Raptors Gay prepares to throw the ball into play from the end court in the first half of their NBA game against the Celtics in Toronto

ProBasketballTalk 2013-14 Preview: Toronto Raptors

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Last season: Raptors’ fans went into the season thinking the playoffs were a possibility, but it didn’t take long for that ship to run aground on the rocks of reality. The team defense struggled, Andrea Bargnani was Andrea Bargnani, Jonas Valanciunas looked like rookie, Kyle Lowry battled injuries, nothing went as planned and everything fell apart.

But near the trade deadline the Raptors made a bold move, trading for Rudy Gay (from Memphis). It breathed life into the team, who went on to have 34 wins and finish ninth in the East. It was a move that provided hope for the fans, even if it couldn’t save GM Bryan Colangelo’s job.

Signature highlight from last season: With an athletic team there were a few to choose from but we’ll take DeMar DeRozan with the game winner vs. Orlando.

Key player changes: The biggest offseason move wasn’t a player, it was getting GM Masai Ujiri out of Denver to take over the organization. Under  Colangelo the Raptors were an organization  without a rudder; with Ujiri they will find a direction. It may take a couple years to build it, but he has a plan. Heck, he already traded Bargnani to the Knicks for actual players, when Raptors fans would have traded him for a rack of shootaround basketballs.

Toronto improved their bench this summer. Gone are Bargnani and Linas Kleiza. In are Tyler Hansbrough, D.J. Augustin, Steve Novak and Austin Daye. Not mindblowing, but better.

Keys to the Raptors’ season:

1) Can they win with Rudy Gay and will he stay? The Raptors took a big risk and they took on a big salary when they traded for Gay, who will make $17.9 million this season. Next summer he can opt out and be a free agent (or he can stay for a final year at $19.3 million). Good chance he opts out (to get the security of a longer deal) so the two questions become: Can the Raptors win and keep Gay happy so he stays? Do they want to keep him?

Make no mistake, Gay is a quality player, a borderline All-Star averaging 19.5 points a game last season with the Raptors. But he is not efficient. He shot 42.5 percent for them and 33.6 percent from three, with a PER of 17.6. That’s good but speaks to a second or third option on a contender — maybe the corrective eye surgery he had this summer will change this, but that’s a roll of the dice. Plus, a lot of Gay’s skillset overlaps with DeMar DeRozan’s. So again, do you want to keep him or the less expensive DeRozan (especially if DeRozan has a breakout year)?

It’s a discussion the Raptors need to have thinking about the long-term. However, in the short-term if Toronto is going to make the playoffs this season, a lot of that falls to Gay.  He is going to have to lead this team by being more efficient (same with DeRozan and Lowry).

2) How big a step forward will Jonas Valanciunas take? The first time I saw Valanciunas at Summer League I did a double take — he had clearly hit the gym and his upper body had filled out considerably. He then used that newfound strength to overpower lesser players on the block. Valanciunas did the same thing at EuroBasket for Lithuania. He averaged 8.9 points and 6 rebounds a game with 1.3 blocked shots a game. Look for all those numbers to go up as he takes a step forward this season — and that step is another key to Toronto making the postseason.

3) Can Dwane Casey fix the defense? Coach Dwane Casey is on the hot seat: New GM, expensive star players. and playoffs expectations is a bad combo for the coach.  Plus Casey is in the last year of his contract. Casey is supposed to be a defensive guy, and two seasons ago the Raptors played solid defense for him. But last season they took a big step back and were 22nd in the NBA in points allowed per possession. That has to change, the Raptors need to be top 12 to make the playoffs. With Gay and Lowry the Raptors will find points, but they need to stop other teams from scoring. Look for Valanciunas to be the shot blocking force at the rim, but will that be enough?

Why you should watch the Raptors: Rudy Gay and DeMar DeRozan are explosive. Once or twice a game — more against a team that wants to get out and run with them. Toronto has athletes. How well they play together is up for discussion, but this team is going to put up some highlights every night.

Prediction: 39-43. Like the end of last season this team is going to float around close to a playoff spot in the East this season — and if they defend, if Gay is a little more efficient, if Lowry stays healthy they can make it in. But can they really beat out teams like Cleveland and Detroit for a playoff spot. I’m not sold. Possible, but it really is going to be about the defense.

Did the Clippers change their name?

OAKLAND, CA - NOVEMBER 04:  Blake Griffin #32 of the Los Angeles Clippers helps Chris Paul #3 get up from the court during their game against the Golden State Warriors at ORACLE Arena on November 4, 2015 in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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The Clippers rebranded themselves with a new logo and uniforms last year.

Did they also give themselves a new name?

Mike Chamernik of Uni Watch:

The Los Angeles Clippers not only changed their name, but they did it a year ago. No one has seemed to notice. Yes, they are still known as the Clippers. The L.A. Clippers.

L.A.

As in, that’s their location name. Not just an abbreviation.

The proof is everywhere. The Clippers refer to themselves as the L.A. (or, sometimes LA) Clippers on their own website, and on their various social media accounts, including Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. NBA.com refers to them as the L.A. Clippers in stories, transactions listings and site menus, even when mentioning the Los Angeles Lakers (who still go by the full city name). And now, ESPN.com has all references to the city name as LA, both on the team’s page and in standings and schedules.

