Morning Coffee – Wed, Sep 16

38 mins read
Cover Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Raptors free agency primer: Cap sheet, assets, exceptions and the big picture – The Athletic

Every free agent carries a “cap hold” with him, which is an artificial charge against the salary cap determined by their previous salary. These cap holds are in place to prevent a team from going below the cap, signing free agents, then using rights to re-sign their own players. They can do things in that order, but in the interim their own free agents will limit their cap space with these cap holds.

Teams can remove the cap hold by renouncing their rights to a player, but by doing so, they lose that ability to exceed the cap to re-sign them using their rights. Those rights are important. Full Bird rights, like they hold on Fred VanVleet, allow a team to exceed the salary cap to re-sign their own player up to the maximum contract. Early Bird rights allow a team to exceed the cap to re-sign their own player for up to 175 percent of his previous salary or 105 percent of the league average salary the year prior, whichever is larger. Non-Bird rights aren’t particularly helpful, allowing a team to exceed the cap to re-sign their own player for up to 120 percent of the minimum salary.

To use VanVleet as an example: Say the Raptors wanted to use $25 million or so they have in theoretical cap space considering only their guaranteed contracts. That number drops to $12 million as long as VanVleet’s cap hold exists, so the Raptors would have to renounce VanVleet to use that full $25 million in cap space. They would then no longer have the ability to go over the cap to re-sign him. (They could open additional flexibility by signing him to a new deal at an amount below his cap hold, but that’s unlikely.)

A far more interesting example of how cap holds work is coming later this offseason to explore the OG Anunoby extension case. The usefulness of lower cap holds isn’t particularly relevant for Toronto this year but could be a key factor in their 2021 free agency pursuits, as it pertains to Anunoby.

What these cap holds suggest is that the Raptors will likely choose to operate as an above-cap team. Cap holds don’t carry financial cost to a team and don’t impact the luxury tax apron calculations. They’re just book-keeping notes to prevent more aggressive cap circumvention. By staying above the cap with cap holds, the Raptors maintain the option to re-sign any of those players using their rights and they open up the full mid-level exception instead of the smaller room exception (more on this momentarily).

And yes, those are the rights to Bebe and some championship holdovers you see there. Because the Raptors haven’t needed to drop below the cap in a few years and because those players haven’t signed with other NBA teams, their rights remain. Bebe, come back.

Raptors sign coach Nick Nurse to multi-year extension – Yahoo!

In his two seasons with the Raptors, Nurse has quickly earned a reputation for his creativity, particularly on the defensive end. Nurse famously deployed a box-and-one against Stephen Curry in last year’s Finals, which was one of several key adjustments Nurse made to win Toronto’s first championship. Nurse’s success with zone defences and other unconventional schemes helped fuel the Raptors’ second-ranked defence this season, one that also held up in the playoffs. Several teams across the NBA have adopted Nurse’s tactics on defence, especially this year in particular.

Nurse has also shown a remarkable ability to adapt in difficult circumstances. After losing Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green in free agency, Nurse shifted his team’s approach to playing a more team-oriented style of offence. And although the Raptors took further hits, losing seven of their top-eight rotation players to injuries lasting at least a month, Nurse was still able to win games by coaxing production from his deep bench players. His effort in leading this version of the Raptors to 53 wins was the main reason why he won 90 out of 100 first-place votes in Coach of the Year voting.

“My family and I will always be appreciative of Larry Tanenbaum and MLSE ownership for this opportunity. I’m grateful to Masai, Bobby, and the players for their trust and their hard work,” Nurse said. “Toronto has been my home for the past seven years, and I look forward to it being home for many more. I’ve watched this franchise grow and reach the pinnacle, and I look forward to the challenge of helping us win another championship.”

Koreen: Nick Nurse’s extension is both well earned and chance for change – The Athletic

Extending Nurse is a very, very good decision. He is creative, improvisational and thoughtful. Most importantly, he is not dogmatic or particularly stubborn. If his ability to get his players to buy into his game plans is his best trait, then his willingness to reassess those game plans is next up. He will not hesitate to scrutinize his own choices, and that is crucial for a coach in the evolving NBA.

“I think I’m always going to analyze,” Nurse said after Game 7. “The first thing, I’m always going to analyze the system that we’re running. What improvements or changes need to be made to that, what things can I do to create some better offensive opportunities for certain guys, how are we doing as far as special situations, special teams? … Those are always under scrutiny and always need some … some freshness and some depth, into the deep dive study of them.

