Posts Tagged ‘Toronto Raptors’

Blogtable: Summer’s most intriguing team

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: The price of Love | New most intriguing team | Sleeper rookie



VIDEO: Glen Rice Jr. impressed for the Wizards at Summer League

> You’ve seen the Draft. You’ve seen some Summer League. Outside of the Cavs, what team most intrigues you now? Why’s that?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comI’m intrigued by Charlotte, with its addition of Lance Stephenson, along with pick-up Marvin Williams. There’s talent there, especially if Cody Zeller and Noah Vonleh can rev up their frontline contributions, and it’s possible the Hornets push for a top-4 spot in the East playoffs. Steve Clifford should be able to prevent them from becoming The Lance Show (in the event Stephenson decides to start playing for his next contract right away). And let’s face it, if an NBA team can’t find a way to move on from the loss of Josh McRoberts, well, then Charlotte becomes watchable in an odd, case-study sort of way.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: In the East, and thank the basketball gods for this, there’s actually several teams of intrigue. Toronto kept its momentum going by re-signing so many of its own starting with Kyle Lowry. Washington is on the come and adding a big-brother figure in Paul Pierce should be great for John Wall and Bradley Beal. And, of course, Chicago with Pau Gasol in the mix and Derrick Rose coming back should be great fun to watch (yes, and post-LeBron Miami). In the West, the Oklahoma City Thunder are my choice. They missed out on Gasol, who would have been an absolute game-changer for that squad, and instead only came away with Sebastian Telfair, an end-of-bench addition, and Anthony Morrow, a 3-point specialist who could fit in quite well. I’m really curious to see how Russell Westbrook‘s game continues to evolve after his powerful postseason, how Kevin Durant comes off his first MVP season (but a bit of an individually disappointing postseason) and if Scott Brooks can add some new wrinkles to one of the most efficient (yet also most criticized) offenses over the last several years. If healthy the last two postseasons, this conversation could be totally different.

Sekou Smith, NBA.comThe Washington Wizards, mostly because they have put together a quality offseason and have a clear path up the Eastern Conference food chain now that the entire field has been thinned out by LeBron’s departure for Cleveland. The Wizards will have an ideal blend of youthful energy and athleticism to go along with a seasoned supporting cast capable of pushing this team over the top a year after making that surprise run to the Eastern Conference semifinals. For whatever was lost in free agency (Trevor Ariza and Trevor Booker), the Wizards more than made up for it by keeping Marcin Gortat and adding Paul Pierce, Kris Humphries and DeJaun Blair. Toss in a ready-to-go Otto Porter Jr. and the Samsung Summer League MVP Glen Rice Jr., and the Wizards have every reason to believe that John Wall and Bradley Beal have a legitimate shot to lead this crew to the top of the Southeast Division and perhaps beyond.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: The Wizards have a chance to be one of the top two or three teams in the East. John Wall and Bradley Beal are getting better every season and could be the clear No. 1 backcourt in the conference by the start of 2015. Marcin Gortat has great pick-and-roll chemistry with Wall, Paul Pierce brings another element to the offense, and they have a ton of depth on their frontline. The only question is if they can maintain a top-10 defense with Pierce (who’s a better defender at the four than the three) replacing Trevor Ariza.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: Washington. They kept Gortat, they did not overpay for Ariza, and then they managed to add Paul Pierce to that mix. Plus, after watching them in Summer League, it seemed clear that Otto Porter and Glen Rice Jr (who was terrific in Vegas) are ready to add perimeter depth off the bench and give them the athleticism that Pierce lacks. Is Randy Wittman the right guy to take them to the next level? To me that’s the bigger question. But after a second-round run last season, all the pieces are in place for the Wiz to continue to grow what they’ve already started.

Morning Shootaround — July 6


VIDEO: TNT analyst David Aldridge reports the latest free-agent news

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Lakers make move for Melo | Heat meet with Deng | Gortat’s return to D.C. was easy call | Novak traded to Jazz

No. 1: Lakers make move for Melo — In the earliest days of free agency, the Los Angeles Lakers seemed to be the odd team out, as free agents and reps for LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony met with and considered various franchises, from Chicago to Miami to Houston to Dallas, not to mention the incumbents — the Knicks and the Heat. Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Lakers entered the summer with just a handful of players under contract and significant room to maneuver under the luxury tax.

But you can never count the Lake Show out. While many reports had Melo choosing between the Knicks and Bulls, last night Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski reported that the Lakers are definitely in the picture. After his meeting with Lakers execs, reports are that Carmelo is absolutely considering a move to the coast, to join Kobe Bryant in a west side connection…

The Los Angeles Lakers have ascended into serious contention to sign New York free agent Carmelo Anthony, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

The Lakers moved into strong consideration with the front-running New York Knicks and Chicago Bulls over this weekend, sources told Yahoo Sports.

No one with direct knowledge of the process would declare the Lakers had overtaken New York and Chicago in Anthony’s mind, but one source close to Anthony said of the Lakers, “They’re in the game now.”

The Lakers met with Anthony on Friday, offering him a four-year, $97 million contract. Lakers star Kobe Bryant has been in constant contact with Anthony, and the Lakers could re-sign Pau Gasol to pair with Anthony on the frontline.

This story kicked off when ESPN’s Bill Simmons noted via Twitter…

Of course, Melo signing with the Lakers would mean him leaving over $30 million from the Knicks on the table — as his former team, the Knicks can offer Anthony a larger and longer contract than any other team. There’s also the question of whether a pairing of Anthony and Bryant (with Gasol) in the rough-and-ready Western Conference would give Anthony the best and quickest chance to win.

Whatever happens, after weeks of speculation and simmering, free agency is finally reaching the boiling point. Get your popcorn ready.

***

No. 2: Heat meet with Deng — While several NBA teams are loaded with cap space, the Miami Heat are still a work in progress. While James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh all opted out of their contracts and seemed interested in returning, the path forward for the Heat has seemed less clear, both in terms of financials and personnel. With an aging roster and burgeoning payroll, the Heat have to find a way to get their Big Three some help, without breaking the bank.

