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


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.


Dwyane Wade admits Pat Riley not calling him helped push him from Miami to Chicago


Back in July, it became a thing — Pat Riley didn’t personally call Dwyane Wade and try to keep him in Miami, so instead Wade bolted to Chicago. Riley admitted regrets over how all that was handled, and Wade said he didn’t take it personally, it was just business.

However, a little removed from the summer, Wade admitted not getting a call from Riley did matter.

He said so on The Vertical Podcast with Adrian Wojnarowski (as transcribed by The Miami Herald).

“I did feel at the end of the day it’s Micky Arison’s team but it’s Pat’s show,” Wade told Wojnarowski. “I love Pat and I know he loves me. The fact that we didn’t talk, that hurt. That was my deciding factor when it came down to the end of the day and he didn’t show he wanted me there. I know the Arison family loved me and wanted me there. I know Spo [coach Erik Spoelstra] wanted me there.

“At the end of the day, I didn’t hear from the guy I needed to. I expressed this to him later. That right there hurt me. It showed me… it was time to remove myself from the situation…. It’s a business. But I’m human as well. I was waiting for him to step up and meet me, call me, do something and it just never happened. That’s not the Pat I know. You can find me quicker than anybody. You want to be wanted. Everyone wants to be wanted. I didn’t feel like I was wanted from the person I wanted to be wanted from…. I was waiting for him to step up and meet me somewhere. Call me. Do something. It just never happened. That’s not Pat. That’s not the Pat I know.”

Pat Riley and the Heat try to create a family atmosphere within the organization, which is one of the best run in the league. He either fell short in this instance, or he didn’t really mind if Wade left and tried to play in neutral. Either way, it came off looking bad for him and the organization.
Down the line, a handful of years from now when Wade’s number is retired in Miami and he is remembered as the most important player in Heat franchise history, all of this will be forgiven. But for now, the wounds are all still a little fresh.


That time Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson almost played a pay-per-view one-on-one in Vegas


Their career arcs were starting to cross. For most of the 1980s Magic Johnson had been as dominant a force as the NBA had seen in a generation (with all due respect to Larry Bird pushing him). But Johnson’s five rings, his MVPs were all in the rear view mirror — Michael Jordan was the star on the rise. He was 27, a scoring machine, but a guy without a ring as he had been taught hard lessons by the Bad Boy Detroit Pistons.

Who was the best player on the planet, Magic or Michael? Why not decide it in a one-on-one game played at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, where it would be treated as a title fight — complete with pay-per-view and huge payouts.

It never happened, but Jonathan Abrams has written a brilliant piece about how it almost did for Bleacher Report. It’s a must read.

“There was a lot of talk about it, and both players seemed to be real interested,” recalled Rod Thorn, who drafted Jordan as Chicago’s general manager before becoming the NBA’s executive vice president of basketball operations. “Magic wouldn’t have been able to stop him.”…

Jordan against Johnson, though, was the best of the NBA’s best pitted singularly against each other. And several major media outlets had reported this sure bet as all but a done deal. At the very least, the two stars had been approached and the game’s payout had been negotiated. Both were intrigued, with Jordan even teasing the matchup on ESPN after the All-Star break.

It obviously didn’t happen. Why? Like everything in life, there are multiple reasons and a lot of gray areas. For one, the NBA hated it — it’s two biggest stars in a made for gambling event? That was not the image David Stern wanted for the league. They didn’t like the precedent it set.

But the players were hesitant, too. Jordan in particular, according to his agent David Falk.

Falk recalls Jordan saying: “If I win, people will say, ‘So, what do you expect? That’s what Michael is—he’s a one-on-one player.’ And if I lose, then I don’t have the rings or the title. So what’s the point of doing it?”

Jordan would go on to get those rings, but a lot of fans who mythologize Jordan now forget the years he wasn’t seen as someone who made his teammates better. He was painted as a guy who couldn’t win the big one. Obviously he had to grow into that role, and get the right players and coach around him to make it all work, but do we cut guys slack for that now?

