Raptors & Pacers Round One Review

I’d like to preface everything by saying that this isn’t intended to be any sort of in-depth analysis of the first two games of the Raptors’ first round playoff matchup against the Indiana Pacers. This is more or less my meandering thoughts of what I’ve seen in the past two games, and what I would like to going into game 3.

In the below video I’ll touch on DeMar DeRozan’s struggles, Jonas Valančiūnas’ superb play, and what the Raptors can do to stop Paul George and the rest of the Pacers.

Kobe & Curry: A Historical Night in the NBA

It’ll be quite some time – if ever – that the basketball gods look so kindly upon us fans and bless us again with an evening of that magnitude. Wednesday night was a tale of two games and two basketball moments in time that will live on in the memories of basketball fans for years to come.

One game was between the defending world champions, the Golden State Warriors, and the sixth-seeded Memphis Grizzlies. Both playoff bound teams with the Warriors entering the game on the verge of breaking a record that was once thought to be unbreakable. Wednesday night the Warriors surpassed the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls for the best regular season record in NBA history. The Bulls’ record of 72-10 dropped to second best as the Warriors finished the regular season 73-9. Just think about that for a moment, 73 wins in 82 games. I’m no math major, but those numbers read well.

The other game, well, it had the second-worst team in the NBA, the Los Angles Lakers, and another non-playoff team, the Utah Jazz. But that game had Kobe Bryant. That game was the last time that we saw the Mamba in that iconic purple and gold. The 37-year-old Bryant was not just given the green light to shoot by his coaching staff, his teammates demanded it as they fed him the ball all night long, and Kobe did not disappoint. He finished the game with 60 points on 22 of 50 shooting, which is a lot of shoots, true, but his shooting percentage was a respectable 44%. He left it all out there on the court, pouring in points to end the fourth quarter and score the go-ahead basket to win the game. Classic Kobe.

Laker legend Magic Johnson addressed the crowd at the start of the game at the Staples Centre in downtown Los Angeles and introduced a Kobe Bryant tribute video. The video included testimonials from current and former NBA players, coaches and celebrities – shout out to Lakers season seat holder (since 1972) Jack Nicholson.

The significance of Kobe’s tribute in his last professional game is so monumental that it delayed the start of the Warriors-Grizzlies game. That’s right, the team 48 minutes away from owning the best regular season record in NBA history waited for Kobe.

It truly was a special moment to flip back and forth between both games, and I’d like to thank PVR for letting me catch every minute of each game. Kobe’s farewell is bittersweet. The game lost one of its all-time best players, and although his body broke down over time and took away the Kobe of years past, the fact that he’s officially gone is hard to believe. But wow, what a way to go out. And talk about a fitting end to a storied career.

And while one moment was bittersweet, the other was just plain sweet. The Warriors blew out the Grizzlies as Stephen Curry finished the game with 46 points, including 10 three-pointers. He finished the season with 403, smashing his previous NBA record of 286. 403! If there’s a level that’s above ridiculous, that’s the level that Stephen Curry is playing at. To watch him shoot the ball the way he is shooting it is poetry in motion. I’ve never before looked at a player’s shoot in the air and know that it’s going in; especially from the ranges that Curry has proven he’s capable of hitting it from.

The scary part is that Curry has a long career ahead of him. Who knows what he’s capable of doing next. What happened during that historic night of NBA basketball is a perfect way for the game to grow and expand its touch even further. It was a passing of the torch of sorts; one player from one generation exits stage right, while a new player of the next generation steps to centre stage. If you know anything about Kobe and Curry, you’ll know that although they span different generations, they have so much in common. They share the competitive spirit, relentless work ethic, and view basketball as their religion.

Mamba out. Curry in.

