Gasol opts in; no surpris | Who would you rather have: Ujiri or Kawhi? | KLOE 4 LIFE
Toronto Raptors center Marc Gasol is exercising his $25.6M player option for next season, returning to the defending NBA champions, league sources tell ESPN. Gasol could’ve entered free agency.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) June 26, 2019
Free agency has officially jumped the shark when someone – guess who – writes that Kawhi can increase his social media footprint by joining the Knicks. I’m sure that’s a top priority for Kawhi. pic.twitter.com/X5IL9AS7Io
— Frank Isola (@TheFrankIsola) June 27, 2019
— Alex Ballingall (@aballinga) June 17, 2019
Toronto has seen Kyle Lowry at his worst, they have seen him at his best. It has certainly been a journey for the kid from North Philly, beginning with fighting for a place in the starting lineup ahead of Jose Calderon, to now having just guided his Raptors to their first NBA title.
And they are most certainly his Raptors. With seven seasons under his belt in Toronto and DeMar DeRozan and Jonas Valanciunas in the rearview, he is firmly the longest-tenured Raptor. He has scored more playoff points than anyone in franchise history, and was first to lift the Larry O’B at the trophy ceremony for a reason.
“Arguably the best Raptor ever, when you think of what Kyle has done,” team president Masai Ujiri said during an impassioned, inspirational speech at OVO Athletic Centre on Tuesday. “The growth of Kyle Lowry from when I got here to today is remarkable. And there’s something about that guy, honestly, and I’m telling you, if it wasn’t that I’d have traded his butt, I’m telling you, because there’s something about him that’s all competition, that’s all winning.”
Lowry is as cerebral a player as there is in the league, but he is also all heart. That’s how you become the soul of the team. A part of that soul may have been lost when his best friend DeRozan was traded, but he still came out of the gate strong, scoring and assisting at a rate that seemed beyond him entering the year. But it’s clear now that things got ugly closer to the trade deadline, and perhaps he lost another bit of that heart that beats ever so proudly on his sleeve when rumours emerged that he may be on his way to Memphis.
“If I remember right, I think we had reached a point where you could tell that there was little bit of just not being comfortable with the team and I thought that was the right time to address it, especially because it was around the trade deadline,” Ujiri said.
“The meeting lasted about two hours and it wasn’t easy. It’s always a difficult meeting when you’re both direct and truthful to each other. Kyle is the same way I am. It’s funny, DeMar always used to say that. But we resolved it.”
Similarities increase the probability of a clash, but that along with familiarity may have helped Ujiri recognize that something was amiss. Ujiri revealed that “everybody” around the team recognized a different Lowry after the conversation, that Toronto’s leader himself felt more comfortable. Toronto’s assist rate and three-point shooting skyrocketed after the trade deadline, and while much of that was attributed to the arrival of Marc Gasol, just as is the case with the most fascinating aspects of Lowry’s game, it’s hard not to look back and consider the immeasurable value of having the team’s heart and soul back fully engaged.
Sports Illustrated columnist Chris Mannix joins First Up with Michael and Carlo to discuss his Sports Illustrated column on Kyle Lowry, his unlikely path to becoming an NBA Champion, Kawhi Leonard’s future and more.
This is a great question. In theory, it would make sense to try to replace Kawhi with a player of Gallinari’s caliber — a couple notches below Kawhi below, but still an All-Star level player — and run things back, hoping the collective development of Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby and Fred VanVleet can keep the Raptors in contention, or at least a really good team.
But I don’t believe that’s how Masai Ujiri operates or thinks. If Kawhi leaves, I think Ujiri would blow up the Raptors, looking to trade Kyle Lowry, Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol (if he doesn’t opt out) for younger players and draft picks. The Raptors already proved they couldn’t win with this core and a good-but-not-great player in DeMar DeRozan. They’d be solid with Gallo, but they wouldn’t be legitimate title threats.
If Kawhi departs for the Clippers or elsewhere, the Raptors will likely pull the plug and rebuild around Siakam and Anunoby.
The Raptors have also offered some stability and winning for Gasol, who might’ve been the most punch drunk (literally) happy player after Game 6 of the Finals. (Also, he and Norm Powell can compete for bragging rights for who was most drunk at the parade.)
The other interesting side of this is that Gasol didn’t wait for Kawhi Leonard and the beginning of free agency on June 30 to make his decision. Whether it’s motivated by money or by stability, Gasol made his own move to return to the Raptors. That’s the kind of thing that winning a title gives you.
A mid-season acquisition by the Raptors, Gasol averaged 9.1 points and 6.6 rebounds in 26 regular season appearances. In the playoffs, he bumped that up to 9.4 points, along with 6.4 rebounds and 3.0 assists, in 24 games.
