RR Mailbag

Mailbag 3000: What happens from here, the G1, and more

I wish there was more G1 talk, to be honest.

The first post I ever wrote at Raptors Republic was published a little over nine years ago, on July 21, 2009. It was titled “Where Does DeRozan Fit?” and it was a bit of a draft/Summer League recap after the Toronto Raptors had drafted DeMar DeRozan ninth overall in the 2009 NBA Draft. It was bad, even though I’d been writing casually and occasionally for fun for about two years at that point, on and off. I share this not only because DeRozan was recently traded, removing the player RR has probably provided more content about than anyone else, but also because I recently posted my 3,000th career post at RR and I felt like looking back.

Is 3,000 an important number? Not at all. But it’s round and I stumbled on it recently, so I’m sharing. Nearly 2,600 of those, by the way, are since I took over as managing editor in late October of 2015. Mercifully, because some of that early work is fairly shaky looking back. Anyway, for post 3,000, I wanted to do a mailbag, as they’re usually my favorite things to do, at least in the dead of the offseason. Technically this is post 3,020, but whatever.

This is also the 60th mailbag I’ve done, likewise an entirely insignificant number. 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 TwitterFacebook, and Instagram for all of my writing/podcasting/radio/whatever stuff. Validate me.

Let us.

I Don’t Know

I think this got blown dramatically out of proportion. A few quick thoughts:

  • The reporters absolutely knew this was the response they were going to get. They know Kyle Lowry at this point, they knew he didn’t want to talk about the trade, and they know how he can get when dealing with media when he doesn’t really want to. That doesn’t make it okay, necessarily, but everyone involved had a good idea that this would be the outcome when Lowry was made available and reporters asked about the trade.
  • Has nobody ever had to have a friend’s back before? I’m at a loss for what Lowry was supposed to do here, even if he played the media game willingly. DeMar DeRozan is his best friend, or at least his best friend in basketball, and DeRozan is very clearly still hurt by the trade and the way it went down. Asking Lowry about it when DeRozan’s wounds are still fresh, and when he’s standing across the gym, leaves Lowry in a tough spot: Support the trade and speak excitedly about the Kawhi Leonard acquisition and you’re essentially not having your friend’s back, but speak negatively about the trade and the relationship with Leonard gets off to a rocky public start. There’s a Catch-22 there, and while Lowry probably got a kick out of being difficult, there wasn’t really a great way for him to answer about the trade in this environment, anyway.
  • Lowry has never had “Raptors” in his Twitter bio. It’s been the exact same since like 2014.
  • Yes, Lowry absolutely could have answered whether he’d spoken to Leonard, at least.
  • I would be shocked if he’s moved, much more so than I was with DeRozan.

All told, I’m largely unbothered by the entire thing. Lowry was in a tough spot to speak publicly about the trade, was clear he didn’t want to, and then got a little petulant when pressed on it. It’s nothing new, and I think far too big a deal was made of it. Because…

Lowry is going to be just fine. From what I’ve been able to gather, Lowry feels how you’d expect about losing his best friend on the team and, if DeRozan’s stance that he was lied to is true, there could be some damage done to the trust with the organization, though Lowry wasn’t particularly trusting, anyway. At the same time, it was an open secret that the Raptors were exploring every avenue to get better, and Lowry had braced himself for the potential for one of the team’s All-Stars to be dealt. More than anything, though, Lowry is very intelligent and, while DeRozan is his guy, there were occasional stresses to the on-court part of that relationship and surely Lowry sees the basketball reasoning behind this trade. He’s also long been a fan of Nick Nurse, which should theoretically help in this transitional year.

Basically, I think it comes down to this for Lowry: If it works on the court, he’s going to be just fine. He’s smart, he’s hyper-competitive, and he has a new coach that speaks more his language and a new co-star who should make things even easier on him while raising the team’s ceiling. He can’t come out and say any of that given his relationships with Dwane Casey and DeRozan, but when any initial shock or unhappiness with losing his best bud subsides, Lowry’s happiness and agreeability will largely be dictated by the team’s success. And through that lens, things should be fine.

