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Five Reasons to Watch the Toronto Raptors This Season - The Ringer
Kyle Lowry, Point Guard

A champion forever. Got the gorilla off his back and now he’s walking taller and smiling wider. His posture’s improved. He’s sleeping better. Those are just a few of the things a ring can do for you.

Decided he’d turn in his opus the last game of the season. In Game 6 of the 2019 NBA Finals, in Oakland, the last Warriors game ever to be played at Oracle, this is the line he put up: 26 points, 10 assists, seven rebounds, three steals, Jurassic Park making the earth quake on every make. He had 15 in the first quarter alone and made sure to spread the wealth around in the process, give multiple defenders a taste. Dusted Looney a couple of times. Hit Curry with a stepback. Popped a 3 off the dribble with Draymond in his face. All game long he made huge plays. The biggest was probably the bucket he hit on Curry with 2:13 left in the fourth. That put them up six. The shot clock was winding down, and Lowry took Curry off the bounce. He got into the lane, stopped, and faded away. Curry had a nice contest. Didn’t matter. The ball bounced high off the back iron, touched the tip top of the backboard, and fell through the net. Then Mike Breen went to hollering.
3 days ago
10 things from Raptors-Rockets: Defence a work in progress - Yahoo!
One — First things first: Before anything else, the Raptors need to shore up their defence, which is not at all surprising in preseason. Their potential is obvious — at one point James Harden was screening to shake OG Anunoby and Pascal Siakam only to find Pat McCaw or Rondae Hollis-Jefferson — but they’re inconsistent and sloppy. Nick Nurse demands that his players play tight and aggressively on the perimeter, but that takes getting used to, and the new additions are struggling with it. But more than anything else, it’s the rotations that have to be installed. Fred VanVleet and Serge Ibaka have been great in that regard, while everyone else is a step behind.
3 days ago
NBA preseason 2019 five thoughts recap: Houston Rockets 118, Toronto Raptors 111 - Raptors HQ
Welcome Back, Marc Gasol

It was great to see All-World Parade Celebration Master Marc Gasol back in action. He didn’t play extended minutes or put up numbers, but there’s something comforting about seeing him anchor the D. And on offense? Seeing Gasol, with the ball over his head in two hands, making eye contact and using that little head jerk to direct guys? Championship memories! Just a treat to watch.

Even when he anchored a Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Matt Thomas, Patrick McCaw and Stanley Johnson lineup in the second half, it was... fine? Would’ve have been even worse without Marc bringing his dad energy, that’s for sure.
3 days ago
2019-20 Toronto Raptors Player Preview: Stanley Johnson, upside wing with plenty of competition - Raptors HQ
Given the makeup of the Raptors’ roster, who will milk up as many minutes as possible with Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, and Pascal Siakam as the primary attack players, the expectation for any wing playing off-ball with those three is simple: make shots and defend the opposition’s best guard.

Johnson is a safe bet to do the latter. He’s a strong body at 6’7”, maintains a low centre of gravity, and has good footwork for keeping guys in front of him. TooMuchHoops does a nice job highlighting this from the Raptors-Pistons matchup in November of last year. While it was still a time where Toronto was figuring out its balance between Kawhi Leonard and the team offence, it shows Johnson playing some excellent one-on-one defence and even influencing the key turnover at the end of the game.

When you compare him to all the guys I listed above that he’ll be in competition with for minutes, this is Johnson’s differentiating factor. He can soak up bench minutes against the other team’s best scorer, especially if the opposing coach is staggering them in a creative way.

The ideal world for Johnson is that he takes last year’s OG Anunoby role and becomes OG’s everyday backup, ensuring the Raptors have the smallest drop-off in wing defence from starters to bench among upper-tier Eastern Conference Teams.

That would be the case... if we get to the point where Stanley Johnson is good enough on offence to be the everyday guy coming in at small forward.
3 days ago
Raptors banking on an OG Anunoby bounce-back | Toronto Sun
Anunoby appeared to solve a decade-long black hole at small forward for Toronto as a rookie before suffering through an injury and off-court tragedy-marred second campaign that included Anunoby missing the entire playoff run.

But now he’s back and looking as good as ever defensively and more confident in what he can do on offence. That’s exciting head coach Nick Nurse, who has always been a big believer in Anunoby. In the two games here in Japan against Houston, Anunoby probably gave superstar James Harden the most trouble (Harden basically toyed with the other Raptors), something he memorably did as a rookie as well, and Anunoby also showed his passing instincts and a bit more flair on offence.

“He’s not only healthy, but he’s probably in the best condition he’s been in. He’s slimmer,” Nurse said after the second game.

“There’s no health problems. He had just a bunch of all kinds of things just an unfortunate season last year (but) first and foremost he’s got a real knack and a talent on defence,” Nurse said. “He’s big, 6-8, can move with speed, steal the ball. He stepped into a charge tonight. He had two or three deflections and things he knocked away. That’s one way he can help our team is becoming one of our primary defensive stoppers. And then I hope he gets back to shooting the ball like his rookie season,” Nurse said.

“He shot that season at 37%. That’s pretty good.”

Nurse added that while the team is always thinking about the present, there also will be steps taken to make things better in the future. To that end, they will try some things to get Anunoby to continue to expand his game. Nurse said that means giving him the ball more in the open floor, letting him post up a bit, and also face up against opponents.
3 days ago
Raptors Tokyo takeaways: OG Anunoby impressive in handling James Harden | The Star
Anunoby moved his feet, didn’t bite on the fakes or the hesitation dribbles.

Harden made one improbably hard three-pointer over Anunoby on one possession but had to give the ball up on a couple more and the third-year Raptor proved his worth in what eventually turned out to be a 118-111 loss to the Rockets in Tokyo.

“He’s got a real knack and a talent on defence,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said of Anunoby after the game. “He’s big, he’s 6-8, can move his feet, can steal the ball. He stepped in and took a charge tonight, had two or three deflections and things he knocked away.

“That’s the thing that can certainly impact our team and (help Anunoby) become maybe one of our primary defensive stoppers.”

There is a starting job that would seem to be Anunoby’s to lose and defensive prowess like he showed in two games this week will certainly keep him in the discussion.

His offensive stats were unimpressive — two points, two rebounds, two turnovers in 20 minutes — but he’s going to get a chance to work on that aspect of his game.

“I hope he gets back to shooting the ball like his rookie season, he shot the three at 37 per cent, that’s pretty good,” Nurse said. “When you’re 6-8 and you’ve got (Fred) VanVleet and (Kyle) Lowry and (Pascal) Siakam and those guys creating and it comes out to you, if you can just kind of become a reliable, knock-down three-point shooter then he’d have a good, solid role with us.”
3 days ago
Raptors heading home after series split with Rockets | Toronto Sun
Toronto’s defence wasn’t particularly sharp for the second game in a row, but was bailed out a bit by some poor outside shooting by Harden and Westbrook, who shot a combined 4-for-19 on three-pointers.

Eric Gordon and P.J. Tucker nailed 7 of 15 three-point attempts, though, and the Rockets got up a whopping 64 attempts.

Toronto’s lone draft pick this season, centre Dewan Hernandez, made his debut and acquitted himself well, but is expected to be bound for Raptors 905 for some seasoning after missing an entire season due to NCAA red tape.

Another big man option, Chris Boucher, impressed again and head coach Nick Nurse made it clear afterward that Boucher is putting himself into the mix for some minutes. Nurse also singled out Terence Davis, Malcolm Miller and OShae Brissett as catching his eye. What Nurse didn’t mention is that veteran newcomers Stanley Johnson and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson have had a rough start to their Toronto tenure.

“Plenty of guys there, it’s not easy to weed it out (the rotation) this time of year but that’s part of the reason we play so many guys and limit the minutes of our veterans,” Nurse said.

