Last 200 articles shown.

Date Title Author
Jul 30, 15 Raptors Announce Rex Kalamian, Andy Greer and Jerry Stackhouse as Assistant Coaches Sam Holako
Jul 30, 15 WINTER IS COMING: Questions and Expectations for the Raptors’ Reboot Michael Holian
Jul 29, 15 If Vince Carter is inducted into the Hall of Fame, what team does he choose to represent? forumcrew
Jul 28, 15 Report: Nicolas Batum’s People say Nicolas Batum Wants to Play in Toronto Zarar Siddiqi
Jul 28, 15 Tuesday musings: Patrick Patterson should start at power forward William Lou
Jul 27, 15 Raptors Weekly Podcast, July 28 – Organic Jonas Zarar Siddiqi
Jul 25, 15 Some Countercultural Ideas About Terrence Ross RR Prospect
Jul 25, 15 Report: Tim Leiweke could be staying another year Kiyan Sobhani
Jul 24, 15 Breaking It Down: Ways in Which DeMarre Carroll Gets Steals Zarar Siddiqi
Jul 23, 15 Three Conversations Dwane Casey Needs to Have Zarar Siddiqi
Jul 21, 15 Training Camp Preview Zarar Siddiqi
Jul 20, 15 Report: Raptors agree to terms with Michale Kyser on partially guaranteed 1-year deal William Lou
Jul 20, 15 Raptors Weekly Podcast, July 20 – No, not that Tim Zarar Siddiqi
Jul 18, 15 Shorthanded Raptors wrap up Summer League with a loss William Lou
Jul 17, 15 The perfect role player: A deep dive into DeMarre Carroll William Lou
Jul 17, 15 Post-Game Video from Raptors vs Bulls Zarar Siddiqi
Jul 16, 15 Bulls Eliminate Raptors From Las Vegas Summer League Zarar Siddiqi
Jul 16, 15 Report: Raptors Sign Axel Toupane to Partially Guaranteed Deal Zarar Siddiqi
Jul 15, 15 Raptors sign everyone’s favorite second rounder Norman Powell William Lou
Jul 15, 15 Supersonics legend Jack Sikma working with Jonas Valanciunas William Lou
Jul 15, 15 The idiosyncratic Delon Wright Blake Murphy
Jul 15, 15 Raptors get bye in Summer League, play Thursday at 10 Blake Murphy
Jul 14, 15 The case for signing Norman Powell to a 3-year (or 4-year) deal Blake Murphy
Jul 14, 15 VIDEO: Norman Powell has another huge Summer League game Blake Murphy
Jul 14, 15 Raptors Hold Off Rockets Behind Powell, Bruno and Bebe Zarar Siddiqi
Jul 13, 15 Video – Jonas Valanciunas: I’m Working on Extending My Range Zarar Siddiqi
Jul 13, 15 Quotes: Luis Scola’s Here to Play Zarar Siddiqi
Jul 13, 15 Norman Powell, your new favorite Raptor Blake Murphy
Jul 13, 15 Raptors Weekly Podcast, July 13 – Norman Power! Zarar Siddiqi
Jul 12, 15 VIDEO: Watch new Raptors signing Ronald Roberts throw down Blake Murphy
Jul 12, 15 Raptors 702 improve to 2-0 with win over Bulls Blake Murphy
Jul 12, 15 Report: Raptors hire Andy Greer as assistant, will run defense Blake Murphy
Jul 12, 15 Report: Raptors finalizing partially-guaranteed deal with Ronald Roberts Blake Murphy
Jul 12, 15 Toronto Raptors Optimist Searches To Rediscover “It” Tamberlyn Richardson
Jul 11, 15 Wright and Powell shine as Raptors win Summer League opener Blake Murphy
Jul 10, 15 Bruno Caboclo looks more comfortable in 2nd Summer League debut Blake Murphy
Jul 10, 15 DeMarre Carroll on Raptors lacking IT: “We’ll see Paul Pierce again, we’ll see if he say that then” Blake Murphy
Jul 10, 15 DeAndre Daniels has Jones fracture in right foot Blake Murphy
Jul 10, 15 Dwane Casey: Patrick Patterson and James Johnson to Come Off Bench as Fours; Ross is the new Lou Zarar Siddiqi
Jul 10, 15 Reasons to Keep an Eye on Raptors Summer League Zarar Siddiqi
Jul 10, 15 Morning Coffee – Fri, Jul 10 Zarar Siddiqi
Jul 9, 15 Raptors Summer League Schedule: Kings, Bulls and Rockets Zarar Siddiqi
Jul 9, 15 VIDEO: Bruno Caboclo draining corner threes William Lou
Jul 9, 15 Who Would You Prefer As A Starter? forumcrew
Jul 9, 15 Notes and Quotes: Raptors Introduce DeMarre Carroll and Cory Joseph Zarar Siddiqi
Jul 9, 15 Dwane Casey got his players, now what can he do with them? William Lou
Jul 9, 15 Raptors Waive Luke Ridnour Zarar Siddiqi
Jul 9, 15 Post-moratorium Toronto Raptors salary cap and roster update Blake Murphy
Jul 9, 15 Talking Raptors Podcast, July 9 – Dedicated to Tom Sterner Nick Reynoldson
Jul 9, 15 Luis Scola signs reported 1-year, $3-million deal with Raptors William Lou
Jul 8, 15 Salary Cap Rises to $70 Million; Raptors Could Have $5M in Room Zarar Siddiqi
Jul 8, 15 Sonny Weems is BACK! (With Suns) Tim W.
Jul 8, 15 Three realistic power forward options Kiyan Sobhani
Jul 8, 15 Jonas Valanciunas says he’s working on his quickness: ‘Not like slow center’ William Lou
Jul 8, 15 Three-Point Play: Examining The Raptors’ New Trio Michael Holian
Jul 7, 15 Raptors905 Hire Dan Tolzman as GM, Jesse Mermuys as Head Coach Zarar Siddiqi
Jul 7, 15 Who’s That Paul Pierce Type Veteran We Could Get? forumcrew
Jul 7, 15 DeMarre Carroll: “I’m the Black Kyle Korver” Zarar Siddiqi
Jul 7, 15 Luis Scola, Markieff Morris Out There; Terrence Ross Trade Value Zarar Siddiqi
Jul 6, 15 Report: Raptors Interested in Corpse of Carlos Boozer Zarar Siddiqi
Jul 6, 15 Raptors Summer League Roster Announced Zarar Siddiqi
Jul 6, 15 Power Forward Prospects forumcrew
Jul 6, 15 Raptors Weekly Podcast, July 6 – Greeting DeMarre, Courting LaMarcus, and Grieving Amir William Lou
Jul 5, 15 Cory Joseph to sign reported 4-year, $30-million deal with Raptors Zarar Siddiqi
Jul 5, 15 Report: Spurs withdraw qualifying offer for Cory Joseph, Raptors expected to ‘kick the tires’ William Lou
Jul 5, 15 Lou Williams signs with the Lakers, Raptors’ bench looks questionable William Lou
Jul 4, 15 Raptors ink Bismack Biyombo to a cheap, short-term deal Sam Holako
Jul 3, 15 News and Rumors: Raptors sign Delon Wright, linked to Will Bynum William Lou
Jul 3, 15 Greivis Vasquez thanks fans in classy farewell letter William Lou
Jul 3, 15 Why the Raptors will never win the bidding wars Andrew Thompson
Jul 3, 15 Report: Dallas Sign Wesley Matthews, Ending Raptors Pursuit Zarar Siddiqi
Jul 2, 15 DeMarre Carroll: “I play with a log on my shoulder” Zarar Siddiqi
Jul 2, 15 Kings Join Wesley Matthews Race; Mavs Think DeAndre Jordan is Key Zarar Siddiqi
Jul 2, 15 An ode, a few parables and a heartfelt thank you to unsung hero Amir Johnson William Lou
Jul 2, 15 Report: LaMarcus Aldridge Unlikely to Choose Raptors Despite Meeting Going ‘Well’ Zarar Siddiqi
Jul 2, 15 Moving Forward in Free Agency With Trust Matt Shantz
Jul 1, 15 Let’s get weird: Raptors ‘locked in battle’ for Wes Matthews, and why I’m on board Blake Murphy
Jul 1, 15 DeMarre Carroll: Raptors promised larger offensive role Blake Murphy
Jul 1, 15 Free Agency Opening Night Live Blog, Q&A Blake Murphy
Jul 1, 15 Goodbye Amir! forumcrew
Jul 1, 15 BREAKING: Amir Johnson Signs with Celtics Zarar Siddiqi
Jul 1, 15 Early Analysis of DeMarre Carroll Signing Zarar Siddiqi
Jul 1, 15 ALL THE SOURCES: Raptors Meeting with Wes Matthews Zarar Siddiqi
Jul 1, 15 Report: Raptors to renounce rights to Amir Johnson Kiyan Sobhani
Jul 1, 15 Welcome DeMarre Carroll forumcrew
Jul 1, 15 BREAKING: Raptors sign DeMarre Carroll Scott Hastie
Jul 1, 15 Canada Day Vibes: Raptors’ Road To Redemption Michael Holian
Jun 30, 15 LaMarcus Aldridge would be one of the best signings in franchise history Kiyan Sobhani
Jun 30, 15 Report: Raptors Hire Jerry Stackhouse as Assistant Coach Zarar Siddiqi
Jun 30, 15 BREAKING: Thunder Trade Luke Ridnour to Toronto Zarar Siddiqi
Jun 30, 15 Can Raptors Recruit LaMarcus Aldridge ? forumcrew
Jun 30, 15 Report: Wes Matthews drawing interest from Raptors William Lou
Jun 29, 15 Report: Bismack Biyombo on Raptors Radar Zarar Siddiqi
Jun 29, 15 Raptors extend qualifying offer to Nando De Colo William Lou
Jun 29, 15 Report: Raptors to meet with LaMarcus Aldridge William Lou
Jun 29, 15 Raptors to hire Rex Kalamian as assistant coach Kiyan Sobhani
Jun 29, 15 Raptors Weekly Podcast, June 29 – Offer Sheets For Everyone Zarar Siddiqi
Jun 28, 15 Raptors905 Press Release and Logo Leaked; Looks Better Than Raptors Logo Zarar Siddiqi
Jun 28, 15 Report: Raptors Interested in 6’9″ SF Al-Farouq Aminu Zarar Siddiqi
Jun 28, 15 No Matter What DeMar DeRozan Makes, the Questions Remain the Same Zarar Siddiqi
Jun 27, 15 Report: “Whispers circulate” that DeMar DeRozan will seek max deal (worth $25.3 million) next summer William Lou
Jun 27, 15 So what was Greivis Vasquez all about? Zarar Siddiqi
Jun 26, 15 Who’s Delon Wright? forumcrew
Jun 26, 15 Ujiri makes “Wright” decision as Raptors build with flexibility in mind William Lou
Jun 26, 15 Raptors Select 6’4″ UCLA Senior SG Norman Powell with 46th Pick Zarar Siddiqi
Jun 25, 15 Quotes: Dwane Casey on Delon Wright – “It was unanimous” Zarar Siddiqi
Jun 25, 15 BREAKING: Toronto Raptors Select Delon Wright with 20th Pick Zarar Siddiqi
Jun 25, 15 BREAKING: Greivis Vasquez Traded to Bucks For Future 1st and 2015 2nd Round Pick Zarar Siddiqi
Jun 25, 15 We Think The Raptors Will Draft One of These Four Players Tonight Zarar Siddiqi
Jun 25, 15 The Doctor Is In – Pre-Draft Podcast – What Should the Raptors do? Steve Gennaro
Jun 24, 15 Report: Raptors secure D-League team for next season; will be named ‘Raptors905′ William Lou
Jun 24, 15 A look back on a week of rumours heading into tomorrow’s draft Kiyan Sobhani
Jun 23, 15 Ujiri speaks: ‘We’re open for business,’ D-League, second-round picks, ‘Greivis says a lot of things’ William Lou
Jun 23, 15 Report: Raptors pursuing Rex Kalamian, Andy Greer for assistant vacancies William Lou
Jun 22, 15 Report: Timberwolves, Rockets interested in Greivis Vasquez William Lou
Jun 22, 15 Raptors Weekly Podcast, June 21 – Live at Summer Slam Zarar Siddiqi
Jun 21, 15 Weekend 3-on-2: Learning from the Warriors, the sky isn’t falling and mysterious Bruno William Lou
Jun 20, 15 Five Things the Raptors Could do with the 20th Pick in the 2015 NBA Draft Zarar Siddiqi
Jun 18, 15 Three Low Key Unrestricted Free Agents That Could Help Zarar Siddiqi
Jun 17, 15 Report: Kings, Lakers, Knicks and Nets to Pursue Lou Williams Zarar Siddiqi
Jun 17, 15 Dwane Casey: “The day of the centers has gone by”, and what it means for Jonas Valanciunas William Lou
Jun 16, 15 Casey On Board With Small Ball Philosophy of the NBA Finals forumcrew
Jun 16, 15 Interview with 2016 Draft Prospect George Lucas de Paula Matt Shantz
Jun 15, 15 Report: Spanish national team head coach Sergio Scariolo turns down Raptors’ assistant offer William Lou
Jun 15, 15 Raptors Weekly Podcast, June 15 – TSN = Tom Sterner Network Zarar Siddiqi
Jun 12, 15 Tom Sterner Breaks Silence; Says Nice Things Zarar Siddiqi
Jun 12, 15 The Doctor Is In Podcast, June 11 – Happy Happy, Joy Joy Steve Gennaro
Jun 11, 15 Remember Tyrus Thomas? He’s on the Raptors Now, Sort Of Zarar Siddiqi
Jun 11, 15 Raptors need to build and develop with ‘playoff basketball’ in mind William Lou
Jun 10, 15 For Those Who Want To Keep Our Core And Add To It forumcrew
Jun 10, 15 Revisiting the Season: The Worst Games of 2014-15 William Lou
Jun 9, 15 Dwane Casey speaks: ‘I wasn’t worried about my job, never have been, never will be’ William Lou
Jun 9, 15 Revisiting the Season: The Best Games of 2014-15 William Lou
Jun 8, 15 Raptors Weekly Podcast, June 8 – JV Over Tristan All Day Zarar Siddiqi
Jun 5, 15 Raptors to possibly add Jerry Stackhouse to coaching staff Kiyan Sobhani
Jun 5, 15 Are Raptor Fans Too Willing To Settle? Tim W.
Jun 4, 15 Raptors Offseason Primer: Cap, Assets, more Blake Murphy
Jun 3, 15 The Dr Is In Podcast, June 3 – Weighing in on DeMar Steve Gennaro
Jun 2, 15 Tom Thibodeau’s Available…Just Sayin’ Zarar Siddiqi
Jun 1, 15 Raptors Weekly Podcast, June 1 – Would you trade DeMar DeRozan for _______? Zarar Siddiqi
May 29, 15 Weekend 3-on-2: Free agency, D-League affiliate, Thibodeau, Williams and AmirTV William Lou
May 29, 15 There has never been a better time to rebuild than right now. forumcrew
May 27, 15 Raptors D-League Team to be Based out of GTA in Upcoming Season Zarar Siddiqi
May 27, 15 Pictures: NBA and Raptors Unveil Toronto 2016 All-Star Logo Zarar Siddiqi
May 27, 15 3 Things Jonas Valanciunas needs to work on this summer William Lou
May 26, 15 Freestyle Raps: Featuring Tristan Thompson Michael Holian
May 25, 15 What will be Masai’s next move? forumcrew
May 25, 15 Raptors Weekly Podcast, May 25 – You’re Too Damn Cool Zarar Siddiqi
May 23, 15 Terrence Ross undergoes surgery to remove bone spurs from left ankle William Lou
May 23, 15 The Raptors Are NOT Young forumcrew
May 22, 15 Report: MLSE to Appoint John Cassaday as Tim Leiweke’s Successor Zarar Siddiqi
May 22, 15 The Doctor Is In Podcast, May 22 – Live Mock Draft Steve Gennaro
May 21, 15 An early look at draft prospects available around No. 20 Blake Murphy
May 20, 15 Video: A Tribute to Tom Sterner #Memories #Love Zarar Siddiqi
May 20, 15 Should the Raptors Give the DeRozan/Lowry Combo Another Shot? Zarar Siddiqi
May 19, 15 Raptors Make Terrible Mistake By Firing Tom Sterner … forumcrew
May 18, 15 Raptors Fire Assistant Coach Tom Sterner Zarar Siddiqi
May 18, 15 Raptors Fire Assistant Coach Bill Bayno Zarar Siddiqi
May 18, 15 Raptors Weekly Podcast, May 18 – “That wasn’t us” Zarar Siddiqi
May 17, 15 Weekend Mailbag: Williams, Casey, offseason moves and how we treat athletes William Lou
May 16, 15 Q&A With Jack Armstrong Kiyan Sobhani
May 15, 15 Terrence Ross’ Rant forumcrew
May 15, 15 Three Raptors with NBA Futures That Will Likely Change RR
May 14, 15 Report: Raptors pursuing Monty Williams for assistant head coach William Lou
May 14, 15 The Real Raptors Big Board + The Dr Is In Podcast, May 14 Steve Gennaro
May 14, 15 Casey’s Return, and What it Means for Kyle Lowry Matt Shantz
May 14, 15 Morning Coffee – Thu, May 14 Sam Holako
May 13, 15 Potential explanation for retaining Dwane Casey: Toronto is not a great destination William Lou
May 13, 15 Dwane Casey’s returning for a 5th season a justifiable hold Blake Murphy
May 12, 15 Report: Raptors to Fire Assistant Coaches; Retain Dwane Casey (Update: Snitch in Locker-Room) Zarar Siddiqi
May 12, 15 Potential Trade Targets Tim W.
May 11, 15 Terrence Ross Calls out Fake Raptors “Fans”; Urges Them to Remember Sorry History Zarar Siddiqi
May 11, 15 Raptors Weekly Podcast, May 11 – It’s Langston Galloway’s Fault Zarar Siddiqi
May 10, 15 What Happened? (Raptors Offense) forumcrew
May 10, 15 O former Raptors, where are thou? William Lou
May 9, 15 A Case for Retaining Dwane Casey Zarar Siddiqi
May 8, 15 Raptors at a crossroads with DeMar DeRozan William Lou
May 8, 15 Raptors Weekly Extra Podcast – Checking in on DeAndre Daniels Zarar Siddiqi
May 7, 15 Trade, Keep, Release (Part 2) Tim W.
May 6, 15 Why are Raptors fans so quick to turn on Kyle Lowry? William Lou
May 6, 15 Trade, Keep, Release (Part 1) Tim W.
May 6, 15 Morning Coffee – Wed, May 6 Sam Holako
May 5, 15 Masai Ujiri’s Honeymoon Period Over; Time to do Some Work Zarar Siddiqi
May 4, 15 Raptors Weekly Podcast, May 3 – Humblebragging Zarar Siddiqi
May 2, 15 It’s Not Just the Raptors Who Ponder Jonas Valanciunas’ Future Zarar Siddiqi
May 1, 15 The Doctor Is In Podcast, May 1 – Six Degrees of Masai Ujiri Steve Gennaro
May 1, 15 Jack Armstrong on Kyle Lowry forumcrew
May 1, 15 The balance of change and continuity moving forward Kiyan Sobhani
May 1, 15 Morning Coffee – Fri, May 1 Sam Holako
Apr 30, 15 Raptors’ planned foray into D-League an overdue necessity Blake Murphy
Apr 30, 15 The Silver Lining Tim W.
Apr 29, 15 Playoff Sweep Ruins Ujiri’s Pitch To Free Agents Tim Chisholm
Apr 29, 15 What happens this off-season? (Bragging Rights Edition) forumcrew
Apr 29, 15 Wednesday talking point: Wither thou, Kyle Lowry? Garrett Hinchey
Apr 29, 15 Morning Coffee – Wed, Apr 29 Sam Holako
Apr 28, 15 A Letter to the Raptors forumcrew
Apr 28, 15 Masai Ujiri media session: Mum on Casey, no knee-jerk reactions, confidence in Lowry William Lou
Apr 28, 15 The most important question for the offseason: Who are the Raptors? William Lou
Apr 28, 15 Ujiri: Raptors Approved to buy D-League Team; Could Happen for 2015-16 Zarar Siddiqi
Apr 28, 15 More Quotes – Things Have Gotten Messy In A Hurry Ryan McNeill

The new-look, small-ball, defensive-minded team that Ujiri has been constructing this off-season now has the bench crew to give Casey the support he lacked during the playoffs.

Most notable, Rex Kalamian, who is coming off six seasons with the Thunder (the last two as lead assistant). Having been part of OKC’s great run the last few years, he brings credibility and understanding of what a winning program looks like. If nothing else, having had worked with the likes of Durant, Westbrook, Ibaka et al, gives him instant credibility as an elite talent manager.

Andy Greer spent the last 5 years under Thibodeau in Chicago, and is a known quantity to Casey from their time spent in Minnesota together. Defense? Yes! Offense? Probably not, but this team knows how to get buckets.

Jerry Stackhouse rounds out the bench, and brings with him an understanding of what it takes to make it in this league. 18 years as a player is nothing to shake a stick at; we can only hope that he can have an impact with the likes of Ross and Johnson, shaping some of the perceived (or real) problems that they have been manifesting over the last few seasons.

Ujiri has earned some time off IMO.

Full press release here:, here’s a Casey quote:

“I am pleased to add Rex, Andy and Jerry to our coaching staff,” said Casey. “They are established winners at the NBA level, and bring valuable experience and a passion for the game to our team.

“Together with Nick and Jama, we have a group that will challenge our players daily to improve and compete.”

With the August long weekend on deck, two things are certain. Many of us are contemplating whether to use a last minute excuse to book Friday off. I say go for it, most of us deserve an extended vacation. On the downside, the Civic Holiday also serves as a reminder that the dog days of the NBA offseason are in full swing. Here’s to all of us getting a chance to kick our feet up.

Each of these days off can work in our favour, though. Never being able to forget the way the season ended is one thing, but the slow process to something resembling forgiveness can be achieved.

The Draft, Free Agency, and Summer League have all provided a welcome boost to morale. Especially the play of Stormin’ Norman Powell, who so far has the makings of a potential steal at 46th overall. Yes, even with only Summer League action under his belt.

His jump-shot may be erratic, but a rookie with such a defensive mindset is a rare breed, and the separation created on offense he showcased in Vegas point to a bright future with this organization. The kid might even already provide the most hustle on this roster, that is unless K-Low wants back in the ring. Hey, stranger things have happened.

Now, the offseason noise has settled down, and with NBA TV back to running their Hardwood Classics and old-school dunk contests on the regular, addressing the upcoming season will only start to ring louder as we go. Where questions begin to translate into expectations.

Whether they’re justified or simply existing as hope is up for debate. So let’s start the conversation. Feel free to chime in, even if your favourite play is running the pick-and-Troll.

Leading off the Game Of Raps:

Raptors

Question: Will the DeMarre Carroll signing provide the needed domino effect?

Expectations: 

It’s difficult to say when we’ll be able to have a firm grip on what this reboot truly has to offer, at least as far as this season goes. It’s also hard not to let last season’s road trip reference point seep into the discussion. The back-half of the now infamous six-gamer, smack dab in the middle of winter, one that saw the Raps’ fortunes change for the worse. Let’s rehash the experience, as being a glutton for punishment is in our sports blood.

We all remember game 32 in Portland, where Toronto owned a shiny 25-6 record coming in. And to their credit, backed up the notion that they belonged in the NBA’s upper echelon with an all-out, overtime effort. Three days later, the armour began to crack, with Golden State providing the first reality check. Only to be followed up by a Phoenix dismantling. Not to mention the next 31 games after the fact, where 25-6 transformed into a 15-16 disappointment, and a team on the brink of losing its way.

I can’t pretend to sit on a throne here and act like I didn’t get caught up in the false hope, as I will admit that visions of an Eastern Conference Finals’ appearance got the best me before and after that battle with the Blazers.

What contributed to the Raptors’ downward slide? Well, how much time do you have? Injuries, strength of schedule, and the inability to incorporate the frontcourt into the grand scheme (though a scheme without a blueprint wasn’t so grand in the first place). Let’s see, what else can I harp on, oh yeah, the sloppy pick-and-rolls, random moments of actual crisp and unselfish ball movement that weren’t capitalized on, and to hop on the Tulowitzki train for a baseball reference regarding the defence: “Don’t give me this olé bullshit!”.

All of these factors help place blame. But what makes those faults tick? All signs point to a damaged culture and personalities butting heads. Well, in comes DeMarre Carroll, the acquisition who can only help facilitate a change.

With Carroll never surpassing 17 minutes per game throughout his tours in Memphis, Houston, Denver, and Utah, only to catapult close to the 33-mark with the Hawks, some would suggest that the results from Atlanta’s disciplined system won’t be seen in a vastly different environment. A valid consideration, and there will undoubtedly be an adjustment period. But where there’s a will, there’s a chance to flip the script.

How does Carroll stack up with those liabilities? As for fighting through injuries, look no further than playing through a buckling knee sprain in the postseason. How about his 6.1 boards Per 36 Minutes and 8.7 Per 100 Possessions while predominantly roaming the 3 and capable of moving to the 4 when needed. Which can only aid the Raps’ rebounding relief effort. The 100 possessions category also comes with 2.2 steals, and he can net them in a variety of ways. Then comes his steady and even increased 3-pointers made, as well as his 3-point percentage from the regular season to the playoffs (1.7 to 1.8 and .395 to .403). The perfect role player? I’d have to concur.

Carroll also directly effects JJ and PP, two players this fan base wanted to see receive a more sizeable role, and we seemingly have gotten our wish. Whether it’s by default over the size of DC’s contract making it difficult to find an upgrade at Power Forward is now a moot point. A rotation between the two with a little Louis Scola mixed in and DeMarre taking over when the matchup calls for it has the potential to hold the fort down at the 4.

Essentially, if you morphed Johnson and Patterson into one player, Carroll would assume the identity. His two-way presence might even rub off on Lowry and bring back his physical brand of basketball. But more on K-Low and his partner in crime in a bit.

This town lost a fan favourite in Amir, but you can pencil in Carroll as the next in line. All of a sudden DC being the team’s highest paid player doesn’t sound so weird. Well, it still kind of does. But it’s how Toronto has to operate if they want to employ anything more than a 4-seed squad with a first-round exit strategy.

Raptors

Question: Will JV and T-Ross finally cement their “core status” or continue to roam the fringe? 

Expectations:

Just when we think a corner is turned, we end up stressing over Valanciunas’ inability to mesh with the league’s new “small ball” direction. As for T-Ross, contributions from downtown are a nice distraction, but we’re left dwelling on his dwindling defensive prowess and extreme lack of assertiveness in the offensive set.

On the surface, both are considered to be part of this team’s core moving forward. Yet when you look at the new makeup and what may come as soon as next year, their potential has to be somewhat realized in short order for that to continue. Especially considering both have impending contract situations.

Ross’ preferential treatment needed to stop, compared to JV at least, as chance after chance has been given. I realize his ankle problems have been making the rounds, but the right move has been made moving him to the bench. The expectation is now for Ross to become Lou Williams’ replacement. How’d that role work out for not-so sweet Lou? Streaky scorers tend to have long careers, but also one that includes many stops along the way. I’m fine with Ross becoming the new stop-gap.

Regressing almost across the board in his Per 36’s doesn’t bode well either. A dip in points, steals, rebounds, free-throw attempts, free-throw %, and 3-pt %. All the while joining the decline party was his overall PER and true shooting percentage.

Optimism could be in order with the Raps’ new defensive mandate, however. It could spark something for the former above average wing defender, though optimism is known for clouding one’s judgement.

Back to JV, who despite his flaws remains a vital cog. He’s feeding the press what they want to hear. Working on a jump-shot, while attempting to improve his quickness, footwork, and predictability. Ok, i threw in that last one. True story, though.

There does come a point where if something is not woking, the current solution may be the problem. If JV can’t defend past the interior, or maintain the pace the Raps want to play at, it makes sense to send him to the bench in important situations. However, how are we ever going to see him evolve if he’s not given the opportunity to fail and learn from it. It’s an uphill climb, I get it, but as much as Toronto wants to emulate Golden State, the personnel doesn’t match the requirements.

Throw in the fact that the annual catch-22 rears its ugly head while attempting to mask one deficiency that only leaves another (on the glass) wide open to be picked apart by your opponent. You do all you can to keep up with a trending league, but at the same time, at least attempt to balance it out if what you employ calls for it.

Here’s two that could help the situation, if they can get out of their own way that is.

Raptors

Question: Are we about to witness K-Low and DeRozan transform into true leaders? 

Expectations:

Remember that time when this duo was closing in on comparisons to the Splash Brothers? Looks like “analysts” were a little to presumptuous on that one. Nevertheless, it’s fair to say this backcourt started to read their own press clippings. The only way all of these scenarios reach their pinnacle is when DeRozan and Lowry totally buy in to what Masai and company are trying to achieve.

Faith should still reside that they’ll reach at least the conversation of the elite once again, but more importantly, the next step in leadership. Motivating factors exist for each to boot. I wrote about Lowry recently in regards to the influx of new faces at his position, as being pushed could be exactly what he needs to turn back the clock. I tend to rip on Lowry more often than not, that’s just tough love, but I won’t stop reiterating his reckless running of the offense until his tendencies move more towards the team. A good starting point would be to stop begging for calls. The other team already scored in transition and you’re still talking shop with the ref?