Curry

David Lee’s Fire on the Court started with a Fire in His Belly

The Golden State Warriors became the 2015 NBA Champions with last-minute adjustments made by head coach Steve Kerr. Among those adjustments was the insertion of David Lee into the player rotation. David Lee had a starting role until he was sideline due to an injury. His replacement, Draymond Green, excelled in the position and never relinquished his role as a starter. For the remainder of his tenure with the Warriors, Lee was stuck at the end of a deep Golden State bench.

This all changed mid-way through the NBA Finals when the Cleveland Cavaliers took a two games to one lead. Changes needed to be made after it was clear that starting center Andrew Bogut was ineffective both offensively and defensively against the Cavs. Cue David Lee.

David Lee
David Lee

I’ve always liked David Lee and thought of him as one of the most underrated players in the NBA. He was a double-double machine with the New York Knicks who shipped him off to the Golden State Warriors in 2010.

This off-season Lee was traded to the Boston Celtics. You may wonder why the team that needed him in the NBA Finals would trade a key role player, but the reasoning is two-fold and very fair. The Warriors already have David Lee’s replacement in Draymond Green and look to continue going small to run with other players. David Lee gets to go to a Boston team that needs a player of his caliber. Lee will instantly be inserted into the starting lineup and his veteran experience will help mentor a young Celtics team.

The note reads: Thank you all for your dedication and hard work over the past five seasons. It has been a tremendous honor to work for such a first-class organization. – David Lee
The note reads: Thank you all for your dedication and hard work over the past five seasons. It has been a tremendous honor to work for such a first-class organization. – David Lee

David Lee isn’t just a good basketball player, he’s just a good guy overall. After spending five seasons with the Warriors, Lee thanked the team’s staff after his departure with a free catered lunch brought in by Chipotle Mexican Grill. Golden State Warriors social media coordinator Julie Phayer (@juliephayer) tweeted out the surprise for all to see.

And this isn’t the first time that Lee’s done something like this. In her first week on the job in 2012, Julie recalls Lee also ordering free catered lunch for Warriors staff. What was for lunch? Well, burritos from Chipotle Mexican Grill, of course.

Screen Shot 2558-08-05 at 12.27.51 PM

Does David Lee have a Chipotle obsession? Can he been seen often burrito-in-hand? We may never know the answers to this, but this much is clear, David Lee likes burritos and likes to thank people for their hard work. Cheers to you, David Lee, and all the best in Boston.

Drake, DeRozan and Durant: Three is the Magic Number

For two straight years Drake’s annual OVO Fest has garnered a lot of attention from basketball fans. Last year the Toronto Raptors official Global Ambassador was fined $25,000 by the NBA League Office for ‘tampering’ when he gave a shout out to NBA All-Star Kevin Durant in attendance. Durant will be an restricted free agent in the summer of 2016.

At first, this may seem like an innocent gesture by a performer acknowledging a celebrity at the show, but whether people like it or not, Drake as the Raps Global Ambassador is basically a card-carrying employee of Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment (MLSE). He’s no longer just Drake the Rapper, he’s Drake the Raptor.

Demar DeRozan (L) and Kevin Durant look on during Drake's OVO Fest in Toronto
Demar DeRozan (L) and Kevin Durant look on during Drake’s OVO Fest in Toronto

Well, it looks like the usual suspects were seen together once again. Kevin Durant attended this year’s OVO Fest to watch Drake in concert. What makes Raptors fan salivate over this sighting is the fact that Durant was watching the show with none other than Raptors guard Demar DeRozan. And Durant was sporting a Toronto Blue Jays jersey.

The Raptors landing Durant in the 2016 is seemingly a long shot. The Raptors certainly don’t have a proven track record of attracting big time free agents, any All-Star the Raps have had on its roster was added to the team via the NBA Draft, with the exception of Kyle Lowry who re-signed as a free agent after being traded to Toronto.

