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Raptors arena gets multi-million dollar upgrades after championship

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TORONTO (AP) While the Toronto Maple Leafs and Raptors gear up for next season, Scotiabank Arena is getting a multimillion-dollar face-lift.

Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment president and CEO Michael Friisdahl calls it a “reimagination” of the venue that opened in February 1999.

“We’ve got to keep getting better, we’ve got to keep improving the experience,” Friisdahl said. “We won a championship – we’ve won four championships in the last three years. That, if anything, motivates us to do even more.”

Friisdahl, who took up his position at MLSE in December 2015, declined to put a price-tag on the improvements other than to say it’s “multi, multimillion dollars.”

“Eventually when it’s all said and done, you will notice that everything will have be touched in one way or another to improve the overall (fan) experience,” he added.

MLSE is coming off a major high thanks to the Raptors’ NBA championship in June. That followed titles by Toronto FC (MLS) and Raptors 905 (G League) in 2017 and the Marlies (American Hockey League) in 2018.

The Argos also won the Grey Cup in 2017 with MLSE chairman Larry Tanenbaum a part-owner. But MLSE didn’t take over full ownership until just after the team won the CFL title.

Friisdahl says MLSE’s investment is to ensure the arena is both a “gathering place” for fans but also a destination in the city, going hand-in-hand with the money that has gone into renovating nearby Union Station.

A pedestrian bridge is being built over Bay Street from CIBC Square, currently under construction. It will connect with a new second floor to the galleria on the north side of the arena, as well as the city’s underground Path network.

The bridge should help ease the postgame flow of fans, some of whom dodge traffic to get to the other side on their way to a transit hub located to the east. Via the galleria, it will also allow daily access to the arena’s Hot Stove Lounge and other special dining areas now just open during events.

The galleria improvements should be completed in the next 12 months, part of a larger plan that will take four to five years. The goal is to make the changes with the least amount of interruption to the facility.

On the west side of the arena, a new video board is going up at Jurassic Park. The new screen is 40% bigger.

Friisdahl notes proudly that the Raptors’ playoff run sparked close to 60 Jurassic Parks across the country. “So it’s really taken on a real life of its own with our fans.”

Hence the new, improved video screen. There will also be smaller video screens near the west entrance of the galleria, to help on nights with multiple games. Plus the arena is getting new digital Scotiabank signage that can light up in different colors, replacing the temporary arena signs.

Across the street, Real Sports Bar & Grill is being gutted. Since its opening in 2010, the cavernous restaurant-bar has been a man cave on steroids. It’s getting a makeover.

“We’re going to step that up another notch … There isn’t a stitch that isn’t being retouched in here,” Friisdahl said.

Inside the arena, the Chairman’s Suite – a restaurant and premium bar/lounge area on the south side – is being renovated. Outside, extra entrances for premium guests are being added to ease getting in.

While the arena footprint cannot be changed, Friisdahl says MLSE will spend the money needed to keep the building “best in class.”

That includes using technology to further connect with fans. You can already order food and merchandise from your seat via the team apps but Friisdahl says more in that vein is coming.

“We want to be able to communicate with our fans one-on-one as opposed to one-to-many,” he said.

That will include being able to consult your app to determine concession areas and washrooms with the smallest lineups – and to pre-order food and drink to pick up en route to your seat.

“That also requires tuning up our infrastructure within the arena because that requires a different level of support. And that’s part of the reimagination,” said the MLSE boss.

Scotiabank Arena is one of the “top-10 busiest buildings in the world,” according to Friisdahl. It staged a record number of events in 2018 with more than 110 live shows over and above NHL and NBA games.

NBA executives pick Luka Doncic as best player under 25 to build around

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Luka Doncic, in his second season, made the leap into the NBA’s elite — fourth in MVP voting and First Team All-NBA. All at age 21.

Not surprisingly, he’s the player under 21 NBA teams would want to build around.

Michael Scotto of Hoopshype polled 15 league executives (including four general managers) and players under 25 they want to build around and Doncic was the unanimous choice.

“To me, Luka is the clear No. 1,” one scout told HoopsHype. “He’s a guy who can be a lead ballhandler. He’s good enough to score and create at a high level, has the right mental makeup and is incredibly smart. He’s been a winner everywhere and will probably be a winner in the league.”

It’s hard to argue when Luka Doncic is already doing this in the playoffs:

Boston’s Jayson Tatum came in second, Phoenix Devin Booker was third, followed by Ja Morant (Memphis) fourth and a tie at fifth between Donovan Mitchell (Utah) and Bam Adebayo (Miami).

An interesting note about that top five: None of them was a No. 1 pick.

Zion Williamson had been on top of this poll a year ago, but after a season where he played just 19 games then looked a step slow in the bubble there are concerns about his long-term health.

“He’s just a special player inside the arc who’s an elite finisher,” one executive told HoopsHype. “Offensively, he can finish at an elite rate. He’s one of the best finishers behind Giannis (Antetokounmpo) and LeBron (James). He can hit the open man. He’s so physically dominant. His shooting shouldn’t be a problem, but we’ll see. I think he’s always going to be hurt, though.”

One healthy dominant season from Williamson and those opinions could shift, but even then Doncic will be an MVP level player the Mavericks can build a contender around. He’s the guy under 25.

