Morning Coffee

Morning Coffee – Thu, Jul 18

Campayne new fan favourite (probably…maybe…he’s here ok?) | Fans defend Kawhi | Lots of open questions for everyone

The Five Most Interesting Teams …  After the NBA Free Agency Fallout – The Ringer

The downside of having to wait for Leonard’s decision was that by the time Kawhi went west, the roster-revamping options for an already capped-out Raptors team were pretty slim. Stanley Johnson and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson are interesting buy-low candidates—a pair of physical 6-foot-7 forwards with great length (a 6-foot-11.5-inch wingspan for Johnson, 7-foot-2 for Hollis-Jefferson) who can defend multiple positions, and who should bolster an already athletic and versatile group of defenders that includes Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby, Norman Powell, and Patrick McCaw. But unless they can suddenly learn to shoot—Johnson has the lowest effective field goal percentage of any player to log at least 5,000 minutes since he entered the league, and fellow 2015 draftee Hollis-Jefferson has the fourth-lowest—the Raptors’ offense will probably feel a lot more congested and a lot less potent than it did with Leonard and Green spacing the floor. (Maybe second-unit pairings with Spanish league sharpshooter Matt Thomas could loosen things up.)

Barring surprising leaps from those second-draft reclamation projects, or Anunoby bouncing back to break through following a difficult sophomore season, the Raptors will likely go as far as its post-Kawhi core can carry them. But three key members of that core—franchise linchpin Kyle Lowry, plus centers Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka—are now on expiring contracts. Will Ujiri look to flip his established veterans for young talent or future draft assets to accelerate a 2020 rebuild around Siakam, fresh off a Most Improved Player campaign and now expected to author a superstar-caliber encore? (How Toronto handles coming contract talks with the extension-eligible Siakam also bears watching.) Or will Ujiri give his holdover champions the chance to defend their title, taking a one-season victory lap on the off-chance that the Raptors’ remnant is potent enough to make another deep run in a reconfigured East?

The bet here: Faced with comparatively limited trade markets for a trio of high-priced 10-plus-year vets with more than 2,700 combined games under their belts, Toronto will pursue a seventh straight playoff appearance and the chance to at least make any would-be usurpers earn the crown. The line between running it back and hitting the reset button might be vanishingly thin, though; should an opportunity to kickstart the renovation present itself, it’ll be interesting to see how long Ujiri’s willing to stand on sentiment.

The Athletic’s NBA Power Rankings: After the free agency dust settles – The Athletic

13. Toronto Raptors (Previously 1st)

Lose Kawhi Leonard and you’re going to free fall in these types of things. That’s okay, too. The  Raptors still walked away with the championship, and that Larry O-B trophy can’t leave them for another team. Toronto can spend time licking their wounds or they can spend time retooling this roster. Masai Ujiri is going to do the latter. Toronto is left with Pascal Siakam as their most important player moving forward. They have movable veterans in Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka, and Kyle Lowry if they want to go into asset accumulation mode. Or they can try to remain competitive while adjusting to life after Kawhi.

If the Raptors keep this team intact, they could still end up as a top 4 seed. The tricky part is seeing if Siakam as the No. 1 option is going to be able to adjust to the defensive focus of an opponent for 82 games. They survived whenever Kawhi sat games, but there’s a difference in doing that for an entire season. They’ll get to see if OG Anunoby, Stanley Johnson, and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson can provide enough at the wings to complement Nick Nurse’s system. Defensively, this team should be fine. They just need to generate some quality scoring opportunities.

They’ll always have the title though.

How will Masai Ujiri, Raptors rebound following Kawhi Leonard’s exit? |

Would keeping Lowry be prudent as Toronto transitions into its post-Leonard era? A short-term contract could be worthwhile from the Raptors, but anything approaching Lowry’s previous three-year, $100 million deal is a complete non-starter. Lowry will be 34 by the 2020 postseason. Small point guards don’t age necessarily well, and Lowry is two seasons past his peak. Finals hero Fred VanVleet should be ready to take over the starting role sooner than later, and he’s also in line for a new contract in July 2020. Shelling out big bucks for a pair of undersized point guards feels foolish. VanVleet’s upside could leave Lowry searching for a payday elsewhere in a weakened free-agent class.

