TrueHoop: Toronto Raptors

Dwane Casey's conundrum

December, 1, 2014
Dec 1
1:34
PM ET
Adande By J.A. Adande
ESPN.com
Archive
You probably didn’t realize that Toronto Raptors coach Dwane Casey, 57, is the fourth-oldest head coach in the NBA. There’s Gregg Popovich (65), Lionel Hollins (61), Flip Saunders (59), then Casey. It’s worth noting that Popovich and Hollins squared off in the Western Conference finals just last year, an indication that age can be an asset in coaching, particularly that mid-50s to mid-60s range. It’s enough time to accumulate a wealth of experience, not too old to be impaired by physical ailments.

Casey’s age is relevant right now because he’ll need to draw on everything he’s learned over the course of 35 years of coaching from Kentucky to Japan to all of the compass points in the NBA. After the Toronto Raptors got off to the best start in the Eastern Conference, they’ll have to move forward for the foreseeable future without leading scorer DeMar DeRozan, who’s out indefinitely with a torn adductor muscle.

It’s interesting that the memory that popped up in Casey’s mind was the one year he won a championship, as an assistant with the Dallas Mavericks in 2010-11. Dirk Nowitzki missed nine games in December and January; the Mavericks lost seven of them.

“Everybody thought the world had gone to hell,” Casey said. “But…it didn’t. Guys stuck together, bonded. We developed confidence in the guys who had an opportunity to play.”

For this story to have the same ending would require DeRozan to return and attain the level of play Nowitzki reached when he beat Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant and LeBron James in the playoffs. That’s too much to ask. The flip side is that the Raptors don’t have to replace the irreplaceable.

The Raptors are the second-highest scoring team in the NBA even though DeRozan isn’t among the top 19 individual scorers (he averages 19.4 points per game). And he accounts for the lowest percentage of his team’s points – 18 percent – out of the leading scorers on the five best teams in the league. Here’s how much of the point production the other top scorers among the teams with the five best records provide:

Memphis: Marc Gasol, 20%
Golden State: Stephen Curry, 23%
Houston: James Harden, 26%
Portland: LaMarcus Aldridge, 20%

Scoring wasn’t the issue for the Raptors Sunday night, when they posted 122 points in an overtime loss to the Lakers. And they had three fewer turnovers than their average of 11, one of the best in the league. It gets down to rhythm and roles, to discerning just how much the right of changes in play and rotation are right. Can't do too much.Early in the third quarter, Kyle Lowry had attempted three times as many shots as Kobe Bryant (12-4), and he finished with 28 shots to get his 29 points. (He averages 19 points on 15 shots).

Greivis Vasquez started in DeRozan’s place and scored 19 points in 33 minutes, but also missed a late open three-pointer off a nice setup by Lowry. Lou Williams scored 19 points off the bench and was the only Raptor who played major minutes to log a positive plus/minus (plus-6). Williams has been a great asset to the Raptors, but it’s evident that Casey wants to keep him coming off the bench for now.

The Raptors tried running some of DeRozan’s plays for Lowry with mixed results.
They’ll have to maintain the characteristics Casey has instilled in them, a disciplined team that doesn’t beat itself. Casey said he’ll tinker with lineup combinations until he finds “Something that fits that will last.” He wants to keep DeRozan connected with the team, and said he’ll invite him to sit in on the coaches’ meetings. But Casey’s job requires him to move forward without DeRozan.

“I’m concerned about him as a person,” Casey said. “I care about him. His teammates care about him. But also as a coach, I understand that we have 14 other young men in that locker room that we have to push and motivate and get going.”

He has three and a half decades of experience to utilize.

The Toronto Raptors: Simply winning

November, 27, 2014
Nov 27
12:31
AM ET
Arnovitz By Kevin Arnovitz
ESPN.com
Archive
video
ATLANTA -- The Toronto Raptors won’t accept your compliments. Marvel at the 126 points they dropped on the Atlanta Hawks on Thanksgiving eve, and they’ll squawk about the 115 they gave up at the other end. There’s even a cognitive dissonance to the Raptors’ language, as head coach Dwane Casey twice said after the game that his team “kept grinding it out.”

Coach Casey, we just witnessed your team leave burn marks on the floor at Philips Arena. There was nothing remotely grind-ish about it. Your guys got whatever they wanted on the night. They produced clean looks out of thin air and looked great doing it. Overall, your Raps have posted nearly five points more per 100 possessions than the second-ranked offense in the East. So when you say “grind” -- twice! -- I do not think it means what you think it means.

The Raptors’ reluctance to bask in the glow of their gaudy offensive numbers is understandable. This core in Toronto has come of age with team defense as its hallmark. During his decades in the coaching ranks, Casey has developed a reputation as one of the most imaginative defensive minds in the game. In Dallas, he fashioned a scheme in which the Mavs floated from man-to-man and zone in the same possession. In Toronto, his team goes against the grain, as defenders force ball handlers to help rather than pushing them sideline and down, the prevailing trend in the league.

It’s not as if Toronto wasn’t offense oriented -- we’re talking about a team whose primary threats in recent years were Rudy Gay and DeMar DeRozan -- but the Raptors never won many style points when they had the ball. Kyle Lowry bowled his way to the rim, or a wing found a mismatch and went to work -- low-risk, low-turnover and, yes, grind-it-out offensive basketball.

[+] EnlargeToronto Raptors
Dale Zanine/USA TODAY Amir Johnson,Kyle Lowry and guard Lou Williams celebrate their team's sixth straight win.
Know what? The Raptors still run a guard-oriented offense that’s programmed to get good looks for their perimeter guys, with the ball in Lowry’s hands for the bulk of the possession. Sure, they’ll put the blossoming 7-foot Jonas Valanciunas or backup forward Patrick Patterson on the move to run interference, but this is still a straightforward scheme. But, man, it runs like clockwork.

Wanting to better understand how the Raptors have built one of the league’s most prolific offenses, I hit up Raptors reserve othersized big man Chuck Hayes after the game. A longtime Rocket whose first two coaches in the league were Jeff Van Gundy and Rick Adelman, Hayes typically has interesting stuff to share about the inner workings of a team.

“It’s nothing like what we ran under [Adelman] and it’s nothing like what we ran under Jeff Van Gundy, a lot of left-right, work both sides of the floor,” Hayes said. “We’re going to run sets where our guys can get to their sweet spots for high-percentage shots. We’re going to get DeMar a shot he works on constantly -- he’s a killer from 17 or 18 feet. His footwork is unbelievable, so we get him the ball in space.”

To better illustrate this the-right-shot-at-the-right-spot-for-the-right-guy offense, Hayes cited a moment when Toronto led by 10 with a little more than eight minutes to go in the fourth quarter. With their reserves on the floor, the Raptors ran a pick-and-roll -- the kind of action you see a few dozen times a game from each side, but this one served a specific purpose.

“This gentleman didn’t score all game, but then we run a play for him,” Hayes said, intentionally withholding the name of the player in question. “It was James Johnson. He had Kyle Korver on him. So we play to [Johnson’s] strengths. At his size, he gets the ball at the free throw line. Our spacing allowed him to make that Eurostep and beat the help. He hadn’t scored the entire game until we called that play. He’s not in rhythm, he’s got the flu, he hasn’t put up many shots. But we’re going to give him a shot at his sweet spot. That’s a high-percentage shot for us.”

This play call doesn’t materialize out of nowhere. The Raptors had examined the matchups on the floor and made note of what was available. Greivis Vasquez and Lou Williams were both unconscious, which had prompted the Hawks to tighten up their perimeter defense. They threw a trap at Vasquez and, just like Hayes said, the Raps leveraged the coverage.

There’s nothing specifically novel about this strategy. If a defense moves outside, then you move inside. If it pressures one side of the floor, you reverse the ball to the other. This is what NBA teams do on a nightly basis.

But as the first month of the season comes to a close, the Raptors have elevated pragmatism to an art form. They’ve taken several imperfect offensive pieces, identified what each one does best, and tripled-down on that skill. “Everyone stays in their lane,” as Casey likes to say. That might lack the flair of his innovative defenses, but discipline is its own kind of creativity. And right now, the Raptors have created something beautiful in its simplicity.

Are rising Raptors here to stay?

October, 20, 2014
Oct 20
10:00
AM ET
By Seerat Sohi
Special to ESPN.com
Archive
Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozanAP Photo/The Canadian Press/Darren CalabreseThe Raptors are rolling it back after taking the East by storm last season and looking for much more.
When the NBA playoffs began last season, the city of Toronto was brimming with excitement.

