Posts Tagged ‘Dwane Casey’

Morning Shootaround — April 10


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played April 9

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Vogel’s gamble pays off | Casey unhappy with Raptors’ defense | Brown: Sixers need a ‘star’ in Draft | Cavs look ahead to next season

No. 1: Vogel’s gamble plays off for Pacers — The NBA world was abuzz yesterday afternoon after word came that Pacers coach Frank Vogel was benching his entire starting five of Paul George, Lance Stephenson, George Hill, David West and Roy Hibbert to give them some rest against the Bucks. Milwaukee gave Indiana quite a fight, but thanks to a late shot from little-used reserve Chris Copeland, the Pacers took home the win. That, coupled with Miami’s loss in Memphis last night, gave Indiana the No. 1 spot in the East again and may have proven Vogel’s move to be worthwhile. Our Steve Aschburner was on the scene in Indiana and has more on the game:

This was a risky move, risky on the verge of panic, for coach Frank Vogel to sit down – to rest, en masse – the five guys who have defined the Pacers’ largely successful season. But there they sat: Paul George, David West, Roy Hibbert, Lance Stephenson and George Hill, from beginning to end, mere spectators and cheerleaders Wednesday night at BMO Harris Bradley Center.After multiple consultations between Vogel and the players, among Vogel and President Larry Bird and the coaches — and a heads-up courtesy call to NBA headquarters in hopes of avoiding any fines — the Indiana coach shortened his bench by whacking his starters. He did, from the rationale he gave, what he should have done in February or March, if only the alleged wear, tear and fatigue from season’s first five months had shown itself before the sixth.

“We accomplished the purpose,” said George, who spent the game in warm-ups after getting in some conditioning and shooting. “We felt very comfortable with the group we had, that they were going to go out there and get us a win. It wasn’t like we were sacrificing the game. We game-planned. Coach really drilled and worked hard with the unit he put out there.”

Copeland missed just one of his eight shots, scored 18 and was good for four of the Pacers’ 11 3-pointers. Backup point guard C.J. Watson returned after missing 13 games, and his impact shouldn’t be understated; Indiana is 47-14 when he plays, 7-11 when he doesn’t. The Pacers outshot the Bucks and had 26 assists to 11 turnovers.

“Served the purpose,” said Vogel. “We got the starters the rest that hopefully will help them find their rhythm, and we let our bench guys get extended minutes so they could get comfortable. Evan Turner hasn’t been that comfortable in a Pacers uniform.”

How badly have the starters needed a breather? The math says very: the five Pacers have averaged 2,521 minutes, which might not seem excessive (32.8 per game). But compared to the deftly managed San Antonio Spurs, the difference is considerable. The five Spurs who have played the most have averaged 1,934 minutes. That gap of 587, doled out 30 minutes at a time, is nearly 20 extra games’ worth.

“It was a weird feeling, sitting out a game,” Hibbert said. “But I was really happy for those guys. They’ve been working extremely hard the whole season. To see them go out and play, and not have to worry about making mistakes and having the starters come back in, I was really happy for ‘em.”

Hibbert said getting the game off was both a physical and mental health day, and none of them seemed to need it more. The big fella hit some sort of wall Sunday against Atlanta, playing just nine minutes, going scoreless with no rebounds, then languishing on the bench through the second half in some sort of bad body-language funk. He was way more engaged in this one, encouraging the reserves, snarling toward the crowd a few times.

When Indiana visits the Heat on Friday, its starters will have gone five days – more than 120 hours – between games.

“We probably haven’t had that since the season started,” Stephenson said. “Any rest can help us right now.”


VIDEO: Pacers score a close win in Milwaukee

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No. 2: Casey fretting over Raptors’ defense — No team has been more of a surprise in the Eastern Conference this season than the Atlantic Division-leading Toronto Raptors. The team is just one win away from both clinching the franchise’s second-ever division crown and also tying the record for wins in a season. Despite all the good feelings of the season, though, coach Dwane Casey is a bit concerned about Toronto’s defense as it barrels toward the playoffs. Doug Smith of the Toronto Star has more:

They are a game away from matching two historic moments in franchise history; a win away from a division title, a victory away from equalling the win total of the best Raptors team ever — and the anticipation is building all around them.

But having watched his team scuffle through another bad defensive night against a vastly inferior opponent, coach Dwane Casey is more worried than celebratory.

“My whole goal now is to get better defensively going into the next couple of weeks because if we don’t, it’s going to be a short ride,” Casey said after the Raptors beat the Philadelphia 76ers 125-114 at the Air Canada Centre on Wednesday, Toronto’s second straight stinky defensive performance.

“Collectively, our defence has to step up. We can’t expect to outscore people 125-114 and have a game like that,” he said.

“It’s a mindset. You can’t look at their records, whoever we play. New York (Toronto’s next opponent) will be a little different but the other teams (minnows Detroit and Milwaukee also remain on the Raptors schedule) that are not in the playoffs, we can’t look at that. We have to play our game and look to improve.”


VIDEO: Raptors coach Dwane Casey discusses the team’s win over the Sixers

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No. 3: Brown: Sixers need a ‘star’ in the Draft — As a former longtime assistant coach of the San Antonio Spurs, Philadelphia 76ers first-year coach Brett Brown knows how drafting a go-to superstar can shape a franchise. He saw what Tim Duncan has done for the Spurs over the years and now that he’s leading his own crew, Brown knows that Philly needs a star in the 2014 Draft if it hopes to keep its rebuild project moving along quickly and smoothly. He talked with Tom Moore of the Bucks County Courier-Times about that, Michael Carter-Williams, Nerlens Noel and more:

“I think it’s important,” Brown said during a 10-minute interview after Tuesday’s practice. “I think it’s really important.

“Stars want to play with stars. And it’s too early to say anything about Michael (Carter-Williams) or what you can project Nerlens (Noel) out to be. Just because somebody’s chosen high in the draft doesn’t mean they’re going to be a star, either.”

The Sixers, who are likely to finish with the second-worst record, would have a 19.9 percent shot at the No. 1 overall pick and a 55.8 percent chance to choose in the top three. They also own five second-round selections.

One potential top-three pick, talented Duke freshman forward Jabari Parker, who said he might come back to school after an early NCAA tournament exit, has arranged housing for his sophomore year, according to a Duke source. While that doesn’t mean he’ll stay, it shows he’s seriously considering remaining a Blue Devil for another season.

Brown is eager to see rookie center Noel, who sat out the year as he recovered from a torn ACL, play one of the Sixers’ two summer leagues. Noel and Carter-Williams won an AAU national title as members of the Boston Amateur Basketball Club (BABC).

