I wanted my #ThroughMyEyes NFT collection to be a gift to my fans.
A big part of that was collaborating with a great Canadian artist & fan, #CorbinPortillo.
Check out all 7 pieces here: https://t.co/Tsk1mHUPMC
— Kyle Lowry (@Klow7) June 27, 2021
A 2-8 start exposed the holes in Toronto’s roster off-season building and how difficult it would be to replace the production and reliability of Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol. There was also a steep drop-off in bench talent from last season to this one, with players like Terence Davis and Matt Thomas ending up on the periphery of Nick Nurse’s rotations before being shipped out at the trade deadline.
Give Kyle Lowry credit where it’s due: his numbers were at their best this season when the roster was at its worst. He worked his tail off to try to turn around that abysmal start, notching double-doubles in Toronto’s first two games and marking at least 15 points, five rebounds and five assists in five of the team’s first ten games. The highlight was a 24-point, nine-rebound and six-assist performance in a loss to the Suns.
Lowry’s inability to accept mediocrity was written all over these games, as he played all the standards of his annoyed temperament. His minutes went up, he drew charges (fourth in the NBA with 20), he tried to squeeze winning plays out of a frustrating roster — even during all those games where it escaped Toronto by one or two possessions.
A tight rotation turned the pressure up even more, which eventually caught up to him in a compressed schedule. Just as the Raptors were climbing back to .500, the pandemic hit hard, as much of the coaching staff, Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet, and others missed time in health and safety protocols. Carrying more of the team’s production and seeing his numbers improve again, Lowry ended up injured — a right foot infection — which resulted in him missing 18 of the team’s last 25 games.
Don’t get it twisted, though, before the Raptors season was truly derailed when they were forced to play through a significant COVID-19 outbreak — Lowry was the driving force in leading the team, while pushing their success back close to the .500 mark. After the playoffs became out of reach, Lowry’s role diminished and his rest days started to rack up. He still had time for one incredible moment, though.
Six-time NBA All-Star, Kyle Lowry, comes together with Canadian illustrator and digital artist, Corbs (Corbin Portillo), to collaborate on a unique NFT collection centered around the 2019 Championship Parade. “Through My Eyes” seamlessly weaves Corbs’ signature colourful surrealism with Kyle’s thoughtful reflections of seven defining moments throughout parade day to create this seven piece collection.
Golden State assured itself of an additional first-round pick when Minnesota failed to land in the top three on lottery night. The Warriors now have the seventh and 14th picks plus last year’s second overall pick, James Wiseman, and there is a widespread expectation that the Warriors will use No. 7 and Wiseman, in particular, to seek more immediate upgrades to the roster. One name to watch: Pascal Siakam.
Speaking of the Raptors, Toronto was the other big winner from the lottery, moving up to the fourth spot from their expected seventh position and, as a result, cashing in on a fairly brazen late-season tankathon that saw them drop 10 of their final 11 games while the Bulls and Pelicans of the world chased the Play-In Tournament. The Raptors could take their good fortune in a variety of directions, and in particular, this may make it easier to move on from 35-year-old free-agent guard Kyle Lowry.
Moving up to the fourth spot does impact Toronto’s cap room a bit, since the cap hold for the fourth pick is greater, but minus Lowry, the Raptors can still generate $20 million in cap room — enough to target another good young player to build around the fourth pick, Fred VanVleet and OG Anunoby. Leagues sources also widely expect Gary Trent Jr. to return to Toronto, given that his minuscule $2.2 million cap hold has negligible impact on the Raptors’ space.
There are six players on the roster who played for Canada in Mexico City when they lost a spot in the 2016 Olympics to underdog Venezuela on free throws with the clock expired, but Canada’s coaching staff has completely turned over since then.
Joseph is the lone player on the roster from the 2019 World Cup, the only time Nurse has coached the team.
Some of the players he will be relying on – Luguentz Dort of the Oklahoma City Thunder; Nickeil Alexander-Walker of the New Orleans Pelicans and Trey Lyles of the San Antonio Spurs – have never played a senior game for Canada.
Others – Mychal Mulder of the Golden State Warriors or R.J. Barrett of the New York Knicks – have never played a meaningful one.
Their only ‘game’ coming into the tournament was against Canada’s U-19 team. The competition in Victoria will be a big step up from that, as talented as Canada’s youth teams are these days.
Oddly, that might work in their favour, too.
“We haven’t been able to scout them, they haven’t played any games,” said Pitino. “We’ve played three friendly games and they have not played any games so we’re going into this a little bit blind in terms of scouting what they do.
“We certainly know their talent, we certainly know that their coach is outstanding, but we don’t know what they’re going to run offensively, defensively as scheme. We can just go from the Toronto Raptors or from other past Canadian teams but I don’t think that’s much of a help.”
There’s no way anyone would prefer to head into a tournament this short – it only takes four games to win it; but you can lose it in two — and with this much on the line and without having some kind of exhibition schedule, but between COVID protocols and border restrictions, this is how it had to be.
