Category Archives: Toronto Raptors

Ujiri swings for the fences in Kawhi for Derozan swap

 

It’s been quite some time when the Toronto Raptors were the talk of an NBA offseason. This has been an absolute whirlwind so I’m just going to try and unpack my thoughts on here and see how I feel about the trade.

Why trade for 1 year of Kawhi Leonard?

The last NBA team to win the championship without having a top 10 player on their roster was the 2004 Detroit Pistons. The Pistons were not only an anomaly for that little piece of trivia, but they are one of the few modern NBA champions to build a starting unit consisting of five All-Star calibre players (Tayshaun Prince is the only one of the five to not make an All-Star team but his four all defensive second-team nods should give him a pass). You know… until this year’s Warriors…

When talking of Raptors championship aspirations these Pistons teams were kind of held up as a blueprint for how they could eventually topple the Warriors in the Finals (I think?). Well as constructed yesterday, the Raptors had two All-Stars in Lowry and Derozan, the ghost of Serge Ibaka, dinosaur center Jonas Valancunias and budding 3-and-D weapon OG Anonoby. While they supported that starting 5 with a very young and productive bench, this team clearly had a ceiling. A ceiling which was well below NBA champions and if that isn’t the end-goal then what the hell are we doing.

At his best Kawhi is a top-five player in the league that can dominate on both sides of the court. In my mind nobody in the league is as great of an option as the number 1 one shutdown defender on one side of the court while being a reliable scoring option on the other side of the court. Pairing Kawhi with Lowry and whichever young players remain when the dust settles raises the team’s ceiling immensely. The Raptors had one of the best benches in the NBA last year but if you can flip some depth for a legitimate star then you have to do it.

That being said trading for Kawhi Leonard is clearly a risk.

Kawhi has his warts

Now he could bounce for Los Angeles or New York in a year. Kawhi could be a diva from day one and refuse to listen to the Raptors brass. Some are suggesting that he might not be the same player as he was pre-injury. The doubters have a point in saying that the asking price is very hefty considering all of these red flags. But at a certain point you have to stop treading water and start to swim. Let’s just hope this trade doesn’t sink the Raptors.

 

It’s well worth the risk

At the end of the day I’m all in on this trade. Sometimes you have to give up Fred McGriff and Tony Fernandez to get Roberto Alomar. Without Lebron in the East it looked to be an arms race versus the up-and-coming Sixers and Celtics. But now the forever comfortable regular season Raptors of old have a legitimate claim at the NBA Finals.

While Kawhi might be a tough re-sign, keep in mind that a year ago people were already fitting Paul George for his Lakers jersey and when all was said and done George re-upped with the Thunder. Toronto is a hell of alot better of a city than Oklahoma.

Next year there’s no question that the Raptors will be better than last year. Kawhi for Demar is a huge upgrade and that’s not even a slight on DeRozan. Peak Kawhi is just that good. What is kind of lost in the trade is the fact that the Raps also picked up Danny Green who has shot a lifetime .395 from 3 and has suited up for 100 playoff games with the Spurs. With the additions of Green and Kawhi and the subtraction of Poeltl, the Raptors have an unbelievably versatile group who could see a bunch of their athletic wingers and forwards slide across three positions. This is a fun looking team who should now be the favourites in the East.

And if all else fails this move helps to kick start a rebuild that some people were calling for a year ago. If Kawhi walks then Toronto could finally just blow the entire thing up to get a shot at drafting lottery calibre players. I can’t stress enough that you can’t win without a superstar and this move more than anything else shows that the Raptors are going to make it happen whether it is now or down the road. A core of Lowry and DeRozan could clearly only take you so far.

Demar Derozan: The Quintessential Toronto Raptor

Now what shouldn’t be lost in this is that Demar Derozan has been a star both on and off the court for the city of Toronto. While at their peaks you can argue that Carter and Bosh were more effective players, Demar has worked his ass off since day one to be–in my mind–the face of this Raptors franchise.

Vince and Bosh each forced their way out of Toronto in situations that just were not handled well, but as time has worn on the nostalgia goggles have made the duo out to be champions for the city of Toronto.

When Derozan’s free agency hit in the summer of 2016, many thought he would bolt to his hometown LA Lakers. But he had built a home here in Canada and felt that the Raptors had some unfinished business (the money also didn’t hurt).

When all is said and done Derozan is Toronto’s franchise leader in games played, minutes played and points while making four all-star game appearances and two all-league teams. In my mind he is the best the franchise has had and it’ll be tough to see him go.

