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Morning Coffee – Wed, Aug 7

Nurse doing Nurse things (other than coaching team Canada) | #letlowryretireinto | Focus shifts to Giannis in two years

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Melvin Ejim’s value as Canada’s longtime dot-connector will be on full display at FIBA World Cup – The Athletic

Ejim always seemed a relative lock for the roster, so the disappointing turnout has not affected him directly in that way. He is too experienced, too versatile and too important a leader within the program — not to mention a very good FIBA-style forward — to have been at risk of being cut even with an NBA-heavy roster. Instead, the turnout has shifted his likely role and perhaps his position.

Initially penciled in as maybe the team’s backup power forward, Ejim will be one of several players asked to shift slightly out of position at times. He might even start at small forward, as the training camp roster of 19 is heavy on point guards and natural frontcourt players, to the extent that head coach Nick Nurse named Ejim, lengthy collegiate point guard Andrew Nembhard, Phil and Thomas Scrubb, and Raptors camp hopeful Oshae Brissett as options to see time there. Playing with dual point guards and an off-guard up a position seems like the likeliest outcome, but Ejim and even Chris Boucher could see time in larger units.

That’s not entirely unfamiliar to Ejim, whose game has always existed in the undefined space between forward spots. That positional versatility, along with a versatile skill set, has made him somewhat of a Swiss Army knife for the carousel of coaches during the qualifying process and in earlier tournaments. Nurse hasn’t grown too familiar with him just yet, but he sounds impressed — if a little surprised — at everything Ejim’s been able to offer so far.

“Melvin, he’s hard work and energy, in, out. You never really know what you’re going to get,” Nurse said with a laugh. “He’s kind of an X-factor type of guy. I like him. I’ve liked him for a long time. He went to Iowa State. That always helps, too. I favour him a little bit.”

What Nurse asks of Ejim could depend in part on how other camp battles shake out. A roster of 17 will be trimmed to 15 after a pair of exhibitions, and then to 12 following five more games. Ejim is among a core six or seven, and he can slot into different roles depending on how Nurse and company opt to structure the roster positionally and skill-wise. If they’re as heavy on point guards and shooting as they think they might be, maybe Ejim spends his time inside with a shooting big inverted to play outside. (Ejim shot 38.3 percent on a modest volume of 3s last year but that skill has always oscillated for him.) He might be tasked with guarding on the perimeter or banging inside. In any case, his rebounding will be very important, and Nurse has even given him extended freedom to push with the ball in transition when he comes down with a rebound.

FIBA veteran Melvin Ejim could be ‘X-factor’ for Canada at World Cup – Sportsnet.ca

Most notably for Canada, Ejim will likely be asked to fill in on the wing at the small forward spot, an obvious area of weakness for Canada. Despite his six-foot-seven frame, Ejim is actually a more natural power forward, but may have no choice but to slide into the three-spot for Canada.

But while the four might be where Ejim has found his most success, his versatility will allow him to play small forward without much issue because, as Nurse said, “it doesn’t really matter three or four for us.”

“Doesn’t really change. You can be on multiple positions the way that we’re playing,” said Ejim of playing the three. “I don’t think much really changes, whatever position I’m in.”

One of Canada’s strengths heading into the World Cup will be its versatility and it looks like Nurse will be stretching the limits of his team’s malleability, even asking Ejim to do more than he has in the past.

“I think he’s been leaning on different guys in different positions throughout the training camp so far,” said Ejim. “He’s definitely been telling me to do different things that I haven’t been doing my entire career, I would say. Just stuff like bringing up the ball and initiating the offence or doing different things, and I think that’s an aspect where I can grow and an aspect that he’s going to help me grow in as well.”

Another new role for Ejim is, because of his veteran status, as a leader.

Big Wos: I talked to many people at NBA Summer League about Kawhi Leonard’s decision— here’s what I learned – The Athletic

Enter Kawhi.

Fresh off of one of the most insane playoff runs in a while (since the one the previous summer at least), his second world title, and second Finals MVP. The biggest free agent to hit the market since, well, again, last summer. His three choices were pretty stark. The Raptors were always an underdog in all of this. It had been widely reported that Kawhi never wanted to be traded there in the first place. Throughout the entire saga between Kawhi and his former employer, the San Antonio Spurs, it was reported that his preferred destination was a team in Los Angeles. All this being said, Toronto did about as well as a team in the position of trying to retain a superstar can do.

The Raptors loaded up on load management – his own self-care and preservation being of Kawhi’s main points of contention with the Spurs – and assembled a formidable team whose pieces worked beautifully enough around Kawhi to win a championship. The Raptors also posses a management structure that could rival any of the league’s very best with an executive in Masai Ujiri who has shown year after year to be one of the shrewdest deal makers of his generation, as well as an ownership group who has proven to be willing to spend. They did everything right.

