Posts Tagged ‘Andrea Bargnani

Raptors PPG: Playoffs, we’re talking playoffs? Raptors go from tank to bank; What’s happened since the Raptors last made the post-season

- March 29th, 2014

So, the Raptors are in. Fittingly, Amir Johnson, exemplifying everything he brings to the table, was the one to supply the last push Friday against Boston. Amir and DeMar DeRozan have been suffering through down seasons together here longer than anyone else, the last remaining players from the end of the Chris Bosh era.

It’s been a long time coming, that’s for sure. A lot of bad basketball has been played since Bosh broke his face. It’s a new day. While nobody knows what the off-season will bring (a lot of change, or stability?) the tank is long-dead and thoughts about potential playoff opponents can now be voiced.

- Johnson’s been Toronto’s best overall player in the three seasons previous to this one and works harder and plays through more injuries than anybody on the team (though DeRozan is about his equal in both of those regards). That’s why it was nice to see him get the Raptors through.

- No question Kyle Lowry’s been the top Raptor this season (again, with apologies to DeRozan) and he showed what he’s all about as well in fighting off an ankle injury to make some decisive drives to the bucket that helped seal the win.

- DeRozan wasn’t about to let the pesky Celtics, who he’d already seen five times this season, including the two exhibition games, come back again. With his jumper shaky, DeRozan looked to repeatedly attack, getting five shots in the paint in both the third and fourth quarters. Now that he’s an all-star, DeRozan  is getting calls from the officials, which helps quite a bit, but it’s his mindset that is the key.

- Nice to see John Salmons find his game. To say he’s been struggling is a massive understatement. His game had completely vanished, but Dwane Casey kept the faith, even though using Landry Fields instead would have made a lot of sense, and Salmons responded by nailing his first two shots, picking up two assists, a couple of steals and no turnovers. He was also +15, tied for the team lead.

- A bonus thought: +/- is way down on the list of useful stats, but it’s a lot more relevant in basketball than it is in hockey, where power plays mess with the numbers. While it’s not a be all, end all, the eye test shows that Chuck Hayes has been excellent for the team lately. The +/- check shows Hayes has been +15 (tied for team lead), +3 (best of the reserves), +17 (2nd on team) and +16 (best on team) in his past four games. He’s supplied strong defence and helps move the ball around thanks to his surprisingly strong passing skills.

- Since Dwight Howard and Hedo Turkoglu took out the Raptors in five games in the playoffs, Toronto witnessed (a lot more than this, but a few highlights/lowlights):

The ill-fated Jermaine O’Neal deal; The end of the Sam Mitchell era and the elevation of Jay Triano to head coach; Bryan Colangelo gifting  the Heat with the cap space to form the Big Three by dumping O’Neal for Shawn Marion and Marcus Banks; The drafting of DeMar DeRozan; The Raptors “winning” the Turkoglu sweepstakes, only to almost immediately regret it once Turkoglu showed up to camp fat and unwilling to justify his payday; DeRozan starting 65 games as a rookie; the Jarrett Jack\Jose Calderon controversy at the point; A career year from Bosh, that ended prematurely when he got hurt and shut himself down in advance of his free agent flight to Miami; Bosh leaving, Bryan Colangelo ripping him, then saving some face by somehow dumping Turkoglu on the Suns (his former agent was in charge there); A disastrous season that ended with Triano out, Dwane Casey in and Jonas Valanciunas drafted in Colangelo’s ballsiest move, since he wouldn’t come over for a year and because Bargnani had soured nearly everyone in the city on European players; A lockout, followed by a shortened season where the Raptors were horrible to watch because the talent simply wasn’t there, but where Casey turned around the defensive culture and started turning around Toronto’s reputation as a soft team; The development of the youngsters and the drafting of Terrence Ross and Quincy Acy; Last season’s brutal start; The Kyle Lowry/Calderon and Lowry/Casey situations; Ross wins the slam dunk contest; The trade for Rudy Gay which sent Calderon elsewhere; The regression and booing of Bargnani; The arrival of Tim Leiweke and Masai Ujiri; The miraculous Bargnani trade that actually brought back draft picks; The tank talk; This season’s bad start and the Lowry trade rumours and questions about Casey’s future; The trade of Gay to Sacramento; The stunning turnaround of the team into a squad that wins two thirds of the time; Lowry’s all-NBA caliber campaign; DeRozan’s all-star nod; The return to the playoffs.

 

 

 

More from Masai Ujiri’s post-NBA moratorium availability; Raptors to add backup point guard Dwight Buycks and assistant coach Bill Bayno

- July 12th, 2013

The in-season blog makes a rare off-season appearance to cover what we couldn’t get in here and here .

Masai Ujiri covered a lot of ground earlier this week, so here’s what didn’t make the paper + some analysis:

 On the timeline of moving Andrea Bargnani:

Ujiri: “I don’t know if I was looking to shop him. I think it was a situation where it was time we all moved on. There are a couple teams that want that kind of player. He’s a Novak-type guy, too. He was the no. 1 pick of the draft. He’s a stretch four. He sometimes does a little bit more. There was some interest. We just tried to sift through it to see what was best for the Toronto Raptors.”
Was that biggest prob with Bargnani — not doing more?: “I think he always had spurts where he showed brilliance and showed a complete game. Sometimes he struggled. I just felt like it became a point in time where both sides needed to move on, start all over again and figure it out.”
“We started talking probably around the draft, at draft time. You kind of sit and they think about it and we think about it. … We went through our process to see what helps our ball club. We thought if we can get a couple picks, get a shooter and a couple players out of it, then we’re good to go.”

 My take: That’s the crux with Bargnani, you were always left wondering why he didn’t do more? The talent was there to be an impact player, but the will seemed to be absent. Raptors were fielding Bargnani offers for a while, just didn’t love most of them. Once Knicks got sold on him – witness head coach Mike Woodson’s comments raving about him – this became the package to take.

On Marcus Camby’s status:

“We’re still weighing our options. We don’t know what trades will come up in the next few days, buyouts, all of those options. We’re going to wait and see and make a decision and do what’s best for the raptors.”

My take: Don’t bring your pinstriped Camby jerseys out of mothballs. He’ll either be bought out, retire, or be traded. Quentin Richardson isn’t going to play here either, there are no minutes available given the logjam at small forward and shooting guard.

