Serge Ibaka

Raptors Notes: Gasol, Ibaka, VanVleet, Powell

Lost revenue from the NBA’s hiatus has the Raptors in a position of financial uncertainty as they look ahead to the offseason, writes Doug Smith of The Toronto Star. Toronto has just nine players signed beyond this season, and only four of them are part of the rotation. Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka and Fred VanVleet are all headed for free agency, and the Raptors aren’t sure how much cap room they’ll have available.

The league may lose hundreds of millions in projected earnings if it can’t salvage a significant portion of its remaining season. That’s on top of lost money resulting from the dispute with China. Smith points out that Pascal Siakam‘s new extension, which begins next season, is based on a percentage of the salary cap. While that might give the Raptors more money to work with than they were expecting, it adds to the muddled financial picture.

There’s more from Toronto:

  • The Raptors should prioritize re-signing Gasol over Ibaka if they decide not to keep both, argues Blake Murphy of The Athletic. Even though Ibaka is five years younger and a better scorer, Murphy sees Gasol as a superior passer, defender and floor spacer. He also suggests that Gasol may be more willing to accept a large one-year contract, which allows the team to remain competitive in a talented 2021 free agent class.
  • Murphy had expected VanVleet to get an offer beyond what Toronto is willing to pay, but he cautions that a lower salary cap might change the equation. He projected that the Raptors would offer the fourth-year guard a new deal in the range of $17MM to $20MM annually. Only five or six teams will have the money to top that, and several of them already have young point guards in place. Murphy states that VanVleet’s best strategy may be to accept a long-term deal in Toronto that takes advantage of his Bird rights.
  • Norman Powell‘s improvement this season may tempt the Raptors to hold onto his contract rather than trade it for cap relief, Murphy adds. Powell is owed nearly $10.9MM next season and has an $11.6MM player option for 2021/22.

Raptors Travel Party Tests Negative

MARCH 14: The Raptors have updated their announcement, indicating that the final test of their travel party has also come back negative for COVID-19, per The Athletic’s Blake Murphy (Twitter link).

MARCH 13: The Raptors announced that all members of their travel party have tested negative for the coronavirus with one test still pending, Tim Bontemps of ESPN tweets.

There was extra concern regarding Toronto’s players and staff since the Raptors faced the Jazz on Monday. Utah center Rudy Gobert tested positive two nights later prior to the team’s game at Oklahoma City, prompting the league to suspend its season.

Among the players who tested negative was Serge Ibaka, who defended Gobert a good portion of the game, Shams Charania of The Athletic tweets.

Atlantic Notes: Gasol, Ibaka, Jordan, Nets, Sixers

After getting two injured players – Pascal Siakam and Norman Powell – back on Sunday, the Raptors will get more reinforcements on Wednesday, according to Josh Lewenberg of TSN.ca, who tweets that Marc Gasol is set to return to the team. The big man has been sidelined since December 18 due to a hamstring injury.

With Gasol healthy again, the Raptors will have a decision to make. Gasol was the team’s starting center before going on the injured list, but Serge Ibaka has been playing some of his best basketball in years during Gasol’s absence, averaging 18.1 PPG and 10.3 RPG with a .541 FG% and a .441 3PT% in 12 games as a starter.

According to Raptors lead assistant coach Adrian Griffin, head coach Nick Nurse will make the decision on who will start at center (Twitter link via Ryan Wolstat of The Toronto Sun). Nurse likes to experiment with his lineups and may try different combinations when Gasol returns, but I’d be surprised if the former Defensive Player of the Year doesn’t reclaim his starting spot, either right away or down the road.

Gasol and Ibaka are on expiring contracts, so both veteran Raptors centers will be motivated to finish the season strong.

