Ty Lawson has signed a contract with the Washington Wizards and will be on their postseason roster, league sources told Yahoo Sports.
Lawson’s playoff run ended in the Chinese Basketball Association on Wednesday, and he and the Wizards worked toward receiving his letter of clearance and agreeing to a deal Wednesday night, league sources said.
Lawson, 30, provides backcourt depth for the eighth-seeded Wizards, who face the top-seeded Toronto Raptors on Saturday in the Eastern Conference playoffs. Lawson has played eight NBA seasons, averaging 12.7 points and six assists. He played for the Sacramento Kings a season ago, posting 9.9 points and 4.8 assists per game. He signed in China last offseason after failing to agree to an NBA contract.
What was Toronto’s reward for having the best season in franchise history? A playoff path that potentially takes them through the three most talented teams in the Eastern Conference playoffs — the Wizards, Cavaliers and Philadelphia 76ers — to reach the NBA Finals for the first time. First, though, the Raptors will try to break a nine-game losing streak in Game 1 of playoff series — a streak everyone in Toronto is now terrified will extend to 10 games.
The fact the Raptors are facing the Wizards — who swept them in the first round in 2015 — won’t help matters. That said, it’s anyone’s guess which version of the Wizards will show up. Washington would be the seventh seed if it had managed to beat just one of three tanking teams — Atlanta, Chicago or Orlando) — it played in April alone. Instead, the Wizards lost to them all — though John Wall did sit out all three of those games.
But Washington does have an all-star backcourt to match Toronto’s, and this should be a far more competitive series than a typical No. vs. No. 8 matchup.
“We haven’t played with John against them,” said Tomas Satoransky, who helped fill the void during Wall’s two-month absence following surgery. “We’re not scared. We respect them. There’s some positive aspects from this season.”
Though they’re the underdogs, the Wizards view a matchup with Toronto much more favorably than some of the other teams with lower seeds. And while the Wizards struggled all season with under .500 teams, just as they did on Wednesday in the loss to the Magic, they knocked off nine playoff-bound opponents after the all-star break.
With the postseason, comes a sense of relief.
“At least I’m hoping that was our attitude with the last couple of weeks, just the fact that we wanted to get there,” Bradley Beal said. “I’m more than excited. This is where players are made and everybody’s trying to fight for the same goal. It’s always fun and it gets very interesting this time of the year.”
The regular season is over, all 82 games for all 30 teams, the whole affair is now officially in the record books. There, we have it now. And yet, despite a number one seed for the Raptors, and a career season for Delon Wright, there’s an unsettling note of unease in the air. We know something is a bit off.
Because now the playoffs begin, of course.
The last few games for the Raptors, a tidy 3-1 week that ended with a surprisingly physical display on Wednesday night in Miami, haven’t met that much. They’d already clinched first place the week before, and couldn’t real affect who they’d play in the first round. That the Wizards happened to slide into eighth was just a thing that happened to them — a spot of misfortune perhaps, but also something that can be faced head-on and defeated.
It’s worth noting that Delon Wright wasn’t around for the 2015 series against Washington. Doesn’t know what it felt like to face down the weird wave of emotion that swept through the city (or the force of the John Wall-Marcin Gortat pick-and-roll). Hell, he doesn’t even know what it was like to play against Wall this year. We keep framing the discussion that way though — either it’s all new, or it’s all old, and somehow, despite everything else going for the Raptors, it feels like a problem.
“It took a while to get it out the back of my mind. I don’t know. That’s a long time ago, we’re much different. It’s day and night. We here now.”
DeRozan has heard all the talk about the Raptors inability to win Game 1 in a series, too, their penchant for letting series’ drag on longer than they should. He really doesn’t care because all of that came about with another team.
“We been great at home all year,” DeRozan said. “It’s definitely something we took more pride in than ever and I think it showed. With that, we got that (unspoken) confidence this time around more than ever. Like I said, it’s one of them moments to where we feel like when we on our home floor, anything’s possible, and our swag is at an all-time high.”
Poeltl’s emergence along with the “Bench Mob” has done wonders for DeRozan and Lowry, most notably in the fourth quarter, where opposing defences have no choice but to respect the diverse skill set of the Raptors’ reserves. That helps free up the Raptors’ stars.
Siakam never seems to run out of energy, Miles can catch fire in a hurry from downtown, and VanVleet or Wright can take over ball-handling duties while holding their own defensively.
