National Basketball Association

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

970197482.jpg.0.jpg

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.

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.