Raptors Rumors

Atlantic Notes: Harden, Rivers, Knicks, Flynn

Sixers guard James Harden was still an elite player in 2021/22, but his numbers began trending in the wrong direction and he appeared to have lost the explosive first step that defined his MVP-caliber seasons, writes Tommy Beer of BasketballNews.com.

With Harden set to turn 33 this summer, giving him a long-term, maximum-salary contract could cripple the Sixers and would be borderline “organizational malpractice,” Beer argues. Still, Philadelphia can’t afford to let him walk, since doing so wouldn’t actually open up any meaningful cap room and the team is under pressure to maximize Joel Embiid‘s prime.

As Beer outlines, it will be fascinating to see how those contract discussions play out this offseason, since both sides have some leverage concerns. The Sixers can’t afford to lose Harden, but it will be difficult for the former MVP to play hardball in negotiations, considering none of the teams projected to have cap room are expected to seriously pursue him.

Here’s more from around the Atlantic:

  • Sixers president of basketball operations Daryl Morey has made it clear that the plan is for Doc Rivers to remain the head coach going forward, prompting Kyle Neubeck of PhillyVoice.com to consider whether that decision is the right one for the franchise.
  • Former Knicks center Eddy Curry has confidence in the abilities of executives Leon Rose and William Wesley to turn things around in New York, writes Ian Begley of SNY.tv. Curry said Knicks fans shouldn’t focus on Rose’s lack of public statements and press conferences, since it’s “not his personality” to be in the public eye. “Regardless of how often you see him, you better believe he’s making things happen behind closed doors,” said Curry, who worked with Rose and Wesley during his playing career.
  • Eric Koreen of The Athletic wonders if Raptors point guard Malachi Flynn could benefit from a change of scenery and identifies some other players in a similar boat whom Toronto could target in a potential Flynn trade, including Aaron Nesmith, Romeo Langford, and Udoka Azubuike.
  • In case you missed it, we rounded up a series of Celtics notes earlier today.

Koreen Ranks Toronto's Trade Assets

Fischer’s Latest: Jazz, Conley, Snyder, Popovich, Graham

Speculation about the potential breakup of Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert appears to be fueled more by people outside of the Jazz organization than those within it, according to Jake Fischer of Bleacher Report, who says sources from the team and around the NBA believe that CAA has been responsible for many of the whispers involving Mitchell’s future.

According to Fischer, team owner Ryan Smith is willing to spend big on a contender, and Utah has no plans to rebuild. Smith also likes the idea of having multiple players in the 2023 All-Star Game, which the Jazz will host.

Although some rival executives believe a Gobert trade is a possibility and view the Mavericks, Hawks, and Raptors as potential destinations, Fischer says the Jazz are focused on upgrading their defense, so moving a three-time Defensive Player of the Year seems counterintuitive. On the other hand, complementary players like Bojan Bogdanovic, Royce O’Neale, and perhaps even Mike Conley are considered more realistic trade candidates.

Fischer wonders if the Clippers or the Knicks might have interest in Conley, another CAA client. With the Jazz seeking help on the wing, Evan Fournier could theoretically headline a Knicks offer for Conley if they miss out on Jalen Brunson, says Fischer, though he notes that some staffers in New York would prefer to stay in-house and give Immanuel Quickley an expanded role.

As for the Clippers, Fischer is skeptical that a Conley trade offer centered around sharpshooter Luke Kennard would appeal to a Utah team looking to improve its defense and suggests that a more realistic point guard target for L.A. would be John Wall, assuming he and the Rockets work out a buyout. Wall has also been linked to the Heat, but Fischer’s sources believe Miami’s interest predated last year’s acquisition of Kyle Lowry.

Here’s more from Fischer:

  • There’s “little expectation” among people close to the situation that Quin Snyder will leave the Jazz before his contract expires in 2023, says Fischer. Snyder also holds an option for the 2023/24 season.
  • Jazz CEO Danny Ainge doesn’t appear inclined to shake up the team’s basketball operations department. According to Fischer, major changes would likely only occur if former head of basketball operations Dennis Lindsey gets a top front office job elsewhere and wants to bring some Utah executives with him.
  • Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich, who is traveling and considering his coaching future, plans to visit Belgrade for the EuroLeague Final Four later this month, a source tells Fischer. The general sense is that Popovich seems interested in coaching San Antonio for at least one more season, Fischer adds.
  • The Pelicans are among the teams believed to be considering a possible point guard upgrade this offseason, reports Fischer. Devonte’ Graham saw his role reduced significantly in the playoffs and some people around the league think he could end up on the trade block this offseason, but sources tell Fischer the Pels aren’t motivated to move on from Graham like they were with Eric Bledsoe a year ago.

