Khem Birch

Atlantic Notes: Watanabe, Gillespie, Birch, Achiuwa, Simmons, Millsap

Despite dealing with a calf strain, Yuta Watanabe is a safe bet to make the Raptors’ opening-night roster, according to Blake Murphy of Sportsnet.ca. Watanabe is a multi-position defender and the coaching staff is looking for him to play a bigger offensive role. His partially guaranteed contract becomes fully guaranteed if he’s on the 15-man after training camp.

Freddie Gillespie, whose partially-guaranteed deal also becomes fully guaranteed on opening night, may be playing his way off the Raptors’ roster, Murphy writes. Gillespie struggled in summer league games and hasn’t looked any better in preseason action.

We have more from the Atlantic Division:

  • Raptors center Khem Birch was cleared to make his preseason debut on Monday after a bout with COVID-19, Michael Grange of Sportsnet.ca tweets. Birch, along with his wife and daughter, caught the virus and he experienced symptoms despite being fully vaccinated. Birch re-signed with Toronto on a three-year deal this summer.
  • Birch and Precious Achiuwa will split the minutes at the center spot on an almost even platoon when the regular season commences, Josh Lewenberg of TSN Sports tweets. It’s not certain who will start but the Raptors will ease Birch back into action. Chris Boucher will be out at least another 2-3 weeks as he recovers from finger surgery.
  • Amid reports that the possibility of Ben Simmons reporting to the Sixers is growing, coach Doc Rivers said on Monday that “we would love to get him back,” Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer tweets. Rivers has spoken with Simmons’ agent, Rich Paul, adding that “our position hasn’t changed at all.”
  • Nets forward Paul Millsap was also sidelined briefly by the league’s health and safety protocols during camp but he was cleared to play in Monday’s preseason game, according to Brian Lewis of the New York Post. Millsap only missed one preseason contest.

Atlantic Notes: Nash, Irving, Sixers, Raptors

Kyrie Irving is back with the Nets, but he won’t be traveling with the team for tomorrow’s preseason game at Philadelphia, and coach Steve Nash seems resigned to the fact that Irving is going to start missing home games unless he gets vaccinated, according to Brian Lewis of the New York Post.

I think we recognize he’s not playing home games,” said Nash. “We’re going to have to for sure play without him this year; so it just depends on when, where and how much.”

However, Nash also noted that things can change quickly in this unprecedented situation, per Lewis.

Right now we assume he’s not going to be available for home games,” Nash said. “Anything can change. Who’s to say, the city’s ordinance could change? Anything could change.”

Right now we’re just trying to remain flexible, open-minded and figure it out as we go, because information is coming in by the half-day here, whether it’s Paul [Millsap’s health and safety protocol] situation, Kyrie’s situation or the laws. We found out Friday he could come in the building, so things are shifting. No one’s been through this before, and we’re just trying to figure it out as we go.”

Here’s more from the Atlantic Division:

  • Tyrese Maxey and Shake Milton of the Sixers appear locked in a battle over the starting point guard spot with Ben Simmons still away from the team, writes Derek Bodner of The Athletic. The players have taken turns starting the team’s first two preseason games, with mixed results for both. However, Bodner thinks Maxey has much higher upside and should be given the opportunity to start, given Milton’s physical limitations.
  • In the same article, Bodner notes that second-year guard Isaiah Joe has been outstanding thus far in the preseason and is making a strong case for a spot in the Sixers‘ rotation. Joe is averaging 16.5 PPG while shooting 7-12 (58.3%) from three, and he’s also shown growth as a shot-creator and defender. Coach Doc Rivers has taken notice, per Bodner. “He’s starting to put the ball on the floor. That’s something he couldn’t do (last year),” Rivers said. “He made plays tonight getting into the paint there’s no way he could have done that last year. Good for him because he’s putting all the work in.”
  • The Raptors have been impressed with free agent acquisition Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk thus far, writes Doug Smith of the Toronto Star.
  • Khem Birch is out of health and safety protocols and could be available for the Raptors tomorrow against Houston, tweets Josh Lewenberg of TSN Sports.

Chris Boucher Has Finger Surgery, To Miss 3-4 Weeks

Raptors big man Chris Boucher will be out a minimum of three-to-four weeks after undergoing surgery to repair his dislocated left middle finger, Josh Lewenberg of TSN Sports tweets.

Coach Nick Nurse announced Boucher’s surgery prior to the team’s preseason game on Monday. The surgery was done to realign the finger, Michael Grange of Sportsnet.ca tweets.

Boucher had a breakout season in his fourth year in the league, averaging 13.6 PPG and 6.7 RPG in 24.2 MPG in 60 regular-season games. Boucher and Khem Birch are battling for the starting center spot but Boucher is now projected to miss the first week or two of the regular season. Toronto has seven regular-season games this month.