Ujiri on new offensive-minded assistant coach Nick Nurse:

“We studied Nick Nurse. He’s a very good x’s and o’s guy. I think he has good experience with working with Houston and their offence and doing a lot of stuff in the D-League. When I played in England, I actually played against Nick Nurse. He coached Birmingham and I played for Darby. I kicked his butt. He’s an x’s and o’s guy. I think he’s one of those up and coming coaches. We felt confident he could bring something good to the table. Good offensive coach.”

Timeline on naming the rest of staff?

“Next few days, next few days. We got a couple guys meeting with coach Casey and we feel good about it. Hopefully in the next couple days.” (In the link above, Mike Ganter pointed out it looks like Tom Sterner and John Townsend will be back).

ESPN reported Friday that Minnesota assistant Bill Bayno would possibly be joining the club as an assistant and a source confirmed to the Sun they were working on finalizing a deal. Bayno worked under Rick Adelman, who Kyle Lowry loved playing for and had great relationship with.

My take: Adding Nurse is an excellent move. I’ve been saying for months that the offensive execution has to improve and Bayno is also well-respected as a guy players really enjoy working under and as a defensive mind.

On a decision about whether to use the amnesty provision (on Linas Kleiza, right now, the Raptors are over the luxury tax, but could amnesty Kleiza and sign somebody else using about half of the money saved and still stay under the luxury tax. Or, they could keep him all season in order to deal his expiring contract and try to get under the tax another way).

“I think the smart way to do it would be to wait. We haven’t made a decision yet. We don’t know what kind of trades will come our way. In the next four, five days I think you’ll be able to tell because a lot of free agents will be gone [then], and a lot of teams will be looking to make decisions.”

My take: Masai’s not giving anything away on this. He has until July 16 to make a call and he’ll probably think about it right until the last minute.

How much does it complicate things with Rudy being able to opt out after this year and Kyle’s contract expiring at the end of this year?

“I think we’re in a good spot. It’s a good team and you know what, the pressure is on us. If they have great years, then I think they want to stay. For me it’s a win-win situation for us and it’s a win-win situation for them, too. Great years, they stay. And if it’s not, then they think about it, we think about it and we go from there. We have to do well on the court and grow as a team and I think that’s our goal here.”

On the hiring of Jeff Weltman to be assistant GM:

“He’s great. He gave me a shot when — I wasn’t roaming the streets but I was working Orlando for free but, [laughs] — so he’s great. Great talent evaluator, I think. Really good with people. Very creative mind, I think. Very easy to work with. So he’ll be good for our front office.”

My take: Another good hiring. Weltman is well-respected, was part of the Bucks team that made some excellent draft picks of late (Larry Sanders, John Henson, Tobias Harris)

On the plan:

“For me, patience is the key. I think we all have to be patient. We have a good window for a couple years here and I think you have to, sometimes, you just can’t react and try to do things just to do them. I have to see and have an understanding of the team a little bit, too. And I guess we’ll see from there.”

What would be your expectations of this group?

“No expectations. Just let it play. We are win-win, whatever happens it’s a win for us whichever way it goes. We’re happy with it as long as we grow as an organization. We have to show passion, we have to show growth in some ways. We gotta show direction, too, which eventually will show. I think it’s win-win for us.”

Do you see yourself needing to take a step back to move program ahead?

“I think it’s a tough call right now. We have to continue studying the team and then studying what’s out there. It’s not — what are we going to do, throw players away? We’re not going to do that. And I think winning is what you want to build around and I think when you do that, I’m not so sure the karma is great when you do stuff like that. But I understand the whole big picture and we’re putting all the options on the table.”

My take: Masai doesn’t believe in the karma of tanking, he’s strongly considering throwing this group out to see what they can do. If they succeed, great, if they don’t, that’s OK too, given the strength of this draft.

On the backup point guard battle:

Jordan Taylor, summer league, what do you want from a third guard?

“Yes. You can go either way. I think John Lucas was great, too. Sometimes you use that position to get, I can understand the thinking where you use that position to get a scoring type guy. And some teams to do that. Jason Terrys, those type guys. John Lucas. Nate Robinson. Those type players, scorers coming off the bench. But I don’t know, we’ll talk, we’ll visit with coach Casey and we’ll still try to evaluate what we need coming off the bench. Is it a playmaker, is it a scorer type guy, a defender? Again, we’ll figure that part out.

On Julyan Stone:

“Still, too, we’re pending a couple things. Big point guard. I had him in Denver and he’s a defensive guard. I think we can get better at defending the ball. We thought adding that size could help us. But still pending, too. We’ll see how that goes once he goes through all the physicals and all that.”

NOTE: Darnell Mayberry of the Oklahoman first reported the Raptors will sign PG Dwight Buycks with expectation he will be Kyle Lowry’s primary backup. Source confirmed to me that is indeed the case.

Buycks was league MVP in France, a D-League first-team all-rookie, the top AAU player in Wisconsin and by all reports, looked very solid in Summer League this year.

My take: Fits with the plan. If Buycks excels, the Raptors will be quite pleased. But seems like they’re also OK with season falling off of the rails if Lowry gets hurt (given lack of experience behind him).

Where do the Raptors and Andrea Bargnani go from here?

- March 13th, 2013

So, that’s it then. The Andrea Bargnani era in Toronto has likely come to a close. Not with a bang, but with a whimper. He was officially shut down on Wednesday with an avulsion sprain of the right elbow, not related to his previous right elbow injury that cost him 26 games.

It is highly unlikely the No. 1 overall pick of 2006 ever plays for the club again. The negatives of bringing him back far outweigh the positives and, simply put, it’s long past the time for a change. A change of scenery for all involved. One that should have occurred a long time ago, specifically after his 13-game mirage. Maybe Bargnani finds away to harness his obvious talents elsewhere. But, it certainly isn’t going to happen in Toronto.

While Bargnani’s teammates nobly never turned on him, the fans have and bringing him back would bring a toxic and unnecessary vibe to a franchise that needs as many positive vibes as possible, since the playoffs haven’t been sniffed in years.

Bargnani slumped to 40% shooting this season – better only than his troubling second campaign, the one that first set off some warning bells – his rebounding and team defence was as bad as ever. As expected, he didn’t much take to life as a reserve, even though that is the role he is best suited to in the NBA.

