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No Country For Old Men | The Cold Heart Of Kobe Bryant

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“Friends hang sometimes, banners hang forever.”

It may be the hungriest line ever carved into the fabric of comradery in sports. The reminder that winning, not whining, is the ultimate goal—recalling a time when the giants had less off the court and therefore, perhaps, more at stake on it. Simply put: it was an era with a more personal edge. That cuts to the bottom line, the point to it all, and few athletes of the last quarter-century embodied the hunger to win like Kobe Bryant.

He’s not a basketball player anymore, he’ll tell you; he’s a businessman, conjuring up ideas and identifying young investments in the sports world through his new Kobe Inc. enterprise. He’s already found one success through his interests in The Player’s Tribune and another in a new coconut sports drink. He’s been eying film projects next, it’s said. He’s been trademarking phrases and hashtags, too, or some shit.

“Friends hang sometimes, banners hang forever.”

See, those are Bryant’s words, or the Mamba persona or whatever you want to call it. For so many years it was hard to tell the difference between Kobe the player and Kobe the socialite. The off-court Bryant had to be just as much of a prick didn’t he? Enough of an ass to wave off a Karl Malone pick in his first All-Star game? The kind to force a tug-of-war that ended with Shaquille O’Neal, one of the greatest centres of all-time, shipped out of Los Angeles to carry his favour? The one that “Draked” Andrew Bynum’s career with an epic parking lot rant? Shit. Did Bryant (and Nike) create the Mamba persona just so we could tell the difference?

Because that’s the funny thing that happened on the way to retirement. Bryant became the guy-you-love-to-hate-and-hate-to-miss. This, after years of wishing he was just gone. Thing is, Bryant isn’t going anywhere and he’s buying up enough catch phrases and taglines to keep reminding you for a long time. According to ESPN.com he has copyrighted, patented, or has a patent pending (depending on who you talk to) on several of them including “Dream Epic”, “Create Forever” and the burgeoning “Hero Villain”, which may be the most Kobe description ever. Still, the one that stands out is the one I want to ask him about. It relates to a point blank question I never got to ask during his annual visits to Toronto, my microphone crushed between thirty others with game night questions paying the bills. The phrase is a reminder of the query I held quietly for Bryant over many years.

“What made you this cold?”

And now his trademarked mantra seems to answer my question.

“Friends hang sometimes, banners hang forever.”

It would be a polarizing response because it intercepts our ideal of what we want our sports teams to be. It might be the most asshole statement ever told to a regular Joe. A true sign of loyalty to the bands not the mans. To the prize not the guys. To him not you. And yet it is honesty backed by proof that never made you question its sincerity. It was pure. Because you have to be that beautiful hero-villain to pull it off. Cold of heart.

There are many who didn’t mind Bryant’s take towards Shaq, Malone, Bynum, Philadelphia or Utah. But was it always truly about winning? Or was it about winning his way? Do that and making enemies becomes inevitable because everybody wants to do it their way. The owner, the general manager, the coach, the maxed-out players, the guy throwing peanuts with a zip-line toss two rows up. Bryant fucking did it though, as painful as it was at times to watch, as alienated as it made him for years and even as relationships chipped and cracked and often crumbled, he became more and more fascinating to watch. More destined for greatness.

That was when Bryant first approached Jordan status, but he was not held aloft. He was not beloved and adored and chased. He was the sort of sublime talent that rose up out of the ashes of Michael, a comic book arc that had Bryant threatening but ultimately falling quite short of his hero’s place in history. His language, his mannerisms, both for the press and on the wood, was built to a fucking carbon copy of Jordan’s swagger.

And yet he was different, in the way that each fingerprint must be. Where Jordan’s unparalleled competitiveness seemed to be born from a young and often challenged child’s dream, Bryant seemed unapologetically self-designed and carefully engineered to be obsessed with winning. He was the Ivan Drago to Jordan’s Rocky. The latest in a long line of memorable Hollywood contenders.

He had genetics too, with his father, “Jellybean” Joe Bryant, a former NBA hoopster and European pro. Sonofagun. He spent years growing up overseas. With an early passion, good bones and mad skills the junior Bryant returned stateside and dominated out of Lower Merion High School in Pennsylvania, enough to skip college and get drafted straight to the NBA. There was still enough doubt around him to be traded as a 12th pick from Charlotte to come off the bench as a rookie in L.A. before crashing his way into the starting line up and championships rings. He rapped, stole scenes, waived off Malone. He was viewed as disrespectful and spoiled, and combined with the usual old-guard resistance, Bryant was not exactly the welcomed face of change among his peers (years later, in an attempt at one last title shot, Malone joined Bryant’s Lakers for what was ultimately a failed run).

