DeMar DeRozan

Rumors circulate Kyle Lowry looking to leave Raptors, he tweets “don’t believe what you read”

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The buzz that Kyle Lowry was thinking of leaving the Raptors has been all over the NBA for half a season (at least). Potential destinations from his hometown of Philadelphia (not happening now) to San Antonio have surfaced as potential destinations.

Then on Monday came this from Bruce Arthur of the Toronto Sun, in a piece about the crossroads the Raptors are at (and if they should pursue Paul George):

Kyle Lowry is a free agent, and multiple league sources say the all-star point guard has been grumbling about dissatisfaction with the Raptors for months. As of mid-May other teams were being told Lowry had “zero interest” in returning to Toronto, even if the Raptors offered a maximum five-year deal. Which since the club had no intention of offering a five-year deal probably made Lowry’s declaration easier to make.

Lowry responded on Twitter.

I’ve heard Lowry is conflicted. Which makes sense, big decisions are almost never easy and obvious.

Lowry went from good player to All-Star, face-of-the-franchise guy in Toronto, and he knows if he signs a four-year deal and plays it out, they will retire his number and he will forever be a Raptors legend. That has obvious appeal. Plus, the Raptors are good – a top-three team in the East, top eight in the NBA. Plus, he and DeMar DeRozan work well together. That’s hard to walk away from.

Where is he going to go where he can make similar money and play for a contender? If he’s gong to leave Toronto to win, those teams above Toronto are largely capped out, so he would be taking a pay cut (or said teams will have to strip down their roster to get him). He could get paid and run the show for a lesser team, but is that what he wants.

The Raptors are good but not better than the Cavaliers, and Boston has moved past Toronto with plenty of room to still grow. We may have seen peak Raptors, unless GM Masai Ujiri has something up his sleeve. Maybe Lowry is enticed by what he sees as greener (and less snowy) pastures.

He’s a guy to watch this summer, but he wants you to know there’s more than a “zero percent” chance he returns.

Lonzo Ball: LaVar Ball’s notoriety ‘makes it a little bit harder’

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — By now the entire basketball world knows Lonzo Ball is a singular talent with a unique parent.

The UCLA product with preternatural court vision is among the most intriguing prospects in the NBA draft this week. In perhaps the greatest testament to his abilities, his father LaVar Ball’s bombast and $495 shoes and racially insensitive comments don’t appear to be scaring off the Los Angeles Lakers or any other team that believes Lonzo could be the next great point guard.

Because of his headline-magnet father, Ball’s celebrity has already outpaced his talents before he plays his first professional game. Yet ever since his days leading the Big Ballers AAU team set up by his dad, Lonzo has shown nothing but maturity and calm in the face of LaVar’s audacious approaches to hoops, parenting and the business of sports.

“I think it definitely doesn’t help,” Ball said of his father’s notoriety. “Definitely makes it a little bit harder. But any good player is going to have attention on him at all times, and I’m pretty used to it by now.”

Ball’s mental steadiness is another big reason he’s almost certain to be a top-three pick on Thursday. Ever since the Lakers got the No. 2 choice in the lottery last month, most draft observers have believed Ball will wear a gold jersey in the fall, completing a serendipitous match of player and team.

That’s been the dream scenario for the entire Ball family ever since Lonzo showed the first inklings of world-class talent. He was raised in Chino Hills, a suburb about 35 miles east of Staples Center, and LaVar Ball is an ardent fan of the Lakers – and specifically Magic Johnson, the Hall of Fame point guard now running their basketball operations.

After Ball worked out for the Lakers last week, he didn’t mince words about his hopes to make it permanent: “Of course. I want to stay home.”

Los Angeles and its sprawling suburbs have produced an incredible portion of the NBA’s top talent of recent years. All three MVP finalists this season – Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Kawhi Leonard – are from the area, as are Paul George, Klay Thompson, Tyson Chandler, DeMar DeRozan and many others.

Although the Lakers have been his family’s team since before he could walk, Ball said he hasn’t been to many games in person: “My dad didn’t like the seats, because I guess they were too small for him.”

That’s understandable, since father and son are both 6-foot-6. Lonzo watched on television and then emulated the stars from Magic to Kobe Bryant while playing with his brothers at home.

“I patterned my game after (Johnson),” Ball said. “My dad asked me what position I wanted to play. I told him, `Point guard.’ He was like, `All right, if you’re going to play point guard, you’ve got to get the ball up.”‘

That’s what Ball does better than almost any guard in recent college basketball history.

