As you approach certain points in your Life, occasionally things that worked at optimal level no longer function in the same way.
Having turned the page on another chapter in my existence recently only served to reinforce what was readily evident to me before:
Spending time in quiet reflection and in appreciation of the love and respect shown on my special day, I luxuriated in the notion that, though it seems I possess more past than future, The Moment needed embracing so much more than thoughts of former glories or potential new ones.
How had I gotten here?
Not asking how I got to Toronto; that is an entirely different conversation.
The question is rooted more in how I had arrived at the point in my Life where re-calibration wasn’t necessarily seen as a major overhaul, but more a tune up for continued prosperity and stability.
I do recall, however, the first time I was in the city as an adult doing something with basketball, it was in 1995 and this guy was donning Raptor purple.
A season later and with another number one draft pick in tow, the 1996 College Player of the Year, Marcus Camby, the potential for greatness was being built.
The future looked bright for the young expansion franchise north of the 49th Parallel.
At least that’s how the story was supposed to go, according to some.
Injuries, spotty coaching, lax leadership and the top players looking for an out seemed to damn the Dinos.
But after drafting a sleepy-eyed prep star named Tracy McGrady in the team’s third draft and subsequently acquiring T-Mac’s similarly explosive and talented cousin Vincent Lamar Carter two drafts later, could that bright future originally promised on selecting Stoudemire and Camby finally become realized in the short life of the organization?
The turn of the century brought the Raptors its inaugural playoff visit, albeit brief, getting swept in the first round.
Free agency led to T-Mac finding his stride as an NBA star in his home state with the Orlando Magic, leaving Carter to fend for himself against GraduationGate.
In 2001, Vince’s decision to walk the stage as he earned his diploma at UNC was seen as problematic.
It was on that very same day he and the Raps were to face Allen Iverson’s Philadelphia 76ers in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semis with the organization’s first ever conference final on the line.
Carter’s last second missed jumper set off a vitriolic storm of controversy about his priorities and where they ultimately rested.
That game marked the start of the ending for Half Man/Half Amazing’s run and relationship with the T-Dot, the country of Canada and her fans, whose sons fantasized of being like the man who literally made professional basketball visible and viable in the Great White North.
The Christopher Wesson Bosh Era was marked by Sam Mitchell’s NBA Coach Of The Year, matching the team’s season wins benchmark to date of 47, an alleged wrasslin’ match with Vince Carter and two relatively resistance-free first round playoff exits, including one at the hands of Carter, who was then a New Jersey Net.
After just over fifteen years of existence and relative futility, the Raptors hired former Dallas Mavericks assistant coach Dwane Casey, a defensive guru who had just helped bottle up LeBron James and the Miami Heat for the Mavs’ lone title the year previous.
A season later, Toronto lured 2013 Executive of the Year Masai Ujiri from the Denver Nuggets and back across the border as their new General Manager.
Little did many know a true culture change was imminent.
All-Stars are made in the regular season.
Superstars are made in the postseason.
It is an adage to which I have firmly adhered in my thinking, writing and audio-visual commentary on the NBA over the years.
It hasn’t changed.
And as great as the Raptors All-Star backcourt and best friend duo of Kyle Lowry and DeMar Darnell DeRozan have been over these past four regular seasons in leading the Raps to the playoffs each of those years, their performances have been grossly underwhelming in the postseason.
In the team’s initial visit to the playoffs under Coach Casey, a first round 4-3 loss to the Brooklyn Nets, fronted by the ancient Kevin Maurice Garnett and Paul Anthony Pierce in 2014 was the end result.
Getting cooked 4-0 in the first round in 2015 by the Washington Wizards and previously mentioned proven playoff performer in Pierce, alliteration game aside, didn’t help comfort fans or players on the team’s direction or potential, either.
Were the Raps simply happy to make the playoffs?
Would merely making it to the “real season” be justification enough to continue growing ‘the culture’, retaining Dwane Casey, who, despite the squad’s steady improvement each year under his guidance, seemed to always be on the hot seat and in a lame duck situation as coach?
Did the Raptors jump the line in 2016 by making it to the Eastern Conference Final vs. the Cleveland Cavaliers without a history of progressive series victories?
Their most recent playoff appearances seemed to suggest so.
But in doing that, perhaps an unfair expectation was heaped upon a team and a country thirsty for success in a sport whose inventor was a native son.
Perhaps the 2017 NBA Playoffs would offer hope and maybe answers to the contrary.
The roster, now bolstered with the power forward long coveted by Ujiri in Serge Ibaka and fellow midseason acquisition in the rugged, defensive minded Anthony Leon Tucker, Jr., was perhaps at its strongest level in history.
Adding Ibaka and Tucker to one of the top teams in the league would certainly spell success for Toronto against other Eastern powers, right?
The necessary variables were all there.
DeRozan and Lowry, steady vet Cory Joseph, a young man with seemingly no country in today’s NBA in Jonas Valanciunas and possibly the lone misstep in Masai Ujiri’s reign as front office bawse in DeMarre Carroll, looked to be the franchise’s most rounded and well-balanced from the start.
Though the Raptors escaped after an opening round series win in six games over a rapidly improving Milwaukee Bucks squad, facing the defending NBA champion Cleveland Cavaliers would prove revealing, cathartic and maybe even prophetic.
After getting washed in the 2017 conference semifinal 4-0, losing once again to the Cavs, huge decisions are on the horizon for this team.
Some of these decisions will be second guessed and derided as the Raptors have never known this level of prosperity and stability; some will be applauded.
