Lowry finally gets his thumb fixed | Looking back on the past year | Nick still has a job to do with the guys to do it with | Siakam on the come-up
Toronto Raptors All-Star guard Kyle Lowry had a procedure to repair tendon injury in his left thumb, league source tells ESPN. Lowry hopes to be ready for USA Basketball training camp and FIBA World Cup later in summer.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) July 18, 2019
The Oakland Police Department has handed its investigation into Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri over to a district attorney, following a physical altercation last month between Mr. Ujiri and an unnamed sheriff’s deputy over access to the court following the NBA Finals.
Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley received the police report into the dispute this week, her office confirmed.
The DA’s office has asked the police to conduct additional investigations, said spokeswoman Teresa Drenick, and has not yet made a decision on whether to charge Mr. Ujiri with any crime.
Ms. Drenick would not say what other information prosecutors needed to be able to finish the investigation, or how long it might take to decide whether to lay charges.
Police don’t typically recommend charges, with such decisions often left to the district attorney, an elected position. Alameda County Sheriff Greg Ahern, also an elected official, has requested Mr. Ujiri be charged with battery of a peace officer, a misdemeanour punishable by up to a year in jail and a US$2,000 fine.
The report – which the Oakland police said it could not share with The Globe “because this is an open case” – is expected to shed light into what exactly transpired during a shoving match between the two men following the Raptors’ championship win.
”A lot of things had to happen, and a good amount of it was luck. We got lucky with a lot of things, but the timing of it, getting the pieces we got even at the deadline like Marc Gasol, staying healthy and other teams not being healthy,” Green said.
“Obviously we still had faith and belief that we were one of the best teams out there and we could beat them if they were healthy, but things kind of fell in line for us. It was just our time, it seemed like, but a lot things had to go right in order for us to win a championship, and it started off with us getting the pieces and staying healthy.”
“I don’t know yet.
“I approach from this standpoint: We’ve 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. 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 where 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.”
Sure, the Raps were getting the best player and improving their title odds considerably — two significant accomplishments in any trade. But, remember, Kawhi’s mysterious health status (he missed all but nine games in 2017-18 and the timetable to returning to full strength was unclear), coupled with the many reports of how badly he didn’t want to be in Toronto didn’t exactly inspire confidence.
DeRozan, meanwhile, was joining the most respected organization in sports, playing under a Hall of Fame coach who has built his name off of maximizing his players’ strengths, while the opportunities playing with an all-star like LaMarcus Aldridge – a calibre of big man DeRozan never teamed up with in Toronto — were equally promising.
DeRozan played great for San Antonio, particularly coming out of the gates last season. He continued to expand his game, becoming the Spurs’ key facilitator and averaging career-highs in assists (6.2) and rebounds (6.0) per game while also raising his field-goal percentage from 45.6 per cent in 2018 to 48.1 per cent last season — the highest since he was a rookie a decade ago.
But as the season wore on, some of the uglier realities of his new situation slowly set in. In San Antonio’s system, he posted his lowest usage rate since 2013, his fourth season in the league. His scoring dropped to 21 points per game, seven fewer than the 2017 season when Toronto reached the Conference Finals and the fewest since 2015.
The Spurs snuck into the playoffs as the seventh seed, tied with the eighth-seed Clippers with a 48-34 record. In the post-season it felt like Déjà vu, with the 29 year-old tasked with carrying San Antonio and falling short when the team lost a hard-fought seven-game series to the Denver Nuggets in the first round.
Going through the “load management” process and seeing what it takes to try and convince Leonard to stay will hopefully provide the team with a blueprint if they plan on doing something similar in the future.
Let’s be honest here, many of you will be rewatching the game-winning shot from Game 7 and the moment the team clinched the championship for years to come. Those memories don’t go anywhere and neither does the history that comes with it.
If there is one thing the Raptors accomplished along with winning a championship it’s that this city and country were craving the opportunity to celebrate a title. What made the celebration even sweeter was knowing how much people doubted Toronto’s chances to win it all.
While there was the constant chatter around Leonard’s future, just seeing Toronto getting on the media map in the U.S. especially during the Finals was something to behold.