What’s next? Forget this amnesty talk. If it comes to that, and it’s beyond highly unlikely it ever does, it’s a disaster for the franchise. Using the amnesty on Bargnani would do nothing. They still wouldn’t have cap space to sign anybody beyond the mid-level exception, they still would be over the cap, and they’d still be paying him all of the money owed.

It would be great for Bargnani, but it wouldn’t be for the Raptors.

No, the smart move remains moving him. Teams previously had interest and as bad as he’s played and as injury-prone as he’s been of late, they’ll come back to the table. Golden State, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Chicago and even a couple of others will sniff around again. The question is, how much will they be offering in return? Anything that can help even a little bit is better than simply removing (while still paying) Bargnani from the equation. Marc Spears connected the Raptors to Carl Landry and a sign-and-trade with the Warriors (after Landry opts out and agrees to a new, long-term deal) could make sense for everybody. If Philadelphia ever gets Andrew Bynum back, Bargnani would be a better complement than Spencer Hawes. Chicago still needs a big man who can stretch the floor or hit open threes once Derrick Rose is back creating. Cleveland only has finishers up front, not create their own shot types.

There’s a lot of possibilities and anybody and any contract can be traded in the NBA. History proves that, even if the new CBA will make deals more difficult to pull off. Don’t believe the hype that amnesty is the only option. Not only would it be a bad call, it also won’t happen as long as Bryan Colangelo is in charge. Since I expect him to be back next season, I fully expect Bargnani to be traded.

Ideally, he’ll suit up for Italy this summer to show he can still contribute and that he can go more than a few games before getting hurt.

Cavaliers at Raptors Points Per Game: You wanted the rookies and now you’re going to get them; Amir for MIP? At least DeRozan attacked; Catching up with Thompson

- March 11th, 2013

Those no-quit Raptors resurfaced on Sunday, rallying to beat a Cleveland squad that couldn’t figure out how to play once star point guard Kyrie Irving was forced out due to an injury. There is little question that Amir Johnson is the team’s MVP for 2012-13, just as he deserved that honour for the 2010-11 season (he had a poor season sandwiched in between). Adrian Wojnarowski first floated this, but Johnson probably is going to get some votes for most improved player simply because most people don’t remember what he did two years ago at all, but just recall that he wasn’t very good last season. Paul George has the award sewn up, but if Amir gets in the top 5, it will be well-deserved. He definitely is a better player than he was last year and he’s also better than he was two years ago.

Some thoughts:

-DeMar DeRozan struggled without Rudy Gay, but one of the good things he did was continue to attack the basket (eight free throw attempts) He could have done that more often early, but he at least made a point of doing it. He also moved the ball well to set up his teammates (6 assists) an under-reported area of improvement this season. He’s gone from an extremely poor passer to an above-average facilitator.

- Rudy Gay is expected to return Friday, but expect him to be rested liberally to close the season. The team knows he’s not right and it’s impacting his production. No point letting him play through this. Sounds like Andrea Bargnani could be out a while after hurting his sore elbow. The doctors in L.A. immediately told him to shut it down so it’s not like he’s embellishing or anything. It’s unfortunate, as he needed a good stretch here to up his trade value. Dealing him won’t be the easiest thing in the world this summer (well, dealing him for any kind of value that is) but somebody will pony up something. We’ve seen far worse players and contracts dealt over the years (though the new CBA is more restrictive, which limits the market further).

- You’ve probably read a half-dozen stories now about Amir, so we’ll leave out the fact that he turned in another standout performance in a season filled with them.

- Minus Gay and with DeRozan struggling, Alan Anderson stepped up, leading the team in scoring, and Landry Fields did a nice job again all-around.

- Casey said he’s going to roll with Jonas Valanciunas and Terrence Ross now down the stretch, as long as they aren’t making mistakes on every second play. If their errors become too frequent, they’ll sit until they learn what they’re doing wrong, but the expectation is, they’ll be able to stay on the court for 25-30 minutes every night to close out this season. Ross was a little shot happy early, but eventually started to use his elite athleticism to his advantage. He needs to do more of that. He made mistakes, but also contributed across the board with five rebounds, three assists and 14 points. He also couldn’t quite finish a couple of spectacular drives. Valanciunas was his usual solid self and once he gets featured more in the offence (next season) the efficiency of DeRozan and Gay should improve.

- Casey again defended his decisions on the road in sitting Valanciunas and Ross. I absolutely agree with rookies needing to adapt to the speed of the game and that Valanciunas  has had some issues with that, but we’re going to agree to disagree about what Aaron Gray provides and how effective Valanciunas had been against Dwight Howard compared to Gray and leave it at that. I do agree that it didn’t make sense to throw Ross in against Kobe or the artist formerly known as Ron Artest.

- Kyle Lowry again looked more like the Lowry of old, the one the team needs going forward. He still needs to take more shots (it seems like he took all of the complaining about his early-season “chucking” to heart and is completely going away from it) there has to be a balance. That “no he didn’t … yes he did!” turnaround to seal the game was an example of the shots he needs to take. He’s capable of hitting them and it puts pressure on opponents, since they know he can score from anywhere at any time, when he feels like it.

- Casey on the need for three-point shooting next year:

“Corner threes. We dearly need it. We’re 22nd or 23rd in three-point shooting. To open up the floor for DeMar and Rudy, we need somebody to get that shot. We need consistent three-point shooting to open up.

There’s nowhere for he or DeMar to go (with no three-point threats).

Could be next evolution of DeMar’s career. Rudy is still struggling with his back I think that effects his shot from the first week he’s here.” As I pointed out last game, DeRozan has had far more success shooting corner threes than his long attempts from elsewhere on the court, so there’s a good chance he can add that to his arsenal.

- Valanciunas said he’s getting more acclimated to the NBA every day.

“I’m working a lot on my post moves. I feel comfortable every game, it’s getting better. That was a great effort in the second half. We were down big-time we regrouped and we came back,” he said.

“There is up and down nights because one night you feel tired, one night you feel tired. You need to adjust. I’ve been here like five months already. Every month I feel more and more comfortable.”