Yesterday, according to an ESPN report, Heat president Pat Riley took another step forward by meeting with one of the top free agents on the market, Luol Deng

The meeting was described as “preliminary,” according to a source, as Riley attempted to sell Deng on the benefits of joining the four-time defending Eastern Conference champions.

Sources told ESPN The Magazine’s Chris Broussard that Deng will not take a salary significantly below his market value, believed to be above $10 million annually, merely to sign with the Heat.

Deng has several suitors, including Dallas, Atlanta, Chicago and the Los Angeles Lakers, but a source said Riley’s pitch intrigued him.

Adding Deng would give the Heat experience, depth, and help on both ends of the court. It may also be something of a dream — can the Heat actually create enough room to make Deng an offer he can’t refuse?

The task facing Riley and the Heat is anything but easy. But then, the best things very rarely are. Four seasons ago, Riley defied many expectations when he successfully constructed the Big Three. Now he’s got a different kind of difficult task ahead of him.

***

No. 3: Gortat’s return to D.C. was easy call — Not long before last season began, the Wizards gave up a first-round pick along with the rights to injured center Emeka Okafor in exchange for Marcin Gortat. While Gortat has always been a solid interior performer, he was going to be a free agent this summer, and the Wizards were gambling they’d be able to convince him to re-sign in D.C. After showing promise during the regular season and making a run into the second round of the playoffs, Gortat felt confident enough in the future of the Wizards to stick around.

In an interview yesterday from Orlando Summer League on NBA TV, Gortat said re-upping with Washington was a simple decision

“A lot of different reasons,” Gortat said, when asked why he elected to stay with the Wizards. “First of all, I like the city. I like the team. I definitely feel comfortable over there. The team really took me under the wing and they help me since the day one. I definitely love the chemistry between me and John Wall. I think Bradley Beal is going to be a great player one day. Coach Randy [Wittman] believes in me, and I have a great relationship with him. So, the decision was real easy for me. I believe that we will be a special team for the next four or five years.”

Gortat was asked about interest from the Miami Heat and bobbed his head side to side, “We had a few teams, but I don’t think it [makes] any sense to talk about that now.”

If they’re planning to get the entire band back together, the Wizards still have to convince Trevor Ariza to re-sign — and as an in-demand swingman, Ariza may take a little more convincing than Gortat.

***

No. 4: Jazz trade for Novak — Sweet-shooting swingman Steve Novak spent the last few seasons knocking down 3-pointers for the Knicks and the Raptors. While out enjoying the 4th of July holiday with his family in his hometown of Milwaukee, Novak found out he would have a new NBA home next season: The Raptors reportedly agreed to move Novak to the Jazz for Diante Garrett, who the Raptors could waive to create salary cap space.

One of the interesting bits of this story is how Novak discovered he was being traded: According to the Desert News, Novak found out via a series of text messages from his Toronto teammate Kyle Lowry

Novak, who was dealt to the Raptors from the Knicks just a year ago after thinking he’d finally found his long-term NBA home in New York, wasn’t expecting that news. He even wrote back to Lowry, “Are you kidding me?”

Traded again? To Utah? On Independence Day?

What!?!

“It was the Fourth of July. I didn’t have any idea that you could get traded on a national holiday,” Novak said, laughing, Saturday evening in a phone interview with the Deseret News. “I didn’t think GMs worked so hard.”

The gift and the curse for Novak is his combination of shooting and size (he is 6-10) simultaneously makes him a hot commodity and a tradeable asset. For his part, Novak seems to be embracing his new home…

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The long wait to see Nerlens Noel in a Sixers uniform may have been worth every second … If the Rockets need to move Jeremy Lin to create cap space, Philadelphia might be an option … You know who’s not happy about players being asked to take pay cuts? Their agents and their union. … Looks like Devin Harris will agree to a three-year extension with the Mavericks …

Reports: Raptors trade Novak to Jazz

NBA.com staff

The Toronto Raptors have agreed to trade forward Steve Novak and a future second-round draft pick to the Utah Jazz for guard Diante Garrett, according to several reports.

The Raptors will then waive Garrett in a move designed to clear cap space for Toronto, according to Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski, who first reported the trade.

The 6-foot-10 Novak, 31, who has played for six teams over his eight-year NBA career, has two years and $7.2 million remaining on his contract, while Garrett has a non-guaranteed deal worth $915,000.

Novak is a 3-point specialist who has shot 43.2 percent from beyond the arc over his career despite averaging just 5.0 points. The 6-4 Garrett was Trey Burke’s primary backup after being called up from the D-League during this past season.

The deal can’t be officially announced until the NBA’s mortarium ends July 10.

Raps keep Lowry, still have more work


VIDEO: Free Agency: Lowry Remains a Raptor

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – The Toronto Raptors have taken care of the important business, agreeing to terms with Kyle Lowry on a new four-year, $48 million contract. After winning their division for the second time in franchise history and returning to the postseason after a five-year absence, they’re bringing back their best player. Lowry is a bulldog on both ends of the floor, and if he wasn’t the best point guard in the Eastern Conference last season, he was right there with John Wall.

The Raptors had one the conference’s best benches as well. Greivis Vasquez and Patrick Patterson arrived in the Rudy Gay trade in December and made big impacts. Patterson spaced the floor at the power forward position, while Vasquez’s passing was infectious. Toronto recorded assists on just 49 percent of its baskets before the trade and 60 percent after it.

The numbers spell out how important Patterson and Vasquez are. They had the two best on-court NetRtg marks on the team, with the Raptors outscoring their opponents by 9.9 points per 100 possessions with Patterson on the floor and by 8.5 with Vasquez on the floor. In the playoffs, Toronto outscored Brooklyn by 53 points with Vasquez on the floor and was outscored by 64 with him on the bench. Patterson was a plus-30.  As it was in the regular season, they were at their best with those two guys on the floor.

If the Raptors want to build on last season’s success, they need to keep the bench together. If Lou Williams (acquired in a trade for John Salmons) is healthy, it could be even better than it was last season.

On Friday, Toronto reportedly agreed to terms with Patterson, a restricted free agent, on a three-year, $18 million contract. That’s Step 2.

