Morning Coffee – Wed, Jan 18

Raptors drop a winnable game to a Giannisless Bucks | Trade rumours are really heating up

Raptors’ ability to assess Fred VanVleet at NBA trade deadline is crucial: Koreen – The Athletic

VanVleet requires a bunch of untangling: how much he means to the Raptors, what his role is now, how that role might change in the near future, his year-long struggles and how real they are, and, perhaps most complex of all, what his market in free agency might be. If the Raptors decide not to trade him at the deadline, they better be ready to pay up this summer, despite his off year. If they aren’t, they should move him before the trade deadline. The sign-and-trade game, which allowed the Raptors to salvage a return of Precious Achiuwa and Goran Dragić for the departing Kyle Lowry two offseasons ago, is a difficult one to win repeatedly. It requires a level of cooperation from the player and his suitor that you cannot possibly guarantee this far in advance.

As for VanVleet’s market: There are no All-Stars in their primes who are set to become unrestricted free agents this summer. James Harden and Khris Middleton might be available, as could/will high-end role players like Harrison Barnes, Dillon Brooks, Jakob Poeltl and Myles Turner. (We’ll leave Kyrie Irving in his own box, which is probably what he would want, anyway.) Likewise, the top target in restricted free agency will be the likes of Grant Williams and P.J. Washington. All of that should make this an offseason more defined by trades than signings.

If VanVleet were having a good year, he would be in a desirable big fish, small pond situation. He isn’t. Most of the teams who could spend aggressively in free agency this summer, led by San Antonio, Houston, Indiana, Detroit, Orlando and Oklahoma City, are young teams that are very much prioritizing building through the draft and staying flexible. The best version of VanVleet would make some sense with the Magic or Rockets, but it’s not clear that guy is available. More performances like his 33-point outing against New York on Monday would help VanVleet’s case, obviously.

Going back to the end of last year’s All-Star break, VanVleet has played in 55 of the Raptors’ 75 games, including last year’s playoff series. Heading into Tuesday night’s game against Milwaukee, VanVleet was shooting 36.5 percent from the field and 31.7 percent from 3 in those. To the extent that the Raptors’ half-court defence has struggled because of a very fundamental inability to stop primary dribble penetration, VanVleet has been a significant reason, even though he continues to excel defensively in other manners. VanVleet has been battling a series of injuries — knee and hip last year, back and surely more this year — so assuming this is the new baseline for VanVleet is off the mark. That the Raptors’ failed to build the bench in a way that allowed for him to not be near the league lead in minutes per game, again, is damning from a roster construction perspective.

Still, the numbers are what the numbers are, and young teams might be queasy giving VanVleet a long-term contract to be a veteran to help shepherd those groups. When you’re in that stage of team-building, you only get one or two chances to make a splash like that one. You had better get it right.

So, what if VanVleet were to bet on himself again, if only in a different manner? VanVleet still has the player option for next season which he could exercise. Yes, the 2024 free-agent class should be deeper than this year’s. Even if All-Stars and All-NBA candidates like Siakam and Domantas Sabonis sign extensions before then, Jaylen Brown, Anunoby and Dejounte Murray will all be on the market. This far out, it’s hard to know which teams will be able to attack the market then.

It is easy to say the Raptors could just let VanVleet walk in free agency if the price tag is too high, but we have already seen the compounding impact losing rotation players, even ones on the downside of their careers, has had on the Raptors’ depth. For VanVleet, the downside of opting in is obvious: His play doesn’t rebound and he goes into the 2024 offseason a year older and with even less leverage.

Logic would still probably favour him opting out, securing a long-term deal and moving on from there. However, VanVleet knows his body, and he certainly knows the context of his team. Both are impacting his production. If he thinks he has been compromised on both counts, he could focus on getting fully healthy, and put himself in the best position to help the Raptors make another unlikely leap next season, which would help his market. Meanwhile, resting VanVleet liberally down the stretch, despite what those screaming “addition by subtraction” online might think, would help the Raptors lose some games down the stretch. Refresh those lottery standings, baby. (To be clear, the Raptors aren’t ready to do that yet, and likely won’t be until the other side of the All-Star break.)

