NBA

Toronto Raptors Game 5 Summary - Why We Watch Sports

Source: Frank Gunn / The Canadian Press

Source: Frank Gunn / The Canadian Press

When people ask me why I watch sports, it’s all because of the games like the one on Monday night. Sports provide the biggest roller coaster rides in the world, and it’s rare to have a team you cheer for be successful throughout the duration of you cheering for them. What normally happens is you have very few periods where they’re at the top of the world, and then you’re brought back down to Earth for a very, very, very long time. Along with these periods, there are countless heartbreaks and moments that make you question why you continue to subject yourself to unnecessary stressful and heart-wrenching situations. Last night gave us a prime example of what sports do to people. They make you scream in happiness and hug random strangers, and then the next second your mind is boggled and there’s nothing that can make you feel better. Sports bring out these moments and once they’re over they sit with you for days after until the next game.

Source: Awful Announcing

Source: Awful Announcing

Game Five tested the totality of our emotions. With all the drama and story lines it was hard to focus on our game-plan and during the game I found myself always concerned where Kevin Durant was as opposed to focusing on the Raptors. Prior to the game, Downtown Toronto was electric and I had never seen lines that long for restaurants and bars over four hours before the game. And afterwards it was the longest commute I’d had in ages and the areas surrounding Scotiabank Arena were the quietest it’s been. From the start of the game you could feel nervousness, excitement, euphoria, stress, anxiousness and possibly every emotion you could ever experience, and by the end everyone felt the same way: defeated. 

Source: CityNews Toronto

Source: CityNews Toronto

There is someone else who felt defeated and his name is Kevin Durant. Coming into the series, I wanted to play against KD because I wanted us to beat the best. That being said, I didn’t think he looked ready to play at all and thought we wouldn’t see him (looking back, I wish the Warriors staff realized this too and didn’t put him in). So when I watched the beginning of the game I was surprised at how good his shots looked and I was happy that we were playing against the Warriors’ full roster. But when he pulled up and stopped playing I was immediately saddened. You never want to see anyone get injured, especially when it involves one’s Achilles. To think about all the hard work he put in over the years just to be hindered by this random event breaks your heart. And I know it affected countless fans around the world as well, but I also know there were also people inside Scotiabank Arena and outside the game that did not act as appropriately to this injury.

Source: Gregory Shamus / Getty Images

Source: Gregory Shamus / Getty Images

This has been a huge debate ever since it happened, as people are saying how Canadians acted inappropriately and should be ashamed of their actions, and I know the people who cheered have realized their faults. It was evident they did by their reaction afterwards when they applauded for KD’s effort and chanted his name. My opinion is that it was an honest human reaction to the situation. I think that in any arena in the NBA, some fans would immediately cheer for the injury, not because they’re happy the player was injured, but because their team has an advantage. It’s a horrible response as it takes away from the understanding that it is a person these people are paying thousands of dollars to be entertained by, and it’s the reality that people forget how hard and how much these players have given up just to be playing in that situation. It’s easy to forget that each of these players are human when you watch them for entertainment and I hope that moving forward this is a learning experience for everyone who watched.

It’s not my experience with the people of this city...You understand this is about an individual, a human being and not, ‘oh, shoot he’s out, he’s hurt, we won the championship.’
— Steph Curry

Now, onto the game itself. We lost because we did not play well, it’s as simple as that. The Warriors set a record for 3-pointers made on the road in an NBA Finals Game with 20, and we only made 8. Our defence was not what it was in the prior games and our shooting did not match our efforts earlier on as well. There’s been much discussion as to the last play, but I think it was a great play with Lowry getting off a great shot. It’s just that Draymond played even better defence and somehow managed to get a piece of the ball on its way up. It was painful to watch as we all knew Game Five was the perfect situation to win and how amazing would it have been to have Lowry hit the game-winner after his years of hard work for our team. The emotion we all felt when Kawhi went on his 10-point run was unparalleled as we knew the trophy was minutes away, however we just couldn’t close it out. Like I said earlier, we watch sports to experience the highs that occur, and they wouldn’t feel as amazing if we didn’t experience the lows that come with them.

Source: Chris Young / The Canadian Press

Source: Chris Young / The Canadian Press

There are two possible games left and although we won’t be matched up against arguably the greatest ever team with KD out of the lineup, we have the opportunity to win the only trophy that matters, and we are unbelievably close. Best wishes to KD for his recovery and hopefully we’ll be able to beat him in the Finals to come.

2019 NBA Finals Preview - Raptors vs Warriors

Source: NBC Sports

Source: NBC Sports

Well Raptors fans, we have finally made it. After years of heartache, sweeps, “choke artists” labels, Drake curses and LeBronto memes, the 2019 Toronto Raptors are making their first NBA Finals appearance in franchise history. If they want to hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy at the end of the Finals, they are going to have to go up against a dynasty team in the Golden State Warriors. Can the Raptors defeat the juggernaut known as the Warriors, or is their experience and roster too much for the Raptors to overcome? I’ll explain to you why I believe the Raptors can de-throne the back to back defending NBA champions, and how they are going to do it.

Source: USA TODAY Sports

Source: USA TODAY Sports

Some of you may recall that I wrote a Raptors season preview before the first regular season game, which you can read here. Some things were spot on, others…not so much. Saying this, one thing I did get right was the two teams to meet in this year’s NBA Finals. At the beginning of the year, I put down Warriors in 6, and if a healthy Kevin Durant was entering this series with the Warriors, I would probably stick with the same outcome. We obviously know that this is not the case, and this is a massive blow for the Warriors versus this Raptors team, both offensively and defensively. We have seen in these playoffs that the Warriors know how to play well offensively without Durant, and they have gone back to this high tempo exciting style of basketball that made fans first fall in love with the team pre-Durant era. They have made up for it defensively in the postseason because of the matchups they have faced, but they have not faced anybody quite like Kawhi Leonard without Durant on the floor. KD is the ideal candidate to guard Kawhi defensively, so without him, it forces others to take on this tough assignment. He may see doses of Klay Thompson or Draymond Green on him, but that then takes away from their other “normal” assignments and will leave players such as Pascal Siakam, Serge Ibaka and Danny Green more open for shots or drives to the hoop. KD is a very underrated defender, and this is where I feel that they will miss him the most. Saying this, they have done really well without Durant on the floor…and I mean REALLY well. A record of 31-1 well to be exact. The Raptors have been defying odds and records all postseason, so it’s time to do the same once again.

Source: Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images

Source: Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images

It was recently announced that Warriors center DeMarcus Cousins will be active for Game One tonight at Scotiabank Arena. While some may be worried about this addition, I welcome it. JD Bunkis of Sportsnet summarized my thoughts perfectly in this tweet:

I think this benefits the Raptors and allows them to play that comfortable lineup with Gasol starting. This probably cuts back Kevon Looney’s minutes, which I’m all for considering he’s had a decent playoff run. Give me all the Cousin’s minutes please. I’m here for it.

I think this is the best defence that the Warriors have played against in their five year run.
— Brian Windhorst, ESPN

You ready for some stats and numbers to be thrown your way? The big key here for the Raptors in this series is going to be their defence. The Raptors are ranked 2nd amongst NBA teams in the postseason in defensive rating at 102.8. Warriors are 8th at 110.8. The Raptors are also the most improved team defensively from the regular season to the postseason in these playoffs. Toronto is limiting teams to 41.7% shooting, while the Warriors are allowing 44.2% shooting. This is important because the Warriors are #1 in the NBA Playoffs in total field goal percentage at 48.7%. Another reason defense is important is because the Warriors are 3-13 this season when held to 105 points or less. That’s…not very good. It also just so happens that the Raptors are holding opponents on average to 99.6 points per game this postseason. That bodes well for the dinos.

Offensively it’s the same narrative for the Raptors: HIT YOUR OPEN SHOTS, especially the three point opportunities. The Warriors are ranked 14th out of 16 in the playoffs in opponent three point percentage, allowing opponents to shoot 41.9% from beyond the arc. The Raptors are ranked 9th in this category allowing 37.4% of shots to drop from beyond the arc. If the Raptors can get the shooting they have been getting from Lowry, VanVleet, Powell, Leonard, Gasol and more, then it poses a problem for the Warriors and allows other guys to be aggressive driving to the bucket. If Danny Green can get his shot going again (and I believe he will), that’s another wrinkle that the Warriors will have to look to iron out.