- Always enjoy catching up with Tristan Thompson. I’ve been covering Tristan since he was in high school and Frank Zicarelli even covered him in the Sun when he was still playing high school ball in Canada. Like Valanciunas, who went one pick after him, he’s a genuine guy who hasn’t changed, despite being drafted fourth overall and despite the money and fame that has come with that. He’s a hard worker and that relentlessness has paid off since he’s a heck of a lot better this season than he was as a rookie. The difference in his confidence on offence is night and day. Thompson said everything was a rush last year due to the lockout (no time to adjust to the NBA, being thrown right into the fire) and being more prepared and understanding the NBA game more has really paid off. Thompson sees himself as one of the leaders of the Canadian national team for the next decade or so and keeps a close eye on what his fellow Canadians are doing in the NCAA. He’s happy good friend Myck Kabongo has been tremendous since coming back from his suspension and has definitely seen what Kelly Olynyk and Kevin Pangos have been doing at Gonzaga. It’s by no means set in stone that Thompson and Olynyk will pair up for Canada (since Andrew Nicholson and Anthony Bennett, among others, are also fantastic players), but if they do, Thompson believes they will play well together.

“We complement each other well. He’s a pick and pop guy, I’m a space eater, so we play off each other and we’re good together,” Thompson told me.

More from Tristan:

Tristan:

“It’s definitely been tough (losing Anderson Varejao to injury) because Andy, he meant a lot to us, he was 14 and 14. He played with a sense of pride and just a hunger to play hard every night, so we definitely do miss him, but, the opportunity came for me to play and I can show a little bit more, so you have to take advantage of it. It’s part of the league, injuries happen, but we wish Andy was with us right now,” he said.

On Texas struggling:

“We wish Texas could get a bit more wins, but it happens in college basketball. Some years it goes through, some years it doesn’t. As long as the young guys keep getting better, one day, we’ll get back to the promised land.”

Thompson also said he was happy that Toronto was able to create a buzz in the city by acquiring Rudy Gay. Thinks Gay will be a big addition for the team. While Thompson is a proud Cav, he loves the city and prefers to see the Raptors doing well and getting noticed (as long as they aren’t playing Cleveland).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kings at Raptors Points Per Game: DeMarcus ain’t no Cousin Balky; Starters aren’t working; Ed wins job; Raptors miss Bargnani in this one

- January 5th, 2013

So ends the run. Just a horrible basketball game from the Raptors on Friday against the Kings. Though they deny it, the team didn’t show up to play and it was a classic let-down game. That said, even a Raptors team humming on all cylinders might not have been able to pull off a win the way a fully engaged DeMarcus Cousins was playing. That was one of the most dominant performances I’ve seen by a player at the ACC. It was Lakers era Shaq-like. It was a man against boys. There were no answers and for once, the team could have used Andrea Bargnani, who, for all of his faults, still has the biggest base on the team and holds his own in the post when he wants to. His offence also would have been useful, since all but a couple of his teammates were struggling mightily on offence. In certain games, Bargnani would be quite useful off of the bench. Speaking of which, was interesting to hear beforehand Dwane Casey basically saying Ed Davis will be his starter when Bargnani returns from injury (likely in 2-4 more weeks). It’s a no-brainer to anybody who has watched the games, but where Bargani is concerned, you never know. After being coddled and given the keys for years, I’m not sure Bargani will be satisfied as a deadly reserve, his best role in the NBA by far, and I still think he gets moved at some point. But nice to hear that Davis’ strong work has paid off.

Now, about the rest of that starting lineup. Mickael Pietrus is no longer needed with the emergence of Alan Anderson and Terrence Ross and the resurgence of Landry Fields. It’s past the time to start Fields or Anderson (Ross should be brought along slowly, playing a lot against reserves to build his confidence). Anderson’s probably a better fit if Calderon is starting, but when the Raptors do the correct long-term thing and re-insert Lowry as the starter, Fields is the better fit at the three. If Calderon starts, Amir Johnson should be starting with him (cc: Eric Koreen). They have great chemistry and though Johnson will foul a lot, he gives the team a far better chance to get off to a good start than Aaron Gray. Gray makes more sense as a fill-in if Lowry were starting.

Raptors were uncharacteristically sloppy early on. Not a lot of movement, a lot of bad passes and bad cuts and the Kings took advantage. “We were just flat from the jump, just one of those games,” admitted Ed Davis. “We didn’t have the energy, so we definitely have to come out with more energy Sunday afternoon.”

Back to Cousins for a second, he’s just a ridiculous talent. You need strong people around him to keep him in check, but you need guys with that kind of ability to be an elite team. Talent-wise, he’s top 15 in the entire league.

“He’s tough down there. He’s big, physical and we did a bad job of guarding him,” Davis said. “He was getting pretty much everything he wanted.”

With a few tweaks, the Kings could be decent going forward. Think they should move one (or both) of Tyreke Evans, Marcus Thornton and Aaron Brooks for a good veteran leader or two for a start.
Think the Kings will be fine with Cousins and Thomas Robinson up front. Could probably get value for Jason Thompson too, but best to wait until next year when Robinson is more ready to step in. Don’t call Robinson a bust. Far too early. Every time I see him play he does something that makes me say wow, he’s going to be solid, even though he’s undersized. With that motor and that athleticism he won’t fail.

Some more

Cousins:

“We’re playing good team basketball. What we’re trying to change is let’s try to make each other better every night, let’s try to make your teammates better. Doesn’t matter who is having a good night, let’s feed them the rock.

Exploit size inside? I wouldn’t really say they’re undersized, I had a good game. They have some good bigs on their team, I just had a good game.

We’ve been preaching let’s try to make each person better and that’s what I tried to do tonight.

(On the trash talk): That’s basketball, that’s nothing.

I hate coming through the airport, but I enjoy coming to Toronto.”

James Johnson:

“I love Toronto, wish things could have been different, but that’s the league. I wish these guys well and it’s always fun playing here.”

Interesting quote from Gray the morning of the game:

“We feel like this is a game we should win whereas before we were just hoping and wishing.”