All in all, he is reasonably content at this early stage, but ready to look ahead too.

“I think our guys that we’ve had around a little bit are rounding into shape. I really like the way Pascal, Norm, Fred look,” Nurse said in summing up the two games.

“OG (Anunoby’s) still trying to get on track, but I thought he made some plays defensively tonight. Gasol just changes a lot of things just with his toughness and his IQ and stuff out there.”
3 days ago
Jack Armstrong: Thoughts on Serge Ibaka, Marc Gasol and more -
MARC GASOL (Raptors): Nice to see him on the court Thursday in Tokyo playing a solid 18 minutes. He’s had an incredibly busy summer and past season and I think it’s smart to ease him in slowly. It’s all about opening night on Oct. 22 for veterans like him and Kyle Lowry. Slow and steady wins the race. 
3 days ago
Sixteen post-game thoughts: Powell shines, Gasol makes debut, OG stars on defence – The Athletic
OG Anunoby’s game was exactly what the preseason is all about from a development standpoint: He played in two different potential regular season roles and was given ample leash to try new things with the freedom to fail. So long as those failures don’t actually cost him time and are instead just scaled back when the season begins, that’s a great use of preseason action. Here, that meant Anunoby once again doing more driving and creating for himself, both as the fifth starter and as a higher-usage piece with the bench. He looks dramatically better in the former role, though he made a couple of nice reads attacking, including a kick-out for a Malcolm Miller three.

The most important note on Anunoby might be that while the offence was uneven, his defence never wavered. For the second game in a row, Anunoby looked like the best defender on the floor for the Raptors. He was a stout option against Westbrook and Eric Gordon, timed his digs well to help create turnovers and took a savvy slide-in charge on Gerald Green. He was credited with three steals and probably had a hand in two or three more Rockets turnovers. If Anunoby defends like this, he’ll start and any offence he provides will be a bonus.
3 days ago
Thirty Histories: Toronto Raptors - RealGM Analysis
Basketball at the scale the NBA presents it is performance as much as it is an athletic competition. A crowd of about 20,000 and millions more watching on TV. Because people are solipsistic, and because the action itself is often so absorbing, they are occasionally overtaken by the sense that the game is being staged just for them. (This isn’t stupidity; it is what happens when you’re moved by what an athlete can do with their body.) This goes double for when your favorite team is playing, and what unfolds feels like an intimate dialogue, even though it obviously isn’t. Great athletes who accomplish spectacular feats with your city’s name across their chest become your friends. The relationship is comically thin—they play really well and you make amused noises at them—but the bond is nonetheless surprisingly strong. Sports are like club drugs: they convince you you’re forging a perfect connection with complete strangers.

Vince Carter was the first Toronto Raptor, ever, who made lots of people in Ontario and all across Canada feel close to a basketball player. He belonged to a town that had never before had someone like him to be proud of.

And then he flamed out. Part of the reason we so rapturously celebrate Young Vince Carter is that his next phase was a disappointment. He had some knee problems that reduced his athleticism from generational to exceptional, and he left Toronto on bad terms, checked out and resentful. He peaked at 24. We never got to see his version of Jordan’s first threepeat, LeBron in South Beach, the stage of his career that Giannis is just now entering. Those Nets seasons sucked. By the time we got around to appreciating Vince again, he was 35 years old and a glue guy in Dallas. It was wonderful to watch, but it was an entirely different experience provided by a player whom time had noticeably worn down. 

Sam Riches, Canada’s best sportswriter: “I wanted more, just like everyone else. We wanted the Vince that dunked, the beautiful athlete who let us boast, made us prideful just for having seen him do what he did and being able to believe that he did it for us.” Unfortunately, you get whatever athletes are willing to give you, and sometimes less than that, because their bodies betray them in ways they don’t plan for. Vince Carter wasn’t everything Toronto wanted him to be, but he was its first love. Like a lot of first loves, he was both singular and not enough, an uneclipsable unit of measurement unto himself.
3 days ago
Toronto Raptors' Norman Powell will be judged on consistency - Yahoo!
Powell may be 6-foot-4 but that height is accompanied by a 6-foot-11 wingspan and the athleticism has been on display often enough to show that this is an area where he can be a greater contributor. He’s performed at a slightly below average mark over his career but the Raptors can’t afford to have two starters with length and athleticism not contributing in that regard.

In fact, a stretch in March last season showed exactly the type of enigma Powell can be at times. After averaging 12.8 points over five games and looking like he was starting to feel it, he put up two straight zero-point games in a combined 34 minutes of action. In the latter, he grabbed 11 rebounds in a seven-point loss to the OKC Thunder while often matched up with Russell Westbrook, who he helped limit to 6-of-20 shooting from the field.

The Raptors are thin at the shooting guard position and the 26-year-old knows that this is as big of an opportunity as he’s ever had to make his mark in the league with no one to really look over his shoulder to. There figure to be enough touches to go around that Powell can be where he needs to be as a scorer, but what of the other facets of his game?

If Powell can add more colour to his repertoire with the rebounding and playmaking aspects, then the Raptors may just have a serviceable starting guard on their hands.
3 days ago
Raptors podcast: Inside scoop on Kyle Lowry negotiations - Yahoo!
Host William Lou is joined by Michael Grange of Sportsnet to break down the current outlook and the future of the Raptors. Topics include:

Who will make the starting five?

Inside scoop on Kyle Lowry's contract negotiations

Raptors' ongoing discussions with Pascal Siakam

How Lowry's deal affects Fred VanVleet

The future of Masai Ujiri
3 days ago
Raptors could need more offence from Marc Gasol with Leonard gone -
4. Norm Powell heating up:

I’ve always been a Powell want-to-believer.

It only seems right that someone who’s so serious about their craft can have success at it. Powell – as any Raptors fan knows – has had some. He deserves his place in Raptors lore if only for his playoff moments. Three times he’s changed the tone of a series – as a rookie against Indiana; in his second year against Milwaukee and last year against Milwaukee again.

But heading into year five with a ring on his finger and an open spot in the starting lineup where Danny Green used to be, now is the time for Powell to deliver on a consistent basis. What he showed against the Rockets on Thursday was pretty much the total package. He’s looked comfortable shooting the three (5-of-7); made good decisions creating offence for others and was active and aggressive defensively and in the open court.

You can’t expect 22 points on 11 shots every night, but it’s not an anomaly. The key is eliminating the games where he’s lost and confused, or at least minimizing them. You can’t under-estimate the loss of Green, but it’s not outrageous to think with some passable three-point shooting and sound defence, Powell’s ability to push the ball, slash and score makes the Raptors a more dynamic team than they were with Green on the floor.
3 days ago
Washington Wizards 2019-2020 Season Preview: Toronto Raptors - Wiz of Awes
The 2019-2020 Toronto Raptors may be the least threatening reigning champions in NBA history.

While they still have Kyle Lowry, Serge Ibaka, and Marc Gasol, they lost the Finals MVP in Kawhi Leonard and two phenomenal defenders in Delon Wright and Danny Green.

Expectations remain high, though, as many expect the Raptors will be in the playoffs yet again since the Eastern Conference is still a jumble of just-above-average teams. But for a team like Washington who can’t afford to lose to any conference opponents, these matchups will prove crucial to their playoff hopes. If they have any.

Even without Leonard, the Raptors still have a still relevant All-Star point guard in Lowry. And against Washington last year, he was extremely efficient. Lowry averaged a double-double (19 points, 11.3 assists per game) in the season series against the Wizards. With no Wall to slow him down this season, Lowry could cause even more trouble for the Wizards this season
3 days ago
Toronto Raptors will be loading managing without Kawhi Leonard - Yahoo!
With Lowry, the sweet spot is a little bit easier to gauge. One aspect of his load that will always be kept in mind is the minimum 65-game and 25 minutes per game trigger that is required for him to earn his bonuses. Toronto went 11-6 in the 17 games Lowry missed last season, but the team figures to need him more this season. The aforementioned departures have left the team light on 3-point shooting while the relative lack of depth at the shooting guard position also stands to highlight his importance.

