Morning Coffee – Fri, Feb 8

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Even if Marc Gasol turns out to be the greatest Raptor ever, this is still a sad day. RIP JV.

Memphis Grizzlies' Mike Conley breathes easy after emotional day

“Man, it was a long day. A long day,” he said. “Normally I’m worried about the game, watching film, doing things like that. [Today] I’m sitting downstairs in the lobby until 1:30, 2:00, waiting for the trade deadline to pass, trying to figure out if I’m gonna be here or not. And to see Marc end up going, and [JaMychal Green] and Garrett [Temple], and just your whole team all of a sudden change. It’s hard to lose guys that you consider brothers, and I consider every one of those guys — Marc, J-Mike, Garrett — they’ve all played parts in all of our careers, especially mine.”

Conley, 31, was involved in trade discussions in the past week, with his name connected to a number of teams.

“After they put my name out there, if y’all do it, y’all do it,” he said. “But this is all I know. Memphis is all I know. I didn’t necessarily ask for any of this to begin with, but I also understood our situation. I’d be one of the players that could hold some value in the trade market. Me being a pro, I just took that and understood it.

Top of the East can now swing superstar free agency

Assuming Philadelphia, Milwaukee, Boston and Toronto all advance, I’m not sure there will have ever been a playoff round with more potential to swing superstar free agency than the conference semifinals in the East. Two of these four must lose. Lose badly, and eyes will wander.

• Even the placid Bucks have four starters entering free agency. Keeping all of them might vault Milwaukee into the luxury tax. Are the Bucks willing to do that if they lose in the second round? How would Giannis Antetokounmpo — up for a supermax after next season — react if Milwaukee were to let the wrong person walk?

Amid trade mania, the Bucks have quietly coalesced into a juggernaut. They know who they are. They have found the sweet spot where guys play with freedom and confidence but don’t break from the team construct. They can shapeshift into any lineup type. They are No. 4 in offense and No. 1 in defense, with the scoring margin of a champion. Coaches and players say privately that they feel something special brewing — something some of them have never felt.

Adding Nikola Mirotic makes them even more malleable. (Outbidding the Sixers, who offered two second-round picks, per sources, probably made it sweeter. The Sixers and Pelicans also discussed the general framework of a Mirotic-Markelle Fultz swap before Philadelphia acquired Tobias Harris, sources say. It is unclear how far those talks would have advanced otherwise.) He unlocks more Giannis-at-center lineups, and can even jostle with some centers himself to spare Antetokounmpo wear and tear.

The Winners and Losers of the 2019 NBA Trade Deadline – The Ringer

Winner (?): Toronto Raptors
Well, it wasn’t the big swing some of us were hoping Masai Ujiri would take. But in a world where the Sixers and Bucks just added even more firepower, the Raptors trading Jonas Valanciunas, Delon Wright, C.J. Miles, and their 2024 second-round pick for Marc Gasol is still a Dave Kingman–ass cut. Now, we need to wait and see if that swing results in a moonshot or a strikeout.

First, the pros. Gasol isn’t quite the same player he was in his prime; 10-plus seasons of NBA mileage and a surgically repaired right foot can do that to a 7-foot-1, 255-pound 34-year-old. But after struggling mightily with a sprained left ankle on which he then played 47 minutes for the scuffling Grizzlies, Gasol has looked healthier of late, averaging 19 points, 9.1 rebounds, and 4.8 assists in 33.5 minutes per game over his final eight appearances in Memphis.

Gasol is a viable 3-point shooter, knocking down 34.4 percent of his deep tries on 4.2 attempts per game; he can both stretch and punish defenses. He’s also one of the best playmaking big men ever. Only four centers in league history to log at least 5,000 minutes have a higher assist rate than Gasol, who can act as an offensive hub at the elbows, hit cutters with high-low feeds from the high post, and free up guards to get going downhill off of dribble handoffs.

Gasol lacks lateral quickness, but he remains one of the league’s most cerebral interior defenders; he looked like a Defensive Player of the Year candidate through the first 20 games. While his defensive impact cratered as he hobbled around through December, it has seemed to rebound of late. Over his final 10 games as a Grizzly, Memphis allowed 5.8 fewer points per 100 possessions with Gasol on the floor than when he was on the bench.

