— Sportsnet PR (@SportsnetPR) September 10, 2020
Acquiring talent through the draft is one thing, putting them in position to succeed is entirely another. Raptors 905 has proven to be an incredible incubator of development for Toronto, providing a platform for a lot of the current core to improve and harness skills for the NBA level.
Every great franchise has its own competitive advantage: the Lakers have their history and location, the Spurs’ secret sauce for years was load management before it became the ‘it’ thing, while the Warriors and Bulls took advantage of cap situations better than anyone for their dynasties. For the Raptors, it’s the 905. Only Miami can come close to rivaling the success the Raptors have had in graduating players from their development program to the highest level.
While players around the league may still frown upon getting “sent down,” the Raptors have done well to destigmatize that notion as much as possible. Imagine coming to Toronto and saying you’re not willing to work on your game with the 905 when Siakam and VanVleet stand as the pillars of the franchise’s future—it’s not happening.
How can you hope to properly consider the future when the chief decision-maker, not to mention his top lieutenant, Bobby Webster, and coach Nick Nurse are also not under contract after next season? Surely, Ujiri would do the best job that he could, but you want him as invested in that future as possible. As much of a joyous sugar rush as it was, and as awesome as the results were, the Blue Jays had Alex Anthopoulos in charge during the chaotic 2015 trade deadline. Anthopoulos’ own contract was up at the end of 2015. With his future with the organization uncertain, he went all-in, raiding the farm system in a series of win-now-or-bust trades. It’s not a model any organization should be looking to repeat, not that the situations are identical.
Raptors fans have become accustomed to painful departures of the team’s most important employees. We do not need to relive the examples in detail. Even though executives are generally more replaceable than stars, Ujiri’s exit would hurt as much as any of them. Ironically, it would echo that of DeRozan, an outsider who came to the city and franchise and not only did his job but also acted as a proud advocate for both. That matters immensely in a way that is not necessarily tangible. That Ujiri, who is paid to be as cold and calculating as possible, is so important partly because of his emotional links to both words of “Toronto Raptors” is also steeped in irony.
Raptors parent company Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment has already stepped in it a little bit on this front. Preposterously timed, a month before the Raptors won the championship last year, MLSE awarded a six-year contract extension to Toronto Maple Leafs president Brendan Shanahan. At that point, the Maple Leafs had yet to win a playoff series under Shanahan’s watch. (And at this point, too.) That does not mean extending Shanahan was a mistake, because a team can be well run, and plans can be competently executed, without the desired results arriving on schedule. Still, everyone involved in professional sports loves to refer to the industry as results-oriented, and Ujiri’s accomplishments dwarfed Shanahan’s then. The gap is even wider now. Again: different sports, different contexts. Ujiri, like most people in pro sports, is very competitive, and it would be odd if he didn’t raise an eyebrow over Shanahan’s extension and his lack of one.
It’s well-known that Ujiri has aspirations outside of basketball. Even within the NBA, it would be reasonable for him to seek a new challenge. As much as he feels like he is a part of this city, and even though he has confirmed that he is a Canadian citizen, he is not any more beholden to the Raptors and MLSE than the players he brings to Toronto. There is more to accomplish here, sure, but he is a Raptors legend already. That status can be enhanced, but it can’t be erased.
Indeed, the Raptors owe a lot more to Ujiri than the other way around. It is not the organizations that define people, but people who define an organization.
It is only irresponsible organizations that lose sight of that.
Will the Raptors be able to lock up their executive leadership?
The most pressing Raptors-related concern for the Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment group will be determining the status of key Raptors leadership figures: president Masai Ujiri, general manager Bobby Webster and head coach Nick Nurse.
Their contracts will run out at the end of next season, meaning they’re all due for an extension. Seeing how instrumental each of these men was in the Raptors’ 2019 championship — and likely will be heading into this off-season and beyond — deciding their futures with the franchise will be of the utmost importance.
Otherwise, if an extension doesn’t get done, expect to hear non-stop rumour-mongering of just about every team in the league looking to poach one or more of these gentlemen come next off-season.
Time and time again in the Boston series, the Raptors were caught with either not enough size or too much size on the floor.
When Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol were deployed together, smaller and twitchier players like Kemba Walker and Marcus Smart were able to navigate their way around the two trees.
When the Raptors went super small (notably in the overtime periods against the Celtics in Game 6), Boston centre Daniel Theis had his way at the rim, throwing down dunk after dunk on whichever undersized Raptor had the unfortunate task of guarding him.
Here’s the kicker; both Ibaka and Gasol’s contracts have now expired. The Raptors need to make a choice: will it be both, one, or neither?
