Week That Was In The NBA

Free Agent Pool Drying Up

This should be the slowest week for activity in the NBA each season and the last week before players start to slowly get back together with their teammates so they can begin preparations for training camps that kick off on or about October 1.  However, there was still some real news recently as Antawn Jamison signed a veteran’s minimum deal with the Clippers and Ronnie Brewer was just picked up by Houston.  A couple of other “big” signings since our last report include Jannero Pargo to the Bobcats and DeJuan Blair joining the Mavericks.  It was a couple of weeks ago, but Greg Oden signed a minimum deal with the HEAT even though he might not be ready to play in time for the start of the season.

Center Hamed Haddadi and Earl Baron are two of the remaining free agents that are still getting some attention, but the pickings are getting slim both ways and unsigned players have started accepting jobs overseas in droves.  The controversial Lamar Odom may not have an NBA landing spot anymore after the Jamison signing.

Some Key Injury Situations

Tony Parker, who has been complaining about sore hamstrings, scared the Spurs this week when he injured his knee while playing for France.  Fortunately, the MRI results suggest it isn’t serious.

Knicks Andrea Bargnani has pneumonia. Earlier this month, the New York Knicks forward/center Andrea Bargnani was at risk of not being able to play for Italy at 2013 Eurobasket in Solvenia this September because of a respiratory tract infection, it has now been confirmed that he has pneumonia. Bargnani will not be allowed to play for his National Team.

J.R. Smith was finally cleared to begin riding a stationary bike 2 weeks ago after knee surgery July 15.  It is questionable if he will be ready for opening night.

Udonis Haslem also had knee surgery mid-July, but he expects to be ready for training camp.  It’s hard to knock the optimism.

Kobe Bryant Is Running Again – Sort Of

Kobe Bryant has been using social media to keep his fans up-to-date with his recovery and there is nothing like seeing is believing.  Check out Kobe’s recent post on Instagram of him running on an anti-gravity treadmill.

Other News

Rudy Gay training with Hakeem Olajuwon

Raptors forward Rudy Gay uploaded an instagram video of himself working out with Hakeem Olajuwon.

Steve Nash To Mentor Myck Kabongo

In a year where almost everything has gone wrong for Canadian point guard Myck Kabongo, he finally is getting the support he needs to get his basketball career back on track. After Kabongo was cut from Team Canada’s roster last week, Head Coach Jay Triano helped arrange for two-time NBA MVP Steve Nash to mentor Kabongo in Vancouver.

Tracy McGrady A Hall Of Famer.....No.

Tracy McGrady has decided to hang up his shoes and call it a career after 16 seasons in the NBA. He of course had his career start here with the Raptors as first round selection for the club.

FIBA Qualifying Tournaments

Cory Joseph Scores 20 In Loss To Brazil

San Antonio Spurs backup point guard Cory Joseph scored 20 points for Canada in Monday night’s loss to Brazil 77-70 at the Tutu Marchand Continental Cup.  Canada finished the warm-up tournament for FIBA Americas with a 0-4 record after losing to Puerto Rico, Argentina and the Dominican Republic earlier.

Canada plays Jamaica on Friday at the FIBA Americas in Caracas, Venezuela.

Lithuania Lost to Greece at Acropolis Cup

Lithuanian Head Coach Jonas Kazlauskas had been complaining about his 9-0 exhibition record prior to today’s game against Greece as he knows the games at 2013 Eurobasket are not going to be so easy. However, losing 80-62 on a 16-2 run by the Greeks over the final 5 minutes wasn’t the way he wanted his team’s winning streak to end.

Can Team Canada Rival Spain In Basketball?

Success and Canada Basketball are two words not often associated with each other, however, all that is about to change. Like the second most powerful basketball country, Spain, Canada will soon feature a lineup with multiple NBA star players.  Triano has six current and former NBA players trying out for the team with a lot more high-end talent arriving in the immediate future.  Canada Basketball is finally on the verge of greatness

Check out all the Team Canada and Jonas Valanciunas in Lithuania game reports on Pro Bball Report under the category: FIBA 

Stephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the ACC.  A member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association, Stephen is the editor and publisher of Pro Bball Report.  You can follow Stephen on twitter @stevesraptors 


Some Random Thoughts on The Raptors Season To Come

The Toronto Raptors have been a unique personal experience for me as a sports fan. I have never had the experience of following a franchise from its birth to present day as sports fan. I also have had the unique experience of covering this team for over 5 years and had access going on four years. It makes for a very unique experience to say the least.

I find at this time of year I become reflective about a lot of things with not much going on in terms of news. It also becomes a time when I find it the most hard to write or create. There isn’t a lot of material to run with at this point of the year. I think anyone that can tell you they have any idea what is going happen with this team at this point is lying to you and fooling themselves.

We are not hanging out in these gyms seeing what these players are working on day in and day out. They are not playing at a level that is comparable to the NBA. International basketball is likely the closest to the challenge they face in the NBA on a nightly basis.

All this being said I find myself less inspired for any Raptors season that I can remember. This isn’t exactly what I should say is it? I don’t always say what I should say. You would think I would be with Jose Calderon and Andrea Bargnani being gone would be reason enough. It is no secret that I felt both were holding back this team from moving forward in this post Bosh era. While that is true the idea of Andrew Wiggins clouds my thoughts about this season.

