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#pounditThursday, January 27, 2022

Articles tagged: Toronto Raptors

Biggest questions facing Eastern Conference’s best teams

Giannis Antetokounmpo

The NBA is set to return to action at the end of July, and numerous questions pertaining to the logistics of the league’s plan remain. While we are learning the answers to those questions gradually, NBA teams must now question how they will perform when the season does return.

With playoff basketball on the horizon, here are the most critical questions surrounding the championship contenders in the Eastern Conference.


5 biggest NBA title contenders if the season resumes

Giannis Antetokounmpo

The 2019-20 NBA season is suspended, with the standings frozen in place as of mid-March. The league has every hope of resuming the season and giving teams a chance to finish what they started. There are certain teams with a better chance of winning bigger than others.

These five teams in particular had a legitimate chance to win an NBA title in 2020 and will want to make sure that they get to play out that opportunity.


Fred VanVleet setting himself up for big pay day in free agency

Fred VanVleet

The 2020 free agent class is noticeably devoid of perennial All-Stars and All-NBA performers. The class represents the proverbial calm before the storm, which will come when Giannis Antetokounmpo, LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard could be on the market a year later. Despite the lack of stars in this year’s free agent class, there are still a number of under-the-radar contributors who will be available this summer. At the top of that list sits Toronto Raptors guard Fred VanVleet.

For the undrafted VanVleet, his journey to becoming one of the most sought-after players in the 2020 free agency class began last season during the Raptors championship run.


Video: Raptors, Spurs start game with amazing tribute to Kobe Bryant

Kobe Bryant

The Toronto Raptors and San Antonio Spurs were among the first teams to tip off after news came through of Kobe Bryant’s death in a helicopter crash, and they paid tribute to him in an amazing way.

After winning the tip, Toronto Raptors guard Fred VanVleet simply stood near the timeline and let the shot clock run down, taking a 24-second violation as a nod to one of Bryant’s jersey numbers. On the ensuing Spurs possession, Dejounte Murray did the same as the crowd rose to its feet in a standing ovation while chanting Bryant’s name.

This is a really cool and well-conceived tribute by both teams, and it might be worth replicating in other games. It’s a really neat and respectful way to pay tribute to one of the most influential basketball players of all time. Given how the rest of the basketball world is feeling, expect to see more things like this throughout the NBA.

More Larry Brown Sports coverage of Kobe Bryant’s death:

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Other victims of the helicopter crash:
John Altobelli, junior college baseball coach, also died in helicopter crash
Christina Mauser, girls’ basketball coach, among the helicopter crash victims

Tributes to Kobe:
Dallas Mavericks retire Kobe Bryant’s No. 24 jersey
Video: Raptors, Spurs start game with amazing tribute to Kobe Bryant
Shaq posts heartfelt tribute to Kobe Bryant
Michael Jordan releases statement on death of ‘little brother’ Kobe Bryant
Video: Doc Rivers breaks down crying talking about Kobe Bryant
Phil Jackson calls Kobe Bryant ‘a chosen one’ in statement on his death
NBA commissioner Adam Silver issues statement on death of Kobe Bryant
Video: Dwyane Wade posts emotional message reacting to Kobe Bryant’s death
Kendrick Perkins extends olive branch to Kevin Durant after Kobe Bryant’s death
Video: Emotional Mike Breen sums up NBA world’s emotions about Kobe Bryant’s death
Trae Young’s huge game was full of Kobe Bryant-related statistical coincidences

More coverage:
Media errors, rumors, poor judgment run rampant in reporting of Kobe Bryant news
Kobe Bryant checked in on Shaq’s son Shareef morning of helicopter crash
No, Rick Fox did not die in helicopter crash that killed Kobe, Gianna Bryant
Lakers fans start memorial to Kobe Bryant outside Staples Center
Kobe Bryant’s last tweet was congratulating LeBron James on passing him
Sports world stunned over Kobe Bryant news
Kobe Bryant dies in helicopter crash – dead at 41

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Join our Facebook group
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Report: Pascal Siakam seeking max contract extension from Raptors

Pascal Siakam

Pascal Siakam had a breakout season with the Toronto Raptors last year en route to an NBA title, and the big man wants to be compensated accordingly.

Siakam has had contract discussions with the Raptors this offseason and is seeking a max extension, Shams Charania of The Athletic reports. Siakam is eligible to sign either a four-year, $130 million max deal or a five-year, $170 million contract, and 2016 draftmates Ben Simmons and Jamal Murray have received five-year extensions from their respective teams this offseason.

Siakam is set to become a restricted free agent next summer, so the Raptors don’t really have to sign him to a max deal now. They will have the ability to match any offer he receives in free agency next year if they chose to wait that long. They also may not want to extend Siakam now so they can enter next offseason with more than $80 million in salary cap space and have more flexibility.

Sources told Charania that Siakam wants to remain in Toronto. The former No. 27 overall pick obliterated his career highs last season with averages of 16.9 points, 6.9 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game, and there’s no reason to think he can’t improve upon those numbers now that he may need to play an even bigger role this upcoming season.

The Raptors have rebuffed trade offers for their other key veterans since Leonard left, so president of basketball operations Masai Ujiri is clearly not interested in a total rebuild after his team’s championship season. If the Raptors want to continue to contend in the Eastern Conference for the next several years, keeping Siakam should be a priority.