Gasol will join a host of Raptors players whose contract finishes at the end of 2019-20, including Kyle Lowry, Serge Ibaka, and Fred VanVleet.
Gasol, who helped lead the Raptors to their first NBA Championship in franchise history, was widely expected to exercise his player option for 2019-20. Set to make $25.595 million next season, Gasol wasn’t likely to get that kind of money on the open market.
Big Spain had a successful transition to Toronto after he was acquired in a trade with the Grizzlies that sent Jonas Valanciunas, C.J. Miles, Delon Wright and a 2024 second-round draft pick to Memphis. He averaged 9.4 points, 6.4 rebounds, 3 assists and 1.1 blocks in 30.6 minutes per game during Toronto’s dream playoff run.
With Gasol locked in for a title defence next season, Raptors fans can shift their attention to Kawhi and Danny Green, two free agents who are expected to be courted in the summer. We already know Leonard is strongly considering the L.A. Clippers, while Danny Green is reportedly generating interest from a handful of teams.
Where will Kawhi Leonard play next season?
The NBA Finals MVP is tough to read, but our panel now predicts a Toronto Raptors return as most likely. In February, the Clippers got 66.7% of the vote.
Wherever he ends up, pay attention to the number of years on Leonard’s next contract. A two-year deal (maybe with a player option) would let him hit the market again with 10 years of service, and he then would be able to earn significantly more long-term money.
TEAM VOTE (%)
1. Toronto Raptors 66.7
2. LA Clippers 33.7
The issue with Powell in the playoffs was that he became too inconsistent. After the first two games versus Orlando where he struggled, Powell was effective as he shot over 50 percent from the field in three consecutive games. When the Philadelphia series began, Powell became somewhat of a ghost on the court. Nick Nurse began to have a short leash as the series progress, leading to Powell being hit with a DNP-CD for Game 7. He was also held to 10 or less minutes between Game 4 and 6.
Powell found his game in the Milwaukee series though, a team he seems to strive against in the playoffs. Dating back to the 2017 playoffs, Powell has averaged 12.4 points in 11 games versus the Bucks. Then in the NBA Finals, as the rotation got even tighter, Powell’s scoring became non-existent once again.
The important thing for Powell this season was to be able to find himself back in the Raptors rotation. He was consistent throughout the season, but he needs to be able to do this again for back-to-back seasons and improve his game as he goes along. The next step for Powell is to be able to keep the confidence in his shot and aggressiveness when attacking the rim — that’s when he is at his best. Staying in the rotation during the season and playoffs is important for Powell, instead of constantly being in and out of the lineup because of his inability to adjust to match-ups or stay focused on defense.
Masai Ujiri hopes to run-it-back with the same core, assuming Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green and Marc Gasol all return. With Aunuoby expected to be healthy next season, where Powell and his remaining two years, roughly $20 million stand in the Raptors future is up in the air. He’s the only player on the roster with a guaranteed contract beyond next season, which also opens the door to him being a possible salary dump if needed.
Powell can establish himself as a solid rotation player in this league. He did so this year with the Raptors. He also became an NBA Champion, giving him the additional experience. He’ll have a role on this team next season if he’s back. If he’s not, Powell’s still a Raptor for life.
Green’s value in the regular season came in more than just shooting, though.
Being able to play in 80 games made him a constant in both “versions” of the Raptors offence: the one that centred around Kawhi isolations, and the one in load management games that fed off Kyle Lowry pick and roll. In the former, Green had baked-in chemistry with Kawhi, often able to fade up into three-point areas where Leonard could find him for passes. In the latter, he simply opened everything up for the Raptors, allowing Serge Ibaka more room to pop jumpers, or secondary ball-handlers to get to the rim.
His veteran presence counted for a lot too. Green was a great quote from the second he joined the Raptors, answering a bunch of questions on behalf of a monotone Kawhi Leonard at their introductory press conference, and taking it from there. He’s a podcaster, a sunny side personality, and someone that undoubtedly helped the Raptors’ locker room coalesce despite moving pieces throughout the season.
We’d be remiss, though, to talk about Danny Green’s season without talking about his drop in the playoffs. After a 47/46 split in the regular season, Green’s shooting was erratic in the post-season, falling to 34/33 with just 6.9 points per game. There were more bad games than good on the offensive end.
Still, he was cool with getting benched for Fred VanVleet at the start of second halves in the Finals — many players would grumble given the circumstances. He also had two singular performances in arguably the most dominant wins for the Raptors: 17 points (5-for-8) in a 36-point win over Philly in Game 5 of the second round, and 18 points (6-for-10) in Game 3 of the Finals, where Toronto took control against an injured Warriors team. Green ended up being the wave for blowouts — the Raptors were good enough to win without him, but with him shooting a good percentage, they were almost unbeatable.
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