Morning Coffee – Fri, Feb 11

Raptors end the Dragic chapter then win their 8th in a row without VanVleet #lovethisteam

10 Things: With VanVleet out, Trent Jr. leads the way for red-hot Raptors – Sportsnet

Six — It’s becoming routine to see Siakam dominate. He is in such a rhythm where 20-point quarters and halves are just commonplace. Siakam did the bulk of his damage in the second quarter, exploding for 21 points on 9-for-10 shooting in the frame, including a three and two free throws, as he beat the Rockets literally every time down the floor. His post moves would make Rockets legend Hakeem Olajuwon proud, as he sent the current day Rockets swiping at his shadow as he got to the rim, and even towards the end, when the Rockets started to converge on him with double teams at the end of the clock, Siakam was still able to beat the coverage by spinning over his shoulder for a fallaway jumper that caught nothing but net. That push got the Raptors in front, and it kept them there for the rest of the night, even as Siakam’s evening was cut short due to foul trouble. Given the way the Rockets guarded him, Siakam could have gone for 50 in this game if he had a mind to it.

Although aiming higher, Raptors land final piece to Lowry deal with Young trade – Sportsnet

Realistically, however, the Raptors were hoping for more. Adding another 6-foot-9 big who can switch across multiple positions defensively helps marginally. At the very least he’s an upgrade or at least insurance for Khem Birch’s iffy knee and a security blanket for Raptors head coach Nick Nurse when things get tense, and he doesn’t feel like guessing which of Achiuwa or Chris Boucher is least likely to have a brain freeze on a defensive assignment.

But in the weeks leading up to the deadline there was hope — even confidence — they could translate Dragic’s deal and a pick into something that would measurably improve their rapidly improving team.

They don’t need their analytics department to tell them having a bench their head coach doesn’t trust isn’t a formula for long-term success. Every good team the Raptors have had in the Masai Ujiri/Bobby Webster era has been deep; some of them ridiculously so. Norman Powell was the 11th man in Toronto in 2018-19 and 2019-20, was unleashed in 2020-21 and ended up earning a $90-million contract with the Portland Trail Blazers after establishing himself as one of the best shooters in the league.

As an aside: there was a rumour circulating the Raptors had a chance to get back on the Powell train when the Trail Blazers were dangling him last week. It would have cost Toronto Gary Trent Jr., so it was a quick “no” — not that the Raptors were in the market for a contract with four years and $72 million left on it after this season.

But that Powell was eventually moved to the Clippers for what was effectively a second-round pick and an unheralded rookie explains why there was some optimism in the Raptors front office about what Dragic and a pick could bring them.

Like a lot of teams, they had hoped the Atlanta Hawks would look at the reality they are projected to have $33 million tied up in Bogdan Bogdanovich and Kevin Huerter next season and deciding to move Bogdanovich now would make some sense.

He would have been the kind of addition the Raptors would have jumped at, seeing the 29-year-old as short-term and long-term help. But the Hawks never budged, presumably figuring that Bogdanovich can help them this season and will be no less valuable in trade in the summer or beyond.

It was the theme of the week or the day. There were a lot of intriguing players you could see moving or were rumoured to be moved, that never budged.

The Raptors were involved in talks with the New York Knicks and the Los Angeles Lakers on a deal that would have landed the Raptors Nathan Horton-Tucker — a long-armed 21-year-old who’s raw but has promise; the perfect Raptor, in other words — from the Lakers and Nerlens Noel, the — wait for it — super-switchy 6-foot-9 big from the Knicks.

How serious was it? “Mild,” I was told.

Before anyone gets mad about the Raptors not getting anything sexy done, don’t forget the spiralling Lakers — as desperate as any team in the league, at least on paper — didn’t move any of their readily tradeable assets.

Game Recap – Toronto 139, Houston 120: Rockets struggle on defense in loss – The Dream Shake

The game started out with tons of offense and the Rockets pulled out an early lead, scoring 41 points in the first to take a four-point lead. The 41 first quarter points is the second-highest total of the season, and the team shot 76 percent.

Unfortunately, the second quarter is when things began to go downhill for the Rockets, as the Raptors outscored the home team 36-23.

For the Raptors, the scoring barrage was led by Pascal Siakam, who scored 30 points, and Gary Trent Jr., who scored a season-high 42.

The Rockets tried to push their way back into the game, but the Raptors offense was too much for the Rockets to handle.

For the second straight game, Kevin Porter Jr. shined, setting a new season high with 30 points. He led all Rockets in scoring and all five starters finished in double figures.