Inconsistent Raptors can’t find a way to slow down short-handed Bucks – Sportsnet

The Raptors pushed — VanVleet scored three lay-ups and a triple in the minutes after Lopez went out — but they couldn’t get the stops they needed.

Throughout all the discussion and the scenarios regarding the future of the team, there has been one constant message internally — win and everything will take care of itself.

Keep losing? Well, Raptors president Masai Ujiri wasn’t in Paris last weekend seeing French phenom and projected first overall pick Victor Wembanyama so he could pile up some frequent flyer miles.

At least one Raptor who has been widely reported to be on the trade market has seemed to absorb the message or — at the very least — seems determined to do something about it.

VanVleet is not used to having his name rumoured as a potential player on the move but in the midst of sub-par season by his standards and with a chance to be a free agent this summer, the Raptors veteran might as well get used to it.

Is he being traded to Orlando? No. The Magic have the money to sign him in free agency if they want to, although Orlando did have one of its basketball operations staff members on hand in Milwaukee.

Is he going to Phoenix? Hard to see a fit there, either by trade or as a free agent. And would the Dallas Mavericks like to add VanVleet as a replacement for since departed Jalen Brunson?

Sure, but the do the Mavericks have players the Raptors want?

Will there be big deals? Small deals? What about Gary Trent Jr.?

The reality is the Raptors have the means to sign both players, both have done well with Toronto, and neither may have the market in free agency to have their wildest financial dreams come true.

But playing better is the first prerequisite for all concerned.

And whether it’s his back issues getting under control, his determination to quiet some doubters or the urge to — under the bright lights of Madison Square Garden Monday or in a game broadcast on TNT across the U.S. last night — remind people what he’s all about, VanVleet has had some of his strongest games of the season of late.

Milwaukee vs. Toronto: Bucks Close Out Raptors, 130-122 – Brew Hoop

Three Observations
Jrue Holiday continues to be Jrue Holiday.

For the second game in a row, Jrue Holiday tallied 30 points — 37 to be exact. It was the first time this season he’s tallied consecutive games of 30 points and it came when they were the most needed given Antetokounmpo’s absence. It really speaks to just how much he truly means to this team. We’re so accustomed to his defensive stardom but his clutch scoring has started to really become a trend this season — including those nasty step-backs. Whenever his aggressiveness is being displayed like it was last night, it’s a problem for opposing defenses. My, oh my. I think it’s safe to say that he deserves to be an All-Star.

Joe Ingles really has an impact in a variety of ways.

The Aussie continues to be huge for Milwaukee. Not only did he tally 15 points off the bench, but he contributed elsewhere as well. In addition to tallying six rebounds, he racked up eight assists. It really is quite fun to see how he can facilitate the basketball, as it creates a major impact when he’s on that level of his game. Additionally, he can be a pest on the defensive side of the ball, something that Bud praised in his postgame availability. He’ll continue to be an impactful piece to the puzzle for the Bucks moving forward.

It was big how the Bucks didn’t bend following the altercation in the fourth.

You never know how teams may respond when faced with tension and drama like that in the fourth, but the Bucks reacted just as any fan could’ve hoped for. The Raptors had stolen momentum before at times and it seemed as if they were on the brink of doing so yet again following that scuffle. However, instead of coughing up the lead, Jrue Holiday put the team on his shoulders and didn’t disappoint. Fans have to be excited at how Milwaukee refused to fold and instead mustered up the energy needed to preserve the win.

3 takeaways from Milwaukee Bucks’ thrilling 130-122 win over the Raptors

Jrue Holiday was downright masterful in the Milwaukee Bucks’ win over the Toronto Raptors

In Milwaukee’s win over Indiana, Holiday scored what was then a season-high 35 points to propel the Bucks to victory. That season-high did not last long for Holiday, as he proceeded to surpass it the very next night against Toronto in what was an all-around masterful performance.

