Toronto Raptors v Denver Nuggets

When the lockout ends, the Raptors need to…


This is the latest installment of PBT’s series of “What your team should do when the lockout ends.” Up next is the Miami Heat. You can also check out our thoughts on other NBA teams here as we work our way through all 30 squads.

Last Season: Honestly, it could have been a lot worse. I understand that’s going to come as no consolation to Raptors fans who had to sit through a season with no defense yet again, where the team’s biggest star is the fans’ least favorite (Andrea Bargnani), and who never capitalized on the space gained from Chris Bosh’s rapid departure. But really, it could have been much worse.

The Raptors were simply a non-factor last season, and it wasn’t really anything surprising. You knew they would be bad defensively, and they were. Primarily, the players caught the heat for that. At no point was the blame directed at Jay Triano, despite the fact that system has more of an effect on NBA defense than personnel nearly every time. But there was a lot to hate about this team. Bargnani struggled with double teams and continued to be horrid defensively, at least as a help defender. (Research shows Bargnani’s actually pretty decent at man defense, but don’t tell Raptors fans, they’ll throw things at you.) Jose Calderon was overpaid still even if he contributed as much as he could. Amir Johnson was Amir Johnson and not the revelation many hoped he would be. Johnson was better at the things he’s bad at but not much better at the things he’s good at. Jerryd Bayless provided a spark but got lost in the mass and perhaps the most promising player was DeMar DeRozan.

Since we last saw the Raptors: Well, they hired an NBA champion assistant coach, for starters. Triano was lifted from the head coaching position and into a consultant role by Bryan Colangelo, while Dwane Casey was brought in. Casey is expected to bring in the defense he helped oversee in Dallas and focus on changing the culture of the Raptors. Speaking of Colangelo, the big guy was given an extension which almost no one understood as he has seemingly perpetuated the problems in Toronto with personnel and strategic decision making. The Raptors drafted Jonas Valanciunas who is expected to be the big tough center Bargnani never was, and there’s talk of Bargnani moving to power forward, since moving him is nearly impossible with the extension granted to him in 2010. Valanciunas won’t be available until the 2012-2013 season, however, due to his overseas contract.

The Raptors clear a ton of cap space this season, and a possible amnesty clause could have dramatic effects for them. Leandro Barbosa exercised his option before the lockout and is owed $8 million. But the Raptors will be clearing a lot of excess.

When the lockout ends, the Raptors need to:  Make sure there’s an amnesty clause. The Raptors aren’t in the worst shape financially. But an amnesty clause could do wonders for them. You’ll find a good discussion of their options for the amnesty clause here. Most notably, and this is tough for me to say, they need to find a way to rid themselves of Andrea Bargnani.

I’m a Bargnani guy. I think guys that can score from the 4-5 spot are rare in this league, and despite his terrible tendencies defensively, I don’t see a player beyond hope. I think with Dwane Casey working with him and beside Valanciunas, he could redeem himself for years of apparent apathy and laziness. But the Raptors fans I hear from are simply done with him. They want nothing more to do with him, they don’t want him to be the face of the franchise, and he is, by any and all measure, drastically overpaid. If it’s the amnesty, it’s probably going to Calderon. But Calderon will be movable in 2012. So will Amir Johnson. Barbosa might even be dumpable in a sign-and-release deal at the deadline. But Bargnani is anchored to Toronto due to his contract. He deserves a fresh start somewhere and Raptors fans deserve a reprieve from their frustrations with him.

From there, it’s just about building up. DeMar DeRozan has to make the leap this season. Not start to, he’s got to make it. Otherwise, the Raptors need to move him and aim for a draft pick in this year’s insanely good draft to nab a premier wing. Ed Davis showed a lot of promise, and the Raptors need to determine what they have with him. Casey needs to be supported in his efforts to bring in defensive personnel to reshape the identity of the team and the Raptors need to get to work on forgetting who they’ve been and trying to be something wholly different.