The team that was supposed to sacrifice its season to the draft gods in hopes of landing Canada’s own Andrew Wiggins, the one that traded away its most expensive player in early December, reached improbable heights in 2013-14 -- a franchise-best 48 wins, a No. 3 seed and sending one player (and almost a second) to the All-Star Game for the first time since Chris Bosh left for Miami.

Now Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri was dropping F-bombs in public. Maple Leaf Square -- a sports mecca outside the Air Canada Centre -- became “Raptors Square.” Fans flocked there during away games, noticeably more energized than the home crowd. Even Kevin Garnett thought so.

In the end, the Raptors’ first postseason run since 2007-08 ended on a dour note. Kyle Lowry’s last-second floater was blocked by Paul Pierce, and the Brooklyn Nets escaped Game 7 in Toronto with a one-point win. A comeback in the waning minutes, with all the momentum of an inconceivable season behind it, would be for naught.

To feel the spoils of an entire season culminate and evaporate this way, in the singular flash of one final play, makes for a heartbreakingly tough way to go out.

Especially when that could’ve been it. That one play might have closed the books on this fun, started-from-the-bottom (I’m sorry, I really am) run. With the contracts of several key contributors up for renewal, and doubts about the lasting power of the roster they’d ridden up the diluted Eastern Conference lingering, these Raptors could have just been another thread in the franchise’s long line of first-round flameouts. That’s the kind of thing fans were used to, anyway.

Faced with the tall order of not only retaining their good players, but keeping the club on an upward trajectory, the franchise with only seven winning seasons in 19 years achieved something decidedly un-Raptor-like: It succeeded. Lowry, the team's floor general and emotional leader, re-upped for four more years. Patrick Patterson and Greivis Vasquez, who arrived in the Gay trade, stayed, too.

This was all pretty new to Toronto basketball fans. For almost two decades they had been constantly reminded of the long list of reasons not to play there: It’s too cold. Taxes are too high. Not enough publicity. And why doesn’t League Pass work? Canada, ugh. Fans operated under the assumption that things would always have to be this way. That’s why the reaction to Lowry’s return was met with a mix of awe, relief and gratitude.

Now, as the franchise normalizes, getting familiar with operating within the trappings of a regular playoff team -- the weight of expectations, balancing high hopes with definable limitations -- it’s no coincidence that phrases such as “internal development” and “continuity” reached a high point of concentration at Raptors training camp.

“You don't have to do so much of teaching, learning new things,” DeMar DeRozan said. “You start off from last year. Everybody already understands coach [Dwane] Casey, understand his philosophy. It makes it easier. All the guys that were here last year understood what it took for us to get to the point we were last year. We gotta take that next step as well if we wanna continue to be a great team.”

None of this is to say it isn't reasonable to pick at the Raptors’ offseason approach. They are, after all, locking in on this team for the foreseeable future. But while the notion of continuity-as-progress is often just hot rhetoric used to put a spin on standing pat, it might carry some real benefits for a developing team like Toronto.

[+] EnlargeKyle Lowry
Ron Turenne/NBAE/Getty ImagesUnlike other top-line talents sent north, Kyle Lowry chose to stay. Will continuity pay off for Toronto?
“The seed is there a lot quicker than it was last year," said coach Dwane Casey. "I love some of the options we have at the end of the game now. We're farther down the road, working on more intricate things. Double team schemes, things like that. We're farther ahead from a defensive standpoint. We’re farther in terms of knowledge.”

In response to Casey praising his playmaking, DeMar tipped his hat again to team chemistry. "At the end, it's just personnel, understanding my teammates. If Landry's in there, he likes to cut. I'll make a move if the double comes, I'll look for Landry on the cut. I think it helps me more just to understand my teammates.”

None of this is electrifying, nor is it certain. Schematic improvements, breakout seasons, freak injuries, inexpiable collapses, incremental improvements -- it’s all what-ifs before the first tip-off. Toronto could make good on its potential. Or maybe last season really was the high-water mark.

But just being in that position marks a cultural sea change, the beginning of a process that should long outlast this group of players. In a free-agency market featuring more player movement than ever, the Raptors -- for the first time ever -- look like an attractive destination.

Last year, Toronto overtook Chicago in population, making it the third-largest city with an NBA team (and that doesn't account for the rest of Canada). It touts one of the most energized fan bases in the league. Drake hangs out there a lot. Plus, Kevin Durant is signing with the Raptors in 2016. Seriously. Ask Drake about it.

Under the best of circumstances, the Raptors’ path from good to great still probably stops a few kilometers short of a championship. But success is a process, and improving the future requires investing in it.

“People always put a ceiling on all of us, as players. 'You only can be this good' or 'when you get this age, you only can be this good.' I don't look at nothing like that,” DeRozan said. “There's always something you can get better at, and you can take that same approach in life. There's always something out there that you can work on. I never could be great at everything, but I'm gonna work at everything to be good at it."

Having a ceiling is nothing to be cynical about. It’s just a natural byproduct of getting off the floor.

Seerat Sohi writes for the TrueHoop Network. Follow her @DamianTrillard.

Ujiri writes column about Ferry comments

September, 11, 2014
Sep 11
7:34
PM ET
By Staff
ESPN.com
Toronto Raptors president and general manager Masai Ujiri has penned a column for the Globe and Mail in regard to the comments made by Atlanta Hawks GM Danny Ferry. Ujiri, from Nigeria, was stung to hear that Ferry had said Luol Deng, of South Sudan, "has a little African in him."
When I first heard it, I wondered, “What does that mean?” I am an African from Nigeria. Luol is an African from South Sudan. We’ve worked together across our home continent, holding our own basketball camps, as well as in those organized by the NBA.

I remember an instance, in Kigali, Rwanda, when Luol honoured a commitment to show up despite being seriously ill. He didn’t want to disappoint any of the children who were expecting him.
Is that “a little bit of African”?

His fellow NBA players have named him the NBA’s top sportsman. Last year, his work for charity earned him the league’s J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship award.

Is that the “African” he means?

Luol has made two all-star teams. A couple of years ago, he had a terrible reaction to a spinal tap. He lost 15 pounds in the hospital. I was texting with him during that ordeal, which was very serious. He always remained humble and full of personality. When he got out, he still tried to play for his team during a playoff series.

Is that “African”?

Ujiri goes on to say explain why he can bring himself to forgive Ferry.

The back of the envelope guide to Las Vegas Summer League: The East

July, 11, 2014
Jul 11
10:00
AM ET
By D.J. Foster
Special to ESPN.com
Archive
Jabari Parker and Andrew WigginsGetty ImagesJabari Parker and Andrew Wiggins, the draft's top two, will get their first taste of NBA ball in Vegas.
There’s something for everyone at Las Vegas Summer League. For the prized rookies in the 2014 draft class, it’s a chance to get their feet wet. For the prospects who haven’t found luck in the league yet, it’s an opportunity to jump-start a career. For others, it’s simply a shot at getting on the radar.

The following is our annual "back of the envelope" guide to the Las Vegas Summer League teams, highlighting some of the more promising and intriguing prospects who will take the floor. The East guide is below, and the West guide is here.


Atlanta Hawks


Adreian Payne: Stretch big men are here to stay, and the Hawks continued to hoard them by drafting Payne, a dangerous pick-and-pop threat with legitimate 3-point range. It’s rare to see this kind of size, skill and athleticism in one player, but Payne might be limited to a smaller role because of a lung condition that affects his ability to play long stretches and big minutes.

Dennis Schroder: Watching Schroder run the point is an adventure. He applies legitimate full-court pressure on ball handlers nearly every time up the court, and he’s not bashful about trying to thread the needle through traffic for perfect dimes on the other end. There’s no fear here, and there’s rarely a dull moment, either.

Walter Tavares: It’s stranger than fiction, but Taveras was completely off the basketball radar until a German tourist in Cape Verde recruited him to try out. He had never even touched a basketball until 2010, but at 7-foot-3 with a reported 7-foot-9 wingspan and traffic signal-sized hands, he has what can't be taught.


Charlotte Hornets


Noah Vonleh: His draft-night fall was plenty fortuitous for Charlotte, as it would ultimately need a stretch 4 to pair with Al Jefferson, with Josh McRoberts now committed to the Miami Heat. Vonleh is a little reminiscent of Chris Bosh offensively, and his length and mobility defensively will cover up for mistakes while he learns the ropes. He could be the steal of the draft.

Cody Zeller: Last year’s fourth overall pick surprised a lot of folks by shooting jumpers and playing on the perimeter during last year’s summer league, but it didn’t pay dividends when the real games started. Zeller shot just 27 percent from 16 feet and out as a rookie, and it’s still unclear what his role will be at the NBA level. He’s a great athlete and very active, but Charlotte will need more than that justify his draft slot.

