Valanciunas is good, has a strong track of improvement and, at age 23, should continue to develop.
It wouldn’t have been the least bit surprising to see him get a max contract (projected to be worth more than $93 million) as a restricted free agent next summer. So many teams will have cap space to burn with the salary cap skyrocketing.
Valanciunas is already one of the NBA’s best low-post scorers. If he progresses defensively – and Dwane Casey is the right coach to help him – Valanciunas could anchor one heck of a team in Toronto.
Kyle Lowry is the Raptors’ unquestioned leader right now, and DeMar DeRozan and DeMarre Carroll are important cogs. But Valanciunas’ youth adds tremendous value.
Toronto has a team that can win now and in the future. Locking Valanciunas into a relatively cheap deal should only help them add pieces down the road.
For him, the guarantee of $64 million is life-changing money. The chance at more as a free agent obviously didn’t appeal as much as the security of this extension.
Magic Johnson – one of the NBA’s brightest stars – stood behind a podium, smiled and shook the world. Johnson had HIV and was retiring from the Lakers, he announced. Confusion, speculation and, most prominently, grief followed. Everyone thought he’d die. Charles Barkley said, “It’s kind of like somewhat of a death of a brother.” Larry Bird called it “probably the toughest day I’ve had since my father passed away, and I’ve been very depressed and sort of been out of it.” Pat Riley called for a moment of silence before a game.
More than 28 years later, Johnson mourned Kobe Bryant.
Bryant’s death yesterday was the tragedy everyone believed Johnson’s diagnosis to be. Sudden. Crushing. Unbelievable. All the same emotions came pouring out. Except this time there was no mistaking the finality.
Johnson has continued living, thriving, inspiring. He’s a renowned businessman, beloved celebrity and fantastic ambassador for basketball. It’s the type of retirement expected for Bryant, because why wouldn’t it be?
The NBA has grown accustomed to its titans aging gracefully. Unlike baseball, the NBA hasn’t existed long enough for multiple generations of old-timers to pass away. Unlike football, the NBA doesn’t subject its players to such traumatic physical tolls.
Just two MVPs in all of NBA history had died, Wilt Chamberlain (age 63 in 1999) and Moses Malone (age 60 in 2015), and those deaths felt far too soon.
Bryant was only 41.
Just four All-Stars died younger. Don Sunderlage was in a car crash at age 31 in 1961. Maurice Stokes suffered a head injury during a game, became paralyzed then – after teammate Jack Twyman cared for him for 12 years – died at age 36 in 1970. Pete Maravich had a heart issue while playing pickup basketball at age 40 in 1988. Reggie Lewis suffered a heart attack during what should have been the midst of his career at age 27 in 1993.
Lewis – like Len Bias (who died of a cocaine overdose at age 22 in 1986) and Drazen Petrovic (who died in a car crash at age 28 in 1993) – never got to fulfill their potentials. That creates its own kind of anguish.
There is no analogue to Bryant’s death.
Bryant’s accomplishments – one MVP, five championships, two NBA Finals MVPs, 11 All-NBA first teams, two All-NBA second teams, two All-NBA third teams and 18 All-Star appearances – place him among the very greatest of all-time greats. No player anywhere near that stature had ever died anywhere near this young.
Bryant could be charming and ruthless, sometimes simultaneously. His play and conduct earned him loyal fans and harsh critics. The never-ending Kobe debates seemed only to inflame the passion of his supporters.
Few adored him like fellow NBA players. They admired his skill and determination. He responded by mentoring many. It’s difficult to overstate just how cherished Bryant was in this league.
Few understand the cold realities of the NBA like Austin Rivers. He grew up with his father, Doc Rivers, frequently gone playing and coaching. As a result, they aren’t particularly close. Now an NBA player himself, Austin speaks of their distant relationship with far more acceptance than wistfulness. He’s too focused on competing to do much else.
Yesterday, Austin cried on the court:
Then, explained how little he cared about the Rockets losing a basketball game:
Others shed tears in arenas around the country. The NBA could have cancelled yesterday’s games. Playing while grieving proved difficult for many.
There was just no good way to handle the loss. Mere moments of silence felt insufficient.
The Spurs and Raptors began their game yesterday with shot-clock violations in honor of his No. 24. Other teams exchanged a shot-clock violation and eight-second violation in honor of his other number. Trae Youngwore No. 8.
My new motto with everything is, What Would Kobe do? He’d want us to focus more on the loss of his daughter. He’d want us to get past differences with our brothers and move on. He’d never want the game to be cancelled or be stopped. He’d want us to keep going! #RIPKOBE🙏🏾🙏🏾🙏🏾
After his fourth-round loss to Rafael Nadal, Kyrgios – wearing a different Kobe jersey – shared his perspective on Bryant:
Basketball is practically my life, and I watch it every day, and I’ve been following it for as long as I can remember.
If anything, it motivated me. If you look at the things he stood for and what he wanted to be remembered by, I felt like, if anything, it helped me tonight.
I’m a Celtics fan, and so when I saw Kobe do what he does and break the hearts of so many Celtics fans, it was tough to see. But I don’t think they make them like him anymore. He was different. The way he trained, the way he did things, the way he played was special. It’s just sad.
Reports: Kobe Bryant’s helicopter was in holding pattern, advised of flying too low
As the flight towers try to assist in the helicopter landing, they are cautioned about the “overcast” weather and their low flight level, meaning they were dangerously close to the ground.
“You’re still too low level for flight following at this time,” the flight toward warned the pilot on the audio.
Bryant’s helicopter was reportedly traveling north along the 118 freeway, turned west and followed the 101 freeway. After hitting heavy fog around 9:40 a.m., the helicopter turned south and made a steep climb from 1200 feet to 2000 feet.
Moments later they reportedly flew into the mountain at 1700 feet and the vehicle was traveling at 161 knots.
There’s still more to learn, including whether the helicopter had mechanical issues. Perhaps, we’ll never get that answer. If we do, it won’t change anything.
Still, it feels natural to search for greater understanding of this inexplicable tragedy.