Underground Kings no more, Raptors bring in Drake to help rebrand franchise


When the Nets moved to Brooklyn and were looking to rebrand the franchise — new logo, new look, new attitude — and let’s be honest, the white guys in Brooks Brothers suits are not the best at knowing what the common fan wants. So the Nets turned to rapper Jay Z, who owned a sliver of the team (less than 1 percent) but had a big say in the look of the uniforms and some of the amenities inside the Barclay’s Center.

The Raptors are doing much the same thing with Toronto native Drake — they don’t want to be “Underground Kings” they want to be in the spotlight.

Rebranding is coming to Toronto and Drake is going to have a hand in that.

“There’s a reason why we are going to submit to the league a new application for a new branding, a new image, new colors — not a new name, but new branding, and Drake will be an ambassador and help us forge this new vision, this new buzz, this new excitement where we are taking this organization,” said Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment (which owns the Raptors) CEO Tim Leiweke at a press conference Monday announcing Toronto would host the 2016 All-Star Game.

Drake will be the Raptors’ “global ambassador.” Whatever that means, exactly. He certainly is a big NBA fan, friend of star players such as LeBron James, and a guy you can see at games around the league all the time. He he will certainly have a hand in the rebranding process, as well as helping make the 2016 All-Star Game a celebration of Toronto.

“I just want you to know I’m extremely excited to be part of a team I grew up a fan of, a diehard fan of, of course I’m sure like everybody else from this city,” Drake said. “I’m excited for the new vision, basketball in Canada is bigger now than ever before. I think that All-Star 2016 is a phenomenal step, something I dreamed of as a kid.”

He said he would be happy to help recruit players. That’s nice. What really gets free agents to come to a city is money — GM Masai Ujiri has to create both cap space to get them and a culture where they think they can win. If that’s in place, a phone call from Drake doesn’t hurt.

The Raptors have already submitted some paperwork with the league and have a firm hired to help with the rebranding, Leiweke said. This likely would kick in for the 2015-16 season — in time for the All-Star Game.

There had been some talk the Raptors name — picked 20 years ago when the “Jurassic Park” movie franchise was huge — could change as there were never any velociraptor anywhere near Canada. Nope. The name stays.

But a new look is part of the image makeover the franchise could use. While Drake has his detractors as a rapper — watch the comments on this post, just mention Drake and the comments become a debate about him — he’s a better choice to upgrade the image than the guys and gals in suits with their focus groups and spread sheets.

“We have been meeting with Drake for a while now to talk about the involvement they want to have. This isn’t just about the NBA, it isn’t just about the 2016 All-Star Game, this is about the Raptors. This is a new day, a new age,” Leiweke said.

Spurs Danny Green has strained quadricep, out three weeks

SAN ANTONIO,TX - APRIL 30: Fans celebrate a three with Danny Green #14 of the San Antonio Spurs against the Oklahoma City Thunder during game one of the Western Conference Semifinals for the 2016 NBA Playoffs at AT&T Center on April 30, 2016 in San Antonio, Texas. 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 Ronald Cortes/Getty Images)
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The Spurs are counting on Danny Green to regain his top-flight “3&D” form this season and give them another defender and weapon when they go up against that potential juggernaut out West. And the Clippers, too.

But that comeback is getting off to a slow start, the team announced Friday.

This likely means a little more run for Manu Ginobili and Kevin Martin to start the season, plus some funky lineups from Gregg Popovich.

Green played great defense last season but struggled from three (where 60 percent of his attempts are taken). Green shot 33.2 percent from deep on the season, which is well below his career average of 40.3 percent (and last year’s down numbers were buoyed by a red-hot January, he was much worse the rest of the season).

It’s something for Spurs fans to monitor, they need to get his legs right before his shot can return.

PBT Extra: Who wins MVP, other NBA end-of-season awards?

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The NBA’s award season seems more wide open than ever.

Ben Simmons was going to enter the season as the heavy favorite to win Rookie of the Year, but with him out injured the door is flung open to a lot of players. Coach of the Year is always a game of “which coach exceeds expectations.” Even MVP seems more open with Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant — the award winners the past three seasons — teamed up in the Bay Area.

In this latest PBT Extra I throw out my predictions for the awards, but let’s get on with the games next week and see who earns them.

Sixers Nerlens Noel to miss time following surgery on sore knee

CAMDEN, NJ - SEPTEMBER 26: Nerlens Noel #4 of the Philadelphia 76ers looks on during media day on September 26, 2016 in Camden, New Jersey. 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 Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

During the ProBasketballTalk podcast with Sixers coach Brett Brown, you could hear the frustration in his voice. He has all these talented young front line players — Joel Embiid, Nerlens Noel, Ben Simmons, Dario Saric, Jahlil Okafor — but he can’t begin to figure out how they all fit together if he can’t get them on the court at the same time.

That problem just got worse.

The Sixers announced that Nerlens Noel will miss time following surgery to deal with soreness in his left knee. Here is the word from the press release itself:

During the normal course of evaluation and treatment for his left adductor strain, which was identified on October 6, Noel reported localized soreness in his left knee. After consulting with multiple specialists, the source of the soreness was identified as inflamed plica. Noel has elected to address the injury via a minor surgical procedure in the coming days.

The team gives no timeline for Noel’s return. Soreness from the plica — a band of tissue around the knee that is not important following birth — happens in some players and can be fixed by an arthroscopic surgery that removes the area being irritated. While the surgery is minor, it usually takes around six weeks to bounce back from this.

That likely means a little more run for Jahlil Okafor (just coming back from an injury of his own) and Richaun Holmes. But it’s just another injury setback for a Sixers team plagued by them.

The Sixers also announced that Jerryd Bayless will not have surgery on his wrist, but will remain out and be evaluated in two weeks.

If you didn’t watch the final seconds of the WNBA Finals, you should


This was flat out incredible.

After a back-and-forth, even series between the Minnesota Lynx and the Los Angeles Sparks, it came down to the final seconds (although maybe it shouldn’t have, the WNBA admitted Friday the referees missed a call with 1:14 left, giving the Sparks’ Nneka Ogwumike a bucket on a shot after the shot clock expired).

The biggest stars took over at the end, as you can see in the video above: L.A.’s Candace Parker drives and scores with 19 seconds left putting the Sparks up 75-74; Minnesota responded with a Maya Moore jumper to take the lead back, then it came down to Ogwumike (the WNBA’s 2016 MVP) getting the ball after a block by Sylvia Fowles and following it up with a fadeaway bucket that gave Los Angeles the title.

Congrats to Candace Parker on the win, after how she’s been overlooked on the awards circuit in the WNBA this season, this is some sweet revenge.