Morning Coffee – Fri, Sep 25

29 mins read
Cover Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Raptors Mailbag Pt 3: Rebuilding, development, free agent strategy and more – The Athletic

If Fred VanVleet, Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol all leave via free agency, should the Raptors look at trading Kyle Lowry and go the rebuild route? Who might be interested? – Joe & Ralph

I think they’d at least have to listen. Look, putting the colder analysis aside, I think it would be difficult to deal Lowry, as much as it may be pragmatic if they expect to take a step back. He means so much to the organization, and that extends beyond just his value on the court (which, by the way, was still pretty immense at age 34). He’s a big part of the culture they’ve built, the winning mentality that permeates every touch-point of the organization, the high-IQ nature of their approach and the leadership dynamic they’ve established. Lowry seemed genuine and profoundly grateful for the past season and evolution into even more of a veteran mentor for his younger teammates. I think losing Lowry would have a pretty negative impact on the growth of Pascal Siakam, Anunoby, Terence Davis II and whoever else comes in.

Now, there’s a price-point on the trade market at which that’s maybe worthwhile. The 2021 draft is shaping up quite nicely, and if a Lowry deal allows the Raptors to slide into the lottery – that’s pretty iffy in the East – and acquire a second lottery pick, maybe they deem their chances at a Cade Cunningham type to add to the Siakam-Anunoby core with 2021 cap space worth it, even if there’s a small percentage chance of that all going according to plan. You could also probably land a roster asset in a Lowry deal, although you’d have to be very careful about making the salary math work in a trade without taking on bad money for 2021-22.

As for the market for Lowry, pretty much every contending team with the salaries to send out would make a call. Even at $31 million at age 35 (in March), Lowry is a nice asset. The fact that his deal expires in time for the robust 2021 market furthers that value, even if it makes him a de facto one-year rental. The issue becomes that most of those teams could only send back packages where the Raptors are taking on long-term money, which might be a non-starter for them.

Raptors report: Nick Nurse wants to continue working with Masai Ujiri – The Athletic

Nurse said the bubble changed some of his practices as a coach. Given that the team was together in a confined space for so long, he had to reassess some of his methods.

“There was some recalibration going on, that’s for sure,” said Nurse, presumably talking about more than just the work of Blake Murphy.

He also thought the bubble, and the pandemic-caused hiatus that necessitated its creation, had a lot to do with the performances of some of the players who struggled. He did not come out and mention Pascal Siakam by name, but he might as well have.

Of course, not all players struggled in the bubble. Some played better than they ever have before. On the Raptors side, it appeared that OG Anunoby took a step toward becoming a more dangerous offensive player to go along with his impressive defensive skills.

“He looked better at the start and at the end of his drives,” Nurse said. “It just looked like he’s getting to be a better player, which is huge. I think experience and time on the floor and time in the league and just having a run on the floor of being healthy certainly helps him there. And just as far as moving forward, he’s super hungry. He’s really starting to dive into some of the technical aspects of his game. He really, really wants to be coached. He really wants to work. Those are all super positive signs, not unlike some of our other guys that have been around coming through being young and as soon as one season is over, they are into their offseason routine and they know they can get better at a lot of things and they are digging in hard on it. And he’s certainly one of those guys, and it’s really exciting for everybody.”

Nurse said he had a similarly positive talk with Terence Davis II, which might surprise some observers. After playing in every regular season game, Davis played in just six of the Raptors’ 10 playoff games, including only three of seven against Boston.

Some of that had to do with the Raptors’ full health, which eluded them before the hiatus, while some of that was simply a result of the shrinking rotation that almost always occurs in the playoffs. Some of it, though, was an indication of a lack of trust from the coaching staff, likely on the defensive side.

“He’s got some specialness to him, to come in and do what he did (during the regular season), and to be able to vault up and take and make shots like he can from where he came from, to be able to drive down the lane and dunk on four people,” Nurse said. “He’s got some specialness to him and that was kinda my message to him. It just takes some time, a little bit of growth and just get better and understand that. I said the same thing about Fred (VanVleet). Fred’s a special guy. He’s got something special inside him, and I was trying to convey that same message to Terence.”

Nick Nurse talks extension with Raptors & reflects on playoffs | Tim and Sid – Sportsnet.ca

Nick Nurse joined Tim and Sid to talk about signing a contract extension as head coach of the Raptors and where he feels the Raptors fell short in the playoffs.

Raptors coach Nick Nurse heads into another uncertain off-season, but at least he has the certainty of knowing where the next cheque is coming from | The Star

“I just literally got off a Zoom call with my staff — it’s not quite time yet, we’re still decompressing — but in a couple weeks, it’s going to be time to get into our off-season development program and start figuring out where our guys are going to be and how we’re going to get to them and make them better,” Nurse said in a wide-ranging half-hour media session Thursday.

But given all he went through this season with the Raptors, dealing with the unknown and rolling with the punches, the 53-year-old should be primed to deal with whatever comes up.