The 33-year-old played 78 games in 2017-18 but was aided by playing 32 minutes a game. Reasonably, he should hover somewhere between the 34 minutes of last season and 37 of the 2015-16 and 2016-17 seasons. Factoring in his age, with that many minutes, and considering how much the team will need him to compete for home court advantage through two rounds of the playoffs, they’ll ideally need him in and around the 70-mark this season.

Gasol’s importance is an interesting one. He remains a fantastic two-way player who can anchor the team on both sides of the ball, but the Raptors also have Serge Ibaka to mitigate any concern over minutes. Gasol averaged just 25 minutes a game with the Raptors over the final 26 games of the season, a significant drop from the near 34 he was playing in Memphis. If his minutes hover in the same region as they did in Toronto last season, you probably just need him sitting out the occasional back-to-back.

“I think you have to trust the medical team,” Gasol said at training camp. “Obviously, as a player, you always want to play, you know, your competitive nature. But you have to protect yourself from yourself a little bit. Let the guys who are professionals make those decisions.”

Approaching 35, Gasol has played in at least 73 games in four of the past five seasons, including 79 last year. The Raptors face five pairs of back-to-backs before the turn of the calendar year, and that’s when the medical staff will want to be most careful about the strain on his body. Still, with the anticipated time share at centre, you’d like to think that as long as he isn’t hurt or traded, there’s another 70-plus game season in him.

The other factor that impacts both Lowry and Gasol’s usage is development. Toronto will want to see what both VanVleet and Chris Boucher can bring to the table this season, and so figuring out those answers will play its role.
4 days ago
Raptors have plenty of options at wing even with Leonard, Green gone -
Make no mistake, the Raptors aren’t going to suddenly be able to find a one-to-one replacement for a top-three NBA player and an elite-level, three-and-D role player, so if those are your expectations for Toronto’s wings this season it would be best to begin tempering them now.

With that said, it’s not like the Raptors are completely devoid of options at the two and three spots, in fact, one of the Raptors’ biggest strengths at the wing is that they have nothing but options.

Though it may sound bad, what the Raptors have now is an abundance of choice at the wing, with many players for head coach Nick Nurse to try in a variety of different situations as opposed to really only two top-end guys that must be used in all scenarios.

In Toronto’s pre-season opener against the Houston Rockets in Japan on Tuesday morning, there were glimpses of the possibilities at shooting guard and small forward as a slew of players got a chance to show what they can bring to the table.
4 days ago
Travelling Raptors don’t have time on their side in compressed NBA pre-season | The Star
It’s nice for the Raptors to be in Tokyo and see one of the world’s great cities and all it has to offer.

Noted baseball fan Nick Nurse was headed to the park to catch a game on Wednesday night, Kyle Lowry said he’d found some cool shopping sites hidden away, and Marc Gasol talked about the trip being a nice weeklong bonding adventure for the team.

That’s all well and good, and expanding “the brand” to the far reaches of the world is never a bad thing, nor is getting some work in away from a monstrous gaggle of local media. But there are basketball considerations to be taken into account. By the time the Raptors fly back to North America, half of their pre-season games will have been played and it will be less than two weeks until they start defending their NBA championship for real.

Work must be done, and to hear Nurse talk from Tokyo on Wednesday there is much work to do.

“I’ve got some concerns,” he said during a media session after the team worked out between Tokyo games against the Houston Rockets. “I know there were some people that we’re going to need to rely on that made a lot of defensive mistakes.

“You know me well enough to know that I don’t really like it when our game plan is not followed and you can’t execute (and) you’re making those mistakes.”

The compressed pre-season has added a measure of urgency for the NBA coach, so Nurse will not be alone in his desire for more rapid improvement after a summer away. The Raptors are in the majority of teams that are only playing four exhibition games — teams used to play six to eight — and that’s put added pressure on each game.
4 days ago
Raptors have long had international connections which made Japan trip an easy sell | Toronto Sun
Everyone knows Toronto’s ceiling this season is based heavily on how much better Pascal Siakam can get after already being named the NBA’s most improved a year ago, but Fred VanVleet is a key player too.

VanVleet isn’t shy to include himself in that conversation and did so when asked about how the Raptors will handle expectations and building on the title run.

“We’ve done it at the highest level so it’s not so much about proving it anymore, it’s more about putting together complete games,” VanVleet said.

“Trying to put together a little package of what you can expect throughout the year (in the pre-season games). Gotta stay healthy, just try to be healthy night in and night out and for our team to have a lot (of success), obviously me and Pascal will probably be a big part of that,” he said. “We won’t necessary have to carry a load every day, but we need to be pretty good every single night and hopefully we can do that.”
4 days ago
NBA executives discuss extension talks: ‘There is fear on both sides’ | HoopsHype
"You have to consider the market and free-agent class when making these decisions. For example, if you look at the market next summer, there are a few teams that will have cap space and there isn’t much of a free-agent class. There’s a big incentive for a lot of these guys [who are up for extensions] like Pascal Siakam, Jaylen Brown and Buddy Hield to wait because the 2020 free-agent class is pretty weak, so it’s possible that they could play their way into a max contract or near-max contract. If Siakam waits and plays well, he could potentially be the top free agent available next summer. Brown is about to have an increased role in Boston, so the same thing applies for him; he could play his way into a max contract. They’d only need to win over one team with a lot of cap space. And, historically, when teams have cap space, they’ll spend it – even if the free-agent class is weak.”
4 days ago
2019-20 Toronto Raptors Player Preview: Terence Davis - Raptors HQ
Role On The Team

Well, this one is going to be a tough one to sort out for Nick Nurse. Kyle Lowry is firmly entrenched as the GOAT Raptor as well as starting the starting point guard and FVV is locked in as the backup PG and sometimes lead PG while Lowry plays off-ball. Where does that leave Mr. Davis?

While the Raptors could certainly find some room for him at the two-spot, the starting back-court would be severely undersized against most of the teams in the league and Davis doesn’t quite have the defensive chops to make up for his lack of size.

Drawing parallels yet again with Steady Freddy, VanVleet saw a grand total of 7.9 minutes in his rookie season and that number might not be completely far off where Davis lands by the end of the season. With that said, if he can manage to play anything like he did in his first go-round of NBA action in Japan, then coach Nurse is going to have a very hard time keeping him off the floor.
4 days ago
How Kyle Lowry’s extension complicates Fred VanVleet’s future with Raptors – The Athletic
Point guards are plentiful in the league, which is one of the factors that drove VanVleet back to Toronto last summer. But there could be plenty of teams willing to pay him like a starter even if he is a third guard, given how well he has performed next to Lowry and while on the court with him. Having multiple guards who can shoot is also a very good thing, even if VanVleet is undersized.

That final consideration is what makes VanVleet’s fit in Toronto, and elsewhere, even more complex. In the playoffs last year, he did an admirable job chasing around Steph Curry, serving as the “one” in Nick Nurse’s “box-and-one” defence. Even as he struggled offensively, VanVleet was very good at sticking with JJ Redick in the Philadelphia series. His defence is what kept him in the lineup throughout the playoffs, despite severe early shooting struggles. Comparatively short as he might be, VanVleet is a stout defender, and it is easy to see him developing a Lowry-like reputation as he gets older for his ability to hang with bigger players.

However, you need reps to prove that, which is just another way in which the two point guards are similar. Lowry knew that when Memphis chose Mike Conley over him more than a decade ago, he needed a change of scenery to prove his worth. That came in Houston in small doses, and then in Toronto in a large one. Luckily, VanVleet exists in a time where the concept of having just one ball-handling point guard on the floor is dying. That gives him more options than Lowry had to find his niche.