Remainder of the Raptors Offseason

The Raptors are still exploring options to get better, and like prior to the Leonard trade, any route to improving will be considered. With that said, they’ve used three of their big trade chips already. DeRozan was their best trade asset for a team that wants to win now, they’ve dealt one prospect in Jakob Poeltl, and they’ve traded their most immediate first-round pick, meaning they can’t deal a future one until 2021 now. So if you’re thinking of a name like Jimmy Butler, it gets pretty difficult to put a trade together (especially if Boston and Philadelphia were more willing to trade in a post-Leonard environment). To make the math work, it requires a team to either want Lowry or Jonas Valanciunas as a centerpiece or be okay with taking back Serge Ibaka, or for the Raptors to piece together multiple players that strip them of depth, one of their biggest strengths. It would also require a weaker trade market if a team is rebuilding/retooling, because the best chip the Raptors can offer (OG Anunoby) isn’t perceived quite as high as some of the other blue-chip prospects out there and the Raptors don’t have the same high-end pick equity.

All of that said, this analysis held before the Leonard trade, too, and the Raptors ended up paying far less than most anticipated.

Realistically, the Raptors are probably in a spot now where any moves from here are about balancing the roster, adding center depth, and maybe shedding a bit of the luxury tax bill if they can find a home for a medium-sized salary while taking a bit less money back.

From Kenneth: Blake, What kind of role can the Raptors trade exceptions play in any potential deals going forward, up to and including possible Kawhi flips (not that I put much stock in that)? How does the cap come into play?

The DeMarre Carroll and Cory Joseph trade exceptions have expired, so the Raptors now only have two smaller TPEs – a $2.45-million one for Bruno Caboclo and a $2.95-million one for Jakob Poeltl. Those can still be helpful, particularly if the Raptors find closer to the trade deadline that they need to add a small piece for a pick or if they want to structure another multi-player deal, but they’re now minor tools instead of major. Exceptions can’t be combined with each other or with players for salary matching, so these will really only come up if the Raptors need a flexibility tool for absorbing a salary under $3 million.

I would think the Raptors have their 14th roster spot earmarked for a frontcourt piece, for sure. As the roster currently stands, they have three players who are traditional bigs in Valanciunas, Ibaka, and Pascal Siakam, and while you could probably cobble together a center rotation from those three by playing smaller more often, the team would be at immense risk if any of those names were to get hurt, particularly Valanciunas (the team’s only plus-rebounder). I’d think they’d be in the market for rebounding and rim protection, although the current crop of players who are free agents and fit that description is fairly unsexy. I’m still on board for bringing Lucas Nogueira back – he’s actually good, Nurse was a fan, and he could probably be brought in for the minimum – but that seems unlikely since it’s taken this long.

In terms of how they’d acquire one, I’d think a minimum or a trade is more likely than using the taxpayer mid-level exception. It’s not so much “MLSE won’t spend!” as it is the Raptors already being super deep into the tax and no free agent figuring to have a role that’s worth more than the minimum. Greg Monroe might be good, as an example, but he doesn’t figure to play a role commensurate with a $5.3-million salary on this team, nor does he figure to provide $17.95 million of value, and that’s the “real” cost after tax of using the mini-MLE instead of the minimum for that 14th spot.

I answered the MLE question above mostly, and I don’t feel there’s anyone out there worthy of dumping the MLE on, and I’ll answer more after, so I’ll focus on the Leonard question here.

I would have no issue with the Raptors treating Leonard with kid gloves in terms of the media this season. The Spurs didn’t make him readily available all that often, and while it would be great if Leonard were available regularly for scrums, I’d completely understand the organization doing what they can to make Leonard happy. That’s a bit of a slippery slope, perhaps – it’s not as if Lowry likes doing media availability, and he figures to shoulder even more of that load with the media-award-winning DeRozan gone – but the chance to retain a player of Leonard’s stature is a rare precedent-breaker. For my own individual purposes, I also just don’t find a ton of value in forcing a player to talk to me that doesn’t want to talk to me and won’t say much, anyway. Those quotes won’t be particularly useful or illuminating, and forcing him to scrum regularly could strain his relationship with the media further.

Now, Leonard shouldn’t be hidden or anything, and I’ve actually had people from San Antonio reach out and tell me that Leonard gets an unfair shake for how he actually treats media members. He’s said to be a fine person to speak to, he’s just quiet. My hope is, of course, to be able to build some kind of relationship with him over the course of the year. I just don’t think that’s going to happen – for me or for any of the higher-ups who get greater access – by forcing him to scrum up after 82 games.

