RR Mailbag

Deadline Week Mailbag: Rules, scenarios, 2018-19 implications, and more

Oh god, this is just way too long.

The Blake Murphy Open Challenge is back for a chat to kick off Trade Deadline Week. We got the ball rolling a little while back with a lot of pre-deadline Qs, and you can find all of the previous editions of the mailbag here. You can ask me questions at any time using #RRMailbag Twitter, and I’ll be sure to include them in the next mailbag, no matter how long between (unfortunately, it’s too much to keep track of Qs from the comments, so Twitter/email is preferred).

Before we go ahead: A reminder that we have a Patreon page at patreon.com/RaptorsRepublic. If you appreciate the content we produce, want to support RR, and have the means to do so, any contribution is greatly appreciated and will help us continue to do what we do (and try to do even more). You can also follow me on Twitter for, uhh, tweets, and on Facebook for all of my writing/podcasting/radio stuff. Validate me.i

Alright, let’s do this.

Deadline Talk

The Raptors can’t trade Norman Powell. Teams are prohibited from trading a player who signed a veteran extension for six months afterward, which takes Powell off the table at the deadline. He can be dealt again once the Raptors’ are eliminated (e.g. on a draft night trade), and he’ll count at his current salary for matching purposes until July 1, with no poison pill provision. He’s easily the Raptors’ most interesting trade chip on draft night given the ease with which he can be worked into a team’s salary structure pre-raise, and he’s probably their most logical offseason trade chip as the team’s biggest mid-tier salary on a player who should still hold some value.

For deadline purposes alone, Powell’s a no-go. Anyone else on the roster (including two-way players) can be traded. The Raptors can also trade their first-round pick from 2020 onward and their second-round pick from 2019 onward, and include up to $5.1 million in cash in trades.

As for the hard cap, the Raptors have already triggered it by signing C.J. Miles to the non-taxpayer mid-level exception in the summer. Under no circumstances can they exceed $125,266,000 in salary, a number that has to fit in any unlikely bonuses and minimum contracts for any additional players added (e.g. if the Raptors do a two-for-one, you need to account for an extra minimum salary since you have to have 14 players). I went into much greater detail on all of the financials here.

The Raptors acquired a second-round pick from the Magic for Jeff Weltman when they hired him away at the end of last season. That was a 2018 pick that was then sent to the Brooklyn Nets in the DeMarre Carroll deal (along with the Raptors’ 2018 first-rounder). The Raptors owe their own second-round pick to Phoenix from the P.J. Tucker deal.

Management is willing to go into the tax, yes. Masai Ujiri is not blowing smoke when he says he has MLSE’s permission to do so, and the way they went about the summer of 2017 said, to me, that 2018-19 will be their big tax-spending year. There’s almost no way to avoid it, anyway, and it looked a few months ago like that would be Toronto’s biggest window.

Part of that is because the Raptors won’t actually be hard-capped again. Unless they use the full mid-level, use the bi-annual exception, or acquire someone via sign-and-trade, they won’t trigger the hard cap and can operate as a normal tax team. That opens up a lot of options, especially with the team armed with two trade exceptions, deals they can move to watch salaries like Powell, and an ability to trade their 2019 first-rounder (once the 2018 draft has occurred, the restriction on dealing the 2019 pick is lifted, as long as they haven’t dealt their 2020 first).

I don’t think there are major implications for this week here, mostly because I believe the Raptors have approached this entire season knowing they’d be a tax team next year. If there’s a consideration – and this is me making a bit of a reach assuming what the levels of Ujiri’s spending autonomy are – is this: The Raptors extended their competitive window through 2019-20, and Ujiri spoke openly about the ability to be a tax team if the situation calls for it.

I would guess that the window-extension came with a rough three-year budget estimate which, while not a hard cap on team spending, is going to be a guiding principle here. So when you see me write about the team trying to skirt the luxury tax this year, it’s not garden variety MLSE cheapness that people seem to assume – an extra $1 million in salary now might also come with a $1.5-million tax bill and the forfeiture of luxury tax payments from other teams, so signing a 15th man buyout candidate might end up costing, say, $3.5 million in real dollars which, while not a big deal as a stand-alone number, may use funds earmarked for later in the competitive window. Again, I’m making some broad assumptions here, but I’d be surprised if the Raptors are looking at their financial situation as isolated years and not as a three-year window as a whole, so if there’s no meaningful addition to be made now, maybe it’s best to keep those dollars for when they can have a greater impact.

