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

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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.

Remembering Notre Dame, Laker legend Tommy “the hawk” Hawkins

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Tommy Hawkins passed away recently at the age of 80.

The former NBA player was the first black athlete to earn All-America honors in basketball at Notre Dame (he still holds the school’s total rebounds record), was drafted in the first round, and went on to have a 10-year NBA career playing for the Minneapolis/Los Angeles Lakers as well as the Cincinnati Royals. Los Angeles fans may also remember him as the long time director of communications for the Los Angeles Dodgers after his playing days ended.

The NBA put together this well done video look back at Hawkins’ career.

Celtics’ Brad Stevens said early September tests will show if Thomas ready for camp

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Isaiah Thomas said he expects to be ready for the Celtics’ training camp next month. The guard’s All-NBA season came to an early end in the playoffs when he aggravated a labral tear in his right hip initially suffered back in March. At least the injury did not require surgery.

Players are also about the worst judges of when they will recover from an injury. They pretty much all think they are invincible and will be healthy faster than doctors predict.

Coaches tend to be more pragmatic. Take Boston’s Brad Stevens, who told Chris Mannix on The Vertical Podcast that tests in a couple of weeks will show if Thomas is ready for camp.

“He has another follow-up and another scan in the early part of September. Obviously, it’s been a lot of appropriate rest, a lot of rehab. There have been some good strides here certainly in the last month or few weeks, but we’re not going to know that until after that early September timeframe.”

The Celtics are understandably going to be cautious with Thomas, while Thomas wants to prove he is healthy and has no ill effects from the injury as he enters a contract year (one where he expects to get PAID). Also, the Celtics could use him in camp as they start to figure out how he and Gordon Hayward can share playmaking duties.

Still, from the outset, the timelines have suggested he should be ready for camp in late September. Coaches are just cautious on these things by nature.

Allen Iverson predicts LeBron James will win MVP

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LeBron James has four NBA MVP trophies in his case. (Does he keep that case in his home in Akron or the one in Los Angeles… that’s a question for another day.) Only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (six) and Michael Jordan (five) have more.

Could LeBron James add a fifth to his case this season?

Allen Iverson said yes at last weekend’s Big3 playoffs in Seattle.

LeBron was fourth in preseason odds to win the MVP at 15/2, behind Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, and Kawhi Leonard.

To me, LeBron could be a good bet. If/when Kyrie Irving is traded, the chances of LeBron getting the MVP go up. If LeBron puts up impressive numbers (again) and leads a depleted Cavaliers team to a top two seed in the East, he is certainly going to be in consideration. And should be.

It’s a long season, and personally, I think you need to get midway through the season before seriously considering the year-end awards. But history says LeBron will be in the mix, and Allen Iverson could be proven prophetic.

Phoenix Suns with quality solar eclipse joke on Twitter

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With the cooler-than-I-expected solar eclipse on Monday came a lot of bad solar eclipse jokes on Twitter. Because that’s what Twitter does. Especially the NBA Twitterverse. We knew a lot of “where on the flat earth will Kyrie Irving watch the eclipse?” jokes were coming.

There were a couple of good ones, however.

Appropriately, the Phoenix Suns won the day.

One personal favorite here, an old meme that never goes out of style.