When the lockout ends, the Raptors need to…

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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.

Kevin Durant: Liking anti-Russell Westbrook Instagram comment was ‘total accident’

AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki
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Kevin Durant liked an Instagram comment critical of Russell Westbrook.

Here we go again?

Royce Young of ESPN:

I’m not inside Durant’s mind. He could be lying to cover another burner Instagram snafu.

But I tend to believe him. It’s easy enough to accidentally click like, and the greater context is on his side.

Durant has always tried to downplay a feud with Westbrook. Even at the personal rivalry’s peak, Durant just seemed as if he wanted Westbrook to like him. So, it’s nearly impossible to believe Durant – even for a button-pushing moment – wanted to publicly slight Westbrook.

But maybe Durant wanted quiresultan or some other alter-ego to do so? Maybe, as beaten down as he looked by the controversy over those deleted tweets last summer, Durant didn’t learn his lesson and still uses burner accounts. I certainly wouldn’t rule that out.

Again, though, this would be a weird message. Last summer’s deleted tweets praised Westbrook while slamming the rest of the Thunder. Durant was going to have a burner account take the opposite stance now? That doesn’t really add up.

NBA apparently reviewing whether Russell Westbrook should be suspended for Thunder-Jazz Game 5

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The NBA has a hard rule during altercations: Any players who leave the bench area receives a one-game suspension. Intent doesn’t matter. It’s not negotiable. The league simply doesn’t want more players entering a fracas.

Russell Westbrook found a gray area last night.

The Thunder star was waiting to check into Oklahoma City’s Game 4 loss to the Jazz when Raymond Felton fouled Rudy Gobert, um, unpleasantly. Gobert and Felton got into it, though not immediately. Once they did, Westbrook walked onto the court, and he and Gobert swiped at each other.

Gobert and Felton eventually received technical fouls. But could harsher punishment be in store, especially for Westbrook?

Andy Larsen of KSL.com:

A pool reporter request to the game officials to ask them about the play was initiated, but the NBA indicated that the officials wouldn’t comment on the matter because it would be reviewed by the league’s disciplinary committee.

The key question should be: Did a referee already beckon Westbrook into the game? If one did, Westbrook shouldn’t be suspended. If none did, Westbrook should be suspended.

The league will talk to the refs and get a better understanding of what happened. Their account matters most.

But one indicator working against Westbrook: Steven Adamswhose toughness is beyond reproach – was also waiting to check in and stayed on the sideline. If Adams had already entered the game, wouldn’t he have gotten involved? Maybe not, but his hanging back is circumstantial evidence pointing toward a Westbrook suspension.

Again, though, the referees’ accounts matter far more.

Russell Westbrook on matchup with Ricky Rubio: ‘Let’s get past that. We’re done with that’

Gene Sweeney Jr./Getty Images
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After Ricky Rubio‘s 26-point triple-double in Game 3, Russell Westbrook said, “I’ma shut that s— off next game though. Guarantee that.”

Westbrook definitely tried. The Thunder star defended Rubio far more aggressively in Game 4 last night. But Westbrook also fouled Rubio four times in the first half and played too out of control, committing five turnovers. Rubio (13 points, eight rebounds, six assists) wasn’t nearly as individually excellent, but his passing keyed the Jazz’s offense.

Most importantly, Utah outscored Oklahoma City by 12 in the 30 minutes the point guards shared the court and won 113-96 to take a 3-1 series lead.

How did the matchup with Rubio go, Russ?

Westbrook:

It’s not about me and him. Let’s get past that. We’re done with that.

How convenient.

Westbrook is the one who brought attention to the individual matchup. He took stopping Rubio upon himself. Now, when it didn’t go well, Westbrook suddenly doesn’t want to talk about it?

Maybe Westbrook realized he got carried away, to the detriment of his team. It’s not too late to fix that, and this could be his attempt to do so before Game 5 Wednesday.

But he also must own the egg on his face for putting the spotlight on Westbrook-Rubio and then dodging the attention once the matchup went south.

Rockets 50, Timberwolves 20: Most dominant playoff quarter in shot-clock era (video)

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James Harden missed a floater and clapped in frustration. The Rockets’ third quarter in Game 4 against the Timberwolves didn’t get off to a great start. Harden’s shooting had underwhelmed since Game 2.

Then, Harden and Houston broke out of the funk – in a big way.

The Rockets outscored Minnesota 50-20 in the third quarter of their 119-100 victory last night, giving Houston a 3-1 lead in the first-round series. The 30-point margin in the third quarter was tied for the most lopsided playoff quarter in the shot-clock era:

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Harden singlehandedly outscored the Timberwolves himself, 23-20. Paul added 15.

The Rockets shot 5-of-10 on 2-pointers, 9-of-13 on 3-pointers and 13-of-13 on free throws. Houston committed no turnovers and offensively rebounded a third of its misses.

It was incredible output, even for the NBA’s best offense.

The Rockets’ 50 points were second-most in a playoff quarter – and the most in a victory – in the shot-clock era. The leaderboard:

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