So, I kind of covered this above. I’m a little torn, because the window right now is much more open than I (or the Raptors, I think) anticipated. There just aren’t many meaningful moves available to them without mid-tier salaries or a first-round pick to trade, with the hard cap hanging over everything. Come July 1, the Raptors won’t be hard capped, they’ll be able to deal a near-term first, Powell becomes tradeable, and teams will have more cap flexibility to make moves. So it’s not necessarily a strategic preference to wait to take a shot next summer so much as it is the team just having far more tools available to them come July than they do now.

I’m going to link to this article again because it goes really deep on this stuff. In brief, the Raptors triggered the hard cap this summer, so they can’t exceed $125.3 million in salary under any circumstances. So they can technically use those trade exceptions, but they could only use the amount that pushes them to the hard cap, not a penny over. I think they’ll be a lot more useful in the summer (they don’t expire until mid-July).

One note here, in the event the Raptors were super interested in someone in the $5-7 million range: You can structure trades as separate deals in some cases, which offers some creative accounting possibilities. To use a strictly hypothetical example: Say the Raptors wanted Ersan Ilyasova from the Hawks, who makes $6 million. A Lucas Nogueira-for-Ilyasova swap doesn’t work under the trade machine rules, but it works if structured as two separate deals (the Hawks taking back less salary and the Raptors taking Ilyaosva into an exception; the two teams don’t have to structure the trade the same), and the Raptors could hypothetically deal Nogueira to a team with cap room, thereby creating enough space under the tax apron to absorb Ilyasova into the smaller Joseph trade exception.

You’re talking some complicated deals here, and that particular framework probably sees the Raptors giving up too much, but it’s just to show that the smaller exception could come into play if the Raptors found themselves enamored with someone in the mid-salary range.

If the Raptors are going to make a move, it’s for an extra shooter. If you’re going to give up one of the core young guys, you basically have to set the bar at Siakam/Powell – both of those guys figure to be on the fringe of the playoff rotation and could likely provide a boost depending on the matchup. There’s little sense moving a long-term asset if it’s not a clear upgrade on one of those guys. That’s going to be really difficult, and there are plenty of benefits to having young, inexpensive, improving players that outweigh “10th man is slightly better if he’s needed in a playoff game.”

If they look a little lower – say, Bebe-and-a-2nd, which is about the maximum that I, the world’s most noted Bebe believer, would be willing to go for a lot of the names bandied about – there are options. Tyreke Evans is probably going to command more, even without Bird rights, especially if Memphis is willing to take salary back. The Raptors might balk at Troy Daniels’ modest salary for 2018-19. He’s the most likely target I can come up with. Joe Harris can shoot but probably doesn’t get playoff minutes on this roster. Ilyaosva and Marco Belinelli are hard to make the math work for. Utah might not be selling to make a Jonas Jerebko type available (and again, we’re back to the question of whether that’s a clear upgrade, anyway). Luke Babbitt probably slots in as a “specialist” only for this team. Not exactly shocking: The league’s bad teams don’t have many good 3-and-D guys on good contracts!

And hey, Michael Beasley is making the minimum and shooting 39.1 percent on threes.

Probably, yeah. This is more just the reality of the cap rules, though. Trading a young player on a good salary doesn’t let you bring very much salary back, and there aren’t many clear upgrades that aren’t pure rentals who the math works for. I think they’d cave and move one of them if it meant not having to give up a pick and getting a clear upgrade for the playoff rotation, but I’m skeptical that deal is out there.

You guys are way too mean to Bruno. G League All-Defense Team players who hit 34 percent on threes don’t just grow on trees, nor do they grow with 7-foot-7 wingspans. How dare.

In seriousness, I doubt Caboclo goes. The team has invested four years into him, and it would be incredibly anti-climactic and a major lack of return on that investment if all he ended up being was salary ballast. I think they want to see how the rest of the G League season goes, evaluate his May-June progress, and keep the option open to bring him back on a minimum deal for depth next year. If he keeps progressing, anyway. I don’t see another NBA team valuing Caboclo’s RFA rights because his qualifying offer is too high, so it’d be strictly to match money.

If they’re going to match money, Nogueira seems like the guy – he makes the most of all the young guys, and because he’s shown so much in small flashes, there figures to be some interest in getting a two-month look at him, plus his RFA rights. It’d be tough for me to let him go – I still think he’s going to wind up being a good NBA rotation player, there are some playoff opponents against whom he’d be a better on-paper matchup than Poeltl, and there’s a scenario where he signs his qualifying offer and isn’t an overpay as a third center – but he seems the most likely piece to be outbound.