If I could have made a prototype of what the Raptors needed to succeed in both a basketball and business sense it is Andrew Wiggins. Wiggins is an All-Star level talent that I have seen first hand with amazing skill at such a young age and he is one of us, a Canadian born player to root for. It is exactly what this franchise needs desperately. He is what Lebron James once meant for Cleveland, what Derrick Rose still means to the Chicago Bulls. Nothing sells more than a home grown superstar. It is so much easier to root for a guy that is considered your own. It is a lot of pressure but pressure that Wiggins has faced for a long time already.

Also, as we just  looked back yesterday on two guys who left Toronto behind, in Andrew Wiggins you have someone that has said on the record this is where he wants to play.  So many times we have watched people walk away to even laugh at the idea of playing in Toronto. To have someone that wants to play here and is committed to the city can be magical. Just look at Kevin Durant and his happiness in Oklahoma City. That can be contagious with the right player in place.

Still no one that makes up this Raptors roster is interested in hearing about the dream of having Andrew Wiggins on the Toronto Raptors. They want to see this team break through and succeed. Maybe no one more so than Dwane Casey who is basically coaching for his job this season. You have players with motivation to succeed as well. Kyle Lowry is at the top of that list that is playing for his next contract. Which makes his evaluation process for the Raptors a very tough one to make? The Raptors have made many bad decisions over the last 18 years but one they didn’t was passing on a point guard to re-sign. Mike James was traded for in the final year of his deal and came to Toronto and lit it up. He had the best season of his career to that point. As history would show the best of his career, so while at the time Chris Bosh was disappointed to see Mike James go it was the right decision on the part of the Raptors.

Part of being a fairly young team is that you have so many players with both potential and motivation to live up to that potential. It also means in the case of most of the players that make up with squad never having experienced success. Amir Johnson was around success early in his career but just as a young observer not a participant to any large degree. Rudy Gay came from a Memphis squad that had some success but its greatest success was without him a part of it. In DeMar DeRozan you have a guy that has only ever been a Raptor and never got to experience any success in terms of a winning record or any playoff experience. No matter what name you care to mention no one can honestly say they have been a major piece to a successful puzzle.

When you examine the Eastern Conference the first 5 teams in the standings are pretty much a lock. After that it is up in the air for anyone that wants to take 6-8.  But to land in any of those positions likely gets you a quick exit from the playoffs when you consider the teams you would match-up against. You are likely talking about facing Miami, Indiana or Chicago and possibly the Nets. So you are left to ask yourself is it worth it?

Give up you lottery ticket to be first round playoff fodder. While I don’t think you need to go to the extreme of tanking to get in that lottery, which some teams have clearly chosen to do, I do think you need a ticket to be in it if your best case situation is a first round playoff exit.

If you look with a real honesty at the Raptors roster can they be anything better than sixth in the East? I don’t think anyone can say that with a straight face. Raptors have been to playoffs before and they never established a firm grip on being a consistent and improving playoff team. I am not convinced they can be now with this whole group in place.

Even if you did you have some key pieces that could easily walk away from the Raptors with Kyle Lowry and Rudy Gay. Assuming the Raptors do not trade them, Lowry can walk away after this season and Rudy Gay could as well, but far less likely he would opt out of his big money contract. The following year he could leave and the Raptors are left with nothing for either. A situation we have seen many times in the past.

I would not blame Lowry or Gay for walking away as both came to this team via trades and really doesn’t owe Toronto anything in terms of loyalty. They never chose to come here at the end of the day.

It all can give you a headache if you think long and hard about the Raptors situation. What we do know is that by 2015 things in terms of salary really free up as the Raptors would really only have commitments to Jonas Valanciunas and DeMar DeRozan on the books. You could include Terrence Ross in that but technically the Raptors would have a team option they could just pass on if he fails to develop.

At the end of the day the Raptors as it has been in the past have far more questions than they have answers heading into the next two years. During that time the direction they take will likely become much clearer with the moves Masai Ujiri makes.

I would say at this point Ujiri is still weighing his options with what he has and not looking to make any long term commitments for the time being. This group of players ultimately will point to the direction he heads by how they play in this upcoming season with a clear focus on how they play to close out 2013.

If the Raptors do not find themselves with a solid foundation of a playoff appearance that they could challenge for sixth place or better it would only seem appropriate to start looking to dismantle this roster. The Raptors sit in the grey (Not Aaron Gray) area of teams on the edge of the playoff race which is where no team wants to be at the end of the day.

Going back to how this whole thing started as someone that has watched since day one that is a very frustrating place to find yourself as a fan. This group being just a .500 team (which is basically what they were when they added Rudy Gay last season) will not be good enough. The stakes are high for the future of this franchise, as many people have reached the point of being tired of supporting a team that has not given them much to be excited about over its entire existence. Tired of the excuses and desperate to have a team they can believe in and support that can win and consistently be a playoff team and eventual contender.


Tracy McGrady A Hall Of Famer.....No.