That said, he’s not nearly the rim-protecting force you might expect given his size and defensive reputation. Opponents are shooting 61.7 percent at the basket when Gasol’s defending on the play, the fifth-worst mark of any big who sees at least five such shot attempts per game. They were shooting just 48.9 percent against Valanciunas, who is finally healthy again after dislocating his left thumb in mid-December.

Scott Stinson: Marc Gasol trade shows Raptors are firmly in win-now mode | National Post

In parting ways with Valanciunas, the Raptors lose a genuinely likeable big man, a guy who had become a franchise great somewhat by virtue of having been a long-serving member of the team during the best era in its history. But he was never an All-Star, and as much as he improved his game over the years he was rarely on the court in crunch time. They also lose Wright and Miles, the former a talented guy who does all the little things right but struggled to find a defined role on a deep team, and the latter a mercenary shooter who has unfortunately struggled this season to shoot. Oh, and that 2024 draft pick, by which time we could all be knee deep in rising seas, so whatever.

All of which is to say, the Raptors lost two guys who hadn’t been key pieces all season and one in Valanciunas who was replaced by someone who is significantly better at the same position. Gasol, while at 34 is eight years older than the big Lithuanian, is a three-time All-Star, two-time All-NBA, and a former Defensive Player of the Year. He scores, he rebounds, he passes, he even shoots threes. He’s the best centre the Raptors have ever had, just like that. In landing him, Toronto went from a team that was being passed as it stood still to striding aggressively back into the Eastern Conference race, otherwise known as the fight to be pantsed by the Golden State Warriors in the Finals.

Questions loom for Raptors after rolling dice on Gasol-Valanciunas swap –

“I am really excited. I was really looking forward to this day and there you go. If nothing crazy happens, I will be playing,” he said at the Raptors morning shootaround at State Farm Arena. “I expect to be 100 per cent ready and 100 per cent capable to do the things I was doing before … but I don’t feel like I lost something. I was working a lot on my skills, basketball IQ, watching film, watching games. I feel like I’m right there.”

And now he’s gone.

In a trade deadline bombshell that proves Raptors president Masai Ujiri is committed to winning above all else, Toronto has sent Valanciunas — tied with Kyle Lowry as their longest-serving player — along with point guard Delon Wright, sharpshooter C.J. Miles and a 2024 second-round pick to the Memphis Grizzlies for centre Marc Gasol, a three-time all-star and the 2012-13 defensive player of the year.

Valanciunas’ name had surfaced in some rumours and reports during the build-up to the deadline, but generally in connection with a bigger deal that would have seen both Valanciunas and Kyle Lowry go to the Grizzlies in exchange for Gasol and his long-time pick-and-roll partner Mike Conley.

That itself seemed far-fetched.

VanVleet and Siakam step up for short-handed Raptors in Atlanta | The Star

Point guard production: Thursday’s trades forced the Raptors to field a starting lineup with two point guards — Lowry and Fred VanVleet — and both contributed to the double-digit comeback. Substitute starter VanVleet poured in a career-best 30 points, added six assists and led all players in plus-minus rating with a plus-32. Lowry, meanwhile, added 13 points, eight rebounds and a game-high 15 assists.
Siakam shines: The sudden hollowing-out of Toronto’s lineup created room for Pascal Siakam to operate, and the third-year forward capitalized. Siakam played 40 minutes and finished with career-high 33 points and 13 rebounds.
Three by three: The 13 three-pointers the Hawks made by halftime were the most the Raptors have ever surrendered in a half. Entering Thursday, the Hawks had averaged 11.9 successful three-pointers a game.
All-star opponents: In the end, the all-star game draft process split up Raptors Kawhi Leonard and Kyle Lowry. During the draft, recorded Thursday morning and broadcast before the night’s slate of games, captains LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo chose their starters and reserves, with James taking Leonard as a starting forward. Antetokounmpo made Lowry his 13th selection. That move meant the Raptors point guard was the last player selected, with Washington’s Bradley Beal going to team LeBron by default.

Four takeaways from the Toronto Raptors' 119-101 victory over the Atlanta Hawks |

The Hawks play at the fastest pace in the league but were unable to make it a track meet on Thursday.

Toronto limited their turnovers committing just 8 all game long. They also shot the ball well from the field finishing the night at 46%.