There’s not really a way to make the money work for a Favors type. Sending out C.J. Miles for him puts the roster into imbalance, and I doubt the Jazz would take Valanciunas back. Those are the only two frameworks that work financially, and with Favors headed to free agency (and with Valanciunas playing so damn well), the Raptors probably balk at either, anyway. Basically, anyone making more than $7 million coming in would be a surprise, as it’d require a bigger framework than most have anticipated.

JV better.

(The Grizzlies are cool on dealing Gasol, per Zach Lowe, and he’s looked largely disinterested this year. If Memphis was willing to play ball on a swap, you obviously look long and hard at what they’re asking for on top of Valanciunas. Realistically, if they put Gasol on the market, there are teams that would swoop in and be able to top Toronto’s offer in terms of draft equity.)

Like with actually unquestioned “good” players who are tough to make salaries work, it’s tough to play predator with longer-term salary. It comes down to this: If a salary is low enough that flipping Nogueira for it is possible, then the salary isn’t large enough for another team to be all that worried about. Troy Daniels is the name I come back to in this example because he’s owed $3.3 million next year, but I can’t imagine the Suns are stressing about that (especially since he’ll be movable in the summer). Maybe one of the really bad teams looking to clear the deck for next year. Those deals probably involve players that are too good for this hypothetical or too expensive. Playing cap-sheet predator isn’t the life for teams that are hard-capped and without mid-level expirings, unfortunately.

If the Kings were actually dumb enough to shop an interesting prospect around just to create a roster spot opening to absorb salary they’d then buy out, all to acquire a pick – it could be anything, even a Skal! – then yeah, you kick the tires. There’s no need for him on the depth chart, but Ujiri is the type to explore any asset being shopped in distress like that. He looks like he could be a nice piece. The Kings are weird, man.

I can’t think of a single workable deal for a Kawhi Leonard hypothetical. I don’t believe he is pushing his way out, anyway, but the hypotheticals all center around Valanciunas (a good player but not at give-up-a-superstar level), Ibaka (doubtful anybody is taking on that deal, even when he’s playing well), DeRozan (not happening), or Lowry (see Ibaka). It would be endlessly funny if the Spurs dealt Leonard for some package including Anunoby, though. I think the entire basketball world would just assume he’s going to become Leonard at that point. You could even drop him right into the HEB commercials.

Potential Post-Deadline Tweaks

Okay, so I’m going to zoom through this because it’s a planned post-deadline post that requires a bit more detail and some assumptions. Quickly: The Raptors have a 15th roster spot open, they may or may not already be over the tax line (we don’t know all of the details on Lowry/DeRozan unlikely bonuses, so it’s hard to know for sure), and they can offer either the minimum salary or a prorated amount of the bi-annual exception to a potential buyout candidate (if they use the bi-annual, they forfeit the ability to use it next year, but that might not matter since it would trigger the hard cap next year, anyway).

In terms of candidates, Joe Johnson and Channing Frye are the likeliest names that will come up. I’m skeptical about Vince Carter – he’s talked openly about signing in Sacramento because he valued playing time over ring-chasing – and the rest, who knows? This is more of a post-deadline question. I think the Raptors will kick the tires on guys, especially if they know internally that they’re already over the tax line. Don’t expect anyone who’s a potential chemistry risk or would come in expecting a certain role right away.

I can definitely see the argument for the break being disruptive, with one caveat: All 30 teams experience the same break. So it should all wash out. I’d think for a team like the Raptors, it’ll be a benefit. They had one of the toughest early schedules, they rely on four veteran players who would probably appreciate the break (DeRozan is close to last year’s minutes total because he hasn’t gotten hurt, Lowry’s minutes are down but he’s taken a beating, Ibaka looks better after one or two days off, and Miles has dealt with a few minor things), and their young players are at some risk of a physical or mental “wall” since most of them haven’t played full 82-game schedules before (in fact, none of the team’s young players have stayed in an NBA rotation for an entire season before).

So it should help. Last year, the Raptors came out of the break down Lowry, with two new additions to work in, and were terrific against a cupcake schedule. The slate isn’t that easy this time around, though it’s pretty home-heavy and very light on travel. I don’t think the week off will cost them much.

I did a small study on how teams use their benches come playoff time earlier in the year, and the takeaway was this: Almost every team cuts its bench usage in the postseason, the Raptors have been no exception the last two years, and the logic holds up. Think 10 percent fewer bench minutes as a rough approximation, which would still be a lot – the Raptors play their bench more than any playoff team right now.

