Dan Feldman

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At least the Raptors avoided a catastrophic slide

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I’m grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.

After his team’s fourth straight playoff disappointment – even the team’s run to the 2016 Eastern Conference finals included barely scraping by with home-court advantage in the first two rounds then losing in the most lopsided six-game series ever – Raptors president Masai Ujiri declared a need for a “culture reset.”

How he planned to implement that was another question.

DeMar DeRozan and Jonas Valanciunas alone were guaranteed more than $160 million. Other players were also owed enough that Toronto would have only limited means to replace its best player, Kyle Lowry, if he walked in unrestricted free agency – which seemed quite possible.

It appeared Ujiri was on the brink of pushing the button on a halfhearted detonation. It could have taken the Raptors years to tear down and maybe even longer to build back up.

And it’s not as if Ujiri had complete control. Lowry could have left and made preservation an unavailable option.

But after the foundation of the Raptors’ best era in franchise history shook and settled, they rebuilt a downsized structure atop it that includes only some of the previous furnishings.

Toronto re-signed Lowry and Serge Ibaka to three-year contracts – Lowry for $93 million and Ibaka for $65 million. The players get fairly high salaries, but at least the Raptors can move onto their next chapter in a few years. It’s a logical compromise.

Those deals came at a major immediate cost, though. Toronto is apparently unwilling to pay the luxury tax for a team that has shown no way to get past the Cavaliers. So, there was a large drain on production around the Raptors’ top players. Outgoing this summer:

Toronto even had to include a lottery-protected first-round pick and a second-round pick and incur a $1 million cap hit each of the next three seasons from Justin Hamilton’s contract for Brooklyn to take Carroll.

The only major contributor going against the tide and toward Toronto is C.J. Miles, a sweet-shooting swingman who can defend well when not outmuscled. He’ll help the Raptors. He won’t come close to replacing all that they lost.

Toronto is counting on all the young talent is has cultivated to step up. Norman Powell and Delon Wright are definitely in line for bigger roles, and Pascal Siakam probably is, too. The Raptors would probably like to cut bait on Jonas Valanciunas to elevate Jacob Poeltl. O.G. Anunoby, Lucas Nogueira and Bruno Caboclo are also in the pipeline as potential rotation players.

Credit Toronto for identifying and developing this deep crop of youngsters, who allowed for the team’s strategy this summer. These players have been preparing, and at some point – ideally while still on cheap contracts – they deserved the opportunity contribute.

But make no mistake: The Raptors downgraded across the board. The supporting cast around Lowry, DeRozan and Ibaka – a trio in or near its prime – is less-equipped to help a team designed at the top to win now.

It feels like this team’s best chance of winning the East has come and gone. LeBron James is still in Cleveland. The Celtics have probably already overtaken Toronto, and the 76ers’ rise appears inevitable.

The Raptors have had a good few years. They might have a few more good ones left.

But it seems their self-imposed budget has resigned them to playing out the string on a plan that has already peaked.

Offseason grade: C-

Penny Hardaway actually called Kawhi Leonard a superstar

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Penny Hardaway saying Kawhi Leonard isn’t a superstar?

Never happened.

Hardaway was misquoted.

Hardaway on SiriusXM NBA Radio:

Superstar?

You know what? I can give Kawhi superstar, because he’s just not a guy that likes commercials. He’s not a guy that wants to be the face of the league. He just wants to get his work done.

He don’t want to talk, but that part goes along with being a superstar, though. But I would give him – he would be a superstar to me, for sure, because he handles his own with anybody in the league.

Leonard provides superstar production on the court. He doesn’t carry himself like a superstar, which as Hardaway said, can influence whether a player is a superstar, depending on how you define the term.

It seems Hardaway combined on- and off-court factors – and concluded Leonard deserves the title.

Lakers unsurprisingly most over-represented in national-TV games based on projected record

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The Warriors have more nationally televised games* than the Raptors, Heat, Pistons, Kings, Suns, Grizzlies, Hornets, Bulls, Pacers, Hawks, Nets and Magic combined.

*Counting only games on ABC, TNT or ESPN. NBATV games don’t carry the same prestige and exposure.

Fair? The NBA and its television partners think so, and that’s ultimately what matters.

The league released its schedule yesterday, and that always provides a telling look at the NBA’s hierarchy. Team strength and market size both matter for getting these marquee games.