K-Low: you had this city on lock, and it’s there to take back if you so choose. If you’re not careful, your trade watch part-two could become a thing.

DeRozan might truly hold the keys to this revival, though. His main incentive being monetary based. If fantasy sports has taught us anything, it’s a safe bet to go all in on player with a massive payday ahead of him. Those spurts throughout last year where DeMar took his game to the next level, even adding the title of precise ball distributor to his resume, may very well offer us some extended enjoyment this season. But as always, he’ll have to kick the habit of his ill advised mid-range game.

The trickle down effect on this franchise’s future is also at stake. Carroll’s structured attitude can only stretch so far, and the last thing Bruno and Bebe need is to continue to soak in the status-quo environment. Along with Wright and Powell, who both should see regular minutes as the season moves along.

If Toronto does find a way to answer these questions, meet the pressing expectations, and manages to silence their past, not only would the annual problem of drawing major Free Agents have a chance to be overcome, but DeRozan could start thinking that max-dollars isn’t an absolute necessity.

But then again, cash really does rule everything.

One last thing before I go:

Raptors

Question: Is this view awaiting your weekend arrival?

Expectations:

Crack an Old Style Pilsner for me when you get there.

Raptors, Nets or another team? Discuss

In today’s Grantland column, there’s an interesting note about Nicolas Batum and his desire to play in Toronto:

“Batum is an impending unrestricted free agent on a borderline playoff team, diving into an unprecedented cap frenzy in which two-dozen suitors could offer $20 million per season. Batum’s people have already made noise about how much Batum would like to play in Toronto, a city that appeals to his international roots, per several league sources. He is a flight risk, even though both Cho and Chad Buchanan, the team’s assistant GM, know Batum well from their days in Portland. “We are very comfortable given that Chad and Rich know Nic well,” Polk says.”

Batum was traded to the Hornets as Portland didn’t like their chances of re-signing him to an extension, and got whatever they could in return.  He’s set to make $13M this upcoming season, before lining himself up for a huge raise in the NBA’s increasing salary cap.  The Raptors could be able to make a play for him, but keep in mind they have their own free-agents to worry about, namely extending DeMar DeRozan and Jonas Valanciunas (Basketball Insiders Salary Page).

With DeMarre Carroll set to play a part at power forward, the versatile Frenchman, who is an excellent defender and a career 36% three-point shooter, could be a perfect fit for that small-ball we crave.

Update: some Twitter reaction from Batum denying, and Lowe insisting:

Masai Ujiri’s biggest move this summer was to acquire DeMarre Carroll, who will start in place of Terrence Ross at small forward. With Carroll onboard, four starting spots are spoken for: point guard, shooting guard, small forward and center.

That just leaves power forward, with no ideal candidate to fill the position. Luis Scola, Patrick Patterson and James Johnson — all best suited for backup positions — will split minutes at the four, while Carroll might sneak in for certain smallball lineups.

It’s unclear as to which player has the inside track. The team will likely use training camp and preseason as a tryout. But head coach Dwane Casey might have tipped his hand when he spoke about Patterson’s effectiveness off the bench.

“We still have Patrick Patterson who I feel is better coming off the bench, he gives us that firepower off the bench, the three-point shooting off the bench, the energy.”

Dwane Casey, via TSN Radio

There are some valid concerns with starting Patterson, starting with his ineffectiveness alongside Jonas Valanciunas. The Raptors conceded a defensive rating of 109.9 when the two shared the court last season, per NBA WOWY. That mark would have ranked dead-last in the NBA, barely nudging out the Minnesota Timberwolves who posted a 109.6 defensive rating.

I’m not entirely clear as to why the pairing rated so poorly on defense, but it likely starts with defensive rebounding. Patterson is a weak rebounder for his position and lineups featuring Patterson and Valanciunas grabbed 1.6 fewer rebounds per 100 possessions as compared to league average, per Basketball-Reference. Granted, a decline in rebounding was a common feature in most of Patterson’s lineups, but still, it was a problem.

Furthermore, Patterson’s greatest strength as a defender is his mobility, which made him a favorite in Casey’s scramble system. Patterson often closed games in favor of Valanciunas, as his ability to guard the perimeter and to switch was viewed as an asset alongside Amir Johnson (or even Tyler Hansbrough). Patterson posted a 107.5 defensive rating with Hansbrough and a 107.2 mark with Johnson. By no means are those numbers pretty, but it wasn’t unbearably awful as Patterson’s work with the plodding Valanciunas.

The argument can also be made that keeping Patterson on the bench could lend continuity to a substantially revamped second unit. Ujiri parted with several key bench pieces this summer, with Hansbrough, Greivis Vasquez and Lou Williams changing jerseys. That leaves Patterson and James Johnson — two underused options from last season — as the only holdovers. The Raptors’ bench was a huge component of their success last season and keeping Patterson to maintain a shred of continuity has merit.

The bench could also use Patterson’s offense. Aside from Ross, there won’t be much shooting on the Raptors’ bench. Putting Patterson on the court would suck a big from the paint, opening up lanes for Johnson and Cory Joseph to slash to the hoop. Granted, some of these problems could be solved by staggering Lowry and DeRozan’s minutes, while avoiding all-bench units, but Casey has shown favor towards hockey-style lineup changes.hi-res-72ee3a00863dd94741ee880dbba65b25_crop_north

Having said all that, Patterson should still get the first crack at starting.

Pairing Valanciunas with Patterson was unbearable on defense last season, but that could change. Both Ujiri and Casey have spoken about changing up the defensive scheme to accommodate Valanciunas. Employing a system that requires less rotations and more time in the paint for Valanciunas would go a long way. The Raptors signed longtime Bulls assistant Andy Greer (who made his bones under Tom Thibodeau) to run the defense, which presumably means a change from scrambling to ICEing pick-and-rolls. On Valanciunas’s end, he’s working on improving his quickness, which will help him improve on defense regardless of schemes.

Rebounding should also improve. Carroll is miles better than Ross on the boards, which should help offset Patterson’s deficiencies. Carroll gives the Raptors four plus-rebounders in the starting unit, which would easily cover for any drop-off from Patterson.

The Raptors also don’t have a better defender to pair with Valanciunas. Johnson and Scola are both imperfect options as well. Scola is very smart and is a master of verticality (only being able to jump 10 inches helps with that), but he’s painfully slow and can’t block shots. Johnson gambles too much on defense, which would increase the defensive burden on Valanciunas to cover up for mistakes, when what he needs is the opposite.

However, unlike Scola or Patterson, starting Patterson would translate to a huge boon for the Raptors’ offense.

As a function of starting both Valanciunas and DeRozan, the Raptors sorely lack spacing. Patterson would give the Raptors three floor-spacers on the court, unleashing a dangerous pick-and-roll attack with Valanciunas serving as the roll man. Patterson can pull a big away from the basket, greasing the wheels for DeRozan’s drives and Valanciunas’s rolls.

Since the Rudy Gay trade, the Raptors have posted a sterling offensive rating of 113.4 with Patterson on the floor. As expected, Patterson’s shooting has the greatest effect on frontcourt players. Valanciunas has posted a true-shooting percentage of 59.7 with Patterson. Amir Johnson bumped his mark to 64.9 percent. Even Tyler Hansbrough notched a mark of 59.7 with Patterson.

image

(Source: NBA WOWY)

There’s also the point about the Raptors’ future. Patterson is 26 and likely near his prime, but he represents the Raptors’ best long-term solution at power forward. Scola signed a one-year deal to fill a need and Johnson is on an expiring deal. Patterson might not be perfect, but at least he has a chance to become a mainstay.

Altogether, starting Patterson is no slam dunk, but in lieu of a better candidate, the starting power forward position should be Patterson’s job to lose. It’s not a perfect solution, but he’s the Raptors’ most talented power forward and that’s the job of the coaching staff — to make it all work.

https://instagram.com/p/3t-ZXVpw0Y/?taken-by=jvalanciunas

It’s a solo show as we replay key Raptors talk from the recent Grantland podcast, and tackle low and high-hanging organic fruit in a short but packed podcast.

Topics:

  • Team Canada Basketball talk
  • Zach Lowe and Jared Dudley
  • Small ball talk
  • Power forward position
  • Everybody sees Valanciunas’ importance
  • Organic growth
  • Importance of health
  • “Losing” Lou Williams and Greivis Vasquez
  • Corey Joseph money
  • Loss and acquisition of ball-handling
  • Ujiri and Casey with specific intent
  • Summer-time content
  • Ross talk in context of recent article
  • DeMarre Carroll – hustler with talent

Grab the iTunes feed or check us out on Stitcher on Android. There is also the plain old feed. You can also download the file (21:49, 21 MB). Or just listen below:

Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports
Ed’s Note: This article is written by Ian MacKinnon who puts on the infamous RR Prospect jacket and acknowledges that by posting this he opens himself up to praise and abuse from the Republic.

It’s not difficult to see the ways in which the fan base has grown tired of Terrence Ross. Scanning the comments section of this site, or reading the opinions of its writers, the narrative comes together quite easily. Dude has a resting grumpy face, lacks aggressiveness on the court, doesn’t take advantage of his wildly impressive athleticism (or hasn’t learned how to yet), and, very plainly, hasn’t been able to play up to the ‘D’ part, of being a 3-and-D wing. For a recent example of such criticism, check out the first half of Zarar’s podcast with Tim Chisholm, where they intellectually shit all over the former eighth overall pick.

But there are some things we’re not talking about.

In my opinion, it never seemed as if he was put in a position to succeed.  Met with groans on draft night, the fan base treated him as if he was Rafael Araujo, as we watched Andre Drummond slide by just like Andre Iguodala had years ago. The parallels between those two situations were glaring from the beginning. I thought the pick didn’t make sense for other reasons.

Terrence Ross is a shooting guard and one look at his wiry, slight frame suggested he was always going to be better suited to guarding 1’s and 2’s, as opposed to 2’s and 3’s. Except, when we drafted him we already had a defensively limited off-guard in DeRozan, who despite obvious effort and improvement from season to season, never projected as someone big enough or laterally quick enough to guard a position other than the two. Not to mention, despite Ross’s three point shot, and DeRozan’s funky mid-range, foul-baiting game, not much ever separated their physical profile and abilities.  Both have shown ball handling and passing/court vision weaknesses, both are dunkers who excel on the break, and both were sold as athletic and raw, high ceiling prospects. From the beginning, it seemed like the pick was redundant.

A few years later, and our collective patience has almost run out with the 24-year old role player. We’ve seen what he has to offer and been there to watch his pull-up jumper get blocked time and time again. I practically scream at the television in these moments, thinking, ‘Doesn’t he know he needs to have a quicker release if he’s going to shoot in traffic?’

As a slasher, with the ball or without, I’ve only seen him be successful in transition, and along the baseline, the latter of which he’s shown the capability to succeed off of back door cuts, rising up for alley-oops or reverse dunks. His ball handling is very suspect, he has no shake, no change of pace, and he struggles to navigate against physical contact. He also doesn’t get to the free throw line, which is where DeRozan makes a living. These are pretty much things we’ve all been talking about for a while now.

The one thing I refuse to cite as a negative though, is his social media presence; I understand that people generally have no sympathy for professional athletes when they appear childish, I on the other hand am fighting for the side that says its okay for them to act like they’re human every once in awhile.

It’s very clear, he’s our scapegoat.

Every team needs a scapegoat, and he’s ours. It’s a tough role, but it’s actually a necessary one. David Lee was the Golden State Warriors scapegoat last year, Chris Bosh was the scapegoat for some of those Miami teams, J.R. Smith has spent time scapegoating just about everywhere he’s been. While it’s easy to hate, we shouldn’t forget that these ‘types’ of players, Terrence Ross included, still have a potent skill set when on the court.

One look at his basketball reference page, and you can see there are some nice stats.  Specifically PER36, for his career, Ross has made 2.4 trey’s per game at a .373 percent clip. Those are very good numbers. What I’m saying is that we shouldn’t boo him off the court. He’s still battling with Patrick Patterson for the position of team’s best shooter and the space he creates on offence is needed.

Not to mention, and stay with me here, I think Terrence Ross would come back to haunt us if he were traded; If I’m Danny Ainge or Sam Hinkie, or maybe even Daryl Morey, I’m licking my lips at the chance of Terrence Ross. I’d take a glimpse at the resume, make note of the dunk contest and the 51-point game, and see that he’s a shooter whose been playing in a system not suited to his strengths. He seems like he could be a good candidate to rebound elsewhere.

There are grumblings about him being a sour puss, a locker room wart, but it’s hard to know what to make of that. There are also no clear off the court problems in the typical domestic assault, substance abuse vein. I’d wager that there are at least a few GM’s willing to bet that if he was asked to play his actual position, in a pace and space offence, he might find more success offensively, which could lead to less distractions and more focus on the defensive end. Not to mention he’s also maintained his health his whole career, and he’s still just twenty-four, with room still left to work out the kinks. Doesn’t he sound like the type of player who would get traded and come back to haunt us?

I’m not sure what to make of him this upcoming season. Dwane Casey has mentioned that he’ll look for Terrence Ross to reprise a bit of Lou Williams’ role from last season as a bench scorer, although that makes very little sense. There is one thing that I am sure of though, and it’s that we’re coming up to the crucial point, the deciding line that will tell the rest of his future with the club. It doesn’t look very promising as he’ll likely be asked to be more productive with less opportunity, but don’t preclude him from success just yet.

(Just look at it, it’s real, you can see it, you’re allowed to dream it can happen again)

On a completely unrelated note, I had the good pleasure of watching in-person our Canadian Men’s basketball team win 96-76 against Mexico Thursday night in the preliminary round of the Pan Am games. Here are some observations:

  • Sim Bhullar is almost comedic on the court in his huffing and puffing. His hands were on his hips for most of the game, and he was a step slow almost everywhere on the court. He has a lot of work to do physically if he wants to get into the league.
  • Jamal Murray impressed, showing great handles, passing awareness and offensive instincts. He’s long and athletic, and has size for his position. Although, his shot release is low near his chin and he showed hesitancy attacking left when there were open lanes to do so.
  • Brady Heslip is a talented offensive player and showed a lot of polish, I hope he sees a ten-day somewhere this season.
  • Anthony Bennett and Andrew Nicholson both played well, but I wasn’t particularly wowed by either. I was expecting more from Bennett.

From Sportsnet:

Tim Leiweke will continue his current role as president and CEO of MLSE for up to another year until a successor is found, according to Sportsnet’s Bob McCown.

“I am told that [Leiweke] will remain with Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment for one more year in the absence of finding anybody suitable to take his place,” McCown said Friday on Prime Time Sports on Sportsnet 590 The Fan.

When reached for comment, MLSE did not immediately respond.

There is nothing official about this report of course – unfortunately. Even if it’s true, Leiweke’s departure is imminent.

For Raptor fans, the longer Leiweke stays, the better. The franchise has prospered under Leiweke’s watch. In his brief stint, he’s shifted TFC, the Leafs, and the Raptors into stable and promising positions with big hires at the management level. On top of that, he’s successfully re-branded the Raptors – making Toronto a bigger destination for free agents, and has also landed the all-star game in 2016.

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images North America

First up, a little awareness and ask for help for a solid basketball program being run in high-need communities in Toronto. Do us a favor and help if you can.

The hopes of the Raptors wing defense rely on DeMarre Carroll, so I thought for this morning’s edition of “what to write since it’s the off-season but we do run a Raptors site so people need something to read while they browse their phone on the bus”, I thought we take a look at some ways Carroll can influence the game by getting steals a variety of ways.

Quick hands

Here it’s about quick hands. He’s pressuring the guard at the top and playing a good angle while obstructing the pass back out to the weak side. He reads that the point guard is about to lift his hand to pass and raises an arm with the hopes of getting a steal. It pays off. Many times it doesn’t but this is the advantage of having active hands and never stopping to play defense.

Recognition of opponent

Here’s some good ‘ol recognition of who’s dribbling the ball. He sees Gortat messing about with a high dribble, and dumps down quickly to get the steal. The nuance of this play is that he’s also making the passing lane for Gortat back out to Pierce difficult. If he aggressively doubles, Gortat just picks up the ball and passes it to Pierce. Instead, Carroll’s only ‘showing’ the double which baits Gortat into dribbling some more, and that’s when he attacks:

Backcourt pressure

Here’s some situational awareness where Indiana’s just too casually bringing up the ball. Carroll sees that the guard isn’t really looking behind him and blindsides him with the steal. Indiana players should’ve probably called and helped their teammate out, but they didn’t and Carroll takes advantage:

Helping others

Carroll has deceptively long arms, and in this GIF you see how easily he picks off the intended pass to the big. Granted, it’s not the best pass in the world but the fact that Carroll didn’t just stick with his man on the perimeter, but actually helped his teammates by dropping down is what the point here is.

Pressure up top

Here’s one where he’s guarding pressuring LeBron James up top into a mistake. He forces him to pick up the dribble in hopes of relieving pressure by making a pass, and is right up on him to get the steal:

Post-defense against bigs

Here’s Carroll in the post being backed down and recognizing that he’s got a size disadvantage. He uses those long arms to poke it out from behind. This play shows his versatility and how you don’t have to worry about him if he gets pinned by a big, because he’s got enough size and smarts to come away unscathed in most such situations.

That’s it from me today!

Dwane Casey’s got to have a couple conversations stat. Like, sign into his hotmail account ([email protected]) and send some meeting invites.

First, he’s got to bring James Johnson into the fold. This relationship is teetering right now and the only reason it hasn’t blown up is because James Johnson happened to have found Jesus a few years back and has learned to keep it cool. They have to clear the air man-to-man, not just have a contrived version of the father-son talk, but talk. Starting off, Casey’s needs to straight-up tell James Johnson that he screwed up. Acknowledge the mistakes of last year, whether it be refusing to matchup in key moments, or just benching the swingman altogether. Just come out and say that things weren’t executed properly and not handled right, and that Casey just spoke too openly about James Johnson’s perceived flaws.

At this point, James Johnson will rub his cross, stand up, and give Casey a hug. A single tear will run down Casey’s left cheek and a new relationship will form. All is forgiven, let’s move forward.

Up next, hit up Kyle Lowry on Twitter and see if he responds. If he does, ask for a follow so you can DM him and set up a brohim-to-brohim meeting at a public place like the Harbourfront (you never risk these things getting out of hand, and there’s safety in numbers). With Lowry, you can’t just lead directly into the main topic, you have to beat around the bush and then hit him hard. Start with some small talk about how over-priced that CN Tower Walk is, how some streets really shouldn’t be one way, and lament about the Toronto housing market, and then bring up the main point of discussion. Kind of like:

Casey: “Isn’t it crazy that that 18ftx60ft house costs $1.2M and it doesn’t even have a room?”

Lowry: “True, coach,, I don’t even know how people afford houses anymore”

Casey: “You need to stop gambling on defense.”

Ice. Broken. Now’s the time to sit on that park bench, hold his hand, and tell him that you need him to pay attention on defense, and that he doesn’t have cart blance to play free safety, because that hurts the team. Explain to him that he’s one of guys that needs to stay home because the team already has two sub-par defenders in the starting lineup, and that if he goes rogue, all hell breaks loose.

Lowry: “But, but coach…the housing market..”

Casey: “Hell with the housing market. We’re talking defense”.

Explain to him that he’s the leader of this team no matter what, and that he’s got to lead by example by 1) staying disciplined and not complaining to the refs constantly, 2) sticking to the plan on defense, and 3) picking your spots to dominate and preserving energy.

In every relationship, openness is key. And this is where Casey will open up about how he didn’t take care of Lowry’s minutes last season, and didn’t manage the injury well, and that it’ll never happen again. Simple heartfelt apology while maintaining eye contact and holding hands. Lowry will do the same. That’s all. Air cleared.

After having dealt with one star player, Casey will surprise DeMar DeRozan at the Drew League. “DeMar, can we grab a some Baskin Robbins after the game?” “Sure thing, coach, cotton candy flavour for me all the way”.

As you’re driving to Baskin Robbins, take a sharp turn and hit the highway, drive for 80 miles in absolute silence without responding to DeRozan’s pleas for mercy. Pull into a deep wooded area, open up the trunk and get out the laptop with video fo DeRozan being shut down by a half-decent wing. DeRozan won’t watch at first, but after a while he’ll realize that there’s nothing else to do in this swampland than watch the video.

As they watch in silence, Casey’s hand once again reaches for DeRozan, and softly utters, “See what I mean?” DeRozan won’t respond, but will nod. More video is watched and finally DeRozan speaks and says, “But coach, you designed these plays where I took a 22 footer with a guy draped all over me, am I really to blame?”

Moment of truth.

Casey proceed to admit that the plays weren’t great, but that DeRozan didn’t help matters by doing what the defense wanted them to do. They talk openly, blame stuff on Lou Williams and agree that next year it’s going to be different: DeRozan will give a shit on defense, and will improve enough to shed defenders instead of taking bad shots. Casey will agree to design more motion heavy plays that have DeRozan catch the ball in positions of advantage instead of having it all to do. As they’re heading back to the car, Casey pauses, takes out a blue cooler from the trunk, opens it and gives a cotton candy ice cream to DeRozan. This is how friendships are formed.

Finally, it’s onto Terrence Ross and a simple text will do here: “Your ass better be in shape and ready to go come training camp or you’ll be playing 40 minutes for Raptors905 next season”.

Kyle Lowry looks a little out of shape, everyone’s uncomfortably ignoring it. Dwane, you concerned? “Nah, he hides his muscles well *smiles nervously*”.

Jonas Valanciunas lean as hell after playing in Europe, there’s talk of a bigger role on offense. Coach, is Jonas going to get a bigger role? “The last guy to get off a potato truck doesn’t win the rodeo, and I’ve ridden some buses but that right there is a barn door”. #MakesNoSense, Next day Toronto Star headline: “Coach Casey has wise words for Valanciunas”

DeRozan’s been eating with his left foot all summer, nobody knows why but there’s talk of a wicked crossover in the arsenal. NOBODY SEEN IT. Being guarded by Norman Powell in practice and Powell cornered about it after, “Tell us Norman, have you seen this crossover?” Can only shake head and mutter expletives in way of response. Legend of crossover grows.

Terrence Ross been working on his drive game, says Carroll been mentoring him on D and shit. Fuckin’ right! First pre-season game, bright lights are on. Time to exorcise them demons. 0-8 FG. Benched in second quarter. Back to the drawing board.

Bruno Caboclo runs this town. Gets his name chanted at Dairy Queen. #MadeItInLife. Walks into movie theater. Free tickets. Strolls into Brass Rail. Upper Brass, son. DeAndre Daniels tries to tag along. Access denied.

Opening ceremony of #Raptors905. Hazel McCallion cuts the ribbon. “Where’s George Mikan at?” Not here, he long dead.

Reporter asking softball questions to Cory Joseph. “You excited about being back in Toronto?” “It’s an honor to be paid $7 million for being born in Pickering”.

Late October evening, no games. Where’s Bismack at? Nobody can find him. Driving Uber. “Yo man, I thought you in the NBA”. “For now. For now.”

Post-practice scrum. Everyone exhausted, sweating. James Johnson bone dry. “How so, James?” “Cannot get playing time in practice”. Casey, why that? “It’s a matchup thing”.

Rumor there’s a video of DeRozan’s crossover leaked on Instagram. #LeaguePassAlert! Grainy video surfaces of 20 pixels moving in the direction of 20 other pixels which form a rim if you look at it from the right angle. Crossover hype at peak levels.

Dwane Casey: “Luis Scola will be the starting PF”. Everyone scratching their head. Scola literally scratching head. Raptors.com softball interview, “Was Scola’s experience and maturity the reason you chose to start him, coach?” Casey: “There are guys who make hay with a haymaker, and there are guys who make hay with grind. We need a little bit of wind at the back and Scola’s got the lunch pail mentality of getting that dinner done quick” Next day Toronto Star headline: “Dwane Casey: Tactical Genius”

Valanciunas can now shoot threes. “He’s a modern-day Draymond Green”, says coach. Opening night. Valanciunas given 8 feet of space to shoot three. Fakes. Nobody moves. Fakes some more. Arena quiet as fuck. Takes two steps forward. Big problem, wasn’t dribbling. Turnover.

Kyle Lowry gambling on defense. RR Blogger: “He’s got to be more disciplined”. Posts screenshots of Lowry gambling. Pornhub tab visible in background. #Exposed

October 6th: Blake Murphy drops article of the century. 10,000 words, 40 GIFs, all kinds of graphs and shit. All about Ronald Roberts. October 7th: Ronald Roberts cut. October 8th: Blake Murphy: “It was worth it”.

Flashback to DeMarre Carroll, July 3rd, “Hopefully it’s not too cold up there”. Present day, October 18th: -26 with the windchill. “What the shit is this?” #WelcomeToCanada

Masai Ujiri took another flyer on a training camp player.

Kyser is a 6-foot-10 power forward who played four years at Louisiana Tech. This past season, Kyser averaged 12 points, nine rebounds and four (!!!) blocks per 40 minutes, while shooting 60.6 percent from the field, good for a PER of 20.7.

Based on his highlights, Kyser seems like a springy four who mostly traits in finishes around the basket. His size is less than ideal for a frontcourt player (only weighs 205 pounds) but it lends to him being extremely quick. As shown in the clip above, Kyser routinely sticks with players on the perimeter before engulfing shot attempts with a tremendous wingspan.

Kyser played in a limited capacity with the Raptors in summer league. He averaged 3.5 points and four rebounds in 14.5 minutes per game. That’s an incredibly small sample and I wouldn’t read anything into those numbers. The coaching staff probably liked what they saw out of Kyser in practices and decided to give him an extended look.

Given his contract, Kyser will likely battle Ronald Roberts for a chance to grab the 15th spot on the roster. Kyser and Roberts both fit the mold of hyperathletic undersized power forwards. Giving Kyser a partial guarantee (probably $25,000 like the Raptors gave Will Cherry last year) also likely sweetens the pot for Kyser to sign with the Raptors 905, although that’s pure speculation on my part. The Raptors also signed French swingman Axel Toupane to a partially guaranteed deal last week.

For more on Kyser, check out Draft Express.

Tim Chisholm joins the Rapcast to see if Norman Powell can beat out the already beaten down Terrence Ross for playing time.
(more…)

The Toronto Raptors' Bruno Caboclo dribbles the ball up the court against the Dallas Mavericks during an NBA summer league basketball game Monday, July 14, 2014, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

Trail Blazers 72, Raptors 64 — Box Score

Despite entering the playoffs as the top seed, the Toronto Raptors bowed out in their first elimination game on Thursday at the hands of Doug McDermott and the Chicago Bulls.

However, since Summer League is almost entirely set up for the purposes of development, the Raptors played yet another game on Friday, this time against the Portland Trail Blazers as part of a consolation bracket.

Both teams rested their key starters. The Trail Blazers sat breakout sensation Noah Vonleh and 35-year-old Keith Bogans among others, while the Raptors held out Delon Wright (hamstring), Norman Powell (already reached God status) and Ronald Roberts (hopefully working on his free throws).

What was left were the dregs. The game mostly featured a battle of third-string summer league invitees duking it out in front of a sparsely attended Thomas and Mack Center in Las Vegas. The few who did show up mostly came to watch Bruno Caboclo and Bebe Nogueira, who I’ll discuss shortly.

As for the game itself, the Raptors played solid defense, but struggled to generate offense in the halfcourt without Powell and Wright. The only capable floor general was Phil Scrubbs, who consistently made nice reads to keep the offense flowing. Toronto led for most of the game, but their offense dried up in the fourth quarter. They shot a ghastly 3-of-17 from the floor, including a sparkling 0-of-7 from deep. Their defense kept them in the game until the last minute, but Trail Blazers guard Andre Dawkins exploded for 12 points in the fourth, including a key triple to put his team up three. He finished as the game’s leading scorer with 24 points.

On to the Brazilians.

Bebe Nogueira

Statline: 4 points (2/3 FG), 7 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal, 1 block, 5 TO, 23 minutes

Bebe’s impact was bigger than what his modest statline suggested. He continued to shine as the Raptors’ interior defender. He showed good help instincts in rotating over and protecting the paint on drives, or when he had to make up for blow bys. He was out-muscled by Daniel Orton (who has a solid 30 pounds on Bebe), but was solid otherwise.

The most impressive aspect of Bebe’s game on Friday was his passing. He effectively operated as the Raptors’ high-post option, a role played by Amir Johnson in recent years. He made smart cuts off pick-and-rolls and swung the ball effectively to keep the offense moving. He had a strong grasp of how the offense worked and it led to some pretty dimes.

This one is my favorite. The Raptors run HORNS action, with an initial pick-and-roll. The swing comes to Bebe, who quickly reverses the court. He fluidly moves into a pick-and-roll, before spotting the Blazers’ trap. So, instead of screening for the ball in tight quarters, Bebe moves into open space, catches a nice bounce pass from Drew Crawford, which forces the Blazers’ big to step up. With that, Bebe fires a quick pass to his man in the dunker’s spot along the baseline.

The actual Raptors ran a lot of HORNS action with two bigs up top. Read more about that here.

Here’s another one of Bebe’s assists.

The impressive part of this play is Bebe’s ability to turn and face the defense, making a move and elevating, before throwing a dump-off in mid-air. It doesn’t look like a lot, but it takes a lot of dexterity, control and vision to make a play like this.

