Masai is locked, loaded, and thoughtful…a fucking great guy all-in-all | Raptors are -225 favourites to keep Kawhi | Canadian Basketball getting serious
Lowry is hardheaded. He knows it. He knows where he gets it: His grandmother Shirley Holloway, who raised Lowry with his mother, Marie, was just as stubborn. “About everything,” Lowry recalls. Don’t walk down the stairs like that. Don’t cook grits like that. On Sundays, don’t think about coming near the kitchen until she was done cleaning. “Like, ‘Everybody get out of my goddam way or I ain’t cooking breakfast,’ ” Lowry says. “You don’t get breakfast when she’s cleaning. How I am, that’s straight from grandma.”
That streak cut both ways. It earned Lowry a reputation as hard to handle. He didn’t think he deserved it with the Grizzlies, who drafted him in the first round in 2006 only to give up on him midway through his third season. “I had bad coaches,” says Lowry. He definitely deserved it with the Rockets. Lowry spent two and a half seasons playing for Rick Adelman, connecting with the coach’s laid-back approach. After the 2010–11 season, Houston replaced Adelman with McHale, whom Lowry, then 25, clashed with immediately. “You have to earn [Lowry’s] trust,” says Wright. “He’s not giving that away easily.” After one season together, Lowry requested a trade. “I didn’t buy in,” says Lowry. “I have apologized to Kevin. I didn’t know he was trying to coach me. At the time, I didn’t understand it.”
That stubbornness, though, fuels Lowry. After being traded to Toronto, a rival executive (Lowry declines to name him) told him he should prepare for life as a backup. Lowry has played 497 games for the Raptors—and started 481. A former teammate (“Jared Jeffries,” says Lowry. “Yeah, you call him out”) once told Lowry he would never make more than $5 million per year. In 2017, Lowry signed a three-year, $100 million deal.
A tense meeting with Ujiri wouldn’t be a first, either. Ujiri didn’t trade for Lowry. He was hired in 2013, a year after the Raptors acquired Lowry from Houston for a first-round pick and little-used swingman Gary Forbes. Ujiri loved Lowry’s talent. His fearlessness. His ferocity. He hated his body language and his defiant attitude. Before training camp that fall, Ujiri called Lowry into his office. He challenged him. He said Lowry could be a $4 million per year player or a $12 million per year man. Lowry heard him. He responded with a career-best season, improving his scoring average from 11.6 points to 17.9 and propelling Toronto into the playoffs.
The collective bargaining agreement contains a “Larry Bird Exception” that allows teams to exceed the salary cap to re-sign its own players for up to the maximum salary. To qualify, players must play three seasons without clearing waivers or changing teams as a free agent. There are some other wrinkles to the rule, but for the Raptors’ purposes, what’s important is that Bird rights transfer in a trade. So while Leonard hasn’t played three years with the Raptors, he’s gone three years without clearing waivers or changing teams via free agency.
This is Toronto’s biggest advantage. Bird rights allow the Raptors to do a few different things we’ll explore in detailed examples shortly. Among them:
- They do not require cap space to re-sign him. Other teams do, or need to execute a sign-and-trade.
- They can offer a fifth year on a contract. Other teams can only offer four.
- They can offer an annual raise worth 8 percent of the first-season salary. Other teams can only offer 5 percent of the first-season salary as an annual raise. (These raises do not compound.)
- As a backward-looking note, while with the Spurs, Leonard was eligible for the Designated Veteran Extension (sometimes referred to as the super-max). That eligibility did not transfer with him from San Antonio, so while the Raptors hold advantages over the market, they are not quite as great as the ones the Spurs held (theoretically; it’s possible they wouldn’t have been willing to offer that deal).
As a procedural note, the Raptors also can’t offer a no-trade clause, as Leonard is ineligible. They can, however, offer up to a 15-percent trade kicker that would provide Leonard a bonus in the event he’s traded. (The bonus can’t push his salary above the max in that given year, so depending on how the cap rises in relation to Leonard’s salary, it may not matter. It’s nice insulation, though, particularly in a longer-term scenario where a trade during the life of the deal is more likely.)
Josh Lewenberg joins the OverDrive guys to discuss Masai Ujiri’s post-season press conference, the comments he made about trying to re-sign Kawhi Leonard and the appearance that Ujiri was trying to convince the fan base to have faith in his abilities regardless of Kawhi’s decision.
Are there Alternative Contract Options?
We’ve covered Leonard’s options if he stays in Toronto long-term, but is the full five-year max a given? We’ve seen both LeBron James and Kevin Durant sign short deals, keeping free agency close in case their respective situations go south. Leonard could take a similar route.
