Remember this guy? Meet the original face of the Toronto Raptors | CBC News
In fact, one of the executives from the team took his information and a few weeks later called him out of the blue.

"He had asked if I wanted to take a few pictures for the Toronto Raptors," said Guria, who's now 41 and works as a nurse in Tampa, Fla.

In fact, Raptors management wanted Guria to be one of the first to wear the National Basketball Association expansion team's new uniform and pose for promotional pictures. According to Guria, it was at that photo shoot that he met another young Canadian basketball player who was just about to embark on an impressive pro career.

"Steve Nash was also there," Guria said. "I think he was getting ready to enter the NBA draft so it was known that they weren't going to use any of his images."

Guria was never paid for the photo shoot, which lasted a few hours, but the Raptors did give him a parting gift, which he was happy to accept as payment.

"They gave me a pair of basketball shoes," he said.

Not long after his day with the Raptors, Guria moved to Boston to go to college. He had all but forgotten about the photo shoot, when his phone started ringing.

"Friends and family called me up and said, 'You know, this picture is on subways, on TTC, you know, on buildings,'" he said.

Guria was suddenly the face of Toronto's brand new basketball team.

"For those few months, it was the team's marketing campaign," said Dave Haggith, who worked in communications for the Raptors at the time. Haggith is now the senior director of communications for Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, the company that now owns both the Raptors and the Toronto Maple Leafs. 

"The Raptors were really a logo and a season tickets sales brochure. We didn't have players yet at that time," Haggith said.
3 hours ago
This Is the Toronto Raptors' Best Chance to Make the NBA Finals - VICE Sports
Take those 2016-17 playoff Spurs for example. The Popovich factor is undeniable, but LaMarcus Aldridge was transitioning from unhappy camper to 'OK, let's try and make this work,' every Ginobili moment felt like it may have been the last, and Jonathan Simmons played out of his skin. Yet, there they were, having convincingly handled both the Memphis Grizzlies and Houston Rockets and having lost Parker to injury, holding a 20-point lead at halftime in Oracle Arena against the Golden State Warriors. We'll never know what could have been courtesy of that Zaza Pachulia closeout, but you figure, at worst, they go on to win that game and probably take at least one on their home floor.

If that was the hypothetical ceiling of those Spurs—an extended series against a 73-win team that added Durant—it's hard not to view these Raptors envisioning much less. The main factor stepping in that way would be Leonard looking more like a top ten player than what he was that season. Such are the margins.

Kyle Lowry is a very capable Robin, Jonas Valanciunas has evolved to remain not just relevant but someone who can make an impact, and Serge Ibaka will look to bounce back with what's expected to be more minutes at center, the position he's likely best suited for in a land of athletic guards and wings. Green is the constant. Then, there is the Bench Mob, a unit whose youth stands to improve individually and thereby enhance the whole that was far greater than the sum of its parts a season ago.

No talk of the Raptors' limits is complete without OG Anunoby, the under-the-radar rookie who fell to 23rd overall in the 2017 draft and has already shown signs on offense in both summer league and preseason that he's more capable off the dribble and can give the team more than the 37.1 percent three-point shooting and occasional cuts to the basket he provided last season. His defense is already a tremendous asset and only stands to improve alongside the current crop of wings.

The biggest wild card of all is Nurse. He has plenty of experience as the lead man on the coaching staff at both the G League and British Basketball League level, and the reviews from those opportunities have been glowing.
3 hours ago
Kawhi Leonard, Still a Spur at Heart | GQ
What makes Leonard’s fresh start in Toronto so fascinating is that we’ve never seen a Spur of this caliber, one so central to that mythos and so steeped in that franchise culture, go elsewhere. Will he spread the gospel? Or will he be forced to compromise? Do the Raptors end up more like the Spurs—a scary prospect for an already very good team—or does Leonard further open up his game and maybe, in the process, expand his consciousness? The reality of the situation is likely to be some combination of the two. But while over the summer this dynamic might have been read as conflict or tension, after The Laugh we know that Leonard is on top of it and ready to, for the first time in his career, really own his situation. Instead of relying on his franchise to furnish meaning that aligns with his view of the world, he’s got to take control, define himself and find new ways to get into his peculiar form of rhythm that is no rhythm at all. And there’s every reason to believe that Leonard can pull this off without getting frustrated or confused because, after all, he’s still a Spur at heart, and Spurs don’t do frustration or confusion.

It’s unfortunate that, at least for the foreseeable future, DeMar DeRozan—whose breakup with a franchise and city he loved is a feel-bad story if there ever was one—will play in Leonard’s shadow. He’s a top-flight NBA player, maybe even a legit franchise player. He’s got a temperament and work ethic that make him a great fit for San Antonio. But he’s not Kawhi Leonard. Leonard isn’t just better. Like Duncan before him, he anchored the Spurs by so thoroughly embodying their philosophy. Leonard looked to the Spurs for direction; in a host of indirect ways, he was a leader who assumed the same role with his teammates.

Odds are that DeRozan will fit in just fine and become a model Spur. That’s very different from Leonard, who created that template for others and set an example for all other Spurs to follow. If there’s any lingering sadness around this trade, it’s in our knowing that, even if DeRozan gets a fair shake, he may forever come up lacking. And while no one will ever hold this against him, with him in Leonard’s the league will be that much less stable and the world will, for the time being, never quite make sense.
4 hours ago
Malcolm Miller lets positivity guide him through difficult summer, return to Raptors – The Athletic [subscription]
Given the relationship with Nurse, the momentum he’d established with a strong rookie season, and his proximity to a full-time NBA contract, Miller could be forgiven if the situation got him down some. A serious injury on the precipice of getting a more firm hold on his dream would take a toll on most. Miller didn’t allow himself that type of reflection long, instead trying to turn the page as quickly as possible.

“I try to be as positive as possible but I’m human at the same time,” he said. “I realize exactly how close I was to achieving that goal and that dream, but you know, it just so happened to be prolonged a little bit. When I stopped focusing on what did happen and what I can make happen, that’s when I kind of changed my mindset. I was down a little bit, but you’ve got to move on to the next step. Everything’s got to be progressive.

“I’m beyond what could have happened. I’m on to focusing on getting back to that status.”

That initial work and positive attitude was rewarded last week when the Raptors signed Miller to an Exhibit 10 contract and then immediately waived him. The move was largely procedural, a way for the Raptors to secure his G League rights and allow him to rehab with Raptors 905 while receiving a $50,000 bonus to supplement his $35,000 G League salary. It is not the NBA contract he was close to signing by any stretch, but it’s something, considering he spent his entire free agency injured and isn’t expected back on the court in full until January.

The path for Miller is fairly straightforward from here, although how and when he’ll get back to where he was headed is unclear. A summer working out at home in Maryland with family nearby as a support system has allowed him to continue progressing even despite the injury. He’s spent the time without use of his right arm working on his left hand, which should help his overall game when he’s back, and he’s progressed as far as shooting and lifting weights, the former of which is a helpful mental hurdle to clear as rehab workouts grow repetitive. The next step will be a contact.
14 hours ago
10 Toronto Raptors predictions and prop bets for 2018-19 - Raptors HQ
6. Coach Nick Nurse uses less than 12 different starting lineup combinations during the season.
Last season, set-in-his-ways coach Dwane Casey used 12 different starting lineups for the Raptors. Most of this was due to injury/rest, but it represents a good baseline for the team moving forward. As of press time, we still have no idea just how creative Nurse plans on getting with his Raptors’ lineups. Does he start Serge Ibaka and Jonas Valanciunas together or bring one of them off the bench? Where does OG Anunoby fit? Is Danny Green a lock? Has Pascal Siakam improved enough to deserve some starter consideration? It’s (possibly) all still up in the air, or to be dictated wholly by match-ups.

Nevertheless, I feel like these other considerations are merely academic exercises. The logical starting lineup for the Raptors is Lowry with Green, OG, Kawhi and either Jonas or Serge, and that’s it. All the talk of creativity is fine and dandy, but you still want to play the good players together at the start of games (and keep the effective bench unit as whole as possible).

As such, my gut says we actually see fewer different starting lineups for the Raptors this year. Huzzah.
14 hours ago
Podcast: Locked on Raptors #396 - Chris Boucher signs & Listener Questions - Raptors HQ
In Episode 396 of Locked on Raptors, Sean Woodley goes solo to discuss Chris Boucher earning the second two-way deal ahead of Deng Adel and Eric Moreland. He then takes a few listener questions to wrap up the preseason.

Please subscribe to, rate and review the podcast on iTunes! And if you’re feeling really generous, consider contributing to Sean’s Patreon page for access to a bunch of premium content.
14 hours ago
SIMMONS: How the deal was done: — the Raptors’ long road to acquire Kawhi Leonard | Toronto Sun
Webster will steer you on the road to the deal, just not into many specific areas.