With Toronto hosting the 2016 NBA All-Star Game, Drake with a Raps logo on his sleeve and hopefully a successful re-vamped Raptors team, Toronto may well be putting itself at least in the Durant conversation. Many believe he’ll return to his hometown of Washington, D.C. to play alongside John Wall and Bradley Beal. Wherever Durant ends up, I don’t see him re-signing with the Oklahoma Thunder.

But ever the optimist, I’ll gladly speculate over these sightings, and may the Basketball Gods look kindly on the Raptors in 2016.

Plus, Durant said himself he idealized Vince Carter and wanted to play for the Raptors as a kid.

Here’s what a $25,000 fine looks like:

 *All image credits can be found on the References & Resources page.

Raptors Unveil New Uniforms in Style

The Raptors have been re-branding for a while now. The #WeTheNorth campaign was launched ahead of schedule after a mid-season trade in the 2013-14 season propelled the Raptors into the post-season for the first time since the 2007-08 season.

The introduction of Toronto rapper Drake as the teams official Global Ambassador in 2013 helped the team’s image worldwide, because let’s be perfectly honest here, Drake’s doing a hell of lot more for the Raptors than the Raptors are doing for Drake. You’re welcome Toronto.

Last year was the Raptors 25th Anniversary and as such they had number of ‘throwback nights’ with the Raps playing in those infamous purple dinosaur uniforms.

Drake at the OVO Fest wearing new Raptors uniform
Drake at the OVO Fest wearing new Raptors uniform

Well, the re-branding continues and the Raptors had the most unique uniform unveiling of any NBA team this summer. Drake came out on stage at his annual OVO Fest in Toronto sporting the new alternate black Raptors jersey. He was wearing a Cory Joseph jersey. As all Toronto fans are aware, Joseph is a native of the area and signed as a free agent with this hometown team this summer. Joseph will wear number 6 next season as Drake is known to refer to Toronto as ‘The 6’ in reference to the local area code.

The Raptors new uniforms themselves seem fine to me. They have a simple, clean look to them, unlike the new Atlanta Hawks uniforms that look like some weird European soccer outfit (minus the sleeves).

Even if you hate the uniforms, you have to admit that they certainly have made the biggest splash this summer, all with the help of the team’s Global Ambassador.

P.S. – The Milwaukee Bucks win the first place prize for the best new uniforms this off-season.

*All image credits can be found on the References & Resources page.

Raptors Appease Coach Casey with Blue Collar Crew

CaseyPic
Dwane Casey

It’s no secret that Toronto Raptors head coach Dwane Casey is a defensive-minded coach. The old adage Offense wins games, defense wins championships applies directly to Casey considering he has a 2011 NBA Championship ring for his work with the Dallas Mavericks as a defensive assistant coach. Casey was hired in the summer following the 2011 championship by the Toronto Raptors. He’s had the head coach position in the organization ever since.

I’m not a fan of Casey. I’ll come out and say it. However, I’m very curious to see how he and the players perform next season after all the offseason moves made by Raptors General Manager Masai Ujiri. The Raps GM went out and signed defensive centre Bismack Biyombo, gritty forward DeMarre Carroll, veteran forward Luis Scola and Canadian guard Cory Joseph. With the exception of Scola, all of the aforementioned are known for being good defenders.

Casey has been preaching defense ever since he got to Toronto, something I do support. My biggest issue with Casey is his lack of good offensive judgment. I’ve seen a lot of questionable play calls by Casey on that end of the court. To a further extend, I’ve noticed a lot of questionable substitutions throughout the season by Casey. There’s no doubt that a team with hustling players clamping down on defense is a good thing, but the biggest thing to watch for next season with the Raptors is how well they do offensively. With the departure of shooting guard Lou Williams, you’ll see less isolation offense, but that just means that other players might play more ISO themselves.

If the Raptors don’t produce this season, Coach Casey is going to be short on excuses. This current roster was designed for him and his defensive tendencies. I’m very critical of Casey on the offensive side of the floor. In theory, Casey should be able to concentrate more on the offensive side of his coaching this season considering that the Raptors brought in natural defenders that won’t necessarily need buy-in on the defensive end.

