Raptors Rumors

Heat, Bulls Will Each Lose Second-Round Pick Due To Free Agency Violations

The Heat and Bulls will each forfeit their next available second-round pick as a result of the NBA’s investigation into the free agent acquisitions of Kyle Lowry and Lonzo Ball, the league announced today in a press release.

According to the NBA’s announcement, both clubs violated league rules governing the timing of free agency discussions, having jumped the gun on negotiations with Lowry and Ball.

It’s no secret that most teams are in touch with players’ agents before free agency officially begins, but the league determined that the Heat’s deal for Lowry and the Bulls’ acquisition of Ball were particularly egregious, since they were sign-and-trade agreements (which require the approval of two teams and at least one player) that were reported within the opening minutes of free agency.

The league told teams in a memo that the Bulls and Heat “fully cooperated with the investigations,” which was taken into account when determining the penalties, says ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski (Twitter link). Both clubs issued statements acknowledging the penalties and saying they’re moving on with their seasons — the Heat said in their statement that they disagreed with the league’s ruling.

A lost second-round pick is the same penalty the Bucks faced a year ago for jumping the gun in free agency with Bogdan Bogdanovic. In that case, Bogdanovic ended up in Atlanta rather than Milwaukee — the Heat and Bulls landed their respective free agent targets, so it’s a little surprising the two teams this time around didn’t face harsher punishments. However, we don’t know exactly what the NBA’s investigations turned up.

Both the Heat and Bulls have traded away many of their upcoming second-rounders, so it’s possible they won’t actually have to forfeit a pick for a few years. According to RealGM, Miami has traded all its second-round selections through 2027, though the 2024 pick is top-50 protected and could remain with the Heat. Chicago has traded all its second-rounders through 2025.

However, the Heat are on track to receive the less favorable of Philadelphia’s and Denver’s second-rounders in 2022, assuming they make the playoffs. The Bulls, meanwhile, will receive Denver’s 2023 second-rounder if it’s not in the top 46. The NBA’s announcement today didn’t explicitly say that Miami and Chicago will be required to surrender their own next available second-rounders, so those ’22 and ’23 picks from other teams could be the ones forfeited.

It appears the Raptors and Pelicans – who worked with Miami and Chicago, respectively, in the Lowry and Ball sign-and-trades – will face no punishment. While that’s not a major surprise, it’s still a relief for those two teams — especially for the Pelicans, who acquired Garrett Temple via sign-and-trade in the Ball deal.

Raptors Notes: Anunoby, Dragic, Bench, Boucher

Raptors forward OG Anunoby appeared to be nearing a return from his hip injury last week, having been listed as questionable for multiple games. However, he still hasn’t played and was held out of practice on Monday, tweets Josh Lewenberg of TSN.ca.

As Lewenberg explains (via Twitter), Anunoby hasn’t suffered a setback, but he has “hit a wall” in his recovery process, per head coach Nick Nurse. An MRI didn’t show any significant concerns, but the injury isn’t healing as rapidly as the team hoped and remains very sore, according to Lewenberg. There’s still no timeline set for Anunoby’s return.

Here’s more on the Raptors:

  • Goran Dragic‘s personal absence from the Raptors figures to increase speculation about him moving on to a new team, but league sources tell Marc Stein that the big picture remains unchanged for the veteran point guard — a trade market hasn’t materialized for Dragic, and it’s still too early in the season for the two sides to have a productive buyout discussion. While it’s possible Dragic has played his last game for the Raptors, it sounds he’ll probably remain on the roster for at least a few more weeks, if not all the way to the trade deadline.
  • It looked briefly last week as if the Raptors might soon have a fully healthy roster, but that hasn’t materialized, and the team’s depth continues to be tested, according to Josh Lewenberg of TSN.ca, who notes that Toronto ranks last in the NBA in bench scoring. The Raptors’ reliance on their reserves is highlighting the inexperience and inconsistency of that group, Lewenberg adds.
  • Chris Boucher was pulled from the rotation for Sunday’s game vs. Boston, with his minutes going to Isaac Bonga, writes Doug Smith of The Toronto Star. As Ryan Wolstat of The Toronto Sun observes, Boucher looked like a major success story last season, but he’ll be a free agent in 2022 and the Raptors will have to listen if he draws trade interest before then.

OG Anunoby, Gary Trent Jr. Without Timelines For Returns

  • Raptors forward OG Anunoby (hip pointer) remained out for the team’s game against the Celtics on Sunday, Josh Lewenberg of TSN Sports tweets. No timetable has been issued for his return, but head coach Nick Nurse acknowledged the injury looks like it’s going to be “a problem.”
  • Raptors guard Gary Trent Jr. (calf bone bruise) also doesn’t have a timeline for his return, Blake Murphy of Sportsnet tweets. Murphy adds the bone bruise is said to be deep and painful. Toronto started Svi Mykhailiuk in Trent’s place against Boston.

