Toronto has a legitimate shot at making the second round of the playoffs.
Yes, it’s because they are in the Leastern Conference, but there a .500 team (17-17) can lead the Atlantic Division and host a first-round playoff series. Frankly since the addition-by-subtraction Rudy Gay trade the Raptors (winners of six of their last eight) have been the third best team in the East (as Atlanta lost Al Horford).
With that in mind, the tanking is off north of the border. No more riggin’ for Wiggins.
For the first time, there are certifiable rumbles emanating from Toronto suggesting that the Raptors might well keep point guard Kyle Lowry for the rest of the season. Word is new GM Masai Ujiri continues to resist locking into any sort of firm position — leaving open the possibility of a Lowry deal if the offers suddenly get sweeter — but team officials appear to be growing increasingly comfortable with the idea that it’s better to go for what would be just Toronto’s third playoff berth in 13 seasons rather than try to do the absolute uber-tanking it would take from here for the 17-17 Raps to get into Andrew Wiggins range now.
As PBT’s on D.J. Foster said before, putting a yellow light up on trades and taking a detour from tanking is the smart move for the Raptors — this is a team fans can get behind. DeMar DeRozan has the freedom now to make his plays and has become a fan favorite.
Toronto is really making this run with defense: In their last 10 games they have given up 95.8 points per 100 possessions, third best in the entire NBA (through their first 20 games this season they surrendered 102.7 points per 100). That’s why this is sustainable — hot shooting can come and go but if you defend every night you are in every game. Coach Dwane Casey got the Raptors to defend his first season as coach, but they regressed heavily last season. This season the defense is back and so are the Raptors.
This opportunity to win a division (they are still 3 games up on suddenly hot Brooklyn) and advance in the playoffs maybe fell into their laps, but it’s there for the taking. Toronto needs to grab it for a season, then get on with the rebuilding next summer.
League executives, players wince watching this Kobe Bryant
Over the last few days, we’ve written in more detail about Kobe Bryant‘s shooting troubles. He’s jacking up threes his fastest pace ever, he can’t create space to get off clean shots, he’s hitting 31.1 percent overall and 19.5 percent from three. There are flashes of vintage Kobe, but they are fleeting (and mostly because poor shot choices are falling). Byron Scott is still in Kobe’s corner, saying they just need to get the veteran better looks.
However, talk to people around the league about Kobe and you hear some variation of the phrase “hard to watch.” After 20 seasons, more than 55,000 minutes on the court, and coming off two major injuries, Kobe clearly is not the same player everyone admired for so long.
“Man, I don’t want to see Kobe go out like this, looking this bad and not able to do what he once could do,” said a retired guard who faced Bryant. “He doesn’t have anything else to prove to anybody. He was one of the greatest. I know he’s owed that $25 million, but he should just walk away now. He ain’t got it anymore.”
“He’s one of the few players in NBA history to have gotten everything possible out of his body. Now his body has nothing left to give,” (an Eastern Conference executive) said. “But that’s life in the NBA, in professional sports. At some point, the body just can’t do it anymore and Kobe’s body can’t do it anymore.”
One West scout said Bryant looked “disinterested” at times. A current player in the West went a step further.
“Yeah, I’ve seen him play and it’s disgusting,” he said. “He’s one of the best of all time. But he really hasn’t played that much in the last two or three years. He’s got nothing left. It’s sad to watch because he used to be so great, and I mean great.”
Kobe is not going to walk away mid-season, and nobody wants an injury to force him out of the game.
But it’s hard to see how anything is going to dramatically change. Kobe may shoot a little better than his current but it’s not likely going to change in a meaningful way. Which will just make things hard to watch for a full season.
Spurs to give Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili Friday night off in Denver
That is the first night of a back-to-back, with former Spurs’ assistant coach Mike Budenholzer and his Atlanta Hawks coming to San Antonio on Saturday. Popovich is saving his two veterans for that game.
Duncan and Ginobili have looked like they found the fountain of youth this season. Duncan is taking on less of the offense but has been very efficient in those moments. Ginobili has the impact he did a few years back in his bench role.
What Gregg Popovich cares about is them playing like that come the postseason. So they will rest on Friday.
Rejecting the tender is a favor to the drafting team, which gets to keep the player’s exclusive rights for a year. If Thornton tries to join the NBA now, he’s stuck negotiating with only the Celtics.
By accepting the tender, the player typically gets one of two outcomes. He either plays on that contract and draws an NBA salary or he gets waived. But even getting waived is better than rejecting the tender, because at least the player becomes a free agent and can negotiate with any team.
Players who reject the tender go to another league and play for less money. In Thornton’s case, that mean Australia.
How’s that going?
(Almost) never reject the required tender as a second-round pick.