My overall impression of Bebe is the same as I had last year. I think he has shown enough ability to merit a chance at the rotation. He certainly still needs to work on his strength, but he’s a massive hurdle for opponents at the basket on defense and he can rebound quite effectively. Throw in his abilities in pick-and-roll scenarios, and a dash of passing vision, and Bebe could turn into something useful.

Bruno Caboclo

Statline: 12 points (4/16 FG, 2/12 3FG, 2/3 FT), 4 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal, 1 block, 2 TO, 31 minutes

Again, it’s a case where Bruno’s play looked better than his horrid shooting line would suggest. It was certainly an off-night with the jumper, but he showed some flashes.

First off, Bruno continues to wield an incredibly quick trigger finger. As soon as Bruno gets the ball, Bruno shoots the ball. It doesn’t matter if the defender is right in his face — if he catches the ball on the perimeter, the shot is going up. That’s why the statline looks so poor.

Quite frankly, I think it speaks to his unfamiliarity with basketball. Most of the time, the mental calculus for Bruno seems very linear, in that he understands how plays operate, but he doesn’t have the intuitive ability to salvage plays if they’re well defended by going to secondary options on the sets.

But there were some encouraging signs. He showed great awareness on this post-up play, as he catches his defender ball-watching. Bruno makes a backcut and finds himself an easy layup.

Here’s another encouraging sign. It looked somewhat awkward, but Bruno managed to push it all the way to the basket on a fast break using his shaky handles before getting to the basket with a slick lefty finish.

Bruno also busted out a nice Eurostep move, which led to some free throws.

Defensively, Bruno remains somewhat of a mess. He has trouble scaling around screens and sometimes gets beat off the dribble when he plays too close. He’s mostly fine when he sags off, which he can afford to thanks to his hilarious wingspan.

The above clip is a good example. Bruno shows great help instincts by showing help on the drive. But when the Trail Blazers guard finds a spot-up shooter on the perimeter, Bruno is somehow able to make an effective contest despite taking off with one foot inside the paint. The instincts may or may not come, but the length will definitely play.

With that, the Raptors wrap up Summer League with a 3-2 record. Things might have been different had Wright now tweaked a hamstring, but it’s a silly tournament anyway. What’s most important is that we caught a rare glimpse at Bruno and Bebe, while players like Powell and Wright were able to make strong first impressions on fans.

After a humbling and humiliating end to last season, the Toronto Raptors had two specific items on their agenda for the summer.

The first was to improve their defense, which ranked 25th in defensive rating. The second was to make a significant upgrade at a forward position, which saw too many listless performances from Terrence Ross at three and too few healthy games from Amir Johnson at four.

Enter: DeMarre Carroll

Flush with cap room, general manager Masai Ujiri spared no expense. He grabbed the best small forward on the market (LeBron James was never going anywhere) and he paid him handsomely. Carroll will receive $60 million over the next four seasons, an exponential raise his over his last contract worth $5 million over two years. After being the lone Atlanta Hawks starter to not make the All-Star game, Carroll now comes to Toronto as its highest-paid player.

There’s a reason why Ujiri bet big on Carroll. It’s rather obvious, actually. Carroll’s two-way game is exactly the type of player that the Raptors have been hoping to acquire for years. Carroll gives the Raptors an elite 3-and-D player, something the Raptors have lacked over the last 10 seasons. Seriously, look at the list of wings who played more than 1,000 minutes in a season over the last decade:

Alan Anderson, Landry Fields, Jorge Garbajosa, Rudy Gay, Joey Graham (x3), James Johnson (x2), Jason Kapono (x2), Linas Kleiza (x2), Jamario Moon (x2), Morris Peterson (x2), Hedo Turkoglu, Antoine Wright, Terrence Ross (x2)

Carroll brings an end to settling. Last season was all about having too many imperfect players leading to too many tradeoffs. Ross brough shooting but his defense was terrible and was too weak to guard bigger threes. James Johnson had the size to check bigger wings and was much more effective on defense, but he couldn’t shoot and clogged the floor. Carroll marries the best of both worlds.

Defensive prowess

Everyone credits the Hawks’ textbook offense for their 60-win performance, but their defense was just as strong (they ranked sixth in both offensive and defensive efficiency). And just as the Hawks didn’t have a go-to scorer to carry the offense, they also lacked an all-consuming rim-protector to anchor the defense. They relied on smarts and schemes to make it all work. Head coach Mike Budenholzer drilled discipline into his players and to their credit, his players executed to perfection.

There were two main shifts that proved to be integral in the creation of the Hawks we see today: first, a dedication to helping each other on both sides of the floor and second, good offense starts with better defense. The entire team has bought into these ideas, which has resulted in the transcendent play we’ve enjoyed on the court.

– Tony Papa, Peachtree Hoops:

Carroll was as close as the Hawks came to a defensive anchor. He drew the toughest wing assignments on a nightly basis. In the playoffs, Carroll checked Joe Johnson, John Wall, Paul Pierce and LeBron James. As Budenholzer described him, Carroll “set the tone” for the Hawks on defense.

We talk a lot about the only way we are going to be good is if we are good on both ends of the court. DeMarre really sets the tone for us defensively, gives us our spirit and our identity. I just think that end of the court isn’t appreciated enough, isn’t given enough accolades and attention. We’ve got a long way to go defensively, but where we are, he plays a huge role in that.

– Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer, from Chris Vivlamore of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Carroll represents the ideal combination size, quickness, strength, intelligence and tenacity as a defender. Standing at 6-foot-8, Carroll has quick feet to stay in front of guards, while having enough bulk to stand up smallball fours. He switches seamlessly and he has great instincts with when to provide help.

Since their bigs were undersized, the Hawks loved to send help from their wings. In the play below, Carroll rotates over to hand Paul Millsap a lifeline against a charging Marc Gasol, before rotating over to challenge Tony Allen’s shot off Gasol’s pass. Carroll then tips the ball to Kent Bazemore to spark the break.

(Courtesy: Peachtree Hoops)

Carroll has excellent awareness. He keeps his head on a swivel while surveying the defense. He doesn’t gamble for steals but when there’s an opportunity to pounce, Carroll is a terror in passing lanes. Here, Carroll carefully watches as the play develops. He’s in position to send help on Tim Duncan when Tiago Splitter first has the ball, but he resets to Danny Green, who drives into the teeth of the defense. Green is met by Millsap, who comes up to take away the lane. That coaxes a pass by Green, but Carroll makes an interception.

The second half of the clip depicts Carroll’s tenacity. The loose ball squirts to Green who somehow spots Kawhi Leonard in the corner. But before Leonard could get off a clean look, Carroll flies in from the paint, before Korver backs him up. Tenacity is a big part of Carroll’s effectiveness. He refuses to quit on plays. That’s why he carries around the moniker of “Junkyard Dog,” because he’s not shy of contact and he’ll straight-up maul opponents.

But it’s not just effort with Carroll. Technique, positioning and discipline play a huge part in Carroll’s success. Despite guarding the toughest wing assignments on a nightly basis, Carroll committed just 2.5 fouls per 36 minutes last season. Opponents also shot 4.3 percentage points worse on average on 3-pointers against Carroll. His mark ranked sixth-best in the NBA and easily beat out the Raptors’ wing corp.

Screenshot 2015-07-15 at 5.27.28 PM

Carroll will be asked to reprise the role of go-to stopper for the Raptors. Perimeter defense was a sore spot for Toronto last season, and while Carroll can’t fix that on his own, he gives the Raptors a player to check the best wing scorers in the league. No more Ross on Joe Johnson or Amir Johnson on Paul Pierce. That will be Carroll’s responsibility.

Offensive ability

Carroll knows his role. His number one priority is the defensive end. Play hard, fight for loose balls, create deflections, rotate on defense and everything else will take care of itself. After being humbled through his first few seasons in the league, Carroll came to understand his role, which was something like Bruce Bowen.

[Bruce Bowen] knew that was the way he was going to stick in the NBA, that was how he was going to play, that was how he was going to get paid. That was his ticket. No matter how you were raised, no matter how many 30-point games you had, at some point you have to figure out a way you are going to survive and get on the court. Some people, they figure it out and [learn] that is their best way to stick in the league and to play in the league and, hopefully, play on good teams in the league.

– Carroll, from Chris Vivlamore of the Albany Herald

No disrespect to Bowen, but the Raptors need a little more than that from Carroll. Bowen’s only move on offense was to make an open layup, or to shoot corner threes. He was certainly useful and helped the Spurs win three championships, but the Raptors need more production than that out of Carroll.

The Raptors pitched Carroll on a bigger role in the free agency process.

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

The Raptors’ pitch jives with something Budenholzer told Carroll earlier in the year. Coach Bud tweaked his offense to squeeze out a few more opportunities for Carroll. He received 43 frontcourt touches per 36 minutes rather than 39, while his usage rate increased (15.2 to 16.9 [nice]) despite the return of Al Horford. For Bud, it was about making Carroll more versatile.

I think I’ve gotten a lot better. I could see a lot of times in practice my game got a lot better. When coach [Budenholzer] brought me in he wanted to label me the Bruce Bowen guy. And now he’s switched it and wants me to be more like Kawhi [Leonard].

– Carroll, from Sekou Smith of NBA.com:

But Carroll’s role effectively stayed the same. He was the fifth option and he hardly ever had the ball. Over 70 percent of Carroll’s possessions came within the flow of the offense, either with spot-ups (34.9 percent), cuts (10.9) or in transition (25). Compare that to isolations, which comprised of just 2.5 percent of his possessions last season.

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It’s unclear as to how Carroll will adapt to playing in Toronto. The Hawks and Raptors were polar opposites in terms of sharing the ball. Atlanta ranked third in assist opportunities per game at 49.5, while the Raptors were dead last with 39. Certainly, Carroll will see some decline from the his sparkling numbers from last season, where he posted a true-shooting percentage of 60.3 while turning the ball over on just 9.3 percent of his possessions.

There won’t be many looks like this in the Raptors’ offense.

But that’s not to say Carroll can’t shoulder a bigger role on the offense. For one, Carroll will now become the Raptors’ go-to spot-up option. With the Hawks, the first choice was always to find Kyle Korver, but that made sense given Korver’s superhuman accuracy. But Carroll was pretty good at spotting up last season, scoring 1.18 points per possessions, which ranked him in the 91st percentile.

Here’s an example of Carroll being looked off. Millsap grabs a steal and starts a fast break before hitting Jeff Teague. The obvious pass is to Carroll wide-open on the wing, but Teague never even looked his way. Instead, he finds a trailing Korver.

In Toronto, Carroll will play the role of “Black Kyle Korver,” while operating in many of Terrence Ross’s go-to sets. That’s how Carroll will increase his role. He won’t be a plus-20 usage rate wing scorer, but by moving up a rung on the offense, Carroll should see an uptick in touches from last season.

However, there’s a difference between Korver’s threes and Carroll’s. Most of Carroll’s threes were launched with his feet set off a pass, whereas Korver (and Ross for that matter) caught on the run after running through screens before launching a shot. It’s a slightly different skillset, but Carroll should be up to the task. He has steadily improved his jumper in each of the last two seasons and for a hard worker like Carroll, picking up Casey’s sets shouldn’t be too difficult.

Carroll can also put it on the deck against flying closeouts. He can step in for the pull-up or he can get all the way to the basket and finish. That’s a huge step up from Ross, who loves uncorking a soft push-shot because he avoids contact like the plague. Carroll relishes physical play and isn’t afraid to withstand a hard knock in exchange for two free throws.

Finally, the addition of Carroll should help the Raptors’ transition offense. Again, unlike Ross who never attacked the basket, Carroll is a capable ball-handler who can drive against a defense in transition. He won’t pull out any flashy Eurosteps or crossovers; he prefers to bully his way to the basket with line drives. Still, Carroll is effective on the break, scoring 1.15 points per fast break and he shot 63.1 percent in the restricted area.

Carroll’s role with the Raptors

The Raptors don’t have any grand illusions for Carroll. They’re not asking him to become an all-world scorer or a point-forward playmaker because they don’t need him to be one. The first and second option will still be DeRozan and Lowry, with Valanciunas ranking a distant third. Although they paid a hefty price, the Raptors will ask Carroll to play a familiar but important role: to guard the opponent’s best wing scorer on any given night, to hit open threes and to sprinkle in the occasional drive to the basket against rotating or transitioning defenses.

It’s not a lot, but Carroll will give the Raptors something that the franchise has lacked for the past decade. He’s gives the Raptors a hardworking two-way wing and he should slot in as the perfect role player for this team.

Bulls 84, Raptors 80 – Box Score

The Raptors were eliminated by the Bulls from the Las Vegas Summer League on Thursday night after they blew an 18-point first half lead.

The Raptors started strong and jumped on the Bulls early through Noman Powell and Bruno Caboclo, the former continuing his Vegas onslaught, while the latter found his shooting touch.  Powell ended up cooling off, finished just 5-16 FG and surprisingly sat for an extended stretch while the Bulls made their run to come back.  He did display glimpses of play that will make you think he’ll be playing meaningful minutes this season.

The Raptors actually shot the higher percentage, dominated the glass but playing without Delon Wright, the main problem for them was TOs, which they committed 19 of and were run back by the Bulls to good effect.  The Raptors had no answer for Doug McDermott who had 28 points on 11-25 shooting, with the majority coming in the second half, and a lot of them against Bruno Caboclo. They also couldn’t cope with Diante Garrett attacking Gary Talton consistently, and creating shot opportunities for guys like Bobby Portis and Cameron Bairstow.

The Raptors will play a consolation game on Friday to round off summer league.

Let’s start with Norman Powell as usual, and let’s focus on skills that are transferable to the NBA, which he displayed plenty of:

Here’s a sweet give-and-go, which you can run with any big. Picture this being run with Patrick Patterson or Luis Scola as part of a horns system, or more simply, on an ad-hoc basis to get a free shot. Powell’s got a drive game so the defense would prefer to go under, and he’s shown this summer league that he can hit that mid-range jumper with confidence.

Here’s a catch-and-shoot out-of-bounds play where he executes that slight step-back at the end to create space and rise over the defense. He gets shot-ready very quickly by taking one purposeful dribble taking him away from the defense. This is a sign of decisiveness that every effective scorer needs to have and, even though it’s just summer league, Powell’s shown he knows what it takes.

The next two plays are him getting blocks via that 6’11” wingspan and pure awareness of what the offense is trying to do. In both situations he’s not the primary defender but has read the situation and has come over to help in the nick of time. He’s clearly an intelligent player that doesn’t just hide on defense by sticking to his man, and is confident in making plays when the initial setup breaks down:

Finally, much has been made of his range and here he knocks down a confident three by lining it up. He shot 32% in college from distance, and this will be what people will force him to do so it’s nice to see him drain one:

Here’s a couple Bruno Caboclo highlights to whet your appetite. He had 15 points on 4-7 shooting and went 6-7 from the stripe which was an improvement. He put it on the floor a lot, and that speaks to his confidence because that is something that wasn’t happening at all last year. I tell myself that it’s the thought that counts when I look at his fluky finish in the second video. He’s moving his feet defensively and there’s clear instruction from the coaches for him to angle offensive players into his arms so he can use them to contest the shot, rather than they going into his body to draw contact. I can’t say it was successful against McDermott, or in general, but at least I believe there’s some coaching going on.  The guy just doesn’t have the strength whatsoever to hold off offensive players right now, and once he gets that, then his length advantage will come into play. Right now he’s just getting pushed around too easily.

Up next, it’s Lucas Noguiera and today he was all about the pass. The Raptors ran a ton of screen ‘n rolls for him and it seemed that passing was his preferred option, even when he could’ve done something else. To his credit, he’s a nice passer and has chemistry with Ronald Roberts and Caboclo, so I give him credit there. I just wonder if he has the confidence to score himself against a defense by pulling off a move or two. I really haven’t seen any of that, but I’ll focus on the positives by showing you instances where he did pass to create:

Here’s a pass he made where I thought he shoud’ve just spun and finished it himself:

Finally, this is where he’s best – basically where he has a free dunk available to him and there’s no defense within shouting distance. This is the low-hanging fruit which is great, but we need him to be a little more decisive and skillful in finishing against defenses.

My favorite Bebe play, though, was the one where they dared him to shoot (with audio):

We’ll round off with some random clips. Here’s Roberts pulling down a pretty impressive rebound over Bairstow. Roberts is a bruiser who struggles to finish in close quarters, and appears to require some runway to utilize that self-proclaimed 46″ vertical. I haven’t seen him go up in traffic and finish strong yet, mainly because he’s usually grounded by his lack of skill in doing so. If you see him as a replacement for Greg Steimsma, he’s a definite upgrade:

During the second quarter when this game was very up-and-down, Jordan Bachynski had a few good moments in a row where he got a couple blocks, got a pass from his teammates (a very rare occasion), and then proceeded to finish. It’s probably the highlight of his career:

Here’s Drew Crawford with a nice play:

This dude faked a FT, I kid you not:

That’s it from me, time to hit the sack. Check more post-game video highlights and interviews here.

As per reports, the Raptors have signed French small forward Axel Toupane (plays for Strasbourg) to a deal which would see him get a training camp invite. Blake has you covered on what a “partially guaranteed” deal really means:

A partially-guaranteed contract doesn’t really mean much here. Teams give out plenty of partial guarantees in the offseason, essentially securing the player for the summer and into the fall with a token salary. Will Cherry received a $25,000-guarantee last summer, for example, giving him an incentive to come to camp with the Raptors over another team but costing the Raptors little in the way of actual salary. The amount that gets guaranteed counts toward the salary cap and luxury tax calculations, but Roberts’ non-guaranteed amount is almost surely the $525,093 minimum and the guaranteed amount small – they matter, but with the team so far from the tax and unlikely to use their remaining cap space – they’re words, not mine – this doesn’t move the needle much.

Basically, this type of deal often stands as a sort of “offseason contract.”

Toupane was undrafted in 2014 and has played two games in summer league averaging 11.5 minutes, 4.5 points and 1.3 rebounds. He went undrafted This would bring the number of guaranteed and partially-guaranteed players to 16 since they signed Ronald Roberts to the same deal. So, at this point we have one training camp cut guaranteed. Here’s a little bit more about the native of Mulhouse, France:

The French guard has made a name for himself by playing hard-nosed defense. With his excellent wingspan, he is a great on-ball defender who can put pressure full-court over stretches. He is very active in the passing lanes and can generate early offenses with his aggressiveness. Offensively, Toupane does a bit of everything but he needs to become more regular as a shooter. He can attack the basket but his jump shot is shaky despite a very high release point. In catch-and-shoot situations, he is more regular but he often loses his balance when going for the pull-up jumper out of the dribble. Toupane’s future could be in a 3&D role on the highest level if he can develop his shooting percentages to a different level as he has all the necessary physical tools to play in the NBA.

There’s also more on Axel Toupane at Scout Basketball:

axeltoupanescoutingreport

Masai Ujiri answered your prayers and signed summer league breakout star Norman Powell to contract!

Terms of the deal were not released, per team policy. Let’s hope Powell signed a 3-year deal, because that would give the Raptors full bird rights to retain him when he develops into the second coming of Dwyane Wade a solid rotation piece. Summer league connoisseur Blake Murphy has you covered with the logic in locking up Powell.

That would mean the Raptors need to sign Powell at some point, and I’d recommend doing so on a three- or four-year contract.

As a second round pick, Powell is not bound by the rookie wage scale. That gives the Raptors two options to sign him: Use a minimum salary exception to sign him to a one- or two-year deal, or use a piece of their roughly $2.5 million in available cap space to sign Powell beyond two years.

It may be reactionary to suggest, but I favor using cap space to land him on a three-year deal, especially if he’s amenable to numbers close to the minimum, or a non-guaranteed third year. Going three years gives the Raptors Powell’s Bird rights, helping protect the Raptors from a predatory offer sheet when he reaches restricted free agency (note that signing him to a four-year deal is unfavorable, as he’d be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the contract). A three-year deal at the minimum would pay Powell $2.4 million in total, and would cost them $525,093 of their remaining $2.59 million in cap space, leaving them with one open roster spot (not including Roberts).

Blake (who is NOT Powell’s player agent, in case you were wondering), also wrote up an excellent player profile on Powell on Monday.

Keep that role in mind. Powell probably isn’t going to be a star. He needs to continue to improve his range, work on finding teammates better off the bounce, and prove that he can defend against the next level of athlete. So far, everything looks good, and he’s doing about as well as imaginable with what’s been put in front of him in Vegas.

Landing just about anything with the No. 46 pick is hitting on a lottery ticket. Powell may not be a Manu Ginobili-esque Powerball victory, but it seems the Raptors may have something here.

Powell has been the Raptors’ best player in summer league action, helping the team to a 3-0 record. Powell drafted with the 46th pick, which the Raptors acquired through the Greivis Vasquez trade. The 22-year-old Powell played four years at UCLA before making the jump. Depending on how the rest of summer league and preseason go, Powell could see some minutes as a backup wing next year.

Jonas Valanciunas said last week that he’s working on improving his quickness and honing his jumpshot. The Raptors have called in Seattle Supersonics legend Jack Sikma to help with Valanciunas’s training.

Here’s Sikma on Valanciunas:

Q: What are you working on with him?

A: Talking with coach Casey, the Raptors would like to see him expand his game, where he has something facing up, not just a back-to-the-basket game. That’s the way I played. I’ve had quite a bit of experience teaching young kids in the league by coaching two or three teams.

Q: Your take on him speeding up his game?

A: There’s two ways to approach that. Number one is physically. I’m sure with the support of the staff, he’s going to get stronger, with his core strength. The other one is to recognize situations, and anticipate a little better, try to get there a little earlier. It’s not just reacting to a situation, but getting to the right spot before it happens and anticipating when it will happen. For bigs, it’s really important and the more time they have in the league, the more time in the league that they have, the more experienced, they better get that. To be in the right position at the rim when there’s someone penetrating, to recognize that it’s coming and to get there in time is really important.

Q: How do you view bigs and the trend of smallball?

A: Well they want to open the floor up. Again, there’s usually one guy inside and Jonas, fortunately, is a good free throw shooter, has good range, it’s not like you have to work on his shot, it’s more working on his balance and pivoting and understanding where these open slots are going to be. And then, to be confident enough to [take the jumper]. I think because of his size, he’s been taught to bang and bang and get close to the basket – and that’s good thing and he’s effective doing that – but he needs more than that if he’s going to last in the game a while.

For all the youngsters (like myself) who aren’t familiar with Sikma, let’s run down his credentials.

Sikma was a seven-time All-Star in the early Eighties with the Supersonics. He was a gifted offensive center who flashed an inside-out game. To give an idea of Sikma’s skill with the jumper, he shot 84.9 percent from the free-throw line and led the league in accuracy at 92.2 percent in 1986-67. Remember, he was a 6-foot-11 center. He even developed a 3-point shot towards the end of his career.

For his career, Sikma averaged 15.6 points, 9.8 rebounds and 3.2 assists in 33.4 minutes per game. For more on Sikma, I refer you to Sonics Rising:

During that span, between 1978 and 1985, only eight players averaged at least 17 points and 11 rebounds. They were Moses Malone, Larry Bird, Ralph Sampson, Hakeem Olajuwon, Artis Gilmore, Jeff Ruland, Robert Parish, and finally, Jack Sikma. With the exception of Ruland, who had only three seasons where he played half the games, all of the rest have been inducted into Springfield.

When you include a three assists criteria into the mix, only Bird, Ruland, and Sikma remain. Throw in one assist and one rebound, and Sikma stands alone.

For those who are not content with a mere look at his prime and place a premium on career totals, Sikma scored 17,287 points (79th in NBA history), gathered 10,816 rebounds (30th) and blocked 1,048 shots (78th). Only twelve hardwood legends ever put up 17,000-10,000-1,000. Eight of them are already in the Hall of Fame. Three of them (Shaquille O’Neal, Tim Duncan, and Kevin Garnett) will surely be. And then there’s Sikma.

Since his retirement, Sikma has served as an assistant head coach for the past decade with the Houston Rockets, Minnesota Timberwolves and Supersonics (RIP). He worked with Yao Ming, and if Jonas could come anywhere close to Yao’s game (or Sikma’s game, for that matter), we should all be delighted.

In a bit of unfortunate timing, Delon Wright missed Monday’s Las Vegas Summer League game due to a sore right hamstring. Following full profiles of Bruno Caboclo and Norman Powell in the first two games, the plan called for Wright to get that treatment after the Toronto Raptors took care of the Houston Rockets.

Not surprisingly, the Raptors struggled to find their offensive footing early without Wright, coughing up the ball 11 times in a 14-point first quarter. They lacked cohesion, they played out of control, and while they eventually settled down, the path to baskets was more arduous than it had been in the first two games. Wright was solid in those games, scoring 19 points on 16 field goal attempts, dishing 11 dimes, and grabbing four rebounds and three steals. He got to the line effectively, only committed two turnovers, and his troublesome 0-of-4 mark from outside was really the only complaint you could lodge.

Because free agency opened so quickly after the draft, the chance never arose to finish and publish the post-draft scouting report on Wright that I had prepared. I had went back and watched a bunch of Utah video, re-watched their battle with Duke in the Sweet Sixteen, and dug further into Wright’s profiles (as a reminder – I’m our draft lead at theScore, so I was already well-versed with most prospects in the draft, Wright included). With two strong Summer League games submitted and a bunch of material that never got published, consider what follows a post-draft scouting report on Wright, solidified with some recent Vegas highlights.

And man, is Wright unique.

I hate player comparables in general, but it would be particularly tough to come up with one for a skinny 6-foot-5 point guard who never drives the same way twice, jitters all over the court, in and out through seams in the defenses, and willingly bounces off of defenders as you’d expect from someone built far more solid. He’s a very interesting study and comes across as someone difficult to gameplan for, as his success is based a great deal on seeing angles and reading the movement of the opposition, rather than a particularly singular skill or ability.

The first thing that stands out after a few possessions, particularly in transition, is that Wright varies his speed to throw defenders off in pursuit or catch them backtracking too aggressively. This is something Raptors fans should be familiar with from the Jose Calderon days – straight-line speed is great, but varying the pace of an attack and introducing stutter-steps and hesitation dribbles can be just as effective in opening up space in the teeth of a defense.

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Aiding him in that same regard – and this will come up again on defense – is that Wright has great anticipation. He has a knack for reading the bodies of defenders, knowing when they’re on their heels, or when their weight is off balance, and using that as an opportunity to gain an edge.

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It’s not just speed that Wright will vary. He’s almost the anti-Norman Powell in terms of drives, never taking a straight line to any point, instead opting to float in and out of alternate pathways as openings present themselves. Raptors fans may have grown tired of watching players coax defenders into fouls, but dribbling like an amoeba is an effective way to get to the line, one of Wright’s primary strengths.

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He’s not perfect in this regard, of course. He has a tendency to pick up his dribble too early, particularly with his back toward the basket. He’s creative enough and sees the floor well enough to get out of some of these situations, but it’s a bad habit that pops up occasionally.

The more complex the movements and the more steps in the path, the more room there is for error. Wright is generally lauded for his composure and playing in control, and we’ve seen that so far, but defenses are likely to instruct their back-end defenders to employ active hands to combat the constant compass changes, and they’ll get physical with Wright to discourage him from inviting contact.

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One of the major knocks against Wright was his weight, which stood at 181 pounds at the combine. That could leave him susceptible against bigger guards on defense and limits his potential to play the two to a degree, despite a 6-foot-7 wingspan. It also renders him unlikely to finish well in traffic against NBA defenses.

He has a handful of tricks to try to work around this. He uses his length well to protect the ball, holding it very high at the peak of his jump, something that should make him more difficult to block.

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He’ll also bounce away from help defenders as he gathers, which is both good and bad. It may limit his chances of getting blocked, and he looks in control as he fades or leans from contact, but it also increases the difficulty of the shots he’s taking.

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Wright’s also developed an awesome floater game. Seriously, I’d add a caveat or worry about him getting them off over length, but it’s such a fun weapon, I don’t want to. (That’s called “journalistic integrity” in the biz.)

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It’s great that Wright has all these nifty tricks to score in close despite a strength deficiency and draw fouls, because the bulk of his scoring comes insider the 3-point line.

The biggest offensive concern with Wright is whether or not he’ll be able to knock down the NBA triple. The shot itself doesn’t look bad, but he’s incredibly hesitant pulling it up off the dribble, and even in summer league, he’s seemed to be looking for a driving lane when a defender goes under a screen. He’ll need to get far more decisive letting it fly when given that space and, probably more importantly for his rookie season, more confident quickly releasing catch-and-shoot jumpers. The Raptors employ Kyle Lowry and Cory Joseph, and Wright’s going to need to play alongside them to get run a as a freshman. I think they can comfortably get away with it on defense already, but they’re shaky spacing duos – Joseph has had success in small samples, Lowry hit 35.3 percent of his catch-and-shoot looks (a little below average), and it’s the biggest concern with Wright’s offense.

His two years at Utah were encouraging in terms of the development of his stroke. He shot 22.6 percent from outside in 2013-14, then 33.3 percent in Nov-Dec of 2014-15, then 36.7 percent from January on. They’re all small samples, but they’re trending in the right direction. His strong free-throw shooting also suggests that he may eventually improve, as free-throw shooting adds predictive value in determining future 3-point percentage for college players.

It’s also possible Wright will lead as a ball-handler even in some two-point guard lineups. The Raptors love sets with dual pick-and-roll threats, and Greivis Vasquez and Lou Williams thrived operating dribble hand-offs and swings to get a defense moving horizontally before one of them attacked.

