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With trade, Raptors place big bet on Serge Ibaka, his athleticism to find old form

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This was the long play by Masai Ujiri, the Toronto Raptors GM. He has long coveted Serge Ibaka as the four his team needs — someone who can protect the rim on one end, knock down threes and space the floor on the other. A modern four that fits the modern game and the rest of the Raptors roster.

Toronto has All-Stars and gold medalists in the backcourt with Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, it has a solid center in Jonas Valanciunas, and a “3&D” wing in DeMarre Carroll. With guys like Cory JosephLucas Nogueira, Norman Powell, and when healthy Patrick Patterson, the team has a solid bench.

However, they lacked the four they needed — and the Raptors think they found in trading for Ibaka. The Raptors surrendered a late first-round pick (the worse of theirs or the Clippers, which the Raptors control) plus a solid wing in Terrence Ross (who might be a better fit in Orlando, where they can move Aaron Gordon back to the four where he belongs now).

This looks like a win for the Raptors on the day of the trade. A trade that should both help turn around a recent losing streak, and a move that gets them closer to the Cavaliers.

But it comes with risks.

At the top of the list, Ibaka’s athleticism is not what a lot of fans remember from a few years back. Blame balky knees and the miles on them if you want, but the Ibaka the last year in Oklahoma City and then in Orlando was not the same player. He’s still good — he can defend inside, he hits the three better than he once did hitting 38.8 percent this season — but he simply does not move the same way. And that’s not likely to change.

Which leads to the next question — how much are the Raptors going to pay him this summer? Lowry is a free agent and the Raptors need to max him out to keep him (other teams will if the Raptors will not), but will Toronto go around $100 million over four or five years with Ibaka (they have his Bird rights)? That may be the market for Ibaka this summer, and while there has been interest in Toronto by Ibaka, he’s still going to go where he gets paid. This is a business. The question for Raptors’ ownership is how much tax are they willing to pay for this team?

With what the Raptors did to get him, the Raptors need to pony up and keep him.

In the short term, Ibaka and the energy from the trade should shake the Raptors out of their slump over the past few weeks that has dropped them to a tie for fourth/fifth in the East. They should be back in the mix for being the second best team in the East, but can they climb back up to the two or three seed — and avoid Cleveland in the second round?

And that’s the elephant in the room — even with this move, are the Raptors a real threat to Cleveland? Are the Raptors real contenders?

Part of that depends on how healthy the Cavs are in the playoffs.

But part of it depends on what Ibaka the Raptors get, what numbers come up in this big roll of the dice. It’s a good move by the Raptors, but it may not be the home run some expect.

 

Steve Kerr: ‘Very unlikely’ Warriors will play another regular-season game

Warriors coach Steve Kerr
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NBA owners and players are reportedly united on finishing the season or, as Adrian Wojnarowski put it, “finding a way to be able to crown a champion this season.”

Where does that leave the Warriors, the only team eliminated from the playoff race before coronavirus forced a league-wide stoppage?

Golden State coach Steve Kerr on “The Full 48,” via Ali Thanawalla of NBC Sports Bay Area:

“Look, for us, our season is basically over,” Kerr said. “If the league was somehow to start up again, it’s very unlikely we would be playing regular-season games given that they’d be in such a time crunch. Who knows?

“But I’m feeling for all the teams in the fight, in the thick of it for a championship, that are in the playoff race, teams that have put so much into this, and this was obviously a year for us where we were trying to get healthy, trying to develop some young guys. So I’m not concerned about our guys, our team. I feel sorry for the teams that are kind of in limbo right now.”

There’s chatter about resuming play with a play-in tournament and postseason in Las Vegas. The league could be sharing plans internally. Kerr could be proven right. It’s certainly possible Kerr was even already told the Warriors are finished with the regular season.

But I don’t share his prediction.

There’s a lot of money to be made by holding more regular-season games, especially for high-revenue teams like Golden State.

This was a gap year for the Warriors. They’re clearly ready to move on.

But Stephen Curry is healthy again. By the time the hiatus ends, Klay Thompson might be cleared. With other stars on the court, Draymond Green could be more engaged. Though there would be limits on Golden State’s competitiveness, that team would be a draw that could help stuff the league’s coffers.

As Kerr said, there are unprecedented timing issues. Yet, every game is a revenue opportunity. That matters, too.

Florida State forward Patrick Williams declares for NBA draft

Florida State forward Patrick Williams
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Devin Vassell declared for the NBA draft from Florida State.