And despite missing most of their frontcourt, they were able to get on the offensive glass (12 off-rebs) and keep Atlanta from sprinting down the court in transition.

Thursday’s performance was the perfect recipe to neutralize one of the league’s fastest teams.

Raptors survive emotional exhaustion, find mood-stabilizing win in Atlanta – The Athletic

“I don’t want to say we came to the game feeling sorry for ourselves but we came into the game cruising a little bit,” Pascal Siakam said of the mood early in the 119-101 victory.

For the Raptors, the deal meant playing heavily shorthanded. It actually leaves the Raptors in violation of the league’s roster minimum for the time being, and because Kawhi Leonard sat with knee soreness and Chris Boucher was on an airplane with Raptors 905 when the news came down and couldn’t conceivably get to Atlanta in time, the Raptors were playing with just nine bodies. Two of those bodies, Patrick McCaw and Jordan Loyd, had barely played meaningful minutes with the team. Only one of the players available to play Thursday is really a centre, and he only became one this year.

Opposite them, the Hawks had won six of their last 12, a dramatic turnaround after a 12-29 start that’s been buoyed by spirited, well-coached play and the positive development of some young pieces. Whereas the Raptors operate in uncertainty this week, Lloyd Pierce sat his team down to openly share previous deadline experiences to try to normalize the process as much as possible. No Hawks would end up being dealt despite a handful of veterans who could have been attractive to contenders and none sat out here, the Hawks apparently ready to eschew buyouts (for now) to keep a stable development environment in tact.

Shorthanded Raptors hang on for memorable win on wild deadline day –

Norm Powell and Delon Wright were doing their thing pre-game: hanging out, playing a little FIFA 19, cutting up — stuff they’d done a lot of since being drafted by the Toronto in the 2014 and working their way into steady NBA careers.

Powell wanted get his nap started so he put the video game on hold and went to his room, but before he could lay down he got a text: “I might be going to Memphis,” Wright told him.

Minutes later it was done. Wright was one of three Raptors headed to the Grizzlies, along with C.J. Miles and the centrepiece — Jonas Valanciunas, a seven-year Raptors veteran and one of most accomplished players the franchise has ever had. A 2024 second-round pick was included and in return, the Raptors will get Marc Gasol, a 34-year-old three-time all-star, twice an all-NBA defender and, in 2012-13, the NBA’s defensive player of the year.

The deal came together quickly. As of Thursday morning the Raptors were looking forward to just their second game in 56 with a complete roster together. Valanciunas, out since Dec. 12 with a torn ligament in his thumb — was giddy at the prospect of returning to action: “I am really excited,” Valanciunas said at about 10:40 in the morning before the Raptors pre-game shootaround at State Farm Arena. “I was really looking forward to this day and there you go. If nothing crazy happens, I will be playing.”

The NBA is a crazy league. Valanciunas, Wright and Miles were traded just after lunch. Suddenly, none of them were playing. The Raptors got the win 119-101 to improve to 40-16, but the results were almost secondary.

“Unless a guy asks for a trade in certain situations, you can understand it, but even then there’s probably a couple of guys that get swept up in that who don’t want to go,” Raptors point guard Fred VanVleet said of the emotions around the roster shakeup. “Without saying the wrong thing, it’s hard to speak about it because we want to welcome Marc obviously, but the guys that are leaving, it’s hard to see them go. You don’t want to criticize our management either, so we understand all sides of it. Just a tough situation for sure.”

Raptors' long, winding road to contention starts and ends with Lowry –

Lowry’s practically all that’s left. DeMar DeRozan, gone. Valanciunas, gone. Wright, Miles, Jakob Poeltl — all gone. That’s half of Toronto’s 10 most-used players in terms of minutes per game from last season. That’s three of its top five scorers from a year ago, as well. Two of its top four in rebounds and assists. This has been more of a makeover than it seems. Ujiri was already all-in when he shocked the world and acquired Kawhi Leonard last summer. Now, in trading a package for Gasol, he’s pulled the last trigger he responsibly could.

And considering he lacked expiring deals to move, was already spending into the luxury tax, and had a strong aversion to parting with his most alluring assets such as Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby, and future first-round picks, Ujiri did well in finding a way to make a considerable acquisition. Especially considering he had to.