Bonus: THE BOYS ARE BACK

Image result for rudy gay demar derozan

Just watch. Pop is going to have this Gay-Derozan tandem popping like nobody ever knew was possible. Giddy up

 

The Raptors’ Coaching Search

After an extremely disappointing end to a historic season for the franchise, Masai Ujiri and the Toronto Raptors organization decided something had to give. As is the case in the sports world, that usually means that the coach must go. Dwane Casey is undoubtedly the best coach that the Raptors franchise has ever had, but all good the things must come to an end. It’s a tough look for the team that Casey was fired following him being voted the Coach of the Year by his peers, but Ujiri claims the team needs a “new voice” and I guess you can’t really blame him after witnessing another second-round sweep.

Now we look ahead to who that “new voice” could be. Shortly after Casey had been relieved of his duties, names had started being floated around as potential candidates to fill the new coaching vacancy in the North. Here’s a brief look at some of the perceived candidates.

 

 

 

Nick Nurse:

Most Recently: Assistant Coach, Toronto Raptors (2013 – Present)

Notables: D-League Coach of the Year (2011), 2-time D-League Champion (2011, 2013)

Nurse has been a long time coach at various levels and experienced great success in the D-League. The Raptors gig was the first shot he’s gotten in the NBA, but his 5 years with the team has been the best 5-year stretch in team history. The only issue is that he has direct ties with the man who was just fired and doesn’t necessarily have that “new voice” factor.

 

 

Rex Kalamian:

Most Recently: Assistant Coach, Toronto Raptors (2015 – Present)

Notables: 21 seasons as an Assistant Coach in the NBA.

Kalamian has clearly paid his dues as an assistant in this league, he’s done it for as long as I’ve been alive. But he has the same issues as Nurse, a long time Dwane Casey “guy” (coached together in Minnesota previously) and doesn’t qualify as a “new voice”. It appears unlikely that he’d be the guy, but he’ll get a look.

Jerry Stackhouse:

Most Recently: Head Coach, Raptors 905 (2016 – Present)

Notables: D-League Coach of the Year (2017), D-League Champion (2017), 18 year NBA playing career that included 2 All-Star appearances, 3rd overall pick in the 1995 Draft.

“Stack” is an interesting young coaching prospect because he has made the quick transition to coaching, and successfully, just 5 years after retiring from his playing career. He could offer a fresh perspective and appears to be the most logical “promote from within” candidate, but he also has other suitors too, which apparently includes Orlando and Detroit.

 

 

 

 

Mike Budenholzer:

Most Recently: Head Coach and President of Basketball Operations, Atlanta Hawks (Resigned in 2017).

Notables: Coach of the Year (2015), All-Star Game Head Coach (2015), 4-time NBA Champion as an Assistant Coach with the San Antonio Spurs.

The most intriguing and qualified candidate of the bunch. Budenholzer appears to be being fought over by the front offices in Toronto and Milwaukee for his services. Budenholzer has a solid resume in getting the most out of a team (see 60 win Atlanta Hawks) and systematically operates his teams in the heavy three-point shooting, “find the open man” type of way that the Raptors did so well in the regular season. He has also been crushed by LeBron in the playoffs, but who hasn’t really?

 

Becky Hammon:

Most Recently: Assistant Coach, San Antonio Spurs (2014 – Present)

Notables: First full-time female coach in NBA history, Head Coach of San Antonio Spurs Las Vegas Summer League Championship winning team (2015), 6-time WNBA All-Star.

Like Budenholzer, Hammon has grown her coaching experience under the tutelage of the legendary Greg Popovich. She has gotten a lot of buzz recently on how she’s ready to be a head coach in this league, and it would certainly be something if Toronto was the city where that happened.

 

 

 

 

 

What should the Raptors do with the NBA’s Coach of the Year?

Obviously it’s a terrible look to get swept in the second round as the conference’s 1 seed. It’s an even worse look to go 2-12 versus Lebron in the playoffs over the past three years (conference semis in 2016 (4-2), 2017 conference finals (4-0), 2018 conference semis (4-0). All of these tough losses have come in seasons where the Raptors were considered “contenders” because of the strong play of All Stars Kyle Lowry and Demar Derozan with a rotating cast of solid role players. As the dust has settled on yet another playoff disappointment this year, while the Raptors core has taken their lumps, coach Dwane Casey and his future with the team has seemingly been pushed to the forefront. Read more

