Lowry (The Champion) Talks things | More Canadians drop out of FIBA | Drake hoists LOB Trophy at OVO
Kyle Lowry tells @SInow that he has had no conversations with the Raptors about his future. Says he is open to signing an extension and would like to be in Toronto long term.
— Chris Mannix (@SIChrisMannix) August 5, 2019
— Lauren O'Neil (@laurenonizzle) August 6, 2019
With different players, switching to a defense like the box-and-one in the middle of the game would have been incredibly risky. Players need time and practice to hone the habits necessary to properly execute different schemes, so even if constantly changing defenses might be the right move in theory, in practice the best teams don’t make enormous adjustments from game to game. But when Nick Nurse drew up a box-and-one in the huddle, the Raptors executed it. Marc Gasol didn’t worry about his new responsibilities as much as he relied on his instinct, continuing to rotate properly and protect the rim. Kyle Lowry helped in and then flew out at shooters. Fred VanVleet clamped onto Steph Curry and never let go. Kawhi swooped in to snatch rebounds out of his zone.
This was true throughout their playoff run. To be as successful as the Raptors were in these playoffs requires not only an incisive coaching staff and a willingness to experiment, but players that are flexible. Players that have range. Toronto’s roster was full of players with uncommon basketball intelligence and savvy, players with varied skill sets, players with experience playing for different coaches and playing in different schemes. They were basketball generalists. So when the Raptors wanted to do something different, they could count on those players to execute, no matter how little they had practiced the new scheme.
This is part of the theory behind the games-based approach to basketball training popularized by coaches like Brian McCormick. Their argument is that the biggest reason skills don’t translate from practice to games is because traditional drills treat basketball like a purely kind environment, one that is repetitive and predictable. That works—until the game gets wicked.
When Draymond Green talks about the difference between 82-game players and 16-game players, he’s in part talking about the difference between players who have skills suited for kind environments and those who can survive, maybe even thrive, in wicked ones. Because it’s possible to win big in the regular season by being consistently good at what you do, by specializing. The regular season is kind.
But the playoffs are wicked. To win in the postseason requires having a coach who can make the right adjustments and players who can execute those adjustments. It requires a roster full of players with range. A roster like the Raptors’.
“It is what it is,” Lowry said. “We’re still going to be able to run it back. We’re the champions and we’re trying to defend our title. I’m confident with our team.”
And being the first NBA champions to enter a season without the Finals MVP?
“I don’t know,” Lowry said. “First time you have ever seen it. Who knows? We are the champions. No matter what, that will never be taken away from us. Never, ever.”
Still, Toronto faces an uncertain future with several players—including Lowry—entering the final year of their contracts. Lowry says he has not spoken to Raptors president Masai Ujiri about the team, just to check in about his injury. When the two do talk basketball, Lowry says finding a way to continue his career in Toronto will be a priority.
“I want to be there,” Lowry tells SI. “I would love to do an extension, but we’ll see what happens … I would love to be there long term. We’ll have the discussion when the time is right.”
Lowry did not participate in USA’s first practice as he recovers from a procedure to repair a torn tendon in his left thumb a little over two weeks ago. Lowry played throughout the Raptors’ title run with the thumb injury to his non-shooting hand, and the point guard hopes to be able to play for the national team in the FIBA World Cup in China in September.
USA Basketball coach Gregg Popovich said the team will have to consider the possibility of carrying an extra point guard on the roster while Lowry recovers.
“It depends on the doctor,” Popovich said of Lowry’s availability. “He’s still in a hard cast. Sometime here soon he goes to the doctor and that will have a lot to do with the decision.”
As for the biggest decision in free agency last month, Lowry lost an All-Star and Finals MVP teammate, but he said he could not have been happier for his friend.
“I’m happy for you,” Lowry said of his reaction to Leonard’s news. “… I am happy for the guys that … especially a guy that helped do something fantastic and something great. He’s an unbelievable friend of mine and is a good guy. He made a decision to go home and he is happy with that and I am happy for him. Truly. I am genuinely happy for him. It gives him a chance to be around his family and friends. You got to respect the guy and be happy for him.”
Before this NBA season ended in a champagne shower, Team USA provided Lowry with his only chance to win something of significance. Lowry returned from the Rio Olympics possessing the ball from the gold medal game. During the Raptors’ championship run, Lowry tracked down the game ball from the Eastern Conference Finals victory against Milwaukee and the NBA Finals win against the Golden State Warriors. The conference finals ball will remain in his home but Lowry said the Finals ball would go somewhere more important than his personal trophy case: “That’s going to Toronto,” Lowry said that night in Oakland, Calif., after the Raptors shut down Oracle Arena. “That one is going to the city.”
The Raptors’ title will always be viewed as one of the more unique and unprecedented, given how the team was built of no former lottery picks and involved a one-year rental of one of the game’s best players. If Lowry learned anything from the experience, it was the role luck plays in pushing a team over the top.