“You may have to talk to Bell (phone company) to figure out the records,” he said of when he spoke to Wright and how often.

He won’t give any secrets away.

“It’s a little bit proprietary in how we do our business … I don’t remember who called who, but when you have a relationship and a background (with each other) and, most importantly, trust … Most of those things are important to do a deal like this.

“Are you communicating with someone? Do you understand what they’re saying. I don’t really know what happened first — the thing I remember most, I know Brian and I trust Brian — and that allowed us to get to places that sometimes it wouldn’t allow you to get to.”

At one point, Ujiri had to step in with a call to Buford and ask: Are we wasting our time here? If you’re not interested, we’re out.

At least twice, the Raptors thought the deal wasn’t going to happen. Maybe more times than that.

“Deals happen, then they fall apart, sometimes with 24 hours, within 48 hours,” said Webster. “This was a unique case because of a few of the unknowns … I don’t know if there’s a moment when we said, ‘There’s a deal.’ Sometimes you stop short. Sometimes you’re a couple of inches apart. I don’t know if there was one moment when either said yes.”

Multiple times Webster thought no deal would be made.

“You’re never quite sure when enough is enough. How much do they want? How far are you willing to go? Is this enough? Is that enough? That’s the tough part.

“And then you wake up the next day and it’s on to the next idea.”
14 hours ago
For Nurse, Raptors season is all about what happens in the playoffs | Toronto Sun
Nurse knows expectations are sky-high thanks to the arrival of superstar Kawhi Leonard, a true difference-maker in a league where that can be said for only about 10 players.

“You’ve got to embrace that stuff. (I) certainly like it this way (rather) than the alternative,” Nurse said Tuesday before the first game of the season.

Then he made it clear where the franchise is at.

“If you want to lay it right out there, I don’t think 59 or 54 or 52 or 48 or 62 (regular-season victories) means anything to this organization right now,” Nurse said.

“It’s going to be how our team performs in the playoffs and what kind of a run we make. That’s what we’re looking at and we are gearing ourselves up to playing our best basketball at that time of the year.”

There’s no fast-forward button, however, so Nurse, his new staff and their players will have to slog it out for six months of travel, practices and games before things really start to matter.

Nurse doesn’t think that will be a problem.

“More than anything the identity of this team over the last five years has been a team that’s come to play over the 82, maybe more than anybody in the league,” Nurse said.

“The team came out and played really hard, even if things were going really bad, down 20, most of the time we’d find a way to climb back into the thing and maybe not win it, but at least put a super effort out there.

“It’s something that hasn’t changed. How did we get it there, well, we worked extremely hard, were very diligent in our preparation and it’s a mindset that our guys brought in there. Definitely, you still see that.”
14 hours ago
Nine months later, Kawhi eager to show NBA and Raptors fans what he can do | Toronto Sun
Leonard has looked rusty on offence at times, but expects his jump shot to start falling soon. His confidence, the result of winning three major NBA awards in the past, hasn’t slipped at all and neither have his expectations of what this team should be able to accomplish.

“I want to win. Right now it’s just taking each game at a time, building the chemistry, and just winning. That’s my expectation, is just trying to win each game,” Leonard said. “As time goes on, you start getting comfortable, second-nature starts to come in and take over.”

Once that happens, Toronto fans will see a level of player they’ve never witnessed toiling for the Raptors in the 23 previous seasons of team history.

Leonard can change games with his defensive work and can be unstoppable on the attack.

He’s the rarest of NBA animals, and he’s raring to be unleashed.
14 hours ago
Raptors’ Bench Mob on verge of getting whacked | The Star [subscription]
The only thing for certain is things will not be the same as they were last season, as much as Miles would like that and as fond as fans were of the five-man unit of Fred VanVleet, Delon Wright, Miles, Siakam and Poeltl and its game-changing style of play.

“I think we all have brains here, we can assume Kyle (Lowry) and Kawhi’s spots are locked in and anything outside of that will be fluid depending on matchups and who’s playing well and who we’re playing,” VanVleet said. “I think that kind of gives us a bit more continuity and have more of a mix.

“Last year it was like having two separate teams; it was like football almost where you had five in five out. So I think it’ll be a bit more meshed.”

But the Bench Mob, RIP, was beloved, even if it turns out to be a one-year wonder. It played more quickly as a group than the first unit did, Siakam’s ability to run the floor was eye-opening and VanVleet was so good he became a de facto closer in tight games, seamlessly transitioning from the second group to the starting unit, usually sending Anunoby to the bench so VanVleet could play alongside Lowry and DeRozan.

Nurse wants the same production from the second group but less of a dramatic change between it and the starting five. He seeks more balance in speed and style of play and the ability to mix and match more often. Last year, head coach Dwane Casey loved the production he got from running out five backups, but if Nurse can blend the two groups more smoothly it will ensure some familiarity when rotations are traditionally cut back in the post-season.

“I think we have a pretty good second unit there if we do it similar to the way we did it last year,” Nurse said. “Who replaces Poeltl is yet to be seen. Again we are going to try and keep things a little more versatile.”

So the Bench Mob, such a fun part of a 59-win team a season ago, may be no more.
14 hours ago
Wednesday NBA game preview: Cleveland Cavaliers at Toronto Raptors | The Star [subscription]
The starters for Game 1 are approximations but make sense given the matchups each present … Cleveland gave backup forward Larry Nance a four-year, $45-million contact extension to start the season … Raptors coach Nick Nurse said Delon Wright is expected to be “questionable” with a thigh injury … Toronto has won its last five season opening games and is 14-9 all-time in first games … Love has averaged 19.1 points and 11 rebounds playing for Cleveland against Toronto … Cleveland swept Toronto in the second round of the 2018 NBA playoffs.
14 hours ago
Raptors head coach Nick Nurse: 59 wins doesn't mean a lot -
“There’s only a small part of you that wishes he was here, that you wanted to knock him out,” said Nurse when asked if he was happy to see James leave the East. “I had that mode going last year pretty strongly that we wanted to be the ones that took him out, but unfortunately it didn’t go that way. [I’m] in the former category [now]. Have fun out in L.A. and we’ll see you way down the road if we see you at all.”

Of course, the path to conference supremacy is not guaranteed for the Raptors. The Boston Celtics are generally viewed as an elite superpower and a visit to Toronto on Friday will offer somewhat of a showcase for both teams.

“In the regular season, they all only count for one win or one loss,” said Nurse. “But for a team or coaching staff, these are tests and you want to see where you’re at. They’re certainly tremendous learning experiences. That’s kind of where we are — we need to play these real games, we need to play some good teams and find out exactly where we are, so we can begin on the process of getting down the path of reaching our potential.

“You can’t do that unless you play some real good teams. It’s a great test for us to see where we are.”
14 hours ago
Lewenberg: 'There's a lot of talk about championship' - Video - TSN
In the past the Raptors have focused on making the playoffs and advancing to the next round, but as Josh Lewenberg explains, there has been a lot of talk surrounding 'championship' heading into this season.
14 hours ago
Raptors have plenty of options on defence - Video - TSN
Dwane Casey always preached defence first but how will that change with Nick Nurse taking over the reins? The NBA on TSN panel explains that no matter what the new head coach does, he'll have options with some of the new acquisitions to his team.
14 hours ago
Dave McMenamin: "I would expect Kawhi will not play for the Raptors next year" | Scott and BR - Interviews | Mighty1090AM
NBA Reporter for Dave McMenamin joined Scott to talk about the Lebron James joining the Lakers, Kawhi Leonard’s future and if the Warriors will win their 3rd consecutive title.
14 hours ago
C.J. Miles sees a fire in Kawhi Leonard, says Raptors have bad taste in their mouths -
CBS Sports: Since the trade this summer, whenever people talked about the team they'd add the caveat, "if Kawhi is healthy, if Kawhi is back to where he was." Based on what you've seen, is Kawhi basically the same guy he was before the injury?

C.J. Miles: Yeah. He's been great. Obviously he had to play some basketball, get his sea legs under him because he was out with injury, as far as really getting back to the grind of every day, the travel, the two-a-days and all the things you do during training camp. But if you've seen some of the preseason games, I know it's just preseason but, still, that's him finding his rhythm. He's been able to do much more than the -- air quotations -- "people" have been saying all summer -- the reporters or statisticians, whatever you want to call 'em, all the numbers guys.

CBS: What's it like playing with him and just being around him? I saw Danny Green said he was much more vocal now, and I was like, "Kawhi, vocal?"

CM: Yes, he has a quiet demeanor. Everybody knows that. But he speaks in the huddle, he's been vocal during practice, he cracks jokes like every other guy when he's with the team. It's hard for people to see that from the outside because when they see him just sitting somewhere, he's minding his business. I think the narrative can be shifted either way, but he's been extremely vocal, you can tell he's ready to compete. His fire is lit. He's trying to win some games. 
20 hours ago
Pascal Siakam Has the Skills to Become the NBA's Next Two-Way Star - VICE Sports
Virtually every aspect of his game is more refined, but his ball-handling and passing have been most visibly upgraded. Though Siakam can play some point-forward with bench lineups, his ability to pass and create alongside Toronto's stars will be of much more significance to the team's ceiling. Siakam's abilities fit perfectly alongside those of his more heralded teammates.