Low-Stakes Offseason On Tap For Raptors?

  • It should be a fairly low-stakes summer for the Raptors, since all of their most important players are under contract, but there will still be some roster and contract decisions to make, Eric Koreen of The Athletic writes in his offseason primer.

Doug Smith: Gobert Wouldn't Be Good Fit For Raptors

  • Trading for Rudy Gobert and his hefty contract wouldn’t be worth the risk for the Raptors, Doug Smith of the Toronto Star opines. Gobert doesn’t present enough of an offensive threat, and his ability to switch and guard on the perimeter the way Toronto defends is also a legitimate question. His lack of positional versatility doesn’t fit the Raptors’ roster, Smith adds.

Lakers To Interview Raptors Assistant Adrian Griffin

The Lakers have requested permission to interview Raptors assistant coach Adrian Griffin for their head coaching vacancy, sources tell Shams Charania of The Athletic (video link).

Raptors president and chairman Masai Ujiri said at his end-of-season press conference yesterday that he has been receiving calls for interviews with Griffin and other Raptors assistant coaches, per Josh Lewenberg of TSN.ca (Twitter link).

I think Adrian is right there on the cusp of becoming a head coach in this league,” Ujiri said.

Griffin started his NBA career as a player, appearing in 477 games (179 starts) across nine NBA seasons from 1999-2008 with career averages of 4.0 points and 3.2 rebounds in 16.9 minutes. He made a quick transition to coaching, getting his start at just 34 years of age, the season after he retired as a player (2008/09).

Griffin, now 47, has been an assistant coach with the Bucks, Bulls, Magic, Thunder and Raptors over the past 14 seasons, having been with Toronto since 2018/19, when the team won the championship. Griffin’s son, AJ Griffin, is a projected lottery pick in the upcoming 2022 draft.

The Lakers were rumored to be interested in Raptors head coach Nick Nurse, but both Nurse and Ujiri recently poured cold water on that idea. Griffin is now the second official candidate interviewing for the Lakers lead coaching job, following Bucks assistant Darvin Ham.

In case you missed it, you can keep track of all the ongoing head coaching searches here.

Raptors Notes: Offseason, Nurse, Roster Needs

During his end-of-season press conference on Tuesday, Raptors president and vice chairman Masai Ujiri spoke about potentially adding a reliable backup point guard to help ease the burden on Fred VanVleet, per Bruce Arthur of The Toronto Star. Ujiri also said Toronto could use a center who can shoot, defend the rim, and switch defensively. However, he acknowledged that finding those players won’t be easy, given what the team asks of its rotation players — especially on defense.

“Yes, it is a high standard … we want to play on both sides of the court, that’s really important, and there’s a fine line,” Ujiri said. “There’s a lot of luck to it when you’re trying to find those guys that actually fit, that really, really fit. We’re hoping. I trust our scouts, our player personnel guys, they’ve done an excellent job. If we can’t find then, we’ll develop them. That’s what we’re hoping.”

As Eric Koreen of The Athletic writes, the Raptors will have to decide this summer how much long-term money they’re willing to add to their books. VanVleet and Gary Trent Jr. could be in line for raises as soon as 2023, while Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby can become free agents in 2024. In other words, the team will have to be wary about how it approaches multiyear commitments for free agents, including Chris Boucher and Thaddeus Young.

“I think there are things we’re really going to evaluate the next few days,” Ujiri said when asked about possible multiyear deals. “This is what you guys making me do this press conference right after the season (causes). If you’d waited three weeks, then I’d (have) been able to tell you what all our meetings (yielded) and all the things that we want to do. But right now, I don’t have an answer for you.”

Here’s more on the Raptors:

