Draft a little dream.
While neither of those marks were quite enough to put them at the top, New Orleans Pelicans guard JJ Redick says there is one particular thing the Raptors do better than any other team in the league on that end of the floor. The Raptors came up on the latest episode of his podcast, “The JJ Redick Podcast,” when Redick and The Ringer’s Ryen Russillo were talking about how much the NBA has changed over the decades, the focus quickly turning to defence.
It prompted Redick to say the following about Toronto’s rotations.
“Part of the thing with switching and getting back to your original matchup is people are too far away now,” Redick said. “You’re basically inviting playing in rotation, and playing in rotation in today’s NBA is the one thing you don’t want to do. It’s the hardest thing to guard. Once you get scrambling, it’s impossible.
“This is what makes Toronto so crazy to me. They did it last year, and obviously we played them seven games in the playoffs. They do that better than any team I’ve ever seen. Ever. It’s like there’s telepathy and they know where each guy is going to be at all times. Because it is random. Like, rotations – you’re not getting swing, swing every single time. One guy may fake a pass and drive, and it’s just like there’s a guy there, there’s a body there at all times with them.
“It’s actually remarkable.”
The sense is in this case the Bulls won’t be granted permission to speak with Webster, who is under contract until the end of the 2021 season.
It’s not about the Raptors trying to be difficult or stifle Webster.
But timing is everything, and for the moment it’s easy to understand why Raptors minority owner and MLSE chairman Larry Tanenbaum — the likely point of contact for Bulls ownership — would politely refuse the request of another team to speak with one of his most important basketball employees.
The pandemic that has brought the NBA — and nearly everything else — to a halt has created an avalanche of questions, from what happens if or when play resumes to all the tumbledown effects those decisions will have on what will be a very uncertain off-season for the Raptors, with free agency looming for three of their five starters in Marc Gasol, Fred VanVleet and Serge Ibaka, and with the face of the franchise, Kyle Lowry, heading into the final year of the two-year deal he signed in training camp.
Head coach Nick Nurse is also heading into the final year of his deal, along with Alex McKechnie, the club’s highly regarded vice president of player health and performance.
To put it simply, nearly every key member of the basketball operation is either a free agent or a year away from becoming one.
The elephant in the room of course is that standing on top of all this uncertainty is the fact that Ujiri is the biggest pending free agent of all.
So, add it all up and Tanenbaum would have to be a fool to entertain the possibility of losing his No. 2 basketball executive — Webster — at this particular point in time, and Tanenbaum is no fool.
Even though the NBA has an average annual salary of nearly $7 million, about one-third of the league’s players are probably “hurting” for money right now, C.J. McCollum estimated during a recent interview. Video of the online interview was going viral on Tuesday as it was being reported that some NBA players might be expected to pay back franchise owners millions of dollars that were advanced to them.
McCollum, of the Portland Trailblazers, was speaking with NBA analyst Jay Williams, who asked how many players the All-Star guard thought might be living paycheck-to-paycheck.
“There’s some guys in the league that are hurting right now because … there could be a pay stoppage,” McCollum said in part.
While that might sound unbelievable to some who are familiar with the NBA’s pay structure, the metaphorical pain that McCollum mentioned referred to the fact that most of the league’s players may not get another paycheck beyond the one that was paid April 1. That was something that no one was planning for or anticipating and led McCollum to speculate that “out of 450 [players in the NBA], 150 probably live paycheck to paycheck.”
Watch the snippet below from the interview.
But in a call with agents on Tuesday, the NBPA revealed that it does not expect a drastic reduction in the 2020-21 cap, according to SNY’s Ian Begley. That does not mean that BRI will not drop, but according to Begley, next year’s cap “is expected to be calculated fairly” rather than being based specifically on this season’s revenue.
In a normal season, the cap is based on a projection of the following season’s revenue. That is calculated by using the income that is already known—such as revenue from television contracts that are set in stone—and projecting unknown revenue such as ticket and merchandising sales by increasing them by 4.5 percent. Setting this year’s cap under that method poses two significant problems.
The first is that this season’s cap was based on projections that did not factor in the coronavirus, which did not exist during the league’s auditing period in July of 2019. Teams therefore signed players expecting a certain amount of income with which to pay their salaries, but that revenue is not coming whereas those players are still contractually owed their salaries. Owners and players have reportedly discussed a pay reduction, but have not yet agreed on how to share the burden of this lost revenue collectively.
The other issue is that projecting next season’s revenue would be virtually impossible. Public health experts have no idea when it will be safe for professional sports to resume or have fans in stadiums. Even if it is declared safe, without a vaccine, trepidation will likely keep many fans out of arenas, and while a vaccine would solve the health crisis at play, it would not immediately solve the economic crisis caused by the pandemic. Fans will have less disposable income for the next few years thanks to COVID-19, and the league doesn’t have a reliable method of estimating how much.