Vasquez is another restricted free agent, meaning the Raptors can match any offer sheet he receives from another team. But with the new contracts for Lowry and Patterson, the addition of Williams, and the possibility of adding rookies Bruno Caboclo and Lucas Nogueira, Toronto is approaching the luxury tax line. And they want to make one more move.

After Joe Johnson beat them up in that playoff series, the Raps acknowledged that they need more size on the wing. Even if Caboclo is less than “two years away from being two years away,” that size would have to come in free agency, perhaps from an Al-Farouq AminuAlan Anderson, Jordan Hamilton or Richard Jefferson. The Raptors have the mid-level exception (or a portion of it) to spend on an outside free agent.

Adding one of those guys, keeping Vasquez, and staying under the tax line will be a challenge. If Darren Collison can get the full mid-level exception (from Vasquez’s former team) in Sacramento, Vasquez should surely be worth that much. Complicating matters is that Toronto is already paying small forwards Landry Fields and Steve Novak almost $10 million to ride the pine.

Back in January, SportsNet’s Michael Grange reported that the Raptors would be willing to go over the line “at the right time.” But if they bring everybody back, they’re still a team that lost in the first round.  Even if they add a piece, they still have a ceiling, especially if LeBron James remains in Miami. And if Jonas Valanciunas gets a lucrative contract extension next summer, it will overlap with the last two seasons of Lowry’s deal (and the last of DeMar DeRozan‘s), which may be the time to think about paying the tax.

So Raptors GM Masai Ujiri has his work cut out for him over the next couple of weeks. He got the most important deal done. But his team’s depth is just as critical to its success as its best player.

Hawks set up well to add a star


VIDEO: East Draft Review: Atlanta Hawks

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – The big free agent destinations for this summer are Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles and Miami.

But what about Atlanta?

Few teams are set up to sign a star better than the Atlanta Hawks, who created more cap space with a trade reportedly agreed to on Sunday.

John Salmons is under contract for $7 million next season, but the Hawks only have to pay him $1 million if they waive him by Tuesday. That’s exactly what they’re expected to do, so by trading Lou Williams‘ $5.45 million deal (Lucas Nogueira doesn’t have a contract), the Hawks have created an additional $4.45 million of cap space.

As it stands, that gives the Hawks more than $13 million of cap space total. Assuming they extend qualifying offers to restricted free agents Shelvin Mack (more important now that Williams is gone) and Mike Scott and don’t extend one to Gustavo Ayon (who played just 26 games last season), they have a little more than $15 million in cap space.

That’s not enough to offer a max contract to LeBron James or Carmelo Anthony, but it’s enough to make a serious upgrade on the wing, where DeMarre Carroll started 73 games last season.

It’s just not cap space that makes a star player a good fit in Atlanta. It’s the supporting cast.

The best way to complement a star who draws the attention of extra defenders is with shooting. And starting with Kyle Korver, the Hawks have an abundance of that. They ranked fifth in 3-pointers last season and fifth in effective field goal percentage from outside the paint. It was their ability to space the floor with all five guys that gave the Indiana Pacers a world of trouble in the first round of the playoffs.

Bigs Paul Millsap and Pero Antic can step out beyond the 3-point line and Al Horford — expected to make a full recovery after December surgery on a torn pectoral muscle — has been one of the league’s best mid-range shooters over the last few years.

Those bigs are also good rebounders, and Jeff Teague is a solid point guard who can make defenses scramble on the pick-and-roll. That takes pressure off a star to carry the offense by himself.

Of course, beyond James and Anthony, there’s not a real offensive star (on the wing) to be had in free agency. Lance Stephenson might be the closest thing, but he doesn’t quite fit into the Spurs East model that Danny Ferry and Mike Budenholzer are trying to build in Atlanta (neither does Anthony, really).

And so, while Ferry did well in clearing contracts to get to this point, his tenure with the Hawks can’t be ruled a success until he actually gets the team back where they were — making three straight trips to the conference semifinals — before he got there.

Joe Johnson‘s contract is kind of ridiculous, but the Joe Johnson that we saw in the playoffs this year is exactly the kind of the player that would fit in well with the Hawks right now. Ferry has done well to set up a strong supporting cast, but there’s one more big step to take.

What can the Heat offer free agents?


VIDEO: Wade opts out

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and now Chris Bosh have informed the Miami Heat that they will exercise the early termination options on their contracts, ending what were six-years deals after four seasons.

In addition, Udonis Haslem, has declined his $4.3 million player option.

Nine days ago, Pat Riley made it clear that he’d like his three All-Stars to take less money to help him retool the roster. On Tuesday, James put added pressure on Bosh and Wade by opting out of his deal. Now, it looks like things are falling into place and Riley will have the opportunity to upgrade the other two positions in his starting lineup.

Rumored targets for the Heat include point guard Kyle Lowry, forward Trevor Ariza and center Marcin Gortat. All have tools (ball-handling, defense, size) that would certainly help Miami. The idea of adding Carmelo Anthony seems far-fetched, but it all depends on how much money he’s willing to sacrifice, as well as how much Miami’s Big Three are willing to sacrifice.

Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski reports that James is seeking a max contract, which would be a five-year deal worth about $120 million. So it would apparently be Bosh and Wade who would have to take pay cuts.

ESPN’s Chris Broussard tweeted that Bosh is seeking a new five-year deal worth $15-16 million per year. Those two reports (as well as the assumption that Wade isn’t going to take less than Bosh) gives us the framework of the Heat’s salary math, with an expected salary cap of $63.2 million …

Heat salary math

Player 2014-15 Notes
1 James, LeBron $20,020,875 Cap hold
2 Bosh, Chris $13,043,478 Reduced salary (5 yrs/$75M)
3 Wade, Dwyane $13,043,478 Reduced salary (5 yrs/$75M)
4 Cole, Norris $2,038,206 Under contract
5 Andersen, Chris $915,243 Cap hold
6 Napier, Shabazz $1,032,200 Cap hold
7-11 Cap hold x 5 $2,536,680 Cap hold
TOTAL $52,630,161
Salary cap $63,200,000
Left for free agent $10,569,839 4-year deal for $45.1 million

1. James’ max contract would start at about $20.8 million. Since his cap hold (1.05 x last year’s salary) is a little less than that, the Heat would use that number until the other pieces are signed. Then they can go over the salary cap to re-sign James.

