team.

Katie Heindl: True (written with a bad feeling) and Truer.

Spencer Redmond: True and True. Kyle Lowry is one of the best Raptors of all time, and the Raptors aren’t a 50 win team without him. From listening to Masai Ujiri’s comments, it sounds like the Raptors will offer him the five year max, and then it’s really up to Lowry if he wants to stay or not. Free agency is really impossible to predict, I hope Lowry stays, and I hope the Raptors do whatever they need to do to keep Lowry in a Raptors jersey.

True or False: Dwane Casey will be the coach of the Raptors in 2017-18. True or False: Dwane Casey should be the coach of the Raptors in 2017-18.

William Lou: False. True. You have to change something if you’re bringing back the same players. Casey has done a fantastic job with this roster over the last five seasons but there’s clearly a ceiling when it comes to his tactics that we run into in each playoff run. Continuity is great until you get stuck in the same spot. It’s not entirely fair but coaches are more replaceable than players.

Anthony Doyle: Both of these I’d say are false, although I think there is still a decent chance of him being back. As far as whether he should, I think there have definitely been legitimate concerns during his tenure, but he also probably doesn’t get enough credit for his role in building this team. If he’s gone I’ll be glad to move on, as the style of play of the last four years simply wasn’t conducive to playoff success, but I’ll bid him a fond farewell for where he took the team.

Matt Shantz: False, Casey will not be back next season. I was already guessing after game two against Cleveland that Casey would not be back, but Masai’s end of season comments about a change of culture being needed really solidified this in my mind. Should he be back is a tougher question, but one I’m ultimately saying no to as well. Easily the best coach in franchise history, but four straight seasons of struggling come playoff time seems like enough. Not only has he helped lead Toronto to its most successful run in franchise history, but Casey also just seems like a good dude.

Tim Chisholm: False and false. Dwane Casey has been a fabulous regular season coach, and the best coach that the team has ever had, but his postseason record is going to have to count against him at some point. He always looks a step slow to react to the opposition, the Raptors’ performances in Game 1’s has to be attributed at least in part to preparation, and I worry about the collective mental makeup of this squad as a Playoff entity. I think that he has done a fantastic job of creating something competitive with a very specific set of skills at the top of his roster, but if Ujiri doesn’t want to blow it up, this might be the place to make the big change.

Alex Gres: False and False. While instrumental in the shift to a winning culture throughout his tenure with his consistent demeanour and allowing his stars to flourish, it’s time for a change. Someone with fresh ideas, someone who is willing to hold every player on the club accountable on both ends of the floor, someone who can adjust on the fly. Good luck Masai.

Cameron Dorett: True. False. A new voice isn’t necessarily what this team needs, but a new strategy on offense is. Casey has done an excellent job over his four years here, and I expect that to be rewarded but it shouldn’t be if Toronto wants to start fresh.

Vivek Jacob: Dwane Casey will not be the head coach. Dwane Casey should not be the coach. I appreciate everything he’s done for the franchise, it is something that goes unnoticed by most. I just don’t think he’s the man to help the Raptors take the next step.

Louis Zatzman: Dwane Casey is a good coach, though he has his flaws. Is there a better coach available? I think Casey should be the coach of the Raptors in 2017-18, as he has proved his ability to get the team to play at a high level and consistently make the playoffs. Whether he will be the coach of the Raptors, I have no clue.

Shyam Baskaran: This is a really tough one, but I’ll say true and false. I love Dwane Casey and what he’s done for this franchise, I really do. But given the length of his tenure, the up-and-down playoff performances, and some of the same mistakes we’ve seen been made, I think it’s time for a change in tone and voice. Having said that, I actually think there’s a higher chance than not that he’ll be back. Given the way Masai operates, the injuries Casey’s had to deal with, and so many other factors, I just don’t see him getting let go unless Ujiri has his mind set on a replacement. And as amazing as Jerry Stackhouse has been for the 905, I just don’t see that happening yet. Nothing more than a gut feeling on this one though.

Katie Heindl: True, False.

Spencer Redmond: I’ve given Dwane Casey a lot of credit over the years. I think he’s always had flaws as a coach, and I think it’s tough to find a lot of coaches in the NBA who don’t have some flaws in their system. Over the postseason I became more open to the idea of a coaching change, so I’m going to go false and false on this one.

If the Raptors try to remain competitive, they’ll be up against a luxury tax crunch and may need to shed some salary. Of the four free agents, who are you most willing to let walk? Of the players on the roster, who would you most be willing to unload for salary relief?

William Lou: Let Patrick Patterson walk and keep Serge Ibaka but only if he’s not too expensive (over $20 million). Shed DeMarre Carroll for salary relief and use Cory Joseph and Bebe Nogueira to sweeten the pot. That’s probably not enough but you can’t give up any more future firsts.

Anthony Doyle: In order of most important to retain, I’d rank them Lowry, Ibaka, Tucker and Patterson. I think Patterson is likely gone either way, whether or not the team is trying to remain competitive. To keep the other three guys, the Raptors will need to move some other salary, which probably means that DeMarre Carroll is gone if they can find a taker for his salary, and I think the next guy that makes sense is Jonas Valanciunas. Despite his considerable skill, he has never really fit with this team and could clear some salary to keep the tax burden reasonable.

Matt Shantz: If Ujiri decides to continue being competitive next season, and without contracts coming into the equation yet, I try and resign Lowry, Tucker, and Ibaka (likely in that order). That leaves Patterson on the outside looking in. He was often the team’s plus/minus king (outside of Bebe, of course) and had months where he could hardly miss a shot, but the consistency issues have driven me crazy. The last half of the season he seemed unwilling to even hold the ball, let alone consider shooting. Ironically, he may be the easiest to retain after what he just did in the playoffs. Wonder how much money he lost himself over the last month?

Tim Chisholm: I’m most willing to move on from Patrick Patterson. Yes, he’s a plus-minus monster, but he’s a liability on offence, often looking uncomfortable with the role that the team requires him to play, and if the team keeps Serge Ibaka, I think you can afford to let Patterson walk and either replace him in free agency or explore promoting Siakam back into the rotation. As it pertains to shedding salary, obviously DeMarre Carroll is the right answer, because that signing has simply continued the trend of failed small forward acquisitions that dates back to Tracy McGrady leaving in 2000, but I could see Valanciunas being floated hard out on the market, as well.

Alex Gres: Patrick Patterson would probably be the first choice of the four to not be resigned. For salary relief purposes, DeMarre Carroll would likely be the first casualty.

Cameron Dorett: I’d be the most willing to let Lowry walk away simply because he demands the biggest chunk of the pie. Committing anything to a now injury-prone point guard at the age of 31 just isn’t ideal. Unloading Carroll is the move, but it will be easier said than done. Letting JV walk is the best bang for your buck move.

Vivek Jacob: Let Patterson walk. Try and unload Carroll, Valanciunas, and Joseph.

Louis Zatzman: My ranking for free agents I would be most willing to let walk, in order (most to least): Patterson, Tucker, Ibaka, Lowry. I want them all back, though.

Shyam Baskaran: Most willing to let walk: Patterson. He’s proven in multiple seasons that he can’t be a starter, and if things go right for him, he may be paid like one in the offseason. With the additions of Tucker and Ibaka, Patterson’s defense became less valuable to the team; his inability to consistently hit 3-point shots from month-to-month was just too disturbing of a trend, and his off-the-dribble game hasn’t seen the development I would’ve liked. Most willing to unload: this one is almost too easy; it’s DeMarre Carroll. I don’t think he scores or defends even close to the level his salary demands. He’s set to make $14.8M in 17/18 which is about what an average starter costs in today’s NBA. And quite simply, he’s not an average level starter in the NBA.

Katie Heindl: Didn’t we already cover this? God Blake, this is hell. Patterson and Ibaka, I am ok with letting go of. Maybe they’ll be like butterflies who don’t want max and come back for a bargain. Carroll—I wish you luck, JV—I wouldn’t mind. Hey, has anyone calculated if cutting assured missing person Jason Thompson would solve all of our salary cap woes?

Spencer Redmond: It really starts with Lowry, if you can bring him back then it makes sense to remain competitive and bring back Serge Ibaka, and P.J. Tucker. I’ve been a big Patterson fan for a long time, and I think on the right contract he makes a lot of sense, but he’s probably the guy you don’t mind walking specially if you’re bringing back both Ibaka and Tucker. DeMarre Carroll seems like an obvious contract the Raptors will try to move. Jonas Valanciunas is a real asset that I feel certain teams would love to have, and Cory Joseph who isn’t really a big contract at all, but Delon Wright could serve as a quality backup on a bit of a reduced price tag.

Describe your ideal (and realistic!) Raptors offseason in five moves.

William Lou: (Assuming Lowry stays.) Replace Casey for someone with a more structured offense. Let go of Patterson, Carroll, Jonas Valanciunas and Joseph. Give the backup PG and C spots to the Utah Utes and let Norman Powell be the starting SF. Add a reliable third option who can play SF/PF (ie: Danilo Gallinari). Keep PJ Tucker.

Anthony Doyle: I’ll go with the bring the core back plan here, because I think it’s the more realistic way to go, and I would start by trying to move at least one of the movable salaries at the draft, whether that’s Jonas Valanciunas, Cory Joseph or DeMarre Carroll. Use one of those guys to try to clear some salary for the free agency period. I would then let Casey go, and bring in a coach who could run an offense with more ball movement, and potentially a higher pace. The team has athletes and can run more than they have. The next move would have to be bringing back Lowry, Ibaka and Tucker. I would then try to package the players who weren’t moved at the draft, along with one of the younger players not set for rotation minutes, to try to bring back a reliable shooter to reinforce on the wing positions. If the summer ended up looking like that, I’d be happy with it.

Matt Shantz: Replace Casey, look for coach with a developmental background. Shop DeMar at or around draft, look for high pick or high level prospect from team wanting to be more competitive now. Let Lowry, Ibaka, and Patterson walk (hope for sign-and-trade options), but re-sign Tucker (he likely leaves if we rebuild, but this is my dream here) for leadership and to help instill a defensive focus and for asset management. Explore trading Jonas (unlikely), Carroll (even less likely), and Cory (probable) for future assets. Build systems around a starting line-up of Delon, Norm, Tucker, Siakam, and Poeltl, with Bruno as your sixth man, add new prospects to fill our roster, with the goal to have at least two first round players from 2017 (ours and at least one additional pick).

Tim Chisholm: Trade Valanciunas on draft night for a backup wing and salary detritus. Re-sign Lowry, Ibaka, and Tucker. Sign Omri Casspi as a free agent. Stretch DeMarre Carroll. Hire Jerry Stackhouse as head coach with a strong stable of strategy assistants.

Alex Gres: Let Lowry, Patterson, Ibaka walk. Re-sign Tucker. Trade Joseph/JV/Carroll for a combination of youngsters with upside (2 end players ideally)/picks/cap relief. Bring in a new head coach – Ettore Messina would be intriguing, I also think David Blatt got a bit of a tough situation in Cleveland with LeBron signing after he joined, and may be a perfect choice if the Raptors decide to take a step back from a 50 win team to a 40 or so (he could be allowed to grow with the team, as his X’s and O’s have been absolutely on point overseas).

Cameron Dorett: Toronto lets Kyle Lowry walk. Toronto lets Serge Ibaka walk. Toronto lets PJ Tucker walk. Toronto lets Patrick Patterson walk. Toronto goes for a run….to the lottery.

Vivek Jacob: Fire Dwane Casey. Re-sign Lowry, Ibaka,Tucker. Hire one of Messina, Kalamian, or Stackhouse as the new head coach. Trade Valanciunas (and Joseph if needed) for a stretch four / volume three-point shooting SF, moving Ibaka to full-time C. Trade Carroll if possible, if not, waive him and make Powell the full-time starting SF and see what Bruno gives you as the understudy.

Louis Zatzman: My ideal and semi-realistic Raptors offseason involves packaging Cory Joseph (replaceable by Delon Wright, but still ouch) and DeMarre Carroll with a future pick for cap relief and then re-signing all of the free agents. Run it back, baby! Hopefully we don’t get the Cavs in the second round next year. There is no better and realistic alternative.

Shyam Baskaran: Re-sign Lowry. Re-sign Ibaka, play him at the 5. Fire Casey, and hire a young, viable replacement. Trade a combination of JV/DC/Cory and assets for a starting-calibre wing/PF who can shoot 3’s. Money permitting, add to the depth by signing a reliable scorer and knock-down shooter (Tony Snell? JJ Redick? Or, if the market is right, maybe Kentavious Caldwell-Pope?).

Katie Heindl: I’ll do it in 3: Kyle doesn’t wait until the last day of the off-season to resign. Tucker stays put. Everyone has a nice summer vacation.

Spencer Redmond: Bring back Lowry. Raptors look for a new head coach. If Lowry comes back, bring back Ibaka and Tucker. Shed cap space and rework younger players into rotations. Maybe even bring back Vince. He would actually help the team out a lot, and the storyline would be pretty cool.

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RR Roundtable: Looking back on the 2016-17 season

With postmortem week coming to a close, we wanted to get a pulse on where all of our writers are at heading into what could be a long, eventful offseason. Part one looks back at the season (and perhaps era) that was.

The Toronto Raptors finished the season with five fewer victories and were knocked out of the playoffs a round earlier. Patrick Patterson said this isn’t a step back, but it’s definitely not a step forward. How do you feel about the outcome?

William Lou: I feel stuck. It’s not a step back for the franchise, but they didn’t move as much progress as they needed and now their time is up. Masai Ujiri said at the trade deadline that it’s still about growth, and he wanted to give this core a chance with two necessary acquisitions, and yet the same problems arose.

Anthony Doyle: It’s closure, in a way. It feels like this is definitively saying that if this supporting cast can’t be even close to enough to beat the Cavaliers, nothing will be. Which is fine, because winning 50+ games and a playoff series is great in historical context of the Raptors franchise, but it also clearly indicates that if the goal is a championship, the core has to change. I’m at ease with the outcome, even if not happy with it.

Matt Shantz: The Raptors stole two games against Cleveland in the 2016 Eastern Conference Finals because the Cavs seemingly got bored. Cleveland did not have the same problem this time around. What makes this question hard to answer is that the Raptors appeared to be a better team this year despite fewer wins in both the regular season and the playoffs, but the results don’t show that. Since this year didn’t show forward motion, I guess I have to say they regressed. While they looked to be the East team that could give the Cavs the toughest match-up the gap feels like it’s never been wider.

Tim Chisholm: I think that it’s sort of how life is at this level. Look at a team like Memphis: they’ve been solid and competitive for years, floating more or less around this same place as Toronto has. They aren’t good enough to seriously challenge for a title, but they are competitive every year, in the Playoffs, sometimes a higher seed, sometimes not. Sometimes they manage a deep Playoff run, sometimes not. The season wasn’t a step forward the way that last year was, but it was a step forward in terms of gathering another year of information on this group, developing the youngsters, and that’s sometimes what you have to settle for when you are a very-good-but-not-great team.

Alex Gres: Losing to the presumptive NBA finalist two years in a row (albeit in different rounds) means it’s no step back. But at this point, not taking a step forward has become stale – ah, how quickly we get used to good things. As Masai pointed out, we can’t keep running the same schemes and expect a different result, so a significant change appears to be in the works. Personally, mild disappointment would be the best way to describe the year.

Cameron Dorett: I feel the same way about this outcome as I do about two eggs over-easy, bacon, toast and homefries. It’s a nice breakfast, but also one I’ve grown bored of and the selfish fan in me yearns for some Eggs Benedict damn it.

Vivek Jacob: The regular season was a step forward. The Raptors showed they could win without Lowry over a sizable stretch, and missed Patterson and DeRozan for parts of the year as well. The playoffs were a step back. There was a time when Casey was growing along with the team, but I think they’ve outgrown him now. His lack of adjustments and reactive nature along with Playoff Lowry and others freezing up on the big stage make the playoffs a step back. Overall, when you consider the Raptors were going to be measured by their playoff play, they took a step back.

Louis Zatzman: As happens in most complicated facets of life, I have more than one emotion regarding the end of this Raptors season. I am sad that the Raptors were swept out of the playoffs by a superior opponent, but I suspected they would be bested by another Lebron-led team going into the series. Mostly, I am happy about another season that gave me, a fan, a chance to again watch important playoff basketball with more than an academic interest.

Shyam Baskaran: Steps forward and backward can’t strictly be measured by rounds advanced in the playoffs. That’s especially considering the Raptors likely “overachieved” last year advancing to the ECF the way that they did. Other things to consider include the relative weakness of the conference last year, and some of the misfortunes this year including the Lowry mid-season and playoff injuries, Cleveland essentially tanking to the second seed, and so many other factors. Expecting a steady, linear trend in terms of the number of playoff rounds advanced would be like expecting a stock price to go up steadily every single year, despite all of the inherent chaos involved. So I’ll agree that it’s not a step forward, but to say it’s a step backward would be a bit harsh.

Katie Heindl: But it was a big step. The start of the season was arguably the strongest we’d had in the last four years. Everyone came back strong and ready, clearly having gone to work in the off-season. It was the first time it felt effortless, to win games. Obviously the wheels came off about ¾ of the way through the season but I still feel good about the whole thing. Whatever happens this summer the team isn’t coming back the same, so the season, for all its faults, was a culmination in seeing what we could be capable of. It was still worth something.

Spencer Redmond: I would say the regular season was a success, despite a tough injury year compared to years past, and a seamless transition of new pieces in the middle of the season, the Raptors were still able to walk away with a 50 win season. The playoffs weren’t as successful as last year. It’s not that they got knocked out a round earlier, it’s the Bucks series wasn’t easy at all, and even with a better roster on paper, the Raptors weren’t competitive against the Cavaliers at all. The Raptors are a good team, they aren’t on the same level as the Cavaliers and Warriors, but overall the Raptors were going to be judged by their ability to compete in the playoffs.

What’s your favorite moment/memory from the 2016-17 season?

William Lou: Tied between beating the Bulls and the comeback win over the Hornets. That both wins were so unnecessarily difficult underscores just how the season went. The Hornets win was exhilarating because we saw young players (Jakob Poeltl, Delon Wright) in a new light picking up for the slack left behind by failing veterans. The Bulls win was just such a fun game and then you factor in the history there.

Anthony Doyle: I think for me it was the 44-point win over Atlanta. It felt like, in that brief moment, everything came together and we got to see the potential of the roster, on both ends of the floor. It didn’t last, but it showed what the team was capable of if they did put everything together.

Matt Shantz: The single moment that stands out in my memory is DeMar DeRozan blocking in the comeback win against the Chicago Bulls. That game helped shed a lot of Bulls demons and was one of the more fun games to watch. It’s also not a play you see DeMar make often. Felt like watching a unicorn majestically run through the forest.

Tim Chisholm: The trade deadline. It was another example of how Masai Ujiri is able to assess the landscape of the league and put his teams into the best position possible to take advantage of the market. Serge Ibaka and PJ Tucker may not have to pushed Toronto past Cleveland, or even made them much of a threat against them, but the fact that he got both of those guys at all is a reminder of how far this team has come organizationally.

Alex Gres: BEATING THE BULLS. And the Powell and DeRozan dunk exhibitions late in the series against the Bucks were awesome too.

Cameron Dorett: Watching the Raptors climb back to beat Chicago in overtime after Ibaka and Lopez traded haymakers (that fortunately?) didn’t land. The atmosphere was electric in the building for one of the few times I remember during this season and it felt like the toughness the playoffs require had arrived.

Vivek Jacob: DeRozan’s dunk on Tristan Thompson in the early season. His early run that had him mentioned alongside MJ was a fun ride.

Louis Zatzman: It was a cold winter’s day at the end of February (24th), when the Raptors and their new acquisitions faced the streaking Celtics. DeMar DeRozan brought warmth to my blackened, frozen heart with his fourth quarter heroics (12 points in the last 5 minutes) to steal the game at home.

Shyam Baskaran: Had to be the trade-deadline acquisitions, especially the way it was capped off with the Tucker acquisition at the buzzer. It’s kind of sad that my favourite memory didn’t include any in-game moments, but I don’t think this year was capped off with the big wins like last year (like big wins against the Cavs in the regular season and playoffs, and a game 7 destruction of the Heat in the second round). As successful as a year as it was, there were a lot of ugly wins. The trade deadline acquisition of Ibaka was easily one of the most memorable in franchise history, and on paper seemed to put the team on the highest and deepest level. So, for the way it made me feel at that very moment, it was definitely my favourite memory of the season.

Katie Heindl: I really love Fred Van Vleet. When he started to get his first minutes in the season I was like, my heart was too full. I basically wrote a long-form poem about it. I also got tickets to the next Orlando game the day after Ross got traded, knowing there would be an ovation and a montage and it nearly killed me. I had goosebumps the whole home opener, it was electric in there. And Game 5 of the Bucks series I was in a row with Bucks fans and watching them wither and eventually flee—resplendent. Basically any time I can cry and honestly I usually get choked up at the flame gouts during the team intro, so.

Spencer Redmond: A lot of games stick out in my mind. The rivalry against the Celtics was a lot of fun, the DeRozan game winner in Madison Square Garden, and Lowry single handily winning a game in Utah.

This four-year period has unquestionably been one of the best in Raptors history. It’s the first four-year playoff run, has included the most postseason victories, and has had the highest heights. If this is it for this particular core, what will you remember most about this stretch?

William Lou: My favorite memory of this stretch will still be the image of a grinning Amir Johnson laid spent on the court surrounded by his teammates on the road in Dallas back in December of 2013 (I wrote about it here). The Mavericks were one of the best teams in the league to start that season, and that this rag-tag band of Raptors on the brink of being blown up was able to storm into Dallas and come away with an OT win felt like winning a championship in relative terms. That’s when I first started to believe.

Anthony Doyle: I hope I’ll remember how great it was to be hopeful. Despite never quite getting over the hump against Cleveland, it was great to believe this much in a team and something that’s sorely lacking in Raptors history. I’d like to take that forward whenever this core ends, to help me get through the likely rougher times ahead.

Matt Shantz: The last four years have largely been the most fun I’ve had as a sports fan. That says a lot about the teams I’ve chosen to adopt as mine, but it also speaks to who this Raptors’ team was. They were an accident. They were an underdog. And they were an afterthought. There were hard moments of defeat (plenty), but I found this group inspiring. They were never supposed to be anything and yet they found an identity as one of the league’s top teams. I will remember simply being thankful for that opportunity.

Tim Chisholm: I have two, one positive, one negative. The positive is the Raptors winning 56 games and it not seeming like it was a massive surprise or herculean effort. They simply went out and earned a 56-win season to very little fanfare. For someone that has been covering this team since its inception, I never would have imagined that they could have done that without it seeming like a mind-blowing event. That said, I think that the defining part of this run for me was the Raps being swept by Washington in the Playoffs two years ago. It was such a sharp slap in the face as to how the top-line of the this team performs when their backs are against the wall in the post-season, and it really felt like the tone was set for this group of a post-season threat. They never truly recovered from that series.

Alex Gres: A most unique group of guys with chips on their shoulders – dudes who needed to be motivated by being counted out, not just in pre-season and postseason predictions, but also by seeing how large they can make their deficits within games while still recovering to win. This era exemplified the personalities of their two stars: “Oh, you think you got me figured out?” as they’re down 15 in the first quarter, before unleashing payback time the rest of the way. While not aesthetically pleasing, I am going to remember that fun B-movie entertainment factor. And the fact that every game night felt winnable if they just lock in.

Cameron Dorett: I’ll remember winning. It may not seem like the Raptors accomplished all that much with Cleveland’s sweep so fresh in our memories, but this team won a lot of games. It’s such a basic thing to look back on but also regardless of how this team looks next season it will always be easy to recall some downright dominant stretches of basketball. That’s awesome.

Vivek Jacob: Playoff Lowry. From the Paul Pierce rejection in Game 7, to breaking down against Washington, to his elbow last year, and another sub-par playoffs this time around, it’s unfortunate that we can only wonder, “What if Lowry elevated his game instead of disintegrating in the playoffs?”

Louis Zatzman: If this is it, I will look back at this core with nothing but love. My most allegorical memory of the team is Lowry’s sneaky fake timeout play, during which he’d scoot in for a layup while everyone meandered to the benches. It featured all the best hallmarks of this Raptors team: fun, guile, and playing above their talent level.

Shyam Baskaran: Our resiliency. It’s a bit cliché, but if there’s one trait this team had, at least for the most part of their 4-year run, it was an undying resiliency that made us hopeful as much as it made us insane. Bad games were almost always followed up by good games and so many times, bad starts were followed up with good finishes. The Raptors led the league this year in 10-plus and 15-plus point comeback wins, and throughout the past 4 years, were known for their ability to bounce back in playoff games following disappointing losses. From rough Game 1’s, to close-out Game 6 woes, it’s been a tough stretch that made the ride crazy, but enjoyable nonetheless.