Which left Kawhi’s true choice down to the two teams in LA. On the one hand there was the Los Angeles Lakers, trust fund babies failing upward at every turn. Despite an almost decade-long string of managerial incompetence, they managed to net two of the NBA’s seven best players (depending on where you want to rank AD) in LeBron James and Anthony Davis, while also putting them in the position to land a third(!) bonafide superstar. Against all odds, the Lakers found a way to put themselves in position to be the NBA’s next insufferable super team.

NBA Trades to Further Shake Up East, West Power Balances | Bleacher Report

The Raptors Teardown

Less than two months removed from winning the organization’s first NBA title, the Toronto Raptors may already be facing the prospect of a rebuild.

Their Finals MVP and leading scorer, Kawhi Leonard, moved on to the Los Angeles Clippers in free agency. Danny Green is now a Los Angeles Laker. Last season, the Raptors were minus-2.5 points per 100 possessions (39th percentile) in the 2,000-plus possessions they played without either on the floor, according to Cleaning the Glass.

Can continued improvement from Pascal Siakam or breakouts from Norman Powell and Stanley Johnson make up for part of that loss?

If not, Toronto could kick off an NBA fire sale.

“Now, Masai Ujiri—the best basketball operations executive in the entire league, at this point—can do what it seems he’s always longed to do in Toronto: tear it down to build it back up again,” SB Nation’s Tom Ziller wrote.

With Kyle Lowry, Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka and Fred VanVleet all on expiring contracts this season, Toronto can surely find an asset or two on the marketplace to support a rebuild around Siakam.

Imagine, for example, the Atlanta Hawks are a year ahead of schedule and competing for a playoff berth with Trae Young and John Collins. Would the team consider early playoff experience worth the loss of a draft pick? On a team already overloaded with young talent, the answer could be yes.

Chandler Parsons’ expiring deal and a pick for a playoff push with Gasol would make sense.

Finding potential rental destinations for Lowry and Ibaka isn’t quite as easy, but there may be value out there for them, as well.

Feschuk: ‘The big question now is will Masai be able to sign Giannis in two years’ – Video – TSN

The OverDrive guys discuss where the Raptors go from here now that Kawhi Leonard has left, if Kyle Lowry will retire as a Raptor, and whether Masai Ujiri could land Giannis Antetokounmpo in two years.

Toronto Raptors: Kyle Lowry deserves chance to end career in Toronto – Tip of the Tower

There will be a lot of questions with the Raptors this season after Kawhi Leonard decided to join the Los Angeles Clippers but appear to be ready to move on and considering how Ujiri and Nick Nurse have reacted to not having the NBA Finals MVP next season.

When it comes to Lowry, this will be a big season for him to show that he still has something left in the tank if he is looking to secure a long term deal (most likely for three years).

The Raptors will probably have room to fit Lowry in if they decide to let Marc Gasol go and possibly Serge Ibaka because they have to think about Pascal Siakam‘s next contract. There will also be the talk about going after Giannis Antetokounmpo if he makes it to free agency.

Regardless, the Raptors would be doing themselves a big favour to make sure they give Lowry the ending he wants in Toronto because he deserves it. He was the last remaining member of the core that was labelled as not good enough and scored 26 points against the Golden State Warriors in Game 6.

He is a leader for the team and has been an ambassador for this organization since being acquired back in 2012;

You can only hope there is a resolution to this that is beneficial to both the Raptors and Lowry because this team and the fanbase shouldn’t have to deal with another tough departure.

Canada needs to cash in on basketball’s high times | CBC Sports

There’s still hope
For as much as people will talk about who isn’t showing up, Canada still has a cast of characters who will be competitive and have every opportunity to qualify.

Their best talent and most well-known players, Joseph and Kelly Olynyk, will no doubt be leaned on heavily by Nurse. Joseph is an eight-year veteran who averaged 6.5 points and 3.9 assists per game last season for Indiana. Olynyk has six NBA seasons under his belt and just averaged 10.0 points and 4.7 rebounds for Miami.

The supporting cast surrounding Joseph and Olynyk has been strengthened over the years — that’s the biggest difference now for Canada. The drop-off from the top one or two players used to be dramatic. That isn’t the case anymore.

“Those young guys are very talented,” Joseph said. “They’re coming out here playing hard and we’re all in.”

Those young guys Joseph is talking about include Khem Birch, Chris Boucher and Oshae Brissett — all players who have some NBA experience and will play a crucial role in determining whether Canada qualifies for the Olympics or not.

There have been so many disappointing international events over the past two decades for the team, something Nurse is well aware of and hopes to change.

This is his team now. And he’s trying to do what he did with the Raptors in his first season as head coach — get them to the top of the basketball world.