He led the nation in assists (7.7) while turning the Bruins into the highest-scoring team in Division I basketball. The freshman showed astonishing passing ability while orchestrating the UCLA offense, utilizing angles and defensive creases that made him look more like an attacking soccer midfielder than a basketball player.

And if any NBA team is worried about having the ultimate sports parent in the front row, UCLA coach Steve Alford has repeatedly said LaVar wasn’t a problem for him – and Lonzo’s two little brothers are both planning to play in Westwood.

Ball admits his father gives him unwanted notoriety. He also promises he can handle any distraction.

“That was said about me in college, said about me in high school,” he said. “I don’t think it affected me.”

Just a few days away from the decision, Ball still appears to be a splendid fit with the Lakers, whose up-tempo offense under coach Luke Walton looks tailor-made for Ball’s skills. The Lakers just completed the worst four-year stretch in franchise history, but their fans hope that another playmaking superstar will be their reward for the 16-time NBA champions’ misery.

Ball is one of those fans.

“They need a leader,” Ball said after working out for the Lakers recently. “They need a point guard, and I feel like I can fill that hole. … They said they want me to come in – if I get picked – come in and be a leader and play with a lot of pace. So the stuff they were saying was very positive, and it kind of fits my game.”

Dwane Casey: Masai Ujiri assured me I’ll return as Raptors coach

(AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Galit Rodan
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Raptors president Masai Ujiri didn’t mince words at his season-ending press conference: Toronto’s playing style had become unacceptable.

It sounded as if he might have been planting the seed for firing Dwane Casey.

But the coach says Ujiri assured him he’d return next season.

Casey on TSN (hat tip: Blake Murphy of Raptors Republic):

I think people mistook Masai’s comments for that. We had a good meeting before that meeting, and we’ve had meeting since then – with all the coaches – as far as plans for next year and the culture reset, which I think every corporation and every team should do periodically to get the culture back in focus and that type of thing. It’s not like we’re in total chaos or anything like that. It’s just good to have roles defined, things we can do better in each of our roles.

We’re doing some good things and some things we can do much better with. And that’s what we’ll plan on doing this summer and also this fall, when we go to training camp.

The Raptors’ offensive rating has dropped from regular season to the playoffs by 8.5, 7.2 and 11.7 the last three years. Their isolation-heavy style is just easier to stop when defenses see it in consecutive games.

The big question: What does Toronto do about that?

It’d be difficult to move on from the two players most responsible for the style, DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry. DeRozan is signed long-term, and if the Raptors don’t re-sign Lowry, who’ll be an unrestricted free agent this summer, they won’t have the cap space to land a comparable replacement.

The best bet is probably changing schemes from the bench and hoping the players can adjust – and maybe Casey can handle that responsibility. Hiring a new coach obviously would been the clearest path to a shake up, but maybe Casey can evolve. I’d want to see a plan from him before committing to keeping him, but maybe Ujiri got that.

Casey has played a key role in Toronto’s improvement, it’s nice to give him an opportunity to coach differently before hiring a different coach.

Report: John Wall contract extension Wizards’ top priority, but he’s unsure about committing

Daniel Shirey/Getty Images
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Wizards guard John Wall can sign a contract extension this year, sign an extension next year or become an unrestricted free agent in 2019. No matter when he signs – because he’s still under contract for two more seasons – the new terms would take effect in 2019-20.

When will he lock in?

By making the All-NBA third team, Wall became eligible to sign a designated-veteran-player contract extension with Washington this summer. But because he has two years left on his current deal ($18,063,850 in 2017-18 and $19,169,800 in 2018-19), an extension could add just four years to his contract.

This is the only time Wall is guaranteed be eligible for a designated-veteran-player salary, though. He could add five years at the designated-veteran-player rate by making All-NBA in 2017-18 or 2018-19, but that’s obviously no guarantee.

Does Wall want to sign now, even for fewer years, while he’s designated-veteran-player eligible? Do the Wizards want to give him that higher max in order to secure his services for just four additional years?

J. Michael of CSN Mid-Atlantic:

An extension with Wall will be the top priority of the offseason in which Otto Porter is also a restricted free agent, league sources tell CSNmidatlantic.com.

From league sources close to the situation, Wall wants to see a bigger picture plan on where the franchise is headed before committing for longer.

Wall has never advanced past the second round, and he sounded disappointed in his supporting cast after the Wizards lost to the Celtics in this year’s second round. He has also expressed unhappiness about his lack of popularity in Washington.