Maybe it was as simple as a Chris Child’s chin-check, being “sonned” by Shaq, the war of disrespect with Malone, the doubt… whatever it was that helped drive Bryant into the last leg of his career, his last two titles and final years of dominance, was always festering. He had to become the underdog he was never born to be, the kid with all the breaks who had to finally prove himself as the man amongst men. It was always going to come out; it was just a matter of how and when. There seemed no other release for the relentless hours in the gym, on the court, above the rim or twenty-four feet away and everywhere in between. Every single day.

Somewhere along the way Bryant became cold. He did. And while you may have last seen his death stare on YouTube, eyeing down the owner of a camera aimed at his dining family, the glare was ever-ready on the court for opponents too. The heart-ripping gesture versus the Phoenix Suns in the playoffs, the fist-pumping, full hand salute after his career-defining fifth championship over the Boston Celtics in 2010, the curling scowl that twisted his lips over clenched teeth following a clutch play, or a buzzer-beater or 81 points in a single game. It wasn’t just watching a genius at work, it was revenge.

At some point he embraced the love and hate and saw them as one. He stopped rapping, got tatted and became the Black Mamba under a recharged corporate support team. He became the hero-villain. Yet still, few veterans longed to play with him despite his championship prowess, before and after the back-to-back wins with Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom, Ron Artest and co. That as much as anything may have cut short Bryant’s run. He scared people away with his demonic drive. It was not the way most people did things. He was less diplomatic than Jordan, a ton less charismatic than Shaq and less physically gifted than the new kid LeBron James. What he wasn’t dogged him, as much as what he was.

While it’s true, the second to arise to Jordan comparison prominence – Tracy McGrady – eclipsed much of Bryant’s prime playoff years with some of the best statistical performances of the century, he never threatened as a champion. Besides, it was no match for Bryant’s insane engine, stubbornness and sheer will. The third in line – Vince Carter – whose image laid foreground to the iconic, ear-ringed MJ silhouette on the cover of ESPN The Mag in 2001, turned pretender rather quickly. Carter relinquished leadership with the Toronto Raptors to become a travelling second-in-command man. Soon after injuries took McGrady out of the conversation, much like they’d do to Bryant over the last three years of his career. Ultimately those losses of games robbed him of any chance at Jordanesque lore.

Bryant is Michael Corleone because he climbed the ladder. He wasn’t a slam-dunk draft pick. He was a draft-night trade. He wasn’t the heir apparent. He was a fourth option. He wasn’t a gimme as model spokesman, especially after sexual assault allegations in Colorado, from which he recovered in spectacular fashion. He is The Godfather because he’s been through all the levels and survived. Even the final act of Francis Ford Coppola’s third Godfather film, in basketball parlance, works for his narrative; a survivor left alone among the fruits of his labour, his powers taken long ago by injury and the ferociousness of his youth. Moved on. He’s recalling vaguely… dancing with Phil Jackson, dancing with Odom, with Gasol, or at his greatest, with Shaq. The Big Kate. The ups and downs and the tragedy and victory of it all.

“Friends hang sometimes. Banners hang forever.”

Bryant has shown far too often how willing he has been to pay the price that comes with that code. He dared to unflinchingly exhibit the bravado and kill or be killed mantra that often drives elite athletes, and while we thought it was the thing that made him hard to crack, it was that which was letting us in. In the end, if any athlete has the right to coin that phrase, protect it and hold it down, it’s Bryant. Hell, Michael Corleone died alone in a courtyard, an apple rolling out of his cold dead hand. Kobe dropped 60 in the last game of his career, surrounded by 20,000 people, each shot attempt a last gasp effort against father time. The ball was the apple; the last make was the roll. A cold dead hand drops a mic. Mamba out.

We think different of the dead. We remember them in a much brighter light when they are gone, because in the end, that’s often what shines through all the bullshit. And yet here is Bryant, from the grave, behind Kobe Inc., threatening to undo the sentiment, unafraid to tear it down and start all over again. Ready to risk the goodwill built up over the last two broken years.

