Morning Coffee – Wed, Nov 22

...yea...the Poeltl trade looks real bad, Siakam is probably gonna bounce if he's not traded, Vision 6"9 should be officially dead (hopefully)

Orlando Magic put Toronto Raptors’ lack of direction into focus – The Athletic

The Magic came into the game as the only team with a better defensive rating and worse offensive rating than the Raptors. Whether that is a coincidence or evidence of a shared basketball ideology between Raptors president Masai Ujiri and Orlando president Jeff Weltman, his old top lieutenant, is up to the observer. Either way, both teams are built similarly and are stylistically alike. The younger Magic have been the superior team this season, even as they figure out which pieces will be long-term fits around their young stars. If not for comeback wins against two of the league’s doormats, the San Antonio Spurs and Washington Wizards, the Raptors would be 4-10 and the vultures would be circling.

As it is, with Siakam and Anunoby heading toward free agency, this feels like a march to an inevitable splintering at or before the trade deadline. After all, here is the kicker: Even if the Raptors wanted to make a move to give their trio of forwards another chance to thrive together, Toronto has three of its own NBA Draft picks outgoing and none incoming. The Magic, meanwhile, have extra picks, plus more promising prospects than the Raptors, to use in a possible trade.

Time expiring on this group has been the lingering worry with the Raptors, who have not found a single player who can confidently excel in their role around the forwards. The Magic might not have their lead guard of the future, but Jalen Suggs and Cole Anthony are, at the very least, rotation-quality players. Anthony Black is the tools-y lottery pick from the past draft whom they are trying to place within their ecosystem, but the pressure isn’t on him to figure it all out while Wagner and Banchero do the bulk of creation in the starting unit. He also has a guard with some experience to help organize things. That is to say nothing of Markelle Fultz, the usual starter, who missed the game with a knee injury.

Thanks to the Raptors’ developmental struggles, they do not have the same foundation. There is hope that the 13th pick from June’s draft, Gradey Dick, will become one of those players. He has had a rough start to the season, although that should do little to diminish his future prospects. Save for Fultz, all the players mentioned above were top-15 picks by the Magic. Amassing those players required a lot of losing, which was not fun, but it has insulated their most important players. Meanwhile, the Raptors have tried to fix their holes through free agency and trades. Their bench lineups were bad last year, and they’ve been largely bad again this season.

It is not as if the Raptors are an outright bad team. They just have a hard cap on their short-term success, with big-picture questions approaching quickly. The Magic? Their future is wide open. The present is intriguing, too.

Raptors Takeaways: Orlando looks steps ahead of Toronto after dominant win – Sportsnet

Bad offence, better defence

The Magic came into the game as one of the best defensive teams in the NBA, a quality not typically associated with teams that have an average age of just 24 and that lack a single defensive difference maker — a big man, let’s say, who cleans up everyone’s mistakes at the bad of the defence.

Instead, they do it by playing really hard, being dogged at the point of attack and taking advantage of the size they have across just about every position to wreak havoc.

The Raptors starters did a decent job in cutting a 19-point lead in the second quarter to 11 by halftime, but the third quarter unfolded predictably: a very good defensive team that is tied for first in forcing turnovers caused chaos amongst a shaky offensive team that ranks in the bottom half of the league when it comes to taking care of the ball.

In the first six minutes of the third quarter, the Raptors coughed the ball up six times and had another possession end when Schroder dribbled blindly into a crowd and had his shot blocked. The Magic were up 18 midway through the third quarter and Toronto was fortunate that the deficit wasn’t bigger as they started the fourth quarter down 100-82.

Good idea, nice try

That’s where the inaugural in-season tournament stands in my eyes to this point.

The funky courts did the job and got people talking about it more than the actual product has probably deserved at this stage, even if some of the conversation is around how the courts are either garishly ugly (as someone who doesn’t see colours very well, I am firmly in the ‘don’t care’ category on this) or potentially unsafe as players have complained about them being too slick and slippery at times.

But there are some bigger flaws, mainly that by elevating some regular season games to “IST” status, it automatically diminishes other regular season games that aren’t “special.”

I have plenty of ideas on this – I spoke about my very official five-point plan with Danielle Michaud on the pre-game show today — but the most fundamental is separating the IST schedule from the regular-season schedule. The IST should be a stand-alone format and the NBA should cut back on the regular season to accommodate it.

Toronto Raptors vs Orlando Magic Final Score: 126-107 – Raptors HQ

Unfortunately, Toronto couldn’t keep the momentum going as they entered the second half. They continued to turn the ball over and gave Orlando easy buckets in transition. Going the other way, a bright spot was Dennis Schroder taking over as the Raptors offence stalled and kept them in the game. The German guard made some timely shots and did not miss a three-pointer all night, leading the team in scoring as he tried to reduce the Magic’s lead. I supposed the rest of the roster did not feel like helping out, as Siakam, Barnes and Achiuwa were the only other Raptors to score in the quarter. Heading into the fourth, it was 100-82 for the Magic.