Raptors Second Round Playoff Preview

The Toronto Raptors enter tonight’s second round series opener coming off of a solid showing that saw them dispose of the Washington Wizards in 6 games (4-2). It was a series that included a trio of mini two-game winning streaks that the teams traded back and forth, but the Raptors ultimately did their job as the #1 seed and proved they were too much for the #8 seed to handle. DeMar DeRozan was excellent in the series (26.7 PPG), but the performance of Delon Wright stepping up with Fred VanVleet injured and impacting both ends of the floor was a major positive for the Raptors. Most notably, he added 2.7 points per game and 1.3 steals per game on top of his regular season averages, headlined by an 18 point performance on 6/10 shooting in game 5. Now with VanVleet seemingly back to full health after returning in game 6, the Raptors are back to full strength personnel wise with their demons that swept them a season ago staring them directly in the face in round two.

Tale of the Tape

Toronto Raptors

(#1 East)

Team

Cleveland Cavaliers

(#4 East)

59-23

Record

50-32

113.8 (2nd)

Offensive Rating

(Per 100 Possessions)

112.9 (5th)

105.9 (5th)

Defensive Rating

(Per 100 Possessions)

111.9 (29th)

+7.78 (2nd)

Margin of Victory

+0.94 (14th)

57.5% (4th)

True Shooting Percentage

58.4% (3rd)

Projected Starting Lineups

Kyle Lowry

Point Guard

LeBron James

DeMar DeRozan

Shooting Guard

J.R. Smith

O.G. Anunoby

Small Forward

Kyle Korver

Serge Ibaka

Power Forward

Kevin Love

Jonas Valanciunas

Centre

Tristan Thompson

Offense:

Based on regular season statistics, the Raptors and Cavaliers operate offensively in similar fashions. They average a strikingly similar number of possessions per 48 minutes (Raptors 97.4, Cavaliers 98.0) and they both take a large chunk of their shots from beyond the arc (Raptors 37.7 – 5th in NBA, Cavaliers 37.9 – 4th in NBA).

As for an evaluation of the first round, I have zero clue how the Cavaliers managed to scrape by into the second round (other than because of the LeBron James guy). Here’s a look at how the Cavs measured up in some notable statistics compared to the other 16 playoff teams in first round play:

Stat

Rank (out of 16)
Field Goal Percentage 14th
Three Point Percentage 15th
Free Throw Percentage 10th
Rebounding 14th
Assists 15th
Turnovers 12th
Points Per Game 16th

The Raptors ranked higher is every single one of those. A lot of this can be attributed to the fact that the Cavs supporting cast was awful in the first round. Not surprising, because they are awful. LeBron shot 55.3% and the rest of the Cavs shot 38.8%…if anything like that happens again, the Raptors will smack the Cavs.

Edge: Raptors

Defense:

This area is definitively an edge for the Raptors, there isn’t even really a reason to talk about it. The biggest concern for the Raptors though is obviously the question of “Who will slow down LeBron?”. Well, it appears that man will be 20 year old rookie O.G. Anunoby. ESPN came out with an article today with some interesting numbers. Apparently, when Anunoby is the one guarding LeBron the Cavs are scoring 1.09 points per possession. This isn’t remarkable, but the Cavs season average with LeBron on the court is 1.14. The major difference is that when any other Raptors is guarding “the King” , that points per possession jumps to 1.38. Check out the full article here.

This is a big time and a big stage early in the rookie’s career.

The one concern the Raptors should have defensively is with the Cavs three point shooting. While it wasn’t up to their standards in round one, the Cavs were 6th in the NBA in the regular season (37.2%). The Raptors held their opponents to the 10th lowest three point percentage in the league, so they need to play up to their capabilities in that respect.

Edge: Raptors

Star Power:

Nothing against DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, they are perennial All-Stars, but they are simply not LeBron James. Even though “playoff Lowry” may not be what you think against the Cavs:

The 2017-18 Raptors are all about depth, and the Cavs aside from LeBron are horrible. Yet here they both are in the second round.

Edge: Cavaliers

Bench: If you take away LeBron the Raptors bench probably sweeps the Cavs starters.

Edge: Raptors

I am confident heading into this series that the Raptors will pull this out. I just can’t stress enough how ineffective the supporting cast in Cleveland is and has been. They have rode the back of the GOAT all the way to this point, but I think it ends for them in round two.

The Pacers did the Raptors a favour forcing their series to a seventh game, and in turn, wearing down LeBron just that much more.