Roberto Nelson: The name might ring a bell if you’ve read George Dohrmann’s excellent book “Play Their Hearts Out." It’s a testament to Nelson’s drive that he’s made it to this point despite some well-documented efforts by AAU sharks to submarine his career. Here’s hoping he gets some minutes to show his stuff.


Chicago Bulls


Doug McDermott: In this strange setting where Anthony Randolph and Adam Morrison have looked unstoppable, McDermott might not quiet concerns of his ability to keep up in the NBA, regardless of how well he plays. That said, he made mincemeat of college competition for four straight years at Creighton, so he’s a strong bet to win MVP in Vegas. For your own sake, though, don’t bet on summer league.

Tony Snell: After an incredibly disappointing rookie campaign wherein Snell had a PER of 8.0 and shot 38.4 percent from the field, he’ll be looking for some redemption. You get the feeling Tom Thibodeau would have never played him if it wasn’t out of total necessity, but the scoring wing could earn some trust going forward with a more assertive offensive performance in Vegas.

Cameron Bairstow: A former teammate of Snell’s at New Mexico, Bairstow exploded on to the draft scene after Snell’s touches started to go his way. Bairstow is a serious inside-outside threat offensively, and if he expands his range on his jumper out to the 3-point line, he’ll be a nice weapon for Thibodeau to utilize off the bench.


Cleveland Cavaliers


Anthony Bennett: After missing out on the opportunity to play in front of UNLV fans last year at summer league because of rotator cuff surgery, Bennett should draw a big crowd even if the hype balloon has deflated some after a rough rookie season. It’s about baby steps at this point with Bennett, though, and showing that he’s at least in shape and playing fast will calm some nerves in Cleveland.

Andrew Wiggins: Another year, another first overall pick from Canada. Wiggins is the wing defender Cleveland desperately needs now, and perhaps he’ll be much more than that down the line. He’s not a stranger to big expectations, but the first days on the job always leave you under the microscope. If his college career foretold anything, no one in Vegas will have his performances more closely scrutinized.

Matthew Dellavedova: He was one of the only players Mike Brown could get consistent effort from last season, which led to more playing time than expected in his rookie season. With Jarrett Jack off to Brooklyn and Kyrie Irving’s shaky injury history, Dellavedova might be thrust into serious action again next season. These could be important reps.


Miami Heat


Shabazz Napier: Kobe Bryant isn’t even following poor Kendall Marshall on Twitter, but LeBron James wasn’t bashful about giving Napier his stamp of approval even before the two were teammates. While that confidence from the best player in the world is great to have, it also puts a big, red bull's-eye on his back. LeBron called him the best point guard in the draft, after all, so now it’s on the former UConn guard to start proving it.

James Ennis: This is just what Miami needs, right? Ennis is an athletic, 3-and-D wing who opted to play professionally in Australia after being drafted in the second round by Miami last season. He has glue guy written all over him, and with Shane Battier stepping away, Ennis could potentially have a role in Miami next season.

Justin Hamilton: He received plenty of burn in the Orlando Summer League (Miami is double-dipping this year along with the Houston Rockets and Philadelphia 76ers), and after playing very well in the D-League last season, the former LSU big man could win a roster spot, particularly if he continues to shoot the ball well from distance. If you haven’t caught on yet, that’s a niche every team wants to fill.


Milwaukee Bucks


Giannis Antetokounmpo: The “Greek Freak” was Cirque De Soleil on a basketball court last season, and now he’s reportedly 2 inches taller and presumably even more capable of ridiculous feats. Few players in this setting will illicit this level of reaction -- you’ll drop your jaw, you’ll yell, you’ll jump out of your seat. He’s big fun.

Jabari Parker: The Bucks might be the hottest ticket in Vegas. Parker, the second overall pick of this year's draft, was touted as being the most "NBA-ready” prospect out there, and he’ll get plenty of chances to show why that is. Milwaukee doesn’t have to get too cute offensively –- just get Parker the ball and get the heck out of the way.

Nate Wolters: It never hurts to have a steady hand at point guard, especially since summer league is basketball’s Wild West. Shots fly everywhere and guys scramble all over the place, but Wolters has shown he’ll stay cool in less-than-ideal circumstances. In 58 played games in hi3s rookie season, Wolters had more than one turnover only 13 times. He’ll be a sight for sore eyes.


New York Knicks


Shane Larkin: The speed merchant might end up being the key to the Tyson Chandler trade despite the fact that he’s coming off a shaky rookie season. Triangle point guards are typically bigger and more physical than Larkin, but he should provide a drastic change of pace to Jose Calderon when he comes off the bench, at the least.

Cleanthony Early: Is he a 3, a small-ball 4, both or neither? Tweener forwards rarely have it easy in the early stages of their careers, but Early is an impressive athlete with a nice stroke that caught a lot of eyeballs during Wichita State’s superb season. His lack of ballhandling skills and ability to score off the dribble probably limit him to being a role player for now, but that’s not the worst thing.

Thanasis Antetokounmpo: He’s one of the few siblings of an NBA player who actually belong here. Nepotism runs wild at summer league, but Giannis' older brother earned his spot by playing very well in the D-League last season as a defensive specialist capable of wreaking havoc in transition. He’s a legitimate prospect, even if he needs more seasoning offensively.


Philadelphia 76ers


Nerlens Noel: There’s some debate over whether Noel will play in Vegas after performing well in Orlando, but maybe that’s just Philadelphia keeping its best-kept secret under wraps a little longer. Don’t forget about the shot-blocking big man in the rookie of the year race this season -- he’s got a leg up on knowing Brett Brown’s playbook (hint: run!), and he’ll get plenty of playing time and opportunities throughout the season.

Jordan McRae: Be still, Jay Bilas' heart. McRae has a 7-foot wingspan despite being just 6-foot-5. Although the Tennessee grad and second-round pick isn’t an insane athlete, those long arms and his decent burst allow him to sneak up on opponents at the rim on drives. He’ll need to hone in on one transferable skill and bulk up that lanky frame, but he’s a whole lot of limbs coming right at you.

Scottie Wilbekin: Being one of the best college players doesn’t always translate to NBA success, and Wilbekin’s lack of size will have him fighting an uphill battle. System-less basketball isn’t always kind to guys who excel at getting their team into sets and managing the game, so it will be interesting to see how the Florida point guard can perform in the chaos.


Toronto Raptors


Bruno Caboclo: He should start a support group with Mickael Pietrus (the “French Michael Jordan”) after being dubbed the “Brazilian Kevin Durant” by Fran Fraschilla on draft night. Caboclo has a 7-foot-7 wingspan and a prayer at ever getting anywhere close to Durant’s level, but performing well against legitimate competition right away could help justify the boldest pick of the draft.

Lucas Nogueira: The Bebe and Bruno show should give Brazilians a nice distraction from their World Cup hangover, as there should be plenty of highlight moments to go around. Nogueira won a lot of fans last year in summer league with his energy and amazing hair, and opposing guards should proceed with caution while he’s patrolling the paint.

Dwight Buycks: Lots of players are fighting just for a camp invite, but Buycks has a little more on the line. If he’s not waived before July 22, which is right after the end of summer league, the point guard’s contract for next season becomes guaranteed. After a performance last season that really put him on the radar, he’ll be scrapping to keep his status this time around.


Washington Wizards


Otto Porter Jr.: It’s been a rough 365 days for last year’s third overall pick, as his awful debut in summer league led right into a completely unproductive rookie season. Truthfully, it would have been a bigger deal had Anthony Bennett not absorbed all the ire, but Porter has to put it all behind him. The Wizards might need the jack-of-all-trades forward to play a big role next season with Martell Webster out three to five months for another back surgery and Trevor Ariza still an unrestricted free agent.

Glen Rice Jr.: They’ll be teammates here, but they might be battling for the same playing time. Rice Jr. barely played last season, but his 3-point stroke could come in handy for the Wizards. He’s been pretty solid as a shooter and scorer in the D-League, so he’ll get plenty of chances, especially if Porter looks out of place once again.

Khem Birch: We’ll see how the UNLV faithful treat him; he was very productive and won Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year two seasons in a row, but he also left after his junior year only to go undrafted. Birch should win neutral fans and general managers over anyway, as he’s a good hustle player and an active athlete at the 4.

D.J. Foster is an NBA contributor for ESPN.com, ClipperBlog and others. Follow him, @fosterdj.