Because the new love everybody has for Bryant’s hero-villain is not so much a conversion as it is a conditioning. It’s taken time for you to warm up. It’s why he feels so well suited to begin his next act as a businessman. He’ll leverage the brand and expand, trying to get into the same rare air as the greats, only this time the stakes are even greater. In the business world there is even more cutthroat competition. Just ask Jordan about his ownership experience with the Washington Wizards. Michael endures mostly now because of business not basketball, and his brand continues to cement and fix itself into the fabric of not only North American, but global culture. That is Bryant’s goal too.

You’ll say it’s more of his arrogance, his inability to softly go. You might also say it’s a reminder of why many guys balked at playing with/for Bryant when he may have needed them most, in the end when he wasn’t quite enough. Behind his career-ending, baby-kissing NBA tour, stood the same seething, relentless, heartless Mamba, unable to rely on his supporting cast for one last push, accepting of his fate but unwilling to go soft. You’ll say a lot of things, but you won’t say you’d have it any other way. Because it’s Kobe. There is no other way. There is an ultra-competitive streak combined with a mad man’s work ethic that fuels his obsession. That drive rarely has an off switch. Maybe that’s the biggest reason why there is a Kobe Inc. Why there was so much friction between he and his teammates. Why his people booed him in Philadelphia. Maybe that’s why there was Colorado…

There will be another to soar as Bryant once did. There always is. But manners change, and Bryant’s was of a frictious and scarring nature in the heat of battle, one not so often seen. His old school knuckle-drag was a direct contradiction to the ass-slap happy NBA of today, and the discipline behind that approach seems less encouraged now. In many ways Bryant led his generation as the bridge era, the gap fillers between gods and the gatekeepers. Players have never had so much power in the NBA as they do now, and it was Kobe’s generation that ushered in the absurd money of today.

Dude rode helicopters to work. You might say that’s so L.A. but it’s not like everybody did it. Bryant did. It’s part of what reminded us that he was living on a different level, and the coziness Kobe often exuded behind his luxuries sometimes felt like he was rubbing it in. Kobe still rides in helicopters but the ride is different that it was all those years ago. There is less smugness, more matter-of-factness. It seems necessary now. As if it always was.

This is about the next level of legacy, one even harder to achieve than the accolades he piled up as a player. In another life, Bryant came admirably close to his Airiness. Expect no less an effort in the next.

When it comes to basketball – the foundation of whatever he does next – it’s doubtful anybody chooses to do it the way Bryant did it. That’s what’s gone; his relentless chase of glory no matter the cost or personal sacrifice, with an on-court callousness and off-court sway completely orbited around winning. He did it by navigating a dimly lit, unkempt path through the treacherous brush of fame and fortune and most importantly, game. Along that path came some of the brightest moments the NBA has ever seen, but they were made so in part by the darkness and coldness he embraced while walking that seldom travelled way.

 


Our #NoCountryForOldMen series depicts aging gunslingers of the NBA, and their journey out to pasture away from the game. Catch it all season long at Press Basketball.

Press Basketball is a sports news organization that brings the old school mentality of the press room to the new age of sports media. Past the gloss and the stat lines lies a game that we all love and Press Basketball wants to remind you why. Featuring video programming, podcasts, written articles, and a community driven social platform, Press Basketball aims to be the “go to” outlet for basketball news in the new age of media.

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Lonzo Ball: The New Face of the Lakers

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Lonzo Ball is the new face of the Los Angeles Lakers franchise. The new savior. The Big Baller Brand is now here to stay and LaVar Ball’s family’s future is set. But is that enough?

Lonzo Ball is a great kid and athlete who knows his talent will take him to another level. The major question mark that remains is whether or not he will take the Lakers there as well. He has the platform and skillset to do so, but with that comes the added pressure from the city and league to basically become part of the next version of Kobe and Shaq. It’s too strainful for a young kid—a rookie—to achieve.  

Magic Johnson, the recently named President of Basketball of Operations for the Lakers, is taking an aggressive approach to get this team back into playoff contention his first year in. One of his first moves was sending D’Angelo Russell and Timofey Mozgov to the Brooklyn Nets for Brook Lopez and the 27th overall pick. Brook Lopez is definitely an upgrade at center, but has a couple of years already under his belt.   