Here’s more from around the Atlantic:

  • In an interesting piece for ESPN.com, Malika Andrews of ESPN.com examines how DeAndre Jordan‘s gregarious personality and positive locker-room presence factored into the Nets‘ decision to invest $40MM in him this past summer. “We knew we were wading through some uncharted waters where we’ve never been before — where expectations are a little bit bigger,” GM Sean Marks said. “To have a guy like DJ, who can hopefully keep the mood light behind the scenes is — it’s really important.”
  • Within Andrews’ article, Marks acknowledged that the Nets expect to become a taxpaying team next season. The GM suggested that Brooklyn’s investment in Jordan was related to the fact that 2019 was one of the last opportunities the club will have for a while to use cap room. “We’re going to be a tax team,” Marks said. “We are married to that. There’s a limited amount of times and ways you can continue to add to your team. You better do it now. You’re gearing up for a run.”
  • Derek Bodner and Rich Hofmann of The Athletic list 19 potential trade targets for the Sixers at the deadline, including some backup fours, catch-and-shoot players, and combo guards. Meanwhile, David Aldridge of The Athletic makes the case for why acquiring another point guard should be the 76ers’ top priority in trade talks.

Eastern Notes: Love, McConnell, Celtics, Raptors

There’s “fresh optimism” that the Cavaliers will be able to deal power forward Kevin Love before next month’s trade deadline, Marc Stein of the New York Times tweets. Love recently expressed frustration regarding his long-term status with the franchise. Love is in the first year of a four-year, $120.4MM extension. He’s averaging 16.5 PPG and 10.6 RPG in 30.6 MPG this season.

We have more from the Eastern Conference:

  • The Sixers let point guard T.J. McConnell walk in free agency but the Pacers reserve doesn’t harbor ill will toward his previous team, Mark Monteith of the Indianapolis Star relays. McConnell signed a two-year, $7MM with Indiana, though his salary for next season isn’t guaranteed. McConnell recorded his first double-double of the season against his former club with 11 points and 10 assists on Tuesday. “Nothing but respect,” he said of Philadelphia’s organization. “I would never hold any grudges.”
  • Celtics fans should not expect a trade to upgrade the frontcourt, according to Chris Forsberg of NBC Sports Boston. It’s unlikely they’ll find a deal for a quality big man that doesn’t involve moving one of the team’s top five players, Forsberg continues. They could add a proven role player before the trade deadline but they might be better off waiting to see which players wind up in the buyout market, Forsberg adds.
  • The Raptors’ quick start puts them in a tricky position regarding the trade market, Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated notes. It was generally assumed that Toronto would be a seller with the ability to dangle the expiring contracts of Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka. The one-year extension handed to Kyle Lowry was done in part to make the veteran point guard more tradeable. But now there’s a window for the club to make a run at another championship, Mannix adds.

Raptors Notes: Lowry, Ibaka, Ujiri

Kyle Lowry is targeting December 1 for his return to the lineup, Michael Grange of Rogers Sportsnet relays (Twitter link). Lowry hasn’t played for the Raptors since early November because of a thumb injury.

Here’s more from Toronto:

  • There was hope that Serge Ibaka would make his return on Saturday, Grange notes, but the big man will not return from his right ankle injury this weekend. Patrick McCaw, who is recovering from a knee injury, is ahead of schedule but there is still no definite timetable for his return.
  • Trevor Cole of Toronto Life delivers an in-depth profile of Raptors GM Masai Ujiri, detailing the executive’s routines and his path to the top of the organization in Toronto. Ujiri began his career in international scouting.
  • In the same piece, Raptors guard Fred VanVleet provided some insight into what makes Ujiri great. “He values the little things about a person more than just their basketball talent,” said VanVleet.

Raptors Lose Kyle Lowry, Serge Ibaka To Injuries

The Raptors have ruled out Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka for the foreseeable future due to their respective injuries, announcing the news in a press release on Saturday afternoon.

Lowry will miss at least two weeks after fracturing the distal phalanx of his left thumb, an injury which occurred during the team’s victory over New Orleans on Friday. He’s set to be re-evaluated after the two-week period.