But that’s a lot of money to turn down. Wall can’t simply pencil himself onto another All-NBA team is this guard-dominant league.

A designated-veteran-player projects to be worth $217 million over five years. If Wall plays out his contract without making an All-NBA team the next two years, his projected max – even if he re-signs with the Wizards – projects be worth $186 million over five years. That’s a $31 million difference!*

*Using Albert Nahmad’s $107 million salary-cap projection for 2019-20

Would Wall take such a large financial risk?

He must weigh his priorities (security vs. flexibility, staying in Washington vs. leaving) and his chances of making another All-NBA team in a league with Stephen Curry, James Harden, Russell Westbrook, Isaiah Thomas, DeMar DeRozan, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jimmy Butler, Chris Paul, Kyrie Irving, Damian Lillard, Kyle Lowry, Klay Thompson and Kemba Walker.

Here’s a flowchart showing Wall’s possible outcomes and what his max contract projects to be in each scenario:

John Wall extension (4)

Raptors president Masai Ujiri: ‘We need a culture reset’

AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack
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Last year, Raptors president Masai Ujiri oversaw signing coach Dwane Casey to a new three-year contract. Shortly before this year’s playoffs, Masai Ujiri said there was “no question” he’d try to re-sign Kyle Lowry.

But after Toronto got swept by the Cavaliers, ending another underwhelming postseason, Ujiri took a different tone in his postseason press conference.

He never said he’d fire Casey or let Lowry leave in free agency. Still, Ujiri opened the door for plenty of tea-leaf reading.

On Toronto’s direction:

I take responsibility first. I blame myself first. I’ve questioned myself. Should I have made those trades? What should we have done? How could I have done better to put these guys in a better situation?

And then, like I said, it goes down. We’re going to hold everybody accountable, because we need to.

After that performance, we need a culture reset here. Like, we need to figure it out. Yeah, there’s been some success, but at the end of the day, we’re trying to win a championship here. To me, making the playoffs is nothing. That was back in the day. Now, we have to figure out how we can win in the playoffs. That’s the goal. I’m not trying to hear all this “super teams” or “super personnel” or whatever.

On losing to the Cavaliers:

The end of the year was disappointing. Let’s call a spade a spade. The end of the year was disappointing for us. That series was disappointing for us. We thought we could do better. I don’t know what it is. We’ve started to study it, and I can’t tell exactly what it is. At a point, we looked wide-eyed. We didn’t make shots, I understand. But I sometimes feel that wasn’t our team that we saw out there, to be honest.

On Casey:

There are things that I questioned. I think our style of play is something that we’re going to really evaluate.

One of the things that I discussed with Coach Casey is how we play. We’ve done it the same time over and over again. Is it going to work the next time? We have to figure that out. The one-on-one basketball we play, we have to question that.

The style of play is something that we need to change. I’ve made it clear, and Coach has acknowledged it, and he’s already thought about it. Just some of the things that we do, it’s not working anymore. I’ve just made it clear that it’s going to be difficult for me to keep changing players, just because of the way the CBA is situated. My short answer to that, honestly, is, yes, there’s commitment, but we are all going to question ourselves. We’re all going to seriously question ourselves now and figure out the best way to do it, because Coach Casey has been a phenomenal part of our success here. In some ways, we owe that to him. But I’ve told him that we all have to be accountable.

On Lowry:

It’s our jobs to try and get Kyle to come back and do it the best way that we possibly can. We want him back. He’s been a huge part of the success here.

You’ve built this thing for a while, and is there another level to it? We have to account for that and be accountable for that. And we have to decide, is this the way we want to go in terms of money spent?

There were mixed signals about Casey’s job security last year before his extension. It doesn’t sound as if he should feel safe now.

Likewise, Lowry probably shouldn’t bank on a full five-year max offer (worth a projected $205 million). Ujiri clearly wants Lowry back, but I’m not sure Ujiri is enthused to pay so much for Lowry from age 31 to 36.With Lowry sounding like he’s dropping hints about leaving, anything less than a full max could push him out the door.

Toronto’s ascent will be stalled until it answers a question: Would an offensive scheme other than Casey’s lead to more playoff success, or are Lowry and DeMar DeRozan ill-suited for postseason basketball? Or both?

There are many sub-questions: Can Casey change his style? Can Lowry and DeRozan change their styles? Who are the alternatives to the coach and players?

Ujiri enters a pivotal offseason, and as he said, there’s still more information to gather. But the early indications are Casey and/or Lowry might not like how it goes.