The starters put the Rockets in the game, but the bench could not keep in the game.

Toronto Raptors Game Recap: Siakam and Trent carry Raptors to 139-120 win in Houston – Raptors HQ

There were moments in this game when the Raptors’ offense ground to a halt, even against Houston’s bottom-ranked defense. As a rule, those stretches coincided with Siakam’s rest pockets. Like clockwork, his return to the floor restored crispness to Toronto’s attack while solidifying things on the other end as well. You’d be hard-pressed to name 10 players who’ve been better in the entire league since the beginning of 2022. He finished with an easy 30 points, three boards and four assists in just 32 minutes of action, albeit it would have been 35 had he not fouled out late.

Without his usual co-star in VanVleet, Siakam was gonna need a little support, and Gary Trent Jr. very much obliged. Squaring off against an opposing backcourt of Jalen Green and Kevin Porter Jr. — a pair of dudes hoping to have GTJ’s sauce one day — Trent poured in 42 points on 15-of-26 shooting, an uncharacterstic portion of which came at the rim or at the free-throw line. I’ll reiterate: the Rockets are very bad at playing defense. After Siakam fouled out and the Rockets vaguely threatened a late game comeback, it was Trent with some timely shotmaking who buried Houston’s chances for good. He also finished with five steals, giving him ten total swipes in the last two nights.

While Siakam and Trent were Toronto’s horses in this one, they weren’t totally alone in their efforts to beat Houston. Their fellow starters OG Anunoby, Scottie Barnes and Precious Achiuwa all ranged from fine to unremarkable, but thanks to a trio of reserves with pop the Raptors survived a rare off night from the collective starting group. Dalano Banton brought a little shimmy and lot of shake over his 20 minutes of action, routinely breaking down a Rockets defense that really didn’t seem to have a clue what to do with his long and graceful strides. Banton filled the sheet with 10 points on 5-of-8 shooting to go along with four boards, three assists and a sterling +17 — tied for second on the team with Chris Boucher (16 points, four offensive rebounds) and Khem Birch, trailing only Malachi Flynn’s +23. With Thad Young on his way to Toronto and likely in the lineup as soon as Saturday night against Denver, it seems some of the team’s fringe rotation guys heard the footsteps on Thursday. Young will probably get run ahead of all of the Raptors bench hands save for Boucher and Achiuwa, but if his arrival boots up the competitive engines for players nine through 15 on the roster, that can only be a good thing.

Flynn’s shotmaking — the skill he’s simply gonna have to bring to the table to stay relevant on this team — was especially impressive in this one. He self-created a three near the end of a possession in thef first half, mosied his way into the paint for an mid-ranger in the fourth, and canned an impossible off balance three in the very late going to help seal the victory. Flynn hasn’t often seized opportunities when they’ve presented themselves this year; it was cool to see him do it on a night where VanVleet was on the sidelines and his ball-handling pop was in demand. He finished with a tidy 8-4-3 with two steals in 22 minutes.

With how deeply unserious the Rockets are, there’s really not too much else to pull from this game as far as tangible takeaways go.

Raptors put away Rockets to stretch winning streak to eight | The Star

Every now and then a defence-optional, old-time shootout is good for the basketball soul.

After an exhausting and full NBA trade deadline day, while fans were still processing the myriad transactions, the Raptors and Houston Rockets provided something fun as a timely distraction.

It might have sent devotees of excellent and intense NBA defence into spasms, but Toronto’s 139-120 victory was entertaining and gave the Raptors an eight-game winning streak.

Gary Trent Jr. and Pascal Siakam, carrying the offensive load with Fred VanVleet in streetclothes nursing a sore left groin, provided most of the highlights, combining for 72 points.

Trent scored 42 — his second 40-plus game as a Raptor — and Siakam had 30 before fouling out with about four minutes left in a dominant performance as the two Raptors scorers almost took turns blistering the Rockets.

“With Freddy VanVleet being out, our all-star, everybody needs to pick up the slack in a sense. Everybody needs to come ready to get a win, so that’s what we did,” Trent said.

“(I) just think with him being out, there’s about 15 or 20 or 10 extra shots that may be out there, so really just being ready. Staying ready to showcase what I work on, showcase that I’m ready.”

The Raptors certainly seemed content to get into a shootout with a Houston team ranked 30th in defence in the 30-team league.