Here’s how it shakes out this year, with:

  • ABC in blue
  • TNT in green
  • ESPN in orange

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Using Kevin Pelton of ESPN’s win projections for each team and a linear regression, we can plot how many nationally televised games a team would be expected to have based on projected wins – and where NBA teams actually fall:

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Team Projected wins Nationally televised games Projected nationally televised games Difference
LAL 33 23 4.9 +18.1
CLE 49.2 27 18 +9.0
PHI 33.2 14 5.1 +8.9
OKC 49.5 27 18.2 +8.8
BOS 49.4 25 18.2 +6.8
HOU 55 28 22.7 +5.3
NYK 32 8 4.1 +3.9
SAC 27.4 4 0.4 +3.6
SAS 52.6 24 20.7 +3.3
GSW 62.1 31 28.4 +2.6
WAS 47.5 18 16.6 +1.4
PHO 30.3 4 2.8 +1.2
LAC 48.9 19 17.8 +1.2
ATL 27 0 0.1 -0.1
DAL 34.6 6 6.2 -0.2
CHI 28.5 1 1.3 -0.3
MIN 50.1 17 18.7 -1.7
BRK 29.5 0 2.1 -2.1
DET 35.1 4 6.6 -2.6
POR 43.8 11 13.6 -2.6
IND 32 1 4.1 -3.1
MEM 34.6 3 6.2 -3.2
ORL 32.2 0 4.3 -4.3
NOP 44.2 8 14 -6
MIL 46.9 10 16.1 -6.1
MIA 42.3 5 12.4 -7.4
UTA 44.7 7 14.4 -7.4
DEN 47.2 9 16.4 -7.4
TOR 43.4 5 13.3 -8.3
CHA 44.1 3 13.9 -10.9

Of course, the Lakers top their expected value by double anyone else. That Los Angeles market does wonders, as does an even wider fan base. At least Lonzo Ball should make the Lakers more exciting this year. That beats all the seasons they were bad and boring and still got plenty of national exposure.

The big loser by this method? The Hornets, whose on-court projections would peg them for nearly 11 more nationally televised games than they actually received.

Report: ‘Continues to be distance’ between Kristaps Porzingis, Knicks

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The Knicks ousted Phil Jackson – who went out of his way to alienate Kristaps Porzingis – and promoted Steve Mills, who said he had a “hectic texting relationship” with the young big man. They exercised Porzingis’ 2018-19 team option. Porzingis said he wants to spend the rest of his career in New York.

So everything is now smooth between Porzingis and the Knicks?

Not necessarily, especially not with Kyrie Irving on the trade block.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Porzingis has emerged as a primary Cleveland target, but that’s a conversation that can occur only with Cleveland’s willingness to unburden the Knicks of the three years and $55 million left on Joakim Noah‘s contract. For now, the conversation is a nonstarter for the Knicks, league sources said.

For the right All-Star player, though — Irving or otherwise — multiple NBA teams are seriously questioning how emphatic of a “no” that will stay for New York. There continues to be distance between Porzingis and the organization, and how the Knicks truly value Porzingis’ future could become clearer once they’re together to begin the season.

I am shocked that a regime that paid Tim Hardaway Jr. $71 million over four years and Ron Baker $9 million over two years – and gave both player options! – hasn’t elicited complete confidence from Porzingis.

Porzingis still has two seasons before restricted free agency. There’s still plenty of time for this relationship to fully heal.

Porzingis is also more valuable than Irving. Noah, who carries highly negative value, could bridge the gap to the Cavaliers star. But I wouldn’t trade Porzingis and Noah for Irving. The Knicks are likely to be mediocre for the rest of Noah’s contract, anyway. Better just to ride that out and still have Porzingis at the end of the tunnel. There’s no such guarantee with Irving, who will become an unrestricted free agent in two years.

But it sounds as if the Knicks must still work to get Porzingis back fully on the same page.

Marvin Bagley III goes from potential No. 1 pick pick in 2019 NBA draft to potential No. 1 pick in 2018 NBA draft

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The 2019 NBA draft just added a potential No. 1 pick.

Now, it subtracts one.

Marvin Bagley III reclassified to enroll at Duke for the upcoming season. He’ll be eligible to declare for the 2018 draft.

A 6-foot-11 big man, Bagley is skilled and athletic. He still must prove his toughness and motor, but playing for Duke should serve him well.

Bagley already 18, so he’d be a natural fit in the next draft.

Projecting the strength of a draft this far out is usually a fool’s errand. But Bagley, Michael Porter, Luka Doncic, Mohamed Bamba and DeAndre Ayton seem to form a strong group at the top of the 2018 class. That’s good news for teams likely to pick high like the Celtics, Hawks and Bulls.