As for the big who would win question, let me state my bias up front: Magic is my all-time favorite player. I could argue he is the greatest ever, but he is certainly in the conversation, and there has never been a player like him before or since. But one-on-one, Jordan wins. He’s more athletic, and Magic’s great passing skills don’t come into play in that setting. Magic could score on some post ups, he’d hang around, but that game would have been all Jordan.

LeBron, do you have to step up with Kevin Love out? “I’ve never stepped down”

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For the next six weeks, the Cleveland Cavaliers are going to be without Kevin Love and his corner threes, his 20 points and 11 boards a night, his improved ability to find spaces in the offense to operate because of knee surgery. The Cavaliers have been 11.5 points per 100 possessions better when Love is on the court this season, and while there is a lot of noise it that stat it shows his value to the team and ability to play with LeBron James and Kyrie Irving.

With him gone (and J.R. Smith out at least a few more weeks), Channing Frye will get the starts coach Tyronn Lue told the Cleveland Plain Dealer’s Chris Fedor: everyone needs to pick up their game.

“Everyone has to step up and fill that void,” Lue said. “LeBron, D-Will (Derrick Williams), Champ (James Jones), Channing. Everyone has to step up and be ready to play.”

LeBron, you agree you need to step up?

“I’ve never stepped down,” he said. “Why does it change now? Ain’t nothing changed. I have my guys ready to play every single night.”

LeBron also put it this way.

“As long as I’m in the lineup, we’ve got a chance,” James said Tuesday morning. “We good. Kev is out for an extended period of time. J.R. (Smith) has been out, but I’m in the lineup. I’ll be suiting up. We’ve got a chance against anybody. I ain’t worried.”

He’s not wrong. So long as the Cavs suit LeBron and Kyrie Irving up they are going to win plenty of regular season games, and likely keep that top seed in the East.

However, it’s fair to wonder about LeBron’s minutes. He is tied for the league lead in minutes per game at 37.6 a night, and he’s 11th in total minutes on the season. Lue had said previously he planned to start lowering LeBron’s minutes starting in February to make sure he was fully rested and sharp for the playoffs. That plan looks like it will be put on hold. LeBron, of course, says he wants none of that and will play as many minutes as the team needs and more. He’ll take on whatever load the team needs.

The only questions is, does this catch up with him in the postseason?

Cavaliers’ Kevin Love out six weeks following knee surgery, opens All-Star Game slot

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It was a red flag, a sign something was up when the Cleveland Cavaliers asked for a second opinion on Kevin Love‘s sore knee.

Tuesday morning, Love underwent “arthroscopic surgery to remove a loose body from his left knee,” the team announced. Cleveland estimates he will be out six weeks, which would have him returning right about the first week of April, giving him time to get some games in before the playoffs begin.

Love has been having his best season as a Cavalier, having found a comfort zone playing with LeBron James and Kyrie Irving — the Cavaliers have been 11.5 points per 100 possessions better with Love on the court than off it this season (although there is a lot of noise in that because he plays so much with LeBron and Irving). It took time, but Love adapted his game to fit with the Cavaliers, such as taking more corner threes — 2.6 per game — than he had at any point in his career. Love has averaged 20 points and 11.1 rebounds a game this season.

Love complained of his knee bothering him, and it has swelled up, following Saturday’s win against the Nuggets. Sunday he had an MRI on the knee, and when the team didn’t announce the results but instead went for a second opinion it was clear something was amiss.

Love was slated to be a reserve for the All-Star Game, which leaves NBA Commissioner Adam Silver with a slot to fill.

Traditionally Silver has gone with the next highest vote getter among the coaches (which is not public). If he decides to follow the NBA’s new voting system (fan vote combined with media and player votes), and if he ignores position, it would be Dwyane Wade. That seems unlikely. The more logical move is for Silver to fill the slot with a frontcourt player, and the next highest vote getter would be the Sixers’ Joel Embiid — but he has missed eight straight games due to injury. Next on the voting list would be the Knicks’ Kristaps Porzingis, and he seems the most logical guy to get a call. But it is in Silver’s hands.