After the Philadelphia 76ers swung a deal for uber-efficient scorer Tobias Harris, and the conference-leading Milwaukee Bucks added versatile big Nikola Mirotic, it would have been borderline negligible for the Raptors not to find a way to significantly improve. Mirotic will only make Milwaukee — a team Toronto came up short against three times in four tries this season — more dangerous and dynamic. And while the Raptors have had Philadelphia’s number this year, the acquisition of Harris gives the Sixers a starting five as good as any in the East.

The Raptors match with Gasol, who brings not only extensive playoff experience, but a well-earned reputation as one of the league’s most cerebral big men. His athleticism has undeniably declined since he was named the 2012-13 Defensive Player of the Year, but he still has the eighth-best defensive rating among the 31 NBA centres playing at least 25 minutes per game this year.

“Phenomenal player and a real winner that hopefully can come and make an impact,” Ujiri said. “In the playoffs, you need experience. Going forward, you need a really strong basketball mind, toughness. You need size; you need shooting from outside. Basketball IQ. Everything. He combines it all.”

Kawhi Life in Toronto: When the heart beats for Toronto – Raptors HQ

So then what is there to do in Toronto? There are a lot of factors to weigh here. Valentine’s Day is ultimately a matter of taste, and what works for one person’s relationship may not fit at all with someone else’s. Speaking for myself, the night has usually involved a (reasonably) fancy dinner — ideas are already floating around for something like that — and sometimes chocolates or flowers (or both). Perhaps this sounds a bit typical? I know! If I wasn’t on vacation right now in a foreign land I’d probably be talking up this chocolate, cheese, and beer idea at Rorschach Brewing Co. (great name) and making reservations right now. To that end, this may be the only Kawhi Life column where I’ll actively solicit ideas from the crowd. What do you like to do to celebrate Valentine’s Day? (And, uh, let’s keep it PG.)

Before jumping straight to the comment section, we have to acknowledge that V-Day isn’t a special day for everyone. In fact, even for people in relationships, marriages, and what have you, there’s a fair bit of cynicism around the whole thing. We could go into the history of Valentine’s Day here, unpack its co-option by corporate forces, discuss the ways in which men and women both feel pressured to fall in line with so-called societal norms. We could get quite steamed about the whole thing. Or we could just join in with the next paragraph.

Not to single it out, I just really enjoy what NOW Magazine decided to do here. (Heads up on the semi-NSFW sidebar pics as part of the magazine’s body issue.) Contained within are a bunch of events in Toronto centred around, you guessed it, being anti-Valentine’s Day. You could visit Rage Room and smash stuff, or listen to people tell (allegedly) entertaining stories about bad dates at the Gladstone Hotel, or get wild at Lula Lounge’s Drag Brunch Extravaganza.

The takeaway here is, as always, Toronto has you covered. And I love it.

The Raptors celebrated Jonas Valanciunas’ return before trading him

Center Jonas Valanciunas had missed almost two months with a dislocated thumb, and he was due to return for the Raptors’ road game against the Hawks on Thursday.

With that in mind, the official team Twitter account welcomed back Valanciunas with a simple “I’m back” tweet. Yet, given how Valanciunas’ name was commonly popping up in trade rumors, the Raptors had to know the tweet had a chance of backfiring at the deadline.

Toronto Raptors’ deadline deal should be applauded and appreciated – The Globe and Mail

On Thursday morning, Raptors centre Jonas Valanciunas was getting set to return from a long injury absence.

“I am really excited,” Valanciunas told reporters in Atlanta. “If nothing crazy happens, I will be playing.”

First rule of sports – never say it out loud. You can think it. But saying it makes it happen. It’s been scientifically proven.

And because Valanciunas said it, of course something crazy happened.

Shortly before the 3 p.m. deadline, the Raptors swung the biggest trade-deadline deal in franchise history. Valanciunas, guards Delon Wright and C.J. Miles and a 2024 second-round pick are being sent to Memphis in return for centre Marc Gasol.

Later, the Raptors put third-string centre Greg Monroe in a circus cannon and shot him toward Brooklyn. They didn’t bother trading him for anyone. They got cash instead.

By late afternoon, the Raptors had only 10 players under NBA contract. That’s three fewer than played for them a few nights ago in Los Angeles. By rule, they’ll need to pad out the roster over the next two weeks.

