Posts Tagged ‘Linas Kleiza

Raptors to revamp Davis’ jumper/footwork; Big game from Joseph and more

- February 22nd, 2012

Pistons Points Per Game coming by tomorrow morning but today wanted to do a roundup of assorted topics of interest:

First, congratulations to Cory Joseph, who got his first career start on Tuesday when Gregg Popovich decided to rest Tony Parker and Tim Duncan. It was an ugly game for the Spurs, but Joseph managed 13 points, three assists and 0 turnovers, hitting a pair of threes in a 4-for-13 shooting effort. Getting that chance will help him down the line. Believe only two 20-year-old Canadians have ever started a game in the NBA. Tristan Thompson earlier this season and now Cory.

- On to Ed Davis. A lot of people are asking me if the news that the Raptors intend to work extensively with Davis in the off-season on his jumper and footwork means he is part of the long-term plans? While it’s a positive for Davis supporters that they are talking about working with him this summer, I wouldn’t read too much into it. Dwane Casey wants to make the players he has better. That’s his job. He can’t be thinking that he won’t have certain guys to work with in the future. He can only think about what he has now and making the current Raptors better. It’s  up to Bryan Colangelo to make moves and give Casey the players to work with.

They have already worked on Davis’ jumper, like James Johnson, his mechanics look better, but they are very concerned with the way his left foot comes towards and crosses over his right when he takes a jumper (he doesn’t do this at the free throw line). The movement is all wrong, it is not a smooth motion and it is counter-productive. It will be rebuilt from the ground up in the summer.

EDIT: I do believe one of Davis or Amir Johnson will be traded this off-season. With Linas Kleiza a solid stretch 4, but ineffective at SF, Andrea Bargnani looking like the starting 4 of the future and even James Johnson putting up better numbers as a 4 than he does as a 4, that’s an awful lot of power forwards going forward. Jonas Valanciunas, Aaron Gray and possibly Jamaal Magloire should get the centre minutes next season and even if Bargnani shifts to the 5 a bit, there will still be at least one PF too many.

Davis is cheaper than Amir and would be easier to get value for based on upside potential so don’t convince yourself that just because they are talking about working with him in the summer that he’s definitely staying. I’d be shocked if both Davis and Amir are back next season. There likely isn’t room for both of them and Bargnani, Kleiza and Johnson don’t seem like likely candidates to be moved.

- Casey likes what he has seen from Davis recently after a down period. He has totaled 20 points and 15 rebounds on 9-for-14 shooting over his past two games and was one of the only Raptors to show up against the Bobcats on Friday.

“I thought Ed did a heck of a job against Charlotte, he competed, he rebounded, mixed it up in the paint. Ed is growing, up until the last 3 or 4 games he had been inconsistent, but I thought his effort and focus and productivity offensively have been there the last couple of games,” Casey said this week.

- As I wrote today, the Raptors believe the playoffs aren’t a pipe dream. It sounds crazy and it remains a highly unrealistic outcome, but you can’t hate on them for saying so. They are trying to win games not think about draft picks and the future.

“We have a long way to go, (but) can definitely turn things around this season and make a push towards the playoffs,” said Jerryd Bayless.

- Bayless is expected to play against Detroit on Wednesday, while Linas Kleiza’s status is dicier. A lot more factors come into play with Kleiza than with some other players (ie. scrutiny from outside affiliates).

Raptors at Suns Points Per Game:

- January 25th, 2012

Finally, a win. Gutsy effort in Phoenix and a lineup change results in a victory to end a long losing streak. Oh, Andrea Bargnani might have had something to do with it.

- Bargnani proved again that he is an all-star, rebounding from a bad shooting start to absolutely pick apart the Suns. Sure Marcin Gortat lit up the Raptors, but Bargnani was only defending him part of the time and did better on that end than others.