2 and 3. If Bosh and Wade both accept five-year deals worth $75 million ($15 million per year), those contracts would have starting salaries of just over $13 million.

4. ESPN’s Brian Windhorst reports that the Heat are looking to unload Norris Cole. If they do that (and don’t get another player in return), his $2.0 million would be replaced by another rookie minimum cap hold (see 7-11) and they’d have an additional $1.5 million of cap space.

5. The Heat could renounce the rights to Chris Andersen, but he has just a vet’s minimum cap hold. Keeping that would allow them to sign him for much more after they’re back over the salary cap.

6. The Heat can pay Shabazz Napier 120 percent of the rookie scale for the No. 24 pick. As with James, better to keep the cap hold number until the other pieces are signed.

7-11. If you don’t have 12 guys on your roster, there is a rookie minimum cap hold ($507,336) for every slot that takes you up to 12. So, if we’re talking about James, Bosh, Wade, Cole, Andersen, Napier and one free agent, we need five minimum cap holds.

Additional note: In this scenario, the Heat have renounced their rights to Haslem, Ray Allen, Michael Beasley, Mario Chalmers, Toney Douglas, James Jones, Rashard Lewis, and Greg Oden, and have also waived Justin Hamilton (who has a non-guaranteed deal). It’s assumed that Haslem will get rewarded for opting out (with a long-term deal that pays him more than the $4.3 million he could have earned next season), and Allen is a critical piece in the rotation, but their cap holds ($8.2 million and $4.2 million) are too big to keep on the books.

After the Heat have gone over the cap, they can use the room exception (starting at $2.7 million) to bring one or more of those guys back (or add other free agents). It can be split among multiple players. After that, they’d have only minimum deals to offer players.

If all the above holds, the Heat could offer one free agent $45.1 million over four years ($11.3 million per year). If they are able to trade Cole, that would turn into $51.7 million over four years ($12.9 million per year).

That’s still about half of what Anthony could earn elsewhere. If he were to re-sign with the Knicks for the max, he’d get $129.1 million over five years ($25.8 per year). If he were to sign with a new team for the max, he’d get $95.9 million over four years ($24.0 million per year).

So Lowry, Ariza and Gortat are obviously more realistic options. If the Heat were to split their cap space among two free agents (assuming they traded Cole), they could offer them a total of about $13.5 million per year. Ariza and Gortat each made $7.7 million for the Wizards this past season, while Lowry made $6.2 million for the Raptors.

Both Gortat and Lowry will likely be offered raises from their current teams, who are both looking to keep the momentum going after returning to the postseason after long layoffs. With Martell Webster and Otto Porter on the roster, the Wizards might not fight hard for Ariza, but he could still get more than mid-level money elsewhere, as one of the better three-and-D guys in the league and still just 29 years old.

So there’s no clear starting-lineup upgrade for the Heat. But if James accepts less than the max or if Bosh and/or Wade accept less than $15 million per year, there’s more money to spend. And since they’re also offering a chance to play with the best player in the world for a championship on Biscayne Bay, they may not have to spend as much as other teams.

Ego doesn’t block Mitchell’s return as Timberwolves assistant coach


VIDEO: Sam Mitchell talks about his days with the Wolves

Mark Jackson never would deign to do it. You look around the NBA and you don’t see George Karl, Jerry Sloan, Avery Johnson, Scott Skiles, Vinny Del Negro or either of the Van Gundys doing it.

But Sam Mitchell is about to move 18 inches over – 18 inches down, in terms of career trajectory – and he’s fine with it.

“It looked like that was the only way I was going to get back in. You do what you’ve got to do,” Mitchell said this week, after the official announcement that he was joining the Minnesota Timberwolves as an assistant coach on Flip Saunders‘ staff. “I said to myself, if I’m ever going to coach again and I’ve got to come back in as an assistant coach, it doesn’t get much better than this.”

It doesn’t get much more rare, either.

It’s uncommon enough to find former NBA head coaches working as assistants, for several reasons. The move can be perceived as going backwards in their coaching careers – a CEO settling for a VP’s job – and knocking them the lead horses on the league’s long-established coaching carousel. Some head coaches don’t like having right-hand men who are too qualified. And the guy himself can struggle in a role where he only suggests after time spent being the one who decides.

It’s even more rare that a former NBA Coach of the Year would make such a move.

Of the 309 men who have been NBA head coaches (per basketball-reference.com), 42 of them have won the league’s 52 COY awards. Yet over the past 20 years, only Del Harris (COY 1995, Lakers) worked again as an assistant, filling slots in Dallas, Chicago and New Jersey after his head coaching jobs in Houston, Milwaukee and L.A.

Karl? Johnson? Mike D’Antoni? Mike Brown? Byron Scott? Rick Carlisle? Larry Brown? Mike Dunleavy? Nope, nope, nope, nope, nope, nope, nope and nope. Never mind Phil Jackson or Pat Riley.

Mitchell won his COY in 2007, after his third season with the Toronto Raptors. Hired in 2004 by former GM Rob Babcock – their connection dated to Babcock’s personnel days in Minnesota while Mitchell still was a player there – he had been on the job for only a few months when Toronto traded its star, Vince Carter, in a reluctant rebuild. Six months later, the Raptors drafted Charlie Villanueva and Joey Graham. A year after that, Andrea Bargnani.

But Mitchell helped that 2006-07 team improve from a 27-55 finish the season before to 47-35, good for first place in the Atlanta Division and a playoff berth. Toronto went from a 112.7 defensive rating to 106.0, a climb of 17 spots in the rankings. It ranked 29th in offensive rebounding and 23rd in free throw attempts, but 11th or higher in points, assists, turnovers, 3-pointers and field-goal percentage.

“A lot of people said we didn’t run,” Mitchell said, “but we were so efficient, we didn’t have to run up and down the court 100 miles an hour. That’s how we played.” (more…)

Nets get past Raptors by thinnest of margins in Game 7

By John Schuhmann, NBA.com


VIDEO: Nets hang on against Raptors in Game 7

TORONTO – Basketball can be a game of inches too.

