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Next game for Raptors: Making final pitch to Kawhi Leonard

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TORONTO (AP) — The title won and the draft over, the Toronto Raptors turn to the next order of business: keeping Kawhi Leonard.

He is expected to opt out of the final year of his contact and become a free agent June 30. The two-time NBA Finals MVP and three-time All-Star is likely the biggest prize on the market.

Toronto can offer Leonard a five-year deal worth about $190 million – one year and some $50 million more than any other suitor.

After a season-long soft sell that ended with the team’s first championship and a massive downtown parade, the Raptors have just more than a week to craft, plan and present their final pitch to the best player in franchise history.

“We obviously want to put a couple of special touches on it,” general manager Bobby Webster said Friday. “But, yeah, we’re comfortable. Throughout the year we’ve been talking about the things that we can offer and what made this season so special. I think we’ll just continue that.”

Now, after two months of hectic, high-pressure playoff games, there’s fine-tuning to be done.

“There’s a ton of thoughts and ideas,” Webster said. “And so collecting those and putting them a little bit more in a presentation, or kind of a little bit more in order will help, even in our brains as we start to think about all the different ways to pitch him.”

Injured for all but nine games in his final season with San Antonio, Leonard played 60 regular-season games for Toronto and 24 more in the postseason, increasing his minutes once April arrived.

Asked about his future at Monday’s parade and rally, Leonard said he wasn’t worried about the tight timeline for his big decision.

“You don’t need too many days to figure it out,” he said. “We’ll see what happens. Once that time comes, then we’ll all lay the pros and cons out.”

After averaging career-bests of 26.6 points and 7.3 rebounds in the regular season, Leonard raised his averages to 30. 5 and 9.1 in the playoffs. With 22 points in the June 13 clincher over the Warriors, he passed Allen Iverson for fourth place and Hakeem Olajuwon for third on the NBA’s single-postseason scoring list.

Center Marc Gasol, acquired from Memphis at the trade deadline, also has a player option for next season, the final year of his deal.

“He’s earned the right to think about this and we’ll respect it,” Webster said. “Obviously, we’d love to have him back but this is his decision and it’s a big one for him.”

Finding time for draft and free agency preparation amid the whirlwind of a long NBA postseason has given Webster a new appreciation for his colleagues in the Warriors’ front office, where such a schedule has become routine.

“We asked Golden State how did they do this five years in a row,” he said.

“Even throughout the playoffs we were meeting and we were discussing stuff,” Webster went on. “You know the season is going to come to an end at some point, so you do want to be prepared. It’s a little bit different of a mindset to really talk about the summer when the season is still going on but we did it, and so we feel comfortable.”

Webster said he and coach Nick Nurse discussed plans while the team was flying back and forth from California to Toronto four times during the finals.

“We had a lot of long flights,” Webster said. “We sit close on the plane so we can have those chats.”

Toronto made its first draft selection since 2017 Thursday, taking Dewan Hernandez from the University of Miami with the 59th pick. The 6-foot-11 Hernandez sat out this season because of his dealings with an agent. Facing additional punishment next season, the junior from Miami turned pro instead.

“To some extent, maybe we got lucky that he didn’t play last year,” Webster said. “He kind of flew under the radar. We all felt like had he had a full season, he wouldn’t have been available at 59. We think we got a really good player.”

Webster said the Raptors had “intense discussions” about acquiring a pick late in the first round or earlier in the second but couldn’t strike a deal they liked.

“We weren’t willing to sacrifice any of our future assets to get it,” he said.

 

Watch Trae Young drop 31 at Drew League, lose to Montrezl Harrell who has 46

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The Drew League in Los Angeles is one of the premiere — for my money the best — summer pro-am basketball league in America. There is some serious talent getting run on that court.

But drop in NBA talent and it’s another level.

That’s what happened Saturday in Los Angeles. Atlanta’s Trae Young showed up, went head-to-head with the reigning Drew League MVP Frank “Nitty” Session (who has embarrassed guys like Denzel Valentine in Drew games), and dropped 31.