Source: Toronto Sun

Source: Toronto Sun

If the Raptors continue to do the things they have been doing so far in the postseason, it will really test a Warriors team that is making it’s fifth consecutive NBA Finals appearance. As experienced as they are, this is a new team and a new test for this undermanned squad. With KD out, I like the Raptors chances to win this series in 7 games. Matt Devlin summarized this moment perfectly…we’ve been waiting 24 years for this. Now, it’s our time to show the NBA, the United States and the world why Toronto is the best city with the best NBA team in the world.

Game One of the 2019 NBA Finals - Warriors vs Raptors

Source: Fanatics

Source: Fanatics

Tomorrow, the Toronto Raptors will be playing the Golden State Warriors at Scotiabank Arena in a best-of-seven series to decide who wins the NBA Championship. 

After the past 24 years of ups and downs (with more downs than ups), Raptors’ fans waited year after year for the team’s first chance to become number one in the world. Countless new faces, rebuilding efforts, unforgettable sponsorship deals, and we’re finally here. This playoff run has no doubt been the most stressful we have ever had and therefore it’s been the most rewarding. But after all the excitement that unfolded in Game 6 vs Milwaukee, it’s time to straighten up and understand we still need four more wins.

Going up against a team that has won four of the last five NBA Championships is the reason you won’t see many people giving Toronto a chance. Then again, going up against Milwaukee also wasn’t in the Raptors’ favour. And then if you consider the Warriors adding Demarcus Cousins and Kevin Durant into their lineup this is one of the best teams ever constructed playing against a team that was created only a few months ago. I have to add that coming into this season, I was one of those people that questioned what the point of a regular season was if the Warriors were just going to win again. But after watching more basketball this season than I ever have, my mindset changed. 

Source: National Post

Source: National Post

After some time (the past two days) trying to debate with myself, my prediction is that the Raptors will become NBA Champions. You could say there’s a bias and there might be, but I’m still going with it. The energy around the city and understanding of the Raptors playing in the Finals is something unparalleled and I think not only will it resonate with the Raptors, but it will have an effect on the Warriors as well. They’ve normally had home-court advantage and although you can say they have all the Finals’ experience, I believe that coming into a country that just had one of its biggest sports moments will impact the game in more ways than one. 

I’m looking to see Kawhi take advantage on offence and although it’ll be tough with Klay guarding him, I’m thinking that we’ll see a similar offensive game-plan we saw for the past few games. That being, Kawhi facilitating in the first quarter and letting his teammates shoot the ball before taking over in the second half. However, you can say that this game-plan worked vs Milwaukee as he guarded Giannis and had to work much harder defensively than he will likely work against Draymond. If he’s able to rest on the defensive end and not be forced to switch onto Steph and Klay as often than this strategy will likely change moving forward. 

Now, onto the rest of the Raptors. First, Danny Green will be back. Something that was evident these playoffs is the law of averages, and with all of Danny’s experience you know he’s too good for the ball not to go in after all these shots. With Kyle, I’m expecting him to be more aggressive this series, especially if he’s guarded by Steph. He plays much better when he looks to attack and it will definitely open up shots for players like Green and Gasol. I’m expecting Fred, Norm and Ibaka to bring in similar stats they had in Milwaukee, but Fred’s 3-pt% will likely decrease. Someone I am really excited for is OG and although he’s been out of action, his length, defence and ability to stretch the floor is something that can only help the Raptors.

The Raptors will become NBA Champions
— Derek Gomes

Now, with the analysis behind us, there was something else I wanted to address. I was listening to Nick Nurse and he said that he doesn’t like motivating his team as the “underdogs” in this series and this really stuck with me. Whenever I played sports and we played a team higher than us in the standings, there was the extra motivation that came from being the underdogs and we thrived off that title. And then if you add every other typical sports movie the final part usually involves an “underdog” beating the first-place team in the finals.

But if you think about it from a professionals’ standpoint, their job is to beat whatever team is front of them. Does this mean the Raptors should be more motivated to beat Golden State in a 7-game series than Orlando? Does this mean if they were to lose against Golden State they wouldn’t be disappointed because they weren’t supposed to win in the first place? Now that I think about it, Toronto shouldn’t think of themselves as the underdogs. They need to think of themselves as an equal to Golden State, as another NBA team vying for the same title. They can’t disregard their own success this season when they took a nation to a place it’s never been before. The NBA Finals is a place where two of the best basketball teams in the world compete and the Toronto Raptors is one of them. This mindset might not work for every team, but with all the veterans we have, I think it will resonate better than our mentalities the past few years.

While Thursday night cannot come soon enough, I’m enjoying this five-day break because I know it’s exactly what the Raptors needed. The city hasn’t had this excitement since the Jays in the 90s and everyone on the team can feel it in the air. As soon as the ball is tossed up at 9pm, all of Canada will be watching and it’s incredible that we’re here to witness the Raptors’ greatest season. We thought the past few series were wild, but it will be nothing compared to what we see in these next seven games. 

I can’t imagine what emotions we’ll feel when the Raptors win their first championship and I can’t imagine how Toronto and Canada will react. But it’s time to stop imagining and start watching because the Toronto Raptors are four wins away from an NBA Championship.

You can follow Derek on Twitter @dgomes_11 and you can check out more of his content on Medium: https://medium.com/@derekgomes97

Who Should The Raptors Target at the Trade Deadline?

Source: The Big Lead

Source: The Big Lead

Unless you live under a rock, I’m sure you have heard that Anthony Davis requested a trade out of New Orleans. Who can blame him? He’s been patient enough and had given the organization enough time to build a contender around him. Seeing no promise or progress thus far, the request was not necessarily a surprise, but the timing caught some off-guard.

While AD is the biggest name on the trade block, there are other names that I feel could bolster the Raptors bench unit. Let’s take a look at a few of these names, starting with the big fish in the sea.

*Note: All trade packages proposed were approved by the ESPN Trade Machine.

Anthony Davis

Source: Sportsnet

Source: Sportsnet

So here’s what we know so far. AD’s agent Rich Paul publicly announced his client’s desire to be traded. Paul also stated that Davis wants to play for a contender. This narrows down the potential destinations to the following: Raptors, Lakers, Bucks, with longshots being the 76ers, Knicks and Rockets. Where are the Celtics you might ask? Well, the Celtics can’t trade for Davis unless they include Kyrie in the trade package. This is due to the Rose Rule, which is way too long to explain here. Unless the Pelicans wait until the offseason to move him (which is a real possibility), then the Celtics would be in the fold. However, the Pelicans have already removed Davis from their intro hype video and now, rumours that AD would potentially sit out for the year if not traded only accelerate this process. Another rumour is that the Pelicans GM does not want to negotiate with the Lakers. All of these facts and rumours can only be great news for the Raptors.

To get a player of Davis’ calibre, you need to bring together a top-tier package. If you don’t, you might lose your chance to get him, and the Celtics have the best assets to bring him in. The time to act is now for the Raptors. Not only to contend for a title, but to convince Kawhi to stay for even one more year, to match his contract length with AD’s. This is the opportunity of a lifetime, and when these opportunities present themselves, you have to go all in.

Saying this, here’s what I feel would be a fair trade package for Anthony Davis:

Raptors Receive: Anthony Davis

Pelicans Receive: Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby, Delon Wright, Jonas Valanciunas, 2021 First Round Pick

I initially didn’t want to include Delon Wright in the trade and have a 2019 Second Round Pick, but the salaries needed to match up more and not put the Raptors over the luxury tax threshold, so adding Delon was out of necessity. Will these assets be missed? Absolutely. A guy like Siakam is a rising star in this league. OG has a high ceiling. JV is a solid center that can mentor the young players. The 2021 pick might be a low first round pick, or it could be a lottery pick, all depends on what happens with Kawhi and AD. It’s a lot for the Raptors to give up, but a trade that makes the most sense to get someone of AD’s calibre.