There was an interesting pre-game discussion with the coaches about dealing with players in this day and age. Obviously, Cousins was the reason it was brought up with Keith Smart:

Casey on handling players, egos, etc:

“Dealing, I don’t like to use that word. I like coaching, communicating. I like those terms moreso than deal, because it’s basketball, it’s a sport. We’ve played it for a long, long time. I don’t feel like there’s a lot of difference between NBA players, they want to be coached, they want to have parameters, they want to be told what to do. They want to know what the rules are. They want to be held accountable. They want to know that they’re going to be held accountable for the job they’re going to do. That’s the way I’ve always seen it, there’s other things that always enter the picture in pro sports, contracts and all that stuff, but I try not to look at that. I’m human. You know who your star players are. You have to treat them the same. They might have a little more rope as far as shot selection and missed shots and that type of thing or maybe a bad night. But for the most part, you’ve got to treat everybody the same.”

Keith Smart:

“As players and coaches, we don’t pay a lot of attention to that. We deal with the issues that are in front of us. We don’t focus so much with what’s being said or what’s being written. You guys do a fabulous job doing your work for the masses and everything. But for us coaches, our daily job that we have everyday is to refocus each player to get him ready to play that game, to get ready to practise that day. That’s what we do. I don’t hold anything personally. I let them move on. Holding stuff personally eats away at you. I quickly move and get things behind me as fast as I can. I try to share that with my team, because that’s how the game is played. You’ve got to forget about a foul or a bad shot or a turnover and get to the next play. That’s what I try to share with my basketball team. We had our issues with some things on the floor this year, suspensions here have all happened that way. We put it behind us. I try to get them to understand that you put a game behind you as quick as you can and you put a moment or event behind you as quick as you can. Myself, the staff, we continue to do our job once again of trying to get the young man to understand how to grow and be a pro, not just for this year but for the rest of his basketball career. That is also going to help him in his normal civilian life when he can’t run up and down the floor anymore. As a coach now in the NBA — I’ve been around for a while now — you have to do more communicating with your players. You’ve got to do more things daily than you’ve ever had to do. Coming through early, players just did their job. They just came to practice and worked. Now you need to spend a lot of extra time. But you also have to be prepared for the game, scouting the opponent, getting yourself ready for the opponent. But you have to be able to understand that’s the time we’re in right now. You have to be able to manage each guy. I say all of the time: in our case, on our roster, we have 14 players. These are 14 individual corporations that I have to walk into a different door and manage and see what this corporation has to offer today. Each guy is managed differently. Not all of them are the same. You may have a group that is pretty close under a certain umbrella. Overall, they’re all individuals. You have to try to get the individual group to function as one. When you’re young, sometimes that’s hard. Again, they have the alpha-male syndrome. They all want to be first. You see how our team is starting to evolve a little bit. You can see how important it is for a team to grow together and share the basketball and support each other, and how much fun it is to play the game and how much fun it is to be around each other when you try to win some games.”

Really interesting stuff, though Casey threw cold water on the idea that players today are any different than they were 15 years ago.

“That hasn’t changed. I remember when I first came into the league in the early 1990s and it’s the same thing. Older players, younger players, it’s about communication. Same thing as in college, you’ve got to communicate and talk. It may not have to be every five minutes, but you’ve got to let guys know where they stand, what’s going on, what their role is and that’s one reason why we keep the role cards in case they do forget, you go back and have their role card. Again, just a natural human being type situation where you’re communicating talking, maybe about their family, moreso than basketball, I just think that goes a long way because you’re together so much in the NBA. You’re just like a family.”

“Communicating is something I’ve always done, I do it from a genuine standpoint because people know when you’re pulling their leg. You’ve got to be honest. Sometimes the truth hurts, but I think you have to be honest with players, people, agents, whatever it is. Sometimes the truth does hurt and sometimes the players don’t want to hear the truth, but you have to do it.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Raptors at Kings Points Per Game: Six million ways to lose, choose one; Again, make Bargnani the sixth man; Pietrus really is healthy

- December 6th, 2012

At this point, the Raptors have to be running out of different ways to lose, no?

Now, they didn’t lose to Sacramento because Tyreke Evans hit two three pointers for just the 23rd time in 207 career games (career 25.8% shooter) and they didn’t lose to Utah because Al Jefferson hit the second three of his career … but those miraculous shots just illustrate that the basketball gods clearly aren’t with the Raptors this season. Anything that can go wrong, any unfathomable late-game occurence pretty much has happened.

Where do they go from here? Hard to say. There is no chance the team can make the playoffs. Too big a hole has been dug and the talent simply isn’t there. Plus, the pieces don’t fit together. The schedule is going to even out and some games will be won, meaning finishing in the bottom three is probably unlikely as well. Not an impossibility though, I’m having a hard time picking an NBA team that is definitely going to finish below the Raptors. The Wizards might, depending on John Wall, but they might not. The Hornets will only be worse if both Anthony Davis and Eric Gordon miss most of the season. Davis likely is returning soon, so they’ll win a few. Sacramento probably finishes with fewer wins than Toronto, but that’s not guaranteed.Detroit and Cleveland, Orlando, Charlotte and Phoenix also, might finish with worse records than the Raptors, but it is just as likely they finish with better records.

Even if the pick stays, this is an extremely weak draft, by all accounts, loaded with centre prospects (for the first time in ages) and the Raptors already are set in the middle with top prospect Jonas Valanciunas.

Thoughts on last night:

- Might as well get it out of the way. I don’t understand why Andrea Bargnani checked in for Ed Davis and played the rest of the game. I get giving Davis a breather and seeing if Bargnani had some scoring to contribute for a couple of minutes. He even played a couple of good defensive possessions and grabbed a rebound (and took a terrible three-pointer instead of slowing things down), but after two or three minutes it was clear he didn’t have it again. So, why not go back to the guy who helped get you back in the game? Davis is one of Toronto’s top defenders, he is its best rebounder and he gets easy buckets with his quick second-jump ability and his timing. If Bargnani isn’t hitting shots, it doesn’t make sense to play him over a guy who does everything else miles better than him. I don’t believe it is a directive from Bryan Colangelo to Dwane Casey. He isn’t forcing him to play Bargnani late, it is Casey’s decision. But at what point, when the move keeps failing, game after game, do you do the obvious and play Davis more? The stats say it is a no-brainer. The eye test says it is a no-brainer. Baffling.

- Bargnani is by no means the only problem but he is by far the biggest problem. He is killing the team when he is out there. When he hits shots at a good clip he makes up for most of his failings. When he is mediocre, or worse, he handicaps the Raptors.

