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The Raptors have signed Matt Morgan.
This is the “Exhibit 10 & waive for 905” procedural move I’d mentioned after the Konate waiver. Morgan gets $50K bump to the G League salary, Raptors get a sharpshooter they liked at Summer League.
— Blake Murphy (@BlakeMurphyODC) October 17, 2019
The months following Toronto’s title run were bittersweet for the 22-year-old – celebrating a championship he wished that he could have contributed more to while preparing to take over for the guy most responsible for making it all happen.
Physically, he didn’t start to feel like himself again until mid-July. Once he got his energy back and regained most of the weight he had lost while recovering from the surgery he was able to get back to work. He spent the rest of the summer training, focusing specifically on his jump shot and ball handling. He was among the select group of roughly 20 players to attend Kobe Bryant’s exclusive California minicamp in August.
Coming into training camp, his goals included winning back his starting job and expanding his role, and while it appears he has accomplished those things, he’s still a man on a mission.
“It means a lot that [the team] believes in me, that they’re behind me and they have confidence in me,” Anunoby told TSN. “It makes me want to go out there and keep earning more trust and get them to have more confidence in me.”
As disappointing as last season was for Anunoby, it wasn’t a total loss. Strange as it sounds, he may end up being better for it. How many young players get an eight-month apprenticeship under one of the league’s premiere talents at his position?
Leonard wasn’t the most vocal leader, to put it mildly, but the example he set could have a long-lasting impact on anybody that was paying close enough attention. Also a man of few words, Anunoby was a couple stalls over from Leonard in the Raptors’ locker room and often worked with the two-time Defensive Player of the Year and NBA champion in practice.
“The main thing [I learned from Leonard] was patience,” Anunoby said. “Like just working hard everyday, being patient with things, knowing stuff doesn’t happen overnight. Then, even on the floor, playing the game patiently, not rushing things, seeing what’s there, taking what’s there, not forcing stuff.”
Off the court, Anunoby observed the way in which Leonard carried himself and went about his business. That lesson may be even more valuable.
How Anunoby performs following a lost sophomore campaign could go a long way toward determining Toronto’s ceiling this season. The early reviews have been positive.
“He’s been good. I’m really happy with him right now,” head coach Nick Nurse said after practice on Thursday morning before the team headed to New York City.
“He hasn’t scored it all that well, but his defence has been great. He’s moving good, he’s in great shape, I like his demeanour, I think he’s got a fresh and positive outlook on the way he’s playing. He made some really, really good plays offensively, just doing some of the things he can do, cuts and things like that, and they’re finding him on some of that stuff,” Nurse said.
The coach noted Anunoby’s ability to cut and get himself open and how that could lead to some easy buckets with clever passers like Marc Gasol, Lowry and Fred VanVleet looking for him.
The former Indiana standout is pegged to start at small forward, but Nurse, ever the chess player, always eager to move his pieces around, has also been trying the sturdy Anunoby out at shooting guard a bit too as part of a jumbo lineup which would feature Pascal Siakam at small forward and Gasol and Serge Ibaka up front.
It’s a look that might come in handy against Eastern Conference rivals Philadelphia and Milwaukee, in particular.
“We’ve done it the last two days, yesterday especially we did it a lot,” Nurse said of scrimmages with that look.
“He’s a wing; two and three, there’s really not that much difference to it, really.
At the same time, Lowry is the king of the little things that RAPTOR gives extra credit for, and Danny Green is the quintessential 3-and-D wing that our new metric loves.
As for Morgan’s particulars, he’s a 6’2”, 174-pound guard, who put up 20.5 points, 4.2 rebounds, and 2.6 assists in 32.5 minutes per game across 114 contests (in which he started 112) for Cornell University. That’s the full four year run. Oh, and he shot 47 percent from the field and 38 percent from three, both solid marks for a guard. If he looks familiar to you today (since you have presumably not been following Cornell ball), it’s because Morgan played for the Raptors in the 2019 Summer League, putting up modest averages of 4.3 points, 2.0 rebounds, 1.0 assists in 13.8 minutes per game.
If nothing else, I hope Morgan (and Konate) enjoy the lovely(ish) environs of Mississauga.
Ibaka’s NBA career started with seven seasons in Oklahoma City, playing alongside three future MVPs in Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden. Though they made one Finals appearance together (2012), they never were able to capture a championship together, though Ibaka (2019) and Durant (2017, 2018) have each won titles since leaving OKC.
Had they stayed together longer, it’s possible they could have become an iconic team. However, Ibaka believes that the Thunder core had plenty of time to do something special, though Harden’s tenure with the team lasted just three years.
“We were together for a pretty long time too. If we can’t accomplish anything in 7 years, then when is it going to happen? James left after his 3rd year. 3 years is, you see the Golden State team. It took them time to win. The rest of us were together for 7 years. When I think about it I start to get confused.”
If he had the opportunity to reunite with one of those MVPs, it wouldn’t be an easy choice.
“That’s tough for me because I like all my guys,” Ibaka said. “When I played with Russell that pick and pop was money. James was a good passer. Guys that feed us. If I had to pick one I would pick Kevin Durant.”
As for his take on the never-ending debate regarding hoops legends? “Michael Jordan, LeBron James then Kobe.”
Basketball was hardly the only topic of discussion, though.
He shared some details about his pregame playlist, naming the artists he listens to help get him ready for a game. And, yes, Toronto ambassador Drake made the cut.