Lowry and Fred VanVleet are both terrific shooters, and their best skills may be showcased as they reposition around the arc when a teammate drives to the basket. Both set great screens for their size, and neither is ever still. They scoot around the court, losing defenders during the mayhem of an active play, freeing themselves for open jumpers. This skill can only be leveraged when Lowry or VanVleet do not have the ball in their hands; the Raptors need a variety of secondary or tertiary ball-handlers to unlock the off-ball movement of their point guards.

Leonard is a terrific option. He's one of the league's best pick-and-roll practitioners, having used the pick-and-roll more often and with higher efficiency than Steph Curry in 2016-17 (and during a limited nine-game sample last season). A team needs secondary options around even the best primary ball-handler, and that's where Siakam blends seamlessly. Leonard bends the defense before passing, and Siakam is great at using slight edges to probe further into the paint, then kicking the ball to his in-motion shooters.

Siakam's continued finishing will be especially important for his development this year. His first step is fast enough to blow past virtually any opposing bench big, and he became a monster finisher at the rim last year. After connecting on a poor 57 percent of shots at the rim in his rookie year, Siakam hit a ridiculous 71 percent last year, per Cleaning the Glass. His finishing can occasionally be awkward, but he has great touch around the rim. His helter-skelter layup attempts can freeze defenders, giving him a free beat to loft a floater toward an unprotected rim.
20 hours ago
Zach Lowe's crazy predictions for the 2018-19 NBA season - ESPN
Kawhi Leonard (maybe) signs with the (maybe) Clippers
I have no inside information -- I am not on the Leonard camp text list -- but you can't write a predictions column without going out on a limb about him. The Paul George and Irving precedents bring optimism in Toronto. The Raptors are first-class. Toronto is an amazing city. The team has a real chance to make the Finals. If the young core takes another step, Leonard could see Toronto as a place to chase titles for the rest of his career.

But he might also need to see a long-term co-star. Is that Kyle Lowry at age 33?

If Leonard didn't care about the supermax in San Antonio, the fifth year only Toronto can offer him might not be much of an advantage. One injury changes that. That fifth year is massively important to some players in Leonard's age range. (Look at Butler.) A lot of them worry they won't make the same money in Year 5 as free agents in their early 30s. Others prioritize re-entering free agency after their 10th season -- that's July 2022 for Leonard -- when they become eligible for the largest possible contract.

That West Coast buzz was strong in June and July. If Toronto makes the Finals, let's give them a 60-40 shot at keeping Leonard. If they don't, the field gets a huge edge. If he bolts for L.A., the wager here is that he sets his own path instead of following LeBron. In the aggregate, that makes the official prediction Leonard is a Clipper next season.
Raptors preview panel: Our writers make their predictions on DeMar’s return, Nurse’s experimentation and Kawhi’s future – The Athletic [subscription]
3. What intrigues you most about Nick Nurse’s first year as head coach?

Heindl: Nick Nurse and intrigue, as far as word association go, don’t really collide for me. But I guess I am interested in seeing him not blow it, and curious at how and when he will potentially serve me my words and doubt for dinner.

Jacob: With the proposed flexibility the starting lineup will have, I’m most intrigued by how the different bench units will perform. The continuity the Bench Mob had last year is gone so it will be interesting to see how it all comes together.

Koreen: The stuff we cannot see. I think Nurse’s basketball mind is perfect for this team, with his knack for experimentation and desire to empower players. I’m much more interested in how he handles things the first time Leonard or Lowry (or both, oh no!) aren’t getting along. Those are two big egos, and no matter how experienced of a coach he is, Nurse has never been in charge of running an NBA team. I think he will take to it well, but it is a near-total unknown.

Murphy: The more important questions come about the softer side of things, like how egos and personalities are managed over 82 games. Personally, though, I’m excited to get a look at his ATOs now that he has the clipboard and marker in his hand. We know how he expanded the offence a season ago, but Casey still had the final say, and the Raptors were one of the most predictable (albeit still successful) teams out of dead balls last year. More fun, please.
20 Questions with Nick Nurse: On small town glory, little-known teams in England and his big job with Raptors – The Athletic [subscription]
11. You’ve been considered this young, up-and-coming coaching prospect for a while, but you’re actually the oldest first-time head coach in the NBA since David Blatt in 2014. Did you ever lose faith that you’d get this opportunity?

NN: Not really. I never walked around saying, “I want to be an NBA head coach. I need to be an NBA head coach.” I was really more walking around trying to improve myself as a coach every year. I know how that sounds — ‘Yeah right.’ But especially in the D-League, I knew I was getting better and better and better. That’s a really tough league to coach in. Back then, there were players coming and going all over the place. It’s a little bit more stringent now with your roster. It was almost eight different teams you were coaching then, you know what I mean? You were having to redevelop chemistry, reteach plays, reteach principles, re-manage the guys that you’d already had managed. I knew I was getting a lot of experience as a head coach there. A lot of people said, “How come you’re not in the NBA?” I said, “I don’t know. I hope I get there someday. But I really like doing this.” I’ve tried to approach all the jobs that way.
Lowry/Leonard tandem will ultimately write the story of this Raptors’ team | Toronto Sun
Lowry warned media types early in camp that this was not going to be a quick process. The Raptors are incorporating a new superstar in Leonard, playing under a new coach for the first time in six years, and another potential starter, Danny Green, has to find his comfort zone, too.

But even Green will tell you everything starts with Lowry and Leonard.

“They’re all-stars, they are our two all-stars,” Green said in case anyone was unaware. “You have two leaders – if not vocally then in action – and they’re going to lead this team with how they play and they’ve been great, figuring out how each other plays, how to interact with each other, how to communicate on or off the court and how to make it work, with me, with each other, with the rest of the guys on the team. It starts with them two first and it trickles down from there.”

Despite playing just 57 minutes total in the pre-season, Lowry is among the least of Nurse’s worries.

“He has been really good, you know, similar,” Nurse said. “Really been locked in from the learning standpoint and the competing standpoint. I really admire the way he competes. He has been a good source of information as far as ‘when are we going to get to this?’ or ‘when are we going to get to that?’

“He’s making sure it’s on our radar and coming and we assure him it is and all those things.”

Lowry for his part reiterated the need for patience, but said he’s right where he needs to be from a health standpoint.

“I feel great, amazing,” Lowry said. “As a team we’ll continue to get better. We’re not going to be clicking on all cylinders right away. There’s a lot of work we need to do. But we’ll be fine. It’s a long process. Everything is going to take time — new players, a new offence, new defence, new head coach. Everything is going to take patience and time.  We want things to go fast, but we understand it’s going to be a process.”

As for his impressions of Leonard, Lowry said the man has come as advertised.

“He is a regular guy like everybody else,” Lowry said. “I don’t judge a book by its cover. I think he’s still gonna be Kawhi Leonard, still gonna be a heck of a player. This is the first time since like, what, January, for him playing the NBA game? I’m sure we’ll see the same player.”
No deal for Raptors’ Wright by contract extension deadline | The Star [subscription]
It was not a surprising move. Wright is seen as a viable part of the team’s future but not having long-term money tied up leaves the luxury-tax-paying franchise with some measure of flexibility next summer.

They retain the right to match any offer Wright gets in July, so it’s not as if they are cutting him totally adrift after the season that begins on Wednesday night. Selected 20th overall in the 2015 draft, he’s in the final year of a rookie-scale contract that will pay him about $2.53 million U.S.

Wright is suffering from a thigh injury right now and could be listed as questionable for Wednesday’s season opener against the Cleveland Cavaliers. He was hurt in an exhibition game in Montreal last Wednesday and has not played or practised since.
Lowry ready to get down to business as new era dawns for Raptors | The Star [subscription]
“We’re not going to be clicking on all cylinders right away,” Lowry admitted after practice Monday. “There’s a lot of work we need to do, but we’ll be fine. It’s a long process. Everything is going to take time — new players, a new offence, new defence, new head coach. Everything is going to take patience and time. We want things to go fast, but we understand it’s going to be a process.

“Yeah, this is my first year since I’ve been here with a new head coach — new system, different assistants — and everything is going to be different.”

But maybe different will be good. The Raptors have been successful ever since Lowry arrived — playoff participants each of the last five springs, Eastern Conference finalists three seasons ago — but unable to get over the formidable hump presented by LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. Through it all, Lowry has proven to be an intense competitor, a demanding teammate and, every now and then, a bullheaded thorn in the side of his coaches.