Katie Heindl: I can’t abide by the cruelty of this question but I will try to answer it. This core meant so much because they were relatable. They were just a rag tag bunch of castoffs and every one we felt lucky to get. It was like a microcosm of basketball, sometimes it even got a bit cabin fever-y being at such close quarters, watching these guys react to being the lone participants for a whole country. It was always clear—ad campaign not withstanding—we were outliers and it made everything feel personal. The frustrations, clutch shots, actual anguish, wins and losses, it just seemed like everything mattered because how long could it last? Getting better every year and it not being a fluke, it was like a crazy ride and everyone just said fuck it, let’s go. This core sustained all that for four years, taught all new fans, maybe new generations of fans, a whole new kind of Toronto basketball. I hope everyone can remember that feeling.

Spencer Redmond: The 2015-2016 Raptors were probably my favorite team in franchise history. From DeRozan and Lowry growing their games, All-Star Weekend, 56 wins, to the very successful playoff run. I really hope this isn’t the end, this Raptors era has been a lot of fun, and if a few things bounce their way this offseason the window of winning could stay open for a few more seasons.

In retrospect, do you think the Raptors were right in running last year’s team back and fortifying at the trade deadline?

William Lou: Definitely. In the words of PJ Tucker, “hindsight is a mother.” Who wouldn’t run back the 56-win team that went to the ECF? And when the team started leaking oil in January, they deserved a chance to see how far they could go with the proper pieces in place. There’s no shame in taking a swing, and what did we really lose? Terrence Ross, two terrible seconds and the 25th pick. It was worth the gamble.

Anthony Doyle: Yes, I think that was correct. If they hadn’t done it, we’d have always asked questions over whether they could’ve gone farther with an elite power forward like Ibaka, or questions of whether another body to throw at LeBron could’ve made a difference. Whether or not it worked, it had to happen to fully convey that this wasn’t going to work. It ended the “What ifs?”.

Matt Shantz: I have no complaints about any move that Masai and staff made in the last 12 months. Returning a core that was two wins (albeit the gap was much bigger) away from an appearance in the Finals is a no-brainer. Weird things can happen. Love and/or Irving could be banged up, JR Smith could revert to his Knicks self and disappear or something, or LeBron could have had a software malfunction. Hoping for some luck was worth the try.

Tim Chisholm: Yes, 100%. That group earned the chance to prove that they were for real, and had learned from their experiences last year. They identified needs that were addressed at the deadline, and I don’t think that there was a more palatable way to handle business than they way that they did.

Alex Gres: Yes, absolutely. There was talk last year about ‘what if JV was healthy,’ ‘what if we had someone to guard LeBron better,’ ‘what if we had a legitimate power forward instead of Scola,’ etc. Now, as the gulf between us and the Cavs was exposed without those excuses (granted, Lowry was injured for the last two, but still), there are no longer what if’s haunting the season’s end. Masai’s evaluations have to be complete, and a new path forward can be charted.
Plus, if we had tanked this season we might have ended up with Lava-mouth (err, Lonzo) Ball… no thanks.

Cameron Dorett: How could they not be? Masai put this team in a unique situation in that it gets to build through young talent while staying competitive with core guys. We’ll see if he continues to walk that tightrope or pick another direction but his only choice was to at least try something this season. The Raptors did the most with what they had and the result was pretty much expected. Seeing “Ibaka headed to Toronto for Terrence Ross” won’t ever get old.

Vivek Jacob: Absolutely, yes. Shoot your shot. I believe there would be no chance of re-signing Lowry this off-season, and now we’re talking about the possibility of re-signing Lowry, Ibaka, and Tucker. No debate here.

Louis Zatzman: Absolutely running it back was the right choice. When you have a chance at post-season success, you have to take it. It didn’t work, but so what? The Raps gave us another rare (for the franchise) stretch of postseason memories. If the Raps didn’t shoot their shots, what would they be? The team embodiment of Lebron’s pass to Donyell Marshall in 2007 against the Pistons? (He didn’t shoot his shot).

Shyam Baskaran: Absolutely. What would’ve been the alternative? Tearing this thing apart after last year would’ve been a sin and disrespectful to a fan-base that’s clearly been re-awakened after more than a decade of mediocrity. As has been discussed so many times, there’s value to winning even if it doesn’t result in a championship. The Raptors have built a level of brand equity in the league, have made Toronto a relevant and attractive destination for free agents, and Masai owed it to the fans to run this thing back and go all-in on the roster at the deadline. The way things were going leading up to the deadline, I would’ve made those moves a hundred times over, and I’m pretty sure that any Raptor fan would agree that at the time, those moves pushed the needle just a bit further.

Katie Heindl: Yes. How could you know something on paper isn’t going to shake out the way you wanted it to, especially with so many variables ? That adding just the right pieces wouldn’t solve a bigger problem. In a way, keeping the team and getting Tucker and Ibaka at the deadline, was the only way to know for certain that there was a larger problem.

Spencer Redmond: I think so. The team was very competitive last season, and at the beginning of the season I thought with continued development and a healthy Carroll, maybe they could take the next step. The development was similar, and Carroll actually probably made the Raptors worse at times, so it was time to make moves. The players they acquired at the deadline were the perfect pieces for the right prices. A lot less for what they would have gotten them in the previous offseason. I think the way the Raptors went about restructuring their roster mid year was perfect.

Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan are the _ and _ best Raptors of all-time following this run?

William Lou: Second and third. Vince Carter will always be No. 1 because he established the culture. DeRozan and Lowry also had a positive impact on that end, but they were never relevant like how Vince was relevant.

Anthony Doyle: Yes, I think so. I think I’d have it Lowry, then DeRozan, then Carter, personally. I know some would have DeRozan over Lowry, and I understand that given that he came up in the Raptors system and Lowry didn’t, but at this point in time, it was Lowry who had the higher heights for the team.

Matt Shantz: I got back-and-forth on the order of these two themselves, but they are the second and third best Raptors of all time. Only Vince exceeds them for skill. The difference though is that DeMar and Kyle will go down as the two most loved Raptors’ of all time due to the unceremonious way Vince ended his tenure. Many people may not like DeRozan’s style/skillset, and some are even turning on Lowry as of recently, but when the dust settles Raptor fans will look back on this era of Toronto basketball with the utmost fondness.

Tim Chisholm: es, ultimately that is true, but their legacies are going to tarnished by how poorly their teams have performed in the postseason. While Vince Carter and Chris Bosh did no better, it feels like Kyle and DeMar had the best chance to really make noise in the playoffs, given their supporting casts, and I think that they were as responsible as anyone for the repeated failures, and that makes this a tepid endorsement.

Alex Gres: Co-second place. There is no escaping the fact that Vince Carter was still the most exciting Raptor to watch, and the one who put the club on the map. Though Lowry and DeMar eclipsed him in terms of raw achievements and wins, they were still not Vince. DeMar’s career is still young though, and with how he’s improving, the jury is still out on whether he outshines Carter in the long run. We can’t know what the future holds…

Cameron Dorett: 4th and 2nd. Carter, DeRozan, McGrady, Lowry, Bosh.

Vivek Jacob: 2nd and 3rd. Vince #1. No other Raptor has been EASILY a Top 10 player (Top 5 maybe) and had a playoff series like Vince had against the Sixers.

Louis Zatzman: 4th and 2nd. Vince Carter (1st) and Chris Bosh (3rd).

Shyam Baskaran: 2nd and 3rd – right now. I’m a bit of a Vince Carter fanboy to be honest. The immeasurable impact Carter’s play had on and off of the court makes him the best Raptor of all time in my mind. I’m a firm believer that without him, this franchise could honestly be in another American city right now. Having said that, when it’s all said and done several years from now, on numbers and longetivity alone, DeMar will probably claim the throne as the best all-time. It’s obviously really tough not to put Kyle first given he’s basically been the centrepiece around the past 4-year run, but second place is still highly respectable. The dude was the heart and soul of the team, a three-time all-star, and was the biggest cog in a 50-win machine for multiple seasons. That’s big time.

Katie Heindl: 1 and 2? If not 1 and 3?

Spencer Redmond: I do put a lot of emphasis on team success during the time period. Lowry is number one, DeMar is probably number three right behind Vince Carter. DeMar is really close to taking over Carter’s spot, after another year of improving his already impressive offensive numbers. Chris Bosh is fourth, I think we underrate his time in Toronto, but I also consider that he only won three playoff games in his time here.

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This Raptors’ Era Matters

The end of an NBA season is always emotional as a fan.  You are either devastated and left questioning why you put yourself through this each year when your team loses, or you are overcome with joy when your team climbs to the peak and walks away as the last team standing.

As a Raptors’ fan I can only assume that second part.  It’s never happened for me.  And the few other times it happened in my life can in the early 90’s when the Blue Jays and Canadiens won their respective championships.  I was ages 6-8 when these took place, so I don’t think I was able to savor it fully.

Now that I’m a little bit older I understand that suffering as a fan is what makes the successful moments all the more meaningful.  We saw it with Cleveland last year.  One of the most tortured fan bases in all of sports finally had something to celebrate, and it was a championship parade unlike any other.

The Raptors have largely been a lesson in fan suffering for the last 22 years.  Outside of the glimmer of hope that was provided by Vince Carter, nothing of particular value ever happened for the Raptors outside of the last four years we just experienced.

It’s this history that made the present era of Raptors’ basketball all the more special, and all the more significant.  Even if Toronto wasn’t a real championship contender, it still felt like the Raptors’ had a punchers chance.  They were the underdog that we loved to cheer for.

They were also an accident.  This group was never planned and was incredibly close to never existing in the first place.  We all know the story well by now.  Masai trades Rudy Gay as the first move towards a rebuild and begins shopping Kyle Lowry.  He was a James Dolan “Yes” away from sending the Raptors’ best player to New York.  Instead, the team started winning.

Here we are four years later, after four straight playoff appearances, the first two 50+ win seasons in franchise history, three series wins, and one trip to the Eastern Conference Finals.  Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan became All Stars, Lowry earned an All NBA Team selection (while DeMar waits to see if he gets the same honor for this season), and both have Olympic Gold Medals to their names.

Now we’re left with questions.  No one knows what comes next.  Masai Ujiri said as much about himself during his end of season press conference.  Every option is on the table.  The Raptors’ could easily try to compete again by resigning some combination of Kyle Lowry, PJ Tucker, Serge Ibaka, and Patrick Patterson, or they could start a new era of Toronto basketball and go the route of a rebuild.

Any option in between is also on the table.

And while I find myself spending an inordinate amount of time these days brainstorming what I would like to see happen, and what I think could realistically happen, every option has brought me back to reflection on what has been.

I’m thankful for the last four years of Raptors basketball.  I’m thankful to have watched meaningful games after years of knowing it was fruitless.  I’m thankful to have lived and died with each playoff shot, no matter how terrible the selection may have been.

In regards to the summer ahead, I’ve got no complaint if someone wants to run the team back next year.  I’m equally fine with people who want to do a complete rebuild, which would be my current preference.  (Note: the only scenario that I can’t get behind for this summer is retaining our other free agents if Lowry walks.  What’s the point there?)  What I’m not fine with is anyone saying the last four years have been pointless.

The last four years have mattered.  For only the second time in 22 years the Raptors’ found relevance in the NBA landscape.  Two star players chose to resign here.  One top free agent turned down additional money elsewhere to come to Toronto.  Jurassic Park became a real thing, with the fanbase and the franchise earning global respect.  We got to witness someone like Norman Powell stealing the ball from Paul George and throw down a soaring dunk.  Twice, Masai Ujiri cursed out another franchise in a public setting.  We even beat the Bulls.

These things matter.

Yes, it’s a low bar, but we’ve had the privilege of watching the best teams in Raptors’ history and have gotten to enjoy a greater level of success than ever before.  Whether a rebuild or a run-back, I can’t help but feel thankful for this era, and I will look back on the 2012-2017 Raptors.

No matter how we move forward, the ride has been worth it.

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Raptors Weekly Extra Podcast, May 12 – Offseason preview

The Extra returns with the regular crew to, well, what do you think they talk about?

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Raptors offseason not all difficult with decisions on Powell and VanVleet looming

The Toronto Raptors’ offseason promises to be rife with difficult and complicated decisions, ones that could send the franchise down one of several different paths, fundamentally changing the look, now and moving forward, of the core. There are coaching questions, a star unrestricted free agent, and three other players who could walk and may be deemed superfluous depending on how the biggest dominoes topple.

Not every decision will require president Masai Ujiri and company to stress and consider multiple angles and contingencies, though. There are a pair of smaller-scale decisions the team faces that seem, at least on the surface, to be more or less obvious calls.

Namely, the contracts of Norman Powell and Fred VanVleet will guarantee for the 2017-18 season sometime in the next few months. A fully non-guaranteed year with an early guarantee date like these deals essentially works as a team option. If Powell is on the roster after June 29, his salary for next season is completely guaranteed. Same for VanVleet, but his date is a little later, falling on July 20. Essentially, the Raptors have until these respective dates to decide whether they want Powell and VanVleet at their 2017-18 prices.

And they should. These are pretty easy calls.

In the case of Powell, he is an NBA rotation-caliber player whose contract for next year will pay him $1.47 million. It’s an obscene discount in the third year of the three-year contract the Raptors signed him to following Las Vegas Summer League in 2015. If there’s anything to stress about with Powell’s contract status, it’s not picking up the option, it’s the fact that he’s not eligible for an extension and is headed toward restricted free agency in 2018, where, if things continue as they have, he’ll be in line for a substantial raise.

The 23-year-old built on a surprising rookie campaign with a stellar sophomore performance, appearing in 76 games and filling in as a starter in 18 of those. While his defensive performance during the regular season wasn’t quite up to his rookie year, that was in part because Powell was trying to work within a larger offensive role as well, and by his own admission, figuring out how to do both at once took some time. Powell’s scoring increased both on a per-game and per-minute basis, owing to slightly improved finishing, an even greater knack for getting to the rim, and more frequent trips to the free-throw line. His 3-point percentage dipped precipitously, but his overall offensive efficiency ticked upward slightly, an encouraging sign given his spike in both minutes and usage rate during those minutes.

As the playoffs rolled around, Powell shook off a tough post-All-Star break stretch and once again helped swing a playoff series. Inserted into the starting lineup for Game 4 against the Milwaukee Bucks, Powell would wind up starting five of the nine playoff games he appeared in, averaging 11.7 points and knocking down 15-of-34 3-point attempts. (An aside: Across Summer League, preseason, the D-League, NBA regular season, and NBA playoffs, Powell has now taken 405 threes, making 35.8 percent of them. For a guy who shot 31.4 percent on 354 career college threes, this is a huge step forward.)

That Powell is a useful piece for the Raptors hasn’t been a secret for some time, and he should probably see even more time on a regular basis next season. That the Raptors have him at the league minimum makes letting his deal guarantee on June 29 the easiest decision they’ll face all offseason.

VanVleet’s case is slightly more complicated only because of the position he plays. His deal is also for the minimum given his service time at $1.31 million, and that price tag for a useful third-string or even back-up caliber point guard is a steal. An undrafted rookie, VanVleet wound up sticking with the Raptors all season despite his contract not guaranteeing until Jan. 10, which speaks to how much he impressed. Not only did he parlay his Summer League performance into a deal with only a small guarantee before Delon Wright suffered a shoulder injury, but the Raptors opted to keep VanVleet and roll with four point guards even once Wright returned.

The two then battled back-and-forth for minutes down the stretch and even into the playoffs, where VanVleet’s shooting saw him see rotation run in a pair of games. VanVleet only played 294 regular season minutes, but they were impressive ones despite some trouble finishing in the paint, with his 3-point stroke standing out as a potential asset on a team starved for shooting. There was also the D-League, where VanVleet helped swing a championship series for Raptors 905, completely dominating in the decisive Game 3. In 16 regular season appearances there, he proved too polished for the level, hitting 40.7 percent of his threes, defending the top guard on each opponent, and averaging 16.9 points and 7.6 assists.

If the Raptors didn’t already have Cory Joseph and Wright under contract, re-upping VanVleet would be a simple call. Even if the team were to retain Kyle Lowry, though, carrying four point guards isn’t the worst idea considering Wright’s length and the team’s penchant for playing dual point guards, anyway. There’s no rule that says a team has to have three of each position, and they can further balance the roster with their two hybrid roster spots if they’re thin elsewhere (VanVleet’s deal can’t be converted to a two-way deal, by the way). If nothing else, VanVleet on a minimum deal with his rights in restricted free agency in 2018 would be a useful trade sweetener and an eminently movable deal.

There isn’t a good argument for waiving either player to avoid letting their deals guarantee. From an asset management standpoint, minimum contracts for useful players are never bad. Even if the Raptors were, for whatever reason, trying to maximize cap space and minimize total salary, the combination of their two deals are only $1.15 million greater than two rookie minimum salaries or the minimum roster charge cap hold (if the Raptors fell below 12 players). Only the smallest modicum of flexibility is sacrificed by keeping both, and either player would be easy to trade on their deals if the space was needed down the line (they’d also represent nice trade chips in general, although they couldn’t bring much salary back alone).

Whether the Raptors decide to push forward with this core and compete or take a step back and rebuild, the contracts of Powell and VanVleet will be useful. They’re either cost-effective pieces with market value and potential succession plans if pieces are removed from the depth chart, or their young prospects worth getting excited to see more of in a rebuild.

Part of the reason the Raptors have continued to build the back half of their roster with young, developing players is to maintain this pivot foot if they need to take a step back, and part is because it’s a source of inexpensive talent if the players work out. In a soft-capped league, you can only spend so much, and while having seven players on entry-level deals is a bit extreme, it makes the filling out of the roster quite cheap. That the Raptors still face a luxury tax crunch despite a bargain back-half speaks to this. Powell, VanVleet, and the five players still on their rookie-scale contracts will combine to make just $13.97 million next year, or about 13.8 percent of the salary cap committed to 46.7 percent of the roster. Add in the No. 23 pick at 120 percent of scale, and that’s only $15.6 million (15.4 percent of the estimated cap) for 53.3 percent of the roster, offering a great deal of room for the higher end of the roster.

The Raptors have some other small decisions, too. Lucas Nogueira and Bruno Caboclo can be signed to extensions on their rookie-scale deals any time between July 1 and Oct. 31. Those are complicated situations worth exploring once training camp rolls around. The team will have to exercise its option on Delon Wright for 2018-19 ($2.54 million) by Oct. 31 which, barring a dramatic offseason, will probably be an easy call, too. Jakob Poeltl and Pascal Siakam will also need their third-year options picked up by Oct. 31, decisions that are a resounding yes in almost all cases and will be here, too.

See? It’s not all impossibly difficult this offseason. Good, young players on really affordable deals make filling out the roster fairly straight-forward. Those decisions at the top, though…

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The Case Against Serge Ibaka

This is a guest post from occasional contributor Atique Virani.

On February 14th, 2017, Masai Ujiri finalized what was probably his biggest trade as President of the Toronto Raptors. He sent Terrence Ross and the lesser of Toronto’s two 2017 1st round draft picks to the Orlando Magic in exchange for Serge Ibaka, the extraordinarily handsome man who for the previous three seasons had been the third banana behind Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Masai made this trade in order to give Toronto’s core a fair shot at proving itself against the Cleveland Cavaliers, without being forced to play Pascal Siakam or Jared Sullinger alongside Jonas Valanciunas.

As you know by now, that experiment didn’t turn out so well. The Cavs blew past the Raptors with only the barest modicum of effort, winning comfortably in every game. That wasn’t entirely unexpected – after all, LeBron James, one of the two greatest players in NBA history, plays for Cleveland, and the Raptors have no one even close to his level. And so the debate has shifted from whether Ibaka would help the Raptors dethrone the Cavaliers, to whether the Raptors should re-sign Kyle Lowry and Ibaka and run this team back one more time, perhaps with a few changes around the margins.

The question of whether to re-sign Kyle Lowry deserves its own column, because it’s a complex question with no easy answer. But as you can probably guess from the title of this post, I want to talk about whether or not the Raptors should re-sign Serge Ibaka, specifically why they shouldn’t. The consensus among Raptor fans (despite a dissenting opinion from Zach Lowe in his excellent postmortem of Toronto’s season) has been that since, on the surface, he’s a pretty perfect fit for Toronto, re-signing Ibaka is the easy choice to make. But the decision isn’t as clear-cut as it appears.

The most noteworthy strike against Ibaka is his (apparent) decline. Although I don’t want to cast doubt as to the veracity of his listed age, his statistical profile clearly emulates that of a player on the downward slope of his career. According to Basketball Reference, many of Ibaka’s advanced statistics have been declining for a few seasons now. His Block% has declined every season since 2011-12, and is currently the lowest it’s ever been in his career, along with his Offensive Rebound%, and his Defensive Rebound% is the second lowest it’s been in his career. These numbers aren’t completely explainable by a move to the perimeter, either, since with the Raptors he played the highest percentage of his minutes at C, without any improvement in those numbers. In addition, his all-in-one stats have suffered as well. His Box Score Plus-Minus, Value over Replacement Player, and Win Shares per-48 minutes stats have steadily declined since the 2012-13 season, and are currently the lowest since his rookie season.

Of course, a team like the Raptors wouldn’t re-sign Ibaka for the regular season benefit – they’d be looking to his playoff impact – which is why it’s concerning that these trends hold true for most of his playoff numbers as well – his PER, BPM, WS/48, and VORP in these playoffs rank among the worst years of his career. Add to that the fact that through the eye test, it’s becoming increasingly obvious that Ibaka isn’t really quick enough or athletic enough to play Power Forward full-time anymore, and on offense his main value is as a shooter on the perimeter, not as a screener or as a roll threat in the paint, drawing help away from shooters. This isn’t to say that Ibaka’s been bad – on the contrary, he was an integral part of Toronto’s series win over Milwaukee, and although he struggled at times against Cleveland, so did everyone on the team. But the point here is that it’s probably not a good bet that Ibaka will show significant improvement in the future. At best, he’ll probably maintain a similar level of production.

The general counter to these numbers and observations from Raptors analysts and writers has been that it’s time to move Ibaka to Center and trade Jonas Valanciunas, for value if you can get it, or salary cap relief if you can’t. And this is accepted wisdom because Ibaka is obviously a better defender than Valanciunas, and so would help the team more. Fortunately for us, we’ve actually seen a decent amount of high-leverage minutes this postseason in which Ibaka and Valanciunas have been separated, thanks to Casey playing JV off the bench for nearly half the playoffs, and the results in those minutes have been surprising, to say the least. To start with, according to the great site nbawowy.com, the Raptors have been thoroughly outscored almost regardless of who’s on the court, as should be expected after the blowouts Cleveland has laid on Toronto. But with Ibaka on the court without Valanciunas, the Raptors are actually outscored worse than when Valanciunas is on the court without Ibaka. It’s actually not that surprising that the defense is approximately as effective with Valanciunas on the court as opposed to Ibaka – Cleveland has proved impossible to stop for nearly any lineup combination, regardless of who’s playing center. The numbers do bear out a few interesting observations, however. The first is the troubling tendency for Ibaka’s offense to stall when he’s playing C. His True Shooting% dips to .505, and it’s worth wondering if the strain of defending the rim full-time has an effect on his jumper, since he relies so much on outside shooting for his offense. The second is that when Valanciunas plays next to a true PF – that is, not Ibaka, who’s closer to a C now, or Siakam, who’s not worthy of playoff minutes yet – he’s shown the ability to play decently, relative to the norm for Toronto, on defense, alongside his typically efficient scoring.

The picture painted by these statistics and the actual games themselves isn’t a pretty one. If the Raptors hope to keep Ibaka, they’ll probably have to pay him somewhere in the neighbourhood of $25 million a year, probably for 4 or 5 years. Considering Ibaka’s statistical profile, it’s almost certain that he’ll be in heavy decline by the last few years of that contract, and there’s a chance that drop-off will happen even earlier. And because Ibaka will have to move up a position to combat his declining athleticism, that will mean that Valanciunas will probably have to be moved as well, and the Raptors will have another hole at PF.

Now, as an avowed Valanciunas fanboy, I’ve been in favor of trading him for a while now. It’s pretty clear that he’s not a good fit with Casey’s offense, and playing him with DeMar is a disaster waiting to happen on defense. But if the Raptors are faced with the choice of moving a still-young center on a relatively cheap contract in order to re-sign a clearly aging big man who, by most statistical measures, is being out-produced by the younger player, to a gargantuan contract, I believe the smarter choice would be to hang on to the younger player. Still, considering that Ibaka’s trade value is higher than Valanciunas’ right now, Masai may decide that the smartest course of action is to re-sign Ibaka now, only to trade him if a favorable deal becomes available, similar to how he handled the Nene re-signing as the GM of the Denver Nuggets. Regardless of what Masai chooses, it’s up to us as fans to not to fall into the sunk cost fallacy, and clamor for Masai to keep Ibaka solely for the reason of not losing the perceived value of the 1st round pick and player that were traded to obtain him.

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Does a ‘culture reset’ necessitate a coaching change?