Goran Dragic Away From Raptors For Personal Matter

Raptors guard Goran Dragic will be away from the team for an undetermined period of time to attend to a personal matter, the team announced.

The former All-Star has played just five games for Toronto after being included in the Kyle Lowry sign-and-trade with Miami in the offseason.

Here is the full statement from general manager Bobby Webster:

Goran is taking some time away from the team, with our full support, to manage a personal matter. He has been a complete professional in the time that he has been with the Raptors – Goran has been a great mentor to our younger players and a valued teammate for our veterans.

He will continue to work out and stay in shape during his time away. There is no definite timeline for this process, and we will advise updates as appropriate. Goran has the backing of Masai [Ujiri], Nick [Nurse] and the entire organization, and we wish him nothing but the best.

Michael Grange of Sportsnet.ca tweets that this could be a long-term situation, with Dragic staying in Slovenia to attend to the personal matter until a trade or buyout agreement is reached.

Dragic, 35, holds career averages of 13.9 points, 3.1 rebounds, and 4.8 assists over 872 games (27.9 MPG). He averaged 8.0 points, 2.8 rebounds, and 1.8 assists in the five games with the Raptors (18.0 MPG).

Raptors Notes: Birch, Anunoby, Watanabe, Boucher, Banton

Raptors center Khem Birch has already been ruled out for Friday’s game in Indiana, tweets Josh Lewenberg of TSN.ca. It’ll be the fifth game in a row that Birch has missed, but head coach Nick Nurse doesn’t view the swelling in the big man’s right knee as a serious issue.

“There seems to be nothing really wrong with it other than it’s not handling some wear and tear, I guess, and it’s going up and down a little bit in the last couple weeks,” Nurse said before Wednesday’s game, per Eric Koreen of The Athletic.

The only other player on Toronto’s injury report for Friday is OG Anunoby, who is once again listed as questionable due to his left hip pointer. Anunoby was also listed as questionable for Wednesday’s contest but was ultimately held out of his fourth straight game.

Let’s round up a few more Raptors-related items…

  • Yuta Watanabe made his season debut on Wednesday after missing more than a month due to a calf injury. While his offensive numbers were modest (three points on 0-of-3 shooting), Watanabe made a strong impression on Nurse and the Raptors with his performance, which included two steals and two blocks in 14 minutes. “I thought (Watanabe’s play) was awesome,” Nurse said after the game, per Koreen. “I just think he ran down some loose balls — and we were really having some trouble doing that — he kept a few of them alive on the offensive end, got a great block. Just some really good, hard play.”
  • If Watanabe hangs onto a regular rotation role, it’ll put Chris Boucher in danger of losing minutes, Koreen observes. Boucher averaged 24.2 minutes per game last season, but has played just 13.9 MPG this season and logged only seven minutes on Wednesday. Boucher is at his best when he’s blocking shots on defense and hitting threes on offense, but his numbers in both categories have dropped off this season, making it hard to justify playing him much, Koreen writes.
  • The Raptors are getting all they expected and more from second-round pick Dalano Banton, says Doug Smith of The Toronto Star. The rookie is one of just three players on the roster who has appeared in all 19 games so far, and he’s earning praise from team leaders like Fred VanVleet. “The kid is really talented,” VanVleet said of Banton. “He doesn’t make a ton of mistakes and he plays really hard. He’s fearless and I like him.”

And-Ones: Ferrell, Red Sox Owners, Mobley, Allen

Former NBA guard Yogi Ferrell has left Greece’s Panathinaikos in order to seek a better opportunity, per Stavros Barbarousis of EuroHoops.net. Ferrell was unhappy with his limited role — he was averaging just eight minutes in five EuroLeague games. The 28-year-old point guard was waived by the Clippers in September after spending the last five years in the NBA.

We have more from around the basketball world:

  • Fenway Sports Group wants to buy an NBA team once its acquisition of the NHL’s Pittsburgh Penguins is completed, Axios’ Dan Primack reports. FSG has been buying marquee franchises in different geographic markets. It not only owns the Boston Red Sox, it also has also acquired a NASCAR team and the Liverpool F.C. soccer club. Additionally, it has an investment in Spring Hill Group, a content production firm co-founded by LeBron James.
  • Cavaliers big man Evan Mobley tops ESPN’s first rookie power rankings this season. Writer Mike Schmitz ranks the Raptors’ Scottie Barnes and the Pistons’ Cade Cunningham second and third, respectively. Mobley is currently out due to an elbow injury.
  • Tony Allen has asked the Grizzlies to postpone his jersey retirement until next season, according to Evan Barnes of the Memphis Commercial Appeal. Allen is currently dealing with federal charges for his alleged role in a multi-million dollar health insurance fraud scheme. Allen’s jersey retirement was scheduled for January 28.

Raptors Could Have Fully Healthy Roster Soon

Lowry Looking To “Move The Needle” With Heat

Kyle Lowry chose the Heat in free agency because they felt he “could move the needle” for them in pursuit of a championship, he told Marc Spears of The Undefeated.