The Sixers acquired Noel with the No. 6 pick in last June’s draft from the Holiday deal and Carter-Williams went No. 11.

“They have had such a great history together in their Boston AAU days,” said Brown, a Maine native. “I can see how they have a bond, a connection, a relationship. Those things are priceless.

“I think it’s ‘hoop karma.’ To get two young players that are used to playing with each other at such a young age as our first-round draft picks last year and my own experiences in Boston — maybe something’s aligned where we can pull off something special together.”

Brown is adamant that Carter-Williams, who leads all first-year players in scoring (16.7 points), assists (6.3), rebounds (6.1) and steals (1.9), should become the Sixers’ first NBA Rookie of the Year since Allen Iverson in 1996-97.

“Absolutely zero (doubt in my mind),” Brown said. “And forget my opinion — look at his game and look at the stats. You can easily say — some people will — it’s because he played on a poor team or he played with the fastest (offensive) pace in the league or he got 34 minutes a night to do his thing. Those are true facts.

“But when you go a layer deeper and you say look at his game. Look at what he actually does. Project him out.”

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No. 4: Cavs try to look forward to next season — The Cleveland Cavaliers tried to make a big splash in the offseason, signing center Andrew Bynum, guard Jarrett Jack and swingman Earl Clark months after drafting Anthony Bennett with the No. 1 overall pick. The thinking was adding those pieces to a core that included All-Star Kyrie Irving and budding frontcourt player Tristan Thompson would equal a playoff berth. The exact opposite happened as Cleveland sputtered out of the gate, dealt with Bynum drama mid-season, fired its GM and, in short, failed to live up to every expectation. The Cavs’ playoff hopes officially ended last night and as Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon-Journal writes, being home for the playoffs stings a little more this time for the Cavs:

It seemed almost poetic in this season of uncertainty that one of the Cavs’ finest performances would be tarnished by their ultimate demise.The offensive efficiency was brilliant Wednesday, the ball movement was electric and the outcome was emphatic. Only none of it matters anymore, since the Cavs’ 122-100 victory against the Detroit Pistons was washed away 36 minutes later by the Atlanta Hawks’ victory over the Boston Celtics, thereby officially eliminating the Cavs from postseason contention with exactly one week left in the season.

“It’s an empty feeling you have now that your chances are done,” Kyrie Irving said. “You think about the things you could’ve done, should’ve done — it’s inevitable.”

“That type of basketball, the stuff we saw out there tonight, that’s the way we want to play most of the time,” Mike Brown said. “We’ve played that way quite a bit. We’ve taken our lumps at times, but our guys have gotten better and it shows.”

Only it all came too late to save their postseason lives.

The Cavs will be haunted this summer by their 4-12 November that included losses to the woeful Milwaukee Bucks and Philadelphia 76ers. They lost twice to the Boston Celtics and were embarrassed at home by the injury-ravaged Los Angeles Lakers.

Those are the types of losses that ultimately will deny the Cavs their first trip to the postseason in four years.

“One of the things that eats at me is the first couple of months, the transition we went through just not being able to win a few more games,” Brown said. “It’s tough and you have to play almost perfect basketball. It puts a lot of pressure on you as the year goes on. You wish you had some of those games back so we could experience playing past April.”

The Cavs were mathematically eliminated from the postseason before March concluded last season, and while a huge assist for their extension this season is the woeful Eastern Conference, the fact remains the Cavs played meaningful games in April and remained in the hunt until exactly one week remained.

That is progress from a team that won only 24 games last season …

“I feel good about the direction we’re going,” Brown said. “We have to keep understanding that every time we step out we have to grow and get better. … There will be times we’re going to take some steps backwards, but hopefully we don’t take too many steps backward these last few weeks of the season.”


VIDEO: Kyrie Irving talks about the win and missing out on the playoffs

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Bulls are reportedly close to signing former reserves Mike James and Lou Amundson to deals … Pau Gasol confirms it is unlikely he’ll play again for the Lakers this season … NBA commissioner Adam Silver sees ads on jerseys as both a “viable” source of revenue and an “inevitable” thing … The Bobcats’ Michael Kidd-Gilchrist talks about his ex-high school teammate Derrick Gordon, the UMass basketball player who recently came out as gay … Timberwolves coach Rick Adelman knew that Bulls center Joakim Noah was primed for a big game last night … Aaron Brooks has enjoyed his time in Denver and wouldn’t mind re-signing with the team

ICYMI of the Night: The Bulls’ Taj Gibson is one of the better finishers around the rim in the NBA, but Ronny Turiaf of the Wolves was having none of that last night … 


VIDEO: Ronny Turiaf gets up to deny Taj Gibson’s dunk … and his follow-up attempts

 

 

Morning Shootaround — Jan. 28


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Jan. 27

NEWS OF THE MORNING

CP3′s return date still unknown | Nash suffers ‘tweaked’ back in practice | Report: No extension talks for Casey | La La Anthony thinks ‘Melo will stay in N.Y.

No. 1: CP3 works out, but return still unknown — The Los Angeles Clippers have done an admirable job of keeping things together since star point guard Chris Paul injured his shoulder on Jan. 3. L.A. has gone 10-3 during that span to remain in thick of the chase for the Pacific Division title. Paul continues to rehab and workout, but his return date remains largely an unknown, writes Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times:

Chris Paul got in a good, strong workout before the Clippers played the Milwaukee Bucks on Monday night.

Paul got in a good sweat shooting jumpers and runners. He got in a good sweat running up and down the court after he shot.

But Paul still is a ways away from playing because of a separated right shoulder.

The original timetable had Paul out up to six weeks, meaning he would be out another three weeks, returning sometime in mid-February.

“No one said there were any changes or a deadline or anything,” Coach Doc Rivers said. “But he feels great. I still think it’s All-Star break, in that area. I don’t think that changed.

“But he feels good. I know he’s shooting a little bit now. The fact that he can run and do the conditioning is great. But other than that, it still has to heal.”

Rivers said the final decision on when Paul will return will be up to the Clippers’ team doctors and head athletic trainer Jasen Powell.

And, Rivers said, Paul won’t be able to say he’s ready until he’s fully healed.

“On this one, this is one of those injuries where no matter how he feels, you still have to let it heal,” Rivers said.


