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.
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”