Morning Coffee – Tue, Nov 9

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Cover Photo by Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images

NBA Power Rankings, Week 4: Who are the best teams in the league right now?

This Week: 14
Last Week: 18

Losses to the Cavaliers and Nets over the weekend won’t change the mood in Toronto, thanks to the combination of the five-game winning streak that preceded them, the emergence of rookie Scottie Barnes and the return of Pascal Siakam. What’s clear already is that Toronto is going to be a very uncomfortable opponent on a nightly basis with its size and length across the board. — Bontemps

NBA Power Rankings: Sixers on the rise, Warriors move to contenders tier, what I’m buying or selling for each team – The Athletic

This Week: 17
Last Week: 19

6-5, +2.7 net rating
Weekly slate: Win at Knicks, Win at Wizards, Loss to Cavs, Loss to Nets

Are you buying the Raptors as a problem in the East? While the Toronto Raptors tailed off to finish the week, they recently ran off five straight victories. In a loss to Brooklyn on Sunday, they finally got Pascal Siakam back into the mix and hung tough against the Nets for most of the game. The Raptors are being an absolute terror on defense most nights, and the hope is the presence of Siakam (hopefully a consistent, healthy Siakam) will steady some of the peaks and valleys of their offensive firepower. They’re better than league average in both offense and defense, even with all of the uncertainty within the hierarchy of their rotation waiting for Siakam to return. Get Goran Dragic into the mix, and the Raptors will have some nice scoring off the bench to help complement what Nick Nurse wants them to do.

Verdict: I do buy the Raptors as a problem in the East. Maybe they won’t even make the second round of the playoffs and they’re going to be fighting to avoid the Play-In Tournament. But if they do find their way into the postseason, at worst, they’ll be one of the toughest outs imaginable.

NBA Power Rankings: Red-hot Heat rise to No. 1; Lakers move into top 10; 76ers winning despite key absences – CBSSports.com

This Week: 6
Last Week: 13

Don’t look now, but that’s five wins in a row for the Raptors, including four this week. They were also able to pick up their last two road wins in New York and Washington without rookie Scottie Barnes, who’s averaging 18 points per game. Fred VanVleet, OG Anunoby and Gary Trent Jr. carried the offense while the defense has remained stout.

As Sarver investigation unfolds, Watson has found safe harbour with Raptors – Sportsnet

The Toronto Raptors knew it was coming.

It wasn’t like the leadership group knew the specifics of last week’s explosive ESPN.com story detailing the toxic workplace culture overseen by Phoenix Suns owner Robert Sarver.

They weren’t briefed on the multiple allegations of racist language and misogynist behaviour in an environment so apparently poisoned that one former human resources staff member said employees were cautioned from bringing forward complaints for fear of reprisal.

But the broad strokes?

They knew about them in part because their newly-hired assistant coach, Earl Watson, told them what was looming before he took the job: That he had gone on the record saying that in one instance when he was the head coach of the Suns, Sarver repeatedly used the N-word in the presence of Watson, who is Black and Hispanic.

Being the primary voice in an article that could possibly end up toppling an NBA owner is not always the kind of thing that another team would embrace in a new hire.

When it comes to candidates for assistant coaches, teams are typically spoiled for choice. But Watson – a 13-year NBA veteran with four years coaching experience including parts of three seasons in Phoenix as head coach – is considered one of the best for his ability to see the game and teach in ways that elite players can use.

“[He’s] somebody that’s played and has been around [great] players and I consider Earl like family to me …. and he has a great basketball mind, just talking to him,” said Raptors forward Pascal Siakam, who has worked with Watson in the off-season for several years. “[I’m] just trying to learn anything I can. So, yeah, he’s definitely a plus to us.”

Those qualities aside, there was never any question that Watson’s stance regarding the Suns ownership would be supported internally by the Raptors.

“If anything, we’re going that way [in our support of social justice], we’re not going to shy away from taking on somebody because of that,” was how one person with the Raptors put it.