Ibaka suffered a sprained right ankle and is set to undergo additional imaging in Los Angeles. The team is listing him as out indefinitely.

For Lowry, this is the same thumb he had surgery on during the summer to address torn ligaments. However, the fracture is a different tissue. He continued playing through the injury Friday for some time before choosing to exit for good.

“It felt weird from the rip,” Lowry said, according to ESPN’s Andrew Lopez. “I kept playing through it and kept playing through it. Originally we thought it was something in the nailbed because the nailbed turned black and blue. We got some X-rays and we sent the X-rays off to the doctors and there was a small fracture in the thumb.”

Raptors coach Nick Nurse acknowledged that Ibaka’s sprained ankle was “pretty bad” after the game, according to Lopez. Both Lowry and Ibaka are key players in Toronto’s rotation and played integral roles in helping the franchise win its first championship last June.

Toronto currently holds the second-best record in the Eastern Conference at 6-2, with upcoming road games scheduled against the Lakers, Clippers, Blazers and Mavericks.

Raptors Rumors: Siakam, Lowry, Gasol, Ibaka

The Raptors have engaged in “preliminary” discussions with Pascal Siakam‘s representatives about a potential contract extension, sources tell Josh Lewenberg of TSN.ca. Lewenberg cautions that there’s no indication a deal is imminent.

Siakam, who is entering the fourth and final year of his rookie scale contract, is eligible to sign a new deal up until 5:00pm CT on October 21, the day before the regular season begins. If he and the Raptors don’t reach an agreement by that point, he’d be on track for restricted free agency next summer.

After a breakout year in which he earned the NBA’s Most Improved Player award – and helped Toronto win its first championship – Siakam and his camp figure to be seeking a deal worth the max or close to it, Lewenberg notes. Based on the league’s latest cap projections, a four-year, maximum-salary contract for Siakam would be worth just shy of $130MM, while a five-year max would be worth $168.2MM.

With a pretty clean cap sheet for the 2020/21 season, the Raptors can afford such an investment and figure to pull the trigger at some point. However, it remains to be seen whether the two sides will strike a deal in the coming weeks, and exactly how much it’d be worth.

Here’s more on the defending NBA champions:

  • Although Kyle Lowry, Marc Gasol, and Serge Ibaka have expiring contracts that could make them intriguing trade chips, league sources tell Sean Deveney of Heavy.com that the Raptors are happy with their situation and aren’t entertaining trade inquiries on those veterans.
  • One source with knowledge of the team’s thinking tells Deveney that the Raptors want to return to the postseason this spring, in part to sell the club to potential free agent targets. “This is where they always wanted to be,” that source said. “[President of basketball operations] Masai [Ujiri] was always going to rebuild things around Siakam and OG (Anunoby) and the other young guys eventually. He’s going to have a ton of cap space. But he’s got to be able to get free agents to go there and it’s still a tough sell, getting guys to go to Canada. So they’ve got the ring, if they can get to the playoffs again, he has something more to sell when that cap space comes available.”
  • In a separate article for TSN.ca, Lewenberg examines whether Anunoby is primed for a breakout season, explores what Toronto’s roster and rotation might look like, and touches on a handful of other Raptors-related topics.

Raptors Rumors: Kawhi, Lowry, Gasol, Ibaka, Green

The Raptors were confident entering free agency about their chances to re-sign NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard, but that confidence began to waver after they met with Leonard and his uncle Dennis Robertson in Toronto last Wednesday, sources tell Josh Lewenberg of TSN.ca.

According to Lewenberg, Leonard and his camp asked for a lot from the Raptors during that meeting — “things players don’t generally ask for in standard contract negotiations,” writes Lewenberg. One of Lewenberg’s sources describes those requests as “unreasonable,” suggesting that Raptors president of basketball operations Masai Ujiri wouldn’t have been able to meet them all even if he’d wanted to.