VIDEO: Coach Doc Rivers talks about Chris Paul’s rehab work and more

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No. 2: Nash ‘tweaks’ back, can’t practice yet — The good news for Los Angeles Lakers fans? Steve Nash‘s workouts in Vancouver with a trainer went well and he is healing up nicely from the nerve root irritation that has bothered him since Nov. 12. The bad news — if you want to take it as such — is that Nash tweaked his back in an unrelated injury and still isn’t able to practice. Trevor Wong of Lakers.com has more on the Lakers’ injury situation concerning Nash and others:

According to team spokesman, John Black, everything “went well” for Steve Nash in Vancouver while working with his trainer/physical therapist during the team’s 12-day road trip. Nash was expected to go through practice on Monday, but unrelatedly “tweaked his back,” and thus, did not participate.

“The plan for him is to have a practice on Thursday and he’s basically day-to-day,” Black said. “We’ll update you on whether he’ll play Friday based on how Thursday’s practice goes.”

Nash has been sidelined since Nov. 12 with nerve root irritation. Coach Mike D’Antoni remains hopeful the two-time MVP can return to the court again this season.

“I hope so,” D’Antoni said. “I hope for him. If anybody can do it, he can.”

Both Steve Blake (elbow) and Jordan Farmar (hamstring) have not been cleared for full practices yet, but are able to participate in basketball-related activities, as the two went through today.

“They’ll continue to ramp up through the week as they progress,” Black said. “Neither will play Tuesday or Friday, but the plan on them is to ramp up practices this week and we’ll update both of them at the end of this week.”

Blake was diagnosed with a torn collateral ligament in his right elbow and has been out since Dec. 13. Farmar, meanwhile, has been out since Jan. 3 after suffering a tear in his left hamstring.

“It was great,” he said. “I’ve been bored. That’s been the hardest thing. With this injury, you don’t feel too injured. It’s not painful; you don’t feel hurt. Just having to sit down, be patient and wait your turn, especially seeing them struggle, I just want to be out there and contribute.”

Xavier Henry (knee strain) went through some on-court work in Miami and was expected to be out another 10-14 days, but visited with a doctor today. There is no new update regarding his injury.


VIDEO: Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni talks about the team’s various injured players

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No. 3: Report: Raptors not discussing Casey extension yet — When Dwane Casey took over as coach of the Toronto Raptors before the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season, he was dealing with a team in the midst of a rebuild following Chris Bosh’s departure to the Miami Heat a season earlier. As such, the on-court product often struggled to show progress throughout his first two seasons on the job. But the Raptors appear to have turned the corner under Casey as they are 16-9 in their last 25 games and lead the Atlantic Division. Casey, despite winning his first Coach of the Month honors in December, is in the last year of his contract and is in position for an extension, but those talks haven’t happened yet with Toronto’s brass, writes Sean Deveney of The Sporting News:

With a 16-9 record in his last 25 games, a Coach of the Month award for December on his mantle and a legitimate opportunity to get the Raptors to the playoffs for the first time in seven years, Dwane Casey could hardly be blamed for pestering the Toronto front office for a contract extension.

But, as a source told Sporting News, that hasn’t been the case—there have been, “no really significant discussions,” on extending Casey’s contract, which runs up at the end of this season.

Instead, it appears that Casey and the Raptors will finish out what has been a decidedly strange year in Toronto, and re-evaluate. That’s perfectly fine with Casey, who would have no problem returning to his home in Seattle and focusing on lures and casts rather than Xs and Os.

“I never worried about having a job,” Casey said. “I say that with all sincerity. I never worried about losing a job, getting a job. Because I learned a long time ago how to fish.”

Casey says concern over his next contract has no bearing on how he is handling his team now. When the Raptors hired a new general manager, Masai Ujiri, in the offseason, there was speculation that Ujiri would immediately make a coaching change. But after meeting with Casey—the two have known each other for years—Ujiri decided to stick with the coach, for at least one more year.

“I tell players every day, whatever happens, happens,” Casey said. “I am going to get up and approach my job the same way every day, 6:30 till whenever, midnight or whatever it is, every day, regardless of how things are going, whether we are winning or not. My job is to get the ship ashore. That’s the best way for me to approach it.”

Ujiri said Casey would not be sized up by wins and losses, but by development. Oddly enough, though, development has coincided with a revival in the standings, with the Raptors playing much better on both ends of the floor, getting themselves above .500 and into first place in the Atlantic Division.

The Raptors are still developing. The winning is just an unforeseen side effect.

“It’s difficult,” Casey said. “The question has come up quite a bit. It’s the most difficult thing in sports, is have two second-year guys as our starters and trying to win and win the division at the same time. So we talk about the process, getting better every time we play or practice, moreso than wins or losses. The development of our young guys is just as important, believe it or not, for the organization as winning is.”

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No. 4: ‘Melo’s wife expects him to stay in New YorkKnicks All-Star forward Carmelo Anthony has said he plans to opt out of his deal to test the free-agent waters this summer. He’s also said in previous interviews that he both wants to try out the free-agent wooing process and that he wants to retire in New York. So which one is true? His wife, La La Anthony, says she thinks her husband will ultimately choose to stay with New York. The Associated Press has more on the story, as does ESPNNewYork.com:

The wife of All-Star forward Carmelo Anthony says she thinks he will be back with the New York Knicks next season.Anthony has said he intends to become a free agent this summer. The Knicks can give him an extra year and some $30 million more than any other team, but their 17-27 record has created speculation he would consider leaving the team.

Speaking on “Watch What Happens Live” on Bravo on Sunday night, La La Anthony said she “definitely” thinks Anthony will stay in New York. She said he wants to stay and she supports him “where ever he wants to go.”

Anthony is averaging a team-high 27.2 points for New York, which acquired the Brooklyn native from Denver in a three-team trade in February 2011.

And here’s ESPNNewYork.com’s take on the story:

“I definitely think he will stay,” La La Anthony said in an interview with Bravo TV’s “Watch What Happens Live.” “I know that he wants to stay, and I support him wherever he wants to go.

“Listen, I used to live in Denver with him. If I can live in Denver, I can live anywhere. I just want him to be happy.”

La La Anthony playfully mocked those who speculate that she will have a heavy influence on her husband’s decision.

“I get blamed for everything. No matter what happens, it’s my fault,” she said. “[There are] all these talks if he’s staying in New York or not, [and] I’m somehow the mastermind behind if he stays or not.”

One potential destination is Los Angeles. The Lakers are among several teams, including the Chicago Bulls and Dallas Mavericks, that may have the requisite salary-cap space this summer to sign Anthony.

Kobe Bryant, a friend of Anthony’s, said Sunday that he will not be actively recruiting the Knicks forward to join the Lakers.