Tracy McGrady has decided to hang up his shoes and call it a career after 16 seasons in the NBA. He of course had his career start here with the Raptors as first round selection for the club. He would leave not feeling the love once his distant cousin Vince Carter arrived on the scene and took the spotlight away from him. He would sign with the Orlando Magic at 12:01am the first possible time he could do so when free agency opened. This after a season of saying he would strongly consider re-signing with the Raptors.

That was of course a lie you have to conclude given how quickly he made his exit stage left. He before it was cool to hate Vince Carter years later was Raptor fans public enemy number one. He thrived on that hate and said it was only because Raptors fans loved him and missed him that they booed. Speed ahead to modern day and many folks that are Raptors fans and heaping praise on him Even the Raptors via social media threw out the topic of if McGrady should be a Hall of Famer. He would be the first Raptor to earn that honour if it were to happen.

I fail to understand why people have so much love for a guy that turned his back on this franchise. In the reality we only got to see the start of what turned out to be an NBA Superstar and 7 times he was an All-Star…all of which came not as a Toronto Raptor.

McGrady will be a great case study to see if Vince Carter ever makes it to the NBA Hall of Fame someday. The distant cousins have a lot in common in terms of their NBA Careers.  Both never truly had playoff success in their prime years in the league. McGrady famously never making it out of the first round for years and years as the man in Orlando and than Houston. While Vince Carter never got past the second round until the very late stages of his career with the Orlando Magic McGrady won a scoring title but never an MVP award. Carter of course won a Slam Dunk crown back when than that meant something but never a MVP award on his resume either.

While both have longevity and numbers to make them worthy of consideration for the Hall of Fame to me I would pass on both. In the end whatever Hall of Fame you want to talk about from the Basketball Hall of Fame to WWE Hall of Fame it involves in one form or another politics and opinions.

For me personally what defines a Hall of Famer is being the best of an era, a proven winner when it counts in the playoffs and after that will check your stats. Often Hall of Fames seems to work in reverse to that thinking. In baseball unless you are a suspected or proven steroid user or bet on baseball you are a lock if you reach certain milestone numbers. You hit 500 Home Runs, Win 300 games or get 3000 hits you are a virtual lock to make it.

Tracy McGrady was a capitalist first and loved the game second. I don’t mean that as harsh as it sounds but in his early young days McGrady was immature and in it to get paid. I will give credit to him as his career went on however as the injuries racked up he could have easily walked away and called it a career. He also late in his career accepted that his time had past and he was accepting of a role player. That is something that some stars like an Allen Iverson as an example could not do. He matured and I believe grew to love the game.

He even won some people back by trashing another Raptor Villain in the form of Chris Bosh. He stated that he never trashed the city or said anything bad about it like Chris Bosh had done. Vince Carter whether you choose to believe it has never either and we have certainly given him reason too. Vince Carter also inspired a generation of Canadians that we are starting to see emerge in the NBA and for Canada Basketball. Tracey was part of that at the start of things as well.

In recent years on OTR on TSN they had a show which featured Carter, McGrady and Charles Oakley in a sort of Raptor Reunion type show. In the context of that show you saw both Vince and Tracey kind of admit a little regret on what could have been in Toronto.

Kobe Bryant years earlier was quoted as saying that he believed had Carter and McGrady remained together he fully expected his Lakers with Shaq to be battling year in and year out with the Raptors for a title. That is perhaps what stings most of all for Raptor fans to this day.

But unlike Bryant who has an incredible killer instinct and many championships on his resume to his credit Carter and McGrady don’t. For my money both Carter and McGrady were satisfied to live off there freakish athletic ability and not as driven as Kobe Bryant, Lebron James or Kevin Durant. Two players that at the end of the day had great NBA careers but could have and should have been so much more.

That to me does not scream hall of Famer. It could still happen for both and would be a historic moment for the Raptors in being first players the Raptors drafted to find their way to the Hall of Fame. It would be a bitter sweet thing though if it happened. I don’t suspect you would ever see Tracy’s number 1 hanging in the rafters at the ACC. Mainly because most of what he accomplished in league came after he left. We only got a glimpse of what was to come. Vince likely never sees that day come either but there might be a little window of hope of that as time passes.

If it is possible to separate the bad blood that many feel towards both it still to me at least doesn’t make them Hall of Famers. I understand you can make a case for both but I just don’t see it for my money. That said in the time since both have been here not one player including Chris Bosh comes even close to this kind of consideration in my opinion.

In any case love or hate Tracy McGrady I do give him credit for fighting through so many injures to continue to play the game when he clearly never had too in the last few years. He has done a lot of growing up from the immature kid that turned his back on Toronto.  


Starting 5 (Off-Season Edition) w/ Jack Armstrong

It has been nice to have a couple weeks away from the blog. Not much is going on this time of the year so it was a good time for a break. About the only thing Raptor wise that happened was the release of the Raptors pre-season schedule. We have some time before we get there but basically the Raptors off-season has been done for awhile. So to come back strong thought I would put in a call to Western New York and catch up with Jack Armstrong on his thoughts on what has been going on this off-season. Hear Jack's thoughts on the Bargnani trade, future for Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, Rudy Gay, Jonas Valancuinas and a few others. We dive deep into the Raptors off-season and start to look ahead to the upcoming season. It as always with Jack he tells it like it is. That is why people love him and why he is are most popular guest by miles.