Pina: First I want to start off with Nash because I think it is fascinating that you are trying to take away arguably what is his best quality which is his selflessness.
Golliver: Come on Michael! Don’t put words in my mouth. I am not trying to take it away; I am just trying to tone it down.
Pina: That’s exactly what you are doing [laughs]. You are just trying to cut Nash down at the knees is uncalled for and I won’t stand for it.
Golliver: I am just saying instead of devoting his entire life to charity and we all know people who has done that—they move overseas to do the Peace Corp and never come back. All I am saying is, come back a little bit, right? Just engage in the capitalistic system just slightly and see where it takes you. Because he was just the type of guy who could just be both a Peace Corp volunteer and a millionaire. That’s all I am saying.
Pina: Sure, I follow [laughs]. With Iverson, I kind of go the exact other direction with you on that one. I don’t think Iverson would have had the same type of career he would have did if he was in the modern era. If you want to have the ball as often as he did and you can’t shoot threes particularly off the bounce, you are just going to have a tough time. I think you can make the case If you surrounded him with even more spacing and his driving lanes were even wider than it wouldn’t matter but this guy can’t shoot like Lou Williams can shoot. I think that would be detrimental a little bit.
Golliver: I think he would have the toughest time adjusting out of the big-time stars for a few reasons. First of all, the coachability aspect and the idea that you are going to be reprogrammed with no mid-range shots and efficiency is super important. You have to cut out the low-percentage long twos from your diet no matter what. And taking caring of yourself too year-round. I think that is an issue. All of those are concerns I would have had.
On the flip side, his finishing ability and his ability to take contact, his sheer speed off the bounce, acceleration, bag of moves, ability to get to the rim—all that stuff was just crazy elite in era where there was no room to operate because you just had Ostertags in every direction. It was just all these giant and big lumbering centers screwing things up for guys off the dribble. There would be adjustment. I am not necessarily sure he would handle the transition perfectly, but he is one guy I would love to watch.
As the Chinese Basketball Association shut down in January, Bartelstein hurried to get his clients out of the country. He talked to their teams, getting their permission for players to leave, and put together the logistics to get them out.
“We had to get guys home and we had to move quickly because travel was being shut down,” he said. “There was a lot happening in a very short time.”
The first positive case in Italy came on Jan. 31, and the first death occurred on Feb. 22. By the end of the month, Lombardy became a hot zone for the virus and Northern Italy was the first part of the country to be locked down. Italy quickly turned into Europe’s epicenter for the illness.
France and Spain soon started to deal with their own pile-up of cases. With clients in those countries, Bartelstein started discussing the coronavirus with his NBA clients, trying to educate them on the illness.
It was a tricky time for the NBA. While the league sent out a memo on March 2 telling players to avoid handshakes and prioritize fist bumps in fan interactions, it continued to hold games in large arenas and carry on normally.
“I was expecting the season to get postponed,” Bartelstein said. “After seeing what was going on in Europe, I knew it was just a matter of time that it was going to happen in the NBA. We were preparing a couple of weeks beforehand.”
On March 11, a Thunder-Jazz game was stopped just before tip-off in Oklahoma City when news broke that Jazz center Rudy Gobert had tested positive for the coronavirus. Soon, his teammate, Donovan Mitchell would test positive too. NBA commissioner Adam Silver suspended the season that night, starting a cascade of league stoppages and postponements across the United States and in Europe.
Since then, sports has been dormant across the world.
“I want to make sure that I give Adam Silver props,” Bartelstein said. “He was out in front of this thing and trying to do the right thing by protecting the players and protecting the community by making the decision he made. Which, once again, showed the leadership that the NBA has. A setting the tone of what’s right and what leadership is all about.”
And the last 24 hours have brought two new proposals. ESPN’s Jeff Passan reported Tuesday that MLB is focused on a plan to play its entire season in Arizona, with protocols in place to keep umpires at a safe distance from the players and the players sitting 6 feet apart in the empty stands rather than sharing a dugout. (The plan doesn’t specify how MLB will combat baseball players’ tendencies to constantly spit, rub their hands all over the ball, and repeatedly touch their faces.) On Monday, UFC president Dana White said that he’s close to purchasing a private island on which he could host prized international fights; as Spencer Hall points out, this is more or less the plot of the 1973 Bruce Lee film Enter the Dragon.
It’s obvious why sports leagues are so interested in these ideas. The vast majority of revenue they generate comes from billion-dollar television contracts, and while much of the money that leagues would have made this year from ticket sales, parking, and concessions is long gone, they can potentially recoup hundreds of millions of dollars by putting forth some semblance of a season for the cameras. When the other option is generating zero dollars, of course leagues are getting creative.