“Well, everybody wants to play in Los Angeles,” Bryant said when asked about Anthony’s potential interest in joining the Lakers. “I mean, New York is a beautiful place, don’t get me wrong, but it is colder than s— out here. You know, palm trees and beaches obviously are a little more appealing.

“All jokes aside, I think that players, when that time comes, will have to make the best decision for them and their families. I try not to think about it too much. If he wants to call me for advice later as a friend, I will be more than happy to give it to him.”

Anthony, who is in his 11th season, said Monday that his sole motivation is to win an NBA title.

“That’s the only thing I care about. Anything else is irrelevant to me when it comes to basketball,” he said. “Championship is the only thing that’s on my mind, is the only thing I want to accomplish, I want to achieve, and I’m going to do what I got to do to get that. That’s my motivating factor. Nothing else even motivates me anymore, just that.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: This was a bit of an early-afternoon publish on NBA.com, but our own David Aldridge delivers a solid oral history of Commissioner David Stern’s life and times in the NBA … A group of scientists are trying to determine if “team chemistry” is quantifiable … Bucks GM John Hammond gives his view on the state of the worst team in the NBA … Raptors swingman Terrence Ross gave the ball from his 51-point game to his mom … Sixers rookie Lorenzo Brown took part in an odd day-night double header — NBA D-League game during the day, and an NBA game at night

ICYMI of The Night: The Brooklyn Nets were more or less one inbounds pass away from closing the gap in the standings on the Atlantic Division-leading Toronto Raptors. Then the Raptors’ Patrick Patterson stepped in the passing lane and put that notion to rest …:


VIDEO: Patrick Patterson caps off a must-see finish in Brooklyn

Ujiri The Ultimate Chemistry Teacher




VIDEO: DeMar DeRozan and the Raptors are on a roll right now, winners of four straight games

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Masai Ujiri‘s front office peers around the NBA should pay close attention to the way the Toronto Raptors’ star goes about his business. While some franchise architects like to work their so-called magic with the public watching intently, Ujiri has done a masterful job (first in Denver and now in Toronto) tweaking chemistry and getting results.

In fact, Ujiri has proven himself to be the ultimate chemistry teacher these days in terms of knowing how to tweak a roster just right. The reigning NBA Executive of the Year, an honor voted on by his peers, Ujiri is making a strong push for repeat honors with the way the Raptors are playing since the Rudy Gay trade went down.

They are 9-3 and winners of eight of their last 10 games since moving Gay to Sacramento Dec. 9. It was a move designed to give the Raptors long-term flexibility and not necessarily an immediate jolt that has helped them climb all the way up to the No. 4 spot in the Eastern Conference playoff chase.

But Ujiri has a way of studying a roster, figuring out what works and what doesn’t and then being fearless in his attempts to change things for the better. Since Gay was jettisoned, the Raptors have scored huge wins over the likes of Dallas and Chicago, and most recently in Oklahoma City (where they handed the West-best Thunder their first home loss of the season) and kicked off 2014 with an impressive home win over the East-best Indiana Pacers.

As much as this is about the fine work being done by Raptors coach Dwane Casey and his staff, and of course, the contributions of a roster full of grinders like DeMar DeRozan, Kyle Lowry, Amir Johnson, Jonas Valanciunas, Terrence Ross, Greivis Vasquez and others, this is about the man who put it all together.

Ujiri just happens to have the magic touch right now. And if you don’t believe it, just look at the hard times his former team has fallen upon in his absence. The Denver Nuggets have lost eight straight games, their longest such skid since the end of the 2002-03 season. Veteran point guard Andre Miller turned the heat up even more by ripping first-year coach Brian Shaw after Wednesday’s loss to the Philadelphia 76ers, making matters worse in Denver while Ujiri has his new team soaring.

A boss like Ujiri keeps those dustups contained, as best can be, or at least at a minimum and away from the public. You don’t have to worry about those sorts of altercations when working conditions are at a premium. And Ujiri has freed up virtually every key rotation player on the Raptors’ roster to do what he does best after the Gay trade.

DeRozan and Lowry in particular are allowed to play more to their natural strengths on the perimeter, while Valanciunas has become more of a focal point as well. Role players like Johnson, the ridiculously underrated Vasquez, who came over from Sacramento in the trade, and young journeyman forwards Tyler Hansbrough and Patrick Patterson have become critical pieces in the Raptors’ current run.

“No one on this team is selfish; everyone accepts their roles,” Patterson told reporters after the Raptors outslugged Paul George, Roy Hibbert and the Pacers to kick off the New Year. “No one wants to get more shots, no one wants to do more of this, no one is jealous of another player … we all understand what we have to do in order to make this machine keep rolling smoothly.”

The man responsible for making sure that machine runs without a hitch, of course, is Ujiri. He understands, as well or better than most right now, that team chemistry trumps just about everything else that goes on inside a team’s fabric in this day and age. Even the Miami Heat needed a year (and a Finals defeat at the hands of a Mavericks team that had off the charts chemistry) to figure that out.


VIDEO: The Raptors took it to the Pacers, kicking off 2014 in style before the home crowd

Twice-Traded Vasquez Helping Raptors


VIDEO: Kyle Lowry scores 22 points as the Raptors stun the Thunder

DALLAS – Greivis Vasquez truly believed he was on the brink of great things in New Orleans. He had the best season of his career and the franchise was quickly picking itself up from the Chris Paul trade, positioned to burst into a new era as the Pelicans.

The Venezuelan-born Vasquez, a 6-foot-6 point guard, loved everything about it: The team, the city and his personal breakout — career bests of 13.9 ppg and 9.0 apg. The thickly bearded, 26-year-old believed he was only scratching the surface. He believed that he, Eric Gordon, Ryan Anderson and Anthony Davis could form the backbone of a hard-working club that would do right by the city and even, as he said last year, rise together in the mold of Oklahoma City and soon be a team to be reckoned with in the West.

Then came Draft night and the three-team trade Vasquez never saw coming.

“I guess you can’t turn down an offer for a Jrue Holiday,” Vasquez told NBA.com last Friday night prior to scoring 14 points in 15 minutes in Toronto’s overtime win against the Mavericks. “I felt like we had the same numbers. He was an All-Star and all that stuff, all that crap. Like I say, I’m really thankful because [New Orleans coach] Monty Williams gave me a chance. That whole franchise was first class and still is. It was such a great experience for me to just make a name.”

Holiday, fresh off his first All-Star season with Philadelphia, was NOLA’s point-guard prize. Vasquez went to Sacramento to start at point guard. Eighteen games in and he was gone again. The Kings’ sluggish start convinced new ownership and management to reach for Toronto’s maligned, but tempting small forward Rudy Gay, himself now twice traded in the past 11 months. Vasquez headed north of the border to another foundering franchise where starting point guard Kyle Lowry has swirled in trade winds since the Gay deal.

