Morning Coffee – Fri, Apr 3

19 mins read

Ujiri pulls out the old switcheroo.

Raptors GM Masai Ujiri claims it was he who was ‘assaulted’ after NBA Finals – The Athletic

Ujiri appears also to make a somewhat novel defense, contending that essentially Strickland’s occupation disallowed the lawsuit.

“The claims made in the Complaint are barred, in whole or in part, because Plaintiff Alan Strickland’s alleged injuries arose from a risk inherent in the occupation of security guard,” Ujiri argued.

The NBA narrows that by focusing on Strickland’s actions. “Plaintiffs knew of the risks of injury and damage involved in their actions and conduct, and with full knowledge of such risks and appreciating the dangers thereof nevertheless voluntarily assumed such risks,” the league argued.

Strickland, who is also suing on behalf of his wife, has a very different take quite clearly. His Feb. 7 complaint filed in California federal court, stated, “Masai Ujiri repeatedly ignored Plaintiff Alan Strickland’s orders to stop and return to the arena security official. Masai Ujiri then attacked Plaintiff Alan Strickland and hit him in the face and chest with both fists. The force…from Masai Ujiri’s attack sent Plaintiff Alan Strickland backwards several feet.”

Days after Strickland filed the lawsuit, Ujiri, speaking from Senegal, told The Canadian Press, “It’s malicious in a way. To me it’s incredible that things play out like that. I think something incredible was taken away from me and I will never forget it. It is one of the things that drives me to win another championship because I want to be able to celebrate a championship the right way. This thing will be settled. The truth will come out. The truth will come out of this.

“It’s incredible that this malicious kind of claim, if I’ve been dismissed with the criminal case, then I really don’t know what this means for me. There is no case there and I look forward to whatever is coming.”

NBA exploring the idea of holding playoffs in Las Vegas – Sports Illustrated

Finishing the NBA season? Not a priority.

But the NBA is a business, one hemorrhaging cash right now, and it has a financial responsibility to explore all possibilities. Publicly, team officials are optimistic. “I think they’re turning over every rock they possibly can to play and looking at every different outcome,” Nets GM Sean Marks said. Said Bucks GM Jon Horst, “We believe that we’re going to play and everything we’re doing every day and our communications and our preparations, everything we talk about is be prepared to play at some point and finish out the season and have a resumption.”

In a vacuum, Las Vegas makes sense. The NBA has a longstanding relationship with the city. A summer league has been held there since 2004. In recent years, it’s become the summer league. The NBA has relationships with hotels and arenas. It’s one of the few cities, perhaps the only city, equipped to hold this type of event.

Should it? Right now—impossible to say. At this point, several team and league officials told SI.com, any chance of a traditional postseason is out. Travel is expected to be challenging in the coming months. Cities are being impacted differently. What if restrictions in Memphis loosen before they do in Los Angeles? How would the NBA even hold these matchups?

Quarantining in one location is the only solution, and Vegas is the only city the NBA is currently giving any kind of serious consideration, per an NBA source. But even that faces enormous hurdles. Thousands of players and staffers would descend on Las Vegas for an event like this. Thousands of supports staff at hotels and arenas would be needed to make it work. Not to mention broadcasters and media. Testing would have to advance significantly in the coming months. Rapid tests, like the one now being produced by Abbott Laboratories, would have to be widely available. An event that could be squeezed into a few weeks would require tens of thousands of tests.

‘Basketball can wait’ – How NBA coaches are navigating an unprecedented season

WORD SPREAD QUICKLY among the Toronto Raptors: Did you hear? Gobert has it. Donovan Mitchell too. See? Right here on Twitter. The defending NBA champions quickly realized what was coming: Their final basketball game came just two days earlier, on March 9 against the Utah Jazz. They would be quarantined.

But what did that mean? Where was the coronavirus reference manual? Kyle Lowry, so meticulous in his basketball preparation, wanted parameters. His teammates called asking why the team facility was closed. Almost immediately, players began reaching out for training programs and workout equipment, but coach Nick Nurse emphatically ordered them to pump the brakes.