Patrick Patterson went to the World Cup

June, 26, 2014
Jun 26
9:00
AM ET
By Patrick Patterson
Special to ESPN.com
Archive
You know who’ll be watching USA vs. Germany? Patrick Patterson. The Toronto Raptors power forward is just back from Brazil, where he took in the World Cup and got a first-hand lesson in fan passion. He kept a journal for ESPN.com.

The best thing about Brazil was the coconut with just a straw stuck in it. The fresh fruit is amazing.

And even the plane ride was celebratory. I met some people on the plane who were going to every single U.S. game.

We rented an apartment so we took the first day to hit the beach and walk around Rio.

It’s not as crazy as people make it out to be. I felt safe, everyone was very friendly. There were thousands of fans there, firecrackers going off -– a very celebratory atmosphere. You see an incredible level of competitiveness in players and fans, but no hatred for each other. There is a love and respect and passion for the game among fans -– you even see it on the field when opponents help each other up or talk to each other.

People always ask, “Is it like what I hear with favelas?” It’s like North America. We have projects and the ghetto. They’re not as bad as favelas with crime and drugs and poverty. The favelas don’t have modern sewer systems in some cases, and instead of concrete, it’s dirt. But you still see kids running around happy, playing soccer. Reminds you not to take things for granted.

Soccer is the easiest sport to play in terms of equipment. You just need something round. You can draw goals on a wall with chalk or set up posts. It’s so easy. People are playing everywhere.

In Rio, every day Brazil plays all you see is green and yellow. When they first played we were walking around and all the shops and businesses closed in the afternoon. Literally, the whole country, except grocery stores, shuts down to watch the game.

The Super Bowl is the only thing that could kind of compare.

We watched some games with a bunch of fans in a lounge. We talked to Brazilians about Neymar, his progression and ability to lead the team, about the World Cup environment and how it changed the city with protests. Despite all that, they all still support their team.

I was walking downtown and I heard someone yell “Patrick Patterson! Patrick Patterson!!” It was two American guys from Sacramento. Small world!

On the beach, you see everyone carrying soccer balls, just kicking them around. They have a game called footvolley, which is basically volleyball that you play with your feet, head and chest. It’s a combo of soccer and volleyball. There are kids everywhere playing soccer in the streets. You cannot walk a block without seeing some sign of the game.

One day we were walking down the beach and there was a crowd of about 2,000 fans in a circle around a volleyball net. Cheering, yelling, taking pictures, I go over and look and it was actually a couple of players from the Netherlands playing footvolley on the beach. Here for the World Cup to rep their nation and they’re right here on the beach playing footvolley in front of thousands just for fun!

We didn’t have tickets to the U.S. vs. Ghana, so we watched at Fan Fest on the beach. Thousands of fans dressed up with painted faces.

When we scored it was out of control.

U.S. chants consist of “U-S-A! U-S-A!” Or, singing “Sweet Home Alabama” or AC/DC.

The Belgian and German fans were cheering for Ghana.

There were some USA people in latex costumes. The Brazilian fans had some pretty amazing dresses and head pieces. I saw a few Spanish fans with men dressed as women and women as men.

We had tickets for two games, including Argentina vs. Bosnia-Herzegovina. Just getting into the Maracana stadium there were thousands of Argentine fans yelling, holding pictures and chanting. Right next to them were swarms of Bosnian fans, cheering equally as loud. All of a sudden there was a back and forth competition with whoever chanted loudest won.

Walking in to the arena was pretty cool, but the teams coming out of the tunnel and standing for their national anthems gave me goosebumps. You could feel the passion. It’s a different feeling when you are rooting for a country than for a club or local team.

I wore a Messi jersey.

There were about 100,000 fans in the stadium (officially attendance was 74,738). Even when nothing particular was happening in the game, there was so much energy and passion, everyone just jumping up and down. Even with fans from the two nations so close together, I saw no negativity or criticizing. Fans of opposite teams were friendly with each other. The energy reminded me of Game 7 of the playoffs in Toronto.

And when a goal was scored? It was mayhem, people throwing things in the air, singing the national anthem and then tons of cheers and chants. Incredible.

Gift of Love: 29 trades for 29 teams

May, 21, 2014
May 21
11:07
AM ET
Harper By Zach Harper
Special to ESPN.com
Archive
Kevin LoveBrad Rempel/USA TODAY Sports
The end is nigh. Or so it seems. Reports about Kevin Love’s uncertain future with the Minnesota Timberwolves are coming out left and right. Every team in the league is positioning itself to capture the star power on the market right now.

With the draft a little more than a month away, it would behoove the Timberwolves to maximize the trade market now while cap flexibility, draft picks and crushed lottery night dreams are fresh in the minds of the potential suitors.

The Wolves don’t have the upper hand in this situation, but they do have the ability to leverage ravenous front offices against one another and create a trade-market bidding war. As team president Flip Saunders and owner Glen Taylor face a gut-check moment of whether to risk Love leaving for nothing in summer 2015, here are the deals I would blow up their phones with if I were in charge of one of the 29 teams in the league.


Atlanta Hawks


The deal: Trade Machine

Hawks receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Paul Millsap, Dennis Schroder, the rights to Lucas Nogueira, No. 15 pick in 2014

This is a big haul for the Hawks to give up, with three rotation guys plus the pick going to Minnesota. But pairing Love and Al Horford together in Mike Budenholzer’s offense would be an alien invasion without Bill Pullman and Will Smith to fight it off. For the Wolves, Millsap is a nice option you can win with now and flip if he isn’t happy; Schroder is the backup point guard they crave; and Nogueira would give the Wolves a tandem with Gorgui Dieng that makes Nikola Pekovic and his contract expendable.


Boston Celtics


The deal: Trade Machine

Celtics receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Kelly Olynyk, Jared Sullinger, Brandon Bass, Phil Pressey, Vitor Faverani, Nos. 6 and 17 picks in 2014, Celtics’ first-round pick in 2016

Here, the Wolves are basically getting the picks and then a bunch of cap filler and former first-rounders. There’s no reason to pretend Olynyk and Sullinger would be pieces for the Wolves at all. Being a Wolves fan since they've come into the NBA, I am pretty good at recognizing overvalued first-round picks who won’t be as good as you hope they are. This is about the picks, and with Nos. 6, 13 and 17 in this draft, they could load up or move up.


Brooklyn Nets

The deal: Trade Machine

Nets receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: The 2003 Kevin Garnett

Look, I don’t know how owner Mikhail Prokhorov got his hands on a time machine, either, but billionaires have access to things we don’t. Let’s just take advantage of the opportunity to grab 2003 Kevin Garnett and get this team back into the playoffs.


Charlotte Hornets


The deal: Trade Machine

Hornets receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Cody Zeller, Gary Neal, Nos. 9 and 24 picks in 2014

The Wolves never got to truly test out the Al Jefferson-Love big man tandem because Love wasn’t that great yet and Jefferson hurt his knee. They get a redo in Charlotte in this scenario, and with coach Steve Clifford’s defensive stylings, it could actually work.

Wolves would get a former No. 2 pick with potential; Zeller, whom they were enamored with before last year’s draft; and two first-round picks. The Pistons conceding the No. 9 pick to the Bobcats makes this a very attractive deal.


Chicago Bulls


The deal: Trade Machine

Bulls receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Carlos Boozer, Jimmy Butler, the rights to Nikola Mirotic, Ronnie Brewer, Nos. 16 and 19 picks in 2014

Of the most realistic trade scenarios for the Wolves in unloading Love for assets, cap relief and picks, this is probably the best move they could make, unless Phoenix is willing to be bold. You could also swap out Boozer for Taj Gibson, but his long-term money isn’t ideal for a rebuilding team. The Wolves could flip him to a contender later. The Bulls would be giving up a lot, but a big three of Joakim Noah, Love and Derrick Rose (assuming he's healthy) is an amazing way to battle whatever the Heat end up being after this season.


Cleveland Cavaliers


The deal: Trade Machine

Cavaliers receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Tristan Thompson, Dion Waiters, Alonzo Gee, No. 1 pick in 2014

Why would the Cavaliers possibly trade the No. 1 pick in a loaded class, plus three rotation players, for Love? Because they seem to have a pipe dream of bringing LeBron James back to Cleveland this summer and this is the way to do it. It’s not stockpiling a bunch of young role players for James to play alongside. He wants to play with stars, and having Love and Kyrie Irving in tow would go a long way.


Dallas Mavericks


Mavericks receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: 2011 NBA championship banner and one free pass for a business idea on “Shark Tank”

I’ve always had a problem with teams hanging up “division title” banners in an arena because it seems like a lower-level franchise thing to do. Considering the Wolves are about to lose their best player and potentially miss the playoffs for an 11th straight season, it’s safe to consider them on that lower level right now.