Scoring-wise, Holiday carried a significant portion of the load for the Bucks. Whether he attacked the rim or did his patented step-back jumper, Holiday was aggressive all night long and notched a new season-high 37 points. Having shot 16-of-26 from the floor, including 5-of-10 from 3-point range, Holiday was in a great groove. In addition to his scoring, the guard impacted the game in a handful of other ways, as he finished with seven assists and six rebounds.

With the contest hanging in the balance, Holiday scored nine points on 4-of-7 shooting in the final frame as he consistently knocked down clutch shot after clutch shot. In addition to his scoring, the guard was impactful on the defensive end, especially when he blocked Fred VanVleet’s shot with a tick over a minute to play.

Holiday has been a man on a mission for the shorthanded Bucks over these past two games. His All-Star case has undoubtedly gained some traction as of late, and with the game creeping closer, Holiday’s odds to make it in are legitimate. At the end of the day, Holiday’s focus is winning, but it would be great to see the guard get recognized for being the All-Star he is.

Recap: Toronto Raptors fall 130-122 to Milwaukee Bucks, VanVleet, Holiday point guard battle – Raptors HQ

The game was nothing like the last time these two teams met, when the Raptors erased a 21-point deficit in the proverbial blink of an eye (OK, about four minutes) to send the game to OT. This one was close most of the night, with neither team pulling away or stringing together consistent stops. Ultimately it was three-point shooting (an impressive 49% for Milwaukee) and free throw shooting (an embarrassing 63% for the Raptors) that made the difference.

Jrue Holiday led the Bucks with 37 points on 16-for-26 shooting, along with six rebounds and seven assists. Grayson Allen and Brook Lopez added 25 and 19, respectively.

Fred VanVleet continues to shake off his slump, at least offensively, posting his second straight 30-plus-point game; he finished with 39 points, nine rebounds and seven assists. Gary Trent added 28, and Pascal Siakam chipped in 23 with nine rebounds.

The game got feisty late in the fourth; with the Bucks leading 113-110, Lopez and Trent got tied up chasing a rebound, and Lopez bizarrely removed Trent’s headband and tossed it aside. That brought O.G. Anunoby into the fray, followed by Joe Ingles and Bobby Portis, and then… Jamaal Magloire? Lopez was acting like a madman, and — after a lengthy video review — justly got tossed; Anunoby and Magloire also got tech’ed up. It did lead to a Bill Kennedy monologue for eternity:

It also led to an opening in the paint for the Raptors; VanVleet used the extra space vacated by Lopez to get to the hoop on consecutive possessions, but the Raptors just couldn’t stop Milwaukee from downtown. Pat Connaughton and Allen threes, sandwiched around a Holiday jumper, gave the Bucks a five-point lead with 3:30 to go; another Holiday there with 2:15 on the clock gave the Bucks a 126-119 lead and the game was over.

Oddly enough, despite playing an OT game just last night, Nick Nurse stuck to a 8-man rotation and didn’t give his starters much of a break. Barnes, Siakam, Trent and VanVleet played 45, 46, 42 and 45 minutes respectively, last night; tonight, they played 37, 40, 43 and 37. It’s no wonder they faded in the second half. Christian Koloko got his second straight DNP-CD, despite a string of solid games recently; Thad Young hasn’t played in ages, Khem Birch is glued to the pine, and Joe Wieskamp — he of the freshly minted second 10-day contract — can’t sniff the floor. On the plus side, Precious Achiuwa continues to round into form; he played 26 minutes and although he was only 4-for-10 from the field, eh played mostly in control and pulled down 7 rebounds.

The Bucks jumped out to an early 18-10 lead, but the Raptors came to life after the ensuing timeout, getting themselves back to within four, 27-23, on a VanVleet jumper.

The first quarter was then momentarily interrupted when the lights flickered, and Nick Nurse jokingly called for the Bucks to get t’ed up. But when the game resumed, it was the Bucks who proceeded to shoot the lights out.

The Raptors closed the gap to two, 30-28, on a Juancho Hernangomez dunk, but then allowed Joe Ingles to walk into two uncontested threes, and Jrue Holiday added another, giving the Bucks a 39-28 lead. One more from George Hill have the Bucks their largest lead, 44-31, before a VanVleet three cut it to 10 after 1.