For starters, it’s tough to see both Ibaka and Gasol returning. Gasol was stymied by the Celtics’ speed, where the toll that playing 12 seasons in the NBA takes on the body shone through. Meanwhile, Ibaka had a stellar playoffs, where at times, he was the only Raptor who could get a bucket. His three-point shooting and shot-blocking is superior to that of Gasol’s as well, while Gasol offers better height and overall defence.
If the clock has hit zero for one of the big men’s time in red and black, it seems most likely that Gasol would be the one to go. He’s spent less time in the Raptors system, and as mentioned previously, struggled throughout the playoffs.
But where does that leave Ibaka? Is he still a starting calibre centre? Or is he better suited to the bench role that he has adopted ever since the Gasol trade? If the latter is how Raptors brass feels, there are a few options that the Raptors could look at in free agency.
While Anthony Davis might be a bit of a reach, Andre Drummond is right in the Raptors’ wheelhouse. Drummond has been linked to the Raptors before, and given that the tenured big man has played out his days solely in Detroit and Cleveland thus far, he could be interested in a change of scenery. Other fives that will be looking for work this offseason include Montrezl Harrell, Aron Baynes, Canadians Kelly Olynyk and Tristan Thompson, and Dwight Howard
Siakam isn’t wired like Lowry, few are. Not everybody has the appetite, or the time, to sit down and read all that’s been written about them.
Still, however he approaches these next few months, Siakam’s character and body of work suggest he won’t be lacking for motivation. He’s still just 26 and hasn’t even entered his prime years. In terms of basketball experience, he’s younger than most are at that age.
This isn’t the first roadblock he’s faced, even if it feels like the biggest. Through hard work and a skill set that remains one of the most unique the sport has ever seen, he’s found a way to overcome them before, and those that know him best are confident he can do it again.
“It’s part of the journey, everybody has ups and downs with their play and, unfortunately, his came at this time but it happens, it happens to everybody,” said teammate and good friend Fred VanVleet. “The future is bright for P and I know that with his work ethic and his attitude, this moment will make him that much better. I’m proud of his development and how far he’s come. We came in together and he’s continued to get better each year, so I’m excited for him to get back to work and come back a better player next year.”
“I think this is a learning experience,” Lowry said. “It’s only going to make him a better basketball player, a better man, a better everything. And I would not be surprised to see him come back even [hungrier] and destroying people.”
“All the greats go through it and you have to learn from it,” said Siakam. “If you want to be considered one of the best players you have to be able to rise from these moments, and that’s something I plan to do.”
The Toronto Raptors star, who won the NBA Most Improved Player award just last year and was an all-star starter this season, has quickly fallen from the graces of many fans after his playoff struggles, particularly in the Game 7 loss to the Boston Celtics.
The line was crossed when the conversation went beyond criticism of his play, with attacks on his character, personal insults and even a blatantly racist petition created and signed by a small group of people online. But for every negative remark, there are Raptors fans coming to the defence of their guy.
“It’s horrible. Absolutely horrible. I’m really, really appalled and disgusted. With everything that’s happening in the world right now, and this movement to try and bring some equality and to have these values of decency and brotherhood in the world,” said Nick Zaman, a diehard fan from Milton.
“It’s really, really horrible that people feel like they can say whatever they want in the nastiest possible way, and not realize that these athletes are human beings.”
Zaman, who is originally from Pakistan, and his wife Dimitrina Stancheva, from Bulgaria, became Raptors fans by default when they moved to Canada from Dubai in 2015. They say they chose to make Canada their home over anywhere else in the world because of the welcoming people and diverse culture.
So when they saw the hurtful remarks and a racist petition circulating online, they knew it did not represent the greater Raptor fan base. That’s when they decided to start a project to counter the negativity with kindness.
“We wanted to do something completely contrary to that, really positive and really kind. I feel like kindness isn’t something that has enough momentum right now,” Zaman said.
Badgering the officials works
I’m going to leave my Tony Brothers conspiracies at the door and stick to an objective truth: Nick Nurse gained an advantage over Brad Stevens by constantly badgering the officials after every whistle.
Yes, I hate watching as much as you. No, I don’t want Brad to do it. Maybe there’s a less obnoxious middle ground for him to speak up more often, but it’s not really in his character. All I’m saying is that when we compare two coaches, we may have to take referee harassment into more serious consideration.
While I don’t expect Brad to become Nurse levels of annoying, I’m starting to feel disappointed in how much he lets our opponents get away with on the court. The Raptors undercut Jaylen twice in this series when he attacked the basket, which could have easily be the cause of a serious leg injury.
One dirty play doesn’t automatically make anyone a dirty player, but both Kyle Lowry and OG Anunoby undercutting Jaylen in the same series that Nick Nurse ran a play for himself as a decoy in Boston’s offense is where I want Brad to put his foot down. The Celtics are incredibly resilient on the floor, so let’s see it on the sideline as well.
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