“I really gotta dig into the player development, figure out how we’re going to get some of these guys better. We’ve done a hell of a job at that. We gotta keep finding new ways and improved ways, and keep making the guys we’ve got better players.”

Nurse first reimagined the Raptors’ offence in his last year as an assistant to Dwane Casey. He will not have to completely overhaul it now as he did then, but assuming the Raptors return next season in a similar form to how they have departed this year, there will need to be a change. There are no obvious mechanisms by which to greatly increase the team’s playmaking capabilities.

Nurse’s staff also requires some monitoring. There are six head coaching vacancies in the league, and assistants Nate Bjorkgren and Adrian Griffin could be considered as long-shot candidates for a few of them. Additionally, Chris Finch, Nurse’s frenemy from the British Basketball League, could be available. He was an associate head coach in New Orleans, who fired Alvin Gentry. Finch has been mentioned as a candidate with both the Pelicans and Rockets, but failing that, working with Nurse would make a lot of sense.

All of that looms over Nurse’s third year on the job. The first two went very well, and Tuesday’s news was the reward for that. The extension also presents an opportunity for Nurse to reimagine the Raptors and himself, if only a little bit. The good news: Nurse has been enthusiastically engaging in that process his entire coaching career.

Raptors’ attention shifts to Ujiri with Nurse extension complete – Sportsnet.ca

There are plenty of questions surrounding the Raptors as they head into the off-season – the future of pending free agents Gasol, Serge Ibaka and Fred VanVleet; what lies ahead for Kyle Lowry as he heads into the final year of his contract, not to mention the franchise coming to contract terms with Ujiri, Webster, director of sports science Alex McKechnie, and the rest of the front office.

So, inking their head coach to an extension was the one that made sense to resolve soonest, in part because they could.

With free agency pushed back until sometime in November – likely the week after the NBA draft, scheduled for Nov. 18 – there’s not much to be done on the player front, although groundwork is being laid and parameters set.

And the question looming over everything the Raptors do for the moment – the future of Ujiri – remains vague.

It makes sense that it’s been quiet on that front since the pandemic hit and it’s understandable that there was no news on it while the Raptors’ season was still ongoing. It’s not always the best look when the executives get taken care of before the people grinding away on the floor during the playoffs.

But with Nurse’s deal done and the players’ deals weeks away from being sorted out definitively, every day that goes by without Ujiri’s status being confirmed will seem stranger.

As has been reported here previously, interest between Ujiri and the New York Knicks was real and mutual, but the potential for a match there ultimately fell apart because the Knicks didn’t want to wait for Ujiri to extricate himself from Toronto with one year left on his contract — a process franchise owners MLSE were understandably not going to expedite in any way, shape or form.

But even with the Knicks option receding, there remained questions that needed answering, from how the MLSE board would function after the retirement of longtime Ujiri ally George Cope – former chief executive officer of Bell – to gauging how ambitious the organization was going to be in the wake of its first championship.

With the payrolls of contending teams cresting $200-million US, was MLSE still committed to doing what it would take to win? Or would one title suffice?

Small-time thinking is not Ujiri’s thing.

Raptors Sign Nurse to Contract Extension | Toronto Raptors

The Toronto Raptors announced Tuesday they have signed head coach Nick Nurse to a multi-year contract extension. Per team policy, financial terms of the deal were not disclosed. This past season, Nurse guided the Raptors to a 53-19 record during the regular season (second best in the NBA) and set a franchise-record with a .736 winning percentage. Toronto also reached the Eastern Conference Semifinals for the fifth straight year.

“Our confidence in Nick just continues to grow, and part of that comes from what we’ve experienced together. The past two seasons have been unlike any other in our team’s history – first, winning our championship, and then navigating a global pandemic and committing long-term to the fight against racism and for social justice,” Raptors president Masai Ujiri said. “Nick has proved that he can coach on the court and lead in life, and we’re looking forward to accomplishing great things in the future.”

In his two seasons at the helm of the Raptors, Nurse has posted a 111-43 record (.721) during the regular season. In the playoffs, he has compiled a 23-12 mark (.657), while leading Toronto to its first NBA Championship in 2019. Nurse has earned Eastern Conference Coach of the Month honours three times (Jan. 2020, Oct./Nov. 2019, Nov. 2018) and coached Team Giannis at the 2020 NBA All-Star Game in Chicago.