I’d completely understand just filling out the roster with prospects, having a sort of open competition for the 14th spot (and punting the 15th spot, which I’m confident they will be doing unless they just keep Lorenzo Brown until his guarantee is used up, then empty the 15th spot). You could conceivably have seven players in camp to compete for that last spot, evaluate what you have and how the pieces fit, and then reward the best player or best fit or player who best allows you to maintain some organizational depth (by signing a non-guaranteed deal, by allowing the team to keep other prospects as two-ways or Raptors 905 depth, etc; the specifics here are hard to get into until we know names and contracts). Prospect represent potential upside that established names – who likely offer greater floor and certainty – don’t. (It’s worth noting here that all minimum contracts, regardless of service time, count the same for luxury tax purposes, so there’s no financial benefit to a rookie minimum over a 10-year veteran minimum.)

At the same time, the Raptors are already pretty young, and having an inexperienced depth piece in the frontcourt might be more risk than the team is willing to carry. Say Chris Boucher wins the 14th roster spot and is the de facto third center – he’s super intriguing with a lot of fun upside, but if Valanciunas gets hurt, can you really cobble together 48 minutes with him, Ibaka, and Siakam without some significant risk? Probably not. Outside of Monroe – who doesn’t fill a skill/tool need but is the “best” player still available – there probably aren’t names that could reliably fill in like that, anyway, but the Raptors may prefer to err on the side of experience and certainty in that one roster spot.

Considering only frontcourt players, here are the top available names still unsigned: Monroe (the best player but not an obvious skill fit), Nogueira (the opposite of Monroe), Trevor Booker (a fine depth piece if he comes at the minimum), Brandan Wright (probably my favorite on this list if he’s healthy), Jahlil Okafor (uhh), Quincy Acy (!!), Tarik Black, Alan Williams, and a host of G League/replacement level names. You can definitely find a fourth big in that group, likely at the minimum. I can’t purport to know who the Raptors may favor, and they may be delaying a signing while they work the trade market or in hopes of a buyout (Tyson Chandler?) closer to the start of the season. In any case, I’d expect a big to fill that 14th spot.

To answer this question, I basically just looked around the league at potential landing spots for Norman Powell. I still think Powell can bounce back and am a believer despite what quantitative analysis would suggest, but Powell is probably the piece the Raptors have that best fits a potential trade (some upside that might be attractive to a younger team, a mid-sized salary, less of a role as currently set up).

In looking around, the one I kept coming back to was a Powell-Powell swap of Norman Powell for Dwight Powell, who makes $9.6 million this year and has a $10.3-million player option for next year but is then off the books. It would better balance Toronto’s roster and save them on the back end of Norm’s deal with only a slight increase in salary this year and next. For the Mavericks, they shift a position of strength for an extra wing, though they would almost certainly demand a sweetener for the back end of the deal given how clean their cap sheet would otherwise look moving forward.

Other names that stuck out: Dewayne Dedmon ($7.2M expiring with Atlanta), John Henson ($11.3M and $10.5M with Milwaukee, though this costs more even with the decreasing structure), and Darrell Arthur ($7.5M expiring with Phoenix). Those are fairly unsexy and some may still require a sweetener to get done, but those are the kind of wing-for-big deals that are close to cash-neutral in the short-term I could see making sense.

Raptors in 2018-19

I think so, yes. As I discussed a lot during the coaching search, we really can’t know how a first-time coach is going to do in a role until they get there, which is the cost associated with searching for fresh voices or perspective instead of leaning on retreads we know a bit more about. Given what we can put together, Nurse would seem as good a bet as anyone to succeed as a first-timer, which is why I consistently talked about him first when exploring options during the search. Foremost, he has about as much experience as any first-time NBA head coach could have outside of Ettore Messina, as he’s coached at several levels, in several organizations, and been a top NBA assistant for years. I’m unclear on what resume item he’s missing other than “NBA head coach,” and I think most of the negative or uncertain reaction to him is entirely based on the optics of him being a Dwane Casey assistant. Which is understandable, but anyone who has ever had a boss should be able to logic their way around why that’s maybe an unfair criticism.

In speaking with Nurse a handful of times in Las Vegas, I think he’s ready. He’d already earned a reputation as an incredibly bright and creative thinker and a hard worker, and a number of people around the team and league spoke highly of him to me even before he got the job. Maybe he’s just telling me what he thinks I want to hear, but it certainly seems like his plan for this year is the right one, aimed at making this the best possible playoff team and finding out exactly what that looks like. Maybe he gets in the chair and isn’t as good as he is on paper. It’s possible. On paper, though, he would seem to be ready.