It would be nice to take down the 2003-04 division title banner and replace it with a championship banner. And the extra revenue from getting a business idea funded through “Shark Tank” could give this organization a little extra money to play around with during the next few years. The Wolves are renovating their arena, so they could use the cash.


Denver Nuggets


The deal: Trade Machine

Nuggets receive: Kevin Love, Kevin Martin
Wolves receive: Kenneth Faried, Danilo Gallinari, Darrell Arthur, Randy Foye, No. 11 pick in 2014

Coach Brian Shaw gets his coveted big-time power forward and a nice offensive complement to Ty Lawson in the backcourt. While Martin isn't even close to being a defender, he at least has some size to utilize on offense.

The Wolves get a lot of quality players and a couple of veterans (Arthur and Foye) they can flip. They could even add a lottery pick here in this draft, although this sort of feels like a lot in return. Oh, who cares? The Wolves get to be greedy here.


Detroit Pistons


Pistons receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Stan Van Gundy

I don't want your horrible Josh Smith contract and shot selection that makes most government agencies look like well-oiled machines. I don’t want an improbable sign-and-trade deal with Greg Monroe. I don’t want any of the young players. I don’t even want the pick. I want SVG in all of his coaching glory and I’m willing to relinquish this fake GM power to him when the trade is completed. I’m going full-on Veruca Salt on this one. I want Stan Van Gundy to coach the Wolves and I want it now!


Golden State Warriors


The deal: Trade Machine

Warriors receive: Kevin Love, Kevin Martin
Wolves receive: David Lee, Harrison Barnes, Klay Thompson, right to swap picks in 2015 and 2016

I don’t actually think this is a good trade, but it allows me to bring up a point. I get the mindset of wanting to maximize the value you receive in a trade versus what you’re sending out. But there are Warriors fans worried about giving up Thompson and Barnes in a deal for Love, while ridding themselves of Lee’s contract. Back when the Clippers were trading for Chris Paul, there were fans and writers who thought it was a bad idea to include Eric Gordon. Think about that now. Sometimes it can get out of hand for players who probably won’t be All-Stars.


Houston Rockets


The deal: Trade Machine

Rockets receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Jeremy Lin, Donatas Motiejunas, Chandler Parsons, Jordan Hamilton, first-round picks in 2015 and 2017

This is an incredibly tricky situation because while the Rockets have lots of assets to move, the inclusion of Parsons makes the deal really difficult. The Wolves would need to pick up his team option for next season, but that means he’s an unrestricted free agent in 2015. How likely is it that he will want to stay in Minnesota?

Lin’s contract will cost more than owner Glen Taylor wants to pay for a non-winning team. Motiejunas would be the best prospect in the deal and you’re taking late first-round picks in the future. Can we just forget this deal and ask Hakeem Olajuwon to be an adviser to the Wolves instead?


Indiana Pacers


The deal: Trade Machine

Pacers receive: Kevin Love, Nikola Pekovic
Wolves receive: Roy Hibbert, David West

I want to see just how good of a coach Frank Vogel is. The Wolves were 29th in defending the restricted area this season, and I would guess the only reason they weren’t the worst is because of Dieng’s late-season rim defense. The Pacers were the best at defending the rim this season. Can Vogel keep that defensive prowess with these non-shot-blockers? Can the Wolves defend the rim with these two big men? These two teams don’t match up at all in the trade department, so we might as well experiment.


Los Angeles Clippers


The deal: Trade Machine

Clippers receive: Kevin Love, Kevin Martin
Wolves receive: Blake Griffin, Jamal Crawford

I don’t know why the Clippers would ever do this trade, but it’s unfair for other fan bases to have all of the fun and none of the depression. Griffin gets to receive alley-oop passes from Ricky Rubio while Crawford dazzles the media members with his dribbling and charm.

The Clippers get another shooter to stretch the floor to allow DeAndre Jordan to further develop. Martin wouldn’t exactly add anything to what the Clippers do now, but again, I’m sick of all the depression in these scenarios, so just take one for the team, please.


Los Angeles Lakers


The deal: Trade Machine

Lakers receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Steve Nash, Robert Sacre, Nick Young, MarShon Brooks, No. 7 pick in 2014, future first-round pick, Flip Saunders gets a statue outside Staples Center, Minneapolis Lakers’ title banners

In this scenario, I suffered a head injury when I tried to pull off one of those 360 layups Swaggy P loves to do so much and I fell into the celebrating elbows of Sacre. It left me a little woozy, but I think I came up with a good deal to finally get Love to Los Angeles. Nash's deal is expiring, Sacre and Ronny Turiaf form the greatest bench-cheering duo ever, Young gets to teach me that layup and Brooks is cap filler. Those Minneapolis Lakers banners will look great at Target Center, too.


Memphis Grizzlies


The deal: Trade Machine

Grizzlies receive: Kevin Love, Kevin Martin
Wolves receive: Zach Randolph, James Johnson, Jon Leuer, Jamaal Franklin, first-round pick in 2017

This does one thing that’s pretty cool: It gives a Grizzlies team that struggled to score in the half court two very good half-court scorers. They lose some toughness but they can actually round out their overall game quite a bit. For the Wolves, it gives them the potential for a Pekovic-Randolph-Johnson frontcourt, which, if Randolph opts in this summer, will protect Minnesota when the zombie apocalypse happens. Nobody is taking out that frontcourt.


Miami Heat


The deal: Trade Machine

Heat receive: Kevin Love, Kevin Martin
Wolves receive: Chris Bosh, Norris Cole, right to swap first-round picks in 2016 and 2018

The Wolves are torn between a full-on rebuild (try selling that to the fans again during this decade-long playoff drought) and trying to still find a way to sneak into the playoffs. Granted, Bosh has to agree to this deal by not opting out of his contract this summer, but the Wolves would at least remain hyper-competitive on the playoff bubble. They’d also grab a backup point guard who isn’t as erratic as the incumbent, J.J. Barea.

The Heat get younger and give LeBron the chance to really have a great second scorer with him in his next deal in Miami.


Milwaukee Bucks


The deal: Trade Machine

Bucks receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Larry Sanders, O.J. Mayo, No. 2 pick in 2014, Wisconsin has to pretend the Vikings are the best team in the league

Sure, Sanders has the potential to be a nice defender in this league for a long time, Mayo would be a possible cap-relief trade chip in a year and the No. 2 pick, whoever it ends up being, could be a major star in this league. But the win here for Minnesota is Wisconsin having to pretend the Vikings are the best. A fan base that was 27th in attendance in the NBA and 13th in attendance in the NFL doesn't really care how they make out in any Love deal. They just want the football win. Vikings fans aren't used to getting a lot of those.


New Orleans Pelicans


The deal: Trade Machine

Pelicans receive: Kevin Love, Chase Budinger
Wolves receive: Anthony Davis, Eric Gordon

Sure, you guys are laughing at me and how ridiculous this is, but in my head the deal has been made and I’m doing a little dance of celebration. Have your laughter, and I’ll have my delusional mind, and never the twain shall meet.


New York Knicks


The deal: Trade Machine

Knicks receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: [processing ...]

The Knicks gave up a first-round pick to get Andrea Bargnani. Comparable value means they’d have to give up the entire Wall Street district for Love. I can’t even pretend there is a combination here that works for the Wolves. Maybe they could do a double sign-and-trade and swap Love for Carmelo Anthony? Someone ask cap guru Larry Coon if this is allowed. Can we get a reality show just recording La La’s face when Melo has to tell her they’re moving to Minneapolis?


Oklahoma City Thunder


The deal: Trade Machine

Thunder receive: Kevin Love, Kevin Martin
Wolves receive: Serge Ibaka, Jeremy Lamb, Perry Jones III, Hasheem Thabeet, Mavericks’ first-round pick in 2014, Thunder’s first-round pick in 2017

I’m not going to be unrealistic and pretend Kevin Durant or Russell Westbrook are in play here, but there’s no reason the Wolves can’t ask for Ibaka, while also unloading Martin’s deal (three years, $20 million left) and picking up young talent in Lamb and Jones, a first-round pick this year and an unprotected pick in 2017. Why 2017? Let’s pretend this Thunder thing doesn’t work out and Love and Durant both leave in 2016. In this scenario, the Wolves position themselves to take advantage of a team falling apart. It’s like what every team does to Minnesota every single time it trades a draft pick.