“T.I., Kendrick Lamar and Drake,” Ibaka said. “They’re all on the pregame playlist. Burna Boy too.”
Ibaka has been known to cook up some unusual meals on How Hungry Are You?, giving him the opportunity to eat a variety of meals. He revealed during his AMA that his favorite meal to cook is worms, because they “taste good” and are “great protein.”
When asked who his dream guest for the show is, he singled out a Hollywood icon: “One guest…Will Smith. I follow him on social media. I like all the things he does.”
There was a quiet moment — one of the few that any of the Toronto Raptors were able to have in a blurry, short summer of celebration — when it really hit home to Fred VanVleet.
The significance of what he’d done, what his team had done, how his improbable journey from undrafted suspect to Game 6 closer in the NBA Finals had unfolded.
It was a wonderful, liberating, validating moment that he hopes might propel him to even more sustained excellence.
“You can think stuff of yourself — and you always think the world of yourself and all this (stuff) — but to go through it and do it, to prove it to other people but also to prove it to yourself, that’s big sometimes,” the Raptors guard said this week. “Sometimes in the NBA, you can get out there and look like a deer in the headlights.
“I’m not saying I went through real-life stuff where I was depressed or anything, but in professional basketball those were some of the lowest times of my professional basketball life. To go through those lows and stay solid, to stay true to myself was big.
“I didn’t pout, I didn’t make excuses, I didn’t point any fingers. To stay solid through that and come out of that, that was something that I’m proud of.”
Toronto Raptors: 104.1
Expectations are reset in Toronto after Kawhi Leonard’s departure to the Clippers, though the Raptors won’t need to undergo a full makeover to remain competitive. They weren’t just functional without Leonard—they went 17–5, a 63-win pace (albeit with a favorable schedule). Toronto’s superstar exodus won’t cause a collapse into tankdom.
Surprisingly, Toronto’s D shone brightest when missing one of the best stoppers in the game. Without Leonard, the Raptors had a defensive rating of 104.1, a mark that would have ranked first last season. Toronto should hover near the top five in defensive rating again. Pascal Siakam anchors a crop of long, switchable wings, including OG Anunoby, who didn’t play in the postseason. Marc Gasol is a former Defensive Player of the Year. And Kyle Lowry is perhaps the smartest point guard in the league not named Chris Paul. —M.S.
With Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green both leaving for Los Angeles in the summer, the Toronto Raptors aren’t being considered a legitimate threat to repeat as NBA champions.
That much was apparent in NBA.com’s annual general manager’s survey looking ahead to the 2019-20 season, the results of which were published Thursday.
“The GMs responded to 50 different questions about the best teams, players, coaches, fans, and off-season moves,” the survey explained. “General managers were not permitted to vote for their own team or personnel. Percentages are based on the pool of respondents to that particular question, rather than all 30 GMs.”
Among the questions posed, the GMs were asked to rank the top four teams in each conference as a way to predict which teams will qualify for the post-season and where they’ll finish.
Kyle Lowry, Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka and Fred VanVleet are all returning to the Raptors lineup, while rising star Pascal Siakam and youngster OG Anunoby are only expected to get better. However, based on the results of the survey, GMs around the league expect the defending champs to participate in the Eastern Conference’s No. 4 vs. No. 5 matchup in the opening round of the playoffs.
The Raptors have earned home-court advantage in the opening round of the playoffs in each of the past six years, although these results illustrate that GMs don’t even feel home-court advantage is a given for Nick Nurse’s group this time around.
Vegas has set the Raptors’ line at 46.5 which feels about right. They will certainly not challenge for 60 wins this season, as they have the past couple of years, but a push for 50 is possible. The step down from Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green is no small thing, but the core of Toronto is still solid, as is their defensive identity. Meanwhile, Toronto’s newcomers will be put in the best positions to succeed, Siakam really is about to become that dude, and overall the squad will overachieve once again.
The 2018-19 Toronto season will be remembered as the year Kawhi Leonard came, saw, and conquered; if all goes as it should, it’ll also be the first of many seasons of growth for Pascal Siakam. He is the forward whom the Raptors should build around going forward. Masai Ujiri spent the summer insisting that Ibaka, Kyle Lowry, and Marc Gasol would not be available for trades, that there is no immediate stress on rebuilding. In Lowry’s case, that’s believable: The point guard signed a one-year extension with the Raptors to keep him in Toronto through 2020-2021. With Siakam expected to sign an extension of his own by Monday, Ibaka’s future on the roster seems to have a visible expiration date.
Ibaka had his best scoring numbers in five years last season. He averaged a near-career-high 15 points on 52.9 percent shooting and has sharpened a couple skills that will help him age his game better—passing and kicking out to the perimeter, for example. Ibaka is an intriguing option for any team wanting to refresh its frontcourt for a short-term experiment. (Maybe the Celtics will miss Al Horford more than they realize.)
In the wake of the NBA-China scandal, Toronto Raptors fans are gearing up for a political statement for the team’s home opener.
A crowd-funded campaign has raised over $34,000 in five days to print thousands of t-shirts that read “The North Stand with Hong Kong” for Toronto’s game against the New Orleans Pelicans on October 22.
“We are able to make 7,000 T shirts, which is 2,000 more than our original target! We will cover 35% instead of 25% of the audience! That’s 1/3 of the arena!” the group’s GoFundMe page reads. The campaign was organized in part by Mimi Lee, a founder of the Torontonian HongKongers Action Group, which began hosting events in June “to raise awareness and support the current pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong started by the extradition to China bill fiasco.”
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