I think Nurse is probably going to mix it up a fair amount so that the team is ready to play a number of different styles as the situation dictates. The one thing that I think will be consistent is an increase in on-ball aggression aimed at creating more turnovers and kickstarting what could be a deadly spread transition attack, especially with the second unit. There’s only so much the team can do schematically around Valanciunas, but I’d expect the team to be a little less rigid in their conservative drop-back scheme from a year ago, perhaps asking Valanciunas to hedge or ice a bit more and scheming to cover up the glass or the dive to buy him time to recover. The team can probably get away with less switching on the perimeter, too, given that they have better individual defenders, but they also have the personnel to employ a switch-heavy strategy to even greater effect. The nice thing about having maybe eight “good” defenders in your 10-man rotation is that you can try a lot of different things and probably have success with them. To that end, I think Nurse will probably be pretty experimental not to see what works – a lot of things will work – but to build versatility and flexibility and experience for the postseason.

Like with the defensive question above, I think Nurse will probably experiment a lot with different starting lineups. He’s talked openly about having six starters, and I think you could probably come up with some combination of any of the 10 primary rotation players and find a starting five that you like. Lowry and Leonard are the only certainties, and I’d expect Nurse to experiment with different combinations of Danny Green, Anunoby, Ibaka, Valanciunas, and even Siakam around them. Again, it’s not necessarily about bowing to the opponent and matching up with them but seeing what works best and getting people comfortable with different roles that may come up during the year or in the postseason. That Leonard probably figures to sit some back-to-backs or four-in-five situations will open up other opportunities to experiment, too.

Were I deciding on a starting five right now, I’d be going Lowry-Green-Leonard-Anunoby-Valanciunas with a bench of Fred VanVleet-Delon Wright-C.J. Miles-Siakam-Ibaka and Norman Powell as an 11th man as needed. I think those two groups best balance strengths and weaknesses while maintaining some of the familiarity from last season, particularly with what’s left of the Bench Mob. Convincing Ibaka to move to the bench for the first time since his sophomore season could be a delicate conversation, but he and the team both think he’s better off at center and moving him to the bench makes more sense than doing so for Valanciunas over 48 minutes (it’s easier to get them both their minutes this way since Ibaka can sub in to multiple spots, and any lineup without Valanciunas figures to have some trouble on the defensive glass right now). I also think he’d be a pretty good fit in the Poeltl role with that bench group, providing an extra semblance of spacing that the Bench Mob sometimes lacked last year while making them even switchier on defense. The starters, meanwhile, have three plus wing defenders, a lot of spacing around Valanciunas, and are maybe only at a ball-handling/play-making deficit relative to last year’s starting group.

Again, though, I think this will be mixed up a bunch. The Raptors were a depth team last year that sometimes operated like a star-driven team to a fault; this year they have higher-end talent with no less depth, and it sounds like Nurse will manage it as such with only two players locked in to specific roles.

I think the lineup I’m probably most interested to see is any PG-Leonard-Anunoby-Siakam-C group. Whether it’s Lowry, VanVleet, or Wright in one spot and Ibaka or Valanciunas in the other, the defensive potential of that group is pretty incredible. You could also slide them all up a slot and have two guards with them for more offensive punch, though Siakam-as-C isn’t something I’d be leaning on for heavy minutes. And to answer the second question, I think Nurse will experiment plenty. I’m not sure you see those exact groups a bunch if Lowry doesn’t get hurt at any point – you can make a good case for staggering the minutes of Lowry and Leonard similar to how pre-2017-18 Raptors staggered Lowry and DeRozan, but the team might be deep enough to not stress about it – but you’re certainly going to see some fun/weird/long ones. The team has wingspan all over, as I noted in a recent piece at The Athletic with this graphic:

According to Basketball Reference, Siakam spent just one percent of his minutes at center last year and five percent of them there as a rookie. The data cited in the table above, from Krishna Narsu’s work using NBA.com matchup data, shows that he guarded centers 14.6 percent of the time, third most of anyone on the roster. As they’re currently constructed, I’d expect to see Siakam get some minutes there, where his length, burst, and switchability can make him a fun show-me look and the team can work around his lack of shooting by having him work inside (or, if you want to get super creative, handling the ball). At the same time, Siakam-at-C leaves the Raptors pretty weak on the glass, which could be a concern of this roster as it is, and he doesn’t need to be at the five to really get the full benefit of his defensive versatility. You prefer him scampering around the perimeter, anyway, because that’s his biggest defensive asset. In general, I think Siakam is a really versatile piece who, like Leonard and maybe eventually Anunoby, doesn’t really have a real position on the floor, which is what’s driving some of the team’s on-paper flexibility here, and he doesn’t need to be at center to maximize that.