Orlando Magic


The deal: Trade Machine

Magic receive: Kevin Love, No. 13 pick in 2014
Wolves receive: Victor Oladipo, Andrew Nicholson, Jameer Nelson, No. 4 pick in 2014

I recognize that the Wolves getting the No. 2 pick from last year’s draft plus the No. 4 pick in this draft seems like a lot, but Love is a lot better than Oladipo and it’s not all that close. Even if Oladipo maximizes his potential, he’s probably not reaching Love’s status. Flip was enamored with Oladipo heading into the 2013 draft and would probably be willing to swap firsts with the Magic this year in order to complete this trade.


Philadelphia 76ers


The deal: Trade Machine

76ers receive: Kevin Love, Kevin Martin
Wolves receive: Thaddeus Young, Jason Richardson, Nos. 3 and 10 picks in 2014

The Wolves get a young asset, cap relief and two lottery picks in this draft in exchange for Love and getting rid of Martin’s deal. It sounds like the Sixers are giving up a lot here, but they have assets to spare. You’re teaming Love with a defensive-minded center in Nerlens Noel and a pass-first point guard in Michael Carter-Williams. Plus, the Sixers still have room to add another major player.


Phoenix Suns


The deal: Trade Machine

Suns receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Eric Bledsoe, Timberwolves' first-round pick in 2015

This is the dream scenario. The Wolves would have to convince Bledsoe to want to play in Minnesota, and then execute a sign-and-trade. Most likely, they’d have to max out Bledsoe in the process. The Suns do it because of the knee concern for Bledsoe, and Love is a much better player who fits coach Jeff Hornacek’s style of play. Getting their top-12 protected pick back for dumping Wes Johnson in Phoenix helps, too. It’s a risk by the Suns and a concession by the Wolves, but this is the “fingers crossed” scenario.


Portland Trail Blazers


The deal: Trade Machine

Trail Blazers receive: Kevin Love, medium-quality bike lanes from Minneapolis
Wolves receive: LaMarcus Aldridge, second-best bike lanes from Portland

This needs to happen and it doesn’t have anything to do with basketball. I just want to see both fan bases reverse course on the vitriol thrown each other’s way when discussing which power forward is better. The Blazers fans would have to embrace Love as the top PF while the Wolves fans pretend they never meant the things they said about Aldridge’s rebounding.

The bike lane aspect of this trade would really help Portland take back its title as top cycling city in the country.


Sacramento Kings


The deal: Trade Machine

Kings receive: Kevin Love, Kevin Martin
Wolves receive: DeMarcus Cousins, Derrick Williams, Jason Terry

This one doesn't even involve a draft pick because Cousins has so much potential. The Kings can take a big man with the No. 8 pick this year and pair him next to Love. Martin returns to Sacramento and doesn't have Tyreke Evans to hog the ball and make him want to get out of town. Terry is salary-cap relief for the Wolves, and they can to try a do-over with Williams. This trade can’t happen until after July 1, so that and reality are the only two hang-ups right now.


San Antonio Spurs


Spurs receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Gregg Popovich

This works out perfectly in a couple of ways. Let’s say the Spurs win the title this year and we see Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili ride off into the sunset. Love would immediately be the replacement for Duncan and give the Spurs a bridge from this era into the next successful one.

For the Wolves, I don’t even want to subject Popovich to coaching the team. He should just be a consultant for a month and let the organization know all of the awful ways in which they do things and the way the Spurs “would never consider something like this.” He’d essentially be The Wolf in "Pulp Fiction" for Minnesota.


Toronto Raptors


The deal: Trade Machine

Raptors receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Jonas Valanciunas, Terrence Ross, John Salmons, No. 20 pick in 2014, Knicks’ first-round pick in 2016

It would leave the Raptors searching for a big man to protect the paint, but in today’s NBA, you could get away with a Love-Amir Johnson frontcourt against a lot of teams. The Wolves get the young assets they crave, the draft picks they need and the cap relief necessary to keep their options open. They’d have to move Pekovic next, and they don’t get rid of Martin's contract in this scenario, but it’s a good start to the rebuilding plan. This might be a lot for the Raptors to give up, but general manager Masai Ujiri can just fleece the next four trades he makes and even it all out.


Utah Jazz


The deal: Trade Machine

Jazz receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Derrick Favors, Jeremy Evans, John Lucas III, Rudy Gobert, No. 5 pick in 2014

Requesting the Jazz’s top big man and the fifth pick is asking Utah to do the Wolves quite the ... Favor(s) ... you know? No? Wait, where are you guys going? I still have one more team to poach players from!


Washington Wizards


The deal: Trade Machine

Wizards receive: Kevin Love, Kevin Martin
Wolves receive: Bradley Beal, Nene

This would be an incredibly tough decision for the Wizards to make. They have one of the best young shooting guards in the NBA, and pairing him with John Wall would produce an awesome tandem for a decade. And yet, they could upgrade for Love while still keeping a scorer at the shooting guard position. In the process, they’d rid themselves of the long-term money owed to Nene. They would owe long-term money to Martin, though.

It’s not an ideal scenario in a few ways, but you’d be making this team a big threat. Plus, it would give coach Randy Wittman a chance to apologize for telling a young Love that he should abandon the 3-point shot.

Lowry sees a 'band of brothers' in Toronto

April, 23, 2014
Apr 23
4:32
PM ET
By James Herbert
Special to ESPN.com
Archive
DeMar DeRozan, Kyle LowryAP Photo/The Canadian Press/Nathan DenetteDeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry agree -- the camaraderie in the Raptors' locker room is special.
Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan chatted and laughed at their neighboring lockers following Tuesday’s Game 2 win over the Brooklyn Nets in Toronto. Backs to the media members awaiting a postgame interview, this is a standard sight after Raptors games.

When DeRozan headed to the podium to meet the press, Lowry hung back in an Air Canada Centre hallway, holding his backcourt mate's daughter in his arms.

“Honestly, we talk every single day,” DeRozan said after practice on Wednesday, less than 24 hours after scoring 30 points to help tie the series with the Nets at 1-1. “We figure out ways to make each other better, make this team better. We constantly talk.

"I always come to his house, freeload [off] his refrigerator, whatever his chef is cooking. Go over there, eat, take my daughter over there, play with his son. They play cars, race cars, whatever, do little kid things. Just that bonding has grown with that. That’s definitely cool.”

Lowry was reportedly almost traded to the New York Knicks in December, and he’ll be an unrestricted free agent in July. He’s been the Raptors’ most productive player, putting up 17.9 points, 7.4 assists and 4.7 rebounds per game in the regular season, and one of the driving forces behind this run to the playoffs.

The Raptors recovered from a 6-12 start to rattle off a franchise-record 48 wins, but things would have been drastically different if they had traded Lowry after they dealt Rudy Gay. As Raptors coach Dwane Casey said last week, sometimes the best trades are the ones you don’t make.

While Lowry generally avoids talking about his future, he’s been nothing but positive about the present of late. He said he’s never been on a team with this kind of camaraderie.

“I love my team,” Lowry said. “I’ll tell anybody that firsthand. I really appreciate being [here] every day with these guys. Every day I look forward to talking to them and joking with them and having fun with them because it’s rare that you get a team like this. So you take advantage of the full opportunity that you have. I’m taking advantage of the opportunity that I have this year with these guys.”

Both Lowry and DeRozan referenced a conversation about chemistry they had the previous night. It’s no surprise they’d be in a good mood after earning Toronto’s first postseason win since 2008, but it seems they sincerely see something special here.

“It’s not just being politically correct or nothing like that,” DeRozan said, adding that he’s never worried about what might happen this summer. Lowry already knows DeRozan wants to keep building something here, and DeRozan has repeatedly given his point guard credit for his own success.

Lowry called the Raptors a “band of brothers,” and he appreciates that the environment is conducive to constructive criticism. He can tell DeRozan when he messes up a play, and DeRozan will say he’s right. It’s not just one dominant voice, Lowry said, and bench players are free to contribute ideas. As he described Toronto’s locker room, it sounded like a place he wouldn’t mind staying.

“The chemistry, it’s unbelievable,” Lowry said. “I can pick up my phone and call any one of my teammates and have a conversation. Serious, jokingly, it’s just cool. It’s just great to have a group of guys who just really get along. You’d never think a group like that, with so many different personalities, that everyone really just feeds off each other and everyone genuinely likes each other.”

James Herbert contributes to ESPN.com. Follow him, @outsidethenba.

Trash talk

April, 21, 2014
Apr 21
5:50
PM ET
Strauss By Ethan Sherwood Strauss
ESPN.com
Archive
Is it OK for a GM to publicly curse about the other team? Or is it just plain fun? Amin Elhassan examines the war of words between the Raptors and Nets.