Depth is great, but there’s a prisoner’s dilemma issue here – if both teams keep their rotation the same as the regular season, they’ll both be at their best over an entire series, and if both shorten the rotation and lean more heavily on their stars, they’ll be on equal footing at an equal cost for future rounds. It probably benefits both teams to stick to a deeper rotation. The issue is that the edge you’d gain by shortening yours is so large – the Raptors bench is now stuck playing against starter-heavy groups, negating some of their edge against all-bench groups – that both teams will eventually find their way to playing shorter rotations, anyway.

This doesn’t mean the depth isn’t important. It’s going to get Lowry, DeRozan, Ibaka, and Miles to the postseason fresher. It’s going to expedite the growth of the young players and give the Raptors a better idea of who should/shouldn’t be in the playoff rotation. It’s going to make Casey more confident in calling on any of those guys as the matchup or game flow dictates. I know some hate hearing this, but I think the Raptors will be best-served with a slightly tighter playoff rotation, a few more minutes for the stars, and a non-shooter falling out of the mix and sliding into the 2016 and 2017 Norman Powell Emergency Series Saver role.

In terms of tactics, they’re playing at a much faster pace this year and can throw a lot more young defenders at opponents, so there will still be on-court benefits to the youth and depth, especially if some of them continue shooting the ball well.

I would like to withhold my answer until after the deadline. Forced to answer now, allow me three notes:

  • The Cavaliers have exactly no path to being a good defense, no matter what gear they shift into. That’s important.
  • Everyone around the team – writers, fans, anonymous sources – swear it feels different this year than in years prior. That’s important.
  • Barring the biggest surprise in NBA history, the Cavaliers still employ LeBron James. That’s maybe the most important.

I’m at a point with the Cavs where I still think you’d call them the favorite team to come out of the East, but I’d bet on “the field” if I had to pick (e.g. the Cavs may have a 35% chance, Raptors 30, Celtics 30, everyone else 5, or something like that; I’m just using an example). They’re vulnerable. James retains the benefit of the doubt without an obvious No. 1 in his stead.

As of this writing, they’d now have to go 24-6, a 66-win pace. I’ll take the under. They have three games left with Boston, two with Cleveland, one each with Houston, Oklahoma City,  Milwaukee, and Washington, two with Detroit if they matter to you, and six back-to-back scenarios. That’s just too many potential weighted coin-flip games before accounting for any let-down games. There’s also the potential for the Raptors to try to buy their stars some rest down the stretch with the occasional night off. They have great depth, so it’s maybe less of a risk on those nights, but it’s still a consideration. They only need to go 21-9 to put up the best season in franchise history, though, and I think that’s pretty clearly on the table.

Raptors Miscellaneous

Okay, well clearly, I need to write an entire piece on Fred VanVleet’s future. Quickly:

  • From the sound of everything out there and looking at the league’s cap sheets, VanVleet might be in tough to get a value commensurate with his actual value. Ron Baker’s deal of 2 years and $9 million should be the absolute starting point with VanVleet, but it’s unclear how the market will treat non-max restricted free agents. Teams can’t offer VanVleet more than the non-taxpayer mid-level (likely around $8.8 million starting salary), and even with how good he’s been, that’d be a big spend given what the market looks like right now. The mini-mid level ($5.4 million) might be more realistic. It’s possible VanVleet is amenable to a shorter-term deal to re-enter the market when it’s more favorable for a long-term deal. He’s bet on himself before.
  • The Raptors are going to be a tax team anyway, so it’s not a matter of crossing the tax line for VanVleet but managing the overall tax bill in a way that makes sense for the entire roster.
    • Related: I don’t think it’ll be a Powell-or-VanVleet or Wright-or-VanVleet or whatever situation so much as a holistic look at the entire roster and cap sheet. Someone will have to go, and a guard certainly makes sense the way things look right now.
  • I absolutely would not trade VanVleet for someone else just to avoid losing him in free agency. He’s a valuable rotation piece now, a big part of the culture they’ve created, and there’s always a chance the RFA market is cool and the Raptors are in a position to keep him. It sucks to lose players; it’s worse to trade them out of fear of losing them and risk making yourself worse in the process.
    • VanVleet also can’t bring much back in a trade because of his tiny salary.
  • This is a really tough situation. It causes me a lot of dissonance as someone pro-labor who wants to see VanVleet the person cash in big-time and also wants the Raptors to keep him. It’s a decision that, luckily, they can wait on a while longer, learning a bit more about VanVleet and the other young pieces in the playoffs and a bit more about the RFA and trade markets. This will probably the biggest story we revisit in this space in June.