Boucher, who is making $7MM this season, will be an unrestricted free agent next summer.

Atlantic Notes: Harden, Knox, Rivers, Birch

Nets superstar James Harden is still working on getting his conditioning back to 100%, according to Brian Lewis of the New York Post. Lewis notes that Harden has fully healed from a hamstring injury sustained during the playoffs — but that his next challenge is getting back into shape.

“He hasn’t really played since the Boston series, and before that, he hadn’t played for a long time either,” head coach Steve Nash explained. So he hasn’t played a lot of basketball, period, since the [2020] bubble. It’s been stop-start for him. He still wants to get his legs under him, and then can feel a few new levels for him to go.”

Brooklyn is poised to re-add Harden to a starting five of Kyrie Irving, Joe Harris, Kevin Durant and Blake Griffin this season. The 32-year-old played 44 games with the Rockets and Nets last season, averaging 24.6 points and 10.8 assists per contest.

Here are some other notes from the Atlantic Division:

  • Kevin Knox‘s future with the Knicks remains cloudy entering the season, Marc Berman of the New York Post writes. Knox only played in 42 games last season (11 minutes per contest), and sources told Berman it was largely due to his low motor and lack of defensive toughness. Knox was drafted by the franchise with the No. 9 pick in 2018.
  • Sixers head coach Doc Rivers helped recruit Andre Drummond and Georges Niang to the team in free agency, Gina Mizell of the Philadelphia Inquirer writes. Both Drummond and Niang are expected to provide depth in the frontcourt as bench players this season. “That was the swinger in me wanting to be here,” Niang said of his phone conversation with Rivers. “Just simply because that’s the guy that’s taking me in and out of the game. He had a vision for me, and it aligned with [how] I thought I fit in. He wants to win right away, and so do I. I want to be in a good culture, and that’s what he’s building here. Obviously, when I got off the phone, I was real excited because I thought, before I even made the decision, I had a home here in Philly.”
  • Raptors big man Khem Birch has missed the start of training camp due to health and safety protocols, Blake Murphy of Sportsnet tweets. Birch appeared in 19 games with Toronto last season, averaging 11.9 points, 7.6 rebounds and 30.4 minutes per contest.

Eastern Contract Details: Lowry, Birch, Heat, Dinwiddie, Niang, More

Kyle Lowry‘s new three-year, $85MM contract with the Heat is a standard increasing deal, starting at about $26.98MM and rising annually by 5%, tweets Keith Smith of Spotrac.

Based on Lowry’s 2021/22 salary, we now know the value of the traded player exception the Raptors created in their sign-and-trade deal with the Heat, tweets Blake Murphy of The Athletic. That TPE will be worth $4,832,848, which is the difference between Lowry’s new salary and the combined cap hits of Goran Dragic and Precious Achiuwa.

Murphy also confirms that Khem Birch‘s three-year, $20MM deal with the Raptors is a standard increasing contract with no options or partial guarantees — it eats up about $6.35MM of Toronto’s mid-level exception, leaving $3.187MM on that MLE.

Here are more contract details from around the East, courtesy of Smith:

  • As expected, the new deals for Max Strus, Omer Yurtseven, and Gabe Vincent with the Heat are each two-year, minimum-salary contracts with one year guaranteed and the second year non-guaranteed (Twitter link). P.J. Tucker, meanwhile, got a two-year, $14.35MM contract that uses $7MM of Miami’s mid-level exception in year one. Tucker’s second year is a player option (Twitter link).
  • Spencer Dinwiddie‘s three-year contract with the Wizards only has a base value of $54MM, rather than the previously-reported total of $60MM+ (Twitter link). The deal, which features unlikely incentives that could push its value higher, has a partial guarantee worth $10MM (of $18.86MM) in year three.
  • Georges Niang‘s deal with the Sixers came in at $6.765MM over two years, both of which are fully guaranteed (Twitter link).
  • Trae Young‘s five-year, maximum-salary extension with the Hawks includes a 15% trade kicker (Twitter link).
  • The numbers are also in for the finalized deals between Jarrett Allen and the Cavaliers (Twitter link), Bobby Portis and the Bucks (Twitter link), George Hill and the Bucks (Twitter link), and Danny Green and the Sixers (Twitter link), with no surprises among that group. As expected, Green’s second year is non-guaranteed and Portis has a second-year player option, while Allen and Hill have fully guaranteed salaries.

Raptors Notes: Lowry, Achiuwa, Dragic, Birch, TPE, Ujiri

There was some speculation leading up to free agency that Toronto would make an effort to re-sign veteran point guard Kyle Lowry, but comments made on Friday by the six-time All-Star and by Raptors general manager Bobby Webster suggested both sides felt the time was right to move on, writes Josh Lewenberg of TSN.ca.