TJ Warren

Source: NBA

Source: NBA

Now we get into the bench depth. Last year’s “bench mob” has been a shell of its former self, most notably due to injuries, Poeltl’s departure and Siakam’s promotion to the starting unit. Another hole in the Raptor’s game this year has been three point shooting. While they have been shooting better as a team lately (39.4% over their last three games) they still sit at 34.8% for the year, 18th in the league. The concerning part is that the Raptors are 9th in the league in three pointers attempted at 33.3 per game. Bringing in a guy like Warren would help alleviate both concerns. Those that listen to me on the South of the 6ix podcast know that I have been a pioneer in the TJ Warren to Toronto movement, and I hope it picks up traction. Warren is currently 11th in the NBA in three point percentage (42.8%) while averaging 18 PPG. That three point percentage would be the highest on the team, eclipsing Danny Green who sits 14th in the NBA at 42.3%. It would be interesting to see if the Suns are even interesting in dealing away Warren, as he is a young developing player who has shown flashes of being a key contributor.

Here’s what I would offer to the Suns if I was Masai Ujiri:

Raptors Receive: TJ Warren

Suns Receive: CJ Miles, Delon Wright, 2019 and 2020 Second Round Picks

E’Twaun Moore & Julius Randle

Source: SLAM

Source: SLAM

Well if you are 100% certain that the Pelicans will not trade you AD, then why not ask for their other players? The Pelicans have a guard in E’Twaun Moore who has been shooting the ball well from three, ranked 19th in the league at 41.7%. He’s averaging just over 12 PPG on approximately 29 minutes. Also, Julius Randle has had a great rebound year since moving from the Lakers to the Pelicans. He’s averaging almost 20 PPG and just over 9 rebounds on over 54% shooting. He’s efficient and provides the bench with mobility and a true scoring option.

Here’s the following trade package:

Raptors receive: Julius Randle and E’Twaun Moore

Pelicans receive: Jonas Valanciunas, Delon Wright, 2019 and 2020 Second Round Picks

Think of any trade ideas that I might have missed? Agree or disagree with any of the packages that I put together? Follow me on Twitter @TO_SportsViews to interact and debate!

Toronto Raptors 2018-19 Season Preview

Source: Jonathan Hayward / CP

Source: Jonathan Hayward / CP

In what was arguably the busiest and most franchise-altering offseason for the Toronto Raptors, this squad enters the 2018-19 season with even higher expectations than ever before. It’s Finals or Bust for this squad, but can this team outlast the likes of the Celtics and 76ers? We will cover that and a lot more in our season preview, with some personal analysis and some regular season and postseason predictions, but first let us walk you through the additions and subtractions on this team.

2018 Offseason Transactions: Coaching Staff

Subtractions: Dwane Casey (HC), Rex Kalamian, Jerry Stackhouse
Additions: Nick Nurse (HC), Adrian Griffin, Sergio Scariolo, Nate Bjorkgren, Phil Handy

Source: TSN

Source: TSN

The coaching staff saw a massive overhaul, with the first major surprise of the offseason coming in the form of Dwane Casey’s dismissal following the embarrassing sweep to LeBron James and the Cavs. The Raptors fired the soon-to-be Coach of the Year in what Masai had labelled “the hardest decision” of his life. Most anticipated a brand new outside voice would be brought in, one that would impliment new systems and a new culture and ways of thinking. Ultimately, the Raptors brass decided to stick with what was familiar, hiring the current Raptors assistant coach Nick Nurse to take over the reigns. Nurse was the mastermind behind the revamped offense that the Raptors displayed the previous season, and the Raptors believe that with Nurse at the helm, the offense can run at an even more effective rate.

It seemed as though Raptors nation was divided about the move on social media. Some seemed to understand the logic, while others cried foul over replacing the Coach of the Year with his assistant. With the hiring of Nurse, it was assumed that most, if not all the remaining coaching staff would depart, and that’s exactly what happened. Rex Kalamian went to the Clippers as an assistant under Doc Rivers, and Jerry Stackhouse departed from the Raptors 905 to take a gig with the Memphis Grizzlies as their assistant coach (don’t be surprised to see him get some NBA head coaching whispers soon, especially if Memphis gets off to a slow start).

The Raptors definitely took some losses in the coaching department, but hopefully Nurse and his team of newly hired assistants can gel together quickly and make the players feel comfortable on both ends of the floor.

2018 Offseason Transactions: Players

Subtractions: DeMar DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl, Lucas Nogueria
Additions: Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green, Greg Monroe

Source: Getty

Source: Getty

For those that thought that Masai would be content with just a coaching overhaul, they were mistaken. In a move that trumped the firing of Coach Casey as the most shocking move of the Raptors offseason, Masai Ujiri and Bobby Webster traded DeMar DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl and a protected 1st round pick for disgruntled superstar Kawhi Leonard and 3-and-D specialist Danny Green.

I’m not gonna get into the trade too much, because I already did that when the trade was announced, which you can read here. Instead, I’ll provide the Coles notes. The Raptors traded away the most loyal player this franchise has ever seen in DeRozan (who was open about his intentions of retiring a Raptor) and arguably top 15-20 player in the league. We also traded away a young promising big in Poeltl, who has one of the softest hands in the league for a big man. As much as it hurts to trade away a player like DeRozan, it’s not everyday you can trade for a top five player in the NBA, and when that opportunity comes knocking, you have to capitalize on it. Great work by the Raptors to come out of nowhere and seize the opportunity.

While some media were quick to jump on the hype train and report that Kawhi had ZERO desire to play in Toronto, we know now that it was definitely all a lie. Kawhi had quite the introductory press conference, and seems to be embracing the opportunity to play for Toronto and the Raptors organization. It appears as if he has taken a leadership role on this team, as told to us by Josh Lewenberg via Danny Green.

Saying all of this, the Raptors still haven’t played a regular season game yet, and they can either gel incredibly well together and once again lead the East in wins, or they could slowly crumble and be forced to make some tough decisions come trade deadline day.

What Should Raptors Fans Expect?

Source: Sports Illustrated

Source: Sports Illustrated

Whatever anybody’s expectations of the Raptors may be this season, there is no denying that they are in the top tier of teams in the East, that being the Raptors, Celtics and 76ers. I’ve seen people rank the Raptors as the best of the three, just below the Celtics as a 1B type team, or below both the Celtics and 76ers as the third best team in the East.

My take on it is simple. I don’t believe the 76ers will overtake either the Raptors or the Celtics in the standings, and we should expect them to finish 3rd in the East. Let’s not forget that the 76ers went on a 16 game winning streak to end the year, which propelled them into the 3rd spot in the East to overtake Cleveland. Before that streak, the 76ers had a record of 36-30, which is nothing to be impressed by. The Celtics and Raptors were consistently 1 and 2 in the East rankings all season long, which is why I have them over the 76ers.

Source: Sporting News

Source: Sporting News

When evaluating the Celtics, you can see a team that is loaded with talent. They have Kyrie Irving, arguably the league’s best point guard, leading the charge down the floor. Jayson Tatum is one of the league’s most polarizing young stars. Jaylen Brown is poised to take another step. Playoff heros Terry Rozier and Al Horford return for another year. They are deep and skilled, but still face a lot of questions. Can Gordon Hayward perform at the caliber that we are used to seeing him play at? He sustained a nasty broken leg injury that required plates and screws, which may hinder his mobility and strength moving forward. Can Irving stay healthy for a full season? Kyrie has never played more than 75 games in a season, and his last three years he has played 53, 72 and 60 games. Can Horford maintain his current level, or is he due for a decline?

Source: Getty Images

Source: Getty Images

On the flipside you have the Raptors, who are also an incredibly skilled and deep team, but still have questions associated with them as well. The roster is upgraded with the additions of Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green. When healthy, Leonard is a perennial MVP candidate. He’s the league’s best defender and can score from almost everywhere on the floor, while possessing the ability to find the open man and create plays. Danny Green has the ability to give you 3 point shooting while giving you a solid defensive effort on the other end. The Raptors have arguably the best player in the East and the best bench depth in the NBA, but there are still concerns coming out of training camp. Will Kawhi gel with the coaching staff and players? Will Kyle Lowry be able to put the emotions of losing DeMar aside and embrace playing with Leonard? Will the bench mob be able to repeat and even improve on their stellar 2017-18 campaign? Will young stars OG, Pascal and VanVleet be able to take that next step?

Having said all of this, I believe the Raptors will finish first in the East with a record of 61-21, with the Celtics not far behind in a close second at 60-22. I have no issue with people believing that the Celtics will finish above the Raptors, because both are really good teams. Just don’t give me that garbage that the 76ers will finish above either the Raptors or Celtics. Not happening.