Now he’s got a new one to deal with — and break in — but Lowry also has a new all-star teammate in Leonard and that pairing will be fascinating to watch as the season progresses.

It’s worked out well so far, at least in practice. The two have barely played together in pre-season games — Leonard sat out two, Lowry sat out two and was ejected from another — so the majority of their work has come in practice sessions.

“He just wants to win,” Lowry said of Leonard. “I think that’s why he’s going help us. He wants to win at a high level and I think that’s the one thing that makes it easier for everyone to come together. He wants to win and we all want to win, too.”
6 rivalries that will define the Toronto Raptors' season -
All-time H2H: Boston leads 52-37.
2017-18 season series: 2-2.
2018-19 dates: Oct. 19 (H), Nov. 16 (A), Jan. 16 (A), Feb. 26 (H)

After a couple of years of scratching and clawing, both teams appear ready to take full-blooded swings at each other until, as many expect, someone lands the knockout blow in the Conference Finals. There’s a long way to go before that, though, and the four games these two sides play against each other will be packed with intrigue.

The Raptors and Celtics already know each other inside-out, but Leonard, Gordon Hayward and Danny Green are all new characters added to the mix, making things quite a bit different this season. For one, the Raptors will go into every game with the best player across both rosters. Leonard has already shown flashes of his old self in pre-season and as long as he maintains his upward trajectory, he looks every bit the player that was firmly entrenched in the running for MVP in 2016-17.

If Hayward can return to the player he was for Utah as well, Boston’s starting five may just be second only to Golden State. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown will look to build on the success of last year, and their ceiling — despite the impressive Bench Mob of Toronto — could be the difference in the series.

The Celtics also figure to have the coaching edge. Brad Stevens has established himself as one of the best in the business while rookie Nick Nurse will have his work cut out for him to show he’s ready to spar on that level.
NBA season has tough act to follow after turbo-charged summer -
A worthy question may be how new it all is, or has it always been the reality of life in a highly demanding, highly scrutinized profession that’s spilling out more now due to a social media savvy generation of fans and players alike.

Raptors sharpshooter C.J. Miles came into the NBA as a teenager, back when email was still in common use, and his head coach in Utah, Jerry Sloan, collected tractors.

Times have changed, or have they?

“Well, there were a lot of crazy guys in the league back then,” said Miles, who is beginning his 14th season. “People didn’t know about it because there was no social media, but there was so much stuff that went on that people will never know, and stories you heard through the grapevine even on my team that I would never repeat, but now they might get out there because of the social media age.”

Miles’ wife, Lauren, a former Division 1 player herself, has one of the more slyly funny Twitter accounts out there and the three-point specialist realizes that even if – as he says – he doesn’t want to get drawn into the league’s never-ending storyboard, it’s a challenge.

“If it’s not affecting my team, I don’t even know about it,” he says.

What about Butler?

“Well, yeah. I heard about that. How could you not?”

Let the games begin.
What the Raptors did during the off-season - Toronto Life
This summer was one of the more eventful ones in Raptors history. Coach Dwane Casey was fired, replacement coach Nick Nurse was hired, and DeMar DeRozan, the team’s biggest star, was traded to San Antonio. In exchange for DeRozan, Toronto got Kawhi Leonard, a major talent who has recently been dogged by mysterious medical problems. Amidst all the upheaval, the Raps still managed to make the most of their downtime leading up to the start of the regular season on Wednesday. Here’s what they got up to.
2018-19 Toronto Raptors Preview: A Championship Is Closer Than Ever - Uproxx
Best Case Scenario:

Masai Ujiri traded for Leonard because he wanted a superstar who can help the team compete for a title, so that’s the best case scenario. Leonard reminds everyone that he a potential MVP, which leads to him becoming the clear-cut No. 1 option in his new dig. Between himself, the leadership of guys like Lowry, Danny Green, Serge Ibaka, and Jonas Valanciunas, and Toronto’s second unit that very well might be the best in the league, the Raptors have perhaps the deepest roster in the NBA.

Behind all of those strengths, a versatile defense that should be among the best in the league, and the creative offensive mind of new head coach Nick Nurse, the Raptors has the top record in the Eastern Conference. They ride this wave to a conference title crown and challenge for Toronto’s first championship since 1993. Winning it might be a stretch, but they show they’re close enough that Leonard agrees to a max extension once the clock hits midnight on July 1, 2019.

Worst Case Scenario:

Leonard is either rusty, gets hurt, or is very obviously ready to head somewhere else after this season comes to an end. If it’s obvious the Leonard experiment never goes beyond being an experiment, whether it’s by the trade deadline or at the end of the season, Toronto has to hit reset. That means guys like Lowry and Ibaka — should teams want their contracts — play out their deals elsewhere. The same goes for Valanciunas, who has the ability to opt into the final year of his deal and make $17.6 million next season.

A rebuild isn’t the worst thing in the world, and a team like Toronto can pull one of pretty easily due to the fact that they have young players to build around like OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, and Fred VanVleet. The issue is that the Raptors are heading into this season with legitimate Eastern Conference and NBA championship aspirations, and there might not be a more painful way to end a season with those expectations than by having to press the reset button.
Bold NBA predictions for 2018-19: Jazz face Raptors in Finals, a first-time MVP and the decline of Russell Westbrook -
11. Toronto will reach the NBA Finals. 

The second part of this bold prediction is Fred VanVleet will win Sixth Man of the Year. VanVleet's on-off numbers were outstanding last season. Only three players in the NBA had a better net rating during last year's regular season than VanVleet's 12.1 net rating: Steph Curry, Eric Gordon and Chris Paul. To a defense that ranked fifth in the NBA last season, the Raptors added the best perimeter defender of his generation in Kawhi Leonard (while subtracting a big minus on defense in DeMar DeRozan). Conventional wisdom says a healthy Boston ought to rule the East. But a healthy Kawhi in Toronto will be plugged into this well-oiled machine and will turn Toronto into an elite, top-three defense.
Best Case, Worst Case: Toronto Raptors - The Ringer
Worst-Case Scenario: It could be as simple as Leonard wanting to go home to Southern California, even if all breaks right during the season. But even if that happens, at least the Raptors would have an appealing young roster. It can be much, much worse. Leonard could struggle to stay on the floor and quickly show that he is no longer the player he once was, giving the Raptors immediate buyer’s remorse. As mentioned, Leonard’s quadriceps issue isn’t new. It first bothered him in 2012, then reappeared in 2016, all before the shenanigans last season. What if it doesn’t go away?

Lowry and Ibaka could also continue to regress, and the team collectively may not be able to cover for Valanciunas as a defensive liability. Toronto’s defense dominated average and bad teams last season, but they may not have as much luck should Leonard be unable to sustain his All-Defense quality play (or stay on the floor), and his teammates fail to pick up the slack. The Raptors lost Poeltl, which can’t go overlooked, since he was the team’s best big man defender for stretches of last season.

Norman Powell’s new contract kicks in this season. It’s time for him to get back on track after a dismal 2017-18. Anunoby, VanVleet, Wright, and Siakam are already contributors geared for long careers. But one of them needs to show they can be more than that. It’ll probably be Anunoby, if any of them; he needs to show more regular glimpses, like he did late last season and this summer. There’s no rushing his development—he’s only 21. But the Raptors only have this season to convince Leonard to stay, and any progress Anunoby shows would be a bonus in that recruitment.

The Raptors must avoid a collapse that mirrors their 2014 defeat at the hands of the old Nets, or the Wizards sweep in 2015. LeBron made the Raptors his playoff doormat over the past three seasons, but now the King has moved west. The Celtics and Sixers should both be better, but there are no more excuses. The Raptors need to, at least, make a valiant run in the Eastern Conference finals. Anything less would be a disappointment.
After a quiet camp, one task left for Raptors | The Star [subscription]
But, and this is the big but, the Raptors are going to be big into the tax area at the end of this season, if they do the unthinkable and re-up Leonard next summer at some super high number that tax burden will be much more serious and having Wright adding to it might not be financially reasonable.

And if, perchance, things go south and Leonard leaves and the rebuild continues with a trade of guys like Lowry and Serge Ibaka and maybe even Jonas Valanciunas next summer as expiring contracts, does a $13 million year deal for Wright make sense given where the team is?

Me? I’d try to get him signed because I like the certainty, I love is game and you can figure out next summer’s repercussions when next summer rolls around.

I’m not sure that Bobby and Masai share my thoughts – I think I missed their calls on the weekend seeking my advice – but getting a good player in the fold without having to worry about the vagaries of restricted free agency next summer would be the wisest course of action.