Management has done what it needs to do to set Casey up with a team to his liking, all while being financially savvy so that the Raptors can be in play in big free agency summers of 2016 and 2017. This is the direction of the organization now, and Casey will have an entire season to fine-tune his offensive coaching. It’ll be interesting to see if Casey can translate his defensive success to the other end of the hardwood.

*All image credits can be found on the References & Resources page.

The DeAndre Debacle: May the Bridges he Burns Light the Way…

In this summer’s NBA free agency, there were only two players that warranted considerable media attention. The signing of LaMarcus Aldridge to the San Antonio Spurs after leaving the Portland Trail Blazers went exactly as predicted. Aldridge returns to his home state of Texas and will play beside — and eventually replace — future Hall of Famer Tim Duncan and keep that San Antonio dynasty rolling. With the Spurs re-signing 2014 NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard and two-time NBA All-Star Manu Ginobili, and the free agency signing of David West from the Indiana Pacers, things look awfully good in Texas right now. The Spurs organization gets an A+ for landing LaMarcus Aldridge, retaining talent and adding new pieces to its team.

While things look more than promising in San Antonio, you could still say that something is rotten in the state of Texas. A ridiculous amount of drama went down in Houston, the hometown of our next player. Seriously, I’ve never seen anything like it before.

DeAndre Jordan
DeAndre Jordan

The Los Angeles ClippersDeAndre Jordan was the second-best big man available in this summer’s NBA free agency. It is well known that Jordan did not get along with Clippers teammates last season, point guard Chris Paul specifically. He was pursued by many teams but verbally agreed to a four-year $81 million deal with the Dallas Mavericks on July 3. But guess what? Jordan will return to LA next season, and for three more after that. Players can make verbal agreements with teams starting on July 1, the first day of free agency, and can officially sign on July 9 after the free agency moratorium is over.

In between verbally committing to Dallas and eventually re-signing with Los Angeles, there was a flurry of twitter emojis and one massive change of heart. Jordan ended up going back on his word with Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, a move that left Mark Cuban reportedly driving around Jordan’s hometown of Houston looking for him on the eve of the moratorium deadline.

Jordan is within his rights to rethink his decision before signing anything, which is the whole point of having a moratorium period. However, it rarely ever happens. So rare that this indecision sent shock waves through the league and sent Mark Cuban’s blood to boiling temperatures. DeAndre Jordan picked the better team at the end of the day. That rejection is something that Cuban and his organization are going to have to get over.

Jordan is public enemy #1 in Dallas, and a hero in LA. Such is the life of a professional athlete. Look for the NBA Front Office to capitalize on this new rivalry with a carefully scheduled Dallas Mavericks and Los Angeles Clippers match up early on in the season, possibly an opening night tip-off.

*All image credits can be found on the References & Resources page.

Big Money Murray

Well, the 2015 Pan Am Games has come to an end. A lot of different Canadian storylines arose during these games, two of them being on the hardwood. The Canadian Men’s and Women’s National Teams both succeeded in setting program records at the Pan American Games. The women, mentioned in a previous post, won the gold medal in dramatic fashion against the United States. This is the first gold Canada has captured in women’s basketball at the Pan Am Games.

The Men’s team looked to follow the footsteps of the women after defeating rival USA in a thrilling overtime – err, extra time (ET) as per international rules — semi-final game which saw The Jamal Show, starring Jamal Murray. Unfortunately for the host country, a disciplined and skilled Brazilian team got out to an early lead in the gold medal game and, aside from a brief moment in the 4th quarter when the Canadians cut the lead down to as little as 6, never looked back.