The Heat worked out a sign-and-trade with the Raptors in which Lowry received a three year deal worth approximately $85MM.

“This is my first year here, but it was the situation where I feel like they wanted to move the needle,” Lowry said. “They wanted to find a way to move the needle and no matter what my age is, I’m still able to move the needle. I’m still playing at a high level. My job is to make everybody else better, to make our team better.”

Thus far, Lowry is averaging 12.0 PPG and 7.6 APG in his first season with Miami.

Lowry offered up some other insights and revelations in his interview with Spears:

  • There were some family considerations in his decision to play with the Heat: “It was very bittersweet because I never wanted to leave (the Raptors). But it was more a sense of: ‘All right, my kids are getting older. I want to be somewhere where they can be stable no matter what.’ And, yeah, everybody says you could just live in Canada, but you’d have to get a Canadian citizenship to live there. And I don’t think I would’ve lived there for the rest of my life.”
  • He considers Fred VanVleet, OG Anunoby and Pascal Siakam “family” and is glad they’ve become the faces of the Toronto franchise: “They will get more of the attention now. I would take all the blame because I wanted to. I never wanted them to have to deal with that stuff, because I just felt I could take the world on my shoulders. And they can, too, but now it’s theirs. I left the franchise in a great place.”
  • The desire to win a second NBA championship drives him: “I love my ring, but I want to have another one. I want to be able to wear two of them. I’ve got an [Olympic] gold medal. It was a great feeling. I got an NBA championship. I need to get back to that.”
  • Regardless of what happens in Miami, Lowry wants to be remembered as the Raptors point guard on their championship team: “I’ll say it now, I will sign a one-day contract and I’ll retire as a Toronto Raptor. That is my everything.”

Canada’s Travel Rules For Unvaccinated Athletes To Change In January

Professional athletes who have not yet received one of the approved COVID-19 vaccines won’t be allowed to travel to Canada beginning on January 15, minister of public safety Marco Mendicino announced on Friday (link via CBC.ca).

Currently, NBA players who aren’t fully vaccinated are permitted to enter the country and play against the Raptors in Toronto under a national interest exemption. However, Mendicino said that exemption will be scrapped in January due to the widespread availability of the COVID-19 vaccines. Players who remain unvaccinated will be ineligible to play in games in Toronto as of January 15.

Although the change figures to affect several players around the NBA, it won’t impact many of the league’s most noteworthy unvaccinated players. For instance, Bradley Beal and the Wizards will make their final visit of the season to Toronto on December 5, at which point Beal will still be permitted to play. Jonathan Isaac‘s Magic will make their last trip to Toronto on December 20.

Kyrie Irving‘s Nets will play in Toronto on March 1, but unless New York City alters its own vaccine mandate, there’s no indication Irving will be playing by then. Michael Porter Jr. is also reportedly unvaccinated, but the Nuggets forward may still be sidelined due to his back injury when the team travels to Toronto on February 12.

During training camp, the Raptors indicated that they were one second dose away from having a fully vaccinated roster, so no Toronto players should be affected by the change.

Atlantic Notes: Siakam, Fournier, Durant, Harden

Raptors forward Pascal Siakam erupted for 32 points and eight rebounds against Sacramento on Friday, his sixth game after recovering from shoulder surgery. Josh Lewenberg of TSN.ca tweets that Siakam, who bounced back from a four-point game against Utah, is still trying to gain a rhythm.

“Last game I felt like I was running in mud the whole game,” Siakam said. “It’s just waking up every day continuing to push forward knowing it’s going to be tough, but once I get that rhythm and my legs under me I know what I can do, and I have to focus on that.”

We have more from the Atlantic Division:

  • Evan Fournier, the Knicks’ major sign-and-trade acquisition this summer, hasn’t been playing in fourth quarters lately and it’s been an adjustment for the swingman, Mark Sanchez of the New York Post writes. “I think the situation right now is I don’t know how many minutes I’m going to play, so I have to have the mindset of: If I’m going to play 20 minutes, then just come out the gate with extreme energy,” he said. “Being very alert. Being ultra-aggressive. And trying to have an impact.”
  • Kevin Durant missed his first game of the season on Friday due to a shoulder ailment. The Nets are trying to figure out how much to play Durant and James Harden during the regular season without wearing them out prior to the postseason, according to Brian Lewis of the New York Post. “I think that we definitely are going to look for our spots to protect them,” Brooklyn coach Steve Nash said. “We just have to be very strategic. We’re a new team trying to find itself and trying to form that identity. Those guys are super-competitive, so they want to play. It’s a tricky balance.”
  • The league’s crackdown on offensive moves in which players move into defender’s bodies to draw fouls has affected Harden. He’s going to the line less and committing more turnovers, Sanchez notes. The Nets star says he’s still getting used to the new parameters. “We’re in a little bit of a funk right now in a sense of just everything,” Harden said.