“I think the direction Toronto is going in is they want to give the opportunities to (Fred VanVleet), Pascal (Siakam), OG (Anunoby), a couple young guys, the young draft picks they have,” Lowry told reporters. “They have some great core pieces. They’re in great hands and great shape. It was a situation for me where it was an opportunity to do something different… It’s time to turn the page in the book.”

Webster conveyed a similar sentiment: “You probably could see (during the 2020/21 second half) the direction the team was going in, and jumping up in the draft to get the fourth pick, philosophically, I think going young became kind of a more desirable path.”

Once they recognized Lowry would be moving on, the Raptors could’ve decided to let him walk in order to open up cap room to pursue a free agent. However, that path offered less certainty, especially if the team made an offer sheet to a restricted free agent (such as Jarrett Allen) not knowing whether it would be matched. The Raptors preferred to acquire Goran Dragic and Precious Achiuwa via a sign-and-trade with the Heat, Lewenberg writes.

“Precious is a huge part of this deal for us,” Webster said. “We really liked him last year in the draft so I think that was a huge get in the sense of a young player that we like and fits.”

Here’s more on the Raptors:

  • Throughout the week, there were rumors that Toronto may try to flip Dragic to a third team after acquiring him via sign-and-trade. Webster said on Friday that’s not Plan A. “Obviously, if we got an offer that was too good to refuse we’d listen but ultimately we want Goran here,” the Raptors’ GM said, per Lewenberg. “He’s happy to be here, obviously he’s been able to carve out a very nice career for himself. Talking to (team president) Masai (Ujiri), talking to everyone here, we’ve watched him a ton and I know a lot of people have seen him kill us. As a basketball player, as a vet, he provides a lot of value to us.”
  • After his new three-year deal with the Raptors was formally announced on Friday, Canadian center Khem Birch told reporters he was focused throughout free agency on returning to the team, as Doug Smith of The Toronto Star writes. “It feels like a dream come true,” Birch said. “It’s so surreal right now … just one of those free agencies where I knew where I wanted to go. I don’t even know what other teams were interested in me. I just wanted to come here regardless of the price or the years or anything. I just knew this was a great fit. I’m just happy I’m here.”
  • The Raptors will generate a traded player exception as a result of the Kyle Lowry sign-and-trade to Miami. It’ll be worth somewhere between $4.8MM and $7.7MM, depending on the specific structure of Lowry’s new contract, writes Blake Murphy of The Athletic.
  • Speaking to Jared Weiss of The Athletic, Raptors chairman Larry Tanenbaum confirmed that Masai Ujiri‘s new vice chairman title won’t give him an ownership stake in the franchise, but said it reflects his standing in the organization. “I chair the Raptors, but it’s just a recognition that we’re really working together,” Tanenbaum said. “We’re partners.”
  • Tanenbaum added in the same interview that the team’s plan is to have Lowry retire as a Raptor down the road and to retire his number. “He will retire as a Raptor and his number will absolutely go up there,” Tanenbaum said. “The honor will be the first one (for the Raptors) and I love Kyle.”

Raptors Re-Sign Khem Birch To Three-Year Contract

AUGUST 6: The Raptors have made it official with Birch, formally issuing a press release to confirm his new deal.


AUGUST 5: The Raptors have reached a three-year contract agreement with one of their own free agents, center Khem Birch, Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN tweets.

The deal will be worth $20MM. Toronto only held Non-Bird rights on Birch, so it will likely use part of its mid-level exception to re-sign Birch. It’s also conceivable that the Raptors could open up sufficient cap room to make it happen, but if they take back Goran Dragic or another high-salary player in the Kyle Lowry sign-and-trade with Miami, they’ll need to use the mid-level.

Birch joined the Raptors in April after the rebuilding Magic bought him out. He started 17 of 19 regular-season appearances with the Raptors, averaging 11.9 PPG, 7.6 RPG and 1.2 BPG in 30.4 MPG. The 28-year-old Birch played his first three-and-a-half NBA seasons with Orlando but was mainly used off the bench.

The Raptors waived Aron Baynes on Wednesday, so Birch could compete with Chris Boucher for a starting role with the club.

Free Agency Rumors: Paul, Caruso, Birch, Green, Heat

The Pelicans offered Chris Paul a $100MM contract early in free agency, ESPN’s Brian Windhorst said on today’s episode of The Hoop Collective podcast. Windhorst believes the Pelicans’ offer helped convince the Suns to add a fourth year to their offer — that fourth year is not guaranteed, but it’s not clear if New Orleans’ offer would have been fully guaranteed either.

According to Windhorst, after new Pelicans head coach Willie Green tried to help recruit him, Paul entertained the idea for some time before ultimately committing to the Suns.

On the same episode of The Hoop Collective podcast, ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne stated that Alex Caruso was willing to go back to the Lakers for three years and $30MM, but that the Lakers weren’t willing to higher than about $7MM per year for the veteran guard. Concerns about an exorbitant luxury-tax penalty factored into that decision, per Shelburne.