Want to know how the 2018-19 NBA Regular Season and Playoffs will go down? Well let me tell you with my predictions. I will definitely go back to this at the end of this season to boast my correct predictions while expose my not-so-great predictions.

2018-19 NBA Regular Season Standings Predictions:

East

Source: Raptors Republic

Source: Raptors Republic

1) Toronto Raptors (61-21)
2) Boston Celtics (60-22)
3) Philadelphia 76ers (55-27)
4) Milwaukee Bucks (51-31)
5) Indiana Pacers (48-34)
6) Washington Wizards (45-37)
7) Miami Heat (44-38)
8) Detroit Pistons (42-40)

9) Charlotte Hornets (38-44)
10) Cleveland Cavaliers (36-46)
11) New York Knicks (32-50)
12) Atlanta Hawks (29-53)
13) Orlando Magic (27-55)
14) Brooklyn Nets (27-55)
15) Chicago Bulls (24-58)

West

Source: HoopsHype

Source: HoopsHype

1) Golden State Warriors (66-16)
2) Houston Rockets (62-20)
3) Oklahoma City Thunder (49-33)
4) Los Angeles Lakers (48-34)
5) Utah Jazz (46-36)
6) Denver Nuggets (46-36)
7) New Orleans Pelicans (44-38)
8) San Antonio Spurs (43-39)

9) Minnesota Timberwolves (42-40)
10) Portland Trail Blazers (41-41)
11) Los Angeles Clippers (36-46)
12) Dallas Mavericks (32-50)
13) Phoenix Suns (24-58)
14) Sacramento Kings (22-60)
15) Memphis Grizzlies (20-62)

2018-19 NBA Playoff Predictions:

East

(1) Raptors vs. (8) Pistons: Raptors in 4
(2) Celtics vs. (7) Heat: Celtics in 5
(3) 76ers vs. (6) Wizards: 76ers in 6
(4) Bucks vs. (5) Pacers: Bucks in 6

(1) Raptors vs. (4) Bucks: Raptors in 7
(2) Celtics vs. (3) 76ers: Celtics in 7

(1) Raptors vs. (2) Celtics: Raptors in 7

West

(1) Warriors vs. (8) Spurs: Warriors in 4
(2) Rockets vs. (7) Pelicans: Rockets in 5
(3) Thunder vs. (6) Nuggets: Nuggets in 7
(4) Lakers vs. (5) Jazz: Lakers in 6

(1) Warriors vs. (4) Lakers: Warriors in 6
(2) Rockets vs. (6) Nuggets: Rockets in 5

(1) Warriors vs. (2) Rockets: Warriors in 7

NBA Final

(1) Raptors vs. (1) Warriors: Warriors in 6

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Sorry Raptors Fans…

Raptors Make Biggest Trade in Franchise History

Source: Bob Donnan / USA TODAY Sports

Source: Bob Donnan / USA TODAY Sports

They say that nice guys finish last. It seems that Masai Ujiri has decided to embrace that adage this offseason.

Just two months after firing the NBA Coach of the Year and fan favourite Dwane Casey, Ujiri and Co. were not satisfied with bringing back the same core of players that have fallen short in the playoffs the past two seasons. By "core", I'm talking about the all-star back court of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. If this team wanted to reach an NBA Final for the first time in franchise history, one or both of these men would have to be moved.

Unless you have insomnia, are parent to a newborn, or work incredibly weird hours, chances are that on July 18th, 2018 (dubbed "the most boring day in sports") you woke up to the news that the Raptors and Spurs agreed in principle on a trade sending Kawhi Leonard to Toronto and DeMar DeRozan to San Antonio. At first, I was unsure about the deal, only because the remaining details had not been released yet. How much extra was Toronto about to give up? Would I have seen OG or Siakam's last games in a Raptors uniform? How many picks would be given back? Would we have to eat that brutal Patty Mills contract? Once all my questions were answered, it was clear who won this trade.

demar-derozan-insta-story.png

In case you are unaware of the full trade, here it is.

Raptors Receive: Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green, $5 million USD

Spurs Receive: DeMar DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl, 2019 Protected 1st Round Pick (1-20)

When rumours first began to swirl regarding a potential "Kawhi Leonard to the Raptors" deal, pundits on social media were stating that it would take DeMar, OG, and MULTIPLE unprotected 1st round picks, PLUS picking up Patty Mills' contract. I thought it was ludacris to expect this type of haul for a "rental player" especially one that hasn't seen the floor in a year. The Spurs were about to be pigeon-holed, and I was public in stating that the Raptors would draw a line in the same, and find a way to keep OG for sure, and hopefully Siakam. When news broke that they were able to keep both, PLUS only give up one heavily protected 1st round pick in 2019, PLUS obtain another good player in Danny Green, PLUS get back $5 million dollars to help with tax relief...I couldn't have been happier.

Source: SI

Source: SI

We all knew the cost of acquiring a top end talent would be either DeMar or Kyle going the other way in a deal. Until it becomes a reality, you don't realize how much it will sting to see one of them gone, and the death of the incredible "bromance" that they shared on the court. I can't recall any two Toronto athletes having the same chemistry and relationship that DeMar and Kyle shared together. It's something that I will miss for sure. The always entertaining post-game interviews, the segments that they would do together, the laughter that they shared.

It's going to be interesting to see how Lowry reacts to this. Masai has stated in a press conference on Friday afternoon that he hadn't spoken with Lowry yet and that "I'm sure it will be really hard on him." Someone pointed out to me that Lowry had been through this before with the Rudy Gay trade. Rudy was (and still is) one of Lowry's best friends, and he is the godfather to Kyle's son. To have seen him traded away would have been gut-wrenching for Lowry, but he learned to develop a new relationship with DeMar. Hopefully he can take that same approach this time around, because the Raptors need him now more than ever.

It's Okay To Be Sad And Excited At The Same Time

I have this notion that Raptors fans feel like they have to pick a side. They are either sad that DeMar is gone and criticize Masai Ujiri for trading away the most loyal player the Raptors have ever had, or they are exciting and feel no empathy for DeMar and his family. Why do we have to live in a world of absolutes? This trade and the circumstances surrounding it is one that the NBA hasn't seen in a very long time, so there's no "right way" to feel. Saying this, I'll provide you with my perspective on the situation, and hopefully it can provide you the reader with a different lens to view it through.

DeMar was the heart and soul of this Raptors team the moment Chris Bosh walked out that door. His iconic "Don't worry, I got us..." tweet lives on in Raptors lore. He lived up to his tweet. He embraced the city. He was proud to rep not just the 6ix, but an entire nation. He helped make the Raptors relevant again. Kids were playing basketball in the streets, wearing their DeRozan Raptors jersey with pride. He never took a free agent meeting with any other team other than Toronto. He had a desire to retire a Raptor. It's emotional and difficult to see a player like that be traded for a player that may not want to return in a year. For all you have done for the Raptors, Toronto and the country of Canada, we thank you DeMar.

On the other hand, it is rare that a top-5 player in the NBA is available in trade talks. When that happens, you need to do whatever it takes to try and secure a player of that calibre. To obtain a player such as Kawhi, the trade package will have to sting. Losing DeMar was the stinger, but it was necessary. This deal on paper is a massive win for the Raptors. They give up arguably their best player, but receive an even better player in the deal. Not to mention they got Danny Green as well, who is a reliable 3-and-D player who will be a welcome addition into the starting lineup. One aspect of this trade that is not really being talked about is the impact that this trade will have on OG Anunoby. OG's ceiling is Kawhi Leonard, as the two play a very similar type of play-style. OG can learn a lot from Kawhi, even if it's for just a year. This will work wonders for the growth and development of OG as a player, and provides him with a greater chance of reaching his ceiling than ever before. 

I am sad, but I am excited. It's okay to feel both, there's nothing wrong with that. Raptors fans got the change they were looking for. Let's just put our trust in Masai that he knows what he is doing. Speaking of Masai...