All told the Bucks finished the first quarter shooting 8-of-10 from downtown, and 67% from the floor overall.

The Raptors entered the second with a weird transitional unit (Trent, Barnes, Anunoby, Achiuwa, and Boucher), but the group brought an energy that was lacking in the first quarter, forcing two turnovers and using an 11-4 run over 2:30 to cut the lead to 3, 48-45. A couple of plays later, a Trent three gave the Raptors the lead, 52-51.

Achiuwa was feeling himself in the frame, dropping two threes (one of them a step-back!) and blocking a Connaughton shot at the rim. His second three broke a 55-55 tie, and the Raptors ran off an 11-3 run (which included threes from VanVleet and Trent) to lead 66-58. VanVleet and Holiday traded layups before the half and the Raps took a 74-67 lead into halftime.

VanVleet scored 22 in the first half on 9-of-14 shooting, including a gorgeous stop-on-a-dime pull-up over Jordan Nwora, and a desperation, shot-clock-beating three over a looming Brook Lopez. O.G. Anunoby, on the other hand, had a rough first half, missing five of his six shots, including a fast break layup that led to a Jrue Holiday dunk the other way.

It’s a Holiday affair as undermanned Bucks outshoot Raptors | The Star

In what was a shootout from the start — Milwaukee had 44 points in the first quarter, Toronto had 74 in the first half — the Bucks pulled away in the final three minutes for a 130-122 victory at the Fiserv Forum.

It was an entertaining offensive night, with Fred VanVleet pouring in 39 points for the Raptors, who made 13 three-pointers on the night. Toronto just got outshot in the final minutes. Milwaukee finished with 19 three pointers on the night, outscoring Toronto by 18 points from beyond the arc.

The Raptors offence is benefiting from the variety of choices the franchise had envisioned since training camp started. The three-point shooting throughout the roster has come around — four different Raptors made a three on Tuesday, five different players made one in Monday’s victory in New York — and the ball movement has been much better.

There are sticky moments, of course, but they are getting more good shots than they got through a lot of the first half of the season.

Not coincidentally, Scottie Barnes emerging as a more assertive factor has played a huge role.

“I think it’s more that he’s decided to play more aggressive,” Nurse said before the game. “That’s good and I think we’re finding he can bring it (up the floor) and be aggressive. We play through him a little bit and kind of let him play pass-first and if that stuff isn’t there, let him be aggressive after that.”

The trouble, and it’s been this way dating back to last season, is that Barnes doesn’t decide often enough to be aggressive for an entire game. He can’t force the issue or dominate the ball nightly but there needs to be a more consistent middle ground.

“We just need him more steady, more consistent, fewer peaks and valleys,” Nurse said.

Barnes continued to display both his traits Tuesday: He was passive at times and dominant at others, not quite finding the right mix. But considering how much he has improved in the last 10 days, baby steps are acceptable.

Barnes had 14 points on 15 shots with five assists Tuesday.

Toronto got 28 from Gary Trent Jr. and 23 from Pascal Siakam but it wasn’t enough to make up for a tough night from O.G. Anunoby, who had five points on 2-for-12 shooting.

“We’re scoring enough most of these games but I think it’s gonna be hard to win giving up 130 (points),” VanVleet said after the game. “I know that’s the way the league is going now, we’ve got to find a way to get stops.”

Raptors Can’t Handle Bucks Shooters Despite 39 From VanVleet – Sports Illustrated Toronto Raptors News, Analysis and More

VanVleet did it from every level against Milwaukee. He refound his groove from behind the arc, nailing crucial three-pointers to stay even with an equally hot Bucks team. In the fourth quarter, when Brook Lopez got ejected, he took advantage of Milwaukee’s suspect interior defense, driving the lane for three straight buckets to pull the Raptors to within two. When the Bucks responded, he came right back down and nailed a crucial three-pointer to keep Toronto within striking distance.

But a clutch three-pointer from Jrue Holiday, some crucial missed offensive opportunities for Toronto down the stretch, and far too many defensive miscues all night proved costly for the Raptors who moved to 20-25.