Such a move might prove prudent from a winning standpoint. Toronto can strike when the iron is hot in 2019-20 with Golden State potentially out of the picture and Leonard can sign a one year deal with an additional option. New York might loom Durant’s rehab year in New York, or Leonard could finally bolt to the Clippers if their haul of assets nets another big name. Leonard keeping his options open will maximize his championship window.
Suggesting a one-and-one deal requires a short memory, though. It was just 11 months ago when Leonard joined the Raptors following a nine-game season in San Antonio. Leonard landed on Zaza Pachulia’s foot one year prior and missed the rest of the 2017 Western Conference finals. Durant’s ruptured Achilles could very well spook free agent classes for years to come. Considering Leonard’s injury history, it’s hard to imagine him signing a short term deal in Toronto or any another location.
But all of those questions and answers – which would be more than enough heart-swelling stimulation for any hopeful Raptors fan – were just a prelude to Ujiri’s greater message: the Raptors are poised to take over the heart and minds of basketball fans the world over.
It’s one only he can deliver – or at least is uniquely positioned to deliver. He is the child of a Nigerian father and a Kenyan mother who has chased his basketball dreams throughout the U.S. and across the globe before settling in Toronto while expanding his charitable efforts in Africa. Ujiri can effortlessly see things from 30,000 feet; can easily explain Toronto to itself from the perspective of the other side of the world. He sees international players dominating the NBA’s end-of-year awards, not as an anomaly, but an inevitability, and Toronto’s position as an international franchise as a strength.
A passionate soccer fan – if Ujiri ever leaves the Raptors, he’s as likely to be lured by a Premier League club than another NBA role – he doesn’t see why the iconic brands in sport are Real Madrid or Manchester United, or why the Los Angeles Lakers or the New York Knicks should be ahead of Canada’s team.
Basketball is a growing global force and in Ujiri’s eyes, the Raptors are poised to grow right along with it.
“We’re are going to capture the world …” Ujiri said. “There’s just a different reach from here. Let’s call a spade a spade. This is what it is.
“We should have seen this years ago and we’re seeing it now, let’s plan for years to come. There is something here. I don’t know if there should be more teams in the NBA that are outside the United States, but this speaks a lot, that a team outside the United States can win a championship in the NBA and can have a strong identity, and identify with people around the world. There is nothing like that, there is nothing like that because this is what this game is about …
“And we should build on that. It should not be a mockery of ‘we’re in the cold, and people don’t want to come here’ and all that nonsense. That’s past,” said Ujiri. “No one is talking that nonsense now because we have a championship now, and we believe in us and it should be how we reach the world…”
Ujiri talked about the trust that had been built between the organization and Leonard; he said they had met recently, and had texted last night; he mentioned he had talked to key adviser Dennis Robertson, Kawhi’s uncle, Tuesday morning.
“For us, we continue to be us and I know he’ll continue to be him,” Ujiri said, “and I know what we’ve built here, I’m confident, and you see how these things go. I think we have to respect him for that decision that he has to make.
“I’ve had very good meetings with him the last few days and, yes, he’s told me (what his priorities are), and … for me they’ve been positive. And he challenges me the same way that I challenge him, and I think that the goal is the same, and I appreciate that.”
Leonard challenging Ujiri is interesting. Everything about Kawhi’s decision-making process is either smoke, reflected light, or overheard sound. You can find quiet indications either way, in the choice between the Raptors and his hometown Los Angeles Clippers. Toronto can’t match the geography, or Kawhi’s personal history. They have always known that.
But he wants to win, again and again, and that’s something Ujiri controls. Philadelphia has its own free agents — Jimmy Butler, Tobias Harris, J.J. Redick — and Milwaukee does too in Malcolm Brogdon, Brook Lopez and Nikola Mirotic. Either could lose someone. The Boston Celtics are surely losing Kyrie Irving. The Golden State Warriors might lose Kevin Durant to free agency, after losing him to an Achilles tear that will cost him next season either way.
With Kawhi, the Raptors would be the front-runners. And you can be sure Ujiri will present a bold and ambitious vision beyond this year, too. Danny Green won’t get more than a two-year deal here, but even if he leaves you run back the champs: most improved player Pascal Siakam will be a year better, and a resurgent OG Anunoby could make a leap. It will be a championship team with another year of figuring each other out, in a weaker league.
And in 2021, a chase for MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, if he has not recommitted to Milwaukee. Or Utah’s Rudy Gobert, or Washington’s Bradley Beal.