Lopez will provide a much needed veteran presence with a great IQ for the game at his position. The only downfall is that a couple of years under his belt doesn’t really transfer to great experience, but simply wasted miles on his body. He isn’t as quick as he used to be and doesn’t even rank in the top 10 centers in the league. In fact, Bleacher Report had him last season at exactly 15 out of the top 30 centers in the NBA. While he is has improved by adding the three-point range to his arsenal, there is no doubt that he is nearly past his prime, and although he can still contribute on a nightly basis, who knows how much and what effect it will have with Lonzo Ball running the point.  

Ball has great court vision that has been often compared to that of LeBron James. Combined with his passing skills, he is a true PG with tremendous upside in the backcourt. With that being said, he will only reach a certain extent. His full potential is years from being maximized and people are buying into it early on. In fact, the pressure for him to lift a sub .500 team to the playoffs for the first time in five years is daunting. 

These are Lonzo Ball’s stats during his rookie—and only—year at UCLA: 

  • 14.6 Points
  • 7.6 Assists
  • 6.0  Rebounds
  • 1.8 Steals
  • 0.8 Blocks
  • 55.1 FG%
  • 41.2 3P%

He did a tremendous job maintaining that statline and even added a triple-double in the NBA Summer League, earning him the Summer League MVP.  

Don’t get me wrong, Ball seems ready for the challenge and is definitely a one-of-a-kind talent mirroring that of Steve Nash and Jason Kidd, but he is not an All-Star or MVP—at least, not yet. These way-too-early predictions that he is the Lakers’ new savior are farfetched. He has yet to face the elite NBA offensive threats and superstars that have been at it for 10-plus years. Defensively speaking he will not be able to keep up. Not in his first year. He still needs NBA experience and a more rounded roster to be able to reach the playoffs.  

He is off to a good start, but being named NBA Summer League MVP doesn’t necessarily mean a spectacular season is coming as some think it does. Especially if you consider the previous Summer League MVP winners.

Year Nat. Player Pos. Team
2012 Damian Lillard (co-MVPs) PG Portland Trail Blazers
Josh Selby (co-MVPs) PG Memphis Grizzlies
2013 Jonas Valančiūnas C Toronto Raptors
2014 Glen Rice Jr. SG Washington Wizards
2015 Kyle Anderson SF San Antonio Spurs
2016 Tyus Jones PG Minnesota Timberwolves
2017 Lonzo Ball PG Los Angeles Lakers

With the exceptions of Damian Lillard in 2012 and Jonas Valanciunas in 2013, the past five Summer League MVP winners have gone on to produce very mediocre NBA careers. All I’m saying is, don’t read too much into NBA Summer League. It’s the pre-preseason that no one really watches or cares about.  

The NBA season is nearing—exactly a month away—and my somewhat harsh criticism of Lonzo Ball isn’t too cruel. I am just not ready to jump on the Ball bandwagon following LaVar’s prophecies of his son being the Lakers prodigal son. He won’t be. Again, at least not yet. He needs to earn his spot and the transition will surprise him his first year in. It will hit him hard, but, despite my concerns, eventually Lonzo Ball will become a future NBA All-Star and a daring NBA point guard.  

Not yet though, and until then all we can do is prepare for his official NBA debut. Until then, we can enjoy and bask in his newly released rap single paying tribute to his little brother LaMelo Ball.  

If the NBA doesn’t end up being his calling in life, at least he has a back up career in mind.

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MELO-dy Cool

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Carmelo Anthony has been traded away from the New York Knickerbockers to the Oklahoma City Thunder.

You probably knew this before you laid eyes on these words.

It honestly doesn’t matter much who the Thunder traded away for “Melo” and who the Knicks received, because they weren’t anywhere near Melo’s overall value. But, it matters that Melo himself is gone and away from New York City, and for all his accolades, he honestly had a major part to play in his exodus.

Melo altogether is a player that both outplayed and underplayed his own potential. No one that saw him at Oak Hill Academy as a high schooler could for-sure say that he’d be a superstar, and everyone that saw him at Syracuse University might say he was a can’t-miss by then.

And he didn’t miss on most of what he’s teased, he’s delivered in a lot of ways; but, the reason why he didn’t work out in New York was because he was selfish to a fault in the key places that required compromise.

Do you remember how he got to Kings County in the first place? He forced a trade to the Knicks from his then-Denver Nuggets, a team that was teasing with talent abundant, but not unlike today, stuck in the mighty Western Conference. With title contenders like the San Antonio Spurs and Los Angeles Lakers at that time of the NBA, the 2010–2011 season, the Nuggets just weren’t going to make the noise they wanted to make. Melo was a free agent-to-be at the completion of that season, and it was likely that he’d leave. His time with the Nuggets, a very successful time, had run its course. The change was coming, and he was catalyst to the change he wanted to see in his world. Nothing wrong with that.