The requests caused the Raptors to question whether Leonard was seriously considering them at all, according to Lewenberg. A belief that Kawhi was eyeing the Clippers all along prompted the Raptors to not get too invested in potential trade discussions with the Thunder. Lewenberg suggests that those preliminary talks included Paul George, but not Russell Westbrook, and didn’t even reach the team’s highest-ranking executives.

Within his own look at the Leonard situation, Michael Grange of Sportsnet.ca conveys many of the same sentiments that Lewenberg did. According to Grange, as Leonard’s requests became more difficult to meet and communication became less constant, it became more clear that the Raptors weren’t his top priority, as one person close to the talks described it.

Grange adds that the Raptors’ contact with the Thunder in the hours leading up to Leonard’s announcement “may have been somewhat exaggerated.” Toronto tapped out fairly early once it was evident OKC was using talks with the Raptors as leverage.

Here’s more on the Raptors:

  • One Clippers official who spoke to Grange was relieved that his team was still able to land Kawhi after the success he enjoyed in Toronto in 2018/19: “The Raptors did everything right. We saw the parade, saw those pictures and figured that was it. We were done.”
  • Speaking to reporters, including Ryan Wolstat of The Toronto Sun, Ujiri suggested on Tuesday that he’s not exactly reeling from losing Leonard: “I think we got a great deal out of this. We won a championship, so we’re happy. And, honestly, it’s on to the next. This is the NBA and this is how it works. You can’t hide under the table and cry. Honestly, I’ve lost no sleep, I’m not disappointed. It’s on to what’s next. I’m telling Raptors fans and everybody, don’t lose one day of sleep, one second of sleep. We’re going to be just fine. We’re going to be alright.”
  • Don’t expect the next steps for the Raptors to involve an immediate tear-down. Sources tell Lewenberg that the team has no intention of moving veterans on expiring contracts – such as Kyle Lowry, Marc Gasol, and Serge Ibaka – before the season. Of course, it’s possible that stance could change by the trade deadline if the Raps don’t have a great first half.
  • While there was a belief that Danny Green would lean toward re-signing with the Raptors and trying to defend their title if Leonard returned, that may not have been the case after all. According to Brad Townsend of The Dallas Morning News (via Twitter), Green told the Mavericks that he wouldn’t be returning to Toronto, and his choice came down to the Lakers vs. the Mavs.

Kawhi Leonard Fallout: Clippers, Lakers, Raptors

After reaching deals late on Friday night to add Kawhi Leonard and Paul George to their roster, the Clippers are the new favorites to win the 2019 NBA title, according to the oddsmakers at BetOnline.ag. Unlike in recent years – when Golden State was the overwhelming frontrunner – the Clippers are only currently a slight favorite over the Lakers and Bucks, but it’s still a remarkable turnaround for a team that looked 24 hours ago as if it might strike out entirely in free agency.

The acquisitions of Leonard and George show how far the Clippers have come this decade, according to Jovan Buha of The Athletic, who says the organization has “arrived” as a premier destination for star players.

Meanwhile, Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports tweets that Leonard and his camp found it “comical” that every report this week claiming to have identified Kawhi’s likely destination mentioned the Raptors or Lakers, but never the Clippers. While it’s not clear if the Clippers were always his No. 1 choice, Leonard reportedly worked hard this week to try to get George to join him in Los Angeles, as we detail in our round-up of PG13-related items.

Here are several more Kawh-related notes related to the two suitors that missed out on Leonard:

Lakers:

