Raptors Notes: Rajakovic, Lillard, Siakam, VanVleet

The arrival of new Raptors head coach Darko Rajakovic looks like a reason for optimism in Toronto, according to Josh Lewenberg of TSN.ca, who says that Rajakovic is bringing a “people-first” approach to his new role and appears to be connecting quickly with his players.

Scottie Barnes said on Monday that he loves the “energy” and “joy” Rajakovic brings to the job, while Gary Trent Jr. told reporters that the coach’s communication has been “great,” noting that Rajakovic is interested in talking to his players about topics beyond basketball.

“I’ve been in the NBA six years and I’ve had more conversations with him (outside of basketball) than with any coach I’ve ever had,” Trent said, per Lewenberg. “It’s been refreshing.”

The start of Rajakovic’s first NBA head coaching job has been marred to some extent by a lawsuit filed by the Knicks which claims that a former Knick employee shared proprietary information with Rajokovic and the Raptors after being hired by the franchise. The Raptors, who issued a statement in August disputing the claims in the suit, downplayed the case again on Monday, as William Lou of Sportsnet.ca writes.

“I know who I am. I know how my parents raised me. I know what I see in the mirror,” Rajakovic said in maintaining his innocence. “I cannot wait for this lawsuit to be over so everyone can see the truth.”

Here’s more out of Toronto:

  • Speaking to Danielle Michaud of Sportsnet, Raptors general manager Bobby Webster confirmed that the team’s interest in Damian Lillard was real. “You’d have to ask (the Trail Blazers),” Webster said when asked how close Toronto got to landing Lillard. “We were very aggressive. I’d say probably the biggest offer we’ve ever made for a player, but it’s up to them to accept it and so I think that’s, you know, you kind of never know what tilted a deal towards you or not. But maybe time will tell, we’ll find out.”
  • Pascal Siakam pushed back against any implication that he might have been one of the Raptors who played selfishly last season, as Michael Grange of Sportsnet.ca relays. “I’ll speak for me, personally, I’ve never been a selfish player in my life,” Siakam said. “I’ve always played the game the right way and that’s from the first time I started playing basketball. I’ve always been a team player. All the things that I do on the basketball court is about the team and I’ve been like that my whole career.”
  • The free agency departure of veteran point guard Fred VanVleet was one of the topics Raptors president Masai Ujiri addressed on Monday, per Josh Lewenberg of TSN.ca. “Could we have traded Fred at the trade deadline? If that was a failure, we take responsibility for it,” Ujiri said. “Sometimes it depends on opportunity and respect (for) the player. We respected Fred. Fred decided to go somewhere, to better opportunities. It was good for him. Maybe it was good for us, too.”
  • The Raptors are one of five teams that John Hollinger of The Athletic is confident will beat their consensus over/under (36.5 wins) this season. While Hollinger acknowledges that going to VanVleet to Dennis Schröder is a downgrade at point guard, he notes that Toronto won 41 games in a down year last season, played better after acquiring Jakob Poeltl, and will have incentive to be as good as possible, since San Antonio owns the Raptors’ top-six protected 2024 first-round pick.
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