Jeremy Lin has made the rounds in the NBA, but this is the first time he has actually switched teams mid-season.
Even on his eighth team, it’s foreign territory for him and it hit home pretty quickly on Wednesday evening as the team convened for the first post sll-star break workout at the team’s practice facility.
“Yeah, this is really weird. Really, really weird, actually,” Lin said of joining a new team midstream. “Even today, I went to pick up my (practice) gear and had to ask where. I wound up taking Kyle’s (Lowry) because I was so used to being No. 7. So I grabbed all his gear and I was like: ‘Man, these socks are really long. This is weird.’
“I actually put it on and came out and then realized I didn’t have my practice jersey,” said Lin, No. 17 on the Raptors. “They said it should have been on my loop so I went back in and realized ‘Oh, I’m not No. 7 any more.’ So just little things like that, learning everybody and everything. I need to figure out where to get the food, where to ice, all that stuff.”
Lowry and Kawhi Leonard were not part of the proceedings on Wednesday evening as their break extended a little longer given the full weekend they put in at the all-star festivities in Charlotte.
Lin is actually one of three Raptors getting ready for that final 23-game stretch of the season going through these things.
Marc Gasol, who beat Lin to Toronto by a few days, is doing the same while Jodie Meeks, a nine-year vet who signed a 10-day contract earlier in the day got his first taste of the Raptors’ way on Wednesday.
“We’re having a great year, we got a bunch of professional guys, we’ve got some veteran guys. We’ve got a big goal in hand and I think that makes everything a lot easier to be on the same page.”
While they’ve been on the same page, the Raptors have dealt with a number of injuries this season – the All-Star duo of Lowry and Kawhi Leonard have missed a combined 28 games and reserve guard Fred VanVleet will likely be sidelined until late March after undergoing thumb surgery.
Through the adversity of the injuries, Lowry admits a positive takeaway is the boost in confidence within the players that saw increased time in the lineup: “Everybody had to step up, so everyone has the confidence to go out there, do their job, make some shots, make plays and [understand] that we all believe in each other.
“With injuries coming to myself, Kawhi, us adding Marc, us being [down] to nine players – everyone has the confidence to go out there and just do their job.”
With just 23 games remaining in the 2018-19 season, each individual on the Raptors’ ability to “do their job” will be key, as the team jockeys for a spot atop the Eastern Conference and prepares to make a deep postseason run.
Kawhi Leonard: B
Having a full season with a player of Leonard’s stature has been invaluable for Toronto – that’s not a shot at DeMar DeRozan, either, it’s just reality.
Leonard is a bonafide MVP talent and there are very few times where he steps on the floor as the second best player in the game. He’s averaging a career-high 27.0 points, 7.7 rebounds and 1.9 steals per game, MVP numbers for a team who has the second-best winning percentage in the league.
But Leonard hasn’t been an everyday player this season for the Raptors. The time he’s missed has taken him out of the MVP race. Whether that matters or not remains to be seen, but ultimately the reason why Kawhi was brought in was to help the Raptors get over the hump in the playoffs.
One other area for improvement is in the clutch. While his numbers aren’t bad when the game is on the line – only James Harden, Kyrie Irving and Kemba Walker have scored more clutch points this season – the Raptors just look stagnant and lack creativity. Kawhi tends to have a lot on his plate in those moments, which is why he was brought to be the man in those situations, but against good defences such as the Bucks, he just hasn’t been able to break through.
The additions of Jeremy Lin and Marc Gasol should help because they are two players who can get their own looks and create for others.
The four teams Porzingis had on his wish list of trade destinations were the Nets, Los Angeles Clippers, Miami Heat and Toronto Raptors, according to two people with knowledge of the list who were not authorized to discuss it publicly.
How will the top of the East shake out?
The Bucks, Raptors, Sixers and Celtics are the four best teams in the East. But right now Indiana, as the No. 3 seed coming out of the break, is throwing a wrinkle in the plan that those four will meet in the conference semifinals. As it stands, the Sixers and Celtics as the Nos. 4 and 5 seeds would have to play in the first round, and the loser of that series would have serious questions heading into a huge offseason for their respective teams in terms of free agency.
