Underground Kings no more, Raptors bring in Drake to help rebrand franchise

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When the Nets moved to Brooklyn and were looking to rebrand the franchise — new logo, new look, new attitude — and let’s be honest, the white guys in Brooks Brothers suits are not the best at knowing what the common fan wants. So the Nets turned to rapper Jay Z, who owned a sliver of the team (less than 1 percent) but had a big say in the look of the uniforms and some of the amenities inside the Barclay’s Center.

The Raptors are doing much the same thing with Toronto native Drake — they don’t want to be “Underground Kings” they want to be in the spotlight.

Rebranding is coming to Toronto and Drake is going to have a hand in that.

“There’s a reason why we are going to submit to the league a new application for a new branding, a new image, new colors — not a new name, but new branding, and Drake will be an ambassador and help us forge this new vision, this new buzz, this new excitement where we are taking this organization,” said Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment (which owns the Raptors) CEO Tim Leiweke at a press conference Monday announcing Toronto would host the 2016 All-Star Game.

Drake will be the Raptors’ “global ambassador.” Whatever that means, exactly. He certainly is a big NBA fan, friend of star players such as LeBron James, and a guy you can see at games around the league all the time. He he will certainly have a hand in the rebranding process, as well as helping make the 2016 All-Star Game a celebration of Toronto.

“I just want you to know I’m extremely excited to be part of a team I grew up a fan of, a diehard fan of, of course I’m sure like everybody else from this city,” Drake said. “I’m excited for the new vision, basketball in Canada is bigger now than ever before. I think that All-Star 2016 is a phenomenal step, something I dreamed of as a kid.”

He said he would be happy to help recruit players. That’s nice. What really gets free agents to come to a city is money — GM Masai Ujiri has to create both cap space to get them and a culture where they think they can win. If that’s in place, a phone call from Drake doesn’t hurt.

The Raptors have already submitted some paperwork with the league and have a firm hired to help with the rebranding, Leiweke said. This likely would kick in for the 2015-16 season — in time for the All-Star Game.

There had been some talk the Raptors name — picked 20 years ago when the “Jurassic Park” movie franchise was huge — could change as there were never any velociraptor anywhere near Canada. Nope. The name stays.

But a new look is part of the image makeover the franchise could use. While Drake has his detractors as a rapper — watch the comments on this post, just mention Drake and the comments become a debate about him — he’s a better choice to upgrade the image than the guys and gals in suits with their focus groups and spread sheets.

“We have been meeting with Drake for a while now to talk about the involvement they want to have. This isn’t just about the NBA, it isn’t just about the 2016 All-Star Game, this is about the Raptors. This is a new day, a new age,” Leiweke said.

Report: Pelicans, Nance agree to two-year, $21.6 million extension

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Larry Nance has been a stabilizing influence in New Orleans since coming over mid-season as part of the trade for CJ McCollum. Nance is a versatile player who can play the four or the five, knocks down his threes, is very strong on the glass, can be a disruptive defender in passing lanes, and fits in — and he has the veteran attitude of work this team needs.

So the Pelicans have reached an extension to keep the 29-year-old around for two years past this coming season, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

This is a signing that should make Pelicans fans happy. Importantly, it makes CJ McCollum happy — they are tight and this is something McCollum wanted to see. The money on this deal seems fair, about the league average for a solid rotation player.

Nance is the kind of veteran this team needs considering its young core of Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram (just turned 25), Herb Jones, and guys like Trey Murphy III, Jose Alvarado, and others. Nance compared it to the young Lakers teams he was on, but noted that team lacked the same level of veteran leadership this Pelicans team has.

We may see more Nance at the five lineups — small ball with Zion at the four — to close games this season in New Orleans, that could be their best lineup because Nance can defend but also spaces the floor for Zion on offense. Coach Willie Green has a lot of different players and matchups to experiment with.

And now he has the stability of Nance for a few more years.