He took a team that suffered no championship hangover to within a last-gasp shot of making it back to the conference final. He managed a roster robbed of two vital championship pieces in Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green and produced the best winning percentage in franchise history. He navigated through a four-month pandemic-induced hiatus, dealt with the emotional fallout of protests against the murders of young Black women and men and the personal strife it caused the men under his leadership.

And, yeah, he had some moments of second-guessing but also a reflection on his apparent ability to handle almost anything

“I’ll be completely honest with you, I’ve had a rough (time) coming out of the season,” he said. “After every loss, when you’re coaching at this level, there’s always many things you would have done differently … so you’re kind of replaying a lot of those things in your head.

“I think that there was a lot of other issues to take on, it was a different leadership, (different) makeup to the season because of COVID, because of Black Lives Matter, because of the bubble.

“There was all kinds of maybe heavier issues to deal with and you kind of just, again, you got to kind of be ready to shift gears and handle those things and open your heart up a little bit and open your mind up a little bit to be able to accept some of those things are happening and try to open your ears up in the end and listen and communicate with people.”

Being adaptable could be vital, given the changes that may be coming.

Toronto Raptors coach Nick Nurse sets roots with long-term deal in place – ESPN

Nurse said he is a little concerned about Ujiri’s future, if only because he enjoys working with both Ujiri and Webster and wants to see that partnership continue.

“Yeah, for sure,” Nurse said when asked if he was concerned about Ujiri’s contract situation. “We’ve been together, Bobby, Masai and I, for seven years now. Only a real close working relationship for two, since I became a head coach, and we feel like a team. We feel like a team that leads the organization. So yeah, there’s a little concern.

“I was never concerned that they were not going to get a deal done for me. I feel the same way about Bobby and the same for Masai. If something changes, we’ll do the best we can. If it changes, it will probably be for a good reason for somebody or a better reason. If not, we’ll just keep working together.”

Someone whom Nurse hopes he won’t be working with is Nate Bjorkgren, his longtime assistant coach in the G League and with the Raptors. Nurse said Bjorkgren had a Zoom interview with the Indiana Pacers for their head-coaching position and is going to interview with the team in person.

“When you’ve got a successful organization, people are going to look at ’em and see if there’s some people they can pick off and go from there,” Nurse said. “So you know my thing is, from a player standpoint and from a staff standpoint, I’m always trying to help everybody reach their ultimate goals and will do everything I can to help those guys.”

Nick Nurse eager to look ahead to Raptors’ next season after extension – Sportsnet.ca

It was hardly a contentious negotiation. The Raptors wanted Nurse back after watching the former assistant lead the Raptors to an NBA title in 2019 and set a franchise record for winning percentage the following season, and Nurse was eager to stay.

“I mean, I don’t know if it’s a load off my mind or anything,” Nurse said in his first media conference since the deal was announced. “I think obviously, man, I love being here and love the job and there’s nothing not to love, man. I think it was just pretty much it was time to renew a contract and that’s what we did. It was really, really easy, you know?”

But not everything else is, or will be.

Nurse said he was still decompressing after spending 11 weeks in Florida, including nine weeks in the NBA’s ‘bubble’ on the campus of Walt Disney World Resort, but is already eager to dig into what happened, what went wrong, what went right and what needs to change.

It was a level of soul searching not required last season when the Raptors exit interviews took place during the championship parade.

“I’m certainly trying to evaluate a lot of things,” he said. “And it’s, well, let’s put it this way, when you win at all, like we did a year ago, your summer, you kind of go in there, you’re not very hard on yourself. I mean, the feeling is pretty good … you accomplished what you set out to accomplish. Now, on the other hand, when you don’t? You are kind of hard on yourself,” he said.

“I mean, I’ll be completely honest with you, I’ve had a rough [time] coming out of the season. And I think we’re good enough to still be playing. And after every loss, when you’re coaching at this level, there’s always many things you would have done differently, you know, many things. So you’re kind of replaying a lot of those things in your head.”

Raptors’ Nurse needs some time to decompress before ramping things back up
But unlike any other year, looking ahead means accepting that you can’t possibly know what’s next.

How will the Raptors manage their off-season player development program given the pandemic is still in full force and the U.S.-Canadian border is largely closed?

Who will be managing the player development program, given the Raptors success has meant that Nurse’s coaching staff is being targeted by other teams looking to gain the ingredients to Toronto’s special sauce. Nurse’s right-hand man, Nate Bjorkgren, is short-listed for the Indiana Pacers head job, Adrian Griffin is being linked to the Oklahoma City Thunder and Sergio Scariolo has the kind of resume that could get him a head coaching job in Europe with the snap of a finger.

When will the training camp start?

Nurse, Raptors dealing with off-season like no other as uncertainty reigns | Toronto Sun

Nurse doesn’t even know which members of his coaching staff will return with him whenever they get the go-ahead to start camp. Nurse confirmed that one of his top assistant coaches, close friend Nate Bjorkgren was a finalist for the Indiana Pacers job that became available when Nate McMillan was fired. Nurse said Bjorkgren will do an in-person interview with the club (former all-star Chauncey Billups) and veteran coach Mike D’Antoni have been considered the front-runners). Lead Raptors assistant Adrian Griffin has been connected to several openings, but is the betting favourite to helm the Oklahoma City Thunder, where he was formerly on the coaching staff of Billy Donovan, who left to take over in Chicago.