Now, Patrick Williams is following.

Evan Daniels of 247Sports:

Florida State freshman Patrick Williams is declaring for the NBA Draft and plans to forgo his remaining eligibility, he tells 247Sports.

“I decided to do it because I think my game isn’t NBA ready, but I have the potential to be NBA ready,” Williams explained. “I think with development and support and everything else on that level, I can eventually can be a really good NBA player.”

That’s an interesting self-assessment – one more players should take. Williams has the tools to project as a mid-first-round pick. As he said, he needs to develop. But he can do that while earning an NBA salary rather than being stuck in the NCAA’s cartel system. There’s no good case that college teams develop young players better than NBA teams, anyway.

It’s unclear whether Williams (6-foot-8 with a 6-foot-11 wingspan) will settle in as more for a small forward or power forward. Probably power forward. But if his ball skills develop, he has potential as a small forward, a position in higher demand around the league.

As the NBA has embraced smaller lineups, rim protection – once more of a shared frontcourt responsibility – has increasingly fallen onto centers. Williams would help from either forward spot. He’s an energetic and athletic defender with good timing for blocking shots.

He needs work as a shooter. Williams has shown some ability running pick-and-rolls and creating mid-rangers for himself off the dribble. But he’s not consistent enough, and he’s far too poor of a distributor to have the ball much. His best offense comes when opportunistically taking advantage of his athleticism with cuts and alley-oop finishes.

Still, Williams shows enough flashes of more offensively to be intrigued. His defense is already more developed.

That combination is why he can feel confident about getting drafted high enough to enjoy the spoils of NBA life.

Rumor: Nets will try to trade young talent for third star

Nets Jarrett Allen, Spencer Dinwiddie, Caris LeVert, Taurean Prince
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The Nets have it all on paper.

Stars (Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving). Quality younger players (Spencer Dinwiddie, Caris LeVert, Jarrett Allen). Draft picks (net even on future first-rounders).

But Brooklyn’s road from upstart contender has been rocky.

Irving tested the Nets with his moodiness before the season. He also called it “glaring” Brooklyn needed roster upgrades. The Nets fired Kenny Atkinson, who had proven adept at player development but evidently never connected enough with Durant and Irving.

How will Brooklyn take the next step?

Brian Windhorst of ESPN:

I believe they’ve telegraphed that they intend to try to use some of their young talent to acquire a third star along Kyrie and Durant. Now, we can get enter a healthy debate here about whether Caris LeVert is that third star, and they may make the decision that he is. But my feel and reading the tea leaves, paying attention to what Sean Marks has said and also being aware of some conversations that they had at the trade deadline, which was some sticking the toe in the water on some things, I think that they are going to swing for the fences whenever the offseason comes.

I also believe the Nets will try to trade for a third star. It’s the natural direction of a team that just signed two stars, and Irving appears antsy.

But I’d also caution: Every team wants another star. Brooklyn engaging teams about their stars before the trade deadline isn’t necessarily telling. It could be easy to overstate the significance of those conversations. It depends on their tenor.

That said, the Nets have expendable assets to make better offers than many other teams.

Dinwiddie hasn’t clicked on the court with Irving in two-point guard lineups. Best with the ball, LeVert is somewhat redundant with Durant and Irving. Allen has been repeatedly slighted in Brooklyn, most recently losing his starting job to DeAndre Jordan (Durant’s and Irving’s friend).

Yet, Dinwiddie, LeVert and Allen are all talented with potential to perform even better elsewhere. That ought to intrigue other teams.

Star trades usually require a disgruntled star. Teams rarely move a star without an internal push, including an approaching free agency. There’s no obvious target right now.

But expect the Nets to be on the prowl.

Tokyo Olympics rescheduled for July/August 2021. Will they include NBA players?

USA Basketball Olympics
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The Tokyo Olympics were postponed from 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic, leaving questions about NBA players participating.

OlympicTalk:

The Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics have been rescheduled for nearly one year later with the Olympics set for July 23-Aug. 8, 2021.

That’s typically during the NBA offseason, but the NBA is also paused due to the coronavirus. Who knows how the league’s calendar will look when play resumes?

Still, these seem like good dates for getting NBA players into the Olympics. Even if the NBA playoffs are ongoing, eliminated players could participate in the Olympics.

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich still plans to coach Team USA. But, one way or another, USA Basketball should rethink its roster strategy.