Morning Coffee – Fri, Jul 14

Murray and Shai will lead the Canada Mens Basketball to the promised land | Siakam smoke | Masai wasn't ready on draft night | Barnes, salary, and picks for Dame?

Raptors Insider: Pascal Siakam trade rumours idle talk for now | The Star

The thing is, at the moment, there is far more smoke than fire.

After five days of running into team officials of every level in Las Vegas, one thing is apparent: There really is no “latest” to the Siakam situation that has percolating for weeks. The Raptors will move him if they get a good offer. They haven’t.

Siakam has not been to the Summer League games yet but neither has Gary Trent Jr. It’s not as if all veterans show up to hold hands around a campfire and sing songs with their new, younger teammates. They stop by for a couple of days, say hello, work out, maybe catch a game or have dinner and hang out.

Teams would love to have every one of importance there every day. That never happens.

Scottie Barnes was in and out, so was Malachi Flynn. O.G. Anunoby hung around for a good long while, as did Chris Boucher and Christian Koloko. Jalen McDaniels and Dennis Schröder stopped by. So did Jakob Poeltl.

Siakam hadn’t been there when I left. Neither had Trent.

A big deal? No. A small deal? Probably not. But neither have contracts after next year so there’s no telling how they feel.

But that’s minutia, according to a few people who chatted last weekend.

The Siakam saga has really not changed. He’d like to not be traded; the team is willing to move him in the right circumstances.

If part of the reason they’re even considering a move is because the NBA’s extra punitive luxury tax — a hard cap that’s not called a hard cap — is scary with the future contracts of Anunoby and Barnes, there is little chance they would take on big, long-term money.

If part of the reason for a move is to address a roster imbalance — they’re right back at six viable starters and too many non-shooting forwards — the specific need of backcourt ball-handling and depth would limit the teams they could talk to.

What many executives and scouts of other teams are most perplexed about is what the Raptors are going to do and when. They wonder if team president Masai Ujiri and GM Bobby Webster have a big master plan they want to put into place, and there’s some mocking of the Raptors because it’s not apparent.

Which, frankly, is what the Raptors want. They do things at their own pace and keep their thoughts to themselves.

Sure, it leads to all kinds of speculation and there’s frustration among rival executives. It’s hard to imagine Ujiri and Webster caring about what others think or want.

The prevailing attitude from a variety of sources is this: Siakam is in play but the Raptors are in no rush. Nor do they feel they must make a deal.

Should Raptors trade Pascal Siakam? – Video – TSN

Jim Tatti and Dave Feschuk discuss the pros and cons for the Toronto Raptors if they move on from Pascal Siakam and trade him before the start of the season.

Raptors could regret not nabbing third pick at NBA draft for Siakam | Toronto Sun

In a Wednesday piece centred on the Portland Trail Blazers and recent trade options either to surround Damian Lillard with more talent to keep him happy, or start a rebuild there, ESPN senior NBA writer Zach Lowe got many worked up with the line: “The New Orleans Pelicans and Toronto Raptors weren’t ready on draft day to pivot away from Zion Williamson, Pascal Siakam or O.G. Anunoby, sources have said.”

Lowe continued: “Williamson is a franchise-changer when healthy, but he’s rarely healthy. Siakam and Anunoby are very good — Siakam is an all-star — but would either have vaulted Portland into the ring of championship favourites.”

Putting aside whether or not Portland benefitted by not making a major move and thus resulting in Lillard asking for a trade, it’s worth analyzing the fallout for Toronto.

Masai Ujiri, Bobby Webster and the rest of the Raptors braintrust are currently in a similar, though less advantageous position as the Blazers. They are also caught between two timelines — one centred around 21-year-old former rookie of the year Scottie Barnes, this year’s 13th overall selection Gradey Dick and the still-young-enough Anunoby, and another where they need to find a way to make Barnes and Siakam excel together while on the court, while also keeping in mind Barnes will be entering his athletic peak long after Siakam’s has vanished.

It’s easy enough to say not getting Scoot Henderson and whatever cap-filler was necessary for Siakam or Anunoby at the June 22 draft could set the Raptors back significantly, but that line of thinking would be making a lot of assumptions.

One: That the Raptors knew Fred VanVleet would be leaving for Houston about a week later. That’s not the case. The Raptors expected VanVleet would be back all season long and, really, until James Harden-to-the-Rockets went up in smoke, they were right to think they had the upper hand.

With VanVleet back, Siakam likely would have been signed to an extension and the team would have run it back, with Dick, a healthy Otto Porter Jr. and a free agent or two added as well.

Even if you believe that team isn’t scaring any contenders, it was a clear path to take. VanVleet later leaving changed the equation and made Siakam sticking around less sensible.

Plus there’s the important fact that nearly until Charlotte stepped up and made the second pick of the draft, it wasn’t guaranteed who the Hornets would take. While Scoot Henderson would have been a fantastic fit in Toronto as its new lead guard, there was still a good chance Charlotte would have taken him, leaving Portland to decide on Brandon Miller or Amen Thompson.

At last, Canada Basketball assembled its best. Now it’s time to dream big – Sportsnet

Together they could well form the best backcourt of any country at the World Cup, but they won’t have to carry the load alone.

Last spring, Canada Basketball introduced the concept of the ‘Summer Core,’ a list of 14 players who were willing to commit to representing Canada for three consecutive summers: last year during the summer World Cup qualifying window, this year at the World Cup and – if all goes to plan – next summer in Paris at the Olympics, where the Canadian men hope to make their first appearance since Nash led them to Sydney in 2000.

Of the 14 names who put their hand up a year ago, 13 will be in camp early next month, the only exception being San Antonio Spurs big man Khem Birch who has been beset by injuries in recent seasons.