  • As of about two hours before Leonard chose the Clippers on Friday night, his camp was asking the Lakers to delay the Anthony Davis trade until late Saturday or Sunday, according to ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne, who tweets that no specific reason was given.
  • If Leonard had signed with the Lakers, he would have had to do so before the Davis trade was formally completed in order to maximize his earnings, since the AD deal would’ve cut into the Lakers’ cap room. So it’s possible he was leaving a Plan B available if the Clippers were unable to acquire George — for what it’s worth, the Clippers reportedly believed Kawhi would join the Lakers if they didn’t trade for PG13.
  • It didn’t help the Lakers’ cause that a ton of specific details about Magic Johnson‘s meeting with Leonard leaked to the media, tweets Cris Carter of Fox Sports 1. I doubt that was a deciding factor for Leonard and his camp, but Carter is plugged-in with Kawhi’s group, so if he’s hearing it, it seems likely to be coming from them.
  • Losing the waiting game for Leonard was a worst-case scenario for the Lakers, who missed out on a handful of potential targets during the first week of free agency as they pursued Kawhi, writes Bill Oram of The Athletic. The team has since pivoted by reaching deals with Danny Green, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, JaVale McGee, and Quinn Cook.

Raptors:

  • Leonard told his Raptors teammates via text message that he was leaving just as the news was breaking late on Friday night, according to Michael Grange of Sportsnet.ca (Twitter link).
  • Losing Leonard – and starting shooting guard Danny Green – sets the Raptors on a new path, according to Blake Murphy of The Athletic, who explores what’s next for the franchise. While there will be calls to blow things up, Murphy suggests that the current Raptors should still be a playoff team, adding that Toronto may be reluctant to take on unwanted multiyear contracts in any trades, given how much money will come off its cap in 2020.
  • Chris Mannix of SI.com (Twitter link) speculates that the Raptors will explore potential trades of their veterans on expiring contracts – such as Kyle Lowry, Marc Gasol, and Serge Ibaka – as they look ahead to building around young players like Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet.
  • Eric Koreen of The Athletic acknowledges that Masai Ujiri will likely gauge the value of his veterans on the trade market, but agrees with Murphy that the Raptors are more likely to keep their roster more or less intact in a transition year.

Raptors Notes: Leonard, Ibaka, Celtics, VanVleet

Tim Bontemps of ESPN recently wrote an in-depth piece on Raptors superstar Kawhi Leonard, and while the entire piece is worth a read, several anecdotes stick out, particularly one involving Wizards veteran forward Trevor Ariza.

At some point between his freshman and sophomore seasons at San Diego State, Leonard received word that Ariza, already a six-year NBA veteran and NBA champion, would be working out on the Aztecs’ campus.

Leonard, always one to do whatever he can to be the best he can be, asked Ariza if he could take part in the veteran’s workouts. Ariza agreed, and was immediately impressed with Leonard’s talent and immeasurable work ethic.

“Man, my first impression of him was, this kid is here to work, period… No matter what… I prided myself on being there first person in all the time,” Ariza said. “And, when I got there, (Leonard) was already there. He’d done everything he needed to do, and he was ready to work out again… When I saw the work ethic he had, I knew he was going to be special.

Leonard was even able to win some one-on-one drills against the NBA veteran as a 19-year-old college sophomore-to-be, Ariza admits, telling ESPN that “(Leonard) was an NBA player when he was a freshman in college.

There’s more from Toronto this afternoon:

  • After an up-and-down season in which big man Serge Ibaka became a bench player for the first time since the 2010/11 season, his second in the NBA, Ibaka’s superb play in Game 4 of the NBA Finals was instrumental in the Raptors taking a commanding 3-1 lead against Warriors, writes Doug Smith of the Toronto Star. Ibaka finished with 20 points, four rebounds and a pair of blocked shots.
  • The Raptors remarkable run to the cusp of the franchise’s first NBA championship has to resonate painfully with the Celtics, where Danny Ainge, Brad Stevens, and company envisioned making a similar run, writes Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe. The biggest difference? Perhaps the gap between Leonard and Kyrie Irving is larger than we all realized.
  • While Fred VanVleet concedes that there is an increased mental focus and sense of responsibility that comes from the birth of your child, he denies the correlation between the birth of his son, Fred Jr., and his improved play in these playoffs, write Michael Lee and Dan Robson of The Athletic. Rather, Fred Sr. credits his own hard work and unbreakable confidence for helping him transform his game this postseason.