Milwaukee opened the game red-hot from three-point range. Sure, some of the shots were highly contested, but Toronto’s defense was far too porous in the first quarter as the Bucks racked up 44 points with ease. Holiday and Joe Ingles combined for five of Milwaukee’s eight first-quarter threes. If not for a pair of tough pull-ups from VanVleet and an and-1 finish, things could have gotten really ugly.

Toronto did respond, though, cutting the gap and eventually pulling ahead by as many as nine in the second quarter thanks to some stingier defense and a breakout from Gary Trent Jr. The Raptors’ shooting guard got into his bag of tricks with a reverse layup to open the scoring before nailing a pair of pull-up threes, finishing the second with 14 of his 28 points on the night. Even Precious Achiuwa got into the three-point action, nailing a pair of threes over Lopez who, having clearly read the scouting report, opted to sag off the Raptors’ forward to cut off his drive.

The lead, though, wouldn’t last. Lopez responded with his own trio of three-pointers above the break and Grayson Allen got hot as the shooting onslaught continued for Milwaukee who managed 16-for-29 from three-point range through three quarters. Again, VanVleet did his best to keep Toronto around, first nailing a step-back three in the corner and then working a pick-and-roll with Chris Boucher for another pull-up three.

What VanVleet showed Tuesday is that he’s still got it. No, it won’t be there every night as he battles through the wear and tear of plenty of injuries. But when he’s healthy, he can still be the engine that drives Toronto’s offense.

Raptors starting to look familiar, but still lose to Milwaukee Bucks | Toronto Sun

Not everything though is all the way back to where it was. The defence, particularly in the first quarter looked far too much like it has on occasion while the Raptors were struggling through most of the first half of the year.

It still has a ways to go, the swagger that seemed to go missing at some point in December, feels like its back.

Toronto gave up 44 in the first quarter, a high-water mark for opposing offences this year to a Milwaukee team that was without two of its best scorers in Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton.

That was the major low point for the Raptors evening.

They rallied from that and even took a lead but the game flipped for good after a bit of an inexplicable outburst from Bucks big man Brook Lopez. Lopez, a guy favoured or right at the top of the league players vying for defensive player-of-the-year honours, for reasons only he can explain, locked up Gary Trent Jr. who gives up seven inches and 70 pounds to the Buck’s centre and walked him right into the stands flipping off his headband on the way.

That happened with 6:40 left in the game and brought everyone on the court and coaches from both benches in to break things up as tempers flared. OG Anunoby stepped up for Trent Jr. and addressed Lopez. The Bucks Bobby Portis got involved as well earning the attention of Raptors’ developmental coach Jamaal Magloire who always manages to get involved when tempers flare.

The result of the altercation was a pair of technicals for Lopez, which ended his night, in addition to technical for Anunoby and Magloire.

The Bucks had a three-point lead at that point. The Raptors got that lead down to one but didn’t really threaten after that as the Bucks’ three-point shooting carried them home.

Give Jrue Holiday a ton of credit. Without the other two thirds of the Milwaukee core in the lineup, Holiday was everywhere in this game.

Even playing most of the second half with four fouls, Holiday was his normal dominant defensive self, making life difficult for the Raptors in the halfcourt, while on offence he methodically probed and tested Toronto’s defence before finding the smallest crack and exploiting it for two or three of his 37 points on the night.

VanVleet was right there with him going off for 39 points, nine rebounds and seven assists in the loss, his second monster game in successive nights but just not enough this time.

NBA trade deadline: What Shams is hearing about Jakob Poeltl, John Collins, Fred VanVleet and more – The Athletic

When talking to team officials across the NBA, the Toronto Raptors are the most fascinating franchise to watch before the deadline. At 20-24 and 11th place in the Eastern Conference, the Raptors have underwhelmed at times and have several talented players — Pascal Siakam, O.G. Anunoby, Fred VanVleet and Gary Trent Jr. — whom teams are monitoring. If the Raptors decide to rebuild and prepare to aim for the draft lottery by moving a couple of their key cornerstones, there will be a long list of suitors.

Without a doubt, the Raptors have the full attention of everyone across the NBA.

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