Masai Ujiri cautious with his words but thinks Raptors headed in right direction

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There are a lot of fans in Toronto that think they have a playoff team this season.

A lot thought that last season, something encouraged by the bold words of Bryan Colangelo. Didn’t exactly work out that way…actually it was nothing close to that way.

Now there is a new sheriff in town, GM Masai Ujiri, a guy who already found a way to unload Andrea Bargnani and his massive salary. So more bold predictions?

Nope. That’s not how Ujiri roles. He spoke with Eric Koreen of the national post and was cautious.

“I really can’t say this team is going to be fourth or seventh or 12th,” Ujiri said in a one-on-one interview in his corner office days before his first training camp as general manager of the Raptors. “I can’t do that. I want us to have growth, big-time growth, and improvement so that we can actually know what we have on this team. And then we can move from there.”

Should the Raptors have made a bigger, splashier move this offseason?

“I wouldn’t understand what there is to do bigger. I understand [the feeling]. I wish I could come in and make it an Eastern Conference final team the next day. That’s not how sports work. I study history. I study the game. I study the NBA and the team I’m working for very, very closely. Everyday, you think about it … My job, from when I took the job and when we started here, is to try to move forward. That’s the way I see it.”

And the Raptors will move forward. While just how far Rudy Gay can lead a team is a divisive issue, he can lead them to the playoffs and they have a full season with him. Jonas Valanciunas has looked great over the summer (at both Summer League and FIBA’s EuroBasket) and we’ll see if Terrence Ross can take a step forward. Guys off the bench like Steve Novak and Tyler Hansbrough can be good role players.

There are big questions, mostly about if this team can defend well enough to make the playoffs. But they can be in the mix for one of the final couple spots in the East.

After a long playoff drought, start there. No reason for Ujiri to oversell it.

Report: Dennis Smith Jr. rejoins Mavericks after reconciling with Rick Carlisle

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Second-year guard Dennis Smith Jr. has been rumored to be on the trade block. The Dallas Mavericks guard hasn’t seen eye-to-eye with coach Rick Carlisle, and several teams have expressed interest in Smith. It appeared that Smith was all set to join another team as part of a swap as we approach the trade deadline.

A report on Sunday on the latest from Dallas has changed all that. According to The Athletic, Smith and Carlisle have had productive talks and the 21-year-old is set to rejoin the team for their game on Tuesday.

Via Twitter:

Smith hasn’t made the kind of leap the Mavericks were hoping for. Despite an offensive explosion across the league, he hasn’t seen his advanced numbers experience a significant bump. Smith’s flaws are that of a young player — shooting and decision-making — so any additional communication with coaches will be a good thing for him.

Who knows is he and Carlisle can ever heal the wound fully, but it felt too soon to press the eject button on a Top 10 pick like Smith for Mavs fans.

Lakers PG Lonzo Ball will miss 4-6 weeks with ankle sprain

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The Los Angeles Lakers have been dealt another injury loss.

Lakers PG Lonzo Ball, part of the young core the team is trying to develop around LeBron James, suffered an ankle sprain against the Houston Rockets on Saturday. The team release via their website said Ball would be re-evaluated but could mis 4-6 weeks.

Via Lakers:

Lakers guard Lonzo Ball, who was injured in last night’s game at Houston, underwent an MRI which revealed a Grade 3 left ankle sprain. Ball is expected to miss 4-6 weeks and updates will be provided as appropriate.

Ball had to be carried from the court after he collided with James Ennis during a play in the third quarter. Ball appeared to step on Ennis’ foot when the Rockets player tried to cut him off from the basket.

LA has had a rough go of it since LeBron injured his groin some 13 games ago. The Lakers have also been without Rajon Rondo, and have had a tough time winning games. The team, once thoroughly in the playoff race, has now dipped to ninth place in the West.

James and Rondo have been cleared for basketball activities, and they need their veteran leadership now more than ever heading into the All-Star break.

Watch the Bulls’ tribute video for Dwyane Wade

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Dwyane Wade is a Chicago native but the Miami Heat guard only played in the Windy City for a short amount of time. Wade was a member of the Chicago Bulls for 60 games in 2016-17 despite having signed a massive contract with the team in July of 2016.

Wade is now back where he belongs in Miami, and he’s been on a bit of a farewell tour across the NBA. As such, the Bulls felt it prudent to show a little tribute video for Wade before the final game he was to play at United Center.

Via Twitter:

How Bulls fans feel about Wade probably depends on who you ask, but a tribute video from the organization is a classy touch no matter what.

Wade has done jersey swaps with players around the league and in Chicago he got a special one: Benny the Bull.

‘One Piece’ fans are trying to get Steven Adams into All-Star Game

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There’s been a lot of clever NBA All-Star marketing over the years. Portland Trail Blazers guard CJ McCollum did a “Napoleon Dynamite”-themed video for his buddy Damian Lillard this season. The Toronto Raptors made a faux-vintage action figure ad for Kawhi Leonard.

Now it appears that anime website Crunchyroll is trying to get “One Piece” fans to vote for Oklahoma City Thunder big man Steven Adams.

Adams is a fan of anime, and has professed his admiration for the show “One Piece” before. Adams made mention about how he was watching the show instead of Kevin Durant‘s debut with the Golden State Warriors a while back. In turn, Crunchyroll — a streaming site — made a video trying to get people to vote for Adams in the NBA fan vote.

Via Twitter:

That’s pretty good, but will it be enough? We know the fan vote gets wild, especially with favorites who are sort of undeserving (Derrick Rose and Luka Doncic come to mind). Could a big push from the anime crowd help Adams, who is an excellent player but who has never been an All-Star, notch his first bid?