Toronto continued to turn the ball over in the fourth quarter, leading to a season high 24 turnovers total and giving Orlando 31 points off of turn overs on the night. A 10-4 Orlando run in the first six minutes of the final frame was enough for Darko Rajakovic to put in the bench for the night and accept the loss. Orlando continued to give it their all and cruised to a 126 – 107 victory. This is the In-Season Tournament after all, where point differential matters in the standings. However, Toronto’s hopes of winning the NBA Cup seem slim to none, sitting last in their group at 0 2 with a -22 point differential. Their next go-around in the IST comes Friday when they return home to host the struggling Chicago Bulls.

Falling to 6-8 on the season, Toronto will need to clean up quick as they head off to face the fastest pace team in the NBA in the Indiana Pacers tomorrow night.

Raptors put in worst effort of season in ugly loss to Magic – Toronto Star

As the first-half deficit grew from seven points to nine, 11 to 12, 14 to 17 and then to 19, an eerily familiar script was playing out for the Raptors.

They were once again digging themselves a monstrous hole, one they could never climb out of.

A night of a total defensive collapse not only cost the Raptors their fourth loss in their last six games, but it was also their second straight loss in the group stage of the NBA’s In-Season Tournament.

The Orlando Magic, one of the statistically worst offensive teams in the league, did just about anything they wanted Tuesday, hammering the Raptors 126-107 at the Amway Center.

The Magic entered the game averaging 109.4 points per outing, 27th among 30 NBA teams; they eclipsed that total with about seven minutes left.

They were the second-worst three-point shooting team in the league, firing at a 33 per cent clip; they made 7-of-15 shots from beyond the arc in the first half alone and finished 12-for-31 from distance.

Any kind of Raptors defensive intensity was absent all night as Toronto fell to 6-8 on the season and 0-2 in In-Season Tournament group play.

Toss in a season-high 24 Raptors turnovers and it was Toronto’s worst overall performance of the still young regular season.

Raptors destroyed by hungrier Orlando Magic | Toronto Sun

The loss was the Raptors’ second in their second In-Season tournament game and pretty much ended any hopes of advancing in the league’s newest innovation. At best, they are now playing for the Eastern Conference wild card that would get them a berth in the quarter-finals but that is a longshot.

The bigger issue, though, was the complete dominance by a young Orlando team that seemed to win every battle on the court and every statistical battle on the scoresheet.

This being the first of back-to-back games with the second in Indiana Wednesday, Raptors head coach Darko Rajakovic threw up the white flag early, pulling his starters with the team down 24 and still seven minutes left in the game.

For one of the few times this year the Raptors actually shot the ball really well. And on most nights 50% from the field and 50% from the behind the arc would be enough to get them a win, but not when they turn the ball over 24 times, leading to 31 points, and not when your opponent is living in your paint and bullying you out of their own.

Wasted in this one was a really nice shooting night from Dennis Schroder, who made all four of his three-point attempts and led the Raptors with 24 points.

Reigning rookie of the year Paolo Banchero led the physical play for the Magic and finished with a game-high 25 points.
Jalen Suggs, the Gonzaga star the Raptors took a pass on to go with Scottie Barnes a few drafts ago, came out looking to prove something. He scored early and often and punctuated every positive outcome with a celebration worthy of a game-winner. Suggs finished with 18 points and four assists.

With the loss, Toronto fell to 6-8 while Orlando improved to 9-5.

Knicks owner James Dolan may finally realize what a bozo he is – Toronto Star

At the heart of the lawsuit the lesson seems to be that James Dolan has finally accepted that he is neither liked nor respected by his peers, or most anybody else. Maybe it is dawning on him, finally.

In the latest Knicks filing in New York court Dolan’s lawyers basically reject the current structure of the NBA. Disputes like this are usually settled with a few phone calls, and the commissioner is the judge.

But Dolan doesn’t want to play by those rules, because he thinks he’ll lose. The filing conceded that the NBA Constitution gives NBA commissioner Adam Silver “exclusive, full, complete, and final jurisdiction of any dispute involving two (2) or more Members of the Association,” without limitation, and then complains for a while before getting to the meat of it: that Silver can’t adjudicate this dispute because he likes Raptors part-owner and NBA board of governors chair Larry Tanenbaum more than he likes Dolan.

Which, other than people who are paid to like James Dolan, or perhaps those who have lived lives similar to James Dolan, is a designation that probably applies to almost everyone.

But that’s not all. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that before filing the suit against the Raptors, Dolan resigned his position on the league’s influential advisory/finance and media committees, and wrote in a letter to Silver and the other 29 owners that he would no longer attend board meetings, though he would retain voting power. He’s been a reliable protest vote for years.

“Given all that has occurred lately, I have come to the conclusion that the NBA neither needs nor wants my opinion,” wrote Dolan, per a letter obtained by ESPN’s Baxter Holmes. True self-awareness, it should be said, is something we should all aspire to.

There is a vicious impotence to it all, from a man who could have had more influence had he simply been more. Dolan inherited a seat atop the apex sporting empire in the biggest city in North America, with billions of dollars and endless possibilities, and he’s managed to turn it into a pissing match with a team that kept suckering him, a poor underpaid video co-ordinator, and a league where the commissioner might have been his only remaining ally, and then only because it was New York.