Report: Raptors coach Nick Nurse earning $8M salary on extension

Raptors coach Nick Nurse
David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images
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Spurs president-coach Gregg Popovich reportedly had an $11 million salary in 2015 then signed a contract extension in 2019 that keeps him the NBA’s highest-paid coach. Doc Rivers was earning $10 million annually with the Clippers before his latest extension. Warriors coach Steve Kerr, Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle and Heat coach Erik Spoelstra also signed extensions in recent years.

What about Nick Nurse, who just signed an extension with the Raptors?

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

Raptors coach Nick Nurse signed a new multiyear contract extension on Tuesday — a deal that pays him around $8 million per year, sources say.

That’s a lot for a coach, especially in these times.

But Nurse has proven his value. He might even be the NBA’s best coach right now. He checks so many key boxes.

He has shown the ability to prepare his team for the playoffs then adapt through a long playoff run. His players have developed under his watch. He has dealt with roster upheaval and kept everything humming.

After just two seasons as head coach, Nurse still must prove himself in more situations, especially as opposing teams become more familiar with his strategies. But Toronto should want to keep him.

Credit Raptors ownership for paying to make it happen.

Now onto Raptors president Masai Ujiri

Dwight Howard is talking a lot of trash

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The Lakers put Dwight Howard on final warning BEFORE even signing him.

And for most of the season, Howard kept a low profile.

But he has been breaking out of his shell in the bubble. Related to basketball, too.

Howard has played excellent defense on Nuggets star Nikola Jokic in the Western Conference finals. The day after Game 1, Howard told Jamal Murray about it.

Sam Amick of The Athletic:

The Nuggets were wrapping up their practice, which took place not far from the Lakers’, with Murray about to begin his media session in the convention center hallway. Howard, as it so happened, walked by right then and the banter restarted.

“Don’t do that, fam,” Murray said to Howard, with both men smiling.

“What?” Howard said.

“Don’t do that, fam,” Murray said again.

“Where’s Joker at?” Howard replied. “Where’s his room?”

As was the case in the series opener, there was no answer.

Then, Howard (and JaVale McGee) pointed out Jokic’s defensive deficiencies against Anthony Davis in Game 2.

Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports:

Once the Lakers’ bench saw it was Jokic tasked with guarding Davis, it brought the noise with JaVale McGee and Dwight Howard screaming, “Thanksgiving, steak dinner, appetizers, filet mignon and potatoes, a glass of champagne!”

Davis, who faced up Jokic and maneuvered his way around the big man for a bucket in the paint. McGee shouted, “Told you it was a feast out there!”

Howard didn’t let up after Davis’ game-winner.

Amick:

As the Lakers mobbed Davis on the court after his shot, big man Dwight Howard broke off from the group and decided to taunt the Nuggets as they exited the basketball stage. If you somehow haven’t noticed, Howard is leaning hard into this tough-guy approach.

“Go home!” he yelled over and over while laughing, jumping, pumping his fist and getting closer to the Nuggets’ side of the floor with every second. “Go home!”

A small group of Nuggets staffers, including one of Jokic’s biggest supporters in assistant strength and conditioning coach Felipe Eichenberger, did not take kindly to the mocking that had taken place all game long and returned to the court to shout back. The two sides exchanged words, and eventually retreated to their corners that came with conflicting emotions.

This works because Howard is playing well – in his role.

Howard was slow to recognize he’s no longer a superstar. Yet, he still has the energy for being the center of attention. That used to mean doing things like posting up too much,

Now, Howard is focused on defending, screening and sometimes finishing at the rim while playing all-out in limited minutes. It’s what the Lakers need and what Howard can provide at age 34.

If he wants to talk trash along the way, more power to him. It’s a lot of fun.

But there’s also a fine line between the endearing villain and loathed jerk. Outside Denver, Howard appears to be the former. For now.

Report: Pacers interview former Thunder coach Billy Donovan

Billy Donovan coaches Thunder vs. Pacers
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The Pacers were reportedly expected to hire Mike D’Antoni as coach.

But if set on the former Rockets coach, Indiana isn’t acting like it.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

Former Thunder coach Billy Donovan interviewed for the Pacers last week, sources said. The Pacers are expected to interview a pool of around 12 candidates, trim the candidates approximately in half, and conduct in-person interviews.

Donovan joins a list of known candidates that’s already way longer than 12:

  • Former Thunder coach Billy Donovan
  • Former Kings and Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger
  • Former Pistons and Nuggets star Chauncey Billups
  • Warriors assistant and former Cavaliers and Lakers coach Mike Brown
  • Nets assistant and former Magic coach Jacque Vaughn
  • Spurs assistant Becky Hammon
  • Spurs assistant Will Hardy
  • Heat assistant Dan Craig
  • Heat assistant Chris Quinn
  • Mavericks assistant Jamahl Mosley
  • Mavericks assistant Stephen Silas
  • Bucks assistant Darvin Ham
  • Bucks assistant Charles Lee
  • Magic assistant Pat Delany
  • Timberwolves assistant David Vanterpool
  • 76ers assistant Ime Udoka
  • Trail Blazers assistant Nate Tibbetts

Leaving the potentially rebuilding Thunder, Donovan clearly expected to land on his feet. The Pacers are equipped to win now, but maybe only moderately.

Donovan has shown impressive adaptability to his roster. That’d come in handy if Indiana is set on continuing the talented but challenging Domantas SabonisMyles Turner pairing.