It all seems a bit seat-of-the-pants. But as its contention window nears closure and the NBA’s Eastern Conference becomes a spiralling arms race, Toronto has adopted the Monty Hall philosophy. All it does is make deals.

So much business was done in the NBA on Thursday, causing such an administrative logjam at head office that Raptors president Masai Ujiri went home for a little rest before returning to the team’s practice facility to speak about the deal.

At 8 p.m., he rolled back in. The deal was done done at 10.

“All of us try to achieve a dream of contending for a championship in the NBA,” Ujiri said. “That’s our goal and everybody on the team understands that. We’ll keep trying to achieve that goal.”

He said he’d spoken to Gasol who was “excited” to come to Toronto (how things change).

Toronto Raptors facing the prospect of mediocrity after this season

Moving onto Gasol, there is a possibility he will also be gone after this campaign, due to his contract situation. He has a player option for next season and for all we know, he may decide to decline it.

Now of course, with that player option being worth just under $25.6 million, you could just as easily see the 34-year-old picking it up. In addition, even if he does decline it, the Raptors could well offer him a longer-term deal which he might accept; for example, two years and $40 million.

However — while not as certain as our predicted Leonard outcome — there is a good chance Gasol will ultimately also be one-and-done. And then we have another tough position, where the Raptors enter next season without Gasol or Jonas Valanciunas. (While appreciating there were other players in the package which went to Memphis, Valanciunas is the player who will be missed most, for a whole variety of reasons.)

Going back to Leonard for a moment, when the Raptors traded for him, the inclusion of Danny Green was conceivably underrated at the time. It’s only been since this season started, that people have realised how invaluable he is to the team, as he has arguably his best campaign since 2014-15.

In this respect, Green is set to become an unrestricted player after the season concludes. While he has repeatedly said how much he enjoys being in Toronto, you have to rate the chances at 50-50, that he re-signs and returns next season.

So essentially, the Raptors will face a situation where they could lose two or three — depending on what head coach Nick Nurse does with Gasol — of their starting lineup at the conclusion of the 2018-19 campaign. This scenario would also see the team’s defensive capabilities downgraded significantly.

Gasol trade a risk worth taking for Raptors –

Gasol isn’t the player he once was, but even at 34-years-old the Spaniard gives the Raptors the upgrade they needed to keep up in a highly competitive race atop the East.

A three-time all-star and former Defensive Player of the Year, Gasol was averaging 15.7 points, 8.6 rebounds and a career-best 4.7 assists to go along with 1.1 steals and 1.2 blocks in 53 games with Memphis this season, his 11th in the NBA.

He got off to a hot start to the year, looking like his old self on both ends of the court, before falling off some as the season’s gone on. How much of that can be attributed to playing for a struggling Grizzlies team that has dropped to 14th in the West remains to be seen. The Raptors are hoping that the move to Toronto and a return to the playoffs will help reinvigorate him.

Gasol is one of the NBA’s premiere multi-faceted, two-way centres, and has been for most of the last decade. Even as he’s gotten older and the league has trended away from traditional 7-foot centres, Gasol’s vast skill set has allowed him to adapt his game.

He’s averaged at least 4.2 assists in each of his last three seasons – the highest marks of his career – and he’s hit 36 per cent of his 809 three-point attempts over that stretch after taking just 66 in his first eight seasons combined. Those are both things – passing and three-point shooting – that the Raptors could use from the position.

“He’s one of the best fives in the league for a long time now,” Raptors guard Fred VanVleet said. “A perennial all-star, Defensive Player of the Year, so just really excited to see how we can acclimate him to what we do and see how much he can give us a boost. Obviously we are very excited about that.”

It’s not quite the all-in type of move that some fans were pining for. ‘All-in’ would have entailed cashing in their chips and putting their future on the line by trading rising star Pascal Siakam or sophomore OG Anunoby or first-round picks for a superstar calibre player, like Anthony Davis, who wasn’t dealt after all.

Raptors go all in with Marc Gasol

Everyone acquired in the Gay deal walked, except Vasquez, who was flipped for the picks that became Norman Powell and OG Anunoby. Terrence Ross became Serge Ibaka. Casey was fired last May after the Raptors were swept for the second year in a row, replaced by his assistant, Nick Nurse. DeRozan was dealt alongside Jakob Poeltl for Danny Green and a year-long audition for Leonard, who becomes a free agent this summer. And on Thursday, eight minutes before the trade deadline passed, the bet got even riskier. The Raptors were trading Jonas Valanciunas, Delon Wright, C.J. Miles and a 2024 second-round pick for Memphis Grizzlies All-Star center Marc Gasol.