If you look at that series as a case study, you would see that the Cavs had trouble containing the Pacers guards of Victor Oladipo and Darren Collison. I take DeRozan and Lowry over those two 1000 out of 1000 times. Add that to the fact that the Cavs clearly had trouble with the length and athleticism of the Pacers, and the Raptors have a much more talented group in that regard. That being said, the Pacers were **+40 in a series that they lost** because of one man and one man only. It’s ridiculous how much influence he has on a game, but this really comes down to the question if the Raptors can beat LeBron James. I think they can over the course of a series. I don’t like the odds of the Raptors closing it out on the road in comparison to at home, so that leaves us with 5 or 7 games as possible scenarios. I think LeBron is great enough to get more than one game for his team, so I think this series goes the distance. 

I’m also 1/1 in my predictions so far, so there’s that:

…these Raptors are the better TEAM and possess more depth and defense than the Wizards, which I think will eventually wear the opposition out. Wall and Beal certainly have the ability to win games if/when they take over, which I think they might for a game or two, but I’m confident that the Raptors will come through and advance past the Wizards.

Prediction: Raptors in 6

For this one, I think the Raptors make the most of the home court advantage they’ve never had against LeBron and punch their ticket back to the Conference Finals.

Prediction: Raptors in 7

Schedule:

Tuesday May 1st @ 8pm in Toronto

Thursday May 3rd @ 6pm in Toronto

Saturday May 5th @ 8:30pm in Cleveland

Monday May 7th @ 8:30pm in Cleveland

Wednesday May 9th TBD in Toronto

Friday May 11th TBD in Cleveland

Sunday May 13th TBD in Toronto

A Christmas Wishlist for the Toronto Sports Fan

A Josh Donaldson Contract Extension

The Bringer of Rain is pretty much all but gone when his contract expires at the end of this season. That is if the Jays don’t trade him first. Considering it is the first time that the 2015 AL MVP will get to test unrestricted free agency, don’t expect Donaldson to come cheap. It has been proven time and time again that signing 30 year-old MVP candidates to mega-contracts just isn’t smart (ex. see Pujols, Albert who is Bad, Very). The Blue Jays just aren’t a team that can afford to eat bad contracts. But, hear me out, give this guy a blank check. On one hand you could potentially have a rapidly declining player that you’re stuck paying $20-30 million annually for seven years, which financially handicaps Toronto’s payroll, sending them into a tailspin of mediocrity. On the other hand Donaldson is the type of stud that can be the best player on a championship team. Banners fly forever baby.

No Blisters in 2018

A healthy Aaron Sanchez would’ve gone a long way in 2017. With Sanchez missing the majority of games last year because of blister problem, the Jays sorely missed their staff ace. Even with Stroman’s breakout campaign, the Jays had to eat up Sahnchez’s lost innings with the nauseating combination of Joe Biagini, Mike Bolsinger, Brett Anderson, and Matt Latos. If Sanchez’s dainty hands can’t hold up this upcoming season then the Jays are probably cooked considering the Yankees and Red Sox already have the division and at least one wild card spot already locked up.

An Eastern Conference Finals Berth

Even though they are one of the NHL’s youngest teams, the clock is starting to tick on this Maple Leafs core. Matthews, Marner and Nylander will see their rookie contracts expire in the next two offseasons and their subsequent raises will take a huge chunk of Toronto’s salary cap. Bozak and JVR are UFAs this summer and it isn’t likely that Toronto can continue to pay Kadri, Komorov and Marleau big money to play secondary roles. Chicago was able to win a Cup in 2010 before having to dump Ladd, Niemi and Byfuglien in their first salary cap purge. In my mind the Leafs have to show some playoff progress this spring with their current roster as good as it is right now. They may have a deep prospect pool but you just can’t pencil in a Kapanen to automatically replace Van Riemsdyk’s production. A 2018 Cup run might feel selfish for a fan so new to playoff hockey but a guy can dream.

Less Roman Polak

Everything bad ever said about Dion Phaneuf (he certainly wasn’t great but I have long been a vocal Dion defender) is actually true about Roman Polak. He is an absolute pylon and liability on the ice. He’s slow, has no offensive inclination to speak of… but boy can he ever move bodies in front of the net! As much as I like the work Babcock has done to turn the team around, his affinity for “the Roman Polak show” is both weird and maddening. I don’t care how they do it, but I need Lou to find a new sixth defenseman.

More Soccer Wins Probably

Not a huge fan of the beautiful game but BMO Field was rocking when TFC stormed their way to the MLS Cup. Who am I to look down on a championship winning team? Especially considering I’m lucky when my teams even make the playoffs. Jozy Altidore and Sebastian Giovinco seem like they’d be cool to cheer for. Hopefully they can keep the good times rolling.