I talked about my views of the Pan Am Games previously, and why it was a perfect scenario for 18-year-old Jamal Murray and 2013 Number #1 overall NBA draft pick and current Minnesota Timberwolves forward Anthony Bennett to step up to the plate and play some impressive basketball. Murray had lots of attention on him at the Pan Ams because he’s a young, promising prospect about to play for one of the best basketball programs in the United States. Bennett equally had the eye of many as he looked to prove that his slump to start his NBA career is just that. Both were given an opportunity to demonstrate their game and both rose to the occasion.


The part I liked best was watching Bennett and Murray on the floor together and seeing the confidence that young Murray played with. Here he is on the floor with a 2-year pro in the NBA in Bennett, and he’s out there playing like he’s the best player on the court. Between handing out assists and hitting big time shots, Murray impressed with great performances and has the charisma to electrify the crowd. There’s a certain swagger to his game that Canada hasn’t seen in a basketball player.

Throughout the competition Murray averaged 16 points, 3.2 rebounds and 2.4 assists. Teammate Anthony Bennett averaged 15.6 points and 10.4 rebounds, a solid double-double average at any level of basketball.

Next year Jamal Murray will have international attention as he plays for John Calipari’s Kentucky Wildcats. With his stellar play at the Pan Am Games, Murray has more than proved he’s more than ready to step into the limelight. Keep your eyes on Kentucky for something special.

*All image credits can be found on the References & Resources page.

Pan Am Basketball is here – NBA players are not

The 2015 Pan American Games is on the final straightaway heading towards the finish line. This means that a lot of events have wrapped up and others are just about to begin. This includes the finale of women’s basketball and the start of the men’s event.

First off, let’s talk about the Canadian Women’s National Team and its historical gold medal performance against Team USA. The women’s team started the tournament throwing haymakers as they beat Venezuela – not exactly known for its basketball program – in a 101-38 thrashing. Yes, 101 points to 38 points. After sharpening a stick on both ends and driving it into the sand with Venezuela’s head on it, Canada came out strong against the rest of the field and secured a gold medal match up against our biggest rival, the United States. After a poor first quarter, Canada fought its way back to tie the game going into halftime. Canada led the rest of the game and survived a late push by the Americans in the dying seconds of the game. A remarkable storyline here is the 33 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals and 1 block that 19-year-old Kia Nurse etched in the box score. Nurse showed incredible poise and maturity for someone so young, and will continue her success when she returns to her collegiate hoops home at the University of Connecticut this fall. A great performance for Team Canada and tremendous accomplishment for the Women’s National Team and Canada Basketball! Check out an interview with Kia Nurse in the video below:

Now, let’s preview the men’s event here in Toronto. To be frank, basketball in this year’s Pan Am Games is more so for player development than anything else. This tournament does not count as an Olympic qualifying tournament; that distinction goes to the FIBA Americas Championship in Mexico, Aug. 31 – Sept. 12. And with the NBA Summer League having just ended on Monday, July 20, a number of Canada’s NBA players have not been named to the Canadian roster for the Pan Am Games. But here’s the thing, other countries competing have done something similar. Just have a look at the United States’ Pan Am basketball roster. There’s one insignificant NBA player in Ryan Hollins, and you’ll notice the rest of the roster is made up of collegiate players (prospects) and a handful of guys playing over in Russia. If Canada sent their ‘B’ team to the Pan Ams, Team USA sent their ‘C’ team.

This goes back to my point about the Pan Am basketball tournament being about player development more than program success. Of course each team and player wants to represent their country and play for some hardware, no doubt about that, but let’s be honest here, these games are about the young guys getting some minutes that they won’t see in Mexico.