And if they could do it early this afternoon rather than close to a late-night deadline, I’d appreciate it. I’ve got a lot of typing to do and would like to get it all knocked off at reasonable hour.
2 days ago
2018-19 NBA: Ten Questions That Will Define the Season |

In a stunning twist, the Raptors took the summer’s biggest gamble, swinging for the fences to extract a disgruntled Leonard from San Antonio, saving everyone from his bizarre, quietly toxic exit saga and initiating what will be a season-long push to re-sign him. It cost them DeMar DeRozan, the franchise’s all-time leader in scoring, games and minutes played, and unfortunately left him blindsided. But given the distinct chance that the DeRozan/Kyle Lowry led core had plateaued together, the opportunity to introduce Leonard contained too great a potential reward. It’s not often an MVP-caliber talent moves over to the Eastern Conference. The catch will come in July, when we’ll find out if he plans to stick around.

Early reports strongly suggested Leonard had his eyes set on returning home to Southern California; the Lakers and Clippers will be among the teams taking steps to accommodate him. He’s still only 27 and will warrant max money somewhere. A happy union between Paul George and the Thunder offers precedent for the Raptors, who will angle to win big and sell Leonard on their culture, their city and their freezing winters. Trying to understand his motives has been a fool’s errand—what happened with San Antonio remains a mystery—and the league’s most stoic superstar is unlikely to offer much indication as to how he’s feeling. But if the Raptors are to keep him, winning big is critical.

Toronto returns nearly every piece from a 59-win team that won the conference, with in-house head coaching hire Nick Nurse taking over for Dwane Casey. Leonard’s presence will shore up their defense and should make them more offensively potent as well, replacing some of DeRozan’s long twos with his efficient distance shooting. The Raptors’ younger players stand to improve, and retain a bevy of reliable veteran role players bolstered by Danny Green, who also came over from the Spurs. Leonard’s mood will be a guessing game all season as his team begins a high-stakes quest to extend the marriage.
2 days ago
Raptors' Valanciunas ready to fill whatever role Nurse requires -
Valanciunas has started nearly 100 games alongside Serge Ibaka since the Congolese big man was acquired at the trade deadline in 2016. The pairing required Ibaka to play more on the perimeter than he was comfortable with. Through training camp and exhibition play, the two bigs flip-flopped starting assignments and were rarely on the floor together, leaving more minutes for Ibaka at centre. That decision has opened up a range of other options through the wing positions and it seems clear that Nurse is determined to use them.

“It’s more of a mix and match, he’s made that clear,” says reserve point guard Fred VanVleet, who led a very successful five-man bench unit that Casey was loathe to tinker with last season. “I think we all have brains here. We can assume Kyle and Kawhi’s spots are locked in and anything outside of that will be fluid depending on matchups and who’s playing well and who we’re playing. I think that kind of gives us a bit more continuity and more mix. Last year, it was like having two separate teams, it was like football almost where you had five in five out.”

In theory, it makes perfect sense. On a team of highly-paid professionals, a coach should have the freedom to manipulate and adjust his lineup by the minute if necessary. But athletes are creatures of habit, the thinking goes, and clear expectations and clear roles help them build their habits accordingly.

“Once you know individually where your rotation is and what kind of minutes you’ll be playing, the amount and your spots and when you’ll go in, it’s easier to get a rhythm and be mentally prepared for the game,” said VanVleet. “On the sideline, even knowing when to warm up, when to take your warmups off and things like that. You just get more mentally prepared.”

But what of getting your name called out with the TV cameras swooping in for a close-up?

It’s the kind of status symbol most players have worked for since they were kids and don’t necessarily want to give up. Players like it, don’t they?

“One-hundred per cent,” said Nurse. “I wish I was a starter.”
2 days ago
New Raptors 905 GM Chad Sanders ready for a most unique challenge – The Athletic [subscription]
This time a year ago, Sanders was an obvious fit for his previous role, too. The 32-year-old has built up quite a resume in a short amount of time, first as the manager of the University of Kentucky’s basketball program from 2006-2009 under Tubby Smith and then as John Calipari’s graduate assistant for two seasons after that (Sanders earned a double-major in finance and management and has master’s degree in education focused on sport leadership).

Once Sanders earned Calipari’s trust, the opportunities opened up, and Calipari brought Sanders along to the Dominican Republic for one of his stints as the head coach of the country’s senior men’s basketball team. Sanders quickly assumed more responsibility, effectively working as the team’s basketball manager. The Dominican national team is run by a federation but financed in large part by donors, and the two most prominent of those donors wanted to keep Sanders behind to serve not only as the national team’s general manager but also as general manager of the 2016 LNB champion Leones de Santo Domingo team and as a sort of import-player manager for the ownership group’s baseball team.

“They kept my guy!” Calipari said with a laugh. “I brought Chad down there and said, ‘Hey man, why don’t you help us with this?’ And he became like the manager of what we were doing. And they said the job he did was amazing, so they kept him.

“He just gets things done, and he does it in a way that brings people together. He had a way about him where everybody liked him. He didn’t have an ego about him where he made it about him, he made it about, ‘Alright, how can I help you? What can I do?’ He had a way about how he did his job, and we need more people like that, who can get it done and don’t think it’s solely about them. He was good, and he’ll do great there with what he’s going to do, how Toronto will use that, you know, he’s going to work well with Masai. He’s going to do great.”
2 days ago
Raptors opt for long-term focus as Chris Boucher wins camp battle – The Athletic [subscription]
The Raptors seem less concerned about Boucher’s immediate NBA utility. Their main roster is deep, and while they’re thin at centre by traditional positional archetypes, they have four players who could conceivably soak up minutes there. Barring an injury to Jonas Valanciunas or Greg Monroe, the Raptors can play it methodically with Boucher’s development, giving him a substantial G League run and tutelage under Jama Mahlalela without leaning on him for NBA minutes or seeing him wasted in street clothes. It’s true that Boucher is already 25, but given how late a start he got in basketball and how stop-and-start his path has been so far, there’s logic in viewing Boucher as the long-term upside play in this group.

As a refresher, a two-way contract allows Boucher to stay with the Raptors until G League camp opens on Oct. 22, join them once the G League regular season ends, and spend up to 45 days on the NBA roster in between. He can earn up to $386,125 if he maximizes his NBA days, none of which counts toward the Raptors’ cap or tax situation.

Essentially, this choice came down to using the team’s second two-way slot on someone who can provide immediate NBA depth on a team that’s already very deep or someone who might be able to develop into a bigger piece down the line. Either would have been justifiable as a tax team in win-now mode, and with Boucher, the Raptors have opted for the latter approach. Not only can they see what he looks like with a healthy season of development in their incubator, they’ll also hold his rights in restricted free agency next summer if he lasts the year and have the option to convert him to a standard NBA contract at any point this season. (The Raptors could then sign someone else into the two-way slot; they could also do this if Boucher doesn’t work out, as two-way deals can be waived without any impact on the luxury tax). Having another Canadian on the NBA and 905 roster certainly doesn’t hurt as a hairsplitter, either.
2 days ago
Consistency in minutes and role won’t be a big deal for these 2018-19 Raptors | Toronto Sun
Nurse isn’t totally ruling out finding a starting five and staying with it. That could happen or it could not, but he’s pretty sure the days of the same five starting the second half who started the game are over in Toronto.

“I think there’s gonna be opportunities to share it and move it around a little bit,” he said speaking strictly of the starting five. “That’s my mindset right now. That could change two weeks from now. There’s certainly some prestige that comes with starting. I would also say that you’ll probably see different guys starting the first half and second half depending on how the first half went, depending on what we think the matchups might be in the second half, depending on maybe somebody got on a roll in the first half and we wanna get ‘em right back out there, I don’t know.”

That would seem to suggest that the days of five-man units or, in last year’s case, two five-man units, eating up the majority of the minutes are over. Again, time will tell. VanVleet, who was a member of last year’s bench mob that was such an advantage for the Raptors, points out they didn’t start the year thinking it was going to be two separate five-man units then.

“Maybe it’ll be a different five-man unit this time,” VanVleet said of the 2018-19 version. “Maybe a mix of two bench guys and two starters. You never know what it is going to be. We didn’t know what it was going to be like last year, it just worked out that way. We found something that worked for us and we ran with it. I think this year will be the same, we’ll take some lumps and get knocked down and have bad games and we’ll lose some and throughout that process, we’ll find ourselves and keep building.”

Nurse has an idea that this is going to mean a number of different looks and combinations for Raptors opponents but he’s not stubborn enough to say it has to be that way. Looking at it now, before a game of consequence is played, that’s just how he sees it happening.
2 days ago
Raptors’ opening five just the start for Nurse | The Star [subscription]
It will take a leap of faith from the players to make sure Nurse’s plan works. There are egos and histories involved. Some players have been starters their entire careers and habits form in preparation — habits that will have to change. It may not seem like a huge thing, but it’s a thing at some level and Nurse is aware of the possibility that such an abstract idea might not be entire welcome, or familiar, right off the bat.

“I think there’s going to be opportunities to share it and move it around a little bit — that’s my mindset right now,” the coach said. “That could change two weeks from now. There’s certainly some prestige that comes with starting. I would also say that you’ll probably see different guys starting the first half and second half depending on how the first half went, depending on what we think the matchups might be in the second half, depending on maybe, somebody got on a roll in the first half and we want to get ’em right back out there.”

