Amir Johnson Raptors

The Extra Pass: Raptors’ salary dump trade could mean a few more wins, too; plus Sunday recaps



LOS ANGELES — Make no mistake, this was first and foremost about money. And future flexibility.

Raptors GM Masai Ujiri made a smart trade sending Rudy Gay out of town in a deal that sets his team up for the future by removing up to $12.4 million from the books next season. This summer  Andrea Bargnani’s anchor contract and now Rudy Gay’s oversized one are off the Toronto books. This Gay trade was all about the financial savings.

But it could mean a few more wins in there here and now, too.

Without the duplication of Gay and DeMar DeRozan’s talents the Raptors offense on Sunday night against the Lakers played faster and had better spacing then it has in some time. There was less isolation and more pick-and-roll. The Raptors got 28 percent of their shot opportunities from either the ball handler or roll man in the pick-and-roll against the Lakers (up from 22 percent on the season) while the Raptors got just 7 percent of their shots from isolation plays (down from a 12 percent average on the season).

The result was a 106-94 win spoiling Kobe Bryant’s return.

Part of the good play can be attributed to the Raptors pulling together when shorthanded — something we see all the time in sports for short runs.

“I don’t think anyone was prepared for it happen today,” Kyle Lowry said after he scored 23 Sunday night. “I didn’t. You don’t expect it to happen this fast or this soon. You say you feel something coming but you can’t say anything until it happens and now that it happens you say ‘we knew it.’”

However, the improvement in the Raptors offense — ranked 17th in the NBA in points per possession — may well be more than just a one-night boost.

Without Gay getting his team-high 18.6 shots a game — with one-in-four coming from an isolation play — the Raptors offense looked improved.

“The floor was spaced a lot,” Amir Johnson said after he dropped 32 on the Lakers. “They pay attention to DeMar a lot, especially coming off those curls. So when you have that big (defending Johnson) help, he was able to get that dunk pass and I was able to get those layups. It was working for us tonight.”

Lowry was happy, too.

“I’m really happy how we played, the ball moved out there, swinging, everyone chipped in it was a great effort from everyone.”

Nobody in the Raptors locker room had a negative word to say about Gay — just the opposite, most players seemed upset to have lost a teammate they genuinely liked.

“Rudy is a prince of a guy,” coach Dwane Casey said. “He’s a dynamic, athletic wing player, he gets to the basket at will. He can shoot the ball, handle the ball, we were using him more in drag situations, pick-and-roll situations and he was growing into that role, doing a better job getting a feel for the defense. And that was a different role for him to do that but he was growing into it, getting better with it.”

Still, the offense looked better.

Now on top of that thanks to the trade Toronto adds a playmaking guard in Greivis Vasquez, a solid vet in Chuck Hayes, and a guy who can provide some wing depth in John Salmons. We’ll see how it all fits together — and who gets moved again before the deadline, this is a roster in flux — but all the pieces could fit together a little better than it has up to this point.

Toronto did not make this trade trying to win the sad Atlantic division — for the Raptors this is about saving money and roster flexibility. Gay is not the kind of guy Masai Ujiri wants to build around, especially not if he picks up his $19.3 million option for next season. This trade was about financial flexibility.

But with the Raptors starting five being +19 against the Lakers (who were out of sync with the Kobe’s return) you have to wonder if this might mean a few more wins this season, too.

—Kurt Helin




Celtics 114, Knicks 73: New York didn’t bother to show up for this one, as the early noon tip-off time at home once again proved to be too much for the Knicks to deal with. The team fell behind by 25 points in the first quarter, didn’t hit a field goal for the game’s first six-plus minutes, and essentially erased any good feelings they created by coming out of their nine-game losing streak with consecutive wins by a margin of more than 30 points each.

Heat 110, Pistons 95: Detroit handed Miami one of its five losses on the season less than a week ago, so you can bet that the Pistons got the Heat’s full attention in the rematch. That meant a near triple-double performance out of LeBron James, who finished with 24 points, seven rebounds and nine assists, and a blistering 32-17 third quarter where the Heat put this one away for good and turned the final 12 minutes into nothing more than extended garbage time.

Thunder 118, Pacers 94: It’s easy to dismiss this loss for the Pacers, considering how dominant they’ve been to start the season along with the fact that a Spurs-Thunder road back-to-back isn’t exactly the fairest of schedules to deal with. But Kevin Durant turned in an above-average performance regardless of what his opponent’s circumstances were, and finished with 36 points and 10 rebounds to lead his team to the win — perhaps because he was tired of hearing about Paul George and his breakout season thus far. George had 32 points and five rebounds of his own in the losing effort.

Rockets 98, Magic 88: This one wasn’t as close as the final score would indicate, mainly because the Rockets held a lead of 22 points in the third quarter and lost focus in the final period by shooting a dismal 5-of-22 from the field over the game’s final 12 minutes. James Harden finished with 27 points and 10 assists, and Dwight Howard added 20 points, 22 rebounds and three blocked shots.

Raptors 106, Lakers 94: Kobe Bryant was back on the court, but as had to be expected he was rusty and his teammates were not used to playing with him. Kobe had 9 points on 2-of-9 shooting, with eight rebounds and eight turnovers. The Lakers five starters combined to shoot 25 percent and none scored in double digits — they were that out of sync. Meanwhile Amir Johnson was back home in Los Angeles and dropped 32 in front of his friends, while DeMar DeRozan (26 points) and Kyle Lowry (23) slashed their way into the lane. The Raptors scored 60 points in the paint on the night. Rudy Gay who?

