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.

Five players poised to make first NBA All-Star game this season

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Who is ready to make the leap?

Every season there are players on the cusp of becoming an All-Star — not only has their game improved to be one of the top 24 players in the league, but their stature has risen to the point fans (voting for the starters) or coaches (voting for the reserves) want to see them in the game.

Here are five players on the cusp of making that leap and getting the chance to suit up in Salt Lake City this February for their first All-Star Game.

1. Tyrese Haliburton (Pacers)

He was the centerpiece headed to Indiana in the trade that sent Domantas Sabonis to Sacramento — and a lot of executives around the league were shocked the Kings gave him up. After the trade, Haliburton averaged 17.5 points and 9.6 assists a game with a 62.9 true shooting percentage — and this season he’s going to be asked to do even more on a team that is rebuilding (but still has Myles Turner and Buddy Hield on the roster… what exactly is Indiana doing?).

The Pacers will take a step back this season (which doesn’t help his All-Star chances) but Haliburton himself will be unleashed. He will draw the attention of fans and opposing defenses — coaches know and like his game, which is why he stands a good chance to be an East All-Star reserve this season.

2. Anthony Edwards (Timberwolves)

Edwards has made the leap in popularity and stature — he is trash-talking Kermit in Adam Sandler’s Hustle — and he probably should have been an All-Star last season averaging 21.3 points a game.

Edwards has the explosive, highlight-factory game and has the big personality fans love (although his homophobic social media post over the summer does not help his cause). He will be in the spotlight more on an improved Timberwolves team — he will be the outside to Karl-Anthony Towns and Rudy Gobert inside — that should be in the mix for the playoffs in the West. Anthony Edwards has a lot of All-Star Games in his future, this season should be his first.

3. Evan Mobley (Cavaliers)

As a rookie, Mobley was already a top-flight defensive big man who averaged 15 points and 8.3 rebounds a game — and he came back this season stronger and ready to make a leap on the offensive end. He finished a close second in the Rookie of the Year voting and took that personally, hitting the gym hard and coming out with a chip on his shoulder this season. He flashed potential last season with the ball in his hands, a guy who could beat his man and be a playmaker. Expect to see more of that, more of Mobley out on the perimeter as a creator this season (maybe even grabbing the board and bringing the ball up in transition himself).

He’s going to get noticed on a Cavaliers team with an All-Star backcourt of Darius Garland and Donovan Mitchell, and if he has added to his game this year it’s Mobley’s turn.

4. Tyrese Maxey (76ers)

Maxey got thrust into the starting point guard role last season when Ben Simmons never suited up for the 76ers (and played like the guy the 76ers hoped Markelle Fultz would be). Then he thrived after the trade, working a little more off-ball and being a secondary shot creator off James Harden. Maxey averaged 17.5 points and 4.5 assists a game last season, and he is in a position to have those numbers jump again this season.

Maxey is quick with the ball and can get downhill, with the skill set to finish at the rim or pull up and nail the jumper. He shot 42% from 3 last season, although that may be unsustainable (he can shoot, but over 40% every year may be a big ask). Maxey is adding to that game on the court, but it’s his maturity and decision-making — this is his third year in the league — where the biggest leaps are coming.

The 76ers are going to be in the spotlight a lot and should win a lot of regular season games, and with Maxey shining in that light, the All-Star game is a real possibility.

5. Jalen Brunson (Knicks)

Brunson burst out of Luka Doncic’s shadow last season in Dallas and averaged 16.3 points and 4.8 assists a game last season — now he’s going to have the ball in his hands every night on the biggest stage in the NBA. Tom Thibodeau will hand Brunson the keys to the Knicks offense, which means the guard’s counting stats should climb — and with that his All-Star chances go up.

There are questions about how the Knicks’ offense will fit together with Brunson, RJ Barrett and Julius Randle, but Brunson is going to get the chance to prove he can be a No.1 guard. In that spotlight, a trip to Salt Lake City is in the offing.