All the vital pieces are expected to be in camp and travel to Indonesia: veteran big men Kelly Olynyk and Dwight Powell, wings Dillon Brooks, RJ Barrett and Lu Dort, and veteran guards Cory Joseph and Kevin Pangos.

No wonder Sacramento Kings assistant coach Jordi Fernandez jumped at the chance to take over as men’s national team head coach on short notice this month after Nick Nurse had to resign the position due to conflicts with his new role as head coach with the Philadelphia 76ers. 

“This organization has the potential, right,” said Fernandez, who was on hand as Canada’s U23 men fell to a Team USA entry represented by the University of Kentucky, falling to 1-1 at GLOBL JAM and the Canadian women improved to 2-0 with a win over the University of Louisville. “You see all the talent, but it’s not just the talent, it’s all the people working in the organization and how it’s put together. It’s first class. I can compare it with a really, really good one, right? I’ve worked with the Spanish federation, and I can tell you, what’s being done here is first class. 

“And then there’s the excitement and commitment of the players,” added Fernandez – who has previously been as assistant with the Spanish national team and the Nigerian national team. “I always say the same thing. We were successful in Spain [2022 European champions; 2019 World Cup gold; 2016 Olympic Bronze and a long list of success prior to that] because guys wanted to be there, you didn’t have to ask them to show up, and so far in my communication with the [Canadian] players it’s been really good. Guys are excited. Guys like Shai are already acting like connectors, they’re the ones calling their teammates. You can see that will be a good story.”

A Canadian men’s team playing to its potential would be a welcome one.

Murray, Gilgeous-Alexander lead deep Canadian World Cup roster | The Star

Jamal Murray, the Kitchener, Ont. native still celebrating his NBA championship with the Denver Nuggets, is among the 18-player group announced during the Globl Jam under-23 event at the Mattamy Athletic Centre. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, the Hamilton native and 2023 NBA all-star, has also committed to play, as have eight other NBAers.

It is a group packed with talent that needs to be organized by Jordi Fernandez, the Spain-born associate head coach of the Sacramento Kings who took over from Nick Nurse less than a month ago.

“I always say the same thing, we were successful in Spain because guys wanted to be there, we didn’t have to ask them to show up.” Fernandez said Thursday. “And so far my communication with the players has been really good, guys are excited.”

Fernandez will be reunited with Murray on the Canadian team after the coach spent six seasons as an assistant with the Nuggets.

The other NBAers expected at a training camp in Toronto later this month: New York’s RJ Barrett, Utah’s Kelly Olynyk, Dallas’s Dwight Powell, Minnesota’s Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Houston’s Dillon Brooks, Oklahoma City’s Lugentz Dort, Boston’s Oshae Brissett, and Golden State’s Cory Joseph.

The non-NBAers are Tommy and Phil Scrubb, Kyle Alexander, Trae Bell-Haynes, Zach Edey, Melvin Ejim, Kassius Robertson and Kevin Pangos.

It can be argued this is the most potent Canadian team assembled, chasing a World Cup medal and a berth in the 2024 Paris Olympics. But it will not simply be talent that wins out. Fernandez is taking over a group that’s close and one that has played games together. It should give him a leg up when training camp begins Aug. 1.

“We have to get to know each other, we have to work together and … being connected is the most important thing,” Fernandez said. “Whenever I go into a new group, I’m not worried about (Xs and Os). This group is very talented, I’ll make sure we’re organized (and) we’re competing at a high level.”

Fred VanVleet Admits It Was Time for a Change from Raptors – Sports Illustrated

It was the city where he first found his NBA footing and home to the organization that gave him his first chance. He struggled to put into words what the Toronto Raptors have meant to him, as he said in his good-bye Instagram post following his departure for the Houston Rockets. But throughout the process, he’s always been grateful to the team.

And yet, when free agency rolled around two weeks ago, VanVleet realized his time in Toronto was coming to an end.

“I think it was time for a change of scenery,” VanVleet told Coty Davis and the gathered Rockets media at Las Vegas Summer League. “Just really excited about being with a new group and trying to lead these guys as best I can.”

VanVleet said he’s looking forward to getting a fresh start and taking on a leadership role for the young Rockets. Houston has been among the league’s worst teams over the past few seasons, but the organization has gone all-in on maturity and moving past their losing ways.

It’ll be a challenge for VanVleet who had been in a similar position with the Raptors over the past two seasons. Toronto tanked the 2020-21 season and ultimately nabbed Scottie Barnes with the No. 4 pick.

The 2021-22 season had been all sunshine and rainbows for the Raptors who defied the odds and clinched the No. 5 seed in the Eastern Conference on the back of an All-Star season from VanVleet, an All-NBA season from Pascal Siakam, and a Rookie of the Year campaign from Barnes.

“But last year was up and down season for us,” VanVleet admitted. “So I’ve had some experience with young guys obviously, we had Scottie and other young guys that were working through it.”

NBA Power Rankings: Where All 30 Teams Stand After Free Agency | Bleacher Report

25. Toronto Raptors

Dennis Schröder and O.G. AnunobyAdam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images
Pre-Free Agency Rank: 20

The Toronto Raptors lost Fred VanVleet to the Houston Rockets in free agency. While Dennis Schröder had a solid enough campaign for the Los Angeles Lakers in 2022-23, plugging him to VanVleet’s spot noticeably lowers Toronto’s ceiling.

Other than that, the Raptors didn’t change much this offseason.

Spacing will probably still be a concern—even with the addition of Gradey Dick from the draft—unless one or two of Scottie Barnes, Pascal Siakam and Schröder shoot much better from the outside than they did last season. Without that kind of development, Toronto feels like it’s stuck in NBA purgatory.

That could cause the Raptors to pivot away from vets like Siakam and O.G. Anunoby over the coming months.