Lowry’s free agency will be a fork in the road for Toronto. The Raptors could string out its core through the next few seasons and attempt to keep its playoff streak alive. But an underwhelming half-measure doesn’t appear to be in Masai Ujiri’s DNA. Toronto’s president was ready to tear down the team’s core before the Leonard deal emerged, tired of falling short with Lowry and DeMar DeRozan each spring. Trading for Leonard became Ujiri’s Get Out of Jail Free card. Keep Leonard after 2018-19 and a contender would be in place for the next half-decade. Lose him in free agency, and a rebuild can begin in earnest. Ujiri should seize the opportunity once Lowry’s contract expires.

Raptors fans will likely bask in the glow of the 2018-19 season, blissfully watching Leonard’s postseason heroics on a loop as Toronto’s veteran core makes another playoff push. But delaying the inevitable is a recipe for disaster, and next summer should provide the clear pivot point for Ujiri and Co. Toronto has an enticing young core with Siakam, VanVleet and OG Anunoby. The trio should increase its role in 2019-20 with Leonard in Los Angeles, and the organization will be fully theirs by July 2020. This season can provide a satisfying gap year before the start of a new era. A rebuild should begin in earnest by next offseason.

Nick Nurse on how he’ll coach Raptors without Kawhi Leonard

Having a superstar like Kawhi Leonard to lean on was an integral factor in his success as a rookie bench boss, but now that the board man is getting paid by the Los Angeles Clippers, how much harder will Nurse’s job be in 2019-20?

“I don’t know yet,” Nurse answered during an appearance on Prime Time Sports Wednesday.

So how much will his coaching strategy change?

Leonard was the clear-cut best player on the Raptors yet it wasn’t a one-man show. In fact, the team went 17-5 in games Leonard missed (keep in mind 13 of those wins were against non-playoff teams) and the majority of the roster has remained intact – the Raptors also lost forward Danny Green, who signed with the Lakers.

“Listen, I approach it from this standpoint: we got some guys that will need to expand roles that they wouldn’t have had to, but I think we got guys that are capable of that,” Nurse explained. “I preach ball movement. I think the assisted basket is still our goal. It’s really the only thing that stands up in the playoffs. I think aggressive defence, I think playing a lot of people throughout the regular season, changing defences, being really good late game. None of that stuff changes for me. I think that’s what we want our team to be and we go from there.

“Now, listen, you can say [Leonard] made a lot of big buckets and he was clutch in the late game and all that kind of stuff but we’re gonna have to develop that from somewhere else.”

NBA Analysis: Can Toronto’s Pascal Siakam make himself one of the NBA’s truly elite offensive players? – Raptors HQ

There are a few areas where Nurse can try to leverage more out of Siakam’s game. There could be interesting opportunities for Pascal as the roll-man. His athleticism should allow him to cram lobs more often, even if his slighter frame makes him easier to bump off his route than, say, DeAndre Jordan.

Nurse could also look to run some sets that see Siakam leverage the fact that right now defenders won’t respect him off the arc. Siakam moves decently without the ball, but there is room for improvement, and Siakam is nothing if not a willing student. In general for the Raptors, with Leonard’s methodical isolation game no longer an option, there will likely be a great deal more motion in Toronto’s offense.

Then there are the things that may not be worth spending too much time on. It seems unlikely that Siakam will ever be a massive threat off of screens or hand-offs. He doesn’t have the quick release needed to take advantage of those plays, and right now he’s a much less accurate shooter once he takes more than one or two dribbles. Though, I could see benefit in using Siakam more in hand-off scenarios. Give Siakam a little extra space and he’s quick enough to get downhill, even against multiple defenders, and draw fouls, if not muscle in baskets.