Tyronn Lue says ‘they said’ LeBron James has a body of a 19-year-old, but nobody else knows where Cavaliers coach got that

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LeBron James might be the greatest athlete in NBA history.

But even he has shown signs of decline at age 31.

He has gotten multiple back injections and even took a break during the season to rehabilitate in Miami. The forward has treated the last two regular-seasons as glorified warmups for the playoffs.

Just where does LeBron stand physically?

Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue gave quite the answer.

Joe Vardon of

Lue said James, at 31, “had a chance to get tested this summer and they said he had a body of a 19-year old. Maybe he’s getting younger. Benjamin Button.”

It was a little perplexing because neither James, nor his personal trainer, Mike Mancias, nor general manager David Griffin had any real idea what test Lue was talking about.

This reminds me of Derrick Rose attributing the Knicks and Warriors being super teams to “They’re saying.” Who is they, and what are they smoking?

That LeBron, Mancias and Griffin won’t cop to knowing is quite revealing.

LeBron does not have the body of a 19-year-old. Years of other-worldly play and long playoff runs has taken a toll.

Because he’s declining from such a high peak, LeBron should remain elite for a while. His athleticism might even fluctuate as it trends downward overall.

But Father Time is undefeated, and LeBron didn’t just get a mid-career reset to his rookie physical form.

Draymond Green says technical foul won’t dissuade him from yelling after dunks

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Draymond Green has apologized again and again and again in the last year.

But the Warriors forward has also maintained he must remain true to himself.

So, after getting technical foul for yelling (presumably because it was toward LaMarcus Aldridge) following a dunk in Golden State’s loss to the Spurs last night, Green – under more intense scrutiny than ever – dug in.

Green, via Monte Poole of CSN Bay Area:

“Next time I dunk, I’m gonna yell again,” Draymond declared after the loss. “I mean, it’s kind of universal. I’m gonna continue to be me, and whatever happens, happens.”

Expect Green to keep getting technicals. Even if the one last night was relatively weak, Green nearly constantly toes the line. He had 12 technical fouls last season, and a league-high five in the playoffs (boosted by Golden State advancing all the way to Game 7 of the NBA Finals).

And if the Warriors are winning, that’s fine. His emotional energy does more to lift the team than hinder it.

But, as we’ve seen, there is a definite downside.

Report: Hawks signing Dennis Schroder to four-year, $70 million contract extension

ATLANTA, GA - SEPTEMBER 26:  Dennis Schroder #17 of the Atlanta Hawks poses during media day on September 26, 2016 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Update: Marc Stein of ESPN:

That’s an even better deal for the Hawks.


The Hawks traded a former All-Star in his prime (Jeff Teague). They waived two experienced backups (Jarrett Jack and Will Bynum), leaving only rookie Malcolm in Delaney in reserve.

Atlanta is putting all its point guard eggs in Dennis Schroder‘s basket – not just as the starter on a team that expects to make the playoffs, but a long-term building block.

Marc Stein of ESPN:

Paying Schroder $17.5 million per year seems fair, because he could wind up drastically underpaid or drastically overpaid.

Schroder drives into the lane with abandon and usually produces quality outcomes as a result. He possesses impressive tools and is already beginning to utilize them, including in several clutch situations.

But he must make better decisions with the ball, finish better at the rim and shoot better from outside for Atlanta’s bet to pay off. It’s also help if he becomes more than just an occasionally pesky defender.

Just 23, time is on his side.

If Schroder develops into a quality starting point guard, he’ll be a bargain. The Hawks will have done well to lock him up before he proved his ability, and their other moves indicate they believe in him making this step.

But if a larger role just exposes Schroder’s flaws, this could backfire. For all the justifiable reasons to have faith in Schroder’s ascension, it’s important to remember he’s not there yet.

This is a relative high-variance bet by Atlanta, which I like in principle. Teams are generally too conservative with rookie-scale contract extensions.

If Schroder doesn’t break out as they hope, the Hawks will have problems regardless of whether or not they extend him. It’s not as if handling him restricted free agency would be a walk in the park.

Now, if Schroder lives up to the hype in Atlanta, the Hawks’ return on investment will be even greater.

Steven Adams spent NBA opening night watching Anime

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - MAY 28:  Steven Adams #12 of the Oklahoma City Thunder looks on during the first half against the Golden State Warriors in game six of the Western Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Chesapeake Energy Arena on May 28, 2016 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. 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 Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Last night you were likely watching the Cavaliers destroy the Knicks, then flipping over to watch the Indians and Cubs. It was a great sports night (especially if you live in Cleveland).

That’s not what Steven Adams was doing, he was watching Anime. Which probably had a lot more drama than either of the NBA games last night. Via Fred Katz of the Norman Transcript.

You have to love Adams.

One Piece is… like I know. From Wikipedia:

One Piece follows the adventures of Monkey D. Luffy, a young man whose body gained the properties of rubber after unintentionally eating a Devil Fruit. With his diverse crew of pirates, named the Straw Hat Pirates, Luffy explores the Grand Line in search of the world’s ultimate treasure known as “One Piece” in order to become the next King of the Pirates.

Insert your own joke about that being better than watching the Knicks offense (or the Warriors’ defense) here.

Adams will be more focused on basketball Wednesday night when OKC opens the season in Philadelphia. Joel Embiid will keep his mind on the game.