We have more free agency rumors:

  • Khem Birch could be nearing a return to the Raptors, according to Michael Grange of Sportsnet.ca (Twitter link). Grange reports that there’s “growing momentum” toward the two sides reaching a deal. The 28-year-old center was extremely productive in his 19 games for the Raptors after coming over in a trade, and has turned himself into a solid starting center over the last couple seasons.
  • Add the Cavaliers to the list of teams interested in Danny Green, reports ESPN’s Jordan Schultz. Schultz also confirms, in a follow-up tweet, that the Lakers remain interested in a reunion with Green, which Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports previously reported. It doesn’t appear the Lakers will be able to offer Green more than the veteran’s minimum though.
  • Following their deal with Victor Oladipo, the Heat remain interested in a low-cost veteran guard who will be healthy at the start of the season, according to Barry Jackson of The Miami Herald (Twitter link), who names Lou Williams as a player who would “welcome” interest from the team.

Olympic Notes: Butler, Olynyk, Birch, Bjorkgren, Jokic, Australia

Jimmy Butler will not play for Team USA at the Tokyo Olympics, Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun Sentinel tweets. Butler had an invite but he battled through a variety of ailments this season and had a short turnaround between seasons after Miami surprisingly reached the NBA Finals last summer.

We have more info on this year’s Olympics:

  • The Rockets’ Kelly Olynyk and Raptors’ Khem Birch are among the prominent players not listed among the 24 players Team Canada submitted to FIBA in advance of its Olympic qualifier, Michael Grange of Rogers Sportsnet tweets. They’re both unrestricted free agents. The Grizzlies’ Brandon Clarke is also not on the preliminary list, Blake Murphy of The Athletic tweets. The 24-man roster can be found here.
  • Nate Bjorkgren, who was let go by the Pacers after one season as head coach, will join Nick Nurse’s Team Canada staff, Marc Stein of the New York Times tweets. Bjorkgren was one of Nurse’s top assistants before his stint with Indiana.
  • MVP Nikola Jokic won’t play for the Serbian team at the Olympic qualifier due to an exhausting NBA campaign, according to Mike Singer of The Denver Post. Jokic told Serbian news agency Tanjug, “Simply, the condition of my body requires a longer absence from the court for recovery.” The Denver Post story asserts Jokic won’t play in the Olympics even if his national team qualifies, while an ESPN story says it’s unclear if Jokic would participate in Tokyo.
  • The Australian national team will play exhibitions against Team USA, Nigeria and Argentina in Las Vegas before departing for Tokyo, David Aldridge of The Athletic tweets. The 19-man preliminary roster, which will be trimmed to 12, is expected to be loaded with NBA players, including Ben Simmons and Joe Ingles.

14 NBA Players On Canada’s Preliminary Olympic Qualifying Roster

Team Canada has yet to secure a place in the men’s basketball event at the Tokyo Olympics, but the club should have a loaded roster as it looks to lock up a spot in a qualifying tournament next month.

Canada Basketball issued a press release today announcing its 21-player preliminary roster for the Olympic qualifier, and the group includes 14 players who finished the season on NBA contracts. Here’s the full list:

Of the seven players who didn’t play in the NBA this season, one (Bennett) is a former first overall pick, another (Nicholson) was also a first-round selection, and a third (Alexander) has NBA experience. Bell-Haynes has played in the G League, while Doornekamp, Ejim, and Nembhard all have extensive experience representing Canada in past international competitions.

Still, a few noteworthy names are missing from the list. Nuggets guard Jamal Murray is recovering from a torn ACL and won’t be able to participate. Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is also dealing with an injury, announcing on Instagram that rehabbing the plantar fasciitis in his right foot will prevent him from representing Team Canada.

Raptors big man Chris Boucher is a third notable omission. According to Michael Grange of Sportsnet.ca (Twitter link), Boucher is focused on rehabbing a knee sprain and wants to make sure he’s 100% healthy heading into 2021/22. He also has a somewhat uncertain contract situation — his $7MM salary for next season is non-guaranteed, though I’d be shocked if he’s not retained.

Even without Murray, Gilgeous-Alexander, and Boucher, Canada Basketball is in position to run out a roster stacked with NBA talent and led by former NBA Coach of the Year Nick Nurse.

While the final roster will depend in part on which players are available, none of the 21 players on the preliminary are on teams expected to still be alive for the conference finals. However, a club like Powell’s Mavericks or Barrett’s Knicks could surprise.

Team Canada will compete against Greece, China, Uruguay, Turkey, and the Czech Republic in a qualifying tournament in Victoria, British Columbia between June 29 and July 4. If the club wins that six-team qualifier, it will be part of the 12-team field in Tokyo and would be a legit contender for a medal.