In closing out the 2016-17 season with his usual “B.S.” media availability, Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri uttered two words that will reverberate through the long, difficult offseason: “Culture reset.” Normally, either one of those words suggest wide-scale changes, and putting the two of them together would seem, on the surface, to be Ujiri taking a blow torch to the seat of head coach Dwane Casey, decidedly heating it up.

To be clear, Ujiri’s 41-minute press conference was rife with great quotes and tea leaves for the reading but light on actual answers. In talking to other writers and readers after the session, people seemed to come away split on whether the totality of Ujiri’s words spelled the end for Casey in Toronto or whether it was a tepid but ultimately still placed vote of confidence in giving Casey another shot. The split takeaways are likely due to the fact that Ujiri himself has not decided, which is at the very core of why he thinks an end-of-season presser is a waste of everyone’s time.

“(If) I came in here and said we are going to decide we are going to do this and this and this, I think I would be a bad leader, right? One day after you lose?” Ujiri explained. “Is there any decision I can make right now that is the right decision today? I can’t tell you I’ve made a decision on anything. I wish I could, I’ll take the questions…I hate to be like this, but I would be a bad leader if I come to you today and I tell you that, ‘Okay, we are not bringing back Kyle or okay we are bringing back Kyle or we are going young, or we are not bringing back Pat or we are bringing back Serge. I don’t know that I can make that decision, that we collectively can make that decision today.”

What Ujiri was very clear about, though, is that whatever path the Raptors take – a tear-down, spending into the tax to keep the core together, any tweaks in between – things are going to need to change. The Raptors have enjoyed the best four-year stretch in franchise history, and there’s great value in that. There was value, too, in trying to run everything back this past season and see if the team and system could take another step forward. But they didn’t, and the accountability for that stagnation is going to be shared across the front office, the players, and yes, the coaching staff.

“Let’s call a spade a spade. The end of the year was disappointing for us. That series was disappointing for us,” Ujiri said. “We thought we could do better. I don’t know what it is. We’ve started to study it and I can’t tell what exactly it is…We are going to hold everybody accountable because we need to. After that performance, we need a culture reset here. We need to figure it out.”

The way the Raptors have approached things the past few years assures them of certain things: A competitive team that will finish safely above .500, one that will post a top-10 offense, and one that will probably be able to put itself in a position to win at least one playoff series. The defense took a step forward late in the year, too, as the personnel improved. That’s a good baseline for a team, and the Raptors can rest easy knowing they’ve accomplished the innocent climb portion of the team development cycle.

That’s not where the Raptors want to end, though, and it’s taking the next step that’s much more difficult. It’s that step that makes the offseason so complicated and renders it lacking a right or wrong answer. Whatever way the Raptors go, it will be with the aim of eventually being able to win a title.

“Yes, there’s been some success, but at the end of the day we are trying to win a championship here. To me making the playoffs is nothing,” Ujir said. “That was back in the day. Now we have to figure out how we can win in the playoffs. That’s the goal…And that’s our job. That’s what we are going to try and figure out. Whether it’s now or in the future, I have to figure that out.”

If nothing else, Ujiri was adamant that what the Raptors have been doing won’t continue. If they evaluate things and deem that this core can’t reach the height they want to reach, then they’ll take a step back. If they decide there’s enough talent and momentum to try again, then they’ll do so in a much different fashion. Either of those decisions cast the future of Casey into doubt some.

In a vacuum, Casey probably does not deserve to be fired. He is the best and most successful head coach in Raptors history, and he does a lot of the macro elements of coaching well. The stars buy in, the role players know and accept their roles, the young players develop well, and the Raptors were in a position to be a very good team four years running in part because of what Casey has helped create. He is also, by all accounts, a terrific human being, and his players speak the world of him when it comes to matters of relationships and quality of people. It’s difficult to find anyone willing to say an unkind word about Casey the person. Casey the head coach, though, has struggled with some of the micro elements of the job. His play-calling late in games can run redundant, his adjustments, while often eventually good ones, usually come between games rather than during them or proactively before them, he can be slow to make bigger-picture changes.

There’s also the matter of his not-so-occasional butting of heads with star free agent Kyle Lowry, and there were rumblings before Lowry’s last contract that his camp suggested maybe a coaching change was in order. Lowry has, from time to time, taken what appeared to be veiled shots at Toronto’s system in general or inability to adjust it. All involved downplay any disagreements as nothing more than the usual fires of competition, and Ujiri surely won’t let a player’s whims dictate such a decision.

“Honestly, I’ve thought about it, and they’ve bumped heads,” Ujiri conceded. “We can come here and say all the right things to you guys and blah blah blah. When it’s time to work, they work. That’s the bottom line. And I think we make this argument, do they bump heads, do they do this? At the end of the day, last year 56, this year 51. So they should hold hands and sing hurrah and kiss and do whatever they want to do and we win 30 games, what the hell is that doing for anybody? Nothing. Zero.”

Mental image of Casey and Lowry holding hands during timeouts aside, Ujiri once again gives the impression the coaching decision will be one of system rather than personality. The degree to which the failures of the system fall on Casey is likewise mixed. It is archaic, to be sure, but the Raptors have enjoyed a great deal of regular-season success scoring the basketball. Given how much noise there was in the previous two playoffs runs (an injury to Lowry against the Wizards, injuries to both Lowry and DeMar DeRozan last year), the team was probably justified in wanting more information about how it could translate to the playoffs. It didn’t, again, and as the sample grows, the list of caveats and qualifiers to describe the chasm between 82-game offense and seven-game offense begin to fall to the side.

Casey’s offense isn’t quite as isolation-heavy as some make it out to be, but with two of the best players in the NBA at creating points on the drive, it’s been built around putting Lowry and DeRozan into positions to attack. That’s meant a lot of high screen-and-roll to get Lowry a head of steam, and it’s meant a lot of action to get DeRozan in a position to attack one-on-one. Again, given the personnel, it’s a reasonable approach, but as Ujiri suggests, it might just be easier to slow down in a playoff environment where teams have more time to study and the Raptors’ role players are forced to do more. This has always been a question, it was just one with a very noise sample to answer it with. The lack of 3-point shooting volume is glaring, too. Through either of those threads, it’s unclear how much a change in approach would have brought better results – the Raptors’ non-All-Stars are pretty thin when it comes to passing and playmaking, and only three rotation players were above-average 3-point shooters. The team thinks DeRozan’s adaptable to a new system, but if the ball wasn’t in the hands of Lowry and DeRozan as much, the Raptors may have been even worse off. The problem, as always, is that there are no controlled experiments. The one they’ve run has struggled four times in a row.

However much of the blame falls on each pillar of the team’s structure, things need to change.

“There are things that I question, you know, like I think our style of play is something we are going to really evaluate. Like, how we play,” Ujiri said. “I think there are times that I think coach did a great job and I think there are times that we struggled.”

This all seems to point toward a change at the helm. Again, Casey is a good coach and there is a lot of nuance in evaluating a system, but there’s also not a large body of evidence supporting that Casey can be the one to steer a changing ship. There’s not necessarily evidence he can’t, either, and the playbook he and Nick Nurse rely on is much bigger than they normally show. But the Raptors want a fundamental shift, and that often means a shift in leadership. There are optics involved, too, and a more general philosophical question as to whether it makes sense to bring all of the same pieces back without making at least one notable change, even if that change isn’t borne of abject failure. Change isn’t good just for the sake of it, but neither is inertia.

Through all of this, Ujiri seemed to offer support that he believes Casey can be the one to lead the shift, and that Casey has acknowledged the need for change (which the coach himself did Monday).

“My short answer to that, honestly, is yes, there is commitment,” Ujiri said. “But we are all going to seriously question ourselves now, and figure out the best way to do it. Because Coach Casey has been a phenomenal part of our success here, and in some ways, we owe that to him. But I’ve told him that we all have to be accountable.”

It’s all very noisy, and the thermometer on that vote of confidence reveals a fairly tepid reading. Breaking the offseason down into a probability tree gets even clunkier, not more revealing. Blow it up, and Casey might cede control to a fresh voice like Jerry Stackhouse, who did a terrific job with Raptors 905. Decide to compete again and maybe Casey’s given a year to implement system changes, or maybe he’s pushed aside for Nurse, Rex Kalamian, or an outside hire, though the market isn’t exceptionally deep with proven names. Ettore Messina might be at the top of the list of external candidates, and Ujiri was clear the team wants to think progressively, so there’s nothing to suggest NBA head coaching experience would be mandatory. Every option brings with it uncertainty and risk. Retaining Casey eliminates that but also introduces the perception of a ceiling.

For now, nothing has changed. Casey is the head coach, and depending on how the dominoes fall when Lowry makes his free agent decision, the system will be reshaped and the culture will be reset. Unfortunately, the Raptors will probably want to make a call on their path behind the bench earlier than Lowry’s decision, as it could inform their approach to the draft and offseason. This may not have been Ujiri’s last media availability for the time being. Like he always says, one or two days after the season is a “B.S.” time for answers, and everything will take some time to be evaluated. Whether that evaluation deems it fair or not, Casey’s seat can probably be considered hot until the Raptors figure out how they want to get where they aim to go.


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The Case for Patrick Patterson

Patrick Patterson’s game is a useful metaphor for the current state of the Toronto Raptors. He is certainly skilled, though he cannot compare with the upper echelon. His game is inconsistent, bordering on schizophrenic. He is an intuitive player, intelligent, and able to succeed at a level greater than his skill should dictate. Finally, he has thus far proved unable to rise to the occasion against the league’s elite, such as the Cavaliers.

As has been trumpeted far and wide by basketball journalists from The Ringer to ESPN to Raptors Republic, the Raptors face a significant crossroad this upcoming offseason. They can ignite their current core and scatter the ashes, ending this loveable and frustrating run of Raptors basketball led by Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. Or they can run it back. The options regarding Patterson’s future with the Raptors cleanly follow the narratives of status quo or detonation; if Patterson is re-signed, the Raps will run it back. If he hits the bricks, so do the Raptors.

Despite his flaws as a player, Patterson has been an important part of the Raptors’ success over the last few years. This season, he had the highest net rating of any Raptors’ rotation player, with an astounding +10.9. That was good for 23rd in the NBA, just ahead of Blake Griffin. Last year, Patterson’s net rating was +9.3, and the year before +5.3. While his playoff net ratings have consistently plummeted into the negatives, Patterson is clearly a major part of the Raptors’ regular season success. This is a result of Patterson’s offensive and defensive abilities.

On offense, Patterson is one of the team’s primary floor-spacers. Almost two-thirds (65.9%) of his field goal attempts came from 3-point range, good for most on the team. A massive four-fifths (79.9%) of his field goals were assisted (also 1st on the team), making him a perfect complement to isolation-heavy scorers, such as DeRozan. While he only scored 6.8 points a game, he shot a healthy 37.1% from 3. Many of the most effective Raptors’ offensive possessions ended in simple Patterson corner 3s, like this:

Patterson also has been improving at his ability to pump fake and create plays with his dribble. He is quickly improving at dishing and making plays for others:

He can also reach into the sky and finish, shooting 57.1% from the field on 1.1 drives per game during the season:

While Patterson’s offense is critical, he truly excels on defense. His cerebral defensive chops allow him to interrupt opponents’ best-laid plans while not leaping himself out of position. He meshes well with Lowry, another free-jazz-improvisational defender. Observe Patterson’s defensive impact, both at the rim and in general:

When defended by Patterson
Opponent FG% at rim 45.8
Opponent FG% 38.6

Opponents shot a full 6.9% worse when defended by Patterson – good for 1st in the league among players who played in more than 60 games! This is worth re-iterating: Patterson lowered his opponents’ ability to make shots more effectively than Draymond Green, Kawhi Leonard, or Rudy Gobert. Patterson doesn’t record many blocks or steals, so while the box score may not feel him, his opponents certainly do.

Patterson’s ability on defense is difficult to define. His most important attribute is intelligence; he knows angles, and he is able to guard smaller or faster players by pre-empting their moves, moving his feet to cut off available driving angles, and not allowing them to turn the corner. Of course, having quick feet and active hands allows Patterson to use his smarts. Furthermore, Patterson has size, strength, and length. He can feasibly guard centers for short stretches and defend the rim. His ability to switch onto any player on the floor, from point guard to center, and recover to shooters, offers the Raptors a huge advantage on defense.

To beat the Chicago Bulls this year, the Raptors needed every bit of Patterson’s defensive ability. On consecutive possessions in the 4th quarter, Patterson moved his feet to corral a Jimmy Butler drive then reached up to block a Rajon Rondo layup:

Few players can do that. Patterson is smart and skilled, and his skills unlock the Raptors’ full potential on defense, in transition, and in the half-court. This neither explains nor excuses his Viagra-requiring failure to perform this past post-season. However, the Raptors are historically at their best with Patterson on the floor.

While it is difficult to overlook Patterson’s historical postseason vanishing acts, he has only mimicked the performance of the Raptors’ themselves. If the Raps are playing poorly, Patterson is not going to pull them out of the sewer, like a Lowry or a DeRozan can. However, for the current iteration of the Raptors to succeed, Patterson’s skills are irreplaceable. If maintaining success and re-visiting the postseason in 2017-18 is the correct route for the Raps, then bringing back Patterson is an important first step for the Raptors to continue their winning ways.

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VIDEO: Masai Ujiri end-of-season press conference

Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri conducted his end-of-season media availability at BioSteel Centre on Tuesday. We have the relevant notes and quotes here.

We’ll be trying to digest all of this in the coming days, by the way. There was simply way too much to analyze in one piece, so we’ll tackle some of the finer points in the coming days and weeks. This is well worth a watch if you have 40 minutes (!) of free time.

Here’s the video:

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Masai Ujiri presser: Raptors need ‘culture reset,’ style change, everything on table

Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri conducted his end-of-season press conference with media on Tuesday.We’ll be trying to digest all of this in the coming days, by the way. There was simply way too much to analyze in one piece, so we’ll tackle some of the finer points in the coming days and weeks. In the meantime, here’s a quick look at some of what he had to say.

On the need for a CULTURE RESET

“Let’s call a spade a spade. The end of the year was disappointing for us. That series was disappointing for us. We thought we could do better. I don’t know what it is. We’ve started to study it and I can’t tell what exactly it is…I hate making excuses in my life. That’s not what we’re all about. I take responsibility. I blame myself first. I question myself, should I have made those trades? What should we have done? What could I have done better to put these guys in a better situation.

And then as it goes down, we are going to hold everybody accountable because we need to. We need, after that performance, we need a culture reset here. We need to figure it out. Yes, there’s been some success, but at the end of the day we are trying to win a championship here. To me making the playoffs is nothing. That was back in the day. Now we have to figure out how we can win in the playoffs. That’s the goal…We need figure out how to beat these guys. That’s our job. And that’s our job. That’s what we are going to try and figure out. Whether it’s now or in the future, I have to figure that out.”

More on what that culture reset may entail

“I don’t like to follow what everybody is doing and I always feel there’s a way to do it different because this is going to run out and there’s some way, some how there’s going to be another way to play. All I know is what we have been doing has not worked. And I have to look at that, we have to take a serious look at that. Because we’ve tried it and tried it and tried it and tried it and you know what, it hasn’t taken us to the highest level. It’s gotten us to a good place as a team but it hasn’t worked for us. I don’t know that that’s the way to go but we have to evaluate how we are playing for sure and figure out a way to change that.”

“The way the way we look at everything. I think we have done things here for four years and we have had a level of success but how do you take it to another level is what I’m talking about. We have to dig deep into everything we do. And I’m talking scouting, I’m talking our medical department, I’m talking everything. I have to look at it overall. I think we are on a good scale in the NBA, but how do you get better? How do you get elite? That is what I’m saying. We can’t just pinpoint coaching. We can’t just pinpoint not making shots. Our attitude, our leadership, everything. The way we work together. I think those things we need to re-visit and then get on with it.”

A handful of quotes pertaining to the future of Dwane Casey & a style change

“I think it was a difficult situation for him. There are things that I question, you know, like I think our style of play is something we are going to really evaluate. Like, how we play. I think there are times that I think coach did a great job and I think there are times that we struggled…It’s something we are going to evaluate but in the overall I think there are things that we can do better with coaching. I think there are things that we can do better, I think there are things that our team can do better…We have some 3-point shooters on the team, but maybe it’s the style of play we need to evaluate and how we do things, and I’ve discussed this at length with Coach Casey and it’s going to be an ongoing discussion on what we need to do.”

“I don’t know if there’s anything in the fabric. What I’m saying, the next month or so, we’re going to dig deep into that and try to find out what it is. One of things I discussed with coach Casey is how we play. We’ve done it the same time over and over again, is it going to work the next time. We have to figure that out, the one-on-one basketball we play, we have to question that, we have to really look at it, look at the league and evaluate the way we play and say, is this working? We’ve begun those discussions now.”

“We’re talking about it. Like, I had a good meeting with Dwane this morning, and the style of play is something that we need to change, and I’ve made it clear. And coach has acknowledged it and he’s already thought about it. Just some of the things that we do, it’s not working anymore. And I’ve just made it clear that it’s going to be difficult to me for keep changing players, just because of the way the CBA is situation. My short answer to that, honestly, is: Yes there is commitment, but we are all going to question ourselves. We are all going to seriously question ourselves now, and figure out the best way to do it. Because Coach Casey has been a phenomenal part of our success here, you know, and in some ways we owe that to him. But I’ve told him that we all have to be accountable. I haven’t slept, and I know he hasn’t slept too, because we’re thinking of ways that we can continue to make these things better, and make the right decisions.”

“Because we’ve done what we’ve done so many times and it hasn’t worked. That’s the simple answer. We can only try that so much, and it just hasn’t worked. It’s easy to defend in my opinion when you play 1-on-1, it’s predictable, we talked about it with coach, we feel we have to go in another direction, like I don’t know what it is…Is this going to work in the playoffs? We’ve always had that concern and we’ve always said it. There’s something there. Does it make it easier for teams to prepare against us, to prepare against 1-on-1 type basketball, dribbling a lot type basketball? We’re good at it, I think we’ve maximized in some kind of way, and we do appreciate that. We’ve seen this continuous, it’s not something all of a sudden we’re saying. I think in your minds, you’re hoping, you identify, you are hoping and hoping, but it hasn’t worked for us and we’ve run into the same issues. Again, I’m not making excuses here, and maybe it’s the kind of players we’re getting or something, but we want to try a different way maybe, and I’ve talked to Casey about that.”

On Kyle Lowry and uncertainty

“It’s our jobs to try and get Kyle to come back and do it the best way that we possibly can. We want him back, he’s been a huge part of the success here but what is to say Kyle doesn’t call me five days from now and says, you know what, I’m not coming. Then whatever I’ve said here doesn’t mean anything. So yes, there is a domino effect there and we have to make the right decision.”

On Lowry’s relationship with Casey

“We can come here and say all the right things to you guys and blah blah blah. When it’s time to work, they work. That’s the bottom line. And I think we make this argument, do they bump heads, do they do this. At the end of the day, last year 56, this year 51, so they should hold hands and sing hurrah and kiss and do whatever they want to do and we win 30 games, what the hell is that doing for anybody? Nothing. Zero.”

On retaining all four free agents

“It’s not realistic.”

On getting more from DeMarre Carroll

“I think DeMarre is going to have a big summer. Because this was, I think this was a healing year for his leg. The best thing about this year for us with DeMarre is he never really complained about the leg. He fought through it. And you can tell it’s getting better. But now DeMarre needs to physically go and work to get back to where he is. Because at the end of the day, that guy is going to be two things in the league: He’s going to be a shooter and he’s going to be a defender. Those are the two things, and we feel he’s 100 percent capable of doing that now that he’s getting over this. There were some down times, there were ups and downs with him, and I think that everyone has seen that. The commitment he is making, he’s disappointed. Everybody is at this time. Being that 3-and-D type player is what he’s going to go back to being. We’re confident with everything with his body, he’ll get back there.”

On the need for player development

“All I’m telling you guys now is with the new CBA, it’s not something that’s easy to just go find players here or trade for players there or sign players here. It’s not going to be that easy any more. Player development is going to be an emphasis and it’s going to be an emphasis with our team.”

“The big thing is, we’re going as a team in terms of development and players and how we want to grow our players and find players. At the same time, you’ve built this thing for a while and is there another level to it. We have to account for that and be accountable for that. And we have to decide is this the way we want to go in terms of money spent, too. Those are the things we have to evaluate and say we’re going.”

On spending into the tax if he decides to do so

“100 per cent. 100 per cent. And I can buy you a new phone, too, if you want.”

On ownership support if he wants to tank

“Yes. Yes. I’m going to build all the scenarios and put them in front of ownership. I think we owe it to everything, we owe it to ownership, to the organization, to the fans. I think it’s something that we have to do, because sometimes when you look at it, what chances do you have now? And do you plan for five years from now? Those are some of the things we’ve looked at. We have to find a way to motivate people, we have to find a way to motivate fans, we have to find a way to play hard on the court, and we have to find a way to find the right talent, to make sure that we’re creating a sense of hope in this organization. And no, we’re not afraid of that at all. Because it might be the right way to go, you never know. We’re really going to sit down and evaluate everything, and we’ll see where we go from there.”

Just a terrific quote that makes you want to work for Ujiri

“Hey, we tried, you never know, and if we fail, we try something else, or the organization tries something else. This business is all about risk-taking, too. You have to put yourself on the line there. To me, honestly I’m not afraid of that. I don’t want anybody who works with me to be afraid of that. We should not be afraid. We should be confident with ourselves. We should be confident with our thoughts. We should be confident with progressive thinking on how we can get better to win in this league and beat the opponents and beat those other 29 teams. I think it’s very, very important for us.”

On the futility of end-of-season media availability

“(If) I came in here and said we are going to decide we are going to do this and this and this, I think I would be a bad leader, right? One day after you lose. Is there any decision I can make right now that is the right decision today? To me I feel like talking now is BS basically. It’s absolute BS why we need to do this today. You might as well talk to me in like a month. Why do I need to do this today? Because I’m not going to say, I can’t tell you I’ve made a decision on anything. I wish I could. I’ll take the questions, you know, but, I know what the question are going to be. I hate to be like this, you know, but there’s no, I would be a bad leader if I come to you today and I tell you that, ‘Okay, we are not bringing back Kyle or okay we are bringing back Kyle or we are going young, or we are not bringing back Pat or we are bringing back Serge.’ I don’t know that I can make that decision, that we collectively can make that decision today.”

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Kicking the Tires

When the season inevitably ends for any team, the first task of the fans is looking for a place to lay blame that the team didn’t go farther. Losing to the defending champions is nothing to be ashamed of, but not making it a competitive series, especially when this was billed as a Raptors team built to contend, means that something must’ve gone wrong somewhere along the way. There is plenty to go around, but the target seems to have settled on the supporting cast, after they failed to provide any secondary offense for the team, especially after Kyle Lowry missed the last two games of the series with an ankle injury.

With DeMarre Carroll(1/5), Patrick Patterson(2/9), and Norman Powell(5/23) all having struggled from three point range in the series against Cleveland, the common refrain is that the Raptors need to find more three-point shooting before the next offseason, should they decide to run it back with this core. As well, Patterson and Carroll weren’t up to the task defensively, as the Cleveland bench routinely outplayed Toronto’s. This is all definitely true, and yet feels a familiar talking point.

The truth of the matter is, for this four-year stretch of the Raptors making the playoffs, this has been an issue all along. Whether we’re talking about Terrence Ross struggling to find his shot, John Salmons, Lou Williams, and Luis Scola going ice cold, or Jonas Valanciunas getting played off the floor on defense, there is always a case for the role players underperforming. Most of them are accurate too, it’s not unfair to say that these guys have struggled, but there might be a case that if the role players always struggle, regardless of which particular group we’re talking about, that the problem isn’t necessarily those players, but a system that fails to put them in a position to succeed.

During the Cavaliers series, Cleveland made 61 three-pointers to the Raptors’ 27, which tied for the largest margin between two teams in a 4-game series, and with the nature of DeMar DeRozan’s game, it certainly isn’t on him to help correct that gap, so the guys around the two All-Stars weren’t at their best. At the same time, the Raptors might need to acknowledge that the way they create shots for their role players is, at the end of the day, fundamentally different from the way Cleveland was doing it in that series. Nearly every Raptors possession begins with trying to create a shot for the ball handler, whether that’s DeRozan, Lowry, Cory Joseph, Delon Wright or Norman Powell. Only after the defense resists that initial push, and sometimes additional probes, does the secondary action which results in those three-point shots that didn’t fall come. For Cleveland, on the other hand, they begin possessions setting out to create shots for those guys, whether it’s Kyle Korver, JR Smith, or Channing Frye, who were among those to do the most damage from beyond the arc.