One of my key pieces of evidence is the team’s media guide (PDF), which says copyright L.A. Clippers.

Chamernik presents a compelling list of evidence, but the Clippers’ silence on the issue – they didn’t return his requests for comment – is odd. Teams usually trumpet any rebranding with grandiose announcements and contrived rational.

Look at this line from the Clippers’ new-uniform announcement: “In addition, the silver lining seen in the Clippers wordmark signifies the renewed collective optimism of Clipper Nation.”

If they want to be L.A. rather than Los Angeles, why didn’t the Clippers tout their edgy and modern new name style? That’s more believable than silver lining representing the collective optimism of the fan base of one of the worst franchises in the history of professional sports.

Whatever peculiarities have accompanied the rollout of this apparent renaming, the proof is in the pudding – and that seems to say they’re the L.A., not Los Angeles, Clippers.

76ers butt of Daily Show joke about Donald Trump’s plan

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - OCTOBER 31:  Donald Trump sits courtside at the New Jersey Nets and the Chicago Bulls game at the Izod Center on October 31, 2007 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, user is consenting to the term and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
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This is why the 76ers fired Sam Hinkie.

They’ve become a national laughingstock, even beyond NBA circles.

Philadelphia’s younger players developing and the addition of a couple veterans should help the team become regularly, rather than historically, bad. But the 76ers haven’t yet escaped the dismal reputation that became an embarrassment to ownership (which will still reap the rewards of Hinkie’s Process).

See this clip from The Daily Show on Donald Trump’s policing plan for the latest example (hat tip: CSN Philly).

 

Report: Lakers signing Zach Auguste

PHILADELPHIA, PA - MARCH 27:  Zach Auguste #30 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish celebrates after a basket in the second half against the North Carolina Tar Heels during the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament East Regional Final at Wells Fargo Center on March 27, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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The Lakers have given 15 players – the regular-season roster limit – a guaranteed salary for next season.

But they could open a roster spot by trading (ha!) or waiving Nick Young.

Who could fill it? One candidate: Undrafted Notre Dame big man Zach Auguste.

Eric Pincus of Basketball Insiders:

Auguste is probably getting a partial guarantee, but I wouldn’t pencil him in for the regular-season roster just yet – even if the Lakers waive Young. I expect the Lakers to sign multiple players to partially guaranteed deals and bring them to camp to compete.

If they waive Auguste, the Lakers could assign his D-League rights to their affiliate, the D-Fenders. Ideally, though, he’d make the regular-season roster – but that outlook will probably be true for multiple Lakers by the time training camp begins.

Auguste is a skilled interior scorer who excels in the pick-and-roll and can also post up. He improved greatly as a rebounder last season, but how much of that is due to outgrowing his competition as a senior? He’s already 23. Auguste has shown no range on his jumper, and he’s not a rim protector. Despite his mobility, his pick-and-roll defense is also lacking.

Good for the Lakers getting him in their pipeline, but don’t expect too much.

Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim: Carmelo Anthony probably won’t win NBA championship

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 21:  Carmelo Anthony #15 of the United States poses with Team USA assistant coach Jim Boeheim after defeating Serbia in the Men's Gold medal game on Day 16 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at Carioca Arena 1 on August 21, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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Jim Boeheim urged Carmelo Anthony to leave the Knicks in 2014. The Syracuse coach suggested the Bulls for his former player.

At the heart of Boeheim’s pitch: He wanted Anthony to win an NBA championship.

Well, Anthony discarded Boeheim’s advice and re-signed with the Knicks. So, Boeheim is predicting the outcome he always predicted if Anthony returned to New York.

Boeheim, via Mike Walters of Syracuse.com:

“He’s unlikely to win an NBA title,” Boeheim said. “He’s never been on a team that even had a remote chance of winning an NBA title. As a player, all you can do is try to make your team better and every team he’s been on he’s made them a lot better. Denver hadn’t done anything prior to him getting there and he took them into the playoffs. They weren’t going to beat the Lakers or the Spurs. In those years, they won the championship most of the time.

“But he’s always made his team better,” added Boeheim. “It’s obvious. You look back on your total basketball experience and he had a great high school team, he won the NCAA championship and he’s won three gold medals in the Olympics. That’s a pretty good resume.”

This is a classic controversy. Boeheim caused it by being honest.

Anthony probably won’t win a title.

He’s 32, playing for a team with a middling-at-best supporting cast and seems content remaining in New York. His most valuable teammate, Kristaps Porzingis, is so young, his prime might not overlap with Anthony’s. The Knicks limited themselves in the next few seasons by guaranteeing 31-year-old Joakim Noah more than $72 million over the next four years.

Most players are unlikely to win another championship. Most of exceptions play for the Warriors. I’m not even sure LeBron James is more likely than not to win another title.

Anthony sure isn’t.

That’s not the end of the world, and as Boeheim – and Anthony – said, Anthony can still have a good résumé. But it has to sting for such a prominent basketball figure in the state of New York and proud Anthony supporter tell the truth so bluntly.