Raptors Among Favorites To Land Zach LaVine, Odds Say – Sports Illustrated

Toronto is considered the fourth most-likely landing spot for LaVine should he be traded this season, per Bodog. The Raptors sit at +650, implying a 13% chance that LaVine ends up in Toronto should he be dealt.

The Los Angeles Lakers are considered the favorites with an implied probability of 40% to land LaVine if he’s traded. The Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers each have a 25% implied probability.

It’s unlikely a deal happens this month, but once Dec. 15 hits and players who signed contracts this past summer become trade eligible, expect talks to pick up more seriously.

Toronto is said to be among the teams expected to be interested in LaVine, per Shams Charania. In theory, the Raptors could negotiate a deal involving Gary Trent Jr., Chris Boucher, and Thad Young without surpassing the luxury tax threshold.

As for the rest of the Bulls, oddsmakers say there’s a 10% probability that DeMar DeRozan returns to Toronto should he be dealt by the Bulls ahead of the Feb. 8 trade deadline. Miami, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles are the favorites to land him should he be dealt. It seems highly unlikely he does return to Toronto in a deal.

The Raptors have as many as two first-round picks and two first-round pick swaps they can move in a deal. They also have three second-round picks that can be dealt.

The Raptors are still learning how to put Precious Achiuwa in a position to succeed – Toronto Star

There are rough spots to Achiuwa’s game that have to be smoothed over but considering this is just his fourth season on the NBA, that’s not unexpected.

He tends to get a bit out of control with the ball in transition, there is a penchant to over-dribble in half court sets and he could be a more disciplined defensive rebounder by boxing out opponents more consistently.

There are health issues — Achiuwa’s missed five of Toronto’s first 12 games with a groin issue and played in just 55 of 82 contests in 2022-23 — but the snippets he shows are intriguing.

“It really helps us when he’s out there defending and using his legs (and) being able to shoot the ball,” forward Scottie Barnes said. “When he plays his game, he does really well. No matter if he shoots it or if he doesn’t shoot it, when he rolls to the basket, he really helps us a lot.

“When he pops and shoots the three … if he feels comfortable taking those shots, then that’s when we want those shots.”

Finding out just where Achiuwa fits best is Rajakovic’s task now. Maybe the six-foot-eight Achiuwa is a centre, maybe he’s a power forward, maybe he’s a wing.

Those designations are becoming less and less significant these days as the game turns more to positionless play, but the question for Rajakovic is where to place Achiuwa on the court.

That’s a work in progress.

“There is always that … numbers one through five, who’s one, who’s two, who’s three, who’s five?” Rajakovic said. “It’s not really about that. It’s not about centre or power forward. It’s putting him in actions that are going to unlock his skill set.”

So far, Achiuwa has been used as a backup to centre Jakob Poeltl and the two have been on the court at the same time. A frontcourt pairing of Achiuwa and Chris Boucher can be fun in transition but frustrating in half court offence and defensive discipline.

Rajalovic hints that Achiuwa’s probably best as a nominal “centre” but knows the skill set allows for experimentation.

“He is very capable of doing both (centre and on the wing) and definitely going forward we’re going to be using him in both positions because I think he’s very capable to do both,” the coach said.

“I really think that using him at position five is really unlocking a lot of skills and traits that he has.”

Predicting 5 Biggest Flight Risks in 2024 NBA Free Agency | Bleacher Report

Pascal Siakam is a high-profile flight risk for multiple reasons. He has yet to sign a contract extension with the Toronto Raptors, and it’s unclear whether they want to keep him long term thanks to his positional overlap with rising star Scottie Barnes.
Siakam has been in trade rumors for months, and he doesn’t really fit a Barnes-centric timeline.
Toronto’s goal going forward should be building around the 22-year-old forward and surrounding him with as much young-ish shooting as possible. Siakam doesn’t fit that mold, but he could still help plenty of other teams around the league.
His inefficiency as a scorer since the departure of Kawhi Leonard can be tough to look past, but he checks enough other boxes to headline this list.
Siakam is 6’8″, has played some small-ball center and has quietly become one of the game’s better non-point guard distributors. Since the start of 2020-21, he’s averaged 5.2 assists. His ability to put pressure on the paint should create more time and space for the shooters on whichever team he plays for in 2024-25.
With Joel Embiid’s ability to play from the perimeter, perhaps that team could be the Philadelphia 76ers (projected to have nearly $40 million in cap space).
The Orlando Magic (also projected to have room) wouldn’t surround him with the most shooting, but that front office has long been interested in acquiring as much length and versatility as possible. Given the quick development of Paolo Banchero and Franz Wagner, they may be ready to make win-now moves, too.
The Detroit Pistons are the last team that might have enough cap space to make a traditional free-agent pursuit of Siakam, but his struggles as an outside shooter wouldn’t fit well on a team giving rotation minutes to Cade Cunningham, Jaden Ivey and Ausar Thompson (all of whom have career effective field-goal percentages below 50).