I don’t think so, no. You probably only want to start two of Leonard/Anunoby/Siakam for defensive balance, and while Siakam is great, I like the fit of Anunoby as the starting power forward a little better, both because of Anunoby’s low usage and Siakam’s ability to work as an extra creator in the second unit. If Ibaka were to start at center, I think Siakam maybe makes some sense there, but alongside Valanciunas and the higher-usage starters, Anunoby’s got the edge for me. Siakam will still see a large role, though, and pencils in to a lot of potential closing lineups where the team goes smaller and switchier.

I definitely think he can play the four, and actually think he’s probably best suited there. Like Leonard and Siakam, he defended kind of all over the place, and playing him up a position shouldn’t come at too much of a defensive cost since so few teams play multiple traditional bigs who are scoring threats. Anunoby is big himself, and while he doesn’t yet rebound like a power forward, he took on that responsibility a bit more playing there in Summer League, where he looked pretty comfortable (at least defensively; the extra offensive workload was understandably uneven, given the spike in usage rate and unfamiliar responsibility). The Raptors are just so flush with wings and light on frontcourt pieces that, short of acquiring another big-minute frontcourt piece, Anunoby figures to spend the bulk of his time either as a four or as an undefined forward alongside Leonard. That said, he’ll probably also come off the bench on occasion as Nurse tries different looks out.

Basketball Reference had Wright at shooting guard for 69 percent of his minutes last year (six percent at small forward), and he played all of 361 minutes where one of Lowry or VanVleet weren’t on the floor with him. Skill-wise, he’s still a point guard offensively. He’s great with the ball in his hands, glides through defenses to the rim, and is a gifted and creative playmaker. Defensively, he can check either guard spot thanks to his length and, if the progress he’s made in the gym so far this summer is any indication, he might be able to guard the wing full-time. The Raptors are deep enough at point guard that they’ll play two of them together plenty, and the Wright/VanVleet and Wright/Lowry chemistry on offense allows them to trade possessions as the true point guard, gaining the benefit of spacing from VanVleet or Lowry being off-ball without losing anything on defense thanks to Wright’s size and acumen on that end. I’m not sure he’ll ever be defined as a full-time shooting guard because of his offensive skill set, but Wright will probably once again spend very little time as the lone point guard on the floor.

VanVleet, Green, and Miles for actual work purposes. Someone needs to step up in the weird analogy department, though. The dark horse in that area is Valanciunas, who has quietly improved as a quote the last while.

They are basically in a 1A and 1B situation with the Boston Celtics that will be decided in part by the health of the key returning players on either side. Both teams are deep enough to be successful in the regular season even without perfect health from their stars and young enough to have some real upside around those pieces, and I wouldn’t begrudge anyone ranking the Raptors and Celtics in whatever order atop the East. With that said, the Raptors project (analytically) to be the better team, assuming relative health for Leonard, Kyrie Irving, and Gordon Hayward, and I’ll give them the edge in the conference and division if I’m allowed to caveat 65-plus games or so for Leonard. More than anything, I really, really hope we get Raptors-Celtics in the playoffs this year after a couple of seasons of debate as to which runner up is actually better with no clear way of proving it in either direction.

Raptors Miscellaneous

I can’t really speak to the entire league, but in my experience, it’s fairly common for players to at least visit a specialist for certain types of injury. In Green’s case, he probably felt like a standard soft-tissue injury didn’t warrant that, where as Leonard’s is so nebulous and uncommon that an outside opinion was warranted. The Raptors have regularly sent players to outside specialists (Wright, VanVleet, and Malcolm Miller for recent shoulder injuries stand out as examples), and that’s likely a case of a strong medical staff knowing that expertise in a specific area or with a specific injury is valuable. I can’t remember an instance of a Raptor going outside the organization for a second opinion independently, but the Raptors seem pretty open to the benefits a specialized set of eyes can provide.