- I liked the move to start Aaron Gray, I predicted at the start of the year (before Gray had his health problems) that he would start beside Bargnani for many matchups. Gives the team more size and a better screen-setter at the five. Also sends Amir Johnson a message – get your game back in gear, and he seemed to read it loud and clear. Johnson only played just shy of 13 minutes, but was back to his old active self. Plus the move forced me to try to remember the last time the Raptors started two 7-footers … I can’t remember that ever happening actually, since none of Chris Bosh, Jermaine O’Neal, Antonio Davis or Donyell Marshall are 7-footers.

- Toronto’s 3-pt shooting was a big positive. Beside Bargnani’s 4-for-6, the rest of the team went 4-for-9. That kept them in it when Phoenix was hot, and was a major reason why the end result was a win. Which leads to …

- Leandro Barbosa. He was the reason the Raptors were within four at the half in a game Phoenix should have had well in hand. Barbosa went 3-for-3 from three and was brilliant, particularly in the second quarter against his former team.

- Barbosa’s strong play helped mask another invisible night from DeMar DeRozan. This is at the troubling point now, especially since Bargnani was back, which was supposed to help DeRozan return to form. I liked his agressiveness early, but DeRozan failed to get to the free throw line and could not finish his chances.  His regression is the most negative aspect of this Raptors season, which is now a quarter of the way complete. Something needs to change and quickly. Right now DeRozan looks like a reserve, not a major piece of Toronto’s rebuild.

- I like what Ronnie Price has done for the Suns. Gives them a defensive boost. What the heck happened to Channing Frye? He can’t play anymore. Like at all.

- One more negative before I get to some positives. One of the reasons Toronto’s defence doesn’t look as good as it did early on is because Jose Calderon is no longer keeping anybody in front of him anymore. That’s been the case the past few games and didn’t change against the great Steve Nash. Nash blew by Calderon, this time with guile, not the speed other point guards have been using. Calderon, like most, to be fair, had no answers for Nash and his crafty, change of pace maneuvers. Another concern, re: Calderon, is the fact that he is making 1-2 bad passes at critical times (leaving his feet after dribbling into no-man’s land) throwing the ball away at inopportune times. It almost cost Toronto the game and would have had Phoenix hit more shots in the clutch. He did make some better decisions late that helped the Raptors win the game.

- James Johnson followed up his best game of the season with an even better one. He defended well and was solid on offence. His play would be one of the brighters spots of this season, though I’m sure Bryan Colangelo would prefer to have Johnson showing little instead of DeRozan and Ed Davis both showing next to nothing so far, aside from a fast start from DeRozan.

- Linas Kleiza continues to help the bench with his ability to score.

- I believe Toronto turned the ball over nine times in the first quarter but ended up with 16 total, so obviously the team did a much better job taking care of the ball as the game went on.

- OK one more negative. Marcin Gortat abused the team for three quarters. There was little resistance, he rolled to the hoop unguarded or overpowered the Raptors. The team finally guarded him better in the fourth.
- Dwane Casey drew up some good plays, including one to end the first half and bring the Raptors within four when Calderon went to James Johnson for a dunk. His team also used screens very well and Phoenix puzzlingly didn’t figure out that leaving Bargnani open off of screen and rolls or pick and pops was a very bad decision.

All in all, more good things to say than bad, but DeRozan and Davis need to get on track or else Colangelo doesn’t have nearly as much in his cupboard as he thinks and this retool is in worse shape than we thought.

Monday musings

- October 18th, 2010

Let’s start with Canada Basketball, before moving on to the Raptors and the NBA in general.

- Leo Rautins is going to get a two-year extension today. A lot of fans might not be happy with the move, but the organization has shown a commitment to Leo and the Dalembert incident aside – he has done a passable job with the team. He got them into the World Championship when nobody thought they’d get there. Yes, they were pretty terrible once there, but they weren’t exactly running out an imposing roster. Let’s see what he can do with some talent, before we write him off.