The problem was that Melo didn’t want to wait for New York. He wanted New York then and there, and it didn’t matter how it was going to happen.

It didn’t matter that the Knicks weren’t in a position to compete for a title during that season, something he long wanted to bring to New York upon his eventual arrival.

It didn’t matter that the Knicks would have to gut their team’s best assets in a trade for the Brooklyn-born, Baltimore-raised native. It didn’t matter that if he waited until the season was over, he could be playing with a young and promising Danilo Gallinari, Timofey Mozgov (a revelation upon his arrival to the States from Russia), amongst others.

It didn’t matter that the Knicks would have to sacrifice draft picks for him, instead of keeping them upon signing later.

It didn’t matter to Melo.

And so, when he arrived in New York, in early 2011, he received the adulation and praise of a prodigal son. Sure, the team lost some valuable talent and depth, but surely Melo would will the Knicks into wild success — just like he did in Denver, right?

And sure enough, after he rebuked the Linsanity of 2012 when Jeremy Lin became an overnight NBA superstar and balked at the prospect of Lin’s resigning, he gained some success.

The 2012–2013 season saw Melo as the closest thing to being an MVP candidate that anyone had ever seen from him as a professional in an 82-game season, but not before being totally indifferent to former head coach Mike D’Antoni’s wishes for him to play more at power forward to stretch the offensive side of the ball for the Knicks and the defenses of the opposing league teams. D’Antoni quit before the end of the 2011–2012 season, because of Melo’s loathsome resistance to D’Antoni and the coach’s embrace of Lin.

A big aspect of Melo’s failure to bring glory to Manhattan was his resistance to doing what has made him a legend in USA Basketball. Having won multiple gold medals as a stretch-four shooter, that he refused to embrace that positioning as an NBA pro limited the ability of his teams to win.

As a four, Melo, who had gained grown-man weight from natural maturity and strength and conditioning, didn’t have to be the cavity in his team’s defense as he struggled as a man-to-man defender. Moving from his formerly-natural small forward slot could allow him to defend more ably and allow someone more fleet of foot to stop the dominant wings that Melo often matched up against. Becoming something different and better in a new place would’ve allowed him the opportunity to be greater than anyone had known him to be in an NBA uniform.

But, he refused and rebuked such a change.

And one last thing: Injuries and front office politics aside, Melo was loyal to the Knicks organization through and through. But, he had a choice to go.

So, to recap, Melo forced a trade to New York that gutted the talent of the roster, and then he refused to change to a position that would behoove him and the team in the journey to championship gain.

Well, he also had a chance to leave for greener pastures and become a Chicago Bull, where he could experience more success with a front office committed to his development and surrounding talent. He didn’t want to do that, and that’s fair. New York was home, but if he was going to win in New York, seeing as to how being the way that he’d always been wasn’t helping — that is shoot-first, ask questions and defend later — why return to The Big Apple if you aren’t going to change?

He saw what being a score-only wing was giving his teams — it gave his teams very little success for the vast majority of 14 years. Sure, his Nuggets and Knicks made the playoffs (not so much New York) much of the time, but he said he wasn’t playing for that.

In the end, Melo and the Knicks not working out could be seen before he even became a Knick, when Melo stomped his way out of Denver to play immediately for New York when it would’ve behooved him to stay put for two more months.

Championship or bust, they say.

He couldn’t really compromise too well for the chip, it appears.

In the end, Carmelo Anthony — despite years of league-leading jersey sales, runway appearances, and bright lights on the New York City streets with LaLa — was a big, fat, shining, New York bust.

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Reloaded Raptors Banking on Young Guns

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Masai Ujiri is a smart guy.

No matter which conference your team is in, you’re either stuck with the issue of figuring out how to combat/wait out the Warriors, or you’re stuck with the issue of figuring out how to combat/wait out LeBron James. For Ujiri’s Raptors, the latter is the elephant in the room. So when the offseason came, the club had some decisions to make that would indicate the direction of the franchise’s future, both immediate and long-term.

Ujiri and Toronto GM Bobby Webster were somehow able to re-sign Kyle Lowry for a three-year deal instead of the five years that Lowry desired, and then managed the same with Serge Ibaka. This effectively put the Raptors on a three-year timeline until the next big shift in the franchise. For these upcoming three years, the Raps will stay competitive with their tried-and-tested core, and they will simultaneously cultivate young talent around their stars.

