Winderman: Why Pat Riley is a big Toronto Raptors fan right now

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Based on the standings, it is understandable that the Heat is paying attention to the Bucks, Hawks and Celtics over the close of the regular season.

With Milwaukee, there is the matter of the No. 5 seed in the Eastern Conference.

With Atlanta and Boston, there is the matter of determining its opening-round playoff opponent.

Yet the Heat also is keeping tabs on Toronto and Chicago, and it has nothing to do with which will wind up as first-round playoff fodder for Cleveland.

As impressive as the Heat’s closing run has been, the long view long has trumped the 2010 playoffs.

Instead, it is about the next generation Heat, the one that Pat Riley plans to build around a re-signed Dwyane Wade and Free Agent X (with Chris Bosh and Amare Stoudemire the prime targets).

The problem is if that plan comes to fruition, there will be precious little remaining cap space and resources to round out the roster.

Enter the Raptors.

As part of the trade that last season sent Shawn Marion and Marcus Banks to Toronto for Jamario Moon and Jermaine O’Neal, the Heat acquired a lottery-protected first-round pick from the Raptors.

The pick goes to the Heat the next season that Toronto qualifies for the playoffs. Otherwise, an unprotected pick will go to the Heat in 2015.

All along, the assumption was that the Heat would be getting that first-round pick this June from Toronto, especially after the Raptors acquired Hedo Turkoglu in the offseason.

As the season dragged along, it became almost assured that the selection would be at No. 15, the highest pick available outside of the lottery.

And then Turkoglu turned into a sloth. Bosh caught an Antawn Jamison elbow. And the Raptors reeled.

Now, unless Toronto can sneak back into the playoff picture, that first-round pick will be staying with the Raptors, with Bryan Colangelo reduced to lottery duty (ah, Secaucus in May).

Instead, as per terms of the trade, the Heat will receive Toronto’s second-round pick this June, as it waits for the Raptors’ first-rounder to arrive in a future season.

On one hand, this could turn into the lottery bonanza the Jazz is about to realize with the unprotected first-rounder Utah holds from the Knicks.

But for the Heat, 2015 is an abstract, when Riley surely will be retired to his Malibu beach estate.

It needs the pick now, either as a trade chip, or as cheap labor after Wade and Free Agent X eat up much of the 2010 cap space.

And so, while the rest of the league focuses on the top of the standings, evaluates the championship pedigrees of the Lakers and Cavaliers, the Heat’s attention is focused on the bottom of the scramble.

The Raptors have done just enough losing to maximize the value of that first-rounder to the Heat.

But now Toronto has no bigger fan than Pat Riley.

Ira Winderman writes regularly for NBCSports.com and covers the Heat and the NBA for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

Trae Young: I’ll be better than Luka Doncic

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Trae Young and Luka Doncic will be forever linked by their draft-night trade.

The Hawks took Doncic No. 3 then traded down with the Mavericks for No. 5 pick Young and a future first-round pick.

Young, via Andrew Sharp of Sports Illustrated:

“The thing with Luka,” Young says, “he’s a great player. I don’t understand why it can’t work out for both situations. I hear [Atlanta made a mistake] all the time. Luka’s a great dude, and I think he’s going to be a really good player. But at the same time, I’m going to be a better player. Just because of my ability to stretch the floor, get others involved, I think I’ll be better.”

Of course, Young was never going to say Doncic would be better than him. But Young didn’t have to address this so directly at all. By going out of his way to make such a bold statement, Young puts more pressure on himself.

So far, both Doncic and Young have impressed. I’ll still stick with Doncic, though. Enough to justify Dallas surrendering that extra first-round pick? That’s a far tougher call and the one the Hawks will be judged by.

Young doesn’t want that leniency, though. He’s aiming to be better than Doncic straight up and unafraid to say so publicly.

Markelle Fultz’s new free throw stroke is… different.

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Philadelphia’s Markelle Fultz is in his own head with his free throw stroke now. (And, likely much more than that, but we’ll stick with the free throws for now.)

Earlier this week Fultz double-clutched a free throw attempt and his stroke was a mess.

Each game that stroke seems to change and the latest one is… different. Very different.

As Vecenie notes, this is actually an improvement in terms of the release, but that doesn’t make it good. Fultz was 1-of-2 in his one trip to the stripe (as of this writing).

Still, I have never seen someone pass the ball back-and-forth between their hands as they go into their shooting motion like that. Very, very odd.

Markelle Fultz’s agent denies rumor shooting woes due to motorcycle accident

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Why is 76ers guard Markelle Fultz‘s shot so screwed up?

Did he suffer an injury? Did he change his mechanics? Does he have the yips? Some combination?

Another theory presented by Brandon Robinson: Fultz got into a motorcycle crash last year.

Fultz’s agent, Raymond Brothers, via Kyle Neubeck of PhillyVoice:

“Markelle and the motorcycle, I saw the article that was sent, 100 percent not true,” said Brothers. “Quote me on that.”

The Collective Bargaining Agreement prohibits players from riding on motorcycles, though this theoretically could have been before Fultz signed his contract with Philadelphia. So, if this is true, there could be even more complications.

But Robinson’s report is too far-fetched to believe. Without more evidence, I’m not buying it.

Judge sounds skeptical of accuser’s arguments in appeal of Derrick Rose case

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Derrick Rose was found not liable during a civil rape trial in 2016.

The plaintiff appealed, and her argument was heard today. It doesn’t sound like it was well-received.

One of the appellate-court judges, Hon. Barrington D. Parker Jr., via Kyle Bonagura of ESPN:

“The main issue in this case is what happened that night between Doe and the three defendants,” Parker told Anand. “And you did a good job of presenting your case that what happened on that evening was nonconsensual, that she was raped.

“The defendants, as I look at the record, had powerful defenses to that presentation, which at the end of the day, the jury bought. You had a nine-day trial and this jury was out in what, 15 minutes? And you lose on every single claim. The jury just didn’t buy your case. No trial is perfect, but your evidence concerning the night in question came in and the jury had an opportunity to hear that.”

Following the trial as it unfolded, it seems the jury made the correct decision. Doe’s case was presented and considered. There wasn’t nearly enough evidence against Rose to find him liable.

That doesn’t mean he didn’t rape Doe. Her accusation counts for something. But at a certain point, if her claims can’t be credibly substantiated, Rose deserves a chance to move on. Police also investigated Rose and didn’t charge him.

The Court of Appeals has not yet ruled on Doe’s appeal, but it sounds like Rose is one step closer to putting this behind him legally.