This Is Truly Masai's Team Now...

masai-ujiri.jpg.size.custom.crop.1086x724.jpg

Over the course of his tenure as Raptors GM and Team President, Masai has made some moves to take this team from a bottom feeder to perennial contender. His first massive move was trading away Andrea Bargnani to the Knicks, which then turned into Jakob Poeltl, which then helped to turn into Kawhi Leonard. He traded away Rudy Gay, and the return package helped Toronto get to the playoffs for the first time since the 2007-08 season. They have made the playoffs for 4 straight years. They made it to an Eastern Conference Finals in 2016. Saying all of this, the last two years feel like the Raptors have fallen short, and Masai decided to finally change the nucleus of this team...one that was formed by former GM Bryan Colangelo.

Masai fired a coach that he inherited. He made his first coaching hire ever as an NBA GM. He then traded away one of the "dynamic duo" in DeRozan. Lowry and DeRozan were a part of the Raptors prior to Masai's arrival. In essence, Masai's moves focused on adding around the core three of Lowry, DeRozan and Coach Casey. Now, with a rookie head coach in Nick Nurse, and the addition of Kawhi Leonard, Masai has now truly made his mark on this team. He has pushed all in with pocket Kings. Hopefully for Raptors fans everywhere, someone else doesn't have pocket Aces.

Why This Series Versus The Cavs Feels Different

Source: WagerTalk

Source: WagerTalk

It's no secret to anybody watching the game that LeBron James is the greatest player in the league. He single handidly willed his team past the Indiana Pacers after an intense Game 7. For the first time, the Raptors are the ones waiting for the Cavs, on their home court. For the first time, there's a sense of hope that the Raptors can finally dethrone the King. For the first time, the Raptors will show the world that they are the Kings of the North.

There are a lot of factors that make this series different than the previous two installments. Allow me to show you how.

Coaching and Play Style

Source: Adam Hunger / Reuters

Source: Adam Hunger / Reuters

When the Raptors were swept by the Cavs in last year's Eastern Conference Semi Finals, I wrote an article detailing what the Raptors should do going forward. You can read the full article here. In this article, the first topic I addressed was Dwane Casey. I had stated that due to Casey's love for iso ball and some questionable roster decisions (*cough* DeMarre Carroll *cough*) I believed it was time to move on from him, even though I really admired him as a coach and a man.

It was announced later that Casey would be returning as a coach, and what impressed me the most was the way Casey not only owned his mistakes of the overuse of iso ball, but vowed to adapt and become a team that could thrive offensively in this league. That was one of the best moments in Toronto coaching history, and I was fully back on board the Casey bandwagon...and he didn't disappoint.

The Raptors finished the season with a top 5 offense and defense. They were shooting three's at a historic clip. The ball movement has been incredible, not only with the starting unit, but with the bench too (more to come on that). This team is well coached, playing a style of basketball that thrives in the modern day NBA. The Raptors set a franchise record 59 wins this season, and Casey has serious momentum for NBA Coach of the Year. It's been an impressive turnaround for a coach that was on the hot seat coming into this season.

#BenchMob

Source: Rick Madonik / Toronto Star

Source: Rick Madonik / Toronto Star

The Raptors bench is hands down the best bench in the NBA. The Raptors consistently have 10-12 guys that they can throw at you every single night that all make impacts on the floor. Lead by "Mr. Fourth Quarter" Fred VanVleet, the #BenchMob provides an injection of high intensity, physicality, floor spacing and deep shooting threats. Having this consistent option has allowed Coach Casey to limit DeRozan and Lowry's minutes, and it's showing its positive impact these playoffs. 

The main defensive assignment on LeBron will belong to Raptors rookie OG Anunoby, who did a fantastic job guarding John Wall by the way. When OG is on the bench, the Raptors can throw so many different bodies at LeBron, because they have that depth and luxury. There's no other team in the NBA that can throw as many bodies at LeBron as the Raptors can. LeBron will get his points, but if you can limit him slightly with various different defensive bodies, it will only help the Raptors in defeating the Cavs.

The recent addition of Fred VanVleet back to the bench in the Raps vs Wizards series made an immediate impact. While Delon Wright did an incredible job quaterbacking that second unit, having Steddy Freddy back in the fold provided the stability it lacked throughout the first five games. He helps space the floor, adds an additional deep threat, and can make plays that nobody thought was possible. If not for Lou Williams, VanVleet is a lock for Six Man of the Year.

I can go on and on about this bench. Wright has the length and the range to make him a deadly guard. Siakam provides the intensity and defensive toughness, while possessing the ability to knock down a jumper or corner three when needed. Poeltl provides mobility and super soft hands around the glass. Finally, Miles always possesses that deep threat that brings defenders out toward the perimeter on him, creating even more space on the floor. It's a perfect dynamic, and one that Coach Casey trusts (and rightfully so).

LeBron's Supporting Cast

Source: CBS Sports

Source: CBS Sports

Again, it's no secret that LeBron is the best player in the league right now. He's averaging 34.4 points on 55.3% shooting in just over 41 minutes played per game. He's leading his team in points, rebounds and assists per game. These numbers are God-like for someone who is 33 years old, and showing no signs of slowing down anytime soon.

Even though the King has had quite the playoffs thus far, his supporting cast have been almost invisible. The absense of Kyrie Irving from this squad really exposed a lot of issues, and isolated a need for a true secondary scorer, since Kevin Love has not been able to fill that role at all. Here's a stat that truly astonished me...during the Cavs vs Pacers playoff series, there was not a single Cavs player other than LeBron James to reach 20 points in a single game during the seven game series. That's the first time in LeBron's career that this has happened. LeBron leads his team with 34.4 points per game, as stated earlier. Kevin Love is a "close" second with 11.4 points per game. Outside of those two, there isn't one Cavs player averaging double digits in points per game. 

This Cavs team is one of the worst I've seen with LeBron on it. They are one of the worst teams in the NBA defensively. The time is now for the much better Raptors team to expose this weak Cavs team.

I’m burnt right now. I’m not thinking about Toronto right now until tomorrow.
— LeBron James

LeBron claims he's burnt, but I don't buy it. This is a guy who spends $1 million a year on his body. He's basically the human version of the Six Million Dollar Man (minus five million...). It doesn't seem like Dwane Casey and the Raptors are buying it either, echoing the same sentiments that I am. We will see come Game 1 how tired he really is.

Prediction

The Raptors spent all offseason preparing to face LeBron in the playoffs once again. They got the culture reset they were looking for. This is a different team, and one that is more than capable of beating a weakened Cavs squad. I predict that the Toronto Raptors will beat the Cleveland Cavaliers in six games. Notice how in all the points I touched on, I didn't even talk about Lowry and DeRozan, and their improvements as players and buying into the system? That's how good this squad has been, and will continue to be, after they get past the Cavs.

Don't believe me? That's fine, but let me show you some other expert opinions on the Raptors, and hopefully you will change your mind. We. The. North.

Raptors Face Battles On And Off The Court Against Wizards

Source: Neil Davidson / The Canadian Press

Source: Neil Davidson / The Canadian Press

The Raptors, lead by all star backcourt DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, carry a 3-2 series lead into Washington as they take on the Wizards tonight at 7pm EST. Closing out this series in six games will be no easy task however. The home team has won every single game in this series, and the Raptors haven't seemed themselves in the Capital One Arena this series. Just ask Kelly Oubre Jr. what he thinks about it, in particular the play of Delon Wright.

The next game is a different story. We’re back at home. Just like Delon doesn’t play well anywhere else, you know, other than at home. You can kind of chalk it up as the same story.
— Kelly Oubre Jr.

Delon seemed to chuckle at it and offer his take.

Yeah I saw it. That’s just his opinion. I didn’t play as good as I did at home there but he made it sound like I was just a total bust. We’ll see [in] Game 6
— Delon Wright

One would logically assume that the banter would end there and the two would dual it out on the court, but Oubre Jr. had to get the last word in. Here is what he responded with today.

Let me take a moment to address this. Kelly Oubre Jr., you should stick to doing what you do best...riding the pine. You're not in any position to talk smack like this. You're an inconsistent bench player on the eighth seed in the East. We will see what happens when Delon comes out and murders you on the court.

4th Quarter Blues?