“When you’ve got a successful organization, people are going to look at ’em and see if there’s some people they can pick off and go from there,” Nurse said.

Nurse said he had good exit interviews with a number of the club’s youngsters, including OG Anunoby and Terence Davis and raved about point guard Fred VanVleet, but he also knows that there is no roster certainty. VanVleet and top centres Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka are all unrestricted free agents, with no guarantees each — or any — of those key players will be Raptors next season.

And while Nurse knows that general manager Bobby Webster will be sticking around long-term with him in Toronto (president Masai Ujiri said Webster was close to inking a new deal of his own), but not if Ujiri will stay longer than the lone year remaining on his own contract.

Nurse confident Ujiri and Webster will re-sign with Raps: ‘We feel like a team’ – Video – TSN

After he signed a new contract extension with the Raptors last week, Nick Nurse spoke on Thursday about the possibility of GM Bobby Webster and President Masai Ujiri signing extensions as well.

Nurse still agonizing over Raptors’ Game 7 loss and that’s why you want him as coach | Toronto Sun

Listening to Nurse rehash the playoff run and the season as a whole, his determination to win it all again was evident.

The man lives to coach and he has made the decision that there is no place he would rather do it than in Toronto with the Raptors.

“ For me, I love coaching. I love the whole setup here, everything,” he said on Thursday. “For me, I just want to keep doing it. I want to continue to provide this city and this country with a tremendous amount of energy that they can all get behind and be proud of.

“It means a lot to me that everybody loves (this) team so much and we can go out there and give them, on most nights, something to really be proud of; play hard and look like we’re organized and look like we’re playing together, and all that stuff. I love that part of it. That’s really all I want. I want to keep doing it. I want to do it in a place I want to be with some guys I want to coach and with some people I want to work alongside. There’s so much to be thankful for on all fronts to that.”

But the reason you, Joe Public Raptors fan, wants him here is there is no settling when it comes to Nurse. He’s here to win and anything short of that, in his mind, is a lost season.

Not surprisingly, it’s a trait he shares with his team president Masai Ujiri who, one day soon, barring a how-could-you-say-no-to-this-opportunity landing squarely in his lap, will sign his own extension.

It was Ujiri who made this city believe a title was attainable when he dealt away some coveted assets to bring Kawhi Leonard to Toronto.

Toronto Raptors 2019-20 Player Review: Malcolm Miller lost his 3-pointer, but found his way – Raptors HQ

In retrospect, the best contribution Miller made to the Raptors during the 2019-20 season was actually not an on-court basketball moment at all. It was about politics, and it was relayed via a beautifully written piece published on the team’s home site. The article’s title — Bigger Than Basketball — sets that stage for Miller, writing in the wake of the league’s brief labour-led shutdown in response to the shooting of Jacob Blake. In it, he begins by discussing his parents, particularly his father, and the impact their political lives had on him as he grew up. He also discusses the virulent role racism has played in his life, how it has shaped him and our world — and how it never seems to go away.

Miller, like many of us, admits to now being more politically engaged as he’s grown older and watched the world turn over the past few years. In the piece, he talks about trying to do his part in the struggle against racism and in support of social justice. It’s the kind of development we don’t often consider when thinking about NBA players (or, perhaps, ourselves). We want to see them refine their jump shot, get better at play-making, or learn some new dribble moves so as to get to the rim with ease. Any sort of inner growth is taken for granted, as if it doesn’t actually matter for a basketball player to figure out his place in the broader world as long as he gets better on the court.

That’s why it continues to be difficult to write negative things about Miller. If this is indeed his last season in Toronto, he’ll have come and gone as a changed man, someone who has grown and developed in ways we’ll never really understand. In considering this, we have to ask ourselves how we’ve change in that time.

And we have to acknowledge something else: Miller’s 2019-20 season was a success.

Toronto Raptors 2019-20 Player Review: The Lost Season of Stanley Johnson – Raptors HQ

Feel-good game-winners aside, Johnson’s first season with the Raptors has to be considered a failure; he didn’t live up to his reputation as a defensive specialist, and he didn’t take advantage of the Raptors’ development program to hone his offensive game. At this point in his career, he hasn’t lived up to his draft position, either.

Johnson is likely going be back with the team next season; the second year of his contract is a player option, and unless he really wants to get out and play somewhere else, I can’t imagine him opting out.

So the question then is, what role does Johnson play next season? Was that mini-flurry at the end of the Bubble something to build off of? It seems unlikely that Hollis-Jefferson will be back, so the Raptors do have a hole in the forward rotation that Johnson could conceivably fill.

If Johnson takes what he now knows about succeeding in the Raptors’ system, watches a ton of film, and works at learning the schemes and improving his positioning this offseason, he might have a chance. Nick Nurse seems like an open-minded guy, so I don’t think he’s closed the book on Johnson, but I also think it’s safe to say Johnson has a lot of work to do. I’m rooting for him, but I wouldn’t bet money on his role next year being any different.

Send me any Raptors related content that I may have missed; [email protected]

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