Funny, though, that just as the Gay trade seemed a weighted strategy to clear cap space and sink the season for prime Draft position, Vasquez and his quickly bonded teammates have turned the tables, winning four of five, including Sunday night’s handing of a first home loss to the West-leading Oklahoma City Thunder. Toronto will try to make it three in a row against West competition tonight at San Antonio (8:30 p.m. ET, League Pass).

“We got a great group of guys. We’re just here to do our job,” Vasquez said. “The media and everybody is going to have their own opinions. We just have to go out there and play and play hard, have fun. We can’t really guarantee that we’re going to get every win. But we can guarantee you that we are going to play hard and play the right way.”

In five games with Toronto, Vasquez has averaged 9.8 ppg, 4.0 apg and 2.8 mpg in only 18.6 mpg, far off the 34.4 mpg he averaged last season with New Orleans, and a chunk below the 25.8 he averaged starting for the Kings.

“It’s been rough, but this is one of those years I’ve got to keep grinding and keep working. I’ll be a restricted free agent [this summer] and we’ll see what happens,” Vasquez said. “It’s just the business. At first Sacramento was talking about building a future with me and then all of a sudden I get traded. If I’m going to get traded [again] it’s going to be this year because I am going to be restricted. I am going to have to sign with somebody and find myself a home.”

The Raptors, flush with added bench depth from the trade, have life. They’re just 11-14, but they’re also back in first place in the woeful Atlantic Division after Sunday’s win. Coach Dwane Casey, working in his uncertain final year, said earning the franchise’s first postseason appearance since 2008 is the only goal.

“We’re at a crossroads with our organization, which way we are going to go,” Casey said Friday night at Dallas. “Right now we’re fighting like crap for the playoffs. I mean we’re right there. I know those guys in the locker room don’t want to hear anything else but competing for the playoffs because it’s all up for grabs.”

Same goes for Vasquez’s future. On his fourth team in four seasons,  Vasquez said he’s ready to plant some roots, somewhere.

“The biggest thing for me is just being happy and enjoying playing basketball,” he said. “I don’t think I was really enjoying playing basketball in Sacramento, so here I feel like I can re-find my identity and the way I play, the things I can do. Other than that, I can’t really control what is going to happen.”

Locker Room Etiquette: Perkins Is Right


VIDEO: The Inside the NBA crew shares their opinions on the Perkins-Noah incident

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Oklahoma City Thunder center Kendrick Perkins wanted no part of his Chicago Bulls counterpart Joakim Noah hanging out in his locker room after they had just battled on the floor.

Noah had been escorted in by friend and Thunder shooting guard Thabo Sefolosha with media members still conducting interviews. Perkins was dressing at his locker when he spotted Noah in what he believed to be a violation of the Thunder’s inner sanctum.

According to the Daily Oklahoman, Perkins shouted at Noah: “They just let anybody in the locker room?” The two engaged in a brief back-and-forth with Noah finally saying, “If you want me to wait outside, I’ll wait outside.” Perkins then said, “Get yo’ (expletive) up out of here, (expletive).”

We all know that professional athletes are far chummier these days than they ever used to be. But has it come to this, where foes feel free to mingle in each other’s locker room after a game?

Not so fast.

“It’s not normal,” Mavericks forward and 15-year veteran Shawn Marion said. “It’s like basically bringing someone in the [bathroom] with you.”

Players and coaches I talked to at Friday night’s game between the Raptors and Mavs certainly believe the locker room is for team members only.

“Kendrick is known for being protective of his house, his team, his teammates, so I’m sure Joakim Noah would have done the same thing to him if he had gone through Chicago’s locker room,” Raptors fourth-year point guard Greivis Vasquez said. “So I think it’s part of that competition level and just protecting your house and you’re not going to just let anybody come in like we’re best friends. I like that attitude, to be honest. Even if it is after the game that really doesn’t matter. We play for different teams. We can call, we can text.”

Thunder beat writer Darnell Mayberry said Perkins received support from teammate Russell Westbrook. In a conversation Mayberry had a little later with the All-Star point guard, Westbrook told him it’s a matter of respect to stay out of another team’s locker room. Mayberry asked Westbrook if he would ever bring, for example, friend and fellow UCLA Bruin Kevin Love into the Thunder locker room. He answered, no.

For old-schoolers like Raptors coach Dwane Casey, it’s not even up for debate.

“That’s your sanctuary. You shouldn’t have opposing team players in the locker room. I agree with Perkins,” Casey said. “I don’t know how he went about it, but you want it be your sanctuary in the locker room. But today’s NBA is different than 20 years ago when I first came in the league. You used to see them after the game or go have a beer or whatever after, but not in your locker room.”

Casey said he knows there are still players who would have done the same as Perkins.

“There’s quite a few. K.G. [Kevin Garnett] I know would say something,” Casey said. “You have some old-school guys that still would feel that way. In our locker room it is. There’s a lot of things we talk about, we keep in the family and it should be where you can go and relax and get away from things and feel like this is us, right here.”

Still, things are different in today’s NBA. As Mavs coach Rick Carlisle noted on his weekly local radio show Friday, visiting teams are now permitted to use the home team’s weight room and other facilities prior to games. At the American Airlines Center, the Mavs’ locker room is a square area separated from a much larger space by partition walls. On the other side of the walls is the weight room, making it virtually impossible for opposing players to come in contact.

Still, Carlisle chuckled when asked if the old Celtics teams he played for in the mid-1980s would have welcomed an opposing player into their locker room.

There seems to be only one legitimate reason for a visiting player to wander into the home team’s locker room, and even then players say those visits are typically made before games, not after.

“I was with New Jersey, it was my first game against Dallas (after being traded),” said Mavs guard Devin Harris, who’s in his ninth season and returned to Dallas this season as a free agent. “I walked in, said hello to [head athletic trainer] Casey [Smith], Dirk [Nowitzki], Josh [Howard]. I’m not going in there unless I know people, the majority.”

Marion also said that he’s made pregame visits to the locker room of his former teams where he knows the majority of the players and staff. But never, he said, has an opposing player escorted him into their locker room as Sefolosha did with Noah.

“It’s a little weird,” Harris said.

Break Up The Raptors? No, Really…


VIDEO: Kyle Lowry has a team-high 16 points as the Raptors beat the Bulls

CHICAGO – A funny thing is happening to the Toronto Raptors on their trudge to the basement in the Eastern Conference standings.