But Young’s team lost because Clippers’ stud  Montrezl Harrell dropped 46.

You can see the highlights above thanks to BallisLife.

 

Manny Pacquiao says he has thought about buying part of NBA team when he retires

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At age 40, Manny Pacquiao is not retiring. Even if you and some boxing pundits think he should. Tonight (Saturday) he fights Keith Thurman at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas and is expected to pull down about a cool $26 million for his trouble. If you’re getting paid like that, why retire exactly? He has said he wants to fight another five years or so.

After that, he’d like to buy part of an NBA team.

That’s what he told TMZ in a pre-fight interview.

He said he has thought about buying a piece of an NBA team after he retires. Pacquiao, a basketball nut who uses the sport as part of his training, owns an entire semi-pro league — the Maharlika Pilipinas Basketball League — in the Philippines (one of the most basketball-crazy nations on earth). Pacquiao said he thinks his experience with that league would help him as an NBA owner, that some of the skills will translate, which is likely true. Pacquiao said it’s about finding the right opportunity.

Forbes estimates that Pacquiao will have earned, after Saturday’s fight, more than $500 million in his career. Various websites estimate his net worth in the $200 million range. He’s got the money to jump in as a part owner.

In an NBA that loves personalities and characters — and one always trying to gain more traction in Asian markets — don’t be shocked if this happens someday.

Once Pacquiao retires.

C.J.McCollum, Eric Gordon both withdraw from USA Basketball for World Cup

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First Anthony Davis. Then James Harden.

Now add C.J. McCollum and Eric Gordon to the list, as reported by Shams Charania of The Athletic and Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports.

Don’t be surprised if a couple of new players are added to the USA roster for training camp.

The loss of those four stars strips the Team USA of some international experience. As pointed out by John Schuhmann of NBA.com, now only four members invited to USA camp have played in the World Cup or Olympics: Harrison Barnes, Andre Drummond, Kevin Love, and Kyle Lowry — and Lowry just had thumb surgery and is questionable for the playing in China.

USA Basketball can still roll out this starting five:

Damian Lillard
Bradley Beal
Khris Middleton
Tobias Harris
Andre Drummond

Then off the bench have Kemba Walker, Donovan Mitchell, Kyle Lowry, Jayson Tatum, P.J. Tucker, Kevin Love, Brook Lopez.

That’s still enough talent, coached by Gregg Popovich, to win the World Cup. The USA remains the heavy favorites for a reason.

USA Basketball is scheduled to begin its pre-World Cup camp in Las Vegas Aug. 5, with an intrasquad exhibition game at the T-Mobile Arena on Aug. 9. Then the team heads to Southern California for more training followed by an exhibition against Spain on Aug. 16 at the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif. Then the team heads overseas for the World Cup, which begins in China on Aug. 31.

James Harden reiterates it was ‘false talk’ he and Chris Paul were at odds

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The Houston Rockets — not in an anonymous way, but in a “we are putting our names on this, quote me” kind of way — have pushed back hard on the narrative that there was tension between Chris Paul and James Harden that led to the Rockets trading CP3 for Russell Westbrook this offseason. Rockets GM Daryl Morey has denied it, team leader P.J. Tucker called it fake news, and Paul himself has pushed back.

Harden has done that again, speaking at his camp on Saturday.

The counter-argument to this: Chris Paul is in Oklahoma City right now.

People will believe what they want to believe, but the Rockets guys have all gone on the record about this. Nothing leaked and anonymous.

From the Rockets’ perspective, they made a trade for Westbrook that is a roster upgrade. Houston has a dynamic duo that can compete with the Los Angeles teams and the other contenders around the league, and whatever questions fans and the media may have about the ultimate fit of Harden and Westbrook the talent level is not in question.

Do the Rockets make that trade if everything is great between Harden and Paul? Probably, if they saw CP3 as in decline and Westbrook as a talent upgrade (which they did). The Rockets can be a cold, business-like organization in terms of their pursuit of a title.

We will see next season if that calculation paid off. Whether or not Harden and CP3 got along.