Khem Birch

Eastern Notes: VanVleet, Barnes, Allen, Irving, Udoka

Raptors guard Fred VanVleet will miss his second straight game on Monday due to a non-COVID illness, Josh Lewenberg of TSN Sports tweets. The Raptors are facing the struggling Pistons in Detroit. Forwards Pascal Siakam and Precious Achiuwa are also out of action, while big man Khem Birch is listed as questionable.

We have more from the Eastern Conference

  • Scottie Barnes had a rough shooting night in Indiana on Saturday and the Raptors need more from their dynamic second-year forward, Doug Smith of the Toronto Star writes. Barnes is averaging 13.8 points, 6.6 rebounds and 4.9 assists per game but he has only reached the 20-point mark once despite the team’s injuries. Teammate Thaddeus Young says Barnes will break out soon. “Sometimes guys have a bad streak of games, or sometimes they have a bad start to the season then they take off at some point,” he said. “Things will change; they always do.”
  • Jarrett Allen missed Sunday’s game due to ankle soreness but coach J.B. Bickerstaff indicated prior to the game the Cavaliers center will likely return this week, Kelsey Russo of The Athletic tweets. “The thinking behind it is having today will give him like four days of rest before Milwaukee (on Wednesday),” Bickerstaff said. “It’s just been sore and he’s been powering through it.”
  • Nets guard Kyrie Irving sent out a tweet on Sunday related to his suspension, Brian Lewis of the New York Post relays. Irving stated that he was not trying to incite racial disharmony or prejudice. “I was not put here on earth to participate in any religious/political wars or incite racial disharmony/prejudice within communities,” he wrote. “We are all equal under the sun and I am here to participate in the building of an Equal world and follow the Word from the Most High/GOD/YAH.”
  • The Celtics were willing to let Ime Udoka take the Nets job without demanding any compensation in return, according to Jay King of The Athletic. Now, the organization still has to decide what to do with Udoka after the season unless another suitor comes along. It seems likely Udoka will never coach the team again, King adds.

Raptors Notes: Injury Updates, Koloko, Growth, Expectations

Raptors big man Khem Birch (offseason knee surgery) is available for Friday’s game against the Nets. As Michael Grange of Sportsnet.ca relays (via Twitter), Birch said he sat out Wednesday’s home opener against Cleveland for precautionary reasons and his knee “is feeling better” after experiencing swelling. Birch did not require a follow-up MRI, Grange adds.

Unfortunately, Chris Boucher and Otto Porter, who are both dealing with hamstring strains, are still out, tweets Blake Murphy of Sportsnet.ca. According to Josh Lewenberg of TSN Sports (Twitter thread), head coach Nick Nurse said he’s not sure when Boucher will be back, but he’s nearing a return.

He’s in pretty good shape. It should be soon,” Nurse said.

Porter, meanwhile, still hasn’t been able to practice yet, having been limited to individual conditioning and skill work. Lewenberg thinks a late-October or early-November return for the veteran forward “seems realistic.”

Here’s more on the Raptors:

  • Pressed into duty in part due to the injuries of the aforementioned bench trio, rookie center Christian Koloko showcased a different look for the Raptors in their opener, writes Eric Koreen of The Athletic. The 7’1″ native of Cameroon finished with three points, six rebounds and a block in 15 minutes, and teammates felt his impact in the paint on both ends of the court. “Having him be really the only big we’ve got, it makes it stand out more when he’s out there,” Fred VanVleet said, per Koreen. “We’re definitely gonna lean on him when he’s out there.”
  • The Raptors have the “vibe of a young, growing team,” but a salary cap crunch could make the roster difficult to retain in the future, Grange writes in a story for Sportsnet.ca. As Grange notes, VanVleet and Gary Trent Jr. can be a free agents next summer if they decline their player options, Precious Achiuwa will be eligible for a rookie scale extension, Pascal Siakam would be eligible for a super-max extension if he makes an All-NBA team again this season, and OG Anunoby will be a free agent in 2024.
  • Toronto is unlikely to make any significant moves early in the season, which is normal. However, the team’s front office is preparing for what could be a very active trade deadline, and the Raptors feature several interesting players with desirable contracts. According to Doug Smith of The Toronto Star, the Raptors expect to advance past the first round of the playoffs in 2022/23 after losing their first-round series to Philadelphia last season, and if they don’t, there could be a major roster shakeup next summer.