It perhaps gets to Nurse’s overall coaching philosophy, which is coming to light in his first NBA head coaching job. He’s been a head coach in several other circumstances, throughout Europe and in the G League, and now he’s bringing lessons learned there to the bright lights of the biggest league. He knows he doesn’t have all the answers, but he seems to have a willingness to try unorthodox moves.

“I think it’s putting our guys in the best positions matchup-wise and really going from there,” he said. “It may be some other factors. It may be health. It may be heaviness or lightness of the schedule.

“I’m a guy that, when there’s something rolling out there, the predetermined rotations might go right in the garbage can. You know what I’m saying? You may think ‘Ah, I’m going to give ’em a six-minute stint’ and all of a sudden it may turn into a 12-minute stint, and that changes everything. Matchup-driven mostly, and then feel it out.”
2 days ago
Toronto Raptor Kawhi Leonard lets his play do the talking -
Along with famed shooting coach Chip Engelland, Forcier was assigned to work closely with Leonard. Asking him to meld the mechanics of Kobe Bryant and Richard Jefferson, the coaches outlined how they planned to tweak his shooting technique, but the NBA lockout put an end to their work after just a few sessions. That was in June, and it wasn’t until late December, when the NBA resumed, that the Spurs got to check back with their top rookie. They were surprised and encouraged to see that Leonard had almost completely reworked his shot, based on the few days of instruction from Engelland and Forcier. “He was a sponge who was very eager to learn, very willing to listen,” says Forcier. “But as we got to know Kawhi, it was obvious that he had a deep burn as well. No matter how quiet or reserved he may be, the competitive streak inside of him is hot and his desire to grow and become a great player was evident.”

Leonard quickly won over Popovich, who started the rookie in each playoff game that 2011–12 season and began putting the ball in his hands more on offence. His game just kept expanding, Forcier recalls. He would soak up new skills — like scoring from the low-post — sometimes even picking up fresh techniques at shootaround and deploying them in a game later that day. With his offensive attack sharpening and his defensive instincts second-to-none, Leonard was becoming arguably the league’s premier two-way player.

That success brought more confidence, which manifested both on and off the court. Leonard began to offer glimpses of personality that had previously been reserved for his teammates, friends and family. He co-starred with a few fellow Spurs in a string of commercials for H-E-B, a Texas grocery chain. In one he nonchalantly palms a giant ball of laundry while his teammates stand in awe and compare his hand to a bear’s paw. In another, dressed in a smoking jacket he shatters his reputation for monosyllables by uttering a single word: “indubitably.”

As his celebrity grew, more was asked of Leonard away from the court. He was flooded with interview requests, most of which he turned down. Potential endorsement deals, H-E-B aside, mostly got the same treatment. When he was asked in the summer of 2014 whether he felt companies had offered enough money for his services, Leonard told the San Antonio Express-News, “Not as much as I want for me to not shoot the basketball that day.”
2 days ago
Raptors believe their lineup flexibility is their strength - Video - TSN
Jonas Valanciunas, Fred VanVleet and Nick Nurse discuss how the Raptors' ability to be flexible with their lineups is the team's strength heading into the season, while Nurse explains that he will likely roll who's hot from game to game instead of being tied to a set starting lineup.
2 days ago
Raptors to keep rotation, starters fluid, says Nurse -
As the Raptors aim to get over another embarrassing post-season elimination – now under the guidance of new head coach Nick Nurse, Casey’s long-time assistant – their intention is to be more open-minded, this time before it’s too late.

Nurse’s team just wrapped up its pre-season schedule, having played five exhibition games. In 10 halves of basketball, the Raptors started nine different lineup combinations made up of 15 different players. Context matters here, of course. The regulars didn’t play in each game, and pre-season is the time of the year where you’re supposed to tinker.

What’s noteworthy is Nurse has indicated that the experimentation is likely to continue into the games that matter. According to Toronto’s new head coach, who is known for his innovative mind and willingness to adapt on the fly, the Raptors may change up their rotation, including the starting lineup, on a game-to-game and perhaps even half-to-half basis throughout the season.

It would be an unconventional way for any team to manage its roster, let alone one that sees itself as a title contender, but Nurse’s inclination to think outside of the box is one of the things that earned him the promotion in the first place. It was a mandate for president Masai Ujiri and the Raptors front office during their search this summer. If they were going to finally get over the hump they would have to do things differently. Nurse has been beating that drum since he got the job back in June.

“I think what'll happen is you'll throw a starting lineup out there and you'll win a game and [think], ‘oh we don't wanna change the starting lineup,” Nurse said following the team’s Sunday afternoon practice. “It's almost like a superstition thing. I'd like to keep it a little fluid, only because I think this is a super versatile team and I'd like to keep us in a versatile mindset, especially starting out here.”

“I'm a guy that when there's something rolling out there, the predetermined rotations might go right in the garbage can. You know what I'm saying? You may think ‘ah, I'm gonna give 'em a 6-minute stint’, and all of a sudden it may turn into a 12-minute stint, and that changes everything.”

As it stands, Leonard and Lowry – the team’s all-stars and two best players – are obvious locks to start. Green, who started three of the four exhibition games he played in, would appear to have the inside track for another spot. Miles, Siakam and Anunoby (the presumed favourite) have all gotten a look at power forward, where it seems Nurse intends to start small. Meanwhile, Ibaka and Valanciunas have been alternating roles as starting and backup centre.
2 days ago
Murphy: Raptors dialing up pressure on defence to fuel transition offence – The Athletic [subscription]
The result is that they’ve forced opponent turnovers on an obscene 22.5 percent of preseason possessions, by far the best mark in the league. (Turnovers are higher in the preseason in general, but that’s 11 percent more turnovers than the No. 2 preseason defence.) There are some trade-offs in terms of the openness of 3s on resultant kick-outs if a ball can’t be deflected and with an opponent free-throw rate the team will want to come back down. Still, the net result is working in Toronto’s favor — they’re averaging three more shooting possessions per-game than their opponents and have a better mark than their opponents across all of the Four Factors (effective field-goal percentage, turnover rate, free-throw rare, and offensive rebounding).

This may not maintain all year. Nurse believes it’s easier to ratchet up aggression now and then dial it back as necessary rather than vice versa, and when the games count, some of those trade-offs will carry more weight. Opponents will also tighten things up, end-of-bench players will see fewer minutes, and teams will be more aware that the Raptors are getting aggressive in driving and passing lanes.

This is still a pretty major development. The Raptors are big, switchy, fast and more importantly long, and they have exactly the type of personnel that can afford to play a riskier brand of defence two-through-four (and, depending on your risk preference and lineup choice, one-through-five) and still be just fine stopping shots, as well.

The Raptors figure to be a top-five defence, maybe even top-three. It’s what that defence can do for their offence that is perhaps most exciting, given how they’ve approached things in transition.

The lights? They are exceptionally green. For, like, everyone.
5 days ago
If the Raptors are going to be elite they’ll have to learn from past mistakes – The Athletic [subscription]
As an organization, the Raptors have been trying to ascend from good to great for several seasons now. Modernizing their scoring, finishing in the top five of both offensive and defensive rating and flirting with 60 wins last year were all supposed to signal a step into that elite class. Yet, the season finished in all too familiar fashion.

Perhaps, then, it makes complete sense that the new head coach, Nick Nurse, has introduced championship belts to practices, is freely mixing and matching starting lineups in each half of preseason games, and has brought an offensive playbook a tenth the size of a season ago — for now — to challenge not only the players, but himself, to figure it out.

The addition of Kawhi Leonard is certainly a major step in the direction towards greatness as a team. You just don’t contend for titles without a true superstar (unless you’re going up against two superstars feuding to the point of no return). The addition of Danny Green matters, too, but for all the innovation and fresh faces brought to the table, it’s vital the Raptors also learn from the errors of their past.

The signs mentioned earlier pointed toward last year being different, but then why did it end so poorly? Were there red flags that should have made us better understand how good this team really was? Or were the Raptors really good but just under a mystifying LeBron voodoo curse?

As a starting point, Toronto finished a league-best 35-2 against teams with sub-.500 records. One loss came in late November in New York when the Raptors inexplicably gave up 28 straight points in the third quarter, and the other a day after Christmas in Dallas. That’s a remarkable accomplishment by Dwane Casey and his coaching staff to get his players ready to play on nights when the struggle to stir up those competitive juices was as real as it gets.