Still, without knowing how much VanVleet can produce as a starting guard, it will be tough for teams to put a price on him. This goes for the Raptors, too: VanVleet is one of the leaders on this team, irrespective of age, but how much are that and his on-court production worth when the Raptors want to remain as flexible as possible in 2021? How real are the Raptors’ chances at acquiring a marquee free agent then?

Signing VanVleet long-term could act as an opportunity cost for finding an answer to that second question, or it could at least hinder those attempts. Even if they add nobody while paying Pascal Siakam and VanVleet their market values, in addition to the already locked up Norman Powell, it would serve to limit the Raptors’ cap space, and their star-hunting ambitions in the process. These are not issues with Siakam, because if he can be one of the top 20 players in the league, which the Raptors believe he will be, he will be worth any price. VanVleet’s ceiling is obviously lower than that. He brings a lot to the table, but only the best players in this league are irreplaceable.
4 days ago
Raptors preseason: Siakam dominates while depth shines in Tokyo comeback – The Athletic
2. Fred VanVleet started in place of Lowry and looked like he’s already had enough of a camp to get game-ready. He scored 16 points with five rebounds, five assists and three steals in 28 minutes and added a pair of threes, one of them from very deep. VanVleet’s shooting efficiency would have looked even better were he not hunting two-for-ones so aggressively, but that’s a major strength the Raptors won’t want him to move away from, even if it occasionally hurts his percentages.

More notable than the outside shooting was that VanVleet unleashed a couple of savvy finishes around the rim, hesitating or switching hands to protect the ball from defenders. Finishing inside was the weakest part of VanVleet’s offensive game last year and he’s been working to convert more effectively (and, he joked, to fall less). He also hit Serge Ibaka with a terrific pocket pass, a potentially important development for a bench pick-and-roll duo that never quite found their chemistry last year.
5 days ago
10 things from Raptors-Rockets pre-season Tokyo game - Yahoo!
Four — A fresh thirty: Gasol and Lowry are easing into the season, but Serge Ibaka is roaring to go. The 30-year-old veteran looked to be the fittest player on the floor for both teams, and he was sharp and decisive with his moves. Ibaka opened the game shooting a perfect 5-of-5 from the field, and settled up with 18 points on 8-of-10 shooting. The Raptors made more of a point to establish Ibaka in the post, which isn’t and will never be his strength, but he’s as efficient as ever on pick-and-pops and dump-offs around the basket. If Ibaka keeps playing like this, the Raptors might be able to score a first-round pick in a trade deadline move if they choose to move in that direction. Regardless, it’s a testament to Ibaka’s commitment and professionalism that he came into camp with so much hunger and drive even after winning a championship.
5 days ago
Siakam starts strong as deadline to sign extension with Raptors looms -
Pascal Siakam is seeking a max contract extension from the Raptors in wake of his breakout third season that saw him earn Most Improved Player honours. The Raptors have until the eve of the regular season to reach an agreement on a deal, but don’t really have any urgency to do anything. Their motivation might be to sign Siakam to a contract at some kind of modest discount – even in early negotiations the sides aren’t that far apart – but the multi-skilled forward would be a restricted free agent next summer and the Raptors could “max” him then. There is no real risk of losing the player, only potentially pissing him off.

In the meantime, all Siakam can do is play. And with all the caveats about it’s only pre-season and blah, blah, blah – the fourth-year forward looked fantastic. His task as a primary option will be to maintain all the things that got him this far: floor-running, defensive energy and the ability to score around the rim, while adding better passing, continuing to show a growing three-point threat and perhaps some in-between game too. Siakam showed every element of that, putting up an effortless 24 points and 11 rebounds as well as four assists. The turnover totals – five – will bear watching, but it doesn’t look like Siakam is going to be taking any steps back this coming season.
5 days ago
VanVleet giving new Raptor Davis advice and tough love | Toronto Sun
With a need at point guard behind Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet, the Raptors have been getting Davis, primarily a swingman in college, to learn a new position.

He showed some good vision with the assists and only two turnovers and also caught Chris Boucher in stride for what should have been an easy bucket, but Boucher fumbled the pass.

VanVleet, who also went undrafted and opted to sign with the Raptors, has taken Davis under his wing and is giving him some tough love amidst the support.

“He’s been good. He’s been aggressive (but) there’s a lot of room for growth,” VanVleet said when asked by the Toronto Sun about what he has seen from Davis so far.

“He’s got to get a lot better obviously to be able to help this team but you see flashes. You see what he brings to the table. But he’s kind of in an awkward position. I know they’re asking him to do some primary ball-handling which is probably not natural for him so I think in a more traditional second unit with a point guard (on the floor with him) he can play off the ball more,” VanVleet said.

“But he’s got the right approach. He works and the talent will show when it needs to show he’s got a bright future and we are all trying to help him and speed up his learning curve. He’s got a lot to learn as well but you like what you see from him.”
5 days ago
NBA Preseaon Five thoughts recap: Toronto Raptors 134, Houston Rockets 129 - Raptors HQ
Norman Powell got the start at the two-guard, and although he wasn’t overly involved in the offense early, he didn’t try and do too much or force anything, which is the bad habit he usually displays. Instead, he let the game come to him, waited for his opportunities and made the most of them. He ended up with 14 points in the first half, on 9 shots.

I was disappointed to see Powell benched for Patrick McCaw to start the second half. I know it’s the preseason and guys will be coming in and out of the rotation and getting a look, especially since the Raptors have a ton of wings. The good news for Norm is that none of Stanley Johnson, Cameron Payne or Patrick McCaw really took advantage of those second-half minutes (though Rondae Hollis-Jefferson had some moments). If Powell has more of that solid first-half play up his sleeve for the rest of the preseason, the starting off-guard job is probably his to live.
5 days ago
2019-20 Toronto Raptors Player Preview: Norman Powell - Raptors HQ
Coming into training camp Powell is projected to be in the lead to start at shooting guard. He has started 63 games in his career and was supposed to be the starting two guard for the Raptors in 2017-18. An injury led to him missing some games and OG Anunoby taking his spot. Last year, Danny Green occupied the two-spot in the starting lineup to great effect.

This season Powell will most likely start alongside Anunoby, the projected starting small forward. There are realistically two ways Powell isn’t in the starting lineup. First, if Nick Nurse chooses to adjust game-to-game and tinker with the lineup depending on opposing matchups, something he did at times last season. Secondly, if Powell isn’t consistently producing on both ends of the floor, he could lose his spot — most likely to a two-PG lineup featuring Fred VanVleet.

There’s no reason to assume either will happen just yet. Powell is a young veteran leader on this team, as he mentioned on Media Day. The opportunity for him to average double digit points for the first time in his career is this season.

Norm could achieve this scoring goal in the two ways he’s excelled at in his career. No one expected Powell to become a three-point threat, yet he’s averaged 40 percent from three twice in his four seasons, something he could improve on with consistent minutes. Meanwhile, it’s expected that Powell will continue to attack the rim, a strength he has shown throughout his career.

In short, Powell’s role is to take advantage of the scoring opportunities when they come. He doesn’t need to force his offensive game playing around Kyle Lowry, Pascal Siakam, Marc Gasol, and should work best as a complementary player (like Anunoby).
5 days ago
Raptors Tokyo takeaways: Terence Davis steals the show with Siakam in ‘mid-season form’ | The Star
With Lowry and Marc Gasol sitting the game out, the Raptors started VanVleet, Norm Powell, OG Anunoby, Siakam and Serge Ibaka and then flipped Patrick McCaw for Powell at the start of the third quarter.

McCaw’s offensive passivity is going to be an issue. He may be an above average defender who can guard multiple positions but he played 21 minutes and did not have a single field-goal attempt. That has to change if he’s going to be considered for a regular role with the team’s second group.