Wright’s a solid ball-handler and a very creative passer. One of the benefits of being a tall point guard is being able to see over defenders more easily, and Wright uses that to his advantage. In concert with his long arms, he’s able to find and execute through difficult passing lanes.

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He’ll also vary the height at which he’s dribbling to see through help defense, get defenders crouching, and then pop up for a quick dish.

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That includes keeping his gather high, allowing him to swing over and around defenders, particularly in transition. He has a solid Eurostep game, and it’s a primary asset in drawing disorganized help, creating easy baskets for others.

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And in general, he’s a creative passer with a really good feel for passing lanes and the timing of cutters and dive men.

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A lot of the same assets that present themselves on offense show up on defense, too. Much the same way Wright extends high to try to finish in traffic or protect the ball when gathering in transition, he extends well when rebounding, and he’s one of more productive rebounding guards in the draft.

The same timing and anticipation he shows driving and passing manifests itself on defense. “Feel for the game” is a tough thing to describe and capture, but Wright decidedly has it. His ability to read the play leads to a lot of his steals – he’ll get some on the ball, too, but he also takes calculated gambles when he sees a player starting to pick up his dribble with the ball unprotected, or the opportunity to jump a passing lane arises. The latter particularly applies in the backcourt, where he’s a hawk on inbound plays like that annoying friend in 2K.

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His strength will be a concern, both on the ball and fighting through screens, but he’s game to try, and he’ll hit the deck to draw a charge.

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His length also helps him closing out on shots, and Wright averaged more than a block per game over his two years at Utah. He blocked 3.5 percent of opponent 2-point field goal attempts when he was on the court, 25th among all players classified as guards who played 500 minutes over those two seasons.

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There remain concerns with Wright. That should be obvious, considering he went 20th overall. He’s 23 and a senior, which teams take to mean the upside is limited. The fact that his numbers declined some in 2014-15 is a little concerning considering his usage rate climbed, though Utah also played at a slower pace, and Wright’s per-100 possession numbers weren’t all that different. His 2-point percentage dropping off is alarming given the trouble some see him having finishing at the NBA level, and his bag of tricks may not work against the longest and smartest defenders. The clearest areas for Wright to work on are his strength and his 3-point shot. It doesn’t matter how herky-jerky your attack, an 82-game schedule is going to be hell at 181 pounds, and bulking up would help him in his areas of strength (drawing fouls) and weaknesses (finishing, fighting through screens).

We need to see more from Wright in an NBA setting to better understand him. When you’re primary assets are feel for the game and basketball IQ, the biggest litmus test is applying those assets against the very top competition. Summer league isn’t that, and while Wright playing surgically is a positive, we don’t really know more than we did a week ago.

The Raptors were said to be very high on Wright, even though they felt the need to add a high-priced backup point guard, and it’s pretty easy to see why. The defense is there, he’s a smart pick-and-roll operator, he’s a lot of fun on the move, and he has the smarts and savvy that make it clear why he was thought to be “NBA-ready” (as much as anyone can be, which is not very much outside of the very elite prospects). it should be fun to see how he responds to better, longer, stronger defenders and more intricate defensive schemes at the next level.

The Toronto Raptors earned the top seed in the tournament portion of Las Vegas Summer League, finishing 3-0 in the round robin with the best “quarter point score” of any undefeated team. The bracket was tough to figure with a 24-team field and just a three-game round robin, but landing as the top seed makes things a little easier.

The Raptors get a bye through to the second round of the elimination stage, which means they won’t play until Thursday (good news if you’re hoping Delon Wright’s sore right hamstring will be good to go). They’ll face the winner of Wednesday’s game between the Chicago Bulls, whom the Raptors already beat, and the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Thursday’s game will tip at 10 p.m. ET and will be available on League Pass. I couldn’t confirm if it’s at Thomas and Mack or Cox, or whether it’ll be televised on NBA TV (you’d hope so).

Should the Raptors win, they’d move on to play again Saturday. And then Sunday. And then the championship comes home Monday.

By this point, Norman Powell has obviously won your heart. One of the breakout stars of Las Vegas Summer League, Powell has turned in three productive games, surprising many with his ability to dominate on the offensive end, and confirming that he can be an active and disruptive defender.

He’s now averaging 19.3 points, 4.7 rebounds, 1.7 steals, and 1.3 blocks while shooting 59.5 percent, and he’s hit 2-of-5 from outside, his biggest perceived weakness. He’s throwing down everything and helped carry the Raptors to a win on Monday even without point guard Delon Wright in the lineup. He’s stood out since the tournament opened, handling the ball far more than expected in the opener and earning the full player breakdown treatment following his game two performance.

If you want to know more about Powell the player, I recommend clicking that last link, which goes really in depth. As a quick refresher, he’s a great straight-line driver who uses his length and his strength well to initiate contact and finish better than his 6-foot-4 height would suggest he can. He’s smart moving around picks and times his ridiculous first step well to catch defenders off balance or on their heels. He gets some tunnel vision once on the move, but he’s a willing enough passer in the pick-and-roll, and he recognizes safety valve opportunities when he meets traffic inside. Defensively, he uses his near-7-foot wingspan to stay in front of ball-handlers and poke balls free, and his athleticism allows him to make some unexpected blocks and savvy steals. Because he’s quick laterally, uses his length well, and has a strong lower half, it’s not inconceivable that he could help guard three positions at the next level.

The reasons he slid to No. 46 in the draft are fairly obvious: He’s not a great shooter, and he’s a 22-year-old senior. The shot doesn’t look bad at all, and he opened his senior year flashing improvement before regressing. Some organizations believe shooting is one of the more developable skills, and if the Raptors can work to make him even a remote corner threat, then his five-man lineup possibilities expand.

That’s getting ahead of ourselves. Powell should be playing well in Summer League, because he’s either more experienced, more physically developed, or more talented than most of the competition he’s facing. Plenty of players have had Summer League success and failed in the NBA – it’s a small sample, and it comes against weaker competition. In Powell’s case, a 2-of-5 mark from outside means almost nothing, and LVSL opponents haven’t afforded him the opportunity to prove he can finish against NBA length and cut into the teeth of a sophisticated NBA defense. Failure is far more telling in this environment than success is, which is why I’ve tried to focus on specific skills in the player breakdowns rather than just performance. And Powell’s impressing.

His north-south, bowling-ball style probably won’t work against starting-caliber players, but it should be effective enough to draw fouls against bench units. And his defensive versatility and on-ball play should make him a useful piece down in the rotation.

To be entirely clear, none of Powell’s performance suggests he’s going to be a star or even a top-eight rotation player. He’s been very good, and it’s encouraging, enough that you’d be justified in thinking he’s deserving of a roster spot, as I do. Don’t get carried away, though, and start suggesting he’s better than DeMar DeRozan or Terrence Ross. Rookies, by and large, struggle, and Powell will face an adjustment period in the NBA if he makes it.

But as a 12th man of sorts – he’d probably be ahead of Bruno Caboclo and Bebe Nogueira on the depth chart, and I’m not sure Ronald Roberts’ partial guarantee means anything as far as the regular season goes – he could have a place. If the Raptors don’t want to run two-point guard sets, Powell’s path to playing time is more clear, otherwise he’d likely be the fifth or sixth wing in the rotation.

PG: Lowry, Joseph, Wright
SG: DeRozan, Ross, Joseph, Wright, (Powell)
SF: Carroll, Ross, Johnson, (Powell), Caboclo
PF: Patterson, Scola, Carroll, Johnson
C: Valanciunas, Biyombo, Nogueira

For a guy taken midway through the second round, that’s still a good landing spot, and teams are generally thrilled to find any useful player with a second-round pick. I entered LVSL thinking he had an inside track on one of the team’s final two roster spots. Barring injury, I’d be shocked if he hasn’t done enough to lock one down yet.

That would mean the Raptors need to sign Powell at some point, and I’d recommend doing so on a three- or four-year contract.

As a second round pick, Powell is not bound by the rookie wage scale. That gives the Raptors two options to sign him: Use a minimum salary exception to sign him to a one- or two-year deal, or use a piece of their roughly $2.5 million in available cap space to sign Powell beyond two years.

It may be reactionary to suggest, but I favor using cap space to land him on a three-year deal, especially if he’s amenable to numbers close to the minimum, or a non-guaranteed third year. Going three years gives the Raptors Powell’s Bird rights, helping protect the Raptors from a predatory offer sheet when he reaches restricted free agency (note that signing him to a four-year deal is unfavorable, as he’d be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the contract). A three-year deal at the minimum would pay Powell $2.4 million in total, and would cost them $525,093 of their remaining $2.59 million in cap space, leaving them with one open roster spot (not including Roberts).

I’d also consider adding additional guaranteed salary for 2015-16, since the Raptors have cap space they seem unlikely to use. The hope would be that by adding salary in year one, Powell becomes more amenable to non-guaranteed second and third years.

There are other options, too, like guaranteeing the first two years at the minimum to secure two non-guaranteed seasons in years three and four, and the team may value a cheap fourth season over maintaining his RFA status after year three. That’s a tough trade-off to navigate for Powell, as he’ll be in his prime at age 25 in his fourth year – his RFA rights would be great, but a season at the peak of his development curve, at $1.1 million after the cap explodes, is enticing.

But a lot of this depends on whether the team feels the need to offer anything but the minimum in non-guarantees, how high they are on the player, and what Powell’s risk preference and willingness to go overseas are.

Powell may prefer a shorter deal if the Raptors aren’t willing to offer guaranteed money in year two and three, but the Raptors hold most of the leverage here. K.J. McDaniels took a risk in signing his one-year, non-guaranteed retention offer with the Philadelphia 76ers last season, making him a restricted free agent this summer, but that’s incredibly risky. The Raptors are only required to offer Powell a one-year, $525,093 contract without any guarantee to retain his rights, but he’s made a case for more security than that, and he may opt to play internationally if that’s all the Raptors are offering.

The team knows better than I do how valuable that modicum of cap space is relative to the flexibility of having Powell’s Bird rights, but that’s the path I’d take right now. Powell should be able to contribute as a defender and transition threat deep in the wing rotation, and if his jumper comes along, it’s not inconceivable that he could work his way to backing up a position full-time down the line. Finding a player who can contribute in any role is the goal with second-round picks in most cases, and locking Powell up with the type of friendly deal teams enjoy with second-round picks is a logical next step.

Norman Powell: Quickly becoming That Dude at Las Vegas Summer League.

The UCLA product turned in another strong performance Monday as the Raptors improved to 3-0, scoring 19 points on 7-of-11 shooting and adding five rebounds and a pair of blocks. He’s now averaging 19.3 points, 4.7 rebounds, 1.7 steals, and 1.3 blocks while shooting 59.5 percent, and he’s hit 2-of-5 from outside, his biggest perceived weakness.

Zarar did a nice job catching you up with the game recap, including several impressive Powell GIFs. Our man Dawkins has come correct with a full video highlight package, including several of Powell’s awesome dunks:

I did a full player breakdown/scouting report on Powell following the team’s second game, and little has changed since. He should be playing well given he’s a physical 22-year-old senior playing against less experienced and/or less talented players, but it’s been very encouraging nonetheless. Powell has a terrific straight-line drive, moves well around picks, and is a terrific multi-position defender.

I entered LVSL thinking he had an inside track on one of the team’s final two roster spots. Barring injury, I’d be shocked if he hasn’t done enough to lock one down yet.

Raptors 95, Rockets 87 – Box Score

The story of the summer league so far had been Norman Powell and it continues to be so. He had 19 points, 5 rebounds and shot 7-11 FG as the Raptors survived a lethargic start where they were down a dozen early to come back and take care of the Rockets. They were without rookie Delon Wright (sore right hamstring), and it looked early on that the shaky point guard play might cost them the game, with the Raptors committing 14 turnovers and giving up 17 points off of them inside the first 10 minutes.

Things soon normalized as Houston couldn’t keep up their frenetic early pace and pressure, and the Raptors talent helped them ease ahead.  The game got tight late but some key plays from key players gave the Raptors enough of a push to see through, even though they ended the game on a low. I think Blake has pretty much covered all that’s needed to be said about Powell, so I’m left with scraps to work with. Hence, I’ll resort to video to paint a picture of what the Raptors, and specifically Powell, were up to.

We’ll start with Bruno, who misses a shot here but man, is this guy playing with some confidence? There’s no hesitation in his catch-and-shoot moves, and he’s comfortable going left when the defense shades him that way.

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Here’s something you would’ve never seen last year – Bruno catching it, nailing it, and then staring down a bench.

Speaking of going left, here’s Powell who is simply more mature and experienced than anybody else on the court. Back-to-back Sweet Sixteen experiences and that senior pedigree is paying off. I realize that he’s “supposed to” be better than a lot of these players just based on experience, but he’s looking like a man amongst boys out there in terms of skill, composure, and even athletic ability. I had picked him to be a non-factor in summer legaue and I was flat-out wrong.

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If end-to-end drive’s are your thing, he’s got you covered. I don’t think it’s premature to say that he’s impressed enough in just three games that if he doesn’t land on the Raptors roster, he’s going to find a home on an NBA team, so with two spots remaining, I say they belong to Roberts and Powell.

Andrew had made a great point on the latest podcast about how his 6’4″ height doesn’t really matter on account of his reach and wingspan, which stands at 6’11”. There’s no better play to illustrate that than this block he got at the end of the half despite being in a disadvantageous position. He also pulled down some contested rebounds and really surprised everyone with his activity levels, even though after two games they should’ve seen it coming:

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And if that sort of athleticism isn’t enough, he took it to the next level on the break by cocking it back and tomahawking it, which put any questions about his lack of height being an issue to bed when it comes to finishing hard:

Glen Rice Jr. (7-18 FG, 11-11 FT, 28 points) kept the Rockets in it and they were hovering around 7-10 points, but it was plays like these that helped pull the Raptors through. First, some great big-to-big passing between Roberts and Noguiera, which materialized in a great bucket after the former attacked the open space at the top of the key:

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There was Bruno actually venturing inside the paint and getting a fortuitous put-back:

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Here’s my favorite play, though. Bruno tries to dribble it up the court, gets trapped and loses it. Instead of pouting about a foul, he charges back and gets a great block and makes it look rather easy:

The Rockets made a run to cut it to three, but it was Lucas Noguiera that had the final say.  First, after finishing again on a big-to-big pass with Roberts, and then staying home and making a sound defensive play – both of which are seen in the video below:

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Some quick thoughts:

Powell: Great at driving, excellent composure and seems to be a step ahead of everyone in reading what’s happening on the court.  He only had one assist, and honestly, probably didn’t look to pass much either.  He’s very hesitant on his three-point shot and prefers to drive, but I don’t think it’s going to keep him from the NBA this season.  I would’ve liked to see him cover Glen Rice Jr. and see if he could bother him on defense, and it would allow us to get a slightly better sense of his defensive abilities, but really, he’s shown enough already.

Bruno: Long, lanky, full of confidence and totally afforded to play through his mistakes. He’s like a free-range cow, allowed to roam and do whatever he wants in the interest of getting fat, and it’s great. A poor shooting game from him (3-11), but at least he doesn’t look like completely lost out there.  He moves his feet well on defense, and you can tell that he’s being coached to play the angles so that he can make use of his reach to contest the shot.  Would like to see a bit more drive from him instead of settling for that three, but that very well could just be instruction as integrating him as a 3-point shooter is probably the easiest thing for the coaching staff to do at this point.

Bebe: Very active, positionally aware, and staying home on defense (4 blocks).  The timing is a bit off on the rebounds but it doesn’t really show in summer league where he can just reach over guys to get the rebound as he did 13 times tonight.  In the NBA, he’d get pushed around a lot more and definitely needs to get stronger to compete in the paint more.  His mobility is great and he was able to pressure guards up top and recover, but that could be a false positive since the offenses here aren’t exactly efficient and take forever to move the ball, affording Bebe ample time to recover and setup.

Roberts: Smart player, willing passer, and very aggressive in tight quarters.  He’s perfect end-of-the-bench material.  Sorry, Chuck, but you’re out.

Honorable Mentions: Gary Talton had a nice run, finishing over traffic and setting up Powell a couple times. Phil Scrubb had his best game going 3-5 for 10 points, and doing some excellent ball-handling all game long, and negotiating Houston’s pressure well.  Good luck to the Canadian.

Opposition: Obviously, Glen Rice Jr. stood out with his shooting and ability to draw fouls using that fake.  Montrezl Harrell started slow but persisted and his physical presence is such that once the Raptors defense wore down, he was able to chew them up inside as Houston guards drove to deliver short passes in the paint.  The guy could end up being a beast in the league and reminded me a little of a young Ben Wallace, or maybe Nene. I don’t know, it’s 1AM and Ramadan is kicking my ass.

Summer league has a five-game guarantee, so two more games to go at the minimum.

Last but not least, there were a couple Raptors fans in the arena who were loud and clear with their chants, purple jerseys intact.

They also interviewed Jonas Valanciunas in the first half and the big man spoke about extending his range, which was cute. It appears he’s being encourages to become a “modern NBA center” and move his game away from the rim. I honestly don’t know how I feel about that, except I don’t feel too good because we might be doing a square peg/round hole thing here.

Update: Full Norman Powell and Lucas Noguiera Highlights:

JV was standing around the edge of the court at summer league and somebody found him, butchered his name, and asked him a couple questions.
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Luis Scola talked to the media, and the questions I’ve transcribed below aren’t far from what was asked.

Why you come here?

I feel like they really wanted me. I always like your team. Last couple teams you guys had great teams. Played really, really well. The city’s amazing.

How come you not a broken down piece of metal by now?

Nothing really special, trying to stay healthy. Working hard, I believe working hard is the key to everything. It’s been working for me latestly, let’s se [if it still works].

I have a few injuries but for the most part, I stay healthy.

You mind being the old badass sumbitch? Wutyougon do here?

I’ve been the oldest guy the last couple of years, so kind of makes sense. It’s going to happen more and more. It doesn’t really matter. As long as I can play, I can practice, and contribute to the team that’s all that matters.

I’m not sure. Probably will be doing the same things I’ve been doing all these years. I believe that pretty much everyone knows what I’m going to bring to the team. It’s going to be along the lines of what I’ve been doing on other teams in the past. AT 35, I’m not goint to get extremely better, and I believe I’m not going to get extremely worse.

You talked to coach?

I spoke with him before signing. We crossed emails after.

You sure you can play?

I think I can play, I feel like my legs are OK. I don’t think I have limitations. We’ll see, we have a talented team and there needs to be minutes for everybody.

You sad about gettin’ minutes slashed?

For the last couple years, it was a little frustrating to play less minutes than I’m used to, but it makes me grow, focus more on what you do when you’re playing instead of how much I play. I expect to be a big part of the team, I expect to be a big part of the rotation.

A little bit, you just got to get used to the time of the game you’re playing. What changes is when you play less you have to produce when you play your first minutes, and that’s sometimes a little challenging.

Toronto, you like?

I was always impressed by Toronto, I believe Toronto is a great city. Not only a beautiful city in terms of buildings and what the city offers, but also culturally it’s great. People from all over the places, people from around the world, people who know about different cultures and know how to interact with them.

So, being a guy that is from another country and having a family [like] one of my kids is American, one of my kids is Spanish, and two of my other kids are Argentinian, so Toronto could be a great fit for us.

Your new favorite Toronto Raptor once again led the team in scoring, and the team once again emerged victorious in Las Vegas Summer League action.

Norman Powell dropped 19 in an 81-66 win over the Chicago Bulls on Sunday – read a full recap with player breakdowns and GIFs here – two days after putting up 20 in a 90-68 victory over the Sacramento Kings. In 52 minutes of action, he’s scored 39 points on 15-of-26 shooting, hit 2-of-3 from outside, taken 10 free-throw attempts, grabbed nine rebounds, made three steals, and blocked three shots, all while committing only three turnovers.

That’s very strong production, particularly since he’s also playing some of the best perimeter defense of the tournament, though that’s hardly a high bar. He’s been very impressive, and for those who entered Summer League already believing Powell to be an NBA-caliber player, he’s done little to dissuade. For those who didn’t – and it sure seems there were plenty given the number of people who inexplicably thought DeAndre Daniels was a better bet to make the regular season roster – it seems he’s been doing some convincing. My phone, my twitter mentions, and my DMs all contained plenty of Norm talk through the weekend, and fans from hardcore to casual have been impressed.

I was higher on Powell than most entering draft season, primarily because I’m a UCLA fan and got a good, long look at him defending the top wings in a quality Pac-12 conference. I thought he was worth a second-round flier on the chance he develops an outside shot, something he flashed early in his senior season but seemed to lose as the year wore on. The three-year shooting sample is large enough and poor enough to be worrisome, and the Raptors know all too well how tough it can be to give wings who can’t space the floor heavy run. Role players without a jumper exist, and the defense and finishing ability were intriguing enough that I had Powell going at No. 47 in my final mock draft for theScore.

So when the Raptors took Powell at No. 46, that seemed about right. Earlier in his career, his stock had pushed toward the fringe of the first round, and word was that he had shot the ball well in the pre-draft process. Considering how well he likely worked out against other guards and wings – I can’t imagine many prospects more impressive in an intimate setting that favors athleticism and motor – and how his profile reads like the inside cover of head coach Dwane Casey’s trapper keeper, Powell seemed a good flier, and for as much as any rookie can really be NBA-ready, his being a 22-year-old didn’t hurt.

All of that is to say, his success this weekend isn’t all that surprising. At 22, as a senior, with body and athleticism as primary attributes, Powell should have been expected to succeed. I always maintain that success at Summer League is less encouraging than failure is discouraging – lol, Terry – but that doesn’t mean good performances mean nothing. Powell’s playing very well in the situation put before him, and he’s taken on a bigger role than I expected given the number of NBA-caliber players on the roster.

The biggest thing that jumps out about Powell is his straight-line driving ability. With a ridiculous first-step and serious strength for such a compact frame, Powell barrels downhill at defenders, putting them on their heels and leaving them with little recourse with which to defend. There’s some concern that a north-south approach won’t fly against NBA starters, but he should be able to put lesser defenders in a position to foul, especially if he gets a favorable matchup (not unrealistic given his perceived lack of shooting).

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That same driving approach manifests itself in transition, where Powell was one of the most effective scorers in college basketball. He has a good eye for seams in an unset defense, and while his 6-foot-4 stature makes it tough to get visible looks in tight, he uses his length very well to keep the ball protected.

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The Raptors have given him plenty of opportunity to show in Summer League that he can work as a secondary ball-handler, too. Even with Delon Wright on the floor, Powell has been tasked with running the pick-and-roll. He’s not the most adept passer – he can identify drop-off opportunities when in close but can miss good passing lanes once he starts his drive – but he’s deadly if given the space to pick up steam against a flat-footed defender or with a big switched on to him.

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These are all things we knew Powell could do relatively well. Most encouraging, in the smallest of sample sizes, has been his ability to can jumpers. Defense and drawing fouls are great, but playing a wing who can’t shoot – especially on a roster that already has DeMar DeRozan and James Johnson – is tough to work around. Eminently talented players are worth making such lineups work; role players probably can’t ask a team to sacrifice or be flexible on their behalf.

Powell’s shooting pulling up off the bounce was serviceable, if inconsistent, at UCLA, and he’s seemed comfortable in that regard in Vegas.

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Powell also knocked down an open catch-and-shoot transition three Sunday, and his release looked improved from his time at Pauley Pavilion.Criticized some for releasing his jumper too late (on the way down) – a death knell for an undersized player – Powell is now letting fly closer to the peak of his jump.

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If Powell can regularly can open looks – and again, he shot 31.4 percent on threes over four years, so that’s not a certainty – he should be able to carve out a roster spot. His ball-handling isn’t the sharpest but it’s clearly an area the Raptors have him working, and his attack game could make him a valuable second-unit piece.

It’s his defensive that got him drafted, though. The 6-foot-4 height makes him seem undersized even for the two, but with great lateral quickness, a 6-foot-11 wingspan, and an 8-foot-7 standing reach, Powell is functionally much bigger. He’s strong, too, and fights through and over screens well. He can get a little too reachy or lungy when he senses the opportunity for a steal, but he does so while staying in front of his man rather than jumping his check.

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And the gambles he does take are worthwhile. He averaged nearly two steals as a senior, and with his open-floor abilities, the occasional jumped lane is a worthwhile risk.

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He’s also a smart shot-blocker, though he rarely makes a rejection on the ball. He’s not Dwyane Wade or anything, but the threat of a side-swipe or late-help block is there, and if he can pick it clean, he’s gone.

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Analytic models didn’t love Powell because of the lack of an outside shot, a good but non-elite steal rate, and his advanced age. Models can only go off of the inputs available, and so it’s not like Powell becoming a rotation player would be an indictment on that analysis. He does do things well that are hard to quantify, particularly that he can be a good and versatile man-to-man defender. There may also be something to be said for role similarity between college and the pros, as Powell wasn’t “the guy” at UCLA and may more easily adapt to playing a more narrowly defined role in the NBA.

Keep that role in mind. Powell probably isn’t going to be a star. He needs to continue to improve his range, work on finding teammates better off the bounce, and prove that he can defend against the next level of athlete. So far, everything looks good, and he’s doing about as well as imaginable with what’s been put in front of him in Vegas.

Landing just about anything with the No. 46 pick is hitting on a lottery ticket. Powell may not be a Manu Ginobili-esque Powerball victory, but it seems the Raptors may have something here.

Blake Murphy and Andrew Thompson join the Rapcast and we round up all the signings, trades, and summer-league happenings.  There’s too much content here to describe in a list but I’ll spend a minute doing so anyway, here you go. BTW, Blake does not sound like Darth Vader in real life, that’s just his mic doing things.

Some of the topics in a packed three-part Raptors Weekly.

  • DeMarre Carroll signing and impact
  • Did Raps overpay for Cory Joseph?
  • Can Dwane Casey actually use the new players to good effect?
  • Lou Williams not being re-signed, or even offered a contract
  • Ross taking over Lou as scorer role, Casey quotes
  • Luis Scola the new starting PF?
  • Norman Powell taking no prisoners in summer league
  • Summer league performances – how to read them
  • Bruno Caboclo update
  • DeAndre Daniels’ NBA feasibility
  • Bismack Biyombo and whether he can catch a ball
  • Did the Raptors actually improve as a team? Expectations for next season
  • Enes Kanter and Robin Lopez contracts and what it means for Jonas Valanciunas’ upcoming deal
  • Much more

Grab the iTunes feed or check us out on Stitcher on Android. There is also the plain old feed. You can also download the file (10:35, 85 MB). Or just listen below:

The Toronto Raptors have reportedly signed Ronald Roberts to a partially guaranteed contract. We broke that signing down here earlier, and a commenter posted the following video of Roberts that we just couldn’t let live in the comments section alone.

This is a video of Roberts’ dunk exploits from Team Flight Brothers, who I believe were also tied to Terrence Ross around the time of his Slam Dunk Contest win.

So yeah, check it out. And if nothing else, the 6-foot-8 Roberts, who claims to have a 46-inch vertical jump, can participate in the Dunk Contest if he’s on the roster come February.

Your new favorite Toronto Raptor once again led the team in scoring, and the team once again emerged victorious in Las Vegas Summer League action. After dethroning the defending champion Sacramento Kings on Friday, Raptors 702 were at it again Sunday, defeating the Chicago Bulls 81-66. The Summer Raps are now 2-0 with their final group stage game set to go Monday at 10 p.m. ET against the Houston Rockets with a bye into Round 2 of the elimination portion of the tournament right there for the taking.

Of course, Summer League results don’t matter a great deal. Wins are better than losses, but the only tangible value in victory is that it affords you more chances to play. The further a team goes in the tournament, the more reps their young, developing players get.

So, as we did with Game 1 on Friday, we’ll focus far more on the relevant prospects than the flow of the game or specific in-game strategy, except where it pertains to Bruno Caboclo, Bebe Nogueira, Delon Wright, and Norman Powell. As a reminder, DeAndre Daniels suffered a Jones fracture in a pre-tournament practice and won’t be suiting up, while Philip Scrubb is a CIS player no matter how much you may want to see him succeed, and the rest of the team has little in the way of players with a chance to make the NBA roster. Save for Ronald Roberts, who has a shot, too, apparently. Game 1 saw us give Bruno the full breakdown treatment and hit the others more briefly.

Tomorrow morning, Norman Powell gets the full breakdown. Here’s everything else from Game 2.

This Raptors team is good. Seriously. Having a pair of senior rookies, a high-performing D-Leaguer, and a pair of raw sophomores in their second go-round of the tournament has Toronto looking far more poised than the two teams they’ve ran into. They’ve played very under control, forced a lot of turnovers on the defensive end, and generally outworked Sacramento and Chicago. Sunday saw the Bulls make a bit of a comeback attempt when Doug McDermott got red-hot, but the Raptors won every quarter but the third and cruised through the final mintues of the game.

At the player level, I’ve always maintained that playing well isn’t nearly as good a sign as playing poorly is a bad one – the expectation for any NBA player here is to impress, and struggles should concern. And once again, there was little struggle for the could-be Raptors on Sunday.

Ronald Roberts plays his way into a deal

The Saint Joe’s product and D-League rebounding machine has impressed enough through two games to land a partially guaranteed contract. Read more about him here.