Always great to talk to Jack. It may take me awhile to get back in the groove I really did enjoy the time off.


DNB Is On Vacation

It has reached the point in the off-season that everything that is going to happen has happened and it becomes the waiting game for training camp to come. This seems like an excellent time to take a pause for the cause and recharge my batteries.

At the end of the month Canada will start its attempt to qualify for the World Cup (Championship) next summer and will be back in time to follow their journey. I had a wonderful time on the weekend catching up with friends that cover basketball who I don’t see very much in the off-season.

I had the chance for the first time, to meet, in person Mick Kabongo who has been a guest on this blog several times over the years dating back to before his days at Texas. It was so great to finally meet him. Will have some stuff on how he is doing when we are back. In addition to that talked with Cory Joseph on his experience with Team Canada and the influence of Steve Nash.  

Also we haven’t totally forgotten about the Raptors as Jack Armstrong will be stopping by to give his take on the Raptors off-season for the first time with us since the end of the season.

You have all of that and a lot more to look forward too. The DNB will be back in a week or two hopefully fired up and recharged to make a run towards the upcoming Raptors season.

As always thanks for your support and if you do miss me I don’t suspect I will take a two week vacation from Twitter so you can find me there. I may also use this time to firm up some things for the upcoming season so if you have interest in being a part of what we do here at the Dino Nation Blog it would be a good time to get in touch with me about that.

One of our new writers Will has had to take some time away so there could be an opening to add to our staff if someone steps up to the plate.

All of this said we will see you back here August 26th if not sooner. But I need to take a break and relax my brain. If I have learned anything in doing this for over 5 years it is that sometimes I can work to hard and get burned out. When this happens the quality of things suffers and you are not getting my best and that is what you deserve.


Canada Basketball Finally On The Verge Of Greatness

Basketball to a great extent has been like soccer trying to build and grow and establish its turf as Canada’s second sport. I would say for decades we have heard about the numbers of kids participating in both sports rising to levels that compete with Canada’s holy grail of hockey. All of this has yet to produce the results on the world stage at the elite level on a large scale.

There have been moments where both sports have thought they were on the verge of breaking through at times over the years.  In 1986 Canada qualified for the World Cup and it was thought that would launch the sport to new levels. Canada would not make in back to the World Cup since. They would win the Gold Cup defeating Colombia in the final 2-0. Again it was thought this could take soccer to the next level. Canada has actually had more success on the Women’s side of the sport than it has on the Men’s side of it. In recent times the success of Women at the recent Olympics winning a bronze medal. This came after an epic match with the United States that captured the imagination of this country. Canada also is now the home of three MLS Franchises in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver.

Basketball wise there have been moments as well perhaps beginning with Steve Nash leading Team Canada to successful early run in 2000 Olympics. It would be a launching pad for Nash to his NBA Career going to the next level. He would go on to win two MVP’s and winning countless awards including the Canadian Athlete of the year. Prior to the rise of Nash there was the return of the NBA to Canada which had not set foot north of the border since it’s very begins of the league. In 1995 The NBA launched two franchises in Canada with Toronto and Vancouver giving birth to the Raptors and Grizzlies.

You combine the rise of Nash and return of NBA to Canada is likely the genius of this rise of Canada Basketball. In the past Canada has had to beg to get talent to come on board. Steve Nash would have a divorce from the national program when Jay Triano was fired in 2005. Nash would turn down the Raptors in summer of 2012 but would not turn down a position as G.M of the Canada basketball program. A condition to the return was the re-hiring of Triano. He just coached his first game since returning last night with success over Jamaica.

The roster of that team is not even the full amount of talent that Canada has at its disposal. Andrew Wiggins perhaps the crown jewel of this rise of Canada basketball as well as the surprising number one pick of the Cleveland Cavaliers Anthony Bennett and Kelly Olynyk also a lottery pick all not part of this roster.

Yet is still is full of talent like recent first round selections like Tristan Thompson, Cory Joseph and Andrew Nicholson. 

It seems such a far cry from Canada Basketball trying to banking its hopes on guys like Joel Anthony who is still a part of this potential roster today. There was the Samuel Dalembert experiment that saw him find a way to gain his Canadian citizenship. He would clash with Leo Rautins and be sent home and never would suit up for Canada again. Weeks prior to this event I personally had a chat with Dalembert who was genuinely excited for opportunity to play for Canada. In contrast former Raptor Matt Bonner who is married to Canadian girl has struggled to gain his Canadian citizenship.

Canada Basketball’s days of begging for talent seem far behind them with Nash at the helm. The first goal for this group assembled currently is to qualify for the World Cup of Basketball (Formerly World Championship) which will begin with qualifying attempt at the end of this month. The true goal is to have all of the best talent assemble for Rio Olympics in 2016.

Canada Basketball is on the verge of a golden age that will actually have tough choices to make on that will be part of this roster going forward. It is a chance to have that major breakthrough for the sport of basketball in this country. Another person that likely deserves some credit for this evolution is Vince Carter. Many of the young players that will make up this group were kids watching Vince in his glory days with the Raptors.