All of them will be tough.
Before the 2014-2015 campaign, Kyle Lowry was the first major free agent to re-sign in a place long eschewed by top flight free agents as a destination location based on perceptions and hard realities about weather, taxes and outright fallacies.
Ujiri believed Lowry to be the man with whom he’d help to establish the Raptors’ winning culture.
He gambled correctly.
Four consecutive playoff appearances, multiple All-Star selections for both Lowry and DeRozan and an engaged fan base are all results of that trust.
I’ve been quoted saying “In Masai, you must trust!” on occasion.
The man has done a masterful job in the establishing a winning and pervasive culture in Toronto.
Adroitly moving albatross contracts of Andrea Bargnani and Rudy Gay to effectively hand the reign of the team to his budding backcourt along with other less newsworthy moves was key.
But now with the spectre of offering Lowry his Lifetime Achievement contract of 5 years at $200 million-plus, despite being on the wrong side of 31 with a worrisome injury history, is in plain sight.
Re-signing Ibaka and Tucker to big deals aside, the Lowry package alone could potentially lead to the kind of roster and cap inflexibility eventually signalling a nuclear winter for pro hoops in Canada for quite some time.
Adjust and amend slightly to stay relevant; good but never “great”?
Blow it up, moving your best assets and hope the fans stick with you?
Stripes on Ujiri’s executive management uniform signal that he has earned the stroke with Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment to govern the Raptors’ future as he sees fit.
It’s a pretty safe bet he will.
I’m also looking at next steps in my Life.
The world and its prospects seem to get smaller as you get older… if you let them.
Knowing that forever will my altitude be determined by my attitude and action brings me solace and comfort in an uncertain world.
I’ve long despised phrases like:
“IT’S TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE!”
“ALL GOOD THINGS MUST COME TO AN END!”
When you ask those who allow the words to exit their blabberboxes a simple one-word question:
They never seem to have a sensible answer.
To live through what you love is a blessing.
Sometimes, the cost comes in the form of time, effort and the loss of friends and loved ones who may not necessarily share your enthusiasm and optimistic outlook on achieving beyond your wildest dreams.
I am a huge proponent of planning your work so that you can work your plan.
But at this point in my Life, maybe Today is the tomorrow I dreamt about yesterday… and now I am living it, through my work and passions.
My born day offered me a reset on my Life’s direction.
What I choose ultimately might not be liked by anyone.
I can live with the weight of my choices.
“EVEN THE SUN GOES DOWN
HEROES EVENTUALLY DIE…
HOROSCOPES OFTEN LIE…
AND SOMETIMES “Y”…
NOTHIN’ IS FOR SURE…
NOTHIN’ IS FOR CERTAIN…
NOTHIN’ LASTS FOREVER,
BUT UNTIL THEY CLOSE THE CURTAIN…”
– Dre3Stax, AQUEMINI
As long as they keep on readin’,watchin’ and listenin’, imma keep on doin’.
Until we reconnect in text again, keep doing what’s Popular with the Population…
Lonzo Ball: The New Face of the Lakers
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.
|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.
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.
New York has agreed to a deal to send Carmelo Anthony to OKC for Enes Kanter, Doug McDermott and a draft pick, league sources tell ESPN.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) September 23, 2017
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.
Reloaded Raptors Banking on Young Guns
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.
BIGS N smalls | The Break | Episode 11
Christmas Day Showdowns | The Break | Episode 10
Dads & Draft Picks | The Break | Episode 9
Progression is Power: On Social Justice in the NBA
Detroit Pistons talk with Duncan Smith — TWT 107
Christmas Day Showdowns | The Break | Episode 10
BIGS N smalls | The Break | Episode 11
Christmas Day Showdowns | The Break | Episode 10
Western Conference Preview | The Break | Episode 1
Eastern Conference Preview | The Break | Episode 2
NBA & More Mailbag with Josh Howe — TWT 102
Memphis Grizzlies Season Preview with Keith Parish — TWT 101
Lonzo Ball: The New Face of the Lakers
Lonzo Ball is the new face of the Los Angeles Lakers franchise. The new savior. The Big Baller Brand is...
Carmelo Anthony has been traded away from the New York Knickerbockers to the Oklahoma City Thunder. You probably knew this...
Reloaded Raptors Banking on Young Guns
Masai Ujiri is a smart guy. No matter which conference your team is in, you’re either stuck with the issue...
Jamal Murray: Maestro in the Making
It’s been four years since the Denver Nuggets have made the NBA playoffs. The last time the Nuggets were playing...
Nikos Galis: The Greatest Greek To Ever Do It
When you grow up Greek, you get the entire culture instilled into your veins. From the stubbornness that flows with...
Fantasy Tips from a Man Who Played One Year and Lost
Let me set the scene for you: A cutthroat, 10-team head-to-head league with a zero dollar buy-in, and a few...
Talking LA Clippers with Tom West — TWT 99
Hey there, and welcome to another episode of Timeout with Ti. Last time out on episode 98, I (Ti Windisch)...
G-League Expansion Draft Breakdown with Chris Reichert — TWT 98
Hey there, and welcome to another episode of the Timeout with Ti podcast. On episode 97, I (Ti Windisch) sat...
The Various Paths of the “Other Antetokounmpos”
Giannis Antetokounmpo. It’s crazy to think in four NBA seasons, the raw prospect from Greece blistered into the game’s most...
The Basketball Gods are in the Details: An Analysis of the Cavaliers/Celtics Trade
It has been a relatively quiet August, even for an NBA offseason. That all changed last night, when it was...