It could be that the Raptors role players keep coincidentally collapsing when the playoffs come around, and the team has just failed to put the right supporting cast around DeMar and Kyle. It would be hard to prove otherwise if you decided that was the cause of the playoff issues that keep cropping up, but given the cost of bringing back the same core this summer and the difficulty of adjusting the surrounding cast because of that, given that there simply is no cap space to work with. Getting all new shooters to replace the ones Toronto currently has may simply not be in play, and how could you be confidant that those shooters wouldn’t simply run into the same problems come the postseason, given that the guys who’ve struggled in the past all performed fine in the regular season from long distance?

There are inherent risks no matter which way the Raptors decide to go this summer, and definitely a case to be made that changing the pieces around DeRozan and Lowry might bring better success. But there is also a history of those pieces changing without bringing new results, and that’s getting harder and harder to ignore. Maybe the core itself is flawed, and the inability to get the best out of their role players in the biggest moment is that flaw.

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10 Things You Should Do Now That the Raptors Are Out

1. Call your parents: They have likely grown accustom to your communication dropping off sometime in mid-April over the last four years from a dutiful stream to a choked trickle. All the same, you might want to give them a call. Tell them where you’ve been, that you still have a job, that those “weird lines” in your face are popped blood vessels from almost four weeks straight of dry heaving and that sure, you wouldn’t mind coming over for dinner. The last time you brought groceries the Raptors were poised to go to the Conference Finals.

2. Check in with your boss: Explain that they can expect your productivity levels to even out now that you won’t be staying up long after games that already run well past the three hour mark to pour over analysis and argue with people you’ve never met online. Admit you were the one stealing the lunches of your coworkers to take home every night and eat in front of the TV. You should probably apologize to Jerry for slapping the laptop out of his hands when he went to plug it in for that presentation and you screamed “NO EASY BUCKETS”, too. But honestly, in some ways, fuck Jerry.

3. Remember if you have a pet: Do you? Tell-tale signs might include a full to bursting litter box, accumulated hair big as tumbleweeds roaming freely the hallways of your apartment or home and very sad eyes looking at you that are not your own.

4. Take your significant other on a date: Somewhere without TVs with nary a highlight reel to be found, where you can look at their face and remember what they look like/confirm you are out with the right person. Criteria for restaurant is someplace that serves food ranging in flavours other than hot, honey garlic and suicide and comes without carrot and celery sticks as a garnish. A tablecloth would be nice.

5. Go for a walk: Your muscles are in a state of early atrophy. It is hard to unclench your hands from the permanent fists they’ve been jammed into but you’ll find they are good for things like holding a coffee, reading a book, rubbing the layers of sediment from your eyes to behold the beautiful world in bloom all around you.

6. Make plans: Don’t panic, but your calendar will be very clear now that it doesn’t revolve around being home every other night to watch a game. Utilize this to make plans with the friends who haven’t seen you since the All-Star break. Some of them might have had a child or got married in that time, so this could be a great opportunity to check in.

7. Take in a film: Without mentioning the series sweep that cannot be named, we are in a flush and bountiful time of pre-summer blockbusters. Nothing will take your mind off [redacted] better than 2 hours of 3D space travel, a bright and cheerful Coke freestyle machine with plentiful choices (NO SPRITE) and greasin’ your cares away at a self-serve butter topping station.

8. Sleep: It feels strange to be reaching to turn the light off without the painful low or exquisite high of a blowout or bloody-knuckled win thrumming in your nerve center, I know, but your eyes are red and your skin is, like, I want to say taupe?

9. Eat a fruit: I’ll be honest, yesterday I had an orange and it felt like I’d discovered the fifth dimension.

10. This is embarrassing. I can’t even get to ten. I know there was something I did last year when the Raptors season ended that didn’t involve unlocking the secrets of time travel to jump to October. It’s too early to go to the beach and there isn’t a long weekend for a while so, model trains? Complaining about baseball? Fitness? Getting into advanced math and developing a salary cap algorithm?

@wtevs

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‘Right’ path for Raptors might be a matter of perspective

The Toronto Raptors took their shot and came up short. It was and remains a commendable approach, to attempt to maximize the near-term window, try in earnest to topple the seemingly inevitable, and walk away without the potential for nagging what-ifs in the event of a LeBron James injury, an ethereal clicking of an intangible nature, or a series of smaller breaks and improvements. The Raptors attempted to close the gap with the Cleveland Cavaliers, which is great. Coming up short leaves them facing a number of tough questions from here, because taking a proper shot is only tenable for so long.

Whether or not the Raptors are at the point where being merely good has grown old is the biggest answer team president Masai Ujiri and staff will have to answer this offseason. Kyle Lowry will have a say in it, sure, and if that domino falls a certain way, the decisions of their other free agents will factor in. But before any player is signed or signs elsewhere, the Raptors will go through a long period of introspection to determine the right path forward, not dissimilar to what they had to do after being swept by the Washington Wizards in 2014-15, albeit with much more information, success, and positivity to provide the necessary cache to make tough calls.

Were the path forward clear and the offseason simply about executing an obvious plan, the summer would set up much differently. A year ago, the Raptors needed only to re-sign DeMar DeRozan, fortify around the edges, and improve where a tough salary cap situation and a pair of draft picks allowed them to. After their defeat at the hands of the Brooklyn Nets three years ago, it was a simpler matter of just acquiring as much talent and value as possible. For a few years prior, the goals were similar but with a longer-term outlook in mind. You can do well or do poorly in an offseason like that, and there is plenty of room for argument and debate about the best approach.

But at least knowing the best approach informs that discussion.

That there is no clear proper approach for the Raptors from here figures to make big-picture offseason decisions more difficult and the more micro decisions far more scrutinized. Not that it should matter to the organization, but whatever they choose to do figures to be fairly divisive in the fan base, because there are two pretty distinct camps forming at the poles, and neither side is right or wrong. In fact, the situation the Raptors find themselves in is a snapshot of one of the most difficult philosophical questions in all of sports, one most teams in most leagues face at one point or another: Is winning a championship the only goal?

For the Raptors, that question can get a little more granular and specific to the history of the franchise. For a team with a rich history of success, there may be more rope with a fan base and market in terms of tearing things down and willingly accepting being a lesser team in order to be in a better position to win a title a little down the line. For a team like the Raptors, only now experiencing their first sustained bout of respectability and success, playing in a competitive market where their biggest competition for attention, media space, and dollars is on the upswing having just torn things down themselves, that’s a more complicated question. The fan bases of the two teams are different, of course, and one team shouldn’t dictate the moves of the other, but the long-term health, popularity, and momentum of the team is an important consideration (whether the Toronto Maple Leafs getting better after tanking makes it more or less difficult for the Raptors to do the same is a matter of debate for another time).

These questions are complex, nuanced, and don’t have a correct answer. Some fans, players, and executives ultimately measure success only by rings. That’s a fine approach – it is the entire point of each season and sport in general, to be the very best, to achieve the greatest success, to know for certain at the end of the day that the path worked, to know that the effort paid off, and to have the process validated. Nobody can be faulted for viewing things this way, but it does take an honest acceptance of the difficulty of that approach. Prospects are incredibly fun to dream on and watch grow. They’re also lottery tickets, not sure things.

The Raptors have never done a proper, Sam Hinkie-style tear-down, but they have been bad often enough and long enough to have a good idea of the pain that path entails. It is paved with thorny uncertainty and sometimes rewarded with an Andrea Bargnani at No. 1 or, worse, the misfortune of no No. 1 at all. As I write this, I am wearing a Trust The Process Christmas t-shirt (it is playoffs-are-finally-over laundry day), and I have a tattoo that essentially translates to that same mantra. I’m here for a calculated rebuild aimed to maximize a franchise’s long-term expected value. It’s just that life operates with a sample size of one, and even though that strategy possesses the highest likelihood of finding the star that’s so necessary to win a championship, it is still just that: A likelihood, a balance of probabilities, and a weighted coin flip.

Those on the other side may be a little more pragmatic in terms of the day-to-day, year-to-year value of sports. Fandom, though, is by definition irrational, and so it’s difficult to fault those who don’t see the value in repeating at the same level without a means or a chance of taking the next step. The Atlanta Hawks of the 2000s and present-day Los Angeles Clippers (shout out to The Great William Lou) have been derided some for stalling out in the first or second round, for consistently being a tepid threat rather than the threat.

The counter is that those teams were good for a fair amount of time. The Hawks weren’t quite able to capitalize, but the Clippers have gone from a laughingstock for eras defined by inadequacy and stupidity to being chuckled at for, you know, only being really good all the time. The Raptors hadn’t made the playoffs four years in a row until this season, ever. They’d never won a seven-game playoff series or made it past the second round until last year. They’d never repeated in the second round until this season. They’d never won 50 games once, let alone twice, or won a division, had dual All-Stars in multiple seasons, made splashy deadline acquisitions that felt like they mattered, or retained their own star past the usual, almost financially mandated second contract. The list goes on.

For fans who live and breathe the team’s every game, every possession, it’s a heck of a lot easier to do so when the team is good. It’s a matter of preference and perspective, really, and as I’ve reflected on the last few seasons and what the Raptors should do from here, I’ve found it difficult to find fault in the path others may prefer. The title-or-bust mentality is, at the root, what the competitive side of sports is all about. The “stay good and give your fans an entertaining product and make a decent playoff run and always be in a position to pivot in either direction if things change” mentality is, at its root, what the sports-as-entertainment side is all about. (And as much as some will shoot down the thinking the Raptors are or can be close again, there are some caveats that are important to recognize in that thinking, too.)

They are two diametrically opposed approached to team-building and fandom, and it’s those differences in philosophy – not a difference in intelligence or analysis or some semblance of being correct or incorrect – that will color a lot of our offseason debates here. As long as the Raptors don’t split the middle with a half-measure (essentially losing Lowry but still trying to compete, a strategy that would probably make them first-round playoff fodder given their free agency constrains, or even rolling the same core back without a fundamental shift in voice or scheme [plenty more on these notes in the coming weeks]), Ujiri and company are going to have a decent justification for their approach. Either they’re taking a major step back in order to maximize their more important window later, or they’re staying the course to maximize what they’ve stumbled upon here.

In the coming days, weeks, and months, we’ll be breaking down all of the options, scenarios, paths, and contracts. I’d imagine any question or angle you’ve been thinking about or commenting about, we’ll look at in-depth or at least touch on. There are so many questions, so much to cover, and six weeks of dead-ish space before the draft, we can’t (and shouldn’t) do it all at once. We’ll get there, though. As I worked through locker clean-out day and reflected, I felt the need to kind of work things through on paper like this (and maybe to fruitlessly prime the comment sections to be less vitriolic this summer – yeah right) and get my mind right for the difficult but exciting offseason that lies ahead. Difficult questions are great, because things aren’t difficult when you’re not in a decent place. These questions don’t have clear answers, though, and the ones that materialize may require occasionally looking at al alternate perspective to understand.

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VIDEO: Locker clean-out day interviews

The Toronto Raptors cleaned out their lockers at BioSteel Centre on Monday following the end of their 2016-17 season.

Click here for notes and quotes from DeMar DeRozan’s session.

Click here for notes and quotes from Kyle Lowry’s session.

Click here for notes and quotes from Dwane Casey, P.J. Tucker, and Serge Ibaka.

And here are the videos:

DeMar DeRozan

Kyle Lowry

Dwane Casey

Serge Ibaka

P.J. Tucker

 

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Locker clean-out: Casey, Tucker, and Ibaka reflect, look ahead

The Toronto Raptors cleaned out their lockers and did their end-of-season physicals at BioSteel Centre on Monday. That means post-season interviews for a lot of players. What follows is a collection of quotes from Serge Ibaka, P.J. Tucker, and head coach Dwane Casey.

Click here for notes and quotes from DeMar DeRozan’s session.

Click here for notes and quotes from Kyle Lowry’s session.

(There’s plenty of analysis coming in the coming days and weeks, it’s just easier on a day like today to cover everything lightly and dig in deeper later on.)

Dwane Casey

On his relationship with Kyle Lowry

“I think it’s solid. Again, you always, every coach I’ve been with has always had that relationship, up-and-down relationship with the point guard because they’re competitors, you’re a competitor, and you have a way you see things and you want to be on the same page most of the time. I know Kyle and I are on the same page most of the time now. We’ve grown. Just like any relationship we’ve gotten better, more solid, I understand him better now, who he is, how he thinks, he understands what we’re trying to do as a coaching staff. There’s never a relationship – when you have that many days, that many months, that many plane rides, games, timeouts, practices, film sessions – that’s going to be perfect. It’s never going to happen.

But our relationship is solid together. We see the same things. It’s scary, thinking the same thing alike. I’m sure he’s thinking the same way, that’s kind of scary when you start thinking like each there and anticipating what he’s thinking, but Kyle has grown as a player, as a person, as a man, as a family man. I’ve watched it right before my eyes and he’s had some of his best success here. We all have here. Hopefully it goes forward. I know he has a say in that, with free agency coming up, but I enjoy our relationship. I enjoy the way he plays. You have your moments. We all do. But as any relationship, it’s grown tremendously.”

On what life without Lowry would be like

“It would be difficult. It would be difficult. That’s a tough question to answer right now. Again, it’s going to be a lot of decisions to be made on the roster by management and also Kyle has a say in it also in free agency, he’s earned that right. Kyle has earned that unrestricted free agent tag, like most players in the league so that’s a very difficult question and again a lot of other variables have to go into that to see if you’re going to be successful without a player.”

On what DeMar DeRozan needs to do for next season

“His next step is the 3-ball, knocking that down. It’s no secret is the next evolution as a player has to be that and to continue to be an excellent defender. If J.R. Smith who has been known in his history not to be a great defender can defend, they can put him on a top offensive player on the other team, there is not a reason that DeMar can’t do that. He has athleticism. He has foot speed. He has toughness. He has the body. He’s done a great job with his body. He can do that also.”

On what Jonas Valanciunas needs to do for next season

“He’s in the best condition he’s been in as far as his weight, his conditioning, his foot speed…The issue with Jonas, and not just Jonas, any big man in this league, is guarding shooting fives or when teams downsize and play their fours as fives, and mainly in transition. If he’s late getting down the floor, now there’s a chain reaction. Jonas, that’s his goal. Every adjustment in his career, he’s made. He can do it. He’s a good enough athlete to get back in transition and find. That’s the key.”

“Jonas is going to get there (hitting threes) eventually and I hope it’s next year, but I can’t guarantee that. I would have no problem with that whatsoever. All of our players should work on the three ball.”

A self-evaluation, and what this team needs to do to take a step forward

“Could have done better, I always feel that way…Always. There’s not a coach in this league that can’t look at the season that says hey, I could do better.”

“Even though we were in the top 10 in both categories for a lot of the year, which is a credit to our coaching staff, who did a great job, there’s a lot of things. There were times I thought we adapted earlier in the season to the three-ball, to offensively, playing up-tempo taking the three, shooting the three, to the new NBA. Again, somehow, someway, I’ve got to do a better job at the end of the year to make sure we keep that, to where guys keep their confidence, to make sure they do take the three and get our goals up, as far as the number of threes, so I’ve got to do a better job from that standpoint.

There’s always areas in our team, in our play, that I feel like I can do a better job, our staff, we all can do better. There’s nothing we can be satisfied about, with our job performance, especially after the way we went out.”

On the team’s proximity to breaking through

“I wouldn’t say the team is at a crossroads. The roster- you’d have to talk to Masai. I’m saying we’re there – close enough to smell the roses. Whether I need to do a better job of coaching or whatever it is, players stepping up maybe. A player needs to step up and play above and beyond who he is or we need a big stop here or there, a big basket – you never know what that one big thing will be that catapults us to the next level.  I like our team and the changes we made.”

On FREE BRUNO Caboclo

“Quietly, Bruno has grown. He took some big steps with the 905 team. Whether that translates to the next level or not, we’ll have to find that out. But I thought he grew as a player. ”

On the struggles of Patrick Patterson and DeMarre Carroll

Patterson: “I don’t know if he ever really got 100 percent healthy after the injury and the long layoff, he never was the same after that, his rhythm was off a little. When you miss as much time as he did, it effects you. It effected his 3-point production and effectiveness, but he really tried to give it to us elsewhere – defense, moving the basketball, screening – he was one of our best screeners. It was a lot of factors.”

Carroll: “It’s really unfair to DeMarre just because he’s been battling injuries the two years he’s been here. It’s not the same DeMarre we saw in Atlanta just because a nick here, a nick there, reoccurring things that he’s gone through, so it’s not fair…It hasn’t been fair to really evaluate who he is, what he can do and what he brings to the table because we haven’t seen the real, the healthy, the 100 per cent DeMarre Carroll…It would be really good to see 100 per cent healthy DeMarre Carroll – no nicks, no bumps, no bruises, no nothing, just 100 per cent. And he talked about this summer he’s going to go back to Atlanta and work on his strength and work on his weight lifting and get ready for the season. So that’s going to be the exciting thing, is having a 100 percent DeMarre Carroll.​”

P.J. Tucker

On losing in the playoffs vs. not making it at all

“I don’t know. It sucks either way. You don’t make the playoffs, it sucks and when you lose it sucks. It’s all bad.”

On his second Toronto tenure

“This team has come so far since when I was here back in the day. The franchise has gone to another level, the team has just gone to another level. It’s been great. The fans, everybody took me in with open arms. It was great. The whole experience here was unbelievable. I had a great time.”

“It’s Toronto first of all. Toronto’s a great city. The organization has gone to another level. I think it’s one of the first-class organizations in the NBA. No question. The best fans I’ve seen in the NBA. It’s unbelievable. The support even from when I was back here to now it’s a totally different level here now with the fans here. Many things that are attractive about coming to Toronto for sure.”

On his offseason priorities

“I think fit is everything. Once you’re a veteran, an older guy, it’s more about the fit. You want to win, obviously, but you want to look for the team where you feel like you can help, help push it to the next level, honestly. Being a veteran, being an older guy, situational with the team, coaches, you want the total fit. Everything to work out. So for me, I think it’s more about the fit.”

Someone honestly asked him if he likes tough play or finesse play

“Have you ever watched me play?  would say yes, I would say yes, I would prefer being physical to being finesse. I don’t think I have any finesse in my game at all. The most dirty, rugged, nasty-looking stuff you’ve ever seen in your life. That’s me.”

On Jared Dudley tweeting throughout the series that he should play more

“I knew that was coming, someone was going to say something about Jared. He’s a trip. Uh, no comment. Anything Jared says I have no comment on. I don’t read his tweets.”

Serge Ibaka

On liking his time in Toronto

“Yeah, we got a good locker room and the way we play. We still have room to get better, there’s always room to get better if you want to make a big step. In general, I like the style of the team, the way they play, the locker room, those guys they’re great, great guys. Since I got here, everything was easier, and I have fun with them.”

On his free agency and potentially staying

“I’m not thinking about right now. I’m sure you already expect that answer because, you know, I just finished playing last night. I’m going to go home and spend time with my daughter, then we see what happens. You never know, anything can happen.”

“I have fun here. I like the city, I like the fans, they’re great here. They show me a lot of love and support. I like the guys here, the teammates, the locker room, the organization is great. Like I said, everything is possible but in my mind, I’m not really thinking about, I’m gonna wait a couple more weeks, then I’m gonna sit down and start thinking and decide.”

On running into the Cavaliers

“I think the series, we tried, we tried hard, we played in the second round against the best team in the game. You have to give them credit. We all know, we all saw what kind of team they have compared to our team. That does not mean we’re far away. We’re not that far away. For now, they are just playing one of the best basketball, everyone’s playing a high level, so it’s tough.”

On his fit with the Raptors and playing more center

“I like the way Coach Casey used me since I got here. I wanna play four and five, and after that, it depends on how you play. In general, I did like the way Coach Casey used me when I got here.”

“Not more minutes (at center), it depends when we’re playing and what kind of team we play against, the way they play. Most teams play small five, small ball, they play faster, quicker, so it just depends when. I like some times because I can have an opportunity to be in the paint and block some shots, better than stay away defending the 3-point line. Just different.”

Note: Masai Ujiri will speak tomorrow. We’ll have coverage of that, as well.

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Locker clean-out: Kyle Lowry will opt out, hasn’t thought beyond that

Kyle Lowry spoke with media after completing his end-of-season physical on Monday. Here’s a quick look at some of what he had to say.

On his player option

“Honestly I haven’t thought about the criteria. I haven’t thought too far ahead about any of that. I will be opting out and that’s as far as I’ve gotten. Honestly, that is as far as I’ve gotten. We lost yesterday. I still have to get my ankle healthy, get treatment, get to that point. Right now I haven’t got to the part.”

This is just a formality. I have something pre-written for when that becomes official, but like with DeMar DeRozan last year, it’s just paperwork that’s long been assumed.

On whether he’s lying about not knowing yet

“I haven’t thought about it. I wouldn’t BS you guys . I would, but I’m not this time.”

On his free agent priorities

“A ring. Nothing else. I just want a ring.”

Can he get that in Toronto, though?

“I think I can do that anywhere I play. That’s just how confident I am. I’ve just got to be better. I put a lot of pride and joy into how hard I work. I’ve just got to work harder. I’ve got to do something different. I’ve got to get better. I want to beat the best. Whatever it takes to beat the best, that’s what I’ve got to do.

I haven’t thought about that (money). Honestly, what I’ve thought about is yes, I’ll opt out and how I’ll get better as a basketball player. That’s all I’ve thought about. And I want a ring. That’s all that drives me…I think that’s a question for our GM and president and assistant GM. As players, we can say yes. Of course we believe we can. Of course I believe I can get a ring wherever I am. That’s just how I think.”

On his relationship with Dwane Casey

“Me and Coach have had our ups and down and ups and downs. But it’s been great. Coach Casey has allowed me to become a three-time All-Star and allow me to become the player I am and have a voice, to grow. He’s been great to me. He’s helped me tremendously, helped me be me, a better man, a better basketball player.  Coach has always been in my corner and had my back. I think our relationship has grown from here to here.”

“He allows us to make mistakes. He allows us to have say in the things we do, and he doesn’t hold us back. He wants us to go out and get better…He’s a guy that if you prove you can do it, he’s going to want you to do it.”

On his relationship with DeMar DeRozan

“I think we are beyond basketball. It’s as simple as that. We have created something bigger than basketball, bigger than a lot of stuff. We are friends. We are family, you know what I’m saying. Family matters are more important than anything. If basketball comes between that then we are not really true friends, but I know that’s not going to happen because that’s my family.”

On personal improvement for next year

“I know I’m older, but I want to get more explosive if I can. I might try to dunk if I can. A big goal. Sounds good, though.”

On sitting out the last two games

“Man, it sucked. I wanted to be out there with my teammates and I wanted to play. Sitting on the bench in Game 3 suited up and knowing I can’t play, Game 4 sitting there trying to help my team no matter what it was – helping them see plays, coach – it just sucks that I wasn’t able to help my team and that’s the most disturbing thing with me right now that I couldn’t help my team when I wanted to.”

On his comments to Woj about nobody being able to catch LeBron James

“We don’t have LeBron. But I also said you have to do whatever it takes to beat the best. So whatever that takes. For me that takes getting better. It takes me getting some type of better. To beat the best you’ve got to be the best. I’m going to work harder to beat the best. That’s what I want to do, beat the best, whoever it is: the Warriors, the Cavs, whoever wins the championship this year, I want to do whatever it takes to beat them as a basketball player, to beat them.”

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Locker clean-out: DeRozan thinks Raptors are close, won’t interfere with Lowry

DeMar DeRozan spoke with media after completing his end-of-season physical on Monday. Here’s a quick look at some of what he had to say.

On Kyle Lowry’s free agency

“I haven’t thought about it, honestly…I never looked at or tried to put it in perspective, what it’d be like without him. Just take it, time at a time, it’s gonna be a decision on him that he gonna have to make. Whatever decision he make, I support him 100 percent.”

“Yeah. It don’t have to necessarily just be with basketball. We gained something that go way beyond on basketball. That’s why when it comes to things like this, I don’t put the pressure on him or I don’t say do this or do that. He gotta make the decision and whatever one he make, as  a friend, I gotta be there to support him. ‘Cause it’s something beyond basketball. I wouldn’t wanna hinder him or make anything more hectic than it’s already going to be.”

So that’s a lot of exactly what Lowry said about DeRozan last year, as expected.

On Toronto’s proximity to contention

“We’re close. But saying that, when you close, you still feel so far. It’s kinda like being in traffic. You gotta go two blocks but if there’s traffic, it can take you an hour to get somewhere that’s two minutes away. I say that to say this: We’re close. It’s a matter of doing the one right thing the right way that makes everything else click.”

On his goals for the offseason

“More so everything. I pride myself on coming back better. Better. That’s just my main objective. Even thinking this morning of things I could be better come next season, just eating away at me. I gotta sit down for a couple of weeks at least and recoup, mentally and physically before I get back at it. It’s definitely, will be something that I’m pretty sure will be evident what I got better at next year.”