Source: SLAM Online

Source: SLAM Online

DeRozan and Lowry are the key cogs to this team. Even with their newly revamped offense, those two need to be at the top of their games if they want to have continued success in the playoffs. In Game 5, the backcourt duo combined for just 4 points in the 4th quarter. Thankfully, Delon Wright stepped up with some key plays and 11 points in the quarter to propel the Raptors to victory. DeRozan and Lowry played well for most of Game 5, but they need to show up in the 4th quarter to pull away from opponents and close the door like they have done all season long. This is just one knock on an otherwise impressive playoff showing for the duo, considering recent history. I expect them to keep shattering expectations and carry the Raptors for a deep playoff run.

Other Notes

It appears as though the Raptors will have a key bench piece back in Fred VanVleet. News broke moments ago that FVV would be cleared to play for today's game.

This is a massive addition to a Raptors squad that has really missed their second unit floor general. Wright has put up impressive numbers in Fred's absence, but Fred's ability to space the floor and play fourth quarter minutes was a noticable absence in games one through five. VanVleet leads the Raptors in total 4th quarter minutes played this season, and is 20th in the NBA in this category. Hopefully the VanVleet that returns tonight is more of a version of what we are used to seeing as supposed to the Game 2 VanVleet that we saw in this series for a whopping two minutes.

While the Raptors gain a key player back into their rotation, the Wizards lose one. Otto Porter Jr. has been ruled out for the remainder of the series with what appears to be a left leg injury.

That's a big loss for this Wizards team. They now need to find a way to supplement his averages of 32 minutes played, 48.8% shooting and 41.7% rate from distance. My guess is the red hot Mike Smith will fill in for most of this role, as he is shooting an astronomical 67.6% from the field, 63.6% from 3 point land and averaging just under 12 points in 22 minutes per game. If he is able to fill in and continue to put up those numbers for the Wizards, the Raptors will be in trouble.

Game 6 is coming up soon! Let's see if the Raptors will be playing Game 1 of the second round or Game 7 of the first round on Sunday.

Raptors 2017 Offseason Gradebook

Source: Chris Young/The Canadian Press

Source: Chris Young/The Canadian Press

Masai said it best himself following a sweep by the hands of the Cavs. "We need a culture reset." Well, did he hit the self proclaimed "reset" button?

Somewhat.

Here's my gradebook on the Toronto Raptors 2017 Offseason (so far) and what we can expect from Ujiri and Webster in the future. All categories are listed in sequential order.

We are going to hold everybody accountable because we need to. We need to figure it out.
— Masai Ujiri

Coach

Source: Raptors Republic

Source: Raptors Republic

Masai's first pressing offseason decision came in the form of his head coach Dwane Casey. Just one year into a three-year contract extension, speculation about Casey came after Masai's comments regarding the coach and the play style of the team.

"Because we’ve done what we’ve done so many times and it hasn’t worked. It’s easy to defend in my opinion when you play one-on-one. It’s predictable, we feel we have to go in another direction. I don’t know what it is. Maybe it will be the new thing in the league that wins." Masai also added "I think there are times that I think coach did a great job and I think there are times that we struggled."

It wasn't exactly a 'vote of confidence' for the winningest coach in Raptors history, but Masai didn't give anything away regarding his thoughts on the coach's future. Remember that even though Masai gave Casey an extension last season, this still isn't the coach he hired, but rather inherited from the previous regime. Both Masai and Casey acknowledged that changes needed to be made in playing style, and that the hero ISO ball that every Raptors fan hates needs to be eliminated.

A few weeks later, Casey confirmed to media outlets that he would in fact be returning as the head coach of the Raptors squad. This move puzzled many who follow the Dinos considering Masai's remarks. 

I really like Casey. Not only is he a character guy, but he's done incredible things for the Toronto Raptors, and the team may not be in the position its in today if it were not for him. Saying this, the ISO-ball style clearly isn't working, and it will be interesting to see if Casey can adapt. When times get tough, can the team stick to the new style of play, or will the coach and his squad revert back to the old ISO ways? Only time will tell.

GRADE: C

Draft

Source: Sports Illustrated

Source: Sports Illustrated

They say that across any sport, most deals begin to take shape on draft night. With all the GM's focused on one particular aspect, many use that time to "hotline bling" opposing GM's and try to work something out. There's always deals that get done, as NBA players and current draft picks alike are often shipped across various teams, some more surprising than others (looking at you Timberwolves).

Insert the Toronto Raptors. There were reports circulating on Twitter at the beginning of the night that Masai was actively shopping Itty Bitty Baller Jonas Valanciunas along with the 23rd overall pick as a way to shed some salary off the cap. This became a very intriguing prospect to most, as getting rid of JV would be a nice way to create some room in the salary cap.

Midway through the draft the rumour was still being floated about Masai actively shopping this duo together. As the draft board inched closer and closer to the 23rd overall pick, this rumour began to die off as one intriguing name remained on the board; OG Anunoby. The tantalizing prospect out of Indiana was a projected lottery pick on every mock draft until he sustained a season ending knee injury on January 20th.

While many expected Anunoby to drop out of the lottery as a result of the injury, experts did not predict him to drop too much lower than that. As the numbers kept increasing, the "true OG" was still in his seat, and the Raptors began to realize that this might actually be a possibility. Once it was the Raptors turn to make a pick and OG was still available, it was impossible not to make that selection.

What many experts deem to be "the steal of the draft", the Raptors literally had this young phenom fall right into their laps. While Anunoby still has to work on his offensive game (averaged 11.1 points and 5.5 rebounds per game), he is credited as the one of the best defenders in the draft, if not the best. He hasn't played a game since his season ending knee surgery in January. OG is working towards a return in November-December.

When people ask me for NBA comparables, I give them a floor and ceiling of the type of player I believe that Anunoby can become. His floor is a PJ Tucker, and his ceiling is a Kawhi Leonard. I'm not saying he's going to be the next Kawhi, but do expect him to be the best defender on the floor who can lock down the opposition's star player and give you consistent offence.

GRADE: A

Free Agency/Trades

Source: Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images

Source: Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images

Once the calendar turned over to July, the Raptors roster really began to take shape. Once the signings of Ibaka and Lowry were made official, it was clear the road they would travel on.

Here's a list of who the Raptors have added/retained and who they have traded away/let walk in free agency.

Added:
Kyle Lowry
Serge Ibaka
Justin Hamilton (waived)
C.J. Miles

Subtracted:
PJ Tucker
Patrick Patterson
DeMarre Carroll
2018 First Round Pick (lottery protected)
2018 Second Round Pick
Cory Joseph

I have been on the fence all offseason about the direction the Raptors should take this team. I'm pretty sure I was more indecisive than my girlfriend trying to choose what to eat for dinner. However, once I saw the details of the Ibaka and Lowry signings, I was all abord the compete train.

It’s our job to try and get Kyle to come back and do it the best way that we possibly can. We want him back, he has been a huge part of the success here.
— Masai Ujiri

Masai handed out three-year contracts to both Ibaka and Lowry, which matches up with the expiry of DeRozan's contract. Masai is giving this core three years to compete. In an incredibly weak Eastern Conference that has seen superstars Jimmy Butler and Paul George head out to the incredibly stacked West, it only makes sense for the Raptors to at least remain competitive and allow their talented youth to develop and grow with the team. Bringing back these two players was essential, as they both boast impressive three-point numbers for their respective positions, aligning with the culture reset that Masai referred to.

Anybody with a brain would know that Masai and Co. would have constructed a methodical plan of action to carry out once they re-secured their own free agents. With the core signings completed, this pushed the Raptors into tax territory, giving them virtually no room to add any complimentary pieces unless a trade was completed.

So Masai went to work.

Step 1 of the master plan? Get rid of the one bad free agent contract on the books. The true JUNK yard dog DeMarre Carroll was shipped off to hell (aka Brooklyn) along with a future 2018 lottery protected 1st and 2nd round pick in exchange for a heaping pile of dog shit in Justin Hamilton. The trade was purely a cap relief scenario, and it cost the Raps a couple of draft picks. With the promising young talent this roster has already, I'm okay with the price of this necessary move.

Step 2 almost mirrored step 1. Nearly 12 hours after trading away DeMarre Carroll, the Raptors traded away backup point guard and fellow Canadian Cory Joseph to the Pacers in order to make room in the cap to sign C.J. Miles. "I get a ring and I bring it home like I'm Cory Joe." Drake embodied the feelings of Raptors fans everywhere when Cory Joe signed in Toronto as a free agent a few years ago, and we will forever be grateful to him. However, with young promising talent like Delon Wright and Fred VanVleet knocking at the door, it just made sense to move CoJo and his salary. This allowed the Raps to go out and sign DeMarre's replacement in C.J. Miles. Coming off a three-point field goal percentage of 42% last season, Miles is the perfect addition to a team in desperate need of that asset. He also provides solid defence and is one of the most underrated two-way forwards in the game.