Would Kyrie really stay in Boston if they went out in the first round? Will Jimmy Butler and/or Tobias Harris bolt from Philly if the same were to happen to them? For the Sixers and Celtics, pushing past the Pacers is of premium concern. Make sure you at least get home-home in the first round and go from there.
If we do get those four in the semis, who has what seed, and thus a home-court advantage in those matchups, will be huge. It is almost impossible to separate those four teams, and the tiniest of edges could be the difference in a second-round exit and a trip to the NBA Finals.
Marc Gasol on facing his brother Pau on Friday: "It's even more fun now. The older you get the more you cherish it… I still want to kick his ass. That's nothing new, but now I get to enjoy it more."
— Josh Lewenberg (@JLew1050) February 21, 2019
Kawhi Leonard being traded to the Raptors during the off-season has made a difference for Toronto, and he’s played some of his best basketball this season against the Sixers.
Leonard averaged 30.3 points per game in the three games he played against Philly; he didn’t play during the Raptors’ lone loss against the Sixers last December. With a minimum of three games played, the Sixers are one of three teams in which Leonard has averaged at least 30 points a game against; the other two teams are the Cleveland Cavaliers and Boston Celtics, per nba.com.
The Sixers weren’t able to defend Leonard well during the three games he played against them, but the Raptors also pose another problem: depth. In each of the four games the Sixers played against Toronto, the Raptors had at least three players score in double figures.
For the Sixers, competing against a team with depth has proven difficult for most of the season. They didn’t acquire legitimate depth until the trade deadline, when they picked up Tobias Harris, Boban Marjanovic, Mike Scott, James Ennis and Jonathon Simmons in three different trades.
Before the All-Star break, the Sixers showed they potentially have a 10-man rotation. Coach Brett Brown has lineups to work with now, and he should be able to get his starters more rest, especially as the playoffs draw near.
Though the Raptors have arguably a top five player in Leonard, the Sixers having more depth should help them compete with Toronto if the two teams meet in the playoffs.
“The ACC was like night and day. The audio-visuals were light years ahead, our food, beverage and game entertainment people were so excited with their new toys. to finally deliver what other modern arenas had.”
But the new playpen, with the Leafs and Raptors as its principal tenants, was not conceived without a shotgun wedding. It began as a basketball-only facility, when the NBA team tired of talking to the Leafs, deciding to convert the old Canada Post building and got their shovel in the ground first.
That ticked off Steve Stavro and Maple Leaf Gardens Ltd., who envisioned themselves destined to govern big-time sports in town. But as the ACC began to take shape, MLG derided their efforts, while dangling pie-in-the-sky alternatives, at the CNE, above Union Station and even renovating the Gardens.
“A lot of politicking went on and I think Steve was (stubborn) enough he might have gone ahead and done it alone,” Hunter said. “In the end, everyone knew two buildings wouldn’t work. At the time, the Raptors were doing well, but the power of the Leafs spoke. It was the right decision to do it together.”
For $350 million, MLG bought the Raptors and their half-finished arena, creating today’s Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment. About $65 million went to incorporating hockey rink changes to the lower bowl design. The clock was already ticking towards puck drop less than a year later.
None of the East powers stood to benefit more from James’ shift from Eastern to Pacific time zones than these guys. It wasn’t just his basketball excellence that had gotten in the Raptors’ way postseason after postseason — it was his dominance in the East (eight consecutive Finals trips) that had tormented them. Not since, oh, Michael Jordan vs. the New York Knicks had a single superstar seemed to pitch a tent inside an opponent’s heads.
Even a status quo version of Toronto, led by Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, might have seen different results this time. But with Leonard, Gasol and underrated buyout pickup Jeremy Lin, this is a bolder, mentally freed squad that could be more efficient than last spring’s edition.