“My family and I will always be appreciative of Larry Tanenbaum and MLSE ownership for this opportunity. I’m grateful to Masai, Bobby, and the players for their trust and their hard work,” Nurse said. “Toronto has been my home for the past seven years, and I look forward to it being home for many more. I’ve watched this franchise grow and reach the pinnacle, and I look forward to the challenge of helping us win another championship.”

Nurse was named the 2019-20 NBA Coach of the Year, becoming the first coach to be selected as Coach of the Year in both the NBA and the NBA G League. Highlighting Toronto’s season last year was a franchise-record 15 straight victories (Jan. 15 – Feb. 10). The winning streak was the longest in Canadian sports history (NBA, NHL, MLB, MLS and CFL).

Report: Toronto Raptors announce multi-year contract extension for coach Nick Nurse – Raptors HQ

The Raptors of next season will likely be a team in transition, with potentially some of its championship core moving on from Toronto. What’s more, there will come a time in the not so distant future when Kyle Lowry will no longer be the franchise’s cornerstone, and the Raptors will have to figure out what they have with Pascal Siakam — to say nothing of any other future star they hope to attract or acquire in their bid for another championship. There are changes and likely major transition coming on the court over the next few years in Toronto. I mention this because Nurse has already proven himself to be a coach who can adapt to whatever the situation calls for — including coaching on the NBA’s biggest stage. (It’s also cool that Nurse is the head coach of Team Canada’s men’s basketball team; there’s a nice bit of national synnergy there.)

In Nurse’s first season as a head coach, after five years as an assitant to Dwane Casey, he responded to the bright lights of the Kawhi Leonard deal and the pressure that put on the team by guiding them to a title. This past season, despite sizable roster changes, injuries, a global pandemic, and his players’ emotional calls for social justice during a restarted season in the bizarre Disney World Bubble, Nurse was able to keep the team together and the much-needed messages moving forward. It could not have been easy.

For the Raptors, this represents the first major domino to fall in their off-season plans. Next up is to hopefully get Masai Ujiri and Bobby Webster signed to extensions. And then to look at their cadre of free agents — including stalwarts Fred VanVleet, Marc Gasol, and Serge Ibaka.

Nick Nurse extension the first step in an important off-season for Toronto Raptors – TSN.ca

Nurse had one year left on his previous deal. Given the success he’s enjoyed in his first two seasons at the helm, there’s no way Toronto was going to let him go into the 2020-21 campaign as a lame-duck coach. This was a no-brainer for the organization and well-deserved recognition for the 53-year-old, who has a career record of 111-43 – good for the highest winning percentage in NBA history (.721).

After more than two decades of coaching around the world and in the G League, formally the D-League, and five years of serving as an assistant on Dwane Casey’s Raptors staff, Nurse finally got his first opportunity to lead an NBA team ahead of the 2018-19 season.

In his debut campaign, he became the ninth rookie head coach to guide his team to an NBA title. That’s a tough act to follow, but the sequel was arguably more impressive.

Despite losing the player most responsible for delivering Toronto its first championship – finals MVP Kawhi Leonard – and dealing with a seemingly endless string of injuries, Nurse led the Raptors to an improbable 53-19 record this past season. It was the second-best mark in the NBA and the highest winning percentage (.736) in franchise history, earning him Coach of the Year honours.

One of Nurse’s great qualities, on and off the court, is his adaptability. He’s proven that he can win with different types of teams. Given the unusual circumstances of the recent season, he’s also shown that he can lead through adversity. Regardless of what the future holds for the roster, the Raptors believe Nurse is somebody that can get the most out of it.

“Our confidence in Nick just continues to grow, and part of that comes from what we’ve experienced together,” said Ujiri. “The past two seasons have been unlike any other in our team’s history – first, winning our championship, and then navigating a global pandemic and committing long-term to the fight against racism and for social justice. Nick has proved that he can coach on the court and lead in life, and we’re looking forward to accomplishing great things in the future.”

For the Raptors, much of this off-season will be about setting themselves up for the summer of 2021, when they could have the cap space to chase a big-name free agent in a loaded marketplace that might include reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo. It will influence every move they make over the coming months, at least to some degree.

The Raptors’ Nick Nurse is doing the most orthodox thing of his coaching career — he’s sticking around | The Star

The 53-year-old Nurse got the new deal Tuesday morning, less than a week after the Raptors were eliminated from the playoffs in a gut-wrenching Game 7 loss to the Boston Celtics, and the extension is hardly earth-shattering news or a surprise in any way.