The other end-of-the-roster guys who showed well in their limited time was Oshae Brissett and Chris Boucher, each fighting for a spot on the 15-man regular-season roster.

Boucher had 12 points and seven rebounds in 18 minutes; Brissett had six and four in 12 minutes.
5 days ago
Raptors' Fred VanVleet has opportunity, clarity - Yahoo!
Excelling on basketball’s biggest stage has certainly worked wonders for VanVleet’s notoriety and perception across the league, and with resources scarce in the free agency class of 2020, the allure of what he brings to the table may be too good to resist. The NBA has projected the salary cap to be at $118M for the 2020-21 season, and while there are several teams with cap space, the Miami Heat will potentially be looking to replace Goran Dragic. Orlando — the place where VanVleet made his first NBA impression — will have room to maneuver and a starting opportunity depending on how Markelle Fultz performs, and Dwane Casey may offer a fit for him in Detroit with the Pistons.

The Raptors, for their part, will certainly prefer to keep him, as VanVleet is a long way from being viewed the way Patrick Patterson and Lou Williams were upon the expiry of their respective contracts and could be a key member of the future core. He has stated several times his affinity for Toronto and his desire to remain a Raptor, but the key free agency questions will surround the dollar amount and role he’s looking for next July.

“I’m never going to hurt the team in terms of what I want individually. That always comes after our team goals but those goals are there as well,” VanVleet said at training camp. “I’m gonna do a good job of keeping everything in perspective and just layering it and anchoring it in order. As long as you keep the team first, everything else will work itself out. I’m not gonna hurt our team with my own ambition. If they want me to start, I’ll start. If they don’t then I’ll be the best bench player I can be.”

There may be teams looking to preserve their cap room for the loaded free agent class of 2021, but for those looking to bet on VanVleet as a starter, there may be a match. This season is about proving he deserves that shot.
5 days ago
What's Next For The Toronto Raptors? | Basketball Insiders
Gasol and Ibaka are in the same boat if a team is looking for frontcourt help. Both of their contracts are up after this year, and they are proven in this league. Front offices saw what they did for Toronto’s postseason run, and there will be interest for them, too.

Ujiri showed last year he is not afraid to make a splash when he traded longtime cornerstone DeMar DeRozan for the uncertain Leonard. If the right deal presents itself, be it in the form of unproven talent, draft capital, or younger assets, Ujiri will certainly consider it. The same rumblings in OKC for Chris Paul would theoretically be available for Lowry as well. Miami is always mentioned in these talks, and new suitors can surface at any time. All it takes is a good or bad stretch near the trade deadline for teams to change course, and organizations know Ujiri is bold enough to do something.

If the regular season goes a little better than or as expected, the Raptors may opt to keep their core intact. As mentioned, Milwaukee and Philadelphia are the cream of the Eastern Conference crop. The remaining six playoff teams of a year ago – Toronto, Boston, Indiana, Brooklyn, Orlando and Detroit – all have new additions, and with them new questions. A few nonplayoff teams – Miami, Atlanta, Chicago – all believe they are postseason contenders. Toronto could find themselves near the top of the standings as easily as they could the bottom, and how the playoff race shakes out will certainly inform Ujiri’s decisions regarding this roster. It is hard to break up a team that is looking at a three seed. It is not nearly as hard to do so for a team tied for seventh.

Toronto will receive their rings on October 22, as the first team since the 2014 HEAT to come off a title without a claim to the next one. But the most fascinating fact about the 2019-20 Toronto Raptors is intrigue on the court is overshadowed intrigue off of it. The shape of the other 29 teams will have a more significant influence on the Raptors than the Raptors themselves.

Last year, Ujiri’s moves made Toronto a contender. This year, their roster after the deadline could look vastly different from how it does now. How Ujiri feels leading up to and on February 7 will determine the Raptors’ immediate future – and will be far more impactful than anything that happens on the court this season.
5 days ago
Raptors Republic x Sportsnet Grill OPENING NIGHT WATCH PARTY Tickets, Tue, 22 Oct 2019 at 7:00 PM | Eventbrite
Join us at Sportsnet Grill to watch the first game of the Toronto Raptors’ 2019-20 NBA Season, where our Raptors will take on the Zion Williamson and the New Orleans Pelicans. Tonight will be special as the Raptors will be receiving their Championship Rings and raising the Championship Banner.
6 days ago
What Kyle Lowry’s extension reveals about the Toronto Raptors future intentions – The Athletic
The deal does have a potential impact on two other Raptors: Siakam and VanVleet. Depending on how much you value flexibility versus certainty, this could signal that a new deal for Siakam will wait until next summer. The Raptors have until Oct. 21 to work out a rookie-scale contract extension with Siakam, lest he become a restricted free agent next summer. If Siakam’s camp is seeking the max, which our Shams Charania has reported they are, there’s little incentive to get that deal done now. The upside for the Raptors is in getting a deal done beneath the max. If they are committed to paying Siakam that max – which is entirely justifiable based on how his growth projects from here – it would make more sense to get it done in the summer. That would allow the Raptors to keep Siakam’s modest cap hold on their books, go about their free agent spending (with at least $28 million in space, and possibly more if they so choose), then re-sign Siakam to his larger deal. It’s purely a flexibility play, not a value-judgment one. You could make a case that the free agent opportunity cost of extending Siakam now is low enough in a weak class for it not to matter, but staying lean can open up opportunities in trade, as well, and the Raptors would sacrifice a projected $22 million in cap space by doing the Siakam deal now.

VanVleet is the more interesting, if less urgent, wrinkle. An unrestricted free agent this coming summer, VanVleet is not extension eligible. Extending Lowry in no way signals a vote of no-confidence in VanVleet, as VanVleet’s next deal will be more about how much space it eats up in 2021, which is now firmly established as the team’s pivot season. Where this could come into play is if VanVleet is insistent on being a starter on his next deal and there’s hesitancy on Lowry’s part to move to a bench role, or if it in some way reshapes the minutes distribution this season. These considerations are real but minor – this is a big season for VanVleet to show whether he can grow into a starter in a larger role – by minutes and responsibility – independent of what is happening with Lowry. There would be 2020-21 overlap, but VanVleet’s season and summer are about his future with the team in 2021 and beyond.

Just as important as any cap-space wrinkle is what Lowry’s deal signals about the Raptors’ near-term intentions: They’re going to compete while they transition. Masai Ujiri has been adamant that their program has been built to put winning first and has held steadfast for years that the team won’t tank to eventually rebuild. They’re built such that a tear-down would be unsuitable, anyway, and securing Lowry for an additional year extends that thinking. While Lowry is now 33, he has shown little sign of impact decline and projects as roughly a top-30 player again this year. Smaller point guards don’t have a terrific track record of aging, but with Lowry’s shooting, savvy and the Raptors’ ability to lessen his workload thanks to VanVleet, they should be able to manage the beginning of his decline well enough that Lowry remains a positive contributor.
6 days ago
Road to extension with Raptors shows NBA championship won’t change Kyle Lowry – The Athletic
That is always the rub with Lowry and whatever gripe he might have at the time: As much as you question his motives away from the floor, his playing style is so commendable and his competitiveness is so evident that it is tempting to wipe all of the little things away. He could not bring himself to publicly support Dwane Casey after the Raptors’ embarrassing playoff loss to Washington; he has openly flirted with other teams in free agency instead of taking DeRozan’s route; he bristles at coaches who don’t see the game as he does, and executives who make moves he doesn’t like. But none of it really matters as long as he keeps spilling his soul on the court as a Raptor, which he will do because he simply cannot help himself.