Gasol figures to keep divvying minutes with Serge Ibaka. But as well as Toronto played with Jonas Valanciunas, Gasol should be that and more. Similar size, more adept as a passer and shooter.
“He’s so skilled and he’s really motivated,” a scout said of Gasol and this opportunity to salvage a difficult season. “And they got out of a couple contracts in C.J. Miles and Valanciunas.”
Granted, Toronto has gone 13-3 when Leonard has not played. But keeping one of the NBA’s elite two-way players healthy is a must once the playoffs start. Forward Pascal Siakam might be the favorite at this point for the Kia Most Improved Player Award (16.1 ppg, 7.0 rpg and 55 percent shooting). Lin stabilizes the backcourt, especially while Fred Van Vleet recovers from thumb surgery.
The easiest thing in the world to do is play a situation safe. Minimize risk and accept the near certain outcome. Heading into the season, as previously constructed, the Raptors were already on a trajectory to reach 50 wins and secure a playoff berth. However, Raptors president of basketball operations Masai Ujiri made the risky decision to turn off cruise control and go all in on a championship this season.
The reason was simple – five straight trips to the Eastern Conference playoffs netted only one trip past the second round and some seriously embarrassing postseason eliminations. So sure, the franchise could have stayed the course with the previous roster framework, but realistic title aspirations were a stretch at best.
To begin the roster reconstruction, the Raptors traded All-Star guard DeMar DeRozan, big man Jakob Poeltl and a protected 2019 first round pick to the San Antonio Spurs in exchange for 2014 NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard and veteran guard Danny Green.
Green and Leonard immediately provided Toronto with championship heart and grit, something lacking from the team in year’s past. The trade was a huge risk for Ujiri with free agency looming this summer for Leonard (and Green) and having to say goodbye to DeRozan, a homegrown talent and the franchise’s all-time leading scorer.
Toronto rolled early this season and have remained near the top of the Eastern Conference standings, but Ujiri doubled down at the trade deadline by acquiring former Defensive Player of the Year Marc Gasol in exchange for Jonas Valanciunas, Delon Wright, C.J. Miles and a 2024 second-round draft pick.
In just over six months, Ujiri was able to acquire two former Defensive Player of the Year award winners while gutting his roster of familiar faces fans came to know during the team’s recent run to prominence.
The Raptors currently sit one game out of the top spot in the Eastern Conference. The moves are driving results and most believe the Raptors are legitimate title contenders. But the risk for the franchise is most definitely real. Gasol, Leonard and Green are all expected to hit the unrestricted free agency market this summer which could leave the franchise facing a real possibility of losing all for nothing in return.
The tug-of-war atop the East between the Toronto Raptors and Milwaukee Bucks has been incredible all season.
The two teams are slugging it out not just for homecourt through the East playoffs, but potentially through the NBA Finals as well. Toronto has had a wonderful year and lived up to their exemplary 43-16 record. Their problem in this race is that their competition has had a historic 43-14 start to their season.
The Bucks join a short list of teams who could boast about entering the All-Star break with fewer than 15 losses. It’s a credit to Toronto that this has only afforded them a one-game lead, but Milwaukee’s advantage is cushioned by a 3-1 head-to-head series victory.
The Bucks’ biggest advantage at the moment, though, is a two-game lead in the loss column. For teams this elite, losses hold far more importance than wins. The Raptors are stuck in the powerless position of having to hope the Bucks lose three more games than them the rest of the season for Toronto to leap them in the standings.
While homecourt certainly doesn’t guarantee playoff success, it would be a significant victory for either team. Given the incredible talent on both of these rosters, playing Game 7 at home could easily be the deciding factor in a potential Eastern Conference Finals.
“I feel like as I’ve gotten older, I’ve begun to embrace more and more of this Asian-American side of me,” he said on the podcast. “And in doing so, I’ve learned a lot and seen a lot ― going through ‘Linsanity’ and everything afterwards.”