Bruno Caboclo: Ballin’ out, swear he used to be shy

The nice thing for Jesse Murmuys down at Raptors 905 is that he’ll never struggle trying to get Bruno Caboclo to shoot. Shammgod love him, Caboclo wants to let it fly every single time he touches the ball. Which is awesome, really. The games he’s playing in now and the reps he’s getting are low-leverage ones, and I’d argue it’s far better to have to reign a developing player in than get him to be more aggressive. Caboclo is one a point in his development curve right now where all that really matters is reps – he’s spent a year learning the language, adjusting to a new country, watching NBA basketball for the first time, and refining his skills, and the next year will be all about getting him playing time he’s had precious little of in his career.

Caboclo took 13 shots in his 30 minutes Friday, finishing with 11 points on 4-of-13 and a 3-of-8 mark from outside. He didn’t do a whole lot else, adding two rebounds and a steal, and overall it wasn’t quite as impressive a performance as Friday. The 3-point shot really does look good though. He’s very decisive with letting it fly, which can make it difficult to defend – with his length and a relatively quick release, it could be an unblockable weapon if he’d bring his release point up a little higher.

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The Raptors clearly want to encourage him to shoot from outside, even running a nice play in the fourth quarter to set him up for a corner look.

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His jumper looks good beyond just spot-up attempts, too. While he’s not terribly effective pulling up off the dribble, when he can stay in control enough to get a pull-up off, there’s no issue with his release. Any struggles on that front are handle-related, not jumper-related. He stuck a nice FT-line jumper in a pick-and-roll with Bebe (the future!) early on.

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His handle is something he’ll need to continue putting in a lot of work on. Friday’s game saw him commit a couple of turnovers when his dribble got too high or he was indecisive when he began driving, and he showed Sunday that his dribble can get too wide, too. Long arms are a terrific weapon, but he’ll have to work on keeping the ball tighter to his body to avoid getting the ball poked free.That’s the primary point I would emphasize on offense right now, as the jump shot is coming along and he’s been as heady as you can expect off the ball, making a few decent cuts and recognizing when to float toward and away from the basket as plays develop.

Defensively, he’s still a lot of arms. Those arms are effective, of course, and they can help make up for a lot of minor mistakes. He’s able to sit back off of his man some to help him corral drives, knowing he’ll be able to quickly and effectively close out on any shot. His length also makes it difficult to get too mad at him for leaving a pair of shooters open outside to be the fourth body into the paint on a drive, because things like this wind up being the result:

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In terms of positioning, Caboclo remains quite out of control moving around the defensive end. He’s a bit of a whacky inflatable arm flailing tube man when change positions, and Doug McDermott was able to power through him on a drive because Caboclo’s footwork was all over the place. But as with all things Caboclo right now, the context of his development is important to remember. The fact that he’s recognizing his proper coverages and switches in pick-and-rolls is a diversion from 2014

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Including Sunday, he’s now played 331 minutes between Summer League, preseason, D-League, and NBA ball. At 19 and given where he came from, the fact that he’s showing improvements and looks like one of the better players on the floor is encouraging, even if there’s still a long way to go.

Read more about Caboclo’s Summer League opener here.

Delon Wright outplays his numbers, impresses again

10 points and two assists with 3-of-9 shooting in 20 minutes doesn’t jump off the page, but Wright’s game jumped off the screen for the second outing in a row. The 23-year-old senior already seems too advanced for this level of competition, which means he’s meeting expectations. The reality for a guy like Wright is that he’s in a low-reward environment here. He’s older and more experienced than most of the other prospects, and he’s more talented as a first-round pick than most of the journeymen. The questions about his game – whether the step up in competition from Utah would be tough, whether more physical NBA defenders would limit him, and whether he has upside remaining to tap into, can’t really be answered in Vegas.

But damn if he isn’t trying to win some hearts, anyway.

Wright is a blast to watch. It’s kind of strange to say that about an “NBA-ready” (Note: That term should always read “more ready than other rookies but still a rookie”) point guard who’s heralded for his defense and his in-control style of play, but Wright’s a perfectly entertaining blend of composure and funk. For as steady as he is, he doesn’t do much that looks normal, and it seems to be ingratiating him to fans on Twitter.

Being unorthodox seems to help Wright make up for somewhat middling athleticism. Instead of blowing by guys, he varies the tempo of his drives, stopping and starting to lull and confuse defenders.

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Instead of bullrushing through defenders to the hoop, he uses his length to swing the ball around them and glide past in transition.And instead of leaping over or cramming on defenders, he uses his body to create separation and protect the ball, out-waiting help defense for tricky banks and floaters. That doesn’t always work – he may struggle when longer defenders are waiting at the rim and he had a pair of turnovers – but here’s betting that it will more often than not.

He seems to have a terrific knack for reading the play, and his awareness of the movement of others is striking. Defensively, his anticipation if off the charts, so his elite steal rate wasn’t all based on his length, as he’s able to take calculated gambles. Offensively, his quick changes of direction help him get defenders off balance, and his ability to identify that helps him draw awkward fouls, with his foul rate representing one of his primary assets. He also just does some cool, funky stuff:

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And he fed Bebe Noguiera an alley-oop (kind of), which leads us to…

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Lucas Nogueira has up-and-down night

After his opener was cut short by left hamstring fatigue – head coach Dwane Casey lamented Nogueira’s trouble with minor injuries some on the broadcast – it was somewhat surprising to see Nogueira get 26 minutes Sunday. He shot 4-of-7 for eight points and grabbed 12 rebounds, dished two assists, made two steals, and blocked three shots.

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That’s great production and, like Friday, Nogueira showed some marked improvement in terms of his physicality, his offensive awareness, and his ability to put the ball on the floor a little bit.

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He also showed some hesitation with the ball on the block or in the short corner, often hesitating for several seconds before making a move. He had the ball poked loose on one such possession and nearly caused a shot-clock violation on another, and it’s clear he’s still more instinct than finesse right now.  That’s to be expected given how little he’s ever played with the ball in his hands, but lapses on the defensive end are somewhat less forgivable. It didn’t happen consistently, but getting lost is pretty inexcusable.

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There was also one play where Bobby Portis – who looked terrible (in one game), for Raptors fans still clamoring for him – ran directly into a backpedaling Nogueira, sending him backward and opening up space for a missed shot at the rim. Nogueira’s gotten much stronger, but he needs to work on how to use that in one-on-one situations when the instinct is to wait and try to block the shot.

It was a mixed bag for Nogueira, and I’m probably nitpicking a bit too hard considering I’ve been left to write a lot of positive stuff this weekend. I’d say he’s shown enough, combined with his ACB experience, that the team can enter the season with him as their third center and call it a reasonable dice roll.

Check back tomorrow for a full Powell breakdown – and a podcast! – and then coverage of Monday’s game against the Rockets.

The Toronto Raptors continue to overhaul head coach Dwane Casey’s staff.

The team is set to hire Andy Greer as an assistant, according to a report from Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports.

Greeg joins Rex Kalamian as a recent hire and is expected to handle the role of defensive coordinator of sorts, standing as Casey’s primary defense-oriented charge. That’s great news for the Raptors, as Greer is a member of the Jeff Van Gundy-Tom Thibodeau coaching tree and was one of Thibodeau’s top assistances in recent years. Greer’s been in the NBA since 2001, working as an assistant for the Knicks, Rockets, Grizzlies, Trail Blazers, and Bulls.

The Raptors removed Bill Bayno and Tom Sterner from the staff following the season, and Jesse Murmuys has been named the team’s D-League head coach. Nick Nurse and Jama Mahlalela are the primary assistants held over from 2014-15, and it’s possible Toronto could add another member to the staff before the season begins.

Nov 12, 2012; Memphis, TN, USA; Memphis Tigers forward Tarik Black (10) shoots a free throw during the game against the North Florida Ospreys at FedExForum. Memphis Tigers defeated the North Florida Ospreys 81-66. Mandatory Credit: Spruce Derden–US PRESSWIRE

Dwane Casey wasn’t kidding.

The Toronto Raptors head coach said Sunday that Ronald Roberts has a shot, which was an interesting comment. He’s the fifth-most notable Raptor on the Summer League team, sixth if DeAndre Daniels were playing, and he seemed more like LVSL roster filler than someone getting a legitimate opportunity.

But the Raptors apparently want a longer look.

A partially-guaranteed contract doesn’t really mean much here. Teams give out plenty of partial guarantees in the offseason, essentially securing the player for the summer and into the fall with a token salary. Will Cherry received a $25,000-guarantee last summer, for example, giving him an incentive to come to camp with the Raptors over another team but costing the Raptors little in the way of actual salary. The amount that gets guaranteed counts toward the salary cap and luxury tax calculations, but Roberts’ non-guaranteed amount is almost surely the $525,093 minimum and the guaranteed amount small – they matter, but with the team so far from the tax and unlikely to use their remaining cap space – they’re words, not mine – this doesn’t move the needle much.

Basically, this type of deal often stands as a sort of “offseason contract.” Roberts, who has clearly impressed in summer workouts and ingratiated himself to Casey and the rest of the staff with his motor, will play out the Vegas tournament and probably join the team for training camp in the fall. Which is awesome, but it seems unlikely this far out that Roberts makes the team. They don’t really need another big if James Johnson is being considered primarily a four now and, more importantly, Roberts may be a Quad-A player. That’s a baseball term for someone too good for Triple-A but not good enough for the majors, and I think it’s fitting for Roberts, who doesn’t strike me as an NBA player quite yet.

Roberts is an unbelievable athlete, helping him play power forward despite not being all that big. He’s 6-foot-7 and boasts a 7-foot wingspan and 9-foot standing reach, and his incredible bounce makes for terrific rebounding production. He averaged 14.4 points and 7.4 rebounds as a senior at Saint Joseph’s in 2013-14 and averaged 17.5 points and 11.9 rebounds while shooting 69 percent (nice) in the D-League last season. He also got a preseason look from the Philadelphia 76ers but didn’t get enough run to really evaluate him (it was a similar deal to this – three years, $35,000 guaranteed, two non-guaranteed years after that).

Through two Summer League games, he’s played 44 minutes and been off of the ground for all of them. He can really get around the floor and is always jumping, either for a block or a pass or a rebound or a loose ball. His energy seems infectious, and he’s proven a great fit alongside the other high-energy Raptors 702 players. He’s also scored 24 points on 11-of-16 shooting and pulled in 20 rebounds, and shown a real willingness to bang inside, especially on Sunday against some larger Bulls players. He’s flashed a decent offensive arsenal, too, torching Doug McDermott for a few plays and making the most of opportunities underneath the basket.

He has passed the ball exactly zero times so far in Summer League, which may be a bit of a concern. Maybe now that he has a deal, he’ll be more amenable to letting some others shine. The more realistic scenario is that he’s not a particular heady offensive player, which is fine for the role he’d be expected to play if he made the team.

That role, by the way, would be as an energy big off the bench. Use your athleticism, work that unbelievable offensive rebounding talent, bang with opposing bigs, and use up your six fouls. There are a handful of guys each season who carve out that kind of role, and the Raptors generally like to employ one. He hasn’t shown a whole lot of skill, but a fifth or sixth big man doesn’t necessarily need to.

I’m not ruling out Roberts making the team, but I’d rate it as pretty unlikely. Assuming Norman Powell makes the squad, the Raptors already have 14 players, and Roberts would make three rookies to go along with Bruno Caboclo and Bebe Noguiera. That’s a lot of untested talent on one roster, and I’d guess the Raptors look at a few veteran journeymen type for that 15th spot in training camp, too.

In the meantime, hey, good for Roberts. He’s a lot of fun to watch, and it’ll be nice to get to keep an eye on his development a few months longer.

Having been starved for a Toronto Raptors win coupled with being severely sleep deprived Friday’s win was a welcome antidote to my blahs. I’m also well aware I’m likely guilty of wearing those same rose colored glasses Blake mentions in his article, but it’s hard not to take positives away from the Raptors first Summer League victory.

To be fair, I’ve been in a bit of a funk since our absolute drubbing in the playoffs. What stung the most was the way we lost the final game of the series. Sure, we’d been slipping defensively arguably for more than a season, but I’d never seen our squad (post Rudy Gay trade) simply give up.

It was obvious sweeping changes were due this summer and that likely one of my favorite players would be sacrificed in the reshuffling. While I’ll miss his ambassadorship and team commitment hearing Brad Stevens and Danny Ainge extol on Amir Johnson I’m happy he’s going to a situation where he’ll be appreciated. (see video below)

Still, the reality is his new contract ($24M) ceiling precluded his resigning, especially considering we’ve added 3 players for an additional $800k (Bismack Biyombo, Luis Scola and Cory Joseph).


Suffice to say, while anxious to get a view of our new rookies and Air B&B’s growth I hadn’t quite shaken off my lingering depression of the post playoff oust and my Johnson departure hangover.

Like many instances in life, entering a situation without preconceived expectations it often produces a positive result. To wit, the progress of the Brazilian youngsters and first look at Delon Wright and Norman Powell renewed my hopes this franchise is evolving.

Granted it’s just Summer League, but here are my observations from the first foray in Vegas:

Focus On 4 Players and The Coach:

Coach Jesse Mermuys: I’ve heard Mermuys has a good rapport with the players and works tirelessly with them to progress their games. He’s set to be the 905 D-League coach, so I watched to see if anything stood out. First, he mentioned in an interview he made things too difficult for the players last season, so he chose to simplify things this time round. Hey what a novel idea, a coach who learns from their mistakes.

I noted he would grab a player as soon as they came off the floor immediately explaining what they’d done wrong. He also called appropriate time outs to stop opponent runs. Overall, it feels like he’ll be a good fit for the 905 squad.

Lucas Nogueira: Bebe was a premature exit having irritated his hammy (he called it hamstring fatigue). The box score says 2 blocks, but it sure felt like a lot more, plus he changed a lot of shots. He rebounded well, set some decent screens and maybe I’m crazy but at times I felt like I was watching a young Amir. I’d like to see him get real minutes this year on the roster and just hope the groin/hamstring issues aren’t a recurring problem.

Bonus: He’s bulked up and appears to have a better handle making a couple of in close passes I wasn’t expecting.

Bruno Caboclo: I was anxious to see Bruno even though I’m not a fan of that coif. His Go-Go gadget arms continue to surprise opponents especially when he defends an inbound pass or his arm juts out to close a passing lane (of note he had 3 steals).

Announcers Chad Andrus and Brent Barry provided my first giggle of the night saying you could tell Bruno’s experience is paying off … um what experience. As I adjusted my rose colored glasses, I mused perhaps a couple of months in the D- League running specific Raptor sets might expedite his acceleration in time to play regular minutes by next spring.

While his 3 three pointers were nice, I saw improved ball handling, loved the Euro step in the paint and his team high plus +25. He’s raw, he’s 19, he needs a new barber, but I’ll excitedly watch his growth anxiously awaiting the time frame when he reaches being 2 weeks from 2 weeks away

Bonus: He gained some muscle, made defensive improvements, his ball handling is significantly better than last season as is his court sense.

Delon Wright: Yeah he needs to work on his shot but in his first outing he dished out 9 assists with no turnovers, scored 9 points, had 2 steals and was a plus +23. In comparison through 13 games in 2 days only two players had 8 assists: Chicago’s Ramon Galloway equaled Wright’s 9 assists, but he also had 6 turnovers. Tim Frazier came close to a triple-double with 8 assists, 9 rebounds and 11 points, yet he also coughed up the ball turning it over 5 times.

Bonus: With the slow paced Summer League game it was easy to spot Wright’s high basketball I.Q. He quarterbacks with calmness and he demonstrates crafty court sense. Case in point, he snatched a rebound away from 7’5″ Sim Bhullar via proper positioning. His calm confidence paid dividends as it permeates the group around him. With Toronto needing to increase their assist total this season it’s not hard to envision him sharing court time with Kyle Lowry or Cory Joseph to facilitate ball movement. And, notably Joseph and Wright represent significant upgrades defensively over Greivis Vasquez and Lou Williams.

Norman Powell: Though I’d done my research I still wasn’t prepared for what I saw. His body actually looks NBA ready and though it was his defense pundits touted he’s a 2-way player: 20 points, 2 rebounds, 2 steals, a block and a plus 24. Though there were times I felt he could have passed the ball I was pleasantly surprised by his ability to change speeds, drive the bucket and mix up his offense while shooting a solid 53.3%. His tenacious defense was a welcome respite especially on transition.

Bonus: I forget which analyst said Powell would surprise people and was a veritably steal at 46 in the second round. The draft board called him a tenacious defender with intangibles. Well pardon me but WOW, those are some major intangibles. Sure it’s one game but you can see this kids motor …literally in game.

Other Observations

Raptors In Attenndance:
I expected to see DeMar DeRozan in Vegas who was joined by Jonas Valanciunas and 2 of the new Raptors: Cory Joseph and DeMarre Carroll. I also enjoyed Carroll’s comments re: Paul Pierce alluding to their possibly being a bit of bad blood “me and Paul got a little history all the way back to the summer in LA, he know what I’m talking about.”

Though Vegas has become somewhat of an annual visit now for the Raptors I did find it interesting neither Terrence Ross nor Kyle Lowry were in attendance. Last year Lowry arrived having just signed his new contract, so I wondered if this is just a coincidence or does this point to potential issues already.

Masai Takes a Shot at Ross?
My second giggle of the night came courtesy of Masai Ujiri. During his interview he pointed to the Carroll acquisition as necessary given how poorly we played versus 3’s (small forwards) for 2 straight seasons.

“Threes have given us nightmares you know throughout the playoffs in the last couple years, going back to Joe Johnson to Paul Pierce. We needed to get tougher, we needed to get bigger…. Hopefully he brings us some mental toughness and defense too.”

He back tracked a little saying we played two SG’s ( DeRozan/Ross) as part of the problem. Still, if the rumor that Ross is expected to replace Lou Will’s role doesn’t work there is a guy in Powell who’ll be more than happy for the opportunity. Powell’s not afraid to drive to the basket and offers a versatile offensive mix. He doesn’t have Ross’ length (Powell is 6’4″ and Ross is 6’7″) or 3 point prowess (yet) but I’d take a kid who’ll give 100% effort nightly. While he might not score 20 points often he’ll probably contribute consistently on both ends. That 2-way consistency for me wins out over sporadic big scoring nights with occasional defense every day.

What New Additions Mean?

  • First and foremost: T Ross has been put on notice! The combination of adding Carroll and 2-way rookie Powell with Bruno’s ongoing development and how easily Masai let Mr Iso-Will walk I bet has TRoss sweating bullets ….and he should be!
  • Bringing in two defensive point guards shouldn’t worry Lowry who’ll be tasked with DeRozan to be the primary scorers. However, it may serve to keep him focused knowing if Wright’s growth is quick it could easily provide Ujiri with a reason to shop Lowry to gain talent where the roster needs to add depth.
  • Regardless, if Powell can back up this first performance with the same effort (especially on defense) he’ll give Casey/Ujiri plenty of reason to consider giving him a roster spot or at worst keeping him close at hand in Mississauga. Ross has to be aware there are young colts breathing down his neck, but will that translate into a summer of progress of spur him into finding some passion?
  • Personally, I’ll hope for one crazy explosive month by TRoss followed be a swift trade with his spiked value. I was an advocate to wait for his development, but the absence of passion and no semblance of a heart have me preferring a less genetically gifted body with a bigger heart.
  • It’s only one game and Summer League at that, but my initial worries about ball movement are feeling somewhat placated given we’ve added Carroll, Joseph, Scola and Wright, all players who are pass oriented and understand the value of ball movement.

Cold War Over?
This week I caught a James Johnson interview with some poignant comments:

“I’ve been in the gym non stop the whole summer. Duane Casey and me been in the gym in the mornings 8AM. Just going back to my fundamentals of my shooting and going back to the basics trying to develop it, to make it faster”

Asked about whether he’ll see time at power forward with the trend of the league going small

“I’m here to do whatever Coach Casey wants of me whether it’s play the 3, play the 4, play the 5 play the bench”

He further explained last season he wasn’t fully familiar with the plays sets required at PF and hints Casey has been working with him on it. Does this mean the cold war is over?

Finding “It”
To reiterate I know it’s only Summer League, but the 4 players delivering on what was promised and then some left me feeling warm and fuzzy about the future potential of our prospects. If nothing else it creates some internal competition and I’m left feeling much more optimistic mid July than I ended the season. Apparently you can’t keep an optimist down and it is possible to rediscover “it!”

Tamberlyn @TTOTambz

The Toronto Raptors are the Linear Summer League Champions.

Raptors 702, as I’ll call them, opened their Las Vegas Summer League slate on Friday by topping the defending champion Sacramento Kings 90-68 in a game that wasn’t particularly close at any point in time. That should have been the expectation considering the Raptors were playing four potential roster players for next season, though the Kings had a lottery pick in Willie Cauley-Stein and a handful of potential end-of-roster bodies.

In any case, game results don’t matter all that much, beyond getting you additional games with which to develop your players. The 10-day tournament is all about development and evaluation, seeing how youngsters stack up in their first game action since the season (or college) and how fringe-NBA players look against tougher competition. At the player level, I’ve always maintained that playing well isn’t nearly as good a sign as playing poorly is a bad one – the expectation for any NBA player here is to impress, and struggles should concern.

There was little struggle for the could-be Raptors on Friday.

The four players likely to be on the Raptors’ opening day roster (three, if you’re not convinced Norman Powell is making it, which…just wait) largely dominated, particularly Powell and Delon Wright. And that’s great! The game was a ton of fun and a great way to carry over the momentum of a fairly positive free agent period. Rather than a proper game recap, here’s an annotated look at each Raptor, save for Bruno Caboclo, whom I covered in great detail on Friday.

Norman Powell is your new favorite Raptor

I feel it’s necessary to admit that I was already a big Norman Powell guy before tonight, so I may have been looking for the positives. I’m a UCLA fan, and while I wasn’t certain he’d get drafted, I pulled more tape post-draft and have become convinced he’s an NBA player. On defense alone, the No. 46 overall pick has a chance – he can lock down shooting guards, should be long enough for small forwards (he’s 6-foot-4 but has a 6-foot-11 wingspan and is quite solid), and may be quick enough to help on bigger point guards. He’s also a great athlete, the typical “hustle/motor” kind of guy Dwane Casey would probably love, and he can really score around the basket. He isn’t much of a jump-shooter and his range is limited, and his straight-line drives may not be effective against smarter, handsier NBA defenders, but I strongly feel this is an NBA player the Raptors found in the middle of the second round.

No exaggeration, I got two text messages, a Snapchat, and a DM from people during the game raving about Powell on Friday. He was dominant, scoring a game-high 20 points on 8-of-15 shooting and playing strong, active defense. His ball-handling was steady – he initiated the offense more than I expected, especially in the first half – and he made aggressive, decisive, in-control drives, scoring inside and initiating plenty of contact.

A 22-year-old who is as physically developed as Powell should perform well in this setting, especially when they have a clear idea of what their game is.

None of this it to say Powell should be a starter or even break camp in the rotation. He’s a rookie, and even “NBA-ready” rookies struggle. But it’s not just me seeing this, with multiple national draft writers echoing the feelings of me and several anonymous friends.

Delon Wright is a man among boys

Speaking of “NBA-ready” talk, I may be guilty of using that line too often with Delon Wright since the draft. As a 23-year-old senior familiar with the NBA lifestyle thanks to brother Dorell, the proper thing to say about Delon is that he’s probably more NBA-ready than most. Which is to say, there’s still a good reason he’s not second on the depth chart at any position to enter the season.

And like Powell, Wright was expected to play very well at Summer League. He’s older than a lot of the youngsters and more talented than a lot of the journeymen. But he was good. Nine points don’t jump off the page, but he dished nine dimes in 22 minutes and the Raptors were +23 in that stretch. He ran the offense surgically, especially in the second half when he got more decisive navigating the pick-and-roll, and his composure in the oft-disorganized Summer League environment was a stark change of pace if you’ve been watching the Orlando and Utah tournaments.

“It was like watching a 15-year veteran playing in a scrimmage,” friend of the site Zach Harper messaged me from inside the arena. Even Steve Kerr was impressed.

The one area Wright showed weakness was with some trepidation when opponents went under screens, as he hesitated early in the game with the shoot-drive-pass decision. Shooting is probably the biggest weakness on his resume and he needs to get his pull-up jumper off quicker. Even then, teams going under the screen gives Wright small windows of space, and he was terrific at creating and exploiting those pockets at Utah with his unorthodox attacks. He’s very herky-jerky, and it’s tough to tell what he’s doing until his action is complete, making him a really tough check on the move.

Few players can change direction and tempo as smoothly as he does, and he flashed a really nice floater.

Bigger Bebe, better Bebe

Lucas Nogueira showed up in Vegas looking like he’s been hitting the all-you-can-eat buffets. He’s certainly not chubby by any means, but he’s taken the edict to put on size seriously. He looks like a grown ass man now, a scary proposition when your a 7-footer, and an 8-footer with hair included.

He also looked much better than I remember seeing him during the season. While he gets lumped in with Caboclo often, Nogueira is 22 and spent time in the Spanish ACB league, the world’s second-best competitive environment. He’s around the point on his development curve where some NBA time should be expected, and while he’ll spend time in the D-League this year, the team appears set to enter the season with him as the third-string center. Which, hey, why not give it a shot?

With a 7-foot-6 wingspan and 9-foot-6 standing reach, defense needs to be Nogueira’s calling card. He handled his pick-and-roll coverages well for the most part after losing Willie Cauley-Stein a couple of times early on, and he showed a nice second-bounce when working on the glass. And again, he’s huge, so things like this happen:

Nogeuira looked more comfortable with the ball in his hands than he did during the season, confidently shooting mid-range jumpers and even putting the ball on the floor.  And just look at this!

It’s awareness that needs to develop next for Nogueira, who finished with 10 points, five rebounds, and two blocks but had his night cut short by left hamstring fatigue. For the most part, Nogueira is size and instinct rather than skill and feel, but that should come with more experience, and he’s doing a few things he probably wouldn’t have been able to pull off – or thought to – last summer. The clip above shows some heady transition play, and I was most impressed by this first-quarter play below, where he corralled an errant pass and made a nice dish to Ronald Roberts for an easy bucket as a double-team came his way.

A few quick notes and Can Con

  • I know this is mostly positive reporting, but it’s Summer League, we’re looking for signs of development, and the Raptors were really good Friday.
  • Notable by his absence for the most part in this write-up is Bruno Caboclo. I did a full, Bruno-specific analysis last night that you can read here.
  • Sim Bhullar is hilarious. Not in a mean way, though his conditioning is an NBA 2K glitch, but in a highly entertaining, I’ll go out of my way to watch him way. His development over the next few years should be really interesting, though he’s nowhere near an NBA-caliber player right now.
  • Apologies for not focusing on the non-Raptors much, but let’s be realistic about why we’re watching Summer League. Roberts is an awesome athlete, though, and Gary Talton’s hair is terrific.
  • DeAndre Daniels won’t be participating in Summer League, unfortunately. He’s suffered a Jones fracture in his right foot and is out indefinitely. Read more here.
  • The Canadian content was low enough Friday that the CRTC probably won’t allow the game to be replayed. Former Arizona State shot-blocker Jordan Bachynski had six points, five rebounds, and one block in 18 minutes, and brother Dallin Bachynski got a DNP-CND (see what I did there?). The 7-foot-2 Jordan averaged four blocks as a senior in 2013-14 and 2.2 in 19 D-League minutes last year, but he probably doesn’t have much of an NBA future.
  • Philip Scrubb, the Carleton University stand-out, did not play due to Orlando Summer League commitments. Scrubb flew out of Orlando Friday night, per friend of the site coach Doug Eberhardt, and should be available from here. It seems crazy for a CIS player and he struggled in Orlando, but as some Canadian content for Raptors 905, he could be a fun pick-up. He was the CIS Athlete of the Year and is one of the most decorated players in Canadian university history.
  • The Raptors’ next game goes Sunday against the Chicago Bulls at 6 p.m. EST.

One year is a long time.

At this time last summer, I was glued to my couch, ready to cover every single muscle twitch of Bruno Caboclo’s Las Vegas Summer League debut. The ultra-raw, sparsely heard-of rookie out of Brazil, the kid who could name all of one active NBA player, was about to give us our first look at what could come two years from two years from then. The Raptors won their LVSL debut, Caboclo showed flashes of why general manager Masai Ujiri rolled the dice on him at No. 20, and I wrote way too much about it all.

Fast-forward 12 months, and Caboclo is still the main reason to tune in. He was barely a rumor on the court in 2014-15, a completely expected and reasonable development considering his complete paucity of organized basketball experience. For all intents and purposes, Summer League this year is once again a major evaluation point for fans curious about Caboclo, and while all kinds of caveats apply about the Summer League environment, the next week should prove interesting as we compare Bruno Then to Bruno Now.

Not to adorn with some rose-colored glasses, but it’s hard not to be encouraged by what we saw Friday night. It’s far more than just the hair that’s grown, though the development in Bruno’s Cool Factor is definitely the biggest leap he took this year. He also looked far more comfortable on the floor, more aware of what a player’s responsibilities are on defense, and more confident in his jump shot.

Caboclo finished the game shooting 5-of-10 and knocking down 3-of-5 from outside, good for 15 points with five rebounds and three steals in 30 minutes.

The threes are a really nice development, and while I teased all-around good-guy Ryan Wolstat of the Toronto Sun earlier today for hyping Caboclo’s corner-three making ability, it’s a great sign that he’s shown visibly marked improvement. The stroke looks more fluid, he looks far more confident letting it fly, and his length is such that no wing is ever going to block that thing if he’s decisive about shooting it. He let it go off of curls from the mid-range, too, and while he is fading without necessity at times – again, nobody is blocking that thing, anyway – it’s a more aesthetically sound movement than a year ago.