The one problem with that line of thinking is I have heard chatter from a handful of people who happen to have the ears of some of Canada’s up-and-coming star-calibre prospects, and the word is some of them would prefer to play for a younger coach that they have more of a connection with. That would make developmental coach Greg Francis the guy in my eyes, but I’ve heard he might not be who they want to play for either. Who is? No idea.

I’m going to side with Canada basketball on this one. You can’t have the players running the show, no matter how talented and promising they are. Once they start calling the shots on any team, you’re done. Ask the Raptors how letting Carter or Bosh run things went.

Leo has improved as a coach over the years and he will have to get a lot better yet in order to last the next two years. He will be the guy that will try to get Canada into the 2012 London Olympics. It is possible, but more realistic is 2014 (worlds in Spain) and beyond. By that point, Canada, talent-wise, should be top 5 or 6 in the world. Right now we’re more like 15-25.

- As for the Raptors, still not feeling the Jose Calderon, Reggie Evans version of the starting lineup. I see the logic – Evans’ rebounding helps make up for Bargnani’s failings in that regard and Amir Johnson is rolling with the second unit, but I’d still rather see Johnson – who also plays great with Bargnani – starting.

The argument for Calderon is he isn’t doing terrible, he doesn’t turn the ball over and Jarrett Jack is running the bench brigade brilliantly. I understand that, but at this point, to me, Jack is a much better player than Calderon, particularly defensively and I think it is going to get ugly if Calderon is starting against guys like Paul, Williams, Rondo, Collison, Holiday, and on and on. He’s far more suited to guarding backup point guards.

- Time to admit I was wrong about Linas Kleiza. He is a much better player now than he was before heading over to Europe. I was judging him on his years in Denver. He’s not the same guy. Is it crazy to think Kleiza might be the team’s best player? I don’t think so. He can score in a variety of ways, hits the boards and competes hard, is a good passer and isn’t completely useless defensively.

- Still can’t believe Phoenix agreed to (A) Take Turkoglu and (B) send back Barbosa. Highway robbery. I feel bad for Steve Nash. By next year at the latest I expect him to be sent elsewhere. He will get extremely frustrated trying to carry Turkoglu on his back.

Some thoughts for a Wednesday

- October 13th, 2010

- The Raptors are a lot closer to the team that got crushed by the Bulls Tuesday than the one that hammered the Suns by 51 to start the pre-season. This team is going to be hard-pressed to win 30 games (though 32 still is my prediction). There is not enough consistent scoring on hand. The team’s top rebounder Amir Johnson can’t stay on the court due to foul trouble, and Andrea Bargnani/David Andersen is not a centre tandem that scares anybody in terms of presence defensively.

- Speaking of Bargnani, he’s been pretty bad, but showed signs of improvement against the Bulls. He’ll come around offensively. He was one of only two Raptors with a positive +/- vs. the Bulls.

- Gilbert Arenas thinks differently than most of us. Can’t believe he faked an injury in order to sit out and get his buddy Nick Young more playing time Tuesday. But maybe I shouldn’t be surprised, Gilbert is a different kind of guy.

- Marcus Banks has value as an expiring contract, but if I’m the Raps I hold on to him. With Jose Calderon’s injury history, it would be pretty ballsy to deal Banks (unless another point guard is coming back). Jarrett Jack can’t play 48 minutes and Leandro Barbosa at the 1 is a disaster waiting to happen based on his time in Phoenix.

- Reggie Evans is another story. Great guy, adds a lot to the team with his attitude and grit, but Joey Dorsey is a younger, far cheaper version, so Evans is expendable.

- Going forward, I believe the Raptors need to add a star-level point guard (many will be available in the 2011 draft) and move Calderon and need to add a true centre who blocks shots and rebounds at a high level. Bargnani, Jack, DeMar DeRozan, Linas Kleiza, Sonny Weems, Ed Davis, Leandro Barbosa and Amir Johnson are all nice pieces to have.