With the NBA having launched a formal investigation, engaging the same law firm that they used before forcing former Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling to sell the team after video of him using racist language became public, the Raptors – like almost anyone affiliated with the league – aren’t able to comment on the story.

But it was telling that when Watson released a statement about his role in the story coming to light, it was emailed by the team and shared on the Raptors social media channels.

“First of all, he’s a member of our staff. I’ve gotten to know him pretty well over these past few months. I really respect him and his abilities,” said Raptors head coach Nick Nurse on Friday. “This thing is an investigation. I’m sure the league is knee-deep into it. I don’t really have any comments on it specifically other than we’ll support [Watson] as a friend, as a colleague. And our organization will support him for whatever he may need.”

That Watson was the person who spoke on the record, sharing not only the story about Sarver allegedly using the N-word repeatedly, but also how the Suns owner reportedly gave him an ultimatum, demanding he cut ties with Klutch Sports owner Rich Paul or be fired (Watson refused and he was fired after the Suns lost the first three games of the 2017-18 season), wasn’t a surprise to those that know him.

“He’s always stood up for what he thought was right,” said Todd Ramasar, chief executive officer of LifeSports Agency and a former college teammate of Watson’s at UCLA. “In this case, with issues that tie into the bigger conversations about social injustice? No, it didn’t surprise me.”

And Sarver?

Two different people who have multiple dealings with him since he bought the team in 2004 said that the content and tone of the allegations in the story were not out of character for the brash billionaire.

“Was I surprised? No, I wasn’t surprised,” said one person who has regularly done deals with the franchise.

Said another: “I never heard him use that kind of language, but he was just kind of a loose cannon. You’d have meetings with him and the Suns guys would be, ‘Listen, just be prepared, we never know what he’s going to do, we never know what he’s going to say.’

“Sarver stories are almost urban legend in the NBA.”

The Rap-Up: Toronto Raptors Games for November 8-14 – Raptors HQ

Nick Nurse has a problem on his hands.

Don’t worry, it’s a good problem. In fact, it’s a problem that most teams in the NBA would be envious of, especially this week’s opponents.

While the Boston Celtics is relying on 35-year-old Al Horford to provide 30 minutes a game (29.5, to be exact) at a position of need (Celtics rank dead last in opponent’s rebounds), 35-year-old Goran Dragic can’t even get garbage time minutes for the Toronto Raptors.

Tobias Harris is the Sixers’ second-leading scorer (19.8 points per game), playing 33 minutes a game, and ranks 19th in the NBA in Win Shares per 48. One spot behind Harris in 20th is Svi Mihailiuk — who may be out of Nurse’s 10-man rotation soon.

The 7th pick of the 2020 NBA Draft, Killian Hayes, has started eight of Detroit’s first nine games. He’s contributed a grand total of -0.1 Win Shares so far. The 29th pick from that Draft, Malachi Flynn, has only played 29 minutes total and has already given Toronto 0.2 Win Shares.

Consider those three Raptor names listed and you can arguably name two whole lineups that would actually see the floor.

Starters: Fred VanVleet, Gary Trent Jr., OG Anunoby, Scottie Barnes, Pascal Siakam

Bench: Dalano Banton, Yuta Watanabe, Chris Boucher, Precious Achiuwa, Khem Birch

Alright, that was a bit dramatic, as Svi, at the very least, has earned a rotation spot. However, you can see the dilemma that Nurse and his staff face.

Achiuwa has not looked good lately, especially when forcing shots on offense. But do you DNP-CD a player who just had a three-game streak of double-doubles a mere two weeks ago?

With Flynn starting to see minutes again, does Banton return to the original plan of seeing more time with the 905? Dalano’s been a revelation so far and the numbers match the eye test. He’s put together a 17.6 PER with a 61.9 TS%. The NBA player who closely matches those figures is Buddy Hield (17.7 PER, 61.5 TS%).

