Morning Coffee – Fri, Feb 3

Siakam robbed of All-Star appearance | Changes is the new buzzy word in the Raptors-sphere | Tank World Order

Thaddeus Young’s impact on Raptors will outlast his tenure in Toronto: Koreen – The Athletic

It might be faulty to assume causation, but if you watch the way Achiuwa has played lately, quickly moving the ball into the next action if a driving lane or obvious shot is not there for him, perhaps some of Young’s game is impacting the emerging forward. Achiuwa tended to do too much in the initial part of his Raptors tenure, and now, if anything, he’s passing up too many shots rather than forcing them.

“I think that’s a work in progress a little bit. He’s great,” Nurse said of Young’s messages getting through to the young Raptors. “He really tries to communicate with those guys. But as in a lot of learning and teaching situations, the message has to be delivered a lot of ways and a lot of times.”

“Big time vet. Been in the league a long time, and we’re just trying to learn from him as much as we can,” Achiuwa said.

He’s not the only one. Young has been in Christian Koloko’s ear, too. The Raptors selected Koloko with the pick they received in that trade. His defensive potential is obvious, but his offensive game is rudimentary. He is largely a screen-and-dive big man, although Nick Nurse said they will look to get him to popping out for the occasional jumper in the next little while.

Koloko just got back from a G League stint to get him some game action. He had nine blocks and 28 rebounds in 61 minutes, which is mostly what the Raptors are looking for. He also had nine turnovers, which tells you how much more Koloko touched the ball with Raptors 905 than the big club, and how far he has to go to be able to integrate himself beyond his current role.

“The (G League games) are really important,” Koloko said. I haven’t been playing those last couple of games, so having those extra minutes helps me be in shape. Stay ready for the moment they call my name.”

It is fine if Koloko fills a very narrow role for most of his career. That isn’t how the Raptors typically develop players, though. At the very least, they’ll want him to have some break-glass-in-case-of-emergency skills.

Maybe that is where Young comes in.

“It’s all worked out in my favour just because I did have a dad who actually played basketball,” Young said. His father, Felton, played for Jacksonville University and was drafted in the eighth round by the Buffalo Braves in 1978. “He used to teach me all different things. ‘Just set him up. You don’t have to take many dribbles. You don’t have to beat a guy up. Just bump, bump and get to your move before you can jump.’ Just small stuff like that, that’s what I’m talking to Christian about. You don’t have to do a ton of moves. All you have to do is use your length, use your shoulder, bang him twice, turn around and throw your hook, either hand, and it’s going to work.

“My biggest thing is incorporating my knowledge to some of the guys, just helping them and passing the game forward. Guys are getting better. I’m seeing the progress. I’m happy with the progress our young guys are having. I’m happy to be a part of what we’re doing.”

That stuff matters, whether or not we see it.

Raptors Insider: Masai Ujiri could retool at NBA trade deadline | The Star

Think about it this way. When Ujiri returned to Toronto in 2013 to become the Raptors general manager, he had an intriguing but struggling group of Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan and Rudy Gay. All good players, but a threesome that just didn’t work because there was duplication of talent and their roles could not be clearly defined.

So Ujiri moved Gay to Sacramento for an uninspiring group of backups that somehow helped the Raptors blossom and set them on the path that would ultimately end with the 2019 championship. He didn’t hit the lottery with a group of all-stars coming back but he got veteran players, pieces the team needed, and it was a major first step.

Is this time around really that much different? Aren’t players like O.G. Anunoby, Precious Achiuwa, Thad Young, Otto Porter and Chris Boucher alike enough that it’s just muddling the issue?

“It’s about balance,” one Raptors source said this week when roster construction was the topic of conversation. “We don’t need all-stars.”

It would be wise for Ujiri and Bobby Webster to move one or two players — and it really doesn’t matter a ton who it is — to make a deal to add bits, not names. See if the group that remains can work because, for whatever reason, this collection doesn’t work.

There’s no one person to blame. A large set of unrelated circumstances has led the team to where it is today. But the lessons have been learned and are obvious: This can be a good team at times but something just feels off.

And as they go into this final pre-deadline week, adding complementary players and draft picks makes more sense than hitting a home run. So maybe the chatter around the likes of Deandre Ayton, Bojan Bogdanovic, Eric Gordon, Chris Paul and players of that ilk should go on the back burner.

If it doesn’t work? Well, Ujiri was quite willing after the Gay trade to go much further if he had to. If any bits coming back now don’t look promising for the future, he and GM Bobby Webster will have the full summer — and a much deeper pool of trade partners — to continue what they begin in the next seven days.