Finally Canada Basketball has a shot to break out of the large shadow that hockey casts on all other sports in this country.  If you love basketball in this country you have your fingers crossed that these young men can succeed and raise the flag for basketball and Canada.


Week That Was In The NBA

Free Agent Signings

The free agent signings are starting to slow down as we wrap up the first week in August, but there were still a few big names around. 

Greg Oden and his bad knees signed a two-year deal for $2.1 million and a player option for next season with the HEAT and that was without any guarantee that the once future superstar will be ready to play by the time the season starts.  When a team has come off back-to-back NBA Championships and has a deep roster, they can afford the occasional risk and Oden might just get a ring before he is out of the game for good.

Mo Williams just received a two-year deal for $5.6 million with a player option for next season from Portland.  Williams is a nice acquisition as the Trail Blazers just got a little deeper and a little stronger, but it’s probably still not enough for a postseason run.

The Bucks signed and traded Brandon Jennings to the Pistons on a three-year $24 million deal that saw Brandon Knight as the key player sent back to Milwaukee.  The Bucks were happy to get a younger and cheaper version of Jennings for their roster going forward and Jennings said he wouldn’t have to be chucker with the Pistons front court talent.  It would lob-city in Detroit this season.

2013-2014 NBA Schedule Released

The myth of the Los Angeles Lakers will not go away quietly even if there is a better than even chance they’ll be tanking for Wiggins before this season is over.  The Lakers are scheduled to play the fourth most nationally televised games this season with 29 including both Christmas Day and Thanksgiving Day games.  Only the Bulls, Knicks and Thunder appear more times on National television.  The NBA Champion HEAT are on just 27 times.

The Raptors have a reasonably balanced schedule, but face the HEAT twice, Brooklyn and Chicago at home in November.  The Home Opener will be against Boston on October 30th and Raptors fans should get ready for Friday Night Basketball as their team kicks off the weekend 21 times this season, 12 times at home and 9 times on the road.

One of the big questions the Raptors have raised themselves this summer is the absence of Canadians on Canada’s only NBA franchise.  With the Cleveland Cavaliers a mere 5.5 hour drive from downtown Toronto, there is a risk that a bad Raptors’ season could lead to Anthony Bennett and Tristan Thompson’s Cavaliers becoming Canada’s team.  So, obviously, the NBA schedule only has the Cavaliers visiting Toronto once this season.

National Teams Becoming the Focus

The amount of news emanating from North America about basketball is slowing down, but there are still NBA players working hard for their National teams this summer. 

USA Basketball ran a camp for potential future team members right after the NBA Summer Leagues wrapped up and National teams in Europe have opened training camps and started playing friendly exhibition games in preparation for 2013 Eurobasket in September.  NBA teams are required to release players to their National teams five weeks before the start of the tournament, although some European NBA players have been back home for some time now.

The Knicks received some bad news from Italy this week when forward/center Andrea Bargnani came down with respiratory tract infection and is now expected to miss at least the start of Eurobasket, although nothing is certain at the moment.  The bigger impact could be on his conditioning when the Knicks training camp starts in October and this story may have a familiar ring to Toronto Raptors fans.  Bargnani’s play was not always easy to explain in Toronto.

On a more positive note, the 2013 NBA Summer League MVP Jonas Valanciunas put up an easy double-double in Lithuania’s win over Belgium in the Toronto Raptors center first friendly.

Team Canada will be playing exhibition games on August 8th and 10th in Toronto.  Click here for ticket information.

Stephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the ACC.  A member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association, Stephen is the editor and publisher of ProBballReport.  You can follow Stephen on twitter @stevesraptors


Why this really is an important year for the Raptors

Let’s say for the arguments sake that the current incarnation of the Raptors have enough firepower to squeak into the playoffs this season, OR, they decide instead to pull a DNP – MGMT decision and try and enter the Wiggins sweepstakes. Which side of the fence do you fall on?
If you chose the latter, you’d be wrong. I know what you’re going to ask next – ‘But what if it meant we landed Wiggins?’ That’s not even a trick question, or trick answer…you’re still wrong. Why? Well I’m glad you asked; let’s get into shall we?
Going into this season we are blessed to have a man running the show, who actually knows how to run a show (Tim Leiweke). His stance on things makes me swoon like a girl weak in the knees. I love the confidence and his firm grasp on what direction he believes MLSE needs to go in. Oh, I also love the ‘SHUT THE FRONT DOOR!’ attitude he displays, especially on the usually unrelenting Toronto media. Mark my words he will slap someone with a steak one day…if that hasn’t already happened.
Then you have Ujiri; I’m a lazy writer, so I’m not getting into it why this guy is good. If you don’t this by now, then reading this isn’t going to help you.
So why is this year important? More succinctly why is this year more important than others?
Sometimes you have to look past a deep draft (2014) that is fast approaching, and what it ‘could’ mean for your franchise. The Raptors must do this, despite the amazing talent. I mean the Canadian talent. I mean the amazing Canadian talent (Wiggins) who is drawing LBJ comparisons and has stated he would like to play for the Raptors! Yes, (sigh) the franchise needs to ignore the siren call of the tank.
Why it’s paramount not to tank has a couple of vitals reasons, and here they are:
1)   The development of the current roster