Nurse has compiled a 111-43 record in two regular seasons as the Raptors head coach, his teams are 23-12 in the playoffs (the most post-season victories by any coach in franchise history), and he is the current NBA coach of the year. He has been on the Toronto staff for seven seasons, the most successful stint in franchise history, and the decision to keep him around is a no-brainer.

“Nick has proved that he can coach on the court and lead in life, and we’re looking forward to accomplishing great things in the future,” Raptors president Masai Ujiri said in a statement.

In many ways, Nurse’s unorthodox history prepared him perfectly for two wildly successful and tumultuous years with the Raptors.

He was gifted the sublime talents of Kawhi Leonard in 2018-19 but somehow navigated a “load management” season in which his prized forward rested for 20 of them and coaxed Toronto to the second-best record in the NBA and a title in his first year as an NBA coach.

This past season — when Leonard and Danny Green were ostensibly replaced by Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Stanley Johnson — Nurse managed to get through an injury-ravaged season interrupted by a four-month pandemic-induced hiatus and still get Toronto a 53-19 record, second best in the league. He helped the Raptors get through the tumult of a fight for social justice and against racism and is spearheading a voter-registration drive for Americans living outside the United States.

“Our confidence in Nick just continues to grow, and part of that comes from what we’ve experienced together,” Ujiri said. “The past two seasons have been unlike any other in our team’s history — first, winning our championship, and then navigating a global pandemic and committing long term to the fight against racism and for social justice.”

Nurse’s talents are likely to be tested when the 2020-21 NBA season begins. Three of the team’s top six players — Fred VanVleet, Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol — are unrestricted free agents and may not all be back.

Raptors lock up Nick Nurse with long-term extension | Toronto Sun

It’s a small sample size for sure, but Nurse’s creative approach to the job, his strong relationships with his players and the results made this extension a no-brainer.

“Our confidence in Nick just continues to grow, and part of that comes from what we’ve experienced together,” Raptors’ president Ujiri said in a team statement. “The past two seasons have been unlike any other in our team’s history — first, winning our championship, and then navigating a global pandemic and committing long-term to the fight against racism and for social justice. Nick has proved that he can coach on the court and lead in life, and we’re looking forward to accomplishing great things in the future.”

Of course we’re still waiting on a new contract for Ujiri himself, who will be without a deal at the conclusion of next season.

But this was Nurse’s day and it is one that is well deserved.

“My family and I will always be appreciative of Larry Tanenbaum and MLSE ownership for this opportunity,” Nurse said in a team statement. “I’m grateful to Masai, (GM) Bobby (Webster), and the players for their trust and their hard work,” Nurse said. “Toronto has been my home for the past seven years, and I look forward to it being home for many more. I’ve watched this franchise grow and reach the pinnacle, and I look forward to the challenge of helping us win another championship.”

Nurse and his staff are the perfect blend of win now and develop for the future group. It’s a unique skill set but one Nurse and his lieutenants Adrian Griffin, Sergio Scariola, Jim Saan and long-time confidante Nate Bjorkgren have seemed to perfect.

What Nurse extension means for future of Raptors – Video – TSN

The Raptors announced that they have signed head coach Nick Nurse to a multi-year contract extension. TSN Raptors reporter Josh Lewenberg has more on why the extension came now, and where the franchise will turn it’s attention to next.

Raptors guard Terence Davis named to All-Rookie Second Team – Yahoo!

For the Raptors, this was yet another credit to their scouting department for unearthing yet another diamond in the rough. Davis went undrafted after turning down discount two-way offers by teams in the second round, and first latched on with the Denver Nuggets in summer league. But after just one standout performance with the Nuggets, the Raptors quickly moved to secure Davis on a two-year deal.

There were no expectations for Davis to contribute immediately, but his skillset proved valuable from the start of training camp. Davis’s jumper was much better than advertised, and was ready to step in at a moment’s notice. His first breakout performance came in an upset win over the Los Angeles Lakers, where Davis scored 13 points off the bench to help a shorthanded Raptors side overcome LeBron James and Anthony Davis. In that game, Davis made several key plays in the fourth quarter, including nailing a corner three right in front of the Lakers bench.

He went on to collect a handful of standout performances. Although Davis was inconsistent and not up to par defensively, Davis had a penchant for explosive offensive showings, including in an overtime win in Charlotte where he had 23 points, 11 rebounds, and five assists while coming up with the game-saving stop, or against Chicago where he exploded for 31 points off the bench.