Raptors Notes: Roster Battles, Porter Jr., Young, Barnes, Birch

The battle for the final roster spots on the Raptors‘ regular season roster is ongoing at training camp, Josh Lewenberg of TSN Sports tweets. The team currently has 12 spots believed to be locked in.

According to Lewenberg, Justin Champagnie, D.J. Wilson and Josh Jackson are expected to compete for the final roster spot, while Juancho Hernangomez and Dalano Banton will likely claim the other two.

“We do a staff vote every single day, and that vote changes every single day,” head coach Nick Nurse admitted.

The Raptors must trim their training camp roster down to 17 players (which can include two two-way players) by October 17 at 5:00 pm ET. Toronto has established itself as a team that prioritizes length and defensive versatility. The team went 48-34 last season, finishing fifth in the Eastern Conference.

Here are some other notes out of Toronto:

  • Otto Porter Jr. recently tweaked his hamstring in camp, according to Michael Grange of Sportsnet (Twitter link). Nurse said Porter may be out for a “little bit.” Porter signed a two-year deal to join the team this past summer. In addition, Grange relays that Thaddeus Young (knee) is day-to-day. Young is once again expected to provide frontcourt depth off the bench for Toronto this season.
  • Second-year player Scottie Barnes is impressing Nurse and the team in training camp, Lori Ewing of The Canadian Press writes (link via The Toronto Star). Barnes won the NBA’s Rookie of the Year award last season. “It feels like it’s better and he’s making more in the rhythm of what we’re doing,” Nurse said. “He’s not hesitating to take them at all, the threes. He’s still doing the rest of the stuff. He’s got that long, slow, strong drive where he puts it in the basket. He’s got that pull-up thing when he has a size advantage. But the frequency with which he’s letting them go is certainly on the rise.”
  • Big man Khem Birch discovered he suffered a torn meniscus when he underwent arthroscopic surgery on his knee this offseason, Eric Koreen of The Athletic tweets. Birch isn’t 100% yet, but he’s working his way back. The 30-year-old appeared in 55 games with Toronto last season, averaging 4.5 points and 4.3 rebounds in 18.0 minutes per contest.

Raptors Notes: Harris, Koloko, Trent, Birch

The Raptors have several options with Jalen Harris now that they’ve reportedly extended a two-way qualifying offer, Eric Koreen of The Athletic writes in a mailbag column. Harris, who was dismissed from the NBA in July of 2021 for violating the terms of the league’s anti-drug program, was reinstated last week.

The QO makes Harris a restricted free agent and gives Toronto the opportunity to match any offer he might receive. He can also be signed-and-traded, although Koreen believes that’s unlikely considering his year-long absence.

The Raptors are likely targeting Harris for their G League affiliate, but first he would have to sign an Exhibit 10 contract or enter the G League draft. Toronto currently has 19 players under contract, and Koreen expects the final spot to go to Arizona center Christian Koloko, who was taken with the 33rd pick in this year’s draft. However, rookie forward Gabe Brown has an Exhibit 10 deal and appears ticketed for the G League. Once he’s waived, there would be an opening for Harris.

There’s more from Toronto:

  • Contract considerations may affect how the Raptors utilize Gary Trent Jr. this season, Koreen adds in the same piece. Trent holds an $18.56MM player option for the 2023/24 season, so Koreen believes the team may be reluctant to move him to a full-time sixth-man role, which could reduce his desire to remain in Toronto. Koreen also notes that the Raptors will eventually run into salary issues, so they might not be planning to pay Trent as a starter beyond his current contract. Trent put up career-best numbers in his first full season in Toronto, averaging 18.3 points and 2.0 assists in 70 games.
  • Khem Birch expects to be ready for training camp after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery in late May, tweets Michael Grange of Sportsnet.ca. Injuries limited the 29-year-old center to 55 games last season.
  • The Raptors are a “sleeping giant” in the East, according to Ben Golliver of the Washington Post. Golliver notes that the organization is set up well for the future with no bad contracts on its books and all its future first-round picks available. Toronto has two current All-Stars in Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet, a potential franchise player in Scottie Barnes and a group of rotation players who are all younger than 30.