The Raptors are young, like really young, but in that youth is a bastion of talent. The easiest piece to pick out is Jonas Valančiūnas. This is a pivotal year for the young center. It’s his team if he wants it. I’m never one to believe that summer league is any type of indicator, because if that were the case then Marco Belinelli and Anthony Morrow would be the greatest players in the NBA. However, he’s shown that he can bang, he’s more physical, and he can get to the line.  In other words, progress. I still think he’s going to need to put more on the frame, but the game is there, the mechanics, and the mentality of tough play. I think Tyler Hansbrough is going to be great at showing him a little more of that toughness.

2)   Erasing any notion that we are a tanking team, Soft, or, the Northern Bobcats

Tanking hurts a franchise and its players and fans from a mental perspective, as well from a revenue standpoint. As a team mate or professional athlete, what inspires me to want to go to a team that is in a constant state of ‘rebuilding’ or ‘tanking’ other than money? Sure money can be a motivator, but does it motivate enough quality talent. After all who looks forward to the drudgery of constantly losing? If I’m a regular season seat ticket holder how am I supposed to be excited about a tank year? What if the tank fails? From a revenue perspective, why on earth do I want to support a team that tanks for talent? That means, I, as a payer of someone’s salary at MLSE has to endure an intentionally sub-par season for at best a %25 chance at a good draft pick…no thanks. Again, the Raptors and MLSE made their power play (I presume) in an effort to erase that stigma, and to signal to all the talent in the NBA that this is a franchise you’d want to play for.

3)   Losing needs to become a byproduct of simply a bad team

I don’t believe that this years Raptors are a bad team, ok, there’s a chance, but overall I feel a slight optimism. This year fans don’t expect much, so why not try and exceed those expectations. That’s exactly what the Raptors need from their fans. Tanking isn’t going to help the overall mindset, but a team that works hard, plays hard, leaves it all on the floor, is going to garner the respect from the fans and from other teams around the league, regardless of the record. Ujiri needs to show the city that he’s not going to rest on his laurels and that Leiweke has his back as well. That has to be a big part of what the new management is trying to instill in its day-to-day operations. I think Dwayne Casey has the potential to be a good coach, he’s still new as a head coach, and I’m willing to give him the chance as long as I don’t see more than one game decided by three or less points this season.

Basketball in Toronto is in a fragile state right now, with its fans, the perception of the Raptors around the NBA, and especially the organization as a whole. ‘Dialing it in’ or ‘tanking’ won’t accomplish lofty plans for the future (James touched on this earlier last week - click here). It’s going to have to be a hard trudge, confronting the years hardened labels cast down on the Raptors head on, and creating a new identity that fans can support now, and down the road. That’s why tanking is not an option.


Raptors Schedule Release Hangout

Raptors Schedule has hit the streets. We chat about that and the Raptors off-season with some staff and friends and get the fan take on the upcoming season. Well likely a lot of mine as well. We go Live Take Two at 9pm:


Raptors Schedule Could Impact On The Future

One of the bigger events of the NBA Off-Season is approaching with the release of the NBA Schedule. We could make the standard jokes about the Raptors will play 41 games at home and 41 games on the road. Which is true, but how the Raptors schedule is laid out could influence the direction they ultimately decide to go.

The fact that Andrew Wiggins sits as the top prize in a NBA draft class that is expected to be deep looms large. The group that makes up the Raptors roster is not concerned with this fact. They will always be looking at the present for both their individual careers and the team as a whole.

The Raptors management are the ones that have to consider that bigger picture. So taking this back to the schedule release and what that could mean could greatly impact the direction. Traditionally the Raptors schedule has been front loaded. What I mean by this, they tend to see their tougher part of the schedule early on. Which means the challenge for this roster of players to keep their heads above water could be far greater.

If the Raptors find themselves with a losing record at the end of the calendar year it would be almost irresponsible to not look ahead to the draft and the future. While it has been a long time since the Raptors have seen the playoffs just getting there is not really enough. At least it shouldn’t be if the Raptors are going to deliver on the promises made by Tim Leiweke and Masai Ujiri about turning this organization around.

If the Raptors are on a path that makes them a fringe playoff team hovering around the 7-10 mark in terms of position in the standings that will not be enough. What Masai Ujiri has been able to do is build some flexibility into this roster to change direction and goal if need be. The key is figuring out who are the pieces of this puzzle going forward especially if things do not go well for this team early on.

It is not a case of tanking as much as it is evaluating the best path to being a consistent playoff participant. This is something this franchise has struggled with during its entire existence. There is no question that if the Raptors can land a talent like Andrew Wiggins that is a game changer for this franchise. That doesn’t require blowing your brains out to have the best chance to make that happen. The simple reality is that even the worst team only has a one in four chance of landing him. But to have a shot is likely more valuable than to finish seventh or eighth to be cast aside by the Heat or Pacers.