“My initial message was pretty heavily hammering the idea of, ‘Stay in the house. Don’t take chances. Basketball can wait,'” Nurse said.

Raptors forward Pascal Siakam, in the middle of a magical All-Star season, didn’t like that answer. He was particularly agitated when Nurse explained he could not have any contact during the 14-day quarantine period — not even with his brother Christian, a former college basketball player who is Siakam’s roommate, workout partner, manager and constant companion.

“Pascal was struggling with it,” Nurse said. “He’s saying to me, ‘What do you mean I can’t see my brother? We do everything together.’ I said, ‘No, dude. You have to stay away for now. You just played Rudy Gobert.'”

In the initial days of the NBA shutdown, Nurse regularly jumped on the phone with big man Marc Gasol and assistant coach Sergio Scariolo. Gasol’s parents were on lockdown in Spain, while Scariolo’s mother was in Italy, two of the most infected countries in the world. Nurse tried to assist them in reaching health officials in those countries to assure them their families were safe, and to try to facilitate food deliveries and medical needs.

“That concerned me a lot more than making sure guys have bikes and weights,” Nurse said.

NBA coaches are rooted in habit. From Oct. 16 to mid-June, they know exactly what city they will be in, exactly what time they will arrive and exactly how long they will stay. They will interact with a core of basketball assistants, staff members and a finite number of players on their roster in accordance with a schedule that rarely, if ever, wavers. It is a controlled environment that suits the personalities of precise tacticians whose livelihoods hinge on a detailed master plan.

ESPN to debut E:60 special on former Aggie Pascal Siakam

ESPN is debuting an E:60 special on New Mexico State alumnus and NBA All-Star Pascal Siakam on April 11 at 10 a.m. MT.

The award-winning sports show will chronicle Siakam’s journey from his home of Cameroon to the NBA. Siakam spent two seasons with the Aggies before the Toronto Raptors selected him with the 27th overall pick in the 2016 NBA Draft.

After earning the league’s Most Improved Player award in 2019, the four-year pro led the Raptors to their first ever title in 2020.

The special will also include the passing of Siakam’s father, Tchamo, and th mission to carry his legacy. Tchamo died in a car crash in 2014 and is a prime motivating factor for Pascal as he continues to flourish in the NBA.

Independent Study: Who Giannis Should Be Watching – The Ringer

What Giannis Can Learn From … Chris Bosh
Poking holes in Antetokounmpo’s game seems silly, but one area that remains good, not great, is his post scoring. Giannis has scored 0.97 points per post-up in the past two seasons, according to Synergy Sports tracking data. It’s a fine level of production, especially considering the amount of defensive attention Giannis receives. But it pales in comparison to the numbers logged by the game’s current best post scorers like Joel Embiid and Nikola Jokic, and players from the past like Bosh.

Bosh won two championships with the Heat and became a prototype for modern bigs by migrating away from the post to the 3-point line. But with the Raptors, Bosh feasted from the post. Before the 2009-10 season, his last in Toronto, he bulked up to blend bullying with his face-up style, which amounted to a career-best statistical season. Bosh averaged 24 points while scoring more than one-third of his points from the post, where he scored an elite 1.1 points each post-up—of all players to log at least 500 post-ups in a season since 2004-05, Bosh’s season is the most efficient.

Raptors Report Card: Lowry, Siakam receive top grades – Sportsnet.ca

Marc Gasol
Season Stats: 7.6 PPG | 6.3 RPG | 3.4 APG | 40.2 3P%
Grade: C+

This grade may seem harsh, particularly with Gasol missing more than half the season due to injury, but he’s receiving this pedestrian mark partially because of all that time missed. Attendance matters, after all.

This isn’t to say Gasol meant to miss all these games – no one wants to be injured – but it happened, meaning his contributions to the team – something the club was relying on coming into the season – has been dramatically lessened.

This, compounded by the fact Gasol was in the midst of his worst offensive season ever, has led to a year that’s left everyone wanting so much more from the big Spaniard.