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He also showed a willingness to put it on the floor at times, and twice he drew a foul by cutting toward the middle of the floor off the bounce (he was 2-of-7 from the line). His handle looks moderately tighter, though he’s still guilty on occasion of watching his dribble rather than the defense in front of him. He showed some nice end-to-end speed and control in driving the length of the floor for a transition layup:

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But was also guilty of trying to do too much and getting out of control with a man tight to him. Two of his three turnovers stuck out as mistakes of inexperience, or a modicum of discomfort handling the rock with a non-coach defender in his grill:

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His defense generally looked better than it did a year ago and than it did in brief D-League appearances. The benefit of having obscene length and good lateral quickness is that you can be a split-second late on your recognition and still be just fine. Caboclo seems to have developed a better understanding of how team defense is played, and he made smarter and more conservative switches than the run-after-the-ball Timbits Soccer approach he’s been guilty of on occasion. He also seems to realize that he’s far longer than he is a defensive stopper, and he sagged off of his man even on-ball, opting to give himself additional space to defend a drive, knowing he could quickly get a hand up in the shooter’s face.

That’s good coaching, and while it’s not the type of defender you wan’t him to ultimately become, it’s a smart step in developing his defensive game. It’s necessary to keep in mind – and this is not to carry the team or the player’s water here, it’s just a reality – that Caboclo has little actual basketball experience. He was drafted as an athlete and a body first, with the organization intent on slowly teaching him how to become a basketball player, and those steps are being taken methodically, by necessity.

Dwelling on the negatives would do a 19-year-old with little experience a disservice, but there were some minor, if expected concerns. He has the green light and he knows it. Once he made a few shots, he got a little eager to let fly. His paths to the basket need to either get more creative or more direct and aggressive. He still looks pretty weak and needs to continue to hit the gym, like every 19-year-old and like most 29-year-olds writing this article.

The “two years away from being two years away” statement may have been sensationalism at the draft last year, but Caboclo’s at least a year away from seeing NBA minutes, and that’s entirely fine. Following Friday’s game, he’s now played 301 total minutes across Summer Leagues, the D-League, the preseason, and the regular season. He won’t be 20 until September, and he’s likely slated for an entire season in Mississauga, where he may not even see heavy run to start.

His development curve dictated that last year be more of a personal development season. He moved to a new country, learned a new language, saw NBA basketball up close for the first time, and got NBA instruction for the first time. This season will be about putting some of his skill development into practice while getting him comfortable with the speed of the game. For as fun as it is to joke about Caboclo taking over the NBA, being the superstar, and so on, that fun shouldn’t confuse the fact that there’s no sense in rushing him to the Raptors, and there’s no sense in losing patience with the process.

So yeah, he’s still limited. But his set shot looks great, his confidence looks higher, and defense isn’t overwhelming him beyond reaching for balls. Given where expectations were a year ago, this is positive growth.

And bruh, that hair.

A full game recap is coming for tomorrow morning, if you care about players other than BRUNO.

All of the Toronto Raptors are out in Las Vegas. It’s funny how team functions in that city seem to be easy to get a good turnout for. Jonas Valanciunas is there, Dwane Casey and Masai Ujiri are there, and the team’s marquee free-agent signing, DeMarre Carroll, was in the house as well for the team’s Summer League opener on Friday.

Carroll joined the NBA TV broadcast in the fourth quarter, as the Raptors were steam-rolling the defending Summer League champion Sacramento Kings. Among other topics that have been covered ad nauseam by this point, Carroll was asked if he thinks he can fill some of the “it” void that Paul Pierce identified prior to the Raptors’ playoff series against the Washington Wizards.

“We’ll see Paul Pierce again, we’ll see if he say that then,” Carroll said.

The quote doesn’t mean a whole lot, of course – Pierce is now in the Western Conference with the Los Angeles Clippers, and the Raptors will only see them twice in the regular seasons (and maybe seven times in the NBA Finals). I tweeted it out (incorrectly using “again” in place of “then” – apologies, DeMarre) and Pierce stans got defensive about it, which, sure, they’re entitled, I suppose. And to be entirely fair, Pierce kind of owns one over Carroll, as his infamous “I called game” shot came with Carroll on the bench.

But that’s not really the point here. The point is that Carroll, in his stoic way, is winning the fan base over quote by quote. Granted the “JYD 2.0″ title by Jerome Williams, the Junkyard Dog always seemed the type of player Toronto fans would fall in love with. He’s fought through a ton of adversity to get where he is, he’s a defense-first player who brings the requisite toughness fans generally demand here. And he’s definitely not scared of talking a bit of trash, it would seem.

Here’s Carroll to Sportsnet’s Dave Zarum, describing a light-bulb moment in 2011:

That was when I took that jump. That’s when I realized that I could play at a high level, because I was in there playing with guys like Paul Pierce- back when he was still Paul Pierce- Kevin Garnett, Paul George, Tyson Chandler, Elton Brand, the list goes on. Paul Pierce and KG was like ‘We’re going to go back and talk to Danny Ainge about bringing you to Boston because we really need that toughness on our team.’

“Back when he was still Paul Pierce” !!!

Look, none of this matters, at all. The Raptors won’t have a rivalry with Pierce any longer, and Pierce has decidedly gotten the upper hand over the last two rounds. It’s what it signals about Carroll, his personality, and his potential place within the context of this team and this city that’s fun.

Toronto Raptors prospect DeAndre Daniels has suffered a Jones fracture in his right foot, the team announced Friday, explaining his absence from the team’s Summer League debut in Las Vegas.

A Jones fracture is the same injury Kevin Durant suffered on the eve of the 2014-15 season, costing him roughly two months. His particular fracture didn’t heal as well as hoped and he wound up back on the shelf for further maintenance. It’s a fracture of the fifth metatarsale bone, which is the last bone on the outside of your foot (that bone roughly to the bottom-outside of your baby toe), right where the shaft of the toe meets the base. It’s believed to have a higher chance of healing failure than other foot fractures, but incidences of re-injury are relatively low if the fracture is surgically repaired.

This is obviously a tough blow for Daniels, and it effectively ends his offseason. The No. 37 pick out of U-Conn as a junior last year, Daniels appeared in Summer League with the Raptors before heading off to Australia to play with Perth. Performance there is a tough translation, but Daniels, a small forward, ranked second in the league with 7.7 rebounds per game and added 14.8 points, though he shot below 40 percent from the floor and a middling 34.1 percent from outside.

Some had talked about Daniels as a potential body to fill out the final two spots on the roster, but I really don’t see it. He was hardly on the draft radar based on his college resume, but his 7-foot-2 wingspan surely caught the Raptors’ attention for the defensive potential it portends (he also had a 3.9-percent body fat, which is Bruce Lee-esque). While he may have been able to beat out Norman Powell (I assume one of them is making it as a defensive-minded reserve wing), his more likely path to the Raptors was going to include another season overseas or a year in The 905 (ugh).

Whatever his role was set to be and wherever he was set to fill it, this is a tough news for the player and for an organization trying to see what they have in him. He may well be ready for training camp in October, but the loss of several key development months, and Summer League, is disappointing.

Heal up quick, but don’t rush this thing. With Summer League lost now, the focus should be on making sure the injury is 100 percent healed to avoid any risk of re-injury.

Dwane Casey was on TSN radio (pre-Scola signing) and gave a hint to how he sees James Johnson and Patrick Patterson next season:

“We still have Patrick Patterson who I feel is better coming off the bench, he gives us that firepower off the bench, the three-point shooting off the bench, the energy. Also, we’re going to move James Johnson over to the four more this year.  That’ll help us pad that position a little bit more because he can guard those fours.  James, right now, can probably guard some of the fives in the league.  [It’s] probably a better position for [Johnson] offensively and defensively which will give him an advantage.  Especially, the way the league is going, James is a better matchup for guys who switch over to the four [sometimes like LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Paul George].”

He also spoke about how the team has improved:

“We’re a better defensive team just by personnel…skill-wise, athletically, quickness, defensive mentality, and also defensive IQ we’re much better.  We’ve added DeMarre Carroll…he’s a guy that allows us to guard guys like James, Anthony, Paul George…guys who can play the three and the four…it takes away from us having to play DeMar at the three, who gets out-manned at the position by 25-30 lbs, and he gives us more rebounding.”

On whether his team is better suited for the playoffs:

The team we’re putting together now is more suited for [the playoffs], size-wise, physicality, defensive mentality.  We were third or fourth in the league in scoring 100+ in the regular season, but it’s a totally different game [in the playoffs]. Size at certain position matters, physical matters, physical mentality matters in playoff basketball, and you got to have those types of guys on your roster to do that. And we added that.  Cory’s been battle-tested at San Antonio, he’s been there, he knows the pressure and the physicality of playoff basketball, and so does DeMarre.  So those two additions alone will help us with playoff mentality.  Now, will we score 103, 104 as we did this year every night? Probably not.  We did have an offensive-minded roster.  Lou Williams was a huge part of our offense last year, and it gave us more of an offensive personality and as we saw it doesn’t really translate [to the playoffs] as much as you try. Guys we brought in will really be more conducive to a playoff style of game, than a regular season style of game.

He also commented on Terrence Ross taking over Lou Williams’ scorer role off the bench:

Terrence Ross will be kind of taking that Lou Williams role off the bench as the scorer. We got to get him back healthy. He had surgery about a month ago and won’t be able to get back on the court till the first of August.  He had [bone spurs removed], which stunted his game a little last year.  Look forward to getting him healthy.

Terrence Ross taking the Lou Williams role just sounds like a bad idea.  One can actually create his own shot and get fouled, and the other likes to dribble it off his feet.  Though I’m sure Casey didn’t mean exactly in that role, and more that the shots Williams would get might go to Ross as a spot-up shooter, etc.  I certainly am not looking forward to Ross dribbling 22 seconds off the clock and launching a fadeaway three every quarter.

Summer league’s usually about taking a look at how your rookies and sophomores are doing, and see if you can round out your roster with some level of quality. Last year we missed out on Hassan Whiteside and instead picked Greg Steimsma, which was arguably Masai Ujiri’s worst decision in Toronto. That decision also speaks to just how well all his other moves have panned out if we’re left with a summer league cut to moan about.

This year it’s first and foremost about Delon Wright. No, not Bruno Caboclo, but Delon Wright. By all accounts and the D-League evidence available to us, Caboclo is still some ways away from finding his way into the rotation, and given his 19 years of age that’s where he should be. Wright is a different animal, because he was drafted with the intent of being a rotation player this season, and though Cory Joseph’s signing technically makes Wright third string, there’s no telling how Dwane Casey might end up using Wright who has enough size to play the two. I also firmly believe that Casey loses track of who he has on the floor and what exactly he’s matching up against, so I’m convinced that Wright just might see minutes based on error, which is great.

Wright shot 35.6% from three last season, which was a 13% increase over the previous year, and he was 50% overall, so this idea that he’s a terrible shooter is unfounded. What we’ll have to keep an eye on is how quickly he can get accustomed to NBA-range, and if he’s able to effectively create any space to get a jumper off, both items that incoming guards find challenging. Whereas shooting is easily able to be judged, defense is a difficult thing to evaluate in summer league. You can judge someone’s effort level and see if they play with a motor, but anything beyond that might be misleading based on the quality of the opposition. Then again, defense is one of those things that you either play or don’t, and Wright’s track record says he takes that end of the court seriously, unlike someone like Terrence Ross (BTW, shouldn’t he be on the summer league roster?).

Bruno Caboclo is going to be in the spotlight again, and we’ll get a sneak preview of his D-League future where he’ll be playing the role of saviour/mascot. What I’m keeping my eye on is shooting, pure and simple. His wingspan and height lends him such a huge advantage that his shot can be unblockable, kind of like Rashard Lewis. If Bruno is simply able to drain his threes and do nothing more, he can get himself some NBA playing time this season. Shooting is something, especially at his height and size, that can easily translate from the practice floor to the court because if he’s got his technique and release right, there’s very little chance a defender will be able to bother him and take away his spot-up shooting game.

In his D-League stint last year he was absolutely brutal on defense, over-committing on every possession, falling for every fake, and committing fouls out of pure inexperience. One thing to monitor might be how well he’s able to just read the offensive player and move his feet. Whether it’s going under/over a screen, rotating to the right person, moving his feet when he’s being attacked, and staying disciplined in foul-prone situations. We all acknowledge that it’s baby steps with him, but now he’s at the point where he’s a toddler who’s expected to take his first steps and not just sit around looking cuddly.

There’s also DeAndre Daniels who’s so-so year in Australia can be redeemed at the expense of Terrence Ross’s regression. The Raptors can use more three-point shooting and defense, and this is as good as an opportunity Daniels will get to make an impression. There are two spots available and assuming one of them goes to a big, he has to have his eyes set on the other one. Ujiri made an excellent decision sending him to Perth where he got minutes and exposure, but now it’s time to see if it translates to the NBA at even a bare-minimum level.

Lucas Noguiera is the guy that I expect to play a role with the big club this year because he’s the kind of player that Dwane Casey really values – he can cover ground, block shots, hedge and recover, set good screens, and clean up the glass. The problem is that Noguiera’s frame is a bit slight, and he just hasn’t had enough experience to develop. The D-League will help, but I get a feeling that he needs to be put to the test and work with Luis Scola on a more consistent basis to kick-start his game. On paper, this is the type of guy that every team these days wants, and the fact that Atlanta gave up on him so easily worries me to this day. I’m hoping that he shows me something which will rekindle my faith in him because right now it’s low  His D-League stint was impressive last year and all reports indicate that the trio of Noguiera, Caboclo and Daniels have been putting in the hours in the gym, so it’ll be interesting to see how they fare.

Norman Powell is out there as well, and I just feel the odds are stacked against him. The Raptors have Wright, Joseph, and Lowry already, and Casey prefers taller wings which means Powell’s calling card of defense won’t exactly be enough for him to make it, at least not this year.  He’s got some mid-range shot making but I find that’s not going to be as valuable to the Raptors, since if they needed that they would’ve at least tried to retain Lou Williams. Don’t get me wrong, he could have an NBA future as a tweener somewhere, just not on next year’s Raptors roster.

After that it’s about whether we can get another Canadian, Philip Scrubb, on the team. It’s highly unlikely given the guards we have and this is probably the Raptors doing him a favor and letting him showcase himself a little. The two Canadian centers, Dallin Bachynski and Jordan Bachynski, probably fall into that realm as well, though given that the Raptors could still be in the hunt for a big, they have an outside chance (but not really).

The knockout style tournament which follows the first three games lends itself to some excitement, and gives the team a more “team” feel since there’s something at the end of the line instead of just playing a string of games. Last but not least, there’s the coaching aspect to evaluate. I never paid much attention to Jesse Mermuys before but now that he’s coaching the D-League team which will have NBA hopefuls on it, we’ll keep an eye on his playbook and tendencies as well.

Enjoy the game tonight against the Kings (roster and schedule), and someone will have a report or something later.

DeMarre Carroll grateful for opportunity with Raptors | Toronto Star

Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri said the team started courting Carroll as soon as he was up for free agency. His dynamism as a player, ability to play on the wing or small forward, and his highly-touted “blue collar” work ethic were huge selling points, Ujiri said. Carroll added that the prospect of joining a lineup with DeRozan and Kyle Lowry made him “drool at the mouth.” Now all he has to do is wrest the No. 5 away from rookie Bruno Caboclo — a foregone conclusion, really — and have a sit-down with Drake. “I’m pretty sure we’ll be in touch,” Carroll said. “Hopefully he’ll put me in a song like he did Lou Will . . . a junkyard dog song.”

Pickering’s Cory Joseph pumped to be a Toronto Raptor | Toronto Star

When Cory Joseph was a little kid, the hoop in his driveway in Pickering became the basket at the Air Canada Centre; the pavement beneath his feet, hardwood. And when he’d pull up to shoot, in his boyhood imagination, he’d be draining a buzzer beater for his favourite team. “You know, ‘Five, four, three, two, one. He scores! Raptors wiiiiinnnn!’ ” recalled Joseph, sharp-dressed and grinning at the centre of a crush of journalists holding microphones in his face. A grown man now, the fancy of a young kid from the suburbs is an official reality: the Toronto Raptors announced Thursday that they have signed Joseph to a four-year contract that’s reportedly worth $30 million. “I’ve always dreamed to join this organization. This one particularly,” Joseph said. “I thought it over in my head, I still don’t know how I’m going to feel when I put that jersey on and I go out and play that first game for the Toronto Raptors. It’s still kind of surreal to me. I got to let it settle in a bit.”

Argentina's Scola joins Toronto Raptors | Shanghai Daily

Argentinean basketball player Luis Scola confirmed on Thursday he will be playing with the Toronto Raptors in the U.S. National Basketball Association (NBA) from this season. "I'm going to the north. I hope that what happened to Dady (Brieva)'s cousin doesn't happen to me," wrote the player on his Twitter account in reference to a story that an Argentinean actor tells about a family member's experience with the cold and snow in Canada.

Carroll, Joseph newest members of ‘Raptors family’

Carroll started 69 games to help Atlanta to a franchise-high 60 wins and the No. 1 seed in the playoffs last season. He's also a proven post-season performer, which Toronto could use, having been dispatched in ugly fashion by Washington in the first round of last year's playoffs. Carroll was Atlanta's leading scorer through the first two rounds. He had a run of six games with 20-plus points, and recorded 25 points and 10 boards in the close-out game against Washington. He suffered a knee injury in Game 1 of the third round against Cleveland, but said Thursday he was 100 per cent again and ready to play. Joseph spent his first four NBA seasons with the San Antonio Spurs, helping them win the league title in 2014. He played in 79 games last season with the Spurs, averaging 6.8 points, 2.4 rebounds and 2.4 assists. Both players also pointed to Toronto's fervent fan base as a selling point. "I think they have they have the best fans in the NBA, and I'm not just saying that"

Raptors GM seeks better balance | Wolstat | Basketball | Sports | Toronto Sun

“We are a 49-win team and we didn’t have enough good success in the playoffs, but I think we’re learning, we’re growing,” Ujiri said Thursday. “Our main players, our star players are Kyle (Lowry) and DeMar (DeRozan) and these (new) guys just come and learn. Cory’s been a reliable backup point guard in the NBA and he’s grown. DeMarre has gone through all the works of the NBA to become the player he is, but he said it there, he’s come to play a role come to fit in and I think he’ll do exactly that. “You never know with these things, I’m always cautious, you add good players, everything looks good on paper, it looks OK, but when the time to play comes, that’s another question too. They have to gel, chemistry, they have to figure it out. Our expectations are minimum, we keep plugging away, if it doesn’t work we’ll try to make it better.”

Boston Celtics Sign Amir Johnson | Boston Celtics

The Boston Celtics announced today that they have signed free agent forward Amir Johnson. Per team policy, terms of the deal were not disclosed. “Amir is a proven, young veteran and an exciting addition to our team,” said Danny Ainge, Celtics President of Basketball Operations. “His length, athleticism, rebounding and shooting ability will help us on both ends of the court.”

Ujiri makes big investment on newest Raptors – Article – TSN

With Wilson Chandler on his way back to the league from China, where he played during the NBA lockout, Carroll was being cut for the second time that year. Ujiri remembers that day well, though it's not his proudest moment. "It was a tough thing to do, and a stupid thing to do," joked Ujiri, now that he's able to laugh about it. "I brought him into my office and he [looked me] straight in the eye. Funny thing was, he thanked me for the opportunity. That resonated so well because he's a good person, good kid." Cory Joseph was a rookie with the San Antonio Spurs that same season. Drafted 29th overall – the second-last pick in the opening round – out of the University of Texas, the Pickering, Ont. native made eight trips back and forth from San Antonio's D-League affiliate in Austin, once at his own request, hoping to go down, get more playing time and hone his skills.

Raptors unveil DeMarre Carroll, Cory Joseph and a new approach – The Globe and Mail

The point of the exercise, driven home by Raptors president and general manager Masai Ujiri, was to emphasize his transformation of the Raptors from offence-first playoff pushovers to hard-nosed defensive demons who will go well into the postseason. And who better than Carroll, described by Ujiri as “one of the toughest players in the NBA,” to showcase the change? Carroll came into the NBA in 2009 as a late first-round draft pick who could not find his way as a power forward. Over the next four years he bounced around the league, getting traded once and waived twice, including once by Ujiri when he was running the Denver Nuggets, before landing in Atlanta.

Toronto Raptors’ off-season signings add intangible qualities they previously lacked | National Post

“I always say this saying: ‘If you see me in a fight with a bear, you better help that bear,” Carroll said. Let it be said that Carroll, in the wake of officially signing a contract that will be worth nearly eight times his previous earnings in the league, contains multitudes. Carroll might evoke (and invoke, too) the true essence of Jerome Williams’ self-appointed nickname, the Junkyard Dog, and adjectives such as “gritty,” but he also came to his introductory press conference with the Raptors on Thursday wearing black shoes outlined by golden sequins. These were not work boots. So you can add “flamboyantly fashion-forward” to his descriptors, too. “I’m a fashion guy,” Carroll said. “So you might see a lot of different things.”

Raptors welcome DeMarre Carroll to town | NBA | Raptors | Sports | Toronto Sun

“Finally the blue-collar guy is getting a little recognition,” a smiling Carroll said. Carroll’s wife Iesha was in the front row for the announcement and admitted she was a little surprised to see Carroll let his guard down that way so publicly. “He doesn’t really reflect a lot on what he’s been through but I’ve watched him push so hard through so many things that it was emotional for me to see him get emotional that way and actually acknowledge what he’s been through,” she said. The courting of Carroll was a rather short one. The forward and his family had just returned from Aruba on the final day of June and rather than agree to a meeting just after midnight on July 1 when teams were free to begin to talk to the available talent, Carroll opted for some sleep first and then met with the Raptors travelling party that morning. No other team even got an audience with him.

Toronto Raptors: analyzing the defensive rebuild

Now that Lou Williams, Amir Johnson and Greivis Vasquez are out, and Cory Joseph, DeMarre Carroll, Luis Scola and Bismack Biyombo are in, the Raptors should be far stronger on defence. With the exception of Scola, the new additions are defensive specialists, who have made careers off playing hard on the defensive end and making a difference for their team without scoring many points. This team will be a lot better in many ways. Biyombo is a straight up rim protector, who can swat away shots with his ridiculous 7-6 wingspan. He will also grab some rebounds and just simply give the second unit some energy in relief of Jonas Valanciunas. Scola is technically solid on defence, though his athleticism is pretty minimal at 35-years old. Still, he will play hard and he will make a lot of smart decisions. He will be a meaningful player for the Raps off the bench, offering a balanced and calm approach to basketball.

Dream come true for both Joseph and Raptors | Raptors | Sports | Toronto Sun

“You couldn’t ask for anything better than what that guy has gone through,” said Raptors president/general manager Masai Ujiri. “Play for one of the best coaches in the world ever (Gregg Popovich) and one of the best organizations in the world ever. What more could you ask for? I wish I could go there for four years. “It’s a blessing for us that he has gone through that and we are able to get him now. Now it’s another stage where he comes and he plays a role and he figures it out here. But (his San Antonio experience) was a great help for him.” There is no disagreement on that from Joseph. “He taught me a lot from the game to the mental aspect of the game. I’ve learned a whole bunch. I could go on forever about what Coach Pop and all the players over there did for me,” he said. “On the Spurs, nobody gets anything handed to them. I’ve had to work for everything I got."

Ujiri, Raptors mean business with new signings – Sportsnet.ca

The TV lights had gone dim and the gathering of friends, family, media and agents had thinned out and Masai Ujiri was walking through the semi-gloom of the Air Canada Centre having completed a ten-day trial that could go a long way towards defining his tenure in Toronto. He paused to answer a simple question: Is his team better? “I don’t know man,” he said. “You never know until you play the games.”

ITS OFFICIAL!!! I'm a TORONTO RAPTOR!!! NEW hashtag #JYD2.0 #WeTheNorth #Staypositive #CFF #Blessed #5

A photo posted by DeMarre Carroll (@demarrecarroll1) on

Home and family: Raptors introduce free-agent signings Carroll, Joseph

"They included my family. Whenever you include someone's family, that's real," said Carroll. "I didn't only have the negotiations with myself, but also with my family. I felt like that was a big part of it. Beyond this basketball, at the end of the day, all you have is family. "I feel like they took me in as their family and I'm happy to be a part of the Toronto Raptors family." Joseph, 23, of Pickering, Ont., grew up a Raptors fan and couldn't hide his excitement about playing for his hometown team. "I can't wait to put my jersey on," said Joseph, who is expected to back up all-star point guard Kyle Lowry. "I've thought it over in my head and I still don't know how I'm going to feel when I put my jersey on and go out to play that first game for the Toronto Raptors. "It's still kind of surreal to me, so I still need to let it settle in a little bit."

Quick reminder that the NBA Las Vegas Summer League starts on Friday with the Raptors taking on Kings in Las Vegas at 6:30 PM EST. (more…)

Davis, Durant, Giannis, Cabocolo; in that order

Bruno Caboclo is developing into an NBA player (maybe).

(more…)

This discussion is going to have to make a few assumptions in order to work. Click to read on.

There’s a common denominator with this summer’s acquisitions. Trace a line through the Delon Wright pick, the DeMarre Carroll signing, the flyer on Bismack Biyombo the gamble on Cory Joseph and it all leads to one thing: the Raptors are looking to revamp their defense.

Put it another way: Dwane Casey finally got his players. Last season’s roster wasn’t built for Casey’s ideals, especially on defense. They couldn’t run Casey’s system, they didn’t have the speed for it, the strength to rebound, nor the resolve to hustle back on defense amid scrambling rotations. The players didn’t fit the system and it was the team’s Achilles’ heel that ultimately led to a humiliating fall from grace.

Casey made his bones as a tough-minded, defense-first head coach. Carroll, Biyombo, Joseph — these are his kinds of players, the ones who will hustle back, who have the strength to rebound, the speed to rotate. Wright projects to fit the mold as well. It’s too bold to claim that Masai Ujiri acquired these players specifically with Casey in mind, but certainly, the two share the same vision. After finishing 25th in defensive rating last season, the Raptors needed a shakeup.

And so Ujiri shook up the team. The core pieces are still in place, but changes have been made. After re-signing last summer, Greivis Vasquez got dealt. After winning Sixth Man of the Year, the Raptors didn’t even offer Lou Williams a contract. After three years of waiting on potential, Ujiri finally lost his patience with Terrence Ross and brought in an upgrade. In one fell swoop, the Raptors swapped three poor defenders with three premier replacements.

Ujiri moved quickly and quietly to address the team’s biggest weakness. He brought in players who fit Casey’s vision, who can play within his system. Now it’s up to Casey to deliver.

***

Casey’s defensive schemes have been raked over the coals, but the criticism hasn’t always been fair. The system itself is fine — it just didn’t fit the personnel. But the Raptors’ newest additions should fit nicely within Casey’s schemes.

It starts with Carroll, who is an elite wing defender. He’s something that the Raptors have lacked since Shawn Marion’s brief and unhappy tenure with the club. He’s not the type to feign hustle and gamble for steals. He’ll grab his share of thefts, but it comes as a product of razor-sharp instincts and sheer effort. Watch carefully, and you’ll see the genius at work.

Carroll is disciplined. He won’t be caught losing his man through a maze of baseline screens or trailing the play because his man cut into a blind spot. Carroll is dutiful and meticulous. He’s not shy of contact and he understands that he’ll always draw the toughest assignments. He knows the scouting report, he plays the right angles, he grits his teeth and doesn’t concede and inch on defense.

“DeMarre really sets the tone for us defensively, gives us our spirit and our identity. I just think that end of the court isn’t appreciated enough, isn’t given enough accolades and attention. We’ve got a long way to go defensively, but where we are, he plays a huge role in that.”

– Mike Budenholzer (via Chris Vivlamore, Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

If you want to know what Carroll is all about, watch the Eastern Conference Finals, where the legend of Carroll’s defense was popularized. The Cavaliers purposed LeBron James as a relentless battering ram and Carroll fashioned himself as a stone wall. Carroll conceded 50 pounds to James but he fought with tooth and nail before succumbing to a gruesome knee injury in Game 1. But despite the knee sprain, Carroll managed to play out the remainder of the series, averaging 34 minutes per contest between Game 2 and 4. It was a gritty, heroic and commendable effort that rightfully earned James’s respect.

There’s not even a comparison to be made between Carroll and his incumbent. Ross is soft and lazy. Carroll is the exact opposite.

The same can be said for Cory Joseph, who always plays at full speed. Joseph fit the Spurs perfectly because he was the ying to Tony Parker’s yang. Joseph is a pest on the ball, using his quickness and length to disrupt passes and dissuade drives. He’s not as disciplined as Carroll and he’s prone to making mistakes, but his activity is second to none and you can always trust him to get back into the play. With Joseph on the floor, the Spurs posted a defensive rating of 98.3, a hair shy of Golden State (98.2) for the best defense in the league.

In other words, Joseph is a huge defensive upgrade over Vasquez. Joseph is lightyears ahead in terms of foot speed. Casey’s defense starts at the point of attack, and while conceding the middle on pick-and-roll is often encouraged, it doesn’t necessarily mean dribble penetration is tolerated. The key to bridging that gap is hustle, to have the willingness to swim over screens and stay attached at the hip so that a big doesn’t need to switch, or double. Vasquez and Kyle Lowry failed at this. Joseph won’t.