Khem Birch Undergoes Arthroscopic Surgery On Knee

Raptors center Khem Birch underwent arthroscopic surgery on his right knee on Wednesday in Los Angeles, the team announced today in a press release. The procedure took place at the Cedars-Sinai Kerlan-Jobe Institute, a day after Zach LaVine underwent a similar procedure there.

According to the Raptors, the surgery cleaned up “loose debris” in Birch’s knee. The expectation is that he’ll be ready to go for the start of training camp in September.

After joining the Raptors on the buyout market during the second half of the 2020/21 season, Birch signed a new three-year, $20MM contract with the club last offseason. Hampered by his troublesome right knee and other injuries in ’21/22, the 29-year-old appeared in just 55 games, starting 28 of them. He averaged 4.5 PPG and 4.3 RPG with a career-worst .485 FG% in 18.0 minutes per contest.

Still, Birch’s deal is fully guaranteed for all three years, so barring a trade, he’ll be back in Toronto next season. It’s unclear whether he’ll have an opportunity to reenter the starting lineup, however, given the emergence of young big man Precious Achiuwa, as well as the Raptors’ willingness to start three forwards – Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby, and Scottie Barnes – in lieu of a center.

And-Ones: BIG3, Canada, Hezonja, Coaches

Ty Lawson, Corey Brewer, Jordan Crawford, Jonathon Simmons, Norris Cole, Festus Ezeli, and Jordan Hill are among the many former NBA players whose names are in the BIG3 draft pool for the 2022 season, per the league’s official website.

The BIG3 will hold its draft on Wednesday evening in Los Angeles as it gears up for the coming season. As we previously relayed, the first games of 2022 are scheduled for June 18 and this will be the first year in which the BIG3 holds an All-Star Game.

Here are a few more odds and ends from around the basketball world:

Raptors Notes: Anunoby, Siakam, Barnes, Birch, Achiuwa

Raptors forward OG Anunoby, who has been sidelined since the All-Star break due to a fractured right ring finger, was reevaluated on Monday, according to Blake Murphy of Sportsnet.ca (Twitter link).

“It’s kinda the same,” head coach Nick Nurse said of Anunoby’s finger injury. “It’s not fully healed. He’s got a decision to make.”

According to Nurse, the plan is for Anunoby to practice on Tuesday and see how he feels — the team will know more at that point about his status. Nurse’s comment about Anunoby having a “decision” to make suggests that playing through the injury before it has fully healed could be an option if the pain isn’t too bad.

Here’s more on the Raptors:

  • As Eric Koreen writes for The Athletic, Pascal Siakam and Scottie Barnes are both technically forwards, but their versatile skill sets allows them to function as de facto point guards at times, and they’re developing intriguing chemistry together. “I think we have kind of like similar skill sets, and we always feel like we have a mismatch every time down the floor,” Siakam said over the weekend.
  • Noting that Toronto enjoyed success in Denver on Saturday with a shooting-deficient lineup made up of Barnes, Khem Birch, Thaddeus Young, Chris Boucher, and Dalano Banton, Eric Koreen explores Nurse’s unconventional rotation decisions, dubbing the Raptors the NBA’s “delightful weirdos.”
  • Birch appreciates the Raptors’ willingness to stick with him as a rotation regular and a frequent starter, given how much time he has missed this season due to injuries and illnesses. “Honestly, I feel like with any other team I probably wouldn’t even be playing right now,” said Birch, who has missed 26 of 68 games (link via Doug Smith of The Toronto Star). “The fact that they just have that type of confidence in me despite all the injuries I’ve had, all the setbacks, and I’m still getting minutes tells a lot about how they feel about me, and it gives me a lot of confidence to keep going despite my injury.”
  • Nekias Duncan of BasketballNews.com examines the progress that Raptors center Precious Achiuwa has made in his second NBA season and the areas where he still has room to improve.