So it is that Raptors president Masai Ujiri — a man who claims to loath the business side of basketball, who called Casey one of his favorite people at the press conference following his firing, who referred to the DeRozan trade as the part of the business that would one day make him leave the NBA — reckons once more with the theme of his tenure: leaving behind the people who got you where you are because they can’t get you where you want to go. It’s a perfectly American story playing out above the border.

“I just heard Pascal say, you feel the camaraderie, you feel the family and then we have to do these kinds of things,” Ujiri said at the Raptors practice facility on Thursday after the deadline. “It makes it difficult. Jonas was a baby with us, grew up with us. We drafted Delon Wright. These guys have been special in our organization the last five years, four years with Delon. … [Valanciunas] is a No. 1 team-first guy, tough guy that gave us everything. That was a tough phone call today with him and emotional. He’s such a phenomenal person that gave this franchise his all.”

Winning has its price. Today, it was the organization with family photos plastered in the hallway of the locker room trading its longest-tenured Raptor.

Raptors go all-in with Marc Gasol blockbuster | The Star

The Milwaukee Bucks have the league’s best record and point differential, and acquired three-point shooting big man Nikola Mirotic from New Orleans; Toronto had interest, but the Bucks got better instead. The Philadelphia 76ers had already added borderline all-star Tobias Harris to their all-star core of Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and Jimmy Butler.

The Boston Celtics didn’t do anything of note, but will try to pry MVP candidate Anthony Davis out of New Orleans this summer.

So the East was suddenly gladiatorial, with two hours to the deadline, and these are the Raptors now. Gasol is a gifted passer, a one-man defensive co-ordinator — when the Raptors used to try to improve Valanciunas’s defensive instincts, Gasol was considered too good to be the reasonable best-case scenario — and has become almost a league-average three-point shooter. He’s a playoff veteran, and he’ll compete. He’s good.

How he fits, how quickly, we’ll see. The bench is thinner, but Ujiri didn’t give up either rising star Pascal Siakam or still-valued wing OG Anunoby, who together comprise this team’s best starting point if Leonard decides to leave. You could say the Raptors are chasing it, and maybe you’re right. But if this is the tightrope, they didn’t trade the net.

Still, this is about maximizing Leonard’s presence now, and trying to extend it in the future. The Raptors and Leonard have not been a seamless fit, but there has been an increase in comfort, encouraging signs. Toronto’s free bingo space is that they can offer an extra $50 million (all dollars U.S.) to a player who is known around the league to care about the value of a dollar in his life.

Beyond that, the Raptors can say: Look, sign a max contract and if you’re not happy in a year or two, we will find a way to send you where you want to go. It wouldn’t be the NBA’s first such handshake promise. It would give Ujiri and general manager Bobby Webster a chance to build something worth staying longer for.

It would, of course, give them a better chance. It was reported that Davis’s acceptable trade list included Milwaukee, where superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo is under contract through 2021. With Leonard, what else could Ujiri, with stars across the league constantly getting jarred free, acquire?

Marc Gasol trade grades: Raptors make splash in East arms race, as Grizzlies try to figure out next era –

You don’t trade for a 34-year-old center unless you believe it’s a big upgrade and you’re trying to win immediately. In this case, Toronto made perfect sense as a Gasol destination. With Kawhi Leonard’s free agency hanging over the franchise, the Raptors do not want to waste their opportunity to compete for a championship. In the Masai Ujiri era, they have never had a good passing center. Gasol is a great one, and he will immediately add some juice to Nick Nurse’s offense, setting punishing screens and directing his teammates like a point guard. While he is no longer a Defensive Player of the Year candidate, he is still a superior defender to Valanciunas. He will be particularly useful against Joel Embiid in a potential series with the Sixers, being physical with him on the inside and drawing him out to the perimeter.

The Wright loss may change how the Raptors play, though. Toronto is a less versatile team now, but it still has one of the best backup point guards in the league, Fred VanVleet, under contract. Had the Raptors kept Wright, they would have been faced with a difficult decision in July, when he will be a restricted free agent. Losing him does not hurt them that much in the long run.

