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.


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

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.

It’s Ova! Unknown Aussie Dellavedova Breaks Out in NBA Finals

Matthew Dellavedova

If you don’t know who Matthew Dellavedova is you’re not alone. The undrafted, unknown 24-year-old Australian Cleveland Cavaliers guard could very well still have been in the Southern Hemisphere prior to the 2015 NBA postseason for all I knew. When you’re backing up one of league’s top three point guards in Kyrie Irving, you’re not going to get much of the spotlight – or minutes. Well, that’s all changed after Irving suffered a season-ending left kneecap fracture, sidelining him for the next 3 – 4 months.

Cue Crocodile Dunkdee. It’s not the most accurate nickname considering that I haven’t seen him dunk, but it’s the best basketball/Australian joke I can make at the moment. I’d also like to take this opportunity to discuss another Australian in the finals, the Golden State Warriors’ starting centre, Andrew Bogut. I would compare his play and intensity in the NBA Finals to that of the lovable koala; he’s slow, looks half asleep out there, and is mistakenly referred to as a bear.

David Lee

If Bogut is to have any use in this series, he must defend the paint and attempt to stop Lebron James from attacking the rim, something he did at will in Game 3. Personally, I believe the Warriors’ David Lee should be given the benefit of a doubt and be inserted into the lineup. Yes, he’s undersized at the centre position (he plays the forward position as well) but he’s a good player that’s been buried at the end of a talented bench all season long. He made his first Finals appearance in Game 3 and played reasonably well. Tonight is Game 4 and the Warriors are down two games to one, and the sand is slipping through the neck of the NBA Finals hourglass – it’s time to try something new.

Dellavedova or ‘Delly’ to the 20,000 roaring Cleveland fans chanting his name during Game 3 is gaining popularity (and notoriety) for his gritty all-in hustle/borderline dirty style of play. He’s been doing it throughout the playoffs in a backup role, but now with the departure of Irving, he must continue to play his all-or-nothing style. Championship runs always seem to have a moment like this, an underdog Cinderella. The interesting part is that this particular Cinderella is already matched with the well-established King of the hardwood in Lebron James. This combination has all the momentum in the world at the moment, and if you couple that with another gritty hustle player in Brampton, Ontario’s Tristan Thompson, the Cavaliers certainly have the advantage in that category.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t note that Stephen Curry put up a bunch of points in a hurry in the 4th quarter of Game 3. The Warriors were down 20 and quickly cut that lead to 1 before eventually dropping the game. In tonight’s Game 4 showdown look for the Warriors to come out shooting – and hitting – while also trying to keep Lebron out of the paint; look for the Cavaliers to continue doing exactly what they are… hustling.

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

Warriors – not Cavs – must play with urgency in Game 2 of NBA Finals

Photography by Geoff Koehler

With the devastating news of Cleveland Cavaliers’ starting point guard and three-time NBA All-Star Kyrie Irving’s season-ending injury, the logical assumption would be that the Cavs would be the team needing to play with a sense of urgency.

To me, this is not the case. The Golden State Warriors have a window that is wide open and they must do what is necessary to become a champion. Now is the time to show up at Oracle Arena ready to play some ball. The Warriors cannot come into Game 2 with any sort of relaxed mindset. The Cavs, who were already injured, now have a gushing wound to tend to – and are vulnerable.

I want to see two-time NBA All-Star and reigning league MVP Stephen Curry and his backcourt partner, first-time NBA All-Star Klay Thompson, come onto the court and play to the best of their abilities. Nothing is guaranteed in sports, especially on such a high profile stage. The Warriors had a slight advantage coming into The Finals, but now they’ve been given a boost.

Unfortunately the boost came at the expense of Kyrie Irving’s first trip to the NBA Finals. This year’s postseason has been riddled with injuries, so it doesn’t even come as much of a surprise that this will be part of the NBA Finals storyline.

Photography by Geoff Koehler

Lebron James, on his ridiculous fifth straight appearance in an NBA Final, put up 44 points, 8 rebounds and 4 assists in a Game 1 loss – with 23 points, 7 rebounds and 6 assists from Kyrie Irving. If you’re the Warriors, you give Lebron his 40, 50, hell, 60 points a game and you put the clamps on the other four players on the court. One man, even the best player in the world, cannot beat a team on his own. It’s even harder when it’s against a team that plays great basketball and has incredible talent.

Now is the time for the Warriors to come out of the corner swinging, looking for that knockout punch.

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