The isolation scoring will also be interesting. I wonder if it might dip, at least to start, as, again, teams will likely load up to stop Siakam. Nurse and the Raptors will have to find canny ways to get Siakam into those positions before the defense can overcompensate. Meanwhile, Siakam will need to go quickly to beat the doubles before they come.

It’s going to be an intriguing season for the Raptors, with nothing being more interesting, or more important, than seeing if Toronto’s late-round marvel can make another leap. If he can, it opens up a world of possibilities for the Raptors going forward.

It’s been a year since the Raptors traded DeMar DeRozan for Kawhi Leonard. And Masai Ujiri made the right call | The Star

Leonard was a delight to watch. Green was one of the best regular-season three-point shooters we’ve ever seen here. They provided memories and moments that will never leave and if they never happen again, at least they did once.

There is something to be said for sustained excellence, and maybe years and years and years of “close” might, to some, be better than one year of “we got there.”

But getting there and doing it are so special, almost indescribable, and if another journey must now begin at least fans have firsthand knowledge of what is at the ultimate end of the trek.

And that call made it all worth it.

Sure, there were personal costs. DeRozan and Ujiri may have had a private moment of quasi-reconciliation when the Spurs were here in February, but that relationship will never be what it was a year and a day ago. It took Kyle Lowry until February to really have a heart-to-heart discussion with Ujiri, and there has been irreparable damage to whatever that relationship was.

But does that all really matter?

DeRozan is as beloved a Raptor as there ever has been, and that is not going to change. What he is, who he is, what he meant to the Raptors in nine seasons won’t be forgotten, even in the glow of the just-finished supernova season.

Raptors’ player development record ‘really big’ for Stanley Johnson –

Shortly after news broke that Kawhi Leonard was heading to the Los Angeles Clippers, it was reported the Toronto Raptors were bringing in swingman Stanley Johnson on a two-year contract.

Without Leonard in the fold, the Raptors appeared to be on the cusp of a season that would see the team begin to re-tool, but Johnson opted to join Toronto anyway. A big reason for that, he says, is because of the Raptors’ record of player development.

Citing the likes of Pascal Siakam, DeMar DeRozan and Fred VanVleet, Johnson believes coming to the Raptors will help him up his game the way each of those players did with Toronto.

“Just seeing what they’ve done with guys like Pascal and DeMar DeRozan, Fred VanVleet and Kyle Lowry, I’d definitely like to add my name to that list of players who’ve got a lot better and has shown improvement,” Johnson said on Good Show on Sportsnet 590 The Fan Wednesday afternoon. “So for me that was really big and I think they’ve done the best job at making homegrown players better year to year.”

2019 NBA Free Agency Report: Raptors to sign Cameron Payne to two-year deal – Raptors HQ

As noted by Shams there, the contract is only partially guaranteed. It sounds like the Raptors are content to give Payne a chance in year one, and then make a decision the following season. (Though I suppose he could just be cut out of training camp; who knows?) This feels of a piece with how the Raptors are going about building their squad this year; it’s all one- and two-year deals to maintain flexibility while taking low-risk flyers are players looking to prove they belong.

And Payne will have to do some convincing. After being selected 14th overall in the 2015 NBA Draft by the Oklahoma City Thunder, Payne has done little through his four years in and out of the league. At 6’3” and 190 pounds, the point guard has spent most of his time in the G League or healing from foot injuries that have robbed him of a lot of potential NBA court time. The only thing, sadly, that really comes to mind when recalling Cam on a big league bench is the dancing routines he used to pull off with his old teammate Russell Westbrook back in his rookie season.