The Greatest Raptors Regular Season Performances of All Time Tournament Final | Toronto Raptors

Two weeks, 32 contenders, 30 fan vote showdowns, and more grainy highlight reels than the second round of the NBA draft have led us here. A lot of Raptors have balled exceptionally hard over single 48 minute stretches in the last 25 years. Some of those guys — cough, Terrence Ross — might even be justifiably aggrieved they’re not still in the title fight today. But the people have spoken. A pair of the greatest regular-season individual outings from Toronto’s past have made it through four rounds of voting to stand here today. By tomorrow afternoon we’ll know for certain who did in fact ball the hardest.

You shouldn’t be surprised by which two players earned spots in the final. There are two things about DeMar DeRozan you cannot deny: he’s one of if not the most beloved players in Raps history, and his 52-point game against the Bucks absolutely ruled. Kawhi Leonard rode the wave of recency bias and latent post-title glee to the final four as a 10-seed with his 38-point dismantling of the Blazers last March, a game that of course featured a game-winner that portended other game-winners to come. But foreshadowing aside, there was no logical argument in favour of him beating out DeRozan in the Wayne Embry Regional Final.

Happy birthday to Raptors’ Pascal Siakam, here’s to better times for all of us | Toronto Sun

You can bet Pascal Siakam didn’t spend his 26th birthday the way he wanted to or has in the past. Siakam, a noted gym rat who likes nothing better than working on his game, would, in normal times, have been getting a few shots up at the Raptors practice facility on the bridge day between games against NBA-leading Milwaukee, Toronto’s opponent in last year’s Eastern Conference final.

Instead, he was cooped inside like the rest of us. The COVID-19 pandemic shut down the entire world and also put a pause on Siakam’s second straight breakout season. The league’s reigning most improved player took several more steps forward in 2019-20, emerging as Toronto’s top scoring option, as well as an ultra-elite defender.

The good news for Raptors fans is that there is no reason to think he is done improving and he’ll do it in Canada. Siakam signed a long-term, max-deal before the season, which should keep him in Toronto for at least four more years.

“(He’s) somebody we’re definitely going to keep for a long time here,” Raptors president Masai Ujiri had said before the deal was even signed. “And we see what the potential of that could be.” In a recent Instagram Live chat, DeMar DeRozan said Siakam had “the blueprint” to become the greatest Raptor ever in time.

A major step in that pursuit — seeing what he might do as that first option in a playoff series or two or three — is currently on pause. We might not see what’s next for Siakam until next Fall.

Hopefully that isn’t the case. And hopefully his 27th birthday comes in much better times for all of us.

Suspension Journal: Handing out the Toronto Raptors all-time awards – Raptors HQ

Best Sixth Man
Ballot:

Lou Williams (15.5 points, 34% 3PT; 80/80 games off the bench)
Fred VanVleet (10.3 points, 4 assists, 39% 3PT; 149/225 games off the bench)
Terrence Ross (9.4 points, 42% FG; 231/363 games off the bench)
Patrick Patterson (7.6 points, 4.8 rebounds, 37% 3PT; 254/273 games off the bench)
Tracy McGrady (11.1 points, 5.5 rebounds, 2.5 assists; 139/192 games off the bench)
This one is damn tricky. Who had the best Raptors career as a bench player? It’s has to be a guy who played at least half of his games off the bench, remember.

Because the Raptors have had so much roster turnover in their 25 years, and have been, uh, kinda bad, for most of those years… most bench players who were any good quickly became starters. Initially I thought Morris Peterson would be a good choice here, but he actually started 67% of his games as a Raptor! Jose Calderon started 61%. Amir Johnson, 63%!

Lou Williams, of course, won this award in 2015. But it was his only Raptors season. McGrady is probably the best player on the list, but he didn’t really provide real value in his role until year three, and then he was gone (remember this award is cumulative). T-Ross gave us many fan-favorite highlights, but could be maddeningly inconsistent. VanVleet is a tricky one, since he’s now a full-time starter and that boosts his stats accordingly. So…

Winner: Patrick Patterson

Players who made the most successful jumps from high school to the NBA

One of two Hall of Famers on this list (Kobe Bryant is the other), Tracy McGrady was taken ninth overall by the Toronto Raptors in 1997. He played in 988 games and earned seven All-Star nods in his 17-year career.

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