  • Addressing the report that Raptors head coach Nick Nurse is a top target for the Lakers, Ujiri dismissed that rumor, according to Koreen. “No team has contacted me, and I see all the stuff you see.” Ujiri said. “I dream like they dream. I want (Lionel) Messi. I want (Cristiano) Ronaldo. I want Kobe Bryant. So they can keep dreaming. I dream, too.”
  • Contrary to popular belief, Toronto’s biggest need isn’t at center, but on the perimeter, contends Josh Lewenberg of TSN.ca. While the Raptors would certainly inquire if a big man like Rudy Gobert or Myles Turner become available, they don’t want to commit to a lesser center who doesn’t fit their system, according to Lewenberg, who says the club “desperately” needs more shooting and possibly another shot creator.
  • Toronto hasn’t historically been a marquee NBA free agent destination, but Nurse – who spoke this week about wanting to add more catch-and-shoot players and athletic wings – sees no reason why the Raptors shouldn’t be able to attract talent.I think we got a lot to offer here,” Nurse said (Twitter link via Eric Koreen of The Athletic). “We’ve got a winning team, great fans, first-class organization. I’d want to play here.”
  • Yossi Gozlan of HoopsHype previews some of the big decisions facing the Raptors this offseason, while Drew Maresca of BasketballNews.com takes a look at how the team retooled its roster following Kawhi Leonard‘s 2019 departure.

Nick Nurse Admits Raptors Could Use More Depth

  • Raptors coach Nick Nurse admitted the team could use more depth next season, Doug Smith of the Toronto Star writes. Specifically, Nurse identified catch-and-shoot players and athletic wings as pieces he’d like to see the team pursue. “The more quality players you have the better chance you’re going to have to win,” he said as part of a larger statement.

Nick Nurse Dismisses Lakers Rumors

  • Asked today about reports that the Lakers are interested in him and whether he plans to remain in Toronto going forward, Raptors head coach Nick Nurse dismissed those L.A. rumors. I don’t know where that stuff comes from and I’m focused on coaching this team (the Raptors),” Nurse said (Twitter link via Josh Lewenberg of TSN.ca).

Atlantic Notes: Embiid, Rivers, Smart, Raptors

Even before news broke that All-NBA center Joel Embiid suffered an orbital fracture and concussion in the closing moments of Philadelphia’s first-round victory over the Raptors, the fourth-seeded Sixers were already facing a tall task in trying to defeat their second-round opponents, the Heat.

Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer writes that the team’s path through the playoffs becomes that much dicier with the MVP-caliber big man unavailable through at least the first game of the series. Embiid has also been dealing with a right thumb ligament tear – which will require offseason surgery – since Game 3 of Philadelphia’s first-round series.

Philadelphia seems cautiously hopeful that it might get its best player back in time for one or both of its first two home games in the series. The defensive-oriented Heat will look to capitalize on a club missing the fulcrum of its offense and defense, though Miami, the top seed in the East, could be missing some key players of its own, as point guard Kyle Lowry and small forward Jimmy Butler are dealing with minor maladies. The series tips off Monday. Without Embiid, Philadelphia will look to guards James Harden and Tyrese Maxey, plus power forward Tobias Harris, to step up as scorers.

There’s more out of the Atlantic Division:

  • Sixers head coach Doc Rivers, who has recently become notorious for blowing playoff leads, has outperformed his patchy postseason reputation of late, opines Marcus Hayes of the Philadelphia Inquirer. Hayes acknowledges that Rivers has blown more 3-1 playoff advantages than any other NBA coach, but praises him for his regular season work with the Sixers this year, particularly helping elevate the play of Maxey, weathering the storm of Ben Simmons drama, and helping showcase the play of Seth Curry and Andre Drummond to help make them appetizing trade bait for the team’s eventual trade to acquire Harden. Hayes also notes that Philadelphia managed to survive without their premier wing defender, the only-partially-vaccinated Matisse Thybulle, to secure crucial Game 3 and Game 6 against Toronto in the first round.
  • Celtics point guard Marcus Smart left the first game of Boston’s second-round contest against the Bucks due to a right shoulder “stinger” and right quad contusion, but was able to return to action in the second half, tweets Shams Charania of The Athletic. The 2022 Defensive Player of the Year would finish Game 1 with 10 points on 3-of-11 shooting from the floor, along with six assists and two steals, in a 101-89 Bucks victory over the Celtics in Boston.
  • After falling to the Sixers in their first-round playoff matchup, the Raptors will have to lean on their exciting younger players’ internal growth to take the next step as a team, writes Michael Grange of Sportsnet.ca. Toronto’s veterans noted as much. “I think we have the pieces and now how do you put those pieces together,” All-Star point guard Fred VanVleet said. “Can you add a few pieces around the board and then how do you make it work? How does it make most sense to be the most efficient, the most lethal team that you can put out on the floor?” Thaddeus Young told reporters that the Raptors can be “really, really scary” and added that the “sky’s the limit for every individual on this team.” Rookie of the Year forward Scottie Barnes, 23-year-old swingman Gary Trent Jr., and 24-year-old small forward OG Anunoby are candidates to take leaps for Toronto in the years to come.