Kings of the north

April, 18, 2014
Apr 18
10:00
AM ET
By Seerat Sohi
Special to ESPN.com
Archive
Amir JohnsonDave Sandford/NBAE/Getty ImagesAfter nearly two decades of indifference, Canada is finally starting to embrace the Toronto Raptors.
There’s a Montana’s located about five minutes from my place in Edmonton. It’s a homely Sunday afternoon joint, the kind of place that usually broadcasts four different hockey games at once. Mid-March deviation from the NHL is never anything more than an empty nod to the the NCAA, so finding a booth to the tune of Raptors vs. Nets in the background was a signal I took with cautious optimism: The tide of Canada’s sports culture may be turning.

The Toronto Raptors have attempted to sweep the nation before, to varied success. Alternate road jerseys tacked with maple leafs and the moniker “Canada’s team” can take an organization only so far; certainly not the 3,000-kilometer gap between Toronto and Vancouver. It’s especially tough in Canada, where the zenith of sporting and patriotic fervor elicits images of Terry Fox, Wayne Gretzky and Sidney Crosby’s famed Olympic goal.

Without a strong philosophy or a winning team, the Raptors have constantly lacked a force for fans to hitch their wagon to. The Vince Carter era is underscored more by his leaving Canada than it is his tenure in it. Chris Bosh didn’t think he could get NBA League Pass north of the border (he could). In their 19 years, the Raptors never eclipsed 47 wins. Since marketing themselves as Canada’s team in the 2008 offseason, they haven’t even made a playoff appearance.

Canadian NBA devotees outside of Toronto share a certain degree of passion for the Raptors but align themselves with a separate cause: LeBron vs. Durant, Boston vs. Los Angeles, Steve Nash vs. universe.

The Raptors don’t have the benefit of history. It’s easier for Lakers fans to swallow Kobe Bryant’s freshly penned albatross when viewed through a veneer of certainty, but Raptors fans have never been able to reference the team’s greatest hits album and think, “Yeah, we’ll trust you guys.” The smart money tells them to invest their emotions in a less precarious place.

The Raptors’ identity has always been “the Canadian team,” but like most forms of Canadian identity, no one really knows what that entails. But there are benefits to not having any preordained expectations to live up to.

Raptors GM Masai Ujiri, one of the smartest basketball minds on the planet, has creative authority in an organization that is a blank whiteboard. On Dec. 6, with the Raptors looking at a 6-12 record after five straight losses, Ujiri traded Rudy Gay, the high-priced star wing brought in before last season’s trade deadline by the previous regime. The seven-player deal netted the Raptors Patrick Patterson, Greivis Vasquez, Chuck Hayes, John Salmons and a chunk of savings.

Since the trade, the Raptors have evolved. They’re more than just that team north of the border. Rather, one of the most dangerous teams in the Eastern Conference, outscoring opponents by 4.8 points per 100 possessions, sixth in the league since Dec. 8. DeMar Derozan is a candidate for most improved player, Kyle Lowry is having a career season. While Tyler Hansbrough’s tenacity appeals to the conservative hard-hat West, Toronto waxes poetic on DeRozan’s silky smooth post repertoire. Now, if only they retained Mickaël Piétrus. …

[+] EnlargeBanners
John E. Sokolowski/USA TODAY SportsThere isn't much good NBA history in Toronto. But these Raptors are using that to their advantage.
The Raptors’ offense is simple, yet not unlike the San Antonio Spurs', the wrinkles make it effective. It’s hard for opponents to stymie pick-and-rolls when Amir Johnson is so adept at slipping screens; or maybe it’s Patrick Patterson and Tyler Hansbrough discretely floating into open space. Vasquez delivers pick-and-roll passes like it’s pizza for Hedo Turkoglu. DeRozan has transitioned from an abysmal passer to one who’s slightly above average, taking whatever the defense throws at him in stride -- be it in the form of a 30-point barrage or a cerebral read-and-react outing. While other squads would develop complicated tactical maneuvers for the various types of coverage DeRozan is prone to seeing now, the Raptors rest their laurels on just knowing where to be. It has paid off. The Raptors’ offensive rating has gradually increased with their chemistry, peaking at 112 in April.

Toronto is bringing back the dearly missed purple dinosaur jersey as an alternate next season, marking the first time since 2006 that a Raptors uni won’t be accentuated by Canada’s red and white. The Raptors’ latest rebranding effort, featuring an advertising campaign and a #WeTheNorth hashtag, skews dramatic with its fire pits and snow-filled arenas -- the climate is hyperborean, though DrakeWeather.com can tell you it’s not that cold in April -- but it works because of the substance behind it. Finishing the regular season with a franchise record 48 wins and the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs, Toronto is brimming with excitement to face the Brooklyn Nets in Round 1.

If a deep playoff run is really as imminent as some fans hope, the Raptors might just permanently latch onto a semblance of identity, something to get fans across the border to tune in on Game 1 of 82, not in a mid-February win streak. After all, if memories breed fandom, Raptors fans have few that aren’t accompanied by a I-missed-the-good-cable-in-America-esque sting.

Canadian sports culture will always be defined by the nation’s dispersed Hockeytowns but it’s still a heady time for hoops fans north of the border. Just ask the slew of portable basketball nets swarming driveways in suburbs all over Canada, some of them flanked by the occasional patch of ice: Nike has yet to produce the preeminent “Be Like DeMar” commercial but Canada’s basketball culture is growing with this team; by no explicit maneuver, Canada’s team.

Seerat Sohi writes for the TrueHoop Network. Follow her, @DamianTrillard.

At the movies with Patrick Patterson

March, 7, 2014
Mar 7
9:33
AM ET
By James Herbert
Special to ESPN.com
Archive
Patrick PattersonTom Szczerbowski/USA TODAY Sports
Patrick Patterson was walking into “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire,” when he learned he'd been traded for the second time of his four-year career this past December. He went in and watched it anyway.

Things have been going well for him since. Unlike some American-born NBA players, the 24-year-old power forward has enjoyed Toronto. He's also liked the change of on-court environment, from a Kings team scraping the bottom of the West to a surprising Raptors team that's still holding onto the No. 3 spot in the East. His game has improved, too -- he was shooting a career-low 41 percent from the field and 23 percent from 3 with the Kings, but has improved to 48.5 and 42.3 percent with the Raptors, respectively.

In the midst of all the change, he's still found some time to hit the local cinema. We asked him his thoughts on his latest movie-goings.

Would it be fair to call you the Roger Ebert of the NBA, with how you seem to go see pretty much every movie?

You could. I’ll take that. Every movie that comes out, I have to see. I’m a big movie fanatic. I’m a big movie guy, movie critic, movie buff, whatever you want to call it. I have to be in the movies, I have to see what’s out, I have to see what’s going on. There’s so many type of movies out there that at the end of the day, you can’t see 'em all, but you try to. And that’s what I’m trying to do right now, especially on my off- and downtime.

Are you a harsh critic?

Yeah. At times. For movies that are supposed to be like it, you know, the movie, and it’s a letdown or if you have top actors, well-known actors and they have subpar performances or the writing isn't as good as it should be when you have those type of actors in your movie, I’m gonna be a tough critic. 'Cause if you have a certain type of actors in your movie, it’s supposed to be unbelievably amazing, so you can’t let down movie fans.

Anything let you down recently?

Kevin Hart’s “Ride Along” let me down. Extremely, extremely let me down. But I can understand, just like he had won the All-Star [Celebrity Game MVP] and he absolutely didn't do anything, so that just shows his power with the social media and the fans. No matter what type of movie he puts out, people are gonna see it. But as far as “Ride Along” goes and Kevin Hart, that was a big letdown for me.

I know you saw the new “300” movie with the team. What’d you think of that one?

Wow, that movie. It’s just like the first one but a lot more blood, a lot more fighting, a lot more battle scenes. More solid visual effects and more CGI, but overall it was a great movie. I can’t decide if it was better than the first one or not, but I’d definitely put it up there close to it.

What would you give it out of 10?

Out of 10? I’d give it a solid seven out of 10.

When Kyle Lowry didn’t make the All-Star team, you tweeted he should've --

I stick up for my teammates, man.

Everybody thought he was a snub.

He was, he should've made it.

So who or what movie was the Kyle Lowry of the Oscars?

Man, I was actually surprised that “American Hustle,” I don’t think they won anything. Except for maybe costumes, maybe? Maybe costume design, it was either them or “The Great Gatsby.” Maybe “The Great Gatsby” won costumes. [Ed: “The Great Gatsby” did indeed win Best Costume Design; “American Hustle” didn't win any of the 10 categories in which it was nominated.] But there was an award that I felt like "American Hustle" should have won, or at least they should've won one.

Did you really love that movie?

