Raptors have gone 8-2 without Bargnani. Coincidence?

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On December 10, the enigmatic Andrea Bargnani went down with a ligament tear in his left elbow. Two nights later the Raptors lost to the Brooklyn Nets to fall to 4-19 on the season.

But since then the Raptors are 8-1, including a thumping of the Trail Blazers on Wednesday night.

Coincidence?

Yes and no.

We need to say up front that a lot of what has fueled the Raptors win streak is the schedule. The wins over the Blazers and Rockets in this stretch can be considered quality, but most of the wins are of the Hornets, Magic, and Cavaliers variety. Toronto is in the soft part of its schedule.

But so were the Clippers in December — you have to beat the teams in front of you on the schedule and earlier in the season the Raptors were not doing that. Now they are.

Because they are just flat out playing better without Bargnani in the rotation.

Their offense is scoring 8.3 points per 100 possessions better than their season average in the last 10 games, in part because they are just shooting the ball better (their eFG%, which accounts for the bonus of a made three, has jumped from 48.3 percent on the season to 52.7 percent the last 10 games).

Then on the other end of the floor, the Raptors defense is nearly 4 points per 100 possessions better than their season average.

Look at it this way, in games 11-20 of the season the Raptors were a -8.2 points per 100 possessions when you compare their offense and defense. In the last 10 games that is +10.3, which is second best in the NBA in that stretch.

No Bargnani has meant more Ed Davis, and he is showing off an improved jumper — he was spotting up against the Blazers and making LaMarcus Aldridge look a step slow. Davis was 9-of-12 for 19 points against the Blazers and has been strong the last 10 games — when Bargnani comes back Dwane Casey can’t take Davis out of the starting lineup. He has earned the right to stay.

DeMar DeRozan, Jose Calderon and Kyle Lowry are playing well. Landry Fields is back and is contributing on the boards as he tries to figure out where he fits in the rotation. It’s all coming together.

We know the Raptors are going to be busy at the trade deadline. Bargnani will be shopped hard (and while there is a market for him it’s not one that brings back a lot of real talent or value). Either Calderon or Lowry will be moved (maybe in connection with Bargnani to add value).

But what we’ve learned the last 10 games is there are some pieces that can really work on that Raptors roster. They don’t have a star, but they have some pieces that can be part of a very good team. Now, whether Bryan Colangelo can put those pieces together is another question, but we know there are things that can work in Toronto.

And Bargnani is no longer one of them.

Jimmy Butler on being a Sixer: “I’m ready to get started, we got a little ways to go”

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Jimmy Butler is officially a member of the 76ers.

His plane landed in Philly Monday and a camera crew from NBC Sports Philadelphia was there to get his first words on being a member of the Sixers. (You can see the video above.)

“I’m ready to get started, we got a little ways to go, we got some things to figure out. But all-in-all, I look forward to it,” Butler said out the window of the car that picked him up.

What should Sixers fans expect?

“Hard playing. A guy that wants to win. We got some things we want to get done here, we want to win a championship. I think the core group of guys we have, we’ll figure out a way to get it done.”

After that he rolled up the window and drove off… and we assume cranked up the country music.

Karl-Anthony Towns takes high road, praises Jimmy Butler after trade

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Karl-Anthony Towns and Jimmy Butler did not mesh. Off the court in particular, although this season on it the Timberwolves were -7.1 points per 100 possessions when they were paired (a sharp change from a year ago when the pair were +10.2). Butler wanted out and started trying to burn down the franchise and lob grenades at practice. It took Tom Thibodeau longer than anyone else to see this was never going to work, but once he did the move was made and Butler was traded to Philadelphia.

Towns, who some around the league felt was too timid through this drama and should have stood up to Butler, took the high road after the trade and had nothing but kind words about Butler. Andrew Wiggins took the same path. From Malika Andrews of ESPN.

“He’s one hell of a player,” Towns said Sunday. “I don’t know how many Jimmy Butlers there are in the world, so I think he’ll be missed.”

“I learned a lot of things from him,” Wiggins said of Butler. “We made the playoffs, something we haven’t done in a long, long time. So I think it was a positive either way you put it.”

Classy.

We’ll see how that plays out Jan. 15 when Butler and the Sixers host Towns and the Timberwolves.

It’s official, Jimmy Butler is member of Philadelphia 76ers

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We’ve known about it since Saturday but it didn’t become official until Monday (because the call to the NBA league office could not be completed until the office was open):

Minnesota has traded Jimmy Butler to Philadelphia, along with injured rookie Justin Patton, for Robert Covington, Dario Saric, Jerryd Bayless, and a 2022 second-round pick.