Life is all about timing and the key will be the Raptors making the right choices at the right time to maximize their chances in the future. A great example of a team that was able to get to that lower tier of the playoffs and only to return to losing is the Charlotte Bobcats. They are also a cautionary tail in why tanking does not exactly produce a winner.

In the end you need to, as the old Kenny Rogers song says, “You got to know when to hold’em, know when to fold’em,” not only applies to gambling and cards. Any good poker player will tell you it is all about maximizing your odds of winning. They will also tell you that you can do everything right and it still takes some luck at the end of the day.

One of my favourite people in wrestling CM Punk says that “Luck is for losers” which would make a good theme for the NBA Draft Lottery. There is another saying that states people create their own luck through hard work and dedication. The teams that excel while they may have caught lucky break here and there in reality do a solid job at scouting and have a good track record at projecting talent. Both scouting for the NBA Draft and scouting the players in the league that may not be getting utilized within the organization they are a part of.

While people will focus on the moves Masai Ujiri has made to roster some of the most important moves might be the ones off the floor. To build a solid foundation in scouting talent is vital to success. That is vital and important for maximizing the chances at success.  Let’s say the Raptors find there way into lottery and get Andrew Wiggins, that is fantastic and a great accelerator to a great many things for the franchise. If they don’t “Get Lucky,” at least they need to have a solid foundation that can evaluate talent so they can still build and succeed.  This down the line makes an attractive destination for Wiggins in the future. This is not just for him but for a generation of Canadian talent that could really make a difference and be a light to a way out of the dark for the Toronto Raptors.

At the end of the day it is important to see the forest and not just the tree. What happens in this individual season is not the point. It is the ability to evaluate the future and build a solid organization that can compete over the long haul not the short one. I don’t think I am saying anything that people don’t understand in saying that the Toronto Raptors will not win the NBA Championship in 2013-14. It is about can they in future seasons compete for that ultimately goal. That takes a lot of things to fall in place and that goes back to having some luck and some timing along with hard work, but ultimately putting yourself in the places to have those things happen.

Those are my thoughts, but we here at the Dino Nation Blog will be looking for some of your own on next Tuesday when the NBA Schedule is released. We are going to organize a google hangout to hear from you. So if you have a webcam, a mic and a pair of headphones and some thoughts on the Toronto Raptors you might be able to help us out and be part of this event. Will be picking some people to join us in the hangout and have a chat going as well so everyone can take part. We will talk about the schedule, but more the overall thoughts of you the fans for the upcoming season and future of the Toronto Raptors.

I am looking forward to hosting this event and sharing my knowledge and thoughts but this is more about hearing what you all have to say. So if you’re interested in being part of this give me a shout and will be select a bunch of people to make up are fan panel. I hope this will be a success and something we plan to keep doing at various points throughout the season. In order for that to happen it will take some people that have some entertaining and informed opinions. Which I see on Twitter all the time on a daily basis so please consider giving this your time and I think it will be fun. Even if you don’t have a webcam there will be a chat that you can take part of and interact with the show or just sit back and be entertained by it.

So that is about it the season is coming fast, but maybe not fast enough for some. Still we can all talk and voice our opinions in the meantime.

Week That Was In The NBA

Jonas Valanciunas, NBA Summer League MVP

Toronto Raptors center Jonas Valanciunas has been named the Most Valuable Player of the 2013 NBA Summer League by a panel of media members.

Valanciunas averaged 18.8 points and 10.0 rebounds in 29.3 minutes over his four outings in Las Vegas. He shot 56.1 percent from the field and hit 29 of 33 free throw attempts.  His personal bests were 23 points against Miami and 13 rebounds over San Antonio.  Valanciunas dominated in the paint scoring in double figures each game with two double-doubles.  When opposing players were able to affect his ability to score from the field, the big man was able to consistently draw fouls and live at the line.

Lithuania Unhappy With Raptors About Valanciunas

Lithuania’s Head Coach Jonas Kazlauskas seems very unhappy with the Toronto Raptors these days over the delay in allowing star center Jonas Valanciunas to join his National teammates this summer.  Kazlauskas called the Raptors ‘arrogant’ and complained about Toronto not encouraging Valanciunas to join his National team earlier than five weeks ahead of the start of Eurobasket 2013 on September 4th in Solvenia.

Star players from countries outside of the United States often feel immense pressure to play for their National team and that pressure can run into extremes as evidenced by Coach Kazlauskas.  However, excessive demands are often not in the best interests of the player or his career. 

The NBA style of play is not the same as in Europe and although Valanciunas has enjoyed success at every level overseas, he is still learning the NBA game.  Raptors Head Coach Dwane Casey needed Valanciunas to get the extra practice and experience that the NBA summer League provides.

Ujiri Scores For Raptors With Dwight Buycks

The Raptors newest point guard Dwight Buycks has been scoring the rock since he went to high school at Bay View in Milwaukee Wisconsin.  The scoring continued in junior college, however, things changed for Buycks in his final two college seasons at Marquette.  He went from being the go-to-scorer on his team to a sixth man in his first season with the Golden Eagles and he had to learn how to become more of a traditional point guard. 