It was a great movie, it was a phenomenal movie. And I'm happy that the other movies won, but I felt like “American Hustle” probably should have had two, at least. Two Oscars. That’d probably be the Kyle Lowry of the Oscars.

What’s your favorite movie in the last little while?

“12 Years a Slave.”

So you’re happy that it won Best Picture?

See, I didn't think it was gonna win. ’Cause, with all due respect, not trying to seem racist or prejudiced, it’s a movie about slavery. It’s an African-American, black movie. So I didn't think it was gonna win. I was thinking “Wolf of Wall Street” or “American Hustle” was gonna win because that can go with anybody. Anybody can feel that type of movie. I really didn't think “12 Years A Slave” had a chance, and then when they announced that it had won, I was just extremely ecstatic and happy for all those people involved in that movie.

So probably “12 Years A Slave” was a fantastic movie that I've seen recently; also “American Hustle,” “Dallas Buyers Club,” all those were phenomenal movies.

All the ones that were nominated, pretty much.

All the ones that were nominated were phenomenal movies, so the Oscars definitely picked the right ones.

James Herbert is a contributor to ESPN.com. Follow him, @outsidethenba.

Monday Buzz Bullets

February, 17, 2014
Feb 17
6:23
PM ET
By Staff
ESPN.com
EASTERN CONFERENCE

WESTERN CONFERENCE

The greatest dunker ever

February, 15, 2014
Feb 15
10:38
AM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
Archive
At the 2000 Slam Dunk Competition in Oakland, Vince Carter cast a spell on every basketball fan. Amin Elhassan shares his memories of that contest.

'Hack-a-Jordan' clouds Clippers' win

February, 8, 2014
Feb 8
2:34
AM ET
Adande By J.A. Adande
ESPN.com
Archive


LOS ANGELES -- At some point, the NBA needs to care enough about its product to eliminate the loophole in the rules that allows games to degenerate into nine players standing around watching the league's worst free-throw shooters take foul shots, while draining the sport of all its athleticism, skill and entertainment value.

That's the only thing to take away from the Los Angeles Clippers' 118-105 victory over the Toronto Raptors. Well, you could also take away that Blake Griffin has gotten really good at basketball, but that should have been evident before tonight.

[+] EnlargeJordan
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty ImagesDeAndre Jordan hit 10 of 22 free throws Friday, which were plenty to keep the Clippers' lead safe.
It's also been obvious for more than a decade that intentionally fouling players who don't even have the ball has been a detriment to the sport, but the NBA continues to allow these travesties. In 2000, the Portland Trail Blazers sent Shaquille O'Neal to the free throw line 25 times in one quarter of a playoff game. Friday night, a desperate Raptors squad, behind by 20 points, commenced fouling DeAndre Jordan every time the Clippers had possession, regardless of whether he had the ball.

Jordan wound up taking 16 free throws in the quarter, making eight. The third period wound up taking 41 minutes to play, thanks to the constant stops to shoot free throws. When it ended, with Clippers coach Doc Rivers substituting for Jordan with 2:48 remaining in the quarter, the Clippers still led by 16 points.

"It changed the rhythm of the game, I will say that," Rivers said. "Because we had a great pace and we never got back to that."

Indeed, the Raptors quickly sliced the lead to nine points once Jordan left and normal basketball resumed. They had "junked the game up," as Jamal Crawford put it, but they still fared better by trying on defense, instead of allowing so many opportunities for Jordan to score.

Give even the worst free-throw shooters enough opportunities and they'll make some. The stops in play will also give the defense a chance to get set, thus making it harder for the team that's fouling to come back.

Speaking of defense, isn't that just as much a fundamental element of the game as making free throws? So spare the talk that better free-throw shooting would eliminate this. Better defense would do the job as well. (The Detroit Pistons and their ferocious defense won a championship in 2004 without resorting to gimmick fouls against O'Neal).

There are simple ways to eliminate this. Heck, the NBA already employs a deterrent in the final two minutes of games -- fouls away from the ball result in two shots plus possession. Put that rule in effect for all 48 minutes and watch the fun return.


Fouling a man without the ball is like walking someone who's sitting in the dugout.


- J.A. Adande

"I don't know where to go on it," Rivers said.

"Maybe go to three [free throws] to make two? I don't like that."

I'm not crazy about that either, but it's better than what we see teams try to do against the likes of Jordan and Dwight Howard.

Rivers compared intentional fouls to intentional walks in baseball. But intentional walks -- with four pitches and take your base -- don't drag games out as long as fouls do. And at least walks are a deterrent against someone who poses an actual threat, in the batter's box. Fouling a man without the ball is like walking someone who's sitting in the dugout.

You won't find anyone who enjoys this stain on basketball. Not the coaches who employ it, nor the players who execute it, nor the fans who watch it. What about the networks that broadcast it, and would like to have games fit into a 2 1/2 hour window and move onto the next program? The NBA should certainly take the high-paying broadcast partners into account.

Jordan tried to put a positive spin on it.

"If I'm going to go up there and practice my free throws, then that's fine too," Jordan said.

As if that's why people pay to watch NBA basketball.

It just happens: Thunder's first home loss

December, 23, 2013
12/23/13
1:11
AM ET
Young By Royce Young
ESPN.com
Archive

OKLAHOMA CITY -- It probably had to happen like this.

After they started the season 13-0 at home, the Thunder's first loss in Oklahoma City probably had to come on a sleepy Sunday night against a sub-.500 Eastern Conference team.

Because that just makes so much sense.

Not to discount the Toronto Raptors -- who now are 4-1 since trading Rudy Gay, with impressive victories in Chicago, Dallas and now OKC -- after a 104-98 win, but this Thunder team was riding a nine-game win streak, had won 17 of its previous 18 and was coming off a clinical road win in San Antonio the night before. For the Thunder to finally lay their home egg in this situation just seemed... odd.

"Losses happen in this league," Kevin Durant said. "They beat us fair and square."

Thing is, they don't often seem to happen to the Thunder, especially like that. Following a hungover first half, they found their typical home spark, a 22-4 third-quarter run that led to an 11-point second-half lead. Even after a Raptors comeback that had them up three with two minutes left, Durant drilled a 3 from the top of the key that seemed to be the shot the Thunder needed to eke out an ugly win.

Instead, John Salmons drew a foul on Durant for two go-ahead free throws, and the Raptors outscored OKC 6-0 over the final 90 seconds.

"We could've folded and packed it in, but they stayed with it and stuck together," Raptors coach Dwane Casey said. "We knew the Thunder were going to make a run and they did, but we stuck with it and came out with the W."

The Thunder's 13 straight home wins to start the season were the most since the 2008-09 Cavs started the season 23-0 at home. Matching that would have been quite the achievement, but it certainly seemed somewhat possible. Especially with the form they had been in the past few weeks.

"I told the team [after the game], you guys have done a great job this early part of the season, and we've done a great job protecting our court," OKC coach Scott Brooks said. "Give them credit, they played a good basketball game, they hung around and won it in the end. There's nothing to be ashamed of ... the fourth quarter, we missed a lot of shots. We can look back on film and can live with them."

By a lot of shots, Brooks means pretty much all of their shots. The Raptors outscored the Thunder 29-14 in the fourth quarter. The reason? OKC hit just five of its 25 attempts.

“We missed some layups; I know I missed like five wide-open 3s,” Durant said. “We missed some stuff at the rim. But their defense, they make you shoot those jump shots. They gave you those wide-open shots, and we just got to make them.”

Durant uncharacteristically went just 5-for-16 from the floor and while Salmons and the Raptors' defensive scheme deserve credit for that, a good number of them were solid looks. Still, Durant finished with 24 points because he's Kevin Durant, and Russell Westbrook had 27, but what might have hurt OKC most was that its emerging sixth man stud, Reggie Jackson, had only six on 1-for-11 shooting, with nothing in the second half. The night before in San Antonio, Jackson popped the Spurs for 21 and had been averaging better than 15 a game on 50 percent shooting in December. But he couldn't find anything Sunday.

And it might have revealed a little something: Jackson has an X factor look to him. When you've got guys like him to add punch behind Westbrook and Durant, there's a certain luxury that you can survive games in which the stars don't perform up to their standard. But with Jackson struggling and nothing dropping for anyone else, the Thunder finally just fell flat in their building.

It's only the Thunder's second loss in almost 40 days, with the other being on a second night of a back-to-back on the road in Portland. Not a player on the team nor Brooks was willing to invoke that as an excuse, though. A team undefeated at home and sitting on the best record in the league should handle its business no matter the circumstances. There's no good way to really justify it, other than what Durant said -- losses happen in this league.

And oftentimes when you least expect them to.

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