The other half of the glass, though, shows they went 24-21 against teams over the line of mediocrity, a mark that didn’t really separate them from the likes of Oklahoma City, Minnesota, Philadelphia, Utah or Indiana. Those teams were never in the conversation as legitimate title contenders.
5 days ago
Podcast: Locked on Raptors #394 - The Second Annual Prop Bets Showdown - Raptors HQ
In Episode 394 of Locked on Raptors, Sean Woodley is joined by Vivek Jacob and Sahal Abdi as they make their picks in the second annual Locked on Raptors Prop Bets Showdown. Vivek’s the defending champ, but has apparently gone soft, as we learn in his response to prop bet #10.
5 days ago
Recap: TorontoRaptors down the New Orleans Pelicans, 134-119 - Raptors HQ
Siakam was truly unbelievable. He looked every bit the part of the leader he was during the Raptors 905 championship run a year and a half ago, quarterbacking an astonishing offensive pace in his 28 minutes of floor time. He continually pushed the tempo either with his passing (6 assists), or by flying coast to coast after pulling down one of his 11 rebounds.

His energy tonight was unmatched, as his 12 free throws show, giving Anthony Davis — an MVP candidate — a run for his money all evening (*also, it’s preseason). I’ll add one thing: once Siakam learns how to finish around the basket, he won’t need a three-point shot. In fact, whichever develops first will become one of the most dangerous offensive weapons on the entire Raptors roster. Siakam finished the game with a team-leading 21 points (matched by Malachi Richardson).

I want to dedicate at least a paragraph to roster-hopeful Eric Moreland. Moreland is a special talent — he’s clearly an incredibly athletic big, but there has to be a reason he’s never gotten consistent minutes in the NBA. So far, we haven’t seen enough to know why he hasn’t played much in the past, but I do think we’ve seen enough to justify handing him a roster spot. He played a great game and made more than a few positive plays tonight.

I’ll be honest: I stopped watching the potentially illegal CCTV stream after about three minutes into the third quarter until the midway point of the fourth because it was a painfully annoying in-arena-but-actually-at-home experience. I won’t go into details, except to say that the regular season can’t come soon enough.
5 days ago
Green proving far more than just Kawhi came to Raptors from San Antonio in blockbuster trade | Toronto Sun
Green has missed 12 and 14 games, respectively, the past two seasons and also played through an ailment last year.

Green is also helping Leonard settle in as a Raptor. Their lockers are placed nearby and Leonard was even chuckling while Green answered questions on Wednesday night.

Leonard added four steals of his own against the Nets, while head coach Nick Nurse singled out OG Anunoby’s ability to pick the pockets of opponents, and it’s clear this group is going to be able to force tons of turnovers, leading to quick transition opportunities at the other end.

“We worked a little bit on some of the changes that we’re going to make defensively and turning things up a little bit,” Nurse said.

“I think we had something like 14 deflections in the third quarter and that’s a humongous number. It’s one of the things we’re trying to do. I’ve told you since Day 1 we’ve got a team that can be more aggressive and we want to play more aggressive and we didn’t really let them for a while … we’re trying to get closer to (the way) we want to play.”
5 days ago
Raptors says building chemistry takes time | The Star [subscription]
Coach Nick Nurse said earlier this week he felt the team would be “just fine” if he had to set out his rotation. But it is not like the Raptors expected to have fully bonded by the final exhibition game in New Orleans on Thursday. That takes more than three weeks and five games.

“Chemistry kind of builds all season,” Nurse said recently. “It’s not like we say, ‘OK, it’s game one and now we’ve got our chemistry.’ I think it shifts and moves all season long.”

There will be players in and players out, different combinations to try early on. Nurse wants to be able to take one player out and plug another in without huge shifts in play at either end.

“So far there are some things that have emerged to me that I’ve really liked,” Nurse said. “There’s not a lot I haven’t liked. There are some things that obviously have stuck out that I really like and will continue to like. I don’t think I’m done looking at combinations and I don’t think there’s going to be much of a set (rotation) to start, especially. I think there will be some different starting lineups, which therefore means there will be some different second units. We’ll roll from there.”

It is a process that could involve some growing pains, Nurse admits.

“It takes some perseverance by us (not to) say, ‘Oh, that combination didn’t work’ and throw it in the bin because it was only a four-minute stretch,” he said. “The sample needs to be significant. Sometimes you want to pull the trigger on that stuff because games are coming one after another.”

A certain amount of chemistry is built through the pre-season, guard Fred VanVleet said, but without meaningful games there is little adversity. The challenges mount throughout a gruelling season.
5 days ago
Daniels: Spurs fans embraced Kawhi’s quiet persona until things went sour - Video - TSN
OverDrive hosts Bryan Hayes, Jeff O’Neill & Jamie McLennan are joined by Sirius XM NBA radio host Antonio Daniels to get his take on Kawhi Leonard appearing to come out of his shell more in Toronto.
5 days ago
Updated Trade Packages and Landing Spots for Timberwolves Star Jimmy Butler | Bleacher Report | Latest News, Videos and Highlights
Despite finishing last season with an East-best 59 wins and then trading for Kawhi Leonard, the Raptors still seem hard-pressed to push past the loaded Boston Celtics this season.

That is, unless they go all-in for Butler.

A wing rotation of Kyle Lowry, Butler and Leonard may be the best outside of Golden State and puts them head-to-head with Boston and likely above the Philadelphia 76ers. Good luck to all opposing shooting guards and small forwards attempting to score against the Butler-Leonard duo.

For Minnesota, Anunoby is the main prize. The 21-year-old forward started 62 games as a rookie for the Raptors last season and could play alongside Andrew Wiggins to make a long, athletic wing. Green is still a solid two-way rotation guard, and Powell probably needs a change of scenery to jumpstart his promising career.

Would Butler and Leonard's opposing personalities clash? Maybe, but at least Leonard has a ring and hardware to do the speaking for his laid-back demeanor.

For Toronto, a long-awaited shot at the Finals is worth the risk.
5 days ago
Talkin' Hoops: theScore's Atlantic Division Preview |
WL: The main concern with Toronto is still their offense. Even though last year, their offensive rating was pretty strong, I think that had something to do with Washington being a really poor team, and then playing Cleveland, which was not a very good defensive team, either. I'm still a little worried about Toronto's offense in the playoffs. Kyle Lowry's offensive production drops off a little because the playoffs are more physical; teams are scouting a little more. Kyle Lowry is an opportunistic scorer, where he capitalizes on mistakes. And there are generally less mistakes in the playoffs, unless you're the Wizards. So I'm worried about him as a secondary scorer. And then after that, it's probably (Jonas Valanciunas), whom there's a lot of optimism for, but he still has defensive shortcomings where you would have issues playing him all the time in the playoffs. And then, past that, it's just Kawhi, because the rest of that team doesn't really generate shots on their own. They could use someone on the roster to emerge and become a secondary shot creator. In the playoffs, it always helps to have more of those guys.
5 days ago
High Noon's Pablo Torre and Bomani Jones preview 2018-19 NBA season dramas
No. 2: Toronto Raptors
Team president Masai Ujiri has eight months to make the relentlessly silent Kawhi Leonard fall in love with him, which feels like both a rom-com and a horror movie. Imagine if Leonard winds up worse than DeMar DeRozan, the beloved spokesman Toronto shipped out for him. Far more heartrending, though, is the more likely reality: Leonard is every bit the superstar the Raptors have lusted after -- but he still loves LA. --Pablo S. Torre

The Quote: "We don't want to be the ones that are felt sorry for anymore. We want to belong." --Masai Ujiri

The Number: 263 (Raptors' wins since 2013-14, Ujiri's first season as GM, fourth best in the league)
6 days ago
Danny Green's winning pedigree a valuable asset for the Raptors -
Green says he owes a lot of the success he’s found has been thanks to the recently retired Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili, as well as long-time Spur – now Charlotte Hornet — Tony Parker.

“They led in many different ways,” Green says of that great Spurs trio. “Sometimes by accident, sometimes by words. But they were passionate guys that gave their all every night on the court, every day in practice. They made sure they took care of business. So just being in that atmosphere, in following them and learning from them naturally my habits developed in doing what they did.”

Now a member of the Raptors because of the stunning July trade that also saw the team acquire Kawhi Leonard, Green wants to apply some of those same lessons he learned while with the Spurs to his new club.

“They’re both top organizations,” Green said of the differences between the Raptors and Spurs. “We have some younger guys, they had older guys who were established and won some championships and we’re still trying to figure that out here.

“We’re trying to bring that culture here, me and Kawhi, but they’re two top organizations that understand how to do it the right way and win games and get things done.”

The Raptors at the moment are a lot like Green once was: Talented but unable to make it over that hump and really break through. Similarly, it hasn’t been an easy road for Green, but he fought through it all and became a winner.