Butler and his agent had told Tom Thibodeau he wanted a trade at least three times over the summer, but there was no action, something reported in a must-read story at the Athletic by Jon Krawczynski and Shams Charania. They get into how the owner, Glen Taylor, was involved but Tom Thibodeau held out hope for a long time that just getting the guys on the court together and winning would change Butler’s mind. It wasn’t going to, and the Timberwolves were losing. Eventually, Thibodeau came around, but by the time he did a very good Miami Heat offer — Josh Richardson and a 2019 first round pick — was off the table. From The Athletic.

After Butler plays 39 minutes in a loss to the Clippers that dropped the Wolves to 0-3 on the trip, the Wolves have conversations with the Heat about a possible trade. But the Heat inform the Wolves that Richardson is no longer on the table after his stellar start to the season, and the Wolves move on.

Minnesota begins to engage seriously with Philadelphia, New Orleans and Houston. New Orleans’ package is headlined by Nikola Mirotic and an unprotected first-round draft pick and the Rockets’ proposal has Eric Gordon, Nene and two first-round picks, sources said. The 76ers come with their proposal around Robert Covington and Dario Saric, leaving the Timberwolves to deliberate.

Eventually, the pick and other players were added, and the deal with Philly got done. Butler is expected to make his debut Wednesday against Orlando.

Butler is a free agent this summer and is expected to re-sign in Philadelphia. His max contract would be five-years, $190 million, and that’s what he is seeking.

Trading for Butler is the death of The Process in Philadelphia — this is a win-now team with Butler, Joel Embiid, and Ben Simmons. The Sixers have their big three but right now don’t have enough shooting and depth around them. Can Markelle Fultz be part of that? Already his name is coming up in trade rumors around the league as Philly looks for the pieces they need right now to go after Boston, Toronto, and maybe Milwaukee at the top of the East.

With Butler, the Sixers have a window of a few years — while Butler is just 29 he has heavy miles on his body thanks to Thibodeau and Butler’s all-out style of play. Plenty of GMs around the league have been hesitant (at best) to give Butler a five-year contract, expecting his body to break down. The Sixers went all-in, now they need to add the players that help them contend for a ring. It’s a new era in Philly.

Lakers, Hawks wear “Enough” jerseys to support shooting victims, Adam Silver backs them

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LOS ANGELES — Saturday afternoon at Staples Center, 60 miles from the mass shooting in Thousand Oaks that left a dozen innocent victims dead at a country and western bar, the Clippers and Bucks took to the court wearing black shirts that said “Enough” on the front and had the name of the victims on the back.

Sunday night in Los Angeles, the Lakers and Hawks wore the same thing. Support for the victims was on everyone’s mind.

“Probably the same that went through everybody’s mind: ‘Not again.’ Or, ‘Wow. What the hell?'” LeBron James said when asked his first thoughts upon hearing of this latest shooting. “Probably some more explicit terms that I won’t say right here. It’s just how do we clean up this….

“It all comes back to this gun situation that we have in America and gun violence. I don’t want to go into that right now, but I can do it at a later point. We know that these people are just being able to go and buy guns and do things with them, and innocent lives are being taken at young ages. Young ages.”

Unlike other professional sports leagues, the NBA has encouraged its players to speak out and make social statements. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver was at the Laker game Sunday night and backed those thoughts speaking to Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN.

“As I’ve always said, our players aren’t just ballplayers, they’re citizens,” Silver told ESPN… “They have strong feelings about what’s happening in society and they react to them. I think this was something that was a groundswell within the league. It came from the players and it spread by word of mouth from one team to another.

“It obviously began here in California and other teams around the league supported them,” Silver continued. “Again, I support our players’ desire to speak out on issues that are important to them and important to society.”

While the latest mass shooting took place in Southern California, the large number of them is uniquely American and not confined to one region. NBA players, like most Americans, want to find ways to change this tide.

“It’s a national thing, it’s a tough time right now with the mass shootings,” Hawks coach Lloyd Pierce said pregame. “Specifically being [in Los Angeles] with the most recent being in Thousand Oaks. It’s unfortunate, it’s sad…

“I think [the shirt] is just trying to solidify that there’s a presence around the NBA that’s thoughtful about the people that have lost their lives, and the people who were present there, and just the community that is here in Southern California. I think it’s a great statement, I know the Clippers and Milwaukee kind of started it out yesterday and everybody’s doing it, but I think it’s more of a statement to say our condolences, and that we’re with the people that have been affected by this.”

If you like the shirts the Clippers wore, they are now for sale, with the proceeds going to the families of the victims.