“This last year of basketball has been a challenge of fitting in working on your game, playing, playing so far last year, the Olympics, coming home two days later after the Olympics having my second daughter, a week later coming back here, now this stretch. Just take an emotional break, a physical break, everything so I can get back in things…When I was young that was never an option for me but now I kinda have to. I’ll be 28 this season, I mean this summer, next year will be my ninth year so it’s more so being smart, taking the correct approach, continue to treat your body right so you can feel even better next season.”

On head coach Dwane Casey

“We stuck by him. Even when we had our bad days, our good days, we stuck by him. One thing about Case, Case is a helluva person outside of a coach. When you’ve got a coach that’s a great guy like Case, them bad days can flip quick into the good days. That’s one thing about him, he’s been the same with his funny quotes, his sayings and everything. Sometimes he hit us with that and the whole room starts laughing so stuff like that is great.”

On what the team needs this summer

“I never step in that lane because, it’s understood. When the organization understands winning and wants to win, you don’t have to worry about that. I just try to worry about myself and understanding I need to be better for whatever the next season brings. But I understand it’s going to be a team that’s going to try and compete to try and win, not to just figure it out or wait until next year. We showed it this year, winning 50+ again, and always being counted out. So it’s just a challenge for me, whatever other 14 guys out there will be.”

He did, however, concede that the team could use more shooting.

On the feeling last night

“Proud of the effort that we left out there, everybody stepped up and we tried to pull off a victory, but at the end of the day, going back in that locker room, it put everything in perspective of being together since September, working every single day, being with one another every single day more than our own families Last night, after a game like that, everything get put in perspective. Now you gotta be away from these guys, and you see them in a different light and you really find more of an appreciation for them.”

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What Did We Learn?

Well, the end-of-season articles started early this year, and after a valiant effort Sunday at the ACC, the campaign can be officially eulogized. With the final buzzer sounding, it’s difficult to avoid the thought that we’ve seen the last of the current core as constructed, with Ujiri adamant that ownership will only pay a heavy tax if they deem the roster good enough to contend for the championship. And as good an era as this has been, that aspiration always seemed to elude the North.

So what have we learned this year?

A Tale of Two Stars

A man that appears forever-bound to remain a polarizing figure among Raptor fans is DeMar DeRozan. Mr. Toronto once again flashed his playmaking with 8 assists in game 4 against the Cavs, but also forced his game a number of times when things didn’t go his way. Still, it’s important to remember the Cavaliers zeroed in on him as the key to beating the Raptors whether Lowry was in the lineup or not – he has earned that level of respect for a reason. The lack of a 3-point shot remains his Achilles-heel in the postseason, and forces Ujiri to construct the team with 3-4 defensively-capable shooters on the floor beside him at all times if DeMar is to remain the franchise’s cornerstone. A problematic proposition, though not an impossible one.

Completing the bromance is Toronto’s other 3-time All-Star. Kyle Lowry once again looked like a top-15 player in the NBA in stretches during the regular season; he once again headed into the playoffs hobbled and injured; he once again played below the level expected of a star in the postseason.

The unfortunate fact – Lowry never brought KLOE to the playoffs consistently these last four years. He showed up in spurts, contributed in any way he could, but ultimately not to the quality that’s required if the Raptors are to take it to the next level. His partnership with DeRozan has brought us many amusing moments off the court, and a host of magical plays on it. But rarely did that happen in the postseason. With DeRozan looking like a Raptors lifer, the potential breakup of the current core likely means an exit for Lowry this offseason.

The Storm is Over, Lithuanian Lightning is No More

Jonas Valanciunas came to the NBA at the wrong time, the melancholy dusk of the era of the traditional big. We should have seen it coming with the disappearance of Dwight Howard, with Cousins and the Gasol brothers developing reliable three point shots, and with Karl-Anthony Towns winning the All-Star skills contest. Exceptions still exist – namely the likes of Gobert, Drummond and Jordan. But the physical non-shooting centers become unplayable in key fourth quarter stretches, whether they are important defensive anchors or not.

As a center in the modern NBA, if you don’t bring shooting at that position, you need to bring defensive-anchor capabilities. Without explosive athleticism, that means being quick-footed enough and possess ample defensive awareness to stick with guards on pick and rolls, make the right reads, and communicate forcefully from the backline. Sadly, Valanciunas brings none of those qualities, checking only the size and rebounding boxes. Can the Raptors go far in the playoffs with him as a key performer? Though he wasn’t the worst offender in the Cavs series, the answer appears to be negative. As friendly as the contract is, nearly every team has tried to target him on pick and rolls in the last few seasons, and they are all aware of his weaknesses – while not as bad as Carroll’s, it will not be an easy contract to move.

The February Epinephrine Dose

Boy oh boy, can Serge Ibaka be a difference maker at times. And a lethargic black hole at others. Seeing the confusion on his face after defensive breakdowns makes me think the lack of training camp familiarity with the squad was a massive hindrance to what this blocking-machine can bring to the table. As inconsistent as he has been in the postseason, it’s difficult to see the Raptors bring in anyone else of comparable quality, so if tanking is not on the agenda, Serge needs to be resigned.

The other half of Ujiri’s mid-season splash played the best game he could have against the Cavaliers in game 4. P.J. Tucker showed fight, high basketball IQ and enough positives to be a prime candidate for returning next fall. It’s too bad he didn’t get a chance to start earlier in the series, but let’s be honest – would it really have made up the massive gulf between the teams in each of the losses? Even with his stellar defense, LeBron’s stat line remained monstrously efficient. Still, if it was up to me, this man gets a 12:01 call July 1.

The Role Player RollerCoaster Tycoon

Ontario-native Cory Joseph had a forgettable regular season except when drawing the start for the injured Lowry. The story was repeated in the playoffs – Cory proved mostly inconsequential off the bench, but performed admirably as a starter. Unfortunately, he remains a flawed option as a legitimate starter next to DeRozan due to an unreliable three point shot.

With Lowry’s offseason status up in the air and Wright’s emergence, it’s difficult to know what CoJo’s role will be next year. But I’m certain there will be plenty of demand for his services in a trade if need be.

Meanwhile, in as fair a representation of the ups and downs of Toronto’s role players stands the tale of Patrick Patterson: from the third most important player in Dwane Casey’s rotation to averaging fewer than 20 minutes per contest in this season’s playoffs, a far cry from the 26.5+ he has been averaging in each of the last 3 postseasons. One cannot avoid the fact that he brought it on himself though, hesitating and missing open shots at every turn.

Patrick proved to be unusable as the lone big man in ultra-small lineups, being unable to secure rebounds consistently. Whichever way Toronto’s management steers the ship, Patman appears to have played his last game for the club. Hopefully the history books will remember him as one of the cogs that turned the Raptors’ fortunes around in 2013, and not as the tentative non-factor that wore his jersey in the 2017 playoffs.

The deepest plunge yet belongs to a man who has seen nothing but an unending drop since his two peak years in Georgia – one DeMarre Carroll. It brings me no joy to see his career fizzle out slowly over the course of the last two seasons. It appears to be an especially-difficult contract to move in the offseason, though could become a bit more attractive as an expiring the following year. In terms of basketball contribution, expectations will be non-existent.

There Is A Future

Norman Powell still needs to work on his decision making and smooth out his shooting stroke, but once again showed he needs to be in the rotation for the Raps to have success. Most definitely one of the building blocks going forward.

Delon Wright showed flashes, but still needs to develop a three point shot to be efficient offensively, as well as prove he can stick with quicker guards on defense. A lot to like about him, and I was surprised he did not get much of a chance against Cleveland.

Jakob Poeltl is an intriguing prospect – he looks unimposing at first glance, but has proved to be quick-footed, disruptive with his hands, and defensively aware. If he can become a respectable shooting threat, the young man very much figures to be in the team’s plans in the coming decade.

The Boulder That Never Cracked

Dwane Casey has done many things right throughout his Raptors tenure, establishing himself as a more-than-legitimate NBA head coach. He and Ujiri have combined to change the culture of the Raptors – despite two sweeps in the last two postseasons, Toronto has become a winning team. The fact that we the fans have been able to talk ourselves into challenging the most dominant player of the generation this season is a testament to the transformation our Canadian franchise has experienced. That the club has grown from the league’s laughing stock to a second-round mainstay without a top 15 player is a testament to Dwane Casey’s efforts.

However, the fact that the Raptors have looked essentially lost on offense in every single postseason since he has been in charge looms large over his tenure, and if he ends up getting the axe, that flaw will likely have proved his downfall.

The Big Picture

At the end of the day, with the playoff bracket set as it was, the chips fell where most presumed they would (though few had a sweep in mind, and I foolishly called for the Raptors to progress), and Ujiri’s evaluation period regarding the key cogs of this era has likely come to its conclusion. It wasn’t always pretty (understatement), but this team gave us the hope of victory each and every night they came to play. And I for one, am thankful to have experienced it. We witnessed a squad unite around two talented and determined but imperfect players that willed themselves to become legitimate All-Stars, and their franchise to two straight 50+ win seasons.

Where do we go from here? We The North don’t have to worry about testing the free-agent market ourselves, our loyalties are known. And so we’ll discuss, demand and hope for a better future as we always have. We’ll be back next season, and I’m excited to see what will be in store.

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Is Being Good, Good Enough?

LeBron James pointed to the backboard long enough for Kyrie Irving to spot him out of the corner of his eye. The ball left the Cleveland point guard’s hand and ricocheted off the glass before the best player in the NBA slammed it home. There was nothing new about the feat, or the result. The controlled chaos that Raptors fans have become so accustomed to witnessing affirmed a simple truth that was known before the opening tip: Toronto can’t hang.

There were no expectations of an upset, and when Kyle Lowry rolled his ankle and his calendar over to the summer the expectations of competition went out the window as well. The Raptors were beat, easily. That the loss happened in the second round as opposed to the vaulted Eastern Conference Finals added an element of anguish but did nothing more than delay the inevitable. The foe this team was built to beat did not budge when faced with their new challenger.

Now Toronto has some decisions to make. Zach Lowe outlined them brilliantly in his “Toronto Drakes” obituary and the choices are as difficult as they are plentiful. Re-sign Lowry and as many other free agents as you can to make another run? Let everyone walk and try and trade DeRozan for a chance at the lottery? Let just KLOE go but rebuild on the cheap? The choices go on, and so do the headaches.

For a second though, consider how it feels to win. Look back on a four year stretch with averages of 48 wins a season. Recall Atlantic Division banners and Game 7 victories. If the positives don’t work for you, feel free to drum up images of Bargnani, Araujo, Fields and Humphries. Prior to taking over Maple Leaf Square and making hockey an afterthought the Raptors were an obscure Canadian cousin that showed up at barbecues an hour late with nothing to offer and no one to talk to. They just didn’t belong.

Now they do, and in a major way. They have a respected and proven General Manager, the NBA’s 5th leading scorer signed long-term and most importantly, a fervent and knowledgeable fanbase. That fanbase is important to hold on to and regardless of how you feel about bandwagon riders and Toronto’s penchant for birthing them, those fans are what keeps this team alive. Selling hope is not a fruitless enterprise and the Raptors have the chance to become experts at it. Masai Ujiri has placed this team in a unique situation that many owners would salivate over. Toronto is a regular season juggernaut capable of winning playoff series. They are a LeBron James injury or season of decline away from a chance at the NBA Finals and while both of things are set to happen later rather than sooner it’s important to be around for when they do.

That’s why, if nothing else, Toronto needs to stay relative both to their competitors and their fans. Winning begets more winning and Toronto is in danger of losing a lot more than just basketball games. We watched this city turn into hockey-crazed zealots when the Leafs pushed the Capitals to six games. The Jays average 37,989 fans a game despite being 11-20 to start the season. Even Toronto FC averaged 26,583 in attendance last year and 2011 wasn’t far enough back to forget when the Raptors averaged just 16,566 fans a night to finish 19th in league attendance. Regardless of adjusting for arena size the reality is that this is only a basketball city right now.. Vince Carter helped. The All-Star game Helped. Even Drake helped, but winning helped the most.

Challenging LeBron James at the height of his powers may be out of the question for the Raptors or any team in the East for a few more years to come, but it’s damn fun when this city tries.

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Raptors don’t go down quietly, but they go down nonetheless

Raptors 102, Cavaliers 109 (Cavaliers win series 4-0) | Box Score | Quick Reaction | Post-game news & notes | Reaction Podcast

The Toronto Raptors fought.

Faced with a 3-0 series hole against the Cleveland Cavaliers, looking down the barrel of a deficit nobody has ever overcome, against a team decidedly better than them, and playing without one of their two All-Stars, the Raptors talked up a few potential reasons to give a damn in what could have been a boilerplate sweep conclusion: Pride. To prove something. To give themselves another opportunity to have another opportunity. Whatever the reasons, it was always going to be a more admirable ending if the Raptors went down swinging, and while that’s long been their modus operandi, it would have been understandable if they just didn’t have them in it one more time.

They did. In a pretty serious way, for as much as it mattered. Cleveland may not have taken things all that seriously or felt threatened during the course of the series, but for a day, at least, they got the kind of tune-up they might have been looking for, even if they still ultimately secured their extra week off between rounds. The Raptors pushed them more here than they had before, an appreciated cap on a trying, up-and-down, vaguely successful season.

“I thought we could have played better the first three games. Today, I thought the guys played,” head coach Dwane Casey said. “In that do-or-die situation, guys can easily pack it in. I thought our guys played with grit, toughness, togetherness. I think it’s a testament to their character and the culture that those guys have created.”

To say the Cavaliers came out of the gate a little slowly would be a bit of an understatement. As is customary for all non-Game 1s that tip off on a weekend afternoon in Toronto, the opponent looked a little, uhh, lethargic. Outside of J.R. Smith, nobody on the Cleveland looked particularly interested on the defensive side of the ball, and the legs didn’t appear to be underneath the jumpers just yet. No shootaround kills. The Raptors, though, were geared up, led by P.J. Tucker joining the starting lineup and barking “We’re not done yet” after a made three.

The energy gap and some eventual shot-making after the teams combined to start 0-of-9 allowed the Raptors to start the game hot for what felt like the first time all playoffs. The fifth different starting lineup in the last five games led 14-6 as the Cavaliers called a first timeout, and Channing Frye’s triple immediately upon entering only temporarily slowed things. The lead would grow to 11, Toronto’s largest of the series, and things were going well enough for Drake to dribble a ball in his seat with the look of existential, Take Care-level dread momentarily leaving his face.

There were signs this would be fleeting, though. With the lead trimmed back to three, Serge Ibaka would miss a baseline floater, and when Tucker went to save the offensive rebound, he’d inadvertently start the Cavaliers the other way. If there’s a defining image of the series other than Cavaliers hitting threes in Raptor eyes, it’s probably LeBron James getting an and-one in transition, which is what came next. That tied the game at the end of the quarter, good vibes sufficiently squandered, and Deron Williams would further deliver the “oh yeah, the Cavs” when he lost the ball on a swing pass, recovered it, and let fly for a three and Cleveland’s first lead since the game’s opening bucket.

To their credit, the Raptors weren’t going to leave anything to chance. After scoring five points with four assists in the first, DeMar DeRozan didn’t take his customary rest to start the second, sending a pretty clear indication he was planning to play all 48 minutes. Looking to get him off the floor, the Cavaliers responded with an Iman Shumpert kick to the Comptons. Shumpert received a technical but DeRozan was forced to take a breather, and the Cavaliers went on a quick 8-3 run to take their first multi-possession lead.

From there, things kind of gave way to the way they’ve gone all series. The Raptors missed a pair of really good looks from long-range sandwiched around a Tucker offensive rebound, Kyle Korver started spitting napalm, and the Cavs were up double-digits before the Raptors knew their lead was gone. Cleveland’s edge in bench scoring with the Raptors’ lacking Kyle Lowry (and thus Cory Joseph in the second unit and Lowry helping create for the bench) continued to be an issue, and the difference in shot-making, reductive though it’s sounded all series, continued to rear its head.

Even when the Raptors got a break like a Tucker strip on Kyrie Irving, it swung right back with something like Irving stripping the ball back on the break and feeding James behind the play. Trying to stay aggressive and assertive, the Raptors wound up mostly just making careless turnovers. Korver hit more beautiful jumpers, even blocked a DeRozan attempt in the paint, and finished the half with 16 points as the Cavaliers took a 61-49 lead into the break.

Same as it ever was in this series.

The Raptors still came out fighting in the third quarter, and even had momentum in their favor a little bit. With the Air Canada Centre crowd responding to each bucket, Tyronn Lue was forced into using a pair of timeouts barely two minutes apart to try to settle things, the Raptors having cut the lead to seven despite the unfair development of James raining threes. As Cleveland tried to pull back away, the Raptors wore the exhaustion of the uphill battle of the series, the entire game an exercise in gallantry. Threes were fired without the requisite legs beneath them. Heads hung, hands on knees, after drawing fouls. Tucker was helped off the deck by James, one of the lone shows of respect after the former spent the entire game guarding the latter nearly possession after possession, at the very least making him work for all of his 35 points, nine rebounds, and six assists.

“He did a great job,” DeRozan said. “P.J. is definitely one of the best defenders in our league. He went up against one of the best in our league as well. He did a great job, but when a guy like LeBron locks in, it’s tough to stop him one on one.”

Somehow, the Raptors trailed by just five entering the fourth, a Tucker corner three ending the third. They couldn’t afford to take anything but their best shot starting the frame, and that meant players fighting through the physical fatigue of another short-rotation game and the psychological fatigue of a two-year chase, one that felt asymptotic at even the best of times, that this game was perfectly emblematic of.

As the Raptors kept fighting – a Tucker three, a Patrick Patterson strip, a Fred VanVleet triple (likely in the game over Delon Wright in this one because he might be the team’s best spot-up shooter with Lowry out) – James and the Cavaliers kept responding just enough to keep them at arm’s length, because that’s what James does. Down 92-90, Norman Powell made a crucial foul in a good way, picking one up off the ball before Korver sank a three on a beautiful elevator-doors play, negating the triple. Moments later, Ibaka would hit a mid-range jumper with the foul, giving the Raptors their first lead since midway through the second. The Raptors even trapped Irving well and nearly stole an inbound right after, only for the Cavs to keep possession and Irving with a three.

“He made some tough shots,” Joseph said. “That’s what great players do. He made one three between his legs, step-back, and I was right there, and he went to the basket next time and I think he shot an off-glass left-handed one. It’s tough.”

That, for all intents and purposes, appeared to be Toronto’s last gas. They’d continue fighting, of course, with all five starters finishing off good-to-great efforts, hitting the deck, battling, and in the cases of Tucker and DeRozan, playing almost every last damn minute. But that three wound up a part of an 11-2 run for Irving alone, and with shot quality at the offensive end becoming as extinct as their namesake, the Raptors could no longer keep up. Yet another James three, his 13th on just 26 attempts in the series, wrapped things up.

“At times, we’d make a run, they’ll hit timely threes and push the game back open, and it was tough for us to catch back up,” Joseph said.

There is execution down the stretch to quibble with, of course, and some may have preferred a different closing five, or the five that closed to get a look earlier. DeRozan looked spent by the end, too, not that you can really blame him. At the micro level, a few things could have broken differently to see them extend the series to five. That was true until the early part of the fourth on Friday, too. At the macro level, though, it wouldn’t have mattered a ton. The Raptors weren’t coming back in this series, and a Game 5 in Cleveland that could have been a blowout like the final two games of last year may have even ended the season on a more dour note. A win at some point would have been a nice affirmation of the gradual uptick in effort and desperation over the course of the series, and despite the end result, this was truly a valiant effort.

All series, the story has been just how good the Cavaliers are. How well they execute, the ridiculous rate they’ve hit even well-contested shots, and how far away Toronto is at a sheer talent level. The Raptors became the near-consensus biggest threat to the Cavaliers because they are closer than most on that same talent scale, sure, but it was also because of their history of turning in gritty efforts like this, occasionally playing above their talent, and always making themselves a tough out. They’d lost that a bit over the last few months. Whatever happens from here now that they’re eliminated, it’s better that they went out this way, grinding and battling and fighting against inevitability until the final buzzer.

“It feels bad and it was ugly but it shouldn’t diminish the excellent regular season we had,” Casey said.”

There’s something to be said for dying by the means that have defined you, and there’s a dignity in at least refusing to go quietly, even in defeat.

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Morning Coffee – Mon, May 8

Zach Lowe on Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan and future of Toronto Raptors – ESPN

It will be hard for Toronto to duck the tax if it retains Lowry and Serge Ibaka, even if its other two core free agents — PJ Tucker and plus-minus god Patrick Patterson — walk away. Salary-dumping DeMarre Carroll was always the Raptors’ get-out-of-the-tax card, but Carroll’s decline has been so severe they would likely have to attach a first-round pick as a sweetener. Trading Jonas Valanciunas loomed as the alternate cost-cutting measure, but no one needs a center. The most likely Valanciunas deals would return someone else’s unwanted big fella.

Toronto could move Cory Joseph’s $7.6 million deal in a hot second, but that alone wouldn’t get it under the tax if both Ibaka and Lowry re-sign. The Raptors’ ownership group is flush with sweet, sweet hockey cash; it can afford going $5 million or more over the tax. But even that brings some roster-building restrictions, and well-run teams usually don’t pay the tax when there are easy paths to avoiding it.

Everything starts with Lowry, Toronto’s best player, and one of the most important in franchise history. Toronto can offer Lowry a five-year, $200 million-plus deal; rivals can offer only four-year deals starting at the same maximum annual salary of around $35 million. Ujiri has always erred on the side of retaining players, even if it’s just to trade them later — as he famously did with Nene Hilario in Denver.

5 scenes from a Raptors funeral – The Defeated

Nothing gets people angrier than when LeBron whines to the officials. It has the same effect on every fanbase outside of his team. Boos rain down harder on the King than anyone else because he is the greatest heel the NBA has ever seen.
It’s just below him. LeBron can already do everything on the court and he already gets a generous whistle — does he really need to ask for more? It’s just obscene. It would be like if a Republican dropped down to a soup kitchen and asked for thirds. They’re free to do as he pleases but damn, people are going to feel some kind of way about it.
That bit of whining, coupled with some inspired play from Tucker and Ibaka, really brought the building to its feet in the third quarter. I wouldn’t say it was hopeful, but the arena started to believe. The Raptors showed heart and traded punch for punch with the Cavs through three quarters and while we weren’t ever going to win the series, this was a game worth playing. And so we cheered them on.
My section hardly sat down in the fourth. We were too turnt to stay seated. Any bad call prompted loud jeers of “Ref you suck” and every one of DeRozan’s fadeaways drew loud screams of “KOBE” from Josh and I. When Tucker pounded his chest the arena did the same as if the whole building shared one heartbeat.
They were in this. They even took a lead in the fourth. Fred VanVleet gave them decent minutes. Valanciunas was left in a bit too long but he worked an awkward post-up into a basket. DeRozan was hitting shots. Tucker couldn’t miss from the corners. Norm Powell was relentless in transition.
All we ever wanted was this: to belong on the same floor as the reigning champions. We could swallow a sweep if all four games were like this.

Without Kyle Lowry, Raptors-Cavalier series was just a mirage: Arthur | Toronto Star

As one league source put it, “The problem with Kyle is he’s short, fat and slow.” As another said, “He’s a hell of a player.” He has clashed with coach Dwane Casey. He has intentionally extended his career by shooting more threes, which the Raptors want to do. He’s heading for the downslope. Lowry is the beating, inspiring, confounding, imperfect heart of this team.

So it’s not automatic, but it’s the same as it’s ever been: As Kyle goes, so go the Raptors. If he is re-signed — and the early sense is that remains the most likely option, though nowhere near a fait accompli — then you are trying to stay good, and accepting the risks that come with that. The organization believes it was the second-best team in the East, but Lowry’s wrist surgery and Lowry’s sprained ankle, though — they made everything difficult.

But if he’s back that may mean re-signing Serge Ibaka, too, though he showed heavy flaws: didn’t rebound, shot some awful two-pointers, doesn’t move as well as he used to. P.J. Tucker would probably stay in this scenario as well. He becomes the new Patrick Patterson, since the old one ended this series looking like a ghost, afraid to shoot. Patterson ended his reign as Toronto’s secret plus-minus king, at a plus-one for Game 4. But he vanished.

And if in the coming days and weeks Masai Ujiri decides that he can’t commit too much to Lowry — an early offer of four years and, say, $150 million to $160 million, a little more per year than DeRozan, might be the sensible play — or if Bryan Colangelo and Philadelphia steal him away, then the whole thing blows up. If Lowry doesn’t come back, then anything can go: coach Dwane Casey, DeRozan, Jonas Valanciunas, everything that defined the most successful era in Raptors history. For what that’s worth.

And that’s the question. What’s it worth? LeBron James is at the height of his powers, and he had another level of desperation and effort he saved, believe it. If you want a championship Golden State sits behind him with four of the best players in basketball. This era, title-wise, is largely spoken for.

Sweep at hands of Cavaliers sends Raptors down uncertain path – Sportsnet.ca

They’re someone else’s problem now. The Raptors have had two cracks at James and the Cavs in the playoffs and came up well short twice. Exactly what that means might be best answered by how Cleveland performs against either Washington or Boston in the Eastern Conference Finals.