Durant tired of talking Nets dramatic offseason: ‘I didn’t miss any games’

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No team had an offseason quite like the Brooklyn Nets. First, they would not give a long-term extension to Kyrie Irving, which sent the star guard looking for a new team (but there were no offers that worked for everyone, so he opted in with Brooklyn). Then Kevin Durant asked for a trade, and to gain a little leverage reportedly threw down an ultimatum of him or the coach and GM. No trade could be found — how much the Nets wanted one is up for debate — so he is back in Brooklyn. And all that is not even getting into the return of Ben Simmons, a trade for Royce O’Neal, or anything else.

The Nets drama and how they move past it has been the talk of training camp. The only talk at training camp, it feels like.

When asked Friday if there were any inaccuracies in the reporting of the Nets summer he would like to clear up, Durant sounded weary of rehashing the summer.

The only thing that will start to move the conversation in a new direction is the Nets playing and winning games (they open the preseason Monday against the 76ers). And even those wins will have the shadow of the offseason cast over them. Durant and Irving made this bed.

Part of the fascination is the Nets remain the team hardest to predict in the league. They arguably have the most talented roster in the league and, if everything comes together just right, they can contend for a title. It’s also possible the wheels fall off early and by Christmas the Nets are looking to trade Durant again. Both things feel possible (even if reality most likely lands somewhere in the middle).

That uncertainty about the Nets’ future is the drama that will keep eyeballs on them — which also means more questions about this past offseason. Durant can choose not to answer them, but the questions aren’t going away.

Highlights from Clippers preseason win fueled by Luke Kennard

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No Kawhi Leonard. Or Paul George. Or John Wall, Norman Powell, Reggie Jackson and Nic Batum. The Clippers decided to rest six key rotation players in their preseason opener in Seattle against Maccabi Ra’anana, a game played in Seattle.

All those guys are expected to suit up Monday when the Clippers play the Portland Trail Blazers in a preseason game also in Seattle, the first NBA exhibition game played in the city since 2018.

Against Maccabi, it was the Luke Kennard show as he had 16 points.

The Clippers also got 14 points and 13 boards from Moses Brown. As a team, the Clippers cruised and put up a few highlights.

The Clippers have great depth, which should allow them to survive a season where both Leonard and George are expected to get their share of load management nights off. Leonard missed all of last season coming off a torn ACL, and George played in just 31 games due to a few injuries, including a shoulder issue. Still, the Clippers finished eighth in the West with a 42-40 record and had a top 10 defense in the league.

Adding Leonard and George to that mix is why the Clippers are considered title contenders out West. Monday night against the Blazers we should get our first look at the real Clippers team for this season. But Los Angeles is 1-0 this preseason.

Report: Udoka used ‘crude language’ with female subordinate prior to improper relationship

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The Boston Celtics handled the Ime Udoka investigation and suspension by the corporate handbook: They kept the woman’s name out of the news, kept details confidential (not even telling the players much for legal reasons), and acted swiftly and decisively.

But as the team on the court starts defending its Eastern Conference title, there has been a concern that details leaking out about the investigations — and responses to those leaks — could turn this into a season-long drama and distraction for the team. That first started on Friday when Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN reported this:

The independent law firm probe into Boston Celtics coach Ime Udoka found that he used crude language in his dialogue with a female subordinate prior to the start of an improper workplace relationship with the woman, an element that significantly factored into the severity of his one-year suspension, sources told ESPN.

Those investigative findings — which described verbiage on Udoka’s part that was deemed especially concerning coming from a workplace superior — contribute to what is likely a difficult pathway back to his reinstatement as Celtics coach in 2023, sources told ESPN.

A few thoughts here.

• “Crude language” is just part of a more detailed and damning report, league sources have told NBC Sports. There is much more uncovered by the independent investigation, including about the power dynamic in play. It was enough that the Celtics thought the best move was to suspend for an entire season a coach loved by players who led the team to the NBA Finals (it’s not something the Celtics organization did lightly).

• As Wojnarowski and others have noted, it’s increasingly unlikely Udoka returns to coach the Celtics next season, even if that is not yet official.

• While some pundits and people around the league have said Udoka is “done,” the NBA has seen unexpected turnarounds before. Never say never in this league.

• About the only sure thing is that this story is not over.