After a successful D-League season with Tulsa in 2011-2012, Buycks was picked by Gravelines of the French Pro A League and everything came together.  Buycks averaged a team-high 18 points, 3.2 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 1.5 steals in 32 games while hitting 38.4 percent of his three-point attempts and won the league MVP honors.

Perhaps the most important observation from Summer League about Buycks was his ability to read a defense.  A good shooter with the skill and strength to drive to the rim, Buycks was able to take advantage of what was available whether it was by mistake or design.  These games were only against relatively weak Summer League competition, but as an incoming NBA rookie, they were very impressive.

Raptors Linas Kleiza To Fenerbahce Ulker and Place Marcus Camby On Waivers

Earlier reports about the Raptors amnestied player, Linas Kleiza, indicated the forward was healthy and likely to return to Europe for next season.  Basketnews.lt has confirmed Kleiza will sign a two-year deal with Fenerbahce Ulker in Turkey for 1.6 million Euros per season.  The good news for Toronto is they could have some rights to offset a portion of the $4.6 million they will be paying the Lithuanian star this season under the provisions of his amnesty waiver agreement.

The Raptors announced they have reached a buyout agreement with Marcus Camby.  Camby was acquired in the trade with the Knicks for Andrea Bargnani and was never expected to report to Toronto.  As part of the agreement, Camby has agreed to reduce the guaranteed portion of his contract by approximately $2 million thus freeing up about $1.4 million of addition space beneath the luxury tax line for the Raptors this season.

Raptors Sign Pacers Free Agent Point Guard D.J. Augustin

When Toronto didn’t pick up the team option on backup point guard John Lucas, the position immediately became the Raptors biggest off season need.  With only one point guard on the roster and a long history of struggling through injuries to point guards, a solid backup that could start if necessary had to be found.  Raptors President and General Manager, Basketball Operations Masai Ujiri didn’t waste any time creating a list of prospects and the Pacers free agent point guard D.J. Augustin was on it.

Augustin started his last two seasons in Charlotte and averaged 13.2 points and 6.2 assists, but that was when Head Coach Larry Brown left and was replaced by Paul Silas and the Bobcats were sent into full-blown tank mode.  Even with apparently acceptable numbers, it is a hard period of time to evaluate a player in.  Everything changed for Augustin when he signed as a free agent with the Pacers last season.  He went from a seven-win team to a legitimate Eastern Conference Finals contender.  However, that doesn’t mean the change was easy or went smoothly.  Augustin struggled at times, but by his own admission, it was still better than being in Charlotte.

If Augustin works hard and accepts the role he wins in training camp and throughout the season, he could be the Raptors sometimes starter, sometimes backup and all-the-time competitor to rookie Dwight Buycks.

Raptors Pickup Free Agent Austin Daye

Austin Daye was the 6”11” small forward that the Pistons drafted 15th overall in 2009 who reminded people of Tayshaun Prince, but he never quite lived up to expectations.  His sophomore campaign with the Pistons showed promise as Daye played over 20 minutes per game and hit on over 40 percent of his three-point attempts.  He even rebounded at a reasonable rate and grabbed half a steal and swatted half a block, but that was as good as it got for Daye.  When the Pistons traded him to the Grizzlies last season, he was hitting three-pointers at a 54.5 percent clip, but his days were clearly numbered in Detroit and the Grizzlies did not make him a qualifying offer.

Still just 25-years-old, Daye is highly skilled, but probably best suited as a project player to try and develop on the back end of a roster.  Raptors President and General Manager, Basketball Operations Masai Ujiri has mentioned several times he likes building with young players and he would like to add more shooting.  Daye qualifies on both counts.

The long lanky Daye plays more like a wing than a forward and that could be bad news for the Raptors Terrence Ross.  If Daye comes ready to play, he could take whatever minutes the Raptors were thinking about giving to Ross and not give them back.

What will the Raptors Offense and Defense Look Like Next Season

No one is going to mistake Raptors Head Coach Dwane Casey as an offensive-minded coach.  He is at his best and happiest preaching defense, but even Casey acknowledges his team has to score some points to win games.  Heading into training camp this time Casey is going to put the emphasis back on defense and his offense will look a lot like last seasons, except where it will look very different indeed.

Jonas Valanciunas will be used to flatten out defenses by sending the ball inside and forcing defenses to decide between single coverage in the paint on a very mobile seven-footer with good hands and feet or sending a double-team and opening up passing opportunities to the Raptors cutters and jump shooters.  However, when this season starts Valanciunas will only be 21-years-old and it isn’t realistic to solely put these kinds of burdens on a player in his second NBA season.  Where the future belongs to Valanciunas, the present belongs to Rudy Gay.  Gay had to insert himself into Casey’s schemes mid-season last year.  This time, the offense will be built with Gay in mind.

Casey believes teams win with defense and sites how the best defensive teams are the ones most often seen deep in the playoffs.  It makes sense from a Raptors standpoint.  Toronto has never been a big free agent destination for the league’s elite offensive talent, but strong defensive clubs like Indiana can make noise in the playoffs with limited offensive punch and that is the model Casey is trying to emulate.  This version of the Toronto Raptors will play defense more like the team Casey coached during his first season in Toronto.  They will just have a lot more talent at their disposal and, thanks to Ujiri, are built better for task.