Asking what would make Lowry happy for an extended period of time misses the point. Lowry is clearly capable of moments of clarity and extreme professionalism. As much as you want to tell Lowry to make things a little easier on himself by kissing a few babies and shaking a few hands, his refusal to do so is a byproduct of the chip on his shoulder that drives him. So as much as his circumstances may change for the better, in his mind he will forever remain a late first-round pick who two organizations (Memphis and Houston) decided wasn’t good enough to start.

No matter what Lowry or Ujiri says, or what the powerful image of Lowry pulling Ujiri over the barricade after the president’s altercation with security in Oakland may suggest, the marriage between Lowry and club has always been one based on circumstance instead of passion.

How will Lowry’s story with the Raptors end? Probably poorly, and Monday’s news does little to change that. The ending, however, won’t be what we remember most.
6 days ago
Raptors snuff out potential holdout with Lowry extension, keep flexibility -
That a deal did get done reflects a few factors.

One is that Raptors president Masai Ujiri and the club are truly appreciative of their point guard and what he has meant to the team’s culture. There is no six-year playoff run without Lowry and most certainly there is no NBA title without his combination of tenacity, smarts and skill. That Lowry played the last 13 games of their championship run with torn ligaments in his left thumb that required he take pain-killing needles prior to every start wasn’t lost on anyone.

There’s also the recognition that any chance the Raptors have of mounting a respectable title defence post-Kawhi Leonard this season relies on healthy, happy and engaged Lowry.

But even with that appreciation, Ujiri wasn’t going to give Lowry the multi-year extension – three years was the dream scenario – he was angling for when the two sides began talking earlier this summer. As much as Lowry is determined to do the work to extend his career into his late thirties, Ujiri did not want to bet big money on Lowry remaining at an all-star level beyond his age-35 season.

As a result, any championship bonus Lowry was going to get was going to have to come in the form of a one-year lump-sum.

By keeping the extension to one season, Lowry’s deal is only using cap space that was never likely to be used. The free-agent market in the summer of 2020 doesn’t include the kind of players the Raptors would likely be looking to dole out max-type deals to.

Even with Lowry’s $31 million on the books for 2020-21, Toronto would still have $28 million to spend in a targeted manner or to use to acquire salary in a trade next.

They have also kept their powder dry for free agency – or the trade – in the summer of 2021 when Giannis Antetokounmpo is projected to hit the market, along with a number of other high-end talents.
6 days ago
NBA Free Agency: Kyle Lowry continues to make the best deal with Toronto - Raptors HQ
To see that dollar figure may give a person pause, however. To put on our general manager hat for a second, $31 million for a 33-year-old point guard (who will turn 34 before the end of this season), is a lot of money for a player likely to start entering some kind of decline. Biology remains what it is, unfortunately. Lowry will make $35 million in the 2019-20 season, the last year of his previous deal, and we’ll soon see just how much he has left in the tank.

The Raptors obviously didn’t need Lowry to be their primary or even secondary scorer last year, but this season he may need to rise to the occasion more often than not, depending on what kind of jump Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet, and even OG Anunoby make. As has been noted repeatedly, an undersized point guard heading into his mid-30s is usually not an on-court asset for a team. The Rockets discovered that with the atrophying of Chris Paul, and the Lakers are about to risk it all with whatever is left of Rajon Rondo. Toronto is in a different situation with Lowry, but it’s worth noting all the same.

Still, this rounds out as a low-risk investment. Toronto makes a good faith signing with the one player who has been on the team since before the We the North era began. Lowry, meanwhile, continues to build his resume as one of the best point guards of his generation at the highest possible price. Yes, a short term deal is a risk for him, but Lowry likely knows he wasn’t going to see north of $30mil anywhere else, at least not in the summer of 2020. And now with a championship under his belt and the immediate pressure off Ujiri to do something to try and win one, Lowry’s status in Toronto is even more secure. This likely figured into the calculus somewhere too.

Unlike, say, trading DeMar DeRozan — a decision that made a lot of sense both basketball- and contract-wise for Toronto — moving Lowry does not necessarily mean as much of a significant return. (Toronto certainly wouldn’t get a Kawhi-type player in the deal, that’s for sure.) There are teams who could use Lowry’s services, for sure, but it is unlikely one would give up much in the way of assets — and the cost in fan acrimony would be way too high. As it stands, a mid-season trade featuring Lowry continues to feel unlikely; Toronto remains the best fit for Lowry, and vice versa. The Raptors want to compete now and maintain their financial flexibility for the future. This is the best way for Lowry to do the same thing.
6 days ago
Lowry, Raptors agree to one-year, $31-million extension | Toronto Sun
With the deal, Toronto commits to fielding a strong team for the next two summers before being able to open up the bank in search of a marquee free agent. The 2020 free-agent class is perceived to be weak, whereas the 2021 crop should be headlined by league MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, so the move gives the Raptors more certainty for an extra year.

Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka and Fred VanVleet are all slated to hit unrestricted free agency in the summer of 2020 and Pascal Siakam will either be offered a big-money extension in the next couple of weeks or next summer.

Lowry, 33, is the franchise leader in many categories and is approaching the top of a number of others. This is the third extension he has inked with the Raptors since being acquired from Houston in 2012, making him the first basketball player to score a Toronto hat trick.

There’s little question Lowry has had the best Raptors career of any player in the franchise’s first 24 seasons. While Kawhi Leonard (and perhaps Vince Carter) had greater individual campaigns, Lowry has been the beating heart and motor of a string of strong teams, culminating in the 2018-19 title-winning edition.

Team president Masai Ujiri spoke at media day of giving Lowry “legacy” treatment owing to his history with the franchise and then delivered.

“We are so appreciative of how Masai and Bobby (Webster) handled every aspect of this negotiation,” Lowry’s new agent Mark Bartelstein told ESPN.
6 days ago
Kyle Lowry extension protects Raptors’ financial flexibility while keeping all-star happy | The Star
Lowry can be a prickly sort and his seven years in Toronto have not been all sweetness and light but that recalcitrance makes him what he is as a competitor and dealing with it is just part of doing business because there is no disputing the value he provides on the court. He clashed with then-coach Dwane Casey early in his tenure but the two resolved any differences and developed a relationship that helped turn the Raptors into perennial Eastern Conference contenders in the era of LeBron James in Cleveland.

Ujiri was days — maybe hours — from trading Lowry to the New York Knicks in 2013 to start a complete teardown of the roster but Knicks owner James Dolan nixed the deal at the last minute in a move that altered the course of Raptors history. Lowry sought other interested teams when he was a free agent in 2016 but settled on a three-year, $100-million deal with Toronto when other offers never seriously materialized.

He bristled a year ago when Ujiri traded his best friend and long-time teammate DeMar DeRozan to the San Antonio Spurs and only a “difficult” meeting with Ujiri last February took Lowry off the trade market.

Lowry has been integral to everything the Raptors have done since then-president Bryan Colangelo obtained him from Houston in a trade for Gary Forbes and a draft pick that turned into Steven Adams, now with Oklahoma City.

And through it all, the native of Philadelphia has stayed a consummate pro on the court, the heart of the team. All the trouble was worthwhile.

“We can say whatever we want about Kyle: He comes and he gives it his all on the court,” Ujiri said. “He’ll give me a headache once a month, but that’s fine.
6 days ago
Kyle Lowry’s contract extension helps the Raptors now and later -
Lowry’s extension shows the Raptors will take care of you

Lowry’s extension isn’t just a reward for a brilliant career. It’s also a signal to stars around the league that the Raptors take care of their players.

Much like the late career extension Kobe Bryant signed with the Lakers, Lowry’s deal proves the Raptors can treat players like family, not just numbers on a spreadsheet. The franchise caught some heat for being heartless after trading longtime stalwart DeMar DeRozan for Leonard a year ago. That move proved to be one of the most impactful in NBA history. With Lowry’s deal, Toronto is reaffirming its place as an organization that treats players with full respect.