Definitely the center position and the rebounding that comes along with it. In terms of chemistry, that’s really only something that time can help build, and I would think that having four-fifths of the Bench Mob back will at least help in that regard once the on-court part of the season begins. The leadership question is an interesting one and is part of why I’d lean slightly toward a veteran for the final roster spot. It’s not that the Raptors don’t have leadership – VanVleet is a natural leader, Miles and Green are well-regarded veteran teammates, and Lowry was nominated for Teammate of the Year last season, not to mention Leonard and Green bring NBA Championship experience – but it seems the team is structured to where they’ll lean on a more collective leadership rather than the two-headed complementary leader of Lowry/DeRozan. How that will all shake out is one of the bigger questions Nurse faces heading into training camp and is, I’d guess, part of why he’s spent the summer spending time with each player to begin building up his side of that element. Unfortunately, locker room make up is one of the least quantifiable and predictable elements of a team, so there’s some guess work and uncertainty here other than to say teams that are good on the court tend to have an easier time with this stuff, and the Raptors figure to be quite good on the court.

I don’t think there will be too much of a clash, necessarily. Leonard is fairly quiet and a lead-by-example type, and Green is the type of well-liked piece, similar to Miles, that should be able to fit in well with a new group. Ibaka also isn’t really the leadership type, or at least hasn’t been to this point in his career (he is a hard worker and takes good care of himself, though, all of which helps). Lowry’s role in the new locker room is probably the most interesting, because he has a relationship with Nurse and is the team’s longest-tenured player along with Valanciunas, and so Nurse will likely lean on him as a leader even more than Casey did. Lowry is a better leader than he gets credit for because of his emotion and occasionally flippant media scrums, and with his general competitiveness and the opportunity in front of them, I’d think he’ll take up the mantle. It’s possible, however, that my last few answers are being too naive or giving too much credit to how simply being really good can help a lot.

So, NBA teams actually do (or can) have captains. Some teams opt not to, while others like the Warriors just rotate it around. In the past, it’s been both DeRozan and Lowry who were captains. DeRozan and Lowry would have worn them the last few years, and DeRozan on his own before that. Tracing it back, I’d think Jose Calderon or Amir Johnson, Chris Bosh, Alvin Williams/Morris Peterson, Vince Carter, and Doug Christie would be my guesses, though there were some years where there were almost no good options or a ton of good options. This coming year, I’d imagine it’s Lowry and either VanVleet, Miles, or Leonard.

VanVleet saw a specialist at the end of the season and was instructed to take a few weeks off before resuming offseason activities. He’s expected to be 100 percent for training camp without any complications or lingering effects.

As for the jersey, it’s certainly possible. Last year, the first under Nike’s new jersey regime, each team had four jerseys. We already know a handful are getting retro/throwback jerseys for this coming season (the Raptors are not reported to be among them), while other teams have already committed to bringing back the same City jersey and court scheme. The Raptors will almost certainly keep the OVO and Welcome Toronto set up since the expanded partnership announced last year was a multi-year deal, but it’s possible the Raptors are granted a fifth as some other teams are. What, specifically, that would be, I’m unsure, as I think they’d want to save a purple throwback option for their 25th season in 2019-20.

Whenever information manages to get out, there are at least three possible sources: The two teams involved and agents. The Raptors are generally very quiet in the lead-up to moves and then are a little more loose with details once something has actually happened. I think it’s telling that in this case, there were no specifics out there, just that the Raptors were one of the teams involved. That points to this being a longer process, sure, and it also points to the information probably not coming from Toronto given the lack of specificity. The Spurs and Leonard’s camp both would have had incentive to leak vague details about interested teams, in one case to leverage other teams to improve their offers and in the other case to try to expedite the entire process. The Raptors had little incentive to leak anything and in fact a fair amount of risk if the DeRozan element of the deal was leaked and then it didn’t end up going through, and it’s probably telling once more that all of the “leaks” in this case were somewhat vague and from national U.S. reporters.

The Zach Lowe, Brian Windhorst (on Sportsnet’s Good Show), and Tim Bontemps of the world don’t pass along info lightly and all three warned that there was fire to the smoke without getting into too much detail, and even I was able to piece together in Vegas that the Raptors were legitimately in the mix (although league sources at the time seemed to think the Raptors still had just an outside shot). Anyway, all of that is to say that I don’t think the Raptors themselves have necessarily gotten leakier, but that a trade of this magnitude in a situation with so many eyes on it and so many invested parties is going to lend itself to excellent reporters like the three I listed being able to do their jobs well.