The difference in the first round series between the Brooklyn Nets and Toronto Raptors was the length of Paul Pierce‘s fingers, which reached up and blocked Kyle Lowry‘s shot as time expired in Game 7, sending Brooklyn to the conference semifinals with a nail-biting 104-103 victory.

Lowry had somehow squeezed between Deron Williams, Alan Anderson and Kevin Garnett, losing the ball on one side of the triple-team and recovering it on the other. With all the defense’s attention on him, he had somehow willed his way to the basket one final time.

“That young man,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said, “did everything he could to get to the basket.”

But …

“Sometimes, it’s about being at the right place,” Pierce said afterward, “at the right time.”

The cumulative score in 11 total games (regular season and playoffs) between these two teams was 1,070-1,070. It really doesn’t get any closer than that. Eight of the 11 games were within three points in the final three minutes. And the team that got its first Game 7 win since the Nets came to the NBA in 1976 was the team that barely hung on.

The Nets’ offense had been rolling through the Raptors over the last 2 1/2 games. They led by 11 early in the fourth quarter and by nine with less that four minutes to go. But they couldn’t stop the Raptors’ offense, which scored 30 points in the final period.

“We were right there,” Casey said.

Lowry was attacking. DeMar DeRozan was making something out of nothing. Patrick Patterson was rolling to the basket. The Nets committed a couple of dumb fouls and just couldn’t get a stop … until they absolutely had to.

“We might have bent a little bit,” Nets coach Jason Kidd said, “but we didn’t break.”

It took every last inch for the veteran team with the big names and the largest payroll in NBA history to get past the young guns who had never been here before. The Nets knew how hard it was and how good the Raptors are. Toronto’s division title was no fluke.

“This was a very difficult series,” Garnett said. “It tested everybody’s will here. If anything, I think we grew up a bit during this series.”

That says a lot about the Raptors, who face some questions this summer. The contracts of their coach (Casey) and best player (Lowry) expire at the end of June. But if those two guys are back, Toronto will be back in the playoffs, with an incredible crowd on their side again.

“This is one of the best environments in basketball,” Pierce said of the Air Canada Centre, “as far as the road crowd, the noise, the enthusiasm. This is as tough as it’s going to get. And to come in here in this type of building, the way they play and the way the crowd is, it’s so gratifying.”

The Raptors had the crowd, but the Nets had the matchups. And that’s more important in a playoff series. The Raptors just had no answer for Joe Johnson, who scored 26 points in the deciding game, half of them in the fourth quarter, repeatedly going one-on-one with whomever the Raptors threw at him.

In the fourth, that list included point guards (Greivis Vasquez) and big men (Patterson). Brooklyn’s final field goal of the series was a ridiculously tough runner by Johnson (against Terrence Ross) that gave them a seven-point lead with just over two minutes to go. Johnson played more than 45 minutes (a season-high for a regulation game) on Sunday, and the Nets needed all of it.

“For us to post him every time down, get him the ball where he’s the focal point, for him to make plays,” Kidd said, “he’s as good as they come down the stretch.”

The Nets played through Johnson all series, something that will be more difficult to do against the Miami Heat, who are bigger on the wings, in the conference semifinals, which begin Tuesday in Miami.

After grinding through a series that went down to the final play of Game 7, Brooklyn has just 48 hours to prepare for the defending champs. The Nets went 4-0 against the Heat in the regular season, but know that doesn’t matter now.

“We know we can beat them,” Johnson said. “But it’s going to be a lot different from the regular season.”

The Nets can take something on these last seven games, where it took every basket and every stop to separate them from the Raptors by the thinnest of margins. But it’s already time to move on.

The champs are waiting.

Morning Shootaround — May 4


VIDEO: The Daily Zap: May 3

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Raptors return to Toronto as underdogs | Celebrities covet the Clippers |  | Nowitzki on Game 7: ‘You’ve got to love it‘ | Wizards ready for next round

No. 1: Raptors return to Toronto as underdogs — The Toronto Raptors have grown used to being the underdog, so being overlooked in Game 7 against the Brooklyn Nets is nothing new. Eric Koreen of The National Post explains how the Raptors plan to combat this doubt as they prepare to play in front of a raucous crowd at the Air Canada Centre:

Following a game as decisive as Friday’s Game 6, that is natural. Brooklyn had a plan to get the ball out of Kyle Lowry’s hands and make DeMar DeRozan take tough shots, and it worked. They had a plan to puncture Toronto’s wobbly perimeter defence, held up by the hobbled Lowry, the game-but-overmatched DeRozan and the laterally compromised Greivis Vasquez, and it worked. They even won the rebounding battle, the one aspect of the series that should have belonged Toronto, without exception. The Raptors won the fourth quarter, and made a half-hearted run at a comeback. This was not like Brooklyn’s efforts at the end of Game 5, though. It barely registered.

And in a way, that is perfect for these Raptors. For a team whose failure was assumed an inevitability and whose success was questioned all season long, they are now back where they were both before Game 1 and before the season started: as unquestioned underdogs, as the overlooked.

“To listen to some of this, we may as well not play Game 7,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said after answering a few negatively tinged questions on Friday night. “Every game is different and I know our team will bounce back. We’ve got to come out of the gates a lot fresher, a lot harder, especially starting on the defensive end of the floor. Rebounding, 50-50 balls, transition defence, guarding the perimeter, having bigs at the rim, all of those things are a lack of defensive focus, and that’s where it all started.”

There is no reason to doubt that the Raptors are going to throw their hardest punch, if not their most technically sound. This team has gotten by on snarl, effort and defiance all year long. Sure, Paul Pierce has played in more Game 7s (eight) than the entire Raptors team (seven), but we should be well past that by the time Sunday afternoon’s game tips off. Few hours remaining before what could be their last game of the year, doubt is king.

Still, there are numerous concerns. With the complete disappearance of Terrence Ross this series, the Raptors are down to just six players that they can hope for a little punch from: Lowry, DeRozan, Vasquez, Patrick Patterson, Amir Johnson and Jonas Valanciunas. Johnson has historically struggled in early-afternoon games, although Friday evening proved he could perform poorly under the moonlight, too. In general, the Raptors’ big men have failed to dominate the series as they should: Valanciunas in the paint, Johnson rolling to the basket and Patterson from the perimeter.