The one aspect of Free Agency that sucks is that you can lose your players for nothing. Due to the Raptors tight cap crunch, they lost free agents PJ Tucker to the Houston Rockets and Patrick Patterson to the Oklahoma City Thunder. The one that really stings for me is the loss of Tucker. I was hoping that Masai would do whatever it took to keep the team's best defender and leader, but was ultimately swayed by the idea of playing alongside fellow friend Chris Paul and MVP nominee James Harden. His loss of presence will be felt on the court, and hopefully players like Miles and Norman Powell can help eliminate the pain.

Overall it was a fairly productive free agency period for Masai. I don't believe he's done yet, however I believe he would be content with starting the year with the current roster he has constructed. Kudos on keeping our star free agents and moving the players that needed to be moved. The grade would have had the letter A in it if not for the loss of PJ Tucker, which will hurt the Raptors more than most expect.

GRADE: B+

Remaining Offseason Predictions and Overall Grade

Source: Raptors Republic

Source: Raptors Republic

Like I said before, I don't believe that Masai is done just yet. There's a step 3 in his master plan, but it just hasn't been revealed to us. So what could that step 3 be, you might ask?

Great question.

Let's circle back to draft night. Remember when the Raps were trying hard to shop JV? Where there's smoke, there's fire, and that means that the Raps were looking to shed his salary. I believe that they still are, and if the right trade partner and offer comes along, I believe the Raps will take it. This could allow for a solid trade deadline acquisition without creeping into the tax, and allowing for more room next offseason to make one big splash.

Masai is a god. He will play some mind trick on a poor soul and force them to agree to whatever trade he wants. Let's all bow down to him.

The Raptors have done a good job (so far) this offseason. They have positioned themselves well to compete now, as well as not be locked in to any ridiculous contracts three years from now. They are only one injury away from actually having a chance to win the East, and that's all fans can ask for.

Overall Grade: B+

Best and Worst Trades - Toronto Raptors

Source: Canadian Press

Source: Canadian Press

Welcome to my first article in a series that will examine the best and worst trades of a certain team or league. This article is obviously focused around the Toronto Raptors. I know I'm not the first to do this, and won't be the last, but now is perfect timing to examine this while we wait for the draft, free agency, trades, and the start of the new season.

While Masai Ujiri has pulled off some franchise altering trades, there were trades before his arrival that were deemed...terrible, to say the least. Below is a list of some great and not so great trades over the Raptors 22 year history (in no particular order).

Best - Andrea Bargnani Trade

Source: Canadian Press

Source: Canadian Press

On July 10th, 2013, Masai Ujiri make his first impact move, trading away shunned Toronto athlete Andrea Bargnani to the New York Knicks in exchange for (get this) Marcus Camby, Steve Novak, Quentin Richardson, and THREE draft picks (two 2nd round picks and the Knicks 2016 first round pick). For a player that was deemed to have zero value, Ujiri was able to not only unload his contract and get him out of Toronto, but accumulate three draft picks for him. Camby and Richardson were waived before the season began and Novak didn't really accomplish much as a bench player for the Raptors, so the value lied within the draft picks. The cake was getting Bargnani out of Toronto, and the delicious icing was the draft picks.


Worst - Hakeem Olajuwon Trade

Source: AP

Source: AP

To me, this is like the NBA's version of a Mats Sundin scenario. A player who should have never left his original team, but did so late in his career only to play at a significantly reduced level and be plagued with injuries. Insert Hakeem "The Dream" Olajuwon. If Hakeem had played to his Hall of Fame career potential in Toronto, this trade would be in a different category, however we know this was not the case. A beast in the paint, Olajuwon averaged 21.8 points per game and 11.1 rebounds per game during his illustrious career, but could not replicate that success in Toronto, averaging single season career lows of 7.1 points per game and 6.0 rebounds per game. Riddled with back injuries, he was forced to retire after his completing only one of his three years he signed on with the Raptors back in 2001 after being traded for a first and second round pick.


Best - Norman Powell Trade

Source: ESPN

Source: ESPN

The high flyer. "King of the Norm". In the 2015 draft, he was overlooked by every team except for two. The Milwaukee Bucks had drafted Norman Powell with the 46th pick, and it seemed as though Toronto had his eye on him too. The two sides were able to orchestrate a trade, with the Raptors sending Greivis Vasquez to the Bucks for Powell and the LA Clippers 2017 first round draft pick. What a steal for the Raptors. Not only were they able to get Powell for Vasquez, but were able to secure a first round draft pick too! Vasquez, who played an integral role in the 2014 and 2015 Raptors playoff runs, only played for the Bucks for one season and was waived by the Brooklyn Nets last season (when you are waived by the Nets, you should probably retire...). Powell has played an important role for the Raptors, filling in for injured starters and making a strong case to start next season. It's only the beginning for Norm and his potential in this league.


Worst - Rudy Gay Trade (to Toronto)

Source: Getty Images

Source: Getty Images

On paper, this seemed like the move that the Raptors needed. The Raptors acquired Rudy Gay and Hamed Haddadi from the Memphis Grizzlies in exchange for Jose Calderon, Ed Davis and Toronto's 2013 second round draft pick. Haddadi was traded at the deadline that season and never played a role, while Gay was brought in to be a catalyst and leader around a young DeRozan and unproven Lowry. After ending the 2012-13 season with a 34-48 record, the Rudy Gay-led Raptors started the 2013-14 season off with a 6-12 start, which leads right into my next trade discussion...


Best - Rudy Gay Trade (to Sacramento)

Source: The Canadian Press

Source: The Canadian Press

We were going to blow the team up.
— Jeff Weltman on the Raptor's mind set after the 6-12 start

It's extremely rare to find the same person on any team's best AND worst trade list, but here we are. After that 6-12 start I just spoke of, Masai Ujiri knew that change was needed to this club. Remember, this was the draft year for local boy Andrew Wiggins, and the #TankForWiggins movement was only gaining more and more traction as the losses piled up. After Jeff Weltman made the move to Orlando as their new President, he admitted that the Raptors were planning on blowing the team up. With this decision made, they traded Rudy Gay, Aaron Gray and Quincy Acy to the Sacramento Kings for Patrick Patterson, Greivis Vasquez, Chuck Hayes and John Salmons. Not only did this trade ignite the team, but it altered the landscape of the franchise for the better. With Gay gone they had the ability to play more as a team, hand the keys of the team to Lowry and DeRozan and the rest is history.


Worst: Hedo Turkoglu Trade

Source: Sportsnet

Source: Sportsnet

Good old Turkoglu. The Masked Man. Just like all of the other "worst" trades, this one appeared to be a home run on paper, but in reality it was just one big strikeout. After making an appearance in the finals for the Magic the season before, the Raptors thought they had found the missing piece to compliment Chris Bosh. The Raptors traded Shawn Marion, Kris Humphries, Nathan Jawai and Toronto's 2016 second round draft pick to the Magic in a four-team trade for Hedo Turkoglu, Devean George and Antoine Wright. The Raptors got sold a bill of goods that never delivered, and when it was realized that Turkoglu would never been the same catalyst that played for the Magic, he was shipped out of town. But it wasn't all bad for the Big Turk's time in Toronto, as he produced super awkward post-game interview gems just like this.


Best - Vince Carter Trade (to Toronto)

Source: imageslides.com

Source: imageslides.com

Ahh, the trade that may be the reason why basketball in Toronto is not only alive, but thriving. What most new fans and some old fans forget is that VC was not originally drafted by the Raptors. The Raptors had the fourth pick in the 1998 draft, and traded that pick to Golden State for the fifth pick and cash. The Warriors had their sights set on Antawn Jamison and were afraid that the Raptors would draft him before they even had a chance to. The Raptors did in fact take Jamison with the fourth overall pick, and the Warriors then selected Vince Carter with the fifth overall pick, but they were quickly swapped. While Jamison went on to have a great career in the NBA, his college teammate Carter became a legend in the NBA. A sure Hall of Famer, Carter created a passion for basketball in Canada with his dynamic style of play, high flying dunks and love for the game. I love watching his highlights, and I'll never forget dunk #1 from this dunk highlights clip.