An NFL Team

This is a pipe dream seeing as NFL expansion isn’t imminent and there’s no obvious relocation candidates. As one of the CFL’s least attended teams–home games only averaged a capacity of 51.53% with no sellouts–the Grey Cup-champion Argonauts clearly aren’t scratching Toronto’s football itch. The closest NFL team is the Buffalo Bills who haven’t made the playoffs since 1999. Football fans from Southern Ontario either have to latch onto a loser franchise or have to wade into the depths of Bills Mafia at New Era Field to watch the away teams play. Both options are less than ideal. I for one am tired of watching the Bills get pummeled by the Patriots in Week 15 with a potential playoff berth on the line.

Beat Cleveland… Please

Two straight years of losing to the Cavs in the playoffs just won’t cut it anymore. We are now four seasons removed from the “We the North” movement and only have three “Atlantic Division Champions” banners to show for their efforts. I would much rather make the playoffs every year than go back in time and watch Andrea Bargnani disappoint me on a nightly basis. But at a certain point if you aren’t even threatening to win a championship then the whole process seems rather pointless. I love watching the Demar score at will from all over the court (he’s even hitting some threes this year!), Kyle is still a bull dog of a point guard, and it’s fun to watch the seemingly endless amount of young bench contributors step in and play effectively. It would just be cool to at least look like you can hang in with Lebron and the Cavs as opposed to being swatted aside like a bug.

An NBA Christmas Day Game

Regardless of their lack of playoff success, the Raptors have consistently been one of the best teams in the NBA. Yet they get snubbed from the NBA’s prime-time Christmas Day games. Since the end of their breakout 2013-2014 season, here’s how the Raptors regular season win % from 2014 to today matches up with the teams that played on Christmas yesterday:

Golden State Warrior   0.836
Cleveland Cavaliers   0.661

Houston Rockets   0.653
Toronto Raptors   0.646
Boston Celtics   0.594
OKC Thunder   0.593
Washington Wizards   0.554
New Yorks Knicks   0.348
Minnesota Timberwolves   0.346
Los Angeles Lakers   0.270
Philadelphia 76ers   0.254

As of right now Raptors sit atop the Eastern Conference with a 23-8 record with a top 10 offense and defense and one of the NBA’s best benches. They have only ever played one Christmas Day game in franchise history (Vince Carter and co. lost to the Knicks in 2001) due in large part to: a) not playing in a major American media market and b) they don’t have a “marketable” star.

I feel that these two notions are incredibly short-sighted. Toronto is easily the media epicenter of Canada and the inclusion of the Raptors in a Christmas Day game could potentially create a holiday tradition among Canadian hoops fans. I would easily count myself in as someone who would be in the NBA’s target market, but I only ever occasionally tune in to the Christmas Day games if the day hits a lull. If the Raptors are slated for an afternoon game then I am tuning in no questions asked. As for the lack of star-power, I realize that Demar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry’s names don’t carry the same name as a Porzingas, Westbrook, George, Carmelo, Towns, Embiid, Simmons or Lonzo, but they have been far too good for far too long to be ignored as much as they are South of the border. Toronto needs a Christmas game no later than 2018.

 

Ah-nuh-NO-bee

Norman Powell,

DeMarre Carroll,

Terrence Ross,

Rudy Gay,

Landry Fields,

Rasual Butler,

Linas Kleiza,

Hedo Turkoglu,

Jamario Moon,

Jason Kapono,

Morris Peterson,

Joey Graham.

Wow. What a trip down memory lane that list is for a Raptors fan. A total mish-mash of characters that just spews ineptitude and mediocrity. You may be wondering why I decided to remind you of these players that quite frankly are very forgettable (or memorable for the wrong reasons). Well you see, each of these players has one thing in common: they have each started a regular season opening game at Small Forward for the Toronto Raptors. Read more

Raptors vs. Cavaliers: Second Round Series Preview

The Leafs are golfing and the Jays suck so I’m all in on the Raptors right now. In the first round the Raptors were finally able to eliminate a lower-seeded team in less than 7 games by beating the young Milwaukee Bucks squad in 6 games. This year’s edition of the Playoff Raps features a couple of shiny new pieces and a plethora of versatile young role players to surround the All Star backcourt of Kyle Lowry and Demar Derozan. But don’t get it twisted, these are your same old Toronto Raptors.

Read more

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