What’s left is the post-mortem, where Raptors president Masai Ujiri will become the team’s most important player. He’s presided over the best years the franchise has ever had and one of the best runs any team in the NBA has had over the same period. It is the Raptors – not the Cavs – that lead the Eastern Conference in wins since Ujiri took over in the summer of 2013. A team without a 50-win season through its first 21 years has averaged 51 wins over the past four.

But now he’s faced with a philosophical question that the NBA almost uniquely forces you to make. It’s a league that doesn’t do flukes. An eighth seed has never made it the NBA Finals other than the New York Knicks after the lockout-shorted 1998 season. The best teams have the best players and because they’re on the floor for 90 per cent of the games, they tend to win. There is no such thing as a hot goalie or dominant pitching staff that can tilt the balance. Even in soccer, the very best in the world are just one of their team’s 11 players on the pitch.

James? On a basketball court he’s everywhere at once.

So executives like Ujiri – and he’s not alone outside the Cavs, Golden State orbit – are faced with deciding how much to invest in building a team whose best title hopes depend on James spraining an ankle.

Raptors GM Masai Ujiri must make tough decisions now | Toronto Sun

This isn’t just the end of the season in Toronto. This is decision time for Masai Ujiri. Every season ends with a team making some kind of determination on the future. But this time it feels different, maybe a touch more desperate, maybe a little more confusing and confounding for a team that won 51 games.

So much is unknown. So much is uncertain. What to do with the all-star Lowry, what to do with coach Dwane Casey, what to do with the important free agents, Ibaka and P.J. Tucker, what to do with the disappointing roster fillers Pat Patterson and DeMarre Carroll. It may be too soon for president Masai Ujiri to make any decisions. He normally takes his time, rushes nothing, evaluates everything. Then evaluates some more.

“This team is going to be what it is,” said Norman Powell, one of the improving young players on the roster. “I can’t focus on who’s going to be here and who’s not.”

The difficulty in any evaluation isn’t just that the Raptors lost, but how they lost. Especially how they lost the first three games. The fourth game was their best. Still it didn’t matter in the end. They were swept.

And it’s almost impossible to understand how they could have made it any different.

They had no answer for LeBron James, which no one in basketball really does. James scored 144 points in four games, averaged 36 a game. The best Raptor scorer, DeRozan, scored less than 21 a night. That’s a 15-point difference in any given game.

Raptors take step backwards with sweep to Cavs – Article – TSN

That’s the harsh reality many franchises have been forced to face over the years. From the Gilbert Arenas-led Wizards to the Celtics big three. From the Bulls to the Pacers to the Hawks, all of whom look very different than they did just a few seasons ago. LeBron is almost single handedly breaking up teams. Now what comes of the Raptors, who were very clearly exposed in this series?
In case there was ever any question, they’re not ready to compete with the best. They took their shot and, like a number of others before them, they missed. So, with several big decisions to make, they’ll go back to the drawing board. What’s the point of being good in an era where it just doesn’t seem feasible to be great, some will ask and it’s something Masai Ujiri and Jeff Weltman have to truly consider. Is the cost of fielding a second or third-place team worth it? Maybe.
After a dismantling like this, it’s easy to lose sight of how far the Raptors have come as an organization. It took them 20 years to win 50 games, something they’ve done in two straight seasons. They had never won a seven-game playoff series, now they’ve won three of their last five, with the only two losses coming to Cleveland. Do they really want to go back?
“It’s hard to break [up] a team that won 50-plus games two years in a row, with the core guys,” DeRozan said. “That’s on upper management. Us as players, we gotta be ready for whatever. The guys that are free agents, the guys that are coming back, we gotta understand, we gotta work on our game, become better, and leave it up to the front office to figure out everything else.”

A sweep shouldn’t mean the broom is out for Raptors’ Dwane Casey: Feschuk | Toronto Star

Dwane Casey has been here since 2011, which makes him the longest-tenured head coach in the NBA who hasn’t won a championship in his current post. In an instant-gratification universe, that also makes him overdue for the ejector seat. And with the Raptors clearly realizing that they need to rethink the way they play the game, maybe a change would make sense. Casey is, after all, a defence-first coach in a league where the best teams are winning with offence.

So, hey, fire a warning shot over the bow. Insert Jerry Stackhouse, he of the D-League championship 905ers, as a prominent assistant on Casey’s staff to keep Casey sharp (and to announce to the rest of the league that there isn’t exactly a better free-agent coaching option available to assume the helm).

All that said, if you’re of the belief that coaching is among the top handful of shortcomings here — well, you’re probably forgetting that Casey is the man who took a roster destined for destruction only a few years ago and had a major hand in turning it into the second-best team in the East. The Raptors have been in the playoffs four straight years now, a franchise-record streak. Over that span no Eastern Conference team has won more regular-season games, not even the Cavs. In the not-so-illustrious history of Toronto’s franchise there’ve been precisely two 50-plus win seasons — that’d be the most recent two.

It’s important to keep that stuff in perspective when you point out Casey’s flaws. “Cannot beat LeBron” doesn’t equal “cannot coach.”

Court Squeaks: Is this a step back for the Raptors? – Video – TSN

In the latest edition of Court Squeaks, Matthew Scianitti, Josh Lewenberg and Kayla Grey discuss the series sweep by the Cavaliers, ask if is this a step back for Toronto, touch on the dominating performance of LeBron James and much more.

NBA Playoffs 2017, Raptors vs. Cavaliers: Toronto channels its roots, but fall to Cavs, 109-102 – Raptors HQ

The closing moments were indicative of the identity crisis the Raptors are sure to face this summer. LeBron and friends are a behemoth of a team, and the Raptors are starved for realistic paths to walk en route to making up the talent disparity that so clearly separates Cleveland from the rest of the East. A free agency cloud will hang over Toronto for the next two months as the front office ponders whether or not it’s worth running back a core that is destined to fall just short.

At this moment, the Raptors are like a 40-year-old contemplating a mid-life career change. Do you accept simply being pretty happy, embracing the status quo and delaying the end result that the slow decay of time will inevitably produce? Or do you press reset, and hope for a rejuvenation while wading into waters wrought with uncertainty?

The last four seasons have provided the Raptors organization with its first taste of run-of-the-mill NBA happiness. There have been speed-bumps — Paul Pierce’s outstretched hand, Lowry’s various nicks, bruises and worse, Playoff Randy Wittman and the goddamned Game 1 curse have all threatened to veer the Raptors back towards its dark ages at different junctures since the Rudy Gay trade inexplicably spawned a respectable team. But four years of sustained relevance have a way of dampening the lows by producing a disproportionate number of highs, and 41 playoff games provide plenty of chances to forge unforgettable touchstones.

Even in in defeat, Sunday’s season-ending loss was proof that there are still moments of joy to glean from these Raptors, even in the face of an inevitable fate. P.J. Tucker’s buzzer-beating three to end the third quarter, Jonas Valanciunas’ post-up bucket over LeBron and Ibaka’s and-1 to give the Raptors the lead were all flashpoints in which Raptors fans couldn’t possibly feign apathy. They were instances that illustrated exactly why there is more glory in getting close to the summit and stumbling than foregoing your ascent altogether.

2017 Playoffs: Round 2, Game 4 – Raptors 102, Cavs 109 | Toronto Raptors

NCHING CLOSER

The Raptors came out of the locker room after halftime ready to put points in the board. Toronto shot 55 percent in the third quarter while holding Cleveland to 45 percent shooting. After giving up 10 3-pointers in the first half, the Raptors held the Cavs to three in the third while starting connect on some of their own, shooting 4-of-11 from downtown as they outscored Cleveland 31-24 in the third to trim a 12-point lead down to five, 85-80, heading into the fourth. DeMar DeRozan led the Raptors in the third with nine points, while Serge Ibaka added seven points. Cory Joseph had six assists in the quarter. The Cavaliers were led by 10 points from LeBron James.

Raptors lack of pure shooters evident in playoff exit – Video – TSN

As Nik Stauskas explains, the Raptors’ lack of pure shooters was very evident when watching the way the Cavaliers are built and shoot the ball from behind the line.

Raptors have decisions to make after another ousting by Cavaliers – USA Today

As far as what’s to come in the future, DeRozan unsurprisingly deferred all decision-making to the Raptors’ front office, including general manager Jeff Weltman and team president Masai Ujiri.

DeRozan agrees it may come across as illogical to do anything other than try to hold together what’s been one of the NBA’s most successful franchises in recent years. However, it’s clear the current version of the Raptors has almost no chance of knocking off the Cavaliers, and therein lies what will be the overshadowing narrative for the Raptors going into the offseason.

“It’s hard to break down a team that won 50-plus games two years in a row with the core guys,” DeRozan said. “But that’s on upper management. Us, as players, we’ve got to be ready for whatever. Guys that are free, guys that are coming back. We’ve got to understand we have to work on our game, become better and leave it up to the front office to figure out everything else.”

LeBron’s Cavaliers sweep Raptors aside – Video – TSN

The Raptors finished with the same record as LeBron James’ Cavaliers in the regular season, but come playoff time James took it to another level. Matthew Scianitti has more on a second straight playoff exit at the hands of Cleveland.

Kelly: Once again, Raptors find themselves wanting – The Globe and Mail

For four mostly fun years, that’s what the Raptors were best at – giving Toronto the thing it had been wanting. At the outset, it wasn’t a high bar.

If you’d been there for the whole Raptors gong show, simple competence was new and thrilling. The team gave the fans something more. If it wasn’t basketball played at the very highest level, then it was something so close as to be indistinguishable.

Apparently, the crowd has finally learned the difference. When it ended on Sunday, the cheers that sent the team off the court were tepid and grudging. They weren’t even really cheers. It was the applause you’d hear after the keynote of an especially dreary insurance conference – ‘Please, just leave.’ This was the Toronto audience losing patience with good-enough’ism. Fifty-win seasons are great. A couple of rounds in the playoffs can be vivifying for a bit. But if it’s not headed anywhere, it gets boring fast.

Right now, the Toronto Raptors are as talented as they’ve ever been. They’re also incredibly tedious – settled, complacent, unwilling to take offence at even the most obvious insults, lacking urgency or purpose. This is a team whose spirit animal is a shoulder-shrug emoji.

Toronto Raptors Face Tough Summer Questions – A Few Good Mics

3. Max contract for Ibaka?

The Raptors made the big splash at the trade deadline by acquiring Serge Ibaka. While he’s been inconsistent during his time with the Raps, he’s still a big time player, and you don’t trade a guy like Ross and a pick to let him walk in the off-season. A full season with Kyle, DeMar, Serge, and Jonas as your “big four” is still a very formidable lineup.

NBA Free Agency Rumors: Sixers will pursue Kyle Lowry this summer – Liberty Ballers

Lowry would theoretically be a big boost for the current Sixers, and he could serve as both an initiator and a release valve for Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid. He shot nearly 42 percent on catch-and-shoot threes this season, which will help him retain value even as he goes through the usual late career downturn.

But paying a 31-year old point guard the maximum salary at this stage of the rebuild seems a little foolhardy. Point guards—particularly those on the smaller side—tend to age poorly, and although Lowry’s career trajectory and skillset could help him ward Father Time off for a while, history is not on his side. He doesn’t really fit with the Sixers’ timeline, and they’d be probably better off allowing the program to continue to grow organically by using stop-gaps to fill in around their elite young talent.

This isn’t the first, and it won’t be the last time you hear Lowry’s name this offseason. He’ll have a number of options on the table, but never count out the hometown team.

Kyle Lowry to Utah? – Reddit

I think lowry is the missing superstar that brings instant offense that Utah really needs. I know its a pipe dream, but free agents are looking for superteams, and idc if utah is small market, utah has a very good core that is missing 1 piece and I think lowry would give utah a very good contending chance vs GS if they stay healthy.

Did I miss something? Send me any Raptors related article/video to rapsfan@raptorsrepublic.com

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Raptors Weekly Podcast – Player grades for 2016-17

Host William Lou is joined by Joe Wolfond to hand out regular season and playoff player grades for the 2016-17 season.

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Raptors-Cavaliers Game 4 Reaction Podcast – The end was inevitable

Host William Lou recaps a Game 4 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers.

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Post-game news & notes: Raptors can’t take step forward; Lowry could look West

“It feels bad and it was ugly but it shouldn’t diminish the excellent regular season we had.”

That was Toronto Raptors head coach Dwane Casey after his team was swept by the Cleveland Cavaliers on Sunday. The degree to which you agree with that statement depends on your outlook on the team and sports in general, and I’m not here to tell you how to be a fan. For some perspective, though, the Raptors did win 50 games again and make the second round of the playoffs, feats they had accomplished zero and one times before last season. It’s nice to sustain some success, even if it’s at a level or two below the ultimate goal.

Contextualizing the season and this playoff sweep is, of course, an activity for the weeks and months to come, and everyone is welcome to their own take on the past, present, and future.

An assortment of end-of-series/season quotes

The Raptors will clean out their lockers and be available for a full postmortem tomorrow, but there were a few comments as it pertains to their potential future after this one.

DeMar DeRozan: “At the end of the day, you gotta give them credit. They’re a hell of a team for a reason. They got one of the greatest players of all time. It’s on us to let this sink in and understand we gotta come back extremely better, individual and team wise. It’s something that we got great experience with playing these guys two years in a row. We just gotta figure it out. We gotta figure it out.”

Dwane Casey: “It’s tough. We know we could have played better in the first three games.”

Jonas Valanciunas: “We can’t just look back now and feel sorry for ourselves. We gotta learn from that.”

Patrick Patterson: “I can’t really say right now if it’s a step back, I just know it’s not a step forward.”

Casey also put some of the shortcomings on his own shoulders: “We all want to win. I don’t know if we’re there yet. We’re knocking on the door. I like our team. I wish we had a little more time to jell together. I didn’t do a good enough job getting them to jell, quick enough to play at a championship level.”

More DeRozan, on possibly breaking up the core: “It’s hard to break down a team that won 50-plus games two years in a row, with the core guys. That’s on upper management.”

More Casey, on the same: “I’m going to leave that up to Masai. We haven’t talked about it. We’ve been trying to win this series. It’s something where we have some free agents. Those decisions will be up to Masai and Jeff. We’ll sit down and talk about those things. Right now is not the time to even think about those things.”

The 3s, man

As I wrote at The Athletic yesterday, this series threatened to have the largest 3-point disparity between teams in any series ever. Well, congratulations! With a 16-10 edge in Game 4, the Cavaliers out-shot the Raptors by 34 made threes in this series, tied for the most ever for a four-game set (the 2006 Suns hit 46 more threes than the Clippers, which is the biggest gap for any series ever).

Team 1 Team 2 Playoffs 3-Point Edge Net Points
Cavaliers Raptors 2011 34 102
Mavericks Lakers 2016 34 102
Cavaliers Hawks 2010 30 90
Magic Hawks 2017 29 87
Magic Bobcats 2010 26 78

To say this will be a point of emphasis in the offseason, if the Raptors opt to keep pieces together and compete once again, is an understatement, though there’s not a very clear path to adding inexpensive shooting this summer.

It isn’t strictly a talent disparity, to be clear. The Raptors’ were without Kyle Lowry, their best 3-point shooter and creator of threes for others, and more or less banished DeMarre Carroll from the rotation. Cleveland also hit a ludicrous percentage of their contested looks, while the Raptors hit an inordinately low number of theirs. That would even out over time some, but there’s not time for it to even out here.

“They got a great 3-point shooting team,” Cory Joseph said. “At times, we’d make a run, they’ll hit timely threes and push the game back open, and it was tough for us to catch back up.”

It certainly didn’t help that LeBron James, only a slightly above-average long-range shooter, went 13-of-27 for the series, most of them pull-ups and a fair share contested.

“When LeBron is shooting the 3-ball he is, at the rate he’s shooting it at the average he’s shooting it, they’re difficult,” Casey said. “I’m not saying it’s impossible. But they’re very difficult to beat when he’s shooting the ball like that because the ball is so spread.”

Good luck, whoever’s next.

This should be a crime

LeBron James averaged 36 points, 8.3 rebounds, and 5.3 assists in the series while shooting 57.3 percent overall, 48.1 percent on threes, and 83.3 percent at the line.

Injury Updates – Kyle Lowry did not play, could go West; Serge Ibaka slowed by ankle

Facing perhaps his last game as a member of the Toronto Raptors, Kyle Lowry once again sat out due to a left ankle sprain. Lowry had said at practice Saturday that in pushing so hard to play Friday, he may have made things even worse. He won’t get a chance to return this year, surely a disappointing end to his season.

Lowry now has seven days to exercise or decline his $12-million player option for the 2017-18 season. He will decline it, but officially doing so (or not exercising it) is a necessary formality. There’s also this:

More on that tomorrow.

Serge Ibaka noted he’s been slowed by an ankle injury as well. You’ll recall he first suffered that injury in the opening round but didn’t miss any time.

Lineup Notes

  • The Raptors starters were +7 in 20 minutes together, which is easily the best mark for any starting unit in this series and may have been the best of the postseason.
    • Just shocking that starting P.J. Tucker was a boost, right? He wouldn’t be able to play 46 minutes at that level every night, and LeBron James still went off, but Tucker’s effort was incredible. He was a -7 here, finished the series with one of the better net ratings on the team, and the playoffs with the best defensive rating (103.4) of any rotation regular.
      • Here’s Casey on Tucker’s job on LeBron James: “I thought he was probably as aggressive on Lebron as he has been in the entire series. I thought he got into him. James had six turnovers. I thought a lot of that was Tuck being into him and I think that is what you have to do. LeBron is one of the best who has ever played the game but still you got to get into him.”
  • The starters with Norman Powell in for Jonas Valanciunas were -5 in 10 minutes, most of them high-leverage.
  • A DeMar DeRozan-P.J. Tucker-bench unit was +4 in 3 minutes. Shout out to Fred VanVleet.
    • That same group with Serge Ibaka in Patrick Patterson’s spot went -8 in 3 minutes.
  • Dwane Casey suggested the groups today may have played a little better together perhaps because of greater familiarity. Basically, after the trade deadline, the team played a lot more with Cory Joseph, and the team never really got a comfort zone with Kyle Lowry after he returned late in the year.
    • DeRozan was asked about that and had no time for what-ifs, as usual: “If we had LeBron on our team, too, we woulda won. We can say that all day, time, everything, we didn’t. It happened. We got swept. It’s gonna be one of them long summers for us.”
    • Casey also kind of shot down his own what-if: “All of those are excuses. Nobody gives a crap…Again, it’s hard to say. If’s and but’s are candy and nuts and we’d all have a Merry Christmas. But nobody really cares. “
  • The Cavaliers’ starters were -13 in 13 minutes. Afternoon Toronto games.
    • Channing Frye with the starters were +8 in 6 minutes, shooting 9-of-12 from the floor. Designated Fryever.
  • Deron Williams and Kyle Korver in with the starters were +11 in 5 minutes. Basically everything with Korver was lethal.
    • Here’s DeRozan on Korver: “They get hot. They have one of the best shooters in the league in Kyle Korver. They do a great job of getting him going. It showed tonight, it came through big for ‘em.”
    • Iman Shumpert had a rough series and was a -6 again here.

Assorted

  • On his potential future in Toronto, Serge Ibaka said he likes the city, likes playing center, and will talk it over with his daughter.
  • Tyronn Lue indicated that LeBron James didn’t want to come off the floor, which either speaks to a feeling the Raptors may have been able to pull it out if given a window or a real desire to get a week off.
  • Norman Powell told ESPN before the game that he wasn’t particularly happy with LeBron James tugging on his jersey in Game 3 to get his attention and prevent a substitution technical. It seemed mostly harmless at the time, but Powell felt there are better approaches. “Just don’t pull my jersey,” he said. “I feel like that’s a little disrespectful, you know what I’m saying? Like you’re trying to son me and I don’t go for that.”
  • The Raptors finished 0-3 with impending free agent Drake at the Air Canada Centre on the year.
  • As noted above, Kyle Lowry now has seven days to make his (obvious) decision on his player option for next year.
  • I’ve been posting some pics and quotes and other things to my Instagram story. Follow along there for, uhh, my offseason activities, I guess?
  • Locker clean-out day will take place Monday. We’ll have full coverage for you here.

On a personal note, I just wanted to say thank you to everyone for reading and following along all season. I really, really appreciate you guys, through agreement and disagreement, wins and losses, re-ups and rebuilds. Thank you.

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Quick Reaction: Cavaliers 109, Raptors 102; Cavaliers win series 4-0

Cleveland 109 Final
Box Score
102 Toronto

A+
P. Tucker46 MIN, 14 PTS, 12 REB, 1 AST, 4 STL, 5-11 FG, 4-7 3FG, 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 1 TO, -7 +/-

I know, the series deciding shot went down in his face from LeBron, but he fought so hard out there tonight, playing all but 2 minutes, and gave LeBron everything he had. Credit to this man.

B+
S. Ibaka35 MIN, 23 PTS, 2 REB, 1 AST, 0 STL, 10-18 FG, 2-6 3FG, 1-1 FT, 0 BLK, 0 TO, -4 +/-

This was the good version of Ibaka, for the most part. Hit enough of his shots, especially late as the team rallied. The series didn’t end the way the team wanted, but Ibaka showed enough tonight of why they brought him in.

C+
J. Valanciunas25 MIN, 8 PTS, 5 REB, 0 AST, 1 STL, 4-11 FG, 0-1 3FG, 0-0 FT, 3 BLK, 0 TO, 3 +/-

I’m being generous with the grades today, seeing as the season is over, but JV was a little too inconsistent today. Showed signs of great rim protection early, but struggled against Frye again and looked lost at times. Wasn’t playoff JV enough in this series.

A+
C. Joseph40 MIN, 20 PTS, 6 REB, 12 AST, 1 STL, 8-11 FG, 1-1 3FG, 3-3 FT, 0 BLK, 2 TO, -5 +/-

This might’ve been the best game I’ve ever seen Cory Joseph play. He was all over the place on both ends of the floor, scoring, creating for others, and giving Kyrie Irving a rough night on defense. This was Cory at his best, and it was great to see.

B+
D. DeRozan46 MIN, 22 PTS, 4 REB, 8 AST, 0 STL, 8-18 FG, 0-2 3FG, 6-9 FT, 0 BLK, 4 TO, -2 +/-

This was good DeMar. In the first half he had his way offensively, and he created a bunch of nice looks for his teammates. He needed to be great DeMar for them to get the win today though, and he struggled down the stretch. Still, valiant effort, especially with Lowry out.

B
N. Powell24 MIN, 10 PTS, 6 REB, 1 AST, 0 STL, 3-10 FG, 2-8 3FG, 2-2 FT, 0 BLK, 3 TO, -12 +/-

As with most of the season, Norm was a little bit of an enigma for me. One possession he looks like a future All-Star, the next he has a puzzling turnover or misses an open layup at the rim. Still believe in his talent, and I hope he gets more minutes and opportunities next season.

D
P. Patterson10 MIN, 0 PTS, 1 REB, 3 AST, 1 STL, 0-2 FG, 0-2 3FG, 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 1 TO, 1 +/-

Pat wasn’t the guy the team needed him to be in the playoffs, and that continued tonight. Not sure what the issue is, but he just hasn’t looked right for a while.

B
F. VanVleet8 MIN, 3 PTS, 0 REB, 1 AST, 0 STL, 1-2 FG, 1-2 3FG, 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 1 TO, -2 +/-

Came in for some good first half minutes, and hit a huge three in the third quarter rally. Love his effort and fight.

C
D. Carroll6 MIN, 2 PTS, 2 REB, 1 AST, 0 STL, 1-2 FG, 0-0 3FG, 0-0 FT, 0 BLK, 0 TO, -7 +/-

That he only played 6 minutes tonight tells you all it should about Carroll’s series. No idea what the plan is going forward, because through the first two years of his four year deal, he hasn’t been the player he was brought in to be.

D
Dwane Casey

Really wanted to give Casey a better grade for finally starting Tucker tonight, but it’s hard not to feel like that’s a day late and a dollar short. The players fought hard in this one, but Casey needed to get more out of this roster early in the series and make his adjustments sooner.

Things We Saw

  1. LeBron is just too good. He took over this series from the opening tip of game 1 to the close of game 4, and maybe that’s all it was ever going to be. He’s one of the greatest we’ve ever seen, and when he’s on his game like this, it might just be too much of a task to ask any team to beat him.
  2. If Kyle Lowry had been available, maybe the Raptors pick up a couple wins at ACC in these last two games. Hard to know for sure, but would’ve been nice to see him in there tonight.
  3. This is going to be an interesting summer, and it’s hard to know or predict anything(but we’re surely going to try in the coming weeks). It’s been a great year though, and a fun team. Great time to be a Raptors fan and writer, and thank you all for being there with me.
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Pre-game news & notes: Kyle Lowry sits, P.J. Tucker starts

Today has brought back some memories, mostly of last season’s playoff run. There wasn’t a single time I walked to the Air Canada Centre in last year’s playoffs feeling defeated, as if anything was set in stone or inevitable, as if there wasn’t all that much of a point. I still don’t feel quite like that – the Toronto Raptors could still make it a series against the Cleveland Cavaliers, and there’d at least be a less bitter taste when the season ultimately ends, plus it would kind of validate the annoying, plucky identity the never-die Raptors have lived by the last four years – but I have no illusions on a proper comeback.