Deciding who does and doesn’t get reserve minutes are a headache on its own. The starting unit isn’t guaranteed either. On nights like this week (hello Joel Embiid), a traditional centre will be needed. If Birch is called upon, does the NBA’s steals leader (3.1 per game), GTJ, or the Rookie-of-the-Year frontrunner, Barnes, go to the bench?

Nick Nurse has a problem on his hands, indeed. We can only hope that’s the biggest problem he faces this week!

Raptors Star Pascal Siakam Discusses Emotional Offseason – Sports Illustrated

“I think I took that day and one thing I’ve learned throughout my whole career and everything I’ve been through is like nobody is really sorry for you,” he said. “I that’s the thing people say a lot ‘Oh, you got all this money, we don’t care, we don’t care what you go through.'”

“I’ve been through a lot, a fair share of hardships in my life,” he added. “It once against showed me I’m made of something. Just knowing that it’s gonna be tough, but you have to be strong.”

Then came Sunday when Siakam walked out onto the Scotiabank Arena court for the first time this season. He’d tried hard not to make it a big moment, but it was impossible. Toronto’s Open Gym crew followed him from his house to the arena. When public address announcer Herbie Kuhn called out his name in the starting lineup Raptors fans erupted in applause as a smile stretched across Siakam’s face.

“It’s been so long, playing in this arena, and just playing with my teammates and seeing the fans,” Siakam said, “it was a great moment.”

Even on a minutes restriction, Siakam’s return to the lineup was a big difference for Toronto. He roamed freely around the Raptors’ switch-everything defense and he helped move the ball offensively for a team that’s struggled to score in the half-court this season.

“I think it’s just a reminder for the idiots on Twitter, who have got to beat him for the past two years,” Fred VanVleet said. “Like, you have to have some knowledge and some feel and you see him out there and you say, well damn. It’s a reminder. … He’s a special talent.”

It might take a few more games before Siakam is back in his groove again, but Sunday was a huge step forward for a Raptors team that already appears to be heading in the right direction.

It has been a while for the Raptors, but the old Siakam appears to be back | Toronto Sun

“I think just because of the season that we had (it was a train wreck) and I just wanted to go back into the summer, I had so many things I had planned, and it just felt like another blow, like you have to get through surgery, talking about six months, just really tough moment for me and I remember thinking it was the end of the world for me.”

Now, Siakam is not one of those athletes that lost all perspective as soon as that first big contract was signed. He knows he’s talking about an event that was traumatic for him, but in comparison to real world trauma, it’s tiny. He knows that and acknowledges that but it doesn’t change the way he felt in that moment.

“Obviously I know people go through a lot more or a lot more difficult situations, but it was just tough and I was just really sad and devastated,” he said.

Contributing greatly to that was a series of setbacks and issues that over the past season and a half had robbed him of the passion he has for the game in which he makes his living.

It began back on March 10, 2020 when Rudy Gobert tested positive for the Coronavirus prior to a game in Oklahoma City. Siakam and the Raptors were already back in Toronto. Half the team was at launch party for the Nick Nurse Foundation. The other half was at the second annual BasketBowl event in support of Big Brothers and Big Sisters   hosted by teammate Norm Powell.

That night the league shut down in response to the pandemic and the rest of North American society basically followed.

Siakam would spend the bulk of the next   three months in his Toronto condominium, rarely venturing outside for fear of contracting the virus.

Basketball was far from his thoughts.

“I feel like I lost track of time as soon as I got into quarantine,” Siakam said afterwards.

Normally a guy who takes a two-week break at the most in the off-season, Siakam did not shoot a basketball for those three straight months and the effects showed, first in the Bubble.
He was not himself and he became the face and the target of most of the fan disappointment.

It didn’t stop there. After a shortened off-season and a hurry-up schedule were laid out for the 2020-21 season, Siakam returned still not the player he had been before the lockdown and again he bore the brunt of the unhappiness from within the fanbase as that season, when the Raptors called Tampa home, went off the rails almost from the beginning.

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