Davis becomes the first Raptor since Jonas Valanciunas to collect All-Rookie honors, and just the 11th player in franchise history to earn that honor.

Terence Davis named to 2019-20 All-Rookie Second Team – Raptors HQ

Even though he slipped from the rotation against the Celtics, Davis was an offensive spark plug through much of the 2019-20 campaign — both before the COVID-19 hiatus and after. Averaging 7.5 points in 16.8 minutes per game, he was the only Raptor to appear in all 72 regular season games in a campaign where injuries ravaged Toronto. His season-high of 31 points came February 2 against Chicago, as he became a de facto third point guard behind Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet in transitional lineups.

Davis — perhaps — should’ve been given a bigger feature role in Toronto’s last series. Those deliberations wouldn’t have been on the table, though, if he hadn’t had such an impactful season.

Some of the Raptors’ most memorable moments came when Davis, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, and Matt Thomas ran out against other teams’ first units and hung in. Given his contract status and where the team is headed, it probably won’t be a one-and-done success for Davis either. We’ll be hearing plenty from him in the years to come.

Toronto Raptors might have to choose between Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet – Sir Charles in Charge

At the very least, he’s looking at a contract that will pay him $15 million per season. And will probably end up signing a contract that will pay him closer to $20 million per season. Will Toronto be the team that gives him that contract?

With the team set to pay Lowry $30-plus million for the 2020-21 season, the final year of his contract, there will be some hesitation. Especially if the team is looking to re-sign Lowry during the 2021 offseason.

Plus, there’s the whole maintaining cap flexibility during the 2021 offseason, which is set to be one of the biggest free-agent periods in recent NBA history. If the Raptors want to keep open as much salary cap space as possible, perhaps signing VanVleet to a long-term, big money deal isn’t the best course of action this summer.

Keep in mind, the Raptors will have to make some re-signings considering they only have seven players under contract heading into next season at the moment. On top of VanVleet, Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka are two other key rotation players that will be free agents this offseason too.

Lowry was the team’s best player in the postseason this season and nearly carried the Raptors to the Eastern Conference Finals as Pascal Siakam struggled mightily against Boston. Quite frankly, moving Lowry would be as cold-blooded of a move as trading DeMar DeRozan a few offseason ago.

One thing we know, though, is that Masai Ujiri isn’t afraid to pull the trigger if he believes it will help his team. Could the Raptors elect to keep VanVleet (at a lower price-point than $30 million per season) and trade Lowry? Possibly, especially if Ujiri sees this offseason as an opportunity to retool the roster on the fly, before chasing Giannis Antetokounmpo next offseason.

Five thoughts recap: On the 2019-20 Toronto Raptors season – Raptors HQ

2. Kyle Lowry’s Victory Lap

We’ll have player reviews coming up in which we’ll get into individual performance, but I can’t write about the 2019-20 season without special mention of Kyle Lowry, can I? He’s my favourite Raptor ever, and I think he’s the greatest Raptor of all time, and it’s been fantastic — and long overdue — to see him finally get the respect and admiration from the U.S. national media this year. Seeing all of his peers tweet about his Game 6 performance was also pretty great!

I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that this team took on his personality, either. If last year’s team took on Kawhi Leonard’s personality — calm and cool, never getting too high or too low — this year’s team is undoubtedly Kyle’s. Gritty, scrappy, doing whatever it takes to win. Exceeding expectations. Coming back after being counted out. Being excellent on defense, but not getting properly recognized for it. It’s Lowry’s team through-and-through.

Considering how much I love Lowry and the way he plays, it’s no surprise, then, that I loved this team so much.

What’s also amazing at this point, looking back on Lowry’s Raptors career, is how much, and how many times, he’s changed his game to suit the needs of the team. He deferred to DeMar DeRozan for most of his early career. He took on a bigger offensive load in 2016-17. He had the ball less in 2017-18 during the “culture reset.” He deferred to Kawhi Leonard in 2018-19. And he was the veteran leader on this team, in many cases deferring to Pascal Siakam but also stepping up his offensive game on cue when needed.

And for this production — 19.5 points, 5.0 rebounds, 7.5 assists in 36 minutes per game — to come at age 34 is amazing.

Build his statue. Retire his jersey. Put him in the Hall of Fame.

But not until we see what else he has left in the tank — and I bet he has plenty.

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