Watch: Raptors get zero love in latest NBA 2K trailer

The Toronto Raptors have been, unfortunately, one of the losers of arguably the most wild offseason in NBA history, and the creators of the latest installment of the NBA 2K video game series seem to think the defending champions aren’t even worth mentioning.

Unless, of course, they’re being tooled on by the player who broke their hearts in free agency.

The latest trailer for NBA 2K20 was released on Thursday, and the overall theme was showing superstar players with their new teams. The only time the Raptors were featured was when Kawhi Leonard was depicted scoring on them, which you can see below at the 20-second mark:

A lot of people are saying the trailer showed Kawhi dunking on the Raptors, but if you watch closely he’s actually going up for a layup. Still, that has to sting for fans in Toronto.

Even if the Raptors stand little chance of repeating as champs with Leonard gone, you could argue that they deserve better treatment than that from NBA 2K. They probably should have at least had Leonard scoring on the team whose offseason he sabotaged, not the one he carried to a title.

Raptors reportedly not planning to trade any key players with Kawhi Leonard gone

Masai Ujiri Raptors

The Toronto Raptors were dealt a major blow last week when Kawhi Leonard decided to sign with the Los Angeles Clippers, but that does not mean they are giving up on contending in the Eastern Conference next season.

Several of Toronto’s key players — Kyle Lowry, Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka — are set to become free agents a year from now, which has led to speculation that the Raptors might explore trade possibilities for one or more of them. TSN’s Josh Lewenberg reports that Masai Ujiri has no plans to hold a fire sale and would prefer to see things through.

Leonard may be gone, but the East is wide open. While the Raptors would have been the clear favorite if Leonard returned, the NBA Finals MVP went to a Western Conference team. Kyrie Irving also left the Boston Celtics to sign with the Brooklyn Nets, who will be without Kevin Durant for the entire 2019-20 season. The Philadelphia 76ers added Al Horford, but they lost Jimmy Butler. The Milwaukee Bucks lost Malcolm Brogdon to the Indiana Pacers. There are a handful of teams that could win the East, and the Raptors are still one of them.

Ujiri knew all offseason that Leonard leaving was a strong possibility, but that didn’t stop him from making some big promises for the future. There’s no need for a total rebuild, especially with how things stand elsewhere in the East.

Raptors’ Masai Ujiri issues statement on Kawhi Leonard departure

Masai Ujiri Raptors

The Toronto Raptors have issued their first public statement since learning Kawhi Leonard was leaving the organization.

Team president Masai Ujiri thanked both Leonard and Danny Green for their contributions to the Raptors’ title run, wishing them the best for the future while affirming the organization’s intent to continue winning championships.

It’s a fairly by-the-book statement, but a nice gesture all the same. Leonard’s legacy especially is quite secure after winning Finals MVP, and he’ll be long remembered in Toronto for his contributions, even if his tenure there only lasted one season. His year was so memorable, in fact, that it’s unlikely that any Raptor will wear his No. 2 again.

Raptors reportedly likely to retire Kawhi Leonard’s number

Kawhi Leonard

The Toronto Raptors only had Kawhi Leonard for a year, but the impact he made on the organization is immeasurable — and it sounds like it will be duly recognized.

Greg Brady of Sportsnet 590 believes the Raptors already intend to unofficially retire Leonard’s No. 2 by taking it out of circulation after the star forward delivered the team an NBA title in his lone year there.

This is pretty much the exact same arrangement the Golden State Warriors are giving Kevin Durant. It may seem excessive to retire a player’s number after a one year tenure, but the Raptors do not win a title without Leonard. It’s understandable.

Report: Thunder GM played Clippers, Raptors against each other

The Oklahoma City Thunder received an unprecedented haul from the Los Angeles Clippers in the Paul George trade, and that is because general manager Sam Presti played an unfortunate situation to perfection.

According to a report from ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, Presti managed to play the Clippers and Toronto Raptors against each other once George asked to be traded, which was earlier in the week. Both the Clippers and Raptors knew acquiring George would likely be the move that would allow them to sign Leonard, and Presti used that to his advantage.

Wojnarowski reports that Presti pursued a blockbuster deal that would have sent both George and Russell Westbrook to Toronto with Pascal Siakam as the centerpiece of the return package. Raptors president Masai Ujiri was not interested, feeling that any factors that might lead Leonard to want to sign with the Clippers — such as Kawhi’s Southern California roots — were out of his control. While Ujiri may have never really considered making the deal, the negotiations undoubtedly put more pressure on the Clippers.

In the end, Presti was able to secure four unprotected first-round picks and one protected first-round pick in addition to swapping some picks with the Clippers. Oklahoma City also got Danilo Gallinari and 2018 first-round pick Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Between the Raptors still fighting to keep Leonard and the Lakers appearing on the verge of assembling a dynasty, Presti was essentially able to name his asking price.

Leonard probably was not going to sign with the Lakers anyway, but Magic Johnson may have sealed their fate with his big mouth. Still, their presence in the sweepstakes combined with George being a key factor allowed Presti to get as much as the Thunder could have hoped for in the deal.