They’ll have to figure it out.
“I think that I’m happy with how the team came together in the end,” said Nurse. “I think it’s pieced together well. I think that there’s some really committed, passionate guys along with talent. I think there’s a deep team here. I think there’s some guys that play really specific roles and play those roles well, you know, that’s what makes a team a team.
“They’ve really practiced hard and well. I think they’ve been super-focused. No games or prep games or anything like that, so we’re gonna find out a lot more tomorrow about who we are and who we can become. But very pleased with where we are sitting here today.”
It’s how that will feel on Sunday after – hopefully – the tournament final that will matter most.
Finally – a year delayed – we have a six day, six-team drag race where Canada’s basketball past, present and future are hurtling in the same direction. The only option is to crash or win.
Winning would mean a berth in the Olympics. Winning would mean the ‘golden era of Canadian basketball’ could finally start.
“Obviously, Canada is the favourite of this group in my mind,” said Czech Republic captain and Chicago Bulls guard , who is one of the five NBA players that won’t be wearing Canada’s white and red. “When you put them on paper I would say they are the second-best team in the world, if you just go by names.”
But it’s never that simple. Twenty-one Canadian players appeared in at least one NBA game this past season. Outside of the United States, Canada was the most represented country in the league for the seventh consecutive year. However, for all that young up-and-coming talent, for all the promise and excitement surrounding basketball north of the border, it has yet to translate on the world stage.
Canada hasn’t been to the Olympics for men’s basketball since 2000. They currently sit 21st in FIBA’s world rankings.
“I don’t feel like we’re the [favourites] because, I mean, in my mind, we haven’t done anything yet,” said Joseph, who has participated in 11 FIBA tournaments with Canada dating back to 2008, when he made his national team debut with the junior team. “Yes, we have a talented group of players, but we got to put it all together. We’ve got to be a team out there and go get the job done. We’ve had talented groups before.”
If this is in fact the most talented Canadian basketball roster ever, the team they put together for the 2015 FIBA Americas Championship – which also included eight NBA players – would be a close second. That team was, and still remains, an instructive reminder that talent is important at these events but it’s not everything; it only takes you so far.
That tournament served as the qualifier for the 2016 Olympics. The two finalists would punch their ticket to Rio.
Canada swept its four-game tune-up in Puerto Rico, claiming the Tuto Marchand Continental Cup, and was steamrolling its way through the competition in Mexico City. It won seven of eight games in the preliminary round, six of them by at least 20 points, including 37 and 42-point victories.
Then came the game that actually mattered, a semi-finals date with a Venezuelan team it had just defeated by 20 points, and Canada fell apart. Turnovers, missed shots and an overall lack of physicality gave way to a controversial call at the buzzer. The result was a one-point loss, one of the most devastating moments in the program’s history. It cost them a trip to the Olympics.
Without an NBA player on its roster, Venezuela had a fraction of Canada’s talent. What it did have was chemistry – a product of more experience together – and greater familiarity and comfort with the international game, which is different from the NBA game in its rules and the way its officiated.
“We definitely remember it,” said Joseph, one of six holdovers from that 2015 club, along with Wiggins, Powell, Nicholson, Bennett and Aaron Doornekamp. “I think we’re all at different points individually now and I think we’re all different players now, but we definitely remember it and it still stings.”
“I don’t feel like we’re the hunted because, in my mind, we haven’t done anything yet,” veteran point guard Cory Joseph said Monday. “Yes, we have a talented group of players but we’ve got to put it all together. I know we’ve got to be a team out there and go get the job done.”
Canada released a 12-man roster chalk full of NBAers and with a seemingly wonderful mix of experience and youth.
Six players — Joseph, Andrew Wiggins, Dwight Powell, Aaron Doornekamp, Anthony Bennett and Andrew Nicholson — return from the team that fell agonizingly short of making it to the 2016 Rio Olympics but only Joseph played for Canada at the 2019 FIBA World Cup in China.
It means a passel of senior team newbies — RJ Barrett, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Mychal Mulder, Trey Lyles, Trae Bell-Haynes and Luguentz Dort — are going to have to acclimate themselves immediately to big-time, big-pressure international basketball.
“It’s a little different in tournaments like this when you don’t have that kind of experience and you don’t play under … FIBA rules so that’s going to be one of the challenges presented to them,” Satoranský said.
“But, yeah, they have great names. Most of their NBA guys have a great role on their teams, some of them are stars, so it’s going to be interesting to see how are they able to put the group together and how are they going to be able to perform at home.”
New York Knicks star RJ Barrett is one of six first-timers on the Canadian senior men’s basketball team this week.
That’s the rub. There may be questions of this team’s fit, especially in what is a four-game “season.”
“I think it’s pieced together well,” Canada head coach Nick Nurse said of his roster. “I think that there’s some really committed, passionate guys along with talent. I think there’s a deep team here. I think there’s some guys that play really specific roles and play those roles well. That’s what makes a team a team.