Raptors win streak extends to eight but defensive slippage concerning | Toronto Sun

“You know me, I’m gonna tell you when we’re not ready to go and not into our schemes and coverages,” Nurse said of the poor start. “We just, you know, come out and we blue like four things we were supposed to do right off the bat and that kind of starts a chain reaction and gets them going. I mean, it happens, right, back-to-back you’re always worried about how you’re going to come out and what the energy level and the focus is going to be. And we didn’t have it tonight, but we found it, I thought. We’ve got to search. Sometimes it’s not easy to do sometimes.”

Full credit to a Houston team that can score with the best of them and have a backcourt tandem in Jalen Green and Kevin Porter Jr. that is scary offensively, but this team is statistically the worst defensive team in the NBA, so getting in a back-and-forth ‘they score, you score’ situation just isn’t smart.

That’s how it was for a quarter, but Nurse changed the pace and the Raptors found just enough defence to keep this one in the win column.

Gary Trent Jr. and Pascal Siakam took full advantage of Houston’s disinterest in paying any kind of price defensively and racked up points at a ridiculous pace.

Foul trouble eventually slowed down Siakam as he picked up his fifth with 3:40 to go in the third quarter and had to go to the bench. At that point he already had 28 and he didn’t get back into the action until there were just over six minutes to go in the game and finished with 30 before fouling out with 3:45 to go in the game.

Trent Jr. avoided the foul trouble and ended the night with 42 points, a season-high and just two off his career-high.

With the victory, the Raptors have now won eight in a row and head home for one Saturday against the Denver Nuggets before two more on the road in New Orleans and then Minnesota in advance of the all-star game.

Raptors’ trade deadline acquisition of Thaddeus Young is perfectly reasonable if you stop thinking about Kyle Lowry – The Athletic

Young does not fit in the sense of giving the Raptors an element they were previously missing. He is not a legitimate centre, although he can defend them in a similar manner to Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby and Scottie Barnes. He is not a wing who provides both playmaking and shooting, the type of player which Webster said cost a lot more than the Raptors were willing to pay for on the trade market. He is 33, so while the Raptors acquire his Bird rights, allowing them to go over the salary cap to retain him, it seems unlikely they would need to use them because he should not require more than the midlevel exception, which will be worth approximately $10 million annually.

However, Young gives them a clear upgrade on the minutes that were (or generally, were not) going to Svi Mykhailiuk and Yuta Watanabe, and should allow Nurse to slightly lessen the load on his starters — particularly Siakam and Anunoby. If one of the Raptors’ rotation players, save for Fred VanVleet or Gary Trent Jr., gets injured, Young is a perfect candidate to take on any of their minutes. He was a very solid rotation player as recently as last year, when he averaged 12.1 points, 6.2 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game in just more than 24 minutes per night for Chicago. Stylistically, he has a lot of similarities to Barnes (stylistically, not in terms of overall talent; everyone relax) and possesses enough defensive flexibility to guard a wide swath of frontcourt players.

For this season, he raises the Raptors’ floor, if not their ceiling. He does not upend their aggressive defensive identity, but could serve to enhance it. For the rest of the regular season and the playoffs, the Raptors turned a roster spot from which they were getting nothing to a legitimate rotation piece.

“For us, we’ve followed him for a while,” Webster said. “We’ve made a few attempts to get him via trade in prior years. We felt like this was a good situation where we’re bringing him into Toronto. And we think this is a good situation where he really complements the core. He kind of complements more than tries to substitute what they’re doing. Part of the philosophy for us was maintaining and respecting what this group was doing, and (figuring out) how we can add to it.”

It is a defiantly unsexy move, especially when considering four of the teams around or ahead of them — Cleveland, Brooklyn, Philadelphia and Boston — added starting-level players or more this week. It can be argued that based on the totality of the moves leading up to 3 p.m. on Thursday, the Raptors are more likely to finish in the Play-In Tournament than they were before, which means they are more likely to be giving up something closer to the 16th or 17th pick instead of the 20th, where they are now slotted. (The pick is protected if the Raptors end up in the lottery this year, and is protected through the first 13 picks next year. If it still does not move by then, it will become two second-round picks. In other words, if the Raptors fail to advance to the playoffs proper in both of the next two years, they will keep all of their first-rounders unless they finish with the worst pick in the lottery in 2022-23.)

Raptors Clinch 8th Victory on Trade Deadline Day vs. Rockets – Sports Illustrated

It’s not that the Raptors are better off without Fred VanVleet who was sidelined with left groin soreness he woke up with Thursday morning. That certainly isn’t the case. But when VanVleet is out, Ujiri and Webster get to live out their crazy 6-foot-8 basketball fantasy. When the ball was thrown up Thursday in Houston, Toronto’s starting lineup consisted of five players all between 6-foot-5 and 6-foot-8.