Solomon Alabi and Dorsey are cheap bigs with some upside, always useful to have arond. That leaves 5 spots for other players including a star PG that will eventually push Jack to the bench and a bruising 7-footer in the Brendan Haywood/prime Erick Dampier mold.

Raptors GM Bryan Colangelo has Calderon, Evans, Banks and a $14.5 million trade exception (+draft picks if he foolishly wants to surrender them) as bait to land a top talent or two. With shooting guard, small forward and power forward all stocked nicely going forward, centre and point guard are the areas which need to be addressed. Historically speaking, those happen to be the two toughest positions to fill with quality, though there has been a run on elite point guards the past five years or so.

Assorted thoughts after a week of Raptor camp

- October 4th, 2010

Not in Vancouver, unfortunately, so thought I’d sum up my thoughts after watching and talking to the Raptors in Toronto for a week:

DeMar DeRozan looks bigger and seems more confident in every way. He has very high expectations for himself and the team seems to be trying to make him the next “star” of the team because he is an easier sell than the more staid Andrea Bargnani.

Bargnani is also confident and much more at ease talking to the media. If he is feeling extra pressure with Chris Bosh gone, it certainly is not showing.

Will be interesting to see if Bargnani and DeRozan can take big steps forward with so much more attention coming their way from defences.

Amir Johnson isn’t feeling any pressure thanks to his new contract. He’s looking to do the same things defensively, push his rebound total up to 10 a game while staying out of foul trouble. Good to see he’s ambitious, but a double-double is out of the question unless he can stay on the court for about 28 minutes a night. In the past he’s barely been able to play half that many minutes.

This team has a better mix of personalities than recent Raptor squads. There are still a bunch of good guys, but it isn’t all good guys anymore, and that’s a good thing. Linas Kleiza, Reggie Evans, Amir Johnson, Jarrett Jack and a couple others all play with an edge.

Sonny Weems might be the most confident player on the roster. He has massive expecations for himself at both ends of the floor.

Players always are confident and thinking big at this time of year, but it seems even more the case this year. While some of the goals are unrealistic, it’s always good to see players trying to get a lot better instead of just coasting, like that Turkoglu guy.

Colangelo on the FAN talks Bosh, Kleiza, trades on horizon, failed deals

- July 26th, 2010

Interesting interview on the FAN 590 this afternoon with Bryan Colangelo.

Recap of the major points:

The Raptors have a number of balls in the area and are working on trades, but there is kind of a lull right now in terms of teams willing to make deals.

Barnes and Charlotte deal falling through are unfortunate. Barnes took less to play close to home. Stuff getting out prematurely is not a good thing.

Used the analogy re: Barnes of losing a fish on a line … guess he reads my stuff

Chris Bosh could have played through his ankle issues but chose not to. The Raptors really didn’t think they were in the mix for him. People were putting things in his ear.

” Despite limited swelling and any excessive damage on an MRI, he felt like he needed to sit for six more games. That was a very important period for us. Then coming back from not working out, his timing was off, conditioning was off, we were set back even further. 6 games stretched to 9 games. Then when he finally came back, his face got broken. We had a tough season based on the timing of that injury and that sequence.”

Team will be athletic and fun to watch.

Linas Kleiza has no midrange game, but is a force in the post and can nail the three. He brings toughness and scoring. Likely the starter at small forward right now.

My thoughts: Interesting he called out Bosh like that, but can’t say I disagree with any of that. Bosh was clearly out of Toronto mentally after the all-star break and he wasn’t going to kill himself for the franchise any longer.

Kleiza makes sense as the starter. Sonny Weems will bring energy and offence to a bench that will badly need those things.

Going young with a running, exciting team makes total sense. They will probably lose a ton of games, but they will look good doing it and will give fans some value for their money. That’s a smart way to rebuild.