They walked through an unmarked door last week, assuming it was another flight of stairs to take them down, only to realize too late they’d stepped onto an elevator headed up.

Toronto’s decision to trade highly paid scoring forward Rudy Gay, as well as to shop point guard Kyle Lowry, sprang from general manager Masai Ujiri‘s newness to the situation this season and an eye to the future in terms of cap space and roster flexibility. But the present has perked up considerably, with today looking pretty good regardless of tomorrow.

The Raptors’ smackdown Saturday of a beleaguered Bulls team did more than demonstrate that too many unfamiliar faces is a better problem to have than too few healthy bodies. It left Toronto with a 3-1 mark since Gay played his last game for the team and, at 9-13, looking downright viable as an Atlantic Division contender and Eastern Conference playoff possibility.

Those things are relative, of course, and they could reverse direction overnight if Ujiri and Toronto ownership hews to the grander plan of prime lottery position for the Draft in June and greater cost savings or manageable contracts. That’s the backdrop against which Gay was dealt to Sacramento and Lowry possibly could be moved this week (in the NBA calendar’s sweet spot for trading summer acquisitions and repackaging returns). With a prize like Canada’s own Andrew Wiggins on the board in one of the deepest drafts in recent hyperbole, one more year of sub-.500 ball and missed playoffs conceivably could be a small price to pay.

That’s not the same thing as no price, though, any more than playing respectably and winning more now would bring no benefits. It might not be enough to keep Dwane Casey around – the Raptors head coach is in the last year of his deal, working for a boss who did not hire him – but it’s more in line with what DeMar DeRozan, the team’s default leader now, has in mind.

After the Bulls game, DeRozan talked about the bad habits and general depression that can set in with losing. Today’s players are the ones tomorrow’s stars wind up replacing, so projecting who and what and where Toronto might draft is of little interest to most of those inside the dressing room.

“No matter who’s on the court, we’ve still got to play to win,” DeRozan said earlier in the evening. “That’s our whole mindset, to go out there and play as well as we can. Put our hearts out there and play to win the game.

“I think everybody in this locker room is living game-to-game. Nobody looks too far ahead. We just take care of our job and do it every single day.”

The “we” is a little different now but then, so are the results. In the three games since Gay’s departure was made official, the Raptors have moved the ball for 23, 25 and 26 assists, uncorked from the forward’s ball-stopping ways. Toronto still ranks last in the league at 18.3 assists per game – but in a mere week’s time, it has boosted that average by a full assist.

Of the new guys, Chuck Hayes still is being held out, his past heart condition requiring more thorough cardiac testing before he’s physically cleared. But the other three – Greivis Vasquez, Patrick Patterson and John Salmons – have done well off the bench. In two games, they have combined to average 23 points on 16 of 34 shots (47.1 percent). Gay for the Raptors this season: 19.4 points on 38.8 percent shooting.

Swapping out his $17.9 million salary, with Quincy Acy ($800,000) and Aaron Gray ($2.7 million), was what drove the deal; Vasquez ($2.1 million), Patterson ($3.1 million), Salmons ($7.6 million) and Hayes ($5.7 million) bring way more bang for the bucks. Especially with what looks to be some fast-tracked transition time.

Casey said he expected another week or two might be needed to get them all clicking. But Vasquez seemed to play with the right pace and vision for Toronto and Patterson found his spot for repeated foul-line jumpers. The starters, with Lowry still around and running things deftly, were unruffled with 69 points Saturday. Terrence Ross is getting the sort of minutes he craved, Jonas Valanciunas (15 points, 11 rebounds) continues to develop, DeRozan seems more mature all of a sudden and D.J. Augustin was missing his shots for the Bulls this time, not the Raptors.

Wiggins? Jabari Parker? The lottery? That’s for Ujiri and the folks upstairs. But the Toronto players and Casey are on the ground level of something that feels refreshing, with no interest in cellar doors.

Raptors’ Valanciunas Recharges Batteries After Long, Busy Summer

The expectations for Jonas Valanciunas remain considerable, even grandiose: Double-double production on a nightly basis, pushing toward 20/10 status. Heavy minutes regardless of his team’s or the opponents’ strategy, with the discipline to avoid foul trouble that would thwart that.

Sooner rather than later, the ability to score like Brook Lopez, rebound like Tyson Chandler and protect the rim like Roy Hibbert. In short, become the cornerstone at both ends of the floor that the Toronto Raptors envisioned when they spent the No. 5 overall pick on him in June 2011 and then waited 14 months to see some return.

Jonas Valanciunas

Jonas Valanciunas (Ron Turenne/NBAE)

The results so far have been much more modest.

In Toronto’s first three games, the 6-foot-11 center from Lithuania averaged 6.3 points, 7.0 rebounds and 1.3 shots in 21.7 minutes, essentially a push with his 2012-13 stats (8.9, 6.0, 1.3 and 23.9). Still 21 with a mere 65 games of NBA experience, Valanciunas has made nine of his 22 shots and had only two chances from the line.

He logged just 16:16 in the Raptors’ victory at Milwaukee Saturday, with three first-half fouls only part of the reason. Though he was effective (seven points, six rebounds) when he was out there — and the other Toronto starters made sure to look for him in the early going, something that doesn’t always happen with ball-stickers Rudy Gay and DeMar DeRozan – Valanciunas played fewer than six minutes in the third quarter and none at all in the fourth.

With the Raptors at home against Miami Tuesday, it’s possible his court time will be limited again, given the Heat’s propensity for smaller, quicker lineups. In other words, Valanciunas’ breakthrough season is still tap-tap-tap-tapping from the other side.

“He’s gonna get there,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey after the victory over the Bucks. “Believe me, he’s gonna get there.”

Just not overnight or even in 15 months of overnights. One of the reasons for Valanciunas’ idle time in Milwaukee was small ball, with Casey countering the lineup Bucks coach Larry Drew put out there. No Larry Sanders, no Zaza Pachulia, no Ersan Ilyasova down the stretch. The Raptors had encountered the same thing 24 hours earlier in Atlanta, where the big guy played only 4:40 after halftime.

“It’s just such a challenge for him, not only in the halfcourt game but getting back in transition,” Casey said. “Because they had [Al] Horford bringing the ball down in transition and now it’s 5-on-4. It was a quick game. But again, for him to grow and get better, he’s going to have to learn to play in those situations.”