Miles has dealt with injuries and shooting slumps since signing in Toronto in 2017, and he lost his spot as a regular in the rotation. His shooting might be missed in a playoff series, but the Raptors will surely try to address this hole in the buyout market, with a couple of new roster spots to fill. Ujiri’s work is not done.

Your reaction to this trade likely hinges on how you value Gasol and Valanciunas and what you think of Toronto’s title chances. In theory, Toronto is exactly the type of team that should make a trade sacrificing depth for star power. The question is whether or not this was the right trade. If you believe in Valanciunas building on his last couple of years of improvement, if you believe Gasol is no longer a difference-maker or if you believe the Raptors still aren’t good enough, then you probably don’t like what they did here. I would argue, though, that Toronto has gotten tougher, more difficult to defend and more playoff-ready, without giving up too much.

Valanciunas wasn’t just a player, he was spirit of the Raptors and will be missed | Toronto Sun

From the day he joined the organization as a rail-thin 20-year-old, the affable big man belied his status as one of the most famous people in his homeland. A relatable 7-foot star prospect? That was Valanciunas, who mixed Borat voices and sayings with off-colour humour as his English came along to great effect. Even once he became fluent, the Borat impressions would still be broken out on occasion.

A class clown at times, but all business once he hit the court, as he proved time and time again in the playoffs when his higher-profile teammates didn’t always join him in elevating their games.

Valanciunas arrived in Canada with much of Toronto’s fan-base unhappy with his selection by Bryan Colangelo. Most wanted guards Kemba Walker or Brandon Knight and having been scarred by the listless, oft-infuriating play of fellow European high-lottery selection Andrea Bargnani, readily expected Valanciunas to be a bust. Ironically, on draft night, Valanciunas talked optimistically about how he’d blend with Bargnani. That lasted 35 games and nobody would ever compare the two players again.

“Since I was a kid I liked to play hard. I like the taste of victories,” Valanciunas had said ahead of his first training camp with the Raptors that year, further differentiating himself from Bargnani.

The night before the draft, in my first of what would be dozens of interviews with Valanciunas over the ensuing years, he said he had been taking advice from forgettable Raptors forward Linas Kleiza: “He told me NBA is really hard job, so get ready for hard job,” Valanciunas had said.

Raptors Acquire Gasol From Grizzlies | Toronto Raptors

The Toronto Raptors announced Thursday they have acquired centre Marc Gasol from the Memphis Grizzlies in exchange for centre Jonas Valanciunas, guard Delon Wright, forward C.J. Miles and a 2024 second-round draft pick.

“Marc brings significant playoff experience to our team, which along with his savviness and leadership skills really helps position us for our ultimate post-season goal,” Raptors president Masai Ujiri said. “We look forward to welcoming Marc to our city and team.”

Gasol, 7-foot-1, 255 pounds, is averaging 15.7 points, 8.6 rebounds, a career-high 4.7 assists, 1.2 blocks and 33.7 minutes in 53 games this season. He is shooting .444 (303-683) from the field, .344 (76-221) from three-point range and .756 (152-201) at the free throw line. Gasol has scored 20 or more points 13 times and posted 18 double-doubles.

Gasol owns career averages of 15.2 points, 7.7 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 1.5 blocks and 33.7 minutes in 769 career games (762 starts) during 11 seasons with Memphis. He is the Grizzlies’ all-time leader in points (11,684), rebounds (5,942), blocks (1,135) and wins (407). In the postseason, Gasol averages 17.2 points, 8.9 rebounds and 39.7 minutes in 59 contests. He was selected in the second-round (48th overall) by the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2007 NBA Draft and acquired by the Grizzlies in February 2008.

A native of Barcelona, Spain, Gasol has been selected to the NBA All-Star Game three times (2012, 2015, 2017) and was named the 2012-13 NBA Defensive Player of the Year. He earned First Team All-NBA honours in 2014-15 and named Second Team All-NBA in 2012-13.

Gasol also has a highly-decorated international career as a member of the Spanish National Team, where he has played for Raptors assistant coach Sergio Scariolo. Gasol has helped the country earn seven medals on the international stage since joining the team in 2006, including silver medals at the 2008 and 2012 Summer Olympics.


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