“It’s much more difficult to key in, especially when we have a bench that can take over a game. With that, it makes our job a lot easier and it’s not that predictable. Anybody can get it going and rolling,” DeRozan says.
Toronto’s all-star backcourt has had its share of post-season struggles, where their offensive numbers have taken a dip from their norms. Casey admits that heavy minutes in past regular seasons may have resulted in “worn-down versions” of DeRozan and Lowry by the time the playoffs rolled around.
Cracks in the team’s foundation, however, have emerged down the stretch. Toronto rattled off an 11-game win streak that stretched from the end of February to mid-March, but went 8-6 the rest of the way.
Three of those losses came at the hands of the Boston Celtics and the Shakespearean Cavaliers (face it, LeBron has been equal parts Macbeth and Richard III this season) and wins against the Nets and Indiana Pacers hardly inspired confidence in the Raptors’ ability to beat weaker teams.
Lowry has been mercurial at times this season, Norman Powell has battled inconsistency all year and Serge Ibaka — while automatic from two — becomes mortal the moment he steps behind the arc. The trio will need to step up in the post-season to avoid an over-reliance on a “bench mob” whose enthusiasm could be trumped by inexperience and a tightened rotation.
Thus, despite the Raptors previous problems in the playoffs and their late-season stumbles, this is still a very, very good team. Consider this: Toronto was the only team in the league to finish in the top-5 in both offensive and defensive efficiency this season – they ranked third in OffEff and fifth in DefEff. The only other teams that came close to matching that execution on both ends of the floor were the Warriors (first in OffEff and ninth DefEff) and the Rockets (second and sixth, respectively). Game 1 will be crucial in this series. If the Raps can secure a win and jump out in front of the Wizards, they should be put the demons and doubts to bed, and establish themselves as clearly the better team. If they can regain their mid-season swagger and play confidently from in front, they should be able to dispatch the Wiz rather easily.
“It was so long ago, man. It was a lot,” DeRozan said on Thursday, looking forward to the rematch that will start on Saturday. “That was a rough series. We didn’t expect to go out like that, especially the previous year, playing against a great veteran team, going seven games with Brooklyn, to next year, wanting to have more success but you get swept, it was tough. It was a lot. It took a while to get it out the back of my mind. I don’t know. That’s a long time ago, we’re much different. It’s day and night. We here now.”
As integral as Lowry has been to the Raptors, serving as their most important player over this era of the franchise, it is DeRozan that will always be the stand-in for this version of the team. Overall, his strengths have been his team’s strengths, and his weaknesses have been the team’s weaknesses, at least on offence.
Nurse is in his fifth season as a Toronto Raptors assistant coach. Primarily focused on the offensive end of the floor in Toronto, he also coached the Iowa Energy to the 2010-11 NBA Development League championship and the Rio Grande Valley Vipers to the 2012-13 D-League championship. Weltman’s four seasons in the Raptors’ front office coincided with Nurse’s first four seasons with the Raptors, so Weltman knows Nurse’s strengths and weaknesses well.
Yet, for my money, the most notable NBA success by a former Kentucky basketball player in 2017-18 did not come from the small army of John Calipari-era, one-and-done stars now in the league.
It was produced by an ex-Cat who played for Joe B. Hall.
Though Dwane Casey had long since attained the mantle of most-successful coach in Toronto Raptors history, it was not apparent that the ex-UK guard (1975-79) from Union County had a secure hold on his coaching job when this season began.
“They are long hours once the playoffs begin,” Kalamian said. “More preparation for what might be coming your way. Once you have the bulk of what the (opponent) wants to do, now you start looking at after-timeout plays, you have to look at end of game situations, tendencies the opponent will have to start quarters. There’s certain things teams do.
“After you get the bulk of what they do, now you start looking at the little things. How can we take certain things out of their playbook. How can we take certain points off the scoreboard and not allow them to get to their little pet plays.”
That’s why DeRozan doesn’t get it. He looks around his dressing room and sees a team that should be perceived as one of the most dangerous in the playoffs — not a first-round upset in the making.
“I mean, we did it for 82 games. We won 59 games. If that’s not the ultimate understanding that what got us here wasn’t a fluke, that it really worked,” DeRozan started, literally scratching his head as he trailed off. “I think that speaks for itself. We know what works for us, what got us here, and what’s going to take us even further.”