Thoughts on summer league; Kleiza will be a Rap; Calderon speaks

- July 16th, 2010

I’m not the biggest summer league fan. It’s unorganized, foul-plagued and heavy on turnovers. Older or more experienced players should stand out against rookies. But … the young Raptors have looked very good in Las Vegas.

DeMar DeRozan’s main weaknesses or shooting and ball-handling. I have seen marked improvement in his ball-handling and he has been the best player on the floor in at least two of the three games he’s played so far heading into today’s first real test, against future all-star DeMarcus Cousins’ Sacramento Kings.

DeRozan still doesn’t go left well, but he is far more confident with the ball and is attacking the rim. His jumper has improved as well. Good signs for the Raptors.

Sonny Weems looks about the same. Still has a deadly midrange game, still doesn’t take it to the hole enough and never met a shot he didn’t like. But a good, explosive scorer off the bench for sure going forward.

I’ve like what I’ve seen from Ed Davis and even Solomon Alabi. Alabi will take some time, but he has a very smooth shooting touch, as advertised and can protect the rim.

Davis is a hard worker, a meat and potatoes type of player, like his namesakes Dale and Antonio Davis. He is a very good finisher inside and he can rebound and block shots. I think he’ll be a good, solid player. Perhaps a rich man’s Udonis Haslem with more length.

Joey Dorsey and Bobby Brown have stood out, but it roster moves need to be made to keep them around.

Dorsey has gobbled up every rebound in sight and basically made Reggie Evans redundant, but Bryan Colangelo will have to find a taker for Evans’ large expiring contract. Unless Jose Calderon is moved, there is no room for Brown who has shown great chemistry with DeRozan, Weems and Davis, strong vision and good speed and finishing ability.

If Calderon is dealt, Brown could stick around with Jarrett Jack, Leandro Barbosa (though he is a brutal point guard) and Marcus Banks getting the main minutes at the one.

Linas Kleiza will officially become a Raptor later today. Denver will not match the 4-year, $18.8 million offer sheet the Raptors signed him to. It seems fair enough for the Euroleague’s leading scorer and the likely starter at small forward this season. The Raptors likely will split up the energetic DeMar DeRozan-Sonny Weems combo and have Weems provide scoring and athleticism in a sixth-man role.

Kleiza plays hard, can really shoot the ball and has a bit of an edge. He isn’t much of a defender or rebounder, but isn’t terrible either and gives a solid effort.

Jose Calderon released a statement on his website responding to his near-trade to the Charlotte Bobcats:

“As you all know, in the past few days there have been negotiations for my transfer to another NBA franchise, from here I want to thank all of the Raptors fans who have sent me messages of support to my site and I have wished me luck. For some reason or another, the transfer has not taken place and I am still in Toronto. I just want to say, that as I have done in the history of my career, I will respect the rules and accept decisions that are part of this game, both on and off the court. However, I do not want to sound like I want to leave Toronto. On the contrary, I have spent five years in this city, I consider myself as one of its citizens and fans of the Raptors. I am also the most veteran player on this team, and although Chris is gone, my dream was to lead a new project to take us to the playoffs, that’s what I’ve been training for weeks and getting ready for next season. In any case, whatever happens, I can tell everyone that this goal remains intact and that with the right chemistry in the locker room and with the fans, we can achieve this goal.

Thanks for your support.

José Manuel Calderón”

Classy move by Jose, one of the classiest people in the NBA. The odds are pretty slim, though, that he is a Raptor next year.

Finally, here‘s a nice write-up on some up-and-coming Canadian ballers, including Khem Birch.

“Birch was no doubt a top-five performer in the King City classic. He had his name buzzing around the Cleveland State gymnasium after each of his performance. An athletic freak who is extremely active around the basket. He had his hands on every missed shot both on offensive and defensive end, whether scoring the put-back basket, snatching it and kicking back out or slapping it to a teammate when the ball was out of reach to truly grab. At 6-foot-9, Birch had the greatest wingspan (86”) in the event which he put into use as he terrified offensive players with his great ability to block shots.”