Worst - Vince Carter Trade (to New Jersey)

Source: UPI

Source: UPI

There was no way I was going to leave this trade off the list. There's no argument when it comes to what the worst trade in Raptors history was. The Raptors traded a superstar Carter in his prime and got the equivalent of a bag of balls. Then acting General Manager Rob Babcock had the audacity to send Vince Carter to the New Jersey Nets in exchange for Eric Williams, Aaron Williams, Alonzo Mourning, Philadelphia's 2005 conditional first round pick and Denver's 2006 conditional first round pick. Here's where it gets even better (aka worse). Mourning, the highlight of the terrible low ball offer from the Nets, refused to report to Toronto, meaning that Babcock had an opportunity to negate the trade and start from scratch. But even at that, he still couldn't figure out how to say no. It was a get out of jail free card handed to him on a silver platter, and he burned it. Anyways, its a no-brainer as to why Babcock has never held a job of any similar ilk, as he was essentially laughed out of the league.


There are obviously more trades that have impacted Toronto's history, positively and negatively. There's the Kyle Lowry trade from Houston that paid massive dividends, and the Jermaine O'Neal trade from Indiana that was another swing and a miss for the Raptors. Either way, all trades and transactions have led to this current Raptors squad, and I am thankful for the way things have panned out, for better or for worse.

Where Do The Raptors Go From Here?

Source: Raptors Republic

Source: Raptors Republic

Never has there been an offseason as important or unclear as this one upcoming for the Raptors.

The Raptors find themselves stuck between a rock and a hard place. They can't seem to get past the massive hump that is LeBron James, arguably the greatest basketball player of all time, and the greatest that I have personally ever seen play the game. As long as that guy is breathing on the court, the East is his playground.

*Note: If you have not watched Masai Ujiri's End of Year Press Conference, you can watch it in its entirety here.*

It's clear that change is coming with this team. The words that came right from Masai's mouth were "We need a culture reset." When Masai says something, you can take it to the bank, because you know #InMasaiWeTrust.  There are a few things that stuck out to me after listening to Masai's press conference, which will be tied in to every topic discussed. Let's begin with the often energetic and enthusiastic coach, Dwane Casey.

We need a culture reset.
— Masai Ujiri

Dwane Casey

Dwane Casey has arguably been the best thing to ever happen to the Raptors. After coming off of a championship run with the Dallas Mavericks as their assistant coach, Casey faced the daunting task of turning a failing Raptors squad around into perennial contenders. After going below .500 in his first two years, he's gone above .500 in the last four, with 48, 49, 56 and 51 wins respectfully. When fans were calling for a rebuild during the 48 win season, Casey was able to get the most our of his players and have them play at a level that was unexpected and welcome in the Toronto basketball landscape.

Even though there's a long list of pros regarding Casey, there are accompanied by cons as well. His iso-ball style of gameplay is no longer effective, with Masai even making mention that this style of play will not work going forward. Couple that with his questionable starting lineup decisions, and he's created a #FireCasey section of the fanbase that arises every time a poor decision is made.

I'm not going to sit here and make excuses for Casey. I love him as a human being and I think he's a players coach and all around good guy. He says the right things and supports his guys no matter what. In the same breath, he makes me want to pull my hair out of my head when he starts DeMarre Carroll over Norman Powell, or when he never properly utilizes weapons such as Jonas Valanciunas or even James Johnson.

Personally, it wouldn't surprise me if the Raptors decided to fire Casey or keep him. There's valid arguments for both, but if I had to make a decision at this very moment, I think I would be more inclined to let Casey go and let another voice such as Rex Kalamian or Jerry Stackhouse take over the room.

It's hard to really read into where Masai's head is at regarding Dwane Casey. He didn't tip his hand much regarding the 60 year old coach, but it seems as though he will have an opportunity to get back in his chair and continue with this team next year. But make no mistake, his seat will be very, very hot.

I just want a ring.
— Kyle Lowry

Kyle Lowry

The hot debate topic surrounding the Raptors might not be around Coach Casey, but rather his all star starting point guard Kyle Lowry. Today, Lowry officially opted out of his final year in his contract, becoming a free agent. This comes as a surprise to absolutely nobody, unless you are my mom and thought the move meant that he was leaving Toronto for good (I know you're reading this mom, I'm sorry but I had to).

Lowry has been nothing short of a revelation for the Raptors, and this past season was by far his best of his career. Posting career highs in points per game (22.4), field goal percentage (46.4%), three point percentage (41.2%), and even defensive rebounds per game (5.0), Lowry has shown that he can be a complete player and a top tier point guard in the game.

One thing Lowry can't combat though is age. Lowry is on the wrong side of thirty (31), and signing him to a max contract would mean that you have him until the age of 36. While that may be a good contract for the first two to three years, the last two years may come back to haunt the team. The question now becomes this: is that a risk you are willing to take?

The Raptors have good young point guards in local boy Cory Joseph and 2015 1st round draft pick Delon Wright (who I absolutely love). There is no way to completely fill the void left by Kyle Lowry if he or the Raptors choose to part ways, but the Raptors did play well enough without Kyle, going 14-7 once he sustained his wrist injury. Not to mention that the Raptors played some of their best ball against Cleveland during the final two games, also known as the games that Lowry was out of the lineup.

If the Raptors choose to not sign Lowry, its because they have chosen to spend his max dollars elsewhere. If Lowry chooses not to come back, I wish him the best of luck. I believe that if an agreement if not reached between Lowry and the Raptors, fans should expect to see him with the Spurs. If Lowry is serious about a ring, his best chance other than Toronto would be the Spurs. Sorry 76ers, Lowry doesn't have time on his side to "trust the process".

It’s not realistic.
— Masai Ujiri on retaining all free agents

The Other Guys...

Lost in the shuffle and conversation surrounding Casey and Lowry is what to do with the other free agents the Raptors have coming off the books. Serge Ibaka, PJ Tucker and Patrick Patterson all hit the open market as UFA's this summer. When the Raptors traded for Ibaka, they also retained his bird rights, which gives the cap situation a bit more flexibility.

Here's where fans and analysts alike can get creative with their offseason plans. Obviously all decisions will be affected based off of Lowry's decision, but I would like to see Ibaka and Tucker back, and Patterson gone. Masai obviously traded for them for a reason, and I believe that he wouldn't have made those trades if he has no intention of keeping them around after this year. Ujiri made it clear that it is impossible to retain all four pending free agents, and I see Patterson as the odd man out. He is a good serviceable stretch four off the bench that can hit shots from deep, but he has shown that he can't be relied on in the playoffs and has a fragile mentality and confidence issues.

There are a lot of players I would love to see the Raptors target. If the Raptor's don't retain Lowry, then they have more money to spend to fill holes on the team. Some players that I would like to see the Raptors target include:

  • Kyle Korver - Arguably one of the best shooters from deep to ever play the game, Korver is deadly from beyond the ark, and if he can come at a reasonable price tag it will fit the new play style of shooting threes.
  • Danilo Gallinari - He won't come cheap, but if the Raptors decide to go small ball and have Serge at center and move JV, then this would be target number one. He has the versatility to play small forward and power forward, and seems to have unlimited range on the court. Again, fitting into the new found three point offence.
  • Bojan Bogdanovic - See a trend here? Looking for small/power forwards that can hit the three well. Bojan fits that bill, and can be a guy to come off the bench and log some solid minutes for that second unit. He has shown an ability to lead a second unit during the Washington vs. Boston series.
  • Joe Ingles - Read above, and just replace Bojan Bogdanovic with Joe Ingles.
  • Vince Carter - Didn't think I would leave out my boy VC right? I've been advocating for his return to the six for a few seasons now. If anybody could get VC to sign a veteran's minimum to come off the bench for the Raptors next season, its Masai.
100 per cent
— Masai Ujiri on ability to spend into the tax threshold

There is a lot of uncertainty surrounding the Raptors right now. Decisions are coming, and the only thing that is certain is that this team will not look the same one way or another. It's an exciting time to be a Raptors fan. Let's just sit back and watch Masai & Co. get to work