There was no comic sans letter when Leonard left. There likely won’t be vitriol from the fans when he visits in an away uniform like there was for Kevin Durant in Oklahoma City. Lowry’s championship bonus doesn’t just help the Raptors in the near-term, it could help their perception with other players long-time. If anyone deserves this type of commitment, it’s him.
6 days ago
Legacy extension is a win-win for Kyle Lowry and Toronto Raptors -
However, this is more than just a reward for his years of service and effort in delivering the team its first title. Despite his age, Lowry is still a productive player and one of the most valuable point guards in the league.

The Raptors may not be contenders without Kawhi Leonard, but as long as Lowry is healthy and on the court they’re sure to be among the top teams in the East. There had been some speculation that Toronto could look to trade Lowry’s expiring contract ahead of February’s trade deadline and pivot to a rebuild, but his extension signifies a desire to remain competitive, even in the post-Leonard era.

From the Raptors side of things, a one-year extension allows them to maintain their coveted long-term flexibility.

Had the Raptors allowed Lowry’s deal to expire next summer – in addition to Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka and Fred VanVleet – they would have had more than $90 million coming off their books. However, the free agent class in the summer of 2020 is expected to be underwhelming.

By extending Lowry a year, they will defer much of that cap space to the summer of 2021 when several marquee players could become available, including Bucks superstar and reigning NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, who Ujiri is known to be infatuated with.

If they hope to recruit Antetokounmpo, or any other big-name free agent, this was an important and necessary step: continue to build a winning culture while taking care of a well-regarded player who has bled for the franchise, literally in many cases.

The new deal also provides Lowry and the Raptors some stability going into a season of uncertainty.

Toronto is only the third team in NBA history to try and defend its championship without the reigning Finals MVP on its roster, and the first team to do it with said Finals MVP on somebody else’s roster.
6 days ago
Agent: Kyle Lowry, Raptors agree to one-year, $31M contract extension - Yahoo!
This deal gives Lowry financial security – not location security. The Raptors can still trade him. But he locks in another high salary, maybe his last big payday.

Taking this extension was an interesting choice for him. Lowry will now enter fee agency at age 35 rather than 34. His next contract will likely be worth less. But the extension provides guaranteed money now.

It’s also an interesting choice for the Raptors if they’re open to trading Lowry. Does an extra season on his deal make him more or less valuable? They definitely get more time to find a trade.

Of course, this extension could be designed just to keep Lowry in Toronto longer. He’s so revered there. It’d be a happy ending if he finishes his career with the Raptors, and this deal could get him one step closer.

Toronto now has more reason not to extend Pascal Siakam, which would cut into next summer’s cap space. When the Raptors’ cap room projected to be so high anyway – about $80 million – they could have more easily justified a Siakam extension. With that projected cap space down to about $50 million, Toronto should be more cost-conscious. Extending Siakam could still work, but this nudges the Raptors toward keeping him on his low cap hold then re-signing him in restricted free agency next summer.
6 days ago
Former top-10 pick Stanley Johnson looking for fresh start with Raptors -
It’s a fit that makes sense for both parties. Johnson spoke to Raptors president Masai Ujiri over the phone early in the free agency. There was interest on both sides, but Toronto was in a holding pattern as the team waited on Leonard’s decision.

Once the Finals MVP chose the Clippers, the Raptors – still capped out and unable to chase a marquee free agent – moved on Johnson, signing him to a two-year $7.5 million deal, with a player option in the second season.

“Me and my representation talked to a bunch of teams and felt this was the best fit for me,” Johnson said. “The system and the culture that we knew was here and how they care so much about everything – it was the right fit. So I got lucky that it was open and available.”

While the Raptors have minutes, shots and even a starting job up for grabs at his position, Johnson insists that’s not what drew him to Toronto. The defending champs have built a strong league-wide reputation for developing young players. And, despite his experience as a pro, Johnson is still a young player with plenty of room to grow.

That things didn’t work out in Detroit isn’t an indictment of Johnson or even the Pistons’ system, necessarily. Players develop at different rates. There’s no blueprint. Some reach or exceed their potential – and even “potential” is subjective – quickly, others take more time, and some don’t ever get there.

Projecting a player’s upside is an inexact science. No team gets it right every time. The Raptors have had some recent success finding and developing talent – Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet and Norman Powell come to mind – but somebody like Bismack Biyombo might be a more relevant example here.

Like Johnson, Biyombo was coming off his rookie deal when the Raptors signed him to an inexpensive short-term contract in 2015. The former seventh-overall pick had fallen out of favour with Charlotte but turned his career around in Toronto, where he became a crucial piece of a Raps team that pushed LeBron James and the Cavaliers to six games in the Conference Finals. He signed a much larger deal with Orlando that summer.

That’s exactly what Johnson is hoping to do this season. In Toronto, he’ll have the chance to carve out a role in a winning environment, re-establish his value and then re-enter free agency next summer, or the year after.
9 days ago
2019-20 Toronto Raptors Player Preview: Rondae Hollis-Jefferson - Raptors HQ
RHJ has gone from 5-star recruit at Arizona, to hopeful saviour in Brooklyn, to underwhelming bench player, to Toronto, where he can hopefully combine those experiences and become a 5-star saviour for an underwhelming bench.

RHJ was highly recruited in high school — which is expected when you’re the star player of a program that wins two state titles — opting for Arizona over Florida and Syracuse. His basketball success transitioned smoothly into the next level, as he nabbed First Team All-PAC-12, PAC-12 All-Defensive, and PAC-12 All-Freshman honours over his two seasons with the Wildcats.

Hollis-Jefferson was drafted 23rd in the 2015 NBA Draft by Portland, then immediately flipped to Brooklyn, along with Steve Blake (remember him?), for Pat Connaughton and one of the many Plumlee brothers. The Nets were on the decline, having just completed a sub-.500 (but playoff!) season, and entering the post-KG/post-Deron era. Expectations for the team were low, but hopes were high for the Chester, PA native.

After three seasons of listless basketball and zero postseason appearances, Brooklyn returned to the playoffs last season. Not coincidentally, RHJ had his lowest minutes per game average, worst offensive season, and first campaign with a negative VORP. Kenny Atkinson figured out a winning formula — one that didn’t require Hollis-Jefferson’s skill set.

Through it all, RHJ was the consummate professional, fan favourite, and lovable teammate. He was the voice of reason in the locker room, lead dancer on the bench, and, in a somewhat poetic way, led the Nets to their most improbable comeback last season.

You’ve learned what it means to bet on yourself. You already understand the grind. The newest Raptor arrives equipped with a slogan of his own, a mantra that matches perfectly with this season’s roster, CHAP — calm, humble, and patient.
9 days ago
Hollis-Jefferson a nice fit on this Raptors team … VanVleet’s three-point game goes longer distance … Raptors tie up Anunoby through 20-21. | Toronto Sun
How many times through last spring’s successful playoff run did you hear a member of the Raptors talk about the willingness to do whatever it took sacrifice whatever necessary to make the proper play. That is borne out of good chemistry and to even come close to repeating the success the team had a year ago, that kind of chemistry is going to paramount again.

Hollis-Jefferson hasn’t just been impressed with the chemistry on this club. He’s impressed with the commitment level.

“Guys locked in, trying to get better. We’ve got a lot of young guys so trying to learn new things, including myself. It’s been great, everyone’s been attentive, listening and focused,” he said.

Hollis-Jefferson, despite four years in the league, is one of those young guys. He’s already finding his role within the team.

“It’s a drive-and-kick team,” he said. “Like to get to the rim, definitely like to pass so I definitely can see myself fitting in here.

And they have bunch of a great guys who look to facilitate — Marc (Gasol), Kyle (Lowry), Fred (VanVleet) so I feel like I fit in great here.”