Lewenberg: Change seems inevitable for Toronto Raptors with trade deadline looming | TSN

If president Masai Ujiri and general manager Bobby Webster are leaning in one direction or the other, they’re not showing their cards. The great thing about having players in high demand, and being so widely identified as a team that could be open for business, is that they haven’t had to make many calls.

Teams are coming to them, they’re listening to offers, and with the exception of reigning Rookie of the Year Scottie Barnes – who remains off limits in trade discussions – everything is on the table, according to sources. There’s no shortage of options to mull over in the next seven days.

Theoretically, every day and every game between now and then could influence their thinking to some degree, but the extent to which their current seven-game West Coast trip might impact the decision-making process has been overstated.

At 23-30, the Raptors find themselves exactly where they didn’t want to be: 12th place in the East, staring up at the conference’s playoff and play-in races. They’re also sixth from the bottom of the standings, giving them an 18.2 per cent chance at a top-two pick if the season ended today. If they didn’t have to consider the future, bottoming out and rolling the dice on a draft class featuring a pair of generational talents might seem more appealing.

But whatever they do or don’t do, next week will be felt beyond this season. These are major franchise-altering decisions and the people tasked with making them won’t do so on a whim.

Ujiri and Webster have had more than half the season to evaluate. After 50-plus games, you are who you are. Despite their promise, which they continue to show in flashes but not nearly consistently enough, they’ve performed like a below-average to average team. A 2-3 record through five games out West only reinforces that assessment.

By this point, Ujiri and Webster have prepared for various scenarios and are starting to formulate a plan of attack, but as they’re unlikely to make any definitive decisions until they have to – by 3 p.m. ET on Feb. 9 – the market could dictate their approach.

With parity in both conferences, there are more perceived buyers than sellers, which is why all eyes are on Toronto and its players, three or four of whom would be among the best available. But just because they can swing the balance of power in the league doesn’t mean they should or that they will. Aspiring contenders salivating at the possibility of adding Pascal Siakam, O.G. Anunoby or Fred VanVleet for the stretch run might be disappointed.

This Raptors front office has never been one to feel backed into a corner, rushed or compelled to operate on somebody else’s timeline; that’s why Ujiri is known to detest the trade deadline. He’s been patient, opting to stand pat at this time last year and then again over the summer, allowing this young core to grow together. In a decade at the helm of the franchise, he’s given his teams, players and coaches the chance to determine their own fate. He’s also shown the willingness to step in and make a change when the situation has called for it.

Change seems inevitable in some form or another. Not only has this group fallen short of expectations, they’re also about to become expensive, with almost the entire core due for new contracts or extensions over the next couple years. As it stands, this isn’t a team that’s worth making luxury tax payments for, so something’s got to give. But is now the right time?

NBA Trade Targets: 4 potential destinations for Raptors’ VanVleet – Sportsnet

Fred VanVleet is a player interlinked with the philosophies that define the Toronto Raptors: Grittiness, toughness, a lunch-pail and hardhat mentality and the determination to bet on yourself. His presence has defined much of what the Raptors pride themselves on.

More than a holdover from the We The North era, VanVleet has made the Raptors in large part his team — from his developmental years in the G-League, to becoming a key sixth man during the 2019 NBA championship run, to then finally finding his spot in the starting lineup alongside Kyle Lowry. Despite inconsistencies in his play, VanVleet has been a steady presence in Toronto.

Fast forward to 2022-23 and an underperforming Raptors team. This squad should be, on paper, better than what it is now. That’s lead to a conundrum of sorts, with the franchise having to decide which direction it should go: tear it apart or stick with this core. The decision on VanVleet will show which path they choose in many ways.

VanVleet, 28, is likely to become a free agent this summer by declining his $22.8-million player option for next season. Though rumours were floated around (and promptly denied) about the all-star guard and front office discussing an extension last offseason, talk of him staying in Toronto has died down as the NBA trade deadline looms on Feb. 9.

After firing his agent last week, reports circulated linking the guard with Klutch Sports ahead of his impending free agency, likely furthering the narrative that he’s set to test the waters — which would be a not-so-surprising move for a player whose mantra is to bet on himself.

Though VanVleet has turned it up in his last nine games — averaging 26.6 points, 7.9 assists and 2.9 steals + blocks per game — his story this season has been one of inconsistency. During this stretch, he has been knocking down threes at a 41.0 per cent clip. He also locked down his first triple-double of the year on Wednesday against the Utah Jazz with a 34/12/10 performance.

Despite the up-and-down season, the value VanVleet could bring to any team is clear: championship pedigree, leadership, and — when looking at the more tangible factors of his game — a microwave scorer with the ability to be a floor general.