Steve Nash on Ben Simmons: ‘I don’t care if he ever shoots a jump shot’

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The last season he played, Ben Simmons took just 9% of his shots from beyond 10 feet — he did not space the floor at all, which meant Joel Embiid had to at times. That lack of a jumper he trusted has always been one of the knocks on Ben Simmons’ game.

Steve Nash doesn’t care. Via Nick Friedell of ESPN:

“That’s why I don’t care if he ever shoots a jump shot for the Brooklyn Nets. He’s welcome to, but that is not what makes him special and not what we need. He’s a great complement to our team, and he’s an incredible basketball player because of his versatility.”

In an offense with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving setting the table — particularly in the halfcourt — Simmons is going to be asked to play more of a role: Be an elite defender, push the ball in transition, work in some dribble-handoff situations where he can drive the lane as an option, be a cutter off the ball, and be a distributor in the halfcourt. It’s why Simmons’ ideal role with the Nets often gets compared to Draymond Green — it’s a Draymond-lite role. There will be far less of him as lead guard running pick-and-roll.

Will Simmons settle into that role? Also, it should be noted that peak Green (2016 for example) shot better than 30% from 3 and had to be respected out there (last season 29.6% on 1.2 3s per game) — he had to be covered at the arc. Simmons does not. Also, Green did not avoid getting fouled and getting to the line.

Nash has the task of meshing Simmons into the system and figuring out the rotations — can he play Simmons and Nic Claxton together, or is having two non-jump shooters on the floor at once clog the offense? Is Simmons going to play center at points? There is championship-level talent on the Nets roster, but so many questions about fit, defense, and grit.

There’s no question about Simmons taking jumpers, but Nash doesn’t care.

Pelican’s Green says Zion ‘dominated the scrimmage pretty much’

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The Zion hype train keeps right on rolling. First were the reports he was in the best shape of his life, then he walked into media day and it looked like he is.

Now Zion has his own hype man in Pelicans coach Willie Green, who said he dominated the first day of team scrimmages. Via Andre Lopez of ESPN.

“Z looked amazing,” Pelicans coach Willie Green said on Wednesday afternoon. “His strength, his speed. He dominated the scrimmage pretty much.”

“What stood out was his force more than anything,” Green said. “He got down the floor quickly. When he caught the ball, he made quick decisions. Whether it was scoring, finding a teammate. It was really impressive to see.”

Reach for the salt shaker to take all this with — it’s training camp scrimmages. Maybe Zion is playing that well right now — he’s fully capable, he was almost an All-NBA player in 2020-21 (eighth in forward voting) before his foot injury — but we need to see it against other teams. In games that matter. Then we’ll need to see it over a stretch of time.

If Zion can stay healthy this season, if his conditioning is where everyone says it is, he could be in for a monster season. Combine that with CJ McCollum, Brandon Ingram and a strong supporting cast in New Orleans, and the Pelicans could surprise a lot of people — and be fun to watch.

 

PBT Podcast: What’s next for Celtics, Suns? Should NBA end one-and-done?

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NBA training camps just opened and teams have yet to play a preseason game, but already two contenders are dealing with problems.

The Celtics have the suspension of coach Ime Udoka as a distraction, plus defensive anchor center Robert Williams will miss at least the start of the season following another knee surgery.

The Suns have the distraction of a suspended owner who is selling the team, plus Jae Crowder is out and demanding a trade, and Deandre Ayton does not seem happy.

Corey Robinson of NBC Sports and myself go through all the training camp news, including the wilder ones with the Lakers and Nets, breaking down what to take away from all that — plus how good Zion Williamson and James Harden look physically.

Then the pair discusses the potential of the NBA doing away with the one-and-done role and letting 18-year-olds back in the game — is that good for the NBA?

You can always watch the video of some of the podcast above, or listen to the entire podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google Play, or anywhere else you get your podcasts.

We want your questions for future podcasts, and your comments, so please feel free to email us at PBTpodcast@gmail.com.