That identity, remember, started with unlikely success of the #WeTheNorth marketing campaign that galvanized the fan base. That they might be about to play the last home game of the series, playoffs, season, and even era in a plain white T-shirt with the original We The North font scribbled on seems fitting. And it brings back memories.

Today is the Goodlife Marathon , for example. A year ago on the day of that event, I went from running the half to covering the Raptors beating the Indiana Pacers in Game 7 to win their first seven-game playoff series ever. (That the plantar fasciitis that plagued me for months afterwards precluded me from participating this year probably explains at least a part of my mood. So, too, does listening to Bring Me the Horizon all morning, for some reason.) On this exact day a year ago, the Raptors went into Miami and took Game 3 off of the Heat. When the Raptors hosted the Cavaliers for Game 4 a little under 52 weeks ago, they were coming off of what felt like an unlikely win at the time, then beat them again to make it a competitive sweep (in front of what was maybe the best Air Canada Centre crowd I’ve ever experienced, by the way).

The Raptors could win here. It won’t matter unless they string at least one more after it. It’ll be called a gentleman’s sweep, or whatever. And that’s fine. The Raptors have shot their shot, and barring something crazy happening, they have missed. They had to shoot it. And in the process, they’ve given four years worth of memories, good ones, ones to build from, and ones that are so much better than the rest of the history of the franchise it’s laughable.

If things end today, that’s probably what I’ll be thinking about as the final seconds tick off. Not coming up short, not falling to the Cavaliers again, not ridiculous offseason schemes that have no basis in reality, and definitely not booing. I mean, do you. But this franchise has built a ton of equity over the few years, and the crowd and fan base have been a big part of that. Players talk it up. Opponents talk it up. LeBron James dapping up the crowd after Game 6 last year is a franchise-defining moment. I’m rambling, but my point is this: The emotion and spirit right now aren’t the same as for Game 6 against Cleveland, but if this is it – for the year, and for this core in general – I’d much rather go out remembering and appreciating the era and attempt to close the gap than being disappointed it didn’t work out.

The game tips off a 3:30 on ABC and TSN on TV and on TSN 1050 on radio. You can check out the full game preview here. Your officials are Scott Foster, Tony Brothers, and Pat Fraher.

Required reading
Here’s what you need ahead of Game 4, assuming you haven’t been keeping up.

Raptors updates
Kyle Lowry called himself doubtful. Head coach Dwane Casey said “I don’t think he’s gonna go.” We’ll know for sure at game time, but he’s not playing. If he can go, awesome, the Raptors will have a better chance at going out more respectably. If not, you have an idea what the rotation will look like. Cory Joseph starts, Delon Wright and Fred VanVleet split the back-up duties, and the Raptors look for somebody else to maybe hit a three. And free Bruno.

UPDATE: Lowry is officially out.

UPDATE II: P.J. Tucker starts for Norman Powell, as suggested as a “shrug” possibility in the pre-game.

PG: Cory Joseph, Delon Wright, Fred VanVleet
SG: Demar DeRozan, Norman Powell
SF: P.J. Tucker, DeMarre Carrol, Bruno Caboclo
PF: Serge Ibaka, Patrick Patterson, Pascal Siakam
C: Jonas Valanciunas, Jakob Poeltl, Lucas Nogueira
TBD: None
ASSIGNED: None
OUT: Kyle Lowry

Cavaliers updates
The Cavaliers are completely healthy, so short of a few questions that don’t matter to them until the NBA Finals, anyway, this is straight-forward. Maybe they’ll activate Edy Tavares and let him get some run.

PG: Kyrie Irving, Deron Williams, Kay Felder
SG: J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert, Dahntay Jones
SF: LeBron James, Kyle Korver, Richard Jefferson
PF: Kevin Love, Derrick Williams, James Jones
C: Tristan Thompson, Channing Frye, Edy Tavares
TBD: None
ASSIGNED: None
OUT: None

Pre-game news and notes

  • Dwane Casey was asked what was said to the team before the game to rally them up for this one. “I’m gonna keep those in the locker room.”
  • Part of it appeared to be revealed in this quote: “We’ve been punched and hit, we just gotta get our mojo back.”
  • Casey once again talked up the need for more threes. “If you miss 15, shoot 15 more,” Casey said. The team was 2-of-18 last game. They have to get more up to keep up, and they have to, you know, hope they hit more than 11 percent. “They’ve got the green light,” he said.
  • To those who were trying to postmortem already, Casey bristled at the idea that the Raptors have “unraveled” or failed, pointing out that they’re still a good team among the final eight in the league, they just fell (or will probably fall, I guess) short of their ultimate goal. Perspective, guys.
  • It took forever for anyone to ask Tyronn Lue a question, and when someone finally did, Lue let out a “Damn!”
  • “Just another game we gotta be prepared for,” Lue said of Cleveland’s approach today, downplaying the fact that a sweep is on the line.
  • He also declined to answer about tweaks to the second unit, like Tristan Thompson playing with the LeBron James-and-bench unit at the top of the second and fourth quarters.

Assorted

  • The fact that Kyle Lowry may have played his last game as a Raptor is kind of depressing.
  • I’ve been posting some pics and quotes and other things to my Instagram story. Follow along there.
  • Related, here are the shirts for Game 4:

The lineGame 1: Cavaliers -6.5 (Series Raptors +375) (Cavaliers 116, Raptors 105)
Game 2: Cavaliers -7 (Series Raptors +650) (Cavaliers 125, Raptors 103)
Game 3: Cavaliers -3.5 (Series Raptors +1500) (Cavaliers 115, Raptors 94)
Game 4: Cavaliers -6.5
Series: Off the board (implied probability of extremely little)

The market is more or less calling this one a wrap. The series is off the board entirely, because bookmakers don’t want to waste their time with incredibly long-shot bets and the Cavaliers are heavier favorites than Game 3, likely because of Lowry’s status changing from questionable to “probably doubtful.” We’ve come a long way when the line in Toronto is the same as it opened in Cleveland, normally good for a six-to-seven point swing. The over-under is at 212.

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Pressing Pause

It’s hard to catch your breath when a series goes badly this quickly. You can get so caught up in disappointment and frustration that you don’t, or maybe can’t, stop and see that there are silver linings even now.

The series against Cleveland isn’t over, at least in the strictest sense. The Cavaliers are up three games to none, and aside from three quarters in game 3 before Cleveland pulled away and took over. Maybe that game was a microcosm for this era of Raptors basketball, the ability to look like a contender, without actually being one. This isn’t a doom and gloom piece either, those have been written, and there’s really nothing left to say. Cleveland is simply a better team, and if you need more proof of that check the comments of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan who have both sounded defeated when talking to the media, while the series is still ongoing. This disappointment, both in players on the team and in the fan base in general is nothing if not understandable. There were expectations of greatness, and those have been dashed in three frustrating games against one of the truly elite teams in the NBA. But it’s worth it to stop for a few minutes before this ends, whether that comes today or later, to appreciate what this era has meant for the Toronto Raptors.

Self-awareness is an uncomfortable thing. We fought it two years ago, after becoming the first team with home court advantage to get swept in the first round of the playoffs. Told ourselves that the roster simply needed an upgrade, the pieces around the core of Lowry and DeRozan wasn’t good enough to compete. So DeMarre Carroll was brought in, Cory Joseph came back to Canada from San Antonio to back up Lowry at the point guard position, and Bismack Biyombo was acquired to fill the backup center position. That edition of the team was supposed to challenge for the title in the East, and at least on the surface, they accomplished that goal. Making the Eastern Conference Finals and taking two game off the Cavaliers was a sure sign of progress and seemed to indicate that the franchise had arrived as a contender.

On the other hand, maybe what we weren’t seeing was the warts, the fact that the series against the Indiana Pacers and Miami Heat were much tougher than they should have been for a team of the Raptors apparent stature. In the Eastern Conference Finals, despite the Raptors stealing two games at the Air Canada Centre, the margin in the series was +93 Cleveland. The remainder of the games were blowouts and that got left behind in the excitement over the season. It was truly an impressive year, and the Raptors were definitely a good team, but they weren’t yet great, and that difference is significant.

This year is different, not just in that the Cavaliers might complete a sweep today comprised entirely of blowouts, but also because this team was supposed to be better, they were supposed to contend. Even just equaling last year’s effort would’ve felt insufficient, but losing like this with the additions of PJ Tucker and Serge Ibaka, acquired just for a matchup like this against Cleveland, is harder. It’s franchise altering, because with Masai Ujiri showing a willingness to go all in to compete, the expectation has to be more than this, more than simply showing up. Ujiri clearly stated his goal in Toronto was a championship, and this team clearly signaled they aren’t in that tier.

That’s not to say good isn’t something to be celebrated, especially given where this organization has come from. It’s an accomplishment just being a team that can be depended on to win 50 games, and it’s worth appreciating that crushed expectations requires you to have had those expectations in the first place. From the beginning of DeMar’s career, when season highlights tended to be surprising upsets or big dunks, because there was nothing more to look to, to where the Raptors are now is a big thing.

This definitely isn’t what anyone wanted for the Raptors, and may not have been what we expected. After all, I picked them to win this series in seven games. But there’s a certain clarity that comes when you’re sure of the outcome, an understanding both of where you’ve come from and where you’re headed. That clarity will benefit Masai this summer, as this series left little doubt of the remaining gap between the Cavaliers and the Raptors. Even if game 4 doesn’t go the Raptors’ way, there is lots to have enjoyed about this team. Two three-time All-Stars in DeRozan and Lowry, back-to-back 50 win seasons, three time division champions, and even a D-League Championship this year. It’s been fun, and that’s worth remembering in these somber times.

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Gameday: Cavaliers @ Raptors, Game 4, May 7

The 73-win Golden State Warriors, who employed the first ever unanimous MVP, blew a 3-1 lead in the NBA Finals.

I don’t say this to be facetious or to make jokes, but to serve a reminder that nothing is literally impossible. Prior to the Cleveland Cavaliers coming back in that series, that deficit was considered impossible. If the Toronto Raptors can take Game 4 against those same Cavaliers, they’ll be in that same, previously impossible situation. It seems like such an enormous longshot, of course, but in the words of DeMar DeRozan, “give yourself an opportunity to have another opportunity” is the approach the team has to takes.

The odds are obviously against them. Teams up 3-0 in an NBA playoff series are 123-0 all time, the favorites are 101-0, and even if they won one, teams down 1-3 are still just 11-223 and 3-154 without home-court advantage. Those numbers aren’t zero. The Raptors can keep themselves alive with a win Sunday, and then they can try to keep themselves alive with a win Tuesday, and so on. These are the things they will tell each other. It beats rolling over and calling it quits.

In the great words of Kevin Garnett, anything is plausible. So whom tryna make some history?

The game tips off a 3:30 on ABC and TSN on TV and on TSN 1050 on radio.

To help set the stage for Game 4, we reached out to Justin Rowan of Fear the Sword, who was kind enough to help us out.

Blake Murphy: Before the series, we poured a lot of time and energy into analyzing this matchup. Do you feel kinda dumb for it now? Maybe dumb is not the right word, but even with you picking Cavaliers in a close 5, did we talk ourselves into this being an actual series too much? I don’t really feel that way, myself. I think that on paper, the Raptors still look like they should have provided more competition than this, and that until the Cavaliers flipped the switch, we were justified in wondering how long it would take them to do so and how many games that may cost them. But you’re closer to that side. Should we have seen this coming?

Justin Rowan: I’m with you, I thought that it may take awhile for the Cavs to find their stride. I also expected more rust from them to start the series, which may have allowed Toronto to steal a game. With Irving struggling with his jumper so much, you would assume this would be a series Toronto could hang around in. But the Cavs bench has stepped up in a big way and LeBron is capable of doing this stuff against anyone.

Blake Murphy: In your opinion, what’s more disrespectful: Narrowly sweeping a team because you couldn’t bring yourself to get up to try really hard for a series, or trying hard and dominating a team in a sweep? I don’t mean this facetiously. I think you can make a case the way Cleveland treated Toronto showed they cared a bit more. But I’d also accept the answer that LeBron James was just annoyed that anyone had talked up the Raptors as competition.

Justin Rowan: Ummm… yes. I thought game three was the most disrespectful game of the series. Without Kyle Lowry, the Cavs just seemed disinterested. I had texted a friend suggesting that the Cavs looked like they realized they just need eight minutes of effort to close this game out. While it was fewer than eight minutes, the sentiment held true. They’re that annoying guy in college that only studies the night before the exam, walks out complaining to everyone that he failed, and winds up getting an A.

Blake Murphy: Semi-related to my last point there, who do you want in the next round, assuming the Raptors can’t make history and come back from down 0-3? Washington looks like a stiffer test and a better tune-up for where the Cavaliers will need to get to for the Warriors, but…the idea of the Cavaliers stomping on the Celtics to put them in their place is enticing, too.

Justin Rowan: Cleveland truly hates Boston, so it would be interesting to see how disrespectful they would get against a team like that. Both teams have flaws that make them easier opponents than Toronto in my eyes, so there isn’t a huge rooting interest. I fear Boston because they have dirty players that could hurt the Cavs title chances again, but I also want to crush them because they are Boston. Washington’s lack of depth and defense probably would be the path of least resistance in my eyes. So I’m still pulling for them.

Blake Murphy: The mumps were going around some of the King West bars in Toronto a few months back. Is a Cavs-wide mumps outbreak a potentially series-shifting epidemic, if a certain handful of players (Shmyrie Shmirving, for example) haven’t left the club the last 36 hours? Surely, you remember Game 3 last year.

Justin Rowan: “After it was all over, he took us to the house and served us margaritas… margaritas.” *Charlie Murphy voice* (RIP). Drake being in town may have been the curve-ball needed to extend this series to five games.

Blake Murphy: In all seriousness, the Cavaliers have proven they’re still a class above the Raptors. What Toronto can do in the short-term is kind of depressing, and a column for another time. Basically, they can stay this good or take a step back. There’s no means of drawing closer to Cleveland’s level, really. The question, I guess, also needs to be asked: Is there any reason to think the Cavaliers will come down a bit in the next year or two, doing their part to close the gap between themselves and the rest of the East?

Justin Rowan: I really don’t think so. Kyrie just turned 25 and showed a ton of growth this season. As he starts to enter his prime, I expect to see him take another step towards becoming one of the truly elite players at his position. It’s easy to forget how much younger he is than the rest of his peers, but he’s pretty good. Tristan Thompson is getting better, and LeBron seems to be getting better, which is silly. Plus they’ll trade Love and pieces for Paul George this summer, so that’ll make things wild (kidding, I think). But they also are getting an infusion of some young talent with Cedi Osman, which I think will help make a difference. The Raptors have played both the future and the present of the Eastern Conference in the Bucks and Cavs. I really don’t see an easy answer for what the next step should be.

Raptors updates
The status of Kyle Lowry remains up in the air, and without shootaround on Sunday, there’s no real way of knowing if he’ll go. It doesn’t sound good, though – Lowry called himself “probably doubtful” at practice on Saturday and suggested he may have made things worse in trying to hard to be able to suit up for Game 3. He’ll go through the usual pre-game testing and make a call. Hopefully we’ll have an answer more than four minutes before tip-off this time around. It’s difficult to see him playing, given his words a day ago.

If Lowry can’t go, Cory Joseph will once again slide into his spot with Delon Wright and Fred VanVleet sharing backup duties. Elsewhere in the rotation, we can probably bet that Jonas Valanciunas will remain with the starters, and short of a P.J. Tucker-Norman Powell swap that would have nothing to do with Powell’s performance and everything to do with trying a different approach with LeBron James out of the gate, not much else stands to change (although who knows, really?).

PG: Cory Joseph, (Kyle Lowry), Delon Wright, Fred VanVleet
SG: Norman Powell, P.J. Tucker
SF: DeMar DeRozan, DeMarre Carrol, Bruno Caboclo
PF: Serge Ibaka, Patrick Patterson, Pascal Siakam
C: Jonas Valanciunas, Jakob Poeltl, Lucas Nogueira
TBD: Kyle Lowry
ASSIGNED: None
OUT: None

Cavaliers updates
Cleveland probably isn’t changing much here. The biggest questions will be whether they even show up or lay around waiting to turn it on late, which club they went to the last two nights, and whether Tyronn Lue will experiment with anything so that the Cavaliers can learn a bit about themselves heading into the final two rounds. The James-and-bench unit still hasn’t been great, and it might be too slow to get away with playing once they reach the Golden State Warriors. A James-Tristan Thompson-bench unit was very effective in the fourth quarter Friday, and maybe Lue will try some new combinations to see what might work.

PG: Kyrie Irving, Deron Williams, Kay Felder
SG: J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert, Dahntay Jones
SF: LeBron James, Kyle Korver, Richard Jefferson
PF: Kevin Love, Derrick Williams, James Jones
C: Tristan Thompson, Channing Frye, Edy Tavares
TBD: None
ASSIGNED: None
OUT: None

The line
Game 1: Cavaliers -6.5 (Series Raptors +375) (Cavaliers 116, Raptors 105)
Game 2: Cavaliers -7 (Series Raptors +650) (Cavaliers 125, Raptors 103)
Game 3: Cavaliers -3.5 (Series Raptors +1500) (Cavaliers 115, Raptors 94)
Game 4: Cavaliers -7
Series: Off the board (implied probability of extremely little)

Well, the market is more or less calling this one a wrap. The series is off the board entirely, because bookmakers don’t want to waste their time with incredibly long-shot bets (counter: they’re afraid of the Raptors pulling it off!), the Raptors are something like +30,000 to win the championship, and even for a single game, Cleveland is being treated like the home side in terms of the spread. What, was nobody at EFS last night to scout this matchup? The over-under is at 213. This may be your last chance to make money off of the Raptors for the year. Do it wisely.

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Practice news & notes: Raptors facing elimination; Lowry ‘probably doubtful’ for Game 4

Down 3-0 to the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Toronto Raptors sound like a team that knows history and inevitability are against them. No team has ever come back from this deficit, the Raptors haven’t looked particularly close to stealing one from the favorites and reigning champions, and Saturday’s practice session had the feeling of a wake more than a pep rally.

What can you really do about LeBron?

Here’s a pretty telling quote from Kyle Lowry to Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical:

They’ve got LeBron James. Nobody’s closing the gap on him. I mean, that’s it right there: They’ve got LeBron James and nobody’s closing the gap on him…LeBron ain’t breaking spirits here, but he’s just that good. He’s a dominant player, one of the top five most dominant players in basketball history.

On Saturday, he continued:

They’re the champs. He’s unbelievable. He’s a great player. He’s doing what his team needs for him to do. They’re the defending champs for a reason. He’s just been on another level, and he’s just raised his game. I know I’m not a LeBron, and DeMar’s not a LeBron. We push our team, and do what we need to do to get our team wins, and we’ve just got to get better. Some how, some way.

What Lowry is saying isn’t wrong, and while the Raptors have done well to take their best shot at catching up, the inevitability of James has hung over not just the series but the entire season. There’s value in trying, and the Raptors have done exactly that. That’s the plan for Game 4, as well, whatever the likelihood of a comeback.

“We’re just going to show what we’re made from,” Lowry said at practice. “Are we going to come in and give up or are we going to come in and fight? Doesn’t matter if we win or lose, we just need to come here and fight, leave everything on the court.”

Lowry talked up that winning a championship is all that matters, and while it’s unfortunate that James exists at the same time the Raptors have become as good as they have, the team wouldn’t want to simply avoid the challenge.

“That’s a challenge that you look forward to every single year,” DeMar DeRozan said. “Especially being in the Eastern Conference, I guarantee every team’s thought process is ‘let’s figure out a way to get past LeBron and you can play for a title.’ It’s a challenge that as competitors, you wanna be in these moments and measure yourself and be able to compete and see. It’s tough, it’s extremely tough, but I wouldn’t wanna go against nobody else to make it easier.”

That’s the right attitude to take, and really the only one teams can take unless they can swallow blowing things up and kicking their potential success down the line. That’s a question for after the series, of course, as it pertains to these Raptors. And while Saturday really had the feeling of a pre-postmortem, the Raptors are trying not to think that way just yet.

“As long as you understand that you have an opportunity, you can focus in on that,” DeRozan said. “Whatever comes after that, then you dwell on whatever comes after that. As long as you have an opportunity, you good.”

Then again, the writing is more or less on the wall with a deficit no team has ever come back from and…

Lowry doubtful for Game 4

After receiving treatment once again, Lowry spoke about what went in to his decision to ultimately sit out Game 3 on Friday. Lowry tried like hell to be able to go, but his sprained left ankle simply wouldn’t co-operate. Worst of all, he may have made things worse by trying so hard to suit up.

“It was close,” he said. “I mean, I was going to try, but I think I made it a little bit worse by trying to work out a few times, aggravated it a little more, trying to get out there and turn and jump and run. So it’s a little bit more sore today.”

As for Lowry’s status for what could be the last game of the series, the season, and maybe even his Raptors tenure, Lowry is going to do what he can but it doesn’t sound good.

“I’m probably doubtful,” he said. “Hopefully some things change, but right now, I don’t think I’ll be able to play…I’ve got more than 24 hours left to try to get ready to go play, but right now, it’s not looking great. But I’m not giving up on it”

It seems likely that Lowry will once again be a game-time decision, and with no shootaround due to Sunday’s early tip, his status will probably be a mystery until close to tip-off once again. The Raptors will prepare as if they won’t have him and try to encourage themselves with the 36 minutes of solid performance they turned in Friday that they can pull off an upset. Extending the series, though, would be a lot more realistic if Lowry can give them something.

“We were at 15-7 without Kyle and believe me I would take that to the bank,” Casey said, although that stretch was not nearly as impressive as the record would indicate. “We would love to have him. I hope he is able to go tomorrow but if he is not it’s a great opportunity for Cory to step in and play. I thought we played well for three quarters last night. If you have him is it going to be a different story? We don’t know. But we would much rather have him because he is the hub of our toughness, energy, all of the above. We are a better team with him.”

It would be disappointing for the Raptors’ last best shot to not include one of their stars, especially ahead of some very serious questions this offseason. Even if the series outcome is almost entirely determined, the Raptors giving it the same kind of resilient push that’s defined this core’s entire era would seem fitting.

Notes

  • Here’s Lowry on what-ifs: “I think a lot of things would have been different if I didn’t unfortunately have a freak injury to my wrist, bones get caught in between the joints, Norm lands on my ankle. Things happen. It just sucks when things happen like that.”
    • DeRozan has less time for thinking that way: “I never really dwell on it. I always take what we’re given. You have to. You can’t dwell on this person was hurt, this that…That’s one of my biggest pet peeves, is the what ifs. What if I hit the lottery? The whole dynamic of life would change if you just really played off the what-if all the time. I try never to think about it that way.”
    • And here’s Casey on the late-season changes and lack of familiarity late: “That’s the challenge. But I love having Serge and Tuck on our team. Getting that chemistry, the timing, the nuances of a team like that is a challenge. It’s a good challenge. I’d much rather have that challenge than not to have ‘em.”
  • DeRozan and Lowry were both asked about the offseason and roundabout ways. Lowry declined to answer, as he’s been adamant about all season. DeRozan, like Lowry last year, isn’t going to comment much, either: “If I thought about it, if I didn’t, it wouldn’t make a difference. I still gotta play the waiting game and see what happens. I just never dwell on it. I understand whatever happens, happens, whatever’s gonna come, is gonna come. I always been that way, you know, forever.”
    • Casey was asked about the team’s proximity to the Cavaliers and offered an endorsement to try again with this group: “It’s hard to say. I like our team, it’s the most talented team we’ve had…How close are we to Cleveland – if, when — it’s hard to say. If is a huge world in that situation because this group hasn’t had a training camp or time together to go against him. But I like this group, we have the right pieces in place.
  • A hilarious quote from Tyronn Lue over at Cavs’ practice, when asked if the team is now defending in a way that makes a championship repeat a possibility: “Even when we weren’t defending I thought we could win a championship.”
  • I’ve been posting some pics and quotes and other things to my Instagram story. Follow along there, too, I guess.
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The mental game

As the crowd starting to slowly file out of the ACC last night as early as the 5:00 minute in the fourth quarter, it all started to sink in. This was the moment where the Raptors had officially waived the proverbial white flag. It was official – any so-called belief that this team had left, was officially lost. Kyle’s face showed it, the fans showed it, and the killer instinct of the Cavs began to emerge.