Led by Lowry and his stubborn will, Toronto was loaded with players who had something to prove. That tenacity wouldn’t have been enough without a few breaks going their way: Leonard’s heroics in Game 4 of the conference semifinals which spared the Raptors a 3-1 deficit against Philadelphia; the four-bounce finish in Game 7 of the same series; the uphill, double-overtime fight against Milwaukee that prevented them from going down 0-3. They only had to see 12 minutes of Kevin Durant, and Klay Thompson missed one game and eventually left the series with a season-ending knee injury.
The NBA rewarded the Raptors’ success with a long-overdue Christmas Day game, a positive development for fans who were upset about being slighted over the years (“I never complained. Just so you know,” said Lowry, who enjoyed spending the holiday with his family). A defending champion might never be more overlooked and dismissed but Lowry won’t let anyone discredit what they accomplished — and still hope to accomplish — even with Leonard going back to Cali.
“No. Not at all. We’re champions,” Lowry said. “That will never be taken away from us. Ever. Ever, ever. Ever, ever.”
Kyle Lowry and the Toronto Raptors have not had any discussions about his future, according to Chris Manninx of Sports Illustrated. Mannix added that Lowry said he is open to signing an extension and would like to be in Toronto long term.
Jamal Murray and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander are among notable absences in the updated 19-man roster released before Monday’s practice. Murray cited a minor ankle injury, while Gilgeous-Alexander — who took part in the OVO Bounce tournament last week in Toronto — was not at practice. They join Andrew Wiggins (undisclosed), R.J. Barrett (calf) and Tristan Thompson (personal) as notable contributors who will not be representing Team Canada in the World Cup in China.
“I think you can see all across the world that this was a challenging thing. We managed the best that we could,” general manager Rowan Barrett Sr. said.
Heading into training camp, there was a distinct possibility of Canada fielding a 12-man roster comprised entirely of NBA-level players. A record-setting seven Canadians had their name called during the 2019 NBA Draft, and this maturation of talent was timed perfectly as a semifinal berth at the 2019 World Cup would qualify Canada for its first trip back to the Olympics since Sydney in 2000.
That task invariably becomes more difficult without its top guns, but nobody is licking their wounds or pointing fingers. To a man, each member of the team was careful and consistent in not placing blame on those missing in action.
“I think the worst thing you can do is look at each individual guy and say, ‘Well, you could have played. You could have played. You could have.’ We’re not going to do that. We’re going to focus on who’s here,” Barrett said.
“I just want to show my support,” said Barrett. “I wish I was out there with the guys. I’m watching practice, seeing how they’re doing but wishing I could be involved with the guys.”
These are the right things to say if you’re Murray and Barrett. And while their reasons for not being in China is very legitimate with injuries, they’re still messages that ring a little hollow because of everyone else that decided not to show up.
Of the talent available Nurse went from having, potentially, an entire roster of NBA players to now just five guys — and really only four as Oshae Brissett is likely just a training camp invite of the Raptors.
It’s a question that’s been asked forever since this so-called “golden generation” of Canadian basketball began about a decade ago, but given the circumstances and what’s at stake at the World Cup, it’s worth asking again: Why can’t Canada get its best basketball players to play for the national team?
“I think you can see all across the world that this was a challenging thing,” said Rowan Barrett, general manager of Canada Basketball’s senior men’s national team, and father of R.J. “We managed the best that we could. We’re consistent in our approach, which is we need to build a big and strong pool understanding that each summer we’re going to miss players. Sometimes it’s injuries. Sometimes it’s something in their life. It could be a trade. It could be a contract. Something can come up. So you have to have a wide enough base of players so that if you’re missing a few players, you can still field a strong, competitive team. I think we’ve done that.”
It’s a shame Canada won’t get to see a truly stacked group chase medals (perhaps the thrill of being at an Olympics could change this next summer, should this group manage to qualify), but those who have continuously given their time — such as Cory Joseph, Kelly Olynyk, Melvin Ejim, Brady Heslip, Khem Birch, Kyle Wiltjer and Phil and Thomas Scrubb —should be recognized and appreciated for doing so despite the obstacles or excuses.
“Ever since I was 15, I’ve been playing Team Canada, and we have the opportunity to make it to the Olympics. I’m not getting any younger, so that’s how I came to (the decision),” Joseph said on Monday of why he answered the call yet again.
Joseph and Olynyk have been perennial attendees for over a decade. Thomas Scrubb got married over the weekend, but was in Toronto for camp. Kevin Pangos has a child due next month. Everyone else has a story.
Some names are missing and they always will be, but those on hand are confident.
“Sometimes the 12 best players aren’t the best team,” Olynyk said. “Anybody who wanted to come, we’d gladly have them, but we’ve gotta rock with who’s here.”
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