It would probably be pretty similar to their 2017 offseason, as disappointing as that might sound. Re-signing Leonard would be the biggest piece of their plans, and from that point they would be a little light on cap flexibility. They could conceivably shop Ibaka, Valanciunas, Lowry, or Miles as expiring deals, but in the event Leonard re-signs, the Raptors probably did pretty well in 2018-19, and there might not be a huge urgency to sell off pieces. They’d probably look to move one of those pieces to open up flexibility to add further, explore the trade route (especially after the draft when they could dangle their 2020 pick), and use the taxpayer mid-level exception to sell someone on joining a team with a real chance to go to the NBA Finals in 2020. It wouldn’t be until the summer of 2020 or, more notably, 2021 when they had the real flexibility to add a second star alongside Leonard as (if?) Lowry transitions out of stardom in his early-mid-30s.

https://twitter.com/ecollazo7/status/1022902954326728705

Boo.

Ahmer, everywhere I go, people say to me, “Blake Murphy, you are a reasonable ******* guy.”

Non-Raptors Miscellaneous

Absolutely, the NBA should adopt the playoff format of the G1 Climax tournament. As an illustration, let’s say the 82-game regular season played out the same way it did in 2017-18 and we opted to do a 10-team Eastern Conference block and a 10-team Western Conference block. (Clearly, the East is A Block this year.) This is how the playoff bracket would have looked:

East Block West Block
Toronto Houston
Boston Golden State
Philadelphia Portland
Cleveland Oklahoma City
Indiana Utah
Miami New Orleans
Milwaukee San Antonio
Washington Minnesota
Detroit Denver
Charlotte LA Clippers

This is already more fair because all 10 winning teams in the West make it. From here, each team would have to play all of the other nine teams in their block over 20 days, with higher-seeded teams receiving more home games (and therefore less travel) than lower-seeded teams. In total, there are 45 games per-block, or 90 in total, which is not far off from the 78 games played across the first three rounds last year. (The travel is a bit of an issue here, but the blocks could be spread out over more than 20 days if need be, and while there are more games total, the teams advancing will play fewer in relative terms. Part of the benefit of a more compressed block schedule versus the current bracket format is opening up extra days to spread the regular season schedule out over.)

You have a few options from here. The “traditional” way would be to just have the winner of each block round robin square off in the final, and you could keep it a best-of-seven. The other option would be to have the top two teams in each block square off again, or maybe in a best-of-five where their initial meeting in the round robin counts as a game, or even cross-match A1-B2 and B1-A2 or something like that to leave the possibility of an all-West final open, if that matters to you. Whatever the case, this is clearly the superior option and wrestling, once again, is right and true.

There is no way I’m giving up Despy without getting a 1st-round young lion back, or the draft rights to Kitamura once healthy.

My impression is that the G1 is extremely good, as usual. I still don’t really understand the clear imbalance between blocks in terms of worker/match quality, and I’ve probably reached my limit for Tama Tonga/Bad Luck Fale shenanigans, even though I seem to be higher on Tama than most. I also thought they could have dragged out sad divorced my belt left me and I dyed my hair and here’s a balloon Okada further into the tournament, but his entire story has been a lot of fun. Also, YOSHI-HASHI can go away any time now, thank you.

Other quick thoughts: Hiroshi Tanahashi is still my pick to win…Hangman Page has had the best in-ring tournament relative to actual outcome success…I want Minoru Suzuki to become friends with Eric…if I never see Michael Elgin again it’ll be too soon…the idea of Kenny Omega winning the G1 and then picking Kota Ibushi to wrestle against warms my heart and does some other things…I’ve come so far around on Zach Sabre Jr. to where he is now one of my favorite wrestlers and promos.

I answered this first part throughout the earlier chunk of the mailbag, so I’ll focus on the second here: No, I am not outraged. Fool me once, and all of that. Toru Yano was never going to keep things clean. You are a fool for believing him and for buying his DVD. Jay White is great, though, and how well he’s worked his way into the character since his re-debut at Wrestle Kingdom has been a lot of fun to watch. I believe that he is a real-life knife pervert, and his work as a sort of psychological thriller villain is really strong. I know some still aren’t sold on him, but I don’t see what it is he doesn’t have.

In no particular order: Zach Sabre Jr. vs. SANADA, Kota Ibushi vs. Tomohiro Ishii, Kenny Omega vs. Tetsuya Naito, Minrou Suzuki vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi, Juice Robinson vs. Tetsuya Naito

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