Like I said the other day, it is time to play him off of the bench and to start Davis. Kyle Lowry seems to be rounding back into form, but his defence hasn’t been great. DeMar DeRozan continues to be a below-average defender, possibly well below average. Mickael Pietrus has provided a lift at both ends and Valanciunas can be hit and miss on defence at this point. Which means putting a good defender in Davis with those guys should lift them all and make the team better. Playing Bargnani with Calderon and Amir, players he has teamed well with in the past, makes more sense than trying to round peg, square hole him into working with Lowry, DeRozan and Valanciunas.

- Hard to believe Sacramento is last in the NBA in assists.Early on against a disinterested group of Raptors, the team moved the ball like the Harlem Globetrotters. Eventually, they stopped moving it, but they proved they are capable of playing like a team.
- In the first half, the Raptors looked like they had no idea how to play transition defence. Sacramento ran on every miss or bad decision and one guy, at most, got back to challenge at the other end. Brutal.

- Calderon isn’t taking to life off of the bench the way he has in the past. He’s making uncharacteristic turnovers just about every night.

- Why did it take the Raptors so long to go zone? It worked, no surprise. Sacramento is one of the NBA’s top teams in the paint and one of the worst outside shooting teams.
- Lowry did enough good things to overlook some questionable decision-making and another bad turnover late. He’s not the problem.
- DeMar needs to stop complaining about every attempt inside. He’s getting fouled on some of them, but not all, yet he’s complaining about every attempt. Refs aren’t going to give him respect unless he sucks it up, even if overall, the refs have been brutal so far.
- Things that make me laugh: Amir listed at 6″9 Thomas Robinson at 6″10. Robinson’s probably two inches shorter, Amir might be two inches taller.

- Re: Bargnani-Lakers rumours. Raptors have not been shopping Bargnani and the market isn’t what it was two years ago if they now decide to. Gasol wouldn’t be a perfect trade target (who backs up Lowry if Calderon goes with Bargnani? Would you have to take on Blake’s bad deal?) but it would be better than giving away Bargnani for nothing in a panic move. Smarter thing would be to put Bargnani on bench and see if he does well against reserves and ups his value. Will that happen? I doubt it. He’s been coddled since Day 1 and would be resistant to such a move. He’s made it clear that he sees himself as the top player on the squad.

The bottom line: This is a mess.

Raptors at Nuggets Points Per Game: Too little too late; The pieces don’t fit; All about effort; Time to move Bargnani to the bench

- December 4th, 2012

When you are 4-14, moral victories mean very little. It’s great that the Raptors dug deep and made a game out of what could have been a blowout. But does it really matter? The end result was still another loss. Instead of furiously battling back in games, how about showing up in every quarter for a change?

Toronto actually did well early, playing a decent first quarter, but the killer even in that quarter – and we won’t even talk about the nightmare of a second quarter that decided the game – the killer in the first was effort. You simply cannot get massacred on the offensive boards the way the Raptors were. The final stats showed 23 O-boards for Denver, 9 for the Raptors. The ratio was even worse after a quarter. That can’t happen. It’s unacceptable. The pieces don’t fit properly.

Some thoughts:

Toronto isn’t as talented as most of its opponents, and certainly not as talented as Denver … but, you can make up for some of that by playing hard and playing smart. Boxing out, making smart decisions, etc. Too often, this team doesn’t do that. Boneheaded errors lead to turnovers and fast break points the other way. Lack of effort leads to easy points created by offensive rebounding.

Andrea Bargnani had one of his better outings and still wasn’t a big plus for the team. Again, it’s time for a divorce. An important moment came at the half when he allowed Ty Lawson, a foot shorter, to grab an offensive rebound and turn that into a putback. Bargnani barely moved, barely tried to corral the rebound. The blame can be spread around though. Jonas Valanciunas had a fine start and was poor after that. Kyle Lowry had a terrible first half and a great second half. DeMar DeRozan might have been the best Raptor, but needed to be more aggressive. He got to the line just once. Jose Calderon struggled, Mickael Pietrus was a non-factor.

What would I do? Keeping in mind that nobody is just going to gift a talent upgrade to this team and assuming, as the whispers indicate, that the market for Bargnani is underwhelming at the moment … Put Ed Davis with the starters and let Bargnani provide scoring on the second unit with Calderon and Amir Johnson working off of him, as they have done well in the past.

The first group might be limited offensively, but it won’t get outworked and outrebounded as often since Davis is the team’s best rebounder and has become one of its best defenders. Let Lowry and DeRozan be the scorers. Let Pietrus bomb away from the corners, let Davis pick up the trash and let Valanciunas show a little more of his already impressive offensive game.

We’ve been over this, but let’s reiterate: Bargnani sets a bad example with his floundering effort level, with his lack of rebounding and with his wavering defensive abilities (to be fair, he was locked in for parts of the night defensively and was nowhere close to the worst offender in that category).

If you can’t deal him now, let him become a force off of the bench and give your starters a better chance of staying in games.

It’s not like the current setup is working.

A few positives:

The fight again was good to see, even if it was too little, too late.

Terrence Ross played well. Davis had an impact once he got some minutes. Lowry rebounded from his tough first half, to give the excellent Lawson fits at both ends. DeRozan did strong work on the boards.

That’s about it. Too many bad shots – Bargnani should not have taken that three late, but there were a lot of bad decisions by everybody. Too little attention to staying with energy players like Corey Brewer. Laughably bad effort on the glass.

The good news? Sacramento is a winnable game. The pieces fit even worse there and no team has more head cases per capita.

Raptors vs. Thunder Points Per Game: Knocked around, Lowry goes down and Jonas gets crowned

- November 7th, 2012

OKLAHOMA CITY — One of the darker nights in recent Raptors history, no?

Blowout loss. Lose Kyle Lowry to a scary-looking ankle injury. Jonas Valanciunas gets dunked on rather rudely by Kevin Durant.

The blowout wasn’t a huge surprise, this is an extremely talented OKC team that could well make it back to the Finals, especially if the old Lakers and Spurs break down. Plus, the Thunder was out for blood after stumbling through the early post-James Harden days.