He had put his reputation on the line and sacrificed professional and personal relationships that took years to cultivate in order to give his team a real chance to do something special. He took some heat for it. That’s just the nature of the business.
Then he won a championship, and for a guy whose job is to build championship teams, it all seems worth it now.
After months of letting his work do the talking, Ujiri returned to the spotlight on Tuesday and it was like he had never left. Once a showman, always a showman.
“The trophy is not here, I was just going to come [in] and put it down and walk off and walk back to Africa,” he said early in his end-of-season press conference. Fifty minutes later, the Larry O’Brien Trophy finally joined him on stage.
Ujiri was at the podium for almost an hour. He didn’t even break the seal on the bottle of water sitting in front of him and only (jokingly) needed to dab sweat off his forehead when he was asked if basketball would ever overtake hockey as Canada’s sport (to which he said “I really think so,” and went on to “guarantee” the Maple Leafs win the Stanley Cup).
Few command a room or deliver a speech quite like Ujiri, that hasn’t changed. Whenever he speaks it’s usually memorable. These end-of-season availabilities, in particular, have given us some iconic moments – from the “culture reset” of 2017 to last spring’s passionate call to action.
This was his victory lap, a chance to remind people why he did what he did and to deliver a new message: he’s not done yet.
“This is why we work,” he said. “We want to experience this moment here again and again and again. And we want to believe in ourselves here and, I think this shows we can do this. It is a huge representation for us to be the only team outside the United States to win a championship because it inspires people all over the world. I feel that it gives everybody confidence that sometimes not everybody had.”
From the moment he got here, Leonard said re-establishing his health was his top priority. And from the moment Leonard arrived, Ujiri said the Raptors would try to appeal to Leonard not by deviating from who they are, but by emphasizing it. Since then, the Raptors and Leonard agreed to a plan to put his health first. Despite all load management-related angst, the season ended with Leonard averaging 39 minutes per playoff game, participating in all 24 of them. The Raptors gave Leonard enough of a platform to get a new shoe deal, with New Balance making quite a mark in the playoffs. Oh yeah, the Raptors and Leonard also collaborated on winning a championship, which players tend to care about. Beyond that, Ujiri can pitch a championship contender for next season, and a flexible financial outlook starting in 2020, depending on what else happens this summer.
Still, Leonard might leave. Ujiri acknowledges that. Leonard might simply want to live in Southern California year-round.
“We do feel confident (that Leonard will re-sign with the Raptors). But Kawhi is his own man. He’s shown that since he came here,” Ujiri said. “He’s a confident human being, he’s an unbelievable person, he is his own person. I’m glad we got him for the year. I said this to you guys, we have to be ourselves. And we were ourselves the whole year. I think he saw that. I think we built a trust there. But at the end of the day, the relationship I’ve developed with Kawhi, and I know the relationship this organization has built with Kawhi, we will respect his decision. I do respect that.”
This time of year, more than even the playoffs, is designed to make NBA fans crazy. At least until negotiations can formally begin at 6 p.m. on June 30, news tends to trickle out at an interminable speed. Information is being leaked from everywhere — the team, the agent, the player himself, the teammates — so each piece of news feels as if it is monumental, at least until the next piece of news contradicts it.
Host William Lou is joined by Vivek Jacob to break down the latest news surrounding the team. Topics include:
- Masai Ujiri on his future, and his vision for Toronto
- Kawhi Leonard’s impending free agency decision
- Marc Gasol and Danny Green’s fit in the long-term view
- The growth of the Raptors as a global brand
- Pascal Siakam wins MIP, Ujiri snubbed for EOY
As Siakam’s skill set continued to grow and expand, his mindset never changed. He has always wanted to be the best player that he can be, but wanting hasn’t been enough. When the Raptors defeated the Milwaukee Bucks in the Eastern Conference Finals, head coach Nick Nurse said, “Nobody is giving us this thing; we’ve got to go take it ourselves.” Nurse was talking about his team returning from a second-half deficit but could have easily been speaking about Siakam who has made the absolute most out of every opportunity earned.
Throughout the season, after each of his career-high performances, Siakam was often asked, “Are you surprised at how quickly this has happened?” Each time, he would patiently explain that it isn’t surprising because when he steps onto the floor each night he’s doing the same things that he’s already spent hours working on each day. Three days after the Raptors won the Championship, Siakam spoke about motivation. “For me, the motivation is, look what you did in three years,” he said. “What can you do in 10, you know? What can you do in more than that, that’s my motivation. Seeing how great I can be. That’s the next step now.”