Finally, there’s Biyombo. He’s raw and he lacks flash. He’ll mostly sit in the paint as he challenges daring drivers to attack the paint. Standing at 6-foot-10 with a standing reach of 9-foot-5, Biyombo is a sky-high hurdle at the basket. He swatted 2.9 shots per 36 minutes and he grabbed a higher percentage of rebounds than Tristan Thompson and Kenneth Faried last season. He won’t do much else, but Biyombo can protect the basket.

Most importantly, Biyombo is mobile and quick, allowing him to react to breakdowns on the fly. Casey asks his bigs to trap and recover on pick-and-rolls. It was too physically demanding for Jonas Valanciunas, Amir Johnson was hobbled by bad ankles and Patrick Patterson isn’t big enough to challenge shots at the basket, nor strong enough to adequately rebound. One way or the other, the Raptors were conceding penetration, or rebounding or shot blocking. Such concessions won’t be necessary with Biyombo, at least not on defense.

The defense will improve. Whether Casey tweaks his system or not, the simple fact is that the Raptors made upgrades in defensive talent. The struggle with Jonas at center will always exist until he catches up to NBA speed, but there’s a better supporting cast in place. Carroll over Ross is a monumental upgrade and the Raptors will finally have someone to pin on big wing scorers — which has long been the most glaring of their many weaknesses. Biyombo should cement the Raptors’ back line and he’s an ideal fit to anchor smallball lineups. Joseph gives them a pesky defender to reduce the wear-and-tear on Lowry. They’re going to be much improved on defense, and specifically, they’ll be much improved within the construct of Casey’s defense.

***

The offense will likely take a step back.

Last year’s offense was “plug and play.” They had a lot of offensively gifted guards who could generate easy offense through high pick-and-rolls. This year, Ujiri cobbled together a collection of players with specific skillsets and it’s going to require a carefully curated scheme to make it work. It’s going to take far more work to create good looks with their new, more inflexible roster.

Playmaking will be a struggle. Joseph can run an offense, but he’s not on Vasquez or Williams’s level. Joseph came up through the Spurs’ system which makes sweet music from an orchestra of finely tuned movements. Joseph’s role was usually to deliver passes to cutters, before making a series of cuts himself. Gregg Popovich leveraged Joseph’s movement into cuts toward the basket or drives against wild closeouts. As a result, nearly 60 percent of Joseph’s field goals were attempted within 10 feet of the basket. Compare that to 34 percent for Lowry, 34 percent for Vasquez and 24 percent for Williams.

The Spurs were smart in creating plays for Joseph to attack the basket because he’s not much of a shooter. He posted a career high in 3-point percentage at 36.4 percent last season, but that was on 44 attempts, most of which were wide open. 77 percent of Joseph’s 3-point attempts were launched without him taking a dribble, 84 percent were attempted without a defender within four feet of Joseph and 94 percent of Joseph’s threes were assisted. His shot is far from broken, but his release is slow and he’s not a threat to pull up from deep — a must-have in today’s pick-and-roll attack.

Finding a way for Joseph to flourish within the offense will be tricky and his fit within their existing schemes is questionable. Playing Joseph as a two-guard will be difficult because of his lack of spacing, but it’s necessary with Lowry soaking up the vast majority of minutes at point. The Raptors will also have to find a way to combat teams going under on pick-and-rolls, which will happen against Joseph. That trickles down to Patterson as well, because it’s much easier to cover the pick-and-pop when the ball handler isn’t a threat to shoot (ie: what happened to Channing Frye upon moving from Phoenix to Orlando). Joseph will make up for it by being a better slasher than Williams or Vasquez, but in order for his skills to be maximized, Casey needs to lay out a strict gameplan, the way Popovich did.

To a lesser extent, the same applies to Carroll, whose career took off under Budenholzer. Carroll was the fifth option where the vast majority of his offense came from transition, cuts to the basket and spot-up 3-point shots. Like Joseph, 94 percent of Carroll’s 3-pointers were assisted, and in order for him to flourish, the Raptors will need to leverage ball-movement and drives into creating open looks for Carroll.

But Carroll will play a different, more expanded role in Toronto. That was part of Ujiri’s pitch to convince Carroll to sign.

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

– DeMarre Carroll (via HuffPost Live)

Carroll posted the highest usage rate of his career last season at 16.9 percent, and with Toronto lacking for offensive talent (at least in comparison to Atlanta), Carroll will naturally draw more opportunities. Carroll will likely take Ross’s spot as the go-to spot-up shooter, but he has the in-between game to attack closeouts and get to the rim. Carroll is also a better weapon in transition and can occasionally run pick-and-roll.

Still, it’s hard to see a scenario whereby Carroll’s usage increases in Toronto, while maintaining a spectacular efficiency. Carroll posted a true-shooting percentage of 60.3 while turning the ball over on 9.3 percent of his possessions. Those are stellar figures and it speaks to Atlanta’s offense. Toronto’s attack is far less imaginative and they can’t play five-out like the Hawks, so it’ll be a challenge for Casey to draw something up for Carroll that expands upon the general confines of 3-and-D, while maintaining efficiency.

Finally, Biyombo will basically need to be spoon-fed on offense. His only viable weapon is the pick-and-roll, but he doesn’t set great screens to free up his shooters, doesn’t quite have the subtlety to move to open spaces to present himself for a pass, he can’t shoot and he’s not much of a post-up threat. He also struggles to catch passes, which makes him a huge downgrade over Amir’s flexibility.

Moreover, it’ll be a struggle to play HORNS with such a weak crop of playmakers in the frontcourt. Amir Johnson was excellent in feeding high-low passes to Valanciunas, he was a great screen-setter in all scenarios and he played a wicked two-man game with DeMar DeRozan. Without him in the lineup, can the Raptors run some of their same sets, or will the offense become even more skewed towards their perimeter players?

Furthermore, passing out of the post is something that hugely benefited Joseph and Carroll at their previous stops. The two make a lot of their moves off cuts, but who will spot these cutters in Toronto? There isn’t a player of Tim Duncan, Tiago Splitter, Boris Diaw, Paul Millsap or Al Horford’s ilk to deliver. It certainly won’t be Biyombo throwing the pass. As currently constructed, Patterson projects to be their only true power forward who can make reads and throw passes in the frontcourt.

Edit: Scola will help in this regard too. He’s a very clever passer. Good move by Ujiri to grab him on the cheap.

***

Maybe this is too much hand-wringing over systems and playmaking. After all, the Raptors ranked fourth in offensive efficiency last year. With a healthy season out of DeRozan and Lowry, the Raptors have the same core pieces in place to repeat as a top-10 offense.

But look deeper at the particulars, and it traces back to coaching. Can Casey design a scheme to accommodate more limited players? Can his training staff help develop these skills? Can the team shake its isolation-heavy focus to something more pass-friendly?

The roster is talented and they have definitely improved their defense. In many ways, the roster resembles something out of Casey’s sensibilities. It’s tough, it’s defensive-minded and they’ve made up upgrades at their weakest spots. Now the question falls onto Casey himself. What can he do with this team?

Note: This was written before Luis Scola signed with the Raptors and has been adjusted to reflect that deal. 

The NBA has officially set the salary cap for the 2015-16 NBA season, and the ridiculous but necessary July moratorium that led to the Clippers holding DeAndre Jordan hostage (take notes for the Andrew Wiggins chase) is over. Signings and trades can now be made official, and the cap situation of every NBA team is now more clear.

The cap came in at $70 million, topping expectations by roughly $2.9 million. That’s great! But it’s great for all 30 teams – those with cap space have a shade more, those over the cap have more room to breathe beneath the luxury tax, and those in the tax have to pay a little (or in some cases substantially) less. The bump may mean the Raptors can get in on a free agent they couldn’t previously, but any teams they were bidding with have likewise been given more flexibility.

Now, nothing is ever simple with the salary cap. What follows is my best attempt at figuring what amount of cap space the Raptors could get to if they needed every penny available. I made a few stated assumptions, I checked with the best online resources, and conferred with some who know the collective bargaining agreement better than myself. The CBA is a beautiful, nearly inconquerable beast, and while the intricacies and complexities are sure to frustrate some, they’re kind of a fun challenge. NBA teams hire full-time employees as capologists, so apologies if this best attempt proves flawed in any way.

Let’s get on with it.

The Raptors can find their way to $2,591,566 of cap space.

The table below shows the team’s current salary commitments, and several important notes follow.

raps cap2

Bismack Biyombo: Was signed using the room mid-level exception, the version of the mid-level given to teams who drop far enough below the cap to lose their other mid-level exceptions and the Bi-Annual Exception (the Raptors have no BAE, is what I’m saying). Biyombo will count for total team salary in trades and any luxury tax considerations, but it does not eat into cap space if the Raptors time things properly.

A quick aside: The “MLE” as most know the term is for teams who are over the cap to sign players up to the tax apron. That’s not afforded to teams above the tax, who get a smaller MLE, or to teams below the cap, who get a Room Exception. Essentially, “exceptions” exist to help teams work around the cap – if you’re under it, there’s less of a need for an exception, and giving the Raps a full MLE would basically be giving them free cap space. Back to Biyombo.

Essentially, the Raptors are likely to delay signing Biyombo until their other shopping is done. If his $2.8-million salary won’t push the Raptors over the cap, then he’s just absorbed into cap space. For now, when considering maximum potential space, he can instead count as a minimum roster charge (because without him and Luke Ridnour, the Raptors would only have 11 players, you have to have 13, and you have to have 12 counting on the cap). It’s minutiae and a little confusing, but basically, Biyombo doesn’t count against the cap unless the Raptors don’t use their cap space before officially signing him.

Luis Scola: The deal is said to be for a hair under $3 million, so maybe the cap room bumps up a bit. He also becomes the 12th player under contract, so no minimum roster holds are required any longer. That doesn’t mean much, but it means his $3-million salary only cut the cap space by about $2.5 million. Also, hey, Luis Scola signed! Happy 1:30 a.m. with a 6:30 a.m. rise to you, too.

Luke Ridnour: Salary is non-guaranteed if waived by July 11. If they can’t find a taker for him in a trade by end of business Friday, he’ll almost certainly be waived.

DeMar DeRozan: Cap hit is $9.5 million rather than $10.05 million, as All-Star incentive is now deemed “unlikely” after failing to make the team last season. (Per the indispensable Dan Hackett.)

Delon Wright: Signing his rookie deal early at 120 percent of scale (something 90-95 percent of all rookies do) pushed his cap number from $1.26 million to $1.51 million, costing the Raps a quarter-million in space.

DeMarre Carroll: Deal includes the maximum raises allowable, so the first year salary is $14.05 million instead of the $14.5-million annual average. (His full deal is slightly below the reported $60 million, per Basketball Insiders.)

Cory Joseph: Deal includes the maximum raises allowable, so the first year salary is $7 million instead of the $7.5-million annual average. (His full deal is slightly below the reported $30 million, per Basketball Insiders.)

Jonas Valanciunas and Terrence Ross: Get the extend-and-trade idea out of your head. The rules around such deals are far too restrictive and skew too far from a player’s best financial interests to make them a realistic possibility. If the team signs them to an extension to their rookie contracts – the deadline is Oct. 31, otherwise they’ll be restricted free agents next summer – there will be no change to their cap number for this season.

Norman Powell and DeAndre Daniels: Second-round picks do not have cap holds associated with them, and they can’t be signed using a special exception. If either player is to make the team, they’ll need to be signed with cap space or with a minimum salary exception. In this case, either is represented by the minimum roster charge cap hold in the table, as the charge is equivalent to the rookie minimum salary that either player would likely sign for – that amount is not included in the table calculation because the Raptors have enough players signed, but it’s there for informational purposes.

Because I’m a Powell fan, I’d probably consider using some of the remaining cap space to sign Powell to a three-year deal so that the Raptors have his Bird rights. They can sign second-round picks to two-year deals using a minimum salary exception, but using cap space on a three-year deal improves the chances of keeping the player later and avoids the Gilbert Arenas provision. A three-year deal for Powell starting at the minimum would cut another $525,093 from cap space, dropping it to $2 million and change.

Cap Holds: The Raptors had cap holds for all of their outgoing free agents, along with Mickael Pietrus ($947,276) and Nando De Colo ($1.9 million). Pietrus may be an accounting mistake, as teams can no longer sign-and-trade a player who is out of the league, ala Keith Van Horn. De Colo seems unlikely to return to the Raptors but retaining his rights until they absolutely need the cap space makes sense, because why not? The assumption below does NOT include Pietrus and De Colo, as it’s a look at potential cap space, not the exact current state of the cap.

Salary Cap and Luxury Tax: A league memo released Wednesday indicated a $70-million salary cap and $84.74-million luxury tax threshold, which would in turn mean an $88.74-million tax apron. It’s unclear if the exact cap number is an even $70,000,000 or rounded, but we’ll assume all zeros here. The tax line is worth noting but unlikely to impact the Raptors without some serious movement on the trade market or some other unforeseen event.

What else can the Raptors do?

Beyond using their $2.5 million and change on a free agent (I see you, Dorell Wright; I wish I could see you, Darrell Arthur and K.J. McDaniels), the Raptors can also use that space to absorb a player through trade. Because the Raptors are a non-taxpaying team, they can take back up to 150 percent of the salary they send out, plus $100,000, so long as they send out $9.8 million or less. The rules change beyond that amount: From $9.8-19.6 million outgoing, the Raptors could take back that amount plus $5 million; beyond $19.6 million outgoing, they could take back 125 percent of what they send out, plus $100,000; and this would all change if a trade pushed Toronto above the tax.

To keep it simple, and because it’s hard to see what deal would exist that would see the Raptors send out $10 million, what you need to know this this: The Raptors can use their cap space to absorb a player without sending a roster player out (a pick or the rights to DeeAndre Hulett will do), or they can take back roughly 1.5 times the amount of salary they send out in a deal. So there’s a path in which they could use their remaining cap space to sign a player, use the exception on Biyombo, and still add another player by trade

Ridnour, for example, could return $4,225,000 in salary from a team looking to shed a deal, though it’s worth noting he can’t be combined with another player in a trade. A hypothetical Ross-Johnson package could return $9.180,875 in salary. And so on. There are avenues to adding salary through trade, separate of the team’s available cap space.

Exceptions remaining: The Raptors don’t have a BAE (sigh, them and Will Lou both), or the MLE, and they’ve used the Room Exception. They can still sign players to a minimum salary commensurate with their level of experience – all teams can do this to fill out their rosters, regardless of cap or tax status.

Assets

Should they go that route, the Raptors now have several picks in hand to deal. Along with all of their own first-round picks, the Raptors own a 2016 first from either the Knicks or Nuggets (whichever is less favorable), and a lottery-protected 2017 first from the Clippers from the Greivis Vasquez trade. With the cap rising quickly and rookie scale contracts set in stone until at least the summer of 2017, when the CBA can be renegotiated, draft picks have the potential to be incredible values and, therefore, appreciable trade chips in the next few years. Personally, it’d take me a lot to deal first-round picks for this same reason, but if the right deal is there, sure.


Current roster and potential targets

Most of the coverage on the site of late had been about potential targets, specifically at power forward, and the market’s pretty thin and uninspiring. I really, really liked Darrell Arthur as a flier at the four, and while a full case requires it’s own post, he’s a great defender who improved the defensive numbers of every Nuggets frontcourt partner last season, he’s got range out close to the 3-point line, and has improved as a passer. He’ll be 27 when the season starts, it seems likely he’ll come cheaply given how quiet his name’s been on the rumor mill, and while the boxscore stats (and PER) don’t speak highly, I’m a big fan and think he’d be a nice fit. I may have tunnel vision a bit here, but “my guy” last summer was Al-Farouq Aminu, so I’m trusting my gut here.

Alas, the preceding paragraph was written pre-Scola. Now he’s here, the Raptors are at 13 players (14 if Powell makes the team), and have a fairly balanced roster. Without considering another signing (other than Powell) or trade, here’s what the Raptors roster looks like:

PG: Lowry, Joseph, Wright
SG: DeRozan, Ross, Joseph, Wright, (Powell)
SF: Carroll, Ross, Johnson, (Powell), Caboclo
PF: Patterson, Scola, Carroll, Johnson
C: Valanciunas, Biyombo, Nogueira

There’s no longer a clear need anywhere, but depending on how much the team wants to trust a pair of rookies or rely on Johnson, another wing or power forward wouldn’t hurt. There’s also a nice offense-defense balance at several positions, though another frontcourt defender would be a good use of resources (I wish I thought Arthur would come cheap enough). A bit more shooting could help, too. Point guard and center are probably set with three at each spot (sorry, Jeff Withey). My guess, by the way, is that Daniels is headed for the D-League or back overseas (I’m skeptical he’s an NBA player but hope I’m wrong), and that Powell makes the team unless a superior external option materializes.

So, yeah…there’s all of that.

Quick wrap-up

*The Raptors have 14 players under contract, but Ridnour is likely to be waived, making that number essentially 13.

*Only 12 count for the cap right now because Biyombo will be signed using the Room Exception. It’s complicated.

*The Raptors could find their way into roughly $2.5 million in cap space still. They can also absorb additional salary by trade, or fill the roster out with players at the minimum.

*The Raptors have 13 players signed and likely to stay signed, with up to roughly $2.5M to spend, plus any minimum deals, and can add salary by trade.

*There’s flexibility here. They have tradeable contracts and assets, and aren’t restricted by many bad deals or tax concerns or roster surpluses/deficits, so few things are off the table. And the roster is pretty solid as is. Things are good, mostly.

Nick and Barry finally get together in the same room and do a damn podcast.  On this episode of Talking Raptors the guys discuss the off-season so far. We’ve lost some faces and gained some new ones.

Topics include

– So long Sweet Amir Johnson.

– Dearest Tom Sterner. We will miss you. You to Greivis… and Lou too.

– The new cast and our feelings on the new team.

– Leave Demar alone.

– D-League. We made it.

– What’s Coach Casey up to?

If you thought the Chuck Hayes Minute was gone… You were terribly mistaken. The legend gets his shine as always.

The guys also take a look around the league and try to sort it out the best they can.

Thanks for listening and enjoy.

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Luis Scola is set to join the Raptors on a 1 year, $3 million deal. Photo Credit: Darron Cummings/AP

Did the Raptors just sign veteran power forward Luis Scola?

And confirmed through the words of Woj:

Oddly enough, Scola was Zarar’s top suggestion for an affordable power forward in his piece on Tuesday. Since it’s late, and I’ve got work in the morning, I’ll just steal snippets from Zarar’s piece.

Scola isn’t a great defender but we don’t need him to be.  He is, however, a smart defender that plays the angles, (tries to) move his feet, and doesn’t pick up silly fouls.  Offensively, he’s still a crafty player with an old-man game, has back-to-the-basket moves, and can even play the pick ‘n roll in spots.  His 35-year old body is a non-factor to me because he doesn’t rely on his athleticism to be effective, and in that regard is very much like his countryman, Manu Ginobili.

He played 81 games and averaged 21 minutes last season with Indiana, on a team that wasn’t going anywhere.  He was well-received in the Indiana locker-room and he learned to come off the bench on a team that had hoped to contend before being decimated with injuries. He’s got at least a year or two left in the tank, and with the Raptors carrying inexperienced and development-stunted bigs like Bismack Biyombo and Lucas Nogueira, it makes sense to have someone of Scola’s intelligence level on the team.

Also, Zarar should hit up the casino sometime soon:

The 35-year-old Argentinian spent the last two seasons with the Indiana Pacers. He’s a crafty post scorer that has little-to-no bounce. He can nail a midrange jumper and should help bring playmaking to the frontcourt, something the Raptors sorely lack (see my piece later on Thursday). Scola averaged 16.6 points and 11.4 rebounds per 36 minutes last season, which are right in-line with his career figures. That was good for a PER of 16.8.

The move suggests that Patrick Patterson will get the starting power forward gig, while Scola serves as backup. It’s not an ideal situation, especially since Patterson and Jonas Valanciunas sucked as a frontcourt last season, but who knows? Maybe it’ll work since Jonas is improving his jumper and his quickness? Maybe he’ll teach Valanciunas and the rest of the Raptors about the principle of verticality, as he did with the Pacers. His veteranship is also to be mentioned, and there’s a South American connection with Bebe and Bruno, if only so that they can talk about the strange decline of Brazilian soccer.

Scola’s signing brings the Raptors’ roster to 13 (minus Luke Ridnour, who is not gonna stay). The depth chart now looks as follows:

PG: Lowry/Joseph/Wright

SG: DeRozan/Ross

SF: Carroll/Johnson/Bruno

PF: Patterson/Scola

C: Valanciunas/Biyombo/Bebe

At $3 million, the Raptors should still have something around $2 million in cap room. But if that’s the case, just structure the multi-year deals as declining salary scales and grab another two wings on the minimum. Maybe promote DeAndre Daniels if he’s ready? I’m very tired.

Masai Ujiri just got lent some money.

The Raptors look to be a beneficiary of the league’s salary cap set to rise to $70M for the upcoming season.  Initially, the cap was expected to be $67M, but the jump to $70M has one major effect: max contracts are now bigger because those are based on a percentage of the cap.  Secondly, they’re giving teams who were projected to be above to near the cap (like the Raptors) extra breathing room.  The Raptors will likely sign Bismack Biyombo using the “mini” mid-level exception, meaning that his $2.8M first year salary wouldn’t count against the cap. This would free up about $5M worth of money for Masai Ujiri to spend, without resorting to trades.

Given the free-agent pool that’s out there (discussed here and here recently), offering a $5M deal isn’t nothing, and certainly lends more flexibility to Ujiri as he tries to round off his roster.

Check out Basketball Insiders for more detail, as currently they appear to have the best numbers (at least until Sham Sports get their act together).

Blake will have a real analysis of this thing tomorrow.

Sonny Weems’ exile from the NBA is over! The former Raptors, who along with DeMar DeRozan and Amir Johnson formed the famed Young Guns trio, has signed a 2 year $5.8 million contract with the Phoenix Suns. No word on whether he’s learned to control his penchant for trying to take over games, or not.

Chicago Bulls' Carlos Boozer (L) celebrates a basket against the Atlanta Hawks during the second half of their NBA basketball game in Chicago, January 14, 2013. REUTERS/Jim Young (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)

I just had the chance to go through questions that were tweeted my way last night. Unsurprisingly, they were mostly directed towards the power forward issue that the Raptors currently have. I’ll do my best to dissect these questions.

It’s probably best to get this out of the way first: The Raptors have, reportedly, just over 4 million left in cap space once they waive Luke Ridnour’s unguaranteed deal. Biyombo’s salary does not count towards the cap, as he was signed with the room exception. To further elaborate on this exception, it’s a new rule that allows teams to offer max contracts of two years at 2.5 million without it affecting the cap.

Blake will elaborate on this in an article tomorrow.

4 million is not a staggering amount. One thing is clear: Masai splashed most of the money already on Caroll and CoJo. But there are still some good players out there to grab. The Raptors though, will focus on upgrading their power forward position from here on in. Every other spot is filled at the moment, while the power forward position looks quite thin. I’ll break down three names below.

I’m only listing off three realistic candidates here. Ranked from best to worst in terms of fit with this team.

Terrence Jones

There have been no strong links between Terrence Jones and the Raptors, but if there’s a way to land the Rockets’ forward, the Raptors could find their starting power forward for years to come. Jones is a mobile big who does well on defensive rotations and does a decent job on the glass. His downfall is that he’s a below average 3-point (35.1%) and free-throw (60%) shooter. Jones only played 27 mpg last season, but as a starter, he could easily be a 15-10 guy.

Jones has a really solid interior game offensively. He can finish inside and has an explosive first step which catches opposing power forwards off guard. He has an insane 7’2 wingspan, works his tail off, and is a menace when it comes to cleaning up the rim and getting offensive put-backs.

Although his three-point shooting isn’t exactly feared – Jones can still stretch the floor and draw out interior defenders. Plus, his shot is something that can still be worked on. If Amir Johnson can develop a three-point shot seemingly over the course of a season as a starting power forward, it’s not far-fetched to think a young player who already has the mechanics, to improve into a respectable three-point threat.

Houston already has another great prospect in Donatas Motiejunas at the four, which makes Jones more expendable. But realistically, what do the Raptors have to offer the Rockets? The Rockets will be looking to strengthen their back-court. They need a shooter / scorer-type player who can fill in to take pressure off Harden, and score when Harden is on the bench.

The Raptors have no such player that is expendable, really. Unless you’re willing to package fresh meat like Delon Wright or future draft picks, I don’t think Houston even looks at the offer sheet. Theoretically, a straight up Luke Ridnour + Delon Wright for Terrence Jones would work, but the chances of Houston taking it seriously are slim.

To remind you, here is what the Raptors have in terms of draft picks.

2016 1st round draft pick from New York (worse of Denver/New York)
2017 1st round draft pick from Los Angeles (via Milwaukee Vasquez Trade)
2017 2nd round draft pick from New York (Bargnani trade)

The 2016 pick is an absolute gold mine. The Knicks are going to be awful – again. That’s a potential lottery pick right there. The other two picks are in the air at this point, but I imagine both will be high. The only circumstance where Masai Ujiri should trade the 2016 pick is to acquire a bonafide star. Anything less would be a waste of assets. I don’t believe Masai will touch that pick unless it’s truly a profitable return.

Markieff Morris

Like Jones, Morris has problems stretching the floor efficiently, but he can at least pull-out to the mid-range in a poor man’s LaMarcus Aldridge type of way. His defense is sound – not great, not awful – and he’s not a rim protector. He would probably need to be paired with Biyombo rather than Valanciunas in the starting unit, which becomes problematic because Morris is not a bench player and starting next season he’ll be making 8 million a year.

Realistically, if Morris is acquired, he is going to start at the four regardless of how well he pairs with Valanciunas. Dwane Casey would have to make it work.

Phoenix is making Morris expendable because he clashes with head coach Jeff Hornacek. So what would they be looking for in return? It’s an interesting question, because no one really seems to know what Phoenix is doing. They’re not good enough to make the playoffs, but they’re also somewhat in ‘win now’ mode with their commitment to Brandon Knight and Eric Bledsoe in the backcourt, as well as their recent investment of Tyson Chandler.

With that in mind, the Raptors could entice the Suns with a 3-for-1 trade: James Johnson, Terrence Ross, and Luke Ridnour for Markieff Morris. Anything less than that wouldn’t work, as it would put the Raptors over the luxury tax, and a deal like that would cripple the depth of the team.

Carlos Boozer

Right off the bat I will say that this would be a borderline disastrous move. Carlos Boozer is a corpse of a corpse. He’s regressed every year since leaving Utah, and he does ridiculous things like this:

View post on imgur.com

Yes, when you’re building a young team headed for a playoff run, it’s nice to have veterans on the cheap (if he indeed comes cheap). But keep in mind Boozer is not your typical veteran. He’s not an old guru that inspires young athletes nor has he ever been known as a character guy.

He can give you entertainment value as a neutral – that I’ll give him.

There is one big problem that arises in a Carlos Boozer signing – that he may become a starter in Dwane Casey’s system solely based on reputation and name. The Raptors would collapse defensively.

There is only one way to entertain the idea of signing Carlos Boozer and that is to have him come off the bench. Now that, is an interesting scenario. Boozer still has somewhat of an offensive game, can rebound at a decent rate, and is a good passer. Losing Lou Williams guts the Raptors of scoring off the bench, but having Boozer might replenish that role. Boozer is in essence, the ‘anti-Biyombo’. In that sense, a Biyombo-Boozer pairing off the bench might actually work.

But again, he would absolutely have to come off the bench. If Boozer is the only power forward the Raptors could net this Summer, you’re asking a lot of Patrick Patterson to be your starting four. I’m sure PatMan would welcome the challenge and could guard most power forwards in the East, but it can’t be your go-to line-up.

There are other interesting names out there: Josh Smith, Jordan Hill, Darrell Arthur. I didn’t elaborate on them, because Zarar covered it pretty good yesterday.

If this question came up two or three weeks ago, I would have said there’s a chance DeMar gets moved, but the way this off-season is developing, it’s clear to me that DeRozan and Lowry will both be part of the core this season. There isn’t many realistic scenarios now where moving DeMar is conducive to building a better team. If Aldridge was a possibility, you’d move DeRozan – or whoever, really – in a heartbeat.

It’s hard to predict what happens at the trade deadline now, because how the Eastern Conference unfolds now is tough to predict. The Raptors have improved their core and lost some depth along the way, while there are 5-6 other teams who look just as good – if not better than the Raptors. Masai will evaluate that closer to the trade deadline.

The Raptors are down at Summer League in Las Vegas, which is where center Jonas Valanciunas caught up with Akil Augustine of NBA TV Canada.

“I was working on my shots selection, I was working on my quickness, bringing my game to being like power forward, not like slow center,” Valanciunas said of his summer workouts. “So I’m trying to increase my speed and my abilities to shoot a midrange shot … to be like a quicker guy.”

Valanciunas then clarified that he’s not being instructed to become a power forward (which would make no sense considering that he’s their only viable starting center), and that the goal was to add quickness, to add a midrange jumper, to his current repertoire of post-oriented play.

It’s a great sign that Valanciunas is working on quickness and his shooting. I touched on the need for both in a piece earlier this summer.

On quickness:

Given that he lacks footspeed, changing defensive schemes should help alleviate some problems for Valanciunas. But he wasn’t asked to hedge as much as the Raptors’ other bigs and the Raptors’ guards still insisted on giving up the middle when paired defensively with Valanciunas. The strategy often led to awkward 2-on-1 situations in which Valanciunas had to guard both the ball handler and the roller.