“Throughout the course of this series, we’ve been great on the glass,” Patterson said. “[On Friday], I think that they actually beat us on the boards. That’s something we can’t have. We have to get [Valanciunas] more of the ball, get him more post touches and take advantage of the size down low and make it easier for Kyle and DeMar. We rely on them too much.”

Sunday will prove a lot — whether Casey can concoct a game plan that responds to Friday’s unraveling, whether DeRozan can vary his offence in his most pressure-filled game ever, whether Valanciunas can assert himself on the game without turning the ball over frequently, whether Lowry can play like the star he has been for so much of this year in the biggest game of his career. This series has provided conflicting evidence on all of those counts. On Sunday, the Raptors could throw a boulder on those scales — on either side.

***

No. 2: Celebrities covet the Clippers — NBA ownership is a highly desired position for the uber-wealthy. And this desire increases ten-fold when the team is located in Los Angeles, a celebrity and uber-wealthy hotbed. That’s why the likely sale of the Los Angeles Clippers has sparked the interest of many celebrities who would like to call the Clippers their own. Billy Witz and Mary Pilon of The New York Times detail who has thrown their hat into the ring:

For most of the Clippers’ 30-year tenure in Los Angeles, they have been viewed as a punch line in hightops.

And so, a day after the N.B.A. commissioner gave the team’s owner, Donald Sterling, a lifetime ban and recommended that owners vote him out, the conversation about who might replace Mr. Sterling revealed the Clippers to be in a strikingly unfamiliar position: the toast of the town.

The prospect of an auction created a frenzy, with hands flying up, playfully and not, for a chance to bid on the most coveted commodity in professional sports, a competitive team in a major market. That means the Clippers, the forgotten franchise of Los Angeles sports, are suddenly the belle of basketball.

Oprah Winfrey is interested in forming a powerhouse partnership to buy the team with the Silicon Valley mogul Larry Ellison and the entertainment mogul David Geffen, Winfrey’s spokeswoman said. The billionaire entrepreneur and philanthropist Eli Broad is also interested, according to his spokeswoman. So is the boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr. — along with his rival Oscar De La Hoya.

Dr. Dre, an icon of West Coast rap, has expressed interest in the team, as has Sean Combs, who may be an icon of East Coast rap but has caught Clippers fever just the same. “I will always be a Knicks fan,” he said on Twitter, “but I am a business man. #DiddyBuyTheClippers#NameYourPrice.”

The comedian Mindy Kaling said she, too, was interested in buying the Clippers, promising that “the uniforms will be the same but bedazzled.”

Of course, many, if not most, of the offers are unlikely to materialize. (No one is waiting for Judd Apatow and Don Rickles to submit an official bid anytime soon, despite Mr. Apatow’s tweet that they were considering it.) It would not be the first time celebrities sought to capitalize on a big story. (Mr. Mayweather just happens to be fighting in Las Vegas on Saturday.)

All the attention and adoration may be disorienting for the Clippers, a franchise that for a long time was perhaps the worst in pro sports, a basketball calamity that had two winning seasons in Mr. Sterling’s first 30 years.

The Clippers had none of the glamour of the Lakers, who have boasted a flotilla of Hall of Fame superstars playing before crowds studded with name-brand celebrities.

Now, there is an opportunity to replace one of pro sports’ most notorious owners with something that fans say surely must be better.

Baron Davis, a former Clipper who was once heckled by Mr. Sterling for not playing up to a six-year, $65 million contract, said it was important to have an owner who was a minority. Michael Jordan, the owner of the Charlotte Bobcats, and Vivek Ranadive, the leader of the ownership group of the Sacramento Kings, are the only minority owners in the league.

“Diversity is important,” Mr. Davis said. “Especially with what happened here.”

Most agree that the Clippers have room for enormous growth on the business side. The team’s television deal, which expires in 2016, is nowhere near the 20-year, $3 billion deal the Lakers signed with Time Warner Cable two years ago. Until recently, Mr. Sterling rarely invested aggressively in his team on or off the court.

With a sale, the Clippers could receive the sort of bump that the Dodgers did when a loathed owner, Frank McCourt, was forced to sell. The Dodgers were acquired by a financial services magnate whose ownership group included Magic Johnson.

“It will be like a breath of fresh air; you just open the door, and this fresh breeze comes through,” said Mychal Thompson, the Lakers’ radio analyst, who once played for them. “But whoever the new owners are, they’re going to have to be really creative with this franchise to be able to compete for the hearts and minds of Lakers fans.”

Of course, there would be one surefire way to appeal to Lakers fans — and to write a storybook ending to the Sterling scandal.

Enter Mr. Johnson, the Lakers Hall of Famer who is revered for his charisma and business acumen, particularly for his efforts in African-American neighborhoods.

Mr. Johnson was dragged into the scandal when Mr. Sterling asked a woman he was often seen with not to post online pictures of herself with black men, including one in which she posed with Mr. Johnson.

“Don’t put him on Instagram for the world to see so they have to call me,” Mr. Sterling said in a recording released by TMZ. “And don’t bring him to my games. Yeah, it bothers me a lot that you want to promo, broadcast, that you’re associating with black people. Do you have to?”

Mr. Johnson has denied a report that said he was interested in joining a group to buy the Clippers, but that has not stopped Los Angeles from talking about it.

“If you want the Hollywood ending to all this,” said Mr. Perrin, the Clippers blogger, “it’s Magic Johnson.”

***

No. 3: Nowitzki on Game 7: ‘You’ve got to love it’ — Tim Duncan and Dirk Nowitzki are two of the best players of this generation and they each hope to continue their playoff run with a Game 7 win on Sunday in San Antonio. The pressure of Game 7 has not shaken either ball club much as both teams strive to be confident about the matchup. Jeff McDonald of The Dallas Morning News has more specifics on each team’s mindset before Game 7:

“Everybody talks about what seed you are, but players and coaches know all the teams are very close,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “There are no rankings, really. For the fans, for the league, it’s so great because all the matchups are so competitive.”

To which the buzzkill Spurs say, respectfully: Humbug.

If the Spurs had gotten their way, they wouldn’t have had any part of this April and May madness.