Birch is being heavily recruited by top NCAA programs.

OK, one more thing, the Magic matched the pricy offer by the Bulls to J.J. Redick. Orlando is now paying a ton of luxury tax money. People have been asking me if Marcin Gortat is a good match for Toronto. I believe he is, I believe Orlando will try to unload him and/or Brandon Bass, but do I think he’ll become a Raptor?

Probably not, unless Orlando takes Reggie Evans and $3 million for him. That move would save them $5 million this year and a lot more down the line. It would also leave them with just rookie Daniel Orton – years away from contributing – to back up Dwight Howard though. I think they try a lot harder to unload Bass before they let Gortat go, unless they can find a backup centre from the scrap heap, but they don’t grow on trees.

On Kleiza and LeBron

- July 8th, 2010

It appears Linas Kleiza is going to be a Raptor. Bryan Colangelo has been pursuing him for a long time. I doubt Denver wants to pay Carmelo Anthony’s backup $5 million a season for the next four years.

Kleiza is a good player. An effective piece. But if he’s a starter and you want to be a good team, he better be your fifth-best starter or you’re not good enough, period. If he’s coming off the bench, that’s a little bit too much money for my liking, but it’s not a complete disaster.

Kleiza was one of the top players in Europe last season (Euroleague leading scorer). He rebounds, defends and gets after it. The Raptors need as many players like that as possible. This move makes a lot more sense if a Hedo Turkoglu deal is on the horizon. There aren’t enough minutes for Kleiza, Turkoglu and Sonny Weems.

But even if Turk is moved, I still have a problem with this signing. Why? You’ll have to read my column in the Sun Friday to find out.

As for LeBron. This whole thing makes me sick. Unless he stays in Cleveland, I am very down on this whole process. If he jilts Cleveland during this one-hour “extravaganza” LeBron will become the biggest villain in sports history. The NBA’s Darth Vader, if you will.

I still think he stays put, but at this point, will concede that belief stems more from hopefulness than logic. All signs point to Miami, but I won’t believe it until I see it. I’m not sure LeBron, the man trying to become the biggest brand in sports, will really cut off so many potential buyers of what he’s selling by leaving Cleveland.

Yes, some haters still buy things, but many more don’t. Selling the Bron brand becomes much easier if he stays in Cleveland for a couple years, wins a ring and then leaves for greener pastures.

When Bryan Colangelo wants a player he isn’t afraid to pay up to get him.

The Raptors have signed forward Linas Kleiza to a four-year, $20-million U.S. offer sheet.

The Denver Nuggets — who own Kleiza’s rights even though he most recently played in Greece — now have seven days to match the offer. It is highly unlikely they will do so.

Kleiza, a 6-foot-8, 245 pound small forward with a nice shooting touch, is a productive player who Colangelo hoped to acquire last season. Kleiza can play the three and four, and even spot minutes at shooting guard in a pinch.

He is an aggressive, chippy player in the mold of ex-Raptor Jorge Garbajosa.

Kleiza spent three seasons with Denver after being acquired in a draft night deal for Jarrett Jack, averaging 8.3 points and 3.5 rebounds in 19 minutes per game.

The Lithuanian spent last season with Olympiacos Piraeus in Greece averaging a Euroleague high 17 points a night, along with seven rebounds.

He notched a career-best 41 points during the 2007-08 season and was outstanding in Denver’s short, four-game playoff that year, averaging 14 points and 6 rebounds on 54% shooting.

It is unclear how Kleiza will fit in with the Raptors unless further moves are made.

Small forward Hedo Turkoglu is expected to have an increased role, unless the Raptors somehow find a way to move his brutal deal, and another swingman, Sonny Weems, is also expected to see heavy minutes following a breakout final two months of 2009-10.