For once, the conversation wasn’t about the team’s inability to get over the hump in the post-season. Instead, it was about the incredible performance from Kawhi and players around him like Danny Green, Pascal Siakam, Kyle Lowry, heck even Danny Green and Marc Gasol.
The championship parade was the cherry on top of the cake and while the feeling might have soured a bit with Leonard’s decision to leave, nobody else on the Raptors feels that way. Nick Nurse’s comments should give fans confidence when it comes to the mindset of the organization going forward.
The solution for Siakam is rather simple: expand his range to the top of the perimeter or become more comfortable creating his own shot from midrange.
If he expands his range, it would allow the Raptors to use Siakam more creatively when he’s off-ball. The Raptors didn’t use him much as a screener last season – when they did, he either slipped the screen with the intention of driving or rolled towards the basket for a layup – but an improved jump shot would give him the skills needed to pick-and-pop.
The Raptors would be able to run more handoffs with Siakam as well, with him being the one receiving the ball. It wasn’t much of an option last season, mostly because his defender could drop underneath any screen he was involved in to prevent him from getting downhill.
It culminated in Siakam ranking in the 8th percentile with 0.56 points per handoff possession, albeit on a small sample size.
If he becomes more comfortable scoring from midrange, it would make Siakam far less predictable when he has the ball in his hands. Opponents wouldn’t be able to back off of him as aggressively as Embiid and Lopez did in the playoffs, opening up even more opportunities for him to play to his strengths as a driver.
Pascal Siakam: The Face of the Franchise Audition
Raptors president Masai Ujiri and general manager Bobby Webster didn’t deal for Leonard last summer without anticipating that it could be a one-year rental and an opportunity to expedite rebuilding plans for a franchise that had plateaued with DeMar DeRozan. Any disappointment with Leonard’s departure, which left them without any form of return compensation, is tempered by that “Larry O’B” that validates everyone within the organization, especially the startling collection player talent that didn’t feature a single lottery pick.
Leonard’s season in Toronto also served as an encouraging endorsement for the culture, player developmental program and training staff that contributed to the success. While they might not be in the title mix for a while, the Raptors are a respected, re-branded organization that will forever be associated with champions.
The Raptors reacted to the move with a shrug, because anything short of moving the franchise to Southern California wouldn’t have been able to keep Leonard from leaving. They had the shortest championship hangover in NBA history, getting rapid-fire slapped into reality just three weeks after Leonard was wearing ski goggles and being doused with champagne. The signings of Stanley Johnson and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson showed that the Raptors plan to rely on youth and the developmental staff that turned a late first-round pick (Pascal Siakam) and an undrafted free agent (Fred VanVleet) into essential contributors to a championship team.
Toronto’s reign at the top was short like leprechauns but it can remain competitive in the Eastern Conference if the new signings can make progress and OG Anunoby bounces back from a taxing season that many within the organization expected to be his breakout campaign. But most importantly, the Raptors will lean on Siakam finding the next level in his development while auditioning to become the next face of the organization. Siakam was the runaway winner of the league’s most improved player award after displaying never-before-seen skill and offensive versatility. The postseason was a carousel ride for Siakam, presenting incredible challenges in each round and forcing him to find ways to be effective while being guarded by defensive behemoths Draymond Green, Giannis Antetokounmpo and his Cameroonian countryman, Joel Embiid.
The timing of Siakam’s borderline All-Star year couldn’t have been better, since he’s now eligible for a rookie extension or otherwise would become a restricted free agent in 2020, when a weak class could boost his value should he make another leap. Negotiations will be intriguing before the season begins. Siakam’s name was mentioned as the centerpiece player Oklahoma City would’ve been interested in acquiring in a Paul George deal but Ujiri wasn’t serious about engaging in a move that would’ve also depleted Raptors of their young core and future assets. With the Raptors largest financial commitments dedicated to three thirty-somethings who will all come off the books next summer (Kyle Lowry, Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka) and Leonard now gone, Siakam becomes the player with the ultimate proving ground to reach his ceiling — or for the Raptors to be exposed to his limitations.