Lin told host Alex Wong that he’s done quite a bit of work, reconnecting with his roots, particularly through trips to Taiwan and China. The athlete, who has spent summers in Asia, said that spending more time immersed in Chinese culture has given him a deeper appreciation for his roots. He noted that he’s better understood why he values familial piety and politeness ― concepts deeply ingrained in the culture.
“As I pick up more and more of the intricacies of Chinese culture even now, we’re doing a lot of business, and we’re doing a lot of different things … being in those situations, I get a deeper understanding of my roots and also why I am the way I am, why I think the way I think,” he said.
He added that, “the more time I spend over there, the more I really understand my parents and my upbringing.”
Lin admitted that early on in his career, he wasn’t comfortable about speaking out on Asian-American issues.
“I ran from it because that’s all anyone ever wanted to assign me to ― ‘oh my goodness you’re not just a basketball player, you’re an Asian basketball player.’ and that’s all anyone could ever talk about Asian, Asian, Asian. I was like dude, I want you to respect me for my basketball.”
“I think that‘s just how they work, and they operate. They make moves, and they make moves for the best of the organization. If they do something that will be their feeling to whatever the organization thinks is best for them.”
Lowry has been discussed as a piece in a potential deal with the , sources confirmed to ESPN. He admitted he was surprised that his name had come up at all, and that he hasn‘t been ed by anyone in Toronto‘s front office about a potential deal.
“No, I haven‘t heard anything,” Lowry said. “Reassurance would be great, but at the end of the day, they don‘t have to call me. My job is, as a player, to go out here and do my job. If they want to call me, that‘d be great. I would appreciate it. But if they don‘t, I understand.
“It‘s a business. I know that‘s such a cliche, but if they wanted to call me, I‘m sure they would. I‘ve been here six years, and I‘ve given a lot to this organization. I‘m sure if they were going to trade me, they‘d say, ‘Hey, Kyle, this is what‘s on the table.‘”
Lowry, who was selected to his fifth straight All-Star team last week, is in the second year of a three-year, $100 million deal he signed last summer.
In an interview with ESPN‘s Rachel Nichols in December, Lowry said of his relationship with Raptors president of basketball operations Masai Ujiri, “He‘s the president of basketball operations, and that‘s it. For me, I come here and do my job. … That‘s where we stand.”
And while Lowry may not hold any ill will toward Ujiri for his name coming up in trade talks now, he said things are no different today than they were when he said that two months ago.
“It‘s the truth, right? At the end of the day I said nothing that wasn‘t true,” Lowry said. “That‘s how I look at it. The relationship has always been the same. It‘s been the same since I got here.
“Years ago, he challenged me to be a better basketball player. … That was his challenge. We haven‘t been, ‘Rah-rah, buddy-buddy.‘ … I keep a small circle, and that‘s how I work, and how I operate. So, for me, it‘s one of those things where I stay in my lane.”
The Raptors have 23 games remaining between now and the end of the regular season – 12 at home, 11 on the road. The furthest West they travel is Oklahoma City, which is only one time zone behind.
They have four games remaining on their homestand that began before the All-Star break, including DeMar DeRozan’s return to Toronto on Friday, Feb. 22. Their next-longest homestand will take place between March 22 and March 26, when they host the Thunder, Hornets and Bulls.
As for the away games, the Raptors have a couple of two-game road trips and one three-game road trip.
FiveThirtyEight projects the Raptors to finish with a 60-22 record, the second-best in the Eastern Conference behind the Bucks.
Team Rankings projects the Raptors to finish with a 59-23 record and gives them a 14.6 percent chance at getting the No. 1 seed.
Inpredictable gives the Raptors a 10.0 percent chance of being a No. 1 seed, an 86.0 percent chance of being a No. 2 seed and a 3.0 percent chance of being a No. 3 seed.
Ujiri has addressed the topic several times since the trade, and maintained Wednesday morning that despite the clear attachment between a city and player, trades and transactions are simply part of the business.