Pizza and soccer on agenda for Celtics on trip to Italy

Perry Jones III, Malcolm Miller, James Young, Jordan Mickey
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MILAN (AP) — After a couple of days in Milan, Isaiah Thomas‘ Italian experience is still lacking a certain something.

“I’m waiting on some pizza,” said a laughing Thomas, who used to do commercials for a regional pizza franchise when he played for the Sacramento Kings. “The place we went to last night didn’t have no pizza so hopefully tonight we go somewhere I can order some pizza for real.”

This trip isn’t just about culinary experiences, though. The Celtics are in Milan to play an exhibition game against Olimpia Milano on Tuesday before traveling to Spain to play Real Madrid as part of the NBA Global Games.

Ahead of the team’s practice session on Sunday, Thomas was also looking forward to his first soccer match, as the Celtics headed to San Siro later for AC Milan’s home match against Napoli in the Italian league – after an afternoon trip to nearby Lake Como.

“That’s going to be fun,” Thomas told The Associated Press at the Celtics’ first practice in Italy. “I’m excited about that. I’ve never been to a soccer match, to have my first soccer match be in Italy is going to be nice.”

Teammate Marcus Smart said the trip was also an important bonding experience for a young roster with plenty of new pieces. They went for a players-only meal in Milan on Saturday night.

“We had a good time with each other,” Smart said. “No phones, so everyone was talking to one other. It was good overall fun.

“We understand the severity of this trip, it is a business trip but at the same time not many people get this chance to travel like we do so we understand its business but we’re here to have fun at the same time.”

Coach Brad Stevens has overseen plenty of rebuilding since taking over the Celtics in 2013 but still led the team to the playoffs last season after trading point guard Rajon Rondo – the only remaining player from the 2008 championship team. After being swept by the Cleveland Cavaliers, the team is aiming higher this season. For Stevens, it all starts here in Italy.

“These sessions are really important to get something accomplished in practice and to make sure that we’re continuing to progress,” Stevens said. “It’s still very much a part of our training camp, and so you’ve got all of the great things about being a tourist – getting a chance to see new things and experience new things – and at the same time we’re 24 or 25 days away from our season opener.”

And after spending so many hours in the gym during the offseason, Thomas is ready to start playing actual games again – even if its just preseason.

“We’re ready to beat up on somebody else, we’re tired of beating up on each other,” Smith said.

Kings’ Karl admits mistakes in DeMarcus Cousins trade controversey

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In the NBA, elite players have the leverage. It is just simple supply and demand.

DeMarcus Cousins is an elite player — and a favorite of owner Vivek Ranadive. He is not going anywhere.

Which made this summer’s “George Karl wants trade Cousins” a battle the coach couldn’t ultimately win — the owner wasn’t going to sign off on it, and the fans are going to side with Boogie. Remember Karl said he never had a player that was untradable, and that spiraled into reports Karl probed trade options with other teams, much to the frustration of management and Cousins himself.

Karl owned up to some of his mistakes in an interview on Comcast Bay Area, as reported by James Ham at

“To be honest with you, I apologized to DeMarcus for making the trade comment that I’ve never coached a player that’s untradeable,” Karl told Christensen. “That was wrong for me to say, because you all (the media) took it and blew it up into crazy.”

“But it’s my responsibility to be smart enough to not say things like that,” Karl continued. “So I did apologize because I thought that was the only thing, maybe some other things, but really the only thing that got us separated was that comment that then everybody wrote the we’re going to trade [Cousins].”

The relationship between Cousins and Karl — not to mention Rajon Rondo and other veterans — is the biggest key to the Kings’ season. Karl and Cousins say their relationship is solid now, but what happens when that is put under stress at some point during the season?

In talking to people around the team, the Kings players seemed to have formed a tight bond — even if part of the glue of that bond is a distrust of Karl that can work for them. This is a team that has the talent to compete for the bottom couple playoff seeds in the Western Conference, but everybody needs to be pulling on the rope in the same direction. We will see pretty quickly if the Kings can do that.