But these ideas may also have backing from entities with no revenue at stake: governments. The Independent report about the Premier League’s plan says it has the blessing of the British government. The Passan report says “federal officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as the National Institutes of Health have been supportive of a plan that would adhere to strict isolation, promote social distancing, and allow MLB to become the first professional sport to return.” (No government official from any nation has condoned Dana White’s Secret Bloodsport Island.)
Sports would surely soothe fans’ psyches in these trying times. Does that make playing in a bubble—and all the sacrifices that would need to be made for that to happen—worth it?
For a moment, let’s ignore the impossible-to-predict ripple effect around the league and take things at face value, based on how things went for both the Raptors and McGrady following their breakup, from the 2000-01 season, onwards.
In 2001, the Raptors burst onto the scene, coming one game shy of the Eastern Conference Finals while in Orlando, Tracy became T-Mac, the league’s Most Improved Player, who averaged over 26 points per game.
As a Raptor, he’d still be known as Tracy – at least in the regular season – and wouldn’t be “Most Improved” just yet, but one thing’s for sure: The second round series with the Philadelphia 76ers would look much, much different.
The series that’s known for its epic one-on-one battles between Carter and Allen Iverson would be remembered for an unfair battle as McGrady and Carter took turns carving up the Sixers defence, combining for offensive outputs the Sixers just didn’t have the firepower to match.
In their sixth year of existence, the Raptors would have a date with the Milwaukee Bucks in the Eastern Conference Finals.
If the Big Three of Sam Cassell, Ray Allen and Glenn Robinson didn’t have an answer for AI’s Sixers, they definitely wouldn’t have an answer for the duo of Vinsanity and McGrady, who was now widely known as T-Mac after a monster dunk over Defensive Player of the Year Dikembe Mutombo in the second round.
A hard-fought series with the Bucks is over in six games and the Raptors are headed to their first-ever NBA Finals. (Sound familiar?)
There, Kobe and Shaq’s Los Angeles Lakers would be just too much for the Raptors, but the future was bright – McGrady was 22 and Carter 25, and the best days were ahead.
In reality, Carter’s 2001-02 season was marred by an injury that ultimately held him out of the NBA Playoffs. But with McGrady, things are much much different. Instead of a first-round exit, Toronto rallies around its other star to make things interesting in the postseason yet again.
This is the year that T-Mac shows what he’s really made of, becoming an All-Star calibre player and earning Most Improved Player honours as he leads the Carter-less Raptors to the second round before falling to the Boston Celtics in the second round of the postseason.
Caroline Cameron sat down with Raptors assistant coach Sergio Scariolo, who talked about this year’s team, last year’s run and more!
Televised live sports have all but vanished in the age of coronavirus, but an unlikely exception emerged recently on ESPN3: the “2020 Platform Tennis World Championships.”
The name was rather grandiose for a makeshift tournament streamed live from a backyard court in Wilton, Conn. It featured four little-known men playing a little-known game at a private home with no prize money at stake.
“For platform tennis, it’s the biggest stage we’ve ever been on so far,” said Mark Parsons, who ended up winning the title but not taking home the trophy.
“The guy who brought the trophy was the only guy allowed to touch it,” Parsons said. “We were doing our best to keep the social distancing.”
With professional and collegiate sports shut down just about worldwide, there is a narrow window for niche events to seek some light during the pandemic.
Burke Magnus, the executive vice president for programming acquisitions and scheduling for ESPN, said in a statement that one of the network’s goals was to entertain fans through “themed and stunt event programming that will provide a diversion at a time that there are virtually no other live sports to watch.”
Platform tennis — played outdoors, even in subzero temperatures, on a scaled-down tennis court inside fences that feel more like a cage — was a new entry in a strange and sensitive era for live competitions. Team and contact sports do not work well now. N.B.A. players, NASCAR drivers and cyclists are competing in video games, and ESPN recently re-aired “The Ocho,” its annual outlet for zany competitions like stone skipping and ax throwing.
Bobby Webster is the General Manager of the Toronto Raptors.
True. (Thanks to Masai Ujiri promoting himself to team president after losing his lieutenant Jeff Weltman in 2017 to the Magic, the role of GM was made vacant. Webster was swiftly promoted, making him, then at just 32 years old, the youngest GM in the league.)
Bobby Webster is the all-time youngest GM in the NBA.
False. (That would be Rob Hennigan, hired by the Magic in 2012 at the young age of just 30. He would go on to oversee five of the more useless years in Magic franchise history, arriving at his end after trading Serge Ibaka — who he’d acquired less than a year before — to Toronto. Hennigan’s Magic never made the playoffs during his tenure.)
Bobby Webster is a high quality executive whom many teams would love to hire.
True. (Webster checks a lot of boxes for the modern day NBA owner. He’s young, smart, discrete — a not-underrated skill — and has made his name by involved in: the drafting of Pascal Siakam, the signing of Fred VanVleet, acquiring Kawhi Leonard, and, of course, the shaping of the current Raptors, the reigning 2019 NBA champions.)