Even as Siakam’s MIP-winning season was still unfolding, whether it was Game 7, Game 23, Game 59, or another stretch of basketball altogether, there was this feeling, a sense that this season from Siakam was extremely special, and that we’d all be talking about it in the years to come. Before the Raptors won the NBA Championship and Siakam was named Most Improved Player, before he scored 44 points against the Wizards or recorded his first game-winning buzzer-beater against the Suns, everyone watching the Raptors knew they were also watching a player in flight, actively taking the leap to the next level while seeming to improve each night when the ball was thrown up.
Watching Siakam receive the Most Improved Player award with his family by his side was another magical moment in a season full of them. It is impossible not to root for Siakam after watching him play, but his motivations run deeper than seeing his name surrounded by accolades in print. Siakam lost his father, Tchamo, in a car accident in 2014. He speaks of him often, of his father’s impact and dreams for his son to play in the NBA. On Monday, Siakam became the first player in NBA history to win the NBA’s Most Improved Player award in the same season he was also named an NBA Champion.
“For people that know my story, they know how important my dad is,” Siakam said. “He had this crazy dream … he always believed this would be possible one day. Me being here, I’m just blessed to make his dream become a reality and have an opportunity to keep it alive.”
As the dust settles from the Toronto Raptors’ first championship, we’re rolling out our Raptors Report Cards on each key member of the team from this past season. Before turning the page into the 2019-20 season as free agency begins, we’ll take a closer look back at how everyone performed in 2018-19.
One word to describe Kyle Lowry’s season: vindication.
It’s hard to remember how we got to this point with Lowry after the way his season started, or really his offseason. The trade that sent his best friend DeMar DeRozan to San Antonio shook Lowry in a big way, with him telling ESPN’s Rachel Nichols in December that he “felt some type of way on the personal side.”
But as the preseason started, Lowry showed up where it mattered most – on the court and in the locker room for his teammates.
Lowry took Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green under his wing as the team captain. He built a solid relationship with Nick Nurse, sending the message to the rest of the team that despite what others may have felt about Dwane Casey, Nurse was the guy now.
It wasn’t always easy, but Lowry was still able to maintain an All-Star level of play, as the coaches voted him to his fifth straight All-Star game, tying Vince Carter and Chris Bosh for the most All-Star appearances from a Raptor.
Corporate funding has been the perpetual problem for Canada Basketball, and almost every non-hockey entity on the national sporting scene. It has been cited as an issue as far as getting players to commit to the program, paying for insurance for athletes or getting the national team’s biggest games on television for the people who have always cared. The Raptors’ championship and all it entails could change that. And in a nice bit of synergy, the program hired Raptors head coach Nick Nurse on Monday to be its leader on the bench, replacing former Raptors coach and current Charlotte assistant Jay Triano, who had held the job since 2012 but was essentially asked to reapply for the job earlier this year. (He ultimately withdrew his name from consideration.)
There are obviously lots of good reasons to hire Nurse to coach your team, should you be filling such a vacancy. He is an NBA champion. He is not dogmatic either in playing style or behind the scenes. He has history with FIBA basketball, having assisted Chris Finch with Great Britain in the lead up to the 2012 Olympics and the Games themselves. All of that could help attract players to come to the team’s training camp, which starts on Aug. 4, although Nurse was unsure how big of a part of the recruiting process he could take on while complying with the NBA’s tampering rules. (Barrett said that was not a concern, adding that all of the feedback he has gotten from players has been positive and getting players to suit up would not be an issue. That has been said before by many others, of course.)
One of Nurse’s best qualities at the moment, though, is that he is one of the most prominent faces and voices of the Raptors’ run. Little-used forward Chris Boucher is the lone Canadian on the Raptors roster, so getting a stronger tie-in between the club and the senior team is a nice bonus. The World Cup is in China, while the Olympics are in Japan, should Canada qualify for the tournament this summer or next. As Barrett said, Canada Basketball has no intention of flying NBA players on multiple-connection flights, asking them to squeeze their large frames into coach seating. That is just one of the things Canada Basketball will need to pay for.
“The more successful we are, the more resources we need and I’m sure corporate Canada is going to catch up to Canada Basketball sooner rather than later and provide the support we need,” said Canada Basketball president Glen Grunwald, who added that he heard more from potential sponsors as the Raptors playoff run went on. Grunwald appeared on the Raptors Reasonablists podcast late last week. “On the other hand, the Raptors have been tremendously supportive of Canada Basketball over the years and are a key partner of ours in terms of moving forward. And we look forward to continuing to build that relationship so that we can realize all the opportunities that are available for basketball in this country.”
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