So much for that. Sunday afternoon at the AT&T Center, the top-seeded Spurs face a Game 7 reckoning of their own against No. 8 Dallas.

Sooner than anybody could |have expected, the Spurs’ championship hopes are on the line.

“I don’t care if it’s in four (games) or seven, I just want to beat them,” guard Manu Ginobili said. “Of course, you always want four, but there are some teams that are tough and some games where you make mistakes. It’s always better to win in seven than to lose 2-4.”

Dallas earned its way here with a 113-111 victory in Game 6 that provided another momentum swing in a series that has been full of them.

Five of the six games were decided in the final minute, by an average of 3.6 points. It has often been difficult to tell the difference between the No. 1 seed and the No. 8.

Had Vince Carter’s last-second 3-pointer not gone down in Game 3, it is possible the Spurs would be playing Game 1 against Portland on Sunday. Had Dallas not blown a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter of Game 1, perhaps the Mavs would have already sewn up a shocker.

“It’s a very good ball club over there. A very good team,” said Spurs forward Tim Duncan, who is 2-2 in Game 7s. “There are eight, nine, 10 good teams in the West. We’re here to win four games.”

To do that, and avoid losing a series to an eight seed for the second time in four seasons, the Spurs are going to have to show up on defense.

In Game 6, the Spurs surrendered two quarters of at least 30 points, including a 37-point fourth that allowed the Mavs to overcome a seven-point deficit and stave off elimination.

In the regular season, the Spurs were 31-4 when shooting better than 50 percent. In this series, they are 0-3 when hitting at least half their shots because they have also surrendered an average of nearly 112 points in those games.

“The deal is you play D or you lose,” Popovich said, reflecting on Game 6. “And our defense was awful.”

The Spurs have had little answer for speedy Dallas guard Monta Ellis, who is averaging 21.8 points in the series. With the season in the balance Sunday, they must also contend with Game 7 Dirk Nowitzki.

The Dallas MVP is 4-0 in Game 7s, averaging 28 points and 14.8 rebounds.

In his most recent — an overtime win over the Spurs in the 2006 conference semifinals — Nowitzki scored 37 points with 15 rebounds and sent the game into OT on a layup-and-foul that Ginobili would just as soon forget.

“It’s the ultimate thrill,” Nowitzki said. “It’s win or go home. Everything that happened before is out the window. Nothing (else) matters.”

That’s been the story of the series so far. The past has meant exactly squat.

The Spurs came in having won nine in a row over Dallas. Now the Mavs have a chance to send the 62-win Spurs into early vacation.

The Spurs have been here before, as recently as the NBA Finals last June in Miami, in a Game 7 they lost 95-88.

“I don’t think anybody’s nervous or shaken or worried about a Game 7,” Spurs guard Danny Green said. “Everybody’s pretty confident.”

There is a not-so-well-kept secret about Game 7: They are only much fun for the winners.

“It’s just that one game,” Nowitzki said. “It’s the ultimate competition. You’ve got to love it. You’ve got to embrace it.”

***


VIDEO: Inside Look at Wizards-Pacers

No. 4: Wizards ready for next round — The Washington Wizards benefited from their early elimination of the Chicago Bulls to get a few days of rest before their semifinal series against the Indiana Pacers. The time allowed the Wizards to look ahead and think about the damage they believe they can do in the playoffs, with hopes of making it to the Eastern Conference Finals or even all the way to the NBA Finals. Micheal Lee of The Washington Post details how the Wizards have utilized their rest and gauges their confidence level:

Since entering the NBA, John Wall has spent the first weekend in May with his family in Raleigh, N.C., or showing off his latest fashionable ensemble at the Kentucky Derby.Those plans have been altered considerably with the Washington Wizards making the NBA playoffs for the first time in his career — and then dispatching the Chicago Bulls in five games — but he doesn’t miss the vacation.

While the Pacers were playing a Game 7 against the Hawks, Washington was resting and preparing for their second-round matchup.

Veterans and young players alike have come together thanks to regular team-building gatherings this season.

A look at some of our favorite images from the past week.

“Happy to be in the playoffs,” Wall said Saturday. “I think it’s more important to be playing the sport I love. I’ve done [the Kentucky Derby] two or three or times, so that’s over with for me right now.”The Wizards waited patiently for theIndiana Pacers to dismiss the Atlanta Hawks in seven games to set up theirsecond-round matchup.In preparation for Monday’s Game 1 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Coach Randy Wittman has balanced giving his players necessary rest while engaging them in some spirited practices to maintain the competitive edge that has fueled this recent run of success.Washington has won eight of its past nine games, playing with an urgency that was lacking for much of the regular season. The series win over Chicago confirmed that the Wizards had the talent all along. Reserve swingman Martell Webster believes the team was strengthened by its struggles on the way to a 44-38 regular season record.

“People say this team has a lot of potential to be good down the line. Well, honestly, when you look at the postseason this year that we made it, we have a good opportunity to do some crazy things right now,” Webster said. “I think in our circle we realize that. For us, especially the veterans, we’re not worried about next year. We’re worried about right now. We feel we can do damage right now.

“We’re all playing at a level of play that a lot of people didn’t expect us to do, but we know what we’re capable of doing. It’s the fact that we know we can do something right now is the reason we have that sense of urgency and the reason why we’re playing the way we are.”

Webster believes the rest since Tuesday’s series-clinching 75-69 victory over the Bulls will be beneficial because the Pacers will have only one day to shift their focus to Washington. The break has been especially good forNene, who has worn a brace on his sprained left knee since he returned from a 22-game absence last month. Still, Nene said that like before Game 1 vs. the Bulls, he has had trouble sleeping in anticipation of the next round.

“Maybe I’m getting excited now because we’re going to play Monday no matter what,” Nene said. “Still, I been taking NyQuil or whatever his name. Looks like it’s doing reverse. I just need to take care of myself. The whole team need to take care of themselves, what we need to do, relaxing a little bit, because when the ball goes up, we need to be on.”

Wittman has stressed the importance of not breaking from routine, and for him, that has meant maintaining a low profile away from the court. “I don’t go around. I stay in. I want it to be as routine as possible,” Wittman said. “There’s probably not going to be a lot of people that say, ‘Hey, I saw Coach out.’ My wife does a lot of cooking, so she probably wishes differently. But that’s my routine. How we focused going into the Chicago series has got to be the same.”