Raptors’ OG Anunoby Fractures Right Ring Finger

Raptors forward OG Anunoby has been ruled out for Friday’s game vs. Charlotte due to a fractured right ring finger, tweets Josh Lewenberg of TSN.ca. According to Michael Grange of Sportsnet.ca (Twitter link), Anunoby’s finger was sore “for a while” before the All-Star break and X-rays this week showed a small fracture.

It seems safe to assume Anunoby will miss some time beyond tonight’s game due to the injury, which affects his shooting hand, Lewenberg notes. Eric Koreen of The Athletic tweets that the plan is for the 24-year-old to rest while the team further assesses the injury.

Anunoby has averaged a career-high 17.5 PPG in 42 games (36.7 MPG) for the Raptors this season, though his shooting numbers (.436/.351/.748) have dipped a little as he has become more of a focal point in the offense. He has also averaged 5.5 RPG, 2.6 APG, and 1.5 SPG.

Beginning tonight, the Raptors play six games in eight days — they have back-to-back sets tonight and Saturday, Monday and Tuesday, and next Thursday and Friday.

As Lewenberg tweets, the Raptors may lean on newly-acquired forward Thaddeus Young to play an increased role in Anunoby’s absence, though Khem Birch is probably the favorite to take Anunoby’s place in the starting lineup.

Lakers Sought Trades With Knicks, Raptors, Celtics

Rival executives tried to take advantage of the Lakers’ predicament, which ultimately led to VP of basketball operations Rob Pelinka standing pat at the trade deadline, according to The Athletic’s Bill Oram.

Other teams wanted the Lakers to take on bad contracts or give up their limited draft capital, including their 2027 first round pick, to facilitate potential deals, according to Oram.

The Lakers were unable to gain any traction on a potential Russell Westbrook deal. They tried to put together some lower-level deals, including a proposed three-way trade with the Knicks and Raptors. Toronto big men Khem Birch and Chris Boucher and Knicks wing Cam Reddish could have been on the move, but those fell apart after the other two teams couldn’t agree on draft compensation.

The Lakers also mulled a possible reunion with Dennis Schröder, though there was some pushback from some members of the organization. The Lakers still pursued a deal with the Celtics but Boston’s high asking price ended those negotiations. The Celtics wound up trading Schröder to Houston.

LeBron James and Anthony Davis were consulted on potential trades and understood why Pelinka chose to stand pat, according to ESPN’s Dave McMenamin.

“You can’t force another team to present yourself with a deal that is going to make your team be better. That’s up to them,” Pelinka said. “And throughout this process we had different things we looked at and like I’ve done in the past had conversations with LeBron and Anthony about it and I would say there’s alignment here. And that’s all that matters.”

The Lakers will monitor the buyout market but would have to waive a player since their roster is full.

Injury Updates: Mitchell, Gobert, Green, Iguodala, Anthony, James, Birch

Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert were named as All-Star reserves on Thursday. The Jazz also got positive injury news regarding their top players.

Mitchell has cleared the NBA’s concussion protocol and will be available for the team’s game against the Nets on Friday, Tim MacMahon of ESPN tweets. Mitchell hasn’t played since January 17. Gobert won’t play on Friday but could return early next week, MacMahon adds. The big man is dealing with a calf strain and hasn’t seen action since January 23rd.

We have more injury-related news:

  • Warriors forward Draymond Green is skipping the All-Star Game due to a back injury. Green said on Thursday he won’t need surgery but estimates it will be at least three-to-four weeks before he can play again, Marc Stein tweets.
  • Another Warriors forward, Andre Iguodala, says he’s close to returning from a left hip injury, Anthony Slater of The Athletic tweets. Iguodala hasn’t played since logging 31 minutes on January 20. Iguodala indicated that persistent knee swelling created a “chain reaction” that has led to other ailments.
  • Lakers forward Carmelo Anthony exited the team’s game against the Clippers on Thursday due to a right hamstring strain, McMenamin tweets. LeBron James missed his fifth straight game due to swelling in his left knee, McMenamin adds in another tweet.
  • Raptors big man Khem Birch played on Thursday for the first time since January 14. He only saw five minutes of action. Birch required plastic surgery after his nose was fractured. He’ll have to wear a mask for approximately six weeks, Michael Grange of Sportsnet.ca tweets.