For the 2018-19 season, Payne appeared in a total of 40 games — 31 for the Chicago Bulls and nine for the Cleveland Cavaliers. It perhaps says something about him that he was unable to find a foothold on two awful teams, squads just dying for someone to give some shape to the offense or defense. In that time he averaged 17.8 minutes per game in which he put up 6.3 points, 1.8 rebounds, and 2.7 assists, while shooting 43 percent from the field and 30 percent from three. Again, not particularly remarkable.

Who is Cameron Payne? Fast Facts on the Toronto Raptors’ latest signing | Canada | The official site of the NBA

It’s been a rollercoaster of a career for the 24-year-old, who has played for three teams in four seasons.

Injuries riddled the start of his career and he hasn’t been able to find consistent playing time since. He spent his entire rookie season in Oklahoma City where he posted 5.0 points and 1.9 assists in 12.2 minutes over 57 games.

The next season, OKC moved Payne in a deal to the Chicago Bulls for Taj Gibson and Doug McDermott. He appeared in only 11 games with the Bulls in 2016-17 and foot surgery sidelined him until February in 2017-18, but he flashed some potential in the final 25 games of his second season with the franchise with averages of 8.8 points and 4.5 assists on 38.5% shooting from long range.

Payne was then waived by the Bulls this past season before signing a 10-day contract with the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Cavs signed him to a second 10-day contract at the conclusion of the first one but parted ways with him following the end of the second deal.

Payne is coming off of an impressive Summer League campaign for the Dallas Mavericks where he averaged 20.0 points, 5.0 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game on 51% shooting from the field in three contests.

Rowan Barrett and Nick Nurse will be offered a stark choice on the wing in forming Canada’s identity – The Athletic

The favourites to serve as Canada’s two lead guards, Oklahoma City’s Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Sacramento’s Cory Joseph, are not knockdown shooters from the perimeter. Both are more than capable of creating those looks for others, but they will not take them for themselves at a high volume.

Canada can put a pair of willing shooters up front — Kelly Olynyk and Trey Lyles, although Lyles’ accuracy took a huge hit last year — but spacing the floor is still going to be tricky for Nurse. Assuming the top six of the roster features Thompson, Powell, Olynyk, Joseph, Gilgeous-Alexander and Jamal Murray, the brass will have to make some interesting decisions on the wing.

Canada’s best two pure shooters, Brady Heslip and Kevin Pangos, are drastically undersized for the players they would potentially have to guard. Or they could opt for the likes of Dillon Brooks and Melvin Ejim, relatively reticent shooters who are very versatile on the other end. That says nothing about the potential fit of R.J. Barrett, who is obviously a huge threat but is used to dominating the ball quite a bit. (Blake and I are planning to pick our ideal roster for the team at some point before training camp begins early in August.)

“We’ve got to get together,” Nurse said. “We have to develop a really tough mentality defensively. We’re gonna have to develop a selfless, hit-the-open-man-in-the-offence mentality. When you start doing those things, who knows where you can go?”

An anonymous Western Conference GM says Kawhi Leonard ‘doesn’t elevate anyone’ –

Kawhi is great getting his, but he doesn’t elevate anyone,” the general manager said. “He doesn’t rally his team.”

Leonard, who led the Raptors in points, rebounds and steals during their playoff run, which included rallying the Raptors from a 2-0 deficit against the Milwaukee Bucks in the Eastern Conference Final and a 36-point performance in Game 3 that included eight in double overtime.

An Eastern Conference vice president of player personnel said Leonard may not be a typical leader, but sets an example for his team to follow.

“He does have leadership qualities,” he says, “but it depends on how you define ‘leader.’ He’s obviously not vocal, and he’s not a galvanizer. He does it with his work ethic and by example.”

Leonard – along with Paul George – join a Clippers team that won 48 games last season and finished as the eighth seed in the West.

One Western Conference executive believes the manner in which Leonard and George arranged their union is a portentous omen for the NBA going forward.

“I know players have more juice today and we’re a player-friendly league, but it has gotten out of hand,” the GM said. “We have players deciding they’re not even contracts, they’re guidelines and payment structures. Now we have them saying, ‘I’m done hoopin’ with you guys; I’m going to hoop with my boys.'”