The ankle was a product of Lowry being Lowry, he’s in on every play, wants to grab every rebound, even though he’s a foot shorter than many of the guys he is going up against and he doesn’t quit. He was under the net many times in the game and just got tangled up with Serge Ibaka in an unfortunate wrong place, wrong time type of thing.

Some more thoughts:

-       The Thunder misses Harden, but this is still a fantastic team. Thabo Sefolosha is underrated, he’s a very poor man’s Scottie Pippen. Eric Maynor is a top-notch backup point guard, and the bench has some depth and intrigue, with youngsters like Perry Jones III, Lamb, Maynor and even Hasheem Thabeet, who looked serviceable.

-       Andrea Bargnani finally got going offensively, but was brutal defensively, like most of his teammates. He did look more engaged and grabbed four rebounds in the first quarter.

-       The Raptors ran on the Thunder early, then gave that up for some reason. OKC is good, but the Raptors only offered token resistance most of the night and the give up mentality was a bad sign.

-       Valanciunas was great. He wasn’t scared of Perkins and rebounded to getting dunked on the way you want a competitor to. He wants to get Durant back, as his “maybe next time it will be the opposite” comment to me illustrated.

- Was a tough night for DeMar DeRozan, but offensively his line looks a lot worse than how he actually performed. DeRozan attacked the rim early, but didn’t get any calls, a recurring theme. The officiating annoyed both sides in the first half and multiple technicals were called and there could have been a lot more. Westbrook and Perkins outright glared at the refs several times.

-       Dwane Casey didn’t like the way the Raptors competed, but he loved the way Valanciunas did. Valanciunas didn’t think he did anything special, said he goes hard all the time no matter how the game is going and wants to establish himself as that type of player.

- Kevin Martin compared Westbrook and Lowry to each other. “They’re both fiery little guys.”

Before the game OKC coach Scott Brooks and guard Russell Westbrook both said the Raptors are a much-improved outfit. “They have good players,” Westbrook said.

Lowry is extremely doubtful for Wednesday’s game in Dallas and was hobbling out of the arena. He’ll try to demand re-entry to the lineup, and it will be up to the training staff to hold the competitor back until he is 100%.

The return of Points Per Game: Pacers at Raptors PPG

- November 1st, 2012

New season means it’s time for a new season of my post-game thoughts, which will appear by Noon the morning after games.

Here we go with Pacers vs. Raptors Points Per Game:

- First off, that was the best atmosphere I’ve seen at the ACC in years. The fans were great, they were into the game and it was a heck of a contest. This Raptors team plays the way fans in this city like their teams, with an edge, at a fast pace.

- Kyle Lowry was superb. I tweeted he’s the best all-around Raptor since Vince Carter, sorry Chris Bosh, and I believe it. Made a difference at both ends of the floor.

- That said, Lowry’s main weakness is shot selection. He fires at will and at times that’s great, but down the stretch of a tight game, he needs to make better decisions. Ditto Jose Calderon, who got a bit trigger happy at the end, which is rare.

- People are blaming Andrea Bargnani for West going off, but Bargnani actually did a decent job defensively on him. Sure, he hedged too much late, but where was his help? It’s the lost offence, particularly from deep, that should cause concern where Bargnani is concerned. He’s never going to rebound, but his defence was pretty good last night. He needs to rediscover his form from outside. His overall shooting line could have been better, but the refs blew two wild shot attempts that should have led to free throw attempts.

- DeMar DeRozan had terrible timing. Really hurt the team, was completely locked down by Paul George and looked off all night. The pressure is going to be on DeRozan now that the Raptors overpaid to lock him up.

- Landry Fields had an even worse night and quickly bolted the room afterwards.

- Hard not to be impressed by Jonas Valanciunas. Played like a man against a tough opponent in Roy Hibbert. Also, Ed Davis and Amir Johnson are two solid reserve big men. Will give Raptors a lift all year.

- Referees clearly gave the proven Pacers the benefit of the doubt with the calls. Raptors better get used to that. This is how the NBA works until you establish an identity.

Some more thoughts from the paper:
The Raptors did some things quite well in the 2012-13 opener, but enough negatives crept in to deny the team a win against Indiana.
Head coach Dwane Casey foreshadowed the outing pretty well earlier in the day, when discussing how he thought the season would go overall.
“We’re taking steps in the right direction,” Casey said.
“To say that we’ve got to make the playoffs, it’s a bust if we don’t … I don’t buy into that.”
This could be the story of the season. Great effort, some distinct positives and a lot of tough losses.
Casey knows many people don’t think much of his team, but also believes that the pressure of making the playoffs shouldn’t be pushed onto the group.
“I’m excited about this team, I want to prove (the critics) wrong, and our players should want to prove them wrong. But we can’t have it where they’re predicting or saying (the Raptors) will win 30 games the next person says the season is a bust if they don’t make the playoffs. So, it’s confusing,” Casey said.
What the coach wants, is for the Raptors to show “Great growth … and maybe (if that happens) we’ll be knocking on the door at the end of the year. And that’s our goal, our internal goal.”
PLAY ‘EM ALL
Casey went deep into his bench, playing all but forward Linas Kleiza. Getting so many Raptors in early kept them fresh and ready for work later on.
He subbed wisely, using behomth Aaron Gray at times to try to slow down Roy Hibbert, who was giving Jonas Valanciunas trouble due to his sheer size.
Ed Davis gave the club a huge lift late in the third quarter when the game appeared to be in danger of slipping away, hitting a couple of shots, blocking one and getting on the glass.
The two point guard lineup of Kyle Lowry, who was spectacular and Jose Calderon also was used to great effect. Going with veteran Alan Anderson and nailing a complexly out-of-sorts Landry Fields to the bench also paid dividends for Casey.
GREAT, BUT
As good as Lowry and Calderon were (36 points, 11 assists, 6 steals, 3 turnovers), the duo made some uncharacteristic mistakes down the stretch, taking bad shot after bad shot and failing to run the offence properly, allowing Indiana to erase a big Toronto lead and score all of the game’s points in the final four minutes.
Lowry put the team on his shoulders and Calderon excelled as well, but they have to be smarter late in games.
BENCH BOAST
When asked what the main difference was between his first Raptors team and this one, Casey was succinct: “Our bench basically were our starters,” Casey said.
DeMar DeRozan said the feeling around the team is different as well.
“You see the hunger more in guys that’s been here and been through the tough times and you see the hunger in guys like Landry, (Lowry), that’s been in tough positions and been winning,” DeRozan said before the game.
“The hunger is there in everybody and we’re just going to bring it out tonight.”
The Raptors definitely did, but could not overcome 36.3% shooting from the field.
ROOKIE NERVES?
Rookies Valanciunas and Terrence Ross said they were nervous beforehand since they had watched many openers on television and now would be a part of NBA basketball.
Valanciunas said he had trouble sleeping.
But they didn’t show it. Valanciunas had one of the better first quarter debuts in team history, compiling six points, four rebounds and a pair of blocks.
But Hibbert frustrated Valanciunas for a while after that until the Lithuanian showed the vet some things at both ends in the third quarter.
Before the contest, Valanciunas said he had goals for this season:
“Win games. And win rookie of the year.”
DeRozan was the last rookie to start for the Raptors on opening night (Damon Stoudamire, Vince Carter and Joey Graham were the others) and had some advice.
“You’re going to be nervous, without a doubt. Just go out there, stay focused and do your job and don’t think too much.”
Afterwards, Valanciunas said he had fun, but was upset about the loss.
When reminded that there were still 81 games to go, he seemed surprised.
“That many?” Then reminded observers that he played 86 games for Lietuvos Rytas last season and about 100 overall, counting his matches with the Lithuanian national team.
He didn’t have to wait long to find out the answer to one of his pre-game musings:
“I like fans, maybe fans are going to like me? I hope so,” he said.
Valanciunas got one of the loudest pre-game roars and was cheered throughout the evening like a conquering hero, particularly when he tried to rip down the basket in a Shaq-like display on a dunk.
His counterpart, Ross was more tentative, missing a pair of three point attempts early and failing to see action in the second half.