With him on the team, the Raptors just might become winners, themselves, too.
6 days ago
10 things I saw from Raptors-Nets (Oct. 10 — preseason) - The Defeated
Rough: It wasn’t exactly the regular season tune-up that Nick Nurse was hoping for, as the Raptors were sloppy in the first half and shuffled their starting unit once again in the third quarter. OG Anunoby made his preseason debut and the starters weren’t on the same page on either end and it produced some rather obvious mistakes.
Focus: Those issues went away in the third quarter once Jonas Valanciunas and Pascal Siakam replaced OG and Serge Ibaka. Toronto held Brooklyn to only 11 points in the third and forced at least 10 turnovers in that one quarter alone, as Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard played trick-or-treat with those helpless Nets guards. The game was essentially wrapped up after they strung together a few transition threes and dunks.
6 days ago
Raptors dominate defensively in 118-91 win over Brooklyn - Raptors HQ
Kyle Lowry was so energized he went and got thrown out. After Lowry was called for an offensive foul pushing the ball in transition he started talking up a storm, getting on the refs to the extent that he was awarded a pair of technical fouls in rapid succession. The ejection ended an especially rough night for Lowry who would finish with 6 turnovers and just 5 points on 1/6 shooting.

Lowry’s ejection did nothing to dull the Raptors’ onslaught, as the Raptors wing defenders continued to abuse the Nets, limiting them to just 11 points in the 3rd quarter. Green and Leonard would end up combining for 9 steals, with Green benefiting more than anyone from the Raptors’ ability to turn defence into offence. He would end the game with 22 points on 7/9 shooting, with most of his points coming on run-outs.

The Raptors’ domination of the Nets in the 3rd would give them a 21 point lead entering the final frame, but they continued to play their rotation players for much of the 4th, likely to help with their game readiness. Leonard saw some 4th quarter action and capped his night with a nice feed to a cutting OG Anunoby for a reverse slam.
6 days ago
Raptors shut down Nets in Montreal | Toronto Sun

Kyle Lowry had some plans before the Raptors played the Brooklyn Nets on Wednesday night.

“I’ve only played 18 minutes in the first two games I’ve played, so I want to get some more minutes in, some more reps, some more up and down, some more time on the floor,” Lowry said in the morning. “With a short pre-season you have to take at least one or two games to get yourself acclimated and going.”

Well, so much for that. Lowry was sent to the showers in the third quarter after picking up two technical fouls. He had been chatty with the referees all evening and fellow point guard Fred VanVleet joked that “anyone could see” Lowry’s fuse was about to go off. Head coach Nick Nurse said Lowry’s just trying to get himself going.

“You know he’s fiery, he’s competing, I’d much rather see him going out there fighting like heck than I would not caring about a pre-season game or sitting another one out,” Nurse said. “He’s going to fire and fight, that’s who he is and we have to manage through some of that stuff and we love him for who he is.”
6 days ago
Skills aren’t all that matter to Raptors coach Nick Nurse | The Star
The Toronto Raptors head coach talks about positive attitudes, smiles, pleasant demeanours for the most part.

Just good dudes.

And given the demands of a long and arduous season, and the close quarters that players live in for almost 200 days a year, the need to have men who are adaptable and friendly and smiling more often than not makes entire sense.

“It’s such a long season, right?” he said. “It’s certainly serious business, but it’s no sense that we all have to be miserable doing it … I think there’s some certain attitudes and certain guys that can feed some positive energy and that keeps you going through an 82-game schedule.”

Now, the ability to shoot, defend, pass and dribble are, of course, desirable but if the conversation is about someone who might be 13th or 15th or even 17th on the roster, the ability to get along with everyone is paramount.

They may not be “glue guys” as much as they are good guys.

“There’s a lot of long moments, travel and games and stretches, and to have some of those guys around to bring positive energy is great,” Nurse said.

His discussion of those traits has often centred on veteran big man Greg Monroe, who seems to have the personality the coach appreciates. But Monroe has a guaranteed contract which basically assures he’ll be around. It’s the rest of the end-of-the-roster players who have to have that combination the coach seeks.
6 days ago
Raptors continue lineup roulette in Montreal pre-season tuneup -
One sequence where the big Lithuanian sparked a fast break with a smart outlet pass, then hustled down the floor for an early post-up chance before finding a cutting Fred VanVleet stood out — and then helped spark the Raptors third-quarter surge as he ignited the crowd with a triple and generally continued to look active and engaged.

"I’m happy how he’s standing in at the rim, he finally made a three," said Nurse. "He’s playing pretty well and pretty free and easy."

It’s part of Nurse’s strategy to be able to go to any line-up for any situation with roles fluctuating game-to-game or even half-to-half.

"I think there are probably a couple spots pretty solidified and there is a lot of versatility elsewhere," said Nurse before the game. "There’s reasons we are running [various combinations] out there tonight and reasons we are running them out there tomorrow and there will be reasons next Wednesday."

Lowry’s ejection wasn’t considered a big deal.

"I’d certainly much rather see him go out there fighting like heck than I would not caring about a pre-season game or sitting another one out which could happen too," said Nurse of Lowry, who finished with five points.

"He’s going to fire and fight, and that’s who he is, and we’re going to have to manage through some of that stuff, and we love him for who he is, man.”

Lowry was agitated almost from the tip. The ejection was building.

"Anybody with eyes could have seen how that was going," said Fred VanVleet, who had 11 points and three triples. "I think he tried to get thrown out earlier [but the ref] ignored him."
6 days ago
Rautins: Raptors have been impressed by Kawhi's communication, leadership - Video - TSN
After there was plenty of uncertainty coming into camp with regards to his health and his level of enthusiasm about joining the Raptors, NBA on TSN analyst Leo Rautins discusses what he's learned about Kawhi Leonard in the last few weeks, and explains what fans should pay attention to when Kawhi is in the court.
6 days ago
Rautins: Leonard is special, a 'top three player in the NBA' - Video - TSN
TSN basketball analyst Leo Rautins joins Jay and Dan to discuss the Raptors' win over Brooklyn, Kyle Lowry's ejection, the tools head coach Nick Nurse has at his disposal, and Kawhi Leonard's performance in the preseason for Toronto.
6 days ago
Leonard and retooled Raptors hope to challenge for NBA title - The Washington Post

Nurse has head coaching experience at the college level, in Europe, and in the NBA D-League, where he won league titles with two teams. He’d been Casey’s assistant the past five seasons. Veteran C.J. Miles said he’s impressed with the way Nurse has handled training camp.

“He’s very concise, to the point,” Miles said. “Everything is organized, he’s ready to go. He knows what he wants to teach that day, what the emphasis is, and we knock it out.”


Nurse acknowledged at the start of camp that Leonard was “a man of few words,” but Miles said his new teammate hasn’t been shy about making himself heard.

“He does have a quiet demeanor, no question,” Miles said. “But, for what I was expecting, it’s 10 times more communication than I would have thought. He’s been great. He’s sharing his knowledge.”


While Leonard was the unquestioned headliner in Toronto’s swap with the Spurs, the Raptors also received guard Danny Green, a capable 3-point shooter and quality defender.

“Danny has probably been swept under the rug because everybody is focussed on Kawhi,” Raptors guard Fred VanVleet said. “We got a hell of a player in Danny Green, too.”


Toronto’s other significant acquisition was big man Greg Monroe, an eight-year veteran who’s expected to come off the bench. Nurse said he’s been “really happy and impressed” with Monroe’s overall contributions so far.

“He’s been a pleasant surprise,” Nurse said. “He’s in shape. He’s kind of a cheery, chipper, positive attitude type of guy, which every team needs. You can’t have enough of that.”
6 days ago
Will the Raptors be able to keep the rest of their young core together? – The Athletic [subscription]
Of the over-30 crowd, Lowry is the most likely of the three to still be in Toronto for the start of the 2020-21 year, and that will only be if the Raptors retain Leonard. Otherwise, it probably makes sense for the team and player to finally go their own way after two or three false starts on that front. Miles is a possibility to stick around if he likes the situation for his young family, but I think there are far more scenarios in which he leaves after 2020 than situations that keep him here.
Valanciunas is sixth in franchise history in games played, 235 behind DeMar DeRozan. Getting there would require Valanciunas spend three more fully healthy seasons with the team or, more likely, four years. His tenure here has been up and down, but I’m starting to think it is possible he gets there. The Raptors do not (and likely, will not) have any true centre prospects in the pipeline, and if they can get him signed at a reasonable price, it could very well make sense for the relationship to continue. He has at least proven to be semi-functional in the new NBA.
To the real issue: I have Wright, Siakam, VanVleet, Anunoby and Norman Powell (assuming he opts into the final year of his contract) making approximately $73-million total in 2021-22, which would be the first year of Anunoby’s second deal. That is not an overwhelming number considering the tax will continue to go up, but it is certainly more than the Raptors will want to spend if they are trying to build an elite team around Leonard. If he leaves, it becomes more palatable, but again is likely a little steep for a team that would probably be caught in the dreaded middle. The Raptors have surely had these conversations, and they are always evolving: How do you prioritize the pieces of their young core that is getting more expensive by the year? The answer to that question will heavily inform what they do next.
6 days ago
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