Another reason is Casey’s desire not to let winnable games slip away. The coach is in the final year of his contract. He has new bosses, including GM Masai Ujiri, who aren’t the folks who hired him. And anything even close to the Raptors’ 3-13 start last season, for a team with rumbling ambitions of the postseason, likely would be curtains for Casey.

The coaches did force-feed Valanciunas some minutes last season, and the results paid off more for the individual than the group. In the 20 games in which he played 30 minutes or more, he averaged 14 points and 7.9 rebounds. But Toronto went 7-13 in those games, including 0-6 in the ones prior to Jan. 1.

The final reason for Valanciunas’ regulated playing time is a sense that he’s a little court weary. Remember, besides the long runs he got last spring, he participated in the Las Vegas Summer League, where his 18.0 points and 10.0 rebounds earned him the MVP award. From there, it was on to the EuroBasket Championship in September, helping Lithuania earn the silver medal. He went through his first NBA training camp last month, then started seven preseason games, averaging 8.7 points and 6.4 boards.

Now, Valanciunas knew what he was in for. He talked in camp of being up for the workload. He has been able to maintain his bulked-up form and strength.

But several Raptors insiders will tell you that, frankly, he is a little gassed right now. Certainly too much for the pace of small ball or keeping up with bigs who routinely get out in transition.

“There’s going to come a time,” Casey said, without apparent worry, “where he’s going to be able to do that.”

That and much more, if the plan proves out.

No Looking Back For Raptors’ Lowry


VIDEO: NBA TV Canada takes a deeper look at Raptors guard Kyle Lowry

ATLANTA – Kyle Lowry doesn’t believe in looking back or wasting his time on what could have or should have been. The Toronto Raptors’ point guard has been through too much to fret about the past.

He’s focused on one thing and one thing only these days — leading the Raptors to a playoff bid and quenching the thirst of a devoted fan base that has suffered far too long without postseason hoops. It helps that Lowry, a player that Raptors coach Dwane Casey referred to as the “key to his team,” finally feels like he’s found a home.

In Memphis he was a fiery reserve but never handed the keys to the operation. And in Houston, where he started 109 games in three and half seasons, he was still trying to find his way in the league with an organization that was in flux.

“It’s not about what happened then,” Lowry said Friday morning before the Raptors faced the Atlanta Hawks at Philips Arena (7:30 p.m. ET, League Pass). “I think I was absolutely in a great situation, the right situation in Houston. I got into that situation, unfortunately, with an injury to Aaron Brooks. But I think it was a great situation for me. And I feel like I’m in the same kind of place now. This is an opportunity league. To be effective, to flourish and do well, it has to be the right fit.”

And that’s exactly what Lowry believes he has with the Raptors’ current group. With he, Rudy Gay and DeMar DeRozan as headliners and the supporting cast filled out with Jonas Valanciunas, Amir Johnson, Tyler Hansbrough, Terrence Ross, Steve Novak, Quincy Acy and others, Lowry insists the Raptors’ depth and balance is as good as ever.

“I think the playoffs is much more of a realistic goal for us this year,” said Lowry, a seven-year NBA veteran. “Last year we got off to such a bad start that it set us back and we were never really able to recover from that. But we’ve added some toughness this year with Hansbrough and we’ve added a shooter in Novak. We’ve had a full training camp with Rudy and DeMar. Jonas is year older and the core guys have been together and playing next to each other for four of five months. We’re all feeling better about things now and I think we have a chance to do some things that people don’t expect us to do.”

Casey is counting on Lowry to continue doing what he’s been doing all along in Toronto: serve as the Raptors’ on-and off-court leader. Casey recognizes a distinct difference in the Lowry we all see now and the one he was from afar years ago.

“Everybody thinks they are the player they’re going to be from the first month they are in the league, and that’s just not the case,” Casey said. “I think Kyle has learned some really valuable lessons over the years from his previous experiences in Memphis and Houston. He has grown into who he is as a player. He has really matured in so many ways. He’s slowed his game down and sees things in ways he probably did not early on in his career. He’s not that same, run-up-a-wall type of player he was. He’s much more cerebral now and understands the game more. He’s the key to our team.”

Lowry, 27, is also a player that Casey trusts implicitly. Lowry’s poise and leadership is definitely a commodity on the floor in today’s NBA.

“Bottom line is this is the perfect system for him,” Casey said. “He’s our quarterback and he has the freedom to run different plays and direct based on what he sees on the court. He can identify the matchups and go wherever he needs to go with the ball on that end of the floor. When he doesn’t do that he’ll defer to me and we’ll get together during time outs and evaluate what’s going on in dead ball situations and things like that and make our adjustments. But he’s doing an excellent job on the floor being a quarterback and understanding who needs touches and when they need them. He’s doing a heck of a job defensively and hawking the ball the way he has. But yes, the system fits him tremendously.”

It fits Lowry better than it has in the past, whether he wants to take a look back or not. And that’s exactly what the Raptors need.

Nets’ Anderson Makes It All Way Back

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HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — As vibrant as Toronto is as a sports market, as passionate as its fans are for whichever team is working that night, the feeling among some NBA players remains largely unchanged from what it was 18 years ago  when the Raptors joined the league via expansion.

It’s that place up there, with the funky money, the customs checkpoints and defence that’s almost as tricky to spell as it is to play.

But the Air Canada Centre is Madison Square Garden or Staples Center as far as Alan Anderson is concerned. He learned the hard way the difference between basketball outposts and basketball outposts.

“Well, you go to China and to Italy and Russia and all those places, and you’ll see Toronto as the NBA,” Anderson said in a phone interview this week, after taking his physical and wrapping up paperwork on his two-year contract with the Brooklyn Nets.

He didn’t mention Croatia or Israel, or Tulsa, Albuquerque or Canton for that matter. But he didn’t need to. This NBA dream of his, a dream that nearly died overseas or grinding through the D-League for four seasons and nearly five years that could have been his basketball prime, is alive and well.

What’s dead is any shred of entitlement or arrogance or even self-pity that Anderson might have had about deserving better than what he got from 2007, when the Charlotte Bobcats were done with him, to March 2011 when the Raptors finally called.

The 6-foot-6 wing player from Minneapolis didn’t need much more humility, mind you, after going undrafted out of Michigan State in 2005, landing with Charlotte for a year and a fraction, then getting his passport stamped like Jason Bourne for the next several seasons. But the harder he pressed, the farther away he seemed to get. How often did he doubt he’d get another shot?

“Always,” Anderson said. “Once I left, I was like, ‘Oh my goodness, how long is it going to take me to get back? When am I getting back?’ And after a year goes by, two years go by…

“Actually, it was worse for me when I was thinking like that. That didn’t help me out at all. Once I started thinking about where I was at and winning a championship where I was at [in Croatia in 2009, in Spain in 2011], it started getting easier and I started seeing the NBA at the end of the tunnel.”

