Good morning! Media Day is usually a surface-level day of tame quotes and excitement. It’s mostly for the free breakfast. But today has had minor edges beneath the surface, some pointed questions about lawsuits and trade offers, and a fair amount of revelations about how the team views its future. Read on to find much, much more detail:
Masai Ujiri has entered the building. Only moments after me. I’m catching my breath, pouring a coffee, will be back with many, many more updates. And now Darko Rajakovic is getting on stage. He is chipper, although the first question is about the lawsuit. He doesn’t seem phased. Broadly, tons and tons of discussion about dynamic offense, movement, cutting, and development. All good and important, and we’ll see how that manifests. And Pascal here now. Now we’re moving on to the rest of the players, starting with Gary Trent jr.
And we might not get Dennis Schroder today, it turns out, due to traffic in the city (probably). So, this might be it for the open thread for media day. Lots of revelations, some positivity, and some non-answers. Fun stuff! I’ll be sticking around for a bit to see if Schroder shows up, so if you have any questions for me, feel free to ask in the comment section.
12:15 pm EST: Jak is giving us great stuff. He’s an improved quote this year, it looks like! On a selfish media note, I am happy. This is good.
He just discussed how to mentor Christian Koloko, and he gave great, specific insight. Dropping in on a film session, for example. Love that.
12:06 pm EST: We’ve got Jakob Poeltl. He thinks he and Schroder and reproduce what he had with VanVleet; he’s confident they can figure it out. He has glowing remarks on Toronto’s new point guard, so some more positivity on the day.
“There’s a pretty big difference in the core principles,” says Poeltl about this year’s offense versus last year’s. “It’s going to take some time getting used to.”
Asked about team culture, Poeltl said, “we’ve just got to enjoy playing together through the ups and downs.” A lot of talk on culture today, and I really like that perspective. There was a lot of missing joy last year, particularly during the losing streaks. Poeltl has great recognition of that. Winning helps, but finding your smile when you’re losing is a significant part of getting back to winning.
11:43 am EST: Scottie Barnes has entered the room. He seems happy! He’s very excited about having more time with the ball in his hands, making more decisions. “I feel like I’m really good at that,” he says.
He mentions playing through more actions and having fewer dribbles as a hallmark of Rajakovic’s tenure so far.
11:30 am EST: Short and sweet answers from O.G. Anunoby, of course. I asked about selfishness on the team, and Eric Koreen (h/t) asked about whether Anunoby can “become the player he wants to be” on this roster, and we didn’t get any fireworks. He can be who he wants here, and the team vibes are good, hoping to play the right way. Samson asked about whether the need for his spacing means he can’t get enough touches — he says he’ll do what the team needs. That type of stuff. Nothing explosive here.
11:19 am EST: Gary has nothing but positive things to say about Darko Rajakovic. Says they’ve had more conversations than he’s ever had with a previous head coach. Some positivity! Today? Wild, didn’t know we’d get any of that.
11:07 am EST: Addressed specifically with whether the team played selfishly last year, Siakam doesn’t give revealing info. Asked about his contract extension, he declines to comment. Asked about being dangled in trade talks, he says he will only focus on things he can control. So the important questions are being asked, but we’re not getting significant answers here.
10:57 am EST: I may be reading into this, but it sounds around the edges like Rajakovic and Siakam are not seeing this offense entirely eye-to-eye. Rajakovic spoke a lot about interchangeability, and Siakam is talking about how “the ball finds the best player.” Those two can function together, but it feels like the two need to get a little bit on the same page. Which, of course, that’s to be expected for a tenured star and a rookie head coach. But still worthwhile to note.
10:48 am EST: The first question to Pascal Siakam is about Fred VanVleet leaving the team. Siakam has nothing but love. He’s sad to not have him as a teammate, but is proud of his friend for getting the bag. Respectful and kind discussion, here.
The next question is about selfishness: “I’ve never been a selfish player in my life. Always played the game the right way.”
And now we finally have the question we need, more explicitly — does anything that’s happened change your thoughts on the future with this franchise? Siakam says he’s focused on this team, and he’s under contract. He’s a basketball player, he says. So no go on discussing that. But it was important to ask. (h/t to Mike Ganter for the q.)
10:24 am EST: “We’ve got to be smart about how much load we’re putting on players,” says Rajakovic, which is perhaps the most telling quote we can get from him today. Sounds like he will not be playing players 40 minutes a game. He wants to use the bench.
10:12 am EST: Rajakovic says he doesn’t thing heavy isolation offense can win at the highest level. And Toronto ran some of the most isolations in the league last year. So, expect change, at the very least. Later: “I think we have enough shooting.”
He confirms that Siakam has been in the gym with the team and is excited about the upcoming approach. The team has been fairly quiet about Siakam’s future, messaging more loudly about Scottie Barnes as the future. But Siakam remains the leader and best player, and he remains a Raptor. Good to know that he and Rajakovic are on the same page.
10:06 am EST: Rajakovic is excited to create a new identity for this team. He mentions moving the ball. Things are general so far. Not a ton of specifics, but Samson is about to ask a question, so I imagine things are about to get real detailed.
He says “the style of play that we’re going to implement is that players 1-4 are going to be interchangeable.” Fun!
9:57 am EST: “This is the team now that we want to take into the next season,” says Ujiri. “Did we look at other opportunities? Yes we did. Did we look at getting younger? Yes we did.” But he says you can only take deals that are there.
Later: “The right player, or some player, is going to want to play here. And is going to want to win here. Hopefully, we set ourselves up for that opportunity.”
Sounds to me like he’s talking about Damian Lillard there, in a way. Raps are waiting for a star that wants to be in Toronto.
9:49 am EST: Ujiri insinuates that he doesn’t want to talk about extensions until he sees his players “play the right way.” He admits the team was selfish last year, and he wants to see how everyone plays under a new coach.
This feels like a big deal to me. Siakam, especially, has won a championship with Toronto. He has proven he knows how to play the right way, even if you throw the burden of last year on him, which is of course not a given. So I’m confused by Ujiri’s statements there, but it sure feels like he is stressing accountability this year, which is a word he’s used a lot already. We’ll see how it all unfolds.
And, later, he says the time to talk about extensions for O.G. Anunoby and Gary Trent jr. is now. So, some disparity there.
9:42 am EST: We’ve got our first “we believe in our city.” Didn’t take long. A few moments later: “There will be no selfishness this year.”
9:40 am EST: Some candor from Ujiri early on: “Could we have traded Fred at the trade deadline? If that was a failure, we take responsibility for it, but sometimes it also depends on opportunity and respect for the player, and we respect Fred.”
Lots more talk about competing, selflessness, and more. Not a whole lot of specifics. He says he has talked to Pascal Siakam, but not about contract extensions. Having three upcoming free agents “is not a problem for us to deal with… We’re very confident.”