I think Sunday’s game was a good snapshot of what Valanciunas’ shooting means for defenses: Charge out at him, and he can put it on the floor; sit back, he’ll shoot; play the in-between game, he’s improved making reads and passes. It doesn’t even really matter that much if Valanciunas hits threes in the playoffs if opponents are worried about it. If he’s open, he’s going to have the OK to let it fly, even in the playoffs – the Raptors were on him for not firing a clutch corner three against Utah. They’re committed to this.

In terms of percentage, 47 percent probably isn’t realistic, though that’d be hilarious. He hasn’t shot a contested one yet, and he may need to eventually. For extra context, Valanciunas shot 39.8 percent from 16 feet out last year (up from 35 percent in 2015-16), and he’s at 75 percent on those this year. He can shoot. I don’t think 35 percent on one attempt per-game is entirely unrealistic, which feels weird to say. In the words of VanVleet, it’s still really funny every time he hits one and I don’t know when that’ll go away.

This is probably a better question for someone more dialed in to the depth portion of the draft here in February. I’ll gear up during conference tournaments and March Madness, then scramble to play catch-up once the season ends. Let’s look at what Caboclo’s profile would look like, though:

  • They haven’t updated his listing but the dude is 7 feet tall now. I’ll also eat his jersey if his “205 lbs.” listing is still accurate. He’s probably closer to 225.
  • He has a 7-foot-7 wingspan.
  • He’s near the top of the G League in nearly every defensive metric and is a safe bet for an All-G League Defense team. The G League has a certain stigma still but keep in mind that it’s a higher level of play than the NCAA.
  • He’s shooting 34% on a very high volume from the NBA 3-point line.
  • He’s 22 and has only really been playing competitive ball for three years.

That player absolutely gets drafted. Not in the lottery, and maybe it’s as a draft-and-stash or with eyes on making him a two-way player initially (Caboclo won’t be eligible in real life), but he gets drafted. Again, I’d have to defer on someone with a better feel for this draft class as to whether that’s fringe-first, early-second, or late-second or what. I still understand the experiment and can see a scenario in which he becomes an NBA bench piece, even if it’s not the most likely outcome at this snapshot.

This is a question I honestly can’t really answer. The only stuff we’re privy to is post-practice shooting work and pre-game workouts. It won’t surprise you to learn that DeRozan takes his work very seriously and works very hard, even in those scenarios. His offseason workouts are the stuff of legend, and multiple times a new employee has told me that the thing that surprised them most upon arriving was something about DeRozan’s workouts or work ethic. I think during the regular season he’s probably a bit more cognizant of the physical toll on his body, though it’s not our of the ordinary to hear about him getting up shots very early or very late.

Again, I don’t get to see/learn specifics. Probably something I’d have to try to dive into long-term for a feature story, if they’d give me that access.

The No. 9 slot in the draft has produced a ton of good talent. I think it says a lot that DeRozan is only 16th in all-time Win Shares for #9 picks. There’s some context there – he’s only played 647 games and advanced metrics haven’t always been kind to DeRozan – but it’s not as if he has a claim at the very top yet. You’re talking about a list that includes a Hall of Famer in Tracy McGrady, a second sure-fire Hall of Famer in Dirk Nowitzki, someone considered a minor Hall snub in Otis Thorpe, multi-time All-Stars in Shawn Marion, Amar’e Stoudemire, and Andre Iguodala, and Charles Oakley, who can rank on this list wherever he damn well pleases. (Joakim Noah, Jo Jo White, Reggie Theud, Rolando Blackman, Dale Ellis, Clarence Weatherspoon, Gordon Hayward, Andre Drummond, Kemba Walker, and Stacey Augmon are also former No. 9 picks; this runs deep.

His ceiling on this list is pretty high, depending on how well you think his game will hold up into his early 30s (the addition of a 3-point shot should help). Nowitzki and McGrady form a pretty high bar, and DeRozan might have to win a ring to get in the conversation with Nowitzki, who is going to end up with just a remarkable resume. Can he make a run at McGrady? It’s tough to say, because he’d have to make the Hall to catch him in most people’s minds, and he’ll need to sustain this level a while longer. Perhaps Marion is the target, then, to get him in the top-three. Marion was never this kind of offensive player, obviously, and DeRozan has already matched him in All-Star berths, but he was an All-Defense stalwart and played nearly 1,200 games and has a ring.