The Cavaliers were capping off an epic run to begin the fourth quarter. After a pretty valiant effort by the Raptors to keep the game close for most of the first 3 and a half quarters, despite playing without their all-star point guard and emotional leader in Lowry, the Raptors showed their fan-base some fight. They showed what was desperately missing in Games 1 and 2 in this series – a defensive disposition spearheaded at the point of attack by Cory Joseph, and a scoring punch added by the mid-range maestro DeRozan who finally seemed to be turning a corner. DeMar was doing it all for the Raptors on the offensive end, shouldering a scoring load that consisted of a mostly mid-range assault. He was shaking JR Smith and Iman Shumpert for long 2’s, driving to the rack challenging Tristan Thompson at every opportunity, and making ‘em count from the stripe. But deep down, there was an empty feeling.

That empty feeling was something that’s hard to put into words. For so long, as Raptors fans enjoying the past 3 or 4 years of basketball, we’ve seen this team bounce back. So much so, that it became a undeniable mark of the team. When times got tough, we saw DeMar or Kyle, or the unlikely hero like Patrick Patterson, Cory Joseph, or Terrence Ross bring us back to a certain level of respect. But last night…felt different. Kyle was out of the lineup, the Raptors were facing the daunting task of winning 4 of 5 games against the Cavs, most of the general fan-base and media had written the team off, and with Cleveland hanging around for most of the contest at the relatively quiet and nervous ACC, things just felt uneasy. It felt as though an avalanche was coming, and perhaps this time around…there was no bounce back imminent.

That avalanche came. And there was nothing the Raptors could do. Kyle Korver cleanly came across screens, and punctured the Raptors’ souls with long-range daggers that swished so loudly, you could hear it on the broadcast. The Raptors, who entered the fourth quarter down just a point (which seemed like a mini-victory on its own), had shown some early signs. But once Korver started going, the Raptors had ZERO response. Their offense fell flat on its face. When Dwane Casey gambled early in the fourth quarter trying to buy DeMar and Cory just a few minutes of rest, LeBron and the Cavs pounced on that mistake hard. And even with DeMar and Cory back in the game just a minute later, it was too late.

In that time period, so many struggles that we’ve seen from this team throughout mid-season materialized. The offense suddenly came to a grinding halt. The ball wasn’t moving. The Cavs had figured out the DeMar-centric offense, and worst of all,  the Raptors could hit NONE of their open shots. Even in the first half when things were close, that was pretty much the story of the game.

The Raptors started the game missing their first 4 wide open 3’s, and that was the tone-setter. From Ibaka, to Tucker, to Cory, the Raptors clanked open jumper after open jumper. This is National Basketball Association – the highest level of basketball there is. In this league, open jumpers are like nuggets of gold. It’s a lapse in defensive coverage that equates itself to a free-throw in the modern NBA. It’s a mistake that the offense needs to capitalize upon, especially in the playoffs where possessions are magnified, and those nuggets of gold are so hard to come by.

But basketball, my friends, is a game of a belief. As someone who’s played at the high school level, rep level, and in the occasional rec-leagues after that, I’ll say that even at the highest level, basketball is really about 60% talent, skill, scheming, game-planning, etc. and about 40% mental. Even after manufacturing an open shot using the fanciest of schemes, actually hitting the resulting open shot is so much about belief and confidence than anything else. And while the Raptors claimed to have all the belief in the world in this series, every fan in the building last night knew that this team didn’t really believe they could beat the Cleveland Cavaliers. It was blatantly obvious.

If you’ve ever played basketball competitively, you may remember playing that one team (or several teams in my case) that just intimidated the crap out of you. Even before the ball tipped off, they’d have the height advantage, guys that can dunk during layup lines, fancier uniforms, and a coach that just had a mean game face. Right then, despite the fact that you claimed to have belief when your friends would ask you about the game, you’d know deep down in your heart of hearts…that game was probably over before it even started.

So when the Raptors came out in this series missing open jump shot after open jump shot, especially in the first quarter of all 3 games, there was something clearly off. Just like an accurate free-throw shooter missing a free-throw in the clutch, this thing was in their heads. They knew that if they missed the shot, it was going to be run back for a humiliating dunk or an and-1 that was just going to be too difficult to emotionally recover from. While this sounds pathetic for an NBA franchise to be going through, especially one with a roster full of depth and playoff experience, it really speaks to the level of superiority exhibited by their opponents – King James and the Cavs.

When LeBron said that his Game 2 “spin-the-ball” free-throw routine before hitting a 3 in Ibaka’s face was a “mental thing”, he really meant it. Just like the sipping-of-beer incident, the constant smirks at the Raptors bench, and the kind of commentary we’ve been getting from the King, it was the kind of mental thing that took their opponent right out of the ball game. It meant that in the mental category of the game (the approximate 40% I’m talking about), the Cavaliers had the clear edge. The rest, as they say, is history.

I’m not trying to be too pessimistic here, since the series still could still be extended, with some optimism maybe salvaged, but it’s pretty clear that the rest of this series is simply academic. So what does this mean for Raptors fans? Where do we go from here? Since we have all summer to talk about the specifics around the roster etc., I’ll restrict the discussion of this piece to just pondering one thing – change. The kind of change that’s as much philosophical, as it is strategic. Because as we have come to realize in this playoff series, having a deep roster on paper, simply isn’t enough against the best of the best. It requires a mental makeup founded upon a strong philosophical makeup. It’s not enough to draw up open shots, if the mental makeup of players can’t seem to knock ‘em down.

That’s not to say our roster isn’t filled with great players. They can obviously win 50+ games in the regular season, win you a playoff series against average opponents, or even overachieve and beat the best once in a while. But to get that next level that the Raptors have been striving for so long to reach, it may require a mental shakeup. Excuse the cliché nature of all of this, but to be a consistent winner, you’ve got to believe like one. And while it’s hard to prove exactly what will or should be done by Masai Ujiri this off-season, what is abundantly clear is that this is a league where top-tier talent, innovative coaching, and creative offensive flair is almost always the difference. So regardless of what happens on Sunday in Game 4, when it’s all said and done, the Raptors will have to go back to the drawing board and make the kind of changes that remove that inferiority complex and make them – you guessed it – believe.

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Raptors put up better fight, find themselves up against ropes anyway

Raptors 94, Cavaliers 115 (Cavaliers lead series 3-0) | Box Score | Quick Reaction | Post-game news & notes | Reaction Podcast

The Toronto Raptors are not good enough to beat the Cleveland Cavaliers.

That much was mostly believed to be true at the series level before their second-round series began. As that series has gone on, the breadth of the situations in which that statement holds true without additional context has expanded. The Raptors are not good enough to beat the Cavaliers when the latter are at their best, when the former are at their worst, or when the two sides meet in the middle. They’re not good enough when their effort isn’t consistent and forceful, or when the Cavs’ effort is there to any meaningful degree, or when the two energy levels meet in the middle. Down 0-2, it was pretty clear that the Raptors were not beating the Cavaliers in a series, but what wasn’t yet clear is whether individual games and circumstances could break in such a way that the Raptors could once again make a series (or competitive non-series) of this matchup once again.

On Friday, the Raptors found out moments before tip-off that they likely wouldn’t have the chance to even find out. Kyle Lowry, the team’s engine and co-star, would not play, try though he might. Lowry tested out the ankle before the game, joined the team in the layup line before anthems, and even dressed just in case.

“He went out and was going to try it,” head coach Dwane Casey explained after the fact. “It was still bothering him. He was limping badly but he just couldn’t go. He wanted to.”

The sprain would not cooperate, and the Raptors suffered their first blow before the ball had been rolled in.

“I didn’t’ know ’till late, ’till they did starting lineups, he wasn’t gonna go,” DeMar DeRozan said. “It was tough. It changed your mindset, not just for me, the whole team as well. We still competed. We still gave ourselves a great opportunity.”

DeRozan is correct. After talking in boxing analogies all day, the Raptors withstood what amounted to a blow before the opening bell. This could really have gone two ways, and to their credit, the Raptors opted for the response of fighting like hell despite the loss and 0-2 series hole rather than wilting, wallowing, or walking away. That’s perhaps to be expected rather than commended, sure, but since about three minutes into Game 1 an air of inevitability has hung over this series. The Raptors decided rolling over was not how they wanted to play this out, and so they fought.

It was valiant, too. The Raptors defended with great energy and attention to detail out of the gate, and it genuinely appeared to rattle the Cavaliers, albeit not enough to urge them to dial in just yet. DeRozan took up the offensive mantle with Lowry sidelined, turning in three masterful quarters as a scorer and finishing the game with 36 points on 23 field-goal attempts. With complementary Raptors missing more or less everything – non-DeRozan Raptors shot 40.6 percent for the game – DeRozan went head-on at the extra attention being paid to him by the Cavaliers, racking up fouls early and often on J.R. Smith, making life hell for Iman Shumpert, and eventually requiring the Cavaliers to change their defensive approach late.

Following one of the worst playoff outings of his career, the contrast was stark.

“DeRozan was amazing. He gave everything he had,” LeBron James said. “You watch last series when he didn’t have a field goal, he usually bounce back. That’s what great players do.”

DeRozan would eventually slow down, though. Whether or not that had to do with Casey’s decision to rest him early in the fourth will be a matter of some debate. To that point, DeRozan had been rolling, and the Raptors trailed by just two points. But with the offensive load he was carrying, Casey wanted to get him a quick reprieve. Afterward, DeRozan didn’t feel he needed one, given the weight of the situation.

“Yeah, I coulda kept going,” he said. “I didn’t feel like I needed a blow. At this point in time, there’s no need for a rest.”

That’s what a superstar is always going to say. There are those who will feel he should have been given the chance to stay hot and keep going, others who feel it was necessary, and others still, like Cavaliers head coach Tyronn Lue, who thought even with the rest, DeRozan simply wore down late.

“Casey did a good job of just running some different stuff for him, trying to isolate him,” Lue explained. “So we just try to keep doing different coverages trying to wear him down. Him having to play 40 minutes and playing one-on-one and trying to go score the basketball, I thought he got tired.”

Whatever the right decision, and it’s unknowable, with respect to DeRozan, Casey almost certainly erred in resting him with Cory Joseph and Jonas Valanciunas. The break was brief, but the Cavaliers used that opportunity and the earlier momentum of Kyle Korver heating up to pull away early in the fourth. When DeRozan and Joseph checked back in, the former wasn’t able to rediscover his form against a new, switch-heavy approach with James and Tristan Thompson, and it was then that the shortcomings of his teammates on this night became even more glaring.

Because try though they did on defense and to push the ball and make the right plays, the Raptors couldn’t hit a shot to save their playoff lives. Almost quite literally – they started the game 0-of-12 on threes before eventually hitting a whopping two, and the Cavaliers loaded up the paint and around ball-handlers throughout to take advantage. It’s easy to look at the final score – a 21-point margin that betrays that this was actually a well-played game for three quarters – and determine a lot of things went wrong, but the gap in 3-point shooting remains the biggest difference between these sides. While Cleveland was hitting 13 threes on a very reasonable 23 attempts, the Raptors could hit little, and so they stopped shooting in turn.

“They really locked in. They locked in,” DeRozan said. “They packed it in on us. We couldn’t hit no shots. Just myself, us as a team, we only made two 3-pointers and both of them came late. We had some great looks and we couldn’t get none to fall for us. They turned it up offensively and ran away with it.”

With DeRozan contained and the complementary players offering little, after the bench unit Casey entrusted had let the lead swell, the Cavaliers had a momentum they weren’t going to surrender. The way those first few minutes played out are almost a microcosm of the game and their chase of the Cavaliers in general – the Raptors could try very hard and do a number of things well, but if they weren’t perfect, it wouldn’t matter.

There were a number of possessions where the Raptors defended well until Cleveland eventually broke them and found a shot. A handful of times the Raptors went a step further and for a stop only to lose an offensive rebound. The good shots Toronto missed weren’t cleaned up, as their fear of James in transition held them to a single offensive rebound. They took terrific care of the ball but managed only 17 assists on 38 field goals because the low turnovers were borne a bit from passivity.

Basically, the Raptors worked their tails off and did a number of things they’re supposed to do (or at least tried to do them), and at a certain point, they ran into the reality of what the Cavaliers are. The Raptors have faced a bit of an identity crisis in trying to tweak things in three losses now, but one part of their identity that’s not in crisis is how they measure up to Cleveland.

“We were fighting. It was up and down. We were fighting,” Valanciunas said. “Honestly, today we were not giving up but they were better than us.”

There is not a lot left to be said in this series. After the game, the Raptors talked about playing Sunday for different reasons. Joseph was adamant the team will fight back. DeRozan less so, saying it’s an opportunity to create another opportunity and take it from there. Valanciunas talked of proving something, and it felt like he meant to themselves. Casey talked about avoiding a sweep for pride.

Whatever happens, it won’t change the story of this series for a second year in a row. There’s not a ton to be upset about, I don’t think, or at least if there is, the proper place for it was after Game 2. The Raptors had even less going for them here, psychologically, in terms of shooting variance, and without Lowry, and they still fought like hell. It didn’t matter, and the degree to which that matters will vary by person and player. Sometimes things just are what they are no matter how hard you tried.

“It hasn’t worked out the way we wanted it to,” DeRozan said. “We had different expectations each and every game. Each and every game been different. Tonight we competed extremely well. It sucks when you get down late in the game, nothing could fall for us, especially in the fourth quarter, the start of the fourth quarter, especially playing without Kyle, either. It was tough but I felt like us as a team, we competed.”

Maybe that’s all they could have asked of themselves here. Maybe things will be better Sunday. Maybe they won’t, but they’ll probably feel better if they go out with another effort like this where they can point to the other team just being better than them not having given it a proper shot to find out.

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Morning Coffee – Sat, May 6

Raptors show some life, but the end is near: Arthur | Toronto Star

Casey said he thought DeRozan needed to sit at the end of the third to rest; through three quarters the shooting guard had played nearly 34 of the 36 minutes. DeRozan said, “I could have kept going. I didn’t feel like I needed a blow. At this point in time, there’s no need for rest.”

Maybe Casey should have left him in the game: he scored one point the rest of the way. Maybe Casey should have used Valanciunas, despite the defensive jeopardy associated with him. But maybe it wouldn’t have mattered anyway. The Cavaliers went on an 8-2 run with DeRozan out, and a 12-1 run when he came back in. The Raptors were holding on by their toes. They competed, they played well. But you miss enough shots, it comes back to haunt you.

Look, the Cavaliers are the champs, and in Games 1 and 2 they finally tapped into their potential in consecutive games for the first time in months. It took that long.

“I want to say, physically and mentally, we feel whole,” forward James Jones said. “We had our challenges during the year, trying to manage the schedule, trying to navigate injuries, trying to mesh and find rotations.”

If they were bored they aren’t anymore, and the Raptors don’t look whole at all, because they’re not. When the Raptors won Game 3 and Game 4 last year, the series didn’t truly hinge on it; the Cavaliers won the next two by a combined 64 points. If they were arm-wrestling, Cleveland always had a bazooka in its back pocket.

Raptors square up for fight in Game 3, but Cavaliers deal decisive blow – Sportsnet.ca

The difference between DeRozan and James was that the Cavs’ star had help. When the game started to turn, he was on the bench. It was Kyle Korver, added by trade by the Cavs mid-season and whose career 43 per cent average from three trails only Steph Curry among active players, who swung the balance. The Raptors were trailing by one when he checked in for James with two minutes left in the third quarter. He hit three of his four threes in a 60-second span over the end of the third quarter and the start of the fourth, and the game began to split.

“We got stops, and Kyle got hot,” said James, explaining how the Cavailers finished on a 42-22 surge.

In contrast DeRozan, without Lowry, was a man on an island. He finished with three assists but should have had more, except you don’t get assists for hitting teammates with passes for open threes only to see them clang them right and left, never centre.

Toronto missed their first 12 three-point attempts and ended up just 2-of-18 for game while the Cavs shot 13-of-23. For the series, Cleveland is out-scoring Toronto 135-51 from three, while shooting 50 per cent to the Raptors 27.9, an insurmountable advantage.

“It’s tough. We couldn’t make no threes. When you see them knocking down threes left and right, getting to their spots, it’s kind of deflating. It’s tough to win a game when you only make two three-pointers,” said DeRozan. “We were in the game throughout the whole game, but shooting 11 per cent from the three-point line, it’s tough.”

He might as well have said impossible.

Court Squeaks: Two late errors by Casey put Raps on the brink – Video – TSN

Matthew Scianitti and Josh Lewenberg break down two crucial errors that Dwane Casey made late in Game 3, and discuss if the Raptors stand a chance at becoming the first team in NBA history to come back from an 0-3 series deficit.

Raptors won’t win until they can shoot threes | Toronto Sun

At the trade deadline, the Raptors seemed to add the kind of pieces that would make them playoff tough. They added the veterans Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker. Both are known as defenders. But both can occasionally hit from three as well.

They made the Raptors better.

But a void existed. A void made worse when Kyle Lowry couldn’t play. A void evident in all 12 quarters of what has mostly been a one-sided series. Games 1 and 2 weren’t competitive games for the Raps. But Friday night the Raps played terrific basketball for three quarters, before running out of gas.

As the Raptors were picking up Ibaka and Tucker around the deadline, the Cavs brought in a three-point shooting specialist, Kyle Korver. Shooting threes is basically all he has done in his career. It’s really all that’s kept him in the NBA for 14 seasons.

At the end of a very tight third quarter, Korver hit two three-point shots. Cleveland led by two heading to the final quarter. He hit another three in the first minutes of the one-sided fourth quarter — and really in the first two minutes of the fourth quarter, with Demar DeRozan on the bench, the Cavaliers took over the game.

The Raps had no answer and especially had no answer from the three-point line, cashing in on two of 18 shots. That’s 11.1%. That’s horrible.

The Cavs made 13 threes, shot 56.5% from the long stripe, outscored Toronto 39-6 in that area. Thirty freakin’ nine to six.

Cavs Blow Past Raptors, Stay Perfect in Postseason | Cleveland Cavaliers

Turning Point — After a pair of lopsided wins in Cleveland, the Raptors were ready for a fight on Friday – with the contest featuring 10 ties and seven lead-changes through the first three quarters. Early in the third period, the Raptors took their biggest lead of the series – five points.

The game was tied at 71-apiece with 1:26 to play in the third when Kyle Korver drilled back-to-back bombs that put Cleveland ahead four and seemed to change the game’s entire momentum.

DeRozan hit a short floater with 1.6 to play in the quarter to get the Raptors to within a deuce – 79-77 – and it looked like the stage was set for a knock-down, drag-out fourth quarter.

But Korver unleashed the floodgates with another triple to start the final period and the Wine and Gold barely looked back the rest of the way.

”Man, (Korver) carried us throughout the second half,” praised J.R. Smith – who finished with nine points on 3-of-5 shooting from deep. “He came out with big shot after big shot and then in the fourth he hit a big two. He did a helluva job and we know what he’s capable of, we just got to get him into a rhythm.”

NBA Playoffs: Cavs take commanding 3-0 lead over Raptors with Game 3 win – Fear The Sword

The Cavs outscored the Raptors in the second half 66-42 and more than made up for their slow start. The Cavs also dominated the boards in this game, outrebounding the Raptors 49-25.

After going down 2-0 in last season’s ECF, the Raptors brought in Bismack Biyombo (who hadn’t played much throughout the entire season) as a last-ditch effort to try and make that series competitive, and it worked out better than they ever could have hoped. His stifling interior defensive presence, along with the frenetic energy of the home crowd, spurred the Raptors on to two straight victories to even that series at two games apiece.

Now back to this season. Bismack Biyombo wasn’t there to turn to when they needed him most, and the Raptors had no one waiting in the wings to fill his shoes. After getting shellacked in Game 1, the Raptors replaced Valanciunas and DeMarre Carroll in the starting lineup with Patrick Patterson and Norman Powell, respectively, but the result was the same. With no Energizer Bunny and no surprise cameos waiting in the shadows to jumpstart the Raptors this time around, the Cavs took advantage of the Lowry-less Raptors late and now stand on the brink of a third straight Eastern Conference Finals appearance.

The Cavs will look to complete the sweep over the Raptors on Sunday at 3:30 ET (ABC) at Air Canada Centre.

NBA Playoffs, Raptors vs. Cavaliers Game 3: Toronto can’t shoot, loses 115-94 – Raptors HQ

Credit should go to DeRozan though. After a truly terrible Game 2, DeMar found his groove once again, pouring in 36 points through three quarters to keep the Raptors in it. Unfortunately, Casey opted to rest him to begin the fourth. “He needed that [break],” said Casey, which very well could have been true. But DeRozan managed only one more point in the game’s final ten minutes, and the Raptors offense crumbled. “I could have kept going, I didn’t feel like I needed a blow,” said DeRozan. “At this point in time there’s no need for a rest.”

But rest DeRozan did, and right after Kyle Korver had come alive to close the third (in Channing Frye’s place), hitting a barrage of threes to begin turning the tide against Toronto. The Raptors did what they could to keep the game ugly, but a LeBron-led team will run smooth eventually. The champ is the champ for a reason.

If we can isolate one discouraging thing then in particular, it would the Cavs’ relative lack of urgency as the game began. This is that lack of respect we’ve been hearing so much about as of late. For all the effort the Raptors were pouring in, the Cavaliers seemed almost lackadaisical in their approach. Somehow, they still out-rebounded the Raptors 49 to 25 anyway, and outshot them 51 percent to 43 (and 56 to 11 from three). Toronto’s frenzy was for naught.

Raptors’ woeful three-point shooting proves costly in Game 3 – Video – TSN

After going just 2-for-18 from three-point range in Game 3, Nabil Karim and Nik Stauskas discuss the Raptors’ woeful shooting from downtown despite many wide open looks, and talk about how DeMar DeRozan carried the team through three quarters before losing his touch in the fourth.

Raptors defence can’t stop a hot LeBron James | Toronto Sun

After all of that talk, the Raptors mostly lived up to the promise in the opening half, forcing eight Cleveland turnovers and holding the Cavs to 40% shooting instead of the gaudy numbers they posted at home. Toronto also took open shots, but couldn’t make them. Almost any of them. The Raptors were 0-for-9 from three-point range in the first half, but plenty of inside scoring — and 21 first-half points from a resurrected DeRozan — gave Toronto a 52-49 lead at the break.

But all those missed shots, the punches of which Casey had spoke, loomed like something that would come back to haunt them. When the Raptors bounced back from an 0-2 hole with a win in Game 3 at home last year, they hit 12 three pointers to Cleveland’s 14, and the Cavs attempted 10 more than the Raptors. If there was ever going to be a way to hang with this collection of outside bombers guided by the exceptional all-around game of James, those bomb sights were going to have to be a tad off — and the Raptors would have to convert their open looks.

But even as DeRozan rebounded from his terrible five-point effort in Game 2 — he finished with 37 — there was that pressing question: would someone else on the Raptors hit a shot?

Not very often, it turned out. Norm Powell, who couldn’t miss from distance in the Milwaukee series, went 1-for-7 from three-point range. Serge Ibaka was 0-for-3 and Cory Joseph was 0-for-4.

James, meanwhile, authored another casual destruction of the Raptors. Despite aggressive, shadowing defence from Powell for long stretches, LeBron scored 35 points on 56% shooting and he got to the free-throw line 16 times. This time it was Kyle Korver who delivered the kill shot, with three straight three pointers at the end of the third and start of the fourth that ran Cleveland’s lead to five.

Raptors crash in Game 3 vs. Cavaliers | Toronto Star

But there were so many other opportunities that it would be foolish to use Lowry’s absence as an excuse or even an explanation for what transpired.

Toronto made just two of 18 three-point attempts, while the Cavs were 13-for-23. The long-range shooting has been one of the most glaring differences in the series.

Yes, LeBron James is the most dominant player in the game but Kyle Korver made four three-pointers Friday, J.R. Smith made three and Kevin Love made the only one he tried.

The Raptors?

Cory Joseph was 0-for-4. Norm Powell, 1-for-7. Serge Ibaka, 0-for-3.

“Our three-point shooters have to take them and make them,” Casey said before the game. The optimist says they got it half right.

“It’s something we’ve done, we’ve knocked down threes all year and for some reason it’s escaped us right now,” Casey said.

The Hardest Part is Letting Go – Raptors HQ

How do you even properly eulogize a team that meant a lot to a deprived fanbase, but embarrassed itself in the end? Even if you remove yourself from the disappointment of how shit has gone recently, at some point the roller coaster stops becoming a fun ride. 2014 was great, 2015 ended badly, 2016 was great, 2017 ended badly. That is exhausting. With free agency looming and stagnation staring us in the face, something is going to have to give.

There’s a bit comedian Hannibal Buress did about how sports form the goalposts around which he marks his memories. He talked about how a whole 20 years of his life’s memories use Kobe Bryant’s career milestones as landmarks. I started thinking about why this means so much, why it hurts to be disappointed, why are we disappointed in the first place, what are we so afraid of? Those are difficult questions to answer, but they served as a remind