Kawhi Leonard Only Looks Out For Himself, Says Anonymous GM & Fans Aren’t Buying It – Narcity

Is Kawhi Leonard a selfish player? It’s a question that was floating around social media this Wednesday after multiple outlets reported that an anonymous Western conference GM slammed Kawhi Leonard for only looking out for himself. “Kawhi is great getting his, but he doesn’t elevate anyone,” the general manager said, according to Bleacher Report. “He doesn’t rally his team.”

However, for someone who supposedly isn’t a leader, Kawhi sure does lead in a lot of areas. The Board Man led the Raptors in points, rebounds and steals during their historic playoff run. He put the team on his back during their 2-0 deficit against the Milwaukee Bucks in the Eastern Conference Finals. He got 36 points in Game 3 and sank eight of those baskets when the teams were locked in double overtime.

Kawhi fans quickly came to the player’s defense on social media, pushing back against the idea that the player is selfish:

NBA: Biggest winners and losers of 2019 offseason – Hoops Habit

Loser: Toronto Raptors

The 2018-19 NBA season is forever going to be bittersweet for the Toronto Raptors. This franchise knew it was taking a major risk in trading for Kawhi Leonard, but a chance at winning a title felt worth it all.

Though the risk paid off in every way, with Leonard delivering the first NBA championship to Canada, it still stings to see him leave in free agency. In only one season, Kawhi accomplished more than any other Raptor in franchise history.

His presence will forever be remembered in Toronto, despite only being there for a short period of time.

Now, the defending champs find themselves on the outside looking in once again. They will surely be competitive with a deep lineup and a rising star in Pascal Siakam, but any hope of winning a title walked out the door when Kawhi left.

Ranking the top-10 two-star pairings in the NBA –

10.Kyle Lowry and Pascal Siakam – Toronto Raptors

The Toronto Raptors’ championship duo took turns playing sidekick to Kawhi Leonard last season. This year, they’ll share the duty of trying to make up for his absence. Kyle Lowry is still an all-star who in the Finals’ biggest moments stepped up on both ends of the floor. Pascal Siakam is the reigning Most Improved Player, who progressed so much that he’ll certainly be an all-star himself next season. They aren’t as big names as some of the pairings ahead of them on this list, but outside of George and Leonard, the Raptors’ star couple is the best defensive tandem in the league.

Talent: B-

Chemistry and compatibility: A

Longevity: C

Watchability: B-

Draft Kyle Lowry as the #9 Guard… Ahead of Mike Conley and After Kyrie Irving –

Draft Kyle Lowry as a weekly fantasy starter in 2019-2020. His 3028 projected fantasy points puts him at #9 behind Kyrie Irving and ahead of Mike Conley. He has averaged 35.5 fantasy points in his past 65 games, which is slightly less than our projected per game average. He is projected to average 36.9 fantasy points. His rank based on avg proj (#11) is worse than his rank based on total fantasy points. He is underrated if you compare his ownership based rank with his projection rank. At 99%, he is the #17 most highly owned guard. Kyle Lowry is expected to improve on last season’s #21 fantasy position rank.

Draft Pascal Siakam as the #13 Forward… Ahead of Tobias Harris and After Draymond Green –

Draft Pascal Siakam as a weekly fantasy starter in 2019-2020. His 2630 projected fantasy points puts him at #13 behind Draymond Green and ahead of Tobias Harris. He has averaged 29.6 fantasy points in his past 80 games, which is slightly less than our projected per game average. He is projected to average 32.1 fantasy points. His rank based on avg proj (#14) is worse than his rank based on total fantasy points. He is slightly underrated if you compare his ownership based rank with his projection rank. At 98%, he is the #15 most highly owned forward. Pascal Siakam is expected to slightly improve on last season’s #14 fantasy position rank.

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