“People say we can’t do this, we can’t do it. We don’t want to speak that way. We see the goal. We start visualizing it. We try to start convincing everybody around the program to become maybe even more than they think they can become. And that’s what we’re going to try to do.”

‘Definitely a basketball mind’: Team Canada players praise Nurse’s coaching pedigree – Video – TSN

Team Canada guard Cory Joseph and forward Melvin Ejim discuss how how impressed they are by Nick Nurse’s coaching pedigree, while Nurse sheds light on what he believes are the strengths of the team and explains how he’ll be leaning on Joseph and Kelly Olynyk to lead the group.

Canada basketball will rely on teamwork, familiarity at World Cup | Toronto Sun

“It definitely helps,” the veteran Joseph said of having familiarity. “We learn a lot quicker. Obviously, you know, we haven’t played together in some time, some of us, (but) guys like me, Kelly and Melvin, one day, like yesterday, that’s all we needed, now we’re back on track.

“We’re coming along quick. We’ve all either played with each other at one point in time or we’ve all watched each others games.”

Not surprisingly, Joseph, who signed a lucrative free agent deal with the Sacramento Kings last month, pairs particularly well with Olynyk, the Miami Heat big man.

“Kelly has a very high (basketball) IQ and I would like to think I do, as well. So it’s very easy to play with guys like (that),” he said. “You don’t have to waste no more energy out there than we have to, because he gets it. We’ve been playing together forever now, and our games fit each other and suit each other.

“A lot of basketball is just about continuity,” Ejim added. “And when you can get that (you get) off to a good start, when you have guys who you’re familiar with, that you know how to play, just tactically knowing where guys are going to be, spacing, and then just about the whole culture is great because you can rely on guys who have been here all the time, who’ve been a part of it, who know what they’re doing, so I think it’s been really great. I think we’ve hit the ground running.”

Nurse ‘optimistic’ about Canada’s shooting prowess – Video – TSN

The Canadian men’s national basketball team continued training ahead of the FIBA World Cup in China, where head coach Nick Nurse was positive about the team’s shooting.

Nick Nurse brings his on-the-fly approach to a Canadian team that needs to come together quickly | The Star

Nurse does have to work under some serious time constraints in his summer job. He will have had two days of practice before throwing his team out for its first game. He will have six other exhibitions against some imposing global teams before jumping into the World Cup fray with Canada in China from Aug. 31 to Sept. 15 with a spot in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics on the line.

There are subtleties to the international game he’s trying to recall from his years in England and with the Great Britain team at the 2012 London Olympics. And he has a squad that he’s not terribly familiar with, or it with him.

Some players he knows well: Cory Joseph played for the Raptors and six others — Chris Boucher, Brady Heslip, Oshae Brissett, Kaza Kajemi-Keane, Aaron Best and Duane Notice — have been with either the Raptors or their G League affiliate. But the rest are relatively new, at least as something Nurse has to mould into a cohesive unit quickly.

“I’m really clicking through a lot of scenarios, getting myself back in the swing of what you can do, and I remember from my European FIBA coaching days that a lot of that end-of-game stuff had to be executed without timeouts, right?” he said Tuesday.

“So you better have a series of things that are in that they know that if the ball squirts out underneath with seven seconds to go, well, what are we in? If it squirts out with three seconds to go, what are we in? If it squirts out on the side of the floor, what are we in? You have to have a package that they can execute.”

Will Nurse be able to keep Canada and Raptors competitive? – Video – TSN

Nick Nurse will be coaching a depleted Canadian basketball team, before returning to the Raptors without Kawhi Leonard. How will he adjust and keep his clubs competitive? Josh Lewenberg has more.

Toronto Raptors: Nick Nurse ready to lead Team Canada despite missing key players – Tip of the Tower

Two players who are familiar to Canadian basketball fans will be there though, as both Cory Joseph and Kelly Olynyk have been confirmed to be at camp. Joseph has been a part of the national program for years, and Raptors fans will remember his brief stint in Toronto when he played for the team for two seasons during the 2015-2016 and 2016-2017 campaigns.

Team Canada finds themselves in Group H with Australia, Lithuania, and Senegal. A top-two finish in the group guarantees them an entry to the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, while anything less would not only be a disappointment; but would also force them into another qualifying tournament to compete at the games.

It’s frustrating when one of the top players in the league comes out and says “I would exchange the MVP title for the gold medal in China”. That’s what Giannis Antetokounmpo said when asked about competing for Greece at the FIBA World Cup. It would be nice to see this kind of commitment and determination from some of Canada’s top stars. Unfortunately representing an entire country just doesn’t seem to be as much of a priority for some players as it is for others.

Let me know if I missed anything: [email protected]

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