When the Wizards started the season 9-9, Marcin Gortat boldly predicted the team would win 50 games. By advancing to the Eastern Conference semifinals for the first time since 2005, the Wizards have won 48 games and would need at least two victories to make Gortat look somewhat prescient. The franchise hasn’t won a game in the second round since 1982, but the Wizards are confident this is the team to end that drought.

“I’m looking for the gentleman who wrote article about me, that I’m stupid,” Gortat said when asked about his 50-win prediction. “Whoever we’re going to play, we still got a big chance to beat them. If we’re going to continue to play hard, if we’re going to continue to play so physical, having defensive pressure, each one of us continue to play well, there’s no way they can match with us.”

Wall said the Wizards began to play with more determination after an overtime loss to Charlotte on April 9, which momentarily knocked them to the seventh seed. They closed the regular season with four straight wins to move up to fifth place and haven’t let up since.

“We knew what we needed to do to keep our seeding and get a good spot in the playoffs, and we did that. Luckily, it’s translating into the playoffs right now,” Wall said, adding that the team must maintain the attitude of an underdog.

“You got people that doubt you your whole life, your whole career, and when you have the opportunity to succeed, you don’t pay them no attention. You just keep focusing on what you’re doing as a group and as an individual and try to win basketball games. It’s a different atmosphere. It’s the playoffs. You’re more focused on what you’re doing. Regular season, it don’t matter what you do.”

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Houston Rockets will bring back coach Kevin McHale for the 2014-15 season, according to David Aldridge. … The NBA will appoint a CEO to oversee the Los Angeles Clippers. … The Mavericks’ Jose Calderon is not likely to wear a mask in Game 7, despite breaking his nose in Game 6. … The Warriors and Clippers may have had a hallway altercation after Game 7.

ICYMI of The Night: Despite the Warriors’ loss on Saturday night, Stephen Curry still put on a show. One of his most impressive shots of the night was this four-point play towards the end of first half:


VIDEO: Curry’s four-point play

Count ‘em …

Curry4_medium

Six factors that can separate the Nets and Raptors in Game 7

By John Schuhmann, NBA.com


VIDEO: Nets-Raptors: Game 7 Preview

TORONTO – How silly of us to think that one of these teams would win this series in six games. We should have realized that the Toronto Raptors and Brooklyn Nets have some sort of reciprocal gravity that keeps one team from ever pulling away from the other.

They’ve played 10 games this season. They’ve each won five, with a total combined score of Raptors 767, Nets 766. Eight of the 10 games have been within five points in the last five minutes.

So it’s only fitting that this first round series will come down to a Game 7 on Sunday (1 p.m. ET, ABC).

For the Raptors, this is an opportunity. A win would give their young core 4-7 more games of playoff experience against the defending champion Miami Heat. It would give head coach Dwane Casey additional job security. And it would help establish the franchise’s place on the NBA map.

For the Nets, this is another referendum. If they can’t get past the first round, what exactly did they spend $104 million in salary and another $92 million in luxury taxes on? And where the heck do they go from here?

“They have more to lose than us,” DeMar DeRozan said Saturday.

Indeed. But payroll won’t determine which team gets their first Game 7 victory (since the Nets came to the NBA). These six factors will.

The nail

Though the Nets lost Game 5, they established some things offensively. One of those was Joe Johnson operating from the middle of the floor, a set that made it difficult for the Raptors to double-team him. The Nets didn’t go to that set much in Game 6, instead using Johnson back in the low post and in pick-and-rolls with Deron Williams more often.

But the Nets did take the middle of the floor away from Kyle Lowry, who scored just three points in the paint or at the free throw line in Game 6 after scoring 14 in Game 5. They took away the Raptors’ primary offensive actions and often had them trying to improvise with less than 10 seconds left on the shot clock.

DeMar DeRozan will make some tough shots, but if it’s only tough shots that he’s getting, Brooklyn is in good shape.

Minutes distribution

The Raptors have been at their best when reserves Greivis Vasquez and Patrick Patterson are on the floor. They may sacrifice some defense by playing big minutes with Lowry, Vasquez, DeRozan and Patterson on the floor together, but their regular small forwards have come up empty offensively all series.

Terrence Ross is gaining experience and John Salmons is a bigger body to put on Johnson. But Raptors coach Dwane Casey shouldn’t hesitate to go to the three-guard lineup early and often, because the positives on offense will outweigh the negatives on D.

Lowry, Vasquez, DeRozan and Patterson are a plus-23 in 54 minutes together, but played just 12 minutes over the last two games.

The 3-point line

Neither team has shot well from 3-point range in the series, but both teams have attempted 22 threes per game. If one team – or just one player – gets hot, it could be the difference. With the attention that Johnson draws, Brooklyn is more likely to get open looks. That’s why Alan Anderson has replaced Shaun Livingston in the starting lineup.

Patterson, of course, puts a fourth shooter on the floor for Toronto. He can punish the Nets’ defense for its focus on Lowry and DeRozan.

Toronto on the roll

One of the bellwethers of this series has been Amir Johnson, who has averaged 14.7 points in the Raptors’ three wins and 4.3 points in their three losses. A lot of Johnson’s production has come as the roll man, catching passes from Lowry and Vasquez. The Nets’ weak-side defender needs to meet the roll man – whether it’s Johnson or Jonas Valanciunas – before he gets too close to the basket.

Transition

Both teams have averaged less than 10 fast break points per game, but have been at their best when they’ve been able to get out into the open floor. Williams pushed the pace from the start in Game 6, which allowed the Nets to get into their offensive actions early in the shot clock and before the Raptors could get set. That produced easier shots.

When the Raptors made a little bit of a run in the fourth quarter, they were getting some easy baskets in transition as well.

Turnovers

After averaging 19.3 turnovers in the first three games, the Raptors have averaged just 13.0 in the last three. But it was an issue that popped up again in the fourth quarter on Friday, keeping them from being able to cut the Brooklyn lead to single digits. Any extended turnover issues in Game 7 (for either team) could end their season.