However, hiding Valanciunas will become increasingly difficult. Dropping Valanciunas back to protect the rim works against a traditional big, but teams have often exploited Valanciunas’s weakness by going small, or even by catching Valanciunas on switches. Valanciunas doesn’t have the footspeed to track players on the perimeter and it prompts him to guess on shot-fakes to compensate.

The NBA is also moving away from the uniformity of ICEing pick-and-rolls because the it falls apart against teams with a wealth of 3-point shooting. In response, teams are increasingly warming to the idea of switching, with teams like Milwaukee, Houston and Golden State trotting out lineups of homogenous defenders who are capable of guarding multiple positions. The idea there is a trade-off: switching yields mismatches, but it spares the need for help rotations on pick-and-rolls.

To that end, it’s unreasonable to expect Valanciunas to ever be able to defend any position other than center. But given where the league is trending, Valanciunas will need to — at the minimum — develop enough quickness to adequately brave the perimeter on occasion.

On a midrange shot:

The goal with Valanciunas developing a midrange jumper isn’t so that the Raptors can have yet another starter who lives in the midrange. The idea is to develop a necessary weapon to play out of the high post.

Valanciunas launched 86 of his 652 field-goal attempts from the midrange, knocking them down at a 33.7 percent clip. Owing mostly to his inability to can the shot, opponents completely played off him and dared Valanciunas to shoot. Valanciunas almost never went straight into a shot, opting instead to bait opponents with a toothless pump-fake. And again. And again. And again.

Being able to can the flat-footed shot should theoretically open up a world of possibilities. It makes the pick-and-pop an option. It makes the idea of working Valanciunas out of the high post an option. It makes running dribble hand-offs in the middle of the court easier without a defender sagging off and waiting at the basket.

Valanciuas has good form and is a good free-throw shooter, so he has the working structure of a functional jumper. The next step will be for him to take it with more conviction.

As an added note, you can actually see Valanciunas working on his jumper in the background during Bruno Caboclo’s interview.

A Little Housekeeping Off The Hop

Perhaps it’s my withdrawal symptoms kicking in, but Summer League hasn’t been this watchable for quite some time. Maybe I’m just enjoying Mario Hezonja’s debut against inferior opponents a little too much. Which reminds me, Super Mario looks the part and then some. What happens in Vegas, will most likely begin to haunt opponents in short order.

Orlando has built a group that screams potential, and at the very least they’ve joined the conversation to battle for the 8th-seed. The last thing Toronto needs after taking a step back last season is another up-and-coming team clouding the Conference picture. Yes, you can still label a team a failure despite them setting a franchise record in wins.

The Raps’ schedule doesn’t kickoff until Friday night, where they’ll be suiting up against Sacramento. If you’re one to usually scoff at Vegas Ball this time of year, I can’t take issue with you, its track record isn’t particularly noteworthy. However, a few intriguing factors could change your mind, and your channel.

Among them are a chance to check in on the progression (if any) of the usual suspects, Bruno and Bebe, as well as draftees Delon Wright and Norman Powell, and the one who continues to lurk in the background, the talented DeAndre Daniels.

Not to mention the fact that it’s basketball in raw form. Small crowds with minimal distraction, and an atmosphere where every single participant is trying to prove something. Besides, it starts at 6:30pm, there’s plenty of time for the rest of your evening. Just be weary of HOV lanes, and on the lookout for silver-black-and-white walkers.

It’s probably a good thing the Free Agency chaos has begun to cool off.

Examining how the Raps’ most recent addition, Corey Joseph, potentially affects Toronto’s future direction is the next step. This squad is creeping closer to a trending-north return, at least on paper. And the new-found excitement is helping provide a much needed stress release.

Despite LaMarcus Aldridge existing as a fantasy pick-up all along, the Raptors were dealt a few favours in the process. For starters, a player of his caliber simply holding a meeting can only aid this franchise’s capabilities in the marketplace moving forward. With troubling tax laws an annual roadblock, the lure of Toronto will seemingly always need an outside push.

It also furthers the developing interest in players who don’t necessarily jump ship to the most “mainstream” situation, as basketball decisions are trending upward in their own right. Keep your head up, Knicks’ fans, Kristaps Porzingis offers hope, even with Carmelo’s sabotaging ways.

And hey, at least Aldridge stayed in the West. I’m now looking forward to the upcoming Warriors-Spurs Conference Finals.

Or, as Bill Simmons put it:

Speaking of high hopes. Aldridge’s assistance also trickled down to the Raps’ roster. After his decision was finally made, thoughts immediately shifted to the notion that San Antonio’s new arrival would likely force the Spurs to relinquish Joseph’s rights. In which Masai and company wasted little time benefitting from the situation, landing the underused, yet up-and-coming point guard with the Pickering, Ontario pedigree.

Considering the void in the frontcourt left by Amir Johnson’s departure to Beantown, hopes that Aldridge would ultimately choose Phoenix, where the same scenario could have played out making Markieff Morris available, arguably would have provided more satisfaction.

But in the end, there’s no complaints in acquiring a player coming from a disciplined and ball-sharing environment, while adding more firepower at such an important position in the process. On the surface, the amount of cash forked over caused a number of double-takes. In case you missed it, or bypassed the link above, Zarar Siddiqi quickly put out the fire:

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

For now, we should be embracing Money Masai making it rain:

Still, in the spirt of the forever roller-coaster of emotions the Raps supply, a sobering dose of reality was required the next morning. It wouldn’t be a Toronto party without one. Which brings in the questions the acquisition of Joseph could eventually manifest into.

kyle_lowry_nets

Back To The Future

Kyle Lowry will remain this team’s leading heart-and-soul moving forward, along with playing an added integral role in the development of the new back-up point guards. How fast the two 23-year-old kids can make substantial contributions largely depends on whether Casey and K-Low can manage a proper mentoring process.

This is where it gets messy, the relationship between Head Coach and floor general doesn’t exactly embody a perfect match, meaning patience is the right course of action for fans and execs alike.

Joseph has has earned his stripes. But what if Wright’s also a quick study, and his defensive calling-card begins to impact games sooner rather than later? Playing all four years in College only backs the thought. Lowry’s service to the team would then be deemed a success, but wouldn’t that also lead to his days in a Raptors’ uniform ultimately being numbered? As per the moment, neither Joseph or Wright translate well to the two.

Well, not necessarily, as there’s room for all three to help each other immediately, and eventually coexist evenly. The Raps’ usage of Lowry roaming off the ball is usually a focal point, and the proposition of the trio forming a two point-guard set rotation would be prosperous. Problem is, by the time Toronto is ready to be considered a contender, the young guns may have already surpassed K-Low.

But wait, the hits keep coming. Off-court obstacles do their damnedest to interfere as well.

DeMar DeRozan’s impending payday represents the team’s most pressing financial dilemma. Judging by the fact that DeMar’s name was bandied about when courting prospective Free Agents, it lends itself to the idea that the plan is to back up the brinks truck and load Derozan’s pockets before the 2016-17 season.

The looming and significant cap rise across the league can ease the burden of where money can be allocated, but mix in those four first-round picks over the next two years with thoughts of going all-in on the Free Agent class of 2016, an elephant in the room will undoubtedly appear.

That Kevin Durant led class includes the unrestricted likes of Joakim Noah and Al Horford, while also featuring the restricted Andre Drummond and Toronto’s own, Jonas Valanciunas. With the state of the frontcourt as we speak, and the fact that the Raps might even go with what they have, one has to think a major play will be made. Which at that point, the Raps might even be interested in moving Lowry’s contract via trade.

Raptors

There’s still a major factor I have yet to give its proper due, and that’s Lowry himself. If his old-self reappears, it can go along away in silencing the idea of him moving on.

I’m referring to:

  • The one who relishes drawing the charge.
  • The point guard who gives the same effort at both ends.
  • An opposite version of the three-year decline in Assists Per 36 minutes.
  • Back, or closer to his 11.8 Win Shares of 2013-14, not the 7.1 level of last year (Offensive drop: 8.4 to 5.1, Defensive: 3.3 to 2.0).
  • The more organized, and less isolation-style example being set (I know, the latter is likely impossible in this offense).
  • The player who didn’t post his worst True Shooting % of his career last season (.527).
  • A team leader who has the capability of seamlessly fitting into the new defensive-minded culture shift that Masai is trying to install.
  • And above all, a completely healthy K-Low (slack is definitely given where it’s due).

With a first-round pick, and offseason money spent at the same position he holds, one would think that can spark the fire of rejuvenation, where most of these attributes can make an appearance once again. Lowry may be superior in talent and experience, but the backups promise might be serviceable enough going forward for this organization to concentrate on filling holes elsewhere.

A little saving grace comes in the form of the timeline the execs actually give Wright. Signing Joseph could be argued as a proactive approach to ensuring Lowry has a quality backup. Though with Bobby Portis still avaialble to draft and aid the club’s most pressing need at Power Forward, that’s a bit of a stretch.

There’s three years left on his contract, but Lowry needs to prove himself once again to see a future extension, or even its final year. He led this franchise’s resurgence to relevance, it would be a damn shame for the ending to have already started.

Happy Summer League, folks. Here’s to a Markieff Morris acquisition in the days ahead.

Jesse Mermuys had us all fooled, and is in fact moving up the corporate ladder.

The #Raptors905 (I think I’m supposed to use a hashtag there) have made their first couple moves:

Jesse Mermuys was on the bench as an assistant coach last season and was basically the backup half-time interview behind Tom Sterner.  He takes on the role of Assistant GM as well as head-coach, and creates a direct link between Dwane Casey’s coaching staff and the D-League franchise.

Mermuys survived the assistant coaching cull which saw Sterner and Bill Bayno fall by the wayside.  The introduction of Jerry Stackhouse and Rex Kalamian had filled those voids, and now that Mermuys is leaving, there may be an additional hire. We nominate Butch Carter. Mermuys also coaches the Raptors summer league teams.

Dan Tolzman was the director of scouting for the team and will be taking over GM duties, which goes hand-in-hand with his previous role.  In fact, it’s an nice transition from identifying players (scouting) to integrating them into a larger system (development).  This D-League movement is a huge step in the right direction and it’ll start paying dividends within a year, and doubly so if it somehow accelerates Bruno Caboclo’s development from backup mascot to 10th man.

I got to say, the Mermuys hire surprised me because he doesn’t exactly come off as well-rounded, and if he was a friend of mine I wouldn’t trust him as a job reference.  He might just blurt out how we stole that DVD player from Best Buy that one time.

Some quotes from Masai Ujiri and Mermuys:

“This is a step on Jesse’s path to becoming an NBA head coach,” said Ujiri. “We have seen first-hand his ability to develop our players and are excited to have him lead our DLeague program.”

“I am extremely excited for the responsibility of developing and helping our young players reach their full potential” said Mermuys. “The opportunity to assist the organization, fulfill my passion for player development while strengthening my leadership skills through head coaching experience is a valuable prospect.

There’s no doubt we lack a little “killer instinct” on this team, a void which could be possibly filled by a Paul Pierce-esque style player. Who’s still out there now which you think could be that player for the Raptors?

Scott Halleran/NBAE/Getty Images

The Players Tribue is one of the best sites out there, and DeMarre Carroll penned a piece thanking the Atlanta organization and fans. Couple of interesting tidbits from that post:

There was this one shooting drill we had in practice, and Kyle would just dominate everybody. It took me a while to even build up the courage to challenge him. I practiced for a couple of weeks and was hitting most of my shots, so I called Kyle over and said I was ready to take the throne. I told him I’m the Black Kyle Korver.

We each took turns putting up five threes, and when I made four out of five, he’d make five out of five. If I hit three out of five, he’d make four out of five. No matter how many times we played, Kyle always found a way to beat me by one if I missed a shot.

He told me to try again next year when I was ready. Well, I’m telling him now that Black Kyle Korver will get his revenge. It’s on.

Jokes aside, he does point to a very key ingredient in his and the team’s success last season:

The biggest reason why I was able to play my best basketball in Atlanta is because of the organization’s player development. All of the coaches worked hard to make every guy on this roster better, and they deserve a lot of credit for our team’s improvement this year.

Kenny Atkinson pushed me to take my game to another level. Darvin Ham shared the tricks he picked up during his long NBA career to help me develop my skills around the basket. And then there was Quin Snyder, who was the first coach who took me under his wing while he was an assistant here.

The big difference between regular NBA players and superstars isn’t just talent, but the way they train. Quin and I just kind of clicked right away when I came to the Hawks, and he began working with me to develop skills that I hadn’t really touched before. His belief in me built up my confidence so much.

This is really important because he’s been a fringe player who found the perfect situation which allowed him to flourish.  He had the right system around him, the right friends, and the right coaching support.  As he points out, it’s not that he’s some highly skilled player that you can transport from one situation to another and replicate production.  It’s vital that Dwane Casey’s staff provide him the support that he clearly needs and expects for him and the team to do well.

We’ve talked about his assisted rate of 82.6%, and how the Raptors were third-last in assist rate last season, and how there’s a system development issue at play here.  He’s also improved as a player as well and gotten a lot smarter.  For example, he increased his three-point shooting from 28.6% in his final year in Utah to 39.5% last season with the Hawks, and during that same time span he reduced the amount of “long twos” he was taking from 31% to 6%.   That speaks to a very specific change in his game that was orchestrated by the Atlanta coaching staff, who saw a problem in the player and corrected it.

The question is whether Dwane Casey’s staff is able to, not just find but, carve a role for him that sees him maintain, if not improve, his current standing.

Luis Scola remains an under-the-radar free-agent who could be had on the cheap. AFP/Scanpix.

SI has done a pretty good job of breaking down available free agents (warning: auto-playing video), and the pickings are slim.  The Raptors have one major need left unaddressed, and that’s power forward.

I have to assume that the Raptors do in fact want to add some bodies there, and that they’re not comfortable with just Patrick Patterson as the starter, with nothing behind him other than Bismack Biyombo.  Then again, this sort of a highly experimental approach is a curious one and would subscribe to the small-ball philosophy, certainly far more than going after Carlos Boozer would.

Depending on your level of crazy, Josh Smith could be an option.  I happen to think that any GM who thinks that Josh Smith playing major minutes would lead to success needs to have his head examined, and I know that not having even offered Lou Williams a contract, Masai Ujiri is not one to throw money at Josh Smith, even if it’s the veteran’s minimum.  The guy is just too much of a wildcard, way too inefficient, and wildly frustrating.

There are names like Jordan Hill and Darrell Arthur available, the former is a good rebounder and nothing else, and the latter an overrated player that doesn’t contribute offensively.  In the limited $4-5M the Raptors have left, they need to do a few things:

  1. Address veteran leadership
  2. Not sacrifice defense
  3. Improve bench offensive
  4. Not spend a lot

Enter Luis Scola, and let’s start with his SI blurb:

At 35, Scola is rounding for third and headed home. His transition to a bench role in Indiana played out fairly well, as the crafty 6-foot-9 power forward managed to keep his per-minute production up even in a reserve role. Although one would think he’s in ring-chasing mode, Scola doesn’t stretch the court and he isn’t an impact defender, so his utility for true contenders might be somewhat limited.

Scola isn’t a great defender but we don’t need him to be.  He is, however, a smart defender that plays the angles, (tries to) move his feet, and doesn’t pick up silly fouls.  Offensively, he’s still a crafty player with an old-man game, has back-to-the-basket moves, and can even play the pick ‘n roll in spots.  His 35-year old body is a non-factor to me because he doesn’t rely on his athleticism to be effective, and in that regard is very much like his countryman, Manu Ginobili.

He played 81 games and averaged 21 minutes last season with Indiana, on a team that wasn’t going anywhere.  He was well-received in the Indiana locker-room and he learned to come off the bench on a team that had hoped to contend before being decimated with injuries. He’s got at least a year or two left in the tank, and with the Raptors carrying inexperienced and development-stunted bigs like Bismack Biyombo and Lucas Nogueira, it makes sense to have someone of Scola’s intelligence level on the team.  Who knows, he might even be able to teach them a thing or two?  For example, he was the poster-boy for Frank Vogel when preaching rim defense, and though he’s athletically challenged, it doesn’t stop him from being a sound basketball player.  For more on how he fared in Indiana and what their fans thought of him, 8pts9secs has the details:

Luis Scola had his best season as an Indiana Pacer in 2014-15 amidst the chaos that represented the Pacers’ year. With the blue and gold needing more out of Scola while playing him alongside inexperienced guys like Donald Sloan, Solomon Hill, and Lavoy Allen, Scola delivered modestly. Scola arguably outperformed started David West for a good portion of the season, though he lacked West’s skill as a sneaky passing big man. If we delve into the advanced stats, Scola

  • had the highest PER (16.8) since his 2010-11 campaign
  • had the best Total Rebound Percentage (an estimate of the % of available rebounds the player grabbed while they were on the floor) of his career at 17.5%
  • had the best 3-pt shooting year of his career, at a modest 25% (on 20 attempts)
  • nearly doubled his win shares (an estimate of how many wins an individual player contributed) from 2.5 to 4.4

Luis truly had a solid season across the board, and broke out a ridiculous number of old man style post moves, routinely going under, around, and seemingly through defenders on his way to well defended layups. If we were to look for a place Scola struggled, however, we’d need to look no further than 15 feet from the basket; the free throw line. Before signing with Indiana, Scola’s last two years from the charity stripe were solid; 77.3% and 78.7%, respectively. Since joining the blue and gold, Scola has shot only 71% from the line, including the worst performance since his rookie year last season, 69.9%. Dropping almost 9% over a two year span is concerning, and Luis seemed to have a significant number of 1-of-4 days at the line with big misses.

The Argentinian would instantly be a fan favorite in Toronto because we have a habit of falling in love with his type – all hustle, tons of grit, and wears his heart on his sleeve.  Scola’s always been a player that you hate playing against, and would love to have on your team.  From his perspective, the fact that he hasn’t been picked up yet means the interest in him has cooled.  As the article noted, he can’t space the floor and since that appears to be table-stakes these days, he’s left on the outside looking in.

Though Carlos Boozer is the better offensive player, I find that having a locker-room guy like Scola might be even more valuable, especially since the Raptors acquired young guys in Biyombo, Corey Joseph, and Delon Wright.

Scola made $4.9M last season with the Pacers, and like David West, would likely take the veteran’s minimum if a contender comes calling.  On the other hand, his career earnings are $57M, which isn’t huge, and this is going to be his last contract.  The Raptors could offer him the MLE and see if he bites. In many regards, he’s similar to Amir Johnson in the way he plays, except that you could actually throw him the ball once in a while and run a few plays around him.  The difference is that Scola is likely to come at 1/3rd the price Johnson went to the Celtics for.

The risk here is low – you’re not going to get a much better player from the free-agent pool at this point and a 1-2 year deal could get the job done.  I wanted the Raptors to go after David West, but when he left $11M plus on the table to join the Spurs, you knew the Raptors didn’t stand a chance. The other guy that was available that I liked was Spencer Hawes, who Charlotte (the worst three-point shooting team in the league) acquired as part of the Lance Stephenson deal.

There’s also the trade route to explore, and it doesn’t look like Ujiri is interested in a major shakeup.  Looking at the assets right now, it’s basically Terrence Ross and Jonas Valanciunas.  Given the gaping hole a Valanciunas trade would create in the front-court, I’m prepared to rule that out, especially this late in the free-agent frenzy where most teams have already picked out their key players for next season.  We all agree that Terrence Ross isn’t fetching you much, which didn’t stop me from wandering over to the trade machine and drumming this thing up:

marvin

Don’t ask me for extended analysis – just saying that the poor-shooting Hornets get a three-point specialist, and since they already have Jason Maxiell and they’re somewhat interested in Cody Zeller, this might free up some congestion there.  They could also save some money by waiving Ridnour.  For the Raptors, they get a three-point shooting stretch four that also plays defense.  Meh, not the most crazy trade idea I’ve seen.

Another something to think about:

This deal requires more salary to be sent to Phoenix, which I’ll leave for Ujiri to figure out how to do. Here’s not the long-distance shooter his brother is and instead possesses one of the league’s best ‘roll’ actions on the PnR. Definitely worth looking into it you want to increase the punch off the bench, and he’s only one 25 so fits into the long-term plan. Even if you have to shed a first-round pick, this is worth it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Via Eric Koreen, National Post)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

bismack-blocking-shots

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

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

Solid get by Masai. Solid

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jan 11, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Portland Trail Blazers guard Wesley Matthews (2) heads down court after a three point basket in the second half of the game against the Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center. Trailblazers won 104-96. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

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

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

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

To me, the off-season had three todos:

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

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

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

On the free-agent process and how things transpired:

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

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

What he brings to the Raptors:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To Amir Johnson, my favorite Raptor of all time.

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

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

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

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

What on earth happened yesterday?

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then there was DeMarre.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Masai we trust.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday Night News

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

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

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

What We Already Knew

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

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

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

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

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

Canada Day Q&A

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Getting hot up in The 6.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Forum Thread: Goodbye Amir Johnson]

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

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

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

Amir Johnson – all the best, and thank you!

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

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

The Money

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

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

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

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

The Player

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

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

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

Shotchart_1435775514080

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

[Forum Thread: All Things DeMarre Carroll]

The Challenge

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

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

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

Impact on Roster

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

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

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

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

Perception

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

Eat your heart out, Raptor fans.

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

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

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

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

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

DeMarre Carroll is a Toronto Raptor.

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First and Foremost, a Canada Day Toast:

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

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

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

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

Now, let’s get this party started.

NBA Free Agency

“We’re Open For Business.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Speaking of changes.

usa-today-8480802.0

New Blood:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lowry Casey

Future Fireworks?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Canada Day, Cheers.

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

The calm before the storm..

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

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

Undoubtedly, the LaMarcus Aldridge bit trumps everything for now.

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

The official list is as follows.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Woj TV Bomb?

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

So what’s the pitch?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paving the way..

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s Stack at his best:

As per Twitter in the knows:

Here’s what’s happening with Ridnour:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Caution to the wind, though:

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

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

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

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

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

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Oct. 12, 2012; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Portland Trail Blazers forward LaMarcus Aldridge (12) reacts on the court during the game against the Phoenix Suns in the second half at US Airways Center. The Suns defeated the Trail Blazers 104-93. Mandatory Credit: Jennifer Stewart-US PRESSWIRE

IT’S ALL HAPPENING (MAYBE)

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Jan 25, 2015; Cleveland, OH, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder assistant coach Rex Kalamian reacts against the Cleveland Cavaliers at Quicken Loans Arena. Cleveland won 108-98. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

From Adrian Wojnarowski:

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

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

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

Part 1

Part 2

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

Grab the iTunes feed or check us out on Stitcher on Android. There is also the plain old feed. You can also download the file (54:00, 65 MB). Or just listen below:

offersheet

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

dleaguelogo

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

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

press

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

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

guywhodesignedlogo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AlFarouqAminuShotChart

His Basketball Reference Page

His NBA.com Page

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Decisions, decisions with DeMar DeRozan.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Come check out and discuss our the newest Toronto Raptor.

Three takeaways from Thursday’s draft.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can read Dwane Casey’s reaction here.

WOJBOMB:

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

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

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

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

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

Some more reaction and info:

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

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

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

DX Note:

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

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

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

DX Note:

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

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

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

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

DX Note:

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

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

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

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

DX Note:

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

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

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

Shoutout to Sauga City.

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

– Masai Ujiri

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That move reeks of Bryan Colangelo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(dap to Canis Hoopus)

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

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

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

Blake Talk:

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

Fan Talk

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

Nick Reynoldson from Talking Raptors:

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

More Fan Talk

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

Grab the iTunes feed or check us out on Stitcher on Android. There is also the plain old feed. You can also download the file (28:46, 34 MB). Or just listen below:

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

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

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

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

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

1. Find a role player

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. Upgrade your best player

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

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

4. Trade up

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

5. Swing for the fences…again

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Toronto Raptors forward Jonas Valanciunas (17) reacts after being called on a foul against the Detroit Pistons during second half NBA basketball action in Toronto on Monday, January 12, 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Mar 16, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Raptors assistant coach Tom Sterner yells out instructions from the sideline against the Phoenix Suns at Air Canada Centre. The Suns beat the Raptors 121-113. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Toronto Raptors' Kyle Lowry, left, celebrates his three pointer against the Minnesota Timberwolves with teammates DeMar DeRozan, centre, and Jonas Valanciunas during second half NBA action in Toronto, Friday January 17, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Mark Blinch

Something to consider this summer.

Toronto Raptors head coach Dwane Casey, left, talk with Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri during NBA training camp in Toronto on Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2013. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

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

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Toronto Raptors' Lucas Nogueira, left to right, Kyle Lowry, Chuck Hayes and Jonas Valanciunas celebrate during second half NBA action against the Milwaukee Bucks in Toronto on Friday November 21, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

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

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

Part 1

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

Part 2

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

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Grab the iTunes feed or check us out on Stitcher on Android. There is also the plain old feed. You can also download the file (40:44, 49 MB). Or just listen below:

DALLAS - FEBRUARY 25: Jerry Stackhouse #42 of the Dallas Mavericks is defended by Chris Bosh #4 of the Toronto Raptors during the game at American Airlines Center on February 25, 2006 in Dallas, Texas. The Mavericks won 115-113 in overtime. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2006 NBAE (Photo by Tim Heitman/NBAE via Getty Images)

From Doug Smith’s blog earlier today:

Jerry Stackhouse.

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

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

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

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

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

Fun fact: Apparently Stackhouse is a retired vegetarian.

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

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

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

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

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

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

blue-jays-world-series-6

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

“NOT EVERY TEAM CAN WIN A TITLE”

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

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

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

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

“STARS ALWAYS LEAVE THE RAPTORS”

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

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

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

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

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

vcbosh

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No one achieved anything worthwhile by aiming low.

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

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

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

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

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

A photo posted by Bruno Fernandes (@brunofive) on

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

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

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

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

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

Restricted Free Agents: None

Non-guaranteed Deals: None

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

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

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

table1

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

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

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

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

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

table2

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

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

table3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Toronto Raptors' DeMar DeRozan waves to the crowd as he leaves the court following his team's 100-84 win over Philadelphia 76ers in an NBA basketball game, Wednesday, Jan. 14, 2015 Toronto. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Chris Young)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amidst some audio issues, Andrew and I talk about the D-League team situation, Tom Thibodeau, and what DeMar DeRozan would fetch on the market by playing a name game.
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DEERFIELD, IL - JUNE 23: Tom Thibodeau, the new head coach of the Chicago Bulls, speaks on the phone to a sports radio station following a press conference at the Berto Center practice facility on June 23, 2010 in Deerfield, Illinois. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

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

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Toronto Raptors head coach Dwane Casey, left, talk with Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri during NBA training camp in Toronto on Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2013. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

Why you say? Click and read on.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here it is:

allstarlogotoronto

Some info about the logo:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s next? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jimmy Butler

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

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

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

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

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

Overly optimistic?

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

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

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

On to something a little more practical.

Tier 2: Somewhat Realistic Additions

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

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

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

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

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

Now, it’s the headliner’s turn.

Toronto

Tier Tristan: The Main Objective 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Make it happen, Masai.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

john cassaday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Forget about it

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

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

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

Unlikely to be around

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

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

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

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

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

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

The core group to argue about

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

Guards

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

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

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

Bigs

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

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

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

Wings

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

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

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

Might be a reach

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

DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry in purple jerseys.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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PHILADELPHIA, PA - JANUARY 23: Kyle Lowry #7 of the Toronto Raptors speaks with the media against the Philadelphia 76ers at Wells Fargo Center on January 23, 2015 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2015 NBAE (Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jack: I think he needs to mature.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TORONTO, ON - APRIL 22: DeMar DeRozan #10 of the Toronto Raptors stands during the National Anthem before the game against the Brooklyn Nets in Game Two of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the NBA Playoffs at the Air Canada Centre on April 22, 2014 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2014 NBAE (Photo by Ron Turenne/NBAE via Getty Images)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grab the iTunes feed or check us out on Stitcher on Android. There is also the plain old feed. You can also download the file (55:13, 53 MB). Or just listen below:

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

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

And don’t forget:

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

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

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

The Big Board

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

Trey Lyles, F, Freshman

Kentucky, 6-10, 235 lbs

Draft Express :: ESPN

Pick by Michael Gennaro, @michaelgennaro

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

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

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

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

anderson

Justin Anderson, G, Junior

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

Pick by Greg Mason, @votaryofhoops

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

grant

Jerian Grant, G, Senior

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

Pick by Blair Miller, @TFQuarter

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

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

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

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

looney

Kevon Looney, F, Freshman

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

Pick by Steve Gennaro, @therealphdsteve

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Raptors bringing back Dwane Casey as head coach | Toronto Sun

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

Raptors smartly halt coaching carousel | Sportsnet.ca

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

Raptors looking to tweak coaching staff | Toronto Star

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(more…)

Holster your vitriol.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Toronto Raptors guard Kyle Lowry and coach Dwane Casey walk off the court at the end of the team's 103-95 loss to the Charlotte Hornets in an NBA basketball game in Toronto on Thursday, Jan, 8, 2015. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Frank Gunn)

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

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

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

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

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

Update:

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

Here are the six assistant coaches:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TYLER ENNIS (Milwaukee)

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

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

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

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

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

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

DENNIS SCHRODER (Atlanta)

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

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

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

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