Anderson is forever indebted to former Raptors GM Bryan Colangelo and current head coach Dwane Casey for the call that finally came. In February 2011, he had come back from a completed season in China with hopes of a 10-day deal in Washington that never panned out. His agent Mark Bartelstein suggested that, beyond his individual workouts, Anderson head back to the D-League to keep his game sharp.

Shrewd move: He joined the Canton Charge, played eight games, averaged 21.5 points and shot 55 percent from the floor while helping them in a late playoff run and caught Toronto’s eye.

“He said to me, ‘Mark, just get me one more opportunity in the league. If you do, I’ll take advantage of it,’ “ Bartelstein said. “And that’s exactly what he did.”

Anderson stuck through two 10-day deals and the few days left in 2011-12 after that. He was back last season, averaging 10.7 points and 23 minutes off the bench, helping the Raptors to a 31-34 mark when he played [3-14 when he didn’t]. He scored 20 points or more eight times, including a 35-point performance against the Knicks on March 22, which might have been all the resume he needed to grab Brooklyn’s attention.

Now, Anderson is headed onto one of the league’s grandest stages, with the newly configured Nets battling the Knicks for New York and Atlantic Division supremacy. He’ll be a relatively anonymous role player on a roster now crammed with marquee names and proven veterans, eager to back up Paul Pierce and Joe Johnson as needed, flesh out a vastly improved Brooklyn bench and team with Kevin Garnett. Anderson first met Garnett back in Minnesota in 1997, when he was headed to De LaSalle High and Garnett was all of 21, working a summer camp.

“For someone growing up in the inner city, where I came from, we loved watching KG play and everything he brought,” said Anderson, who plays with a little on-court edge himself. “When I finally go to meet him, he was talking to me like we already knew each other as friends. That was big for me.”

So many years later, Anderson has a chance to help make Garnett’s twilight time special. He’s no kid himself –- Anderson will turn 31 in the preseason –- but his NBA miles are low and his adrenaline is spiking.

“I don’t think I do anything great, but I think I do everything pretty good,” said Anderson, whose minimum contract includes a player option for 2014-15. “I can spot-shoot, I can rebound, I defend, I can create, I can pass. Me being versatile, it can come down to me –- if we’re in a shooting slump or we need to get to the basket or need to get to the free-throw line, I think I’m capable of doing all of that.”

Anderson calls this gig a “blessing.” Bartelstein considers it a “wonderful story.”

“Alan’s a guy who just wanted desperately to get back to the NBA,” the agent said. “To be on a stage like he’s going to be on in Brooklyn, I’m so happy for the guy. A lot of people counted Alan out and thought his NBA career was over. So, to come back from playing internationally and rebuilding his career to levels that a lot of people didn’t think he could do, it speaks volumes about his perseverance and how hard he’s worked.”

Raptors GM Ujiri Prepared To Stand Pat After Swinging Bargnani Trade

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HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – Masai Ujiri is some kind of miracle worker.

How else do you explain how he was able to get rid of Andrea Bargnani less than a month after taking over as general manager of the Toronto Raptors and get three draft picks in return? When it comes to addition by subtraction, it’s hard to remember a better trade.

Bargnani is a no-D, tunnel-vision shooter who hasn’t shot well over the last three seasons and is owed more than $22 million over the next two. The Raptors should have been sending picks out to grease the deal, not getting picks in return.

So put another notch on Ujiri’s belt for the deal that netted Toronto a first-round pick and two second rounders from New York. After taking over in Denver, he turned Carmelo Anthony into a package that helped keep the Nuggets near the top of the Western Conference. Now, he’s turned Bargnani into assets that could be used to add another piece to the Raptors’ young core.

Is that other deal coming soon? Probably not.

Speaking with the media on Wednesday, Ujiri made it sound like he’s sticking with the team he has for now. The Raptors will likely head into training camp with a rotation that looks something like this…

PG: Kyle Lowry, Julyan Stone
SG: DeMar DeRozan, Terrence Ross
SF: Rudy Gay, Steve Novak
PF: Amir Johnson, Tyler Hansbrough (reported deal, but not yet signed)
C: Jonas Valanciunas, Aaron Gray

The wing combination of DeMar DeRozan and Rudy Gay is not optimal, especially at $27 million a year. The way the league is going, you need shooters at those positions to space the floor. Neither DeRozan (28 percent from 3-point range last season) nor Gay (32 percent) is much of a threat from the perimeter, a situation made worse by the lack of a stretch four (that doesn’t mean they should have kept Bargnani).

It would be understandable if Ujiri wanted to make more moves to add shooting, make better use of his team’s capped-out payroll, or maybe even sacrifice the coming season for the sake of the future. But he seems content with fielding a team that will neither be terrible nor very good.

“We’re going to take it as it comes and see what comes our way,” Ujiri said Wednesday. “We’re going to be aggressive out there, but we also owe it to see what we have on our team instead of doing something stupid, like quickly. If something reasonable comes our way and we feel that it’s something that’s going to help the Toronto Raptors, then I will do it.”

Ujiri also said that its his job to put together a team that fits its coach. Dwane Casey is a defense-first guy and the Raptors were much improved defensively after the Gay trade. They allowed just 101.3 points per 100 possessions (a rate which would have ranked in the top 10) and were a plus-60 (despite the shooting issues) in 923 minutes with DeRozan and Gay on the floor together last season.

Furthermore, Ujiri has two second-year players — Terrence Ross and Jonas Valanciunas — who could take major steps forward this season. The summer between a player’s first and second season is critical, and how much the pair has improved over these few months will certainly help determine the direction the Raptors go in.

Right now, Ujiri says, “I don’t know what direction that is.” He just knows that he doesn’t want to tank, because “winning is what you want to build around.”

There are some minor things Ujiri has to take care of. He needs to work out a trade or buyout for Marcus Camby, who has made it clear that he doesn’t want to be in Toronto. He has to decide if he’s going to waive Linas Kleiza via the amnesty clause. And he needs to find a back-up point guard. (Ujiri may like Julyan Stone, but he played a grand total of 27 minutes in Denver last season.)

This roster is basically what the Raptors will look like come October. And maybe that’s good enough to make the playoffs in an Eastern Conference that has experienced quite a bit of change over the last two weeks. Maybe it’s not.

Either way, Ujiri has already put his stamp on the franchise. And given his track record, it’s hard to question anything he does.