Back in that momentous Game 7 vs. the Sixers — the night of The Shot — Lowry cranked his left thumb and gamely continued to play. Afterwards, he acknowledged that it happened, that it was bothering him — even nothing that “during the game, I can’t feel my thumb” — but that it wasn’t going to stop him from playing. As Toronto’s march to the title continued, and Lowry kept getting photographed while wearing a special oven mitt-looking device that improved circulation in his hand, the obvious questions were right there: would it ever affect Lowry’s play? And when, oh when, would he have it repaired?
We have the answer to that first question firmly in hand (pardon the pun). Lowry’s play did vacillate at times during the playoffs, but it’s hard to point to a moment where the injury limited what he could do in any given moment, numb digit and all. Look no further than Lowry’s Game 6 performance in the NBA Finals: a 26 point-10 assist-7 rebound masterpiece — with 56 percent shooting from the floor and 57 percent from three to boot. Yeah, it’s fair to say the injury did not meaningfully affect his play.
But to that second question, as we’ve crept further and further away from the evening of that fateful Game 6 (we’re past a month now), it’s been fair to wonder when Lowry would get his thumb looked after.
The thumb injury hampered Lowry throughout the Raptors’ playoff run to their first championship in franchise history.
“It’s about passing. I’m a big passer,” Lowry said on ESPN’s The Jump (via ESPN.com). “You know, the flicking of the passing, the kind of—the ball movement, handling the ball. During the game, honestly, I can’t feel my thumb.”
The 33-year-old certainly relied more on his passing ability last season than he had ever in his career.
Even though his 14.2 points per game were his lowest since 2012-13, he still earned his fifth-straight All-Star selection thanks to his ability to run the offense. Lowry finished the year averaging a career-high 8.7 assists per game, second in the NBA behind only Russell Westbrook.
He also remains an impact player on the defensive end to help the team even when his offensive production isn’t there.
Toronto Raptors ($93.6 Million): Caris LeVert
Free-Agent Category: Restricted Free Agency
Less than a month after winning their first NBA title, the Raptors lost the franchise player who delivered it to them. But even though Kawhi Leonard only gave Toronto one year, the team’s future is bright.
The Raptors have less than $20 million in guaranteed money lined up for the 2020-21 campaign. That leaves nearly $100 million in space, assuming some cap holds are renounced.
Now, much of that will likely be taken up by Pascal Siakam. Fred VanVleet (unrestricted in 2020) should probably be a priority as well. And it would be a fun story if Kyle Lowry finishes his career in Toronto.
But even with those three returning, the Raptors figure to have a ton of money to spend. Perhaps they can hold some feet to the fire in restricted free agency.
The Brooklyn Nets have a lot committed to Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. Big money for some of the younger players currently on the roster could steer the team to the luxury tax fairly quickly.
Perhaps Toronto could get to Brooklyn’s “walk away” number with Caris LeVert. A team with Siakam and VanVleet is a good start, but the Raptors would need some solid wings in between those two.
15. Raptors — Kyle Lowry and Pascal Siakam
If you read The Crossover’s Power Rankings even just one time last season, you know what team I will be using most in this fictional video game created just for the sake of this post. These two combined for 52 points on the road in the closeout game of the Finals to lead the Raptors and they will be playing with lots of energy. And even if that doesn’t translate into the game, you will feel the energy when I yell “SIAKAM” after each bucket Pascal produces.
In: Stanley Johnson, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Terence Davis
Out: Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard
There’s just no two ways about it, the defending champion Raptors will definitely be worse next season. Losing both the regular contributions of Danny Green and the spectacular play of Kawhi will lower Toronto’s win total for sure, and cap them as, at best, a second-round playoff team. Tested by their run to the title, there’s no reason to believe they won’t win 50 games and give a team or two the business in the playoffs, but their ultimate ceiling is considerably lower — even with the inevitable Pascal Siakam improvement coming.
Toronto is trying though. They added a pair of young defensive wings, and they still have their veteran players (for now) holding down the fort. Any team led by Kyle Lowry will still find ways to get things done, and I for one am interested to see coach Nick Nurse spread his wings without the safety net provided by Leonard. Still, reality is real.
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