NBA Season Preview: Toronto Raptors

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bargnani.jpgLast season: 40-42, and a late-season meltdown kept them out of the playoffs. (If you need to add that to your Chris Bosh hate fuel in Toronto, so be it.)

Head Coach: Jay Triano, and despite the loss in talent you can be sure his seat is getting a little warm. (So is GM Bryan Colangelo’s seat, this is the last season of his deal and he is feeling the pressure to win now, which is not great for rebuilding.)

Key Departures: I don’t know if you heard, but Chris Bosh left to head to Miami. That might have made the news. But other guys lost include Hedo Turkoglu (Raptors fans were not crying over that one), Marco Belinelli, Antoine Wright, Rasho Nesterovic,

Key Additions: Linas Kleiza, Leandro Barbosa, Julian Wright and Ed Davis.

Best case scenario: Toronto doesn’t embarrass itself, that it puts out a respectable team with some pieces to build on.

For that to happen: The Raptors need what we all have been waiting for — the real Andrea Bargnani. The blossoming of potential and hype into a player who lead a team in scoring, who can be an All-Star level player. We’re not sure that this version of Bargnani actually exists, it’s more of a Yeti — something of legend people only catch glimpses of out of the corner of their eye.

This season the excuses are gone — Chris Bosh and Sam Mitchell are gone. Bargnani has to step up now. Late last season when Bosh was out and defenses turned their attention to Bargnani he wilted. This is his time, for the Raptors sake that can’t happen again.

Linas Kleiza and Leandro Barbosa will need to prove they were more than just the role players they were given a chance to be before. Kleiza looked it during the World Championships, but proving it on an NBA level will be harder.

Also, the youth need to step forward and prove they can ball. DeMar DeRozan looked great during Summer League, and Sonny Weems shows potential as well. Jarret Jack to be steady.

Also, the Raptors need to play some semblance of defense.

More likely the Raptors will: Have nights of utter embarrassment and other nights where they look like they have something. They are going to get crushed in the paint and on the boards this season, and it’s hard to consistently win in this league when that is the case.

This season is about starting the rebuilding process, seeing what you’ve got and what works. Start reshaping the roster as you look for the next star you need. See if Bargnani really is a guy you can trust or not, them move accordingly. See if Kleiza can be a steady scorer, if DeRozan can take the next step or three. Jettison the pieces that don’t work and try new ones.

Hopefully Toronto will use all that youth and speed to get out and run. To get some easy buckets in transition. Their defense will keep them from being good, but they can be entertaining at least.

Prediction: 23 wins. It’s going to be ugly for a couple years, just try to keep focused on the big picture. Then hope that starts to come together.

Kobe, LeBron, other NBA players react to President Trump’s stunning speech

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When President Donald Trump doubled-down on his support of the white supremacists and neo-Nazis who conducted a racist rally in Charlottesville, making a false moral equivalency with protestors of racism, it had television news anchors stunned, drew condemnation from both sides of the political aisle, and left most Americans queasy.

Count NBA players among those disgusted by the president’s comments.

That includes Kobe Bryant and LeBron James.

(Note: As part of that press conference, Trump said he owns one of the largest wineries in the nation right near Charlottesville.)

On Monday and earlier Tuesday — before the president’s latest salvo of stupidity but after the “unite the right” rally to “protect” a statue of a man who fought to keep slavery in place, where violence the protesters courted broke out and left one woman, Heather Heyer, dead — the Bucks’ Jabari Parker took part in an anti-racism rally, and LeBron had said this about Charlotte and moving the country forward.

Chris Paul had this to say before the latest press conference.

Maybe the only good thing to come of all this, you can now own a T-shirt of vintage Team USA Vince Carter dunking over Trump.

Report: Grizzlies about to hire Tayshaun Prince for front office job

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Tayshaun Prince spent 14 years in the NBA as a long, defensive minded wing, one of the early “3&D” guys but one who, in his prime, could be more than that. He won a ring in Detroit in 2004 and was a four-time NBA All-Defense selection.

Now he’s stepping into the front office.

The Grizzlies, one of his former teams, is about to hire him, reports Ronald Tillery of the Memphis Commercial Appeal.

Retired forward Tayshaun Prince will soon be named special assistant to Grizzlies general manager Chris Wallace, according to several NBA sources…

Prince is widely considered a big influence in NBA locker rooms and operated as a calming voice with Grizzlies players.

The Grizzlies believe Prince will bring a unique voice to front office decisions.

Prince came to the Grizzlies in the Rudy Gay trade and made a real impression there — and elsewhere — as a locker room leader and rational voice. He was in the NBA until last season.

This could and should be a good hire for a Grizzlies team transitioning out of the “grit n’ grind” era (albeit slowly, they could still bring Tony Allen back). The best GMs don’t go it alone but get information and perspectives from a lot of sources, and a high IQ former player would be a good one.

Watch LeBron James, Kevin Durant, and Carmelo Anthony ball in a summer pickup game

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While a lot of you goobers have just been sitting here pining for the release of the 2017-18 NBA schedule, this is what I’ve been waiting for.

In videos posted to social media this week, trainer Chris Brickley — the guy Phil Jackson made answer just three questions in an interview for the New York Knicks — showed us what players like LeBron James, Kevin Durant, and Carmelo Anthony look like in summer pickup games.

It’s not a full NBA game of course, but it is a game of basketball featuring NBA players. Give me that any day in mid-August.

Via Instagram:

Sweat Now, Shine Later‼️ @carmeloanthony // @academy.basketball // 📸 @victory

A post shared by Chris Brickley (@cbrickley603) on

I love summer but my Twitter feed is all NFL preseason as of late. There’s nothing that makes you miss the NBA regular season more than that.

Training camp can’t get here soon enough.

Jabari Parker at anti-racism rally: “We all came here to build, not to destroy”

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Events at a racist rally in Charlottesville, VA made national headlines this week after significant violence broke out and one woman, Heather Heyer, was killed after a car ran her over. The “Unite the Right” rally and subsequent coverage illustrated the continued rise of the alt-right and neo-Nazism in America, and the NBA has not turned a blind eye to the news. Stars like LeBron James have spoken out about the need to join together and find individual responsibility on a daily basis for bettering our world.

Milwaukee Bucks forward Jabari Parker is one of the NBA players that have also taken to public discourse on the subject. During an anti-racism rally in Salt Lake City on Monday, Parker spoke to the crowd about his own struggles and diverse background.

Parker said he would be doing a disservice to his own people if he didn’t come to the rally to support their cause.

In part, here’s what Parker had to say, via the Salt Lake Tribune:

“Good evening, everybody. I know a lot of you guys already know me, but I play in the NBA for the Milwaukee Bucks.

“I just want to give you guys a brief background on me. My mom, she’s from Tonga. My dad is [inaudible]. My best friend is Jewish. My uncle is gay. I could go on and on. I came from welfare, government cheese.

“I would be doing a disservice for my people if I didn’t come here today. So I’m here to speak for diversity. I’m diverse. It’s in my DNA. I love my culture. I love you.

It’s great to see more NBA players step out like this and support against the rise of mobilized political racism, white supremacy, and anti-American neo-Nazism. Big kudos to Parker, hopefully his example will help lead the way for his contemporaries.