It’s a great formula. LeBron is going to be 33 years old this December, and by the time Lowry and Ibaka’s contracts are up, he will be entering the twilight stage of his career. Suddenly, the East could be wide open again. Ujiri knows it, and he wants to be ready for it.

But what about the present? The Raptors lost a couple of their veteran role players this summer in the re-signing of their core, including Patrick Patterson (an advanced analytics darling), and P.J. Tucker (a terrific perimeter defender). The team also traded away DeMarre Carroll—who was never able to return to his Atlanta peak—to Brooklyn in order to shed his contract, as well as Cory Joseph to Indiana, who snagged them sharpshooter C.J. Miles—swiftly signed to a three-year deal, no less—as a return.

These changes have left the Raps with a squad that, outside of the starting lineup, is quite young. None of their bench players have played more than three seasons in the NBA, and their total average age is about 23 years old. A number of them have yet to see significant minutes, with Norman Powell, Delon Wright, Pascal Siakam, and newcomer K.J. McDaniels being the exceptions.

The regular season is a marathon, not a sprint, and the keys to racking up wins in order to put yourself in a good position come playoff time are chemistry and consistency à la the Spurs. If the Raptors are to continue their regular season success of the last few years, then they’ll need their young guns to step into formerly veteran roles and rise to the challenge.

Thankfully, a few of them already seem prepared to break out and have impactful seasons. Both Powell and Wright gave the team some fantastic minutes last year, especially in the playoffs. Norm in particular was a standout, putting the league on notice with his athleticism and tough defensive play. He was part of the best lineup the Raptors had in the postseason (a +5.3), and the team’s offensive rating shot up from 101.7 to 107.9 when he was on the floor compared to when he wasn’t.

In the first round against the Bucks, Powell went for 55/91/92 per cent shooting, averaging 12.4 points per game and torching his opponents. He was a key cog in helping the Raptors win that series and fully earned Dwane Casey’s trust, which is not an easy thing to do for a young player.

Wright didn’t get quite as much time to shine with CoJo being the primary backup point guard, but when he was on the floor he scrapped defensively and showed in flashes that he was able to run the team. His length and effort have been the two most noticeable qualities when watching him so far, and his nose-to-the-grindstone mentality is one that Casey must love.

Siakam is another high-energy guy, and good for a few minutes a game, although playing him for a substantial amount of time isn’t a great idea since he’s undersized and a below-average rebounder. Jakob Poeltl should get more run, and like Wright—though less frequently—he showed instances of strong play, both on the boards and around the basket.

Perhaps the two most interesting youngsters are the newcomers: Raptors 2017 draft pick OG Anunoby and K.J. McDaniels. Anunoby has been touted as an excellent defender, a grinder, and he already has an NBA body that should allow him to guard multiple positions on the floor. Unfortunately, he’s recovering from an ACL tear and therefore it’s possible he doesn’t even play this season. Still, this is the kind of player you get excited for as a fan and as a coach—he’ll likely be impactful right away, at least in one aspect.

As for McDaniels, he’s spent time bouncing around the league during his three seasons. He’s already played for Philadelphia, Houston, and Brooklyn, and has never had a chance to get comfortable. He’s another player with defensive potential—he’s got some pretty sweet block highlights—but has yet to find any sort of consistent shooting. If he can’t show Toronto something this season, he may be on the move again.

And finally, as we ask every year, is this the season when Bruno Caboclo breaks loose and starts going Brazilian Kevin Durant on the rest of the league? My answer: Unlikely. It may be hard to believe, but Bruno is still one of the youngest guys on the team at 21 years old. His time in the D-League—now the G League—can only be good for him, but his scoring dropped off significantly last season compared to the year prior, when he was putting up double-figure numbers almost every game. There’s still a lot of time left for Bruno to prove himself, and as such it’s tough to imagine that time being this season.

It’s difficult—though intriguing—trying to judge a group of players who don’t have an extensive NBA resume as of yet (I feel for you, Philly fans). Even if one has seen a player be productive in spurts, it’s impossible to know whether or not they’ll be capable of handling a bigger role long-term without actually seeing it. For the Raptors in particular, Powell is probably the only young player that the team has a good grasp on.

So let the experiment begin. Out of the frying pan and into the fire.

And remember: It’s all part of the three-year plan.

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