Kyle Lowry might want a change of scenery – expect the Raptors to kick the tires

- May 26th, 2012

Rockets point guard Kyle Lowry doesn’t sound like someone who would prefer to return to Houston next season.

On Friday, Lowry told Rockets beat writer Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle he can’t see both he and unrestricted free agent Goran Dragic coming back.

Just a few weeks after surgery to fix torn abductor muscles and a sports hernia, Lowry told Feigen:

“I don’t think so. I honestly think it would be tough. Things have to be addressed. The situation would have to be addressed.

“If things aren’t addressed coaching-wise, I guess I have to be moved.”

Lowry made it clear that he has undisclosed problems with head coach Kevin McHale. Though McHale and general manager Daryl Morey downplayed any issues, Lowry clearly is unhappy.

Morey told Feigen:

“I think Kyle and coach McHale are both winners and both competitive guys. “I don’t anticipate any issues going forward.”

At one point during the season, Lowry had to be restrained from going after the coach.

A tremendous defender and rebounder, Lowry averaged career highs of 14.3 points, 6.6 assists and 4.6 rebounds per game in 47 contests (In 38 starts, Lowry’s numbers were 15.9 points, 7.2 assists and 1.8 steals per game).  However, his injuries opened the door for Dragic, who averaged 18 points, 8.4 assists and 1.8 steals per game in 28 starts of his own.

Dragic is a far better shooter and finisher than Lowry, except for from three-point range and from the free throw line, where they shoot about the same. Lowry is an elite defender at the point guard spot and a better rebounder.

For his career, Lowry has averaged 10.4 points and 4.8 assists. Lowry has two very reasonable years remaining on his contract and will earn $5.75 million in 2012-1 and $6.2 million in 2013-14.

The Raptors are extremely high on Lowry, so there is little doubt – despite Morey’s desire to keep Lowry in the fold – that he and Raptors GM Bryan Colangelo will discuss a Lowry deal. If that falls through the Raptors could instead pursue Dragic, though I do not know if he is a favourite of theirs like Lowry or not.

After Lowry burned the Raptors for a game-high 26 points (including 4-for-4 from three) in a three-point win in Houston, I asked Raptors head coach Dwane Casey what he thought of Lowry and Casey lauded the guard for his toughness and ability.

“He’s a hell of a competitor. He’s their heart and soul and spirit of their team and I love the way he plays,” Casey said.

Long-time Raptor Alvin Williams, now a scout with the team, is extremely close with Lowry and is one of his mentors. Both are from Philadelphia and both played for Villanova. “Alvin is my main man,” Lowry once said.

Complicating a potential deal would be the fact that Houston would have to be sure Dragic will re-sign long-term with the club to be its starter before opting to trade Lowry. That won’t happen until July 1st, after the draft. It would likely be Toronto’s pick – 8th before Wednesday’s lottery – that Houston would be after. The Rockets own the 14th pick (again, pre-lottery) and the 16th. It’s hard to see the Rockets wanting anything besides Toronto’s pick in a potential Lowry deal since Jonas Valanciunas and Andrea Bargnani won’t be on the table. DeMar DeRozan’s advanced stats likely don’t impress Morey, who is a huge believer in advanced statistical analysis.

Plus there’s the fact other teams could make better offers. Lowry and Luis Scola nearly became Lakers last season in exchange for Pau Gasol and Gasol is very much on the block again and the Rockets have always coveted him.

As well, Lowry has had injury issues including a torn ACL early in his career and has an edge. He was charged with battery after being accused of throwing a ball at a female referee during the lockout. Lowry apologized, received 100 hours of community service and impulse-control counseling.

However, for years the Raptors have lacked extremely competitive, hard-nosed players and that’s a major reason why they haven’t had much success.

Unless Dragic says he’s not coming back, Lowry’s likely moving somewhere. Would he be OK with supplanting Jose Calderon as starter in Toronto if Calderon is still seeing considerable time, some of it in the same backcourt as Lowry? Who knows.

What we do know  is he is not interested in splitting time with Dragic.

“We’re both capable starters. We both want it. It’s going to have to be a situation where they make a decision on one of us.

“It has nothing to do with Goran. I’m not happy with the way coaches handled things. If management wants to do something to keep Goran, I think I’ll have to be moved,” Lowry told Feigen.

“I think I’m still a foundation guy. You can build around me. If I’m not here, that’s welcomed. If I’m here, I guess that’s welcome, too.”

Interesting stuff indeed.