Anthony Bennett

With regards to the Canadian Men’s National Team in this tournament, there are two players to keep an eye on. The first is Minnesota Timberwolves forward Anthony Bennett. He’s one of two Canadian NBA players on the Pan Am roster (three if you include Sim Bhullar and the three NBA games he played). Bennett’s professional career has been a tale of woe and hard luck since draft night. He should never have been selected #1 overall by the Cleveland Cavaliers. And when the NBA season rolled around, Bennett had to play with the expectations of a #1 pick, something he was truly never meant to be. That has to be hard on Bennett’s mental game. With a new location in Minnesota – and having all eyes on Canadian teammate Andrew Wiggins – Bennett will hopefully ease into his game and figure things out for himself. The Pan Am Games is a great opportunity for Bennett to demand the ball and put in some work. He’ll be part of the team again for the FIBA championship in Mexico, and it’s my belief that if he plays well throughout both tournaments he’ll enter the NBA training camp and pre-season with some much-needed confidence. I can see Bennett finally having his breakthrough NBA season next year if he can build some momentum now.

The other guy I’m interested in watching is Jamal Murray. Next year he’ll suit up for the University of Kentucky, an NCAA basketball powerhouse renowned for its one-and-done players who leap to the NBA once eligible. Barring any extreme injuries or failures next year at Kentucky, expect Murray to be selected in the first round of the 2016 NBA Draft. Again, considering this tournament is for the young guys, I look forward seeing him play and getting a sneak peak of what we’ll see in Kentucky and eventually the NBA.

This tournament will be a lead up to the FIBA championship in Mexico, which offers a potential birth to the 2016 Olympics in Rio De Janeiro. The men’s team has not qualified for the Olympics since Sydney, Australia in 2000.

Last night Canada opened up with a 105-88 win over the Dominican Republic. This was an expected win and one of many expected wins for Canada in this tournament. You can expect Canada to be playing for gold in the championship game, and likely following the footsteps of the Canadian Women’s team and winning it all.

So there you have it, a quick rant about basketball at the Pan American Games. Although the celebrity factor of NBA players is sorely missing, it is a great way to watch the new kids on the block.

*All image credits can be found on the References & Resources page.

Started from the bottom, now we here — 2015 NBA Draft

When I think of tonight’s 2015 NBA Draft, all I can think of is Drake. Let’s completely forget that Drake is the Toronto Raptors’ Global Ambassador. I’m talking about that classic Started from the bottom anthem. I feel all of tonight’s draftees can relate to that track, well, to a certain degree.

By simply calling out their name during the draft, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver will turn a select few from being unpaid student athletes/student employees to professional basketball players in the world’s best basketball league, and finally earning money they deserve. That truly is starting from the bottom and ending up at the upper echelon.

National Collegiate Athletic Association
National Collegiate Athletic Association

You might note that I referred to the draftees, or more specifically those who are coming out of college, as student employees. This could not be truer. The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) is multi-million dollar, well-oiled machine. It’s actually closer to a billion dollar industry citing its 2014 fiscal year revenue estimated at a whooping $989 million. That’s a lot of capital for not-for-profit organization.

The NBA Draft is a high energy affair with lots of young guys with high hopes. This year’s draft doesn’t have the dramatic Andrew Wiggins – Jabari Parker debate of who goes No.1 overall and who goes No.2, but there are enough pieces involved to make it interesting.

DeMarcus Cousins

I’m really curious to see what the Los Angeles Lakers do with its No.2 overall pick. Rumours have been swirling all week that it may be traded away for current Sacramento Kings Center DeMarcus Cousins. A move like that would dramatically change the current dismal LA situation. With an aging Kobe Bryant in the twilight of his career and the need for the Lakers to take advantage of whatever is left in his tank, the beast of Cousins would certainly have an immediate impact unlike a draft prospect. It’ll be interesting to see, and I like to be entertained, so I’m leaning towards Cousins in a Lakers uniform next season.

Looking for a dark horse? Have a look at Latvia’s Kristaps Porzingis; a 7-foot-1 big man of mystery, much like other draftees from Europe. It all depends on if teams feel like gambling or picking a player they’ve seen countless times in the NCAA. The one-and-done players coming out of college and turning Pro tonight will set the stage for another exhilarating season of NBA basketball.

*All image credits can be found on the References & Resources page.