Hollis-Jefferson is a tireless defender as well, which will immediately put him in good stead with Nurse and the veterans on this team who put a premium on defence. At 6-foot-7 — on his best day he jokes — Hollis-Jefferson isn’t exactly a giant in the paint but he is comfortable rebounding in there and getting his offence in there.
9 days ago
NBA's 30 teams rated from top contenders to bottom tier - ESPN
Let me scream this for the Spooky Mulder contingent in Toronto: The champs are only here -- and not one tier up -- due to the possibility they trade any or all of Kyle Lowry, Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka. That said, folks parroting Toronto's record last season without Leonard as evidence that this will be easy are underestimating the challenge of filling 70-ish minutes on the wing that left with Leonard and Green.

The return of OG Anunoby helps. More of the Lowry-Fred VanVleet pairing absorbs some of those minutes, but Toronto has to be a little careful overextending that ultra-small look.

But this team is solid. I'm interested to see how the Pascal Siakam-Ibaka-Gasol supersized trio that helped in the Philly series might fare over more minutes.
9 days ago
The new Serge Ibaka draws attention (minus the tension) at Raptors training camp | The Star
There were difficult periods last season for Serge Ibaka — difficult and confusing — when he was a Raptors starter some nights, a backup some others, before settling into a vital role as a second-unit standout during the run to an NBA championship.

That title — the first of his career — made it all worthwhile, of course, but it was not easy and not always enjoyable for the veteran forward who had never before been bounced around as much.

He fought through it, though, and it helped him grow as a player and a teammate. He’s more at ease, more accepting, more content now than he’s ever been.

“Last year was tough,” Ibaka said after a training camp practice at Laval University here this week. “It could be tough for anybody. This year, I don’t really know, I don’t really care what direction, what you want me to do. I’m just ready. My mind is ready …

“Whatever it takes to help the team to get wins, I’m going to do it.”

Raptors coach Nick Nurse sees a change in attitude, personality and mental makeup this season. The coach knows that last season was hard for Ibaka at times, and Nurse was partially responsible as he tried to figure out how to use him with Jonas Valanciunas, and then with Marc Gasol for the stretch run.

“He seems much more comfortable this year, like light years more comfortable,” Nurse said of the 30-year-old Ibaka. “I mean last year it was a little edgy. You have to understand, a first-time coach and a bunch of new players and nobody really knew where they stood.

“There was a lot of tenseness around some of that stuff.”
9 days ago
Lowry absence clouds an otherwise excellent time at camp | The Star
No one’s saying it is but the spidey senses are tingling that (a) they’re not close today on a deal and (b) finding a salary number is going to be tremendously difficult and (c) how many years on a new deal does he want or does the team want to give?

Those are real concerns and I truly believe they’re the elephant in the room that’s going to be hard to get around.

Now, reasonable men can reach reasonable decisions that are amenable to both sides and maybe that eventually happens here. But it hasn’t and there’s no suggestion it will any time soon and there the key player sits, nursing a surgically repaired thumb and perhaps growing a bit frustrated by his contractual situation.

Maybe it’s nothing more than what it is, a far slower recuperation period than anyone thought since, originally, Lowry thought he’d be okay to play in the World Cup.

But maybe it is and it’s going to cloud the situation for some time.

Good times ahead, folks.
9 days ago
What should Raptors fans expect from OG Anunoby in 2019-20? -
At the moment, with the roster as currently constructed, this Raptors team is looking like a squad that can likely push for a seed anywhere within the No. 4-6 range, and if they’re going to accomplish this – and maybe aim higher – an Anunoby jump will be required.

It doesn’t have to be Siakam-level, but there needs to be improvement and progress shown from Anunoby.

As mentioned earlier, Anunoby flashed big potential of how he can be a difference-maker on both ends of the floor. This season is setting up to hopefully be an-off-the-court distraction and injury-free one and as such flashes won’t be good enough.

Anunoby figures to step right into the starting three spot – where one Kawhi Leonard used to be – and will be relied upon more as both a spot-up shooter and as a slasher offensively, while also probably given the assignment of covering an opposing team’s best perimeter player.

Defensively, there should be no issue with Anunoby as he’s proven he has all the tools to potentially become an NBA All-Defensive player, offensively, though, there are definite question marks.

Coming out of college at Indiana, Anunoby was best compared to P.J. Tucker because of his athleticism, defensive acumen and three-point accuracy. So far, only his defence has shown to be a true consistent attribute.

His three-point stroke regressed mightily last season (down to 33.2 per cent) and, most troubling, his possibly overwhelming athletic and strength advantages he has over opponents haven’t manifested into what should be a strong drive and slashing game.

These are areas that must improve and, optimistically speaking, they will.
9 days ago
Raptors Podcast: First impressions from training camp - Yahoo!
Host William Lou is joined by Alex Wong to share their first impressions of the Toronto Raptors following the conclusion of training camp in Quebec City.

Kyle Lowry and Marc Gasol off to delayed starts

Fred VanVleet and Serge Ibaka look ready and hungry

Pascal Siakam's next step is a work in progress

Terence Davis and Matt Thomas impress at intrasquad game

Question marks for Stanley Johnson and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson
10 days ago
RAPTORS CAMP: VanVleet in mid-season form | Toronto Sun
Few had a better evening than Fred VanVleet, who didn’t even bother to don his game shorts, playing the four 10-minute periods in sweat pants.

It certainly didn’t hinder him. VanVleet easily led the black squad to a double-digit victory with what appeared to be more points than anyone else on the floor, although that could not be confirmed as technological issues kept actual stats from being provided.

VanVleet was hitting threes with regularity, often from 30 feet out and further while making it look easy.

Sharing the marquee with VanVleet and a much bigger surprise was Terrence Davis II. Davis II who VanVleet has kind of taken under his wing since learning he, like the Raptors point guard himself, is attempting to take the unorthodox route of undrafted player right into the league.

Davis, out of Ole Miss, was playing alongside VanVleet for much of the evening and, like VanVleet, seemed to score at will.

Earlier in the week Nurse mentioned him prominently as a guy who had caught his eye and Thursday evening’s performance can only help his cause.

“The first thing is he’s got a really explosive game,” Nurse said of the 22-year-old, 6-foot-4, 205 pound guard. “He’s big, he’s strong, he’s fast, he’s quick, so that right there is gonna be able to let you survive in an NBA game. And then he vaults up and shoots a three, he’s gonna explode by you and put it on the deck and get to the rim, and he has some defensive capabilities, especially on-ball.”
10 days ago
Davis stands out in Raptors' open scrimmage in front of a sellout crowd in Quebec City - Video - TSN
Josh Lewenberg explains how Terence Davis stood out during the Raptors' open scrimmage in front of a sellout crowd in Quebec City, and discusses Fred VanVleet's growing leadership on the team.
10 days ago
Best and worst case scenario for Toronto Raptors forward OG Anunoby in the 2019-20 NBA season | Canada
Keeping it simple is one thing, but keeping it status quo is another. Anunoby doesn't need to become Toronto's No. 2 scoring option every night, but he can't be absent either.

To be an impact player for the Raptors, he has to start making an impact. In his first two seasons, there's been an excuse as to why Anunoby wasn't more aggressive offensively. Year 1, he was a rookie trying to find his way. Year 2, Kawhi Leonard was in town and everyone had to fall in line.

This is Year 3, where most NBA players find comfort as a professional. There are no more excuses. Anunoby can't go through nights where he's taking three shots in a game - which, by the way, happened in 14 of the 67 games he appeared in last season.

"I mean, the season didn't go as planned but I think I grew from it," Anunoby told reporters last week. "I think I got better from the year. I learned more about myself. It made me stronger."

A lot happened off the court last season for Anunoby. Here's hoping he's been able to put it all behind him and showcase the skills that have almost been kept a secret the last two seasons.
10 days ago
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