“I think time heals those things,” Ujiri said. “That’s just the nature of our business. I did explain what happened at the time. I think everybody has kind of taken that next step and moved on. He’s doing great in San Antonio and we’re trying to figure out the East and keep up with the big boys here. So I think people move on and time heals stuff.”
Through 54 games, DeRozan has averaged 21.4 points, 6.1 assists and 6.1 rebounds per game while also posting a shooting percentage of .463.
Leonard hasn’t played as many games as the guy he’ll always be compared to in Toronto, but is having one of the best seasons of his career on the stats sheet: He’s averaging 27 points, 3.3 assists and 7.7 rebounds per game and is shooting 49.2 percent from the field.
But as Ujiri pointed out, it’s the influence Leonard has on his younger teammates that might be most valuable.
“He’s incredible, brings it on both ends, a shot-maker. Having that calibre of a mind, I think also helps the rest of the players, whether it’s our young players — the Pascals, the OGs, the Freds, or even Kyle Lowry, it helps,” he said. “Having him, it’s a great level to be at, and you test yourself and everybody tests themselves as an organization, to see where you can get to.”
As for the biggest question in the city — the one about where Leonard will play next year — Ujiri had this to say:
“I’d rather have the free agent in my building or in our organization for one year rather than a one-hour pitch. You know, I don’t know how much of a chance we have with a one-hour pitch,” he said. “But you have him for one year, he can deal with your culture, he can know what the organization is about, you can develop a relationship with him and we are developing a relationship with Kawhi and I think he’s enjoying the organization. And I think even medically, that’s been huge for him and getting better and getting back to the level he was a couple years ago.”
The turning point, in his mind, was the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season, his third year in the NBA. It was the fall and he was at home in Los Angeles waiting for labour peace and wanting to get back to work. A few months went by and he started thinking, ‘I miss playing games. I miss my team,’ and then ‘I miss Toronto.’
“I started looking at things differently,” DeRozan recalled.
It was also Dwane Casey’s first season coaching the team. Casey had been hired in late June and DeRozan was the only player still in town to attend his press conference.
“I sensed right then that he was in love with Toronto,” said Casey. “He talked about it a lot – how he loved the country, how he loved the city. It was home to him.”
At the time, Casey and DeRozan – and their families – were neighbours. Both of them lived in Maple Leaf Square, a rapidly developing residential, office, retail and entertainment complex across from the arena. Real Sports hadn’t even opened yet.
“I was there for so long that I saw so many new things built, a lot of things come about,” DeRozan said. “So for me to be able to witness that and grow with Toronto and Canada in general, seeing different cultures in one country, for me that was something that was remarkable.”
Just as DeRozan was warming up to the city, the city and the fans were also coming around to him. He was still quiet, but with age and experience he was finally starting to come out of his shell. Fans got to know him, not just as a player but also as a person.
The discussion sometimes gets around to Harvey and Horace Grant, perhaps Brent and Jon Barry, maybe Bernard and Albert King. Oldtimers will point to Tom and Dick Van Arsdale. None really can match was the Gasols have done in both the NBA and with the Spanish team.
“They’re just really good players,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said of the Gasols, who’ll face off against each other on Friday when Toronto hosts the San Antonio Spurs. “They’re fun to watch, they know how to play.
“Their class shows itself a lot of time for Spain, and a lot of time in the NBA when it’s needed the most.”
It’s hard now for either of the brothers to really reconcile what they’ve done, because they both have more of their careers to worry about. They may be creeping near the end — Pau is 38 years old and Marc is 34 — but they aren’t done.
Some day they will be, and some time they’ll think about what they’ve accomplished.
“The thing about the NBA, you don’t have the time to really digest a lot of the things that happen to you,” Marc Gasol said after the Raptors had their first post-all-star workout on Wednesday night. “You just have one challenge after another. You’re always trying to do something bigger, always trying to win the next thing in front of you.
“You don’t get to savour it as much or enjoy it as much. I’m sure that 10, 15 years from now, when we’re both sitting sipping on some red wine, we’ll be able to look back and maybe enjoy it a bit more.”