It all comes down to longevity here. DeRozan is off to a tremendous start to his career, and his continued improvements make it easier to buy into him sustaining it past the normal downturn point for score-first wings. He’d have a narrative boost, too, if he spends his entire career with Toronto, as those players always seem a bit more special historically. And, you know, a ring goes an immensely long way. So go win one, yeah?

Answered this one in the last mailbag.

I’m not sure what the exact spirit of this question was. If you just mean what’s my favorite thing I’ve broken, it’s probably the VanVleet signing.  If you’re looking for some off-record backstage stuff, you might have to get some drinks into me. Usually if there’s anything good night-to-night and it’s OK to share, I’ll tweet it out – the Raptors are pretty entertaining in those ways. And if it’s just something I’ve heard around the team that I enjoyed, the stories of Norman Powell’s draft workout are the stuff of legend. Hit me up on Twitter and let me know more specifically what you were asking for here and I’ll give a better answer.

  • Best win: 133-99 vs. Cleveland (it’s the Cavs!), 129-110 at Milwaukee (perfect application of the new offense), 129-112 at Houston (even without Paul, that looks massive in retrospect)
  • Worst win: 114-113 in OT at Brooklyn (even if it was a fun Nets game)
  • Best loss: THERE’S NO SUCH THING YOU COWARD (probably the Golden State near-comeback, 127-125 in Toronto)
  • Worst loss: 107-96 to Washington (the first meeting; this is worse for me than OKC/Den road losses since it was at home and Washington was down Wall)

Non-Raptors

For those unfamiliar, Wigginton is a 6-foot-2 guard from Dartmouth and is a freshman at Iowa State. Specific to the question, I don’t have much of a feel as to whether Wigginton will declare or return for a sophomore season (Jonathan Givony of ESPN does not have him in his top 100, so I’d assume that means it’ll make sense for him to head back). He’s having a nice freshman year from the looks of it – 16 points per-game, 44.2 percent on threes, and he’s posted 13 assists over his last two games (a necessary area for improvement since he probably needs to play at least some point guard at the next level). He had a huge game in an upset win over West Virginia last week, too, that I’ve been trying to find a torrent of to check out.

Nobody has asked. The Raptors are a low-beard team. VanVleet keeps it tight and does not need any help. Valanciunas has shown respect for mine but doesn’t really need tips. I did trade beard oil strategies with Russell Martin at Spring Training in 2016 (he uses Tom Ford; I can not relate, as I use “the free stuff start-up beard product companies send me for some reason”) and debated with Richard Amardi about whether it was better to comb a beard down for presentability or pick it out for fluffiness (I have to do the former, lest I get “are you okay?” questions).

  • Kenny Omega – DeMar DeRozan
  • Young Bucks – Fred VanVleet and Delon Wright
  • Cody – this would have been a good DeMarre Carroll one given the coats; tough with this roster
  • Hangman Page – Serge Ibaka (I mean, obviously)
  • Marty Scurll – Bebe (the singing)
  • Chuckie T – Kyle Lowry
  • Flip Gordon – BRUNO

Bullet Club is fine, by the way.

Mark is trying to kill me by asking me a Golkden Lovers question when we’re already (literally) 5,000 words in. And to be honest, I’m not even sure my heart is ready to talk about this. On the one hand, it makes me believe that true love is real, and powerful, and can overcome anything. On the other, it’s a reminder that I will never have a love like this. It’s worth Bullet Club being destroyed for true love to flourish, and Golden Lovers vs. Young Bucks at All-In is going to be painful. True love will prevail.

It’s pretty incredible how well these guys have blended stories across their YouTube series, ROH, and NJPW, with commitment to every little detail being ironed out (the Bucks haven’t seven been tweeting, Cody had to take over the bulk of BTE, the Kenny/Kota statements at pressers, and so on). It’s really special, as is the years-long story they’ve told with Omega and Ibushi (honestly, I want to write 2,500 words about this and pitch it somewhere; hi, editors). In terms of story progression, I think Cody-Kenny will be good, and maybe Cody can top the Ibushi match as his best ever given the story involved. There are so many layers and ways it can go, it’s tough to get a good feel two months out – Page, Scurll, and the Bucks all have roles to play in the split, too.

Anyway, I need more words to sort out my thoughts and feelings and predictions. I’m really excited by all of it. Tremendous storytelling, acting, wrestling…it’s been great stuff. That Wrestlemania weekend should be awesome. A friend is going and I’m quite jealous.

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

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