If the Raptors choose to keep the Rockford, Ill. native and sign him to an extension, they retain a player synonymous with this era of Toronto basketball. He’s a player who, even on off-shooting nights, can help guide the team with his playmaking and nose-to-the-grindstone defensive hustle.

However, if the team decides to move on from VanVleet, there will be no shortage of suitors lining up for his services. Whether he’s the last piece for a contending team or a veteran presence for a squad on the rise, he’s a player that can fit in any scheme and make an impact.

NBA All-Star 2023: Toronto Raptors Pascal Siakam snubbed as reserve – Raptors HQ

Siakam remains an excellent defender and although his three-point shooting is still below-average, every other aspect of his offensive game has evolved and he’s a threat from multiple spots on the floor, shooting, spinning, posting up, or passing.

All of which is to say — despite the Raptors’ subpar record, Siakam deserves to be an All-Star, and the coaches got this one dead wrong.

Named as Eastern Conference reserves instead were Joel Embiid, Jaylen Brown, Bam Adebayo, Jrue Holiday, DeMar DeRozan, Tyrese Haliburton and Julius Randle. Clearly, the Raptors’ record is a factor here, but I don’t believe there’s any way you can suggest Randle or Holiday or Adebayo, or even DeRozan (love you DeMar) are having better individual seasons than Siakam.

All told, this season has been a waste for the Raptors and this just a drop in the bucket of awfulness Raps fans have withstood. And with the trade deadline coming and another 30 games to play, there are surely more indignities to come.

Stars not aligning for Raptors’ Pascal Siakam | The Star

Siakam’s leading the league in minutes per game for the second season running. In the 34 games since he returned from missing 10 games to a groin injury in late November, he’s played more total minutes than anybody in the NBA. Teammates Scottie Barnes and Fred VanVleet have played the fourth-most and sixth-most total minutes in the league over that span, respectively.

And in the case of Siakam, the league-topping workload appears to be coming at a cost. The same player who posted a towering 28.3 points a game in December averaged an underwhelming 22.4 points a game in January. The same player whose lively legs put the oomph behind a tidy 59-per-cent true shooting percentage in December looked to be labouring at times in putting up a 54-per-cent true shooting percentage in January. The December numbers inserted Siakam into the all-star conversation. The January ones, plus his team’s poor results, ultimately ruled him out.

Maybe it’s just a tough month and a subpar game on the first day of February in Wednesday’s loss in Utah. Or maybe this is a guy who could sorely use a few lazy days spent lying on a beach. There are those who’d point the finger at Toronto coach Nick Nurse for running his best players ragged. Nurse, of course, could probably make a counter-case that he’s been dealt a roster without sufficient options to do much else. In the lead-up to Wednesday’s loss in Utah, Nurse cast a longing eye toward what he saw as enviable depth in the opponents’ locker room — and the Jazz, it’s worth remembering, are a team that was allegedly rebuilding after trading star players Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell.

“One of the comments the (Toronto) coaches made this morning is there are 12, 13 guys (on the Utah roster) who all can go out there and you’ve got to prepare for,” Nurse said of the Jazz before the game. “They’re pretty talented, for sure.”

Beyond the top handful of players, nobody is saying the same thing about Toronto. Not that anybody in Raptorland will be happy to see an All-Star Game without a Raptor involved (unless, of course, you count the spirit of DeMar DeRozan, now a Chicago Bull, who was named to the Eastern squad for the second consecutive season, and the fifth time overall, on Thursday). Scottie Barnes has been selected to participate in the NBA Rising Stars game. But if you exempt the Tampa tank year of 2021, this’ll be the first time in a decade that the Raptors haven’t had a representative in the feature event of the league’s annual weekend celebration of excellence.

Seen another way, mind you, this is the third straight year the Raptors won’t be represented in an all-star starting lineup. When Siakam was named an Eastern starter in 2020, it marked the sixth straight All-Star Game in which a Raptor was on the court for the opening tip. In 2015 and 2016, it was Kyle Lowry. In 2017 and 2018, it was DeRozan. In 2019, Leonard had taken DeRozan’s place. And in the post-title glow of 2020, with Leonard starting for the West, it was Siakam offering hope that he could be the central character of another compelling chapter in franchise history. As much as Siakam made headlines in the lead-up to this season for declaring his intention of being a “top-five player” in the NBA, back in 2020 he was thinking even bigger. On the occasion of his first (and still only) all-star nod, he spoke of aspiring to be the league’s most valuable player.

“To be honest, I see more championships, I see MVP, I see so much more that I can accomplish,” Siakam said in 2020. “There’s no reason to be satisfied.”

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