Heck, who needs anything else, the Raptors must think, having traded Goran Dragic and a lottery-protected first-round for Thad Young, you guessed it, a 6-foot-8 forward, and the Detroit Pistons’ 2022 second-round pick. The organization has gone all-in on this philosophy, opting for versatility and switchability over the traditional.

“I think Thad is pretty versatile,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said prior to Toronto’s 139-120 victory over the Rockets, his team’s eighth straight victory. “He’s a pretty good defender and has been around a little bit. He can finish around the basket, drive it, shoot it a bit, especially from the corners. He’s got some experience, which I think comes in handy. I think it proves some depth for us.”

It’s depth at Toronto’s deepest position, if the Raptors even have positions these days. Unable to fill their need for a backup point guard, backup shooting guard, or in the frontcourt, the Raptors opted for a player they’d had their eyes on for years, Webster said, and made Young their lone deadline addition.

On paper, having 11 players between 6-foot-7 and 6-foot-9 most of whom either have some trouble shooting, dribbling, or both is problematic. Frankly, it’s already causing some problems for Toronto who hasn’t been able to find Khem Birch any reliable playing time because of the way Chris Boucher and Precious Achiuwa are playing. But Nurse sees things differently. To him, talent is talent; play your best players and figure the rest out later.

Josh Lewenberg: Raptors’ deadline-day acquisition Young adds depth without disrupting core –

It’s a natural fit, but the deal wasn’t considered a universal slam-dunk.

Unlike last year at this time, when just about everybody on the roster was available at the right price, the Raptors had a narrow focus in terms of what they were willing to do, and what they weren’t. Inquiring teams were told that their starters –VanVleet, Trent, OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam and Scottie Barnes – were off limits. Coming into the deadline as the NBA’s hottest team, having won seven straight games and 16 of their last 22, they had committed to moving forward with their core group intact.

Instead, they were determined to turn Dragic – who had been away from the team since taking a personal leave in late November – and a draft pick or two into some much-needed depth. Toronto ranks last in the NBA in bench scoring, and its starters are all among the league leaders in minutes played.

If they were going to include a first-round pick, the sense was that they would need to add a player that fit both their short and long-term plans. So, some people around the league were surprised to see them part with a first in exchange for a 33-year-old pending unrestricted free agent, who wasn’t playing much and may have wound up hitting the post-deadline buyout market.

On the other hand, Detroit’s second-round pick, which comes back in the deal, will fall in the low-30s. Assuming everything goes to plan for the Raptors and their first-rounder falls in the low-20s, then the difference will be negligible, especially in an underwhelming draft, and especially for a team with Toronto’s scouting prowess.

“That’s the value play here,” Webster said. “You slide a little bit in the draft and you pick up a player that you think is gonna help you. Historically, it’s an area in the draft where we’ve operated in the past and, realistically, we don’t see a ton of incremental change between those picks.”

Specifically, the Raptors didn’t plug any of the most glaring holes in their roster with this move. They still don’t employ a traditional centre, and they could still use some more shooting. Generally speaking, though, they did address their biggest need, adding depth to fortify a core group that this front office feels strongly about, while leaning into what it does best.

The Raptors maxed out the return for Goran Dragic. Thaddeus Young should help, among other benefits | The Star

In dealing Goran Dragic’s expiring contract, worth just over $19 million (U.S.), and a protected first-round draft pick to the San Antonio Spurs for veteran forward Thaddeus Young, Drew Eubanks and a second-round pick that will ultimately come from the Detroit Pistons, the Raptors did what they set out to do ahead of Thursday’s NBA trade deadline.

The immediate return is a veteran who can help rather than supplant any piece of a solid group.

“He kind of complements more than tries to substitute what they’re doing,” Raptors general manager Bobby Webster said of the 33-year-old Young. “Part of the philosophy for us was maintaining and respecting what this group was doing, and (figuring out) how we can add to it.”

The Raptors will waive Eubanks in a move that’s part of the larger picture, to build around the roster that took a seven-game winning streak into Houston on Thursday night.

That is another, not unimportant part of the deal. The Raptors now have a roster spot they can fill in any number of ways, and are far enough under the luxury-tax threshold that they can be active in the buyout market if they want. They could also convert the two-way contract of Justin Champagnie and make him eligible for the playoff roster, but the key point is flexibility.